Monday, April 27, 2015

It's Monday! What are you reading? 4-27-15

Originally hosted by Sheila at Book Journey, Jen over at Teach Mentor Texts along with Kellee and Ricki at Unleashing Readers also host a kidlit version of It's Monday! What are You Reading?

My Monday posts are generally just a highlight of what I've been reading during the week so if you'd like to see all that I've been reading, follow my Goodreads page.

Last week I finished reading:

The Boy in the Black Suit by Jason Reynolds
I will be reviewing this one soon, but in a nutshell, Jason Reynolds is a must-read, no-questions-asked author for me now. 


I also read:

Babymouse: Bad Babysitter by Jennifer L Holm and Matthew Holm
One of my new favorites in the Babymouse series.  


Favorite picture books from last week:

If You Plant a Seed by Kadir Nelson  
Minimal text paired with Kadir Nelson's always stunning artwork makes this proverbial story of sharing a can't-miss. 

 
Fred by Kaila Eunhye Seo 
A lovely book about the power of childhood imagination and how that diminishes as an adult. Would be a great book to pair with The Adventures of Beekle

 
What Does It Mean to be Present? by Rana DiOrio, illustrated by Eliza Wheeler
 I love the message of mindfulness in this simple little picture book. It's a nice lesson for children and an even nicer reminder for adults.  


Currently reading:

No Matter the Wreckage by Sarah Kay 
I'm only a few pages in, but wow are these poems stunning. This is one of those books I will read slowly in order to soak in Kay's gorgeous writing.


Currently (still) reading with my ears:

Skink -- No Surrender by Carl Hiaasen
Bone Gap by Laura Ruby


 On my teaching blog last week:
Celebrating new friends and new books

Monday, April 20, 2015

It's Monday! What are you reading? 4-20-15

Originally hosted by Sheila at Book Journey, Jen over at Teach Mentor Texts along with Kellee and Ricki at Unleashing Readers also host a kidlit version of It's Monday! What are You Reading?

My Monday posts are generally just a highlight of what I've been reading during the week so if you'd like to see all that I've been reading, follow my Goodreads page.


Last week I reviewed:

The Schwa Was Here by Neal Shusterman
A Fine Dessert: Four Centuries, Four Families, One Delicious Treat by Emily Jenkins, illustrated by Sophie Blackall

Last week I finished reading:

Enchanted Air by Margarita Engle
I don't think my mind can fully process yet how much I loved Margarita Engle's beautiful memoir in verse. I need to come back and write a longer review when I'm not feeling ALL THE THINGS all at once.

Lovers of Jacqueline Woodson's Brown Girl Dreaming will love Margarita Engle's story of being caught between two countries and two loyalties during the height of the Cold War and Cuban Missile Crisis. Put this book on your TBR list and look for it to hit bookstores in August.



 Favorite picture books from last week:

Orion and the Dark by Emma Yarlett
Winne: The True Story of the Bear Who Inspired Winnie-the-Pooh by Sally M. Walker, illustrated by Jonathan D. Voss


Currently reading:

The Boy in the Black Suit by Jason Reynolds
I haven't technically started this yet, but I will as soon as I finish this blog post. :)


Currently reading with my ears:

Skink -- No Surrender by Carl Hiaasen
Bone Gap by Laura Ruby


Last week on my teaching blog:
Celebrating a Beautiful Mess
Always seeking ways to spread Book Love

Saturday, April 18, 2015

A Fine Dessert: Four Centuries, Four Families, One Delicious Treat by Emily Jenkins, illustrated by Sophie Blackall

From Goodreads:
In 1710, a girl and her mother in Lyme, England, prepare a blackberry fool, picking wild blackberries and beating cream from their cow with a bundle of twigs. The same dessert is prepared by a slave girl and her mother in 1810 in Charleston, South Carolina; by a mother and daughter in 1910 in Boston; and finally by a boy and his father in present-day San Diego. 

A Fine Dessert, written by prolific children's book author Emily Jenkins, is told from an interesting perspective. Instead of a character, it is told from the perspective of an age-old dessert: blackberry fool. And what the reader is likely to notice as they progress through the story is that as life changes and society changes, the dessert stays the same.

Kids will notice obvious societal changes throughout the story such as the evolution of kitchen utensils, going from a wooden whisk, metal rotary beaters, and finally an electric mixer. But there are also subtle changes in the narrative that might be less obvious to kids, such as how the roles of women and men in the home have changed. There is also a greater emphasis on equality and diversity by the end of the story as one notices that the interaction between people of different backgrounds and races is vastly different. This type of progress might be obvious to adults, but to kids it is likely less so, which would make it a great book for discussion in an intermediate classroom. But what I most love about A Fine Dessert is that it is another reminder to us all that food, like family, is steeped in story.

Sophie Blackall's illustrations are soothing and pleasing to the eye and while visually the emphasis is not on the dessert per se, but more on the people, the book is still likely to make you want to run to the store to gather ingredients for blackberry fool. Luckily, the book includes the recipe at the end, and it is simple enough that it would be perfect to make with your kids.

A Fine Dessert:  Four Centuries, Four Families, One Delicious Treat by Emily Jenkins, illustrated by Sophie Blackall
Published: January 27, 2015
Publisher: Schwartz and Wade
Pages: 44
Genre/Format: Picture Book/Historical Fiction
Disclosure: Library Copy

If you buy this book or any book through Amazon, it is my hope that you also regularly patronize independent bookstores, which are important centerpieces of thriving communities. While I am an Amazon Affiliate, that by no means implies that I only buy my books through their website. Please make sure you are still helping small, independent bookstores thrive in your community. To locate an independent bookstore near you, visit IndieBound.   

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Audiobook Review: The Schwa was Here by Neal Shusterman

Antsy (short for Anthony) Bonano meets a kid at school named Calvin Schwa who has powers of invisibility. But it's not quite the magical invisibility reserved for Harry Potter novels you're likely thinking of. The Schwa's invisibility for him means that people don't notice him even when he's sitting smack dab in the center of an empty room. In some ways the Schwa is a tragic figure even though he doesn't die in the story. Much of that air of tragedy that surrounds the Schwa has to do with his surrendering to his fate of being invisible (the Schwa Effect as Antsy and his friends call it), but as the story progresses, the reader begins to realize that a moment in the Schwa's own family history is what set his invisibility fate in motion. 

This is one of those special books that hovers between middle grade and young adult. In some ways it's too old for middle grade and too young for YA so it's perfect for 7th and 8th graders.

Neal Shusterman not only wrote The Schwa was Here but also narrates the audiobook and he does an amazing job. Given that the story takes place in Brooklyn, I adore his perfectly on-point New York accent. I know Shusterman grew up in Brooklyn so it's not much of a stretch for him to do an on-point New York accent, but he still manages to rock it.  


The Schwa was Here by Neal Shusterman
Audiobook narrator: Neal Shusterman
Original hardcover publication date: March 2, 2006
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group/Listening Library
Pages: 240
Audiobook length: 6 hours 3 minutes
Genre: Realistic Fiction
Audience: Middle Grade/Young Adult
Disclosure: Library download

If you buy this book or any book through Amazon, it is my hope that you also regularly patronize independent bookstores, which are important centerpieces of thriving communities. While I am an Amazon Affiliate, that by no means implies that I only buy my books through their website. Please make sure you are still helping small, independent bookstores thrive in your community. To locate an independent bookstore near you, visit IndieBound.   

Monday, April 13, 2015

It's Monday! What are you reading? 4-13-15

Originally hosted by Sheila at Book Journey, Jen over at Teach Mentor Texts along with Kellee and Ricki at Unleashing Readers also host a kidlit version of It's Monday! What are You Reading?

My Monday posts are generally just a highlight of what I've been reading during the week so if you'd like to see all that I've been reading, follow my Goodreads page.

Last week I reviewed:

The Honest Truth by Dan Gemeinhart
Tricky Vic: The Impossibly True Story of the Man Who Sold The Eiffel Tower by Greg Pizzoli


I finished reading:

Wild Things! Acts of Mischief in Children's Literature by Betsy Bird, Julie Danielson, and Peter Sieruta
This had just the right amount of history, academia, and snark. I loved this so much that I'm pulling for an eventual Volume 2 of Wild Things


Favorite picture books from last week:

The Bus Ride by Marianne Dubuc 
Pay attention to all the little details in the illustrations, which tell significantly more of the story than the text. The last page you will come to an epiphany about the story and immediately go back and read it again to pick up on all the details you missed the first time around.


Peace is an Offering by  Annette LeBox, illustrated by Stephanie Graegin
A beautiful poem that truly evokes feelings of peace and serenity. It's s book that just makes you feel good about the world.

 
The Sky Painter by Margarita Engle, illustrated by Aliona Bereghici  
A gorgeous story told in verse about Louis Fuertes, considered the greatest bird artist who ever lived. I'm not usually a fan of ornithology or bird watching, but Engle and Bereghici have created a melding of words and images to make readers like me sit up and take notice. Fuertes seemed like a kind, gentle soul who cared deeply about, not just birds, but conservation in general. I'm looking forward to being part of the blog tour for this book in a few weeks.

Currently reading:

Enchanted Air by Margarita Engle
I am not very far into this but oh my goodness is this a beautiful memoir in verse, one that would pair beautifully with Brown Girl Dreaming. Look for Enchanted Air on bookshelves in August from Atheneum. 


Still reading with my ears:

The Schwa was Here by Neal Shusterman  

Neal Shusterman didn't just write The Schwa was Here, he also narrates the audiobook, and he does an amazing job. I adore his perfectly on-point New York accent, which I know he grew up in Brooklyn so it's not much of a stretch for him, but still. It's pretty awesome. 

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Tricky Vic: The Impossibly True Story of the Man Who Sold the Eiffel Tower by Greg Pizzoli

(Imagine this first part being sung to the tune of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air theme song)

Now this is the story all about how
this dude named Vic
was a con man renowned
and I'd like to take a minute
just sit right there
to tell you how this guy named Vic
sold the Eiffel Tower



Okay, so my little intro wasn't very well-written, and essentially says the exact same thing that the subtitle of the book does, but the point of the matter is that Tricky Vic is one of those books where truth seems stranger than fiction. It's a Big Fish Story in some regards. It's a "let me tell you a story" story. It's a "you're never gonna believe this" kind of a story. And it is SO GOOD. One of the best nonfiction texts I've ever read, in fact. Greg Pizzoli has written and illustrated the kind of nonfiction that kids are clamoring for. It is the antithesis of the kind of nonfiction you find in textbooks: it's quirky, page-turning, and full of voice. And may I be so bold as to use another anti word in describing this book: it is the antidote to voiceless, soulless nonfiction that students so often get in the form of school textbooks. It is also another book to add to my growing pile of titles to convince teachers that picture books aren't just for little kids.

All this talk about Pizzoli's stellar text, I would be remiss if I didn't also discuss the fascinating illustrations. Ask young readers why Vic doesn't have a face throughout the entire story -- only a fingerprint -- and an insightful discussion is sure to ensue. I am particularly smitten with this illustration midway through the story:
Tricky Vic illustration
Because kids are sure to ask: why does that guy have the head of a fish? And if they don't ask that question, I will because I'm dying to hear their answers. (Ever heard of a Big Fish story, kids? Or the saying, "I reeled him in hook, line, and sinker"?)

But if none of that convinces you to read Tricky Vic, maybe this will: a guy who conned even Al Capone -- one of the most notorious criminals in American history -- and lived to tell the tale, is a guy worth reading about. That's your booktalk right there. Mark my words, Tricky Vic is a 2015 title that will be winning lots of awards. But possibly even better than awards, when talked up by teachers and librarians, it is certain to never live a minute on the bookshelf; it will be passed around from hand to hand, reader to reader. And that is the best award of all.


Tricky Vic: The Impossibly True Story of the Man Who Sold the Eiffel Tower by Greg Pizzoli
Published: March 10, 2015
Publisher: Viking Books for Young Readers
Pages: 40
Genre/Format: Nonfiction Picture Book
Audience: Middle Grade/Young Adult
Disclosure: Finished copy provided by publisher 

If you buy this book or any book through Amazon, it is my hope that you also regularly patronize independent bookstores, which are important centerpieces of thriving communities. While I am an Amazon Affiliate, that by no means implies that I only buy my books through their website. Please make sure you are still helping small, independent bookstores thrive in your community. To locate an independent bookstore near you, visit IndieBound.   

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

The Honest Truth by Dan Gemeinhart

Mark is just a regular kid. A regular kid who has lived most of his life battling cancer. Recently, he was told the cancer he thought was in remission has come back with a vengeance. So in a startling move of foolishness and bravery, Mark runs away from home with the money he's saved, a camera, a notebook, and his dog. His plan is to climb Mount Rainier to honor his grandfather who never had the chance to climb it with him. Along the way Mark meets many physical and emotional obstacles, relies on the kindness of strangers, and hopes that his best friend back home doesn't reveal his secret to the adults who are searching desperately for him.

Dan Gemeinhart's debut novel is a spare, allegorical quest -- a contemporary yet timeless middle-grade hero's journey. It is emotional, universal, and heart-wrenching. Despite the primary audience of this novel being for upper-elementary and middle school students, it also reads much older than that. I would not hesitate to put this in the hands of high school students as well.

I really enjoyed every aspect of this novel: from the loyal dog companion to the first person/third person narration swap between chapters to show how the story unfolds back home while Mark seeks enlightenment on his odyssey. The Honest Truth will undoubtedly be put in the pantheon of other great children's literature hero and survival stories such as Hatchet, A Wrinkle in Time, heck, even From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. Essentially what I'm saying is that even though this novel is only a few months old, we already have a children's classic on our hands.


The Honest Truth by Dan Gemeinhart
Published: January 27, 2015
Publisher: Scholastic
Pages: 229
Genre: Realistic Fiction
Audience: Middle Grade
Disclosure: Finished copy acquired at ALA Midwinter, provided by Scholastic 

If you buy this book or any book through Amazon, it is my hope that you also regularly patronize independent bookstores, which are important centerpieces of thriving communities. While I am an Amazon Affiliate, that by no means implies that I only buy my books through their website. Please make sure you are still helping small, independent bookstores thrive in your community. To locate an independent bookstore near you, visit IndieBound.