Hmmm…..I guess monthly isn’t sooo bad

 

IMWAYR 2015

Ok, so a monthly post is better than no post, but honestly I had high hopes of accomplishing something a little more substantial and certainly something more than book reviews. It feels a little one-dimensional.  However, I love participating in IMWAYR! It’s a great way to connect. I’m sure anyone here has found me through that, but on the off chance someone not connected to it is here, go check out either Jen at Teach Mentor Texts or Kellee at Unleashing Readers, they cohost this very fun, weekly event.

doorstaircaseThe Door by the Staircase
by Katherine Marsh
Gr. 5-8
E-ARC available via the publisher and NetGalley

I love Baba Yaga stories. The chicken legged house, the fence made of the skeletons of eaten children, the MORTAR and PESTLE! It’s all just so different from the fairy tales I grew up with and it all just feels so weird and twisted. What’s not to love?
I think I had forgotten the summary of this one when I started reading, and didn’t realize until about halfway through that it was a Baba Yaga story, but my investment immediately quadrupled as soon as that realization sunk home. Of course, I was already pretty invested because I absolutely loved Jepp, Who Defied the Stars, the only other Katherine Marsh that I’ve read. She does not disappoint here. The writing is lovely and dense and a wee bit dark; the characters are both real and absolutely fantastic, and mostly I just loved the slow build of the story. People and elements are introduced intentionally and then filled out carefully that the whole thing just feels so substantial and deep.
Twelve-year-old Mary attempts to escape the Buffalo Asylum for Young Ladies by crawling up the chimney and then dropping to the ground below but is caught up in a magical whirlwind that pins her against the wall, preventing her escape and forcing her back inside. Orphaned years ago by a fire that took her mother and brother, Mary has never really known a loving household and longs for more than the orphanage can offer. When Madame Z offers both comfort and companionship, Mary jumps at the chance and can’t quite believe her good fortune. But, as is true in most stories, if things seem too good to be true, they probably are. Madame Z has secrets and is surrounded by what seems like magic and Mary, ever curious and oh-so-slightly mischievous, is determined to figure it all out before she allows herself to trust completely. And, thus begins her quest. She befriends a boy in town who becomes her partner in detective work, and they work to uncover all they can about Madame Z, find a way to protect themselves from being eaten, and master the magic that is all around them.
It’s an engrossing and sophisticated read. I’ll hand it off to kids who love the more complex fantasies, who love the fairy tale novelizations and who can appreciate the slow build of a good story. I’m looking forward to sharing it with my students.
hangnailCastle Hangnail
by Ursula Vernon
Gr. 4 and up
Copy from my library

Castle Hangnail is in desperate need of a new master, otherwise it will be decommissioned by the authorities and the minions who work there will be thrown out and forced to fend for themselves. Enter Molly: 5 feet tall and 12 years old, announcing that she is the new mistress of the castle. Most of the minions are overjoyed at the news, but the butler is skeptical, she doesn’t really look or act like a proper mistress; she’s far too nice. But, Molly really wants the job, despite the fact that she’s not entirely qualified and lying about it, and the minions really don’t want to leave the castle, so everyone perseveres. This title by the author of the Dragonbreath series is really quite wonderful and fun. Molly is so completely lovable and the various minions include a couple of minotaurs, a steamy genie living in a teakettle and a clattering suit of armor, all unique and fully realized in their own way. It’s a fun, quirky tale that will have a wide appeal.
montysoleSaving Montgomery Sole
by Mariko Tamaki
Gr. 9 and up
E-ARC made available via publisher and NetGalley

Montgomery (Monty) Sole feels like an outsider in her own home town. She’s not a jock or a cheerleader, she’s got two moms and she’s the leader of the Mystery Club at her high school which is most definitely not about reading Agatha Christie novels. She, and her two best friends, outsiders in their own right, make up the full membership of the Mystery Club where they get together to talk about all sorts of supernatural phenomena such as telepathy, crystals, and whatever else strikes their fancy. There’s really not much of a plot going on here, it’s more of a slice of life kind of thing. Monty’s got a bit of a chip on her shoulder, sure that people around her are judging or making fun of her, and she’s certain that the new boy in school who’s father is an evangelical minister is really out to get her. I found Monty to be so extreme in her reactions, so quick to judge others, that I really couldn’t sympathize or like her. Her friends and family were much more reasonable and compassionate, but I mostly thought of her as a whining little brat. Without any real plot and lack of a likable protagonist this book was a bit of a slog for me. The language and some of the situations make this too old for my up to 8th grade library, but following on the heels of This One Summer, I can see where it might have a place in some high school and public library YA collections.

IMWAYR!

Welcome to 2016! My first post of the year and sadly in about two months. Ah, distractions, they come in so many forms. Those distractions have also affected my reading habits. I’m off my game and I don’t like it. I’ve had two weeks off from school and I’ve only read in the last few days, not quite sure what I was doing at the beginning of the vacation, but not the things I planned on doing, and certainly not anything I should be doing.

Anyway, I hope to see/read/connect with many of you over the next year. A resolution! I will attempt to post more, maybe not reviews, but things that might encourage dialogue, and going along with that, I will try to comment/dialogue more on other people’s blogs. I want to reach out and connect. I can also be found on Twitter (@runawayreads) find me there!

IMWAYR 2015 This really fun meme is hosted by Kellee @ Unleashing Readers and Jen @ Teach Mentor Texts. I have found so many wonderful kidlit folks and so many amazing books through this weekly adventure.

 

 

And, so, on to some of my recent reading. Much good, some mediocre.

26452754Build, Beaver Build!
by Sandra Markle
Illus. by Deborah Hocking
Gr. 1-4 (younger if reading aloud)
E-galley available via NetGalley
Publish date: March 2016

Markle hits out of the park (again!) with this stunningly beautiful and informative picture book about beavers. The narrative follows a young beaver kit, just 3 months old, as he explores and learns about his environment; mimicking his parents behaviors as they forage for food and repair their dam. The young kit grows, learning to identify and escape from danger, play with his siblings and become a more productive member of his family. Markle’s writing is lively and engaging, creating drama and suspense amidst the details of life at a beaver dam. Hocking’s illustrations are lush and detailed, vibrant with color, and worth lingering over. The paintings that depict scenes above and below water at once are of particular distinction. I’ll definitely be getting this for our school library and sharing it with my elementary students and teachers.

25810642The Girl in the Well is Me
by Karen Rivers
Gr. 4-7
E-ARC available via NetGalley
Publish date March 2016

Breathless and gasping! The first chapters of The Girl in the Well is Me leave the reader suspended in the well with Kammie. Our young protagonist is stuck in a well, arms pinned to her sides, feet dangling, dark all around her with only a circle of light overhead. How she got there is only part of the story, and how she endures her time becomes the bulk of the narrative. Eleven-year-old Kammie is new to “Nowheresville” Texas, having moved there with her mother and brother, after her father is sent to prison for embezzlement. Her initiation into the popular clique has been interrupted by her abrupt fall into the well, and the question of whether or not the other girls will come back with help is at the forefront of Kammie’s mind. What follows is Kammie’s internal dialogue as she deals with fright, thirst, hunger, loneliness and decreasing amounts of oxygen that render her incoherent and hallucinating. Zombie goats and a French-speaking coyote are interspersed with memories of life with Dad before prison and her thoughts about friendship and fitting in. This is a tense read, the first-person narration brings an immediacy to the story that any other perspective wouldn’t, and readers will picture themselves in the well with Kammie regretting every decision that lead up to this moment right along with her.

25332026Terror at Bottle Creek
by Watt Key
Gr. 5 and up
E-ARC available via NetGalley
Publish Date: January  2016

Watt Key (Alabama Moon, Four Mile) is a master of suspense-filled survival fiction, and this newest one is no exception. 13-year-old Cort lives with his dad on a houseboat on the Gulf coast of Florida helping out with their fishing guide business, while trying to maintain some semblance of normal after his mom moved out. A hurricane is bearing down on them, and preparations begin which include boarding up windows, gassing up generators and the like. When the storm finally hits, Cort is holing up in a neighbor’s house with their two daughters while his dad and their mother check on Cort’s mother who lives some distance away. As the storm begins to rage, the youngest daughter, Francie, gets swept away on the water with the family dog and Cort and Liza, the other sister, go after her. What follows is a harrowing adventure as the three of them search for high ground, fight off snakes and wild boars, and simply try to stay alive in the face of ever-increasing danger. Key builds the tension very slowly, but with methodical detail, and thus the reader feels as if they are right there in Florida wilderness, living and breathing the storm. Cort’s a very capable and ingenious teenager, and his anger at his father for leaving them alone is palpable and realistic, but he’s been taught well and his common sense manages to keep everyone alive. Give this one to fans of Gary Paulsen or Will Hobbs, there’s plenty to chew on.

 

21525995In Real Life
by Jessica Love
Gr. 9 and up
E-ARC available via NetGalley
Publish date: March 2016

Hannah and Nick have been best friends for years despite never having met in real life. Introduced in 8th grade by their siblings who flirted for a nanosecond, Hannah and Nick have maintained a purely virtual relationship via texting, emailing, phone calls, etc…When Hannah decides that maybe her feelings for Nick are more than just friendly she uses the opportunity of her parents’ weekend away to go on a road trip with her older sister and best friend to go finally meet Nick in person and see where things lead. What follows is a pretty predictable set of misadventures, what with Nick having a real life girlfriend, and maybe not being fully truthful about a number of other things. As they miscommunicate, misunderstand and generally act like lovesick teenagers the two eventually find a way to make their relationship more than just virtual. The story relies so heavily on pop culture references, current gadgets and social media, that it is hard to see how it will not feel dated in 5-10 years. The characters mostly feel one-dimensional or fairly stereotypical, and none of them were ones I could relate to or sympathize with. There’s a tad too much sex and drinking for my 7th and 8th grade students, but older kids looking for a light, fluffy read will find it fun and easy.

Looking forward to getting to know you all more in the coming months.

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?

IMWAYR 2015It’s always fun to link up and share what I’m reading. You can join the fun by bopping over to Teach Mentor Texts written by Jen or Unleashing Readers by Kellee and see what so many others are reading. Go ahead.

 

Been a slow reading few weeks; I’ve started and stopped a few different books, but I have two to share. Small victories.

courtfivesThe Court of Fives
by Kate Elliott
Gr. 8 and up

Jessamy’s family lives between two worlds; not fully accepted into the elite Patron caste that her father was born into, and yet not part of her mother’s Commoner caste either. And so they tread lightly every where they go, keeping their heads down and trying not be noticed, too much. Jessamy wants to be a dutiful daughter, but longs to openly participate in the Court of Fives, a physically dangerous game akin to parkour that would bring shame and a probable punishment to her family, which it eventually does when her secret is discovered. This high fantasy has a setting reminiscent of Ancient Egypt, and a culture that feels more in tune with Ancient Greece. Descriptions of the game itself are interesting and face-paced, and the story is convoluted enough to keep the reader interested. I enjoyed it very much, and have been able to share it with students who love adventure fantasy.
25741571The Wolf Wilder
by Katherine Rundell
Gr. 4 and up

Gorgeous writing. Unusual setting. Quirky characters. I loved this one from the author of Cartwheeling in Thunderstorms and Rooftoppers. Young Feo (short for Feodora) lives with her mother in the woods of Russia in the time of the Tsars, where they work to re-wild wolves that had been pets to the wealthy Russian aristocracy and then discarded when they became inconvenient. Feo is far more comfortable with wolves than with people, but when her mother is imprisoned by a crazy, power-hungry officer in the Tsar’s army, Feo must rely on and work with others in order to escape capture and free her mother. There are lush descriptions of the Russian winter, heart-stopping action sequences and some funny, awkward moments for Feo, who is never quite sure what response is best and has to adjust her smile to suit the situation. Every kid who reads this is going to want to live with their own half-wild wolves, I know I did!

23617200Full Cicada Moon
by Marilyn Hilton
Gr. 4 and up

In this novel in verse, young Mimi narrates the ups and downs of having just moved to rural Vermont from Berkley, California where her black father has taken a job as a professor at a local college.  Mimi struggles with a lot of “what are you?” sorts of questions, as well as fighting the stereotypes that girls can’t take shop or want to be astronauts. Her Japanese mother also tries to find a place in this new and unfamiliar environment, and together the family is constantly moving forward and onward. Mimi gets a lot of support from her parents, and their family is a very loving one that can withstand the prejudices that swirl around them. She also manages to make friends and find ways to pursue her interests despite the many obstacles. I really loved the story and Mimi’s voice. What I didn’t love was the poetry. This felt like one of those novels in verse that just had short sentences broken up randomly, nearly to the point of distraction. I repeatedly found myself thinking about how I would have written the poem differently. Sigh. It would have made a beautiful prose novel.

 

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?

IMWAYR 2015As happens every Monday, Jen of Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee of Unleashing Readers host a meme that is focused on children’s literature. A place to share what we’ve been reading over the course of the week. It’s a great way for me to think about and share what I’ve been reading, and an even better way to see what other people are reading and connect with them over books. My favorite activity, connecting with people about books.

Per usual, I can never really seem to get my act together every week to write a post, so I join in every few weeks. C’est la vie. I’ve decided to stop feeling guilty about that. I do what I can.

In no particular order:

sunnysideupSunny Side Up
by Jennifer and Matt Holm
Published by GRAPHIX, August 2015

Everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, was talking about this one long before it hit the shelves. I listened to The Yarn podcasts about it, I read the blog posts, etc….and I was psyched to order a couple of copies for my library. Our students devour realistic graphic novels like Smile, Drama and El Deafo, and this one is a no-brainer. It lived up to the hype. I loved it. Found it funny, and sad, and real, and it takes place in Pennsylvania and Florida in the mid-70’s, as did my own childhood, so it spoke to me.

watchtheskyWatch the Sky
by Kirsten Hubbard
Published by Disney-Hyperion April, 2015

The description of this one reminded me vaguely of The Compound by S.A. Bodeen, and I loved that one, so I decided to try this one out and see how my students might like it. Jory lives with his mother, stepfather, a younger “sister” and a baby half-brother in central California. Jory’s stepfather Caleb is a military veteran and a strong believer in ‘signs’ that portend something awful is coming their way, and thus begins a harrowing few weeks as the family prepares for impending disaster by tunneling a bunker in the canyon behind their house that will be stocked with supplies, enough to last 3-6 months. Jory has always supported his stepfather, but things are getting more dangerous and Jory just isn’t sure about what’s right and what’s wrong. The tension builds over the course of the book, as Jory is forced to keep more secrets, to separate his school life from his family life and to watch his mother’s health slowly deteriorate. Kids will like this one, though it definitely has some darker themes, I’m saving it for the 5th grade and up crowd. Fans of The Compound, or Watt Key’s Alabama Moon will probably like this one as well.

princessxI Am Princess X
by Cherie Priest
Published Arthur A . Levine Books, May 2015

This one I started reading solely because a coworker recommended it so strongly. I liked it quite a bit, but didn’t love it the way she did. I actually put this one down about a third through and didn’t think I’d finish it, but I did pick it back up. May is 16-years-old and still grieving the loss of her best friend, Libby, 3 years earlier in a car accident. She’s staying with her Dad in Seattle when she starts to see stickers and graffiti around town depicting a character that she and Libby had created years ago, but that had been lost when Libby died and her father got rid of all her stuff. May is confused and a little bit frightened, but determined to find out how this long-lost character can possibly be resurrected and who is behind it. It takes a while for the story to start, and I can’t say I was particularly surprised by the outcome, but the writing is strong and the characters are interesting. I can see the 6th-8th graders really enjoying it.

doryDory Fantasmagory
by Abby Hanlon
Published by Dial, October, 2014

This is a cute, short chapter book about young Dory who is getting ready to start school, but her older siblings are not convinced she’s ready for school since she still acts so “babyish” by throwing temper tantrums and still playing with her imaginary friend. Dory has an outsized imagination that keeps her entertained until her older siblings are willing to actually play with them. Rollicking humor, lots of drawings, sure to engage those who are ready for a step-up from the early readers.

courtfivesAnd, finally, I’m currently reading Court of Fives by Kate Elliott, but I’ll save a description for next time.

Can’t wait to see what everyone else has been reading lately.

Cheers!

Pieces of Why by K.L. Going

piecesofwhyPieces of Why
by K. L. Going
Penguin September 8, 2015
Ages: 10 and up

E-ARC provided by NetGalley

I do love me some K.L. Going; been a fan of her writing since I first The Liberation of Gabriel King and this new title does not disappoint.

The Sum: Tia is a little girl with a big voice! She sings in a local childrens gospel choir with her best friend Keisha, lives with her mother in a less-than-stellar neighborhood of New Orleans, and has a lot of questions about her father who is in prison and she hasn’t seen since she was four years old. Everyone around Tia seems to know more about her father’s history than she does, but when a shooting breaks the calm outside choir practice one evening, killing a baby in the crossfire, Tia decides it’s time to find out what her mother is keeping from her and the whole truth about her father’s violent past. The shooting has shattered Tia’s faith in humanity, leaving her unable to sing and unable to voice her emotions about everything that is going on around her.

The Good: Well-written, compelling characterizations, timely issues all come together to make for a wonderful middle grade read. Tia is full of life, full of questions, full of thoughts that are hard to put into words, and for a long time singing was her only outlet. Vivid, sensual descriptions of a post-Katrina New Orleans are rich with detail, and I love that the storm is only a sidenote to this story, but the imagery of the neighborhoods is real and visceral. The relationship between Tia, who is white, and Keisha, who is black, transcends race, and yet it is everywhere, woven throughout the story, rippling the surface of many of the interactions between characters.

The Less-Good: Not much to say here on my one and only reading of the story, but I did feel like the eventual meeting of the father in the prison visiting room felt a little too pat, and a little too happy endingish, but really it was a minor moment in a story about Tia’s growth and the development of her relationship with her mother.

The Overall: I really liked this one, it’ll find a wide audience at my school. It’s the second book this month that I’ve read about a youngster with a parent in prison, the other being Nora Baskin’s Ruby On the Outside, and that one took only one booktalk to make it a hot commodity around these parts. I can’t wait to share this one with students and teachers.

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?

Here we are, nearly at Monday, again. My first full week of real work begins tomorrow, though I’ve been going in to the library for half days for a bit now. Meetings all this week and then kids start back right after Labor Day. Mourning the short summer, but looking forward to school, the routine, and sharing some great new stuff with a whole school full of enthusiastic readers.

IMWAYRAs always, a shoutout to Jen at Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee at Unleashing Readers for offering the opportunity to share and connect with other book lovers.

 

 

My week has been consumed with finishing a longish nonfiction work that will eventually be reviewed in SLJ, but I can’t share that one now. Suffice it to say, I liked it.

But, I did get the chance to read two E-ARC picture books from NetGalley, both of which I really enjoyed, so all in all its been a good reading week.

bookitchcoverThe Book Itch: Freedom, Truth and Harlem’s Greatest Bookstore
by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson
Audience: 8-12 yr olds
Lerner Publications
Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2015
E-ARC via NetGalley

This beautiful picture book in the form of a fictionalized biography chronicles the work of Lewis Micheaux and the famous bookstore he created in Harlem which he called “The House of Common Sense and the Home of Proper Propaganda”, and was otherwise known as the African National Memorial Bookstore. It was founded in 1932, and was dedicated to bringing intellectual thought and information to the African American community. It became a hub during the civil rights movement and a meeting place for individuals like Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, and others.  The story here is told from the viewpoint of Micheaux’s son, who was a child during the peak of the bookstore’s popularity. This book will pair nicely with Nelson’s other book on the same topic, No Crystal Stair, for an older audience. The artwork is full of color and movement, reflecting the tone of the narrative as it winds through the years. In sum, I can’t wait to share this one with the teachers at my school, especially those who use No Crystal Stair in their classroom. It’s a great addition to any collection.

A couple of screenshots of my favorite pages…

bookitch2 bookitch1

 

 

 

 

The Great Monkey Rescue: Saving the Golden Lion Tamarins
by Sandra Markle
Audience: 8-12 year olds
Millbrook
Pub. Date October 1, 2015
E-ARC via NetGalley

I’ll pretty much read anything by Sandra Markle, her animal books are top-notch and always popular at my library. This title does not disappoint. It reads like a suspense story; Golden Lion Tamarins are disappearing due to habitat loss in the eastern Amazon rainforest, and scientists and citizens from all over work together to try and boost their reproductive rates, introduce zoo-bred tamarins to the wild, and work against deforestation. This title chronicles a number of strides and disappointments throughout the process, but ultimately ends on a hopeful note. The photographs of these small creatures are gorgeous, the writing is informative and accessible, and I can see myself sharing this one with a number of different groups and individuals. For me, a definite purchase.

An example of the photography…

monkey1

 

 

 

Happy reading to you all, and those of you heading back to school, Good Luck, Have a great year!

Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow

11516221The Scorpion Rules
by Erin Bow
Simon & Schuster
Publish Date: September 22, 2015
E-ARC made available via NetGalley

The Sum: A future unlike any I’ve seen in a long while. 400 hundred years in the future war is contained, and peace preserved, by the holding of hostages. Young hostages. Children of royal families, or ruling dynasties, must submit a child to be held until the age of 18. If at anytime during that tenure a nation goes to war, that hostage, that child, is put to death. It is meant to be a deterrent, and sometimes it is, but there are times when it is not. Her Royal Highness Greta Gustafsen Stuart, Duchess of Halifax and Crown Princess of the Pan Polar Confederacy has been a Child of Peace since she was five years old, always living with the knowledge that her world could end any time, if her country, her family, goes to war. These Children of Peace are held by a tyrannical artificial intelligence known as Talis, and it is he that keeps the world’s wars to a minimum; that was the mission given to him 400 years previously when humankind was on the brink of complete annihilation from nuclear war and environmental degradation.  Greta and her agemates have spent years together, building bonds that are all threatened when a new Child of Peace arrives in the form of Elian, a teenager not schooled in the ways of Children of Peace, reluctant participant and general rabble rouser, upsetting the status quo and forcing others to think about their own membership in this dubious club.

The Ins: The characters run deep here, there is much to explore in terms of motivation, intent and relationships. It is a complex and rich world that Bow has created, allowing the details to come naturally through the storytelling, giving just enough to tantalize and maintain interest, without dumping too much information. It was one of those books that I had so many questions as I read, that eventually got answered or explained. It’s a different kind of dystopia that I’ll be sharing with my older readers for sure.

The Outs: Not much, actually. I’m still in the phase of loving it so much, that I have a hard time pinpointing things that may not have worked, or that left me wondering. Even a few weeks after finishing, I’m still thinking about it, and talking about it to my reader friends.

The Overall: Great read. Thought-provoking and thoroughly entertaining. Though my library only goes up to 8th grade, and this is probably for the YA audience I’ll still be getting it despite some of the language and sexual references, which are oblique enough to not offend.

A pretty good week, my reading life via IMWAYR

Hey! It’s another Monday, that means I get to share what I’ve been reading the past week. Thanks to Jen over at Teach Mentor Texts for hosting this weekly gathering of readers sharing what they love most, books. Head on over there and check out what everyone else is reading, I always get some good ideas.

elephantmanElephant Man
Written by Marianegla di Fiore
Illus. by Hilde Hodnefjeld
Annick Press
August 18, 2015
E-ARC from NetGalley

This somewhat fictionalized biography describes the difficult, painful life of Joseph Merrick, also known as The Elephant Man, famously portrayed in movies and on stage. Merrick suffered from a rare and unknown condition that caused bony growths, abnormal skin development and all sorts of other problems that made it hard for Merrick to function, to work, to live any kind of normal life. This title effectively and poignantly details his life, from his childhood with a stepmother that would not abide his presence in the house to his eventual participation in a sideshow and eventually, his happiest years living in a hospital, where he was treated with some dignity. Written for children, the author does a great job of balancing the unimaginable cruelty and hardship that he faced with some of the people that he eventually encountered who offered him friendship and dignity. The artwork is unusual and interesting, a collaged mix of photographs, line drawings, and washes of color that have a smattering of Edward Gorey, Lauren Child and something completely unique. An excellent accompaniment to the wholly original story that is a mix of fact and fiction, despair and happiness, mundane and exciting. Young readers will be inspired to search out more about Merrick’s life.

citizenscientistsCitizen Scientists
Written by Loree Griffin Burns
Photographs by Ellen Harasimowicz
Square Fish 2012

I just recently added this one to our school library since we are planning on hosting Loree Burns at our school this fall and I wanted to be sure we had all of her books on hand. I read Beetle Busters (part of the excellent Scientists in the Field series) last summer and loved it. I was particularly intrigued by that one since it deals with the Asian Longhorn Beetle infestation in central Massachusetts, which is my home. We’ve shared Tracking Trash with our students and teachers for years at our school, a fascinating read about the flotsam that travels the ocean and the damage it is doing. Citizen Scientists is a really fun, interesting read offering specific ways that young people who are interested in science can get involved and do something right from their own neighborhoods, even their backyards. Each season offers an opportunity to get out, do some exploration and help collect information for larger projects. For fall, kids can monitor and tag Monarch butterflies before they get ready for their migration south. Detailed instructions about how to identify, capture and tag the butterflies before releasing them safely back into the environment are provided, along with a brief description of what it is like for one young enthusiast to participate in this sort of activity. Winter is for birding; learning to identify various species, both by call and appearance, marking down numbers on specific days and in specific places that help organizations track numbers throughout the country and the world. This one is a great group activity. Spring finds youngsters able to count frogs in their areas. By learning to identify frogs by their calls and going out at night to listen for, and count what they hear, students can help conservationists all over the country. And finally, summer is great for counting ladybugs. There are about 70 different species of ladybug in North America, mostly identifiable by their differing colors and spot numbers and patterns. A great activity for even some of the youngest children.  Plenty of information, websites and further are provided, making this an excellent resource both for schools and at home. I can’t wait to share it with our science teachers and put it on our summer recommended lists.

20821284Brown Girl Dreaming
by Jacqueline Woodson
Penguin 2014

I’m a little late to the party on this one. I’m sure everyone here has read it already, or at least read about it, so I won’t say too much other than I enjoyed it as much as the rest of the world, found it to be both compelling and enriching. Novels in verse have a very specific audience in library, I think some students have a hard time finding the narrative in them, and thus label them “boring”. Others, definitely like the brevity, the language, etc… and seek them out. Anyway, I’m glad to have read it, and I’m looking forward to sharing it with a wider audience.

whereitendsThis Is Where It Ends
by Marieke Nijkamp
Sourcebooks Fire
Pub date: January 5, 2016
E-ARC via NetGalley

Brilliant. Intriguing. Suspenseful. This tightly written novel spans only an hour, but feels like a lifetime. A teenager locks a school full of students in an auditorium at the end of an assembly and begins shooting. Told from the perspectives of four different students, all with a connection to the shooter, each providing pieces of the current drama unfolding, as well as the backstory that leads to the tragedy that will be. It is at once heartbreaking, and all too realistic. Loyalty, love, fear, prejudice, and abuse all play a part in this wild ride of a story.

Those are the finished titles. I’m currently working on a few more. Reading an E-ARC of Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow and loving that one, but I don’t want to write about it until I’ve finished it.

COCO and the Little Black Dress

cococoverCOCO and the Little Black Dress
by Annemarie van Haeringen
NorthSouth Books
Publish date:  October 1, 2015
E-ARC made available courtesy of NetGalley

 

The Sum: This picture book biography details the life of Coco Chanel, one of the world’s most famous fashion designers, primarily for her “little black dress”.  She grew up in France, impoverished and living in an orphanage when her father could no longer afford to raise her. It was there she was taught to sew, to knit, to embroider, to mend clothing and made to work very, very hard. Young Coco had big dreams of life beyond the orphanage, of living among the wealthy, and wanting to be famous. And, she did, with a lot of hard work, creativity and even more determination. The skills she was forced to learn as a child enabled her to make a life for herself, designing and creating clothing for the wealthiest of women.

coconun

The Ins: One of the things I love about this story is the focus on Chanel’s free-spiritedness; rejecting the corset that was de-rigueur at the time and creating clothes that were elegant and comfortable for women to wear. Her independence gave her a freedom that was enviable to many women, and she became someone to emulate. The artwork complements the story so beautifully, it has a very “French” feel to them, with a dash of whimsy. The strong black line drawings with sometimes minimal color remind me vaguely of the Madeline books, another French classic.

cococorset

The Outs: No author notes, bibliography or any kind of backmatter make it difficult to determine if this is actually a biography or a fictionalized account of Coco Chanel, but the brief details included in the book jive with much of what is known about Chanel, sticking to the creative, more positive aspects of her life while leaving out some of the more salacious information.
The All-Around: Similar in tone and content to Different Like Coco by Elizabeth Matthews (Candlewick, 2007), this will make a fun read-aloud. Young clothes-horses will also find much here to admire. I’ll be adding it to my collection.

Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead

Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Steadgoodbyestranger
Published by Wendy Lamb Books
Pub. Date: August 4, 2015

E-Galley made available from NetGalley

The Sum: I have to say I loved this book, but it definitely took me awhile to fully understand and invest in characters. The bulk of the book is told from Bridge’s point of view, who is currently in 7th grade and struggling with school and friendships and “being herself” when she’s not quite sure what that means or who she is. She was hit by a car when she was 8, nearly died, spent A LOT of time in the hospital and missed all/most of 3rd grade, which left her changed and different.  There are two other voices in this story, one from a boy, Sherm, who is also in 7th grade and slowly becoming friends with Bridge. He tells his story in a series of unsent letters to his grandfather who has recently moved out of the house, leaving the rest of the family stunned and confused. The third, and most mysterious, narrator is an unnamed high school student who is taking a “mental health” day from school, who provides some bigger picture context, ties the story together, as her story is only one day, the final day of the book. It’s a bit confusing to keep up with, but Stead does a good job of bringing it all together.

The Ins: What I loved about this one is the relationships between friends, between siblings and between frenemies. It all felt very true to middle school, with some growing up quickly, others wanting to stay young, having crushes, not having crushes, and kooky teachers. The parents here are definitely side characters, as seems fitting for middle schoolers, who mostly want them out of the picture where they can’t embarrass anyone. The writing is a little bit lyrical, a little bit practical, very contemporary and completely engaging. I wanted to know what was going on with these guys, I wanted to know that the mysterious high schooler was going to be okay, that Em was not going to become a cliché, and I definitely wanted to know how Bridge, Tab and Em were going to stick to their “no fighting” rule. That’s a tough one.

The Outs: Not much, but the three voices, two timelines thing is going to difficult for some readers, resulting in protests of “boring” which actually equals “I couldn’t understand it”, but kids who stick with it, are going to dig it.

The All-Around: I have many fans of When You Reach Me, and this one will be an easy sell.

Enjoy!