Andrew Norriss serves up a winner with MIKE

Lynn: When book blurbs describe a book as “quirky” I’m a little cautious. Usually that means different and that can be good or bad. That was the case with Mike (Scholastic, 2019) by Andrew Norriss. Not only was “quirky” used but there is that eye-catching but odd cover. What sort of book was I getting? Well, I’m still asking myself that question AND I’m very willing to use the word quirky to describe it. But I’m also here to urge anyone and everyone to read this thoroughly unusual and extremely fascinating book.

The premise is this: teenage tennis prodigy Floyd Beresford’s future is clear: win the Under-18 championship, eventually turn pro, and make lots of money. But in the middle of a pivotal match, an odd boy strolls onto the court disrupting the game. Only it turns out that only Floyd can see him. Dr. Pinner, the kind psychologist, tells Floyd that Mike may be a projection of some unexpressed wish or need and Floyd realizes that he has no interest in tennis and especially no desire to spend his life playing it. Ah ha! But Mike comes back at intervals and sometimes someone else CAN see him and sometimes it involves things Floyd couldn’t possibly know. Who or what is Mike?

Short in length, matter-of-fact in tone, Mike breaks all the rules for a YA book as it jumps into Floyd’s early adult years, keeps kind and caring adults firmly in the story, and expects the reader to come to their own conclusions.

Norriss writes with a light touch creating a story that is easy to read but impossible to forget. He opens doors here that are impossible not to walk through. Charming, satisfying but also open-ended, this is a gem for readers looking for something different…and yes, quirky.

“Dem Bones Gonna Rise Again” – Paleontology Picture Books

Lynn: Kids are fascinated by dinosaurs as librarians can attest just by pointing to the decimated shelves of 567.9s. Today we have two new books that are not only about dinosaurs, they are also about the discovery and excavation of two HUGE and important sets of bones.

The first is Titanosaur: Discovering the World’s Largest Dinosaur (Scholastic/Orchard, 2019) by the two paleontologists, Dr. Jose Luis Carballido and Dr. Diego Pol. It all began on a hot summer day in Patagonia, Argentina, when a gaucho looking for a missing sheep found a large mound with what seemed to be a huge bone. A few months later while in town, the gaucho passed the museum with a dinosaur skeleton on display. He went in and told the two paleontologists that he had found a bone that looked just like those on display. Rushing to the site, Dr. Carallido took one look at the bone and site and knew they had something special.

Using clear accessible language, the authors explain the exciting but difficult task that followed including the careful excavation, examination, preservation, transport, and reconstruction of the enormous bones. The skeleton turned out to be the largest dinosaur bones found so far, a Titanosaur, a dinosaur that weighed over 70 tons in life. The remote site and the size of the bones provided huge hurdles for the team of scientists to overcome.

The illustrations by Florencia Gigena are as stunning as the discovery. Taking full advantage of the oversize format, Gigena’s watercolors fill the pages, providing a wonderful immediacy that also further extends the text. Color photographs are inset on sidebars that provide additional explanations of the events or scientific terms. A jaw-dropping 2-page photograph of the re-assembled skeleton is a splendid finish to this fascinating book. This riveting book is sure to inspire a new generation of paleontologists!

Cindy: Our second book is the nonfiction picture book When Sue Found Sue (Abrams, May 14, 2019), by Toni Buzzeo that unearths the story of Sue Hendrickson’s discovery of the largest, most complete Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton found to this date. Sue’s fascination with finding things began in childhood and she became a collector of curiosities while she fueled her curiosity for learning. This led her on adventures diving in oceans, searching mines, fossil hunting in Peru and finally searching for dinosaur fossils in North Dakota where, after several years, a hunch led her to a cliff where she discovered three backbones. The bones would eventually be excavated and named Sue the T. rex, on display now at The Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago. I visited the museum years ago when the bones were being prepared for the exhibit and it was fascinating to learn about that process. 

An author’s note details some of Henderson’s other scientific areas of expertise as a “self-educated woman of science,” and mentions the dispute over ownership after the T. rex discovery. Diana Sudyka‘s gouache and watercolor illustrations use many natural colors (and even some earth pigments) to bring Sue’s discoveries and adventures to life. This story should inspire other young children to observe carefully and follow their own curiosity wherever it may lead.

 

Bears in the Backyard – Oh My!

Backyard Bears by Amy CherrixLynn: Question: what does a wildlife biologist use to bait a live trap for a bear? Answer: day-old doughnuts! This may sound like a joke but it’s true and it is also only one of many fascinating things I learned in Backyard Bears: Conservation, Habitat Changes, and the Rise of Urban Wildlife (Houghton, 2019) by Amy Cherrix.

As human populations expand into what was once wild territory, more and more animals are now forced to live in close proximity to people. A prime example are the growing numbers of black bears who live in and around the city of Asheville, North Carolina. So far, black bears and the people of Asheville seem to be tolerating each other well but there are many questions about how best to manage this coexistence! 4 wildlife biologists set out to do a 5-year study of Asheville’s urban/suburban bear population. Author Amy Cherrix was invited to come along with the scientists as they carried out their work which included live-trapping bears for assessment and equipping them with radio-transmitters. The opening chapter chronicles the darting of a mother bear and extracting her tiny cub from a den high in a tree!

Packed with fascinating information about bears and human/bear interactions, the focus of the book, as in others in the Scientists in the Field series, is a clear look at the scientists doing this important work and a detailed look at how they carry out their research. Cherrix’s lively text is as captivating as the furry subjects of the research. But make no mistake, as people-tolerant as Asheville’s bears have been, they can weigh up to 700 pounds and be both destructive and dangerous. As Cherrix reports, this study hopes to answer many questions to help with the future of both bears and people.

Cindy: According to the chapter “A World Going Wild,” black bears are not the only creatures making their homes in urban areas. Whether it is leopards in Mumbai, India, wild boars in Berlin, Germany, or less threatening chickens, roosters, and turkeys in many areas, it’s clear that our human environments are encroaching on wildlife and learning to co-exist is paramount. A section in this chapter highlights the problems being caused by the murmurations of European starlings that are an invasive species here in the United States. A flock arrived in my backyard last fall making me think I was in Hitchcock’s The Birds movie

Backmatter includes tips for how to behave in a bear encounter, ways to be bearwise, web resources, glossary, and notes and index. Another fine entry in this stellar series.

Hop to It – Cynthia Lord’s New Rabbit Books

Lynn: Things are really hopping at Newbery Honor author Cynthia Lord’s house. As proof, we offer her two new enchanting books that both feature rabbits. They also happen to have the most enticing and adorable covers EVER! In fact, we think all you’ll have to do to promote these is to set them face out on the shelf and stand back. And, since you may never get much chance to read them once the kids see them, here’s what is happening inside those covers.

Lord and her family foster rabbits rescued by Maine’s Cottontail Cottage Rabbit Rescue. They help rescued domestic rabbits learn to trust humans and live in a house so they can be adopted. In her new nonfiction picture book, Borrowing Bunnies: A Surprising True Tale of Fostering Rabbits (Farrar, 2019), Lord tells the story of when two Netherland dwarf rabbits joined the family. Lord’s husband, professional photographer John Bald, decided to photograph their steps toward adoption. It was quite a surprise when one of the rabbits gave birth to four tiny babies. Sadly two of the babies died but the remaining two, Fezzi and Dodger, prospered.

The book introduces the original two rabbits, explains what fostering is and how rabbits are helped to feel safe and comfortable. The story then documents the surprising arrival of the babies and follows their growth and development. Lord uses clear simple text suited to young readers, focusing on rabbit behavior.

The wide format and white background provide the perfect format for John Bald’s enchanting photographs of these irresistible creatures. And if all this cuteness wasn’t enough, charming sketches from illustrator Hazel Mitchell skip through the pages. What reader will not instantly yearn to add a rabbit to their family immediately? Happily, Cynthia Lord was well aware of this and has provided an important final page titled, ” Do You Want Your Own Rabbit for Keeps?” Here she emphasizes the need to do additional rabbit research and offers 5 important questions to answer before becoming a bunny owner.

Cindy: The cover art drew both Lynn and me to Lord’s fiction title, Because of the Rabbit (Scholastic, 2019) and it’s sure to attract young readers. Each chapter opens with a torn scrap of lined paper with a rabbit fact, which also coordinates with the focus of the story in that chapter. Emma’s homeschooling is coming to an end as the book opens. It’s the night before she is off to start 5th grade at a public school and she is nervous about finding a friend and setting a good first impression. Her school supplies are ready, but is she? That night she accompanies her game warden father to rescue a bunny caught in a fence. When they do, they discover it’s not a wild rabbit that can be released, but a pet breed that may have an owner looking for it. Emma convinces her dad that they should take it home to foster until they can find the owner. In addition to bunny wrangling, Emma gets paired with a boy named Jack for a big project. He is on the autism spectrum and friendship doesn’t come easily. As a storyteller, I really enjoyed the integration of trickster bunny Monsieur Lapin’s tales that Emma recounts from her grandfather’s storytelling. Lord writes books that children connect with, and this one will find a ready audience.

Publisher’s Weekly published a Q&A with Cynthia Lord earlier this month that will interest readers who want to know more about Lord’s fascination with bunnies and other animals and her personal experiences that informed her storytelling.

We’re Not From Here

Lynn: Years of working in a middle school library have taught me that if you want to talk to students about serious issues you have to get and keep their attention first. Geoff Rodkey clearly gets that important fact. Author of the New York Times bestselling Tapper Twins series, Rodkey’s new book, We’re Not From Here (Crown, 2019) takes on timely issues but in a way that is sure to captivate young readers and crack them up even as it gives them much to think about.

We're Not From Here by Geoff RodkeyEarth has been made unlivable and the few who escaped are clinging to survival on the Mars station as food, supplies, and breathable air are running out. Told by 6th-grader Lan, a nick-of-time invitation arrives allowing these remaining humans to settle on the distant Planet Choom. Twenty years in stasis travel later, the human ship arrives only to be told that the government of Choom has changed its mind. Reluctantly, Choom officials agree to a test case—one “human reproductive unit” will be allowed to settle temporarily. Lan’s family is chosen with the future of humanity riding on their shoulders. “No pressure!”

Rodkey knows his audience and this dark-edged story is packed with the sorts of elements and humor perfectly tuned to young readers. It turns out the mosquito-like Zhuri express emotion by emitting odors. Imagine where middle-school senses of humor will go with THAT concept! The Zhuri also love slap-stick comedy and cheezy videos and Lan is an expert on these. Lan’s chatty breezy tone is the perfect vehicle for this extremely funny science fiction tale. Both the humor and the suspense will keep readers turning the pages eagerly and they won’t miss the important issues along the way. Rodkey puts kids squarely in the worn-out shoes of these human immigrants, allowing them to view immigration, refugees, news manipulation, mob violence, discrimination and more from a whole new perspective. Head, heart, and funny bone are all involved in this imaginative, out-of-this-world tale.

Rodkey has some excellent resources available on his website including an interview about the book with the Nerdy Bookclub, a wonderful teacher’s guide, the opportunity for a free Skype visit and more!

Fate or Chance? Two New Books Explore What Happens Because…

Lynn: Do you believe in fate or coincidence? Maybe you think it’s a divine hand at work, or pure coincidence or perhaps there really is a touch of magic loose in the universe. No matter which way you lean, these are fun concepts to play with, especially in books. Early 2019 has brought us two delightful books that will get kids wondering about fate, magic, and connections.

A Drop of Hope by Keith CalabreseFirst up is a charming debut middle school book, A Drop of Hope (Scholastic, 2019) by Keith Calabrese. Take a town down on its luck, a boy new in town who has made his dying grandfather a promise, a girl whose family has come unglued, and a boy who secretly does chores for his neighbor. Add the town legend of a wishing well, a chance eavesdropping, and a spur-of-the-moment decision and watch what can happen to an entire town from one act of kindness.

Calabrese’s intricate plot traces the ripple effect of seemingly unrelated actions and individuals on the fortunes of an entire town. It’s a little like watching a Rube Goldberg invention: wacky, convoluted, highly entertaining, and it leaves you cheering at the result. There is a large cast of characters to keep track of but Calabrese manages to give them all a separate voice and readers will care about them all. Told in short individual vignettes, the story moves quickly, gaining speed as the connections begin to multiply.

I was given this arc at ALA and the publisher rep said it was a story of “hope that wasn’t cheezy,” and she was so right! It’s also a story of the mysterious forces that connect us all. Give this to a good reader looking for something really different.

Cindy: Because a 4th grader was ahead in her work and because an elementary school librarian gave her jobs and because the girl had a hard time choosing between many subjects she loved, she became a librarian so she could dabble in them all. And over time, because she worked very hard, and she was lucky, she was chosen to serve on award committees and to review and blog for Booklist magazine. Because of that, books like Because (Hyperion, 2019) by Mo Willems and Amber Ren arrive on her doorstep waiting for her to read and promote. Mo writes the “score” here, telling the story of how chance, fate, coincidence, passion, hard work, and serendipity and, yes, perhaps a touch of mystery, results in a young girl finding her passion in a career as a musician and conductor. Amber Pen provides the “performance,” the illustrations, to this moving story of how small moments can result in life-changing opportunities. A colorful trail of musical notes winds through the pages that start and end with musical scores. The opening piece is Franz Schubert’s Symphony no. 8 in B-minor, and the closing piece was composed for the book by Hilary Purrington. Have a listen.