Review: Marshall Armstrong Is New to Our School by David Mackintosh

marshall armstrong

Marshall Armstrong Is New to Our School by David Mackintosh

Marshall Armstrong is the new kid at school and he is very different from everyone else.  His things are different.  He looks different with his birdseed freckles and ears like shells.  His arms are white with red bumps that he says are mosquito bites.  He even eats “space food” for lunch!  He can’t play during recess.  He stays out of the sun.  He doesn’t watch any TV.  So when Marshall Armstrong has a birthday party, everyone is sure that it is going to be awful.  But guess what, Marshall Armstrong’s house is different too!  Different in some great ways!

Mackintosh has created a picture book that speaks to what makes someone different from the rest of the class.  I really enjoyed the fact that while Marshall is different, so are all of the other kids in the class.  This is not a homogenous student body, but even in a diverse group Marshall is certainly unique.  Mackintosh reveals much in his illustrations which are quirky and modern, a striking mix of playful lines and bright colors. 

The story is straight forward but also filled with humor.  There are signals throughout that Marshall is a geeky kid (and I mean that in the best possible way, as mother to two geeks, married to another) and very modern.  He may be in a class of more normal kids, but some of us more geeky parents will also see ourselves in Marshall, our stuff, our obsessions.  It’s a lovely inside joke for those of us who were perpetually different like Marshall.

This picture book about being different takes the discussion beyond diversity and into a place where we are all different, just like Marshall.  A great pick for sharing at the start of a new school year. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Promise the Night by Michaela MacColl

promise the night

Promise the Night by Michaela MacColl

Beryl Markham was the first person to fly solo from England to North America.  She also had a remarkable childhood, growing up in British East Africa.  Here the story of her childhood is interwoven with her perilous journey across the ocean to set the record.  Her younger years reveal the birth of her independent, rebellious spirit.  She could ride the fieriest stallion on her father’s horse farm in Africa, match wits with the boys of the local tribe, unsettle the most stern governess, and even survive attacks by lions.  This is a book about a girl who refused to become a lady and instead became a heroine.

MacColl’s work of historical fiction reads as such an adventure story, that readers will spend the entire book wondering what is true.  Happily after reading the author’s note at the end, all of the best parts of the story are real.  The astounding parts of the story are true!  The book is a result of detailed historical research and reveals much about this celebrated pilot who set her own pace. 

Beryl is a wonderful protagonist.  She could have been portrayed as a very harsh young girl, but instead we see her doubts, her resolve, and finally her ability to overcome any adversity.  It is a story of bravery but also one with lots of heart.  MacColl’s writing never gets in the way of the story she is telling.  Instead she writes evocatively of the African setting and this amazing girl.

If you are looking for an inspiring real-life heroine for children, look no further.  But best of all, it’s a rip-roaring tale too.  Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from copy received from Chronicle Books.

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Walter Dean Myers Named Ambassador for Young People’s Literature


Walter Dean Myers has been named the third Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, following Katherine Paterson and Jon Scieszka.  When I heard the news, I got goosebumps.  He is such an ideal pick to speak to the power of books in changing the lives of young people.  His books portray urban African-American teens, including those in gangs, soldiers, and the incarcerated.  They are beautifully written, striking and unflinching looks at themes that are often missing in teen literature.

Here is a quote from the NY Times article that shows how Myers himself sees his role as ambassador:

“I think that what we need to do is say reading is going to really affect your life,” he said in an interview at his book-cluttered house here in Jersey City, adding that he hoped to speak directly to low-income minority parents. “You take a black man who doesn’t have a job, but you say to him, ‘Look, you can make a difference in your child’s life, just by reading to him for 30 minutes a day.’ That’s what I would like to do.”

I look forward to the powerful message of reading that our new ambassador will bring.