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!!!