Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Sunshine State Young Readers 2015-2016

I'm getting a little jump on the Sunshine State Young Readers award.  Last year, I had a hard time getting all the books so this year, I was determined to get them into the library before we left for vacation and I have most of them already AND the kids have already started checking them out!  YAY!!!  It helps that some of the titles I've already read, we already owned, and I've already book talked!  But there were several that I hadn't heard of and I finished one I really liked today.  It's called Nerd Camp by Elissa Brent Weissman.  It's about Gabe who likes to read, likes science and math.  He likes to go to school.  His dream comes true right at the beginning of the book because his dad is remarrying and he is going to get a brother.  His new brother is also 10, is from California and likes surfing and is cool.  Gabe worries that Zach won't like him because Gabe isn't cool.  But Gabe gets accepted to go to sleep away camp, which Zach has been dying to do.  Gabe doesn't tell Zach that the sleep away camp is for highly gifted students.  So Gabe spends the summer trying to prove that he really isn't a nerd.  This book is funny and has a great message of appreciating who you are instead of trying to be someone you're not.  This would be great paired with "A View from Saturday" by E. L. Konigsburg.   Here's a book trailer about it.

I also read "Kizzy Ann Stamps" by Jeri Watts.  It's a story about a girl named Kizzy Ann who is starting at a new school in 1963.  It's the first time schools are integrating and Kizzy is in the first wave.  It's not easy.  Kizzy has a couple of big advantages.  One is, she's really smart.  Two, she has a strong, supportive, loving family who work hard on their family farm.  Three, she finds a great dog she names Shag who takes her places she never thought she would be able to go.  This would be great paired with other dog stories like "Because of Winn Dixie" by Kate DiCamillo or "Shiloh" by Phyllis Naylor.  Or you could pair it with other civil rights era books like "Revolution" by Deborah Wiles or "Stella by Starlight" by Sharon Draper or "Lions of Little Rock" by Kristen Levine.  It's a really great story and Kizzy is a character I was sorry to close the book on.  She has a big heart and a strong spirit.  

The last one this week is one I was so happy to see on the Sunshine State Young Reader list because it is so much fun.  It's called "Fortunately, the Milk" by Neil Gaiman.  Neil Gaiman tends to write super creepy scary books (like "The Graveyard" book which won the Newbery award a few years ago and STARTS with a family getting murdered, but the baby gets away and escapes to a graveyard where the ghosts bring him up).  Anyway, "Fortunately, the Milk" is nothing like that and if you can possibly get your hands on the audiobook, I would highly recommend that because hearing Neil Gaiman read this is a real treat.  It's about a family and the mom is going away to a conference.  She has a list of things she is reminding the dad about, and the last thing is "We're almost out of milk".  The kids and the dad get up the next morning and realize there is no milk for breakfast so the dad walks down to the corner shop to get some.  He's gone a long time (according to the kids) and when he finally gets home, the kids ask where he's been and he tells them the story.  It's not really a spoiler to tell you what happens in the first ten pages, so he tells the kids that several odd things happen.  The first is that he's kidnapped by aliens (who want to re-decorate the planet), he falls through the space time continuum and lands near a pirate ship and is then rescued... I should stop, because the next part is so funny and so ridiculous that usually my students are laying on the floor in hysterical laughter.  This would be a terrific mentor text for idea generation (because he goes in SO many different directions that any idea is fair game-the crazier the better).  

Here's the book trailer:

And here's Neil Gaiman reading from "Fortunately the Milk".  

Monday, May 25, 2015

Things to look for!

I was wallowing around in some grown up books last week.  It's amazing how I seem to have lost interest in grown up books... yikes!  Good thing summer is coming up so I can refresh my palate!  In the mean time, I'll just have to stick to kids books I've been enjoying so much!

I just finished an advanced readers copy of a book that seems like it's going to be the beginning of series.  It's called "The Entirely True story of the Unbelievable FIB" by Adam Shaughnassey.  It's about a girl named Pru (short for Prudence) who has just lost her dad.  Her dad was a detective and she misses him terribly.  She doesn't have a lot of friends, but she notices a lot of things (a good thing in a detective).  A new kid moves to town and she ends up paired up with him which turns out to be a good thing, because he's super smart and he notices things too.  They go on a field trip to a local museum and start learning about Norse myths.  In this story, it turns out that the myths are not so mythical and that the kids can help solve some of the problems that arise when the mythical figures try to go into the real world.  It would be great paired up with the Grimm Sisters series by Michael Buckley.  I liked this one a lot and I think the kids will too.

The next one I read was called "Tales of Fifth grade Knight" by Douglas Gibson.  It's about a fifth grader named Isaac who attends Castle Elementary, a place where weird things happen a lot.  One day his little sister, Lily, loses the jewel gem from her elf crown and Isaac and his friends Max and Emma help look for it.  They end up in Underground Town where people become elves through a process called weirding, which is pretty much what it sounds like... you get weirder and weirder until you become an elf.  Frogs are the service people (or slaves) and rats are the army.  The story is essentially one long chase scene.  I think the kids will like it because it's fairly short (the version I read was about 120 pages), has short chapters and is very compelling to read.  It looks like in the book version that there will also be pictures, but there weren't any in the advanced readers copy I read.  I thought it was a good story.  

Then I read "Little Red Riding Hood-the interactive version" by Eric Braun.  This is sort of a noir-mashup of Little Red Riding Hood in a choose your own adventure book.  I thought it was ok.  I'm not a big fan of choose your own adventure books.  I always feel let down because I never really like the choices and I'm left feeling like the ending is "and then I woke up."  Not bad, but not my favorite either.

There was also a grown up one on my list this week.  Well, sort of.  It's a cook book called "Everyday Ayurveda Cookbook" by Kate O'Donnell.  I had an Ayurvedic massage a few years ago and it was transformative.  The diet is fairly strict by some standards (no sugar, mostly no meat, no wheat, no raw onions or garlic, no nightshade vegetables like tomatoes or eggplant) but the healing benefits are big.  What I really liked about the book was it started off explaining about Ayurveda, the principles, the flavors and the benefits.  It gave some really great background information.  The recipes are well laid out and easy to follow.  I thought it was a great book and I can't wait to own this one.  

Monday, May 18, 2015

Middle grade and YA fiction

This week I've been reading some advanced readers copies from Netgalley again, and wow, was THIS a good crop.

The first one is definitely middle grade fiction by Carol Weston.  It's a sequel to her fabulous book called "Ava and Pip" about two sisters struggling to fit in.  Here is the review of "Ava and Pip"  This one is called "Ava and Taco Cat" and it's just as good as the first one, but this one is a bit more girly than "Ava and Pip" so it may have a harder time finding wide spread appeal because although I liked it, there are a couple of things that will make middle grade boys squirm.  First, the good parts.  Ava is back as a prolific writer and lover of words.  She has decided she wants a cat and finds one at the local shelter.  She names him Taco Cat (a palindrome) because the shelter is near their favorite taco spot.  Ava writes a great story about Taco Cat and even ends up in the newspaper, which brings a whole new set of drama.  Ava has been reading fables which she retells at appropriate times and that's a nice tie in too.  But Ava has moved into 5th grade and some of the middle grade issues (like menstrual cycles and make up) may make this a difficult one to sell to the boys.  Ava is a very likable character though and there are lots of teachable moments in the book, like patience, tolerance, talking to your friends rather than assuming you know what's on their mind.  Very good story.

The second one I think is also middle grade fiction but I think this one could have legs for middle school or possibly high school.  It's from one of my favorite authors, Gennifer Choldenko.  She wrote "Al Capone Does My Shirts" which is a great story about a boy who's family moves to Alcatraz Island because his dad has taken a job as a prison guard there.  It turns out Al Capone is also there and the kids try to use Capone's presence to their advantage.  Choldenko wrote several about this time period and this place and she explains at the beginning of her new book, "Chasing Secrets" that she's decided to branch out a bit.  This one is also set in San Francisco but a bit earlier than the others... 1900.  The main character, Lizzie, is struggling with a new school (for ladies... Lizzie would rather ride horses) because her mom died and she and her dad and her big brother Billy are living in a house next to her aunt and uncle's house.  Lizzie's dad is a physician and really wants to help people.  Her brother Billy is trying to earn enough money to buy a horseless carriage (in ways their dad does not approve of).  One day their Chinese cook disappears and it seems that he is stuck in Chinatown because people are afraid there is a plague and so they have quarantined Chinatown.  This story has big themes of loyalty and trust, when you should tell secrets and stick to your guns and when you should keep quiet.  It also touches on some of the horrible ways the Chinese were treated at the turn of the century.   Lizzie is a strong, interesting character that I would love to read more about.  This would be great matched up with a story like "Big Sky Hattie" or "Hattie Ever After" by Kirby Larson.

The last one is more YA to me... it was advertised for fans of "the Hunger Games" (loved those!) so I was all in, but this one has a couple of other awesome things going for it.  First of all, it's called "5 to 1" by Holly Bodger.  It's set in India in the future, where, because there has been a limitation on the number of babies born to a family, and families want boys to carry on the family name and take of them parents, girl babies and girls in general are in short supply.  One village decides to take matters into their own hands and build a wall around their community and make some big changes.  One of the changes is that boys compete to marry the wealthy girls.  Winning means a lifetime of support and luxury so it's a pretty good deal.  The losers face sort of an uncertain fate,, guarding the wall, which is dangerous, or getting tossed outside, even more dangerous.   The story is told from two perspectives-one of the girls, who thinks this is a really bad idea and is trying to come up with a way not to have to marry the boy who is willing to cheat to be the winner.  The second is one of the boys who's competing, who doesn't want to win (he has another plan) but finds himself drawn to the girl as well as wanting the foreseen winner to lose.  The girl's voice is free verse poetry and the boy's is prose so it gives an even stronger feeling of contrast.  I really liked this one a lot.  It was very exciting and compelling to read.  It also has a very interesting theme of unintended consequences and social planning.  

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Fairy tales, again

I think I've made it pretty clear, that I am a person who likes fairy tales.  I'm not sure if this makes me a "fairy tale" person but if I can choose a genre, fairy tales rate right up there.  So I was thinking today I would remind you about some completely awesome fairy tales, because I'll bet I'm not the only one who likes them (especially if you check the network TV listings... they have all kinds of fairy tale adaptations there!).

The first one is one that was new to me.  It's one of the Sunshine State Young Reader nominees for grades 3-5 for next year, but I already ordered the books (thanks Reading Warehouse!) and so far, my favorite one is called "A Hero's Guide to Saving your Kingdom" by Christopher Healy.  It starts off explaining that the real problem with some of the fairy tales is that what we really remember is written by bards and really, what do they know?  All the princes are named Charming and are they really charming?  The story follows four of the princes, each of whom has some pretty big issues to deal with (like Frederic, for instance, who has been so pampered that his idea of adventure is having a picnic).  Separately, they struggle, but together they are magnificent, in the most hilarious manner possible.  DO NOT miss this one.

Here is an interview with the author, Christopher Healy.

One of my old favorites is a picture book called "Cinder Edna" by Ellen Jackson.  It's a great story for compare and contrast because it tells about Cinderella, who sits weeping in the cinders because she works so hard AND her neighbor, Cinder Edna who cleans bird cages to earn extra money and cuts the grass to keep warm and knows how to make 27 kinds of tuna fish casserole.  This is a great one for modeling how the fairy tales are loaded with values and cultural markers or for comparing real and fantasy.  It's also a ton of fun to read.  

Another one of my old favorites is called "Once Upon A Cool Motorcycle Dude" by Kevin O'Malley.  This is a fairy tale told by two kids who couldn't agree on which fairy tale was their favorite.  It starts off the with girl telling the story about Princess Tenderheart and her 8 ponies (her favorite was named Buttercup).  When a giant comes and starts stealing the horses, the princess sits and cries and the boy takes over telling the story and he takes it into a really different direction.  What's really awesome about this book is that the art work reflects who's telling the story.  When the girl is telling the story, it's all pastels and soft pretty drawings and when the boy is telling the story, it's almost like a graphic novel.  This is a perennial favorite in my library and I'm pretty sure I'm going to need to order at least one more copy for next year because it's been read until the covers are falling off it.  

The last one is a chapter book that I read last summer.  Someone had recommended it as a good book for girls and it is.  Violet is a princess in a kingdom where the people are for the most part kind and loving.  They are big storytellers and they often tell stories about princesses and dragons that everyone enjoys.  In the stories, the princesses are always beautiful and Violet is not.  In fact, she's so not pretty that she starts to question if she really is a princess because princesses are ALWAYS beautiful.  In the questioning, she makes some bad choices, which puts her family and her kingdom in danger.  It has a great message of love and kindness as well as knowing who you really are based on your character not your appearance.  Loved this one.  

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Eclectic reading this week

I've been reading a lot of different things this week.  I ordered some new books from our book fair and those were awesome!  The first one was the Caldecott award winner this year (for best picture book) by Dan Santat.  It's about an island where imaginary friends live, waiting to be called.  One of the little guys gets impatient and decides to go and look for his friend.  It's not an easy journey, but he perseveres and becomes Beekle.  It's a great little story about friendship and persistence.  I'm planning to read it to my little kids this week and I can't wait.  Here's the book trailer:

The second one was also highly rated by a number of people and I can totally see why.  It's called "How to read a story" by Kate Messner.  It's a picture book that describes in many steps, how to read a story and it gives great advice.  Lest you think it might be boring, let me disabuse of THAT right away.  I got my new box of books just before my book club kids (fourth and fifth graders) came in.  So after our conversation about what we'd been reading, we sat down to read and I pulled out this one.  One of the fifth graders sidled over and asked if she could read it with me (really?  A picture book for a big shot fifth grader?).  Of course I said sure!  And as we read it together, you could almost feel the love for books flying off the pages.  Our kindergarten kids do a writing unit on "how to" books and so I know I'm going to need a BUNCH of copies because once the kindergarten teachers see this one, they are all going to want one!  Don't miss this one!

I also got in some of the new Sunshine State Young reader books for grades 3-5.  Last year, I waited too long and missed out on some of the titles, so this year, I ordered the books as soon as the list came out.  I read Patricia MacLachlan's book called "White Fur Flying".  This is a story about a family that fosters Great Pyrenees dogs.  Here's a picture of one in case you don't know what they look like. 

They're big fluffy white dogs and the ones I've met are friendly and good natured, but you can also see where MacLachlan would have gotten the title!  Anyway, this family is sending one of their dogs to a new family (sad) but getting two new ones (YAY!).  At the same time, a family moves next door. It's a man and his wife and their nephew, who doesn't speak.  The wife is afraid of dogs and animals in general but the family next door draw them into their fold.  It's a nice enough story of kindness and friendship and the healing power of animals.  Here's a student made book trailer.  

Saturday, May 2, 2015

May day readings

I've been on a real reading jag this week.  The stars have aligned and I have had both time and opportunity so I have made the most of it.

I started with "The Red Umbrella" by Christina Diaz Gonzalez.  I met Christina a few years ago at an April is for Author's event and I wanted to read her book then and something happened (something shiny!  Or maybe a squirrel!) and I completely forgot about it.  Until this week when I was wandering through the YA section at my local library and found it again.  What a treat this book is.  It's about a girl living a privileged life in Cuba just as the Revolution starts.  Her biggest worries are what her hair looks like and if her nails match her outfit.  Things change fast though and at first, Lucia just wants to play along.  She wants to go to parties with her friends (even if they are sponsored by the party), she wants to go shopping, she wants to read fashion magazines but her mom wants her stay in the house and after some pretty awful things, Lucia wants to stay in the house too.  Her parents though, are so worried, that they decide to send Lucia and her brother to America.  Her parents can get visas for the kids but not for themselves.  So they put the kids on a plane and hope for the best.  It's an awesome story to show our kids what it must have been like to live during a revolution and how even people we think we know and trust can change.  It also shows how kind people can be.  I loved this story.

I also read "The Young Elites" by Marie Lu. I got to meet Marie Lu in October at the FAME conference and I really enjoyed her presentation about becoming a writer but I'd never read any of her books until now.  I wonder why I waited so long!  It was awesome!  It's a great combination of fairy tale and what feels like dystopian future.  It's about a society ruled by a king.  There has been a terrible blood plague that kills adults and some kids, but some kids get the plague and survive but are marked.  The main character, Adelina has been marked in a pretty significant way.  Her beautiful black hair has turned gray (and seems to mirror her mood) and she has had one of her eyes removed.  Some of the kids who are marked also seem to have magical kinds of power.  Unsurprisingly, there are people who are afraid of these kids with magical powers and some of them think killing these would help out society in general.  One of these people is very close to the queen and is ruthless.  It was a great combination of political intrigue, romance, and magic.  Loved it.

I also read
 "The Boy in the Black Suit" by Jason Reynolds.  I loved the voice of this author!  Matty is 17 and is struggling to deal with the death of his mother.  His dad is dealing with her death badly and so Matty is basically left to his own devices.  He has arranged a work program for his senior year but lost the job while his mom was in the hospital.  He is approached by the funeral director to come to work at the funeral home and after his initial wiggins at working around dead people, he finds he really likes the work.  I really loved this character and I really wanted to be friends with him and the people he knows.  Thanks Jason Reynolds, for taking me some place I didn't even know I wanted to go.

The last one I read because one of my fifth grade students put it into my hands and said "Mrs. Tanner, you really have to read this.  It's my new favorite book."  So I came home, sat down in my hammock and read the whole thing.  It's called "The Island of Dr. Libris" by Chris Grabenstein and there are so many things to like about this book, it's hard to know where to start.  First of all, you have this really great main character named Billy.  Billy's 12 and his parents are splitting up and he REALLY doesn't want that to happen.  Billy's spending the summer in a cabin by a lake with his mom (she's working on math Phd and is SUPER busy).  The cabin is completely without electronics but it does have a really great library.  Second, there is a science experiment going that is alluded to from little asides in the story.  Billy finds that when he reads, the characters actually come to life and he can interact with the characters.  And third,  because Chris Grabenstein is a genius, he weaves in great traditional literature (like Hercules and the Three Musketeers) as well as new things that he invented.  It's funny and has a ton of references to other great books, which will probably send many kids scurrying to the library!  It was awesome!