Wednesday, December 29, 2010

2011 SB&F Prize Winners

CLCD President Marilyn Courtot once again served on the SB&F Prize committee. The following winners were recently announced.

Children's Science Picture Book
Magic School Bus and the Climate Challenge
Oh, that all students could have an imaginative science teacher like Ms. Frizzle! The Friz loads her students into a magical bus-plane which takes them on a tour of the world. They see first-hand the causes and results of global warming. Student notebook pages are interspersed throughout the text to show their understanding of these concepts. Whimsical illustrations throughout the book show the elements of global warming and the students’ reaction to these events on this tour. Questions and answers in the back of the book address what children have read. The text is age appropriate and the humor combined with scientific facts make reading this book fun and informative. Young readers and their parents will learn how to make actionable changes that will make a difference in global warming. Although this is a stand-alone topic, it is part of the “Magic School Bus” series. 2010, Scholastic Press, $16.99. Ages 7 to 10. Reviewer: Annie Laura Smith (Children's Literature).

Middle Grades Science Book
The Hive Detectives: Chronicle of a Honey Bee Catastrophe
In 2006, a commercial beekeeper lost all the bees in 400 hundred of his hives for a total of 20 million bees. To unravel the mystery, four respected scientists began an investigation to seek the cause of the bees’ disappearance. What follows for readers is the unraveling of a mystery to match any fictional whodunit. One by one, leads are followed and discarded, but despite many theories, this mystery has yet to be solved. The book also includes the work of amateur beekeeper Mary Duane and follows her to her hives to watch her care for her bees and learn the fascinating process of extracting honey from the hive, which the author calls “liquid gold.” Along the way, readers pick up information on the social structure of the hive, physical description and division of labor of its inhabitants, and the vital role of bees in the agricultural world. Faux notebook-style pages introduce each scientist as well as provide some hive and bee information. The accompany photos, in addition to being well composed, are dramatic and colorful. An extended appendix and comprehensive glossary and index round out this highly readable and worthy science book. 2010, Houghton, $18.00. Ages 10 to 14. Reviewer: Beverley Fahey (Children's Literature).

Young Adult Science Book
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
Science journalist Skloot makes a remarkable debut with this multilayered story about “faith, science, journalism, and grace.” It is also a tale of medical wonders and medical arrogance, racism, poverty and the bond that grows, sometimes painfully, between two very different women—Skloot and Deborah Lacks—sharing an obsession to learn about Deborah’s mother, Henrietta, and her magical, immortal cells. Henrietta Lacks was a 31-year-old black mother of five in Baltimore when she died of cervical cancer in 1951. Without her knowledge, doctors treating her at Johns Hopkins took tissue samples from her cervix for research. They spawned the first viable, indeed miraculously productive, cell line—known as HeLa. These cells have aided in medical discoveries from the polio vaccine to AIDS treatments. What Skloot so poignantly portrays is the devastating impact Henrietta’s death and the eventual importance of her cells had on her husband and children. Skloot’s portraits of Deborah, her father and brothers are so vibrant and immediate they recall Adrian Nicole LeBlanc’s Random Family. Writing in plain, clear prose, Skloot avoids melodrama and makes no judgments. Letting people and events speak for themselves, Skloot tells a rich, resonant tale of modern science, the wonders it can perform and how easily it can exploit society’s most vulnerable people. Review from Publishers Weekly

Hands-On Science Book
The Book of Potentially Catastrophic Science
Connolly starts at the beginning of human experimentation in the Stone Age and discusses the great discovery of weapons. Moving forward in history, the book explores the discovery of fire, the creation of arrows, and the wheel. Spending a chapter on each momentous change for Earth, we march past many scenes in history including the discovery that the earth is not flat; the invention of gunpowder, and nuclear explosions. The breadth of this book is amazing. Through it all, Connolly maintains a casual tone of a tour guide who assumes the reader is up to the (sometimes) complex topic. The projects, which are manageable for fairly young readers, include folding a paper helicopter, boiling water in a paper cup, and creating a chain reaction using marbles or toy cars. Each chapter is made up of a description of a particularly discovery or earth-changing experiment, an explanation of the scientific principles involved, and a short project. While the projects will be fun, they will not stand on their own as science fair projects; readers would need to come up with further questions to answer in their experiments. 2010, Workman Publishing, $13.95. Ages 9 up. Reviewer: Amy S. Hansen (Children's Literature).

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Secrets of Stonehenge & Searching with CLCD

Last month PBS aired a new feature, Secrets of Stonehenge, about new archeological finds around Stonehenge. You can watch the full program online at

This educational program is a great example to show how teachers, librarians, parents, and caregivers can incorporate The Children's Literature Comprehensive Database (CLCD) with other media to present truly comprehensive information to children and young adults.

By using simple search parameters, you can find a great list of appropriate books to tie-in to the Secrets of Stonehenge TV program. I searched for "stonehenge" and changed the pubdate to "2008" on. That's it. Other suggestions for more specific searches would be to select nonfiction and change the age ranges or grade levels under "additional search qualifiers," and also to select subject headings under "search specific fields." For more on search procedures go to

From 2 million MARC records this search narrowed down the results to 24 titles. By reading the different reviews you can determine what books fit your needs best. Because CLCD has full-text searching, a simple search on Stonehenge can lead you to books that include Stonehenge but focus on a different topic. This is one of my favorite parts of using CLCD -- that it can lead you in directions that you might not have originally thought of.
Here are a few selected reviews from that search:

Astronomy and Culture
Edith W. Hetherington and Norriss S. Hetherington
It’s the twentieth anniversary of the Hubble telescope launching--what better time to look at astronomy books? The Greenwood Guides to the Universe seven-volume series includes The Sun, The Inner Planets, Stars and Galaxies, Asteroids, Comets, Dwarf Planets, and The Outer Planets. The writing is accessible to most high school students, and the content is interesting for the browser but includes enough depth and breadth for more serious researchers. The information is as current as possible. In addition to the standard volumes on the components of the universe, the series contains two unique volumes: Cosmology and the Evolution of the Universe and Astronomy and Culture. Astronomy and Culture examines the history of astronomy from Stonehenge to recent discoveries. There are unique and interesting chapters on mythology and astronomy, calendars, extraterrestrial life and science fiction, and astronomy and religion. This set will be used for reports and for those interested in astronomy. It is a great choice for updating your collection in this changing scientific area. (Greenwood Guides to the Universe) VOYA CODES: 5Q 2P S (Hard to imagine it being any better written; For the YA with a special interest in the subject; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12). 2009, Greenwood, 231p.; Glossary. Index. Illustrations. Photos. Charts. Biblio. Further Reading., $65. Ages 15 to 18. Reviewer: Susan Allen (VOYA, August 2010 (Vol. 33, No. 3)).

If Stones Could Speak: Unlocking the Secrets of Stonehenge
Marc Aronson
Working with chief archaeologist of the Riverside Project, Mike Parker Pearson, the author discusses the often-serendipitous nature of scientific discovery. This book does not deal with questions about how Stonehenge was built, but rather with understanding why it was built. The conventional wisdom--that it served as a temple--was turned on its head when an archaeologist from Madagascar was brought in to look at the site, and he suggested that it was a place to honor and assist the transit of the dead. Having studied a similar culture on Madagascar where the people built magnificent edifices of stone for the dead while living in humble wooden structures, Ramilisonina caused archaeologists to look at Stonehenge--and its surroundings--in a totally new way, leading to monumental discoveries of adjacent sites that fit with this new theory. The science of archaeology has advanced greatly in the last couple of decades and some of the earlier data that had been puzzling those studying Stonehenge turned out to be miscalculations by earlier scientists. Wonderful photographs of people as well as places, and abundant supplementary information in the form of chronologies, brief biographies of relevant archaeologists, and suggestions for further reading and research are plusses here. But perhaps the book’s most unique contribution are these ideas: science often advances by stops and starts; new knowledge is often as much the result of imagination and inspiration as hard detailed fact gathering; and there is always something new to learn. 2010, National Geographic Society, $17.95. Ages 7 to 14. Reviewer: Paula McMillen, Ph.D. (Children's Literature).

Kate Riggs
This brief book about Stonehenge gives information about the famous circle of enormous stones located on England’s Salisbury Plain. Color photographs illustrate the area, the stones and their layout pictured at different times of day, visitors to the site, and contemporary Druid worshippers. The text points out that since the installation was completed around 3,500 years ago, the stones do not look exactly as they originally did. All have been worn down by centuries of weather, some have fallen over, and some have been taken away for use in other structures. The eighty bluestones that originally made up the inner circle were brought from the Welsh mountains, and the much larger sarcen rocks were arranged around them later. The reasons for building Stonehenge remain a mystery, though many people believe it was a place of worship. A very popular landmark, Stonehenge attracts nearly a million visitors every year. The text is followed by a four-word glossary, two suggestions for further reading, and a brief index. The book is part of the “Places of Old” series. 2009, Creative Education/The Creative Company, $24.25. Ages 6 to 9. Reviewer: Judy DaPolito (Children's Literature).
Emily Griffin

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Interview with Jim Gownley

Children's Literature reviewer Kathie Josephs interviewed Jimmy Gownley, author of the popular Amelia Rules! series. Below are excerpts from that interview. For the full feature visit

Kathie Josephs: When I was growing up I lived at the library. Did you go there much?
Jimmy Gownley: No, we didn't have one and we didn't have a bookstore either. There was a library in Ashlyn and that's about 3 ½ miles from Girardville. You couldn't even ride a bike to it because it was too dangerous a route. So I never went to the library. Sometime I could go to a bookstore that was even further away, but that was in the mall. In Girardville there was a very small convenience store. When I was really little, there were some candy stores and a newsstand, but essentially when I was growing up we had only the one store and that is where I bought all the comic books, but my parents were always hugely interested in getting me to read and to read early. When I was only 3 years old, my Mom was teaching me to read. And one of the first things she read to me was Charles Schultz's, "Peanuts." My whole life I remember those things. Another way she would teach me to read was by making flash cards. It was hilarious because that was in the 1970's which I know sounds like a million years ago. She could have gone to the store to purchase them, but she made her own for some reason. She can't draw, but she made little stick figures and stuff like that. One day when I couldn't have even been four, because I know we were still living in the apartment that we moved out of when I was four, I started taping the flash cards to the door of the apartment. I was making a story out of it. Boy got in his car – drove to his house. You know, I was just a little kid and I made my first comic strip by using my Mom's flash cards. What's nice about that is whenever people ask me, "How did you ever become a cartoonist," I can say, "I blame my Mother."

KJ: There you go, a perfect answer.
JG: Our school had a library and I could take books out. I remember that I was obsessed with one called Harriet the Spy.

KJ: That is a great book! You know kids still read Harriet.
JG: Yeah! Yeah! They have made a few attempts at sequels but they are sort of sad. The original Harriet the Spy was absolutely mind blowing; I just took it out again and again. For all I knew, this was a lost, forgotten book, because I had never heard anyone mention it... ever. I couldn't find a copy to buy, so I took my notebook and I was trying to copy it so I could have a copy to read. Of course I gave that up after the first charter. There was a Scholastic Book Fair at my school and that was where I was able to buy my own copy. You know, I still have that copy today.

KJ: My next question you have already answered, because I was going to ask when you realized you wanted to be a writer. I am going to assume it was when you put the flashcards on the door.
JG: It wasn't just writing; it was being a cartoonist. That was what I wanted to be from as early as Kindergarten. There was a brief time when I thought I wanted to be Jedi Knight, but it turned out when I would stare at items across the room and try to will to come into my hand nothing happened. I went back to cartooning. In fifth grade I had a teacher named Miss Klinger, and she was the first person that said that I had writing ability. I remember very clearly. She was a very good teacher. We would read stories from our readers and there were a couple of instances when we were assigned to write sequels. And I wrote one for a story called The House of Dies Drear, but I can't remember what it was about now. It was some kind of ghost story, and when I wrote my sequel, I can remember my teacher saying, "You could be a writer someday." And she actually gave me some extra assignments to foster that talent. It was fun, and kind of weird because it was fun, but didn't count toward my grade. I was thrilled that somebody thought that I could possibly write stories.

KJ: How did you decide to have Amelia face real things in her life? Your books give good messages to young people.
JG: I think it goes back to that conversation I had with my friend Tony back in high school. My initial intention when I started writing "Amelia"...the first thing I did was write a really, really short story called "Freeze Tag". It's in the first chapter of The Whole World's Crazy. It was to be unbelievably light-hearted and nothing serious, but it just didn't feel like that was my voice and what I was best at doing. I had written a number of stories and it was more humorous than having anything serious in them.

Then the September 11th attack happened in 2001. I was having dinner with a friend named John Trogner and he said, " What are you going to do about this? In the book, how are you going to address this?" I told him I wasn't going to address it. And he said, "You have to." I wanted to know what he meant by I had to. He said, "Your audience is kids and kids will read this; they relate to Amelia and they are going to be thinking about this and it is your responsibility to write about this." And I thought, "Wow, that's farther that I ever thought I'd go."

But I wrote the Christmas story called, Amelia and the Other Side of Yuletide. Mostly it's about Amelia's trying to scam her parents. Using their divorce guilt to give her more presents. At the end of the story Amelia gives a monologue. If you read them now, it seems like she is talking about people who have difficulties and then there are people who have great difficulties and we should be grateful. At the time it was very obviously a reference of what happened because she is from New York and her dad still lived in New York. Once I did that, then all bets were off and it became a real world. Amelia had always felt like a real character to me, a real little girl.

KJ: What is the most interesting activity that you do other than writing?
JG: You know what I like to do? I like to play the guitar. I've been playing since I was in 4th grade and I don't think I have gotten any better, but I like doing it.

KJ: What is your favorite food?
JG: That's easy. Cake! I wish I could say something more sophisticated like I have developed this great pallet. Oh, escargot is wonderful, but I like cake...most any kind of cake.

KJ: What's the best movie you have ever seen?
JG: You know, when I was very little, I would have thought the best movie was the Muppet Movie, and then Star Wars, and then it would have been Annie Hall, and then Pulp Fiction and now it is the Muppet Movie again.

(photo via