Monday, April 25, 2016

New non fiction

My students seem to love non-fiction so I'm always surprised when teachers and librarians say they can't talk their kids into non-fiction.  Maybe it's part of the Montessori mindset-the Montessorians tends to be reality and research based.  I do love some good fantasy fiction, but the non fiction always flies out the door of my library.  Here are some my kids are going to love.

The first one is called "Orphan Trains" by Rebecca Langston-George.  I loved her last book about Malala Yousfazi called "For the Right to Learn" (so did my students!).  So I was excited to read this new one, which comes out in September.  It's profiles of kids who rode on the Orphan trains that took orphan kids from the big eastern cities like NY to rural places where people who farmed needed help and could feed the kids.  Most of the kids had suffered big traumatic losses, some in child birth but some of them in terrible accidents or from illness.  The ones who still had siblings naturally wanted to stay together but this wasn't always possible.  Each chapter is about a different child, their background and what happened when they were placed in homes.  It turns out that not all of the homes were stable or even kind.  There are also follow up pieces at the end of the book.  I liked this one a lot.  Middle grade kids seem to love to read stories about misfortunes and this one has a lot.  It might also be a great conversation starter about the foster care system that is in place now and how it's different or the same.  It would also be great paired with "The Train to Somewhere" by Eve Bunting.

This second one is a biography about Juan Esquivel who was a composer.  It's called "Esquivel! Space-Age Sound Artist.  Esquivel was a cutting edge artist in the 1950s and 1960s who combined different kinds of music and sound to create something that had never been heard before.  It has components of jazz, lounge music, and Latin flavors.  This one probably needs to be paired with some of the music, which is readily available on youtube and other places, so that people can hear it to understand what it's all about it before reading the book, but the book is terrific.  The text is fairly simple and explains how Esquivel got his start and how famous he got to be.  It also tells about how he created some of his sounds and how he experimented with the new technology of stereo sound (which should really blow kids' minds).  I really loved the art work, which felt sort of modern and Aztec-ish all at the same time.  I think this one would make a great addition to library. 

Have a listen to some of his music.  


The last one is a chapter book about World War 2 called "Guts and Glory: World War 2" by Ben Thompson.  It's a brief history or maybe an overview of World War 2.  It consists of short chapters with lots of pictures about different pivotal events of the war.  The language of the book is very informal, which I think kids will find appealing (although I worried about some of the historical accuracy of the comments, like at the beginning, Thompson says "Then in 1938, he (Hitler) absorbed Austria into his lands, which was fine with Austria because they were super into it."  I'm not sure that really holds up to the actual truth of how Austria was annexed (I checked the super source-Wikipedia, which indicated that Austrians were somewhat less than enthusiastic about being annexed).  That also made me then question the veracity of some of the other more casually phrased and somewhat editorial comments.  If that level of accuracy is ok with you, then I think this is a book that kids will like because the chapters are short and vivid.  There are some nice tables that compare and contrast some of the equipment and there is a nice mix of photos and black line drawings.  It might be useful to have something written in a less formal style available to check some of the more casually phrased comments to check their accuracy.  That would be a great time to have a conversation about point of view.  

Monday, April 18, 2016

The power of picture books

Don't you just love a good picture book?  They have a power all their own.  Even the biggest kids can be held captive by a good picture book and often a good picture book can make a point more quickly and effectively than a chapter book or even a short passage.  Here are a few that might help you make a point.

The first one is called "The Storybook Knight".  It's by Helen Docherty and if there was ever a cuter knight, it's hard to picture.  Leo is a prince who's parents really want him to be a knight.  Leo would really prefer to read.  The day comes when his parents hand him a sword and a shield and say "Get going" so Leo gets on his faithful horse Ned (who appears to always be hungry) and goes out to hunt the dragon.  When Leo starts to find some of the dangerous creatures he's been reading about, he has a different plan for fighting them than maybe his parents had in mind.  It has a great message about being true to yourself and the power of a good book.  The pictures in this are completely adorable line drawings with water colors.  I really loved this one.

This second one is not brand new, but it was new to me.  It's being considered for the Sunshine State Young Reader Jr. award, which is a brand new award this year.  In case you don't know, the Sunshine State Young reader award is given to books annually.  The awards are voted on by kids and nominated by librarians and the biggest criteria is that they are fun to read.  This one fits that bill.  It's called "Three Bears in a Boat" by David Soman.  You might remember him from a series of books about Ladybug Girl.  This one is about three bears who are playing in the house and accidentally break Mom's favorite blue shell.  They know this shell is special to their mom and that there aren't very many of them.  They start trying to figure out what to do and decide they should take a boat ride and find themselves a new shell.  They ask the advice of some of the older bears.  The last old bear they ask says "If you look in the right place, I reckon you'll find it."  Words of advice many could live by.  Anyway, the story has some exciting moments, some kind of scary moments and a very satisfying ending.  I really loved the art work in this one.  It was pretty and soft, but parts were quite dramatic and a little scary.  You could use this one to talk about taking responsibility or making good choices.  I thought this one was terrific.

And here's a bit of an interview with the author. 

This last one is a picture book AND a chapter book.  It's called "The Somewhat True Adventures of Sammy Shine" by Henry Cole.  We had the pleasure of hosting Henry at our school last week and found out the reason this is called "The Somewhat True Adventures" is because the character of Sammy is based on Henry's actual pet mouse, Sammy Shine.  Henry also makes a cameo appearance in the book along with his big brother, Jimmy, who according to Henry, was his inspiration to become an illustrator.  The story of Sammy is that of a mouse, who is sent on an adventure (not very willingly) in a model airplane.  Jimmy decides that Sammy is exactly the right size to the pilot and so off he goes.  When the plane crash lands in a woods, Sammy finds a whole bunch of new friends and they are all willing to help him try to find and fix his plane.  It's a very fun story to read and I found myself comparing it to the Wizard of Oz ("There's no place like home!").  The pictures add a lot to the text and I think a lot of kids are going to enjoy this one a lot, especially if they've heard Henry tell the story of Sammy Shine.  

Thursday, April 14, 2016

New middle grade fiction

I've been rooting around in the Netgalley closet looking for something new to read.  I had to kick a few to the curb (nothing more disappointing than opening a new book and finding ZERO magic on the pages), but I'm back on a roll again.  Here are some of the good ones I've been reading.

The first one is called "The Distance to Home" by Jenn Bishop.  It's about a girl named Quinnen who really loves to play baseball.  She has imposed a baseball moratorium on herself because her sister was killed in a car accident the year before and Quinnen feels she bears some responsibility for her death.  Frankly, I'm a little tired of stories about kids who are dealing with the death of someone they care about, however, my students just lap this stuff up so while I'm a bit over it, they seem to want more, so ok.  Here we go.  The people helping Quinn through this are her parents (who Quinn worries liked her sister better), some semi-pro baseball players that live in her town (she's a BIG fan) and her best friend, Casey.  I thought it was well written and suspenseful enough to keep me reading.  I think the kids are going to like this one.  Here's a link to Jen's website, where there's lots more information about her and her book.  

This second one is a magical mystery.  It's called "Knights of the Borrowed Dark" by Dave Rudden.  Mr. Rudden says in the intro notes that he "enjoys cats, adventure and being cruel to fictional children."  It also says this is his first book and after reading this one, I sincerely hope it's not his last. This one is about a boy named Denzien who was left at an orphanage when he was about two years old.  He feels especially at a loss because not only does he only have the vaguest memory of his mother, he doesn't even know his parents' names.  Just after his 13th birthday, a man comes to take him away to an aunt he's never heard of.  Denzien is a bit skeptical but the man seems nice enough and it's better than staying at the orphanage.  However, as they are going back to his aunt's house, they are attacked.  It turns out, Denzien is part of a group of magical caretakers or soldiers that are charged with keeping the peace.  Denzien's aunt is less than forthcoming about his past but Denzien learns a lot about his powers and the history of the Order.  I liked this story a lot.  There are some VERY scary parts (in a good way) and a very satisfying mystery.  I think the kids are going to like this one a lot.  Here's a book trailer for the book.

And here's the author reading from the book. 

The last one is also fantasy fiction and this one has pirates AND magicians.  It's called "The Voyage to the Magical North" by Claire Fayers.   The main character is a girl named Brine.  She was found in an abandoned boat as a infant and has been working for a local magician.  The magician has an apprentice, Peter, who is about the same age as Brine.  Neither of them are filled with love for the magician so when he comes home with a big bombshell-he wants Peter to marry a local girl and for Brine to go and live with and serve  another villager.  Both of them think this is a bad idea, so they set out and are almost immediately captured by pirates.  These pirates never tell the truth so it makes conversation with them a bit tricky.  The pirates decide to go to get supplies (and sell Brine and Peter), a surprise villain turns up and things get even more thrilling.  This story is funny and scary (evil fish birds... yikes.  The stuff nightmares are made of.) and has some great moments of self-realization.  This one would be great paired with one like "Violet and the Mean and Rotten Pirates" by Richard Hamilton. I really liked it a lot.  

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Author visit from Henry Cole

Today we had an author visit from Henry Cole.  Henry Cole is an amazing illustrator as well as a terrific author-he's written and illustrated over 100 books!  We got ready for his visit by reading some of his picture books like these.
This one is a  wordless picture book about the Underground Railroad.  This is one of my favorites to show kids that picture books are awesome.  Even for really big kids.  

Or this one about Caroline who moves to a new neighborhood and is inspired to create a wildlife sanctuary in her yard.  My students loved this one!

This one made us think about Henry as a researcher and writer, just like us!  

My little kids loved this one that was really about point of view.  We did a little project where we traced our hands-their little ones and my big one.  They thought that was hilarious!

My bigger kids can't wait to start reading this brand new one by Henry!

And the bigger kids LOVED hearing the story of how Henry was inspired to write this story that sounds like it's about a mouse, but it's really a story about the famous artist, Audubon, who was a big inspiration to Henry.

Henry gave three amazing presentations so ALL of our students got to see and hear about what it takes to be a really great writer and illustrator.   He showed us how he uses music to help him set the mood for his drawings as well as some of his inspirations for his writing and drawing.  It was terrific to hear about how much he practices and revises to get things EXACTLY right.  The kids LOVED hearing him and were inspired to read and write, just like him.

A BIG, GIGANTIC THANK YOU to the Spady PTA, without their support, Henry's visit would not have been possible.  Thank you, thank you, thank you for supporting the library and our kids' reading and writing.