Friday, December 27, 2013



A Child's Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas


The very beginning of the book lets us know that "A Child's Christmas in Wales" was first performed as a BBC radio broadcast in 1945. In 1947, Thomas wrote "Conversations about Christmas". Finally, in 1950, he joined them together into one essay titled "A Child's Memories of Christmas in Wales". After Thomas died in 1953, the version used in this book was published as "A Child's Christmas in Wales". Though truly it is a collection of his memories of how Christmas was celebrated when he was a young boy in Wales in the 1920s. 

Raschka's illustrations are an excellent companion to Thomas' prose. The cover of the book is the color of a winter sky with silver glitter reminiscent of the ever-present snow that "grew overnight on the roofs of the houses like a pure and grandfather moss..." The language is beautiful; the story somewhat disjointed since it is a collection of memories. The size of the book is perfect - a 6" x 8.5" oblong. Nine years old and up, maybe? They will completely understand the snow wanderings and the discussion of Useful vs. more desired Useless Presents. Certainly enough for them to say, "Oh yes - we have that at our Christmas, too!"   My advice is -- if you are familiar with Dylan Thomas and this particular story, then buy this copy.  It's beautifully done and I don't think you will be disappointed.  If, on the other hand, you have never read it before, check out a copy from your local library first.  There are many versions - but giving it a read through will let you know if it's something you want to purchase for your own collection.  


I should also add that I won my copy! Many thanks to Candlewick Press and Elizabeth O. Dulemba for promoting the contest.  

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

THE LISTS ARE COMING! THE LISTS ARE COMING!

It is indeed that time of year -- when it seems like everyone on the planet puts out "The Best Books of ..." lists.  So my "To Read" list is growing by leaps and bounds!  Here is what I have added in the last few days. 

Bone by Bone:  Comparing Animal Skeletons by Sara Levine; Illustrated by T. S. Spookytooth.  Seriously - who could resist a book illustrated by T. S. Spookytooth?  Comparative anatomy for the K - 2nd grade crowd.  

The Great American Dust Bowl by Don Brown; Illustrated by Don Brown.  A thorough investigation of the Dust Bowl - in graphic novel format!  For ages 11 and up. It has been described as beautiful and compelling; sadly my library does not own it yet so I will have to look for it elsewhere.

The Mad Potter: George E. Ohr, Eccentric Genius by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan.  I had never heard of George E. Ohr.  Which is one of the things I truly love about kid lit -- you meet so many interesting people!  Both alive and dead.  :-) This man wore his mustache curled around his ears!  And he made beautiful pottery, too.  Ages 10 and up though accessible to younger kids also.

The Tapir Scientist:  Saving South America's Largest Mammal by Sy Montgomery and Nic Bishop.  I have never read anything by Sy Montgomery that was not completely fascinating.  Therefore I assume this story will be also.  Quick!  Where in South America does a tapir live?  Brazil's Pantanale.  What does it look like? It has a snorkel snout!  How lovable is that?  Ages 10 and up.  Lots of pictures; lots of text, too!

Boxers & Saints by Gene Luen Yang Though technically this is probably closer to historical fiction, I am putting it here because it provides a LOT of history about the Boxer Rebellion from both sides of the story.  It is a two-volume graphic novel.  The first volume is Boxers and presents the more traditioanl Chinese side.  The second volume is Saints and presents the Chinese Christan side.  From what I have read, it's a bit gruesome in spots.  But it has received rave reviews.  And I really can't wait to read it.  7th grade and up

Bluffton:  My Summers with Buster Keaton by Matt Phelan  Another graphic novel; another sort of historical/biographical fiction.  Told from the viewpoint of a young boy who grew up close to Buster Keaton whose family spent summers in Bluffton.  A bit of a coming of age tale set in 1908.  6th grade, maybe?  

And last but not least -One that I have read.

The Boy on the Wooden Box: How the Impossible Became Possible... On Schindler's List by Leon Leyson. This is a memoir written by Leyson who was the youngest survivor "adopted" by Schindler.  Read it. It is short and compelling.  
I have read four or five Holocaust stories this year so I will write more about them in a different post.  Happy reading!  Or happy placing holds at your local library!



Monday, November 25, 2013

The Thing About Luck by Cynthia Kadohata
The recently announced winner of the 2013 National Book Award for Youth is THE THING ABOUT LUCK by Cynthia Kadohata.  Published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers in June of 2013, this realistic fiction work is a relative newcomer to most bookshelves.  As luck would have it (pun intended), I had just finished reading it the week before it won the NBA.  It is, indeed, well written.  Our protagonist, Summer, is an extremely well developed character and one that you will not soon forget.  Having said that, I am interested to see if kids like the book.  Summer and her family are Americans of Japanese descent (that’s an important element in the book) who work as harvesters in the summer.  Small farms in the Midwest cannot afford their own harvesting equipment.  So there are teams of harvesters that travel from Texas up to Montana, harvesting different crops with their equipment and hired harvesters all through the summer.  There is a bit of detail in the book about harvesting equipment.  Not a lot but some.  And I’m not sure if that will be of interest to a lot of pre-teens/early teens.  I found it interesting so - maybe.  On the other hand - even though Summer’s family life is VERY different in many ways - it is also amazingly familiar.  She fights with her younger brother.  She has conflicts with the adults in her life.  She meets a boy that she likes and dreams about a first kiss.  She misses her friends back home.  She struggles with her schoolwork. And she desperately wants her family's bad luck to change to good. So - maybe there will be enough common ground mixed in with the uncommon that it will draw readers in and they will discover how different and yet how much the same we all are.  Because of that, I hope it becomes a classic.  I do think it deserved the award and I hope winning the award gives it the push it needs to get in the hands of a larger audience.  

Monday, November 18, 2013

BUSY, BUSY, BUSY...

Hello!  Lots of schoolwork these days.  Spanish quizzes every other day, Physics tests, projects, oh my!  So posts are sporadic.  But I did review three resources that can help with figuring out what to read next.  Horn Book Magazine, School Library Journal, and VOYA are all mighty fine resources.  It can be pretty pricey to subscribe to them so the really cool thing is -- they have some great on-line resources.  All three have a Facebook presence and you can also sign up to receive e-mails from them.  That way you will be alerted to what is new and exciting on their websites.  

I subscribe to Horn Book (thanks to my wonderful sister-in-law and brother) and it's my favorite.  SLJ is good also - but I think I like the website (and blogs) more than the actual magazine for this point in my "career".  I have not looked at VOYA in a long time so was pleasantly surprised to find it in e-journal format on-line.  For free.  It was the October issue but it was packed with reviews, articles, and programming ideas.  

So - if you have some spare time and want to see what's happening in the world of lit for kids and young adults, check out The Horn BookSchool Library Journal; or VOYA.  Let me know what you think!

Monday, November 4, 2013


From 1187 Jerusalem to 1920s Germany


The current assignment in YA lit is Historical Fiction, Realistic Fiction, and non-Fiction.  I have finished 2 out of 3 and shall share my thoughts here.

Non-Fiction - Hitler Youth: Growing Up in Hitler’s Shadow read by Susan Campbell Bartoletti published in 2005 by Scholastic Nonfiction; Winner of the 2006 Newbery Honor Award.

Why I chose this book -  I have read many Holocaust stories told from the perspective of the victims but I've read little about the Germans themselves and how such a thing could have happened. The Hitler Youth was created in 1922 and was made up of the Hitlerjugend proper, for male youth aged 14 to 18; the younger boys' section, Deutsches Jungvolk (German Youth), for those aged 10 to 14; and the girls' section, the Bund Deutscher M├Ądel (the League of German Girls). Membership was compulsory after 1936. Bartoletti follows the stories of twelve German youth during Hitler's time and chronicles their stories before, during, and after the war. The author uses diary entries, letters, and interviews plus many photographs to tell the story of German teenagers that were fanatically loyal to Hitler and also youth that chose to stand against his madness.  The information presented in this book is not easy to read but it deals with a subject that is extremely important and thus the title is highly recommended for 7th grade and up. 
Non-fiction is similar to Historical Fiction and Realistic Fiction in that the authors of all these genres do a tremendous amount of research to ensure that the information presented is as factual as possible.  However, while characters in Historical and Realistic fiction books may be based on real characters and real events, in non-fiction books the people really lived and events really happened.  Thus it is imperative that authors of non-fiction books ensure that they are presenting factual information.  Extensive bibliographies and indexes are commonly found in non-fiction but not as often in historical or realistic fiction books.  Also, many non-fiction books created for young adults have both black and white and color photographs to help readers understand what is happening and to further emphasize the topic of the book.  Some non-fiction can be dry and uninteresting but authors today strive to create entertaining but factual books that will encourage young adults to read them.  The book I chose is very compelling and readable.  I believe Bartoletti does a great job of creating books that young adults would like to read.

And for historical fiction -  

“Pagan’s Crusade” by Catherine Jinks.  Published originally in 1992, I read a Candlewick reprint that was published in paperback in 2004.  I read it because I had it on my list of books to read and I had a copy here at home.

“Pagan’s Crusade” is the first in the Pagan Chronicles by Catherine Jinks. Pagan  Kidrouk is a sixteen-year-old half-Arab orphan who has been living on the streets of Jerusalem in 1187.  Having gotten himself into a bit of a financial scrape, he decides his only choice is to hire himself on as a squire to the Templars.  This way he can earn some money and also have some protection from the bad guys. Pagan’s life has been a string of unfortunate incidents.  This makes Pagan cynical, angry, and untrusting. There are two glimmers of light in Pagan’s life (even though he is unaware of this for the first half of the book).  The first is his assignment to work for Lord Roland de Bram; the second is his ability to read and write. Tension mounts as Saladin and his army close in on Jerusalem and Pagan and his knight have some life or death decisions to make. 
I enjoyed this book for the most part though I grew weary of Pagan’s cynicism and (not so) private pity party.   There is much that is still unknown about Pagan at the end of the story but I am not certain I will read the rest of the series.  I would recommend it to middle school and high school boys who might enjoy the scrapes Crispin finds himself in and his cynical outlook on life plus the somewhat comic way that Jinks presents certain aspects of life in Jerusalem at that time.
Catherine Jinks is Australian.  She studied medieval history at university and she wrote this book based on some of the things she learned while she was there.  Pagan is not a real person but many of the characters in the Pagan series are, including Saladin and the Templars.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

PBMBADGE-AMBASSADOR     November is Picture Book Month!

Today would be a good day to read a picture book that discusses something that happened in history.  You could read "The Blessing Cup" by Patricia Polacco, "John, Paul, George and Ben" by Lane Smith, or "Goin' Someplace Special" by Fred McKissack.  
John, Paul, George & Ben

What's your favorite Historical Picture Book?