Shoes for Me! by Sue Fliess – Review and Giveaway

Last week I had a wonderful surprise on my doorstep, courtesy of Pinwheel Books, a division of Marshall Cavendish. Shoes for Me! (2011) is a delightful rhyming picture book by Sue Fliess. She really gets it right in this debut story for the preschool, kinder, and early childhood set.

In Shoes for Me!, Hippo is off to the store with her mom for new shoes – and she gets to make the choice. Oh, the power! The young fashionista goes through every shoe in the store before her mom threatens  to leave without a purchase. That gets our girl’s attention and she finally makes her selection. Mike Laughead‘s bright and snappy illustrations go well with the clipped rhythm of the short text.

The colors, patterns, and types of shoes in the story lend themselves to a multitude of classroom activities – and the importance of making a choice is a lesson in and of itself. Nice work, Sue. I can’t wait to see what happens when Hippo goes clothes shopping in next year’s A Dress for Me!

I’ll be giving my copy away to one lucky person. Leave a comment on this post by August 19th and you’ll be included in my random drawing.  If this is your first comment to my blog, the comment will not post until I approve it. It’s a great book for the younger set. If you don’t have any young children hanging around your house you could share it with a preschool teacher or librarian. Feel free to pass the contest on to anyone who might be interested.

Genres: Picture Books, Rhyming Books

Things to like about this book: Great rhyme! It’s fun and colorful and makes a great read aloud.

Audience: Toddlers, Preschool, kindergarten, 1st grade. Also great for parents looking for a quick bedtime read.

Reviewed from: Hardcover provided by publisher.

Dry Souls by Denise Getson – Review and Giveaway

Long overdue, I’m posting my review of fellow CBAY author Denise Getson’s debut midgrade Dry Souls. I met Denise at the TLA Conference in late April and I thoroughly enjoyed her novel. As a fan of dystopia, I found her future world where the lack of usable water resources creates a society in crisis is well written and very believable. It is somewhat gentler than the YA dystopias of the last few years – which I think middle school parents, librarians, and teachers will appreciate.

The heroine, Kira, is a lonely orphan who discovers she can call water forth from the earth. The book follows her as she sets out to discover her past and how she might be able to use this skill to help her dying world. But it wouldn’t be a dystopian novel if the powers that be left Kira alone to save the planet. As she journeys through her own self discovery, she learns how to be a friend and whom not to trust. Well done, Denise. I’m hoping the sequel is on the editor’s desk!

I’ll be giving my copy away to one lucky person. Leave a comment on this post by August 10th and you’ll be included in my random drawing. If this is your first comment to my blog, the comment will not post until I approve it.  It’s a great book to have on your to-be-read pile. Pass the contest on to anyone who might be interested.

Genres: Midgrade, Science Fiction, Fantasy

Things to like about this book: It is well written and the characters are believable. Their struggle is compelling and I wanted to stay up late and finish it – it takes alot for me to read late into the evening – so that’s saying something!

Audience: Middle School and possibly upper elementary. Give to those 6th graders who aren’t yet ready for the bigger YA dystopias.

Reviewed from: Paperback provided by publisher.

Storytelling Down South

I recently returned from a great day of storytelling in Lucedale, Mississippi. I had a great time with the kids as we cooked up some Gator Tooth Gumbo. Later in the day I spoke with some aspiring young (and not so young) authors and shared my own writing journey with them.

It was a great pleasure to spend some time there. Thanks so much to Becky Wheeler and her staff at the Lucedale branch of the Jackson-George Regional Library system for having me. Your hospitality reminded my why I love living in the south.

Special shout-outs go to Aunt Susie and Uncle ID for  hosting me while I was there. I LOVE the chickens!

Post Conference Goodies

Last week’s Texas Library Association conference was absolutely wonderful. I got to visit with the great students at Baranoff, sign books at my publisher’s booth, and hang out with a whole bunch of authors – some were old  friends, and some new friends. I especially enjoyed meeting Tricia Hoover and Jessica Lee Anderson’s fellow Texas Sweethearts & Scoundrels at their ice cream social.

But the best part of conferences for me is the books I bring home. I acquired several ARC’s and some off the shelf copies of quite a few books. I’m reading them now and will post my reviews as I finish – and then I’ll give them away. I love giving books away after I’m done with them. Someone else gets to read them and I get more space on my shelf.

I just finished Dry Souls from debut novelist Denise Getson. It’s the newest release from CBAY – coming out this May. I was able to spend a little time with Denise at the conference and she is a lovely person. I’ll post that review soon, along with a giveaway.  Some of the other ARCs I’m looking forward to reading include:

Calli by Jessica Lee Anderson

Sir Gawain the True by Gerald Morris (one of The Knight’s Tales)

Middle School: The Worst years of my Life by James Patterson (with Chris Tebbetts)

Mousenet by Prudence Breitrose

I’ll be posting reviews soon!

Why I Write – Thanks Baranoff Elementary Students!

Yesterday I had a school visit to the Buffaloes at Baranoff Elementary School in  Texas.  I had a great time sharing about story elements and talking some about my book, Secrets of the Cheese Syndicate. We even got a little Cajun storytelling in before the end. I’ve been out of the library and classroom for almost two years now and I will confess I miss that daily interaction with the students – although I was EXHAUSTED by the end of the day.

Thanks to Book People for setting up the visit and for Madeline Smoot’s service as chauffeur and escort extraordinare! And special thanks to Baranoff’s librarian, Susan Jetton and her wonderful parent volunteers for inviting us and providing such great hospitality – lunch was yummy!

But most of all, thank you to the students at Baranoff. Your energy and enthusiasm reminded me why I write – to share stories with children. This author is grateful for the opportunity to share mine with all of you.

Visiting with an Old Friend

Favorite authors. Do you have one? I mean the one you read over and over and over again. I have two. First is JRR Tolkien. I cannot say how many times I’ve read through the Lord of the Rings trilogy, but it is many. Of course, because Tolkien no longer walks the earth, he’s not producing any new fiction, unless you count The Children of Hurin, the unfinished epic that was edited and brought to publication in 2007 by his son Christopher Tolkien. But Frodo and Sam will not grace the page again for any of us. If Tolkien had any other stories to share with us sadly, we will never know them.

My other favorite author, who is alive and well, is Orson Scott Card. When I discovered his work in my young adult years, I rejoiced.  I have subsequently read everything he’s written.  While I don’t universally like all of his work, I always enjoy reading his stories – because he is such a craftsman when it comes to creating a science fiction/fantasy story. So whenever any new Card comes along, I am pleased as punch.  I confess to not always keeping up with what’s new, so when I found TWO new Card books while Christmas shopping, I nearly salivated. I immediately added them to my order.

Pathfinder is a new science fiction story that debuted in November of 2010.  It has all the classic Card features fans have come to love: space travel save-the-earth plans, young heroes with exceptionally special mystical talents, corrupt government officials bent on keeping or gaining power, good people who act selflessly, and fantastic technology.                                                                                     

The Lost Gate, which arrived on my doorstep in early January 2011,  is more straight fantasy. It borrows from legends of old and reminded me of Rick Riordan’s books with the “orphaned god who doesn’t understand his destiny” set in today’s America.

Id give Pathfinder my nod for favorite between the two stories, although Card fans, or any science fiction/fantasy fans, would like either of them. A good audience for either of these books would be junior high and up. I was quite pleased to be able to spend a couple of afternoons reading them. It was like catching up with an old friend. I hope their sequels get here soon – I can’t wait for another visit.

The Gigantic Sweet Potato by Dianne de Las Casas

How did it get to be November already? I feel like I’m coming back to Narnia – could more than a day have passed since my last post – or has it really been several hundred years? At any rate, today I’m reviewing another picture book from New Orleans publisher, Pelican.

The Gigantic Sweet Potato by Dianne de Las Casas, illustrated by Marita Gentry, is an adaptation of a Russian folktale known as “The Giant Turnip”.  Here’s a little disclaimer: I know Dianne as a member of the south Louisiana community of children’s authors – and I’ve seen her perform as a storyteller. I think she does a great job engaging the kids and she’s very fun to watch in action.

Having said that, this book is a hoot! It follows the oral storytelling tradition at its finest. Repetition and predictability lend to the story’s charm and you find yourself rooting (pardon the pun) for Ma Farmer to finally get that darn thing out of the ground. I’ve seen Dianne do this story out loud with an auditorium full of elementary school students and it’s quite a hit as a performance piece. Marita Gentry’s gentle illustrations are a perfect complement to the story. Ma’s Sweet Potato Pie recipe and a fact page about sweet potatoes complete the package – just in time for the holidays. Where’s my pie dish?

Genres: Picturebook, Folklore

Things to like about this book: It’s fun. The bigger the group of kids, the more fun it will be. It is a perfect companion to preschool and kindergarten units on gardening, cooking, AND cooperation.

Audience:Preschool through Lower elementary school. Perfect for read aloud and audience participation story time.

Reviewed from: Hardcover provided by publisher

The Emperor’s Army by Virginia Walton Pilegard

Today I’m posting my first publisher requested review. I was excited to have the opportunity to review a few books from New Orleans publisher, Pelican Publishing Company.  A regional publisher, Pelican specializes in “travel guides, art and architecture books, Christmas books, local and international cookbooks, motivational and inspirational works, and children’s books, as well as a growing number of social commentary, history, and fiction titles”. (Pelican website)

The Emperor’s Army: a mathematical adventure by Virginia Walton Pilegard. Illustrated by Adrian Tans. Pelican Publishing, January 2010.

Genres: Picturebook, Historical fiction

When scholarship falls out of favor because the evil prime minister gains influence with China’s first emperor, Qin Shi Huang, a scholar and his son escape persecution by hiding in the mountains. They discover a huge project that artists arrested by the emperor are completing: a clay army to serve as guardians in the emperor’s afterlife. After the emperor dies, the peasants rob the buried army of statues, with the aid of the scholar’s son, and stage a revolt. The scholar and his son are rewarded and allowed to live in comfort, continuing to study.

This book would make a nice addition to an elementary school library and could be used as a teaching supplement in multiple subject areas. The rich language will probably require dictionary use by independent readers but provides a great opportunity to expand vocabulary.

Things to like about this book: First, Adrian Tans’ beautiful illustrations place the reader in the moment. Combined with the third person narration, the illustrations make it easy to settle in as though you are at the feet of a feudal elder in a long ago Chinese kingdom. The author introduces math concepts of volume and estimation, which allow for cross curricular usage. There is a brief historical note (which could have been expanded) concerning the first Huang emperor and an art activity for making clay sculptures.

Audience: Lower to middle elementary school. Read aloud in social studies or history class studying ancient China. Supplement to math or art class.

Reviewed from: F&G provided by publisher

Louisiana Young Readers’ Choice – Part Deaux – 6th-8th Grade

The LYRCA sponsored by the Louisiana State Library Center for the Book gives awards in two age categories. Yesterday I highlighted the 3rd through 5th grade ballot. Today it’s the 6th through 8th grade turn. My two favorite so far are Schooled and Peak – but I haven’t read the entire list yet. I’m anxiously awaiting the announcement of the winner this weekend at the Louisiana Library Association State Conference.

Here they are:

Chaos Code by Richards, Justin.  388 pages.  Bloomsbury Publishing 2007. Join Matt on an action packed modern-day treasure hunt that takes him across the globe in search of a code fabled to have brought down Atlantis.

Cracker:  The Best Dog in Vietnam by Kadohata, Cynthia.312 pages. Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing 2007. Cracker is a female German shepherd who is trained to sniff out booby traps and other dangers to the US troops in the Vietnam War.  The story is told in alternating viewpoints between Cracker and her handler.

Deep and Dark and Dangerous by Hahn, Mary Downing.  187 pages.  Houghton Mifflin Company 2007. In this chilling ghost story Ali goes to spend the summer with her aunt and learns about a girl who disappeared and was presumed dead thirty years earlier.

Diamonds in the Shadow by Cooney, Caroline.  228 pages.  Random House,  2007.  Jared’s family takes in a refugee family fleeing a   war in Africa.  Unfortunately, there was one more person that made it to America from Africa.  He is looking for something the refugees have and will stop at nothing to get it.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: A Novel in Cartoons by Kinney, Jeff.  217 pages.  Harry N. Abrams , Incorporated 2007. Through both text and pictures, Greg chronicles his hilarious first year of middle school.  Greg would like to be cool, popular and impress girls but nothing ever seems to work out the way he wants. (This is book 1 in the series, red cover)

Dragon Slippers by George, Jessica Day.  324 pages.  Bloomsbury Publishing 2007.  All Creel wants to do is move to the big city and become a seamstress.  Her fortunes change when she meets her first dragon and is given a magical pair of blue slippers.

Elijah of Buxton by Curtis, Christopher Paul.  395 pages. Scholastic Incorporated 2007.   Eleven-year-old Elijah was born into freedom in Canada but witnesses the cruelties of slavery when he takes a perilous mission into the United States.

Fire From the Rock by Draper, Sharon.  240 pages.  Penguin Group 2007. Sylvia is chosen to be one of the first black students to integrate Little Rock’s all white Central High School, chronicling first hand one of the most volatile moments of the civil rights movement’s history.

Football Genius by Green, Tim.  256 pages.  HarperCollins Publishers 2007.  Troy has the amazing ability to predict football plays before they happen.  If he can get anyone to listen to him perhaps he can help his favorite NRL team pull themselves out of their loosing streak.

Gabriel’s Horses by Hart, Alison.  224 pages.  Peachtree Publishers 2007. Gabriel, a slave on a Kentucky plantation that breeds and trains thoroughbreds, is determined to do whatever it takes to protect his beloved horses while the Civil War raging around him.

Kimchi and Calamari by Kent, Rose.  220 pages. HarperCollins Publishers 2007.  Joseph is bewildered when he is given a family ancestry assignment.  Ethnically Joseph is Korean but he has been raised Italian by his adoptive Italian family.  This is the beginning of a quest in which ultimately Joseph comes to reconcile and accept his various ancestries and establish his own identity.

Night of the Howling Dogs by Salisbury, Graham.  191 pages.  Random House Children’s Books 2007.  Taken off guard while camping on a remote beach in Hawaii, Dylan’s Boy Scout troop struggles to survive after they are separated by a tsunami.  This account is based on a true story.

Peak by Smith, Roland.  246 pages.  Harcourt Children’s Books 2007.  Peak Marcello loves to climb, it’s in his blood, but unfortunately he lives in Manhattan.  When Peak is sent to live with his father, who runs a climbing business in Asia, he takes on the challenge to become the youngest person to ever reach the summit of Mount Everest.

Schooled by Korman, Gordon.  208 pages.  Hyperion Press 2007.  Capricorn has lived a completely isolated and sheltered life on a commune with his grandmother Rain.  When Rain ends up in the hospital a local social worker takes Capricorn in and sends him to Middle School.

So Totally Emily Ebers by Yee, Lisa.  280 pages. Scholastic 2007.  Following her parent’s divorce, Emily moves to California with her mom and befriends Millicent Min and Stanford Wong over the summer.

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Watersmeet by Ellen Jenson Abbott

Today, I’m featuring theYA fantasy Watersmeet by 2k9 debut classmate Ellen Jenson Abbott. From the moment I saw Ellen’s cover, I wanted to read the book. It’s one of those covers that says, “Listen, I have a secret you want to hear.” And what a secret lies in those pages!

Abisinia, an outcast in her dystopian world, escapes from the only home she’s ever known to find the father she’s never known.  The prejudice and discrimination she’s endured through her short years prepare her well for the difficult journey she undertakes – to a mystical place she’s heard about called Watersmeet. What it doesn’t prepare her for is the depth to which her own heart could carry those same types of feelings.  I’ll use epic here because her journey represents the journey of the entire world Abbott has created.  It is a world of extremes, where your physical appearance determines your status and races are steeped in hatred and mistrust. The town of Watersmeet provides a haven where creatures of different backgrounds can come to learn trust and acceptance – if they don’t destroy it first.

Things to like about this story: It’s good fantasy and good fantasy is difficult to come by. The world and characters Ellen created are real and their struggles are are eminently identifiable with prejudice and discrimination in our own real world. Her world is vivid and easy to imagine. And don’t forget about that beautiful cover – never underestimate the power of a great cover!

Audience: Upper midgrade, YA and adult. It does contain some violent elements.

Ellen Jenson Abbott has created a unique and wonderful world and characters that I care about. I see Abisinia continuing her journey into adulthood and becoming a force for good in her world. I hope that sequel comes out soon!