An American Plague by Jim Murphy

Cover of An American Plague

*cough cough*

Murphy, Jim, An American Plague: The True and Terrifying Story of the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793. 2003, Clarion Books. ISBN: 0-395-77608-2, non-fiction

Quote: No one knew that a killer was already moving through their streets with them, an invisible stalker that would go house to house until it had touched everyone, rich or poor, in some terrible way.

Awards: 2004 Newbery Honor Book, 2004 Sibert Medal winner

Plot: In the late summer of 1793, people began falling ill in Philadelphia, PA.  As the sickness spread and became more serious, some people chose to flee in fear while others tried to help their fellow citizens.  The book also describes how people fought yellow fever breakouts through the present day.

What I Thought: I thought this was a fascinating book.  The entire story was new to me.  Since know one knew what caused yellow fever, doctors fought each other over treatments.  Government officials abandoned their posts to ordinary citizens who stayed in the city.  The consequences of the sickness were far reaching.  Since many white people fled, the free blacks became important as nurses, caregivers and community organizers, work which was unrewarded.  As Philadelphia was the seat of the new American government, the president himself had to evacuate due to the epidemic which threw the government into turmoil.  After describing how that epidemic ends, Murphy spends the final few chapters describing other outbreaks leading up to the present day.  The ending was a little scary: there is still no cure for yellow fever.  The whole book has this tone of impending doom as characters we’ve followed die and others get gravely ill.  It is very well-written and uses many primary source documents with pictures from the time.

Audience:  ages 11 and up.  History buffs and kids who enjoy “gross” things.

Strengths/weaknesses:  This is a very good book.  Parts are incredibly sad and some could be too intense for younger, or squeamish, readers.  Using the sickness as the central theme, Murphy explains the medicine, culture, government, and race relations of the time.  There’s also an extensive bibliography for further reading.

Uses: great for units on US History during the Revolution, medicine or Black History.

Read-alikes: A Young Patriot: The American Revolution as Experienced by One Boy by Jim Murphy, Phineas Gage: A Gruesome but True Story About Brain Science by John Fleishman, The Great Fire by Jim Murphy, a fiction work about the events of An American Plague: Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson

Picture pulled from Barnes and Noble.


National Geographic Kids Magazine

National Geographic Kids. April 2013, Washington, DC: National Geographic Society. Magazine.

Plot:  The magazine features mainly animal stories.  This issue included an article about what paleontologists do and one on trick and ad photography as well as jokes and activities.

What I Thought:  The articles didn’t go into much depth and were more like “fun facts” pieces.  Every page was very busy with lots of pictures, colors, and pop up boxes of text.   The article on trick photography/food photography was interesting and could promote some critical thinking in kids.  Overall, I was expecting something more educational as the pieces in the adult National Geographic are well researched and highly informative.  I was pleasantly surprised that there were only 3 ads in the magazine as a few other titles I looked at were full of ads.

Audience: ages 7-10, particularly kids who like animals

Strengths/weaknesses:  There are a lot of different activities to keep kids occupied like a Mad-Libs style fill-in, jokes, a quiz, and a “spot the differences” set of pictures.  There are many references to the website for more information, videos and other interactive features.  There’s enough content to get kids interested in something but not enough to really teach them anything.   I wouldn’t think that it would hold a child’s attention for more than 45 minutes or so.

Uses: Entertainment only.  The magazine is too busy for reading aloud and not informative enough to use for papers/presentations.

Picture pulled from Barnes and

Future Librarian Superhero

Future Librarian Superhero, run by Ms. Anna, a Children’s Librarian in Minnesota.

What it is: a great resource!  This blog focuses on story times and has many entries on using flannel boards, puppets, and other material to make story time more interactive.  There are posts about choosing titles for story time, displays, and reading programming.  She also occasionally posts about blogging and using social media.  The ideas for flannel boards and puppets for stories are uniformly great.  Also inspiring are the little stories about the children she serves; it’s great to read about the kids who are so excited about reading and the library.  There’s a lot of information as the blog has been around since April 2011, an eternity on the internet!

Audience: children’s librarians working with young kids or who are in charge of story times.

Strengths/Weaknesses: A huge strength is the collection of Flannel Friday posts.  The posts show the flannel pieces she uses as well as the title of the book these pieces go with or the song lyrics.  Several posts include tutorials on how to make the flannels.  The site could use a bit better organization, with a drop-down menu on the top for the popular tags rather than those being a collection at the bottom.

Here Comes Science by They Might Be Giants

Quote: Science is real!

Awards: Nominated for 2011 Grammy for Best Musical Album for children

What it is: 19 songs based on scientific ideas such as evolution, the elements, states of matter, and photosynthesis.

What I thought:  This is a great album full of fun facts.  They sing about what science is in “Science is Real” and “Put it to the Test”.  In the spirit of science, They Might Be Giants even correct themselves; after exclaiming “the sun is a mass of incandescent gas” in “Why Does the Sun Shine?” they state “the sun is a miasma of incandescent plasma, I forget what I was told by myself” in the song “Why Does the Sun Really Shine?”.  Astronomy is actually covered in several songs and there are a couple on technology, “Computer Assisted Design” and “Electric Car”.  The songs are really well-crafted and don’t get annoying on repetition.

Audience: anybody with ears!  Different songs have different levels of difficulty regarding the concepts introduced but most would be appropriate to kids in preschool.

Strengths/weaknesses: It’s a very catchy album; if you aren’t bouncing around during “Why Does the Sun Shine?” or “Roy G. Biv”  you don’t have rhythm!  Though not really a weakness, religious conservatives may object to the songs about evolution “My Brother the Ape” and “I am a Paleontologist”.

Uses: songs could be played during transitional activities and to introduce some subjects.  They’re also quite fun to dance to!


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Wreck-It Ralph

Cover of Wreck-It Ralph DVD

I’m Gonna Wreck It!

Wreck-It Ralph, Directed by Rich Moore. 2012. Buena Vista, 2013. DVD.

Awards: Nominated for 2012 Best Animated Feature Academy Award

Quote: “I’m bad, and that’s good. I will never be good, and that’s not bad. There’s no one I’d rather be than me”–Wreck-It Ralph

Plot: Ralph is the bad guy of the video game Fix It Felix!  He’s been doing that job for 30 years and is tired of being a villain.  He want to be a hero and win a medal so goes into some other games to get one.  When he ends up in a new candy racing game, Ralph finds friendship and what being a hero really means.

What I thought: A movie that will please kids and adults.  It has slapstick comedy along with action sequences involving some of the games.  Half the fun is figuring out what games all the background characters are from!  It’s also a story of growth, change, and standing up to bullies.  The ending is really touching as well.

Audience: Everyone over age 6, especially current and former game lovers.

Strengths/weaknesses:  younger kids won’t understand some of the old video game references.  Everyone may lose a few hours finding, and playing, those games as well!

Uses: would be good for an all ages movie library program with some easy video game themed craft ideas.

Picture pulled from

Savvy by Ingrid Law

Cover of Savvy by Ingrid Law

A lovely storm

Law, Ingrid.  Savvy, 2008. Dial Books for Young Readers, ISBN: 978-0-8037-3306-0, Novel.

Quote: When something like that comes along, whether it’s an accident or a savvy or a very first kiss, life takes a turn and you can’t step back. All you can do is keep moving forward and remember what you’ve learned.

Awards: was a 2009 Newbery Honor book

Plot: Whenever a Beaumont turns 13, they get a special power they call their “savvy”.  Rocket controls electricity; Fish creates storms.  When Daddy is in a car accident and goes into a coma, Mibs knows her savvy will be to wake him right up.  With Fish and a couple kids from their church, Mibs sets out to reach her father.  Along the way they all learn about themselves and each other.

What I thought: A great road-trip novel for tweens!  As Mibs and company get into, and out of, trouble on their trip, all of the characters grow up a bit.  There’s also a strong theme of standing up to and working past bullying which is a needed message these days.

Audience: kids 9-13, especially fantasy fans you want to introduce to realistic fiction or vice versa.

Strengths/weaknesses:  The book is a little long for this age group at 368 but the story just zips along and is action packed.  It really holds your attention.  It’s a good crossover novel between the realistic/fantasy genres as well as between boys and girls.

Uses:  This book would be a good read for a kid’s book club or summer reading program.

Read-alikes: Scumble by Ingrid Law, Drizzle by Kathleen van Cleve, and Diamond Willow by Helen Frost


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Snarked: Forks and Hope by Roger Langridge

Langridge, Roger, Snarked: Forks and Hope. 2012, Kaboom!. ISBN: 978-1-60886-095-1, graphic novel, collection of issues 0-4 of the comic book series.


So join us as we tell the tale

Of how unfolds this day!

Excitement and adventure wait!

They’re just a whim away!

There’s secrets, signs and shadows,

Yes, and enemies anew.

But never fear–because there’ll be

Some friends encountered too…

Awards: won 2012 Eisner Award for Best Publication for Kids (ages 8-12)

Plot:  Set after the events in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass, Snarked follows the adventures of the Walrus and the Carpenter, two con men, as they live in Wonderland.  The King has gone missing and young Princess Scarlet and her baby brother Prince Rusty have to escape the palace and the evil advisors.  They join up with the Walrus and the Carpenter and begin the hunt for the King.

What I thought: This graphic novel was really funny.  And really clever.  It is full of asides and nods to the Carroll novels and works these references in seamlessly.  The Walrus, who could be the villain in a different story, is the scoundrel-with-a-heart and the brains of the story.  Usually a step ahead of everyone, he meets his match in Princess Scarlet, who is single-minded in her quest to find her father.  The conflict between those two characters is more interesting than that between the heroes and the palace advisors.  Many other characters from the original books show up too such as the Cheshire Cat, the Gryphon, Bill the Lizard and others.

Audience: A tough one.  While the art and events are suitable for 3rd graders, the vocabulary is far more complex and more along what a 5th or 6th grader would understand.

Strengths/weaknesses:  While the comic is understandable, and funny, without having read the books, it is very referential to Carroll’s work.  It is a much richer experience if one has read Carroll’s books before reading this work.  Also, this book is just the first of three and so is not a complete story.

Uses: would be great as a follow-up to Carroll’s work.  The comics have wonderful rich word choices and would be a good way to expand children’s vocabulary by seeing the words in context.  Because of the split between the action/picture understanding level and the reading level of the text, it would be a good book to read with/to a child.

Read-alikes: There are two sequels, Volume 2: Ships and Sealing Wax and Volume 3.  There are also the novels the series is based upon: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass by Lewis Carroll.

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