Monday, September 24, 2018

Teach Your Giraffe To Ski- A Review and Giveaway

Seriously, if you had a giraffe, wouldn't you want to teach her to ski?

That's the story that author, Viviane Elbee, brought to life in her lively, imaginative debut picture book, TEACH YOUR GIRAFFE TO SKI (Albert Whitman and Co, 2018)

Why didn't I think of a clever idea like that? Maybe because unlike Viviane, I never was brave enough to bring my young children to a ski slope and my days of skiing ended in a close encounter with a tree many years ago...

But, back to Viviane's fun story of a young boy who learns to overcome his fears while, of course, teaching his giraffe to ski. Here is a glimpse of her text and the kid-friendly illustrations by Danni Gowdy

First things first:

Next, you remind your giraffe that she's got to start small.

Then you teach her important moves like doing a pizza, making french fries and S's, and the importance of good manners on the slopes.

Even if she gets tangled up, you stick with her.

But what do you do when your giraffe races away and you have to keep her safe? What if she heads towards the SCARY ski lift on the VERY BIG slope? 

You'll just have to buy the book and find out for yourself!


Last spring I had the privilege of hosting Vivian on my blog with her cover reveal. I started a (long!) list of people who wanted to receive the ARC. Albert Whitman is also offering a hard copy of the book when it releases in November. So go ahead, leave me your name (and email address if you are new to my blog) and I'll pick two winners on Thursday, September 27!

Monday, September 17, 2018

Puritan Girl, Mohawk Girl-- An Audio Book Review and Giveaway

Congratulations to Nancy Frederick who won SHE STARTED IT ALL on last week's blog.


PURITAN GIRL, MOHAWK GIRL (Amulet Books, 2017) written by John Demos and narrated by Christina Moore, is based on the true story of Eunice Kanenstewnhawi Williams who was kidnapped (along with her family) by the Mohawks when she was seven and taken to Canada. The attack on Deerfield Village, where she lived with her Puritan minister father, John Williams, her mother Eunice, and siblings, was in 1704. This attack was part of a series of raids and conflicts between the English and French as part of Queen Anne's War. As Demos notes in the prologue, different Native Americans tribes allied with both countries. 

Like Sandra Warren whose book, SHE STARTED IT ALL, was reviewed last week, John Demos wrote this work of fiction after researching and writing a nonfiction account The Unredeemed Captive: A Family Story from Early America which was published in 1995. 

I presume that the author used John Williams book, The Redeemed Captive, his account of being kidnapped and returned to Massachusetts. (The hard copy of PURITAN GIRL, MOHAWK GIRL includes substantial author's notes on the historical documentation along with details filled in by the author's knowledge of French Canadian, Puritan, and Mohawk customs and beliefs. Unfortunately these were not a part of the audio recording.)

The story graphically depicts Eunice's capture, the death of her mother and younger sister, and her abduction by the Mohawks. She is adopted by a woman who has lost her daughter. One year later, John Williams travels to try and get her back but is rebuffed by the chief who says that she belongs to them now. He leaves with the image of Eunice begging him to take her back home. 

Eunice receives a Mohawk name (Waongote), learns the language, and the history of the tribe. Two years later when a trader comes to the village and tries to convince her to come home, she has no desire to leave her Mohawk family and has totally forgotten the English language. When her father hears of this, it is a source of great grief and sorrow and he never truly gives up hope that she will return. 

When she is a teen of marriageable age, she receives the name Kanenstewnhawi and marries a Mohawk man who has already converted to Catholicism. The priests didn’t want to marry them in the church knowing how her father and the English will be upset that she was married as a Catholic Mohawk. They also didn’t want them to live in sin, so they're faced with a political and spiritual dilemma. The couple ends up getting married in a very small ceremony in the church. The priests want to keep it secret, but news gets back to her father through traders. Reverand Williams was shocked. How could she become Catholic and marry a savage?

As an adult, memories finally return to her of her former life and the raid; she blames her father for her mother's death. Long after her father dies, she returns to Massachusetts to see her brothers. Despite her family's prayers and petitions, she remains a Mohawk until her death. She is interested in receiving her share of her father's estate but is unable to receive it as a Mohawk. 

John Demos certainly dug deep to write this story, but the book reads more like an historical narrative than a work of fiction. The reader will gain a lot of information about the French Mohawks as well as the conflict between the Puritans and Catholics during colonial times, but the narrator tells the story, rather than Eunice herself. This distant storytelling technique make the novel less immersive. Other book reviewers mention this problem likening it more to a biography than a work of historical fiction.

Although I can't dispute Mr. Demos's research, it feels like a bit of a stretch that Eunice is so immersed in the Mohawk culture that she totally forgets who she is. She is Caucasian with light hair and obviously looked very different than the people around her. Wouldn’t she have questioned that?  

These concerns aside, I still think PURITAN GIRL, MOHAWK GIRL would be an interesting curriculum resource that will spark considerable classroom discussion.

Here is a snippet from the book, courtesy of Recorded Books


If you are interested in entering this giveaway, please leave me a comment along with your email address if you are new to this blog. I will be giving it away in mid-October in conjunction with the fall issue of TALKING STORY on Colonial America. 

Monday, September 10, 2018

She Started it All- A Review and Giveaway

Some of you may remember my review of Sandra Warren's book, We Bought a WWII Bomber: The Untold Story of a Michigan High School, a B-17 Bomber and The Blue Ridge Parkway. After she wrote and published it, I challenged her to use her research to write an historical novel. She knew the story inside and out--so she had half the work done!

She took my challenge seriously and the result is her first foray into middle grade historical fiction, SHE STARTED IT ALL


Told in two points of view, SHE STARTED IT ALL brings the story of the "forgotten" bomber- a plane purchased with money raised by Michigan students during WWII--into Joe Gerrard and Sandi Howard's eighth grade classroom. 

Of course, when the two students receive their history assignments they don't know what lies in wait for them. All they know is that they receive topics they don't like. Sandi wants to cover the music of the time period and instead is asked to report on WWII aircraft; Joe wants to do a project on the bombers he's passionate about, but instead he's required to research United States War Bonds and War Loan Stamps. Their teacher, Mrs. Bradley, says, "As you work through your projects, maybe you'll discover something that will make history itself." A statement that proves to be true in unexpected ways.

If you add to this set-up the fact that Sandi is a shy "Brainiac" with a secret crush on Joe and that he is the popular jock at school--then you have a recipe for conflict. In fact, their constant misperceptions of each other and the cliff-hanger endings to each chapter make the book a page-turner. 

The author does a good job of including historical facts so that the reader learns about WWII without feeling overwhelmed with information. The contemporary setting of a modern middle school and authentic language also makes the book accessible to today's readers. 

I'm a huge fan of using facts in fiction (including real people when possible) as well as inter-generational stories. Both of these are present in this novel. Both Sandi and Joe receive help from elderly primary sources which adds further authenticity to the story.

As for the ending? Well, let's just say it's perfect.


If you'd like to receive a personally autographed copy of SHE STARTED IT ALL, please enter my giveaway! Leave me a comment by September 13 along with your email address if you are new to my blog. Share this on social media (and tell me what you did) and I'll enter your name twice!


Monday, September 3, 2018

Triple Play @ ALA!

Earlier this summer three of my friends attended the American Library Association's Annual Conference in New Orleans. I asked Jo Hackl, Rebecca Petruck, and Linda Phillips to share their perspective on presenting their books to thousands of librarians.

I found this picture on Facebook. A writer just happened to be
in New Orleans during the conference and shared this photo.
Isn't it terrific?

I asked them the following questions: 
1. What was the highlight of your experience? 
2. What did you learn? 
3. What would you pass on to other authors?

Jo Hackl

Librarians and educators are my favorite kinds of people and the highlight of my experience was connecting with school media specialists interested in exploring ways to engage students in reading. I also loved connecting with other authors. And seeing my book in the Random House booth was a thrill.  All in all, an amazing experience.

I learned more about the incredible array of resources the ALA offers. I thoroughly enjoyed each session and made some great connections with librarians and media specialists.

My top pieces of advice:
     * Wear comfortable shoes. You’ll do a LOT of walking. At one point my “voice to text” wrote “exhausted all” instead of “exhibit hall.”  I don’t think that was that far off. The convention center was over a mile long.
      * Bring business cards and small swag.
The ALA community is the best in the world. Where else can you connect with thousands of librarians passionate about getting books in the hands of readers?

You can read my review of Jo Hackl's debut novel, SMACK DAB IN THE MIDDLE OF MAYBEhere

Rebecca Petruck

The highlight of ALA is always the librarians. Not only because it's ALWAYS fun to meet librarians and geek out talking books, but also because I love to hear what kids are REALLY reading and why.

It's not so much what I learned as what I was reminded to remember and cherish: Librarians LOVE books, and they love SHARING books. They are classic "Connector" personality types, and that's a lucky thing for all us readers!

Because today's authors generally have to do a lot of self-promotion, we can get overwhelmed and start behaving like newsboys, shouting, "Read all about it! Read my book!" For me, this happens when I've worked myself into a panic state that I'm not doing "enough." Attending ALA reminded me to LISTEN. Connection is a two-way experience, and listening filled me with inspiration and renewed energy to write. 

ALA typically chooses "cold" locations for the winter conference and "hot" locations for the summer conference because they are less-expensive times for the convention center and hotels. Talking with an author at ALA, he was genuinely taken aback to learn this information and admitted he thought organizers were sadists. Ha! We all love librarians, but I think many of us have a memory of that ONE librarian who terrified us about being quiet and not damaging the books. :) 

You can read my review of Rebecca Petruck's book, BOY BITES BUG here.

Linda Phillips

Rebecca and Linda found each other
in the miles of books!

This was my first ALA experience, and you’re going to laugh, but I didn’t realize it was one huge giveaway (duh). Somehow I thought we would be selling books, and honestly, that put a huge pit in my stomach.  What if I was in the next booth over from Kwame?  My line would never compare!  First of all, my booth was a safe distance from Kwame as it turns out, and secondly, even I had a line.  Statistics aside, no bookstore experience will ever compare to the exhilaration of seeing your books evaporate in less than a half hour.  

Back to Kwame.  Four years ago, when my first book (Crazy) came out, verse novels were at best a hard sell.  But I was elated to hear from librarians and young folks who were excited and eager to read a novel in verse.  You know that feeling about being in the right place at the right time?  So as soon as my signings were done I hightailed it to Kwame’s line to personally shake his hand (and subtly drop one of my books on his table) and thank him for what he has done for verse novels.  I may be wrong, but I think his influence has made a big difference.  Even middle school boys, for heaven’s sake.  

I’m a small fish in a very big pond. The first half day I spent wandering around the maze of thousands of books and hundreds of publishers in a daze, wondering where to start and how to take it all in. At first, admittedly, I felt like I was swimming upstream against a swiftly moving current full of overwhelmingly big fish. But in between all the wandering, I got to hear some really big fish who, amazingly, made me feel so connected to the human stream and so proud to be in the pond at all.  Michelle Obama, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Salley Field, Gayle Donley—each shared her wisdom, told down-to-earth, heartwarming parts of her story, assured all of us that telling the story IS a big thing to be doing no matter who you are.  

Don’t worry about where you are in the scheme of things in this world, in this industry, in this line of authors and potential authors.  If you have a story that is burning inside of you, don’t hold it back, don’t hide it under a bushel, and don’t let the tide of others overwhelm you.  Your story is important, otherwise it wouldn’t be pushing to get out.  Take it one step at a time, and don’t try to do it alone.  Get into a critique group, go to conferences, read as much as time allows, and write every day.  I’m sure some of you have heard this before, but maybe you needed to hear it one more time?

You can read my review of Linda Phillips second novel in verse, BEHIND THESE HANDS, here

THE NIGHT WAR: A MG Historical Novel Review

  By now you should have received an email from my new website about my review of THE NIGHT WAR by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley. (It'll com...