Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Storm Runners by Roland Smith

Storm Runners, the first book in a new series by Roland Smith, tells the story of Chase Masters and his father John.  Following a series of traumatic events—the deaths of his wife and daughter; being struck by lightning, then waking from a coma—John Masters decides to pack up Chase and his work tools and hit the road.  Father, son, and their trusted friend Tomas become M. D. Emergency Services.  They follow the weather.  Wherever a big storm hits, M. D. follows to help repair the damage.  These “masters of disaster” think they are prepared for anything, until they encounter Hurricane Emily.  Chase’s father has trained him well, but will it be enough to survive the storm?
Roland Smith loves to cross the United States in his RV, accompanied by his delightful wife and fellow author Marie.  When he came to Richmond for a visit to St. Christopher’s school several years ago, I went to a campground in nearby Hanover to pick him up.  Roland told me how much he enjoyed travelling in the RV and meeting new people in the parks.  Richmond had been hit by hurricane a few weeks before Roland’s visit.  He explained that several of the people in the campground were itinerant workers, skilled repairmen who followed the storms in order to find work.  When I started reading Storm Runners, I had to wonder if any of the people Roland met in Richmond helped him form the characters of John and Tomas. 
With plenty of threatening storm action, two important girl characters, and a subplot about circus animals and a family of little people, Storm Runners has enough action to keep boys, girls, and reluctant readers engaged in the story.  The cliffhanger ending makes me wish that book two would be out sooner than September!—Lucinda Whitehurst.  (Scholastic, 2011; Fiction, gr. 4-7)

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The PreK-2 Writing Classroom: Growing Confident Writers

Product DetailsFull of useful, hands-on examples, descriptions, and activities, this new book will inspire any primary grade teacher.  Based on both research and practice, the authors share their classroom experiences in an easily-replicable fashion.  The first step is engagement.  Chapters describe how to encourage children to draw, talk, and create communities of interested classmates as initial steps in the writing process.  When the students are ready to “finesse their work,” they can move on to experimenting with spaces, using spelling strategies, and understanding the purposes of periods.  The final section details how to keep young writers engaged, using an evaluation-instruction loop, providing time to share with the class, and honoring the children’s complete lives.  The book’s team of writers includes Jane Hansen, a University of Virginia professor; Jenesse Evertson, one of the co-owners of bbgb Tales for Kids bookstore in Richmond, VA; and Dorothy Suskind, fifth grade teacher at St. Christopher’s School in Richmond, VA—Lucinda Whitehurst.  (Adult; Scholastic, 2010)

Monday, March 21, 2011

R. W. and Zoe Alley: A Picture Perfect Partnership

Product DetailsWhile graphic novels have been around for quite a while, their primary audience had been adults and teenagers.  The market for younger graphic novels has exploded in the last five years.  With There’s a Wolf at the Door, author Zoe Alley says, “We hit the right combination of timing and creativity.”  Bob Alley is a familiar figure in the children’s book world, having illustrated more than 100 titles in his career!  Pearl and Wagner, Paddington Bear, Detective Dinosaur, and Jigsaw Jones are just a few of the memorable characters he has drawn.  In There’s a Wolf at the Door and its sequel There’s a Princess in the Palace (Roaring Brook, 2010), he takes his art to an even higher level.  His wife Zoe’s clever retellings of familiar fairy tales pair perfectly with Bob’s images.  Visual jokes expand on the writing to create the perfect partnership.  In the typical system of picture book production, the author and illustrator may never meet.  Their communications, if any, are carried out by email or through their editor.  With the Alleys, their collaboration is evident on every page.  Zoe’s words make Bob’s pictures funnier, and vice-versa. 
I asked Zoe how it feels to work with her husband.  Her reply:  “In a word…Wonderful!  It is so much easier to work closely with someone you know well in this arena.  Bob is so used to how I think that he innately understands my “vision”—he knows just how I imagine my characters—and I write knowing instinctively how he’ll make them look.  Scary, huh?!  I’m pretty sure that such a rapport would not exist with un-related author/illustrator combos.  One also certainly cannot discount the importance of being able to run room-to-room with ideas and comments—beats email all to heck!”  We look forward to more wonderful books from this talented duo. Find out more about the Alleys at their websites and—Lucinda Whitehurst.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Update on the Little Golden Books exhibit at the Richmond Children's Museum--Adults can attend the exhibit without a child and it is free to view just the GB exhibit.  You only have to pay admission if you are actually going into the museum (and you need a child to go into the main museum).  

Thursday, March 17, 2011

American Revolution--Forge, The Crossing, and George Washington's Spy

2010 was a good year for worthy and well-done books about the American Revolution written for young readers.  Both fiction and nonfiction books are immensely authentic and meticulously researched, especially as we compare them with some of the formulaic writing which has been done in the past.  Our children and youth deserve the very best in writing.  Really good books on history are powerful in their ability to lead young readers into a lifelong interest in history and in the heroic figures whose stories are told in the books—Wilma Snyder.

Forge by Laurie Halse Anderson
This novel is the sequel to the National Book Award Finalist Chains, published in 2008.  Chains ends as the young slave girl, Isabel, rescues her friend, Curzon, from prison and certain death.  In Forge, the action resumes some months later when we learn that Isabel and Curzon have parted ways.  Their basic disagreement is over who is to be in control of their mission.  The story is subsequently told from Curzon’s point of view.  Curzon finds himself as a part of Washington’s army during its encampment at Valley Forge.  The reader is immersed in the people, the sounds, the smells, the intrigues which made the winter of 1777-78 such a crucial period in the Revolutionary War.  I look forward to the next volume, Ashes.
(Historical fiction, gr. 5-8: Atheneum/Simon & Schuster, 2010)

The Crossing:  How George Washington Saved the American Revolution by Jim Murphy
The crossing refers, of course, to the dramatic crossing of the Delaware River to Trenton, New Jersey, where Washington won a pivotal battle in the war.  The great strength of Murphy’s book is in the clear depiction of George Washington from gentleman farmer to brilliant general.  Useful, as well, is his discussion of the art and story which helped to present Washington as a mythic hero. (Nonfiction, gr. 4-6; Scholastic, 2010)

George Washington’s Spy by Elvira Woodruff
This time travel adventure story sweeps seven children back in time to Boston in 1776.  The boys become separated from the girls resulting in the boys landing in a hotbed of a rebel spy ring while the girls take refuge in a family of British sympathizers.  Before the two stories merge, the children learn about colonial medicine, meet Benjamin Franklin, become a part of the spy ring and are almost taken off to England.  Action-packed pages and lively writing will make this a favorite of young readers.  Sequel to George Washington's Socks.
(Historical fiction, gr. 3-5; Scholastic, 2010)

More suggestions:
Lafayette and the American Revolution by Russell Freedman 
(Nonfiction, gr. 5-8; Holiday House, 2010)

Henry Knox:  Bookseller, Soldier, Patriot by Anita Silvey and illustrated by Wendell Minor
(Nonfiction picture book, gr. 2-5; Clarion/Houghton Mifflin, 2010)

Phillis Sings Out Freedom by Ann Malaspina and illustrated by Susan Keeter
(Historical fiction picture book, gr. 1-3; Whitman, 2010)

A Picture Book of John and Abigail Adams by David A. and Michael S. Adler and illustrated by Ronald Himler
(Biography picture book, gr. 1-3; Holiday House, 2010)  

Monday, March 14, 2011

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

What was going on in Lithuania during World War II?  Not sure?  Before reading Between Shades of Gray, neither was I.  Children’s literature includes many important books about World War II and the Holocaust but most well-known titles recount the experience in countries such as Germany, Poland, France, and England.  The daughter of a Lithuanian refugee, Ruta Sepetys makes an important contribution to the field with her first novel. 

While American readers are accustomed to viewing the Soviet Union as an ally against Hitler in World War II, the situation was somewhat different in Lithuania, Estonia, and Latvia.  Annexed by the Soviet Union in 1940, those countries ceased to exist as independent nations until 1990.  In order to secure their hold, when the Soviets came to power they deported many political and intellectual leaders.  Fifteen-year-old Lina’s father is a university professor, which puts him under immediate suspicion.  Still, Lina is shocked when her father disappears and she, her mother, and her younger brother are picked up by soldiers and put on a transport to Siberia. 

The harshness of the journey only becomes worse when they reach their destination.  The fact that anyone survived the Siberian work camps is surprising.  While the annihilation was not as immediate or systematic as Hitler’s, the result was chillingly similar.  Sepetys vividly conveys Lina’s quick maturation.  Lina is not a saint, but she becomes a leader simply because she has no other choice. 

In an author’s note, Sepetys explains that “those who survived spent ten to fifteen years in Siberia.  Upon returning in the mid-1950s, the Lithuanians found that Soviets had occupied their homes, were enjoying all of their belongings, and had even assumed their names.  Everything was lost.  The returning deportees were treated as criminals…Speaking about their experience meant immediate imprisonment or deportations back to Siberia.  As a result, the horrors they endured went dormant, a hideous secret shared by millions of people.”  Sepetys deserves great praise for giving voice to people silenced so long.  For more information, go to
—Lucinda Whitehurst.  (Historical fiction, gr. 7 and up; Philomel, 2011