Monday, May 2, 2016
During the trip and upon arrival, Sunderly is particularly protective of a box of his "miscellaneous cuttings," more concerned with these plants than his own family. Faith, who is a very clever, intelligent girl, and would like to follow in her beloved father's footsteps and become a scientist, too, can't help but wonder what it is about these specimens that make them so special.
Not surprisingly, it doesn't take long for the word of Sunderly's scandal to follow the family to Vane. Soon, no one will speak to them, help them in the village stores or even acknowledge them at church. The Sunderly's have become pariahs on Vane and are effectively shunned.
Faith's curiosity about her father's "miscellaneous cuttings" begins to be satisfied one night when her father takes her out in a rowboat to cave, along with a clothe-covered plant. Leaving her in the boat, Sunderly takes the plant and disappears into the cave, only to return plantless, and rows them back to shore.
The next morning Faith's father is found dead. It looks for all the world like a suicide but Myrtle Sunderly manages to flirt enough with him to convince Dr. Jacklers to rule her husband's death an accident. Faith absolutely doesn't believe her father would take his own life, nor does she believe it was an accident. Faith is convinced her father was murdered and she is determined to prove it. To do that, Faith must uncover her father's secrets, and that would include his papers on the mysterious plant he had taken to the cave the night he was murdered, a tree that, she discovers, flourishes in darkness, feeds on lies and reveals truths to those who ate its fruit: "If the Tree could deliver secrets, then perhaps it would unravel for her the mystery of her father's death."
The Lie Tree has been called "a superb Victorian murder melodrama" and it is. And here's the funny thing - I thought it hadn't grabbed me from the start the way Cuckoo Song did, but imagine my surprise when I realized I has become totally ensnared by The Lie Tree and could hardly bare to put it down when I had to.
It is not a book for everyone, though, but if it is a book for you, you will be treated to a long, winding journey through Victorian thinking. The action begins around 1868, nine years after publication of Charles Darwin's On the Origin of the Species, a book that talked about evolution and the survival of the fittest and set the religious world on its ear, including Rev. Sunderly and his fellow amateur paleontologists on Vane.
Victorian society also dictated that girls like Faith not entertain ideas about becoming anything other than a good wife who can run her household efficiently. As her father tells Faith: "A girl cannot be brave, or clever, or skilled as a boy can. If she is not good, she is nothing." Faith may love her father very much, but she also have some strong feminist leanings about what a girl can do.
Set on an isolated island, Hardinge is able to provide us with a cast of characters large enough to give the reader a nice cross-section of Victorian life, small enough that she can focus on everyone's unique personality and give them all depth. And some of her characters will surely surprise you.
But it is Hardinge's writing that really makes her novels so outstanding. She slowly, slowly unravels her stories using the most eloquently lyrical language. Among other things, The Lie Tree is a coning of age story, described as only Hardinge: "For the last year, [Faith] had felt like a seesaw, clumsily rocking between childhood and adulthood." And I remember that feeling so well.
The Lie Tree is perfect for anyone wanting a "Victorian gothic murder mystery, but with extra palaeontology, post mortem photography, feminism and blasting powder" according to the author, Francis Hardinge, but I would also add that it is a thriller about Victorian mores and behaviors. There's even a delicious twist at the end. And that idea about survival of the fittest - yup, it's there, too.
This book is recommended for readers age 12+
This book was an EARC received from NetGalley
Thursday, April 28, 2016
This was originally posted on my other blog, The Children's War, but I thought I would share it here as well. It's an interesting story about what happens when rumors are spread about a German American who refuses to support the bully running for mayor.
It's only June, but the summer of 1939 does not look very promising as far as Frankie Baum, 11, is concerned. Her sister and best friend Joan, "the just-barely-older of the two," is getting to spend the summer at Aunt Dottie's farm in New Jersey, where Frankie is sure she will be having the best summer ever, while she's stuck at home in Hagerstown, MD with older sister Elizabeth, called Princess by their parents.
And ever worse, Frankie is expected to work in her father's newly purchased restaurant, a long neglected Alpine-style relict of years ago, now with only weeks to get it cleaned up and running again to become his dream of "An Eating Place of Wide Renown." Opening day is planned for July 5th. Sure enough, at the restaurant, Frankie is sent to the kitchen to work, a dirty, messy job, while Princess gets to work the cash register.
Frankie is vaguely aware of war talk among the townspeople, of anti-German feelings that are beginning to brew, but she has never really considered her family to be German, even though her father's parents immigrated from Germany. But when Hermann Baum is approached by the cigar smoking president of the Chamber of Commerce, Mr. Sullen Waterford Price, and refuses to let himself be bullied into becoming at paid member of the chamber, he makes a formidable enemy, one all too aware of his German roots.
Price is also running for mayor of Hagerstown, so when Hermann also refuses to put his election poster in his front window, Price begins looking for just the dirty information he needs to start spreading rumors that Hermann Baum is quite possibly a spy and Nazi sympathizer.
To make matters even more complicated, Hermann decides to throw his own pre-opening day Fourth of July party for friends, family and even his African American staff and their families. Hermann has always treated his kitchen staff fairly, despite living in a state where Jim Crow is in effect. That, coupled with the German flyer that has mysteriously fallen into the hands of Mr. Price, are all that is needed for a boycott of Hermann's party.
Frankie has overheard quite a bit while working in the kitchen, and decides to do some investigating of her own about what is going on. But she also finds herself doubting her father's innocence. When no one shows up at her father's party, she goes to the town's celebration to try and find out what is going on. When Hermann shows up looking for her, he collapses. And the Baum family's life is changed forever.
A Tiny Piece of Sky is a wonderful coming of age story. Frankie's character develops slowly over the course of the novel as she encounters different people and situations. The story is told in the third person by an omniscient narrator in a rather conversational style, and who seems to be right in the thick of things, more aware of what is going on in the world than Frankie is. To get some of Frankie and even Joan's mindset, there are also first person letters they write to each other, which tend to create more mystery about Hermann Baum's heritage than information.
The story takes place over June, July and August 1939. There aren't many pre-World War II home front stories for young readers, making this all that much more interesting. Stout looks at both racism and xenophobia through the lens of Frankie's summer. Frankie hasn't really paid attention to the racism and discrimination towards the African American community in Hagerstown, until she starts working in the restaurant. But the character of Mr. Stannum, the restaurant's new manager, opens her eyes when she witnesses the way he treats the black kitchen staff with such cruelty and contempt, even refusing to allow them to use the bathroom he uses.
You also don't find many books for young readers that are about the kind of treatment that German Americans experienced in the 1930s and 1940s as the possibility of war with Germany became more of a possibility. Most people don't realize they were also discriminated against. though to a far lesser extent than Japanese Americans. What makes this an interesting theme here is that Stout shows how easily people can change their attitudes towards of friends and even fathers when doubt begins to take hold. For that reason, A Tiny Piece of Sky is not just good historical fiction, but also resonates so loudly in today's world.
The other part of what makes A Tiny Piece of Sky such an interesting, realistic novel is that much of the material comes from Shawn Stout's own family and the restaurant they owned in Hagerstown, which she writes about in her Author's Note at the end of the novel. Be sure to read it when you read this excellent novel.
Teachers can find an extensive Teaching Guide for A Tiny Piece of Sky HERE
This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was borrowed from the NYPL
|Used with permission: the original menu from Shawn Stout's grandparent's restaurant.|
Click to enlarge and check out the prices listed.
Monday, April 25, 2016
Splendiferous Greetings and Salutations!
Now, due to popular demand, there's a new challenge at the Alexandriaville, Ohio's only library. This time it's a duodecimalthon, consisting of 12 games all of which relate to the Dewey Decimal system. Kids from all over the country are invited to compete for a place on regional teams, who then arrive in Alexandriaville to compete with the original winning team - Kyle Keeley, Miguel Fernandez, Akimi Hughes Sierra Russell and Haley Daley. Sore loser Charles Chiltington and his officious mother are also back doing their best to sabotage the Olympics, and so is Andrew Peckleman. Andrew is still angry over the first challenge and now so totally anti-library, he is content to just clean up and fill bird feeders in his spare time at the motel his newly-met -great-uncle-twice-removed had recently purchased.
Kyle, who has been rather cocky about his win and his subsequent fame, is a little worried about being able to defend his teams title, especially after meeting Marjory Muldauer, who main goal is to take Kyle down. Marjory seems to know everything there is about the Dewey Decimal system, as opposed to Kyle, who seems to know nothing about. But there a full scholarship for the wining team at stake and that is something that Marjory really desperately needs. And she shares the belief with Mrs. Chiltington and Charles that a library should be just a library and it and not a place for games, videos, holograms of famous scholars, as well as books.
So desperate, in fact, that when she is approached by Mrs. Chiltington to remove just one book from the library, with the promise of ending Mr. Lemoncello's antics and inappropriate library games, and a Go to College Free card, the offer just may be too much for Marjory to resist.
But when more and more books turn out to be missing from the library's shelves, it looks like someone is trying to censor what people may read. Or maybe it's just another sinister plot to oust Mr. Lemoncello and turn to library into a traditional library. Or maybe it's all of those things. But will Kyle and Marjory and the other kids be able to override their competitive spirits and band together to solve the mystery of the missing books.
I found myself reluctant to pick up Mr. Lemoncello's Library Olympics when I first got it. So often sequels are such let-downs. Not this one. It is every bit as much fun as the first novel. Once again, Grabenstein showcases a large variety of books throughout the course of the novel (and there is a list of all the books mentioned at the back of the book, too).
For those readers already familiar with Escape from Mr. Lemomcello's Library, you'll slip right into this sequel; for those who haven't read the first book, no problem. There's enough background given to let you know what is going on.
And would that Mr. Lemoncello's library really existed! Oh well, at least, we have the next best thing - a book set in that splendiferous place. And it is a fun, action-packed novel filled with games and even a couple of rebus puzzles readers can try to solve along with the characters. And in true Grabenstein form, and in light of the banned books and censorship theme (one among many) in the novel, the last chapter is a challenge to the reader - to find the 20 things Mr. Lemoncello said in this volume that come from books once banned.
This is a book sure to please middle grade readers whether they like games or not and always remember that
KNOWLEDGE NOT SHARED REMAINS UNKNOWN
This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was received from the publisher
Friday, April 22, 2016
Go, Little Green Truck by Roni Schotter, pictures by Julia Kuo
Farrar Straus and Giroux, 2016
32 pages, age 4-6
Little Green is a happy little pickup truck, he's strong and sturdy and loves helping Farmer Gray do farm chores, until one day he is replaced by a big new shiny blue pickup. Now, Big Blue does all the things Little Green used to do and Little Green is put out to pasture. But Farmer Gray's daughter Fern misses Little Green and convince her dad to refurbish him. He's given a new engine that uses corn and soy oil to run, and Fern spruces his body up with some painted flowers, fruits and animals and Little Green is back in service - beautifully recycled and environmentally friendly.
The Lorax by Dr. Seuss
Random House, 1971
45 pages, age 6-9The Lorax was published only a year after the first Earth Day and carries a strong message of what happens when corporations greedily use the earth's natural resources with abandon. The Once-ler tells the story of what happened to the land of the Lorax when he arrived there and chopping down all the trees to mass produce Thneeds. As the land became more and more polluted, everyone had to move away and pretty soon there were no more trees left to cut down, the air was dirty, and the name desolate. There is hope at the end in the form of a tree seed, though. This is a great book for teaching kids about caring for the environment, and even though a lot has been done, there is still more to do.
Visit The Lorax Project for some ideas for teaching The Lorax and for getting kids involved in helping to save the earth.
Water Runs Through This Book by Nancy Bo Flood,
photographs by Jan Sonnenmair
Fulcum Publishing, 2015
64 pages, age 8-12
If we didn't appreciate the power of water before the water tragedy in Flint, Michigan, we do now. To me, there is nothing quite as wonderful as a cold glass of water, until it isn't there anymore. In this book, Nancy Bo Flood takes the reader on a round-the-world tour of the wonders of water using prose, poetry and stunning photographs and each page reminds the reader of why water is so important to life. At the end of the book, there are suggestions for actions that young (and old) readers can do at home and at school. There is a list of resources and a nice glossary. Nancy's most important message in this book - always be grateful for the water we have. If you read only one book this Earth Day, consider this one, after all, water is the source of all life.
Outside: A Guide to Discovering Nature by Maria Ana Peixe Dias,
Inés Teixeira do Rosráio, and
Bernardo P. Carvalho
Frances Lincoln, 2016
368 pages, age 8-12This is another of my favorite books this year. The subtitle is "With more than 100 plants and animals, plus an introduction to weather, geology, and the night sky." What better way to help young readers learn to appreciate the earth than with hand-on activities they can do no matter where they live. The illustrations are rather minimal, with few colors but they are still spot on. This is a great resource book as well as a great activity book and would be ideal for introducing kids to the natural sciences. I can remember my Kiddo exploring nature in the park and at the beach and a book like this is just what she needed but didn't have. It's a hefty volume but its packed full of good stuff.
Earth Day is 46 years old now, and there is still so much that needs to be done. Curious about what you and your Kiddos can do? Check out the Earth Day Tookkit to learn how to take matters into your own hands!
Wednesday, April 20, 2016
America's National Parks are 100 years old this year and it's also National Parks Week, which very nicely and deliberately coincides with Earth Day on April 23rd. The parks, after all, are all about conservation. National Parks Week runs from April 18 to April 24, 2016 and to help you enjoy the natural beauty and history of these parks, admission is FREE. Whether you are a first-time or returning visitor, there is always so much to do and to see and learn.
And to help kids enjoy the parks, National Geographic has published three centennial books all about the parks and things they can do.
Sarah Wassner Flynn and Julie Beer
National Geographic Kids
2016, 176 pages, age 8+
This colorful easy to navigate guide introduces the reader to all the parks throughout the country. Each 4-page spread includes stunning full-color photographs of the park, a map with suggestions for tours that came be taken, some Dare to Explore suggestions for doing other things in the area, a Checklist of things to do within the park and of course, some fun facts. Besides park information, readers will discover the role President Theodore Roosevelt played in the establishment of National Parks, explore past events from America's past in some parks, there's even a checklist of things to bring to make sure your visit is fun, a section on animals that are native to the different parks. One of my favorite sections is on spooky sites in parks and formerly endangered species who didn't disappear thanks to the efforts of the National Parks. For fans of statistics, there are lots of park record setters listed. There is also a glossary and do read the Ranger Tips for each park at the back of the book. My recommendation: if you are going to visit a National Park this year, this is the book to take with you.
National Geographic Kids
2016, 160 pages, age 8+
So, you've got the kids in the back seat of the family car and you're off to visit a National Park. If you are like me, you don't want to hear a lot of "are we there yet?" The answer to that question is this book. There are word games, fill-ins, jokes, matching games, searching games, pages and pages to keep kids occupied and informed. And of course, fun facts, like this one: The recipe for s'mores, a popular fireside snack, first appeared in a 1927 Girl Scout handbook. I wonder how many s'mores have been made in national parks throughout the years? No matter which park you are visiting, there's fun stuff relating to it. And there is a nice Answer Key at the back of the book. There are also lots of maps and incredible photographs I've always loved activity books, especially those geared to an adventure I was taking my Kiddo on. One of the nice things about many of the activities is that they can be done in the car and the whole family can participate. More than one child? My advice is get a copy for each one to avoid the possibility of fighting over it. Trust me - they will like this book.
Ilona E. Holland
National Geographic Society
2016, 32 pages, age 4+
A road trip to a National Park can be lots of fun, even for your youngest readers. Elena and Christopher are visiting their Aunt Rosa, a ranger at Yellowstone National Park. No sooner do they arrived, but they hear that some that there are some injured baby birds somewhere in the park. While Aunt Rosa deals with the baby bird emergency, the kids decide to wander by themselves. Elena meets and makes friends with National Park Trust mascot Buddy Bison, but then, she realizes that Christopher is missing. Besides learning park rules about wandering alone, kids will also discover fun facts throughout the story. There is also a History of Yellowstone and 5 Tips for Park Preservation. This is a nice introduction to conservation, safely and the importance of National Parks at a level young readers can relate to.
Here is something you might be interested in:
National Geographic is celebrating the 100th anniversary of our National Parks Service by offering the chance to win a spectacular family vacation for four to Grand Canyon, Bryce, and Zion National Parks. Here are the details:
"This fabulous 8-day family adventure from National Geographic Expeditions is a dream trip come true. Discover the incredible geological treasures of the American Southwest and marvel at the rainbow colors of the high desert; explore the Grand Canyon’s North Rim on foot or mule; hike amid Zion’s wonderland of slot canyons, hanging gardens, and waterfalls, and splash through the Narrows of the Virgin River; wind through Bryce Canyon’s whimsical maze of red rock spires, and go on a scavenger hunt. Stay in historic park lodges with Old West atmosphere, and take part in activities and excursions geared for explorers of all ages.
The National Geographic National Parks Sweepstakes runs from April 1-August 31, 2016. To enter or obtain full Official Rules go to: NationalParksSweeps.com."
Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge is a weekly celebration of
nonfiction books hosted by Alyson Beecher at Kid Lit Frenzy
Monday, April 18, 2016
Right off the bat something feels off - for instance, the land is parched dry from a drought, and Serge still has Inés, the same dog he has had for 30 years (that's 210 in dog years). And bees have been buzzing around Carol's head ever since they got to the ranch, but Serge tells her there are no bees, that it hasn't rained in 100 years, so drought means no flowers, no flowers means no bees.
Carol also bears an uncanny resemblance to her grandmother, Rosa, who died on the very day she was born. At times, Serge thinks she is Rosa, otherwise he insists on calling her Carolina and admonishes her for knowing nothing about her Mexican roots, always asking "Why do you spit on your roots, chiquita?"
Carol knows that her father, Raul, and Serge had a falling out and that Raul left home at a young age, but she has no idea what happened. There is still a lot of tension between father and son, but soon, Carol and Serge begin to bond over the stories her tells her, stories. The stories always begin with Once upon a time, there was a tree and are about a tree with magical life-giving power, around which Serge and Rosa's love story happened; and which kept Rosa, the only villager with wanderlust, safe as she repeatedly traveled the world wearing a simple bracelet made from its bark, and always coming back to Serge.
In-between Serge's stories, there is hard work to do so that the ranch can be sold. Long days are rewarded by her mother's wonderful Mexican cooking, something her never does at home. But the days also increase the tension between Carol and her 17 year-old half sister Alta, who refuses to accept step-father Raul's family as hers, and who only seems interested in her friends and her own indulgent father.
As the summer progresses, Serge's tales sound more and more like fairy tales. Was it possible that this desolate New Mexican mesa was once a vibrant village, with villagers who could cheat death simply by living in the shade of their beautiful tree? And could the bees really take away the village's lake drop by drop, leaving behind a parched crater, and causing the 100 year drought? And why? Maybe, Serge's stories really are just a product of his deteriorating mind.
Or maybe not. Rosa, he tells Carol, was always followed by a swarm of bees, and now, little by little, they are beginning to follow her, too. But the once beautiful tree is just a trunk now with no branches or blossoms. If the bees are coming back, can the land and the tree somehow be brought back to life?
Hour of the Bees is so not what I was expecting. I had thought it would be about half sisters learning to accept each other in a desert setting. Clearly, this is a story that relies on character to move it along and I thought the characterization was really spot on. Told in the first-person by Carol, the reader will find her a very sympathetic character in this coming of age story as she learns to embrace her cultural heritage and to realistically change and grow. I found Alta accurately annoying as the older sister (at times, reminding me a little too much of my own older sister). She and Carol have some definite issues to be resolved. Raul, Serge's son, really annoyed me, he is so angry at Serge, he can't even look him in the face, so he, too, has issues to deal with. What better place to put all these unresolved issues and problems than the hot, dry desert.
Serge is my favorite character. His dementia helps move the story along, as he alternates calling Carol "Caro-leen-a" and Rosa, though I never felt that his deteriorating mind had been exploited and reduced to a plot device. Serge is a nice, fully-developed (ironically) character and I felt myself drawn to him just as Carol is.
When I first started reading Hour of the Bees, I was reminded of one of my favorite books, House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende. Eagar uses magical realism just as skillfully, making you feel that it's all possible. And magical realism is one of my favorite genres and I think this a wonderful introduction to it for young readers who are accustomed to stories about straight magic, i.e. Harry Potter (which I also love).
You can find a wonderful discussion guide, ideal for teachers and book clubs, at Candlewick Press.
This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was an EARC received from NetGalley
Thursday, April 14, 2016
After a long voyage in steerage, Rocco finds himself living in a cellar with a bunch of other kids on Mulberry Bend in New York's Little Italy. There is never enough to eat and it's always cold, and each morning the children are giving musical instruments and told they must bring at least $1.00 back to Signor Ancarola or else face his paddle.
Not terribly inclined to play the triangle he is given, Rocco decides to work on getting his bearings first with the intention of coming up with a plan to leave Signor Ancarola. And the first person he runs into is Mary Hallanan, a young Irish meddler determined to help all of the city's mistreated, overworked horses and who will weave in and out of Rocco's life for the next year or so. Next Rocco meets Tony and Carlo, two older boys who introduce him to another, more profitable way of earning his daily dollar - pickpocketing. Soon the three boys have quite a robust pickpocketing business going for themselves, but Rocco still suffers from homesickness and the desire to return to his family in Calvello. Since the boys divide their plunder with the lion's share going to Tony, and Rocco handing over a dollar to Signor Ancarola everyday, it isn't surprising that he comes up with a plan to work afternoons on his own to make more money. Of course, Tony and Carlo warn his this is a bad idea, but Rocco is nothing if not hardheaded.
This decision leads to more adventures and even a stint in the House of Refuge for juvenile delinquents on Randall's Island, working for Jacob Riis, and even doing some meddling with Mary Hallanan and her blacksmith father. But does Rocco ever find his way out of his muddled misadventures? Does he ever see his family again? And what about Tony and Carlo?
I love books that are set in New York City and A Bandit's Tale is right up my alley. It is full of historical references and photos throughout, making it topnotch historical fiction. Rocco is a lively, personable character, who just seems bent on learning things the hard way, despite the fact that his heart is always in the right place. His journey is divided into four books and an epilogue, each book covering one of Rocco's big misadventures and his story is set between Spring 1887 and Spring 1889, a very interesting time as anyone who has ever looked as Jacob Riis's photos of the people living there will attest to.
You would think that a book that has themes like selling children to strangers, immigration, animal cruelty, and child labor would not sound very appealing to young readers, but Deborah Hopkinson's books are always so well-written and well-researched and this is not exception and Rocco's youthful narration really speaks to them. A Bandit's Tale is a book that middle grade readers will certainly enjoy, especially since Rocco is a great picaro figure, in the tradition of the best picaresque novels and not often found in children's literature.
One important note - 2016 is the 150th anniversary of the founding of the ASPCA and one of the figures that is mentioned in the novel is Henry Bergh, who was known as "the Great Meddler" and is Mary Hallanan's hero. And no wonder, Bergh found the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in 1866, Unfortunately, he died in 1888, which is also the turning point in Rocco's life. I don't think that is too much of a coincidence.
A Bandit's Tale is truly an inspiring work.
This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was sent to my by the author, Deborah Hopkinson
Be sure to visit all the stops on the blog tour of A Bandit's Tale and watch for the hashtag #BanditBlogTour on Twitter
|Date||Stop on Tour||Blog|
|March 30, 2015||Interview||Jane Kurtz|
|April 6, 2016||Review||The Book Faerie|
|April 7, 2016||Review||Laurie Thompson|
|April 8, 2016||Review/Guest Post||Welcome to Book Wonderland|
|April 9, 2016||Guest Post||My Learning Life|
|April 10, 2016||Review||Compass Books|
|April 10, 2016||Interview||Compass Books|
|April 10, 2016||Interview/Guest Post||Girl Who Reads|
|April 11, 2016||TBD||PragmaticMom|
|April 12, 2016||Interview||Orange Marmalade Books|
|April 14, 2016||Review||Randomly Reading|
|April 15, 2016||Interview||ProvatoEvents|
|April 21, 2016||Guest Post||Elizabeth Dulemba|
FYI: Here are two photos of places that factored strongly in Rocco's story:
|Bandit's Roost is a photo by Jacob Riis. The boy in the bowler could be Tony.|
|A picture of the House of Refuge, which could only be reached by boat. |
Could Rocco be in one of those boats?