Sunday, December 31, 2017

New non fiction

I'm moving back into my post-CYBILs life.  For the last two months, I've been reading virtually nothing but middle grade fantasy (speculative) fiction.  It's been a lot of fun but I'm ready to move onto something else.

So imagine my immense joy this morning to look in Netgalley and find something completely different from what I've been reading, NON FICTION.  So I dove in and what a reward!  Here's some of what I found.

The first one is called "Spy on History: Victor Dowd and the World War II Ghost Army" by Enigma Alberti.  It's the story of a group of soldiers during World War II that were artists, weathermen, sound engineers and writers that helped to mislead the Germans into thinking that there were a lot more American soldiers in different places than there actually were.  The story is written in a very easy to read conversational prose that moves the story along quickly.  It recounts several different times during the war when the Ghost Army was able to successfully trick the Germans and the local townspeople.  It also has graphic novel type illustrations that are clues to different things in the story. It tells you how to interpret them in the back (in case, like me, you weren't paying close enough attention to the pictures), which I think kids will find very amusing.  I know I enjoyed going back to see what the pictures really meant.  I think a book like this will engage a lot of kids who like puzzles as well as kids who like history.  The only reason I might not put it in my library is that in the front of the book it says that there will be a physical envelope that will contain tools that help you solve the mystery of the book.  In my library, it would take perhaps two checkouts before all the tools would disappear, so this might not be the right fit for my library, but I could highly recommend it for a home read.

The second one is a picture book about sustainability and problem solving.  It's called "Iqbal and his Ingenious Idea" by Elizabeth Suneby.  It's about a boy named Iqbal who lives in a small village in India or possibly Pakistan.  His teacher is organizing a science fair with cash prizes.  The project must showcase sustainability.  Iqbal is inspired by his mother, who is coughing from the smoke of their cooking fire, to create a new cleaner way to cook.  The story is simply written so it will go quickly but with enough details that you can really understand Iqbal's motivation. It's a nice lesson on how people's lives are different around the globe as well as creative problem solving and inventing.  This would be a really great one paired with "The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind" by William Kamkwaba.  I think this will be an excellent addition to our library.  

This last one came the day before winter break and I was able to sneak it home before any of my students checked it out!  It's a picture book biography called "The Youngest Marcher: The Story of Audrey Faye Hendricks, a young civil rights activist" by Cynthia Levinson.  The story starts with Audrey and her mother making a delicious dinner for their friend Mike who is coming from out of town.  It turns out Mike is Martin Luther King Jr. and he's in town with some other ministers to help to organize protests in Birmingham, Alabama.  Audrey really wants to participate too and so she does.   The pictures in this one are lovely and highly animated-you almost feel like you're right there with Audrey every step of the way.    This is a lovely story that kids will enjoy and hopefully it will help them understand that it's never too late to stand up for what is right. 

Here's a book trailer about the book. 

Happy New Year everyone!  May the new year be full of wonderful surprises and terrific new books!

Friday, December 8, 2017

More middle grade fantasy fiction!

So I'm knee deep in the CYBILs list.  In case you didn't know, CYBILs stands for Children's and Young Adult Bloggers Literary Award.  I've been lucky enough to serve as a panelist this year on the middle grade speculative (fantasy) fiction and it's SO MUCH FUN.  It is a bit daunting to see the list-there are over 120 books (chapter books!) and we have two months to read them.  I was WAY behind the power curve this year, because I've mostly been reading picture books for another book award I read for so I've been scurrying to catch up.  I'm getting there, but I'm a little relieve that weather here in South Florida is supposed to be terrible tomorrow, in hopes that I'll actually think it's a good idea to sit down and read during the day time, instead of waiting until I go to bed, when invariably, I'm tired enough, I get to "The ..." and fall asleep.

Anyway, this week, I've had a chance to read some great ones that I'd never heard of so it was very exciting!  The first one is a new series called the Uncommoners and the first one is called "The Crooked Sixpence.  It's by a new author named Jennifer Bell.  It's set in London in current times and it's about a girl named Ivy and her older brother Sebastian (they call him Seb).  They have parents who love them but are very busy, so they spend a lot of time with their grandmother.  Unfortunately, at the opening of the book, Ivy and Seb are in the hospital, with their grandmother who fell and is badly injured.  Their grandmother had a strange accident some time ago (in 1969, in fact) and since then, she's had acute amnesia.  She remembers everything since then, but nothing before.  But the accident seems to have brought back some memories.  The kids are sent back home and are waiting the arrival of their parents, but when they get home, they find their home has been ransacked and there's an ominous message on the wall.  The kids realize this must have something to do with their grandmother's amnesia so they set out to try to unravel the mystery.  This is a super fun book that is exciting and mysterious and magical.  And I'm so happy to see that there is already a sequel, YAY!  Because Ivy and Seb and the other characters are so terrific, I can't wait to see what happens next.

Here's a link to Jennifer Bell's lovely website.  And here's the book trailer.

The second one is called "The Unicorn in the Barn" by Jacqueline Ogburn.  It's about a boy named Eric who's hit a bit of a rough patch.  His family has lived in Western NC for several generations, but his grandmother, who is the matriarch of the family (Eric's mom died when he was small), has gotten very sick.  In fact, she's so sick, they've had to sell off part of the family property to pay the bills.  The new family that moved in is a mom and daughter and Eric's first introduction to the daughter is not a happy one.  But the mom is a veterinarian, which is pretty handy, because right after his first introduction to the daughter, he spots an animal that he thinks might be the white deer people have been talking about.  The animal is limping and it limps right over to the barn that his grandmother used to own but has been taken over by the veterinarian.  It turns out that it's not actually a deer, but a unicorn.  This is a lovely story about taking care of each other and family traditions and following your own path.  I liked it a lot.  

Here's one of the inviting black and white drawings from the book. 

And here's the lovely cover.

The last one is called "Dragon's Green" by Scarlett Thomas.  It's about a girl named Euphemia (Effie) who lives with her dad and his new wife (her mom disappeared awhile back during a world wide earthquake that caused the world to lose internet access) and her new half sister.  Her grandfather has an extensive library that she loves to spend time in but her grandfather is forbidden to teach her magic or talk about magic.  But Effie seems drawn to the magic (her dad thinks it's nonsense and probably what caused her mom to disappear).  One terrible day, her grandfather is attacked and badly injured and suddenly Effie is flung into a world she doesn't know and is ill prepared for-the magical one.  But she also finds she has friends who are willing and able to help her with the magical perils.  I thought it was a very fun read and was very well written.  I'm very happy to hear that it's the first one in a series, because I love the idea that I'm going to get to read more about Effie and her friends.  Here's a link to Scarlett Thomas's beautiful  website.   And here's the cover.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Ghost stories!

I don't usually read ghost stories.  I don't really like to be scared (there's enough scary stuff in the world for me-keep it out of my head!).  But I read a couple this week that were quite remarkable!

The first one is called "Olive and the Backstage Ghost" by Michelle Schusterman.  It's about Olive who lives with her mom.  Her mom used to be a famous singer and now she wants Olive to be a famous singer.  Olive's dad has disappeared?  Gone away?  Died?  It's a bit mysterious about what actually happened to dad, but he's not in the picture.  Olive is feeling over pressured by her mother and when she does poorly at an important audition, Olive runs out looking for an escape.  She finds solace at the Maudeville theatre, a beautiful old theater she never noticed before.  She finds people who appreciate her talents and want to make her a star, but there's something not quite right.  This is a super creepy story with a kind of an alternate reality.  It's kind of like "Coraline" by Neil Gaiman.  The parents story lines are a little thin but it's an exciting story to read.

The second one is called "Journey's End" by Rachel Hawkins.  It's about a girl named Nolie who is following her dad, a scientist, to a small town in Scotland from her hometown in GA.  Her parents are divorcing, which feels terrible to Nolie but she's excited to go to Scotland and happy to see her dad.  The town called Journey's End is on the coast and her dad is studying a fog bank.  People have been known to disappear into the fog back and then are never seen again.  Nolie meets a girl who lives in town-Bel's family runs a small gift shop in town and have deep roots there.   They do NOT have a good relationship with the scientists.  They believe that the scientists will damage their town's claim to fame and ruin their tourist business.  The story also flashes around in time to some of the victims of the fog.  One day, a boy no one knows turns up and things start changing pretty fast.  I liked this exciting ghost story.  I really liked the characters, who were funny and adventurous.  I also liked the Scottish language lessons that got thrown in a long the way.  I'm going to go and order a few of these for my school library RIGHT NOW.

The last one is a BRAND NEW book, it was just released in October.  It's called "The Bone Thief" by Alyson Noel.  It's about a boy who feels like he just doesn't fit in.  Grimsly Summerfield is completely and resolutely normal and that's the problem.  Grimsly lives in a magical town called Quiver Hollows.  He was discovered there by his guardian, Professor Snelling.  He's been surrounded by magic and taught by the best, but he is resolutely NOT magical.  His best friends, Ming (who can levitate), Ollie (who's been bending spoons since he was a baby) and Penelope (who doesn't really speak much but can send telepathic messages) are very supportive, but one day the magic starts disappearing from the town and the townspeople (who are somewhat less supportive) believe it has something to do with Grimsly.  So Grimsly sets out on a quest to set things right.  This is a very fast paced, very funny magical story where the ghosts that do the haunting are the scariest kind-the ones with no love.  This one will be great in an elementary or middle school library.  

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Spectacular new fantasy fiction!

I'm plowing through the CYBILS middle grade speculative fiction.  There were a few dogs in the pile but I've hit a bit of a hot streak and it's SO much fun to read such imaginative, creative, exciting stories!  Check out these beauties!

The first one is called "The Shadow Cipher" and it's the first one a series called York by Laura Ruby.  I'm relieved that this only the first one because the characters and plot of this one were so interesting, I was really sorry for the book to end!  It's about fraternal twins, Tess and Theo, who live with their parents in an old apartment building in New York.  The apartment has been in their family for several generations and there is a story about a mysterious treasure that's hidden with lots of clues and ciphers.  They connect with a boy who lives in their building, Jaime, who is a computer whiz.  He lives with his grandmother, the building's caretaker.  Suddenly, they have a very sharp deadline for solving the mystery, a developer has purchased the building and is planning to knock it down and build something more modern.  One of the things that's really great about this book is the setting, which is New York, present day, sort of.  There are a lot of things in the book that are realistic, like subways and cellphones, but there are lot of things in the book that are very fantastic-like the Guardians in the subways that are robots but very lifelike robots.  Or the cat that is Tess's therapy animal, that weighs 45 pounds and likes to fetch things like socks.  The characters in this one are great (like the 6 year old annoyance who also lives in the building or the super creepy bearers of bad news).  I really loved this one and I think the kids are going to like it too.  In case you're interested, here's a link to her webpage that has an excerpt.  And here's a link to the publishers page and it has a part of the audiobook.

The second one is a very fun fairy tale.  I DO love a good fairy tale and this one is particularly excellent.  It's called "The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart" by Stephanie Burgis.  It's about Aventurine who is a young dragon.  Her favorite pastimes are annoying her older brother and dreaming about escaping the family lair (even though it's full of treasure and a family who loves her).  She has an older sister that is very famous in the dragon world (she writes poetry that dragons love) and worries that she will never find her passion.  One afternoon, while everyone is resting (hunting is hard work!), Aventurine decides to make a run for it and busts out of the cave.  She is enthralled with the big wide world around her and hungry.  She smells something delicious (humans) and decides to pursue her prey.  And I flat out can not tell you any more (which is only like the first 10 pages) because it would totally ruin the book!  I will tell you that there are some amazing plot twists, some really funny characters, and some terrific themes of friendship, loyalty, and treachery as well as a terrific lesson on finding your passion, no matter what your family thinks.  This one was awesome and I can't wait to give it to my students.  

Here's the book trailer.

The last one is a fairy tale.  It's called "Snow and Red" by Emily Winfield Martin.  It's the story of two sisters, Snow and Red who are basically living a fairy tale.  They have a loving mother and father who are wealthy enough to indulge most of their whims, when suddenly the father disappears and their lovely home and gardens are yanked out from under them and they have to go and live in a dilapidated cottage in the woods.  Both girls miss their father terribly and cope with the loss in different ways.  They often go walking through the forest, looking for food, entertainment, and their dad.  They come into contact with lots of interesting characters, some kind and some pretty evil.  The story is entertaining and well written.  What really set this one apart for me was the art work.  Each chapter has a beautiful full color embellishment and there are several full page watercolor pictures and decorations through out the book.  It gives the book a feeling of richness and tradition that I really liked.  I think the kids will like this one as well.  

Sunday, October 29, 2017

My new favorites

This has been a super busy week.  We had our state librarians conference called FAME in Orlando this past week.  There were lots of workshops, authors to meet, vendors to talk to and most of all friends from all over our wonderful state.  It was a great conference but I'm exhausted and exhilarated at the same time!  I'm also still whittling away at the CYBILS speculative middle grade fiction.  I'm sure you're not shocked to hear that I barely had time to open a book this past week, much less read one.  But I finished one today that is not to be missed.  It's called "Sputnik's Guide to Life on Earth" by Frank Cottrell Boyce.  The last sentence in the completely irresistible first chapter is this "I probably shouldn't have written it all down.  It might get me into trouble.   We broke a lot of laws, including some of the laws of physics.  But I wrote everything down anyway, because I didn't want to forget any of it."  I sincerely hope I have a week like that one of these days.

 It's about a boy named Prez who is going to a foster family for the summer.  He had been living with his grandfather, but that is somehow not possible anymore (the story about that unfolds with the book).  He's placed with a big, loud family who has a small farm with animals.  Prez is ok with the family-they are nice enough and loud enough to cover up the fact that he doesn't really talk to anyone.  But right away, there's something kind of strange.  An alien shows up calling himself Sputnik Mellows (Mellows is Prez's last name).   He's wearing a kilt and aviator goggles and a yellow backpack and large number of weapons.  The foster family takes one look at Sputnik and believes he is a dog, but none of them can agree on what KIND of a dog Sputnik is.  After the youngest sister's birthday where she is nearly decapitated by a light saber and a tree is uprooted, Sputnik reveals he is actually trying to make a list of good things about the earth, because it is about to be destroyed.  Honestly, this one of the craziest books I've ever read.  It has so many hilarious, poignant moments that I'm tempted to read it again, RIGHT NOW because I'm worried I missed some of the good parts. This is brilliant.  DO NOT MISS IT.

Science fiction is usually not in my wheelhouse, but this one was amazing!  It's called "The Countdown Conspiracy" by Katie Slivensky.  It's about a group of 6 super smart kids who are chosen for a Mars space mission.  The main character, Miranda, is an expert in robotics.  In fact, she's built a robot that obeys her every command and she won a world wide competition, beating out her strongest competitor, Sasha, a Russian boy.  Miranda is very excited about the opportunity to go to Mars, but is also means leaving her family behind and going to train in Antarctica with scientists, computer programmers, and former astronauts.  However, the mission is more dangerous than it seems, because even before they get to the training site, Miranda and one of her team mates are attacked.  Security is increased and Miranda starts wondering why she was picked at all.  There are lots of very exciting plot twists in this one.  The characters are interesting and have lots of interesting kinds of interactions -they aren't all just friends because they're part of this small group and it's fun to watch how they figure out how to work together.   The science in this one is awesome-from robotics and coding to space science, that was super fun to read about.  And did I mention, at the heart of this book is a big fat mystery?  I liked it a lot and I think the kids are going to like it too.  

The last one is a kind of a folk tale fantasy adventure.  It's called "Journey Across the Hidden Islands" by Sarah Beth Durst.  It's about two girls, Ji Lin and Seika who are 12 year old twins.  They live in an isolated kingdom and have been separated for quite some time so that they can train for their jobs. Seika is meant to be the ruler princess and Ji Lin is meant to be the protector/guard.  They come home for a birthday celebration and are sent out on a quest to meet and negotiate with the dragon that protects their island kingdom.  It's a great quest full of magical creatures, including the flying lion that Ji Lin rides as well as koji that need to be destroyed.  It also has a lot of folktale elements that will make it a terrific read aloud.  What's also  great is that both girls are unsure about their abilities to do their jobs but each one gives the other courage when they need it the most.  They make a wonderful  team.  I completely love Sarah Beth Durst's writing-she writes some really great dialogue that will make you laugh out loud.  I think the kids are going to love this one.  

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Middle grade fantasy fiction

I'm plunging into the dark heart of fantasy or speculative fiction.  I haven't had a chance to go here for awhile, so I'm looking forward to it!

The first one is called "Last Day on Mars" by Kevin Emerson.  I'm going to tell you straight up that science fiction is not my favorite, but this one was a breathtaking adventure.  It's about a boy named Liam who has grown up on Mars.  His parents are scientists and they moved to Mars before Liam was born because the Earth was failing.  They've been living on Mars for the past 15 years and now it's time to leave there too because the protections they've built to help them survive there are failing. Liam is sad to leave Mars (it IS the only home he's ever known) and although he's heard lots of stories about how amazing Earth was, the new place they are going is uncertain and a bit fraught with peril.  But it also seems that there is some sabotage going on and Liam and his best friend Phoebe seem to be best positioned to help with some narrow escapes.  I really liked Liam and I liked the science aspects of the science fiction book better than I thought I would.  It's very fast paced and there's so much action that I think a lot of kids are going to like this one a lot.  It also appears to be the first one in a series-there's a giant cliff hanger at the end.  I can't wait to see what happens next in this one!

The second one is more in my wheelhouse-it's a book of fairy tales called "Brave Red, Smart Frog: A New Book of Old Tales" by Emily Jenkins.  Emily has written some terrific stories-she wrote one of my favorites last year called "Toys in Snow" which is just like it sounds-some toys go out and play in the snow but it's a lovely little imaginative story with lots of great language.  Brave Red, Smart Frog is kind of like that too.  It's 11 favorite fairy tales retold.  Each chapter is a different story so they go FAST.  Each one is like visiting a familiar place that's had a really great make over.  All the things you love are still there but it's somehow better and fresher than the one you remember.  I think my favorite retelling was the one about the Princess and the Frog.  In this retelling, both the Frog and the Princess make some big changes and I liked them both better for it.  One of the things that keeps you anchored in the old school is the art work which is beautiful and somehow very traditional yet modern at the same time.  I really liked this compilation and I can't wait to put it in my library.

The last one is the third and final (I think) installment in this series.  Two years ago, Gordon Korman came out with a completely brilliant science fiction story called "Masterminds".  It's about a group of people who live in a perfect small town in New Mexico that is very isolated.  It's so isolated that people don't really come and go from there.  The kids grow up thinking that this normal (well, for them, it IS normal).  Until one day, two of the kids decided to go out of town.  Not leave town, just go and investigate some things that are just beyond the border of the town.  As the approach the border, one of the boys, Eli, gets violently ill.  The other boy calls emergency services and Eli is scooped up and rushed to the hospital.  He's sick for a few days but then he's fine.  The other boy is GONE when Eli is released from the hospital.  Eli's dad tells him that he's been sent to live with his grandmother and suddenly, in a community where honesty is valued above all things, Eli starts to think that maybe people aren't really being all that honest with him and with all the other kids in the community.  It turns out their parents have a REALLY big secret.  It would be a total spoiler if I told you exactly what the secret is (because it's totally awesome), so I won't.  But I will tell you that the third book takes up where the second one leaves off.  This one is a very thrilling adventure full of wild chases and ethical dilemmas.  It also has a very satisfying ending to the whole story.  I thought this one was great.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Something new in middle grade fiction

Are you looking for something new in middle grade fiction?  Well, have I got a couple of titles for you!  These are new releases and are DEFINITELY worth looking for!

The first one is called "The Adventurers Guild" by Zack Loran Clark and Nick Eliopulos.  It's about a group of kids who live in a town called Freestone.  Freestone has an annual event called Guildculling where children who are of a certain age are called to join their professions.  For many of lower class children, there isn't too much of a choice, but members of higher societal families have greater opportunities for choices.  But there are always some surprises, and there are some very big surprises at this particular Guildculling.  I don't want to give too much away because each layer of this well written book has excellent suspense and interesting plot twists.  There is some wonderful political drama, some great opportunities for talking about class expectations and racism, as well as magic and thrilling combat.  I really liked this story a lot and I hope there are more to come!

  Here's a little preview of the book!

The second one is a fairy tale/quest kind of book.  It's called "The Silver Gate" by Kristin Bailey.  It's about a brother and sister, Elric and Wynnfrid who are on a kind a of quest.  Wynn has struggles to speak and remember things so she's been living with her mother in a hut out in the woods, while Elric lives with his dad and tends sheep for the lord of the manor.  It's not a really great life, but they do not appear to have a lot of choices.  When Elric and Wynn's mother dies, Elric decides he has to run away with Wynn to save her life.  So Elric is just looking for someplace safe, but Wynn is searching for a fairy kingdom because she's been called a changeling her whole life-a baby who was exchanged for another by fairies.  I liked this one because of the themes of bravery, loyalty, and family connection.  I liked the magical elements and I really loved the pet that Wynn brings along on the quest.    I think this one would make a good addition to our library.

 The last one is a sequel to one of my favorite books last year.  It's called "The War I Finally Won" by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley.  Like the first book, it's about a girl named Ada who was born with a clubfoot in a dysfunctional family in east London at the 1930s.  Ada escapes London with her little brother Jamie when the government starts evacuating children to the countryside because of the bombings in London.  Ada and Jamie end up with a woman named Susan Smith who is deeply grieving the loss of her best friend, Becky, who died of pneumonia some months earlier.  At the beginning of this book, Susan has come to London to get Jamie and Ada back-they had returned to London with their mother and Susan is determined to get them to come back to their small village with her.  While she's in London with the children, the village is bombed and her small house is destroyed.  So this new book begins with a bit of an uncertain future-Susan would like the kids to return but they don't have a house to go to, Ada's mom seems to feel the need to get them back, and Ada is getting ready to have corrective surgery fix her clubfoot.  I hate to tell you more about this story because each part unfolds in such a lovely way that it ALL feels like a spoiler.  Suffice it to say, this one is a bit more introspective and the new characters add some very interesting pieces to the story.  I loved this one just as much as the first one and it's definitely coming to live in our library.  
Here's a little video with the author about the book.    

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Super cool non fiction

We bugged out in advance of Irma and now I have a bit of a break in the action while we debate about when to go back... with no power it doesn't sound like that much fun to be at home, but I'm itching to get there!  Good thing I have some awesome new non-fiction to read to keep me occupied.

The first one is called "Bugs from head to tail".  It's written by Stacy Roderick and illustrated by Kwanchai Moriya.  It's an up close look at some really interesting insects.  Each double page spread shows one part of a bug (like it's eyes) and asks the reader to guess what insect it is.  Then the next two pages show the whole insect and tell a little about it.  There is a perfect amount of text to tell about each insect, enough to peak an early reader's attention (and maybe send them for more research) but not so much to be overwhelming.  I really loved the artwork in this one.  It's paper cuts and they are so closeup you can actually see the texture of the paper, which is so awesome, because it's meant to look just like the insect.  I thought this one would be a great addition to our elementary school library.

The second one is also a picture book.  It's called "The Elephant Keeper"  by Margaret Ruurs.  It's about a boy named Aaron who lives with his mom and siblings in a small village in Zambia.  His father has died and Aaron needs a job.  The manager at a local resort has agreed that Aaron can come and work there.  One morning on his way to work as Aaron approached the resort, he finds a baby elephant drowning in the pool.  Aaron tries to help, but it's really hard.  With the help of some of the other workers, they are able to get the baby out of the pool, but he's very weak.  They call the elephant rescue organization and they come and get the baby.  Aaron is conflicted about saving an elephant-the elephants trample and steal their crops.  People in his village kill elephants to make money.  Was saving the elephant a bad idea?  His mom convinces him that he did the right thing and when he gets to work the next day, the manager tells him what a great job he did saving the elephant and asks if he'd like to go and visit the baby.  Aaron goes and finds that there is a big group of people who work to save elephants and treat them almost like babies.  Aaron also finds that he's really good at helping the elephants so he gets a job there.  I really loved this story-it was a very moving story and on top of that,  in between the narrative story, there are bits of photographs and non-fiction text that support some of the ideas in the story.  I think the kids are going to love the fact that this based on a true story.  I can't wait to get this one in the library.

Here's a little video of an elephant rescue organization in Zambia that inspired the story.  

The last one is also a picture book.  It's called "See What We Eat" by Scot Ritchie.  It's an introduction to how we get food and how we might prepare food.  Each two page spread talks about a different kind of food production-dairy, grain, protein.  The last few pages are recipes for some healthy, delicious, kid friendly food.  The pictures are bright, highly detailed, and very interesting.  I really liked how on each page, the text is divided.  There is a part that gives a bit of an overview and then a second part that digs a little deeper.  This would be great for reading with different age kids-the little ones just get the first part, the bigger ones get both.  Brilliant!  This one is definitely coming to live in my library,

Monday, September 11, 2017

More middle grade fiction for after the storm

I'm so lucky to get to read all these new books!  My fourth and fifth grade book clubs decided that they also want to read the latest and greatest, in hopes of discovering the next Newbery award winner.  It's so much fun talking books with them!  Here are a few that are coming out in the next couple of weeks.

The first one is called "Click'd" by Tamara Ireland Stone.  It's was released on September 5, 2017.  It's about a girl named Allie Navarro who has just spent an amazing summer at a coding camp making friends with other girls who love coding just as much as she does.  When she gets back to school, she's feeling a little left out because her friends spent their summer together at home.  She is very excited about the game she created at camp and is hoping that she will be able to win the local coding competition.  Her game is called "Click'd" and it lets helps you find friends among the database of people who play the game and rank their compatibility so you know how good of friends you'll actually be.  She decides to release the game to gather data for completion but things get a bit out of hand when the kids at her school embrace the game enthusiastically.  In fact, she uncovers a bit of a glitch in the code and has to decide if she should stop the game (and maybe lose the competition) or keep going, at the risk of embarrassing one of her best friends.  This is a really awesome story with lots of social issues that are very current.  I think the kids will easily be able to identify with Allie and her friends.  The decisions Allie makes are going to be a great source of conversation for lot of people!  This would be a great one to connect with "Goodbye Stranger" by Rebecca Stead because of the threads of friendship and online behavior.

This second one was also terrific!  It's scheduled to be released on October 3 and it's called "Greetings from Witness Protection!" by Jake Burt.  This is his first book and I'm sure it's not going to be the last!  It's about a girl named Nicki who is a ward of the state.  She's been in several different foster homes since her Grammy died.  Last she heard her father was in prison, so she writes to him there.  It also turns out that Grammy was an accomplished pickpocket and taught Nicki a lot about thievery.  Nicki tries to do the right thing, but it's not always easy.  She's just back from yet another foster family when two federal agents show up. They want her to join the witness protection program-not because she's a witness in need of protection, but because she looks a lot like a woman who is a witness and Nicki's presence will help to disguise the family.  Parts of this are hilarious, parts are intriguing and parts are flat out scary.  One of the things I liked the best was that they relocated these New Yorkers to Durham, NC, which I have a little experience with, having grown up about 15 miles east of Durham AND my brother lives there now!  Let me tell you, Burt's NC experiences are SPOT ON.  This is an awesome book and I can't wait to see the next installment (please, please, please, let there be a next installment!).

The last one came out at the end of August.  It's called "Tumble and Blue" by Cassie Beasley.  You might have heard of Cassie before, she blew onto the writing scene in 2015 with her amazing book "Circus Mirandus".  If you were worried that Cassie might be a one hit wonder, worry no more.  Tumble and Blue is just as good as Circus Mirandus.  Tumble and Blue are two kids who are brought to a VERY small town near the Okefenokee Swamp.  Blue is dropped off there by his dad, a sometimes race car driver, to stay with his grandmother for the summer.  Tumble is a wannabe hero who's parents are coming back home.  But it turns out there is a bit of mystery afoot-Blue's great grandmother, Ma Myrtle, has announced that she's going to die and every one of their family members is trying to get Ma Myrtle's blessing to help with a family curse or blessing.  It's a complicated, magical story with awesome themes of family, good fortune, friendship, and making your own luck.  The story is fun and funny and fast paced.  I think the kids are going to love this one. I know I did.  

Sunday, August 27, 2017

The latest and greatest!

School started and YAY!  It's so much fun to be back and start talking about some of the awesome books I've been reading!  The kids are glad to be back too, even though they complain about getting up early and the structure of the day.  Here are some of the amazing books I'm looking forward to!

The first one is called "Vanished" by James Ponti.  It's the second in a series (and I hope there will be more!) about a middle schooler named Florian Bates who has developed a theory called T.O.A.S.T., the theory of all small things.  TOAST helps Florian to notice and put things together in ways that most people do not.  Florian's best friend is Margaret, a soccer player and musician who also like TOAST.  Together with a team from the FBI, they solve mysteries.  The mystery in this book revolves around a series of pranks played at an exclusive prep school in Washington, DC.  Florian and Margaret attend a slightly less prestigious school and are rivals with Chatham and so when they show up there as transfer students, they blend in easily.  The story is exciting with lots of plot twists and connections to real news-the daughter of the president attends the school and plays a key role in the story.  There's also a Chinese musical prodigy and some of the political issues with China come into play.  And because it's middle school, there's also a bully as well as some conversation about friendship.  I really like this series and I think the kids will too.  Here's a link to a video of an interview published by the Orlando Sentinel with James Ponti about the book!

The second one is called "The Exact Location of Home" by Kate Messner.  I've you've never read anything by Kate Messner, this one is a great place to start, but be sure to read some of her other awesome works too!  This one is about Kirby, or Zig, as he likes to be called-it's short for Zigonski, and he's called Zig, just like his dad.  His dad calls himself Senior to keep things straight.  But Kirby hasn't seen his dad in quite sometime.  His dad is a real estate developer and travels a lot.  His parents have been divorced for awhile, but when dad doesn't show up, Kirby is really disappointed.  His mom doesn't seem to want to explain so Kirby uses a GPS that he finds and fixes to track down his dad via geocaching, which his dad loves to do.  However, there's another problem, Kirby's mom is struggling financially-she's trying to earn a nursing degree but her waitressing job isn't paying enough and when their landlady dies suddenly, they find themselves homeless.  This is a heartfelt story-you can exactly picture how this would go and Kirby handles it all with a lot of courage and heart.  I think kids are going to get a really great glimpse into the world of being homeless.  Thanks Kate Messner, for introducing us to a really awesome character and taking us places we didn't even know we wanted to go.  This one doesn't come out until October, but you should DEFINITELY look for it, or pre-order it immediately!

The last one is already out, but it's still pretty new.  It's called "Walking with Miss Millie" by Tamara Bundy.  It's about Alice, who is also missing her absentee father.  Alice and her mom and her little brother (who is deaf) have moved to Alice's mom and dad's hometown, Rainbow, GA from Columbus, OH to take care of Alice's grandmother who is forgetting things.  It's 1968 and Martin Luther King Jr. was just assassinated.  Alice really wants to go home, but in the meantime, she's trying to figure things out in this small southern town.  The first thing is that her house is on a party line- which means that when the phone rings, it isn't always for her.  She listens in on some juicy small town gossip and her mother reprimands her. As a consequence, she must go and apologize to the neighbor she was eavesdropping on and offer to help her in someway.  This is her introduction to Miss Millie, her grandmother's 92 year old neighbor.  Miss Millie accepts Alice's apology and says she would love it if Alice would walk her dog.  Except that Clarence,  the dog, refuses to go.  So Miss Millie goes with them.  She and Alice start talking and pretty soon, Alice is really looking forward to talking with Miss Millie.  This is a lovely story of friendship and aging and how to deal with awful things in your life.  It will remind you a bit of 'Because of Winn-Dixie" by Kate DiCamillo, in the best possible way.   Here's a book trailer by the author.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Thanks Alan Gratz

I've been reading a TON of children's literature this summer (if you enjoy data, I've read 212 books since school got out).  However, it's been quite some time since I picked up a chapter book and finished it in ONE DAY and then kept talking about it to everyone I meet.  It's called "Ban this Book" by Alan Gratz.  

It's about a girl named Amy Anne.  She lives in Raleigh, NC with her mom and dad, two little sisters, and her big dogs named Flotsam and Jetsam.  Amy Anne loves to read and has strong opinions but often feels too embarrassed to share her opinions with anyone.  One day she goes to the library to re-check out her favorite book, "From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler" by E. L. Konigsburg, only to find that a parent has challenged this book (along with several others) and so it has been removed from the library.  Amy Anne is outraged and the librarian, Mrs. Jones, invites Amy Anne to come to the school board meeting where they are discussing the matter.  Amy Anne makes a list of reasons why she thinks the book should stay in her library and her parents take her to the meeting, but when it's time to stand up, Amy Anne is too afraid to say anything.  Everyone is disappointed and the book is removed from the library.  But Amy Anne's parents buy her a copy of the book so she can have it and her friend asks if she can borrow it.  Amy Anne loans her the book and then finds that lots of other kids want to read the books on the list, some of them want to read the book because it's on the list. Amy Anne sets up a little library in her school locker and starts loaning the books out to her friends.  What's really great about this is to watch how Gratz lets Amy Anne develop her own voice.  At the beginning of the book, she is censoring herself but by the end of the book, she's learned that speaking out can have big consequences (good and bad).  This is a very timely book, because in here in Florida, our state legislature has just passed a law that allows anyone to challenge a book (textbook or library book).  

For those of you unaware of this process, in the past, in public schools, if a parent found a title objectionable, they could go to the school and challenge the book.  Typically, there has to be some criteria for the challenge, like it has sexual content or language that is considered to be inappropriate for the audience.  Or it has issues that are considered too mature for the students.  The usual process was to have a conversation at the school level with the librarian as well as other people who work there to discuss how the book came to be in the library (or on the shelf) and what is the librarian's (or textbook manager) justification for having the book.  Usually people would come to an agreement there and the book would be removed from the library (or not) and everyone moved on with their lives.   The concern NOW is that if ANYONE is allowed to challenge a book that it might be very limiting to intellectual freedom.  So, I guess we'll have to wait and see how things shake out in the coming years.  But thanks Alan Gratz, for giving us a great story about how and why people challenge books and why it's a good idea to have conversations about what is appropriate or not appropriate for kids to be reading.  

In case you're wondering what kinds of books DO get challenged (in real life, not just in a book!).  Here's a link to a list of the top 10 books that got banned over the last several years.  

I can't wait to get this one into my library.  My students are going to LOVE this one.  

Saturday, July 29, 2017

More Sunshine State Young Readers

So my husband says to me this morning "We only have one more Monday off school."  Um, what???!!!  Wait!!!  How did THAT happen?  As I often say to people when they ask, "Are you ready to go back to school?"  "It doesn't matter if I'm ready or not, the kids are coming anyway!"

 I've been meaning to read all the Sunshine State Young Reader nominees for this year.  I tried downloading them from Mackin Via and I ended up with a spinning rainbow wheel of death, both on the iPad and on my laptop.  FINE.  So today I made a trip to the public library and happily, they had most of the titles I hadn't read yet.  YAY for public libraries!  I can't think why I waited so long to read this one, because it was terrific!  It's called "Save Me A Seat" by Sarah Weeks and Gita Varadarajan.  It's told from two different boys' perspectives.  Ravi and Joe are both in the same fifth grade class.  Ravi's family just moved from Bangalore, India where his family had been quite well to do and he did very well in school.  They are living with his grandparents in a much smaller house and without all the servants they had in India.  Joe has lived in this community all his life.  He has a learning disability and his mom just started to work at the cafeteria in his school because she lost her nursing job.  His dad is truck driver and so he's gone a lot.  There is a third boy, Dillon, who also plays a big part in the book.  Dillon is a bully and at first, Ravi thinks he and Dillon will be friends, but pretty soon Ravi figures out that's not going to be the case.  This is a terrific, fast paced story and each voice is very vivid.  I loved both of these guys and I LOVED the ending.  Don't miss this one!

Here's a book trailer for Save Me a Seat.

This second one is called "My brother is a superhero" by David Solomon.  It's about Luke, who is crazy about superheroes and comic books.  His older brother Zack is a serious student and all around good boy.  One day when they are hanging out in their treehouse (Zack is working on his homework and Luke is reading comic books), Luke has to go to the bathroom and when he gets back, Zach has been paid a visit by a space alien distributing super powers.  Luke is extremely disappointed but decides he's going to help Zach, since Zach knows nothing about super heroes.  Luke tries getting Zach a proper costume (Zach says no to a cape) and mask (no to that too) and he's struggling with a name, but the powers are something he can work with (as long as his parents don't figure it out).  It turns out there is a danger to the Earth AND to the world where the super power dispensing alien lives.  Zach's job is to get rid of the Nemesis.  What I thought was great about this one, in addition to the funny premise, is the language of the book.  It has some of the best figurative language I've read in a long time-smilies that will make you laugh out loud and metaphorical leaps that are just amazing.  There is also a character who makes vocabulary mistakes that are absolutely hilarious.  I think with the super hero tie and the funny language in this book, it's going to be a big hit.  

Here's the book trailer for "My Brother is a Superhero".

This last one is more a graphic novel than a traditional middle grade fiction book and it's also very funny.  It's about a little bird named Speed Bump.  Speed Bump has a big head and small wings and is not much good at flying.  He also wakes up late, so he never gets a worm, like his big brother, Early Bird.  He and his friend Slingshot decide they are going to go and look for food (Slingshot is always hungry and he speaks a little French-he's trying to impress a beautiful French hen he met).  They get lost and end up on a big adventure and ultimately try to save Early Bird's life.  It's a super quick story to read and there are so many funny things that happen (and especially if you like things that are kind of disgusting, like worms and poop), the kids are going to really love this one.   

This is the cover art.

And here's one of the inside pages.  You can see the art work is interesting AND funny.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Non fiction to look for

My students LOVE non-fiction books.  In fact, I'm always surprised when school librarians lament the fact that their students don't check out non-fiction books, because my kids check out at least as many non-fiction as fiction books, maybe more.  I'm really excited about some of these new titles that are coming out soon.

The first one is called "Her Right Foot" by Dave Eggers.  I'm a big fan of Dave Eggers work for adults and I really love his voice, so I was very intrigued his new book, which is a picture book.  The artwork is terrific-the first part has collages that have a very art deco period feel to them.  The second part is also collage, but more modern.  The text is amazing.  It's about the Statue of Liberty and the first part of the book has background information about the Statue of Liberty-how it was a gift from France, the architect Bartholdi, Eiffel's role, how it was put together in France and then taken apart, shipped to America, and put back together again.  But the second part of the book is what's pretty awesome.  The second part talks about how the right foot of the statute (which you may or may not have noticed) is taking a step forward.  Eggers puts forth some theories about WHY that is that are very topical to things going on the news today.  This would be a really great picture book to use with bigger kids because of Eggers' very conversational style but also for the questions posed.  I could also see using it with little kids, when I was a second grade classroom teacher, we used to do a unit national monuments and you could totally use it there too.  But this one is big.  Don't miss it.
The second one is a poetry anthology for kids about Walt Whitman.  There are poems with water color art work that help deepen the understanding of the poem.  Some of them are poems in their entirety and others are excerpts (which is noted).  There is also help along each page in the form of definitions of some of the more arcane or unusual words for the kids.  In the back, there are two pages with notes that give some background or a short explanation of what Whitman might have meant or how it fit into a larger historical context.  I can see this one being used as a mentor text easily because the poetry of Whitman is so beautiful.  Have the excerpts along with the vocabulary and the background information will make this one invaluable.  

The last one is an animal book, YAY!!!  It's called "The Great Penguin Rescue" by Sandra Markle.  She's published over 200 books, including the wildly popular series "What if you had an animal...?".  My students LOVE those, so you KNOW Sandra knows how to write for kids.  She's also written two other books about animal rescue, "The Great Leopard Rescue" about snow leopards and "The Great Monkey Rescue" about golden lion tamarins.  The other books have been big hits in my elementary school library and this "Great Penguin Rescue" is no exception.  It's about African penguins.  Did you even know there were penguins in Africa?  I totally did not, but apparently they are, and they are in danger.  Sandra uses clear text and engaging pictures to show all the dangers that penguins face as well as how scientists are trying to learn more about them and environmentalists are trying to help.  The pictures are big and vivid and there are maps and charts to help with comprehension.  My students LOVE books like this, so I can't wait to get this one into the library.  

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

New things to discover in middle grade books

I'm taking a break from reading picture books.  I've been visiting my parents and my brother in NC and the picture books are too heavy to bring along!  Thank goodness I have my iPad loaded with middle grade fiction.  There are some great ones coming soon!

The first one is called "The Shadow Weaver" by Marcykate Connolly.  It's about a girl named Emmeline who can weave shadows using magic.  What that means is that she can use her magic to get the shadows to do what she wants them to do.  It's a very cool power to have but her parents think it's creepy and scary.  Emmeline also has a shadow friend who encourages her to use her power and kind of helps her along with the magic.  Dar has been her friend since she was little and really, Emmeline's only friend.  One day some people come to Emmeline's home and offer to take Emmeline to cure her of her magic.  Emmeline's parents think this is a great idea, since they think the whole shadow weaving is kind of creepy and weird things have happened to people that Emmeline has disagreed with.  So Dar encourages Emmeline to run away.  As they run, it turns out soldiers are chasing them and Emmeline comes across a boy who also has magic but his magic is light and his parents are supportive.  Emmeline stays with them and with Dar's encouragement, lies to them about why she's running away and about her magical powers.  When all of the plot elements converge, it's a pretty exciting ride.  I really liked Emmeline and her evolution as a character. I loved the idea of magic that was based on light and shadows (lots of great symbolism there!) and I'm really happy to see that this the first in a series!

The second one is called "From Ant to Eagle" by Alex Lyttle.  It's about a boy named Cal who tells you in the second sentence of the book that he killed his brother.  Cal's family has moved to a small town in the country from their big city digs and Cal is trying to figure out how to survive in the country.  His brother, Sammy adores his big brother, and will do anything to try to make Cal happy and proud.  Cal comes ups with a series of tasks for Sammy to do that are extremely difficult so that Sammy will leave him alone.  Cal has his eye on a beautiful girl who has also just moved to their small town but she is quiet and seems to want to spend a lot of time alone.  About half way through the book, there's a kind of a plot twist, or maybe just the real point of the book.  I don't really want to put a spoiler here, but since you already know Sammy dies, it's kind of a moot point.  What's interesting about this story is about how all the different characters deal with Sammy's death-how each of Cal's parents deal with it, how the community deals with it and ultimately, how Cal deals with it.  This is going to be a really good one to have in the library-Cal is a really likable character and his parents are very believable.  Dealing with the loss of a child is incredibly difficult and this book will be a great opening for conversations on dealing with anyone's death.

The last one is a non-fiction book.  It's called "Out of the Box" by Jemma Westing.  It's book full of projects to make out of cardboard.  In the spirit of full disclosure, my aunt, who was also a teacher, absolutely adores paper projects and instilled in me a love of crafting and particularly paper projects. She might be getting a copy of this book for Christmas!  The book has 25 different projects in varying skill levels.  The beginning of the book tells you about different kinds of cardboard and has lists of some of the different tools you might need to be able to successfully complete the project. It also has a little scale to show you how difficult the project is and bunches of photographic examples of the project.  I think this would make an excellent book for a makerspace resource.  The projects are easy enough that they could be completed in a fairly short amount of time (especially if you already had the materials gathered) and the steps are laid out so clearly that they would be easy for even some of the kids with limited reading skills would be able to follow them.  I think the kids are going to love this one.  

Sunday, July 2, 2017

My new favorite books

I just looked at my Goodreads profile and it says I'm 62 books behind schedule for reading 400 books this year.  Rats.  I guess I'm going to have to pick up the pace a bit.  Thank goodness summer's here so I can have some time to read!  Through Goodreads, I belong to a group called Mock Newbery and they try to pick which book might win the Newbery  and although we don't seem to have guess correctly yet, they have THE BEST suggestions for books.  This month we voted on 5 titles (See You In the Cosmos by Jack Cheng was the consensus for this month) but I read them all.  My new favorite is called "Crack in the Sea" by H. M. Bouwman.

This is Bouwman's second novel and I missed her first one.  This one is so big that it's a bit hard to describe.  It starts with two main characters, a brother and sister-Pip and Kinchen.  They are orphans but live with a kind old man named Ren who has adopted them and cared for them on an island that is quite far away from other islands, so they rarely get visitors.  However, on the day the story starts, there are visitors from a place called Raftworld.  In particular, the visitors want to talk to Pip about his gift for talking to animals underwater.  It turns out the King of Raftworld has a plan for easing the overcrowding of Raftworld that involves Pip and his gift.  In addition to Pip's gift, he also has a problem recognizing faces, even faces of people he knows well, so his sister is very protective of him, so when the King is a bit insistent, she wants to walk away and take Pip with her and things really start to happen.  I don't want to give too much away because the unfolding of this story is part of what makes it so magical.  But let me tell you that there are historical touch points that will surprise you along with gigantic themes of finding yourself, trust, forgiveness and hope.  I loved this one so much!

My second new favorite is one I read as an advanced reader's copy from Netgalley.  It's called "Almost Paradise".  It's by Corabel Shofner and it's her first novel.  It has an array of very interesting characters-the main character and storyteller is Ruby Clyde Henderson.  She has led a tragically interesting life-her father was killed on her birthday in an armed robbery.  Her mother, who is not a strong person, has allowed people to steer her in different directions.  The latest person to do the steering is a man named Carl (who Ruby calls the Catfish) and he has a million great ideas on how to make money.  This doesn't end well for any of them, luckily, Ruby Clyde finds someone who will help take care of all of them.  It's a lovely story full of hope and love and funny things that happen in life.  I really liked all the characters in this story.  It would be great connected to another book that has similar themes - "The Honorable Perry T. Cook" by Leslie Connor.  Don't miss this one!

This last one is a YA book and it will be too big for my library, but I had a really hard time putting it down.  It's called "Fragile Like Us" by Sara Barnard.  It's told by a girl named Caddy who has a best friend since she was a little girl named Rosie.  They attend different schools (Caddy goes to a private all girls school and Rosie attends the local high school).  Caddy's parents have high expectations for and that's doubly difficult because Caddy's older sister has struggled with mental illness.  A new girl named Suzanne moves to their town and Rosie and Suzanne seem to becoming really good friends and Caddy is a bit jealous.  However, it turns out that Suzanne is struggling with some really big issues and Caddy really wants to be able to help.  Her family and Rosie try to tell Caddy to distance herself from Suzanne but Caddy keeps thinking things will get better.  It has a really interesting dynamic-you can see how people are drawn into difficult and enabling relationships.  I liked all of the girls and it was also possible to get some insight into the lives of English school girls-the English culture was very strong.  I thought it was a super compelling read and I think the high school kids would enjoy it a lot.  This one is coming out July 18, so look for it!

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Sunshine State Young Readers 2017-2018

So we've got the new list for the Sunshine State Young Readers for the middle grades.  I'm starting with the 3rd to 5th grade, because those are for my students, but I'm hoping I'll have time to read the 6-8 as well, because some of my favorites are on there too!

The first one I read this summer is called "Castle Hangnail" by Ursula Vernon.  I just got a series of books by Ursula Vernon for my school library about Harriet the Hamster Princess which is hilarious so I was looking forward to "Castle Hangnail" and I was NOT disappointed.  Castle Hangnail belongs to a witches guild and is in transition.  The old witch is gone and they are looking for a new witch.  There is a cast of minions that includes the caretaker (who has no name), a haunted suit of armor, a stuffed doll named Pins who takes care of wardrobe and furnishings, a minotaur that is the cook, and the cleaner, Serenissima, who is a water spirit that steams every thing clean.  They are a bit worried about the new witch, as they have had some bad experiences in the past.  They are very surprised when a witch named Molly turns up.  Molly is an evil twin (her sister Sarah is very pink and sparkly) and Molly is magical (she can turn invisible by holding her breath) but she has a lot to learn-especially since she's only 12.  The minions are a bit taken aback by her youth, but they do their best to make it work.  Molly is a very likable character but there are many surprises along the way.  There is a bit of mystery, but what's really great about this one is the dialogue and interplay between the characters.  I thought it was terrific.

Here's a book trailer about "Castle Hangnail".

And here's a little interview with Ursula Vernon about writing "Castle Hangnail".

The second one I read is called "A Dragon's Guide to the care and feeding of humans' by Laurence Yep.  Ms. Drake tells the story.  She's a dragon and her favorite pet, Fluffy, has just died.  Except, it turns out that Fluffy, who's real name was Amelia was a human and in addition to being a dragon's pet,  also had a niece and a grand niece, and before Fluffy/Amelia died, she drew up a will leaving her house to her niece and a letter explaining to her grand-niece, Winnie, how to find the dragon.  Winnie loves the idea of having a dragon, but Ms. Drake is not so sure.  Winnie eventually wins her over and as they are getting to know each other, Ms. Drake buys Winnie a drawing pad.  Unfortunately, the drawing pad has some unexpected magical powers, so Winnie and Ms. Drake have to work together to try to fix the mess.  This is a very entertaining story with lots of great plot twists and interesting magical creatures.  I think the kids are going to love this one.  

The third one, is called "Maxi's Secret" by Lynn Plourde.  I almost didn't read it, because it starts off, in my opinion, rather badly.  Here's the first line "Let's get this part over with-it's no secret.  My dog Maxi, dies."  Uggghhh.  Really?  I HATE this kind of book, you totally fall in love with the dog and then at the very last possible moment, the dog dies.  Gaaaahhhh.  Big ugly cry.  So really?  I want to spend my time reading this?  The answer is YES, yes, you do want to read this, because Timminy, Maxi's owner, is worth knowing, and actually, even more so, Timminy's friends are worth knowing.  

So Timminy starts telling this story, he's short, he gets picked on all the time.  His dad has taken a new job as an assistant principal in a school far away, so they have to move.  Timminy will be attending the same school where his dad is the assistant principal (so no pressure there).  Timminy's parents agree that he can have a dog, since they are going to be living more out in the country.  Timminy chooses a Great Pyrenees, which are these giant fluffy white dogs, bred in the mountains of France.  They have amazing personalities.  Timminy's dad thinks Maxine would be a great name for the puppy, but Timminy shortens it to Maxi.  They adore each other from the get-go, and Maxi helps Timminy meet some of the other kids in the neighborhood, including Rory, who is big and loud and starts teasing Timminy immediately as well as Abby, the girl next door, who was adopted by her parents (who are white, she's African American) and is blind.  One thing that's pretty interesting is what a negative thinker Timminy is.  But the more he is surrounded by positive thinkers, like Abby, the more he starts thinking positively.  This book as a lovely climax.  It would also be great connected to some of the other great dog stories for kids, like Because of Winn Dixie by Kate DiCamillo or Shiloh by Phyllis Reynolds  Naylor or, Wish by Barbara O'Connor  and yes, it's totally worth reading, even if the dog dies.