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Debut author Kate Beasley crafts a story packed with wit and down-home charm, led by a heroine with enough spirit and spunk to rival the likes of Junie B. Jones and Ramona Quimby, and complemented by illustrations from Caldecott Honor artist Jillian Tamaki.

Gertie Reece Foy is a force to be reckoned with. She always has at least one mission in the works, and she never fails to complete them. Described by her father as “a bulldog with its jaws locked on a car tire,” Gertie’s greatest strength is that she never gives up on anything. So when she finds out that her estranged mother plans to leave their coastal Alabama town, Gertie immediately concocts a plan to convince her to stay: She will become the greatest fifth grader in the whole universe. All she has to do is write the best summer speech, become the smartest student in her class and win the lead part in the play. There’s only one problem: It turns out that Gertie has some competition for the title of best fifth grader, one Mary Sue Spivey, and she won’t be an easy rival to defeat.

This is a classic coming-of-age tale filled with hope and heart. Gertie will burrow her way into your heart right from the very first page, and stay there long after the book is closed. Beasley’s writing sparkles with just the right balance of humor and emotion, and readers are sure to find parts of themselves in Gertie’s quest of self-discovery. 

Debut author Kate Beasley crafts a story packed with wit and down-home charm, led by a heroine with enough spirit and spunk to rival the likes of Junie B. Jones and Ramona Quimby, and complemented by illustrations from Caldecott Honor artist Jillian Tamaki.

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How exactly does slavery fit into our nation’s history? Middle and high school students will have a much better understanding after reading In the Shadow of Liberty by Kenneth C. Davis, bestselling author of the Don’t Know Much About series. 

After introductory chapters describe how slavery became part of the country’s economy, Davis provides detailed stories of the slaves of four presidents: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and Andrew Jackson. And what fascinating, ultimately tragic tales they are. Billy Lee was the valet who accompanied Washington across the Delaware and at Valley Forge, and he can be seen in the background of several famous paintings. Ona Judge was Martha Washington’s personal servant who ran away to New Hampshire. Isaac Granger was captured by the British as a young boy to become one of “Master Jefferson’s people” and was a witness to Cornwallis’ defeat at Yorktown. Paul Jennings was James Madison’s personal servant and later wrote what is considered to be the first White House memoir. Alfred Jackson, who died a free man, told tales to museum visitors of his life as Andrew Jackson’s slave.

Davis addresses head-on the irony that these presidential defenders of liberty and equality kept slaves. He backs up his discussion with a variety of photos, illustrations and helpful timelines. In the Shadow of Liberty provides an informative read about a subject that’s not always fully addressed in the classroom.

 

This article was originally published in the October 2016 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

How exactly does slavery fit into our nation’s history? Middle and high school students will have a much better understanding after reading In the Shadow of Liberty by Kenneth C. Davis, bestselling author of the Don’t Know Much About series.
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The long-awaited new novel from Trenton Lee Stewart, author of the award-winning, bestselling Mysterious Benedict Society series, is full of intrigue, bravery and friendship. 

Reuben is a loner. He spends his days keeping to the shadows, always on the lookout for hiding places, while his mom works two jobs to keep them in their run-down apartment. But when one of Reuben’s daring exploits results in him coming into possession of a coveted pocket watch with an extraordinary function, our young hero suddenly finds himself swept up in a centuries-old fight for power. If he is to prevail, he must learn to trust his new companions: steadfast Penny, cunning Jack and wise Mrs. Genevieve. 

With writing that is smart and fresh, this middle grade novel showcases Stewart’s trademark blend of edge-of-your-seat adventure and emotional resonance. The almost dystopian world of New Umbra is detailed and thoroughly explained, forming the ideal backdrop as one twist gives way to another. The real heart of this story is its beautifully portrayed relationships, from Reuben’s close bond with his mother to his friendship with Penny. This novel has everything: sharp writing, dynamic characters, a well-paced plot, a detailed setting and, most importantly, lots and lots of heart.

 

This article was originally published in the October 2016 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

The long-awaited new novel from Trenton Lee Stewart, author of the award-winning, bestselling Mysterious Benedict Society series, is full of intrigue, bravery and friendship.
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War, death, slavery; patience, freedom, dreams. Isabel’s life is filled with contradictions. As one hopeful event occurs, painful ones follow. Ashes, the thrilling and long-awaited conclusion to Laurie Halse Anderson’s award-winning Seeds of America trilogy, continues the story of Isabel and Curzon, who have been thrust into the middle of the American Revolution. Isabel is heading back south with Curzon to find Ruth, her sister who was taken from her as an infant and sold. Finding Ruth, however, may not give Isabel the family she imagines. Ruth is scared and angry, plagued by seizures and distrustful of Isabel. Ruth, Isabel, Curzon and Aberdeen (a friend and companion of Ruth’s) begin the trip back north toward freedom, but this journey, in the middle of the Revolution and veering directly into the center of the Battle of Yorktown, is not simple for anyone.

Though it’s the final book in a trilogy, Ashes is accessible for readers who have not yet heard Isabel and Curzon’s story. For those who have, it is a satisfying finale. Filled with the horrors of slavery, the heartbreak of war, the compassion of forgiveness and even a touch of love, Ashes draws the reader deep into the lives of those who watched their owners and masters fight for freedom, even as they themselves were not free.

 

This article was originally published in the October 2016 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

War, death, slavery; patience, freedom, dreams. Isabel’s life is filled with contradictions. As one hopeful event occurs, painful ones follow. Ashes, the thrilling and long-awaited conclusion to Laurie Halse Anderson’s award-winning Seeds of America trilogy, continues the story of Isabel and Curzon, who have been thrust into the middle of the American Revolution.

Newbery Honor author Grace Lin returns to an imagined ancient China in her new fantasy novel. Like her previous books, Where the Mountain Meets the Moon and Starry River of the Sky, When the Sea Turned to Silver celebrates the power of storytelling while taking readers on an exciting, danger-filled adventure.

Quiet Pinmei lives with her grandmother, Amah, in a mountain hut. Although Amah ekes out a living with her embroidery, visitors are most attracted to her stories. But with the ascension of the Tiger Emperor, fear fills every heart, and one day the emperor’s men come for Amah. Pinmei manages to escape capture, and she and her friend Yishan set out on a quest to release Amah by bringing the Emperor the Luminous Stone That Lights the Night. Along the way, the two young travelers encounter adventures and magical creatures (including an amazing dragon horse), and shy Pinmei is often called upon to be brave and to tell the stories she knows—tales that help unlock the mystery of their epic quest. 

Lin (whose own artwork graces the book) was inspired by ancient Chinese folklore to create her stories. Readers familiar with her other books will rejoice, and newcomers have not one, but three wonderful books to discover. 

 

Deborah Hopkinson lives near Portland, Oregon. Her most recent book for young readers is Steamboat School.

This article was originally published in the October 2016 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

Newbery Honor author Grace Lin returns to an imagined ancient China in her new fantasy novel. Like her previous books, Where the Mountain Meets the Moon and Starry River of the Sky, When the Sea Turned to Silver celebrates the power of storytelling while taking readers on an exciting, danger-filled adventure.

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“Over breakfast, Dad / eyes me like an alien / never seen before. / Sometimes, I could swear that he’s / hoping to make first contact.” In verse form, Garvey’s Choice tells the story of one boy’s journey to discover his own voice.

Being overweight is one thing, but Garvey’s dad wants a son who excels in sports, not a “Star Trek”-watching dreamer. When Garvey tries out for chorus, he finds his true talent, but what will his family think? 

Author Nikki Grimes (Words with Wings) wrote this story in tanka, Japanese short verse that is like pumped-up haiku—five lines with a 5-7-5-7-7 syllable count. While this makes for short chapters of one to three verses, they’re also tightly compacted and hard-hitting. Garvey’s joy when he’s with his friends, or beginning to train his singing voice, sparkles as brightly as his hurt feelings burn when he’s being teased. Readers don’t have to be fans of Luther Vandross to choke up when father and son connect through his music.

It can be hard for parents to learn that letting kids be themselves is beneficial to the whole family. This story empowers kids to do just that while slipping them a dose of poetry in the bargain. It’s a winner.

 

This article was originally published in the October 2016 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

“Over breakfast, Dad / eyes me like an alien / never seen before. / Sometimes, I could swear that he’s / hoping to make first contact.” In verse form, Garvey’s Choice tells the story of one boy’s journey to discover his own voice.
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Jon Klassen fans will rejoice at this final book in the Hat trilogy about two turtles and—you guessed it—a hat. In three parts, the book chronicles the turtles as they find the hat, watch the sunset (and think about the hat) and go to sleep (and dream of the hat).

In “Part One: Finding the Hat,” it’s clear that eventually a difficult choice must be made. “We found a hat,” the turtles say together, establishing their united front—but the tall white hat sits on the ground between them, foreshadowing a potential future rift. They agree the hat looks good on both of them, so the only fair decision is to leave the hat behind and forget it.

The unifying “we” vanishes in “Part Two: Watching the Sunset” as the turtles address each other. “What are you thinking about?” they ask each other. One turtle sneaks a glance at the hat.

In the turtle dream world of “Part Three: Going to Sleep,” the growing tension reaches its peak. But these aren’t the competitive strangers of Klassen’s first two Hat books. These turtles are buddies, and they have a chance for a different outcome.

With We Found a Hat, Klassen takes readers to the West, with brown, gray, orange and inky green desert tones tracking the time of day. As in I Want My Hat Back and the Caldecott-winning This Is Not My Hat, the wording is bold and limited on each page, making it easy to follow when read aloud. Klassen makes great use of the turtles’ eye expressions, conveying the complicated emotions of friendship as well as subtle humor. 

This is a heartwarming, wonderful conclusion.

 

This article was originally published in the October 2016 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

Jon Klassen fans will rejoice at this final book in the Hat trilogy about two turtles and—you guessed it—a hat. In three parts, the book chronicles the turtles as they find the hat, watch the sunset (and think about the hat) and go to sleep (and dream of the hat).
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BookPage Children's Top Pick, October 2016

“A Tale of Two Weddings” would be an apt, more Dickensian title for Archer Magill’s story. At the first wedding, when Archer was 6, his performance as the ring bearer didn’t go so well. He split his too-tight dress pants (with no underwear underneath) and walked down the aisle, bare bottom exposed for the world (and YouTube) to see. In fifth grade, Warrant Officer Ed McLeod arrives during a school lockdown complete with helicopters to be the new student teacher in Archer’s class. The 26-year-old’s dramatic arrival and movie-star looks soon make him “the most famous student teacher in the Twitterverse and the photosphere.” He becomes a heartthrob to the girls and gets marriage proposals from as far away as North Korea. Turns out, though, that Mr. McLeod is gay and attracted to Archer’s beloved Uncle Paul, and Archer is to be the best man at their wedding. He does a splendid job this time—pants intact, no butts about it.

Author Richard Peck relates the years between the weddings with his signature humor, using the intimacy of the first-person point of view to provide Archer’s take on his world—sometimes clueless, always earnest—as he grows up and seeks role models. Peck began this book in 2014, when same-sex marriage became legal in Illinois (where the novel takes place), and by the time he finished, same-sex marriage was the law of the land. “But have the youngest readers among us heard?” he wondered. So he wrote this endearing, full-of-life story “to spark discussion and to open a door to a world suddenly living in a whole different era.” By the end of the story, count Uncle Paul and Ed McLeod, now happily married, as two of Archer’s role models.

 

This article was originally published in the October 2016 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

“A Tale of Two Weddings” would be an apt, more Dickensian title for Archer Magill’s story. At the first wedding, when Archer was 6, his performance as the ring bearer didn’t go so well. He split his too-tight dress pants (with no underwear underneath) and walked down the aisle, bare bottom exposed for the world (and YouTube) to see.
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It’s all fun and games till you and your mortal enemy have to strip down in a hot air balloon way up in the clouds.

As noted by the subtitle for A Voyage in the Clouds, this is the story of the first international flight via hot air balloon, fraught as it was with two bickering, older men from different parts of the world. It’s 1785, and Dr. John Jeffries, who puts up the money for the flight, and Jean-Pierre Blanchard, who provides the balloon, insist on flying together from France from England, though they don’t get along. Author Matthew Olshan plays up their lighthearted, though very real, bickering to great effect. An opening sequence in which Jeffries busts Blanchard for lining his vest with lead so that Jeffries will think the flight is too heavy for him is impishly fun. They even argue about who will climb out of the balloon first after it finally lands.

Things go from amusing to laugh-out-loud funny when the balloon loses gas and they have to empty it of any excess ballast—all the way down to their trousers and even their bladders. Their panic is palpable and entertaining, despite the loss of valuable items from the balloon, including a violin. Needless to say, neither man is particularly eager to be the first to step from the balloon upon landing. Best of all, they step out as two men who have shaken hands and see each other as equals.

This book marks the second time Olshan and Caldecott Medalist Sophie Blackall have paired up (the previous being 2013’s The Mighty Lalouche). Olshan’s closing author’s note fleshes out a bit more detail about this true story, indicating his primary source matter, but also clarifies the “liberties” he took with the story. Blackall uses speech balloons for some of the dialogue and occasionally goes from full-bleed color spreads, which elegantly capture the time period, to sepia-tone action, divided into small, briskly paced panels. The body language and facial expressions of the two men (and their companion dogs) are spot-on, adding much to the book’s high-flying humor.

This is a comedy of manners of the drollest, most charming sort. 

 

Julie Danielson features authors and illustrators at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a children’s literature blog.

It’s all fun and games till you and your mortal enemy have to strip down in a hot air balloon way up in the clouds.

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Knowing how to deal with life’s ups and particularly its downs can be a difficult life skill to learn. In Solutions for Cold Feet and Other Little Problems, Canadian author-illustrator Carey Sookocheff shows even the youngest of readers how to handle unexpected setbacks and how to have fun in the process. This picture book, its small size ideal for little hands and gift giving, comprises a series of interconnected vignettes featuring a girl and her occasionally mischievous yet loyal dog.

The first vignette, titled “Solutions for a Missing Shoe,” pairs charming illustrations of the girl trying to find her missing shoe with such simple text as “check in the closet” and “look under the bed.” Light humor comes into play when the girl discovers, while looking under the table, that her dog has chewed her missing shoe. Her final solution is to “wear a mismatched pair”—and a frown. But she can’t stay mad for long, especially when finding solutions for getting caught in the rain. Just when she thinks taking cover inside the library is the best solution, she notices her forlorn, wet pooch still outside.

Deceptively simple illustrations with digitally enhanced, acrylic paintings continue the nonverbal communication and affection between the girl and her pet dog as they work out more solutions involving melting ice cream cones, a boring day, a flyaway hat and cold feet. Together they depict how the best solutions come from teamwork, compromise and empathy. These are important lessons at any age.

Knowing how to deal with life’s ups and particularly its downs can be a difficult life skill to learn. In Solutions for Cold Feet and Other Little Problems, Canadian author-illustrator Carey Sookocheff shows even the youngest of readers how to handle unexpected setbacks and how to have fun in the process.

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While new generations are reading the graphic novel trilogy March and being inspired by the life of civil rights leader and Congressman John Lewis, Preaching to the Chickens gives younger readers their own introduction to this living legend.

Growing up in the 1940s on an Alabama farm, Lewis watched his sharecropper father plow behind a mule and his mother boil the family’s clothes clean in a big iron pot. Inspired by Lewis’ memoir Walking with the Wind, Jabari Asim describes how Lewis used his love of God and church to create his own spiritual kingdom in the family chicken yard as he watched over a flock of Rhode Island Reds, bantams and Dominiques: “John stretched his arms above his flock and let the words pour fourth. The chickens nodded and dipped their beaks as if they agreed. They swayed to the rhythm of his voice.”

Lewis learns many invaluable lessons while saving a favorite hen from being sold, rescuing another from a well and watching a seemingly drowned chick come back to life. Meanwhile, his brothers and sisters hear his “henhouse sermons” so often that they start calling him “Preacher.”

E.B. Lewis’ watercolors beautifully capture the dusty world of this poor Southern farm, young Lewis’ ebullience in both the church pew and chicken yard, and the unusual way he discovers the voice and moral compass he’ll put to such astounding use as an adult. Asim’s author’s note briefly describes Lewis’ achievements and how he became inspired to write this picture book.

This small tale of a very big life is a winner.

While new generations are reading the graphic novel trilogy March and being inspired by the life of civil rights leader and Congressman John Lewis, Preaching to the Chickens gives younger readers their own introduction to this living legend.

Little Sophia has a good friend in Mrs. Goldman. Mrs. Goldman knit baby Sophia her first hat, and she also knit her favorite one with kitten ears and matching mittens. Mrs. Goldman made a dinosaur sweater for her dog, Fifi, and she knit hats for all the neighbors, too—but not for herself. When she and Sophia walk Fifi, the only one whose keppie is freezing—and whose ears are turning red—is Mrs. Goldman.

So, although Sophia is not very good at knitting, she decides to surprise her friend with a handmade hat. She drops first stitch and then another, and finally when the hat is done, there are so many holes in it that it resembles a monster hat! Sophia can’t give such an unsightly cap to kind Mrs. Goldman. Luckily, she has an idea. Sophia’s one specialty is crafting pom-poms, a skill she learned from Mrs. Goldman. Maybe she can put her pom-pom expertise to good use. When the hat is finally finished, not only does it keep Mrs. Goldman’s keppie warm, but Mrs. Goldman loves it. Being able to do something for a dear friend is, indeed, a mitzvah.

Michelle Edwards’ gentle story, paired with G. Brian Karas’ lively illustrations, will delight anyone who has ever tried to make something special for a friend. The addition of a few Yiddish words and the joys of a multigenerational friendship give this story a special resonance, and the instructions for making pom-poms and a Sophia hat will have readers begging for yarn.

 

Billie B. Little is the Founding Director of Discovery Center at Murfree Spring, a hands-on museum in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.

Little Sophia has a good friend in Mrs. Goldman. Mrs. Goldman knit baby Sophia her first hat, and she also knit her favorite one with kitten ears and matching mittens. Mrs. Goldman made a dinosaur sweater for her dog, Fifi, and she knit hats for all the neighbors, too—but not for herself. When she and Sophia walk Fifi, the only one whose keppie is freezing—and whose ears are turning red—is Mrs. Goldman.

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A clever little mouse in New York City spends hours gazing through a telescope at the moon, carefully noting his observations. Fellow mice ignore his conclusions―that the moon is made of stone―and cling to their own beliefs that the moon is made of cheese. Thus begins one mouse’s quest to prove his comrades wrong.

Early on in Armstrong: The Adventurous Journey of a Mouse to the Moon, the little mouse is summoned to the bowels of the Smithsonian, where he’s encouraged by a wise old mouse, who readers may recognize as the hero of Torben Kulmann’s similarly inspired Lindbergh: The Tale of a Flying Mouse.

His latest book is a visual and literary feast, the story of how a savvy rodent designs and builds his own tiny spacecraft, beating humans in the space race by more than a decade. With a large format and at 128 pages, it’s a creative cross between a picture and a chapter book, perfect for read-alouds.

Kuhlmann’s illustrations are exquisite, filled with sepia tones and bright splashes of color, impeccable technical detail, dramatic land- and moonscapes, and plenty of excitement―a raging fire, federal agents with snarling dogs on the verge of devouring the furry hero and, of course, a glorious moonwalk. There’s a wealth of humor, too―the mouse secretly taking notes atop the light fixture in a university classroom, a spacesuit test in a goldfish bowl and an alarm clock fashioned into a space capsule.

There’s also a “Top Secret” conclusion about what the first human astronauts found on the moon, as well as a concluding short history of space travel. Kuhlmann has created a tale so wonderfully imagined tale that it practically seems true. 

A clever little mouse in New York City spends hours gazing through a telescope at the moon, carefully noting his observations. Fellow mice ignore his conclusions―that the moon is made of stone―and cling to their own beliefs that the moon is made of cheese. Thus begins one mouse’s quest to prove his comrades wrong.

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