Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The Goodbye (for now) Post

Well, friends of the Book Pile, Auntie Karen has decided to take a sabbatical (with an option to retire). This decision wasn't an easy one, but it feels right.  (Thanks to those who took my poll last week and helped me come to this decision.)

Perhaps the Book Pile, in electronic form anyway, since the physical pile of books never seems to get any smaller here in my rooms, will be back. For now, it will remain in cyberspace with approximately 120 books on the pile.

The Book Pile's fate remains uncertain in some ways, while in others, given this post, the results of my recent poll seem clear. Hark! What's that I hear? Some groans and wishes that I were to remain true to the goal of bringing the joy of children's books to the world? Ah, yes. I hear your pleas, and yet, I cannot fulfill those desires. Not now. My current countenance is in disarray - I've so much to do, my toil is a heavy load, and I fear that my strength and energy may give way. (Also, I've been reading nineteenth-century novels and am in love with them, can you tell?)

Anyway. Many thanks to those of you who have visited the Book Pile over the past nine months. It has been a pleasurable pursuit and experience and I shall miss it (although not too much). 

Farewell (for now)!

Auntie Karen

Monday, February 4, 2013

Guest Review by Sian Gaetano: Midwinterblood

by Marcus Sedgwick
Roaring Brook Press | 2013

Marcus Sedgwick’s newest YA novel revels in the dark, the devious, and the destined. Through a series of seven connected but wholly individual tales, the story travels from the year 2073 into the past of long-ago times unknown.

The work begins with a young man, Eric Seven, taking an investigative trip to Blessed Island, where it is rumored that the inhabitants live forever. Despite this obviously science-fiction beginning, the story moves and changes to incorporate realistic fiction, fantasy, and horror in the seven different tales of Blessed Island. Within this one novel, a reader will find Romeo-and-Juliet-like love, a thirsty vampire, a reenactment of the Cain and Abel tale, magical potions, historical connections to WW II, and a tormented artist.

The chapters are short and the writing style simple, creating a read that is both inviting and dangerous—the reader will find herself desperately moving forward while the staccato rhythm of the writing brings to mind the pounding of ancient war drums. The constantly shifting protagonists make it difficult to catch your breath but, as it becomes clear how beautifully and intimately they’re connected, you might be able to regain your footing. This is a story of blood, and beauty; of death and destiny; of fear, and (finally) of love.

Read this book. And make sure you set some time aside for it because, once you start, you will not stop until those drums silence.  

REVIEWER BIO: Siân Gaetano is, before all else, a reader. She is currently pursuing an M.A. in Children’s Literature at Simmons College (to be finished in  Summer 2013) and working evenings serving the good people of Boston food and beverage. She was an editorial intern at Charlesbridge for the Fall 2012 semester, and is currently an intern at The Horn Book.

Friday, February 1, 2013

A Poll to Assist With Determining the Fate of the Book Pile

Hello, Book Pile visitors: 
I am trying to determine whether to continue with the Book Pile (or not). It's a fair bit of work to make sure three books a week are reviewed here. I can see the stats for visits, and they are good, but not excellent. Hence, I'm soliciting your advice and information about your usage. One lucky responder will win a free book!

Please take a few minutes (it'll only take a few!) to answer my questions on this form.

 Auntie Karen 

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The ALA Awards: The Best of the Best 2012

On Monday, January 28, the American Library Association announced their annual award winners and honor books. You know the Newbury and the Caldecott, but do you also know the Coretta Scott King, the Printz, the Sibert, and the Pura Belpré? Here's the list. For any book the Book Pile has reviewed, the title is linked to that review.

John Newbery Medal for the most outstanding contribution to children's literature:
WINNER: The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate | HarperCollins Children’s Books, a division of HarperCollins Publishers.

HONORS: Splendors and Glooms by Laura Amy Schlitz | Candlewick Press; Bomb: The Race to Build—and Steal—the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon by Steve Sheinkin | Flash Point/Roaring Brook Press; Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage | Dial Books/Penguin

Randolph Caldecott Medal for the most distinguished American picture book for children:
WINNER: This Is Not My Hat illustrated and written by Jon Klassen | Candlewick 

HONORS:  Creepy Carrots! illustrated by Peter Brown, written by Aaron Reynolds | Simon & Schuster;  Extra Yarn illustrated by Jon Klassen, written by Mac Barnett | Balzer + Bray; Green illustrated and written by Laura Vaccaro Seeger | Roaring Brook Press; One Cool Friend illustrated by David Small, written by Toni Buzzeo | Dial Books for Young Readers/Penguin; Sleep Like a Tiger illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski, written by Mary Logue | Houghton Mifflin

Coretta Scott King Book Award recognizing an African American author and illustrator of outstanding books for children and young adults:
AUTHOR WINNER: Hand in Hand: Ten Black Men Who Changed America by Andrea Davis Pinkney and illustrated by Brian Pinkney |Disney/Jump at the Sun Books.

AUTHOR HONORS: Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by E. B. Lewis | Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin and No Crystal Stair: A Documentary Novel of the Life and Work of Lewis Michaux, Harlem Bookseller by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie | Carolrhoda Lab.

 ILLUSTRATOR WINNER: I, Too, Am America illustrated by Bryan Collier, written by Langston Hughes | Simon & Schuster.

ILLUSTRATOR HONORS: H. O. R. S. E. illustrated and written by Christopher Myers | Egmont USA; Ellen’s Broom illustrated by Daniel Minter, written by Kelly Starling Lyons | G. P. Putnam’s Sons/Penguin; and I Have a Dream: Martin Luther King, Jr. illustrated by Kadir Nelson, written by Martin Luther King, Jr. | Schwartz & Wade Books/Random House

Michael L. Printz Award for excellence in literature written for young adults:
WINNER: In Darkness by Nick Lake | Bloomsbury.

HONORS: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz | Simon & Schuster; Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein | Hyperion/Disney; Dodger by Terry Pratchett | HarperCollins; The White Bicycle by Beverley Brenna | Red Deer Press.

Pura Belpré Award honoring a Latino writer and illustrator whose children's books best portray, affirm and celebrate the Latino cultural experience:
ILLUSTRATOR WINNER: Martín de Porres: The Rose in the Desert illustrated by David Diaz, written by Gary D. Schmidt | Clarion Books/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

AUTHOR WINNER: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz | Simon & Schuster.

AUTHOR HONOR: The Revolution of Evelyn Serrano by Sonia Manzano | Scholastic.

Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Award for most distinguished informational book for children:
WINNER: Bomb: The Race to Build—and Steal—the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon by Steve Sheinkin |Flash Point/Roaring Brook Press.

HONORS: Electric Ben: The Amazing Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin written and illustrated by Robert Byrd | Dial Books/Penguin; Moonbird: A Year on the Wind with the Great Survivor B95 by Phillip M. Hoose | Farrar Straus Giroux; and Titanic: Voices from the Disaster by Deborah Hopkinson | Scholastic Press.

There are other awards, as well. For a full listing, visit here.

Monday, January 28, 2013

City Chickens

by Christine Heppermann
various photo credits
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt | 2012
Bok bok! Get it here.

This is a truly lovely story about a chicken rescue organization in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Yes, you read that correctly. Mary Britton Clouse and her husband, Bert, run Chicken Run Rescue--devoted to providing rehabilitation and adoption services for chickens in the Twin Cities.

Apparently (who knew?), chickens are often abandoned or abused. Many people discard of roosters after they find out they are roosters rather than hens who will lay eggs. And Mary Clouse has no tolerance for any mistreatment of any animal. She and Bert have a permit to house up to 20 chickens at a time in their home and yard in the city. (Of course, that didn't help the time there were 105 abandoned chicks on the side of the highway--that story is one of the highlights of the book.)

Heppermann is a longtime Horn Book Magazine reviewer, and she tells this story with a deftness and with a clear alacrity for her topic. Any child reader will delight in reading about how chickens are rescued and adopted by families.

The book is appended with Clouse's artwork, a good, long author's note, and information about how to care for a city chicken yourself. There is also info for educators and a source list. 

(L to R): Bert and Mary Clouse, the author's daughter, the author.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Here Come the Girl Scouts!: The Amazing All-true Story of Juliette "Daisy" Gordon Low and Her Great Adventure

SPECIAL NOTE: Tomorrow, January 26, 2013, is my 40th birthday. This week, January 22, 2013, was the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade. I've always been proud to share a birth-week with such a momentous moment in women's rights history. This week also now marks the day that the armed forces allowed women into combat roles, opening the entire military up to us. In honor of these two 40th anniversaries and new moment in history, I present a book about a woman of gumption.

by Shana Corey
illustrated by Hadley Hooper
Scholastic | 2012
Buy it now! (It's cookie time, after all.)

This book is the perfect gift for anyone in your life who is currently a Daisy, Brownie, or Girl Scout or for any adult who once was one. We also just passed the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Girl Scouts, in March 2012. Every Girl Scout knows their founder's name: Juliette "Daisy" Gordon Low, but how many know about her early life and how she came to found the organization in the United States?

This charming account of a "girl with gumption" tells the story of Low's founding of the Girl Scouts (modeled on the Girl Guides of England). The art is stylized and fun--created with paint, ink, and printmaking along with some digital enhancements. The earth-toned palette is perfect for this story about early environmentalism. If I have any complaint, it's about the somewhat overwhelming design (small primary text, larger secondary text that appear to be quotes from Low and too-varied text placement end up feeling a bit haphazard).

The book includes a "gallery" of famous Girl Scouts, a lengthy author's note including information about her personal Girl Scout connection, the U.S. history era in which the organization was founded, information about conservation efforts, diversity, the Girl Scout Promise and Law, a source list, and acknowledgements.

Add this book to your Girl Scout cookie shopping list this year!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

43 Old Cemetery Road: Till Death Do Us Bark

by Kate Klise
illustrated by M. Sarah Klise
Sandpiper/Houghton Mifflin | 2011
Use your pennies to buy it here!

This is book three of the five-book 43 Cemetery Road series. I know this seems sort of random--to review a book in the middle of a series--but considering that I've not read any of the others and this one worked as a stand-alone, here it is.

Told entirely in expository entries--journal entries, letters, newspaper clippings, labeled illustrations, memos, and more--the book opens with an introduction by Seymour who lives with his adoptive parents, Ignatius B. Grumply and the ghost of Olive C. Spence, whose mansion they all live in. Seymour's real parents are in jail for some undisclosed reason (at least in this book).

The story is about the town's richest inhabitant, Noah Breth, who has died. His son and daughter are fighting over his money, but Noah has cleverly set up a secret hunt for the money and townspeople keep stumbling over valuable coins from his collection hidden in unlikely places. Every rare coin in the text is a real rare coin, Google-able and everything, which is a very cool treat.

Because I'm a super-dork, I found one of my favorite things I've ever read in a book--EVER--in this story. Pages 21-23 outline some facts about the U.S. penny that are just awesome and I can't believe I'd never known before. Your kids will LOVE it and will ask you for a magnifying glass so they, like I did, can verify the truth of the coolness of this short chapter.

Your 8- to 10-year-olds will love this book and I bet the whole series. Check it out!

Monday, January 21, 2013

I Have A Dream

words by Martin Luther King Jr.
illustrated by Kadir Nelson
Schwartz & Wade/Random House | 2012
Get it here.

Award-winning illustrator Kadir Nelson (Caldecott Honors for Henry's Freedom Box in 2008 and Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom in 2007) brings Martin Luther King Jr's iconic speech to life in this new book. And I'm here to tell you it's as beautiful as Nelson's past contributions to the field of children's literature.

I'm telling you on the day we set aside each year to remember MLK, which also happens, this year, to the be the day that Barack Obama will take his second oath of office in the very city where MLK gave the speech presented in this book.

I mean, look at this:
I was lucky enough to see an exhibit of Nelson's original art for his book about the Negro League, We Are The Ship, last year at the Carle Museum in Western Massachusetts. His art is just stunning. Looking at his books makes it easy to imagine why.

One might think there are enough books in the world about MLK already. I think there's no way that's true. Each generation will continue to interpret the words of the civil rights leader taken from us far too early in their own way. And some members of each generation, like Nelson, will interpret them visually. What a gift. 

Friday, January 18, 2013

The Giant and How He Humbugged America

by Jim Murphy
Scholastic | 2012
Get it here!
Reviewed from galleys.

Murphy is back again, with yet another awesome nonfiction entry for kids. Murphy's excellent books include Fire, Blizzard, Truce, and The American Plague (a Newbery Honor book). To me, the most remarkable thing, amongst many remarkable things, that Murphy does is that he somehow makes intimate objects into main characters. A blizzard, a war, or a fire almost take personalities of their own as Murphy recounts the events he chooses to research and present in his books.

This book is the same. The 10-foot-long stone-cast man found buried on a farm in Cardiff, New York in 1869 becomes as much a character in Murphy's narrative as does the men who discover it. This bizarre finding had the whole country buzzing and wondering about the origins of the man. Using narrative supplemented by historical photos, advertisements, and drawings, Murphy leads the reader through the discoveries--of the giant and of the fact that it turns out to be a colossal hoax.

This is just the kind of book a kid interested in practical jokes or weird oddities is looking for. Appended with short vignettes about other famous hoaxes, an author's note about research, source notes, a bibliography, photo sources, and an index, it's also just right for the Common Core. With a narrative, a cast of characters, history, geography, and some research methodology thrown in, it's a cross-discipline lesson come to life. Murphy has proven once again that nonfiction need not be boring--in fact, it's some of the most exciting stuff out there!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Out of My Mind

by Sharon Draper
Simon & Schuster | 2010
Get it here.

The story is told in the first-person from Melody's point of view, and she is one extraordinary child. Melody is in the fifth grade, and she has cerebral palsy. She uses a wheelchair, can't feed herself, dress herself, or talk. She also has incredibly high intelligence, synesthesia, and a photographic memory.

When she decides she wants to integrate into the regular fifth-grade classroom instead of staying in the special education room, her mother advocates for her. And once she gets a talking machine that allows her to communicate with classmates, she starts to make friends, even as the class mean-girls continue to tease her.

I like this one a lot. I heard former high-school teacher and prolific author Draper speak in 2011 and she was authentic and energetic. Kids will like this one--it's a good story and provides a different way of looking at the world. Read it together!

Monday, January 14, 2013

Look! A Book and Look! Another Book!

written and illustrated by Bob Staake
Little, Brown | 2011 and 2012
(Another Book! reviewed from galleys)
Order A Book! here.
Order Another Book! here.

These lively and interesting search-and-find books are reminiscent of Richard Scarry's Busy Town books. There's a lot to see and talk about, and the die-cuts and prompts carry little readers through the pages.

Glorious endpapers with blocks of color and huge abstract eyes invite the reader in, and the large trim size means the book can be spread out on the floor with lots of kids all looking together to find silly things on each spread. Kids could tell their own stories about what has happened (or will happen) in any small area of any spread, for added fun and imagining. The rhyming text is fun, as well.

These are the perfect choice for a kid's birthday gift. Any age, really, from a first birthday right on up to an 8-year-old.

Friday, January 11, 2013

The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl

by Barry Lyga
Houghton Mifflin | 2006
Buy it here!

Lyga's first novel is truly fantastic. Fanboy is a comic-obsessed geek who is bullied at school. Goth Girl is a troubled recluse who can't stand to see Fanboy treated so terribly. When she chooses him as a friend, the unlikely pair end up discovering (sort of) what's most important (kind of). Their misunderstanding of each other, of their relationship, and the stumbles as they try to figure out who they are, alone and together, is very well done.

I don't really care about comics, yet Fanboy's dedication to his magnus opus, his graphic novel, kept me incredibly engaged. And Lyga's ability to write a believable girl character becomes even more legitimized in this book's sequel--Goth Girl Rising (2009)--written in the first person from the perspective of a teenage girl. The realistic portrayal of a suburban high school is Lyga's greatest accomplishment, I think. He has a real ability to consider what teens care about and how they think and then captures it in Brookdale High School, where a number of his novels take place.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

The False Prince

by Jennifer Nielsen
Scholastic Press | 2012
Buy it here!
And pre-order the 2nd in the trilogy!

Sage is an orphan, stealing to fill his belly and keep himself going for another day at the orphanage where he'll soon be put out for turning fifteen. One day he steals a roast, and when he's caught, a mysterious stranger pays off the merchant and takes Sage away. Along with two other boys, Rodan and Tobias, Sage is trained as part of an intricate plot to take over the throne of Carthya. One of the boys will pose as Prince Jaron, lost four years ago when pirates overtook the ship he was on. Each boy has attributes that make him a good choice, and they must vie to be chosen, or die.

I favor realism. I stay away from most books involving princes, princesses, and castles. I am rarely impressed by medieval-like world-building, even when those fantasy fans around me are doing a jig with glee. This book is a rare exception (along with The Graceling Realm and a few select others). Nielsen builds her world carefully, to be sure, but also in a realistic manner. For me, this is the mark of an excellent fantasy novel.

What marks The False Prince as an excellent book, regardless of genre, is the way in which the plot and characters are so deeply created. I feel like if Sage turned up tonight in my living room, I would know how to have a discussion with him. And I'd ask him what happened that time when he was in Conner's estate's tunnel, and how on earth he ever got the knife back to the kitchen when he was bleeding so much. That's how awesome the plot is.

This is the first in a planned trilogy, and the second is coming out in March. I'll be first in line to read it. You should be second.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Chickadee (Book Four of the Birchbark House Series)

written and illustrated by Louise Erdrich
HarperCollins | 2012
Get it here.

The heroine of the first three Birchbark House books (The Birchbark House, The Game of Silence, and Porcupine Year), a Ojibwa girl named Omakayas, is back in this fourth installment, and her own twins are now eight years old. Chickadee and Makoons are the best of friends and good boys. After their father, Animikiins, kills a moose, the whole family celebrates together. But,  two evil men decide to steal Chickadee to make him their servant. What follows is an eventful adventure of how Chickadee is reunited with his family that flows from the woods of Minnesota to the Plains.

Anyone could easily read this book as a stand-alone, but it's richer if you've read the Birchbark House series in its entirety. And there are more books planned. Erdrich, who is also well known for her books for adults (Round House won the National Book Award this year), bases this series on her own family's history.

Many have made this comparison before, and I agree with it and will repeat it here: this series is much like the Little House on the Prairie series, but from the viewpoint of people indigenous to the United States who, rather than moving across the U.S., are instead trying to maintain their lifestyles even as others are encroaching upon their land. Far from heavy-handed, the stories present the lives of these native peoples with a grace and sensibility that will likely resonate with any reader. These stories are classic and shouldn't be missed.

Friday, January 4, 2013


by Neal Shusterman
Simon & Schuster | 2007
Buy it here.

There was a second U.S. civil war--called the Heartland War--and for years now, the new rules about life have been established. There's no more option for abortion. Instead, unwanted children can be "storked," or left on the doorstep of any random house. Those who discover the baby must raise it as their own--it's illegal not to. And anyone who decides they don't want a child who has proved difficult? Anytime between the ages of 13 and 18, a child can be "unwound." That is--separated into pieces with each part given to those in medical need of replacement parts. An eye here, a hand there, a lung transplant or heart replacement over there. But each and every part of the unwound must be used, for after all, the child isn't dying--they will live on, but in a disassociated state.

Yup. You read all that right. That's the premise of the world in which Connor, Risa, and Lev live. They accidentally end up as three runaway unwinds bound together by circumstance. Each has come to their planned-to-be-unwound state in different ways, but each have similar questions about their lives, what they mean, and how the society in which they live functions.

Whether the reader is pro-choice, pro-life, or has yet to develop an opinion, the questions in this book are interesting. While Shusterman never uses the term "abortion," this book directly asks the reader to consider the existence of the soul, when life begins, and whether life can continue in alternate ways.

(Note: I've not read the sequel, published this past August, but plan to. It involves a teen made up wholly of parts of unwinds, and somehow involves Connor, Risa, and Lev, who are all likeable characters. It's called Unwholly. I'll report back.)

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Lola Reads to Leo

by Anna McQuinn
illustrated by Rosalind Beardshaw
Charlesbridge | 2012
Buy here!

Lola is a little girl who is getting a little brother or sister soon. She loves stories and reads with her mom and dad. They are preparing for the baby and when he arrives, Lola is ready to help! Leo is a great little brother who requires a lot of work, but Lola (and her parents) are up to the task.

This third installment for the "Lola books," which also includes Lola Loves Stories and Lola at the Library, is the perfect book for little kids who are expecting a sibling. Lola's family is as traditional as they come--Mommy; Daddy; a clean, safe house; and lots of love to go around.

These wholesome stories are written clearly and simply, inviting in new independent readers. "Lola's day always ends with a story. Tonight's story is about a little girl and her new baby brother."
The art is bright and fun. These books are true winners. (The first two are also available in Spanish, and the third is coming soon in that language.)