Sunday, May 28, 2017

Picture this... New picture books to look for

Summer vacation is almost upon us!  And how lucky to have some wonderful books to read!  This one is perfect for a stormy day.  It's called "Shelter" by Celine Claire.  It's about a community of animals that live independently.  One day a storm blows up.  The animals are secure in their homes, but some strangers come, seeking shelter and comfort.  They have cookies to share, but no one is willing to let them in.  A little fox gives them a lantern and the strangers go and create their own shelter.  But suddenly, the foxes' shelter is compromised.  Will they be able to find a safe place?  The soft watercolor paintings make this one really inviting.  This is a nice story about empathy and helping others.  It's going to be a good one to start the year with, when we are trying to create classroom communities.

The second one is a super cute book about dealing with a new baby.  Leon has a new baby at his house and he's not too sure about how that's going to work.  In Leon's way of thinking, there really isn't room for a new baby, until Leon has a really great and loving idea of where the baby can go.  The pictures are black crayon and oil, which gives them a lot of texture and interest, in spite of a limited color palette.  The penguins have more human faces than you might expect.  This will be a nice addition to all the books about dealing with babies like "The New Small Person" by Lauren Childs or "Peter's Chair" by Ezra Jack Keats.  

The last one is a circle story called "Leap!" by JonArno Lawson.  It starts off with a flea who takes a leap and sets in motion a series of actions, involving a large array of animals leaping.  The story is written in rhyme and it has  the most amazing array of language-such lovely words and descriptions of what the animals are doing and how that leads them to end of the book, (I don't really think this is a spoiler but it you don't want to know the ending before you read it, skip to the next paragraph please) where the dog and the flea finally go to sleep.

The art is watercolor and collage and the pictures are modern and exuberant and lots of fun.  The horse looks REALLY scared, which might make for a good conversation about understanding others feelings and body language.    I liked this one a lot.  

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Terrific new middle grade fiction

I can hardly believe that the school year is almost over and yet it is.  It seems like only yesterday we were just starting and now we're starting to put things away and dream of long days with less structure and MORE READING.  Some people have started to count down the days, but I don't do that until we are in the single digits.  So, here are a few books to put on your summer reading list!

The first one is called "The World's Greatest Chocolate Covered Pork Chops" by Ryan K. Sager.  It's a very funny story about a girl named Zoe who is the arguably with world's greatest chef.  She is, at the very least, the world's best young chef, as she is only 12 years old and already has her own restaurant and a large group of very loyal patrons.  Zoe wants to open her own restaurant and convinces her parents that she should be allowed to apply for a business loan as well as choose the location and then open the restaurant.  Her parents, who are jazz musicians, agree.  Once Zoe opens her restaurant, she is hoping that a local food writer will come and taste her food and then write about it in a positive way and that she will be named the best chef in San Francisco.  This book is heavy on the fun and the food but there is also a bit of a mystery.  I think kids are going to like this one a lot.

The second one is a more serious story.  It's called "Caleb and Kit" by Beth Vrabel.  I read Beth Vrabel's first book, "A Blind Guide to Stinkville" about a girl with albinism who moves across country to a small town in SC.  THAT one was awesome.  (Here's the review for Blind Guide to Stinkville).  This one is at least as good, maybe even better.  Caleb is 12 and has cystic fibrosis.  If you don't know what cystic fibrosis is, this book goes into great deal about the symptoms as well as some of the treatments and side effects of cystic fibrosis (and parts of it go into greater detail than you would hope).  But what's great about this book is the character development- the story is told from Caleb's point of view so you get to hear about what's rotten about being chronically ill (and possibly only living a short life) but through the arc of the story, Caleb also comes to understand his (nearly perfect) older brother Patrick, and his parents (who have two very different ways of dealing Caleb's condition). He also meets a girl who is living the life he wishes he could live-Kit is allowed to do what ever she wants-walk in the woods, take a dip in the creek, sleep outside, eat whatever she wants.  It all sounds pretty awesome, until he finds out why she's allowed all this flexibility.  This year, my students really seem to love stories where people are sick so I think this one is going to be very popular.  

This last one is already in print because I checked it out of my local library and it's SOOO wonderful.  It's called "Princess Cora and the Crocodile" and it's written by Laura Amy Schlitz and illustrated by Brian Floca.  Laura Amy Schlitz has written a number of awesome books, like "The Hired Girl" and "Good Masters!  Sweet Ladies!" which won the Newbery a few years back.  Brian Floca won the Caldecott a year or two ago with "Locomotive" so you might expect that this is going to be a terrific book.  Well, let me tell you.  IT IS.  It's about a princess named Cora.  When she's born, her parents take one look at her and fall completely in love with her-she's so pretty and so sweet looking.  They then start thinking about what a difficult job it will be to be queen so they set out to train her to strong (by jumping rope), smart (reading lots of books), and clean (taking lots of baths).  Cora is a good sport about this for awhile, but she gets to a point where she's looking for a way out.  So she asks her godmother for a dog.  Except the godmother sends a crocodile.  Their plan to solve Cora's problem is absolutely hilarious and the story comes to a lovely conclusion (which I am SO not going to tell you).  What's also great about this one is the art work.  The pictures are lovely soft water colors which will evoke old fashioned fairy tales, but they add so much to the story... the expressions on the characters' faces are wonderful and you almost feel like you're a part of the story.  I loved this one.  Don't miss it!

Monday, May 8, 2017

Awesome new YA

I've been rooting around in Netgalley for something good to read and I have been rewarded for my patience!  I found some really great YA books that will be published soon.  Check these out...

The first one is called "Shooter" by Caroline Pignat.  It's told from the point of view of 5 very different high schools students.  Isabelle, or Izzy,  is the class president but worries about not being enough.  Hogan is a former football player who has some big issues surrounding his temper.  Xander is a photographer who struggles with social skills (the author never names his diagnosis but you could assume it was Asperger's or possibly high functioning autism).  Noah is definitely autistic and has limited self control.  Alice is his sister who worries about him and tries as much as she can to protect him.  They all end up in a boys bathroom at the school during a lockdown, which the kids initially assume is a drill, but it turns out, it's a real emergency.  I really liked each of these characters for lots of different reasons.  Each has a distinctive and remarkably likable voice.  They are each dealing with their own demons and this crisis brings many of their problems to a place where they can deal with them.  The writing was very fast paced and super hard to put down.  I really liked this one a lot.  It's too big for my elementary school library but this one will be great for high school students.

This next one is from a terrific author, Carol Weston.  She has written several other books that I've enjoyed very much (like Ava and Pip)   I'm writing about her latest book, "The Speed of Life" here in a YA post, because to me, it felt like it was too big for the small end of middle grade fiction.  That's where I live-deep in the dark heart of an ELEMENTARY school library.  I think it's too big for third graders.  There might be some fourth graders who need it, but really-5th grade and up.  It's about a girl named Sofia.  She lives with her dad in an apartment in NY City.  Her mother died the year before and its been really hard on Sofia and her dad, but they are muddling through.  Like many teen age girls, Sofia is worried about dating (she isn't yet, should she be?) and body issues (like periods!  And bras!  and chest sizes!).  An advice columnist comes to their school and speaks very frankly about all of these topics and Sofia starts emailing her and the columnist responds!  The author does an amazing job of weaving lots of social issues into this one-coping with death, multiculturalism, puberty, dating, premarital sex, abortion, gay relationships, and friendship, just to name a few.  Sofia is a terrific character, but the other characters are awesome as well-her dad, the advice columnist, her best friend KiKi, her new stepsister, Alexa.  I was really sorry when this book was over!  

Here's the author, Carol Weston, talking about the book.

The last one has a really great art connection.  It's called "Piecing Me Together" by Renee Watson.  It's about Jade who is a very talented collage artist and loves making art pieces.  She lives with her mom and her older brother.  Her mother works hard and has made it possible for Jade to attend an exclusive private school in another part of Portland, Oregon, where they live.  Jade has to ride the city bus a long way to get to school and she feels like an outsider there, not just because of her appearance but because of where she lives, what she likes to eat, what she likes to do, everything is different.  She notices another girl riding the same bus every day and strikes up a friendship with her.  Jade also has a mentor that she is somewhat ambivalent about-she's not sure exactly why Maxine wants to be her mentor or even if Maxine is really that interested in her.  I really liked Jade and her voice-I could really feel her emotions and understand what her life is like.  One of the big themes that I think a lot of kids will relate to is the idea that you want to leave home for all sorts of reasons, but leaving is hard and scary and will it be any better some place else?  I loved all the different struggles Jade was having and was sorry when this one was over too.  I think lots of kids are going to enjoy getting to know her too!