Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Thoughts on Kidlitcon

I felt very lucky to be able to join such a distinguished group of kid lit bloggers at Kidlitcon last weekend in Minneapolis.  The weekend started with a wine and cheese (or for me--not much of a drinker--Diet Coke from the coffee bar downstairs and cheese) and a panel of three authors, calling themselves The Merry Sisters of Fate, discussing writing critique groups.  As a blogger/librarian type rather than an author, this particular panel was of limited practical use to me, although the three authors were very entertaining.

In terms of sheer entertainment value, none of the speakers was able to come close to Maggie Stiefvater (one of the Merry Sisters and author of best-selling paranormal romance/werewolf series Shiver, etc.) I've read Shiver but would never have guessed that Maggie has such a wicked sense of humor, since it doesn't really shine through in that book (leans more toward the teenage angsty feelings).  I had wondered why Maggie was the keynote speaker, but quickly learned in her talk that she is a blogging and social networking guru, having started blogging in 2006--back in the very early days of blogging.  Since then she has written 1,338 blog posts and more than 5,000 tweets, and is present on LiveJournal, Blogger, Facebook, and Twitter.   Her talk centered around "8 things I have learned about blogging," which I will not recap here since my blogging colleague over at Stacked has done a terrific job of summarizing her talk.  "Blogging has changed my life," she stated--while adding that she suggests NOT blogging when you are "sick, tired, or drunk."  Good advice, thanks Maggie!

I also attended an interesting panel on different blog platforms by Ryan Bickett of Lerner Publishing group--a panel that would have been especially useful six months ago when I started my blog!  Some key points I took away from his talk were:  design and personal branding matter; try to blog on a regular schedule; know your goals; and make use of SEO tools within whatever platform you are using.

An author panel on blog touring was especially valuable to me as a new blogger, since I am interested in including more author interviews and participating in blog tours.  Michele Corriel spoke about questions that work for author interviews.  She emphasized taking the time to research the author rather than using cookie-cutter questions for each author (I thought that was a given but apparently not!).  Swati Avashti spoke about her recent blog tour for her new book; I was especially interested to learn that she used the blog meme In My Mailbox, hosted by The Story Siren, to find blogs to host her on her tour.  She also makes use of Teenbookscene, a resource for YA blog author tours.  Janet Fox talked about the importance of authors on social networks; she regularly participates in the Twitter #yalitchat and noted that has helped increase her blog following.  I'm not a Twitter person myself, but I had many people at the conference tell me how important Twitter is, so I may have to start Tweeting.  And finally, Jacqueline Houtman, a chemist turned children's author, talked about reaching outside of typical book promotion to publicize her "sciency fiction novel" for young people.  Her launch party featured an incredible periodic table of cupcakes, photos of which went viral all over the place, particularly in the scientific sphere. 

The other particularly useful panel was on blog reviews and publishers, in which I picked up some pointers on how to network with publishers in order to obtain review copies of books, as well as how to find the appropriate contact at the publisher.  It's OK, I learned, if you don't have a name, to simply send an e-mail to publicity@[name of publisher]including appropriate information about your blog.  There is no magic number of followers or page hits necessary to qualify for review copies--it depends on the particulars of your blog, the quality of the reviews, and the audience you are reaching. 

Periodic table of cupcakes
As a person new to blogging and the Kidlitosphere group who had never met anyone at the conference before, it would have been helpful to have the name of our blogs on the name tag, and also perhaps to have some kind of break-out session or more informal event where we might introduce ourselves.  Definitely a great experience, although I don't know if I will make it to Seattle next year.  How about if we have it in the LA area sometime?  I'd be willing to help organize!

You can find lots more recaps on kidlitcon at the kidlitcon blog.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Tween Tuesday Book Review: Crosswire, by Dotti Enderle (Calkins Creek, 2010)

Recommended for ages 10 and up.

Release date:  November, 2011

Texas author Dotti Enderle's newest novel, set in 1883 during a grueling drought, brings the excitement of the Texas frontier to today's young people.  Thirteen year old Jesse and his family find themselves in the middle of a battle between farmers and free-range cattlemen; with water scarce, fence cutting became a common practice as cattlemen cut through farmers' barbed-wire fences in a desperate search for water for their herds.  Sometimes bandits were hired to do the dirty work, and they often left threatening messages behind and even tortured animals to get their message across. 

Jesse's family is being torn apart, between the vandalism on the farm from the fence-cutters and his brother Ethan's gambling.  When Ethan steals the family's cash reserves to settle a gambling debt, their father disowns him and Ethan is forced to leave in disgrace, breaking their mother's heart.  Jesse knows his father thinks he's a weakling;  he's unable to shoot a gun since an earlier hunting accident where he had accidentally shot and killed his own dog.  In one scene, Jesse's father comments that "this boy will never grow up." 

When a mysterious stranger rides into town, Jesse's father hires him to help out on the farm.  Jesse doesn't know what to make of Jackson Slater.  Snooping around, Jesse discovers that Slater is keeping company with some rough men, and what's worse, he's hiding a pair of wire cutters and a fancy pistol in his living quarters.  Is this mysterious stranger friend or foe, and can Jesse summon up the courage to help his family through this crisis?

This fast-paced, action-filled story, written in brief chapters, is narrated by Jesse in a colloquial tone, filled with colorful slang and expressions such as "I felt anger churning inside me like a tornado sweeping through the fields," or "dumber than a turkey."  While I imagine it will especially appeal to Texas readers, this book will be enjoyed by anyone who likes an exciting Western story, filled with adventure, danger, and even the Texas Rangers.

At a quick-paced 135 pages, this book would be a good story to recommend for reluctant readers, particularly those looking for a historical or adventure title.   The author includes an afterword with additional information on the history of the Texas Rangers, the introduction of barbed wire fencing, fence-cutters, and a brief bibliography.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Blog Tour stop: Jimi Sounds Like a Rainbow: A Story of the Young Jimi Hendrix, by Gary Golio and illustrated by Javaka Steptoe (Clarion Books, 2010)

I am delighted to participate in the blog tour for an exciting new picture book biography of rock legend Jimi Hendrix, Jimi:  Sounds like a Rainbow, by Gary Golio, illustrated by award-winning illustrator Javaka Steptoe.

At first glance, Jimi Hendrix, who tragically died at age 27 from a combination of prescription drugs and alcohol, may seem like an unlikely subject for a picture book.  But Golio, an artist and musician himself as well as an author, manages to bring to life Jimi as a young boy and his unique way of looking at the world.  What we might think of as ordinary sounds took on extraordinary colors to this musically gifted young boy.  "A child was laughing, squealing like a clarinet on one of Dad's big band records," writes Golio.  Music of all kinds set off "fireworks in his mind," and he begs for a guitar of his own.  With his guitar, he could make a "rainbow of sounds," and with these visual analogies, Golio explains how Hendrix taught his guitar to make unconventional sounds, using it "as an artist uses paint."

Golio's text is set off by extraordinary collage illustrations by Javaka Steptoe which evoke the psychedelic colors and shapes of the 1960's.  The illustrations with their wild colors (i.e. Hendrix painted completely in shades of purple and blue) and varied textures suggest the rainbow of sounds produced by Hendrix' guitar.

Jimi has already received starred reviews in Kirkus and School Library Journal and would be a great purchase for libraries as well as parents who would like to share one of rock's legends with their children.

As part of the book's blog tour, Gary kindly offered to answer some questions for The Fourth Musketeer.

Q: How and why were you drawn to Jimi Hendrix' story, especially that of his youth, and why did you decide to present it as a picture book?

About eight years ago—while deepening my own playing of blues guitar—I kept coming across Jimi’s name. Reading about him in the classic biography, Electric Gypsy, I was struck by the tenderness and beauty of his childhood, elements that transcended the early poverty and family troubles. When I looked at all that through the lens of children’s books (my wife, Susanna Reich, is a longtime author), I envisioned a story that was both visual and appropriate for kids. Jimi’s tale is about the power of art, imagination, hard work and determination. I wanted to present Jimi to a new generation, freshly, beyond myth and misinformation. Some people will be surprised.

Q: You have two other picture books on famous musicians set for publication in the next year, When Bob Met Woody, about Bob Dylan, and Spirit Seeker, on John Coltrane. What is in the planning stages for you at this point? Are you going to continue with a series of picture books on 20th century musicians?

Even in children’s book publishing, the scheduling and order of books is unpredictable. The first two books I wrote were about Jimi and Bob, followed by other picture book stories about Pablo Picasso, Henri Rousseau, and John Coltrane. My agent is still shopping my book on Picasso (about the themes of war and peace, and doves, that run through his life), and right now I’m illustrating my own picture book text about Charlie Chaplin, an incredible artist and a fascinating subject. But I’ve still got some musical people in mind—surprising choices—that I’ll be working on as future picture book projects. I really love to pair writing with pictures!

Q: As an artist yourself, were you able to have any input into the choice of illustrators for Jimi and your two upcoming books, all three of which feature different illustrators? If not, was it difficult to give up control of that part of the project? The illustrations in Jimi are so striking, and so integral to the text--were you able to work with Javaka Steptoe at all on the feel of the artwork for the book, which seems to call to mind the psychedelic art styles of the 1960's, or was that all done independently?

Like most picture book authors, I had no input into the choice of illustrator for JIMI, although I was asked—as an artist—what I thought about my editors’ picks for the Dylan and Coltrane books. But while part of me would like to control everything, I learned early on that despite my longstanding experience as an artist, I wasn’t very good at imagining who would be a good fit for my texts. Fortunately, the two editors I’ve worked with—Lynne Polvino at Clarion, and Alvina Ling at Little, Brown—have very good instincts about these things, and made excellent choices. As for Javaka, he’s his own man, and his bold images are a beautiful balance of spontaneity and thoughtfulness. I love what he’s done, and I think Jimi would, too.

Q: Can you tell us a little about your process for researching this book? Were you able to interview members of Jimi's family, or friends from his youth, or did you rely largely on written sources?

My favorite book about Jimi was written by Mary Willix, who went to school with him in Seattle. She wrote up her interviews with those who knew him in a book called Voices from Home, and the stories shine a fine light on the details of Jimi’s childhood. As always, you have to sift and weigh what you’re given, but Mary’s book helped to fill out a more nuanced picture of Jimi the Boy. In addition, I read numerous biographies, listened to countless recordings, watched a ton of videos (thanks to YouTube and DVDs!), and played a lot of Jimi’s music on the electric guitar. I’m even doing a musical story of the young Jimi Hendrix—a half-hour-long performance, using the Stratocaster—at a few venues in my area, to complement my booksignings. It’s something I’ve developed for school visits. There’s nothing like the sound of a live electric guitar!

Q: It would have been great if a CD with some tracks by Jimi Hendrix could have been included with this book. But since there isn't any music that comes along with it, can you recommend some of your personal favorites that you feel would illustrate the story musically for those readers who are not well acquainted with Jimi's music?

A CD would have been nice, but way too costly. As for songs that musically play on young Jimi’s story, I’d offer the following: One Rainy Wish, May This Be Love, Little Wing, Castles Made of Sand, and Angel. Then there are those that highlight some of his greatest musical virtues (tonal color, range of expression, blues roots, rhythmic brilliance, and lyrical beauty): 1983 (A Merman I Should Turn to Be), Bold As Love, Red House, Are You Experienced, Hear My Train A’Comin’, Voodoo Child, and (of course) The Star-Spangled Banner.

Author Gary Golio

Looking for other great non-fiction books for kids?  Check out Nonfiction Monday, hosted this week by Write About Now, for more terrific non-fiction selections. 

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Thursday, October 21, 2010

Blog award--and Kidlitcon!

I am delighted to have been chosen as "Blog of the Month" on Historical Blogs: Fiction & Fact --  This is a terrific resource to see posts by all kinds of bloggers who review and write about historical fiction, both for adults and kids.  My blog was nominated by last month's honoree, Sarah of Reading the Past.  Thank you, Sarah!

I am off tomorrow to Minneapolis to Kidlitcon, the third annual Kidlitosphere conference for authors, librarians, teachers, and other folks who blog about children's books.  As a relatively new blogger (I started earlier this year) this will be my first in-person blogging event and I am very excited to meet some of the people whose blogs I have been following.  When I come back I will post some of my thoughts about the conference.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Historical Thriller Book Review: Forge, by Laurie Halse Anderson (Atheneum Books, 2010)

Recommended for ages 10 and up.

I was so excited to finally get my hands on Forge, the sequel to Laurie Halse Anderson's acclaimed Chains, which was a National Book Award finalist and the winner of the Scott O'Dell Award for Historical Fiction.  About the only thing I didn't relish about Chains was the ending, which left the reader with a nail-biting cliffhanger in what felt like the middle of the story.

If by some chance you missed Chains, you'll want to read it before delving into this sequel--the second volume of a planned trilogy.  Chains, set at the beginning of the Revolutionary War, focuses on the story of Isabel, a 13-year old slave owned by a prominent New York City family who support the British.  Isabel meets another slave, Curzon, with ties to the Patriots, and becomes a spy for the Patriot cause--with the hopes of obtaining her freedom.

In Forge, the story begins where Chains ends, with Isabel and Curzon escaping to freedom, but the focus of the story quickly changes from Isabel to Curzon.  The two have separated again, with Isabel running away to try to find her sister and Curzon finding himself in the middle of the Battle of Saratoga, then enlisting in the Patriot army.  The irony of a slave fighting for the freedom of others does not escape Curzon, who attempts to argue his case with his friend and fellow soldier Eben.  Curzon questions whether bad laws deserve to be broken, but Eben is frustrated by Curzon's logic.  "Two slaves running away from their rightful master," he says," is not the same as America wanting to be free of England.  Not the same at all."

But when the army arrives at the winter encampment at Valley Forge, white and black soldiers alike are unprepared to deal with the conditions there:  about 12,000 soldiers with no barracks, bitter cold, and no meat.  The author begins each chapter with a quote from a contemporary source, many of which are increasingly desperate reports from General Washington to the Continental Congress on the need for supplies of all kinds, from food to shoes to clothing.  Most days rations consisted of nothing but firecake, a mix of flour and water that tasted like ashes and dirt, and was "hard enough to break rat's teeth."  Anderson so successfully evokes conditions at the camp that we groan along with the men at their terrible conditions.  But the men manage to find a little humor in their food means "we've got nothing to fart with."  A special treat for Christmas is a piece of chewy pigskin to chew on (I'm assuming like the pigs ears people buy now for our dogs).

Through all the hardship Curzon manages to keep secret that he is really an escaped slave, but he can't stop thinking about Isabel and what might have become of her.  Fate is to bring them together again at Valley Forge.  While General Washington and Baron von Steuben try to forge the raggedy American volunteers into real troops, Curzon and Isabel try to forge their way to a new relationship...are they more than friends or an ever-bickering brother-sister pair?  And can they in turn forge their way to a life of freedom along with the Patriot army?

This book equals Chains in its ability to bring the complex world of Revolutionary America to life--a world in which some struggled for freedom while others were condemned to a life of slavery.  What will happen to Curzon and Isabel?  We won't know until the last volume in the trilogy comes out next year.

While the main characters in the story are fictional, Anderson integrates their story seamlessly around real-life figures such as Washington, Nathaniel Greene, Charles Wilson Peale, and others, and in an afterword explains clearly which characters are "real" and which are fictional, as well as additional historical explanations.  For example, she explains how black Americans fought for both the Patriots and the British.  The appendix also provides a wealth of suggestions for future reading.

But don't call her book historical fiction.  The author believes historical fiction gets a bum rap from kids.  Please, she begs teachers and librarians, in her blog, call her books "HISTORICAL THRILLERS."  The phrase historical fiction, she says, makes kids bolt for the exit or writhe on the floor in agony because between Johnny Tremain and the excruciating boredom of history class, they think all things historical are worse than chewing on barbed wire."

I think the "thriller" label is justified for Forge, as it is for Chains--I had a hard time putting the book down, and literally gasped with shock at times as I turned the pages.  Put this in the hands of young readers, please, and kudos to Anderson for another page turning thriller (with some non-excruciating history thrown in).

Here's an interview with the author:

From her blog:   “I believe historical fiction can become just as popular as fantasy. Both genres provide intense coming-of-age experiences that are set in different worlds and layered with fascinating detail about how that world works. Both genres feature narrators who are often in life-or-death situations. Both fantasy and historical fiction allow readers to examine the human condition from a safe distance, apart and away from their daily lives.”

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Tween Tuesday Book Review: Zora and Me, by Victoria Bond and T. R. Simon (Candlewick, 2010)

Tween Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by Green Bean Teen Queen that highlights great reads for tweens.

Recommended for ages 8-12.

Zora and Me by debut novelists Victoria Bond and T. R. Simon is one of the most anticipated children's releases this fall, and has already received a starred review in Kirkus and was selected for both the Kids Indie Next List and the Fall Okra List from the Southern Indie Booksellers.

The novel is inspired by the childhood of noted novelist and anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston, perhaps best known for her novel Their Eyes Were Watching God.   I must admit that I have never read any of Zora Neale Hurston's novels, and had no preconceived notions about her life and work before reading Zora and Me, but considering that the novel is aimed at middle grade readers, we must assume that they would have little familiarity with Zora Neale Hurston's works either, except perhaps with some of the folktales that she collected, which have been published as children's books.

The authors use Carrie, a fictional best friend of Zora, to narrate the story, which is set in Eatonville, the all-black community in Florida where Zora Neale Hurston grew up, in the year 1900. Zora, even in fourth grade, is famous for her storytelling, or her lying, depending on how you look at it. Or maybe she's just "crazy as a hoot owl," as she is described by one town resident.  But when she starts to tell wild stories of their reclusive neighbor Mr. Pendir being half alligator, half man, her classmate Stella has had enough.
"You are too lying," Stella snapped.  "You the lyingest girl in town!  You are so lying, even when you tell the truth, it comes out a lie!"
But no one cares, since "we all knew that nobody could tell a story better than Zora."  In fact the authors give us many clues that Zora is no ordinary child.  Carrie tells us that Zora "had a way of giving personality to everything in Eatonville.  Flowers alongside the road weren't just flowers.  One day they were royal guards saluting us on our walks home...that's how Zora saw things.  Everything in the world had a soul, and a soul to her meant being more than anyone counted on."  And she burns with curiosity, "shooting she was a popgun." 

The authors at first seem to paint an almost idyllic picture of life in the Jim Crow South, with scenic ponds for swimming, old ladies who have "conjure power," plenty of time to wander in the woods finding baby pigs with their friend Teddy, and free licorice sticks from Joe Clarke's general store.  But when Old Lady Bronson falls off a ledge at the Blue Sink fishing hole, Zora is convinced that Mr. Pendir--transformed into an alligator--is somehow to blame.  The mystery deepens when a decapitated body is found by the railroad tracks that the children recognize as that of a stranger, Ivory, they had met in the woods.  Zora believes that she knows who--or what--killed him--the gator-man hybrid she has conjured up in her imagination.  But the real solution to the mystery is much more ordinary, as well as more frightening, than the children think--and it's wrapped up in the intricacies of race relations, where the color of a person's skin could make "one woman worth protecting, while it made another man fit to die." 

Racism is ever present--and not only among the whites.  When Zora brings up the topic of the murder at the family dinner table, her father flies into a rage.  "Do you--do you think you white?...wanting to talk about death--right here at the dinner table!  That is the kind of thing white folks do!" And when they go shopping in nearby Lake Maitland, Zora's mother pretends she's running errands for white people instead of shopping for herself.  Carrie complains:  "It picked at my spirit that the surest way for Negroes to get along was to pretend we were only ever running errands for white folks.  Didn't people like Mrs. Walcott think anything belonged to us?"  The only white person Carrie and Zora seem to have a positive relationship with is old Mr. Ambrose, a kindly old white man who helped at Zora's birth and affectionately calls her "Snidlets."

This book is all about the power of storytelling, or "explaining our lives through a story," whether it's the Southern folklore about gator kings that Zora finds or the stories she invents herself to explain her world.  Oddly enough, as I was reading this novel, I kept thinking about Anne Shirley of Anne of Green Gables, another child of great imagination who believed in the power of stories.  Zora and Me also speaks to the power of love, and belonging to a family and community.  As our narrator Carrie asks, isn't "sticking by the people you love...the easiest choice of all?"

The authors successfully capture the voice of the different characters, creating a real feel for language of the region and the time period.  With the colorful language and manageable length (the narrative runs 170 pages), the story almost begs to be read aloud, although its complex racial themes would make it a challenging read-aloud for most school classrooms.  Nonetheless, it would be an excellent book to read aloud at home, and could spark some excellent discussions on the various themes dealt with in the story.

Read a chapter from Zora and Me here.

A discussion guide from the publisher is available on-line.

The novel includes an annotated bibliography of the works of Zora Neale Hurston, a short biography of the writer, and a timeline of her life.  It is the first work not written by Hurston herself to be endorsed by the Zora Neale Hurston Trust.  A detailed website for the book offers a wealth of supporting material, including background on Eatonville, age-appropriate activities related to the book, and additional background on Zora Neale Hurston.  

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Monday, October 18, 2010

Nonfiction Monday Book Review: Captain Mac: The Life of Donald Baxter MacMillan, Arctic Explorer, by Mary Morton Cowan (Boyds Mills Press, 2010) ISBN 978-1-59078-709-0

Recommended for ages 10 and up.  

Author Mary Morton Cowan visits the life of veteran Arctic explorer, anthropologist, scientist, and Naval officer Donald Baxter MacMillan in this fast-paced biography that would be ideal for either school reports or pleasure reading.

Although I have read several books as well as seen films and documentaries about Shackleton and his Antarctic explorations, this was my first book about exploring the Arctic.  When I read about great explorers like MacMillan or others, I am always struck by what seems to me the existence of an "explorer gene,"people whose personalities make them never content with a quiet life at home, but always craving the excitement of exploring dangerous places.  Some of us, on the other hand, prefer to curl up and read about such adventures!

Born in 1874, MacMillan seemed to come into the world with the urge for adventure--his father was a sea captain, and he dreamed from an early age of a life at sea.  He was especially fascinated with tales told by sailors he met of the wonders of the massive icebergs in the Arctic, and the quest to find the North Pole, and also devoured any books he could find about the Arctic.  When he was orphaned at 11 years old, MacMillan did not abandon his dreams, working hard in high school and eventually enrolling at Bowdoin College (which then cost an enormous fee of $200 a year!)  Money was a constant struggle, since he had to pay his own way.  How was he ever going to get to the Arctic?

By chance MacMillan meets Robert Peary, the famous Arctic explorer, and tells him of his dreams of traveling to the Arctic, and a few years later,  MacMillan, now a young teacher, was invited to join Peary's team.  This was the first of more than twenty-five expeditions he took part in to the Arctic--eighteen of these as captain of his own custom-built ship, Bowdoin--over a fifty year period. There would have undoubtedly been even more had two world wars not intervened, making exploration impossible during those periods.  Among his many accomplishments was pioneering the use of radio and aircraft in the Arctic, as well as writing a dictionary of the native language and contributing greatly to the cultural understanding of the native people of the area.  Moreover, MacMillan lectured extensively, acquainting Americans around the country with Northern peoples' cultures through the movies and photos he took on his many expedition.

This well-researched and handsomely illustrated biography relies extensively on primary sources, including MacMillan's many journals, books, writings, and personal photographs.  The author keeps the narrative exciting by including lots of fascinating anecdotes, such as encounters with walrus herds or how MacMillan brought an orphaned baby polar bear into the lodge as a pet (until the polar bear quickly grew too big, and was released).  The book features numerous appendices, among them highlights of MacMillan's expeditions, major awards and recognition, an author's note about how she witnessed MacMillan setting off for one of his expeditions as a young girl,  a selected bibliography on MacMillan, and additional resources for young people on Arctic exploration, including on-line sources.

Students wanting to read more about exploring the Arctic might enjoy some of the following titles:
Trapped in Ice, by Martin Sandler (Scholastic, 2006)
Into the Ice:  The Story of Arctic Exploration, by Lynn Curlee (Houghton Mifflin, 1998)
Matthew Henson:  The Quest for the North Pole, by Kathleen Olmstead (Sterling, 2008) or

The Snow Baby: The Arctic Childhood of Admiral Robert E. Peary's Daring Daughter by Katherine Kirkpatrick (Holiday House, 2009).  

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Book Review: The Ride: The Legend of Betsy Dowdy, by Kitty Griffin, illustrated by Marjorie Priceman (Atheneum Books, 2010)

Recommended for ages 5-10.  

Looking for stories with girl power to share with your class or children?  Look no further than The Ride:  The Legend of Betsy Dowdy, a new picture book by Kitty Griffin about a heroine of the American Revolution.

While no proof of the truth of Betsy Dowdy's tale exists, the story of the 16 year old's 51-mile wild ride has been told for more than two centuries in North Carolina.

According to tradition, Betsy rode through the freezing December weather on her sturdy pony Bess to warn General Skinner and his militia that the British had landed and were after their ponies and supplies.  This version of the tale is exuberantly illustrated by two-time Caldecott-honor winner Marjorie Priceman.  The illustrations, with their vibrant colors and swirling, expressionistic lines, portray the excitement and panic of Betsy's experience riding through the night, crossing rivers and woods in her bright red cloak.

In a recent interview, Griffin notes that it doesn't matter to her whether Betsy was an actual historical figure or not. "My goal was to show a strong girl doing the one thing she could to help save what she loved and make it an entry point to the American Revolution (for young children), said Griffin.  "The fact that her story has survived, for me, that makes it real," she added.  This dynamic picture book would be a terrific read-aloud for teachers doing units on the American Revolution, women's history, or for parents to enjoy at home with their children.   

Friday, October 15, 2010

Author Interview: Michaela MacColl

Thanks so much to debut author Michaela MacColl for participating in an interview on The Fourth Musketeer!

Q:  Michaela, when I read Prisoners in the Palace, I couldn't help but wonder if you were inspired to write about the teenage years of Queen Victoria by the recent movie Young Victoria, or was that just a weird coincidence that a movie about Princess Victoria came out in 2009?  How did you happen to be drawn to write about this particular period in history and why were you especially drawn to this famous Queen?

A:  Margo, if only publishing could be nimble enough to take advantage of an on-topic film!  

I began writing Prisoners in the Palace in the spring of 2006. An editor (who had passed on another manuscript but asked me to come in and talk about what she would like to see) suggested that I write about Princess Victoria. My first reaction was, hmmm. But in this tough market if an editor says Victoria, you head for the “V” in the Biography aisle.  It wasn’t long before several things jumped out at me. The young Victoria was nothing like the grouchy old lady she became. She was pretty and loved to dance. Her mother was overprotective. She couldn’t wait for the 18th birthday. In fact, she was very much like teenagers today. 

When the movie came out, it was a bonus. I’m hosting a viewing at the Westport Public Library in November. Come join me gentle readers!
Q:  I understand you did a lot of primary source research for this novel, including reading Victoria's own diaries.  What was the most surprising thing you learned about Victoria during your research, and did you incorporate it into your novel?
I loved reading Victoria’s diaries. She was an avid diarist; she began when she was 12 and continued to the day she died.  That’s thousands of pages of a first person account of the lady who reigned from 1837 – 1901. Wow, right? Then you realize that none of it is completely reliable. In Prisoners in the Palace, Victoria is slow to understand why Liza is furious when the Princess reads her journal. Then she remembers that not everyone’s mother must read their journal before the entries can be inked in. She says sadly “I forgot that other people are permitted the privacy of their thoughts.” 

As Queen, no one is looking over her shoulder, so the entries should be frank and honest, right? But no! After her death, she left her diaries to her youngest daughter, Beatrice. Beatrice proceeded to censor the journals – copying over only what she thought would not embarrass her mother. Then (and the historian in me gags at the thought) she burnt the originals. So this amazing record is tainted.  

Q:  How did you determine the right tone for Liza's conversations with Victoria?  I couldn't help but wonder if she would have DARED to be so familiar with a royal!

This was a difficult thing to get right until I remembered that they are just seventeen year old girls.  Despite the difference in their rank, they have received similar educations and have many interests in common (music, theater, boys!) I was careful to develop the language so that they become more relaxed as the friendship between the girls grow. And notice that Liza is never disrespectful when there are others present!
Q:  I especially loved the upstairs/downstairs intrigue in this novel; were you able to discover much information about the servants to Victoria, or did you make up these characters based on how servants lived at the time?
The lives of servants are always under-reported. Although they make everything possible, no one writes their stories. However, a great deal of social research has been done about the servant class during the Victorian era, so I was able to extrapolate. I also found the name of Annie Mason in a casual reference to a maid who was dismissed for lasciviousness (try saying that five times fast) and a devoted housekeeper named Mrs. Strode. It helped that the Duchess of Kent, Victoria’s mother, was notoriously poor, so she didn’t have a huge staff. Trust me, Liza’s shenanigans would not have been tolerated in a household full of servants.  
Q:  Can you tell us a little bit about your upcoming 2011 release, which is set in colonial Africa, and about the novel you are currently working on that takes place in Renaissance Florence?   
My next novel, tentatively titled “Beryl Above Africa” (I’m almost certain that this will not be the title!) will come out in Fall 2011. It’s about Beryl Markham, who was one of the premier female aviators of the 1830’s. She grew up in Colonial Africa when it was just being settled. Beryl was raised by the African tribe who worked for her father and she learned to hunt lion and was mauled once. But that was nothing compared to boarding school!  She grew up to be the first to fly the Atlantic from East to West. Although she crashed, she survived to write a wonderful memoir called West Into the Night
I’ve shelved my renaissance novel for a bit. I can’t quite figure out the story – perhaps because I was trying to tell the story from a teenaged boy’s perspective.  Instead, I’m working on a literary mystery set in the 1830’s. I’ll definitely keep you posted. 

Q:  I noticed in your bio that you lived in France for several years, and also have travelled in the former Soviet Union.  Any plans to write novels set in either of those countries?  
You would think so, wouldn’t you? But so far I’ve been picking books based on the characters and then falling love with the settings. But I would jump at the chance to go back to either place – so don’t rule it out.
Q:  If you could time travel to any historical period, which one would you pick?
I think I would love to visit Elizabethan England or Renaissance Florence. Both cultures were experiencing a heady sense of power and self-assuredness. They knew it was a special time where political power, intellectualism and creativity combined to be explosively successful. 
Q:  What were some of your favorite books as a child or teen?  Were you particularly drawn to historical fiction?
I loved Jean Plaidy’s royal novels. There were about 100 of them, all in a row in the library. Each one dealt with a major character in history – usually women. She’s the alter ego of romance novelist, Victoria Holt, so you know they are readable. However, as I discovered as an adult, her history was dead on accurate. They are out of print now, but how I loved them.

Completely off topic, my favorite book of all time has to be Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle. I must have read it a thousand times.  Oh wait, I also read the Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander a thousand times. Hmm, and Narnia! They’re all so good!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Giveaway and Book Review: Prisoners in the Palace: How Princess Victoria Became Queen with the Help of her Maid, a Reporter, and a Scoundrel, by Michaela MacColl (Chronicle Books, 2010)

Recommended for ages 12 and up.

Do you dream of being swept away to Victorian England?  Then you won't want to miss debut novelist Michaela MacColl's story of the young Princess Victoria and her lady's maid, Liza.  Liza, 17 years old and dreaming of making a stellar marriage,  has been raised as a member of the privileged upper class, but has lost everything when the novel opens.  Her parents were killed in a tragic accident, and not only has she lost her only family, she's discovered that she's penniless as well, and is about to be turned out on the street by Claridge's, the swankiest hotel in town.  Fortunately, Liza secures an interview for what she thinks is a lady-in-waiting position to Princess Victoria, heir to the throne.  But no--it's a lady's maid position, but beggars can't be choosers, and Liza is soon part of a life she never gave a second thought to--the servants' world "below stairs."

Liza is shocked by Kensington Palace, where Princess Victoria lives with her mother, the Duchess of Kent, her beloved governess, and a few servants in less than luxurious conditions--the palace itself is run-down, with peeling paint, threadbare carpets, and chilly rooms.  Nonetheless, Liza can't help but be enchanted by the princess herself, whom we first meet with her little dog, Dash, yipping at her heels.

Liza's ability to speak and understand German, the native language of Victoria's mother, makes her useful as a spy, and she soon finds herself embroiled in the intrigue of the palace, as the Duchess and her companion Sir John scheme to spread rumors in London's press that the princess is a "featherbrained girl," all with the aim of furthering their own political ambitions.

But this is indeed a novel of romance as well as intrigue, as described on the striking cover (complete with mock Victorian broadsheet on the back!).  While she may no longer be having the London season she and her mother once planned, Liza's dreams of romance are not lost when she meets the handsome Will Fulton, self-made publisher in Fleet Street.  Can Liza, Will, and the mysterious Inside Boy, a petty thief who lives hidden in the palace walls, help save the princess from those who plot against her?

Interspersed with the third person narrative are (fictional) excerpts from Liza's diary, along with actual excerpts from the diary of then-Princess Victoria.  We are regaled with details of Victoria's daily life, from her geography lessons to her singing lessons and dress fittings, as well as the darker side of Victorian London, with prostitutes and ruined servant girls.

Prisoners in the Palace is a highly entertaining romp through Victorian London, likely to please teens and even older tweens who enjoy historical novels.  Author MacColl, who has a background in history herself, includes a detailed Author's Note with further information about Victoria, her family, and an annotated bibliography with suggestions for further reading on this fascinating period.

And teens interested in Victoria will certainly enjoy the Emily Blunt film from 2009, The Young Victoria, for another point of view about the early years of her long life.

GIVEAWAY:  Chronicle Books has generously donated a signed ARC of this book for the readers of The Fourth Musketeer!  If you would like to enter, please leave a comment below with your e-mail address.  The winner will be selected on October 17 through a random number generator.  U.S. or Canada entries only, please.

An interview with author Michaela MacColl will be posted on Friday, October 15!

Here's a link to the first chapter of this novel.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Non-Fiction Monday Book Review: Stable, by Ted Lewin (Roaring Brook Press, 2010)

Recommended for ages 5-9.  
Release date:  October 12, 2010

It's easy for us to forget, in our high tech, 21st century world, how integral horses were to all aspects of life just a century ago.  Ted Lewin's newest picture book takes us back to a simpler time long ago in Brooklyn, when "horses did just about everything."  With his wonderfully nostalgic sepia toned painted illustrations, he shows us how horses took people to the beach, pulled trolleys, milk wagons, and fire engines, and even, on occasion, pulled other horses.

But even though most of the horses are gone, one old stable remains in Brooklyn, one of the last remaining in such an urban setting and home to thirty-seven horses (who are lovingly depicted in individual portraits at the conclusion of the book).

What do these Brooklyn horses do?  Through a combination of simple text and heartwarming illustrations which now have sprung into vivid color, Lewin depicts the various residents of Kensington Stables being used for riding lessons, trail rides, or sent off to birthday parties and street fairs.  But perhaps best of all, the horses offer love; Lewin writes, "They like to say here, 'When something bothers you, go in a stall and hug a horse.'"

The book concludes with a poignant question:  as the little stable is surrounded by more and more high rise condo developments, "what will become of these horses and the people who love them if the wrecker's ball finally comes?"

In an afterword, the author, who lives in Brooklyn with his wife, author/illustrator Betsy Lewin (illustrator of one of my all-time favorite picture books, Click, Clack, Moo: Cows Who Type, among others), points out that in 1880, New York City and Brooklyn were home to over 180,000 horses.  There are now fewer than 500, although hitching posts can still be found throughout the city.

This book will certainly charm horse lovers of all ages; the text is easy to read and is simple enough that it could be read aloud to children as young as preschool age.  The beautiful, warm illustrations will inspire all readers with nostalgia for the days when horses ruled the streets!  I am convinced this title will jump off library and bookstore shelves, and will be a favorite with young ones at home as well.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Book Review: Black Radishes, by Susan Lynn Meyer (Delacorte Press, 2010)

Recommended for ages 10 and up.  

Release date:  November 9, 2010

This debut novel by Susan Lynn Meyer was inspired by her own father's experience as a young Jewish boy in Nazi-occupied France.  The novel opens in March, 1940, as all Paris prepares for the possibility of war with Nazi Germany.  Even the Eiffel Tower has been specially prepared--covered with a layer of dirty gray camouflage paint to disguise it from Nazi bombers.  And as the Nazis get ever closer to France, conquering one country after another, anti-Semitism becomes more evident, as well.  Young Gustave, too, can't help but feel the tension.  The whole subject is hard for  Gustave to understand--after all, his family is French, even if they are also Jewish.

While they wait for their visas for America, Gustave's parents decide to leave Paris for the countrywide, where it feels safer, but they have to leave behind Gustave's cousin Jean Paul and his best friend, Marcel.  Nearly all their possessions have to be left as well, except Monkey, a stuffed animal that had been his since he was a baby, and a few favorite books, including The Three Musketeers.  Gustave doesn't like his new home in Saint-Georges; the first boy his age that he meets jeers at him, calling him "Paris kid."  He's not sure Saint-Georges will be safe for him and his family; but in a twist of luck, the village winds up just across the river from the Occupied Zone set up after the French surrendered to the Germans, and they wind up in slightly safer (for the Jews, in any case) Vichy France rather than Nazi-occupied France.

When Gustave meets Nicole, a Catholic girl from the village, he is finally able to make a friend--one who turns out to work for the Resistance.  As conditions worsen in the Occupied Zone, Gustave's family hears news that foreign Jews in France are being rounded up and sent to prison camps, where they are dying, just because they're Jewish.  Gustave's family is still waiting for the prized affidavit from their cousin in America, in order for their visas to come through.  But how can they get their friends and relatives across the demarcation line, before they, too, are arrested?  Can the Resistance help get them across? Gustave will have a critical part to play, as his quick thinking, and the German soldiers' fondness for black radishes, help them come up with a plot to outwit the German guards.

An Author's Note give some details about Meyer's own family history, explaining how real events from her father's life are interwoven into this novel.  She explains how her father, born in 1929, the same year as Anne Frank, was one of the "lucky few," to escape Europe and survive the Holocaust.  In this afterword, she points out some of the specific factors that helped her father get out, including the fact that his family was French-born, escaped first to the safer unoccupied zone, although no one knew it at the time, and also had relatives in America who could sponsor them.

This well-written and suspenseful book is well worth adding to school and public library collections, as it offers yet another perspective on the events of World War II, this time portraying the day-to-day struggles of an ordinary Jewish family in France in the early days of the war.  Gustave and his friend Nicole are appealing heroes with whom young readers will identify.

Although the publisher recommends this book for ages 8 to 12, I personally would not give this book to children as young as eight unless they already have some familiarity with the Holocaust (and in general I think that's too young an age to introduce this complex and very disturbing subject).  While the narrative doesn't take place in the concentration camps or contain as much violence as some books on the subject, there are many passages referring to the prison camps where the Polish Jews and then the Jews in France were being sent at the time of this novel, as Gustave himself struggles to understand what is happening to his country and his friends and family.

An interesting read-along for this novel would be the 2010 graphic novel Resistance, by Carla Jablonski, which also follows the struggles of Jewish young people and resistance workers in France during the war.

More than 70 years after the Nazis marched into Paris, the French are still struggling to come to terms with the history of the Vichy government and its collaboration with the Nazi regime.  Just a few days ago, a document donated anonymously to the Holocaust Memorial in Paris provided written proof that Marechal Petain, leader of Vichy France, who some defenders have said tried to shield the Jews from the worst of the Nazi regime, was actually instrumental in tightening legal restrictions on Jews, which led two years later to their being rounded up and deported to Nazi death camps.  For more details on this development, see the link below.  

On a lighter note, if, like me, you're unfamiliar with black radishes, here's a photo I found on the web.  I've never seen those at the supermarket, but apparently they're much more popular in Europe.

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Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Book Review: Wildwing, by Emily Whitman (Greenwillow Books, 2010)

Recommended for ages 12 and up.

Teenage fans of historical romance and time travel books are sure to love this new release by novelist Emily Whitman, whose first book, Radiant Darkness, was a #1 IndieBound pick.

Addy, a fifteen-year-old servant in 1913 England, dreams of a life she'll never have--a life of luxury, where people won't be constantly reminding her of her lowly place in society.  But when she finds a mysterious old elevator in the dusty attic of her eccentric employer, Mr. Greenwood, she can't help herself and goes inside--pushes the button--and winds up in the 13th century.

When she's mistaken for the lord of the castle's fiance, the noble Lady Matilda, ward of the king, Addy doesn't bother to correct anyone, and despite many faux-pas in the beginning, begins to enjoy her role as future lady of the manor.   Her fiance is away, and she is able to spend her time with the handsome young falconer, Will, "the lad with the eyes," learning to train Pilgrim, her very own falcon.  Will's beginnings are shrouded in mystery, since he showed up lost as a toddler, with no trace of his parents to be found, a mystery that will be solved by the end of the novel.  The reader is not surprised to find that Will and Addy fall in love, but what is our lovely heroine Addy/Matilda to do?  Sir Hugh is soon home, eager to wed Matilda, get her in his bed--and receive the generous dowry the king has promised to bestow on Matilda's husband.  Addy lives in fear that someone will recognize that she is not Matilda--should she try to take the lift back to her own time, leaving behind her beloved Will, the one she loves?

Whitman makes Addy a very appealing heroine, and this book is full of romance--not only the relationship between Addy and Will, but other elements of romance literature--from shipwrecks to dungeons to golden wedding gowns fit for a fairy princess.  The secondary characters in the book are lots of fun as well, including Beatrix, who serves as Lady Matilda/Addy's maid and reminded me of the nurse in Romeo and Juliet with her earthy ways.  Lord Hugh, Lady Matilda's fiance, is a blustering warrior, a contrast to the gentle Will who coaxes falcons--and young girls--to do his bidding.  The story has its share of surprising twists to keep the reader turning the pages, which culminate in the requisite happy ending (at least for this genre!)

This book would be a good addition to school and public libraries as well as a very entertaining read for any teens or even adults who enjoy historical romances.  The gorgeous cover should help attract teen readers (for more on the cover shoot, check out this link), who I'm convinced with be quickly engaged by Addy's story when they start reading.

If you would like to sample the first few chapters of this book, you can do so on Harper Collins website.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Book Review: Call Me Kate: Meeting the Molly Maguires, by Molly Roe (Tribute Books, 2008)

Recommended for ages 10 and up.

Fourteen year-old Katie McCafferty does not have an easy life--when her father is injured in a mining accident, she has to give up her dreams of completing school in order to go into service to help her family put food on the table.  The battlefields of the Civil War might be far away for the hardworking Irish immigrants in Katie's Northeastern Pennsylvania community, but when Lincoln enacts a draft in 1862 for anyone who can't come up with $300--an impossibly high figure for all but the rich--to hire a replacement, tensions run high.  After all, as Katie's mother points out, "Asking American citizens to fight against the Rebs is reasonable, but it isn't fair to expect men who aren't even citizens to fight."  Men begin to talk about striking, and organize a secret labor movement, the Molly Maguires, to fight the coal barons. 

Molly is fortunate to secure a position with a rich family in their thirty-room mansion, which provides her a unique opportunity to spy on the rich coal mine owners who congregate there for social occasions.  When she comes across information that endangers her childhood friend, Con, and his family, she knows she must act to save her friends and her community from the revenge of the mine owners, even if it means infiltrating the Molly Maguires herself and volunteering for a dangerous mission. 

The author's careful research shines through in the novel, and she peppers the narrative with many interesting details of the life of a servant in a mansion of the period.  For example, Katie takes an immediate dislike to the owner's little lapdogs, who are fed tidbits of the best meat while people in her own community have no meat at all to put on the table.  And how must it have felt to have a mistress who could not be bothered to learn your name, but instead called all the Irish servants "Bridget?"

Told in the first person, this novel will appeal to readers who enjoyed series such as American Girl and the American Diaries book series, and are looking for a novel aimed at a slightly older audience.  The heroine, Katie, with her courage and can-do attitude, will appeal to contemporary girls.  Those of Irish heritage as well as those in Pennsylvania are likely to find the book especially interesting, with its insight into the Irish immigrant experience and the harsh realities of life in the coal-mining communities, but the book also has broader appeal to those looking for a fast-paced historical fiction tale set in one of the most turbulent and fascinating periods in our nation's history.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Nonfiction Monday Book Review: Dave the Potter: Artist, Poet, Slave, by Laban Carrick Hill and Bryan Collier (Little Brown, 2010)

Recommended for ages 5-10.  

When author Laban Carrick Hill first learned the inspiring story of Dave the Potter, an outstanding 19th century folk artist, poet, and slave, he was determined to share Dave's story with young readers.

He decided to tell Dave's story in free-verse, explaining the process of creating a pot from beginning to end.  With powerful close-up images of Dave's hands forming the clay on the potter's wheel, we read:  "Like a magician pulling a rabbit out of a hat,/Dave's hands, buried/in the mounded mud,/pulled out the shape of a jar."  While the clay dries, we see Dave preparing the special "glasslike brown glaze to withstand time."  Finally, Dave inscribes his jar with a special poem, signing his name and the date.

In an era in which few slaves learned skilled trades such as pottery, and slaves were forbidden to learn to read and write, Dave's works are particularly extraordinary; at the conclusion of the book, the author provides more details of the little that is known about Dave's life, and also reproduces a number of Dave's surviving verses. 

The stunning illustrations by award-winning illustrator Bryan Collier (you can browse through the book using the OpenBook widget below) are inseparable from the text (Caldecott committee--have you taken a look at this one?)  Done in a palette dominated by the earth tones of the clay itself, the illustrations are done in a combination of watercolor and collage and show the step-by-step process of creating a pot.  The images are infused with a monumental and even spiritual quality which highlights the dignity of Dave's work.

The book includes a brief bibliography of resources, both print and websites, about Dave.  Adults interested in learning more about Dave the Potter might be particularly interested in the award-winning book Carolina Clay:  The Life and Legend of the Slave Potter Dave, by Leonard Todd, a descendent of Dave's master.

In his dedication, illustrator Bryan Collier is particularly eloquent about this story, which he dedicates to all artists, and everyone who loves picture books:  "Because this story is really about the power of the human spirit, artistry, and truth, and that cannot be silenced by bondage of any kind."  You won't want to miss this new release--not only a wonderful book to enjoy and discuss, but one which can also be used to inspire both art and poetry lessons in school classrooms.  

Saturday, October 2, 2010

CYBILS Nominations Are Open!

Nominations for this year's Cybils opened yesterday, October 1.  Don't forget to put in your nominations for your favorite books published this year!  While I didn't get selected as a judge, I was excited to be able to nominate some of my favorite books of the year.  This is the only award I'm familiar with where ANYONE can nominate, adults or children, so don't forget to submit your choices.

Here's the link for the nominations.  You have until October 15 to submit your choices.  There are some simple rules you'll want to check out; including that you can nominate only one title per genre.  Also, the book must have been published between October 16, 2009 and October 15, 2010.  

Happy nominating!

Friday, October 1, 2010

Book Review: On the Blue Comet, by Rosemary Wells (Candlewick, 2010)

Recommended for ages 8 through 12.  

Fans of time travel books and trains should love acclaimed picture-book author and novelist Rosemary Wells' newest release.  In this exciting story, eleven-year-old Oscar has a good life in Cairo, Illinois, even though his mom died when he was little.  He and his dad manage just fine, thank you; Oscar cooks supper after school, does his homework, and after his dad comes home from work, they work on their elaborate Lionel model train world in their basement.

But when the stock market crashes, the Depression follows, and soon Oscar's dad loses his job selling tractors. They lose their house, too--including the model train collection--and his father has to go to California to look for work, leaving Oscar with his no-nonsense aunt Carmen.  Oliver's loneliness for a father figure leads him to a friendship with a mysterious vagrant, Mr. Applegate; Oscar feeds Mr. Applegate pancakes, and Mr. Applegate not only helps him with his math homework, but also talks to him about Professor Einstein and the possibility of time travel, and even teaches him poetry.

Oscar soon discovers that his beloved Lionel trains are on exhibit at the local bank--the same one that re-possessed their home.  While visiting the trains at the bank, he witnesses a horrible bank robbery--one that propels him literally forward in time, through the Lionel trains. Will he ever get back again to be reunited with his father?

Rosemary Wells has written a highly imaginative and well-executed novel that will appeal to children who like time travel and fantasy stories; Wells incorporate plenty of history into the story as well, as Oscar travels in time from the middle of the Depression to the beginning of World War II and back even to 1926.  The book is sure to appeal to train lovers as well; while Lionel trains may not be as widely known as they were at one time, this book would be a logical step up for children who loved Thomas The Tank Engine in their pre-school days, as the different trains play a substantial role in the story and are lovingly described by Wells.

In his time travels, Oscar meets many famous people, including a very young Ronald Reagan, identified only as "Dutch,"  Alfred Hitchcock, Joe Kennedy, and J.P. Morgan, among others.  The children reading the novel may not be able to pick up on these references, however; the book would have been enriched by an Author's Note providing a bit of biographical information on the real-life historical people who interact with Oscar throughout the story.

The novel is illustrated with stunning acrylic gouache paintings by acclaimed illustrator Bagram Ibatoulline, whose many works include The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane.  The nostalgic, realistic style of the illustrations evokes period artwork by Norman Rockwell, and fits in well with the Depression-era setting of the book.

You can download a discussion guide for this novel from Candlewick's website, as well as read a sample chapter.