Monday, April 24, 2017

The Shakespeare Stealer by Gary Blackwood

I wasn't planning to add The Shakespeare Stealer by Gary Blackwood to my blog until after I read the second book of this duo, Shakespeare's Scribe. If you have a young writer or a young actor in your life, they will like these books.

Widge (short for Pigeon) is a young orphan who lives with a doctor who is also a preacher. He teaches Widge to write shorthand so that he can go and steal other preacher's sermons. Widge finds himself purchased by another man who wants him to go to the Globe Theater in London to steal a play by Shakespeare using shorthand.

Widge hasn't been taught right from wrong; he just does what his master tells him to do to avoid a beating, but when he gets to the Globe, things in his world change and he finds himself questioning if what he plans to do is moral.

In the second book, Widge's character grows and he faces new difficulties as the actors must take to the road to avoid the plague. I liked the first book, but with the addition of the second book, things feel complete.

Both stoies show the value of writing and both show much of what goes on behind the scenes of a production. Set in Shakespeare's time, this story will make today's child thankful for modern conveniences, pest control, and medical care. These books have just the right amount of humor, suspense, and intrigue to keep a reader turning pages.

In writing this blog post, I just now discovered that there is a third book in this series, Shakespeare's Spy. Looks like I'll be adding another book to my collection.






Read to a child today even if that child is you. 

Link to our NICU book registry if you'd like to donate books to babies.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Beholding Bee by Kimberly Newton Fusco

I listened to the audio version of Beholding Bee by Kimberly Newton Fusco. Published in 2013, this story is set during WWII.

Bee, the main character, works for a carnival. She is an orphan who lives with a young woman who also works for the carnival. The carnival owner is unpleasant, and Bee faces ridicule and poor treatment because she has a diamond shaped birthmark on her face.

As an adult, I found the first section of the story a bit slow and repetitive, but I think the story works for a younger reader. Bee wants nothing more to do than be invisible and find a home for herself and Pauline, the woman she lives with in the back of a truck.

This story has elements of the supernatural, which the little girl me loves. There are parallels to the story of Heidi. Fusco ties many threads together to create one big story.

The reader will encounter bullying, the loss of loved ones, caring for animals, taking care of others, friendships, WWII, disabilities and the treatment of them during that time period.

I liked the development of Bee's character over the course of the story. She is painfully aware of her face and tries to hide herself behind her hair. She learns how to be brave and stand up for herself. She is teachable and remembers what Pauline and Bobby have taught her as she goes out into the world on her own. As time goes on, you see her begin to rely less on them and more on herself.

She takes good care of her pets. I was glad the author paid attention to how the animals were treated. Bee doesn't always make the choices others may want her to make, but she tries her best, and learns from her mistakes. Although she has had a hard life, she is able to see that others have also faced great turmoil.

As I child, I would have loved reading about a girl who has to find inner strength in order to succeed.


Read to a child today even if that child is you. 

Link to our NICU book registry if you'd like to donate books to babies.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

The Three Musketeers by Alexander Dumas

The Three Musketeers by Alexander Dumas was published in France in 1844. If you liked The Count of Monte Cristo, you will probably like this one as well.

In this epic tale, and young man, D'artagnon, meets three of the King's Musketeers. He is young and easily offended. After he challenges all three of these men to separate duels, they become friends. I'll admit to needing to read sparknotes for the first few chapters in order to figure out what exactly was happening, but after chapter six, I had it down and the story flowed well.

In this novel, Dumas creates probably one of the best villains ever in Lady de Winter. She was so full of manipulations and evil. I only wish we could have known more about her beginnings - what made her so evil?

This book is full of intrigue, friendships, lots of sword fighting, love affairs, and adventure. This book contains more humor than The Count of Monte Cristo, my favorite of the two, but this book is well worth reading.

I listened to the unabridged audio version and enjoyed it greatly.


Read to a child today or allow an audio book to do it for you. 

Link to our NICU book registry if you'd like to donate books to babies.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Hana's Suitcase by Karen Levine - A True Story

Hana's Suitcase by Karen Levine begins in March 2000 when a suitcase arrives at a children's Holocaust education center in Tokyo, Japan. The suitcase is empty, but it has the name Hana Brady, her birthday, and the German word for orphan.

The children who came to the center wanted to know who she was and what became of her. The center's curator, Fumiko Ishioka goes on a quest to find answers about the young girl they have come to care about.

This story goes back and forth from Ishioka's time to that of Hana Brady. This is a non-fiction biography that includes a lot of pictures. Written for children, this is a good book to introduce the Holocaust to younger readers.

I found myself brought to tears by the tender mercies that were shown to Ishioka as she searched for information about Brady's life. She helped the Holocaust mean more to the people of her town because she cared enough to put a face to that lone suitcase.

I was lucky enough to find this book at a library sale for ten cents, but it is worth every penny of the list price. This book would be a great teaching aid in a classroom to help students discover ways to research.

This is a picture of the audio version, but I read the book. I think reading the book would have more impact as the pictures really help the story come alive.

Read to a child today so that they may know how to keep peace in our world. 

Link to our NICU book registry if you'd like to donate books to babies.

Michelle brought more books for the NICU today. Thank you, Michelle. That Rainbabies book is so beautiful.


Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Mick Harte Was Here by Barbara Park

In Barbara Park's short 88 page novel, Mick Harte Was Here, she takes on bike safety. We learn in the first two pages of the book that Mick Harte is dead. What proceeds is his sister's account, older by ten months, of Mick Harte's life and death.

This slim novel carries a lot of emotional weight. The text size is large and there is plenty of white space on the page, which makes this one great for reluctant readers.

Park gets grief correct in this book, but she does a magical thing and makes the reader laugh out loud sometimes in the same sentence or paragraph where she just evoked tears. That takes good writing.

If you have a child who refuses to wear a helmet when they cycle, have them read this book. As Phoebe tries to come to terms with the death of her brother, she longs to make sure that he is not forgotten.

Park even has a part for those left behind and the guilt they feel. Park chooses her words carefully, making this slim little book pack a powerful message.

First published in 1995, this novel is still in print.



Read to a child today even if that child is you. 

Link to our NICU book registry if you'd like to donate books to babies.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Splendors and Glooms by Laura Amy Schlitz

I will readily admit to purchasing Splendors and Glooms by Laura Amy Schlitz just because the cover is completely awesome. I like a good creepy story, and Schlitz did not disappoint.

Published in 2012, Splendors and Glooms is set in the Victorian era. It is the story of Clara, a young girl who seems to have it all: money, good parents, social position, but she lives in a house of perpetual mourning as her four siblings are all dead.

Lizzie Rose and Parsefall are orphans who work for the master puppeteer, Grisini - a man intent on making his fortune anyway he can.

The four characters meet at Clara's house when they come to present a puppet show for her birthday. Later that night, Clara disappears and things get very strange for all three children. Add in a witch for good measure and anything can and does happen.

I'll admit that I read this book too close to bedtime and it kind of creeped me out. The characters are well fleshed out, and I found myself caring about them. Schlitz's descriptions made me feel like I was inside her story. I could picture everything clearly: sounds, smells, sights, and settings. Because she does such a good job of putting the reader into her story, you may want to pass this one by if you don't like macabre stories. If, however, you like a good spine tingling story, this book is for you.

Yes, that is a Newbery Honor medal on the front cover.


Read to a child today even if that child is you. 

Link to our NICU book registry if you'd like to donate books to babies.



Thursday, April 13, 2017

Locomotion by Jacqueline Woodson

Locomotion by Jacqueline Woodson published in 2003 is a story told in poetry format about a boy who lost his parents. The more books I read that are told in this format, the more I feel that this will be the way I ultimately end up telling my story.

I've often been told I should write a book about my life, but I feel there are too many sad things, and no one could handle trudging through it, but when hard things are told in small bits using poetry, they somehow seem easier to digest.

Lonnie C. Motion is the main character in this book. He is living in foster care away from his little sister because their parents have died. His teacher has them write poetry each day facilitating his storytelling.

Jacqueline Woodson is a talented writer. The poetry she wrote to tell Lonnie's story is touching and tender. There is sweetness and sadness throughout this story. In one poem, Lonnie feels an attachment to his adult foster brother and the imagery used will probably always stay with me. His foster brother goes to the park with him and they talk about trees. His foster brother, as he walks with his arm around  Lonnie, says, "You know what I love about trees. It's like . . . I's like their leaves are hands reaching out to you. Saying Come over here, Brother. Let me just . . . Let me just . . ." Rodney looks down at me and grins. "Let me just give you some shade for a while."

As a teacher I like how Lonnie begins to understand himself by telling his story. The act of writing heals and the ability to tell stories gives us freedom, compassion, and understanding.



Peace, Locomotion is book two of this duo and is written as letters to Lonnie's sister from himself. In this story, Lonnie's foster brother has been wounded in the war and his foster mother is very stressed. 

The writing is beautiful and will make you cry as you witness human fear, pain, love, and peace. 

I enjoyed every minute of reading this book, but it felt unfinished. I wanted it to go on longer and tell me more of the story. Both books are worth reading, but I want a book three told in poetry form. 



Read to a child today even if that child is you. 

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander

The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander is the first of a five book series. When this book started, I struggled with it a bit, but Alexander brings in humor and a strong girl character that saves this story.

Published in 1964, this story is set in a fictional Welsh kingdom. Taran, the main character must rescue a pig and warn a kingdom of the Horned King.

In his travels, he learns how to be a good friend and to appreciate the simple things in life. Eilonwy is my favorite character in this story. She is a girl he meets when he has been imprisoned in a dungeon. She is feisty and smart. She doesn't take any garbage from anyone, but she is a person one can count on.

I enjoyed the themes of kindness and friendship that ran through this book - the importance of not judging someone without first knowing and understanding them.



The Black Cauldron is the second book in the series, and this is the book that Disney based their movie on. 

In this installment, the companions head out on another adventure to find the Black Cauldron - the source of all the Cauldron born. The characters are further developed and we get a sense of who Taran will become as an adult. 



The Castle of Llyr is the third book, and so far I think it is my favorite. It would make a really good movie if it done properly. The relationships of the companions strengthen and we learn more about Eilonwy's background and her projected future. 


Angie, I think Isaac will enjoy this series. There are still two books in the series that I haven't yet read, but I will. 

Read to a child today even if that child is you. 

Link to our NICU book registry if you'd like to donate books to babies.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

The Egypt Game by Zilpha Keatley Snyder

The Egypt Game by Zilpha Keatley Snyder was published in 1967 and won a Newbery Honor award. Snyder is a writer who delights and frustrates me. I have loved some of her work and found other books by her not to my liking, but I enjoyed The Velvet Room, so I keep reading her books.

Because I'm an older reader, this book took me back to my own childhood. In this story, April moves in with her grandmother and meets some new friends, Melanie and her little brother, Marshall. They invent a game in an old boarded up lot called The Egypt Game. I felt like I was taken back in time as most of our play as children was imaginative play.

I like that the characters are children of diversity. I like that they have personalities that are realistic. I loved Marshall's octopus, Security. Some of the slang will need to be explained to new readers, but overall, the book aged well.

As the story progresses, a young girl is murdered and April and her friends are unable to play outside for a while as the parents are scared. This story has just enough scare and mystery to make it interesting.


Read to a child today even if that child is you. 

Link to our NICU book registry if you'd like to donate books to babies. If you have a NICU graduate and would like to donate a book and have a special gift plate inside the front cover, just purchase a $5 gift card to our book registry, email me a current picture of your child if you'd like that included. Let me know at what week gestation your baby was born, what weight, and how old your child is now and a little about them. I think this could give hope to those currently in the trenches with their tiny babies when the roller coaster ride gets too intense. Thank you to all who have joined in our efforts to bring the joy of reading to the littlest of babies.

A shout out to my mom, Rolean, she brought me 200 extra large Ziplock bags for our NICU book packets. I use the two gallon bags and they can get pricey, but we are set for a while now. These bags keep the books safe while they are at the babies' bedsides.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Elisabeth by Claire A. Nivola

I am always on the lookout for picture books about difficult topics. As an educator, I find that picture books work well for teen students.  Elisabeth by Claire A. Nivola was published in 1997 and tells the story of a Jewish girl during WWII.

This story is based on the life of the author's mother, which makes it all the more poignant. In this story, Elisabeth is a beloved doll that gets left behind when Ruth's family leaves Germany and can take nothing. Ruth promises Elisabeth that she will come back for her, but of course, she can't come back. The family is safe, but Ruth misses her doll.

This sweet story reminds me of the The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane  by Kate DiCamillo. I won't spoil the ending for you on either book but both are worth reading.

Elisabeth currently out of print, but you can find it on Amazon for a decent price.






Books like this give us a way to introduce hard topics like the Holocaust to young readers. I enjoy using books like this in my classroom with teen readers.

Michelle dropped off another armload of books for the NICU. Thank you, Michelle. Our book project loves when she decides to go shopping or cull her own personal library.


Read to a child today even if that child is you. 

Link to our NICU book registry if you'd like to donate books to babies. If you have a NICU graduate and would like to donate a book and have a special gift plate inside the front cover, just purchase a $5 gift card to our book registry, email me a current picture of your child if you'd like that included. Let me know at what week gestation your baby was born, what weight, and how old your child is now and a little about them. I think this could give hope to those currently in the trenches with their tiny babies when the roller coaster ride gets too intense.  I started this project to honor my own twins who were lost too soon and those of two grandchildren who were lost. What started as a one time donation after I'd gathered books for a year has become an ongoing project. Thank you to all who have joined in our efforts to bring the joy of reading to the littlest of babies.

Friday, April 7, 2017

The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin

The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin is a book about relationships. Suzy Swanson's former best friend has died in the ocean, and she tries to make sense of what happened to her.

During this process we get to see the good, bad, and ugly of adolescent relationships. I like Suzy's character because she is realistic. She does the wrong thing often because I think her mind works differently than most, but she seems real.

When Suzy finds out that many people are stung by jellyfish, she is determined to discover if this might be what killed her friend. She is unwilling to accept that "These things just happen."

This book made me tear up a few times and is worth reading.


Read to a child today even if that child is you. 

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Once Was Lost by Sara Zarr

Once Was Lost by Sara Zarr is a book I saw in a thrift shop but didn't end up buying. I wish I had now that I've listened to the audio version. I will be adding a hard copy to my library.

In this story, Zarr weaves a complicated tale of Sam, the daughter of a workaholic pastor and an alcoholic mother. When a young girl from their church comes up missing, nearly everyone, including Sam's dad, is a suspect.

Zarr does a wonderful job of heightening the suspense factor. I found myself getting knots in my stomach when Sam would find herself alone with different men in the town. Sam struggles to find out who she can trust as her relationship with her father deteriorates.

I don't want to give anything away, but if you like suspense and seeing an author weave several stories together, you will enjoy this book.



Read to a child today even if that child is you. 

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Should I Share My Ice Cream? by Mo Willems

Should I Share My Ice Cream? by Mo Willems is part of the Elephant and Piggie series. This series does not need to be read in any particular order, but each one is wonderful for first readers.

The pages only have a few words on a page. There is a lot of repetition, which helps your little reader gain a sense of accomplishment as they read a fifty to sixty page book.

This series shows the importance of being a good friend. Willems uses humor in all of his books. The illustrations are clean and simple, and each book teaches without being didactic.

This series is a favorite of Angie's kids: Callie, Jace, and Olivia. If you have a child who is struggling with reading, get some of Willems' books. You won't be sorry. The price on his books are quite reasonable as well.


My friend, Michelle, is determined not have a Library of Congress sized library in her home, so she pulled some of her nicer books for the NICU book project. She brought over 35  more books. That means seven more babies get the gift of reading. Thank you, Michelle.

Take a look at these treasures.



Read to a child today and help them start their reading journey. 

NICU book registry

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Safekeeping by Karen Hesse

Safekeeping by Karen Hesse was published n 2012. Hesse not only tells the story, but she also walked the route that Radley takes in her escape from a disfunctioning America to Canada. Hesse took pictures along the way to illustrate Radley's story.

This book has a lot of white space, 90 photographs, and larger text size. These things combined with a 720 Lexile measure and a topic for older teens make this a good hi/low book - just right for readers who are still getting their bearings in the book world.

Radley has flown home from a trip to help orphans in Haiti because the President of the US has been assassinated and the country has been plunged into riots, chaos, and martial law. Radley has not heard from her parents, so she leaves Haiti to find them.

When her plane lands, she finds a very different US than what she left. Her cell phone is dead, her debit card no longer works, people cannot cross state lines without travel papers. As she travels the east coast to her home to try to find her parents, she encounters many dangers.

I read this book in one sitting as I wanted to know what would happen to Radley. The changes in Radley from the beginning of the novel to the end are profound. This book makes me thankful for angels disguised as human who help those in need.



Read to a child today even if that child is you. 

NICU book registry

Monday, April 3, 2017

A Long Way from Chicago by Richard Peck

A Long Way from Chicago by Richard Peck was published in 1997 and won a Newbery Honor medal. If you've ever read the Great Brain books, this book will remind you of that series, except for the manipulative great brain of this book is the grandmother, and she uses her powers for good.

This story takes place during the depression and the narrator is Joey, her grandson. He tells the story of their yearly summer visits to Grandma. The humor of this story will draw you right in. Joey loves his grandma and she is one feisty women. She takes care of those around her and sets things right even if she sometimes has to scheme and cheat a little to make it happen.

Grandma Dowdel is a force to be reckoned with.


Read to a child today and enjoy a good laugh. 

NICU book registry