Sunday, February 19, 2017

Things to look for! Middle grade fiction

I've had a little time this weekend to dip back into Netgalley.  Boy, it feels like it's been a long time since I read something on a device!  The good news is, my devices still work and Netgalley has some great things to read!  This first one is SOOO much fun.  It's called "The Amazing Crafty Cat" by Charise Mericle Harper.  It's about a girl named Birdie who is exuberant and cheerful and loves to craft.  In fact, she loves to craft so much, that she has created an alternate ego, a super hero, named Crafty Cat, who can swoop in and save the day.  It's Birdie's birthday and Birdie (and Crafty Cat) have come together to create the greatest birthday break ever.  They've created panda cupcakes that are delicious and adorable and everyone, even the evil villain, Anya, will think it's the greatest birthday break in the history of the world.  Except that there is an accident on the way to school and series of mishaps that might get even the most cheerful person down.  Thank goodness for Crafty Cat who comes in and saves the day with amazing panda crafts.  This book is so much fun.  The line drawings are very simple (similar to Diary of a Wimpy Kid) but very evocative.  The kids are really going to be able to identify with Birdie and her disastrous birthday.   They are also going to love the directions for the crafts at the end of the book.  This one is definitely coming to live in my library.


The second one is also a graphic novel.  This one is kind of a sequel, but it stands alone just fine.  It's called "Super Narwhal and Jelly Jolt" by Ben Clanton.  In the first book, "Narwhal: Unicorn of the Sea" we are introduced to Narhwal and Jelly who become friends.  In the second book, Narwhal decides he should be a super hero with super powers.  He also needs a sidekick, who also needs super powers.  There is some problem solving on choosing which power is the right one for a narwhal and jellyfish (this would be great as mentor text for opinion or persuasive writing) and the powers they settle on are so awesome that kids are going to be lining up to try to emulate them.  Narwhal is funny to the littler kids (like kindergarten and first grade) but the bigger kids at my school thought he was awesome too.  This one doesn't come out until May and I'm still waiting for my order of "Narwhal: Unicorn of the Sea" but I know the kids are going to love this one, maybe even more than the first one.  For even more fun, click here to see Ben's website about Narwhal and Jelly.  



This last one is the second in a series and I completely missed the first one, but this one is so good, I think I need to go back and read it!  The series is called the Secrets of the Seven and this title is called "The Eagle's Quill".  It's written by Sarah L. Thomson.  It's about three kids, Sam, Marty, and Theo.  They are all good at solving puzzles, which is good, because they are on a quest to find seven artifacts, all left in secret locations, by the Founding Fathers.  In this book, they are looking for the quill that Thomas Jefferson signed the Declaration of Independence with.  They have an adult friend, Evangeline, who helps out with logistics (like plane tickets and food) and is a member of a group called The Founders, who are meant to protect the artifacts.  However, there is an evil villain afoot and Gideon Arnold (a distant relative of Benedict Arnold) is determined to get all the artifacts in his possession.  I really liked the historical references but what's also fun is that each of the clues are set in national parks, so there is an element of science and nature too.  The characters are fun, if a little flat but there's a lot of exciting action that should make this series very compelling for a lot of kids.  




Thursday, February 2, 2017

New books for bigger kids

I've been reading a lot of picture books lately so it felt good to read some books that are definitely meant for bigger kids from Netgalley.  Bigger themes, bigger ideas, I do love picture books, but it's good to read lots of different things, right?

The first one is a dystopian future novel called "The List" by Patricia Forde.  It has a completely horrifying premise-in the future, a group of people survive an apocalyptic event and the leader decides the big thing that needs to change is language.  People use words carelessly or ineffectively and so the words must be eliminated.  The wordsmith, Benjamin has an apprentice, a girl named Letta who helps him craft the lists of words that people ARE allowed to use.  But one day Benjamin goes out on a word finding mission and doesn't come back.  Letta is frightened by his disappearance, but more alarmed by a handsome young man who turns up on her doorstep.  The young man is clearly fleeing from the local militia called gavvers and has been wounded.  In spite of her doubts, Letta brings the young man in and starts taking care of him.  It turns out the boy is from the underground movement known as the Desecrators.  They are artists and musicians who have refused to be limited by the List.  Letta is torn until she finds out Benjamin is not dead as she has been told.  Letta has to choose between the safety of following the rules and the leader she has always known or follow people she barely knows and try to overthrow the leaders.  It's very fast paced and exciting.  The characters are interesting and there are some terrific plot twists.  I think this would be a terrific story in the dystopian future genre and would give people a lot to talk about when compared with some of the other dystopian future books.



The second one is non-fiction.  It's more of a picture book, but it's not a picture book for little kids.  It's called "Stormy Seas: Stories of Young Boat Refugees" by Mary Beth Leatherdale.   You might be able to figure out that it's about kids who took to the sea to find refuge and you'd be right.  What's really great about this book is that it has lots of things to help readers figure things out-there's a table of contents, timelines showing the history of people coming to different countries by boat and why they would take the risk of coming across the ocean.  The heart of the book focuses on several kids from a variety of different countries.  It explains why the kids felt they needed to leave and then described their journeys, most of which were incredibly difficult and not exactly direct.  I think it came as a surprise to me that most refugees were not welcomed, even in some of the most obvious instances of need, like in World War 2 when the Jews were fleeing Germany.  The art work has strong graphic elements and I found it modern and appealing, almost raw.  I think this book would be a great addition to libraries to help kids (and adults) build background knowledge about the plight of refugees everywhere.  


The last one I got from my local library.  It's called "Freedom over me" by Ashley Bryan.  This is a work of historical fiction, based on a primary source document-a will from a slave owner, listing his property, which included several slaves, as well as farm animals.  In the author notes, Bryan tells how this document really stayed with him, that he kept thinking about the slaves and what their lives must have been like.  So the book profiles each slave.  There is a full page portrait in a primitive folk art style that is very compelling.  Then there is a full page poem describing the slave, including the slave's age, some background information (like how they came to the plantation, either on a slave ship or being purchased or gifted to slaveowner), the slave's name and connections to the other slaves.  The second poem talks about the slave's dreams-dreams of freedom and of being together with family, of being able to create their own art and their own lives.  The poetry makes these stories really accessible and immediate.  I think kids are really going to like this one, even if they might need some help getting started with it.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Non-fiction picture books

I've been lucky enough to get my hands on some really terrific non-fiction lately, thanks to CYBILS and Netgalley!   My students really love non-fiction so it's great to get some new things for my library!

The first one is called "Tortuga Squad: Kids Saving Sea Turtles in Costa Rica" by Cathleen Turnham.  It's about a group of kids who live on a small island just off the coast of Costa Rica.  It's a fairly poor island, but the kids and some of the adults are trying to help save the native animals.  It gives a really nice description of the strategies they use-protecting the eggs and the babies as well as advocating to the fishermen to try to change their nets to help keep turtles from drowning.  The text is fairly simple (it feels like it's aimed at 6-9 year olds) and has a somewhat narrative format.  There are some terrific diagrams that will help the reader understand some of the ways that people can keep fishing but still help turtles.  There is also a list of resources in the back to start any other budding naturalists along the way.  The photographs are bright and engaging-there are several of the kids from the island, which will help engage lots of readers, when they see the kids helping animals look just like them.  I thought this was a really great one-I KNOW my students are going to love it.


The second one is meant for  little kids.  It's called "Plants Can't Sit Still" by Rebecca Hirsch.  This book describes all the ways a plant can move.  It includes information about the way plants move (like phototropism) but it also includes things like how seeds move as well as carnivorous plants.  The text is almost poetic, with some terrific, interesting verbs to describe how plants move.  Even though this is clearly aimed at the younger kids, teachers will appreciate the specific vocabulary.  The pictures are collage and they are so filled movement, it feels like you could actually reach in and touch them.  I think kids will find this one fascinating.  


The last one is not a new one.  In fact, it won the Caldecott award last year.  It's called "Finding Winnie" by Lindsay Mattick.  It's the true story of Harry Colebourn, a Canadian veterinarian who served in World War 1.  In 1914, as he was being deployed, he came across a little bear cub and thought he would rescue it from the person who had it.  It wasn't a really great time to adopt a bear (being sent to war and all) but somehow he couldn't pass this little cub by.  He takes the cub to training and then on the transport ship to England.  When his group got ready to go to the front line, it was clear he couldn't keep the growing cub any more, so he took it to the London Zoo, where it turns out an author named A. A. Milne would bring his little boy, Christopher.  Part of what makes the story so great is the soft watercolor pictures that accompany the text as well as the family photos of Lindsay's grandfather and A. A. Milne in the back.  The kids really loved hearing about the true origin of one of their favorite storybook characters.  


Here's the book trailer and you can see Lindsay Mattick talking about her book!





Saturday, January 7, 2017

More non fiction books

This non fiction stuff I've been reading is AWESOME.  I can't wait to show these to my students and my teachers.  They are going to LOVE them.

The first one is called "The Slowest Book Ever" by April Pulley Sayre.  I have to admit the title put me off a bit.  Slow?  Really?  We live in a really fast paced time, why would I want to read about something slow?  Because it's awesome, that's why!  April put together an entire book of fascinating facts about plants, animals, rocks, and people that are all slow.  The book is written in a very conversational style, so it's sort of like having a super interesting friend tell you about all these things.  There are lots of graphical elements, kind of cartoony pictures that make the book move very fast.  There's a terrific glossary in the back along with reference notes and a very thorough index.  I keep thinking of people who might enjoy this one-like my best friend, my dad, I guess I'd better order several copies.


The second one is called "The Inventors of Lego Toys" by Erin Hagar.  I know just by the title that my students will be interested in this one, because, really, who doesn't love Legos?  We have a Lego club as part of our after school program and the kids really love it but I find adults love Legos too.  Even somebody as old as I am has fond memories of playing with Legos.  This book is all about Ole Kirk Christansen, who was a Danish carpenter.  He also really loved making toys and it turned out that the toys made better money than the carpentry work.  It talks about Ole Kirk's work ethic (it's better to make it right than to make it cheaply) as well as some of the terrible tragedies that befell him (his wife died leaving him to raise four boys alone and there were several devastating factory fires).  His sons took over the family business and made it into the world wide company it is today.  One of the things that's really great about this book is all the pictures and graphical elements.  There are diagrams and text boxes and lots of headings.  The text is interesting and keeps you turning the pages.    AND it's about Legos.  I think the kids are going to like this one a lot.  


Here's a lovely little animated film that tells about the inventors of Legos. 


The last one is another one my students are absolutely going to love.  It's called "Masters of Disguise: Amazing Animal Tricksters" by Rebecca L. Johnson.  It 10 chapters and each chapter is four pages long.  The first two pages have a narrative story about about the animal and how it uses it's camouflage.  The second two pages in the chapter tell about the science behind the camouflage and how scientists studied the animals.  There are up close pictures of the animals (which you may or may not want to look to closely at.  The first one is called an assassin bug and it uses the corpses of it's prey as camouflage.  The eeeewww factor on that one alone is totally worth the book) as well as pictures of the scientists who study the animals.  There is quite a bit of text on each page, so this one is going to be for bigger kids (upper elementary and middle school).  
  

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Super cool non-fiction picture books

I've been trying to read more non fiction.  The students at my school love non fiction, which is fairly unusual according to the other librarians in my district, but my kids check out more non fiction than fiction.  I personally tend to read more fiction so I have to work at looking for non fiction.  These new ones are so good, that everyone will enjoy them.

The first one is a title I've been trying to get a hold of for quite some time.  It comes up often on lists of great non fiction books this year.  It's called "Pink is for Blowfish" by Jess Keating.  This is an informational  picture book about different animals.  They were chosen for the book because of their color-pink.  Each animal has a full page picture and the facing page has a text box with facts like their scientific name, diet, habitat and predators.  The facing page also has a cartoony picture of the animal along with a couple of facts about the animal.  The book is very brightly colored and because there isn't a lot of text, it's very accessible.  Some of the animals are pretty homely and some of the them are adorable and several of them will be the kind that kids show each other to say "ewwww".  It also has a glossary as well as a list of jobs you might want to have if you enjoy certain kinds of animals (love that part) and a list of web resources.  I can't wait to get this one into my library.


Here is the book trailer!


The second one is called "First Step: How one girl put segregation on trial" by Susan E. Goodman.  This picture book is mostly about a girl named Sarah Roberts.  Sarah started school as a four year old in Boston in 1847.  It doesn't tell how long she attended there before the police came and removed her from the school because it was an all white school.  As an African American, Sarah was expected to attend an African American school that was much further away and had many fewer resources.  Sarah's family filed suit and two attorneys, Robert Morris (an African American) and Charles Sumner (a Caucasian), tried the case before the Massachusetts Supreme Court and lost.  It then skips ahead a hundred years to a similar case in Kansas, where a girl named Linda Brown and 200 other families sued the Topeka, Kansas school board and won, paving the way for desegregation throughout the nation.  The pictures in this one are lovely and there is a timeline of segregation in the back along with a bibliography that includes videos that I think kids might find interesting.  I think this book will make an excellent teaching tool in many classrooms.  


The last one is called "Giant Squid" by Candace Fleming.  It's all about giant squid and I didn't think I really wanted to find out about a giant squid, until I started reading.  The language in this one is really big-the words are specific and wonderful.  The way the words are placed on the page make it look like poetry.  The book tells that giant squids are reclusive animals and so much of what is known about them comes from inference or from finding parts of them.  The pictures in this one are also amazing.  They give you hints of the giant squid which only keeps you turning the pages to see what part you'll find next and how will Eric Rohmann (the illustrator) show the next thing.  This book invites repeated readings to make sure you saw all the parts of the pictures and understood every little piece of the text.  I loved this one and I think the kids are really going to like it too.  In case you are interested, here's a link from the author's page that has a teaching guide for the book




Friday, December 30, 2016

Winter break

Hoo boy, did it feel like a long slog to get to winter break.  In their wisdom, our district decided our kids should go to school until December 22 and we should have December 23 as a teacher workday.  It's so much fun to have special holiday events, concerts, tree lightings, parties, but wow, the level of excitement and anticipation (which has been building since OCTOBER) was pretty intense.  I was relieved to see at a local retail outlet that we have Valentine's day to look forward to, so thank goodness we have something to keep the crazy level high.

But so now, we are back home after a wonderful visit with family and we have some time to relax and finish up projects and READ.  YAY!!!  I told the kids that my goal was to read a book a day all winter break, and frankly, I'm failing at that so far, but I'm hoping to catch up a bit now.  I did get to read a couple of brand new picture books on the plane and they are just terrific.  The first one is called "There, there" by Tim Beiser.  It's about a bear and a hare who are stuck in their den because it's raining.  The hare is not having his best day, he's quite unhappy about the rain and all the things he's missing because it's raining.  The bear, on the other hand, is having a fine time, making muffins and trying to comfort the hare.  However, the whining gets to be too much, so the bear takes the hare outside to give him a lesson on appreciating what they have.  It has a really nice message of optimism.  The pictures are very cute.  There's a nice rhyming structure and a very funny ending.  I think this one will be a big hit.


The second one is called "The Fog" by Kyo Maclear.  I really like Kyo's work, because even when she's writing books for little kids (or maybe especially when she's writing for little kids), the stories always feel really big, like there's a bigger message that she knows the kids are going to understand, even if it's not obvious.  "The Fog" is a book like that.  It's about a little yellow bird who lives in an icy land.  The bird notices things, including the people who come to visit.  One day, a warm fog moves in, and land changes.  People don't come to visit any more and the other birds don't mind, in fact, they barely seem to notice.  The bird finds a human friend and they try to find others who notice the fog too, and there are others, even though they might be far away or really different.  As the girl and the bird connect with others, the fog begins to lift and they begin to see things more clearly again.  The metaphorical message is lovely.  The text is spare and simple, but big.  The pictures are lovely and simple, but inviting.  I really liked this one a lot.  If you'd like to see more of Kyo's remarkable work, here's a link to her blog


The last one is actually a picture book, but it's really a graphic novel.  It's not my favorite format, frankly.  I find the pictures move too fast and I like creating the mental images in my head, but Stan Lee's series "The Zodiac Legacy" is so compelling, I'm willing to overlook the whole graphic novel distaste I hold.  In case you don't know, Stan Lee came up with this idea about a group of young people who have special powers based on the Chinese zodiac.  Each of the characters has a super power, like Roxanne who is a Rooster and can use her voice in some pretty amazing ways, or Liam, who is a Ram, and is invulnerable.  Of course there are some really great villains who also have Chinese zodiac super powers.  Mr. Lee wrote two books that my students LOVED but I always sort of assumed these would end up as graphic novels and so when one showed up in my Netgalley shelf, I was more than happy to read it.  This one is the second one in the graphic novel series (I missed one?!!  Gahhhh!!!) and it's called "The Zodiac Legacy 2 Power Lines".  It has the same characters from the text based book but it's really great to see how artists imagined them as well as get some visuals on how they might solve problems.  The story starts with the team on a high speed train from Paris to London and the train is out of control.  The team has a new addition, one of the bad guys has asked to join the team and although he's explained that he wants to work for good, not evil, the rest of the good guys are having a hard time trusting him.  So even though he's flying a helicopter right behind the train, they are reluctant to ask him for help.  These books are very fast paced, very exciting, and having a terrific blend of action and interpersonal drama.  The graphic novel is going to be a HUGE hit at my school.  Here's a link to the Disney webpage about the books.




Monday, December 12, 2016

Something new!

I found some great new titles on Netgalley this week.  This first one was a big surprise to me.  It's the second in a series by author Gene Swallow about a girl named Elspeth who is living between two worlds-the real world where she is a middle schooler adopted by two relentlessly boring people who love her very much and the other is a nursery rhyme world, where she is the daughter of Jack and Jill (the fetch a pail of water duo).  The nursery rhyme world, New Winkieland, is full of funny characters as well as danger-the evil Mary, Mary has taken Elspeth's best friend as a hostage and now it seems the only way to get Farrah back is to make a deal with the evil Krool, who nearly killed Elspeth in her last visit to New Winkieland.  This one is full of text references to lots of different nursery rhymes (I had to stop and do a little research half way through the book to find out about one of the nursery rhyme references and was fascinated to find that nursery rhymes actually have political references) as well as new versions of some of the old rhymes.  I really liked this story and I think the kids will too-given their fascination for stories like the Sisters Grimm by Michael Buckley and Rick Riordan's series based on different myths.  The first one (which I can't WAIT to look for now) is called "Blue in the Face: A Tale of Risk, Rhyme, and Rebellion" and the one I read (which had enough background information included in the book so I could totally figure it out) is called "Long Live the Queen: Magnificent Tales of Misadventure" by Gene Swallow.


This second one is realistic fiction and it has such a marvelous main character.  It's called "The Charming Life of Izzy Malone" by by Jenny Lundquist.  It's about Izzy (NOT Isabella) who is adapting to life in middle school.  Her former friend, Violet isn't speaking to her and Izzy is trying to get on to a paddling team with the "in crowd".  The "in crowd" isn't having it.  She also has to contend with a perfect older sister (who, in addition to being perfectly kind and well behaved, is also a musical prodigy), her grandmother and her great aunt (who is her grandmother's twin), and her mother is running to be the mayor of her small town.  It's a complicated plot but Izzy is so wonderfully unique and interesting, I couldn't wait to see what happened.  There's a bit of a mystery and a small amount of (middle school) romance.  I thought this one was terrific. 



The last one is a picture book.  It's called "When We Were Alone" by David Alexander Robertson.  It's about a little girl talking with her grandmother.  The story is posed in a question and answer format.  The girl asks about her grandmother's clothes, her hair, even how she spends her time.  The answers all stem back to a time when her grandmother was separated from her family (of Native People) and forced to assimilate into white society.  I think this would be a nice story book to start a conversation about Native people with kids who have no background information on this kind of thing.  The story isn't scary or painful to read but it gives you a really clear idea of how much the Native people lost during this time.  The pictures are terrific too-very modern and blocky but with so much emotion.  I liked this one a lot.  It would be great with a unit on Native Americans or a unit on social issues.