Category Archives: History

Q is for….

It wasn’t enough that his mom remarried, started a rock band, and is spending a year traveling the U.S. on a mega-tour – turns out his new stepsister has skeletons in her past that are threatening their new life just as they were settling in.  Another day on tour with..

I, Q by Roland Smith

Quest, known as Q, is glad his mom, Blaze, finally found happiness and love with Roger.  He isn’t quite so sure about the new lifestyle though.  Not only did Blaze and Roger get married they also collaborated musically and spawned a huge hit record.  Now Q, and his stepsister Angela (whom he is even less sure of), are spending a year off from school traveling the United States on a concert tour.  Unbeknownst to their parents, who are consumed by the tour, Angela and Q are being threatened by some mysterious characters from Angela’s past.  Adventure and intrigue are at every turn, and every mystery has Q and Angela exploring the coolest spots in each city they visit! (MR-5/6)

Qindependance HallI,Q: Independence Hall – Getting settled into his new lifestyle begins with a cross-country drive from California to Philadelphia in the luxury camper that Blaze and Roger have chosen as their family home for the next year.  Early in the trip things get strange. Are they being followed?  How did Boone, and old roadie friend of Blazes’, find them in the middle of the desert?  Who is he really?  Philadelphia has history at every turn, but it is Angela’s history that is the biggest mystery!  The first book in the series sets the scene for adventure to come across the country!

QwhitehouseThe White House– 24 hours in Washington, DC at the home of the President.  The intrigue and mystery just gets more exciting for Q and Angela, but so does the danger!



QkittyhawkKitty Hawk– The president’s daughter has been kidnapped and Q and Angela are part of the team working to save her.  They follow the trail to the Outer Banks -but will a freak storm ruin their chances?



QalamoThe Alamo – With a huge concert planned at the Alamo Q and Angela find themselves in the heart of Texas, and a the heart of another Ghost Cell attack.   Are they being chased across the country?  Or are they doing the chasing?  All is not as it seems as Q and Angela try to find out if they are the hunted or the hunters!


QWindycityThe Windy City – Q and Angela may have been thwarting international terrorism, but all their parents see is a lack of attention to their studies.  With the threat of boarding school, Q and Angela hit the books when they get to Chicago in order to avoid leaving the tour -which would mean leaving Boone and their work against the Ghost Cell.  But when Boone and the crew don’t make it to Chicago as planned Q and Angela know that there is a mole feeding information to the Ghost Cell.  Who is it?  And how do they stop the Ghost Cell’s next plot – a chemical attack on the Windy City?

QAlcatrazAlcatraz – Things have just become too intense and, although they plan to continue the tour, Blaze and Roger think it is time for Q and Angela to return home to San Francisco and attend boarding school.  It’s a race against time to find the leader of the terrorist cell before Q and Angela find themselves removed from the team hunting the Ghost Cell.

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Filed under A to Z, History, Middle Reader, mystery, North America, travel, United States

Year of the Sheep*

Honestly, I’m not exactly sure how it began.  I chalk it up to being a slightly bored, housebound, stay-at-home mom who, when trapped by the freezing temperatures and mounds of snow outside, latched onto an idea to bring some festivity to the otherwise drab early February.  This is how my family adopted the celebration of Chinese New Year.

Chinese_New_YearWhat started as an attempt to pull us from our winter doldrums (and I admit an excuse to order in rather than cook) has become a cherished tradition in our household.  Along the way the Museum Educator in me came out and we have developed a deep appreciation for the history and tradition of the holiday.  We embrace many of the activities of the New Year as well – everyone gets a haircut (the only time of year they don’t fight me), we clean our house (again, much less of a fight when they know it is for the New Year), we make fortune cookies and Nian Gao, cut-paper lantern decorations hang about the house, and we listen to Chinese music.   Perhaps my favorite part is when we remember our ancestors – Chinese New Year reminds us to talk to the girls about the great-grandparents they never met, or can’t remember well.

Something about Chinese New Year is simply appealing to kids. First, why wouldn’t you want another opportunity to have a celebration?  Second, it is fascinating that Chinese zodiac names each year for an animal.  Finally, lion dancers and dragons are really cool.

In major part because of our celebration we always visit Chinatown when we are in NYC.  This hectic, busy, loud section of the city is endlessly fascinating to my girls.  They want to shop for red envelopes and lanterns, get an ice-cream cone at the Chinatown Ice Cream Factory (where the “exotic” flavors include vanilla, and the “regular” flavors range from green tea to banana durian), and try delicacies like dried cuttlefish.   These visits also lead to great discussions, and further reading, about immigration and settlement of cultural enclaves in major cities.

This year Chinese New Year falls on Thursday, February 19, and many cities have celebrations you can attend.  Check out how New York, San Francisco and Seattle are planning to welcome in the Year of the Sheep.  If you can’t make it, consider having  your own celebration. has a nice overview of the holiday and a trip to your local Asian market will provide the rest.  Over the years we have established a large collection of Chinese New Year books to help us with our celebration.  Our favorites are below to help you get started.

myfirstchinesenewyearMy First Chinese New Year by Karen Katz.  A perfect beginning book for young readers to explore all the preparation and festivity of Chinese New Year.  (PB)


bringinginthenewyearBringing In the New Year by Grace Lin.  Follow a Chinese-American family as they prepare for the holiday. (PB)

PBP Note:  I simply ADORE Grace Lin and there isn’t a thing she has written that I don’t LOVE.  Other great PB titles include Dim Sum for Everyone! and Fortune Cookie Fortunes.   Also check out her Ling & Ting  ER Series and Pacy Lin Series for Advanced ER.  Look below for MR titles that are amazing!


disfordragondanceD Is For Dragon Dance by Ying Chang Compestine.  There is an aspect of Chinese New Year for every letter of the alphabet.  Celebrate from Acrobats to Zodiac. (PB)


runawayricecakeThe Runaway Rice Cake by Ying Chang Compestine.  The Chang family only has one rice cake for the New Year – and when it runs away the three brothers chase it across town.  What could end in disaster results in a special lesson – when you give to others it comes back to you ten-fold.  This is where our family found our Nian-Gao recipe, which we make every year.  Other folk-tales by Compestine in her “story of” series such as The Story of Noodles, The Story of Chopsticks, and The Story of Paper  are additional delightful reads for the holiday. (PB)

storiesofchinesezodiacsheepTales from the Chinese Zodiac by Oliver Chin.  There are 12 animals in the Chinese Zodiac and author Oliver Chin has a story for each.  Discover which year your child is born in and read their story, or read them all!  (PB)

celebratechinesenewyearCelebrate Chinese New Year: With Fireworks, Dragons, and Lanterns by Carolyn Otto.  This non-fiction National Geographic book  takes a look at Chinese New Year celebrations around the globe, highlighting the tradition and pagentry of this world-wide cultural event.  Beautiful photography accompanies clear, informative text.  (PB)

azchinesenewyearThe New Year Dragon Dilemma: A to Z Mysteries Super Edition #5 by Ron Roy.  The kids are in San Francisco and their new friend Holden is going to take them to the Chinese New Year parade.  But when Miss Chinatown, and her priceless crown, go missing the kids need to solve the mystery quickly, before Holden gets blamed.  (ER-2/3)

nancydrewchinesenewyearmysteryThe Chinese New Year Mystery : Nancy Drew Notebooks #39 by Carolyn Keene. Nancy’s class is celebrating Chinese New Year and she and her friends get to make the dragon!  All their hard work is for nothing when the dragon goes missing.  The parade will be cancelled if Nancy can’t solve the mystery quickly.


happynewyearjulieHappy New Year, Julie: American Girl by Megan McDonald.  Julie’s first Christmas since her parents divorce is a difficult one, and she finds solace in helping Ivy prepare for her families’ Chinese New Year celebration.  When she discovers that Ivy’s family is inviting her mom and dad to the party Julie worries that they won’t be able to get along and will ruin everything.

wherethemountainmeetsthemoonWhere the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin.  Minli has grown up hearing her father’s tales of the Old Man on the Moon and as her families fortunes are bleak she sets off one day to find him, and have him change her fortune.  Throughout her journey Minli meets many characters who help her to learn the most important lesson of all – by appreciating what you already have you are the richest of all. (MR-4th & Up)  *PBP All-Time Top-Ten Favorite*

starryriveroftheskyStarry River of the Sky by Grace Lin.  When a mysterious woman arrives in the village where Rendi is working as an errand boy she brings with her stories to share.  Her wisdom opens Rendi to the possibilities of those around him,and helps him to see that to write the ending to his own story he needs to rethink his present. (MR – 4th & Up)

*2015 is the Year of the Sheep/Ram.  Because the Chinese New Year is based on the Lunar calendar it fluctuates each year – occurring sometime between mid-January and mid-February.  When determining what “year” you were born, check when the New Year fell during your birth year.  For dates all the way back to 1930 click  HERE.

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Filed under Asia, Chinese New Year, Early Reader, History, Holiday, Middle Reader, Picture Book

Listen to the Voices

Today, January 27, is International Holocaust Remembrance Day, as designated by the United Nations.  It marks the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau by Soviet troops in 1945.  Seventy years ago, the conquering Red Army discovered the largest of the concentration/death camps, and the public began the impossible task of processing the horror and atrocity that was the Holocaust.

As I began researching this post I was struggling to find the best way to frame it, while doing justice to the subject matter and the memory of the more than six million people who died as a result of Nazi policy.  I discovered that perhaps the best way to remember, and learn, is to simply listen.

Weezy-Jean, 8 years old, asked me what I was reading about and thus began a lengthy dinner conversation outlining the horrors of the Holocaust.  It was through her eyes that I realized for children to grasp the nature of the Holocaust there needs to be a human connection.  The concept of six million people was simply impossible for her to process, her shock that people allowed this to happen was incomprehensible, and the idea that no one stopped Hitler was ludicrous.    The numbers, dates, locations, technicalities –  none of this could possibly help her wrap her head around the Holocaust.

So I told her a story. “Is it true?” she asked. “Yes, I said.”  About a little girl named Syvia, who wore a yellow star, and at 4 years old had to leave her home and live in a ghetto.  About a boy name Elie, who survived, and became a writer to share his story.  About Anne, who died, but whose voice has echoed through the decades, loudly and clearly reminding the world that she was here.

To honor the victims of the holocaust this Remembrance Day, take time to listen.  Hear their voices, one by one, as they share their struggle.   When you close the book, remember the 6 million more voices that were silenced.  Their stories and gifts were stolen from our world.   The survivors give voice to the victims, and if we listen,  we guarantee they will not be forgotten.

yellow starYellow Star – by Jennifer Roy.    “In 1945, the war ended.  The Germans surrendered, and the ghetto was liberated. Out of more than a quarter million people, only about 800 walked out of the ghetto.  Of those who survived, only twelve were children.  I was one of the twelve.”   This excerpt is from an interview with Sylvia Perlmutter, Jennifer Roy’s aunt.  Roy alternates historical contextual information with Sylvia’s story, which is told in prose.  Yellow Star illuminates the shocking, painful reality of life as a Polish Jew in the Lodz ghetto where Sylvia lived for five years. (MR-4/5)

annefrankAnne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl – For two years Anne and her family hid from the Nazi’s in Amsterdam.  Her diary of their time in hiding is honest and heartbreaking, both concerning mundane daily life and the horrors of her situation.  When the Nazi’s raided the “secret annexe” in August, 1944 everyone was sent to concentration camps and Anne died of  typhus in Bergen-Belsen in March, 1945.    Her father, Otto, survived and first published Anne’s diary in 1947   For nearly 70 years it has honored her memory, and given voice to the millions who died.  For more information on Anne Frank’s experience, to see photos and maps of the secret annexe, and to discover what Anne’s diary looked liked visit the Anne Frank House website. (MR/YA-6 and up)

evasstoryEva’s Story: A Survivor’s Tale by the Stepsister of Anne Frank – by Eva Schloss.   Eva was just one month older than Anne Frank, and lived in the same neighborhood.  They were acquaintances, but not close friends.  They both went into hiding in 1942.  But where Anne’s diary ends, and her subsequent death robs us of the rest of her story, Eva’s story continues.  Sharing her traumatic and painful experiences of hiding, discovery, transport, and eventual survival of Auschwitz-Birkenau we discover what so many endured and so few survived.  A remarkable story of luck, determination, and strength of spirit.  Highly recommended to be read along with Diary of a Young Girl(MR/YA – 6 and up)

nightNight by Elie Wiesel. At just a little over one hundred pages, Night tells Nobel Peace Prize winner Wiesel’s story of forced transport from his home to Auschwitz, the loss of his family, and the deterioration of the human spirit.  As a teenage survivor of the Holocaust, Wiesel shares his experience in terrifying detail.  He also bears witness to the atrocities, testifying to the horror and using his voice to proclaim that this must never happen again.

aluckychildA Lucky Child: A Memoir of Surviving Auschwitz as a Young Boy by Thomas Buergenthal.  Only ten years old when he was separated from his parents in Auschwitz, Thomas attributes his remarkable survival to street smarts and an enormous amount of luck.  These are his recollections of the harrowing life of a Jewish child in Nazi era Europe.  After the war he became a human rights lawyer, and attributes the influence of his childhood experiences in directing his area of expertise.   Buergenthal eventually sat as the US judge on the International Court of Justice in The Hague.

fireflies in the darkFireflies in the Dark: The Story of Friedl Dicker-Brandeis and the Children of Terezin by Susan Goldman Rubin. I’ve attempted to focus on the first-person voices of children of the Holocaust, but I’ve included Fireflies in the Dark because of the artwork within, as it speaks volumes about the young residents of the Terezin concentration camp.  When art teacher Friedl Dicker-Brandeis packed her bags for deportation to Terezin she took what was most essential to her – the art supplies she would need to continue teaching the Jewish children in the camp.  For nearly two years she used art to keep hope alive, to create a safe place to express the impossible emotions the children were feeling, and to help them escape the dim reality of their existence in Terezin.   Upon liberation of Terezin, one of Friedl’s students discovered over 5000 drawings created by the children.  It is through their artwork that we are able to hear the voices of these children, bear witness to their experience, honor and remember them.(PB – age 8 and up)

To hear more voices of the Holocaust visit The USC Shoah Foundation, which has an online database of audio-visual recordings of survivors stories.

For additional information visit the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Washington, DC


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Filed under europe, History, Holocaust, Middle Reader, Young Adult

M is for…

Two ordinary kids, a tree-house in the woods, and books about every subject imaginable.  Add a little magic, mystery, and adventure and you’ve got the classic early-reader series that transports every kid to places they’ve only dreamed of!

Magic Treehouse Series by Mary Pope Osbourne

Jack and Annie, siblings from Frog Creek, Pennsylvania, are transported through time and space to help the mythical Morgan LeFay save the library at Camelot.  Along the way they meet dinosaurs, visit ancient Egypt, tackle ninjas, sail on the Titanic, immerse themselves in American History, and more!   Each book is its own stand-alone adventure, but the books connect in groups of 4 to solve larger mysteries. There is a Magic Treehouse story to complement just about any trip, holiday, or historical event.

These are great stories for those ready to tackle chapter books.  However, they are perfect for older Pre-K and Kindergarten readers who are ready for a complex read-aloud.   Suitable for a wide range of readers, Magic Treehouse books address a variety of experiences in an age appropriate way.  And for more inquisitive readers, the Magic Treehouse Fact-Trackers are fantastic non-fiction companions to the series.  For even more check out to play and learn with Jack & Annie.

*A Paperback Pigeon All-Time Top 10 Favorite*

mth1-4Magic Tree House Boxed Set, Books 1-4: Dinosaurs Before Dark, The Knight at Dawn, Mummies in the Morning, and Pirates Past Noon – Real dinosaurs?  Medieval Knights?  Ancient Egypt? Swashbuckling Pirates?   Adventure is just a turn of the page as Jack & Annie begin to discover the magic in their treehouse! (ER-K-3)

mth5-8Magic Tree House Boxed Set, Books 5-8: Night of the Ninjas, Afternoon on the Amazon, Sunset of the Sabertooth, and Midnight on the Moon –  Time and space are no match for the Magic Treehouse – or for Jack & Annie – when they travel to ancient Japan, voyage down the Amazon River, tackle the Ice Age and land on the Moon!!!

mth1-28Magic Tree House Boxed Set, Books 1-28 – Sets of 4 books just not enough to satisfy your curious reader?  Get all 28 of the original Magic Treehouse Books and join Jack & Annie for every single magical, mystical adventure from Shakespeare’s England to George Washington’s Revolutionary War encampment.

mthchristmasincamelotChristmas in Camelot (Magic Tree House, No. 29) – In the first book in the Magic Treehouse Merlin Missions, Jack & Annie take on more mythical challenges.  The series elevates in reading level, growing with its readers, as well as in content depth and story length. (ER-2/3)

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Filed under A to Z, Africa, animals, Asia, Early Readers, europe, History, Holiday, magic, mystery, North America, series, Time Travel, Uncategorized, United States

Thankful Trip

Holidays are like “mini-trips”, the opportunity to “travel” out of the daily grind.   Sometimes they involve actual travel, sometimes not, but regardless it is a break from the mundane.  Like a vacation, holidays give us room to make exceptions to our typical limitations on food, drink and bedtimes.   I’m particularly fond of Thanksgiving in this respect. How great is a holiday that puts so much emphasis on food?  True, this is a highlight of the day, but I also really enjoy the idea of taking time to simply be grateful for our blessings.   At the heart Thanksgiving is dedicating time to intentionally focus our outlook on seeing the world for all the positive it contains.

That can be hard to do when much of the holiday is wrought with “hostess distress”.  All the pressure out there  – from Martha Stewart to Pinterest – to have the “magazine ready” table, puff-pastry hors d’ourves, turkey butter sculptures and the well-brined bird can overshadow the true nature of the day.   Like any good trip, your holiday should have the requisite “must-haves”- you wouldn’t visit Paris and ignore the Eiffel Tower- so for most of us that means the turkey is non-negotiable.   And just like every vacation needs a little down-time to discover the unexpected joys of the place, holidays need un-orchestrated moments for spontaneous laughter and true connection with those around us.

Much like travel, the destination is better when shared with those we love.   Holidays are the same.   Enjoying traditions with loved-ones bonds us, shared history creates lasting memories and family identity.   Thanksgiving holds wonderful connections to our past.  Although they are both gone, I cherish the recipes that make it to the table from both my Grandmothers.  Enjoying fried cardoon and cranberry-nut jello remind us of their continued presence in our lives.

Regardless of how you spend Thanksgiving Day – at a table set with handmade lace placecards or eating pizza on paper plates -may your holiday be about what matters most – love, family, appreciation, heritage, tradition, friendship and thankfulness.   Here are several Thanksgiving reads, both traditional and modern, that remind us of the true meaning of the day.

overtheriverOver the River and Through the Wood is the classic Thanksgiving poem by Lydia Maria Child.  Originally published in 1844, and eventually set to music, the tale of traveling to Grandmother’s house for a feast on Thanksgiving Day continues to delight children of all ages.  (PB/RA)

nightbeforethanksgivingThe Night Before Thanksgivingby Natasha Wing cleverly tells the story of a modern Thanksgiving Day, from the preparations to the inevitable hilarity that family gatherings always produce, all written in the familiar cadence of Clement Moore’s classic poem The Night Before Christmas.  Enjoy this Thanksgiving spin on an old favorite!  (PB/RA)

mthpilgrimsfacttrackerMagic Tree House Fact Tracker #13: Pilgrims Jack and Annie find themselves in Plymouth colony in the fall of 1621 in Thanksgiving on Thursday  the 27th book in Mary Pope Osborne’s Magic Treehouse series.  This non-fiction companion answers all the lingering questions about what life as a Pilgrim was really like and how Thanksgiving came to be known as the celebration we enjoy today. (ER 2/3)

turkeymonsterthanksgivingTurkey Monster Thanksgiving by Anne Warren Smith reminds us that Thanksgiving isn’t about being perfect, just perfectly happy.  All the changes in her life, and pressure from neighborhood friend, have got Katie thinking that it is time to have a “real” Thanksgiving.  It doesn’t matter that she’s always loved her dad’s non-traditional, stay in your jammies, eat pizza kinda day.  If Katie can make Thanksgiving perfect then maybe her family will be perfect, too.  Funny, warm and sweet this story reminds every reader that at the heart all a family needs to be perfect is love.  (ER-3/4)

kkdontbesuchaturkeyDon’t Be Such a Turkey! Katie Kazoo is at it again – switching places at the worst times – learning what it is like to be in someone else’s shoes.  This double duty special edition has two great Thanksgiving stories from author Nancy Krulik.  First, Katie is off to visit a reconstructed pilgrim village – and you guessed it-  she turns into a real pilgrim!  Can Katie survive the first Thanksgiving?  Then Katie finds herself right in the middle of one of the most iconic American Thanksgiving Day traditions – she’s a clown in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade!   For more on this event check out my post Sweet Serendipity.  (ER-2/3)

dearamerica_jasperjonathanpierceMy Name Is America: The Journal Of Jasper Jonathan Pierce, A Pilgrim Boy  All alone, indentured servant Jasper Jonathan Pierce finds himself on the Mayflower.  To combat his loneliness and to create some connection with the brother he left behind, Jasper writes a diary of his experiences from the beginning of the journey through the difficult first years of the settlement at Plymouth.  Written as a succession of journal entries and filled with historical information this book by Ann Rinaldi gives a real picture of what it was like to be a Pilgrim, and a child, in 1620. (MR-4)

MerrieMerrie* In this young adult romance by Vivian Schurfranz 16 year old Merrie stows away on the Mayflower hoping to escape England and an arranged marriage.  She finds herself unwelcome  in this new world, and struggles to survive the lonely, cold, deadly first winter.  As the first Thanksgiving approaches should she return to England with handsome sailor Luke?  Or stay and try to make a life in this new colony with Zachariah, a budding doctor? (YA- 6-8)  

*Part of the Sunfire Romance Series which is out of print, but available used on or at the library.   I adored this series as a middle-schooler, as there is a book (and heroine) for almost every major event in American history.  Although they are formulaic, they are also surprisingly sweet, age appropriate early romance novels.*

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Filed under History, Holiday, Plymouth, Seasons, Thanksgiving, United States

Sweet Serendipity

It should come as no surprise that I am a planner, a meticulous organizer who makes sure every trip has a well researched itinerary to please all  members of our traveling crew.  Over the years however, I have come to listen to the little voice that reminds me now might be the time to throw the timetable out the window and grasp a “couldn’t have planned it if I tried” moment.

Without fail, when I’ve seized these moments, they have become the most cherished of memories.  My favorite serendipitous moment happened two years ago in New York City.

November 2012 232crop

HuskyGirl heading up the nearly empty walkway towards the giant balloons!

We had the opportunity to join our West coast family in Manhattan for the three days before Thanksgiving.   After an incredible visit, the girls and I had a day to ourselves on Wednesday as we waited for our 6pm train to Connecticut where we’d spend Thanksgiving with my in-laws.  We decided to visit the American Museum of Natural History, which is very cool in its own right.  What happened when we left could never have been planned.  We tried to get out out to Central Park, but the exits were off limits as they were preparing for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade the next morning.  We were directed to an obscure exit that took us to a semi-covered tunnel area.  Central Park was to the right, but I didn’t want to go that way – If the road was already blocked off how would we get a cab to Grand Central Terminal?  No, lets go left.  So we did.

And found ourselves funneled into the viewing area for the Macy’s Giant Balloon Inflation Event.

Not only did we not plan this, I didn’t even know this event existed!  We were able to walk with the hoards past the balloons as they were inflated, getting a true sense of their enormous size and learning about each balloons’ history.   I honestly can’t recall exactly which balloons we saw, but I can conjure in my memory the music, festival atmosphere, and wonder that accompanied this experience.    Once we were directed out of the viewing area we realized that this was no small event.  Thousands of people lined the streets  – which meant we had been quite lucky indeed (although we only saw half the balloons due to our unorthodox entry point) but also meant there wasn’t a cab to be seen for miles.   The trade off of this experience was a missed train and later arrival in Connecticut, as well as a good 12 extra blocks of walking.  I wouldn’t trade it for anything.   More importantly the spontaneity and surprise of stumbling into the experience was key to the magic.

Sometimes you have to know when once-in-a-lifetime is reminding you to let go.  So plan accordingly!

Check out this wonderful non-fiction read about the creator of the giant Macy’s Balloons .

balloonsoverbroadwayBalloons over Broadway: The True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy’s Parade by Melissa Sweet tells the tale of puppet maker Tony Sarg and his invaluable contribution to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.  From his beginnings as a marionette maker to his puppet displays in Macy’s Herald Square location windows, Sarq was an innovator in the field of puppetry.  In 1924 he created many of the original floats for the first Macy’s Parade.  However, when Macy’s wants him to create something bigger and better, Sarq must figure out how to make puppets that are going to excite the huge crowds now attending the parade each year.  With a little imagination, and innovation, Sarq proves that the amazing is possible.


Filed under Biography, History, Holiday, Thanksgiving

Veteran’s Day Voices

It’s Veteran’s Day, an opportunity to remember and honor the members of our country’s military.   November 11 is more than just a day off from school, it is a time to remember that others have served, fought, and sacrificed so that we can continue to live as we choose.  Originally established to commemorate the Armistice established November 11, 1918 ending the hostilities in WWI, in 1954 the holiday was changed to honor veterans of all conflicts.  Check out these books that bring personal perspective to the military experience of World War I.

poppyladyThe Poppy Lady: Moina Belle Michael and Her Tribute to Veteransby Barbara Walsh is the true story of one woman’s quest to honor the soldiers in World War I.  Inspired by John McCrae’s poem “In Flanders Fields” Moina Michael turned the poppy into an enduring symbol of appreciation and remembrance for the American military.  (PB)

knityourbitKnit Your Bit: A World War I Story by Deborah Hopkinson is the story of a little boy who wants to help when his father goes off to fight in WWI.  He realizes that doing something small can make a big difference.  Inspired by the true life event of the Central Park Knit-In in 1918. (PB)

bunnywarhorseBunny the Brave War Horse: Based on a True Storyby Elizabeth MacLeod is a heartwarming tale of two brothers and their horse who tackle the horrors of World War I together.  (ER – 1-3)


shootingatthestarsShooting at the Stars by John Hendrix details the Christmas Eve Truce of 1914, when British and German soldiers came together on the battlefield to celebrate the holiday together, only to return to their trenches and await orders to resume fighting.  Includes non-fiction support information about the truce. (MR- 4/5)

inflandersfieldsIn Flanders Fields: The Story of the Poem by John McCrae by Linda Granfield follows the lines of the historic poem interspersing factual information about all aspects of the military experience in World War I. (MR – 4/5)


afterthedancingdaysAfter the Dancing Days by Margaret Rostkowski tells the story of Annie, a young girl who is trying to forget World War I.  That’s what her mother wants her to do, but Annie can’t seem to forget Andrew, the young injured soldier at the hospital where her father works.  As Annie gets to know Andrew better she begins to understand that the War isn’t so easy to forget and growing up isn’t so simple.  (MR -6+)

allquietonthewesternfrontAll Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque is a defining classic of the cost of war to the young men engaged to participate in conflict.  Paul Baumer enlisted with his friends, but as the war goes on and he lives the horrors of World War I, he vows to work against the principles of hatred that have destroyed his life.  (YA+)

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Filed under classics, europe, History, Holiday, military history, veterans

J is for….

What if you could travel through time and witness – or even help at – the great events in American History?  Would you do it?  What if your parents’ fate depended on it?

Just in Time by Cheri Pray Earl & Carol Lynch Williams

Nine year-old twins Gracie and George just want their parents back, but they are trapped in time!  When the siblings discovery the antiques their parents have collected were stolen from history Gracie and George realize the only way for their mom and dad to come home is for the twins to travel in time themselves and return the items to their rightful historical period.  Beginning in Delaware, the first state, and moving through each state in order of admission to the United States,  the Just in Time series takes upper elementary readers right into the action of some of the most exciting events in American History. (MR-4)

justintimerescueindelawareThe Rescue Begins in Delaware – All Gracie and George want is to return sn antique school desk and look for their parents.   Instead they discover a small glitch in their time travel – when they go back in time one of them becomes an animal! Suddenly they find themselves helping Caesar Rodney make his way to Philadelphia to vote on the Declaration of Independence.   Will they make it in time, or will American History be changed forever.  Where are their parents?  What does the sinister character Crowe have to do with this?  And, most importantly, will Gracie be a horse forever?

justintimesweetsecretsinpennSweet Secrets in Pennsylvania – George and Gracie travel to 1907 where they meet Milton Hershey!  He invites them to help be chocolate testers at his factory – what could be better?  But the kids still need to return an antique rug, outwit Crowe, and foil a plot to steal Mr. Hershey’s secret, perfect chocolate recipe.  Adventure, danger and deliciousness at every turn!

justintimewizardofmenloparkWizard of Menlo Park, New Jersey – When George and Gracie find themselves in Thomas Edison’s laboratory they are amazed at his incredible inventions.  But they are stunned to discover that he has also invented a time machine!  And when Crowe enters the lab – not the Crowe they know, but a younger version – they realize he might destroy the machine and any chance George and Gracie have of getting home to their own time!

justintimedangerousdayingeorgeA Dangerous Day in Georgia– The discovery of a note from their parents leads George and Gracie to St. Simons Island, Georgia during World War II.  They need to return a bike to the bike shop, but it is closed!  If they wait one more day they are sure to run into danger, as the note predicts, and Crowe,who is still following them, will have a chance to catch up and destroy the time machine.

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Keep them on the shelves!

This week is Banned Books Week here in the US.  It is an opportunity to bring to light the books, and the messages, that have been challenged, primarily over the past 4 decades, for a variety of reasons.  I’ve thought a lot about this issue, started and re-started, written and re-written this post, trying to get a handle on exactly what it means to both sides when a book is challenged or banned. But in the end I will  help carry the torch against the  banning of books. Does that mean I agree with everything I read? Nope. But I believe in the power of literature to inspire, comfort, motivate, encourage, expose and interest readers.

I have a hard time processing the banning of books.  Free speech, one of the strongest ideals held in the Bill of Rights, established in the First Amendment, is a cornerstone value on which our society was established.  Banning books means removing access to ideas, thereby limiting free speech. Regardless of personal opinions, the societal ideals we uphold need to be applied universally – we can’t pick and choose which amendments should be adhered to.  I’ll never own a gun, and I most definitely do not want my children in a home with a firearm. But I can’t stop others from owning one. Just because someone doesn’t want their child to read The Hunger Games doesn’t mean they can take away that opportunity from my child.

Equal opportunity aside, what is it about banned books that gets everyone so riled up? And why are these books, or any books, so important?  Often the banning of books is a way to protect our children from what we have deemed as scary, unfamiliar, or shocking. Reading is way to experience the world, without having to actually experience it. Learning through literature enables readers to branch out, safely. Books help us to think differently, sometimes that makes us uncomfortable, but it is a necessary challenge pushing us to grow.  Allowing your child to read banned books gives you the chance to comment and weigh in, imparting your values either in reinforcement or opposition.

I’ve put together 5 reasons that books, all books, should be kept on the shelves.

1.) Literature is a reflection of our society. Reading about someone like you eases isolation and validates your feelings and existence.

thefamily bookThe Family Book by Todd Parr (PB) has been challenged because it represents families of all types, some with only one parent, some with two parents of the same sex. How painful and unfair for children in these family groups to never see their life represented – for diverse families make up much of our population. The moral of the book is that all families are special and filled with love – an experience everyone should see validated.

AreYouThereGodmodernAre You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. by Judy Blume (MR) is one of the top 100 most challenged books of the 90’s and 00’s. Just like any other 12 year old girl, Margaret struggles with buying her first bra, getting her period, and establishing her identity. What an honest heroine for pre-teen girls to know – and to help them realize that what they are going through is normal. Unless they don’t get to read it.

2.) Books open our eyes to existences different from our own, which increases understanding. Exposure to differing beliefs, lifestyles, and experiences breeds empathy and tolerance.

betternatethaneverBetter Nate Than Ever  by Tim Federle (MR) follows the story of Nate, a Broadway show loving misfit, from his small hometown in Pennsylvania to New York City to realize his dream of auditioning for a role on-stage. I’ve read this one cover to cover and what stuck with me the most was the idea of pursuing your dreams, and realizing you aren’t alone. Nate encounters some interesting characters on his journey who validate his uniqueness. There is also an “appreciate your family” piece that I like, too. Nate, along with his show-biz troubles, also has a minor sub-plot that addresses his current confusion about his budding sexuality. Ending unresolved, is he gay or isn’t he?, the book promotes a compassionate character who can help young readers not feel so alone. But it also creates empathy and understanding for those who, tempted to bully or belittle what they don’t understand, will reconsider in favor of tolerance or even friendship. Click HERE to read author Tim Federle’s thoughts on banning his book.

olivesoceanOlive’s Ocean  by Kevin Henkes (MR)  is #59 on the ALA list of challenged books for the 00’s primarily because it deals with mortality. Olive and Martha could have been friends, but they never knew it, and now it’s too late. Olive was killed in a car accident and, when her mother gives Martha pages of Olive’s journal that reveal how Olive really thought of Martha, it causes her to rethink who she is an who she wants to be. At it’s heart Olive’s Ocean is a coming-of age story about the loss of innocence and realization of our own mortality. It also examines the idea that we never truly know how we are perceived by others, or what our impact may be on their lives. (Newbery Honor Book)

3.) Imagination and fantasy encourage creativity and originality. They also require us to take a hard look at our own world.

wrinkleintimeA Wrinkle in Time  by Madeline L’Engel (MR) is a fantasy story with a female protagonist who travels through time and space searching for her father. It’s mystery and adventure in a fantasy world. Since it’s publication in 1962 it has been criticized for being too adult, too Christian, not Christian enough, and frankly addressing the battle between good and evil. Paperback Pigeon moment of honesty – I hated this book as a child. It was confusing and I didn’t get it. And that is one of the biggest complaints about it. However, banning something because you don’t understand is prejudice, fear bred of ignorance. I put it down and didn’t read the rest of the series. No harm done. But my sister-in-law loved this series as a girl, and I’m glad she was given the chance to read it. (Newbery Medal Winner)

harrypottersorcerersstoneHarry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling (MR) is one of the most popular, and most challenged, books of the 00’s. Primary concerns are the use of witchcraft and its direct opposition with religious teachings. I’m going to fall back on the Bill of Rights for this one, #1 in fact not only has the freedom of speech, but freedom of religion, too. Banning access to these books based on religious reasons violates the freedom to believe and practice as we wish. Another opposition – the scary nature of the stories and the characters frequent experiences with death. Dealing with death- of a pet, grand-parent or other loved one- is sadly, a part of life. Reading about it can help children to process loss, before they have to encounter it in real life.

hungergamesThe Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (YA) is violent, graphic, and emotionally draining. In another Paperback Pigeon moment of honesty – I hated this book. Yep. So why should it be on shelves? Clearly it is a created fantasy world, a dystopian society, far fictionalized from our own. Yet, it provokes a lot of thought about our current society. I especially like the idea of the voyeuristic sensibilities of watching the Hunger Games via satellite in all the districts. How does that correlate to our current fascination with reality TV? How far will we go for entertainment? In the insular fictional word of Panem readers see an exaggerated reality, and determine how far it really is from our society.

4.) Historical novels, when taught in context, provide a window to the past. Just as modern literature reflects the values of our current society, classic literature was at one time contemporary – they reflect the world in which they were written.

tokillamockingbirdTo Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (YA) is one of the most banned books of the 20th century, and is still on the list of banned books today. Why? Because it’s deals with racism. Of course it’s about racism – and tolerance, and understanding the weaknesses of the human condition and societal influence on morality. It’s about doing what is right, and just, against adversity. Using literature to teach about the inequity and injustice of racism, means that racism will have to be examined, addressed, and refuted. Not ignored. Set in 1936, published in 1960, To Kill A Mockingbird, when read in historical context, opens minds to how far we’ve come, and how far we’ve yet to go.  (Pulitzer Prize 1961)

diaryofayounggirlAnne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank (YA) has been banned for its open and honest portrayal of teenage adolescence. First, it should be open and honest – it was her diary after all. Secondly, when placed in historical context, that is what makes it so compelling and important. Anne is just another pre-teen girl (see Margaret, #1 above) so she is identifiable to readers. Yet what she is experiencing at the hands of the Nazi regime is unimaginable. This book has humanized and personified the Jewish experience during World War II for young readers since it as first published in 1947 (English version 1952).

5.) Early readers don’t come to the table with an understanding of societal constraints. Adults teach those, often too early and unnecessarily.

inthenightkitchenIn the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak (PB) is banned primarily because the main character, in a dream sequence, is illustrated naked. I’ve read this book to many preschool aged kids and they don’t ever seem to dwell on this. “He’s dreaming so he doesn’t have clothes” or “Isn’t he cold?” Older kids and adults are the ones uncomfortable with this because society has taught us that our bodies should be covered (and, yes, I highly encourage wearing pants to the grocery store), but by placing those constraints on a preschool age group, and book, we deny children the opportunity to enjoy this wonderful story.

andtangomakesthreeAnd Tango Makes Three  by Peter Parnell & Justin Richardson (PB) is probably the most challenged book of the late 00’s. It’s based on the true story of a male penguin couple at the Central Park Zoo who were given an egg to raise. Although a great story for children of same-sex couples to see their situation mirrored in literature (see #1 above), it can also help other children gain understanding and empathy for differing family groups (see #2 above). Many children just want to read about penguins. Sometimes grown-ups think too much.

I strongly encourage handling topics in an age-appropriate manner, reading and discussing along with your child, or pre-reading middle-reader/young-adult book choices so that you can be ready to openly answers questions or concerns. Even though it requires work, effort and time, and sometimes saying no, it all comes down to parents being responsible for guiding their children’s literature choices. Just don’t try to guide my children’s choices. You can leave that up to me.

• For a list of banned books check out the American Library Association.
• Check out the Paperback Pigeon pinterest page on banned books:
• Concerned about what your kids are reading? Common Sense Media provides reviews and age suggestions– compare their reviews with books you’ve read so you can decide if you agree or disagree with their ratings. Then you can refer to their reviews to help guide your child appropriately.
• Or visit your local library – many have displays up this week for Banned Books Week!

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Filed under Banned Books, classics, History, travel

C is for….

Finding true friendship is sometimes all we need to discover who we really are.

Cornelia & the Audacious Escapades of the Somerset Sisters by Lesley Blume

Most consider it good fortune to be the daughter of someone famous.  For eleven-year old Cornelia the reality is absentee parents and a quirky personality.  Seeking solace in a dictionary, the isolation makes her reclusive.  This is the world of Cornelia, and eleven year old in New York City, until the mysterious, elderly Virginia Somerset moves in next door with her servant Patel and her french bulldog, Mr. Kinyatta.   As Virginia shares the stories of her worldly travels with Cornelia a mutual friendship develops.  Cornelia learns more about Virginia, and herself, with each story.  But as they spend more time together Cornelia realizes that Virginia’s stories are her legacy, and she is running out of time to gift them to Cornelia. MR/4-6
corneliaandsomersetsisters   Cornelia and the Audacious Escapades of the Somerset Sisters

*A Paperback Pigeon All-Time Top 10 Favorite*

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