Thursday, April 29, 2021

Brainstorm 242: Mysteries on Trains

In the mood for a good mystery and longing for travel right now? I’ve got some mysteries on trains for you this week. Of course, when I say train and mystery in the same sentence, you probably think of Agatha Christie’s Mystery on the Orient Express. But that is by no means the only mystery on a train that even Agatha Christie wrote. So we’re going on beyond the Orient Express to some of the perhaps lesser known mysteries on the tracks. Click on the title to see my full review of each book and any content notes.

The Boundless by Kenneth Oppel

Across the great Dominion of Canada, a railway like no other has been built. It goes from one ocean to the other, and it is built to transport the largest train in the world. The Boundless is a train 7 miles long, with cars up to 3 stories high, and Will Everett's father is driving it. Will was supposed to spend the journey West in the comfort of his first class suite, but at the first stop he witnesses the murder of the guard for Mr. VanHorne's funeral car and the murderer is someone Will recognizes. Will is certain Brogan is here to rob VanHorne's funeral car of it's treasures, but in order to do so Brogan will need a key. A key Will picked up in the forest that had fallen from the dead guard's grasp. Now he's trying to avoid Brogan's murderous clutches. It should be a simple matter of sending a message up to his father in the engine, except Brogan has recruited several others working on the train and Will doesn't know who he can trust. He's about to despair, when Mr Dorian, the master of the circus on board the train, takes him in. Will met Mr Dorian and Maren, the tightrope walker, a few years before this journey. Now they are his only hope to get back up the 7 miles of train cars to warn his father about the murderous men on board. And as if vile, greedy men on the train aren't enough, Mr Dorian has some secrets he's keeping from Will, and the wilds of Canada abound with all sorts of other dangers from the Muskeg to the Sasquatch to avalanches.

The Boundless has a tall-tale, re-imagined history with a touch of fantasy feel that is actually rather reminiscent of Jules Vernes' adventure stories, if Verne had thought of having a super big train travel across the wilds of 19th century Canada.

Target Readers:

Mystery Fans, Suspense Fans, Reimagined History Fans, Fantasy Fans, Mythical Creature Fans, Canadian Setting Fans, Middle Grade/Young Adult Readers


Excellent Intentions by Richard Hull

Enter the courtroom for the trial of the murder of the odious Mr. Carthgate. The man who keeled over in the train made enemies practically wherever he went and therefore the potential list of murderers is at first daunting. As the case is laid out by the prosecution and defense, readers are occasionally taken back to the scene of the crime, a train station, and the victim’s house the day before as witnesses share their memories. But it is not until the very end of the book that readers get to find out who exactly is on trial for the crime.

This was one of the very first mystery stories to be told through the setting of a courtroom, and it is cleverly written so you are kept guessing about who is on trial for the crime.

Target Readers:

Courtroom Drama Fans, Mystery Fans, Historical Fiction Fans, Classic Mystery Fans, Adult Readers


Express Train to Trouble (A Miss Mallard Mystery) by Robert Quackenbush

Miss Mallard is on the Nile Express train for a tour of the Valley of the Kings in Egypt. The tour is not as pleasant as many had hoped thanks to the annoying pranks one member keeps pulling. When he disappears, it is up to Miss Mallard to find the missing prankster and who absconded with him.

The story has elements that definitely give nods to some of Agatha Christie's most famous mysteries, and is a great mystery for young sleuths just getting the hang of using their magnifying glasses and little grey cells.

Target Readers:

Mystery Fans, Historical Fiction Fans, Animal Sleuth Fans, African Setting Fans, Lower Grade Readers

Lantern Sam and the Blue Streak Bandits by Michael D. Beil

Lantern Sam is a rather unique feline. Not only is he a very rare male calico, but he has the ability to talk to certain humans in English. He also has a knack for solving crime. And it's a good thing he lives on the Lake Erie Shoreliner with Clarence the train's conductor, because someone or someones are up to some serious mischief. The daughter of the rich Strasbourg family, Ellie, was enjoying a nice ride on the train headed to the Conneaut Lake unveiling of their Blue Streak roller coaster and had just introduced herself to another youngster, Henry Shipley, when she suddenly disappeared and a ransom note appeared. The kidnappers were demanding that Ellie's parents turn over the famous Blue Streak necklace in return for the girl. Clarence, Henry and Sam are swiftly on the case trying to figure out who the kidnappers are and where they took Ellie. In between updates on the case, Sam gives readers flashbacks into his rather eventful and exciting life before he joined Clarence on the Lake Erie Shoreliner.

Target Readers:

Animal Sleuth Fans, Mystery Fans, Historical Fiction Fans, Middle Grade Readers


The Mystery on the Blue Train (Agatha Christie Graphic Novels) adapted & ill. by Marc Piskic, based on the story by Agatha Christie

The death of a woman on a train who was in possession of a famous ruby necklace is a mystery only Hercule Poirot can solve.

Not personally my favorite graphic novel adaptation, but this is a very approachable way for reluctant readers to be introduced to Agatha Christie.

Target Readers:

Graphic Novel Fans, Mystery Fans, Historical Fiction Fans, Reluctant Readers, Young Adult Readers


Mystery on the Ostrich Express (Fabio, the World’s Greatest Flamingo Detective, #2) by Laura James, ill. by Emily Fox

Fabio and his friend are taking a vacation and are traveling on the Ostrich Express. When a thief strikes the train, Fabio is on the case to find out who stole just that one gem and why.

I really enjoyed the African animal cast of characters. Hand this to little sleuths along with a pair of sunglasses as several pages of this are glaringly bright fluorescent pink and orange!

Target Readers:

African Setting Fans, African Animal Lovers, Fluorescent Color Fans, Mystery Fans, Lower Grade Readers


The Transatlantic Conspiracy by G.D. Falksen, ill. by Nat Itawa

Rosalind is the only daughter of successful American industrialist Mr. Wallace. She was enjoying the Season in England with her best friend Cecily de Vere when her father messages that he needs her to be on the inaugural trip of his newest venture, the Transatlantic Express which will go under the Atlantic from Germany to the United States. Rosalind knows the routine, but she is tired of her father using her as a business stunt. Her friend Cecily helps make the trip sting a bit less when she and her brother volunteer to come along. Upon departure Cecily runs into an old friend from finishing school, and Charles goes missing. But that isn't the last of the mysterious things to happen on the trip. Halfway to America two people are brutally murdered. But who would do such a thing and why?

This reads more like a high society drama with young ladies talking about the Season, what is in fashion, scandalous hobbies (like motoring), and the men on the train for much of the book until the murder happens. Then things get much more mysterious and the tone takes a turn.

Target Readers:

Steampunk Fans, Reimagined History Fans, Mystery Fans, Turn of the 20th Century Society Dramas Fans, Light Romance Fans, Young Adult Readers

Thursday, April 22, 2021

Brainstorm 241: Birdy Nonfiction Books

This week's Brainstorm has gone to the birds. Yep, we've got nonfiction books about all kinds of birds today. Click on the titles to see my full reviews and any content notes.

Birding is My Favorite Video Game by Rosemary Mosco

A collection of comics about the natural world that combine real information and touches of humor.

This collection manages to be both educational and funny. The topics covered focus on nature, animals, biology, and earth sciences. And Mosco knows her stuff.

Target Readers:

Bird Lovers, Humor Fans, Comic Readers, Adult Readers (though accessible to middle grade and young adult readers)


The Birds of Pandemonium by Michelle Raffin

What started as a rescue of a few unwanted or abandoned birds evolved over the years into a full-blown bird sanctuary with breeding programs for a few endangered species. Raffin relates how she accidentally meandered into the bird world, and how it grew and changed over the years, with stories of individual birds along the way. A very readable and interesting read about how a woman in the business world found herself managing a bird sanctuary.

Target Readers:

Animal Rescue Story Fans, Bird Lovers, Memoir Fans, Lighthearted Read Fans, Nonfiction Fans, Adult Readers (though easily accessible for teens and tweens)

Birds of Photo Ark (Photo Ark) photographs by Joel Sartore, text by Noah Strycker

Sartore continues his quest to photograph every species on the planet and bring awareness to endangered species, starting with those in captivity. This volume focuses on birds. Filled with photographs of many, many birds and aviary information in short essays scattered throughout by Noah Strycker. Sartore’s photography is AMAZING. You are totally justified in picking this up just to look at the photos.

Target Readers:

Photography Fans, Bird Lovers, Adult Readers (though photos accessible to all ages)

The Call of the Osprey (Scientists in the Field) by Dorothy Hinshaw Patent, photos by William Muñoz

Patent and Muñoz take readers to Montana where scientists are studying ospreys, apex predators in the ecosystem there, to figure out the overall health of an area severely damaged by mining pollution in centuries past. Readers are introduced both to those focusing on the study of the birds of prey and how that is done, as well as those who focus on the rivers and dirt in the area and what measures are being taken to remove the pollutants. The combination provides a look at a wide array of people involved, from those who own ranches and provide access to osprey nests to university professors and students to nursing home residents.

Target Readers:

Ecosystem & Pollution Recovery Studiers, Osprey Lovers, Birds of Prey Lovers, Nonfiction Fans, Middle Grade/Young Adult Readers

Condor Comeback (Scientists in the Field) by Sy Montgomery, photos by Tianne Strombeck

Sy Montgomery shadows scientists on the frontlines of helping Californian condors come back from the brink of extinction. She learns a lot of the hazards that the condors still face, and the active role scientists play in keeping the birds healthy as much as possible.

Lead poisoning and choking on microplastics are huge factors in condor health and so the book spends a lot of time on that. Condor knowledge has come a long way in the past 20 years, and it is interesting to find out what scientists have discovered by keeping such a close eye on the birds for such a long period of time. A very interesting look at efforts to save a species from the brink of extinction, and I like that there are super practical, easy ways mentioned for young people to help save the animals around them.

Target Readers:

Ecosystem Studiers, Endangered Species Studiers, Condor Lovers, Nonfiction Fans, Middle Grade/Young Adult Readers

Crow Smarts: Inside the Brain of the World’s Brightest Bird (Scientists in the Field) by Pamela S. Turner, photos by Andy Comins, ill. by Guido de Filippo

The crows that live on Caledonia are smarter than the average bear. They can figure out complex problems, like how to reach a grub when their claws and beak can't touch it. This book looks at how they demonstrate their intelligence, how science's ideas about animals and tool use have changed over the years, and what kind of research the scientists on Caledonia are doing with these brainiacs.

Target Readers:

Curious Readers, Nonfiction Fans, Crow Lovers, Middle Grade/Young Adult Readers

Ducks (National Geographic Kids Readers) by Jennifer Szymanski

An introduction to ducks, their common characteristics, and the many types of ducks. A super simple reader with fantastic photos of a wide variety of ducks from all over the world and a little info on migration in the back of the book.

Target Readers:

Duck Lovers, Migration Studiers, Curious Readers, Beginning Readers, Nonfiction Fans, Picture Book Readers

The Great Penguin Rescue: 40,000 Penguins, a Devastating Oil Spill, and the Inspiring Story of the World’s Largest Animal Rescue by Dyan deNapoli

Dyan deNapoli recounts her experience going to South Africa in 2000 to help rescue 40,000 penguins caught in an oil spill from the sinking of The Treasure. An eye-opening look at just how grueling animal rescue from oil spills can be from the perspective of a trained penguin keeper (deNapoli worked at a zoo in the States and was sent by the zoo to help).  Reading this gives you a whole new perspective on penguins and their personalities. It’s a very engaging, but also thought-provoking read.

Target Readers:

Animal Rescue/Conservation Story Fans, Memoir Fans, Penguin Lovers, Nonfiction Fans, Adult Readers (accessible to teens)

The Great Penguin Rescue: Saving the African Penguins by Sandra Markle

African penguins have been on the decline for several centuries. Sandra Markle explains how and why that happened, and what people are now doing to try and bring these penguins’ numbers back up. Markle’s very readable and engaging text is accompanied by lots and lots of wonderful penguin photos. Markle’s history of the decline in the African penguin population is enlightening. Even more fascinating, perhaps, were all the intervention methods they tried and sounded great in theory but didn’t work. What has been working is surprisingly simple. It’s a great real life example of the scientific method, and not giving up after failures.

Target Readers:

Scientific Method Studiers, Animal Conservation Studiers, Perseverance Story Fans, Penguin Lovers, Photography Fans, Curious Readers, Nonfiction Fans, Middle Grade Readers

Kakapo Rescue: Saving the World’s Strangest Parrot (Scientists in the Field) by Sy Montgomery, photos by Nic Bishop

Kakapo are flightless parrots that live in New Zealand. With less than 100 kakapo known in existence, they are in grave danger of extinction. Sy Montgomery and Nic Bishop take readers to visit these rare birds and the scientists and volunteers trying to ensure they make a population recovery. Through a 10 day trip, readers get to know much about the birds, some individual characters Sy and Nic meet, and the joys and heartaches of the scientists working with these birds. And Nic Bishop has shot some amazing photographs of kakapo in their beautiful New Zealand homeland.

Target Readers:

Weird and Wonderful Animal Fans, Endangered Animal Studiers, Animal Conservation Studiers, Curious Reades, Photography Fans, Nonfiction Fans, Middle Grade/Young Adult Readers

Little Kids First Big Book of Birds by Catherine D. Hughes

An introduction to what makes a bird a bird for kids, and a look at various birds all over the world with chapters that focus on different methods of nest building, mobility, eating habits, etc. Very informative, outstanding photographs, and I like how there are birds from all over the world that are highlighted.

Target Readers:

Bird Lovers, Curious Readers, Nonfiction Fans, Photography Fans, Lower Grade Readers

Moonbird: a Year on the Wind with the Great Survivor B95 by Phillip Hoose

Moonbird takes the reader on a journey from the southern tip of South America to the Arctic Circle and back again with a flock of rufa red knot birds on their incredible yearly migration route. All the while, the reader is particularly looking for news about sightings of a red knot that was banded B95 and nicknamed Moonbird. He has defied the odds by aging to 18-20 years of age, while the overall numbers of red knots have been dropping. As the reader travels the Western hemisphere, he gets to learn all about red knots, what they eat, how they've been studied, and why their numbers might have been dropping.

Target Readers:

Migration Studiers, Animal Conservation Story Fans, Amazing Animal Feats Story Fans, Curious Readers, Nonfiction Fans, Bird Lovers, Young Adult Readers

National Wildlife Federation's World of Birds: a Beginner’s Guide by Kim Kurki

A survey of some of the most common birds of the world, presented in a highly engaging illustrated format with little snippets of interesting info on each bird. The birds are arranged by habitat. This book is a feast for the eyes. The illustrations are incredible, and readers can choose how much or how little they want to learn about each bird. I can see kids growing with this book, at first just looking at the birds and as they get older absorbing more of the facts. I personally loved that the book highlighted birds from around the world that are common so the book doesn't feel nailed down to readers from one certain continent.

Target Readers:

Bird Lovers, Curious Readers, Nonfiction Fans, Lower Grade Readers (though accessible younger and still interesting to older kids)

Owls: Our Most Enchanting Bird by Matt Sewell

An illustrated survey of owls of the world, accompanied by little quips about each owl. Sewell's illustrations are charming, though I'm not entirely sure how useful some of them would end up being if you had to differentiate between owls that closely resemble each other. Still a fun little book. The little things said about each owl usually include something informative and some comment by the illustrator about the owl (and I sometimes felt like I needed a British slang dictionary to understand these).

Target Readers:

Owl Lovers, Coffee Table Book Fans, Cute Illustration Fans, Bird Lovers, Adult Readers (though accessible to YA & middle grades)

The Penguin Lessons by Tom Michell

Tom Michell was on holiday at the coast in Uruguay when he came across a host of animals washed up from an oil spill incident. Most of the animals were already dead, but when one penguin moved, Michell decided to do what he could for it. He cleaned it up best he could and then tried to set it free at a clean section of nearby beach. However, the penguin refused to leave him and Michell wasn't sure his feathers were still waterproof after the deep scrubbing. Since his holiday was ending, there was no local zoo, and he was due back at the international school he worked for the next day, Michell decided the best thing to do was take the penguin back to school in Argentina with him. Originally, Michell planned to drop off the penguin, now dubbed Juan Salvador, at the zoo or coast in Argentina. But after further investigation, Michell didn't have the heart to abandon Juan Salvador at the zoo where the penguins looked miserable, and the Argentinian coast was quite a ways away from the school. In the meantime, Juan Salvador seemed to be taking to the British boarding school life like a fish to water. He loved the boys, he had no end of people willing to fetch him fish, and he was getting healthier by the day. Recorded in this book are little stories from Juan Salvador's interactions with the students, other people and Michell, the ways he changed lives, and also stories from Michell's life as an expat in Argentina during the late 1970s.

Target Readers:

Expat Story Fans, Penguin Lovers, Argentina Setting Fans, Memoir Fans, Nonfiction Fans, Adult Readers

Penguins vs. Puffins (Funny Face-offs) by Julie Beer

The tuxedoed birds of the north and south's stats, quirks, and triumphs compared and contrasted in a battle readers get decide the winner of. Who are better, penguins or puffins? In my opinion everyone is a winner here. Readers get loads of fabulous photographs of cute and cuddly birds and get to learn cool facts about penguins and puffin along the way. A very engagingly put together read.

Target Readers:

Penguin Lovers, Puffin Lovers, Animal Fact Sponges, Curious Readers, Reluctant Nonfiction Readers, Middle Grade Readers

The Secret Lives of Puffins photos by Mark Sisson, text by Dominic Couzens

Incredible photographs of puffins are accompanied by text describing their regular habits and life cycles. This is another one you are completely justified in picking this up just for the photos, but the facts on puffins are quite interesting.

Target Readers:

Puffin Lovers, Photography Fans, Curious Readers, Nonfiction Fans, Adult Readers (accessible to teens)

Warbler Wave by April Pulley Sayre with Jeff Sayre

Photographs of colorful warblers is accompanied by poetic text describing their activities. In the back of the book is an extensive amount of further information about warblers.

Target Readers:

Warbler Lovers, Little Bird Watchers, Photography Fans, Nonfiction Fans, Picture Book Readers

Thursday, April 8, 2021

Brainstorm 240: Water, Water, Water

We’re about to head into Songkran break here which is around a holiday that involves a LOT of water. I thought it would be a great time to have a Brainstorm on books that teach about the properties of water and/or the water cycle. Click on the titles to see my full review and any content notes.

A Drop of Water by Walter Wick

A survey of the properties and states of water, illustrated with photographs of each. A clearly written and stunningly photographed introduction to the properties and states of water. It’s a great resource and is explained simply enough you can use it with a wide age range, from elementary up to high school. And though this is almost 20 years old now, it has aged extremely well. None of the science or photos are dated. If you can only get one book on water, this is the one to get.

Target Readers:

Nonfiction Fans, Curious Readers, Photography Fans, Middle Grade Readers (though as mentioned, it can be used below and above that age range)

Hey, Water! by Antoinette Portis

A poetic ode to water that introduces little readers to the many places it can be found and forms it takes. The back of the book includes further information about water's properties, states, why it is a precious commodity, and the water cycle. This is the shortest and simplest of all the books in today's Brainstorm.

Target Readers:

Nonfiction Fans, Curious Readers, Readers with Short Attention Spans, Picture Book Readers

Raindrops Roll by April Pulley Sayre

Close-up photographs and rhyming text illuminate raindrop activities before and after rain. Further notes in the back of the book dig deeper into the science of water.

Target Readers:

Rhyming Book Fans, Poetry Fans, Nonfiction Fans, Curious Readers, Photography Lovers, Picture Book Readers

The Rhythm of the Rain by Grahame Baker-Smith

A lyrical look at the water cycle through the eyes of a boy wondering where his jar of water went that he poured into a stream. Gorgeous illustrations! 

Target Readers:

Curious Readers, Realistic Fiction Fans, Art Lovers, Picture Book Readers


River by Elisha Cooper

A lone woman loads her canoe and sets off from a lake high in the Adirondack mountains to paddle down the Hudson to the ocean. 

An incredibly well-researched book that follows the path of water from high in the mountains to the ocean, and accurately represents the changing landscape beside the bodies of water along the way.

Target Readers:

Canoers, Adventure Fans, Realistic Fiction Fans, New England Setting Fans, Art Lovers, Picture Book Readers

Song of the River by Joy Cowley, ill. by Kimberly Andrews

A mountain boy asks his grandfather what the sea is like. Grandfather promises to some day take him, but one day the trickle of water sings to the boy about the sea. The boy follows the song and finds the sea eventually.

Kimberly Andrews' illustrations for this story are amazing. They really make you feel like you've taken a trip to the woods. Readers also get to learn how the mountain waters eventually make their way to the ocean.

Target Readers:

Nature Story Fans, Grandparent/Grandchild Story Fans, Art Lovers, Picture Book Readers

Water Is Water by Miranda Paul, ill. by Jason Chin

Follow some children as they observe water changing forms throughout the seasons, and even being used by plants and their own bodies. 

This book breaks the science down in ways kids can easily grasp, and does so in poetic language and beautiful illustrations. The author's notes in the back of the book provide more scientific terms and explanations for the stages of water in the water cycle. 

Target Readers:

Nonfiction Fans, Curious Readers, Poetry Fans, Art Lovers, Picture Book Readers


Wild Weather: Storms, Meteorology, and Climate (Science Comics) by M.K. Reed, ill. by Jonathan Hill

Through the setup of a weather man in a news studio talking to the other anchors, readers will learn what causes all sorts of weather events from rain to hail to jet streams to tornadoes. (And along the way covers the water cycle and forms of water.)

It's hard to classify the books in this Science Comics graphic novel series. Are they educational fiction with the premise given or just entertainingly presented nonfiction? Either way, they do a superb job of teaching the science (and usually go to AP level depths). Secondary science teachers covering weather totally could use this to replace textbook content. And thanks to the graphic novel format, tweens and teens pick them up to read for fun too!

Target Readers:

Graphic Novel Fans, Educational Fiction Fans, Entertaining Nonfiction Fans, Storm Story Fans, Curious Readers, Middle Grade/Young Adult Readers

Thursday, April 1, 2021

Brainstorm 239: Space Trains

For this week’s Brainstorm I’ve got some unconventional space travel methods. Space trains. You don’t run across trains in space very often, but there are a few intergalactic railroads authors have brought to life. And each is quite unique. If you like imaginative writing and something a little different in your scifi, then hunt down one of these books. Click on the titles for my full review and any content notes.

Railhead (Railhead, #1) by Philip Reeve

Zen Sterling just loves riding the trains of the Network. Such people are called railheads in the empire. The empire is made up of a Network of stations on different planets and moons linked together by K-gates allowing speedy travel across lightyears. Zen is a small time thief trying to help his sister and delusional ma until the day he is recruited by a strange man named Raven. Raven hires him to get on the Noon's train, the imperial family train, and steal a small object from the art collection. After a little training, Zen is put on the train impersonating one of the lesser nephews in the Noon family with a Motorik named Nova to help. And Zen has no clue as to how this mission will change not only his life, but the lives of everyone in the empire.

Reeve exhibits amazing world building skills with this 3 book series that sees Zen, Nova, other characters, and sentient trains trying to figure out a big conspiracy and set things right. (This isn't Reeve's first writing about space trains either. There's an appearance in his middle grade steampunk series Larklight but it has been so long since I read that I can't remember anything about it except that it is there, and book 2 in the series,Starcross, has a train on the cover.)

Target Readers:

Scifi Fans, Excellent World Building Fans, Space Adventure Fans, Mystery Fans, Young Adult Readers


Recruits (Recruits, #1) by Thomas Locke 

Twin brothers Sean and Dillon have shared a common dream of a gallactic train station full of gravity-defying glass trains. No one could be more shocked to find out that their dreams feature a real place and they have the special ability to travel there. Soon, Sean and Dillon have signed up to train as recruits for an intergalactic entity. But someone doesn't want them to pass or even survive their training, and the powers that be refuse to fully believe the kinds of things Sean and Dillon claim to have done in self-defense. Can they find out whose targeting them, pass their training, and prove their skills before an innocent man gets wrongly convicted?

There is one other book in this series.

Target Readers:

Scifi Fans, Alternate Dimension Story Fans, Military Scifi Fans, Twin Story Fans, Superhero Story Fans, Christian Fiction Fans, Young Adult/Adult Readers


The Space Train by Maudie Powell-Tuck, ill. by Karl James Mountford

Jakob and his Granny live in outer space with a chicken, a lazy robot, and a secret stowaway. When Jakob stumbles across an old, broken down object, his Gran informs him it is a space train. She tells him all the wonderful places space trains went in her day, and they decide to fix it up. But fixing it up is hard work and when they face setbacks it is tempting to quit. Will they ever get the space train working, and will it be worth it?

Karl James Mountford’s artwork is utterly enchanting, and there are fun flaps to lift to see what the lazy robot, helpful chicken, and stowaway alien are up to while Jakob and Granny are busy working on the train.

Target Readers:

Grandparent & Grandchild Story Fans, Perseverance Story Fans, Scifi Fans, Art Lovers, Interactive Book Fans, Picture Book Readers

Thursday, March 25, 2021

Brainstorm 238: Meets some Deaf People/Characters

This week I have some books featuring characters and real people who were/are deaf or have some hearing loss. Click on each title to see my full review and content notes for each book.

Always Inventing: a Photobiography of Alexander Graham Bell by Tom L. Matthews

A biography of inventor Alexander Graham Bell illustrated with actual photographs and period paintings/artwork. Bell's wife was deaf and his contributions and work for the deaf community are inspiring.

Target Readers:

Biography Fans, Fans of Reads That Inspire, Nonfiction Fans, STEM Read Fans, Middle Grade/Young Adult Readers

Beethoven’s Heroic Symphony (Once upon a Masterpiece) by Anna Harwell Celenza, ill. by Joann E. Kitchel

A look into the life of composer Beethoven that highlights his slow descent into deafness and the composition of his Heroic Symphony.

Target Readers:

Picture Book Biography Fans, Music History Studiers, Fans of Stories of People Who Persevered, Music Lovers, Picture Book Readers

Charlie & Frog (Charlie & Frog, #1) by Karen Kane

Charlie's parents are always off working with some endangered species and leaving him with some caretaker or other. This time they've dumped him at his grandparents in the little town of Castle-on-the-Hudson where the cell phone signal is spotty and just about everyone in town speaks American Sign Language thanks to the Castle School for the Deaf which has been in the town for ages. During his trip to the library, Charlie meets Aggie, a little old lady who is Deaf and very distressed over something. All he can figure out is something about her messing up a secret that could result in destruction and she also signed the word for dead. Then two big, gruff men came in looking for her and she disappeared through a basement window leaving her knitting bag behind. The librarian is only so helpful with ASL, but she sends him to Frog who lives up at the Castle School for the Deaf. Frog is a budding detective on top of being fluent in ASL (she is Deaf, and her family runs the school). She quickly agrees to not only teach Charlie ASL but help him solve the mystery of Aggie. And as Charlie becomes more and more attached to the people in the town he starts brainstorming ways to bond with his grandparents so he can live with them full time instead of going to some strange boarding school while his parents do their animal rescue thing. Can he and Frog help Aggie? And can Charlie convince his family that he should stay in Castle-on-the-Hudson?

I really love that this book doesn't just talk about characters learning and using ASL, but it shows readers how to do many of the signs that Charlie learns. The end pages also include a full ASL alphabet guide and numbers 1-10. And each chapter begins with a drawing of how to do another sign.

Target Readers:

Contemporary Fiction Fans, Mystery Fans, Readers Wanting to Learn ASL, Friendship Story Fans, Middle Grade Readers

El Deafo by Cece Bell

CeCe Bell went deaf at age 4 after a childhood disease. She retells her childhood, dealing with her disability and feeling different, with some fictionalized events and a cast of rabbit characters.

Don't miss the author's notes in the back of this graphic novel! She does a fantastic job of clarifying the broad range of experiences for people who are deaf, and also how much of this is a true story and what she tweaked for the tale.

Target Readers:

Biographical Fiction Fans, Graphic Novel Fans, Middle Grade Readers

I Have a Sister, My Sister Is Deaf by Jeanne Whitehouse Peterson

A little girl introduces her sister who is deaf and all the things she can and can't do, what she likes, and ponders the perks and down sides to her sister's condition.

This book is several decades old now, but it is still a great introduction to kids to what deafness means, and that people who are deaf can have full and vibrant lives. The only thing that really dates the book are the monkey bars they play on.

Target Readers:

Sister Story Fans, Slice of Life Story Fans, Picture Book Readers

Piper by Jay Asher & Jessica Freeburg, ill. by Jeff Stokely

The village of Hameln has a bad rat problem. The village's rat catcher is having trouble keeping up, and fever is starting to run rampant. When the mysterious young man with the flute waltzes into town with a tangle of dead rats on his staff, the village leaders are eager to agree to his demands in exchange for the riddance of the rats. The only person who really gets to know the young man is Maggie. Few take the time to get to know Maggie because she is deaf. But the young man finds her intriguing, and she basks in his attention. But they have very different ideas of how to deal with past wrongs.

I was enthralled with the depth of the story that Asher & Freeburg wove in this Pied Piper of Hamelin graphic novel retelling. It's not all that long, but there are some big questions about whether justice and payment for wrongs are more importance than forgiveness, and how greed and pride can literally tear apart and ruin a village. Then there's the question of whether or not senses are really needed to be the most perceptive person, and if romantic love is worth compromising your deeply held beliefs. So much stuff to chew on. The art is attractive too.

Target Readers:

Fairytale Retelling Fans, Fantasy Fans, Graphic Novel Fans, Fans of Stories to Chew On, Young Adult Fiction

Silent Days, Silent Dreams by Allen Say

Told as if from the perspective of his nephew, a biography of deaf and mute artist James Castle who grew up in Idaho.

This is a heart-wrenching read. The people around young James Castle didn't have the knowledge or the heart to help him in his disabled state (and he was a contemporary of Helen Keller, so the knowledge was out there). Eventually he was recognized for his utterly original artwork, of which there are many pieces. So there is a tiny bit of a happy ending to his story. But you may want to have an entire box of tissues on hand. Hopefully this will move kids to care for those who are pushed aside by others. Definitely read Say's note on the illustrating process and how he used mediums that Castle used.

Target Readers:

Picture Book Biography Fans, Nonfiction Fans, Art Lovers, Fans of Reads That Inspire Compassion, Middle Grade Readers

The Sound of Silence by Myron Uhlberg

An autobiography of Myron Uhlberg that focuses on his childhood in Brooklyn and what it was like to grow up hearing with two deaf parents.

This book is the young reader’s adaptation of Uhlberg’s autobiography for adults Hands of My Father. Uhlberg’s story is fascinating. Because of his parents’ deafness, he was forced to act as an interpreter between them and the hearing world and act like an adult in some ways from a young age. His younger brother also had epilepsy and required care that, especially at night, his parents wouldn’t be aware of. So he was part-time care taker of his younger brother, the bridge between his parents and the rest of the hearing world, and also a boy in the 40s and 50s who just wanted to be a boy. Uhlberg shares his stories with a good dose of humor and though he admits he sometimes got tired of the responsibilities forced on him, his love for his family also shines through.

Target Readers:

Autobiography Fans, History Fans, Family Story Fans, Middle Grade/Young Adult Readers

Soundless by Richelle Mead

High on a mountain top in ancient Asia there was a village. The village used to be connected to farmland and the lowlands until an landslide blocked the path. With that separation also came another gradual change, all the villagers slowly went deaf. Fei and all other living villagers have never known what it's like to hear, but they have adapted well and are satisfied. But now some of them are starting to go blind. On top of that, their one connection to the lowlands and food has started to demand more ore from the mines and is delivering less food. Most villagers say to accept things, but when Li Wei loses his father in the mines because of his failing sight and Fei's sister has to be demoted from an artist to a servant, both find the motivation to go confront the man who controls their food lines. Li Wei wouldn't have agreed to take Fei down the steep sides of the mountain in such a risky climb, but the truth is he needs her. No one has attempted the climb before because they couldn't hear the rock slides. And inexplicably, Fei has started to regain her hearing. Neither knows what to expect at the bottom of the mountain nor exactly how to save their village, but they must try.

Target Readers:

Fantasy Fans, Asian Characters/Settings Fans, Chinese Mythology-Inspired Story Fans, Overcomer Story Fans, Clean Romance Fans, Stand Alone Fantasy Fans, Young Adult Readers

3 Bonus Books on my TBR pile featuring Deaf people/characters:

Chasing Space by Leland Melvin

Ruby Lu, Empress of Everything (Ruby Lu, #2) by Lenore Look

Show Me a Sign by Ann Clare LeZotte