Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Lincoln Clears A Path: A Picture Book Biography

Congratulations to Kathleen Burkinshaw and Carolyn Frazier who won autographed copies of Halli Gomez's book, LIST OF TEN from last week's blog.


In Lincoln Clears A Path (Calkins Creek, 2021) a new picture book by talented picture book author Peggy Thomas, our 16th president's accomplishments are presented from a different perspective. Although he is known for his stance against slavery, how many students know about his agricultural legacy?  In a book well-suited for home and classroom libraries, readers from 7-10 years of age are introduced to the many other paths which Lincoln cleared.

The book opens with seven-year old Abe arriving in the middle of the Indiana wilderness. This was not a farm. Not yet.

His family got to work.

Along with his father, Abe felled trees, cleared brush, pulled stumps and plowed fields. At night he studied stars, math and poetry...Abe marveled at how the founding fathers--Thwack! Swish! Thwump Yah!--cleared a path for folks like him.

In New Orleans Abe saw how slaves were auctioned off and he wondered, Could anyone clear a path for them?

Back home in Illinois, his friends urged their talented friend to run for office. He was poor and uneducated. But his friends provided books to read, tutoring in math, and even a suit to wear.

In the Illinois legislature he cleared paths for better schools and more roads. He stood against slavery. "There is no reason in this world why the negro is not entitled to all the natural rights enumerated in the Declaration of Independence, the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."

But soon after he was elected president, South Carolina seceded and the Civil War began (see this timeline for more information.)

In the middle of the war, Lincoln did something that was seemingly unrelated to the North-South conflict. He created the United States Department of Agriculture to support the farmers who were supporting the troops.

But that was not all.

With a stroke of his pen, he signed the Homestead Act and cleared a path west. "New free States are the places for poor people to go to and better their condition," he wrote.

Then he signed the Pacific Railway Act and cleared a path across the nation.

In addition, Lincoln created land-grant colleges which cleared a path for students to learn more about agriculture.

He cleared a final path when he signed the Emancipation Proclamation and created a path to freedom for slaves. 

By Lincoln, Abraham, 1809-1865 -, Public Domain, 

"'Liberty to all'....clears the path for all--gives hope to all." 

The onomatopoeia of the four words--Thwack! Swish! Thwump! and Yah! which repeat throughout the story will keep even younger readers engaged. The simple, yet profound message of what Abraham Lincoln accomplished is communicated through the text, his quotes, and interesting facts distributed throughout the book. 

Nine pages of back matter include highlights from Abraham's childhood and adult years; how the Civil War affected U.S. agriculture; and a bibliography. There is additional information about the four acts; the author made sure to show how Native Americans were unfairly impacted by these acts. 

I was particularly impressed with how Thomas discovered the theme by noticing Lincoln's phrase "clearing the path" in his writing. She writes, "Sometimes he was referring to the removal of rocks and stumps so a wagon could pass, but other times he was thinking about ways to remove much bigger obstacles like poverty, racism, and ignorance so that all Americans could lead a better life." She challenges readers by asking, "How could you clear a path?" 

Illustrator Stacy Innerst's sepia watercolors evoke an "old-timey" feel which lends a distinct flavor to this historical picture book biography. 

No giveaway this week! I'm saving this book for my grandchildren. 

Here is a short video by Carolyn Yoder, Peggy Thomas's editor at Calkins Creek.

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

LIST OF TEN: A YA Book Review and TWO Autographed Giveaways!

Congratulations to Connie Saunders who won THE LITTLE THIEVES audio book from last week's blog and to Rosi Hollinbeck who won DIVA DELORES AND THE OPERA HOUSE MOUSE. 


Tourette (too-RET) syndrome: a disorder that involves repetitive movements or unwanted sounds (tics) that can't be easily controlled. For instance, you might repeatedly blink your eyes, shrug your shoulders or blurt out unusual sounds or offensive words



If you've never heard of Tourette syndrome and you're interested in reading a remarkable young adult book which conveys the physical, mental, and psychological pain associated with this disorder, the List of Ten by my friend Halli Gomez is a book for you.

For ten years, sixteen-year-old Troy Hayes has lived with the diagnosis that he shares with his estranged mother: Tourette syndrome. Troy not only suffers from uncontrollable muscle twitches that are accompanied by severe pain, he also has obsessive compulsive disorder. The two together make his academic and social life unbearable. Troy decides that the only way out of his pain is to kill himself.

By page two the reader knows it is only a matter of Troy getting through the other nine items on his "to do" list that he keeps on his phone, before he will take his own life which is #10 on his list. 

So, how did Halli Gomez write a 353-page book and keep the reader interested since the ending has already been revealed?

By raising the question--does he do it? And by hooking every reader into hoping and believing that he doesn't. 

By using deep point of view, Troy's conflicting thoughts and torturous emotions are shown on the first pages. Through his eyes we meet Khory Price, a girl imprisoned in her own life of pain. She is someone who is able to look beyond his compulsion to touch a dirty floor multiple times as he walks down the school hallway, a girl who finds him cute and smart, and a girl who he becomes afraid to hurt.

The novel is full of teenage angst as Troy moves from just being Khory's math tutor, to being a friend, to becoming her boyfriend. He finally wins her protective parents' trust only to blow it when he tries to drive and his erratic behavior on the road attracts police attention. He's busted for driving without a license and his friend is busted for having marijuana papers in the car. But Troy is no normal teenager. The shadow of his list of ten things to do before he kills himself pervades all of his thoughts and drives many of his choices.

Khory is a well-developed, authentic secondary character. She has struggles with her own parents, guilt over being a surviving twin, and gives Troy reasons to think about his purpose in life. 

Beyond amazing "showing not telling" what it feels like to be a person with Tourette, my other favorite parts of the book are when Troy begins wrestling with his decision to kill himself. When his science teacher tells him he has potential, when he is an inspiration to another family whose son has Tourette, when he realizes how Khory will feel when she realizes he lied to her--these were all very authentic and compelling conflicts. 

My least favorite part of the book was when Troy's father attempts to have a discussion about sex and ends the conversation by giving his son condoms. I know I'm in the minority,  but I don't believe literature for young adults should include frank permissiveness toward sex.

So, how does List of Ten end? I won't tell you! But, it is satisfying and it is hopeful. And that should be enough to make you want to read it!


As Halli explains in the author's note, when she was eight-years-old, she told her mother she wanted to die. That was when she learned that she had Tourette syndrome; medications and doctors visits became a normal part of her life. A #myownvoices book, Halli wanted others "who have neurological disorders, or who are contemplating suicide, know they are not alone." She has accomplished this in a BIG way. Teens with neurological problems will see themselves and those who don't have similar issues will grow in empathy for someone who faces these challenges. I applaud Halli's transparency in writing a book so close to her emotional home. 

For an in-depth author interview, please see The Winged Pen. In this other post, Halli and some other debut authors provide ideas on launching and marketing their books.

Here is a downloadable pdf of discussion questions and resources.


I have two copies of List of Ten to give away and Halli has agreed to personally autograph each one! Please leave me a comment by April 23 with your email address if you are new to my blog. Share this on social media or decide to follow my blog and I'll give you an extra chance to win a copy--just tell me what you do. 

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

THE GOOD THIEVES: An Audio Book Review and Giveaway

 Congratulations to Barbara Younger who won Little Sock Makes A Friend from last week's blog.

I recently listened to a middle-grade audio book that will delight and entertain both girls and boys. The Good Thieves, by Katherine Rundell is an adventure story with a compelling main character and loyal, believable side-kicks.


Vita Marlowe arrives in prohibition-era New York City with her mother in order to help her beloved, grieving grandfather.  He is destitute having recently lost not only his wife, but also his castle home to Sorrotore, a greedy businessman. Vita is convinced that if she can retrieve an emerald buried within the castle, at least her grandfather's financial worries will be over. But how is she going to get inside the well-guarded castle and retrieve the emerald all by herself?

Although Vita had polio as a child and still suffers from pain and discomfort, her physical disability doesn't stop her spunk and determination to reclaim her grandfather's majestic home. Brief flashbacks in the beginning show Vita with her grandfather, ground the reader in her illness and their relationship, and reveal her special talents that will help her out at the end. 

Soon after arriving in New York, Vita meets Arkady (an animal and bird lover) and Samuel (a gymnast) who are traveling with a circus. In addition, she meets Silk, an orphaned pick-pocket. Vita's new friends hear about Vita's dilemma and pledge their help. 

This fast-paced story goes from one scenario to another. Vita is the mastermind of the operation and her three accomplices use their talents to help her accomplish her goal. Readers will want to sit back and applaud Vita for her well-thought out plan! Katherine Rundell has the last word with a story twist which I did not foresee. Afterwards, I recognized the well-place clue that I had ignored in my desire to see what would happen next.

I love a book in which readers are exposed not only to a captivating plot line with terrific stakes and tension, but also in which the reader is exposed to beautiful written language. 

I highly recommend this suspenseful adventure story with lively characters that middle grade readers will enjoy. As a classroom read, it would be interesting to analyze Vita's external conflicts (her bad foot, the bad guys who are always close to capturing her, etc) and internal conflicts (can she eliminate Sorrotore when she actually has the chance?). I'd also love to hear middle school students debate the question: Is it stealing when you take something that belongs to your family?


The narrator, Margaret Cabourn-Smith does a great job portraying the different voices of the characters. From the Russian circus performers to the New York gangster--she's got them all. Here is an audio clip to give you a preview.


Leave a comment by April 16 (with your email address if you are new to my blog) and I'll enter your name to win the download code for this great middle grade read. 

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

BECAUSE I'M NEW and LITTLE SOCK MAKES A FRIEND: Two Picture Books, One Giveaway

Sleeping Bear Press keeps sending me books! Here are two that young readers (and pre-readers) in your life will enjoy. 


Who would have thought of writing a book from the point of view of the new child in the family? Author-illustrator Brad Sneed, that's who. 

The title page shows a little boy peering out the living room window. On the copyright page, he jumps off the sofa and exclaims, "They're home!"

In that way Brad introduces the reader to the main star of the book: New Baby. 

And even though baby can't catch a ball or run; baby can sit, watch, and listen.

Baby is sometimes quiet, sometimes loud, but ALWAYS needs lots of help from Mom, Dad, and Big Brother. Baby doesn't stay little, and he doesn't stay new. 

Baby grows, plays, cries, and laughs. But most of all,

With simple text and a unique point of view, big brothers and sisters glimpse what they mean to the newest member of their family. A great gift for a sibling welcoming his new brother or sister.


Two years ago I reviewed Little Sock the picture book prequel to Little Sock Makes a Friend written by Kia Heise and Christopher D. Park. As we discovered in the first book, 

Sometimes, after the other socks have gone to sleep, he sneaks out of the drawer... and into a hidden tunnel in the back of the dryer. This leads to a place where only socks can go.

Little sock finds other socks eating ice cream, listening to music, and even going around on the merry go round!

But he's lonely and realizes he needs a friend to do all of these fun things with. He sees another sock who seems to need a friend too. But, his mind is full of questions. 

As nervous as he feels, Little Sock drums up his courage and asks her if she'll be his friend. 

Together, they find lots of fun things to do and Little Sock concludes, 

Who can resist a story about two socks who become friends? A fun book to read in the classroom or at home. 


I'm giving away Little Sock Makes a Friend to one of you! (Because of You will be a gift to my grandson who adores his baby brother). Please leave me a comment by April 9 with your email address if you are new to my blog. U.S. addresses only. 


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