Sunday, August 11, 2019

New fantasy fiction

So you might not be able to tell from the blog, I'm not a big fan of scary stories.  I like suspense but a lot of the scary things are, well, just too scary for me.  I had nightmares after Doll Bones and Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince.  So I have NO IDEA why I chose "Scary Stories for Young Foxes" by Christian McKay Heidicker.  It WAS scary but it was SO well written and I think it's going to be perfect as a mentor text for my students.

It's told in two different voices-Mia and Uly.  Both are fox kits that are living really different lives.  Mia comes from a family with a loving mom and brothers and sisters that are kind and supportive of one another.  Uly, not so much.  Uly has a deformed front paw and his sisters seem bent on getting rid of him.  Each one tells a tale of how they end up separated from their moms and their litter mates (terrifying), how they survive,  and then how they come together to help each other.  Each of their voices is so different and so clear, the kids will easily be able to tell the difference between their stories.  There are supportive parents, mean siblings, brave teachers, and evil villains.  There is a completely terrifying cameo of Beatrix Potter (I will NEVER read one of HER books ever again, without thinking of this one) as well as a somewhat surprising ending.  I loved this one.  I think it's going to make a terrific mentor text because of the amazing, vivid language as well as the idea of what makes things scary and what would be scary to someone or something else.  I could envision a whole shelf full of books - Scary stories for young bears, Scary stories for young elephants, Scary stories for young badgers, you get the picture.  I also think it would make a wonderful animated series.  I can't wait to give this one to my students.

Here's a book trailer about the book.

This second one is not as scary as the first one, but it's pretty creepy AND it's based on a true historical event.  It's called "The Green Children of Woolpit" and it's written by J. Anderson Coats.  It starts off being told by a girl named Agnes who lives in England long ago.  She is working in the fields and she gets in trouble pretty often because she is imaginative and likes to tell stories.  She got in really big trouble about a year ago, when they were supposed to be watching her best friend's baby brother.  The baby died and her friend blames Agnes.  Now, many months later, as they're working in the fields, Agnes hears crying.  She goes to investigate and finds two kids down at the bottom of the wolf pit.  The kids are green (!) and speaking a language that Agnes doesn't understand.  When she goes to tell everyone, no one believes her but her friend finally comes and she brings everyone else.  When they get the kids out of the pit, Agnes's mother takes the green kids home, because no one else will and it turns out that Agnes's mother did the same thing before, which is how Agnes came to live in this village.  It also turns out that the girl from the pit has escaped from the bondage with the fairies and the only way she can win her freedom is to send someone else to live with the fairies and be their slave and that someone is Agnes.  This story unfolds in such an interesting way and the fact that it's based on a true story  makes it even that much more fascinating.  I think the kids are going to like this one a lot.  

African American voices

One of the trends in libraries and the literary world over the past few years, is to offer readers different view points.  Traditionally, literature has been full of white people.  People of color or other religions or sexual orientations were relegated to best friend roles or were minor characters.   So to have a number of stories, where the main character is a person of color and isn't a stereotype (like  African Americans only portrayed as slaves or in stories about the Civil Rights movement, or Hispanic characters only portrayed as migrants), is to offer a wider variety of people the opportunity to see their own stories in print.  It also offers an opportunity to people like me (a middle aged white lady) to see stories that are different from my own.  Here are two brand new stories that offer voices that are fresh, charismatic, AND happen to be told by and are about people of color.

The first one is by author Renee Watson.  I read her book "Piecing Me Together" that was published in 2017 and really liked it.  I think I liked this one even better.  It's called "Some Places More Than Others".  It's about Amara, who lives in Portland, OR with her mom and dad.  Her dad works for Nike and Amara LOVES sneakers.  Her mom is a clothing designer and doesn't really seem to understand Amara.   Amara's mom is pregnant and is being very careful, because she's had several  miscarriages.  Amara is looking forward to being a big sister.  What Amara REALLY wants is to go to NY.  She wants to visit the big city and connect with her dad's family that lives there, but her mom believes it's too dangerous.  When Amara is asked to do a family history project for school, she realizes how little she knows about her dad's family.  Her dad finally agrees to take her along on a business trip to NY and suddenly, Amara is face to face with some of the family conflict between her dad and her grandfather.  She also has an opportunity to get to know her cousins better and learn about some of the famous places and history of NYC.  She also has an opportunity to help her dad and her grandfather reconnect.  There are some really lovely pieces about family and parental hopes and expectations and about finding your own voice.  I really loved Amara's voice.  I loved her passion for her family and her determination to find her path.  I think my students are going to like this one too.

The second one is by another of my favorite authors, Jacqueline Woodson.  Her book "Each Kindness" is used often in elementary schools as a mentor text to help students develop empathy.  Her book last year called "Harbor Me" was a story of a group of students who were given an opportunity to talk with one another to help them get through hard times.  This new one is called "Red at the Bone".  It's actually not meant for kids, but I think it will definitely get read by bigger kids.  It's a multi-generational story that opens with 16 year old Melody making her society debut in a beautiful dress surrounded by her loving family.  It turns out the handmade dress was not meant for Melody, but for her mother and her mother, Iris, couldn't wear it, because she was pregnant with Melody when she should have been wearing it.  Each section of the book is told from a different point of view-Aubrey, Melody's father, Sabe and Sammy Po-Boy-Iris's parents, and Iris.  There are big themes of family expectations and finding your own voice and how family trauma can make a big splash even if you don't talk about it.  It also explores the idea of teen pregnancy and much people change from their teens to adulthood.  I really liked this one too.  

Monday, August 5, 2019

World War 2 middle grade fiction to look for

Summer vacation is so awesome.   House projects.  Lunches with friends.  No alarm clock.   AND uninterrupted time to read!  I'm finally dusting off the TBR pile and wow, are there some great ones in here.

I love historical fiction and this new one is terrific.  It's called The Taste of Rain by Monique Polak.  It's about a group of girls who are Girl Guides (like American Girl Scouts).  The story starts and you might start thinking this is just an ordinary group of girls in a boarding school somewhere with their relentlessly cheerful teacher.  Except they aren't just anywhere, they are in Weishen which was a prison camp in Japan during World War 2.  The kids are being held there because their boarding school was taken over by the Japanese as headquarters.  The kids' parents were missionaries or had other jobs and after 2 1/2 years, they don't know where their parents are or whether they'll ever see them again.  Their teacher, Miss E remains positive in spite of starvation and thirst, torture and imprisonment.  She continues to offer lessons and has high expectations that the girls will behave appropriately and be kind to each other.  This is a fast paced, compelling story based on email interviews with one lady who actually survived the prison at Weishen, as well as other primary sources of information about the prison camp experience.  Kids are going to like reading about experiences from World War 2 that aren't European based and teachers will be thrilled to find more resources for their World War 2 units.  I thought this one was great.  It comes out in September  2019 so be sure to look for it!

This second one came out last year and I don't know how I missed blogging about it, because I thought it was great.  It's called "Lifeboat 12" by Susan Hood.  It's about 13 year old Ken, who is living with his dad, stepmom, and step sister in London.  Ken gets selected to emigrate to Canada and at first he's angry for being sent away, but when he gets on the boat, it's more fun and so much nicer than it was at home, that it starts to feel like a big upgrade.  Then the boat gets torpedoed.  This is a really exciting story with lots of interesting details and historical information.  Like "Taste of Rain", this is a story about World War 2 from a really different perspective than I've typically read about.  I think the kids are going to enjoy the adventure part as well as the fact that the story is based on real people.  So look for this one too!

Saturday, August 3, 2019

New middle grade realistic fiction!

We’ve been on summer vacation and I had time to do some great reading, but due to lamentable internet access during our travels, I’m just now uploading them!  

The first one is called “For Black Girls Like Me” by Mariama Lockington.  It’s about Makeda, who at the start of the book, is crossing the country, from Baltimore to Albuquerque in a car with her mom and her big sister.  Makeda’s dad has taken a new job as a cellist that required the move and the move also required that Makeda’s mom has to give up her job as a violinist.  Makeda was adopted by her parents when they found they couldn’t have a second child and Makeda is African American and her parents and sister are white.  Makeda is worried about the move-particularly moving away from her best friend, Lena, who is also African American and was adopted by a white family.  What’s great about this one is learning about what it’s like to navigate a world where most of the people you know (and even the ones you love) don’t look like you.  How people make assumptions about you based on your appearance.  How important hair is.  How to fit in when you stand out, even if that feels like standing out is a bad thing.  How poetry, music, and dance can help you show your feelings in a way that is meaningful on a completely different level.  I loved Makeda’s voice and her journey through this story was amazing.  On top of her struggle to find her own voice, Makeda’s adoptive mother is really struggling with mental health issues.   This is a terrific story and I can’t wait to put it in my school library.  

Here's a video where Mariama Lockington discusses the book. 

The second one is called  All the Impossible Things by Lindsay Lackey.  It’s about Red, who has been moving from one foster home to another for the past three years because her mom is in jail because of substance abuse and her grandmother died.  Red is determined to go back to live with her mom and has warm memories of how awesome her mom was.  She misses her grandmother terribly.  All she has left is a notebook with a list of things that people thought were impossible but only until they did them, like a bumblebee flying.  Red moves to a new foster home with a veterinarian, Jackson, and his wife, Celine.  Red feels immediately connected to Celine and bonds with a giant tortoise named Tuck.  She also makes friends with the boy next door, named Martin, who loves creating videos for his internet channel.  Red also has a super power, like her mom, and control the wind, including being able to create storms when she’s angry.   Red gets really upset when she finds out that her mom is actually out of jail and hasn’t come to get her and when Celine is diagnosed with cancer, Red decides she really needs to go back to live with her mom.  This story has a lot of heart.  The characters are interesting and well developed and the problems that they have are realistic and the ways the characters try to solve the problems ring true.  I didn’t really understand the addition of the magical wind controlling piece-it didn’t seem to add anything to the story and with all the other drama going on in the story, I didn’t think it needed it.  I liked this story a lot and I think the kids at my school tend to like stories that are sad and emotional, but have a hopeful ending like this one did.   This one comes out in September, so be sure to look for it!