Friday, August 11, 2017

Pug and Pig Trick or Treat by Sue Lowell Gallion

‪How do you summarize a picture book in 140 characters or less?  Twitter is such a great way to spread the word quickly about wonderful books, but writing the praises of these books succinctly is definitely the challenge! After reading the recently published new picture book in the Pug and Pig collection that was my challenge:

“Pug and Pig Trick-or-Treat is an adorable tale of 2 critters staying true to themselves while being best friends! #BookPosse @SueLGallion ‬”

I have to admit, being a sixth grade teacher, this was my first Pug & Pig book, but I was immediately charmed by the two little critters! Joyce Wan does a beautiful job creating illustrations that bring the characters to life complete with their very own unique personalities. After reading the story and falling in love with both Pug and Pig, I was amazed at how such a simple story, actually delivers a complex message on conformity & diversity, the power of friendship, while being true to ourselves and having a good time through it all!  This book may appear to be written for the PreK and early elementary set, but don’t be fooled - this is a book that  needs to be shared with anyone and everyone who has ever felt the pressure to give up or change their own unique identity in order to fit in, be a part of group/clique, or make someone else happy!

Thursday, August 10, 2017

The Middle School Rules of Jamaal Charles by Sean Jensen

When I first saw the book, The Middle School Rules of Jamaal Charles,  I have to admit I had a mixed reaction.  On one hand, the title and cover of the book excited me and piqued my curiosity:  “Middle School Rules…”, well I teach middle school, so of course a book about middle school life moves to the top of my reading list.  Then, both of the characters on the cover of the book are sports figures - another positive.  Every year I have several students that view themselves as athletes first and students not second, but more likely fourth, fifth or even the last thing that defines who they are.  So right from the start, this book had a strong pull for me.  But then….  I had absolutely no idea who Jamaal Charles was, or is?  Was he even a real person?  I had no clue.  Therefore I didn’t even know the genre of the book.  Was it a biography?  Realistic fiction?  After a little internet research I discovered that not only was Jamaal a real person, he is currently a professional football super star!  

The book is written in a very easy-to-read format.  Each of the 32 chapters (average of 3-4 pages each), is essentially a snippet of Jamal's life growing up in Port Arthur, Texas. The youngest son in a family of four boys, Jamaal was raised by his mom, grandparents, and an extended family of aunts, uncles and cousins.  Jamaal had many challenges to overcome growing up - bullying at school and academic struggles due to a learning disability.  But through it all Jamaal never gave up - he persisted and found his talent in not one, but several different sports.  Make no mistake, this is not the story of someone who just breezed into greatness.  Jamaal worked hard, overcoming many hardships and challenges that would have knocked even the strongest among us down.

As I read this book, I kept thinking to myself of students I would recommend the book to: the student that tells me he has no time to read because he has sports practice every night; the student that doesn't see herself as a reader; the student that is being raised by grandparents; the student that has dealt with bullies; the student that struggles in school; any student that just needs to read a story that shows what a lot of hard work and never giving up can do!  Many, many of our students will see themselves in Jamaal’s story.  This is a story of hope - for Jamaal - and for so many others!

Friday, August 4, 2017

Walking With Miss Millie by Tamara Bundy

The summer of 1968 has not started out well for 10 year old Alice Ann.  She has had to move to Rainbow, Georgia with her mom and little brother Eddie to take care of a grandma that insists she doesn’t need taking care of, when she remembers that is.  Alice is also missing her dad something fierce. He’s been gone since before last Christmas, but Alice thinks she has the perfect plan to help him remember how much he loves his family - when he comes back.  And then there's grandma’s neighbor, Miss Millie.  Grandma is convinced Miss Millie is up to no good, but Alice has started walking with Miss Millie and her dog every day. Unlike so many others in Alice’s life, Miss Millie doesn’t need any help remembering.  In fact Miss Millie has a story to tell and memories to share - but can these memories help Alice with her troubles?

   I have always been fascinated with the south and love reading what I like to call “southern fiction”.  When I first heard about this book, I was excited to read it and the book did not disappoint.  Walking With Miss Millie is one of those books that pulls you in makes you feel at home.  You’re right there sitting at the picnic table with Alice and Miss Millie as she shares a memory so shocking Alice forgets her own problems for a moment.  Later, Alice’s reaction when the McHale boys make their ugly taunts causes you to cheer for her.  

   Alice, Rainbow, Miss Millie and her wisdom will stay with me for a long time.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Wishtree by Katherine Applegate

Red is a majestic, old oak tree - 216 rings to be exact.  And in all those years he’s seen many things, both good and bad.  Red has always been able to take it all in stride.  Ever the optimist, he has the uncanny ability to view the good in whatever happens.  He watches over the neighborhood and is home to many critter families. Red is also a wishtree, people come from all over to tie their “wishes” on his branches. Red is happy and content with life, talking with his animal friends, and promoting harmony among all using his unique humor:

“But I’ve made it clear that eating your neighbors will not be allowed while I’m in charge.”

While Red is the “wishtree”, he’s careful around people.  There’s a strict rule that trees and animals do not talk to people.  Red has always followed the rules.   Now Red has a difficult choice to make, but he knows what to do, even if it means going against what he always thought was right.

This is a story of the power of hope, wishes, and friendship. Wishtree has the reader feeling a full range of emotions: scared, afraid to turn the page, then laughing out loud.  Fearing the worst and then hoping for the best.  The characters capture your heart and don’t let go.  It’s a story I’ll read again and again just to visit with Red and the animals. Red’s wisdom has important messages for all:

“I wanted to tell them that friendship doesn’t have to be hard.  That sometimes we let the world make it hard.”

Monday, July 17, 2017

Jelly Bean Summer by Joyce Magnin

It's the summer of 1968 and Joyce Ann is desperate to escape -not only from her older sister Elaine and her noisy pet guineas pig, Jelly Bean - but also from the sadness that has filled her house since her brother Bud left.  Bud is a world away fighting a war in a place called Vietnam and now he’s missing, even the government can't find him.  

Joyce comes up with the perfect plan to find some peace - she'll camp out on the roof of their house!  While on the roof Joyce is able to keep an eye on the neighborhood and it's there that she discovers another roof dweller! Brian has his own reasons for being on the roof, yet he too is excited to see Joyce Ann.  Joyce is determined to not not only meet Brian, but become his friend and help him realize his dream.  Unfortunately, along the way the unthinkable happens and threatens to tear apart her plans. Will Joyce be able to make everything “OK” again, or can some things simply never be fixed?

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Tru and Nelle by G. Neri

Summer in Monroeville, Alabama during the Great Depression is pretty much a typical small southern town of the 1930’s.  It’s hot and life is slow-paced.  It’s not the place anyone would expect to find someone famous.  But that’s exactly where where two world famous authors met as children, and became lifelong friends.  Tru has been sent to live with his eccentric cousins after a stint of working on a riverboat showboat with his ever-scheming father.  Nelle is the youngest daughter of the town’s lawyer.  With a mostly absent mother and two older sisters that want nothing to do with her, Nelle has nothing but time on her hands.  At first she is simply intrigued by the new kid in the strange clothes that moved in next door.  They soon bond over their mutual love of mysteries, especially Sherlock Holmes.  Little do they know they will soon be solving a real life mystery of their own.  In the process, they uncover some not so nice truths about their small town and put their own lives in danger!

While this book is middle grade fiction, it's based on the true life friendship of Truman Capote and Harper Lee. It’s a fascinating read as it weaves truth with fiction seamlessly and leave the reader eager to discover more about both authors. Don’t miss the Author’s Note in the back of the book!

Friday, June 17, 2016

Red by Liesl Shurtliff

Have you ever wondered, what’s the “real” story behind the fairytale of “Little Red Riding Hood”?  For example, why does she wear that red cape?  Is she some kind of superhero wanna-be? Why do her parents let her walk through that dark forest all alone?  And by the way, just where are her parents?  Now about the granny, why does she live all alone in the woods? How many grandmothers do you know that prefer to live all by their lonesome in the scary woods?  Then we come to the wolf.  Seriously, how many wolves have you met that dress up in granny clothes and talk?  Does that even really happen?  Read Red by Liesl Shurtliff and find the answers to all these questions and more, so much more!  Red is one twisted fairytale fantasy that takes you on a journey in which you come to expect the unexpected.  Red sets out on a journey to find a solution to help her ailing granny.  Along the way she meets Goldie (future like long friend?), encounters deadly water sprites, dwarves (Snow White did not tell the full story!), an ancient huntsman, a beast, and of course the wolf!  So much happens to Red and Goldie on their quest that it's easy to forget they’re only kids!

As with many fantasies, Red is a wonderful escape from everyday life.  But just when it seems all hope is lost, we’re reminded that in a fantasy anything can happen and magic takes over. What makes this book so special, and different from many other fantasies, is the powerful theme woven throughout the story. The lesson is not readily evident at first, but all at once the readers realize the author's message. I won’t give away the theme here, I’m excited to have students discover the lesson for themselves and share it with me!