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!

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?