Saturday, January 30, 2016

Conversation Gap

Book bytes
A byte is a small unit.

By a stretch of my imagination, a “book byte” would be a small unit of a book review or book discussion including a quotation, comment, recommendation, whatever pops up when readers talk about books.

A writer friend asked me, “So what did you think of the Printz* winner this year?”
BONE GAP by Laura Ruby, Balzer + Bray, 2015

I couldn’t say much.

If I did, I’d risk telling too much. Spoiler alerts? I can think of several. How could I sidestep them?
This I can tell you: schedule this book for a time when your next day is an easy one, maybe a morning you can sleep in. Chances are that once you turn the first ten pages or so of this magical and haunting novel (words two other reviewers used, appropriately), you will keep reading until you are long past your usual bedtime.

After you finish Bone Gap, you will want to read it again. You can turn the pages faster when you read it the second time. And you will.

*The Michael L. Printz award honors the best book written for teens. It is sponsored annually by Booklist, a publication of the American Library Association.

Monday, January 25, 2016

A Friend Indeed

Book bytes
A byte is a small unit.
By a stretch of my imagination, a “book byte” would be a small unit of a book review or book discussion including a quotation, comment, recommendation, whatever pops up when readers talk about books.

CRENSHAW by Katherine Applegate, Feiwel and Friends, 2015
The author’s name is well known. She created the ANIMORPH series and won the Newbery Medal for THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN. A sister writer told me, “You must read this one.” Of course, she was right.

CRENSHAW is about good parents, sweet kids, and hard times. It deals with homelessness from a child’s tender perspective and the comfort he receives from an imaginary friend.  3rd grade readers will enjoy the story. Some will relate in a personal way. It could be their story.  Anyone—teachers, parents, social workers--seeking a way to help the most vulnerable among us would find this book a gentle path to building trust. If only CRENSHAW could be discovered by an older audience--adults who don’t understand that poverty is not always a choice.


Monday, January 18, 2016

Honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The Robert Sibart Award for the most distinguished informational book for children was announced last week by the American Library Association. Two of the four honor books named will bring home the meaning of this special day honoring Dr. King.

VOICE OF FREEDOM: FANNIE LOU HAMER: THE SPIRIT OF THE CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT by Carole  Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Ekua Holmes, Candlewick Press, 2015.
Author Weatherford has written more than 35 books for children and young adults. This is the first picture-book for fine artist Holmes who also won the Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe New Talent Illustrator Award.     

Fannie Lou Hamer’s courage is legendary. It would take a strong pair of talents to introduce her to young readers. Weatherford brings the first person voice of Hamer to the page with an effective verse style that is her own poetic strength. Yet, her beautiful writing never gets in the way of the gritty, forward moving story. The emotion Holmes brings to each page turn pulls the reader deeper into a relationship with Hamer. The “little light” of Hamer’s goodness shines in both art and text.

TURNING 15 ON THE ROAD TO FREEDOM: MY STORY OF THE 1965 SELMA VOTING RIGHTS MARCH by Lynda Blackmon Lowery as told to Elspeth Leacock and Susan Buckley, illustrated by P. J. Loughran, Dial, 2015.
While researching my own work in progress, I had the privilege of getting to know Mrs. Lowery. She was part of the struggle we learn about on Martin Luther King Day. She and her family lived inside the Civil Rights Movement. Authors Leacock and Buckley give her appreciable space to tell about the events that shaped her life.

Any teacher or librarian building a program for Black History Month or hoping to impress writing students about the importance of primary resources would benefit from inviting Mrs. Lowery into their classrooms. She was “there.”

Black History Month is days away. Here are two books to put front and center for any display. What’s in your library?

Friday, January 15, 2016

Book Byte

A byte is a small unit.
By a stretch of my imagination, a “book byte” would be a small unit of a book review or book discussion including a quotation, comment, recommendation, or whatever pops up when readers talk about books.

Here’s a quote from the father of an avid ten year old reader:
“That (book) was right in his wheel house.”

The book?

HOW RUDE by Heather L. Montgomery, Scholastic, 2015
This book is about bugs that don’t mind their manners. Classified as non-fiction and science, the “ugh” factor is replaced by an exclamation of “gross” at every page turn, something 7-10 year olds “get” while they laugh so hard they snort milk out their noses. 

My thought? If your child reads this book during snack time, you might want to have a stack of napkins handy.
Repeating the first words of that sentence, If your child reads, be happy!


Friday, January 8, 2016

Title Turns Reader into Rebel

Warning: this book can create a different kind of reader—a rebel reader. I was not a rebellious ten year old, but if this book was in my hands when I was that age and it was time for bed, I’d have begged my mom, “Just let me finish the chapter.” —not saying which chapter.  After that, I’d have risked the consequences for taking a flashlight under the covers so I could turn the next  page, or two or…

LAST IN A LONG LINE OF REBELS by Lisa Lewis Tyre, Nancy Paulsen Books, 2015

Lou is twelve and definitely qualifies as “spunky” – which links her with her maternal grandmother, Bertie, but I’m getting ahead of the story.  The summer before the great and scary “junior high” years begin finds Lou and her life-long friends caught up in a mystery that threatens to tear their friendships apart.

The historical background of Lou’s family home which sits in the middle of the growing town of Zollicoffer, Tennessee is part of the mystery. Built in the mid-1860’s, the house’s secret room also links generations. Each chapter begins in diary form and deepens the mystery.

From a century old Civil War stolen gold scandal to the family-owned junk business her father runs today, Lou finds her head spinning with questions that rise to Heaven. After all, she prayed for an exciting summer. Is this really what she wanted?  It was right after that fervent prayer that she learned about the county’s plan to take her family’s property by eminent domain.  Whatever this means, Lou is determined to save her home, creaky boards, peeling wallpaper, and secret room (especially). No pressure. Add the University of Tennessee football National Championship in 1998, that Lou’s friend doesn’t get a football scholarship to UT because the high school coach is a bigot, and Lou’s list of things to fix gets longer before it gets shorter. Again, no pressure.

Lou’s friends are warm, smart, funny, and work together as only good friends with a shared history could. Grandmother Bertie’s lines are unexpected and as colorful as she is. (Note: no profanity.)

I have a hunch author Tyre has carried these characters inside her head for a long time which is one reason they are fully developed on the page. This reader wonders what happens to these people next. Is there a sequel to this debut novel? 
Visit the author to find out how and why she wrote the book -- oh, and there are hidden bits of treasure in the text.

Who knows? This book could hook some non-readers, too. On page one Lou must endure the car pool line. She spots her dad’s shaky old dump truck lurching toward her, knowing as she witnesses this humiliation that the queen of snark is somewhere within viewing distance preparing an unwelcome comment. What pre-teen wouldn’t relate to that?    

Rebel readers. I like the sound of that.


Thursday, October 29, 2015

For Veteran's Day

Looking for a great book to share with your young readers as we prepare to observe Veteran's Day on November 11th?

THE POPPY LADY, Moina Belle Michael and Her Tribute to Veterans by Barbara Elizabeth Walsh, Paintings by Layne Johnston, Calkins Creek, 2012.

Reviewed here on December 1, 2012, The Poppy Lady is still as timely and fresh as it was then. A new group of  children are now reading and comprehending what it means to be connected to ancestors who served our country before they were born.

Here is the link to my review. Go to a library or independent book store and hold the book in your hands. The Poppy Lady will bring generations together.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Reverse Integration—Who Knew?

During the Civil Rights movement in the turbulent 1960’s, black and white citizens in Huntsville, Alabama worked together to make their city an example of peaceful change. This was little known at the time and the same is true today.

SEEDS OF FREEDOM, The Peaceful Integration of Huntsville, Alabama by Hester Bass, illustrated by E. B. Lewis, Candlewick Press, 2015

Author Hester Bass was a first grader in an all-white classroom in GA in 1962. She saw black children in her town and wondered where they went to school. They weren’t in her classes. Where were they?

Later, when she lived in Huntsville, Alabama, she discovered a fascinating story.  She asked lots of questions (writers do that) and decided that what happened in Huntsville, the how and the why, should be written, published, and added to the growing collection of diverse books for children.

Both author and illustrator are highly awarded. Hester Bass’s first picture book for young children, The Secret World of Walter Anderson, also illustrated by E.B. Lewis, won the Orbis Pictus Award for Outstanding Nonfiction for Children. More honors for E. B. Lewis include the Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award for Talkin’ About Bessie: the Story of Aviator Elizabeth Coleman by Nikki Grimes. This talented team of author and illustrator mirrors the contrasts and the strengths among the citizens of Huntsville.

Invisible lines in communities, schools, stores, parks, swimming pools, public restrooms and drinking fountains, wherever both races might come in contact, existed in Huntsville much the same as they did in other southern cities. However, the difference in Huntsville is revealed as author and illustrator lead the reader through a series of choices made by black and white citizens to face injustice with peaceful protest. The courage of both races sets an example for others who seek out of the box solutions to complex problems. It is possible to work together.

In August 1963, a judge ruled that four black students should be admitted to Huntsville schools. However, in September, those four students found the doors of their prospective schools locked.  Governor George Wallace had closed public schools to thwart their efforts. At the same time, a private school across town, a black school, was adding twelve new students--all white-- to its roster, quietly and peacefully. Following this, after the public schools re-opened, one black child was successfully enrolled in the same white school closed to him only a few days earlier.
I didn't know this story before. Did you?      

The author’s note brings a greater historical perspective and concludes with a challenge to all of us: “More needs to be done. Be the one person who makes a difference.”

cover credit:
SEEDS OF FREEDOM. Text copyright (C) 2015 by Hester Bass. Illustrations copyright (C) 2015 by E. B. Lewis. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.



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