Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Whaley, Reynolds, & Kiely event recap + a giveaway for teachers and librarians

Last night I attended an event at Literati Bookstore in Ann Arbor that included authors John Corey Whaley, Jason Reynolds, and Brendan Kiely. All three of them talked about their current books, read for a bit, and then answered questions.They were very conversational with the crowd and so it felt like we were just sitting around talking in a living room together rather than attending a reading at a bookstore. More importantly, each author made me want to immediately read their books as I listened to them give background about the story and characters, and then read a snippet from the book.
Literati event
John Corey Whaley, Jason Reynolds, and Brendan Kiely + their books

After their talk, I went up to get books signed from all three authors, and as I was talking to Jason about the intriguing cover of When I Was the Greatest (which I happen to love), he mentioned that the cover is actually preventing his book from getting into schools due to zero tolerance policies (you know the ones -- where kindergartners who point their finger to mimic a gun get suspended). Nevermind that these people doing the censoring haven't even read the book. The fact that there's a gun on the cover makes it nonnegotiable.

So I decided, in some small way, I want to do something to help get this book into schools.

This is what I propose: I am going to give away a signed copy of Jason Reynolds's book When I was the Greatest here on my blog. But I'm only going to offer the giveaway to teachers and librarians with the hope that I can help get this book on a classroom or school library shelf. In order to enter the giveaway, you will need to provide a work email address that proves you work for a school, which is the email address I will use to notify you if you win.

Monday, April 28, 2014

It's Monday! What are you reading? 4-28-14

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 I reviewed:
Freakin' Fabulous on a Budget by Clinton Kelly
Extraordinary Jane by Hannah E. Harrison
These two books are quite disparate, but that's the fun of this blog -- I review an eclectic assortment of books, what can I say? :)  Extraordinary Jane is probably the picture book equivalent of A Snicker of Magic for me this year. It is something truly special and I hope it gets some love at the ALA Youth Media Awards in January. 

On my teaching blog last week, I visited my friend Sarah Andersen's classroom and wrote about the experience. I found a lot to be inspired by in her teaching, her classroom, and her students.

Last week I finished reading with my ears:

The Things a Brother Knows by Dana Reinhardt 
Levi's brother Boaz returns from Iraq with no physical scars but is looking to escape his mental anguish. A sensitive, realistic look at how families deal with PTSD with a little hero's journey thrown in for good measure as Levi follows Boaz as he walks to Washington, D.C. from Boston because he's afraid to get in a car due to the trauma he endured in war. Reinhardt created some memorable characters in this beautiful, heartfelt novel. 

Currently reading:
The Sea of Tranquility by Katja Millay   
The Trouble Begins at 8: A Life of Mark Twain in the Wild, Wild West by Sid Fleischman 

Currently reading with my ears: 

Blubber by Judy Blume 
This book is much more intense than I was expecting it to be. I knew it dealt with bullying but I had no idea that it was told from the point of view of one of the bullies. It's definitely a difficult but important read that is as relevant today as it was the day it was published. 

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Freakin' Fabulous on a Budget by Clinton Kelly

Clinton Kelly is best known for being a fashion guru on the TLC show What Not to Wear, but in the past couple of years, he has also proven to be quite the entertainer and crafter on the ABC daytime show The Chew. Combining his talents for fashion, food, and decorating, Kelly has published Freakin' Fabulous on a Budget to help show readers that you can have a fabulous life for not a lot of money.

Many people might ask what Kelly knows about living on a budget given that he's a television celebrity, but he addresses this criticism head on, stating:

"You don't know my life!" Sure, I've got some money now -- not as much as Honey Boo Boo -- but for years I was broker than broke, to the tune of $87,000 in debt and making $24,000 a year. Good times. But I didn't want to be reminded every day that I was living hand-to-mouth, so I always kept my apartment looking somewhat upscale. And I did that by being clean, shopping wisely, and getting crafty.

This passage is precisely what I loved about the book as a whole and what I love about Kelly as a TV personality: he isn't afraid to just put it all out there and be honest. Whether he wrote this book himself or had a ghost writer do it, I felt Kelly's voice and personality throughout, which is what made it such a worthwhile read. I didn't find the food section particularly inspiring because most of the recipes he includes are very classic and traditional, but they are simple and elegant enough for someone new to cooking to tackle without feeling too intimidated.

Which is why I think this would be a great book to gift to a college student or new college grad who isn't making a lot of money but likes to live a rich life. As Kelly says in the introduction:

Fabulousness has absolutely nothing to do with money. Fabulousness comes from within. It's about living your life the most conscious way possible. Are the foods you're putting in your body the highest quality you can afford? Are the clothes you're wearing telling the world you're glad you got out of bed this morning? Does your abode make you happy the second you walk in the front door?

Which is a good lesson for many of us, not just college grads to learn. You don't need a lot of money to lead a rich life, which is why I absolutely adore this book. Not to mention, Kelly's humor that is peppered throughout:
Freakin Fabulous on a Budget

Freakin' Fabulous on a Budget by Clinton Kelly
Published: October 15, 2013
Publisher: Gallery Books
Pages: 240
Genre: Nonfiction
Audience: Adults
Disclosure: Library Copy

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

*Purchasing the book from the above Bookshop affiliate link supports independent bookstores and gives me a small percentage of the sale. 

Monday, April 14, 2014

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

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?

I had another fantastic reading week last week, punctuated by a very special trip to Ohio where I met A Snicker of Magic author Natalie Lloyd and was able to give her some of my very own homemade Blackberry Sunrise ice cream.

Last week I reviewed:

Visiting Langston by Willie Perdomo, illustrated by Bryan Collier

I also finished reading:

The Awakening by Kate Chopin
The Battle of Darcy Lane by Tara Altebrando
A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd

I finished reading with my ears:

Level 2 by Lenore Appelhans
I was lucky enough to receive an ARC of the sequel, Chasing Before, so I figured now would be a good time to get back up to speed before I read book two.

Picture books I read last week that I really enjoyed:

Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey
Can you believe I've never read this book before? What's wrong with me? ;) I found a hardcover copy at my library's used bookstore and decided it was time to read it.

Matilda's Cat by Emily Gravett 
Emily Gravett is becoming one of my favorite picture book author/illustrators. Her work is so witty and fun. While I hugely favor dogs over cats, this book made me smile as Matilda's cat reminded me a great deal of my skittish pug Guenter. :)

Tap Tap Boom Boom by Elizabeth Bluemle, illustrated by G. Brian Karas
So wonderfully musical. I love the syncopated rhymes in this book. It would be a fantastic book to do a dramatic reading replete with percussion instruments. A must-share with students.

Currently Reading:

The Doodle Revolution by Sunni Brown

Currently reading with my ears:

Enders by Lissa Price 

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

A Spindiddly Blackberry Sunrise Evening

Yesterday afternoon I gassed up the Mustang and headed for Ohio to attend an event for author Natalie Lloyd at the Delaware County Library, sponsored by Fundamentals Parent-Teacher Store. But even better than meeting Natalie for the first time and hearing her speak, was unexpectedly getting a chance to attend a dinner with her and some of my Nerdy Book Club friends thanks to the wonderful owner of Fundamentals. And better still, I even got to sit next to Natalie at dinner and gush about what a beautiful book A Snicker of Magic is. So needless to say, yesterday's events will rate high on the list of Awesome Things That Happened in 2014.

Natalie and beth

Hearing Natalie talk last night made my heart happy. She was clearly meant to be an author. And when she said to the crowd, "Sometimes I have to stop myself and remember I'm in the middle of a dream come true," it just made us love her even more.


One of the best parts of finally getting the opportunity to meet Natalie yesterday was that I have been tinkering with a very special flavor of ice cream since I read the book back in January. That flavor would be Blackberry Sunrise of course. Well I couldn't meet her for the first time and NOT bring her my manifestation of the flavor she imagined. If you've read the book you know what a very special flavor Blackberry Sunrise is to the story: it's a flavor that conjures up memories. Sometimes they're happy memories and sometimes they're sad, depending on the sweetness of the blackberries in the batch you happen to be eating. It's also a flavor the protagonist, Felicity Pickle, has a difficult time mustering up the courage to try.

When I came to the part of the story that talks about how Blackberry Sunrise came to be, I immediately had a vision for how to make it.

"[Abigail] was kin to the Smiths -- so she knew all sorts of wild recipes -- cookies that gave people laughing fits, and punch that turned shy people feisty. Her most famous recipe had to do with memory; she baked homemade biscuits with blackberries and sugar stirred into the dough. Her blackberry biscuits helped people remember things; sometimes the memory was good and sometimes it was bad. but it needed to be remembered."

"Like the Blackberry Sunrise," I said, staring down at that infernal carton in Jonah's hands. The carton I refused to touch.

"Exactly," said Oliver. "That's where the idea for the ice cream came from."

Oliver continued, "The Honeycutts were older than most folks are when they had their baby, so they doted extra special on little Burl. He had a real creative soul, helped them name all the ice-cream flavors. Every year on Burl's birthday, his parents took him on a trail walk down by Snapdragon Pond. They'd sit on the banks beside the tall reeds and watch the sun creep higher and higher above these sleepy old mountains. One day, the sun turned the sky lavender and gray and then silver metallic. The morning glories fanned their petals. The wind blew ripples across the water. And Burl told his parents he'd never been happier. He said he wished every day could be a blackberry sunrise." (230)

Because the ice cream flavor was inspired by blackberry biscuits, I immediately knew I would try to stir some crumbled up biscuits into the ice cream base. And since the memory that inspired Blackberry Sunrise involved a lavender sky, I thought about the perfect ice cream base: Honey Lavender.

So this is a rough approximation of my version of Blackberry Sunrise (I'm very bad about measuring what can I say). Keep in mind, I make very small batches because it's only me and my husband in our house, and ice cream ends up going bad before we eat it all. I feel as if I haven't perfected this recipe yet, but it's my hope that someone else out there will also be inspired and make it better -- and if you do, please share it with me! 

Beth's Vision of a Blackberry Sunrise

Special equipment needed: ice cream maker

  • 2 cups half and half 
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons dried, edible lavender flowers
  • 1 carton fresh blackberries
  • 1 biscuit or scone (I shamefully admit I bought a berry scone at Whole Foods for this because I am a terrible baker)

In a medium saucepan, heat the half and half, lavender, honey, and sugar until sugar is dissolved. Meanwhile, whisk egg yolks in a medium bowl until light yellow. Ladle some of the heated half and half mixture into the egg yolks and whisk vigorously to temper. Then add the egg yolk mixture into the saucepan. Whisk constantly (if you don't it will surely curdle -- it's happened to me on more than one occasion) on medium heat until thickened. Allow mixture to cool a few hours in fridge before churning in the ice cream maker.

Before putting the base into the ice cream maker, strain out the lavender flowers (unless you want the added floral flavor, but enough has seeped into the mixture without the actual flowers in the base). Churn the ice cream for 15 minutes and come back and check on the consistency. When the ice cream is mostly set up, this is where you add in the crumbled up biscuit and blackberries.

The first time I made this, I used whole blackberries and it was a little too overly textural for me, especially with the biscuits, so the second time I made it, I put the blackberries in a saucepan with a little bit of water and simmered them down to sort of a compote so I wasn't biting into giant pieces of blackberry. Depending on your preference, you could do either. The compote adds an extra step but makes for a smoother bite. The picture below is of my first attempt at Blackberry Sunrise where I just mixed whole blackberries into the ice cream.
Blackberry sunrise ice cream

Natalie tweeted a picture of the empty container this morning. I hope that means she liked it. :)

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Visiting Langston by Willie Perdomo, illustrated by Bryan Collier

Langston Hughes

Wrote poems
Like jazz

Sang like love
Cried like the blues

In this picture book, a little girl puts on her favorite pink blouse and visits Langston Hughes's house with her daddy. But that's where the story ends. I want to know what happens once she gets to Langston's house.

My only criticism is that the text isn't long enough. Just when I started getting into the rhythm and story, it ended. But then again, I can't get enough of anything related to Langston Hughes. He is my all-time favorite poet.
Bryan Collier's illustrations are lovely, thought-provoking, and as always, add another layer of meaning to the story. 

This would be a great book to pair with Ntozake Shange's Ellington Was Not A Street which also examines a child's reflection at the history-making African American men who have made this country great. Lots of background knowledge is needed to help students understand both books.

Visiting Langston by Willie Perdomo, illustrated by Bryan Collier
Published: February 1, 2002
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.
Pages: 32
Genre: Picture Book
Audience: Middle Grade
Disclosure: Library Copy