Wednesday, March 27, 2013

10 Plants that Shook the World

10 Plants that Shook the World
Gillian Richardson, author
Kim Rosen, illus
Annick Press, 2013

It's easy to overlook the significance of all the plant life around us. Sure, we eat plants every day...but do you think about the plants you might be wearing, walking on, or even using as medicine? 10 Plants that Shook the World introduces us to ten plants that helped bring about world changes. They were intensely valuable for their properties, be they spice, textiles, medicine, or food. Their value drove world exploration and colonization, trade routes, economic situations--even causing dramatic changes in population growth.

Can you guess the 10 plants which might have made the list for this book? Most of them are incredibly ordinary, you might forget you're eating or using a plant form. And Richardson does a great job at helping the reader to see all the facets behind each of the plants' histories she writes: the good, the bad, the ugly. She walks a careful line between fact and judging, and I think she does it well.

In addition to the history of each plant's discovery, cultivation, and impact on world events, she offers a short grouping of basic plant facts for each plant, maps to highlight where plants were discovered, a fictional account of how a given plant might be being used or cultivated or worked on by young people in various cultures, and a terrific bibliography and "further reading" list. The illustrations aren't particularly my style, but they aren't offensive and I think kids will appreciate them.

Look for this book soon in libraries! You might also consider adding this to a school or public library if you're in the position to make those decisions. This is a great resource and interesting nonfiction. Recommended for upper elementary and middle grades.

If you like plants and gardening, be sure to check out my "Librarian's List" of 10 books on gardening today  on Redeemed Reader!

Monday, March 25, 2013

Novel in Verse: Odette's Secrets

I've come to really enjoy reading novels in verse in recent years. They're remarkably easy to read, despite their poetic form, and at least one--Inside Out and Back Again--has gained Newbery notoriety. They are especially appealing to certain groups of middle school and teen readers and often tackle deeply emotional or poignant issues without feeling overly dramatic or "cheesy."

Odette's Secrets
Maryann MacDonald
Bloomsbury, 2013

Odette's Secrets sounded like it was right up my ally: novel in verse, WWII time period, little explored subject within its time frame. And I did enjoy it. Little Jewish Odette lives in Paris as WWII looms large, and Hitler begins his "cleansing" of Europe. Her father goes to fight for France, and he is soon captured and taken as a prisoner of war. As Paris heats up, her mother hatches a daring plan with other resistance fighters: to send their children to willing strangers in the countryside to keep them safe. The time comes to put this plan into action, and Odette, along with three other girls she's never met before, travel by train to a family they've never met before. They are instructed in all the good Catholic ways, go to a Catholic school, attend a Catholic church, and in general passed off as "good Christians."

A series of events follows this, some heart warming, some heart wrenching. Yet, Odette's Secrets is based on the memories of the real Odette, so we know she survives. And she does.

The story in this short novel in verse is a rich one and worth reading, especially for those who enjoy WWII stories. My one complaint is the format. Although I really enjoy novels in verse, for some reason the format just didn't work for me in this one. I kept realizing I was reading a novel in verse; a really great one will suck you in and the form doesn't keep intruding on your consciousness in such a way as to jerk you back out of the story.

Look for this in bookstores or, hopefully soon, in libraries.

Thanks to netgalley for the ARC and goodreads for cover image

Don't forget that Megan and I are now contributing to Redeemed Reader! My first post there will come later this week.

Veggies: Fun Facts and Tasty Treats

Delicious Vegetarian Main Dishes
Jennifer Larson
Lerner Press, 2013

We're part of a CSA, so during the growing season, we eat LOTS of vegetables. While we don't attach a "label" to our cooking, I'm always on the lookout for resources with vegetable-heavy recipes. I also have a 7-year-old daughter who LOVES to help me out in the kitchen.

Delicious Vegetarian Main Dishes is a handy addition to the world of kids' cookbooks: most recipes are appealing to kids (only a couple of tofu recipes in the 9 recipes) and can be readily made by middle school students. The most difficult cooking skills are handling a sharp knife for some cutting tasks as well as being around stove/oven. As soon as you think your children can navigate these areas, check out this cookbook!

Larson does a good job of explaining techniques that grown-up cookbooks assume: grating cheese, draining cooked veggies in a colander, and the like. Occasionally, she misses a crucial step (such as reminding a young chef to remove plastic wrap before baking), but overall she reaches her audience well. Safety tips, ingredient and technique glossaries, lots of pictures, and a clear ingredient list for each recipe make this a user-friendly cookbook.

But the real question with any cookbook is: do the recipes work and do they taste good? I grabbed my eager young chef and we tested out the lasagna roll-ups. The verdict? YUM! If you're in the market for something a little more practical, check out this cookbook. Hits store shelves soon and will hit library shelves soon after.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Exciting News for Literaritea! and I are thrilled to announce our new partnership with Redeemed Reader, run by Janie Cheaney and Emily Whitten. We have long admired their work on their website, have read their columns in WORLD Magazine, and have read and admired Janie's young adult novels (four to date). Beginning today, we will both be contributing regular columns/posts on Redeemed Reader as well as helping manage behind-the-scenes details for the quickly growing website. This explains our relative inactivity as of late on Literaritea.

So, what does this mean for Literaritea? Initially, nothing, save for a lesser amount of attention from us. For the time being, Betsy will continue writing sporadic book reviews, and we will keep all of our existing content. We will be putting our greater attention, though, to our work with Redeemed Reader--you might say Literaritea is more of a hobby and Redeemed Reader is more of a professional commitment in terms of the type and amount of effort we will be contributing to both. We will wait to see what the Lord has in store for the future of both sites!

We'd like to encourage all of our regular readers, if you are not already doing so, to follow Redeemed Reader. For our email subscribers, know that one option we are exploring already with Janie and Emily is how to get an email subscription option going for Redeemed Reader. You may sign up for their email newsletter while you wait for more options! They also have RSS feeds enabled for those of you who subscribe to Literaritea by that method. For our Twitter followers (the few, the proud, ...), you can still follow "Literaritea." Besty will be tweeting RR posts from the same account for a while. We'll keep folks up to date on any communication-related changes. In addition, if you are on facebook, be sure to check out Redeemed Reader's Page.

Come on over and read our biographies on Redeemed Reader tomorrow, look for some Easter-related book lists later this week, and catch our first "official" posts on Redeemed Reader the week after Easter.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Mirage (Above World #2)

Jenn Reese
Candlewick, 2013

Wow. This is one of those second-book-in-a-series that assumes you have read the first-in-the-series and can keep up! With very little preamble, we are immediately plunged back into the world of Aluna and her best friend Hoku, both Kampii, and their friends Calli (who has wings) and Dash, an Equian. If those descriptions means nothing to you, read no further. Just go read Above World quickly so you can catch up!

The four friends attempt again to thwart the nefarious Karl Strand and one of his clones in this fast-paced book. Trying desperately to arrive at Mirage (an aptly named desert city in the middle of Equian country), the friends find their plans constantly shifting and changing--much like the terrain they are crossing. As the book progresses with rapidly advancing plot, they meet new friends and form new alliances. We meet the Serpenti--a race of people adapted to live as snakes do. We understand more of Dash's personal history as well as that of another "failed" Equian, Tal. We watch Aluna struggle to admit her need for and dependence on her friends, and we watch a gripping showdown in which the ending is brilliantly done. I love it when an author doesn't give us the expected ending! Aluna "grows up" a bit in this book as she suffers the side effects of the pill she swallowed at the end of the last book--the pill the Kampii swallow to generate their trademark tale.

I'll confess that I didn't find the writing style as distinguished in this book as in Above World. Still, for fans of Above World, this is a fun sequel to be sure. Similar thought-provoking discussions will result, as well: what makes us human? When is too much tech, well, too much? What assumptions do we make about others based simply on appearances or quickly formed judgements from one action? When does our pride get in the way of a true friendship (either with people we already know or with those we've pre-maturely judged)? When is tradition important and when should it alter to fit the new times we're living in?

Clearly we are headed for more in this series; Karl Strand is still out there, and Aluna and her band are stronger than ever!

Recommended for middle grades, especially those who enjoy fantasy/sci-fi! Look for Mirage in book stores this week, and hopefully on library shelves soon, too!

Cover image from netgalley; ARC of book thanks to netgalley as well!

Monday, March 4, 2013

Finding Zasha: another great boy + dog story

Finding Zasha
Randi Barrow
Scholastic, 2013

Finding Zasha is a prequel to the popular Saving Zasha. I never read Saving Zasha, so I read Finding Zasha "cold" with no pre-existing ideas. And I thoroughly enjoyed it. I'm a sucker for good boy + dog stories, and in this case, it's boy + 2 dogs + Russia during WWII.

When the story opens, 12-year-old Ivan is living with his mother in an apartment in Leningrad as the famous siege of Leningrad begins. Ivan and his older neighbor (an "aunt") flee the city on a dangerous journey which involved crossing a iced-over river, catching a ride with a stranger, and showing up unannounced at a distant relative's house. Once they arrive in their new rural town, Ivan quickly makes friends with the local resistance fighters and joins them--none too soon, it turns out, because the Germans are moving in quickly. Ivan ends up getting chosen by the brutal commander of this particular German force--Axel--to play music for him and to train Axel's two adorable German Shepherd puppies.

I won't give away the rest of the book. Suffice it to say that Ivan forms a tremendous bond with his two canine charges, hatches a daring escape plan for them and him both (and other resistance fighters), endures another harrowing journey across unforgiving winter Russia, and... you'll just have to read it! Those who enjoyed the first Zasha book will enjoy this one. This one ends on a cliff hanger--which makes sense if you've read the first book, but which I had to do a little research about since I haven't read the first book.

Zasha is a bit too long for my tastes and will challenge some early middle school students. Still it's a good fit for the middle grades age group.

Truth and Story: This is a very engaging story, but the Truth aspects were a little off to me. From what I understand of Russia, the time period, and any group of people in wartime, I though it noteworthy that there was scant mention of religion of any sort. It doesn't "ruin" the story, but I noticed. Still, it provides a good picture of a boy hero, a brave group standing together at great risk, and what wartime can do to people.

Finding Zasha should be on shelves in bookstores now and will no doubt follow soon to library shelves.

ARC from netgalley; cover image from goodreads