10.20.2014

Flying Solo

How Ruth Elder Soared
into America's Heart

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Roaring Brook Press

(Macmillan Publishers)
(pub.7.23.2013) 32 pages

A True Tale with 
A Cherry On Top

A uthor: Julie Cummins
           and Illustrator: Malene R. Laugesen
    
haracter: Ruth Elder

O verview from the jacket flap: 

    "In 1927, women were supposed to stay at home, mostly in the kitchen, with their feet planted firmly on the ground. But one woman proved that she could do anything a man could do - even fly an airplane. Before Amelia Earhart made her name crossing the Atlantic Ocean, Ruth Elder set out to beat her to the record. She didn't make it, but she flew right into the spotlight and America's heart.
     This is the story of a remarkable woman who chased her dreams with grit and determination and whose appetite for adventure helped pave the way for generations of female flyers."

T antalizing taste: 

     "By nature, spunky Ruth wasn't easily cowed, but during the race she had a standoff with real cattle. On the second day, temperatures climbed to 120 degrees, causing extreme turbulence. The strong wind blew her maps over the side of the plane, and she landed in a farmer's field to get her bearings and fill her water bottle. As luck would have it, cattle were grazing in the pasture ... 
      But the farmer's wife was a bigger threat. Washing clothes outside in a washtub, she marched over to the plane and yelled at Ruth for scaring the cattle. Ruth didn't dillydally; she just swung the plane around and took off!"

and something more: I particularly liked that Flying Solo features a woman, Ruth Elder, who sought to be the first to cross the Atlantic and win the Powder Puff Derby. She wasn't the first or the winner, but she's recognized for trying and for what she did accomplish which was for a woman to be "flying airplanes [at a time when it was considered] not just daring but outright shocking." 
       The lovely dedication in Flying Solo by the author, Julie Cummins says it all: "To the young women who see the horizon of their dreams and soar toward it - fly, girls, fly!"  

10.12.2014

Queen Victoria's Bathing Machine

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Paula Wiseman Books (Simon & Schuster Books)
(pub. 5.6.2014) 40 pages

A True Tale with 
A Cherry On Top

A uthor: Gloria Whelan
           and Illustrator: Nancy Carpenter
    
C haracter:  Queen Victoria

O verview from the jacket flap: 

    "No one ever said being queen would be easy. But one thing that Queen Victoria never thought about was not being able to swim - ever. It would be so indelicate to have your loyal subjects see your bathing suit and you, Her Royal Highness, in it! What is a queen to do?
     If you are Queen VIctoria with a smart and loving husband like Prince Albert, you have no worries because your husband will make sure you have a bathing machine that is fit for a queen.
     Inspired by royal history, National Book Aware recipient Gloria Whelan tells how a prince, believing that sea bathing was good for his wife's health, helped her to be able to swim as queen. Nancy Carpenter's Pen and watercolor illustrations evoke a loving family and a queen happy at last!"

T antalizing taste: 

"'My dear,' said Prince Albert, 'if it is your wish
to dabble and splatter and swim like a fish,
there must be a way to transport you with ease,
while keeping the populace from glimpsing your knees.
I'll give all my genius and all my attention
to devise a device, to invent an invention.'"

and something more: I enjoyed learning that after the queen's death, the bathing machine was used for a time as a chicken coop. It has now been restored and may be seen by all who visit Osborne House on the Isle of Wight.
     Gloria Whelan's author website includes insights into her writing life and philosophy. I thought this quote was quite wonderful (and I'm certain many children who read Queen Victoria's Bathing Machine do feel she's become a friend): 

"When I’m not writing or walking, I’m cooking or reading, mostly reading. I read a lot and when I put a book down, I feel the author has become my friend. I hope my readers feel the same way about me." 

9.29.2014

Benny Goodman & Teddy Wilson


Taking the Stage as the First
Black-and-White Jazz Band
in History

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Holiday House
(pub. 1.1.2014) 32 pages

A True Tale with 
A Cherry On Top

A uthor: Lesa Cline-Ransome
           and Illustrator: James E. Ransome
    
C haracters:  Benny Goodman - clarinet player  
                   Teddy Wilson - piano player

O verview from the jacket flap: 

    "Brought together by the love of jazz, Teddy Wilson and Benny Goodman broke the color barrier in entertainment when they formed the Benny Goodman Trio, with Gene Krupa. This lush and lyrical picture book tells the story of how two musical prodigies, one a young boy who studied music at Tukegee College in Alabama, the other the son of struggling Russian Jewish immigrants from the West Side of Chicago, came together through music and helped create the style known as swing."

T antalizing taste: 

"Only late at night
In jam sessions
In recording sessions
In Harlem
Offstage, backstage
On vinyl
Were black and white together
When Benny's music swung
with the best
Fast fingering
Drums thumping
Trumpets trumping
It wasn't soft
It wasn't black
It wasn't sweet
It wasn't white
It was swing

and something more:  A wonderful interview of Lesa Cline-Ransome and James E. Ransome, the wife and husband author and illustrator team of Benny Goodman & Teddy Wilson, is featured on the website of the publisher, Holiday House. I was particularly moved by these answers to these questions: "What makes this book special to you? What important message do you feel it brings to young readers?"

Lesa: "I think this book celebrates the passion of two artists while demonstrating that race and background are secondary to the common goals that bind us."

James: "Segregation is such a dark period in American history. I think sometimes it is hard for those who have not grown up in that period to understand that in public, while everything was segregated, people have always been integrated when it comes to playing music." 

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."