Saturday, February 27, 2016

Mysterious Fiction- upper middle grade and YA

There are several mysteries afoot this week!  The first one is called "Sophie Quire and the Last Storyguard" by Jonathan Auxier.  I'm just going to tell you straight up that I think Jonathan Auxier is a genius.  His writing is so clear and so specific.  It's just perfect.  I'm pretty sure I'd love even an obituary written by him.  I loved "The Night Gardener" and "Peter Nimble" so I was DELIGHTED to read "Sophie Quire" and it did not disappoint.  The story is about Sophie.  She and her dad run a book store and Sophie loves books, especially story books.  (Sophie's mother was tragically murdered when Sophie was a little girl).  She is a talented book mender and so even if the bookstore is not making a lot of money, people are still bringing her books to mend.  However, there is a terrible thing happening in her town, Inquisitor Prigg is trying to rid the town of Nonsense and his strategy for doing that is burning all the story books.  Sophie takes a few books out of burn pile and is given a fine that is far too large for she and her father to afford, so they are in grave peril.  But a thief shows up, in fact the world's greatest thief, Peter Nimble (who can steal a bullet out of a gun), and he has a book for Sophie to mend.  This book sets a series of events into motion that are so exciting and so beautifully written.  It's an amazing tale, full of plot twists and mythical and imaginary creatures.  I LOVED it.  It's probably too big for third graders, but I think the upper middle elementary kids will love it too.

This second one is definitely YA.  It's called "Beware That Girl" by Teresa Totten.  It's about two girls-Kate and Olivia.  Kate comes from a working class family and her parents are not in the picture. She has worked the system to get a scholarship at a very exclusive school with the idea that she will eventually end up at Yale.  She works very hard, both at school and after school (she lives in a room behind a Chinese grocery and works there part time).  Olivia is a girl from a very wealthy family.  Her mother died when she was small and there was a stepmother, who is no longer in the picture.  Her dad is a high powered executive and so her supervision comes from the housekeeper.  Olivia is repeating her senior year because of a medical issue the previous year, so all her friends have moved on, so Olivia and Kate are both forced to make new friends, and find each other.  It turns out they each have something the other needs-Olivia has financial security and Kate has mental stability and focus.  I loved how the two dance around each other, trying to figure out their relationship and what happens when boys/men come into the picture.  This was a very fast paced read and I liked it a lot.

This last one is more middle grade again.  It's called "The Lost Cipher" by Michael Oeschle.  It's about a boy named Lucas who's father recently died in Afghanistan.  His mother left when Lucas was a baby so he lives with his grandparents.  His grandparents decide to send him to a camp for kids who have lost parents for a week, which Lucas is not looking forward to.  For one thing, he doesn't think he really needs any help.  For another reason, his grandparents are looking to sell their mountain property to a developer.  When Lucas gets to camp, he finds that there is a bit of a mystery.  There are stories of a treasure buried on the mountain and there is a secret code to find the treasure.  Lucas would like to find the treasure so his grandparents won't have to sell the mountain.  There is also a very rich boy who is a bully who gets on Lucas' nerves immediately and two new friends that rally to Lucas' side.  Lucas and his two new friends decide to leave the group so they can go in search of the treasure.  It's a fun adventure book.  It would go well with books like "Hatchet" by Gary Paulsen or even "Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library" by Chris Grabenstein.  

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Picture books to look for

Netgalley has some great new picture books that I've had an opportunity to preview.  Some of these are going to be great in my school library.

One of the big themes of library collection development is diversity-it turns out not all kids are white and middle class (I KNOW!!!  I was surprised too!  Oh, wait, maybe not so much.  My school doesn't look like that!)  It turns out that kids like to read about people who look like them and so since our populations are diverse, our collections better be too!  This first one fits that bill perfectly.  It's called "Joseph's Big Ride" by Terry Farish and illustrated by Ken Daley.  It's about Joseph who has been growing up in a refugee camp in Sudan.  He idolizes one of the bigger boys who has a bike and dreams of a day when he will be able to ride.  He does learn to fix bikes and hen he and his mom move to America, he finds many new things but one his new neighbors has a bike!  He goes to school and meets his new neighbor and they connect over the bike.  It's a really nice story to get kids thinking about what it might be like to be a refugee.  The pictures are terrific.  They are vibrant and engaging and help to move the story along.  I LOVE the pictures of his new friend that he calls "Whoosh".  She is completely adorable- her energy seems to almost leap off the page.  I think the kids will like this one a lot.

This second one is non fiction.  It's called "Floodwaters and Flames" by Lois Miner Huey.  It seems that elementary school students, particularly boys, are VERY interested in disasters.  This one, they are going to LOVE.  It's about the 1913 flood in Dayton, Ohio.  It's told from the perspective of several of the survivors of this calamity.  I really liked a piece at the beginning that shows a map of Dayton and then tags all the people telling the story on the map.  I think the kids will refer to that a lot during their reading.  There are lots of great text features (which will enthrall their teachers) and lots of great period photographs, but the story is also great.  The details that each of the survivors contributes helps you piece the story together and appreciate the diversity and complexity of the story.  I thought this one was terrific.  
Here's some video footage of the flood.

The last one is an experiential book that almost feels like it might be a board book.  It's called "Leo Can Swim" by Anna McQuinn and illustrated by Ruth Hearson.  You can tell right away this is a book for really little kids because the main character is wearing a diaper!  The amount of text is perfect-short simple sentences about going swimming with Daddy.  I think this is a really great idea to have a book about going swimming.  I live in South Florida where my school is only a mile from a BEAUTIFUL beach with easy access to parking.  Many of the homes close by here have pools and I am alarmed at the number of kids who drown every year, so YAY for anything that raises the awareness of the importance of teaching your kids to swim.  I love the fact that Leo is African American and that his daddy is swimming with him.  I also love the other diverse families shown in the story.  The pictures in this are completely adorable and show the story really well.  I think this one is terrific.  

Sunday, February 14, 2016

March Book Madness

I started a project with my students this week called "March Book Madness" which is a twitter project. (#2016MBM).  I work in a Montessori school and if you didn't know this about the Montessori philosophy, they do not believe in competition.  The feeling is that if there is one winner, there are many, many losers and so just say no to competition.  Except that the kids are completely out of their minds for any kind of competition.  So ok, in this competition, the books are the winners (and really, so are the kids for reading all the books).  I introduced some of the books this week but especially with the picture books, there were lots of them I hadn't read.  So here are a few that I read this week.

My new favorite picture book is called "Wolfie the Bunny" by Ame Dyckman.  I'd read a lot of rave reviews about this one but somehow we'd never connected until today.  I'm really sorry I waited so long because this one is awesome.  It's about a little bunny named Dot.  One day, Dot and her mom and dad come home and find a new baby on the front doorstep (isn't that how all babies come?).  Dot notices right away that this is a baby wolf and that might be a problem to her family of RABBITS.  However, no one seems alarmed about this but her.  Dot keeps trying to raise the alarm to no avail.  There is a very funny plot twist at the end that is completely charming and adorable.  The pictures on this one are nice and graphic, with some nice graphical text elements as well.  I think the kids are going to love this one.

Here's the author reading the book aloud. 

The next one I read at my Scholastic book fair a couple of years ago and really liked.  It's called "Blackout" by John Rocco.  It's about a family that experiences a city wide blackout but rather than being terrifying, it's really fun.  They go up to the roof and look at the stars.  They go down to the street where they get free ice cream from the ice cream man.  When the lights come back on, the family chooses to keep the lights off and play board games.  It's a nice story about spending time with your family and making the best of a situation.  Here's a book trailer about Blackout.

The last one is what I would consider narrative non fiction.  In the library where I checked it out, it is in the fiction section, but it's a nice retelling of a historical event.  Anyway, it's called "Sit in: How four friends stood up by sitting down" by Andrea Davis Pinkney and illustrated by Brian Pinkney.  It's about four young men -David Richmond, Joseph McNeil, Franklin McCain, and Ezell Blair, all students at NC A and T University in Greenboro, NC organized a sit-in at the Woolworth's lunch counter.  The book describes why and how in a very easy to understand way.  The pictures are warm and expressive and help you feel what it must have felt like to be there.  I thought this one was terrific and it's definitely going to come and live in my library.  Here are Brian Pinkney and his wife Andrea Davis Pinkney telling about their new book. 

Friday, February 12, 2016

More new middle grade fiction

It's so exciting to get to read new books.  Although the hard part about reading great advanced readers copies is waiting for them to actually get published.  These are some you definitely want to keep an eye out for.

The first one is called "Towers Falling" by Jewell Parker Rhodes.  It's about 11 year old Deja who has grown up in Brooklyn.  Her family has always struggled financially but this year, they've had to move into a homeless shelter.  It's not awesome.  She has to take a lot of responsibility for her younger sister and brother but she feels angry a lot.  She's angry that she's had to change schools (even though her new school is much better than the old one), she's angry that she has to wear clothes that don't fit properly and that aren't fashionable, she's angry that the new kids don't understand what it's like to be homeless, she's angry that they have to share a small place and eat in the shelter's dining area.  But she does make two new friends-Ben and Sabeen.  Ben has also just moved to the area-he's from Arizona where he lived on a ranch and had a horse.  His mom and dad just split up so he's hoping the move will be short term.  Sabeen has been at the school longer but her family came to NY from Turkey.  Sabeen is Muslim and wears a head scarf to school.  As the book progresses, the kids become better and better friends.  They start working on a history project together and as they are talking about big events in history, Ben brings up September 11.  Sabeen has a bit of breakdown because of the treatment of Muslims and Deja has no idea why because her family believes that she is too young to learn about September 11.  As Deja digs deeper into understanding what happened during September 11, she finds that her connection to that terrible day is deeper than she thought.  This is going to be a really great one to have in our library.  Our students do a big unit on social issues and this one has so many (homelessness, post traumatic stress disorder, divorce, treatment of Muslims, September 11) that it will give the kids a lot to talk about.  It's terrific that there's finally a book for the middle grade kids about September 11 that isn't too scary with details about the horrific things that happened.

The second one is called "The Hill" by Karen Bass and it's probably at the high end of middle grade fiction.  I'm not sure I want to put this in my library because some of the language that's used in the book is offensive to my little kids (you know how that goes"Oh my gosh, Mrs. Tanner, look!  It's the s word!!!").  It was a good story though and I think a lot of kids will like it.  It's about two boys, Jared and Kyle, who although they are about the same age, could not be more different.  Jared comes from a divorced family and as he's flying to visit his father (who owns diamond mines), the private plane he's flying in crashes.  He survives the crash and is rescued by Kyle, one of the indigenous First People of Canada.  Kyle lives as a part of a large family group but his parents are out of the picture so his grandparents are the ones who care for Kyle.  Jared is pretty sure he knows everything and so when Kyle suggests a route to safety, Jared decides to ignore his advice and go in the opposite direction.  So to start with, it feels a bit like a Gary Paulsen novel and then, something completely different happens.  I don't want to give away too much, but let me say there are supernatural elements and some completely scary creatures that made for a very exciting story.  I also need to say that I found it very hard to like Jared at first-he is so self centered and so entitled that I almost put the book down.  I don't know any kids like Jared at all and his deep concern over the kind of jeans he was wearing and the kind of shoes he had and his complete disregard for the advice of someone who was from the area seemed almost cartoonish.  His wise Native guide, Kyle, seemed a lot more realistic to me and I liked him enough to stick around.  This would be a good one paired with "Hatchet" by Gary Paulsen or "The Talking Earth" by Jean Craighead George.  

This year there has been a lot of conversation about having culturally diverse stories.  This one is an example of Native American culture, which seems like a piece that's been lacking, at least in the books I've been reading.  It's called "Soldier Sister, Fly Home" by Nancy Bo Flood.  This one is about a girl named Tess.  She is home on the Navajo reservation for the summer.  She's been at a boarding school in Flagstaff which she doesn't really love.  She's endured some teasing about being a Native American there but back home on the reservation, they tease her about being a white girl (her dad is white).  In addition to trying to figure out her own identity, her older sister is trying to find her place as well.  Her sister's plans have always centered on going to college on a track scholarship, but last year she had an accident and broke her ankle and shattered those dreams.  She decides she's going to join the army, which seems pretty scary since one of her friends was killed in the war (the girl who was their friend is Lori Piestewa, who was a real Navajo soldier who was killed in Iraq).  The writing in this one is really vivid and I hope it's culturally appropriate because I really liked all the different pieces of Navajo culture that were portrayed here-the respect the grandparents, the religious ceremonies, the summer rites of passage, even the acceptance of her dad by the tribe.  I think this one will be an excellent way to open a conversation about different cultural expectations and how difficult it is to try to straddle two cultures.  This one would be a good one to connect to"The Talking Earth" by Jean Craighead George or "Dream On Amber" by Emma Shevah.  

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Brand new picture books!

It's surprising to me sometimes how big a message can come through in a little picture book.  As teachers, we can get caught up in making sure the kids are building stamina or that the books are on an appropriate level, but sometimes, a picture book can bring home a message in such a clear and concise way.

This first one is a book like that.  My big kids do a unit on social issues in the spring and this book is going to be perfect for that.  It's called "I Come From the Water" by Vanita Oelschlager.  It's about a boy named Moses who is found after a terrible flood in Haiti.  He is found floating in a basket and taken to children's village with other kids who lost their parents.  The children's village is run by a church and Moses has friends and can go to school so even though he doesn't have parents, he's happy.  The book has lovely, warm, inviting art work and the author emphasizes again and again how  Moses is happy.  It also has some photograps at the end of the book that show some of the flooding in Haiti as well as some of the real people who work and volunteer there.  We have a good sized Haitian population at my school and they are always interested in reading about things from Haiti.  Many of them have also visited relatives there or actually remember moving from Haiti so it's a strong connection to them.  I also think that the themes of social work and social justice will be great for them- asking questions like "How do we help people in times of crisis? or What kind of help can we as Americans offer to Haiti?".  This is going to be a great one in my library.

The second one is also non fiction and it's a biography.  I liked this one especially because it was someone I'd never heard of, but once I read it, I was surprised I'd never heard of him!  The book is called "Whoosh!" by Chris Barton and the topic of the book is Lonnie Johnson, a scientist and inventor.  Lonnie grew up in Alabama and loved inventing and building things.  After graduating from college, Lonnie went to work at NASA as an engineer.  He also invented one of my nephew's favorite inventions of all time, the Super Soaker.  The pictures are interesting and inviting and the text is short enough to keep almost anyone interested.  I think this one will make a great addition to my school library.  

This last one I picked up at Costco.  I started to read it and dismissed it.  It has quite a bit of text on some of the pages and that put me off.  But the title appeared on a list for a project we're doing called "March Madness" (details are here) and so I bought it and read it and was I glad I did.  It's really charming.  It's called "Imaginary Fred" by Eoin Colfer.  You might remember Mr. Colfer from a series of books he wrote about a completely evil genius named Artemis Fowl.  This one has the same smart, gorgeous writing style but goes in a completely different direction.  It's about an imaginary friend named Fred who loves being an imaginary friend (except for the waiting for a new friend and the end of the friendships).  One day he becomes Sam's new imaginary friend and they are PERFECT together.  He worries a bit about the end of the friendship but decides it's better to just enjoy it while it lasts.  One day, Sam comes home to tell Fred about his new real friend.  Fred is sad but resigned.  He tries to explain to Sam what's ahead but Sam isn't having any of it.  There's a bit of a surprise at the end (which I won't tell you).  But this one is going to be a fun one to compare to other books about imaginary friends that have come out this year and last, including "Beekle" by Dan Santat and "Crenshaw" by Katherine Applegate.  

Here's the book trailer.  

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Amazing new middle grade fiction

I've been diving back into middle grade fiction after a bit of respite.  I found several on Netgalley that have been languishing in my To Be Read pile so it's great to be able to dig up a few gems!  Here's what I've been reading!

The first one is called "Behind the Canvas" by Alexander Vance.  It's his second book (although I didn't read the first) and I really love his voice.  This story is about a girl named Claudia who feels like she doesn't fit in.  She really likes art and all her classmates think she's weird.  The weirdness comes to the forefront when her class is on a trip to the Florence Museum of Arts and Culture and she notices a boy with vivid blue eyes in one of the paintings.  Except no one else can see him.  She sets forth on a quest to free the boy from an evil sorceress and ends up walking through some of the most famous paintings in the world.  It's a super fun and thrilling adventure but what I really liked were the footnotes from the famous art historian, Dr. Burkhardt.  These are absolutely hilarious commentary on the art and attitudes.  I know a lot of people tend to blow off reading the footnotes, but REALLY.  Read them.  Anyway, I thought this was a great book and it's going to be a super funny, fantasy romp through the world of art history.

The second one is called "Some Kind of Courage" by Dan Gemeinhart.  Dan Gemeinhart wrote a book a lot of people liked last year called "The Honest Truth".  I didn't love that one but I thought the writing was good, so I didn't think I'd need to spend much time on this one.  And I didn't need to spend much time on it, but not because it wasn't interesting, I didn't spend much time on it because I couldn't put it down.  It's the story of a boy named Joseph and it's set along the Oregon Trail.  He is an orphan (his dad was killed in an accident and his mom and little sister died of typhoid) and is in the care of a man named Grissom.  Grissom was close by when Joseph's dad died and Grissom got all their supplies in exchange for taking care of Joseph.  Grissom apparently isn't doing a great job of taking care of Joseph but when he sells Joseph's horse, it's the last straw and Joseph sets out on his own.  It's immediately obvious that the man who bought Joseph's horse is not exactly a stand up guy so it's kind of lucky that Joseph runs into another boy, a Chinese boy named Ah-Kee to go with him.  Ah-Kee doesn't speak English but they kind of figure things out and each seems to have strengths that come through just in time.  This is a very fast paced story with lots of interesting historical details (including treatment of the Chinese and Native Americans during the Westward Expansion).  I think this one will make a lot of kids who don't usually think historical fiction is something worth reading, sit up and take notice.  This one would be good to compare to a book like "Mr. Tucket" by Gary Paulsen.

The last one is one I got in a box of books that I'm previewing for our book fair.  It's by an author that I loved-Natalie Lloyd.  Her first book was called "A Snicker of Magic" and I LOVED that one.  So I was really looking forward to this new one called "A Key to Extraordinary".  I didn't love this one as much as Snicker, but it was still good.  It's about a girl named Emma who lives with her grandmother and her older brother in a bakery and cafe next door to a graveyard in a  small town in the mountains. Emma's mom died a few years ago and Emma spends a lot of time in the cemetery-she even gives free tours!  Emma and her family are very connected to their history and the history of their community.  Before Emma's mom died, she gave Emma a book that details the history of the remarkable women in their family and Emma really wants to have a life that is worth recording in the book.  Emma's grandmother, Blue, is starting to think that maybe she should give up the bakery to give the kids a better life, but Emma loves their community and the bakery and decides she's going to find the treasure that is often referred to in local lore.  I really liked the theme of finding yourself and the writing is awesome.  There are also ghosts in this book which maybe appealing to some kids.  This would be a good one to compare with a book like "Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy" by Karen Foxlee.  

Monday, February 1, 2016

Picture books that will steal your heart

I FINALLY got to read "Last Stop on Market Street" by Matt de la Pena.  In case you haven't heard, it won the Newbery award as well as a Caldecott honor.  That's pretty unusual but one look at this book and you'll see why everyone was putting it up for awards.  The story is about CJ who lives in a big city.  CJ is leaving church with his grandmother and wants to go play, but they have somewhere else they need to go.  CJ sees a lot of negative things as they ride the bus but his grandmother only sees positives.  The language in this one is terrific and will go a long way with the little kids and oral language.  The pictures are flat, folk lore kinds of pictures that still manage to look modern and up to date.  It's also terrific to see the kind of multiculturalism infused in this book so it doesn't feel put on or forced-it's about a community of different kinds of people and lots of different kinds of people are present.  This one would be great paired up with "Something Beautiful" by Sharon Dennis Wyeth.

Here is the author reading his awesome book!

The second one came recommended to me by someone I can't remember.  I put the book on hold (apparently some time back) but boy was I glad that I had a chance to read it.  It's called "Oskar and the Eight Blessings" by Richard Simon and Tanya Simon.  It's about a boy named Oskar who is growing up well loved and well taken care of by wonderful parents in Germany in the 1930s.  After Kristallnacht (the horrific night when Jewish shops were looted and Jews were terrorized openly in Germany), Oskar's parents decide it's not safe for him so they put him on a boat to find his aunt in New York.  The boat ride is greatly abbreviated but once he gets to NY, he ends up meeting many notable figures of the time.  The book has a happy ending and lovely pictures, but what I was really thinking about was what a great book this would be as a mentor text.  One of my friends is a reading coach in a high school and recently did a research project where the kids researched a decade and then created a news broadcast about the decade.  I thought a book like this would be an awesome application of any period in time.  Not to mention the fact that it's a good (if fictitious) story.  

The last one is a biography and it's pretty long for a picture book but wow, is it terrific. I read it as an advanced readers copy on Netgalley.  It's called "Some Writer" by Melissa Sweet.  It's a biography of E. B. White and it goes into great detail of the writer's life.  It has lots of graphical elements including photographs and Melissa Sweet's original artwork around the photographs.  It also has lots of E. B. White's completely amazing writing, which is like reading a deliciously complicated stew... layers of flavors and textures within a single sentence.    There will be lots of people who love to read a biography like this-it probably won't be a read aloud because it's over 100 pages (at least you won't be able to read it all at one sitting) but it will certainly be a great addition to any library, for the opportunity to get to know one of America's favorite writers, E. B. White, as well as to marvel at Melissa Sweet's terrific story telling and art work.  The only bad part about this book is that it's not scheduled to be published until October of 2016.  Trust me, it will be worth the wait.