Friday, October 30, 2009

Sammy & Juliana in Hollywood Benjamin Alire Saenz

Sammy and Juliana in Hollywood by Benjamin Alir Saenz

Last month was Hispanic Hertiage month. I help create a list of titles for Color Online to recognize and celebrate it. Sammy and Julina in Hollywood was on the list, though I hadn't read it yet. After reading author Zetta Elliott's review , where see said I loved it in caps and placed it up there with Francisco X Stork's Marcelo in the Real World, I knew I had to read Sammy & Juliana in Hollywood. The caps were well deserved. This is a beautiful book.

Sammy Santos is one of the best three dimensional young adult male protagonist I've read in a long time or ever. Sammy's Hollywood is his barrio in New Mexico, its 1969. Juliana is his friend, the girl he loves and the girl he wants to save. Though this book is so much more, we meet Sammy and his friends there junior year of high school. This is about their life in Hollywood. Every single character in well thought out and well crafted. The author allows the reader to feel and taste Sammy & Julina's world.

Its always easy to spot an author who is a poet. Sure enough I got that feeling, so I flipped to the front , the author has published poetry as well. Saenz, finds words for moments that I thought had no words. He catches the lines between the lines. I know that last part doesn't make sense, so you'll just have to trust me.

Gigi sings " I didn't know anybody could sing like that. And the song she was singing, it was an old Mexican love song entitled La gloria eres tu. She was singing from a different place. And in the moonlight, she didn't seem like a girl at all. She was a soman with a voice. Any man would die just to hear that voice. I thought the world had stopped to listen to Gigi Carmona from Hollywood. I could see tears rolling down Pifa's face. As pure as Gigi's voice. Maybe this was the way the world should end. Not with me and my own thoughts, not with high school boys using their firsts on each other, not with Pifas going off to war - but with the tears of boys falling to the beat of a woman's song, the sounds of guns and bombs and fists against flesh disappearing. This is the way the world should end with boys turning into men as they listen to a woman sing."

Benjamin Alire Saenz, newest book Last Night I Sang to Monster is out now. Its received five star reviews from School Library Journal and Publishers Weekly. I make it a point not to cut and paste. The following is going to be the one expection because I loved Sammy& Juliana in Hollywood so much.

Zach’s first-person voice is compelling and heartbreaking. Sáenz’ poetic
narrative will captivate readers from the first sentence to the last paragraph
of this beautifully written novel, which explores the painful journey of an
adolescent through the labyrinth of addiction and alcoholism.
--Kirkus Reviews--

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Other Mozart. Hugh Brewster Eric Velasquez

The Other Mozart: The Life of the Famous Chevalier de Saint-George by Hugh Brewster illus. by Eric Velasquez

This is the story of Joseph Bologne. Born in 1745 on the French Island, his mother, Nanon was a slave and his father George was wealthy planter from a well to do French family.

When Joseph Bologne was eight the three moved to Paris. George gave his son a title to fit in. When the three reached their new home - Joseph Bologne became the Chevalier de Saint -George.

He was a champion fencer and a celebrated violinst, conductor and composer.

" In 1769, Joseph became the first violinist of the largest orchestra in Paris. And three years later, the orchestra performed two violin concertos that he had composed. A newspaper review said that the Chevalier de Saint- George received "the most rapturous applause" - both for his playing and for his compositions. The next year, at the age of just twenty-four, Joseph became the orchestra's conductor"

"But the most famous composer in all of Europe was Franz- Josef Haydn. Musicians called him affectionately "Papa" Haydn. In 1785, Joseph traveled to Vienna to meet the great man. Two years later, Joseph conducted the firs performances of six symphonies that Haydn had composed especially for his orchestra. Today these are known as Haydn's "Paris" Symphonies. The fourth one is called La Reine (The Queen) as it was Marie Antoinette's favorite

Brewster includes fact about other prominent people during this time inculding Marie Antoinette, Mozart and Toussaint L'Ouverture. This inclusion can help a reader to cleary see time in which Chevalier de Saint- George lived. Velasquez illustrations are strong, delicate, detailed and gorgeous Velasquez takes the reader to another century with his artwork.

The author mentions the Revolution, the King and Queens beheading and the Reign of Terror that seized Paris.

"An extremist faction led by a man named Robespierre had seized control of France's revolutionary government. Robespierre saw traitors everywhere. Former aristocrats were particularly suspicious. For almost a year, Joesph shivered in a damp, cold cell"

Filled with facts and time lines, this is wonderful biography of a not so well known, accomplished figure in history.

This biography could be paired with
Paul Robeson by Eloise Greenfield Jill's review @ Rhapsodyinbooks or

The Voice That Challenged a Nation: Marian Anderson and the Struggle for Equal Rights
by Russell Freedman

And for the first time I am linking to NonFiction Monday (finally)

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Haunted, Scared, Chased And Cursed: Perfectly Fun For October 31

With Halloween only a few days away I thought I'd highlight some great reads for the occasion. And yes, I loved all of these books.

Revenge of the Witch: The Last Apprentice, Book One by Joseph Delaney - For a child who loves to be scared and goosebumps doesn't do it for them anymore, this is the book.

Magic Thief #01: The Magic Thief, Book One by Sarah Prineas - The main character Connwaer (Conn) is book smart and street smart. An expert lock picker/thief, living in a city thats run with magic.

Heck: Where the Bad Kids Go by Dale E Basye my review I do enjoy seeing an author's verison of hell, in this case Heck

I So Don't Do Mysteries by Barrie Summy - this isn't too scary but it so much fun and there are ghosts. my review

Pemba's Song: A Ghost Story by Marilyn Nelson and Tonya Hegamin my review

What-The-Dickens: The Story of a Rogue Tooth Fairy by Gregory Maguire. This was one of those I wish I had a fireplace to read it by books. Would make a great middle grade read to me at night book.

Gilda Joyce, Psychic Investigator by Jennifer Allison - I do love me some Gilda Joyce

Down the Rabbit Hole: An Echo Falls Mystery by Peter Abrahams A great YA mystery.

The Prince of Fenway Park Julianna Baggott my review Baseball, a curse and ghosts. A must read for baseball fans of all ages. This was my Cybils (Children's and Young Adult Bloggers Literary Award) pick middle grade sci fi/fantasy.

Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos by R L Lafevers

The Shadow Speaker by Nnedi Okorafor-mbachu my review

Rogelia's House of Magic by Jamie Martinez Wood my review For those who like their magic real

Ruined by Paula Morris This would have been a Cybils pick but someone beat me to it. A girl befriends a ghost in the New Orleans. my review

Theodosia and the Staff of Osiris. RL Lafevers

Theodosia and the Staff of Osiris by RL Lafevers - 11 yr old Theodosia Thorckmorton lives in London with her parents. Her father his the head curator at Museum of Legends and Antiquities . Her mother is an archaeologist. Theodosia does much to protect the museum without her parents knowledge. Theodosia can sense curses and black magic on artifacts, and knows how to remove curses.
Theodosia discovers the staff of osiris in the musuem basement. The staff can wake the dead, and attract mummies. The mummies from all the museum go missing with the except for the ones at Museum of Legends and Antiquities. Theodosia father is the prime suspect.

The staff of osiris is stolen by the Serpents of Chaos, a secret society. Theodosia must get the staff of osiris back to clear are fathers name, and to stop Serpents of Chaos. Theodosia reports to a man named Wigmere. Their relationship must remain a secret. Will, a former pick pocket is there go between.

I had this book sitting in my pile for a while. I am glad I finally picked it up. This is a wonderful series. There was much talk of waking mummies, ghost and curses. I loved Theodosia. Life didn't stop because she had a mystery to solve. She still had deal with the governess her grandmother keep hiring to make her a lady.

This is the second Theodosia Throckmorton adventure. I should have started at the beginning with Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos. There were references to the first book I didn't understand though that didn't stop me from quickly becoming a Theodosia fan.

Read an excerpt of Book One

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Liar Justine Larbalestier

Liar by Justine Larbalestier
Micah is a senior at a small alternative high school in NYC. She is the strange girl, the outcast, who tells nothing but lies. Outside of school, Micah as a secret relationship with Zach, one of the popular guys. After Zach's body is found in central park, Micah is a suspect. Zach murder's is the reason why Micah, after years of lying has finally decided to tell the truth. Micah sets out to tell the truth about herself, her relationship with Zach and where the lying began.
Larbalestier created mutlilayered and a hard to define character in Micah. Liars are bad. Micah is many things but bad isn't one of them. Liars should be hated. I never hated Micah, not even when she teased with the truth.

I was pulled in by Micah, I couldn't stop reading. Larbalestier writing captured and held me. The book took an expected turn that made me doubt what I thought I knew. Its not often that I am surprised outright, it gave me a wonderful thrill. Liar is unpredictable and very entertaining. I loved it. Micah is a character I will remember for a long time.

Friday, October 23, 2009

CORA Diversity Roll Call

CORA Diversity Roll Call, co hosted by Ali @ Worducopia and Susan @ Color Online. Earlier this week (this is a tad late) Susan asked Roll Call participates to address The Problem Novel.

I really like problem novels. They are a reflection of reality. Though I like to think of them as realistic fiction not problem novels. Authors of problem novels just need to remember they're writing a story not a cautionary tale filled with lessons. Some of my favorite problem novels are.

The Rules of Survival by Nancy Werlin
Runaway by Wendelin Van Draanen
Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
Touching Snow by M. Sindy Felin
Impulse by Ellen Hopkins
Chess Rumble by G. Neri and Jesse Joshua Watson
Bird by Zetta Elliott and Shadra Strickland
Keeping the Night Watch by Hope Anita Smith and E. B. Lewis

All of the titles are young adult except for Chess Rumble and Bird which are middle grade fiction. Thirteen Reasons Why and Bird are the only titles in which the main characters aren't the ones going through something but rather trying to understand. In Thirteen Reasons Why, its suicide and Bird - its a siblings drug addiction. Five out of the eight of these titles are in verse. I think that speaks to the truth of poetry.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Day of the Pelican Katherine Paterson

The Day of the Pelican by Katherine Paterson - Set in late 90's during the Kosovo War. Albanians are being oppressed by Serbs. In the Day of the Pelican, we are introduced to the Lleshis an Albanian family. Though the novel involves the entire family, its Meli Lleshis voice we hear. Its a strong and engaging voice, making this a very enjoyable historical fiction novel. Their life changes forever when Meli's older brother, Mehmet is kidnapped on the way home from school. One day they own a grocery store, the next day they are hiding out in out in the mountains, near the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) As the novel continues the Lleshis situation in Kosovo get more dire. With each change, the author makes the reader free the families desperation and fear. Lleshis and many other Albanian families are forced out of Kosovo. Paterson does an excellent job of explaining the conflict between the Albanians and Serbs. Blending the facts smoothly into the story. 12 yr old Meli and her brother 13 yr old Mehmet are both well drawn characters. I really enjoyed The Day of the Pelican. I need my historical fiction to read like fiction and this novel does exactly that. Ages 10up

Another review @ 3T News and Reviews

Read an excerpt

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Where The Mountain Meets The Moon. Grace Lin

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin
I've been hearing great things about this book and its only been out a few months. It didn't take me long to fall into this story. Minli and her parents live in the poor village of Fruitless Mountain. A long time ago the villagers, offended Jade Dragon who was in charge of clouds. Jade Dragon refused let it rain there again. Years later, the land is still hard to harvest and the people are poor. Everyone is a dull brown from working the land expect for Minli. Minli's color comes from her fathers stories. Her favorites are of Fruitless Mountian Jade Dragon and the Old Man of the Moon. The Old Man of the Moon is the holder of the book of fortune. It holds all the knowledge of the world. Minli's mother disapproves, believing these stories are a waste of time.

One day Minli buys a goldfish, from the goldfish man because he says it will bring fortune. That night Minli sets the goldfish free, they can't afford to feed it. The fish thanks Minli by telling her where to find the Old Man of the Moon.

Minli is tired of her parents working so hard and having little to show for it. She decides to set out to find the Old Man of the Moon, to ask a question. Minli is determined to change the luck of their poor village. Minli quickly befriends a dragon who can't fly. The two become travel companions.

This is a wonderful adventure. Along the way Minli meets people, who tell her more stories like her Ba. The author does a wonderful job of infusing, the connected stories told by the people into Minli's adventure. Minli is smart, resourceful and thinks things out. Where The Mountain Meets The Moon was just an over all pleasure to read. Lin's illustrations throughout add to the books beauty. This is one of those books I wish I had a fireplace to read it by. Ages 8 up

Professional Reviews via the authors blog

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Bait Alex Sanchez

Bait by Alex Sanchez
When we first meet Diego, he's in court meeting his parole officer, Mr Vidas. Diego hit a guy in class who was looking at him funny. The guys nose was broken, the father pressed charges. Diego finds it easy to talk to Mr. Vidas, and wants to be placed on probation to learn how to control his anger. Diego, gets good grades, looks out for his younger brother and tries not to give his mother too much trouble. He does his best to forget his stepfather but the nightmares don't make it easy. Diego also has many secrets that feed his anger. It's these secrets that make him lash out at any guy that looks at him funny, gets too close or calls him gay.

Before Mr. Vida's Diego doesn't trust anyone with his secrets. To help deal with the pain, Diego begins cutting himself. This is only the second young adult novel, I've read where a male protagonist is a cutter. Before Mr. Vidas Diego is always getting into fights.

When Diego finally reveals his secret its not easy to hear. Sanchez doesn't gloss over the sexual abuse, making the readers confront it right along with the characters. Diego's stepfather was abusing him for years. He was also living with the guilt of his stepfather's suicide. With the help of Mr. Vidas, Diego slowly begins to free himself of his anger. Mr. Vidas even gives Diego the opportunity to confront his stepfather. It was a moment so fresh and real, I cried tears of sadness than relief for Diego. There aren't many young adult novels with a male protagonists that have been sexually abused. I don't know why this is since boys aren't immune to predators. Sanchez touches on a few ignored themes - like how does a child abused by one parent deal when they find out the other parent suspected something all along.

That's another thing I liked about Bait, Diego's relationship with his mother. They didn't talk at first, merely co existed. By the end they were learning to find each other again. From the beginning I believed in Diego, the heart of this novel. There is one small thing, Diego's relationship with his girlfriend, Ariel, never felt real to me. Though that won't keep me from highly recommending, Bait. Sanchez has created a three dimensional character in Diego, readers should get to know. Ages 14up

Read an excerpt

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Alvin Ho Allergic to Camping, Hiking, and Other Natural Disasters. Lenore Look LeUyen Pham

Alvin Ho Allergic to Camping, Hiking, and Other Natural Disasters by Lenore Look illus. by LeUyen Pham
Alvin Ho a second grader who is scared of everything. Alvin's dad wants to take him camping, believing the great out doors will give him a little courage. This is only the second book in this series, I already love it and Alvin Ho. The Alvin Ho books are simply fun and well thought out. Each chapter has a great name - chapter seven- Sitting in your underwear is a little boring. Pham's perfect fit illustrations are found throughout the book. Its not easy to find early middle grade realistic fiction with a male protagonist who isn't white. Alvin Ho is second grader who loves to think of worst case scenarios, loses his voice when he's scared, gets along well with his siblings, wants friends, looks up to his dad, and just happens to be Chinese. Ages 8up
Book one- Alvin Ho: Allergic to Girls, School, and Other Scary Things is available in paperback.

Read an excerpt

Building on Nature Rachel Rodriguez Julie Paschkis

Building on Nature: The Life of Antoni Gaudi by Rachel Rodriguez illus. Julie Paschkis

This is the story of Antoni Gaudi, a Spanish architect. Gaudi's work is influenced by the world around him. Rodriquez quickly establishes Gaudi's connection with nature. We first meet a young Gaudi on mountain peaks in Catalonia. Rodriquez text is informative and very appealing. Managing to be educational and entertaining at the same time.

"Casa Mila causes an uproar./A few people even hate it./"What is this?" they ask./"A mountain." some guess./ "Or a hornet's nest," Maybe it's a sand castle or a giant cake. Some say Gaudi's building is laughing at the others on its street. Casa Mila fascinates everyone."

I loved Paschkis illustrations. First impression - gorgeous. Second and third - warm, beauty . I was taken in by the colors, angles, shapes, Gaudi and of course the architecture. Rodriquez and Paschkis have created a wonderful biography of Antoni Gaudi, someone many young readers may be unfamiliar with. I highly recommend it. Ages 5 up
A few professionial reviews via the author's site

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Those Shoes Maribeth Boelts Noah Z. Jones

Those Shoes by Maribeth Boelts illus. Noah Z. Jones - I loved this picture book. Jeremy wants a pair of Black high tops, with two white stripes that all the kids are wearing. His grandmother says there is no room for want just need. Jeremy must watch as all the other kids come in wearing the coveted shoes. When his shoe comes apart in kickball, the guidance counselor gives him a new pair.

"Looks like you could use a new pair, Jeremy, "Mr. Alfrey the guidance counselor, says. He brings out a box of shoes and other stuff he has for kids who need things. He helps me find the only shoes that are m y size - Velcro- like the ones my little cousin Marshall wears. They have an animal on them from a cartoon I don't think any kid ever watched."

When Jeremy returns to class, all the kids laugh at him except for a boy named Antonio. Jermey goes shoes shopping with his grandmother.

"At the shoe store, Grandma turns those shoes over so she can check the price. When she sees it, she sits down heavy. "Maybe they wrote it down wrong," I say. Grandma shakes her head."

After that the two hit thift stores. After some searching they find a pair of those shoes for $2.50. Jermey buys the shoes even though they are too small. At school Jermey continues to wear is no name shoes, while those too small shoes sit in his room In math class Jermey notices that Antonio's feet are smaller than his and one of his shoes is taped up. When the two play basketball, Jermey's mind and eyes stay on that bit of tape keeping Antonio's shoe together. That night Jermey decides to give Anotonio the coveted shoes.

I love how this story unfolded. Sometimes I find picture with grade school students have missed the mark. The text and illustrations fighting each other for a different audience. This was not the case with Those Shoes. The story arc textually and visually are perfect. Boelts quickly gives Jermey, a personality making the reader care about his story. One of my favorite parts -is when Jeremy is working on his spelling words. He's at his desk pen in hand, looking down on the words
South Africa
San Francisco

"When I'm writing my spelling words later, every word looks like the word shoes and my grip is so tight on my pencil I think it might bust."

I am a fan of Noah Z. Jones illustrations. I think this is the third book I've reviewed that he has illustrated. Though I must say Those Shoes is now my favorite. Jones uses light pastel and fall like color, giving the book a very open look. Thanks to the copyright page I know the illustrations were done in watercolor, pencil and ink.

Those Shoes is one of those wonderful picture book that features characters of color but has nothing to do with race. There are not enough of this out, and I am always happy when I come across now. Published by Candlewick Press in 2007, Those Shoes now available in paperback. Its a great story time choice. Ages 5up

I don't mention publishers much on my site but I do take notice. Especially with regards to characters featuring people of color. I like to know who is publishing what. Candlewick Press seems to be publishing there fair share of picture books featuring people of color. Here are a few that I am aware*

Not Norman: A Goldfish Story by Kelly Bennett and Noah Z. Jones

Dance with Me: Super Sturdy Picture Book by Charles R Smith Jr and Noah Z. Jones

How Do You Wokka-Wokka? by Elizabeth Bluemle and Randy Cecil

Rose's Garden by Peter H. Reynolds

I've read and reviewed the first three and look forward to doing the same with Rose's Garden. Its a lovely book and Reynold's newest picture book. Just released on Oct 13, so it is eligible for the Cybils

*A disclaimer - This is not about a blogger trying to be buddy buddy with a publisher but simply a blogger giving a shout out to a publisher that recoginzes the need for people of color in everyday picture books. I have not been compensated by Candlewick Press in anyway. I have never received ARC's from Candlewick Press. They don't even know who I am. If asked who I was, the response would be Happnappy what? Happynappy Who

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Enter to win a John Green Novel - Watch It Travel

Edi is an Indianapolis librarian and a blogger friend. Her school was selected to take part

Pass The Book On Sept 29, Edi mentioned this exciting news on her blog Crazy Quilts.

The following is from that initial post.

"This Friday, 500 John Green books will be distributed through public libraries in Indianapolis and in five public high schools. My high school is one of the five chose to participate!! So, we’ll receive 7 books, go to the website, and for each book the first reader will log in their name, zip code and if they like a photo and review as well. When they finish reading, they will PASS THE BOOK and follow its trail on the ‘net. One book is already on the way to Greece! I’ll post the numbers for the books that make it to my school, maybe we can follow their progress together. The program runs through March, but I assume it will continue for quite a while! I think we’re the first library system to try this. My students were so excited about participating that they gave me their numbers so that i can text them when the books come in! Looks like a great way to improve literacy!"

The books have arrived.
"I have one of the books for one of my readers! So, if you’d like to read one of the John Green books and then PASS IT ON, how about giving me the name of the book you’d like in the comment section no later than midnight TUESDAY 13 OCTOBER" so go enter and if you win it will be very cool to watch the book you read travel the world.

If someone not familiar with John Green enters giveaway, thinking what the hell may as well try. If you are such a person and happen to win go with Paper Towns.

Magic and Misery Peter Marino

Magic and Misery by Peter Marino - 17 T.J. lives in a small town and she quickly notices James (Pan), the new kid. Pan is the beautiful and T.J. who has never had a boyfriend can't help but notice. There relationship begins thanks to a shared birthday. T.J. hopes of the two dating are dashed when Pan announces in one of their classes he is gay. From the beginning the two have an easy, believable friendship. I loved their natural banter. T.J. loves her friendship with Pan but still wants a boyfriend. She is surprised and happy when Caspar a football player ask her out. Caspar is sweet and quiet. Only speaking when he's thought it all out first. When the two begin dating T.J. must balance her time between Pan and Caspar. Yes, Pan is gay but in no way is this a coming out story. His parents already know and accept his sexuality. When T.J. starts dating she ask, Pan for advice because he is the experienced one. At school T.J. worries about Pan's safety when two football players begin harassing him. T.J. does tries to get Pan to report them but he won't. It finally escalates to an incident off school grounds that's horrible but sadly very believable.

I loved Magic and Misery. Its a beautiful multi layered story. There were so many other things I could mention, like Pan's relationship with T.J.'s mom. Or the talk of safe sex. Or when Pan, T.J. and Caspar all hanging out together.

Marino's writing is wonderful. I love when I can't see the effort behind the words. The story simply unfolding like the words were meant to be together. Every sentence and paragraph serving a purpose.

The cover isn't very appealing and doesn't do the book enough justice. Based on cover alone I would've missed out on a wonderful story. Ages 14up

We Were Here Matt De La Pena

We Were Here by Matt De La Pena - I loved Pena's last novel Mexican White Boy and I was really looking forward to reading We Were Here. Miguel has done something that landed him in juvie. The judge sentences Miguel to a year at a group home and mandatory journal writing. The group home Miguel is assigned to known as the Lighthouse and is run by Jaden, a laid back surfer type. I liked Jaden, he tried hard and seemed to really care. There six other guys staying at the group home. When Miguel meets everyone he gets into a fight with Mong. Mong is a skinny Chinese kid everyone avoids. Mong would happily fight to kill. After that incident Miguel keeps to himself. He doesn't have a roommate and spends his time reading the few books in the library. A few weeks after Miguel arrival at the Lighthouse, he gets a roommate, Rondell. Rondell is Black, slow and big. Miguel found out Rondell was illiterate when the two shared a cell at juvie.

"He swiped my journal off the table and stared at the page I was writing, his kick weighing down on my neck. And I'm not going to lie man, I got a little spooked. Rondell's a freak for a sixteen year old: six foot something with huge ass arms and legs and a face that already looks like a grown man. And I'd just written some pretty bad stuff about him in my journal. But at the same time I almost wanted Rondell to push down harder with his shoe. Almost wanted him to crush my neck, break my windpipe. After a couple minutes like that Rondell staring at the page I'd been writing and me pinned to the nasty cement floor - he tossed the journal back on the table and took his foot off my neck. And that's how I knew he couldn't read"(from arc)

Rondell called Miguel, Mexico at juvie and he contiunes to do so at Lighthouse. Miguel, Mong and Rondell are not friends though they end up running away from the group home together. Pena did a good job of bringing the three together. It didn't seem strange at all that Miguel would hit the road with a boy who spit in his face or one who had his shoe on his neck.

Before leaving, Miguel takes the petty cash and their case files. Mong says he knows someone in Mexico. The three head there to start over. There isn't much conversation, the three are strangers and did just escape from a group home after all. Yet somehow there is a sort of ease with which the three relate at times. I enjoyed the quiet moments like when they were ate in a comfortable silence. One of my favorite scenes in the book is when Miguel and Mong, have there first real conversation. Mong is always ready and looking to fight. Miguel knows to keep his guard up for crazed Mong. With that conversation the reader is allowed to see another side of Mong and better understand his willingness to fight.

I kept waiting to see more of Rondell but didn't. Rondell was too one dimensional for my liking. He was a big, illiterate who pretended to read the bible. He thought the bible would keep him from losing his temper. Rondell has the strength to beat someone to death, and he lacks the ability to stop. I didn't mind that Rondell was slow or that he couldn't read, what bothered me was the fact that the author never expended on this character, like he did with Miguel and Mong. The only other thing we learn about Rondell is that he excels at basketball. When the three play in a pick up game, Rondell takes over the court. One night Miguel sneaks away from the others and reads their files. After hearing Mong's history I begin to understand him better. Hearing Rondell's history left me frustrated. When I realized Rondell being a natural basketball player was the only extra we were going to get on this character, I was not happy. I didn't care for how dependent Rondell was on Miguel. At no point in this journey was Rondell his own man. Even on the court, instead of taking the game winning shot, Rondell passes it to Miguel. Rondell kept me from enjoying We Were Here as much as I would've liked. but I did like it.

I thought the author did a great job with Miguel's voice. Even on the run, Miguel continues to write in his journal. Miguel writes about everything from his life at home with his mother and brother to running away with Mong and Rondell.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Cybils - Go Vote

This is the third year of the Cybils or The Children's and Young Bloggers Literacy Award. If this is the first time you are hearing of it, then this must be one of the only children's blog you frequent (thank you, tell your friends) Between Oct 1 - Oct 15 everyone is free to nominate a book in several categories - including Early Reader/Short Chapter Books, Fantasy/Science Fiction, Middle Grade Fiction and Young Adult Fiction.

I love the Cybils awards. The standards and guidelines are clearly stated. As are the founders and judges, and where they can be found on a regular basis. The site is very user friendly There is no favoritism. Everyone is welcomed to participate and is equal. Your nomination carries the same weight as a best selling author. The Cybils site is a great place to find children's and young adult book recommendations fiction and nonfiction.

This year I was happy to see many books featuring people of color get nominated. There is only one category where diversity is lacking, Early Reader/Short Chapter Books. Win or lose the Cybils is a great chance to give a book you love a little exposure. All the judges are bloggers. So even if the book doesn't win it will find its way to readers who love to promote books. Also everyone will see the nominated books. Many times I have clicked on someone else's selection, because I liked the cover or title. This is a chance for give some Early Reader/Short Chapter Books featuring people of color some much needed attention. I think the following six books are eligible. Please don't do a blind vote. Don't just vote for a book because you see it here. If you see a title or two that looks good, read it first. Check it out at the library or buy it at a bookstore. You may find other titles to nominate.

Calvin Coconut: The Zippy Fix by Graham Salisbury,
Nikki and Deja: Birthday Blues by Karen English,
Allergic to Camping, Hiking, and Other Natural Disasters (Alvin Ho) by Lenore Look ,
Keena Ford and the Second-Grade Mix-Up (Keena Ford) by Melissa Thomson ,
Make Way for Dyamonde Daniel by Nikki Grimes,
Backyard Sports #04: Hand-Off by Michael Teitelbaum,
A Happy Day (Katie Woo) by Fran Manushkin
Playing Games #4 (Amy Hodgepodge) by Kim Wayans

If you know of any more books featuring people of color that someone can nominate for Early Reader/Short Chapter Book category, please leave the title in the comment box. Must be published between Oct 16, 2008 - Oct 15, 2009 to be eligible

If you like this post, you have MaryAnn from Great Kids Books to thank for it. I was excited to see many books featuring people of color in the other categories get nominated, I had yet to notice the same wasn't happening in with the Early Reader/Short Chapter Books. MaryAnn brought it to my attention. Overall, the early reader catergory is lacking in nominations. So if you know of a new good one , go vote now.(by Oct 15) While your there go ahead and fill out the rest of the ballot.


Calvin Coconut and Alvin Ho are too long to be considered short chapter books. I was afraid that would happen. I left them on because they're really great books. Plus all that time I spent getting the images right, I am not about to take them down.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Happy Belly, Happy Smile Rachel Isadora

Happy Belly, Happy Smile by Rachel Isadora I've been a fan of author/illustrator Isadora since I first discovered her. A good picture book should draw out some emotion from the reader before the book is even opened. Isadora covers always make me smile, Happy Belly, Happy Smile is no exception.
Its Friday, Louie is having dinner with Grandpa Sam at his Chinese restaurant. Louie always looks forward to these Friday nights out with his Grandpa. There are only a few lines of text on all but one page. Louie's face is very expressive. I especially love when Louie's Grandpa ask if he wants to try his fish. Louie's eyes are downcast, as if he feels bad about not wanting to try the fish. On the next page crabs are brought to the table.

Louie says "I don't think so" his eyes have a priceless eww people eat this look. Many kids will be able to relate to Louie's avoidance of food from the sea. Isadora brings life to this story with color. Happy Belly, Happy Smile is a visual joy, though I may be a little biased since collage is one of my favorite styles. Happy Belly, Happy Smile is a wonderful picture book. Ages 4up

Monday, October 5, 2009

Bad Apple Laura Ruby

Bad Apple by Laura Ruby
16yr old Tola Riley is an artist and is in the middle of a scandal. Tola's, art teacher Mr. Mymer is accused of having taking advantage of her. An accidental run in was captured on video and the art teacher is suspended. Tola must continue to go to school and face the gossip. She does her best to tell people nothing happened. Though everyone is so busy trying to protect her no one will listen. Bad Apple is a pretty straightforward story, with no unexpected turns. I think that's part of its strength, the author doesn't try to keep the readers interest with unnecessary surprises. Tola carries the book fine on her own. I loved her voice its honest, venerable, funny and realistic. Bad Apple has a quiet goodness and is very good. Bad Apple is one of those books I don't truly appreciate how well all the elements fit together until a few days after I've finished it. Ages 13up
An excerpt

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Ruined Paula Morris

Ruined by Paula Morris
Rebecca Brown and her dad have always lived in NYC. Mr. Brown, travels on occasion for work. This time he will be gone too long for a neighbor to watch Rebecca. Rebecca is headed to New Orleans to live with a woman she has only meet once, Claudia and her twelve year old daughter, Aurelia. In order to get into the exclusive academy for her sophomore year, Rebecca must pretend she is Claudia's niece. Rebecca gets along very well with Aunt Claudia and Aurelia. Which is good since they live in a shotgun house and there isn't much room.
Rebecca doesn't care much for New Orleans. Everyone seems concerned with money, family ties, status and who knows who. At Rebecca's new school, the students from the most connected families are known simply as Them. The Gray's, Bowman's and Sutton's are the core families.

Helena Bowman and Marianne Sutton are the It girls at Mead Academy. Rebecca doesn't like or trust either. There's only one living person Rebecca enjoys spending time with Anton Gray. Both know their relationship would not be accepted so they do their best to keep it a secret. The only other friend Rebecca has is Lisette, a ghost. Lisette is around Rebecca's age, she died in 1853 under suspicious circumstances. Lisette has been haunting the cemetery, across from Aunt Claudia's house since her death. She can't go in peace until the truth comes out. When Lisette was alive she was a free person of color. She and her mother lived in Faubourg Treme. Rebecca spends much of her time in the cemetery talking to Lisette.

The author does a wonderful job of incorporating a lot of New Orleans rich history.

"Rebecca decided to smuggle her homemade sandwich in to the library. She liked looking at the maps of Louisiana and the Caribbean, back when France and Spain and Britain were fighting over territory and power. It made her think of pirates and buccaneers, of plantation ladies and dashing explorers though, she knew, this was a naive and romantic view. Back in the days when Haiti was called Saint-Dominique, it was known as the Pearl of the Antilles, a place of incredible riches where the French produced sugar and coffer and rum for their entire empire. But this was only possible because of hundreds of thousands of slaves. And the brutal treatment of these people led to the slave rebellion and Haitian revolution, which was incredibly bloody and terrible. Rebecca's class had been story it in history. Anyone with the means to escape Haiti fled the fighting and thousands of these refugees came to New Orleans like Lisette's grandparents. With them they'd brought their music and their food and their religion, voodoo. According to her teacher they changed the the culture of New Orleans forever. And now, since the hurricane, people had moved to the city from Mexico and Central America, to work on rebuilding houses; the city would change again. "

After I read the passage, I knew it was the one I would share, though I had many to choose from. I especially loved when Lisette gives Rebecca a tour of New Orleans. The two hold hands so Rebecca can see the many ghosts of the city. The ghosts speak many languages and are of many ethnic backgrounds. This was one of my favorite scenes in the book. It was a pleasure to visualize the two walking down the streets of New Orleans invisible to the living.

Sometimes, with a novel when one part of the story thrives with life the other part suffers. This didn't happen with Ruined. The author has written a beautiful story all around. I loved it.

I must thank Casey at Bookworm 4life for bringing this book to my attention. I have a thing for novels with ghost especially with a hint of a mystery. So Ruined was on my radar. Though when I found out Lisette was Haitian I bumped it up on my reading queue. I am very happy I did. Every time a customer mentions New Orleans I am quick to put Ruined in their hands. Ages 14up

Get a little taste of Rebecca and Lisette, walking through New Orleans

Michelle Deborah Hopkinson AG Ford

Michelle by Deborah Hopkinson illus. by AG Ford This is a wonderful biography about the First Lady, Michelle Obama. It begins on January 20,2009 with the unforgettable moment when the President and Michelle Obama walked and waved to the crowd. On the first three pages are on President Obama's inauguration . The reader then meets a young Michelle Robinson, who will grow up to be the first African American First Lady. Beginning in the small apartment in the South Side of Chicago the author gives the reader a good sense of the type of person Michelle was, determined and focused. Always at the top of her class and accepted at Princeton. The author points out the importance of family in all of this success.

President Barack Obama makes his first appearance in Michelle Robinson's life at a Chicago law firm. President Obama is now a part of the story though Hopkinson's keeps the focus on the First Lady. Her commitment to community service is mentioned in the biography and expanded on in the great afterword.

The illustrations for this biography are beautiful. I love the color contrast throughout the book. If you look at the opening spread you can see for yourself. AG Ford is quickly becoming one of my favorite new illustrators. Click here and here to see why. At times like this I wish I had what it takes to breakdown illustrators and get across how great the artwork is. I can only hope that the ladies at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast will have AG Ford stop by for a chant in the future. ( Yes that is a slightly shameless request and I hope it works)

Hopkinson's information filled text and Ford's gorgeous illustrations make this biography on Michelle Obama a must have. 7up

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Our Enduring Spirit Greg Ruth

Our Enduring Spirit illustrated by Greg Ruth, words by President Barack Obama I remember hearing about this book earlier in the year, I couldn't wait for it to be released. Its out now and its gorgeous. The more I look at it the more I appreciate it. Ruth has illustrated President Obama's first words to America. He used Sumi and Ink to capture this historic moment in American history. The first African American to be elected will always stand out, regardless of any one's opinions of Barack Obama. When President Obama took the oath of office on January 20, 2009, we lived history.

President Obama's speech is a journey through American history, that will touch, educate and lead to discussions. With a brush, Ruth has taken an essential part of that day, and made it a pleasure for young readers. Our Enduring Spirit reminds us that history is for the old and young. The entire inaugural speech is included at the back of the book. This is a must for any library, school or home. Ages 7up