Monday, April 27, 2009

PW's Starred Reviews

-- Publishers Weekly, 4/27/2009

Hook by Ed Young. Roaring Brook/Porter, $17.95 (32p) ISBN 978-1-59643-363-2
Caldecott Medal–winner Young's enchanting story about an orphaned bald eagle discovered by a Native American boy is set against a vast landscape of canyon, mountain and spruce, as spare as the author's text (“An abandoned egg. A young boy”). The raptor (“a strange chick”) is hatched and raised by the boy's hen, who calls him Hook after his curved yellow beak. She quickly perceives his true nature—“You are not meant for earth,” she tells him. Young's pastels, a series of sketches on speckled burnt sienna paper, glow with life. The judicious use of detail is highly effective, and the birds possess an uncanny accuracy. Hook can't work out how to fly, so under a blackened predawn sky the boy takes him to the canyon. The mountains, stained blue in the dawn, look on as Hook is launched from the canyon precipice. Against a shimmering mountain blur, the young eagle plummets—then, in triumph, rights himself and soars. A powerful blend of language,imagery and emotion. Ages 2–6. (May)

The Summer I Turned Pretty by Jenny Han. Simon & Schuster, $16.99 (288p) ISBN 978-1-4169-6823-8
This well-written coming-of-age story introduces 15-year-old Isabel, aka Belly, for whom summer has always been the most important time of year: it's when her family shares a beach house with her mother's best friend, Susannah, and her two sons. Like Belly's older brother, Steven, Susannah's boys have always thought of Belly as their younger sister. But this summer—“It was the summer everything began”—is different. One brother, Jeremiah, is suddenly interested in Belly, but she has always had a crush on dark and unattainable Conrad. And then there is Cam, also spending the summer at the beach, who becomes Belly's first boyfriend. Han (Shug) realistically balances Belly's naïveté with her awareness of the changes the years have brought (“In some ways it was even harder being the only girl back then. In some ways not”). Anecdotal chapters of past summers are interspersed, rounding out Belly's character, her attachment to Susannah and her desire for the boys to include her. First in a planned trilogy, Han's novel offers plenty of summertime drama to keep readers looking forward to the next installment. Ages 12–up. (May)

Blade: Playing Dead by Tim Bowler. Philomel, $16.99 (240p) ISBN 978-0-399-25186-3
Bowler delivers an intense, gripping novel that introduces Blade, a 14-year-old British boy with a mysterious past, who is living on the streets. After Blade suffers a beating by a local gang, an offer of help from a Good Samaritan goes awry and he finds himself on the run from a group of mysterious armed men. Along the way, he ends up protecting a toddler named Jaz and the girl's teen mother, Becky (she, in turn, inspires memories of Blade's long-dead love). There's little joy in Blade's world: characters steal, cheat, abuse drugs and kill, and to Blade, little of this bleakness is out of the ordinary (the first chapter reveals that he's lived this way since at least the age of seven). Bowler (Frozen Fire) imbues Blade with a voice that throws around slang (“porker,” “gobbo,” “Bigeyes”) without needing to stop to explain it, and his reader-directed narration (“I don't trust you one little bit. Why should I?”) carries the novel, even as the plot frustratingly ends with a cliffhanger. Readers who like their thrillers brutally realistic will find much to enjoy. Ages 14–up. (May)

Moribito II: Guardian of the Darkness by Nahoko Uehashi, trans. by Cathy Hirano. Scholastic/Levine, $17.99 (272p) ISBN 978-0-545-10295-7
Having successfully protected young Prince Chagum in 2008's Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit, Balsa, a spear-wielding warrior, ventures to her rocky homeland of Kanbal in this sequel. Once again, Uehashi immerses readers in the culture, traditions, mythology—even diet—of the populace, creating a full, captivating world. Upon her return, Balsa rescues a pair of siblings in the area's caves (home to the mysterious hyohlu, the guardians of the darkness). She is soon marked as a fugitive, but with help she still uncovers a wide-ranging plot involving her deceased mentor and a scheme to attack the underground kingdom of the Mountain King. Uehashi explores themes of family and honesty with rich prose and compelling characters. Powerful and loyal, Balsa is the core draw (“Although her hands were bound and she was held captive, Balsa's eyes were filled with a fierce light, like a fighter ready to enter the ring”), but the cast of secondary characters are well developed and intriguing in their own right. Add to that some intense spear battles and a gripping finale, and this growing series has something for everyone. Ages 10–up. (May)

Congratulations to these authors!

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Poet Laureate Presents...

CHICAGO — The Poetry Foundation is pleased to announce the launch of Children’s Poet Laureate Presents, a video podcast series featuring the nation’s Children’s Poet Laureate, Mary Ann Hoberman, reading from her own work and from classic children’s poetry collections. Holding a book in her lap, Hoberman addresses the camera as she reads, creating a close and friendly connection with children and parents in an atmosphere similar to that of story time at a library.

“Inspired by some of the terrific literary video series out there for kids, Children’s Poet Laureate Presents brings Mary Ann, and her delightful reading style, into homes and classrooms, and encourages children to read more poetry,” said Anne Halsey, media director for the Poetry Foundation. “The videos are in no way meant to substitute for the invaluable act of a parent or librarian reading to children, but rather are intended to allow as many children as possible to get to know Mary Ann as their Poet Laureate.”

The first three releases in the series include Hoberman reading from William Jay Smith’s Laughing Time, The Collected Nonsense of Edward Lear, and her collection I Like Old Clothes. To encourage young children to memorize poetry, Hoberman ends every video with a short verse of hers: “Every day take time to start / to learn a little poem by heart.”

“Above all in this series, I want to convey the joy of poetry—reading it, reciting it, sharing it with others,” Hoberman said. “I hope that the fun I had in making these videos is contagious and that they inspire their audience, young and old alike, to ‘learn a little poem by heart.’”

The videos are available on the website of the Poetry Foundation,, and on iTunes. For more information on Mary Ann Hoberman and children’s poetry, visit

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Poetry Resources from Annenberg Media

These resources from Annenburg Media will really add to your resources for poetry month. Immerse yourself and your students in the hour-long documentaries of "Voices & Visions." Featured poets include Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, Sylvia Plath, and William Carlos Williams. Several programs are scheduled to air on the Channel in April; click on "Broadcast Dates" for details. Or select a poet of your choice and view the program using Video on Demand.

Our literary analysis series "Literary Visions" includes seven programs about different aspects of poetry.

Consider the historical relevance of American poetry in "American Passages: A Literary Survey," Program 10, "Rhythms in Poetry," and Program 15, "Poetry of Liberation."

Help young adolescents explore feelings and learn the power of written expression while developing as writers and readers of poetry. Two master teachers demonstrate strategies in "Teaching Poetry," the third workshop in "Write in the Middle: A Workshop for Middle School Teachers."

Get upper elementary students started with poetry with this lesson plan on our Web site for "Engaging With Literature: A Video Library, Grades 3-5." The page includes a link to a list of poems suggested for teaching the use of line breaks, repetition, and other devices.

Try out different teaching strategies presented in "Teaching Multicultural Literature: A Workshop for the Middle Grades." Draw inspiration from the work of Nikki Grimes, whose characters in the novel "Bronx Masquerade" perform at an "open mike" poetry event at school. Grimes's poems appear on pages 17-20 of this PDF document.

"The Expanding Canon: Teaching Multicultural Literature in High School" offers lessons plans for teaching poetry, like this one for teaching the work of Lawson Fusao Inada. Hear and read an excerpt of Inada's poem "Drawing the Line."

Monday, April 13, 2009

PW's starred reviews

-- Publishers Weekly, 4/13/2009

All the Broken Pieces by Ann E. Burg. Scholastic Press, $16.99 (224p) ISBN 978-0-545-08092-7
Using spare free verse, first-time novelist Burg (Pirate Pickle and the White Balloon) beautifully evokes the emotions of a Vietnamese adoptee as he struggles to come to terms with his past. Although he loves his American parents and new little brother, Matt misses the family he left behind two years ago, in 1975, when he was airlifted out of Vietnam. He feels guilty for leaving behind his toddler brother, who was mutilated by a bomb, and yearns for his birth mother, who pushed him “through screaming madness/ and choking dust” into the arms of soldiers. (“My parents say they love me./ He says/ I'll always be his MVP./ She says./ I'm safe, I'm home./ But what about my mother in Vietnam?”) Matt's baseball coach and Vietnam vet piano teacher help ease his pain, but it is the patience and unconditional love of his new parents, gently emerging throughout the story, that proves the strongest healing force. The war-torn Vietnamese village that appears in Matt's recurring nightmares sharply contrasts with the haven he has in America. Burg presents lasting images of both. Ages 11–up. (Apr.)

Emma-Jean Lazarus Fell in Love by Lauren Tarshis. Dial, $16.99 (176p) ISBN 978-0-8037-3321-3
Tarshis proves she “gets” adolescent female friendships (not to mention seventh grade) in this funny and empathetic follow-up to Emma-Jean Lazarus Fell Out of a Tree. For the first time, the intensely analytical Emma-Jean has friends among her peers (as she refers to them) and, like them, she is preoccupied with the girl-invite Spring Fling. Emma-Jean considers asking basketball star Will, though they have little in common—he's been kind to her and causes a “fluttering of her heart.” But she ends up sorting out the dance-related woes of fragile Colleen (whose point of view is explored in certain chapters). Fans of the first book will be pleased that the deadpan narration (“as a single cell can reveal the DNA code of an entire organism, the look in Kaitlin's eyes told Emma-Jean everything she needed to know”) and Emma-Jean's observations are as amusing as ever. (“Adolescent males engage in conspicuous displays to attract the attention of females,” is her explanation of cafeteria boisterousness.) Her blossoming appreciation for emotions that logic can't explain, sympathetic supporting characters and an uplifting finale will warm hearts. Ages 10–14. (May)

Congratulations to these authors!

Friday, April 10, 2009

HarperCollins Children's Podcast

HarperCollins Children's Books has a neat feature on their website: Author podcasts! Right now, Tim Green is featured. In the podcast, he talks about his book Baseball Great. Previous featured authors include Jerry Spinelli, Lemony Snicket, Katherine Hannigan, Peter Abrahams, Neil Gaiman, Sarah Prineas, Gail Carson Levine, Nancy Yi Fan, and more
While you're there, check out the other features on the HarperCollins site. You can sign up for a newsletter and to read soon-to-be released books before they are released. There is lots of information on HarperCollins authors, games and contests and a bookfinder, too.

Reader's notebook: Supporting deeper thinking

From Stenhouse:

In her new book, Notebook Connections, Aimee Buckner shows you how a reader's notebook can be used as a tool to generate and elaborate on responses to text, and she provides strategies that students can rely on—from book to book, from genre to genre—to push their writing beyond retelling the story.

Like Notebook Know-How, Aimee's previous book on the writer's notebook, Notebook Connections presents a model that's flexible enough for students to respond in a variety of ways, yet structured enough to provide explicit instruction. More than a dozen teacher-guided lessons help students create anchor texts within their notebooks. Then as children become more independent, they begin to respond in their notebooks, choosing strategies that work best for them.

Aimee shows how the reader's notebook can serve as a bridge between reading and writing, and provides a holistic approach to assessment—with specific rubrics—that involves students and doesn't undermine the process. Classroom interactions throughout the book give concrete examples of how to successfully integrate notebooks into your reading workshop.

The entire text of Notebook Connections is now online for previewing: (Scroll down to the "Browse" link under the Table of Contents.)

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The E.B. White Read Aloud Award

The E.B. White Read Aloud Award, established in 2004 by the Assoication of Booksellers for Children, honors a book that reflects the universal read aloud standards that were created by the work of the author E.B White in his classic books for children: Charlotte's Web, Stuart Little, and The Trumpet of the Swan. ABC members chose books for distinction based on their universal appeal as a "terrific" book to read aloud.

The E. B. White Read Aloud Award is given in two categories, one for picture books, and the other for older readers. The 2009 shortlist of four books in each category was announced Monday:


A Visitor for Bear by Bonny Becker, illustrated by Kady MacDonald Denton
Louise, The Adventures of a Chicken by Kate DiCamillo, ill. by Harry Bliss
One by Kathryn Otoshi
Too Many Toys by David Shannon


The Magic Thief by Sarah Prineas
Masterpiece by Elise Broach, illustrated by Kelly Murphy
The Willoughbys by Lois Lowry
Zorgamazoo by Robert Paul Weston, illustrated by Victor Rivas

Congratulations to these authors! The awards are announced live during ABC programming at Book Expo America in NYC on May 28-31.

Guide to Poetry & Literature Webcasts

I'm a big fan of "seeing" authors/illustrators read and discuss their work. Webcasts, podcasts, and audio books are a few virtual ways to do this, but it's often hard to find these resources on the web. However, the Guide to Poetry and Literature Webcasts provides one-stop shopping. From the website:

Guide to Poetry & Literature Webcasts is a resource for locating webcasts of poets, fiction writers, and critics as they read and discuss their own and each other's work. The Guide includes links to Library of Congress sites and general sites that archive literature-related webcasts, as well as links to streaming video of academic conferences, lectures, and discussions; group poetry readings; and literary award ceremonies. Webcasts on general topics, such as children's books, performance poetry, and visual poetry also are included, and an offline reading section allows viewers to identify print resources that complement the resources found through the Guide.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Deborah Wiles Featured on NPR!!!

Deborah Wiles is featured on the program All Things Considered on NPR along with an excerpt from the first chapter of The Aurora County All-Stars.

Children's book author Deborah Wiles isn't afraid to write about life's most serious issues. Her popular books deal with friendship and the joys of childhood — but they also grapple with intolerance, death, rejection and the difficulty of having to do what's right instead of what's easy.

"What I do is write about what matters to me," Wiles explains to Michele Norris. "Everything I write comes from my childhood and my life — I basically write for 10-year-old me."

Wiles' most recent book, The Aurora County All-Stars, follows a group of little boys who play baseball (read an excerpt).

In Each Little Bird That Sings, for which she was nominated for a National Book Award, the author wrote about a 10-year-old girl whose family owns the local funeral home in a small town in Mississippi. Wiles says that adults sometimes try to keep death from children, but that it's a topic kids want to write about.

"They want to write about when their dog died or their grandfather passed or some difficult event in their family, and they should be able to write about that," Wiles says.
When she speaks to children, Wiles gives them notebooks and encourages them to write about the things in their lives that they really care about.

"I want kids to know that every book tells a story, every story comes from a real live human being, and that they have those stories to tell, too," she says.

PW's Starred Reviews

From Publisher's Weekly, 4/6/09

Gentlemen by Michael Northrop Scholastic Press, $16.99 (256p) ISBN 978-0-545-09749-9
Northrop's debut is one dark ride, as events spin out of control for three friends who haven't had many lucky breaks. High school sophomores Micheal (the narrator), Tommy, Mixer and Bones are a pretty tight crew. (And, yes, that's how Micheal's name is spelled: “Mom or Dad, one of them dropped the ball on that one, probably Dad, in the hospital or wherever it is you fill out that paperwork.”) Then Tommy goes missing. It isn't the first time, so the guys aren't initially too worried, but as time passes—and following increasingly unsettling interactions with their English teacher, Mr. Haberman, during a unit on Crime and Punishment—they begin to suspect that the teacher is involved in Tommy's disappearance. Micheal, who has an eye injury stemming from a childhood incident, is a sympathetic but unreliable narrator—something he himself recognizes (“Having a messed-up eye, you know, it'll affect how you see things”). The brutal narration, friendships put through the wringer and the sense of dread that permeates the novel will keep readers hooked through the violent climax and its aftermath. Ages 15–up. (Apr.)

Our Children Can Soar: A Celebration of Rosa, Barack, and the Pioneers of Change by Michelle Cook, illus. by Cozbi A. Cabrera, R. Gregory Christie, Bryan Collier et al Bloomsbury, $16.99 (32p) ISBN 978-1-59990-418-4
Showcasing the art of 13 artists, this resonant book was inspired by a simple yet searing phrase that celebrates the achievements of African-Americans, which was featured, in various versions, online and at rallies during the 2008 presidential campaign. Cook's adaptation pays tribute to 10 individuals, including George Washington Carver, Jesse Owens and Jackie Robinson. These figures' triumphs are shown as part of a seamless continuum: “Martin marched... so Thurgood could rule. Thurgood ruled... so Barack could run. Barack ran... so our children can soar!” The spreads understandably represent an array of artistic styles and media, yet they form a cohesive and affecting collective portrait: a musical staff swathes Pat Cummings's Ella Fitzgerald like a boa, while Shadra Strickland's Ruby Bridges is a small yet determined figure, marching up the schoolhouse steps against a backdrop of protestors. Additional images from Leo and Diane Dillon, James Ransome, E.B. Lewis, Eric Velasquez and others, corroborate Children's Defense Fund founder Marian Wright Edelman's assertion, in the book's foreword, that African-American history is “the story of hope.” Ages 4–8. (Apr.)

Congratulations to these authors!

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Upcoming Chat: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child

From the Curriculum Matters blog:

I'd like to alert any educators involved in the teaching of reading to a chat at scheduled for next week with Donalyn Miller, a 6th grade language arts and social studies teacher. She's also the author of The Book Whisperer, which was recently published by Education Week Press and Jossey-Bass.

The chat will take place on Tuesday, April 7, from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. Eastern Time.

I'm sure my elementary school teachers helped expand my reading vocabulary and comprehension, but I cannot give them credit for inspiring me to love reading. I remember that in 1st grade, my classmates and I read dry stories from early readers aloud in turns, going around the room in order, and we weren't supposed to read ahead, even if a classmate took FOREVER to stumble and mumble through a few sentences.
It's my mother who nurtured my "inner reader" by regularly taking me to the public library as far back as I can remember and before that. I remember sitting in a chair in our living room when I was about 8 years old, laughing out loud at Ramona in Ramona the Pest, by Beverly Clearly. Ramona asked her father to turn on "the dawnzer," which she thought was a kind of lamp. She'd mistakenly picked up the term by hearing a rendition of The Star Spangled Banner in which someone ran together the words in the phrase, "the dawn's early light." I thought that was hilarious. And apparently, I'm not the only one who remembers that story as an adult.

And though my mother was strict with me in many regards, she never censured my reading, which I'm grateful for. I went through a stage of reading shallow romance novels but soon learned I'd rather spend my time on more creative and unpredictable stories.

I realize not every child has a mother or caretaker who loves to read and knows how to support him or her to blossom as a reader. That's why the job of reading teachers is so important.