Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Stones on a Grave by Kathy Kacer

Congratulations to Kathy Kacer.  Stones on a Grave was named a 2016 Sydney Taylor Honor Award winner in the Teen Reader Category and I am happy to say that I will be interviewing Kathy as part of the Sydney Taylor Blog Tour on Thursday, February 11, 2016.  You can find a complete list of winner and the Blog Tour schedule HERE.

(This review was originally posted on The Children's War.)

It's June 1964 and Sara Barry, 18, has been living at the Benevolent Home for Necessitous Girls ever since she was a baby.  But now, after a fire completely destroys the building, it is time for Sara to strike out on her own.  Before she does that, Mrs. Hazelton, the home's matron, decides it is time for Sara to discover who she is.  All she has to give Sara is a certificate from the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration, a doctor's note written in a foreign language and a small Star of David on a chain. 

It seems that Sara's mother, whose name was Karen Frankel,  had been in Auschwitz, had actually survived until the camp was liberated, but then succumbed to TB in a DP or displaced persons camp shortly afterwards.  Sara was born in Germany soon after the war ended, and sent to the home in Canada.  Her Jewish background is a complete surprise to her. 

Now, armed with the $138.00 gift from Mrs. Hazelton and her own savings from her waitress job, Sara decides to go to Germany and try to find the doctor who signed the certificate that sent her to Canada.  Perhaps he has some information about her mother and father.

Arriving in Germany, Sara immediately heads to Föhrenwald, site of the former DP camp and easily locates Dr. Gunther Pearlman, the doctor who had certified her healthy to travel, even though she actually had TB as well.  But as soon as the doctor sees the papers she has with her, he turns on her and tells Sara to get out and go back to Canada, he has no information that would help her.  Dr. Pearlman does make a one night reservation at a small inn run by an older lady named Frau Klein, and asks his helper, Peter, a boy around the same age as Sara, to escort her there.

Dr. Pearlman may want Sara to leave the next day, but Sara has other plans and with Peter's help, and Frau Klein's kindness, she decides to stay for the rest of the week.  Luckily, Peter speaks perfect English (as does Dr. Pearlman), so he can translate for her.  Sara quickly discovers that Föhrenwald is still home to many Jewish survivors and their children, including Frau Klein, the doctor and Peter's parents.

But uncovering information about her parents isn't easy in the country that just wants to forget about what had happened there.  Yet, perseverance does pay off and while all the loose ends are neatly tied up by the end of the novel, some of what Sara discovers is difficult for her to accept, and I have to admit, I wasn't expecting the ending to twist the way it did.

I found this is a very interesting example of a post-war historical fiction novel.  By setting it in the 1960s, Kathy Kacer shows the reader a world that wants to forget what happened, others who, like Sara, really don't know about what happened under Hitler's tyranny, even as racial prejudice is still openly practiced.  Mrs. Hazelton didn't keep Sara's Jewish identity secret because she didn't like Jews, but because she wanted to protect her from any lingering anti-Semetism.  And Luke, Sara's loser boyfriend in Canada, proves the point, with his hatred of Jews and blacks, seen in the way he goes after Sara's friend Malou. 

Stone on a Grave is an emotional, insightful novel about a young woman trying to discover who she really is.  Sara's story helps to demonstrate the impact the Holocaust had on the lives of people even up to the present.  Be sure to read the Author's Note for more information about the aftermath of the Holocaust.

In the Benevolent Home, Sara was one of a group of girls Mrs. Hazelton considered to be her "special seven."  Like Sara, each girl is given whatever information Mrs. Hazelton has about who they really are, plus $138.00 she had put aside for them to start them on their way.   Sara's story is part of a seven book YA series called Secrets that follows each girl on their journey towards self-discovery. Each novel is written by a different author, providing a variety of stories and insights.

This book is recommended for readers age 12+
This book was purchased for my personal library

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

It's Official - 2016 Bank Street Children's Book Committee Awards are here!

Each year, the Bank Street Children's Book Committee reads and reads - picture books, realistic fiction, speculative fiction, nonfiction, poetry, if it's published and it's for young readers, the committee reads it.  And at the end of the year, the committee gives three awards - one for outstanding fiction, one for outstanding poetry and on for outstanding nonfiction.

The Josette Frank Award for Fiction honors a book or books of outstanding merit in which children or young people deal in a positive and realistic way with difficulties in their world and grow emotionally and morally. This year the Josette Frank Award was given to

The War that Saved my Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
Dial BFYR, 2015 320 pages (age 9+)

From the Publisher: Nine-year-old Ada has never left her one-room apartment. Her mother is too humiliated by Ada’s twisted foot to let her outside. So when her little brother Jamie is shipped out of London to escape the war, Ada doesn’t waste a minute—she sneaks out to join him.
 So begins a new adventure of Ada, and for Susan Smith, the woman who is forced to take the two kids in. As Ada teaches herself to ride a pony, learns to read, and watches for German spies, she begins to trust Susan—and Susan begins to love Ada and Jamie. But in the end, will their bond be enough to hold them together through wartime? Or will Ada and her brother fall back into the cruel hands of their mother?

The Claudia Lewis Award is honors the best poetry book of the year for young readers.  This year the Claudia Lewis Award was given to

My Seneca Village by Marilyn Nelson
namelos, 2015, 112 pages (age 10+)

From the publisher:  This exquisite collection [of poems] takes readers back in time and deep into the mind's eye of Marilyn Nelson.  A girl ponders being free-but-not-free. Orphaned brothers get gold fever. A conjurer sees past his time and into ours. The voices of a multi-ethnic, multi-racial 19th century Manhattan neighborhood are rising again.  One of America's most honored writers - a Newbery Honor medalist, Coretta Scott King Medalist and National Book Award nominee -draws upon history, and her astonishing imagination, to revive the long lost community of Seneca Village. 

The Flora Stieglitz Straus Award honors an information book that serves as an inspiration to young readers.  This year's Flora Stieglitz Straus Award was given to 

Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer: The Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement 
by Carol Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Ekua Holmes
Candlewick, 2015, 56 pages (age 9+)

From the publisher:  Despite fierce prejudice and abuse, even being beaten to within an inch of her life, Fannie Lou Hamer was a champion of civil rights from the 1950s until her death in 1977. Integral to the Freedom Summer of 1964, Ms. Hamer gave a speech at the Democratic National Convention that, despite President Johnson’s interference, aired on national TV news and spurred the nation to support the Freedom Democrats. Featuring luminous mixed-media art both vibrant and full of intricate detail, Voice of Freedom celebrates Fannie Lou Hamer’s life and legacy with an inspiring message of hope, determination, and strength.

Congratulations to the winners!

Sunday, February 7, 2016

The Year of the Monkey: Tales from the Chinese Zodiac by Oliver Chin, illustrated by Kenji Ono

Chinese New Year begins on February 8, 2016 and this year it is the Year of the Monkey from the Chinese zodiac.  And just in time for the New Year celebrations, comes Oliver Chin's The Year of the Monkey: Tales from the Chinese Zodiac for young readers.

Max is the son of the legendary prankster, the Monkey King and his Queen.  You know Max is going to be quite a monkey when the Jade Emperor sees him and warns that if Max follows in his parents footsteps, the world would certainly have to take notice.

At school, Max isn't the best student and ends up in the principal's office, but he loves playing in the school yard on the jungle gym and swings.  One day, Max and his new friend Kai are taken to the gym by their teacher.  There, Max sees other kids kicking a feathered weight in a game called Jianzi or shuttlecock, a game similar to hackey-sack.

Jianzi is a game right up Max's alley, requiring lots of energy and skill, so he and Kai begin to practice every chance they get.  Max wants to be the best player he can be, but his mom, the Queen, tells him to stop wasting his time on games, that they have higher expectations for him.  When the annual shuttlecock tornament is announced, everyone agrees that the champions, the Tiger and the Dragon, are unbeatable champions and it would take a miracle for them to be defeated.
A typical shuttlecock
A miracle?  Those odds really appeal to the Monkey King and his son Max.  So Max and Kai begin to practice with renewed determination.  But to win a tournament, Max would need a special move, a winning kick so to speak, and his dad has just the right move for him.  But can two youngsters possibly defeat the seasoned Jianzi champions? 

I read The Year of the Monkey to my two young neighbors, Lilly and John, who knew nothing about the Chinese New Year or the Chinese zodiac.  They loved the story and the characters and wanted to know more about the Monkey King and the other animals of the zodiac.  Unfortunately, neither was born in a Year of the Monkey.  But this is the kind of story that works well when it comes to teaching kids about cultures other than their own, as I discovered with Lilly and John.  They particularly liked the illustrations by Kenji Ono.  I also found them to be fun and colorful, having the same level of energy that Max has.   Now, the kids want to read all of Oliver Chin's Chinese zodiac tales.  

One of the things I really liked about Max's story is that it showed young readers that they can channel their abundant energy into a creative outlet, just as Max did.  The Monkey King may have been quite the  pranster, but his son Max decides to put his energy into becoming a successful Jianzi competitor.

As you read this book, you will notice that the characters are diverse, by which I mean they are not all Chinese and they are not all animals.  It is an interesting approach to representing different characters in a picture book, human, animal and zodiac.

There is a brief explanation of the zodiac in Chinese culture at the front of the book and at the back of the book is a description of the traits people born in the Year of the Monkey possess.  Don't know if your sign is the Monkey?  The different years are listed, too.  My sign is not the Monkey, but my sister's is (and may I say, that explains a lot about her). 

The Year of the Monkey is the eleventh book in Oliver Chin's zodiac series and the first one that is written in both English and simplified Chinese characters.  Since I don't know Chinese, I sent a page to my Kiddo to read.  I like to know that in a bilingual book, the are the same.  Now she wants the whole book to read.  I hope you do, too.

This book is recommended for readers age 4+
This book was sent to me by the publisher, Immedium

Good Luck, Good Health, Good Cheer and Pass a Happy New Year

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Blog Tour: Last in a Long Line of Rebels by Lisa Lewis Tyre

It's summer vacation 1999 and in the small town of Zollicoffer, TN, Louise "Lou" Mayhew, 12, daughter of the town's junkman, has just bragged to her nemesis Sally Martin that she and best friend Benjamin "Benzer" Zerto have some exciting plans to look forward to.  Truth be told, there were no plans at all, except perhaps the birth of Lou's first sibling.  So when bookworm Benzer comes to over Lou's house, they two decide pray on an old Bible for something exciting to happen and in return, they promise to start going to church.

But then, they inadvertently overhear Lou's parents and grandmother Bertie talking about the possibility that their 175 year-old home, a large rambling, crumbling three story house that generations of Mayhews have lived in, might be torn down unless they could raise $25,000 to pay a lawyer to fight for the house in court.  Crestfallen by what she overhears, Lou nevertheless decides to try and find a way to save the home she loves so much.

But just to play it safe, Lou pulls out the old Bible to take back the prayer request or something exciting to happen when a letter falls out addressed to Lou's namesake, Louise Mayhew, and dated March 12, 1864.  Together with friends Benzer, Franklin and Patty, a plan is hatched to try and get the Mayhew house listed as an historic landmark, which would also get Franklin another Boy Scout merit badge to help in his quest to become an Eagle Scout.

Mrs. Hall, the town's librarian, adds incentive to their house quest by telling them about some rumored gold that had been stolen during the Civil War and, since, Lou's great-great-great-grandfather was the suspected thief, it is believed the gold was hidden somewhere in the Mayhew home.  Lou begins to think if she could find the gold, it would really save her house.   There's just one hitch - who is George Neely and why is he so interested in the Mayhew house, too?

Together, the friends set about unearthing all kinds of information about the Mayhew family and the role they really played in the Civil War, while unraveling an interesting mystery or two.

Since I love history and historical fiction is my favorite genre, I found myself enjoying Last in a Long Line of Rebels,  Lisa Lewis Tyre's debut middle grade novel.   She begins each chapter with a diary entry by Lou's namesake but it isn't until more than half way into the story that the readers learns their origin.  Delaying that information only adds to the mystery surrounding the Mayhew house and the missing gold.  In the end, it all gets explained and it is well worth the wait.

Lou, her family and her friends are all great characters, well developed and believable.  The kids are spunky and clever, and really loyal to each other, which is always nice to see in a middle grade book (nemesis is away on a cruise).

There is a lot going on in the novel, besides the possible home demolition.  There is the race issue surrounding Issac, a black teen who works part-time for Lou's dad and who is hoping for a scholarship to the University of Tennessee to play football.  When Issac is cheated out of the scholarship by a bigoted coach, there are repercussion for him but wonderful community support for Issac.

It may seem odd that the story is set in 1999, but it means that there is limited Internet available for the kids to use and that they really must use their heads to find information in the resources available to them.  It also means no cell phones and let's face it, how many times have you been reading a book or watching a movie set in the past and fleetingly wondered why don't the characters use their phones to call for help before you were jolted back to the reality of the fiction you are watching.

FYI - that deal Lou and Benzer made with God - yes, they keep their part of the bargain and they do go to church every Sunday.

All in all, Last in a Long Line of Rebels is sure to please readers from start to finish.

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was sent to me by TLC Book Tours

You might also want to visit these stops on the Last in a Long Line of Rebels Blog Tour:

Monday, February 1st: Geo Librarian
Tuesday, February 2nd: Randomly Reading
Wednesday, February 3rd: All Roads Lead to the Kitchen
Thursday, February 4th: Life is Story
Monday, February 8th: Just Commonly
Wednesday, February 10th: Shooting Stars Mag
Thursday, February 11th: Musings by Maureen
Monday, February 15th: Peeking Between the Pages
Tuesday, February 16th: You Can Read Me Anything
Wednesday, February 17th: WV Stitcher
Thursday, February 18th: Tina Says…
Monday, February 22nd: The Things You Can Read
Wednesday, February 24th: A Chick Who Reads
Thursday, February 25th: Just One More Chapter
Monday, February 29th: Laura’s Reviews
Wednesday, March 2nd: Absurd Book Nerd
Thursday, March 3rd: FictionZeal
Monday, March 7th: View from the Birdhouse

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Sitting Bull: Lakota Warrior and Defender of his People written and illustrated by S. D. Nelson

After seeing all the references to Sitting Bull while reading In the Footsteps of Crazy Horse by Joseph Marshall III, I decided to to read S.D. Nelson's Sitting Bull biography.  Unlike most biographies narrated by a third person, Sitting Bull: Lakota Warrior and Defender of his People is told to us by the spirit of Sitting Bull himself.

Born in 1831, a member of the Hunkpapa band, one of the seven Lakota tribes of the Great Plains, Sitting Bull's was originally named Jumping Badger.  At age 10, he killed his first buffalo, and at 14, he earned his first eagle feather after a successful raid on their Crow enemy.  That's when his father gave him the shield and lance of a Lakota warrior, and the name Sitting Bull, "symbolizing a powerful buffalo that holds his ground and never backs down." (pg 6)

By the mid-1800s, wasichus, or white men, were beginning to cross through Lakota territory heading west.  It didn't take long for them to begin taking over the Great Plains.  But, Sitting Bull tells us, the white man came to [their] land with two faces - talking about peace, but taking whatever they wanted.  Fighting started to break out between Lakota warriors and white soldiers.  It became clear that the seven Lakota tribes needed a leader, and, as their greatest warrior, Sitting Bull was asked to lead his people against the wasichus, who were then joined by Arapaho and Cheyenne warriors

But as the land and the way of life of the Lakota tribes was impinged on more and more by armed soldiers, by settlers in covered wagons heading to Oregon, by steamboats on the Missouri River and later railroads from east and west bringing trade, and by the discovery of gold on tribal land, many bands of Lakota were forced to live on reservations created by the US government, who said they would be taken care of, but again spoke with two faces.

After their victory over Lt. Colonel George Custer at Little Bighorn, a battle Sitting Bull did not take part in, people wanted revenge.  Sitting Bill and his band of Hunkpapa fled to Canada for safety.  But starvation drove them back to the Great Plains, where they were considered  to be hostile Indians by the US government and were eventually forced to submit to living on a reservation.  Sitting Bull found himself and his family at the Standing Rock Agency in the Indian reservation with his freedom gone, his failures at farming and guarded by armed Lakota police, what must have felt like the ultimate betrayal.

Little wonder, Sitting Bull decided to travel with Buffalo Bill Cody's Wild West Show in 1885, remaining with the show for one summer, before returning to the reservation.  This brave warrior was assassinated by Lakota who were now American policemen, and worse, probably denied a proper Lakota burial, though no one really knows what became of Sitting Bull's body.

Sitting Bull: Lakota Warrior and Defender of his People is a fascinating look at the life of an American Indian whose name I was familiar with, but whose actual life I knew nothing about.  And I knew even less about Lakota culture and traditions, such as why a warrior paints his body and his horse with symbolic designs before going into battle.

S.D. Nelson, who is himself a tribally enrolled member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe of the Dakotas, has created a narrative voice of Sitting Bull feels so authentic as he recalls the pivotal and terrible life-changing events that he lived through, you almost believe he is there speaking to you directly.

Laced through this picture book for older readers are archival photographs and large print quotations from different Lakota sourced heading some pages.  But most striking of all is the artwork.  Using a ink and colored pencils in a soft but colorful palette, the illustrations were then digitally reproduced to capture all the details, because Nelson has done the book in what has come to be known as ledger book art style.  When American Indians were in military base jails, they were given old used ledger books to draw on.  At first insulting that American Indians weren't worthy of clean sheets of paper, their designs were so extraordinary that ledger book art stands as an art form in its own right for telling "a people's story and...stand as splendid visual testaments."

S.D Nelson's images done in ledger book style
Back matter includes a Select Time Line of Lakota history, an Author's Note (always a reading must), end notes and a select Bibliography.  There is a map of detailed map of the Great Plains on the front end papers that will also help situate the reader.

Sitting Bull: Lakota Warrior and Defender of his People is a book that should be read by everyone interested in Native American history and in those parts of American history not usually included in textbooks.

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was borrowed from the NYPL

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

2016 Multicultural Children's Book Day: I Want Cake! by Daniel Kairys, M.D., illustrated co-authored by Jo Ann Kairys

Today is Multicultural Children's Book Day (#ReadYourWorld)

And to help celebrate this event, I read a book called I Want Cake!  Now, it just so happens that my very favorite thing to eat in this world is a chocolate devil's food cake with white icing - every birthday, every celebration, every chance I get.  So when Leen woke up one morning and told her sister Ya Ya that she wanted cake for breakfast, I was right there with her.

First, they decide to ask their dad, a doctor who is busy packing up crates of medical supplies.  But, there is not cake to be found anywhere in to crates.

With little brother Jaden tagging alone, Ya Ya and Leen decide to ask Mom if she has cake.  She tells them it's too early for cake and offers them some lambi ak jon jon or snails with mushrooms instead.

Perhaps their neighbor Yucely has cake.  Sadly she only has uno llanta de bicicleta, a bicycle tire, and besides that, she's busy collection worms.

When they ask Maman, their grandmother tells in Haitian Creole "Ay, pit a men!" You never want good food, but maybe Ya Ya, Leen and Jaden could help fold her clothes from the clothesline.

Instead, they go find their Grandpop.  But he's busy moving his books and only has some vegetable knishes to offer if they will help him.

Now there is no one left to ask.  Will Leen ever get some cake for breakfast?  Maybe big sister Ya Ya has one more idea left.

Like so many kids nowadays, Ya Ya, Leen and Jaden come from a family and live in a neighborhood that is really a microcosm of multiculturalism.  And as the kids go from person to person on the quest for cake, the are offered something traditional from the family member's culture and the opportunity for further discussion about each one.  One of the best things about this book, though, is how well the siblings get along.    

I Want Cake is based on the storytelling author Daniel Kairys's noticed his own children making up and who he writes in his Dedication, are the icing on his cake.  So, perhaps the reason this book will capture the imagination of young readers is because this story comes right from minds of kids themselves.

The illustrations is quite striking.  Artist Jo Ann Kairys took photographs of what I assume are the Kairys children Ya Ya, Leen and Jaden and are layered over brightly colored painted and collage illustrations.  From these, these mixed media illustrations off depth and lots more detail that should really spark some conversations.

YaYa, Leen, Jaden and Mom
Kids will surely delight in seeing themselves in this book, whether in the illustrations, or in the quest for cake.  And you will find a delicious recipe for a Vegan Vanilla Cake courtesy of Papa Ganache Vegan Bakery in Matawan, NJ.  And as much as I loved devil's food cake, some of the best cakes I have ever eaten have been vegan.

More about Multicultural Children's Book Day:

Our Mission: The MCCBD team’s mission to spread the word and raise awareness about the importance of diversity in children’s literature. Our young readers need to see themselves within the pages of a book and experience other cultures, languages, traditions and religions within the pages of a book. We encourage readers, parents, teachers, caregivers and librarians to follow along the fun book reviews, author visits, event details, a multicultural children’s book linky and via our hashtag (#ReadYourWorld) on Twitter and other social media.The co-creators of this unique event are Mia Wenjen from Pragmatic Mom and Valarie Budayr from Jump Into a Book/Audrey Press. You can find a bio for Mia and Valarie here.
Our Sponsors:
Multicultural Children’s Book day 2016 Medallion Level Sponsors! #ReadYourWorld

Our Co-Hosts: 
Multicultural Children’s Book Day has 12 amazing Co-Host and you can meet them here.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Two Friends: Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass by Dean Robbins, illustrated by Selina Aiko and Sean Qualls

There was a time when all women and all African Americans had two things in common - neither group had rights and both groups had someone working hard to get them the rights they deserved according to the US Constitution.

In this meeting of suffragette Susan B. Anthony and former slave, abolitionist, and newspaper editor Frederick Douglass at her home in Rochester, NY,  author Dean Robbins imagines what the two pioneers in the fight for equal rights might have talked about when they sat down for afternoon tea one cold snowy winter's day.  The two were already friends with much in common - both defying society's expectations of them - she wears bloomers, he wears the clothes of a gentleman - and both just wanting the right to be free, and the right to vote.  As Robbins points out, some people agreed with their ideas, but some people didn't.

As the afternoon wears on, the two friends talk and the reader begins to understand what the lives of women and African Americans was like in the 19th century, as well as how and why Anthony and Douglass were trying to change things.  Both fighters had taught themselves how to give speeches, and throughout the book, there are steams of their own words from those speeches surrounding them.

At the end of the afternoon, the two friends promised to help each other "so one day all people could have rights."

"Let's Have Tea"statue in Susan B Anthony Square Park
Rochester NY
Robbins' text is simply, but to the point.  It shouldn't be forgotten that what went on that afternoon is imagined by him, but I am guessing it is pretty close to reality, given how passionate Anthony and Douglass were about their equal rights campaigns.

The emotional folk-art style illustrations are done with paint, colored pencils and collage in a palette of bright blues, reds and yellows.

Two Friends is a wonderful read aloud for young kids just beginning to learn American history.  Be sure to read the Author's Note to learn more about these two fighters for equal rights, and the Bibliography for sources to learn more about these true American heroes.

Two Friends: Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass would pair nicely with Nikki Grimes's picture book Chasing Freedom: The Life Journeys of Harriet Tubman and Susan B. Anthony, in which she imagines a meeting of these two women for afternoon tea and conversation about their lives.  And yes, Frederick Douglass does come up in their talks.

This book is recommended for readers age 4+, but I think it is more appropriate for readers age 6+
This book was sent to me by the publisher, Orchard Books, Scholastic

Imagination Designs