White Fur Flying

download“A sad and silent nine-year-old boy finds his voice when he moves next to a family that rescues dogs.”

Another inspirational, touching and well written Patricia MacLachlan novel. This one is rich in scene and some characters, thin in page numbers and side characters.

An outgoing family rescues Great Pyrenees dogs until they can be adopted. A much more subdued man, woman and their nephew rent the house up the hill. They are keeping the boy while his parents work through some unmentioned issue. His issue is that he’s selectively mute, I guess because of the trauma of whatever is going on with his folks.

Predictably enough he starts opening up to the dogs when no one is around and the thoughtful girls in the family of the dog rescuers give him the time and space to bond with one of the dogs.

It’s pleasant and I’m sure will be loved by dog lovers. It would make a good second grade read aloud for a class. Some will see the girls in the dog rescuing family as delightfully precocious. I found them almost annoyingly so and their dialogue unbelievable. Kids don’t talk like that, not even wanna be writers. I mean it’s an artistic choice. There are precocious, well-spoken kids in the world. Sometimes it works in a story and sometimes in doesn’t. Your mileage will vary.

But like I said. It’s another inspirational, touching, well-written Patricia MacLachlan novel. That’s something always worth checking out.

Read for my district’s Reader’s Rally team.

 

 

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Shooting at the Stars: The Christmas Truce of 1914

 

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In 1914 France, a British soldier writes to his mother about the strange events of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, when German and Allied soldiers met on neutral ground to share songs, food, and fun. Includes historical notes and glossary.”

You know John Hendrix. He’s been one of the best illustrators of historical picture books for the last ten years or so. Authors such as Deborah Hopkinson, Marisa Moss and Marilyn Singer have all benefited from this amazing and (too) hard-working talent. But here he is tackling an almost mythic moment in history himself as author and illustrator and just nailing it.

When I first saw this come across my desk I thought, “Another one?” There are already many books about (and movies about and references to) this moment in World War I. But then I realized that there really can’t be enough books and movies and references to something this striking in history. Like the sinking of the Titanic, the destruction of Pompeii and Katrina’s aftermath’s destruction of parts of Louisiana, the so-called Christmas Truce of 1914 is a great story with many layers and angles to it that will always have something to teach us, good and bad, about ourselves. It’s also something that needs the many books meant for many different ages and it needs them to come out periodically to remind us of the event and our perspectives of it.

This one is told in epistolary form from an English soldier to his mother with maps, photos and drawings. It also includes a context setting introduction and a detailed author’s note at the end which are all important to the book.

But the illustrations, as you can well imagine, bring this story and it’s humanity to life. The mud, the drudgery and the hopelessness in the beginning. The surprise and hopefulness of the scrounged Christmas trees and the mixing of the armies. But the angry British CO just hits it home. He’s clean-shaven. His uniform is impeccable. He has a forgotten pipe falling from his yelling mouth. He is not connected to these men in any way other than he is their commanding officer and the representation of everything wrong with what happens after this spontaneous truce.

It will give anyone who reads it much to think about when considering WWI.

Read for my district’s Reader’s Rally competition thing.

Sugar by Jewell Parker Rhodes

download“In 1870, Reconstruction brings big changes to the Louisiana sugar plantation where spunky ten-year-old Sugar has always lived, including her friendship with Billy, the son of her former master, and the arrival of workmen from China.”

What a great book! This is one of the choices for our district’s Reader’s Rally quiz bowl competition thingy for this year.

It’s five years after emancipation but the now former slaves of this Louisiana sugar plantation, not far from the Mississippi River, are basically trapped working for slave wages.

It’s a depressing time and bad things happen but Sugar is such a wonderful character that you end up smiling more often than you’d imagine. She loves the Br’er Rabbit trickster tales her unofficial guardians tell and she makes great connections between them and the folktales told by the Chinese immigrant workers.

She’s a trickster character herself in many ways and ends up connecting all these groups – the former slaves, the new Chinese workers, the plantation owner’s family – even when they think they don’t want those connections.

It’s a unique and powerful narrative and will have the students I talk it up to learning in the best way possible, by reading an interesting book with new and unique connections.

It’s not the best book cover. The girl on the cover is wearing a much nicer dress than Sugar ever describes. The kite with the carefree-looking girl flying it don’t seem to match the tag line, “Life on a sugar plantation isn’t always sweet.” But it does get across her more hopeful nature in a mostly hard situation.

Jewell Parker Rhodes is the the author of many books for adults and Ninth Ward, Bayou Magic, and Towers Falling for younger readers.

 

Razor Girl

downloadThis month’s Guys Read book club pick was Carl Hiaasen’s newest. If you like Hiaasen , Dave Barry and other humor writers, you’ll like this one.

The title character smartly never reveals her real name, but connects all the disparate and loony characters inhabiting this tale due to her unique trade: she performs non-deadly car crashes for underworld types who need to stop a mark on the road so they can easily kidnap them in their confused state. There are many who do this particular task, but our titular Girl has raised it into a kind of performance art by including the jaw-dropping addition of being in the middle of shaving her, um, bikini area at the time of impact. This throws off the mark so much, that she often gets them to offer her a ride somewhere to make their kidnapping go even smoother. “Men,” she says, shaking her head.

So yeah, this is obviously one of Hiaasen’s books intended for grown ups rather than his wildly popular kids books like Hoot and Chomp.

The Guys Read book club met last night at The Marlay House. It was such a lovely evening. I mean really perfect weather. We sat outside on the patio and enjoyed food, drinks and great book talk. And we had a few new Guys!

As a group I would have to say this was a sideways thumb, not really up or down. Two Guys said this wasn’t their kind of thing. The Guys that had read and enjoyed Hiaasen before like it but admitted it wasn’t his best. The Guys who had never read Hiaasen and enjoyed it loved it and are looking forward to reading more.

An older Guy introduced me to a new (to me) old drink. A Rickey. You’ve heard of a Gin Rickey? This is the original version with bourbon instead of Gin. Mmmmm…bourbon. Excellent summer evening refreshment right there. And yes, I realize technically autumn has begun but last night on that patio? It was summer.

It was good we had our drinks ready because we were ready to shout a hearty “Mazal Tov!” to a Guy who came out! He’s recently divorced with two teen-aged daughters but has decided to come on out and be his true, gay self at this mid point in life. So that was cool. (He said the divorce, while not fun, was relatively painless and amicable, so that’s good as well.)

Next month we will be discussing Erin Mortgenstern’s The Night Circus. Looks appropriately Halloween-ish in subject matter anyway. And Jim Dale (of Harry Potter audiobook fame) reads the audio version, so something else to look forward to!

Random House Children’s Book Buzz 2017

A Greyhound and a Groundhog by Emily Jenkins and Chris Appelhans looks like a delight. It’s full of wordplay, tongue twisting and spare, stylish illustrations. Should be a fun read aloud if I can handle it!

If you ever get a ride on a time machine, deliver early 2000s me a copy of Let’s Clap, Jump, Sing & Shout from Patricia McKissack and Jerry Pinkney so I can have a better repertoire of kid’s songs and such when I was bringing up my little one! As it is, I’ll have to settle for making it my new baby shower go to gift.

Bird, Balloon, Bear by Il Sung Na. You can’t have too many books about shy folks trying to make friends, especially one with this many excellent reviews.

Lucky for you they’ve pushed the release date of the Wonder movie back to the fall, giving you more time to grab We’re All Wonders, R. J. Palacio’s picture book about Auggie from the super popular middle grade novel.

Flying Lessons & Other Stories edited by Ellen Oh. I’m usually allergic to kid’s books with an overt social/cultural agenda but this collection from the We Need Diverse Books campaign has an amazing lineup and many starred reviews letting me know I’d be foolish to let it slip through the cracks.

If you’re not already on the Hilo bandwagon, grab the first two and pick up this third in the series and you will have happy readers from all grade levels thanking you as well as bugging you for more. Hilo: the Great Big Boom looks as wonderful and as mind-blowingly cool as the first two in the series.

The Explorer’s: The Door in the Alley by Adrienne Kress looks like just the kind of funny adventure book I would have lapped up as a kid. Hand this first in a new series to those Lemony Snicket fans.

That’s all from me when it comes to ALA Midwinter posts, and not a moment too soon. I just finished inventory and they’re about to deliver the next Scholastic Book Fair tomorrow so I’m kind of in the eye of the hurricane right now. (Dang, now I have Hamilton in my head again…)

Macmillan Children’s 2017 Book Buzz

Macmillan has a large, rich collection coming out. These were a few that I really want to grab for my collection as soon as I can.

Noisy Night by Mac Barnett and Brian Biggs is like a modern update of Brown Bear, Brown Bear what Do You Hear? with noisy neighbors in the upstairs apartment wondering what’s making that noise. The layout of the book makes it seem you’re climbing up to each apartment to see what’s next.

Jason Chin is continuing his breathtaking non-fiction nature books with the addition of Grand Canyon. Gorgeous.

Diversity, humor and writing inspiration can be found in Cilla Lee-Jenkins: Future Author Extraordinaire by Susan Tan. Lots of great reviews for this one.

Real Friends by Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham look like it’s in the same ballpark as Smile, Sisters, El Deafo and Sunnyside Up. A graphic novel about friendship. By Shannon Hale, people. Shanon Hale!

HarperCollins Midwinter Book Buzz

Kevin Henkes is publishing his 50th book! It’s called Egg and will be perfect as always.

Since I went to Midwinter this book by the late Walter Dean Myers on Frederick Douglass is sounding even more interesting for some reason.

Drew Daywalt has had some super popular recent picture books. Adam Rex has illustrated some of the best picture books of the last decade. Now they’re together with The Legend of Rock, Paper, Scissors. Sounds great.

Invisible emmie is a graphic novel hybrid “perfect for fans of Raina Telgemeier and Jennifer Holm.”

This one sounds good and I think I got an ARC of it. Orphan Island by local (to me) writer Laurel Snyder. I’ve heard great things about this one but we’re partial to her here.

I loved Rita Williams-Garcia’s One Crazy summer and need to read the rest in that series. Clayton Byrd Goes Underground is about a kid who wants to be a blues man more than anything and is willing to run away to the city if he has to.

Posted by John David Anderson might be more of a middle school book, but it sounded interesting. Something about a school which bans cellphones completely for some reason and the kids start using post-its on lockers instead. This idea catches on and is a positive thing for all…until some trolling and bulling starts up just like in the online world.

The Goblin and the Empty Chair

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Earlier I posted about a dear friend we lost recently. The week following I knew I had to read something about grief but not something so sad I’d be a puddle every time I read it to the kids. Just something that touched on grief that would help me and may be interesting to the little ones.

The Goblin and the Empty Chair was the perfect choice. It’s by the amazing Mem Fox and lushly illustrated by the Dillons. If you click on that link there’s even a full length video of Mem Fox reading the whole story. Wonderful stuff.

It’s written in the style of an old fairy or folk tale. Long ago there was a goblin who happened to see his reflection and was so terrified of his looks, he stayed hidden and covered his face. One day he comes across a family who have obviously suffered some loss and are still grieving. The goblin, in turn, does things to ease the burden of a farmer, his wife and their child. He takes great pains to not be seen, but he is seen and quietly invited in.

It is never obviously revealed who has been lost, who was the former occupant of the empty chair. In an interview Mem Fox has said she imagined it to be a grandparent. If you look carefully at the illustrations, there is one that shows a framed pictureof a family of four on the wall indicating the Dillons took it too mean the death of a child, which is even more tragic.

It was good for me though. I did cry a little the first couple of times I read it but not a big deal. By the end of the week it really had helped me and led to some interesting conversations with the children. I actually didn’t focus on the grief aspect of the book that much. Since I’ve been reading books about kindness for the last few weeks, or at least books with characters having to deal with unkindness (The Invisible Boy, Bootsie Barker Bites, etc.) I focused on how the goblin was doing kind things for this family without even expecting recognition for it. I had the impression that was a new idea for some.

I’m in the middle of inventory but I’ll try to finish up the last three publishers I heard from at the Midwinter book buzz presentations over the next couple of weeks.

Four Feet, Two Sandals

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I’ve been reading this 2007 title to some of the classes this week, for obvious reasons. I love that there has been at least one Muslim kid in each class who exclaims “That’s my language!” when I get to the phrase “As-salaam alaykum. Peace be with you.” I always ask if I pronounced it correctly and thank them when they say I did.

A girl from Afganistan is in a refugee camp in Pakistan. She finds a new sandal, her first new shoe in two years. Another girl, new to the camp, finds the other. They decide to share the sandals and become friends. The rest of the book describes daily life in the camp, people they’ve lost and one of them finding out she’s being resettled in America.

Diverse books matter. Representation matters. It matters more than I’d like right now but I’m glad I have books like this to at least get some of them thinking.

More Book Buzz from ALA Midwinter 2017

Two of the standouts for me in the Charlesbridge Publishing presentation was Malala: Activist for Girls’ Education because it’s gorgeously illustrated and because you can’t have enough books about Malala, a personal hero of mine. The other one was about a young Nina Simone but it doesn’t seem to be on their website yet.

I don’t usually discuss board books but Disney Book Group’s Feminist Baby is hilarious.

Feminist Baby likes pink and blue.
Sometimes she’ll throw up on you!

Feminist Baby chooses what to wear
and if you don’t like it she doesn’t care!”

And Mo Willems has a board book called Welcome: A Mo Willems Guide for New Arrivals that is his first one written specifically for the format, but again, not up on their site yet.

If you are unaware, there is a popular Marvel series of comics about a new superhero called Squirrel Girl. I am not making this up. Now Shannon Hale (yes, THAT Shannon Hale!) has a middle grade chapter book about her called Squirrel Meets World. I already had a favorite 5th grader read the ARC and she loved it (and she hadn’t heard of Squirrel Girl before this.).

Disney is also going to be putting out Elephant and Piggie “Biggies” which will be hardbound books with collections of five Elephant and Piggie stories each. Kind of like the George and Martha books. These will not be new stories, just collections of the books we already know and love.