Thursday, October 30, 2014

Two to look for

I read two new books on Netgalley this week and I think they were a lot of fun.

The first one is called Witherwood Reform School by Obert Skye.  You might have heard of Obert Skye from his other series about a kid who's closet is a mess and morphs literary characters in to one terrible character, like Harry Potter and Chewbacca, who become "Potterwookie".  They are pretty hilarious and my students like them a lot.  The Witherwood Reform School is a departure from those characters and situations and a leap in a series of unfortunate events.   Two perfectly charming children, Tobias and Charlotte, have been living with their dad (a distracted and overworked but loving parent) and a completely horrible nanny (and how they can afford the nanny when their dad is driving a cab is a bit of a mystery).  Tobias and Charlotte play a trick on the nanny so to punish them, their dad drives them to a deserted place and drops them off.  He drives away but almost immediately turns around to get them but is involved in a terrible car accident which leaves him with amnesia.  He has inadvertently left them at the Witherwood Reform School where kids are brainwashed into compliance.  If your kids like books like a Series of Unfortunate Events or The Name of this Book is Secret by Anonymous Bosch or just about anything by Roald Dahl, they'll like this one too.

The second one I read was a fairy tale adaptation called A Grimm Legacy by Janna Jennings (not to be confused with THE Grimm Legacy by Polly Schulman (I liked that one a lot too).  This one is a little confusing because there are four characters who start in completely different places and are thrown together in a place they don't recognize.  They each appear to be playing parts in different fairy tales and right at the end, you find out why that is (sorry, no spoilers here!).  The characters are all teenagers but none of the situations they get into are very adult (although there is some flirting and a gun makes an appearance).  It seemed like the author was shooting for a YA audience but it read more like middle grade fiction.  It was pretty compelling and there was a lot of action.  The way it ended also gives you the idea that there is more to the story so it will be interesting to see where the series goes after this.  

Monday, October 27, 2014

National Book Award

This week I've been reading some of the young people's books that are on the list for possibilities for the National Book Award.  I find that I'm not such a good judge of great literature because I sometimes don't care for the award winners (like last year's pick-That Thing About Luck by Cynthia Kadohata, which I didn't really like) but I like to read (a lot) and so when someone smarts says "Wow, that's a really great book" it feels like I OUGHT to pay attention.

Of the five that are on the short list for the book award, I've read three of them and believe it or not, I really liked all three.  The other two I've never heard of so I guess I need to get to the library (or more likely, to Amazon!).  Even more surprising, two of the selections this year are non fiction and one of the non fiction one is also poetry.  Holy cow, what diversity!  So here are the three I've read.

"Revolution" by Debroah Wiles is a story about three kids living in Alabama in the summer of 1964.  Two of the kids are step siblings and one is another boy who lives in their town.  Their town is in the middle of some pretty big changes, including having a group of civil rights activists come to town to try to help register black voters.  One of the things I liked best about this book is the graphical elements that Wiles weaves into the story... there are Civil Rights era photographs, cartoons, song lyrics, and quotes from notable people.  For me, I found that when the song lyrics were mentioned, I would keep singing for several pages as I read, almost without really trying and what a different experience that made for reading the books.  I really liked this one.

The second one is called "Brown Girl Dreaming" by Jacqueline Woodson.  It's a memoir (non-fiction!) written in free verse (and it's poetry!) about Woodson's life.  She starts off being born in Ohio, moving to South Carolina with her mother's parents and then moving to NY for her mother to be more independent.  There's some beautiful imagery and descriptive language as well as some depictions of what it was like trying to be from two places-South Carolina where they were safe and well loved but mostly segregated to New York where people made fun of the way they talked but created deep friendships with people that were very different as well as tragedies along the way.  This one is going to be an excellent reading and writing mentor text.

The third one is "Port Chicago 50" by Steve Sheinikin.  It's non fiction (yay!) about a group of African American sailors during World War 2 that are accused of mutiny.  It has a lot of background information about what the racial situation was like at that time (before the big Civil Rights movement) and how people tried to fight against injustice and what the outcomes were.  It was a fascinating story with lots of photographs of the real people involved.  I also liked the extensive bibliography in the back of the book which will be a great teachable opportunity to show kids how people get information to use in their writing.  I liked this one a lot.   Here's a book trailer about it.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

New stuff!

I've been reading some advanced readers copies on Netgalley.  If you haven't heard of Netgalley, it's a website where you can sign up for FREE and read advanced readers copies of books.  I think the hope is that people like us will help generate buzz for the books.  Win-win!  Awesome!  Anyway, this morning I read a really awesome one called Daisy to the Rescue by Jeff Campbell.  It should be out this week and it's wonderful.  It starts off explaining about the mythology of animal rescue and goes into some detail of verifying sources (which would make for a great lesson about fantasy vs. reality). The stories are sorted into groups and before each story there is a sort of a fact sheet with a lovely pen and ink drawing of the animal.  The stories are quite short and the author's voice is strong, which I think the kids will really connect to.  I think this is one that's really going to be worth looking for.

I also read Tucci's Table by Stanley Tucci and Felicity Blunt.  I think Stanley Tucci is an amazing actor so I was completely intrigued by the cookbook.  It has gorgeous pictures of food as well as him and his family in the kitchen.  The recipes are family friendly, healthy kinds of food with easy to follow directions.  The recipes are not particularly innovative (but if you're cooking for kids I think mostly you want food they will eat, not some jaw dropping culinary experience) but rather tried and true classic kind of food, the kind of food you want to feed your family.  I liked this one a lot and the biggest feeling I was left with was I was wondering if Stanley Tucci would like to come for dinner at my house!

The last one I looked at is also a cookbook (I'm married to a chef... it's what we do!).  It's called Bring your lunch by Califia Suntree but I think that title too limiting.  Her recipes are so interesting, I think you could use them for practically any meal.  However, the premise of the book is that you should have something delicious and healthy for lunch.  The author carefully describes the ingredients you might want to have on hand as well as equipment (like having the right containers to take your lunch in-that's a lesson I hadn't had to learn on my own!).  The art work is adorable.  The recipes are organized by themes... sandwiches, salads, using leftovers.  It's a treasure trove of ideas for lunch!  It also has tons of helpful hints (like what kind of canned tuna you might want to buy) as well as suggestions for substitutions and adaptations of recipes.  I really liked this one a lot,  I think it will be a useful addition to many kitchens and I can't wait to try out some of the recipes.  

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Sunshine State Young Readers

If you don't live in Florida, you probably don't know about this award sponsored through the librarians association of Florida (FAME).  The committee picks 15 books for grades 3-5 and grades 6-8 from a list of about 250.  The limits are that the books have to be for pleasure reading, they have to be written within the last 4 years and they have to be written by an American author.  The kids of Florida read the books and vote on which one is their favorite.  So, since I'm a school librarian in Florida, I've been reading the new SSYRA books and like even a really great box of chocolates, there are some you like better than others.

One that completely took me by surprise was 8 class pets + 1 squirrel divided by 1 dog = chaos by Vivian Vande Velde.  It's a pretty skinny little chapter book and has a funny cover but I was pretty sure I wasn't going to like it (really?  Judging a book by it's cover?  Shame on you!).  Well, wow, was I wrong.  This is a very fast paced story about a squirrel who lives near a school and regularly teases a dog that lives close by.  One day when the squirrel is in the middle of annoying the dog, the dog gets loose and the chase is on.  The dog chases the squirrel into the school and the squirrel looks for help from the class pets (some of whom are more help than others).  The first chapter is told from the perspective of the squirrel and the rest are told from the class pets perspectives and the last chapter is told by the dog.  It's hilarious and an easy, quick read and would make a great mentor text for point of view as well as voice.

I was also surprised by Jeff Probst's book "Stranded".  I'm not a big fan of reality TV so I didn't really know who Jeff Probst was but this one was also VERY fast paced.  This one is about 4 kids who are a sailing trip to get to know each other because their parents are getting married.  The kids are not wild about each other (the bossy older sister, the genius baby sister, the two boys who are very different-one is athletic and oppositional, the other one plays a lot of video games) but when they are stranded on a desert island without communication, they pull together to help.  It was very compelling and I was very surprised by the ending.  Here's a book trailer:

The third one I read that I really didn't think I would like was "King of the Mound: My summer with Satchel Paige."  by Wes Tooke.   This one had the saddest beginning of any of the books this year.  The main character is in a hospital recovering from polio.  The doctors think he's awesome-he's worked hard and followed directions and he's healing well, although he still walks with a limp and needs a brace.  His dad, a professional baseball player comes to pick him up from the hospital and let's just say, he isn't a warm and fuzzy kind of dad.  They go home to North Dakota, where his dad is playing on a team and Satchel Paige is the pitcher.  The owner of the team and Satchel Paige are very nice and supportive, his dad, not so much.  Anyway, once you get connected to this character, it's also really hard to stop reading.  There are issues of dealing with a disability, racism, as well as making an effort and trying your best.  By the end of the story, I liked the characters a lot and I was sorry to see them go!  

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Chapter books from the book fair

I love reading chapter books from the book fair.  I've gotten to the point where I really don't want to buy books because I live in a fairly small house without tons of storage so I just don't have room for stacks and stacks of books.  The other part is, why do I want to pay $25 for a hardcover book that I might only read one time?  So I love that I can haul these books home and then tell the kids which ones are worth owning (in my opinion!).

My favorite one from the book fair is called "The Fourteenth Goldfish" by Jennifer Holm. (I bought three copies for the media center and nagged several people into buying it too!) I already adore Jennifer Holm who writes with an amazing mix of humor and deep feelings.  I completely loved her chapter book called "Turtle in Paradise" about a girl who moves to Key West in the 1930s and her graphic novels that she writes with her brother Matt,  "Baby Mouse" and "Squish" are also wonderful.  Her latest book, "The Fourteenth Goldfish" starts with a girl going into middle school.  She has the usual angst about people being her friend (her best friend has joined the volleyball team and is now busy with her new set of friends), her hair, her clothes and then her mom gets two pieces of distressing information on the same day-their long time baby sitter is quitting to take a job at the mall and an emergency call from her dad (Ellie's grandfather) who is a scientist and has been working on a project about aging with some sort of unexpected consequences, many of which are pretty hilarious.  It has a great message about science being super cool as well as believing in yourself and find your own passion, even if it's different from what your parents want.

Here's the book trailer about it!

I also really liked "Half a Chance" by Cynthia Lord.  Cynthia Lord wrote a great book a couple years ago called "Rules" about a girl who has an autistic brother, whom she adores and also doesn't want any one to know about.  She makes up rules for him so he doesn't appear too wacky or draw attention to her in any way.  It's a great book and this new one, "Half a Chance" is really great too.  It's about a girl named Lucy who's family moves to a lake house in Vermont.  Her dad is a famous wildlife photographer who is gone on photo shoots for extended periods of time.  She misses him terribly and uses photography as a way to connect with him, even when he's far away.  She meets some of the kids who live close by her, some of them live there year round, like she will and some will only be there for the summer.  Nate, the boy next door, is a special friend and Lucy gets drawn into not only his circle of friends but his extended family who also come to the lake for the summer.  Unfortunately, Nate's grandma is suffering from dementia and that puts a lot of strain on everyone.  Lucy comes up with an idea to enter a photography contest sponsored by her dad as a way to help.  It has big themes of friendship, kindness, art and what you do for the sake of art as well as separation.

The last one I read from the book fair (and bought two copies for the media center because that's all that were left) is called "The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing" by Sheila Turnage.  I adore her use of language-she writes similes better than any other modern writer.  The first book about this group of characters is called "Three Times Lucky".  It's about a girl named Mo (short for Moses, because as a baby she was rescued from a river after a hurricane by a man wearing military clothes-she calls him the Colonel and a lady named Miss Lana who run a cafe together).  Mo and her best friend Dale like to know what's going on and in the first book they end up solving a murder so in this book, they are continuing their detective ways.  Imagine a plot line that includes a ghost (a real one and a fabricated one), a convict, a moonshiner, a costume party, car racing, poetry from surprising places, a crooked banker, devastatingly handsome men and beautiful women, as well as the best smilies on the planet.  I LOVED this one.