The Secret Kingdom

Nek Chand, a Changing India,
and a Hidden World of Art

Candlewick Press
(pub. 2.13.2018)
 48 pages

A True Tale with
A Cherry On Top   

A uthor:  Barb Rosenstock
    and illustrator: Claire A. Nivola

C haracter: Nek Chand Saini

 verview from the jacket flap: 

     "As a refugee during the partition of India in 1947, Nek Chand Saini was resettled in the city of Chandigarh with nothing but the stories he carried in his heart from his homeland. Dismayed at the modern new city he now lived in, he began collecting broken glass, cracked water pots, and discarded construction materials.
     In a section of wilderness he cleared himself , Nek Chand built the Rock Garden, full of curving paths, intricate mosaics, and hundreds of sculptures of people and animals, which eventually grew to a thirteen-acre wonderland.  It was his tribute to the village of his youth, a land full of hidden stories."

T antalizing taste: 
      "Then on the banks of the village stream, Nek built a world of his own He dug silt palaces and spilled waterfalls, molded clay goddesses and planted stick kinds He found rocks shaped like jackals, monkeys, and geese, and made them pounce, scamper, or fly...
     Nek became a farmer, part of the ancient cycle of changing seasons and shared stories.
     Until the men with guns came."  
and something more: In the Author's Note, Barb Rosenstock explains that "Nek Chand is a famous folk artist. Between three and four thousand people a day visit his Rock Garden of Chandigarh, a wonderland built fro recycled materials. The Rock Garden is the largest visionary art environment in the world, now twenty-five acres of art set on a forth-acre site....
     Until his death in 2015 at age ninety, Nek Chand spent each day at home in the Rock Garden meeting with visitors, creating new plans, and supervising the continued constructions of his kingdom."  
     The Secret Kingdom includes a delightful surprise -- gatefold pages featuring a photograph of the Rock Garden.


One Fun Day with Lewis Carroll

A Celebration of Wordplay
and a Girl Named Alice

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

32 pages

A True Tale with
A Cherry On Top   

A uthor:  Kathleen Krull
    and illustrator: Julia Sarda

C haracter: Lewis Carroll

 verview from the jacket flap: 

     What might those words mean? Lewis Carroll could tell you; he thought them up! He also dreamed up some of the most playful, beloved and enduring stories and poems in literary history. The most famous of those was for his young friend Alice, in a tale about tumbling into Wonderland.
     Interwoven with words and phrase of Carroll's own invention, One Fun Day with Lewis Carroll is a freewheeling celebration of language, wordplay, and imagination. Callooh! Callay!"

T antalizing taste: 
     "Lewis's friends in the boat were glued to their seats, not daring to gyre or gimble. Not even a Bandersnatch could have distracted them. Lewis added details that kep the real Alice and her sisters beamish, and also peppered the tale with things that would tickle grownups. He threw in breathless escapes, witty arguments about nothing, and one slithy surprise after another."
and something more: The Back Matter of One Fun Day with Lewis Carroll states that "Charles Lutwidge Dodgson ... lived in England during the Victorian era. It was a stuffy time, when even children's books weren't intended to be fun: instead, they were to offer lectures about good behavior ... In his twenties, always playing with words, he translated 'Charles Lutwidge' into Latin and then back into English, reversing the words to become 'Lewis Carroll' the name by which we know him today."
     I was fascinated to learn that "nearly two hundred words invented or adapted by Carroll appear in the Oxford English Dictionary...", many of which are included in a delightful glossary in the book.


How Sweet the Sound

The Story of Amazing Grace

Atheneum Books for Young Readers
(Simon & Schuster)

(pub. 5.1.2018)
48 pages

A True Tale with
A Cherry On Top   

A uthor:  Carole Boston Weatherford
    and illustrator: Frank Morrison


 verview from the jacket flap: 

     "One stormy night at sea, a wayward man named John Newton feared for his life. In his darkest hour he fell to his knees and prayed - and somehow the battered ship survived the storm.
     Grateful, he changed his ways and became a minister, yet he still owned a slave ship. But in time, empathy touched his heart. A changed man, he used his powerful words to help end slavery in England.
     Those words became the hymn 'Amazing Grace.' From then to now, from there to here, from protesters to presidents, John Newton's hymn has lifted the spirit and given comfort the world over."

T antalizing taste: 
"Greyhound tugged by unseen hand
Crew at along last glimpses land.

Safe at home, brought through the storm,
Young John Newton is reborn.

Trusting God as compass, guide.
John is captain; Mary, bride.

After John retires from sea,
He preaches to end slavery.

Ever thankful, faith still strong,
Reverend Newton pens this song:

Amazing grace! (how sweet the sound)
     That sav'd a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now am found,
     Was blind, but now I see."
and something more: In the Author's Note, Carole Boston Weatherford explains that after "an illness forced [John Newton] to give up seafaring, he worked as a surveyor of tides. But he felt called to be a minister.  In 1764, Newton began pastoring a church in Olney, England. With poet William Cowper, Newton wrote hymns for weekly prayer meetings. Over time, he changed his views about human bondage and raised his pen against slavery.  His 'Thoughts upon the African Slave Trade' helped bring slavery to an end in the British Empire.  By 1779, Newton had written 280 hymns."  
     And Carole's dedication was perfect for this book: "For my amazingly gracious mother, Carolyn W. Boston."


Girl Running

Bobbi Gibb and the
Boston Marathon

Nancy Paulsen Books
(Penguin Young Reader Group)

(pub. 2.6.2018)
32 pages

A True Tale with
A Cherry On Top   

A uthor: Annette Bay Pimentel
    and illustrator: Micha Archer

C haracter: Bobbi Gibb

 verview from the jacket flap: 

     "The inspiring story of the first female Boston Marathon runner.
     Because Bobbi Gibb is a girl, she's not allowed to run on her school's track team. But after school, no one can stop her - and she runs to her heart's content. She is told she can't run again when she tries to enter the Boston Marathon in 1966, because women are just not considered capable of running such a long distance. So what does Bobbi do? She bravely sets out to prove the naysayers wrong and show the world just what a girl can do.
     This fascinating piece of history is brought to vivid life in stunning collages. Bobbi's story will inspire readers, who will cheer her on for her passion, talent, and persistence."

T antalizing taste: 
     "When Bobbi crosses the finish line on her bleeding feet, the crowd goes wild! The first woman has run the Boston Marathon!
     It has taken her three hours and twenty minutes. She comes in 124th. Two hundred ninety-one men are still huffing and puffing their way to the finish lie.
     Cameras click.
     Reporters scribble in their notebooks.
     Even the governor of Massachusetts has come to the finish line to shake Bobbi's hand.
     However, race officials refuse to give Bobbi a medal.
     They insist that rules are rules.
     But Bobbi has shown that it's time for some rules to change."
and something more: In the Afterword, Annette Bay Pimentel explains that after Bobbi Gibb first ran the Boston Marathon in 1966, she "ran the marathon again in 1967 and 1968, each time without official sanction and each time with more unofficial female runners competing against her. Women were not officially allowed to compete in the Boston Marathon until 1972.
     In 1996, Gibb was finally officially recognized as the female winner of the 1966, 1967, and 1968 Boston Marathons and her name was added to the list of winners inscribed on a monument at Copley Square in Boston."



The Magnificent Musical
Life of Elizabeth Cotten

Chronicle Books

(pub. 1.16.2018)
40 pages

A True Tale with
A Cherry On Top   

A uthor:  Laura Veirs
    and illustrator: Tatyana Fazlalizadeh

C haracter: Elizabeth Cotten

 verview from the jacket flap: 

     "Elizabeth Cotten was only a little girl when she picked up a guitar for the first time. It wasn't hers- it was her big brother's- and it wasn't strung right - she was left-handed. But she flipped that guitar up and around and figured out how to play it anyway. By the time she was eleven, she'd written 'Freight Train', a song so famous you might even be able to hum it right now. And by the end of her life, everyone from the California beaches to the rolling hills of England knew her music. Libba's trip to success wasn't always straight, and it sure was bumpy, but she never stopped in her tracks. She always kept rolling.
       This lyrical, loving book from acclaimed singer-songwriter Laura Veirs and debut illustrator Tatyana Fazlalizadeh tells the story of the determined, gifted, daring Elizabeth Cotten - one of the America's greatest folk musicians.

T antalizing taste: 
"One day the kids on the porch
and the bluesmen in the living room
and the drummers down below
     heard a sound.
It was like a thousand songbirds singing.
Or a gentle spring rain.
Or a train rambling down the tracks.

It was Libba, singing and picking that guitar like she'd never set it down."
and something more: In the Author's Note, Laura Veirs explains that "Libba believed that people could accomplish anything at any age. Her story appeals to me as a musician, as a woman, and as a fan of folk history. Libba accomplished so much despite growing up poor in the segregated South where very few opportunities were available to her. I hope readers will explore the life and music of Libba Cotten, a beautiful tributary of the great river that is American folk music."


Ordinary, Extraordinary Jane Austen

Balzer + Bray
(HarperCollins Publishers)

(pub. 1.23.2018)
 40 pages

A True Tale with
A Cherry On Top   

A uthor:  Deborah Hopkinson
    and illustrator: Qin Leng

C haracter: Jane Austen

 verview from the jacket flap: 

     "It is a truth universally acknowledged that Jane Austen is one of our greatest writers.
     But before that, she was just an ordinary girl.
     In fact, young Jane was a bit quiet and shy; if you had met her back then, you might not have noticed her at all. But she would have noticed you. Jane watched and listened to all the things people around her did and said and locked those observations away for safekeeping.
     Jane also loved to read. She devoured everything in her father's massive library, and before long she began creating her own stories. In her time, the most popular books were grand adventures and romances, but Jane wanted to go her own way ... and went on to invent an entirely new kind of novel.
     Deborah Hopkinson and Qin Leng have collaborated on a gorgeous tribute to an independent thinker who turned ordinary life into extraordinary stories and created a body of work that has delighted and inspired readers for generations."

T antalizing taste: 
"Now, two hundred years later,
I wonder if Jane would be surprised to learn
that her books are still read and loved
by people all over the world?
Then again, maybe not.

For perhaps there was a moment
when young Jane stood alone in
her father's grand library,
with the works of great men all around her,
and said to herself, 'I can do this.
I can do even better.
I will write about the ordinary world
in the most extraordinary way.'

That, dear reader, is exactly what she did."

and something more: The back flap says that "Deborah Hopkinson first discovered Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice in sixth grade and continues to reread it once a year (at least). Her favorite Austen film scene is the moment when the late and beloved actor Alan Rickman tosses coins into the air in Sense and Sensibility. When not reading or watching Austen (and longing to visit England), Deborah writes picture books, middle grade novels and nonfiction from her home near Portland, Oregon."  
      And she's also been on the faculty of wonderful narrative nonfiction workshop retreats through Highlights Foundation/Boyds Mills Press in Honesdale, Pennsylvania.  And I was lucky enough to attend just such a writing retreat!


The Spy Who Played Baseball

Kar-Ben Publishing
(pub 3.1.018)
32 pages

A True Tale with
A Cherry On Top   

A uthor:  Carrie Jones
     and illustrator: Gary Cherrington
C haracters: Morris (Moe) Berg
O verview from the jacket flap: 

     "Moe Berg is not a typical baseball player. He's Jewish - very unusual for the major leagues in the 1930s - has a law degree, speaks several languages, and loves traveling the world. He also happens to be a spy for the U.S. government. When World War II begins, Moe trades his baseball career for a life of danger and secrecy. Using his unusual range of skills, he sneaks into enemy territory to gather crucial  information that could help defeat the Nazis. But he also has plenty of secrets of his own ..."

T antalizing taste:        
     "It was dangerous for any American to be in Nazi-controlled Europe, but for a Jewish American like Moe Berg, it was especially dangerous. The Nazis were arresting hundreds of thousands of Jews all over Europe and transporting them to concentration camps.
     Yet Moe didn't hesitate. On one early mission, he parachuted into the small country of Yugoslavia. His job was to gather information about two resistance groups that were fighting the Nazis there. The American government needed Moe's help to decide which resistance group to support."
and something more: The Afterword states that "Moe stayed with the OSS until it disbanded in 1945, shortly after World War II ended. But for the rest of his life he remained a mysterious figure, half hiding behind telephone poles and in the stands of games. He died in 1972. His last words were 'How are the Mets doing today?' (They won.) Moe was inducted into the National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame, and his baseball card is on display at CIA headquarters."