Thursday, January 28, 2016

Throwback Thursday: Dealing with Death: Badger's Parting Gifts by Susan Varley

Badger's Parting Gifts written and illustrated by Susan Varley was published in 1984. This beautiful book tells about Badger who is getting old. He is no longer able to run or play and knows he must soon die.

"Badger wasn't afraid of death. Dying meant only that he would leave his body behind and, as his body didn't work as well as it had in days gone by, Badger wasn't too concerned about that. His only worry was how his friends would feel when he was gone. Hoping to prepare them, Badger had told them that someday soon he would be going down the Long Tunnel, and he hoped they wouldn't be too sad when it happened."

Badger dies, and his friends are very sad. This book shows the grief process. "In bed that night, Mole could think only of Badger. Tears rolled down his velvety nose, soaking the blankets he clung to for comfort."

The seasons change, and Badger's friends begin remembering and talking about all the things they learned from Badger. They realize that these things were parting gifts that they could pass on to others.

"As the last of the snow melted, so did the animals' sadness. Whenever Badger's name was mentioned, someone remembered another story that made them all smile."

At some point, everyone will experience the loss of a loved one. This book gently teaches about death, grief, and healing.

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

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Max the Brave by Ed Vere

A few months ago, Barnes and Noble had Max the Brave by Ed Vere on sale, so I bought a copy for each of my married children. This fun picture book was published in 2015 and tells the story of Max the cute kitten. However, Max doesn't want to be seen as cute; he wants to be seen as brave because he chases mice - or at least he would if he knew what a mouse looked like.

Max sets out to find a mouse to chase, but he gets tricked and ends up chasing a monster.

Kayana, my six-year-old granddaughter, laughs and laughs when she reads this book.

The illustrations are fun and the words delightful. The Lexile  measure is AD390L. AD means adult directed, so you want to read this one with your child.

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

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Teen Tuesday: Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes by Chris Crutcher

This Teen Tuesday is for older teens. Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes by Chris Crutcher was published in 1993. The characters are seniors in high school. There is language and older teen situations in the story: abuse, sex, mental illness, suicide attempt, abortion. The Lexile measure is 920L, which should make this a fairly quick read for the intended audience.

The story is a first person narrative told from Eric Calhoune's point of view. He is a swimmer and is large for an athlete. Kids call him Moby (as in the great white whale). He was fat all through school and is now beginning to get into better shape.

His best friend all through school is another outcast - Sarah Byrnes whose name fits with the fact that her face and hands were horribly burned when she was three years old. Her father refused to allow her to have reconstructive surgery, so she has had to create a tough interior to match her tough exterior.

As Sarah tries to deal with her abusive father, she stops speaking and is sent to a hospital. Eric is determined to help her. The blurb on the back of the book says, "The truth of Sarah Byrnes's horrific past finally catches up with her, and she stops speaking. It is Eric's mission to help her find a way through the pain. But uncovering the truth is a dangerous thing to do - when someone else doesn't want it uncovered."

I like that the adults in the book are not idiots (at least most of them). I love Eric's teacher and coach Mrs. Lemry. There is one good school administrator and one horrible one, but Crutcher writes the horrible one so that the reader can see why he is the way he is. Eric's mother is well written. Crutcher shows the dangers of trying to be perfect and expecting perfection from ourselves or others. He also shows how hard some decisions are and that sometimes there isn't one right answer to a problem.

This book will make you think about what you believe in new ways. It is a book about respect, loyalty, friendship, and doing what is right even when it is hard or costs you.

My only complaint is Crutcher using an allusion to one of his own books. When a writer refers to his own work or himself in the body of a story, it always throws me out of the story. If a reader loves a writer's work, they will read more of it. Allusions should be to other works that connect with your own. Crutcher does this as well, and does a good job of it, although I think some of the allusions in this book may be a bit dated at this point.

Overall this is a book worth reading.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Early Readers - Mercy Watson to the Rescue by Kate DiCamillo

Honestly, I enjoy every book that Kate DiCamillo writes, at least all of the ones I've read. When I saw Mercy Watson to the Rescue recently, I had to purchase this book for young readers. With the lexile measure of 450L, it is perfect for early grade school readers.

Mercy Watson is a pig, a very loved pig. Her owners treat her like a child and attribute human like characteristics to her. She has her own room, but she gets scared and lonely at night, so they allow her tuck in between them in their bed.

Unfortunately, their bed is falling through the floor and they need someone to call the firemen. Mercy Watson is hungry for toast with lots of butter, but she can't find any, so she goes to visit the neighbor who always gives her cookies. Her owners believe she is going for help.

This book will make a youngster laugh. It is funny, and cute, and just right for a our youngest independent readers. The font is large and well spaced. There are six books in the series, so your little reader can keep on reading for a while. I've only read the first book of this series, but I'm sure the rest are cute - this is Kate Dicamillo's work we are talking about.

If you have older readers, DiCamillo has a large collection of books for them. It doesn't matter which one you pick because all of her books are good.

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

Friday, January 22, 2016

Scumble by Ingrid Law: Book Two in the Savvy Series

A few weeks ago, I finished Savvy, book one in Ingrid Law's series about a family that gets superpowers on their thirteenth birthdays. Unfortunately, they don't get to choose their superpower. Often their superpower is hard to control and can cause unfortunate things to happen, and these superpowers show up in embarrassing ways.

I enjoyed Savvy, so I jumped right into Scumble. Published in 2010, this story picks up nine years after Mibs' journey in Savvy. Her cousin, Ledger Kale, has just had his thirteenth birthday, and he gets the savvy of destruction. Everything around him comes to pieces, the toaster, the television, the wipers on the mini-van.

As they head to a family wedding in Wyoming, his savvy gets stronger, and a witness sees him accidentally destroy a motorcycle. Sarah Jane Cabot is a young reporter. She follows him to the wedding and sees all sorts of things that Ledger's family has tried to keep from the outside world. Will she publish what she sees and destroy the family? Will Ledger ever be able to scumble his savvy and keep things from falling apart?

Samson, Gypsy, Will, Gramps, Mibs, Bobbi, Fish, and Rocket are back in this installment. Rocket, Gypsy, Gramps, and Samson play the biggest roles in helping Ledger figure things out. I love Samson in this story even though he is pretty quiet throughout the book.

The lexile measure of Scumble is 900L, which is lower than Savvy's measure of 1070L, but both books have larger text and plenty of white space on each page. The books are short and fat to help readers not get overwhelmed. Matthew has set aside Brian Selznick's Wonderstruck  and is currently reading Savvy. For the first time in a long time, he is reading longer than is required.

I enjoyed this installment as much as the first one and will purchase the third book, Switch.

Here is what your reader will see on the page (or you if you are like me and enjoy books for young people).

As you can see, the text is large, the white space is large, and there are only two or three paragraphs on a page. Again, thanks to the publishing industry for creating books that are good for kids with brain injuries.

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

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Throwback Thursday: Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes - The Adult Version

In 1958, Daniel Keyes published the short story version of Flowers for Algernon. This is the version I used in my eighth grade classroom. This story brings up questions that help a student that age learn about ethics, science, human nature, intelligence, prejudices, and the learning process.

When I get back to the classroom, I hope to teach this version of the story again.

Because of the success of the short story, in 1966, Daniel Keyes expanded Charlie's story and it was released as the novel Flowers for Algernon. Keyes uses the material in the short story and gives us more. Do not confuse this with the short story because while the short story is great for middle grade students, the novel is definitely for adults.

Charlie, the main character, is an adult who has been selected for an experimental procedure to increase his intelligence. The story is told from his point of view in journal entries. Charlie has a cognitive disability. Because the story was written in 1958, the term used in the sstory is mentally retarded. We now refer to this as intellectually and developmentally disabled or IDD.

Charlie is able to live on his own. He works at a bakery cleaning and making deliveries. He has worked hard to be able to read and write, but he isn't very good at either one of those things. He gets chosen for an experiment that may increase his intelligence because he is highly motivated to learn.

Algernon is a mouse that had the same procedure done on him and is now incredibly smart. The surgery increases ones IQ by three, and the doctors hope that Charlie's IQ will rise just like Algernon's has.

I don't want to give away the story if you haven't read it, but the novel goes into detail about Charlie's family. We learn why he acts the way he acts, why he is so motivated to learn, why he seeks approval and longs for friends. We learn that he endured a lot of abuse, and we see how hard it must have been for his mother to have a child like Charlie in the late 1920s early 1930s when children who were viewed as different were hidden in institutions that were often storehouses for those with IDD.

Keyes takes us into an institution, one that has good people working there. We see Charlie's fear as he worries about ending up there. We see him acknowledge the goodness in the people he meets, and we see the anger towards him when the doctor there thinks he is just another person in an ivory tower judging those who dwell in homes for those with IDD. The doctor has no idea of Charlie's history.

We see him become self aware and struggle to reconcile the old Charlie with the Charlie he has become. He looks in the mirror and believes he sees the old Charlie. "He looked down and I looked at my hands to see what he was looking at. 'You want these back, don't you. You want me out of here so you can come back and take over where you left off. I don't blame you. It's your body and your brain - and your life, even though you weren't able to make much use of it. I don't have the right to take it away from you. Nobody does. Who's to say that my light is better than your darkness? Who's to say that death is better than your darkness? Who am I to say?'" (175).

We see the physiological struggle as Charlie tries to deal with mental conditioning dealt him by his mother as his mind becomes an adult. We also get to see a reconciliation of sorts with his family.

I love how much this book made me think and question, but one needs a bit of background knowledge in life, psychological issues, abuse issues, and human nature to really appreciate this story.

I gave it four out of five stars.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

A Day's Work written by Eve Bunting and illustrated by Ronald Himler

I like books that teach about right and wrong without bashing me over the head with the lesson.

A Day's Work written by Eve Bunting and illustrated by Ronald Himler is a book with a message, but it is delivered in such a way, that you want to hug this book. The artwork alone is worth the purchase price. The lexile of this storybook is 350, but the message in this book is good for all ages.

Published in 1994, Bunting's story tells of a Mexican American boy, Francisco, who is trying to help his non English speaking grandfather find work for the day.

Francisco tells the employer that his grandfather knows all about gardening and landscaping, but this is not true. His grandfather is a carpenter and knows nothing about plants and gardening. Francisco is so excited that they will earn sixty dollars for their day of work and be able to buy good food. He is excited to let his mama know that they worked hard but helped the family.

Unfortunately, instead of weeding the area, they pull up all the flowers and leave the weeds because neither of them knows which is which. The employer, Ben, is very angry.

Francisco tells his grandfather why Ben is so angry, and the grandfather angrily tells Francisco, "We do not lie for work."

The grandfather is sad and says, "Ah, my grandson. Ask him what we can do. Tell him will come back tomorrow, if he agrees. We will pull out the weeds and put the good plants back."

Francisco tells his grandfather that tomorrow is Sunday, and there is church and a Lakers game on television.

"We will miss them both, then. It is the price of the lie. Tell the gentleman what I said and ask him if the plants will live."

Ben offers to pay them half for today if they need the money,but the grandfather says, "No." He will not take the money until he has fixed the mistake. Ben says, "Tell your grandfather I can always use a good man - for more than just one day's work. The important things your grandfather knows already. And I can teach him gardening."

I like that the message of this book is not too didactic. It allows the reader to decide for themselves what is right and wrong. Francisco's family needed the work, so I can see why he told Ben they could do the work. Even though Ben was upset, he was a good man and gave them another chance. 

There are many lessons in this book about human nature. 

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

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Matthew's Favorites: The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick

As a mother whose child is working to overcome damage caused by seizures, I am grateful for authors, publishers, and book sellers that bring us books like The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick.  

Published in 2007, this beautiful Caldecott medal winning book is another book that works great for kids who struggle with concentration, who get overwhelmed when faced with a book full of tight text, no illustrations, and small font sizes.

Click here for a slideshow of some of the pictures.

The Invention of Hugo Cabret has a lexile measure of 820L. Here are pictures of what the page spreads look like. Note the large margins, well spaced text, and larger text size. There will be a few pages of text and then several pages of pictures so a child can rest their brain before being faced with text again. The story is an exciting and suspenseful historical fiction of film maker and automaton collector, Georges Melies. 

The pictures make the story come alive and often seem like the stills of film that change just a bit from spread to spread. When Hugo nearly gets hit by a train and the pictures show the train getting closer and closer, I had to hold my breath.

Here is a page spread from a book with a lexile of 810L. This particualar book isn't bad. The font size is larger and the margins are decent, but not quite as big as The Invention of Hugo Cabret. Many books have smaller font sizes and less white space on the page.

Making a book with as many pictures and as much white space as Hugo increases publishing and shipping costs. These books are thick and take up more room on bookstore shelves, but there is a need for books like this. Lexile measure was not sacrificed to make this a book that middle school students can enjoy reading, and they don't have to be embarrassed when reading it because it isn't a baby book.

Matthew said that when he sees a book with tight text and nothing but words page after page, he feels frustrated and feels his eyes don't have a place to land. With the work of Brian Selznick, he is rewarded every time he finishes a block of text by well crafted illustrations.

He is currently reading Selznick's Wonderstruck, and The Marvels will be coming home soon.

Thank you, Brian Selznick for creating books that my son can read successfully. It took him about two weeks to read this book, which is fast for him.

Another great book for kids who need white space is The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate. 

If you have a child who needs white space, what books have they enjoyed reading?

Monday, January 18, 2016

In Honor of Martin Luther King, JR.

I love to find books that help ignite a student's curiosity about larger issues. Storybooks are perfect for whetting the appetite of middle and high school students. Any of the following three books would work well in the classroom at the beginning of a Civil Rights unit.

My Brother Martin A Sister Remembers was written by his sister Christine King Farris and illustrated by Chris Soentpiet. Published in 2003, Farris tells about what their childhood was like and some of the pranks they pulled on people. Martin Luther King, JR. was a prankster and had a great sense of humor. She tells about white families not allowing their children to play because they didn't want them to play with black children. She gives a valuable glimpse into their lives as children.

In the back of the book is a poem by Mildred D. Johnson, "You Can Be Like Martin" which tells of Martin from boyhood to manhood. Here is one sonnet of many:

"Martin had a dream, you know,
That all people would be free,
To live and work together,
In a country filled with peace,"

The illustrator, Chris Soentpiet used Martin Luther King, JR's nieces, nephews, and his great niece as models for the people in the book, which adds another layer of love to this beautiful work of art.

Martin's Big Words, an award winning book written by Doreen Rappaport and illustrated by Bryan Collier was published in 2001. Rappaport tells of a young Martin who felt bad when he read the words "White Only," but his mother told him, "You are as good as anyone."

This book talks about the Montgomery Bus Boycott, about Martin studying the teaching of Mahatma Gandhi, about the threats against his family, and his death. One of his quotes are woven into each page of the story. 

The illustrations are collage, and Collier adds symbolism in the pictures. I love the power of the words and how Collier's illustrations add to that power.  

The title is on the back of the book. 

The third book, (and one of my favorites) is by Caldecott honor winning author and illustrator, Faith Ringgold. My Dream of Martin Luther King was published in 1995, Ringgold's story puts the reader in a dream that is narrated in her voice. The reader gets to experience many of the things that Martin Luther King, JR. experienced. The dream shows many of the trials he endured along with his death and funeral and how all the world mourned this great man. Her story ends with everyone burning their bags of prejudice, hate, ignorance, violence, and fear to honor their slain hero. Her illustrations and words create emotion that will leave you in tears.

She ends with his words, ". . .And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the promised land. I many not get there with you. But I want you know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land."

Any of these books works as a jumping off point for a longer research project or unit, or you could share them with your class on Martin Luther King, JR. Day.

Thank you, Martin Luther King, JR, for your dream and ability to get people to work for positive change. You united people in a great case.

Read to a child today, even it that child is you.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Flashback Friday: Onion John by Joseph Krumgold

Published in 1959, Onion Johnby Joseph Krumgold, won the Newbery Medal in 1960. This was his second win, the first being from his novel, . . . And Now Miguel.

This story shows the importance of allowing people to be who they are. Onion John doesn't speak so that people can understand him. He is superstitious and lives in a house he built himself. He doesn't have running water or electricity. Andy, has befriended Onion John and his parents think Onion John is very strange, but they are still kind to him.

Andy introduces his dad to Onion John, and his father becomes determined to help Onion John be more normal. Andy's father also wants Andy to go to MIT since he was unable to. He had a dream for his life and now wants to live vicariously through Andy.

When we are helping someone we need to be careful that we are doing so for the right reasons. Andy tries to tell his dad what he wants and what he thinks would be best for Onion John, but it takes a while to get that message through to his father and to the town. What the town wants for Onion John isn't in his best interest.

I gave this book four out of five stars on Goodreads.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Throwback Thursday: Angel Child, Dragon Child by Michele Maria Surat and Illustrated by Vo-Dinh Mai

 Angel Child, Dragon Child was published in 1983 and is based on a student Michele Maria Surat taught. "When a Vietnamese child with a tear-streaked face shared a photograph of her mother with 'Miss Teacher,' Ut's story began. Compelled to relate the tale of these beautiful and courageous children, the author hoped to create a story that would promote understanding between Vietnamese children and their American peers. . ."

This was the author's first book for children. Her story is complemented by the artwork of Vo-Dinh Mai who was born in Vietnam.

In this story, Ut's family has come to America, but they were unable to bring her mother with them because they didn't have enough money. The American children make fun of her clothing. Ut tries to be an Angel Child to honor her mother, but is it hard to be nice when others are hurtful.

She carries a picture or her mother and imagines her mother saying, "Do not be angry, my smallest daughter. Be my brave little Dragon."

One day in the snow, she gets into a fight with a boy. The principal breaks up their fight, marches them into the school, and orders Ut to tell the boy her story of Vietnam. He orders the boy, Raymond, to write her story. Raymond is very angry because he can't understand Vietnamese. He breaks the pencil in half and crumples the paper. When he begins to cry, Ut comforts him and gives him a cookie.

She talks to him in English, and they become friends. The principal reads Ut's story to the whole school, and Raymond suggests that they hold a fair to help raise money to bring her mother to America.

This story shows that when we reach out to each other, it is easy to become friends.

Our country has new immigrants coming all the time. They are leaving what they know and coming to a new place, a place of hope and new beginnings and also a place of worry and new fears. How will we welcome them?

Surat includes footnotes that explain how to say the Vietnamese words used in the story along with the definitions. This Reading Rainbow book is one we should all read.

Victor Frankl said there were two kinds of people: those who are decent and those who are indecent.

We are all one race - the human race.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Teen Tuesday: The Running Dream by Wendelin Van Draanen

The Running Dream by Wendelin Van Draanen was published in 2011. Our librarian introduced me to this book by choosing it for the school book club. Every student in book club liked this book (all 60 of them).

This book has a lexile rating of 650HL. What this means is that it is geared toward older teens who also have a hard time reading. HL stands for high interest low reading level. The lexile level falls in the second to third grade level, but this book is not meant for a child that young. The content is written for middle and high school students.

Although this is a young adult novel, I think adults will like it as well. Van Draanen paints an easy to read picture of a teen facing loss. The themes and symbolism of Jessica's journey can benefit everyone.

The story begins with Jessica in a hospital bed. "My life is over. Behind the morphine dreams is the nightmare of reality. A reality I can't face. I cry myself back to sleep wishing, pleading, praying that I'll wake up from this, but the same nightmare always awaits me" (3).

Right away the reader wants to know what is wrong with Jessica. The pages have a lot of white space, larger font, and more space between the lines. The chapters are short, and the cover appeals to teens. These are all markers of a High/Low book. I love books like this because it helps students who struggle with many learning issues. If you are an older reader - like me, this also makes it easier on old eyes that can no longer read fine print.

In the first chapter, we learn that Jessica has lost a leg, and for a promising young runner, this means the end of her dreams. The problem is that she keeps dreaming that she is running. She wants to run again, but how can she run with only one leg?

I liked seeing Jessica's growth throughout the novel. I liked how she acknowledged the negative weeds in her garden of self esteem. I loved the themes of true friends and new friends, and seeing people for who they are - not just their "condition". I also loved that Jessica worked through her fears, pain, and anger in a constructive way, and that she showed how much she needed others to help her get to the other side. She did a lot, but she needed others to help guide her. I loved her friend Fiona for not allowing Jessica to give up. She shows what a true friend really is. Jessica is a character who isn't perfect, but she is perfectly humble, giving, and appreciative.

This book is rated at 4.30 on Goodreads by 2,263 people. I gave it five out of five stars.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Poems for Book Nerds: I Am the Book

Recently, I came across a book of poetry designed for book lovers. I Am the Book is a selection of poetry by several great writers all about books. The poems were selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins and illustrated by Yayo. There are books in every picture. What better for a book nerd than a book of poems entirely about books and the beauty of the written word.

This book was published in 2011 and contains thirteen poems written by thirteen different authors.

I love the poem by Karla Kuskin titled,

"Wonder Through the Pages."

So I picked out a book
on my own
from the shelf
and I started to read
on my own
to myself.
And nonsense and knowledge
came tumbling out,
whispering mysteries,
history's shout,
the wisdom of wizards,
the song of the ages,
all wonders of wandering
wonderful pages.

Each poem is different but all are about books, reading, or poetry. All of them touched me in some way and reminded of why I love to read. (As if I ever need reminding of why I love to read).

I would love to put together a poetry academy and use these for a poetry jam.

Do you have a favorite book of poetry?

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Throwback Thursday for Early Readers: The Monster in the Third Dresser Drawer by Janice Lee Smith

With a lexile measure of 690, this book is geared toward the very young proficient reader. If you have a child who reads above their age level but you want them to read a book about a child who is their age, this is the book. This would also be a good read aloud or read together if your child is between five and eight.

Published in 1981, Janice Lee Smith's The Monster in the Third Dresser Drawer and other stories about Adam Joshua, tells the story of Adam Joshua, a young boy just starting to lose his teeth. He has experiences that a child can relate to. He has to move from his town back to where his mother's family lives. He gets a new baby sister, and she has to share his room while her room is being made. She wakes him at night and gets into his toys. His old aunt comes to visit, and he is sure she hates him. He says she loves Amanda Jane (his baby sister) but hates him. He has a babysitter who has no clue how to get rid of the monster that lives in his third dresser drawer, so he is scared and gets in trouble for not staying in bed and going to sleep. His baby sister gets moved out of his room, and he worries that she will miss him.

He is a fun little boy who makes mistakes, but he is a good little boy at heart. He draws pictures on his wall so his sister won't be scared when she wakes up. He cuts up her teddy bear because she cries at night and wakes him up. He hates to leave his friend from his old town, but he makes a new friend. He learns the value of an old aunt.

This is a charming small chapter book with darling illustrations by Dick Gackenbach.

What does your five to eight year old like to read?

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

More than Beautiful Art: Dad, Jackie, and Me by Myron Uhlberg and Colin Bootman

If you ever buy a picture book for the art, Dad, Jackie, and Me published in 2005 is a good candidate; however, this book is more than amazing art. This story is fiction, but the inspiration for the story came from author Myron Uhlberg's life. His father was deaf like the father in the story and together they followed Jackie Robinson's career. He said of his father, "In those days most people considered deaf children severely handicapped and thought teaching them sports a waste of time." (From the author's notes). His dad was unable to throw, catch, or hit a baseball.

The inside covers of the books are filled with photographs and real news articles about Jackie Robinson. Inside the book, you will find artwork by the talented Colin Bootman. Click on his name to see more of his artwork.

Here are some pictures from the book done in watercolors.

Front Cover:

I was sold on the art, but after I read the story, I liked the book even more. The story is told from the boy's point of view. His father is deaf and brings home tickets to see Jackie Robinson play. The dad wants to meet Jackie Robinson, but the boy doesn't see how that will work because Jackie doesn't know sign language.

The boy works with his dad to try to teach him how to catch a baseball, but his dad always drops the ball. At the games, his dad calls out to Jackie, "'Ah-Ghee, Ah-Ghee.' Everyone looked at my dad. I looked at my shoes."

The boy signs to his dad the bad things that people say to and about Jackie. He also tells about a player purposefully spiking Jackie's leg. This upsets his father. He tells that Jackie was always a gentleman and didn't rise to the bait of the mean people. At the end of the story, the boy's dad is able to catch a ball during one of the games.

I like how this book shows the resilience of people who society deemed as less than. This book is inclusive and shows by words and pictures that all people are valuable.

Do you have a favorite book artist?

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

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Teen Tuesday: Savvy by Ingrid Law

My granddaughter asked for Savvy by Ingrid Law for Christmas, so I bought one for her and one for me. I like to read what my kids read so we can book talk together.

In Mibs' family, your thirteenth birthday is one you probably should spend only with close family members because when they turn thirteen they get their savvy, which is a supernatural superpower. The problem is that you never know what your savvy will be until it unleashes on you and the world when you turn thirteen.

Mibs' father is injured in an accident right before her thirteenth birthday, so her mother and older brother are away at the hospital when her savvy hits her. She believes her savvy can help her father, so she stows away on a bus thinking it will take her to the hospital. Things don't quite work out the way she planned, but the result is an interesting, charming, fun, and sometimes scary story.

I enjoyed this story. The family reminds me of how I imagine the Weasleys from Harry Potter, a family with many quirks but a deep love for one another. The characters are likable and they experience growth throughout the story. They are imperfect - except for the mother, but she can't help it, which makes them even more likable. Lester, the bus driver, shows readers the importance of working hard to eliminate negative feedback from our minds.

I love Samson, the little brother, and I can't wait to read the next book to see what he does next.

The story contains a touch of romance. There is no swearing in this Newbery Honor book. The story is never too dark or scary. The mood is light and just right for young readers. The lexile is higher than I thought it would be at 1070L, but it has larger font with more white space than your average book which helps the eye track for easier reading. I found it a quick and easy read despite having 342 pages.

This book would be great for a middle school book-club as there are many good discussion points: superpowers, friendships, bullying, family, and many more. Becca, if your school uses this one for brown-bag, I'd love come sit in on the discussion because I'll bet the students would have a lot to say.

This is the first book in a series. Scumble is book two, and Switch is book three. 

I hope today brings you some time to crack open a book and spend as long as you'd like with it. What would you like your Savvy to be if you got to choose one? 

Monday, January 4, 2016

Dogs Don't Tell Jokes by Louis Sachar

Do you have someone in your life who cannot take anything seriously - everything is a joke to them? Or are you someone who laughs about everything?

Sometimes it is okay to joke, but sometimes we need those around us to be serious.

Gary W. Boone, the main character in Louis Sachar's Dogs Don't Tell Jokes, wants more than anything to be a stand-up comic. He signs up for the school talent show, but he finds that everyone around him is sick and tired of his constant joking around. He only has one friend and she has moved to a different school. When it seems that the joke will be on Gary, can he turn things around?

In this story, Gary learns a lot about himself and he sees how annoying he is when he can never take anything seriously. Gary shows bravery, courage, and creativity in discovering himself. If you've ever felt like the odd man out or just an incredibly misfit teen, you will relate to this book.

Gary has a pretty amazing imaginary friend. He also has real life people who care about him.

Read more about Louis Sachar's work at his website by clicking here. 

Blurb from the website: Gary W. Boone knows he was born to be a stand-up comedian. It’s the rest of the kids in his class who think he’s just a goon. Then the Floyd Hicks Junior High School Talent Show is announced, and he starts practicing his routine nonstop to get it just right. Gary’s sure this will be his big break—he’ll make everyone laugh and win the $100 prize. But when an outrageous surprise threatens to turn his debut into a disaster, it looks as if the biggest joke of all may be on Gary himself.

Friday, January 1, 2016

A Christmas Book for Next Year: Winter's Gift by Jane Monroe Donovan

Winter's Gift is a love story of sorts. Published in 2004, this book was written and illustrated by Jane Monroe Donovan.

The story begins on Christmas Eve when a huge blizzard has hit the small town. An old man awakes with more aches and pains then normal. As he works to chop and gather wood, he thinks of Christmases past and misses his wife more than ever. She died in the spring. He thinks about how they would decorate the tree and his wife would say, "The star is the most important part of the tree. It's a symbol of hope, and no matter how bad things get, you should always have hope."

"But the old man didn't have hope anymore. This year there would be no Christmas tree, no Christmas star."

Nature has other plans for him because a wild horse is wandering in the blizzard, cold, alone, frightened, and ready to collapse.

This mare brings hope to the old farmer in this heartwarming story that shows that we can go forward even when we think all is lost.

Blurb from Barnes and Noble: It may be Christmastime but on a small farm the holiday season is best forgotten, along with painful memories of loved ones lost. Mother Nature has other plans, however, and a chance snowstorm brings together two unlikely hearts, one human and one beast, yet both yearning for comfort, companionship, and that most elusive gift of all, hope. This lustrous jewel of a story, quietly told and perfectly complemented by soft, evocative paintings, reminds even the most cynical of readers that the heart indeed can recover and go on.

Alysen, this book will make you cry. You've been warned, but read it anyway.