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Have you seen this book yet?

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! 🙂

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.

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