Sunday, March 18, 2018

Lawn Boy

If I couldn't see Gary Paulsen's name on the cover, I never would have believed he wrote Lawn Boy. It is such a departure from his boy vs. wild novels. Instead, Paulsen decided to teach about capitalism and the stock market in a slim volume.

When the nameless narrator inherits a lawnmower, he gets asked by a few neighbors how much he would charge to mow their lawns. Things snowball pretty quickly from there and he ends up investing in the stock market, sponsoring a boxer, and earning more money than he ever dreamed.

Lawn Boy could definitely be categorized as a "STEM novel." There is a lot of math done in the book, mostly calculating the amount of money earned. I know many students who would be intrigued by how the money multiplies through the stock market. It could be the provocation for a lucrative passion for a young reader.

This reminded me a lot of Toothpaste Millionaire; both books are very simple stories about teen entrepreneurs. While there are a few challenges, things work out fairly easily for the protagonists. I hope that Lawn Boy inspires readers to try to start their own businesses, but don't want them to be discouraged when they aren't millionaires after a few months. Still, it would be worth pairing these two novels for summer reading or in lit circles.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Four Ways to Teach with Wordless Picture Books

I've written an article for MiddleWeb about using wordless picture books in the middle grade classroom. Please check it out!

Saturday, March 10, 2018

The War I Finally Won

Slow reviewing around here...I'm reading, but mostly board books and parenting books. Still, when I saw the sequel to The War That Saved My Life, I knew I would be devoting nap times to some amazing middle grades lit, rather than washing dishes!

The first book wrapped up happily and neatly, so I was surprised to see this sequel on the shelves at the library. While Ada and her brother were taken in by Susan at the end of the first book, the war continued and recovering from the emotional damage inflicted by their cruel mother continued. Ada's reaction to kindness is an interesting one to discuss with students.

Ada's ignorance is more noticeable in this novel; there are times when she misunderstands a word and frets about nothing for a few chapters. I wonder if the intention was for young readers to worry, as well, or if they should feel pity for Ada not knowing what funeral arrangements are. She is given a dictionary and spends a fair amount of time sharing definitions, which is never a popular plot device.

Still, despite these quibbles, I enjoyed The War I Finally Won. The characters are memorably complex and it's an excellent introduction to historical fiction for young readers.

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.