saggingbookshelves

Have you seen this book yet?

Why Sagging Bookshelves?

I have been creating an annual “best of the year” list for almost 20 years now. I’ve decided to enter the blogging world in order to talk about my favorite books in a more timely manner, address some issues that come up in the world of children’s books, and to share information about what is coming up in this world of books.

I am Joan Kindig and I am a professor at James Madison University where I teach Children’s Literature, Young Adult Literature, and a variety of Reading courses. I have served on the Newbery, the Caldecott, the Carnegie, and the Odyssey Awards. I am an incurable bookaholic.

What are middle schoolers reading?

One of my students in my YA Lit class was recently in his middle school practica working with the kids. His cooperating teacher was clearly all about getting her kids reading and offered them some great titles. Ji decided to write down a bunch of the titles and I thought I would share them with you. Notice there is not one Dickens on the list! :-)

  • Roar – Emma Clayton
  • The Lightning Thief – Rick Riordan
  • Wonder – R.J. Palacio
  • endangered – Eliot Schrefer
  • The Son of Neptune – Rick Riordan
  • Seekers – Erin Hunter
  • The 21 Balloons – William Pene du Bois
  • Brown Girl Dreaming – Jacqueline Woodson
  • I’d Tell You I Love You But Then I’d Have to Kill You – Ally Carter
  • Diary of a Wimpy Kid – Jeff Kinney
  • Paper Towns – John Green
  • Joey Pigza series – Jack Gantos
  • Twilight series – Stephanie Meyer
  • The Night Gardener – Jonathan Auxier
  • Ripley’s Believe it or Not
  • Maze Runner – James Dashner
  • The Strange Case of the Origami Yoda – Tom Angleberger
  • Dragonbreath series – Ursula Vernon
  • Vet Volunteers series – Laurie Halse Anderson
  • Books by Gordon Korman
  • Books by Mike Lupica (sports stories)
  • Divergent – Veronica Roth
  • Eragon – Christopher Paolini
  • All the “Percy Jackson” books – Rick Riordan
  • All the Alex Rider books – Anthony Horowitz (adventure)
  • Maximum Ride – James Patterson
  • Many Gary Paulsen titles
  • Wonderstruck – Brian Selznick
  • Many Neal Shusterman titles
  • Many Roland Smith titles (adventure)
  • Maggie Stiefvater titles
  • The Sisters Grimm – Michael Buckley
  • Scott Westerfeld titles
  • Chasing Lincoln’s Killer – James Swanson
  • The Nazi Hunters – Neal Bascomb
  • Bulu: African Wonder Dog – Dick Houston
  • The Boy on the Wooden Box – Leon Leyson
  • Blue Lipstick: Concrete Poems – John Grandits (poetry)
  • Sarah Dessen titles
  • Bone series – Jeff Smith (graphic novel series)

The range of genres and formats is inviting to all readers in her classroom, she also has varying degrees of reading difficulty represented thereby ensuring everyone in her classroom can actually read books, and by all reports they are reading like mad. More reading equals better readers which provides the students a real chance at becoming lifelong readers and learners.

B is for Box: The Happy Little Yellow Box: A Pop-up Book by David A. Carter

I spend a lot of time with my granddaughter, Adelaide, reading books with her. Over Thanksgiving I brought out B is For Box and I wasn’t “reading” to her as much as exploring the book together. It is an interactive pop-up book from the word go and Adelaide wanted to read it with me again and again.

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Adelaide is 2-1/2 now and this book is perfect for little ones like her. On each page the “happy little yellow box” can be manipulated by turning a dial, pulling on a tab, lifting flaps, and Adelaide’s favorite: pulling the box up and down the slide. The black backgrounds make the white drawings jump off the page and the little yellow box does so even more. Adelaide played and played with all the gadgets all the while chattering away: “up the slide and down the slide” again and again. This book provided Adelaide with an engaging romp through its pages and provided me with her wonderful narration throughout. All of you out there who have preschoolers, put David A. Carter’s B is for Box in their pile under the Christmas tree, on the Kwanzaa table, or next to their driel. They will think Santa is brilliant!

Scientists in the Field series

I have the great pleasure of moderating a session at NCTE this coming Friday with two fantastic authors whose books are in the Scientists in the Field series. This series, to me, is the gold standard for non-fiction for children. These two authors, Elizabeth Rusch and Loree Griffin Burns, tackle a variety of topics and have garnered a lot of attention for their efforts. Elizabeth’s Eruption! Volcanoes and the Science of Saving Lives was honored as an  Outstanding Science Trade Book, NSTA/CBC last year. And Loree’s  Tracking Trash: Flotsam, Jetsam, and the Science of Ocean Motion was honored as a Boston Globe-Horn Book Nonfiction Award honor book.

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They each have a new book that they will talk about at NCTE. Elizabeth has The Next Wave: The Quest to Harness the Power of the Oceans and Loree has Beetle Busters: A Rogue Insect ad the People Who Track It. If you want science that will grab your kids and make them want to become scientists themselves, these titles are for you. I think the neatest thing about this whole series is that it makes kids think, maybe for the first time, that being a scientist is something any one of them could do. They may never have thought about it before but after reading these books they certainly will. Ah, the joys of non-fiction!

Creature Features: 25 Animals Explain Why They Look the Way They Do

I have always said that you can count on Steve Jenkins for truly magnificent non-fiction books. Well, I was wrong. You can depend on Steve Jenkins AND his wife, Robin Page, to create truly magnificent non-fiction books! :-)

9780544233515_p0_v2_s260x420I was one of the lucky people who got to see Steve Jenkins and Robin Page at the Shenandoah Children’s Literature Conference back in June. I got to hear about how ideas came to them, how they collaborate on the text and the art, and how much fun they have doing it. In this, their latest, they turn to animals whose features have helped them survive over the years in the wild. The format is different from what they have done before. On each page is a creature and a question is posed to it: “Dear mandrill: Why is your nose so colorful?” The answer explains why it is the mandrill boasts all these colors. Can you guess why it does? You’ll definitely have to read this book to find out. Other questions include “Dear pufferfish: you’ve got me worried – are you going to explode?” Do these sound like questions kids would ask. Definitely! The art, as always, is stupendous with Steve’s paper collage. It still blows my mind that his collages look exactly like the animals he is representing. As always there is wonderful back matter that gives children a bit more information (and how to get even more) than what is offered in the text. In this case, the animals are to scale so kids can see if a mole rat is bigger or smaller than a tapir, for example (smaller). It also includes the diets that sustain them and where in the world they are found. I love this book and think that any teacher would want this book in their classroom. It will captivate young readers. Good luck getting them to share! :-)

Blizzard by John Rocco

John Rocco’s Caldecott Honor winning picture book, Blackout, captured a moment in time when the lights literally went out in New York City and people were forced to interact with one another. Their phones didn’t work, TVs didn’t, and the computers, streetlights, and neon signs just stopped. We’ve lost those evenings on the front porch where people talked and told stories and connected with their neighbors. It took a blackout to have that happen in New York and Rocco’s book celebrated that moment. It’s a wonderful book.

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Rocco’s new one is just as wonderful and it again highlights a specific moment (well, actually a week) when the snow falls up to 4 feet and the town shuts down. The protagonist  moves from sheer bliss that school is closed to being sick of being stuck in the house day after day as the food supplies dwindles. Its such a great tale from a child’s viewpoint. The art is terrific complete with a double gatefold with a map of the trail the boy takes as he ventures out to get groceries wearing tennis rackets as snowshoes. It makes me want to see the snow start falling.

This is a great book to read in class when the first snowflakes fall and the children are looking out the school house windows thinking only of getting out of school early. Pair it with Kevin O’Malley’s Straight to the Pole and Susan Jeffers’ beautifully illustrated version of Robert Frost’s Stopping by Woods On A Snowy Evening to seize the moment and let the kids know you’re thinking of the days when you were the one looking out the window wistfully. Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!

 

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Mr. Ferris and His Wheel by Kathryn Gibbs Davis, ills. by Gilbert Ford

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I love picture books! Did you know it is Picture Book Month for all of November? It’s true and more info about that can be found at http://picturebookmonth.com. In the meantime, let’s celebrate all things picture book! Hooray!

Mr. Ferris and His Wheel will interest all children who have ever ridden, or even seen, a ferris wheel. Why is it called a “ferris” wheel? Ah, because the mechanical engineer who designed it was named George Ferris. He created this unusual attraction for the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair and it was the hit of the show. It was different in some ways and is more like a cross of what we know as a ferris wheel now and the London Eye. There were glassed-in compartments that held seats which is more like the London Eye that what we’re used to. No one thought Ferris could pull off this enormous feat of engineering. He showed them, didn’t he?

On the downside (and I still love the book) the wonderful illustrations would look so much better if the pages were a bit more substantial and a little glossy. They look kind of dull as it is now. As a reader, I also would have liked to know what happened to the ferris wheel when the World’s Fair closed. Did it remain or was it demolished? Did people continue to ride it?

Despite the limitations noted, it is definitely worth getting. Kids will be so intrigued by it and who knows, they might build one out of Legos. :-)

Waiting Is Not Easy! by Mo Willems

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Waiting is not easy for any of us but especially for young children. Mo has hit the nail on the head again by capturing a real “problem” little ones have. Elephant & Piggie are hilarious as usual in this outing. Piggie has a surprise for Elephant but can’t give it to him quite yet. True to form, Gerald tries and tries to wait patiently but patient he is not. His frustration buds and ends up emitting some enormous GROANS. When he’s about to explode with anticipation and frustration, Piggie reveals her surprise. All I can say is it is was worth waiting for. Willems is going to end the E&P series before too long and that will be a sad day, indeed.

Playing for the Commandant by Suzy Zail

I am always drawn to stories from the Holocaust and try to read everything that comes out. It’s odd, I think, to want to read about something so unthinkable but I do. For me it is akin to staring down the devil. While teaching in London back in 2011 I made a pilgrimage to the Auschwitz and Birkenau concentration camps. It was a difficult trip but I felt that I wanted to witness what happened to all of the people who died so horribly in those camps. I am glad that I did.

9780763664039_p0_v3_s260x420In Playing for the Commandant, Zail takes a new look at the Holocaust through the eyes of a young girl, just 16, who was an accomplished pianist in Budapest, Hungary when her family was arrested and taken to Auschwitz-Birkenau. At the camp she and her mother and sister are spared the gas chamber and sent to a barracks where their daily torture of starvation and back-breaking work begins. Soon her mother begins to lose her faculties and Hannah and her sister try desperately to protect her from the daily “selections.” Hannah is chosen to be the Commandant’s personal pianist and with very mixed feelings she accepts the position. She knows she will be given more food and better clothing that she plans to pass along to her mother and sister. At the commandant’s house Hannah gets to witness close up the abject cruelty in the heart of her captor but she is surprised by his artistic son who despises what is going on in the camps his father oversees. The conflict between playing beautiful music and “selling out” is a wonderful dynamic in this story. I think this book will find a place in the corpus of Holocaust literature for young adults. This book is meant for readers age 12 and up.

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This book brought a documentary film to mind as I read it. Called The Lady in Room 6 it tells the story of Alice Herz Sommer, a 109 year-old survivor of Terezin. Ms. Sommer was an extraordinary pianist who secured a place in the Terezin orchestra and, through the music, was able to survive the Holocaust. This documentary is absolutely fantastic. Ms. Sommer had a joie de vivre that was unbelievable given what she had been through. The documentary won the Oscar for best documentary in 2014. Sadly, Ms. Sommer died just before the Oscar was awarded. She died at 110. Treat yourself to this documentary which is available in numerous places online. It was the most uplifting true story I have ever seen. Her story had a lasting effect on my life.

Cartwheeling in Thunderstorms by Katherine Rundell

One of my favorite books last year was Katherine Rundell’s novel, Rooftoppers. I have book talked it all over the place and when I do I have come to describe it as a cross between Mary Poppins and Roald Dahl. Roald Dahl because of the quirkiness of his characters and their eccentric lives in England. In Rooftoppers we find baby Sophie in the English Channel sailing in a cello case following the sinking of a ship. She is found by an eccentric professor, Charles, and he decides to raise Sophie himself since she is clearly an orphan. And their life together is wonderful to them – but to, say, a child welfare clerk, maybe not so much. It is just different but we all know what different can lead to! The welfare agency threatens to take her away from Charles and the two of them head for Paris. Sophie has always felt that her mother is still alive and is convinced she is living in Paris. Charles and Sophie make it their mission to find out. It is there in Paris that Sophie meets Matteo and joins him on the rooftops of Paris looking down at the city. It is this foray onto the rooftops that helps the three of them figure out what happened to Sophie’s mom. It is an adventure, it is a little wacky, and it’s a wonderful, wonderful read. I haven’t had anyone say they weren’t crazy about it – quite the contrary – it’s a huge hit. It would make a great classroom read aloud for kids ages 8 and up.

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I couldn’t figure out how Rundell could pull off such a distinctive book again but she did it in Cartwheeling in Thunderstorms which came out in August. Twelve year-old Will (short for Wilhelmina) is in heaven on her family’s farm in Zimbabwe. she loves the wide open spaces, all of the different animals, and the new adventures that pop up every day. Her dad loves her to pieces and leaves this idyllic farm to a friend of theirs to keep for Will until she is grown. Enter the wily woman who tricks him into marrying her and the farm is gone in no time. The wicked stepmother packs Will up and sends her off to an English boarding school where she will be out of her hair. Will hasn’t a clue how to act with all these girls wearing the same outfit and mocking her every chance they get. When she can take it no more, this n]brave and gutsy girl decides to strike off on her own and takes off into London. She has survived the wilds of Zimbabwe – can she survive London? This is such a great read and, like her first book, wonderfully imaginative and fun.

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You’ll enjoy every minute of this story!

National Book Awards for YA Literature Announced

As promised, NPR announced the five finalists for the National Book Award which is scheduled to be announced on November 19th. They are (in no particular order):

Threatened by Eliot Schrefer

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Revolution by Deborah Wiles

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Brown Girl Dreaming
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Noggin by Corey Whaley

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Port Chicago 50

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I have yet to read Threatened and Noggin – wouldn’t you know they were the only two on the long list I hadn’t gotten to! I know what the next two books I’ll be reading are! The other three are stellar examples of what the world of young adult literature offers. I can’t possibly say which I like best because they are all outstanding. We’ll leave the announcement to the judges. I think they have a very tough job ahead of them!

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