First reviews for BE A CHANGEMAKER


BE A CHANGEMAKER coverI’ve had great feedback from friends all along (you know who you are–thank you!), but I’ve been anxiously awaiting that first third-party judgement of BE A CHANGEMAKER: HOW TO START SOMETHING THAT MATTERS. The first professional reviews feel huge to me, kind of “make or break” moments, where the tone gets set for all that may follow for that particular book. I doubt that’s actually true, as most reviewers probably pride themselves on boldly stating their own opinions no matter what others before them have said, but it sure feels that way me. If nothing else, you can always point back at those first positive reviews if subsequent reviews are less than favorable, right? So, you can imagine my huge sigh of relief when that first major professional review landed in my inbox, and it wasn’t completely dreadful!
For me, the first one to come in was from Kirkus, somewhat notorious for not pandering to authors’ fragile egos. I prepared myself for the worst and opened the email. If you’d like to read their full review, click here, but here’s an excerpt:

“Teens looking to make a difference will find inspiration as well as real-world strategies for realizing their dreams of being the change they want to see in the world…. Inspirational as well as practical.
Kirkus ReviewsKirkus header

That one was soon followed by a second positive review, from Compass Book Ratings. Their full review can be read here, but here are some quotes from it:

“Thorough, complete, organized, on-target–pick an adjective, because they all apply in this case….
A superb reference book that should be a staple of libraries, school counselors, and anyone who rubs shoulders with young people.”
Compass Book Ratings

I’m honestly grateful to anyone who takes the time to read and review the book, regardless of his or her opinion of it, but it is extremely encouraging to have great reviews like this under my belt moving forward. Thank you, Kirkus! Thank you, Compass Book Ratings!

Cycles, balance, and making plans

[Note: This was originally published on Emu’s Debuts, but it seemed to resonate with people, so I decided to reblog it here in case you missed it. Sorry if you’re seeing it twice!]
Lately, I’ve become somewhat obsessed with the idea of cycles in our lives. Cycles in nature—life cycles, the water cycle, seasons, etc.—keep our physical world in balance. Man-made cycles keep the government running (usually), prevent mechanical failures and medical mistakes (hopefully), even wash our clothes and dishes for us. If you’re an author, you’re probably familiar with the creativity cycle (see below). And as I’ve mentioned before, one of my all-time favorite Emu’s Debuts post was Melanie Crowder’s The Run/Rest Cycle, about sustaining balance as a writer. As creative types, we often have some leeway about how we choose to spend our time each day, so having a cycle in mind can help us manage our activities and maintain balance in our personal and professional lives.

The Creativity Cycle
The Creativity Cycle

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STEM Friday review: WHY IS MILK WHITE?

Why Is Milk White cover

by Alexa Coelho & Simon Quellen Field
Chicago Review Press
January 1, 2013
288 pages

Did you (or any children in your life) ever wonder how soap works, why onions make you cry, or how bad it is for you to breathe in hairspray? 11-year-old Alexa Coelho did, so she pulled together these and almost 200 other questions about her favorite subject, chemistry, and asked science writer Simon Quellen Field to write up the answers. This book is the result.
Alexa did a great job of coming up with a huge collection of specific, relevant questions that today’s kids (and adults) are sure to be interested in, and Simon did an equally great job answering them in clear, easy-to-understand explanations. It’s fun to read straight through or to use as a reference whenever you come across something interesting that you want to know more about. The book also has some nice nonfiction features like a detailed table of contents, special sections with hands-on projects for young chemists (and often an adult helper), and a glossary of terms.
Unfortunately, there are a few things missing here. First, I would really love to see an index in a book like this. It’s nearly impossible to find the answer to the titular question, for example. I only found reference to it in a different question about why hair conditioner is white, which, obviously, isn’t in the food section. Second, I would have liked to have seen some advice about where to find the ingredients for some of the projects. Have you purchased any muriatic acid lately? Finally, I wish it had clearly stuck to chemistry questions, or at least acknowledged when it was departing from them. Some, such as “Why is the sky blue?”, stray pretty far afield into other areas of science.
Still, I think the goodness here far outweighs the flaws, and middle-school scientists all the way through curious adults will learn a lot about science while enjoying this book.

It’s STEM Friday! Check out the STEM Friday blog for more STEM book reviews.
(STEM is Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics)

Disclaimer: I received a review copy from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Cybils nonfiction picture book roundup #2

My fellow judges and I are still hard at work trying to finalize our round one shortlist for the Cybils nonfiction picture book category. It’s a difficult task because there are so many great books this year! Here are some reviews of some of my personal favorites (Note: I had many, MANY favorites this year). I enjoyed and would recommend all of these.

LITTLE DOG LOST : THE TRUE STORY OF A BRAVE DOG NAMED BALTIC by Mônica Carnesi (Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin)
This is the true story of a nameless dog seen floating on a piece of ice down a river in Poland. Initial attempts to save the dog fail, and he is washed out to sea. Fortunately, the crew onboard a research vessel sees him and finally succeeds in rescuing the dog and nursing him back to health. The story is told in simple but engaging text with delightful illustrations. I think kids and dog lovers of all ages will love this book. I know I did!

NORTH : THE AMAZING STORY OF ARCTIC MIGRATION by Nick Dowson, illustrated by Patrick Benson (Candlewick)
This beautiful book is firmly on my list of all-time favorite nonfiction picture books. Rather than talk about why animals migrate south for the winter, this book looks at the flip side: why and how they come back from all over the world to live in the Arctic the rest of year. It presents a wide variety of animals, including many different kinds of land mammals, birds, whales, and fish. The artwork is stunning, the text is both factual and lyrical, and the layout maximizes the effect on each on every page. This is about as perfect a nature book as I could imagine. Highly recommended!

This is another beautiful book by Candlewick. What I enjoyed most about this book is that the love the author has for his subject comes through on every page, in both the text and the illustrations. Even if you’re not a big baseball fan (which, admittedly, I’m not), there is still a lot to love about this book, especially Ted Williams’ admirable perseverance and dedication to his sport. The author’s note explains that Williams wasn’t perfect, which makes him even more human. There’s also a bibliography and, for true baseball fans, a detailed table of Williams’ career stats.

EGGS 1, 2, 3: WHO WILL THE BABIES BE? by Janet Halfmann, illustrated by Betsy Thompson (Blue Apple)
I thought this was one of the stand-out books for younger kids, teaching number recognition and counting as well as introducing a variety of different animals that hatch from eggs and what those eggs look like. The text is appropriately simple but descriptive and interesting, with the repeated question, “Who will the babies be?” and a fold-out page providing the answer for each number 1-10. The collage artwork gives the pages a rich, three-dimensional look and adds tons of visual interest. My only complaint with this book is that I don’t think the numbers match how many eggs the animals might really have (nine frog eggs, for example), so it’s a bit misleading in that regard, but it does such a wonderful job of achieving its other goals that I’m willing to let that detail slide.

A LEAF CAN BE… by Laura Purdie Salas, illustrated by Violeta Dabija (Millbrook/Lerner)
This is a deceptively simple, but really quite ingenious, rhyming poem about all of the different things a leaf can do or be used for throughout the year. The glowing illustrations provide the perfect accompaniment as well as an explanation of each line of the poem, plus there’s a section at the end of the book with even more details. I think young kids will love this book and it will open their eyes to a whole new appreciation of the nature all around them. Well done!
Disclaimer: All of these books were obtained from my amazing local public library system. 

I Facebook Friended an Albatross!

Wisdom, the Midway Albatross
by Darcy Pattison (illustrated by Kitty Harvill)
Mim’s House, February 1, 2012
32 pages
Reading level: 840L (grades 3-5)
How does a bird in the middle of the Pacific Ocean survive the 2011 Japanese tsunami and other dangers for over 60 years? No one really knows, but we do know for sure that Wisdom–the oldest known wild bird in the world–has.
This book introduces young readers to a single very special member of a largely unfamiliar species, the Laysan Albatross. Through this riveting survival story we not only grow to care about Wisdom herself, we also learn about the life cycle, habitat, and behavior of her kind. We see the many dangers they face, both natural and man-made. We learn how scientists are carefully studying them. And we cheer for the particularly resilient gooney bird who is eventually dubbed Wisdom.
Pattison does a great job of incorporating rhythm and repetition to make this an excellent choice for young readers and read alouds, and Harvill’s art is both beautiful and detailed, adding to the story and bringing Wisdom to life on every page. Children will be quickly swept up in the drama and suspense of Wisdom’s trials and will keep reading (or listening) to find out what happens to her next. Then, they’ll sigh with relief at the happy ending when Wisdom–somehow–still survives.
The book also includes acknowledgements, a Facts About Wisdom section, The Oldest Bird in the World timeline, a Typical Year for a Laysan Albatross timeline, a further reading list, and sections about both the author and illustrator. In addition, there’s a blog with lots of videos, pictures, and additional resources for students and teachers.
Yes, after reading this, I just had to become Facebook friends with Wisdom herself. Click here if you want to be, too!
Make sure to check out the other stops on Wisdom’s blog tour:

To check out the rest of today’s roundup of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics books for kids, head on over to this week’s STEM Friday host, NC Teacher Stuff!
(Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review. I received no monetary compensation. All opinions expressed here are mine and mine alone.)

Review: In Search of Sasquatch

In Search of Sasquatch
by Kelly Milner Halls
Houghton Mifflin Books for Children (October 25, 1011)
64 pages, ages 9 and up
When I was a kid, one of my favorite books was BIGFOOT: MAN, MONSTER, OR MYTH? by Carrie Carmichael (Raintree, 1977). I’ve always been an animal lover, and I loved the possibility that there was one (or more?) out there clever enough to remain a mystery to us. I lived in rural northern Wisconsin and spent a lot of time in the woods, but, sadly, never saw any Sasquatch signs.
When my son told me he thought it’d be cool to be a cryptozoologist (nice!), I knew I had to get him this book. It didn’t disappoint. He’s read it several times cover to cover, and I’m loving the facts and critical thinking skills he’s demonstrating as a result.
My first thought when I opened the book was how beautiful it is. The full-bleed forest spread with the quotes overlaying the trees pulls you right into the world of the sasquatch from the very first page turn (and the final one, as well). The beauty continues with beautiful photography, elegant illustrations, and well-done layout and design throughout.
Halls combines various myths and legends with expert opinions and eyewitness accounts to weave a cleverly crafted and compelling case for the existence of sasquatch. She doesn’t come right out and tell us that it does or doesn’t exist, though. In the end, it’s up to the reader to decide if they’ve been convinced or not.
This is a great book to hand to any kid with an interest in cryptids or other mysteries, and animal lovers and budding young scientists will also enjoy it.
FUN FACT: “According to experts at the Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization (BFRO), credible witnesses have reported seeing Sasquatch in every state in the United States of America except Hawaii, as well as most Canadian provinces.”
There is a dedication, table of contents, additional resources, photo and illustration credits, bibliography and source notes, glossary, and index.
SIDE NOTE: When asked her opinion of the book, my daughter answered, “I LOVED how she crammed so many facts into this book, yet still kept it completely interesting!” My answer: “Ahem. <cough> ‘YET STILL?’ Have I told you what I do? FACTS ARE INTERESTING!” I have failed as a parent.

This is my review for STEM Friday, which I’m also hosting this week! See the complete roundup here.
Disclaimer: A copy of this book was checked out from my local library for review. Thanks, King County Library System!

Review: Bring On the Birds

Bring On the Birds cover

Bring On the Birds
written and illustrated by Susan Stockdale
Peachtree Publishers (February 1, 2011)
32 pages, ages 4 and up

This is one of my favorite books of all the nominations in the Cybils Nonfiction Picture Book category this year, and I just can’t get over how absolutely perfect it is. The poetic text is a simple but elegant rhyme with spot on rhythm and meter:

“Swooping birds,
whooping birds,
birds with puffy chests.
Dancing birds,
diving birds,
birds with fluffy crests.”

The illustrations are bright, clean, and not only depict the various birds, but also place them in their appropriate habitats.
The 21 birds featured run the gamut from the common robin to the more exotic blue-footed booby, from the great blue heron to the blue bird-of-paradise. This book covers an enormous diversity of life, then ends just right with what they all have in common:

“All of them have feathers,
and all are hatched from eggs.”

This is a wonderful introduction to birds for the youngest readers. It could also be used to talk about diversity, habitats, and classification.
At the end of the book, Stockdale includes a perfectly brief and spot-on paragraph with information about each bird profiled in the book. The book also includes a bibliography.
STEM Friday logo

To check out the rest of today’s roundup of books for kids about topics in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, head on over to this week’s STEM Friday roundup over at Anastasia Suen’s Booktalking.

(Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from my local library. I received no monetary compensation for this review. All opinions expressed here are mine and mine alone.)

Review: Picture Yourself Writing Poetry

Picture Yourself Writing Poetry: Using Photos to Inspire Writing
by Laura Purdie Salas
Capstone Press, August 2011
32 pages
Ages: 8 and up
This title is one of the Picture Yourself Writing ____: Using Photos to Inspire Writing series, and it’s quite effective—it inspired me to write! Not only does it demonstrate how one can use images to get ideas for poems, it also contains many specific, easy-to-understand writing tips. Salas covers such important topics as incorporating sensory detail, choosing concrete nouns and strong verbs, characterization and point of view, and structure, all paired with wonderful examples. 
The books opens up with the line, “The best poems are magical, miniature worlds.” It then shows readers how to create those worlds themselves while inviting them to enter several created by Salas.
I think this would be a great book to incorporate into any poetry curriculum. I would also heartily recommend it to students who enjoy writing… as well as to those who tend to struggle with it.

(Disclaimers: I received this copy for review for free from the publisher as part of the Cybils judging process. This review is my opinion only and doesn’t necessarily reflect the judging committee’s selections.)

Review: Only the Mountains Do Not Move

Only the Mountains Do Not Move cover

Only the Mountains Do Not Move cover
Only the Mountains Do Not Move: A Maasai Story of Culture and Conservation
by Jan Reynolds
Lee & Low Books, September 01, 2011
40 pages
Grades 3-4
I’ve always been fascinated by the Maasai, so I was pleased to see this book about their culture written for children, and this book didn’t disappoint. Straightforward text is combined with Maasai proverbs and beautiful photography to give us a detailed glimpse at modern-day Maasai life. This is a balanced representation: Reynolds isn’t afraid to show the less pleasant (biting bugs!) or shocking (drinking cow blood!) aspects of Maasai life, but she also reveals the peace and togetherness it brings. Especially relevant to her young readers is how she focuses on what the Maasai boys and girls do at different ages.
One pleasant surprise was how Reynolds shares with readers not only the historical Maasai culture, but also how the Maasai way of life is changing due to outside pressures and how they are adapting to this new world, giving the story context in the broader world.
I’d be remiss, however, if I didn’t mention that there were a few minor drawbacks for me. First, it bothered me not to have pronunciation guides for the Maa words embedded in the text (but there is one at the end). Second, although the Maasai proverbs were lovely, I wanted more of them and to have them appear more regularly throughout the text. As it is, with 10-14 pages between proverbs, they sort of surprised me each time and felt more like interruptions than the embellishments they should have been. Finally, I would have liked to get a little closer to the main family throughout the whole book. Sometimes the text seems to move way out to the Maasai in general for a long time, then it zooms in briefly to the main characters, then goes right back out again. I would’ve liked more connections to have been made between the general way of life and the specific family.
On the plus side, the back matter includes an author’s note, a glossary and pronunciation guide, a web site for more information, and source notes and acknowledgements. There’s also a very interesting interview and book talk with the author available here, which should make it ever more appealing for teachers hoping to use it in the classroom.
This is a wonderful book for introducing a unique and fascinating African culture to upper elementary students.

Review: Start It Up teen nonfiction

START IT UP by Kenrya Rankin is a must-have resource for teen (and even middle-grade) readers who wish to start any kind of business, whether it be for profit, nonprofit, or mixed.
The book is clearly written and easy to understand, yet includes a wealth of information for young entrepreneurs. The design is clean and functional, with pullouts for quick tips, anecdotes, quotes, and recommended resources. There are also fun quizzes and helpful worksheets. All of this combines to turn what could be a dull, dry topic into a fun, encouraging yet realistic resource.
I’d bet there’s enough substance there’s enough substance in this little gem that even the most seasoned entrepreneurs (adults included!) will find something of use here. And it’s presented in such a way that even the least business-minded individuals (again, adults included!) will be inspired and able to get started in no time.
For changing a life, or changing the world, this book is a winner! For more great nonfiction books, check out the rest of the catalog at Zest Books–Teen Reads With a Twist. (And no, I haven’t been compensated in any way for this post. I received a free galley from NetGalley for review purposes only.)
This post is part of the Facts First! Nonfiction Monday roundup. Nonfiction Monday takes place every Monday at various blogs throughout the kidlitosphere, who write about nonfiction books for kids and collect all the reviews in one place. This week, the Nonfiction Monday roundup is being hosted by Jean Little Library. To see the entire schedule, please visit the Nonfiction Monday blog.