Category Archives: Reading

The Man Who Planted Trees


Lost Groves, Champion Trees and an Urgent Plan to Save the Planet

By Jim Robbins

Spiegel & Grau, 2012

Category: Nonfiction for Grownups

We can wait around for someone else to solve the problem of climate change and the range of other environmental problems we face, from toxic waste to air pollution to dead zones in the oceans to the precipitous decline in biodiversity, or we can take matters into our own hands and plant trees.

If you have even a smidgeon of doubt that this statement is true, read this book. I predict that when you’re done, you’ll plant a tree. Or twenty.

Postscript: For those of you who are truly into nonfiction, particularly children’s nonfiction, don’t forget about the weekly Nonfiction Monday celebration. Check it out here!

Step Gently Out


Poem by Helen Frost

Photographs by Rick Lieder

Candlewick, 2012

Category: Nonfiction picture book (but truly for all ages)

It was the title that grabbed me first. Step Gently Out. There is an ethic in those words, and they have deep meaning for me. When the book was finally in my hands, though, it was the ant on the cover that pulled me in. He is not rendered in paints as I’d thought when I’d seen the book online, but photographed. Captured atop a slender leaf, antennae waving, stepping gently. Completely enchanting.

Would you believe that things got better from there?

Helen Frost’s text is charming, and I can tell you from personal experience that it holds up to repeated readings. Rick Lieder’s breathtaking images lend a hand, inspiring closer looks at blades of grass and silken threads both inside the book and, of course, out.

I find myself reading this one over and again. I’m in love.  I think that every child on the planet should have a copy. I plan to start with the half-dozen kids who know me as Auntie Loree …

Book Giveaway: Capture the Flag by Kate Messner


CAPTURE THE FLAG, by Kate Messner (Scholastic Press, 2012)

Category: Middle-grade Novel


Do you know what I loved as a kid? Nancy Drew mysteries. I devoured them, kept checklists of those I’d read and wishlists of those I needed desperately to get my mitts on. Each summer, my friend Kelley and I re-opened our private detective agency–G&G Detectives–in homage to our heroine. When business was slow, we read more Nancy Drew books. Or wrote mysteries of our own. Eventually we’d read and written so many mysteries that we had no choice but tho share them: one dog-day, on a whim, we closed G&G Detectives and opened The Garland Street Library instead. It was made up almost entirely of Nancy Drew books.

Do you know what else? If there were a way to go back and talk to eleven-year-old Loree, she’d be tickled to know that she’d one day be friends and writing partners with Kate Messner. And that Kate would create a mystery series that starred a trio of kid detectives. Little Loree would love that trio of kids as much as Not-so-Little Loree does, I’m sure of it. And she would demand Not-so-Little Loree share the love.

So, in celebration of good mysteries, good books, good friends, and the long, lazy days of summer, I’d like to send YOU an advanced copy of my friend Kate Messner’s newest mystery, CAPTURE THE FLAG. You can read a little about Kate here, and a little about the book here. If you’d like an advanced copy for yourself or for your best friend or for that neighbor kid with a detective agency, and if you live in the continental United States, just leave a comment on this post before midnight on Friday, June 22. On Saturday morning, I’ll put all the names in a hat, pull one out, and let you know who the lucky detective is.

Good luck!

Testing Your Kidlit Prowess

The Burns kids are reading some kidlit classics in school this week, and I’m reading along. (I’m sort of geeky that way.)  Wanna guess what we are reading? Sure you do …

Here’s a quote from the Newbery Medal winner my seventh graders are reading for Language Arts class:

“Then all of the citizens had been ordered to go into the nearest building and stay there. IMMEDIATELY, the rasping voice through the speakers had said. LEAVE YOUR BICYCLES WHERE THEY ARE.”

And this one’s taken from a book my fourth grader is devouring at the moment. It’s another classic, by a zany author whose works are well-known and much-loved, in the Burns house and around the world:

“If a person has ugly thoughts, it begins to show on the face. And when that person has an ugly thought every day, every week, every year, the face gets uglier and uglier, until it gets so ugly you can hardly bear to look at it.”

Well? Have you guessed? I’ll post the answers–book and author–in the comments later today …

Can I See Your I.D.?

True Stories of False Identities
By Chris Barton
Illustrations by Paul Hoppe
Dial, 2011

Category: Middle Grade Nonfiction

I wanted to get my hands on this book for two reasons. First, Chris Barton wrote it. (Duh.) Second, I’d read somewhere the entire collection of thematically-linked true stories was written in the second person; this I had to read.

For those of you who haven’t thought about narrative mode in a while, the second person refers to the use of the personal pronoun “you.” As in:

“You are a fibber. A confabulator. Mary Baker, you’re a liar.”

Those are the opening lines from Barton’s profile of Mary Baker, who spent a couple crazy weeks in the summer of 1817 impersonating an exotic Asian princess. Her story is interesting in its own right, but because of the Barton’s choice to tell it in the second person, and to bundle it with ten additional short biographies of pretenders, readers are treated to something unexpected: front row seats in her interrogation.

And in the end, this is what struck me most about this book. Barton’s use of second person is a huge part of why it works so well, even though his is a somewhat unorthodox use of the form. Typically, a nonfiction writer will use second person to pull a reader into a piece, hoping she will see herself as the “you.” That is exactly why I used second person in CITIZEN SCIENTISTS, my book on kids and nature study. I wanted to invite readers into the experiences I was writing about:

“Butterfly eyes can detect movement, so when you sneak up on your monarch, net raised high over your head, be sure to move slowly. Do not point. Do not let your shadow fall on the butterfly. Breathe quietly.”

The reader is there with me in the meadow, catching butterflies. And if the form has worked the way I intended, she will be breathing quietly, waiting to see what happens next.

In Barton’s second person narrative, though, “you” is not the reader at all; “you” is the person being profiled. By taking this approach in a collection of ten biographies, Chris asserts his role not only as the book’s narrator, but as a trustworthy interrogator. As a reader, I came to understand that he would ask the right questions of his subjects, get me to the bottom of their strange stories of deception. I read along for the ride. And even though the ten subjects were from different times and places in history, they were strongly linked, in my mind, by their interrogator. (Er, biographer.)

I really, really enjoyed this book. Check it out, and whatever you do, do not skip the Afterword.  It is also written in the second person, but this time the “you” refers to Chris himself. That is, Barton is both the interrogator and the person being interrogated in this final chapter. My head nearly exploded as I tried to follow along. Totally brilliant.