Sunday, May 28, 2017

Picture this... New picture books to look for

Summer vacation is almost upon us!  And how lucky to have some wonderful books to read!  This one is perfect for a stormy day.  It's called "Shelter" by Celine Claire.  It's about a community of animals that live independently.  One day a storm blows up.  The animals are secure in their homes, but some strangers come, seeking shelter and comfort.  They have cookies to share, but no one is willing to let them in.  A little fox gives them a lantern and the strangers go and create their own shelter.  But suddenly, the foxes' shelter is compromised.  Will they be able to find a safe place?  The soft watercolor paintings make this one really inviting.  This is a nice story about empathy and helping others.  It's going to be a good one to start the year with, when we are trying to create classroom communities.

The second one is a super cute book about dealing with a new baby.  Leon has a new baby at his house and he's not too sure about how that's going to work.  In Leon's way of thinking, there really isn't room for a new baby, until Leon has a really great and loving idea of where the baby can go.  The pictures are black crayon and oil, which gives them a lot of texture and interest, in spite of a limited color palette.  The penguins have more human faces than you might expect.  This will be a nice addition to all the books about dealing with babies like "The New Small Person" by Lauren Childs or "Peter's Chair" by Ezra Jack Keats.  


The last one is a circle story called "Leap!" by JonArno Lawson.  It starts off with a flea who takes a leap and sets in motion a series of actions, involving a large array of animals leaping.  The story is written in rhyme and it has  the most amazing array of language-such lovely words and descriptions of what the animals are doing and how that leads them to end of the book, (I don't really think this is a spoiler but it you don't want to know the ending before you read it, skip to the next paragraph please) where the dog and the flea finally go to sleep.

The art is watercolor and collage and the pictures are modern and exuberant and lots of fun.  The horse looks REALLY scared, which might make for a good conversation about understanding others feelings and body language.    I liked this one a lot.  



Sunday, May 14, 2017

Terrific new middle grade fiction

I can hardly believe that the school year is almost over and yet it is.  It seems like only yesterday we were just starting and now we're starting to put things away and dream of long days with less structure and MORE READING.  Some people have started to count down the days, but I don't do that until we are in the single digits.  So, here are a few books to put on your summer reading list!

The first one is called "The World's Greatest Chocolate Covered Pork Chops" by Ryan K. Sager.  It's a very funny story about a girl named Zoe who is the arguably with world's greatest chef.  She is, at the very least, the world's best young chef, as she is only 12 years old and already has her own restaurant and a large group of very loyal patrons.  Zoe wants to open her own restaurant and convinces her parents that she should be allowed to apply for a business loan as well as choose the location and then open the restaurant.  Her parents, who are jazz musicians, agree.  Once Zoe opens her restaurant, she is hoping that a local food writer will come and taste her food and then write about it in a positive way and that she will be named the best chef in San Francisco.  This book is heavy on the fun and the food but there is also a bit of a mystery.  I think kids are going to like this one a lot.


The second one is a more serious story.  It's called "Caleb and Kit" by Beth Vrabel.  I read Beth Vrabel's first book, "A Blind Guide to Stinkville" about a girl with albinism who moves across country to a small town in SC.  THAT one was awesome.  (Here's the review for Blind Guide to Stinkville).  This one is at least as good, maybe even better.  Caleb is 12 and has cystic fibrosis.  If you don't know what cystic fibrosis is, this book goes into great deal about the symptoms as well as some of the treatments and side effects of cystic fibrosis (and parts of it go into greater detail than you would hope).  But what's great about this book is the character development- the story is told from Caleb's point of view so you get to hear about what's rotten about being chronically ill (and possibly only living a short life) but through the arc of the story, Caleb also comes to understand his (nearly perfect) older brother Patrick, and his parents (who have two very different ways of dealing Caleb's condition). He also meets a girl who is living the life he wishes he could live-Kit is allowed to do what ever she wants-walk in the woods, take a dip in the creek, sleep outside, eat whatever she wants.  It all sounds pretty awesome, until he finds out why she's allowed all this flexibility.  This year, my students really seem to love stories where people are sick so I think this one is going to be very popular.  


This last one is already in print because I checked it out of my local library and it's SOOO wonderful.  It's called "Princess Cora and the Crocodile" and it's written by Laura Amy Schlitz and illustrated by Brian Floca.  Laura Amy Schlitz has written a number of awesome books, like "The Hired Girl" and "Good Masters!  Sweet Ladies!" which won the Newbery a few years back.  Brian Floca won the Caldecott a year or two ago with "Locomotive" so you might expect that this is going to be a terrific book.  Well, let me tell you.  IT IS.  It's about a princess named Cora.  When she's born, her parents take one look at her and fall completely in love with her-she's so pretty and so sweet looking.  They then start thinking about what a difficult job it will be to be queen so they set out to train her to strong (by jumping rope), smart (reading lots of books), and clean (taking lots of baths).  Cora is a good sport about this for awhile, but she gets to a point where she's looking for a way out.  So she asks her godmother for a dog.  Except the godmother sends a crocodile.  Their plan to solve Cora's problem is absolutely hilarious and the story comes to a lovely conclusion (which I am SO not going to tell you).  What's also great about this one is the art work.  The pictures are lovely soft water colors which will evoke old fashioned fairy tales, but they add so much to the story... the expressions on the characters' faces are wonderful and you almost feel like you're a part of the story.  I loved this one.  Don't miss it!





Monday, May 8, 2017

Awesome new YA

I've been rooting around in Netgalley for something good to read and I have been rewarded for my patience!  I found some really great YA books that will be published soon.  Check these out...

The first one is called "Shooter" by Caroline Pignat.  It's told from the point of view of 5 very different high schools students.  Isabelle, or Izzy,  is the class president but worries about not being enough.  Hogan is a former football player who has some big issues surrounding his temper.  Xander is a photographer who struggles with social skills (the author never names his diagnosis but you could assume it was Asperger's or possibly high functioning autism).  Noah is definitely autistic and has limited self control.  Alice is his sister who worries about him and tries as much as she can to protect him.  They all end up in a boys bathroom at the school during a lockdown, which the kids initially assume is a drill, but it turns out, it's a real emergency.  I really liked each of these characters for lots of different reasons.  Each has a distinctive and remarkably likable voice.  They are each dealing with their own demons and this crisis brings many of their problems to a place where they can deal with them.  The writing was very fast paced and super hard to put down.  I really liked this one a lot.  It's too big for my elementary school library but this one will be great for high school students.

This next one is from a terrific author, Carol Weston.  She has written several other books that I've enjoyed very much (like Ava and Pip)   I'm writing about her latest book, "The Speed of Life" here in a YA post, because to me, it felt like it was too big for the small end of middle grade fiction.  That's where I live-deep in the dark heart of an ELEMENTARY school library.  I think it's too big for third graders.  There might be some fourth graders who need it, but really-5th grade and up.  It's about a girl named Sofia.  She lives with her dad in an apartment in NY City.  Her mother died the year before and its been really hard on Sofia and her dad, but they are muddling through.  Like many teen age girls, Sofia is worried about dating (she isn't yet, should she be?) and body issues (like periods!  And bras!  and chest sizes!).  An advice columnist comes to their school and speaks very frankly about all of these topics and Sofia starts emailing her and the columnist responds!  The author does an amazing job of weaving lots of social issues into this one-coping with death, multiculturalism, puberty, dating, premarital sex, abortion, gay relationships, and friendship, just to name a few.  Sofia is a terrific character, but the other characters are awesome as well-her dad, the advice columnist, her best friend KiKi, her new stepsister, Alexa.  I was really sorry when this book was over!  

Here's the author, Carol Weston, talking about the book.



The last one has a really great art connection.  It's called "Piecing Me Together" by Renee Watson.  It's about Jade who is a very talented collage artist and loves making art pieces.  She lives with her mom and her older brother.  Her mother works hard and has made it possible for Jade to attend an exclusive private school in another part of Portland, Oregon, where they live.  Jade has to ride the city bus a long way to get to school and she feels like an outsider there, not just because of her appearance but because of where she lives, what she likes to eat, what she likes to do, everything is different.  She notices another girl riding the same bus every day and strikes up a friendship with her.  Jade also has a mentor that she is somewhat ambivalent about-she's not sure exactly why Maxine wants to be her mentor or even if Maxine is really that interested in her.  I really liked Jade and her voice-I could really feel her emotions and understand what her life is like.  One of the big themes that I think a lot of kids will relate to is the idea that you want to leave home for all sorts of reasons, but leaving is hard and scary and will it be any better some place else?  I loved all the different struggles Jade was having and was sorry when this one was over too.  I think lots of kids are going to enjoy getting to know her too!


Sunday, April 16, 2017

Awesome new picture books!

I just finished the book fair at my school and there were some great new books there but there are    are also some amazing new picture books coming out in the next few months.  Here are a few you might want to look for!

The first one is called "Shark Lady: The True Story of How Eugenie Clark Became the Ocean's Most Fearless Scientist" by Jess Keating.  I was already a big fan of Jess Keating's work (you know, Pink is for Blobfish?) AND a big fan of Eugenie Clark.  I can remember reading Ann Martin's version of "Shark Lady" with a group of second graders and having one of my little girls hug the book to her chest and say "When I grow up, I'm going to be an ichthyologist".  So a picture book version of this one is bound to be awesome and it is.  The pictures (in my e-book advanced reader's copy version) are a bit cartoon-y but in a friendly way.  You can completely feel Eugenie's energy and curiosity shining through them.  The text is amazing too-with lots of little details to make you really feel like you're right there with Eugenie, swimming with the sharks.  Kids are going to love this one and I think teachers are going to love it too-as a mentor text for writing narrative non-fiction as well as role models for young women.  I can't wait to get this one into my library.


Here's another one my kids will love.  It's called "Baking Class" by Deanna F. Cook.  It's a picture book and a recipe book.  Unsurprisingly, it's all about baking.  The recipes are rated from one rolling pin (super easy) to three rolling pins (more complicated).  There is a nice piece at the beginning that helps to develop the vocabulary of kitchen skills and tools and the recipes are organized in a way that makes finding what you want to make really easy.  There are also lots of super fun ways to serve the recipes in funny and unexpected ways, like using banana bread as a base, spreading it with nut butter and decorating it to look like monkey face with fresh fruit.  The recipes are very clearly written and the photographs offer excellent support.  I can't wait to put this one in my library too!


This last one is a graphic novel AND a biography of Pele, the famous soccer star, so it's hard to see how this one could miss!  It's a very interesting story of his life and the graphic novel presentation makes the story move along very quickly.  Lots of kids will be interested in this one.  The only disadvantage from my standpoint is that it's probably too big for an elementary library.  There is a small amount of what my students say is "bad language" but there is also some sexual innuendo that I would not feel comfortable presenting to my little kids, who are bound to pick this up, since it's a graphic novel.  Having said that, it's probably not too big for middle school and certainly, it's fairly tame for high school.  The book also has a nice mix of both personal as well as historical references and if you are like me, it will send you to do some research to find out more about this very interesting sportsman.  

Here's the cover. 


And here's one of the pages so you can see some of the terrific artwork. 





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!