Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Extraordinary Jane by Hannah E. Harrison

Jane is an ordinary dog that lives among extraordinary animals at the circus. Try as she might, she can't seem to find what her talent is. But for the people in her life, being Jane is just enough for them.

As I turned each page, the knowledge crept up on me that I was reading something really special. The illustrations are some of the most endearing I have ever laid eyes on and they tell more of the story than the words do. By the time I got to the last page I was weeping. I have such a soft spot for dogs, what can I say, and Hannah Harrison just knows how to illustrate love into her paintings. I wish she were on Twitter so I could tell her how much this book touched me. Up until this point, the only other picture book illustrator whose art has made me cry is Kadir Nelson. This might very well be my favorite picture book of 2014. I'm putting this one on my "Caldecott contender" shelf on Goodreads. It is also going on my "heartprint books" shelf as it has found a permanent place in my heart for sure. 

When I first saw the cover of this book, I thought Extraordinary Jane was going to be the elephant since she's such an imposing figure in the illustration. But now that I've read the book, you can clearly see that the animals on the cover are pointing their attention toward the diminutive white dog on the right -- all except for the chimp. It's details like that, among many others, that make me think this is a book that might get some love when the Caldecott is announced in January. 

Extraordinary Jane by Hannah E. Harrison
Published: February 6, 2014
Publisher: Dial
Pages: 40
Genre: Picture Book
Audience: Primary (and dog lovers like me!)
Disclosure: Library Copy

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Happy book birthday to The Battle of Darcy Lane by Tara Altebrando

Last week I posted my glowing review of Tara Altebrando's middle grade debut novel, The Battle of Darcy Lane. Today is the book's official publication date and since I loved the book so much, I wanted to share the book trailer with you and hope that it convinces you to read it.

The Battle of Darcy Lane from Teeny Tiny Filmworks on Vimeo.

Order The Battle of Darcy Lane today:

Monday, April 21, 2014

It's Monday! What are you reading? 4-21-14

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?

Last week was yet another great week of reading.

I reviewed:

The Battle of Darcy Lane by Tara Altebrando
Zen Ties by Jon J. Muth

On my teaching blog I reviewed:
Show Your Work! by Austin Kleon
Thrive: 5 Ways to (Re)Invigorate Your Teaching by Meenoo Rami
I also interviewed Meenoo as well.

Current giveaway:

Cosmic by Frank Cottrell Boyce

Last week I finished reading with my ears:

Enders by Lissa Price 
This felt like a perfect continuation of the first book. Really enjoyed it. I hope there will be more than just two books!

Some picture books I read that are worth talking about:

President Taft is Stuck in the Bath by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Chris Van Dusen
For kids who love bathroom humor, this will certainly be entertaining. I guess I'm too much of a grown up to find it funny. I like the mythology behind this book (did he or didn't he ever get stuck in the bath?) but it just wasn't my brand of humor. Normally I love Mac Barnett, but this one just didn't do it for me.

John Coltrane's Giant Steps by Chris Raschka 
This book is just weird. But it would be weird in a good way if it could be read to students by an enthusiastic music teacher who loves jazz and could convey the message of the book. While I consider myself rather musically adept, I'm not very knowledgeable about jazz and so the abstractness of this book left me scratching my head a bit. I think it has a cool concept, my brain just hasn't figured out what it all means yet.

Barbed Wire Baseball by Marissa Moss, illustrated by Yuko Shimizu
A perfect example of engaging nonfiction for young people.

The Short Giraffe by Neil Flory, illustrated by Mark Cleary
 Love the fun, bright artwork and I especially love that this story began as a request from Neil's son to tell him a bedtime story. And thus The Short Giraffe was born. 

Wolves by Emily Gravett 
A rabbit goes to the library and checks out a picture book about wolves only to discover something very unpleasant at the end. A good book to pair with Jon Klassen's I Want My Hat Back

Not a Box by Antoinette Portis 
A wonderful celebration of imagination 

Currently Reading:

The Doodle Revolution by Sunni Brown
The Sea of Tranquility by Katja Millay

Currently reading with my ears:

The Things a Brother Knows by Dana Reinhardt 

Friday, April 18, 2014

Zen Ties by Jon J. Muth

Have there been times in your life when you read a book and it begins rather benignly, but as you slowly turn each page, you progressively begin to realize just how very special the book is that you're reading? It's a very meta experience. That's the feeling I had as I read Zen Ties

Delightfully quirky and beautifully wise, Zen Ties by Jon J. Muth is a book that's both easy and hard to describe. Just like the old saying "Still waters run deep," on the surface this is a story about a group of kids coming to appreciate their grouchy, elderly neighbor by begrudgingly visiting her everyday thanks to the encouragement of Stillwater the panda. But this is a book that requires more than one reading because of all the beautiful word play (Stillwater's nephew Koo only speaks in haiku so when we first meet him, Stillwater greets him by saying "Hi, Koo!) and the depth of symbolism throughout. I guarantee you will learn something new each time you open it up. It is a book that defies age groups because you can learn something new from it depending on what stage you are at in your life.

Like the story itself, the watercolor artwork is both gentle and wise. This is a must-have title for any classroom library, no matter what age you teach. 

And if you want to see more of Stillwater's nephew, Koo, check out Muth's newest book, Hi, Koo! which is told in, you guessed it, haiku.

Zen Ties by Jon J. Muth
Published: February 1, 2008
Publisher: Scholastic
Pages: 40
Genre: Picture Book
Audience: Everybody!
Disclosure: Library Copy

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Hoppy Easter Eggstravaganza Giveaway Hop: Cosmic by Frank Cottrell Boyce

For my portion of the blog hop, I am giving away a copy of:

Cosmic by Frank Cottrell Boyce
Format: Paperback
Published: July 30, 2008
Publisher: Scholastic
Pages: 314
Genre: Science Fiction
Audience: Middle Grade

Goodreads summary:
Liam is too big for his boots. And his football strip. And his school blazer. But being super-sized height-wise has its advantages: he's the only eleven-year-old to ever ride the G-force defying Cosmic rollercoaster - or be offered the chance to drive a Porsche. Long-legged Liam makes a giant leap for boy-kind by competing with a group of adults for the chance to go into space. Is Liam the best boy for the job? Sometimes being big isn't all about being a grown-up.

Terms and conditions:
Must be 13 or older to enter and have a U.S. mailing address
One winner will be selected
Use the Rafflecopter widget to enter

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

A special delivery

This past weekend some friends of ours were returning home from a trip to Chicago and since we live on their way home, they were nice enough to special deliver dinner for us (keep in mind that we live in Southeastern Michigan, about 4 hours from Chicago):

Xoco and Sprinkles Cupcakes
Xoco and Sprinkles
The sandwich drowning in a spicy tomato broth is called "Torta Ahogada" but I prefer to call it "Torta Oh-My-God-A." It has pork carnitas, pickled onions, and black beans, but the magic of the sandwich is dunking it that spicy tomato broth.

Now those are great friends -- not only ones who are willing to deliver you dinner and dessert from four hours away, but who understand the mantra "Will travel for food."They didn't think it was the least bit crazy to deliver us dinner from four hours away. In fact, they suggested it. I guess that's why we're going to San Francisco with them in June - so we can eat our way from one end of the city to the other!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

ARC review: The Battle of Darcy Lane by Tara Altebrando

Julia and Taylor are best friends who live on the same street and do everything together. Until one summer day, a new girl their age named Alyssa moves in and everything changes. Alyssa introduces the girls to a game called Russia and suddenly a fierce rivalry and battle for loyalties ensue, and Julia's left to contemplate who her friends really are.

In Tara Altebrando's middle grade debut, she manages to nail middle school Mean Girls behavior to the point where reading The Battle of Darcy Lane made me feel like I was back in middle school again, much to my chagrin. Because despite being a lover of middle schoolers and of teaching that age group, it reminded me just how much I don't want to go back there. But it is for that reason that books like The Battle of Darcy Lane are important. They show kids and remind adults just how hard it is to survive this time in your life -- and that it does get better. Thankfully, Julia has the support and love of her wonderful parents, which to me is what makes this book stand out among others. There are so many books written for kids and teens where the parents are either absent or completely clueless. Instead, Altebrando gives our main character Julia the loving support of a fully competent mom and dad. And yet, despite that support, Julia's struggle is still difficult and painful. Altebrando shows that no matter how great your parents are, growing up is still hard. 

Readers will find the ending of The Battle of Darcy Lane both satisfying and open-ended. There are places where our young protagonist is vindicated, and there are also places where we see that things didn't change for her. Despite that, she goes on living and growing up. Just like in real life.

I started this book Saturday night and finished it Sunday morning. I rarely finish a book in less than 24 hours, but this one just completely captured me.

While this is middle grade, it is definitely older middle grade -- something I'd give to a student who is on the verge of being ready for YA since there are more mature situations than the average middle grade novel, such as first-time bra shopping, first crushes, and implied expletives (though not actually spelled out). 

I would hand sell this book to any middle schooler who is feeling down about a lost friendship or perhaps a girl or group of girls who might need to see their own Mean Girl behavior played out in novel form. I could see this being quite a strategic literature circle pick or read aloud in the classroom.

The Battle of Darcy Lane by Tara Altebrando
Expected Publication: April 22, 2014
Publisher: Running Press Kids

Pages: 208
Genre: Realistic Fiction
Audience: Middle Grade
Disclosure: Review copy provided by publisher