Sunday, May 20, 2018

New in non-fiction picture books

There are some amazing new non-fiction picture books that have just been released.  What a great way to start your summer reading!

The first one is called "Voices from the Underground Railroad" by Kay Winters.  It's poems about the experiences of two slaves running away from a master who is planning to sell them south to pay off his gambling debts.  What's great about this one is that it has ALL the voices-so there are poems from the point of view of the master's wife and the slave catchers and the people who are station masters on the Underground Railroad.  Larry Day's pictures are lovely pen and ink with water color and help the reader understand the urgency and the immediacy of the action of the story.  I thought this one was terrific.

The second one is called "Girl Running" by Annette Bay Pimentel and illustrated by Micha Archer.  It's about a young woman named Bobbi Gibb who liked to run.  She lived in a time before Title Nine sports, when women were encouraged to stay at home and take care of the children.  But she ran.  She ran in spite of the fact that she didn't have proper running shoes (she started training with nurses shoes!) and set a goal to run in the Boston Marathon.  Except it turned out that they didn't allow women to run in the Boston Marathon.  So she ran anyway.  It's a lovely story of determination and persistence.  The art work is terrific too-the pictures are bright and full of energy, just like Bobbi must be.  I can't wait to share this one with my students. 

The last one is called "She Persisted Around the World".  It's written by Chelsea Clinton and illustrated by Alexandra Boiger.  This is the second book like this-it's a collective biography of 13 women around the world who worked hard and made a difference.  It covers a range of areas where the women persisted, including dance, politics, peace making, science, and sports.  This is not book to get deep information, rather short pieces of text with lovely, warm colored pictures to inspire kids to do more research.   This will be an excellent addition to our library!  

Here's a short video introducing the book. 

Sunday, May 6, 2018

New titles in middle grade fiction

I caught a stupid cold this week and although I never really felt rotten enough to stay home from school, it slowed me down enough to take the time to read a bit more than I have.  Isn't that weird?  Probably- gratitude for a cold!  Anyway, I got to read a couple of terrific chapter books this week.

The first one is called "The Memory of Forgotten Things" by Kat Zhang.  I was sure I had read (and enjoyed) her other books so I dove into this one.  Except, as it turns out, I hadn't read any of her books after all (I blame the nasal congestion).  But, it's completely ok, because this wasn't a sequel or connected to any of her books.  It's about a girl named Sophia who feels somewhat isolated-her mom died when she was small and Sophia misses her terribly.  But Sophia's been having these memories of things that actually never happened but could have, if things had been different-like a birthday cake that her mother made when she was 10, except that her mother died before that.  Sophia reluctantly makes friends with two boys in class and it turns out, one of them also has memories like her.  The other has a deep desire to go back to the way things were before his sister died.  So when the kids find out that a kind of a portal opens so they can go to an alternate reality, they all jump at the chance.  This one is truly a middle grade fiction book-dead family members, angst about friendship and fitting in, but it also has this very interesting piece about things happening for a reason.  I think this one will be well placed in any library or home-the kids are going to relate to the characters.  It's a really interesting idea that there might be a parallel universe out there waiting for us to find it.  This one comes out next week!

Image result for the memory of forgotten things

The second one is by one of my favorite authors (really, I have actually read things by him before, AND I remember them), Jason Reynolds.  It's the third in a series (so I guess you could call it a trilogy, so far, but I wonder if there will be more) about a group of kids who come together as a running team.  It's called "Sunny" and it's about Sunny who is an excellent long distance runner.  But Sunny's kind of stuck.  It turns out he's been running because his mom was a runner and his mom died in childbirth (see what I mean about the dead relatives in middle grade fiction?) and suddenly, that's not a good enough reason anymore.  This story is less about running and more about dealing with grief but what's really great about it is the language.  The story drips with evocative language, the feelings pour out like a browned butter sauce-rich and delicious.  And you can feel every little bit of the things that Sunny's feeling.  This one is going to remind kids that ALL of their experiences matter, that all stories are awesome and all stories need to be told.  This one came out April 26, so look for it now! 

Here's an interview with Jason Reynolds about Sunny and For Everyone, another book,  that it also coming out.  

The third one is another book dealing with the death of a parent.  (I KNOW)  This one is called "The House that Lou Built" by Mae Respicio.  It's about Lou who comes from a big, strong, noisy Filipino family that she adores.  Her mom is struggling to make ends meet with her nursing job.  Lou misses the dad she never knew, who was killed just before she was born.  Lou loves to build things and she's got an idea that she could build a tiny house on a piece of property that belongs to her.  Her dad left her this property when he died and some of her happiest memories are there.  But Lou's mom has an idea that if they would move to Seattle, she could get a job that would pay better, they could have their own place that would be bigger (Lou could have her own room!) and life would be so much better.  Lou's not really having it, because she loves the culture of her family and the extended family that they have where they are, so she comes up with a plan for how to get them to stay.  It was lovely to get to read about the loving, supportive family that Lou comes from and to get to learn a tiny bit about Filipino culture.  I also really liked that Lou was a person who liked to build things and that didn't seem weird to anyone.  I think the kids are going to like all the risks that Lou takes to get what she wants as well as her vision of her tiny house.  I can't wait to put this one in the library.  

Image result for the house that lou built

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Chapter book fairy tales!

I really love fairy tales and it's such a pleasure to be able to introduce the bigger kids to chapter books that are fairy tales.  The kids are always surprised, thinking that fairy tales are picture books, but their big themes of honor and bravery and kindness make them excellent reading for anyone!  Here are two to look for...

The first one is called "Grump: The Mostly True Story of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves".  It's by Liesl Shurtliff, who has written three other mostly true fairy tales- "Rump: The Mostly True Story of Rumpelstiltskin", "Jack: The Mostly True Story of Jack and the Beanstalk" and "Red: the Mostly True Story of Little Red Riding Hood".   The first three were terrific so I was really looking forward to this one and it did not disappoint.  Grump is a dwarf who doesn't fit in.  He really wants to go to the surface in spite of dire warnings of danger.  When he's sent out on his first work mission, he ends up with an opportunity to go to the surface, he takes it and finds the surface is as wonderful as he thought, but it turns out that humans aren't always as truthful as dwarves.  He connects with the Evil Queen (who is exactly as promised) and with Snow White (who isn't exactly what you'd expect) and as the story unfolds, Grump makes some hard decisions and there's the lovely happy ending.  This one would be a great addition to an library where there are elementary readers.  It would also make a great mentor text when talking about genre.  I know my students are going to love this one as much as they've loved the other three!

Image result for grump by liesl shurtliff

The second one is actually a translation of a book that was originally published in Holland in 1962.  It's called "The Letter for the King" by Tonke Dragt.  It was translated by Laura Wilkinson.  It's about a boy named Tiuri who is getting ready to become a knight.  There's been arduous training, difficult lessons, and the last thing is he has to spend the night praying and meditating with out saying anything to anyone, locked in a chapel with his fellow initiates.  Except that as they are praying, there's a knock at the door and an urgent whisper that he must come immediately.  So Tiuri goes and ends up an epic quest to get a letter to the King.  It's a very good story with lots of plot twists and interesting characters.  The characters have complicated names and there are a lot of them, which might be a bit off putting to some readers.  But it's a thrilling adventure with lots of danger, so it's worth the effort.  Look for this old fashioned adventure story!  

Image result for letter for the king dragt

Friday, April 27, 2018

Moving new realistic fiction

Sometimes people seem to be surprised at the weighty topics covered in middle grade fiction.  It turns out the kids are interested in how people solve problems that are similar or really different from their own.  My third graders are reading books with the theme of social issues this week and are really loving some of the titles like "Pink and Say" by Patricia Polacco (dealing with war) or "Gleam and Glow" by Eve Bunting (also dealing with war) or "Out of my mind" by Sharon Draper (dealing with a disability).  The two books I read this week could easily slide into this unit!

The first one is called "Running on the Roof of the World" by Jess Butterworth.  It's about a girl named Tashi who lives with her parents in a small rural community in Tibet.  Tibet is occupied by Chinese soldiers and life is difficult for Tibetan citizens.  Tashi's dad is often mysterious about some of the things he's doing-he's a writer for the local newspaper, which is a bit of a misnomer, because the government gives him the stories to write.   One day, things change.  In the name of political protest, a man sets himself on fire.  Tashi is horrified and when she talks with her parents about it, they agree that they must leave Tibet and go to India.  This one is very fast paced, with all the urgency of someone fleeing.  Lots of things happen to Tashi and some are good and some are not so good.  It gives an excellent picture of why someone might feel the need to flee their home (as many are doing from all over the globe) and why that whole passageway can be fraught with peril.  I think this is an excellent book for any upper elementary or middle school student.   The fact that you could use this one as a teaching tool is an extra added bonus to the fact that it's really great story.


The second one is called "The Key to Everything" by Pat Schmatz.  This one covers so many different social issues, its hard to know where to start.  The story is a bit confusing at first.  There are only three characters to start with-Kevin, Cap'n Jackie, and Tasha (and my apologies-I don't know how I ended up with two completely different stories where the main characters have virtually the same name).  Tasha is the child, Kevin is her guardian and Cap'n Jackie is someone who loves them both.  Tasha is very angry with both Kevin and Cap'n Jackie because they decided to send her to camp for the summer.  Tasha seems to have some issues with anger control because they talk about her "ragers".  Anyway, this story has a jailed parent with issues of substance abuse, families split over gender identity, families who come together out of luck or compassion, elder care, as well as basic friendship.  It's a lot. But it's a compelling story and the kids at my school tend to like stories about sad things, and this one certainly fits that bill.  

Image result for the key to every by pat schmatz

Saturday, April 14, 2018

The latest in non-fiction!

I just got some new books that I ordered.  I just love getting a box of new books.  It's like Christmas!  Even if I had to order them and pay for them myself.  Still exciting!  Anyway, the kids are going to LOVE these new non-fiction books I just got.

The first one is called "Snowy Owl Invasion: Tracking an Unusual Migration" by Sandra Markle.  I'm a big fan of Sandra Markle's work.  Her books are always thoroughly researched with lots of gorgeous pictures and super interesting text.  This one is no exception.  It's about what happened with snowy owls in the 2013-2014 season when suddenly people were spotting snowy owls in some pretty surprising places (like the Florida-Georgia border!) and in numbers not usually seen (like at the Boston Airport, where they typically remove 10-12 snowy owls per season, but that year, removed over 100).  She explains why scientists believe there was such a population explosion (no, I'm not going to tell you, you need to read the book!) and what the possible effects might be for snowy owls with global climate change.  Did I mention the photographs are a complete marvel?  If you've never had a chance to really get a good look at a snowy owl (I live in south Florida, snowy owls probably aren't coming here any time soon), these photographs will show you them in detail you never thought possible.  They are amazing.  Do NOT miss this book.

Here's a video from NPR about Baltimore, one of the owls in the book.

Image result for beauty and the beak book

The second is called "Beauty and the Beak: How science, technology, and a 3D-Printed beak rescued a bald eagle"  by Deborah Lee Rose and Jane Veltkamp.  It starts off with a narrative story about a baby eagle being born and how it grew to adulthood and then was badly wounded-a bullet shattered her beak, leaving her unable to eat or drink on her own.  Luckily, she was rescued by a police officer, who took her to a wildlife center.   They were able to nurse her back to health, but without a beak, she would never be able to live in the wild.  Luckily, a raptor biologist named Janie (one of the co-authors!) and an engineer named Nate came together to help the eagle get a new beak.  What's really interesting about this story is the details of problem solving and how real live scientists don't always get things right the first time, but with persistence, they can figure it out.  It's also interesting that only about half the book is the wounded eagle's story, the rest of it is information about eagles with lots of QR codes to send interested researchers to find out more.  I think the kids are going to really like this one too!

Here's a video about it Beauty the wounded eagle!

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Coming attractions in middle grade fiction!

I've been enjoying my spring break and since we were traveling, I had some long uninterrupted time to read (because when I'm at home, there's a lot of "Oh look!  Something shiny!" going on).    There are some terrific new middle grade fiction books in the pipeline.  Here are two of my favorites.

The first one is called "The Orphan Band of Springdale" by Anne Nesbet.  It's historical fiction but it's based on the author's family stories.  It's set in World War 2 and I really loved that it tells the story of what it was like growing up in America at that time, with some of the ugly prejudices that people held as well as some of the social issues that have since been resolved.  Gusta's dad leaves her on a train as they were heading to Maine because Gusta's dad is a socialist and believes that workers should have rights and he is being pursued by the police.  Gusta ends up at her grandmother's house, which is a kind of an orphanage or maybe a group home.  When Gusta starts school, they figure out that she needs glasses, but they're really expensive, so Gusta goes to work for the eye doctor, who is German and raises pigeons.  The passages where Nesbet describes what it's like to put on her glasses for the first time brought me to tears because that's exactly how I felt when I first got my glasses.  Gusta also unearths some family secrets that unravel in a really lovely way.  I really liked this story and I think it would great to have it as a part of our historical fiction collection.   It comes out on April 10, 2018.

The second one I read is called "The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl" by Stacy McAnulty.  McAnulty is a prolific author and I really like a lot of her other work, but I think this might be her best one yet.  This story is about Lucy, a girl who lives with her grandmother.  Her uncle makes occasional appearances, but there's no real backstory about what happened to Lucy's parents.  Apparently, it's not that important to the story because Lucy is a super interesting character.  When Lucy was 8, she was struck by lightning and the effect of the lightning strike was to turn Lucy into a math savant.  It also made her obsessive compulsive and went the story starts, she hasn't left the apartment where she and her grandmother live for 4 weeks.  Lucy's grandmother and her uncle decide the best thing for her is to enroll in the local middle school.  It's a difficult transition-the kids are for the most part mean about her obsessiveness but since Lucy doesn't want to tell anyone why she's so obsessive, I can see why they would be mean.  But she does make friends and as a part of group project the kids do, Lucy and her friends end up volunteering at a local animal shelter, which also brings a new group of people (and animals) into Lucy's life.  It's a really wonderful story about trusting people, what you do for friends, and accepting people for who they are.  I think my students are going to love this one.   It comes out in May 2018.

The last one is probably a stretch as middle grade fiction, but it would make a great read aloud in a middle grade classroom.  It's a picture book called "Neema's Reason to Smile" by Patricia Newman.  I'm pretty sure just about every American kid (and a lot of the teachers) would tell you that they would MUCH rather stay at home than go to school every day.  But in some places, where school is more of a privilege rather than an obligation, kids really WANT to go to school.  This is a story about a girl who really wants to go to school.  She and her mother have big dreams of jobs and education but in order to help her small family survive, Neema must go and sell fruit each day.  The coins that aren't needed to buy beans and rice or new needles for sewing are put into the dreaming basket, which is meant for Neema to go to school.  The illustrations are strong and energetic and give you the impression that Neema is a hard worker.  Reading this one would be a nice opportunity to talk about some of the blessings we have here that aren't as prevalent elsewhere.    It might be a good one to connect with "Long Walk to Water" by Linda Sue Park, which is a chapter book about two different kids growing up in Sudan at different times.  This one comes out this week!

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Strong women in new books

I've been so lucky to read some awesome middle grade fiction this week about some interesting, powerful young women, I can't wait to share them with you!

The first one is called "Like Vanessa" by Tami Charles.  I was mildly horrified to find that it's categorized as historical fiction because it's set in the 1980s (heeeeyyyy, wait just a cotton pickin' minute.  The 80s are history?  Ok, they are MY history too).  Anyway, mild horror aside, this was a really great story about friendship, finding your true voice, making assumptions about people based on their appearance and working towards a goal.  It's about Vanessa, who is in 8th grade.  She has one true friend, but her friend is finding other interests and Vanessa is worried that they will not remain friends.  Vanessa also finds that she has other interests that her friend isn't so interested in.  Vanessa really wants to be Miss America.  Until now, she didn't think it was possible.  Until 1983, there had never been a black Miss America, but suddenly Vanessa Williams made history as the first black Miss America, and suddenly the Vanessa in the story thinks that might be possible.  The music teacher turns out to be a positive role model (in spite of Vanessa's initial assessment of her) and suggests that they start a beauty pageant in their school.  There's also a bit of a mystery to the story like why Vanessa avoids the bathtub and why her dad locks himself in his bedroom and works long hours to avoid the family.  I really liked this character's voyage of self discovery and I think a lot of girls will recognize themselves in Vanessa as a person who wants to be taken seriously, a person who can find their own beauty even if society is telling them otherwise, a person who values friendship and family.  This might tend more toward middle school than upper elementary, there is a scene of violence towards the end of the book that rings very true, but might be upsetting to some of the younger kids.  Overall, a solid read.

Here's a short interview with the author.

The second one has been getting a lot of buzz.  It's called "Amal Unbound" and it's by Aisha Saeed.  I was lucky enough to get to hear Aisha at a local book event called BAM that was in West Palm Beach last week end.  It turns out Aisha is graduated from one of our local high schools!  If I didn't admire her enough already, because this book was terrific!  

It's about Amal who is a girl who lives in Pakistan.  She is the oldest daughter in her family.  She has four younger sisters and so she has to help out a lot at home.  She also loves to go to school and dreams of being a teacher.  But she also has trouble being the submissive girl that her family believes that she should be.   So when she's at the market one day, she has an encounter with one of the rich people in the village that changes her life.  I don't want to spoil it, because the story unfolds so beautifully, it's really worth the wait.  It's beautifully written and Amal is a character that is going to resonate with a lot of kids.  This one would be appropriate for all the middle graders and will have some excellent tie ins to global issues, including treatment of women and treatment of girls and the value of education.  

Colby Sharp really liked it too!  Here's his video about it.

And here's the completely gorgeous cover.

So YAY for strong women!