Saturday, May 2, 2015

Saturday Roundup #9: This and That

This was a good reading week and I think I've managed to include something for all age ranges.  And I have nice, new rating stars to try out that match my recently redesigned blog.  And don't forget, Children's Book Week begins on May 4, 2015.  Be sure to check their website for exciting activities for kids to do at home, at the library or in an independent bookstore near you.

Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt by Kate Messner, 
illustrated by Silas Neal
Chronicle Books, 2015, 52 pages (Age 5+)

Young readers will discover that there's more to a garden than meets the eye.  While a young girl and her grandmother plant, tend, and harvest fruits and vegetables above the ground, along with bees and birds who want to enjoy their bounty, down in the dirt, there is lots of activity, too, from the insects, bugs, earthworms and burrowing creatures who want make the garden their home.  Readers can learn about all the garden creatures at the end of the book.  Messner's lyrical prose is complimented by Silas Neal's wonderful two-tiered illustrations.


Out and About, a First book of Poems written and illustrated by Shirley Hughes
Candlewick, 2015, 56 pages (Age 2+)

I seem to like poems about the four seasons and this lovely reissue is no exception.  Beginning with spring, a little girl, along with her younger brother, takes the reader on a journey extolling all the joys, big and small, of each season and ending at Christmas, and includes poems about the weather, mud, sand, sunshine at bedtime, even being sick in bed.  The pen and watercolor illustrations capture all the joy and beauty of each season.


Nightbird by Alice Hoffman
Wendy Lamb, 2015, 208 pages (Age 9+)

Living in Sidwell, Massachusetts, Twig, 12 has never really been allowed to have a close friend.  Her mother is afraid that a friend might discover the family's secret.  At the same time, there is rumor of a large, strange creature seen flying around at night.  But everything changes, when new neighbors move in next store, with a girl who wants to be friends with Twig.  But do they also hold the key to the mystery of Sidwell's night creature?


Dragons at Crumbling Castle and Other Tales by Terry Pratchett,
illustrated by Mark Beech
Clarion Books, 2015, 337 pages (Age 9+)

It was difficult to read this collection of stories written by a young Terry Pratchett so shortly after his untimely death.  Included in this volume are Pratchett’s early stories, written and published in the 1970s on the children’s page while he was a junior reporter for the Bucks Free Press, a weekly newspaper in Buckinghamshire, England.  Although these short stories are not quite a polished as Pratchett’s later stand alone novels, or his Discworld novels, they are certainly worth reading, especially if you are a Pratchett fan, just to experience the early workings of his brilliant mind.  They are fun, satirical, absurd, plain old silly and lighthearted, and all of the wonderful ingredients in Pratchett tale are there in their nascent form.  And he knew it.  Here’s part of his dedication to Dragons at Crumbling Castle and Other Tales:
"And to my younger self, who thought 
these stories were pretty good...
Oh, I could teach that lad a thing or two!"

Black Dove White Raven by Elizabeth Wein
Disney-Hyperion, 2015, 368 pages

Elizabeth Wein has written another wonderful historical novel, this time set in the 1930s in Ethiopia.  Delia and Rhoda are best friends and stunt pilots, calling themselves Black Dove and White Raven.  In the US, it is a time when gender and race made things difficult for the two women.  Delia, who is black, dreams of living in Ethiopia with her son Teo, who is half Ethiopian, Rhoda and Rhoda’s daughter Em, who is half Italian.  After Delia is killed by a bird striking the plane she is flying, Rhoda eventually decides to honor her dream and take the kids to live in Ethiopia as a family.  The kids, who are as inseparable as their mothers, live on a life coffee plantation, where life is pretty comfortable for them.  But in 1935, war comes to Ethiopia when Italian forces, under the direction of Fascist leader Benito Mussolini, threaten to invade the country.  Rhoda and the kids are caught in the middle, because the kids don’t have valid passports to get out of the country.  Now, the family is separated, Teo is trapped and Em is trying her best to convince Haile Selassie Emperor of Ethiopia, to grant him an Ethiopian passport, paying him for the favor with a aircraft she has stolen from the Italians.  Will her audacious act work?

Wein weaves together the story of Delia, Rhoda, Teo and Em using school essays written by the kids, flight log entries, and stories the kids make up about the themselves as “The Adventures of Black Dove (Teo) and White Raven (Em)”.  What unfolds is the story of a diverse family as Wein explores the themes of friendship, sibling attachment, family relationships, race and gender in a volatile country at a volatile time, in other words, historical fiction at its very best. Written in Wein’s inimitable style, she has once again brought multiple characters set in a particular time and place to life as only she can.  Don’t miss this exciting, excellent novel.

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