Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Real Life Tween Reader

I've been watching L read since she was a wee one.  It became clear very early that she was mad about mythology and fantasy, and it's been very fun watching her grow as a reader.  I asked if she would be open to answering some questions for this blog, and she happily agreed.

Do you consider yourself a reader?
Yes I do because I read a lot and I love to read.

What are your favorite genres to read?
My favorite genres are fiction, historical fiction, and fantasy.

How do you select the books you want to read?
I usually select books from recommendations from my mom and from the school librarians.

What is your favorite book so far?
It's tough to choose a favorite book, but on of them is called "Dear America: I Walk in Dread", by Lisa Fraustino.  Another is "The Blood of Olympus", by Rick Riordan.

What is your favorite thing about reading?
My favorite thing about reading is just getting engrossed in a book and not getting enough of it.

Do you read on an e-reader/phone/computer?
I don't usually read on the internet because I like the feel of books.

What kinds of books do you think are the most popular with kids your age? Why?
?

What are you currently reading?

Friday, November 07, 2014

The Greenglass House, by Kate Milford

Our brains seem to want comparisons.  Every time a new book comes out, editorial blurbs sing, “For fans of….”, or “Blank meets blank in this striking new novel…”  I am both attracted to and wary of these comparisons, because they often create a false hope.  After all, a significant amount of connection to a story comes by what we bring to it.  I was first struck by the gorgeous cover of The Greenglass House, by Kate Milford and then I started hearing the buzz.  I started to hear talk of The Westing Game . Now, if you don’t already know, any time someone asks me what my favorite book of all time is, The Westing Game slides quickly from my mouth.  No questions asked. Over the adult titles that I have swooned about, the Newberys I have loved, the picture books that spawned the art that is matted and framed on my walls, The Westing Game is still firmly on the tippy top of the pile.  So the talk worried me a bit.

Silly me.

Milo and his family have just settled in for the holidays at their inn, The Greenglass House.  The guests have all departed, school is out for a couple of weeks, and it’s officially family time.  Imagine Milo’s surprise when the bell rings to alert the family that a guest is ready to come up the hill in the rail car called the Whilforber Whirlwind. Situated on the top of Whilforber Hill, the inn is somewhat iconic in their town.  Nagspeake is a smugglers’ town, and Milo’s parents are as likely to get paid in goods by the folks passing through as they are money. But smugglers have seasons and the winter holidays are not smuggler time.  Who could be coming to stay now?

Milo and his family are even more surprised when the bell keeps ringing!  More than one guest?  What is going on?

After the passel of guests shows up, Milo’s folks call on their regular help to come and help with meals and rooms and such.  Since it is break, the cook brings her kids and even though  Milo has never met Meddy before, the two get along famously even starting to role play using Odd Trails -- a game Milo’s own dad played when he was young.  Milo’s personal of Negret comes in handy when guest’s belongings start disappearing.  

This is such an atmospheric, multi layered story -- I just can’t say enough about it.  When you put all of the aspects of the story into writing, they can seem overwhelming.  We have the mythos of the town, the rules of the game, the mysterious guests, the criminality afoot, Milo’s own adoption story and sense of self, the lore of the house...it goes on and on.  But in Milford’s deft hands all are perfectly balanced and unfurled just so.  I started to slow down as I read this one, because I didn’t want it to end.  I ache to see this on the big screen, and am anxiously awaiting the first real snow of the season so I can hunker down and treat myself all over again!

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Red Pencil, by Andrea Davis Pinkney






We begin with Amira's 12 birthday.  She is finally old enough to wear a toob yet young enough to enjoy her Dando lifting her to the sky.  Amira lives on a farm in South Darfur surrounded by friends and family, but changes are afoot.  Amira's best friend Halima and her family are packing their things and moving to the city.  They say the city has more opportunities.  Amira wishes she could go with them to Nyala and attend the Gad Primary School with Halima.  Amira is not so sure about her Muma's old fashioned ways.

                  "She does not like the idea of Gad,
                    or any place where girls learn
                    to read
                    or write,
                    in Arabic or English
                    or think beyond a life
                    of farm chores and marriage." (p. 13 arc)

Soon, the extra chores of 12, missing Halima, and trying to solve the ongoing bickering between her father and villager Old Anwar seem anything but troubling.  The relative peace of her village is shattered when the Janjaweed  attack, changing Amira's very existence.

Amira and the other survivors must pick up the pieces and leave the ruins of the village to find safety.  Their trek takes them to the refugee camp Kalma - the Displaced People's Camp.  Amira doesn't like this space surrounded by fences and barbed wire.

                    "Everywhere I look,
                      I see
                      people, people, and more people.

                      I'm glad to stop walking.
                      I'm glad we have finally reached who-knows-where.
                      But already I do not like this place." (arc p. 139)

It would be easy enough to give up in such a desperate place with no real end in sight.  Amira and her family have lost so much.  But when Amira meets Miss Sabine and is given a gift of a red pencil she discovers some things about herself, her family and those on the journey with her.

Written in free verse, The Red Pencil is a story of family and loss and hope.  It was eye opening for me on a number of levels.  One is that it is so easy for me not to see what is happening in the world from my perch here in NYC.  The horrors of Darfur in the early 2000s seemed so far away in time and place that I wonder how many people in North America are aware of what was happening.  I find myself very impressed with the deftness of Andrea Davis Pinkney's hand when it came to writing the passages dealing with the violence.  She truly tells the story from a 12 year old's point of view, and the free verse format allows for silences that speak volumes.  The illustrations by Shane W. Evans are playful within this serious book and somehow bring a feeling of safety to the pages.

A must read for librarians, teachers and students.


Monday, September 01, 2014

Brown Girl Dreaming, by Jacqueline Woodson

I was lucky enough to hear Jacqueline Woodson speak about and read from Brown Girl Dreaming during the School Library Journal Day of Dialog last spring.  If any of you have seen Woodson before, you know she is charming, and dynamic and funny.  She read a few poems from the book and spoke of her family and writing life.  Like the rest of the librarians, I waited in line to speak with Ms. Woodson and have an arc signed, but 10 minutes or so into the wait I knew this arc wasn't going to be for me to keep.  Instead, I had it signed for a student and gave it to her when I saw her next.   So like so many others, I waited for the book birthday to get my hands on the hard cover copy on the day of its' release.

I'm not sure I can add much to the conversation around this book, as I agree with the buzz.  Brown Girl Dreaming is more than a book or a memoir....it is a gift.  We follow Jacqueline and her changing family from Ohio to South Carolina and up to NYC and each poem is a revelation of sorts that brings the reader through the timeline of Woodson's life.  From the "how to listen" haikus to poems like "sometimes, no words are needed", "stevie", and "as a child, i smelled the air" I found myself closing the book to pause again and again.

I had posted a photo of "stevie" on Instagram and commented that I was swooning over this book, and a friend commented that her copy is so dog-eared that she isn't going to share it with her students.  It made me comment back that this is the kind of book you carry around with you.  I will take the dust jacket off, and place it in my school bag.  And when the world gets to be a little too much, I will open the pages and gift myself with a little bit of magic.

Friday, August 22, 2014

The Night Gardener, by Jonathan Auxier

Molly and Kip are trying to find the Windsors, their new home of employment, but the locals are not making it easy for them.  Every time Molly asks, they speak of the sour woods and tell Molly that she should stay away.  But it's not like Molly has a choice - she and her brother are far from home and without parents.  When they encounter Hester Kettle on the road, they seem to have found a piece of luck.  She is willing to tell the children how to get to the Windsors for a promise of future stories. Molly agrees and they are soon on their way.

Molly's introduction to the family is a far cry from welcoming.  Hired by the Windsor's solicitor, Constance has no idea Molly is coming and is less than pleased to find her telling stories to her young daughter Penny in the dusty foyer of the house.  Constance and her son Alistair want Molly and Kip to leave immediately, but Molly is able to use her gift of the gab to convince them that they would much rather live in a well tended house, and that she and Kip can provide it for them.

She will soon live to regret this move, as the family and the house seem to be harboring dark secrets.  While she is able to throw herself into the ample work of cleaning up the household during the day, it is at night when Molly is most afraid.  Every night since she's been sleeping in the house, she has been having terrible nightmares.  And it turns out the darkness isn't just in her mind.  She wakes to find her door open, leaves in her hair and mud on the floor.

As it turns out, the Night Gardener Miss Polly has mentioned is real.  He wanders the house and the grounds at night and has his hand in the nightmares of the household.

And he is not the only dark element at the Windsors' place.  The tree, growing much too close to the house, is more than it seems as well, and will soon ensnare Molly as it has the Windsors.

This is a deliciously scary story that will have readers up into the night to finish. Jonathan Auxier is one of those writers who seems like he's been around forever.  Not because there are a plethora of his books lining the shelves, but because he is a craftsman.  His books have a timeless quality to them and are made of the stuff with staying power.  The Windsor's legacy is slowly revealed piece by piece which helps bring the suspense level to that of a slow burn.  He explores the themes of human weakness and greed, family and loyalty with aplomb.  The setting is expertly laid out and even now as I close my eyes I can see the grounds, the stables and the green door.

Fans of dark fantasy, Victorians, and well crafted stories will be left shivering with delight.




Monday, August 11, 2014

Nest, by Esther Ehrlich

"I should have taken the shortcut home from my bird-watching spot at the salt marsh, because then I wouldn't have to walk past Joey Morell, whipping rocks against the telephone pole in front of his house as the sun goes down." (p. 1)  If you know anything about me, I am a sucker for a good first line, and this one has got the goods.

This is Chirp's (Naomi's) story.  Well, her family's story really.  Her mom is a dancer who has suddenly started to have some problems with her body.  Her leg is dragging around and has been hurting her for a while, but Chirp's somewhat clinical and distant psychiatrist dad isn't really talking about it.  Big sister Rachel is distancing herself as well as she tries on teendom for the first time.

When Chirp's mom is diagnosed with MS the family verily falls apart.  Hannah's existence has always been that of a dancer, and she quickly falls into a deep depression and nobody in the family really knows how to cope.  Chirp finds an ally in a very unexpected person - Joey Morell.

Joey's family is one that Chirp's family looks down on.  They have a 3 sons who run amok, but their problems go deeper than that.  Chirp and Joey find common ground, and as two kids who ultimately are scared and feeling abandoned, they cement their friendship as they slowly reveal the pain inside each of their houses.

I don't want to spoil the plot so I will leave it there, but will also say that Ehrlich is part poet and part magician as she weaves this tale together.  "Ice-blue quiet smacks me when I open the front door after school." (p. 86)  "A little square of my blouse is stuck to my upper arm, like the wrinkly paper on a temporary tattoo before you lift it off and leave a splotchy red heart or yellow smiley face behind." (p. 164)  "The air's already thick and warm, even though the sun's still just a spritz of light in the pitch pines and the scrub oaks and not a hot, round ball bouncing on the top of my head, like it will be soon." (p. 12)  Swoon.

For sure, this is a story filled with heavy and heady stuff.  But it is through the eyes of Chirp, so while it is indeed sad, it is never too much.  It is gorgeous, quiet and filled with hope.  I fell in love with Chirp and Joey as I read. They simply became real, and I turned the pages late into the night because I could not leave their story unfinished.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

El Deafo, by Cece Bell

After an illness at age 4, Cece loses her hearing.  She is soon equipped with a hearing aid that involves wearing a pouch around her neck attached to some "ear globs".  Cece is happy to hear again, but now has to learn how to understand once more.  To top things off, Cece now has to go to a new school.

A good thing about the new school is the other kids are wearing hearing aids too, and Cece is learning some useful skills like lip reading and using visual, context and gestural clues to help in understanding.  Cece is just finding her way, when her family decides to leave the city and head to the country, where she will be going to a regular school.

Cece gets a brand-new-BIG-for-school-only-around-the-neck hearing aid (The Phonic Ear) that comes with a microphone for her teacher to wear and is superpowerful.  What nobody expects is that it comes with the added feature of having a super long range, allowing Cece to hear not only her teacher teaching, but whatever her teacher is doing when she is out of the room as well (yes...even *that*!).

Cece has to negotiate the things that all kids go through at school - including navigating a friend who is not-so-nice, and getting her first crush.  Things unique to her situation include dealing with friends who TALK TOO LOUD AND TOO SLOW, and those who refer to her as their "deaf friend".

This is more than a graphic memoir - it is a school and family story for all kids.  Cece is an imaginative and emotional kid with whom readers will identify.  There is an accessibility to Bell's art that immediate draws you in and you can't help but cheer with her successes and cringe with her tears.  Fans of Telgemeier and Varon will readily scoop this up off of the shelves, and it *will* be passed hand to hand.  I am certain I will see many doodles of Cece and her friends in the margins of writer's notebooks this coming school year.  Do yourself a favor...get more than one!