Archive for August, 2009

Sassy: Little Sister is Not My Name by Sharon Draper

Sassy: Little Sister is Not My NameEarly chapter book series with female main characters abound. They’re funny, they’re spunky, they’re sure of themselves, etc. What I have a hard time with, however, is that oftentimes they’re not realistic. I don’t mean that they’re fantasy (I love that, too), I just mean that they’re too over-the-top for me. I certainly don’t object to humor–in fact, I relish hilarious episodes–but sometimes I find that too much zaniness in a work of realistic fiction can be unsatisfying. Is the main character really that clueless? Is she really that precocious? Could anything that bizarre really happen to a 9-year-old?

Enter Sassy–she’s real. She’s also funny, smart, sure of herself, and has enough spunk to fill her sparkly Sassy Sack.  The problems she has–her family doesn’t take her seriously, she’s shorter than everyone else in her grade, she wishes her school uniform was more exciting–are the problems that a real 4th grader would face, and her reactions–albeit spunky–are those of a real 9 or 10 year old.  Sassy doesn’t try to save the world, or even her hometown, but this short story is charming; I highly recommend it.

Posted by: Sarah

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Martha Doesn’t Say Sorry by Samantha Berger

Martha Doesn't Say SorrySaying sorry is not always easy. In this new picture book the mischievous main character, Martha, learns that saying sorry isn’t so bad. After a particularly difficult day of doing things that were not so nice to her mother, father and little brother, Martha must find a way to make things better. Now the next time she does something not so nice she’ll know just what to say. Many readers will be able to identify with this charming new character.

Posted by: Liz

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Tails Are Not For Pulling by Elizabeth Verdick

Tails Are Not For PullingWhat do you do when your 2 ½ year old won’t stop pulling the cat’s tail? Well, if you are one smart cookie, you go to the library and look for a book to explain in a positive way why this is definitely NOT a good idea. That is what one parent did and reminded me of a great little board book series about behavior. It is called the Best Behavior Series and includes books on a variety of subjects relevant to little ones learning about their world. The series includes: Feet Are Not for Kicking, Germs Are Not for Sharing, Hands Are Not for Hitting, Pacifiers are Not Forever, Teeth Are Not for Biting, and Words Are Not for Hurting.

These little board books are colorful and teach BIG lessons in a simple way without being “preachy” or negative. Really a wonderful resource for parents, teachers, and caregivers – and librarians!

Posted by: Mary

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Kaleidoscope Eyes by Jennifer Bryant

Kaleidoscope EyesWho has never dreamed of finding buried treasure? When the summer of 1966 started it was the last thing the 13-year-old Lyza would have dreamt possible. But, in fact, that’s how she spent most days—and nights–of her summer vacation.

At the end of the school year, things on Lyza’s homefront looked pretty bleak. Her mother had moved out and “disappeared.” Her father was working extra jobs and was never home and her older sister, Denise, what with her fixation on Janis Joplin, women’s rights and protesting the war in Vietnam, well, don’t even go there. Then, the final blow came with the sudden death of her beloved Gramps—a lover of all things nautical– who left Lyza with an empty place in her heart and a BIG SECRET.

Feeling abandoned by her family, Lyza knows she’s lucky to have the support of her two best friends, Malcolm and Carolann. Like the small boats Gramps loved to sail, they pull together to weather the storms of racial tension, family stress, the effects of the Vietnam war on their small New Jersey town and, most importantly, how to hide a very big hole that just might contain a chest buried long ago by none other than the infamous Captain Kidd, himself. Is it the real thing, diamonds, rubies and gold coins? Or is it a false lead, nothing but a hunk of rusting iron? The metal detector Gramps left as a part of a mystery package for Lyza says there’s definitely something down at the bottom of the hole. Doubloons or no doubloons, in the end Lyza learns that family and friends are the real treasure.

Bryant has chosen to tell Lyza’s story in free verse which makes for interesting reading. Some of the poems are four pages long while others are four lines. The poetic form allows Bryant to emphasize words and phrases which enhance the reading without bogging it down. Poetry rather than prose also allows Bryant to weave the strain within Lyza’s family and community with the action, adventure and excitement of the treasure hunt into a readable, satisfying story which like the separate pieces of glass in Lyza’s kaleidoscope fall together into a surprising, wonderful image.

Posted by: Eileen

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From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg

From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. FrankweilerIf you ever thought about running away from home you probably wouldn’t think about escaping to an art museum. But Claudia planned her adventure very carefully and thought that the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art would be the perfect place to stay to get away from the sameness and injustices of her home and family life. Ever practical, she talked her brother, Jamie, into going with her because he had more money than she did. Their escapades and the mystery of the Angel statue (Is it a Michelangelo?) will interest readers young and old.

Posted by: Iris

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Special! An Interview With Author Beverly Patt

Beverly Patt is a debut author with two books coming out within the next year: Haven, and Best Friends Forever: a WWII Scrapbook. We’re thrilled that she was able to answer our questions, and we’re equally thrilled to be able to share them with you.

Have you always wanted to be a writer?

Actually, no. My best classes in school were math and science! Go figure. I did love to write but never received much positive feedback until college, where I had to write an autobiography for a Psych class. After that, several friends commented how much they loved my letters because they could hear my voice in them. Those two experiences made me think I may have some writing talent after all!

When did you start writing?

Other than the self-indulgent, moody, nobody-understands-me teenager type of poetry? Well, that would be about 18 years ago, after the birth of my first child. I took a correspondence course, believe it or not, on writing for children through the Institute of Children’s Literature. Their advertisements are hokey but the classes are very rich. I learned a lot about the craft of writing and the business of writing as well.

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

I was a special education teacher so if I had to go back to work, I could teach. However, I used to think I’d enjoy being an emergency room nurse! I’m okay with blood and I like fast paced, exciting work. Now that I’m older, though, that sounds too exhausting!

What advice would you give to young writers?

Besides the typical ‘read everything in the genre you’re interested in and even some you’re not’ I guess I’d tell young writers not to be snobs. By that, I recall myself as a new writer thinking, “I don’t want to write for magazines”(insert sneer here), “I only want to write books!” Well, yeah. And guess what? So do about a bajillion other people, which is one of the reasons so many publishing houses are closing their doors to un-agented work. Because EVERYONE thinks they can write a children’s book!

One assignment in the ICL class I took was to write a 500-word nonfiction article and then study the market and name three possible places to submit it. I did the assignment, probably rolling my eyes the whole time. After critiquing it, my teacher urged me to submit my article for real, which I did. And guess what? It was rejected! That was probably the best thing that could have happened to me. I was shocked. And humbled. And motivated to sell that sucker! I did finally sell it and I went on to write about 75 more magazine stories and articles. I learned a ton in writing for magazines and I’m sure I would not be the writer I am today had I not. It was a very strong foundation.

What is the hardest part of writing a book?

For me, it’s plot, or actually, revising plot. I tend to get a little dramatic in my first draft and throw in lots of curves – “Ooo! I’ll do THIS! And then I’ll do THAT!” It can kind of read like a really bad soap opera. So, in revising I try to tame the drama without getting boring or convoluted. This is where a few trusted critique partners who don’t pull punches are worth their weight in chocolate.

Can you tell us a little bit about the plots of your upcoming books?

Ooo! Can I change my last answer? Summarizing plots of my books is the hardest part of writing a book!!

Ok, here goes nothing:

HAVEN (Blooming Tree Press, Fall 2009) 14-year-old Rudy Morris would love nothing more than to own an ATV to help him escape his claustrophobic family once in a while. Ward-of-the-state Latonya would be happy to merely have a family to escape from. And Stark? Well, he just likes to fix stuff. All three have secrets. All three have dreams. And all three have ideas about race, family and friendship that get put to the test. Toss one beat-up, forgotten ATV into the mix and you’ve got a runaway plan that may be headed for disaster. Or even worse–success.

BEST FRIENDS FOREVER: A WWII SCRAPBOOK (Marshall Cavendish, Spring 2010) After WWII begins, best friends Louise Kessler and Dottie Masuoka are separated, Dottie moving to a Japanese Internment camp, and Louise remaining home in their native Seattle. Louise decides to keep a scrapbook for her friend, to document all that went on in her absence. She includes the letters and sketches Dottie sends from Camp Harmony, which tell a very different experience of the same war. Both girls grapple with prejudice, culture and the true meaning of friendship. Artwork includes 1940s memorabilia, photos, sketches, letters – think “Amelia’s Notebook” series with a more serious and historical twist.

Do you base any of your plots on happenings from your own childhood?

Not so far, no.

If not, what inspired you to write them?

HAVEN came out of a time in my young adult life where my husband and I became licensed foster parents but then were denied several needy children because we were white and they were Black or Hispanic. It made me very sad and angry. This is what happens to Latonya in HAVEN. She’s tired of waiting around for an available Black family so she decides to take charge of her life and run away from her endless string of group homes. She enlists Rudy to help her, tempting him with the promise of his own ATV (All Terrain Vehicle) if he agrees.

BEST FRIENDS FOREVER started with a memory from my mother’s childhood, actually. She was a little girl in California when the owners of the local dry cleaners just vanished one day. Much later, my mother realized this family, who also happened to be Japanese, had been sent to the internment camps because of the war.

I had never been taught in school about the internment camps and thought it was something every child should know. The more I learned in my research, the more interested and incensed I became. In the book, the photo of Louise is actually my mom and the book is dedicated to her memory.

Do you have any ideas for new books right now?

Well…can you keep a secret? Ha. I’m revising a novel that deals with the fine line between cultural superstitions and religion and how one Thai girl deals with it. I also have a magical short story I wrote years ago I’ve been thinking about dusting off and rewriting as a novel. And I always have a handful of humorous picture book manuscripts I keep trying to perfect.

Did you like to read when you were a kid?

Love, love, loved it. I read everywhere, all the time, even while brushing my teeth. My love of reading and books is really why I started writing. As a teacher, I would read to my class and I’m not sure who enjoyed it more! Many of my students came from very deprived and sometimes depraved circumstances. I liked to give them the gift of escaping into a story and imagining better outcomes for their own lives.

What kind of books?

I loved stories where something magical happened, like Half Magic or A Wrinkle in Time. I was also a nut about Nancy Drew Mysteries. There was a shop in town I’d visit frequently just to drool over the rows of yellow-and-blue-spined books spanning their shelves.

Who is your favorite author or book?

Impossible question to answer! As a child, my favorite book was Me and Caleb, winner of the 1962 Charles W. Follett Award for Best Children’s literature. I’ve also read it as an adult and, unlike many books I’ve ‘revisited’ this was just as funny and sweet and heart wrenching as I remembered.

A few books I have enjoyed most recently are The Willoughbys (hysterical!) Postcards from Nowhere (sweetly powerful!) and Savvy (captivating and imaginative!). I also study books like Bridge to Terabithia to try to pinpoint how the author got us to care so deeply about their characters.

What are your hobbies when you aren’t writing?

I took up tennis just this past summer and I’m possessed! I also like to knit, plant flowers (though I’m not too great on the watering part;) and to plan vacations for my family. I’m also nuts about making soup from scratch. I’m about 1/5 of the way through The New England Soup Factory Cookbook and still going strong. I highly recommend the recipe for Roasted Tomato and Rice Soup!

Thanks again to Beverly Patt! Visit Beverly Patt and other debut authors at
Read about their paths to publication on their blog, enter contests to win free mg and ya novels, download some book-related recipes or even snag a few reader’s guides for your book club!

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Go Away, Big Green Monster by Ed Emberley

Go Away, Big Green MonsterIf big green monsters scare you, you need this book. He may be scary, but You can make him go away. First he appears, part by art, then, you can make him disappear forever. A fun, simple book that is great for laughter and banishing fears.

Posted by: Kate

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Thirty Days Has September: Cool Ways to Remember Stuff by Chris Stevens

Thirty Days Has SeptemberWay back when I was in elementary school I learned something that was so cool. It was a clever way to remember how to spell the word arithmetic. A Rat In The House Might Eat The Ice Cream. From that day on I have never misspelled that word. I also learned the famous little ditty about the days of the months which I unabashedly admit I still sing in my head when trying to remember how many days there are in certain months. So, of course I was drawn to Thirty Days Has September: Cool Ways to Remember Stuff.

This book is chock full of little tricks and mnemonics (memory devices) to help someone (me!) remember useful bits of information. There are chapters on spelling, history, geography and math. Certainly there are far too many little rhymes for anyone to remember, but, nonetheless they make for entertaining reading. I would venture to guess that the reader may find something that stays with him forever. Such as:

My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Noodles. (the planets in order of their distance from the sun – Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune) OR
We Just Like Rushmore (an easy way to remember the presidents at Mount Rushmore – Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, Roosevelt).

Posted by: Wendy

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Mama’s Saris by Pooja Makhijani

Mama's SarisAs little girls, we all dreamed of dressing up just like our moms, in her fancy clothes and shiny jewelry. We can recall every event and every dress she wore—the way the sunlight hit the outfit just so, the way the color of her shirt made her eyes dance. Pooja Makhijani’s bright and sentimental Mama’s Saris tells this very story—a birthday girl helps her mother choose a sari, clothes that she only wears now on special occasions. The little girl pleads to be able to wear a sari of her own, citing all the reasons why 7 is grown up. Will Mama relent and let her wear a special sari? If so, what one will the little girl pick? Follow along as the little girl’s eyes shine with the excitement of seeing the brilliant colors and smooth silk and as she recalls the events that prompted its wearing.

Mama’s Saris is both a subtle introduction to an Indian-American family (there are some Hindi words used but they are explained in a glossary) and an adorable glimpse into a playful mother-daughter relationship.

Posted by: Cindy

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Cat Among the Pigeons: a Cat Royal Mystery by Julia Golding

Cat Among the PigeonsCat is an orphan who has been adopted by the people in the Royal Theater in London in the 1890’s. She earns her keep by helping with the productions. Another child, Pedro, has recently become an actor at the theater and is getting rave reviews as Ariel in Shakespeare’s Tempest. Pedro was a slave and his owner is trying to reclaim him and take him back to the West Indies. Cat, her friends and the members of an abolitionist group are fighting to keep him free. Cat comes in conflict with the man who is trying to take Pedro and also with a criminal who has been hired to help make this happen. This story starts a little slowly but picks up speed and Cat is a brave heroine who keeps her head in many dangerous situations. An interesting historical novel for readers in 5th through 8th grades.

Posted by: Fran W.

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