Monday, December 28, 2015

New recommendations

This week, I've stepped off the middle grade merry-go-round and I'm reading things my friends are recommending to me.  As you see the list, you'll see I have a pretty eclectic group of friends (lucky, lucky me!).

The first one came from one of my best friends.  She and I have been friends for a LONG time, former co-workers, carpoolers, and neighbors.  We have many books in common and this latest one, "The Nightingale"by Kristin Hannah  I COULD NOT IT PUT DOWN.  It's a World War 2 book and just when I think I'm never going to read another book about World War 2, someone nags me into reading one and this one was worth the nag!  It's about two young women who have grown up in France in the 1930s.  They are sisters but they are not close.  Their mother died before the story starts and their father did not feel that he could properly care for them.  The girls are fairly far apart in age, so the older one is basically left to care for the younger one.  The younger one is very needy and very willful and gets into a lot of trouble.  The older one is afraid of everything and goes along just to get along.  Then World War 2 starts and who are now young women (and the older one is married and has a child) have to figure out how to live in an occupied country and where are they willing to stand up.  I really loved the characters in this one-they are multi-faceted and just when you think you know how they will react, they surprise you.  I also loved the setting-my sister has a home in France and it was easy for me to get a visual image of the villages as well as of Paris.  I was surprised to see that Kristen Hannah had written 22 books so I'm thinking I might need to go back to the library to find a few more of these!

The second one was recommended by one of my former students.  She was doing a presentation at my current school and I was very happily surprised to run into her.  She is an amazing young woman.  I asked what she'd read lately that she liked and she recommended "Gone" by Michael Grant.  I mentioned it to my nephew, who is also in 9th grade and he ordered it immediately.  I was lucky enough to find it at my local library and wow is it good.  It has a really amazing premise.  Modern day, small beach town in California, pretty ordinary day, when suddenly, everyone over 15 disappears.  Kids are surprised and try to figure out what's going on.  Some kids step up to take leadership positions (some that are very scary and seem to be bullies).  Some kids are trying to figure out why this has happened and maybe find a way out.  What's really great about this one (besides the completely amazing premise, are the characters.  The characters are very believable and remind you people you know (well, at least they reminded me of people I know).  The actions they take seem completely reasonable but the plot twists are gobsmacking.  It also appears that this is the start of a series, for which I am very grateful.  The characters were interesting enough that I'd like to see where this going.  

The last one might be a bit of a stretch calling it a recommendation.  I heard Nicholas Gannon speak at the Miami Book Fair about his book "The Doldrums".  I wasn't the only one in the room, but I'm pretty sure he wanted me to read it.  He made it sound so terrific that I immediately went home and put it on hold at my local library.  After several weeks of waiting, I finally got it and it was totally worth the wait.  As Nicholas explained it to me (and everyone else in the room at the Book Fair), the book is about a boy named Archer, who desperately wants to go on adventure.  His grandparents are very big adventurers, but sadly they have disappeared while studying penguins on an iceberg.  His mother believes that Archer is in danger and must protect him at all costs, including sending him to boarding school (which she keeps threatening but hasn't gone through with yet).  He talks to the taxidermy stuffed animals in his house (who are hilarious) and finally finds a friend and then they meet another character who has a very intriguing background.  I hope it's not too much of a spoiler (HE told us about it!), but there is also a girl who is training to be a ballerina but has a tragic accident that involves a truck carrying croissants and some seagulls and a lamppost and ends up with a wooden leg.   It's a very exciting book and the other thing that's really great about this one is the art work.  There are colored pictures dispersed through out the book (like old fashioned colored plates) and they are luminous.  They really set a mood for the story and I loved them.  I also loved the story that Nicholas told that he was doing some of the sketching of ideas as he was building a house in upstate NY.  Someone has some very interesting drawings in their walls!  Anyway, this one has one of  the freshest voices I've heard in quite some time and I really liked it.  
Here is a link to book trailer.   It's full of all the amazing art that Nicholas put in the book.  And here's the cover. 

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Caldecott Contenders

In case you didn't know, the Caldecott award is given each year to the best picture book of the year.  I dipped into that list this week and found one I missed from last year and two that look good for this year's award.

The one from last year is called "The Farmer and the Clown" by Marla Frazee.  It's a wordless picture book and I don't understand how I missed this one.  But ok.  I have it now and it's really great.  It's about a farmer who lives and works out on a barren plain.  The perspective on these pictures is so broad it gives this very visceral sense of loneliness.  The facial expressions on the farmer (at first) lead to you believe he is a crotchety old man but as the story progress, you start thinking differently.  As he's working out in the fields one day, a train goes past in the distance.  Something falls off the train and the farmer goes to investigate.  He finds a small clown and without a lot of options, he brings the clown home.  At first, the farmer is a bit puzzled but gradually he figures it out.  I won't tell you any more because I just loved how the story unfolded and I'd love for you to be able to experience it for yourself.  This would be a great book for teaching story structure as well as story telling.

Here's a video of the book with some nice music.

The second one is by a children's author who always tells a great story- Eve Bunting.  This one is no exception.  It's called "Yard Sale".  It's about a girl who's family is moving from their big house into a small apartment because the family is having money troubles.  The new apartment is so small she won't even have her bedroom, she will have a new magical bed in the living room that folds down.  They are having a yard sale to get rid of some of the things they won't need.  The people who come to buy things are very kind but it's really hard to see your things (especially things you really like) going away.  I think this is book that will fill a very specific need but I think it can also help with empathy and helping kids to understand that there are people that don't have as many things as some people have. The pictures in this one are really great too.  They are very realistic with soft colors and a lot of emotional depth.   This would be good connected to an old one called "Tight Times" by Barbara Shook Hazen.  

The last one is called "The Whisper" by Pamela Zagarenski.  This one was definitely the most interesting and unusual of the three.  I read it twice just to make sure I caught all the details in the pictures, because there are a lot of them.  It's about a girl who gets a book from her teacher.  Her teacher tells her that she had been given this magical book by her grandmother when she was about the girl's age and asks if the girl would like to borrow it.  The girl eagerly accepts and runs home to enjoy the book.  Alas, when she gets home, the words have flown out of the book but a voice whispers to her that she can make up her own stories.  It's not easy at first, but she keeps going and suddenly, there are amazing stories with surprising characters and wonderful settings.  I think this would be a great book to use to inspire young writers.  The pictures call out for your attention and have many layers of details and each page takes the story in a completely different direction.  It can be a bit confusing (at least it was to me, which might be why I wanted to read it twice).  I really liked it.  It felt like a magical adventure and I'd really like to share it with some kids to see what they thought.  

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Brand new titles

This week, my group voted for the titles in middle grade fiction that we wanted to move on to the next round of voting.  Five titles made it into the next round and while I'm pleased with all of the titles that got through, I AM sworn to secrecy.  All will be revealed VERY SOON.  In the meantime, I am staying FAR, FAR away from realistic fiction at the moment.  I think all of us in the group had read ENOUGH about dead parents, dead siblings, dead best friends to last for awhile.

So I'm back to Netgalley and there are some really terrific titles there that aren't out yet but will be soon.  The first one is called "The Goblin's Puzzle" by Andrew S. Chilton.  It's about three kids, a boy and two girls named Alice.  The boy doesn't have a name because he is a slave and who would bother to name a slave.  He leads a slavish existence (no pun intended but he is a slave to some not very nice people) until one day, fate intervenes.  The boy is a big believer in fate and meets a goblin who tells him if the boy helps the goblin, that the goblin will also help the boy in some very specific ways.  At the same time, Plain Alice (who is not a princess, but just regular, Plain Alice) is mistakenly kidnapped by a dragon, who is being held hostage by an evil man.  When their paths cross, it's really very witty.  There is a lot of logic involved and some really great vocabulary.  It's kind of slow going (and a little gory) at first, but I really loved the trusting hopefulness of the boy and the trickery of goblin.  I didn't like how most of the adults were complete oafs but I think that's part of what made it so funny.  I liked this one a lot.

The second one I read is called "Red" by Liesl Shurtliff.  I am a huge fan of Liesl's work and I was lucky enough to get to meet her when she came to an event here in Palm Beach County called "April is for Authors".  She came and spoke at my school and she is an amazing author and a really terrific speaker.  I'll try not to gush about how awesome I thought this book was, but it was AWESOME.  Liesl has written two other books that are fairy tale adaptations.  Her first one Rump was about Rumplestiltskin.  The second one was Jack and it was about Jack and the Beanstalk.  This one is Red and it's about Little Red Riding Hood.  Red is a character who was introduced back in Rump and she's a little scary.  In the place where these stories take place, names hold a lot of power.  Red is color of passion and anger and Red has a lot of uncontrolled magic.  Red goes to visit her grandmother and her grandmother gets sick.  Red decides to go off in search of a cure.  What's really great about this story is how Liesl weaves all these different fairy tales into one story.  There are guest appearances from Snow White and Rose Red, the Huntsman, the Wolf, Goldilocks, and a very cranky dwarf.  It's funny, exciting, and has a great message.  I loved Rump and Jack but I think this one might be the best one yet.  

The last one is non fiction (oh it is SO GOOD to read different genres!).  It's called "Our Heroes" by Janet Wilson.  It's about kids who are making a difference.  Each double page spread profiles one child.  There is large illustration plus photographs.  There is a short amount of text profiling the child and an overview of their project as well as a text box that tells more details about their project.  The stories are short enough to be intriguing and will probably inspire some research because I think kids will want to know more about some of the featured kids.  This one is going to be great in my school library because we do a unit in the spring about social issues and this one will be a great companion piece to the novels the kids usually read.  

Monday, December 14, 2015

And now for something completely different.

So after WEEKS of reading middle grade fiction for the CYBILS award (which I totally loved doing), I was REALLY ready for something different.  I looked on Netgalley and picked one that I had downloaded quite some time ago and dove in.  It's a young adult book called "The Serpent King" by Jeff Zentner and I timed it sort of badly.  I wanted to read a bit before I went to bed so I got into bed and started reading with about 150 pages to go and no ambition to finish it.  And then I couldn't stop reading it.  Once I got done reading it, I couldn't sleep for thinking about the characters.  It was totally worth feeling sleep deprived today! It's about three kids who are seniors in high school in a small town in Tennessee.  They all feel like outcasts for various reasons but only Lydia has a plan to get out.  As she continues to plan and talk about her plans, the boys, Dill and Travis, start to think maybe they should get out too.  There are themes of bullying (and Lydia is a MASTER at dealing with bullies), families, church, redemption and friendship.  The dialogue is terrific and these are some of the most interesting characters I've read in quite some time.  This is definitely a YA book though... too mature for my students.

The second one I read was a fairy tale.  Oh my, I do love a fairy tale and this one has a main character after my own heart. It's called "Baker's Magic" by Diane Zahler.   Bee is an orphan who is trying to find her way.  In desperation, she wanders into a bakery one day and steals a delicious bun.  She's caught but the baker wants her to work for him rather than punish her.  He's a kind man but they soon find out that Bee's feelings come out in her baking.  One day, the mage (the princess' guardian) sends for some of their pastries and Bee gets a chance to meet the princess and uncovers a plot to marry her off.  The story is filled with amazing vocabulary (the princess is quite the reader) as well as thrilling adventures, pirates, magic, and evil villains.  A first class story.  

This last one I picked because I know my students will love it (even before I read it).  It's called "How to Draw Sharks" by Arkady Roytman.  My students love sharks and they love drawing books so unless this book was wrapped in dirty socks, I'm pretty sure they are going to love it.  The drawing pages are clear, with simple shapes and a smooth progression from one step to the next.  The only thing I didn't really love is that after each page of directions there is a practice page.  As the LIBRARIAN, I'm only worried that the first kid who checks it out is going to draw all over the book and I will have to replace it.  But other than that, I think it will be a great addition to our library.  

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Trying to finish! CYBILS books 2015

I'm getting down the end of the list (and sadly, the end of the time frame!).  We are supposed to come to consensus this week about which books made the short list.  Fortunately, the other people on the committee are WAY more decisive than I am so it sounds like the process shouldn't be too painful, I hope!  I did read a few this week that I really loved.

The first one is historical fiction.  It's called "I Don't Know How the Story Ends" by J. B. Cheaney.  It's set in Hollywood during the first World War, which, in my opinion, is an underserved era of historical fiction.  What's great about this book is that the war serves as a backdrop to the story, it really isn't THE story.  THE story is about the beginning of the film industry and telling a story and it is terrific.  Isobel's dad has gone off to serve in the war and rather than stay in their home town of Seattle during the summer vacation, Isobel's mom decides to take her and her sister Sylvie to visit her sister (the girls' aunt).  Aunt Buzzy has married a studio executive and has a stepson named Ranger who is DYING to make movies.  He enlists the girls in a movie making project and we all learn a lot about making movies.  There are also tons of references to early films and directors that would make for a terrific research project.  The story also gets a helping of the usual middle grade drama with the dad's return home from war.  One of the things I really loved about this book was the language.  There are lots of great similes and the language the author uses (the period slang) was terrific).  I think kids will really love this one.

The second one is one that felt really familiar.  It's called "Extraordinary" by Miriam Spitzer Franklin.  It's modern fiction about Pansy who starting fifth grade.  Fifth grade is going to be really different for Pansy because she's going to be without her best friend, Anna.  Anna contracted spinal meningitis and then had a stroke and has severe brain damage.  Pansy feels badly that she and Anna had argued before Anna left to go to camp and that she never had a chance to apologize, so Pansy sets out to be extraordinary, so when Anna is better, she will see what a good friend Pansy really is.  It felt a lot like "The Thing about Jellyfish" by Ali Benjamin, where the main character was trying to make amends and it's also sort of like "Out of My Mind" by Sharon Draper because you can come to understand what it must be like to live with a long term disability.  In either case, my students seem to love dramas like this one, so I think it will be a big hit.  

This last one is one I'm rooting for to be on the shortlist.  I read it back in July as an advanced readers copy and I really liked it.  It's called "Night on Fire" by Ronald Kidd.  It's about two girls growing up in Alabama in 1961.  One is white and one is black.  When the Freedom Riders come to town Billie (the white girl) finds herself questioning many things she believed to be true.  Is it ok for black people and white people to be separated?  To what lengths should we go to keep things the same or make changes?  Is it ok to be look the other way when people are being hurt?  Do the people I know love me the way I thought they did?  Are my family members good people?  Am I good person?  I loved all the questions Billie raised and I thought it was a thought provoking read.  I can't wait to get it into my library.

And that's the end of the CYBILS reading!  YAY!!!

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Strong girl voices

The books I picked this week seem all have very strong, modern girl main characters.  I worry that these will not be appealing to boys, but their voices are very fresh and very fun.

This first one was just adorable.  It's called "Dream On Amber" by Emma Shevah.  It's about 11 year old Amber who lives with her mother and little sister Bella.  Her nonna lives close by but her dad is just gone (and without an explanation, Amber makes up her own stories about why he isn't there).  As they are walking home through the park, Amber and Bella see a dad and his daughter and Bella is reminded how much SHE misses their dad.  So when Bella writes a letter to her dad inviting him to her birthday party, Amber knows how sad it will make her mom, so she writes back to Bella.  But Bella either misinterprets the letter or doesn't read it properly, because she believes their dad is coming to the party.  Additionally, Amber is starting middle school and doesn't really have any friends, she has a tragically old phone, and a bit of a germ phobia.  She also has a very creative mind, a terrific talent for art and spectacularly fresh voice.  I'm not sure this one really belongs on my short list, because I'm not sure that any boy would pick it up, but I know it's going to be a BIG favorite with the girls.

This second one might have a better chance with the boys.  It's called "How to Outswim a shark without a snorkel" by Jess Keating.  I think this is the follow up to another book called "How to Outrun a Crocodile When Your Shoes are Untied" because there are several references to past incidences, but I didn't read that one and this one is a good story even without that backstory.  It's about Ana, who is going into 8th grade which means she is 12 (I think).  Her grandfather is a famous zoologist and last year, she became a presenter at the zoo about reptiles (which she knows a lot about).  Her best friend has moved to New Zealand and seems to have a new life, which leaves Ana a bit adrift.  However, her grandfather has a big surprise for her.  A new aquatic exhibit at the zoo, which he would like her to help out with.  Help also comes in the form her nemesis, Ashley, who is also volunteering at the zoo for the summer.  There is lots of great animal information and some pretty terrific quotes (the opening one from Neil DeGrasse Tyson!).  But there is also quite a bit of conversation about how butts look in bathing suits or skirts, bras (needing them or not), and hot boys.  I think the middle schoolers might like this one better.  I'm pretty sure the boys at my elementary school would drop this like a hot potato when it got to a scene like that.  It is a fun and funny read though.  

This last one also had such a fresh voice!  It's called "A Blind Guide to Stinkville" by Beth Vrabel.  It's about 12 year old Alice.  Her family has just moved to Sinkville, SC, where her dad is the new manager of the local paper mill (which helps give the town its nickname-Stinkville).  Alice's mom is not coping well with the move.  In fact, she's suffering from depression and is struggling just to get out of bed in the mornings.  It's a good thing it's summer vacation, but Alice's older brother is really angry that his dad is too busy to help, so he isn't as much fun to be around as he might be.  Alice ends up seeking refuge at the local library where she meets some of the locals, including a really great girl named Kerica and a not so great one named Sandi. Did I mention that Alice is also visually impaired as a result of her albinism?  Alice gets wind of an essay contest about the success of Sinkville and decides to enter.  She uses the stories of the people that she's met.  It's a great story about resilience, and living with a different kind of ability, and friendship.  I really loved this one.  

Friday, November 27, 2015

My not so very short list for CYBILS

So I think I must stink at this.  Making a short list, that is.  I have the longest short list of all the people in my group.  Sigh.  But I LOVE these books.  I just looked at the list again.  The other people in my group have a nice manageable number like 5.  I have FOURTEEN.  I really just looked at it critically again (right after I added another book).  But it was SOOO good.

This one is called "We are all made of molecules" by Susin Nielsen and she has got author's voice NAILED.  This story is told from two different points of view and even though the chapters are headed with the person who is telling the story, you totally don't need it because each character's voice shines through in the best (and often most hilarious) possible way.  The story is told by Stewart and Ashley.  Stewart is a very intelligent but socially awkward 12 year old.  His mom died about a year and half ago and his dad has been dating a woman he works with and they decide to move in together.  Ashley's parents split up about the same time because Ashley's dad is gay and Ashley (who is 13) decided this wasn't good for her social capital, so she didn't tell any of her friends and is barely speaking to her father.  Ashley is very interested in appearances (particularly fashion) and misuses words (to hilarious effect).  When Stewart starts attending Ashley's school, he has to navigate the whole social scene, which includes some pretty awful bullying (in a locker room).  Part of what makes this book so awesome is Stewart's sense of what's right and how to get to that place of having people treat you nicely.  This one would be great paired up with "Wonder" by R. J. Palaccio or "Counting by 7's" by Holly Goldberg Sloan.

I'm still debating about putting this one on the short list.  I really loved it but one of my fellow reviewers totally panned it.  I often wonder when that happens if I've given up on some of the books too soon.  It's surprising how much our background information plays into our experience as readers. Anyway, this one is called "Catch you later, traitor" by Avi.  It's about 13 year old Pete, who is growing up in Brooklyn in April 1951.  He likes baseball and hanging out with his friends and reading Sam Spade mysteries.  He even fancies himself a writer and writes passages in the style of Dashiell Hammet (which I enjoyed very much AND would make a great compare and contrast feature as well as talking about author's voice).  After parent night at school, Pete's teacher, Mr. Donovan, starts dropping hints that Pete's dad, a college professor, is actually a Communist.  After a few days, it's not so much hints, as full out bullying.  Pete is then visited by the FBI (when his parents aren't home) and he starts believing that maybe his dad has somethings that he hasn't fully explained. I loved the mystery aspect of the story (who IS informing to the FBI?) as well as the family dynamics and the historical perspective is terrific.  I think this is a great book.  

Here's a little piece of an interview with the author, Avi, telling about the importance of the setting in this story.

This last one, I also really loved.  It's called "Dear Hank Williams" by Kimberly Willis Holt.  It's historical fiction, set in Alabama in 1948 and it's told (unsurprisingly) in fan type letters to Hank Williams from 11 year old Tate P. (who is a girl).  She lives in a very small town with her great aunt and her little brother and a great uncle.  Through the letters she explains that (in addition to being a very big Hank Williams fan) she lives with her great aunt because her grandparents were killed in a car accident and her parents are both on the road (her mother is a motion picture deal and her father is a world famous photographer).  But it turns out that her mother isn't really in a motion picture deal and her father isn't really a photographer.  I really liked the voice of Tate as she comes to terms with some of the real life things that happened.  There are some interesting references to racism (both to blacks as well as to post World War 2 Japanese).  There are a lot of interesting musical references, which might be interesting to some kids, but what really pulled me in was Tate.  I really loved her character and her voice.  She describes herself as an optimist and she really is.  I loved her sunny disposition and her struggle to maintain that optimism.  Loved her!  

Sunday, November 15, 2015

More new picture books from Netgalley

Wow, are these some good ones and you'll have to keep an eye out for them, because I just tried to order them and they haven't hit the stores yet.  They are totally worth waiting for.  Check these out!

The first one is called Build Beaver Build by Sandra Markle.  The art work in this one is amazing.  The pictures are very detailed and so pretty!  It's about a young male beaver living in a dam with his family.  It shows how he grows and changes, how he gets food, how he avoids predators, how he plays with his sisters.  It's really a very thorough story of the life cycle and habits of a beaver.  Here in south Florida, we don't have beavers so I think my kids will be super interested to read about them in such an inviting and lovely book.  It's set to be replaced at the end of January, which should be an awesome time of year to get this one on the shelves, when the beavers are really having their babies and starting to be more active.  

The second one is called "Whose hands are these?" by Miranda Paul and I think this one is going to end up in practically every library that has little kids visiting.  It's a riddle book about community workers, so it's a super fun way to talk about peoples' jobs and the things they do while they are at work.  The text is rhyming so the kids will have fun guessing based on the rhymes.  The pictures are bright and adorable.  I loved this one and I can't wait to get it into my library.   But I will have to be patient (I'm trying not to whine about that), because this one also won't be released until the end of January (but I want it NOOOWWWW).  

The last one is a poetry book.  It's called "When the Sun Shines on Antarctica" by Irene Latham.  Unsurprisingly, it's a poems about the animals and geography of Antarctica.  What's really great about it is, that in addition to poetry and the lively pictures, are facts about the animals as well as some of the impacts of climate change.  This is going to be another one that lots of teachers are going to want to have because of the easy way to compare and contrast the poetry and the factual information.  Awesome!  This one won't be available until February.  Ok, I'm going to try to not whine about that either, but I'm REALLY going to have to work on being patient.  This one would be great paired up with Helen Cowcher's lovely picture book "Antarctica".  

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Picture books from Netgalley

So I've been completely underwater with the books from CYBILS over the last few weeks.  I've had over 40 books laying on my coffee table, waiting patiently for me to pick them up (or if you are thinking negatively about it, having been sitting there in a surly silence waiting for me to pick them up, but I prefer the positive).  My students are shocked that I can usually get through one chapter book in a day, but they are easily impressed.  I am, however, feeling a little tired of the middle grade genre.  Too much death, too much drama, I needed a break.  So this afternoon, I started reading picture books.  The ones I picked are just terrific.  Just what I needed for a little literary pick me up.

The first one is called "A Tower of Giraffes" by Anna Wright.  It's basically a list of unusual collective nouns with some facts about the animals thrown in.  The text is interesting and kids will like it, but what's really awesome about this book is the pictures.  The animals are drawn (it looks like ink drawings to me, but I'm not really an expert) in a very realistic way and the expressions of the animals is terrific.  Then, she puts pieces of fabric over the animals' bodies and sometimes it looks hilarious and sometimes it's just plain gorgeous.  I think kids are going to love this one for it's balance of art and science.  Check out this picture of a group of flamingos.
 or this one of mice and hedgehogs. Fabulous!

The second one is called "Will's Words: How William Shakespeare change the way you talk" by Jane Sutcliffe and illustrated by John Shelley.  This book is a short history of William Shakespeare's life and it's beautifully illustrated.  It has side panels that tell the story.  On the left hand side of the page, there is a bit of William Shakespeare's life story and on the right side are some of the words and phrases he coined, along with citations of where they came from and what they mean.  It's a really brilliant piece of work and will inspire a lot of people to read more Shakespeare.  

The last one is not from Netgalley but I heard about it as a possible Caldecott contender.  It's called "Two Mice" by Sergio Ruzzier.  It's a very simple story about (not surprisingly) two mice.  The two mice appear to be best friends because they pretty much do everything together and for the most part, they get along very well.  What's really clever about the book is the very limited number of words for the story and how the story is told primarily with numbers and nouns. So here's an example:

And one more just because I can. 

See what I mean?  Completely adorable!  I think kids are going to love this one.  I know I did.  

It's noisy out there-more CYBILS books

I've been thinking a lot this week about how difficult it is to get noticed.  In particular, I was thinking about the database I wrote-The Booksearch- that lets you search for books based on the skill you want to teach (I'm struggling with marketing it).  But it actually must be exactly the same for authors. I've read some really great books this week that I think my kids will like a lot, but I never heard of them and I'm pretty sure unless someone with a very loud voice stands up to say "This is awesome, don't miss it", it's going to be relegated to a dusty corner of a shelf where in 10 years, someone's going to say "Why on EARTH did anyone buy this book?"  (Which I know happens, because I've been doing THAT this week too.)  So here goes... I'm adding my voice to the cacophony of noise already around you!

The first one is "The Girl in the Torch" by Robert Sharenow.  It's the story of Sarah, who lives in eastern Europe with her mom and dad.  It's not an easy life, but it's the one they know.  One night, a group of horsemen comes through their village and kills Sarah's dad along with several other men.  Sarah and her mom decide they need to leave their village and go to America to find Sarah's aunt, who lives in a beautiful place called 'Brookalin".  They get on a boat and Sarah's mom gets terribly sea sick so Sarah takes care of her the whole time.  When they get to NY, they are separated (at the time, the authorities would not let you in if you were sick, you went to quarantine).  Sarah gets word a few days later that her mom died and she is going to go back to Russia to live with her uncle, who never gave the impression that he liked girls in anyway.  Sarah REALLY doesn't want to go so she decides to make a break for it.  This book is full of action and historical touchstones that make it a really great story to read with kids who might be studying about immigration.  It has pieces not only about Jewish migration but also Chinese, Irish, as well as some of the prejudices of the Native Americans and the African Americans'.  I thought Sarah was a really plucky character and she deserves to be heard.   This one would pair up well with a book like "Big Sky Hattie" by Kirby Larson.

The second one I almost put down.  It's called "Stealing the Game" by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Raymond Obstfeld.  It's the second one in a series (and I TOTALLY missed the first one) about a 8th grader named Chris.  He likes to play basketball and he likes to draw comics (graphic novels) and he doesn't think that either of things will please his high powered lawyer parents.  His older brother, Jax, is the one who is enrolled in Stanford Law School.  But one day Jax comes home.  He's hanging out with people who seem bad.  He's been drinking a lot too and Chris is worried.  The timeline of the book is a little confusing.  There are flashbacks and flash forwards that are labelled in a way that made me go "HUH"?   But trust me, hang in there.  The story was totally worth it.  It would be a serious spoiler to tell you any more but it's really, really good.  This might be a little big for an elementary school (there is come conversation about kissing that I'm pretty sure would make my students squirm).  This would be great paired up with "STAT" the series written by Amar'e Stoudemire.  Here's a little video where Kareem Abdul-Jabbar talks about the book.  

The last one (today) is called "The Secret Mission of William Tuck" by Eric Pierpoint.  This one is also historical fiction and it's set in the Revolutionary War.  William is 12, lives in Virginia on his family farm.  His awesome older brother, Asher, is fighting in the Revolutionary War.  One day, Asher is fighting near by when the British Army approaches the family home.  Asher tries to lead the army away but is caught and executed by Captain Scroope.  They take all of the family's livestock and burn their fields.  William is enraged and decides to join the Revolutionary Army to avenge Asher's death.  He's too young to fight, but Asher taught him all the drumming signals, so William takes his drum to join the army.  During the first battle, William comes across a badly wounded man who begs William to take a message and tells him that this message might turn the war.  William goes and ends up meeting many key historical figures and skirting the edges of many historical events.  The story itself is very exciting and filled with thrilling plot twists and suspense.  It would also serve as a great entry point for learning about the Revolutionary War.  At the end of the book there are many references that would be a good jumping off point for more research.  I liked this one a lot.  

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Heavy stuff: Reading for CYBILS

I'm amazed at the range of topics that are addressed in children's literature.  I think reading about situations is a great way for building empathy and helping kids understand the situations for others.  It kills me to think that for some kids, these experiences are real.

The first one I read is called "Paper Things" by Jennifer Richard Jacobson.  It's about 11 year old Ari (short for Arianna), who's parents died.  At the very beginning of the book, she's living with a guardian, Janna, and her older brother, Gage.  Things with Gage and Janna have deteriorated to a point where Gage wants to move out, so he does and takes Ari with him.  It turns out that Gage wants to have an apartment and a nice place to live but he doesn't have the money to do it.  So they've been couch surfing for the past two months.  This gives a really vivid picture of what's like to be homeless and understand what it must be like to feel like you have so few options.  It's also a story of standing up for yourself and understanding that sometimes there IS no good choice and so you have to live with the consequences of the choice you make.  I really liked Ari's character.  She really seemed to know where she was going and I'd really love to read about her again.  This would be great paired up with a book like "Hold Fast" by Blue Balliett or "Crenshaw" by Katherine Applegate.   Here's a little video with an interview with the author.

The second one I read is called "Finding the Worm" by Mark Goldblatt.  It's the second book about a boy named Julian Twerski.  The first book was called "Twerp" and I didn't read that one, but this one was really good.  Julian is growing up in New York in 1969.  He has a group of friends from his neighborhood that all hang together.  Many of the boys are getting ready for their bar mitzvahs and they are all struggling with the usual middle school dramas of teachers, bullying, and class work.  But one of Julian's posse is sick.  Quentin has been in the hospital for quite some time and people are very worried about him.  Julian is also trying to decide how to handle the one girl in their group- Beverly keeps bugging Julian to race her.  Julian has always been the fastest one and doesn't want to get beaten by a girl.  There are some nice themes of friendship as well as some deep philosophical questions like why do bad things happen to good people?  I felt like I connected strongly to the characters, but I wonder if kids today would.  I kept thinking about people I would recommend this one to, but they were people that would have grown up in a similar time to Julian, not my students at school.  
This one would be good matched up with one like "In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson" by Bette Bao Lord or "The Wednesday Wars" by Gary D. Schmidt.  

This last one, I'm not even sure if I liked it, but it was super compelling and really couldn't put it down.  It's called "Watch the Sky" by Kirsten Hubbard and it is certainly the darkest of the middle grade books I've read so far.  It's about Jory who lives with his mom and his step-dad Caleb and his half brother, Ansel and Kit, who is a girl they found in their pumpkin field and have cared for ever since.  Caleb is a veteran with some pretty big issues with authority figures.  Jory's mom finds safety in Caleb and does what ever he says.  The story starts with Jory going back to school.  He's been homeschooled for quite some time.  Kit doesn't need to go to school because she doesn't speak or write and since they have no formal papers for her, there would be questions from "The Officials".  Jory starts making friends and they introduce him to a world where people laugh and have fun and use computers and eat fresh food, which is a big change of pace from Jory's family.  Jory's family is building a shelter to survive an apocalypse.  I liked Jory's character... he's a pretty smart guy who wants to do the right thing and tries really hard.  His friends are awesome.  I think I had the hardest time understanding his mom and step-dad.  I wonder if middle grade kids have enough life experience to fully understand a book like this.  It was certainly a lot different from the ones I've been reading.  

Monday, November 2, 2015

Crazy mystery adventures from CYBILS

THESE were really fun!  I've been getting bogged down in some of the realistic fiction.  I've been reading some pretty sad books so THESE were a breath of fresh air.

The first one is called "The Odds of Getting Even" by Sheila Turnage.  This one is the third one in a series and I'm a big fan.  The main character is Miss Moses LoBeau.  She's named Moses because as a baby, she was found floating a road sign in a river after a hurricane.  She was found by a man she calls the Colonel because he had amnesia and was wearing an Army shirt when he found her.  They live with Miss Lana and run a cafe in a small town in eastern NC.  Mo's best friend is Dale (named after Dale Earnhardt of NASCAR fame) and together they run the Desperado Detective agency.  In this third installment, Dale's dad has been accused of various crimes and is ready to stand trial, when he breaks out of jail.  The rest of the book is trying to figure out where he is and it's a thrilling tale.  One of the things that Sheila Turnage does really well is write similes.  Her figurative language is a thing to behold and at times, makes me laugh out loud.  Here's an example.  "Miss Lana says Reality is like cheap shampoo.  Sometimes it takes awhile to sink in."  or what about this one?

Dale struggled toward us with a pet carrier, his slight body leaning against its weight.  He set the cage by the steps and opened the door.  Two guineas (hens) popped their heads out-paste-white, wrinkled skin, cherry-red dots on each cheek, a sparse tufty of feathers on their tiny heads.  They darted out, and screamed across the yard.  "Those are the ugliest birds I've ever seen." Grandmother Mis Lacy said, blinking.  "Yet, but they make up for it by being loud." said Dale. "Guineas are the best watch animals next to a dog.

If you haven't read the first two, "Three Times Lucky" and "The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing", you don't HAVE to read them to enjoy this one, but why would you miss them?

The second one is also from one of my favorite authors, Dave Barry.  Dave Barry makes fun of Florida better than anyone else I know.  Most of the things he writes are more suited to adults, but this one is meant for kids.  It's called "The Worst Class Trip Ever".  It's about Wyatt, an 8th grader who lives in Miami.  He's a bit of a geek but he has a crush on the prettiest girl in 8th grade and is desperate to impress her (even though she's dating someone tall and handsome).  He ends up sitting next to his best friend on the plane ride to Washington, DC and things immediately deteriorate.  Without giving away any big plot lines, let me tell you that the story includes death threats (mostly from Wyatt's mom), a clueless teacher, a fellow student who can fart on command, an evil plot on the President's life, complicated technology, and terrible food.  In typical Dave Barry fashion, the story is hilarious and very fast paced.  The kids are going to love this one.  

The last one is a lot sweeter than the other two and it should be, with a title like "Honey" by Sarah Weeks.  It's about a girl named Melody who lives in a small town with her dad, Henry.  Her mom died when Melody was an infant and it makes her dad sad to talk about it so Melody doesn't really know anything about her.  Her dad has been even more absent minded than usual, so when she hears some gossip about Henry being bitten by the love bug, she assumes he has fallen in love and starts trying to find out who he is in love with.  Her best friend tries to help.  There is a great cast of characters, including a dog named Mo, who hates baths and cats.  It's a little funny, a little sad, and a really great story.  

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Survival fiction from CYBILS

These books have a survival theme.  They are super hard to put down so I've had a couple of very late nights this week!

The first one is called "Wolf Wilder" by Katherine Rundell.  It's about a girl named Feo who lives with her mom Marina in a wilderness part of Russia.  They live a simple life that they find satisfying... they rehabilitate wolves.  The story is set in Russia towards the end of the reign of the czars.  Rich people are adopting wolves as pets and finding that they are too wild to keep.  It is cultural taboo to kill a wolf so Feo and her mom teach the wolves to be wild again.  Unfortunately, the wolves are accused of killing some of the wildlife around the area (Feo is sure it's not them) and they attract the attention of a local military leader (who is completely terrifying).  He comes to take them to jail and Feo and the wolves make a run for it but Matrina ends up in a military prison.  Feo decides to rescue her.  There was a lot of information about wolf behavior and communication and some great themes of friendship.  Parts of the story strained credulity for me (particularly when the kids are riding the wolves) but it was very compelling and had a great ending.  Here's the author talking about her book.

The second one is called "Survival Strategies for the Almost Brave" by Jen White.  It's about two girls, Liberty and Billie, who are sisters.  Liberty is 12 and Billie is 8.  Their mother is a killed in a car accident and they are going to live with their dad.  They haven't really seen their dad since they were quite small and have had no real contact with him, so they are a bit excited and nervous.  But it's what they are supposed to do and they don't seem to have any other choice, so off they go in Dad's RV.  At first things are going very well and then suddenly not so well and when Liberty and Billie want to stop at a gas station to go to the bathroom, they are surprised to come out of the bathroom and find their dad gone.  They wait for quite some time in hopes that he will come back, but when the man who works in the gas station figures out that her dad is gone, he calls the police and the girls decide that they should make their own way home, to their friend who took care of them after their mom died.  It's not an easy trip and part of the trip is the telling of what exactly happened before their dad left them.  There are some very interesting characters and this story felt VERY real to me.  I found it really hard to put down.  

I was surprised by this title "Blue Mountain" Martine Leavitt because the category I'm reading for CYBILS is middle grade fiction and this one is clearly fantasy fiction because the story has bighorn sheep and the other animals in its habitat talking to one another.  But it was so good, I was just glad I had the opportunity to read it.  It's a National Book Award nominee and I can totally see why.  It reads a lot like an old folk tale.  It's about a flock of bighorn sheep that are suffering because their predators are getting bolder and their grazing areas are getting smaller and less plentiful.  One of the sheep, Tuk, a young sheep has a vision of a blue mountain and decides he's going to go there.  He takes a band of his friends (who are not all the sharpest knives in the drawer) and set out on a quest.  They encounter a puma, a wolverine, a wolf, a bear and a very chatty otter along the way.  The conversations that the animals have are often very funny and the events are pretty exciting.  I really liked this story and it would be great paired with other quest stories, like "The Hobbit" by Tolkien or "The Talking Earth" by Jean Craighead George.  

Girl friend fiction for CYBILS

Starting to see a pattern with the CYBILS books... this post is going to be about girls who are trying to stay friends with girls they have been friends with a long time.  Personally, I think this part of genre is too limiting because I don't think boys will want to read this although they have intriguing boy characters.  I think the boys just won't be interested.

The first one is called "Moonpenny Island" by Tricia Springstubb.  It's about two girls, Flor and Sylvie, who have been best friends since they were little.  They live on a small island where Flor's dad is the lone police officer and Sylvie's dad is the mayor.  Big changes start when Sylvie is sent to a school on the mainland, then Flor's mom leaves to help take care of her grandmother.  Flor's sister also seems to be changing.  The characters in this one interesting and the story line is compelling.  There are big themes of friendship and honesty and how do you best help people.  It was nice.

The second one might have more boy appeal.  It's called "The Friendship Riddle" by Megan Frazer Blakemore.  It's also about two girls in 6th grade who used to be friends.  Ruth has been abandoned by Charlotte and they live in a small town in Maine.  One day, Ruth is at the library (Charlotte's dads house the library in the building that they own) and finds a riddle in a book that she's shelving.  She asks Charlotte about the riddle and it turns out Charlotte found one too, but finds the riddles beneath her.  So instead of pulling them together, it seems to be pushing them apart.  But Ruth keeps looking and trying to solve the riddles and she moves from having a solitary quest to have a group of friends that are willing to help her and who also want to join the quest.  It has text references to the Hobbit, which might draw in some boys (who are willing to go past the part where Ruth has to go shopping for a bra).  The riddle part might also be a draw, much like the riddles in "The Book Scavengers" by Jennfier Chambliss Bertram.  

This last one "Adventures with Waffles" by Maria Parr is a bit of a twist on the friendship theme.  In this one, Trille is a boy, who is worried Lena is not his best friend.  He definitely considers Lena his best friend but she never tells him that he is her best friend.  Lena is not an easy person to be friends with.  Lena has many great ideas.  One of her great ideas is that, after hearing the story of Noah in Sunday school, that THEY should try to put two of every animal into a boat.  They think they don't have time to build their own boat, so they use Trille's uncle's boat.  Things are going well (dogs, cat, ok only one cat, but it was a very fat cat so it counted as two, worms) until they decide to go and get one of the cows.  There are parts of this that are laugh out loud funny and also parts that are sad.  It's translated from Norwegian and there are parts that are very culturally specific (the expression that Lena uses for surprise or dismay is "Smoked Haddock!", which I wish I knew why THAT was an expression).  It would connect well with stories about Ramona, Junie B. Jones, or Clementine.  

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Historical Middle grade fiction for CYBILS

I'm deep into the CYBILS list.  I don't think I've ever gone this long without reading a grown up book but THERE ARE SO MANY!!!

I'm also a little afraid that I'm hitting a wall with these books.  I might have to go and read 50 shades of Gray just to shake things up a bit.  Ok, I'm not that low yet.  

I read this one this morning.  COULD NOT PUT IT DOWN.  I read this first chapter last night and when I woke up, I thought I should read a bit more.  Until I finished it.  It's called "The Safest Lie" by Angela Cerrito.  I should also mention that I've hit a saturation point with books about World War 2 and so I don't choose to read them any more, but this one had such a compelling voice, that I COULD NOT PUT IT DOWN.  Noticing a theme?  It's about Anna, who is 9, and lives with her parents in Warsaw in the Jewish ghetto.  Things are bad.  All of their conversations are in code because people live in very tight quarters and no one knows who they can trust.  When one of the people that Anna's family trusts comes with a message, Anna's mom starts teaching her a new identity - a new name, a new birthday, a new home town, until Anna can answer the questions even if she's sleepy.  And then their friend takes Anna away.  Anna is a kind girl who wants to help and take care of others so she does, in each of the places she lands during the war.  It's a really great picture of what it was like to be a hidden Jew during the war and hints at the life of Irena Sendler, a woman who saved the lives of thousands of Jewish children.  Her story is also told in a picture book called "Jars of Hope" by Jennifer Roy.  I think kids are going to like this one a lot because Anna is such a strong and resilient character.  

This second one is sort of historical fiction because part of it's set during Hurricane Katrina, which I remember very vividly, as an adult.  So I guess to kids, it would be historical fiction, but to me it was pretty fresh in my memory.  Geezer, that I am.  This one's called "Another Kind of Hurricane" by Tamara Ellis Smith.  This is her first novel and I sincerely hope it's not her last.  It starts off with snippets of people's lives and it's a little confusing at first.  There is a boy in Vermont named Henry who's best friend has died.  Henry is not coping well.  Then there's a second boy, Zavion, who is New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina.  Zavion's mom died sometime before that but the house he shares with his dad holds a lot of memories.  The house is completely destroyed (in a pretty vivid way) and Zavion and his dad make their way to some friends' house in Baton Rouge, where they and some other Katrina victims can stay.  Zavion is also struggling-he's having nightmares about the experiences during Katrina.  Both boys end up on a quest and the story continues from there.  I liked the interesting characters.  I liked how the kids felt that going to help others was a great way to move forward.  I liked how telling someone was a great problem solving strategy.  I really liked this one.  

And call me crazy, but I think you could connect this one to "A Tangle of Knots" by Lisa Graff.  The way the stories started out, where you have lots of characters, without any apparent connections and then they all come together is really great.  Obviously, you could also connect it to any of the other books about surviving hurricane Katrina,  like "Finding Someplace" by Denise Lewis Patrick, "Hooper Finds a Home" by Jane Paley, "Zane and the Hurricane" by Rodman Philbrick, or "Ninth Ward" by Jewell Parker Rhodes.  

 This last one was a really great one to shake things up!  It's called "The Blackthorn Key" by Kevin Sands it was awesome.  It's set in London in 1665 (and honestly, the dialogue is pretty modern, but it's so good, I thought it was ok because I probably wouldn't have gotten it if the dialogue was historically accurate), Christopher is an orphan who was rescued from the orphanage by Master Benedict, an apothecary.  I say rescued because orphans didn't have very many options out in the world, but as an apprentice, Christopher was learning a trade and had the opportunity to have his own shop one day.  But there is mystery afoot.  Apothecaries are being murdered (in particularly ugly ways) and Christopher worries for his master.  Then one day, he comes home to the unthinkable and Christopher vows to find his master's murderers.  This story is full of terrific plot twists and tricky puzzles.  I think it might be a bit too big for an elementary school library (quite a lot of tortuous murder) but lots of bigger kids are going to love this one.  Here's a book trailer about it. 

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

More middle grade fiction for CYBILS

This week, I've been trying to whittle down the list of middle grade fiction for the CYBILS award.  Some of these books are terrific and I'm SO GLAD I've had a chance to read them.

This first one was terrific.  It's called "Listen, Slowly" by Thanhha Lai.  If you read children's literature at all, you might recognize Thanhha Lai's name... she wrote a book a few years ago called "Inside Out and Back Again" which was a Newbery honoree and the National Book Award winner.  I think this one is even more accessible because it's written in prose and the character's voice is so strong and clear, I think she will resonate with a lot of kids.  It's about a Vietnamese American girl named Mai (or Mia in America) who lives in California with her mom and dad and grandmother.  She has lots of friends and likes surfing and hanging out and has big plans for the summer.  Until her parents come to her and tell her that they want her to go with Viet Nam with her grandmother and her dad.  They have a lead on some information about her grandfather, who disappeared during the war.  Mia goes with them, but not with out a lot of whining and angst.  She finds Viet Nam in turns hot, wet, delicious, and disgusting.  She meets her extended family and tries to hurry the process of finding out about her grandfather along so she can get back to her friends in America.  It's a really great story about learning to appreciate other cultures and learning to appreciate your parents.  I liked this one a lot.

The second one grew on me... It's called "Blackbird Fly" by Erin Entrada Kelly.  It's about Apple who is 12 (a popular age for middle grade fiction).  She lives with her mom (her dad died long ago) in a small town in Louisiana.  Apple and her mom came from the Philippines and don't look like everybody else in a small town in Louisiana and it bothers Apple, A LOT.  At the beginning of the story, Apple goes to a friend's house and when boys show up, it's apparent that the boys are NOT nice.  When the girls allow the teasing to go on, Apple gets the message and goes home but the teasing continues and morphs into flat-out bullying.  Apple seems to believe that she deserves this kind of treatment and blames her mother.  But Apple loves music and really wants to play.  She keeps asking her mother for a guitar.  Her mother keeps saying no but Apple comes up with her own plan and a new boy shows up who has enough self-confidence to stand up to the bullies.  I really liked his character and Apple's character gets better once he turns up.  This one would be great to connect to "Bystander" by James Preller which also has themes of bullying and how even if you aren't really participating, you are condoning bullying by just standing by.  I liked this one a lot too.  

I'd never heard of this one "Absolutely Truly" by Heather Vogel Frederick.  It looks like it might be the beginning of a series of books about the same characters and I hope so because I thought they were terrific.  Truly Lovejoy is one of seven kids in her family and she's right in the middle.  Her family has moved around quite a bit because her dad has been in the military.  Unfortunately, he was wounded in the line of duty and his military career is over.  Her dad's parents own a small bookstore in their hometown and when they decide to go on adventure, Truly's family plus Truly's aunt (her dad's big sister) step in to take over the bookstore, which means a move across country, leaving her friends, particularly her best friend (who is also her cousin).  In addition to dealing with new kids, a grumpy dad, and COLD weather, there's a mystery afoot.  The clues are letters.  Truly finds the first one in a copy of Charlotte's Web.  With help from her new friends, Truly unravels the mystery.  There are some really great text to text connections, some very interesting characters, and a lot of fun.  

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Reading for CYBILS

It's started!  The nominations for the CYBILS awards started this week and I've got 19 books on hold at my local library... yikes.  I hope I can keep up!  Luckily, there were several I had already read and a bunch I'd never heard of so I started yesterday and finished the first one this morning.  I hope the rest aren't this emotional or I might not survive!

The first one is called "The Penderwicks in Spring" by Jeanne Birdsall.  This one is the fourth one in the series and although I read the first one, I haven't read the second or third one and I really don't remember too much about the first one other than I liked it.  The Penderwicks are a big, loving, old fashioned kind of family.  The kids are nice to each other and although the story is set in a modern time (there are cultural references that make that obvious) the kids play outside, listen to music, and read and seem completely oblivious to screens.  There are some issues and this book, they revolve around love.  The older girls are in high school and moving towards college (and boyfriends) and that seems complicated.  The youngest kids are dealing with age appropriate drama (a big girl bed and keeping secrets) but the middle daughter, Batty, is the one with the most drama.  The story works out in the best possible way and it left me wishing I could be a part of a family like that, much like I did when reading Louisa May Alcott stories.  I think these will become classics.

The second one is called "Gracefully Grayson" by Ami Polonsky.  It's about a boy named Grayson who lives with his aunt and uncle and two cousins in Chicago.  He's there because his parents were killed in a car accident when he was four.  Grayson doesn't have many friends because he has a big secret, he feels like he's really a girl.  This story feels real.  I think it's really timely with all the conversation about gay rights and transgender issues. It's interesting to see different points of view even within one family AND how feelings can change over time.   Grayson feels courageous and strong as he tries to figure things out.  One thing that didn't really come up was counseling and I wonder if Grayson had had an opportunity to talk with a professional about all his feelings if things might have been different.   

The last one in this group, thankfully, wasn't quite as heavy emotionally, although it did have some emotional pull.  This one is called "The Truth about Twinkie Pie" by Kat Yeh.  It's about two girls, Didi and Gigi who have moved from SC to a small town in NY.  This move was financed by winning a cooking competition and the girls are still dealing with the loss of their mom.   But Didi is determined that Gigi (a genius) will get a good education and get a great job.  Gigi has never really had close friends so now as a 6th grader in a small private school, she finds that there are kids who are charmed by her accent and want to be her friend.  They are very different from the people she knows in SC and sprinkled throughout the book are recipes that sound great.  I think kids are going to like this one a lot.  

Sunday, September 27, 2015

How did I miss these?

I've been doing some reading on things that I've been seeing on some lists but haven't had a chance to read and wow, now that I've read them, I'm a little sorry I waited so long, but oh well, better late than never.

The first one I actually read this summer and somehow forgot to blog about it.  It's called Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan.  It's kind of a genre defying book because it starts off as a fairy tale and then has three parts of what appear to be unrelated historical fiction and then finishes as both a fairy tale and modern fiction.  It sounds a bit confusing but I assure, the story is anything but.  It starts with a boy named Otto who is wandering around in a forest and gets lost.  He is approached by three sisters who have quite a fantastic story.  They leave him back at home, a bit confused, but with a harmonica to remind him of his quest.  Then we go to Freidrich in Germany in the late 1930s.  Then to Ivy in California in 1941 and finally to Mike in Pennsylvania.  I don't want to tell you too much more about the plot because it's so much fun to have it revealed.  I will tell you that I think Pam Munoz Ryan is a genius and this story proves it.

The second one is also historical fiction and is also set in World War 2.  It's called "The War that Saved My Life" by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley.  It's about Ada who lives with her mom and her brother Jamie in a one room apartment in London.  Life is pretty limited for Ada because her mom doesn't want her to ever leave the house because Ada has a deformed foot.  When kids are evacuated from London because of the fear of bombing, Ada's mom sends Jamie, but not Ada.  But Ada runs away anyway.  They end up with a single lady who says pretty plainly that she doesn't want them.  It turns out the lady is suffering from a big loss and is quite depressed.  She takes the kids anyway and it over time, it becomes clear that they are saving each other.  Ada is a great character with a lot of strength of character and kids are going to find it easy to connect with her.  This one might be good to connect with "One Crazy Summer" by Rita Garcia Williams (another mom who sent her kids away) or "Echo" by Pam Munoz Ryan (World War 2 connections), or "Lost in the Sun" by Lisa Graff (dealing with anger issues). 

The last one I really wanted to read in the spring last year when the book fair came through but I was busy and just didn't get a chance so this year, it was one of the first ones I scooped up.  It's called "The Mark of the Thief" by Jennifer Neilsen.  A bit of a disclaimer, first, I'm a BIG fan of Jennifer Neilsen's - I loved "The False Prince" and the other books in that series and I also loved "A Night Divided" so I wasn't surprised that I loved this one too.  It's about Nic, a slave boy who is working in the mines near Ancient Rome.  Unsurprisingly, he hates the work, he hates his owner and the only reason he's sticking around is to protect his sister.  One day, a man comes to the mines and asks for someone to go down into a very small chamber and retrieve an amulet.  Naturally, Nic is the one who has to go.  The amulet is guarded by a griffin, which attacks Nic.  Nic somehow only comes away with a scratch but suddenly seems to have magical powers.  He is approached by a senator from Rome and is told varying stories about who is trying to worm their way into power in Rome and how they plan to do it.  Each plan involved treachery and each one has someway to use Nic and get his sister back.  Each one also seems to have some gaping hole that Nic can see through.  So lots of political intrigue, magic, action... it's a terrific book.