Staff Picks: Books
After the sudden death of their favorite teacher, three
middle schoolers conspire to get everybody to read one of his favorite books, To Kill A Mockingbird, by
misshelving and hiding copies of the classic first in their town and eventually in libraries
and bookstores far and wide. Lucy, Elena, and Michael publicize what they're doing with posters and social media while making the book scarce until their plan takes on a life of its own. Like Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library, I Kill the Mockingbird is a fast and witty read that celebrates the love of
books and reading.
I Kill the Mockingbird
Leon Leyson was number 289, the youngest on the list. The list that would eventually mean life for more than a thousand Jews. Leon was Number 289 on Schindler's list. His powerful memoir, The Boy on the Wooden Box tells his story to the young people of today what it was like surviving the Holocaust. The reader sees this horrific time through the eyes of a child. His youthful perspective brings a powerful message of survival and humanity. Leon was only a boy during WWII, spending most of his years from 10-19 in Jewish ghettos, work, concentration and displaced persons camps. The hunger, loss, pain and suffering are real. Separated for months at a time from his family, Leon found the will to survive inside of him. If you are a reader at 40 or a child at 10 reading this book, you will feel the struggle. You will hold your breath as the family is forced to separate. You will wonder how evil can exist. You will wonder if Leon ever sees the faces again of his brothers. Share this book with your children or students.
I think the dedication page is its own recommendation for reading this book: "To my brothers, Tsalig and Hershel, and to all the sons and daughters, sisters and brothers, parents and grandparents who perished in the Holocaust. And to Oskar Schindler, whose noble actions did indeed save a "world entire." - Leon Leyson
The Boy on the Wooden Box
Film adaptations of three recent novels and one middle school classic are scheduled for release this fall. Why not take advantage of summer reading season to read, or perhaps re-read, the books that have inspired these upcoming movies:
The Giver by Lois Lowry - August 15 release
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn - October 3 release
The Best of Me by Nicholas Sparks - October 17 release
Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins - November 21 release
The arresting photo on the cover of this book caught my eye and I was quickly drawn into the quirky world of George Ohs, who called himself The Mad Potter.
Born in Biloxi, Mississippi in 1871, George Ohs was a largely self-taught potter, making items like no one had ever seen before. It wasn’t until long after his death that the art world came to appreciate what he called his “mud babies.”
The Mad Potter: George E. Ohr, Eccentric Genius tells his fascinating story and is illustrated with intriguing historic photographs.
The Mad Potter
Isabelle, a young dancer, is the newest girl in the American Girl series. Isabelle by Laurence Yep is the first book in the series, 2 others: Designs by Isabelle and To the Stars, Isabelle have also been published.
The first book, Isabelle, sets up the characters, her family, friends and the setting. Isabelle is excited about starting her first year at the Anna Hart School of the Arts, a prestigious school for the arts in Washington D.C. She can’t help comparing herself to her older sister, Jade, who also attends Anna Hart and is an amazing ballerina. Actually all the kids at Anna Hart are exceptionally talented. Isabelle questions her dance ability and wonders if she can navigate the new school.
As Isabelle prepares with her class for the Fall Festival, she continues to doubt her own ballet ability. What she doesn’t doubt is her desire and sense of style for designing Jade’s and her own costumes for the program. As the Fall Festival draws closer, Jade gives Isabelle some spot on tips for her dancing that allows for her to finally give the performance she has been dreaming of. And Jade and her both have amazing costumes as well. Both Jade and Isabelle are noticed by a professional Director and dancer and are asked to perform in the Nutcracker – a dream come true.
Fans of American Girl will enjoy this new series. The books are fun and read quickly.
I love the way Eoin Colfer writes. I was hooked on his book “Benny and Omar” then I got hooked on the Artemis Fowl series. I just finished his book “The Wish List” and am still happy with his brand of writing. In The Wish List Meg and Belch are robbing an old man. Meg is reluctant and basically a good girl but Belch is rotten. When the old man pulls a shotgun Belch sic’s Raptor, his Rottweiler on the old man. Meg tries to help out, Belch is not happy. Meg jumps out the window and Belch follows her. Belch has the shotgun and in the ensuing struggle it goes off and a gas generator explodes killing Meg, Belch and Raptor. Now the twist, up until then it was a regular story but Eoin Colfer does not write just regular stories. Meg finds herself given a second chance. St. Peter gives her a chance to redeem herself and he sends her back to earth to help the old man. Belch has merged with his dog Raptor and the Devil has sent back him back to make sure Meg fails so he could get her soul. It makes an entertaining read.
The Wish List
Eoin Colfer is best known for his teen books the Artemis Fowl series. In Plugged he is targeting the adult audience and as it is an adult audience he lets the language get foul. Not Fowl as in Atemis Fowl but Foul as in let’s let the cuss words fly. Personally I could do without the cussing but if your main character is an Irish bouncer/ ex-army type of guy, I guess some language will come with that. Daniel McEvoy is an ex-army most recently Lebanon. He is a big guy and is an expert killer especially with a knife but also with a gun. Daniel McEvoy is a bouncer at a club called Slots. He used to be a “Protection” guy and a friend for Zeb. Daniel is a very macho guy and can kill you in a dozen of ways but he is going bald and is very vain about it. Zeb, a very unsavory character and is giving Daniel hair plugs. When I first heard the title I thought plugged referred to being killed by bullets not hair plugs. But indeed Daniel and a mob type boss are both vain enough about their hair, hence the title of the book. This book was a little too flash back and now present but I really liked Daniel talking to Ghost Zeb. Daniel goes to Zeb for another treatment and a mob henchman is there and as mob hence men tend to be he tries to kill Daniel. Daniel being OUR hero kills the bad guy. Then the mystery ensues of why is the bad guy here. Ghost Zeb keeps coming to Daniel and talking to him. I listened to the audio book version and loved listening to Zeb talking to Daniel. Daniel has to figure out who killed Connie (a hostess he liked), and what happened to Zeb.
Missing May is a bitter-sweet story about the after-effects of coping with the death of a most-beloved wife and stepmother named May. For many years May and Ob, her husband, a disabled Navy veteran, lived in Deep Water, West Virginia in a rusty old trailer. They were a childless couple until they met Summer, a distant relative who became parentless at the age of six, and who was subsequently “adopted” by May and Ob.
The story begins after May’s death. May was a very loving woman and both Ob and Summer grieve so desperately that they attempt to find May’s spirit. Cletus Underwood, a kid from Summer’s seventh grade class, befriends Ob and senses Ob’s despair. He tells Ob and Summer about a Spiritualist in a nearby county, so, Ob, Summer, and Cletus begin a quest to find The Reverend Miriam B. Conklin, Small Medium at Large. Do Ob and Summer find what they’re looking for to quell their sadness? You will discover the truth after reading this inspirational story that received the 1993 John Newbery Award.
Some little boys want a family dog, some parents don’t want a family dog. Hal Fenton is one of those boys who desperately wants a dog for a birthday present, but his wealthy parents Donald and Albina do not want one. To pacify their son they rent a dog for the weekend; the Easy Pets Dog Agency in London is just the place. Myron and Mavis Carker, owners of the agency, do it for profit, not for the love of dogs. Kayley is the kind teenage caretaker of the dogs. Kayley finds a mongrel, brings it to the agency, and names him Fleck, and pronounces him a rare breed: a “Tottenham” terrier. The Fentons rent Fleck for the weekend. Fleck and Hal are inseparable, that is, until Albina returns Fleck.
Let the adventure begin! Hal and his pal kidnap the dogs at the agency and begin a journey to his grandparents home near the coast of England, all the while being pursued for the tremendous reward offered by Hal’s parents. The delightful story of Fleck, Otto, the St. Bernard, Li-Chee, the Pekinese, Francine, the poodle, Honey, the rough-haired collie, and even Queen Tilly, the Mexican hairless, is both harrowing and heart-warming. Do they make it to their destination? Read it and find out!
This is the last book written by Eva Ibbotson who passed away in October 2010 at the age of 85.
One Dog and His Boy
This book is the story of Sam Lewis and the events that unfold during the 33 Minutes until Morgan Sturtz kicks his butt at recess (and then around 60 more minutes of aftermath). The author speaks directly to his tween audience, and gets it right. The voice of middle school is heard loud and clear over food fights, fire alarms and friendships. It’s funny, fast paced, heart-warming and breaking all at once. It’s the perfect book to recommend to kids that are starting to outgrow the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books. The lessons in 33 Minutes on friendship and staying true to one’s self will stick with the reader long after the worst day of Sam’s life and his middle school years have passed. I think it would be awesome to have a teacher like Ms. Z who can say: “This sucks….Wait. Be patient. You’re not going to be here forever. And in the meantime, even though you and this place don’t fit together so great all the time, be you.” Now, a sigh of relief from me that middle school has passed and that authors like Todd Hasak-Lowy are writing realistic books for tweens to read during the transition of middle school. Meet Todd at Bookbug in Kalamazoo on May 5 at 4 pm!
“The suburbs have no charms to soothe the restless dreams of youth,” sang Geddy Lee, lead singer of my favorite band Rush when I was a teenager growing up in a Chicago suburb. This is not the case in Shaun Tan’s book of mini-surreal masterpieces, Tales From Outer Suburbia. In these suburbs, there is a water buffalo that answers questions in an empty lot, a dugong (manatee type creature) that appears on someone’s lawn, ICBMs in everyone’s backyard, and a man wandering around in a diving suit.
I found the stories from Tales From Outer Suburbia to be a little too bizarre at first, but my compulsion to finish books that I’ve started carried me through until I slowly became enchanted. The stories feature physical manifestations of the hopes and fears of the people who live in these suburbs and they wove their way into my psyche and released strong feelings of wonder, healing, and letting go. The strange story lines somehow open you up and leave you thinking about them long after you have read them.
I especially identified with a story about two brothers who have a map of their suburb and decide to walk to where the map ends to see what is there. It reminded me of a 10 mile hike my brother and I took to complete the hiking merit badge. We weren’t going to get “out in nature” anytime soon, so we just decided to walk around our Chicago suburb (which, oddly enough, included a stop at the public library to pick up some 8mm films). The experience did have a surreal feeling and it completely changed the way I felt about where I lived. Walking gives you such an intimate connection with your surroundings and it empowered me, as I went to places I had only gone with my parents up to that point.
I was so struck by the book that I asked my son if I could read him the extremely short stories before he went to bed. He agreed and loved the stories and I got to have the nice experience of reading aloud to him that I hadn’t had in several years and to talk a little bit about what it is like to have an older brother who is always right.
Tale From Outer Suburbia
Every time I stumble across a book like Kathleen O'Dell's The Aviary, I'm amazed that more readers - of all ages - don't read middle grade. The Aviary is very Gothic in setting and tone and simultaneously bursting with colorful characters, a unique combination. There are secrets and magic, plus a good dose of realism and a lesson or two as well. It actually reminded me a bit of Ransom Riggs' Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children.
The main character, Clara, is a delightful character: headstrong, adventurous, and incurably curious. I would have enjoyed The Aviary based solely on the premise and setting, but Clara made me love it. Her curiosity was engaging and infectious, ensuring that the reader was never plagued by a dull moment or stale passage, simply because Clara herself was always plotting her next move and going off on some adventure.
Since The Aviary is in many respects a mystery, there are many great elements I feel I can't really comment on in much depth. I can, however, say that every detail in The Aviary comes together quite elegantly and I was left completely satisfied by the ending. I spent much of the novel hypothesizing about how everything fit together... I liked that the mystery wasn't ridiculously easy to solve, but all the pieces of the puzzle were there, waiting to be put together by the reader and the intrepid Clara.
The Aviary is one of wonderful titles that can be enjoyed by a wide variety of readers. It is, plain and simple, a wonderfully written and imagined novel and didn't feel at all confined to one specific reading level. It could easily be a read for the whole family and will appeal to those who usually read young adult or adult titles.
Crows have glossy black feathers with glints of dark blue and purple. Their life span usually ranges from 9 to12 years. Like humans, they can pretty much adapt to a variety of habitats, eating just about anything that their bodies can digest. Crows are highly social and enjoy traveling in groups. They can mimic various sounds and have a highly specialized and evolved language of communication. A flock of crows is called a “murder.” Although worldwide there are 45 different crow species, the ones most commonly seen in Michigan is the American or common crow.
Crows can be noisy, nosy, and downright annoying at times. Because of their raucous tendencies, some people don’t like them very much, and most farmers tend to lump them into the pest category of animals since they are inclined to dine on their crops. On the other hand, crows have also been proven to be beneficial in farm settings since they consume many insect pests that can ruin a harvest.
I’ve always been intrigued and fascinated by these highly intelligent, comical, and mischievous birds. When my husband and I walk around KVCC’s Texas Township campus, we usually see and hear numerous crows. They tend to hang out in small mobs, idling on and around lamp posts or sauntering along the parking lots and fields; forever on the lookout for a scavenging opportunity. They don’t have to look far since college students throw away lots of fast food offerings such as fries or buns, making the entire site an ever changing smorgasbord. The garbage bins seem especially suited for quick crow take-out buffet dining, and we’ve been amused many times by crow dumpster divers in search of their next snack.
As the Crow Flies is a new children’s picture book that was published in December, 2012. It was written by Sheila Keenan and illustrated handsomely by Kevin Duggan, an experienced nature painter. It beautifully captures and celebrates crows and their world in rhyming verse:
“All day long you’re on the go.
You don’t have time to watch a crow.
But we’re here ...and here... and there.
We poke our beaks in everywhere.”
Just a few weeks ago, I also happened to watch a very well made PBS program, originally filmed in 2010, entitled A Murder of Crows, a part of their “Nature” series. It was enlightening, entertaining and made me especially aware of these birds’ high level of intelligence, as evidenced by the fact that they can manufacture and use tools to solve problems.
And since I was on this crow kick anyway, I also read the “J” non-fiction book, Crows: Strange and Wonderful by Laurence Pringle with illustrations by Bob Marshall, who are both popularly known wildlife advocates.
So the next time you are out and about, listen for the familiar “Caw, caw,, watch for streaks of black wing, and you might be fortunate enough to see crows in an entirely different, more appreciative way.
Crows and humans; we are so different, yet so alike!
As the Crow Flies
At the beginning of The Chamber in the Sky, the fourth and
final book in the Norembugan quartet, Brian and Gregory are lucky to be alive.
The Thusser horde have already colonized the minds of the inhabitants of the
Vermont subdivision where it all began after The Game of Sunken Places. Brian
and Gregory, along with their blue-blooded elfin companion Gwynyfer have to
find a travelling chamber that contains the off switch to the centuries-long
game if they hope to make it back to Vermont. M.T. Anderson is a fine
storyteller and funny. What a unique blend of laugh out loud moments along with
genuinely thrilling plot twists and turns. The four-part series will probably be
most enjoyed by 10 and ups.
The Chamber in the Sky
The summer of 1962 in a small town Norvelt, PA is off to an iffy start for 11 year old Jack in Dead End in Norvelt. He accidentally fires off his father’s World War II Japanese rifle, and, Jack’s mother “grounds him for life” (or at least the summer.) The one exception to his not leaving the house is to help Miss Volker, whose arthritic hands make it impossible for her to type the newspaper obituaries. She can’t drive, either, so she gives Jack driving lessons and with Jack at the wheel, they careen around town trying to discover if a Hell’s Angel really put a curse on the town, or if the Girl Scout cookies are laced with rat poison. Eccentric and colorful characters abound in this book. It also provides a glimpse into actual historical events, an added plus. (There really was a town called Norvelt, created by Eleanor Roosevelt, and based on communal land ownership.)
A wonderfully readable book with non-stop action for older children, Dead End in Norvelt won the Newbery Award for 2012. It joins a long list of other great titles by popular author Jack Gantos, including the Joey Pigza chapter book series and the Rotten Ralph picture books.
Dead End in Norvelt
Drumming, by Ian Adams, is a good introduction to playing drum set. This new nonfiction title for beginning drummers shows the different kinds of equipment used to get started playing the drums along with good advice on safe drumming (ear plugs) and finding a teacher. An explanation of musical notation specific to drums, grooves and styles, inspiring highlights on influential rhythmic creators like Stewart Copeland, Cindy Blackman, and DJ Afrika Bambaataa plus great images of drummers from a wide variety of musical genres make this a great read for upper elementary, middle school, and teen readers.
Most of the time I’m waiting for one book or another to come out. Knowing forthcoming publication dates is part of this profession but I think I’d be this way regardless. Most of the time, I think the anticipation is fun and I even add reminders to my online calendar so that I don’t forget to put the book on hold.
The hardest part of reading a good series is waiting for the next book. Sometimes I’m so anxious to read it, I have to work hard to distract myself with other good books. Other times I forget about a series for awhile and then am pleasantly surprised when a new book comes out. A few times in my life, I’ve purposely waited until the whole series was available before reading because I just new it would be so good that I’d want to read it all at once. It’s hard to avoid spoilers but it’s pretty great to not have to wait for the next book. I read the Harry Potter series this way, start to finish. That was a great two weeks!
Early 2012 seemed to be a busy reading time for me with new additions to some of my favorite series for children and teens coming out. I really enjoyed Trenton Lee Stewart’s new book, The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict, a companion to his Mysterious Benedict Society series. This series is great for elementary aged kids but I know a fair number of adults who like it too. I think it’d be great for reading as a family or listening to on a road trip. Suspenseful and touching with lots of mystery and problem-solving. Funny, engaging characters. This latest book was easily my favorite of all four.
Now I’m moving on to Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore. It’s a companion book to “Graceling” and “Fire” and I’m hoping it’s just as wonderful. I've been waiting a long time to read more about Bitterblue, Po, and Katsa!
So what books are you marking your calendar for? Anything I should be looking out for too?
Sally May Harrison is a slave. Pa learns that Master is planning to sell her and her brother, Abraham, so Pa plans for the whole family to run away from the plantation. They encounter many terrors and tragedy en route. Ultimately, Sally’s family finds and lives with a tribe of Seminole people.
I was moved by the poetry at the beginning of each chapter of My Name is Sally Little Song, by Brenda Woods. Sally makes up songs, like her Mama taught her to do. With very few words, her songs capture the essence of what she and her family experience.
Pa tells the family they are leaving “day after t’morrow afore sunrise,” and to keep it a secret…”send no one a farewell look with your eyes.” The following chapter starts with:
“Gotta look down
Into the dirt all day
Or my brown eyes
Is sure to give us away”
Sally’s family travels at night, in hopes of escaping notice. When they get to swampland, her poem both describes the feeling in the swamp and foreshadows danger:
Beneath my feet
Night bugs fly
Woods is the author of a 2003 Coretta Scott King Honor book, The Red Rose Box.
My Name is Sally Little Song
Dead End in Norvelt, by Jack Gantos, is the 2012 Newbery Medal winner for the most distinguished American children’s book published the previous year. Gantos has written many excellent children’s books including the naughty cat “Rotten Ralph” series and the troubled kid “Joey Pigza” series. Dead End in Norvelt is a semi-autobiographical story that mixes fact and fiction, the main character is named Jack Gantos... It is the summer of 1962. Jackie is twelve years old and is grounded for the summer for firing a shot from his father’s WWII Japanese sniper rifle AND for mowing down his mother’s corn patch intended to feed the needy inhabitants of her beloved town of Norvelt, Pennsylvania. Why did he mow down the corn? His dad, a navy veteran, told him to mow it, said he needed the land to build a bomb shelter from the Commies and a runway for his J-3 airplane, hoping to eventually fly away his family to a new life in Florida.
Jackie’s mother is devoted and loyal to the concept of neighbor-helping-neighbor. She’s forever grateful to the memory of and indebted to the social programs of Eleanor Roosevelt for whom the town is named, (“Nor” from Eleanor and “velt” from Roosevelt). Eleanor Roosevelt was instrumental in getting indoor plumbing and electricity in their New Deal homestead project built in 1934. When Jackie’s mother gives him permission to help their neighbor Miss Volker, he jumps at the chance to throw down his shovel and pick up a pencil to write obituaries with Volker. She’s old, arthritic-handed, and is the town nurse and medical examiner. Jackie writes the obits as the excited Volker dictates, never missing a beat about the importance and thoroughness of including everything, ie, the family part and, the important ideas to keep alive, and the importance of history. Volker gets worked up, pacing back and forth, swinging her arms like a windmill. Jackie types, then delivers the obits to Mr. Greene, Editor of the Norvelt News. Volker also writes: “This Day in History” for the newspaper. Volker is adamant with Jack about learning the importance of History… and don’t you forget it!
Sometimes the underage Jackie drives Volker around in her Valiant to visit the dead old ladies who are officially declared dead by Volker, the medical examiner. Why are so many of the original female inhabitants of Norvelt dying? Is it really just old age? What if Norvelt doesn’t get new inhabitants, what will become of the beloved town of Norvelt? Read this book for the surprise ending of this Newbery Award Winner!
Dead End in Norvelt
We are what we read. But how do we decide what to read? Normally we don't have a systematic program for our reading life. Perhaps a friend told us, or the "customers also bought this..." on Amazon.com, or our last book mentioned it, or we heard it on NPR or Oprah. These are all great, but there's many other ways. Try the Now Read This through our website. Or, if you want a Read-a-Like based on an author you like, try our Books and Authors database (or try Good Reads or LibraryThing).
But, if you want to get super serious, we have tons of books that are about books (i.e. bibliographies, "treasuries," "anthologies," "companions").
Based on Age:
1001 children's books you must read before you grow up, 100 best books for children, The Book of virtues for young people : a treasury of great moral stories, Black Books Galore! Guide to great African American children's books about girls, 500 Great Books for Teens, Disabilities and disorders in literature for youth : a selective annotated bibliography for K-12, The Ultimate Teen Book Guide
"I just want the classics!" (usually this means great literature, not necessary from the Classical period):
Cambridge Guide to Literature in English, Magill's survey of world literature, Literature Lovers Companion: the essential reference to the world’s greatest writers—past and present, popular and classical, Assessing the Classics: great reads for adults, teens, and English language learners, The modern library : the two hundred best novels in English since 1950, Harvard Classics series (has the actual writings)
Short Story Writers, The Essential Mystery Lists, Harold Bloom writes several books, e.g. on British Women Fiction Writers, Asian American Women Writers, Major Black American Writers, Classic Science Fiction Writers, and more.
To find the major books in an academic field, like philosophy or physics or astronomy, look for an introductory book. They usually have primary sources and "further reading" sections.
Racial or Cultural Identity:
African Writers, Sacred fire : the QBR 100 essential Black books, Concise encyclopedia of Latin American literature, Native American literatures : an encyclopedia of works, characters, authors, and themes
Movements and Places:
Literary movements for students : presenting analysis, context, and criticism on commonly studied literary movements, Promised Land: 13 books that shaped America, The Oxford companion to American literature (we also have these for Austrialian, French, Canadian, and more); Michigan in the Novel (really cool book list of novels set in MI or about MI)
Have fun reading, and slow down to think!
1001 Books for Every Mood
Leo and Diane Dillon have been illustrating children’s books together for most of their married life. They are icons in the world of children’s books. Patricia McKissack is also revered in the same world. Together, these talented folks have given us Never Forgotten, the story of Musafa, who was taken captive, sent across the sea, and sold into slavery.
Richly illustrated with oil paintings that look like woodcuts, this is lyrical story reminds readers that family is more important than anything and that our ancestors are with us always.
This book won a well-deserved Coretta Scott King Honor Award this year.
You could look only at the illustrations in this book and understand the friendship between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, but, of course, you will want to read the text that explains what transpired between John Adams, the Second President of the United States, and Thomas Jefferson, the Third President of the United States.
Suzanne Tripp Jurmain presents a brief overview of the beginnings of American independence and the important roles of Adams and Jefferson. Noisy John Adams was one of America’s best talkers and shy Thomas Jefferson was one of America’s best writers and together they helped write the Declaration of Independence. Although Adams and Jefferson were complete opposites in appearance, they both “had the same big, wonderful ideas about America. And, whenever they had a chance to work for their country, they did it together.” Interestingly enough, both John and Tom died on the same day, July 4, 1826, the fiftieth birthday of American independence.
Worst of Friends
For a fast-moving look at the crisis of the oceans, check out Mark Kurlansky’s World Without Fish, a 2011 release geared to readers aged nine and up. Kurlansky, a former commercial fisherman, explains how overfishing, pollution, and global warming are a triple threat to ocean eco-systems. He argues that these threats must be resolved by the generation of people that are not yet adults. I appreciated the nuanced explanation of the problems and the potential solutions that are available to us. Punctuated by a multi-part comic strip narrative and other illustrations by Frank Stockton, World Without Fish is fascinating for its design alone. Mark Kurlansky is the author of the bestselling Cod, among other books.
World Without Fish
During this busy holiday season, parents and other adults are scrambling about in search of the perfect gift for their children, grandchildren, nephews and nieces. Well, look no further!
Consider a gift that will entertain and educate kids of all ages and bring your family closer together. Give the gift that keeps on giving - the gift of reading! Reading with a child/children and encouraging them to read independently are two of the most significant things an adult can do to influence a youngster’s life.
Of course, good books make wonderful gifts. Kids naturally enjoy the magic that a book brings as they go over the story and illustrations, (many times, often more than once), practice their reading skills and perhaps learn something new in the process. Magazine subscriptions also make great recurring reading presents.
But maybe the best option for a reading themed gift is to bring a child to the Kalamazoo Public Library sometime during their holiday break. If you time it right, you can attend one of many programs planned for children. Then you can sign up the little guys for their own library cards, which come complete with plastic carrying cases and lanyards. And even though it is free of charge, the amount of pride and joy you’ll see in the little ones’ faces when first presented with it, will form a pleasurable, lasting memory for all gift givers.
Once armed with the card, the child has the entire library’s collection at his or her disposal. They can choose their own books, audiobooks, magazines, CDs, and DVDs. Of course, librarians are always on hand to aid your young ones in the selection process, helping to match the child with books covering their particular interests, and on their reading level as well. Best of all, this process can be repeated again and again. Just return the items and pick out new ones as many times as you like. Truly the best gift of all. And one that will keep on giving for a lifetime!
After you read this great juvenile fiction story, you will conclude that the book: Esperanza Rising IS appropriately titled. Esperanza is the daughter of a wealthy rancher in Aguascalientes, Mexico, in 1930. Esperanza always had servants; the most- trusted servants are Alfonso, Hortensia, and their son Miguel. The day before Esperanza’s thirteenth birthday her world is changed forever when Papi is killed by bandits. When Papi’s evil stepbrothers, Tio Marco and Tio Luis, take over the ranch, Esperanza and her mother and Abuelita (grandmother), hatch a desperate and dangerous plan of escape aided by Hortensia, Alfonso, and Miguel. Undercover, they all stealth away to California where they labor in a company farm camp and Mexican Repatriation is rampant. Esperanza is forced to change her attitude and ideas and is forced to learn common chores in order to survive.
This is a marvelously well-written story about personal change and triumph. Pam Munoz Ryan’s author’s note describes that the book parallels her grandmother’s life who lived much like the characters in this story. This book is a favorite amongst elementary teachers.
When Julie, a generally bored 6th grader living in a small town near Liverpool, is asked to be the “good guide” for two new 6th grade classmates who suddenly arrive from Mongolia, she’s excited to take on the challenge. She teaches them about soccer, British slang, and school uniforms. She ends up learning quite a lot about traditional Mongolian life - but not from the brothers - and wishing the two weren't so secretive and quite so eager to "fit in" at their new school.
Some of the things she thinks she learns from the brothers are expressed as Polaroid style pictures, created for the book by illustrators Carl Hunter and Clare Heney. Frank Cottrell Boyce has crafted a school story that is in part about the ways the adult world can disrupt the lives of children. The Unforgotten Coat was inspired by the real-life story of a girl from Mongolia whom Boyce met during a visit to a school. This is an entertaining real-world that you won't want to put down.
The Unforgotten Coat
I’m currently reading What Would Joey Do?, book three of four in the Joey Pigza series by Jack Gantos. I like reading about Joey and his unpredictable life, his sweet behavior, his incredibly stupid behavior, and his mature logic about himself and his family—the abusive cigarette-smoking oxygenated grandma who raised him, his single mom with whom he now lives and who was AWOL most of his life yet now treats him with love and care, and his well-intentioned alcoholic dad Carter who lives three hours away in Pennsylvania, and his constant companion Pablo, a dachshund who tags along in Joey’s backpack.
Joey is high-strung and has major behavior problems that prompt his mom to get him evaluated resulting in him wearing medicated patches. Joey jumps into laugh-out-loud situations then suddenly sinks to real-life issues loaded with poignancy and despair. Joey is a grown-up little kid and his favorite expression is, “Can I get back to you on that?” Gantos is an extremely clever writer who has created a humorous character you do want to know!
Jack Gantos is the author of the Joey Pigza series:
What Would Joey Do?
Gary Schmidt is one of my favorite authors. The Wednesday Wars is one of his books that I often recommend to middle-grade readers. Now Schmidt has written a companion story, telling about one of the minor characters from the earlier book.
Okay for Now is the story of 14-year-old Doug, who looks and often acts like a thug. Of course, behind every thug is a real person, often with a compelling story. This is that story.
Even if you don’t usually read books from the Teen area of the library, this might be a good exception to make.
Okay for Now
Recently, I was reading the May/June 2011 issue of The Horn Book Magazine when an editorial caught my eye. Written by Roger Sutton, Editor in Chief for the magazine, the editorial, titled “Who Can We Count On?” raises several very good questions about reading in general, and specifically, about summertime reading by schoolchildren. These questions are certainly ones that teachers, parents, librarians, and other concerned adults should ponder. Here they are, with some of my own added:
• How many books should one read in a given time frame?
• Should we encourage schoolchildren to read?
• Does reading level (of the reader) really matter?
• Should summer reading schoolchildren be provided with incentives for reaching pre-set reading goals? And, who should set these goals?
• What types of incentives should be offered? (books, burgers, bicycles?)
• Should the number of books read count for anything?
As a librarian in a public library who works almost exclusively with children’s reading habits, I find these questions “right on the money” for insuring success in a summertime reading program or club. At the Kalamazoo Public Library, the summertime reading program for kids begins in early to mid-June, and continues until the last weekend in August. Somewhere close to twelve (12) weeks. The Library offers summer games for children ages birth-entering Kindergarten, for children entering 1st-4th grade, for ‘tweens who are entering grades five through seven, and for teens entering grades eight through graduation. (Don’t worry, adults, there’s a game for you, too!) Each of these games offers incentives at intervals along the way. Each of the children’s games encourages reading books at one’s pre-determined level (usually from the Accelerated Reader program in the schools). Each game encourages reading for a minimum of twenty (20) minutes a day, and also allows for reading at one’s level and for being read aloud to.
This year, incentives and games are going to be more “across the board” than they have been in the past. Readers will earn paperback books, tee shirts, stickers, and colorful beads at pre-set intervals.
Should you bring your child/encourage your child to come to the library this summer and read in one of the games? Absolutely! And, don’t forget to read yourself! What better role model than a reading parent?
Roger Sutton’s editorial concludes with this question: “…creating a second home on the floor of the children’s room…”. Won’t you join me this summer and read, read, read?
Last week, author Polly Horvath received the $20,000 Vicky Metcalf Award for Children’s Literature. This award is given to a Canadian writer of children’s literature for an entire body of work. That’s nice, isn’t it? What’s even nicer, though, is that Polly Horvath grew up in Kalamazoo! Polly’s mom, Betty Horvath, is also a writer of children’s books.
In addition to this lovely award, Polly has won the National Book Award, a Newbery Honor Award, and the Young Adult Canadian Book of the Year. You can read any of Polly’s books by visiting KPL.
We’re proud to call Polly Horvath one of our own!
Northward to the Moon
Or, if he can’t, The Candymakers certainly can! Author Wendy Mass’ latest novel for upper elementary readers starts out like it might parallel Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory in that there are four children chosen to take part in a candy-creating/making contest at the Life is Sweet candy company. The four are a part of a larger group of thirty-two who will be competing for the best new candy created especially for the contest. So, gather ‘round and join Logan, Philip, Daisy, and Miles as they begin their creative endeavors.
On the surface, this appears to be just another story about four children who each want only one thing: to win the candy contest. About a third of the way into the story, the surface opens up and things really begin happening! Each of the four children brings with himself/herself a secret that, when exposed, will affect the outcome of the contest. Each also shares just a bit about family and past memories, which could also hurt their chances in the contest.
Wendy Mass weaves a tangled web of fantasy about children who are motivated by so many outside factors that they often don’t understand at all. Logan’s parents (owners of the candy factory) have hidden him away from prying eyes for about eight years. Philip’s father seems to stop at nothing to take over others’ businesses, all in the name of greed. Daisy’s family didn’t even tell her when her birthday is so that she won’t blow her cover! And, Miles? Miles is into the afterlife, and is allergic to a great many things, including chocolate chip pancakes.
I’m sure you are wondering what all of this has to do with winning a candy-making contest. Trust me! You will be drawn into this story quickly and you will take on the characteristics of each of the children as their part in this drama unfolds. While some of the surface-opening surprises are really surprises, there are a good many things that happen that the reader can figure out on his/her own. The ending chapters contain at least two “surprises” that I would never have thought of as I was reading this story.
Choose this for a “back to school” read-aloud for your 3rd-4th-5th grade classroom. Then, sit back, and enjoy some good old fashioned chocolate candy/toffee/gum/licorice or gum as you get drawn in to the world of the Candymaker.
Ray Halfmoon, a Seminole-Cherokee boy living with his grandfather in Chicago, is at the center of this short book of connected stories. Showing the contemporary life of a young boy, the story is filled with challenges and successes as Ray and his grandpa go through their days.
Cynthia Leitich Smith will be the keynote speaker at this year’s Mary Calletto Rife Youth Literature Seminar, which will be held Friday, November 5, 2010. This annual celebration of youth, books, and reading is now in its 33rd year.
If you’re an adult with an interest in children’s books, we’d love to see you at the Seminar! Cynthia Leitich Smith will also be our guest at a free program for families at the Central Library on Thursday, November 4 at 7:00 p.m.
Yup. And, it appears, for a thirteen-year-old middle school 8th grader, a darn good one. Theo’s family are all lawyers. His Dad, real estate things. His Mom, abuse cases. His Uncle Ike, disbarred but doing income tax things. Theo’s classmates and schoolmates ask him questions about their brother’s getting arrested for marijuana, about which parent should a child live within a divorce case, about what can be done with an illegal immigrant who…
OOPS! I don’t want to reveal too much of the plot of John Grisham’s newest thriller titled Theodore Boone Kid Lawyer. Theo lives in a small town with many “real” lawyers, including his family as described above. He even fancies himself as an attorney, sort of. And, then, the unlikely happens. A murder is committed, and the defendant is being tried by a local judge, who just happens to be Theo’s friend. At least, as much of a friend as a sitting judge can be to a kid in the 8th grade. Theo’s favorite class in school is Government, and he finagles seats for his classmates so that they can attend the opening day of this murder trial. And, the excitement begins.
Author John Grisham’s titles for adults are known for their intrigue and suspense, a fact that has made him a #1 international best-selling author. He is certainly the master of the legal thriller. When I heard that he had written a book for younger readers (and I’d say late elementary age through middle school), I thought, “yeah, right”. John Grisham can’t write a book for children! Well, friends, guess what? He can, and he has.
Theodore Boone Kid Lawyer is for kids and it is every bit as exciting as the author’s adult novels. I started this book yesterday, and finished it today…it kept me guessing and kept me turning pages as I read (almost skimmed some parts, I was so interested) what certainly could become a best-seller for children, and maybe even an award winner!
Thanks, John Grisham! But, you didn’t finish the story. A sequel maybe?
Theodore Boone Kid Lawyer
Dwight is the weird kid, whose 6th grade classmates tolerate him hanging around, is the owner of Origami Yoda. The paper finger puppet, interestingly, offers cryptic advice to any question asked of it.
So should you take advice that comes from Origami Yoda? Visit the Children’s Room to find the answer to that question PLUS instructions for making your own Yoda.
The Strange Case of Origami Yoda
I was excited to see that Mark Haddon had written a new book but was rather surprised to find that it was heading for the children’s department. I am a fan of Haddon’s adult fiction works The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time (a past Reading Together selection) and his less acclaimed Spot of Bother. It isn’t uncommon for authors to cross genres and audiences and I decided it was worth giving Haddon’s latest book, Boom!, a read.
In the book’s introduction I learned that it was originally published in 1992 under the title Gridzbi Spudvetch!. Haddon jokingly states that only twenty-three people bought this difficult to pronounce title. At the time it was first published, Haddon had not received his notoriety so it isn’t all that surprising that the author and his publishers decided to update, rename and republish this book.
Boom! is the story of two young friends who find themselves in a life-changing misadventure after bugging their school faculty’s staff room. Overhearing a conversation between two teachers in a secret language, the boys’ curiosity is piqued. They boost their spy skills to a new level in order to find out what their teachers are up to only to find that they are now the ones being targeted! As the plot unfolds with amusing and lively twists and turns, the boys find that the “evaluation” they are receiving might be out of this world! I’ll leave the rest for you to discover.
The book is both humorous and fun. While I believe that Haddon’s writing skills have improved in his more recent works, I found that his knack for character development is his talent and true foundation. If you’ve read his other novels, you know that no one writes an innocent, naïve character better than Mark Haddon. It’s easy and fun to get lost in his work.
One of the latest juvenile historical fiction titles I have read is titled Good Fortune and which is written by Noni Carter.
New to the publishing world, Ms. Carter “was only a child when she first conceived of this story of a young girl’s journey from freedom to slavery and back to ultimate freedom…” (back jacket) Would that all first-time authors could pen something as engrossing and compelling as Good Fortune!
Written from the viewpoint of Ayanna Bahati, her African free self; and moving to being called Sarah, her slave self; and finally, to Anna (free in the North), this story details the daily happenings of a field hand on a Southern plantation. Sarah experiences horrible living conditions, appalling working conditions, beatings, and more until she meets John, an itinerant “preacher man” who begins to care for Sarah in a “womanly way”. The author keeps all situations in check, however, and only hints at things that Masta Jeffry might do to Sarah and the others.
Sarah, her brother Daniel and a friend take the big step: a leap forward in the freedom process one dark and stormy night and endure hardships that are almost unbelievable. They also find kindnesses in folk willing to help them on their way via the Underground Railroad to Ohio and eventual freedom. Their friend doesn’t make the entire trip, but Sarah and Daniel do, and are transplanted into an all Black community near Dayton, Ohio where they begin to make their way into a life previously unknown, or hardly remembered: that of freedom. They are able to work, save their money, buy things, marry, have children, get educated, etc. Part of the appeal of this story is that of female protagonist Sarah, who is about 12 years old when she begins her journey. Sarah teaches herself to read and write by covertly listening to the plantation owners’ children as they do their daily lessons. She capitalizes on her limited education, and eventually becomes a teacher for the community in which she lives in Ohio. Such determination! Such will! No wonder she is able to escape the bonds of slavery!
A must read for ‘tweens and older. This is an excellent glimpse into Southern plantation life and the life of the slaves that lived and worked there. I can see this book being awarded maybe a Newbery Medal, or a Coretta Scott King award (for new authors). Check it out today!
Both works of fiction for older readers, Mahtab’s Story (by Libby Gleeson) and Boys Without Names (by Kashmira Sheth), these stories spoke to me right from their first arrival here at KPL.
I should say that I have a seemingly more than ordinary curiosity about stories set anywhere in the Middle East and/or India. This interest was first fueled by news events, and then by several titles by Deborah Ellis (who wrote The Breadwinner, Parvana, Parvana’s Journey, and Shauzia just to name several).
Kashmira Sheth’s Boys Without Names chronicles eleven-year-old Gopal and his family as they are forced to flee their rural Indian village in secrecy and under the cover of darkness, because they are too far in debt to the moneylender to ever get clear again. Upon their arrival in the big city of Mumbai, Gopal’s father goes missing (or does the moneylender have him?) and Gopal, desperate to help his family by earning money for basic living, ends up locked in a sweatshop from which there is no escape. It is common practice to purchase orphans or street beggars for what seems like a large sum of money, and then enslave them in horrible conditions as child laborers. Newbery Award-winning author Jacqueline Woodson says that “Boys Without Names is one of the best books I have ever read.” While I can’t compete with Ms. Woodson’s literary evaluation skills, I, too, think this is an excellent choice for ‘tween-age readers, and would recommend it to any classroom teacher for a read-aloud as well.
Mahtab’s Story by Libby Gleeson is another tale of a family forced to leave their home, this time in Herat, Afghanistan; and journey secretly through the rocky mountains to Pakistan, and finally to far-away Australia, to escape the Taliban. Mahtab’s family, like Gopal’s, waits months and months for any solution to their situation. Mahtab’s father, too, goes missing in his attempt to reach safety and get established for his family. Confined to several detention centers along the way, the family is finally re-united! This family endures hardships and tortures that can only be imagined by those of us living in the Western world. This story, too, would make a good read-aloud for the ‘tween-age reader in a classroom setting.
These stories give good glimpses into the cultures and religious restrictions in each of these locales. The families in each book are strong, yet weak; determined, yet uncertain; and real enough to make the reader want to have a “happy ending.”
The world's most popular team sport has the world's attention during World Cup 2010 in South Africa. Football, or soccer if you prefer, has been around for thousands of years. People have always played soccer and likely always will. In Goal!, a group of young friends in a dusty South African township come together in a pickup game with their brand-new, federation-size soccer ball. How do they team together when some older boys, bullies, try to steal their ball? We see the best and worst of human nature when people come together to watch or to play the most human game. I like that Goal! focuses on football as the sport of the people and the joy of the game – even in the face of adversity.
I hope I look this good when I am 80! The character I’m referring to is Nancy Drew, who made her debut in 1930, at the tender age of 16 years. Nancy Drew lived “the life” in Midwestern River Heights, a town I always thought might be a Chicago suburb, but I have no proof that it could be. Nancy had it all: an understanding father who gave her free rein, a dashing blue convertible roadster (this morphed into a Mustang-type car in later editions, and then into a hybrid in very recent updates), a housekeeper who was a great cook and who took the best of care of Nancy and her widowed father, lawyer Carson Drew, and two friends, cousins Bess Marvin and Georgia (George) Fayne who supported Nancy in all of her adventures. Speaking of Nancy’s friends, I remember a very early story where Nancy visited her friend Helen Corning, at a lake resort/campground/association type place. There was a definite suggestion of affluence in these stories. There was also the element of boyfriends for each of the girls.
I always thought that the “author” of the Nancy Drew books was Carolyn Keene... a single, female type person with a wonderful gift for writing. As an adult, I learned that Carolyn Keene was a pseudonym, often for a team of ghostwriters employed by the actual creator of the series, Edward Stratemeyer. It seems that Stratemeyer himself wrote outlines and plot summaries for the stories, and then found writers to complete the stories, for a one-time fee of $50-$250. All copyright remained with the syndicate. Stratemeyer also owned the pseudonyms.
I began reading Nancy Drew after I finished the Bobbsey Twins (also a creation of the Stratemeyer Syndicate). I would get the books as gifts, and devour them quickly, and often. I would trade with girl friends so that I didn’t have to wait for the next occasion to get another book. So, I was about in third or fourth grade, and was already an avid library user. But, I couldn’t find my newest favorite books at the library! An article I read by Meghan O’Rourke in an issue of The New Yorker from 2004 said that “the Stratemeyer Syndicate came under attack from educators and librarians from the start.” The article continues with calling series published by the Syndicate “tawdry, sensationalist work taking children away from books of moral or instructional value.” I knew that my teachers didn’t allow me to do required book reports on Nancy Drew titles, but sure didn’t understand why.
I have always said that if I hadn’t read series books (Bobbsey Twins, Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, Cherry Ames [not a Stratemeyer series]) that I wouldn’t be the reader that I am today. I see these books as stepping stones to more sophisticated literature…and I’ve read them all from Treasure Island to Tom Sawyer to Gulliver’s Travels to... I could go on and on. I’ve read biographies, and loved them. I’ve read romances, mysteries, science fiction, and fantasy (Brian Jacques’ Redwall series was wonderful)… I’ve read Newbery Award winners and nonfiction and...
Nancy Drew titles have been updated, and modernized and have had mentions of racism/sexism removed. Why have they survived? Back to Meghan O’Rourke’s article, it’s because of the re-writes, and because “as Nancy has aged, children’s book publishing has become more sensitive to psychological issues”, and Nancy now “acknowledges her flaws, and shows herself to be a more inclusive soul than the old Nancy.”
I sure wouldn’t hesitate to re-read these books, even now. And, to me, it would be a good way of saying to Nancy Drew and friends, “Happy Birthday”!
Take-Off: American All-Girl Bands During WWII is a book with a CD that tells a story seldom heard. Take-Off is a great introduction to swing music and features recordings of some of the all-women swing bands that came into their own during the war. More than half of the tracks on the CD included with the book Take-Off were performed by The International Sweethearts of Rhythm, a sixteen piece band that was integrated at a time when, in many locales in the Jim Crow Deep South, it was actually illegal for black and white musicians to play together. The Sweethearts toured there, but not much. For the most part, they played sold out shows in New York, Chicago, Washington, and other cities in the North. In 1945 they traveled to Europe with the USO.
Check out the book Sweethearts of Rhythm: The Story of the Greatest All-Girl Swing Band in the World, illustrated by 2010 Caldecott Medal winner Jerry Pinkney. Marilyn Nelson’s poems speak in the voices of some of the instruments in the band: Tiny Davis’s trumpet, Ina Bell Byrd’s trombone, Roz Cron’s tenor saxophone, or bandleader Anna Mae Winburn’s baton reminiscing from the shelves of a New Orleans pawnshop about struggles and glory gone by. The Sweethearts, and the other swing bands featured in Take-Off, played music based in the blues and filled with driving energy and joy. Why not place a hold on the books right now?
Sweethearths of Rhythm