Ask a kid where their dinner comes from and you might hear, “McDonald’s”. That trend is reversing, however, as more of today’s families are re-discovering the joy of cooking and paying attention to where their food comes from as well as how to prepare it. Cooking with kids is a hot activity right now and an easy way to introduce skills such as reading, math, science, even art.
Tyler Florence, celebrity chef on the Food Network and co-founder of Sprout organic baby food, encourages kids to explore cooking in Tyler Makes Pancakes! Little Tyler and his dog, Tofu, decide to start the day right with a plan to make breakfast for mom and dad. Armed with a list of ingredients they head to the local market. Simply colored stick figure illustrations by Craig Frazier are highlighted by lots of white space and short text which gives a pleasing clean-as-a-chef’s-kitchen flavor to each page. Tyler’s blueberry buttermilk pancake recipe is included so kids can learn to measure and combine ingredients and make a quick and easy meal. A list of interesting food facts will encourage them to learn even more.
The life of Julia Child, doyenne of classic French cooking in the U.S., has had renewed interest in recent years. Minette’s Feast: The Delicious Story of Julia Child and Her Cat, by Susanna Reich, is a charming picture book homage which will delight both children and adults. While Julia perfected her cooking skills, she would prepare a variety of delicacies and offer tastes to little cat Minette, who more often than not, preferred a simpler palette of traditional mouse or bird. This gentle story blends facts from Julia’s life and her various books into a mélange of fact and fiction. Peppered throughout are quotes from Julia’s original letters and a sprinkling of French words and cooking terms. Amy Bates draws the reader in with engaging pencil and watercolor illustrations of multi-colored Minette and charming kitchen and street life scenes in muted tones.
Fitzgerald McGrath is a 15-year-old boy who lives with his mom in St. Paul, plays guitar in a band with his best friend, and has a crush on a pretty red head at school. On the surface, he appears to be an average teenage kid. However, readers soon find out that he has a turbulent, pain-riddled side to his personality, which has progressed to the breaking point. Fitz, by Mick Cochrane is a skillfully crafted novel which explores the impact and consequences of a boy who never had a father.
From childhood fantasies of a loving Dad who watches him from afar, to seething anger toward a man that has never been in touch, the reader easily identifies with Fitz’s anguish. Not knowing anything about his father, other than his once-a-month monetary contribution to the household, has gotten to be too much for Fitz to handle. Taking matters into his own hands, Fitz purchases a Smith & Wesson .38 Special and kidnaps his father. What follows is a day that will forever change both of their lives.
This bittersweet novel establishes characters the reader will completely empathize with, being in turn both hopeful and fearful regarding the story’s outcome. The steady and measured rhythm provides a perfect balance for the intensity of emotion experienced by both father and son. The climax of the story will have people holding their breath. In Fitz’s own words, “It feels like the longest day of his life. It also feels like the shortest” and there isn’t a reader who will want it to end.
Morgan Rhodes’s new teen fantasy novel, Falling Kingdoms, is a fast-paced, thrilling read—a mix of betrayal, secrets, and magic. Mytica, the fantasy land where the novel is set is made up of three kingdoms—Auranos, Paelsia, and Limeros. The kingdoms are very different and as a result, they are held together by a tenuous peace at the start of the novel. Following the murder of a boy from Paelsia by an aristocrat from Auranos, that peace ends, and war becomes imminent. Meanwhile, the novel’s four main characters, Cleo, Jonas, Lucia, and Magnus, become embroiled in the conflict, despite their very different lives.
The novel switches between each teenager’s perspective, telling four different stories that eventually merge into one. Cleo, a princess from Auranos, fights against her royal destiny by fleeing her home in an attempt to find magic. His brother’s death pushes Jonas, a rebel from Paelsia, to fight against those in power. Meanwhile, Lucia, who was adopted as a baby and raised as a princess in Limeros, discovers she is a powerful sorceress and begins to realize the strength of her magic. Finally, Magnus, the heir to the Limeros throne, tries to please his father and king, but at the same time resents him. By the end of the novel, their lives become increasingly intertwined, as their kingdoms fight each other and magic returns in full force to Mytica.
Teen and adult fans of fantasy will enjoy this new series. Falling Kingdoms has elements reminiscent of George R. R. Martin’s fantasy series, A Song of Ice and Fire. Readers looking for something similar will enjoy the vivid world that Rhodes has created, and will look forward to exploring the world more in the novel’s sequel, Rebel Spring, which is set to be released in late 2013.
Some reading experiences are meant to be savored. Jess Walter creates one in Beautiful Ruins, which begins in 1962 at Hotel Adequate View on the Italian coastline. Pasquale Tursi, who runs the hotel, is captivated by the blond woman who arrives at his hotel. She turns out to be a dying American actress, and thus begins a novel that sweeps over decades and contains a cast of captivating characters, all “beautiful ruins” in their own right. In the present day we meet Michael Dean, a film producer who has recently returned to favor with the popularity of a reality television show, and his long suffering assistant Claire Silver, who is in the process of discovering another line of work. Next comes Shane Wheeler who wants to make a pitch to Michael Dean with a screenplay about the Donner party. Other characters include a would-be novelist, a failed musician and a famous film actor. These lives are woven together in an unusual style that includes chapters of novels, film treatments and even a play.
The characters Jess Walter creates are completely realized and finely detailed. The story captures the imagination and you can’t help but care for this motley crew as they try to create something that matters, only to find themselves failing and falling and further affecting all the other lives around them. Although the characters seem separated at the beginning of the novel, the stories begin to intertwine and blend, leading to an incredible crescendo. Thoroughly discussable, this novel is perfect for book groups. Beautiful Ruins will pull you in, capture your heart and will make you reflect on your own life choices.
Books about children in the foster care system tend to be a largely grim bunch. Fiction or fact, they are often filled with requisite accounts of, at best, benign neglect and frequently tell a far more horrifying tale. In her debut novel, Y, author Marjorie Celona explores the concept of family ties that bind both by blood and by choice.
The headline reads “Abandoned Infant: Police Promise No Charges” after a newborn baby is found in the early morning on the steps of the YMCA. The revolving door of foster families grinds into motion as baby Shandi gets shuffled about, her name changed to Shannon and her arm broken by a foster father. As a preschooler, Shannon lands in the loving home of single mother Miranda and her daughter Lydia-Rose who is the same age as Shannon. Miranda’s home is modest and her income small, yet she is determined to form a family which includes loving Shannon as her daughter, as Lydia-Rose’s sister.
Could the story end here? Instead, Celona goes on to explore the effects of abandonment and subsequent feelings of alienation on Shannon as she grows up in Miranda’s home. At the same time, she alternates Shannon’s story with that of her parents and grandparents, revealing the trajectory of events which led up to the morning at the Y. Celona uses Shannon as an omniscient narrator and allows her to completely relate her own story; this includes her search for her “real” parents. At the same time, she is recounting her biological family’s history, chronicling incidents occurring long before her birth. Ultimately, Shannon must figure out what constitutes “family” for her. For more about growing up in the foster care system, try Janet Fitch’s White Oleander or Ashley Rhodes-Courter’s biography, Three Little Words.
Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice remains one of the most popular and imitated classics although it has been two hundred years since its publication on January 29, 2013. Syrie James offers an intriguing addition to the many modern Jane Austen homages with The Missing Manuscript of Jane Austen, which presents a story-within-a-story, both of which will delight ardent fans.
Librarian Samantha McDonough is travelling in Oxford when she stumbles across a letter in an old book of poetry. The letter is from Jane Austen to her sister Cassandra, and describes a manuscript Jane had lost while visiting an estate named Greenbriar in 1802. A missing Jane manuscript could be monumental and Samantha immediately begins researching. Her investigation leads her to the now-crumbling Greenbriar and its owner Anthony Whittaker. The two discover the pages in a secret compartment and begin reading The Stanhopes along with the reader. This purported Austen story introduces Rebecca Stanhope and her rector father, both snubbed by polite society because of a fabricated gambling charge. As Rebecca attempts to restore her father’s good name and discover the nefarious person spreading the lies, she encounters love. James does an excellent job of recreating Austen’s voice and setting and weaving two compelling stories. As the Stanhopes strive to regain their respectable position, Samantha and Anthony are caught up in their growing attraction, yet disagree on how to handle this invaluable treasure.
If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Jane should be pleased as punch, although it is doubtful that she would ever surrender to such vanity. Syrie James is one of a multitude of authors, including P.D. James and Colleen McCullough, who have entries in the Jane Austen assembly. From spunky Bridget Jones to Colin Firth’s (as Mr. Darcy) unforgettable lake scene, Pride and Prejudice remains a touchstone for modern storytelling.
Dog owners will tell you that their dogs are much more than just pets. They are important, beloved members of the family. Two new books examine that love between humans and their canines. For many years, Alison Pace, author of a new book of essays called You Tell Your Dog First, was a dog person without a dog. Then she moved into a dog-friendly apartment building in New York City and found the love of her life—a West Highland white terrier named Carlie. In these essays, Pace shares the ups and downs of her life as a single writer in New York City. She quickly sees that she connects to the world differently once Carlie becomes part of her life. Together, Alison and Carlie weather bad dates and a cancer scare, and they meet some interesting new friends at the park. Pace, who typically writes romantic fiction featuring lovable canine sidekicks, brings warmth and humor to the essays and makes us all long for a loyal pal like Carlie.
Following the success of their popular blog A Letter to my Dog, Robin Layton, Kimi Culp, and Lisa Erspamer compiled a new book called A Letter to My Dog: Notes to Our Best Friends.The book is a collection of photographs of dogs along with letters to the pooches from their humans. Letters from celebrities like Tony Bennett, Oprah Winfrey, Kristin Chenoweth, Chelsea Handler and Robin Roberts are funny, sad, quirky, and relatable. A Letter to My Dog is sure to warm the hearts of dog lovers everywhere.
Do you find it difficult to remember how to solve a differential equation? Do probabilities and statistics drive you up the wall? Is your six year-old’s math homework giving you fits? If so, you may enjoy The Joy of X: a Guided Tour of Math, From One to Infinity by Steven Strogatz, a sophisticated and lighthearted refresher of some of the most basic and some of the most cutting edge mathematical concepts to ever grace our minds (or our bookshelf).
Strogatz starts with the easy stuff—addition, subtraction, the number line—and progressively moves on to more abstract and advanced subjects, like calculus, group theory, and analytics. Using diagrams, literary allusions, and Sesame Street, Strogatz draws you into each topic and before you know it the rather short chapter is over. Presto! You’ve learned something. While this is by no means a comprehensive picture of mathematics, Strogatz simultaneously enlightens and entertains with each successively more challenging chapter. Like a magician willing to share a few choice trade secrets, Strogatz invites us to peek behind the curtain and uncover the mysteries of long forgotten concepts, such as quadratic equations, infinity, and the elusive prime numbers.
The chapters, many of which have been adapted from Strogatz’s New York Times column "The Elements of Math", are brief, accessible, and threaded with his enthusiasm for the topic at hand. This is a fascinating, quick, and approachable read for anyone who would like a math reboot, including parents, the curious, and those interested in discovering what sine waves have to do with Romeo and Juliet’s love life.
When was the day? Most grownups can hardly remember. There is a day for each of us when playing with dolls becomes babyish; when windwhooshing down a hill on your bike – your faithful steed! – can’t offer the mad thrill it used to do; a day when, inexplicably, you seem to outgrow your best friends. For Jack, that day is today.
Newbery Award winner Jerry Spinelli has written an unusual love story. Not a tale of boy and girl, but a tale of Kid and Kid-dom; of Jack and Hokey Pokey. In Hokey Pokey, there are no adults and there are no babies – there are only Kids and all the delicious experiences of being a Kid. For the littlest Newbies and Snotsippers all the way up to Groundhog Chasers and Big Kids, Hokey Pokey brims with the best that childhood has to offer. There, bikes roam wild until caught and tamed by a daring Kid. Boys and girls are mortal enemies, but mortality only extends as far as playing dead. Cartoons can be watched at any time of day and Jack and his amigos share the stuckfast bond of brotherhood. And until today, until things were different, Jack has relished it all.
Bittersweet and oddly restorative, Hokey Pokey will have fully as much as appeal for adults as for its intended middle grade audience. The thoughtful, almost metaphysical chapters will selectively draw in readers who are ready – those readers who are just reaching the outer limits of Kid-dom and those who have traveled far enough beyond to enjoy looking backward. It is a story of remembering what it was all about. It is a story about embracing what comes next.
The 2013 Sibert Medal, awarded by the American Library Association for the “most distinguished informational book for children,” was given to Bomb: The Race to Build—and Steal—the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon, by Steve Sheinkin. This narrative nonfiction book is a compelling historical thriller that follows the behind the scenes science and political intrigue involved in developing and building the world’s first atomic bomb.
Bomb has also been recognized with two other prestigious 2013 Youth Media awards from the ALA. It was named as the only nonfiction Newbery honor book. In addition, it was selected as the winner of the YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults, the first national award that honors the best nonfiction books for teens.
The Sibert Medal Committee also named three Honor Books. Moonbird: A Year on the Wind with the Great Survivor B95, written by Phillip M. Hoose, follows one individual migratory shorebird, a rufa red knot, as scientists gather data in an attempt to understand how he has survived for nearly 20 years. Numerous photographs, maps, and informational sidebars help to draw the reader into this story of science, ecology and conservation as related to this four-once avian.
Electric Ben: The Amazing Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin, written by Robert Byrd, uses a picture book format to deliver both detailed, colorful illustrations of his subject’s colonial life along with a rich narrative. Although Electric Ben makes a good research source, children with an interest in history will be drawn to it as a book to simply enjoy. Titanic: Voices from the Disaster, written by Deborah Hopkinson, provides a fresh look at a topic that never seems to lose appeal. The author engages readers with detailed accounts of the tragedy told in the voices of actual survivors. Historic photographs and copies of primary source materials like a distress telegram sent by the ship’s wireless operator, and the front page of The New York Times from the day following the sinking enhance the narrative.