Blog Tour: Growing Up Gorilla by Clare Hodgson Meeker

Growing Up Gorilla cover

Today I’m thrilled to be a part of the blog tour for Clare Hodgson Meeker’s new book, Growing Up Gorilla!

Growing Up Gorilla cover

GROWING UP GORILLA
by Clare Hodgson Meeker
Millbrook Press/September 3, 2019
Grades 3-6, 48 pages

Here’s what the publisher says about Growing Up Gorilla:

This heartwarming true story chronicles what happened after a mother gorilla gave birth for the first time and then walked away from her newborn baby at Seattle’s Woodland Park. The dedicated staff worked tirelessly to find innovative ways for mother and baby to build a relationship. The efforts were ultimately successful, as baby Yola bonded with her mother and the rest of the family group.

And here are my thoughts about Growing Up Gorilla:

This beautifully photo-illustrated nonfiction is both meticulously researched and lovingly told. Meeker does a fantastic job of bringing this true story to life in a very kid-friendly way, bringing us into the world of both the gorillas and their keepers in a way that keeps readers thoroughly absorbed at all times. There is something for everyone here, with plenty of drama and suspense as well as heart-tugging emotion and (spoiler alert!) a happy ending.
The book also contains a table of contents and extensive backmatter, including an author’s note, further reading/websites/videos, glossary, index, maps, primary source quotations/images, sidebars, and more.

AND, here’s my interview with the author of Growing Up Gorilla, Clare Hodgson Meeker!

LAT: Can you describe your writing process? Did Growing Up Gorilla require any particular changes to how your typical process?

CHM: Normally I don’t start writing a book until I’ve worked out the arc of the story from beginning to end and done enough research and interviewing to feel ready to tell the story with excitement and confidence. Preparing a proposal helps me organize my thoughts – outlining the story with chapter summaries helps me think in scenes and how I’m going to thread in the factual information I think is relevant. Once I have that, I can begin writing my first scene of the book and continue chronologically through the story. The only change in my writing process with Growing Up Gorilla was having to write a full draft before interviewing the gorilla keepers who were directly involved with helping Yola and her mother Nadiri bond. I was able to interview them once I had a publisher on board, which satisfied the Zoo’s requirements. However, the zoo staff did give me some access to the Keeper’s Daily Record book, which included their notes of what happened during the first few months after Yola’s birth, to help me write the first draft.

LAT: What do you find most challenging about writing for kids? About Growing Up Gorilla in particular?

CHM: I’ve taught writing in the schools to children for many years. When we talk about plot and what makes a story interesting, kids agree that there needs to be a problem that has to be solved and a main character they can relate to who wants something and/or has to solve the story problem. In writing a book about a baby gorilla whose mother initially refused to care for her after her birth, my challenge was to get children to relate to these characters and care about their problems. Children’s books should be action-oriented and avoid too much description or flashback. I had to choose carefully the places where I slowed down the action to describe a scene in more detail – like the night Nadiri went into labor where I wanted to show the close relationship between Nadiri and the infant care specialist who had hand-raised her at birth after Nadiri’s mother rejected her. I don’t believe in writing down to a certain grade level or limiting word choice to a grade-appropriate list. I think about presenting the story in the most natural way I can as though I am telling it to the reader sitting next to me.

LAT: What authors and or books do you most admire, and why? Did you have any specific mentor texts that you looked at for Growing Up Gorilla?

CHM: Katherine Applegate’s middle-grade novel The One and Only Ivan and her picture book Ivan: The Remarkable True Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla are fantastic examples of a gorilla character and story that children can relate to and empathize with, in both a fictional version and in a more condensed nonfiction format.
CHM: I am also a big fan of Sy Montgomery, who has written many of the Scientists in the Field series books published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Her voice is so distinctive as she takes you on an adventure shadowing biologists and naturalists who are studying animals in the wild around the world and weaving in fascinating facts about them.

LAT: Outside of the writing itself, what kinds of things do you do that you feel help your writing career?

CHM: I am a life-long learner. I love taking classes in different writing genres, from poetry and picture books to essay and novel writing. Hugo House in Seattle is a wonderful place to take classes, get inspired, and meet others in the writing and reading community. I also enjoy writing conferences where I can get tips on writing and the business of writing listening to editors and talking with fellow children’s book authors.

LAT: What advice would you give to someone who is interested in writing nonfiction for kids?

CHM: Children’s nonfiction is a very popular genre today, especially STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering, and math). My advice is to choose a topic that you are excited about and willing to immerse yourself in, so that you can feel confident writing a story that kids and publishers will love. Think of creative ways to present your book idea, like Laurie Ann Thompson did in her Two Truths and a Lie series. It also helps to include themes that reflect the current elementary science or humanities curriculum standards so a publisher can market your book to schools and libraries.

LAT: Wow, thanks so much for that shout out, Clare! And thanks so much for including me in the blog tour for Growing Up Gorilla and for taking the time to do this interview for us.

Please check out the rest of the Growing Up Gorilla blog tour stops on the schedule below!

blog tour schedule

Review: Capsized! by Patricia Sutton

Facts First! Nonfiction Monday

Capsized! cover
Capsized! The Forgotten Story of the SS Eastland Disaster
by Patricia Sutton
Chicago Review Press (July 1, 2018)
Grades 5-8, 176 pages

Here’s what the publisher says about Capsized!:

A fascinating historical account of courage and tragedy on the Chicago River
On July 24, 1915, the SS Eastland, filled to capacity with 2,500 passengers and crew, capsized in the Chicago River while still moored to the pier. Happy picnic-goers headed for an employee outing across Lake Michigan suddenly found themselves in a struggle for their lives. Trapped belowdecks, crushed by the crowds attempting to escape the rising waters, or hurled into the river from the upper deck of the ship, roughly one-third of the passengers, mostly women and children, perished that day.
The Eastland disaster took more passenger lives than the Titanic and stands today as the greatest loss of life on the Great Lakes. Capsized! details the events leading up to the fateful day and provides a nail-biting, minute-by-minute account of the ship’s capsizing. From the courage of the survivors to the despair of families who lost loved ones, author Patricia Sutton brings to light the stories of ordinary working people enduring the unthinkable.
Capsized! also raises critical-thinking questions for young readers: Why do we know so much about the Titanic’s sinking yet so little about the Eastland disaster? What causes a tragedy to be forgotten and left out of society’s collective memory? And what lessons from this disaster might we be able to apply today?

And what the critics say about Capsized!:

    • “A true disaster story rivetingly told.” —Kirkus Reviews
    • “A badly designed ship, a careless captain, and decks jammed with 2,500 passengers are a recipe for disaster. Patricia Sutton describes the tragic launching of the SS Eastland in a dramatic, riveting narrative filled with the vivid firsthand accounts of those onboard that brings readers along on a harrowing day trip.” —Jim Murphy, author of Newbery Honor titles The Great Fire and An American Plague
    • “A riveting page-turner sure to grab readers’ attention. Patricia Sutton’s well-researched Capsized! will leave you shocked, saddened, and unable to put it down.” —Kate Hannigan, author of The Detective’s Assistant
    • “Through meticulous research and vivid prose, Sutton brings to life the little-known story of the Eastland ship disaster. Based on firsthand accounts of passengers, ship workers and bystanders, readers can experience the people and events that led to the sinking of the fastest steamship on the Great Lakes and its tragic aftermath.” —Claire Rudolf Murphy, author of Gold Rush Women and Marching with Aunt Susan
    • “The narrative-driven account, filled with quotes from individuals and newspapers, historical photos, and trial transcripts, is engaging and accessible…Extensive source notes, which account for every quote, as well as a bibliography, round out this informative, engrossing title.” —Booklist
    • “Capsized! is an excellent book for historical research and highly recommended for both middle and high school libraries.” — KidsReads

And here are my thoughts about Capsized!:

I read this one as part of judging the CYBILS, and I could not put it down! I started reading it one night in bed, intending to get in a quick chapter or two before turning off the light, but I didn’t stop until I’d read every last page.
I’m shocked, and frankly a little appalled, that I’d never heard of this event before. Thankfully, Sutton chose to dedicate herself to telling this little-known story, and she tells it very well. The book itself reads with all the suspense and drama of a well-paced novel, but you can see the research that went into this true story in the included source notes and bibliography. I particularly appreciated how Sutton spelled out the various cumulative reasons for the disaster: there are many important lessons to be learned from this story. I also appreciated the very human connections Sutton built, letting us feel like we really get to know many of the passengers and their actions on that tragic day: there are lessons to be had there as well.
Giving readers both the factual account of an event and its emotional resonance from multiple viewpoints is not easy to do. This book pulls it off; an excellent example of narrative nonfiction and one I expect I’ll be going back to as a mentor text. Highly recommended!
Facts First! Nonfiction Monday

Review: EAVESDROPPING ON ELEPHANTS

Zoo Scientists cover

Eavesdropping on Elephants cover

EAVESDROPPING ON ELEPHANTS
by Patricia Newman
Millbrook Press/August 1, 2018
Grades 4-8, 56 pages

Here’s what the publisher says:

Can understanding how forest elephants communicate help scientists find ways to protect this vulnerable species? Researcher Katy Pane and others involved with Cornell University’s Elephant Listening Project believe it can. Patricia Newman takes readers behind the scenes to see how scientists are making new discoveries about elephant communication and using what they learn to help these majestic animals.
Features: Author/Illustrator biography, Bibliography/further reading, Glossary, Index, Maps, Page Plus, Primary source quotations/images, and Reviewed

And what the critics say:

  • A Junior Library Guild Selection
  • “An inviting introduction to biologists at work.” —Booklist
  • “…this book does an excellent job of transporting readers and providing a clear, multifaceted picture of African forest elephants…“The more you listen to wildlife, the more your mind opens up to new ideas about why the world is a place worth saving.” VERDICT A great pick for middle school nonfiction collections.” —School Library Journal
  • “Fascinating for earnest conservationists.” —Kirkus Reviews

And here are my thoughts:
Patricia Newman does it again, with another engaging piece of narrative nonfiction! This is a highly engaging read about the less well-known African forest elephants and several of the scientists who study them. The science here–bioacoustics–is quite interesting and the human stories give it a personal touch. I always appreciate when we get to see how scientists really work, and it’s especially rewarding to get a peek at how they collaborate with one another on their separate-but-related research projects. The book also mentions some of the conservation aspects involved and even how kids can participate if they’re so inspired. An added bonus is that most of the scientists in the book happen to be women, which is so important for showing young girls that they can indeed have an important career in the sciences.
Finally, watch the trailer to see–and hear–some of the animals from the book!

Facts First! Nonfiction Monday

Interview with Patricia Newman and Annie Crawley

#ProtectOurWorld challenge poster

Last week I posted a review of ZOO SCIENTISTS TO THE RESCUE here. Today I’m honored to follow up on that post with an interview with both of the book’s creators, author Patricia Newman and photographer Annie Crawley, as part of their blog tour. Enjoy, and be sure to check out the rest of the stop in the blog tour, too!  (See below for a complete list.)
LAT: How did you first become interested in doing a book about zoo scientists in general, and about these three in particular?
Patricia headshotPatricia: When my niece was in fifth grade, she told me about a persuasive essay her teacher assigned. The topic was zoos—are they good or bad? Only the teacher didn’t provide a balanced look—most of the literature she shared with the kids was anti-zoo. As the mother of a zookeeper, I knew my niece—and kids like her—needed the other side of the story. That experience planted the seeds for Zoo Scientists to the Rescue.
Patricia: During my initial research, I learned that zoos tackle conservation using three basic approaches: visitor education; captive breeding and reintroduction programs; and in situ study, or studying wildlife in their native habitats. I searched for several months, conducting brief phone interviews with people at various zoos to find the best match. Not all zoos are large enough to have research departments, and the largest zoos often charge an hourly fee to interview their scientists. Some even charge hefty licensing fees to write about their “intellectual property.” But finally, the pieces slid into place only slightly denting my bank account. I found three charismatic species (orangutans, black-footed ferrets, and black rhinos) and three scientists willing to speak to me who address the three main ways zoos promote conservation. And this was all before I’d written a word!
Annie headshotAnnie: I was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois. Lincoln Park Zoo connected me with nature on a very deep level. It is open 365 days a year and it is free, so for a Mom with four kids that was important. All summer long we would go to the zoo in the morning and North Avenue Beach in the afternoon. We would get to know the animals. In 5th grade I learned that all of our Great Apes needed protecting. I signed up for a special Behind the Scenes program for students. This program had us working with the scientists, keepers, and access to so many wildlife leaders. Zoos had a great impact on my life and the way I choose to live my life. When Patti approached me to work with her on Zoo Scientists to the Rescue, I was all in. It is vital for kids/teens to connect with nature and conservation and I believe Zoo Scientists to the Rescue will inspire many families to protect our world.
LAT: I so agree. As a zoo lover myself, it was really heartening to read such a thorough, well-researched (and gorgeous!) look at the good work that zoos are doing. Besides me, what kind of reader do you think ZOO SCIENTISTS will appeal to?
Patricia: I write for the kid who asks questions about animals and our world; the kid who wants to protect wildlife; the future scientist; the future writer with a passion for the environment; or the voracious reader. But way at the back of my mind, I write the kinds of books I would have liked to read as a kid.
Annie: Similar to Plastic Ahoy! Investigating the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, this book is targeted to 3-8 grade students. I have had pre-sale copies and shared it with many… and young and old truly love this book. Every time I read it, I am even more inspired into action. It will appeal to nature lovers, zoo enthusiasts, scientific minds, and anyone who wants to learn more about our world. More important, I think anyone who reads Zoo Scientists to the Rescue will want to help our world!
LAT: I think it’s hard to read this book (or Plastic Ahoy!) and not come away with an enhanced passion for science, the environment, and doing what we can to help. What was your favorite part of making ZOO SCIENTISTS?
Patricia: I love to get to know the scientists. They always inspire and amaze me, and I hope they will inspire young readers to follow in their footsteps. I keep in touch with the scientists I interview to find out where science takes them and how their research grows and develops.
Annie: Getting kissed by Maku, a black rhino!
Annie: My favorite part of making this book was traveling together with Patricia and being able to be a part of all of the interviews so that I knew the kinds of images (both photo and video) that would be important to tell the story. My favorite trip was of course traveling to Chicago and to document black rhinos and Dr. Rachel Santymire at the Lincoln Park Zoo. Currently I live in Seattle, so to be able to create a book featuring a scientist from a zoo that helped shape who I am, and one where I spent hundreds and hundreds of hours of my youth was very exciting. We got a tour of the back area of the rhino exhibit and then worked with Maku’s keeper in the exhibit so that I could get some great photos. It’s the shoot we did that the cover of the book came from. During the shoot, the keeper would work with him and feed him snacks. She let me give him one and the next thing I knew Maku kissed my hand.
LAT: That is so cool! It sounds like it really was a treat for both of you to work on this project. What was the hardest part of the making ZOO SCIENTISTS, and how did you deal with that?
Patricia: For me, the hardest part was lining up the three zoos. After the zoos, the animals, and the scientists fell into the place, the rest of the book was a breeze in comparison!
Annie: Time is the hardest part of making any book. Shooting with Jeff Baughman at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo was very challenging photographically on many levels. We were given permission to shoot at the breeding facility, but there were many points to consider. Their main goal is to breed black-footed ferrets to reintroduce into the wild. BFFs are nocturnal, solitary animals that do not do well with stress. They also need dim lighting. So not knowing any of this in advance, I had to work very efficiently in low light to capture these charismatic animals.
LAT: I can certainly understand the difficulty of the research and logistics to line up the three zoos and their projects, Patricia, and I’m so glad it worked out. But I can’t even imagine how you came up with such great photos in that kind of environment, Annie. Hats off to both of you! During your research, did anything surprise you, catch you off guard, or make you change your planned course for making ZOO SCIENTISTS?
Patricia: I didn’t come across any surprises that made me change course, but I’m always surprised by the coolness of the science and how scientists solve problems. The story of black-footed ferrets being saved from the brink of extinction, not once but twice, is truly astonishing!
Annie: We feature Meredith Bastian from Smithsonian’s National Zoological Park. We were able to interview her while Patricia and I were in Washington, D.C., accepting a Green Earth Book Award for Plastic Ahoy! We had a very limited time with the scientist and only were granted permission the day before we arrived. In our allotted one hour, we interviewed her, but had no time to photograph her with the orangutans nor did we have access on a level that we were given at the other zoos with the animals. It was also a very cloudy/rainy day so the orangutans were not very cooperative! Because I knew we needed to get orangutan images for the book from other zoos, I started hanging out at my local zoo in Seattle, the Woodland Park Zoo, to capture images. In addition, I was traveling to Australia and made a point to go to the Melbourne Zoo. Their orangutan exhibit is phenomenal and really helps educate people on how farming palm oil can be so destructive to our environment.
LAT: I was astonished by the story of the BFFs, too. And, as a Seattleite myself, I love visiting the orangutans at the Woodland Park Zoo. How neat to know that they are pictured in ZOO SCIENTISTS! I’m always curious about other writers’ and illustrators’ (including photographers’!) research processes. Can you tell us about yours? Did you plot the basic outline first, then fill in the blanks with research? Or did you immerse yourself in the research first, then feel your way into the structure? I see you did a lot of email and phone interviews—did you have to go back and forth to complete the stories? Were there any fun facts that got cut that you were sad to see go?
Patricia: When I write for Millbrook Press, I have to submit a formal proposal which provides a basic overview of the idea, describes the chapters, and gives the acquisition committee an idea of where this book would fit in the market. In order to complete the proposal, I conduct short informational interviews with the scientists by phone. During these interviews, I try to find out the broad strokes of their story and whether they are willing to commit the necessary time to lengthy in-person interviews, clarification questions, and vetting the final manuscript. Once I have a scientist’s buy-in, I can craft the proposal and hopefully give my editor some idea what my narrative thread might be.
Patricia: When the acquisitions committee gave me the go-ahead on Zoo Scientists to the Rescue, Annie and I made three trips to the three different zoos to interview the scientists and photograph/film them at work. We braved a spring blizzard, backed away from a charging rhino, and laughed when a chattering black-footed ferret told us exactly what he thought of our intrusion on his space!
Patricia: And as for cutting fun facts, never! I re-word and re-imagine before I cut anything fun. The writing was all about the fun. Why wouldn’t I share that with readers at every opportunity?
Annie: Patricia and I traveled together for all of the interviews. She shared with me many of the papers the scientists had written and we dug deep into who they were. Being able to document with photos and videos always takes research because the more you know about your subject, the more knowledge you can bring to your creative approach. Once the first draft was written, I knew I had to document many other animals. At this time, I became a zoo stalker with my camera. I spent weeks at the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle getting to know the animals so that I could look for special moments. A photographer also has to wait for light for the subjects. Early morning and later afternoons in the fall gives you a golden light.
LAT: Oh, I love getting that insight into the process. What was your larger goal, i.e. what were you trying to give readers of ZOO SCIENTISTS as a takeaway?
Patricia: A Senegalese forestry engineer by the name of Baba Dioum presented a paper at a 1968 meeting of the IUCN. In his paper he said, “In the end we will conserve only what we love; we will love only what we understand; and we will understand only what we are taught.” When I write books like Zoo Scientists to the Rescue or Sea Otter Heroes or Plastic, Ahoy!, I want readers to come away with a newfound respect for our connection to the natural world. Our habits matter because they create ripples across the globe. So, whether we conserve energy to reduce climate change, learn to appreciate the role an apex predator plays in its ecosystem, reduce the amount of single-use plastic in our lives, or buy products that use sustainably-sourced palm oil, we choose to create positive ripples that help preserve the breathtaking abundance of biodiversity on our planet.
Annie: When photographing/filming I always want to document and help viewers see what a writer/script needs to tell a story. Zoo Scientists to the Rescue captures what people are doing to help save endangered species and their environments. I’m hoping that all of our readers feel inspired into action to help protect our world.
LAT: Well said, and I do think you succeeded. In addition to teaching something to our readers, I believe every book teaches us something new–about the world, about
ourselves, or about the craft of creating. What have you learned as a result of making ZOO SCIENTISTS?

Patricia: Every time I write a book about an aspect of the environment, I’m reminded that scientists find new connections all the time between humans and the plants and animals that share our planet. I guess that’s job security for me, but it’s also a wake-up call for young readers. Without a clean ocean will there be enough food to eat or oxygen to breathe? Without predators like black-footed ferrets or sea otters, how will their respective ecosystems thrive? And without large animals like orangutans and black rhinos, will the smaller animals also disappear? Despite what our current administration seems to think, humans are not “entitled” to use and abuse the world’s natural resources without giving back. We have to conserve for the future.
Annie: Zoos are really important places in our world for conservation, education, inspiration and so much more. If the habitat of the orangutan disappears because of our need for palm oil, the orangutans disappear. If black rhinos are killed to extinction because of poachers, then the human population has failed to protect the animals in need of our protection. There is so much destruction happening all around needing to be documented, shared, and reversed. I’ve learned we all need to raise our voices together and do everything possible to protect our world.
Annie: Climate change is real and our ocean is the great regulator of our planet. The weather affects all the regions of the world. People always look at our planet from a people point of view… and I have always looked out for the animals. We told the stories of these three animals and their environment through the lens of people helping them… while other people are trying to destroy the very same animals.
Annie: This is the second title Patricia and I co-created with editor Carol Hinz and entire Lerner Publishing design/marketing crew. It reinforced how much I truly appreciate the team effort to take a book from your imagination into one you can hold in your hands and share with others. It was Margaret Mead who said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” With this book, we are hoping to inspire people into action to protect our world!
LAT: Thank you for sharing those important lessons with us. What are you both working on next?
Patricia: Annie and I have are mulling over a few possibilities for our next book, but you can bet we’ll come up with something. In the meantime, I have two books coming out in 2018: a picture book called Neema’s Reason to Smile (illustrated by the talented Mehrdokht Amini) which tells the story of a Kenyan girl who yearns to be more, and another middle-grade nonfiction science book called Eavesdropping on Elephants which follows scientists who study forest elephants simply by listening to them. I’m extremely excited about both of these titles because they held kids become global citizens in very different ways.
Annie: Although Zoo Scientists to the Rescue officially launches in October, we still have so much to do! We just finished our trailer and are hoping schools and organizations will welcome us to come inspire and speak. We are planning a 30-Day Challenge for everyone to do one thing every day that will help #ProtectOurWorld
Annie: My Uncle Al always said, “Annie, have your fingers in 12 different project ideas…” As I’m writing this, I am on my way to film whales in Tonga. Three days ago, I was in the San Juan Islands off the coast of Bellingham, WA, documenting the environmental disaster of the Cooke Salmon Farm net catastrophe which released 300,000 farmed Atlantic Salmon into the Puget Sound/Salish Sea. In June I was in the Arctic Circle. And I’m also laying the groundwork on a larger project I’d like to work on with Patricia.
LAT: These projects all sound so exciting! I’m looking forward to hearing more about them all when the time comes. Is there anything you wish I would’ve asked you but didn’t? 
Patricia and Annie: You were very thorough, Laurie, and asked us great questions! Thank you so much for participating in the blog tour. We are very grateful to you for wanting to write about us and share our story with your readers. Perhaps we can close with a statement:

We truly hope our story and reading the book Zoo Scientists to the Rescue will inspire others to act. The orangutans, black rhinos, and black-footed ferrets would not be with us today if it were not for people giving them a voice. Yet, they are endangered because of people. We all need to raise our voices together, take an action every day, and share with your friends, family, and colleagues what you are doing and why. We need to work together to #ProtectOurWorld.

LAT: I think that’s a great way to close. Thank you so much, Patricia and Annie, for answering my questions and for your dedication to bringing great books like ZOO SCIENTISTS into the world. I am sure YOUR actions will have many ripple effects around the world. 
Catch up and follow along with the rest of the blog tour here:

To download posters with information about the 30-day #ProtectOurWorld journal challenge, click here.

#ProtectOurWorld challenge poster #ProtectOurWorld challenge journal

Thanks for visiting!
Facts First! Nonfiction Monday

Review: ZOO SCIENTISTS TO THE RESCUE

Zoo Scientists cover

Zoo Scientists cover

ZOO SCIENTISTS TO THE RESCUE
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

POISON: DEADLY DEEDS, PERILOUS PROFESSIONS, AND MURDEROUS MEDICINES
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: 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.

A Starred Review for Emmanuel's Dream!

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star
Emmanuel’s Dream received its first starred review, and it’s from School Library Journal! They called the book,

“a triumph.”

And they also said,

“This powerful and winning picture book tells the story of a young man overcoming the odds.”

and

“This uplifting account will resonate with readers and supplement global and cultural studies.”

You can read the full review here!


And, just for fun, here’s a cool video that John Schu made of the window display at Unabridged Bookstore in Chicago. It’s in great company, don’t you think? It’s always exciting to see one of my books out in the wild, so if you spot one, please share!

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.)

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