Monday, January 2, 2017

3 Great New Gems to Read

I have greatly enjoyed reading, reading, reading this break. Our winter break started earlier here in Portland, due to a lovely beautiful wonderful snow storm that turned into ice. Bless that little weather being! Remind me how much I loved the snow when it is June and our school year extends past the original end date. One gift of more time added to a two-week break is reading!! Here are three books I really enjoyed!

Nikki Grimes' new children's novel is entitled Garvey's Choice. Written in prose, Garvey knows well he does not meet his father's expectations of a boy. Family tensions run hot, and Garvey nor his father know what to do about their disconnection. Bullying, an athletic sister, and some sweet surprises lay in store for readers of this lovely book.

To Stay Alive is Skila Brown's sophomore novel. I was a little hesitant to read a story about the Donner party, but I really loved this book. The trials of traveling the Oregon Trail are familiar to me, but Brown elevated my schema by a good amount. Nineteen-year-old Mary Ann makes the trip with her family and a ton of brothers and sisters, and the good times even out at least some of the difficult. The strife later in the book, when starvation becomes a reality, solidifies this book into very much a historical fiction novel. A sweet if a tad gruesome read.

I carry worlds of respect for author Jason Reynolds.  This is the third book I have reviewed on this blog of his, and each one just gets better and better. Or else they all started as excellent. A National Book Award Finalist in 2016, Ghost is the story of a middle-school student who has some wicked difficult stuff happening at home and runs so fast he calls himself Ghost. Constantly attempting and mostly succeeding in throwing attention elsewhere, Ghost joins a track team to prove his worth and get out of trouble. However trouble maybe follows him or he invites it or maybe both....fact in this story is that he has good people around him who believe in him when he lets them. A rich read, one to definitely get into middle-school boys' hands...and the rest of our hands too!

Thursday, December 15, 2016

A Picture Book Cornucopia

Since I keep stumbling upon such exciting new picture books and I feel selfish reading them alone, I am sharing them with you, dear reader. Enjoy!

My Thumb by Karen Hesse

Hesse is a favorite author of mine, so it is no surprise that whenever she publishes something, I jump to get it. My Thumb is a crafty little gem, geared toward those young thumb lovers in our lives. Although my thumb loving daughter has outgrown that habit, it seems obvious that she too has fond memories (or current experiences?) of those thumb lovers. Enjoyable read with a tinge of irony perhaps?

The Journey by Francesca Sanna

Whoa. This is an incredibly heartbreaking and direly-important story. A mother and her two daughters are forced to flee their homeland in search of safety as their city is engulfed by war. The illustrations only perpetuate the reality of loss, unknown, fear, and tension all the while Sanna keeps us focused on moving forward. Powerful book and sooo sooo important for someone like me who has not had to deal with this experience.

The Sound of Silence by Katrina Goldsaito

What an interesting exploration of sounds and silence. Coupled with varying uses of color and shades of dark and light, the author and illustrator Julia Kuo created a lovely story about a boy seeking to discover where silence is. He searches and searches, and in time, finds it right where he least expects it. Sweet read indeed.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Ashes by Laurie Halse Anderson

Brilliant. Simply brilliant. I have long been a fan of Laurie Halse Anderson's writing, and I will literally read anything by her. This summer I discovered the third in her Seeds of America trilogy was coming out and I could hardly wait. Lovely, amazing, engaging, historically realistic, and oh so insightful, she did it again.

The story builds steadily from the start, much like a snowball growing and growing, gaining momentum, developing . Once Isabel finds her sister, she imagines all will be easier. But her sister seems to hate her, groveling mirrors what little work is available, and her friendship with Curzon continues to challenge her. The timely issues of discrimination of many and difficult living conditions throughout the Civil War repeat and lift the surviving hearts and souls of the characters. Such a difficult and beautiful story.

Thanks, Laurie Halse Anderson, for your generous work. 

Friday, November 18, 2016

Hurry Up, Henry by Jennifer Lanthier

A charming tale of a boy who always liked to go slow. His slow speed balances with one of his friends who likes to go fast, but mostly folks tell Henry to hurry up. 

When his birthday comes, his grandmother hatches an idea that turns Henry’s world a little bit and changes his idea of time. A lovely, simple, and perspective-offering read. Sweet illustrations that completely expand the text for young readers, this is a gentle new read for those of us who move too fast and those of us who simply need to slow down.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Moo by Sharon Creech

Just finished Moo with my class of fourth graders. I had started reading it by myself and then I landed this sweet teaching gig, so I figured I would read it with them as our read aloud. I am an ardent Creech fan and believed that most of these rural-living students would get the cow focus.

Boy, was I wrong! Most of them hadn't even spent time around a cow. And boy was I right! This book because a community builder in multiple ways, and we all, cow-schemas or not, found ways to enter the book, make sense of it, and connect it to our lives. The students loved it, I loved it, and I wonder what role it played in helping us grow readers in our class.

The main cow, Zora, is grumpy, stand-offish (can a cow be that?), and flat out stubborn at the start of the book. Like many characters, she changed over time but I won't tell you how. A brother and sister move with their parents out to farm-country Maine. Mom meets some rather stand-offish, grumpy woman at some medical office and offers her kids up to help with chores at the lady's farm. The chemistry between the kids and the lady repels each party, causing interesting conflicts, perspectives, and ironic moments. The ending is true Creech, and the story has some rich connections with her granddaughter.

This time it was not just me that loved a book---it was my 22 fourth graders as well!! Moo.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Playing from the Heart by Peter H. Reynolds

Who doesn’t like Reynolds’ work? Author of The Dot, Ish, and so many more, his work is well loved. Another book connecting to our identity and our birthright gifts, Playing from the Heart is the story of a boy who naturally loves to play the piano. 

He is so talented that his father decides to hire a teacher so Raj can learn how to formally play. Over time, the teaching becomes restrictive, and finally Raj stops playing. Only when he is truly asked does he return to the piano. 

This sweet, endearing, important picture book offers us a rich space to either open the conversation of being who we are or continue it. Another keeper from the master himself.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Emerson Barks by Liza Woodruff

Emerson is a barking dog. His way of hello is to bark, and he loves to say hello to everyone and every animal he can find.

Until he gets in big trouble for scaring off a cat. He decides to hold his bark in. He tries and tries and tries, and he succeeds for a bit.

With a surprise ending and a terrific connection with our ways of being, Emerson Barks will be a great read for those seeking a book about sense of self and identity.