Thursday, March 24, 2022

Wave - a review - 3.24.22

When you think about waves, lots of visuals may come to your mind.  The waves in the ocean - at times quiet, other times volatile.  Maybe you think of sound waves hitting your ears as you listen to music that makes you want to move.  Movement is key to waves, and that is kind of what life is, right?  It's constantly moving.  Sometimes it's quiet, other times volatile.  Sometimes it makes you move, sometimes it can move you to tears.  This book is all of that and more.

by Diana Farid
published by cameron kids
publishes March 29, 2022

I'll give it to you straight.  This is a beautiful, but heartbreaking story.  There were tears.  But it's a story that will live inside me for awhile.  This is absolutely the middle grade story I would have loved to read as a middle schooler - first love, beautiful friendships, and a story that makes you feel deep into your heart.
We meet Ava in this story.  It's the 1980s, Ava is a Persian American living in SoCal with her single mother, father is in Paris... somewhere with his new family.  Ava has a beautiful soul, but she is a character that also has flaws.  She definitely has some OCD tendencies that interrupt her day.  She also can be full of self doubt and needs reassurance from those around her.  Ava loves surfboarding and music.  She enjoys being with her BFF, Naz, who is also Persian American and understands what it's like having two feet in two cultures.  Ava's other longtime BFF, Phoenix, lives across the way and she's known him forever.  Ava's been friends with him through his bout with lymphoma, and is just becoming aware of some new feelings she has for him.  But when Phoenix's lymphoma comes back with a vengeance, Ava really learns what it means to ride the waves.
This beautiful story is told in verse with gorgeous bold line drawings by artist Kris Goto sprinkled through the pages.  I could sense the additional movement through the illustrations that come with the lyrical words.  I love the choice of it being a novel in verse because it flows so well with the idea of waves and Ava's love of music.  The different 80s music references and mixtape playlists that are included at the end of the story are perfect for the way this story reads.  It is also infused with poetry by the great Persian poet, Rumi, and they add another layer of thought into the storyline.
I highly recommend this book for middle school libraries.  This novel in verse will reach so many readers and the way it delves into the reader's heart will make it a book that will be passed around by readers!

More about author Diana Farid:
Diana Farid is the author of When You Breathe, named a 2021 Notable Poetry Book by the National Council of Teachers of English; it was also awarded the California Reading Association's 2021 EUREKA! Gold Award for nonfiction children's book.  She is a poet and a physician at Stanford University.  Wave is her first middle grade novel.  For more information, visit

Twitter and Instagram: @_artelixir

Thank you to Barbara at Blue Slip Media and cameron kids publishing for the review copy!

Wednesday, March 23, 2022

Bobcat Prowling - a review - 3.23.22

I bet you have some touchstone texts that you use year after year.  Those mentor texts that have more than just the story inside the cover in them.  One of mine is Coyote Moon by Maria Gianferrari.  We use it every year and I love how the story and the information draws in readers with every read.  Now the creators are back with another story that I'm sure will be a new favorite!

Bobcat Prowling by Maria Gianferrari
Bobcat Prowling
written by Maria Gianferrari
illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline
published by Roaring Brook Press

This time we follow Yearling Bobcat.  He's just been pushed out of his territory by his mother because it's time for her to mate and raise a new litter.  Yearling must find his own territory now.  As he travels the area, multiple children get a view of Yearling as he hunts for food and searches for a new home.  Similar to Coyote Moon, we learn about an animal's hunting style, predators of the animal, and how the animal lives.  There is excitement as we hope Yearling finds something to eat, yet also hope the prey gets to see another day!  After some time, Yearling is now an adult Bobcat, and we eventually get to see him find his own territory (and a meal)!

I love Gianferrari's lyrical tone to these books.  While readers are gaining lots of information, you can't help but be enthralled with the way the words seem to dance as you read.

Ibatoulline's illustrations are just fantastic.  Readers always note the realistic drawings, and they really do feel like you can reach in and touch the animal's silky, soft fur!

I think one of my favorite parts of these books is in the backmatter.  Gianferrari adds an "All About" section that contains some fascinating facts and information!  Each fact adds to something Gianferrari has in the main text - for example, we know Yearling stays with his mom for a certain amount of time, but in this section Gianferrari tells us that yearlings (1-2 year old bobcats) typically leave their mother anywhere from nine months to two years old.  Of course my favorite fact is when Gianferrari asks us what a bobcat's favorite activity is?  It's inactivity!  Sometimes that doesn't seem like such a bad idea!

Within the first several pages, I thought we were going to learn more about the mother bobcat and her child.  But very quickly, we end up learning that we would be following Yearling's story.  I thought that was a great choice and asked Maria to tell us more about it.  Welcome, Maria!

A few years ago I gave a workshop on revision at my then local SCBWI chapter in Maryland. One of the ways I invited attendees to think about revising their projects was in terms of theme—what are the themes that they frequently explore, and how can amplifying those themes enrich their current WIPs? 

For me, the idea of home—as a place of comfort and safety, as a feeling of calm and community, is one which threads throughout all of my projects, both fiction and nonfiction. When I began to write the manuscript, I knew that having a young bobcat main character who’s searching for a home would blend drama, excitement, tension, and that finding that space would be the ultimate satisfying resolution, so it made sense to tell the story from the yearling’s perspective. In fact, the working title of the book was A Home for Bobcat, though during the revision process we decided to make it more active to emphasize the search for home, and prey, and to have it complement its companion predator books, Hawk Rising and Coyote Moon.

I love hearing more from an author.  It always gives me a new perspective of the story.  Framing it by the idea of home makes so much sense.  I need another read now to think about that theme that runs through the story!

Thank you so much for stopping by!  I hope you pick up a copy of Bobcat Prowling for your readers!

More about author, Maria Gianferrari:
Maria Gianferrari is a community scientist, self-taught naturalist, and bird nerd who holds an M.A. in Creative Writing and a Ph.D. in English. She is the author of narrative nonfiction picture books which celebrate urban ecosystems, the natural world and our wild neighbors. She also writes engaging expository nonfiction. And as a lover of dogs, Maria’s fiction picture books star dogs as main characters and explore the human-canine bond. She writes from her light-filled, book-lined study in Massachusetts with rescue dog, Maple at her side.

Would you like to win a copy of Bobcat Prowling?  Maria Gianferrari and Roaring Brook Press have generously offered a copy for giveaway (US Residents only).  Winner will be selected on Wednesday, March 30th.

Wednesday, March 16, 2022

Women's History Month, part 3 - 3.16.22

Welcome to the third and last Women's History Month post!
Don't miss:

Today we're focusing on space and food!

Like a Diamond in the Sky: Jane Taylor’s Beloved Poem of Wonder and the Stars
Like a Diamond in the Sky:
Jane Taylor's Beloved Poem of Wonder and the Stars
written by Elizabeth Brown
illustrated by Becca Stadtlander
I think "Twinkle, twinkle little star" is probably one of the first songs I sang to my daughter when she was born.  This is the story of the author of that song, that was first published as a poem.  Jane Taylor was always attracted to the stars and poems seemed to be all around her.  But in a time when women were not published, both Jane and her sister had to publish under pen names.  Not one to give up, Jane continued writing her entire life, eventually being able to see her name in print!

How to Hear the Universe: Gaby González and the Search for Einstein's Ripples in Space-Time
How to Hear the Universe:
Gaby Gonzalez and the Search for Einstein's Ripples in Space-Time
written by Patricia Valdez
illustrated by Sara Palacios
What a fantastic STEM book for Women's History Month!  We've all heard of Einstein and his work on gravity, which is actually based on movement through space and time.  He also wondered about ripples - specifically if colliding stars could create ripples in space-time.  It wasn't until fifty years later that young Gaby Gonzalez started wondering about stars and space.  Years later, with her work on a machine named LIGO, and with other scientists, did she prove that these ripples do exist!
Written by the author of Joan Procter, Dragon Doctor, Patricia Valdez, and illustrated by one of my favorites, Sara Palacio, this book is a joy to read.

Blast Off!: How Mary Sherman Morgan Fueled America Into Space
Blast Off! How Mary Sherman Morgan Fueled America Into Space
written by Suzanne Slade
illustrated by Sally Wern Comport
I love that we are hearing so many amazing women who are actually behind so many science accomplishments!  Who knew that the rocket fuel that astronauts and rocket scientists relied on was actually concocted by a woman?  Yup, it was Mary Sherman Morgan who worked at all the equations needed to put this dangerous, yet needed, fuel together. 
I love the illustrations by Sally Wern Comport, they absolutely radiate the feel from that time period!

Now on to the foodies!

Born Hungry: Julia Child Becomes "the French Chef"
Born Hungry: Julia Child Becomes "the French Chef"
written by Alex Prud'homme
illustrated by Sarah Green
I apparently did not know anything about Julia Child!  I thought she was French, had no idea she was American!  I also thought being a chef was something she just always was.  I loved learning more about this dynamic woman!  Although I still don't think there is any hope for me becoming a cook in my later years :)

Alice Waters Cooks Up a Food Revolution
Alice Waters Cooks Up a Food Revolution
written by Diane Stanley
illustrated by Jessie Hartland
If you've ever had your own garden, you know first of all the taste of your food is so different than what you get at the store.  You also know that the food lasts way longer; it's definitely more fresh!
All of these facts are things Alice Waters discovers.  And when she travels and lives and studies in France, Alice finds out this is how the French always eat.  When she gets back to California, it takes a few years of figuring things out, but eventually she opens her own French restaurant.  Filling it with people who want to be there and try new things, her restaurant blossoms and then thrives.  Alice eventually travels to local farms and starts buying produce that is fresh and serving whatever she has on hand - just like when she was younger and just like in France.
Definitely a fun book for the foodies in your school!

Hope you have found some new books over the past three weeks to share with readers this month.  Let's go mighty women and continue to learn and grow!

Wednesday, March 9, 2022

Women's History Month, part 2 - 3.09.22

It's Women's History Month!  What stories are you sharing with readers?
Last week I shared the book Breaking Through the Clouds which features the first woman meteorologist, Joanne Simpson.  It's a great book to share this month.  Here are 5 more picture book biographies featuring some amazing women in history.

Revolutionary Prudence Wright: Leading the Minute Women in the Fight for Independence
Revolutionary Prudence Wright: 
Leading the Minute Women in the Fight for Independence
written by Beth Anderson
illustrated by Susan Reagan
A story I had not heard and I absolutely stood up and cheered for this brave woman!  Talk about cheering on a mighty woman, everyone needs to hear the story of Prudence Wright.  A woman who helped on all fronts - by doing work that was expected of a woman during the time of the Revolutionary War and rising up and doing whatever was needed - whether it was considered gender appropriate or not - to help fight for the independence our country needed.
Great research information in the backmatter.  Don't miss it.

To the Front! by Claudia Friddell
To the Front! Clara Barton  Braves the Battle of Antietam
written by Claudia Friddell
illustrated by Christopher Cyr
I've read books about Clara Barton, but I think most of them focus on her starting the American Red Cross.  This particular book focuses on how she helped the wounded at the Battle of Antietam during the Civil War.
Something that stands out about this book is how it was written.  Friddell writes half of the narrative in repetitive lines poetry.  The other half is Barton's own words.  Friddell tells us at the beginning that Barton's own words are written in specific colors and are italicized.  This is important because so many picture book biographies that have spoken lines that are fabricated or imagined, which really makes the book historical fiction.
Backmatter that gives even more information about the life of Barton.

Ida B. Wells, Voice of Truth: Educator, Feminist, and Anti-Lynching Civil Rights Leader
Ida B. Wells, Voice of Truth
written by Michelle Duster
illustrated by Laura Freeman
I was fortunate to listen to author Michelle Duster talk about her great-grandmother, Ida B. Wells.  This story is a fantastic picture book biography that shows the reader that there are many ways to use your voice to affect change.  Ida B. Wells used spoken word and written word.  She also acted and always tried to create change for equality for all.

Nellie vs. Elizabeth: Two Daredevil Journalists' Breakneck Race Around the World
Nellie vs. Elizabeth: Two Daredevil Journalists' Breakneck Race Around the World
written by Kate Hannigan
illustrated by Rebecca Gibbon
I am sure I've heard this story before but it played out with more suspense in this fun picture book!  I loved how Hannigan really laid out the difference in the two women's personalities and how they took on this race.  It's a great compare and contrast story!

Because Claudette
Because Claudette
written by Tracey Baptiste
illustrated by Tonya Engel
When we think about the bus boycott in Montgomery, AL, we usually think about Rosa Parks.  However, before Rosa refused to give up her seat, there were others who did it first, including Claudette Colvin, who was only 15 years old.  Ms. Colvin, as young as she was, ended up having a big part of the boycott.  Not only did she help it begin, but she participated in it, and even participated in court proceedings about it.  
I really liked the cause-effect structure of this book.

When the Schools Shut Down: A Young Girl's Story of Virginia's Lost Generation and the Brown V. Board of Education of Topeka Decision
When the Schools Shut Down:
A Young Girl's Story of Virginia's "Lost Generation" and the Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka Decision
written by Yolanda Gladden, as told to Dr. Tamara Pizzoli
illustrated by Keisha Morris
This is Yolanda Gladden's account of her family's history that leads up to the Brown v. Board of Education decision and how it ended up affecting her once she was school-aged.  For five years, the public schools in her county, Prince Edward County in Virginia, closed down rather than integrate the schools.  Yolanda continued learning in church basements, people's homes, and other community-created Black schools.  Finally, the Supreme Court determined the shutdown was unconstitutional and ordered all schools to reopen.

All of these picture book biographies would be perfect to use this month!  

Wednesday, March 2, 2022

Women's History Month - featuring Meteorologist Joanne Simpson - 3.02.22

Breaking Through the Clouds:
The Sometimes Turbulent Life of Meteorologist Joanne Simpson
written by Sandra Nickel
illustrated by Helena Perez Garcia
published by Abrams Books for Young Readers

When you think about women who have made a difference in our world, there are some adjectives that just don't fit:  quiet, demure, follower.  Take Joanne Simpson.  In her own words she would have said, you have to be stubborn.

I found the world "turbulent" in the subheading of this book to be so interesting.  That's, of course, a word I use to describe something that is unpredictable, something that might shake things up.  But after reading this picture book biography, I understand why that word was selected.  Take the very first line of the book, "By the time Joanne was five, she had discovered her mother didn't much care where she was."  This tumultuous relationship continued and left Joanne with alone time, often spent in her boat or flying a small plane, getting lost in the clouds.  Clouds became Joanne's obsession and lead her to her adult career.  Studying under renown meteorologist Carl-Gustaf Rossby. Joanne got a "crash course" in meteorology and then taught officers getting ready to fight in WWII.  However, she still wanted to know more about those clouds.  

Joanne had to make many concessions in order to continue her studies, but finally after a breakthrough study of cumulus clouds, Joanne received her doctorate of meteorology.  

You would think that would be enough to convince everyone to always give Joanne a chance, but this was the 1950s, which meant Joanne still had to persuade and convince, in other words be stubborn, in order to continue to learn and study.  It seemed that every time she figured something out, her plans were shot down.  Up and down.  But like cumulus clouds that keep returning, so did Joanne.  Finally, she was able to convince Rossby to allow her to have access to his large computers and she was able to complete a cloud model that scientists were able to use that now give us the terminology we hear on weather reports today: "partly sunny skies, showers in the morning, expect blue skies in the afternoon."

I enjoyed the backmatter and gaining additional information about Joanne's life in the author's note and included photographs.  There is a timeline that helps readers visually plot out some of Joanne's greatest achievements.  Also included is a selected bibliography.

Whether you have students studying the weather or you want to turn the spotlight on someone new for Women's History Month, Joanne Simpson would be an excellent person to study!

Thank you to Barbara at Blue Slip Media for the review copy!

More about author Sandra Nickel:

Sandra Nickel says that story ideas are everywhere; you just have to reach out and grab them.  She holds an MFA in writing for children and young adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Her first book, Nacho’s Nachos: The Story Behind the World’s Favorite Snack, was awarded a Christopher Award and was a Golden Kite Award finalist. Sandra lives in Chexbres, Switzerland, where she blogs about children’s book writers and illustrators at To learn more, visit


Twitter:  @senickel

Facebook: @sandranickelbooks

Instagram: @sandranickelbooks


Check out the trailer and other cool resources here!

Tuesday, March 1, 2022

Middle Grade books that build stamina, part 2 - 3.01.22

I am a reader.  I love reading.  I've seen myself as a reader for as long as I can remember.  I have many positive memories of reading from when I was younger.  I get excited by the challenge of a longer book.  I read across genres.  Page count, chapter count, white space, font size, page thickness (I feel like that has a name, but I'm not sure what it is), none of that matters to me.  Even throughout this pandemic, while my reading has ebbed and flowed, and I've been met with reading challenges that are very new (attention, time, desire), I have continued to read.
For many readers, their experiences are very different.  Page count matters.  Chapter count matters.  White space, font.... all of it matters.  And then put a pandemic on the plate. 
And while we're at it.  Let's talk about equity.  I've always had access to a public library and two parents who were always willing to take me there and to the bookmobile.  And I could check out books from my school library.  I know many many readers can't say that.
When I was growing up and I was bored, I read.  There wasn't cable until I was older.  My parents never handed me a phone or a tablet to keep me occupied.  Video games?  Nope, not until I was older.  And even then, my remote was tethered to a box.  In this digital age, books and stories have a level of competition that younger readers never had.  Even the kids I taught two decades ago.... even a decade ago, read differently than kids do today.

As a consumer of books, I love watching social media and sites like the Nerdy Book Club, and reading magazines like The Horn Book, to see what is out and what is being said about those books.  I read and review those books.  And what gets marketed and what is "seen", is not always what reaches all readers.  And I want to make sure to reach all readers.  So I'm always on the lookout for books where the page and chapter count isn't overwhelming.  And yes, there might be more white space.  I look for these books in different formats and genres.  But these books.... they are sometimes hard to find.  They aren't always publicized as much.  Even us nerdy adults might look over them for one reason or another.  But I know they are needed by readers so I search for them.  Which is why I started this series, so other people can know about these titles and get them into hands of readers.

All books should be celebrated.  This series is celebrating the leaner texts.

Almost There and Almost Not by Linda Urban
Almost There and Almost Not
by Linda Urban
224 pages
Linda Urban's books come to mind when looking for a solid middle grade story that is not long in page count.  They appeal to readers who are looking for a character driven novel who want to dive into the character's feelings and learn what motivates them.
This story introduces us to California - or Callie, as she eventually is called - who is going from house to house, guardian to guardian, eventually landing at her great Aunt Monica's house.  Her father is back in Alaska, figuring things out and trying to earn more money for him and Callie.  Once Callie gets to great Aunt Monica's, she's immediately thrown into a project.  The two of them are researching a dead relative, who just so happens to be a ghost that Callie can see and talk to.  Along with a ghost dog who delivers long ago written letters, Callie learns more about herself and what it means to be part of a family.
Perfect middle grade novel for 5th grade and up.

Sugar and Spite by Gail D. Villanueva
Sugar and Spite
by Gail D. Villanueva
208 pages
An #ownvoices novel that takes place on a fictional island in the Philippines.  
Jolina has recently moved to this island and she very much feels like an outsider.  It doesn't help queen bee Claudine puts her in her place every chance she gets.  Jolina is learning her family's magic and she quietly uses it to create a love potion.  She puts this in a treat for Claudine so she can make Claudine be a friend, not a bully.  Before Jolina realizes what she's done, Claudia wants to be BFFAE (best friend forever and ever).  However, after spending time with Claudia, Jolina finds there is a kind person under that rough exterior.  Can Jolina remove the potion without removing the new friendship?
I enjoyed the magical realism of the story and the integration of Philippine culture throughout the story.  The friendship conflict will feel very real to readers and there is one exciting scene at the end.  
I would say the sweet spot for this book is with 3rd-5th gr readers.

Fast Pitch
Fast Pitch
by Nic Stone
192 pages
I love that Nic Stone can write for a variety of ages, and in this second middle grade novel, she shows that power again.
Staying with the same community she gave us in Clean Getaway, this time she focuses on Scoob's friend, Shenice.  Shenice comes from a long line of baseball (or as her brother says, batball) players.  She's currently playing for the first all Black female softball league in her county and they are doing their best at winning and going all the way to state.  But breaking Shenice's concentration is the new information that her (never met) great-grandfather's name was brought through some bad baseball mud.  In fact, his days of playing the game were brought to an end because of a racial crime that he was never able to clear his name from.  But with some new information from a newly-met relative, Shenice has to race against the clock to clear his name and win that softball championship!
I love that this middle grade novel is a quick read - comes in at under 200 pages - yet delves into a racial conversation that readers today are looking to have.  We need more books like this and I'm glad Nic Stone is adding her voice for middle grade readers today!

When Winter Robeson Came
When Winter Robeson Came
by Brenda Woods
160 pages
Not only is this on the leaner side for page count, it's also a novel in verse, which means lots of white space on the pages.  While I easily read this in one sitting, it won't take readers who still need to sit for shorter readings to get through this one.  And it's another historical fiction novel from Ms. Woods, so it will also take the reader to a place in time.  As always, I learned so much from reading one of her books.
It's summertime 1965 and Eden is ready for some fun.  But when her cousin, Winter, comes for an extended visit, she gets fun in the shape of a mystery.  Winter is on the search for his missing father but needs to do his sleuthing on the sly.  Eden agrees to help and it brings the two of them to the Watts neighborhood.  And in the summer of 65, the Watts neighborhood is home for an uprising that puts Winter and Eden right in the middle of history.

Once Upon a Tim by Stuart Gibbs
Once Upon a Tim
written by Stuart Gibbs
illustrated by Stacy Curtis
152 pages
Stuart Gibbs is well-loved for his series like the Fun Jungle series or the Spy School series.  Now he's trying his hand at a new hybrid series.  This first book definitely is on the leaner side coming in at around 150 pages and lots of illustrations in each chapter.  It's a quest story so it's full of action and adventure and since it's Stuart Gibbs, it also has loads of laughs!
Tim is a peasant, like all of the generations ahead of him in his family.  Yet, unlike everyone else in his family, he wants more than just a life of dirt, gruel, and living in a hut.  When he sees there are "tryouts" to become a knight and join the prince and the castle wizard on a quest, Tim decides this is how he changes his station in life.  Along with his friend Belinda and trusty fr-dog (it'a a thing in the book...), Tim finds out that not everything is as it seems on this quest.
I love the "IQ boosters" Gibbs includes.  It's a longer word that he throws in and then follows it up with a definition and using it in another funny sentence.
Looking forward to seeing where this series takes us and Tim!

Hoping you found a book for one of your readers.  I'll be continuing this series and looking for more books to help these readers continue to grow!