Wednesday, July 15, 2020

WOOD, WIRE, WINGS: A Review and a Giveaway

Congratulations to Jo Lynn Worden who won Will You Be My Friend? from last week's blog.

I have received a number of picture books from publishers recently, so if you love picture books...stay tuned!

WOOD, WIRE, WINGS: Emma Lilian Todd Invents an Airplane by Kirsten W. Larson (Calkins Creek, 2020) is a picture book biography that will entertain and educate elementary school readers. Because of its historicity and accessible language, I think it could also be useful for reluctant readers in middle school classrooms. 


"To Emma Lilian Todd, problems were like gusts of wind: they set her mind soaring. 

Sometimes the problems seemed small, like where to find metal cans to craft her inventions. (Solution: she saved tin cans from her supper.)

But soon Lilian's challenges ballooned." 

In this way, the author immediately invites the reader to see Emma's character and conflicts. The time period is invoked on the cover illustration, promising readers the type of story they will find within the covers. 

Early in the book, the reader discovers that Lilian's role model was her grandfather, who invented his own carriage wheel. Like him, she also whittled and fiddled and dreamed of inventing something useful. (Hooray for great family role models!)

Her first invention was a weather vane that she made out of a broken toy and Christmas ball from their tree.

It worked!

One day she took apart a clock and enjoyed the challenge of putting it back together again. (sounds like Benjamin Banneker, doesn't it?).  Her mother encouraged her by making sure she had the tools she needed. (Hooray for great mothers!)

Since inventing things wasn't women's work at the end of the nineteenth century, Lilian worked at the U.S. Patent Office, typing up plans for new machines. "While Lilian's fingers raced across the keys, she constructed each contraption in her mind."

Pretty soon, she was working on creating blueprints for her own fantastic flying machines. After long days of typing, she built small airships in her Manhatten apartment. 

In 1908 she read about the Wright brothers flying machine in which the operator had to lie flat. She wanted to build a machine that was operated by a woman who would swing in a basket from a balloon below the machine. Lilian studied birds and pretty soon airplanes took over her apartment and her life. 

Lilian experienced many failures but she learned from each one. She was mocked by men but in 1908 she wrote, "they admit that my ideas are all right and that a full sized aeroplane built in accordance with these same despised models will fly---which is the principal thing after all, isn't it?"

One of the richest women in the world at the time, Olivia Sage, provided much needed financial support. Lilian found a space to assemble her design, she hired men to build it and bought supplies. 
Although she experienced many set-backs, in November 1910, she watched from the ground as the pilot took off in the air. 

I doubt Emma Lilian Todd envisioned the future of flying which included her own contribution, but she looked forward to "driving" an aeroplane at some point. That same year her plane successfully got up in the air, she wrote, "There is no work so exasperating, so delightful, so mean, so difficult, so exhilarating, as building aeroplanes..." 

Although I found this picture on Wikipedia, it is unclear if Lilian ever flew the plane herself. What is clear, is that she was the first woman to design a successful airplane on her own.

I believe this is a much-needed story of determination and perseverance. The next generation--girls and boys--needs role models of adults who do not easily give up and diligently work to fulfill their dreams. The detailed illustrations by Tracy Subisak complement the text beautifully. 


Leave a comment (with your email address if you are new to my blog) by Friday, July 17 at 5 PM if you would like to enter this drawing. As usual, if you become a new subscriber or share on social media, I'll add your name twice--but make sure you tell me what you do! U.S. addresses only. 

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Will You Be Friends With Me? A Board Book Review and Giveaway

Kathleen Long Bostrom's newest book, Will You Be Friends With Me? (Hachette Book Group) has come out just in time for International Friendship Day. This simple board book with inviting illustrations has a powerful message: children will look different and have different preferences--but they can still be friends. 


From the opening of the book: 

I wake early, you sleep late.
My hair's curly, yours is straight.
I say, "Now!"
You say, "Wait?"
Will you be friends with me?

The book shows children in a variety of play, school, and sports settings. Throughout the text, children point out differences between themselves with the narrator asking the recurring question, "Will you be friends with me?"

In the middle of the book, the narrator observes that working together is better than being alone:

Let's play leapfrog.
Jump up high!
Maybe we will touch the sky.
We can do it if we try!

The theme, "It's okay to be different from one another" is clearly shown:

I like morning.
You like night.
We're just different
That's all right.

The concluding spread celebrates diversity and friendship.

The illustrations by Jo de Ruiter are cheery and friendly. Young readers will see themselves in the activities depicted. 

Will You Be Friends With Me? will be a useful resource in the Pre-K classroom as well as a fun book for families to read together. 


If you are interested in winning this book, leave me a comment by 6 PM on July 10. If you are new to my blog, make sure you leave your email address also. 

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

This Promise of Change: A Review and Giveaway

Congratulations to Linda Andersen Gutheil who won FREE LUNCH from last week's blog. She plans to donate it to a local school. Thank you, Linda!

This Promise of Change: One Girl's Story in the Fight for School Equality co-written by Jo Ann Allen Boyce and Debbie Levy is a book you won't be able to put down. Jo Ann Allen was one of twelve students in Clinton, Tn who integrated Clinton High School in 1956. Debbie Levy has given voice to Jo Ann's stories in a unique nonfiction biography that uses more than eight varieties of poetry. That is quite an accomplishment.

But as Jo Ann and Debbie would most likely be quick to acknowledge, their accomplishment pales in comparison to what the twelve students achieved in those difficult months. 

In a book that is told so beautifully through poignant poetry, it is difficult for me to select just a few poems to share with you. Instead, I'm going to bring you snippets from several to entice you to read it yourself. (NOTE: The last line of several poems appear in a slightly larger font. This is a blogger issue; not the way in which they appear in the book. My apologies to the authors.)


Promise opens with a brief description to the Hill where Jo Ann and her family lived, worshiped, played, held concerts, and went to school--until it was time for junior high and high school when the Negro students were bused twenty miles to Knoxville to a Negro high school. This is a stanza from the poem, "MY SCHOOLS," about her elementary school:

... Green McAddo had no cafeteria, no gymnasium 
and no indoor bathrooms
until the time I started first grade.
The grammar school in town did,
and also had separate classrooms for every grade,
but that school was whites-only,
and still is. (p.21)


Clinton High School.
Here it is, right close, right down the Hill,
with its solid red brick and clean white trim
for white students only.
We walk by it, not to it,
because it's their school,
but not big enough
for twelve Negro students
who look at it every day
but have never been inside.  (p.25)

When a judge in Knoxville rules that Clinton can no longer ignore the Brown v. Board of Education ruling of 1954,  Clinton High School is forced to integrate. It wasn't that the community, principal, town newspaper, or teachers wanted to, they were had to. 

Throughout the book, there are headlines from local and national newspapers and magazines; signs in the town, quotes from the Tennessee constitution, prayers, interviews, and legal rulings. Here is one:

"We have never heard anyone in Clinton say he wanted the integration of students in the schools, but we have heard a great many of the people say: 'We believe in the law. We will obey the ruling of the Court. We have no other lawful choices.""
Editorial in the Clinton Courier-News written by editor Horace V. Wells, Jr. August 30, 1956. (p.62)

At first, Jo Ann thinks that, 

If school were weather, I would say it's serious
with a chance of friendly.  (p. 75)

On the second day, she sees protestors and glares on the way to school. She thinks that "clouds [are] rolling in on my forecast."  (p. 78)

This is from the poem, "LEFT UNSAID":

So my two great-great-grandmothers
had children with light complexions,
and narrow noses like yours (and mine),
and thin mouths like yours (and mine),
white enough to pass for white,
which means that
in the branches of my family tree
there are ancestors
who are as white
as you. (p.84)

By the end of her first week of school, the shouting and harassing increase. The students stop eating at the cafeteria because it feels unsafe. The sheriff drives them home. People ask if they want to quit and they say no. In the poem, "HEARING/UNHEARING" Jo Ann thinks, 

But now, I don't want to walk out.
I want to walk in.
I can't unhear what I hear.
I won't walk away from it, either. (p.91)

Less than a week later, riots break out in the street. Here are a few stanzas from "PEACEKEEPERS":

The tanks roll in at lunchtime,
a show of growling might,
As if in answer to the prayers
we prayed in fear last night.

Clinton's leaders asked for them;
the governor agreed.
They saw the lawless trampling
of the bigoted stampede. (p. 107)


The news is something
that happens
to other people
in other places

Until it happens to you. (p.124-5)

Tension escalates with the KKK burning crosses on the Hill. 


Scattered on our chairs
A prank straight out of cartoons
They think we don't look? (p. 173)


And so I go through the school day
surrounded by a hard shell of silence,
chitchat and cheer bouncing off the walls,
none of it meant for me.  (p. 180)

Eventually, all the "little" acts of hatred add up to too many "BIG THINGS":

Where once they kept their distance,
the white kids who hate us
are up close now, hard on our heels,
truly stepping on our heels--
Gail Ann's are bloody.  (p. 193)

After Thanksgiving break, the twelve students return to hair pulling, hands tearing their books, insults, wicked notes in their locker, nails and eggs thrown at them, and more buttons worn by students which say, KEEP WHITE SCHOOLS WHITE.

The school board suggests they return to Austin High. 

Here are two stanzas from "WHAT ARE THEY THINKING?"

This plan is good if you're a fan
of the Klan.
It treats us as less than
every white man.
It can't stand.
We will finish what we began.

To be clear:
a bus to Knoxville again--
that's moving in the wrong
direction.  (p. 209-210)

The principal closes the school after violence erupts and a pastor is beaten. At an election that follows that event, all the white supremacist candidates lose. Jo Ann calls that, A REAL VICTORY.

Before all this,
before all that happened
I thought there was nothing I could do
about segregation.
I'm just a girl, I thought,
one girl who tries
to look at the good side of things,
because there's nothing I can do
about the bad.
I'm still that good-side-looking girl.
but now when I see the bad, I'll think--
I'll know---
there's something I can do about it. (p. 233)


As you can tell by the number of poems I quoted, I believe This Promise of Change should be a part of every middle-grade Social Studies curriculum. It is easy to read and even the reluctant reader (or the boy who doesn't like poetry) will be hooked by this riveting true story. The back matter includes information about what happened to each of the twelve students; a scrapbook of photos, notes from both authors, a civil rights timeline, and several pages of resources. The authors also put Clinton, Tn into the context of the Civil Rights struggle. 


I spent a pleasant thirty minutes chatting with Debbie via Zoom about historical fiction for older middle-grade readers.  I slipped in a few other questions also. For the record, she is now working on a poetry collection and a nonfiction historical picture book. If you look at the list of books she has written, you'll see that many are about social justice. I asked her about this passion and she said, 

I seem to return in my books to the theme of the Other or Outsider. Surely this has roots in my Jewish identity, for Jews have been and still are so often the Other. But also, for me the best of Judaism is tied to the quest for justice, and so it is tied to the themes of such books as This Promise of Change and We Shall Overcome. And then there’s my status as the daughter of a refugee. My mother, the protagonist of my nonfiction-in-verse book The Year of Goodbyes (re-released in 2019 in a new edition), was the Other as a girl in Nazi Germany, and when she immigrated to this country in 1938. I cannot emphasize enough her influence on me as a fighter and as a person who was always open to and interested in those who were different from her—treating others as she wished she’d been treated when she was the ultimate Other.


I am giving away this book in conjunction with the summer issue of Talking Story on Community. If you are interested in winning Promise, please leave me a comment along with your email address if you are new to my blog. A winner will be chosen on July 18

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

FREE LUNCH: An Audiobook Review

Congratulations to Connie Saunders for winning THROUGH THE WARDROBE from last week's blog. Here's a tip to win a book. Whenever Connie enters my giveaway, she ALWAYS shares it on social media. This earns her more chances to win a book--and it works!

"This book is for every kid. Whether they pay for their lunch or not."  FREE LUNCH by Rex Ogle


"Why can’t I get what I want at the grocery store?" Rex asks his mother. Unfortunately, he knows the answer.  It’s been like this all his life. He hates seeing all of the chips, candy, and ice cream that other kids eat that he doesn't; he hates watching his mother try to stretch every dollar and use food stamps; he hates his constantly empty stomach; he hates having cashiers looking at him like he might steal something because his clothes come from the thrift store. 

Told in first person POV, this nonfiction autobiography is Rex's own story growing up in a dysfunctional family. He's angry that his family--including Sam, his mother's stuttering live-in boyfriend; and Ford, his toddler half-brother that Rex takes care of--are all poor. 

And he hates the helplessness and fighting in their home that poverty creates. Rex wants to blame his mother for not working but he also realizes that without a job, "all of the love goes out of Mom." Over and over she tells him how hard it is for her to get a decent job and blames him for being ungrateful.

The ultimate humiliation is when Rex enters middle school and discovers that his mother registered him for the free lunch program. Every day he feels like a beggar while he waits for the lunch lady to check his name off the free lunch checklist.  

Ogle doesn't hold back from painting the realistic but ugly picture of his childhood. The family moves frequently as the adults look for jobs. The lack of money leads to tension, arguing, and fighting. His mother gives him a black eye on more than one occasion. Rex's clothes are stashed in cardboard boxes and he sleeps on the floor--along with the cockroaches. 

The one bright light in his life is his abuela, his Mexican grandmother. She is his cheerleader. "You are smart and handsome. Life is not always fair," she tells him. "I lived in a one-room house without indoor plumbing and dirt floor with my13 brothers and sisters. We made it work. You will too." 

As hungry, poor, and angry Rex is, he tries to control his emotions, to not be rude, and to not hit back. But his own anger makes him feel evil. He has to remind himself that "being poor is not a disease."

In the cauldron of poverty and abuse, Rex experiences problems at school and with his peers. Despite worrying about how he can keep his poverty a secret so that his friends won't turn on him he thinks, "School feels safer than home." 

But things get worse. His friends reject him. He wears a monster costume on Halloween and starts worrying that he is a monster-- just like Sam or his mother. His family moves to public housing which is the last straw. He lashes out and tells his mother, "I hate you." She slaps him. Hard. He is constantly on edge wondering when she will strike back him and how could their lives get worse. Would they be homeless? Would they starve? Would he die? 

He develops a friendship with Ethan, a boy who he sits with at lunch. Ethan's point-of-view -- that his life isn't as perfect as it seems even though he his parents have lots of money--is eye-opening. "Come on, no one has a perfect life!" Ethan says... "Money isn't everything. Trust me."  

Towards the end, his mother gets a good waitressing job and the family takes some steps towards healing. Sam goes out of his way to give Rex an unexpected Christmas gift and the book ends on a hopeful note.  

FREE LUNCH tells it like it was for young Rex Ogle. A few readers might object to some crude language. To me, it was a brutally honest book. As Rex says at one point, "I don’t trust the word free. Look what it’s cost me." 

The audiobook is narrated by Ramon de Ocampo, who performs all of the voices excellently. I was particularly impressed with how well he showed Sam's stuttering. 

In a Facebook exchange, Rex told me this was the hardest book he's ever written--until the one he's writing now which is the sequel. But he's "glad it's helping some kiddos out there."

This is not an easy read; there were times I had to stop listening. I would recommend that middle-grade students read or listen to it with their parents or teacher so they can discuss it together. Although Rex is entering sixth grade in the book, the tough content might indicate it is more for young adults. 


If you're interested in adding this book to your home or school library, please leave me a comment by 9 AM on June 26. The winner will receive an audio code and instructions on downloading the book. As always, if you decide to follow my blog or share this on social media, let me know what you do in the comments. PLEASE leave your email address if you are new to my blog. This giveaway is courtesy of Recorded Books. 

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

THROUGH THE WARDROBE: How C.S. Lewis Created Narnia

Congratulations to Sarah Maury Swan who won ORDINARY HAZARDS off last week's blog.



Last fall I attended the SCBWI-Carolinas panel in which Lina Maslo co-presented "Bringing Your Voice to Non-Fiction."  I heard about her forthcoming book, THROUGH THE WARDROBE which she wrote and illustrated.  Immediately I knew I wanted to share it with all of you--and with my grandchildren.

This non-fiction picture book provides enough details about C.S. Lewis's childhood and adult traumas to help the reader understand how the world of Narnia came into existence. 

"As a boy, Clive Staples Lewis did not like his name. He imagined himself as more of a... Jack. When he was four years old, he changed it."

Since Jack didn't always like his own world, he imagined and wrote about other worlds. That was a precursor of things to come.

Jack lived in Ireland where it rained a lot. He and his older brother spent hours reading about talking animals and knights in armor. They made up a world populated with frogs, mice, and rabbits who argued about politics and went on quests to defeat evil cats. Conquering evil played a part in Jack's early stories.

Jack's pleasant childhood ended when he was nine. His mother died and he and his brother were sent to a boarding school in England--a horrible experience for him. Jack finished his education with a tutor and was on his way to being a teacher when WWI broke out. Jack went into the army but was determined to be a writer. After the war, he "pushed his imagination away." He taught at Oxford University and wrote many books about "pain, faith, love; about medieval times; about people discovering strange planets."

"But in the back of his mind, Jack had characters waiting for a story of their own."

During WWII, Jack took in evacuees. One day, a little girl asked him if there was anything behind [his] old wardrobe.

That started him thinking. He "decided to write a fairy tale...about a land unlike the dreary one they lived in, and about the characters in his imagination."

Jack's publisher, and his good friend, J.R.R. Tolkien, didn't like his first ideas about Narnia, so he put it aside. But when he got sick, he decided he didn't care what others thought. He would write a story about four children who had been sent far from home during the war. "It was raining, and they were stuck inside a house of endless hallways. They found a wardrobe and crawled in. But as they pushed back the old fur coats, they fell into a magical realm..."

Narnia was a place that children learned about characters who stood up to bullies and that "the worst moments of your life were only leading you to become the person you were meant to be."

Children wrote to him and begged for more stories about Narnia. But by the time he wrote the seventh book, he knew he was finished. "This time, it was up to others--to discover a world only they could imagine and to find the door they were destined to open."


Look closely at the clever cover of the book pictured above and notice what Lina incorporated into it. If you get the book for a young reader--as I hope you will--you'll discover that the hardback cover is a wardrobe. Young readers open the doors of this beautifully written book and step inside C.S. Lewis's life.  

Make sure you don't skip over the endpapers. In the front are imagined letters from children to C.S. Lewis. Since he destroyed all of his correspondence, Maslo created these. The back endpapers are actual letters from Jack to children which can be found in C.S. Lewis: Letters to Children. Back matter includes interesting facts about Jack and an extensive bibliography.


I love stories within stories and in fact, this is a picture book about a man who loved reading and writing books. The illustrations are accessible to children; the color pallet which Lina Maslo used is beautiful. Although C.S. Lewis ages in the book, he still has a child-like wonder in his facial expressions. 

I bought this book for my not-quite-five-year-old granddaughter since I knew her father had already read The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe to her. During the Covid quarantine, my daughter suggested that I read books to her via Skype. I happily obliged. After my granddaughter received Through the Wardrobe she asked if I could read it to her. I was glad I had saved the F and G's so I could read the book to her.


I have a special giveaway for you! Lina Maslo is donating a personally autographed copy of THROUGH THE WARDROBE for you or for a young reader in your life. All you have to do is leave me a comment (please include your email address if you are new to my blog) by Friday, June 19 at 5 PM. Want extra chances? Share this on social media and tell me what you did. 

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Ordinary Hazards: An Audio Book Review and Giveaway

Congratulations to Barbara Younger for winning CAVE DADA from last week's blog.

Nikki Grimes writes powerful young adult books in verse. You'll find my reviews of Between the Lines and Words with Wings on previous posts. Now I know why she is able to write such authentic poetry. It comes from the depth of her soul and the pain from her past. 

Note: since this is a review of the audiobook, I did my best to capture quotes from the book. 


Nikki narrates the book and begins with this definition:

Memoir: A work of imperfect memory in which you meticulously capture all that you can recall and use informed imagination to fill in what remains. As she says later in the book, Trauma is a memory hog.

Quickly, the reader learns about Nikki's schizophrenic, alcoholic mother; her musician father who feels incapable of raising children; and a childhood full of instability, fears, and abuse. Her only constant was her older sister, Carol, who she adored.

“I have a Ph.D. in avoidance 
We’re all masters of selective memory 
We’re all allergic to pain."


Home was never a safe place.
Forget the guns. 
I was put in a dresser drawer away from the rats.

As a child she realized her mother had a secret life since she talked to invisible people. "Mommy who are you talking to?” was met with,  "Shhh!" and a finger to her lips. 

After her father left, the family temporarily lived with a relative but her sons shot heroin. They moved out, her mother went to work, and the girls were left in the care of a person who locked them in a closet during the day. Nikki was 3, Carol was 8. 

A demon lived inside of us for years in fear of the dark.

When neighbors reported that her mother neglected them, social services took them away. That began a series of foster homes. Some she remembered; she forgot several. One foster mother whipped her and her sister. She and her sister ran away to their grandmother's house; she refused to take them in. 

Did we do something wrong? Is that why no one wants us? 
Anger and I stood together on the train. 

When she was six, she found an oasis of love and peace with the Buchanan's foster family. Although she didn't talk for several days, the family's welcome broke down her distrust. She went to church, started school, and took dance lessons. But she was terrified of the night's darkness. She discovered Psalm 18:28: "You, Lord, keep my lamp burning; my God turns my darkness into light," and realized, 

Grace! Outstrips the dark every time.

Early on, she started pouring out her feelings in notebooks; the blank page was her safety.

The writing thing was some kind of magic. 
But magicians rarely share their secrets.

Although she grew to love the Buchanan family, she yearned for Carol and wrestled with not hearing from her parents.

Why did mom love liquor more than us? 
Why didn’t they love us?

When someone explained that her mother had a nervous breakdown she asks, How can nerves break? She is told that her mother doesn't know what's real and what's not, and Nikki remembered her mother's imaginary friends. 

When she overheard a relative at a picnic say that Mr. and Mrs. B always took in strays, Nikki realized, This beautiful family was only borrowed.

She found a picture of herself in the Buchanan family album when she was nine.  She had settled in and let her guard down. Then her mother called. She was remarried and wanted Nikki to join them. 

I had to go. How could I say no? One mother is all that you get. I wasn’t ready to give up on her yet."

The city scared her, it was difficult always changing schools mid-term. This time, her mother deliberately kept her father away and spent more time in politics and civil rights than with her. But Nikki moved in any way--what choice did she have? She quickly learned that in Brooklyn you have to join a gang for protection. When she is singed with a cigarette butt, her mother doesn't ask about the bandage. Nikki writes,

Why does she avoid dark and painful things? 
Who taught her to pretend? 

There were gangs on every corner, danger her mother refused to see, and the Brooklyn Library became her refuge. 

My life is like musical chairs. 
Every time the music plays, I have to move. 

When her mother started talking to herself again, she feared that “this stuff” was in her. 

God, please don’t let insanity be my inheritance.
Both her father and stepfather were useless. Nikkie took the situation into her hands; she was a kid who had to get her mother hospitalized. 

Every damn episode wore another hole in my soul.

She entered puberty and was alarmed when boys and her stepfather eyed her funny. She hated the changes in her body. Her sister moved in but didn't stay; Nikki didn't realize why Carol left until after “my mother’s monster” raped her. No amount of showers or notebook entries could take her pain away. In the same way that her mother didn't want to hear the truth about the neighborhood gangs, Nikki knew her mother would be no help against her step-father's abuse.

Her pent up anger terrified her. She learned to vocalize and to translate her feelings into words on the page.

I knew writing could take me places. 
But writing was a lonely place. 

Although her mother discounted her writing talent, at thirteen Nikki performed her first reading with Harlem poets. She was nervous, but her father affirmed her talent. He said, 

Explore every art form. You can be whatever you want.

My father fed me books and art by blacks. 
It left me dreaming of what books I might bring into the world.

After going to the Copacabana with her father she thinks, Not all stars in the firmament are white.

Nikki's faith does not break in spite of the many difficulties she faces. At one point she writes,

How can I not believe in God? 
If it weren’t for Him I’d be in prison or the grave.

As I mentioned, Nikki narrates the book herself. The only time her voice wavered was when she read about the car accident in which her father lost his life. He had promised to see her Easter morning and she blamed herself for him driving too late at night to get home in time. She felt powerless in the face of death.

Why did the one parent who knew my heart have to die? 

Here is an audio snippet to give you a flavor of the book.


This is a powerful memoir that I recommend for mature teens as well as for adults. Nikki Grimes has taken the fragments of her life-- "scattered memories"--and pieced them together into an amazing volume of poetry. Teens who have known abuse will find comfort in reading this book and knowing that they are not alone. Teens who have grown up in safety should gain empathy by reading or listening to Ordinary Hazards


I have a code that you can use to download this book for one of you. Leave me a comment by 6 PM on June 13th to enter the giveaway; please make sure to leave your email address if you are new to my blog. Share this on social media or start following my blog and I'll enter your name twice. 

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Cave Dada: A Picture Book Review and Giveaway

Congratulations to Gwen Porter who won CHASING AUGUSTUS from last week's blog.


This week I have another picture book by North Carolina author-illustrator, Brandon Reese. I first featured Brandon on my blog two years ago with his debut picture book, OOTHAR THE BLUE. CAVE DADA is a very different subject, but once again, larger-than-life characters are portrayed in funny illustrations and minimal text in a book that kids and parents will love. To quote from Beauty and the Beast, this is a "story that is as old as time."

Although Dada is tired from his day of hunting and gathering, Baba is not. He demands to be read to.

But Baba is quite firm. He needs a book. And not ANY book. It has to be a BIG book. 

Not even Dada's discovery of fire makes Baba happy.

So, Dada goes on a hunt for a book SO BIG that he needs the help of a wooly mammoth to bring it back.

But what does Dada find when he returns? 

Baba has fallen asleep.

Or, has he?


This book will make a great gift to a new father--or any father for that matter! Children will love the illustrations and even pre-K students will learn to "read" the simple words. Kids and parents will enjoy how true to life it is--and how funny too!


Here is Brandon reading the book--as it's supposed to sound!


To enter, please leave a comment on my blog (with your email address if you are new to my blog). Become a new subscriber to my blog and I'll enter your name twice. Giveaway ends at 6 PM on June 5.


Brandon told me that the sequel to Cave Dada will be coming out in 2021--CAVE DADA PICKY EATER. I can only imagine the hilarious illustrations and storyline for that book! 

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Chasing Augustus: A Review and an Audio Book Giveaway


What 10 to 14-year-old doesn't enjoy a good dog book?  If your son, daughter, grandchild, or student fits into that category, then Chasing Augustus by Kimberly Newton Fusco, is a book that you want to win for them.  

Rosie's got it tough. Her mother left her as a child to make a better life for herself in California. Her father has a stroke and is hospitalized. That leaves her paternal grandfather, Harry, in charge of raising her--something he is ill-equipped to do. On top of that, when her mother comes home temporarily, she gives away "Gloaty Gus"-- Rosie's "lug of a dog." 

From the first chapter, the reader is rooting for this spunky protagonist who feels as if she is "half the girl she used to be" without her furry, stubborn friend. As the title intimates, the book is mostly about Rosie trying to find Augustus and the various obstacles she has to overcome in the process. Readers see the sandpits which cover the town with grit whenever the wind blows--and which makes riding a bicycle (when she goes looking for her dog) include wearing swim goggles. Readers feel her apathy in school and cringe when she makes bad choices. And of course, they resonate with her longing to be reunited with her dog. 

Although this is a book about determination and not losing hope, it is truly about making friends in unexpected places. Readers meet Rosie's next-door neighbor, Phillipe, a foster kid who won't shrug off his huge overcoat and who is obsessed with Monopoly; Cynthia, a girl who gets on Rosie's nerves because she asks too many questions; Swanson, a mute woman who the town kids mock and fear but who provides surprising answers to Rosie's questions; and even her grandfather Harry, who is an ornery sardine-and-cracker-eating guy who makes Rosie get tutoring over the summer for her poor English grade; and Mr. Peterson her tutor who she despises at first, but who she learns to appreciate. 

Readers will care about Rosie, but they will also see how her behavior is not above reproach. She puts her desire to find Augustus above everything else; not caring about how her Grandfather will worry when she leaves home in a storm or how Phillipe feels when she pushes him into helping her. I think if the book is read in the classroom, I would recommend pointing out her lack of empathy and why she is self-absorbed in her quest. It would also be good to discuss how she resolves her relationships in the end. 

Here's an audio snippet from the beginning of the book. The narrator, Karissa Vacker, created an authentic voice for the first-person protagonist. The secondary characters are also portrayed well through a variety of authentic voices. 

And finally, a line early in the book which summarizes the sand-pit setting as well as Rosie's life, “If you don’t do something with all the grit in your life, things seem to jam up something awful."


A winner will receive a code from Tantor Audio and instructions on downloading the book. To enter, please leave me a comment with your email address if you are new to my blog by 6 PM on May 29. 

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Two New Picture Books from Sleeping Bear Press

Daddy Loves You!

This picture book is the fifth book written by Helen Foster James and illustrated by Petra Brown showing the love of a bunny family member for a young bunny. (Check out Grandma Loves You!, Grandpa Loves You!,  Mommy Loves You!, and Auntie Loves You!.)

This story begins with, 
"Daddy loves you, bunny-bear, much more than words can say. 
You are your daddy's sunshine. I'll love you every day."

The daddy bunny goes on to say how he'll protect his little one, how they'll explore, and play together. 

"Let's see who hops the highest, then spin ourselves around...."

At night Daddy bunny tucks him in bed at night and says, 

"Sweet dreams, my snuggle bunny, I know that this is true,
You are my little angel, and moonbeam...I love you."

Daddy Loves You! includes a blank page for the child's father to write a note to his son or daughter.

Where'd My Jo Go? 

This rhyming picture book by Jill Esbaum and illustrated by Scott Brundage is based on a true story that Esbaum read in a newspaper. Jill fictionalized the story and it's shown from both Al and Jo's point of view--something I've never seen in a picture book! 

Big Al is Jo's furry friend who loves traveling with her on the open road. When Jo takes a break, Al is busy meeting children, finding a snack, and rolling in someone's flower bed. But when he returns to the truck stop, Al can't find Jo!

As difficult as it is, Al waits for Jo, watching as trucks come and go along the highway.

At the same time, Jo realizes that Al is not in the truck with her! 

While Big Al waits, he's sad and scared. He's tempted to go with Zack, a friendly boy who plays with him, but from out of the dark night, Al spots Jo's truck. 

"I have to look, 
Could it be true? 
Oh, Jo. Please, Jo, 
could that be-- 
Bye, Zack! I have to go!
I knew she'd come! 
It's her! 
My Jo!

Where'd My Jo Go? uses simple vocabulary and new readers will enjoy mastering the words. Both books are illustrated in a manner that reflects the story's content; Petra Brown and Scott Brundage show a realm of emotions in their characters! Both books will be enjoyed by children and the adults who read them out loud.

Sorry--no giveaway this week. I'm celebrating the birth of a new grandson and these books will be a great contribution to their family library!

Big sister Eleanor enjoys reading to Luke and baby Caleb.

WOOD, WIRE, WINGS: A Review and a Giveaway

Congratulations to Jo Lynn Worden who won  Will You Be My Friend?  from last week's blog. I have received a number of picture books fr...