Saturday, August 29, 2015

Amazing new picture books!

School started last week and I just love this time of year... so full of possibilities and potential... the kids are so excited to see their friends and to consider all the promise a new year holds.  Books are like that too.  When you pick one up, you wonder "Am I going to completely fall in love with these characters and their situations?"  "Is this author going to take me places I didn't even know I wanted to go?"  These new picture books do just that.

The first one is called "Lazy Cat Hero- The Rise of the Nap".  It's a folk tale about the laziest cat ever and it is hilarious.  If you've ever owned a cat, you know that they can certainly out-lazy any other animal on the planet.  My own cat, for example was too lazy to respond to her own name (although, in fairness, maybe we called her the wrong name).  The cat in THIS book is called Bubastis who calls himself Bub or sometimes just B, because really, Bubastis is SUCH a long name.  Bub starts off in a crypt in Egypt, moves to a pirate ship, and ends up in with a knight and a dragon.  In each story, Bub is either the craftiest cat alive, or the luckiest because each time he ends up in mortal peril, some aspect of his laziness completely saves his life.  The kids are going to love how unlikely Bub's survival is and it would be really fun to consider using it as a mentor text for writing (you could totally use this one in a unit on folk tales and fairy tales).  As a writing mentor text you could think about other lazy animals and how they survived perilous situations.  This would be great paired up with Eric Kimmel's folktale called "Three Samurai Cats". Super fun!

The next one is non fiction.  It's a biography about George Moses Horton who was a poet and a slave.  It's called "Poet: The Remarkable Life of George Moses Horton" by Don Tate.  It tells about George M. Horton who was born a slave but had such a passion for words and poetry (like the ones he heard at church) that he taught himself to read and then make poetry.  He ended up at the University of North Carolina (his master lived near there and sent him to Chapel Hill to sell vegetables) where he was able to sell his poems.  He gained fame and notoriety there and was even able to make money, enough money that his master was unwilling to sell him.  Eventually, he met a woman who taught him to write.  He wrote two books and was eventually set free.  The pictures are nice and the story of his life is a good lesson about persistence.  

The last one is another picture book biography and it's called "The Elephant Man" by Mariangela DiFiore.  It's about Joseph Merrick who is also known as the Elephant Man because of his devastating affliction of tumors growing all over his body.  It's one of the saddest stories I've ever heard and I could think that some kids will really like seeing the pictures of what he really looked like.  I had a hard time moving past how mean people were to him.  I understand that he lived in a time when it was culturally appropriate to gawk at people who were different (like bearded women or people who were extremely fat or tall or short) but it really makes you appreciate how far society has come when you think about the American's with disabilities act and Public Law 94-142 that requires that all kids are educated in their home school.  I sure am glad we live in a more enlightened time.  

Monday, August 17, 2015

August YA reads

I got to go to Books and Books in Coral Gables (squee!!!)  a couple of weeks ago and I read several awesome pictures books while I was there but I also picked up the Indie Next newsletter and have been begging my local library to loan me the books on the list.  I got three this weekend and they were terrific.

My favorite one (so far) is called Magonia by Maria Dahvana Headly.  I'd never read anything by her, but I am SO glad I found this one.  I hesitate to write about the plot of this one because part of what I liked so much was the completely amazing plot twists.  It starts off about a 16 year old girl named Aza Ray.  She has been sick most of her life and has (what felt like to me) the usual suspects-the quirky best friend (Jason), the supportive family, and a really fresh attitude about being sick and being treated like she was sick.  There have been many predictions about her demise, each one scarier than the last and although I could sort of see where Headly was going with this, the plot twists here were very surprising, in the best possible way.  I loved this one and I'm a little sorry I work in an elementary school today because I won't be able to put this into any of my students' hands, but I'm looking for middle schoolers and high schoolers to talk to about it because it was AWESOME.  Here is the book trailer for it.

The second one I also loved and it was also fantasy fiction.  This one is a bit of a twist on the Beauty and the Beast,  but more original. It's called "The Court of Thorns and Roses" by Sarah Maas.  It's about a girl named Feyre who is the main provider for her family.  Her father has been disabled from a beating that he took from is creditors.  Her mother died some years earlier and her two sisters are not super useful in taking care of the family.  So Feyre goes out hunting.  One morning she's out hunting and a wolf comes into the woods.  The pelt of the wolf is worth a lot more than anything else she can kill, so she kills the wolf and then skins it.  She takes the pelt to the market and is able to get a lot more money than even she thought it would be worth but it comes with a warning.  It turns out the wolf was actually a faerie and the consequence for killing a faerie is that she must come and live with the faeries, who she believes to be evil.  It's a super fun read... lots of action and terrific writing (and a little bit of sex, so this probably isn't appropriate for even middle school, but maybe high school?).  I liked the story a lot and I really liked the writing so I'm going to go looking for more by Sarah Maas.  

The last one is a graphic novel called "Into the Dangerous World" by  Julie Chibbaro.  It's a graphic novel in the sense that there are lots of pictures, but it's not your regular cartoon strip looking graphic novel.  This one is about a girl named Ror (short for Aurora) who has been living in a commune her whole life where her dad raged against the man and taught Ror that conforming was bad and art was good.  There is a terrible fire and Ror's family is forced into public housing and Ror has to go to public school for the first time.  It isn't all bad, because there is a completely amazing art class where Ror starts to make friends who are also artists, but they are graffiti artists.  Ror is drawn to their message and the beauty of their art and at the same time afraid of breaking the law and the consequences for that.  This is a great one about finding your own voice and creating the things you want to create.  The art work is stunning too.  

Sunday, August 16, 2015


Here's a little piece of awesomeness from Peter and Paul Reynolds, just to remind you about how awesome it is to work with kids.

And in case anybody has been telling you that teaching isn't the most awesome profession around, let Taylor Mali remind you what teachers make.

Kids also have a lot to say, so here's Kid President to tell you about somethings we should all say more often.  

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Picture book biographies

Did I ever find some terrific biographies!  Check these out!
The first one is called "Trombone Shorty" by Troy Andrews, which actually makes this one an autobiography.  Trombone Shorty is, unsurprisingly, a trombone player.  What is surprising is how young he started (when he was 4!) and how he got started, which is detailed in the book. The art work is awesome and really helps you feel the energy and affection for music and New Orleans.  I think the kids will like the story of his start and they will love to hear about his foundation that is helping to mentor high school students in the New Orleans area in the music business.  Here's a tiny desk concert from NPR with Trombone Shorty and his band.

The second one is a biography of Jane Goodall called "Untamed- The Wild Life of Jane Goodall" by Anita Silvey.  This biography is stuffed full of photographs of Goodall during her entire life.  The story is told with lots of interesting details that are sure to make kids (and adults) keep reading.  There are also lots of connections to all the work in Jane's life, including her foundations and effects of her research.  This one needs to be in every library.  

The third one is one for sports fans.  It's called "Growing up Pedro" by Matt Tavares.  It's about a baseball player named Pedro Martinez and how he became a great pitcher, helping the Boston Red Sox win the American League Championship in 1999.  It also tells what a big influence his big brother, Ramon (also a professional baseball player) had on his life.  It's a really great story of persistence and perseverance.  The pictures are also terrific.  This would be great paired with some of the other picture book biographies about baseball players like "You never heard of Sandy Koufax?" by Jonah Winter or "You never heard of Willie Mays?!" also by Jonah Winter.  We are definitely getting this one for our library.  Here's a book trailer about it.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Gorgeous picture books about science

Here are some terrific books about science.  They are picture books but one of them is big enough for really big kids!

The easiest one (possibly the most beautiful) is called "Water is Water-A Book about the Water Cycle" by Miranda Paul and illustrated by Jason Chin.  I mention Chin because these pictures are like poetry.  I know when I read this one, the kids are going to gasp as I turn the pages and say "Whooooaaa"  I love it when they do that!  The text is really great too.  It's quite simple but poetic (you won't mind reading this one several times) and the vocabulary is terrific.  But it's about the water cycle so there's science too (science AND poetry?  Can it BE?) and it has this very fun leading structure.  You really need to look for this one, there's a lot to like about it.

The second one is sort biographical but it's also about the scientific method.  It's called "Mesmerized - How Ben Franklin Solved a Mystery that Baffled all of France" by Mara Rockliff and illustrated by Jacopo Bruno.  So this is non-fiction about a part of Ben Franklin's life, when he went to France to get them to help out the American colonies.  Everyone in France thought Ben Franklin was awesome, especially because he was so interested in science.  Remember his experiment with electricity?  Well at the time, there was another guy named Dr. Mesmer who was going around France impressing people with HIS science, which was a magic wand and when he would point it at people they would see, hear, and feel things that weren't really there.  Ben Franklin came up with a test to see if it really worked where he blindfolded people and then let Dr. Mesmer try again.  I won't tell you how the story ends but suffice it to say, we still use a blind test today to find out if our science is really true.  I liked this one a lot and the pictures are gorgeous!  I think this one would be a good one for bigger kids because there is a lot of text.  

The third one should go in the biography section (according to the spine label from my local library) but to me, it doesn't tell enough about George Ferris's life to qualify as a biography, but who am I to say?  Anyway, this one is called "Mr. Ferris and his Wheel" by Kathryn Gibbs Davis and illustrated by Gilbert Ford.  It's all about how George Ferris came up with the idea for his famous wheel, which was the Big Wow at the Chicago World's Fair.  It turns out that no one thought this was a good idea and it was super difficult to get funding for the project.  But, he persisted and everyone loved the Ferris Wheel.  It would be a great book to talk about persistence.   The pictures in this one are gorgeous watercolors and I thought they added a lot to the text.  There are also facts about the Chicago's World Fair and the time period through out the book.  I liked this one a lot.   Here's a little book trailer about it.  

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Some of the latest and greatest!

My husband went to a professional conference yesterday and was gone all day.  It was kind of an overcast day and here in South Florida, what that means is it's hot and it might rain.  When you walk outside you have the immediate impression that you might have trouble breathing because the air so thick.  In other words, I didn't need a lot of encouragement to stay inside!  So I read.  A LOT.  Here are some reviews of what I read.

The first one and probably my favorite of these three, is called "Listen to the Moon" by Michael Morpurgo.  If you live in America, you might know Michael Mopurgo from his book called "War Horse" which was turned into a movie and then a play.  I was surprised yesterday when I was looking for some back story on this book that Michael Muprugo is a VERY prolific writer (although apparently, a lot of it hasn't made it across the pond), so I'm looking forward to read some of his other work.  Anyway, this one is terrific.  It says at the beginning that the book is based on his grandmother's story (and that's why I was doing some research, I wanted to know if it was true).  "Listen to the Moon" is about a family who lives on Scilly Island which is off the coast of England, in 1915.  The dad and the son go out fishing one morning and go to an island where they have had in the past, good luck finding mackerel, which the mom loves.  As they approach the island (which is a little creepy) they hear crying.  They go ashore and find a little girl there who is quite sick, malnourished, coughing, and has an ankle injury.  She is wrapped in a blanket which says "Wilhelm" and has a teddy bear.  She only says one thing "Lucy".  The family takes her in and takes care of her and even as she seems to gather strength and health,  she can respond to conversation, but she doesn't speak.  People of the village start to think that Lucy came from Germany and since the Lusitania was recently sunk by the Germans, they aren't particularly nice to her.  It's a really great story about kindness and faith and family and how people treat each other during times of war and times of peace.  I loved it.

The second one is a fairy tale adaptation of sorts.  It's called "Shadows of Sherwood" by Kekla Magoon.  It's combination of dystopian future and Robin Hood.  I thought it was terrific.  The main character, Robyn, is 12 and she likes sneaking out at night to steal parts to make things.  One night, she sneaks out and when she comes back, something terrible has happened to her parents.  She takes a few supplies and tries to start figuring things out.  She gets arrested, makes some friends and starts a campaign against the powers that be.  I loved her character who is independent and charismatic and kind to her friends.  I really liked the technology components as well as the natural components.  I liked this one a lot.  

The last one is actually a grown up book but I think it would be completely ok for high school kids, if they were interested.  It's called "the Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend" by Katarina Bivald.  It was originally published in Swedish and this is an English translation.  It's about a young woman named Sara who loves to read.  She's had a job in a book store in Sweden but when the book shop closes, she doesn't really know what to do next.  She has been communicating with a woman named Amy in America (Iowa) about books and when Amy invites her to come to Broken Wheel, it seems like a good opportunity.  Except that when Sara arrives, she finds out that Amy has died (in fact, they are having her funeral as Sara arrives).  Everyone agrees that Amy would have wanted her to stay, so she moves into Amy's house.  The town of Broken Wheel is pretty much abandoned... the local industry has moved away and so what's left is a few people with small businesses.  The people of Broken Wheel are very kind to Sara and so to repay them, she decides to take Amy's gigantic book collection and turn it into a bookstore.  It has some fairly predictable romance elements but enough surprises to make it worth reading.  It also has a million text references that are a lot of fun.  I liked this one a lot too.