Monday, May 22, 2017

The Year of the Garden by Andrea Cheng, illustrated by Patrice Barton

Fans of Anna Wang will be happy to see this last book which Andrea Cheng was working on at the time of her death on December 26, 2015. The Year of the Garden is a prequel to the three Anna Wang novels already published.

Anna, 8, and her family have just moved from their apartment in Manor Court to a home of their own, though they are still in Cincinnati. And now, Anna has a yard in the need some care.

Accompanying her mother to her Saturday job cleaning the apartment of elderly Mr. and Mrs. Shepherd, Anna is happy to be given a copy of The Secret Garden along with some normal seed packets from Mrs. Shepherd’s garden. 

The next day, reading The Secret Garden in the yard, she meet Laura, who has also just moved to the same neighborhood. Both girls are happy to find out that they will in third grade together at their new school. Anna and Laura begin to plan a garden using Mrs. Shepherd’s seeds, but once school begins, Laura loses interest. Instead, she decides to join the soccer team, making new friends there. Feeling a bit alone, Anna worries that their friendship may not last. 

But finding a baby bunny in the yard brings them together again in a common cause to save the bunny. Unable to find the rabbit’s mother, the girls make a bed in a cardboard box, and put the bunny on the porch. Laura knows something about saving rabbits, and tells Anna they need to fed this baby some dog or cat milk. When none is available at the pet store, Laura’s mother drives the girls to her aunt’s in Indiana, who is an old hand at rescuing baby animals. 

And so Anna and Laura spend part of their weekend at taking turns feeding their bunny with a eye dropper. Saving the bunny brings the two girls closer together, and Anna realizes that she can be friends with someone who doesn’t share all her interests, that a real friendship is based on acceptance and flexibility.

I always thought that Andrea Cheng’s Anna Wang series is perfect for readers at the chapter book level. Cheng seems to be able to identify just the right kinds of concerns and issues kids have, and The Year of the Garden is no different. Anna and Laura’s friendship hits some real bumps in the road that they have to work out. School is good for Anna, who likes it, but not for Laura, who lacks focus. 

Cheng also presents Anna’s Chinese culture with respect and understanding. Anna’s mother is a Chinese immigrant who is working hard to learn English, her father is Chinese American. And Laura and the reader are introduced to some Chinese traditions, such as receiving a red envelope or Hong bao for Chinese New Year’s (each Anna Wang book expands on Chinese traditions).

I did findThe Year of the Garden carried a nice theme of growing throughout the book - Anna (and Laura) growing as people and friends, a motherless bunny growing strong and healthy, Anna seeds growing in her garden. However, I felt the story was a little thin, as though it wasn’t really a finished novel, more like a draft. Despite that, I would still recommend it to Anna Wang fans, but don’t expect the same level of story that you find in the previous novels.

Patrice Barton’s numerous black and while spot illustrations throughout help to fortify the story and add so much to it. 

This book is recommended for readers age 6+
This book was an EARC received from NetGalley

Friday, May 19, 2017

Stand Up and Sing! Pete Seeger, Folk Music, and the Path to Justice by Susanna Reich, Illustrated by Adam Gustavson

My dad was an immigrant who loved music, and when he arrived in this country, he discovered all kinds of American music that he had never enough of heard in Wales. He often played Jazz, Gospel, and Folk Music, and one of his favorite musicians folk artists was Pete Seeger. 

In this picture book biography for older readers, Susanna Reich introduces them to the life and music of Pete Seeger, a man who was born to play the banjo and sing the songs he wrote. As a boy, Pete spent the winter at boarding school, and the summer living with his dad and brothers in his grandparents’ barn. There he played in the woods, played music and read books. After reading about how some Native American tribes believed that everything should be equally shared among its members, Pete decided that was the way he wanted to live, too.

Later, living in New York City during the Great Depression, Pete was further influenced by the workers’ rights protest songs that he heard at parties, concerts, and parades he and his dad participated in. Pete’s family may not have had much money in those days, but, thanks to Pete, they did have plenty of music - spirituals, work songs, dance tunes, games, songs, lullabies, love songs, ballads, field hollers, blues, and even chain-gang chants. 

For a while, Pete was allowed to tag along with Woody Guthrie as he toured the county singing his songs. Pete also began performing with a group called the Almanac Singers, feeling good be able to make a difference in the world. Later, performing with Woody and Paul Robeson, a African American singer, Pete realized that the life as a singer wasn’t easy and could also be dangerous, but one thing he learned from this experiences was that music could calm a angry crowd. 

Not long after joining another group of folk singers, the Weavers, they were blacklisted for not being “loyal Americans” and could no longer find any work. Eventually, however, Pete met Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who was so influenced by his song “We Shall Overcome,” that it became one of the most important songs of the Civil Rights Movement. And that was just the beginning of Pete’s work as a social activist, writing songs that protested the Vietnam War and and eventually, working to clean up his beloved Hudson River. 

Stand Up and Sing! is an engagingly written biography about one of America’s most gifted and influential activists who courageously used his music to inspire so many people into action. I particularly enjoyed reading Pete Seeger’s biography because he was such a big part of my childhood, yet I knew very little about his personal life, other than the word’s to his songs, all of which I still know by heart. And as Reich shows us, Pete was a man who never wavered in his principles or his dedication to music.  I'd say that those are pretty admirable traits.

Adam Gustavson’s illustrations, done using gouache, watercolor, color pencil and oil paint, are as soft and gentle as a Pete Seeger song, yet they too say so much. Complimenting the full color illustrations are spot back and white drawing that extend the narrative of this brave, talented man’s life.

Pete Seeger may seem a little on the old fashioned side to today’s music listeners, but in fact, he sang a message that is probably needed as much in today’s world as it was in his own time. Listen carefully to the words as he sings his, perhaps, most well known song:

You can find an excellent teaching guide to use with Stand Up and Sing! courtesy of Vicky Spandel at Six Trait Gurus 

This book is recommended for readers age 8+
This book was sent to me by the author, Susanna Reich

Monday, May 15, 2017

Motor Girls: How Women Took the Wheel and Drove Boldly Into the Twentieth Century by Sue Macy

One of my favorite things to do when I first began to drive was to get in the car and just go. And I did go - here, there, and everywhere, crossing the continental united states eight separate times, each time taking a different route. Little did I know that I was part of a legacy of women who took to cars with the same love of driving that I had. 

Motor Girls, Sue Macy’s latest book about women and mobility (see also Wheels of Change: How Women Rode the Bicycle to Freedom) traces that love from the very start of the automobile’s history, beginning in the 1890s and the very first prototypes of motorized cars. 

Motorized cars were pretty exciting and irresistible stuff back then and men may have felt that automobiles should remain strictly their domain, convinced that driving and all the perils that were part of early automobiles (things like changing tires and getting stuck in mud) would not only threaten women’s femininity, but that they were just too fragile to handle such a big machine anyway, but women had a different idea. First of all, it didn’t take long for women to realize that driving meant freedom from their previous house-bound life, a way to get around on their own, and what a boon for the women driving to rallies and fighting for the right to vote as early as 1910.  And as much as they were often not welcomed, women drivers even began participating in automobile races. 

Macy introduces readers to many of the early pioneering women, such as Lillian Sheridan, first female tire salesperson in 1917, Alice Ramsey, first woman to drive cross country in 1909, Mrs. Olive Schultz, first female taxi driver, and Mary Dexter, a nurse who drove makeshift ambulances  through war-torn France in World War I. 

Using an incredible array of archival photographs, as well as clippings from old newspapers and magazines, Macy presents a well-researched, thoughtfully written historical document of women behind the wheel. In between chapters, she has also included some pretty interesting cultural items relating to the automobile, such as some odd motoring laws, the ideal clothing to wear while motoring, and one of my favorite parts - a look at early series books written for young readers, such as the The Motor Girls, The Motor Maids, and The Automobile Girls, all of which can be found on Project Gutenberg for anyone interested (though I should add that while they may be interesting look a driving in those early days, some of the references made may be offensive to sensitive readers). 
A list of resources is included in the back matter, as is an interesting timeline and list of sources used by Macy.

Motor Girls is an ideal book for anyone like myself who loves to drive. Sometimes I think we take driving for granted and it is nice to read about how the automobile had such a tremendous impact on the lives of women in the late 19th and 20th centuries. This is a solid book that will be a welcomed addition to any nonfiction library.

This book is recommended for readers age 10+
This book was sent to me by the publisher, National Geographic

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Blog Tour: Share, Big Bear, Share! by Maureen Wright, illustrated by Will Hillenbrand

Big Bear is back and this time he has a big bucket of beautiful blueberries to eat. And they sure do look good, at least that’s what Big Bear’s forest friends think as they watch him dig in without offering any to them. But Big Bear is so busy with his blueberries, he doesn’t even notice his friends as they gather around him and wonder why he isn't offering any to them. In fact, he is so intent on enjoying his blueberries that each time the Old Oak Tree tries to remind him to “Share, Big Bear, Share,” Big Bear thinks he has been reminded to do something else, over and over and over. Will Big Bear finally understand what the Old Oak Tree is really telling him and share his blueberries with all his forest friends before they are all gone?

Share, Big Bear, Share follows the same jolly rhyming pattern as the two previous Big Bear books, Sleep, Big Bear, Sleep! (2009) and Sneeze, Big Bear, Sneeze! (2011). Kids already familiar with these books will no doubt immediately pick up on the repetition of the Oak Tree’s imperative to Share, Big Bear, Share! and join in at the appropriate places; kids not familiar with the pattern won’t take long to pick up on it and join in as well. There’s plenty of humor to be found in the story as Big Bear, so intent on enjoying his blueberries, doesn’t really pay attention to the Oak Tree and keep goofing up, so expect lots of laughter. 

Will Hillenbrand’s delightfully whimsical illustrations, done with graphite pencil and digital media, add so much to the humor of the story. And Hillenbrand knows what he is doing. He has written and/or illustrated over 60 books for young readers including Down by the Barn, Mother Goose Picture Puzzles and the Bear and Mole series. He has lived almost all of his life in Cincinnati, Ohio, where he grew up as the youngest of four boys. He now lives in Terrace Park and was recently honored as Author/Illustrator in Residence at Kent State University. 

Information about his books, selected readings, art process videos, and activity ideas can be viewed at You can also connect with Will at 
And, you can find some fun activities at his website, including a game to Help Big Bear Share HERE

Besides being a pretty funny story, there are some serious themes to be found that could/should generate plenty of discussion with young readers, themes that stress the importance of paying attention, making mistakes, forgiving, and sharing.

I think the book trailer for Share, Big Bear, Share! will give you an idea of just how charming this book really is. 

I was given a copy of Share, Big Bear, Share! by the publisher, Two Lions for a giveaway, but it unfortunately suffered some water damage in the fire that happened in my building last week, see my post of May 8, 2017.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

The Warden's Daughter by Jerry Spinelli

It’s summer 1959, and Cammie O’Reilly is 12 about to be 13. Her father is the warden of the Hancock County Prison, a castle-like place located in Two Mills, Pennsylvania, and they live in an attached apartment that overlooks the prison. Cammie’s mother has been dead since she was a baby, killed saving her daughter's life when she was hit by a milk truck while pushing Cammie’s baby carriage. Now, she and her father are cared for during the day by a prison trustee, or “cammie-keeper” as she calls them, an inmate who has been well vetted for security reasons. This is the summer that Cammie decides she needs a mother and she sets her sights on Eloda Pupko, their latest trustee. 

While she tries to finagle motherly feelings from the cold, distant Eloda, Cammie lives an otherwise busy life. Mornings, she likes to hang out with the women prisoners while they are in the exercise yard. Cammie’s favorite prisoner is Boo Boo Dunbar, a spirited, affectionate African American woman supposedly in for shoplifting but who is hiding a very dark secret. Outside prison, her best friend is fashion conscious, makeup wearing Reggie Weinstein, 13 going on 17, and whose greater wish is to appear on American Bandstand

By her own admission, Cammie knows that the other girls her age are moving on to adolescence while she clings to her childhood. When her anger bubbles over, she lashes out at people, so when a new boy in town shows an interest in her, Cammie responds by punching him in the nose. She is also basically a loner, who spends a lot of her time riding her bike and eating phenomenal amounts and kinds of food. Classic right? Running away from her problems and filling the empty mother-space in her life with food, and fighting everyone and any one who tries to get her to move on.

In the middle of the summer, a child murderer is temporarily housed in the prison, and Cammie suddenly finds herself with a few more friends thanks to Reggie who, after finally making it to American Bandstand, is now obsessed with this prisoner. Her new friends even nickname themselves the Jailbirds, and love visiting her at the prison. But as Cammie’s life spins out of control, she throws the Jailbirds out of her 13th birthday party (and her first sleepover), after which, they begin to distance themselves from her. 

But as Cammie must ultimately learn, "no mother is finally buried until her child climbs out of the grave." (pg 282) And it will take another tragedy, more loss, and a symbolic act for Cammie to be able to finally come to terms with her mother’s death and move on to adolescence. 

Spinelli set The Warden's Daughter in an familiar place for those who have already read his earlier novel Maniac Magee. And why not? Setting in this novel is vivid and realistic, and such an important part of the story. The Hancock County Prison is a character in its own right and its a place that Spinelli knows well, modeled on the Montgomery County Prison in Norristwon, PA, his hometown. I was curious about the prison, since it plays such a central part in this novel, so I looked it up and it is exactly as described: 
The setting is important for another reason - Cammie lives in her own kind of prison, a prisoner of her anger, confusion and grief, from which she must break out in order to be free of the past.  And yet, despite the nostalgic setting and for all her tragedy, Cammie’s story completely lacks a elegiac sense. 

Like Jack in Spinelli's earlier novel Hokey Pokey, the reader catches Cammie at a moment of transition as she finally must deal with coming of age that, unlike Jack, she is fighting every step of the way, unwilling to let go of her childhood and take responsibility for herself. 

This book is recommended readers age 9+
This novel was ARC received from the publisher, Alfred A. Knopf
Imagination Designs