Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Day of the Pelican by Katherine Paterson, as reviewed by Atlas

A slight departure in setting for Paterson, whose books usually take place in the United States (especially Vermont), or in Japan, this story follows an Albanian family in Kosovo. Paterson fits a lot into 144 pages, beginning with a strong taste of the culture, gender roles, political atmosphere, and education opportunities of Kosovo in the late 1990's. Tension builds quickly as the Lleshi family goes from debating leaving their relative comfort and security to being penniless, homeless, and in fear for their lives.

Even after the family comes to the United States, where they are at least safe from bombs and genocide, they face struggles of a different kind. Everyone has difficulties with the language and customs of their new home (try to explain "Hell-oween" to your father when only bad people wear masks, and begging for candy would bring shame to your family). They miss their families back in Kosovo. Work is as hard to find as the ingredients for the foods they are used to. Then the attacks of September 11 happen, and the tentative friendships the children have been forming at school seem to fall apart under some vicious attacks.

While the sequence of events is by all means realistic, it did make it hard to identify where the climax of the story would be. The aftermath of the 9/11 events paled in comparison to some of the family's earlier trials, and it was a bit white-washed in that only the children behaved badly - the adults all acted like adults. Most of the main characters do reach some sort of personal epiphany towards the end, and I suppose one could say that's how life is - a series of major and minor events - but it left me feeling I was missing something.

Overall, however, I enjoyed the book, and was pleased to see such a great author turn her hand to an area we don't have many books about. Click on the book cover to add this one to your library.

Banned Books Week post from Laurie Halse Anderson

We admit it, we are lazy sometimes. You're surprised? You haven't tallied the hours we spend sitting under the sunlamp every day? Besides, when a great author like Laurie Halse Anderson comes out with a post including just about every possible link you could want on a subject, why reinvent the wheel?

Laurie Halse Anderson on Facebook

And a P.S. to adults who would like to ban books like Speak: IT HAPPENS. Deal with it, don't hide it!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009


Our apologies for the lateness of yesterday's post, and an explanation. It seems Freaky was a bit unnerved by all the recent fame and attention, and dug himself a hole under a rock. Under the water. Where he got stuck. We aren't sure exactly how long he was wedged under there when the humans came around and discovered him, but he didn't look too good. All is well today, though, and he is back in the tank, swimming around as if nothing ever happened. If you ever want to know all about resuscitating turtles, ask Miss Ami!

The whole incident brought up another topic we get asked about a lot: death of a pet. Never a fun subject to discuss, but a good book can help provide some answers or comfort to little ones. None of these are new, but they are favorites we recommend often.

The first part of this book deals with the boy's cat getting old and dying, and how sad he is. The adults around the boy try several things to help him feel better, which may be a little over the top - we're not sure kids should expect their entire class to draw pictures for them when their pet dies. The second part of the book deals with a new kitten coming into the house, and there is much discussion of the differences between the old cat and the new. We like this part, because at first the boy only sees that the kitten isn't doing the things he liked in his old cat, but then learns to notice funny or smart the new kitten does. Obviously not a book for families who aren't planning on replacing the old pet any time soon!

Simple rhymes, again beginning with a much-loved cat growing old and dying, and how the boy feels afterward. Mam's assurance that "his spirit is forever", and the boy's statement, "you're always in my heart" can be interpreted and explained further by parents to fit their particular beliefs.

We're sorry there isn't a picture available, because this book is illustrated in beautiful, warm oil paintings. An old book, but sometimes those are the best! At a first grade reading level, this is one many children can read alone, which may be what they need. A dog this time, it starts off right away with the old dog's death, and goes into the things the boy misses doing with him. It ends with the father bringing home a new puppy - apparently on the very same day, which we do not recommend - but on the whole, a very sweet book.

This is actually one we hesitate to recommend, for several reasons. We include it because the Mog books are so popular (and rightfully so), but there are some parts of this book parents might not be happy with.

It begins with Mog feeling so "dead tired" that she decided "to sleep forever." Small children might later become concerned when Daddy says he is dead tired, and wants to go to sleep! Mog sticks around as some sort of ghost cat, watching the family and then helping out when a new kitten enters the scene. This might not sit well with some parents' beliefs. Not reason enough not to get the book, of course, but something to keep in mind depending on how well you know a particular patron.

We know there are several other good books on this subject out there, and we would love to hear your favorites. Post a comment, and we will add a link to this blog entry. As for us, we will be watching Freaky like a hawk for a few days!

- Atlas and Yoda

Monday, September 28, 2009

Nonfiction Monday, Guest Review, AND Series Review: Let's Work It Out from PowerKids Press, as reviewed by Ami

As I work in a public library, I often get requests from both parents and teachers for books on dealing with specific issues - bullying, making friends, and sharing are big ones. I recently received a dozen or so titles from this series that should fit the bill nicely.

The series has three authors involved; Rachel Lynette, Julie Fiedler, and Jonathan Kravetz. Some differences are obvious among the three. Lynette's start off with a situational story and asks a question such as, "How do you think that made her feel?" or "Do you think that was fair?" Fiedler and Kravetz, on the other hand, begin with a brief definition of the problem at hand (teasing, jealousy, etc.)

As a former teacher, I like Lynette's approach better. For the teacher or parent wanting to lead a discussion, the opener is right there. For the child who has just been given the book to read alone (although that seems like a cop-out on the adult's part to me), the beginning at least makes everything following feel more personal, rather than like a lecture.

Other than the beginnings, however, the books were very similar, and I appreciated how thorough and well-balanced they were. How to Deal with Competition, for example, pointed out that competition can be a good thing, and explained when it is and isn't. How to Deal with Fighting differentiated between fighting and simply disagreeing. We can probably all think of some adults who need to be reminded of those differences!

I loved some of the photographs that went with these books, and can imagine the fun they must have had getting some of them. Check out the cover for How to Deal with Anger:

You could have some fun with your kids asking them to show you their Angry/Jealous/Secret face!

A nice glossary and index round out the books, and rather than list a few web sites that will immediately go under, PowerKids gives a link to their home page which then has up to date addresses. Smart!

A great series to have in the school or public library.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Freaky-Big Airplanes by Meish Goldish, as reviewed by Freaky

I know Yoda usually does the nonfiction, but a) this one has my name in it! and b) like most readers my age, I love hearing about the extremes in anything.

This book is part of Bearport's "World's Biggest" series, which also includes books about roller coasters, earthmovers and trucks.

Freaky-Big Airplanes is packed with plenty of interesting records and factoids without being too wordy. I thought it was pretty cool how the Boeing Dreamlifter is hinged so it can swing open. That woud be pretty neat to see in person! The Airbus Beluga sure does look like a beluga whale, too - nicely illustrated with side by side photographs.

All of the photos do a great job of trying to convey the hugeness of these aircraft, starting with the giant nose of what I think is the Dreamlifter coming at you from the front cover. Each entry is just two pages, taken up mostly by pictures, with the basic stats (length, height, wingspan, and maximum takeoff weight) at the top, followed by 2 or 3 paragraphs of text and a side box with a little more information. Very accessible for the reluctant reader.

Despite the short length of the book (24 pages), there is still a nice pictorial glossary, a page with additional big aircraft, index, bibliography, and suggested reading/web sites. Can you write a major report with this as your only source? No. Might it inspire a reader to pick up another book and find out more? Definitely!

Follow the link to check out Freaky Big Airplanes and the rest of the series.

Thank-you to Bearport for the review copy!

Friday, September 25, 2009

Fall Into Reading Challenge 2009

After years of organizing and helping with reading programs for kids and adults, we are excited about just being participants in one. We like this one because we can choose our own goals (although Freaky still wants to know if we will get stickers and pencils along the way...we will try to explain it to him again later).

If you aren't familiar with the blog Calapiddar Days or Fall Into Reading, check in at the following link:

She makes it easy enough for even us computer-illiterate neophytes to join in!

Our book list for the fall is mostly juvenile/young adult fiction:

The Last Newspaper Boy by Sue Corbett (does it count if we are already on page 26?)
Darkwood by M.E. Breen
The Day of the Pelican by Katherine Paterson
Cryptid Hunters and Tentacles by Roland Smith
The Outlandish Adventures of Liberty Aimes by Kelly Easton
Forest Born by Shannon Hale
William S. and the Great Escape by Zilpha Keatley Snyder
The Magician's Elephant by Kate DiCamillo

and...confession time...we are finally going to at least start the Eragon series. I know, I know, everyone else in the world has read them - just don't ask us how many years it took us to start reading Harry Potter! I think sometimes we get so tired of people telling us we "have to" read something, we develop a dislike for it without cracking the spine. We did, of course, love the HP series, and the Twilight books which we have finally read, so it's time to give these our attention as well.

8-11 books - that's totally doable, right? So why do we feel like we are tempting fate by making such a short, 'easy' list? Time will tell! Now click on the link and add your own goal for the fall.

Thursday, September 24, 2009


We just wanted to pass on this video contest that may be of interest to some of our readers (and yes, Twilly dudes, we mean you). We do recommend actually READING the book before you make your video (notice how that is 25% of your score?) Good luck!

The Unfinished Angel by Sharon Creech, as reviewed by Atlas

I have to admit, I have never been a huge fan of Sharon Creech. I don't DISlike her books, and I can see that they are good, they have just never grabbed me. Until this one!

I had no intention of reading this book next, but as books come in I always skim the jacket covers. This one reads:

Peoples are strange!

The things they are doing and saying - sometimes they make no sense. Did their brains fall out of their heads? And why so much saying, so much talking all the time day and night, all those words spilling out of those mouths? Why so much? Why don't they be quiet?

If your brain didn't automatically slip into an Italian accent there, go back and reread it that way. I'll wait....

Okay, now you are ready to read the rest of the book - which I did in less than an hour! The jacket cover led me to read the first chapter, and it all moved so quickly, I was done before I knew it.

The book is narrated entirely by the title character, an angel very much unlike any I've encountered in stories, but quite likeable. As puzzled as he is by humans, he is attached to them, and while unsure of what his exact mission might be, he feels compelled to help the people in his little village in small ways. When a strange American girl by the name of Zola appears, she turns his quiet existence (and that of the village) upside down.

I don't often like books written in colloquialisms, but this one is neither too heavy-handed nor cutesy. My favorite line, from pg. 127: "My foot is in my ear and my head is floating away. I am not knowing anything." I have no idea what that means, but I think I have felt the exact same way.

Another exchange between the angel and Zola shows some of the gentle philosophical questioning in the story:

"Well, it is peoples, you know. Peoples are not going to live a million years."

"Well, then, what am I supposed to be doing?"

Again, nothing heavy-handed, but a nice balance between a simple story (with, yes, a somewhat predictable outcome), and a little what-is-our-purpose pondering. My only question is who I will recommend this to - the easy reading and short chapters make it a possibility for reluctant readers, but the content speaks more toward introspective types. I will try it out on a few of our regulars and let you know what they think! To try it for yourself, follow the link:

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Squire's Quest by Gerald Morris, as reviewed by Atlas

Oh, help! One of the greatest perks of working (or living) in a library is getting to put your name in first for new books. Until they all come in at once, and you have to make decisions. What do I read first? The newest by Katherine Paterson, Zilpha Keatley Snyder, or Shannon Hale? The Magician's Elephant by DiCamillo? Tentacles, by Roland Smith? Gerald Morris easily trumps them all, however, and I read this entire book in one sitting.

If you have not read any of the Squire's Tale series, get thee to the library and start! Make sure to begin at the beginning (The Squire's Tale), or you will miss half of what is happening.

I have described the series before as a clean Monty Python, but that really doesn't do it justice. Morris, a huge fan of and expert on Arthurian legend (and a Baptist minister), has created a fantastic web of stories centered around some of the lesser-known characters (like Squire Terence), while including very human portrayals of Arthur, Gawain, and the like. The books are HYSTERICAL - imagine the looks you get when people hear loud braying laughter coming from a turtle tank! It is impossible to explain why you are laughing, though, unless you read an entire chapter aloud.

The Squire's Quest does have its dark moments, and even more soul searching than the last few. A great book, and series, for the 'thinking' kids - those who read all of Madeleine L'Engle's books, not just A Wrinkle in Time, or fans of The Giver and its companions. Some strong female characters and some absolute nitwits, men of courage and integrity, and...well, more nitwits. Fantasy and magic, history and legend. Each book has it all, and this ninth installment was in no way a disappointment. Except that, now it's over, and I have to choose from the rest of that pile...

or to start the series:

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Curious Garden by Peter Brown, as reviewed by Freaky

I will happily admit to being biased toward this book from the beginning. I am a big fan of any book that advocates greening things up. As a turtle, I enjoy a nice rock in the hot sun as much as the next guy, but then I want to go swimming and hide in some greenery, know what I mean? Living in southern New Mexico it drives me absolutely CRAZY when people plant rocks because they are too lazy to water their grass. Don't they know that just makes everything hotter???

Rant and bias aside, this is an absolutely delightful book, based at least partly on real life. A little boy named Liam discovers a few tiny plants struggling to survive on an abandoned railway, in a dark, dismal city. He decides to help the plants in their quest for survival, and things literally blossom from there. Kids will enjoy tracing the path of the railway through the town, and comparing before and after scenes. Hopefully, the fantastic illustrations will also inspire kids (and their grown-ups) to find a spot they can green up themselves. Very much recommended for any bookshelf!

For a similar book, and another of my favorites, try:

Monday, September 21, 2009

Series Review: Rosen's Volcanoes of the World by Kathy Furgang, Reviewed by Yoda

This series was [ublished several years ago, but really, do volcanoes ever get old? The dramatic photographs and illustrations - fire coming from the title lettering, lava dripping down the pages - are sure to grab the attention of some of those hard-to please boys.

While there is some necessary overlap of information in each book (i.e. how a volcano is formed), it is presented in a slightly different manner each time. This was nice to see, as they probably could have got away with just reprinting a few paragraphs in each book. The glossary at the end is simple and clear. Unfortunately, we found most of the web sites given after the glossary are no longer available. This is one of the perils of including web sites - by the time your book is published, the list is out of date, and as we mentioned, these were published a while ago. A quick search found us these cool sites, though:

follow this link to webcams of some of Alaska's volcanoes!

General volcano information/FAQs

To order this series for your library, follow this link:

A side note: while the ISBNs on Amazon's listings are the same as the copies we have, the front cover does not look the same. We think the ones we have are more attractive, though!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Series Review: Rosen's Library of Intergenerational Learning, Native Americans. Written by E. Barrie Kavasch, reviewed by Yoda.

I was looking forward to reading this series, but after my disappointment from ABDO (3T News and Reviews: Series Review, Native Americans by ABDO, reviewed by Yoda), I was a bit apprehensive. No worries! These simple but delightful books have none of the same issues.

Each of these six (so far - I hope there will be more!) books alternate between young children and elders, often relatives, in the same tribe. They tell mostly about their everyday life, ways they try to retain their unique culture, and how their families interact with each other.

These would not be very useful for a report on the history of any Indian nation, and are rather vague about location, government, etc. They would be wonderful, however, for imparting a general sense of how children in Native communities are special and at the same time just like every other kid. (Loving pink seems to be pretty universal among all little girls!)

The pictures are wonderful, and add to that theme. You have to love the image of two Crow in full regalia on a souped-up three-wheeler! I have to admit, we were especially tickled by "Apache Children and Their Elders Talk Together". We have found most books about the Apache focus on the northern bands, but this one is entirely about the Mescalero Apache. We have some close ties to that particular reservation, and were eager to see if we recognized any of our patrons. No such luck, but still an enjoyable - and, thankfully, accurate - read.

The only criticism I have of the series is the inordinately high number of pronunciation guides included in the text. It was very distracting, and as most of these books are written at a 4th grade reading level, unnecessary (your 4th grader can't read the word "rodeo"? Seriously?) Rosen usually puts those in the back of the book, in their glossaries, and they really should have followed suit this time.

Other than that, a very nice series, and one we hope to see more of soon. To order yours:

To learn more about the Mescalero (not that we are biased or anything), go to:

Mescalero Apache Home Page

Thursday, September 17, 2009

It's Raining, It's the Library

Not good. The deluge that flooded much of town last night overloaded our old ceiling as well, right over such unimportant authors as Eric Carle and Lauren Child. As turtles, we think all that excess water is great, but apparently it's not such a good thing for books.

Quick action on the staff's part saved a great many books from being ruined, but come morning we were faced with very squishy carpet under what was becoming very squishy wood shelves. We (and by we, we mean we watched the YA Librarian and Custodian) moved three ranges of shelves to the program room - then made quick signs cancelling programs - then dismantled shelves, extracted water from carpet, and answered the same questions twelve times from the patrons who missed the cancellation signs.

Well, we needed to shelf-read anyways, right? And hadn't we talked about painting those walls? Always try to look on the bright side. While holding your breath, because that carpet smells worse than the teens' feet did Tuesday night.

Hopefully, tomorrow we will be back on track with some new reviews. In the meantime, a side note to all those publishers we have been contacting about review copies: this would be a REALLY good time to send us your surplus picture books. Especially if the author's last name starts with a "C".

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Pirate Party Follow-Up

Well, it doesn't take much to bring out the pirate in some people. Our teen event last night was a definite success, even if there was a bit of cheating going on. Then again, is it really cheating if you didn't think to make a rule against something? Or is it simply getting into the piratical spirit?

We ended up with three rather than four ships, which turned out to be helpful later. The kids split themselves by gender, which always seems to happen when there is any sort of competition involved, then three girls jumped ship together. We had to give extra time for the flags because they were having so much fun, but ended up with a very colorful flag from the "Chicks Ahoy", a heart with daggers from the larger group of girls, who may or may not have been having some issues, and from the boys...ah, the boys.

Our boys are so far from thinking inside the box, they have no clue there is a box (did we mention they are mostly home schooled?) We had put some basic art supplies on the tables and told them to use "whatever is on your table" to make a flag. Of course, we had also put a plastic tub with a skull on the table, to serve as their treasure chest for later activities. Which, in the boys' mind, made it fair game. When we meandered over to see how they were doing, one pirate was gluing graham cracker sticks (they were on A table...the snack table...) to the outer rim. Another was cutting slits in some drink cups and gluing others together in towers, while other pirates were rolling construction paper into tubes. Not content with making a mere flag (which, Adam, was incredible in itself), they built an entire ship! Here is where we wish we could provide pictures, but we decided in the end not to set the precedent of posting kids' photos on the site. Next time, we'll get some of just the finished projects!

We finally moved on to the treasure hunt, which as we hoped inspired some lively discussion of why this book or that might have been challenged. This brought us to the jewel hunt, meant to celebrate the pirate's willingness to do anything for treasure, and his smelliness. The teens did not disappoint in either respect (note to self for next year: air fresheners). They were quite willing to take their shoes off and start collecting gems, and we made clear that only feet could be used.

What we failed to specify was HOW their feet should be used. It took about three seconds for the boys to figure out they could kick a lot more jewels than they could pick up, and the girls quickly followed suit. You can imagine the pandemonium - too bad there is no video, it started looking like a little pirate jig, with everyone hitching up their pant legs and kicking out with both feet! Then the girls started trying to steal from the boys' treasure chest, while the boys tried to block, and we had a combination soccer-dance-Twister thing going on for a few minutes.

We must say, they were very good about picking up the extraneous jewels from around the room while we counted those that actually ended up in the treasure chests. The boys won that one, despite the girls' attempts at thievery, and everyone went home with more than enough candy to make them happy (their parents may be a different story).

One idea we already have for next year: we will have each team build their own ship outside, out of newspaper, then supply each team with cannonballs (black water balloons). We haven't decided if we will also rig up some sort of catapult or just have them lob them at each others' boats, but the winners will be those whose boat is the least wrecked at the end. We'd love to have more ideas to, borrow, so let us know what is going on in your corner of the ocean!

***Aha! We were able to crop the kiddos out and at least get you a visual of Adam's great artwork:

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Ahoy, Mateys!

And Avast, and Arr, and all those other great words beginning with that particular vowel. As our title does say NEWS and reviews, we thought this was an appropriate week to include a little of the former.

If you don't immediately know what is so exciting and newsworthy about this week, we are amazed, appalled, and aghast, but will attempt to advise you with some alacrity (ain't the thesaurus grand? er...amazing?). This Saturday is, of course, International Talk Like a Pirate Day, that fun-filled holiday for young and old that began in a backyard and leapt to the international scene with the assistance of one of our all-time favorite authors, Dave Barry.

There is still time for your library to cobble together a quick display of pirate books, or for your kids to plan a backyard treasure hunt this weekend (and for you older folks...well, as this is a family-type blog, we will refer you to for some inspiration!) Our library likes to pair it up with Banned Books Week - books being treasures, of course, and challenged books being buried treasures...get it? Okay, we never claimed to be wits.

Tonight our monthly Teen Cafe will of course be pirate themed. As we type, there are already teens changing into pirate garb in the restrooms for our costume contest. The meeting room is set up with four 'ships' (tables). The teens will divide themselves into four teams of pirates (numbers are flexible) and begin by designing a pirate flag. Judging from some of the artwork and Youtube videos we have seen in the past, these could get interesting.

We will then have a scavenger hunt through the library, finding books on the most challenged lists. (See what we did there? In one move we have a) kept the kids busy with minimal effort on our part, b) made the event book-related to satisfy the crotchety old folks, and c) made someone else pull all the books for our Banned Books Week display. Are we good, or what?)

Finally...and here is where Miss Ami, the YS Librarian, is showing she is running out of ideas...we will explore some of the less desirable characteristics of pirates. Namely, their willingness to do anything for a bit of treasure, and their...smell.

Yes, pirates are not known for smelling terribly pretty, and frankly, neither are teenage boys. We are going to strew the floor with jewels (colored stones), which they must pick up and carry back to their ship, where they will be exchanged for candy. Oh, but they must be picked up and carried the entire way with...their toes. What can we say, it's easy, it's silly, and we have a very forgiving group of teens, who will do just about anything for food.

Speaking of food, we have of course grog (varying sodas), cannonballs (Whoppers and I don't know how to do the little trademark thingy, but you know it is), sea salt and vinegar chips, wooden legs (pretzels), planks (graham cracker sticks), eye patches (fudge Oreos), gold doubloons (flavored rice cakes), and our token healthy snack, scurvy salad (cut up Granny Smith apples and limes. Five bucks says the boys do strange things with the limes, and I end up taking apples home to the guinea pig.)

If we can get parental permission, we will try posting some pictures. In the meantime, let us know what you have planned for the big day, or if your mother/husband/boss is a spoilsport, just give us your favorite piratical quote from book or movie. More to come later!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Guest Review: A Lion Called Christian by Anthony Bourke and John Rendall, as reviewed by Joylyn

Back in the 70’s, two young men from Australia traveled to England. While in London, they did all the tourist attractions, and one day, after visiting the Tower, they decided to go on to visit Harrods the legendary store, where you could supposedly be supplied with any request. (One such request for a camel was parried with the question by the store representative, “Would that be with one hump or two, sir?”) While at Harrods, they checked out the pet department, and fell in love with one of the lion cubs on display.

They ended up buying him, naming him Christian, and spending the next few months in caring for him, dealing with all the obstacles that came with having a pet lion, and worrying about what would become of him when he grew too big to keep as a pet. By extreme good luck, they connected with two of the stars of the movie “Born Free”, who were interested in returning exotic animals to their natural habitat, especially lions.

This book covers the months in London, the weeks in Africa with George Adamson, who agreed to form a man-made pride including Christian, and also the two later visits the two young men made to see if Christian remembered them.

This is a gripping book, with a large selection of black-and-white and colored pictures, and an easy style that is informing and entertaining.

And for a tear-jerking video of Christian and his humans:

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Read It, Don't Eat It by Ian Schoenherr, as reviewed by Freaky

Librarians, don't you hate it when you come across a great book, three days too late for a program? We had a passle of Kindergarteners in Thursday, and this one would have been perfect.

In simple rhymes and huge print, Schoenherr reminds children (and adults) how to take care of their books. A collection of lively, brightly colored animals illustrate each facing page (I loved the horrified bear on the cover...and the guilty look on the raccoon...and talk about a primate with an attitude!) The rhythm makes it easy to read aloud, but wouldn't be spoiled if you stopped to talk about any of the rules. Follow the link below to get your copy now, and make sure it's a hardcover - a paperback of this one won't last long!

Guest Review - The Given Day by Dennis Lehane, as reviewed by Jeanne

Description from Amazon:

Set in Boston at the end of the First World War, New York Times bestselling author Dennis Lehane’s long-awaited eighth novel unflinchingly captures the political and social unrest of a nation caught at the crossroads between past and future. Filled with a cast of unforgettable characters more richly drawn than any Lehane has ever created, The Given Day tells the story of two families--one black, one white--swept up in a maelstrom of revolutionaries and anarchists, immigrants and ward bosses, Brahmins and ordinary citizens, all engaged in a battle for survival and power. Beat cop Danny Coughlin, the son of one of the city’s most beloved and powerful police captains, joins a burgeoning union movement and the hunt for violent radicals. Luther Laurence, on the run after a deadly confrontation with a crime boss in Tulsa, works for the Coughlin family and tries desperately to find his way home to his pregnant wife.

Here, too, are some of the most influential figures of the era--Babe Ruth; Eugene O’Neill; leftist activist Jack Reed; NAACP founder W. E. B. DuBois; Mitchell Palmer, Woodrow Wilson’s ruthless Red-chasing attorney general; cunning Massachusetts governor Calvin Coolidge; and an ambitious young Department of Justice lawyer named John Hoover.

Coursing through some of the pivotal events of the time--including the Spanish Influenza pandemic--and culminating in the Boston Police Strike of 1919, The Given Day explores the crippling violence and irrepressible exuberance of a country at war with, and in the thrall of, itself. As Danny, Luther, and those around them struggle to define themselves in increasingly turbulent times, they gradually find family in one another and, together, ride a rising storm of hardship, deprivation, and hope that will change all their lives.

From Jeanne:

I still can't say enough about it. I've recommended it to several patrons. I don't usually read historical fiction, but I read this one because the author has such an excellent track record with his previous books. I certainly wasn't disappointed. In addition to having simply enjoyed such a good read, I came away with a much better understanding of our country during that time period.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Guest Review - Horse Boy by Rupert Isaacson, as reviewed by Steve

The story of a man and his family: a successful, educated couple; and their autistic son.

Mr. Isaacson tells his story and the reader rides along with the joys and the sorrows and the magic of his tale. And it is a tale of magic, adventure, heartache, and healing. The boy in the story is very autistic: not communicative; has tantrums and fits; and is not toilet trained. By chance, the boy is brought together with a horse, and his father,being a horseman himself, begins to take him riding. On the horse, father and son begin communicating, and the father begins to have hope.

Through his work, Mr. Isaacson had encountered and gotten to know a number of shamans, and seen some of their healing ceremonies. After the experience of riding horses with his son, he gets the idea of visiting shamans in Mongolia to see if they might be able to help his son. This book tells the tale of that pilgrimage. It is a wonderful tale, depicting a land and a people on the other side of the world, and the challenges and heartache of raising an autistic child.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Guest Review - Alex and Me by Irene M. Pepperberg, as reviewed by Joylyn

Our readers were busy over Labor Day weekend, and we came back to find several guest reviews in our inbox. If you would like to submit one of your own, simply e-mail it to Since much of our audience is under 18, we will only be printing first names of reviewers.


Take a one-pound African Gray parrot named Alex and a devoted scientific researcher named Dr. Pepperberg, give them thirty years together exploring animal intelligence and ability to communicate, and you have a fascinating new look at the abilities of the animal kingdom. Dr. Pepperberg attempted to maintain a scientific approach throughout their association, but found, when Alex the parrot died prematurely at the age of 31, that she had an immense emotional attachment to him, which was almost overwhelming.

Alex had advanced to the point where he was able to pick out colors, objects and numbers from large assortments, identify numbers by their Arabic notation, and had amazed those working with him with his obvious awareness on many areas. He also had a definite personality – when he got bored with too much repetition, he would give an incorrect answer on purpose. At one point, he named every object on the display with the single exception of the answer they were expecting! Another time, when the demonstration was being rushed due to time constraints, the usual reward of a nut was put off with an explanation to wait until later. After three displays without a reward, Alex finally completely lost his patience. He looked at Dr. Pepperberg in exasperation and said, loudly and clearly: “I wanna nut – enn-uh-tuh!”

This book is informative, thought-provoking, and entertaining.


Thursday, September 3, 2009

How to Scratch a Wombat, by Jackie French, as reviewed by Yoda

This delightful book is a nonfiction follow-up to the equally delightful "Diary of a Wombat" from the same author and illustrator (Bruce Whatley). "Diary of a Wombat" is one of those picture books that will tickle old and young readers alike, and I was looking forward to reading this one. I was not disappointed.

Like the picture book, this has much to appeal to readers of all ages. Each chapter is full of facts about wombats' behavior, food, and even their droppings, presented with anecdotal stories from the author's experience that are sure to keep the reader chuckling. I found myself stopping random strangers to read bits out loud to them. I mean, really, Sneezy, I thought I slept soundly!

I'm surprised someone at Disney hasn't snatched this up yet for a made-for-TV movie. Of course, that might have everyone in America running out to find a pet wombat - fortunately, something not found in pet stores, as the book makes it very clear they are not pets. Fascinating animals, nontheless, and since most of us can't travel to Australia to observe them ourselves, this book makes an enjoyable substitute. Follow the link below to order your own copy:

If you missed "Diary of a Wombat", here's a link to that one, complete with a cute little stuffed wombat, guaranteed NOT to tear up your garden:

Last but not least,some fun kids' activities as well as ways you can help wombats from afar: