Friday, August 21, 2015

Stella by Starlight by Sharon Draper

Sharon Draper, author of Out of My Mind among other great reads, writes another brilliant novel in Stella by Starlight. With a burning cross and two young darker-skinned children pictured on the cover, Draper gives us a teeny window into what this book is about. Yep, right away you think KKK (or the secret name of "triple K"). It also is about racism, finding one's way, surviving, and discovering who your friends are no matter their skin color.

I am not sure what I loved most about this book. The chapters are just-right short, and the transitions from chapter to chapter seem just like exactly-right placed stepping stones. The character development is rich too, and the tensions between characters made such sense. The storyline gripped me hard, making me read every word. If I am reading the dedication page accurately, Draper combined stories from the lives of her grandmother and father-- seek out more details on her website. As I read, I wondered which parts could connect with history and her relatives' lives. Mostly though I found Draper's work once again enlightened and beautiful. And yes, painful--I would be lying if it weren't that too. But Draper writes with such grace about such awfulness....A brilliant book and a rich read. 

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Tacky and the Haunted Igloo by Helen Lester

Tacky must be getting older; this book almost borders on a tad scary. But not quite! I honestly have never ever thought of being able to fancy up an igloo like a haunted house but obviously that shows the limits of my creative thoughts! Helen Lester and Illustrator Lynn Munsinger team up again to blow the top off of what might be possible up (down?) in Penguin-land. Come on: be honest. Have you ever thought of a haunted igloo?

Tacky is in usual form, not getting ready for a haunted house while Goodly, Neatly, Perfect, Angel, and Lovely are doing all of the traditional things penguins do for a haunted house. Then the six penguins decide to dress up as what they are most afraid of. The problem lies in Tacky: he doesn’t have anything he is afraid of! By evening time, trick or treaters arrive at the haunted igloo. All is going as planned until some ghosts who aren’t really what they say they are show up and toss all plans into the snow. But never fear, Tacky is here to save the day! If you are a Tacky fan or know of someone who is, you just might want to hunt down this new one from Lester. It is a unique winner!

Friday, August 7, 2015

Like A River: A Civil War Novel by Kathy Cannon Wiechman

I love how many new authors are entering my reading world left and right! The author of Like A River proved that true again—gold star!! If you are even remotely interested in the Civil War or looking for a companion novel for Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson, look no further!

After older brother Nate eliminates his ability to join the army, younger teen Leander fakes his age and joins up. With Nate’s friend Given at his side, Leander negotiates the trials associated with being small and young and trying to keep up with full-grown men. After a tragic accident, Leander’s world leads him to meet Paul, a kind and loyal friend in the midst of infrequent connection.  But there is more to the story for both of them, offering a realistic twist that I could see even my self involved with.

In her debut novel, author Wiechman steers her readers well. With well-researched facts backing her story, she weaves us through the prisoner life, and living through the death and awfulness of war. She artfully tells her story in short chapters, keeping the transitions lively and focus keen. Her careful generosity of space within her story simply drew me in more. All of the good things I had read about this book are true---search this gem out!!

Friday, July 31, 2015

Lake Monsters and Amelia Earhart: Graphic Novels!

Graphic novels continue to work their way onto my radar for quality literature. Here are two new ones that I loved.

A Sam and Friends Mystery: Book Two: Lake Monster Mix-Up by Mary Labatt and Jo Rioux

Persnickety, pesky pup Sam is always looking for mysteries to solve. Human friend Jennie can talk with Sam, and together they make a good team. On a trip to a lake house with Jennie’s friend Beth, Sam discovers a hidden opening in a bedroom wall. With Jennie and Beth’s help, they discover a secret compartment and a journal from long ago. Following the guidance listed in the journal, Beth, Sam, and Jennie enjoy a splendid and exciting vacation, solving mysteries that include lake monsters and buried treasure!  Accessible, engaging, and fun to read, I really enjoyed Lake Monster Mix-Up.

Amelia Earhart: This Broad Ocean by Sarah Stewart Taylor and Ben Towle

Set in Newfoundland in 1928, Grace gathers news through houndish techniques that some people disdain. However her practice leads her to learn tons more about this new female who wants to fly across the Atlantic Ocean. Through her investigating, Grace learns the trials of trying to fly planes as a female, some of the mathematics involved with flying, and the excitement of women trying to accomplish things that had never been accomplished before. This novel offers sweet history about Amelia Earhart and the late '20's while also weaving a story I had never heard about some of the competition between women so eager to break through the limits placed on them by society in the U.S. An enthralling read, I whizzed through this text and wanted to go fly.

Enjoy those graphic novels!!

Friday, July 24, 2015

Winnie: The True Story of the Bear Who Inspired Winnie-The-Pooh by Sally M. Walke

Winnie the Pooh fan? Looking to expand your child’s knowledge of the divine Winnie and the animals of Pooh Corner? Or secretly hoping to expand your own? Get this great book in your hands and learn away. Accessible, engaging, and fascinating, Walker helps us trace an amazing story. She wisely includes photographs inside of both covers, extending the story all the more for readers like me. Honestly I cannot imagine someone having a bear as a close companion, but I also cannot imagine a better way to live through being in the armed forces during World War 1.

And it's all about Winnie the Pooh. What is not to like? Great read aloud, or read silently if you are like me and an adult who turns into a curious child in the living of wise texts. 

Friday, July 17, 2015

Ruby on the Outside by Nora Raleigh Baskin

I will never forget Tevin’s story. After reading Jacqueline Woodson’s amazing (and somewhat autobiographical) book Visiting Day to my class, a kindergartner asked who is it harder for: the child leaving or the parent who cannot leave the prison. Silence filled our room as we pondered this heartbreaking and difficult question. Then Tevin spoke. He said, “For the father. I would know. I leave my dad every time I see him in prison.”

I sat blinking back tears. Tevin rarely spoke in our classroom. He told us this truth in June—I had no idea his father was in prison.  As is always true, I had so much to learn.

I still have so much to learn. It is from deeply authentic and transparent stories like Woodson’s and now Baskin’s that help others like me make sense of a world I know nothing about (prison) and the feelings, trials, and choices that children of men and women that live in prison. Ruby on the Outside is that kind of book. This is a novel about a young teen who lives with her aunt in a new-to-her town. Ruby makes friends with another girl who moves in, but she very works hard to keep all of her experiences and stories about her incarcerated mother completely hidden from Margalit, her new friend.

True to form, successful young adult writers must capture the reader immediately. Here are the first two paragraphs of the book:
“It’s all she’s known her whole life, Matoo explains to her friends on the phone when she thinks I can’t hear her. “Ruby doesn’t remember anything different, so for her it’s normal,” she says about me.

But Matoo is wrong...”
Baskin, page 1

Baskin, author of Anything But Typical among other titles, absolutely captured me in this text. I didn’t want it to end. I can imagine me as a child loving this book. Yep, it’s a keeper for me!!

Friday, July 10, 2015

Fort by Cynthia DeFelice

I should have known from the start that the author of Wild Life would take making a fort to new heights. And boy, did she!! I loved the second half of this book. I mean I loved the first too, and all of the information in the first half is critical for the second, but the second half of the book held my attention so rapt that I couldn't put it down. I am not sure which one I liked more, Wild Life or Fort

DeFelice starts her story with two teenage boys in their last couple of weeks in summer together. Augie and Wyatt are steadfast friends, and they have the distinct pleasure of sharing the same experiences of being bullied by a couple of school thunks. Since they only have 2 weeks left of summer, they decide to speedily build a fort out in the woods. Early on the the bullies find the fort and verbally tease Augie and Wyatt and in time, the boys decide to figure out that a neighborly special-needs teen has also been bullied. DeFelice sets up a sweet ending; while I don't usually agree with revenge, this time I was clapping and laughing too.

See what you think with her work and let me know. I look forward to learning what you thought!