Thursday, June 28, 2018

Front Desk

The We Need Diverse Books movement emphasizes the importance of readers being able to see themselves on the page. Kelly Yang's semi-autobiographical middle grade novel, Front Desk, will resonate with many readers who have been searching for a literary hero who has a life like theirs.

Mia's family moved from China to California with hopes of the American dream. That all came crashing down and they struggle to make ends meet while running the nasty Mr. Yao's motel, the Calivista. Despite the hardships, Mia perseveres and does her best to make her life better.

This novel tackles big topics like poverty, racism, and immigration, but it also focuses on how friends can look many different ways, parental relationships, and mean girls. This is the first novel I've read where a character receives free lunch at school, and there isn't a big deal made of it. I love Front Desk for that alone. Fortunately, there is much more to love.

When sharing this novel with my students, I will be sure to mention the author's insanely inspiring story.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

The Lifters

There are plenty of sad middle grade novels, but there aren't that many about the concept of sadness. Leave it to Dave Eggers to write a novel that makes sadness okay, while offering hope.

The plot instantly engages: Gran and his family move to a new town where there are frequent sinkholes and a lot of sadness; somehow, the two are connected. Gran and his new friend Catalina Catalan need to figure out a way to hold everything together. Their solution involves handles, carousel horses, and borrowing an old wheelchair.

The Lifters is strange and sweet, and full of nuggets like, "...when someone asks if you trust them, it usually means they're about to do something that will make you reassess that trust." You can tell that Eggers has children and knows young readers (from his work with 826 National) because there is so much thought put into this novel: there is an illustration on every other page to break up the text, the chapters are short, and the characters are relatable. The Lifters is a stand-alone novel, which is perfect, but I hope it isn't Eggers' last middle grade novel. Young readers deserve books like this. 

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Flying Lessons & Other Stories

Oh hooray, hooray for this short story anthology! Edited by Ellen Oh, who cofounded the "We Need Diverse Books" movement, there is so much to love in this collection. As a teacher, I am always looking for strong mentor texts and shorts stories are perfect because they can give a class a shared reading experience, without taking as long as reading a novel together.

Usually, short story collections start out with the best story and have a varying level of quality throughout. While I did think that Matt de la Pena's story, "How to Transform an Everyday, Ordinary Hoop Court into a Place of Higher Learning and You at the Podium," was the best, I loved them all. De la Pena's story is all about hard work and lessons learned through basketball; this will be appeal to my male students so I'll be keeping it in my back pocket!

Another standout was Somain Chainani, whose sumptuous title story is about an extravagant grandmother who takes her nerdy grandson for a European adventure. I loved it and was eager to read more by the author, only to learn he wrote The School for Good and Evil that some of my students rave about and I avoid because of the cover. Lesson learned (again). 

I want this for my library so that students can dip in and out of the stories that interest them, so I can use them as mentor texts for writing lessons, and so I can interest readers in authors they might be hesitant to check out in book form (Grace Lin's books look big to developing readers, but her sweet story here might entice them to brave the pages!).

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Books I'll Give My Son for His 10th Birthday (in 9 years)

Yes, I have nine years until my son turns 10, but I already have a list of books for him in the future on my Goodreads page. The majority of them will be checked out of the library, but there are a few that will have to be bought so they can be pored over and enjoyed again and again.

The first is The Street Beneath my Feet by Charlotte Guillian and illustrated by Yuval Zommer. It's important to mention the illustrator because he does incredible heavy lifting in the book. The Street has the coolest design I've seen in awhile: the entire book is one long, beautifully textured page that folds out on a journey through the earth and back out the other side.

I learned so much about where things occur under the earth's surface. Who knew that rabbit dens are deeper than fox dens? The science is simplified and the text is conversational. I spent a good amount of time marveling at the gorgeous illustrations of the minerals.

The Street Beneath my Feet is worth adding to every school library and having in your own home. It will be pulled out again and again.



Lucy Letherland's Atlas of Adventures is the coolest. It is where children's bucket lists begin and I hope it opens my son's eyes to many potential adventures. Featuring places around the world, each location gets a two-page layout with exquisitely detailed illustrations, full of fun facts and new vocabulary.

I love the idea of asking kids to think about what they would add to this book. Are there any local adventures that they have had that could be added? What would the drawing look like and what facts would need to be included?

Between this and Maps by Aleksandra Mizielinska, young readers will be geographically inspired and ready to start planning future travels. Maybe I don't have to wait nine years to buy it. Maybe I'll buy it for my classroom (and myself) now and get it again for my son.