Archives for posts with tag: children’s

lightningReviewed by Tammie Benham

At age eight, Lucy Callahan was struck by lightning.  She survived however, the strike left her genius level Math skills, an inability to cope with germs, and the ability to recite the numbers of pi to infinity.  Over the years Lucy has developed coping mechanisms to ensure the numbers of pi don’t overtake her life.  She only allows the numbers of pi to be recited to the 314th decimal point, and apping her toe three times interrupts the number invasion in her head when she’s uncomfortable.  Lucy realizes some of her behaviors may seem odd to others but her intuitive self tells her people will get used to them over time.


Since the lightning strike, Lucy has been mainly homeschooled by her Nana.  However, things are about to change.  When Nana decides Lucy needs to attend Middle School and enter a world of her peers, Lucy is less than thrilled.  Thinking she should be in college, not Middle School, and with the brain power to succeed in such an advanced setting, Lucy tentatively gives in to her Nana’s demands-she must join an activity, read a book that’s not a Math textbook, and make a friend.  She finds the new environment as challenging as she had anticipated.


With the help of a like-minded teacher, a germy dog who steals her heart, and a boy who has the knack of seeing things from a different perspective, Lucy might just be able to survive seventh grade.


Lucy’s experiences while making friends with Windy (NOT Wendy) and Levi, serve as the backdrop for this middle grade novel.  Lessons of trust, friendship, loyalty, and forgiveness permeate the storyline.  Lucy’s character states she is diagnosed with Acquired Savant Syndrome, which explains her behaviors and abilities.  However, the characteristics Lucy exhibits may be familiar and help children identify with the story.

When the last written page of a book concludes and you find yourself wanting more, it’s always a good thing.  Stacy McAnulty’s debut novel ends in just such a way.  Here’s hoping the story of Lucy Callahan continues.  Written for grades 3-9, the story contains some bullying.





Reviewed by Tammie Benham

February ijazzbabys Black History Month.  Introducing the accomplishments of some of our descendants to children when they are very young is a good way to honor these extraordinary Americans.  I took a look at offerings from the Children’s Department at Joplin Public Library and chose some old and new favorites to consider using.


Jazz Baby by Lisa Wheeler is a rhythmic, melodic romp through a day with a baby not yet old enough to walk.  “Mama sings high.  Daddy sings low.  Snazz-jazzy Baby says, ‘Go, Man, Go!’”  The story is written almost as a lyric and captivates young audiences, which is magnified by the energy of the reader.


specialWhat’s Special About Me, Mama? By Kristina Evans features a young child who sees himself in the faces of his family and wants to be told what makes him special.  His questioning is answered in a loving way by his mother, who reminds him that all the little things about  him add up to the special person he is.


hey.jpgHey Black Child, by Useni Eugene Perkins reminds children that being who they want to be is within their reach, that perceived limits are meant to be surmounted and it is within the power of every child to make the world into a better place.


mayaLittle People, Big Dreams: Maya Angelou, by Lisbeth Kaiser introduces the life of Maya Angelou in straight forward age-appropriate prose.  The books touches on her accomplishments, highlighting the impact she had on the world through her perseverance and unrelenting hope.


jazzThis Jazz Man, by Karen Ehrhardt plays with the rhythm and sounds of jazz, translating music into sound so that read aloud, the story becomes music.  The accompanying CD for this book features performance from legendary Jazz Men, who are also featured in the end pages.


nightA Night Out with Mama, is written by Quvenzhane Wallis, who is written also the main character in the book.  Quevenzhane is the youngest person ever to receive an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress.  This multi-talented young woman wrote of her experience attending the Oscars with her mother. Her fresh, authentic voices comes roaring through in this simple story of accomplishment and celebration.


Want more ideas for pictures books to share during the month?  Check out Scott Woods list at his blog, “Scott Makes Lists,” at






flyingThis anthology of short stories is edited by Ellen Oh, author and President of the We Need Diverse Books (WNDB) movement.  Oh has gathered an impressive group of authors who each present a vivid and memorable voice.  Each story allows the reader to immerse herself in a different cultural experience.  A true representation of the melting pot that is the United States of America, readers may see themselves in these stories, or have the opportunity to peek into the lives of individuals who may be vastly different than their own.


From Kwame Alexander’s “mostly true” memoir of a young man in an Honor’s English class, to Soman Chainani’s bittersweet tale of a young boy’s journey of enlightenment, to the childhood grief of losing a parent projected so perfectly in Kelly Baptist’s chronicles, this book is full of tales that are sure to captive a wide, and hopefully diverse, audience.  The star-studded list of authors are impressive in their own right and Oh ensures their work continues to be read with the inclusion of an “About the Authors,” appendage.  The quality you’ll find inside these pages is inspiring.


However different the scenery in each story, some common themes emerge.  The varied experiences of children leave their mark, no matter in which culture they happen.  At the end of each story, I found myself wanting to know what happens next, always a sign of an excellent reading experience.

el chapoAuthor/Illustrator Cece Bell has penned a delightful semi-autobiographical graphic novel about her experiences growing up with hearing loss.  After losing her hearing as a result of a childhood illness, Cece has to learn to adjust to living in a non-hearing world.

Cece soon learns about having ear molds made and ends up with wires coming out of her ears!  Being able to hear again only mildly makes up for how different she looks compared to other children her age.  She worries about going to school and the reaction of her classmates, not realizing she will have more indignity to come in the form of the enormous, “Phonic Ear,” which must be worn under her clothes.

Having the Phonic Ear does help Cece hear everything in school which in turn helps her concentrate and improves her grades.  Suddenly school is easy for Cece.  She also learns the Phonic Ear is powerful enough to hear the bathroom habits of her teachers!

As Cece progresses through grade school, she learns to be choosy in making friends and also that her hearing loss doesn’t need to dictate her friendships.  She finds a best friend in a neighbor who treats her like she’s “normal,” meaning her friend refrains from stereotypical behaviors including speaking loudly, slowly, or using exaggerated sign language, despite knowing about Cece’s hearing aids.

When a very cute boy named Mike moves in next door, Cece is awe-struck.  Her reaction is very typically portrayed for a young girl her age, helping the reader understand she truly is just another child who happens to have lost her hearing.

One day, Cece decides to trust Mike with the knowledge she can hear their teacher everywhere she is in the building.  Mike is fascinated with the power of the Sonic Ear and decides to put the device to good use.  When the teacher leaves the room, Cece listens for the class while they engage in all the things children do when the teacher is out of the room, without and of the consequences.  Cece is suddenly the class hero.

The author’s notes provide insight into the world of non-hearing individuals and communicate some of the differences among individuals with hearing loss.  This book handles the subject matter in a fresh way, making for an enjoyable reading experience.

September 30-October 6 is “Banned Book Week” for 2013.  It is a coincidence, however, that the books I’d decided to review this week are some that have been on the ALA’s “most challenged” list several times in the past.  Libraries worldwide have always supported an individual’s right to read whatever books an individual so desires.  Personal tastes run to various genres, topics, and titles to read.  We are fortunate in the U.S. to have this personal freedom.

Also coincidental is an email I received this week via a library list-serve.  Although all libraries support an individual’s right to read, not all governments do.  According to a news report, just about a month ago in Cuba, librarians were arrested after attending a technology workshop on the use of Kindles.  According to the report, Cuban authorities consider independent librarians as counterrevolutionaries at the service of the U.S. government.  I’m supposing unfettered electronic access to books constitute a threat to the government.

The Giver, by Lois Lowry has a similarly totalitarian government.  In this book, society has given complete control to the government.  There is no war.  There is no poverty.  There is no sickness.  There is no unemployment.  There is no love. There are no choices.  There is only “Sameness”.

Until age 12 each citizen becomes a year older at a ceremony and at the same time.  At age one, a baby is assigned to a family unit to raise.  At age three, girls are all given hair ribbons so their hair will be identical.  Age four children are given a jacket buttoning in the back to foster dependence on and cooperation with others.  Seven year olds receive front-buttoning jackets as a first sign of maturity.  Bikes are given away at the Ceremony of Nines.  At age 12, a child is assigned his or her life’s work.

At the “Ceremony of Twelves”, all the children received their vocation except Jonas.  He was skipped over when his job should have been assigned.  At the end of the ceremony, Jonas is finally singled out  to become the Receiver of Memory.

As The Receiver, he is mentored by The Giver, the only person possessing the memories of the community before Sameness was begun.  Jonas discovers books, he discovers colors, he discovers music, as well as discovering less pleasant things.  This newfound knowledge demands choices, hard choices for Jonas.

Originally written as a stand-alone title, The Giver, has ultimately turned into a tetralogy (I learned a new word trying to describe these books).  At the end of the The Giver, Lowry leaves a lot to the reader to decide how it should/does end.  Over the years (because of reader demand?), Lowry has expanded this story to include Gathering Blue, Messenger, and just released October 2nd, Son.

Gathering Blue appears to be a stand-alone book as well, also featuring a dystopian society.  It is not until Messenger that the three books begin to be tied together.  I am eagerly the library’s receipt of Son which will no only ask more hard questions, but hopefully bring the story full circle to completion.  Although the books are considered juvenile fiction, there is a lot of meat in them for adults to digest and to form a basis for conversation with kids who read them.

Some good themes for discussion include personal choice, the role of government, human relationships, the preciousness of life, what kind of world will we leave for our children, and the quest for truth among others.  Joplin Public Library has the first three of this tetralogy in print, audio, and electronic format.  Initially, JPL will have the fourth volume in print format.

Celebrate your freedom to read at Joplin Public Library!


P.S.   There is an interesting New York Times Magazine article just out on Lowry.  It’s worth the time to read!