Monday, June 28, 2010

Fishing for a Good Book

His grandmother’s summer cottage on a small lake in Michigan. Idyllic. Perfect place to grow up, to bring your kids and grandkids. It’s the 1970's. Kyle is 12 and sees his life stretching ahead of him, this summer and all the summers to come.

KYLE’S ISLAND by Sally Derby, Charlesbridge, 2010

Then Kyle’s grandmother dies, his parents separate, and his mother decides to sell the cottage. Kyle fights his feelings of bitterness and disappointment by trying to figure out how to save the cottage.

Although his older sister and his twin sister, who seems, somehow, different this summer, offer a little help, they aren’t nearly as engaged in the project as Kyle wants or expects them to be. His younger brother Josh would do anything for Kyle, but there are limits to what a 7 year old can do.

Prospective buyers view the cottage, Kyle takes on odd jobs, and as the summer simmers on, Kyle comes to think of himself as more than a big brother, more like a stand-in dad. He teaches Josh how to fish and go camping. Every day, he thinks about the coming end of summer. Will it be his last summer on the lake?

This is a quiet novel but there are readers, boys and girls alike, who enjoy quiet novels. They will relate to Kyle and his concerns and sympathize with his struggles.

Fishing, camping, sibling relationships, and coping with the realization that grown-ups aren’t perfect, offer much to think about in this warm hearted story of a family’s summer vacation.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Following Footprints

Summer brings on the patter of little feet in the kitchen all day long. Those little feet leave footprints. Feet of all sizes on the porch, in the hall, and from shower to towel rack and back leave tale telling evidence, too. Do you read feet? Do you know who did what when? Isn’t that part of a mom’s job description? Here’s a book to share with feet owners who can laugh at themselves.

MOOSE TRACKS by Karma Wilson, illustrated by Jack E. Davis, Margaret McElderry, 2006

Along with feet, do you also read faces on picture book characters? Jack Davis has worked sly humor into his characters’ expressions. His detailed settings offer clues to the mystery at hand. It’s just plain fun to point out the smug faced mice and boggle-eyed frogs to that two year old who wiggled her way onto your lap. Or you could wonder where the dog went and why the cat isn’t demanding a bigger role. Preschoolers would be happy to offer their opinions. A first or second grader who insists he’s given up reading for the summer might be glad to do this, too.

This book ends with a punch line. I don’t want to spoil it, so I’ll just say that Karma Wilson has written other books for kids to read with their families or for families to read to their kids. Take a stack to the beach or the mountains, or the nearest living room chair.

In the meantime,who left all those moose tracks?

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Perfect Teen–Possible?

Oscar Banks isn’t perfect. His father has created a model town, a town for families who want their teens to be perfect. Oscar is both the model son who gives his father the perfect spokesperson for the model community and his own person who is definitely not the model his father thinks he is. Oscar has his own agenda and he’s smart enough to pull it off. And, of course, there is a girl.

CANDOR by Pam Bachorz. Egmont, 2009

Does the picture of a hamburger on TV send you to the nearest fast food drive through? Advertisers hope so.

Feed by MT Anderson featured a teen whose brain was like a streaming video. Candor is a debut novel from an author who lived in a model Florida town and started wondering “what if” there were other kinds of models to accomplish–such as determining how to turn teens into model kids who do their homework, take out the trash, and might even salute when addressed by Mom. Well, maybe not that.

I’ve been having those what ifs, too, when I see kids wandering around with earphones, cell phones, ipods, and whatever was just invented held tightly against their heads. What is feeding information or music or maybe commands and directions into their brains? It’s downright scary.

Candor, a young adult (YA) novel, could give parents and teens lots to discuss. Parents might want to ponder the cost of having a perfect teen.

This has been given much attention through a variety of social networks, and many are hoping for a sequel. Me, too.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

You Know It's Summer When...

...there's a traffic jam in the library parking lot. At our library, parents can’t check out loads of books fast enough for their children to read on vacation. Teens are usually the most difficult for parents to please with books, so maybe this will help--an absorbing story that was recommended to me by a group of writers who specialize in imperative books--books to be read NOW.

THE SPLENDOR FALLS by Rosemary Clement-Moore, Delacorte Press, 2009.

If you’re into standing on the roof and announcing, “Calling all girls who love a mix of mystery and romance,” go ahead and shout about this one. Members of a writers’ listserv said they couldn’t put it down. I would certainly call it a good way to spend a couple of summer afternoons, with a sunburned nose in a book and the rest of the reader curled up on a porch swing or maybe lounging beside the pool when it’s time to enjoy the shade.

I can't count the number of stories I've read about an injured football hero who must face being out for the season or maybe be forced to accept that he has no bright future in the pro’s. Well, something like that can happen to girls, too.

Sylvie is the youngest ever principal dancer for the American Ballet. Her time in the spotlight comes to a terrible end when she falls during her debut at Lincoln Center. The shocked cries from the audience carry over into her tortured dreams and Sylvie begins to wonder about her own sanity when she goes to her father’s ancestral home in Alabama for a summer of healing that stirs up ghosts.

Is there a love interest? Of course! There are two boys and only one Sylvie. Just one more reason to keep turning those pages, all 513 of them. Other reasons: ghosts, spectres, a hidden journal, and an eerie but unexplainable cry piercing the night-shrouded woods.

The author has written 3 other novels for young readers. Her website is

Guys might call this “chicklit,” so you might want to look for something with more action for the boys at your house. I’ll be hunting on their behalf, too.

In the meantime, you won't be hearing much from the girls for a couple of days--except the turning of pages.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Celebrate Beauty!

This is a beautiful book. I had to check it out of the library again to see if it is as lovely as I remembered it. It was. It is.

THE BLACKER THE BERRY, by Joyce Carol Thomas, illustrated by Floyd Cooper. Amistad,

When these award winning creative artists combine talents, they reap still more awards. They won Coretta Scott King honors for Brown Honey in Broomwheat Tea, teamed up again and produced another King winner, The Blacker the Berry.

Thomas’s poetry is rich and heady, like picking heavy, low hanging grapes, mashing them into a thick, pulpy juice and sipping carefully, letting each drop linger on the tongue. Fine artist Cooper pairs each gathering of luscious words with a child so captivating you hope he or she will come skipping into your yard and settle on the porch for a visit.

Here is the perfect book to celebrate the beginning of summer and the beauty of children, including the child at heart.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

For 5th Graders’ Smart Parents, Too.

Ask a writer, “What are you writing now?” You might get an answer.
Ask a writer, “What are you reading?” and you’re sure to get an answer. That response is almost certain to lead you to a good book. Maybe even a great one. What was Larry Brimner reading when I asked him? THE DREAMER.

THE DREAMER by Pam Munoz Ryan, drawings by Peter Sis. Scholastic, 2010

This fictionalized biography reads like a novel. The subject is Pablo Neruda who was painfully shy as a child and bullied by an overbearing father. Yet he refused to be crunched under the boot heel of a harsh emotional climate. His spirit and his talent triumphed. Thankfully. Neruda became one of the world’s best read poets and was honored with a Nobel Prize for poetry.

Beautifully written, this book offers child-like simplicity with adult depths. The main character’s age–or the age of the biographical subject during most of the story-- would lead a parent or teacher to consider middle grade students as the best audience. However, this work is multi-layered. Adults who discover THE DREAMER will find it hard to forget. Poetry and art weave through the text like flowers in a garden at the best time of day.

Pamper yourself for an afternoon. Read this one for you.

Side note: Thanks to Larry for the recommendation. And congratulations, too. Larry’s most recent book, BIRMINGHAM SUNDAY (Calkins Creek, 2010–reviewed here April 15), continues to receive rave reviews.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

What Do Two’s Choose?

The chicken dance is a toddler favorite. It’s so popular, I heard a Jeopardy contestant say she planned to dance it at her wedding. Now it has its very own book.

CHICKEN DANCE, by Tammi Sauer, illustrated by Dan Santat, Sterling, 2009
Chickens,cows, and ducks can be funny. Pigs, too. It depends on one’s sense of humor. Does the barnyard have talent? Find out. Stage a talent show. Record it all in bright, living color.

I circulated this among my writing group members to get their reaction. One said, “My granddaughter would love this!” What more needs to be said?

Do you know any two years olds with a funny bone?

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Sherlock's Sister

Did you know Sherlock Holmes had a sister? What do you know about Florence Nightingale?

THE CASE OF THE CRYPTIC CRINOLINE by Nancy Springer, Philomel Books, 2009.

Here’s a series mystery to keep middle grade girls happy reading during the long, sticky summer afternoons. Or they could pull this out of a gym bag when they have a few minutes to wait for their car pool to the next camp or activity.

Set in the late 1800's in England, this Enola Holmes mystery offers readers a different side of Florence Nightingale. The author’s note explains what is known and what has been invented all for the sake of a good mystery.

14 year old Enola is the younger sister of the famous Sherlock. Her greatest fear is that big brother will send her to boarding school to learn how to be a proper lady. Horrors! She sets up her own home and lives discretely.

Read Enola’s name backwards and you get a sense of what her life is like, even as she’s free to be herself. She has her brother’s intelligence and her missing mother’s determination to be unfettered by society’s demands. (Where is Mother? Another mystery?) Along with these traits, Enola also seems to have money enabling her to traipse about London becoming embroiled in mischief only when she must in order to save someone else. (Perhaps her private wealth is addressed in an earlier book in the series.)

Nancy Springer has written other books about Enola and other series, too, chiefly, about Rowan Hood (Robin’s relative) and Tales from Camelot. Girls from 3rd grade and up who love a good story will gobble up these books like the crispest of potato chips. Say that 3 times and the sound is like the groups that gather just beyond Enola’s hearing. Enola must move closer, unobserved of course, in disguise, most definitely, and as she does, the reader is pulled into the middle of it all and won’t want to leave.

My mother made reading a reward–after the homework or after the summer day's to-do list was complete. Enola would have given me reason to work faster.

Hillview School Library