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.