Kubla Khan

Kubla Khan picture book coverKubla Khan: The Emperor of Everything, by Kathleen Krull, illustrated by Robert Byrd.

I found this delightful picture book in the museum shop at the Met, outside the World of Khubilai Khan exhibit. It’s brand new, published in 2010.  The story is well-researched and beautifully told, with lively language and rich detail. The illustrations are phenomenal!  The map of the Mongol Empire in the end pages is charming, and you can learn a lot about the Mongols and how they lived simply by perusing the pictures on each page. The book is labeled “ages 8 up” – and it is indeed far more sophisticated than your average picture book. Highly recommended!

On Robert Byrd’s website, he says “My canvas is a stage filled with characters like an opera.” Precisely!

I have found many of Kathleen Krull’s marvelous nonfiction books already on my shelves, including Lives of the Writers and Harvesting Hope: The Story of Cesar Chavez. She has a website and contributes to a blog called I.N.K.: Interesting Nonfiction for Kids.

Book of a Thousand Days

b1000pb.jpg

by Shannon Hale

The beautiful language of this book evokes an appealing fantasy world, with eight realms such as Titor’s Garden, Beloved of Ris, and Song for Evela. The cover shows a beautiful young Asian woman, and many of the details are borrowed from medieval Mongolia. The main character, Dashti, grew up on the steppes, lived in a “gher” and wore a traditional outfit called a “deel.”

In this story, Dashti works as a lady’s maid for Lady Saren, and they are shut in a stone tower for seven years because Lady Saren refused to marry the man her father chose for her.  It is a challenge to keep the story lively for the first 100 pages of the book, with two girls locked in a dark tower. After they escape, the story takes some surprising turns, and both girls evolve and grow.

Dashti excels in a traditional (fantasy) art of healing people by signing songs – one of many details that make this book enchanting and lovely.

Readers who enjoyed this book, a Teenreads.com “best book” and YALSA “best book for young adults,”  may be fascinated to learn about real historical customs of the Mongols of medieval days, in Daughter of Xanadu.

Shannon Hale, Newbery Honor-winning author of Princess Academy, has a website with the intriguing name of squeetus.com.

When You Reach Me

When You Reach Meby Rebecca Stead

The Newbery Medal is the gold standard for children’s books. This book, the 2010 medal winner, has an elegant plot, a vivid setting, and a fascinating premise.

Twelve-year-old Miranda, growing up in New York City with her single mother, worries when her best friend, a boy named Sal, begins to pull away from her. The crazy homeless man on the corner also bothers her. But her fears are heightened when she starts receiving mysterious notes that seem to foretell future events.  When these predictions start proving eerily accurate, the tension ratchets up.

Miranda’s voice is clear and engaging, as she negotiates the shoals of sixth-grade friendships, befriends a bully, and deals with a working mom obsessed with winning a TV game show. Her favorite book, A Wrinkle in Time, sparks unexpected discussions about time travel.

Each clue from the mysterious note-writer drew me deeper into the story until I couldn’t put the book down. Stead skillfully drops clues and hooks the reader right up until the surprising – and satisfying – ending.

Amazing! Rebecca Stead has not been writing books for long, but she is a master.

Rebecca Stead's delightfully whimsical website is www.rebeccasteadbooks.com.

Ghost Dog Secrets

Ghost Dog Secrets coverby Peg Kehret

Seeing Peg Kehret and hearing her talk make you adore this author and want to read more of her books. When I heard her speak recently, in Issaquah, she was wearing a necklace with a charm from every state that has given her books a Young Reader award.  She has at least 19 of them – probably more!  Across the country, she is well-known and much-loved as a children’s book author, not the least because many of her books feature cats or dogs.

This book, Ghost Dog Secrets, starts with an unloved dog, chained in a yard all day with no food, water, or shelter. Twelve-year-old Rusty, inspired by a class project to help dogs rescued from a puppy mill, wants to save this neglected and abused German shepherd he has found. When a ghost dog, a collie, appears to him, he knows he has to act. But isn’t it stealing, to take someone else’s dog?  The story unfolds with some surprising twists and turns, including a secret even the ghost dog didn’t know about.

This is book #52 from Peg Kehret – a record I can scarcely fathom. Hats off to you, Peg!

Peg Kehret’s website is www.pegkehret.com.

The Fences Between Us

fences(Dear America), by Kirby Larson

Author of the 2007 Newbery Honor Book Hattie Big Sky, Kirby Larson has a wonderful knack for making history come alive.  This book, the first new Dear America title in five years, comes in the form of the diary of a fictional seventh-grader named Piper Davis, who lived in Seattle in 1941.

Piper seems very real, with a best friend and a boy she likes, though she worries about her big brother, who enlisted in the Navy just before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.  Suddenly the Japanese American kids at her school, and their families, are forced to leave their homes and move to camps. When her father, who is pastor for a Japanese Baptist Church, tells her they are moving to Idaho to be near his congregation, she hates him. How could he destroy her life?  Yet she grows to understand just whose lives are being destroyed.

This is a topic close to my heart because my good friend, Mary Matsuda Gruenewald, an American citizen, was incarcerated by the U.S. government at the age of 17. It's a tough subject to deal with, and Kirby does it beautifully. She deals with tender and painful subjects in a sensitive and thoughtful way. I hope lots of American kids read this book and never forget.

Kirby Larson's website is http://www.kirbylarson.com/

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