Friday, July 21, 2017

Harry Sue by Sue Stauffacher

Every so often a book comes a long that I really connect with. Harry Sue by Sue Stauffacher is one such book. I found myself nodding my head and at times ugly girl crying as I knew just what Harry Sue was going through.

Harry Sue lives with her paternal grandmother as her mother is in jail for drug use and her father went to jail because he threw Harry Sue from a seven story window. Granny is a beast who has no business taking care of Harry Sue. Unfortunately, Granny also runs a daycare, so every kid in her care is in a bad situation.

Harry Sue wants to live a life of crime so that she can get sent to jail and be with her mother, but she has a tender heart that won't allow her to leave the little children who are in Granny's care. Harry Sue is neglected and starving for love and food. She has to rely on her own smarts to figure out how to survive. The book begins with a glossary of prison terms that Harry Sue sprinkles throughout her every day speech and thoughts.

Harry Sue's best friend is a quadriplegic who also happens to be a genius. In all her interactions, we see her tender heart unless she is getting back at someone who has crossed her. In those times, she is often too reckless.

Stauffacher uses every emotion in the story. At times, I was laughing because the situations were funny, but at other times, like when Harry Sue interacts with her art teacher, I sobbed because I know what it feels like to be that hungry.

In reading this book, I discovered a treasure. I found myself hugging the book as if to hug Harry Sue. I love that girl. She is brilliantly written, multi-dimensional, and seems so real. Stauffacher's writing style made me feel like I was watching this story in real time and could see, smell, taste, and feel everything that Harry Sue felt.

I thank you, Sue Stauffacher for sending Harry Sue out into the world for us.


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, July 20, 2017

Game Changers by Mike Lupica

I'm not a sports fan, but I am a fan of kids finding books they want to read, so I read across all genres and even pick up a sports book from time to time.

My favorite sports author for young readers is Mike Lupica because he doesn't just write about sports although each of his stories seems like it is about sports. He writes about the human condition, about caring, about helping others, about bullies, about friendship, and about worries, fears, and doubts.

His novel Game Changers is about Ben who is kind of small, but he has a huge heart. He wants to be quarterback for his team, he should be quarterback for his team, but his coach wants his own son as quarterback. Ben's coach is a former professional quarterback and has groomed his son to be just like him.

I like this book because the parents and the coach seem real. They are good people. I like this book because Ben is an old soul, years more mature then his actual age. I like the friendships in this book, and Ben's ability to lead and help others. What I really like is that if I have a football loving student who doesn't necessarily like reading, he or she will probably enjoy this book.

Several years ago, I had a baseball loving student who didn't enjoy reading, but after I read Heat by Mick Lupica, I went to this boy and told him I had just finished a book about baseball, but the baseball vocabulary was too much for me. I asked him if would be willing to read it to see if it made sense and was a book I should add to the class library because I didn't understand all the baseball lingo. I told him that because of his baseball experience, I knew he would know if the author was using the vocabulary correctly.

Of course he was up for the challenge, and at the end of a week - a very short time for this young man to read a book - came back and said it was a very good book that belonged in my class libary, and the author used the words correctly. Part of being an English and reading teacher is knowing books and knowing your students. This is why I read books that don't necessarily interest me. I want to know which authors' books to hand to students.

Over the years, Lupica has been my go to sport story writer as his characters have depth and the stories are about more than the final score.


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.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Vinnie's War by David McRobbie

Vinnie's War by David McRobbie 2011. While the author was a child during the bombing of London in WWII and he and his family moved out of the city, this is not his story. It is historical fiction set during that same time period.

Each chapter begins with an ad or news page from the time period, which adds to the story and will interest young readers. The story begins with Vinnie, an orphan in London who has finally found a safe place to live. After the first bombing, he is sent on a train to the country. He meets three people on the train who become his friends: Dobbs, Kathleen, and Joey.

The rest of the story follows these four friends. We see that not all of the people who provided homes for these children were created equally. Some children ended up in bad situations. Residents of the town are sometimes judgmental and unkind to the children.

Music plays a role in this story, and I loved that part of the story.

This book reminds me of Good Night, Mr. Tom, only this one doesn't wrench the heartstrings as much. This is great book for a younger reader to learn about what children had to go through during WWII.


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, July 17, 2017

Cruel Crown by Victoria Aveyard

Cruel Crown by Victoria Aveyard was published in 2015 and is a prequel to sorts to Red Queen. I haven't read Red Queen yet, and upon looking at Goodreads, I probably should have as it would have helped me understand the prequel better.

Even though I didn't know about Reds and Silvers, I understood enough to know that I am looking forward to reading Red Queen.

Cruel Crown contains two novellas: one from the first queen of King Tiberias, and one from Diana Farley who is a captain on the Red side.

In Queen Song, we meet Queen Coriane. I enjoyed her story and found it haunting and sad. Reading this made me curious about the powers that Silvers have: healing, fire, mind reading, song. I want to know more about the magic aspect of this fantasy.

In Steel Scars, Diana Farley is a captain who is helping start a rebellion against the Silvers. This story takes place approximately twenty years after Queen Song, and we learn that there is more magic than the Silvers are aware of. I liked the strength of Captain Farley and how she was also vulnerable. She had more than one dimension. Shade is also an interesting character. My only complaint in this story were the military messages sent back and forth. I found them hard to understand at times.

I listened to the audio version of this book and the readers were good. Although I should have waited to read this book until after I read Red Queen, it has made me more excited about starting Red Queen. 


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.


Friday, July 14, 2017

Farewell to Manzanar by Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston and James D. Houston

For several years, I've been looking for the definitive book about the interment of Japanese Americans during WWII. While Farewell to Manzanar by Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston and James D. Houston is not that book, it is a good book on the subject.

Author Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston was interred at Mazanar when she was seven years old and this is her story. There are parts of the story that hit hard, but so much of the story is telling - relating experiences without any dialogue that I felt like I was listening to someone give a speech or a talk about their experience. I didn't feel like I was in the situation. This book was written thirty years after her interment began, so she had time to process what had happened and try to make sense of it.

I was saddened to see how much her family lost because of their interment and how her father was treated because he was a commercial fisherman. Her telling of the story gave me hope for other children who endure hard situations because although things were hard for her and her family, she seemed quite resilient.

When it came time to shut down the camp and send people home, they no longer had homes or jobs to return to. On page 132, she writes, "The truth was, at this point Papa did not know which way to turn. In the government's eyes a free man now, he sat, like those black slaves you hear about who, when they got word of their freedom at the end of the Civil War, just did not know where else to go or what else to do and ended up back on the plantation, rooted there out of habit or lethargy or fear." Jeanne was the youngest of nine children. Her father needed to work, but he had lost his boats because of the interment, and because of the war, a law was passed making it illegal for anyone of Japanese descent to hold a commercial fishing license.

This account shows the danger to our society when people act out of fear instead of kindness or love. This book was published in 1973 and is well worth reading if you are interested in learning more about this topic.


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, July 11, 2017

Merry UnChristmas by Mike Reiss

Merry UnChristmas by Mike Reiss and illustrated by David Catrow was published in 2006. I bought this book because David Catrow is one of my favorite illustrators. While Catrow's art is wonderful, the story is also good.

In Merry UnChristmas, Christmas is celebrated every day of the year except for one day. On that day, kids get to go to school, there are no presents to try to cram into spaces that are already full of other presents from previous days. The Christmas tree comes down, and instead of a fancy dinner, they eat something regular like spaghetti or TV dinners.

This is a fun story for all the kids who wish that Christmas was every day. Reiss shows what would happen if it were indeed Christmas every day. If you collect Christmas books, this is a great one to add to your shelves. This book is currently out of print but is still available online for good prices.




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.

Michelle and her cute grandson brought over these books for the NICU. Thank you, Michelle. 


Monday, July 10, 2017

Harper Lee's Go Set a Watchman

Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee is a much awaited book surrounded by controversy. Some said Lee was coerced in to releasing this novel. Others feel that it sullies Atticus's reputation. This story is the draft that became To Kill a Mockingbird, which is one of the best novels ever written.

I listened to the audio version read by Reese Witherspoon, and she nailed the reading. I felt very sucked into the story, which begins with Scout coming home for a visit from New York. At first, Scout is happy to be home, but she soon sees that things aren't how she wants them be in Maycomb, Alabama, giving credence to the saying, "You can never go home again."

While listening to the story, I could see the points of the detractors and at times felt this should have remained a trunk novel - meaning one you write and hide away in a trunk never to see the light of day. The story meanders and could have used some editing. However, I enjoyed Jean Louise looking back on her life, and Lee's storytelling is strong during those scenes.

This is a novel about each person coming of age, meaning that there is no collective conscious. We all must decide who we are and what we believe. I think it is important to remember the time period that the story was written. People in the South had big changes in front of them, and their fear was large. While Atticus does get knocked around on his pedestal, he is still a good person trying to uphold justice.

I didn't like the way the abuse situation was handled near the end of the novel, but again, during that time period, hitting someone was not looked at the same as it is now.

Two quotes that I really liked.

  • "Every man's island, Jean Louise, every man's watchman, is his conscience. There is no collective conscience" (265),
  • '"Bigot,' she read. 'Noun, One obstinately or intolerably devoted to his own church, party, belief, or opinion" (267).
These quotes made me think about my own beliefs. Am I open to new ideas? Have I built my beliefs on those of others, or have I thought for myself? 

I found this book worth reading. Yes, it could have benefited from some editing and pacing, but I think it shows that Lee was indeed a talented writer. I only wish she'd written more. 


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.


Wednesday, June 28, 2017

And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini

And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini was published in 2013. This is an epic tale told in 421 pages, which is short for an epic. Hosseini does not waste words.

In the author's note, he says the title of the book was inspired by William Blake's poem "Nurse's Song.

357. Nurse’s Song
William Blake (1757–1827)
WHEN the voices of children are heard on the green,
  And laughing is heard on the hill,
My heart is at rest within my breast,
  And everything else is still.
‘Then come home, my children, the sun is gone down,        5
  And the dews of night arise;
Come, come, leave off play, and let us away
  Till the morning appears in the skies.’
‘No, no, let us play, for it is yet day,
  And we cannot go to sleep;        10
Besides, in the sky the little birds fly,
  And the hills are all cover’d with sheep.’
‘Well, well, go and play till the light fades away,
  And then go home to bed.’
The little ones leapèd and shoutèd and laugh’d        15
  And all the hills echoèd.


This poem really fits this story, and Hosseini has a poetic way of writing. He makes the characters and scenes come alive. This novel begins from Abdullah's point of view as he and his little sister travel to Kabul with their father. I don't want to give away any spoilers, but things don't go the way Abdullah thought they would. The story follows their lives into their old age, and it brings in many people whose lives intersect with theirs. I loved the parts about the feathers.

Each chapter begins with the year, but I wish the name of the character whose point of view the story was being told from was also listed. I always had a page or so of wondering who I was reading. I think having the name up front would have helped me immensely.

When I think of Hosseini's books, I can visualize what I've read much like watching a movie. If you liked A Thousand Splendid Suns, you will like this book.



Michelle and her cute little grandson brought me three new books today for the NICU. Thank you, Michelle. 




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, June 27, 2017

NICU Update 6/27/2017

Thirty-six years ago today, I lost my first baby of a set of twins. This was before doctors used ultrasound on a regular basis, so I didn't know that I still carried a second baby. On July 27th I would lose that little boy. Although I have often thought of those babies often over the years, I didn't do anything to honor their lives until fall of 2014 when I read a book that a student's mother had written about pregnancy loss. She recommended doing something to honor the baby or babies you had lost.

Because I am a reading and English teacher, I decided that to honor my babies, I would gather books for a year and make a one time donation to the NICU in packets of five books each for the parents to read to their babies. I was able to get good deals on books because I was a teacher, so the the Scholastic book order helped immensely with this project as they generally have a one dollar book each month. At the end of the year, I had purchased 150 books for the NICU through Scholastic and other places. I miss those dollar sales now that I am out of the classroom.

I found that I couldn't stop gathering books for this project. My neighbor, Michelle, started gathering books for it as well. Several of my friends and friends of the NICU started sending books, and of course, I kept on purchasing books.

Recently, a NICU mom posted a link to my blog and many of her friends and family sent books. Today, on this anniversary of the loss of my babies, I received a package of books from her mother, Gail.

Thank you, Gail. You made my day. You didn't know that today had any significance to me, but I found it a tender mercy to receive these books today. I love touch and feel books for babies, and Mo Willems is awesome!

My friend, Michelle, brought me a Spanish book last night, which we always need.

  • In 2015 we sent 73 packets but not every baby received one.
  • In 2016 we sent 224 packets and most babies received one. 
  • So far in 2017, we have sent 149 packets, and I have 30 more to send. I love that there are enough for every baby in our NICU to get a packet of books. 
Reading to your child everyday is one of the best gifts you can give them. Thank you to everyone who helps keep this project going. 

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, June 26, 2017

Duke by Kirby Larson

It isn't often that I find a book for middle grade students that teaches me something new, but Duke by Kirby Larson does just that. I never knew that American citizens sent their pets to help with the war effort. Published in 2013, Larson has done her homework on this story set in Seattle during WWII.

Hobie's dad is in Europe flying planes, and Hobie feels a real pull to do all he can at home for the war effort. When he learns about a program that uses dogs to help the soldiers, he reluctantly sends his beloved dog Duke. Now that he has sent him, he does all he can to get his dog back.

The reader gets to see the emotions that Hobie goes through as he tries to make his father proud, yet still get his dog back home safely. We see the growth of his character. Larson adds all the other issues facing people back home. Trying to send care packages to soldiers and POWs, ration stamps, lack of shoes, gasoline, and rubber. She has sprinkled in the flavor the time well.

I have to admit that the letters Hobie sends back and forth to the soldier who has Duke made me cry at times.

The story is tender and heartwarming. I listened to the audio version, and while it was good, when the narrator did girl voices, it was a bit grating, so I may have enjoyed it more had I read it.

Hobie's relationships with his family, friends, and the neighborhood bully are handled well. He is a good big brother who gets annoyed at times with his little sister. I found this realistic. Any dog lover in your life or classroom 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 in the newborn intensive care unit.

Friday, June 23, 2017

The Three Questions by Jon J. Muth

The Three Questions, based on a story by Leo Tolstoy was written and illustrated by Jon J. Muth and published in 2002.  Of course it contains his gorgeous watercolor paintings. Did I tell you I love his art and have purchased books because of his artistic talent?

In this story, a young boy has three questions: When is the best time to do things? Who is the most important one? and What is the right thing to do?

As this child goes on a journey to find the answers, he gets a few different answers - all of them good answers, but they are not the answers he is ultimately looking for. After he helps a farmer and saves a panda and her baby, he discovers the answers to these questions.

This is a thought provoking book and I can picture myself using it in the classroom. I can imagine students trying to answer those questions for themselves, having a Socratic discussion or debate on each one. Not to mention that the art is fantastic and brings out the emotion of the story.

I am so happy to have added this treasure to my storybook collection. It is worth every penny.



 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, June 22, 2017

Money Hungry by Sharon G. Flake

Money Hungry by Sharon G. Flake was published in 2001. This high interest low Lexile book is great for reluctant readers. Thirteen year-old Raspberry Hill is obsessed with making money because she and her mother were homeless and and now living precariously in a rough part of town.

Raspberry gets into trouble for her money making schemes. She is called greedy, but people don't understand her fear of homelessness. She understands that money is what will keep her and her mother safe, but not even her mother understands her quest to earn money. I love Raspberry's tenacity and work ethic. Her mother frustrated me, and I found her actions at times to be childish.

I liked the relationships and situations in the story and found them realistic. I also liked how Sharon G. Flake shows how hard it is to avoid misunderstandings when people don't communicate well.

This book is the first of two books. The second book is called Begging for Change and I will read it as I want to know what happens to Raspberry and her mother. I like books grab a reluctant reader's attention quickly and move them through the story. This slim volume has 188 pages with a lot of white space and short chapters. The font size is large, but a teen reader won't feel they are reading a baby book.

The cover on my book is different from this one, but both are attractive to teen 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 in the newborn intensive care unit.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Little Britches: Father and I Were Ranchers by Ralph Moody

Little Britches: Father and I Were Ranchers by Ralph Moody was first published in 1950, and I would say it is the male equivalent to Little House on the Prairie.

Both my sister, Jill, and my neighbor, Lisa, suggested I read this book, so I did. This is the first of eight books in the series. Ralph Moody tells about his life, starting when he is eight years old and his family moves to Colorado in order save his father's health. He works in the east in a Woolen Mill and the air quality is destroying his lungs.

The story is set in the early 1900s. Ralph gets a few nick-names in this book. He is called Molly by the bullies at his school because his mother makes him wear nice clothes instead of overalls to school. He then gains the nickname of Spike when he fights back, and lastly, he becomes Little Britches when he learns to do tricks on a horse.

Ralph is a pretty average kid for the time period. He makes mistakes, but his parents are good people who try to teach him right from wrong. Children are spanked during this time period and Ralph gets his share of spankings. He loves his father dearly and the reader can see that his father really helped him grow to become a good person who values honesty and keeping his reputation clean.

I will probably read the next book in this series as I came to care about the characters - including the animal characters. Animals were a big part of life during the time period of this book. If you liked The Little House books, you will like this book. Your boys will prefer this one.


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, June 20, 2017

The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway

The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway is one of those books that makes the reader contemplate life and the value of relationships and humanity. I listened to the audio version that was narrated by Gareth Armstrong, and he is a wonderful reader.

The narration and voice of the story reminded me of The Book Thief. Galloway is a remarkable writer. I could visualize every single scene: smell it, feel it, touch it. I love his attention to the little details, yet this book is only 259 pages of well spaced nice sized text, so he doesn't use his words carelessly - every word counts and packs an emotional or sensory punch. Even though the story ended, I wanted it to go on, which means I'll have to reread it. I'll also have to go find another Steven Galloway book as I really like his storytelling style.

In this story, Galloway takes the siege of Sarajevo that lasted over three years and condensed it into a month. After an attack in the city that killed twenty-two people, a cellist decides to play a piece at four o'clock each day in remembrance of each person killed. Although this story is based on that story, this book is fiction.

The story is told from the point of view of the Cellist, a female sniper named Arrow, a father named Kenan, and an older man named Dragan using third person omniscient narration. As each person tells their story, the reader gets a feel for what the people of the city must endure to get food, water, and medicine. The reader gets the sense of what becomes of people when they are reduced to only being concerned with taking care of the most basic of needs. We see people in their moments of weakness and their moments of strength. I loved how Dragan's narration ended - so profound. Without the daily niceties, we stop connecting with people. Those little greetings, kindnesses, and reaching out to others are what keep us human.

I highly recommend 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 in the newborn intensive care unit.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Totally Monster Manners by Sue DiCicco

Last week at Seagull Book, I found a board book with lift flaps that reminded me of a book that my children't loved when they were little. My kids loved The Thing-a-ma-jig books, but they are very hard to find now as they are out of print.

When I saw this Totally Monster Manners book, I had to buy it.

The pictures are cute and show the monsters using bad manners. "Some monsters never use their manners. They really are impolite. They never say 'please' or 'thank you.' Not morning, noon, or night."

Each new page has a stanza that rhymes. Books that contain rhymes are wonderful for little children. After listening a few times, they are often able to fill in the words if you leave them out or stop for them to fill in the words. This gives your little reader an opportunity to feel like they know the words and is one step closer to them becoming independent readers.

By the end of the story, the monsters have learned manners and play nicely with others.



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.