Monday, January 9, 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.


And now we're back from a wonderful winter break...
The last few weeks have been awesome. With Christmas and the New Year's holidays came a wonderful opportunity to rest, spend time with family and friends, overindulge, and of course, READ! I have a long list of books that I enjoyed over the holiday break. Hopefully you had a chance to recharge and enjoy yourself over the last few weeks, as well.
Young Adult/Middle Grade Fiction

Chester and Gus by Cammie McGovern 
I had an opportunity to read an advanced copy of Chester and Gus before I share it with the rest of my BookRelays group. I really enjoyed this book a lot. This story is told from the point of view of Chester, a chocolate Labrador that has trained to be a service dog. Because of his intense fear of loud noises, he couldn't be certified as a service dog. But he's adopted by Gus' family to help him socialize with other children. Gus is an autistic fifth grader who has a difficult communicating with his family, teachers, and the rest of the people around him. At first, he's very reluctant to have anything to do with Chester. But Chester and Gus develop a special relationship that carries them through the rest of the story.

I really like the creativity of the author in imagining the thoughts and motives of this dog. The dog is very smart and has lots of insights about what is happening with Gus both at home and at school. These insights might help young readers understand and develop empathy and compassion for those that need their help and patience. It also has plenty of heartwarming moments for those that love a good dog story. This book would be great for readers who enjoy Fenway and Hattie by Victoria Coe, Spunky Tells All by Ann Cameron, and The Poet's Dog by Patricia MacLachlan.

The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner 
I enjoyed this YA coming of age novel much more than I thought I would. The story shares with readers the senior year of three misfit teenagers who don't fit in with their classmates in their eastern Tennessee town. Dill's father is a Pentecostal minister locked up in prison for possession of child pornography. Lydia writes a popular fashion blog that is helping pave the way for her to escape small town life to attend New York University. Travis' older brother was a Marine who died in Afghanistan and his only escape from his father's angry grief is a series of fantasy/adventure books. While life at school and at home is difficult to endure, these three have each other and hopes for a better future.

One of my favorite moments in the book is when the three friends are sitting and watching passing trains. Dill explains why he enjoys watching them so much:

"Okay. So when I watch the trains, it makes me think about how much movement there is in the world. How every train has dozens of cars and every car has hundreds of parts, and all those parts and cars work day after day. And then there are all these other motions. People are born and die. Seasons change. Rivers flow to the sea. Earth circles the sun and the moon circles Earth. Everything whirring and spinning toward something. And I get to be part of it for a little while, the way I get to watch a train for a minute or two, and then it's gone."

This is a very emotional novel, so have your tissues ready. But the book has a hopeful tone, making it a great book to read to kick off the new year.

See You at Harry's by Jo Knowles 
I loved this book so much! My only regret is that it's taken me so long to find it and read it. But I also firmly believe that books find us at the right time, and this one is no exception. I'm glad I chose to read this book during Winter Break, when I'm relaxed and feeling all of the joy of the holidays.

The characters in this book are so authentic. Anyone who reads this will be able to find someone they can relate to. The dynamics of Fern and Holden and their experiences riding the school bus with bullies, the family bickering over the responsibilities of running their restaurant, and the way people cope when an unthinkable tragedy occurs had me drawn right into this novel from the moment I started reading it. The story events, while very emotional, are so compelling that it was tough to put the book down until I got to the very last page. This was a wonderful experience, even though I was on the sofa crying and making my husband wonder what in the world was wrong.

I would like to get a copy or two for my classroom library. The book does deal with some mature themes, but I like that it is all in a context that is appropriate for fifth grade (and up) students. The main character, Fern, is just starting middle school herself. I think many of my students would see themselves in her.
Picture Books

The Friend Ship by Kat Yeh  
This is a nice picture book about a group of animals that set sail in search of the Friend Ship. As they continue on their way, more and more animals join in the search. "Sometimes what you're searching for is right in front of you." This might be a good story to encourage young readers to recognize the friends in their midst.  

The Nian Monster by Andrea Wang, Alina Chau (Illustrations)  
This is a great picture book to share during Chinese New Year. Xingling is helping her grandmother get ready for the holiday. While they're preparing some of the traditional foods, her grandmother explains how the color red, loud noises and fireworks help to scare away the Nian Monster, who visits every year at this time. When the Nian Monster shows up at the door to eat Xingling and the entire village, the young girl uses her wits to outsmart the monster. The illustrations are awesome and I believe this would be a popular book in my classroom library. 

Swimming with Sharks: The Daring Discoveries of Eugenie Clark by Heather Lang, Jordi Solano (Illustrations)  
This fascinating picture book biography tells the story of Eugene Clark, a scientist who was one of the first people to study sharks in their natural habitat. Clark's life story is inspirational and fascinating as she became a scientist at a time when there weren't many women in the field. The illustrations are terrific and I know the beautiful paintings of sharks would make this book very popular in my classroom library. 

Margarash by Mark Riddle, Tim Miller (Illustrations)  
This is a fun picture book that gives readers something to think about, especially if they're sitting on a couch while enjoying this story. Collin is a little boy who loves finding coins. His favorite place to look was under the couch cushions. Margarash is a monster who lives in a world deep below the cushions and springs of your couch. One day, Collin sticks his arm between the couch cushions to look for coins and he's snatched into the dark world by Margarash. Young readers definitely will want to find out what happens. This book might be kind of scary for very young or sensitive children. 

The Bossier Baby by Marla Frazee  
Young readers with baby siblings at home will definitely appreciate this funny picture book. When his baby sister comes home, the Boss Baby is demoted and she becomes the CEO. The humorous text and illustrations show how all of these changes has Boss Baby thoroughly dejected. It's hard to imagine anything will turn it around. Parents and teachers should note that in an effort to regain his parents' attention the Boss Baby takes off all of his clothes and urinates on some flowers outside. Be aware of that if you're reading this one aloud.

It Is Not Time for Sleeping by Lisa Graff, Lauren Castillo (illustrator)  
This is a perfect book to share with young children at bedtime. As the family in the story finishes dinner, washes the dishes, and starts to get the little boy ready for bed, the little boy insists it's not quite bedtime yet. The story is somewhat cumulative as the boy gets nearer and nearer to the inevitable bedtime. Lauren Castillo's illustrations capture the warmth and sweetness of this family's bedtime routine, to the point that it made me feel sleepy and ready for bed!  

My Name Is James Madison Hemings by Jonah Winter, Terry Widener (Illustrations)  
This fascinating picture book biography presents the life of the son and slave of Thomas Jefferson written from a first person perspective. This style of writing is an interesting way to help young readers imagine what it might have been like to be the son of Sally Hemings and Jefferson, dealing with the contradictions between Jefferson's writings and the realities of life on his plantation. The paintings that illustrate this story are beautiful and help tell this story. 

Because of Thursday by Patricia Polacco  
This wonderful picture book is perfect for fans of Polacco and the Food Network! This is the story of Annie and the good luck that Thursday has always had for her. Everything good in her life has always happened on a Thursday: it's the day she was born, won her first cooking contest at the age of eight, met her husband, and had her children. She and her husband, Mario, had run a diner that had a world-famous pasta salad on the menu. After her husband passed away, grief consumed her and she closed the diner. After awhile she takes in a small, abandoned kitten (whom she named Thursday). Readers will delight in the special, heartwarming way that Thursday turns everything around, leading to a new pasta dish, Ugly Pasta, that's even better than her first pasta salad. If your mouth is watering at the end, Polacco has included a recipe for Ugly Pasta.  

The Great Spruce by John Duvall, Rebecca Gibbon (Illustrations)  
This is a good book to share with young readers during the Christmas holiday season. It tells the story of Alec, his love of climbing trees, and the tall spruce tree his grandfather brought from the forest and planted in the yard. As the years passed and the tree grew, Alec would climb to the top and look out at the land all around. They decorated it every year at Christmas time. One day men from the city came and asked if they could have the tree for the big display. It was a great honor, but obviously Alec was very distressed that the tree would be cut down. Young readers will be relieved as everyone figures out a way to have the tree for the display without cutting it down. The end pages have information about ways to enjoy Christmas trees without cutting them down.

Stepping Stones: A Refugee Family's Journey by Margriet Ruurs, Nizar Badr (Contributor)  
This picture book, written in English and Arabic, very poignantly tells the heartbreaking story of desperate families leaving everything to escape the dangers of war. And while the journey itself is difficult, and even deadly for some, these families want to find refuge in Europe. For those that want to learn more about the plight of Syrian refugees, this book is an excellent resource. The illustrations were created by carefully arranging stones by hand and then photographing them. 

Shall I Knit You a Hat?: A Christmas Yarn by Kate Klise, M. Sarah Klise (Illustrations)  
This is a sweet picture book to share with young readers during the holiday season. When Rabbit's mother hears there's a blizzard on the way, she knits a hat to keep his ears warm. When Little Rabbit, decides that all of their animal friends should have hats too, they get to work on the Christmas project. This is a story that has a great message about giving and friendship. The illustrations are so warm and cozy, I just wanted to climb in the book and snuggle up with these rabbits.

Bunny Slopes by Claudia Rueda  
This is a cute, interactive picture book that takes readers skiing with a bunny. Young children will have a terrific time shaking, tapping, and turning the book to help the bunny ski quickly down the hill, and deal with several obstacles along the way. 

This book is out of control! by Richard Byrne  
This fun picture book continues the strange book adventures of Bella and Ben. Ben has a new remote control toy and is very excited to show it to Bella. She comes over from her page to see it, but the buttons on the remote control don't seem to be working. Once again, young readers are invited to help these two get the book back under control. Humorous illustrations and text, along with the interactive nature of the book, will make it popular in classroom libraries. 

The Liszts by Kyo Maclear, Júlia Sardà (Illustrator)  
This is a cute picture book about a quirky family that spends all of there time making lists. They barely notice when a stranger comes along. Their lists are interesting and incorporated into the digital illustrations. This book made get inspire young readers to make their own lists. The lists might make a fun writing workshop experience. 

Your Alien Returns by Tammi Sauer, Gorō Fujita (Illustrations)  
This is a really cute sequel to Your Alien that brings young readers along for a play date on an alien planet. Young readers will have fun comparing their favorite play dates with the experience of the boy in this book. Vibrant illustrations created with Adobe Photoshop will help children imagine the different snacks, toys, neighborhood friends, and games that would be a part of this " out-of-this-world" visit. 

Ada Twist, Scientist by Andrea Beaty, David Roberts (Illustrations)  
This is a fun, rhyming picture book that shares the story of a curious little girl who will stop at nothing to find the answers she seeks. From the time she was a baby, Ada ran her parents ragged with her adventurous quests to explore the world around her. As she gets older, her questions become more complicated and her experiments become much more disruptive. It's very likely that young readers will be inspired by her inquisitive nature and her determination to figure out what smells so bad will certainly produce giggles.

Little Red and the Very Hungry Lion by Alex T. Smith  
This is a fun twist on the classic Little Red Riding Hood. Little Red needs to bring her Auntie some spot medicine, but the Very Hungry Lion has other plans. He dresses up in Auntie's clothes to try to fool Little Red so he can eat her and Auntie. Young readers will love the way Little Red deals with this naughty lion. Fun, vibrant illustrations along with humorous text make this a book that would be fun to share with kids. Great opportunities to compare this with some of the other versions of this classic fairy tale.  

Voices of Christmas [With CD (Audio)] by Nikki Grimes, Eric Velasquez (Illustrator)  
Using beautiful poetry and artwork, this picture book tells the story of Christmas. An audio CD accompanies this book, making it a wonderful way to share this story with the whole family. 


  1. Wow, what a fantastic array of books! I read See You at Harry's a few years ago, and it just broke my heart, in the best possible way. A very special book.

  2. Chester and Gus is on my must read list for this year. I am really looking forward to it. It's good to hear that you enjoyed it.

  3. Wow, many picture books. Some I've read, just shared It's Not Time for Sleeping today, Jana and some I will find. Thanks! I enjoyed The Serpent King a lot, but See You At Harry's is a favorite, a beautiful story. Thanks for all. You did have a great "reading" vacation!

  4. All of your chapter books are in my TBR pile. Just wonderful things I've heard about all of them!

  5. I am amazed at the collection of books you've read and shared with us! See You at Harry's is a favorite, but I think I need to check out The Serpent King soon, it sounds fabulous.

  6. Holy Carumba! What an amazing collection of picture books. I also loved this version of Red Riding Hood. The Serpent King didn't make it to my must read list this year, but now I wish it did. I need to start a b list that I add to over the year!

  7. I think I'm one of the only people who hasn't read THE SERPENT KING yet. I have the audiobook on hold at the library so hopefully I'll get to listen to it soon!

  8. I have to find The Liszts soon - sounds like my kind of read. I still have not read The Serpent King - and I know how much it's been receiving such rave reviews. You have so many great titles here. I will be featuring Stepping Stones soon.

  9. Such a great list! The copy of Swimming with Sharks I ordered has finally arrived. Excited to dive (hee hee) into it.