Saturday, January 30, 2016

Book Review: Tru and Nelle by G. Neri


 
 
 
I had the opportunity to read a digital-ARC of this book from NetGalley. It truly was a joy to read and I think this will be a very popular book this year. I was initially drawn to this title because of its description: a fictionalized account of Truman Capote's and Harper Lee's friendship during their childhood.
 
As children, these two famous writers lived next door to each other in Monroeville, Alabama . The story opens in 1930, at the beginning of the Great Depression, when Tru is seven and Nelle is six. These two are as different from each other as they could possibly be: Tru dresses in fancy outfits and is very delicate and Nelle is a tomboy who wears overalls and is very outspoken. But it is because of their differences that they become close friends; they are the only ones that understand and appreciate their unique qualities.
 
The character development in this book is awesome. G. Neri was able to take all that he learned from his research into the lives and works of these legendary writers and capture the most endearing and relatable qualities of these youngsters. Children reading this will be able to understand and appreciate these personalities as they just relax and enjoy the episodes in their story. Readers are able to follow a year in their lives as they splash around in the local swimming hole, curl up in their tree house and read Sherlock Holmes mysteries, and run around town playing detective to solve a break-in at the local drugstore. 
 
The more time that these two characters spend together, the more they grow to care for each other. One of my favorite lines from the book is when Tru tells Nelle: "You and me, we're...apart from everybody else. Nobody gets me like you do."
 
Because the story is set in the Deep South during the Depression, the book also takes a hard look at the racial prejudice that was prevalent then. Tru and Nelle confront bigotry courageously as they stand up for their friend, Edison, when the local boys try to chase him away from the swimming hole because he is black. During their search for clues to find the culprit in a drugstore theft, they find themselves face-to-face with the local Ku Klux Klan in a frightening scene of cross burning and a chase. The confrontation with the KKK comes to a dramatic climax when Tru hosts a party and invites everyone, no matter what race they are.
 
The style of this book makes it so appealing to me. Neri very effectively captures the mood and feel of growing up in the South during the 1930s. Because it was the Depression, people didn't have a lot of money and children didn't have many fancy toys or entertainment. Tru and Nelle used their imagination to make their own entertainment, which makes the plot events of this book so much fun to read. And many of the scenes in the book actually remind me of the work of F. Scott Fitzgerald, a writer of the times in which this book is set.
 
This book also makes me want to know more about Truman Capote and Nelle Harper Lee. I've read Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, but I've never read any of Capote's work (although I have seen the movie Breakfast at Tiffany's a number of times). I didn't even realize that these two writers were friends as children. Now I want to check out Capote's In Cold Blood sometime. I love it when one book makes me want to learn more and read more.
 
I'll definitely want to have this book as part of my classroom library. Hopefully it'll spark the interest in my students to read more and write more. As the characters in the story receive an old typewriter and start writing stories, this could also be a terrific mentor text for budding young mystery writers.
 
Hardcover, 336 pages
 
Expected publication: March 1st 2016 by HMH Books for Young Readers 

Monday, January 25, 2016

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.

We're deep into January! Brrrrr! It's too cold to go out, unless I absolutely have to. While everyone else is watching football playoffs, I'm spending my time cooking and getting caught up on picture books that have been on my Want To Read list for a long time. Now that these books have been around for a while, they're usually easy to get from my public library. Hope that you're staying warm and safe. Thankfully, the big snowstorm missed my community! But I know there are millions of people that are snowed in.




On a Slippery Slope by Melody Fitzpatrick  I had the opportunity to read a digital ARC of this book from NetGalley. I think that this book would be pretty popular in my fifth grade classroom. Many of my students really enjoy stories about middle school drama, and this book has plenty of that. This book reminds me a lot of Dork Diaries: Tales from a Not-So-Fabulous Life by Rachel Renee Russell only without the illustrations.

Hannah Smart is starting her first day of middle school in her new town of Maple Ridge. That's stressful enough, especially since many of the kids aren't very nice to her. Hannah's next-door-neighbor and new best friend, Gabby and her super cute brother, A.J., convince her to join the middle school ski and snowboarding club. Because Hannah moved to Maple Ridge from Vermont, everyone assumes she's a skier. Hannah is afraid to let on that she's never skied before, because she's afraid no one will like her.

As this misunderstanding begins to snowball out of control, Hannah takes on a job at the local television station where her father is the new weather reporter. Because Hannah is very clever and resourceful, she winds up with her own on-air weekly segment on the evening news.

As the date of the club's ski trip approaches, Hannah is going to have to either learn how to ski like a pro or come clean to everyone that she doesn't really know how to ski. Along the way, there are all sorts of funny moments of middle school drama that really make this book a lot of fun to read.

For my complete review, please visit my blogpost: http://www.janatheteacher.blogspot.com/2016/01/book-review-on-slippery-slope-by-melody.html






The Angry Little Puffin by Timothy Young    This is a cute, funny book about a misunderstood puffin. He shares the same exhibit space as a group of penguins, so people assume that he's some sort of penguin. All day long he hears people calling him a funny-looking penguin. And just like the child whose been called by the wrong name one too many times, he has a bit of a meltdown.

My favorite line during his rant: "I don't know why penguins get all the attention...toys, movies, television...even comic books. It's penguins, penguins, penguins! C'mon, THE PUFFIN would be the coolest guy in any comic book!"

The humorous illustrations greet you at the endpapers, with a series of smaller drawings of the puffin having his tantrum. The colorful drawings support the text well.

This would be a fun book to share with kids as way to talk about tantrums, patience and kindness.




Mocha Dick: The Legend and Fury by Brian Heinz, Randall Enos (Illustrations)   Fans of Moby Dick by Herman Melville will be interested in this nonfiction picture book about the giant whale that was the inspiration for that novel. Over decades, whalers tried to capture him unsuccessfully. The book details attacks by the whale who seemed to be retaliating against the hunters.



Round is a Tortilla by by Roseanne Thong, John Parra (Illustrations)  I really enjoyed this concept book, because it's not just for young children. Ostensibly a book of shapes, it shares with so many words and ideas from Hispanic culture. The author has included so much information about the Spanish language, food, and leisure activities that I learned quite a bit from this book.

John Parra's illustrations are so colorful and rich. I just want to climb into each picture and hang around eating and enjoying the fun.

There is a glossary at the end to explain each term in detail. I wish that the author had included pronunciation keys along with the definitions.




Green Is a Chile Pepper: A Book of Colors by Roseanne Thong, John Parra (Illustrations) 
Just like Round Is a Tortilla, Green Is a Chile Pepper is a concept book about colors. But once again, it's also a book that shows us a lot about Hispanic culture - food, family, holidays. While young children can learn about the colors, there's a lot for everyone to learn.

John Parra's illustrations are rich and colorful. The details are delicious and I find myself looking at all that's going on in the pictures over and over again.



Park Scientists: Gila Monsters, Geysers, and Grizzly Bears in America's Own Backyard (Scientists in the Field) by Mary Kay Carson, Tom Uhlman (Illustrations)  Motivated by the bitterly cold, winter weather that has settled into my area, I picked this book up to think about fun places to see during summer vacation. This book does an awesome job drawing the reader in to three awesome parks - Yellowstone National Park, Saguaro National Park, and Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

The book is separated into three sections by park, and each section has two chapters that give details and super photographs of the work that scientists and volunteers are doing to study and protect the natural wonders and wildlife in these protected areas.

We learn about the geysers and grizzly bears in Yellowstone, gila monsters and cacti in Saguaro, and salamanders and fireflies in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. All three of these parks have scientists, ecologists, and tourists who are working together to learn all they can about how to preserve these beautiful places for animals and people to enjoy for years to come. After reading it, I'm inspired to travel to these parks and others like it to see what I can learn and what I can do to help.



Picture Day Perfection by Deborah Diesen, Dan Santat (Illustrations)  This book is a lot of fun to read. It reminds me of some of the awful school pictures I had taken through the years. Although, I was always trying to have my pictures turn out all right. Even as I've gotten older (teachers still have to have their pictures taken), it seems the harder I try to look good, the worse it comes out.

Dan Santat's illustrations are terrific. The endpapers are yearbook style portraits with one frame in the back for the reader to insert a favorite school picture. Although the copy I'm reading is borrowed from the library and you can't really get to the picture frame.

As the day goes along for the boy in this story, the chances of a nice looking picture are getting more and more remote. His hair is messy, his shirt is wrinkled and dirty, he makes a mess in Art class, and he has a nasty scowl on his face. Read on to see how his best laid plans play out.




The Pout-Pout Fish in the Big-Big Dark by by Deborah Diesen, Dan Hanna (Illustrations)

This is a sweet story about Mr. Fish helping out a friend. Our favorite Pout-Pout fish is back in another story. His friend, Ms. Clam, yawned and lost her pearl. It fell down into the deep, dark part of the ocean. Mr. Fish promises to go and find it for her, but as he goes deeper and the water gets darker, he gets more and more frightened of the dark.

This illustrations are terrific. The colorful detail shows all of Mr. Fish's friends and neighbors hanging out on underwater cliffs trying to help and encourage him. When he finally gets help from Miss Shimmer, he becomes brave because he has a friend and they can work together. This book has a really great message for kids about helping each other face

difficult and scary times.


The Pout-Pout Fish Goes to School by Deborah Diesen, Dan Hanna (Illustrations)  This is another fun book in Deborah Diesen's Pout-Pout Fish series. In rhyming text, Mr. Fish recalls his first day of school. He remembers how all the other fish seemed to know how to write, make shapes and do math. He was so intimidated because he couldn't do these things. He was ready to quit and then his teacher found him. She guided him to the right class and everything turned out all right. This is a sweet book for kids who are just starting school and might be a bit nervous.

The illustrations are very detailed and colorful. There's quite a bit of humor in them as well. I love the posters on the walls of the classroom and halls. There are quotes from Shark Twain ("Fish aren't slimy, they just ooze personality.") and Sharkespeare ("A fish by any other name, would smell as fishy."). There posters of Great Artists like Michelanjellyo, Leonard Da Pinchy, and Vincent Van Goby.
This book is fun for everyone.



The Letter Home by Timothy Decker While this touching book has spare text and black-and-white drawings, it tells its story beautifully. A medic is writing a letter to his son back home during World War I. The drawings work to show the bleakness of war, not necessarily the violence of war, but it definitely is a contrast to the glamorization of war.

Among my favorite lines: "We must have looked like schoolboys playing in the mud. But we didn't really play much. We just read letters, looked at our watches, slept when we could for as long as we could with our heads down and our ears open."

Among the lighter moments: "Hendricks found a woman's coat. We all laughed at him. We said that he must have just arrived from Paris. He said that it kept him warm."

This would be good to share with students as an opening to further study about war.



Daisy Saves the Day by Shirley Hughes This is a nice historical fiction picture book that shows a bit of what life in England at the beginning of the twentieth century was like. A poor girl has to leave school and home to become a live-in scullery maid for a couple of old ladies. She works really hard scrubbing floors, washing dishes, scouring pots and pans, doing laundry, hauling in coal for the fire, etc.

The only real joy she finds in her circumstances is the little bit of time she finds to read books in her little attic bedroom. The old ladies and the other two servants aren't all that nice to her. And they become even meaner when she embarrasses them by hanging their bloomers outside as part of a decoration for a royal coronation parade.

She saves the house from disaster when she helps put out a fire in the kitchen. And she is rewarded for her bravery.

I like that the book features a young lady who loves to read. School is very important to her and I think that's a nice message for kids to read.




 

 

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Book Review: On a Slippery Slope by Melody Fitzpatrick


 
 
I had the opportunity to read a digital ARC of this book from NetGalley. I think that this book would be pretty popular in my fifth grade classroom. Many of my students really enjoy stories about middle school drama, and this book has plenty of that. This book reminds me a lot of Dork Diaries: Tales from a Not-So-Fabulous Life by Rachel Renee Russell only without the illustrations.
 
Hannah Smart is starting her first day of middle school in her new town of Maple Ridge. That's stressful enough, especially since many of the kids aren't very nice to her. Hannah's next-door-neighbor and new best friend, Gabby and her super cute brother, A.J., convince her to join the middle school ski and snowboarding club. Because Hannah moved to Maple Ridge from Vermont, everyone assumes she's a skier. Hannah is afraid to let on that she's never skied before, because she's afraid no one will like her.
 
As this misunderstanding begins to snowball out of control, Hannah takes on a job at the local television station where her father is the new weather reporter. Because Hannah is very clever and resourceful, she winds up with her own on-air weekly segment on the evening news.
 
As the date of the club's ski trip approaches, Hannah is going to have to either learn how to ski like a pro or come clean to everyone that she doesn't really know how to ski. Along the way, there are all sorts of funny moments of middle school drama that really make this book a lot of fun to read.
 
The characters in this book seem to be taken right from the hallways of your local middle school. Melody Fitzpatrick has really captured the way that kids in this age group interact with each other. Many of my favorite parts of the book come from Hannah's inner-monologue as she deals with the anxiety of riding a school bus with kids who are bullies, shopping for ski gear when she has no idea what kind of equipment she needs, and trying to manage her new television career.
 
I think kids will be able to relate to much of Hannah's stress. But at the same time, she's a fun heroine. Much like Nikki Maxwell of the Dork Diaries book, she's adventurous and spirited, but flawed and a bit clumsy. Because she's not perfect, the reader can't really be certain that everything is going to turn out all right, but we can definitely root for her.
 
I also think that the book has some positive messages for kids that are on the brink of growing up. Books that encourage young people to be true to themselves and others are important. Kids have a lot of pressure to go with the crowd and not be themselves. It's great to see a character learn lessons about how to do that while still be fun and funny.
 
Paperback, 112 pages
Expected publication: April 9th 2016 by Dundurn Press


Monday, January 18, 2016

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

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.
 
Winter has finally made an appearance. It's cold and snowy, which is perfect for curling up with good books. Here's what I've been reading this week:

 
In Place of Never by Julie Anne Lindsey  I had the opportunity to read a digital ARC of this book from NetGalley. This book has a lot to it that really made me enjoy it. The characters had quite a bit of depth and complexity, but at the same time were authentic and accessible to readers of young adult fiction. The plot events and story development were engaging, suspenseful and romantic. The book deals with some very serious issues: depression, suicide, self-cutting, violence and teen pregnancy.

To read my complete review, visit my blog post: http://www.janatheteacher.blogspot.com/2016/01/book-review-in-place-of-never-by-julie.html

 
 
 
A Picture Book of Martin Luther King, Jr. by David A. Adler, Robert Casilla (Illustrator)  I shared this book with my fifth grade students. I did it as an introduction to a lesson about Martin Luther King Day. It's a good book to use with kids as it gets to the point with engaging illustrations. The illustrations do a nice job of showing Martin Luther King as a youngster, so that the kids can relate to the sadness he felt when he wasn't allowed to play with his white friends. The pictures and text are effective at showing how Dr. King worked to change unfair laws and spoke out against prejudice, violence and hate.
 
 
The Cart That Carried Martin by Eve Bunting, Don Tate (Illustrator)  This beautifully done nonfiction picture book tells the story of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s funeral by focusing on the borrowed cart that was used to carry King's casket from the Ebenezer Baptist Church to Morehouse College. Funeral organizers borrowed the unwanted cart from an antique store - "Friends painted it green. 'It's the color of grass when it rains,' a woman said."

Mules were hitched to the cart - "'Ordinary mules for an ordinary funeral,' the people told one another. 'That was what he wanted.'

The illustrations, which were done in pencil and gouache, do a wonderful job of capturing the emotion and magnitude of this occasion. Most are two-page spreads depicting the crowds outside the church, inside the church, and along the route to Morehouse College and then the cemetery.

My favorite lines are: "The cart was not heavy.
The coffin was not heavy.
The man inside it was not heavy.
His great spirit had been the heaviest part of him.
It could not be kept in a coffin."
 

Happy Birthday, Martin Luther King, Jr. by Jean Marzollo, Brian Pinkney (Illustrator)  While the text is very simple and straightforward, the illustrations are very powerful in showing the warmth, emotion, and beauty in the life of Martin Luther King, Jr. Readers are given a chronologically arranged look at King's childhood, education, ministry and civil activism. I shared this picture book with my students and it serves as a great springboard for further study and discussion.


Freedom Summer by Deborah Wiles, Jerome Lagarrigue (Illustrator)  This is a terrific story about friendship with beautiful illustrations set in the South in the summer of 1964. Joe and John Henry are close friends. They do chores together, play marbles, and go swimming in the creek. But they're never quite able to do everything they want together. When Joe buys ice pops for them, John Henry has to wait outside the store. John Henry's not allowed to swim in the town pool.

When Joe's father announces that a law has been passed that means the pool and all the other places in town are for everyone, the children are so excited. The next day, they race to the pool... But that's when they find out just how nasty segregation and prejudice can be.

The illustrations do a super job capturing the story and the emotion of it. I'm sure that the students in my class will be able to relate to the friendship these boys share and their loyalty to each other in the face of racism.


And Two Boys Booed by Judith Viorst, Sophie Blackall (Illustrator)  I really enjoyed this story of a little boy who's all set to perform in a talent show at school. This cumulative tale tells us that he's practiced a billion times and he's wearing his lucky blue boots and pants with cool pockets. But as his turn gets closer and closer, he's getting more and more nervous. Anyone who's ever performed in front of classmates will be able to relate to this young man's apprehension.

Sophie Blackall's illustrations are awesome. They really hit the mark on how this type of performance plays out in a primary classroom. You can have fun lifting flaps to see the boy's performance. And I had just as much fun watching the children in the audience squirming, whispering, playing with their hair and all the other things young children do when we've reached the limit of their attention span.


What If...? by Anthony Browne  This cute picture book will definitely speak to anyone who's ever been a bit apprehensive about trying something new. Joe is attending his first party and has lost the address to his friend's house. As he and his mother walk along the street, he asks questions, like what if there's too many people or what if I don't like the food? As they glance in the front window of each home to see if that's the house, we see what Joe imagines is in each one.

The illustrations are quite imaginative and detailed. Some are funny, like the old couple reading books with Martian-like growths coming out of their heads. And some are somewhat creepy like the wild party of pigs.



This Orq. He Cave Boy. by David Elliott, Lori Nichols (Illustrator)  This is a cute story about a little boy who falls in love with a growing wooly mammoth and wants to keep him as a pet. The little boy's mother isn't thrilled because the animal is smelly and he's not housetrained. The little boy tries hard to teach the mammoth tricks so that his mother will love him too. Then when the little boy needs him most, the mammoth saves the day.

The illustrations are cute and support the story well. I was a little put off by the "cave-boy speak."
"This Orq. He live in cave. He carry club. He cave boy." I know it's supposed to be humorous and clever, but it didn't work for me. In an age when it's tough to get kids to write complete sentences (when they're so used to texting), I'm not sure this book helps them.


The Pout-Pout Fish by Deborah Diesen, Dan Hanna (Illustrator)   This is a cute book. The back cover says it best, "Sometimes a kiss is all it takes to turn things around." Mr. Fish swims along with a glum pout on his face. His friends all try to cheer him up, but he insists that that's just the way his face is and he can't do anything about it.

Adorable illustrations and repetitive, catchy rhyming text is sure to make this a fun read for everyone. I absolutely love Mr. Fish on the last page. If you're feeling glum, this is a great book to put you in a terrific mood.


TipTop by C. Roger Mader  Wow! What a treat this book is! I was drawn to it, by the beautiful illustration on the cover. Some years ago, I had a black-and-white cat named Homer. Homer was a nosy cat, who always got himself into trouble of some kind. One of his worst habits was going through open garage doors in the neighborhood, and then getting himself shut inside when the door was closed.

When you open the book, you get to experience the appealing endpapers that show the dark rooftops of Paris with kitty-cat tracks on them. The tracks start in the front of the book and end at the back of the book. How can you not dig in to a book with this sort of art to greet you?!

The story tells of a curious cat that was received by someone as a gift. The cat checks out the apartment. The cat in the text and illustrations is so totally Homer, that this book makes me feel wistful for the cat who's been gone for ten years now. When the cat leaves the apartment's balcony to wander the rooftops of the city, he winds up at his favorite spot, a chimney with a stunning view of the Eiffel Tower.

The cat gets himself into trouble, just like Homer would, but it all turns out fine. This is a great story of resilience. The artwork has really grabbed me, and I think I need to get my own copy of this book (as I borrowed this one from my local library). The last illustration in the book shows the cat in his favorite spot, gazing at the Eiffel Tower at night, with the lights of Paris spread out below him. Sigh....





 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Book Review: In Place of Never by Julie Anne Lindsey

 
 
 
I had the opportunity to read a digital ARC of this book from NetGalley. This book has a lot to it that really made me enjoy it. The characters had quite a bit of depth and complexity, but at the same time were authentic and accessible to readers of young adult fiction. The plot events and story development were engaging, suspenseful and romantic. The book deals with some very serious issues: depression, suicide, self-cutting, violence and teen pregnancy.
 
Mercy Porter has spent the past three years consumed by grief. Her older sister, Faith, drowned in the river under mysterious circumstances. Her mother, unable to cope with this devastating loss, took her own life months after the accident. Mercy has dealt with all of this by withdrawing from her younger sister, Prudence, and her minister-father. She spends most of her time sleeping or visiting the cemetery.
 
All of this changes when the Lovell Traveling Sideshow arrives in town to perform at the annual River Festival. This performance troupe, made up of traveling gypsies, were last in St. Mary's, West Virginia the night Faith died. Mercy sees an opportunity to start asking questions to find out what happened and who was responsible for her sister's death.
 
Upon the arrival of the Lovells, Mercy finds herself drawn into a relationship with Cross, one of the performers. As this romance develops, Mercy becomes more engaged in her family and community. But not everyone is happy that Mercy is coming out of her shell and asking questions. The more she digs into the mystery of her sister's drowning, the more danger starts to close in on her.
 
Julie Anne Lindsey has created characters that young adult fiction readers will be able to relate to. Mercy is deep into depression after her sister's death and has even resorted to cutting herself to relieve the pain of guilt and despair.
 
As Mercy begins to reconnect with her family and friends, I really enjoyed her rekindled relationship with her sister. Lindsey's writing style made me feel as though I were sitting in the bedroom with them talking about clothes, make-up, and boys. Readers that have close relationships with sisters will be able to recognize themselves in this story.
 
The romance between Mercy and Cross will please readers that like steamy scenes. While it was kind of fun to read, it moves the book out of the appropriate range for my classroom. And I would note that parents and educators should be aware that Mercy and Cross engage in intimate relations without any protection or contraception. This may be something you would want to discuss, along with many of the other mature themes, with young readers.
 
 
Paperback, 269 pages
Expected publication: February 2nd 2016 by Lyrical Press, Inc 
 


Monday, January 11, 2016

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 an exhausting week! So tough to get back into the swing of things after having two fun weeks off during the holidays. Unfortunately, many of my students don't read during the break and so it's crucial that we jump right back into reading with both feet! We've read some pretty good books this week, and I hope you have as well!
 

The Secret of Dreadwillow Carse by Brian Farrey  I had the opportunity to read a digital-ARC of this book from NetGalley. In this modern fairy tale, two adolescent girls from two completely different walks of life team up to discover the dark secrets of Dreadwillow Carse. Queen Sula is dying and her twelve-year-old daughter, Princess Jeniah is set to ascend to power. Aon Greenlaw is a peasant girl who lives in the town of Emberfell.

As Jeniah is preparing to become queen, she learns of the existence of Dreadwillow Carse and the warning that if any monarch enters, then the Monarchy will fall. This only makes her more determined to figure out what's in there.

Aon has always been drawn to the Carse by a sad, haunting tune that only she can hear.

For my complete review, please visit my blog: http://www.janatheteacher.blogspot.com/2016/01/book-review-secret-of-dreadwillow-carse.html



The After-Christmas Tree by Linda Wagner Tyler, Susan Davis (Illustrator)  I love reading this aloud to my students on the first day back after winter break. It's always kind of sad when the holidays are over and it's time to take down the tree. In this story, the after-Christmas blues are solved by throwing a winter party where the participants ice skate, collect pinecones, and decorate the tree with birdfeeders and put it out in the yard. The tree has a second season of giving.


The Nuts: Bedtime at the Nut House by Eric Litwin, Scott Magoon (Illustrator)  Cute story about a couple of youngsters who would rather play and sing instead of going to bed. Mother starts off gently reminding them that it's time for bed, but Hazel and Wally aren't listening. Finally Mother has to be more direct. The illustrations are hilarious, including Wally's "nut butt" on page 10. It would pair nicely with "Power Down, Little Robot" by Anna Staniszewski. It also has a sweet, loving message: So Big Mama Nut, said, 'No matter what, you will always be my sweet little Nuts."

There's also a nice lullaby: "Good night, little Nut, good night.
Good night, little Nut, good night.
I love you the way you are.
You're my nutty shining star.
Good night, little Nut, good night."

You can download the free song and lullaby, and have a nutty sing-along at TheNutFamily.com



Waking Dragons by Jane Yolen, Derek Anderson (Illustrator)  If mornings seem a little hectic in your house, you might get a kick out of this cute book showing all of the work the little knight goes to in order to get the dragons up and ready to fly to school.

Dragons wake up, dragons rise, Dragons open dragon eyes. Double page spread pictures with spare text go a long way to spark the imagination of what a job waking dragons must be. My favorite illustration is the knight brushing a dragon's teeth with his doggy standing next to him ready with a fire extinguisher (IN CASE OF DRAGON BREATH). Another fun picture is of the knight catapulting waffles into the dragons' mouths for breakfast.



Telephone by Mac Barnett, Jen Corace (Illustrator)  Folks who have ever played the game of "Telephone" know all too well how a simple message like, "Tell Peter: Fly home for dinner" can get crazier and crazier each time it is passed along. The book's illustrations show birds on a telephone wire passing this message from Peter's mom. The messages along with the illustrations are a lot of fun and it's sure to keep readers smiling. My favorite is the bird who passes the message, "Tell Peter: Crocodiles are bad liars" as he spies the reptiles playing cards.

I also enjoy looking at the periodic illustrations that show the telephone wire with the birds in silhouette and the people of the neighborhood enjoying their late afternoon/early evening activities. There is so much detail, I found myself flipping pages to look at those double spread pages that occur several times.



Help! We Need a Title! by HervĂ© Tullet   This is a neat book that shows a book trying to come together for its nice, sweet readers. When the reader opens the book, she is greeted by the characters who try to put together a setting and a story. They have trouble getting their act together, so they take us to the author to get him to write a story. The illustrations are very clever, mixed media drawings with tape and scribbles in the margins. As the copy I read was a library book, I couldn't be certain that it wasn't damaged and/or defaced by previous borrowers! I liked the way the book engages and pulls the reader into the construction of a book.


Edward Hopper Paints His World by Robert Burleigh, Wendell Minor (illustrator)  What an awesome picture book biography this is! The reader learns so much about this artist and his work. The paintings illustrating the painter, his paintings and his life are absolutely amazing. You can tell that the author and the illustrator are very passionate about the type of art Edward Hopper forwarded and have studied hard about how to portray it to younger readers. The cover art, depicting the Night Hawk painting, attracted my husband's interest as he was bringing the book home from the library for me. He sat down and read the book before I had a chance and enjoyed it very much. I think I'm going to need to get my own copy of this book!










 

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Book Review: The Secret of Dreadwillow Carse by Brian Farrey


 
 
 
I had the opportunity to read a digital-ARC of this book from NetGalley. In this modern fairy tale, two adolescent girls from two completely different walks of life team up to discover the dark secrets of Dreadwillow Carse. Queen Sula is dying and her twelve-year-old daughter, Princess Jeniah is set to ascend to power. Aon Greenlaw is a peasant girl who lives in the town of Emberfell.
 
As Jeniah is preparing to become a queen, she learns of the existence of Dreadwillow Carse, a dark and disturbing marsh in the kingdom. Queen Sula warns her that she must never go there: "The people rely on us to maintain peace and prosperity. And it is written in the oldest books: If any monarch enters Dreadwillow Carse, then the Monarchy will fall." This warning only makes Jeniah more determined to find out just what is in this forbidden bog.

Aon has always been secretly drawn to Dreadwillow Carse. She keeps her fascination to herself, because the kingdom is a happy and peaceful land. Everyone is happy all the time, and the expression of sadness of any sort is seen as being disrespectful to the monarchy. She visits the edges of the Carse, can hear a "sad, haunting waltz" coming from deep within the Carse, but is always forced to leave by the misery and terror that consumes her.

The princess and Aon meet each other at the edge of the Carse. Aon rescues Jeniah from the carnivorous bramble that has ahold of her. Aon agrees to explore the Carse for Jeniah to find out the reason she's forbidden to enter. But when Aon doesn't come back out of the bog, Jeniah is compelled to go in to find her.

There is so much that I really enjoyed about this book. The characters are very accessible to young readers. Even though this is a fairy tale, the girls have thoughts, feelings, and motives that we all can recognize. Brian Farrey's style of character development reminds me a lot of Red: The True Story of Little Red Riding Hood by Liesl Shurtliff .

Farrey describes the setting beautifully. I can picture the kingdom so well, and would love to climb into the book and explore it. From the nooks and crannies of Nine Towers (the castle) to the heart of Dreadwillow Carse, the descriptions and details are so vivid, that I'm drawn into it, much like the characters are drawn into the Carse.

The story moves along quickly. As the characters make their way deeper and deeper into the mystery, there is plenty of suspense and tension. The characters are faced with danger, tough decisions, and grief and I wasn't sure what was going to happen right up to the end. I believe this book is going to be popular with middle grade students. I think this would be an awesome addition to my classroom library.

Hardcover, 240 pages
Expected publication: April 19, 2016 by Algonquin Young Readers



Monday, January 4, 2016

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.
 
We spent last week in Keokuk, Iowa celebrating the holidays with my parents. We had a wonderful time catching up and toasting in the New Year. Through all of the fun that we had, I managed to read a few novels.
 
 
A Fierce and Subtle Poison by Samantha Mabry  I had the opportunity to read a digital-ARC of this book, provided by NetGalley.com. There's a lot of action packed into this story of a seventeen-year-old boy, Lucas, whose father is a big-shot developer of resort hotels in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Every summer, Lucas comes to the island to live in his father's hotel and hang around with his friends in the old, touristy part of the city. He's a bit of a party-boy who drinks with his friends and finds pretty girls to make out with on the beach.

In the neighborhood streets near the hotel, there's a house around which many rumors have swirled through the years. The legends center around a cursed girl, Isabel. The local senoras tell stories about a witch with green skin and grass for hair. They say the girl eats the exotic, poisonous plants that fill the courtyard garden. Many believe that her touch can kill and that she can grant wishes.

Lucas has always been fascinated by these stories and is drawn to the fantasy of Isabel and her magic. On the same day his new girlfriend, Marisol, disappears he begins receiving mysterious letters. Lucas goes to the cursed house to find answers and finds himself swept into Isabel's dangerous world of poison: her dangerous touch combined with the toxic relationship with her father, a renowned botanist.

This novel has lots of action, interesting characters and an exotic setting to draw readers into this story. For my complete review, visit my blog post: http://www.janatheteacher.blogspot.com/2015/12/book-review-fierce-and-subtle-poison-by.html
 
 
Masterminds (Masterminds #1) by Gordon Korman    Wow! This was a terrific book. Once I started it, I couldn't put it down. The author wrote the narrative of these kids of Serenity, NM from each of their points-of-view. These kids are growing up in a perfect town, a little bit too perfect. When Eli and his friend, Randy ride their bikes too close to the city limits, Eli becomes violently ill and Randy is sent away. When Eli finds a note from Randy warning him that there's "something screwy going on in Serenity", the adventure to figure out what's going on and why begins.

The author captures the voices of Eli, Tori, Amber, Malik, and Hector so effectively. As we start piecing together their narratives, the suspense is outstanding. The action is so well written that I couldn't wait to find out what was happening and why the adults in this town are all lying. Now, I can't wait to get my hands on the next book!
 
I hope you're having an a great start to 2016 and that you're reading some terrific books. I'm looking forward to all that this year promises.