Monday, June 26, 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.


Summer is in full swing!  Our community has their annual fireworks display on the last weekend in June as the culmination of the annual festival.  We are lucky enough to be able to see these fireworks from our own driveway. In fact the view is better in front of our own house than it is from the festival itself! It makes me very happy, because we can enjoy the show without big crowds or having to drive in heavy traffic to get home once it's finished. Once the last firework has popped, I can get back in the house and right back to my book!
Hope you're enjoying your summer and getting plenty of time to relax and read.  Here's what I've been reading: 

Adult Fiction

The Help by Kathryn Stockett
I bought a copy of this book a while back, and finally took the time to read it. I am so glad I did! Not only were the characters so well developed and authentic, but the plot was so compelling. Told from the points of view of three different women, this novel takes a hard look at what it was like to be a black maid working for a white woman in the Deep South in the early part of the twentieth century. The women in the story take a huge risk to collaborate on a tell-all book that will share a bunch of nasty secrets of the society ladies of Jackson, Mississippi.

The rising and falling action of the book is awesome, and I would find myself feeling so tense and worried right along with the main characters. I think this is an important book, because it goes to show that while ordinary people tried to take steps to make a difference in the way African Americans were treated, the consequences for taking action could be severe. And so making the decision to help in the effort was very difficult and scary, and many people decided the risks were too great.

This book, with mature themes in it, is definitely for young adults and grownups. It reminds me a lot of Midnight Without a Moon by Linda Williams Jackson.
Picture Books

On the Spot: Countless Funny Stories by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, Lea Redmond (Contributor), Sanne te Loo (Contributor)  

It's bittersweet to read this wonderfully fun, interactive picture book knowing that Amy Krouse Rosenthal was taken away from us way too soon. But at the same time, I think that she would love the idea of folks cuddling up with children and having fun sharing a story that can be different every time it's shared. I'm sure there will be many giggles and attempts to find the silliest items to place in the designated spots on the page to complete the rhyming story.

Secrets I Know by Kallie George, Paola Zakimi (Illustrator)  
The sweet, simple text along with the warm, friendly drawings make this a picture book that I would love to climb inside again and again. The little girl doesn't let a rainy day get her down. She has a wonderful imagination so that she's able to put on her raincoat and head outside with her adorable little dog. She lets us in on her secrets: trees are great umbrellas, the umbrella can be turned upside down to become a boat, the seashells in the sandbox can be transformed into a tea party. She visits her friend next door and the imaginative play continues. This would be a terrific story time read to help young readers learn to make the best of their time by being creative and enjoying friends.

Bad Guy by Hannah Barnaby, Mike Yamada (Contributor)  
This picture book takes a fun look at sibling rivalry through the eyes of a naughty little boy with a wild imagination. The little guy in this story likes to think that he's a bad guy, a great villain. He spends his play time trapping super heroes in a cage, stealing treasure and burying it, and plotting his younger sister's demise. The vibrant illustrations that come from someone with a background in movie animation make the narrative even more entertaining, especially when you get to the twists at the end. One of the twists is very subtle, and I found myself going back over it several times and even had my husband go over it! This one would be a terrific way to work on inferencing skills with young readers!  

Flowers for Sarajevo by John McCutcheon, Kristy Caldwell (Illustrations)  
This is a beautiful picture book that shows the horrors of war and one musician's refusal to give up playing in the face of danger and terror. Told from the point of view of young Drasko, a boy selling flowers in the market square, this is the story of Vedran Smailovic, a cellist for the Sarajevo Opera Orchestra. After a bombing that killed 22 people, he emerged from the rehearsal building to play beautiful music. He repeated this act for 22 days in a row, one for each of the victims. The illustrations are stunning and haunting as the background for each is faded as though there's a mist or fog that has descended and the foreground is in bold contrast. There is a CD that accompanies this book that has a recording of a song written by the author, "The Streets of Sarajevo" and also a solo recording of Albinoni's Adagio in G Minor, the tune played by the cellist in the story. There is also a recording of the author sharing his thoughts on this story. This is definitely a terrific resource to share with middle grade students! 

If You Were the Moon by Laura Purdie Salas, Jaime Kim (Contributor)  
This beautifully illustrated nonfiction picture book shares information about the moon with young readers using lyrical text that reads like a poem. As a little girl is sitting up in her bed and considering the moon, the moon makes the case that it is far too busy to be just hanging in the sky, doing nothing. Each page has a line from the poetic narrative and factual information. The paintings that go along with each point are magnificent. This would be a great way to introduce this information to young readers, with this book as a starting point for further research. It could also serve as a great mentor text for informational writing.  


Monday, June 19, 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.




Summer is off to a terrific start! The weather has been great, and I've started to get reacquainted with some of my favorite birds that hang around the neighborhood pond. I figure the more I walk and spend time outdoors, maybe the blue herons and the ducks won't be so camera shy. I'll try to see if I can get better pictures of them, soon! On warm, quiet mornings I also love to grab a book and head outside and enjoy unhurried reading with my coffee. Hope you're enjoying your summertime reading (indoors or outdoors), too. Here's what I've been reading lately:
Picture Books

  Blue Sky White Stars by Sarvinder Naberhaus, Kadir Nelson (Illustrations) 
This is a gorgeous picture book that celebrates what it means to be American by using stunning paintings and simple text to explore the underpinnings of the flag and other symbols of our country. Absolutely perfect to share with children as we head into the Fourth of July, readers will want to visit these pages again and again just to gaze at the illustrations and understand. I would imagine there could be some wonderful conversations about what it truly means to be a nation undivided, especially at a time when people seem to be more divided than ever.

Colette's Lost Pet by Isabelle Arsenault  
This book tells the story of a little girl who moves into a new neighborhood and makes up a story about a lost pet because she's not sure how to make new friends. As Colette and her new neighbors go about searching for a lost parakeet, her story grows more and more sensational. I'm not sure that I would want to use this book in a classroom with young children because the girl's basis for the start of her friendship is a lie. The children in her new neighborhood are friendly and she makes up a story and has everyone spending all their time looking for a bird that doesn't exist. In the real world, this fib might even open her up to ridicule when everyone figures out that she's not being truthful. I would rather encourage children to make friends by being honest and by being themselves.

7 Ate 9 by Tara Lazar, Ross Macdonald (Illustrations)   
What a fun and clever picture book this is! Written in the style of an old-time detective story, the number 6 comes to the office of a private investigator to get help. 6 was sure that 7 was out to get him, since 7 ate 9, and he was always after 6. This sets off a whole mystery filled with number puns! The illustrations are also drawn with old-style city scenes. This will get lots of laughs and giggles from young readers!  

And Then Comes Summer by Tom Brenner, Jaime Kim (Illustrations)  
This lovely picture book celebrates all the things that we love about summer: flip-flops, fireworks, ice cream. One of my favorite lines sums it up well: "When every day is like a Saturday, and porches and lawns and sidewalks are playgrounds, and a familiar jingle interrupts the game...Then race to be first in line - 'Almond fudge, please!'" The beautifully painted illustrations really capture the joy of the season as well. 

That Neighbor Kid by Daniel Miyares  
In this nearly wordless picture book, the reader sees a lovely friendship develop through the construction of a tree house. The book opens with a moving truck in front of a house. There are two shy neighbors peeking at each other. As the boy starts to build a tree house from the boards in the fence, the girl comes and starts helping. I'm assuming the boy gets the proper permission before he starts ripping the fence apart... Anyway, I love the way the author tells this whole narrative with few words (they each say "hi") and illustrations with a limited palette (only a few of the tree leaves and the paint have color). 

  Maya Lin: Artist-Architect of Light and Lines by Jeanne Walker Harvey, Dow Phumiruk (Illustrator) 
This beautifully written and illustrated picture book biography tells the story of a young Chinese American girl who grew up in a family of artists. As a child, she explored the woods near her home with an imaginative mind and created models of cities and towns in her home. She grew up to study art and won the opportunity to design the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C. The digitally created illustrations complement the fascinating narrative very well, making this a wonderful nonfiction resource to have on the bookshelf.

What's Your Favorite Color? by Eric Carle  
Fifteen children's picture book artists share their favorite colors with drawings and words explaining their choices. It's really cool to see the artwork of some of our favorite authors together in this way. I also really like that the proceeds from the sales of this book will go to The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art. This would make a terrific mentor text for young artists and writers to explore their own favorite colors. I would definitely like to get my own copy of this book for inspiration! 

Balderdash!: John Newbery and the Boisterous Birth of Children's Books by Michelle Markel 
This picture book biography tells the story of the man who's responsible for children's literature as we know it. John Newbery grew up at a time when there wasn't anything pleasant for children to read, just strict religious rules and lessons. He became a printer dedicated to publishing great things for young people to read. The text in this book is down-to-earth and kid-friendly and the illustrations are colorful and fun. This would be a great nonfiction resource to have on any bookshelf! 

Town Is by the Sea by Joanne Schwartz, Sydney Smith (Illustrator)  
This is a beautiful portrait of life for a family in a seaside mining town in the early part of the twentieth century. With breathtaking paintings to illustrate the contrast between the beautiful views of the ocean and the darkness of the underground coal mines, young readers get to experience a day in the life of a boy whose father works all day in that mine.

A River by Marc Martin  
This beautifully illustrated picture book takes readers on a marvelous journey. The book opens with a young girl looking out her window at a river that winds through the city. As she thinks about this, she finds herself in a small boat, floating along past busy freeways, through hills, past factories, and through wild jungles on her way to the ocean. The lyrical text along with the gorgeous illustrations, rendered in watercolor, gouache, pencil, and digital collage, make me want to read this book over and over. Each time I read it, I discover something new and special that I didn't see before. This is an awesome picture book for any bookshelf! 

If It Rains Pancakes: Haiku and Lantern Poems by Brian P. Cleary, Andy Rowland (Illustrations)  
With fun, kid-friendly topics like bubblegum, pizza, burps, and snow days from school, this book of poetry introduces young readers and writers to two forms of poetry: haiku and lantern poems. With simple text and humorous illustrations, this would be a terrific mentor text to help guide budding poets. The book includes a page of print and web resources for further guidance. 
Middle Grade Fiction

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead  

When You Reach Me was published in 2009 and was awarded a Newbery Award. And now I have finally gotten around to reading it! Wow! This book was just terrific, and my main regret is that I didn't read it sooner. I was hooked right away when I realized the story was set in 1978/1979. As a child of this same time period, my nostalgia compelled me to keep reading. Miranda’s mother was preparing to be a contestant on The $20,000 Pyramid, which was one of my favorite game shows back then.

Even though the story is set nearly forty years ago, the characters and the plot are relatable to young people today. I know this because this book has been very popular with fourth and fifth graders in my classroom library. Miranda and her mother live in the middle of New York City in an apartment building that also is home to one of her best friends, Sal. While dealing with the stress of school, her mother’s unhappiness at her job, and friendship drama, she also starts receiving mysterious notes from a stranger.

These notes tell of things that are happening in Miranda’s life, before they even occur. The writer of the note also says that he's going to try to save her friend’s life. As the plot develops, the story is just impossible to set aside. I understand why folks are able to devour this book in just a day or two!

Book nerds will love that Miranda's favorite book is A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle . She has some terrific conversations about the possibilities of time travel with another character in the book, Marcus. These conversations made me haul out my copy of that famous novel to reread those passages. I love it when books do that.

I don't want to spoil anything for those who haven't had the pleasure of reading this book yet, but, if you love this book as much as I do, you really should read Once Was a Time by Leila Sales. That book also explores some of the same concepts with adolescent characters that are so authentic and understandable.