Category Archives: Ages Over 12

Tree by Melina Sempill Watts

by Melina Sempill Watts
Change the World Books, 2017

I loved this book, it consumed my imagination.  Tree starts out as an acorn and grows to be nearly 250 years old.  We share in the tree’s experience as Indian cultures are replaced with Mexican and eventually Caucasian cultures.  The reader also experiences how Tree learns to connect and communicate with the environment around it; its in these connections that we learn the science.

Ms Watts knows her science and writes this fictional piece in layman’s terms to describe the science.  She packs so much into each section, it’s what I would call very dense writing, but when I got done I felt so connected to the story, to the character, and to the science of it.  It’s an eye and heart opening story.  (Written for adults, although teens may find it fascinating as well.)

Ms. Watt attended UCLA and worked 14 years as a Watershed Coordinator in the area where the story takes place.  Visit Ms Watt’s youtube interview ( to meet her and share in her enthusiasm about the story.  Anyone with an affinity to trees or interest in the environment will find the story fascinating and inspiring.

You can read more reviews and order on Amazon.

Kirkus Reviews gave Tree a 5 Star review:

…. The saga of Tree becomes a window into the immensity of nature, simultaneously dynamic and everlasting, and the ways that humans have come to upset the ancient balance. Watts writes in an elegant, highly detailed prose that shows an incredible knack for chronicling the minutiae of the natural world. …    An ingenious and satisfying tale about a single live oak. … Read complete review at

Book Summary

Tree is a novel about a tree written from a unique point of view: the chief narrator is a tree. Tree uses magical realism as a key to access the interrelated emotional realities of the many species that share one pristine valley in Topanga, California. Grass, birds, other trees and animals come to life on the pages, while one 19th century Mexican woman and one 20th century school boy, hearts opened by grief and loneliness, come to know one California live oak whose 229 years span the evolution of four human civilizations, Chumash, Spanish/Mexican, Yankee and new money Hollywood, which each leave their mark upon the landscape and upon Tree. The author’s obsessive botanical, scientific and historical research give substance to a world that feels both as real as last weekend’s dust on hiking boots and as mind altering as a fully fledged mystical experience. Take a journey into the heart of the woods where every plant shines Tree will change how you see nature.

The Book of Chocolate, The Amazing Story of the World’s Favorite Candy












The Book of Chocolate, The Amazing Story of the World’s Favorite Candy
by HP Newquist
Viking, 2017

This book is a chocolate lover’s delight for both adults and children!

The history of chocolate begins in ancient times with the cocoa bean and goes up until 2015’s top selling chocolates.  Everything about chocolate you ever wondered is in this book.  I completed it’s 147 pages in a weekend.  As a history buff, I loved the stories of how chocolate started as, basically, cottage industries in the United States.  How the families battled to make their own unique chocolates successful, how the second world war influenced the industry and helped bring peace to the world.

The book contains fun factoids, like, “Research has found that countries where people eat a lot of chocolate also produce a lot of Nobel Prize winners”, with Switzerland at the top with 26 pounds of chocolate per person and 32 Nobel Prize winners per 10 million people.  The book includes old advertisements, old photos, and geography lessons, too.  Maps show that 71.2% of cocoa beans grow in Africa.  Wonderfully written, easy to read and you better have a box of chocolates on hand!

Read more reviews and purchase on Amazon.  Great gift book!

Sea Otter Heroes, The Predators that Saved an Ecosystem


Sea Otter Heroes, The Predators that Saved an Ecosystem
by Patricia Newman
Millbrook Press, 2017
Sibert Informational Honor Award for Non-Fiction

Why is the Elkhorn Slough, an estuary, where freshwater mixes with ocean water, contain abundant meadows of seagrass, whereas nearly every other estuary on the Pacific coast does not?  This book tells the story of a scientist who wondered why and studied the phenomenon until he knew.

With generous photos, charts, graphs, and ‘clues’, author Patricia Newman keeps readers curious and turning the pages, while she discusses each hypothesis the scientist made and discarded during his research. In clear, age-appropriate language, Newman invites readers to do their own thinking.  She shows them how much it works to reach the “aha” moment and how much more meticulous work it takes to prove a hypothesis.  The book discusses how the findings are applied to other environments.  It also includes a section that invites readers to rethink their relationship with wildlife.   Sea Otter Heroes is an excellent introduction to science, scientific method, and environmental studies.  The science was performed off Monterey Bay, California.

Read more reviews and purchase on Amazon.

Dogs at War, Military Canine Heroes

Dogs at War, Military Canine Heroes

by Connie Goldsmith
Twenty-First Century Books, 2017

Geared for junior high and high school readers, Dogs at War contains dozens of war dog stories, as well as how dogs are selected and trained, how they use their nose, and how they are adopted when retired.

Beginning with one of the first dog handler teams used in Iraq, the book includes stories from wartimes since World War I.  The book also explores evidence that dogs were used in early Egyptian, Greek and Roman battles.  Early war dogs fought in battle, carried supplies, pulled carts and guarded camps.  Today’s war dogs sniff out weapons, explosives and bomb-making chemicals. Readers will learn how the dog’s nose compares to a human nose and how a dog’s nose works to sniff out even faint odors.  They estimate each dog saves 200-250 lives.

The book shares the close bonds formed between the dog and its handler. Generous quotes, stories, and photos from dog handlers, trainers, and veterinarians make this a riveting book, difficult to put down.

Read more reviews on Amazon.

The Year We Were Famous / Based on the true story of young Clara Estby’s walk across America

The YearWeWereFamousThe Year We Were Famous 
Based on the true story of young Clara Estby’s walk across America
Carole Estby Dagg
Clarion Books, 2011

Based on the true story of 17-year-old Clara Estby, a ‘quiet’ person, who hiked across America in 1896 to raise funds to pay for their farm and, in the spirit of the suffrage movement, show that women were strong and capable.

Desperate to save their farm, her mother, Helga, located a publisher who agreed for her and her daughter to hike from (near) Spokane, Washington to New York, leaving May 1896 to arrive November 30; they arrived December
22.  They were to receive $10,000 and write a manuscript of their accounts. They were to start out with $5 each, the clothes on their back, and a satchel with all their belongings.  If they needed any additional funds, they were to earn it on the trip.

They met with every newspaper and obtained signatures of mayors, governors, and even President-elect William McKinley.  They spoke at hotels, suffrage meetings, and bars to raise needed funds.  They encountered thieves (who they shot at), Indians (who assisted them) and snow blizzards (which nearly froze them). They survived on people letting them into their homes for the night and giving them a meal.  They walked more than eight million steps, each wearing out 4-5 pairs of shoes, but they made it.

Set in this historical context, this coming of age story shares mother-daughter clashes, dreams beyond being a farmer’s wife, and the struggles of a woman becoming independent in the early days of the suffrage movement.  A compelling read, taking readers to a time when today’s modern conveniences and equality of women were yet to exist.

Read reviews and purchase on Amazon.

Author Interview: Patricia M. Newman

Patricia NewmanI caught Patricia Newman’s presentation at a local library and was I impressed!  When I arrived, I found a very large vase of water with pictures taped to it and many vials of interesting stuff.  She opened her talk discussing the benefits the ocean provides people, from swimming, to fishing, to providing us clean air.

She then moved into a history of the ocean during the past 300 years and how the introduction of plastics and their accumulation is impacting ocean life, air and people. Using the large vase as the ‘ocean’, clothes pins clipped to the vase to represent the earth’s growing population, and pouring into the vase  more than a dozen vials of ‘toxins’, trash, ‘fishing nets’, etc., the audience got to (almost) experience what happens in the ocean.  If you are unable to catch her in person, check out her book, Plastic, Ahoy! Investigating the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, the winner of The Green Earth Book Award.

PlasticAhoyQuestion:  How did you come to research and write Plastic, Ahoy!?  How long did it take?
I wrote Plastic, Ahoy! because of an article I read in the Sacramento Bee about a group of graduate student scientists who mounted an expedition to the North Pacific Central Gyre . The expedition had all the makings of a great book that might in fact become a call to action for future ocean stewards, e. g.  students who were themselves scientists, the scientific method, and, what was at the time, the mystery of how plastic trash affected marine life. The Plastic, Ahoy! scientists were among the first to study the floating garbage.

I first wrote a book proposal, which took about 18 months to be accepted. After I received a contract, I had about a year to write the book. The last few months of that time, I worked with my editor to make the book as perfect as we could.

Q:   How did you develop the presentation?
I wish I could say I created this presentation, but I didn’t. I found it in the December 2014 issue of POPULATION CONNECTION. I wrote to the editors to ask if I could use it during school and library visits. Luckily they said yes! Originally, the presentation was written for high school students, but I’ve modified it for middle-grade audiences.

Q:  One of my favorite parts of the presentation was when you identified little changes we can make to reduce our plastic use.  Can you share the top 3 that kids can do?
I’ll share five:

  1. SKIP THE STRAW. When you order a drink in a restaurant, tell your server you don’t need a straw, and be sure to say you’re saving the ocean! Better yet, speak to the manager and ask him/her to consider ditching straws altogether.
  2. SAY NO TO PLASTIC TO-GO BOXES. If you take food home from a restaurant, politely refuse Styrofroam to-go containers. Ask for a cardboard box or a piece of aluminum foil instead.
  3. REMIND YOUR PARENTS TO BRING REUSABLE BAGS INTO THE GROCERY STORE. A simple “fix” for our oceans. If you forget your bags in the car, ask your check-out person to load your groceries back in your cart and pack them in your bags when you get to the parking lot.
  4. BRING A REUSABLE WATER BOTTLE TO SCHOOL instead of opening a fresh plastic water bottle every day. If you have events at school, such as concerts or festivals, consider a giant urn of water where people can refill their water bottles or buy water in cartons rather than plastic bottles. Here’s a link:
  5. Did you know that most plastics are recyclable? In Sacramento County (where I live) we can recycle the following items to make sure they never wind up in the ocean:
  • All CRV containers
  • Containers with numbers 1 – 7 in the triangle symbol
  • Soda bottles, milk jugs, shampoo bottles, etc.
  • Tubs and containers (i.e. yogurt, margarine)
  • Plastic bags (stuff several bags inside each other)
  • Buckets, pails and crates
  • Toys (i.e. plastic tricycles)
  • Clamshell trays and deli containers
  • Plant pots
  • Laundry baskets
  • Polystyrene (Styrofoam®)

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Q:  Your book won the Green Earth Book Award.  Tell us what that experience was like for you.
The award was announced on Earth Day 2015, and Annie Crawley (the book’s fantastic photographer) and I were so excited we screamed at each other on the phone! We are going to Washington, D.C. for an October 1 ceremony. Can’t wait!

Q:  You have 14 books, most non-fiction.  You seem to have many interests.  How did you come to write on so many different topics?
I often ask myself the same question. I guess I go where my curiosity takes me (although sometimes book topics are also suggested by editors). You never know where I’ll turn up to ask questions for research.

Q:  Have you always wanted to be a writer?  How did you get into writing children’s books?
I never thought about being any kind of writer—although I was always the go-to person in my other jobs for written materials. Somehow it just worked out that way. After my kids were born and I started reading children’s books again, I knew I wanted to give it a try. It’s rewarding, but it’s also the hardest job I’ve ever had.

Q:  What’s the hardest part of writing for children?
To paraphrase Eudora Welty, each book teaches me to write itself but no other. My biggest challenge is finding my way into a new book. How will the story start? What do I want to say with this book?

Q:  The past 5 ½ years you’ve been a Regional Adviser (RA)
for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI)?  Tell us about SCBWI and share with us how you find time to write.
SCBWI is the only professional organization dedicated to people who create content for children. It provides craft instruction and entrée to the editors and agents who buy our work. I loved my time as a volunteer RA for SCBWI, and mostly through the help of an exceptional team who worked with me, was able to continue writing while organizing events. I stepped down in January 2015 so someone else could experience the camaraderie of the organization.

Q:  You have a new book coming out October 1, 2015.  Tell us about it and how it came to be.
Ebola Fears and Facts cover (1)EBOLA: FEARS AND FACTS is the brainchild of my brilliant editor, Carol Hinz, at Millbrook Press. At first I wasn’t sure if I wanted to write a “disease” book, but the opportunity to work with Carol made the decision an easy one. I’m especially fond of the way the School Library Journal reviewer describes the book, “Breaking new ground, Newman has written a truly excellent book for middle grade students that tackles the terrifying specter of Ebola. As the title suggests, readers will come away with more facts and less fears.”

For more information about Patricia Newman, visit her website:

The Crossover

The Crossover
by Kwame Alexander
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014
Newbery Award Winner

This fast-moving story, written in poem, you will dive you into a family of basketball.  Twins, coached since they were three by their basketball winning father, “Da Man”, sizzle on the court.  Josh and Jordan know every move, every line-up; they know how to play off other’s strengths, and into other’s blindspots; they rule the court.  Coming into the final season games, headed for championship,   Josh’s world starts to change.  Jordan finds a girl friend and Josh becomes the outsider.  Angry, he makes a dumb move, and is removed from all games, but must attend the games from the sidelines.  During this growing up time, he asks that he not be called by his childhood name, Filthy McNasty.  His father’s world is changing too, and we learn why the title fits the story.

Brown Girl Dreaming

Brown Girl Dreaming
by Jacqueline Woodson
Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin Books, 2014
Newbery Honor Book
Coretta Scott King Award
Siebert Informational Book Medal
National Book Award 

Written in open verse, Jacqueline Woodson provides a rich view of herself growing up in the 60’s in South Carolina and New York.  In a time where she is still referred to as a colored girl, she takes readers on a leisurely stroll, inviting a deep excitement to swell inside as they digest her phrases, images, dreams, and yearnings.  Walking in her shoes, readers can feel the joy of freedom and the confusion of racism poking at the young girl unable to respond, but knowing it’s wrong, just plain wrong.  Woodson’s writing is vivid, startling, fascinating, and from the heart.  It’s easy to see why she’s won so many writing awards.

A special treat for writers, Woodson walks readers through the inside thoughts of a young writer in the making, including the joy of her first composition notebook well before she could even write.  She shares the secret to her writing—listening—and with each story, she spills delectable foods across the table for readers to taste, savor, and digest.  This is not a book readers will want to breeze through, it is one in which readers will want to linger, contemplate, and experience.  Sure to be an award winner.

Originally published in San Francisco Book Review, December 2014

For more reviews and to order the book, visit Amazon

Almost Astronauts, 13 Women Who Dared to Dream

Almost Astronauts, 13 Women Who Dared to Dream
Tanya Lee Stone
Candlewick, 2009

Always attracted to books about successful women, I discovered a rich telling of 13 women with very different stories who fought to do what was natural to them, fly.  While these 13 women were unable—in the late 50’s/early 60’s—to break the barriers against women and were unable to join NASA’s space program, they were able to lay strategic groundwork that later allowed other women into NASA’s program.

We meet Jerrie Cobb, the woman who challenged the male-dominated space program, secretly taking the same tests the men took to get into the program.  She passed them, far surpassing the men.  But the world wasn’t ready for women as equals yet.

A compelling slice in time, the author weaves 13 stories in with stories of key supporters as well as key non-supporters. She helps readers understand the era, and includes insights learned from some of the original 13 women.  Using dozens of photos we see the women who logged thousands of flight hours, in a time when they endured blatant discrimination for even that.  An inspiring book, especially for young people aspiring to fly.  Adults will enjoy, too.

Almost Astronauts won both the Seibert Information Books Medal and the Amelia Bloomer Award.

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A Family of Poems

A Family of Poems
My Favorite Poetry for Children

by Caroline Kennedy
Paintings by Jon J Muth
Hyperion Books for Children, 2005

A collection of classic and new poems, short and long, descriptions of moments and lifetimes. Caroline Kennedy’s selection of poems is showcased with beautiful paintings rendered by Jon J Muth. A delight to the ears and eyes.

This collection contains 156 poems of adventure, animals, seasons, sillyiness and more. Caroline Kennedy’s premise is, “If our parents read to us as children, we remember the closeness of the moments together, the sound and power of voice and expression, the sense of wonder that a poem inspires.” This collection is perfect for any family bookshelf.

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