Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Fall is here - I think

Though the first day of autumn (for the northern hemisphere) was a week ago, it has been so hot here in southern Oregon that it has felt like high summer. To top it off, we have had numerous wildfires in the area, and the valley has been flooded with smoke. Yesterday, finally, it began to cool off and the smoke dissipated. I was able to see the mountains again, and I actually noticed that some of the trees in town are starting to lose their leaves. Today it might even rain!

In honor of these changes, I am going to share a review with you. The book, Leaf Trouble, is a delightful title about a squirrel who experiences his first fall.

Leaf Trouble

Jonathan Emmett

Illustrated by Caroline Jayne Church

Picture Book

Ages 4 to 7

Scholastic, 2009, 0545160707

One morning, when he smells the fresh breeze blowing around his tree, Pip Squirrel realizes that “something’s changed.” For the first time Pip sees that the leaves on his oak tree are no longer green. They are yellow, orange and red. The sight surprises the little squirrel so much that he literally falls down to the ground. He becomes quite distressed when he sees that the leaves are not only changing color, but they are falling off the tree.

Frantically Pip and his sister Blossom collect up the fallen leaves and they try to stick them back on the tree. Alas, this does not work and Pip and Blossom are a loss. What can they do to save their beloved tree.

Through the eyes of a charming little squirrel, Jonathan Emmett shows young children that change can be a good thing. Wonderful things happen as the seasons unfold, and we can both look forward to what is happening now, and we can look forward to what is to come.

Jonathan Emmett’s story is beautifully complimented by Caroline Jayne Church’s warm multimedia illustrations, which have a unique three-dimensional component.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Johnny Appleseed's birthday

On September 26th, 1774, a little boy was born in New England who would become the stuff of legend. He was called John Chapman, but he came be known as Johnny Appleseed, the man who planted thousands of trees around the country.
I have reviewed several books about this interesting man, and one of the best is a title that I reviewed recently. Written by one of America's great children's book writers, Jane Yolen, it is a book that is both entertaining and informative. Here is my review:

Johnny Appleseed

Jane Yolen

Illustrated by Jim Burke

Non Fiction Picture Book

Ages 6 to 8

HarperCollins, 2008, 0060591358

Many of us have heard about Johnny Appleseed, the folk hero who, it is said, traveled around the country planting apple trees. The real story of John Chapman is even more impressive than the legends that came to be associated with his name.

After his father returned home from serving in the revolutionary war armies, John (Johnny) Chapman went to live in Longmeadow, Massachusetts, with his family. Being the son of a poor man, Johnny was not able to stay in school as long as perhaps he would of liked. Instead, he was apprenticed to a local farmer. Johnny learned how to plant and care for apple trees on the farmer’s land, and he grew to love the trees that are so useful and so beautiful.

When he was in his twenties, Johnny decided that he wanted to follow the teachings of Emanuel Swedenborg, a philosopher who believed that people should “do good and spread the doctrine of God’s goodness and bounty.” And so Johnny traveled around the countryside living simply, preaching, and selling people small apple trees that he grew from seed.

In this delightful picture book, Jane Yolen gives her readers a picture of what the real Johnny Appleseed was like. Though verse and prose she tells the story of a man who was often considered “crazy,” but who loved to travel, to share stories, and to give people apple trees. At the end of the book, Yolen also talks about the legend of Johnny Appleseed. She helps young readers to appreciate that this legend is based on the real life story of a man who did indeed do remarkable things.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Blog Book Tour - The Listeners by Gloria Whelan

Yesterday I read and reviewed a wonderful picture book called The Listeners. The author, Gloria Whelan, has written numerous books for young readers of all ages. Her books have won numerous awards, and she frequently uses her considerable writing skills to bring the past alive, weaving together fact and fiction to give her readers a compelling story.

Here is my review of The Listeners:

The Listeners

Gloria Whelan

Illustrated by Mike Benny

Picture Book

Ages 6 to 10

Sleeping Bear Press, 2009, 1585364193

Ella May has to work in the cotton fields all day and it is hard work for a child. In the evenings she has another important job to do, she goes to the great house where the Master lives and she sits under one of the windows to listen. None of the white folks bother to tell the slaves what is happening on the plantation, so they send the young children to listen under the windows. Then the children report back to the adults about what they have heard.

One night Ella May and her two friends Bobby and Sue hear that the Master is going to hire a new overseer “to boss” them. This is good news because the current overseer is a cruel man. On another night Ella May’s father gets a feeling that change is in the air. He tells Ella May that “dangerous times are coming,” and he needs Ella May to listen extra carefully. The news that she brings home that evening is joyous, and everyone has high hopes that real change lies ahead of them.

In this powerful and moving book, Gloria Whelan helps her young readers to see what it was like to be slave child on a southern plantation. She also shows readers that sometimes it pays to listen to what is being said around you, because information can be empowering.

With a simple text and rich illustrations, this picture book will take readers back in time, opening a window to the past.

This is one of the titles in the excellent Tales of Young Americans series.

Monday, September 14, 2009

A review by a teenage reader - The Various

A few months ago a reader called Lydia wrote to me to ask me to correct a mistake that I had made in a review I wrote for the book The Various. She was so charming and sharp that I invited her to write a review of the book for this blog. I was curious to see how she sees the book from her 14-year-old perspective.

The Various

By Steve Augarde

Ages 12+

Midge Walters is just an ordinary London girl who is extremely annoyed with her mother, a violinist in the Philharmonic Orchestra. Time and time again she has pleaded to go with her mother on a tour, and every time the answer is no, and it is no different now. This time Midge is going to stay with her quirky Uncle Brian who lives at Mill Farm. Midge instantly loves the farm and her uncle, whom she hasn’t seen for years.

She thinks that this stay will be the same as all the others has had: downright boring. Her cousins Katie and George aren’t going to arrive from their holiday for two weeks, so Midge is completely stuck with what to do, and decides to explore the surrounding fields belonging to her uncle. She is soon discovers how wrong she was; these are not going to be a boring few weeks. In fact they will probably be the most dramatic weeks in her life.

She finds an old, desolate pig barn hiding a big secret – a winged horse, about the size of a small deer, trapped underneath the spokes of a raking machine. As she nurses him back to health, she learns that his name is Pegs, and he lives in what she calls the Royal Forest, which is owned by Midge’s uncle. Pegs can speak, but not as humans do. It sounds to Midge as if Pegs is speaking on a strange sort of telephone, she can see the words like pictures and colours, but the sound is all inside her head. Call it telepathy, if you like.

Pegs takes Midge into the Royal Forest to meet the Various, a group of five tribes trying their best to survive in times where there is less and less food. Pegs had actually been sent out to seek food or safe land in the neighbouring forests, but all he found was a site full of trucks, diggers and felled trees. The closest word to describe the ‘little people’ would be ‘fairy’, but only one tribe, the Ickri, has wings, and even then they can only glide from tree to tree. They are about knee height but, though they are small, they possess spears and arrows. Some are less friendly than others, and some even try to kill Midge.

Midge is dragged into the tale of the struggling tribes, and she is horrified to find out that her uncle wants to sell the land to developers. Pegs urges Midge to tell queen Ba-betts of the Various about this news, which she does. She also finds out about an ancient connection between her and the Various. An ancestor of hers, a ‘Gorji’, as the Various call humans, once built a strong relationship with the tribes, but whenever she spoke of the little people, people thought she was mad.

Midge has the task and mission to protect the only home these strange, mystifying people have, all while keeping their presence a secret.

This first book in a trilogy about the Various, mixes fantasy and reality so closely that you sometimes wonder which is which. It is very difficult not to get sucked into the plot, and to actually feel as if you are becoming Midge herself.

This is a truly magical book, which really makes you think about where you stand today. In this present time people think they know everything about the world, but this book shows us that this is not so. Why, for all we know, there could be little people living right on our doorstep…

Reviewed by Lydia Mackean, aged 14

Thank you, Lydia. I hope to have more guest reviewers in the future.

Blog Book Tour: An Inteview with Joy Preble, author of Dreaming Anastasia

Today I will be interviewing Joy Preble, the author of Dreaming Anastasia.

Marya: Where did the idea for your remarkable book come from?

Joy: Dreaming Anastasia began with Anne. Or more precisely, Anne’s voice. I had this idea about a girl who was in history class and she was bored and her teacher wasn’t really doing a good job of teaching about the Russian Revolution. I didn’t even have a name for this girl yet, but she was smart and kind of snarky and possibly – in that original version – a bit of a trouble maker. Mostly what came to me was this girl who wanted something exciting to happen to her. So I suppose she got her wish

Marya: Why did you decide to bring Baba Yaga, the Russian fairytale witch, into the story?

Joy: Interestingly, the original version did not include Baba Yaga! But my agent and I kept discussing the idea that something was missing; here was this story that was based on the Russian Revolution and the Romanov assassination but the fantasy elements didn’t have an authentic Russian nature to them. So I essentially decided to do a re-write. And I just had a feeling that Russian folklore and fairy tales would bring me what I needed, so I read and read and within a very short time, I’d found the Baba Yaga stories. Baba Yaga seemed the perfect magic foil for Anne and Ethan and Anastasia – she is strong, unpredictable, impossible to actually do away with, and no one in the fairy tales encounters her without coming away changed. It seemed right both organically and metaphorically for what was happening for all the characters in the story, especially – not to give too much away – for certain characters who crave change but can’t have it

Marya: Have you always had an interest in the Romanov story?

Joy: Yes! I think I was in junior high when I picked up a copy of Robert K. Massie’s biography, Nicholas and Alexandra. I was hooked. There’s just something so gloriously and horrendously tragic about it all. This pretty, pretty family who had everything and then lost it all in the political upheaval of the times. And that crazy Rasputin who was so strong that they poisoned him and then shot him and finally had to drown him to get him to die! Plus of course, Anastasia herself – so young and feisty and funny. I can see why so many people just continued to hope that she hadn’t died in that basement that horrible day. I guess all of the passion of that story stuck with me and eventually it came out as Dreaming Anastasia.

Marya: In this story, the power of “blood’ – as in family connections – is strong. Is this something you believe is true outside of your story?

Joy: A very interesting question! Hmmmm…. I guess my answer is both yes and no. No in the literal sense. I don’t think anyone really inherits greatness or evil or that kind of thing. I do think we’re probably a combination of both nature and nurture and that while we have certain inherent traits, we do choose what we become to most extent. That being said, I find that for me, the power of family is strong. I do like knowing the people to whom I’m connected – the ones who share things with me at the most primal level. But I don’t think it takes blood for that. Some of the people I’m closest to aren’t blood relatives; they’re the “family” I chose – close friends; my tribe so to speak. But in terms of the story – I was very much working with the idea that what we do for the people we love is a very powerful force. And certainly for the European royal families, there was always a deep sense of the importance of blood. Beyond that, I guess I could start into the whole blood is important for the feminist aspects of Dreaming Anastasia, but I think that’s another topic entirely

Marya: When you began the story did you know it was going to end the way it did?

Joy: You know, you’re the first person to ask me that! And if I’m going to be honest, I will say that I very much struggled with the ending, especially the more I got to know and love my characters. For those who’ve read, you know that there are obviously two distinct possibilities for the ending. I did work out how the story would be both ways. But ultimately I feel I chose the ending that made the most sense for the characters. That being said, I will tease you by saying that if I get to write the sequels, you may find more surprises in store. That’s all I can say right now.

Marya: You are part of 2k9, a group of writers who are bringing out their first books in the year 2009. How has the group helped you with your book?

Joy: Oh my gosh, how didn’t they, would be the better question? I am constantly telling everyone how lucky I am to have these 20 other writers all going through this journey with me. Each and every one of them has become a friend and a writing colleague. We help each other with everything from morale to promotion and all the stuff in between. And when we do get together in person – it’s crazy wonderful. (Okay, Kathryn Fitzmaurice (The Year the Swallows Came Early) may disagree because she had to drive around Chicago with me behind the wheel getting lost and blowing through some toll booths (I didn’t see it; really. That’s all I’m saying. It was dark. It was raining. I’d eaten too much dessert) but beyond that these guys are just amazing!

Marya: Are you writing a new story at the moment? If you are, are you finding that your writing process is different this time around?

Joy: I’ve just finished two other novels that I hope you will all get to see at some point and I will say that while my general creative process is still the same, I have developed a much more accurately critical internal editor after having gone through editorial revisions with Dreaming Anastasia. The copy edit process in particular was an eye-opener to me. My editor had said, “Oh, it won’t be much. Your writing is very clean.” And then I took a look at what the team had to say… You find out your weaknesses – such as my desire to use too many stylistic fragments and my copy editor’s love of adding dashes. But I did love the discussions we had in the Word comment bubbles. It got quite lively late at night!

Thank you Joy for a wonderful interview. You can visit Joy on her website to find out more about her work and her book. Please visit the other bloggers who are partcipating on this tour.

Teens Read Too (8/17)

Through the Wardrobe (8/29)

Class of 2k9 (8/29)

Story Siren (8/31)


The Book Resort (9/1)

Marta’s Meanderings (9/2)

Babbling About Books (9/3)

A Passion for Books (9/3)

Day by Day Writer (9/4)

Neverending Shelf (9/5)

YA Books Central (9/6)

The Book Obsessions (9/7)

Dolce Bellezza (9/7)

Books & Literature for Teens (9/7)

Shelf Elf (9/8)

The Shady Glade (9/8)

Debbie’s World of Books (9/9)

Bookalicio.us (9/9)

Ultimate Book Hound (9/10)

Lauren’s Crammed Bookshelf (9/10)

Sarah’s Random Musings (9/11)

Cindy’s Love of Books (9/12)

Presenting Lenore (9/12)

Always Riddikulus (9/12)

Jenn’s Bookshelf (9/13)

Carol’s Corner (9/13)

A High & Hidden Place (9/14)

Looking Glass Review (9/14)

Karin’s Book Nook (9/14)

Shooting Stars Magazine (9/15)

Library Lounge Lizard (9/15)

Book Journey (9/16)

The Book Pixie (9/16)

The Compulsive Reader (9/17)

Bildungsroman (9/17)

Booking Mama (9/18)

BriMeetsBooks.com (9/18)

The Written World (9/19)

Hope’s Bookshelf (9/19)

Book Nut (9/20)

Hope is the Word (9/20)

Zoe’s Book Reviews (9/21)

Homespun Light (9/21)

Teen Scene magazine (9/21)

Galleysmith (9/22)

Once Upon a Bookshelf (9/22)

Café of Dreams (9/23)

My Friend Amy (9/23)

The Brain Lair (9/24)

Ms. Bookish (9/24)

Lori Calabrese Writes (9/25)

Mrs. Magoo Reads (9/25)

Ramblings of a Teenage Bookworm (9/26)

Fantasy Book Critic (9/26)

Into the Wardrobe (9/27)
In the Pages (9/27)

Beth Fish Reads (9/28)

Reverie Book Reviews (9/28)

BookLoons.com (9/28)

Sunday, September 13, 2009

A review of Dreaming Anastasia by Joy Preble.

Tomorrow I will be posting an interview with Joy Preble, a new author whose first book, Dreaming Anastasia, was published this year. I found the book very engrossing and was fascinated by the way in which the author combined history, the life of a modern day teenager, and the ancient magic of a fairytale witch. Here is my review of the book:
Dreaming Anastasia
Joy Preble
Ages 14 and up
Sourcebooks, 2009, 1402218176
For some time now, Anne has been dreaming that she is someone else, a girl who is witnessing the murder of a whole family. It is so real that the dream seems to spill into Anne’s waking life. It is very disturbing and unsettling. Who is the girl in the dream?
Then one day, when she is at the ballet with her friend Tess, Anne sees a very handsome boy who appears to be watching her. Soon after, Anne sees the same boy at a coffee shop and at her school. Could it be that he is following her around? Why are so many weird things happening to her?
Just when she thinks things could not get stranger, the boy, Ethan, offers to explain matters to Anne. What Anne hears is utterly improbable, and yet Anne finds that she does believe what she is hearing. For one thing, it explains why she has been having the strange dreams. Ethan tells her that he belongs to a brotherhood of men who have special powers. The members of the brotherhood use their powers to protect people, specifically the Russian royal family, the Romanovs. In 1918, the leader of the brotherhood, Victor, arranged for Anastasia, the Russian Tsar’s youngest daughter, to be whisked out of danger. Victor used Ethan to compel Baba Yaga, a witch, to rescue Anastasia just at the moment when the rest of her family members were being killed.
Apparently, Anne is the one person who can free Anastasia from her captivity in Baba Yaga’s hut. Because of the spell Victor used on her, Baba Yaga has to do her best to prevent this.
Together Anne and Ethan try to figure out what it is they have to do to free Anastasia. They soon find out that Baba Yaga is not their only enemy. Someone else is also determined to stop them, and he is not afraid to commit murder to achieve his goal.
In this incredibly compelling and sometimes disturbing book, Joy Preble skillfully weaves together Russian fairytales and historical facts. The narrative shifts between Anne’s story, Ethan’s story, Anastasia’s story, and the letters that Anastasia writes to her dead family members as she waits to be rescued. Readers who have an interest in Russian history will get a better understanding of why the Romanovs did what they did, and why their actions led to their downfall. As they read, they will discover that the ties of blood can be very strong, and at the same time, they can cause great trouble and heartache.
This is Joy Preble’s first book.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Blog Book Tour - Travels with Tarra and Just for Elephants

Recently one of the publicists at Tilbury House sent me two non fiction titles about a lady who raised a baby elephant, and who subsequently went on to found a sanctuary for captive elephants. Both books, Travels with Tarra and Just for elephants, greatly moved me because of my background. Some years ago I wrote my thesis about captive elephants in India, and I also did a personal study on elephants in various zoos. It always distressed me greatly when I saw elephants having to endure squalid conditions, loneliness, and boredom.

It was thrilled to have the opportunity to interview the author of these books, Carol Buckley. Here is a brief bio about Carol:

Carol Buckley has more than thirty-two years' experience in the care and management of elephants. For many
years she traveled the U.S., Canada, and abroad performing in a number of circuses with Tarra. Their story is told in her award-winning first book, Travels With Tarra. In 1995, with Scott Blais, Carol founded the nation's first natural-habitat refuge for sick, old, and needy elephants, the Elephant Sanctuary. As executive director, she helps care for the elephants, arranges for needy elephants to be moved to the Sanctuary, and develops and implements educational programs, both for the public and for school children, to benefit the elephants wherever they might be.

Now on to the interview:

Marya: In Travels with Tarra, you describe how you and Tarra used to travel around the country performing in shows of various kinds. What made you decide to change this way of life?
Carol: As Tarra grew and matured she required a different life style. When she was young she seemed to enjoy life on the road; new sights, surroundings, always new adventures. But as she grew she became larger and her size alone made much of our shared adventures prohibitive. As a four foot tall, thousand pound cute baby, we could run on a deserted beach or swim in a river without concern. By the time Tarra was ten she was more than 6 feet tall and weighed several thousand pounds and no longer was viewed as cute, definitely not the size creature the local police or forest ranger felt comfortable allowing to play in the forest, swim in a river or romp along the shoreline. Tarra needed more space and freedom and especially she needed to live with a family of elephants

Marya: Tarra mostly grew up around humans, and she had a hard time getting used to being around other elephants. How did you help her feel comfortable with creatures of her own kind?
Carol: Tarra got along with elephants just fine if they were not aggressive., unfortunately many captive elephants have poor social skills due to their lack of experience in a natural herd environment. Whenever Tarra was around non aggressive elephants she did great, when she was around aggressive elephants she
was extremely uncomfortable.

Marya: Why did you decide to set up an elephant sanctuary in Tennessee?
Carol: I wanted Tarra to live in a healthy environment. My experiences with the zoo and circus industries clearly demonstrated a lack of appropriate space, herd dynamics and progressive management philosophy. I did not want Tarra to spend her life in a deprived environment and I was determined to create a healthy place for her to live.

Marya: How do you find the elephants who come to the sanctuary
Carol: There are less than 600 elephants living in zoos and circuses. We know about their lives and their treatment. It is difficult but we have to wait until the owner is ready to send the elephant to us or the federal government is wiling to step in and confiscate to end the elephant's suffering.

Marya: And how do you raise the funds to care for them?
Carol: caring people worldwide hear about our work through media exposure, word of mouth and our web site and support us by making monetary donations or providing needs from our wish list

Marya: In Just for Elephants, you describe the way in which an elephant called Jenny welcomes the newest
sanctuary resident, Shirley. Jenny has since died. How did Shirley react to losing Jenny, who was like a mother to her?
Carol: Shirley was devastated when Jenny died just as any mother might be. Shirley mourned the loss of her dear friend and for weeks. She lost her appetite and was not responsive to her caregivers for days. Fortunately one of the other elephants, Bunny who was close with Shirley and Jenny, comforted Shirley in her time of need and their bond grew deeper. Bunny's love and compassion helped Shirley recover from her loss.

Marya: Most of the elephants at the sanctuary are Asian elephants, but you also have a few African elephants. How do the two species get along?
Carol: Our African and Asian elephants are provided separate habitats so that they are not required to get along. They are two separate species with different language and behavior, providing the most natural setting possible means these two species are not mixed.

Marya: Why did you decide to write about Tarra and the sanctuary?
Carol: To help raise awareness about the plight of all elephants forced to live their life in a captive environment

Marya: Do you think the books have helped to raise awareness of the plight of elephants in captivity?
Carol: I hope they have

Marya: Many of the elephants who come to the sanctuary have had a hard life. Shirley is one of these. Have their experiences made any of these elephants permanently angry, or are they able to move on, to forgive, and to be happy?
Carol: Elephants appear to me to be the most forgiving and compassionate of any species on our planet maybe equal with Gorilla, whales, and dolphins, and perhaps other species that we have yet to acknowledge. But elephants are superior in their ability to not hold a grudge, not seek revenge, to love those who mistreat them and to show compassion even when their lives are so deprived. It is not surprising to me that in ancient Asian cultures the elephants is viewed as a god, a reincarnate of Buddha himself.

Marya: One of the wonderful things about your sanctuary is that the elephants can live in herd, which is what they would do in the wild. Has one of them taken on the role of the matriarch – which is what happens in wild herds? Carol: In the wild elephants are born into a herd and the elder is the matriarch. At the Sanctuary Shirley as served as that wise and compassionate individual since her arrival, yes she is the oldest as well. In the separate habitat occupied by the divas Lottie serves in the capacity, her calm, sure and wise ways make her a perfect leader.

Marya: How many people help you to take care of the elephants at the sanctuary
Carol: We have 24 full time staff members and 12 of them are elephants caregivers.

Marya: How can we elephant fans help you in your work?
Carol: Our goal is to raise awareness about elephants and the lives they are forced to live in captive situations. Even the best of zoos deprive elephants from their most basic needs of room to roam, compatible others, and access to year round live vegetation. The best way anyone can help is to educate themselves regarding true elephant needs and then starting in their own community to make sure any elephant that lives in their community is provided for adequately.

You can also support Carol's captive elephants by 'adopting' one of her girls or by giving the sanctuary a donation. Please visit the Elephant Sanctuary website for more information.

Tilbury House is offering some wonderful blog book tour prizes. Here is the information:

Blog Prizes
- Copy of Just for Elephants signed by Sanctuary co-founder Carol Buckley
- Copy of
Travels With Tarra signed by Carol and stamped by Tarra the Elephant
- Package of Tilbury House Animal Books—
The Goat Lady, Thanks to the Animals, and an advance copy of Bear-ly There
We'll draw 3 lucky winners from all of those who comment on tour posts from Sept. 1-9, and will announce the winners on Sept 10th
We are able to ship to the US/Canada

Twitter Prize
From now through Sept. 9, anyone who tweets about the tour using the hashtag #trunktour will be entered to win a copy of Travels With Tarra or Just for Elephants. US/Canada only, two winners will be announced on Sept. 10th.

Please visit the other blogs participating in this tour:

Tuesday, Sept. 1: Reading Rumpus
Wednesday, Sept. 2: Sacred Elephants
Thursday, Sept. 3: Read These Books and Use Them!
Friday, Sept. 4: Maw Books
Saturday, Sept. 5: Shelf Elf
Sunday, Sept. 6: Bees Knees
Monday, Sept. 7: Through The Looking Glass
Tuesday, Sept. 8: Bri Meets Books