Monday, July 31, 2017

The Empty Schoolhouse by Natalie Savage Carlson

The Empty Schoolhouse by Natalie Savage Carlson was published in 1965 and reflects the unrest in our country during the fight for civil rights.

This book is great to introduce younger readers to the Civil Rights movement. John Kaufmann is the illustrator of this chapter book and his pictures show the emotion of this time period.

This story is narrated by Emma, and she tells the story of her little sister being one of the first black children to attend a white school. St. Joseph's is a Catholic school, and the staff has decided that all children will be allowed to attend no matter their color. Not all the families in the town are okay with this plan, but many are until some rotten person starts making trouble.

Soon, Emma's sister Lullah is the only child attending the school, and the rotten men are out to stop her.

This book shows the damage that is caused when prejudice, fear, hatred, and anger prevail. While there are scary moments, this book isn't too scary for young readers, but allows your young reader to see our Civil Rights history.

I like how the realistic the characters seem and how the characters develop over the course of the story.

This book is out of print, but you can still find used copies online.

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 28, 2017

Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher by Bruce Coville

Several years ago, my son gave me the book Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher by Bruce Coville. His teacher read this book to his class, and he loved it. I recently listened to the audio version and thought it a delightful tale full of magic and whimsy.

Jeremy Thatcher is small for his age. He is an artist, but the art teacher isn't very nice to him. A girl has a crush on him, so he gets teased about that. One day on the way home from school, he finds himself on a street he hasn't seen before, in a magic shop that he didn't know existed. He is allowed to buy a shiny egg type thing and then all the fun begins.

I liked the magic in this book. I also liked that Jeremy's dad is a veterinarian, and Jeremy has his father's love of animals. I like how he reminds himself and others that you shouldn't get angry at a cat for acting like a cat, or a dragon for acting like a dragon. I liked that this book shows that animals are a responsibility - one you have to take seriously. I also loved how this book shows that animals bring a lot to our lives and are worth the time they take.

This chapter book is well illustrated by Gary A. Lippincott, with just enough pictures for a child who may still be learning to visualize while they read. This is a great book for the 5 and up crowd and would be a wonderful read aloud.

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

We've received many book donation during the last week. I love that so  many people want to share their favorite storybooks with brand new, budding readers. 

Michelle donated this bunch of books to the NICU. I love that she included some Spanish books. 

One of the NICU nurses bought these darling board books for the babies. She sees first hand how much the parents appreciate the books that we give to each baby.

Miranda, a NICU mommy, sent these books. She also included some Spanish books. She understands the long days spent in the NICU and knows that story time helps. 

Link to our NICU book registry if you'd like to donate books to babies in the newborn intensive care unit. We give each parent a packet of five books that they get to keep to read to their baby while they are in the hospital and later at home.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

After You by Jojo Moyes

After You by Jojo Moyes is the second book of the Me Before You duo. This story picks up over a year after Me Before You ends. Lou is still struggling to carry on after Will's death. She has traveled some and has purchased a flat, but she is in a dead end job and is not really living.

One night, Lou is startled by a girl (Lilly) from Will's past, and Louisa suffers a terrible accident. As she begins to heal emotionally, the paramedic and the girl from Will's past play a big role in helping Louisa's heart heal.

I don't want to give anything away, but his novel once again contains Moyes wit and her ability to weave comedy and tragedy together to highlight the human condition and the roles we play in helping one another. Louisa's family is back in this novel, and I love their interactions and the family dynamic.

Lilly is a frustrating character and at times I want to shake Louisa for allowing Lilly to walk all over her, but Lilly's character arc is good. There are many things brought up in this story that would be interesting discussion topics in a book club. This book contains adult language and situations, so younger readers may need to wait to read this one.

I enjoyed this book, but found I wasn't ready to for it to end. I listened to the audio version and it was expertly narrated by Anna Acton

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 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.