Read Across America

RAA Cat n Hat Logo_2010_medium
March 2!
The National Education Association is building a nation of readers through its signature program, NEA’s Read Across America. Now in its 18th year, this year-round program focuses on motivating children and teens to read through events, partnerships, and reading resources.

You’re never too old, too wacky, too wild, to pick up a book and read with a child.”

Read Across America Day honours Dr Suess, the popular children’s book author (Theodor Geisel, 1904). Seuss’s first book was And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street (1937) followed by a series of popular books for teens. Then an educational specialist asked him if he would write a book to help children learn how to read. From a list of 300 words that most first-graders know, Seuss had to write the book using only those words. As he looked over the list, two words jumped out at him: “cat” and “hat.” The rest is history! It took nine months to write The Cat in the Hat (1957); 1,702 words, but it has only 220 different words. Parents and teachers immediately used it to teach children to read. A classic, it remains a popular best seller. A few years later, Seuss’s publisher bet him $50 that he could not write a book using only 50 different words. Seuss produced Green Eggs and Ham (1960), using 49 one syllable words plus “anywhere.”

It is the 25th anniversary of the publication of Oh The Places You’ll Go! And that is the theme this year. It’s fun to remember the places he took me.
Go to the website for updates and stories from the road of today’s events

Book Review – I Hate Picture Books

cover24888-mediumI Hate Picture Books
A review by Catherine H. Armstrong

My favorite thing in the entire world is a great book.  Don’t get me wrong; I love all books.  I love the smell of books, the weight of a book in my hands, and even the crisp sound of the pages as I turn them.  But what I love most of all is a really great book; a book that makes me laugh out loud, or one with a main character that speaks to me and evokes strong emotions.  And when I find a great book, I can’t wait to tell the world about it.  I want the whole world to know what I’ve discovered.  Last night, I found a great book, and – much to my complete surprise – it’s a children’s picture book!

I Hate Picture Books by Timothy Young is simply the best picture book I’ve read in years!  It tells the story of a young boy who decides one day that he’s too old for picture books.  After all, every picture book he’s ever read has led him astray!  He read Harold and the Purple Crayon and then got into trouble for drawing on the walls!  He had a bad day and went to bed believing that the monsters from Where the Wild Things Are would come and spirit him away in the night.  He awakened the next morning to find  himself snuggled into his same old bed in his same old room.  One day, he even found some green ham in the refrigerator and decided to give it a try.  After all, Sam I Am found out that it was really good, right?  Only, unlike Green Eggs and Ham, the green ham made him throw up!

This book had me laughing out loud, and even giggling later that evening when I was reflecting back on pieces of the story.  Unable to help myself, I called my 8 year old down to read it with me.  He not only recognized every book referenced in this story, but he got more than a few surges of the giggles.  But I knew had a hit when I decided to read it at dinner to my husband and 17 year old daughter.  When you can make “the teenager” laugh, then you know you’ve done something pretty special…and that’s exactly what Timothy Young has done! He had all four of us – including “the teenager” – grinning from ear to ear!

I Hate Picture Books is a fantastic story that uses some of the best loved story books of all time to remind us all that we’re never too old for a great picture book.  In all honesty – though it’s a children’s picture book – I’m going to add I Hate Picture Books to my list of “Top 10 Books” I’ve read in 2013.  It really is that good!

This book is not yet available at the Rochester Public Library, but I’ve already put in a request.  Let’s see if we can’t get it added to our shelves!


by Helen McIver
bookpile2Last night we had a fun WWW (Wit, Wisdom and Wine) fundraiser event for the Library. I probably donated half of the books that went with the silent auction items as I am radically cleaning my bookshelves and downsizing. It hurts. But it has reacquainted me with so many books and authors and as always the desire to share the next good read. It’s a new book if you haven’t read it. I am also exploring my Kindle options, ebook reader (the library is a wonderful source for borrowing), and book reviewing online. As such, I am attempting to write a regular Sunday column on this blog.

Shadow of the Crown by Patricia Bracewell
This is her debut historical novel, in a planned Medieval trilogy about Queen Emma. At 400+ pages is it a richly detailed, well written account of a relatively unknown period of English history. The author has thoroughly researched Emma, although some of the characters are rather loosely involved in events in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (891 to 1154). (NB several of the unexpected events in this novel didn’t actually happen. Also, I was surprised by the love interest as well as the guilt/haunting episodes.) The author was intrigued by the silence of 15 years in the Queen’s autobiography (Encomium Emmae Reginae 1040) which triggered this novel. I did find it engaging reading, with accurate family history and political intrigue although the use of four voices often interrupted the flow. She includes glossary, map, and a chart of names which are quite useful to keep everyone straight. It is evident that Bracewell has done research on everything from swordplay to parchment, clothes to loos, and reveled in every minute of it (the detail, but also well written).
Emma was the daughter of the Duke of Normandy, essentially sold in a treaty to provide allies to protect the shores of England against the marauding Danes. She married King AEthelred II (the Unready) in 1002 when she was 16 and he was 35 (considered old, but he had been reigning for 20+years by then, in turbulent times.) His nickname was given 150 years after his death and is a pun on his name (noble counsel) which would have been better translated as “ill advised or evil counsel”, referring to his royal Council the Witan. History has accorded him a powerful king, one of the most forceful kings of the 10th century who created the Kingdom, ending individual control of all the magnate families. The author, however, depicts AEthelred as cruel, old, haunted, although most of the story is told from Emma’s viewpoint. She matures and becomes one of the most powerful women of the 11th century, 40 years behind the throne. Her story is fascinating, as she leaves the innocence of childhood, navigates court intrigue, falls in love, endures and creates political rivals and generally survives a rather brutal world. Given how little we know of women in history, she is a fascinating character.
Her son, Edward (who becomes King, the Confessor, d. Jan 1066) is born at the end of this book (1006). Her story will continue with additional portrayals of a life in which two of her sons (by each husband), two stepsons (by each husband) and a great nephew (William the Conqueror Oct 1066) became kings of England. Her life story as detailed here, is an enjoyable, interesting, historical read.

3 stars a lot of detail, but editing would help.
If you like Phillippa Gregory, Alison Weir, Jean Plaidy or Elizabeth Chadwick you will enjoy these novels. I also recommend Ariana Franklin’s Mistress of the Art of Death series, and Edward Rutherford’s Sarum.
Shadow on the Crown is due to be published February 2013.
Read as an ARC

Book of the MomentCode Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
Five Stars!
I read books for a variety of reasons. I could have read this because Nancy Pearl highly recommended it, because it was one of the top ten YA books of the year, or because it is an interesting historical genre that I like. But I started it because the author is a writer living in Scotland and a Pilot. And she has a Phd (in Folklore from UPenn). These days I am astonished that most of the authors I love have Phds. I love them for the sentence structure, the plot, the research, and the storytelling. And the experience upon closing the book that I must share it, immediately.
Quite simply, Code Name Verity is one of the best books of the year – this year, last year, whatever. Don’t be put off by the YA classification, this is a great book in any genre. It is stunning, breathtaking, horrifying, thrilling, terrifying, heartbreaking, and absolutely breathtaking. You can not remain unmoved during this story, and the last two chapter might rip out your heart (especially as an adult). It has several very important messages for teens too. It won’t hurt adults to remember the fragility of love, the meaning of hope, the power of courage, and the grace of true friendships.

Book Review – The Steps Across the Water

The Steps Across the Water
A Review by Helen McIver

Young adult fiction is definitely for grownups! They’re also perfect to share with your grandchildren – no matter how old they get, they will ask you for recommendations!

Sales of fiction for 14-20 year-olds have increased dramatically in the last few years. Last year alone, there were 10,000 different YA books published. The Hunger Games alone sold 23 million copies and that was before the movie came out.  I still find it difficult to recommend it due to the premise of children killing children, but I read the books because they remain in the top 10 banned books since publication. And I have had great discussions with friends, children, librarians and strangers about those books.

Choosing among the many YA titles available is difficult; but it is great fun for most adults to lose themselves in the imaginary worlds and  innocence of childhood, all the while finding a great book to share with children. Adam Gopnik’s The Steps Across the Water (superbly illustrated by Bruce McCall) is a creative and imaginative masterpiece by a fabulous journalist and author.

Rose is a young child living in New York City with her adopted parents and brother, Oliver (Oliver was the subject of an earlier book and another must read!).  She knows she has a lovely family, but she is lonely and wonders who she really is. She desperately wants a dog and she loves snow globes. One day she sees a crystal staircase arching like a rainbow over the Central Park Lake (no one else believes her of course), and soon discovers another world called UNork populated with fascinating, intriguing and some scary characters!

Gopnik has a great deal of fun with names in the alternative universe (Times Square Squared), unique situations (food being shot at you with cannons, just open your mouth) and everyday parental quotes you’ve said (“If it weren’t for the coffee and email, I wouldn’t know I was alive,” and “…progressive school, which means they’re progressively draining my bank account…”).

This book deals with themes of identity and the meaning of home.  It is a charming story that will warm your heart and will be read many times for generations, and it is available in standard format in the Rochester Public Library in the children’s section.

Great Quotes From This Book
“Medusa Books? You mean your father’s never taken you there? Well, that’s a long overdue polka on your dance card, Miss Rose.”

“Where was it published? Do you remember that?” Alexandra frowned.  “London? Hong Kong? Maybe Mars?” … it if would be the most normal thing in the world….to be published on Mars.”

Rose :  “You’re only as big as the last brave thing you’ve done.”

For more information about this book, check out the YouTube video featuring author Adam Gopnik as he discusses this book.

YouTube Video with Author Adam Gopnik

Book Review – B is for Battle Cry

B is for Battle Cry
A review by Colleen Sallee, Guest Contributor and Gifted Education Specialist

When perusing through Patricia Bauer’s book, B is for Battle Cry, A Civil War Alphabet, the reader cannot help but be mesmerized by the intricate, captivating illustrations created by David Geister. However, Ms. Bauer quickly draws the reader in with her insightful presentation of detailed information relative to the Civil War. There are non-fictional anecdotes corresponding to each letter of the alphabet which engage the reader in discovering a plethora of information from diseases that plagued the soldiers, to the construction of ironclad ships, and the recognition of the significant roles that women assumed in this war.

B is for Battle Cry ia a successful collaborative effort between Patricia Bauer and her artist husband, David Geister.   While targeted for children, young and old alike will expand their knowledge of this historical time period by reading this masterfully created picture book.

This book is the Rochester Reads youth selection for 2012, and you are invited to join us on April 10th at 6:30 PM in the Library Auditorium to meet Patricia Bauer and David Geister as they present to our children this beautiful book on Civil War History.  Registration is not required, and parents are invited to remain with their children for this presentation.

Book Review – Oracles of Delphi Keep

Oracles of Delphi Keep
Victoria Laurie
A Review by Catherine H. Armstrong

Oracles of Delphi Keep is a fantastic novel intertwining Greek mythology, sorcery and pyschic intuition.  It tells the story of Ian Wigby and and his sister, Theo Fields, both orphans under the sponsorship of the Earl of Dover and housed in Delphi Keep Orphanage.

Life at The Keep is one fun adventure after another, until the day Ian and Theo discover a treasure box hidden deep withiin the caverns of an undiscovered cave.  Retrieving the treasure box, they awaken a beast unlike any they’ve ever seen and nearly meet their demise as they barely escape the jaws of the ginormous beast within the cave.  But the adventure has only begun.  The treasure box they’ve discovered will open a Pandora’s Box of mystery, intrigue and a whole lot of danger and the two will soon be on the run for their lives.

Written by Victoria Laurie, Oracles of Delphi Keep is fast-paced and filled with tons of twists and turns, as well as enough suspense to keep even the most jaded of readers on the edge of his seat.  Though written for a target audience of 5th through 8th grade readers, this book should also appeal to adults and those who enjoy a good story with great characters and heart-stopping action.

Oracles of Delphi Keep is the first in a series of books by Victoria Laurie, followed (so far) by Curse of the Deadman’s Forest and Quest for the Secret Keeper, all of which are available at either Rochester Public Library or through SELCO.

For more information about this series of books, visit the author’s website at

*Photo Source:

Book Review – The Invention of Hugo Cabret

The Invention of Hugo Cabret
Brian Selznick
A Review by Helen McIver

The Invention of Hugo Cabret is a marvelous debut novel by illustrator Brian Selznick.  So good, in fact, that it won the 2008 Caldecott medal. It was absolutely magical and another “first” for me as a reader.

What a brilliant concept:  making pictures tell long stories!  How we view those pictures and details also tells us different dimensions of the story. Included are black and white charcoal drawings, sequences,  and scenes to closeups.  The use of these dimensions allows the reader to see a variety of stories such as how the clocks work, dream sequences, silent movies, and even what Paris is like.

School children loved the mulit-layered story of this book, as much for the story itself as for the fact it was a BIG book (more than 500 pages!).  Older kids had Harry Potter; now the younger kids have Hugo..

The Invention of Hugo Cabret is the story of  a 12-year old orphan who lives in a busy Paris train station. He hides in plain sight, keeping the clocks running and staying out of the way of the authorities (and the orphanage/workhouse). It is also an homage to the French pioneer silent filmmaker, Georges Melies.

This is a captivating book full of wonder; a magical blend of graphic novel and historical fiction for the young adult audience. The movie is every bit as magical and should be on everyone’s list to see. Perfect to share with your grandchildren!!

View the trailer for the Oscar award-winning movie, Hugo, based upon the David Selnick novel, The Invention of Hugo Cabret.

Book Reviews – "The Pigeon" Books for Children

“The Pigeon” Books
Mo Willems

I’ve heard it said many times that children learn to love books by reading with the adults in their lives.  I would argue that – while that’s certainly a huge piece of the puzzle – an equally large piece of that puzzle is finding books that capture their imaginations and make them want to read more.  All children’s books simply are not created equal, so it’s always a pleasure to find an author who seems to intuitively understand children and what they like.  Mo Willems is definitely one of those authors, and his “Pigeon” books are some of the most entertaining children’s reads available today.

At this point, you might be asking “What is the pigeon?”  Well, it’s not really “What is the pigeon?”  Rather, it’s “Who is ‘The Pigeon?'”  The Pigeon is the star character in a series of books by Mo Willems about a mischievous pigeon destined for trouble.

Children love the creative and devious mind of The Pigeon, probably because The Pigeon thinks like they do!  In one book, a bus driver has to leave his bus and asks the reader to keep an eye on it for him while he’s gone and – above all – “Don’t Let Pigeon Drive the Bus!”  In another book, it’s bedtime and The Pigeon quickly comes up with 101 reasons not to go to bed, when clearly he’s tired.  Parents of creative children will recognize some of these night-time excuses, I’m afraid! And in yet another book, The Pigeon wants a puppy but clearly hasn’t the slightest idea how to properly care for one.  As a result, he comes up with a list of bizarre reasons he wants a puppy and how he’ll care for his new pet, which kids realize immediately are all inappropriate ways to care for a puppy.

What seems to make these books so much fun for kids is that they talk directly to the children.  That is to say that the characters seem to come directly out of the book and interact with the reader, prompting the children to respond back to the characters in the book.  As crazy as it sounds, somehow it just works.

These books are targeted for preschoolers through the first few years of elementary school, and are available in the library in traditional format.  

For more information about these books or the author, visit the author’s website at

~ Catherine H. Armstrong

Book Reviews – 3 Children’s Book Titles

“Children are made readers on 
the laps of their parents.” 
~ Emilie Buchwald
Recently my son’s first grade teacher sent out a request to parents for “Mystery Readers” for the month of February.  Those who were interested could sign up, choose a couple of books, and then read to the entire class.  I was so excited!  And then the pressure began…what in the world could I read?  We have a gazillion books at home, but I wanted something fresh, fun and maybe something that would have a hidden lesson or moral that would be appropriate for first graders.  So I began my search.  In the last several days, I’ve read more picture and early reader books than I care to count, but three of them stood out:  Monkey with a Tool Belt by Chris Monroe, Horace and Morris but Mostly Dolores by James Howe,  and The Meanest Thing to Say by Bill Cosby.  All three books were truly great reads for young readers, and books I plan to put on my list to buy for our own book shelves at home, and as gifts for upcoming birthdays and holidays.
Monkey with a Tool Belt is a witty story about a little monkey named Chico Bon Bon.  As the story suggests, Chico wears a tool belt and can fix just about anything.  One day an organ grinder kidnaps him and spirits him off to join the local circus.  But Chico is too smart to go meekly!  With his tool belt still strapped to his waist, he devises a plan to escape from the box he’s been captured in and outsmart the organ grinder, returning to his home safe and sound and ready to devise a plan for what he’ll build with his tool belt in the coming days.  
Children will love the smart and creative thinking of Chico Bon Bon, and parents may get a grin as well.  Definitely a creative idea for a children’s book!
Horace and Morris but Mostly Dolores is a book with a great lesson on friendship and the defiance of traditional gender roles.  Horace, Morris and Dolores are the best of friends and do everything together.  They build forts, go exploring, and go on great adventures together.  Until one day that Horace and Morris – the boys – decide to build a boys-only club house.  Unfortunately, what starts out sounding like a good idea to the boys ends up being not so much fun after all.  
As a parent, I loved this book because I felt it was a great lesson to elementary school children that exclusion can be painful for both sides, and that true friendship isn’t defined by gender.
The Meanest Thing to Say addresses the issues of teasing, bullying and peer pressure.  When a new student starts at Little Bill’s school, he convinces the other children to play a game of teasing.  The person who can say the twelve meanest things to another person would be declared the winner.  Little Bill doesn’t like the game, but he doesn’t like being left out or losing even more.  But then, during the family dinner, Little Bill’s dad gives him advice that would allow him to not only stay true to himself, but also “win” the game.
This book is a really great tool for helping children of all ages deal with nasty comments from their peers, and it’s one that I intend to purchase and have on-hand for my own children.

Each of these books were excellent reads for young readers, and all are available in the Rochester Public Library.  Stop in today and pick them up!

~ Catherine H. Armstrong