Symphony for the City of the Dead


Symphony for the City of the Dead: Dmitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad by M.T. Anderson. Grades 9+ Candlewick Press, September 2015. 464 pages.

Did you know that 27 million Soviet citizens died during World War II, more than the total dead of all other nations combined? And a chunk of that huge death toll came from the Siege of Leningrad. Leningrad (now called St. Petersburg) is one of Russia’s largest cities, and during WWII, the Nazi army blockaded the city, cutting off all supply routes. Rather than risk the lives of German soldiers, the Nazis let Leningrad slowly starve and freeze to death.

When you have no food, no fuel, no way out, and the temperature is 40 below, what keeps you alive? What do you have to cling to? One thing the citizens of Leningrad had was music.

Is a symphony enough to save a city? Shostakovich thought it might be.

This is an amazing book and I can’t stop singing its praises. It’s at once a fascinating biography of a man growing up under Stalin’s Great Purge, a riveting World War II action story, and a testament to the power of music.

Visit my blog for a book talk, review, and readalikes of Symphony for the City of the DeadThe book will be out on September 22 – don’t miss it!



Enchanted Air

enchanted air


Enchanted Air: A Memoir by Margarita Engle. Grades 4-7. Athenuem Books for Young Readers, August 2015.

This is a gorgeous book, reminiscent of last year’s Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson. “Memoir” is one of the genres required for some of our middle school students to read, so I am always on the lookout for suggestions and this is one I’m happy to recommend. Margarita Engle writes about her childhood, spending summers in Cuba with her mother’s family, where she really feels like she belongs. The rest of the year, her family lives in California where Margarita is the weird, smart girl who skipped a grade and doesn’t have any friends. When revolution breaks out in Cuba, Margarita’s world suddenly changes. Her family can no longer go back to Cuba and her teacher and classmates treat her like a traitor.

Read my full review, booktalk, and readalikes at my blog!

Untamed: The Wild Life of Jane Goodall



Untamed: The Wild Life of Jane Goodall by Anita Silvey. Grades 4-8. National Geographic Kids, February 2015. 96 pages.

Jane Goodall was a born scientist. Even as a little kid, she found herself carefully observing and thinking about the world around her. Jane was fascinated by the world of animals and she spent her time watching chickens lay eggs, teaching her dog tricks, and forming a society for animal-lovers at her school, She dreamed of working with and studying animals.

This is a beautiful biography, perfect for any kid who loves animals and science and adventure. Highly recommended.

You can find a full review and readalikes on my blog! 

The Boys Who Challenged Hitler



The Boys Who Challenged Hitler: Knud Pedersen and the Churchill Club by Phillip Hoose. Grades 7+ Farrar, Strauss, & Giroux, May 2015. 208 pages.

This is a gripping true adventure story that will have wide appeal with kids. Much of the story is told in Knud Petersen’s own words, collected through hours of interview and hundreds of emails, which gives the book an authentic voice and brings the reader right into the action. And the action is nonstop. These brave kids had a fire in their hearts and they would stop at nothing to save their country from the Nazi invasion.

You can find a booktalk, readalikes, and my full review on my blog!

Fatal Fever


Fatal Fever: Tracking Down Typhoid Mary by Gail Jarrow. (Calkins Creek, 2015).

Right from the start, this medical history grips the reader and won’t let go. This book tracks down typhoid fever outbreaks, explaining how they started and why they were so devastating. Typhoid fever is a serious disease and it caused many deaths, especially of young people. In a time before antibiotics, there was little that doctors could do beyond managing the symptoms of the disease as it ran its course.

Gail Jarrow does a great job of presenting Typhoid Mary and explaining why it was so important that she be quarantined while also showing Mary Mallon’s side of it. She was an immigrant to this country, distrustful of authority figures that had a history of taking advantage of immigrants, and she didn’t understand how she could carry a disease when she had never been sick!

Read my full review at



Earmuffs for Everyone!



Earmuffs for Everyone! How Chester Greenwood Became Known as the Inventor of Earmuffs by Meghan McCarthy. (Simon & Schuster, 2015.)

On the surface, this may look like a straightforward biography of the inventor of earmuffs, but Meghan McCarthy takes this book to the next level, investigating why Greenwood is credit with the invention and explaining how easy it is for facts to be lost or misinterpreted in history. These concepts come across in the simple text and are expanded in the substantial author’s note where McCarthy provides more detail about how she searched for information as she researched this book.

Oh, I do love me some Meghan McCarthy! Read the full review (including readalikes!) over at my blog

Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom



Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom: My Story of the 1965 Selma Voting Rights March by Lynda Blackmon Lowery (Dial Books, January 2015).

“By the time I was fifteen years old, I had been in jail nine times.” (pg 13)

So begins Lynda Blackmon Lowery’s story of growing up in the Jim Crow South and marching for justice. At a young age, Lynda got involved in the Civil Rights movement in her hometown of Selma, Alabama. Even after she and her friends were jailed for protesting, even being put inside the “sweatbox” where the airless heat was so intense that all the girls passed out, Lynda would not stop in her quest for equal rights. When organizers put together a march for voting rights in Selma, Lynda knew she would be part of it. And even when she was horribly beaten by state troopers in an event called “Bloody Sunday,” Lynda knew that she needed to find the courage to keep going, to keep marching.

If you’ve seen the movie SELMA or are interested in the Civil Rights Movement and Black History, this first-person account of the marches at Selma is definitely something you should pick up.

Read my full review on