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Maybe I Will

  • Posted on January 13, 2013 at 3:51 PM

MaybeIWillMAYBE I WILL by Laurie Gray. Luminis Books (, March 2013.  Ages 13+ ($14.95 Paperback – ISBN 978-1-935462-70-5, $26.95 Hardcover – ISBN 978-1-935462-71-2, $9.95 eBook – ISBN 978-1-935462-72-9)

Publisher’s Description:  It’s not about sex. It’s about how one secret act of violence changes everything—how best friends can desert you when you need them most, how nobody understands. It’s about the drinking and stealing and lying and wondering who you can trust. It’s about parents and teachers, police officers and counselors—all the people who are supposed to help you, but who may not even believe you. It’s about how suddenly all of your hopes and dreams can vanish, and you can find yourself all alone, with nothing and no one. Your only choice is to end it all or to start over…and all you can think is Maybe I Will. 

Reviews: Mike Mullin, award-winning author of ASHFALL and ASHEN WINTER wrote about Maybe I will: “In MAYBE I WILL, author Laurie Gray deals with a difficult topic in a thoughtful, nuanced, and realistic way. A pinch of humor and dash of Shakespeare add flavor to what otherwise might be an overly heavy stew. MAYBE I WILL belongs on teens’ reading lists and bookshelves alongside classics of its type such as Laurie Halse Anderson’s SPEAK and Cheryl Rainfield’s SCARS.”

About the Author: Laurie Gray presents a compelling picture of the realities of sexual assault in MAYBE I WILL, drawing on her years of experience as a Deputy Prosecuting Attorney, dealing with crimes against children. The twist in the story is that we never know for sure if the victim is a boy or a girl, and we realize that it doesn’t matter, because it’s not about sex.

Round to it

Diane’s Notes: I was scared to read this book and kept putting off getting a round-to-it. I received a request to review Maybe I Will during a time when my world was crashing down. I have been a victim of sexual assault and abuse. I have been in the situation of keeping my worries to myself and wondering if I could handle the depression while trying to hold myself together and pretend to be “good” – just so my family and friends wouldn’t worry. I didn’t want to be seen as just a victim, nor did I want to be seen as a problem that other people would have to deal with. I was even afraid that if I read Maybe I Will, that I might consider giving up. 

I should have trusted the author Laurie Gray and publicist Rebecca Grose. While there is a sexual assault, it is not  graphically over-described. Suicide is not the entire focus of the story. Alcoholism is not the ending of one’s life.  Friends not being there for you is simply another obstacle to survive. The character has to learn to cope, survive, and adjust.

Readers will learn new techniques for surviving the teen years and life’s unfair, unjust events. Maybe I Will is an essential purchase for libraries with young adults requesting books like 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher, The Rules of Survival by Nancy Werlin, A Child Called It, Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, and Stop Pretending: What Happened When My Big Sister Went Crazy by Sonya Sones . 

The hardest part of reading Maybe I Will was that I had read the twist – that we never know for sure if the victim is a boy or a girl – and that I spent the entire first reading looking for clues to prove the character was one or the other. Pulling that perspective off was a dramatic success. By having the character almost gender neutral, this title will be easier to put in both male and female reader’s hands. While some said they were convinced it was a girl because they were female readers, if someone found themselves relating too closely, they could pretend the character was a member of the opposite sex and build in distance.

Perhaps the best parts of Maybe I Will were the poems and the literary references interwoven. How many teen titles link Shakespeare, Peter Pan, and Amazing Grace? The main character uses a journal to write  through the process of discovering the answer to the question “What is character?” The poems are full of angst and speak to teens – particularly to 8th and 9th graders with stanzas like:

Such a bitter seed I swallowed.

No one saw, and no one knew.

I buried it inside myself

Where it took root and grew.

or –

I feel like I have swallowed a black hole.

The cold and empty darkness never ends.

Emotions trample down my weary soul,

No longer trusting any of my friends.

Maybe I Will leaves the reader with hope. There is hope, there are ways to survive the bad, and there are people out there to help. The reality is that the bad is not always sufficiently punished in our legal system. But Maybe I Will may be the title that helps a teen open up and tell someone, rather than continue to suffer in silence. 


Diane’s blog on Cinder by Marissa Meyer

  • Posted on January 13, 2013 at 1:31 PM

Marissa Meyer should be thrilled. Cinder was chosen one of the top ten books of 2012 on these lists:cinder-117x162

Check out a trailer for  Cinder here. I have to admit that I kept setting the book Cinder down intending to get around to it. When Shela wrote her blog post January 8th, I realized that I needed to seize the time to read Cinder. Now that I have read Cinder, Marissa Meyer is on my short list of  authors writing YA fairy tale versions (including Margaret Peterson Haddix, Shannon Hale, Gail Carson Levine, Vivian VandeVelde, Robin McKinley, and Alex Flinn). Marissa Meyer’s biographical information shares how much she enjoyed fairy tales growing up and how this translated into her writing fanfiction for SailorMoon.

Growing up I loved Beauty and the Beast because it seemed more realistic for Beauty to gradually realize the Beast had changed to something beautiful underneath. Maybe I didn’t like Cinderella because the Disney version had a blonde star. I couldn’t relate because I wasn’t blonde and I thought she relied on others too much to make her dreams come true. In fact I have always preferred the Kukla, Fran, and Ollie show Three Nuts for Cinderella better than the original versions.

Three Nuts for Cinderella (Tri oríšky pro popelku) is from Czechoslovakia, 1973. You can click here to watch highlights of this updated version of the classic tale, with the fairy godmother replaced by three magic hazelnuts that help Cinderella’s dreams come true. You can learn more about that version here. When I first read Anita Lobel’s Princess Furball, I related it to Three Nuts for Cinderella.

Marissa Meyer’s version has helped me rediscover Cinderella. Adults, young adults, and middle grade students will appreciate this 387 page futuristic sci-fi version. I could relate to the strengths of  Linh Cinder and her work ethic. With the setting in New Beijing 126 years after WWIV, there were Chinese aspects of the story providing flavor yet the story was universal and global. While racial differences weren’t emphasized, the new discriminations revolved around the status of 100% humans, androids, cyborgs, and Lunars. Old enemies like the plague still exist.

Cinder was able to accomplish unusual tasks because she seemed almost invisible due to her status. She was a strong character who refused to continue to let bad things happen to her by others. The growth in her character as she learns more about her past, her body, and her capabilities makes this a wonderful title for coming-of-age stories.

The presence of good vs evil characters was more distinct than in some modern versions so the reader knew who to cheer for throughout. This is a safe YA story that tells a fascinating first tale of four about the Lunar Chronicles. The author did not have to resort to sex, violence, or swearing to tell a good story and I appreciate that.

When I first handed the book to Shela, I wasn’t sure if the title would be appropriate as a read-aloud. I was glad she took it with her in audio format to test it out. When Shela wrote her blog, I was hooked. Having read it myself, I know exactly whose hands I want to place this in next. The hard part will be prying it out of my fingers as I wait for the second book in the series – Scarlet. Scarlet_final_USA-Today-117x162

For boys and girls who like technology, problem-solving, mysteries, and strong characters, Cinder is an excellent choice. Now I’m off to see how quickly I can get my hands on Scarlet. I was able to download the first five chapters as a preview, but I’ll be checking for the Macmillan’s Feiwel and Friends booth at ALA Midwinter.

One more aspect of Cinder that endears me to the author and series is that it was originally written as part of NaMoWriMo.

Review Cool Chemistry Activities for Girls

  • Posted on January 1, 2013 at 7:33 PM

Cool Chemistry Activities for Girls by Jodi Wheeler-Toppen, PhD. A Snap book from Capstone Press. 2012. part of the Girls Science Club series including:

  • Cool Chemistry Activities for Girls
  • Cool Biology Activities for Girls
  • Cool Physics Activities for Girls
  • Cool Engineering Activities for Girls
Cool Chemistry Activities for Girls cover

Cool Chemistry Activities for Girls cover

Shela Crisler (the current PTO president, a former engineer, and a parent volunteer in the library who puts in more hours than some teachers) and I unpacked books from Capstone Press to preview. Shela picked up Cool Engineering Activities for Girls while I picked up Cool Chemistry Activities for Girls. We looked at each other and both commented on the aspect “for Girls.” Hey! We’re girls. We love science and engineering. Why does this say “for girls?” Is there another series out there of Cool Engineering Activities for Boys? Is this real science or pseudoscience? We decided to both take our books home to read and compare on this blog.

Cool Chemistry Activities for Girls includes ten hands-on activities with “insider info” on each that explains the scientific principles which apply. The bright design is open with very readable and approachable text. Photo illustrations feature girls of middle school age so the interest truly will extend from grades 3-8.

The activities are appropriate for elementary and middle school interest and include many experiments that my STEM school had already planned as part of our curriculum this year. I can’t wait to see the teachers’ faces when I present them with this title. We use the Science NSRC kits and the Engineering is Elementary Kits in our science integration throughout the curriculum. Some of these activities are explored in the kits, but none of them explain and extend the learning in such an exciting way as this series. I wish this set had been available when I was younger. For all my former students who asked me for titles like this before publishers created them, I wish I could hand you each a copy.

STEM schools will naturally want to purchase the entire set. It is essential that more school and public libraries carry titles like this. They walk the line between the craft titles with their practicality and informational scientific titles. It’s an opportunity to inspire a new generation of female (and male) scientists.

My favorite aspect of science is chemistry followed closely by geology and physics. I am an avid reader of anything chemical and constantly seeking titles. After reading Cool Chemistry Activities for Girls, I cannot wait to purchase the complete set and to advocate for more being published. We need geology, botany, astronomy, meteorology, statistics, forensics,… there is so much more to include.

The Capstone website includes reviews for Cool Chemistry Activities for Girls from Science Books & Films – Deborah Stevens, Musselman High School, Warrenton, VA, and Laura McConnell with Library Media Connection.  Junior Library Guild includes a review of Cool Biology Activities for Girls on their website for members only. That title was part of their Science set for grades 6-8. I was happy to see this series noted so highly by JLG.

When I clicked the publisher’s website to seek related nonfiction and related fiction titles, I was disappointed. There are not enough titles out there to sustain a beginner’s interest in chemistry. The related nonfiction titles were primarily heavier-text middle school biography titles and were not designed to draw in new science enthusiasts as these Girls Science Club titles do. While the title Marie Curie mariecurieis an essential middle school purchase, it does not appeared designed to attract my students to extend their interest in elementary school.

The related fiction included lower level graphic titles but the relationship was misleading. One title was to scientists playing rock, paper, scissors. Another to The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde which at best could lead to a discussion of science and ethics. The third was to Buzz Beaker and the Speed Secret which describes an invention to make skis faster. All of these are good titles on their own, but they won’t be excellent matches to EXTEND the excitement of discovering chemistry.

I appreciate the links, but, librarians, we have far to go to encourage more publishing efforts of science topics for women. In fact, I’m going to email Capstone tonight and suggest that they link some of their other series to this title like the Kitchen Science books including Science Experiments That Fizz and Bubble: Fun Projects for Curious Kids, Gross Guides series, and of course the Monster Science titles. All of those would have made much more sense if included in the related titles section. Should I assume that Gross and Monster are the answer to my search for “Cool Chemistry Activities for Boys?”  Do I even need to step on my soapbox and start ranting about the equality of the sexes in scientific exploration and research? Or that I have many boys who would also do these “girl” experiments, too? I hope boys will take time to participate in these scientific activities.

I know there are many more exciting biographies of scientists, including chemists that we should be sharing with students. Keep reading this blog and I’ll bring you more titles. You are always welcome to share your ideas, too. I need you to help me communicate my love of science and chemistry with younger students.

Bejeezers uses Squidoo to share lenses like the Top 10 Chemistry Books for Kids which includes a great quiz. For adults who love chemistry and would like to explore the significance of how scientific knowledge relates to history, be sure to pick up a copy of Napoleon’s Buttons: How 17 Molecules Changed History. The Crabtree series “Why Chemistry Matters” was one of my previous middle school picks. I’m hoping others continue to develop more STEM titles for elementary and middle school interests.

Enjoying a new e-reader in your house? Be sure to add Chemistry for Everyone: A Helpful Primer for High School or College Chemistry to your list of ebooks to read. It’s currently available on the kindle for $5.99 but periodically shows up for a discount. It’s worth reading as an elementary teacher because it reminds us of the big picture or how what we do and the way we approach learning will have more impact on our students long down their educational path.

Review: The Last Princess by Galaxy Craze

  • Posted on June 4, 2012 at 10:14 AM

The Last Princess by Galaxy Craze. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, May, 2012. ISBN13: 9780316185486 295 pages.

After a series of natural disasters, the modern world is destroyed and society reverts to a previous time in technology with steam and carriages, limited petrol for just a few wealthy hoarders, and desperate searches for safe soil to plant green things. During disasters some people cling to the past and try to protect their bubble of normalcy. Some people adapt and seek to help others. Then, there are the villains – people like Cornelius Holister who reminded me much of Hitler. These villains trick others and provide tempting offers for a future by destroying the old and hiding their diabolical schemes to seize power.

When princess Eliza’s father is killed, her older sister Mary and little brother Jamie try to escape with Eliza. When they are captured, Eliza must escape and find a way to come back and save Mary and Jamie. While the villain believes he is a modern Robin Hood, we soon discover his plans for the future. Eliza must gain new strength to rescue her family, lead her people to saving themselves, and defeat the villain.

Sometimes you just need to read a little fast-moving dystopian fiction with a kick-butt princess as the heroine. The Last Princess was a fun read, perfect for students who don’t need a great deal of character development or every loose strand interwoven back into the story. Let me point out the bad first before I rave about why I liked it. Flaws:

  • moves too quickly
  • events left undeveloped and unexplained (cannibals, Seventeen Days, Jasper the horse’s fate)
  • setting hovers between future 2090 England and a historical feel
  • shallow romance
  • characters not fully developed

Now, on to the good stuff. The Last Princess was an excellent fantasy read for middle-schoolers and young adults. I loved the tenuous feeling that these characters were possible since there were references to Princess Diana and Princess Kate. Those of us who love the royal family despite all their flaws will lap up the historical details of the Tudors and the House of Windsor. Royal princesses named Mary and Elizabeth (Eliza) and commoners named Polly are familiar to those of us who grew up on the classics. Some of the early scenes remind me of recent movies of the Queen and her semi-sheltered life.

I liked how the author Galaxy Craze made me think and put together pieces of the puzzle in the beginning to grasp what was happening and the timeframe. I was so hooked by the first five chapters that I couldn’t set the book down. I needed answers. I needed hope and I felt I was part of the heroine Eliza as she transformed and became stronger. While the beginning pages showed us a glimpse of protected royalty that were vaguely aware of the poverty and starvation around them, it was the description of Eliza’s saving a baby blue jay that enabled me to see her drawing strength to grow and meet these challenges:

Then one day he looked at me and opened his wings. I could see that his courage had grown inside him, and he lifted off, flying for the first time around the palace grounds. I opened my eyes to see the flaming torches of the Tudor Army running across the gardens, searching the grounds. Thinking about Blue and the first time he flew, I felt a wave of strength rise up within me, pulling me up, bringing me once again to my feet. I stood up in the night, without anger or fear, but with the knowledge that I, Eliza Windsor, had a light within me that could not be so easily extinguished. When I was younger, I might have thought it was a guardian angel, or God, who saved me. But now I knew that I would save myself. 

Eliza realizes she must save herself. As the story progresses, she faces the mistakes of the past and finds a path between vengeance and justice. While a romance begins, the author doesn’t focus on this as it would be a distraction to our heroine’s actions, plus I like keeping the novel accessible to middle school this way. The author leaves us wanting the sequel. I enjoyed the writing and the constant action. Eliza faces many difficulties, yet has tiny moments where her good heart and generous spirit are allowed to show. She does not become power-hungry. Her focus is on saving her family and restoring her sister to the throne to lead the people. She does not covet the throne. She makes hard choices and overcomes the loss of those dearest to her.

Let’s talk about the setting. The places listed here will be easy for students to locate and learn more about. Knowing that the author Galaxy Craze was born in England before moving to the U.S. to become an actress, we can see how she has incorporated places of importance. We read about the Tower of London, Balmoral Castle, Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, Paddington Station and Buckingham Palace.  One place of importance was the Steel Tower – a maximum prison set in London. I had to go check to see if such a structure existed. Instead I found references to the Steel Tower being built for the London Olympics this summer. Actually called the ArcelorMittal Orbit Tower, this is not the structure mentioned in The Last Princess.  It was such a strange structure that I did have to include a [picture  though.

Throughout the Last Princess, Eliza visits places that currently exist, but have changed due to the disaster. In many ways, the places remain, but the method people survive has changed which gives this novel a historical feel much more than a futuristic feel.

Overall, I had a wonderful experience reading this quick-moving novel and cannot wait to read the sequel. If you read the reviews on GoodReads, you’ll see many people with mixed emotions. I can understand their reactions, but I simply enjoyed this title and thought it was a good summer reading kick-off. I hope you enjoy it too.

The Last Princess was reviewed as an ARC from the publisher.

Two poetry books you must have before we leave SLJ

  • Posted on May 31, 2012 at 8:20 PM

As of tomorrow, June 1st, Practically Paradise will no longer be hosted on the SLJ page, but instead on our new domain site at I am very excited about the new opportunity and cannot wait for you to follow us over there. Please pop in and leave a comment.

In the meantime, I cannot leave without mentioning two of my favorite poetry titles this year.

The Arrow Finds Its Mark: A Book of Found Poems edited by Georgbia Heard and illustrated by Antoine Guilloppe. Roaring Brook Press, 2012. ISBN 9781596436657. $16.99

This slim collection of poems is best for upper elementary and middle school students. It was fascinating to read and contemplate where these ideas originated, but it would be more meaningful to produce our own found poems. The rules were simply stated on the website. Now we sit back and see how this collection came into being through the rules stated in the introduction.

My favorite poem in this  book was by  Laura Purdie Salas. She created a poem Top Ten Rules for Our Zoo Field Trip by listing some titles of picture books she ran across on a library shelf. An example of a couple lines from this poem:

  • Don’t let the pigeon drive the bus
  • Please don’t feed the bears
  • Don’t go pet a porcupine, etc.

The other book of poetry I simply cannot neglect is by Gail Carson Levine and is called Forgive Me I Meant to Do It: False Apology Poems. I traded someone for this title. It is wonderfully wicked. As Gail Carson Levine points out, you have to be mean to read and enjoy these. Seems I have that ability.

Inspired by William Carlos Williams’ work, this collection of poems follow the sequence and rhyme structure of the original poem “This Is Just to Say”.  I was so worried that no one would be listening to me read this when suddenly it became popular. There is a little touch of meanness in everyone and this book provides the opportunity to creatively slam every person you’ve ever wanted and dazzle others with your ability use a formula to invent false apologies.

Perfect for middle school and upper elementary collections where the teacher enjoys leading the class in a little mayhem and madness, I’d definitely add this title.

Polly Horvath translates Rabbit to bring us Mr. and Mrs. Bunny Extraordinaire! by Mrs. Bunny

  • Posted on April 28, 2012 at 12:45 PM

Mr. and Mrs. Bunny – Detectives Extraordinaire! by Mrs. Bunny translated from the Rabbit by Polly Horvath, illustrated by Sophie Blackall. Schwartz & Wade, 2012. ISBN: 978-0-375-86755-2 $16.99

Have you experienced that moment when you are reading a new book and suddenly wished you had a class of students in front of you so you could read aloud and share the rush of fun? Mr. and Mrs. Bunny – Detectives Extraordinaire! is such a book, simply hysterically fun and meant to be shared.

Mr. and Mrs. Bunny book is deceptive! It is surprising! It is quick reading with lively banter and vocabulary that tickles your tongue. The cover is quite misleading. I was expecting a simple third or fourth grade chapter book featuring animals. Instead, I find plucky, practical fifth grader Madeline who possesses the skills to fend for herself and care for her hippie parents. This is an adventure story that happens to be divided not-so-neatly between human and animal characters.

Who could resist picking up a book with a letter on the back from “The Enemy” using the phrase “Mwa-haha?” I cannot resist reading aloud Mwa-haha. In fact, while I write now, my four dogs are staring at me wondering why I keep saying Mwa-haha yet aren’t causing any visible trouble.

Madeline and her parents live in Canada near Vancouver and Hornby Island. Of course, as all practical and plucky characters must be, Madeline is SMART and looks forward to Prince Charles’ presenting her three graduation awards. While she is diligently working to earn money to buy the shoes she needs for graduation, sinister forces – err… sinister foxes are at work. How do we find out? We read “Meanwhile, unbeknownst to Madeline, back at her house, sinister forces were at work.” Now that’s the kind of sentence we can inspire dreamers with.

Who are these sinister beings? Why, foxes, of course! When Madeline’s father Flo expresses his surprise that foxes are so commercial, the Grand Poobah replies, “Foxes are titans of industry! Have you never heard of Fox Studios? Fox Television? You didn’t think it was owned by hoomans, did you?”

Aha! This explains much of the evil doings of our world. The foxes are behind them. Of course, if I had been a bunny like Mr. and Mrs. Bunny, I would have known to beware foxes long ago. Mr. and Mrs. Bunny have recently moved from a mountain hutch to a new home in  Rabbitville in Cowichan Valley. Mrs. Bunny believes foxes “regard the houses in Rabbitville as a strip of fast-food joints.” and doesn’t “want to be someone’s Big Mac.”

When Madeline’s parents are kidnapped, Madeline needs a combination of animal and human helpers to survive. Since Mrs. Bunny is easily bored and they both look so dashing in fedoras, Mr and Mrs. Bunny have decided to become detectives. Soon Madeline and the Bunny’s join forces in this mystery adventure filled with slapstick moments and joyful banter.

You’ll have to pick up a copy of this wacky wonderful tale and share your joy with others. Be sure to read every bit of the last chapter. You won’t want to miss a moment of this extraordinary adventure.

Consider adding The Inside Story of Track and Field for spring sports & the summer Olympics

  • Posted on January 18, 2012 at 8:35 PM

Rosen Publishing has a series of Sports World titles that appeal to my students and me. We particularly like The Inside Story of Track and Field by Clive Gifford. One of my fourth grade girls reminded me that we will use this title when we study the Olympics. The  beauty of this title is the diversity and depth of coverage of all track and field events. Many competitions around the world are explored including Grand Prix & Golden League events, World Tours, National Championships, The European Championships, Pan-American Games, The Commonwealth Games, The Asian Games, etc. Rather than focus on the problems of the sport (like performance-enhancing drugs), the tone is positive, informational and motivational.

There is a tremendous amount of content and data within these covers making it a prime choice for middle schoolers. I learned about events like the steeplechase and recalled why my coach in eighth grade had me throw the discus. Since I read it takes balance and rhythm, no wonder I could never manage to throw it in the correct direction more than once a day.

The larger typeface and effective design of the text layout makes this accessible for my elementary students. Its a good choice with colorful action shots and I am happy to add this to my collection. Other titles in the series include:

  • The Inside Story of Motorsports
  • The Inside Story of Soccer
  • The Inside Story Of World Cup Soccer

Nonfiction Monday – We've Got a Job

  • Posted on December 19, 2011 at 11:58 PM

We’ve Got A Job: The 1963 Birmingham Children’s March by Cynthia Y. Levinson is a remarkable story interweaving four children  protesters out of 4000 and how their actions impacted  the Civil Rights movement. This is the story I have been missing all my life as it takes an importance series of children’s protests to explain the events of the Civil Rights movement and how individuals affected the greater movement. Here is the story that shows the confusion, the determination, and the ups and downs of civil protests. It is amazing and I urge you to rush to purchase this from Peachtree Publishers in February, 2012.

We’ve Got A Job provides the background I’ve needed to understand the greater picture of how small protests built and how changes occurred. No individual is glorified or “heroized”. Human actions are realistically described and the imperfections of the leaders are honestly shown. Levinson reveals the problems behind coordinating many small actions for the larger movement. She also uses simple comparisons between white students and black students’ views and actions during the events to provide a multi-faceted setting.

I carried this uncorrected proof with me for over 2 weeks while I read and re-read portions. I utilized the timeline in the back to build a sense of how these actions fit within the larger Civil Rights movement. Author Cynthia Levinson echoes my feelings in her author’s note when she writes:

“Although I read newspaper articles about the marches, hoses, and dogs, it wasn’t until I was an adult, writing about music in the civil rights period for Cobblestone magazine, that I learned the heart of the story: all of the protesters assaulted and jailed that May were children…. [others]  needed to know how a Children’s March changed American history.”

Quotations that may be familiar to students are connected to the atmosphere and actions of Birmingham. On page 97 we read:

On D-Day, police officer Captain George Wall said to Captain Evans, “Ten or fifteen years from now, we will look back on this and we will say, ‘How stupid can you be?'” But everyone had to obey the Segregation Ordinances, even those who despised them. “The ultimate tragedy of Birmingham, “King observed, “was not the brutality of the bad people but the silence of the good people.”

While adults in May 1963 hesitated to protest the racist culture of Birmingham, Alabama, with their lives and jobs at stake, their children and teens left school to march and force the police to arrest them. By filling the jails with children and responding in a peaceful manner to attacks by dogs and fire hoses, these students brought national attention to Birmingham. Adult protests had stalled. If the children had not acted, would changes have occurred? Their actions are a vital part of the civil rights movement and need to be shared.

Many people accuse librarians of being too liberal and focused on social activitist clauses, yet I was shocked to read about the public library bathrooms being locked rather than desegregated. Aren’t librarians at the forefront of the protection of civil liberties? Levinson writes:

“Public libraries had been informally desegregated by demonstrators and were soon officially integrated. Their bathrooms, however, were not and remained locked; all patrons–black and white–had to seek facilities elsewhere.”

The importance of protest songs is interwoven with actions. I’ve sung the song “We Shall Overcome” at sunrise ceremonies and learned in my 20’s that this was considered the anthem of the Civil Rights movement. Still, it did not connect me to actions and history. It was simply a moving song. I’d read the Wikipedia description of the songs history, but it was putting together the pieces of children’s actions and their music that made this real.

We’ve Got a Job moves to the top of my nonfiction list purchases for any middle or high school collection. While this won’t be published until February, it needs to be pre-ordered to be sure it is received this school year and shared with students. This title once read-aloud to students  may be the most important historical account of the Civil Rights movement they’ll read in school since it connects students with real people their age who took steps to bring about change. This is a vital piece of the Civil Rights movement and needs to be understood within the larger context to see how long it takes for change to occur.

President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 two years before I was born. Growing up in Iowa, I knew of the Civil Rights movement as a historical event, assumed it solved all problems and that everything was instantly desegregated. (Okay, I realize that was a foolish notion but I was naive.)

When I moved to Tennessee in 1996, I was surprised to talk to teachers who had experienced segregated schools as students and as teachers. What seemed ancient history to me became a real and continuing battle as I opened my eyes to current problems. I tried to put bits and pieces together including this staff report from the US Commission on Civil Rights on School Desegregation in Nashville-Davidson County. I’ve visited the Nashville Public Library and sat on the chairs memorializing the sit-ins.

I’ve seen the documentary on the Clinton 12 and how students made a difference. “On the first day of school in August 1956, the black students walked into Clinton High School. They were the first African Americans in the South to attend a previously all-white public school.” See Tennessee 4 Me. A year before the Little Rock Nine, twelve youth walked into Clinton High School and into history. Their story can be found at

My current school has the distinction of having been bombed during desegregation. You can read more on the website Tennessee 4 Me. There is a fascinating account of A Child Shall Lead Them: Two Days in September 1957: The Desegregation of Nashville Public Schools.

All of these stories about children and their actions are important pieces of history. I appreciate Cynthia Levinson’s bringing the story of these Birmingham, Alabama children and their actions to We’ve Got A Job.

The Unknown Spy (The Ring of Five series) by Eoin McNamee

  • Posted on December 5, 2011 at 12:08 AM

I took a moment to curl up with The Unknown Spy (The Ring of Five series) by Eoin McNamee. I couldn’t resist this title because the idea of a young spy made me recall series Alex Rider and Ally Carter’s Gallagher Girls. Would this title become a favorite of middle schoolers and my avid 4th grade readers?

I hate coming in to a series with the second title, but I think McNamee brought me up to speed quickly. He left enough juicy hints that I have to  seek out the first book in the series during the holidays. The first chapter captured my attention as Danny Caulfield leaped into action to help save his “parents”. I enjoyed the author’s showing us Danny’s thought processes as he put his spy skills to work during danger.

While I read The Unknown Spy, I found myself contemplating betrayal, treachery, and how we define being good at something. If we are good at spying, lying, and tricking others, isn’t this a good thing for a spy? As I read, I was distancing myself from Danny. He wasn’t a goodie-two-shoes character that perfectly spurred all evil and virtuously did only good as he solved the mystery. His methods and relationships were not the typical style of a youth in an adventure title. He was moody, untrustworthy, and sometimes unlikable. Yet, I read on and was compelled to find out what happened to the supporting characters. Those, I liked. As I read, I realized I didn’t have to like the main character to read on.

The betrayal and secrecy of Danny’s parents throughout the beginning of this title led me to mind-wandering down a path. Suddenly I was listing all the titles I’ve ever read where a youth discovers his parents aren’t what he (or she) thought them to be. Aha! This was a rite of passage, a mark of growing up, a sign for a title of bildungsromans. A child must separate from their parents to begin the journey to adulthood. Most titles allow emotional growth of the youth to eventually reunite or come to peace with their parents. Will Danny have a relationship with his “parents” in the future? We are left to wonder. I’ll be impatiently waiting for the next title in this series to see if Danny becomes a lovable character or if his treacherous spy self overcomes the good side.

Icefall by Matthew J. Kirby

  • Posted on November 19, 2011 at 7:44 PM

Icefall by Matthew J. Kirby was compelling reading. As the temperature dropped outside, I curled up with this tale from the frozen north and warmed myself with Nordic storytelling of the finest.  I couldn’t wait to return to reading each chapter of Solveig’s growth in confidence and storytelling ability. Here’s a synopsis from the author’s blog:

“Trapped in a hidden fortress tucked between towering mountains and a frozen sea, Solveig, along with her brother the crown prince, their older sister, and an army of restless warriors, anxiously awaits news of her father’s victory at battle. But as winter stretches on, and the unending ice refuses to break, terrible acts of treachery soon make it clear that a traitor lurks in their midst. A malevolent air begins to seep through the fortress walls, and a smothering claustrophobia slowly turns these prisoners of winter against one another.

Those charged with protecting the king’s children are all suspect, and the siblings must choose their allies wisely. But who can be trusted so far from their father’s watchful eye and unchallenged authority? Can Solveig and her siblings survive the long winter months and expose the traitor before he succeeds in destroying a king, his empire, and his children?”

While I was happily reading the survival story of Solveig, Asa, and Harald, suddenly along came Alric the skald, and Hake, the chief of the Berserkers. Yes, oh, joyful Norse myth lovers, our Berserkers are an integral part of this middle grade story. For those of you who mistakenly think all Vikings were barbarians, check out the Viking Answer Lady’s post on berserkergang.

However, the focus of this story is truly on the power of words and tales. Using skaldic poetry and focusing on the oral tradition of storytelling, Matthew J. Kirby has composed a tale of Nordic historical fiction that will be a welcome addition to middle school collections. The storytelling not only complements the action, it compels the readers to sink themselves into this solitary fiordic holding. The story enables our characters and the readers to cope with life, death, fear, and betrayal. Words are powerful. This story is powerful.

Recently I received a donated review copy of Icefall by Matthew J. Kirby from my district office with a note that the book was processed ready for entry into the cataloging system. I wasn’t sure this was an elementary title so I took it home to curl up and read.

Well, okay, I confess that I immediately “had” to read this title because it focuses on Norse mythology. The stories my late grandfather told me that he had heard from his sisters are reflected in the spirit of these tales. My grandfather was the only one of his siblings born in the U.S. after his family moved from Norway. He died when I was only seven, but I can still recall some of the stories he told when my brother and I wouldn’t take our naps. After he died, my grandmother continued telling stories from a wider variety of international folklore. The Norse legends are still dear to me and underappreciated. Schools focus on Greek and Roman myths. Even when the curriculum specifically states the inclusion of the African, Asian, Norse, Native American, Indian, Persian, and Chinese myths, they ignore it.