Saturday, December 28, 2013

The Boy on the Porch by Sharon Creech

Ooopsie, I'm a day late and a dollar....well, we won't talk about money...not here, not in the midst of such wonderful conversations about books. And speaking of books, have you read The Boy on the Porch by Sharon Creech yet? No....well, time for some more searching. This twister from expert author Creech caught me and made me slow down and do one thing at a time. Seriously no treadmill, no half-hearted listening to my partner while the pages were open, no eyes-half-closed attempts right before the lights go out for sleeping. Nope, not for this one.

Creech combines family, language, life stories, questioning, farm life, city life all in a not-so-tidy package here. A young boy "arrives" on a young couple's porch one morning. For some reason he won't/can't/doesn't  use verbal language to give them any information about him. A note waits in his pocket until he decides it is time to give it to the adults:

Plees taik kair of Jacob.
He is a god good boy.
Wil be bak wen we can.

So the young couple waits. And waits. And search. And listen. And fall in love with the youngster. And then they don't want him to leave. The story is kinda like a mystery within a mystery, a how-do-we-keep-this-boy-a-secret while searching for his parents and also deciding what it might be like for him to join our family. Ah, but maybe I spoil too much.

Or maybe I don't.

I will stop there. Find this one. As usual, Creech wins. A lovely book. And I still wonder: who is the boy on the porch...for the rest of us?  

Friday, December 20, 2013

Paperboy by Vince Vawter

I was wonderfully surprised by this book. The writing kind of held me in a gentle way; each time I put it down (to go get tea, to make dinner, to go to work), it called out to me, encouraging me to spend just a little more time in it. I really enjoyed its gentle but insistent pace, and the details of the story framed the boy's thinking quite effectively. Thumbs up for Paperboy.

But wait: what does it remind me of? Funny you should ask. While I read it, I searched out The King's Speech, a movie I loved, connecting two stutterers. And I searched out The Stuttering Foundation, an organization centering on supporting those who stutter, their families, and research. And I connected with John Green's book Will Grayson, Will Grayson, another stellar read that I reviewed earlier.

The main character takes over his friend's paper route for a month one summer. As he moves through the tasks connected with being a paperboy, he learns all sorts of details about his subscribers, his nanny, and his parents. I appreciated how he struggles to become both more independent as well as no longer childlike, both in respectful and thoughtful ways. I also appreciated the small town energy of this read, that slower, focused, important energy that comes with a read like this. Rich, definitely, worth reading for sure, and maybe even worth returning to for another read. 

Friday, December 13, 2013

Snowflakes Fall by Patricia MacLachlan

Patricia MacLachlan is doing some serious book writing these days, seeming to birth a new text frequently. This one emerged from the enormous tragedy that occurred in Sandy Hook a year ago. Steven Kellogg, the illustrator, actually has very deep roots in Sandy Hook, and according to his note at the front of the book, "the changing seasons in the woodlands, fields, and streams that surround Sandy Hook village" inspired his drawings. MacLachlan notes her deep sorrow at the loss from the tragedy and wrote this book to center our losses on memories and renewal.

The illustrations in this text are bright, vivid, and inspiring. The words on each page, sparse and engaging, draw the reader into winters bright and cold gifts. I love the double-page spreads, and I found myself wanting to seek out snow and play. I really enjoyed this read for its purpose of inspiring and celebrating. A portion of the proceeds of the text support the Sandy Hook School Support Fund. 

Friday, December 6, 2013

This Is the Rope: A Story From The Great Migration by Jacqueline Woodson

Woodson brings a magnificent gift to her writing. Sometimes she moves me far beyond what I know in life, leaving me speechless. This Is the Rope does that to me.

While fiction, Woodson draws on her own inferences of growing up and making sense of the historical schema and living truths of her family in this book. She names indirectly and directly some of her family experiences dating back to the early 1900's. She leads her readers into these connections in gentle and authentic ways. I found myself wondering frequently what it must have been like for her to make sense of her family lineage, the history that has interrupted some of her family living, and the movement from down south to New York that has taken place in her lifetime and before. This Is the Rope leads readers into questions seemingly outside of their reach, inviting us to consider what it means to move within the United States, changing home spaces and questioning family establishment.

Woodson is beyond honest in her writing, and This Is the Rope invites us readers to dig deeper and wonder more fully about what metaphor of truth fills in some of the questions children grow up with regarding their family history.

Friday, November 29, 2013

The Language Inside by Holly Thompson

Emma loves being Japanese even though she doesn't look it. She is white on the outside but that is where most of her identity stops: she claims a Japanese identity every chance she gets. When her mom gets sick with cancer, the family must return to the states for her to begin treatment. Emma resists but knows she must go. There in the U.S., she starts high school again, battling to find new friends who truly understand her identity. She also volunteers at a local elder care home, leading her into knowing how to be with people who already know themselves, young and old.

Holly Thompson writes so clearly in prose. I loved how she wrote Orchards, and she nails another one here with The Language Inside.  I think what I love most is the voice: I can hear both Emma as well as the other characters cheering her on, welcoming her into their lives. This is a sweet story, one where our global world could actually identify with the varying cultures so many of us carry within us. 

Friday, November 22, 2013

Ben Rides On by Matt Davies

It was only a matter of time before us wild mountain bikers showed up on the pages of a picture book. Thank goodness for Matt Davies and the notion of hope.

Ben rides the bike of his dreams to school. Except he doesn't quite make it, having come into contact with a big, hairy dude who absconds with his bike. All school day long, Ben plots and as soon as the bell rings, he is off, searching for his lost bike. He finds it hanging from a tree, smashed up. But he also discovers the thief of the bike in a bad spot. Saving him takes great physical energy and the assistance of one crow, but it also takes great hope.

This book reminds me in distant ways of Blueberries for Sal. We all have our small ways of being born into us from our first days in life. Ben finds his as did Sal. And as did Arian Underbite.

Happy reading....Ben Rides On.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Bo at Ballard Creek by Kirkpatrick Hill

This is the most interesting adaption of Little House on the Prairie that I have ever read. Imagine Laura and Pa, way up North in Alaska sometime around the same time period. Totally doable. Imagine a girl, Bo, adopted by two men. Caught you? Seriously two men, one Swedish and one black (ha, caught you again) are Bo's father figures and also are cooks and tailors for the mine camp and kind friends to all in the community. And adoption? A whole 'nother story....all captured within this story twice. HA! Now you want to read this, don'cha?

Hill is an accomplished author with a few books under her belt, and she lives up there in The Last Frontier, splitting her time between Fairbanks in the winter and out on the Yukon River during the summer. This would be a solid read aloud for young readers, and the design of the chapters and storyline make me think readers younger than five who are also lovers of nature would love reading this! I would love to hear what others have to say about this sweet read, particularly if you find a young audience who just loves this gem. 

Friday, November 8, 2013

September Roses by Jeanette Winter

You know those books you stumble across as you aimlessly peruse the rows at the library? This is one of those. I had no idea that Jeanette Winter, author of most amazing The Librarian of Basra among a dozen other brilliant titles, wrote a book about 9/11. You didn't, either? Huh.

September Roses is the author's tribute to that terrifying, grief-filled time in the U.S. A New Yorker, she saw the billows of smoke over the Empire State building as she looked out her window. Days later, during her trek to Union Square to join the community in their anguish, she discovered a replica of the towers in roses. This is their story: how the roses arrived, who brought them, and how they impacted Jeanette.

This is a beautiful story, simple and so very complex, heartbreaking and so filled with hope. I can imagine this joining a collection of picture books that center on both the destruction of the World Trade Center towers as well possibly of other world losses that also speak in ways only picture books can about the humanity alive within each of us. But as a stand- alone, this book brings a reader peace during a time of great turmoil.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Brother, Brother by Clay Carmichael

Clay Carmichael, author of Wild Things, has written another sweet and convoluted tale. Almost- 18-years-old Brother discovers Mem, his grandmother and parent figure, dead. His life of working at the care facility and caring for Mem slides quickly into mystery. After her body is cremated, he is left with 3 urns of ashes (Mem's, Brother's mother, and another important figure that you will have to read the book to find out about) and an artifact: beside Mem's body, the mortician discovered a picture of Brother's twin brother, the brother Brother never knew he had.

Told you: convoluted. And a worthy read!! Thus starts the adventure and soul searching for Brother who discovers more of who he is, how Mem lives on within him, and who his allies really are. In the story, he finds a solid girl to hold close to his heart and he discovers a sweet grandmother figure who despises her brother--the power-crazed father Brother never knew he had. Trooper, his trusty dog, is intuitive, present and the perfect companion for a story like this and the stories of our lives. I appreciated the solidness his girlfriend offers, and I really could see my own grandmother within the friendship Mamie extends to Brother as she pieces together the story from her angle. Make no mistake: Brother discovers a number of skeletons in his closet right along the adults who discover their own skeletons throughout this story.

I appreciated the author's practice of holding how we all make mistakes--that sounds simple but she seems to incorporate this idea of "yep, I screwed up" with a "you did, and we will go on together" mentality. I guess the story is more about what one could call the true sense of family than I had originally thought. My words sound awkward as I write, and I wonder what more I might piece together in a reread of this new text. I really like the congruent simplicity and depth of Carmichael's writing, and I found myself drawn into this storyline. Seek Brother, Brother out--it's a keeper. 

Friday, October 25, 2013

Gifts of the Heart by Patricia Polacco

I love this new gem from Polacco. If the book flap is accurate, Gifts of the Heart may just be Polacco's dream alter-ego.

I don't know why the illustrations in the opening of this book so caught me, but I love the drawing of the Model A driving up to the old farmhouse. The color of the snow is just right and makes the drab wintery houses, lacking most color, stand stark on the page. Polacco's mastery shines bright in scenes she paints at nighttime too....I just love her work! Kay Lamity shines at the center of this story, bringing good tidings and joyful celebrations to a family dealing with hurting hearts. Richie and Trisha, the common characters in her books, lead us into their struggles honestly. I too have a red-headed older brother, and I know well the trials of being led through life with them at the helm. Okay, I know the humor too....and Richie always brings his own way of being to Trisha and in this book, their grandfather.

I can almost hear Kay Laminity in the story, cackling her lovely way of being all over the days and nights of a family experiencing a deep winter in their lives. Check it out and see what you think; see if you hear someone's voice singing true through this one. 

Friday, October 18, 2013

The Blessing Cup by Patricia Polacco

The divine Ms. Polacco has graced us with not one but TWO new books this fall. The Blessing Cup is a companion to her brilliant book, The Keeping Quilt, and is not to be missed. But then you wouldn't consider missing something written by Patricia Polacco, would you?

Polacco is definitely one of my favorite children's authors. She tells stories that capture a giant range of audiences from such an authentic, rooted home. She seems to invite us into her life with her stories, and The Blessing Cup fits that to a t. Through a simple cup, she leads us through her ancestor's trials and celebrations all the way to her own love and loss as an adult. She starts the story focusing on her young grandmother's life in Russia where her family was brutalized and bullied by the soldiers. Ordered by the czar to leave, they depart Russia, only to face further atrocities and losses in their new home in . But in each of her writings, hope reigns, and this book holds true to that vein. The blessing cup literally holds the blessings found in the gifts laid out by her invested relatives and kind friends.

Complimented by her expert ways of inviting us into her life stories, I often feel like I know her better because of her smart risks in her writing. This story offers that to us again; I look forward to finding the audience with which to share this lovely offering from Polacco.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Soldier Dog by Sam Angus



You know how you so enjoy a book that all you can do is shake your head and exclaim silly statements like, "Oh my gosh!" Well this is one of those books.

Stanley's father is flat-out pissed at the world, grieving the loss of his wife as well as his eldest son's transport to WW1. Stanley receives the brutality of Da's emotional state in a multitude of unfair ways. Life gets too ugly, Stanley signs up to train dogs for Messenger Dog Service through the War Dog School for the British Army. He is a gifted trainer, training a giant brute of a dog who will do anything for him. After an experience in France near the front, he is back at training school working with another dog. The dog obviously traumatized, Stanley reluctantly accepts working with the dog. I can't tell you anymore; I refuse to spoil any of the storytelling art that Angus leavens into this brilliant story.

Sam Angus has catapulted to one of my favorite authors with this read. Her historical researching offers critical, rare details into a world I never knew existed. The ways she weaves Stanley's family together artistic. The best part is the relationship she crafts between Stanley and the!!!! Treasured!!

Sunday, October 6, 2013

The Voyage of the Frog by Gary Paulsen

I love being outdoors. As a child, I was outside all the time. Catching snakes (no, my mother refused to let them inside and screeched even if I placed them on the very corner of the back porch in a glass jar when I had to run inside for something), studying scat (yes, I kinda love wild-animal poo), and learning from the natural world. I would read just about anything I could get my hands on that had to do with being outside. You know the list: Where the Red Fern Grows, Old Yeller, The Call of the Wild, My Side of the Mountain, Sounder...I think you get the picture. But only rarely do I recall reading a book about sailing. Confession: I have never been on a sailboat. Canoe, kayak, and a bigger yacht that I cleaned to make extra spending money, but never sailed. And I didn't come across many books about sailing.

I love water though, and I love books about kids sailing even more. Paulsen is an artist at his craft, and I easily reach for his books when I run across them. This one is solidly terrific, and I loved the role of sailing throughout this text. In fact, the sea terrifies and soothes, the sea giveth and the sea taketh. This engaging story kept me right beside David, curious to know how he finds his way after a brutal surprise storm tosses him well off his path and well beyond his belief in himself and his knowledge. But time, practice, and curiosity all are on his side, and in time, he indeed gathers and funnels his resources into finding his way back home.

Sweet, simple, and confirming as so many of Paulsen's books are, this one is worth searching out. 

Friday, September 27, 2013

Little White Duck: A Childhood in China by Na Lin and Andres Vera Martinez

A memoir graphic novel? This brilliant rendition of Na Lin's young life in China in the '70's offers readers a rare, autobiographical window into her life. Lovely.

The book begins with Mao's death and her family's actions and reactions. The story continues through a number of major life events, all when the author was young--maybe 5-10 years old throughout the 8 stories. The illustrations/graphics/comics captured me. The stories flow from one to another, some happy and some heartbreaking. The author ties in teachings from Confucius and how seeing her parents' hardships offered her an "easier way to build our own future."

Stories within stories, truths stacked within truths. Rich indeed.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Anthem for Jackson Dawes by Celia Bryce

I am kinda following in my daughter’s footsteps these days, feeling drawn to YA stories with a little romance. But the draw I feel tends to have said romance as a byproduct of another story line including some massive life tension and struggle. I like hearing how authors introduce and resolve the challenges of the story, and I like searching into how realistic the solution they come up with is. One theme I really appreciate is hope; I look for that theme routinely in the stories I read.

Anthem for Jackson Dawes is one such story. Being treated for brain cancer, Megan is in the hospital for the first time getting chemo. Within seconds of arriving on the children’s floor, Jackson Dawes enters Megan’s life. Literally. He trumps right into her room, forcing himself into her life. She is none too receptive to any visitor, but her wishes go disregarded by Jackson. After Jackson finally leaves her room, she begins to witness who Jackson is on this ward: the Pied Piper of the sick youngsters who inhabit the floor, the escape artist who explores the rest of the hospital on sleepless nights, and the dear one to the medical staff. As Megan’s treatment continues, she and Jackson grow closer, and Meghan takes off with him at night, breaking all sorts of rules as they maneuver their challenging illnesses and the escape hatch the giant hospital offers. While the title makes it obvious that Jackson passes, it is Megan’s life that holds center stage: the twists and turns of life, finding her way to live with cancer, her transitions from relying on her family to allowing herself to grow closer to her new friend and taking risks that fill her all come together to create a storyline that is engaging, creative, and realistic from what I can tell. Granted I have not had cancer, so I would like to know how realistic the author’s exploration of that topic is and that didn’t stop me. I feel as if Jackson Dawes could live in my life and as if in small ways, Megan’s internal challenges mimic mine. To me, those qualities make for good reading.

Friday, September 13, 2013

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey

The cover alone made me want to be in the peaceful nighttime of deep winter, where the ground is covered by snow, the sky is black black black, those brilliant stars pierce black, and things hide in shadows. My connections and embrace of the serious quietude to wintertime's night on the cover led me into that book hook, line, sinker.

The story leads us into the mostly quiet and at the beginning, uneventful lives of Jack and Mabel. Never able to have a child of their own, they meander through life up in the wilds of Alaska, homesteading and barely making ends meet in the 1920's. Life becomes survival, and Mabel and Jack float emotionally apart; grief from the loss of their son in utero seals their conversations into silence. Until a little mystery named Faina shows up. A "snow child," Faina lives in the woods, tricking Mabel and Jack's eyes, causing them to question if they are going a little crazy, seeing snow children emerge in the middle of snow fields right before their eyes. But it becomes true: there is a girl living in the wilds of Alaska in the dead of winter. And she is quite healthy. Mabel and Jack develop a sweet relationship with the child over time, and readers will too. This story, wisely told by well-developed writer Eowyn Ivey, becomes one of hope and living life in the moment, meaningful relationships and beautiful life flowing every day and night. Some of the story is predictable but in that good familiar way.

I enjoyed this read for its simple pleasure. I look forward to more from Ivey, and more from that lovely, vast land to our far north. Let me know what you think. 

Friday, September 6, 2013

Devil's Pass by Sigmund Brouwer

Devil's Pass: the title alone sounds intriguing, right? Incites mental images of mystery, being hunted (or being the hunter, adventure in the great outdoors, right? Or does it make you think Gary Paulson-ish work, given the cover shot? Welllllllll, you are kinda on the right track, but there is more here, much, much more.

Brouwer, a well-established Canadian author, launches  us into the book through the main character, a grisly teen who refuses to connect with people around him. "Webb" or "Webby" as his grandfather lovingly called him, is on a journey dictated by the man most important to him: his grandfather. After his grandfather dies, a mysterious meeting with all 7 male cousins ensues, and there Webb learns his mission. Brouwer keeps his readers in suspense the rest of the read, aptly teasing his reader with clues while also upping the ante of outcome. I love the cover of this edition of the book, I love the visual imagery my mind created while I read--both about who he was with and the amazing treks he took from Arizona to Canada, and I treasured the resilience of Webb. The underlying message his grandfather sent him was not lost on me at all, and I found myself, an adult female reader, wanting to journey more with this older teen male. I imagine this young man would have been a tricky blast to work with in the classroom. Devil's Pass was indeed a gold-star read for me: engaging, realistic, and visual.

Possibly more interesting, this book is actually part of a series of seven, all written by different authors. According to website, "the stories take place at the same time during summer vacation." The seven boys all share the same grandfather and his will lays out the seven different tasks, one for each boy. Evidently the books stand alone individually but I think I will search the others out and see where they take me. Intriguing indeed....I am guessing there is a good story out there about how this series was dreamed up. Never fear: I am on the hunt for us! (Unless one of you know the inside scoop.)

Friday, August 30, 2013

The White Bicycle by Beverley Brenna

The final book in a series of three, The White Bicycle gives readers an tour inside the life and brain of a teen girl dealing with Asperger's Syndrome and that wickedly difficult transition of growing independent. Her diary entries over the summer. Taylor writes from France where she has taken a job for the summer. There in the lush offerings of the south of France, she discovers friendship and explores the possibility of what having brothers might be like. Without the usual "Dear Diary" entrances, we get an unobstructed view of life from Taylor's seat. We get a really clear (and sad) sighting of her mother and the challenges (and gifts) that her mother gives her throughout life. Taylor does some decent detective work over the summer, figuring out---wait a minute, I can't tell you: you are gonna read this book and don't want me to spoil it, do you?--all sorts of interesting details about her own power and possibility in life.

Author Brenna spent some serious time researching this baby. As I read, I appreciated the rich details she returns to repeatedly, mirroring what I know of the experiences of people who have at the least Asperger's. I loved the simplicity the author wrote the story with. Figuring out how to deal with a mother who is a pain in the butt and doesn't always tell the truth, finding how to develop independently, and discovering how to act responsibly is is not an easy set of actions. But The White Bicycle leads us on a rich ride of that sounds very realistic indeed. And I love how the main character is a girl!!

I have a question though: how accurate is this portrayal? Readers, do you know?

Friday, August 23, 2013

The Silence of Our Friends by Mark Long and Jim Demonakos/ Illustrated by Nate Powell

I am a fringe reader of graphic novels. I am not too hip on superheros and comics beyond the few I check out a few in The Oregonian, and I don't like super-violent or super-sexy reads. However every now and then I read a superb graphic novel that I selfishly think was written for me. The Silence of Our Friends is one of those reads.

Like other books I have reviewed lately, The Silence of Our Friends is based on Long's experiences growing up during the civil rights movement, for him in Houston, Texas. Demonakos is a comic devotee to the nines and Powell has some serious artistic compliments in the form of awards sitting at his feet. The three of them take solid liberty in translating one small story of that supremely difficult time. A white newspaper reporter finds himself drawn to justice through a friendship and a wrongly-blamed group of college students. The title comes from that amazing man Martin Luther King Jr. whose voice lives on more than adequately in this graphic novel.

I really loved this book. I loved the storyline (always do---can't learn enough about that time through the voices of those that experienced it themselves in one way or another), the illustrations/graphics, and the weaving of the story. Another sweet one I encourage you to seek out!

Friday, August 16, 2013

The Deer Watch by Pat Lowery Collins

Nature and witnessing, deer and humans, watching and moving all circle through the gentle storyline of this picture book. Collins brings an adept hand to her framing of a father and son's explorations in the forest as they search to see deer. The author speaks of her own witnessing of how most wildlife has moved further into the woods near her house, and her book seeks to recapture the simple beauty of seeing wildlife in their natural home.

Father and son set out quietly one early morning, walking past their home, crews building with heavy machinery nearby, and the beginnings of the wilderness within walking distance of their home at the coast. Once at the openings of the forest, the boy must find how his own stillness welcomes the stilled movement of the animals just waiting for him to find silence to move. A sweet tale, realistic in our daily suburban lives, this book invites readers to return to the natural world and reflect on its lovely gifts of life. The story line is well supported by some lovely acrylic paintings that sing out to readers, further encouraging our turning to nature to find one more sampling of beauty in our world. 

Friday, August 9, 2013

Light in the Darkness by Lesa Cline-Ransome

Know anything about "pit schools"? Neither did I. Seems super important now that I have added one more gold nugget of history to my small collection of knowledge connected to slavery and the 1860's in the U.S. The full title of this book is Light in the Darkness: A Story About How Slaves Learned in Secret. Definitely worth shining a little light on how those enslaved learned the beginnings of how to read and write, all with the weight of life and death in their hands and minds as they sought out pit schools to study at.

Cline-Ransome has crafted a solid book here, molding the story around Rosa and her mother and the delicate, dangerous moments when they took the life-threatening risk of venturing out into the night to learn in the pit school set up by another slave. The illustrations are dark and threatening, just like the brutal slave hunters who relentlessly sought out their prey. As I read this story, my mind made connections to other books telling similar and important stories (Henry's Freedom Box, Unspoken, and Almost to Freedom LEAP to my mind along with Hush Harbor, When Thunder Comes, and Belle, The Last Mule at Gee's Bend).

I love historical fiction, and I feel this growing awareness of how I seek out historical fiction set in the 1860's about the resilient lives of slaves and the other people who collectively worked to move us past the tremendous limits of judgment. Light in the Darkness leads us one step further into knowing the truth that lay so quietly hidden beneath the ugliness of the times.

Friday, August 2, 2013

The Truth of Me by Patricia MacLachlan

What fire has been lit under Patricia MacLachlan? I know she has been writing actively for decades, but lately she has been putting the pedal to the metal, and I don't mean in the production kind; I mean putting her heart and soul into her books. Maybe it is just me: maybe I haven't read enough of MacLachlan's prior work. But written in veins similar to Edward's Eyes and Kindred Souls, The Truth of Me touched a story of connection and being seen that I seek out but don't often find in books, particularly in chapter books.

Robbie and dog-extraordinaire Ellie spend the summer with grandmother Maddy. Maddy is eclectic and engaged, living life to its fullest in her own very unique way. Robbie loves Maddy fiercely, and while he realizes the tension that lies between his mother and Maddy, he is unable to tease out what it exactly is. As Robbie spends his summer growing his awareness of his own truths of who he is, he learns what great hefts his mother totes to her string- quartet concerts around the world in addition to her violin.

As is true in MacLachlan's heart-knowing books, there is a quiet and turning inward that this book invites. I loved this book for its quiet reminders to the reader. How often are our young people told and reminded that who they are is indeed enough? When do we take consistent time to hear and see our young people? How do we make sure to welcome and make known the truths of each of us as humans? The Truth of Me does all of that and more. Sweet brilliance here, sweet brilliance indeed.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Glory Be by Augusta Scattergood

Glory Be is one of those slow summer tales, one of those grabby, quiet, important reads that catches you by your shirt tail and holds on, making it difficult to do summer chores like picking blueberries and riding your bike to the library. The book tugs you back again and again, searing its storyline into your skin over and over, making its way gradually to your heart. Yeah, I encourage you to read it.

Glory just wants a great birthday party this summer. Great includes the community swimming pool, her friends, and play. It might include keeping your sister as a close buddy, sneaking away to see what she and her boyfriend are doing, and making sure to steer clear of bully J.T. while hanging out with his brother and your good friend Frankie, but all in that easy summer everything-is-going-just-swell kinda way. It does not include racial tensions, hatred, judgment, losing friends, harsh words, meanness, or closing the swimming pool. Well, I hate to break it to you, but let's just say Glory gets what she doesn't want. As a result, she actually ends up taking some huge risks, figuring out what being an ally sounds like and looks like, what safety is and isn't, and how supportive family and friends can act in a crisis.

One thing I loved most about this mid-'60's- summer- in- Mississippi storyline is its realness. Based partly on the author's college experiences in the segregated south during the Civil Rights movement, as a reader, I felt the dire fragility, tension, and compunction that the idea and action of change caused in those brutally difficult moments. As I read, I kept being pulled back in to this story, gradually drawn into the partial-truth and partial-fiction, the words that need to be heard, and the confirmation that reminds us we still have work to do. 

Friday, July 19, 2013

Panic by Sharon M. Draper

Sharon Draper is an edgy writer to me. Panic is a perfect example of her willingness to hug the wicked curves life throws at us with a ultra-bright light. The inside cover reads, "Diamond knows not to talk to strangers. But just once couldn't hurt. ................Right?"

Main character/ dancer extraordinaire Diamond indeed talks to a stranger and of course experiences a brutal, unforgettable series of gruesome days in her life as he brutally rapes and sells her body repeatedly. Her friends and family hold vigils and talk alot, but all they can do is wait and hope. Diamond does find the opening she needs, but the damage done is undeniable at the very best. This is an ugly read, and it is very, very important. For girls and boys who have gone through experiences in some ways similar to Diamond's, this book may trigger with its graphicness but it also may comfort, offering connections that often stay silenced.

Kudos to Draper for relentless commitment to surviving the wickedness of living in our world and for telling a story that is often silenced.

Friday, July 12, 2013

As Fast As Words Could Fly by Pamela M. Tuck

Civil rights, family historical fiction, and the '60's often catch my attention. Tuck aptly connects the brutality of the life as an African-American teen in hate-filled Greenville, NC with the hope of playing a role actively. Main character Mason (who happens to be the author's father) engages with the civil-rights movement through writing and being one of the first students to integrate a previously all-white school. His writing and typing skills so well developed, he becomes the school representative to the local typing tournament. I applaud the author for naming some pretty ugly examples that her father had to live through by going to school where he was hated for the color of his skin. I greater applaud her for telling such an important and unique story. This one was completely new to me, and I loved it. I can see using it with young learners and older, all who are focusing on civil rights in the U.S.

I'll be honest: I have no idea what integrating a school feels like, to actually summons the courage to walk in those halls and into classrooms with such bravery, presence, intent. I know what terror feels like from some experiences in my own life; I can only imagine the intersections between our very different experiences. I have great respect for the people who have indeed walked through their own fear, and this story represents one such example. Thank you, Ms. Tuck, for telling us the story of these very important set of moments in history.

Friday, July 5, 2013

This Is What Happy Looks Like by Jennifer E. Smith

***OOPS! Andie posted Alysa's blog entry out of sheer excitement, but she wasn't ready. Here is the finished entry:

This Is What Happy Looks Like by Jennifer E. Smith was a book that I found truly surprising and a fresh look on the realities of fame. I had read her other book The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight and thought it was well written and the love story that everyone wishes they could stumble upon. When I found out that she had written this new book, I was overjoyed and for good reason.

Graham Larkin is the teen heartthrob celebrity who is the talk of hollywood- and the world- and Ellie O'Neill is just a small town girl living in the middle of nowhere Maine with an unfinished past. So why would these two ever meet or have anything in common? One day Graham accidently sends Ellie an email from his very large, very empty, and very lonely house,  asking her to watch his pet pig Wilbur. Ellie, having no idea that this is The Graham Larkin, responds, beginning to find comfort and a change of pace in her life while emailing this mysterious guy that she only knows as G. Graham becomes closer to "E" than he has with anyone since he became famous and wants more than anything to meet her, so when the oppertunity to film his upcoming movie in her small town is offered, he jumps at the idea. Now the only question is will their connection stay strong when Graham's hollywood life is combined with Ellie's small town world?

I thought this book was well written and had amazing character development. Ellie must confront her past and learn to trust herself. I highly recommend this book and think that it is truly the perfect summer read. 

Friday, June 28, 2013

The Rules of Survival by Nancy Werlin

Matthew kicks butt in the integrity zone; it just takes he and his sister a little time to figure out how to really get away from his psychotic mother, where are their advocates, and how can they survive, all before they get killed by her.

Nancy Werlin is an accomplished author but this is a first-time read for me. A mystery writer, she wrote The Double Helix among a handful of others and has earned a nice kitty of awards. The Rules of Survival models writing craft thoughtfully. The text reads like the letter Matt writes to his youngest sister. Because she is so young, she seemed to have forgotten the dangerous side of her mother at the time of his writing it. But Matthew cannot forget, and neither can his couple of years younger sister Callie. Once identifying why their father really left his marriage to their mother and experiencing her heavy hand in parenting (or whatever you want to call that ongoing sword slash), Matthew and Callie  craft ways to get away from their mother. It is not by any means easy, and the mother fiercely fights to maintain her ownership of them as she maneuvers her disturbed and violent life. Matt does indeed succeed, but the ending is a somber one. This is a rich but heartbreaking read, definitely worth it. I can imagine plenty of teens resonating with this book. That sad truth makes me want to shout the title to the world....The Rules of Survival!

Friday, June 21, 2013

Little Bird by Germano Zullo

Looking for a lovely book about supporting those around you-- and not just the ones who look and sound like you?

Seeking a book that is both sparing and dramatic? Centering and deep? Useful with all ages?

 Little Bird is your book.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Mercury by Hope Larson

Hope Larson won an Eisner Award for this graphic novel and I can see why. This twisty little tale combines the lives of two teen girls, one current day and one living in 1859 and a remarkable mystery that ties them together despite such differences in time. The comic industry's equivalent to the Oscar Awards, Eisner Awards is give for creative achievement in comic books. Creative this one is.

First things first: true confessions. I am not a big comic-book reader. Sure, I read the comics in the paper, returning to a few most days. But I have not grown a tremendous following for comics and more, for graphic novels. If they were more like Mercury, I might.

Historical fiction tied together with mystical realism, the author offers us readers stellar comic illustrations and a storyline that keeps you hoping throughout. I would love some recommendations from folks about similar next reads: what do you recommend I search out? And what is that necklace all about anyway?

Friday, June 7, 2013

Leverage by Joshua C. Cohen

Teen-aged sports these days must be wicked difficult. To participate and successfully steer clear of all of the awful things lurking out there in America simply confronts the integrity of each player head on. The fall of adult athletes who used to be heroes to young people in this country is remarkable and frightening; Alex Rodriguez (accused at this date) and Lance Armstrong (confirmed and still returning his earnings from what I know) are only the beginning of a rapidly growing list. Leverage names some of those challenges-- steroids and bullying absolutely a part of this book, offering a voice to experiences that are often unnamed in the media except in teen literature.

Danny is a high-school gymnast who appears gifted enough to possibly have a chance at a college scholarship. Kurt, a similarly gifted athlete, becomes a football player at the same school after switching schools mid-year by way of a new foster mother. The way these boy's lives intersect shines light on the frequently-quiet, outside-of-cliques' friendship that occurred when I was in school, and I celebrate still occurs nowadays. On Kurt's first day of football, he is offered money (poor boy from poverty, according to the clueless coach's view) and steroids (again said clueless coach demonstrates his win-at-all-costs ethics). Kurt accepts, knowing that he is new to the school and not knowing rules or consequences of either. Over time, Kurt asks Danny to teach him how to do a back handspring, something giant lumbering Kurt indeed learns. Eventually Kurt and another friend ask Danny to stand with him as they confront the awful actions from three leaders on the football team.

This book kept me holding tightly to it. I loved the story, appreciated the rhythm and timing of the text, and really connected with the sports theme central to the novel. With superb cover art, Leverage is a keeper, and I look forward to seeing where Cohen leads next in his writing. 

Friday, May 31, 2013

I'll Be There by Holly Goldberg Sloan

Another debut novel that swallowed me up, I'll Be There offers a diverse and rich storyline combined with believable characters and tensions. I have to admit: as a parent, I kinda didn't want to read this story: the father flat out creeped me out. I am glad I did though; I liked it so much that I recommended it to Alysa.

Teen-aged Sam and younger brother Riddle (what a name!) have a father that is a whisper's breath from a mental institution, and Sam just hasn't figured out how to get away from him and still find his mother. Teen-aged Emily takes a smart risk, singing a solo in church one Sunday, and ends up with some good-looking boy holding her hair back after stress makes her vomit on the sidewalk outside of the sanctuary. When her mom shows up, boy disappears. Emily though can't stop thinking about him, and Sam can't stop thinking about her. Their worlds act atomic, colliding and repelling, given the multitude of issues that two teen lives and two very, very, very different family structures can bring to two folks trying to work out how to spend time together. And actually live to experience it.

Author Sloan does a sweet job of weaving these two lives together in I'll Be There. I really liked how she zeroed in on her characters but also broadens the actual storyline in a way that kept me really engaged. I have some serious visuals as a result of how she wrote the book-- let me tell you, I may never see a faded red kayak in the same way again! I will definitely look for this author in the future, and after Alysa finishes, I may just have to read it again!

Friday, May 24, 2013

Breaking Beautiful by Jennifer Shaw Wolf

Have you noticed the multitude of teen books about male-female relationships gone sour? That is such a common theme, and authors (and publishers) are certainly seeking out every corner of that genre (if that is what it is) to sell books. I notice too how many new authors are entering the publishing world through that genre, and I find that kinda fascinating. I tend to seek out books with a power imbalance, and if you studied my library-check-out history, you would see what I am talking about. I am not sure what this means, as in why I am drawn to these stories--is it the cover, is it that I feel the books are safe, is it that I can literally fly through them without studying the books during semesters when I am teaching (yes, a definite maybe here). The truth is out: sometimes I just want to fly through books, not thinking too much but maybe noticing a good character development here or there. Breaking Beautiful does a pretty good job of character development and twisty storyline, and kept me engaged during a particularly heavy reading time of the semester.

What I really liked about the character development in Breaking Beautiful is how twin brother and sister stick up for each some very unique ways. I was surprised at how Wolf wove in a protective brother who has a challenging time physically protecting his sister. I was also surprised at some of the other power misuses the author includes in the book. At times I wasn't sure who had sent boyfriend off the cliff: oops, a hint of storyline there....But really: you have to read it. I am not gonna spoil this one. The ending surprised even me. 

Friday, May 17, 2013

Bluebird by Bob Staake

This book is without written words and yet with a multitude of them.

This book is loaded with illustrations that demand the reader slow down and study each one. 

Authors rarely capture the wisdom and endurance of relationship like Staake does in Bluebird
I feel as if I am cheating using words. But then, I am nowhere close to being as brilliant as Bob Staake creates in Bluebird. Happy reading!

Friday, May 10, 2013

Fourmile by Watt Key

If you have been slogging through my book reviews, you likely have an idea of the types of books I seek out. Alysa is a little more maleable than I am in some ways, and this time, I doubt you will be surprised that I LOVED Fourmile. The cover captured me from the start, and I had heard great things about Alabama Moon but haven't yet read it. Yet. So with the cover leading me, I dove in.

See: the cover has you caught too. I know. What could these two-- a teen boy and his faithful dog Joe-- be looking at? Looking for? And who is walking up?

These questions and more will be answered in this fabulously written tale about the boy on the cover, his dog and all they are yearning for in their lives. Twelve-year-old Foster is trying to make a go at living life without his father who died the year before. Couple that with the fact that his mother is dating a slick fellow who smiles when he is with her and grunts when he anywhere near Foster. Joe growls at boyfriend Dax every time the dog encounters Dax, making for more tension on the farm. One day while Foster is painting, stranger Gary walks up the road, engages kindly with the boy, and is invited  to spend the night in the barn. Dax, furious that another man is on his territory, starts to show his true colors, Foster's mother ends up letting Gary stay and do some home repairs, further ticking off Dax, Joe tries to bite Dax....and this is all in the first third of the book. As Foster searches for that missing father figure, he learns tons about life, commitment, and friendship.

Fourmile. Nicely done.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Period.8 by Chris Crutcher

I squeal when I think of Chris Crutcher creating new work. He is one of my favorite all-time young adult authors. Deadline and Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes are simply two of the best books ever to me. Crutcher's own story and his gifted way of weaving the stories of others into his books simply engages me fully. I find his work brilliant. Imagine my anticipation then when I heard about Period.8. Huge fits as a descriptor.

I really enjoyed Period.8. The writing surprised me a little, feeling more like a mystery novel than what I have noticed in Crutcher's previous writings. The typical Crutcher characters show up here: teen boy-- home life totally wonked up by a cheating dad and can't-let-hubby-go mom and school life totally connected to one main important awesome teacher named Logsdon who goes by Logs; teen girl-- key sidekick (read GIRLFRIEND) to said teen boy, total cat's meow in all categories (kind, fierce, thoughtful, dedicated, relentless, smart--the list goes on); and then there are the friends wandering around--they come in all shapes and sizes and I mean ALL. The teacher, Logs, hosts this gathering-for-students time called Period 8. In Period 8, interested students come in and talk about what is bugging them with the complete agreement that what is said in Period 8 stays in Period 8. Unfortunately that isn't quite true. Crutcher does his usual show of throwing in life and death stuff, teen angst and real life stuff, and he ties the stories together in an unusual storyline teens can find ways to deal with bullies (although in this book the dealing with bullies part is fairly brutal). Crutcher seems to know alot about bullies from his work as a social worker, and he brings out the ugly by bringing this particular bully into the picture for this book. Makes me wonder who he knows might have experienced something like this.

Ahhh, another Crutcher fix satisfied!

**Oh and guess what? Alysa told me she wants to start writing for the blog again this summer, said she will have time then. Yippeee!!!! 

Friday, April 26, 2013

Bruised by Sarah Skilton

Cover art matters. Think of those times when you saw the cover of a book and felt that instant, magical draw. The cover of Bruised is pretty impressive, and I found myself looking more and more at it as I read the story. You will see—you will want to understand why the trophy of the martial artist breaks apart.

Sure, the story will tell you: teen black belt survives a horrific hold-up in a local restaurant. She blanks most of the memory, blames herself for the gunman getting killed, and checks out of most of the rest of her life. Until she is able to step back enough to understand that she couldn’t change what happened in that hold- up. The idea of someone professionally trained in self-defense freezing in a situation like a hold- up makes great sense for a storyline, but this is the first time I have read about it in a young adult novel. I really liked how Skilton wove this story, and I feel certain some of her art came from her own experiences as a black belt herself.

I suggest you search this one out. And of course, check out the great cover!