Monday, November 30, 2009

An Interview With Rene Colato Lainez

I recently reviewed a wonderful new bilingual picture book René Has Two Lase Names/ René tiene dos apellidos by Rene Colato Lainez. The book is based off the author's childhood experience. On the first day of school Rene's teacher only puts his first last name on his name tag. Rene is confused and sadden by the loss of his maternal grandparents last name. I thought the author did an excellent of showing Rene's connection with his grandparents and I loved that a family tree was incorporated. My review

The author, René Colato Laínez was kind enough to answer a few questions. Since this is a bilingual picture I will begin and end this interview in Spanish.

Hola and bienvenido René. Congratulations on your newest picture book René Has Two Last Names/ René tiene dos apellidos.

How old were you when you moved to the United States?

I was fourteen years old when I left El Salvador to come to the United States. My father and I left on February 17, 1985 and arrived to Los Angeles on April 14, 1985. It was a long and tiring trip. My journey and my immigrant experience are my main focus on my picture books.

What did you think when learned people in the U.S. generally use one last name?

I was in shocked when I received my school id in high school and found out that my mother’s last name was missing. At first I thought it was a mistake, but my school counselor told me that I could use only my father’s last names in my official papers.

In the picture book, young Rene gets to keep both last names. Where you able to hold on two both names in school?

I was able to hold on my two last names on my homework and school projects. Also I have my two last names on my high school and college diplomas. I have a MFA degree in Writing for Children & Young Adults from Vermont College.

It's sometimes difficult for someone of another culture to understand a different way of doing things. I loved how you showed, young Rene's connection with all four grandparents. You made it really easy for children to feel René's sadness and loss at having his name shortened. How many drafts did you have to go through to get the story just right?

This is René’s second adventure. I Am René, the Boy/ Soy René, el niño was the first book. Writing René Has Two Last Names/ René tiene dos apellidos was relatively easy because I already knew the characters, (Me and my family). I wrote the first draft after having a phone conversation with my literary agent, Stefanie Von Borstel. We were looking for another story for René and decided that my two last names would be the perfect one. I wrote four more drafts and it was presented to my publisher. A few weeks later, we received a contract!

Do you prefer to read the story in Spanish or English?

I incorporate music, movements and children’s participation in my readings. I had read the book in English and Spanish and bilingually. If all my audience speaks Spanish, I prefer to read my books in Spanish. But I am happy to read it in any language.

Oh man, this book would be great with music. There's wonderful movement throughout.

"In El Salvador, I wrote my name on my homework, my books and my birthday party invitations. Rene Colato Lainez was a happy song that made me dance to the rhythms of the cha cha cha. But in the United States, the song lost the guiro, maracas and drums. Why does my name have to be different here?

It takes a strong person to resist the urge to dance after hearing cha cha cha.

Do you write your picture books in English or Spanish first?

I usually think the story in Spanish first. I do not start to write until I have a clear vision of the beginning, middle and ending. I usually write the first draft in Spanish. Then I translate this draft into English and work in English until the story is ready for submission. The work with my editors is in English. When the story is ready and approved by the publisher, I do the Spanish translation.

And finally, Rene can you tell us a few of your favorite books of the year?

I have a few favorite novels:

THE INVISIBLE MOUNTAIN by Carolina de Robertis
BLESSING'S BEAD by Debby Dahl Edwardson
CONFETTI GIRL by Diana Lopez

Picture books:

JUST IN CASE by Yuyi Morales
by Carmen Tafolla
by Amy Costales

I love a well read author, especially one who has similar taste.

Gracias, Rene. Buena suerte y muchas felicidades por tu nuevo libro ilustrado

Jim Thorpe Original All- American. Joseph Bruchac

Jim Thorpe: Original All-American by Joseph Bruchac
Born on Sac and Fox reservation in 1887, Jim Thorpe was a gifted athlete. The story is told in Thorpe's voice, beginning with life on the reservation and various Indian schools. Thorpe finally ends up at the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania, where they joined the football team. The football coach was none other than Glenn "Pop" Warner. In the 1900's Carlisle football team was a powerhouse defeating many of the Ivy League teams. Thorpe talks about the games and Native American pride.

"October 12 was the Syracuse game, played in Buffalo to take advantage of the bigger field. Having it there also meant that it was right between the Iroquois reservations in New York and Canada. Indians poured in over the bridge from Canada to see us play. It may be hard for people now to understand how important the success of our football team was to a lot of Indian people- people who knew nothing more about football than the fact that our all Indian team was knocking the stuffing out those White teams who thought they were the best. Indian people had lost so much at the time- their land, their ways of life, their languages, and even their children were being taken from them. Any kind of Indian victory was an inspiration for them."

Sports biographies are great revealing so much about the social climate of the time. Besides learning about Thorpe's excellence on the football field- his two 1912 Olympic gold medals and the controversy that followed, there's the story behind Indian schools. The mistreatment of the students, and not being allowed to speak their native languages.

"There was a lot of liberal people in the East who agreed with his ideas that an Indian was just a white man bathed in red. They liked his motto Kill the Indian and save the man. The government liked his ideas too. Fighting the Indian was costing more money than it would to civilize him. I think part of it, too was because they figured that having the children of powerful Indian leaders sent off to school would help keep the tribes in line."

Bruchac made Jim Thorpe come alive in this biography, I love it. Football fans will love all the references to the early years of football. However, this is a biography that transcends the field and should be embraced by non sports fans and sports fans alike. Age 10up

I've linked this post to non-fiction Monday @ Thebooknosher

Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate Jacqueline Kelly

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly
I loved this book and its beautiful cover, created by Beth White.
Calpurnia (Callie Vee) is the middle child of seven and the only girl. The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate has a wonderful opening line.

"By 1899, We had learned to tame the darkness but not the Texas heat."

This is the story of Callie Vee's 11th summer. Kelly's created a wonderful, strong, smart, inquisitive ahead of her time female protagonist.

When Callie Vee tried to check out Darwin's new and controvesial Origin of Species, the librarian refused. All the Tate kids are afraid of their grandfather, and tend to keep their distance. So when Callie Vee tells her grandfather what happened at the library, she's surprised he has a copy of Origin of Species. Callie Vee begins to assist her grandfather with his experiments.

This book was such a pleasure to read, I loved it. It moves with such beautiful ease. Every part of the story from Callie Vee's relationship with her siblings to her uncertain future are fully developed. Callie Vee's voice feels true to her age. This is Jacqueline Kelly's first novel but its so hard to tell. This would make a excellent book club selection. Ages 10 up

"In late June, the Fentress Indicator reported that the temperature was 106 degrees in the middle of the street outside the newspaper office. The paper did not mention the temperature in the shade. I wondered why not, as no one in his right mind spent more than a second in the sun, except to make smartly for the next patch of shadow, whether it be cast by tree or barn or plow horse. It seemed to me that the temperature in the shade would be a lot more useful to the citizens of our town. I labored over a letter to the editor pointing this point out, and to my great amazement, the paper published my letter the following week. To my family's greater amazement, it began to publish the temperature in the shade as well. Reading that it was only 98 in the shade somehow made us all feel a bit cooler."

Saturday, November 28, 2009

My First Editor Shout Out And More

If anyone is wondering, I haven't decided to review only picture books. That might be hard to tell from my last few entries but I ran into a few bad middle grade and young adult books.

If you haven't seen it yet. Check out my review of Rita Williams-Garcia's upcoming release One Crazy Summer @ Color Online - I thought One Crazy Summer was a wonderful book. I loved the three sister who spend the summer of 68 with there mother in Oakland, where they are introduced to Black Panthers.

Lets here it for another historical fiction novel featuring Black people that's not about slavery. Oh yeah.

Lets here it for another historical fiction novel about the Black Panthers. Kekla Magoon's The Rock and the River will soon have some great company.

I've always thought part of an editors job is making sure a novel appeals to the largest audience possible. Sometimes I believe making sure more people will like a book limits the amount of honesty we see in middle grade and young adult fiction with characters of color.

I don't know what didn't make it into the final verison of One Crazy Summer but I know what did. For that I say thank you. For an editor allowing three little Black girls to keep their voices, I am going to give my first ever editor shout out.

Thank you Rosemary Brosnan.

And More
I recently finished The World is Mine by Lyah B LeFlore illus. by DL Warfield. Its the first book in LeFlore's new YA series the The Come Up. This is LeFlore's YA debut and her fourth novel. Having finished the World is Mine, I am very happy LeFlore, has decided to start writing YA fiction.

When I saw that this book was illustrated I didn't know what to expect. The artwork is only near start of a new chapter. I thought it fit in well with the text.

The illustrator Warfied has an extensive bio. I just want to give a quick highlight. In 2000 he launched is own copy called Goldfinger a few of his clients, Nike, Sprite, Dreamworks Music, Nordstrom, Coca Cola , Sony Music and Adidas.

I also recently finished Devil's Kiss by Sarwat Chadda. It took a serious well deserved jump up my reading queue after I read the author's interview at Findering Wonderland., where he said this

The violence is there for a reason. I'm hoping it affects you because it is brutal and leads to loss. I hate the 'kill and quip' style of comedy violence where brutal things happen and the hero walks away with a smart one-liner. Death has consequences. I needed to establish that on the first page, on the first line.

Chadda had me right there and the book embraces diversity. What! Sold.

I will be reviewing both of these books soon. Looking forward to talking about older books again. I think picture books are the hardest to review.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Rain Stomper Addie Boswell Eric Velasquez

The Rain Stomper by Addie Boswell illus. by Eric Velasquez
This picture book is rhythm filled with gorgeous illustrations. I love it. Jazmin is ready to twirl her baton in the big parade. Then the rain comes. Tired of watching it, Jazmin goes outside armed with her baton to stomp out the rain.

Jazmin worked it out before she even got to the sidewalk. While kicking the the rain down the apartment steps, Jazmin does a very nice broadway leg kick.

The Rain Stomper was meant to be read out loud. Boswell's text has such a beautiful flow, with wonderful action. Velasquez illustrations are amazing.

I am going to stop here because I won't do this picture book enough justice. So please check out the google preview

Two of a Kind Jacqui Robbins Matt Phelan

Two of a Kind by Jacqui Robbins illus. by Matt Phelan
This is a wonderful story about two different friendships. Kayla and Melanie, whisper a lot and are only nice to each other. Julisa and Anna will let anyone play with them.

"Kayla and Melanie are two of a kind. That's what Kayla and Melanie say. Even our teacher, Ms. Becky, says it sometimes, like when Kayla and Melanie beg to be partners at work time.
"Julisa and I like to be partners too, but nobody calls us two of a kind. Ms. Becky does say, "Julisa, and Anna, can you help?" a lot. And we do."

In science class Kayla and Melanie make fun of Julisa's glasses, Anna pretends not to notice. Anna is teamed up with Melanie for the science experiment. Melanie is impressed with Anna's rainbow. Anna can now hang out with Melanie and Kayla.

I loved Two of a Kind. It's another great picture book featuring characters of color that has nothing to do with race. Its simply a story of a girl who decide if she likes spending time with the popular girls or her best friend. Julisa's voice is very clear and the dilemma well defined.

Phelan's illustrations are lovely and a perfect fit. I loved that the illustrator depicts Kayla and Melanie wearing matching outfits. He captures the emotions on everyone face. One any given page without reading the text, it's easy to tell what a character's feeling. Ages 5up

Monday, November 23, 2009

Let Freedom Sing Vanessa Newton

Let Freedom Sing by Vanessa Newton
On the first page Newton gives one verse for a few of the popular Freedom songs during the Civil Rights movement.

This Little Light of Mine is the song behind this story. Newton points out several notable people during the Civil Rights movement, who let their light shine, ending with President Obama. Rosa Parks and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr are included. The author also recognizes teens who took a stand for change, the Little Rock Nine and The Greensboro Four.

I smiled my way through this book. I loved Newton's illustrations. This is a wonderful picture book about the power of music. With colorful detailed illustrations and slim text Newton conveys the importance of Freedom songs during the Civil Rights movement for younger listeners/readers (4up).

I've linked this post to NonFiction Monday

Friday, November 20, 2009

Long Shot. Chris Paul Frank Morrison

Long Shot: Never Too Small to Dream Big by Chris Paul illus. Frank Morrison
For those who don't follow the NBA Chris Paul is a NBA All -Star, (hence the title) and he is also a very popular player. Before I got ahold of this book, I was worried it would be too much lesson and not enough story. That tends to happen alot with celebrity books, whether they are written by the celebrities themselves or ghostwriters.

Long Shot has a good balance. I loved it. What turns my would be like into love for this story are Morrison's illustrations. I am a huge fan of his style. With another artist this text would be considered good with Morrison its becomes very good.

A young Chris Paul dreams of playing on his school's basketball team but everyone says he is too short. He practices day and night until tryouts. The text and illus. of the tryouts are lovely.

"I picked myself up and got back on defense. The other team's biggest player had the ball. I watched his hips just like C.J. told me to. When he tried to fake right, I wasn't fooled. I darted in and stole the ball. I heaved a chest pass to my teammate under the basket, and right at the buzzer, he scored"

Young basketball fans will love this picture book. Ages 4up

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Rene Has Two Last Names / Rene tiene dos apellidos. Rene Colato Lainez. Fabiola Graullera Ramirez.

Rene Has Two Last Names / Rene Tiene Dos Apellidos by Rene Colato Lainez and illus. by Fabiola Graullera Ramirez

The author turns a childhood experience into a bilingual picture book. English is on the top and Spainsh on the bottom. On the first day of school in the United States a young Rene Colato Lainez becomes Rene Colato. The shorter name feels wrong.

"In El Salvador, I wrote my name on my homework, my books and my birthday party invitations. Rene Colato Lainez was a happy song that made me dance to the rhythms of the cha cha cha. But in the United States, the song lost the guiros, and drums. Why does my name have to be different here?"

Young Rene's classmates tease him about his long name. A class project about a family tree allows Rene to explain the importance and meaning behind both last names. The presentation is great. Rene talks about about all four grandparents and the attributes he shares with each.

"And this is me, " I said, pointing to my picture in the family tree. "I am Rene Colato Lainez. I am as hard working as Abuelo Rene and as creative as Abuela Amelia. I can tell wonderful stories like Abuelo Julio and enjoy music like Abuela Angela. If you call me Rene Colato only, the other half of my family disappears."

I really liked this story. The illustrations are okay . There were a few pictures that made me smile, especially those of the grandparents. There is also a very cute cat. I would've liked the illustrations more if the children's eyes didn't seem to pop out of their heads. The large eyes didn't keep me from enjoying the story. The author does an excellent drawing a picture so children will understand his feeling of loss.

" Rene Colato looked incomplete. It was like hamburger without the meat or a pizza without cheese or a hot dog without a wiener. Yuck!"

After reading or hearing this story young readers will understand the significance and meaning behind two last names for the Latino culture.
Ages 6up

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Monstrumologist Rick Yancey

The Monstrumologist by Rick Yancey
This book was perfectly scary and not for squeamish readers. (it should come with a warning label). This is the journal writings of 12yr old Will Henry, an assitant to Dr. Warthrop a monstrumologist. Dr. Warthrop is a member of a small group of men who study monsters, specifically Anthropophagi. Their only source of food are humans. A new breed has been discovered in a graveyard not far from Dr. Warthop's house. I loved this book, the author allows the reader to see every creepy detail.

"Dr. Warthrop reached into the thing's chest with the forceps. I heard the scraping of the metal against something hard - an exposed rib? As he spoke, the doctor tapped thin strips of flesh from the forceps into the metal tray, dark and stringy, like half cured jerky, a piece of white material clinging to one or two of the strands, and I realized he wasn't peeling off pieces of the monster's flesh: the flesh belonged to the face and neck of the girl. I looked down between my outstrectched arms, to the spot where the doctor worked, and saw he had not been scraping at an exposed rib. He had been cleaning the thing's teeth."

The Monstrumologist is for anyone wondering where have all the horror books gone. Its a must for young readers who are budding horror fans. Ages 14up

Read an excerpt

Claudette Colvin : Twice Toward Justice. Phillip Hoose

Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice by Phillip Hoose - This is the story of Claudette Colvin, a teenager who got arrested for standing up for her rights. Nine months before Rosa Parks refused to give up her bus seat Claudette stood her ground.

This is a wonderfully detailed biography. If this is to be the only biography on a teenager who did her part to bring about change, then the world lucked out. The author was able to interview Claudette Colvin. There are some great photographs of the time dispersed throughout. As well as documents and newspaper articles. Claudette Colvin was also one of four plaintiffs in Browder v Gayle. The federal judges ruled bus segregation unconstitutional. Thanks to that ruling Alabama bus boycott soon come to an end.

It would be hard not to be moved by this story and Claudette Colvin, who's act of strength the world was not ready for. This book as a National Book Award finalist. Ages 10up

Read an excerpt This book would go nicely with

The Rock and the River by Kekla Magoon

I've linked this post to Nonfiction Monday.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Diversity Roll Call: Early Readers

This weeks Roll Call question comes from Ali @ Worducopia Paricaptes were asked to find early readers with children of color as main characters.

Hill of Fire (I Can Read Book 3) by Thomas P. Lewis

Chang's Paper Pony (I Can Read) by Eleanor Coerr

A Bear for Miguel (I Can Read Book 3) by Elaine Marie Alphin

The Outside Dog (I Can Read Book 3) by Charlotte Pomerantz

Stories Huey Tells (Stepping Stone, paper) by Ann Cameron

Donavan's Word Jar (Trophy Chapter Book) by Monalisa Degross

How to Fish for Trouble (Willimena Rules) by Valerie Wilson Wesley

Tippy Lemmey by Patricia C. McKissack

Keena Ford and the Second-Grade Mix-Up by Melissa Thomson

Luke on the Loose by Harry Bliss

Go Fish (Trophy Chapter Books) by Mary Stolz

Nikki and Deja by Karen English

Make Way for Dyamonde Daniel by Nikki Grimes

Alvin Ho: Allergic to Girls, School, and Other Scary Things by Lenore Look

Ruby Lu, Brave and True (Ready-for-Chapters) by Lenore Look

All Mixed Up! (Amy Hodgepodge, No. 1) by Kim Wayans

And Coming Soon
Ling & Ting : Not Exactly The Same by Grace Lin - I wish I could take credit for finding this soon to be early reader but I can't. I found out about it thanks to a Little Brown and Company Spring Preview over at Fuse#8

I was familar with many of these titles. I read and really enjoyed Ava Tree and Wishes Three earlier in the year. My review I did find some new books thanks to this roll call. I also discovered that Capital Mysteries features best friends KC Corcoran and Marshall Li solving mysteries near the Capital.

In case you missed it - a question inspired by this roll call.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Calvin Coconut: The Zippy Fix Graham Salisbury Jacqueline Rogers

Calvin Coconut: The Zippy Fix by Graham Salisbury illus. by Jacqueline Rogers This is the second book in the new early readers series featuring Calvin Coconut. I loved the first one Calvin Coconut: Trouble Magnet. 9 yr old Calvin lives in Hawaii with his mom and younger sister Darci. After Calvin's dad changed their last name to Coconut (for his act), he left for Las Vegas. The family of three turns into four when Stella moves in. Stella is the teenager daughter of Calvin's mom's best friend. Calvin and Stella don't get along too well. Calvin sneaks a cat into Stella's bedroom, knowing she has allergies. Stella gets sick and misses a big date. Calvin feels guilty, after he finds out Stella picked out the book Hatchet for him at the bookstore. He decides to get Stella a great gift for her birthday. Now all he needs is money.

Calvin is a great character. There are not enough early readers with male characters of color as the main protagonist or a multicultural cast, this series has both. I love that who they are has nothing to do with the story. There are other things that stand out for me, Calvin's mom works at Macy's. Usually parents only have professional occupations, if what they do is mentioned at all. In real life parents work all types of jobs. Calvin mom has been dating the same man for over a year. In real life divorced parents date. It's nice to see reality reflected in fiction.
The author writes a wonderfully complete story. Calvin Coconut is a great new series for early readers. Ages 7up

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Lockdown Alexander Gordon Smith

Lockdown: Escape from Furnace by Alexander Gordon Smith
Alex Sawyer life of crime started on the playground when he was 12. Two years later Alex is caught in the act of robbing a house and framed for the murder of his friend. He is sentenced to Furnace Penitentiary for young offenders. Alex quickly realizes its the men who run Furnace who framed him and killed his friend.

Furnace is buried a mile beneath the earth surface. There is no escape. Parole is not an option. The guards are cruel and too strong to be human. There are unspeakable things that come in the middle of the night randomly claiming victims. No one has ever escaped furnace, Alex wants to be the first. He has some help, Donavan, the cellmate and Zee,s boy entered the Furnance with.

I really enjoyed Lockdown. Smith gave me so much more then what I was expecting. The fast paced action and raise your heartbeat horror scenes were wonderful. I love the fact that the author took the time to develop Alex. Smith doesn't lean on the action to carry the story, his writing is strong.

"You could have heard a pin drop. Every single prisoner in Furnace had clamped his mouth shut, not even daring to take a breath for fear of alerting the twisted figures below. My own breaths sounded like hurricanes, my heartbeat like a drum punching out a rhythm that could probably be heard on the surface. Some perverse element of my brain started silently singing along to the twin beat - take me take me take me and I had to bite my lip hard in order to make it shut up. The five figures below stopped in the middle of the yard wreathed in shadow. Then as, one they screamed. The sound made my blood curdle. It was like a death cry from some wounded animal, like the noise a rabbit makes when it's snared in a trap. "

Lockdown is a great book. It could easily hook a reluctant reader. Ages 10 up
Read an excerpt

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Marching For Freedom Elizabeth Partridge

Marching For Freedom: Walk Together Children and Don't You Grow Weary
by Elizabeth Partridge

"The first time Joanne Blackmon was arrested, she was just ten years old."

That opening line will grab a reader of any age. Marching For Freedom recounts the roll children played in the passing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Filled with beautiful black and white photographs that tell the story of children who dared to fight for their rights and the rights of their parents.

I love the unsugarcoated honesty of this book. It gives ugly truth of what was going on in Alabama in 1963. How Black people were denied the right to vote, and risked their life if they tried to do so. There are many books about this time in history, including children's books. Marching For Freedom stands out because its the children's voices we hear. Along with the photographs, the author shares their memories.

"Panicked marchers ran back to the Carver Homes, chased by the posse, who were beating and whipping any marcheres they could reach. "They would lean over the horse and hit you as hard as they could," said Bobby. "It was so cruel." He made it back across the bridge, dodging uniformed Selma fireman who were grabbing people and holding them for the posse to hit. When Joanne groggily came to, she was lying in the back of a car parked beside the bridge. Lynda was bending over her crying and crying, her tears dropping down on Joanne. When Joanne came fully awake, she realized it wasn't tears but blood from the two gashes in Lynda's head dripping on her." (From Bloody Sunday)

"As Lynda came out of the tent, she saw three National Guardsman standing in front of a jeep, the butts of their guns perched on their waists, bayonets pointing up at the sky. She realized with a shock that they were just like the men who'd beaten her on the bridge. "It looked like they were staring straight at me," she said, as Bloody Sunday rushed back to her, "I thought they were there to kill me to finish off the job they'd started." She started screaming."

Too many times history books focus on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. ignoring others who played a pivotal roll. This is the first time I ever remember Hosea Williams and John Lewis mentioned in a children's book. Beginning in Alabama in 1963 ending in Washington D.C in 1965, Marching For Freedom is an amazing book. Ages 10up

This book would go nicely with

Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice by Phillip Hoose 16yr old Claudette refused to give up her bus seat 9 months before Rosa Parks. Another wonderful case of a teen standing up justice

The Rock and the River by Kekla Magoon - Set in Chicago 1968, 13yr old Sam must decide wants the right path for him, peaceful protesting like his father or the Black Panthers like his older brother. Though this is fiction, its still about a young person wanting to do something to bring about change. my review

I've linked this post to Non Fiction Monday

A Question Inspired by Diversity Roll Call

This week Ali over at Worducopia is hosting Diversity Roll Call Participates are asked to find early readers (1st and 2nd grade) with children of color as main characters. This roll call got me thinking about a question I've been wondering about for years. African American picture books on average tend to be longer in text and geared toward older readers. I've always wondered why this is. Why not turn some of these longer picture books into early readers?

Here are a few picture books that I love. Some I think would work well as early readers. Others I think would lose too much if made into a early reader. I know I probably don't need to show the second group but I like them, so there you go.

1. Raising Dragons by Jerdine Nolen and Elise Primavera

2. Thunder Rose by Jerdine Nolen and Kadir Nelson

3. Those Shoes by Maribeth Boelts and Noah Z. Jones

4. The Chicken-Chasing Queen of Lamar County by Janice N. Harrington and Shelley Jackson

5. The Honest-to-Goodness Truth by Patricia C. McKissack and Giselle Potter

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

7. Long Shot: Never Too Small to Dream Big by Chris Paul and Frank Morrison

8. The New Girl . . . and Me by Jacqui Robbins and Matt Phelan

The odd numbered picture books, are great stories, that I think could easily be early readers. I would especially love to see books like Those Shoes or Long Shot as early readers. Its so hard to find early readers with boys of color as main characters.

I don't think all African American picture books longer in text should or could be early readers. Hence the even numbered books, I snuck in because I love them.

I will be answering the roll call later in the week. Anyone can take part in Diversity Roll Call at any time. It's co-hosted by Ali from Worducopia and Susan from Color Online.

Friday, November 6, 2009

The Case of the Case of Mistaken Identity. Mac Barnett Adam Rex

The Case of the Case of Mistaken Identity (Brixton Brothers) by Mac Barnett illus. Adam Rex

I loved this book. Before I get to all the goodness inside that had me laughing and smiling all the way through, I want to start with the cover. I like the cover a lot. It has a nice classic mystery look, making it easier to sell it to customers. Sometimes, as a bookseller one of the hardest or most frustrating things is convincing a customer (especially a kid) that a book is great it's just the cover that's not too hot.

Thankfully, I don't have to worry about that with this book. The cover tells a reader everything they need to know about this book. There's action and danger - the men dropping into the library. There's a mystery to be solved - the magnifying glass and the fingerprint. It's also got some pretty good blurbs. Jeff Kinney and Jon Scieszka. There's even one for adults - Dave Eggers.

When I first saw this book I knew I going read it. It made a serious, no need to wait in line, jump up my reading queue. Novels that fill a void, get read quickly. At first glance I knew The Brixton Brothers would fill many. 1. Its a mystery. You think finding mysteries would be easy but its not. 2. Its a male protagonist. I am always on the look out for books to add to my boy book, my son hates to read, repertoire. 3. Sometimes its hard to find new books for kids who are ready to take that step up from beginning series like Magic Tree House.

12 yr old Steve Brixton loves old Bailey Brothers detective novels. Starring Shawn and Kevin Bailey. (think Hardy Boys) When Steve tries to check out the illus. History of American Quilting, he' s mistaken for a detective and a bad guy. Several librarians descend on the library. Steve makes it out, and runs into Mr. Mackintosh, a librarian. Mr. Mackintosh tell Steve's librarians are the most elite secret service force in the United States.

The quilting book was under librarian surveillance, it holds the clue to the location of a vital piece of information. When Steve tired to check it out, the alarm was triggered. Now the librarians believe he is working for Mr. E., the man after U.S. secrets. Steve refuses to call himself a detective but he's going to solve the case to clear his name.

This book was so much fun. I loved it. Thoughout the novel, when Steve gets into a jam, he'd think what would Brixton Brothers do? He tired it the Brixton Brother way several times and it never worked. Once Steve needed to make a quick escape, so he followed Shawn and Kevin's guide to making rope. He fell to the ground. Steve solves the mystery, no thanks to the Brixton Brothers.

Barnett's writing is great. I love the books humor, its a smart and sophisticated funny for young readers . I appreciate that the author doesn't underestimate, his readers ability to get the jokes. There is some great action as well. Steve must escape from the police station after librarians put out a wanted for treason poster with his picture on it. Also Steve and his best friend Dana, must escape from a boat. The two are kidnapped and tied to chairs. Rex's illustrations are wonderful. They add to the books, this is pretty close to perfect feel. Ages 8up.

Reluctant readers will love it. The chapters are short about 5 pages each, so it a great suggestion for struggling readers as well.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Exposure. Mal Peet Winner of Guardian Fiction Prize for 2009

Exposure by Mal Peet
This novel is inspired by Shakespeare's Othello with a soccer and celebrity back drop. Otello is South America star player. The book opens with him being traded to Rialto, a team in Southern region. The author quickly establishes the racial divide between the Northern and Southern regions. Otello loved in the North is not wanted or welcomed by his teammates or the Rialto fans.

At a party thrown by Nestor Brabanta, the man and the money behind Rialto, Otello meets Desmerelda (Dezi). Dezi is a famous pop singer, Nestor is her father. Otello and Dezi have an instant connection and get married soon after meeting. The two become a celebrity power couple, think Beckham and Posh. As the novel continues the couples celebrity and exposure increases. As with the Shakespeare's Othello, the villain is posing as a friend. Otello's agent Diego is doing everything he can to sabotage Otello.

Exposure is a nicely layered story. Its broken up into 5 acts, the chapters alternate between characters. One of my favorites his Bush. Age is unknown though he claims to be 17 so he won't get picked up by the police. There are many kids living on the street for various reasons, Bush is one of them. He looks after his younger sister, Bianca and a girl named Felicia. Bush works a corner in front of a newspaper building. That's where he meets Paul Faustino. Paul is the reporter who breaks the story on Otello's trade. It is through Paul's eyes that we understand a lot of the politics behind the game. Such as Otello's teammates making him look off his game by passing to him a second late or to his weak side.

I read Othello is high school, it was one of the few required books I loved. Iago was my favorite character, Othello was too naive for my liking. This time I'd have to go with Otello. He's still naive but more developed than Diego. The author focuses his energy on making the reader care about Otello and Dezi, so we'll feel for their lack of privacy. It works.

The South American people are obsessed with Otello and Dezi. Paparazzi follow them everywhere and they're always on the cover of tabloids. This is a timely novel and the authors done a wonderful job with it.

Mal Peet won the 2009 Guardian children's fiction prize for Exposure

The 2009 Guardian children's fiction prize nominees

Bobby vs. Girls (Accidentally) Lisa Yee Dan Santat

Bobby vs. Girls (Accidentally) by Lisa Yee illus. by Dan Santat
Bobby Ellis Chan is looking forward to starting fourth grade. His best friend is Holly Harper. Though they're at that awkward age when boys and girls don't mix so its a secret. Bobby and Holly have a back to school tradition, rock hunting the day before the first day of school. This year though Holly has other plans. Bobby is surprised and little disappointed to learn that Holly has started to hang out with Jillian, a girly girl.

I loved Bobby and his family. I really appreciated the author going against gender norms. Bobby's dad is a former professional football player, turned stay at home dad. He's trying to defeat static cling but has taken to the new job. Bobby's older sister is the QB on her high school football team. After Bobby's pet fish dies, he cries. It very rear to see a boy cry in the open. I thought Yee did a wonderful job with this scene and the set up for it. Since Holly is spending so much time with Jillian, Bobby starts telling his secrets to Rover. A child who has lost a pet will understand Bobby's tears and won't think he shouldn't be crying because he's a boy.

At school the boys and girls banned together against the opposite sex. Bobby somehow finds himself in the middle of everything. He and Holly are challenging each other for student council. The two must make campaign poster to display in class. While making his poster, Bobby goofs off, makes a funny picture of Holly. After Bobby's friend Sanjay Kapur (Chess), accidentally the poster on the funny face Holly side, Bobby gets in trouble. All the girls are very angry with him, especially Jillian.

Bobby vs Girls (Accidentally) is my first Lisa Yee novel and I really enjoyed it. The author has created very realistic characters, dialogue and situations. This would make a wonderful choice for a boy/girl book club. Ages 8up

More reviews
100 Scope Notes
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Monday, November 2, 2009

The Orange Houses Paul Griffin

The Orange Houses by Paul Griffin

15 yr old Tamika (Mik) Sykes is partially deaf. She likes to turn off her hearing aid and shut the would out.

18 yr old Jimmi Sixes is a war veteran, trying to find a reason to live

16 yr old Fatima is a refugee from Africa. All she wants is a new beginning and to see the Statue of Liberty.

I didn't connect with these characters. This disconnection has a lot to do with my not believing the Black characters created by Griffin a white author. A characters believability is subjective. When a Black character doesn't feel right, I lack the vocabulary to say way that is, something is simply not ringing true. So I usually stay clear of Black characters created by White authors that don't hit the mark for me, since I can't put into words what doesn't work. My problem with The Orange Houses goes well beyond the characters. I want to take a moment to point out a few things. Maybe people will think twice about throwing out words like authentic so easily.

Fatima is an African refugee. The author never specifies a country. Last time I checked Africa was still a continent. Griffin not naming a country of origin, like what difference does it make, got me thinking about author Chimamanda Adichie recent talk on the danger of a single story.

I thought Fatima had a lot of money for a refugee.

"Fatima gave the man half of what she had left after the boat ride: five hundred dollars. (pg.13)

She finds are way to the Bronx, and the Orange Houses. While exploring her new neighborhood on the first day, Fatima meets Jimmi. He is impressed by the angels Fatima makes out of newspaper. Jimmi decides to introduce Fatima to Mik. I knew eventually the characters might become acquainted but this was too quick. Rather then allow it to happen naturally, Griffin forces the issue. Fatima and Mik become fast friends. I can't believe in a friendship when I question its beginnings.

The author decides to reveal a pivotal moment in the book before the story even begins, Jimmi's hanging. At the beginning of each chapter there is a countdown.

" Bronx West, a high school classroom, a late October Thursday morning twenty-seven days before the hanging"

The author was probably trying to quickly grab and shock readers with the news of a hanging. The countdown did nothing for me. In order for me to be drawn in by a forthcoming act , I have to believe its possible. Hanging - there is so much pain, and loss in that word for Black people. There isn't an altercation or misunderstanding that would make me believe that a hanging would take place in a Bronx as payback or street justice.

Mik goes to a tough school in The Bronx. A girl, named Shanelle is always harassing Mik. It escalates when the new boy, Jaekwon plays attention to Mik, who does her best to avoid Shanelle. When school ends Fatima is always waiting to walk Mik home. One day Shanelle decides its time that she and her crew gave Mik a beat down. Though Shanelle's crew is so memorized by Fatima's origami that they have a change of heart.

"As Mik stepped through the school doors into the front courtyard a rock zipped past Fatima's head. Crew Shanelle rolled up the sidewalk. "Deaf bitch can't get no real friends, she stuck with a Zulu terrorist." Shanelle got in Fatima's face. "You ain't nothin." Fatima reached into her shawl. Shanelle reached for her back pocket, a bulge that said box cutter. Fatima drew her hand from her scarf. A flock of Day Glo butterflies spun in the breeze. In the afternoon light their sequined wings dazzled Sha's posse. The girls fell on the butterflies as if they were spilled pinata candy. "It's newspaper, one girl said. "Painted newspaper." She drew her phone, keyed it for a new entry. "Yo," she said to Fatime, " I got birthday party coming for my niece. We was gonna get a clown, but y'all gonna work it instead. My sistuh got cash money, yo. What's y'all's numbuh?" (pg.97)

After Shanelle's first attack got thwarted by Day Glo butterflies, she tries again a few days later with a new crew.

"Mik headed for the exit. A girl cut her off, flashed a box cutter. Mik spun back for the principals office. Another girl with a box cutter. The only way out was the back door. She ran for it, blasted into the garbage bay. Between the Dumpsters a third girl waited for her. Mik sprinted for the park woods. When she turned back, the three girls had become thirty. All were new recruits, girls not cool enough to be in Sha's previous crew. They were eager to please her with their chains and broken bottles." (pg.113)

Jimmi comes to Mik's rescue. Shanelle's crew gives chase. Mik rides on Jimmi's back to the safety of the train tunnels. The two hide out underground.

So the author wants me to believe that thirty girls armed with box cutters are chasing one girl in the middle of the afternoon. Why is Jimmi the only one who heard all the noise that Shanelle's crew was making. Where is everyone?

Forty- nine mintues before the hanging Jimmi is charged with abducting Mik, its all over the news. I know its unprofessional to use a certain three letters together when talking about a book, but I've never claimed to be a professional, so WTF really. No one sees 30 girls armed with box cutters but they see Jimmi with Mik. I was floored by this.

The people spot Jimmi and Mik as they try and make it to the hospital.

"They came down on him fast, tens of them, seeming like a hundreds as they ripped Mik from him. Pinned against a truck. He broke free with a pair of punches that jacked the men into a fury. Their hatred stunned him. They were his neighbors, his friends. Why now did they kick him? He called out to them by name, and they struck him harder. Somebody kicked the back of his skull. Numbness spread over and through him. String 'im up," said the lead vigilante, some gang banger. They roped him by his ankles, threw the line over the street lamp's arm and heaved him high." (pgs. 128-129)

Griffin was at least smart enough not to have vigilantes (the author's word) hang, Jimmi, the 18 yr old war veteran by his neck. Though I am still wondering where the rope came from. Streetlamps are pretty high. Where was everyone else while this was going on? No one had a cell phone?

Out of the blue vigilantes is ridiculous. Jimmi and Mik are from the same neighborhood. Black men couldn't so easily beat and hang another Black man they know. They know Jimmi's an 18 year old war veteran is trying to kick a drug habit. They know Jimmi's girlfriend had a late term miscarriage and committed suicide while he was still at war. These men know all this and yet they still attack. Unbelievable.

I could continue but I won't. I am not sure of what angers me more this book or the reviews calling it authentic and real. It scares me to think that someone in small town USA, will read The Orange Houses because of one of these reviews and believe its a good literary representation of teen urban life.

Sweethearts of Rhythm Marilyn Nelson Jerry Pinkney

Sweethearts of Rhythm by Marilyn Nelson illus by Jerry Pinkney
When I read Nelson's and Pinkney's bios, listing honors and awards received, I was tempted to go SNL old school because I am not worthy. Nelson and Pinkney working together is a beautiful thing.

This is the story of the greatest all-girl swing band in the world. It was the 1940's, men were fighting in the war. Women musicians kept the music going. The Sweethearts of Rhythm was the first integrated all women swing band in the world. When formed in 1937 the band includes a Chinese saxophonist, a Hawaiian trumpeter and a Mexican clarinetist, along with Black musicians. In 1943, White musicians join the band for the first time. ( I knew none of this before I read this biography. All this information comes from the history timeline of Sweethearts of Rhythm and the authors notes, included in the back )

I love Nelson's poetic style. After reading this I've realized it pointless trying to guess how Nelson will decide to tell a story. All you can do is wait for it, appreciate and say thank you. I never would have guessed Nelson would use the instruments to tell the story of the lady musicians who once played them.

It all begins with a tenor saxophone in a pawnshop. The tenor wails about its glory years in an all girl band. Three trombones are the first to respond. Soon all the instruments are sharing stories of the good old days.

The poems build upon each other to tell a complete story. It's 1940 the war is on and Jim Crow was in place, music is a necessary distraction. Nelson includes two guitars that question the all girl swing band importance.

The Hard Luck Blues (guitar)

From a battered, sticker-plastered case
arose a muffled chord
"So the Sweethearts gig was glorious,
but please, don't go overboard.

My hoboing days were glorious, too:
when I rambled, riding the rails,
playing ballads and talking blues
in boxcars and roadside camps, in jails.

"Sure, you must have had fun in the girls' swing band
But what could that dance music say
To the farmers who'd recently seen their land dry to dust, and blow away?

"I was still playing The Hard Luck Blues
while you watched people jitterbug.
That you were swinging is not a sufficient excuse.
Denial is a powerful drug.

The counter views added a wonderful new level,an instrumental verbal chase. I found these give and takes very fitting for a musical biography.

Pinkney's illustrations are wow. I appreciated the art that much more after reading the artist notes. Nelson and Pinkney have come together to tell the story of a group of women who refused to let their gender, racism or anything else stop them from doing what they loved.

I loved Sweethearts of Rhythm. This is definitely a picture book biography that is not just for young readers. Music lovers of all ages will love this. Ages 8up

Mariyln Nelson's School Library Journal interview about Sweethearts of Rhythm. Also a chance to check out some of Jerry Pinknwy's wonderful illustrations.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Confetti Girl by Diana Lopez

Confetti Girl by Diana Lopez
The first thing we learn about Apolonia (Lina), she collects socks.

"The lonely sock drawer is for those who have lost their partners. Most of the partners disappear in the washing machine or dryer. I can't explain it. Somewhere between the tossing and soaking and wringing, one gets lost. I don't know where it goes. Maybe aliens abduct it. Holey socks aren't for angels. They actually have holes, so I don't wear them anymore. Sometimes, these socks become puppets and sometimes they go to sock heaven where they can rest in peace with the socks I've outgrown."

From the beginning Lina's voice is strong, honest with a hint of humor. Lina's best friend Vanessa lives right across the street. The two friends are dealing with parents who are not at their best. Lina' mother died recently, and her dad doesn't know how to connect with her. Vanessa's father left her mother, now she hates men and won't stop watching Lifetime movies.

Lina and Vanessa look out for each other. The heart of the story is Lina and Lina's friendship with Vanessa. In both cases the author writing is thoughtful and believable. The girls come across as the 8th graders they are suppose to be. Lina's dad teaches English and loves books. Lina is failing English. One of my favorite parts are Lina's class assignments for the novel Watership Down. She isn't using reading the book. Lina is using the assignment as an outlet for some of her frustrations.

Lopez writes with a natural ease. I think there is a quiet goodness to Confetti Girl and it all begins with Lina. This would make a wonderful book club selection.

A few professional reviews via the authors site

Rich: A Dyamonde Daniel Book Nikki Grimes

Rich: A Dyamonde Daniel Book by Nikki Grimes

This is the second book in the Dyamonde Daniel early chapter series by award winning author Nikki Grimes. The first book Make Way by Dyamonde Daniel came out earlier this year.

The local library is sponsoring a poetry contest. The winner gets a check for a hundred dollars. Poetry isn't Dyamonde's thing so she won't enter the contest. Though her best friend Free is exicted and will try to win the cash prize. Dyamonde took the time to notice the other students who signed up for the contest. One girl is particular caught her attention, Damaris Dancer. Dyamonde, is determined to learn more this shy girl, who finally raised her hand. Dyamonde learns Damaris secret by accident while out shopping with her mom. Damaris's family lives in a shelter.

After Dyamonde promises not to tell the two become good friends. Dyamonde surprises Damaris with a book of poems. Eloise Greenfield's "Honey I Love" ( I did a little squeal when I saw this. Kudos to the author for seamlessly slipping in this wonderful classic) Free gets along very well with Damaris as well. The three have great friendship chemistry. One of the books strengths is the dialogue between the friends.

Dyamonde convinces Damaris to write a poem about living in a shelter. Damaris wins the contest. There is more to Rich, than Dyamonde having a new friend who happens to live in a shelter. This is a wonderful series. I thoroughly enjoyed the first book, and with this follow up book I've discovered new things to love. Ages 7up

Kirkus Review via the author's site