Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Questions, Questions by Marcus Pfister

I love this new picture book, Questions, Questions. Although Marcus Pfister is a prolific children's book author, I haven't read many of his books. This one really caught me though. The illustrations are simple and superb, making even the most artistically challenged (me!) believe that we can make art like his. The storyline is actually a poem, drawn out through the pages in sweet, savory bites. Each page catches the eye and mind. And what surprised me most was how I felt equally engaged, whether I read the words or looked into the paintings first, while reading the book. This book was even reviewed on the blog Spirituality and Health. I encourage you to check this out if you are looking for a picture book about nature with few words and great meaning, page by page, searching for a poem woven artfully into words or just looking for new ways to create beautiful art.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Who's Reading What?

I have had the lovely gift of time with three teen girls this week. Alysa's cousins, Molly and Amelia, are visiting from Colorado. We have explored to the Oregon coast, hit Powell's Books, shopped the mall, and eaten like there is no tomorrow. We have talked and talked and talked over many meals eaten together and numerous games played on the floor and table. I have witnessed raucous laughter and critical review in response to the variety of movie viewing and Glee exploring over the last few days. The conversations I have heard and the ones that happen far away from my ears warm my heart. But imagine my surprise when I realized last night that it had gotten very, very quiet out in the front room. I peeked around the kitchen corner to see each girl reading, their heads buried deep in a thick book and their bodies in various comfortable arrangements on the furniture. Ahhhh, the power of the books. Lucky for all of us, these three girls love to read. They are picky about their books, choosing what most engages them. They are critical readers, knowing that summer reading is a free choice time. For the most part. Both Molly and Amelia have assigned summer reading from their schools. I feel confident Alysa will comment on her good fortune of not having summer reading once these girls go home. I loved listening into their explorations at Powell's (a giant, wonderful independent bookstore here in Portland), in the car, in a variety of places around the house and during our time outside on the beach and around the neighborhood.

I thought I would share with you a teeny slice of their thinking...maybe this will help fill your summer reading list!

Molly just finished The Mysterious Benedict Society, a recently- penned classic for the teen crowd. She thought the text was well written and the ideas are good, but Molly wanted more emotion in the book. She has now turned to Sweet Little Lies by Lauren Conrad, the sequel to L.A. Candy. Partway through, she is reading it because it is a sequel and she wanted to know what happened in the rest of the series. Molly said, "I like how she talks just like its another day, no extravagant descriptions...more of a care-free fun read than a deep one." Her next book will likely be Elixer by Hillary Duff. She read a review in Entertainment Week that spoke positively of the book. She wants to know if the "typical author actor- role" will work out for Hillary because she likes watching her in movies. The plot sounds interesting too to Molly.

Amelia seems to be beating the current national trend that high school students don't read for pleasure(thank goodness!). She just finished Matched by Ally Condie. It is good and reminded her about Uglies by Scott Westerfield, one of her fave authors. Matched was not what she expected-- she kinda liked the main character but also kinda hated her. She said she won't tell us more because "you have to read it!" Now she is rereading the parts of Matched that she likes. Now that she knows what happens in the book, she "can skip around and work the story to what she wants to happen." Next on the plate: Whip It based on the fascinating movie with Drew Barrymore and Ellen Page. And of course, that required reading for high school...

Alysa has a leg up on the other two: she just turned 13, and with that birthday came a gift certificate to Powell's from our two lovely visitors this week. Because of our recent adventure to the big Powell's downtown, she has a collection of new choices at her fingertips. She just finished Jenny Han's We Will Always Have Summer, followed by Something Like Fate by Susane Colasanti. She just started Sarah Dessen's new one, What Happened To Goodbye. Of those three, she has been most taken by the Dessen book. To Alysa, it is better written and it has a deeper storyline and plot. Let me tell you: when the book was unwrapped, eyebrows of interest raised on Amelia's face. Evidently Amelia is a Sarah Dessen fan too.

What might you add to your summer free reading pile?

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Two Bobbies

Two Bobbies by Mary Nethery and Kirby Larson was a book that brought tears to my eyes. It had surprises around every corner. And in the end you left the book feeling like the right thing had happened even though throughout the book you are constantly on edge about what is going to happen next for the two strays. You feel your heart lifting with joy as the animals learn to find their way. I thought that it was extremely well written and kept the reader holding on until the very last word. I really enjoyed it and know that I will read it time and again.

Bobbi and Bob Cat were one of the many animals that lost their home or family during Hurricane Katrina, but unlike some of the others, they were always there for each other. And when rescue didn't help them, they knew that they were going to need to be there for each other more than ever. The dog, Bobbi, and the cat Bob Cat learn how to care for each other in the sad environment and how to be there for each other.

I thought that this was a miraculous story, and it really makes you realize how strong animals can be and really makes you appreciate them more. I really enjoyed this book, and I hope that you will too.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Grandpappy Snippy Snappies by Lynn Plourde

For those of you who know me personally, you well know of my love of books that cross generations. I love Karen Hesse's Cats from Krasinski Square, Dennis Haseley's A Story for Bear, and anything by Byrd Baylor. You might know that I used Mary Oliver poems with my kindergarten students and within my graduate courses, and I am always trying to read young adult books that span greater audiences than just those 17-year-old teens. Even my partner suggests that I am, at times, too serious. So knowing that it is summer and the sun is actually shining here in Portland (summer doesn't technically start here until July 5th so you can bet we are overjoyed!), I thought I would take a risk and read something a little lighter.

Lynn Plourde's writing often carries a whimsical, humorous energy to it. Her picture book series of the seasons is a rich one, offering both an energetic inroads to each season but also deep rhyme and message. Grandpappy Snippy Snappy is flat out funny, reminding me in loose ways of Farmer McPeepers and His Missing Milk Cows by Katy Duffield. If you haven't read that, stop reading and run, run to the library. It is hysterical!

But I digress.

Grandpappy Snippy Snappy offers readers a playful entrance into alliteration, all with the tease of Grandpappy and his unique way of rescuing others in distress. The illustrations by Christopher Santoroare marvelous, and I loved how spacious the page design is. The pictures certainly made me take my time on each page, and I love how few words she includes on each page. I have to admit: this is the first time I actually searched where Timbuktu really is (and from the illustration, Lynn and Christopher know too. I enjoyed the whimsical, playful, light happiness of this book.

Now I wonder what I can do to bring a little Grandpappy Snippy Snappy into our lives! I know of at least one of my elders who wears suspenders every day!!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Naomi's Tree by Joy Kogawa

I read quite a few educator blogs. One of the big challenges this summer is for bloggers to read a book a day. Donalyn Miller, author of The Book Whisperer, started this, I think. She has suggested this in summers past, but this summer, I keep feeling this nudge to try it. And each time I feel the inner nudge, a much-larger voice says, "Don't you dare!!"

I mean seriously, how in the world can I read a book a day? I am so close to overload right now, preparing for a graduate course I am in the middle of teaching and dealing with issues at school, preparing for our two teen guests that arrive Saturday for a week (!!!!!) and attempting to process through some unfinished personal work, not to mention parent and partner and be a human with a life. What?? A book a day??

So the only way I can figure out how to do that is by letting myself off the hook. Not read a book EVERY day but as much as I can AND expand what I write up here. Alysa and I have gotten quite caught up in the transition of the end of the school year, and we haven't written as much on this blog. Here is my plan: read what I can-- but definitely more than I have been. Include picture books-- and maybe graphic novels-- in kitty of to-be-read books. Let myself off the hook and view this as an adventure, not just a HAVE TO. And see what happens when I blog more, reviewing the books I read. Even a short blog....hmmm, there is that "see what happens" thinking. I feel better already!

Ahhh, okay: my book of the day: Naomi's Tree. I love the cover of this book. The artwork is gorgeous, and I could totally see using it with young and adult learners. I can particularly see using it within my Courage and Renewal facilitation, another arena where I love to include picture books. The storyline explores Japanese immigrants who moved to Vancouver, BC right before WWII, where a Japanese family immigrates, only to be separated and sent away because of the war. The book then fast forwards to the grown children, who carry the emotional questions of their mother's life and theirs before the war. They return to their childhood home to discover the cherry tree, still alive and yet aged, to confirm their recollections of childhood. The cherry tree serves as a central character, though quiet for much of the book, and the brother and sister find their tree from childhood still as wise and present as they had held in their memories.

I enjoyed the simple, detailed message within this book. It is somewhat autobiographical, and offers yet another lens into the trials and losses caused by war and survived by people. I really enjoyed it.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

The Sky Is Everywhere

The Sky Is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson was a book i enjoyed in many ways. I thought that it was an extraordinary tale of how a girl finds her way through the loss of someone, even if she may not know how. I could read this book again and again and enjoy it every time. Even though it was heart wrenching, I thought that it was very realistic in terms of how someone could deal with the loss of their sister.

17-year-old Lennie Walker had always admired, adored, and looked up to her older sister Bailey. Bailey had always been the golden girl, the girl that was beautiful, and best at everything. Who was a person that Lennie had always hidden in the shadow of, and always just seen as a little sister. But when Bailey suddenly dies, Lennie must learn how to get over the loss of her sister and become her own. But things seem to be more complicated then she had hoped. There's Toby, Bailey's boyfriend who seems to be the only person who understands Lennie, the only person who is feeling what she feels, the only person who loved Bailey like she did. But then there's Joe, the beautiful boy from Paris who shares her love for the clarinet, and seems to be perfect for her. She finds herself falling, or at least she thinks, for both of them. Joe seems to help her move on with her life, forgetting Bailey, but Lennie isn't sure she wants to. With Toby, she feels like she somehow has a connection to Bailey, and that everything okay, and what is used to be. But then there's that guilt of being with your dead sisters boyfriend. Lennie finds herself lost in this world, and no one seems to be able to help her out. She will have to find it within herself, and make the right decision.

I thought that this was a very good book, and very well written, i definitely recommend it. I also enjoyed how there are poems throughout the book about how Lennie is feeling and memories of her sister. She was right: the sky is everywhere.

Donovan's Big Day

Leslea Newman has been known in gay and lesbian circles for a long, long time. She took the monumental risk of writing Heather Has Two Mommies more than a couple of decades ago and at least within the circles I walk in, her writing is familiar and worthy. Think back to 1989: if you were alive back then, do you remember reading many books with gays or lesbians as primary characters? Or shock of all shocks, a picture book with a main character who has two moms? No. Other than Annie on my Mind, not much rises from my mental Roladex. In fact, I recall scouring the stacks of the public library in the late '80's, searching for books that might help me make sense of my confusing lesbian life. Sure, I lived in Hollywood and then San Francisco where gays and lesbians were more commonly found but I have to tell you, the places they/ we were "found" were mostly dark windowless bars and heavy emotional closets that we carried around. Leslea Newman was an enormous risk taker then and I have worlds of respect for her so when I noticed that she had a new picture book out, I knew I had to read it.

There are two things I love about this book: one, the build up. It all makes perfect sense. Told from a young boy's perspective, one gets pretty clearly the importance of the day and greater the importance of the boy's role in the day. The responsibility the boy carries on this dramatically important day is palpable, and I can imagine a young child owning, absolutely owning this role. I love how she put voice into each page from this boy. I also love the humor at the end. The cover of the book implies a super- positive day, and when two people get married, it is. But this day is special: this day holds the tremendous possibility that that magical day in many of our lives holds, and the boy carries his own joyful possibility into that. No spoiler alert here: you gotta read it to see if you agree with me.

As a lesbian mom in a two-mom family, I well know the challenges our "lifestyle" brings to the table of life. As a consumer of literature, I well know how rare it is to find books that speak to me. As a teacher of teachers within the academic world of literacy, I celebrate when I discover books that feed a hunger. There is a national hunger for positive rituals in our world, and this book lifts up one of them. I encourage you to check out Donovan's Big Day and then let me know what you think. Maybe the Big Day has more to do with us than we believe it does.