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


Call of the Klondike

klondikeCall of the Klondike: A True Gold Rush Adventure by David Meissner and Kim Richardson. Grades 6 and up. Calkins Creek Books, October 2013. 167 pages. Review copy provided by my local library.

Looking for an adventure? Pack your bags, bundle up, say goodbye to your loved ones (just in case) and join Stanley Pearce and Marshall Bond on their journey to the Klondike region of Alaska in search of riches beyond your imagination.

In 1897, miners arrived back in Seattle with millions in gold, mined in the Klondike. Thousands of people then rushed to this remote area in hopes of making their fortune. It would NOT be easy. Using primary sources (letters, journals, and newspaper articles passed down within Stanley Pearce’s family), David Meissner illuminates the hardships and risks of this fantastic adventure.  Pearce and Bond spent thousands outfitting themselves for their journey and it took them months to even reach the Klondike. Before planes, before train tracks reached the area, adventurers had to travel by steamship to Alaska, on foot up the hazardous mountain passes, and by boat down rocky rivers to reach Dawson City.

This is a fantastic adventure story and the author makes great use of the primary documents at his disposal. Excerpts from Marshall Bond’s diary and letters from Stanley Pearce to his family give readers a play-by-play account of this dangerous adventure. Although Pearce and Bond are well-outfitted and maintain positive attitudes, many men and animals died in pursuit of Klondike gold. With temperatures dropping to 50 degrees below zero and food stores running low, not everyone who reached Dawson city returned. And less than one half of one percent of those who started the journey ever found enough gold to make them rich.

This nonfiction book reads like fiction, including plenty of archival photos to give faces to the many who ventured to the north. Back matter includes an author’s note, source notes, and resources for further information. The excellent use of primary sources provides exciting material that fulfills Common Core requirements for analyzing primary sources. Although it definitely has classroom applications, there’s plenty of appeal in this story for thrill seekers and history buffs.


Chasing Lincoln’s Killer by James Swanson. The action-packed style of James Swanson’s writing will please readers who enjoy true adventure stories that read like fiction, even though the subject matter and time period are different.

The Call of the Wild by Jack London. Set in the wilds of the Klondike, Jack London’s story is based on some of his experiences during the Klondike gold rush. In fact, Jack London met and spent time with Stanley Pearce and Marshall Bond and the fictional dog Buck was actually based on Pearce and Bond’s dog Jack.

This post is cross-posted at my blog

Preschool Lab: Animals in Winter

Preschool Lab is a new program we’re offering for preschoolers at my library. In the past, we’ve done Changing Leaves and Magnets, and in November, we talked about what animals do in winter. I stole most of my activities and ideas from Christina Jones’s wonderful animals in winter program at Knowledge Matters (see part 1 and part 2).

We started by talking about three new words: adapt, hibernate, and migrate. These three words came up over and over as we read our books and talked about what animals do to survive the winter. I also included these words on their take-home packet with simple definitions (provided by one of our children’s dictionaries).


 Opening Song: My Hands Say Hello – this is our standard opener and signals to everyone that it’s time to start listening.

New words: We talked about adapt, hibernate, and migrate.

Book: When Winter Comes by Nancy Van Laan. I love the rhyming text and the wintry illustrations in this picture book. Each stanza features a different animal and my kids already knew (or could guess) what a lot of the animals did in winter. This provided us a great opportunity to talk about all these different animals, and of course it’s great for them to hear those rhyming words.

Rhyme: Five Red Apples. I talked about what bears do in the winter: hibernate (one of our new words!). Before they hibernate, bears eat lots and lots and lots to build up fat to keep them warm. I used my bear puppet to eat each felt apple off the board as we counted down. At the end, I had bear fall asleep and told the kids that if they wanted to hear the rhyme again they’d need to wake him up!

Book: Snow Rabbit, Spring Rabbit by Il Sung Na. Before we started this book, we talked about the picture of the rabbit on the front and back of the book. On the back cover he’s brown for spring and on the front cover he’s white for winter. We practiced our new words again as we went through this book that shows many different animals preparing for winter.

I had planned another book here, Animals in Winter by Martha E.H. Rustad, which talks in more detail about some of our new words and shows real photos of animals. My kids were getting a little antsy, though, so I skipped right to our last activity.

Felt Activity: I passed out the animals from our woodland creature felt set (made by laminating pictures of the animals and putting felt on the backs). I sang a little song (“If you have a fox, a fox, a fox. If you have a fox, bring him up right now!”) and the kids brought their animals up and put them on the felt board. As each animal was placed on the board, we talked about what the animals do in the winter. I used bear, raccoon, squirrel, rabbit, fox, and deer.


Which insulation works better? This is straight from Christina’s post. I made up bags with feathers, yarn, and fat (vegetable shortening) and put them in tubs of ice. Children could predict which insulator would keep their hand the warmest, experiment, and then write down their conclusion.



Animal tracks in the snow. My wonderful Miss T made me some stencils of animal tracks that you might see here in Indiana. I put out paper and markers and let the kids trace animal tracks and label them. They loved this station and spent quite a bit of time here. This activity is great for fine motor control (using the markers and writing) and vocabulary (learning names of animals).




Getting dressed for winter. Miss T also made me some animal silhouettes in brown paper (representing their spring fur) and I put out cotton balls and our glue sponges and let the kids get the animals dressed for winter. As I circled around to this station, I talked about how these animals adapt by changing the color of their fur. I was worried that the glue sponge might not provide enough glue, but IT DID and it was way less messy than any of the other glue ideas I had.



Felt station. I put out the felt pieces we had used and let the kids play with them. I printed the words to our Five Red Apples rhyme so the kids could say that with their grownup. I also put out the forest animals set, which is great for sorting, counting, and vocabulary.



Dramatic play. I put out all the woodland creature puppets we had and just let the kids play with them. They were very into this station and came up with some creative (and science-based) ideas! We have a screen with a forest scene painted on it (to hide a small storage area) and many of the kids used that as a backdrop for their play. They also played predator and prey with the fox eating mice. And yes, I had one little guy singing “What does the fox say?” at the end of our program. 🙂



 Of course I had displayed some books about winter animals, many of which were taken home. I also put out flyers for our other upcoming programs and a take-home packet with some additional activities. I included our three new words short directions (and web addresses) for:

We had a blast this month and the stations were all very well-liked. This was our last Preschool Lab of the year; we’ll take a storytime break from mid-December to mid-January to give us some time to plan for the spring. I’m looking forward to continuing our science learning this spring!

This post was cross-posted at my blog


Reading Wildly: Nonfiction

This month in the Children’s Room of the New Albany-Floyd County Public Library, our staff book discussion (Reading Wildly) centered around nonfiction!


Nonfiction is a genre that some of my staff thought they had no interest in and I think it can definitely be a weak area for many librarians. We started our discussion by talking about the article I had passed out last month:

 “Making Nonfiction Accessible for Young Readers” by Sue Christian Parsons (Reading Today, October/November 2012).

 While this article is definitely geared towards teachers, we found lots to discuss. We talked about why teachers and librarians may not be as familiar with nonfiction as with fiction – because when we were kids nonfiction may not have been prioritized and a lot of what was being published was textbook-y and dry. Within the past 5-10 years, narrative nonfiction has exploded and there is a lot more available today then there was when we were growing up. Our job as librarians is to stay on top of what’s being published and be ready to recommend engaging nonfiction to teachers and to kids.

 Outside of the classroom, some readers naturally gravitate towards nonfiction and we owe it to them to include nonfiction in our readers’ advisory arsenal. We talked about other uses for nonfiction, too. Adults may be looking for a brief overview of a topic, something they might find in a children’s book. And so much great narrative nonfiction is being published for young people that adults may be missing out if they skip over the children’s section altogether.

 And, of course, as more and more of our schools are moving to adopt Common Core standards, reading narrative nonfiction is going to become more and more prevalent in classrooms. Nonfiction picture books can be great tools, even in upper grades, to give students an overview of a topic. Keeping on top of nonfiction is essential! And my staff discovered that there are great, readable titles available if we look!

Here are the books my staff talked about this month:

For more information about our discussion and our monthly Reading Wildly program, please visit my blog,