Saturday, October 31, 2015

Survival fiction from CYBILS

These books have a survival theme.  They are super hard to put down so I've had a couple of very late nights this week!

The first one is called "Wolf Wilder" by Katherine Rundell.  It's about a girl named Feo who lives with her mom Marina in a wilderness part of Russia.  They live a simple life that they find satisfying... they rehabilitate wolves.  The story is set in Russia towards the end of the reign of the czars.  Rich people are adopting wolves as pets and finding that they are too wild to keep.  It is cultural taboo to kill a wolf so Feo and her mom teach the wolves to be wild again.  Unfortunately, the wolves are accused of killing some of the wildlife around the area (Feo is sure it's not them) and they attract the attention of a local military leader (who is completely terrifying).  He comes to take them to jail and Feo and the wolves make a run for it but Matrina ends up in a military prison.  Feo decides to rescue her.  There was a lot of information about wolf behavior and communication and some great themes of friendship.  Parts of the story strained credulity for me (particularly when the kids are riding the wolves) but it was very compelling and had a great ending.  Here's the author talking about her book.


The second one is called "Survival Strategies for the Almost Brave" by Jen White.  It's about two girls, Liberty and Billie, who are sisters.  Liberty is 12 and Billie is 8.  Their mother is a killed in a car accident and they are going to live with their dad.  They haven't really seen their dad since they were quite small and have had no real contact with him, so they are a bit excited and nervous.  But it's what they are supposed to do and they don't seem to have any other choice, so off they go in Dad's RV.  At first things are going very well and then suddenly not so well and when Liberty and Billie want to stop at a gas station to go to the bathroom, they are surprised to come out of the bathroom and find their dad gone.  They wait for quite some time in hopes that he will come back, but when the man who works in the gas station figures out that her dad is gone, he calls the police and the girls decide that they should make their own way home, to their friend who took care of them after their mom died.  It's not an easy trip and part of the trip is the telling of what exactly happened before their dad left them.  There are some very interesting characters and this story felt VERY real to me.  I found it really hard to put down.  

I was surprised by this title "Blue Mountain" Martine Leavitt because the category I'm reading for CYBILS is middle grade fiction and this one is clearly fantasy fiction because the story has bighorn sheep and the other animals in its habitat talking to one another.  But it was so good, I was just glad I had the opportunity to read it.  It's a National Book Award nominee and I can totally see why.  It reads a lot like an old folk tale.  It's about a flock of bighorn sheep that are suffering because their predators are getting bolder and their grazing areas are getting smaller and less plentiful.  One of the sheep, Tuk, a young sheep has a vision of a blue mountain and decides he's going to go there.  He takes a band of his friends (who are not all the sharpest knives in the drawer) and set out on a quest.  They encounter a puma, a wolverine, a wolf, a bear and a very chatty otter along the way.  The conversations that the animals have are often very funny and the events are pretty exciting.  I really liked this story and it would be great paired with other quest stories, like "The Hobbit" by Tolkien or "The Talking Earth" by Jean Craighead George.  



Girl friend fiction for CYBILS

Starting to see a pattern with the CYBILS books... this post is going to be about girls who are trying to stay friends with girls they have been friends with a long time.  Personally, I think this part of genre is too limiting because I don't think boys will want to read this although they have intriguing boy characters.  I think the boys just won't be interested.

The first one is called "Moonpenny Island" by Tricia Springstubb.  It's about two girls, Flor and Sylvie, who have been best friends since they were little.  They live on a small island where Flor's dad is the lone police officer and Sylvie's dad is the mayor.  Big changes start when Sylvie is sent to a school on the mainland, then Flor's mom leaves to help take care of her grandmother.  Flor's sister also seems to be changing.  The characters in this one interesting and the story line is compelling.  There are big themes of friendship and honesty and how do you best help people.  It was nice.


The second one might have more boy appeal.  It's called "The Friendship Riddle" by Megan Frazer Blakemore.  It's also about two girls in 6th grade who used to be friends.  Ruth has been abandoned by Charlotte and they live in a small town in Maine.  One day, Ruth is at the library (Charlotte's dads house the library in the building that they own) and finds a riddle in a book that she's shelving.  She asks Charlotte about the riddle and it turns out Charlotte found one too, but finds the riddles beneath her.  So instead of pulling them together, it seems to be pushing them apart.  But Ruth keeps looking and trying to solve the riddles and she moves from having a solitary quest to have a group of friends that are willing to help her and who also want to join the quest.  It has text references to the Hobbit, which might draw in some boys (who are willing to go past the part where Ruth has to go shopping for a bra).  The riddle part might also be a draw, much like the riddles in "The Book Scavengers" by Jennfier Chambliss Bertram.  


This last one "Adventures with Waffles" by Maria Parr is a bit of a twist on the friendship theme.  In this one, Trille is a boy, who is worried Lena is not his best friend.  He definitely considers Lena his best friend but she never tells him that he is her best friend.  Lena is not an easy person to be friends with.  Lena has many great ideas.  One of her great ideas is that, after hearing the story of Noah in Sunday school, that THEY should try to put two of every animal into a boat.  They think they don't have time to build their own boat, so they use Trille's uncle's boat.  Things are going well (dogs, cat, ok only one cat, but it was a very fat cat so it counted as two, worms) until they decide to go and get one of the cows.  There are parts of this that are laugh out loud funny and also parts that are sad.  It's translated from Norwegian and there are parts that are very culturally specific (the expression that Lena uses for surprise or dismay is "Smoked Haddock!", which I wish I knew why THAT was an expression).  It would connect well with stories about Ramona, Junie B. Jones, or Clementine.  





Sunday, October 25, 2015

Historical Middle grade fiction for CYBILS

I'm deep into the CYBILS list.  I don't think I've ever gone this long without reading a grown up book but THERE ARE SO MANY!!!


I'm also a little afraid that I'm hitting a wall with these books.  I might have to go and read 50 shades of Gray just to shake things up a bit.  Ok, I'm not that low yet.  

I read this one this morning.  COULD NOT PUT IT DOWN.  I read this first chapter last night and when I woke up, I thought I should read a bit more.  Until I finished it.  It's called "The Safest Lie" by Angela Cerrito.  I should also mention that I've hit a saturation point with books about World War 2 and so I don't choose to read them any more, but this one had such a compelling voice, that I COULD NOT PUT IT DOWN.  Noticing a theme?  It's about Anna, who is 9, and lives with her parents in Warsaw in the Jewish ghetto.  Things are bad.  All of their conversations are in code because people live in very tight quarters and no one knows who they can trust.  When one of the people that Anna's family trusts comes with a message, Anna's mom starts teaching her a new identity - a new name, a new birthday, a new home town, until Anna can answer the questions even if she's sleepy.  And then their friend takes Anna away.  Anna is a kind girl who wants to help and take care of others so she does, in each of the places she lands during the war.  It's a really great picture of what it was like to be a hidden Jew during the war and hints at the life of Irena Sendler, a woman who saved the lives of thousands of Jewish children.  Her story is also told in a picture book called "Jars of Hope" by Jennifer Roy.  I think kids are going to like this one a lot because Anna is such a strong and resilient character.  


This second one is sort of historical fiction because part of it's set during Hurricane Katrina, which I remember very vividly, as an adult.  So I guess to kids, it would be historical fiction, but to me it was pretty fresh in my memory.  Geezer, that I am.  This one's called "Another Kind of Hurricane" by Tamara Ellis Smith.  This is her first novel and I sincerely hope it's not her last.  It starts off with snippets of people's lives and it's a little confusing at first.  There is a boy in Vermont named Henry who's best friend has died.  Henry is not coping well.  Then there's a second boy, Zavion, who is New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina.  Zavion's mom died sometime before that but the house he shares with his dad holds a lot of memories.  The house is completely destroyed (in a pretty vivid way) and Zavion and his dad make their way to some friends' house in Baton Rouge, where they and some other Katrina victims can stay.  Zavion is also struggling-he's having nightmares about the experiences during Katrina.  Both boys end up on a quest and the story continues from there.  I liked the interesting characters.  I liked how the kids felt that going to help others was a great way to move forward.  I liked how telling someone was a great problem solving strategy.  I really liked this one.  

And call me crazy, but I think you could connect this one to "A Tangle of Knots" by Lisa Graff.  The way the stories started out, where you have lots of characters, without any apparent connections and then they all come together is really great.  Obviously, you could also connect it to any of the other books about surviving hurricane Katrina,  like "Finding Someplace" by Denise Lewis Patrick, "Hooper Finds a Home" by Jane Paley, "Zane and the Hurricane" by Rodman Philbrick, or "Ninth Ward" by Jewell Parker Rhodes.  


 This last one was a really great one to shake things up!  It's called "The Blackthorn Key" by Kevin Sands it was awesome.  It's set in London in 1665 (and honestly, the dialogue is pretty modern, but it's so good, I thought it was ok because I probably wouldn't have gotten it if the dialogue was historically accurate), Christopher is an orphan who was rescued from the orphanage by Master Benedict, an apothecary.  I say rescued because orphans didn't have very many options out in the world, but as an apprentice, Christopher was learning a trade and had the opportunity to have his own shop one day.  But there is mystery afoot.  Apothecaries are being murdered (in particularly ugly ways) and Christopher worries for his master.  Then one day, he comes home to the unthinkable and Christopher vows to find his master's murderers.  This story is full of terrific plot twists and tricky puzzles.  I think it might be a bit too big for an elementary school library (quite a lot of tortuous murder) but lots of bigger kids are going to love this one.  Here's a book trailer about it. 




Wednesday, October 14, 2015

More middle grade fiction for CYBILS

This week, I've been trying to whittle down the list of middle grade fiction for the CYBILS award.  Some of these books are terrific and I'm SO GLAD I've had a chance to read them.

This first one was terrific.  It's called "Listen, Slowly" by Thanhha Lai.  If you read children's literature at all, you might recognize Thanhha Lai's name... she wrote a book a few years ago called "Inside Out and Back Again" which was a Newbery honoree and the National Book Award winner.  I think this one is even more accessible because it's written in prose and the character's voice is so strong and clear, I think she will resonate with a lot of kids.  It's about a Vietnamese American girl named Mai (or Mia in America) who lives in California with her mom and dad and grandmother.  She has lots of friends and likes surfing and hanging out and has big plans for the summer.  Until her parents come to her and tell her that they want her to go with Viet Nam with her grandmother and her dad.  They have a lead on some information about her grandfather, who disappeared during the war.  Mia goes with them, but not with out a lot of whining and angst.  She finds Viet Nam in turns hot, wet, delicious, and disgusting.  She meets her extended family and tries to hurry the process of finding out about her grandfather along so she can get back to her friends in America.  It's a really great story about learning to appreciate other cultures and learning to appreciate your parents.  I liked this one a lot.

The second one grew on me... It's called "Blackbird Fly" by Erin Entrada Kelly.  It's about Apple who is 12 (a popular age for middle grade fiction).  She lives with her mom (her dad died long ago) in a small town in Louisiana.  Apple and her mom came from the Philippines and don't look like everybody else in a small town in Louisiana and it bothers Apple, A LOT.  At the beginning of the story, Apple goes to a friend's house and when boys show up, it's apparent that the boys are NOT nice.  When the girls allow the teasing to go on, Apple gets the message and goes home but the teasing continues and morphs into flat-out bullying.  Apple seems to believe that she deserves this kind of treatment and blames her mother.  But Apple loves music and really wants to play.  She keeps asking her mother for a guitar.  Her mother keeps saying no but Apple comes up with her own plan and a new boy shows up who has enough self-confidence to stand up to the bullies.  I really liked his character and Apple's character gets better once he turns up.  This one would be great to connect to "Bystander" by James Preller which also has themes of bullying and how even if you aren't really participating, you are condoning bullying by just standing by.  I liked this one a lot too.  


I'd never heard of this one "Absolutely Truly" by Heather Vogel Frederick.  It looks like it might be the beginning of a series of books about the same characters and I hope so because I thought they were terrific.  Truly Lovejoy is one of seven kids in her family and she's right in the middle.  Her family has moved around quite a bit because her dad has been in the military.  Unfortunately, he was wounded in the line of duty and his military career is over.  Her dad's parents own a small bookstore in their hometown and when they decide to go on adventure, Truly's family plus Truly's aunt (her dad's big sister) step in to take over the bookstore, which means a move across country, leaving her friends, particularly her best friend (who is also her cousin).  In addition to dealing with new kids, a grumpy dad, and COLD weather, there's a mystery afoot.  The clues are letters.  Truly finds the first one in a copy of Charlotte's Web.  With help from her new friends, Truly unravels the mystery.  There are some really great text to text connections, some very interesting characters, and a lot of fun.  




Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Reading for CYBILS

It's started!  The nominations for the CYBILS awards started this week and I've got 19 books on hold at my local library... yikes.  I hope I can keep up!  Luckily, there were several I had already read and a bunch I'd never heard of so I started yesterday and finished the first one this morning.  I hope the rest aren't this emotional or I might not survive!

The first one is called "The Penderwicks in Spring" by Jeanne Birdsall.  This one is the fourth one in the series and although I read the first one, I haven't read the second or third one and I really don't remember too much about the first one other than I liked it.  The Penderwicks are a big, loving, old fashioned kind of family.  The kids are nice to each other and although the story is set in a modern time (there are cultural references that make that obvious) the kids play outside, listen to music, and read and seem completely oblivious to screens.  There are some issues and this book, they revolve around love.  The older girls are in high school and moving towards college (and boyfriends) and that seems complicated.  The youngest kids are dealing with age appropriate drama (a big girl bed and keeping secrets) but the middle daughter, Batty, is the one with the most drama.  The story works out in the best possible way and it left me wishing I could be a part of a family like that, much like I did when reading Louisa May Alcott stories.  I think these will become classics.


The second one is called "Gracefully Grayson" by Ami Polonsky.  It's about a boy named Grayson who lives with his aunt and uncle and two cousins in Chicago.  He's there because his parents were killed in a car accident when he was four.  Grayson doesn't have many friends because he has a big secret, he feels like he's really a girl.  This story feels real.  I think it's really timely with all the conversation about gay rights and transgender issues. It's interesting to see different points of view even within one family AND how feelings can change over time.   Grayson feels courageous and strong as he tries to figure things out.  One thing that didn't really come up was counseling and I wonder if Grayson had had an opportunity to talk with a professional about all his feelings if things might have been different.   

The last one in this group, thankfully, wasn't quite as heavy emotionally, although it did have some emotional pull.  This one is called "The Truth about Twinkie Pie" by Kat Yeh.  It's about two girls, Didi and Gigi who have moved from SC to a small town in NY.  This move was financed by winning a cooking competition and the girls are still dealing with the loss of their mom.   But Didi is determined that Gigi (a genius) will get a good education and get a great job.  Gigi has never really had close friends so now as a 6th grader in a small private school, she finds that there are kids who are charmed by her accent and want to be her friend.  They are very different from the people she knows in SC and sprinkled throughout the book are recipes that sound great.  I think kids are going to like this one a lot.