Friday, January 25, 2013

Summer at Forsaken Lake by Michael D. Beil

Looking for an engaging story involving movie making, sailing, boats, mystery, and a little baseball? This might be the ticket for you. The author weaves the stories of two teens, Charlie and Nicholas, together artfully, combining a family history that had been buried for decades as well as a new friendship in this book. I had recently read Second Chance Summer-- which I will review soon--and at first, I felt like the books were really similar. But once the mystery of the ghost boat, the hidden note, and the unfinished shell up in the barn are uncovered, the story shifts significantly. And of course, the two two story lines are TOTALLY different.

Anyway the back cover quote is one that gives a little preview effectively: "That old house, and the lake-- they're both full of secrets. You just have to know where to look. You never know what you might find." As I read this book, I kept imagining what it would be like to read this one aloud to a class of fourth or fifth graders. I would love to hear what they had to say about Summer at Forsaken Lake.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Red Thread Sisters by Carol Antoinette Peacock

When I find books that resonate with me and share them here, I often share intentionally some  of my deeper connections with the story or author. Adoption became really important to me when my partner and I decided to adopt our daughter. This story, Red Thread Sisters, offers a rich and realistic window into the losses of kinship for adopted children.

I struggle to write this post. I know some of the celebrations that my daughter holds about her adoption, but I also am aware of some of the deep tensions that she also carries. I do not want to speak for her-- there is no way I could-- and her story is different than the girls in the book in many ways. And yet the question crops within me: how does this story honor adopted children? What would Alysa think if she read it? And if Alysa ever chooses to write her own story, what might she say?

This book tells the story of two young teens who live in an orphanage in China. The story starts with one in the process of meeting her new, adoptive family for the first time and saying good bye to her best friend who will stay in the orphanage. The ensuing travel home, settling into daily life here in the States, and meandering the patterns of newly-connected/created family all show up in this well-written tale. The author obviously knows adoption issues fairly personally; her story crafting makes sense, flows well, and rings true frequently. I appreciate the ongoing challenge of creating trust within this newly-created family, and I liked how the author kept weaving her way through the living series of celebrations and trials. But there is another issue percolating on the forefront of this story: the adopted girl refuses to let go of her promise to find a family for her friend still in China.

So back to those questions: I see the story totally honoring adopted children and in greater light, honoring the great loss adoptees experience over and over in their lives. Those tragic seeds of loss don't still reside inside, and finding ways to enliven those with people who both care and didn't experience what they did is truly a traumatic experience waiting inside of many of adoptees. I thought this book tried to open that conversation a bit. I think Alysa would like this book, and I think she would say it was not her experience. True: it's not. She could, could answer that question if she wrote her own story. THAT I would like to see!!

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Word After Word After Word by Patricia MacLachlan

I am soooo impressed with MacLachlan's writing. She is a new author to me although I have known and heard about her work for years. I loved loved loved Kindred Souls, enough so that I reread it recently and fell in love with it AGAIN. Here she captured me again.

Sher wrote Word After Word After Word after an editor invited her to create a book about writing and what life is like as a writer. Engaging topic for sure as she noticed from her myriad of experiences speaking with students about writing, MacLachlan takes it to a new level by turning what she knows into a story of fourth graders who have the pleasure of a writer-in-residence in their classroom. Artfully weaving academics and life into a few key moments in time, the author offers us a clear window into her life as a writer. She has embedded keen details for writing into the actual story, making the art form both approachable and tenable for all. MacLachlan writes in a way that I believe many "tween" students-- maybe third and fourth grade-- can really grab onto. Worthy as a read aloud or solo read, I imagine a number of young people turning dreams into the beginnings of reality as their ideas come into synch with the author's fine work.

Speaking of fine work, MacLachlan has new books coming out all the time according to her listing on the HarperCollins' site. I saw one title in particular that caught me by the shirt collar and fastened me to the page with great interest: Through Grandpa's Eyes. Seriously: another grandparent book? I can't wait to read this one. My grad students might hear one of hers read aloud soon!

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Personal Effects by E.M.Kokie

E.M.Kokie writes on her blog that she "always loved the way a good book could sweep me away, but I was a lazy student and never thought I could actually be a writer. So in between the usual tortures of high school, I made up stories, but kept them in my head." Get into her first book, Personal Effects(2012), and you will likely understand a little more about why and how she writes as well as give her a big high five for holding onto those stories until she was ready to plunk them down on paper for the rest of us. Engaging from the start, I savored my time in this book and am eager to read more of her work.

Matt is a high-school teen heart and soul broken by the death of his brother T.J. Kokie ties in the armed services, Iraq, and the tensions held in relationships with a careful set of details that keenly help her tell the story she crafts. As I think back about the novel, I find a deeper appreciation for the characters in the story, even for the father who comes off as such an ugly, angry man. Which-- teeny spoiler alert-- he is. But there is more to that there is in each relationship that Matt engages with throughout his efforts to understand who his brother was and what material objects symbolized for him.

I really appreciated how the author teased apart the relationships in this book. It would easy to simply say that Matt is pissed that his brother died, but Kokie digs into what makes him tick, like she does with most characters, with a particular depth that engaged me further. This is a keeper for me.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

A Storm In The Barn by Matt Phelan

Those of you familiar with Phelan's illustrative word will not be surprised at the power of this book. Shoot, you have probably already sought it out, devoured it, and used it in all sorts of arenas. But if you haven't or if you are like me and you read it awhile ago and just recently found it again, join me in re-exploring it.

You likely remember Phelan for his work in The Higher Power of Lucky, an great fave of mine. His artwork enhanced a stellar text, complimenting an engaging, consuming storyline with pictures that extended my visual trailings of the book considerably. In The Storm In The Barn, Phelan takes on telling the story of the Dust Bowl through graphic novel format. And succeed he does: among a slew of other awards, Phelan received the 2010 Scott O'Dell Award from the American Library Association.

For me, the eeriness combined with a young person trying to find their way captured me. I love the inner-battle metaphor singing through this text, and because of Phelan's prowess on the page, my mind images really exploded as I read. Even when I simply open the book to any page, I find emotions rising up, and my eyes want to stay and read more.

The Storm In The Barn is a goodie. I know that Matt Phelan has had new works published, so I will check out more and see what more I can learn from this brilliant illustrator.