Tuesday, January 26, 2016

New in fiction

I'm reading a wide variety of things this week and one of the things I'm really appreciating is the language of the writer.  One of the things I so admire about writers is the way they choose the words they do.  This first book is a great example of that.  It's called "The Hired Girl" by Laura Amy Schlitz.  It's about 14 year old Joan, who we first meet living on her father's farm, tending to the needs of her father and her four older brothers.  Her mother has died and so she's left alone with the tasks of keeping the house clean as well as cooking and laundry.  She really wants to go to school but her father has forbidden her to return (he thinks it's a waste of time as she's really only fit for cleaning and cooking).  Joan's mom has a small surprise for her and when Joan's father crosses a line, Joan decides it's time to seek her fortune elsewhere.  She buys a train ticket to the big city with a plan to get a job as a hired girl (she's seen newspaper ads offering $6 a week!).  But the train is late, it's dark when she arrives in the big city and she gets some bad advice from a man on the train and ends up sobbing on a park bench where she's rescued by a young man.  He takes her home and his mother offers her a job in their house.  I kept thinking I knew where the story was going but that wasn't it at all.  The family is Jewish, which comes a big surprise to Joan (who's mother was Catholic and her father was Methodist but after her mom died, her dad didn't have much use for church).  The family is quite well to do (they own a big department store) and have a vast library, which they offer to Joan.  Joan listens carefully to the father, dreams about the sons, and makes friends with the daughter as well as the crabby old housekeeper but she also follows her own heart by returning to the Catholic church and taking lessons there.  I liked this story a lot.  Joan's voice was strong and clear and it would be a great one to compare to books like "Hattie Big Sky" by Kirby Larson or some of the later Laura Ingalls Wilder books.

Here's a little video interview with the author about the book and the journal style of writing she used to create the book.

I've been SO looking forward to this sequel!  I was so excited that one of my book clabbers had it and even more excited when he said to me on Friday "Mrs. Tanner, I just finished this and it was awesome.  Would you like to borrow it?"  It was just as good or maybe even better than I was hoping.  It's the sequel to "Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's library" and it's called "Mr. Lemoncello's Library Olympics" by Chris Grabenstein.  If you never read "Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's library", it's completely ok because the book tells enough of the back story for this one to make sense on it's own, but just in case... Mr. Lemoncello is the world's most successful game designer. He's designed both board and video games and he is (in his own words) a bazillionaire.  In the first book, he wants to give back to the community he grew up in (a small town in Ohio) so he builds the most technologically innovative library in the world in homage to the librarian who inspired him to read and imagine and become the man he is.  After he builds the library, he invites some of the local kids to compete in his library with puzzles and games for a lifetime supply of games.  A group of really nice kids win, with a team captain named Kyle.  Of course there is also a group of disgruntled losers (cheaters) and at the beginning of this new book, the losers and cheaters are trying to figure out a way to force a new competition or at least close the library.  The Library Olympics are a group of games that are all based on things you would want to know in the library (like library cart relays where you have to find the books that are from your assigned section of the Dewey Decimal System and then race your cart as quickly as you can through the library with out hitting any thing or losing any books off the cart).  There are also evil villains who want to have a library where the librarians say shush and there are only "approved" books.  There is a very nice piece about banned books that I think kids will find very interesting.  The whole book is like a love letter to libraries with a million different text connections.  I loved it and I'm hoping to have a Library Olympics in my library this week, because what could be more fun?  Ok, maybe reading this book!  

Here's a book trailer!

The last one is REALLY new.  In fact, it's publication date (according to Netgalley) is February 9.  It's picture book called "If I Had a Gryphon" by Vikki VanSickle.  It's a funny little book about a little girl who just got a hamster but was really hoping for something more exotic, like a gryphon or a manticore.  It's written in rhymes and if you have no idea what these magical creatures are supposed to be like (as I assume most little kids would not know these... a few were familiar to me because of their appearances in Harry Potter books and movies) but the author gives you some good clues about why each magical creature wouldn't exactly make a great pet.  For example, she says that although a unicorn would be tons of fun because you could braid their pretty mane and shine her horn, but they are shy and the picture shows the unicorn hiding under the bed  while the girl's friends look on.  The pictures are adorably cartoony and expressive.  My students seem to love books about magical creatures and I think this one will have a lot of appeal because the pictures aren't scary and the rhymes are very fun and friendly.  I liked this one a lot.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

New non fiction books to look for!

I read a really terrific blog post from Donalyn Miller about the importance of teachers reading so that they know what books to choose for their students. Here's a link to her post.   It reminded me WHY I spend so much time reading and how much I hope that the Booksearch (my database that lets you search for books based on the skill you want to teach) can help people find the right books.
Here are some of the newest non fiction books that I think should find their way into YOUR library, or at the very least, on to your reading list.  The first one is called "Women in Black History" by Tricia Williams Jackson.  This is a compilation of several different biographies of notable African American women.  They are arranged chronologically and there's a nice array of women who have made an impact in lots of different ways.  What I really liked about this book was the style of writing.  The biographies are short but written in such a gentle way that you can really feel not only the strength of the women but also their hearts.  There were also several women that I had never heard of before, like Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, who was a poet and abolitionist or Anna Julia Cooper, an educator and author who's words grace our American passports.  The only thing I missed in this book at all was pictures.  That might be because I was reading an advanced readers copy from Netgalley or maybe there just aren't many pictures of these ladies, but I'm really glad I got a chance to read about them.  This one is definitely coming into my library.

Another one that is definitely going to make it in to my library is this one.  It's called "The Help Yourself Cookbook for Kids" by Ruby Roth.  It's a vegan cookbook for kids and it's very charmingly illustrated.  My students LOVE cookbooks and I think they are going to love this one.  It has a nice introduction where it explains some of the less familiar ingredients (this was helpful for me!) as well as some nice basic kitchen safety tips.  The recipes are organized into categories that start off with drinks and then move to snacks, salads, bigger plates, and desserts.  The recipes have clear directions as well as some very interesting information about why being a vegan is so much easier on the planet (it sent me to Google to check the validity of the data how much water it takes for a cow to create a glass of milk).  The pictures are adorable and very engaging.  I think my students will like this one a lot.  

Here's the cover.
And see what I mean about how cute the pictures are?  Totally adorable!

The last one is a compilation of stories called "Choosing Courage" by Peter Collier.  It's about Medal of Honor winners from the last 60 years.  It spans heroes from World War 2, the Korean War, the Viet Nam War, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq as well as stories of heroism here at home.  The people profiled come from all ethnic groups and all walks of life.  The stories are engagingly written with lots of photographs of the heroes in action as well as them receiving their medals.  I think kids will like this one a lot.  I think they'll like the photos, I think they'll be inspired by the heroism, and I think these are stories they need to hear.  

Saturday, January 16, 2016

More new picture books in my library

I'm still digging through all the new titles in my library and not to brag, but boy, did I make some great choices!

The first one is a picture book called "Egg Nature's Perfect Package" by Steve Jenkins.  I think Steve Jenkins is a genius.  His other books (like "What do you do with a tail like this?" or "Eye to Eye") have impressed me and my students for quite some time, but I picked this one up today during our free reading time during my fourth grade book club (I need to model for them, which is how I justify reading during the school day!).  I started reading and I don't think I even got to the second page before I started looking around for someone to show it to.  You have to know that this kind of behavior makes me insane when the kids do it (Look!  Look at this!  Oh my gosh, you have to see this!  Wow, can you believe this?) and I COULD NOT STOP MYSELF.  By the third or fourth page (when he's comparing the size of giant squid egg, which is like the head of a pin to a kiwi egg, which is like a baseball, it was all I could do NOT to stop all 30 of them to show them all).  I managed to show it to one group of four kids and they were as amazed as I was.  On top of the mind blowing facts about eggs (and I'm going to tell you straight up, that eggs were not particularly interesting to me before I read this book, other than for breakfast), the pictures are gorgeous.  Jenkins does a great job of showing the scale of the eggs and keeping the colors of the eggs realistic (I was completely gob smacked by the color of a crow's egg!).  So run out and get this one right away, because it's great.
Here's the cover.

The second two I found today when I went to Costco.  For our library, Costco is a great place to buy books because they are so much less expensive than a book store or the commercial booksellers we use.  The bindings are not always awesome but I can usually buy two for the price I would pay for one that is very well bound, so sometimes it's a good idea to buy the cheaper ones and see how they go.  Or for titles like "Diary of a Wimpy Kid", I may as well buy the cheap ones because the kids lose them or leave them on the playground in the rain or under their carseat for 11 years.  ANYWAY, today at Costco that had some awesome titles!  I hadn't heard that Jan Brett was putting out a new book, but there it was! "The Turnip"!  It's a retelling of an old Russian folktale where they find a turnip in the ground and it's so big that no one can pull it up.  This one stars a family of badgers with a guest appearance from Hedgie and has an adorable surprise ending.  Jan Brett's usual gorgeous art work has so much detail and is so visually rich that it will take several readings before you get it all, but it's worth it.  

Here's a video of how to make the turnip pancakes that end the story. 

The third one is the next installment of the Llama Llama story and it's called "Llama Llama, Gram and Grandpa" by Anna Dewdney.  Just in case you never heard of this series, it's about a little llama that has a kind, loving, and supportive family.  The little llama occasionally runs into trouble (he has a meltdown when a shopping trip goes on too long, he catches a cold, he deals with a bully) and the family helps him figure it out with patience and kindness.  In this one, Llama Llama goes to spend the night with Gram and Grandpa but forgets his little fuzzy friend in the car.   As usual, there is lovely, rich, expressive art work as well as kind and patient adults with great problem solving skills.  It's a great addition to the series.  This one would be great paired up with any of the Knuffle Bunny series by Mo Willems, which also deal with a misplaced stuffed animal.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

New picture books for my library

Today was my favorite kind of day in the library.  The bookkeeper let me know that my book order finally came in (YAY!!!!) so I dragged the three very heavy boxes over and started to open them up.  I always think of opening boxes as something like opening gifts and these were so exciting and so gorgeous.  It was a BLAST!!  In fact it took me several hours to get the books unpacked.  Not because there were so many (there were a lot, but they DID fit into three good sized boxes, and frankly, my budget doesn't allow for gigantic expenditures, but still) but because every time I pulled one out I thought of someone who needed to have this book in their hands RIGHT NOW.  My reward for putting the right book in someone's hands varies- "FINALLY."  Tears rolling down cheeks "This is the BEST book I've EVER read".  Books hugged to chest.  Arms thrown around my waist (I'm 6 feet tall and I work in an elementary school).  There were only a few minor fisticuffs, but generally, the kids were as excited as I was to get the books.

There were also several books that I had been hearing about but I hadn't been able to put my hands on UNTIL TODAY.  The first one is called "A Fine Dessert" by Emily Jenkins and Sophie Blackall.  Sophie Blackall just won the Caldecott award for her latest book "Finding Winnie" so you know the pictures are going to be gorgeous but this is a really great compare and contrast story.  It's about four different families across the last four hundred years and how each of them creates the same simple dessert.  It's a simple, lovely book that will make you want to run out immediately and make the dessert!

The second book is non fiction.  It's called "Mrs. Harkness and the Panda" by Alicia Potter and illustrated by Melissa Sweet.  I love Melissa Sweet's work and this one is gorgeous!  It's about a woman named Ruth Harkness.  In 1934, her husband, William, set off for China to bring back a panda.  Unfortunately, he died during his expedition and Mrs. Harkness was left to consider what to do next.  She decided that she should go and get the panda.  Back in the 1930s, travel to China was arduous and as a single woman, somewhat dangerous.  Mrs. Harkness persevered.  It's interesting reading this now, through the lens of almost 100 years, how appalling it seems to have this woman go and remove an animal from it's habitat and bring it half way around the world to live out it's life in a zoo.  However, in the notes at the back of the book, the author mentions that at the time, people were shooting pandas for sport and that by seeing the pandas in the zoo, that people were inspired to take better care of them.  This will be an interesting one to have in our library, where our Montessori students feel strongly about taking care of the earth.  

Here's a little bit of footage of when Mrs. Harkness brought the second panda to the zoo.  There is no sound track but you can see what they looked like.

The last one is a fun one called "Nancy Knows" by Cybele Young.  It's a very simple story about an elephant named Nancy.  Nancy knows many things and can remember many things, but there is something she can't quite remember.  The art work in this one is really great and this will make a terrific lap book for oral language because the kids are going to have a really good time naming all the things that Nancy can think of.  Some of them are sorted into categories and some are more random but they are all beautiful.  

Saturday, January 9, 2016

YA reviews - January 2016

Since I've basically read nothing but middle grade fiction since October, I'm glad to be reading something else.  I fell with a thump into the YA books that have made all the "awesome" lists for this year and lucky for me they were all available at my local library!  I lead a charmed life.

The first one I read was called "Everything, Everything" by Nicola Yoon.  It's about 18 year old Madeline who leads a very sheltered life because she has a rare immune deficiency which leaves her vulnerable to air and food borne pathogens.  Picture Bubble Boy as a girl.  Madeline is a kind, thoughtful, smart girl who is mostly obedient and makes the best of her situation (no whining or complaining for our girl!).  Madeline's mom is Japanese and her dad was African American but there aren't too many cultural references (other than to her hair)  there so I'm not sure that it matters.  Madeline's world is rocked when a new family moves in next door.  They have kids Madeline's age and Madeline spends a lot of time looking out the window and watching them.  The boy, Oliver, comes over and they start texting and emailing and pretty soon they have cultivated quite a relationship.  I really liked their interactions (which are funny and smart) and I loved the structure of the story (I don't want to spoil the plot!).  In fact, I read the whole thing after dinner on a Friday night, which should tell you a lot about how compelling it was, since I normally fall asleep on the couch right after dinner!  It would be great paired up with a story like "Noggin" by John Corey Whaley or "The Fault in Our Stars" by John Greene.

The second one really took me by surprise.  It's called "Bone Gap" by Laura Ruby.  It's been nominated for the National Book Aware and I can see why.   It was really well written and at first it seemed like it was really gritty realistic fiction.  The story starts with a boy named Finn.  He lives with his older brother Sean, who takes care of him.  Their dad was killed in a trucking accident quite some time ago and their mother remarried and basically left the boys to their own devices.  Sean is very responsible and is working hard to support himself and Finn.  In the meantime, Finn is kind of an outcast.  People call him Moonie or Moonboy because he often seems to be looking around without really seeing where he is.  One day, the boys find a girl on their farm.  The girl is pretty badly injured and seems to be basically without speech, at first.  They have a separate apartment on their property, so Sean treats her wounds and lets her stay there.  They all grow very close and people tease them about who is really in love with who.  Then one day, the girl disappears.  Finn tells everyone that she's been kidnapped but he can't give a description of who took her so people think he's just crazy.  What's surprising about this one is how it flashes around in time and then how it dawns on you (or maybe it dawned on someone as clueless as I am) that there are some very cool mystical elements going on here and HEY.  Could that really happen like that?  And really what the heck is going on here?  I couldn't put this one down either.  

The third one was just as compelling as the first two.  It's called "We were liars" by E. Lockhart.  It's about a girl named Cadence who comes from a very old and monied family in New England.  They spend their summers at the Cape in the sprawl of houses that the family owns.  The patriarch of the family seems to be a kindly, loving old man who loves having his girls (his three daughters) and all their children spend the summers there.  Cadence is the oldest of the grandchildren and there is a lot of emphasis placed on the position with in the family and inheritance.  Cadence loves spending the summers with her cousins (Johnny and Mirren and Johnny's not quite step brother, Gat).  During their 15th summer, something awful happened that Cadence can't quite remember.  She does remember them finding her on the beach, minus most of her clothing, hypothermic, and with a head injury.  She has also acquired some debilitating migraine headaches.  So she has a mission this summer to find out what really happened.  It's a great story with big themes about family and what it means to be a family, change and creating change.  I liked it a lot.  

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Newbery hopefuls

I've finally had a chance to double back and look at some of the lists people have been generating for other book awards.  Reading for CYBILS was awesome and I hope I get a chance to do it again next year.  I was a little surprised that this title didn't make it onto our middle grade fiction list.  It's been coming up as a short list possibility for the Newbery and I can see why.  It's called "Full Cicada Moon" by Marilyn Hilton.  It's written in free verse, which makes you think of previous year's great books "Brown Girl Dreaming" by Jacqueline Woodson or "In and Out and Back Again" by Thanhha Lai.  This one also has a terrifically interesting storyteller-Mimi.  Mimi's mom is Japanese and her dad is African American and so Mimi is herself and not like everyone else.  People are constantly asking her, especially since her family just moved to Vermont from Berkley, CA and in 1969, being bi-racial was a pretty big deal.  Mimi misses her cousins and her friends but she wants to learn new things and build things and become an astronaut.  It's nice to see how Mimi moves into the town and expects to be treated with respect and how she deals with that when it doesn't happen.  It's also very interesting to watch how her parents try to guide her and how that looks really different because each parent comes from a very different cultural background.  I really loved her voice and I loved the choices she made.  I'm not sure that kids will love this one as much (it was sort of slow at the beginning and because the words are so widely spaced, it looks like a bigger book than it really is) but it's definitely a worthy choice.

The second one is called "The Marvels" by Brian Selznick.  You might remember him as the author who brought us Hugo Cabret.  This book looks scary.  It's a brick.  It's almost 700 pages long.  But probably the first half of the book is entirely pictures.  The pictures are black and white pencil drawings (much like Hugo) and they are beautiful and detailed and tell a story in a way that words couldn't possibly touch.  The story is interesting and a bit confusing and doubles back on itself in a completely charming and interesting way.  I don't think I dare tell you anything about it for fear of spoiling the plot, but I really liked it a lot.  I'm not sure if it's really Newbery material (of course, I'm always wrong) and I'm not sure I'll buy it for my elementary school library but it's gorgeous and thought provoking and awesome and stretches the boundaries of what we consider to be great storytelling.  Here's the book trailer, which will give you a better idea of the art work as well as the plot.

The last one is a non-fiction book.  It's been nominated for the National Book Award so lots of people are paying attention to this one.  It's called "Most Dangerous" by Steven Sheinkin.  It's about the career of Daniel Ellsberg, who worked in the Pentagon and for other government agencies in the 1960s and 70s.  He helped to formulate policy on the Vietnam War and was then instrumental in releasing the Pentagon Papers, which detailed how key administrators showed that they understood that the Vietnam War was essentially not a winnable war and continued sending troops there and dropping bombs.  Sheinkin has a strong, clear voice that makes it easy to understand the narrative thread of the story, while carefully explaining the details.  This story is so tightly wound that it was really hard to put down.  I think this one is going to be great in high schools (it's way too big for my elementary school students) and I think it will be great to compare this book with some of the events that are still unfolding with people today (like Edward Snowden) who also believe that the American people have the right to know what the government is doing.  It certainly raised a lot of those issues with me.  I thought it was terrific.