Thursday, April 26, 2018

Connect the Stars

Marisa de los Santos, please let me read your grocery lists. Or anything you jot down throughout the day.

I love her writing and gobble up anything I can find, so I was shocked that I somehow missed Connect the Stars, written with her husband, David Teague. As usual, de los Santos' writing is fantastic and I think this novel will be more enticing to young readers than the pair's previous novel, Saving Lucas Biggs.

Aaron and Audrey have "super powers" that are making middle school miserable. He is a walking encyclopedia with no social skills and she is a human lie detector who would rather distance herself from everyone than be hurt again. They meet when their concerned parents send them on a wilderness trip with other adolescents who are working on issues. Things go wrong, and Aaron and Audrey learn that their abilities are actually the gifts that will keep the alive in a harsh desert.

While there are many scenarios that are a stretch, I'll recommend this novel to readers who liked Moonpenny Island and other books with sensitive narrators coming to grips with the challenges of adolescence.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

More Books About Women Who Persisted

In January, I wrote about picture books about women who persisted in the face of challenges. Little did I know that it was just the tip of the iceberg. There are so many nonfiction picture books featuring extraordinary women. I'm writing this post as a way to share with readers but also to keep track of them for myself!

Mary Nohl was a born maker; she saw art where others only saw feathers, driftwood, glass, and trash. Marching to the beat of her own drum, Nohl created massive sculptures of art in her garden, and even when vandals destroyed them, she used the pieces to make more. Eventually, her home became known as "The Witch's House" and her Wisconsin garden remains a gallery brimming with her work, even after her passing.

What I like best about this biography is that the subject isn't a well-known person, just someone who followed her passion and cerated something beautiful. I love the idea that picture books can be about 'regular' people who do interesting things. I hope that more follow.

Not all picture books about strong women can be winners. That's my thought as I finish Bertha Takes a Drive, about Bertha Benz, who drove her husband's invention, the automobile, against the law. She and her two sons drove sixty miles and received acclaim for what a motorcar could actually accomplish.

Although it was her husband's invention, Bertha shows ingenuity throughout the book to solve various problems that come up along the way. I liked that part, and I found some humor in how amazing they felt to be traveling at seven miles an hour. But, unfortunately, the story didn't grab me and I found the illustrations unattractive. Still, there are definitely some young readers who are interested in the minute details of how cars work. This would be a good recommendation for them.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Fish Girl

I'm working my way through my Goodreads "To Read" list and can't remember when or why I added Fish Girl, but I'm glad I read it. This strange middle grade graphic novel was an interesting read.

A nameless mermaid in a boardwalk fun house spends her life obeying what Neptune tells her to do: give the tourists a glimpse but never a full look, and collect the coins they leave. It's all she knows until one day she makes a friend with a regular girl. This opens her eyes to the reality of her situation and makes the mermaid decide to escape her tank and see what the world is like.

The relationship between Neptune and the mermaid is worth discussing; in order to stay safe, she must do what he says. This is clearly a commentary on abuse and power, written in a way that can be discussed with young readers on a variety of levels.

David Wiesner's illustrations are beautiful and capture the imagination. I loved seeing the building cut in half and inspecting the mechanics of how the fun house operated. I know my students will enjoy the fish girl's bedroom, which looks like a normal room except it is full of fish and seaweed. I would be sure to keep a copy of Wiesner's Flotsam on the shelf next to Fish Girl, to entice students who enjoy this artist.

There is so much the reader doesn't know--why can't the mermaid speak? What happens to her fins out of water? How can the octopus change shape? What happens at the end of the novel? These questions could be frustrating to readers, but could also be the catalyst for speculative writing. I hope to nudge my students who read this book towards the latter.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Real Friends

Thanks to authors like Cece Bell and Raina Telgemeier, young readers have a wealth of autobiographical graphic novels to cling to when adolescence gets rough. I love that these books provide hope for readers who feel awkward and friendless; that they all grew up to become authors and accomplished people is highlighted at the end of the books.

Shannon Hale's Real Friends details how she falls in and out of the group of popular girls throughout elementary school. It is such a common occurrence: sweet and slightly immature girls who are constantly on the razor's edge of acceptance. As a teacher, I see it and want them to know how special they are. Handing them this book could be one way of doing so.

There is a happy ending, but enough stays unresolved that it feels realistic. Some girls will always be mean and some friends aren't worth giving up what's special about you. Being true to yourself is a theme that bears repeating over and over for middle grade readers.