Monday, May 25, 2015

As the school year turns toward the last few weeks, I notice it challenging to stay invested in books. Time is often short for reading, and I frequently abandon books. Not true with Cartwheeling in Thunderstorms. Katherine Rundell’s sophomore young adult novel, a twisting story centering on Will.

I loved how the author frames the protagonist, a child raised in the bush of Africa, half-wild and completely in love with everything about her life: her father, her friends, and the animals and experiences she stumbles intentionally into. Her mother had recently passed, and she and her father are discovering how to live life with just the two of them. Until her father falls in love with another woman (use that label lightly) and alters Will’s life forever. Will is sent away to a boarding school for girls in England, and every inch of her body and soul struggles there. Her wildness comes out more, and she is bullied and teased relentlessly. But who she is and how she negotiates this trial-filled time actually turns others toward her in surprising ways.

I found great yet quiet hope in this read. Rundell has a subtle and strong way of launching the reader into the life of her protagonist, and at times, I certainly was clear that I had had similar experiences like Will. But then the plot would change and I knew that indeed that her life was nothing like mine in any way. Some of this meandering between connection and unknown helped me concretely connect with the story, and I for sure would love to know more about Will later in her life. I will continue to seek out Rundell’s work. This one held onto me during a distracted time.

Monday, May 11, 2015

El Deafo by Cece Bell

I feel super curious about graphic memoirs these days. When a friend told me her granddaughter loved El Deafo, I knew I wanted to read it. And I was not disappointed. I thought I would be able to whip through the book; boy was I wrong. In fact, I read the graphic memoir slower than if I had read another book. Very surprising. And totally engaging. Guess that is why she won a Newberry for this read.

El Deafo is the story of CeCe Bell's childhood. Ms. Bell contracts menningitis when she is 4 and ends up losing her hearing. The story takes  us from the moments of illness to figuring out how to communicate with friends and how to help them communicate with (and not be afraid of) her. CeCe takes us through what it is (was) like to go to school, to use a device called a Phonic Ear, and how she makes friends- the same way we all do: trial and error and talking a ton. The memoir offers us a lovely view into her thoughts as she negotiates many difficult and hysterical moments (not usually at the same time). What is particularly striking however is the added challenge that comes with deafness, for both the friend and the individual. Her creation of a superhero is remarkable, and it helps her reader really see how simply human (and direly superhuman) she is.

El Deafo: A sweet read. Any other great graphic memoirs you know about? I am game to explore....

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Three Bird Summer by Sara St. Antoine

I think summer's call must be loud right now for me. I keep stumbling into these amazing sounding books, I get them home, I begin to read, and I lose interest. I abandon one book after another, looking for some unknown storyline....or is it unknown? Maybe it includes a cabin on a lake, the home older and full of one's family history. Maybe it includes teenagers who yearn for time to make sense of all that is coming at them--in school, family, and life. Maybe it includes canoeing, time on the water, and treasure maps. Maybe it includes a summer I yearn for: a rustic cabin on the lake, canoes, sleeping, reading, exploring, watching nature, time, more glorious time, friends, time with friends, time alone, and lots and lots of time in the water every day. Maybe my spirit just wants to recalibrate in a way like Adam gets to.

I loved reading Three Bird Summer. I so want to be in this cabin, well any cabin on a lake, for the summer. But the way St. Antoine lays out this cabin, with the story of who lives there and why, makes it all the more enticing. Adam seeks out the annual summer stay at his grandmother's cabin, albeit this year without extended family because his parents divorced. His mother hovers over he and his grandmother, determined to set a course she can control. Adam devises his own way to work around his mother, albeit in a way that makes total sense and maintains his integrity. He meets a stellar, kind, down-to-earth new friend-who-happens-to-be-a-girl, and they end up hanging out alot. Then there is this treasure map Adam finds. And these mysterious notes. And his grandmother's confusion. And there is water, lots of lake water: for playing on and in, for getting away from crazy-family life, and for witnessing animals in a whole new way.

Looking for a summer read before summer arrives? Try out Three Bird Summer. And may all of your summer dreams come true! Maybe this book is just what I have been waiting for.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

The Honest Truth by Dan Gemeinhart

Book covers matter. The cover of The Honest Truth caught me big time, and I read the YA novel from that visual start. My mind images cratered through as I read, reminding me of separation, survival, and the dire questions our lives force us to answer.

Mark and his dog set out on a journey. Taking few things with them and leaving one or two notes behind, Mark figures this will be the last time he sees his home, family, and friend who is a girl. Mark has outlasted death a few times, and now his sickness is winning. Mark figures out how to outsmart most people as he escapes to Mt. Rainier where he has decided to die, but he didn’t count on how others might respond.

This is Dan Gemeinhart’s first book, and I really enjoyed his writing style. It was clean and deep. I can’t imagine what it is like to always be sick as a child, to always need medicine, to always need doctors, and to always need others. The main character who tells his own story gives voice to that part of at least one young teen who called enough and tried to get out of his own life. It just didn’t all go the way he planned. The cover caught me first, but his story kept me with him the whole way.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

365 Penguins by Jean-Luc Fromental and Joelle Jolivet

Looking for a terrific read aloud for your youngsters? An engaging read aloud with a small mystery and a little math for yourself? This new book might capture your sure did mine and my students! This big gem has been around for a bit, published in 2006, but it was perfect for my class. We have been in the midst of a giant study on penguins. Students are working on their own nonfiction penguin research. This fiction book offered the flavor of a tall tale as additional possibility for many of my students.

Fun, funny, with some tough math tossed in to complicate matters in a perfectly penguin way.

The pictures are rich, the pages giagantic, and the colors perfect. Even from our distance, I want to read the book again! 

A worthy read for a variety of purposes, I encourage you to seek 365 Penguins out. It is perfect!

Sunday, March 29, 2015

The Way to Stay in Destiny by Augusta Scattergood

Augusta Scattergood authored a favorite book of mine, Glory Be. Now she changes course by connecting Theolonius Monk and baseball while keeping her amazing knowing of kid smart in her new book, The Way to Stay in Destiny.

What a treat of a read! I love how Scattergood seems to weave her books. Her writing is so well thought out as well as an inspiring example of storytelling; she creates a tapestry of experience, living, and crafting through the eyes and hearts of young people. It is obvious she studies them when she writes...or else she just knows kids really with ultra-clarity. Take Theo for example. The main character in Scattergood's new book, Theo is stuck with his seemingly deadbeat uncle. Uncle quit life in Alaska to come take care of young teen Theo, and he is none too happy about it. Theo's parents died in a car wreck years before, and now his grandparents (Uncle Raymond's parents) are unable to care for him. Theo left everything (friends, dog, relations) because Uncle forced him. Theo meets a girl who just happens to love baseball as much as he does within the first few days of being in Destiny, Florida, and with the possibility of a real friend, his thinking turns from regret (like Uncle's) to maybe- I- could-have-a-friend and maybe-I- can-do- this. He also begins to take life into his own hands, realizing what he wants to do and where he wants to live. He finds ways to stand up to bitter and overpowering Uncle Raymond, he keeps playing the piano much to the disgust of said uncle, and he finds out more about himself in the process. Baseball, loss, music, history, life without support, life with support.....Theo keeps popping up in my mind as does his sooon-to-be-sidekick Annabel and wonderful room-renter Miss Sister. And the story ends with important questions, exactly like I like.

I could keep going but I think I have said enough. Scattergood simply writes clean and steady storylines that keep me massively engaged. The Way to Stay in Destiny is a new favorite of mine. Can't wait to read more from this author. 

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Ghost Medicine by Andrew Smith

I write from Port Angeles, Washington on a ferry to Victoria, BC. One of the great trials I am working through is carving enough time to 1). read and 2). write about the great books I am reading. Ahh well, the gift of time a beautiful ferry and drive time offers!!

Andrew Smith wrote the book Stick, an enticing YA morsel that I loved reading:  I recently stumbled across Ghost Medicine, written in 2008. It has been a perfect read for me this last week leading up to and beginning our trek North. I frequently feel blessed to be able to read in the car, and this trip has offered me multiple opportunities to dive right into those patiently- waiting books. I finished up Ghost Medicine in the first hour, heartily grabbed by Smith’s ability to grow plot tension.

Troy Stotts is a young upstart teen, eager to figure out life and find his place as he grows up. He loves most veins of working with horses, but he is battling his own inner demons on loss. He decides to talk with a rancher who owns a ton of horses and loads of acres of land for a job. It doesn’t hurt that the rancher just so happens to be the father of the girl of his dreams. Side story with bully Cha……, deputy sheriff’s son filled with ugly  meanness, grows to center stage by the end of the read. Other teens fill in Troy’s inner circle: Tommy who also works on the ranch and Gabe and Luz, siblings and children of big-daddy rancher with love, friendship, and protection. Oh and there’s that little cautious romance going on with Luz….just sayin’. Author Smith does a sweet job of really building tension in this book, all the while surrounding the teens with the dreamy world of horses. I imagine this book listed as a coming-of-age novel, focusing more on how Troy lives his life without his brother and mother, both of whom have died during his lifetime; his father ungracefully meandering through his own grief after losing his wife and Troy’s mother but absolutely doing his best. The storyline takes us through protagonists and antagonists, all while Troy tries to make sense of life and loss. A cabin way up in the woods offers key solace and treachery, and a neighborly widow offers support in surprising ways as well.

I really enjoyed this one, especially to start off spring break. I escaped into a whole ‘nother world. This is a worthy read for those of us who dream about horses and the lives of living on a ranch, of course with twists and turns and survival.