Saturday, August 27, 2011

Picture books galore!

I love picture books. With access to so many different authors, themes, depths, and styles, I feel complete license to search for new loves each time I go to the library. Recently I found a few new ones that I love I love picture books. With access to so many different authors, themes, depths, and styles, I feel complete license to search for new loves each time I go to the library. Recently I found a few new ones that I love, and I thought I would share here!

A Book for Black-Eyed Susan by Judy Young: the setting for this book is the Oregon Trail. My students (one group I teach are folks who are becoming elementary teachers) often ask about great texts on the Oregon Trail. Yep, we live in Oregon and elementary students study the Oregon Trail in third and fourth grade. This book frames the trials of a girl whose mother dies while giving birth to another child while in route to Oregon. The father decides he is only able to care for the older girl and allows his relatives to take the newborn. The story chronicles the young teen's growing up years and ends with her becoming a teacher. Read this book to find out the surprising ending (oh, I might have just given it away).

Running with the Horses by Alison Lester surprised me. The illustrations are striking enough, with black on white on color standing out for me. But the storyline offers a rich window into the views of life for a young girl growing up in WW II Vienna. Let's just say the pull of horses wins over the female in this story, a familiar yet powerful (often true) story time and again. Here, Nina and her father must flee Vienna with the horses from his stable. She chooses her favorite, which happens to not be her father's fav. Tension mounts, the rush of the impending war adds worry, but eventually, Nina takes her choice horse Zelda. The trip to Nina's grandparents is definitely filled with the awful mystery and unknown situations like this one carry. Lester's story carries heartbreak in a rich and life-giving way.

Finally a little humor! The King's Taster by Kenneth Oppel offers the dog lovers in most of us a little realistic laugh. Max, the king's cook's dog, tastes everything for the king. He has a terrific little taster-- much better than my dogs'--but for some unknown reason, the king hates everything the cook makes. After dozens of cast- away dishes, the cook is dismissed. But not before Max learns the real reason for the king's hatred of what is cooked. Oppel creates a terrific ending in this book, one that will set readers up for a re-read many times of this story. The illustrations are funny on their own and add great realism to a funny storyline. Enjoy this one!

Monday, August 22, 2011

13 Little Blue Envelopes

I really enjoyed the book 13 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson. I thought that it was a book that had everything. Adventure, romance, suspense, mystery, everything. I would read this book again and again. It also really made me want to go to Europe. I thought that the character development was amazing. Ginny, the main character, really found herself in this book. I also enjoyed how when she would open one of the envelopes to read the letter, the page would turn in to what it might look like if you glued a real page in to the book.

Ginny's Aunt Peg disappeared for two years, with almost no communication at all. No one really knew what happened to her until news comes that Aunt Peg had died of a brain tumor. Ginny doesn't know what to think. Aunt Peg was one of the most lively people that Ginny had ever know. And then the letters came. 13 to be exact. From Aunt Peg. Telling her that she has to travel around Europe and she cant open the next envelope until she has completed the task in the current envelope. All Ginny knows is that she must go. The envelopes lead her through out Europe, giving her new experiences with art and the culture, meeting a striving young artist named Keith, and a man named Richard who is mysteriously connected to her aunt. Ginny won't only learn about the beauty of the world, but about the girl she really is.

I very much recommend this book, and the sequel: The Last Little Blue Envelope. I hope that you will find as much joy in it as i did!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Kings of Colorado

Alysa is all wrapped up in preparations for the India Festival, so I told her I would write an entry. Look for her to review some books soon!

My new favorite author is David E. Hilton. I just stumbled over this book in the new books section of our library. Liked the cover, the title, figured what the heck. What the heck is right: this guy's writing is clean, concise, engaging, and full of voice. What a simple and powerful story teller he is. I was so surprised by the way he wrote this tale, and I had a hard time putting it down from the start.

A rather grim tale, Hilton's Kings of Colorado frames the gruesome life of 13-year-old Will Shepard, whose father repeatedly beats and injures both Will and his mother. Will hits his breaking point, injures the father, and for punishment, gets sent to a working ranch in the Colorado high country. For those of you who know a little about my history, I loved growing up in Colorado. However it is not the scenery and place that so captured me in this book; rather it is the development of relationships and the being true to self that so shine loudly here. The ranch is a place of continuing power imbalances, where adults tell what to do and the boys do what they are told. Beatings and disrespect are routine, and fights between boys consistently occur. But somehow, with the ranch's nurse serving in a stellar role, a few of the boys find their way to truth. Several of the boys become fast friends with Will, and even amidst great trials, Will continues to find his way back to being who he was born to be. The book has a surprising ending, one that I really appreciated.

Salvation: how possible is it for us to make mistakes in life and still find our ways to living who we believe we are meant to be? It is books like this one that reminds me I am not so far off the dreamer's path as I thought.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Capturing Car Reads

One of the pleasures of driving vacations is time in the car to read. I have always appreciated my body's comfort with not getting carsick, and I love to disappear into a good book while someone else drives. So our trip to British Columbia gave me some good time to sink into some great books.

Lucky by Alice Sebold
Alice is the author of The Lovely Bones, a much-talked about and reviewed book that I totally want to read now about a family trying to find their way through the loss of one of the teen daughters. The reviews, both from many of my friends and a variety of bookstores, point to an intense read, both honest and horrific, clarifying and hopeful. Sebold held onto dueling tensions in Lucky as well, her memoir written before her highly successful second book The Lovely Bones. In Lucky, Sebold explores her experience with and healing journey through an awful sexual assault during her freshman year of college. She spares no details in this stark write up, framing repeatedly for us readers her lens for finding herself after such a massive loss. She literally frames her life through before and after in numerous ways, actions and words that helped me the reader balance who she was and who she became through her decisions and explorations. One of the pieces I most appreciated about this memoir is her centered honesty. Even when telling very personal details, Alice stands strong in her own grounding. It is a powerful book, one I encourage you to check out if the subject area invites you in.

Ghost Girl by Torey Hayden
The second book I read was a little different in focus. I began reading Torey Hayden's nonfiction books years ago. She writes about her experiences as a special education teacher for highly involved and challenged young learners. Her stories never fail to capture me, making it quite easy for me to ignore conversations right next to me or music playing loudly in the car, much to the (at times) frustration of my family! This time I read Ghost Girl, also an intense read but a little more emotionally distant for me. Ghost Girl is the story of Hayden's experience teaching a young girl who was selectively mute. Torey enters the classroom mid-year as a specialist with substantial experience working with selective mutes. Her inquisitive nature and unending dedication to her students rises admirably in this story. I always appreciate how Torey's writing literally puts me into her brain, as if she is asking questions, considering options, and casting off ideas with me having the conversation in the same room at the same time with her. Her stories always represent a side of teaching often left off the national table of import these days: relationship. This reread didn't disappoint me on our trip. In fact, it inspired me to order more of her work from the library.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

My Life Undecided

My Life Undecided by Jessica Brody was a perfect read. I loved everything about it. It wasn't one of those books where it's totally predictable that the main character is going to do this, or fall in love with them, or become friends with that person, so i really liked it. I thought that it was super well written and that the character development was amazing. Brooklyn, the main character, was pretty much a different person at the end of the book. I also loved how she would write blog entries in the book and i was able to see what her web page looked like. It was just one of those books where you keep thinking about it and continue to find different meanings to it. I will defiantly be making a trip to the book store to purchase this book!

Brooklyn has never been very good at making the right choices, in fact she can't remember the last time when she did anything right. It all started when she was two years old and followed that little green lizard down the mine shaft. It took fifty-two hours for them to get her out, and ever since then, she has been known for making bad choices. Like now. As she is being lowered in to the back of a cop car after burning down her mothers model home, Brooklyn realizes that she has to change something especially since things are going from bad to worse. Grounded. Community service at the nursing home for three months. And her once popular life is now the life of a loser. That's when she realizes that she can't make any more decisions on her own. She is putting her faith in to people she has never met before by making a blog and having them vote on what decision she should make. And just like that her life is turning around. Even though the blog readers are making her make some pretty weird choices such as trying out for the rugby team, and not letting her go to the new club downtown with the really cute senior guy (which she really can't understand) they have made some decisions that have turned out better then she thought. Like joining the debate team. Which Brooklyn thought was going to be a total disaster, but with the help of her cute but dorky partner, she is finding her way. And then there is Mrs.Moody at the nursing home who may just teach Brooklyn the biggest lesson of all.

Quote from the book:
And what have i learned since then? Thirteen years later? Well, judging by the slew of various emergency vehicles lining the street...not a whole lot.
So it isn't until right now, at this very second-with the sirens blaring, the crowd of people gathering to try and steal a gossip-worthy peek, and the overall chaos of a good idea turned very bad-that i start to think my parents might just be onto something.
Because when you're being handcuffed and lowered into the backseat of a squad car, you kind of have to start reconsidering the way you live your life.
-Page 5

I really enjoyed this book and would recommend it to anyone. Even if you don't normally read books like this, your going to like it. There is a little something for everyone in it. It's the perfect summer read.