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.