Monday, August 14, 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.


This year's August Picture Book 10 for 10 was a big success. So many people made lists of ten great picture books. Some centered their lists around a theme, some just picked ten great books. I picked ten picture books released in 2017 that I think should definitely be shared with kids. If you would like to see other people's lists, search the hashtag #pb10for10 on Twitter, or click on the link on my blog-post from Thursday, August 10.

Here's what I've been reading last week:

 Middle Grade/YA Fiction

In Some Other Life by Jessica Brody

I had the opportunity to read a digital ARC of this book from Net Galley in exchange for a review. I really enjoyed this book. In fact, as I was nearing the end, I found myself reading more slowly in order to make it last a little bit longer!

For anyone who ever looks back at defining moments in life and wondered what things would be like if a different choice had been made (and who hasn't?), this book is perfect. Kennedy Rhodes, a senior at Southwest High School, is a high energy, ambitious teenager with dreams of attending Columbia University to pursue a degree in Journalism. She's the editor in chief of the Southwest Star, the high school newspaper that she saved from closing, for which she has won numerous awards. But she constantly wonders how much better her life would be if she had accepted a spot at the prestigious, private school, Windsor Academy.

She declined the offer before her freshman year because she was in love with a boy. Three years later, this boy cheated on her with her best friend, and she is certain she made the wrong decision. An accidental bump on the head while visiting the campus somehow sends her into some sort of parallel universe in which she had decided to attend Windsor Academy when she received the offer. But as she settles into the life that she was sure she was really meant to live, she quickly learns that nothing is perfect in any life and that her decisions have ramifications on all of the people around her.

I loved reading how Kennedy reacts to her new circumstances and found myself frequently stopping to consider what I would do if the same thing happened to me. The plot also offers a new perspective on decision making and how the people around us are impacted by choices we make. The story reminded me a lot of the movie It’s a Wonderful Life, where the main character, George Bailey, learns what the world would be like if he had never been born.

This Is Just a Test by Madelyn Rosenberg, Wendy Wan-Long Shang 
This middle grade novel takes readers back to 1983, when the Cold War had the United States and the Soviet Union building nuclear stockpiles aimed at each other and tensions between the two countries were very high. Network television aired the movie The Day After, which showed a town in Kansas taking a direct hit from a nuclear missile. The movie showed in blunt terms what would happen to us and our lives if such a terrible thing ever happened.

This is the backdrop for the main character, David Da-Wei Horowitz, a seventh grader who is Chinese and Jewish, who is trying to prepare for his upcoming bar mitzvah and also dealing with the stress of his feuding grandmothers, the stress of trying to win the school trivia contest, and the stress of building a fallout shelter with one friend, while leaving his best friend out.

I must confess, that I was drawn in quickly because I was also in junior high school in 1983. I remember everyone watching The Day After on TV on a Sunday night and discussing it in class the next day. I also became very nostalgic with references to Atari games, pudding pops, and Trapper Keepers.

But I also liked how the author developed the characters in a way that makes them seem like kids of today. Many of the problems of middle grade kids are the same as they were 34 years ago! I also liked that we get a glimpse into David’s religious life as he discusses some of his worries with Rabbi Doug and as David and his family plan for his bar mitzvah.

There is humor in the story. One of my favorite parts was when he was at the shopping mall with his grandmother to buy a new suit and he was trying to avoid running into other kids from his school. But there is also some really great messages for kids - especially in his bar mitzvah speech:

“Listen to what others are telling you and what they're not telling you.
Speak up. Especially for those who can't speak for themselves. Or when poison ivy is involved.
Respect your family - they got you to where you are, and you're not going anywhere without them.
Don't leave anyone out.
Support your friends and construction projects.
Be brave, especially when it's hard, because that's when it's the most important.
Thing big, whether it's a fallout shelter or science fair project.
Apologize when you're wrong.
Work for world peace by making peace where you are.
No matter how bad it gets, never push the button.”
Picture Books

Princess Truly in I Am Truly by Kelly Greenawalt, Amariah Rauscher (Illustrator)  
With rollicking, rhyming text and friendly, warm illustrations, this fun picture book celebrates all of the wonderful qualities that make the young girl in the book special. This would be a great read aloud to share with young children to inspire a growth mindset and self confidence.  

Wordplay by Adam Lehrhaupt, Jared Chapman (Contributor)  
This is a very clever picture book that will be so much fun to share with young readers. Using humorous narrative text and playful illustrations, this book introduces kids to the parts of speech. Verb does things and loves to be the center of attention. But noun can be all sorts of awesome people, places, and things. The rivalry is interrupted by some interjection trouble and readers will have a great time finding out all the parts of speech work things out. This would be great to have in elementary classroom libraries! 

Whobert Whover, Owl Detective by Jason Gallaher, Jess Pauwels (Illustrations)  
This is a cute picture book that tells the story of an enthusiastic owl detective who wants to get to the bottom of a mystery. While patrolling the skies over the woods, he spots a possum lying very still. Certain of foul play, the owl starts looking for clues and eyewitnesses. Whimsical, colorful illustrations make this a fun story to share with young readers. 

The Scariest Book Ever by Bob Shea  
For those who like scary stories, but don't REALLY like to be scared, this book is perfect. I hate scary stories, and during scary movies, I always cover my eyes (much to the frustration of my husband)! The little ghost in this story is scared to go any further into the book. So, he accidentally on purpose ruins his ghost outfit and has nothing to wear. As he learns of what really is going on in the story, he is coaxed into the next pages to realize it's not as scary as he thought it was going to be. This book has a great message about trusting your friends and facing your fears. This would be fun to share with kids around Halloween time. It also might inspire great writing about scary things that maybe aren't so scary. 

Second Grade Holdout by Audrey Vernick, Matthew Cordell (Contributor)  
This is a terrific follow up to First Grade Dropout and a great picture book to share with young readers (especially second graders) during the first few days of school. The little boy in the story is dreading the start of second grade. Things were just fine in first grade and he's not ready for the big changes that he's certain will come with the next grade level. This could be a great conversation starter about goals and expectations for the new school year. It could also be a great springboard for writing!  

  Splat! by Jon Burgerman 
With simple, repetitive text and bright, vibrant illustrations, this silly book will get lots of giggles from very young readers. As one splat lands on top of another, making more and more of a mess, this might be a fun way to introduce the concept of repetition, accumulation, and making predictions. Young readers will appreciate that this book doesn't take itself too seriously and will come to it just for the fun of saying, "Splat!"

Everywhere, Wonder by Matthew Swanson, Robbi Behr  
This is a sweet picture book that celebrates the joy and wonder of the world around us, whether this world comes to us from the pages of a book or a walk through our neighborhood. With lyrical text, and colorful illustrations that are digital collages of sampled watercolor washes, this would be a lovely addition to a classroom library. It might even make a good mentor text to inspire writers to look at the world around them with a fresh perspective and share their stories.

Tiny Stitches: The Life of Medical Pioneer Vivien Thomas by Gwendolyn Hooks, Colin Bootman (Illustrator)  
With easy-to-understand narrative text and beautiful watercolor illustrations, this picture book biography tells the story of Vivien Thomas, a surgical research technician who helped develop techniques and equipment to perform open-heart surgeries on babies. Thomas was unable to attend medical school because the Great Depression put it out of reach financially. As a laboratory technician to a prominent surgeon, Thomas overcame racism and resentment from colleagues to become one of the pioneers of groundbreaking medical treatments for young children suffering from heart defects. The book is very inspirational and with additional notes and resources listed at the end, a wonderful nonfiction resource for the classroom library.  

I Had a Favorite Hat by Boni Ashburn, Robyn Ng  
This fun picture book is perfect for young readers who want to hang on to the things that make them happy and can always imagine what can be with "a little bit of this and a little bit of that"! The little girl in this story is reluctant to put away her favorite beach hat at the end of summer. Instead, she hangs it on the back of her door. Through the course of the year, she takes "a little bit of this and a little bit of that" to make the perfect accessory for a Halloween costume, a holiday outfit, a birthday hat, etc. This book would certainly help to develop a growth mindset in kids, as it has the main character always thinking of how to make this hat fit any occasion. The illustrations were created "with graphite, watercolor, pencil crayon, ink, needle and thread, cut paper, Photoshop, and the love of friends and family." The result is a warm, uplifting book that belongs on all elementary bookshelves. 

The Colors of Us by Karen Katz 
This would be a great book to share with young readers at the start of the school year as classroom communities are being built. This book celebrates diversity by looking at subtle differences in the context of the similarities that people share, specifically - skin color. Lena's mom is an artist and as she begins to explain how to mix paint colors to come up with the perfect shade of brown for her skin, Lena is confused because, "Brown is brown." But a stroll through the neighborhood and visits with many different friends shows Lena that there are lots of different shades of brown. With simple, engaging text and wonderful illustrations rendered in collage, gouache, and colored pencil, this book would be a great addition to the classroom library, and maybe even the art room. 

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Picture Book 10 for 10

For those that are truly dedicated to sharing the best picture books, the August Picture Book 10 for 10 was established in 2010. There's also a nonfiction picture book version in February. Picture Book 10 for 10 was the brainchild of Cathy Mere and Mandy Robek, teachers that love to talk about the best books for their classroom libraries. Through the years, the group has grown larger and larger and now includes over 300 teachers, librarians, parents and picture book lovers from around the world. To participate and view everyone's lists, please visit the Picture Book 10 for 10 Community.

For me, this is my third year participating in the August Picture Book 10 for 10. It's especially meaningful for me, because this is what motivated me to start the Jana The Teacher blog 2 years ago. This year, I decided to list ten picture books published this year that I believe would be awesome to share with young readers.

Wow! This book is absolutely beautiful! The simple, poetic text combines with the stunning artwork to create an experience. I was brought to tears because of the wonderful message that this book shares with ALL readers who come to it. In a world that seems to have gone crazy with anger, sadness, and despair, we need more of these types of reminders of how wonderful life is. I borrowed this copy from the library, but I'm definitely getting my own copy so I can enjoy it and share it with others!

Playing with clay has never looked more fun and inviting than it does in this awesome picture book! There are two new lumps of clay in the art studio, and they're not quite sure what's going to happen. When the artist is finished, the new figures are glad for the break. Young readers will have fun watching the two friends start playing around with their shapes and features. With all of the new fun shapes the friends become, how will they fix when they hear the artist returning? This would be a fun mentor text to use to help kids create their own clay art and stories!  

I know that kids will love this awesome picture book that tells the origins of "Rock, Paper, Scissors." "Rock, Paper, Scissors" is used to decide so many important issues for them. Drew Daywalt does a terrific job creating the characters' back stories and personalities. The illustrations are hilarious, with nearly every object shown as a living being with eyes (i.e. gum under Mom's home office desk). This would be fun to use as a mentor text to help students create their own legends and origin stories. 

Anyone that's ever faced the high dive (or similar fears) will certainly be able to relate to this awesome picture book. For me there was the high diving board on top of a raft in the middle of the lake at Springbrook Campground. But they had a rule, that if you climbed up the ladder, you had to jump off the diving board. Apparently they were more worried about folks slipping on the ladder trying to come down. I climbed up, lost my nerve, and then spent the entire afternoon up there. Finally I had to jump because my family was ready to leave. At any rate, I loved this book because we can all root for this young man that is trying to muster courage to take the leap. This would be a terrific mentor text for writing personal narratives about facing fears. 

This is such a fun picture book, and would be so much fun to read aloud. It would definitely be appreciated by anyone with a horrible, snotty cold! Poor Little Louie comes down with a terrible cold. All he wants is for his mom to take care of him. But every time he calls for her with his stuffy nose, Bob (the family dog) comes running. This book is one that all readers will be able to recognize themselves in, as we can all relate to those nasty colds that turn one into a mouth-breather and make it impossible to enunciate certain words. The illustrations are great, too! 

This fun, rhyming picture book is a terrific follow up to Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast. Everyone's favorite breakfast duo are trying to relax on a much needed vacation, when Inspector Croissant summons them to help him figure out the source of a nasty smell in the fridge. With rollicking, rhyming text and hilarious artwork, readers are taken on another crazy odyssey through the refrigerator and run into some old and new friends in the process. Young readers will definitely enjoy hearing this again and again at story time. 

This is a terrific follow up to First Grade Dropout and a great picture book to share with young readers (especially second graders) during the first few days of school. The little boy in the story is dreading the start of second grade. Things were just fine in first grade and he's not ready for the big changes that he's certain will come with the next grade level. This could be a great conversation starter about goals and expectations for the new school year. It could also be a great springboard for writing!  

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. 

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!  

In this nearly wordless picture book, the reader sees a lovely friendship develop through the construction of a treehouse. 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 treehouse 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).