Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Unlimited Wonder

Auggie Pullman is one of those characters who will whisper in your ear long after you’ve turned the last page.

WONDER by R. J. Palacio, Thorndike Press, 2012

The first time I read this novel, I thought everyone should read it: teens, tweens, parents, youth group leaders, middle school teachers.  Why? This book enlightens and empowers any reader who has trouble figuring out who he or she is and where (and when) that person will ever fit in. (Isn’t that everybody?)

For those who think fitting in is a middle school dilemma, I’m sorry to break this news to you, but for many, the fitting in part never really ends. Adults just disguise it better behind these words they say so often they don’t hear themselves, “What will people think?”  It takes a lot of living--or a lot of courage-- to say, “I don’t care!”

The story of Auggie’s fifth grade experiences are told from the point of view of his older sister and her boyfriend, one of her closest friends, two of Auggie’s new friends, and Auggie himself  who offers beginning, middle, and end commentary. If you are one of the lucky ones who read this novel when it first came out, you may want to read it again to prepare for the next novel.

If you haven’t read it, you are also lucky because the author has added another book to explore the wonder Auggie inspires.  The second one reveals the background of three not so likeable characters from the first book. Why were they mean or uncaring or just plain bullies?  Lucky you can read both books without waiting to find out!

AUGGIE & ME, three wonder stories, by R. J. Palacio, Alfred A. Knopf, 2015

A cast of three  characters tells the story in the same style as Wonder:

Julien, chosen to be on the welcome committee in Wonder when Auggie Pullman, homeschooled until the end of 4th grade, decides to attend Beecher Prep. In the first book, the reader will be confounded by Julien's actions and wonder why he is the way he is.

Charlotte, also chosen to be a welcome buddy by a well meaning  principal, wore the role uncomfortably, but served the purpose. Many will identify with her struggle to be the “good girl.”

Christopher, Auggie’s early childhood friend who moved away. The timing was good for Christopher. He had just begun to feel uncomfortable in public when his friend Auggie received weird looks. These friends experience two kinds of separation, distance and their own personal change.  

Do you get the feeling I’m tiptoeing around something here? Why would the principal feel the need to appoint welcome buddies for Auggie in the first place? Aren’t many students faced with being “the new kid” every year? Well, Auggie gives new meaning to the stiff and solemn adult advice to face down the enemy. August Pullman is very different from the usual “new kid.” Born with a facial deformity that is startling, frightening to some, and bound to attract bullies, Auggie manages to grow beautiful on the inside while his outside disfigurement causes social chaos for children and adults.
In spite of the meanness, Auggie triumphs. The wonder of his story is that others grow, too. Author Palacio and Auggie’s fans will introduce you to the power of kindness here.

Lucky you!

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

A Librarian Hugged This Book!

To Readers Everywhere:
When a librarian hugs a book, pay attention. I'm glad I did.

I KILL THE MOCKINGBIRD by Paul Acampora, Roaring Book Press, 2014

Three friends, Lucy, Michael, and Elena, decide to honor Mr. Nowak, their favorite teacher, who died before Halloween, for the excitement he created about reading. He made them laugh, but he made them think. At the beginning of the school year, in September, he told them he would assign only one book for their upcoming summer reading:  To Kill A Mockingbird. By the time summer arrived, he expected them to be good enough readers to appreciate the book. It wasn't enough, he told them, to know the words. "If you're reading well, you're having a conversation."

How the friends honor him could start a little plotting among your tween readers, too. I'll try not to spoil the story with too many hints.

Let’s just say the kids’ genius plot reached out and hugged me, so I understand the librarian’s reaction. Many references are made to some of my favorite middle grade and young adult books and authors. The summary makes reference to “the entire town” but the circle grows far beyond the small town. I’m dancing all around this so I will stop or spill the beans. A tip: no need to worry if you suffer from hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia.   

The author says he is an “ardent fan of librarians and booksellers everywhere and is a founding member of the ‘Mockingbird Manifesto’ to support all actions which lead to the joy, the fun, the reward, the challenge and the adventure of reading.” 

Learn more at this website: ikillthemockingbird.com

Add some aha! moments to your kids' summer reading list.


Saturday, May 2, 2015

It's Derby Day!

How many jockeys can you name who won the Kentucky Derby three times? Isaac Murphy did.

PERFECT TIMING: How Isaac Murphy Became One of the World’s Greatest Jockeys,  by Patsi B. Trollinger, paintings by Jerome Lagarrigue, Benjamin Press, 2011 (soft cover); first published in hard cover by Viking in 2006.

Everything in Isaac Murphy’s life is embodied in the title chosen by author Patsi B. Trollinger. If Isaac had been born twenty years earlier, he would have raced as a slave rider and his owner would have collected his winnings. If he had been born twenty years later, Jim Crow was beginning to rear his ugly head and Isaac might not have been allowed to ride with white riders.

And then there was his incredible timing with horses. Isaac knew how to concentrate. In his head he ticked off the seconds of each race. He knew where he and the horse beneath him were supposed to be when. As news of his talent spread, demand grew. He won…and won. But it didn’t change who he was.

No cheating. No fighting. No swearing. Ride every race as if it is the most important one ever. These were the rules Isaac lived by.

Handsomely illustrated by the paintings of Jerome Lagarrigue, this carefully researched and well written biography fits neatly into the call for “diverse books.” It has been on some book shelves for 9 years. It’s time to bring a book like this back into the light so more readers can enjoy it. What better time of year than Derby time?

The author lives in Danville, Kentucky, not far from the first track where Isaac Murphy raced.  

Kentuckians in all corners of the world will gather around a TV set somewhere this afternoon to sing, “My Old Kentucky Home” just before the 141st Run for the Roses at Churchill Downs in Louisville. The legend of Isaac Murphy is part of that history.    

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Making Letter “A” Happy

Imagine if you were a hard working letter "A". You have to start every ABC book. There IS no ABC book without you. It must get very wearying to be on call for every single time somebody decides to write a “new” alphabet book. Besides, how many ABC books does the world need?

ONCE UPON AN ALPHABET, Short Stories for all the Letters, by Oliver Jeffers, Philomel Books, 2014

The sub-title pretty well says what this book is about, but it doesn’t tell you what the stories are about, and that’s where the reader becomes entertained and each hard working letter smiles because now he has his very own story. Isn’t it about time? (I can hear the author thinking that.)

The introduction, which looks as if a child wrote it in black crayon, says, “If words make up stories, and letters make up words, then stories are made of letters. In this menagerie we have stories, made of words, made FOR all the letters.” (On further reflection, the author must have written that because I can’t imagine a young reader using the word “menagerie.”)

And so all the stories, made of words, made of letters, begin.  Stories from A to Z. Stories about an inventor in disguise, a forgetful king, and a parsnip that could use a tutor. And more. Because as everybody knows, there are 26 letters in the alphabet. Thus, 26 stories. If you were paying attention, I mentioned only three. No spoiler alerts here!

The author/illustrator, who was born in Australia and grew up in Belfast, has set so many tales spinning, that it’s pretty obvious his mind can’t sit still. It has to dance. (That’s what I think.)  His book titles The Incredible Book Eating Boy and This Moose Belongs to Me will capture the curiosity of almost anyone. (Unless that person is in a bad mood and late for dinner.)

Oliver Jeffers says his favorite letter is O because it is his first initial, he was born in October, and there are two O’s in Brooklyn where he now lives. 

Upon careful consideration and many page turnings, back and forth, my favorite letter is J because it’s my first initial and because Author Jeffers might like it, too, (it is his second initial) and because he wrote a story for “J” about an invention I’d love to have: a jelly door. If he could Just make it work.

That’s all I’m going to say. What is your favorite letter and why?

Oh, one more thing—to challenge your own creativity, go to www.oliverjeffersworld.com

That really IS all I’m going to say. Today.

Friday, October 24, 2014

We Need Diverse Books!

Recently, at the SCBWI conference in Los Angeles, I learned about a group organized to promote diversity in books In my view, diversity is anything new and different from my own life. Cultures, countries, past, present, yes, even future.  The list is endless. All fascinate me.   

SALT, A Story of Friendship in a Time of War,  by Helen Frost, Frances Foster Books, Farrar Straus Giroux, 2013

This well researched novel in verse is set in the Indiana Territory in late summer of 1812. It is told from the point of view of two twelve year old boys who are like many boys their age today, content to spend their time hunting, fishing, and exploring the forest around their homes.

Anikwa’s ancestors have lived in the Miami village of Kekionga for centuries.  James is the son of a trader who sells supplies to both the Native American community and the soldiers and their families who live inside the fort known as Fort Wayne. Salt is one of the most prized commodities for both sides of the stockade.

Such a peaceful picture changes when the British and Americans lay claim to the land of Anikwa’s forefathers.  Warring factions assemble. James’s father must close his trading post and move his family inside the fort.  The supply of salt ends abruptly for the Miami tribe.

The boys, who are fictional, tell their stories in a distinct verse form. The author tells us Anikwa’s poems are “shaped like patterns of Miami ribbon work,” James’s poems began as an image of the stripes on an American flag. In the author’s words, “As I discovered the two voices, the pulse-like shape of Anikwa’s poems wove through the horizontal lines of James’s poems, and the two voices created something new that held the story as it opened out.” Here and there, as if to bring out the flavor of the boys’ friendship and surroundings, the author places poems about salt, how the deer leads man to find it, how man uses it, and how it tastes in the tears of those impacted by war.

Helen Frost is the award winning author of  Keesha’s House, a Michael L. Printz Honor Book, and Diamond Willow which won the Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award. She lives in Fort Wayne, Indiana.
A glossary of Miami (Myaamia) words is included and the author gives credit and thanks to the Myaamia Center  a rich source of maps, language, and historical and cultural information located at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.

This is a diverse book. I think we need more. What do you think?



Thursday, October 9, 2014


Some stories melt your heart.

HALLEY, by Faye Gibbons, NewSouth Books, 2014

Halley is 14. She was born at the wrong time in the wrong place, during the depths of the Depression in a struggling mountain community in north Georgia. That’s just the setting for this gritty novel.

As if the times are not punishing enough, when Halley’s beloved father dies suddenly, she and her mother and younger brother Robbie are forced to move in with her hell fire and brimstone preacher grandfather, Franklin. Franklin never liked Halley’s father and takes that dislike out on his daughter and her children. He thumps his Bible and quotes Scripture to suit his own purposes, and those purposes turn the women of his family into powerless servants.

Whatever Halley prizes, her grandfather seems determined to hold hostage or take away from her. Halley believes an education will give her control over her own life and be a salvation for her family.  Her wily grandfather knows the power of education which is the very reason he stands in her way like a mile high wall of bricks. Women of today will applaud Halley’s stubbornness—or so it was considered then.    

This book offers so many springboards for discussion, I hardly know where to begin.
Gender roles. Respect for elders. Faith issues. Forgiveness. Readers at your house will be thinking, discussing, and tapping into some surprising wells of emotion inside themselves.   

Author Faye Gibbons is a master story teller. It will be a long time before you forget Halley.       


Monday, October 6, 2014

Tough Times, Tough Characters

Legendary writer Sid Fleischman said a strong villain is the writer’s best friend. The main character must become stronger to overcome the monstrous villain. A stronger villain and a stronger main character make the story stronger. The same could be said for obstacles.

EVERY DAY AFTER by Laura Golden, Delacorte Press, 2013

Author Golden has created conniving, bad-tempered villains and painful obstacles to challenge her main character, 11 year old Lizzie. The year is 1929, harsh for everyone. Her father leaves, abandoning his wife and Lizzie. This pushes her mother into leaving, too, mentally and emotionally.  

Lizzie is not an orphan. Or is she? Dad could return. Lizzie is sure he will be back in time for her 12th birthday.  Mom could get well. If she doesn’t, it won’t be because Lizzie didn’t try—hard.

One of Lizzie’s classmates wants to see her shipped off to an orphanage. This gal is so jealous of Lizzie, she bleeds green. The reader will wonder what sets this villain off.

The bank wants to take the house. Lizzie’s grades, a source of pride for her father, begin to drop.

There are good characters willing to help but they don’t know Lizzie needs help. To let them know would, in Lizzie’s eyes, be letting down her father.

Lizzie writes in her journal, looks at her father’s face in the heirloom locket he left her, and wonders why he left and what will happen if he doesn’t come home. These are tough times for everyone in Bittersweet, AL, but Lizzie also suffers from isolation, keeping out those who could do something to make her life better. The reader, pulling harder and harder, page by page, for Lizzie to triumph, wonders when Lizzie will realize that her father has let his family down.

Every Day After is author Golden’s first novel but it won’t be her last. Her inspiration for this one was her paternal grandmother who lost her mother at the age of 12. She was left with a strict father in circumstances similar to the ones Lizzie endures.

Historical fiction helps us see how far we’ve come. If you are trying to train your tweens to sort and wash dirty clothes at your house, Lizzie’s laundry chores will make everyone thankful for your washer and dryer. They might even help you cheerfully.  




Hillview School Library