Saturday, June 27, 2015

Summer vacation

I love summer vacation.  I get a chance to read all the stuff that's been piling up around me AND I get recommendations from my niece and nephew about things they've been reading.  They have excellent taste in books and go to an American school in another country (last year it was Vienna, next year it will be Dubai) so they get all sorts of books I never heard of.

So my niece started by recommending "The Best Bad Luck I Ever Had" by Kristin Levine.  I loved Kristin Levine's other book, "The Lions of Little Rock" so it didn't take a lot of prodding to read "The Best Bad Luck".  It did not disappoint.  "The Best Bad Luck" is set in Alabama in 1918.  The main character is Dit, who is the 8th of 10 kids and is worried that no one knows who he is.  He is hoping that the new postmaster will have a son his age to play with.  The new postmaster has a DAUGHTER and is African American.  Emma wears beautiful clothes and reads beautiful books and Dit is sure that she won't be any fun to be around but it turns out they are both surprised by how much they enjoy each other's company.  They have many adventures and it turns out that THEY not only change but their community ends up changing.  It has big themes of friendship and loyalty and some great historical connections to the beginnings of the Civil Rights movement as well the influenza epidemic.    Kristin Levine has a real gift for metaphorical language and writes some completely amazing similes.  This might be good paired up with "Three Times Lucky" by Sheila Turnage.

I also read an advanced reader's copy of "The Tale of Rescue" by Michael J. Rosen.  I do love a good dog story and this one is terrific.  It opens telling about a cattle herding dog.  The author does a great job of describing how the dog works the cattle and how much pleasure the dog derives from doing her job well.  The story then switches to a family on vacation from Florida.  They are enjoying the place they are staying and marveling at the winter weather.  The family goes out for a walk in the snow and are completely surprised by a white out.  They get disoriented and then lost.  They hunker down in a small snow cave that they make themselves and wait to figure out what's going to happen next.  The dad tries whistling to get someone's attention and the someone ends up being the dog.  One of the things that's really great about this story is how fast it moves (much like the dog!) and I think that will appeal to a lot of the kids who are more reluctant readers.  It also has lovely watercolor illustrations that help even more with the visualization of the story.  Loved this one.  

And then there was the picture book.  

This one was called "Sonya's Chickens" by Phoebe Wahl.  A little girl named Sonya gets some chickens and takes very good care of them.  But one day something bad happens and Sonya has to figure out how to cope with that.  The pictures are bright and colorful and kind of like folk art.  It would be a good one paired up with "My pig Amarillo" by Satomi Ichikawa.  

Thursday, June 25, 2015

New in non fiction

After reading so much fiction, I thought I ought to have a look at the non fiction side of things.  I tend to gravitate toward fiction, particularly historical and fantasy fiction so it's good for me to dig around in the non fiction.  Sort of like eating broccoli.  I like broccoli but it isn't always the FIRST thing I reach for.

The first non fiction one I read (from Netgalley) is called Samurai Rising by Pamela Turner and Gareth Hinds.  It's about the life of a famous Samurai named Minamoto Yoshitsune.  It has a funny disclaimer at the beginning - "Warning: Very few people in this story die of natural causes."  Since it's a book about samurais, I guess that should be a given.  The book tells the story of this samurai and how he came to be so famous and powerful.  The story is written with a very easy to read to style and there are lots of pieces of art to help break up the text.  The art work is a brushy Asian style that matches well with the book.  I think bigger kids might like this one a lot... it's probably too big for the  little kids at my school that are so interested in military and fighting but there is quite a bit of text.

The next one is called "Iron Rails, Iron Men and the race to link the nation" by Martin Sandler.  This one is about building the Transcontinental Railroad.  The text of this one was very interesting but the pictures didn't make the leap to my advanced reader's copy.  I assume they will help to move the story along and be historically accurate.  The book did a good job of telling about the big players in this part of history, making connections to people that played in important roles.  It also did a good job of not sugar coating some of the more awful parts of this history, namely the way that the railroad bosses treated their workers (particularly the Chinese) or how the railroads encouraged people to come and slaughter the buffalo, with the complete understanding that it would completely destroy the Native people's way of life.  I also liked that at the end of the book there was a part that told what happened to people after the Transcontinental Railroad was built and an extensive section of resources used.  This one will probably come to live in my elementary school library.  

The last one is probably my favorite of the bunch, it's really a book about teaching kids how to behave online.  It's called Kindness Wins by Galit Breen.  This book does an awesome job of laying out why you need to teach kids about their on line presence (based on the author's experiences both as a parent and as a person with an online presence) and then gives helpful tips for how to start a conversation about being safe on line.  The end has a bunch of online resources you can use for  more information or more support.  The book was written in such an engaging way that it was really easy to read.  I put it down pretty often, not because I wasn't interested but because I wanted to think about how I was going to use this when I go back to school in the fall.  I bookmarked this one madly because there were so many things I had never thought about (and I've taught network safety to my whole school for the last three years).  I'm going to make sure I tell everyone I know about this one because this is important and it's a really user friendly way to get the message out.  Look for this one FOR SURE.  

Circus Mirandus

Oh boy, did I ever love this book.  It's been hitting some of the lists of new great books that I look at and I had a gift certificate to Barnes and Noble that was burning a hole in my pocket so I picked it up.  We've been traveling and pretty busy, but we took a little car trip this week to Provence, which is about a 2 1/2 hour drive from my sister's house, where we are vacationing.  The drive is not particularly interesting so I opened the book when we hit the highway and didn't really put it down until I was finished.  I laughed, I cried, and then I put the book in my mom's hands and she finished today with the same kind of reviews.

The book has a great beginning "Four small words.  That was all it took to set things into motion."  Isn't that awesome?  How could you not keep reading?  The writing in this book is terrific.  Such evocative language!  The characters are super interesting.  The main character is a boy named Micah who has been living with his grandfather.  His parents died in an accident when he was quite small and although that was bad, his grandfather is so wonderful, that it has been ok.  Until now.  the grandfather is quite sick and things don't look too good.  The grandfather's sister comes to help out but she is quite unpleasant (think of the aunts from James and the Giant Peach or maybe Count Olaf from the Series of Unfortunate Events) and things are looking pretty bleak for Micah.  However, he has two things that seem to be working in his favor.  One is that he is becoming friends with the smartest girl in his class, Jenny and his grandfather has requested a miracle from the Lightbender in the Circus Mirandus.  There are some great flashbacks for some of the backstory and the story unfolds in such a great way, it leaves you (well, it did me) guessing until the very end what the grandfather's miracle might be.

This book has really big themes of love and magic and loyalty and friendship.  And did I mention how great the writing was?  The writing is awesome.  I didn't want it to be over.

Here is Cassie Beasley, the author, reading a bit of the amazing "Circus Mirandus"

Monday, June 8, 2015

From Netgalley

I've been reading an eclectic mix this week of new things from Netgalley.  I must be craving a bit of variety or was really open minded when I was browsing the list of new books!  Anyway, here's some books to look for.

The first one is a picture book by Susan Eaddy called "Poppy's Best Paper".  Poppy is a little bunny who wants to be a famous writer (or maybe a brain surgeon).  When her teacher gives her a writing assignment, she finds many things to do while she's writing her story.  Her friend Lavender gets her paper read out loud and Poppy is very unhappy.  It's a great story to show how hard work and perseverance pay off.  The pictures are adorable and lots of kids are going to identify with Poppy's initial strategies for writing.  It reminded me a lot of "Lily's Purple Plastic Purse" by Kevin Henkes.
Here's a book trailer for it.

I also read one called "After Dark" by James Leck and this one is completely different!  This one is a YA book about a boy named Charlie who is trying to break as many rules as possible and still stay in school.  Having a good time is biggest goal.  Unfortunately, summer break is coming and when his mom comes to pick him up, he finds that things at home have changed.  His mom has bought an inn and plans to spend the summer fixing it up (manual labor?  Horrors!).  The first night they are there, a young man comes running up to the inn saying that he's being chased by evil beings.  Charlie doesn't take Miles seriously at first, but as the days pass, Miles seems more and more credible.  It's kind of funny and scary at the same time.  It also has an ending that leads you to believe that this is the first one in series (or at least there's another one coming).  

The last one is also a picture book and this one is going to be my new favorite (for today!).   It's called "The Good Little Book" by Kyo Maclear.  It's about a boy who gets in trouble and when he goes to think about thinks, he finds a book.  It's a really good book and the boy enjoys it.  He finds that he keeps going back to the book over and over again and that each time it's a little different or maybe just the same, but it's still wonderful.  One day the book gets lost and the boy spends a lot of time looking for it.  He finds the book again but decides that the book is better off where it is and sets off to find a new book.  This one is one is going to be great for talking about how to find books and how books can be meaningful.  It will be great paired with Kate Messner's new book "How to read a story".  

Sunday, June 7, 2015

The newest Sunshine State Young Reader books!

Here are some more of the books that have been nominated for the Sunshine State Young Reader award.

"Olivia Bean, Trivia Queen" by Donna Gephart is about 12 year old Olivia who lives with her brother, Charlie, her mom and her mom's new boyfriend.  Olivia loves trivia and her little brother and her mom, but not so much on the boyfriend.  Her dad left them (and the whole story comes out about halfway into the book) and Olivia misses him a lot.  Olivia is also a big trivia buff and really wants to be on Jepoardy!  I found this book difficult to get into.  I came to like the characters more as I read and I'm glad I finished it but it didn't grab me immediately.  Here's a book trailer about it.

Another one that is nominated for the Sunshine State Young Readers is Blast Off by Nate Ball.  It's part of a series of books called "An Alien in my Pocket".  It's an easy chapter book about a boy named Zack who wakes up and finds that a space ship has crashed in his room.  The alien being that gets out is blue and is 4 inches tall.  The alien is surprised that things are so big (they've miscalculated the proportions of things on earth) and although his plan is to take the Zack back with him, the alien ends up going with him to school.  I think the kids will like this one because it's funny, but I didn't think it was particularly well written.  It was pretty predictable and I guess that ok.  One thing that WAS really good about it was that it has science connections.  In this book, there were connections to rocket propulsion and for a math connection, you could also talk about ratios.

I was thrilled to see that "Three Times Lucky" by Sheila Turnage was nominated for the Sunshine State Young Reader award this year.  I just love her writing style!  "Three Times Lucky" is about a girl named Mo (short for Moses because she was found floating in a river after a hurricane).  She lives with two people, the Colonel and Miss Lana who run a cafe in town.  Her best friend is Dale (named after the famous NASCAR racer) and together they decide to solve a murder.  What's really great about this book is the language.  Sheila Turnage writes GREAT similes and metaphors.  The story is exciting and mysterious.  I LOVED this one.  

Saturday, June 6, 2015

And now the fun starts...

Today was our students last day of school, YAY!!  So NOW we can start thinking about our summer reading challenge because I can't wait to have time to read more!
Here are some totally awesome book recommendations from Kate DiCamillo, in case you need some!

Here's the first one I finished.  I hope you don't think it's cheating that I started it yesterday.  It's a pretty long one.  It's called "Mechanica" by Betsy Cornwell.  It's a Cinderella story, but the Cinderella in this one is a spunky girl named Nicolette.  Nicolette's mom died several years ago and her dad remarried a woman with two daughters (sound familiar?).  They are as mean to her as Cinderella's stepmom and stepsisters, but on Nicolette's 16th birthday, she finds her way into her mother's workroom.  Her mother had been an amazing engineer (their family lived off the things she made and Nicolette's dad sold them) and had left a number of journals and materials for Nicolette to find.  I really liked this one.  I liked how independent Nicolette is and how creative and hard working she is. I also liked how loyal she was to her friends.  It would be great paired up with any of the Cinderella books.  Here's a book trailer you can watch.

Another one that will be coming out in the fall is called "For the Right to Learn" by Rebecca Langston-George.  It's a picture book about a Pakistani girl named Malala Yousafazi who gained world wide attention because she spoke out for education against the Taliban.  Some members of the Taliban tried to kill her by ambushing her bus on the way to school and she was shot.  She was relocated to Great Britain where she recuperated and was given the Nobel Peace Prize.  
This is the cover of the book.  

Here is Malala's speech when she accepted the Nobel Peace Prize.

The last one I read is not a new book but it has just been re-published.  It's called "City of Light, City of Dark" by Avi and illustrated by Brian Floca.  Avi won the Newbery award for "Crispin: Hour of Lead" which is historical fiction about a boy trying to survive during the Middle Ages.  Brian Floca just won the Caldecott award last year for his amazing book "Locomotive".  Anyway, THIS one is a graphical novel that's set in NY city.  There is a group of people? or maybe beings called Kurbs that have all the power.  When people start to settle in NY, the Kurbs strike an agreement that they are allowed to stay there but that a tribute must be made each acknowledging that the Kurbs control the power or the Kurbs will take back the power.  There is a woman who is the keeper of the power and she in turn passes the power on to her daughter so that there is an unending supply of power to NY.  The pictures are sparse and loosely drawn.  They are in black and white which gives you a feeling of starkness.  The story is very fast paced and I think the kids will really like it.  I think it would pair with the Amulet series by Kazu Kibushi because that is also a graphical novel and there's a quest involved.  

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

The latest and greatest!

I just read the most amazing book.  It's called Child Soldiers by Michel Chikwanine and Jessica Dee Humphries.  It's a memoir or an autobiography about Michel and his experiences growing up the Congo in the early 1990s.  Michel lived a life of relative privilege-his dad was a respected lawyer and his mom sold fish and fabric in the market.  They always had food and he was able to go school (an hour's walk from home).  One day, he ignored his dad's rule about being home on time and was kidnapped by rebel soldiers.  Many terrible things happened but Michel was able to escape and find his way back home.  It wasn't especially easy back at home either.  There are gorgeous pictures to help to conceptualize the horrible things that are happening in the story but the message is so important, I think his one should find it's way into our library.  Here's a video with Michel speaking. 

Here was another really good one.  It's called "Jars of Hope" by Jennifer Roy.  It's a World War 2 story about a woman named Irena Sendler who helped rescue Jewish children from Poland.  The title refers to the fact that Irena created lists of the children's original names and the names she changed them to protect their real identities, so that after the war they could find their families and she buried these lists in jars to avoid destruction by the Nazis.  It's a nice story, but it bridges kind of a funny gap... it's a picture book and the pictures are nice and help to really hone in on the mood of the story.  The pictures have  muted colors and are kind of blocky so you get a big picture with a lot of emotion with out a lot of detail.  But there's a lot of text with a heavy message, so you probably wouldn't want to read it to little kids, but the bigger kids might miss it because it's a picture book.  I liked it and it would be good paired up with other picture books about World War 2 like "The Yellow Star" also by Jennifer Roy or "The Butterfly" by Patricia Polacco.  

The last one I got from Library Thing and it's an audiobook so I was really excited to listen to it, especially after the TitleTalk discussion I had on Twitter with all the awesome people there.  It's the audiobook of Dory Fantasmagory by Aby Harlon.  I hadn't read this book although I'd heard some good things about it, it just never got into my reading pile.  It's told by the youngest child in the family, Dory, who everyone calls Rascal.  She vacillates between wanting to be the baby and wanting to be treated like a big kid.  Her big sister and brother find her incredibly annoying.  She has the most amazing imagination of anyone I've ever heard and she has better questions than anyone in the universe.  I listened to part of it with my first and second graders and there were times when I had to stop and catch my breath because I was laughing so hard. Suzy Jackson is the PERFECT voice for Dory/Rascal and I can't wait to get the book into the library so we'll have both the book and the audiobook on hand.  Here is a tiny piece of the book so you can hear how great Suzy Jackson is AND hear the energy of this book.  You're going to love it.