Friday, July 18, 2014

2 Great Summer Picture Books!

Summer has finally arrived, and with it, came a wealth of fabulous reads....I can hardly keep up. Because of this plethora, the next few weeks' postings will feature a couple of great books each. ENJOY!! This week we are posting two really fun picture books.

The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires
Spires wrote Small Saul and a graphic novel series with Binky the Space Cat, both of which I need to seek out. I recently used the most magnificent Thing as a stepping off point in my work with teachers. Interesting things happen when you start with the lurking possibility of failure! 

I will be honest: I expect if my mother read this book, she would see me in it. If you know me, you might even say that is me on the cover...except I would be wearing shorts and my hair would not be as neat. But, dear reader, do you see yourself in the book? 

The girl in the book creates. She always has her "trusty assistant" at her side. She is always gathering, imagining, scheming, and building. Until one day when her work doesn't work, when she can't make the thing she really wants to make. She gets ticked and blows her top. "It is not her finest moment." But how does she find her way out of her anger? What lies beyond her failures? 
You gotta read it to find out. Great artwork, phrasing is just right, and enterable for any age reader. Loved this one.

My Teacher is a Monster! by Peter Brown

Peter Brown is known for his masterful writing. I loved (and use in my classroom) The Curious Garden, and Mr Tiger Goes Wild has recieved numerous awards. Here we get his take on the nasty, mean teacher, yeah, the one who looks and sounds like a monster. As usual, his illustrations lead us into that dastardly world immediately!

Bobby obviously is the most perfect boy in his school. Mrs. Kirby yells, roars, stomps, and makes life in general ugly for said perfect boy. Life becomes really ugly one day at the park. There he sees.....the dreadful MRS. KIRBY!
But as is often true in picture books, some surprises occur...
Brown offers us a fun reflection on days in schools and the people whom we interact with. And, as a teacher transitioning into the kindergarten classroom, he gives me a terrific tool for a read aloud and an even-more solid message: look beneath the monster. 

Friday, July 11, 2014

Juggling Fire by Joanne Bell

Orca Publishers, an independent Canadian children's book publisher, is into putting out high-interest, environmentally-conscious reads. They published the series Seven; I loved the book Devil's Pass by Sigmund Brouwer and reviewed it here: Fire reads somewhat similiarly--teenager trying to figure out their way in life, who their allies are, and how they will deal with all the crap that comes flying at them. The storyline, the character development, and the writing all held me captive; the setting came alive right in front of me.

If I had had books filled with female teens moving through the Alaskan wilderness alone seeking to unearth life's mysteries, I believe my life's course might have been different. Not that I didn't do my fair share of exploring, but the high country always held a little more risk than I felt comfortable biting into by myself. Juggling Fire is set in Alaska in Yukon Territory. Rachel's dad has not returned from the much-needed nothern-Yukon alone time that he set off for a year prior. Rachel decides that since he didn't leave a suicide note at home, there is more to the mystery than him simply killing himself since struggling with depression. With her mother's support and a plan in place, she sets off for the family cabin, remotely placed into the wildnerness and more than a week's hike from their home nearer town. Rachel competently and comfortably hikes in with her dog, finding the route as a grizzly follows her. The self-discovery embedded in this book offer a sweet glimpse into some of the thinking one might experience as a solo hiker in some gorgeous country. The resolution of the story holds great merit, and I loved how the author wove purpose throughout her tale. Her writing reminds me of Will Hobb's work that I love so much.

Living in the bush seems to be something the author knows a little about. Evidently she spends as much time as she can at her cabin above Dawson, also in the Yukon. A couple of years ago, my family and I travelled up to Alaska, spending time fishing and exploring a bit. Vast space, that land, and well beyond much of my comfort level for exploration (read: what am I supposed to do if I come across a bear?!). I can imagine, had I come across this author earlier in life, I might have found my own way to figuring out life up North. For now though I will be content reading books like this one. 

Friday, July 4, 2014

Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls

I bet I have read this book 100 times. I first read it as young teen and will always recall my mother's answer to my asking for a dog, a real dog...not some small drop-kick thing (oops, sorry to you small-dog lovers) but a real dog to be by my side through thick and thin, a buddy whom I could talk to and dream big with and explore all of the wilderness outside my door. She said, "No." Now I read it about twice a year, and I still disappear into those gorgeous Ozark Mountains, hunting with Billy and his dogs in my head.

After I got my first teaching job, I waited until my fourth day in a new city to get a pup of my own. Ren was a dream dog--wiggly, soft, and all mine. He would do anything for me and yet he did a bunch for himself---chewing up parts of the rental house, running away, peeing smack dab in the center of my bed in the middle of the night, dragging a bird's talon to me after a quick escape from his leash at the beach (let me tell you: that was a disgusting treat!). But I knew Ren was dedicated to me like nothing I had experienced. We were pals through and through, and little could get inbetween us. We explored all sorts of places in the 11 years he and I were together, and while he was no Little Ann or Old Dan, he was all Ren and maybe the most amazing dog I will ever have.

I recently learned something new about Wilson Rawls, the author that I found amazing. Evidently the story in the book is autobiograhical, down to growing up scrap poor, his mama teaching him as best she could, and not having enough money to buy paper and pencil. As a teen, he left home as a teen to find work; he also started writing then, keeping all of his stories in a trunk. Before he married his wife, he took all of the stories out of that trunk and burned them. When she learned of the bonfire of his more that 300 stories, she demanded he write one for her to read. In three weeks, he recreated the bones of the book and gave it to her, leaving the house for several hours in his deep worry of his spelling errors and lack of grammatical knowledge. When he called her a few hours later, she told him to come work on it with her so they could send it in. That was the beginning of what became Where the Red Fern Grows. Here is a link to that little piece of history:

And right after you finish checking out that story on Jim Trelease's website, I know you are gonna want to go get a book and a dog, and not necessarily in that order.

Friday, June 27, 2014

The Girl and The Bicycle by Mark Pett

I have been stopped by a bike again.

This time it was "the girl," out with her brother being a kind older sister, when said bike leaps into the picture, demanding mental screen and dream time. Girl heads home to dream and scheme, deciding she can earn money and buy the bike of her dreams.
She works and works, collecting coins and dreaming. Finally the magic moment comes. She goes to the bike shop to buy the bike, but the window is empty.

I refuse to tell you more. It might stop you from seeking out this wordless picture book or from needing to reread to figure out what happened or from engaging your metacognition and the myriad of stories that beg to be grappled with from this brilliant story. Pett offers us readers a sweet set of moments with this beautiful text. I know that my kindergarten students and I will explore this one in depth this fall.

For now, I remain stopped by a bike again.....

Friday, June 20, 2014

The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd

Just finished this revealing gem over a bowl of cereal and fresh raspberries. Ahh, the joys of summer: freshly-picked berries and reading through a meal. Love it!! And I loved this book! I enjoy Sue Monk Kidd's writing, the rhythms and weavings she masterfully places on the page.  This story caught me from the start, and the author's pattern of alternating between storytellers held me close. And the ending: whoa. That is an ending.

Briefly Kidd frames the story of Sarah Grimke, a Charleston-born wealthy slave-owner's daughter, who will grow up to become one of our nation's first feminsts (for real--this story is historical fiction), and Handful, one of the slaves on the plantation, back in the early nineteenth century. Their relationship offers us a window into the trials of boundaries, societal views, and breaking out of the confines at the time and place in the U.S.'s trialful history. Kidd writes with a quiet, growing tension in her work, and The Invention of Wings subtly swept me along until poof! I could not put it down. While I assumed some of the grim actions of slave owners and society in general were true (treacherous and true), I hadn't connected the historical implications of her story until I read her notes after I finished reading the story. I loved learning about techniques slaves used to capture and communicate their life stories on quilts. I also appreciated the author's thorough notes at the end of the book, opening up a whole new world of story-telling for us to witness.

We recently watched 12 Years a Slave, and I occasionally connected the two sets of stories. The most soul-stopping for me is how we treated slaves. I struggle to write about it here; I continue to be both moved and grieved by some of the new details that I have come to understand through these two resources.

The Invention of Wings is most definitely a worthy read. If you like Sue Monk Kidd's earlier work, you will indeed enjoy this one as well.

Friday, June 13, 2014

me since you by Laura Wiess


Books with storylines of loss and turning inward often swallow me, but this one took me by surprise. I was mistaken in my belief that the biggest loss in this book would be the bridge-jump that Rowan witnesses. Rowan loses far more, and author Wiess wisely makes us wait until a third of the way through the book to get it. But still, hers is a grim story...that is until right close to the end, something made me turn my head massively. This is a difficult read, absolutely, but it also is worth it totally.

I heard you: what the heck, Andie? How can you so slightingly say someone committing suicide in a book is not that bad? Not what I meant for sure, but wait 'till you read this to see if you agree with how I wrote what I wrote. This is a tough book to write about, and I wonder how difficult it was for the author to write. She seems to know a whole bunch about the key focal points she writes about. Okay, I heard you: duh, of course she does. But no, wait til you read me since you and you will understand what I am saying. The way she writes this entire book is stunning.

Quick synopsis: Teenager Rowan is struggling and giving her parents a hard time. Father is a cop, comes home to set Rowan straight, gets called to a bridge jumper right near their house, and does not succeed in getting the jumper to rethink things. Father struggles massively, gets put on leave, depression takes over. Mother tries to do what she thinks is best, daughter tries to figure out how to deal with her majorly struggling father. Rowan meets amazing young man who comes with his own significant story. Father hits crisis point, Rowan can't figure out how to help him, mother can't figure out how to help him, he gets worse and Father, Boyfriend, Rowan all have their lives intertwine is remarkable ways.

This book lives on the edge. I loved that. It was difficult to read at times, but if I can't cry while reading a book, where can I cry? Fascinating. Great read. Check it out. 

Friday, June 6, 2014

Boy on the Edge by Fridrik Erlings

This could be a hard review for me to write. Have you ever read a story that left you wordless as you read? That is what happened to me while reading Boy on the Edge.

Erlings, an Icelandic author, sets this story out on the edge of alot of things. For one, the physical setting is a home with some property outside of town next to a giant cliff leading down to the Icelandic- frigid coastal waters. Two, he frames the parental figures on their own edge: the mother figure is soft and motherly, warm and compassionate, and utterly unseen and cruely dismissed by the father figure, a fiercely frightening and frightened priest who seeks to command and demand others do his bidding and every single action he spouts off about or utters. Third, the boys who come to stay at this foster home are on their own sort of edge, being removed from their own family-of-origins to stay with this "family" while they serve out a sentence and do their penance. Which takes us to Henry, the main character. Henry has difficulty putting into words his thoughts and feelings. He experienced some pretty judgmental crap early on and has resorted to not talking much to simply survive the trials that make up his life. He makes friends with a giant bull, one of the herd of bovines that he cares for. As a teen, he watches and listens, tossing around in his mind what friendship can mean, what unhealthy relationships do to a person inside, and what kindness can do to one's relationships. In time, Henry finds his own way to "speak" with kindness to humans, and in turn, creates his own home.

This was a powerful read for me. I truly found this quiet book both remarkably written and breathless as I read. A small disclosure: as I came into the final pages, I literally sucked in my breath, stunned at the turn of events. I had not even imagined.....see what you think when you read it. You might be on the edge like I was...