Friday, May 19, 2017

The Rent Collector by Cameron Wright

The Rent Collector by Cameron Wright is a fiction based on a true story. Published in 2012, this story follows Sang Ly, her husband, and ill child as they live at and gather recyclables out of a huge garbage dump in Cambodia. Living at the dump has caused their baby to be very sick. They take him to many doctors, but he always goes back to being sick once the medicine is gone.

This story contains several stories as Sang Ly learns to read. I enjoyed all the short stories that Wright incorporated into the story. The story follows the Cinderella story which Wright brings up as one of the most universal tales of all time. Sang Ly even leaves a shoe behind at one point.

The character of Sopeap was one of my favorites along with the character Lucky. Sopeap is a many layered character - neither good nor bad. She is human and her experiences that are revealed throughout the story make her seem so real. This story made me tear up many times, so beware, Alysen. Lucky seems older than his years and is blessed with a positive disposition. I wanted to take him home and raise him in a good environment.

My only complaint was that at times, Sang Ly's voice doesn't seem authentic. However, the overiding message of this book is such a good one. This book makes the reader think about life, poverty, the things we throw away - including humans. I enjoyed the Cambodian history that was relayed throughout the story and how Wright wove all the stories that Sopeap taught Sang Ly into the main story.

I enjoyed the push this book makes about the value of literacy and storytelling. Teachers are important, and the ability to read and write will help end poverty. I loved how a child's picture book opened the door for Sang Ly to have a teacher.

The ending was good, but I was left wondering how the Healer worked. I wanted the science behind his techniques. I also want to watch the documentary that Wright's son produced about the real Sang Ly and her family.

This was our book club choice for May, and everyone enjoyed it.

Read to a child today because you may just change their world for the better. 

Link to our NICU book registry if you'd like to donate books to babies in the newborn intensive care unit.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Keeping Score by Linda Sue Park

Linda Sue Park has the ability to take subjects that I have no interest in (like baseball or centuries old pottery) and create an interesting and enjoyable story. When I picked up her book A Single Shard and read the blurb, I thought, "This could be really boring," but it was a Newbery book, so I read it and ended up loving the characters and found the parts about pottery pretty fascinating.

I felt the same way when reading the blurb on Keeping Score as I have no interest in baseball. Published in 2008, Maggie, named for Joe DiMaggio, loves baseball. She has no desire to play the game, but she is an avid fan. She learns how to score the games from one of the firefighters who work at her dad's old station. Their friendship develops, but Jim is drafted and sent to Korea. Maggie writes to him, but soon his letters stop and she is determined to find out why.

The story is set in New York with the trifecta of amazing baseball clubs in New York during that time period. I enjoyed seeing how Maggie learned about her relationship to God and religion, how she was willing to sacrifice for others (something that happens in a baseball game), and that she had two good parents.

I learned about baseball in a way that was interesting and would highly recommend this book to any of my students who love baseball or any other sport. I love that the main character was a girl who wanted to do something that boys normally did. In the 1950s, women's choices were limited, and I liked that Maggie was able to see possibilities of using her skill of keeping score in her future.

Linda Sue Park is on my short list of authors whose books I will buy just because their name is on the cover. She has written many books that I still need to add to my library. Two other books by Linda Sue Park that I have read and loved are A Long Walk to Water and When My Name was Keoko.

Read to a child today even if that child is you. 

Link to our NICU book registry if you'd like to donate books to babies in the newborn intensive care unit.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Storybooks with Girl Characters: Part 1

Recently I've seen several posts on social media that tell about the dearth of children's storybooks that feature a female as the main character. I went through my own library of children's books, and yes, there are a lot more children's books out there with male main characters.

As a parent of both girls and boys, I want there to be good and fun books for my boys and my girls. Often the main character is an insect or animal and often they are also male, but there are good books with female main characters; you just have to look for them. I think it is important for little boys and girls to see characters of both sexes in the books that are read to them.

Here are three of my favorites. I'll do a couple more blog posts in the future to highlight more books for girls.

1. Rodeo Red written by Maripat Perkins and illustrated by Molly Idle. Published in 2015, this book has a cute little redhead who goes by the name of Rodeo Red. She dresses in cowboy gear, can swing a lasso, and is quite creative. When Sideswiping Slim shows up (her new baby brother), Rodeo Red has to figure out a way to keep him happy while also keeping her stuffed hound dog, Rusty, as her favorite sidekick. She and Rusty "had always been happier than two buttons on a new shirt."
Unfortunately, her little brother takes a liking to Rusty, and she has to find a way to get her stuffed dog back in her arms.

This book has darling illustrations and is fun to read. Little children will probably not understand the figures of speech, but my three-year-old grandson likes this book.

2. Hip, Hip, Hooray for Annie McRae! written by Brad Wilcox and illustrated by Julie Olsen is another book about a little cowgirl. Annie McRae has curly, red hair and a gap tooth grin. She is a happy girl who has wonderful parents who cheer her on with the words "Hip, hip, hooray for Annie McRae!" When her parents have a day when they don't cheer her, Annie gets very sad, but she figures out how to cheer for herself using the internal dialogue that her parents have given her.

The pictures are darling and Annie McRae is full of life. I love the facial expressions in this story. I was fortunate enough to take a college class from Brad Wilcox and he told us about the creation of this book. He is an author who truly cares about people. This book was published  in 2001 and is currently out of print although you can still find it online for a good price.

3. Humbug Witch by Lorna Balian was published in 1965, and it was my favorite picture book when I was little. I love the pictures in this book and how Balian uses text size and placement to complement the telling of this story. This book is about a red-headed little witch whose spells don't work right. She has a cat named Fred and this book has a surprise ending. This book completely delighted me when I was a girl, and luckily, it is still in print.

All three of these characters have red hair, and all are imaginative and strong.

Do you have a favorite children's book with a female lead?

Read to a child today even if that child is you. 

Link to our NICU book registry if you'd like to donate books to babies in the newborn intensive care unit.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Life as We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer

Life as We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer was published in 2006 and has languished in my to be read pile. I listened to the audio version of this book and the narration was excellent. This is the first book in a series of four.

The premise of this book is interesting. A meteor has hit the moon and knocked it closer to earth causing catastrophic weather conditions: tsunamis, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions that cause ash to cover the earth and block the sun.

The main character, Miranda, tells the story in journal entries that reminded me of Anne Frank's diary as they seem realistic and cover the fact that food is running out. Miranda and her family try to survive in a world where food is scarce, communication has broken down, and the government has crumbled.

I was reminded many times of the starvation of those who existed during the Holocaust. The science of this book was also interesting. I liked that the catastrophe was not caused by a war or government, but by a natural disaster. What would happen to our world if the moon was knocked out of its orbit? This book makes the reader think about such a scenario. What would you do if something like this happened? Would your family be prepared to cook, heat, have water and food?

Read to a child today even if that child is you. 

Link to our NICU book registry if you'd like to donate books to babies in the newborn intensive care unit.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

NICU Update 5/10/2017

So far this year, we've had 273 books donated for the NICU babies. Along with the 336 that I've purchased, we've been able to place 122 packets with babies. Each baby gets a packet with five books that their parents can read to them while they grow in the NICU. Often when babies are born premature, they spend a long time in the hospital, so there is a lot of time to read to these little ones. One book won't cut it, but five books gives the parents some options. When the babies are released from the hospital, they take their packet of books home with them.

This project wasn't intended to be a long term project, but it has turned into one. I can't bear to stop sending books because it helps the parents, and I know from experiences as a mother and teacher that children who are read to start school with a huge advantage over those who are not read to. Each packet we give highlights the advantages of reading to your babies.

Our most recent donations:

Angie sent these five and that Dino Pop-up Faces book is adorable. Now you, too can be a dinosaur. I also love the touch and feel books for babies. Plus, she included a Spanish board book. We are always in need of Spanish books.

Sharon Hall sent over these nine board books. I love getting board books for the babies. Babies need to be able to handle their books and these allow them to do so. Mem Fox's Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes is one of my favorites. She also included some touch and feel books.

Michelle dropped off thirty-five: I love when anyone brings books and especially when Where the Wild Things Are is included. Every child should have that book. Michelle is my dear friend who loves this project as much as I do. She is our biggest benefactor and has donated 238 books so far this year.

I appreciate those who have embraced our little book project and helped it grow. Together we can reach so many more babies and give them the gift of literacy than I can do on my own. Getting a donation of 200 ziplock bags from my mom also helped us out and keeps the books safe while they are at the baby's bedside. Thanks to all of you who send books and other supplies to keep this book giveaway going.

Link to our NICU book registry if you'd like to donate books to newborn babies.

Read to a child today even if that child is you. 

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Touch Blue by Cynthia Lord

Touch Blue by Cynthia Lord was published in 2010, and with a Lexile measure of 750, this would be a good hi/low book.

Tess, the main character, is a superstitious girl. She carries lucky charms and each chapter begins with a quote about luck. She lives on an island that will lose its school unless they can get more students before fall, so the community decides to take in five foster children in order to save their school.

Tess's family gets Aaron, a teen boy with a lot of baggage. I liked that this book seemed realistic. It is told from Tess's point of view, yet we get to see Aaron's reaction to things as well. He struggles being away from his mom, he has moved from the city to a small island where everyone is in his business, and he acts coldly toward Tess and her family.

There is growth in the characters. They don't always make the right choices but their motives are good. Tess's five year old sister is written well. She acts like a five year old other than the fact that she loves to play Monopoly. Granted there could be five-year-olds who are obsessed with Monopoly; I've just never met one, but I had a two year old who was obsessed with Phantom of the Opera, so I'll accept the Monopoly obsession.

This is the third book by Cynthia Lord that I have read and enjoyed. I hope to read more by her. If you liked her book Rules or Half a Chance, you will like this book.

Read to a child today even if that child is you. 

Link to our NICU book registry if you'd like to donate books to babies.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Babushka's Doll by Patricia Polacco

My California kids are here this week, which means that four-year-old Xander and I have been reading a lot of stories. When he asked me if I had a book about a Babushka, I was taken by surprise.

"How do you know what a Babushka is?" I asked.

"Justin Time told me about Babushka's," he said.

Luckily, I had purchased Babushka's Doll by Partricia Polacco the previous week, so I was able to say, "Yes, I have a book about a Babushka." This book was published in 1990, and any parent who has ever spent the day with a whiny, demanding child, will appreciate this book. Of course this book is all the more fun if you read the Grandmother (Babushka) with a Russian accent and the doll with a demanding voice.

After Natasha spends the day whining and demanding that her Babushka do everything for her, Babushka leaves her with the doll telling her that she only ever played with the doll one time. Natasha is delighted to have time with the doll. After Grandmother leaves, the doll comes to life and is demanding and pushy, quickly wearing Natasha to a frazzle. Of course Natasha decides that she never wants to play with Babushka's doll again.

As soon as we turned the last page, Xander wanted me to read it again. This is a fun story with cute pictures. Xander enjoyed looking at the facial expressions to see what the characters were feeling.

Read to a child today even if that child is you. 

Link to our NICU book registry if you'd like to donate books to babies in the newborn intensive care unit.

Monday, May 8, 2017

The 39 Clues by multiple authors

Several years ago, Matthew and I read the first installment of The 39 Clues titled The Maze of Bones. Matt loved it and I thought it was a fun story. We liked the fast pace,  excitement, and the sense of danger and humor, but what may be most valuable about these books is that they teach history in a very fun way.

Matt was on the internet researching the Paris Catacombs during and after his read of this book. He created on his own project about the Catacombs to share with his class - this wasn't assigned. When a book can make research and learning this much fun, it is a book worth reading. We read the first two books together.

Lately I've been listening to the audio versions of these books. The story follows orphans, Amy and Dan who took on their Grandmother Grace's challenge to find the 39 clues which are hidden all over the world. The winner will get the entire Cahill fortune. They are competing against other branches of the family - many of which have murderous appetites, and are not afraid to lie, cheat, or kill to get to the next clue.

There are holes in the stories at times, but all of them make the reader (or listener) want to jump online to see the sights and learn more about the history that is shared in the books. Each book is written by a different author, and so far, each book is quite fun. Series are great for readers who don't like to have to get to know new characters in every book. This book follows the same characters and allow the reader to dive right in.

Here are the ones I've listened to or read so far:

Maze of Bones by Rick Riordan (The amazing author of the Percy Jackson series)

One False Note by Gordon Korman

The Sword Thief  by Peter Lerangis

Beyond the Grave  by Jude Watson

The Black Circle by Patrick Carman

Read to a child today even if that child is you. 

Link to our NICU book registry if you'd like to donate books to babies.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

The Legend of Jimmy Spoon by Kristiana Gregory

Published in 1990, The Legend of Jimmy Spoon by Kristiana Gregory is the story of a young boy who feels stifled by his pioneer life in a city near The Great Salt Lake. He inadvertently runs away from home and ends up with Chief Washakie's tribe of Native Americans. This is a fiction based on a true story.

I liked this book because I think children, especially boys, will enjoy this adventure story. I also like that Gregory doesn't tell the reader what is good or bad. She gives us Jimmy's reactions to the traditions of Washakie's tribe. She also shows Jimmy's reactions to the way the pioneers live.

I think a young reader will understand Jimmy's desire to have a pony and his aversion to being cooped up in store all day. They will also sympathize with his struggles to control his temper and his body's adjustment to living a tougher lifestyle. I liked the progression of Jimmy Spoon's character, although I found his attitude towards his birth family a bit heartless. Of course he lived in a time where young boys were expected to take over the family business, so I won't judge him too harshly for trying to make his own way.

This book may give your reader the desire to learn more about conservation efforts, the plight of our country's indigenous population, and early pioneer history.

Read to a child today even if that child is you. 

Link to our NICU book registry if you'd like to donate books to babies.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

The Very Cranky Bear by Nick Bland

Nick Bland's The Very Cranky Bear is such a fun read aloud. Bland's artwork is full of emotion and his story flows well with rhyme and rhythm.

The Story begins: "In the Jingle Jangle Jungle on a cold and rainy day, four little friends found a perfect place to play. Moose had marvelous antlers and Lion, a golden mane. Zebra had fantastic stripes and Sheep . . . well, Sheep was plain. None of them noticed that someone else was there. Sleeping in that cave was a very cranky . . .Bear! 'Roaaaar,' went the cranky bear, 'Roar, Roar, Roar!' He gnashed his teeth and stomped his feet and chased them out the door."

The story continues with the friends trying to cheer up the cranky bear and the results are fun to read aloud. This is a book that would be easy to memorize, and if you get it, you probably will memorize it because your child will want to read it over and over again. I'll be on the lookout for Bland's other Bear books.

I had not heard of this book before finding it last week, and it's been around since 2008, so I wanted to make sure that those of you who collect pictures books because they are so awesome have small children were aware of this book. All of my little grandchildren love this book and say, "Again, again," when we get to the end.

Read to a child today especially if that child is you!

Link to our NICU book registry if you'd like to donate books to babies.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout won the Pulitzer Prize in 2009. In my experience, Pulitzer Prize winning books are generally about the human condition. This book is no exception.

In a story reminiscent of Ray Bradbury's Dandelion Wine, Strout tells the story of many people in a small coastal town. Each story reads like a short story, and some left me wanting to know more, but the majority of the stories center around the character Olive Kitteridge. Olive is a math teacher who is married to a kind man. They have one child who feels the pressure of being the only child to a quiet father and a domineering mother. Olive is emotional and easily angered, but at times she is stoic and helpful.

This novel puts the reader inside the heads of many different characters and shows that no one has a picture perfect life. We all face disappointment, trials, and joys.

This book also shows that sometimes we need to be in the right place in our life to appreciate a book. While perusing Goodreads reviews, I noticed that many of the one or two star ratings came from younger readers. I'm not sure that this book is for younger readers. I doubt that I would have had the life experiences needed to fully appreciate it at age 20, 30, or even 40, but now that I am in my 50s, this book resonates with me.

I feel the fear and worry that encroaching age bring into a relationship. I don't want to be a widow now or in twenty years. After raising several children, I see the worry of having children move far away, longing to see them more often, and missing them dearly. I see that life can often be hard and disappointing and that loneliness can bring people together even if they wouldn't like each other normally.

This book is honest. It shows that even though we may not act on all our thoughts, our thoughts can often be inappropriate. This book contains strong language in some parts, but I didn't feel like the author used it out of context, and I am okay with profanity if it fits the story and isn't marketed to young children.

I enjoyed this story and would recommend it to my older more mature readers. :)

Read to a child today even if that child is you. 

Link to our NICU book registry if you'd like to donate books to babies.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Fudge-a-Mania by Judy Blume

I read Judy Blume's other Fudge books decades ago and recently listened to Fudge-a-Mania. I was surprised that I still remembered the characters, which shows how enduring and memorable they are. Published in 1990, Judy Blume gets children's voices right. Fudge, who is now five acts like he is five. Tootsie, the baby, acts like a baby. Peter acts like an adolescent.

In this installment, Peter and his family rent a vacation house for three weeks and Sheila Tubman's family will be right next door. Sheila just happens to be Peter's biggest enemy.

This book is fun and has Fudge up to his old antics. Tootsie gets in on the trouble as well.

Peter has his first crush and gets to play ball with one of his idols.

Bloom's scene of the kids out sailing with Peter's dad and grandma, had me laughing. If you liked any of the Fudge books, you will enjoy this one. If you haven't ever read Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, which is the first Fudge book, you may want to give it a try. This series reminds me of the Ramona books by Beverly Cleary.

Read to a child today even if that child is you. 

Link to our NICU book registry if you'd like to donate books to newborn babies.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Freedom Train: The Story of Harriet Tubman by Dorothy Sterling

Ever since I was a little girl and read about Harriet Tubman, she has been my hero. Stories about her have always fascinated and inspired me.

Dorothy Sterling tells Harriet's story in a wonderful narrative that reads like a story instead of a textbook. She puts the reader into the story in, Freedom Train: The Story of Harriet Tubman. Published in 1954, this story stands the test of time and remains in print.

This book covers Harriet's story from age seven until her death. Harriet Tubman had a remarkable life. She suffered many things: slavery and all of its torments, seizures, sleeping sickness, she was a soldier in the Civil War, she was the most famous conductor of the Underground Railroad. She said that she never lost a passenger. If someone decided to turn back, she held them at gunpoint and pushed them forward as there was no going back because it would endanger the entire railroad.

She was a tiny woman with the strength of a man and the tenacity of an army. She gave freely of herself and rightfully earned the nickname of Moses. I can't even think about all the good she did in her life without feeling weepy, grateful for her, and wanting to do better in my own life.

If your child needs a positive role model, Harriet Tubman makes a good one. She fought hard for her own freedom and then went back many times to help others obtain their freedom. She worked against odds that would have been impossible for any other person to get through, and with her tenacity and intelligence she found a way to outsmart those who would have captured or killed her. She fed the hungry, nursed the sick, and inspired all around her.

If more people were like Harriet Tubman, our world would be better, stronger, and more peaceful.

Read to a child today even if that child is you. 

Link to our NICU book registry if you'd like to donate books to babies.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

The Story of Diva and Flea by Mo Willems

Until I found The Story of Diva and Flea by Mo Willems in a thrift shop, I had no idea he had written a chapter book for young readers. Our family loves his Pigeon and Elephant and Piggie books. He teamed up with the amazing artist Tony DiTerlizzi to create a magical stroll through Paris, and they published this book in 2015.

Willems uses French words but he defines them for his young reader. In this story, Diva is a small pampered dog who is afraid of nearly everything. Flea is a stray cat, brave and fearless except for his fear of humans with brooms.

The two characters meet, and Flea helps Diva with her fears, and Diva helps Flea with his. The story is charming and perfect for a young reader or for a read aloud. The pictures and words will build your little reader's vocabulary. If you are a fan of either Willems or DiTerlizzi, you will enjoy this story.

Read to a child today even if that child is you. 

Link to our NICU book registry if you'd like to donate books to babies.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

The Wolves Chronicles by Joan Aiken

I try hard to read a series in order, but once in a while, I get it wrong. I didn't realize that I didn't have book two until after I read book three and thought, "That is more of a companion book." Turns out that book two links book one and three together.

The Wolves Chronicles start with The Wolves of Willoughby Chase which is the country house of a wealthy Englishman. His daughter, Bonnie, and her cousin, Sylvia, are left with a wicked governess. When things go from bad to worse, a very brave and spunky Bonnie must help her cousin find a way to safety. With the help of Bonnie's friend, Simon, they may be able to stop the evil Miss Slighcarp. First published in 1962, this story is a bit scary with a house that has secret passageways.

Book two is called Black Hearts in Battersea, and I haven't read it yet, but this story follows Simon and introduces a new character, DidoTwite.

Book Three follows Dido Twite who may be one of the best girl characters ever. Nightbirds on Nantucket begins just after Dido is rescued from the sea. She has been asleep for ten months, but when she awakens, she is ready to take on any challenge. Her first challenge is to get the Captain's very timid daughter to come out of hiding. Dido is clever and never forceful with Penny. When the girls are sent to the Captain's home, they find themselves in danger by Penny's sinister Aunt Tribulation. Published in 1966 this story has elements of Moby Dick and Jane Eyre.

I loved the character development in both the story and will for sure be getting book two and reading it. There are ten books in this series, and I will be on the lookout for the rest of this series. The things one finds out when writing a book blog. The more I read, the more I need to read. :)

Read to a child today even if that child is you. 

Link to our NICU book registry if you'd like to donate books to babies.