It’s been a while since we’ve put Daleks in the library. The kidlit library, that is. So because it’s the weekend, just for fun, hold on to your sonic screwdriver because it’s about to get geeky:

In an old house in Skaro, all covered with hand mines, lived twelve little Daleks in two straight lines.

In an old house in Skaro, all covered with hand mines, lived twelve little Daleks in two straight lines.

Exterminating baobab trees, one asteroid at a time. First B-612, next the universe. Exterminate!

Exterminating baobab trees, one asteroid at a time. First B-612, next the universe. Exterminate!

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western frontI used to be skeptical of authors commissioned to continue a beloved series. Surely, the new sequel couldn’t be as good as the original. Then I read Jacqueline Kelly’s Return to the Willows and was thoroughly charmed. So I had high hopes for Kate Saunders’ Five Children on the Western Front, and I’m pleased to say it exceeded all my expectations. Saunders’ reboot has all the humor and heart of E. Nesbit’s Five Children and It, but it goes deeper, and feels more grown-up while remaining quintessentially middle-grade. Bonus: it lacks the casual racism of Nesbit’s book.

As the title suggests, Western Front takes place during World War I. The Pemberton kids are all grown up now, with Cyril off to war, Anthea a volunteer nurse, Robert in college but expecting to join the army at any point, and Jane itching to become a doctor. Even the Lamb is 11, too old to spend much time with the Psammead when the sand fairy mysteriously returns. Luckily, Saunders has introduced Edith (Edie), a younger sibling not found in Nesbit’s books, and she soon becomes the Psammead’s best friend.

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20150911_191359I’ve been terribly delinquent about writing up the Jack Gantos talk I attended a few weeks ago, when he came to Porter Square Books to promote his latest novel/memoir, The Trouble In Me.

Gantos being Gantos, he took a long, meandering path toward explaining his book. It took him 15 minutes to mention Trouble. First, he summarized his writing process (fountain pen and paper), and how every book crystallizes through the messy process of jotting down random ideas and observations in a journal, which he carries everywhere. Somehow he transitioned from this to reminiscing about his childhood, and the day he stood on the U.S.S. Intrepid watching a military plane explode in the sky after a mechanical failure (no one was hurt–the pilot parachuted safely down). His father’s naval career features quite prominently in Trouble, not to mention Dead End in Norvelt.

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Review: Listen, Slowly

listen, slowlyTwelve-year-old Mai Le has no desire to hear why she must give up her summer vacation to accompany her grandmother to Vietnam. As far as she’s concerned, the “quack” detective her grandmother hired to find Mai’s grandfather, who was captured by the Viet Cong and disappeared during the Vietnam War, is leading them on a wild goose chase.

Neither is Mai interested in discovering her roots. A Laguna girl through and through, Mai knows she belongs on the beach with her gal pal, Montana, and the boy she’s secretly crushing on, not slumming it in the stifling heat of the remote village where her grandfather grew up, where she doesn’t speak the language and the notion of personal space and privacy is nonexistent.

So Mai makes it her personal mission to help her grandmother accept the truth. The sooner Ba finds closure, the sooner they can go home. This turns out to be easier said than done.

In Listen, Slowly, author Thanhha Lai takes a refreshing approach to the familiar story about a third culture kid experiencing her ancestral homeland for the first time. Happily, neither the plot nor Mai’s character arc hinge solely upon Cultural Identity and A Newfound Appreciation For One’s Heritage and Land of Origin.

Instead, Mai preoccupies herself with trying to escape her predicament. She also gets into scrapes, has teenage concerns, makes friends, meddles in the villagers’ daily routines (and love lives), and even does an impressive amount of sleuthing with the help of her new friends.

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Growing up, one of my favorite books was (and still is) Lois Lowry’s Number the Stars. I was fascinated by the Danish Resistance, and clueless enough not to realize some of the characters were part of the Resistance until Lowry revealed it to us. But I never stopped to think how the Resistance got started. I just assumed they’d sprung up organically once the Nazis invaded.

I didn’t know the true story until I read Phillip Hoose’s The Boys Who Challenged Hitler, and the truth is so outrageous it’s truly stranger than fiction. Hoose’s book is the perfect companion to Number the Stars, adding historical context and depth. It got me thinking about other nonfiction/fiction kidlit pairings that work perfectly. This is my initial list:

calpurnia_tatecharles-and-emmaThe Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly, with Charles and Emma by Deborah Heiligman.

–if you want to understand the scientist who inspires Calpurnia’s interest in science, Charles and Emma is the perfect biography, especially because Calpurnia would have fit perfectly into Darwin’s life. Darwin raised his kids to have open and inquisitive minds, so Calpurnia is kind of a fictional, surrogate Darwin Jr.
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After reading Kelly Jones’ wonderful book, we decided to ask the author some questions about her writing and her inspirations. Kelly kindly responded–take a look:

author Kelly Jones with her unusual chickens (photo courtesy of Kelly Jones)

Author Kelly Jones with her unusual chickens (photo courtesy of Kelly Jones)

1. Your author’s note says you keep chickens. How did you get into poultry farming?

I grew up in a small town, and my best friend had chickens. Later, when I had my own suburban yard, I started reading up on chicken-keeping and touring urban farms. Finally, I took the Chickens 101 class from Seattle Tilth, and decided to give it a try!

2. How did your (presumably normal) chickens inspire the unusual characteristics of Sophie’s super chickens?

Henrietta’s telekinesis was inspired by a chicken who shoved other chickens out of her way. Chameleon’s camouflage came from not being able to find a chicken who was hiding in my backyard (it’s amazing how well they blend in!). And watching one chicken grab a slug and take off running, with all the other chickens in hot pursuit, inspired Roadrunner’s super-speed. I liked thinking about which superpowers would actually be useful to chickens doing chicken stuff, instead of, say, saving the world, which is just not that interesting to chickens.

3. Are any of the characters based on people you know? Is Sue?!?

All of them — and none of them! Sophie isn’t based on any one person; she turned up in my head exactly how she is in the book. The rest are all a mix of bits and pieces of people I’ve met or imagined. Real people are too complex to fit easily into stories; they don’t do what I want them to do. But to help characters feel real, I tend to borrow characteristics, names, hobbies, and other pieces from people I’ve met.
photo courtesy of Kelly Jones

Photo courtesy of Kelly Jones

4. What was your favorite book when you were 12 (Sophie’s age)?

I was a very strong reader, so by twelve, I’d already read and loved all the Daniel Pinkwater books I could get my hands on, including Sophie’s favorite: The Hoboken Chicken Emergency. I was ready for something new! On special occasions, when my family went out to dinner, we’d go to our local bookstore afterwards (RIP A Clean Well-Lighted Place in Larkspur, CA!) and my parents, my brother, and I would each choose a book. An awesome bookseller recommended Sorcery and Cecelia by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer to me (it was first published the year I was twelve), and it immediately became my favorite. I’d never read an epistolary novel before, and I loved the idea that two writers wrote a whole book in letters to each other! I tried to talk all my friends into trying the letter game.

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Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer, by Kelly Jones

unusual chickensIs the book about chickens?
Yes. Chickens with superpowers, but they still have chicken-sized brains and behave like normal chickens. Sometimes.

Are there any humans?
Twelve-year-old Sophie Brown and her parents, recently moved from Los Angeles to her late great-uncle Jim’s remote chicken farm. Since Sophie doesn’t have any friends, she soon finds herself taking care of Jim’s special chickens and getting into the spirit of poultry farming.

So this is a book for chicken owners.
Not necessarily. I wasn’t a fan of chickens when I started, but the book did make me want to get chickens of my own. Talk about the Code Name Verity Effect!

Specifically, I want chickens with as much character as Sophie’s flock, unusual powers optional. I’ve met humans with less personality than Henrietta, Chameleon, et al.

Besides, I aced the book’s quiz on whether I was prepared to take care of chickens. According to Redwood Farm, provider of unusual super chickens, I totally deserve some of my own.
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