Saturday, February 28, 2015

The Misadventures of Sweetie Pie by Chris Van Allsburg

I read everything by Chris Van Allsburg. I love his work. His writings are brilliant and insightful, curious and touchable. He is a literary rockstar to me.  I stumbled across The  Misadventures of Sweetie Pie last weekend at the library. Laughing out loud in delight at seeing the author, I added the book to my growing stack. SA-WEET!!

The book frames the life of Sweetie Pie the guinea pig through the animals' eyes. The pig experiences a wide range of loving gestures from young people, all well intended but not always well-acted upon. Van Allsburgs' drawings offer a unique window in through the eyes of the guinea pig, a perfect perspective that allows readers to consider what life might be like for a small animal cared for by a number of school-aged folks. The ending is a surprise and I had to read the book a couple of times to make sure I got it. That trait is typical Van Allsburg for sure.

A fun and engaging read, check out Sweetie Pie!

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Falling from Horses by Molly Gloss

I have long loved Molly Gloss' stories. Her way of writing captures my imagination and enlivens my mind to create images of the text. She is an Oregon writer, lives right here in Portland, and wrote Wild Life and The Jump-Off Creek among others. I always read her work slowly....a serious sign that I love the book.

Falling from Horses is set in the late 1930's. Bud, a young man eager to get away from his home ranch and explore Hollywood and the moving picture lifestyle. He hopes to make it big on the screen, figuring he can ride his way into pictures as a stunt rider. Although times are pretty tight (I think the word tight meant superslim wiggle room where money is concerned back then), Bud finds his way from being beat up in the middle of the night sleeping in a giant park in LA to working with the horses that were filmed in movies. His first Hollywood friend, Lily Shaw, stays important to Bud throughout the book, and their relationship as friends and lives as individuals revolves around and centers on movies. Bud is a steady character, slowly finding his way newly on his own and figuring out how to date (sort of), make a living (sort of kind of), and make the best choices he can(hmmmm). Gloss brings her best in this story, helping us almost live in Bud's shoes, particularly when the story touches into the deep well of family. Bud's ranching family who also lives hard-scrabble lives, and loss and love intertwine at the slowly intentional speed of hard work and hard living often found on ranches of the times. The story indeed takes Bud home again; I won't spoil a thing here about why or how.

Gloss helps me live into that inner cowgirl that lives inside of me. I have read The Jump-Off Creek a number of times and may return to it soon after reading Falling From Horses. Loved it, just loved it. 

Friday, January 30, 2015

Have you heard of this book? I have from a variety of sources: literacy conferences, teacher blogs, friends who are as rabid about books as I on a whim I sent it to my 6-year-old nephew for Christmas sight unseen. Ahem. Let's just say his older brother thought it was hysterical. When it arrived at the library for me, I raced to get it, eager to see how funny it was.

Oh it's funny. It is unique. It is different. And no, I do not plan to read it to my kindergartners. Reading it would cause utter anarchy. The young people would take over, demanding I read more racy, saucy, edgy-to-young people books. They would demand I read things with real humor. No more kid humor for them, no siree....And really I am not gonna read a book out loud to a bunch of kindergartners who would never stop laughing at me for the silly things it makes the reader do (and yes, it is funny!).

Rather I think I will play it safe. Stick with the more comfortable. Stay a little sane in the classroom. Keep it mellow. I mean really, what do I want? For my students to fall in love with humor and books? UH-UH, not on my watch. No making too much fun of me....

Just joking. Maybe. We'll see if I find enough bravery to read it. Maybe on the last day of school....maybe. This one is just as funny as folks say. Find it. Read it. See what you think. 

Friday, January 23, 2015

Love Will See You Through by Angela Farris Watkins

The very idea that someone could write about the civil rights movement from the perspective of neice to Martin Luther King Jr baffles me. Martin Luther King? Your uncle? As I read this text, I was somewhat reminded of Arun Gandhi, who wrote Grandfather Gandhi, and the fabulous important story he tells there. Watkins structures her book completely differently (nonfiction vs. Gandhi's fiction), but the book is powerful and generative on its own ground.

King had six guiding beliefs that fueled his every move: have courage, love your enemies, fight the problem, not the person who caused it, when innocent people are hurt, others are inspired to help, resist violence of any kind, and the universe honors love. The author uses these beliefs as effective underpinnings of King's life and his many inspiring, life-changing, and world-changing actions. The illustrations powerfully support the text on each page, engaging the reader on a wide variety of levels and entrances. The author keenly includes religion in her text; much of King's work was based in his firm beliefs in Christianity and faith.
A worthwhile read and incredibly important story, I encourage you to seek this text out. It is powerful.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Draw-A-Saurus by James Silvani

Looking for a great how-to drawing book on dinosaurs? Look no further: Silvani offers growing artists a sweet entrance into the fine art of the large beasts in his book Draw-A-Saurus.

I love the step-by-step way he helps artists along. Greater I love all of the names of dinosaurs throughout the text. That worked really well for me.

Silvani is a common artist, having success at Dreamworks and Disney among other well-known publishing and comic venues. Fun for artists and dinosaur lovers alike, Silvani has a winner here.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

What Forest Knows by George Ella Lyon

George Ella Lyon, famous for her I Am From...poem, offers us a beautiful gift in this book. Winter can be a daunting time, but Lyon brings out the starkness through a lens of seeing rather than shuttering.
Here her words focus with keen clarity through a seeming shared perspective: hers and the forests. Depth in simplicity, sparseness in full life, she crafts a story as if we are walking right beside her in the woods.
The illustrator, August Hall, is new to me so I will do some searching to learn more about him. So much to learn: new book, new illustrator, new views, new wonderings. All gifts. Thank you, George Ella Lyon.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Playing for the Commandant by Suzy Zail

I had one of those trips to the library, where every book I touched I knew was a gem. Here is one glorious, rich, challenging find from that visit:

Gestapo. Holocaust. SS guards/soldiers/ commandant. Aushwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. Hanna. Karl. Family. Black C sharp piano key. I so appreciate the current offerings from YA authors centering on the Holocaust, and here Zail offers us a whole new view, that of a commandant's son. Much like some of my other writing, occasionally these blog entries write themselves. Not this one. I feel vastly inadequate as I try to represent what the story is about and in turn, how it touches me. Inadequate indeed.

Like so many other Jews in Budapest, Hanna and her family are hatefully transported out of their lives (again!) and into Aushwitz-Birkenau on Polish lands. As soldiers separate the family, her father tells her to tell the world about all the autrocities they are experiencing and what is unfortunately to come. While the tragic story continues as soon, only Hanna and her sister remain together. Ironically Hanna becomes the piano player for the commandant of Aushwitz. She travels daily to his compound, playing when he commands and waiting patiently while he is not in the piano room. In time, she learns she can take small food scraps from the kitchen, benefitting both her, her sister, and their block leader. The ugliness of surviving in a concentration camp brutalizes most moments throughout the book, but the tender, subtle sliver of light comes from the commandant's son Karl. He calls Hanna by name not number, and in numerous stark moments at his father's house, he sees the prisoners as humans. A musician and singer in his own life, Karl moves to the music Hanna plays. Ironically this story has romance in it, a move that completely surprised me and alters the story in such twisty ways.

Zail writes Holocaust stories regularly, some of which connect to her father's experience as a survivor of that atrocity. More than worth exploring, Zail brings us a rich story in Playing for the Commandant. Explore it.

Post-script: Thank you to the two commenters who helped me realize a major error in my framing of this book. Aushwitz-Birkenau is not and never has been a Polish concentration camp/; it was established by the Germans on Polish soil and in no way was created by the Polish people/government in any way, shape, or form. I apologize for my misstatements, and/or misguiding words and I greatly appreciate the views from readers.

Thank you, readers, who continue to expand my knowledge.