Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Quick Bits

Hello?  Is anyone there?

It's been quiet over here with the start of school and getting back into the swing of living the commuting life again.  Every September, something has to give and it tends to be this blog.

But I'm back! And to make up for lost time, I am sharing short recommendations for three (yes 3!) books with you.

First up is the delightful and different Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer by Kelly Jones. Now if you know me, you know that the saddest part of my summer was finding out there would be no chickens at the county fair due to avian flu paranoia.  I do have a soft-spot for all things chicken.  And how can you deny that title?  Sophie Brown has just moved with her parents to her late great uncle Jim's farm from LA. It's quite the culture shock. Add on the fact that Sophie's dad has lost her job and money is tight, and there don't seem to be any other brown people in Gravenstein aside from Sophie, her mom and the mailman.  Readers learn about Sophie's circumstances through the letters she writes. Letters to her grandmother, and to great uncle Jim who have passed on.  Letters to the poultry company to help her figure out how to take care of the weird chickens she keeps finding. And letters to the mysterious Agnes. It soon becomes clear that Sophie's chickens are exceptional and that they are wanted by someone else in town.  Will Sophie be able to manage all the changes in her life and figure out how to keep chickens at the same time? Wonderfully illustrated by Katie Kath, this is a book like no other.

Next, the dreamy Circus Mirandus by Cassie Beasley.  My kid's librarian read it aloud to her class last year, but she liked it so much, she asked me to read it for our family read this summer.  After the first few pages I knew that this one is going to be a modern classic.  Beasley manages to get that dreamy feeling, respect the reader and get us to suspend disbelief.  Micah's grandpa Ephraim is very ill.  His sister, Micha's great aunt Gertrudis, has come to live with them and she couldn't be more different from grandpa.  She is pinched, closed off and truly hateful.  She won't even allow Ephraim to keep telling Micah his stories about the Circus Mirandus...a place she is sure is fictional.  But with childlike wonder, Micah vows to find his grandpa's circus and save him.  This is a dreamy adventure that will have readers young and old believing in magic.

Next, Rebecca Stead's Goodbye Stranger.  I'm not going to lie. When I heard there was a new Rebecca Stead coming out, I did a happy dance. Then I harangued my colleagues to hand over any arcs they had forthcoming!  Luckily I got my own eyes on an arc through netgalley.  Stead can capture that moment -- that breath of change that  happens when kids are on the cusp of that place moving from kid to teen.  As usual, I find it difficult to summarize Stead's book.  Suffice it to say there is a character for everyone in here...whether it's Bridge who is resisting the changes of growing up,  strong willed Tab who jumps into life with two feet, Em who is navigating the changes to her body and friendships with a little less grace than folks would assume or Sherm who is a bit like the Duckie of the modern day. There are moments of breathless beauty in the writing, and I found myself putting the book down and just considering the words.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

The Jumbies, by Tracey Baptiste

Corrine La Mer is totally at home on her island. She’s not afraid of the woods like most of the kids she knows, so when two village boys tie her late mother’s pendant to the leg of an agouti she simply follows her instincts and dashes into the woods after it. It is all she has of her mother and she needs to get it back.

But once she retrieves the pendant and is not concentrating on the chase, Corrine does start to feel some unease. Her skin prickles as she thinks about the creatures the villagers talk about inhabiting these woods...the jumbies.  Corrine thinks she sees some eyes behind a bush and she hightails it out of the woods straight into the arms of her Papa as he and the rest of the village makes their annual trek to the graveyard to pay respects to those who have passed.
On their way home, a woman stands in the shadows. Corrine’s Papa asks if she needed any help but she refuses.

This is both the end and the beginning.

It is the end of the simple life with the people living on the outside and the jumbies living in the woods. It is the beginning of Corrine’s coming of age. Not only has a jumbie followed her out of the woods, but this particular jumbie has Corrine and her Papa in her sights.

So begins the adventure that will test Corrine’s will.  Even though she has always been strong willed and independent, she must bend a little and learn to ask for help and depend on her friends.  She learns that things aren’t always as they seem, and that adults are very adept at keeping secrets.

One of the most interesting parts of the story is in the way that Baptiste weaves in a narrative about colonialism, and as Betsy Bird put it “us” and “them”. There are some very poignant moments filled with these big ideas that are handled with aplomb and never seem forced.

This book fills several voids for the audience. First, most of the retellings of folklore in novel format that I have read are European in source. The Caribbean setting is a stand out.  Also, this title fits perfectly into the just creepy enough and just scary enough for the audience.  The island is lushly painted with its’ port and marketplace and dense woods.  Corrine and her friends are off on their own most of the time, but the adults in their lives clearly care for and love them deeply. This gives readers the reassurance that things will hopefully come out okay.

I will be booktalking this one as soon as we go back to school!

Friday, July 31, 2015

A Curious Tale of the In-Between, by Lauren DeStefano

Pram has never truly been told the tale of her beginnings.  A beginning that started with her still inside her mother, even as she hung from the branch of the tree. Pram was orphaned right from the start, but was taken in by her two no-nonsense aunts. Pram is even short for Pragmatic -- named such because it was deemed sensible for a young lady, and sensible is just what the aunts wanted for Pram.

But Pram has always been the opposite of sensible.  She’s dreamy, and her oldest and best friend is a ghost named Felix who appeared one day in the pond by the home for the aged where she lives with her aunts.

Pram is forced by the state to actually attend school at the age of eleven and this is where Pram meets her first real life friend. She gets into an argument with Clarence before school even starts when he informs her that she is sitting in his desk. By lunch time they have discovered that both of their mothers are dead and with this the seeds of their friendship are planted.

As time goes on, Pram doesn’t tell Clarence that she can speak with ghosts, but she does agree to accompany him to a spiritualist show where he hopes his mother’s spirit will reveal herself. Things don’t go as Clarence hoped and instead the spiritualist is very interested in Pram. What Pram and Clarence cannot know is that the spiritualist is anything but a charlatan, and a girl like Pram is very valuable to her.

What follows is a haunting and frightening ghost story that straddles the world of the living and the dead. Lyrical and tender, DeStefano’s story will scare readers without tipping into horror. This is an achingly beautiful story of love and loss, of friendship and family. A Curious Tale of the In-Between is for the deep reader, and I can see it becoming that touchstone title that ferries readers into more complex and intricate stories.


Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Real Life Tween Review - The Imaginary, by A.F. Harrold

I figured, since I live with you real live tweens, it is high time that I have them write some of the book recommendations that appear on this blog.  Tween 2 read The Imaginary before school was out, and she loved it!  The following is what she has to say about it!


I had just finished a book, and as always, I was looking for a new one. Just like most kids, I like it when a book sticks to me. Sometimes I read the first two chapters of one book and I do not like it and then same with the next, and so on. As usual I asked my mom/librarian for a suggestion. She usually gives me like 8 books and I don’t like any of them, so it is usually hard for her to give me suggestions. This time she gave me this book, and it hooked me right from the introduction. I checked it out and just read it.

The one thing that keeps Amanda happy is her imaginary friend Rudger. After all, she is an only child.  There is just him and her. They are best friends. But Amanda’s mother thinks there is something wrong with Amanda. Amanda loves to imagine. Rudger and Amanda always go on adventures in the backyard. Then one day Mr. Bunting comes to the door.

Mr. Bunting hunts Imaginaries. Rumor has it that he eats them! He sniffs them out and this time he has sniffed out Rudger. With Mr. Bunting’s (well let’s say) “assistant” he has almost got Rudger in his clutches! With Amanda unconscious in the hospital, Rudger is alone with nobody believing in him.  He is starting to fade away with Amanda not being able to imagine him. All at once he is trying to get to Amanda, escape from Mr. Bunting, and not fade before it is all done. On his way he meets some other imaginaries that help him. But can he make it before fading?

A.F. Harrold has created humor, with scary moments and magic all in one plot. This book was super amazing! Emily Gravett has so many great and detailed pictures. The illustrations and the book work in harmony together. This is a must read book! Ten out of ten stars! **********

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Katie Friedman Gives Up Texting (And Lives to Tell About It)

The first time I saw this title, I have to say I laughed out loud.  I lifted my gaze from the catalog, and surveyed the library to see most middle schoolers faces glued to their phones.  Needless to say, the title struck me even before I got my hands on the book.  While it was on my desk, it drummed up lots of interest from the kids and the adults alike.

Katie Friedman is an expert multitasker.  She's the kind of tech user who would have ALL THE TABS open.  As we begin she is texting her friend Hannah, posting a pic of her dog, receiving some texts from Becca, and sending texts to bff Charlie Joe Jackson. This is all before breakfast.  During breakfast she gets some texts from Nareem, Eliza, Hannah,  and Becca.  Then on the bus ride to school Katie is texting with Charlie Joe, and her mom.  Whew!  Exhausted yet?

The thing is, it's pretty easy to send a text to the wrong person.  Especially if you are texting multiple people at the same time.  Lots of times, it's kind of funny to send the wrong text to the wrong person. But sometimes it's really not.  Especially when you're texting about something personal.  Something like not liking your boyfriend so much anymore...and sending it to your boyfriend.

Hitting send changes everything for Katie.  Not only has she gone and really hurt Nareem's feelings, but she begins to realized how far into their phones her friends are.  She thinks about the fact that it just seems easier to text people instead of actually talk to them.

Inspired by her musical heroine, Jane Plantero, Katie sets out on a quest.  A quest to live without her phone for a while.  And Jane says if Katie can convince 10 of her friends to give up their phones for a week, she will come and play a show for them.  The twist is that Katie is not allowed to dangle to carrot of the concert.

How hard will it be to convince a bunch of middle schoolers to give up their phones?

Tommy Greenwald has tackled the topic of kids and phones without making it seem like a "topic".   Gweenwald nails the voice as usual, and if I didn't know better, I'd say he was a teacher.  Charlie Joe pops up throughout the book to lend his sarcastic wit with segments like, "Charlie Joe Jackson's Guide to Why Texting Is Awesome". Where Greenwald shines is in writing the relationships.   They are messy and fickle and constantly shifting ... totally like in middle school.  Katie isn't all good, just as Charlie Joe isn't all snark.  This is a book that should just show up on library tables, and in living rooms all over the place.  I think this would make a fantastic book club book, and the kind of classroom read that will get kids talking.

Sunday, June 07, 2015

Hilo - The Boy Who Crashed to Earth, by Judd Winick

There are never enough graphic novels for kids.  This is a simple truth. When I look to our circulation at school, out of the top 50 circulating titles during the school year 44 were graphic novels.  88%!  So I was pretty delighted when my colleague Karyn told me there was a graphic novel for kids I needed to check out.  I finally got my hands on the arc and sat down to give it a go.

DJ is just an average kid in the middle of an above average family.  The one thing he was really good at was being a good friend to Gina, but Gina moved away 3 years ago.

DJ is sitting on the roof of his club house when he sees something crash out of the sky.  Imagine his surprise when a blond boy in silver undies climbs out of the newly formed crater in the earth.  This kid has a lot of energy and even more questions since his "memory is a busted book" and he's not quite sure where he's from or what he's doing on earth.  DJ takes Hilo in without much of a plan, and quickly finds himself with his hands full.

DJ is surprised when Gina ends up back in town, and notices that she's changed quite a bit in the 3 years she's been out of Berke County which makes DJ notice that he hasn't really changed. At all.

As Hilo's past is revealed to him in his dreams bit by bit, it soon becomes apparent that danger is on the way.  And now maybe DJ will realize he's not so ordinary after all.

This outstanding graphic novel needs to be purchased in multiples.  Winick has created lovable, funny and real characters that readers will laugh with and cheer for.  The movement in the art is reminiscent of both Watterson and Gownley and I defy anyone to read Hilo without feeling moments of joy.  While reviewers have pegged this as a 9-12 title, I'm saying all ages.  I know we will have kids from 6 to 14 eager to check this one out, and my adult self enjoyed every moment!

I heart Hilo.

Thursday, May 28, 2015


I know it's been a while.  The last month has been a bit bonkers with the end of the school year looming, and a bunch of projects in the air.  One of the most exciting projects was moderating a panel during School Library Journal's Day of Dialog at the beginning of BEA!

Consequently, I was reading up a storm.  I'm happy to share a bit about the books that were represented on the panel!

Five, Six, Seven, Nate! by Tim Federle

I talked about this fantastic and hole filling title on this blog when it first came out.  I can tell you, if you ever get an opportunity to have Tim on a panel make it happen!  Stage presence times 1000 -- lovely, generous and kind, Tim speaks eloquently about his own books as well as the world of publishing.  He has also been a visiting author at our school and our kids still talk about him and his presentations!

Gone Crazy in Alabama, by Rita Williams-Garcia

I am going to dedicate a whole blog post to this one soon (if you can't wait follow the title link to the Book Smugglers review), but suffice it to say the Gaither sisters remain characters who I will always carry in my heart.  Rita makes each word in her books count, and these are titles I am going to listen to with my daughters this summer.  A fantastic panelist, Rita is willing to get real and share stories.  She speaks powerfully on her writing process and is willing the share the lessons she's learned about writing over the years.

Lost in the Sun, by Lisa Graff

This will get a Tweendom review soon as well. Feel free to follow the title link to the NYTimes review.  Lisa revisits the world of Umbrella Summer, this time focusing in on Trent -- the boy who shot the puck.  I quickly got sucked into Trent's world of broken family and friendships and was pulling for him as he tried to figure his way through his guilt and pain.  Lisa writes across ages and genres and brings keen insight to the conversation.  Lisa clearly remembers her middle school years and is willing to get personal! Such fun!

Goodbye Stranger, by Rebecca Stead

Again, one I will talk about more closer to the pub date. I have linked to Monica Edinger's review in the title.  I have seen Rebecca speak several times now (including being the lucky duck to be there for the presentation of the Newbery Award) and each time she comes fresh to the table. It's obvious she considers the questions, and her heart is in it for her readers. She speaks about middle school readers having the freedom of choice, and the many little deaths they experience as they grow up.  Goodbye Stranger does read a bit older than When You Reach Me and Liar and Spy and I can't wait to put it in the hands of my students and hear what they think!

The Looney Experiment, by Luke Reynolds

And last but not least we have The Looney Experiment, by Luke Reynolds. While relatively new to the world of middle school literature, Luke has been writing extensively on the world of education for some time.  His job as a 7th grade teacher obviously gave him the stage presence necessary to hang with the rest of the panelists!  His passion for literature and for kids is palpable and he reminds us that kids want us to notice them and see what is below the surface. His character of Atticus demonstrates this idea as there is so much going on in his mind that his classmates, and most of the adults in his life just don't see!

It was such an honor getting to moderate this panel, and I just wish we had more time.  I want to thank all of the authors for being so generous with their time, and also thank School Library Journal for allowing me to have this opportunity.  This was definitely a career highlight for me! This was the first time I had ever moderated, and I hope it won't be the last!