Book Review Wednesday: Brotherhood by A.B. Westrick

September started with a sprint that included sending my oldest to his first year of high school, both kids auditioning for school productions, my husband off to a full-time masters program and me trying to turn around edits on a manuscript.  It is only now, that I’m finding time to update Creative Chaos. Thanks for your patience.

If you are anything like me, amazing fall releases are pushing your “professional books” budget to the limit. I’ll be posting about two over the next two days!

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Last Thursday was the book birthday of A.B. Westrick’s, BROTHERHOOD. I was lucky enough to receive and advanced readers copy of the book from the author. From the website:

The year is 1867, and Richmond, Virginia, lies in ruins. By day fourteen-year-old Shadrach apprentices with a tailor and sneaks off for reading lessons with Rachel, a freed slave, at her school for African-American children. By night he follows his older brother to the meetings of a brotherhood, newly formed to support Confederate widows and grieving families like his. As the true murderous mission of the brotherhood—now known as the Ku Klux Klan—emerges, Shad is trapped between his pledge to them and what he knows is right. In this unflinching view of the bitter animosity that stemmed from economic and social upheaval in the South during the period of Reconstruction, it’s clear that the Civil War has ended, but the conflict isn’t over.

Shadrach is caught between being a boy and a man. He is caught between the needs of his family and his own needs for self-actualization. He is caught between his allegiance to old ways and his desire to be educated, and forge a new world. He is caught between hating others and being able to live with himself.

This in-between place is the place of the Young Adult and A.B. Westrick writes it beautifully. I felt her characters and their conflicts deeply. My empathy for Shadrach fought with my own sense of right and wrong.

The setting, despite its grit and tension, is beautiful. Geographical details coupled with vernacular and emotions of the period bring the reader squarely into 1867 Richmond. The reader clearly experiences the “tensions ordinary, impoverished, and poorly educated white Southerners might have felt during the period of Reconstruction,” as A.B. Westrick writes in her author’s note.

I urge teachers to add this book to their Civil War & Reconstruction units. Will there be hard questions and difficult discussions? YES! But this is the purpose of good literature.

Book Review Wednesday: Rain! by Linda Ashman

On Friday, I’ll be hosting Melanie Crowder debut author of PARCHED (which just received the silver Parent’s Choice Award), so… all this week I’m posting about water.


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In Maine it’s been water, water everywhere! The rain is coming down in sheets and buckets, and cats and dogs BUT, because I just finished Linda Ashman’s, RAIN! I didn’t let the wet weather get me down. I took Lucy dog for a very wet walk, jumped in puddles and sang. My positive attitude helped me enjoy the moment; coming home to a warm cup of tea and great book felt great too.


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From the Houghton Mifflin Harcourt website:

One rainy day in the city, an eager little boy exclaims, “Rain!” Across town a grumpy man grumbles, “Rain.” In this endearing picture book, a rainy-day cityscape comes to life in vibrant, cut-paper-style artwork. The boy in his green frog hat splashes in puddles—“Hoppy, hoppy, hoppy!”—while the old man curses the “dang puddles.” Can the boy’s natural exuberance (and perhaps a cookie) cheer up the grouchy gentleman and turn the day around?

This very simple picture book (only 78 words) has a wealth of emotional literacy learning opportunities for young children. The illustrations, cut paper by Christian Robinson, are deceivingly simple and delightful. Robinsons framing techniques do a great job of conveying the parallel stories of the grumpy man and the optimistic child.

If you’d like a copy of the book, Linda is currently running a Goodreads giveaway that ends on June 28th.

Book Review Wednesday: Deadweather and Sunrise, by Geoff Rodkey

If your brother is named Adonis, your sister, Venus and you are named Eggbert, you know you are starting out life at a disadvantage. The disadvantaged youth in this situation is the main character in DEADWEATHER AND SUNRISE (G.P. Putnam, March 2013), Book One of Geoff Rodkey’s, The Chronicles of Egg trilogy.


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Egg lives on Deadweather Island. Yes, the name does say it all– hot, heavy air is stalled above his volcanic island home. His father runs an ugly fruit plantation with pirate laborers. Egg aches for intellectual stimulation, which he fails to get from the new tutor who is almost as obnoxious, dumb, and lazy as Egg’s siblings. The pirates that populate the waters around the island and the port towns are thieves and murderers, and I appreciated that Rodkey maintained their nefarious ways.

Across the waters is the island of Sunrise where the weather is as beautiful as the people who live and visit. Most beautiful to Eggbert is Millicent Pembroke, 13-year-old daughter of local businessman, Roger Pembroke. Pembroke’s wealth and adoration of Eggbert’s father quickly endears him to their family, but the reader comes to understand that Pembroke’s friendliness may be a cover for a hidden agenda.

There is plenty of humor in Deadweather and Sunrise. At the “street meat” vendor, Eggbert is stuck eating the cheapest fare while his tutor, brother, and sister use most of the money. The following exchange between the tutor and the street vendor had my kids in stitches:

Percy turned his head to look at me. I tried to seem bored, because I knew the hungrier I looked, the crueler his order would be.
“Got any pickled rat?”
I must have looked like I was starving to death.
“Sir, this is a reputable establishment. We serve no rat.”
“What’s your bottom shelf?”
“Innards.”
“What kind?”
“It’s a mix. Brains, pancreas, bit of spleen–”
“Give us that.”
“Comes on a bun.”
“Skip the bun.”

Say “Bit of spleen,” out loud. Okay, now say it to an 11 and 13-year-old boy. I swear you’ll get belly laughs.

The beginning of the book is a little slow to start. Rodkey is a seasoned screenwriter, Daddy Day Care and RV, and for me the first act included too much scene setting and backstory. Once I got caught up in the story, Rodkey had me rooting for Eggbert. Throughout his journey, Egg meets with all kinds of people. He loses his family, is threatened with death, meets vicious pirates and even more vicious cruise boat tourists. He makes friends, falls in love, finds treasure, and battles the bad guys.

Eggberts growth comes in part from his realization that all of us– wealthy, worker, or pirate– are human and as such, we all have a dark and often self-serving side. At least, he notes, the pirates are what they say they are.

From the Chronicles of Egg press release:

Egg - Rodkey head shot 1Geoff Rodkey grew up in Freeport, Illinois, a place with no ugly fruit plantations, volcanoes, or gainfully employed pirates, although someone did briefly want to kill him when he was a teenager. He currently lives with his family on an island just off the coast of North America.


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The second in the trilogy, NEW LANDS (May 2013), has already been released.

Everybody’s doin’ it!

Everybody’s doin’ it– READ! I’m a little late on my best-of lists for 2012, but I have gotten some questions from local parents and others about my favorite reads so in keeping with the trend…

I realize that not all of these are 2012 releases, these are just some of my favorite books that I read last year.  *= don’t miss

Adult:
*The Night Circus
Rin Tin Tin
State of Wonder
*The Submission
*The Red Rose Crew
The Glass Castle

Young Adult:
*Daughter of Smoke and Bone
Wintergirls
Marcelo in the Real World
*Code Name Verity
Jersey Tomatoes are the Best
*See You at Harry’s
The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind

Middle Grade:
*Dead End in Norvelt
*The One and Only Ivan
A Long Walk to Water
True
One for the Murphy’s

Picture Book:
She Loved Baseball: The Effa Manley Story (NF)
Citizen Scientists (NF)
Duck Sock Hop
Ubiquitous: Celebrating Nature’s Survivors (poetry)
Here come the Girlscouts
One Cool Friend

Some of these are reviewed in depth on my blog. Just search in the right side bar for the title. Often I’ll do a short review in my Goodreads account. Feel free to connect with me there too!

NaNoWriMo: Day 14 & Eye on the Iditarod: Aisling’s Quest

Excuses. It seems that when we least want them they rear their ugly heads and keep us from doing the things we know we need to do. In this way, I’ve found that exercise and writing both come with their share of excuses.

I can’t possibly go for a run, I have to write.
OR
I can’t possibly write, I have to exercise check my email.

Yes, my recent excuse has been that I can’t write on the weekends because that’s when my kids are home. Now it’s true, when both brothers are here they always end up within a four foot space of my writing desk yelling at each other about some grievance or another despite my pleas for them to separate, go outside, or “For God’s sake leave me alone.” Still, a few words are better than none, just as walking is as good as running. In short, something is better than nothing at all. So you can see that my trending progress has plateaued…

…and I need inspiration.  Thus I bring you an inspiring young person, Aisling Lara Shepherd!

Aisling (pronounced Ashley) is an aspiring musher who wrote a memoir with the help of children’s author Hope Irvin Marston. Their book, EYE ON THE IDITAROD: AISLING’S QUEST, is both exciting and inspiring.

Memoir is never easy and a memoir for an eleven year-old girl doesn’t give the writer much to work with– or so you might think. With Aisling though, there is plenty to say. She started life with the adversity of serious eye muscle problems that required years of surgeries. While she recovered, she watched the Iditarod on TV, learned about mushing, and was hooked. One dog led, to a sled, which led to more dogs and races. Before Aisling and their family knew it, they were feeding butcher bits to a kennel full of dogs in Maine and supporting Aislings mushing habit. As with many activities that start with one person’s interest, the whole family was drawn into the community of mushers. Throughout injuries and dog life cycles, Aislings dream of racing the Iditarod has stayed constant. That is inspirational.

Hope Irvin Marston does a wonderful job turning Aisling’s story into a well-plotted and well-written adventure that keeps readers wondering what will happen next. The backmatter includes a glossary, teaching ideas, Iditarod resources for the web, photos of Aisling and her family (dog and person), and a wonderful list of mushing/adventure books for younger and middle grade readers. Illustrations by Bob Renaud highlight certain scenes in the text. The only complaint I had was that I wanted to know if Aisling made it to the Iditarod, but that part of the story has yet to be lived!

And… my novel has yet to be written. Today when I want to stop writing, I will think of Aisling driving her team of sled dogs through cold, and snow and how they never make excuses. They find the thrill in doing what they love to do. Happy writing.

Book Review Wednesday: Talk Like A Pirate Day

Today be Talk Like a Pirate Day. Don’t ask me why ye’ landlubbers, but I’m right excited like there be a jellyfish in my gut, or like I’ve tapped a few too many casks of rum. So I’m floating out this message in a bottle about some fine books that I’ve been eyein’ for me next journey on the high seas.

There Was an Old Pirate Who Swallowed a Fish, Jennifer Ward, Ill. Steve Gray

Fish swallowing pirates be a regular happening– but in this book, the bloke does some other inspired eating. If yer anklebiters like to caterwaul about old women eatin’ flies, they’ll probably put their mark on this book too. Launches today!

There was an old pirate . . . who swallowed a fish, a bird, a map, some gold, and even a whole pirate ship! Will the Old Pirate sink to the bottom of the deep, dark sea? Yo ho ho! Watch his belly grow! Jennifer Ward’s take on the ?Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly? song is perfectly matched with Steve Gray’s zany digital illustrations

.

The High Sky Adventures of Blue Jay the Pirate, Penned entirely by the hand of Scott Nash

The High Skies Adventures of Blue Jay The Pirate is an illustrated novel that sets sail on Sept 29th. Capn’ Scott Nash will launch the adventure at Longfellow Books in me favorite city of ships Portland, Maine on October 5th at 7pm. Even a scallywag like me knows not to grab illustrations without asking (unless it’s a bonafide cover) so I’ll send you over to Capn’ Nash’s amazing website to look at the ships, weapons and characters of the adventure.

The High Skies Adventures of Blue Jay The Pirate, is the first book ever written about one of the most notorious and admired characters in Avian (bird) history. Blue Jay was, on one wing, the most famous and infamous in the land and skies, terrorizing merchant ships that sailed the tradewinds across the Colonies. He and his crew plucked incalculable amounts of goods and treasure out of the sky and, as you will learn from this book, from below ground. On the other wing, through his actions Blue Jay unwittingly became the spiritual leader of a revolution that changed the course of history.

At it’s core, the story of Blue Jay is one of intrigue, mystery and adventure, a seafaring yarn turned on it’ head by tossing a flock of winged sailors in the air, where they swoop and soar in search of treasure and adventure.

Aye’ there be one more pirate tale that sets my toes to itching like they do when I’ve just come back from a long journey at sea and no washin’. That book is Magic Marks the Spot by Caroline Carlson. Aye. It’s still in the dry docks but a beauty she is my friends, a beauty she is. She launches in 2013. Keep yer knickers on for now and and ye better be watching this space for more. Until then, Capn’ Caroline and a friend o’mine’ll be teachin’ ye the art of making hardtack for yer next journey on the high seas.

Shiver me timbers it’s time to shove off.

Book Review Wednesday: Middle Grade Reading Round-up

It is very possible that these books will not be new to you. Many of them were published last year or before and have already been nominated and listed. Still, these wonderful books finally made it out of my to-be-read pile and are officially read and returned to the library (and other trusting book-loving souls out there.) I found it interesting that each had a bully character. If you’ve read the books, I’d love to discuss how authors portray bullies and how we can make them multi-faceted. I think that the omniscient narrator in TRUE was especially effective for this.


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Jeremy has a problem. A big problem. An I-messed-up-my-dad’s-beloved-boat problem. He’s ready to make it right but is going to need a bunch of cash to do the job. Enter– the Windjammer Whirl. A contest to build and race a model boat with $500 to the winner.  New problem? Only Cupcake Cadets (similar to Girl scouts) can enter the race. Jeremy and his good friend Slatter don their skirted uniforms and wigs and hilarity ensues.  Eric Luper does a great job making the book light and readable but injects enough heart and growth for the characters so that the story comes off as more than fluff. If your kiddo liked the Fudge books by Judy Blume, they’ll love this novel. This book is a Maine State Student Book Award nominee.


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Ella and her best friend Z share a fantasy world of knights, princesses and chivalry. Thing is, Ella knows it’s just pretend, but Z seems to want to stay there all the time. Ella understands this. A fantasy world is often easier than the one that Z inhabits. Ella protects Z at the same time she deals with her own difficulties: the death of her father, being biracial in an all-white school, and a skin condition that leaves her with patches of dark and light skin.  When a new kid, another Black kid, comes to school he widens her world. Ella grows through the decisions she makes about friendship, popularity, and responsibility. Kekla Magoon writes beautiful, honest characters. This book is a Maine State Book Award Nominee.


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Katherine Hannigan has a knack for pairing wonderful, plucky heroines with quiet small town worlds to end up with more adventure than you may have originally guessed. I don’t want to give too much away with this one. Delly, the main character has been bad, bad, bad news for as long as anyone can remember. With the help of her little brother, and a new friend, Delly turns around the bad so that everyone (not just the reader) can see her inner goodness. Delly is just the kind of friend we all hope to have. The engaging narrative pulled me along, with threads woven from three or four different subplots. I didn’t want to leave the book at the end. While the ending was realistic, it may come across to some readers as didactic. However, there are some problems that kids just can’t solve on their own.


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I’m not sure how one book can have so much humor and pain in the same story but Gary D. Schmidt managed it in OKAY FOR NOW. When agents and editors say that they are looking for a unique and honest character voice, this is what they are talking about. With the backdrop of the Vietnam War, Doug moves to a new town with everything working against him and he manages to rise above his circumstances. I know. I haven’t told you much but I don’t want to print any spoilers. For a better synopsis, an excerpt and a reading by the author (don’t listen if you don’t want a spoiler) check out this page: National Book Award Finalist.  I did have issues with the father’s and Lil’s plot lines, but who am I to criticize Gary D. Schmidt? I’d recommend this for kids 13 an up, but I feel very strongly that kids will self-select material with which they feel comfortable and put down books for which they aren’t ready.

Next week– angsty YA audiobooks…

Book Review Wednesday: Jersey Tomatoes are the Best


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The summer 2012 Olympics in London are only weeks away. After the opening ceremonies, with its choreography and flames, the athletes will get down to doing what they do best– playing their sport. For most of them, it has been a lifetime of preparation and training. Before my son completed school this year, their class read an article about the olympic athletes and the teacher asked, “Do you think that the training the olympic athletes go through is worth it?”

Maria Padian’s Young Adult novel JERSEY TOMATOES ARE THE BEST gives readers an inside look at the training of two high-level female, best-friend, teen athletes. Henry (Henriette) is a tennis champ and Eva is a ballerina.

The book is told in alternating first person chapters with spot-on dialogue and voice unique to each character. Padian keeps the story moving forward, a difficult task with two narrators. She also captures the nuances of each sport beautifully with details that reveal a well-researched story.

The book is emotionally honest and at times, heart wrenching as Eva struggles with anorexia, Henry struggles to rediscover her love of the game, and both girls try to define themselves as separate from their “obnoxious parents.” The book, with themes of body image, family, sacrifice, secrets, and first love, is a thought provoking, page turner.

An amazing summer read. Don’t miss it!

Book Review Wednesday: She Loved Baseball


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The picture book biography is a great way to get kids interested in history. (Previous reviews of PB Biographies here and here.) A good PB biography author needs a hook– a place for a young reader to access the story. This entry point is often hard to find. Audrey Vernick found a great hook, a sister’s desire to play baseball with her brothers, in SHE LOVED BASEBALL: THE EFFA MANLEY STORY.

Effa’s principal discourages her from playing with her own brothers because their skin is dark and hers is light. This scene sets the reader up for the story of Effa’s tenacious resistance to the segregation and bigotry of 1930’s and 1940’s and her love of baseball.

Effa Manley became one of the great business women in the Negro League. She cared for her players in the Newark Eagles and was eventually respected by other owners in the league. Especially interesting to me was the fact that Negro League owners were not always paid for their contracted ball players when the players were finally accepted/hired by white teams. Effa changed that with a press campaign. Later, her letter writing campaign in the 1970’s to the National Baseball Hall of Fame started the induction of Negro League players. She was posthumously honored by the National Baseball Hall of Fame for her civil rights work and her work with the Negro Leagues.

Audrey Vernick’s text is well-suited to the picture book format. It is perfect for older elementary students researching on their own or for an adult read-aloud. The text and images are well-matched by illustrator Don Tate. Tate’s gestural figures and expressive faces pull in the reader into the historical period and the narrative.

Neither women’s history (March) or black history (February) need to be relegated to their  honorary months. SHE LOVED BASEBALL can be enjoyed year round.

Book Review Wednesday: Duck Sock Hop

There’s nothing I like better than getting a new book in the mail. Yesterday, I found this…


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DUCK SOCK  HOP
Dial Books For Young Readers (2012)
By: Jane Kohuth
Illu: Jane Porter

I loved it so much I had to write about it right away.

Jane Kohuth engages readers and listeners alike on a variety of levels. First we get the  rhythmic text about ducks who like to wear socks and dance, with playful, spot-on, finger- snapping, toe-tapping rhyme. On second look, the parent reader can point out a variety of concepts: shapes, colors, opposites (right/left, high/low) numbers “three ducks boogie, one duck rocks. Two ducks stop and trade their socks.”

The wonderful thing about this book is that it is a perfect example of how a picture books can include a plot arc with a conflict. (This is something that I often have to mention in editorial situations.) After the ducks boogie and rock, they dance holes in their socks. Kohuth gives enough fun-loving time at the beginning of the story for the readers to fall in love with, and really care for the ducks, so we really feel sad when the dancing is interrupted. The change of mood also adds much needed change-up to the rhyme and rhythm. The adult-reader gets a chance to involve the child listener, “What are the ducks going to do?” The solution– Band-Aids and snacks, make ducks infinitely relatable to the toddler set.

Debut illustrator Jane Porter places the brightly colored ducks on fields of white. In the following video she describes her process. She draws using india ink and often uses a stick as her drawing tool.  Readers of DUCK SOCK HOP can feel the dance-y movement in the gestural quality of her drawing. Next, she layers on color and texture digital. In this book, the duck feathers and the sock details both have a wonderful print feel.

Jane Porter Interview

If your kiddo liked…


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or…

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They’ll love DUCK SOCK HOP!