4.27.2014

A Home For Mr. Emerson


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Scholastic Press
(pub. 2.25.2014) 48 pages

A True Tale with 
A Cherry On Top

A uthor: Barbara Kerley
           and Illustrator: Edwin Fotheringham
    
C haracter: Ralph Waldo Emerson 

O verview from the jacket flap: 

    "Before Ralph Waldo Emerson was a great writer, he was a city boy who longed for the broad, open fields and deep, still woods of the country, and then a young man who treasured books, ideas, and people.
     When he grew up and set out in the world, he wondered, could he build a life around these thing he loved? 
      This tender and joyful portrait of the man whose vision helped shape the American spirit illustrates the rewards of a life well lived, one built around personal passions: creativity and community, nature and friendship.
     'May it inspire you to experiment and build the life you dream of living.'"

T antalizing taste: 

     "In the afternoons, he walked in the woods, thinking about the books he had read and the nature that surrounded him. 
     He wrote down his thought in his journals, each one a 'Savings Bank' for his idea.
     And after he filled his journals, Mr. Emerson filled his parlor with next-door neighbors and far-flung friends. They spoke about literature, theology, self-reliance,and freedom, in evenings of grand discussion...
    And he talked.
    Too many people, he observed, accepted the opinions of others instead of thinking for themselves."

and something more: Several years ago, I was fortunate to attend a nonfiction writing workshop co-led by the wonderful Barbara Kerley in the picturesque setting of the Pocono Mountains in Pennsylvania at Highlights Foundation's conference center. I remember the suggestion that writers find a "thread" to weave through the story to develop a theme. In reading A Home For Mr. Emerson, I was intrigued to follow the thread of home from the first to the last line of the story. Emerson built the life of his choosing by creating a home for his family and connecting to his neighbors, friends and community. In this "creative, supportive environment, he did his best work." He could pursue his unique ideas through lectures and writing.
      In Emerson's words, "Every spirit builds itself a house, and beyond its house a world ... Build therefore your own world."

3.10.2014

Mister and Lady Day


Billie Holiday
and the Dog Who Loved Her

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Harcourt Children's Books
(Houghton Miffllin Harcourt)
(pub. 6.18.2013) 32 pages

A True Tale with 
A Cherry On Top

A uthor: Amy Novesky
           and Illustrator: Vanessa Brantley Newton
    
C haracter: BILLIE HOLIDAY - jazz singer

O verview from the jacket flap: 

    "The great jazz singer Billie Holiday, known as Lady Day, had fame, style, a distinctive singing voice - and lots of dogs! But a boxer named Mister was the dog she loved most.
     She took good care of Mister, and Mister took good care of her. When the spotlight lit her up like star, Mister was there. When the stage - and her life - went dark, Mister was there. No matter what, Mister gave Lady Day courage.
     But would she have enough courage to sing at the grandest venue of her career? The audience at New York City's Carnegie Hall was expecting great things."

T antalizing taste: 

     "Then, just when her career was at the top, Lady got into trouble. She had to leave home for a year and a day. And Mister couldn't come. Lady knew what it was like to be left, and it made her heartsick. She promised Mister she'd be home soon.
     But when she looked into his sad eyes, she wasn't sure she'd ever see him again.
     While Lady was gone, she wrote letters and knit sweaters. But she did not sing. Singing was about feeling, and she didn't feel a thing."

and something more: The back matter of Mister and Lady Day explains that "Despite achieving fame, Billie's life was not always a happy one.  When she was a girl, her father abandoned her, and her mother worked away from home, leaving Billie behind.  As an adult, she suffered from a drug addiction and, at the peak of her career, was sentenced to one year in prison for drug possession.  While she was gone she refused to sing, because, she said, 'I didn't feel a thing.'  
        But on March 2, 1948, just days after her homecoming, she performed a sold-out show at New York City's prestigious Carnegie Hall before a crowd of thousands ... In spite of her troubles - troubles that would follow her until the day she died at age forty-four - the great Lady Day shone like a star that memorable night." 
      I'm thrilled to share this wonderful book by my friend and amazing writer, Amy Novesky.  As I'm always curious as to why an author chose to write a book a certain way, I asked Amy about her inspiration for Mister and Lady Day
        Amy explained, "I wanted to write a picture book about Billie Holiday, but just didn't know how to do it, given that she had a life that involved elements that are not particularly appropriate for kids (prostitution, drug addiction, prison). But when I learned that Billie loved dogs and had many in her life, I knew that I had my story. (I have a beloved pug dog named George). And when I learned that her favorite was a dog named Mister, I had my title, Mister & Lady Day."  (And, by the way, Amy's dog, George, is a sweet funny one...maybe there will be a future book titled George and Amy!) 

2.02.2014

Electrical Wizard

How Nikola Tesla
Lit Up The World

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(pub. 9.10.2013)  40 pages

A True Tale with 
A Cherry On Top

A uthor: Elizabeth Rusch
           and Illustrator: Oliver Dominguez
    
C haracter: NIKOLA TESLA

O verview from the jacket flap: 

"Move over, Thomas Edison! Serbian-American inventor Nikola Tesla takes center stage in the first-ever picture-book biography of the man responsible for lighting our lives with electricity...

Tesla faced many obstacles along the way, including the great American inventor Thomas Edison, who was a staunch defender of the direct-current electrical system. But Tesla worked tirelessly to proved that AC, not DC, was the wave of the future. He proved it at the Chicago World's Fair and at Niagara Falls - and his proof lives on today in a world transformed by his inventions ..."

T antalizing taste: 

     "The night of Nikola Tesla's birth, lightning zapped, crackled, and flashed overhead. For years after, booming thunder drew the poor Serbian boy to the window of his family's small house. Nikola gazed, mystified, as electrical bolts ricocheted across the sky.
      One evening, when he was three, Nikola stroked his cat, Macak. The cat's fur snapped with tiny sparks. 'What is it?' ...
     'Electricity,' his father explained...
     Enchanted by the sparking halo his hands had conjured, Nikola wondered what other magic he could perform."

and something more: The extensive back matter in Electrical Wizard includes a section called "Tesla vs. Edison: The Rivalry" which not only sets forth the rivalry, but also the harsh treatment Thomas Edison gave to Nikola Tesla. For example, "Though Edison dismissed Tesla's ideas about alternating current, he did hire the young engineer. For a year, Nikola toiled for Edison, often from 10:30 a.m. until five the next morning. Edison said to him, 'I have had many hardworking assistants but you take the cake.'  He promised to pay Tesla $50,000 to improve his direct-current motors. Tesla did, but when he tried to collect his pay, Edison just laughed. 'Tesla, you don't understand our American humor.' Nikola stormed out of Edison's office. The young engineer struggled financially for months, even digging ditches to feed himself."  Later, Edison "strove to squelch" any competition and projects from Tesla. Readers are certainly exposed to a different side of Thomas Edison.

1.05.2014

When The Beat Was Born


DJ Kool Herc and 
the Creation of Hip Hop

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(pub. 8.27.2013)  32 pages

A True Tale with 
A Cherry On Top

A uthor: Laban Carrick Hill
           and Illustrator: Theodore Taylor III
    
haracter:  DJ Kool Herc

O verview from the jacket flap: 

"DJ Kool Herc lived in the Bronx, where there was a lot of fighting. But he didn't want to fight. He wanted to play music.

DJ Kool Herc had a new way of spinning records. He played the breaks of songs back-to-back so that the music best for dancing could go on and on...

This is the story of DJ Kool Herc. The story of how he came to be a DJ, how kids in his neighborhood stopped fighting in order to break-dance, and how he invented a new kind of music that would change the world.

This is the story of hip hop."

T antalizing taste: 

     "Clive loved music. It didn't matter what kind. Whether it was a wah wah scat of a jiving trumpet, a sorrowful twang of sad voice, or the belting boom of a gospel singer, little Clive loved the way sound thumped and bumped all the way down in his stomach. he loved the way the music made his feet go HIP HIP HOP, HIPPITY HOP."

and something more: In the Author's Note, Laban Carrick Hill writes that in 1980 he had a job that "entailed walking block by block through Harlem and the South Bronx... In the late afternoon, I would approach a corner and hear a loud thumping. The booming would be so deep that it would almost shake the ground... When I came around that corner I saw fifty or so teens dancing some of the most amazing dances I had ever seen. The dances defied gravity and human flexibility. The performances were miraculous feats of physical agility. And they were all done to the beat of records spun by a DJ." As he explained, it was "a youth movement that was the antithesis of gang violence."  Laban Carrick Hill "was so captivated by the music and the dancing that [he] started going to clubs... and heard the story of DJ Kool Herc."  
     

12.16.2013

Papa Is a Poet

A Story About Robert Frost


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(pub.10.15.2013)  40 pages 

A True Tale with 
A Cherry On Top

A uthor: Natalie S. Bober
           and Illustrator: Rebecca Gibbon
    
haracter:  Robert Frost - poet 

O verview from the back cover: 

      "When Robert Frost was a child, his family thought he would grow up to be a baseball player. Instead, he became a poet. His life on a farm in New Hampshire inspired him to write 'poetry that talked,' and today he is famous for his vivid descriptions of the rural life he loved so much.
      There was a time, though, when Frost had to struggle to get his poetry published. Told from the point of view of Lesley, Robert Frost's oldest daughter, this is the story of how a lover of language found his voice."

T antalizing taste: 

      "Papa thought that any book worth reading twice was worth owning. So instead of buying desserts, we bought books.
     Papa told us to reread stories we remembered with pleasure. He wanted us to enjoy books so much that we would be lonely without them. And he told us to memorize poems in order to know them by heart...
     Papa did things his way. He decided to milk his cow at midnight so he could stay awake and read Shakespeare and write poems in the hush of a sleeping household."

and something more: What a wonderful idea for a book about Robert Frost -- to focus on Frost's choice to pursue a life as a poet, and thereby take a road "less traveled by...that has made all the difference."
      I was curious as to why the author, Natalie S. Bober, chose to write Papa Is A Poet from the first person perspective of Frost's oldest daughter, Lesley. The Author's Note explains that "Lesley and her father had a close relationship and very early on he taught her to read and write. In 1905, when she was not quite six years old, he encouraged her to keep a journal of her 'travels and adventures' around and near the farm. She kept the journal until she was ten. Much of what Lesley says in this story has been adapted from that journal and from [Bober's] biography, A Restless Spirit: The Story of Robert Frost, written some years ago for young adult readers."
     The book includes a lovely Robert Frost quotation: "A poem is a momentary stay against confusion... a voyage in discovery [that] begins in delight and ends in wisdom. The figure is the same for love."

11.25.2013

The Boy Who Loved Math

The Improbable Life of Paul Erdos

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(pub. 6.25.2013)  44 pages

A True Tale with 
A Cherry On Top

A uthor: Deborah Heiligman 
           and Illustrator: LeUyen Pham
    
haracter:  Paul Erdos - mathematician 

O verview from the back cover: 

      "There once was a boy named Paul who loved math. He spent his days calculating, counting and thinking about numbers.
       He couldn't tie his shoes or butter his own toast - sometimes the world just didn't seem like it was made for a boy who only thought about math all day long.
      This is the story of how Paul found his own way in the world by making friends and sharing his ideas, and how he grew to become one of the world's most famous an beloved mathematicians."
  
T antalizing taste: 

     "He was the kind of person to do math. He was the kind of person to do math. All of the time. And he still didn't like to follow rules.
     So he invented his own way to live.
     Here is what he did... He flew across the world, from Toronto to Australia. 'I have no home,' he declared. 'The world is my home.'
     And wherever he went, when he got there, the same thing would happen.
     A mathematician would meet him and take him home. The mathematician and Paul worked on math. Paul played with the mathematician' epsilons. That's what Paul called children, because an epsilon is a very small amount in math...
     Why did friends all over the world put up with him? And take care of him? Call him Uncle Paul and love him?
     Because Paul Erdos was a genius - and he shared his brain... and his money, too. Whatever money he had, he gave away. He gave money to poor people and he offered prize money for unsolved math problems.
     Paul said he never wanted to stop doing math. And he didn't."

and something more: 
     What a terrific book to entice kids to love math! 
     I was interested to read Deborah Heiligman's explanation in "A Note From the Author" as to why she wrote this book: "When I was a child I loved math as much as I loved reading the writing. But as I got older, I started to think that math was for other people not me. So how did I come to write a book about a brilliant and important mathematician? All the credit goes to my sons... Paul [Erdos] demonstrated that math could be fun and social. If he weren't already depicted as a saint on a church wall (in San Francisco), I'd lobby for it."  I'm heading to this Potrero Hill church to check out this artwork!
     I too have two sons who love math, and I can't wait to ask them if they know about Paul Erdos. And, I want to know if their math teachers ever mentioned if they had an "Erdos number."  Deborah explains the concept of the Erdos Number in The Boy Who Loved Math: " All over the world mathematicians still talk about and love Uncle Paul. Even people who never met him. They talk about their 'Erdos number. If you did math with Paul you get an Erdos number of 1. If you worked with someone who worked with Paul, your Erdos number is 2. People are so proud of their Erdos numbers." I laughed when I read Deborah's jacket flap bio: "While researching this book, Deborah was told she might receive a special Erdos number of 1.5. That would make her infinitely happy." And she would deserve it! 

11.11.2013

When I Was Eight


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Annick Press
(pub. 2.7.2013) 32 pages 

A True Tale with 
A Cherry On Top

A uthors: Christy Jordan-Fenton & Margaret Pokiak-Fenton
           and Illustrator: Gabrielle Grimard
    
haracter:  Olemaun / Margaret Pokiak-Fenton 

O verview from the back cover: 

"Olemaun is eight and knows a lot of things. But she does not know how to read. To learn, she must travel to school far from her Arctic home, ignoring her father's warnings. 

The nuns at the school take away her Inuit name and call her Margaret. They cut off her long hair and force her to do chores. Her feisty spirit draws the attention of a black-cloaked nun, who does everything in her power to make Margaret feel small. But Margaret is more determined than ever to read.

Based on the true story of Margaret Pokiak-Fenton..."

T antalizing taste: 

"I knew many things when I was eight. I knew how to keep the sled dogs quiet while Father snuck up on caribou, and to bring the team to him after a kill. I knew the sun slept in the winter and woke in the summer.

And I knew that when the sun-warmed Arctic Ocean shrugged off its slumbering ice, we would cross it to trade furs with the outsiders.

But I did not know how to read the outsiders' books. It was not enough to hear them from my older sister, Rosie. I longed to read them for myself...

[M]y name is Olemaun (that's OO-lee-maun), the stubborn stone that sharpens the half-moon ulu knife used by our women."

and something more: When I Was Eight not only tells a compelling story about the power of reading, but it is also “a searing account of assimilation policies and a celebration of the human spirit” (Booklist, 04/13). The publisher's website explains what led Christy Jordan-Fenton to write this story: "A desire to raise her children with a healthy sense of self-esteem rekindled her passion for Native issues. Having a Native step-father and step-siblings gave her an early awareness that she credits for igniting that passion. She is eternally grateful to Margaret for having the courage to share her residential school experiences and for giving her the chance to write about them in not one, but two, books [the middle grade book, Fatty Legs]."