Thursday, March 31, 2011

Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword, by Barry Deutsch (ages 9 - 12)

Take a stubborn, funny girl who isn't afraid to stand up for herself, add in a quest for a powerful sword and a world where magic is part of the everyday fabric of life and you have a book that kids in my library will eat up. Add into this mix a graphic novel with clean lines, engaging characters and a bit of whimsy and it's got a line waiting for it. But, Barry Deutsch takes these elements and throws in unexpected twists in his graphic novel Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword. Mirka is an Orthodox Jewish girl who lives with her large family and dreams of fighting trolls and dragons and living a larger live. It's an unusual, fascinating book that kids who like something a little different will eat up.
Hereville: How Mirka Got Her SwordHereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword
by Barry Deutsch
NY: Amulet Books, 2010
ages 9 - 12
available on Amazon and at your local library
Eleven year old Mirka dreams of living a swash-buckling life of adventure. But her family and friends in the Jewish Orthodox town of Hereville keep telling her that she has to be realistic, learn how to knit, do her chores and school work, and act like a proper young girl. But when she steals a single grape from a witch's enchanted pig, life changes for her. The pig pursues her, but Mirka uses her wits and courage to defeat this very non-Jewish foe.

As one student told me, "It's a hard read - it's pretty complicated, but I found it really interesting that I related to someone from such a different culture. If you want to connect with Mirka, you have to work harder than most books." Deutsch weaves elements of Orthodox life throughout this fantasy adventure. Mirka wears long skirts and long-sleeved white blouses. Yiddish idioms and phrases are used throughout, with English translations at the bottom. And yet, Mirka has so many character traits that kids relate to. She's brave and stubborn, she's intelligent and funny, and while her family drives her nuts, she really loves them.

On the other hand, this isn't the book for everyone. Some students at my library have found Mirka a bit too hard to connect to, her world a bit too different from ones they know. But it might be something more - that students like their worlds either fully in the fantasy realm, or fully based in reality. Mirka's world is one where magic is just a part of their everyday lives.

Kids who like this might also enjoy Rapunzel's Revenge and Calamity Jack, two graphic novels by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale. These feature swash-buckling heroines out to prove themselves.

The review copy came from our school library collection. Many thanks to students, especially Alice, at Emerson for their ideas and feedback. They constantly amaze me with their insights, passion and clarity of ideas. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion will go to Great Kid Books (at no cost to you). Thank you for your support.

Review ©2011 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books.


Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Discovering her passion and calling: the dedicated life of Eleanor Roosevelt

As our daughters encounter struggles and defeats throughout their life, one of the traits we most want them to develop is a sense of resiliency: a sense that they can pick themselves up and try again. But key to this resiliency is a sense of purpose – why you are trying so hard, bruised and battered, to pick yourself up and try again. We do learn from history, and a remarkable woman to share with our daughters is Eleanor Roosevelt. She epitomizes resiliency in many ways. Throughout her life she encountered difficulties and tragedies, but she discovered a true passion and purpose and through this was able to develop a much stronger belief in herself. Below are two excellent books to share with your children.

“I have never felt that anything really mattered but knowing that you stood for the things in which you believed and had done the very best you could do.”
Eleanor Roosevelt

Eleanor, Quiet No MoreEleanor, Quiet No More, by Doreen Rappaport, introduces Eleanor Roosevelt as a woman who blossomed as she discovered her own abilities, her calling to help others, and her voice in the life of the nation. As in Martin’s Big Words, Rappaport uses Roosevelt’s own words to anchor each page, showing Roosevelt’s growth from an insecure, unhappy child to an influential voice in the politics of the nation and the world. Eleanor’s early life, while one of great privilege, was also one filled with tragedy. Both of her parents died before she was ten, and she was raised by her grandmother with little affection. Although her new husband, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, was charming and caring, Eleanor’s mother-in-law was controlling and domineering. As Franklin entered politics, life began to change for Eleanor.

“What one has to do usually can be done.”
Eleanor Roosevelt

Rappaport’s introduction to Eleanor Roosevelt is especially powerful in the way she shows how Eleanor grew into her own voice. She used her position as the wife of a senator, and then as the first lady to pressure officials to provide the best care for wounded soldiers, to help the millions of people out of work in the Great Depression. Gary Kelley’s artwork conveys Eleanor’s growing confidence and sense of purpose. His muted colors convey the gravity of the times, but may not pull children into the book. The book’s cover, dominated by subdued grays and blues, does not immediately attract children the way some of Rappaport’s other books do, but its message certainly does.
“You must do the things you cannot do.”
Eleanor Roosevelt

Our Eleanor: A Scrapbook Look at Eleanor Roosevelt's Remarkable LifeOur Eleanor: A Scrapbook Look at Eleanor Roosevelt’s Life, by Candace Fleming, provides a longer, fuller look at Eleanor’s life for children who want to learn more about her remarkable life. Written for children ages 12 to 14, Fleming assembles an amazing amount of primary sources, from letters Eleanor wrote to her beloved father, to archival photographs and diary entries, to reproductions of newspaper accounts. Fashioned as a scrapbook, this book is perfect for either browsing through or reading cover to cover. Fleming provides a detailed look at Eleanor’s life, and she is adept at looking at the complexities in Eleanor’s life – her strengths and weaknesses, her successes and controversies, her friends and enemies. Fleming has organized her biography into seven chapters which roughly follow the timeline of Eleanor’s life, but individual chapters focus on topics such as her marriage, “self-discovery” and her focus as a “friend of the people”. Some young readers may find it confusing as Fleming jumps around to different times a bit, but I found Fleming’s writing compelling and fascinating as she draws connections between different events in Eleanor’s long life. Fleming is sincere, respectful and perceptive throughout the book, guided by her passion for her subject. As she writes in a personal introductory note,

Eleanor “faced life’s slings and arrows, creating an ardent, exhilarating life devoted to passion and experience, to thinking and doing and growing. This passionate life touched men, women and children everywhere. Why? Because in Eleanor’s vision of a more generous world she included people of every race and religion, of every social and economic class. Her profound sincerity caused them to believe – with her – in the innate goodness of humanity.”

Enjoy sharing these compelling, riveting, moving books with your children as you celebrate Women’s History Month.

Eleanor, Quiet No MoreEleanor, Quiet No More
by Doreen Rappaport
illustrated by Gary Kelley
NY: Disney-Hyperion Books, 2009
ages 6 – 10
available on Amazon or at your local library

by Candace Fleming
NY: Atheneum Books, 2005
ages 12 – 14
available on Amazon or at your local library

All quotes in bold above are from Eleanor Roosevelt, as shared in Eleanor, Quiet No More, by Doreen Rappaport. For archival, public use photographs of Eleanor Roosevelt, see Wikimedia Commons.

This review was originally published on the site: Kidlit Celebrates Women's History Month. Thank you to Lisa and Margo for their inspiration and guidance. The review copies came from my local library. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion will go to Great Kid Books (at no cost to you). Thank you for your support!

Review ©2011 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books.


Monday, March 28, 2011

Celebrate Women's History Month with Authors and Bloggers

Our library is filled with projects students have done celebrating women they admire - women in history, women in their lives, women in popular culture. It is a wonderful celebration created by the students, and highlights local leaders, moms and grandmas, historical figures, and pop singers. Some students have created posters, while others have made interactive dioramas.

On the web, authors and bloggers are celebrating ways we can honor Women's History Month with an amazing project put together by by bloggers Margo Tannenbaum, at The Fourth Musketeer, a library science student, and Lisa Taylor, at Shelf-Employed, a children's librarian. They've called it: Kidlit Celebrates Women's History Month, and it's a wonderful resource you'll want to check out.

This year's theme for Women's History Month is Our History is Our Strength. As stated in the National Women's History Project's webpage,
The stories of women’s achievements are integral to the fabric our history. Learning about women’s tenacity, courage, and creativity throughout the centuries is a tremendous source of strength. Until relatively recently...women’s achievements were often distorted, disdained, and denied. But knowing women’s stories provides essential role models for everyone.
Authors and bloggers have come together to share their reflections, their thoughts, their favorite books honoring women's achievements throughout history. Contributors include Anita Silvey, Candace Fleming, Kathleen Krull, and Tanya Bolden, with a new post going up each day throughout the month of March. Bloggers I admire, such as Tasha at Waking Brain Cells and Doret at The Happy Nappy Bookseller, have also contributed essays and book reviews. I wrote an essay on Eleanor Roosevelt, recommending two books I particularly like.

It's well worth checking out: Kidlit Celebrates Women's History Month. I'll be going back to this site throughout the year to look again and again.

Thank you to Lisa and Margo for a wonderful celebration!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Fun author visit with Amy Ignatow!

Our students were so jazzed to meet Amy Ignatow, author of The Popularity Papers. She started by telling 3rd, 4th and 5th grade students about both of her books. We had over 25 requests for her books the follow day, so she did a great job!

Kids love her drawings, the friendship story and how she writes like Julie & Lydia are keeping a journal.

Next, she told us about the steps she goes through when drawing - first planning out her drawing, then doing it in pencil. After tracing over her pencil lines in ink, she fills them in with different colors.

Kids loved her funny story about the Staring Squirrel. You see, there was this squirrel who used to stare intently at Amy though her studio window. It was down right creepy! But, as she told the kids, when you stare at something day after day, you realize that it's the perfect time to draw it. Kids had fun looking at the picture Amy took of the Staring Squirrel and the comic she drew for her local newspaper.

From all the students at Emerson, thank you very much for coming visit our school! From a happy librarian, thank you for helping our students get excited about reading! And a special thank you to A Great Good Place for Books for helping us buy books for the event, and to Abrams Books for sending Amy our way!

If your child likes reading funny stories about friendships and school, check out The Popularity Papers!

Please note that if you make a puchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books (at no cost to you). Thank you for your support!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Popularity Papers: Book Two, by Amy Ignatow (ages 9 - 12)

Our students loved, loved, loved The Popularity Papers, by Amy Ignatow - for its humor, its illustrations and its message about friendship. And they were thrilled when I told them a sequel is coming out. So there were many excited kids when I told them that Amy Ignatow is coming to our school to talk with them about The Popularity Papers: Book Two. She's in the middle of a great book tour, so check out her schedule (see below) and see if she's coming near you.
The Popularity Papers: Book Two: The Long-Distance Dispatch Between Lydia Goldblatt and Julie Graham-ChangThe Popularity Papers: Book Two
The Long-Distance Dispatch between Lydia Goldblatt and Julie Graham-Chang
by Amy Ignatow
NY: Amulet Books, 2011
ages 9 - 12
available on Amazon and at your local library
Lydia and Julie are all set for Hannibal Hamlin Junior High - they've navigated the friendships of 5th grade, figured out what activities they like, and recovered from problems in their own friendship. It's going to be a great year. But then... Lydia's mom announces that Lydia and her family are moving to London for six months. Lydia's devestated - she's going to have to get used to a whole new school, new friends, new place. And Julie's in shock, too - how is she going to make it through junior high without her best friend?

This sequel provides the same great illustrations, humor and friendship story as the first. The girls send emails, sketches and letters back and forth, and Ignatow continues to develop the voices of her characters really nicely. In this book, Julie and Lydia become even more distinct characters, as they each react to their new situations differently. This would make a great choice for a casual book club - I'd love to hear what girls think about the choices that Julie and Lydia make. One goes along and becomes friends with a bossy group of older, popular girls, while the other becomes a leader of a group she nicknames The Outcasts.

The Popularity Papers: Book Two reads best if you're familiar with the characters, so I'd definitely recommend starting with the first book. You'll understand the social nuances that Julie navigates in junior high. Perhaps Ignatow could have provided a bit more background for kids new to the series. But how much background do you put in your own diary?

Amy's tour schedule for the next month is:
  • Thursday 3/24: San Carlos, CA @ The Reading Bug
  • Friday 3/25: Oakland, CA @ A Great Good Place for Books
  • Monday 4/11: Philadelphia, PA @ Falls of Schuylkill Library program
  • Wednesday 4/13: Philadelphia, PA @ Blackwell Library program for Philadelphia Free Library Week!
  • Fri - Sat 4/15-16: 2011 Southern Kentucky Book Fest
  • Friday 5/6: Clinton, NJ @ Clinton Book Shop 

Friends: Making Them & Keeping Them (American Girl)If you enjoy this illustrated diary format, definitely check out the Amelia books by Marissa Moss. If you have a girl wrestling with friendship issues, I highly recommend American Girl's nonfiction books about friendship: Friends: Making Them & Keeping Them and Stand Up For Yourself! For more on those, see my review here.

The review copy was kindly sent by Abrams Books. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion will go to Great Kid Books (at no cost to you). Thank you for your support!

Review ©2011 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Alex Rider series - great spy adventures (ages 10 - 14)

Quick action, secret undercover agents, short cliff-hangers: it's a perfect recipe for young teen readers. The Alex Rider series is incredibly popular, and justifiably so. Fans of the series will be excited to learn that the newest and last in the series is just being published. Parents looking for a new series to hook kids who grew up loving the adventure in Harry Potter and Percy Jackson should check this out.
Stormbreaker (Alex Rider Adventure)Stormbreaker
Alex Rider #1
by  Anthony Horowitz
NY: Philomel Books, 2001
audiobook narrated by Nathaniel Parker
NY: Listening Library
ages 10 - 14
available on Amazon and at your local library
When Alex Rider's uncle and guardian is mysteriously killed, the 14 year old starts asking questions, quickly discovering that his uncle was an undercover spy for the British government. Alex is pulled into the mystery and soon reluctantly joins the Special Operations division of MI6, his uncle's employer. After a short, brutal training, Alex starts investigating the case his uncle had left unsolved: to discover the secret that Herod Sayle is hiding behind his generous donation of one of his supercomputers to every school in the country. It's an exciting novel that will have readers turning pages to see if Alex can survive one dangerous encounter after another.
Scorpia Rising: An Alex Rider Misson (An Alex Rider Novel)Scorpia Rising
Alex Rider #9
NY: Philomel Books, 2011
ages 10 - 14
available on Amazon and at your local library
Kids who have already been hooked by this series will be thrilled to learn that the newest Alex Rider book is being published March 22nd. From the publisher's summary: "Scorpia has dogged Alex Rider for most of his life. They killed his parents, they did their best to con Alex into turning traitor, and they just keep coming back with more power. Now the world's most dangerous terrorist organization is playing with fire in the world's most combustible land: the Middle East. No one knows Scorpia like Alex. And no one knows how best to get to Alex like Scorpia. Until now." The chase scenes promise to be intense, as Alex survives one perilous challenge after another.

I could hang onto this and read it in full, or I could pass it onto kids who will set aside their favorite video games to devour a 400 page book. It's an easy choice - yep, I haven't read this latest one all the way through, but I promise you it's going be loved in our middle school!

Anthony Horowitz is visiting many schools and bookstores in March and April to promote this book. He'll be in California this week, and then in April he'll visit the Chicago area, DC and Dallas. Here are his visits this week:
Tuesday, March 22: Irvine, CA at Whale of a Tale
Wednesday, March 23: Santa Monica, CA at Barnes & Noble
Thursday, March 24: Petaluma, CA at Copperfield's Books
Friday, March 25: Menlo Park, CA at Kepler's Books

Here's a complete listing of the Alex Rider series:
1. Stormbreaker
2. Point Blank
3. Skeleton Key
4. Eagle Strike
5. Scorpia
6. Ark Angel
7. Snakehead
8. Crocodile Tears
9. Scorpia Rising

If you enjoy the Alex Rider series, I highly recommend trying the Skulduggery Pleasant series by Derek Landy. Great action, witty dialog, full of suspense and mystery.

Many thanks to the Penguin Group for sending a review copy of this book. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books (at no cost to you). Thank you for your support.

Review ©2011 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books.