Sunday, February 19, 2017

Things to look for! Middle grade fiction

I've had a little time this weekend to dip back into Netgalley.  Boy, it feels like it's been a long time since I read something on a device!  The good news is, my devices still work and Netgalley has some great things to read!  This first one is SOOO much fun.  It's called "The Amazing Crafty Cat" by Charise Mericle Harper.  It's about a girl named Birdie who is exuberant and cheerful and loves to craft.  In fact, she loves to craft so much, that she has created an alternate ego, a super hero, named Crafty Cat, who can swoop in and save the day.  It's Birdie's birthday and Birdie (and Crafty Cat) have come together to create the greatest birthday break ever.  They've created panda cupcakes that are delicious and adorable and everyone, even the evil villain, Anya, will think it's the greatest birthday break in the history of the world.  Except that there is an accident on the way to school and series of mishaps that might get even the most cheerful person down.  Thank goodness for Crafty Cat who comes in and saves the day with amazing panda crafts.  This book is so much fun.  The line drawings are very simple (similar to Diary of a Wimpy Kid) but very evocative.  The kids are really going to be able to identify with Birdie and her disastrous birthday.   They are also going to love the directions for the crafts at the end of the book.  This one is definitely coming to live in my library.

The second one is also a graphic novel.  This one is kind of a sequel, but it stands alone just fine.  It's called "Super Narwhal and Jelly Jolt" by Ben Clanton.  In the first book, "Narwhal: Unicorn of the Sea" we are introduced to Narhwal and Jelly who become friends.  In the second book, Narwhal decides he should be a super hero with super powers.  He also needs a sidekick, who also needs super powers.  There is some problem solving on choosing which power is the right one for a narwhal and jellyfish (this would be great as mentor text for opinion or persuasive writing) and the powers they settle on are so awesome that kids are going to be lining up to try to emulate them.  Narwhal is funny to the littler kids (like kindergarten and first grade) but the bigger kids at my school thought he was awesome too.  This one doesn't come out until May and I'm still waiting for my order of "Narwhal: Unicorn of the Sea" but I know the kids are going to love this one, maybe even more than the first one.  For even more fun, click here to see Ben's website about Narwhal and Jelly.  

This last one is the second in a series and I completely missed the first one, but this one is so good, I think I need to go back and read it!  The series is called the Secrets of the Seven and this title is called "The Eagle's Quill".  It's written by Sarah L. Thomson.  It's about three kids, Sam, Marty, and Theo.  They are all good at solving puzzles, which is good, because they are on a quest to find seven artifacts, all left in secret locations, by the Founding Fathers.  In this book, they are looking for the quill that Thomas Jefferson signed the Declaration of Independence with.  They have an adult friend, Evangeline, who helps out with logistics (like plane tickets and food) and is a member of a group called The Founders, who are meant to protect the artifacts.  However, there is an evil villain afoot and Gideon Arnold (a distant relative of Benedict Arnold) is determined to get all the artifacts in his possession.  I really liked the historical references but what's also fun is that each of the clues are set in national parks, so there is an element of science and nature too.  The characters are fun, if a little flat but there's a lot of exciting action that should make this series very compelling for a lot of kids.  

Thursday, February 2, 2017

New books for bigger kids

I've been reading a lot of picture books lately so it felt good to read some books that are definitely meant for bigger kids from Netgalley.  Bigger themes, bigger ideas, I do love picture books, but it's good to read lots of different things, right?

The first one is a dystopian future novel called "The List" by Patricia Forde.  It has a completely horrifying premise-in the future, a group of people survive an apocalyptic event and the leader decides the big thing that needs to change is language.  People use words carelessly or ineffectively and so the words must be eliminated.  The wordsmith, Benjamin has an apprentice, a girl named Letta who helps him craft the lists of words that people ARE allowed to use.  But one day Benjamin goes out on a word finding mission and doesn't come back.  Letta is frightened by his disappearance, but more alarmed by a handsome young man who turns up on her doorstep.  The young man is clearly fleeing from the local militia called gavvers and has been wounded.  In spite of her doubts, Letta brings the young man in and starts taking care of him.  It turns out the boy is from the underground movement known as the Desecrators.  They are artists and musicians who have refused to be limited by the List.  Letta is torn until she finds out Benjamin is not dead as she has been told.  Letta has to choose between the safety of following the rules and the leader she has always known or follow people she barely knows and try to overthrow the leaders.  It's very fast paced and exciting.  The characters are interesting and there are some terrific plot twists.  I think this would be a terrific story in the dystopian future genre and would give people a lot to talk about when compared with some of the other dystopian future books.

The second one is non-fiction.  It's more of a picture book, but it's not a picture book for little kids.  It's called "Stormy Seas: Stories of Young Boat Refugees" by Mary Beth Leatherdale.   You might be able to figure out that it's about kids who took to the sea to find refuge and you'd be right.  What's really great about this book is that it has lots of things to help readers figure things out-there's a table of contents, timelines showing the history of people coming to different countries by boat and why they would take the risk of coming across the ocean.  The heart of the book focuses on several kids from a variety of different countries.  It explains why the kids felt they needed to leave and then described their journeys, most of which were incredibly difficult and not exactly direct.  I think it came as a surprise to me that most refugees were not welcomed, even in some of the most obvious instances of need, like in World War 2 when the Jews were fleeing Germany.  The art work has strong graphic elements and I found it modern and appealing, almost raw.  I think this book would be a great addition to libraries to help kids (and adults) build background knowledge about the plight of refugees everywhere.  

The last one I got from my local library.  It's called "Freedom over me" by Ashley Bryan.  This is a work of historical fiction, based on a primary source document-a will from a slave owner, listing his property, which included several slaves, as well as farm animals.  In the author notes, Bryan tells how this document really stayed with him, that he kept thinking about the slaves and what their lives must have been like.  So the book profiles each slave.  There is a full page portrait in a primitive folk art style that is very compelling.  Then there is a full page poem describing the slave, including the slave's age, some background information (like how they came to the plantation, either on a slave ship or being purchased or gifted to slaveowner), the slave's name and connections to the other slaves.  The second poem talks about the slave's dreams-dreams of freedom and of being together with family, of being able to create their own art and their own lives.  The poetry makes these stories really accessible and immediate.  I think kids are really going to like this one, even if they might need some help getting started with it.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Non-fiction picture books

I've been lucky enough to get my hands on some really terrific non-fiction lately, thanks to CYBILS and Netgalley!   My students really love non-fiction so it's great to get some new things for my library!

The first one is called "Tortuga Squad: Kids Saving Sea Turtles in Costa Rica" by Cathleen Turnham.  It's about a group of kids who live on a small island just off the coast of Costa Rica.  It's a fairly poor island, but the kids and some of the adults are trying to help save the native animals.  It gives a really nice description of the strategies they use-protecting the eggs and the babies as well as advocating to the fishermen to try to change their nets to help keep turtles from drowning.  The text is fairly simple (it feels like it's aimed at 6-9 year olds) and has a somewhat narrative format.  There are some terrific diagrams that will help the reader understand some of the ways that people can keep fishing but still help turtles.  There is also a list of resources in the back to start any other budding naturalists along the way.  The photographs are bright and engaging-there are several of the kids from the island, which will help engage lots of readers, when they see the kids helping animals look just like them.  I thought this was a really great one-I KNOW my students are going to love it.

The second one is meant for  little kids.  It's called "Plants Can't Sit Still" by Rebecca Hirsch.  This book describes all the ways a plant can move.  It includes information about the way plants move (like phototropism) but it also includes things like how seeds move as well as carnivorous plants.  The text is almost poetic, with some terrific, interesting verbs to describe how plants move.  Even though this is clearly aimed at the younger kids, teachers will appreciate the specific vocabulary.  The pictures are collage and they are so filled movement, it feels like you could actually reach in and touch them.  I think kids will find this one fascinating.  

The last one is not a new one.  In fact, it won the Caldecott award last year.  It's called "Finding Winnie" by Lindsay Mattick.  It's the true story of Harry Colebourn, a Canadian veterinarian who served in World War 1.  In 1914, as he was being deployed, he came across a little bear cub and thought he would rescue it from the person who had it.  It wasn't a really great time to adopt a bear (being sent to war and all) but somehow he couldn't pass this little cub by.  He takes the cub to training and then on the transport ship to England.  When his group got ready to go to the front line, it was clear he couldn't keep the growing cub any more, so he took it to the London Zoo, where it turns out an author named A. A. Milne would bring his little boy, Christopher.  Part of what makes the story so great is the soft watercolor pictures that accompany the text as well as the family photos of Lindsay's grandfather and A. A. Milne in the back.  The kids really loved hearing about the true origin of one of their favorite storybook characters.  

Here's the book trailer and you can see Lindsay Mattick talking about her book!