Thursday, June 30, 2016

Throwback Thursday: Good Night, Mr. Tom by Michelle Magorian

Published in 1981, Michelle Magorian's Good Night, Mr. Tom is an amazing story set in London and the surrounding area during WWII. Willie Beech is evacuated from the city and sent to live with Mr. Tom on a farm.

Willie is afraid of everything, but he has good reason to be as his mother is abusive and has made him afraid of everything.

From the back of the book: "Gradually Willie forgets the hate and despair of his past. He learns to love a world he never knew existed, a world of friendship and affection in which harsh words and daily beatings have no place. Then a telegram comes. Willie must return to his mother in London. When weeks pass with no word from Willie, Mr. Tom sets out for London to look for the young boy he has come to love as a son."

This is a book that if you were abused as a child, will help you heal as you see how Willie acts and how Mr. Tom responds. This book is therapy. I identified with Willie in many ways, and for some, this book could be triggering when he gets sent back to his mother in London.

However, I loved this story. I sat and cried while I read it at times. Matthew, who hates sad stories, came in and wanted to throw it in the trash because it was making me cry, but I like sad stories when they are attached to hope, love, and healing.

Even though this book will make you cry, it will not leave you hopeless. You will see how people work through abuse, grief, and hard situations. If you were raised in an abusive or neglectful home, you will be taught the right way to parent by a gruff but kind Mr. Tom who faced his own heartache in his earlier life. I love that he reads to William. This is a book that I will read more than once.

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

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

The Van Gogh Cafe by Cynthia Rylant

The Van Gogh Cafe by Cynthia Rylant is printed on creamy textured paper that may or may not have made me like it better than I normally would have. I may or may not be guilty of caressing the pages of this hardback edition. However, I will try to put its wonderful aesthetics aside and give this little volume a fair shake.

On the inside front cover: "Magic things happen at the Van Gogh Cafe in Flowers, Kansas, and no one quite knows why. Clara is one reason for the magic. She's ten and believes anything might happen. She and her father own the cafe, so they know all about its mysteries. Each day they turn up the phonograph, fill coffee cups for the sleepy morning people - and wait for the magic to happen. It always does."

I remember being ten and wishing for magic, trying to convince myself that little people dwelt in our trees, or that animals might talk, so this book captures that magic well, and it also captures the magic of human connectedness - that we need one another.

Each chapter ends with a lead into the next magic. There is one chapter that I loved. It is about a man who comes to the cafe saying that he is there to meet someone. Back in his day, the cafe was a theater, so of course the magic of the many plays still reside in its walls. He shows them a picture of a beautiful man - the love of his life  - from when they were in their twenties. Rylant shows one example of the LGBT lifestyle with beautiful words and feelings.  I felt the love the older gentleman had for his lost love. I want my children to know that there are all types of families and to approach each with love and respect.

Other chapters show how an animal in a tree causes the people in the cafe to reach out to all the animals in the town, which in turn help a man suffering from depression after the death of his wife to go back home and find a new passion in helping injured animals. In her work, Rylant often shows the importance of animals in our lives.

I enjoyed this magical little book with printed on wonderful textured paper.

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

Monday, June 27, 2016

Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo

Leigh Bardugo's Shadow and Bone is book one in her Grisha series. Published in 2012, Bardugo has created an interesting world. Some of the people in her world are normal, but others have special powers - they are considered Grisha.

Blurb from "Surrounded by enemies, the once-great nation of Ravka has been torn in two by the Shadow Fold, a swath of near impenetrable darkness crawling with monsters who feast on human flesh. Now its fate may rest on the shoulders of one lonely refugee.
Alina Starkov has never been good at anything. But when her regiment is attacked on the Fold and her best friend is brutally injured, Alina reveals a dormant power that saves his life—a power that could be the key to setting her war-ravaged country free. Wrenched from everything she knows, Alina is whisked away to the royal court to be trained as a member of the Grisha, the magical elite led by the mysterious Darkling.
Yet nothing in this lavish world is what it seems. With darkness looming and an entire kingdom depending on her untamed power, Alina will have to confront the secrets of the Grisha . . . and the secrets of her heart."

Things I liked about this book: The world is interesting, the story wasn't predictable, the friendships, and  I didn't know for sure who was good or who was bad. I appreciated the growth in Alina and how she stuck by her friend and he by her. I liked the romance - it wasn't yucky or over the top, but fitting for the intended age group of this novel. I also liked the magic and hope the next two books will go into the magic a bit more deeply. 

I will read the next book in this trilogy. 

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

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Nothing to Fear by Jackie French Koller

Historical Fiction is one of my favorite genres because I learn about history in a way that also teaches compassion. Nothing to Fear by Jackie French Koller was published in 1991 but is set during the Great Depression.

In this story, Danny's father is forced to leave his family behind in their apartment in NYC so he can try to find work. Danny and his mother miss his father, but they are determined to hold things together while he is gone. Danny shines shoes, helps take care of his little sister, and his mother does laundry, but she gets sick, everything falls on Danny, and soon everything is falling apart.

The characters in this story are fallible. They make mistakes, but they try to pick themselves back up and try to do better. Because of this, they seem like real people - people that we know, and people that we are.

This book shows why it is important to help others and to treat everyone with grace and dignity. Anyone can fall on hard times. During the Great Depression it was a common occurrence for many people to go with food, housing, clothing, and jobs, but even now, we can be aware of those around us who need a hand.

Our world could use a little more kindness, more sharing the load, more prayers, and more comforting smiles.

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

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Deltora Quest Series by Emily Rodda

My good friend, Michelle, recommended this series to me, as it is one her boys loved. I read the first one, The Forests of Silence, in one sitting. Each book is short, the font size is larger, and there is more white space on the pages.

At our house, we have a read together book, but I like my son to have a read alone book as well. This is hard because of my son's issues with reading because of his seizures. The font can't be too crowded. Pages need to be smaller, and the book must be short. He only wants to read fantasy, and he hates anything that makes him sad. At some point after his brain has healed a little more, I hope he will expand his reading wings, but for now it is hard to find something he enjoys and can stick with as he reads independently.

The lexile measure is 690L, which is below his grade level, but at this point, we are trying to get him reading independently without becoming frustrated. I say, meet your child were they are and build from there. Don't make them start where they should be because that will cause frustration and will not build a love of reading.

I've read the first three books and the story is good so far. I will be on the hunt for the next five books in the series. Matt struggled to get into this series, but that is not unusual for him. We may need to read the first one together, as it contains the set up for the story, and expositions can be a bit dry for him.

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

Friday, June 17, 2016

Pax by Sara Pennypacker

Published in 2016, Pax by Sara Pennypacker has been on my list of "want to reads" for several months. I found an ARC at a thrift store a couple of weeks ago and picked it up, but I discovered while reading it that it is missing all the artwork by the talented Jon Klassen. That's what happens in advance reader's editions.

Pax is the story of a fox who was rescued as a newborn by a boy named Peter who has raised him for several years. Their bond is strong, and when Peter's father makes him abandon the fox in the forest, Peter chooses to run away to rescue Pax.

Pax waits for Peter at the side of the rode for a long time, but when Peter doesn't return, Pax must find a way to survive. He doesn't give up on Peter, but he must eat and find water.

This story is about more than the loyalty of a boy and his fox. It is about the damage of war, the pain of loss, the ability to recreate oneself after loss, friendship, trust, and helping others.

I know this book is on many shortlists of those deserving of awards. I'd be surprised if it doesn't have a shiny gold or silver circle on it next year. I'll wait until then to by a new copy that has that medal on the front cover along with all the artwork inside.

This book would work in a classroom to teach responsibility - responsibility to ourselves, our pets, our world, and to others.

Sara Pennypacker is the author of the Clementine series, which are well written and complex - especially because they are written for young readers.

Pennypacker is a storyteller who will be around for a while. She puts you in her character's heads. At this point, I will buy everything she writes.

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

Monday, June 13, 2016

Through My Eyes by Ruby Bridges

If you are looking for an interesting non-fiction book to add to your library, Through My Eyes by Ruby Bridges tells about her story of integration as the only black child in her elementary school.

This large picture book sized slim volume is filled with photographs of what Ruby faced. The pictures and words made me cry. How could people be so full of hate to threaten a beautiful little girl? She was so tiny. Their rage and anger was unjustified, and it made me feel angry toward them.

I loved the words from John Steinbeck that were included: "The show opened on time. Sound of sirens. Motorcycle cops. Then two big black cars filled with big men in blond felt hats pulled up in front of the school. The crowd seemed to hold its breath. Four big marshals got out of each car and from somewhere in the automobiles they extracted the littlest Negro girl you even saw, dressed in shining starchy white, with new white shoes on feet so little they were almost round."

He continues,"The big marshals stood her on the curb and a jangle of jeering shrieks went up from behind the barricades. The little girl did not look at the howling crowd, but from the side the whites of her eyes showed like those of a frightened fawn. The men turned her around like a doll, and then the strange procession moved up the broad walk toward the school, and the child was even more a mite because the men were so big. Then the girl made a curious hop, and I think I know what it was. I think in her whole life she had not gone ten steps without skipping, but now in the middle of the her fist skip, the weight bore her down and her little round feet took measured, reluctant steps between the tall guards. Slowly they climbed the steps and entered the school" (25).

When Norman Rockwell read Steinbeck's words, he was inspired to create this image:

This book  gives the reader a sense of what it was like for Ruby and for the other children who were brave enough to go to school with her.

I wish that hate in our world could end. Ruby's voice of courage and hope shines through in this book.

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

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Novel Medicine

In our Sunday paper, there was an article called "Novel Medicine Using books: Bibliotherapists Work to Help Treat Insomnia, Depression, More." 

If you get a chance, click on the link and read the article. I found it interesting because I've often been asked why I turned out the way I did, which means that I turned out okay despite my completely dysfunctional childhood. At times I've wondered why my life is as good as it is considering my starting point, but this article explains a lot.

I have always been a reader, and reading books has saved my life. Reading Jane Eyre at age eight, let me know that I could make the kind of life I wanted. My children didn't have to endure the things I'd endured. To Kill a Mockingbird showed me the kind of father I wanted my children to have.

Books have shown me what "normal" looks like, what good parenting looks like, what meal planning looks like, and how to process abuse issues and come out stronger on the other side. I think this is why reading and books are so important to me and why I wish I could instill that love of books in every person I meet. Books teach compassion and survival skills.

Books can and will heal the troubled mind and heart. Is there a book in your life that has helped you heal?

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

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Great Book sale at Savers

Our Savers thrift stores had a one day sale on books - everything half price. What this means is that Michelle and I could buy children's picture books for 40 cents each - yes 40 cents. We hit four different Savers and bought a lot of books. We set aside the like-new picture books for the NICU book project, but we also found treasures for ourselves and our grandchildren.

I may or may not have purchased 123 books, but in my defense, 57 of those went to the NICU. Michelle also donated 57 books to the NICU.

Here are pictures of her finds. There were so many that it took three pictures to get them all in.

Thanks to Michelle for loving my book project as much as I do.

I packaged up 21 packets (105 books) for the NICU and still had

these books left over because there weren't enough board books, so I ordered some from Usborne books, and as soon as they get here, I'll make up more packets. I like every baby to get at least one board book in their packet. 

Parents at the NICU are reading the books to their older children who come to visit their baby sisters and brothers. It does my heart good to see these books being used and loved by entire families. Reading is power!

If you'd like to contribute to our book drive for NICU babies, here is how you can help:

1. You can order books for your own children (of all ages) from our online Usborne book party and the proceeds will go to purchase books for the NICU. I've received over $350.00 in free books for the NICU from people buying books for their own families through this web link. Usborne is really good to their hostesses, and they have great board books for babies. Click on the link: Usborne book sale to benefit NICU The books you order will be shipped directly to your home. You can then give them to your children, grandchildren, nieces, or nephews. The free books from the hostess benefits go to the NICU. Remember to get some summer reading books for your family. 

2. We have set up a baby registry at with many books listed for the NICU babies. Some of these books only cost $2.50. Many of these are classics that all children should have. Click on this link if you'd like to help provide books for the NICU: Catherine Crosby Building Lifelong Readers Book Registry. If you order books for us, they will be shipped to me, and I will package and send them to the NICU. 

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

Friday, June 3, 2016

Clementine by Sara Pennypacker

I've been looking for books that will appeal to my grand daughters, Callie and Kayana, and Clementine by Sara Pennypacker is a book I think they will enjoy. In the spirit of Ramona the Pest, Sara Pennypacker has a created a truly likable character in Clementine.

She thinks it is weird to be named after a fruit, so she calls her baby brother random vegetable names. She struggles to sit still and is usually paying attention to the all the wrong things. She is impetuous, but she is a darling and reminds me of my youngest daughter. She is a tender friend, a loving sister, a worrier about being the bad child, and she seems incredibly real for a fictional character.

I found myself chuckling quite a bit. The lexile measure is AD750, so they are meant to be more of a read aloud than a read alone, but I think proficient early readers could manage these books.

Marla Frazee, the illustrator, does an excellent job of bring Clementine and her family and friends to life. Her artwork adds to the delight of the character. Her pictures of Clementine and Margaret with their hair cut off is completely delightful, especially with the squiggly maker lines drawn on their foreheads and necks after they color their own cropped heads with markers.

After reading Clementine, I read one of the sequels, Clemetine's Letter and found it as charming as the first one. This is a series for early readers age six to nine, but this old reader will probably read the entire series as I love the writing and the characters.

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

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan

From about Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan:

In the tradition of Out of My Mind, Wonder, and Mockingbird, this is an intensely moving middle grade novel about being an outsider, coping with loss, and discovering the true meaning of family.

Willow Chance is a twelve-year-old genius, obsessed with nature and diagnosing medical conditions, who finds it comforting to count by 7s. It has never been easy for her to connect with anyone other than her adoptive parents, but that hasn’t kept her from leading a quietly happy life... until now.

Suddenly Willow’s world is tragically changed when her parents both die in a car crash, leaving her alone in a baffling world. The triumph of this book is that it is not a tragedy. This extraordinarily odd, but extraordinarily endearing, girl manages to push through her grief. Her journey to find a fascinatingly diverse and fully believable surrogate family is a joy and a revelation to read.

A few words from me:

Published in 2013, this award winning book, made me question the author's choice to take the story the way she did. What would the story have been like if the parents hadn't died in the beginning, and instead, the family faced the illness of the mother? It may not have been a better story, but I wonder how it would have played out.

Holly Goldberg Sloan writes characters well. I felt like I knew her characters, what they would do, how they would act, what they might smell like even. The writing is well done, and I couldn't put this book down. I read it all in one day.

I loved Willow's tie to nature and all things growing. I loved her growth over the course of the novel. I loved her friendships and her impact on those around her. Jairo, the taxi driver, is wonderful. He treats Willow like the treasure she is, and gives her respect and protection. Pattie and her children are also wonderfully written. Her counselor, Dell, starts out as a schmuck, but he is also influenced by Willow. She seems to have a green thumb for plants and people.

The lexile measure of 770 makes this a fairly quick read for middle school students. The font size is a bit larger, and this book has plenty of white space for students who struggle with small tight text. The story and characters are complex enough that adults will enjoy the story as well.

This is a book that will help you embrace your own differences.

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