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Archive for March, 2014

Three stars for MARK OF THE DRAGONFLY!
March 31, 2014

Three stars for MARK OF THE DRAGONFLY!

★ Heart, brains and courage find a home in a steampunk fantasy worthy of a nod from Baum.

Thirteen-year-old Piper is a forthright machinist in dismal Scrap Town Number Sixteen (as charming as it sounds). Her skill at machine repair is unsurpassed, but the recent loss of her father has left her orphaned, with a need to trade destitution for something greener. While scavenging debris left by a violent meteor storm, Piper finds an unconscious girl, Anna, who wakes with severe amnesia and a propensity for analytical chatter and who bears the dragonfly tattoo given to those in the king’s inner circle. When a menacing man comes looking for Anna, the girls board the 401 (an antique locomotive run by a motley crew), radically accelerating Piper’s plans for a new life. Though Piper is initially driven by the prospect of a reward for returning Anna to what she assumes is a wealthy home, the staggeringly different girls eventually form a bond far stronger than just strategic alliance. Though there are initial echoes of Hunger Games–ian dystopian despair, these are quickly absolved as the book becomes something all its own. Consistent and precise attention to detail, from the functioning of a security system to the communicative abilities of a telepathic species, thrills. This is foremost a rugged adventure story, but there is a splash of romance (and a fabulous makeover scene).

A well-imagined world of veritable adventure. (Steampunk. 11-15) – Kirkus Reviews


★ Merging elements of dystopia, steampunk, and fantasy, this magnetic middle-grade debut imagines an alien world where 13-year-old Piper survives by working as a scrapper, salvaging artifacts left behind by meteor storms. Her life transforms when she rescues a mysterious girl in the aftermath of one such storm: Anna is brilliant yet disoriented, and she sports a tattoo signifying that she is held under the protection of the king of the Dragonfly territories. Piper knows that a reward awaits her if she returns Anna safely to her home. Yet passage on board the 401, a mile-long armored train, is beyond their grasp, and Anna is also being pursued by a ruthless, ominous man. With a setting drawn from an industrial revolution still in birthing pains, Johnson’s narrative is marked by colloquial language and blends societal decay with a sense of burgeoning technological innovation. Piper and her new ally, the enigmatic Gee, exhibit maturity and resourcefulness at every turn in a page-turner that defies easy categorization and ought to have broad appeal. Ages 10–up.  - Publishers Weekly 


★ Gr 4-8–In the future and on a ruined planet, orphaned Piper lives alone, making her living from mending the scraps she finds after the deadly meteor showers and dust storms that beleaguer the towns on the outskirts of civilization. She has an almost magical ability to fix things, mechanized things especially—it’s as though the objects want to be mended by Piper, and sometimes they will work only for her. One day Piper finds a young girl who is silent, amnesiac, and in terror of the man who hunts her. Marked by the tattoo of a dragonfly, the girl can’t hide until Piper spirits her away and, with the help of Gee (who can transform at will from handsome teenager to flying dragon), the stowaway girls find a safe home on steam train 401, hurtling through the hostile countryside towards King Aron’s kingdom. Johnson has brilliantly taken the dystopian genre to a level accessible to tween readers. The Mark of the Dragonfly is a fantastic and original tale of adventure and magic with steampunk elements and a little romance thrown in. The landscapes the girls pass through are imaginatively depicted and cinematically described (streets lit by glowing “night eye flowers”). Fierce battles are tempered with humor, and Piper is a heroine to fall in love with: smart, brave, kind, and mechanically inclined to boot!–Jane Barrer, United Nations International School, New York City –  School Library Journal

March 04, 2014

The Penderwicks

Jeanne Birdsall’s beloved Penderwicks series has been refreshed in paperback!  Brimming with the magic and adventures of summertime, the books are centered on the lives of four charming sisters and their hilarious, often touching, interactions with each other and the world around them. When the first title, The Penderwicks, appeared on shelves, it was a National Book Award winner, a New York Times bestseller, and was named to countless best-of lists.  Its sequels, The Penderwicks on Gardam Street and The Penderwicks at Point Mouette, are equally beloved. (Psst–we have an Educators Guide for the series available to download!)

 Check out the revamped covers below:

A boxed set of the new cover is also available. And get excited, Penderwicks fans!  We’ll have some news in the near future that may interest you… 

March 03, 2014

March: Women’s History Month

by Pat Scales

I love independent main characters in children’s fiction.  Nancy Drew was the closest such character that was available to me.  But I did read about a few strong women in the Childhood of Famous American’s biography series.  They were highly fictionalized, but nonetheless paved the way for me to search for more information about these women.  Since March is Women’s History Month, I thought this a good time to check young readers’ knowledge about women who have made their mark on history.  I suspect that many young readers may know the accomplishments of women like Susan B. Anthony, Lizzie Stanton, Clara Barton, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Amelia Earhart.  But do they know Ida B. Wells, Jane Addams, Alice Paul, Anne Morrow Lindberg, Bessie Colman, Lucretia Mott, Margaret Sanger, Dorothea Lang, Shirley Chisholm, and Barbara Jordan? They may know the names of a few contemporary women who have made a great difference in our society.  Women like Hilary Clinton, Madeleine Korbel Albright, Michelle Obama and Ophrah Windfrey, Sonia Sontomayor, and Ruth Bader Gingsburg.  But do they know Gloria Steinman, Diane Von Furstenberg, and Lilly Ledbetter?   These women may be introduced by leading reader to the following website:  http://www.greatwomen.org/welcome.

  • Suggest that they created trading cards about some of the great women honored on this website.  Help them download a picture of the woman for the front of the card (or have them make an illustrations that best represents the woman) and on the back of the card include 5 facts that made her great. Sponsor a trading day.
  • Tell them that the First Women’s Rights Conference was held in Seneca Falls, New York in 1848.  Have them take a virtual field trip of the Women’s Rights Historical Park (http://www.nps.gov/wori/index.htm) in Seneca Falls, and now a part of the National Parks Service.
  • Have them visit the online exhibits at the National Women’s History Museum (http://www.nwhm.org).
  • Tell them that the theme for Women’s History Week in 2014 is “Celebrating Women of Character, Courage, and Commitment.”  Find out about this year’s honorees (http://www.nwhp.orgWoman’s_
  • Then introduce strong, independent fictional girls.  Sponsor an essay contest called  Female Fictional Characters: Character, Courage, and Commitment.”  Suggestions from Random House include:

Counting on Grace (MG) by Elizabeth Winthrop

Harriet the Spy (MG) by Louise Fitzhugh

The Hope Chest (MG) by Karen Schwabach

Laugh with the Moon (MG) by Shana Burg

The Mighty Miss Malone (MG) by Christopher Paul Curtis

Sylvia and Aki (MG) by Winifred Conkling

Hattie Big Sky & Hattie Ever After (YA) by Kirby Larson

Sarny (YA) by Gary Paulsen

  • Have readers locate biographies about women in history. Suggestions from Random House include:

Amelia Lost: The Life and Disappearance of Amelia Earhart (MG) by Candace Fleming

The Story of Harriet Tubman (MG) by Kate McMullan

The Story of Sacajawea (MG) by Della Rowland

  • Include the youngest readers by introducing picture books about famous women.  Suggestions from Random House include:

The Ballot Box Battle (PB) by Emily Arnold McCully

Only Passing Through (PB) by Anne Rockwell & illus. by Gregory Christie

They Called Her Molly Pitcher (PB) by Anne Rockwell & illus. by Cynthia Von Buhlee

Nothing but Trouble: The Story of Althea Gibson (PB) by Sue Stauffacher & illus. by Greg Couch

Sky High: The Story of Maggie Gee (PB) by Marissa Moss

The Daring Nellie Bly (PB) by Bonnie Christensen

The Bravest Woman in America (PB) by Marissa Moss & illus. by Andrea Wren

The Watcher (PB) by Jeanette Winter


March 03, 2014

Everyone loves SPARKY!

★  Here’s how it starts:“I wanted a pet.” The narrator’s mother agrees, “as long as it doesn’t need to be walked, bathed or fed.” A librarian helps narrow her choices to a field of one: “Sloths are the laziest animal in the world.” After its arrival, our narrator hopefully names her sloth Sparky, but alas, he is as described in books. Sparky’s owner doesn’t mind too much until provoked by überachiever Mary Potts, who informs her that not only does she have a cat that dances but also a parrot that knows 20 words. What’s a sloth owner to do? Put on a show, promising “countless tricks” from Sparky! One of the wonderful things about this book is that there is no surprise ending. A sloth is a sloth. The show is as deadly dull as one would—or should expect. But from that sad little event comes a moment of love so pure and elemental that it will affect readers of all ages. Offill and Appelhans have created quite a perfect package. The text is spare yet amusing and full of important messages presented in the most subtle of ways. Appelhans, whose career up to now has been in animated films such as Coraline, is a revelation. The enticing watercolor-and-pencil art, mostly in soft shades of browns and burgundies and featuring the artist’s hand lettering, captures a range of emotions, at least from the humans. Furry, flat-nosed Sparky, on the other hand, just is, and that, as it turns out, is enough. – Booklist 

★ Quietly dry humor marks this story about a most unusual pet.

An unassuming girl looks straight out at readers and explains her desire for a pet. She’s not fussy, but she can’t make it happen: “My mother said no to the bird. / No to the bunny. / No, no, no to the trained seal.” Finally her mother consents—sort of: She agrees to any pet “as long as it doesn’t need to be walked or bathed or fed.” After some library research, “[m]y sloth arrived by Express Mail.” Here it gets really funny. The girl waits two days, standing in moonlight and rain next to Sparky’s backyard tree, before he even awakens. She teaches him games: “We played King of the Mountain / and I won. // We played Hide-and-Seek / and I won.” Sparky never moves a muscle. Sitting on the grass, he’s stock-still; on his tree branch, he lies motionless (atop the branch, inexplicably but adorably, not hanging down in sloth fashion). Even his expression’s comically immobile. Training sessions and a performance proceed—um—at Sparky’s pace, but a beautiful closing illustration of girl and sloth together on his branch shows how close they’ve grown. Appelhans uses blue and pinky-brown watercolors and pencil on creamy background to create understated humor and affection with a light touch.

A serene, funny addition to the new-pet genre.  - Kirkus Reviews