Monday, August 20, 2018

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.

Hopefully everyone is settling into the new school year smoothly and gracefully. Getting back into the routine of getting up early, homework, and making new friends can be nerve wracking and exhausting. Reading books can be a great way to relieve stress and see that others share the same kinds of feelings. I tried to include a few books that might be good to share with youngsters during these first days back. Here's what I've been reading this past week:

Middle Grade Fiction

Merci Suárez Changes Gears by Meg Medina

I had the opportunity to read a NetGalley digital ARC of this middle grade fiction novel in exchange for this review. This book tells the story of sixth-grader, Merci Suarez, as she navigates the stresses at home and at school. At home, her grandfather keeps acting strangely and forgetting things, which makes it difficult for her family to take care of him and the younger children at the same time. At school, she has to deal with the changing tides of popularity, cliques, and the attention of boys.

The author does a terrific job of presenting all of this in an entertaining, engaging, and relatable way for middle grade kids. According to the author’s note at the end of the book, she “wanted to celebrate grandparents and families that live intergenerationally, the way we often see in Latino families. But I also wanted to write about change in families. We all change, especially as we grow up, but adults change, too. And, as we all know, not every change is a good one.”

Lolo, Merci’s grandfather, is suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. As this disease progresses, his behavior becomes more erratic and unpredictable. The author captures the range of emotions that Merci experiences as this situation is revealed to her.

I really enjoyed this book. I think that it hits some very important themes for middle grade kids – change both in terms of growing up and the way circumstances around us change both for good and bad. This is definitely going to be a popular book this year.

I won an ARC of this middle grade novel from GoodReads and finally got around to reading it. I’m kind of sorry I waited so long, because it was a pretty good realistic fiction story depicting the complications of family life for one thirteen-year-old girl.

Alice’s summer has just begun and she’s laser-focused on beating swim team records at her local swim club. But her father is moving out of the house, her mother is still lying in bed crying all of the time nearly a year after a traumatic car wreck, she’s involved in a complicated babysitting situation with a young girl with severe communication issues, and she has an awkward time with the other kids her own age.

Middle grade readers will be able to relate to Alice’s frustrations. Everyone makes big decisions without considering her feelings about the circumstances. Her good intentions constantly seem to be misunderstood and she winds up in trouble. But the story has a lot of nice moments with her new friends, Harriet and Owen. 

Picture Books

This is a lovely picture book that celebrates the special love shared between a little girl and her grandmother in Mexico City. From the time the little girl was born, her grandmother and she had a wonderful relationship and spent time together playing, working, and eating special treats. Her grandmother had been saving her money to get her granddaughter a special gift, but as the years passed, financial times became tough and an expensive present was out of the question. Young readers will appreciate that the real gift was the love and quality time spent together. This book has an awesome message for kids and would be a great one to share during story time.

This very funny picture book breaks down the barrier between the reader and the characters in the book, making this a very engaging book for young readers. I was pleased to see that you don't need to have a lot of background knowledge about Star Wars in order to appreciate the humor in this book, although young Star Wars fan will definitely get a kick out of it! Darth Vader isn't afraid of a wolf man, a vampire, a ghost, a witch, or anything else...or is he? The dark illustrations were "drawn and painted in Photoshop with KyleBrush brushes, then superimposed over photographs of swamp created with paper, clay, paint, moss, glue, sticks, stones, foam, sponge, and schmutz."

As little ones start school for the first time, they might be a bit nervous and not sure what to expect. This sweet picture book takes young readers through a day and through the seasons of preschool and/or kindergarten. This might be an excellent book to share with kids getting ready to start school or for primary teachers to share with young children on the first day. It might also be a comforting book to share with young kids who might already be familiar with school, but still nervous before the first day.

For kids that might be a little bit shy about starting school, this book shares the first day of an eager little lamb named Woolbur. Woolbur is the only one around that is super positive that school is going to be awesome. This lamb's optimism is contagious. This would be a good book to share with young children getting ready to start school for the first time, or for any child that is uncertain whether they're going to have a good year or not. 

Most of the fifth grade students that I taught in the last couple of years complained about all of the walking we did on our Metro Parks field trips. While there are lots of kids who enjoy being out in nature and hiking, there are still more who rarely walk more than a block or two and spend little to no time outdoors. So this awesome picture book biography about a 67-year-old woman walking the entire length of the Appalachian Trail (2,160 miles) by herself is a great way to inspire a growth mindset and remind young readers what is possible. Told in fascinating narrative style, this story tells about the life and times of this woman who raised eleven children in the early part of the twentieth century, and became fascinated by a National Geographic magazine article about the Appalachian Trail. It wasn't an easy journey and there were many points along the way that discouraged her. But she also found friends and help along the way, and accomplished something that many didn't think could be done. Beautiful illustrations created using water color and colored pencil help tell this awesome story. 

This adorable picture book tells the story of Dexter who's nervous about the upcoming show and tell day at school, because he's a stuffed animal that's going to be taken to school by his owner to be shown. I love the point of view of this story, and it's fun to think of all the ways this stuffed dinosaur wants to spice up his appearance - costumes, tricks, etc. This might be a fun mentor text to share with young writers to help them create stories from another person's or thing's point of view. 

This picture book with lots of crazy illustrations and "Extraordinary Facts" on the margins of each page shows how one young man with a wild imagination shares his story with the kids on the first day of class at his new school. This book would appeal to older elementary school students. The humor and busy artwork on each page would be best for kids to read independently rather than try to enjoy it as a read aloud. This might be cool to have on the shelf or on display for kids during the first week of school.

This book is a fun, rhyming twist on the age old How I Spent My Summer Vacation report. The boy in this story tells the class about his wild summer as a cowboy and his adventure in stopping a cow stampede. This might be a good way to break the ice on the first day of school and it might serve as a good mentor text to help kids who are trying to write interesting narratives about their own summer experiences.