Monday, August 30, 2010

Why We Know Who Egged Rick Riordan's Car In High School

 Stopping by Kid Lit Frenzy today are authors Adam Jay Epstein & Andrew Jacobson.  Their first book, The Familiars, will be released on September 7, 2010.  Thanks guys for stopping by the blog.

Distractions.  Every writer knows that their biggest enemy to putting words on the page each day is their own mind wandering.  It's so easy to find yourself staring down at your iPhone or Googling that it's a miracle you get anything written at all.  Take a sample morning for the two of us.  First, we discuss if either of us saw any good movies this past weekend.  Oh, you saw Inception? Who was that guy playing Eames? I'm not sure, let me IMDB it.  Tom Hardy. Ooo, he's going to be Mad Max in the Mad Max remake.  And he has a dog named Max!  Let's wiki him and learn everything about his entire life.

Fifteen minutes later.  Back to the book writing.  But before getting through even a paragraph, the topic wanders to whether either of us has purchased Rick Riordan's The Red Pyramid yet.  No, but it's at the top of Andrew's to-read list.  I wonder how many copies he's selling of this book.  Twenty minutes pass, as we don't find the answer to that, but instead are led to browse Publisher's Weekly's list of 100 top selling books from 2009.  How is PC Cast selling so many books?  Who is PC Cast and why have we never read any of her books?  Back to Riordan.  Somehow we find ourselves on his official home page, learning everything there is to know about him.  Did you know that in high school, he wrote an underground newspaper that criticized his school and especially its losing football team?  But the football team got their revenge by egging his car.

Maybe we should get some writing done.  No can do, it's time for a snack.  Many delays will arise during out 9 to 5 workday.  And many delays will arise for you as well.  Let's be honest, you're reading this blog post right now!  You should be writing.  But we know how it is.  We're probably doing something other than writing, too.  Reading a tweet or watching a Youtube video.  The key is just to stay focused.  We have to cut through the swath of information we're constantly being bombarded with.  For a couple hours a day, unplug the Internet.  Turn off the wifi and put your iPhone on airplane mode.  Adam's asking me right now how to get on some hot new blogger and tastemaker.  I just want to finish this guest post and get back to writing.

ADAM JAY EPSTEIN spent his childhood in Great Neck, New York, while ANDREW JACOBSON grew up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, but the two met in a parking garage out in Los Angeles. They have been writing for film and television together ever since.  The Familiars is their first book. 

One day, Adam asked Andrew, "Are you familiar with what a familiar is?" And from that simple question, Vastia was born, a fantastical world filled with the authors' shared love of animals and magic. They wrote every word, sentence, and page together, sitting opposite each other.

Adam Jay Epstein lives in Los Angeles with his wife, Jane, their daughters, Penny and Olive, and a black-and-white alley cat who hangs out in their backyard. Andrew Jacobson lives with his wife, Ashley, and their dog, Elvis, four traffic lights away.

The Familiars will be produced for film by Sam Raimi and Sony Animation.

You can learn more about The Familiars at

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Book-A-Day Challenge Weeks 9 and 10

The Book-A-Day Challenge was started by Donalyn Miller, The Book Whisper. Many of the participants have been doing their end of the summer wrap-ups as they have returned to school. It has been one of my favorite challenges and I have really enjoyed getting to know so many wonderful teachers, and school librarians. As a result, we will continue to use the #bookaday hashtag on twitter during the school year, even if we only read 1 or 2 books per week.

Though students have not returned to school yet, in my district, my reading has slowed down as I prepare for the new school year. I have read some great books over the past two weeks. Let me tell you about them.

Picture Books

A Long Piece of String by Willian Wondriska - Check out my review here.

Chicken Big by Keith Graves - Check out my review here.

Day and Night by Teddy Newton - If you saw Toy Story 3, this is part of the short shown prior to the movie. One time when I would say that the animated version is stronger than the book. I will be posting a review on this.

First Day Jitters by Julie Danneberg - This is a great book about fear of the first day of school at a new school. A fun little twist. A definite read for teachers and students.

Hooray for Fish by Lucy Cousins - A fun picture book for toddlers and preschoolers. See my review here.

Swim! Swim! by Lerch - Check out my review at MundieKids

Middle Grade Books

Friends Forever? (Mackenzie Blue #3) by Tina Wells - Since I am posting a review on Monday, I will hold off on saying anything about this book for now.

YA Books

Dust of 100 Dogs by A.S. King - This story mixes pirates from the 17th Century, Caribbean curses, dog facts, and the present day life of a teen girl. Definitely for older teens. I had mixed feelings about this one.

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins - What do I even say? I am still processing the third and final book in The Hunger Games series. An emotional rollercoaster worth riding.

Professional Books

The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller - If you look at my copy of this book, it has sticky notes in different colors marking pages, and stars and underlines on lots of others. Upon finishing it, I promptly emailed my teachers that we are going to be reading this book as part of staff development. Inspirational, practical, wonderful.

Feel free to leave a comment about what you are reading.
- Aly

Saturday, August 28, 2010

One Lovely Blog Award

When I woke up this morning and checked my email, I had a lovely note from Louisse from Soul Sisters Blog telling me that she and Keila had given my blog the One Lovely Blog Award. It has been fun seeing various blogs bestowing awards on fellow bloggers. It is a great way to support one another and in recognizing everyone's hard work and commitment to spreading the news about good books.

Thanks Soul Sisters!!! As part of the award, the recipient turns around and awards it to another 10 to 15 bloggers. I would like to recognize the following bloggers with the One Lovely Blog Award. Congratulations to the following (Please click on the blog names to check out their blogs):

Kathy over at The Brain Lair
Renee over at Notes In The Margrin
Vi over at Young Adult Literature Review
Marisa over at Elegant Bloggery
Stacy, Nancy, and Shannon over at Girls In The Stack
Alethea over at Read Now, Sleep Later
Mel over at He Followed Me Home
Sara over at The Hiding Spot
Jennifer over at Crazy For Books
Stacie & Leigh over at Whimsical Fic-ery

Congratulations Everyone!

Thank You for Following Contest

Update 8/31/10: In celebration of the release of Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare, anyone entering this contest (see information below) will automatically be entered into an additional drawing for 1 of 2 Clockwork Angel posters.  They are beautiful.  Plus the two bookmark packs now include a Mockingjay Bookmark and Tattoo.  WooHoo! Remember - contest ends at 11:59 PDT tonight.

When I realized that I was going to need to move my blog from WordPress, I felt horrible for everyone that had already signed up. Then it hit me, why not hold a contest as a thank you for everyone who signed on and then moved with the blog. However, I didn't want new people to feel bad either so I have a little something for new followers as well.

For followers who moved over from WordPress:
You have a chance to win one of the following books -

Description from GoodReads:
When Katarina Bishop was three, her parents took her on a trip to the case it. For her seventh birthday, Katarina and her Uncle Eddie traveled to steal the crown jewels. When Kat turned fifteen, she planned a con of her own--scamming her way into the best boarding school in the country, determined to leave the family business behind. Unfortunately, leaving "the life" for a normal life proves harder than she'd expected.

Soon, Kat's friend and former co-conspirator, Hale, appears out of nowhere to bring her back into the world she tried so hard to escape. But he has good reason: a powerful mobster has been robbed of his priceless art collection and wants to retrieve it. Only a master thief could have pulled this job, and Kat's father isn't just on the suspect list, he is the list. Caught between Interpol and a far more deadly enemy, Kat's dad needs her help.

For Kat there is only one solution: track down the paintings and steal them back. So what if it's a spectacularly impossible job? She's got two weeks, a teenage crew, and hopefully just enough talent to pull off the biggest heist in history-or at least her family's (very crooked) history.

Note: This is a hardcover signed by Ally Carter.

Description from GoodReads:
Growing up in a world of wealth and pastel-tinted entitlement, fifteen-year-old Carly has always relied on the constancy—and authenticity—of her sister, Anna. But when fourteen-year-old Anna turns plastic-perfect-pretty over the course of a single summer, everything starts to change. And there are boys involved, complicating things as boys always do. With warmth, insight, and an unparalleled gift for finding humor even in stormy situations, beloved author Lauren Myracle dives into the tumultuous waters of sisterhood and shows that even very different sisters can learn to help each other stay afloat.

Note: This is a paperback copy but it is signed by Lauren Myracle.

Description from GoodReads:
How many lives do you need to live before you find someone worth dying for? In the aftermath of what happened at Sword & Cross, Luce has been hidden away by her cursed angelic boyfriend, Daniel, in a new school filled with Nephilim, the offspring of fallen angels and humans. Daniel promises she will be safe here, protected from those who would kill her. At the school Luce discovers what the Shadows that have followed her all her life mean - and how to manipulate them to see into her other lives. Yet the more Luce learns about herself, the more she realizes that the past is her only key to unlocking her future...and that Daniel hasn't told her everything. What if his version of the past isn't actually the way things happened...what if Luce was really meant to be with someone else?

Note: This is an advanced readers copy. It is not signed.

I will pick two winners who will be able to chose one book each from the selection of three books. I can not promise that you will receive your first choice though I have asked you to indicate your preference on the entry form.

Now on to new followers:

If you are a new follower and enter the contest, you have a chance to win a collection of bookmarks. There will be two winners chosen.

Collection One are all debut authors - Anastasia Hopcus, Kimberly Derting, Kay Cassidy, Heidi R. Kling, Jennifer Cervantes, Christina Diaz Gonzalez and Rhonda Hayter.

Collection Two is a variety of 2010 releases - Michelle Zink, Lisa Schroeder, Maggie Stiefvater, Jennifer Cervantes, Christina Diaz Gonzalez, and Heidi R. Kling.

Just for fun - some of them are even signed.

Here are the Rules:
1. Everyone who is interested in participating must fill out the form below.
2. Contestants must be 13 years or older.
3. Each contestant can only enter one time. Any duplicate entries will be disqualified.
4. This contest will run through Tuesday, August 31, 2010 at 11:59 PDT.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Book Review - A Long Piece of String

Author/Illustrator: William Wondriska
Publisher: Chronicle Books (August 25, 2010)
Ages: 4 to 8 years old
Source: Publisher for review
Rating: 4 of 5 Stars

Description from GoodReads:

Look! A long piece of string. Let's follow it! Stunning in both its boldness and simplicity, this rediscovered classic by distinguished graphic designer William Wondriska, originally published in 1963, leads readers on a clever journey of discovery and delight.

There truly is a simplicity with this book that moves it into a whole other category. When I first held Wondriska's A Long Piece of String in my hands, I sensed this was something unique. As I turned the pages, I was greeted by a wordless story told basically by a piece of black string that leads the reader through a journey of illustrations. Each picture represents a different letter of the alphabet with this dark inky thread tying it together.

The simplicity of this re-issued 47 year old book is also in the dichromatic pages contrasting black string with orange-red illustrations. I couldn't help but chuckle at some of the depictions. A skeleton key for the letter K, or the old gas station for the letter G. However, most of the other pictures really stand the test of time. The jet plane looks remarkably similar to it's present day counterpart, and an alligator is still an alligator.

For those individuals who particularly enjoy collecting alphabet books, I would strongly recommend adding Wondriska's A Long Piece of String to their collection. As for teachers or parents, A Long Piece of String can be used to facilitate a conversation between adult and child about similarities shared by a present day alphabet book and one with a different history.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Book Review - Chicken Big

Author/Illustrator: Keith Graves
Publisher: Chronicle Books
Ages: 4 to 8 years old
Source: Publisher for Review
Rating: 5 of 5 Stars

Description from GoodReads:

On a teeny little farm, in an itty-bitty coop, a very small hen laid a big, giant egg. And out of this egg came one big, humongous . . . something. "It's big!" clucked the little rooster. "It's enormous!" clucked the small chicken. "It's an elephant!" peeped the smallest chicken. "Run for your lives!" they cried. No matter how they try, these clueless chickens can't make sense of the gigantic new member of their family—until he saves the day. With wacky, laugh-out- loud humor and silliness to spare, this BIG twist on the classic Chicken Little story lends a whole new perspective to what it means to be chicken.

I love books that you have fun with right from the beginning. I also really appreciate books that children will enjoy but additionally has a level of humor that adults can appreciate. Keith Graves' Chicken Big meets both of those criteria for me.

Chicken Big is a twist on the classic Chicken Little story. In the beginning, we are introduced to a very small hen who has laid a humongous egg and from the egg a humongous chick pops out. The odd collection of chickens and the lone rooster attempts to identify this strange being while the smallest and "not the sharpest beak in the flock" yells out odd responses.

The humongous chick with his dry wit, along side the easily frenzied chickens led by the smallest chick's dire predictions produces a story that is entertaining and even educational. Each page, the chickens try to decipher what this creature is. Done through a series of observations, statements and guesses, the gang continues to guess wrong. The chick is forced numerous times to rescue this clueless gang until finally when rescuing them one last time realization hits and they recognize him for what he truly is.

Graves has created a story that will delight readers of all ages. Zany illustrations support visually interesting text. I loved the detail in the pictures and especially loved the facial expressions given to all of the chickens including the over-sized chick. This is a book that I eagerly look forward to sharing as a read aloud in many of the classes at my school. I can see both Kinders and Fifth graders both getting a laugh out of this tale.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

What's This? Two websites? Oh No! Not Really

When I decided to jump into the whole world of blogging, I thought I would set up a blog on WordPress. There were some features about WordPress that I really liked. I also thought that one way of setting up my blog would work better on WordPress. Come to find didn't work. With the support and input of a couple of blogger friends, I have decided to bring my blog over to Blogger. With lots of tech support from Alethea (@frootjoos on Twitter) and design support from Marisa (@elegantsnobbery on Twitter), I am moving all of my posts from WordPress.

If you were following me over at Kid Lit Frenzy on WordPress, I hope you will switch over and follow me here.

Thanks for your support & understanding,

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Book Review - The Kneebone Boy

Author:  Ellen Potter

Publisher: Feiwel & Friends (September 14, 2010)

Reading Level: Grades 4th to 8th

Source: ARC for review

Rating:  5 Stars - Highly recommend

Description from GoodReads:

The book's set in a small English town and follows the Hardscrabble kids who are relocated to live with their aunt in London, where they discover they might be living next door to “a horribly misshapen boy who has figured in local legend.” It’s the story of the three Hardscrabble siblings and their search for the legendary Kneebone Boy.

There are books that are fun to read.  There are other books that are amazingly well written.  Sometimes, though, it is a struggle to find "fun to read" and "amazingly well written" between the same covers of a book.  However, as I read through Ellen Potter's newest book The Kneebone Boy, I found myself repeating in this awestruck manner "This book is brilliant".  Both fun and well written and bound behind a spectacular cover. (Click here to read a post from Potter about the cover of the book illustrated by Jason Chan.)

The Kneebone Boy is a tale of 3 children, siblings, living in an odd home with a somewhat eccentric father in England.  There is a mystery surrounding the disappearance of their mother which permeates their lives and influences their actions.  When they find themselves on their own in London, rather than return home, they set out to find their great-aunt.  Their journey turns out to be an adventure of a lifetime.  One that will challenge and test them on many levels, but will ultimately provide them with new understanding.

I am determined not to spoil this story so if some of the details seem vague it is for exactly this reason.  Potter is a master storyteller and has crafted this novel in a manner that reveals just what needs to be at each step of the journey.  As I read each page, I never felt that I wanted more or less than what was given to me.  Even as I arrived at the end of the book, I was pleased with the manner in which she pulled together all of the aspects of the story and provided the reader with a deeply satisfying ending.

It should be noted that The Kneebone Boy is written in a style that fans of Lemony Snickets' Series of Unfortunate Events or Pseudonymous Bosch's Secret Series will be familiar with. Yet, the story begins in a very different voice and style from other novels by Potter. If you are not familiar with Snickets' or Bosch's stories, and more accustomed with Potter's traditional writing style, then I would suggest that you give the story a couple of chapters to acclimate yourself to the narrator's manner. Once in the rhythm of the story you will find yourself, enjoying the interjections and information provided by the book's narrator. I will make the argument that I truly felt as if Potter has taken her writing to a whole new level with this story. There is a richness and complexity with the story that will appeal to older Middle Grade readers and even adults who are reading along with their children.

Kudos to Ellen Potter for an amazing new book and for continuing to write outstanding literature for middle grade readers.

For more information about Ellen Potter and her books, you can check out her website here:

Book-A-Day Challenge Week 8

The Book-A-Day Challenge hosted by Donalyn Miller (The Book Whisper) has been one of my favorite challenges.  Not only did it really help me focus on my reading goal for this summer, but using the #bookaday hashtag on twitter introduced me to some great teachers and school librarians and added a whole community feel to the challenge.  I just want to give a shout out to some of my favorite  Book-A-Day folks: Kathy (@thebrainlair), John (@mrschu81), Jamie (@fiteach), David (@tkslibrarian), Elisha (@elishakarr), Denise (@ddigiova), Paul (@paulwhankins), and Donalyn (@donalynbooks).  If you are on twitter, go follow them.

Now onto my update, I will preface this and say it was a big picture book week.  A bookseller friend of mine gave me free reign to go through her galleys for new releases coming out in late fall/early winter. The only thing that kept me from reading more is that I actually had to get to a meeting and ran out of time.

You will also notice a lot of books by Melanie Watt included below.  When I had admitted that I hadn't read her stuff before, my friend pulled everything off her shelves for me to read.  Just for references purposes, I have indicated below the release dates for the ones not yet out.

Picture Books

The Monster Princess by D.J. MacHale, Illustrated by Alexandra Boiger - This is a debut picture book by MacHale.  Written in typical fairy tale style, MacHale tells the story of a little monster who really wants to be a beautiful princess.

Will It Be A Baby Brother? by Eve Bunting, Illustrated by Beth Spiegel - A mom and her preschooler discuss the pending birth of the new baby in the family.  This big brother wants a "James" (brother).  Mother assures him that whatever he gets will be just right.

Grandma's Gloves by Cecil Castellucci, Illustrated by Julia Denos - A debut picture book by YA author Castellucci and a very wonderful one at that.  Get out your box of tissues.  There will be tears.  Castellucci does a beautiful job with telling one child's story of losing her grandmother and how she deals with her grief.

Scaredy Squirrel by Melanie Watt - Scaredy Squirrel is afraid of just about everything.  One day things don't go exactly as planned and Scaredy learns something new about himself and takes a risk.  Funny and wonderful.

Scaredy Squirrel At Night by Melanie Watt - In a similar vein as the first book in this series, Scaredy is afraid of his dreams.  What will happen to him if he falls asleep?  As with the first one, Scaredy learns a lesson and conquers a fear.

Scaredy Squirrel At The Beach by Melanie Watt  - This may have been my favorite out of the three.  Scaredy tries creating the beach at home but he is missing something that he can only get by going to the actual beach.  Once there, things don't go as planned but then readers have learned that this is the best thing for Scaredy.

Chester by Melanie Watt - I love Scaredy Squirrel but I might even love Chester more.  Chester is a very fat, orange tabby who is snarky and difficult and loves to challenge Watt.  Chester, along with his red pen, is very funny but Watt usually has a surprise and Chester gets his comeuppance at the end.

Chester's Masterpiece by Melanie Watt - As if Chester couldn't get any funnier, this time he has hidden Watt's writing and drawing materials and is writing his own story.  But never fear, Watt has the last laugh or does she?

Have I Got A Book For You! by Melanie Watt - Though this book really is having a little fun with our "hard-sell" advertising world, I couldn't help thinking about all the teachers and librarians out there who spend hours trying to find just the right book for the right kid.

You're Finally Here! by Melanie Watt  Release Date: March 1, 2011 - Bunny (a new character) is so excited that the person he has been waiting for is finally here.  To make his point, he goes through all the agonizing moments leading up to the arrival.  But there is a twist.  Read it to find out.  As with her other books, readers will delight in her humor.

Cuddle Up, Goodnight! by Katie Cleminson Release Date: February 1, 2011 - A toddler picture book for bedtime.

Pirate vs. Pirate by Mary Quattlebaum, Illustrated by Alexandra Boiger  Release Date:  March 22, 2011 - This one I want.  Two pirates compete to see who is better.  A fun book, great illustrations, and a nice lesson about what really make someone better. Boiger also  illustrated MacHale's The Monster Princess - equally well done but also very different.

What's Special About Me, Mama? by Kristina Evans, Illustrated by Javaka Steptoe Release Date: January 18, 2011 - Another one that I would like to have.  A nice addition to the category of books for preschoolers about "what is special about me?"

Before You Came by Patricia MacLachlan, Illustrations by David Diaz  Release Date:  February 8, 2011 - Fans of David Diaz will recognize the artwork in this book.  Unfortunately, there are many books for preschoolers that deal with the theme of waiting for a baby's arrival and this one does not really add anything new.

Baby Says Moo! by Joann Early Macken, Illustrated by David Walker Release Date: March 1, 2011 - This one was a nice twist on the typical toddler/preschool animal sounds.  A young toddler learning to talk refers to all animal sounds as "moo" much to the parent's frustration.

Ten Little Puppies/Diez Perritos by Alma Flor Ada, F. Isabel Campoy, Illustrated by Ulises Wensell  Release Date: March 1, 2011  - On each two page spread is a poem first in Spanish and then in English. This is a nice twist on the traditional "Five little ducks" where each verse subtracts one. Illustrations are lovely. A nice addition to a bilingual Spanish classroom.

A Lot of Beans by Barry Varela, Illustrated by Sebastia Serra Release Date: March 1, 2011  - I really loved this one.  Aside from the multi-cultural aspect of the story (representing the Latino culture), the theme is very well presented.  The main character places a white bean in a jar if it is a good day, and a black bean if it is a bad day. After a series of really bad days, the boy decides to count all of the beans to see if his life is mostly good or bad. Don't want to give away the ending. But wonderful resolution and ending.

Mama and Me by Arthur Dorros, Illustrated by Rudy Gutierrez Release Date: March 1, 2011 - There was something about the illustrations in this book that made it stand out.  The story about the little girl and her mother - though not especially unique - is well constructed and offers a twist on others in this category. One that I will definitely find once it is published to see if I still feel the same way.

Non-fiction Picture Books

Miss Dorothy's Book Mobile by Gloria M. Houston, Illustrated by Susan Condie Lamb  U.S. Release Date: January 25, 2011 -   This is a biographical picture book about  Dorothy Thomas who drove books to people all over the Appalachian during the 1940's.

The Great Migration by Eloise Greenfield, Illustrated by Jan Gilchrist  Release Date: December 21, 2010 - Some picture books do an amazing job of mixing text and illustrations to tell a story. I loved the combination in this book. The Great Migration tells of one African American family's migration from the south to the north. One that I will definitely look for upon it's release.

Early Chapter Books

Judy Moody by Megan McDonald, Illustrator Peter H. Reynolds - I'm not sure how I have avoided reading Judy Moody but I thought it was time to catch up.  Judy is not in a good mood.  It is the first day of school and things don't look like they are going to get any better any time soon.  Teachers will recognize the characters in the book.  The Judy Moody series is a great one for 2nd and 3rd graders and for fans of Ramona.

Clementine by Sara Pennypacker, illustrated by Marla Frazee - I am behind in my 2nd & 3rd grade chapter books.  Probably because many of them annoy me.  However, I loved Clementine.  I think I might love Clementine as much as or maybe even more than Ramona.

Felix Takes the Stage (The Deadlies) by Kathryn Lasky - I think all I know about brown recluse spiders I learned from reading this book.  A family of brown recluses live in a music hall.  Felix wants to conduct an orchestra but gets a little too close to the conductor in an after hours practice and the conductor gets a surprise.  What's a spider family to do when they are forced out of their home by exterminators?  A fun early chapter book which includes a reference about spiders at the end.

Two more Book-A-Day Postings for the summer and then I will be switching over to Book-A-Week during the school year.  So how's your summer reading going?

- Aly

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Book Review - The Red Umbrella

Author: Christina Diaz Gonzalez

Publisher: Knopf Book for Young Readers (May 11, 2010)

Reading Level: Upper Middle Grade/YA

Source: Personal Copy

Rating: 5 Star (A definite must read)

Description from GoodReads:

The Red Umbrella is the moving tale of a 14-year-old girl's journey from Cuba to America as part of Operation Pedro Pan—an organized exodus of more than 14,000 unaccompanied children, whose parents sent them away to escape Fidel Castro's revolution.

In 1961, two years after the Communist revolution, Lucía Álvarez still leads a carefree life, dreaming of parties and her first crush. But when the soldiers come to her sleepy Cuban town, everything begins to change. Freedoms are stripped away. Neighbors disappear. Her friends feel like strangers. And her family is being watched.

As the revolution's impact becomes more oppressive, Lucía's parents make the heart-wrenching decision to send her and her little brother to the United States—on their own.

Suddenly plunked down in Nebraska with well-meaning strangers, Lucía struggles to adapt to a new country, a new language, a new way of life. But what of her old life? Will she ever see her home or her parents again? And if she does, will she still be the same girl?

The Red Umbrella is a moving story of country, culture, family, and the true meaning of home.

In late November 2009, I signed up for  The Story Siren's 2010 Debut Author Challenge.  The challenge - to read at least 12 novels by debut authors in 2010.  With this review, I will be logging in on #12.  WooHoo!  I still plan on continuing with the Challenge for at least another 12 books.  Now on to the review....

History does not have to be dry and boring and Christina Diaz Gonzalez proves that to us in her debut novel The Red Umbrella.  In this powerful and personal story of a young teenage girl named Lucia, readers learn about the events that took place in Cuba and the United Stated in the early 1960's. Gonzalez used the stories of her parents and mother-in-law as the original seed for telling the world about Operation Pedro Pan, when families in Cuba sent their children to the U.S. to avoid Castro's revolution.

According to Gonzalez, there were nearly 14,000 children who arrived in Miami during the years of 1960 to 1962.  Some were met by family and friends while others were placed in a camp until a foster home could be located for them.  Her research uncovered that of these 14,000 children nearly 90% were reunited with their families over a period of time.

With this as her background, Gonzalez paints a vivid portray of what life would have been like for a teenager in Cuba in 1961.  What might she have worn, or what music she listened to, or even what movie she might have seen.  This attention to detail and desire for accuracy rather than slow down the story allows the reader to image what life would have been like.  Lucia, along with her younger brother Frankie live a comfortable life with their parents.  Initially, their parents seek to protect them from the realities of Castro's revolution.  However, there comes a point when their parents are no longer able to keep out the atrocities that are occurring.  In a final attempt to protect them, Lucia and Frankie are sent to the United States in hopes that they will eventually be reunited as a family.

The book is divided into two parts - the first half of the story provides you with the background and what is happening in Cuba.  The second half explores the reality of what it is like for Lucia and Frankie to live in a foster home while they wait and hope for reunification.

As I read The Red Umbrella, I was emotionally moved by the story of the Alvarez family.  Their story is one of loss, love, grief, and hope.  I seem to be saying this a lot lately, but keep a box of tissues near you as you read this book, and you do need to read this story.

For me, the story of the Alvarez family was made even more real when I had an opportunity to see Gonzalez at Vroman's Bookstore in Pasadena.  The audience was filled with predominately Cuban Americans.  Many of these individuals had either been Pedro Pans or had left Cuba in some manner during the 1960's.  The Red Umbrella was not just a story, but it was their story.  Some had hardly shared this story with their families.  Others were using this book to share a piece of their personal history with their children or grandchildren.

This is a powerful story, and an amazing debut novel by Christina Diaz Gonzalez.  I look forward to her next book whenever it is released and I hope that this book will receive the attention, accolades and awards that it is due.  If you don't have this on your "to-be-read" pile, then get it on there.

You can find out more about Christina Diaz Gonzalez on her website here:

You can find her on Twitter @christinadg or on Facebook:

You can purchase of signed copy of The Red Umbrella (while copies last) at Borders Glendale.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Win an ARC of Crescendo & Support Literacy

Author: Becca Fitzpatrick

Publisher:  Simon & Schuster (October 2010)

Reading Level: YA

Description from GoodReads:

Nora should have know her life was far from perfect. Despite starting a relationship with her guardian angel, Patch (who, title aside, can be described anything but angelic), and surviving an attempt on her life, things are not looking up. Patch is starting to pull away and Nora can't figure out if it's for her best interest or if his interest has shifted to her arch-enemy Marcie Millar. Not to mention that Nora is haunted by images of her father and she becomes obsessed with finding out what really happened to him that night he left for Portland and never came home.

The farther Nora delves into the mystery of her father's death, the more she comes to question if her Nephilim blood line has something to do with it as well as why she seems to be in danger more than the average girl. Since Patch isn't answering her questions and seems to be standing in her way, she has to start finding the answers on her own. Relying too heavily on the fact that she has a guardian angel puts Nora at risk again and again. But can she really count on Patch or is he hiding secrets darker than she can even imagine?

Recently, I acquired an ARC of CRESCENDO by Becca Fitzpatrick.  I am pretty certain that the person who had it was clueless about how many people would do just about anything to get their hands on it.  I started to think about it and decided that rather than keep it solely for myself I would hold a contest.  But I didn't want to hold any contest.  I decided I wanted to connect it with something that is really important to me.  Early literacy is a big concern of mine.  How do we help children get excited about books and reading?!

Rather than just have people comment about why they want this ARC or have you follow the blog.  There will be some challenges which will help support literacy and earn you entries.

Here are the rules:

1.  All participants must complete an entry form.

2. You must be 13 or older to enter.

3. On the form, there are some required items that anyone can complete in order to enter.  To earn additional entries, there are some challenges that I believe most people can complete but are not required in order to enter.

4. The contest is open internationally.  International participants - if you are unable to complete something because it does not apply to your country, please email me at: kidlitfrenzy(at)gmail(dot)com.

5.  To encourage people to do more than just comment and follow the blog, I will also throw in an  ARC of Matched by Ally Condie .  What does that mean?  If the selected winner only did the basic and wins, you get the ARC of CRESCENDO.  However, if the selected winner did many or all of the items, then s/he will also win MATCHED. (Note:  Judging this will be at my discretion.)

6.  The contest will end at 11:50 P.M. PDT on August 23, 2010.

Click here to complete the entry form.  Please email me at kidlitfrenzy(at)gmail(dot)com if you are unable to access the link for the form.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Book-A-Day Challenge Weeks 6 & 7 Update

It is already August and I know in some places people will be returning to school soon.  My school; however, did not get out until June 23rd so I still have about another month to reach my Book-A-Day goal of 80 books.  if you don't know about the Book-A-Day Challenge you can check out Donalyn Miller's (The Book Whisperer)  blog post about the Book-A-Day Challenge . Several educators and librarians have been sharing our reading on Twitter, GoodReads, and through our individual blogs.  Currently, I have read 54 books towards my total goal of 80.

During week 6, my sister came out to California to visit me.  With all the running around, I was left with little time for reading.  Hence a combined two week post.

Book-A-Day Weeks 6 & 7 reads:

Picture Books:

Big Wolf & Little Wolf by Nadine Brun-Cosme, Illustrated by Olivier Tallec and translated by Claudia Bedrick - This is a beautiful story of friendship between a big wolf who is use to being on his own and worrying about no one and a smaller wolf who manages to make a big impression.  Children will enjoy this tale.   Bedrick's translation work earned the book a Batchelder's Honor Award.

Fancy Nancy: Hooray For Beauty Day! by Jane O'Connor, Illustrated by Robin Preiss Glasser - Fancy Nancy books are always fun.  I enjoy the way it introduces children to a variety of vocabulary.  My only minor concern with this book is that the pages seemed very "full" almost distracting.  In addition to the wonderful illustrations and regular text, there were "tips" for how to perform certain things (i.e., applying nail polish, or doing a facial).

Animal House by Candace Ryan, Illustrated by Nathan Hale  - This is a fun story about a boy who lives in a Gorvilla and where everything is not what you would expect.  The classroom teacher thinks Jeremy just has an overactive imagination until she does a homevisit. This will make you laugh out loud.  Click here to read my review.

The Exceptionally, Extraordinarily, Ordinary First Day of School by Albert Lorenz  - This book was different.  There appears to be an attempt to deal with a child's fears with the first day in a new school but instead it turns out to be an overly busy book.  Every page is filled with elaborately detailed illustrations, speech bubbles, text, and vocabulary definitions.  Click here to read my review.

Graphic Novels, Middle Grades

Over My Dead Body (43 Old Cemetery Road) by Kate Klise, Illustrated by M. Sarah Klise - This is the second book in the 43 Old Cemetery Road series by the Klise sisters.  I need to start a writing petition for more books.  Nine & ten year olds will love the story of a boy, a ghost, and a grumpy old writer who all share a home.  Click here to read my review.

Copper by Kazu Kibuishi  - Readers are introduced to Copper & his dog Fred in Kibuishi's Flight Explorer Series.  In this book, it is all about Copper and Fred.  The book is composed of a series of short stories (similar to a weekly comic strip series).  Copper & Fred are a bit of an odd pairing but compliment each other nicely.  I have become a huge Kibuishi fan this summer.

Middle Grades:

Tortilla Sun by Jennifer Cervantes - I can't say enough wonderful things about this book.  A beautiful debut novel that features a young Latina girl who learns to deal with loss and grief through family, stories, friendship, and love.  Grab a tissue when reading. This Click here to read my review.

Young Adult

Sprout by Dale Peck - Sprout Bradford moves from NY to Kansas.  This is a story about loss and discovering one's self.  The book deals with the theme of homosexuality and does include sexual content which may make some parents uncomfortable.  Though there were some things that I really appreciated about this book, I was disappointed that many of the characters seemed flat and not well developed.

White Cat by Holly Black - Think of this book as a bit of the Sopranos, a bit of Leverage all done with an element of the magical.  Cassel comes from a family of Curse Workers (people who with a touch can either make you forget something, or change your feelings, or even kill you).  But more than that Cassel's family are really a bunch of Grifters and Cons.  Book one of this trilogy sets the stage and explores the world of Curse Workers.  Cassel must come to learn his own role in his family.  I loved this book and want book 2 now not in 9 more months.

The Red Umbrella by Christina Diaz Gonzalez - There is a little piece of Cuban and American history that is not well known.  In 1960 to 1962, families in Cuba sent 14,000 children under Operation Pedro Pan to the United States to avoid Castro's Revolution.  Gonzalez combines her family's history with the history of others to create a beautiful story which give voice to the experience that many older Cuban Americans lived through.  This book is not just for teens.  A wonderful read.

Graceling by Kristen Cashore  - High fantasy done well.  I have had this on my TBR list since forever and finally got to it.  It certainly reminded me of why I love fantasy.  Strong female protagonist, a well-matched ally in the form of a swoon-worthy male paired with action, adversity, and challenge.

Maybe not 14 books in the past two weeks but there were some really long YA novels.  :-)  Hope everyone is having a wonderful summer.  Would love to hear what fun books people are reading.


Friday, August 6, 2010

Book Review - Tortilla Sun

Author: Jennifer Cervantes

Publisher:  Chronicle Books (May 5, 2010)

Reading Level: Grades 4th to 8th

Source: Personal Copy

Rating: 5 Stars

Description from GoodReads:

A tender, magical story about 12 year old Izzy Roybal who is sent to spend the summer in her nana’s New Mexico village where she is soon caught up in the foreign world of her own culture, from patron saints and soulful food to the curious and magical blessings Nana gives her tortillas. In Nana’s village she meets Mateo, the adventurous, treasure seeking thirteen year old boy who lives on the other side of the bolted door in Izzy’s bedroom and six year old Maggie who is raising her cat, Frida, as a dog and sees marshmallow ghosts float out windows. When the wind begins to whisper to Izzy, she is soon led on an adventure to learn about her father’s mysterious death, who she really is, and to connect the hidden pieces of her past.

Several months ago, I signed up to participate in The Story Siren's 2010 Debut Author Challenge.  I will add admit that Tortilla Sun by Jennifer Cervantes was a late addition to my list of Debut Authors.  However, I am so thrilled that I found this absolutely lovely book.

If you hang around me for any length of time, you will know that trying to find books that my students will relate to is a big concern of mine.  The majority of my students are from Hispanic backgrounds.  Many are Mexican American.  There are some but not enough stories that feature Latino characters.  I was barely a chapter into Tortilla Sun when I knew that this was a book that I not only wanted to share with my students but that I would use as a read aloud with my fifth graders.

By now you may be wondering, what is so special about Tortilla Sun? Cervantes has created a story filled with well-developed characters, a vibrant setting, and a message of loss, love, family, and hope (pull out your tissues when reading this - I sobbed for nearly the last 1/4 of the book).  Twelve year old Izzy never met her father who died before she was born.  Her mother and she have never settled into one house or an apartment for any extended time.  After moving into yet another new place, Izzy uncovers a box of things that belonged to her father including a baseball with the worn words "Because____ ____ magic".   Shortly after this discovery, Izzy's mother is called away on a research trip and sends Izzy off to spend the summer in New Mexico with her grandmother.  At first Izzy is unhappy with this decision but shortly after arriving she discovers that the summer may be a time where she can learn about who her father was and what are the missing words rubbed off from the baseball.  From her Nana, she discovers the magic of homemade tortillas, and learns that the past needs time to be revealed.  From 13 year old Matteo and 6 year old Maggie, she learns about friendship, adventure, and caring about others.  From the adults that surround her in this small village, she learns to embrace the magic around her and discovers who she is.  Cervantes also weaves together Spanish words and phrases along with wonderful references to food and activities that further embrace the Latino culture.

This coming of age story is beautifully and masterfully told.  Cervantes has hit her own home-run with this debut offering and I am eager to read any future books from her.

You can find out more about Jennifer Cervantes and her book at:

You can find Jennifer on Twitter @jencerv or on Facebook:!/jennifercervanteswriter?ref=ts

You can purchase a signed copy (while they last) of Tortilla Sun at Borders Glendale:

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Debut Author Signing

Way back in December, I signed up for the Story Siren's 2010 Debut Author Challenge.  As I was searching for books to read for the challenge, I discovered Sea by Heidi R. Kling, The Red Umbrella by Christina Diaz Gonzalez, and eventually Tortilla Sun by Jennifer Cervantes.  I loved all three of these books.  You can find my review of Sea here, and I will be posting reviews for The Red Umbrella and Tortilla Sun later this week.  Just a warning, keep tissues by you when you read them.  Each book deals with the themes of loss, grief, and hope in their own powerful manner, but don't be surprised when you find yourself tearing up.

After waiting for the books to finally be released, and chatting with the authors via Twitter and Facebook, I found out that not only would they be doing a book event in Southern California but that I would have an opportunity to help out.    Thanks to MyGirlSnark (Amber) and Frootjoos (Alethea), I was granted "green room" privileges.  Just a fancy way of saying I had a chance to hang with our wonderful authors before the event.  Here is Heidi signing a copy of Sea before hand (Christina is in the background signing books).

Jennifer Cervantes' daughters challenged Christina to try some of the hot salsa.  Here she is deciding whether or not her mouth was on fire.

At the signing, Jennifer, Heidi, and Christina shared the mic.  They talked about their books, read snippets, answered questions and brought goodies to raffle off. (Oops!  Forgot to take pictures of the raffle prizes.)

One lucky family won three of the prizes.  Since I was helping with the Q & A, and the raffle drawing, I didn't get pictures.  Next time, I need to make a list of the kind of things I need for pictures and assign someone the task (but thank you Frootjoos for trying to run around and snap some pictures).  I will say the prizes were very cool.  There was a Sea tank top, a red umbrella (read the book to discover the significance), a mug, and a beautiful Mexican bowl, and a couple of special necklaces.

After all of the books were signed, we did manage to group a group shot of the authors, Borders Staff members, and volunteer staff.

I thoroughly enjoyed myself and was very thankful for being allowed the opportunity to participate in the behind the scenes activities.

This is my last known author event for the summer but I am seriously looking forward to the Smart Chicks Kick It Tour in September.


P.S. If anyone is looking for a signed copy of any of these books, give Borders/Glendale a call.