Friday, November 27, 2015

The Jumbies by Tracey Baptiste

Eleven year old Corinne La Mer is no fraidy cat.  No matter how superstitious or what the people on her small Caribbean island say about the jumbies, she and her fisherman father do not believe in these evil shape-shifting creatures.  But, on All Hallows Eve, mischievous orphan brothers Bouki and Malik scare an agouti into the forbidden forest where jumbies live wearing Corinne's necklace, given to her by her deceased mother, and she knows she has to follow it into that dark, creepy place to get it back.

No sooner does she retrieve her necklace, but she notices a pair of yellow eyes looking at her through the dense trees.  A little creeped out, Corinne leaves the forbidden forest as fast as possible.  What she doesn't realize is that she has been followed out by a jumbie. The next day, while her father is out fishing, Corinne takes her oranges to the market to sell, she notices a tall strange woman dressed all in green walking directly to the old witch who sells magic potions.  The rest of the day, Corinne hangs out with her new friend Dru, and the orphan brothers Bouki and Malik, not realizing that they are being watched by the woman from the market.

The woman, who name is Severine, who the reader already knows is a jumbie, is also the sister of Corinne's mother.  Finding that out certainly explained why the oranges from the tree she planted are the sweetest and best on the whole island.  But she died of illness and now Severine wants revenge and she wants the island to go back to belonging to the jumbies, who were there long before man came. And she needs Corinne's power to do it all.

So, it is no surprise that when Corinne get home, she discovers that Severine has wormed her way into the house and charmed her father, Pierre.  And Severine is there again the next day, cooking dinner, but something about it doesn't smell right to Corinne.  Now very suspicious of Severine, Corinne stands up to her and throws out the dinner she was preparing, in order to make it herself "the way papa likes it."

Severine keeps returning to Corinne's home and charming her father.  One evening, when Malik and Bouki bring home an injured Corinne, and Severine causes much pain when she touches the wound, Pierre demands to care for his daughter himself.  While doing that, Severine leaves, and Corinne has Bouki and Malik follow her, but she seems to disappear into thin air.  That's when the kids finally realize Severine is a jumbie.

When Severine finally manages to get Pierre under her spell, Corinne knows there's going to be big trouble and she needs more help than Bouki, Malok and Dru can give her.  Maybe it's time to enlist the help of the witch from the market.

In her keynote speech at KidLit Con 1015 last October, Tracey Baptiste introduced some of us to jumbies and douens and all kinds of fascinating creatures that made up the oral stories of her youth on her native Trinidad.  The desire to write down these stories is what gave Tracey her motivation to become a writer, and I so glad she did.

Told in the third person, Corinne emerges as a great protagonist.  Brave, adventurous, fiercely loyal to the papa and her deceased mother, she is a fully developed character, as are Bouki, Malik, Dru and especially Severine.

This is called a horror story by some, but I wouldn't go that far.  Scary? Yes, sometimes even very scary but Corinne and her father are such likable characters that you really want to find out what happens to them.  Personally, I found The Jumbies a fun, late night book to read, the perfect time to read a scary story.

In her Author's Note, Baptiste writes that The Jumbies, was inspired by a Haitian folktale called "The Magic Orange Tree" (which you can actually read HERE).  But, she also goes on the explain that there are all kinds of jumbies and how to recognize them.

There aren't many books that are set on Caribbean islands, so this is a most welcomed addition.  Some of what is in the book may be unfamiliar to readers, but Baptiste takes a careful amount of time to explain what needs explaining in the first part of the book.  Once the groundwork is laid, the action reves up and reading The Jumbies is an very exciting adventure.

For more on the story behind The Jumbies, be sure to visit The Brown Bookshelf and read the interview with Tracey Baptiste.

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was purchased for my personal library

Monday, November 23, 2015

It's Monday! What are you reading? #18

It's Monday! What are you reading? is the original weekly meme hosted by Sheila at Book Journey, but is now hosted by Kathryn at Book Date It's Monday! What are you reading? - from Picture Books to YA is a kidlit focused meme just like the original and is hosted weekly by Jen at Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee at Unleashing Readers .  The purpose is the same: to recap what you have read and/or reviewed and to plan out your reading and reviews for the upcoming week

Sometimes it feels like Thanksgiving is being pushed away in favor of starting the Christmas season earlier and earlier each year. But I think Thanksgiving should be an important day of our lives - not a day for standing in line to buy big TVs, or the latest devices, but a day to take the time to really appreciate family and friends and all the other blessings in life and to maybe read a few good Thanksgiving books.

This past week, I've read several books about Thanksgiving, both fiction and non-fiction.  Here are a few of them:

Sharing the Bread: An Old-Fashioned Thanksgiving Story by Pat Zietlow Miller, illustrated by Jill McElmurry
Schwartz & Wade, 2015, 32 pages (Age 4+)

This is a heart-warming story of a 19th century family preparing their Thanksgiving meal.  The son, the youngest child, introduces us to his family as each person performs their one special task to make it a complete Thanksgiving dinner.  Each task is told in a simple almost sing-song rhyme and the emphasis on sharing carries through the story until at last everyone sits down to dinner. The gouache illustrations are done in a folk art style in earth tones so appropriate for the season.

Thanksgiving at the Tappeltons' by Eileen Spinelli, illustrated by Maryann Cocca-Leffler
HarperCollins, 2015. 32 pages (Age 4+)

This reprint from 1982 (when the family were wolves, not people) is a story of a series of events that cause the Tappleton's Thanksgiving dinner to come up empty - literally.  No turkey, no potatoes, no salad, no pie.  But leave it to Grandma find the humor in the situation in her Thanksgiving grace.  Young readers are guaranteed to laugh when they find out how the Tappletons' finally have their Thanksgiving turkey and all the trimmings. Cocca-Leffler's lighthearted illustrations are a perfect compliment to Spinelli's wonderful tale.

Judy Moody & Stink: The Wishbone Wish by Megan McDonald, illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds 
Candlewick, 2015, 128 pages (Age 6+)

Judy and Stink are excited that they can spend part of Thankgiving at their school's Gobblers-a-Go-Go event before going to Grandma's for dinner.  Judy is sure she will win the Turkey Trot race and provide the turkey she anticipated winning for Thanksgiving dinner.  The siblings train hard for the relay events, but their are bumps along the way - like arguing and a timeout resulting in a peace treaty.  It is nice that for the most part, brother and sister got along and worked together towards their goals - and there weren't even any pouts or resentments to spoil it.  But does Judy win a turkey?  Well…This was a fun book to read and Reynolds's colorful digitally created illustrations add a nice whimsical touch.

The Candy Corn Contest by Patricia Reilly Giff
Yearling, 1982, 2008, 80 pages (Ages 8+)

Richard Best has a lot to be excited about.  He's having a Thanksgiving weekend sleepover for the boys in his class and his teacher is having a candy corn contest - guess how many are in the jar and you win all the candy corn. There's just one problem - Richard is a slow reader and the rules of the contest is one guess per page read in a not-baby book. Richard can't stop thinking about how good that candy corn would tasted, and before he knows it, Richard has eaten 3 pieces of it and when he tries to fix the situation, he accidently sees the correct number of pieces written on the bottom of the jar.  Now, he can't get that out of his head.  And to make his life more complicated, some of the boys Richard invited to his sleepover won't come if they have to sleep next to smelly Matthew, who still wets the bed and doesn't bathe frequently enough.  What's a kid to do about all this?

What am I reading next?

What are you reading?

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Half a Creature from the Sea: A Life in Stories by David Almond, illustrated by Eleanor Taylor

David Almond has been one of my favorite, go-to authors for a long time now.  He always manages to write stories that seem to be about the ordinary until he peels the ordinary away and reveals the extraordinary in life.  Each one of his works has a distinctive voice and perspective and I have often wondered where or how Almond comes up with his ideas.  I think you will agree that novels like Skellig and The True Tale of the Monster Billy Dean Telt by Hisself, and his latest, A Song for Ella Grey, are all riveting and unique.

Well, I thought to myself, wonder no more as I read the introduction and the eight short stories that make up Half a Creature from the Sea.  In the book's main autobiographical Introduction, Almond writes "I'll start with things I can hardly remember, things I've been told about, things that are like fragments of a dream."  From there, he goes on to introduce the reader to Felling-on-Tyne, the town where he grew up and the one he uses in his writing for "it's landscape, it's language, it's people" and rgwb procedes to show the reader just how he makes the ordinary extraordinary.

Each of the eight short stories that follow the Indroduction are also preceded with their own substantial autobiographical prologue.  In them, Almond explains where his idea first came from, and gives enough background information to not only make the story richer for the reader, but also to give us a way of seeing how Almond's writing process happens.

The character's in each story come to life, in a way that is difficult to master in so short a space, but everyone in these Almond stories feels real and full-bodied, even the ghost in "The Missing Link."  Almond's descriptions on which each of the landscapes his stories unfold become just as important, just as realistic as his characters, to the point where they become characters in their own right.  As the stories wander around this North-East area of England that Almond knows and seems to love so well, you can almost smell the salt in the air in the story "Half a Creature from the Sea" and taste those wonderful meat pies from Myer's pork shop from "Slog's Dad."

And Eleanor Taylor's black and white illustrations throughout the book compliment and enhance the hauntingly mysterious stories.  I especially liked the illustrations showing the ordinariness of Felling-on-Tyne as Almond introduced readers to it:
1 of 4 Felling-on-Tyne illustrations
in Half a Creature from the Sea
Half a Creature from the Sea offers readers a brillant peek at an author's inspiration and writing process supported by eight superbly crafted short stories.  If you are already a fan of David Almond's or even if you are new to his work, you are in for a rare treat, and you will totally understand why he won the 2015 Guardian's Children's Fiction Prize recently.

I should mention that there some bullying, some violence and a lot of cursing and it can be raw, but not ever gratuitous.

This book is recommended for readers age 13+
This book was an EARC received from NetGalley

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

In the Footsteps of Crazy Horse by Joseph Marshall III, illustrated by Jim Yellowhawk

Eleven year-old Jimmy McClean may be Lakota, but unlike the other Lakota boys who have darker coloring and black hair, he has inherited more than just a Scottish name from his dad's side of the family.  Not only does he not have a Lakota last name, but Jimmy also has light skin, blue eyes and light brown hair, traits that make him the target of two bullies at their school on the Rosebud Sioux Indian Reservation in South Dakota.  Corky Brin, a white boy and Jesse Little Horse, a Lakota boy, may not like each other much, but they are united in letting Jimmy know every chance they get that he  isn't a real Lakota because of his coloring.

Luckily, school is out for the summer and Jimmy will have a break from their relentless bullying.  And Jimmy's grandfather on his mother's side, Nyles High Eagle, has invited him along on a road trip that will allow them to journey in the footsteps of Crazy Horse, the Lakota hero and leader who lived in the 1800s and who, as Jimmy learns, was also teased as a boy because he had light coloring and brown hair.  In fact, Crazy Horse's name as a boy was Light Hair.

As the two journey through South Dakota, Nebraska, Wyoming, and Montana, they are literally following in Crazy Horse's footsteps.  At each stop, Grandpa Nyles tells Jimmy how that area played an important part in the life of  Crazy Horse, carefully explaining what he did and why.  Slowly, Jimmy (and the reader) learn about how all these events made Crazy Horse the great leader that he became.

For Jimmy, and probably for most readers, learning about Crazy Horse and his heroic struggles to defend the Lakota people from the encroachment of white settlers, gold miners and the US Army is an eye-opening experience.  Most of us never really have the chance to see how these familiar and sometimes unfamiliar events played out from the Native American perspective.  We all know, for example, that General Custer and part of his battalion were defeated with no survivors at the Battle of Little Bighorn, but reading about how this battle was planned and executed and what the victory meant for Crazy Horse and the survival of the Plains Indians is a perspective that gives this battle a whole new meaning.

Making it all the more heartbreaking when Crazy Horse, who was such a great Lakota leader and warrior, is forced to surrender at Fort Robinson along with the people he led.  But his reasons for doing so may surprise readers.

And Jimmy?  For him, this is a journey of discovering what courage really means, of the importance family, culture and tradition in his life (as in all of our lives), and a bonding trip not just with his Grandpa Nyles, but with his whole Latkota heritage.

In the Footsteps of Crazy Horse is a well told, well researched work.  It switches between the present and the past as Grandpa Nyles relates the story of Crazy Horse's life, written in italics with the subtitle "The Way It Was"and in chronological order.  It is fascinating reading, though I sometimes wished it were more detailed, especially since Grandpa Nyles is such a wonderful storyteller.

Jimmy isn't really a fully developed character, more like a vehicle for the unfolding of Crazy Horse's life, but that's OK, he was developed as much as he needed to be to move the story forward, and enough for young readers to relate to.

The language is pretty straightforward, though some of the battle descriptions are rather vivid.  It is recommended for readers age 10 - 14 years old,  but I think the language is too young for them and more appropriate kids age 9-12, after all, Jimmy is only 11 and hearing the same things the readers is reading.

And, in fact, one of the things I really liked is the way Joseph Marshall doesn't gloss over the graphic details of some of the events Grandpa Nyles tells Jimmy about, but to his credit, he does tamps down the violence with some wise words about never glorifying war and to never forget what the Native American warriors did, but to remember the soldiers kindly as well (pg 73).  I should mention that Grandpa Nyles is a veteran and knows that nobody ever really wins when it comes to war.

Be sure to read the Author's Note at the back of the book, and remember there is an extensive glossary there, too.  I read an ARC but I understand there is a map in the book for tracing the journey Jimmy and Grandpa Nyles took (much easier than reading with a road atlas like I did).

In the Footsteps of Crazy Horse has come out just in time for Native American Heritage Month, but it is also a welcomed addition to the history of Native peoples, and a wonderful supplemental text to American history classes, as well as an excellent book for personal reading.

This book is recommended for readers (in my opinion) age 9+
This book was received at Bank Street Bookfest 2015

Saturday, November 14, 2015

A Tower of Giraffes: Animals in Groups written and illustrated by Anna Wright

Collective nouns are always so much fun to teach kids because they can really get into it.  Now, Anna Wright has given us a book that is all about collective nouns describing animal groups or families.

Each group contains information about the animals social habits and how they interact with each other, as well as additional collective nouns used for some of the animals.  For instance, a gaggle of geese works perfectly well, until those geese are flying in a V-formation.  Then they are a wedge of geese, but if they are just flying not in a V-formation, they are called a skein of geese.  Who knew?

Young readers will delight to see that so many familiar animals have nouns that fit who the animals are so well - there's a mischief of mice. a flamboyance of flamingos, a prickle of hedgehogs - so descriptive and so apt.

Giraffes are one of my favorite animals so I was not only attracted to this book because of the title, but also because of the textiled collage bodies Anna Wright gave them.  In fact, all the illustrations are done with a mix of pen and ink, splashes of watercolor and textiles throughout, creating illustrations that are lovely to look at and give a feeling of texture to them.  Besides the giraffe illustration, two of  my other favorites is the flock of sheep wearing bits of sweater fabric for the woolly bodies,

and the herd of elephants with their large textile ears and coordinated body fabrics.

A Tower of Giraffes a beautifully crafted, well-researched book that is also interesting and fun, and, I believe, one that can lead to deeper conversations about the animals Wright included and explorations in the collective nouns and behaviors of animals not included, and there are lots of them (perhaps with a few arts and crafts projects similar to the way these were done).

This book is recommended for readers age 4+
This book was an EARC received from NetGalley

This is book 10 of my 2015 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge hosted by Kid Lit Frenzy

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Cherry Ames, Veterans' Nurse by Helen Wells

I originally posted this review on my other blog, The Children's War, back in November 2010, but I decided to reposted it today for Veterans Day here on Randomly Reading.  

Today is Veterans’ Day in the United States and Remembrance Day (le jour de Souvenir) in Canada, a day for honoring veterans of all wars. It is celebrated on November 11th every year because that is the day the armistice became effective, ending the hostilities of World War I. In fact, in the US, it used to be called Armistice Day until 1954, when it was changed to Veterans Day to include all veterans of all wars. I have chosen Cherry Ames, Veterans’ Nurse specifically for this day.

Before her long and varied career history as a civilian nurse, Cherry Ames served in the armed forces. In Army Nurse, she joined the Army Nurse Corps, went through basic training and headed out to Panama City, to nurse wounded soldiers (see Cherry Ames, Army Nurse); in Chief Nurse, she helped organize a hospital evacuation on a Pacific island; in Flight Nurse, Cherry flew into battlefields to pick up wounded soldiers and bring them to hospital. 

In Veterans’ Nurse, Lieutenant Ames is stateside, still in the Army but awaiting her discharge papers. Cherry is assigned to Graham Hospital, and though she lives in Nurses’ Quarters on the grounds, she is conveniently located 30 miles from her hometown of Hilton. Graham is a VA hospital specializing in bone injuries and, as the head of nursing Colonel Brown explains “Our job is to rebuild broken men, physically and mentally.” What she didn’t say was that 
…each of these young men was wounded in the defense of his country – nor that to live and work again minus hands, arms, legs, eyes, or hearing was a terrific hurdle – nor that nurses here had to mend spirits as well as bodies, had to find useful and self-sufficient futures for these brave men. (pg 20)
Yet, Cherry knew this was exactly what she meant.

Cherry is a floater for two months, which means that she will go wherever she is needed, though that seems to be on the same ward with the same men throughout the novel. She is assigned to Building 7 (there are 6,000 beds and 100 buildings at Graham), where they are awaiting the arrival of new patients – men on stretchers, litters, and crutches, many wearing Purple Hearts pinned to their pajamas. Five men are assigned to Cherry’s care, but her most difficult patient is Jim Travers. Jim has lost his right leg in the war and is severely depressed about his future. He refuses to eat, to socialize with the other men, and call his mother to tell her what has happened and where he is.

Gradually, though, Jim does begin to improve, at least physically with the help of a Reconditioning Officer to increase his overall physical fitness, Occupational Therapy, where he learns skills for future employment, making beautifully crafted items of wood, and Rehabilitation Therapy, where he learns to adjust to the new artificial leg he is fitted with. Of course, Cherry’s excellent nursing care and cheerful optimism also helps him overcome his obstacles. When he finally masters his crutches, Jim is allowed to walk into the nearby village alone. Unfortunately, this doesn’t go well, but helps to show that pity can be very callous. While waiting to cross a street, he overhears two older women discussing him: “They whispered, what a shame, and wasn’t it too bad it was hopeless, and such a young man to go through life like that.” (pg 104) This is indeed a set back for Jim, who tells Cherry “A one-legged man, unable to do his old work, is an object of pity.” (pg 105) Jim's dark mood doesn’t last long, however. Cherry takes him home with her one weekend, where he is not treated as an object of pity.

Once again, Helen Wells did her homework and provides the reader with accurate, informative descriptions of what goes on in a VA hospital, albeit a bit sanitized for her young readers who might not be able to understand the dark psychological effects war can have on soldiers. To her credit, she made young readers aware of some very serious issues at the time when many probably were dealing with returning soldiers themselves. Wells mixed these issues in with some lighter fare, like the requisite love interest in the form of Captain Wade Cooper of the Army Air Force, an amusing teenage crush at home, descriptions of the pranks the nurses’ play on each other and the many squirrels on the hospital grounds who demand peanuts from everyone who crosses their path. Cherry Ames is still a fun though dated series and young readers will continue to discover her. Michelle Slatalia wrote a funny article in the New York Times called “Cherry Ames, My Daughters Will See You Now” which can be found at

I hope you will all join me in honoring the men and women in the Armed Forces here and abroad. 

In Memoriam
FCP 1955-2001
Imagination Designs