Sunday, January 21, 2018

Long Way Down

When my book club wanted to read A Christmas Carol for our December selection, I put up a fuss because I have gone through that plot too many times: I've seen Scrooge McDuck and just about every other version of that story structure. We picked another title and I decided to read Jason Reynolds' Long Way Down. Which, it turns out, follows the same idea as Dickens' classic. Ugh.

At least it was a quick read. Written in verse, although not the best verse, I was able to get through the book in a day. Young readers will like how quickly they will be able to speed through it, and maybe getting visited by ghosts from the past will be novel to them. I'm sure it will be a popular title, I just wish I had read something else instead.

Long Way Down was just optioned to make a movie, which is interesting because the whole book takes place in the course of 60 seconds. I won't be seeing the movie, but I'm sure I'll hear from my students about how it is done.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Patina (Track #2)

According to Goodreads, it took me almost a month to read Patina. It felt way longer than that! I read Jason Reynolds' first book in the series, Ghost, in a day, so I was shocked that I dragged my feet on this one. I think it would have gone faster if I had a physical copy, rather than reading it on my phone, but that hasn't stopped me from tearing through other books.

Patty is on the same track team as Ghost and she has a lot of issues in her life: a school where she doesn't fit in, a sick mother who can't take care of her, the responsibility of a little sister hanging over her head. On the other hand, she has a lot of blessings like a track team who accepts her, an aunt and uncle who are raising her, and the opportunity to attend a great school. I liked the balance in the book, that there are two sides to every drama. It's up to Patty to decide how she wants to see her situation.

Patina didn't click for me, but I think it will for many readers. I am eager to read the third book in the series, Sunny, and see if I like it as much as Ghost, or if it falls closer to Patina for me.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Picture Books About Women Who Persisted

At my school in The Bahamas, the 4th grade does a unit on biographies and there is always a lack of titles about women. While there may be a dearth of middle grade chapter books in that category (especially in The Bahamas), there is a new crop of picture books that I highly recommend that those classes explore. Best of all, they are written and illustrated by women.

I'm a Boston native but did not know anything about Bobbi Gibb, the first woman to run the Boston Marathon. The Girl Who Ran by Frances Poletti and Kristina Yee has changed that. I loved this book and all the small details it shared about her courageous run. I hadn't thought about gear, but Gibb ran the 26 miles in a bathing suit and men's shoes, as proper sports equipment for women in 1966. It brings to mind the quote about Ginger Rogers doing everything Fred Astaire did, but in heels and backwards.

The Girl Who Ran is ripe for discussion about bravery, equality, and barriers that still need to be shattered. It should be in every school library.

Another excellent picture book biography is Pocket Full of Colors: The Magical World of Mary Blair, Disney Artist Extraordinaire. In it, Amy Guglielmo writes about the first female illustrator in the Disney studios. Most famous for the "It's a Small World" exhibition at Disney World, Mary Blair spent her life collecting colors and making the world a more beautiful place. Throughout the book, there are so many color names I've never heard of before. The back endpaper has them written out in the appropriate color, a fun detail for readers to explore. Brigette Barrager's illustrations do justice to a book that is all about the majesty of color. I slowed way down to appreciate their retro beauty. 

Of the bunch, The World is Not a Rectangle is my favorite. I had never heard of Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid, and Jeanette Winter's books inspired me to do more research to see photos of her work. What a revolutionary mind! I love how the author continually tied Hadid's inspiration back to nature, showing the buildings paired with their natural counterpart. Hadid's architecture looks like the future and many of her buildings have been added to my life list, thanks to this book. 

Sunday, December 31, 2017

2017: The Year of the Board Book?

My son was born in 2017 and I have read a ton of board books this year. I wanted to share some of my favorites for those who are trying to look beyond Sandra Boynton, and also as a resource for myself for future baby gifts. 

Before & After and This is Not a Book by Jean Jullien. He has a fan for life in me.

More of a gag gift for a pregnant friend, but it cracked up everyone who read it.

Such an awesome format and there are many other titles in the series. I'll be reading all of them again when my son is a toddler. 

There are tons of baby's first words books. The diversity in Christiane Engel's and the fun tabs on the side are what sets it apart. 

Have You Seen My Lunch Box?by Steve Light
An introduction to "find and seek" books, the object in question is always the only colored thing in the room. 

Anything by Carli Davidson
Dogs shaking and loose skin flying: need I say more? 

Monday, December 25, 2017

Lesson Idea: When the Moon Comes

When the Moon Comes features gorgeous writing by Paul Harbridge that makes it the perfect mentor text for a descriptive writing unit.

The story of kids who wait for the weather to get cold enough to freeze a pond for hockey, the writing brings the reader out in the snow with them. In class, I would read the book aloud and have students remember a line or two that speaks to them. We would then review them and discuss why we are affected by sentences like, "We drink scalding tea and eat toasty sandwiches, then tramp contented back into the night."

Then, I would have students think about extreme weather they have experienced and write their own sentences with the goal of making the reader feel like they are there. My Bahamian kids could try to evoke the feeling of a hurricane, while I could use my Boston roots to try to imitate this sentence: "Our wet pants freeze solid in the cold, and we walk clanking like knights in armor, lances over our shoulders, hoods like helmets around our faces."

With its atmospheric illustrations, I wonder how many kids would pick this book up on their own, although hockey fans don't have a ton of reading options, so that might sway some readers. Still, there are books that are worth sharing and the writing makes When the Moon Comes one of them.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Books For When You're Feeling Hopeless

There has been a lot of heavy news lately. How do we, as parents, teachers, and trusted adults, address these topics with the children in our lives and help them feel hopeful? One way is through picture books. While I wish these books didn't have to exit, I'm glad they do.

Come With Me by Holly McGhee does not specify the tragedy that has occurred in the story; it alludes to news of anger and hatred. A young girl feels hopeless and asks her parents what to do. They show her small ways to make a difference, and in turn, she shows a young neighbor. 

This books is multi-purpose: it could be used for students starting in pre-school and used after a variety of tragic events: shootings, terrorists attacks, and other horrors that are hard to explain to a child. I'm reminded of the nightmares a friend's child had after randomly seeing floods on the news. Talking about frightening topics takes away their power. The language in Come With Me is never scary and Pascal Lemaitre's soft illustrations make this a necessary addition to every library. 

With the similar theme of small actions making a big difference, Justin Roberts' The Smallest Girl in the Smallest Grade is a sweet book that I am eager to share. Our heroine Sally pays "super extra special attention" to what is happening and decides that she doesn't want to be a bystander. By using her powers of observation, Sally makes a change at her school. I love that an introverted child is highlighted. An added bonus are the illustrations by Christian Robinson, who is just my favorite illustrator these days. 


Monday, December 11, 2017

Genuine Fraud

When John Green and E. Lockhart both have a new novel out, how does one decide which to read first? For me, it comes down to Frankie. Lockhart, as the author of The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, will always win for me. I read that book at least once a year and would love another book like it.

While Genuine Fraud is no Frankie, it was an enjoyable read that had me hoping my son's nap time would stretch for longer. We start the novel with a crime and then work our way backwards, learning more about our main characters and who they really are. My stomach was in knots at certain points, even though I had a feeling what was going to happen. This has been compared to a famous novel (I don't want to name it because it's a spoiler) but I enjoyed it in its own right.

Like in many of Lockhart's novels, there is a focus on feminism and female strength. Those were the pages that felt closest to Frankie and the ones that I reread several times.

This is worth adding to any high school library or giving to a YA mystery lover.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Karma Khullar's Mustache

I randomly picked up Karma Khullar's Mustache at the library because of the cute cover. What I got was a sweet novel about growing up.

Puberty is a well trod path in middle grade novels, but I've never come across a book about female facial hair. Now that I think of it, that's really surprising because it's such a common issue. I remember being in the sixth grade and desperately wanting to shave my legs. There are also many photos of me with pencil thin eyebrows. Karma had it worse: a budding mustache and religious beliefs that prohibit cutting hair. She and I solved our problems pretty similarly: taking care of it on our own and then having a larger issue to deal with.

While the facial hair is a major plot point, this is also a book about growing apart from childhood friends and about bullying. The ending is sweet, but it isn't saccharine and fairly realistic. There is a religious turn at the end that surprised me, but it was fairly minor.

I enjoy having this book in my list of recommendations. Obviously, I wouldn't hand it to a child with facial hair, but a book talk early in the year (before puberty kicks in) could lead readers who need it to Karma Khullar's Mustache.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Swing It, Sunny

Sometimes books don't need to have massive plots to be enjoyable. I think the best word for Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm's Swing It, Sunny is 'serviceable'. It will be popular because it's a graphic novel about a middle school student, but it isn't going to win any awards or blow anyone away.

In the first book, Sunny Side Up, our main character's older brother is constantly in trouble. In this sequel, Dale has been sent to military school, but he has a large presence in the house. Sunny and her parents tiptoe around discussing him, although at times it seems like there is a spotlight on Dale's empty chair, as depicted in the illustrations. I think this will be so relatable to many readers who have family members that aren't in the house. There are no easy solutions in the book, which is also realistic. The big lesson seems to be that life carries on, no matter what. For middle grade readers (and all of us), this can be an important reminder.

Monday, November 20, 2017

American Street

Now that I have access to an awesome interlibrary loan system, I set the goal of reading all the 2017 YA National Book Award finalists. First up: American Street by Ibi Zoboi. What's fun is that I am going into these books with no background, so I didn't even realize it was about a Haitian teenager. I have an affinity for books about Haiti, so was excited to dive in.

Fabiola and her mother left Haiti for a better life with their family in Detroit, but when her mother is detained at the airport, Fabiola must continue on her own. Thrust into a life with three wild older cousins, she must quickly adjust to American life. Soon, she is over her head and willing to set someone up for a crime in order to protect her family. But all actions have consequences.

I enjoyed American Street and was happy that Fabiola wasn't a saint; at times Haitian protagonists are written as too innocent and good. I liked how she stayed true to her Haitian roots, but thought there was less focus on her mother than one would expect. I was left with questions about her aunt, about how much the girls knew about their father's death, and about what happened at the end. Still, it was a worthwhile read and a good start to my National Book Award readathon.