Wednesday, March 28, 2012

When Grandmama Sings by Margaree King Mitchell

I called my grandmother Grandmama.

I rarely see that name written that way, so of course, right away I was caught by that title. I saw my grandmother, imagined what made her "sing." Looked at some of the paintings we have around the house and a couple of photos of the last few times I sat with her before she died. Since my mother's mother died long before I met her, this is the only "grandmother" I have ever had. It was a sweet relationship, one that matured as I did. Who knows: maybe she was waiting for me to grow up a little? I don't know; I just know this title sent me on a memory trip I really enjoyed.

The story itself was far different than my own stories of time with my grandmother. Belle, the young girl, goes traveling with her grandmother around the segregated South while her grandmother sings for churches and concerts. Racism was alive and well then, and the storyline addresses some of the challenges the grandmama and band experienced during their tour. The power of song outweighs the insidious judgment of the racist folks they encounter, and throughout the story, the band meets up with plenty of people willing to look beyond their own hatred.

I am not sure how close to a true story this story is, but it sure seems possible. I enjoyed the read and would definitely use it with kindergartners and primary students. The illustrations are just as engaging as the story. Score another one for our library: they led me to another terrific read in When Grandmama Sings.

***Side note: I am still in the midst of inviting Alysa to think a little differently about this blog. She is mid-way through an entry and hopefully we will see it posted in the next couple of days. Fingers crossed!!

Monday, March 19, 2012

Kindred Souls by Patricia MacLachlan

You know those books that you read in one sitting, that you just can't put down, that hook you from several levels inside of yourself? This was one of those books for me.

Written from the voice of a young boy who loves his grandfather more than anything, we travel through the days and nights of Jake. Jake will do anything for and with his grandfather. When his grandfather starts talking about wanting to rebuild the sod house that used to be on the farm property where they all live, Jake considers it. But then the grandfather Billy gets sick and has to go to the hospital, the story takes a deeper turn into what we do for people whom we dearly love: we try to create ways to keep them around and alive. So Jake and his family build the sod house while Billy is in the hospital, and the hope for living looms large. I don't want to stop you from reading this terrific book, so I will not tell the ending. I feel certain that you will want to finish it for yourself.

The decision to make this book a children's book stunned me. The font is large and the paragraphs short, meaning it is written for someone newer to reading. It is common for books of readers this age and experience to hold a watered-down feel, a softening of the blows of life. Not in Kindred Souls. MacLachlan holds such great respect for her readers that she crafted this book in a way that they would know how important they are to her, how wise and thoughtful. Really. Read it and see what you think. I find it masterful. Brilliant.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Freedom Song by Sally M. Walker

Look what I found at the library yesterday! I stumbled across this gem in the children's section. Did I mention somewhere in this blog how much I love, love, love our Multnomah County Library system? Amazing....and here they are, offering me another book I had never heard of AND obviously needed to. The illustrations rock. The storyline astounds. Simple yet massively complex, quiet yet heart-pounding, this book made me stop and sit down in the library floor and read it. Seriously.

Freedom Song: The Story of Henry "Box" Brown is based on a true story. Slave Henry carries a song inside always. His song gets far quieter when his wife and children are sold. To survive his loss, he decides to try a gigantic risk, one that changes his name and life forever. This was a surprising story to me, and the documentation at the end of the book stunned me.

Looking for a picture book that sets accusations that picture books are for children only on its side or a historical fiction book that is sure to surprise? Look no further: this one is a keeper.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Room by Emma Donoghue and a side note...

Room has gotten pretty solid reviews over the last year and a half of so since being published. Seriously this was a tough read for me; the subject is grim and so realistic, so imaginable, I had a hard time allowing myself to keep reading. In fact, I started it last summer and then stopped, believing I wasn't ready to make sense of it all. I am glad I returned to it.

Donoghue frames the story around a mother and her five-year-old boy and the Room they are forced to live in. The boy had never been outside of Room, the mother held captive by a pyschopath for seven years and forced into motherhood. Like I said, grim. But the mom figures out how to get them both out and start their lives over, a powerful, compelling complement to an otherwise gruesome story. I am glad I returned to this story, and I can totally understand why the reviews for the book are stellar. Donoghue has a keeper here; just be ready for a rich, dense, emotionally- challenging read.

On a side note, reader: I wonder if you all have been noticing how often I post and how infrequently Alysa posts. As an educator completely immersed in literacy, I am somewhat familiar with the research that points to high- school students not reading for fun and at home and all. I am perplexed about what makes Alysa hesitate to write here for this blog. Is she just too busy? Is the format of this blog unexciting now? Would a format with more pictures and media variety be more interesting? I honestly don't know, but I have been thinking about it for a while now. Just know that I am exploring what she would say she needs to become more active again here. I know she is reading for pleasure, something seems to stop her before she brings her interpretations to this page.  I will keep you posted as I search forward of what she needs, what might invite her here again, and what we have to change to help her continue to share her wisdom with a wider audience.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Flyaway by Lucy Christopher

I loved the gentle, flowing story in this book. Christopher writes so calmly, even in the midst of great tension and trial. She is a new author to me; I haven't read her Prinz Honor book Stolen yet. Have you?

Flyaway is the story of a young teen who loves her father, swans, and feathers. While out birding, her father falls gravely ill and she acts powerfully to save him and get him help. While in the hospital, she meets another ill boy who ends up playing quite a powerful role in the book, offering both solace to her as she maneuvers the challenges of witnessing the treacherous times of a severely ill parent as well as inviting her to grow beyond what seems like a stopping point in her own love of birds. As a children's chapter book, this read ends fairly well, common with this genre, but the entire story feels very realistic to me throughout.

I can see a number of audiences for this one: young teens and pre-teens in particular. I know that I enjoyed it, but I am a total sucker for life-connecting texts written in realistic ways, with realistic and at least at times compassionate characters, and with a possibly true ending. This one rocked the boat for me, meaning I put down other books to read this one by itself. Yep, it was a keeper.