Saturday, April 14, 2018

The latest in non-fiction!

I just got some new books that I ordered.  I just love getting a box of new books.  It's like Christmas!  Even if I had to order them and pay for them myself.  Still exciting!  Anyway, the kids are going to LOVE these new non-fiction books I just got.

The first one is called "Snowy Owl Invasion: Tracking an Unusual Migration" by Sandra Markle.  I'm a big fan of Sandra Markle's work.  Her books are always thoroughly researched with lots of gorgeous pictures and super interesting text.  This one is no exception.  It's about what happened with snowy owls in the 2013-2014 season when suddenly people were spotting snowy owls in some pretty surprising places (like the Florida-Georgia border!) and in numbers not usually seen (like at the Boston Airport, where they typically remove 10-12 snowy owls per season, but that year, removed over 100).  She explains why scientists believe there was such a population explosion (no, I'm not going to tell you, you need to read the book!) and what the possible effects might be for snowy owls with global climate change.  Did I mention the photographs are a complete marvel?  If you've never had a chance to really get a good look at a snowy owl (I live in south Florida, snowy owls probably aren't coming here any time soon), these photographs will show you them in detail you never thought possible.  They are amazing.  Do NOT miss this book.

Here's a video from NPR about Baltimore, one of the owls in the book.

Image result for beauty and the beak book

The second is called "Beauty and the Beak: How science, technology, and a 3D-Printed beak rescued a bald eagle"  by Deborah Lee Rose and Jane Veltkamp.  It starts off with a narrative story about a baby eagle being born and how it grew to adulthood and then was badly wounded-a bullet shattered her beak, leaving her unable to eat or drink on her own.  Luckily, she was rescued by a police officer, who took her to a wildlife center.   They were able to nurse her back to health, but without a beak, she would never be able to live in the wild.  Luckily, a raptor biologist named Janie (one of the co-authors!) and an engineer named Nate came together to help the eagle get a new beak.  What's really interesting about this story is the details of problem solving and how real live scientists don't always get things right the first time, but with persistence, they can figure it out.  It's also interesting that only about half the book is the wounded eagle's story, the rest of it is information about eagles with lots of QR codes to send interested researchers to find out more.  I think the kids are going to really like this one too!

Here's a video about it Beauty the wounded eagle!

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Coming attractions in middle grade fiction!

I've been enjoying my spring break and since we were traveling, I had some long uninterrupted time to read (because when I'm at home, there's a lot of "Oh look!  Something shiny!" going on).    There are some terrific new middle grade fiction books in the pipeline.  Here are two of my favorites.

The first one is called "The Orphan Band of Springdale" by Anne Nesbet.  It's historical fiction but it's based on the author's family stories.  It's set in World War 2 and I really loved that it tells the story of what it was like growing up in America at that time, with some of the ugly prejudices that people held as well as some of the social issues that have since been resolved.  Gusta's dad leaves her on a train as they were heading to Maine because Gusta's dad is a socialist and believes that workers should have rights and he is being pursued by the police.  Gusta ends up at her grandmother's house, which is a kind of an orphanage or maybe a group home.  When Gusta starts school, they figure out that she needs glasses, but they're really expensive, so Gusta goes to work for the eye doctor, who is German and raises pigeons.  The passages where Nesbet describes what it's like to put on her glasses for the first time brought me to tears because that's exactly how I felt when I first got my glasses.  Gusta also unearths some family secrets that unravel in a really lovely way.  I really liked this story and I think it would great to have it as a part of our historical fiction collection.   It comes out on April 10, 2018.

The second one I read is called "The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl" by Stacy McAnulty.  McAnulty is a prolific author and I really like a lot of her other work, but I think this might be her best one yet.  This story is about Lucy, a girl who lives with her grandmother.  Her uncle makes occasional appearances, but there's no real backstory about what happened to Lucy's parents.  Apparently, it's not that important to the story because Lucy is a super interesting character.  When Lucy was 8, she was struck by lightning and the effect of the lightning strike was to turn Lucy into a math savant.  It also made her obsessive compulsive and went the story starts, she hasn't left the apartment where she and her grandmother live for 4 weeks.  Lucy's grandmother and her uncle decide the best thing for her is to enroll in the local middle school.  It's a difficult transition-the kids are for the most part mean about her obsessiveness but since Lucy doesn't want to tell anyone why she's so obsessive, I can see why they would be mean.  But she does make friends and as a part of group project the kids do, Lucy and her friends end up volunteering at a local animal shelter, which also brings a new group of people (and animals) into Lucy's life.  It's a really wonderful story about trusting people, what you do for friends, and accepting people for who they are.  I think my students are going to love this one.   It comes out in May 2018.

The last one is probably a stretch as middle grade fiction, but it would make a great read aloud in a middle grade classroom.  It's a picture book called "Neema's Reason to Smile" by Rebecca Newman.  I'm pretty sure just about every American kid (and a lot of the teachers) would tell you that they would MUCH rather stay at home than go to school every day.  But in some places, where school is more of a privilege rather than an obligation, kids really WANT to go to school.  This is a story about a girl who really wants to go to school.  She and her mother have big dreams of jobs and education but in order to help her small family survive, Neema must go and sell fruit each day.  The coins that aren't needed to buy beans and rice or new needles for sewing are put into the dreaming basket, which is meant for Neema to go to school.  The illustrations are strong and energetic and give you the impression that Neema is a hard worker.  Reading this one would be a nice opportunity to talk about some of the blessings we have here that aren't as prevalent elsewhere.    It might be a good one to connect with "Long Walk to Water" by Linda Sue Park, which is a chapter book about two different kids growing up in Sudan at different times.  This one comes out this week!

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Strong women in new books

I've been so lucky to read some awesome middle grade fiction this week about some interesting, powerful young women, I can't wait to share them with you!

The first one is called "Like Vanessa" by Tami Charles.  I was mildly horrified to find that it's categorized as historical fiction because it's set in the 1980s (heeeeyyyy, wait just a cotton pickin' minute.  The 80s are history?  Ok, they are MY history too).  Anyway, mild horror aside, this was a really great story about friendship, finding your true voice, making assumptions about people based on their appearance and working towards a goal.  It's about Vanessa, who is in 8th grade.  She has one true friend, but her friend is finding other interests and Vanessa is worried that they will not remain friends.  Vanessa also finds that she has other interests that her friend isn't so interested in.  Vanessa really wants to be Miss America.  Until now, she didn't think it was possible.  Until 1983, there had never been a black Miss America, but suddenly Vanessa Williams made history as the first black Miss America, and suddenly the Vanessa in the story thinks that might be possible.  The music teacher turns out to be a positive role model (in spite of Vanessa's initial assessment of her) and suggests that they start a beauty pageant in their school.  There's also a bit of a mystery to the story like why Vanessa avoids the bathtub and why her dad locks himself in his bedroom and works long hours to avoid the family.  I really liked this character's voyage of self discovery and I think a lot of girls will recognize themselves in Vanessa as a person who wants to be taken seriously, a person who can find their own beauty even if society is telling them otherwise, a person who values friendship and family.  This might tend more toward middle school than upper elementary, there is a scene of violence towards the end of the book that rings very true, but might be upsetting to some of the younger kids.  Overall, a solid read.

Here's a short interview with the author.

The second one has been getting a lot of buzz.  It's called "Amal Unbound" and it's by Aisha Saeed.  I was lucky enough to get to hear Aisha at a local book event called BAM that was in West Palm Beach last week end.  It turns out Aisha is graduated from one of our local high schools!  If I didn't admire her enough already, because this book was terrific!  

It's about Amal who is a girl who lives in Pakistan.  She is the oldest daughter in her family.  She has four younger sisters and so she has to help out a lot at home.  She also loves to go to school and dreams of being a teacher.  But she also has trouble being the submissive girl that her family believes that she should be.   So when she's at the market one day, she has an encounter with one of the rich people in the village that changes her life.  I don't want to spoil it, because the story unfolds so beautifully, it's really worth the wait.  It's beautifully written and Amal is a character that is going to resonate with a lot of kids.  This one would be appropriate for all the middle graders and will have some excellent tie ins to global issues, including treatment of women and treatment of girls and the value of education.  

Colby Sharp really liked it too!  Here's his video about it.

And here's the completely gorgeous cover.

So YAY for strong women!

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Black history month

At my school, I haven't done a good job of talking with my students about black history.  I did put together a black history display right in the entry way of the library but we've been busy working on a research project about the Winter Olympics and I have some other projects that I'll have to pick up so it's probably not going to get the attention it deserves this year.  But I have been trying to make sure that we have more ethnic diversity in our collection and to remind our kids that they have big opportunities if they work hard for them.  It's difficult to remember that sometimes when the media presents such skewed images of people of color or people of certain religions.  But we persevere.  Here are two titles that might help provoke conversation and help people understand one another more fully.

The first one is not history at all.  It's called "Astronaut Annie" and it's written by Suzanne Slade and illustrated by Nicole Tadgell.   They're having career day at Annie's school and she's very excited about her choices.  Each person in her loving and extended family makes suggestions on what they perceive as her strengths.  It's lovely to see how each of them has a different idea about how her strengths might play out but in the end, Annie makes her own choice.  The soft water color pictures enhance the warm family relationships and Annie's energy just about leaps off the pages.  It's also nice to see at the end, there are author's notes about other women who reached high and were able to go places that women hadn't been before.  And although this could have been written about any family, Annie and her family are African American, which is lovely.  This one is expected in stores in March 2018.

The second one is not a fun read.  It's called "Ghost Boys" by Jewell Parker Rhodes.  I really enjoyed Jewell Parker Rhodes books, especially "Towers Falling" so when I saw this new one (it's supposed to come out in April 2018), I really wanted to read it.  It's a very compelling story about a boy named Jerome.  He lives with his very supportive family and struggles with bullies at school.  He is determined to protect his little sister and his grandmother tries to help out too.  A new boy comes to school and Jerome is torn about making friends with him-will the new boy make him an even bigger target for the bullies?  He decides to make a friend and Carlos has a surprise.  It's a toy gun that scares the bullies away, for awhile.  Jerome takes the toy gun to protect himself on the way home.  As he goes through the park, someone see him with the toy gun and calls the police.  The police come and as Jerome is fleeing, they shoot him and he dies.  The rest of the story is Jerome watching his family deal with the pain of his death, which would probably be enough of a story but for Parker Rhodes, it's not enough.  So she introduces some new characters.  Another ghost boy, who was also killed by a white man, named Emmett and a girl named Sarah, who's dad is the police officer who killed Jerome. It's a lovely conversation about race relations in America today.  It's not easy to read but I think it's an important story for lots of people to hear.  I hope that it could help people to understand some of their own feelings about race relations.  

Sunday, January 28, 2018

What's new in middle grade fiction?

I'm finishing up a rotten cold (which gave me laryngitis so bad I missed 3 days of school!).  I feel well enough to read, YAY!  So I was digging around on my Kindle for something new and look what I found!  New middle grade fiction!  So here's what I was reading this weekend.

The first one I actually read over the summer and somehow got shoved to the back of the pile of books on my iPad.  It's was really a fun read.  It's called Sidetracked by Diana Harmon Asher.  It's about Joseph, who lives with his mom and dad and his grandfather and struggles with ADHD.  It makes it difficult for him to focus on anything for any length of time, which people at school find very exasperating.  Joseph is small and skinny which he finds exasperating and keeps hoping to find something he's good at.  Two different things happen fairly close together.  One is, a new and very athletic girl shows up at school.  The second is that Joseph's special education teacher starts to be the cross country coach.  The teacher encourages all her exceptional students to join the cross country team and so Joseph does.  And so does the super athletic girl, who's name is Heather.  Joseph decides to try running and with some help from Heather, starts showing improvement.  She and his teacher encourage him to consider his personal best rather than beating someone else.  What's great about this one is the theme of bullying, that it's not always the skinny little kids who get bullied, sometimes it's just people who are different but you don't have to just keep taking it. This will be a nice one for a middle school or elementary school library.

The second one is called "Someone Else's Shoes" by Elise Wittlinger.  It's about Izzy who is 10 and having a hard time.  Her parents are divorced and her dad is remarried and he and his new wife have a BIG surprise for Izzy.  Her cousin and her uncle are living with Izzy and her mom, her aunt committed suicide and her uncle is so depressed.  Her cousin Oliver is kind of strange so Izzy is hoping to help him.  Her mom is dating a dentist.  The dentist has a son who gets into a lot of trouble and Izzy's friends are acting weird.   Izzy really wants people to notice her, but she keeps choosing some kinds of crazy ways, like buying a pair of shoes that are a little small (they give her blisters) but they are so beautiful!  Or coloring and cutting her hair (by herself).  When her uncle disappears, Oliver and Ben hatch a plan to go and find him and Izzy wants to go to.   I liked this story a lot.  Izzy is an interesting and well developed character and so are the other characters around her.  It has some nice themes of friendship and taking time to get to know people rather than just judging them by appearances and kindness.    This will be another great one for an elementary or middle school library.

The last one is actually an old book originally published in 2008.  It's been refashioned as a new English book (which explains some of the very British vocabulary that pops up occasionally) that is the first one in a series of four books by a well known author-James Dashner.  He's pretty famous for a series of middle grade/YA novels that started with The Maze Runner, which is scary, dystopian future.  This  one is funnier and crazier.  It's a little scary but it's so much fun, I think the kids are really going to like it.  It's called "The 13th Reality Journal of Curious Letters".  It starts off with a guy in a post office in an obscure (and made up) town in Alaska with an unusual man trying to mail a number of letters.  Then a crazy, kind of scary lady all in yellow shows up asking (not very nicely) about the letters.  Then it flashes to a boy named Tick.  Actually his name  is Atticus but has earned the nickname Tick from the local bully, who is pretty relentless in his bullying.  Tick has learned to endure the bullying without too much complaining.  He has a really awesome family, a loving mom, a dangerous little sister, and a really amazing dad.  He receives one of the letters, which explains that he's being invited (mysteriously) to solve some clues and save the world.  It also turns out that other kids are being invited and there are some fantastical people he meets along the way that various try to help or kill him (but not usually both at the same time).  It's a really fun story to read with lots of exciting plot twists.  I'm a little surprised it didn't do better in America but maybe if it does well in England, they'll look to republish it here because it was a good read.  It's probably best for upper elementary or middle school.  

Here's a book trailer for the first book.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Books with puzzles and codes

I don't know how I fell down this rabbit hole, but I've been reading middle grade fiction and every one of them were mysteries that had some kind of code or puzzle.  A happy coincidence apparently, because they were all good.

The first one is called "Winterhouse" by Ben Guterson.  It's about a girl named Elizabeth who comes home and finds that her guardians (her parents were killed when she was 4), her aunt and uncle have left to go on vacation.  They've left her a train ticket and $3 and directions how to get to where she's going while they are on vacation.  All of this seems a little suspicious to Elizabeth-her aunt and uncle haven't wanted to spend an extra penny in the entire time she's lived with them and now suddenly, they want to go on vacation and send her to a hotel?  She can only imagine what kind of a terrible place it's going to be.  But when she gets there, she's pleasantly surprised, no, stunned, to find that Winterhouse is a beautiful place.  It's a lovely hotel, full of amazing amenities.  The staff is welcoming and friendly and she even makes a friend, Freddy, who is an inventor and puzzler, just like Elizabeth.    But of course, there is trouble afoot, there is a scary looking man and his wife who are trying to get to know Elizabeth and that feels strange.  Elizabeth also gets these feelings and then surprising things happen.  I really liked this story because Elizabeth is an interesting character and I liked her analytic mind.  I loved the anagrams that are tossed in as well as the world ladders at the beginning of each chapter.  I think the kids are going to like this one a lot.

Here's a book trailer for the book.

The second book drew me in because of it's very famous author-Neil Patrick Harris.  I think he's a terrific actor and I wondered if he was as good at writing.  It turns out he is!  He has a series that just came out called "Magic Misfits".  It starts off with a boy named Carter, who's parents were tragically killed and he is sent to live with an uncle (noticing a theme?).  The uncle is not a terribly nice person and he teaches Carter magic and sleight of hand so that the uncle can pick people's pockets.  Carter is determined never to steal from people and finds himself running away from his uncle, to make his fortune.  He ends up in a small town in New England called Mineral Wells.  There is a small fair there and that seems like it might be a good place for a magician to make a living, but the people in the fair seem more like his uncle than Carter was hoping for and ends up at a magic store with a man named Mr. Vernon.  It turns out there are two Mr. Vernons-one magician and one chef and they have an adopted daughter named Leila who has a circle of friends.  Leila and her friends invite Carter to join them and suddenly Carter is feeling more at home than he ever did with his uncle.  Unfortunately, there is trouble afoot.  The big boss at the fair is planning an event around the world's largest diamond, and Carter is sure the big boss is going to try to steal it.  What's really fun about this one is the magic tricks-there are directions for several different magic tricks in the book, which my students LOVE.  The second thing that's fun about it is that there are several different codes hidden in the text.  I think the kids are going to like this one too.

The last one is lighter on puzzles than the other two, but it's still a really great story.  It's called "The Ambrose Deception".  This one is more of a straight up mystery.  It's about three kids who are struggling to find their way.  Melissa is doing other people's homework for cash, Bondi is sneaky and Wilf is just looking to have a good time.  But they are each approached about applying for a $10,000 scholarship.  The scholarship has a couple of funny pieces to it- first, there are three clues that need to be solved.  Second, they are each given a driver and a debit card with no limits, except that they have to stay in Chicago, and third, they can't talk about this to anyone else.  I really can't tell you more about the plot without spoiling it, but let me tell you that the story is full of fun plot twists.  The one big thing that is a bit limiting about the story is that if you don't have a good sense of some of the cultural highlights of Chicago, the clues and their answers may seem kind of foreign.  My students struggle with the cultural nuances of our own state because of a lack of exposure and I'm pretty sure they have no idea what's in Chicago or even more tragically, that Chicago even exists.  I hope that kids will find the story is compelling enough to keep them going.  I also think it might be a really fun movie someday.  

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

New non fiction!

Here's what I found in some new non-fiction this week.

The first one is a biography called "Martin Luther King: The Peaceful Warrior" by Ed Clayton.  It was originally published in 1964.  The story is well written and doesn't seem to be anachronistic.  It gives a nice overview of Dr. King's life and some of the people who influenced him.  The artwork is warm and interesting.  I was a little fuzzy on what had been updated, since I hadn't read the initial work but overall it was a nice biography of Dr. King.  I read this one as an e-book from Netgalley so it will be interesting to see this as an actual book-to see the placement of the artwork and and how that all fits together.  I liked the fact that the book is written by people who actually knew Dr. King and how they interpreted the events of his life.  

The second one is also a biography.  It's about Andrew Carnegie.  It's called "The Man Who Loved Libraries" by Andrew Larsen.  It tells the story of Andrew Carnegie, who was born in a rural part of Scotland to a fairly poor family.  The family did work hard and eventually emigrated to the US where Andrew worked hard too.  However, he had help along the way, something he never forgot.  So after he made millions in the steel industry, he spent the later years of his life dedicated to philanthropic causes.  He helped to start Carnegie-Mellon University and gave a huge amount of money to the New York Public Library.  It's a nice story to give kids some background about an important historical figure like Carnegie and to perhaps start a conversation about how someone who has a lot of money might feel that they have an obligation to share that wealth.  

The last one is poetry, which in my library is non-fiction, but it feels like it could be a narrative story told in verse.  It's called "Can I Touch Your Hair?" by Charles Waters and Irene Latham.  The story is about two fifth graders, Charles and Irene that end up working together on a poetry project.  It's not really by choice, they both would rather have been working with someone else.  But it turns out, they have a lot more in common than they thought.  They agree that they will each write poems about different topics and the topics are presented in a two page illustrated spread.  The kids share their feelings about a variety of topics-church, shoes, hair, friends.  It turns out that even though there is a lot about them that is different, there is a lot that is the same too.  I think this would be an excellent on to use as a mentor text-the poetry flows so easily, the kids will be inspired to write poems just like them.  The story is also a great one-how people view others who are different from them and how they might not be as different as they thought.  I'm going to put this one on my list to order RIGHT NOW.