Zoo Scientists cover

Zoo Scientists cover

by Patricia Newman, photographs by Annie Crawley
Millbrook Press/August 1, 2017
Grades 4-8, 64 pages

Here’s what the publisher says:

Zoos take care of animals and welcome visitors of all ages, but that’s not all zoos do. Author Patricia Newman and photographer Annie Crawley bring readers behind the scenes at three zoos to meet scientists working to save endangered animals.
Meredith Bastian’s experiences studying wild orangutans help educate both zoo visitors and the zoo workers who care for captive orangutans. Jeff Baughman breeds black-footed ferrets and reintroduces them into the wild. And Rachel Santymire examines poop from black rhinoceroses at the zoo and in their natural habitat to benefit all black rhinos. Find out how zoo scientists are helping us learn more about these remarkable, at-risk species before it’s too late!
Features: Author Biography, Bibliography, Full-Color Photographs, Further Reading, Glossary, Index, Maps, Primary Source Quotations, Websites

The professional reviewers liked it:

“Many kids are familiar with zoos, but there’s much more to these attractions than an opportunity to see animals up close. Newman shines a light on the important work zoo scientists do to aid conservation and contribute important research, both at zoo labs and in the wild. This engagingly written book focuses on three scientists and their work protecting and researching orangutans, black-footed ferrets, and black rhinoceroses, respectively. Each scientist describes his or her background, research in the wild, challenges to conservation efforts, and how zoo labs help them do their work. Photos of the scientists in the field, as well as their animal research subjects, enlivens the already fascinating material. Newman clearly describes the conditions that led to each species becoming endangered and encourages readers to think carefully about their own actions in light of threats to wildlife. Though the book appears slim, the content is fairly dense, so this will likely appeal more to middle-grade readers. Hand this to kids who can’t get enough of the Scientists in the Field series.” —Booklist

“In this incredibly informative book, readers learn about three zoo scientists who are working to save three species (orangutans, black-footed ferrets, and wild black rhinos) using a variety of methods, from conservation education to breeding programs. Newman also includes ideas on how students can contribute to conservation efforts, such as reducing palm oil usage. Various zoos and organizations that focus on conservation are also mentioned; for example, biobanks, where scientists freeze the sperm and eggs of various species in order to protect it from a catastrophic loss. The photographs show the animals as well as the scientists and effectively enhance the information presented. Several charts, including one comparing apes and monkeys, add a deeper level of understanding. Maps of the original and current habitats of the creatures are helpful in visualizing how the earth has changed over the years. A great book for research or for students interested in conservation. School Library Journal

And here are my thoughts:
I really enjoyed this book. As the Booklist review above says, the book is quite slim, so I was not expecting to learn as much as I did once I cracked the cover! On the one hand, I didn’t want to put the book down, because I was so engrossed in the stories and information. On the other, it was nicely broken up into the three separate stories following three separate scientists and their efforts to help three specific species, so it was easy to pick up where I’d left off when I was forced to walk away for a bit. The science is fascinating, the human stories are compelling, and the gorgeous photography brings it all to life right before your eyes. I’ve been ambivalent about zoos my whole life. I love animals, so I love being able to see them… but I also want them to live as happily and naturally as possible. This book helped me see a different side of zoos that I have heard about but never really had a chance to explore in much detail or depth, the conservation aspect. I admire the scientists profiled in this book and the work that they’re doing, and I am grateful to Patricia Newman and Annie Crawley for sharing their stories with us.
Finally, watch the trailer to see some of the people and animals from the book!

Review: POISON by Sarah Albee

POISON interior

POISON cover

by Sarah Albee
Penguin Random House/September 05, 2017
Middle Grade (8-12), 192 pages

Here’s what the publisher says:

Science geeks and armchair detectives will soak up this non-lethal, humorous account of the role poisons have played in human history. Perfect for STEM enthusiasts!
For centuries, people have been poisoning one another—changing personal lives and the course of empires alike.
From spurned spouses and rivals, to condemned prisoners like Socrates, to endangered emperors like Alexander the Great, to modern-day leaders like Joseph Stalin and Yasser Arafat, poison has played a starring role in the demise of countless individuals. And those are just the deliberate poisonings. Medical mishaps, greedy “snake oil” salesmen and food contaminants, poisonous Prohibition, and industrial toxins also impacted millions.
Part history, part chemistry, part whodunit, Poison: Deadly Deeds, Perilous Professions, and Murderous Medicines traces the role poisons have played in history from antiquity to the present and shines a ghoulish light on the deadly intersection of human nature . . . and Mother Nature.

The professional reviewers have weighed in favorably:

“[Albee’s] light tone makes this morbid, well-researched study a sinister indulgence.“—Booklist starred review

A compelling, entertaining, and informative introduction to a sinister aspect of human history.” Kirkus Reviews
“There’s plenty of material here to delight fans of [Georgia] Bragg’s popular How They Croaked.” —The Bulletin
Ideal for readers, including reluctant ones, who delight in the science and scare factor of poisons or grotesque medicine.” —School Library Journal

And here are my thoughts:
This book is deliciously dark fun! Sarah Albee’s POISON is the perfect mix of science, history, mystery, and entertainment, and readers of many different genres will be thoroughly engaged by this book. I know I was! From ancient times to today (and beyond!), Albee shows us how poisons–both natural and man-made–have affected humans lives and culture. The facts are shocking and fascinating, but broken down in a way that makes them accessible. There’s also a ton of humor to balance the heavy subject matter, with puns and sarcasm galore, especially in the titles and captions. And all of it is tied together with a compelling design featuring sidebars, pullouts, photos, and illustrations. There are also some serious nonfiction features, including a table of contents, author’s note, acknowledgements, notes, selected bibliography, research guide, index, and more. A highly recommended middle-grade nonfiction!
Here are some interior views to give you a better sense of what you can expect:
POISON interiorPOISON interior 2 POISON interior 3 POISON interior 4POISON interior 5POISON interior 6
And yes, if you’re wondering, this review is perfect for Labor Day! One of my favorite features of the book was the “Nice Work if You Can Survive It” sidebars, which told of various professions throughout the ages where people were actually poisoned by their jobs (did you know mad hatters were mad because of the chemicals used for felting?). Sobering, to say the least. And it made me even more grateful for regulations that protect workers from unscrupulous business owners!
Be sure to check out Sarah’s other great books, too!
Why'd They Wear That? cover BUGGED cover POOP HAPPENED cover

Review: A Bandit's Tale by Deborah Hopkinson

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 and watch for the hashtag, #BanditBlogTour.

I am not my book… Or am I?

Emu's Debuts headerEarlier this month over on Emu’s Debuts, I blogged about the importance, and difficulties, of separating the creator (ourselves) from the works created. Since some of you may not follow that blog, I thought I should post it here, too. Here’s an excerpt…

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Alchemy and Karen Cushman!

Oh, this is so much fun! Not only is there a brand-new book out from one of my all-time favorite authors, but I got to read an early copy (squeee!) and interview the author for my blog (huzzah)!

First, let me gush a little about how much I enjoyed reading Alchemy and Meggy Swann. There’s an awful lot for readers of any age to love in this little book: from the opening scene where we start right in with action and a bit of a mystery, to the feisty but kind-hearted heroine, to the historical richness, to the wonderful array of creative insults. It’s truly got something for everyone. If you’re not already a fan of Karen Cushman, this book will surely transform you into one. And now, let’s meet the alchemist herself—welcome, Karen!

LT: First, I love the parallels between the father’s search for alchemical transformation and Meggy’s personal transformation. What made you start thinking about alchemy as a book subject, and was the parallel planned from the outset?
KC: I found alchemy an intriguing idea but didn’t really have an idea about how I’d use it in a book until I thought more about transformation, about that very parallel between alchemical and personal transformation.  I love how the ides of change works for both and how transformation may not happen exactly as they wanted or expected.


LT: I think you really gave us an accurate portrayal at what it’s like to feel different and/or unwanted and the misguided but all-too-common defense mechanism of pushing people away before they can reject us, and it is these understandable flaws that make Meggy such an interesting and universally appealing character. Did you know you were shooting for that at the start, or did those aspects of character evolve naturally as you wrote the story?
KC: Meggy started out much sweeter and more compliant but as I understood more about her and her struggles, I realized she probably would not have responded or acted in such understanding ways.  So, yes, those aspects of character evolved as I wrote the story.


LT: I find it fairly difficult (but extremely entertaining) to picture you hurling insults at anyone, but Meggy seems to have no trouble whatsoever. How exactly did you come up with Meggy’s many inventive invectives?
KC: I found an invaluable little book called Shakespeare’s Insults and borrowed some of those.  And there is a website called the Shakespearean Insult Kit ( that allowed me to come up with intriguing combinations.  It was great fun.


LT: I can tell you did a ton of research for this book. Do you think you’ll reuse any of it in future stories? Will we see Meggy again? (I need to see her reunited with her goose!)
KC: I hadn’t planned on a Meggy sequel but young readers have said they like the idea.  First I’d have to finish a new book, Will Sparrow’s Road, where I will use a lot of what I learned about Elizabethan England.


LT: How about nonfiction? I’m a primarily nonfiction writer who dabbles in research-based fiction when something I’m researching gets my imagination going. Have you ever or do you think you will ever dabble in nonfiction? You’ve certainly got the research part down!
KC: So far it’s the “what if?” of stories that has my attention.  I love sitting in my chair and making things up.  But I dabble in nonfiction when I write my author’s notes.  The notes for Meggy Swann were especially fun to do.


LT: I love that you “like to write about gutsy girls figuring out who they are,” and I love gutsy girls, even if some of us don’t get gutsy or figure out who we are until we’re actually middle-aged women (who, me?). Which real-life gutsy girls (and women) have inspired you most?
KC: Some of my female heroes are Jane Addams of Chicago’s Hull House, the anthropologist Margaret Mead, Eleanor Roosevelt, and genius illustrator Trina Schart Hyman—all gutsy girls.


LT: I’ve always said that I’ll feel like a successful writer when I receive one letter from a reader saying that my book helped them in some way, and you’ve said that connecting with readers is what makes you feel proudest of your work. What’s the best letter you’ve ever received from a reader?
KC: I got a wonderful letter that said, “I never read one of your books but now that you’ve come to my school, I am considering trying to read one.”  But I treasure the ones that say “I never thought about that before but…” or “Since I read your book, I know there are other people who feel like I do.”


LT: Alchemy and Meggy Swann, even more so than your other books, I think, is a shorter book with more difficult language. Was there ever any question, from you or your publisher, about audience, age, and/or reading ability?
KC: No, I think Dinah, my editor, thinks as I do that we should give young people more credit for their understanding. And I tried to use words that could be understood through context or onomatopoeia.  It was great fun searching thesauruses and the Oxford English Dictionary.


LT: I love that answer and completely share the belief that we should challenge and believe in children rather than sell them short. Since you mentioned Dinah, can you tell us what it’s like to work with the legendary Dinah Stevenson?
KC: Legendary?  Is Dinah old enough to be legendary?  I was assigned to work with Dinah when Clarion bought my first book–an amazing stroke of luck.  Dinah is a great editor, intelligent, insightful, and not at all pushy, and she makes my work much better and richer than it would be without her.  That doesn’t mean I don’t snarl and throw things when I get one of her famous 17-page editorial letters, and I don’t follow every suggestion she makes but I do think about them carefully.  And she always reminds me it’s my book and I should write it my way.


LT: Age has nothing to do with it—only the esteem she’s earned within the industry! You’ve been very loyal to Dinah and to Clarion over the years (and I must admit that Clarion is one of my dream publishers!). They’re interesting because they’re a rather small imprint with a small list, but owned by a huge conglomerate. How do think this has helped or hurt you?
KC: I think Clarion’s small size has meant there’s a smaller list and fewer other authors.  I can have a personal relationship with everyone on the staff and feel they know me.  I like that.  And I’m sure the support Clarion gets from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt benefits me in ways I don’t even know.  So far I have felt no drawbacks.


LT: Finally, any advice for up-and-coming wanna-be’s?
KC: I tell most women who come to me for advice that they probably are just too young yetI was fifty, after all, before I started writing.  Beyond that I recommend what most writers dolots of reading, much writing, critique groups, and support groups of like-minded folks like the SCBWI.


LT: Phew, that’s good to knowI’ve got a few more years yet. What a relief! Thanks so much, Karen. As always, it was wonderful to talk with you, made even more so by having such a delightful book to discuss.



** Disclaimer: I received a free advance review copy of this book from the publisher.

Book Review – Swimming with Maya

I picked up this book because the picture on the cover looks like my own daughter. When I read the back notes and learned that she was dead, I quickly put it back down. I didn’t want to read about Eleanor Vincent’s devastating loss. For some reason, though, I felt compelled to try to comprehend her experience.

What I found was indeed distressing, but inspirational at the same time. The book is in many ways a postmortem tribute to Vincent’s daughter and an exploration of the healing effects of organ donation. Taken in its entirety, however, this book is really about a journey through the process of healing from a lifetime of psychological traumas. The extreme grief over her daughter’s sudden death and the struggle to cope with it lead Vincent down buried paths of pain going all the way back to her childhood. She emerges transformed. She lost her daughter, but therein found herself, and we can’t help but applaud her success.