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.

Sagging Bookshelves and the Newbery

I haven’t posted anything yet for 2015 and it’s not entirely because I am lazy. :-)

I have the great honor to be serving on the Newbery Committee for 2016. That means I will be reading all of the books that come out from January 1, 2015 to December 31, 2015. My committee will announce our winners in January 2016. Hence it is referred to as the 2016 Newbery committee.

The American Library Association has a “conflict of interest” policy to ensure that no one on the acting committees (Newbery, Caldecott, etc.) has any connections or are beholden in any way to publishers. It is imperative that the awards remain as pure as they always have been. The down side is that it means I cannot post reviews or put anything in print about any book that comes out in 2015. Heartbreaking for all of you , I know! :-) Doing so could possibly taint the award and I absolutely do not want to do that. It’s too important.

I will post this coming year. I’ll mention books that I discovered from 2014 that are great and I will certainly post my Best of the Year.

I have my first Newbery Award committee meeting in Chicago before long. At that meeting I will get specifics about what I can put in print and what I can’t. I will report back to you when I get these clarifications.

For now, happy 2015 reading! It should be a great year.

The Nerdy Book Club

The Nerdy Book Club is a website for readers and devotees of children’s and young adult literature. The site was created by four educators –  Donalyn Miller (The Book Whisperer), Colby Sharp, Katherine Sokolowski, and Cindy Minnich – all of whom use children’s and YA literature in their classrooms. These teachers  know what they’re talking about! The website can be found at:

http://nerdybookclub.wordpress.com/about/

Check it out – it has so many resources to investigate. In particular, now is the time that the NBC (Nerdy Book Club not the TV channel!) shares their best of the year lists. Lots of outlets create lists and it’s fun to look at them all and notice the commonalities and disparities. Here are three that are worth looking at:

Kirkus: https://www.kirkusreviews.com/issue/best-of-2014/section/children/lists/

Booklist: http://www.booklistonline.com/Booklist-Editors-Choice-Books-for-Youth-2014-/pid=7275819)

School Library Journal: http://www.slj.com/best-books-2014/

My own list will be coming in January and will be found in a post on this site. In the meantime, click on the link above for The Nerdy Book Club’s best of the year lists. You will find some great titles there for your classroom.

Eye to Eye: How Animals See the World by Steve Jenkins

You’re probably sick of me writing still another great review of a Steve Jenkins book. Well, too bad, I say! This recent book looks at the eyes of creatures we know of (in some cases) but have never looked carefully at. It’s all about using our eyes, isn’t it. As usual, Jenkins uses paper collage to illustrate his strong text and, as usual, I am blown away but how amazing his art is.

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In Eye to Eye, he tells the reader that there are four kinds of eyes at the outset which allows children to put each eye in the book into context. He provides a close up view of the eye on each page but also provides a collaged image of what the whole creature looks like. I love the design of the book – each page is consistent in its design and is appealing throughout. He focuses (no pun intended) on eyes in this book and in a way that is really compelling to children. There is abundant backmatter that scientists-to-be will pore over. It’s that kind of book. I swear you can never go wrong with a Jenkins book and this new one makes my point perfectly.

Blue on Blue by Dianne White, illustrated by Beth Krommes

What first drew me to this book was the cover art. You might remember Krommes’s work from her Caldecott Award-winning book, A House in the Night. It was magnificent and this artwork utilizes the same technique: scratchboard and watercolor. Gorgeous, is it not?

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Caldecott committees aren’t necessarily looking for the best written books (the award is for illustration, after all) yet I can’t think of an award winner that is poorly written. This book is a beautifully poetic story that follows a young girl and her family through a sunny day that turns stormy and rains and rains and rains. The descriptive words will delight teachers who want children to use words with a little more oomph than usual. This is a book where the text and the artwork dovetail completely to create an absolutely stellar book. I keep going back to it just to enjoy the whole package. Indulge yourself.

Silver People: Voices from the Panama Canal by Margarita Engle

We have all heard of the Panama Canal and how it made trade from East to West so much easier. It truly opened up the world. What I have never really thought about is how it was created. The canal was finished in August 1914 so think about how it must have been dug. Yep, by hand. And who did the digging? If you guessed people of color you’d be dead right. This marvelous novel in verse is done beautifully by Margarita Engle whose work is always outstanding. She follows Mateo, a Cuban boy barely into his teens, who left Cuba to escape his abusive father. Working on a canal and getting paid for it seemed a great idea. Mateo soon realizes that he signed on for much more than he originally thought. Mountains had to be moved, literally, and men from all over the Caribbean were the ones whose backbreaking work made the dream come alive. It was dangerous, the living conditions abominable, the pay was horrible, and the men were subject to yellow fever and malaria. The amount of men who died over the course of its construction was astounding. Mateo meets a young girl named Anita who knows how to use the herbs in the jungle to help those who are sick. Henry is another man of color who works side by side with Mateo who eventually runs off into the jungle to escape the contract everyone had to sign when they started work. The poems are well-crafted and the language beautiful. This is a story of the divide between dark and light people and the brutality and misery that went into the building of the Panama Canal. It was fascinating reading and a joy the whole way through. It’s perfect for middle school and up.

 

George in the Dark by Madeline Valentine

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I swear, every child is afraid of the dark at some point. I remember starting to  read to my 2nd grade students (years ago now) a book on that very topic. I asked if anyone was afraid of the dark and, to a child, they all said that they weren’t. Really. Really? I told them when I was a kid I was afraid of monsters climbing up into my bed so I was careful every night to make sure my covers weren’t hitting the floor because, of course, that’s how the monsters would arrive. Once I told them that they all started confessing that they were afraid of all kinds of things. It was hilarious. That led to talk about how sometimes we’re afraid of things that we really don’t need to be afraid of. It was awesome. This book, George in the Dark, is about a little boy who hates for the lights to be turned out when it’s time for bed. He imagines all kinds of scary things around him when, in fact, it’s the very same toys he played with that day that only look scary in the shadows. He reaches for his teddy bear and teddy isn’t in the bed. He scans the room and sees teddy all alone in a corner of the room. That’s when George starts getting brave. He wouldn’t want to be all alone in a corner in the dark so he makes a run for it and saves teddy! When he’s safely back in bed with teddy tucked in George starts feeling pretty darn brave after all. Kids will like this one and it provides them a way to talk about fears without feeling like a nincompoop. Try it out. :-)

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! :-)

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