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

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

Thursday, December 9, 2010

How about an app? A PRESENT FOR MILO • iPad app

Don't worry, I still and will absolutely always adore books, but I've been doing some consulting for a new company, Ruckus Mobile Media, and am immersed in the world of children's story apps. As Ruckus just released their first author-driven app created specifically for Apple's iPad (and, incidentally, the app landed debut author Mike Austin a 3-book deal with wonderful Blue Apple Books publisher), I thought, why not share this with my teacher-librarian friends and get their take?  Personally, I think A PRESENT FOR MILO is so perfectly targeted for the 2-5 set, the storyline and use of language is right on (or should I say “write” on?) and the art just shines.  Big, bold, bright – it pops on the screen. But the question is, what do you think?  Would you use iPad apps in your classroom or library? 

If you have an iPad, take a peek below and order your reviewer's copy for a free download code.

written and illustrated (and narrated) by Mike Austin
Available now for iPad at iTunes Ruckus Media Group $1.99 • Ages 2 - 5
Finalist, Best eBook, 2010 Best App Award -- 148apps.com
Story: With over 80 tap-able objects that initiate more than 125 animations just right for active young fingers and minds, this interactive exciting cat-chases-mouse story is ideal for pre-readers and young readers alike.  With simple vocabulary and sound-out words, A PRESENT FOR provides a fun, engaging read-to or read-aloud experience.

Who’s knocking on the mouse hole? When mouse peeks out, he sees Milo…and off they go! Down the hall…through the kitchen…up the stairs…across the piano…around and around and around and around—Milo and mouse turn the house upside down as they scamper, pounce, jump, and bounce through every room. It’s a spirited chase right up to the exuberant surprise ending. 

  • Perfect for pre-readers and young readers—all animations, narration, and sound effects are activated by a simple finger swipe or tap.
  • Includes read-along text (that repeats when tapped) and comical narration by the author.
  • Each screen draws the reader into the story, opening with slapstick chase animations that repeat (and sometimes change) when you touch the main characters.
  • Users get to join the fun in Milo’s topsy-turvy world: touch objects in every room to see over 125 animations—dozens of hidden surprises on every screen!
  • Hours of fun with a thoroughly engaging story, animations, tap-able surprises and silly sound effects—a perfect digital storybook.
Story behind the story:  “We’re especially proud of A PRESENT FOR MILO because the design is intuitive, anticipating where the young child will want to interact with the story,” says Rick Richter, CEO, Ruckus Mobile Media. “It’s the perfect combination of a high quality story, told just right for 2-5 year old set, that fully engages the child on mom’s or dad’s lap as well as the independent reader. And it’s this synthesis that caught the attention of a top children’s book publisher and led to our first app-to-children’s book deal.” Based on the storyboards and app design, literary agent Rubin Pfeffer sold a 3-book deal for MILO and creator Mike Austin to Blue Apple Books.  If that’s not proof of the right-on quality of this app, what is?

Don't have an iPad but want a sense of A PRESENT FOR MILO?  Check out this video:


“I love it. Mostly I love the small details in the touch aspect that shows more innovation in the space - and better execution. The rocket, the musical notes and metronome...it is an eBook, with almost game like function - which is a great balance.” -- Daniel Donahoo, Wired – GeekDad blogger

“Amazing…the perfect book app to stimulate, engage and develop reading skills…. a high level of interactivity….fabulous animation." -- FUN EDUCATIONAL APPS

A PRESENT FOR MILO has been named a finalist in the Best eBook category, 2010 Best App Award (148apps.com).  Like it?  Vote for it now through January 25th here.

Order your reviewer's copy now.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Love books and want to meet some authors?

Silly question.  I know that, if you're coming to The Picnic Basket, you're a book lover, a book devourer, an I-want-to-know-everything-I-can-about-kids-books kind of person.  For me, I love hearing the stories-behind-the-story directly from the authors.  I mean, who knows their books better than they do?  This week, you can meet -- and win FREE books from:

Lita Judge, author and illustrator of BORN TO BE GIANTS:  HOW BABY DINOSAURS GREW TO RULE THE WORLD.  She tells readers that "as a kid I ... was obsessed with dinosaurs. My grandparents were scientists who studied birds of prey, and as a youngster I imagined I was feeding a baby dinosaur when I helped care for baby hawks and eagles. By the time I was fifteen, I got myself a job on a dinosaur dig and spent three summers digging fossils for the Tyrrell Museum in Canada." Read more here or email the author for your chance to win. 

J.M. deMatteis, author of IMAGINALIS.  He tells us that "as someone who struggled (mightily!) as a student—and was saved by some exceptional teachers who saw past the surface to who I really was—the world of books provided an entrance to endless universes that stimulated both mind and spirit."  You can win a signed book or arrange to Skype with the author. Read more from J.M. here

So, what are you waiting for?

Friday, October 29, 2010

No T. Rex in the Library • Picture Book

No T. Rex in the Library
by Toni Buzzeoillustrated by Sachiko Yoshikawa
Available now • McElderry Books • Ages 4 - 8

It's Tuesday morning in the library.
Tess is out of control.
"Time out!" Mommy shouts."No beastie behavior in the library."
Tess snarls.
She snorts.
"Just ten quiet minutes, Little Beastie," says Mommy. "And then
 I'll be back for you."
Books tumble, topple, flop on the floor.
"Ooops," Tess says, "The books . . ."
She gasps and grins.
She grips a claw.
And then . . .

(from the book)
Story: When Tess misbehaves at the library, Mommy puts her in the time out chair, promising to return for her in 10 minutes. But Mommy doesn't count on Tess tipping over her chair, or the chair tipping over the book cart, or the dinosaur book falling open.  And what else can Tess do when she sees that dinosaur claw reaching up from the page?  Join Tess on a library romp on board the back of a T. Rex.  She proves, beyond a doubt, that you can find ANY kind of adventure in your library books.
Story behind the story:  As a teenager, Toni started writing and worked her first library job as a ”page” shelving books at the Dearborn Public Library before taking her first full time job as a library clerk at age 18.  From there she continued on as a Children’s librarian before writing children’s books, so she’s a bit of a pro when it comes to library adventures.

Toni Buzzeo is the author of such books as Dawdle Duckling, illustrated by Margaret Spengler and The Sea Chest, illustrated by Mary GrandPre. She has previously collaborated with Sachiko Yoshikawa on Our Librarian Won't Tell Us Anything. Toni lives in Maine, and you can visit her online at www.tonibuzzeo.com.
"A lively introduction to the multitude of stories and topics found in a library with an emphasis on the importance of book care and library etiquette, this will especially appeal to active youngsters. Good for home, classroom and library use." - Kirkus

“This picture book with its roars, snarls, yells, and other sound words celebrates a child’s imagination as she spends a little “quiet time” at the library. Children who have a hard time keeping still during story time are such to appreciate this action-packed tale." - Marya Jansen-Gruber, Through the Loooking Glass Children's Book Reviews

"Maybe it's just me, but I don't really like how certain types of books get so split over gender lines.  There are exceptions, of course.  You might find a girl train book here or a boy ballet book there.  But girl dino books?  Few and far between.  Toni Buzzeo aims to change all that.  Out comes No T. Rex in the Library, illustrated by Sachiko Yoshikawa.  Plot as such: Girl is out of control in the library (we all are familiar with that particular scene) but when she opens the pages of a book, a dino with no manners escapes.  Can she make him behave?  Mebee." - Elizabeth Bird, A Fuse 8 Production, SLJ Blog

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

SPHDZ Book #1! • Middle-Grade Fiction Illustrated

SPHDZ Book #1!  Middle-Grade Fiction Illustrated 
Available now  Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers  Ages 7 - 10
Story: Michael K. just started fifth grade at a new school. As if that wasn't hard enough, the kids he seems to have made friends with apparently aren't kids at all. They are aliens. Real aliens who have invaded our planet in the form of school children and a hamster.

They have a mission to complete: to convince 3,140,001 kids to BE SPHDZ.

But with a hamster as their leader, "kids" who talk like walking advertisements, and Michael K as their first convert, will the SPHDZ be able to keep their cover and pull off their assignment?

Story behind the story: Here's what author Jon Scieszka has to say about SPHDZ:

"The story is told through a series of books, websites, blogs, tweets, microwaves, videos, logos, slogans, cereal boxes, ads, jingles, kids' writing/drawing/creating, and more. The story requires readers to be critical thinkers, media judges and active participants.  You must BE SPDZ to SAVE THE WORLD.

I thought up SPACEHEADZ as a fun way for kids to fool around with the very real work of what is probably the most vital 21st century educational skill – becoming Media Literate. 

Kids will laugh at the SPHDZ frantic desire for toilet paper (because it is Ultra-Strong!) and deodorant (because it promises All Day Protection!) . . . but they will end up becoming media-savvy, critical consumers as they help the SPHDZ navigate our ad-crazy world.

Check out the Whole Grain! Long Lasting! SPHDZ Book #1 and the first round of Extra Strength! websites.  We need you to


--Jon No-Pulp! Scieszka

Visit the author online at www.jsworldwide.com, become at SHDZ at www.SPHDZ.com, and learn all the AAA’s secrets at www.antialienagency.com.

Be sure to watch the Spaceheadz book trailer to learn more!

“The young aliens speak primarily in TV advertising slogans, which fit remarkably–and hilariously–into the dialogue. Real commercial products, from George Foreman grills to Charmin™ toilet tissue, are put to exotic extraterrestrial uses. The intriguing book design includes chapter headings in English and SPHDZ characters, occasional white-on-black pages, and SPHDZ “stickers” scattered throughout the text. The black-and-white cartoon illustrations are often integrated into the text layout, giving the book a graphic-novel feel. Four creative, well-designed websites contribute important information to the story. Science-fiction fans with a taste for off-the-wall humor will be eager to join the SPHDZ movement.” –School Library Journal starred review

Monday, October 25, 2010

Ant and Honey Bee: A Pair of Friends at Halloween • First Chapter Book

Ant and Honey Bee: A Pair of Friends at Halloween
By Megan McDonald • Illustrated by G. Brian Karas 
July 2010 • Candlewick Press • Ages 5-8
What a pair! From the creator of the Judy Moody and Stink series comes a charming duo with a most ingenious costume approach for Halloween.
Story: Only a few hours left until trick-or-treat, and Ant and Honey Bee still don’t have their costumes figured out.  With a little creativity and a lot of elbow grease, Ant and Honey Bee finally make a perfect, two-things-that-go-together pair of costumes for Cricket’s big party. But then — plip, plip, plip, PLIP! — it starts to rain, and by the time they arrive, the proud pair looks more like a matching set of soggy sad sacks. Maybe, though, if they put their heads together, the quick-thinking friends can turn their mushy mess into a smashing success. What a pair!
Story behind the story: “I wore a lot of hand-me-downs when I was growing up,” says best-selling author Megan McDonald, looking back on her childhood with four older sisters. “It was a BIG deal when my mom made hand-sewn pilgrim costumes for my sisters at Halloween. The only problem was, my sisters outgrew them, and the pilgrim costumes got passed down to me.  Year after year, there was always a pilgrim costume for me!”

Bor-ing!,’ as Ant and Honey Bee would say.

So Megan and her best friend took matters into their own hands and created costumes for themselves.  One year, they went as a banana split.  Another year, they transformed big cardboard boxes into — yes, it’s true — a washer and a dryer!  “Of course it poured rain,” Megan recalls.  “Our cardboard costumes were turned to mush. That childhood experience, and the pilgrim costumes, inspired this story.”

“Childlike and sympathetic, the characters’ antics and conversations will have broad appeal.” Booklist

“Filled with puns and lighthearted jokes. . . .Children will enjoy reading about how friendships can help them survive any disaster.” – School Library Journal

Looking for more early fiction? Visit Candlewick's website for more Candlewick Sparks!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Rocky Road • Middle-grade fiction

Rocky Road
Available now Alfred A. Knopf  Ages 8 - 12
“Ice cream warms the heart, no matter what the weather.
Story: That's the Dobson family motto. When things get tough, they break out the ice cream. The road has been especially rocky lately for Tess and her deaf little brother, Jordan. Then Ma abruptly moves the family from Texas to snowy Schenectady, NY, where she uses the last of their savings to open an ice cream shop in the dead of winter. How will they ever survive?

This moving story of family and community proves that, with a little help from family and friends, life can be sweet —and a little nutty—just like Rocky Road.

Story behind the story: Author Rose Kent shares this with us:  "Did you know that rocky road ice cream was created during the Great Depression just so folks would have something to smile about?

Rocky road is Tess Dobson’s favorite ice cream. It also describes what life has served up, between her family’s money troubles and Ma’s mood illness that leaves her in bed for days. Then Ma uproots the family to snowy upstate NY, to buy an ice cream shop with the last of their savings. How will they survive? 

Why did I set the book in Schenectady, NY? Because I've learned through travels and reader emails that, while New York City is famous and vividly imagined, even by those who have never been, the same can't be said about other parts of New York State. Schenectady is a vintage old city and I thought many kids might appreciate learning its history. I also thought they might have their own version of a vintage old city nearby that they could relate to. 

Why ice cream? I can recall the many times my family visited an ice cream shop to celebrate or commiserate an event. When my son hit the home run. When my daughter didn't get the part in the play. When someone got potty trained. That sort of thing. Like the Dobson family motto in ROCKY ROAD, I truly believe that "ice cream warms the heart, no matter what the weather."

I bet you see kids in your library who also live rocky road lives. I wrote ROCKY ROAD for these kids. My first book, KIMCHI & CALAMARI, celebrates food. ROCKY ROAD continues with ice cream, recipes included! 

Peace, books and ice cream,
Rose Kent

Watch this book trailer:

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Hello Kidlit lovers -- new books to learn about and WIN for your classroom or library

On the lookout for new books to fit in with your curriculum? Can you say freebies?  Perhaps one of these four are right for your classroom or library?  See the links to enter to win.

If you're looking for lessons on History, Pioneer life, Parts of a story, Abraham Lincolns, Friendship and Responsibility, then take a peek at ABE LINCOLN CROSSES A CREEK, by Deborah Hopkinson.  Read this note from the author for a chance to win an autographed copy. (Grades Pre-3).

Poetry?  Language Arts?  Rhyme and Rhythm?  Robert L. Forbes' LET'S HAVE A BITE:  A Banquet of Beastly Rhymes, illustrated by Ronald Searle (New Yorker magazine readers will most definitely recognize the artwork!) is worth a look.  Want a taste? (Preschool and up)

What if you're teaching Language Arts, History, War and Conflict, Literature Circles, Geography (Southwestern U.S.) and you'd like a novel to tie into your lessons? Diane Stanley's starred Booklist review book SAVING SKY might be just the one.  Plus she's offering a chance to win a free Skype visit.  How cool would it be to have the author talking with YOUR readers?  (Grades 5 and up)

High school librarians and teachers doing units on Creative writing, Anxiety, Social skills, Psychological disorders, Eating disorders? Chelsea Rae Swiggett writes this about RAE:  "RAE is about understanding yourself and accepting whatever it is you understand. And everyone needs to learn that."  For a chance for a sample copy...(Grades 7 and up)
Someone's going to win 'em... why not you?

Friday, October 1, 2010

Imaginalis Middle-grade fiction / Fantasy

by J. M. DeMatteis
June 2010 Available now   Harper Collins  Ages 8 - 12
What if your dearest friends were trapped in a world that was dying? 
Story:  Mehera Beatrice Crosby has one great love—and it's not following the latest health fads (like her school friend Celeste), and it's definitely not Andrew Suarez (even if he does have a ridiculous crush on her). It's Imaginalis, her favorite book series.
When she learns that the long-awaited last book in the series has been canceled, Mehera is devastated—until strange events begin unfolding, and she realizes that her Imaginalian friends are counting on her to rescue them from their fading existence. Soon Mehera finds herself traveling between her world and the kingdom of Imaginalis. But what will happen when she accidentally brings the villain of the series, Pralaya, back to Earth, along with Prince Imagos and his Companions? Has Mehera doomed both worlds beyond repair, or is there a way to save Mehera's world—and Imaginalis, too?
This richly imagined fantasy is a fast-paced adventure and a testament to the power of loyal friendship, creativity, and imagination.
 Story behind the story:

Hear more about IMAGINALIS in this Northeast Public Radio Interview -- and via this video interview:

FYI: all the review copies for this title have been sent; please check back on the "comments" link to read what your colleagues have to say.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Fish • Middle-grade fiction

by Gregory Mone
Available now • Scholastic • Ages 9 and up
Story:  Maurice Reidy -- nicknamed "Fish" because of his incredible swimming abilities -- is sent to work as a courier to help support his struggling family.  Entrusted with a mysterious package of coins, fish is waylaid by pirates who abscond with his delivery.  But he's determined to get the coins back by joining the crew:  some of the wiliest (and smelliest -- something those reluctant readers will love!) pirates on the high seas.
On board the pirate ship, Fish learns two things:  that the strange coins could be the key to finding a fabulous treasure, and that the nasty first mate, Scab, could be planning a mutiny.  Can Fish retrieve the coins, find the treasure, save his family, and thwart Scab's dastardly plans? 
Story behind the story:  As a contributing editor at POPULAR SCIENCE and freelance magazine writer, Gregory Mone has written articles about intelligent robots, Irish mythology, cartoons, and alternative energy for many publications.  The author of two books, FISH is his first novel for kids and I asked him to tell us a bit about how it came to be:  "I’m tempted to greet you with an emphatic “argghhh,” but the pirates in FISH don’t speak that way", says Mone. "They’re a bit more articulate, and odd. The story, written under strict orders from my nieces and nephews, is packed with adventures and centered around a brain-teasing treasure hunt. As a reader, though, I’ve always been drawn to characters first, so I worked for years to come up with a unique crew of rogues, including a gourmand (based on my mechanic), a gargantuan scholar, a songwriter, some delightfully nasty villains, and Fish himself, a boy who loves to swim and hates to fight.

I’ve seen how boys (yes, they read!) and girls are responding to FISH, and I’d love to visit more libraries and schools or hear what you think of the book. Email me - greg [at] fishthepirate.com - to discuss a visit."

PS:  Some details (per Gregory's website) in FISH were borrowed from family history. Maurice "Fish" Reidy was named for Gregory's grandfather, and though the real Maurice wasn't much of a swimmer, he did cross the ocean on a boat when he immigrated to the United States from Ireland. Gregory's grandmother Brigid was forced to leave her family farm when their horse, Shamrock, died. She, too, came to America and, like Fish, had to send money back home to support her family.  Gregory IS quite passionate about swimming; he was a nationally ranked competitive swimmer.

Lots of info on the author's website where you can "Meet the Pirates" and read sample chapters -- plus a Booktalk at Scholastic's site.

Thematic connections: 
Courage and Honor, Determination and Perseverance, Growing Up

"Chock full of real historic curiosities about pirates, sly humor for grownups, excellent action scenes and general quantities of swash and buckle, Fish is a great, self-contained addition to the canon of fun pirate fiction. Perfect for young readers, even better for reading aloud at bed-time, thanks to the plentiful cliff-hangers." -- Cory Doctorow's review on boingboing

"...an entertaining, rollicking read that challenges as well captivates...full of humor, quick-witted dialogue, well-disguised lessons in initiative and hard work with clever pirating lore and grand treasure dreams. Girls and boys alike will enjoy this book, which has a cliff-hanger of an ending begging for a sequel."
Winston-Salem Journal:

"Inducted into the knavish crew of the sloop Scurvy Mistress, young Fish finds himself involved both in piecing together baroque clues to the location of a fabulous golden treasure known as the Chain of Chuaca[r] and in protecting the gentlemanly but naive Captain Cobb from brutal mutineers and rival treasure hunters...His pacifism adds an unusual element for stories of this ilk, too."
Kirkus Reviews:

"This page-turner might keep you and your family up late reading."
Meridian Magazine

FYI: all the review copies for this title have been sent; please check back on the "comments" link to read what your colleagues have to say.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Need some ideas? Kidsbookclubbing's got 'em!

The latest issue of Kidsbookclubbing features giveaways and behind-the-scenes stories from these top kids' authors:

- Printz Honor Award winner Ellen Wittlinger as she broaches the topic of war in THIS MEANS WAR!, a work of fiction for middle-graders

- debut writer Inara Scott who mixes superpowers and friendships in a boarding school setting in her teen novel DELCROIX ACADEMY, BOOK ONE: THE CANDIDATES

 - Julie Berry, author of THE SPLURCH ACADEMY BOOKS, a new comic novel series for reluctant readers and disruptive kids (do you know any of those?!)

...and Chelsea Rae Swiggett who shares her un-put-downable and brave teen memoir, RAE:  MY TRUE STORY OF FEAR, ANXIETY, AND SOCIAL PHOBIA 

Check 'em out here, ask for a freebie, and maybe invite the author to visit your book club?!  Happy reading!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Crow • Picture book

written and illustrated by Leo Timmers
September 2010 Clavis Books Ages 3-5
Be yourself! A tragicomic story about four birds under high voltage.
Story: Crow is black.  Pitch-black.  Everyone is afraid of him.  So Crow devises a plan to fit in by painting his feathers multicolored in order to look more like the other birds, but the plan backfires and he ends up scaring everyone away. This beautifully illustrated tale shows young children the importance of acceptance and “not to judge a book by its cover.”
Story behind the story:  Author-illustrator Leo Timmers lives in Belgium and is the recipient of the Book Feather Award as well as three-time winner of the Children’s and Youth Jury Award.  His Deep Sea Doctor Dean has been translated into twelve languages; other titles include Brum!, I Am the King, and Vroom! Leo’s style is immediately recognizable by its clear shapes, color and humor.  All of his illustrations are painted by hand in acrylic paint.

“Thoughtful…Timmers tells this be-yourself story with disciplined visual clarity…polish and style.”  – Publishers Weekly, boxed review

I found a video of Leo Timmers and, though it's in Dutch, it's fun to take a peek nonetheless as you can get a sense of his studio and style. This video below, though, is wordless, and a wonderful trip through the artist's sketchbook.  You'll see some pencil sketches of CROW, too:

Publisher Clavis Books believes in "raising readers by publishing books for children of all ages that stimulate their imaginations"; take a peek at their latest catalog to see more books by Leo Timmers and the rest of their publishing line-up.

FYI: all the review copies for this title have been sent; please check back on the "comments" link to read what your colleagues have to say.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Ruby's School Walk • Picture book

Ruby's School Walk
by Kathryn White  • illustrated by Miriam Latimer
August 2010  • Barefoot Books  • Ages 4 - 7
Will Ruby find the courage to reach her classroom?
Story:  Ruby's morning walk with her mom is far from ordinary.  On their way, Ruby experiences a world her mother cannot see, and imaginative dangers in her path.  With a tiger on the prowl and mighty beasts that loom and lurk, getting to school seems an impossible task. Young readers will enjoy joining Ruby as she faces her fears and learns how to keep them in check.  "A cheery reminder of the fun to be had—and fears overcome—with a little imagination…" writes Publishers Weekly in a review of Ruby's School Walk.
Story behind the story: Kathryn White wrote the book Ruby's School Walk based on her own experiences starting school."Every child experiences some trepidation about starting a new chapter of their lives, and beginning school is no exception," says Kathryn White. "When you encourage children to use their imaginations to face their fears, they can overcome them and look forward to a new adventure, such as starting school." 

Publisher Barefoot Books has created a book discussion guide to help parents encourage their child's independence and send them off to school with confidence.  Kids will enjoy the downloadable Barefoot maze activity sheet, while you'll enjoy meeting author Kathryn White and illustrator Miriam Latimer as they give us a behind-the-scenes look at creating Ruby's School Walk in this video:

FYI: all the review copies for this title have been sent; please check back on the "comments" link to read what your colleagues have to say.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Playing Time: What Kids Really Think About Kids' Sports • YA nonfiction

Playing Time: What Kids Really Think About Kids' Sports
by Quinn Cotter
Just out! Apprentice House Young Adult nonfiction
By the age of 13, 73% of kids drop out of youth sports. Teenage author, Quinn Cotter, will help kids play better, play longer and have more fun!

Story:  Somewhere between The Bad News Bears and Field of Dreams, the realities of being a young athlete play out every day on fields across America. Almost everyone has experienced scoring the game winner, riding the pine, struggling with peer - as well as coach - and parent - pressure.
Young writer Quinn Cotter explores the dynamics of school and athletics, but from the unique perspective of the student-athlete. Playing Time: What Kids Really Think About Kids’ Sports returns focus to the players themselves. Cotter exposes the issues and adult behaviors that trouble kids and cause them to quit playing altogether. Playing Time helps adults lighten up; in return, kids will “play better, play longer, and smile more.”

“Quinn will teach you, provoke you, challenge you, and guide you to become a better parent, coach, teammate—even a better sports fan,” said former Orioles ace and Hall of Fame pitcher Jim Palmer. “And he’ll make you laugh at familiar situations.”

Cotter touches all the bases. For coaches he warns that when they lose their temper, they also lose their players’ respect. Regarding parents, over-zealous folks should leave their own dreams of longed-for glory at home. And players themselves are advised to keep their priorities straight: school before sports.

“When parents get too involved, they reveal a lack of confidence in their kid, both on and off the field,” said Cotter. More than fifty million children participate in some form of youth sport, but nearly 73% will drop out by the time they are thirteen years old. “Any parent, coach, fan, or participant in youth sports should have this book in their library,” said Bob Bowlsby, Athletic Director at Stanford University. “Quinn’s real life experiences establish the foundation from which every youth sports program should be evaluated.”
Story-behind-the-story: Cotter wrote the first draft of Playing Time when he was just fifteen years old, but with ten years of experience as a student-athlete behind him. Now a seventeen-year-old senior at the Gilman School in Baltimore, Cotter plays varsity and Metro League baseball.

For years, Quinn would come home from games and practices with a lot on his mind. His mom gave him a shoebox and a pack of index cards and told him to jot down his thoughts and feelings. His dad said, “Quinn, you ought to write a book.” So he did.

By Christmas 2008, the note cards in the shoebox had become a manuscript. Proudly protected in Santa Claus wrapping paper, Quinn placed his manuscript under the tree as a Christmas gift for his parents.

Who is Quinn Cotter and what are his credentials?  The author explains:  "I've ridden the bench so the coach's klutzy kid could play and I've been a star. I have struck out with the bases loaded in the last inning and I have won a homerun derby. I have missed free throws that would have won a basketball game and pitched a two-hit shutout against one of the best teams in the country with Cal Ripken, Jr. watching in the stands. I've gotten home after practice at 9:30 pm and had to face four hours of homework. I have been abandoned by jealous friends. I have been cheered for my accomplishments and cursed out and called foul names by coaches. Kids may be inexperienced in sports and life, but we're not stupid. I've learned a lot from what I've seen and done in kids'sports."


Quinn Cotter Video: Game Winning Hit

Quinn Cotter media links: video, radio and print

FYI: all the review copies for this title have been sent; please check back on the "comments" link to read what your colleagues have to say.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Zebrafish • Middle-grade fiction (illustrated), Graphic novel

by FableVision Illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds
May 2010 Atheneum Books for Young Readers / Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Ages 10 - 14
How do five kids with nothing in common make it better? A vibrant and slyly witty graphic novel about how a small group of kids can make a big difference.
Story: Purple-haired singing queen Vita has big plans for her rock group, Zebrafish. Luckily, her new-found bandmates have some unique talents. But when Tanya starts missing a lot of rehearsals, Vita realizes that the band has a new goal for their upcoming concert: it’ll be a fundraiser to help support Tanya’s battle with leukemia. As the kids band together, they realize that it truly is possible to “get by with a little help from my friends” (to quote the Beatles).
Story Behind the Story: This line from the book trailer says it all:  "The start of something big usually starts out of something small." A portion of the proceeds from this book goes to Children’s Hospital Boston. Peter H. Reynolds includes an inspiring endnote to get readers involved in making a difference. The listed website features games, webisodes, and stories of hope and action. Plus here's a reading group guide.

ZEBRAFISH will rock your world.  Check out this inspiring video:

Take a peek, too, at this video with illustrator Peter Reynolds as he talks about working with Children's Hospital Boston.

"This book will speak to children about fighting for a cure/treatment for cancer and shows the value of involvement in this important issue."–School Library Journal 

Let's change the world! 

FYI: all the review copies for this title have been sent; please check back on the "comments" link to read what your colleagues have to say.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Scream Street: Fang of the Vampire • Middle-grade fiction

Scream Street: Fang of the Vampire
by Tommy Donbavand
Just out! August 2009 • Candlewick Press • Ages 8-10
Welcome to Scream Street – a hilarious middle-grade series that will spook kids silly.
Story:  When Luke Watson turns into a werewolf for the third time, the Government Housing of Unusual Lifeforms (G.H.O.U.L.) moves his family to Scream Street – a frightful community of vampires, zombies, witches, and sundry undead. Though Luke quickly makes friends, he vows to find a way to take his terrified parents home. The secret to opening the exit, he learns, is collecting six powerful relics the founding fathers left behind. But with a sinister landlord determined to thwart Luke at every turn, will he even get past the first hurdle alive?
Story behind the story:  To celebrate the publication of books five and six of the Scream Street series (Skull of the Skeleton and Claw of the Werewolf), author Tommy Donbavand is embarking on a virtual tour of the United States – Skyping with one school in each of the 50 states for free! Schools from Colorado, Massachusetts, Missouri, Virginia and Wisconsin have already signed up. Each school will get a free 15-20 minute session in which he introduces the series and then students and teachers can ask him any questions they have about the series.

Tommy’s already been doing this successfully with schools in his home country of England. To see a video of his Skype session, visit his website. If you’d like him to Skype your class, email Tommy.

Praise for Scream Street:
“Exactly the sort of grisly, gross and hilarious stuff that kids will love!” – Eoin Colfer, author of Artemis Fowl series

“Lighting-paced, blood-curdling fun. I wish I’d been able to visit Scream Street as a kid!” – Darren Shan, author of Cirque Du Freak series

“Gags, gore, guffing goblins – Scream Street’s got the lot! Grab onto your gizzard, you’re in for a wild ride.” – Sam Enthoven, author of The Black Tattoo

Click here to download an Activity Kit, view an inside spread, or watch the Scream Street trailer. Visit www.screamstreet.com for even more fun stuff.

FYI: all the review copies for this title have been sent; please check back on the "comments" link to read what your colleagues have to say.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

WHEN I WAS JOE Young adult fiction

When I Was Joe
JUST OUT! September 2010 Frances Lincoln Publishers Ages 12 and up
A completely irresistible YA thriller that explores youth crime and the nature of identity.
Story: When 14-year-old Ty witnesses the knife murder of another teen, he identifies some very dangerous people as the culprits. The police put him and his mother into a witness protection program, telling Ty that, to protect his identity, he must now go by the name “Joe.” Shy loner Ty gets a new name, a new look and a cool new image – life as “Joe” is good. But the criminals will stop at nothing to silence him. And as details of the crime he witnessed begin to emerge, we wonder just how innocent Ty really is. But though flawed, Ty is an enormously appealing character who faces his changed life with anger and sadness, as well as a degree of wit and intelligence.
Story Behind the Story: Debut British novelist Keren David asks what does a name mean? And if you change everything about yourself – your hair, color of your eyes, even your name – do you become a different person? What happens to your ‘self’ and how do you stop lying? David brings the world of East London to life in the book The Daily Telegraph called “an ice-cold thriller about identity, pain and veracity.”  But you need not be an Anglophile to understand and appreciate the bustling, working class setting in which the story takes place. The characters and their emotions are real and relatable, even if the subject matter is both brooding and intense. A great choice for advanced middle school as well as mid-level high school readers, When I Was Joe is a fast-paced novel your students won’t likely be able to put down.
Want to know more?  Read these author interviews:

FYI: all the review copies for this title have been sent; please check back on the "comments" link to read what your colleagues have to say.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Extraordinary • YA fiction

Coming September 7th! Dial / Penguin Ages 12 and up
What does it mean to be extraordinary?  Find out in National Book Award Finalist Nancy Werlin's new book.
 Story: Phoebe finds herself drawn to Mallory, the strange and secretive new kid in school. Soon the two girls are as close as sisters . . . until Mallory’s magnetic older brother, Ryland, appears. Ryland has an immediate, exciting hold on Phoebe—but a dangerous hold, for she begins to question her feelings about her best friend and, worse, about herself.
Soon she’ll discover the shocking, fantastical truth about Ryland and Mallory, and about an age-old debt they expect Phoebe to pay. Will she be strong enough to resist? Will she be special enough to save herself?
In the vein of Nancy Werlin’s previous novel Impossible (featured here at the Picnic Basket), Extraordinary is a tale of friendship, romance, and the faerie realm.
Story behind the story:  Author Nancy Werlin shares the behind-the-scenes of how Extraordinary came to be:  "So, there I was, watching  the musical Wicked, and we’d gotten to the final scene where the two witches sing their goodbye duet to each: 

Like a stream that meets a boulder
Halfway through the wood
Who can say if I've been changed for the better?

By the time they got to “Because I knew you, I have been changed for good,” I was in tears. In my life, I too have experienced that hugely important friendship, and so I knew that I was witnessing that aim of all art: emotional truth.

But I left the theater also wondering why it was that so few books talk about women’s relationships and friendships in this way, acknowledging their developmental and emotional importance. I thought of how many books that are ostensibly for girls and women are really about their relationships with boys and men, and can’t even pass the Bechtel Test:

1.  It has to have at least two women in it
2.  Who talk to each other
3.  About something besides a man.

And I knew I wanted to try to write a book about an enormously important friendship between two girls, a friendship that would test them both to the very limits of themselves, and that would force them to grow, not just into maturity, but into a better version of themselves than they could ever have imagined, or achieved, on their own."  All I can say is, WOW!

Nancy's been good enough to supply us with additional resources such as:
- a video of a rehearsal of “For Good,” from a PBS documentary about Wicked, with Idina Menzel and Kristen Chenoweth.  Take a peek here:
- a link to more information about The Bechtel Test

- a reader's guide to EXTRAORDINARY 
- and a fascinating article on the behind-the-scenes of how book covers are designed.

A Top Ten IndieNext Pick, Autumn, 2010

·    "Medieval Jewish history, ethical questions, faeries, modern romance. Whew! In the hands of a less-talented author, this would be a hot mess. Happily, Werlin crafts her characters so deftly and unrolls the story so cleverly that readers will be under the spell till the end.” – Ilene Cooper, Booklist

FYI: all the review copies for this title have been sent; please check back on the "comments" link to read what your colleagues have to say.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Buddy Zooka: In the French Quarter and Beyond • Fiction

Buddy Zooka: In the French Quarter And Beyond
Just out!  June 2010  A Broken Levee Books title from Chin Music Press Ages 11 and up
"Dedicated to Mother Earth and all her keepers," Buddy’s story is both zany and contemplative, and the lessons learned are profound ones that resonate in New Orleans like nowhere else.
Story: Buddy Zooka brings the New Orleans French Quarter to life like no one since Ignatius Reilly.  Buddy is a happy-go-lucky young musician. But one day he goes fishing and catches an alligator, Mardi Gator, who quickly decides to take up residence in Buddy’s giant top hat. Thrown off his usual carefree routine, Buddy loses his smile and begins to take a closer look at his world, learning about humanity’s often-destructive effects on the environment. Buddy’s journey then turns inwards, as a colorful cast of characters show him how the secret to saving both his community and the planet resides within each of us.
Adding to the incredible storytelling, the book itself is beautifully designed to resemble a Ragtime-era paperback, complete with fake advertisements and French flaps. From the moment you pick it up, you know that you're in for something special. 
Story behind the story:  Author Tracey Tangerine is a singer, visual artist, author, and performer who has spent much of her time teaching in schools on the west bank of the Mississippi River. Tracey left New Orleans with her family the day before the levees broke on August 29, 2005, and settled briefly in Hillsboro, OR, where she began to write Buddy Zooka. She continued to write throughout her visit to Seattle, WA, relocation to Lafayette, LA, and upon her return to the Crescent City.  Tracey now teaches at Edna Karr High School in the Algiers Point neighborhood of New Orleans.

This September, the entire student body at Edna Karr High School will read Buddy Zooka together, and stage a musical based on the novel.

Tracey is available for readings and events in the New Orleans and Gulf Coast area.

Bookslut recently reviewed Buddy Zookabecause mind-blowing originality is such a precious commodity in the YA world in particular that it must be celebrated whenever a reviewer comes across it.” Reviewer Colleen Mondor continues, “this book is a wake-up call about the environment. But it never preaches or becomes didactic, and Tangerine clearly is more determined to paint an accurate picture of her home city’s quirkiness than anything else… Listed as “a novel for all ages,” it’s hard to know just exactly who is the best audience for Buddy Zooka, as it’s more about the reader then their age. You have to like your stories offbeat, and your characters larger than life, but even with those caveats, this is a very charming novel with an element of sweetness tempered by humor and occasional silliness (the hot sauce incident) that makes it broadly appealing. The design is also impressive -- Chin Music has gone out its way to give the book a vintage feel with everything from the cover illustration to end papers to closing “advertisements.” To say that Buddy Zooka will stand out on the shelves is an understatement, and further proof of just what an indie press has to offer that the big publishers (so fond of their black and purple photo illustrated covers) have yet to embrace.”

FYI: all the review copies for this title have been sent; please check back on the "comments" link to read what your colleagues have to say.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Scumble • Middle-grade fiction

by Ingrid Law
Coming soon - August 17th! Dial Books for Young Readers Ages 8-12
The companion to the Newbery Honor winner and New York Times Bestseller SAVVY!
Story:  A fantastic, All-American tall tale, SAVVY was a hit with audiences everywhere.  Ingrid Law's debut novel received a Newbery Honor and a Boston Globe-Horn Book Honor, was selected as an Al Roker's Book club title, and has appeared on 18 state award master lists (and still counting).  Now, the saga of the special-powered Beaumont clan continues in SCUMBLE.  In this family, every kid gets a special gift on their thirteenth birthday, and Ledger Kale comes into his right before the family reunion, but he isn't so certain that he likes his gift.  He wanted to have a savvy for speed, but Ledger's talent is a bit more unusual...and he can't go home until he learns to "scumble" with savvy.  Here, Law delivers another great homespun adventure and a magical read.
About the author: Ingrid Law has sold shoes, worked in a bookstore, helped other people get jobs, and assembled boxes for frozen eggplant burgers. She and her twelve-year-old daughter live in Boulder, Colorado, in a lovely old mobile home that they like to believe is a cross between a spaceship and a shoe box. They enjoy writing on its walls and painting on its ceiling, and have two harps, a flute, and a ukulele, as well as a fondness for muffins.

I think you'll find SCUMBLE an excellent choice for literature circle discussions, cross curricular learning and journaling prompts,  discussion guide.

If SCUMBLE interests you as much as I think it will, here are a few web extras:  discussion guide for both SCUMBLE and SAVVY featuring discussion questions, a Q&A with Ingrid Law, ideas on how to use the books in language arts classrooms and more; and a little video with Ingrid on WHY SHE LOVES MIDDLE GRADE.  Plus, maybe you'll get a chance to meet her when she visits CO, TX, OR and GA this fall.

"This companion to Newbery Honor Book Savvy (2008) provides the same high level of satisfying plot, delightful characters, alliterative language, and rich imagery....While adult readers will see this all as a beautiful conceptualization of the drama and metamorphosis of adolescence, younger readers will delight in the tall-tale tropes and Ledge’s authentic physical, emotional, and artistic challenges." -- Booklist, starred review

FYI: all the review copies for this title have been sent; please check back on the "comments" link to read what your colleagues have to say.