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Introducting Deborah Underwood: Crystal Kite winner for California and Hawaii!

In celebration of the 4th of July, I am introducing one of the American Crystal Kite winners, Deborah Underwood.

Deborah worked as a street musician, puzzle writer, jewelry maker, and administrative assistant before embarking upon her career as a children’s author. Her books include The Quiet Book, A Balloon for Isabel, Granny Gomez & Jigsaw, and the easy reader Pirate Mom. She co-writes the Sugar Plum Ballerina chapter book series with Whoopi Goldberg, and has written over 25 nonfiction books on topics ranging from smallpox to ballroom dancing.
The Quiet Book, illustrated by Renata Liwska (Houghton Mifflin, 2010) catalogues the various types of quiets that fill a child’s day: everything from first one awake quiet to thinking of a good reason you were drawing on the wall quiet. A companion volume, The Loud Book, was published in 2011.

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Introducting Monika Schröder: Crystal Kite winner for the Middle East/India/Asia

Monika Schröder grew up in Germany and has worked as an elementary school teacher and librarian in international schools in Egypt, Oman, Chile and India. She recently moved to the US and now lives with her husband and their dog Frank in the mountains of Western North Carolina.
Crystal Kite winning novel, SARASWATI'S WAY, is Monika's second book and set in contemporary India. 12-year old Akash, who has a gift for math, runs away from his home in rural Rajasthan in search of a better life and ends up as a street child in the New Delhi train station. Monika's first book, THE DOG IN THE WOOD (Front Street, 2009), was included in the Voya Top Shelf Fiction for Middle School Readers list. Her next novel, MY BROTHER'S SHADOW, will be published in September 2011 and takes place in Berlin at the end of WWI. Visit her at

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Crystal Kite winner Kathryn Erskine!

Kathryn Erskine, a lawyer-turned-author, grew up in six countries, an experience that helps her view life, and her writing, from different perspectives.  While covering weighty topics, her books have warmth and humor, making difficult issues approachable.  Her novel, MOCKINGBIRD (Philomel 2010), won the (U.S.) 2010 National Book Award, the 2011 International Reading Association's Award for Middle Grade Fiction, the 2011 Crystal Kite Award, and other honors.  Her latest novel, THE ABSOLUTE VALUE OF MIKE (Philomel, June 2011) is a Junior Library Guild selection and ALA Best Fiction for Young Adults nominee.  QUAKING (Philomel 2007) was a 2008 Bank Street Best Book of the Year and a 2008 American Library Association Top Ten Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers.  She is a writing instructor and frequent workshop presenter.  And she eats way too much chocolate.

MOCKINGBIRD is the story of tolerance and healing as Caitlin, a girl with Asperger's, comes to terms with the death of her beloved older brother after a school shooting.

Would you like to follow Kathryn's blog? It's here.

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Crystal Kite winners from around the world. First up: Claire Saxby

One of the best things about winning the Crystal Kite is that I have been initiated into an amazingly talented group of fellow winners. From around the world, there are 15 of us in all, and I would like to introduce each of them on my blog.

First is Claire Saxby, the Crystal Kite winner for Australia and New Zealand. Congratulations, Claire!!!

And here is her winning book:

Claire Saxby writes fiction, non-fiction and poetry for children. Her poetry appears in magazines, anthologies, on train walls and in museum education resources.

Claire’s picture book publications include Ebi’s Boat (Windy Hollow Books), illustrated by Anne Spudvilas, which was a CBCA Notable Book in 2007. Her most recent picture book is There Was an Old Sailor (Walker Books Australia), a nautical take on an old rhyme, illustrated by Cassandra Allen. It was shortlisted for the 2010 Speech Pathology Awards and for the 3rd Korean Picture Book Award, and won the SCBWI Crystal Kite Award for Australia/New Zealand region. Her most recent book is Freaky Fact or Fiction: Human Body (Hinkler Books), the first of her books to combine her health-worker past and her writing present.
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coming in September!

Last Airlift: A Vietnamese Orphan's Rescue from War
By Marsha Skrypuch
Pajama Press

A woman would come to see me. She would bring a young boy. I would sit on her lap for a while, and then they would leave. Maybe that was my mother; maybe the boy was my brother.

After a while, they stopped coming.

Like the other children in the Saigon orphanage, Tuyet dreams of a family of her own. But she is one of the oldest, and polio has weakened her and left her with a limp. Nobody will adopt a girl like her. Instead, Tuyet cares for the babies and toddlers, hoping that if she continues to make herself useful, the nuns will let her stay.

One day in April, the babies and toddlers are packed into small boxes and frantically loaded into a van.The driver places Tuyet in the back of the van as well. As she and the younger children are taxied to the airport through streets filled with smoke, artillery fire and frenzied refugees trying to escape, Tuyet believes that her job is to look after the babies until they are airlifted to safety. But when the huge Hercules C-130 takes off from the burning city,Tuyet is not left behind after all.What will happen to her when she arrives in Canada? Will she be sent to an orphanage to look after new children, or will the people return her to Saigon to take her chances with the Viet Cong’s invading forces?

Last Airlift is the true story of the last Canadian airlift operation that left Saigon and arrived in Toronto on April 13, 1975. Son Thi Anh Tuyet was one of 57 babies and children on that flight. Based on personal interviews and enhanced with archive photos,Tuyet’s story of the Saigon orphanage and her flight to Canada is an emotional and suspenseful journey brought to life by the award-winning children’s author, Marsha Skrypuch.
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In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin by Erik Larson

I really enjoyed Larson's The Devil In the White City so I was looking forward to this one. It started out strong but dragged about halfway through.

Ambassador Dodds was a remarkable man and it's too bad the American government didn't take his concerns about Hitler seriously in the early 30s. I am grateful to Larson for illuminating the life of this interesting man and his unusual family.

This is an era that I've studied and written about myself and I was impressed with the depth of research that Larson did in terms of the Dodds family and Berlin. He fell short when it came to historical context, however. As an example, he mentioned Dodd's daughter's trip to the Soviet Union and about the NKVD recruiting her. The Soviet Secret Police were every bit as brutal and racist as the Nazi Gestapo. There is no indication of that in this book. In fact, towards the end of the book, he calls Martha's flirtation with the NKVD noble. Hardly.

As well, the author implies that Ukraine was a region in "Russia" when in fact it was a country that had been taken over by the Soviet Union -- Russia is not interchangeable with the Soviet Union. I realize that many people make that mistake, but in a historian, it's just plain sloppy.

He mentions that Ukraine had "suffered a famine" in 1933 but he states it passively, as if it were a fluke of nature, instead of what it really was -- an intentional genocide of Ukrainians that killed millions. He didn't mention how many people died but did mention the deaths of livestock. I found that odd, to say the least.

He also skipped over the fact that Stalin and Hitler were allies for the first two years of WWII, and instead jumps to when Stalin was an ally of the US. That's not just sloppy but misleads the casual reader into thinking that Stalin was a different kind of person as Hitler.