Monday, February 20, 2017

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is a meme hosted by Sheila at Book Journey as a way to share what you have read and/or reviewed in the past week. It's also a terrific way to find out what other people are reading.

Jen Vincent, of Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee Moye of Unleashing Readers have given this meme a children's literature focus: picture books, middle grade novels, etc. They "encourage everyone who participates to support the blogging community by visiting the other bloggers that link up and leave comments for them.


What beautiful weather for a 3-day weekend! Here in central Ohio, we have received a nice break from the usual mid-February winter weather. With temperatures in the upper 60s, I happily dusted off my deck chair and spent quite a bit of time reading outside. Hope you've enjoyed this President's Day holiday weekend, as well. Here's what I've been reading this past week:
Middle Grade Fiction

Lucky Broken Girl by Ruth Behar 
I had the opportunity to read an advanced copy of Lucky Broken Girl by Ruth Behar that was generously shared with my Book Relays group. I thought the book was amazing and I feel like I'm quite lucky to have been able to read it. This novel shares the struggle of recovery after Ruthie Mizrahi was seriously injured in a car accident.

It was 1966 and Ruthie's family had recently moved to New York as refugees from Cuba. As difficult as it was for the family to get ahead without knowing much English and having to become accustomed to the fast-paced lifestyle of America, it became even more challenging when the family was in a car accident that left Ruthie in a body cast and confined to her bed for nearly a year.

Suddenly Ruthie was as helpless as a baby and had to rely on help from her family for all of her needs, including going to the bathroom. As time dragged on for her, not only did her leg muscles atrophy, but her self-confidence and independence did as well. Not only would she have to learn to walk again, she would need to build the courage to go back out into the world again.

I loved the character development in this novel as everyone in the family learned to face fears and challenges. Ruthie's mother was very sad to have left her home in Cuba, to face a scary and confusing world in New York. She relied on Ruthie to help her navigate the English-speaking world of places like the supermarket. Once Ruthie was injured, her mother not only became an around-the-clock caregiver, but she also was on her own to make sense of the world. Ruthie, who at the beginning of the book was the hopscotch queen of Queens, becomes a quiet book lover and artist.

I also love the diversity of backgrounds and ideas presented in this book. As Ruthie was recovering and spending so much time examining her beliefs, she began writing letters and prayers to three different gods/angels. She also has friends of different nationalities and cultural backgrounds. But the feelings and experiences these kids display will certainly be relatable to readers from all walks of life. So many kids will be able to recognize themselves in this story.

This book has some terrific themes that will help generate great discussions with young readers. At one point, Ruthie is asked by her teacher to write about what freedom means to her. Freedom has so many different dimensions in this story. Ruthie's family came to America looking for freedom. Ruthie longs for the freedom to get up and walk again. But freedom can be scary, too. And I think all readers can recognize a little bit of Ruthie in themselves when the world seems a little bit too big and challenging. We all have days when we want to stay in our safe beds, instead of meeting the day and moving forward.

This book will be available in April. I can't wait to get my own copy. This book would be a great addition to any middle grade classroom library.
Picture Books

Chee-Kee: A Panda in Bearland by Sujean Rim 
This is a good picture book to share with young readers who wish to learn more about the immigrant experience. Chee-Kee and his family have sailed across the ocean from a foreign island to make their new home in Bearland. While his family has brought with them their own traditions, they also are embracing new ways of doing things. Chee-Kee is reluctant to try new ways, and feels like he'll never feel at home. The text and illustrations are very kid-friendly, making this a good one to have on primary bookshelves. 

Tony by Ed Galing, Erin E. Stead (Illustrations)  
This beautifully illustrated picture book uses simple text to tell the story of a friendship that develops between a boy, a horse, and a milk delivery driver. It would be interesting to see how young readers relate to this story, as we don't have home milk delivery service anymore, by truck or by horse. I think all kids can relate to the love of an animal, so I'm sure this would be a good book to have in classroom and school libraries.

Dill & Bizzy: Opposite Day by Nora Ericson, Lisa Ericson (Illustrations)  
This fun picture book tells the story of two strange birds who are best friends. When one of them declares that the day is Opposite Day, all sorts of crazy things happen. Young readers will giggle and have fun imagining their own Opposite Day. This would be a great book to help with a study of opposites.  

The Youngest Marcher: The Story of Audrey Faye Hendricks, a Young Civil Rights Activist by Cynthia Levinson  
This picture book biography presents a fascinating account of The Children's March for civil rights in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963. This book is one that will make an impression on young readers, as there aren't a lot of stories about kids their age participating in the marches and protests and being sent to jail. The text is kid-friendly along with beautiful illustrations, making it a super resource for classroom libraries. 

Rabbit Magic by Meg McLaren  
This is a fun picture book in which a magic trick goes wrong and Houdini, the bunny assistant, switches places with the headlining magician. Houdini enjoys the spotlight, but comes to realize that things need to go back to the way they're supposed to be. Awesome illustrations and a fun story loaded with bunny rabbits make this a terrific book to have on the bookshelf. 

Spunky Little Monkey by Bill Martin Jr., Michael Sampson, Brian Won (Illustrations)  
Cute book with the rhythm and rhyme that's made the books by Bill Martin, Jr. so popular. Fun digital illustrations will make this an awesome read aloud for young children. 

Monday, February 13, 2017

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is a meme hosted by Sheila at Book Journey as a way to share what you have read and/or reviewed in the past week. It's also a terrific way to find out what other people are reading.

Jen Vincent, of Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee Moye of Unleashing Readers have given this meme a children's literature focus: picture books, middle grade novels, etc. They "encourage everyone who participates to support the blogging community by visiting the other bloggers that link up and leave comments for them.


Hope everybody has a nice Valentine's Day tomorrow filled with love and friendship! I can't think of a better way to spend it, than snuggling up with someone you love and reading a good book! Here are the awesome books I read last week: 

Middle Grade Fiction

Fenway and Hattie and the Evil Bunny Gang by Victoria J. Coe

Fenway, his family and friends are back in this awesome sequel to Fenway and Hattie. Now, not only are squirrels hanging around in the Dog Park behind the family's house, but now there's a gang of evil bunnies hanging around the neighborhood wreaking havoc on Food Lady's vegetable garden. To Fenway's dismay, not only are there bunnies running amok in the yard, but now his beloved small human, Hattie has brought one home in a cage and is paying lots of attention to it. Fans of this ornery Jack Russell terrier will have so much fun reading to find out what Fenway and his friends, Goldie and Patches, will do to put and end to the evil bunny menace and restore peace and harmony to the Dog Park yard once more.

I loved this book even more than the first one. I liked that through Fenway's eyes we get to go deeper into Hattie's personality. Middle grade readers will definitely be able to relate to the challenges she faces in dealing with her parents' expectations, her neighborhood friends, and keeping feisty Fenway under control.

My students are excited to continue the Fenway story. I'm anxious to share it with them because it has the same opportunities to discuss point of view and practice inferencing skills. Readers will have to piece together the clues that Fenway is able to describe in order to figure out why Hattie has brought home a bunny in a cage, why Hattie is working so hard to please her parents, and the source of tension between Hattie and her friends.

I also truly appreciate the kindness of the author for mentioning my name in the acknowledgements. My students were over the moon excited to see that when I showed it to them! Authors like Victoria Coe are truly a special gift to young readers!
Picture Books

The Green Umbrella by Jackie Azúa Kramer, Maral Sassouni (illustrator)  
This wonderful picture book shares a story with a terrific message about friendship and sharing. The elephant is taking a walk in the rain with his green umbrella. Along the way he meets several other animals claiming that the umbrella is theirs. These animals all have unique ways that the umbrella is important to them, and stories about their adventures. While the elephant is sure that the umbrella belongs to him, he is glad to share it with all of them. I love all of the imaginative ways that this umbrella could be used: as a boat, a tent, a flying machine, and many more. The illustrations use bright colors and whimsical details to make readers feel like they belong in this growing group of friends. This would be a great addition to any library.

Watersong by Tim McCanna, Richard Smythe (Illustrations)  
With a playful arrangement of words and beautifully rendered watercolor illustrations, this picture book takes a music-like look at a rainstorm through the eyes of a fox in the woods. Starting with a just a few drops, and growing into a strong storm, the reader can experience the beautiful arrangement of the symphony of water, and come away with a whole new way to look at rainy weather.  

The Legendary Miss Lena Horne by Carole Boston Weatherford, Elizabeth Zunon (Illustrations)  
As a child of the 1970s, I remember watching Lena Horne singing with Kermit the Frog on Sesame Street. Whenever she would appear on television, she always had the most engaging smile and beautiful singing voice. This picture book biography, takes readers on a journey through her early years and her determination to fight against racial injustices wherever she encountered them. This book is so well-researched and beautifully illustrated that I think that it would be a great resource to have on the bookshelf. For young readers who weren't born before she passed in 2010, this book would be an excellent starting point for further research. 

I Am Jim Henson by Brad Meltzer, Christopher Eliopoulos (Illustrations)  
I grew up watching Sesame Street and The Muppet Show, so I was really happy to read this book. This picture book biography presents fascinating information about the life of Jim Henson. I love how the the author highlights the ways that Henson was encouraged to read and create by his grandparents. Through hard work and creativity, he was able to create characters and programs that celebrated people getting along together and helping each other. There's a lot to inspire the kids of today to find ways to come together, despite people's differences. The illustrations are somewhat odd, as Henson as a child is drawn as a short figure with a full beard. But, I think that adds to the charm of this book. 

The Unexpected Love Story of Alfred Fiddleduckling by Timothy Basil Ering  
This is a sweet story about a little duck whose egg hatched in a violin case lost in the sea after a terrible storm. Captain Alfred's boat full of ducks and his dog were headed home when an unexpected storm hit. The duck was born all alone with only the captain's violin floating nearby. When the duck loves the instrument and starts making music with it, all sorts of wonderful things happen. Beautiful acrylic paintings do an awesome job of helping to tell this beautiful story of love, hope, and music. 

The Bear Who Wasn't There by LeUyen Pham  
This is a fun book that will have readers searching all through the book for a bear who hasn't shown up. There is a duck with a great book idea that would like readers' attention, and he tricks readers and gives miscues so that folks will pay attention to him. The author makes an appearance to try to help readers find the bear, so what will it take to locate him? The author breaks down the third wall to pull readers into the book, and I'm sure this would be awesome to read aloud to young children. 

Friday, February 10, 2017

Nonfiction Picture Book - 10 for 10




This year, I have chosen ten picture books that tell about the lives of musicians. Music is such an important part of our lives, and the artists that create the tunes that lift our spirits sometimes face daunting challenges in order to spread their joy and set our toes tapping. I wish I could choose more than ten, but here is my list of great books that celebrate music and musicians:

This is a great nonfiction picture book biography that tells readers about the life of George Gershwin and how he developed as a musician to create famous pieces, such as Rhapsody In Blue. This very well researched book pulls readers into the jazz scene of the 1920s and the ideas in George's head to create sounds and rhythms that had never been used before in popular music. The colorful and creative hand lettering along with the beautiful paintings add to the creative spirit of the book. Reading it really put me in the mood to go back and explore some of the famous songs that George and his brother, Ira, created!

This inspiring nonfiction picture book tells the story of the Recycled Orchestra of Paraguay. "A town built on a landfill. A community in need of hope. A girl with a dream. A man with a vision. An ingenious idea." This book really captures the meaning of a growth mindset. The illustrations were created "from a hybrid technique of collage, acrylic glazes and paints, drawings, and digital mediums, then executed on stipple paper." I definitely need to get this book for my classroom library!  

This nonfiction picture book written in verse is an awesome resource for fans of jazz or anyone who would just like to learn more about the great musicians of this time. This book tells the story Art Kane's famous 1958 photograph for Esquire magazine. A special issue was being planned focusing on American jazz. Kane decided to gather as many jazz musicians as he could to pose for this picture in front of a Harlem brownstone building. The rhythm of the poetry along with the beautiful illustrations make this book an excellent resource. You can almost hear the music as you're reading. I definitely want to get my own copy of this book! 

This is such an inspiring story of a young man growing up in New Orleans. Music was so important in his family and as a child he would make his own musical instruments so he could play with his brother (a trumpet player). When he found an old, discarded trombone he marched out in a Mardi Gras parade with it. The trombone was twice his size, so he earned the nickname "Trombone Shorty". Collier's illustrations, which are a mix of paintings and collage, are beautiful and really capture how special these times were to the author.

This picture book biography has good information for young readers about the life of one of the most famous gospel singers. The language is accessible and a great starting point for further research, especially with a timeline and tips for learning more. The paintings that accompany the text are just beautiful.

I really enjoyed reading this book. I've always been a big fan of Johnny and June Cash. So this book captured my interest right away. The text, written in verse, takes us from Johnny Cash's young childhood (when he was called J.R.) through his start in music, his time in the Army, and his later years. The book takes a look at the rough times his family experienced through the Depression, the Great Flood of 1937, and his older brother's death. The book touches on Johnny Cash's battle with addiction in the notes at the end of the book, but it doesn't dwell on that aspect of his life. The paintings by A. G. Ford are absolutely gorgeous and are a fitting tribute to this legendary country singer. I'm not sure how many of my students are familiar with Johnny Cash or whether they're interested. I'm anxious to see what they think of this book. 

 I've always enjoyed reading and learning about the music and entertainment of the early twentieth century - imagining the flappers of the Roaring Twenties dancing the Charleston in Paris. So I was eager to read this book about the life of Josephine Baker. I loved it!

Right after the title page, is a page with this quote:

"I shall dance all my life....
I would like to die, breathless,
spent, at the end of a dance."
- Josephine Baker, 1927

The next page ends with, "America wasn't ready for Josephine, the colored superstar. PARIS WAS."

This biography, with stunning illustrations, takes us from Josephine's difficult childhood in St. Louis, through her hard work and determination to perform on vaudeville stages, to her arrival on Broadway. All throughout this story, you're faced with the sad reality of racial inequality and segregation. She couldn't enter through the front doors of the theaters in which she performed.

When she finally traveled across the Atlantic to France, she encountered a completely different world. The story takes readers through her rise to success abroad and her return to America. She wanted to make a difference in the lives of black people here.

This is an awesome biography. It definitely makes me want to learn even more about Josephine Baker's life. The author has included a good list of resources for readers who want to continue reading about her life.

This was a beautiful story about a man playing a violin in a train station. A little boy and his mom are walking when the boy wants to stop and listen to the music. His mother is in a hurry and doesn't even notice the violinist. Very striking message about literally stopping to hear the music. Loved it! 

The text & illustrations do a fantastic job of introducing Mary Lou Williams, a jazz musician. I learned quite a bit about this woman and feel inspired to find some of her music and listen to it. 

This picture book is a fascinating exploration of the music form known as the blues. The poetry of the blues tells the stories of the African American experience. Some of the blues are sad, but some of them express joy, love, and hope. Walter Dean Myers' poetry in this book could serve as a great mentor text as students could write their own blues. The illustrations by the author's son, Christopher Myers, are simply beautiful. According to the title page, the artwork was created with blue ink, white paint, and brown paper bags. I would love to have a copy of this in my classroom library!