Monday, January 22, 2018

The Last Grand Adventure by Rebecca Behrens

When I was 15 my grandmother took me on a cross-country bus trip, from Wisconsin to Washington D.C.  It was the first time I had ever traveled outside the Midwest, this was a huge adventure for me!  I admired my grandmother, she was quite the adventurer.  She was truly an independent free spirit, often traveling alone, with tour groups, or in this case - her granddaughter - to see the world.

I thought about my adventure with my grandmother often as I read The Last Grand Adventure.  Like Bea, I was more of a worrier as a kid, but had that secret desire to have a “grand adventure”.  

Before I even started reading this this book, the tidbit that caught my attention, was the genre - historical fiction from the 1960’s, but also it deals with the the mysterious disappearance of Amelia Earhart. As a kid I had always been fascinated with Amelia Earhart.  How could someone that famous, mysteriously disappear without a trace?  Even now there are still clues surfacing as to what actually happened.  Reading the book I found I had to keep reminding myself that the story, though a work of historical fiction, was just that  - fiction.  Still, I kept asking myself, what if?

It’s safe to say that I fell in love with Beatrice and Pidge.  This is just one of those stories that I did not want to end.  The messages it delivers will fill readers with hope - hope for family, believing in the impossible, and finding our true adventurous spirit.  The story and characters will stay with readers long after the book is done.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

The Many Worlds of Albie Bright

Losing someone you love -it’s unimaginable.  But for Albie Bright the unimaginable has happened.  His mum,  she’s also a brilliant scientist, dies of cancer.  Albie is devastated - that is until he learns from his equally brilliant scientist of a father, that there is the slight probability that his mum may still be alive - in a parallel universe!  With the help of his mum’s laptop and his own determination, Albie sets out to find a way to travel to parallel universes and discover if his mum is actually still alive and well in another dimension.  But what else might be different in a parallel universe.  Albie doesn’t have time to find out.

The beauty of science fiction is that it leaves you ponder “what if?” and “could this really happen?”. I’ll admit quantum physics has never been my area of expertise but as I was reading this book, and rooting for Albie, I found myself wondering, could this really happen?  I even went so far as to have a discussion about quantum physics and parallel universes with a nephew of mine that recently graduated with a degree in physics.

Albie’s mum gave her son the perfect advice to guide his exploration: “You only find out what’s possible by trying to do the impossible.”  

Here’s something else to ponder - thanks to Albie’s Quantum Banana Theory, I have yet to eat another banana since reading this book!

The Player King

One of the reasons I enjoy reading historical fiction so much is that  it offers the opportunity to learn about different periods of time from the past, while still reading for pleasure.  So it was with great excitement that I learned about a new novel from one of my favorite authors, Avi.  The Player King, set to be released October 17, takes place in England in the late 1400s.  It's the story of how young Lambert Simnel, a simple kitchen boy, becomes entwined with noblemen who wish to overthrow the King.

Even though my knowledge of this time period is not extensive, I thoroughly enjoyed this book!  Lambert is a likeable character that does not let himself fall into the role of victim, despite having to deal with some not very reputable adults.  In fact for awhile he living the dream of many young boys of this time period.

Historical fiction is usually based on real life events with sometimes fictional characters.  However, as I read this novel I kept find myself asking, could this actually have happened?  Be sure to read the author's note at the end of the book - it’s a fascinating story!

Saturday, August 26, 2017

The End of the Wild by Nicole Helgert

Is there a sign when childhood has ended?  For eleven-year-old Fern it’s the streak of gray that already runs through her hair.  Fern’s had to grow up quickly ever since her mom’s tragic accident. Her stepfather works when he can, which lately hasn't been often enough.  Fern has taken on more and more responsibility - getting her two little brothers to school everyday as well as making meals which frequently requires  foraging for food in the neighboring  forest.  It’s definitely not an easy life, but many people in the town are struggling to make ends meet as well.  Then a new company moves into town with the promise of high paying jobs for many of the town's residents including Fern’s stepdad and her best friend’s father.  But will this new business ruin the forest Fern loves and relies on for her family’s survival?   When her wealthy grandfather offers Fern the opportunity to live with him and have an easy life, Fern has to make some difficult decisions.

This novel is great read that tackles the tangled web of poverty, family, friendship and the environment.  It will be both a “mirror” and “window” to help readers understand what life is like for children living in poverty and how life changing decisions are never easy to make.

Read this book, it just may make you reconsider some things you thought you already knew.

"Fern," she says, ‘don’t ever be ashamed of being poor.  I’ve never met a strong woman who had an easy go of things early on."

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Zinnia and the Bees by Danielle Davis

This book for me was a perfect example of why readers need to move beyond the cover of a book to discover the treasure inside!  When I first saw the book Zinnia and the Bees, it was completely new to me.  I hadn’t heard any buzz (pun intended!) so I was completely in the dark.  When I saw the cover my reaction was, hmm…. A book about a girl with bees in her hair…… not to sure about this…  Boy am I glad I just picked up the book and started reading anyway!  This may sound corny, but I liked Zinnia almost from page one - she and her brother Adam start the story yarn bombing!  How could I resist a character that knits!  And it’s not just a simple hobby for Zinnia, she knits to relieve stress - and she has a ton of stress the summer after seventh grade!  Nothing seems to be going right for her lately - losing her best friends, having a mom she refers to as “Mrs. Flossdrop” instead of “mom”, her only brother disappears, and then the bees decide to move in!

Part mystery, part realistic fiction, and part fantasy, the plights of Zinnia and the bees are intertwined throughout the story.  Somehow Zinnia must find her brother, fix her life and get rid of the bees, but is it possible?  Her mom doesn’t seem to care that her brother is missing and the bees aren't leaving.  Thankfully Zinnia meets someone who just might have the key to help her solve more than one problem in her life.

“I tell him everything.  I take steps toward him instead of away……….   And then, when I’m done, he looks at me and nods.  He doesn’t say anything.  He’s the ocean again.  Breathing in and out, there to catch whatever I throw.”

***  Happy coincidence - a met a friend for lunch and the downtown area had just been yarn bombed!  

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!