Monday, May 27, 2019

Emily Out of Focus: A Review and ARC Giveaway

I've reviewed two other middle grade books by Miriam Spitzer Franklin on this blog (Extraordinary and Call Me Sunflower) but Emily Out of Focus is special to me. Miriam and I were in a SCBWI critique group together for many years and I heard about her trip to China in 2006 to adopt their daughter. Emily Out of Focus (Sky Pony Press, 2019) draws from her family's experience in China. I am delighted to share this well-titled book with you.


From the opening pages of the book the reader gets a glimpse into what Emily wants:

-- to be a photojournalist like her grandmother,

and what she fears:

--not liking or being liked by her new little sister Mei Lin,

and what she wonders:

--why did her parents need another child and why wasn't she enough?

In order to follow her grandmother's career as a photojournalist, Emily decides to, 

a) bring along her grandmother's camera to China without her parents' permission so that,

b) she can take pictures and win a scholarship to the best photojournalism camp in the country. 

These threads weave throughout the book and--you guessed it--get her into trouble. 

Right off the plane, she meets a Chinese girl named Katherine who was adopted as a baby. Katherine's family are a part of Emily's group and have come to China to adopt another child. Although Emily has her doubts about Katherine, the two end up bonding over Katherine's secret: she plans to contact her birth mother while in China and needs Emily's help. 

Emily's days are filled with boring meetings over finalizing Mei Lin's adoption, secret adventures with Katherine, and learning to love and be loved by Mei Lin. 

Half-way through the book Mei Lin gets sick and Emily begins to realize how much she cares for her little sister. Another crucial scene is when the group visits Mei Lin's orphanage. Suddenly, Emily begins to see what it was like for Mei Lin and Katherine to be abandoned as babies. When the girls visit the park where Katherine's mother left her (a common practice), Emily watches her friend.
She sunk on the ground, running her hand over the grass, "This is where she left me," she said quietly. 
I just stood there, not knowing what to say. I reached for Nana's camera, but I froze as I looked at Katherine through the lens, the way she was staring down at the grass, a look in her eyes I'd never seen before. Despair. Overwhelming sadness,. Loss. Her eyes were filled with a kind of pain I would never know, the kind that comes from realizing your mother--the person who was supposed to love you and keep you safe--had abandoned you in the exact spot where you were standing.
I put my camera down. (pp. 153-54)

Emily Out of Focus is a realistic portrayal of a 12-year-old girl's coming to grips with a new adopted sibling. Combining Mei Lin's story with Katherine's brings a richness to the novel and will open middle grade reader's eyes to a world they might never have known.  


I am giving away my ARC to one fortunate reader. Leave me a comment by 9 AM on May 30 and will pick a winner. If you share this on social media or become a new follower of my blog, I'll give you two chances! Please tell me what you do and provide your email address if I don't already have it. 

Monday, May 20, 2019

Sleeping Bear Press Part III: 2 Picture Books, 2 Easy Readers

Congratulations to Jo Lynn Worden who won a Skype visit with Cathy Briesacher.

As of today, Linda Phillips has accumulated almost fifty books including the twelve provided by Sleeping Bear Press for the Eastern European school. I don't know about you, but I'm thrilled with the thought that these books are the beginning of a classroom library!

Digger and Daisy

New readers (and ESL readers) will appreciate the repetitive language and simple story by Judy Young of two siblings on their first camping trip.  Digger is afraid that every noise he hears is a bear, but his older sister always has an answer to allay his fears. The tables turn when she wakes up at night convinced that there is a bear outside their tent. The fun ending will delight readers at the same time that they take pride in reading the book themselves. The lively illustrations are by Dana Sullivan. You'll find more Digger and Daisy books on the Sleeping Bear Press website.

Tip and Tucker: Road Trip

In this first book in a new series, young readers meet Tip and Tuckertwo very different hamsters with two different personalities. Tip is shy and fearful of new places and Tucker likes to explore. These two friends set off on a new adventure when Mr. Lopez purchases them at the pet store and then drops them in a place they've never seen before: a school. Although they're both a little unsure of what this means for the two of them, they do know they'll find out together. The series is written by Ann Ingalls and Sue Lowell Gallion. The illustrator, Andre Ceolin, is familiar to me; he illustrated Hanukkah Hamster. Another great book for ESL readers.

Sandy Feet! Whose Feet? Footprints at the Shore

A great book for summer vacation, Susan Wood's book in lilting verse, Sandy Feet! Whose Feet? will engage young readers to investigate footprints in the sand. Lifelike illustrations by Steliyana Doneva (illustrator of An Extraordinary Ordinary Moth) compliment each page spread. Parents can use the glossary at the back of the book to play a matching game with young readers and explore the text further with their older siblings.  

Good Night, Library

Readers will recognize the rhyme and rhythm of Goodnight Moon in Denise Brennan-Nelson's third book in her Good Night series. (Another one of those books that will make writers slap their hands to their forehead and say, "Why didn't I think of that?") Written from the point of view of young patrons saying good night to their favorite part of the library, "Good night, characters/Close your pages/Good night, plots/And puppet stages," each spread celebrates the amazing world of libraries. Marco Bucci's bold artwork will make readers want to find a library just like this in their neighborhood. 

Monday, May 13, 2019

Sleeping Bear Press Part II: Silly Picture Books and a Skype Giveaway

Congratulations to Gail Hurlburt who won the Skype visit with Sophia Gholz. 

As I mentioned last week, I'm donating the books I recently received from Sleeping Bear Press to an impoverished Eastern European classroom. As I handle each book, I picture it in the hands of happy children delighted to receive these additions to their classroom.

OINK-OINK! MOO! Cock-a-Doodle-Doo!

Board books are usually found in the hands of toddlers, but English language learners will enjoy this silly, simple story. Each animal in Jennifer Sattler's book, OINK-OINK! MOO is shown "saying" it's sound --even when doing something entirely un-dog, un-pig, or un-cat like. I can only imagine the delight a child will have in pointing out how silly these animals are acting! 

Chip and Curly: The Great Potato Race

We go from talking animals to...talking potatoes. Chip and Curly by Cathy Briesacher, with cute illustrations by Joshua Heinsz, is full of every potato pun you can imagine. Are you a secret coach potato watching from the sidelines? Or, are you more like a waffle fry who can't decide who to cheer for?  Check out this fun story that also demonstrates the power of friendship because, as Curly tells Chip at the end, "No matter how you slice it, we'd make a great team." What a fun book to share with a young reader --and also to demonstrate some of the idiosyncrasies of the English language!

Ollie on Stage!

Talking animals. Talking potatoes. What's next? Talking ogres--of course! Ollie on Stage by Keith Brockett and illustrated by Ashley King (with bright, silly pictures) is a story in verse about an ogre who decides to try out for a talent show. He attempts to dance, sing, and perform magic but whatever he tries, his humongous strength ruins his act. In the end, Ollie uses a talent he didn't know he had, saves the cast from doom and destruction, and proves that he really did belong on stage after all. This is a story about self-acceptance and hidden talent. It's fun thinking that these ESL readers will add "ogre" to their vocabulary!

Little Yellow Truck

Here's another personification story to add to your "To-Be-Read" pile, Little Yellow Truck by prolific author Eve Bunting. Adults as well as children have had experiences in which they've felt unimportant or left out. In this sweet story, Little Yellow Truck (personified nicely by illustrator Kevin Zimmer) is worried that the other trucks have important jobs to do when constructing a children's park--but he doesn't. He's thrilled when he discovers a special job that is perfect for a little truck like him. Young children will identify with Little Yellow's joy when he's picked to help complete the park. 


Once again, one of these authors has stepped up and offered a SKYPE (or Google Hangout) author visit. Even if you no longer have children in school, this is a great gift for your local school's library. Media specialists love talking up books! This time, Cathy Briesacher will "come" to one of your schools. Leave me a comment and your email address if you are new to my blog and I'll enter your name. Giveaway ends May 16. 


Monday, May 6, 2019

Sleeping Bear Press Part I: Four Non-Fiction Picture Books, One SKYPE Giveaway

Congratulations to Connie Saunders who won The Forgiving Kind from last week's blog.

As I've mentioned before, one of the pleasures of reviewing books is that books arrive on my doorstep--sometimes even without me asking for them! Recently, I received several new publications from Sleeping Bear Press and I'm happy to share my reviews with you. No book giveaways though--I'm giving these books to Linda Phillips to fill her suitcase as we spread literacy and literature around the world! But read on-- one of the authors, Sophia Golz, is donating a 15-minute Skype visit. By the way, not only will these books serve as ESL resources in an underprivileged Eastern European classroom, they will be fantastic curriculum resources in American preK-3rd grade classrooms.


Have you ever heard of Jadav Payeng? I hadn't until I read this informative, inspirational, and beautiful book, The Boy Who Grew a ForestSophia Gholz's debut picture book. 

As a boy, Jadav was upset that a nearby island in northeastern India was losing its trees. The island was eroding away into the river leaving hundreds of snakes without homes. In 1979, Jadav began planting bamboo. He brought seeds from neighboring villages and despite many odds, the forest became filled with wild animals and diverse vegetation. It grew from ten acres to 1360 acres--which is larger than 900 football fields! The lush illustrations by Kayla Harren show Jadav's toil as well as the joyful fruit of his labors. Gholz's End Notes include her inspiration for writing this book and a simple seed planting activity that children and their parents or teachers would enjoy. 


Here's another topic I haven't thought about much: dragonflies. Sheri Mabry Bestor's book, Soar High, Dragonfly! does double duty. The top lines in larger text appeal to young readers with simple descriptions of the dragonfly's life cycle. The bottom text (which sometimes is literally under water--very clever!) goes into great detail about the dragonfly's behavior, habitat, and metamorphosis. Jonny Lambert's illustrations reminded me of Eric Carle's vibrant palette. This book will appeal to children and adults of all ages. 


Fifty years ago Apollo 11 carried the first men to the moon. Like Soar High, DragonflyTHE FIRST MEN WHO WENT TO THE MOON is written on two different levels. Rhonda Gowler Greene's lovely verse will be read as a story while the reader points out how the illustrations enrich the text. Older children will appreciate the secondary text which provide more details about what occurred during the space mission. To be honest, I've never seen a picture book written in this type of rhyme, but it works! The last five spreads repeat the first two lines of each poem and act as a fitting, circular conclusion. The last spread gives more information about the astronauts and the mission. Scott Bundage is the same talented illustrator who provided colorful and realistic illustrations for A is For Astronaut.


MARTY'S MISSION by Judy Young is different than the three nonfiction books mentioned above. A part of Sleeping Bear Press's "Tales of Young Americans" series, this is a lengthier text about a young boy named Marty who tracked Apollo 11's voyage from his home in Guam. Marty and his family had moved to Guam for his father's job at the NASA tracking station. The night that the Apollo 11 was to splash down, the antenna got stuck. Marty is asked to perform a task that only a young person could do--fix the antenna. Based on the true story of ten-year-old Greg Force, a young American was instrumental in bringing the astronauts safely home. Readers who prefer learning via a true story rather than through an informational text, will enjoy MARTY'S MISSION. The life-like illustrations by David Miles amplify a text that both boys and girls (and their parents!) will enjoy. 


Sophia Golz is donating a 15-minute Skype visit to one fortunate classroom. Leave me a comment (with your email address please!) and I'll add your name to the hat. Giveaway ends May 9th. 


Stay tuned for reviews of some silly picture books from Sleeping Bear Press!

Linda and I are packing her suitcase!
Email her to find out how you can add your
picture books and chapter books to the suitcase.


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