“'There's cold chicken inside it,' replied the Rat briefly; 'coldtonguecoldhamcoldbeefpickledgherkinssaladfrench
rollscresssandwichespottedmeatgingerbeerlemonadesodawater----'

'O stop, stop,' cried the Mole in ecstacies: 'This is too much!'”
-- from
The Wind in the Willows


Friday, February 27, 2009

Chantel's Quest for the Golden Sword • Middle-grade fiction (fantasy)

Chantel's Quest for the Golden Sword
by Oliver Neubert
Just out! • Simply Read Books • Ages 8 -12 • Paperback original
Fantasy, adventure, magic, myths, heroes, a quest. Reluctant readers? Every reader.
Story: A vengeful spirit is destroying nature and corrupting minds. Chantel, the Princess of Freedom, is the only one who can save the world from the evil unleashed by the spirit— but only if she successfully retrieves four ancient relics. With the help of a warrior mouse and a fox bat, Chantel begins her quest in the Land of the North, where she must find the powerful Golden Sword. However, someone else is determined to locate the sword first: the Snow Walker, the evil spirit’s brutal warlord. As she struggles through icy, unfamiliar territory to unearth the magical relic, Chantel makes an amazing discovery that holds the key to the planet's future. But is it too late?

Story behind the story: Author Oliver Neubert shares this story of the book's beginnings: "Chantel’s Quest began when my daughter...asked me to tell her a story. At that time, I knew the song of 'We are going on a bear hunt, we are going to get a big one.' So that is what I told her and we were acting out the story as I was telling it. I was a horse or an eagle and Chantel would sit on my back while we were riding through grassland, through large forests, through deep mud, through a cold river and then finally up the mountain, until we would stand in front of a huge cave. Suddenly the big, angry bear would come out and roar at us. Chantel and I became very frightened and ran back down the mountain, through the river, through the mud, through the forest and through the grassland. Chantel would fall off my back several times and had to climb back on it again. Back at home we would hide below blankets and wait until everything became quiet again....The stories became longer and more interesting, sometimes more scary. We continued with this until Chantel was 5 and I had to find a chiropractor to realign my back from all the horseback riding and flying."

"This fast-paced hero quest is guaranteed to please any adventure reader. Author Oliver Neubert provides an exciting plot. His characters are interesting and endearing. Using a simple writing style, Neubert's Chantel's Quest: The Golden Sword appeals to reluctant readers. This novel would make an excellent choice for a classroom novel set." -- Resource Links

"Oliver Neubert has created an intriguing world, full of interesting creatures and beings. Neubert has managed to create a wide variety of creatures and beings without resorting to the stereotypes of the genre. There are Winged Ones and Rock Climbers rather than elves and dwarfs. Although there is magic, there are no witches and wizards. Rather, there are Wise Ones who have functions and abilities beyond the use of magic. Neubert's creativity adds to the depth of his work and leaves the reader curious about what creatures and beings they may meet.

In many fantasy books, the events being described are often the results of plans and other events from hundreds or thousands of years before. In Chantel's Quest, the current events were only set in motion 85 years before, a much more manageable time frame for younger readers. The short time span also reduces the amount of historical background needed to understand the events and keeps the story moving along at a relatively steady pace.

Oliver Neubert has created an engaging first book about the Four Lands, with fantastic characters and a solid story." -- CM (Curriculum Materials) magazine

The author lives in Vancouver, but will be in New York end of May and available for school/library/bookstore visits.

Thematic Links: Fantasy; Adventure; Magic; Myths; Heroes; Quests

FYI: all the review copies for this title have been sent and reviews are in the works; please check back and click on the "comments" link below to read what your colleagues have to say.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Morning in a Different Place • Young adult fiction

Morning in a Different Place
by Mary Ann McGuigan
Just out! February 2009 • Front Street Books/an imprint of Boyds Mills Press, Inc. • Young adult fiction
A National Book Award finalist’s latest novel renders a time of change.

Why does this friendship get everyone so upset? Because Fiona is white and Yolanda is black and in the Bronx in the 1960s, that's not the way it's supposed to be.


Story: Mary Ann McGuigan’s novel Where You Belong was named a finalist for the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature (1997). Now McGuigan brings her talent for emotional authenticity to its stand-alone sequel to follow best friends Fiona, the daughter of Irish immigrants, and Yolanda, an African-American girl, into eighth grade—and a world forever changed.
In 1963, with social upheaval all around her, Fiona faces her own moral crossroads. Her family’s escape from her abusive, alcoholic father turns out to be as fleeting as his sobriety. At school in the Bronx, the popular girls ignore Fiona. But soon her friendship with David, a boy they like, grants her invitations to parties and a chance to be part of the in crowd. Though desperate for acceptance, Fiona doesn’t want to lose Yolanda’s friendship in the process. Yet the popular girls are not about to include a “negro” in their circle. Despite the challenge to their friendship, Yolanda urges Fiona to follow the example of the courage of the Civil Rights leaders, who stood up to fire hoses and police dogs, and put a stop to her father’s abuse once and for all. Set during the Civil Rights movement, in the final weeks before the assassination of JFK, Morning in a Different Place renders a time of change.

Story behind the story: Mary Ann McGuigan notes that “in the first book, Fiona and Yolanda bond in an urgent and intense way. They become each other’s safe harbor. In Morning in a Different Place, I wanted to take a closer look at those pressures—not only the pressures from family and friends and society but also the pressures from within the relationship itself. Fiona and Yolanda get tripped up by their own insecurity and need to belong. I wanted to see whether they could navigate those stormy waters without losing their way.” About students' reactions to her work, the author adds: "Students who talked to me about the book fully understood what I was saying in it. They were able to articulate Fiona's anguish in terms of their own daily lives. The anguish is not in the past for them. They face it every day."

“McGuigan is as adept at evoking the class consciousness and racial politics of '60s New York as she is the horrors of adolescence, including insecurity and helplessness. With the twin evils of domestic violence and President Kennedy's assassination looming in the background, the author's portrait of the chameleonic nature of teenage girls builds aggressively to a powerful finale.”—Kirkus Reviews

“The stage is set for a classic moral battle, but the results are never didactic. McGuigan’s writing is spare and low-key, and her metaphors are acute…. History buffs will appreciate the visceral reminder of how much Kennedy’s beliefs meant to the black community, and how devastating was his death.”

—Booklist

Hear the author speak about and read from the book.

Have racial tensions all gone away? Is race an issue anymore in our friendships? In our schools? In our elections? How is your students' world different from Fiona and Yolanda's? Mary Ann McGuigan is available for video chats and phone visits (and, if she can steal away from her day job in publishing, in person) with classes and book groups, with teachers and librarians. To schedule a time for her to visit with yours, contact the author directly.

FYI: all the review copies for this title have been sent and reviews are in the works; please check back and click on the "comments" link below to read what your colleagues have to say.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Afghan Dreams: Young Voices of Afghanistan • Nonfiction (illustrated)

Afghan Dreams: Young Voices of Afghanistan
by Tony O'Brien and Mike Sullivan • photographs by Tony O'Brien
October 2008 • Bloomsbury Children's Books • Nonfiction (illustrated)
If the stories that come out of Afghanistan are ever to contain hope for the future, then the young people in these pages are that hope.
Story: Award-winning photographer Tony O'Brien and filmmaker Mike Sullivan went to Afghanistan to interview and photograph children of all ages and ethnic backgrounds, and with very different daily lives. As each one tells his or her story, the reader is placed in the middle of everyday life as it is lived by the children of one of the world's most enduringly conflict-ridden countries. From street workers to female students in newly formed academies, from children who work in family businesses to pickpockets who steal from visiting photographers, these are the faces of young Afghans who wish for peace in their neighborhoods, in their country, and in their lifetimes.
Story behind the story: Tony O'Brien's work has appeared in many publications including Time, Life and Newsweek; he is currently the head of the Documentary Studies program at the College of Santa Fe. Mike Sullivan is a bush pilot and filmmaker who spent years working with Jacques Cousteau and has done humanitarian and environmental work all over the world. Here they tell the story of Afghanistan through the eyes of her children: "We asked the children we met about their past, their families, their present lives, and their hopes for the future....Often we told the children the story of Aladdin and his magic lamp and asked what their three wishes would be. At times we sensed that the answers were influenced by the fact that they were addressing outsiders, foreigners. But the overwhelming desire for education was genuine. Children who had been denied school for so many years had a burning desire for education and peace. Muktar, our translator, explained that education if truly their dream, although for many it is out of their reach. Their reality is this poverty-stricken, war-torn country."

Some of their stories:

Ayisha Hasea Qadir, age 14, Kabul, Freedom Afghanistan Girls' School
"I want to be a journalist and travel all over, to America, Australia, and India, as well as Afghanistan. I want to talk to the sick people, the poor people, and bring their words back here to put on the news. If there is a need for me to have a family I will marry, but if there is no need, then I won't. When I am a journalist I will take care of myself. I will marry my profession."

Wahaab, age 10, Kabul, marketplace
"I have been working as a thief for twenty days, stealing from people's pockets. I've done it ten times, it's true, ten times in twenty days. I want my real father to come back, I want my sisters and brothers, and I want a house."

Bibi Aisha, age 11, Sutir Faridah, Lelandar
"I have never been out of Lelandar....I would love to believe in a magic carpet -- I would use it to fly home from school. It takes me one hour to walk; I could fly in five minutes. But I wouldn't want to go on a flying camel. We don't have one of those. It is an old name Sutir Faridah. Maybe there were flying camels then."

Najmudin, age 13, Bamian
"I hope to be a teacher, to bring the light to other children. I want to be a teacher of teachers."

★"The goofy grin of 13-year-old Najmudin in the final photo lightens the solemnity but strengthens the overall message that these resilient young folk haven’t lost their hope of better things to come.” —Kirkus Reviews, starred review

"The book provides a sensitive, poignant, and respectful look at the lives of these young people. …This is a timely, relevant, and well-executed offering.”—School Library Journal

Now that you've had glimpse into these young people's lives, you need to see their faces, so full of hope, so inspiring.
FYI: all the review copies for this title have been sent and reviews are in the works; please check back and click on the "comments" link below to read what your colleagues have to say.

Monday, February 9, 2009

After Gandhi: One Hundred Years of Nonviolent Resistance • Middle-grade non-fiction (illustrated)

After Gandhi: One Hundred Years of Nonviolent Resistance
by Anne Sibley O’Brien and Perry Edmond O’Brien • illustrated by Anne Sibley O’Brien
February 2009 • Charlesbridge Publishing • Middle Grade non-fiction (illustrated)

Highlighting a variety of causes, cultures, and time periods, AFTER GANDHI profiles some of the major figures of nonviolent resistance from around the world to inform and inspire a new generation of activist citizens.
Story: Over the last century brave people across the world have taken a stand against violence and oppression. Against all odds their actions have toppled governments, challenged unjust laws, and rebuilt societies. This is the power of nonviolent resistance. This is the legacy of Gandhi. After Gandhi explores the work of Mohandas Gandhi and his legacy through fifteen profiles of activists (ex. Muhammed Ali, whose refusal to be drafted helped galvanize US resistance to the Vietnam War; Argentina's Mothers of the Disappeared, whose courageous vigits for their missing children contributed to the fall of the military government responsible for the kidnappings, to name just a few) who chose nonviolent resistance as the path to change.

The story behind the story: Annie O’Brien has long been an activist for peace and justice. Her son Perry’s experience as an army medic serving in Afghanistan and receiving an honorable discharge as a conscientious objector inspired the two to work together on this book, which highlights examples of how humans can work together to resolve conflict and establish justice peacefully.

Visit www.charlesbridge.com/client/aftergandhi.htm for an excerpt, posters, discussion/activity guide, and video trailer.

PASS THE PEACE: Inspired by After Gandhi, the Pass the Peace campaign is an effort to promote worldwide peace, tolerance, and nonviolent forms of protest. Charlesbridge Publishing has distributed posters to local companies, started a blog chain with a Pass the Peace widget, and donated money to Wangari Maathai's organization, The Greenbelt Movement, to spread the messages of the peacemakers profiled in the book. Feel free to post this widget to your blog, website, or social networking site, and forward it to others who may also wish to be involved.

FYI: all the review copies for this title have been sent and reviews are in the works; please check back and click on the "comments" link below to read what your colleagues have to say.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

What are YOU doing on Valentine's Day?

If you live in ME, VT, NH, MA, CT, NY, or RI (or you know people who do), this is for you: February 14 is Kids ♥ Authors Day in New England. Show your support for Main Street and for the arts and head to your community independent bookstore on Saturday, February 14th. This Valentine’s Day, from 10 a.m. to noon, over 40 independent bookstores will host more than 170 (!) illustrators and authors of books for kids and teens, kicking off a new tradition of signed literary valentines. According to author Mitali Perkins, Kids ♥ Authors Day founder, “Independent bookstores are an irreplaceable part of our small towns and of our family traditions. We hope many families will visit local shops and leave with a signed book or two -- and a great memory.”


It’s for the community and the kids. Let’s spread some literary love. To find out about what’s happening in your town, visit www.kidsheartauthors.com. (Plus, I've found the site a great resource when looking for what kids' books to read next: so much to choose from. My night table overfloweth!).

Thursday, February 5, 2009

From Russia with Lunch: A Chet Gecko Mystery • Middle-grade fiction

From Russia with Lunch: A Chet Gecko Mystery
written and illustrated by Bruce Hale
Just out! • Houghton Mifflin Books for Children • Ages 8-12
What do you get when you cross Raymond Chandler with the Marx Brothers? Chet Gecko, a wisecracking fourth-grade detective from Emerson Hicky Elementary.
Story: The 14th book in the popular mystery series begins when Chet’s favorite teacher is fired, only to be replaced by the mechanical invention of Dr. Tanya Lightov—a mysterious Russian scientist. Suddenly, the school seems possessed by forces that are upsetting the natural order of things: Kindergartners are beating up sixth graders; teachers’ pets are talking back; and worst of all, Chet’s faithful partner and best friend, Natalie Attired, has abandoned him in his hour of need. Will Chet be able to restore his friendship with Natalie and bring Emerson Hicky back to normal? One thing’s for certain: The crazy, mixed-up mastermind behind this case will be the last creature anyone expects.
Story behind the story: Where did the idea for the gecko private eye come from? "I was doing some free writing – writing without any kind of plan - and I knew I wanted to write a mystery, so I was just playing around with the detective’s narration," says Bruce Hale. "All of a sudden, it was like I could hear this voice in my head saying: 'Who am I? Chet Gecko, Private Eye. I go to fourth grade at Emerson Hicky Elementary. I’m a lizard.' I trusted the voice and went from there." Kids, teachers, and librarians have trusted it too -- this is book #14 in the popular mystery series!

Hale's website is chock-full of goodies that you and the kids will love:

• Integrate the Chet Gecko books into your classroom curriculum with the Chet Gecko Activity Booklet.

• Test your Gecko knowledge - take the Chet Gecko quiz!

• Check out detective tips from Chet Gecko’s Detective Handbook (and Cookbook) -- and the Chet Gecko Case File revealing his favorite foods, dislikes, likes, little-known facts, hobbies and more.

FYI: all the review copies for this title have been sent and reviews are in the works; please check back and click on the "comments" link below to read what your colleagues have to say.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Gooney Bird is So Absurd • Early reader

Gooney Bird is So Absurd
by Lois Lowry • illustrated by Middy Thomas
March 2009 • Houghton Mifflin Books for Children • Ages 6-10
From the Newbery Award winning author of the popular Anastasia Kupnik series and best-selling novel THE GIVER comes the fourth hilarious title in the popular Gooney Bird series.
Story: It’s January at the Watertower Elementary School--the perfect weather for Gooney Bird Greene to break out her special brain-warming hat. Gooney Bird's brain will need to be as warm as possible this month, because Mrs. Pidgeon is teaching her class about poetry. Who knew there could be so many different ways to write a poem? Haikus, couplets, limericks—Mrs. Pidgeon’s students soon find that writing good poetry takes a lot of hard work and creative thinking. Gooney Bird and her classmates are up to the challenge. But just when things are going well, the kids get some terrible news. Gooney Bird will need all the inspiration her brain can muster to organize the most important poem the class has ever written.

Story behind the story: Since the publication of the first Gooney Bird Greene book in 2002, students, teachers, librarians and parents have embraced the feisty, inspiring character and she's graced countless summer reading and elementary school suggested reading lists. Here's a taste of what the critics have to say:

Praise for the Gooney Bird books:

"A laugh-out-loud chapter book." — Booklist

"Irrepressible Gooney Bird is that rare bird in children's fiction: one that instantly becomes an amusing and popular favorite." — Kirkus Reviews

"Lowry's masterful writing style reaches directly into her audience, managing both to appeal to young listeners and to engage readers." — The Bulletin

"Lowry displays a keen understanding of how second-grade classrooms operate . . . [Gooney Bird's] a fine storyteller and her message to classmates—that they too have stories to share—is a good one." — Horn Book

Now it's YOUR turn to tell us what YOU think!
FYI: all the review copies for this title have been sent and reviews are in the works; please check back and click on the "comments" link below to read what your colleagues have to say.