Archive for May, 2009

Get Real! A Non-Fiction Video Book Review

Welcome back to Get Real!  Our monthly non-fiction video book review.  This month we’re reviewing Tsunami, a book so great that we had to make a video about it, even though we’ve already posted a written review.

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Along Came Spider by James Preller

Along Came a SpiderSpider , nicknamed because he climbed the climbing wall like a spider, is in 5th grade and he is beginning to be popular because of his basketball ability. Boys who have ignored him before have begun to ask him to play and invite him over to their houses. Until now, his best friend has been Trey, his next door neighbor. They grew up together and have always played together. But Trey is not being accepted by the other boys because he is odd. Trey picks odd times to sharpen his pencils, he blurts information out in class, sometimes he goes into his own little world and can’t be reached and he definitely can’t play team sports. Not just because he isn’t athletic but because he doesn’t get it. Spider isn’t sure how to handle this. He likes Trey but he needs other friends and activities. He finally tells Trey that Trey needs to have more friends, at least two more and Trey sets out to do this with surprising results.

Spider is really kind-hearted for a 5th grade boy but he is also a regular guy. One of his favorite classes is the writer’s workshop and he finally is able to express himself by writing about the kids in his class and illustrating his ideas with cartoons. I’m sorry this book wasn’t illustrated like Diary of a Wimpy Kid. Anyway, it is a nice story about friendship and fitting in and loyalty and there is a little come-uppance in the end for one of the mean jocks. All those Diary of a Wimpy Kid readers would do well with reading this book too.

Posted by: Fran W.

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So You Want to Be a Wizard by Diane Duane

So You Want to Be a WizardWould you really want to be a wizard so you could solve your problems with a magic spell or two? Or would you rather read about how Nita, a bullied 13 year old girl, and Kit, whose Spanish accent brought on bullies, learned how to be wizards. While trying to solve their problems with their spells they discovered many more problems in a broken down parallel universe of New York City. Their adventures range from scary to funny, especially when Fred, the white hole, tries to help. Middle school students who like this book will be glad to know that there are seven more books in Diane Duane’s Young Wizards Series: Deep Wizardry, High Wizardry, A Wizard Abroad, A Wizard’s Dilemma, A Wizard Alone, Wizard’s Holiday, and Wizards at War.

Posted by: Iris

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The River Between Us by Richard Peck

The River Between UsSet during the early days of the Civil War, twins Noah and Tilly Pruitt live in Grand Tower, Illinois, right off of the Mississippi River with their mother and their younger sister, Cass, who sees visions. Noah really wants to go fight in the Civil War for the North. This part of Illinois was very divided—some of the boys want to fight for the “secesh” and some want to fight for the North. Then, a steamboat coming from New Orleans brings Delphine and her slave? Servant? Calinda to Grand Tower. Noah and Tilly’s mother takes in Delphine and Calinda as boarders. Delphine upturns everything in the Pruitt’s household and the whole town. Noah leaves to fight when he and Tilly turn 16. Tilly’s mother, already depressed and angry that her husband hasn’t come back home for three years, commands Tilly to bring Noah back home. Tilly and Delphine set out for Cairo, Illinois, to find Noah and bring him back. They are successful, but not without consequences.

I listened to the book on CD and the narrator easily switches between Tilly’s southern Midwest voice and Delphine’s New Orleans-French accent. I wanted to look up these downstate Illinois places on a map so I could see where the author was talking about; they do exist. This is just a slice of Civil War times and a very realistic coming-of-age story.

Posted by: Lori

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Special! An Interview with Author Sally Walker

Sally Walker, author of Written in Bone, Secrets of a Civil War Submarine, Fossil Fish Found Alive, and other exciting books, graciously agreed to an interview. We’re excited to share her answers to our questions.

Have you always wanted to be a writer? When did you start writing?

Actually, I have always wanted to be a children’s book writer. I can remember telling my parents that I wanted to write books when I grew up. It has always been children’s books, though writing wasn’t something I started doing as a career, though, until 21 years ago.

If you weren’t a writer, what your job be?

An archaeologist, or an extremely talented musician, or a Caldecott medal-worthy illustrator. The last two professions I am tremendously unqualified to be, but I’m wishing here! My first real choice if I weren’t a writer would be to be an even better writer.

What advice would you give to young writers?

Read as often as you can, on a wide variety of topics. The more you read, the better you will write. Besides, reading is fun!

What is the hardest part of writing a book?

Thinking up the title. I do not like doing that. After that, it’s knowing when to stop adding too much information. Fortunately, my editors have all had red pencils with everlasting sharp points.

What is it about nonfiction that draws you, as opposed to writing novels or picture books, for instance?

My love of learning for all kinds of topics. I am referring to the kind of learning that we all feel for topics that we are passionate about. The kinds of things where we go to the library or the Internet and start looking for information just because the subject intrigues and fascinates us. Like fish, gravestones, or funny, hairless cats.

Your books have such unexpected subjects—where do you get your ideas?

My ideas come from many different places: newspapers, T.V. shows, museums, friends, family, my neighborhood, teachers, librarians, historical places, graveyards, looking at earth, watching my pets. . . .

Do you have any ideas for new books right now?

I always have ideas. As a matter of fact, my agent is always telling me to slow down, that I have enough on my plate. I have a file in my drawer that is labeled: Future Book Possibilities. It’s overflowing.

Do you travel to certain places to do research for your books—South Carolina for Secrets of the Civil War Submarine, or Maryland for Written in Bone—or do you do it all from home?

Whenever it’s remotely possible, I try to see my “characters” in person. For the submarine book, I went to South Caroline and Washington D. C.; for Written in Bone, I went to Virginia, D.C., and Maryland. I’m working on a book now, but most likely won’t get to visit the area, for environmental reasons, distance, etc. But I have lots of friends who work there, and they are generously sharing their experiences with me.

What’s the strangest fact that you’ve learned when researching a book?

That no one has managed to figure out where baby Coelacanths live. We think we know everything. I am always delighted to discover that we don’t!

Did you like to read when you were a kid? What kind of books?

I loved to read when I was a kid!!!!! And still do!!!!! I read horse books, mysteries, dog books, stories about Robin Hood, stories about Native Americans, and Dr. Seuss.

Who is your favorite author or book?

My faves included: Nancy Drew, The Happy Hollisters, Farley’s Black Stallion books, Henry’s Misty of Chincoteague books, Albert Payson Terhune’s dog books, and Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories. I still love Green Eggs and Ham.

What are your hobbies when you aren’t writing?

Reading, especially mysteries and sci-fi, gardening until my fingers hurt (and then sitting back and admiring my work), eating potato chips, and hiking. And daydreaming.

Do you have any subjects that you’ve always wanted to write about, but haven’t?

I would like to write a novel for middle grade readers, but I don’t know how. It seems like it would be very hard work. And for the moment, I’m having too much fun writing nonfiction. But someday, when I grow up, I may give it a try.

Thanks so much to Sally Walker, for her time and her incredibly interesting responses! You can visit Sally at, to learn more about her and her books.

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Barak Obama: Son of Promise, Child of Hope by Nikki Grimes

Barak Obama: Son of Promise, Child of HopeIf you do not have time to read Barack Obama’s memoir, take a look at this wonderful non-fiction picture book. It is written for children using Barack Obama’s memoir Dreams from My Father as a primary source. Nikki Grimes takes some artistic license with the story, but includes the important details from now President Barack Obama’s life and provides some additional insight into his motivation and philosophy about life. The book provides some little known facts (at least to me) about his life, including information about his mother’s second husband named Lolo. It is written in a way that children can relate to, with a side story of a young boy having a conversation with his mom asking questions such as “What is hope, Mama?”. The book includes an informative timeline of important dates and ends with Barack Obama claiming the Democratic nomination for president. This would really be good in a classroom or with your own child, since even little ones have a sense that something big happened when our country elected President Obama.

Posted by: Mary

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The Goodbye Time by Celeste Conway

The Goodbye TimeFifth graders Katie and Anna are best friends who are inseparable. They spend every day after school playing a fantasy game that involves talking in English accents and pretending that to be a rock star and his family. Their own real families are as different as night and day.

Anna has a happy family that includes a stylish mother, a friendly father and a genius older brother. Katie’s family includes a busy single mom, a loner older sister and a mentally disabled brother.

As graduation approaches, the girls are excited about parties and dresses. They wonder what it will be like in middle school. They soon discover, though, that middle school won’t be the only change they each must face. Change can certainly be scary, even with an understanding friend by your side – and sometimes an understanding friend isn’t even enough.

Posted by: Wendy

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