Cindy & Lynn's Book Reviews and More for Children and Teens
I'm a middle school librarian who embraces books and technology and information in any form. I successfully got the word "cybrarian" listed on the 2000 Lake Superior State College Banished Words list. @cdobrez http://bookends.booklistonline.com
Cindy: I’m not drinking the water at my school anymore. We have pregnant teachers everywhere you look. In addition, my daughter-from-another-mother just delivered twins and has been helping her two-year-old understand what is happening. Do I have the book for all of them…and for anyone you know who has a baby on the way! Nine Months (Holiday/Neil Porter 2019), written by Miranda Paul and illustrated by Jason Chin, promises to be a new favorite for young families.
Many books feature stories about helping an only child adjust to a new baby in the family, but this one features the baby’s development in utero with detailed illustrations paired with the older sister’s related activities through the seasons as they await the new baby. While showcasing sizes from a 0.1mm fertilized egg to a double page spread with an actual size fetus ready to enter the world, rhyming text documents each stage of gestation. In Month Six (Weeks 22-26), when hearing develops, the sister sings to her mother’s belly:
Ears that can hear.
Sing as she listens.
Tell her you’re near.
Caldecott Honor artist Jason Chin is a perfect illustrator for this blend of fiction and science. His watercolor and gouache art bring to life the tiny features of the fetus and the big scenes outside of the womb with equal success. The backmatter is informative and provides extra discussion opportunities. More About Babies provides extra information, Humans vs. Animals compares gestation times, and a What If…section answers what happens in various other baby development scenarios including more than one embryo, early births, and miscarriage. Whoa, Baby! adds a list of 9 amazing things most babies can do before they’re born, including suck their thumbs and somersault. Whoa, indeed!
Cindy: An email from my Scholastic Book Fair rep diverted my spring break reading this year. Would I be able to host an author event with Tommy Greenwald the week I returned from vacation to fill in for another school that had to cancel? Why, yes. Yes I could. I put aside the adult book I was reading (The Library Book by Susan Orlean) and bought a copy of Tommy’s latest book, Game Changer (Amulet, 2019), and read it on the flight home. I already had the book in my middle school libraries, but the attractive cover had kept it in circulation and out of my hands. I’m glad I have the extra copy as this is going to be a popular booktalk next fall.
Eighth grade football player Teddy is hospitalized in a coma after a head injury during a summer training camp. The story plays out in Teddy’s inner thoughts, dialogue between hospital visitors, texts, newspaper articles, counselor transcripts, and a social media online forum. This format exposes truths, rumors, opinions, and secrets as the mystery of what really happened to Teddy is unraveled. Greenwald, a football fan himself, explores the dangers of the sport along with the traditions of hazing in this all too realistic portrayal of how the game is often played. Lots of white space (due to the multimedia format), in addition to the many discussion points and the mystery make this a great choice for reluctant readers. The pages turn quickly as the truth comes to light.
Tommy’s presentation to our 6th-8th grade students was fun. His idea for the Charlie Joe Jackson series came from his three sons, Charlie, Joe, and Jack, non-readers all. As you can see in the photo, he tried to bribe his boys with ice cream. I don’t know if the book (or the ice cream) worked on his kids, but Charlie Joe Jackson’s Guide to Not Reading is popular with legions of middle grade readers. He had our students laughing while also thinking about the writing process. It’s always heartening when kids realize that they are not the only ones who are asked to edit their writing. We didn’t have much time to prepare for the visit, but all of Tommy’s books are in circ now and will be for awhile. Author visits are so beneficial for promoting reading and to remind students that REAL PEOPLE write the books they are reading, or perhaps NOT reading. 😉 Thanks, Tommy!
Cindy: It’s spring break time in Michigan…that season where bathing suits, sunscreen, and sunglasses are flying out of stores as students and their families prepare to clog the I-75 highway to warmer locations that actually have sunshine. I’ve noticed a trend in cover art featuring sunglass clad faces that are ready to join the sunny vacation fun. Pack one of these to read on the beach…or curl up with it at home if you are having a staycation! I’m sure I’ve missed some. Leave a comment if there are others you’ve written, published, or have in your libraries. This would make a great summer book display with some more titles in the mix!
Cindy and Lynn: How are your brackets doing? If you are a participant in the madness, we hope you filled out a Women’s NCAA basketball tourney bracket too! Their games are exciting as well! In the meantime, while you wait for another men’s or women’s game to tip, we are bringing you an interview with debut author Barbara Carroll Roberts. We featured her book, Nikki On the Line, recently but we wanted to know more. Read on for some women’s sports history you can share when you booktalk Roberts’ book.
1. Cindy: We love debut books. It’s fun to read an offering by a brand new author. What has the experience been like for you to BE the brand new author?
Barbara: It still feels a bit unreal. I worked on this book for many years, so to see it on bookstore and library shelves – or even better, in readers hands – is wonderful. The best part has been hearing from young readers who have enjoyed Nikki’s story.
2. Lynn: As I wrote in the review, it is rare to find a book about sports and a female athlete that actually has sports action in it. Nikki on the Line had such terrific and authentic game, practice, and tryout scenes. I also really loved the way you addressed the experiences of juggling practice schedules and homework and that struggle that many star players experience when they move to a higher level team with equal or better players. How did you decide to write a book with a sports focus and what personal experiences guided your writing?
Barbara: I love this question, because when I was trying to find books about girls who play sports for my sports-loving daughter, I noticed the same lack of actual sports action in the very few books I found that had a female protagonist and a “sports theme.” Instead, in most of the “sports books” about girls that I found, the sport was simply a background element of the story.
But my daughter and the other girls on her teams were passionate about playing sports. So I decided to write a book for and about those girls.
Though I didn’t realize it at the time, I began researching this book when I was in high school, playing competitive sports, feeling all the aches and pains of sore muscles and bruises, and juggling homework and family chores. But I also spent many years watching my son and daughter play team sports. Their experiences, and particularly the high levels of competition they faced, inspired much of the action in Nikki on the Line.
3. Cindy: When I booktalk Karen Blumenthal’s nonfiction book about Title IX, Let Me Play (S&S/Atheneum, 2005), my students don’t believe me when I tell them that as a forward playing junior high basketball in the early 1970s I wasn’t allowed to run the whole length of the court. We had 3 defensive players and 3 offensive players on each team that stayed at their respective ends of the court and only 2 guards on each team were able to run across the center line. What memories of playing sports in those days do you have?
Barbara: Oh, I love this question, too! I’ve also seen expressions of disbelief on the faces of young people when I tell them that “experts” used to believe that it was harmful for girls to run the length of a basketball court.
I started playing high school sports in 1970, two years before Title IX was passed. We wore our hideous, one-piece, seafoam-green cotton gym suits for every sport – no actual uniforms. We did play full-court basketball, but our team was only allowed to play in the gym if the boys weren’t using it. All the rest of the time, we had to practice and play outside on the blacktop. I grew up in northern California, so it wasn’t terribly cold in the winter, but it still made me angry that we were treated like second-class athletes.
I didn’t see a lot of changes right after Title IX passed in 1972, though our sports teams did get new gym suits. They were one-piece, pull-on polyester suits with gold and white stripes that snapped at the shoulders. They moved a lot better than our old cotton suits. But they were still hideous!
4. Lynn: The sports is a highlight but you do so much well in this story. I particularly appreciate the depiction of Nikki’s struggles with changing friendships and her relationship with her mother and little brother. Of course, we love the fact that Nikki’s mom is a reference librarian! Both Nikki’s mom and brother are such well developed and wonderful characters! Did you begin writing this story with both these characters so clearly defined or did they evolve as you worked on the book?
Barbara: Nikki’s brother, Sam, first “appeared” to me jumping on his pogo stick, asking a million questions, but he definitely evolved as I got farther into the book. I think the same is true of Nikki’s mom. I wanted her to be someone who wasn’t interested in sports, because I wanted Nikki’s achievements to be all her own, rather than influenced by a “sports parent.” I started out with a clear idea of who she was, but her character certainly developed and deepened as I kept working.
4.5Cindy & Lynn: Did you have a lovely cotton one-piece snap-up jump short gym outfit too?…Female athletes today don’t know how good they have it.
Barbara: I’ll answer that with a photo from my 1972 yearbook. I’m #11 and my sister, Kathleen Carroll Au, is #12. I cut the sleeves off my cotton gym suit to get a little more freedom of movement.
Cindy: What I know about Rap music I mostly learned by listening in the car as I drove my teen daughters to high school each morning a decade ago. I let them pick the music every day—”I Do It for Hip Hop.” Last year I listened to a delightful debate between my middle schoolers and visiting author Jason Reynolds as they quizzed him for his opinion on their favorites. I have some catching up to do! Meanwhile, I can’t wait to add this new picture book, The Roots of Rap: 16 Bars on the 4 Pillars of Hip-Hop ( Little Bee, 2019) by Carole Boston Weatherford to my middle school libraries.
“Folktales, street rhymes, spirituals—rooted in spoken word.
Props to poets Hughes and Dunbar; published. Ain’t you heard?”
So begins Weatherford’s rapping text on a spread that features images of the poets in the clouds and a skeptical black teen staring at the reader. On to James Brown, duel turntables, breakdancing on cardboard sheets, and female rappers like Queen Latifah, while “keepin’ the lyrics real.”
“A generation voicing stories, hopes, and fears
founds a hip-hop nation. Say holler if you hear.”
I’ll be adding this book as a choice in our 7th-grade nonfiction picture book research multimedia project and it makes a great pairing with When the Beat Was Born: D.J. Kool Herc and the Creation of Hip Hop (Roaring Brook, 2013), which we wrote about here. The Roots of Rap is a much-needed picture book to balance against the many featuring jazz and blues artists. It will be a huge hit with its intended early elementary school audience, but all ages will enjoy it as well.
Lynn: I know even less about rap and hip hop than Cindy! My kids were into They Might Be Giants and Barenaked Ladies. So this terrific book was a very welcome introduction/history. Not only is it a real joy to read but I feel like I have a much better understanding of this important musical form. I love Weatherford’s text but I’m blown away by Frank Morrison’s illustrations. (Now that we’re independent again, I’m adding “blown away” as a literary criticism term.)
Morrison’s bold dramatic illustrations use every inch of the pages and practically pulse with energy. Strong colors and unusual perspectives make every page-turn a new treat while expanding the text and evoking the time. DJ Kool leans over the turntable out toward the reader on one 2-page spread while on another page, readers look down from high above at a break dancer surrounded by his audience.
Don’t miss the back matter either. There’s a helpful glossary of terms, a Hip-Hop Who’s Who, and personal notes from both the author and illustrator. This book is keepin’ it real!
Cindy: I have a librarian friend and reviewer who reads ONE book at a time. (I’m looking at you, Reading Rants.) I can’t seem to manage that. I became a librarian, in part, because I couldn’t narrow down a field of study and with librarianship, I could dabble in everything. Perhaps that accounts for why I always have multiple books going at a time. Here are the ones with bookmarks in them currently:
The Prodigy (Macmillan Young Listeners, 2018) by John Feinstein (audio)
There are more adult nonfiction and poetry books that I am sauntering through, but I’m embarrassed enough by this list so I’ll stop. Focus, Cindy. Focus.
Lynn: I’m as bad as Cindy! I usually have multiple books going. I especially like to have a short story collection, essay collection or nonfiction book that I can be working on along with a novel. I love audio books too and I have one audio going in my car and another on my MP3 player that listen to when I’m exercising or doing boring chores. I listen to a lot of youth books on audio but I often use audio to get some adult books into the mix. Here’s what I’m reading now:
Cindy: March Madness is upon us and that always means a basketball book recommendation from Bookends! This year, we are excited to have one with a female player, a rare find, especially one with basketball play as descriptive and exciting as that in Nikki on the Line (Little, Brown, 2019) by Barbara Carroll Roberts. Many players, female and male, will relate to Nikki’s dawning realization that her status as a premier player is on the line as she moves up to an elite club team in 8th grade where she is just one of many talented players. Nikki is forced to find where she fits now, both on the team, and with her friends, along with handling the expense of the team and additional struggles at home and at school with a troublesome genetics-related science project. Roberts not only understands basketball but also middle school girls.
I sat a mean bench on my school basketball team in the 70s
and read lots of basketball fiction featuring boys,
but this is the book I wish had been on my school library shelves.
The scenes at the tryouts, the grueling practices, and the exciting games are full of basketball written by someone who knows the drill. I sat a mean bench on my school basketball team in the 70s, and read lots of basketball fiction featuring boys, but this is the book I wish had been on my school library shelves.
P.S. Go Indiana Hoosiers!!!!
Lynn: One of my pet peeves is a sports book with little sports action, something that happens way too often in sports books featuring girls. So this terrific book has made me very happy! As Cindy says, not only are the game scenes great, but Roberts captures the tryouts, practices, drills, and aching muscles too. Present, too, are the related experiences of the too-intense parents, fierce competition, and the significant expenses of these elite travel teams.
While the sports action was a highlight for me, there are a lot of other elements to admire. The characters are richly developed, especially Nikki, who is struggling to balance school, family responsibilities, and her practice schedule as well as new pressures on friendships and family finances. Nikki’s family is a charming feature and I loved her research librarian mother who is baffled by her daughter’s love of sports and her super high-energy little brother and his pogo stick.
A sweet first crush, the minefield of middle school, and the challenges of evolving friendship provide additional elements that keep the pages turning for readers not basketball-obsessed. This is a dynamite debut and I can’t wait to see what this author does next!