Thursday, December 15, 2016

A Picture Book Cornucopia

Since I keep stumbling upon such exciting new picture books and I feel selfish reading them alone, I am sharing them with you, dear reader. Enjoy!

My Thumb by Karen Hesse

Hesse is a favorite author of mine, so it is no surprise that whenever she publishes something, I jump to get it. My Thumb is a crafty little gem, geared toward those young thumb lovers in our lives. Although my thumb loving daughter has outgrown that habit, it seems obvious that she too has fond memories (or current experiences?) of those thumb lovers. Enjoyable read with a tinge of irony perhaps?

The Journey by Francesca Sanna

Whoa. This is an incredibly heartbreaking and direly-important story. A mother and her two daughters are forced to flee their homeland in search of safety as their city is engulfed by war. The illustrations only perpetuate the reality of loss, unknown, fear, and tension all the while Sanna keeps us focused on moving forward. Powerful book and sooo sooo important for someone like me who has not had to deal with this experience.

The Sound of Silence by Katrina Goldsaito

What an interesting exploration of sounds and silence. Coupled with varying uses of color and shades of dark and light, the author and illustrator Julia Kuo created a lovely story about a boy seeking to discover where silence is. He searches and searches, and in time, finds it right where he least expects it. Sweet read indeed.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Ashes by Laurie Halse Anderson

Brilliant. Simply brilliant. I have long been a fan of Laurie Halse Anderson's writing, and I will literally read anything by her. This summer I discovered the third in her Seeds of America trilogy was coming out and I could hardly wait. Lovely, amazing, engaging, historically realistic, and oh so insightful, she did it again.

The story builds steadily from the start, much like a snowball growing and growing, gaining momentum, developing . Once Isabel finds her sister, she imagines all will be easier. But her sister seems to hate her, groveling mirrors what little work is available, and her friendship with Curzon continues to challenge her. The timely issues of discrimination of many and difficult living conditions throughout the Civil War repeat and lift the surviving hearts and souls of the characters. Such a difficult and beautiful story.

Thanks, Laurie Halse Anderson, for your generous work. 

Friday, November 18, 2016

Hurry Up, Henry by Jennifer Lanthier

A charming tale of a boy who always liked to go slow. His slow speed balances with one of his friends who likes to go fast, but mostly folks tell Henry to hurry up. 

When his birthday comes, his grandmother hatches an idea that turns Henry’s world a little bit and changes his idea of time. A lovely, simple, and perspective-offering read. Sweet illustrations that completely expand the text for young readers, this is a gentle new read for those of us who move too fast and those of us who simply need to slow down.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Moo by Sharon Creech

Just finished Moo with my class of fourth graders. I had started reading it by myself and then I landed this sweet teaching gig, so I figured I would read it with them as our read aloud. I am an ardent Creech fan and believed that most of these rural-living students would get the cow focus.

Boy, was I wrong! Most of them hadn't even spent time around a cow. And boy was I right! This book because a community builder in multiple ways, and we all, cow-schemas or not, found ways to enter the book, make sense of it, and connect it to our lives. The students loved it, I loved it, and I wonder what role it played in helping us grow readers in our class.

The main cow, Zora, is grumpy, stand-offish (can a cow be that?), and flat out stubborn at the start of the book. Like many characters, she changed over time but I won't tell you how. A brother and sister move with their parents out to farm-country Maine. Mom meets some rather stand-offish, grumpy woman at some medical office and offers her kids up to help with chores at the lady's farm. The chemistry between the kids and the lady repels each party, causing interesting conflicts, perspectives, and ironic moments. The ending is true Creech, and the story has some rich connections with her granddaughter.

This time it was not just me that loved a book---it was my 22 fourth graders as well!! Moo.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Playing from the Heart by Peter H. Reynolds

Who doesn’t like Reynolds’ work? Author of The Dot, Ish, and so many more, his work is well loved. Another book connecting to our identity and our birthright gifts, Playing from the Heart is the story of a boy who naturally loves to play the piano. 

He is so talented that his father decides to hire a teacher so Raj can learn how to formally play. Over time, the teaching becomes restrictive, and finally Raj stops playing. Only when he is truly asked does he return to the piano. 

This sweet, endearing, important picture book offers us a rich space to either open the conversation of being who we are or continue it. Another keeper from the master himself.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Emerson Barks by Liza Woodruff

Emerson is a barking dog. His way of hello is to bark, and he loves to say hello to everyone and every animal he can find.

Until he gets in big trouble for scaring off a cat. He decides to hold his bark in. He tries and tries and tries, and he succeeds for a bit.

With a surprise ending and a terrific connection with our ways of being, Emerson Barks will be a great read for those seeking a book about sense of self and identity.

Friday, September 9, 2016

as brave as you by Jason Reynolds

A true middle-school novel has to talk about poop. Reynolds gets really smart in his new novel and even moves into poop slinging and the proper way and place to sling. Mistakes are made, transgressions allowed, and chores completed, Genie and his brother add another surprise to their summer vacation at their grandparents' house. Given its tremendous distance from their home in Brooklyn as well as significant internet disconnection, the boys have landed in another world when they arrive in Virginia. Their parents are struggling to maintain their marriage, and they have decided to take some time away from the boys to see what can be glued back together.

In the first few days, Genie and his brother Ernie learn that their grandfather is blind, their grandmother an extreme gardener, and their house is way, way, way out in the boondocks. Ernie decides to chase after a girl, and Genie discovers his grandfather's gun, room of birds, and agoraphobia. Unique characters come in all shapes and sizes in Reynolds' new text, and Genie embraces the new life in grand ways. By the end of the book, the gun, the birds, and the agoraphobia all impact Genie, his brother, and his grandparents, and I have a feeling slinging poop may be a welcomed action. A sweet read,  I loved this book. 

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson

How is it Woodson writes like she does? Her writing is remarkable to me, and her new book is a true testament to her amazing writing skills.

Another Brooklyn, set in the '70s in Brooklyn, frames a teenager's coming of age, friendships, growing up and looking back, loss, life, families, and the truths that we learn in our lives. Woodson writes with such gracefulness in this book. The main character's voice sounds so soft and strong at the same time, wise and curious, engaged and visionary. August leans into the memories and stories that come from a visit with her brother who is soon will be a father. She transports the reader into the life of those stories that begin with a mother whose absence pierces August's heart, a father who remains strong and abiding, and a brother who shares her window view for awhile. The meandering of friendships, linked arms through those difficult teen years, always important, always connecting in tiny and grand ways.

I so appreciated the clear lens Woodson crafted in Another Brooklyn. I felt as if August was talking with me directly, as if she were sitting across from me at a table in a quiet coffee shop, reflecting on her past and exploring how pieces fit together, how people graced and deflected her, talking, talking. And I simply listened, not needing to add anything else except my presence. Even though this is a book about coming of age, it felt peaceful to me. Somehow Woodson ties together strands into ropes of resilience. She gifts us with windows into her life through her books, and Another Brooklyn offers these fragile and super-strong panes of glass through which we experience another's rich life. 

Friday, August 19, 2016

Property of the State by Bill Cameron

Every so often I run across a book that surprises me in a unique way. The setting occurs in my backyard, literally, as I visit Mt. Tabor every few days, various coffee shops nearby sound amazingly like what the author writes of in his story, and many of the streets I walk, bike, and drive daily. I loved being able to visualize where the story was taking place as I read. A powerful choice by the author for certain! At least to me.

Joey is in foster care, and after years of struggle, is jonesing to get out on his own. The only problem to him seems to be the system. He would prefer doing everything on his own and believes that everyone is out to stop his quest. As most YA novels go, there is some predictability in this story, meaning that there are several adults I could easily consider throttling throughout the story. Joey is a crafty lad, and he understands loss in a way that blew my mind. He is kind and curious too, and the storyline walks us through his attempts to connect with others. Adults misuse him and his friends who are foster children as well. And yet they survive. They figure out how to keep walking through. and for that, even in the midst of treacherous storylines and lives, he keeps going. 

Saturday, August 6, 2016

What do you do with a problem? written by Kobi Yamada and illustrated by Mae Besom

As a teacher who often looks for books to help my students and I journey further into challenges, I appreciated this book. Particularly because we always seem to come up with problems!

The basic premise in this lovely, tension-filled book is face the problems that are presented to you. If you try to ignore a problem, it will grow bigger. The main character realizes partway through the book that his problem has grown substantially, and he must adjust his approach. Doing so changes his life and the course of the book. Inspirational and engaging, with really interesting illustrations, this is a book I plan to use this coming year.

I am not familiar with the first book, What Do You Do With an Idea? yet. I have a feeling I will soon.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Circle by Jeannie Baker

One of my fave authors, Jeannie Baker, wrote Mirror and Belonging, brings such a visual, touchable technique to her picture books. I feel so drawn to her books. Here is the cover of seems like I can feel the green growth on the island. Opening the cover, the storyline enveloped me. By the way, do you know what a godwit is?

A young boy sits at the beach, studying and searching for birds flying around him. Lo and behold, godwits fill the sky around him. 

Baker takes us through their migration north, circling parts of the globe as they rediscover their seasonal home. 

Then she brings them back to the boy's home, a welcomed and inferential sight. Oops, no picture: guess Ms. Baker doesn't want me to add spoiler alerts to this entry. Guess you gotta get your hands on the book. It's a goodie.

Find a detailed narration of how Mirror unfolded and developed in her processing and life here:

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Lucky Strikes by Louis Bayard

Once I started Lucky Strikes, I could not lay it down. The hiccups created by the author, intentional, funny, and totally engaging and sometimes surprising, all caught me like a fish on a hook. I hardly know how to describe the book, but suffice it to say that it was unlike most books I have read in the last few years. The storyline was entirely unique—seriously: have you read a story where when someone needs a father they snag a “hobo” who just fell out of a racing car onto the side of the road---or was he pushed? Nonetheless, instant father for a family much in need. What about a 11-year-old female protagonist who makes mistakes, tries to keep her sister and brother with her after their mother dies, and can fix virtually any car or truck? There are tons of truckers and odd sorts who are totally committed to the three kids and Brenda’s Oasis, the solitary gas station amidst a whole heap of service stations that one rich, owns-a-ton-of-service-stations bully that serves as keen backdrop and fabulous center of the story. Lucky Strikes is great fun, a perfect summer read with lemonade or on a rare rainy day during the month of July. Happy reading for certain!!

Monday, July 4, 2016

Fifteen Lanes by S.J. Laidlaw

Whoa. This book is a must read. Must read. Laidlaw takes her experiences living in Mumbai, working with sex trade workers and their very-likely-to-be-in-the-industry-too children, and infuses it into the stories in the text. The boundary between truth and realistic fiction is likely more blurred than I know.

Author Mindy McGinnes interviewed S.J.Laidlaw earlier this year on McGinnes and posted that interview on her blog Writer, Writers, Pants on Fire. One quote from that interview seems so succinct I include it here:  I decided to write a story that shows how suffering and sexual violence cut across class and culture. It's told in the voices of two girls. Noor is the daughter of a sex worker. She and her younger siblings live in a brothel in Kamathipura. Grace is the daughter of an international banker who has lived the nomadic life of a Third Culture Kid. While Grace is from a wealthy and privileged background, both girls experience adversity in different ways.

To extend that a bit, 14-year-old Noor sleeps under her mother's bed. She knows that men come into the room, a room shared with other women who work in the brothel. She cares for her brother and sister most of the time, trying to stay out of the way of the bullying owner and sort-of manager. 15-year-old Grace meets Noor with great resistance but ends up finding a surprising friend whom she wants to trust. But trust for both girls is fleeting, as we can imagine. By the time you realize what is happening, you will be so roped in the storyline, know that you will not put the book down until you are finished.

This is a challenging read. The way women are treated in India for one (no, I will not derail my thoughts to how women are treated on other land masses on our planet) is abysmal. Laidlaw does not skirt the issue here; rather she flat-out leans into the Indian sex trade, exposing one girls' potential experience in a true-to-life fashion I have not often read about. Kudos to her shining light on that awful way of living and being controlled. Kudos more for writing this book. One of my favorite of the year so far....

Thursday, June 30, 2016

The Blood Between Us by Zac Brewer

I have been in a little of a reading slump, not getting  hooked by what I had around. Brewer's new book The Blood Between Us changed that for me. Brewer wrote the Vladamir Tod series among others, so he is not new to the YA writing world.

A couple of angry teenagers(well actually a whole bunch), school issues, dying family members, and money all play a role in this well-written tale. I totally believe this whole scenario could happen- or has it already? I have no idea, I just know Brewer is an awesome writer, developing his characters solidly and crafts the scenes realistically, swooping his readers into a plot that keeps you holding on until the very last page. I found myself really studying characters, trying to figure out who done (or was doing) it and causing all sorts of grief. I was wrong most of the time.

If you are looking for a solid summer read, a little mystery in that warm sunny day, find this one. Let me know what you think!

Sunday, June 19, 2016

The Skunk by Mac Barnett and Patrick McDonnell

Ahhh, The Skunk. A lovely little picture book about a man and a skunk. Simple you say? Ha, not a chance! My second graders were pin-drop silent listening to this gem.

The tale of a man being stalked by a skunk becomes a skunk being stalked by a man. This twisty tale offers a curious storyline---who in the world ever felt like they could might maybe even consider following a skunk???? The illustrations are phenomenal and the writing engages from the start.

I particularly enjoyed how the story and pictures intertwined. A beautiful and fun read!