Marvelous Cornelius

9781452125787“A man known as the ‘Trashcan Wizard’ sings and dances his way through the French Quarter in New Orleans, keeping his beloved city clean, until Hurricane Katrina’s devastation nearly causes him to lose his spirit.”

This is an interesting attempt to create a modern folk hero. It’s told in a sing-songy storyteller pattern and the folk-like paintings add to the modern myth making. The perspective on the cover even makes Cornelius loom above his beloved French Quarter.

He’s a garbage man who sings and dances and brings a song and a dance to everyone he sees. When Katrina hits, he helps inspire others to lend a hand in the clean up. A stirring quote from MLK sets it up and an intriguing afterward fills in the history of the marvelous character.

A 2017-18 Georgia Best Picturebook Nominee.

Speaking of, the 49th Annual Conference on Children’s Literature is open for registration! It’s from March 23-24 in lovely Athens, GA. We will have Kelly DiPucchio! Louis Sachar! Grace Lin! Laurel Snyder! And many more awesome guests and presenters. Hope to see you there.



9780545416351“When her family is forced into an internment camp, Mitsi Kashino is separated from her home, her classmates, and her beloved dog Dash; and as her family begins to come apart around her, Mitsi clings to her one connection to the outer world–the letters from the kindly neighbor who is caring for Dash.”

This is a terrible chapter in American history but more important than ever that we examine it truthfully. This book does a good job of presenting a hard time for our country in a realistic context while still being age appropriate.

At first Mitsi notices how her friends at school react differently to her after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Then, as she realizes the enormity of the situation her family faces, she worries what will happen to her beloved pet. A older (white) neighbor she’s been helpful to offers to take the dog in during the duration of the internment.

Mitsi is so fired up she actually writes to General DeWitt and while he refuses her request to allow pets, some time later during this extended internment of American citizens of Japanese descent, he relents and begins allowing pets into the camps.

Once in the camps (the stay at more than one during the course of the novel) she becomes just as concerned with what she sees as the disintegration of her family. Her older brother begins running with some questionable characters and she misses their family meals.

She makes new friends and there are many eye-opening details about life in this situation. It’s followed up by a fascinating author’s note about how this all came together and her sources of inspiration.

Read as part of our district’s Reader’s Rally quiz bowl challenge.

The Lion Inside

9780545873505“A mouse feels small and insecure and determines that what he needs to do is learn how to roar like a lion. He knows he has to act brave when he approaches a lion to learn how. In a hilarious turn of events, the lion is afraid of mice! The mouse comforts the lion, they become friends, and we learn that there’s a lion and a mouse inside all of us.

The inspiring text by Rachel Bright and the fun, bold illustrations by Jim Field teach young readers an important lesson. Regardless of how big or mighty we are, we can all live our dreams and do what we want to do. Fans of Aesop’s “The Lion and the Mouse” will enjoy The Lion Inside!”

Well that’s a terrible description. First of all, spoilers! The fact that the lion is scared of mice is the big reveal! But whatever, now that you know the basic plot, you should also know that this is a fabulous read aloud. I do not usually like rhyme-y books like this. Too many people were ruined by too much Dr. Seuss and it’s usually terrible.

This one, however, is an almost perfectly executed example of how to use rhyme in a picture book these days. It’s good to have a smooth narrator voice, and then switch to a meek little mouse voice when he’s talking. There’s also a tiny bit where the lion says a line but it’s mostly the narrator and mouse voices you’ll be using.

But when you get to the climax, where the brave little mouse has screwed up his courage and climbs up the rocks to actually speak to the lion? Oh the class you are reading to will be silent! And right in the palm of your hand. When the mouse and lion are face to face your could hear a pin drop. It’s the illustrations that really make this one.

This is a Georgia best picture book nominee for 2017-18.



Got Any New Year’s Resolutions?

I don’t usually even bother to think about this stuff but I was just reading this and found myself nodding my head so here’s my version.

Better diet and exercise. Well I’ve already been vegetarian for about a good six months or so and don’t plan on going back on that so I’m good there. I do, however, tend to eat the same things over and over again so my lovely bride got me a vegetarian cookbook so I should look through it and pick some new things to try. As for exercise, I have a standing desk at work and stay on my feet for the most part while I’m there. I walk my dog, but not as often as I’d like. I have a treadmill in the basement but haven’t been using it regularly. So I’ll just say I would like to walk the dog more often and use the treadmill more when I’m not outside.

Limit social media and news intake. I’ve cut the number of accounts I follow on Twitter and Instagram by a large number. I like to know what’s going on in the world but there’s no need to go crazy with that. I give to my local NPR station and listen to that in the car. I watch the PBS Newshour from time to time. I have a subscription to the Washington Post and The Week magazine. That’s more than enough information.

More time reading books. I read fewer  books this year mostly due to the trash fires in the news and following what was happening on social media and news feeds. I don’t need to know what’s happening as it’s happening (unless it’s happening to me) so cutting back on the obsessive updates and chilling with a book seems a more pleasant and better use of my time.

Less time on the cell phone. It’s funny, I interact with information differently on different devices and such. One of the reasons I enjoy reading on my Kindle rather than my tablet is I’m less likely to look up stuff rather than just reading. Same with reading on my phone (though since I’ve cut back on the number of things I follow on social media I find myself actually reading on my phone when I’m in a waiting room or whatever). I also have been plugging in my phone in a nearby room while I’m reading (or even watching something) to cut back on the pure distraction of it.

Less stuff. We recently moved my parents into assisted living and cleaned out their house to put it up on the market. I learned many valuable lessons from this including, don’t be sentimental about big things (like furniture). Be sentimental about little things (like photos and letters). And if you’re not using something, get rid of it. Yes, even that. Yes, that too. No, you’re not going to use it. See ya, bye!

We’ve already started on this one as a family. We went through the kitchen and got rid of things we haven’t used much or at all. We’re re-doing a basement room to make it more of a game room instead of a storehouse for dolls and little kid toys and such. Don’t worry, my daughter is on board with this as well! I’m going to do my part by clearing out my home office and work office of all the cruft. I still have some boxes of things I used to teach with. Time to be given away or recycled! Time for more trips to Goodwill!

So there you go. More of a re-balancing than definite resolutions but these are the things on my mind as we roll into the New Year. How about you? Anything you’re changing or adjusting as we start in on 2018?

The Darkest Dark

9780316394727“Young Chris loves pretending he’s a brave astronaut, exploring the universe. Only one problem–at night, he’s afraid of the dark. Only when he watches the moon landing on TV does he realize how exciting the unknown can be. Inspired by the childhood of real-life astronaut Chris Hadfield”– Provided by publisher.

A picture book by a celebrity author about being afraid of the dark. Remember Mother Reader’s BACA posts? (Bloggers Against Celebrity Authors)? Those were the days. So yes, I was all ready to dismiss this out of hand even though Chris Hadfield is awesome. Especially those amazing Youtube videos he posted when he was on the International Space Station!

And then the art is by The Fan Brothers! The same brothers I just said came out of nowhere in my very last post! Well they did it again, nailing the exact right tone for this wonderful book.

An astronaut that was afraid of the dark? Sounds too good to be true but it is told in such a humane and realistic way I don’t doubt it. And it references the Apollo moon landing! And a time when not everyone had TVs! And it has a heartwarming message about dreaming big that doesn’t sound fake and sappy. Don’t ask me how they did it but they did it.

Another great Georgia Picture Book Nominee for 2017-18.

The Night Gardener

9781481439787“Everyone on Grimloch Lane enjoys the trees and shrubs clipped into animal masterpieces after dark by the Night Gardener, but William, a lonely boy, spots the artist, follows him, and helps with his special work”–Provided by publisher.

This one sneaks up on you. I read it aloud to many classes and while I can tell it’s not going to win much, it’s definitely going to have staying power. It has a hauntingly beautiful cover that is intriguing enough to be picked up by curious readers. The story isn’t Earth-shattering but like I said, it stays with you because of it’s quiet, dreamlike quality and excellent art.

On the cover the credit is to “The Fan Brothers.” Are they like “The Duffer Brothers” of Stranger Things fame who come out of seemingly nowhere to knock one out of the park? I can’t wait to see what these collaborators do next!

This is yet another 2017-18 Georgia Picture Book Nominee.

Two Picture Book Takes on Painting

I’m just not awake enough to come up with a snappy title for this post.

Today I’ll be writing about two more Georgia picture book nominees. The Iridescence of Birds: A Book About Henri Matisse written by Patricia MacLachlan and pictures by Hadley Hooper. And one called Maybe Something Beautiful: How Art Transformed a Neighborhood by F. Isabel Campoy and Theresa Howell and illustrated by Rafael López.

9781596439481“If you were a boy named Henri Matisse who lived in a dreary town in northern France, what would your life be like? Would it be full of color and art? Full of lines and dancing figures?” -from the publisher.

This is an undeniably gorgeous book. The committee that chooses these nominees never fails to pick excellently illustrated titles that combine words and pictures at the highest levels. It is a meditation on the creative spirit and for parents, on fostering that creative spirit.

But as a whole class read aloud? For me? It was a bit of a clunker. I mean it’s not bad. It’s lovely but just not engaging to the audiences I was presenting it to. So I’d read this one first and then read….

9780544357693“Mira lives in a gray and hopeless urban community until a muralist arrives and, along with his paints and brushes, brings color, joy, and togetherness to Mira and her neighbors”-from the publisher.

This one is based on a true story of a neighborhood in San Diego getting together to brighten the place up with colorful murals. So the idea of actually getting to paint on the walls of building combined with the photographs at the end showing people actually doing it knocked my students right out. I made clear before reading it that there is a difference in graffiti and murals and getting permission to do it being the main one. Luckily not too far from here a nearby town has had some boring highway dividers painted with colorful murals so they had an immediate connection.

So while the Henri Matisse book wasn’t their favorite, these did pair well together showing the different kinds of art a painter can do, inspiring many comments and questions which is always one of the best parts of reading aloud.


The Bookshelf Grows

One of the Guys in the Guys Who Read book club who joined in April of 2011 actually buys physical copies of every book and has a dedicated bookshelf for this. Here it is filled up all the way to this December’s pick, The Odyssey. Pretty cool!

It Came in the Mail

9781481403603“After Liam writes to his mailbox, asking for more mail, he gets his wish, but soon he realizes that sending mail is even more fun than receiving it.”

Ben Clanton (of Narwhal: Unicorn of the Sea fame) delivers another fun read aloud, this time about the joys of getting and sending mail. I know it sounds a little old fashioned but who doesn’t still love getting actual, real, personal mail now and then?

I paired this with an old favorite of mine, Dear Mr. Blueberry by Simon James. Both books make writing and receiving mail seem interesting and “teach” things needed to send mail such as forms of address, postmarks, closings, and more without hitting you over the head.

Clanton had my students in stitches with Liam’s word choices such as “boogers” and “diddly-squat.” Later when Liam realizes he can get free stuff from this magic mailbox just by asking he goes a little crazy. He writes, “I would love it if you sent me a hundred GAZILLION more things.” When I read that part, my students eyes got wide and a few gasped “oh no.” They seem to instinctively know that asking a magic mailbox for a GAZILLION more things can’t end well.

But Liam decides he’s gotten more than enough and sends things to other kids around the world (and even in space!) to share his weird bounty. So there’s a nice little message about not being greedy among all the flying dragons and aliens and delightful little illustrated jokes. And it’s diverse! Liam is a white kid but his best buddy Jamal isn’t and there are plenty of random kids from around the world (and out of this world) depicted. Some of the mail even comes in foreign languages.

This is a Georgia State Nominee for Best Picture Book for 2017-18.

Guy Read 2018 Book List

January – Oxford American Music Issue (Dec. 2017) – Cool idea but it might sell out before I get to it so I don’t know if I’ll do this one.

February – The Things They Carried – Tim O’Brien – Read one of his in college so this will be interesting.

March – Ecology of a Cracker Childhood – Janisse Ray – My Lovely Bride already has this from a graduate class.

April – Giving Godhead – Dylan Kreiger – poetry

May – My Man Jeeves – P.G. Wodehouse – always love him.

June – Trouble Boys – Bob Mehr – a biography of The Replacements.

July – The Mind-Gut Connection: How the Astonishing Dialogue Taking Place in Our Bodies Impacts Health, Weight, and Mood – Emeran Mayer

August – Last Bus to Wisdom – Ivan Doig

September – Lysistrata – Aristophanes – Timely choice.

October – The Gallery of Unfinished Girls – Lauren Karcz – YA and another local author!

November – The Association of Small Bombs – Karan Mahajan – Don’t know. Will look it up.

December – The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu – Joshua Hammer – Well there’s a title that grabs me!

Due to family issues and travel I am behind with my book club reading. I missed the November meeting (with the author!) and have yet to finish her book. And now I need to set it aside so I can read The Odyssey for the December meeting and get back to the Julia Franks (which is amazing by the way and you should see if it’s for you). So that’s another reason I might not get the January music thing. I’m already behind and really want to finish the Franks and the Odyssey before going on with anything else.

What are your reading plans for 2018?