Summer is coming! Among other things, that means it's time to take a blogging break for a while. I'll pop in from time to time for a quick “What I'm Reading” post, but regular posts will be on hiatus until fall. When I was growing up, one of the ...
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Book Recommendations for Your Summer Reading

Summer is coming! Among other things, that means it’s time to take a blogging break for a while. I’ll pop in from time to time for a quick “What I’m Reading” post, but regular posts will be on hiatus until fall.

When I was growing up, one of the things I enjoyed about summer (besides being outside, riding my bike, playing with my cats, and having lots of time with friends) was having unlimited reading time. That’s still one of the joys of having time off.

There are a few books I’ve read lately that I want to tell you about, so that you can perhaps add them to your summer reading-for-fun list. Nearly all of them are middle grade novels. I’ve listed them alphabetically (I can’t seem to get away from alphabetizing things!) I’ll give you a couple of links so that you can read more, rather than writing a whole post about each. (The link on the title will take you to the author’s website.) (Note: a truncated version of this post has already appeared on my Starborn Revue website.)

Circus Mirandus by Cassie Beasley. I love the tag line on the back cover: “You have to believe it to see it.” Check out the Publishers Weekly review, the Kirkus review, and an interview with the author on BookPage.

The Distance to Home by Jenn Bishop. Here are the Publishers Weekly review, the Kirkus review, and an interview with Jenn Bishop on the Swanky Seventeens blog, the blog of a group of authors whose novels will debut this year.

Finding Wonders: Three Girls Who Changed Science by Jeannine Atkins. Learn more through the Publishers Weekly review, the Kirkus review, and an interview with Jeannine on the Poetry For Children website.

Hour of the Bees by Lindsay Eagar. See the Publishers Weekly review, a review on Twenty By Jenny, and an interview on the Swanky Seventeens website.

Someday Birds by Sally J. Pla. Read more about this book in Publishers Weekly, in the Kirkus review, and this interview on Literary Rambles.

Whittington by Alan Armstrong (published in 2005, so not as recent as the others). See the Kirkus review, and this review on BookPage.

Write This Down by Claudia Mills. Learn more at the Publishers Weekly review.

A powerful and important YA novel:

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. For links for this one, please see my What I’m Reading post.

And a picture book to send you into the summer dreaming happily:

Happy Dreamer by Peter H. Reynolds. Peter H. Reynolds’ books have to be seen as well as read about, so here’s the book trailer. Also see the Publishers Weekly review and the Kirkus review.

Happy summertime reading! See you in the fall!

        

A Strong Right Arm by Michelle Y. Green — Book Recommendation

I’ve been impatiently waiting until my planned alphabetical posts were complete so that I could share this book with you. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Title: A Strong Right Arm: The Story of Mamie “Peanut” Johnson

Author: Michelle Y. Green

Publisher: New York: Scholastic, 2002.

Genre: Middle Grade biography

Audience Age: 10 to 14

Themes/Topics: Girls in baseball, African Americans in baseball, segregation, overcoming

Opening Sentences: Mama never mentioned it, but I’m sure I musta been born with a baseball in my hand, its smooth white skin curving into my tiny brown palm.

Synopsis: Young, small, Mamie Johnson – just a peanut of a girl – loved the game of baseball. She especially loved pitching. She had two strikes against her in her quest to play, however: she was female, and she was African American. She was born in 1935, Until she was ten, she played baseball with other girls, and she excelled.

When she moved to New Jersey at the age of ten, however, there was no baseball for girls, and the boys’ team was all white. That would have stopped a lot of girls, but not Mamie. She knew what she wanted. She didn’t want to play softball. She wasn’t stopped the barrier of race. She signed up for the boys’ team, and proved her worth over and over.

It was a fight she was to face many times in her early years as she strove toward her goal of playing professional ball. Her determination – and her impressive skill with a baseball – finally earned her a place as the first woman to play in the professional Negro League in the early 1950s, when she was still a teenager.

Reading A Strong Right Arm, one feels as though Mamie is sitting across the kitchen table from you, telling her story. Her voice is evident in every word. The reader feels the pain of her struggle, the joy she found in the game, and the quiet pride she felt when she won through and became a professional baseball player. Kudos to author Michelle Y. Green, who breathed Mamie’s life into every word on each page.

This story will inspire anyone to follow their dreams with spirit and determination. I highly recommend it.

For Further Enrichment:

The African American Registry has a brief article about Mamie. This is a great resource for African American history.

There are interviews with Mamie and further resources on NPR’s website.

Here’s the Kirkus Review of this excellent book.

For more about author Michelle Y. Green, see my post about her current Tuskegee Airmen Legacy Project.

        

The Ziegfeld Club, Inc.

You may have heard of the impresario Flo Ziegfeld (Flo was short for Florenz.) You may have heard of the Ziegfeld Girls from the early days of movies. You may be wondering why I’m posting about them today.

It turns out that the Ziegfeld Follies aren’t the only thing that the Ziegfelds were involved in. Billie Burke, Flo Ziegfeld’s wife, founded the Ziegfeld Club in 1936, originally to provide support for any Ziegfeld Girl who was having a difficult time. If you’re wondering why the name Billie Burke sounds familiar, she was a star in her own right, best known to modern audiences as Glinda, the Good Witch in the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz.

Although the original Ziegfeld Girls have all died in the decades since the Ziegfeld Follies was popular, the Ziegfeld Club remains dedicated to helping women in the arts.

According to their website, they now offer the Billie Burke Ziegfeld Award to emerging female composer-lyricists, continuing the Ziegfeld contribution to the arts and to music. Although the website doesn’t seem to have been updated since last year, I certainly hope they are continuing this worthy aim.

They also offer the Liz Swados Inspiration Grant to female music educators in New York City. There are details about this award on their website as well.

I find it inspiring that the Ziegfelds, who brought joy and hope through music and dance from 1907-1931, are still the impetus for bringing music, joy, and hope to the world today.

Z is for Ziegfeld. With this post, I’ve reached the end of my exploration of the alphabet. There’ll be two bonus posts to take us to the end of May, and then the blog will catch some ZZZZZs until fall.

        

Jane Yolen

Jane Yolen is one of the wonders of modern writing. She has written and published over 300 books, most — but not all — for children (of all ages). She is a poet and a master of many genres. She is a mentor and teacher to many.

One of the keys to the prolific nature of her writing can be found in her moving memoir in verse, Ekaterinoslav: One Family’s Passage to America, in which she says, in the poem titled Night School, “Nothing stops a Yolen from telling stories.”

And tell stories she does. In preparation for this blog post, I read just a representative sampling. Do you know how difficult it is to restrict oneself to just a representative sampling of Jane Yolen’s books? Especially with the ease of clicking “place hold” on the library’s website? The possibility exists that I went a little overboard. And I was impressed again and again at her facility with words and with story, her ability to go to the heart of the character and of the reader, and bring them together through her words.

I confess my retrospective is heavily weighted toward picture books, for the simple reason that picture books take less time to read. Even so, I was only able to read a fraction of those available to me. I had to limit myself to an even smaller selection of her longer works. I am consoled by the fact that the books will still be there, and there’s always another opportunity to read more. And read more I will.

She writes picture books. Here is just a taste of a few of them. Perhaps it will suffice to show you the broad range of interests this amazing writer has, as well as the many ways she can weave a story or teach a topic.

Owl Moon — Yolen takes you for a walk in the woods alongside the little girl and her Pa. You stand with them along “the line of pine trees, black and pointy against the sky.” You, too, watch “silently with heat in our mouths, the heat of all those words we had not spoken.” You, too, hear the owl call in the moonlit night, and you, too, thrill to its call.

The Stranded Whale — Yolen doesn’t gloss over the realities of life and death in nature. Along with the children who find the whale stranded on the beach, we want to fight to keep it alive. We want to run with our sweaters filled with sea water to keep the great creature’s skin from drying. And we want to cry when the ending is not the happily ever after, frolicking in the ocean forever, ending that we had hoped for. I am grateful that Jane Yolen didn’t skirt around the truth. Children who know that things don’t always work out become strong adults who work to make things better.

Stone Angel — When I picked up this book, I wondered how one can possibly write about the Holocaust in a way that will reach the children who are the audience for a picture book. Jane Yolen knew how. She managed to weave a story of family love, and hope, and courage into a story that introduces the subject of the Holocaust with sensitive realism. As the Boston Globe review says, “The subject material is grown-up, but the handling of it is sensitive and deft, never gruesome, never more than a child can handle.”

Sea Watch: A Book of Poetry — with an economy of words, Yolen vividly portrays such widely varied sea-dwellers as seahorses, grunions, beluga, sea otters, barracuda, and others, giving us insight into their characters, information about their lives, inspiration to save our seas. As well as the evocative poetry, a page of notes at the end tells us more about each one. Ted Lewin’s illustrations just as vividly picture them for our eyes as the poems do for our minds and hearts.

My Uncle Emily — in an imagined incident, Yolen brings to life for us the close relationship between poet Emily Dickinson and her nephew, Gib. Yes, Dickinson preferred to be called Uncle Emily, for reasons not gone into (and not germane to the story). We get some of the flavor of Dickinson in both story and in the use of snippets of her poetry. In lyrical prose, Yolen brings the poet to life through the eyes of a child. Illustrated by Nancy Carpenter.

You Nest Here With Me — What a lovely, lyrically-written, reassuring, loving lullaby for a little one! Each part/verse/section/ tells about a bird species and how it cares for its young, then ends with the love-filled “you nest here with me.” Written by Yolen and her daughter Heidi E.Y. Stemple and illustrated by Melissa Sweet, it is a joy to read and to experience. Notes at the end of the book give further information on each bird.

Elsie’s Bird — takes us on a journey with young Elsie, from the familiar life by the sea in Boston to the new and uninviting life on the prairie when her father decides to move after her mother’s death. A canary is all that brings her joy in this new life she didn’t ask for, until its escape one day introduces her to the joys of the sounds and sights of the prairie. In January 2014 I featured this picture book as my Perfect Picture Book Friday selection.

Water Music: Poems for Children — Yolen’s poems accompany her son, Jason Stemple’s, photography and beautifully evoke the many moods and forms of water.

Bug Off! Creepy, Crawly Poems — Many kids love bugs, and this collaboration by Yolen and Jason Stemple feeds that love with fabulous close-up photographs and accompanying poems. A paragraph on the same double-page spread provides scientific information about each insect portrayed. I hope my honorary nephews knew this book when they were kids! They’d love it.

Least Things: Poems About Small Natures — Another Yolen/Jason Stemple collaboration takes us into the world of nature and gets us to look at the smallest aspects and residents of the natural world through captivating photography and equally captivating haiku. A spider, a snail, a hummingbird, a tree frog — even a baby (of the human variety) are treated with warmth, knowing eyes, and winning words.

How Do Dinosaurs… — a collaboration by Yolen and illustrator Mark Teague has created a delightful series of books envisioning how dinosaurs do a plethora of things including How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight? and How Do Dinosaurs Stay Friends? Through the illustrations that picture a dinosaur in a situation a child would find him- or her-self in, with everything else in the picture being what the child would know, and through simple, lyrical questions, Yolen and Teague set up the negative aspects of each subject (such as “Does a dinosaur slam his tail and pout? Does he throw his teddy bear all about?”) and then gives the contrast that shows the dinosaur/child going to bed willingly and happily — putting the message across in a pleasing and child-friendly way.

Any other writer would have been satisfied with even a fraction of the wonderful picture books she has written — but Jane Yolen wasn’t satisfied.

She writes chapter books and middle grade novels. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the time to read all the plethora of novels I brought home from the library.

She takes us to the world of knights and dragons in A Plague of Unicorns, and makes us believe in that world that she has created.

B.U.G. (Big Ugly Guy), which is a collaboration by Yolen and her son, Adam Stemple, brings to life a golem (the mystical, mythical monster of Jewish lore) created by a bullied middle schooler.

The Hostage Prince and the rest of the Seelie Wars series  — Yolen and Adam Stemple creat a fascinating fantasy world of Seelies and Unseelies, elves, trolls, and other fantastical creatures, and made it real for us through the lives of Aspen, a Seelie of royal birth who was given by his father as a hostage of the enemy Unseelies, and Snail, an Unseelie midwife’s apprentice.

If she had only written chapter books and middle grade novels, her readers likely would have been satisfied. But her ideas are too big to be contained. With her son, Adam Stemple, and illustrator Orion Zangara, she has written the graphic novel series Stone Man Mysteries, and thus captures another group of kids in her vast net of words.

If she had only written graphic novels, it would have been enough. But no. There was more in her.

In Young Adult novels like Briar Rose, she makes the Holocaust real to kids whose grandparents may or may not have been old enough to remember those days.

In the memoir in verse I mentioned before, Ekaterinoslav,  she brings adults into the net, and paints an evocative picture in verse of life in a Jewish shtetl in Russia, of the terror of wondering if the soldiers would come today? tomorrow?. She takes us on board the ship her ancestors took to travel toward freedom, and we stand with them, waiting, on Ellis Island. She shows us that the struggles were not yet over — are the struggles ever over?

Her heart-wrenching memoir/reflection in verse, Things to Say to a Dead Man, takes us through her personal grief journey as she responds to her husband’s illness, death and her progress through widowhood through searingly, touchingly, totally real poems.

And still, for her it is not enough. She continues to write. “You can’t keep a Yolen from telling stories.” Who knows what still waits to be written, and to be read?

Y is for Yolen. And yes, that is totally satisfying.

You can find her website here. Her Twitter feed is a treasure trove!

        

Write This Down by Claudia Mills

Technically, this “What I’m Reading” post is another “What I Just Finished Reading Because I Couldn’t Put It Down” post. Not only is it well done in terms of expressing a middle-grader’s feelings and thoughts, and the wrenching ups and downs of pre-teen life in both family and school, but writers will identify with her attempts to get published and her angst when it’s not an easy process.

Title: Write This Down

Author: Claudia Mills

Publisher: New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 2016

Genre: MG Fiction

Links:

The Publishers Weekly review.

The author’s website.

        

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