Friday, February 5, 2016

Orbiting Jupiter by Gary D. Schmidt

For some unknown-to-me reason, I had Gary Paulsen mixed up with Gary Schmidt. Not anymore. Paulsen writes fabulous coming-of-age-out-in-the-wilderness books that I love. Schmidt writes stuff like Okay for Now and The Wednesday Wars. Totally different writing genres, styles, and more. I dunno, maybe it was the Gary thing. Orbiting Jupiter helped clarify things in my confused mind.

The cover photo of a teen walking away from the camera into dense fog with arms flying tilted through the air seemed intriguing at first. Now I get it: it is the perfect photo for this book. Disequilibrium seems to follow Jack after a new foster brother Joseph arrives at his family’s farm. Joseph enters the story surly and difficult, unapproachable and stand-offish. Jack tries and tries but can’t figure out how to get into Joseph’s vision of living. So Jack just waits. They ride the school bus together until some bully of a schoolmate lays down some smack about Joseph’s past (something about trying to kill a teacher). Joseph decides to walk to school in the frozen winter climate, and younger Jack follows suit. On the farm, Jack watches Joseph slowly acquire milking skills under Jack’s dads’ tutelage. But it is Joseph’s frequent nightmares and sleep-talking that most confuses Jack. Jack knows only a little about his new bunkmates’ history, and Joseph sure isn’t offering any stories to anyone. Heck, Joseph hardly ever smiles. In time, Jack figures out who Joseph calls out to in his sleep and who he longingly looks out the window for. It is a story worth reading, especially since that person is not who you think it is.

Schmidt builds his characters in fabulous ways, and I found myself visualizing the scenes frequently. This is a solid read, and I look forward to reading more from this popular author. However Orbiting Jupiter for sure stands alone.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Love Monster and the Last Chocolate by Rachel Bright

Chocolate Lovers Unite! Or at least read this picture book. Love Monster and the Last Chocolate definitely by Rachel Bright will be a great read aloud! I plan to read it to my class soon.

Love Monster is just returning home from a trip. As commonly true, he is feeling a little blue because his trip is over. As he approaches his home, he finds a box of chocolates on his doorstep. He dreams about what might be inside and which ones he might eat. But mostly he struggles to decide if he should share the chocolates with his friends. Just as he gets ready to lift the lid, he gets this odd feeling in his heart. Read this gem to see what he does. The monster’s explanation is priceless. 

Bright uses her talents well in this title of Love Monster. I am ordering the other Love Monster titles too....ought to be exciting to see where all she has taken this wonderful monster to and how she gets him out of life's scuffaws. 

Saturday, January 9, 2016

All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely

This book has been getting a decent amount of press lately. Brilliantly written between two teen voices, Quinn and Rashad, struggling to make sense of 9/11 and its aftermath here in the US. The two authors who co-write the story offer readers the challenging lens of two high school boys and their families negotiating terrorism, racism, and bullying. The story alternates chapter by chapter between the two boys for the most part, each chapter offering both a next step in the story as well as a different perspective to view events through. The undertones and quietly-stated bullying tactics seem right on to me, but I would really like to know what young people think of this read. Perhaps most gripping to me is how true to life this book really is today.

Racial profiling is alive and thriving here in Portland tragically and across the country. The challenge is how to carefully open the conversation so young people (and the adults who care with them) can discuss our country's challenges with grace and compassion. Reynolds and Kiely genuinely bring a direly important issue to light in All American Boys, and their invitation to discuss racial violence and destruction on this continent. Nominated for a 2015 Nerdies Young Adult Fiction Award in the last week or two, this is a stellar and heartbreaking read, one that we all need to access and open conversation toward change with.