Saturday, October 25, 2014

I think one of the things I love most about Patricia MacLachlan's writing is how it enlivens my thinking with images. As I read this brand-new gem from Ms. MacLachlan, I could seen tons of details: the porch, the steps, the river, the bridge, the family van, the chickens, the sleeping situation when they camped under the overhang, the cow....the list goes on and on. I just see characters and settings, live and stills, all alive in my head.

Lucy can't sing. But her teeny brother who most folks think can't talk can. And he sings with her every night. Or for her. Lucy gets sort of lost in the day to day of life, trying to figure out where she sits in all of it, what she might be as she grows up. Then the family travels down to her great aunt's house to help out when the river rises and Lucy has all sorts of moments to figure out who she is and what makes her tick.

This is a sweet read; those of you who have been reading this blog for awhile know that I (Andie) love MacLachlan's work. For instance, Edward's Eyes. WOW. Awesome read. This read is almost as good in a different way. But still important, still worth picking up, still totally worth figuring out with Lucy what makes her tick and why. Fly Away. A great autumn, windy-rainy day kind of book. 

Friday, October 17, 2014

Just Call My Name by Holly Goldberg Sloan

The author of I'll Be There has come out with a sequel that will keep you hopping in suspense and hoping for a decent outcome. I loved I'll Be There, and reviewed it here:

"...Emily knew how to do manipulation techniques to solve derivations in calculus using a graphing calculator. She knew how to conjugate Spanish language verbs in six ­tenses. But she had not been taught about psychopaths..." 

Sam and little brother Riddle now live with Emily's family at their house. Safe from their crazy, abusive, controlling, unpredictable father who is in prison, Sam has started community college and Riddle starts talking a little after years of silence. Emily continues to attend high school, and younger brother Jared dreams of a brother not quite like either Sam or Riddle whom he secretly and seriously dislikes. Add in a new twist in the form of a gal named Destiny--racy, seemingly intrusive, and totally unafraid of anything, Destiny runs through life with the throttle wide open. Here is a little opener into her life from well into the story:
"...Destiny took a deep breath. 
Well, he didn't scare her. 
She exhaled. 
He did scare her. 
He totally scared her. 
But she hadn't struck out on her own as a kid by being scared.
Or maybe she had.
So maybe she had used her fear to her advantage. Taht was another way to see it." (Page 264)

I liked this book for the way the author uses fear to several of the character's advantage, like she did in I'll Be There. I also loved the character development, though honestly I didn't like Destiny until way, way later in the book. What about you?

Saturday, October 11, 2014

A is for Activist by Innosanto Nagara

Looking for a new alphabet book? An alphabet book that grips all of us by the shoulders and encourages us to do the right thing in so many moments of our lives? An alphabet book that is for so many more than the usual alphabet-book audience? Here is your book:

Try this page on for fit:

And this one:

And then go get the book to read to your family or classroom or self....and then go change the world, one step, one gentle word and message at a time.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Pete the Cat and His Magic Sunglasses

Many of my students have been read to before, but they don't seem to have read many of the books I bring in. So note to self: keep bringing in books! Tons of them, in fact! I am constantly checking out a spread of goodness from all sorts of amazing authors and illustrators, and one of my goals is to read tons and tons out loud this year. One new-to-most-of-them book was Pete the Cat and His Magic Sunglasses.

Pete is the cool cat, always searching out some trouble or another, seeking to save the day for those around him. This book finds him using magic glasses to change characters' feelings from negative to positive. I know my students love the illustrations of Pete and his buddies. They noticed all sorts of details in the pictures, which is then simple for me to use as a mentor text into their writing in class. They also appreciated the humor of the basic storyline. Pete the Cat books always have some catchy phrase that is repeated throughout the books, and this one is indeed something my students enjoyed.

I look forward to searching out some of the older Pete the Cat books. I understand the storyline is even more engaging. I know for certain that I will bring in more Pete....we all need some magic sunglasses some days!

Saturday, September 27, 2014

I Stink! by Kate and Jim McMullen

I never thought I would talk so much about garbage trucks. But my students loved this book and asked for me to read it over and over so I thought I would share.

I Stink! is a keeper. Loud, in your face, and straight-up honest about what a trash truck does. The alphabet list of all that a trash truck picks up (non exhaustive, of course!) is funny, the reality of when a trash truck is used helps young people connect with mornings, jobs, and more, and the sound effects are just fun to call out.

This is definitely one to seek out if you are searching for an engaging book all about stinky stuff.  I hear the McMullans have a new one out---I'm Brave!  These reads are just right for my young read-aloud crowd of kindergartners. Happy searching out the stinkiness of life here in the U.S.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

If You're Reading This by Trent Reedy

Reedy wrote a couple of other YA novels, both of which draw on his experience in the military.

Imagine what it might be like for your father to have been killed years ago in the Afghan war, and then one day, mail arrives from him? For you, with no return address? His handwriting, his stories, his voice: all captured within a letter written distinctly for and to you. In If You’re Reading This, author Reedy twists the reader’s perspective into a what-if mystery. When a letter arrives from his father, he doesn’t know what to think or do. The mystery grows as more letters arrive, and the wishes of his father grow more obvious. Since Mike’s father didn’t make it back from the war, he wrote the letters to ensure that when Mike turned 16, he would have the opportunity to hear what his father wished for him as he grows up.

And indeed Mike takes his father’s wisdom and advice, making decisions to join the football team and pursue dating a girl he really likes. But there is a circling tension that comes from Mike not telling anyone about the letters and his decisions sometimes need the support of a parent first. Mike gets himself into hot water pretty deep, pretty fast. But you gotta keep reading to see where it all lands. Find this book if you are hungry for a story about a football-loving, book-smart, curious young man who wants to be like his little-known father in all of the best ways. 

Friday, September 5, 2014

A picture book with a mentor text or a nonfiction memoir with a mentor picture book?

Trudy Ludwig's brilliant book (illustrated by Craig Orback) offers a unique if difficult window into life in Nazi-occupied  The book is in fact about Alter Weiner's life, before, during, and after the Holocaust. His is a painful and beautiful story, filled with grimness and hate as well as kindness and hope. Here is a particularly meaningful quote from the middle of the book.  A German factory worker gifts him with a sandwich. Midbook, he writes,

"To this day, I don't know her reason for feeding me. What I do know is that she gave me the energy and hope to survive. Her acts of kindness also made me stop and think: How can I believe all Germans are my enemy when this woman, a German, had risked her life for me? That's when I learned my most important lesson in life: There are the kind and the cruel in every group of people. How those you meet in life treat you is far more important than who they are."
Gifts from the Enemy

From A Name to A Number is written by Alter Weiner, the same person who is the sole focus of Gifts from the Enemy.
While I have only read parts of this text, I have found it remarkable. It is a dense text and most definitely a difficult story to hear. Weiner frames his life alongside the happenings in Nazi Germany, his life before, during, and after living in several concentration camps for 35 months!!! Weiner continues to speak publically; his website gives offers a brief glimmer into that world. His purpose remains clear: to not have another Holocaust occur.

Two rich books, filled with stories of an awful time in our history. I struggle to close this entry, wondering what words fit. Maybe his will be the missing puzzle piece. Here is Weiner's closing to From A Name to A Number:

"Just as the homosexuals, the Jehovah's Witnesses, communists, and others were murdered not for what they had done or said, but for what they were. I was a victim of insane cruelty for no offense or sin--just for my faith. I was condemned though never accused of any offense.

I have been clamoring to konw why! Sometimes I wish I could pretend that it did not happen, but it did. Regretfully, it may happen again if we let prejudice and evil rein." (229)