Monday, January 8, 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.

It's been a busy and eventful holiday season for sure! Christmas and New Year's Day brought with it snow, special times with family and friends, and lots of surprises, for sure! And no sooner did all the fun times come to an end, but a wicked cold winter settled in to make life even more complicated! It's a good thing there are plenty of good books to read! So grab yourself a blanket and a cup of hot chocolate and curl up with something fun to read! Here's what I've been reading over the last few weeks:

I had the opportunity to read a digital ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for this review. I was expecting this to be an interesting novel about a fifth grade girl growing up during the 1980s. I was pleasantly surprised by just how compelling this story was. The book takes readers through a year in the life of a very troubled and dysfunctional family. At first I kind of thought they were quirky because they were a big family. But as the story developed, I realized that this family situation is abusive and unsafe for everyone in it. While I found myself feeling tense and even kind of depressed for the circumstances in which Annie found herself, I really felt like I had to find out what was going to happen.

I’m not sure who to recommend this book to. The main character is a fifth grade girl, so it would be of interest to that age group. However, there is definitely a lot of strong, profane language and criticisms of her family’s religious (Catholic) and ethnic (Italian) background that might make educators or parents pause to consider whether it’s appropriate for particular groups of children. Definitely consider the maturity of your reader(s).

The subjects of abuse and mental illness are both very important. And I think a lot of what Annie and the rest of her siblings experience might resonate with those in similar circumstances. So, this could be a really important book to share, especially if it helps kids decide to reach out for help if they need it. It’s also a book that might help others understand what families like this are going through and bring compassion and empathy to the situation. Annie’s positive attitude - her strong desire to try to make things better rather than complain, can serve as an inspiration to all readers.

I had the opportunity to read a digital ARC of this middle grade novel from NetGalley in exchange for this review. For middle grade students (grades 5 and up) who enjoy mysteries and puzzles, this would be a fun and entertaining read. Elizabeth Somers’ guardian aunt and uncle are taking a winter vacation and have sent her to spend Christmas break at the Winterhouse hotel. When she arrives at this extravagant resort, she is blown away by how wonderful it is. She makes fast friends with another young guest, Freddy, and the two of them explore all of the hotel together. As time passes, she starts encountering all sorts of weird secrets and mysteries, including an old book that seems to have magical powers itself. The plot twists and turns take readers through an adventure to determine what message this book is trying to share with Elizabeth and what it all means for the fate of Winterhouse and everyone in it.

I believe that mystery lovers will enjoy this book. Young readers that like reading about resort hotels and solving puzzles will have some fun with it. I do think that the plot development drags in several spots. My attention started to wander through the descriptions of the time spent solving the big jigsaw puzzle in the lobby, Freddy’s work to develop his invention of the Wonder Log, and the exclusive Winterhouse-made candy, Flurschen. Through these extra details that aren’t as important to the actual mystery of the story, young readers might lose interest.

I bought this book many years ago, along with Laurie Colwin’s Home Cooking, and every so often I love to get these books out and be inspired to make real food. Colwin, who sadly is no longer with us, was a writer who also loved food. She loved reading about food, writing about food, and cooking and eating good food. Creating good food doesn’t have to be an ordeal, and this book makes me hungry enough to get in the kitchen and get to it! The essays and recipes in this book are just fun to read, too (even if you never do get around to fixing them).

Picture Books

When we have as many gray, dreary days as we do in the winter, it seems we have a string of days that are just perfect for finding elephants! I love how the little boy in this book doesn’t sit around moping on cloudy days, but he grabs a blanket, his flute, and a lunch and goes out looking for elephants. Young readers will have fun looking, too. Because the clever, colorful artwork invites you to find the hidden elephants, too. This could be a great mentor text for young writers to create their own hidden animal stories.

When young children see someone in a wheelchair or someone that is differently abled, then they naturally are curious and have lots of questions. The author of this awesome picture book was born with spinal muscular dystrophy, which makes his body grow smaller and weaker as he gets older. With awesome photographs and a relaxed, conversational text style, young readers can see that Shane is not so different from everyone else. This could be a great conversation starter about people with disabilities and kindness. It’s also a great mentor text for informational writing using photographs and text to help readers learn about a topic.

This is a wonderful story with beautiful illustrations and a terrific message about caring and kindness. Little Pine was a beautiful tree and it was hoping to be selected as the Queen’s Christmas tree. But through the course of the winter, Small Pine opened its heart and sheltered and fed animals in desperate need. These acts of kindness resulted in damage to Little Pine’s branches. But these imperfections only made the tree more beautiful to the Queen because they were made by living for the sake of others.

Monday, December 18, 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.

Tis the season for reading lots of books about Christmas! Because this will be my last post until after Christmas, I've included A LOT of picture books. I know that a lot of folks are looking for great books to share with young readers as they finish the last week before the break or as they anxiously wait for the big day. I hope that everyone will have a wonderful holiday season with family and friends and that you find time to enjoy and share great stories! 

The latest installment in the Scientists in the Field series, this nonfiction picture book takes us to the volcanic island of Surtsey. Created in 1964 by a series of violent volcanic eruptions, this sterile island of molten rock gave scientists an opportunity to witness how ecosystems are formed from scratch. The author spent a week with a research team there as they collected insect samples, counted bird nests, and recorded observations. Well researched and photographed, this book is an excellent nonfiction resource to have in a middle grade classroom library.

I haven’t read the book that came before this one, The Red Book, but now I definitely need to get ahold of it. This wordless picture book had me flipping back and forth through the pages as I was enthralled by the magic connection between the characters in the story. A child finds a red book on the ground and takes it home to read. But when he opens it, a wonderful journey begins. I can’t wait to read the first one to see where this red book came from!

When they realize Santa’s sleigh is in really bad shape, the mechanic elves get the chance to reimagine what his ride ought to be. The elf teams compete to come up with the best design for a new sleigh. Young readers with mechanical interests and those that get excited over souped up vehicles will definitely get a kick out of this awesome, rhyming picture book! I especially like the mountain sized semitrailer!

In this creative twist on traditional Christmas stories, there’s a little girl who doesn’t want Santa to come to her house. She’s a little weirded out by the concept of Santa sneaking around and spying on children, so she’s determined to keep him from coming. And the only way she can think of is by being naughty. Young readers will definitely giggle at some of her antics, and older readers might be sympathetic to the rest of her family. The vibrant, cheery illustrations will make this one a fun one to share during story time.

With beautiful illustrations in autumnal colors and simple, repetitive text, this lovely picture books shares with young readers all of the ways animals prepare for winter. When Fox sees the snowflake, he knows that it’ll be winter soon. He asks all of his other friends what he should do, and they all have different advice (because they’re different animals). According to the book jacket, the author was inspired to write this book “when she discovered that foxes really do dance in the winter landscape.” Curious about this, I was able to find a YouTube video showing this. This might be a good book to include in a study of the seasons.

Lots of fun and puns as Peanut and his family try to get to Grandma’s house for Christmas. Like Border’s other picture books, the fun of the book lies in the way the author manipulates and photographs items to build his story. This could certainly kick start some creative writing projects for young writers who might like to try their hands at their own stories of this type.

This beautiful, wordless picture book shares with readers the joy and wonder of attending a live theater performance of The Nutcracker. It’s a cold, rainy night in December and last thing the girl in this book wants to do is dress up and go out with her grandma. When they get to the theater and find their seats, the magic begins. The performance is so moving, the girl forgets to be annoyed anymore. And by the end, a friendship develops because of the shared, magical experience. The illustrations, with a limited palette at the beginning, and full vibrant colors when the program begins, show the contrast between the gray, nasty weather and the way the audience is transported completely by the performance. This would be awesome to share with youngsters planning a trip to the theater to see The Nutcracker, but it’s also a book everyone can appreciate and enjoy during the holiday season.

This is a sweet picture book that tells how friends can help each other feel loved and included. The little bear in this story is sad because he always goes to sleep for the winter before Christmas arrives. All his friends are happy and excited about the upcoming holidays and he’s going to miss out on all the fun. His friends come up with a terrific solution that becomes fun for everyone. The warm, happy illustrations make this a wonderful story time book to share with young readers during the holiday season.

Beautiful watercolor illustrations bring the traditional Christmas song to life in this holiday picture book.

This is a beautiful picture book that should only be read to children when they’re ready to have the Santa discussion. At some point children will ask their parents whether or not Santa is real, and this carefully written book is a terrific way to respond. It reminds me a lot of what my parents said to me many years ago. I also love how the letters written back and forth between Lucy and Santa are actual letters on stationery in envelopes attached to the pages. Makes the story a much more interactive experience. I sure hope whoever checks this library copy out after me takes good care of the notes!

This fun picture book celebrates the fun of enjoying Christmas with friends. Bear hosts a Christmas party with his friend, Mouse. He’s prepared food and a poem, but Mouse is very worried that there aren’t any presents to open. Fun, colorful illustrations are this a great book to share with young readers during the holiday season.

This lovely picture book tells the story of how one man’s desire to make his daughter happy through music helped restore the life of a seaside village. The seaside village had been damaged by a big storm, so much so that all of the fish left for calmer waters. When the father carved holes in the quay to make beautiful music whenever the tide rolled in, wonderful changes took place. This story has great messages about patience and hope.

This is a beautiful story with gorgeous artwork that celebrates the magic of Christmas. A lonely woman discovers a warm, sturdy boot that fits her perfectly. It’s such an awesome boot, that she wishes for its mate. As the magic of this boot becomes apparent, its owner comes looking for it. This is definitely one to share with young readers during the holiday season.

Most kids will be able to remember different ways that they, too, have tried to catch Santa. This fun picture book gives young readers advice on different ways to get ahold of Santa or at least catch a glimpse of him. This could be a great mentor text for other “how to” stories related to the holidays.

Told with Polacco’s gift for heartwarming narrative and illustrated in the homespun style that make her books so special, this is a wonderful picture book to share with young readers during the holiday season. A young girl and her brother learn about the most special kinds of gifts to give, those that are pulled from the hearts and memories of the giver and put together with love. After the death of their grandma, a housekeeper comes to help with cooking and other household chores. They develop a special relationship that helps them get through a tough time and learn about the magic and wonder of Christmas.

Gorgeous illustrations highlight this sweet story that teaches young readers that to have a friend you need to be a friend. Little a Bunny is lonely and wishes to have a friend for Christmas. On her way to Santa’s house to deliver her Christmas wish, she encounters several others who need friendship and kindness, too. This is a great book to share with kids during the holiday season.

This fun picture book teaches young readers that sometimes saving a little money can come at quite a price. The story is set in a nineteenth century apartment building, so you might need to explain certain aspects of the times, like what a privy is. Pa brings home a young turkey to fatten up in order to save money on the family’s Christmas dinner. Of course all sorts of problems follow and readers will certainly wonder if it’s worth it. This might be a good book to illustrate conflict and resolution in stories. This book is a lot like the Thanksgiving picture book, Not This Turkey by Jessica Steinberg.

A group of barnyard animals become the heroes on Christmas Eve when Santa’s sleigh becomes separated from his reindeer mid flight. On Santa’s big night, he finds himself stranded in the middle of nowhere and needs help. The vibrant illustrations are really fun, making this a nice book to share with young readers during the holiday season. This book would be a good way to have a classroom discussion about problem solving in stories.

Beautiful watercolor illustrations really help tell this magical account of how Santa and his reindeer prepare for Christmas when they first begin to feel “the magic.” This would be a fun one to compare to Marla Frazee’s book, Santa Claus the World’s Number One Toy Expert.

This strange, and oddly unsettling, picture book uses rhyming text and colorful illustrations to tell the story of Stick Man - his unfortunate separation from his family and his difficulties being reunited with them. Nobody in the world sees that Stick Man is a person, but rather whatever he appears to be useful for at any particular moment: a dog’s fetch toy, a snowman’s arm, part of a swan’s nest, or kindling for a fire (somewhat disturbing to me). This book is all right, but I think there are definitely better books to share during the holiday season.

During the days leading up to Christmas, everyone is very busy making sure the holiday will be special, including Santa Claus. This terrific picture book shows readers the amazing amount of research, organization, and work that goes into making sure each child has a wonderful toy that they will love. I’m a little puzzled why the book doesn’t mention elves, but shows Santa doing all of the work himself. The illustrations are wonderfully painted drawings - my favorite is Santa standing in front of enormous warehouse style shelves stocked with toys. This would definitely be a fun story time book to share with young readers during the holiday season.

With all of the things I constantly worry about and my ability to come up with even more anxieties, I can totally relate to the little boy in this cute holiday picture book. The little boy and his mom are getting ready for Christmas and he’s asking all sorts of “what if” questions. His mom responds to each one with a fun, reassuring answer. This would be a sweet story time book to share and would even be a good mentor text to help young writers come up with their own “what if” stories.

This is a wonderful story about the true meaning of Christmas and sincere wish to do something special and kind for those we love. A boy surprises his father on Christmas morning by getting up extra early and milking the cows on their farm. The illustrations are beautiful. This would be a terrific book to share with young readers during the holiday season.

With the same sort of sweet, simple memories that the author shared in her Caldecott Honor book, When I Was Young in the Mountains (also illustrated by Diane Goode), this book shares the warmth of her grandmother’s kitchen, the fun of decorating an oversized tree with handmade ornaments from all the years past, and the tasty treats of Christmas. This would be a terrific story time book to share during the holiday season.

This fun rhyming picture book tells the story of a Christmas tree that was enjoyed and shared by so many. Mr. Willowby had a Christmas tree delivered and it was a little bit too tall, so he had the top of it cut off. That started a sequence of folks taking the tree top and cutting it down to size. This would be a fun read aloud during the holiday season.

The preparations for Christmas must be absolutely exhausting for Santa Claus, so he must really enjoy his time off. These gorgeous paintings by Tom Browning along with the playful poetry by Bill Maynard imagine Santa’s vacation time. I especially liked the illustrations of Santa at the beach! This could be a fun mentor text for young writers to explore how other favorite characters spend their down time.

This beautiful picture book tells a wonderful story that shows that the spirit of Christmas extends beyond the magical night itself, but into the kindness and compassion that we show others who are having a rough time. Welcome Comfort was a child who didn’t feel like he belonged anywhere because he was a foster child who was constantly in and out of different homes. The kids at school were terribly nasty to him, but Mr. Hamp, the custodian let him spend time with him and his wife. They became almost like family to Welcome, and their bond especially strengthened after Welcome had a powerful experience on Christmas Eve. This book would be wonderful to share with kids during the holiday season, especially as a way to discuss ways we can treat others with kindness.

Nearly everyone can relate to oversleeping and running late, but what would happen if that person was Santa Claus on Christmas Eve? With beautifully painted illustrations and wonderful storytelling, this book would be wonderful to share during the holiday season. An extra treat is a painting of Marcus Pfister’s Rainbow Fish hanging above Santa’s bed.

In the true spirit of Christmas, it’s awesome to read about a family who takes special care to remember the forest creatures each year. Every year, the family in this beautifully illustrated picture book makes a Christmas Eve trip to the woods to decorate “their tree” with popcorn, sunflower seed ornaments, apples, and other goodies for the animals. Young readers will enjoy sharing this experience and might even be inspired to remember the creatures in their yards and neighborhoods as well.

This is a nice picture book that tells the story of a little orphan girl in England who wishes more than anything for a family at Christmas time and a little doll, Holly, who wishes for a little girl. There’s magic that pulls everything together and makes for a feel good ending. There is a video of this story on YouTube, so that might make a nice pairing in a classroom or at home.

This holiday continuation of the little French schoolgirl's story uses rhyming text and a nice story to show us how Madeline helps all of those around her when a spate of illness grips the old house in Paris. Everyone, including Miss Clavell, is stuck in bed with a cold, except for Madeline. She does her best to spread holiday cheer and welcomes an exotic visitor that helps her and her schoolmates have a magical Christmas. Fans of Madeline will like this book, but I still like the original better.