Review: SURVIVING MIDDLE SCHOOL

Surviving Middle School cover

Surviving Middle School: Navigating the Halls, Riding the Social Roller Coaster, and Unmasking the Real You
by Luke Reynolds
Aladdin/Beyond Words (July 5, 2016)
Ages 10-14

192 pages

Here’s what the publisher has to say: 

In this hilarious guide full of honest, real-life experiences, veteran teacher Luke Reynolds skillfully and humorously shows kids how to not only survive, but thrive and even enjoy the wild adventure that is middle school.
Middle grade series like The Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Dork Diaries bring an authentic voice and vision to fiction about middle schoolers. Now, for the first time a nonfiction guide to middle school offers that same funny and relatable voice, while skillfully teaching life lessons to not just help kids find their footing during the tough years between elementary and high school, but to find the joy in their new adventures and challenges.
Author and teacher Luke Reynolds uses irreverent humor, genuine affection for middle schoolers, and authenticity that bubbles over as he ties real-life experiences from his own time in middle school to the experiences he has from his many years as a teacher.
Covering topics like bullying, peer pressure, grades, dealing with difficult parents, and love and romance, this rare book reaches kids at a deeper level during an age when they are often considered too young to appreciate it. Readers will learn to find their own voice, begin to explore their genuine identity, and definitely laugh out loud along the way.

And Kirkus said this: 

While playful black-and-white cartoon illustrations and doodles add to the zaniness, the messages are worthy and clear: be yourself; practice empathy; work hard; hug your parents. A list of recommended books and movies is appended.For those approaching or in the scrum of middle school, a positive reminder that the perfect middle school experience does not exist. (Nonfiction. 10-14) (Kirkus Reviews 4/15/16)

I’ll just add…
Oh, how I wish I’d had this book when I was entering middle school… or high school, or college, or my 20s or 30s! There are a lot of valuable life lessons crammed into this little volume, and you can call me a slow learner, but I didn’t figure most of this stuff out until I was well into adulthood. And, even now, I can still use some good reminders from time to time!
It’s not only filled with excellent advice, but it also has highly relatable anecdotes (for the tween set, anyway), interesting exercises to help personalize every lesson, and tons of middle-school humor, so it never comes off as dry or preachy. I think it has enough variety that it will appeal to all kinds of tween readers. 
I believe this book should be required reading for tweens everywhere (and their teachers and parents!), and it would make an excellent gift, too! 

Review: A Bandit's Tale by Deborah Hopkinson

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Today, I’m thrilled to be participating in another blog tour for Deborah Hopkinson! This time, the award-winning master of historical fiction for children takes readers back to nineteenth-century New York City in her new middle-grade novel: A BANDIT’S TALE: THE MUDDLED MISADVENTURES OF A PICKPOCKET (Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers | on sale April 5, 2016 | Ages 8–12 | $16.99). Here’s the publisher’s description of this story of survival, crime, adventure, and horses:

Here are a few words from other reviewers:

“A strong choice for those who enjoy adventures about scrappy and resourceful kids.”
School Library Journal, Starred Review
“A dynamic historical novel ideal for both classroom studies and pleasure reading.”
Publishers Weekly, Starred Review

And here are a few more from me:
I am a diehard animal lover, so when I found out that the founder of the ASPCA, Henry Bergh, appears as a character in this novel and that part of the plot is about helping the street horses in NYC, I knew I had to read it! What I found was so much more. It turns out there were several other things I loved about this novel, too:

  1. It’s an interesting setting, late 1800s New York City, that I hadn’t really thought about much before. The novel immerses readers in this world and brings it to life on a very human level. I love when historical fiction does that!
  2. There’s a secret! I won’t give away any spoilers, but there’s an incident at the beginning of the book that isn’t fully explained or understood by the reader until much later, but it sure keeps you wondering.
  3. I love the voice. The book is written in first-person from Rocco’s somewhat irreverent point of view, sometimes addressing the reader directly. Rocco thinks and sounds like a completely believable 11- to 12-year-old. He is naive and immature but good-hearted and trying to cope as best he can with a challenging and complex world. I especially appreciated how with age and experience he is able to look back on previous events and see them differently.
  4. Okay, as much as enjoyed the setting, plot, and character of the novel, what truly blew me away was the backmatter. (I love fiction, but I guess I’m a nonfiction girl at heart!) There’s a map; an explanation of what a picaresque novel is; notes about the setting, times, and people; a glossary of terms used by the thieves; a guide for further reading; and source notes. Many real people are referenced in the novel, and Hopkinson takes great care to explain exactly what is true and what she made up for the sake of the story. I think readers and writers alike will find it interesting to see how the fiction and facts can intertwine and overlap.
  5. Adding to all of this were the photos! Being able to see authentic vintage photos from the actual time and place of the novel really added to the intellectual understanding as well as the emotional impact of the fictional scenes.

5B7C832B-F02E-4045-A0AD-C26D55DC4289All in all, this book earns A Bandit’s Tale two thumbs up from this reader! I would highly recommend handing it to anyone who enjoys historical fiction, animal lovers, adventure lovers, ruffians and rogues, and, yes, even readers who tend to prefer nonfiction history and/or biography.
Thank you to Deborah Hopkinson and Michele Kophs at Provato Events for the pleasure of reading this advance reader’s copy!
For other stops on the Bandit Blog Tour please check deborahhopkinson.com and watch for the hashtag, #BanditBlogTour.

Deborah Hopkinson guest post about Beatrix Potter!

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blog tour bannerDeborah Hopkinson is the author of nearly 50 fantastic books for young readers. I have blogged previously about several of these books, including her most recent nonfiction work, Courage & Defiance, which was named a NCTE Orbis Pictus recommended book and Sydney Taylor award notable book. Her newest middle grade novel, A Bandit’s Tale, The Muddled Misadventures of a Pickpocket, a Junior Library Guild selection, will be released this April. And today we’re celebrating the recent release of Beatrix Potter and the Unfortunate Tale of a Borrowed Guinea Pig (Schwartz & Wade), which I know will have a special place in my heart because a) I love guinea pigs, and b) when I was a little girl I had a beloved set of bunnies named Flopsy, Mopsy, and Cottontail. Just check out this intriguing review:

As this book’s foreboding title suggests, a guinea pig does not survive its encounter with the future creator of Peter Rabbit—nor do Sally the snake, an unnamed bat, and numerous snails. In her childhood, Beatrix Potter made a habit of capturing London’s wild creatures. “But the sad truth is that although Beatrix loved animals, she did not always have the best of luck with them,” sighs Hopkinson (Courage & Defiance), who shares evidence from Potter’s childhood diary and, according to an afterword, takes a few authorial liberties with actual events. Troubles arise when Beatrix borrows a pet guinea pig, drolly named Queen Elizabeth, to sketch. After Queen Elizabeth devours a fatal “repast of paper, paste, and string,” Beatrix humbly returns to its owner with “a stiff and bloated Queen Elizabeth” and a “delightful little watercolor” of the subject. Hopkinson’s jesting tone combines false grandeur with a note of regret, and Voake’s (Ginger) breezy watercolors suggest Beatrix’s combination of curiosity and nonchalance. Sensitive souls will feel for Beatrix’s victims, even as this diverting narrative sheds light on her childhood fascinations. Ages 4–8. Author’s agent: Steven Malk, Writers House. (Feb.).”  — Publishers Weekly

And now, here is today’s guest post, written by Deborah Hopkinson herself:

Deborah HopkinsonThis year marks the 150th anniversary of the birth of Beatrix Potter (1866-1943), the creator of some of the best-loved children’s classics in the world. I first began toying with the idea of writing about Beatrix five years ago, but it took more than a year and a half of trial and error. Finally, with the guidance of my editor Anne Schwartz at Schwartz & Wade, I found my way to the story that became Beatrix Potter and the Unfortunate Tale of a Borrowed Guinea Pig. Inspired by a true incident that Beatrix recorded in her journal, she recounts borrowing a guinea pig named Queen Elizabeth from her neighbor, only to have it expire in the night from eating paste and glue and other forbidden treats.
Beatrix Potter was a fascinating woman, as well as a legendary artist, author, and conservationist. Her journal, written in code, was decoded and transcribed in 1958 by Leslie Linder and published in 1966. In it, Beatrix describes a series of pet disasters, some of which appear in my book.
I was also intrigued by Beatrix’s creative process. Her first book, The Tale of Peter Rabbit, published in 1902, was originally a “picture letter” written to cheer up a sick boy named Noel Moore, the son of her former governess. She begins, “My dear Noel, I don’t know what to write to you so I will tell you a story about four little rabbits whose names were Flopsy, Mopsy, Cottontail, and Peter.
Beatrix Potter coverI love playing with the structure of picture books. Some of my previous books have been written in journal format, or divided into innings or courses (like chapters). For this book, we wanted to as much as possible imitate one of Beatrix Potter’s own picture letters. Even before the title page, the story begins with an introduction: “My dear Reader.” At the end, the story is signed by me. The postscript? That’s an author’s note which includes photos of Beatrix and images of her journal and the picture letter to Noel. As an author who visits schools all over the country, I’m looking forward to incorporating picture letter into my author visits and can’t wait to see what students will create. I’m also eager to share with them the story of an artist and writer who began practicing her craft at a young age.
Charlotte Voake, whose delightful watercolors make this book so special, is British, and I’m excited that our book will also be published in Great Britain in July, to coincide with Beatrix Potter’s birthday on July 28. The Royal Mint is issuing 50p coins in honor of Beatrix (there is also a coin to mark the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death).
For more Beatrix Potter special events, follow the hashtag #Beatrix150 on Twitter. And, as Beatrix learned the hard way, do be careful whenever you borrow something from a neighbor.

Many thanks to Deborah Hopkinson for guest blogging here today!  For other stops on the Beatrix Blog Tour please visit deborahhopkinson.com.

Nonfiction Monday: Courage & Defiance blog tour and interview

Facts First! Nonfiction Monday

Facts First! Nonfiction MondayAs you can probably tell by my books Be a Changemaker and Emmanuel’s Dream, I love writing about heroes and changemakers. It should be no surprise, then, that I love reading about them, too. My favorite kinds of stories are those about ordinary people who acted with extraordinary strength, conviction, and courage, and the book I just finished reading is full of people doing just that. In Courage & Defiance: Stories of Spies, Saboteurs and Survivors in World War II Denmark by Deborah Hopkinson (Scholastic Press, August 2015), the author has clearly done a great deal of careful research to bring us narrative nonfiction about the WWII resistance movement in Denmark from the perspective of some of those who took part in it. It’s a gripping tale of adventure and suspense, and one that has rarely been told.

Deborah has been interviewed on this blog before, and I’m super excited to welcome her back once again as part of the Courage and Defiance blog tour. I hope you enjoy the interview!
LAT: I know I thoroughly enjoyed this book, Deborah. What kind of young reader do you think Courage & Defiance will appeal to? What other books might be read-alikes? 
DH: I visit schools all over the country and love to ask students what they’re reading. While fantasy and science fiction are always popular, I’m usually surprised by the number of students – girls and boys – who tell me they like to read about history and like nonfiction. There are definitely kids who read everything they can get their hands on topics such as the Titanic and World War II, but I think readers who enjoyed Number the Stars by Lois Lowry or The Diary of Anne Frank will also enjoy Courage & Defiance.
LAT: This is a story that many of us probably haven’t heard before. Why do you think that might be?
DH: I think perhaps that here in the U.S., we’re most naturally interested in stories that take place after America entered World War II on December 7, 1941. (As it happens, my next nonfiction book about submarines in the Pacific war begins with the attack on Pearl Harbor and will be out in 2016 for the 75th anniversary.) While I did find a number of adult nonfiction books about the experience of Danes during the German occupation, which began on April 9, 1940, almost all were scholarly titles or of interest primarily to historians (including a 600-page book about the SOE in Denmark). I feel fortunate that I was able to find as much as I did in English, but I am sure there is much more available in Danish. We were able to access the photo archives of the Museum of Danish Resistance.

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Deborah Hopkinson

LAT: During the research phase of Courage & Defiance, what discoveries did you come across that made you feel like you’d struck gold? Was there anything in the research that came as a surprise?
DH: At author visits, I tell students that my favorite part of writing is the research. And since I knew little when I began several years ago, I felt like I was discovering something new and incredible at every corner. Probably the most significant discovery I made was finding a memoir in English entitled A Letter to My Descendents by Niels Skov. Niels, whom I later had the privilege to meet, came to the U.S. after the war, where he received a Ph.D. and became a college professor. His personal account was so incredibly lively and vibrant – which matched his personality, even at age ninety-four. To my surprise, he had been deported to a German labor camp at the same time as another activist whose story I tell, but they did not meet. It made me realize just how many incredible stories there are in history, and how easily they are lost.
LAT: This one may be tricky, but if you can fathom a guess… What do you think it was about the Danes that made them able to resist the Germans and support their Jewish countrymen so effectively? 
DH: Well, I am not sure I am qualified to say, but what comes across in all the first-person accounts I found was that ordinary people shared an unwavering sense of human decency, a love of country, and a commitment to doing the right thing – even at great cost. It seems to me that as the war went on, the confidence and belief that people had in democratic values helped to give them the courage to take risks.
LAT: In the book, you asked Niels what his advice to young people today would be. Now that you’ve done all this research and written such a fantastic book, what is YOUR advice to young people today?
DH: While young people in America now may not be faced with life-and-death decisions as Danish citizens were in the 1940s, we all grapple with difficult personal choices. So perhaps I’d simply give the same advice I’ve often told my own two children: make good choices and do good work in the world. And, of course, I have to add: keep reading!
LAT: That’s great advice, Deborah. Thanks so much for visiting today! 
For other stops on the Courage and Defiance blog tour please check deborahhopkinson.com.

Radio Interview: Brooke Taylor's A Special Connection

I recently had the honor of being interviewed by Brooke Taylor on her inspiring radio show, A Special Connection on WHKW AM1220 in Cleveland, Ohio. Brooke just happened to have stumbled across one of my books at her local public library and was moved by it, so she reached out to me to talk about it.
The whole show is fantastic, but if you’re in a rush, we start discussing Emmanuel’s Dream: The True Story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah at about the 31:58 mark, and Be a Changemaker: How to Start Something that Matters at about 45:37.
I hope you’ll enjoy listening!
https://soundcloud.com/living-the-word/a-special-connection-with-brooke-taylor-july-25th-2015
What fun! Huge thanks to both Brooke and her producer, Brett Crowe, for making it such a pleasure.
I’ve got a couple more radio interviews in the works as well, so please stay tuned for more audio in the coming weeks!

Nonfiction Monday Review: DOABLE by Deborah Reber

DOABLE cover
DOABLE: THE GIRLS’ GUIDE TO ACCOMPLISHING JUST ABOUT ANYTHING
by Deborah Reber
Beyond Words/Simon Pulse (January 2015)

In this well-organized, easy-to-digest nonfiction book for teen girls, Reber employs her training as a life coach as well as her extensive work with teen girls to lay out an eight-step plan for readers to achieve whatever it is they want to tackle in life. The steps include defining the goal, defending against obstacles, developing support systems, determining what success looks like, doing the work, dealing with setbacks, and delivering the goods. Each step has numerous examples, pullouts, journal exercises, and more, and every chapter ends with a summary to reinforce the main points. Reber manages to do all of that while maintaining a charisma and relatability that puts readers at ease while at the same time empowering them, and the tone is never the least bit condescending nor overwhelming.
I loved this book and plan to refer back to it for my own to-do list management. In fact, my one and only quibble with this book is that it is targeted solely at teen girls, because I think EVERYONE over the age of 10 should read this book! I think we could all learn a thing or two from it that would make us more successful and make our lives that much easier. That said, Reber is perfectly in touch with the teen girl audience, and while the core content is highly applicable to any reader, the voice and viewpoint will surely be directly relevant and relatable to many teenage girls.
This book would make a great eighth grade or high school graduation present, and it’s a super helpful read for anyone who wants to be more productive (don’t we all?). Far from being didactic, DOABLE instills a sense of confidence and excitement. Reber is a fantastic coach AND a cheerleader, all rolled into one. Highly recommended!

Review: NEW SHOES by Susan Lynn Meyer

NEW SHOES cover
NEW SHOES
written by Susan Lynn Meyer
illustrated by Eric Velasquez
published by Holiday House (February 2015)

It’s not easy to write a picture book for young kids that tackles a tough subject in an age-appropriate way. And it’s even harder to do so while still being entertaining. NEW SHOES by Susan Lynn Meyer does all of that and more, and it does it so very beautifully.
Publisher’s summary:

Set in the South during the time of segregation, this lushly illustrated picture book brings the civil rights era to life for contemporary readers as two young girls find an inventive way to foil Jim Crow laws.
When her cousin’s hand-me-down shoes don’t fit, it is time for Ella Mae to get new ones. She is ecstatic, but when she and her mother arrive at Mr. Johnson’s shoe store, her happiness quickly turns to dejection. Ella Mae is unable to try on the shoes because of her skin color. Determined to fight back, Ella Mae and her cousin Charlotte work tirelessly to collect and restore old shoes, wiping, washing, and polishing them to perfection. The girls then have their very own shoe sale, giving the other African American members of their community a place to buy shoes where they can be treated fairly and “try on all the shoes they want.”

It’s hard for me to imagine not being allowed to try on shoes, and I must admit I never even realized that particular injustice was part of the Jim Crow laws. I’m glad to have been enlightened. Wanting to try on a pair of shoes is something that can be easily understood by young children, and they will be able to appreciate the unfairness of the situation in the shoe store.
What I really love about this book, though, is how the girls solve the problem themselves. They work hard to earn startup funds, they take great care and pride in launching their shoe store, and they solve a problem not just for themselves, but for their whole community! That is changemaking at its finest.
This moving and inspirational picture book belongs in every classroom in America. To make it even easier, the publisher’s web page for the book has classroom discussion questions and an educator’s guide, both with Common Core State Standards (CCSS) connections.
I hope you’ll check out NEW SHOES… and share it with others!

Review: ATTACK! BOSS! CHEAT CODE! by Chris Barton

Facts First! Nonfiction Monday

Attack! Boss! Cheat Code! coverATTACK! BOSS! CHEAT CODE!
written by Chris Barton, illustrated by Joey Spiotto
published by POW! Kids Books, October 2014
32 pages

From the publisher’s web page:

An ironic yet informative alphabet that defines the most important gaming terms that everyone needs to know, Attack! Boss! Cheat Code! A Gamer’s Alphabet is the ultimate crossover gift for our age, a book that can actually bring together video game-obsessed kids and their often perplexed parents.
If you can decipher the following sentence, you don’t need this book: “This open beta game is in third-person but first-person is unlockable if you know the cheat code or install your own mod, but either way, for the best attack on the boss on this level, try to grab that power-up!”
– See more at: http://powkidsbooks.com/attack-boss-cheat-code-a-gamers-alphabet/#sthash.sLnYcu9z.dpuf

Okay, I know I’m showing my geeky gamer girl side, but I love, love, love this book, and I think today’s young (and not-so-young) readers will, too!
It’s an alphabet book, of course, which means the information is organized by letter. Within that constraint, Barton somehow manages to work in a whole bunch of key concepts necessary to understanding video games. Some are expected, such as “boss.” Others are more surprising, like “instance.” In either case, readers will love seeing the terms they’re more familiar with from the games they love playing, as well as the terms they’re less familiar with but may have run across in conversations with friends. I’ve played a fair amount of video games in my lifetime, and I was still very pleasantly surprised to learn a few new terms myself!
The artwork is bright and fun and helps illustrate the concepts well. The illustrator tips a nostalgic hat to older games that more grownup readers will appreciate, while at the same time referencing enough current faves to delight younger gamers.
Check this one out, and then come back on Wednesday for my interview with the author, Chris Barton!
 
Facts First! Nonfiction Monday
(Disclaimer: The review copy was won by the blogger as part of a promotional giveaway.)

Review: THE SCRAPS BOOK by Lois Ehlert

THE SCRAPS BOOK cover

THE SCRAPS BOOK cover
THE SCRAPS BOOK: NOTES FROM A COLORFUL LIFE
written and illustrated by Lois Ehlert
published by Beach Lane Books/Simon & Schuster, March 2014
72 pages

There have been several picture-book autobiographies of children’s book authors and illustrators over the past few years. Sadly, most have left me feeling just a little underwhelmed. While I personally enjoyed them, I felt like they were aimed more at their long-time adult fans than at contemporary child readers. While I, as an adult, was able to appreciate the rich context and interesting personal histories, I wondered if children would be able to relate to the stories and find directly relevant meaning within the pages. So, although I myself am a fan of Lois Ehlert, I’ll admit I was a bit skeptical when I picked up THE SCRAPS BOOK. Boy was I in for a delightful surprise!
Despite the high page count, there is nothing in this book that feels the least bit self-indulgent. Every page seems lovingly designed to encourage and instruct young artists. (And aren’t we all artists when we’re young? Perhaps with this book, more of us will remain so.) Throughout, Ehlert generously shares her inspirations, her processes, her notes and journals, even her messes and mistakes, giving readers insights into her books as well as her life as an artist.THE SCRAPS BOOK excerpt
I think this is truly a book people of all ages can enjoy, and the world is definitely a better place for having THE SCRAPS BOOK in it.
Facts First! Nonfiction Monday

(Disclaimer: Review copy was checked out from my local library.)

The BE A CHANGEMAKER Blog Tour

Be a Changemaker cover

Be a Changemaker coverI’ve been surprised and honored to be included on a plethora of fantastic blogs as part of a blog tour to help launch Be a Changemaker into the world. There are guest posts written by me on a variety of topics related to the book, as well as interviews, reviews, quotes, and, yes–book giveaways! Be sure to check out all of the tour stops, and please give these lovely bloggers some love, won’t you?
Here’s what has already been posted:

9/8/2014
Review, author interview, giveaway
9/9/2014
Review, guest post, giveaway
9/10/2014
Reviews, teaching tools, guest post, giveaway
9/11/2014
Review, resources lists
9/12/2014
Review
9/12/2014
Guest post
9/13/2014
Review, giveaway

 
And here’s what is still to come:

9/15/2014
Review, giveaway
9/16/2014
Review, giveaway
9/17/2014
Author interview, giveaway
9/18/2014
Guest post, giveaway
9/19/2014
Author interview, giveaway
9/20/2014
Guest post, giveaway

Blue Slip Media logo
 
This incredible lineup has been assembled and managed by the lovely ladies at Blue Slip Media. Thank you, Sarah and Barbara!

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