Tennyson by Lesley M.M. Blume

Lesley M.M. Blume’s Tennyson is a stunning Southern gothic tale, haunting and lyrical. It’s 1932 and the Depression has hit the United States hard. Unaware, Tennyson and her little sister, Hattie, live a wild and carefree life in the backwoods of Mississippi. Their home, Innisfree, is a tiny cabin set back in the forest, inhabited by their parents, Emery and Sadie, and a wild dog named Jos. The girls live a life full of freedom until the day their mother leaves.

When Emery goes off in search of his wife, he leaves the girls with their Aunt Henrietta, at his childhood home, Aigredoux. Aigredoux is the ancestral Fontaine family home in Louisiana, that Emery and Sadie left far behind when they married. In ruins since the end of the Civil War, the family has lost all their money and their place in high society. Aigredoux itself has been overrun by vines, moss, and the weight of its own past. While there, Tennyson is haunted by dreams of her family’s past and the “blood money” that built Aigredoux, on the backs of slaves. The dreams horrify her and at the same time inspire her to write the tale of her family’s demise. She knows that if she can get the story published in the one magazine her mother always reads, Sadie will see it and come back home.

This is a novel that intelligent readers will love, because Blume does not condescend or speak down to her readers. In many ways, Tennyson reminded me of Natalie Babbitt’s Tuck Everlasting. Both books treat children as intelligent human beings by handling realistic situations and stories. Yet they both embrace the magical realism that is all too often missing in children’s fiction. Both books also end rather abruptly, as life often does. Unlike Babbitt, Blume chose to chop her final two chapters from the original manuscript, which sound as if they would have served the same purpose as Babbitt’s Epilogue in the sense that it would have let the reader know exactly what happened to each character farther in the future. I applaud Blume’s bravery in removing the chapters and letting the reader decide for themselves.

Blume has crafted a haunting and poetic novel that will stay with you long after closing the book. She captures the spirit of the old South in ways that make you love and loathe it. Just like Tennyson says, “That’s what the Mississippi does. It tempts you in, and then it catches you. It loves you and doesn’t want to let you go. So it pulls you down to the bottom and keeps you there.”

Be sure to check out Blume’s great website, including links to many plantation houses.


Baker & Taylor Fall 2008 Preview

Before today, I had never been to a publisher’s preview. When my school librarian passed on the information about Baker & Taylor’s Fall 2008 Preview, I jumped at the chance. Instead of heading to school this morning, I headed up to Bridgewater, NJ to attend the event.

The preview was held at Arbor Glen, an adult living residence in Bridgewater, down the road from their warehouse. Unfortunately, the warehouse is under construction, so they were unable to offer tours like they normally do. But you know what? That is more than ok, because Arbor Glen was gorgeous! I was about ready to move in by the end of the day.

The event was held in a conference room, and I was thrilled to find water, coffee, muffins, and various pastries. The preview actually lasts 3 days, but I chose to attend today’s session because it was the easiest day for me to get away from my classes. As I had never been to a preview before, I was not sure how it would work. I arrived with 5 minutes to spare, so I grabbed a pastry (which was delicious) and found a seat just as the lights dimmed.

The publishers in attendance spoke one by one, introducing their biggest titles for next fall, with a Powerpoint to help with the finer details. I was was one the few non-librarians in the room, so the ISBN numbers, etc were not as important to me as to others, so I mostly looked at the pretty cover art images.

The morning began with Scholastic. They presented a good deal of titles, but the following were my favorites:
Maze Of Bones (39 Clues) by Rick Riordan- I should hate the idea of this series. I never like series books that are written by more than one author. Online games tied to books seem desperate. I hate it when publishers advertise books as “THE NEXT HARRY POTTER!!!!!!”. Yet, I can not wait to get my hands on this. Can. Not. Wait. The rep from Scholastic was extremely enthusiastic, and never once compared it to Harry. And my favorite part is that the few ARCs that were printed are missing the last two chapters, so that reviewers can’t get a head start on the game! The series will have two books next year, 4 in 2009, and 4 in 2010. The first book will be out in Sept. 2009

Dog Lost by Ingrid Lee- I am a sucker for animal stories. Especially dog stories. This sounds like a tearjerker! “11-year-old Mackenzie has got one friend in the whole world: Cash, his brown-eyed pit bull. His dad won the runt after a long night of drinking and gambling–ever since Mac’s mom died, that’s all he seems to do, and soon he erupts in a rage at the innocent pup, takes her away in the trunk of his car, and dumps her in the middle of nowhere. Mac vows to find Cash and bring her back home–he has to: All strays are about to be outlawed! Little does he know that while he searches for Cash, she’s surviving her own adventures and proving in the process that all dogs–even pit bulls–are born good”.

Along Came Spider by James Preller- A story of two best friends, Spider and Trey, who realize that growing up can be hard when you are different. One of the boys has a learning disability, and when they enter 5th grade he becomes a target for bullies. Is it time for the boys to end their friendship or stand up for each other?

Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins- YES YES YES! The buzz on this one is great. And I got an ARC today! Can not wait to read it. The rep described it as American Idol meets Survivor meets the end of life as we know it.

Kin (The Good Neighbor) by Holly Black- a new graphic novel series. Creepy and a 3 part series. I am looking forward to this one!

Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Emperors of the Ice: A True Story of Disaster and Survival in the Antarctic, 1910-13 by Richard Farr- Another one I was lucky enough to scoop up an ARC of. This is a non-fiction book, grades 6 and up, that tells the tale of Apsley George Benet Cherry-Garrard’s journey to Antarctica to study the emperor penguin in the spring of 1910. A true life survival tale!

A Life in the Wild: George Schaller’s Struggle to Save the Last Great Beasts by Pamela S. Turner- Scientist George Schaller is on a mission: to save the world’s great animals and their environments. This biography, illustrated with Schaller’s own amazing photographs, examines the amazing life and groundbreaking work of the man International Wildlife calls “the world’s foremost field biologist.” I can’t wait to get a copy of this, if only for the photographs alone. It looks gorgeous!

Sea Queens: Women Pirates Around the World by Jane Yolen- Jane Yolen. Enough said. I will definitely be ordering this title!

Random House
Moxy Maxwell Does Not Love Writing Thank-you Notes by Peggy Gifford- I loved the first Moxy Maxwell book. Moxy’s voice was so like my little sister’s that I had to love her! The rep told us, in hushed tones, that this one is even better than the first!

Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman by Marc Tyler Nobleman- The true story of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, two Depression-era teens who created Superman, and their quest to find a publisher willing to take a chance on a new medium- comic books. In the end, they sold the rights to DC Comics for $130. Yes, you read that number right!

Those are only a handful of the books I saw today. I wrote down pages and pages of notes, with a lot of books added to my “must-get” list. Fall 2008 looks like an exciting season for most publishing houses!

To be continued later, after American Idol. Coming up, a summary of Lesley M.M. Blume’s author talk (amazing) and the unreal lunch provided by Baker & Taylor (delicious!).

Nonfiction Monday- Independent Dames by Laurie Halse Anderson

I don’t normally review picture books, but when I saw a preview of Independent Dames: What You Never Knew About the Women and Girls of the American Revolution by Laurie Halse Anderson, I knew I had to have it. Laurie Halse Anderson is one of my favorite writers, I love books that focus on women in history, and it looked like a great example of a multigenre book for me last unit of study. I was right on all counts!

The only question is how to review this title.

Independent Dames is a great example of a multi-genre picture book. The illustrations are done by Matt Faulkner (who also illustrated Thank You, Sarah: The Woman Who Saved Thanksgiving with Laurie Halse Anderson) and play a major part in the story. Independent Dames is not your typical picture book. Instead of one narrative thread through the pages, there are four types of writing on each spread- a timeline, biographical information, narrative storyline, and dialogue bubbles. My students are working on multigenre research projects right now and I can’t wait to share this with them so they can see how a topic, such as women in the Revolutionary War, can be shared through various genres.

The story begins in the narrative box, with a narrator welcoming the reader to another school play. The slightly sarcastic tone informs the reader that while the play is fine and dandy, the students are missing about half the important people and half of the story. As the story continues, the narrator introduces the fact that women were heavily involved in the fight for freedom, even if history books tend to leave out their stories. The story of the Revolutionary War is then told across the pages of the book, in the slightly sarcastic, know-it-all voice of the narrator.

I LOVED the voice in this book. Absolutely loved it. This is a picture book built for intermediate grades and middle schoolers, and the voice will speak to them. Middle schoolers are sarcastic, they are know-it-alls, and they certainly don’t want to be treated like babies. Too many non-fiction picture books talk down to students, dumbing down the information and making the topic dry and dull. Anderson makes the information accessible and dare I say, even fun!

There are 89 women profiled throughout the book. Most of the women are featured in biographical sketches that explain their contribution to the war effort. While the wives of the Founding Fathers are featured, they play a small role compared to the other various women profiled. The women whom Anderson chose to feature constantly elicited exclamations from me as I read. For example, I had no idea that Sybil Ludington was 16 years old when she rose 40 miles through the night to spread the news of a British attack and round up militia members. Remember Paul Revere? He rode 16 miles. Total. Who knew?! The biographical sketches are all easy to read and do not burden the reader with unnecessary information. In my opinion, Anderson gives just enough information to interest the reader and hopefully convince them to research further on their own!

Each page also includes dialogue boxes which add a little bit of humor to Faulkner’s illustrations. The dialogue boxes and illustrations continue to showcase the play that the story focuses on. I laughed out loud while reading many of them!

At the bottom of each page is a timeline that spans 1763-1920 (women get the vote!). The timeline highlights all the important events of the Revolutionary War. This is also every teacher’s dream. 🙂

Finally, the book ends with four pages that profile “Even More Dames”. Laurie Halse Anderson provides information on even more Revolutionary dames, while also debunking myths (Molly Pitcher). Anderson also focuses on women of all races and creeds- there are African-Americans, Oneida women, Loyalists, and Tories throughout the book.

The books concludes with an author’s note, illustrator’s note, a bibliography, and an index of the famous dames. Every teacher’s dream!

I can not wait to add this title to my classroom library. Laurie Halse Anderson has created the ultimate non-fiction book for middle-schoolers. I can’t wait to use it for my multi-genre study and my Women’s History Month project. Independent Dames: What You Never Knew About the Women and Girls of the American Revolution is an absolute MUST for all classrooms and libraries! And the best part is, students will actually want to read it!  It can be read at a glance, with the narration and dialogue bubbles, or kids can read deeper and examine the crawl/timeline.  This is a book that can be read over and over, with kids learning something new each time.

Princess Ben by Catherine Gilbert Murdock

Princess Ben is not your typical princess. Instead of a proper, waif-thin, ladylike teen, Ben (short for Benevolence) is loud, big-boned, and opinionated. Her parents encourage her independence and are her best friends. Unfortunately, Ben’s life is forever changed when her mother and father are murdered while on a day trip to her grandfather’s grave. Ben is left an orphan and becomes the ward of her aunt, Queen Sophia. Too young to rule her country, Ben is to be properly groomed by Sophia before becoming the ruler of her country.

Queen Sophia is cold and seemingly cruel to Ben- forcing her to learn how to be a princess, how to dance, and worst of all, how to eat a “princess portion”. Ben, never stick-thin, turns to food for comfort during her grief and Queen Sophia is furious. She locks her in a tower and forbids her to leave unless Sophia allows her to leave the room. Even worse is the fact that Queen Sophia has been grooming her for suitable suitors!

However, everything changes when Ben discovers the magic. Ben is amazed by the discovery: a hidden magical room. There she learns spells from a mysterious spell book while the rest of castle sleeps. But Ben will have to learn more than magic if she’s to ever escape from aunt’s clutches and keep her country from being overrun by the very people that conspired in her parents’ murders.

This book is very different from Dairy Queen, but there are similarities. Ben is a strong female character and not your typical, waif-y princess. She grows and changes throughout the novel, becoming stronger and more mature but never loses herself. This is not the story of a damsel in a distress who needs to be saved from the dragon. This is the story of a damsel saving herself from the dragon!

A fun YA read, I would recommend this to fans of Ella Enchanted. Ben is an inspirational strong female character that I think many young girls will love. Murdock has skillfully woven the mythology of this new fairy tale kingdom into the fabric of the rest of the fairy tale world. There are cameos by famous fairy tale characters, which left me laughing out loud, but they never distract you from the story at hand. Fans of Catherine Gilbert Murdock and fairy tales will love Princess Ben!

May Edge of the Forest

The May Edge of the Forest is up.

Here’s what’s in store this month:

  • Reviews in all categories—from Picture book to Young Adult.

The Edge of the Forest will be back in early June.

An FYI for those who were looking for my latest Hot Books in the Classroom post- you will find it in the Backpacks column!


I was tagged for this meme by ReadImagineTalk.  Usually,when I am tagged for a meme it takes me a month to get around to it  Here goes:

The rules of the game get posted at the beginning.

Each player answers the questions about themselves.

At the end of the post, the player then tags five people and posts their names, then goes to their blogs and leaves them a comment, letting them know they’ve been tagged and asking them to read the player’s blog.
Let the person who tagged you know when you’ve posted your answer.
What were you doing five years ago?

This is going to date me……five years ago I was in my freshman year of college.  I was living on the campus of Douglass College, meeting the best friends of my life and figuring out what to do with my life.

What are five things on your to-do list for today (not in any particular order)?
-grade spelling tests

-go to the mall

-exchange my new Gap pants for a better color

-cook dinner

-water my plants

What are five snacks you enjoy?
chocolate, chocolate, chocolate, ice cream, chocolate.

What five things would you do if you were a billionaire?
Buy books.  Lots of books.  And publish my own.  Donate to charity.  Adopt animals from kill shelters and foster/rescue them.  Put some away for “later”

What are five of your bad habits?

Biting my nails, being too cheap at times and not cheap enough at other times, being a lazy housekeeper, and I am a softie when it comes to abandoned animals.  Oh, and I kill houseplants.  I do not have a green thumb, but I keep trying!

What are five places where you have lived?

I don’t like being specific online, because I have lived in the same general area since birth.  But I will say Bunting-Cobb (Douglass College) and other various Rutgers dorms.  Other than that, the Jersey Shore. 🙂

What are five jobs you’ve had

Camp counselor

internet lead manager at a real estate company

waitress at a concert venue (so fun!)


SAT tutor

What five people do you want to tag?

Miss Erin

WIzards Wireless

Jen Robinson

Little Willow

Big A little a

IRA Presenter Handouts

For those of you like myself, who were unable to attend the IRA (International Reading Association) Convention last week, I have good news!  The presenters’ handouts are now online.  I just spent an hour downloading and reading and wow!  I highly encourage you to check them out.

IRA Presenters’ Handouts