Friday, April 26, 2024

SHE'S STILL HERE: A Book Review by Guest Blogger, Josie Murdock

REVIEW OF SHE'S STILL HERE by Caitlin Alexander



Twenty years ago, Ravendale Middle school caught fire and Jane Wright was lost forever. No one ever found out how the fire was started, leaving Jane’s ghost to wonder about the mystery of her death. Was it really an accident? Would she ever find the person who started it so she could finally be at peace and cease haunting the school grounds?

 

Middle-schooler, Kate Sablousky, moves to the town of Ravendale and discovers she has inherited her Jewish grandmother’s ability to see ghosts when she makes friends with a strange girl at school who no one else can see. Can Kate help her new ghostly friend find the answer to the mystery behind her death? 

 

 

I felt heartbroken, and I’d only just met Jane.

Well, would I even call it that? 

We couldn’t have met because she couldn’t be real. My stomach churned, picturing her poor mother and father with no real answers about what led to their daughter’s death. 

I’d never believed in the concept of closure. I probably didn’t have real “closure” from the fact my dad left Mom and me, but I’d learned to find peace with it. I doubted the Wrights had been able to find that peace. (p.46)

 

I enjoyed the fast-paced writing style and description of details. Even though the story carries with it some very heavy and sad themes, I liked that it had a satisfying conclusion that brings the plot all together. In horror stories, the main characters seem to always get themselves into terrible situations because of their own stupidity; but Kate was aware of danger which was refreshing to have a clever character who had a sense of self-preservation. 

 

As a Christian, I personally don’t enjoy stories where they fantasize the afterlife or use it as a concept for world building. Since the story was set in our world, that made the extra afterlife process feel strange to me. 

 

At one point in the story Jane tells Kate:

 

… “maybe you could help me. I’m stuck here. I can’t… pass on.”

… “And yes, I need your help,” Jane continued. A moment of silence made her plea all the more terrifying before she resumed. 

“I don’t know why I died.” (p.52) 

 

In the story Jane cannot rest in peace until she has solved the mystery behind her death, which  was also symbolic of the way grief can hold you hostage and unable to move forward. Even though I personally don’t like afterlife concept stories, it gave me a good opportunity to talk with my family about worldviews in stories, and how to view ghosts stories and hauntings.

 

Life’s not just the here and now. 

Tears welled in my eyes. I’d misunderstood Bubbe’s saying all this time. She was trying to prepare me. In case I was like her. In case I ever saw people like Jane. (p. 47)


RECOMMENDATION

 

I recommend this middle-grade book by Caitlin Alexander for anyone who loves a quick-read book series and enjoys scary mysteries. 


On the Monarch site, they have book ratings which is super helpful for knowing what exactly is in a book, I recommend checking it out as it would be informative and help you decide if the book is for you. 

 

Who knows? Maybe Jane will capture your interest and you can solve the mystery along with Kate and her ghostly friend. 

 

I returned Jane’s smile. She didn’t strike me as much of a rulebreaker, but she knew the school better than I did. I wanted to know more about her. (p.33)




Josie Murdock is 12 years old and lives with her family on a research farm in South Carolina.  She is homeschooled and loves reading, drawing, and foxes. Her last book review was here











Congratulations to Rebecca Wheeler who won THOMAS JEFFERSON'S BATTLE FOR SCIENCE.



Monday, April 22, 2024

THOMAS JEFFERSON'S BATTLE FOR SCIENCE: A Picture Book Review and Giveaway

Beth Anderson is no stranger to my blog. Her outstanding nonfiction biographies find little-known stories within a historical character's well-known life. Thomas Jefferson's Battle for Science: Bias, Truth, and a Mighty Moose! (Calkins Creek, 2024) is her latest contribution to her other great curriculum resources for grades 2-5. The engaging illustrations by Jeremy Holmes amplify the text and pull readers of all ages into the book.



REVIEW

The book opens with illustrations of the animals, plants, and geographical formations that Jefferson studied. The text reads, "Young Thomas Jefferson measured his world." He collected fossils and bones. "The power and majesty of nature called him to question, experiment, and explore." He was quite certain it was all peaceful and measurable until he read Count Georges-Luis Lecleric De Buffon's encyclopedia of the natural world.



The battle began.

Buffon declared that the new world was swampy, cold, and lacked magnificent animals like lions and elephants. He wrote that bears were smaller and wolves were puny. Jefferson read,


"Suddenly science wasn't certain or peaceful."

The War of Independence erupted and Jefferson focused on his role as the Virginia representative to Congress. But inside of him, his own battle raged. He asked questions about Buffon's "facts." Most of all, he wanted to know how the French naturalist could write about America without ever traveling here! He compiled evidence to disprove Buffon's conclusions and wrote his own book--Notes on the State of Virginia! (His only full-length book published in his lifetime.)

He packed his bags and went to France to present his arguments and evidence to Buffon. After months of waiting to hear from Buffon, they agreed to meet in person. Now, the battle began in earnest!



Without including spoilers, I'll just say that Thomas Jefferson's Battle for Science lets the reader see how despite setbacks, Jefferson fought his battle for truth and facts. 

In the end,



IN TIME, new truths overshadowed Buffon's biased ideas. The land that Thomas loved wasn't a terrible, unhealthy place. It wasn't better or worse than the Old World. JUST MEASURABLY DIFFERENT.
 

BACK MATTER

The Author's Notes, Timeline, and Bibliography are all worth reading. I loved the endpapers that Jeremy Holmes created from footprints of animals that Jefferson observed. 

The discussion guide can be found here.

YOUTUBE VIDEO


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GIVEAWAY

If you are interested in winning this book, please leave me a comment by April 25. U.S. addresses only. Teachers, home school educators, and librarians get two chances. Beth is happy to provide a virtual Q&A if an educator wins. If you share this on social media or sign-up to follow my blog you'll get an extra chance too. MAKE SURE YOU LEAVE YOUR EMAIL ADDRESS IF YOU ARE NEW TO MY BLOG!



Friday, April 19, 2024

BEN AND SCOUT: A Review by Guest Blogger, Janelle Ekpo

REVIEW

Ben and Scout by Denise Minnerly is the story of two dogs that are best friends and are always together, despite the greatest olds. It is a story about loss written for young children. 

Ben is old and sick. Scout is young and has only a superficial understanding of Ben’s condition, so when Ben dies, Scout struggles with great loss. Will he ever see his best friend again? Is Scout all alone? In the story, Scout struggles with depression and anxiety: he eats less, and he begins to shed a lot. Then Scout starts having dreams about Ben. In them, Ben says that he will always be with him, and this encourages Scout. Soon his hair grows back - the same color as Ben’s hair was. And he sees it as a confirmation that Ben is still in his heart.

Loss is real. Anxiety and depression - the after-effects of loss - are also very real. Ben and Scout does a nice job of introducing young children to these difficult concepts. The illustrations are also well-done and fun. They are simple and reinforce the ideas in the book.

Denise with her rescue darling, Scout. Check out the color
variation on Scout's back. Scout lost his hair in grief over Ben's passing. 
But when it grew back, it was Ben's color!


ABOUT THE BOOK

Ben & Scout is inspired by Denise’s pets and their enduring love for one another. It’s so painful to lose a pet we cherish and books that discuss these topics can become part of the healing process. This book is serving an animal rescue project, Pilots to the Rescue. Forty percent of the total book sales will be donated to helping rescues find their forever home.

ABOUT JANELLE EKPO


I’m a sophomore from South Carolina who is passionate about Christian fantasy, realistic fiction, and writing. I often help students with their papers and write book reviews to encourage people to read quality books. I’m working on growing my personal library!






DO YOU WANT TO BE AN ARC READER?

If you are interested in being an ARC (ARC = advanced reader copy) reader like Janelle, then I have books for you! My publisher, Monarch Educational Services, invites you to read their K-12 clean-reads books before they come out. If you feel that the books merit it (and we hope you do!) they ask that you post your positive review on Goodreads and Barnes & Noble. Save the review and when the book is published you can share it on Amazon too. 

Interested? Go to https://bit.ly/ARCMONARCH to sign up!

Wednesday, April 17, 2024

"BUILDING" BOOKS + 4 Giveaways

 

Talking Story is live! Here is your chance to not only win LET'S BUILD A TRAIN or PRAIRIE BOY but also A GRAND IDEA by Megan Hoyt and NICK AND TESLA by Bob Pflugfelder.



You can access the newsletter here. Read Megan Hoyt's backstory for her picture book about Grand Central Station, find other book recommendations, and discover how to build a roller coaster!

If you're a home school educator or librarian tell me in the comments and I'll enter your name twice! U.S. addresses only. Giveaway ends April 20. 

Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Building Picture Books

 Did I hook you with that title? Did you think this blog post was going to be about how to create a picture book? Homonyms can be clever--and difficult for English language learners! 

In this case, I'm using "building" as an adjective. The spring issue of Talking Story is coming out next week and Rebecca Wheeler and I are featuring books that are about building. We have four great giveaways and I'm introducing two of them here.


LET'S BUILD A LITTLE TRAIN (Sleeping Bear Press: 2022)

This informative yet entertaining picture book written by Julia Richardson and with colorful illustrations by Ryan O'Rourke is for the youngest reader in your home or school. Children will enjoy the simple rhyme, rhythm, and "Chugga Chugga Choo Chooo" which they can chime in with. 

Although the characters and some of the tools are contemporary-looking, the book shows the steps for building a 19th-century steam engine. It begins with this page:


The book shows the men and women who helped build it, some of their tasks, and the different parts of the steam engine. 



The engine pulls a beautiful train as it moves through the countryside.


Two pages of back matter show the history of steam trains, how they work, and photographs that define some of the words used in the book.

Young builders and their teachers and parents will enjoy reading this STEM book together. Writers, you will want to study this book for word choice, structure, and the framework of the story!




PRAIRIE BOY (Astra Publishing: 2019), written by Barb Rosenstock and perfectly illustrated by Christopher Silas Neal is about architecture, history, and dreams. It will educate and inspire an older audience than Let's Build a Little Train; I would recommend it for ages 5-9. 

Frank Lloyd Wright is a name familiar to many of us. Although adults might know him as a famous architect, this childhood-adulthood picture book shows readers (and the adults who read it to them!) what events inspired Wright's famous career. 

As you read this opening, consider Rosentock's use of verbs, alliteration, and shapes, AND how she shows the growth and personality of a young boy in one very tight paragraph:

FRANK WRIGHT TOOK HIS FIRST BREATH ON THE WISCONSIN PRAIRIE. He crawled in the paths of brush-footed butterflies and toddled through waves of tall grass. He skipped past oval milkweed sees, six-sided honeycombs, and trying-face badgers, growing into the kind of boy who wondered...
     
HOW DO BROWN FIELD ANTS
   HIDE IN WHITE QUEEN ANNE'S LACE?

WHEN DOES THE HARVEST MOON
   CHANGE SHAPE?

WHAT MAKES THE PRAIRIE
   FEEL LIKE HOME?

 

Frank moved five times in seven years and yearned for the "shapes of the heartland." His mother bought him a set of Froebel blocks which fascinated him as he discovered how shapes were connected to one another.

His mother bought him more blocks.

 
As a teenager, Frank began to dream.



He moved to Chicago, studied architecture, and watched as fancy houses went up on flat prairie lots. They reflected Greek Revival, Victorian, and Italian architecture.  Everyone liked them, except Frank.


He wanted to design new kinds of homes that fit new American families. So, that's what he did.


"Like magic, he shook dozens of shapes from his shirtsleeves- ovals, hexagons, triangles, cubes, spheres, and cylinders... He called the Prairie Houses...and spun the shapes he loved into America's homes."

The back matter includes photographs of several famous Frank Lloyd Wright buildings and the plans for Fallingwater; a famous home in Mill Run Pa. 


If I were using this book in the classroom, I would not only ask students to look for figurative language, but I would ask them to cite instances where the text emphasizes shapes. What a wonderful way to pay tribute to an architect who loved shapes. 

GIVEAWAYS!


I am giving away both of these books next week through Talking Story. I'd love it if you subscribed to this quarterly newsletter. You can use the QRC code below or click here to subscribe. If you leave me a comment below, please let me know which book you prefer. If you leave a comment through the newsletter, I'll enter your name twice. As always, if you are an educator, librarian, or a new subscriber to my blog, you will earn an additional chance. U.S. addresses only. The giveaway ends April 20. Make sure you leave your email address if you are new to my blog.









Friday, April 5, 2024

UPCOMING EVENTS!

Here are some upcoming writing events that might interest you or the teen in your life.

Ten Steps on Your Path to Publication

When I moved to Matthews, NC a few years ago I was delighted to discover Matthews Christian library walking distance from my home. Of course, I introduced myself to the librarian, Tiffany Slack, and told her about my passion for books and writing. 

Recently, Tiffany contacted me and asked if I would be willing to participate in their 25th anniversary celebration. She asked if I would talk about getting published since many of their patrons ask about that.

It just so happened that had been my topic at a recent workshop for a library in the Charlotte Mecklenburg system, and so I replied with a proposal.

And just like that, this is going to happen in May!



                                        🖊🖊🖊🖊🖊

WOW! A Week of Outstanding Writing


Do you have a tween or tween who loves writing? In June I will lead a fun writing camp for kids. Please pass this information along to teachers or parents who know a child who might love learning more about writing a short story. I'll use activities from my book, Teaching the Story: Fiction Writing in Grades 4-8.


                                        🖊🖊🖊🖊🖊

Writing Christian MG or YA Fantasy

If you dream of writing middle-grade or young-adult fantasy, the virtual Write2Ignite Master Class still has a few spots open. For an interview with speaker Amy Earls, click here


Questions about any of these events? Feel free to email me.

Congratulations to Marci Whitehurst who won a copy of Linda Phillips' book, CRAZY.




THE COMPANION GUIDE FOR THE EMOTIONAL THESAURUS & A GIVEAWAY

  Although I moved to WordPress for my new website , I'm still having issues with sending out blog notifications. Here's this week&#...