See You In the Cosmos by Jack Cheng

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Last week I read Jack Cheng’s debut novel for young readers,  See You In the Cosmos, and even after starting a new book over the weekend, Cheng’s novel is sticking to me.  I keep thinking about Alex….

Alex, is eleven-years-old, and more than anything, he wants to launch his Golden iPod into space.  Alex’s inspiration (and the name of his dog) is Carl Sagan who, in “real life,” launched a Golden Record into space in 1977.  The novel is made up of a series of messages Alex records on his iPod to tell the aliens (or other “beings” out there) what his life is like.  But the genius of the novel is that Alex doesn’t really understand very much about his own life.  The story opens in Colorado where Alex lives with his mentally troubled mother, but the action soon shifts to a rocket festival in New Mexico, a search for Alex’s father in Las Vegas and finally to Los Angeles where Alex, along with friends he has met along the way, go to find Alex’s older brother.  The beauty of the novel is that, as the story progresses, Alex’s life comes into sharper focus – he discovers a half-sister and two supportive new friends.  He also learns about his mother’s mental health issues and his father’s complicated past.

This is a poignant novel for mature upper elementary and middle school readers.  It’s also a book I would recommend to a young person who is starting to ask “big questions.”  It’s equally funny and serious about how we discover our passions and that sometimes growing up means meeting people where they are.

Last week was Inly’s spring book fair, and as always, there was lots of excitement about animal books and graphic novels and  the Guinness Book of World Records!

There were matching outfits…..

Serious list makers….

parent readers…

And a board so people could share the book currently on their nightstand….

Happy Reading!

News From the Book World….

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It’s Monday, April 17 – a day to remember the first battles of the American Revolution or run the Boston Marathon or catch up on errands and work on the summer reading list. As much as I would love to be able to run the Boston Marathon, I chose the reading list!

The highlight of the day was seeing this:

While looking at a review on Amazon, this sequel to The War That Saved My Life popped up as a recommendation, and I jumped out of my chair to do a happy dance.  It won’t be out until early October, but I am so excited and am wondering if anyone else is interested in a midnight publication party. The Newbery-Honor winning The War That Saved My Life is one of my all-time favorite middle grade novels.  And this cover is so beautiful.

In other news…

A popular Cat named Pete is about to get his own TV show on Amazon.  The animated series will feature the voices of Elvis Costello and Diana Krall as Pete’s parents.

If you’re summer plans include a trip to New York City, check out Charlie and the Chocolate Factory on Broadway.  It opens next week so I haven’t seen reviews, but I know it includes songs from the 1971 movie.

If you’re going to be in London between October of this year and February, plan to visit the British Library for a special exhibit: Harry Potter: A History of Magic.  Here’s a link to the exhibition website:

https://www.bl.uk/events/harry-potter-a-history-of-magic

The movie based on Nicola Yoon’s young adult romance novel, Everything, Everything opens on May 17.  I really loved this book as an adult, but I would have been obsessed with it as a teenager!

The school book fair opens tomorrow morning, and among the other treasures are this summer’s community reads.  Inly has a three-year curriculum which guides my thinking about our summer reading. Next year’s focus is on world culture so the titles below were selected to initiate a year of learning about people and places around the world. Here are the books our students will read before joining their new classes in September:

Children’s House – Papa, Please Get the Moon for Me by Eric Carle

Grades 1-3 – How to Make an Apple Pie and See the World by Marjorie Priceman

Rising 3rd Graders – Juana and Lucas by Juana Medina

Grades 4-6 – Dumpling Days by Grace Lin

Rising 6th Graders – The Liberation of Gabriel King by K.L. Going

Grades 7-8 – The Circuit by Francisco Jimenez

Happy Reading!

 

 

 

Two New Books About New York City…

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I bought a book based on its cover, and as it turns out, it’s kind of magic.  I had actually read a starred Kirkus review of The Goat by Anne Fleming before ordering it for school, but truthfully, it was the cover that moved it to the purchase column.

I spent two hours reading it yesterday and then bought my own copy last night to keep on my nightstand. It seems to have cast a spell over me – one that has sent me to the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s website to learn about the Tomb of Perneb. If you decide to do some research before reading it, here’s the website:

http://www.metmuseum.org/metmedia/interactives/art-trek/the-tomb-of-perneb

The book is about a girl named Kid (kind of funny given the book’s title!) who travels to New York City with her parents while her mother’s off-Broadway play is in production. They are also dog sitting for Kid’s uncle who is traveling in Europe.  As soon as she arrives, Kid hears a rumor about a goat that lives on the top of their apartment building.  The goat is what grounds the story, but it’s Kid’s neighbors who make this a special book.  There is a boy named Will whose parents died in the Twin Towers, an older man suffering the effects of a stroke, and a blind writer who skateboards down the streets of Midtown Manhattan.

This is not a book for every child.  It is complicated to follow – quiet and mature.  The novels by E.L. Konigsburg were on my mind, especially From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.  In fact, I kept thinking of the book club possibilities of reading The Goat, From the Mixed-Up Files, and When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead.

The other new book I brought home to read this weekend is a new picture book, When Jackie Saved Grand Central: The True Story of Jacqueline Kennedy’s Fight for an American Icon by Natasha Wing.  This book was on my “watch list” before it was published. When I worked at the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum, I often walked by a screen playing excerpts from Mrs. Kennedy’s 1962 televised tour of the White House and understood her deep commitment to art and history.  I also knew bits and pieces about her integral role in saving Grand Central Station, which there were plans to demolish in the mid-1970s.  Wing’s book is important, the story of a successful campaign to save a national landmark.  When Jackie Saved Grand Central would be a good book for young fans of New York City and future community organizers!

Last Week in Pictures….

Two candid pictures of kids reading in the library.  I love how the boys are sitting!

As part of their studies of WWI, a group of middle school students recently read War Horse by Michael Morpurgo.  Here’s one student’s artistic interpretation of the story’s main characters.  Horses are hard to draw – she’s good!

My sister was in Asheville, North Carolina last weekend and sent this image from Malaprop’s Bookstore.  The same image could be used for school librarians with some minor tweaks!

And finally, a touch of spring….

A Hat, A Crocodile, Pictures, and a Big Number

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If you walked into the school library before school starts in the morning, you might find Mary and I choosing a book to read to our Children’s House students.  It’s not as simple as it seems.  There are many wonderful books for young readers, but reading to a group of three and four-year-old kids requires a special kind of book.  It can’t be too long.  It can’t be a story that is better shared one-on-one.  Also, the story can’t be too complicated or rely on looking closely at the illustrations because of the group setting. And most importantly, the perfect book makes kids laugh.

A Good Day For a Hat by T. Nat Fuller checks every box.  It’s bright and funny, and I can’t think of a young child who won’t love it.  “Today is a good day for a hat,” says Mr. Brown the bear on the first page.  But when he opens the front door and sees rain, he goes back inside to get his rain hat.  The craziness continues when the rain turns to snow, a parade goes by, and a rodeo comes to town. Luckily, Mr Brown is prepared for every occasion!

After reading A Good Day For a Hat, I didn’t expect to be equally enthusiastic about the next new book on my list, but with Laura Amy Schlitz and Brian Floca’s names on the book cover, I felt anticipatory happiness.  Schlitz can apparently write for every age with equal sparkle.  She is the author of the beautiful young adult novel, The Hired Girl and the Newbery-winning Good Masters! Sweet Ladies!  Her new early chapter book, Princess Cora and the Crocodile is witty and charming and a perfect read aloud.  Young listeners, especially those with crowded after-school schedules, will love it because it’s not only funny, but it puts kids in charge of teaching the adults a lesson about the importance of free time.

Pictures from last week….

A 4th grade student trying to select a book.  The assignment is to read a “classic” children’s novel. She is understandably torn, but I tried to explain that the books aren’t going anywhere!  She can read one now and then come back for another one later.  The books are: Sarah Plain and Tall, Holes, Dear Mr. Henshaw, The Secret Garden, and The Witch of Blackbird Pond.  She really can’t go wrong…..

It’s always fun to see the book projects our 1st, 2nd, and 3rd graders make, but this one caught my attention from across the room.  A salute to Dayton’s most well-known inventors.

And a look ahead to Kate DiCamillo’s next book.  La La La: A Story of Hope will be released on October 3.

Lastly, the big number.  Drumroll please…..

This is my 900th post!   Happy Reading….

Books That Break the Fourth Wall…

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All books are interactive – there’s the author and the reader. But novels usually work like a theater performance with an imaginary “wall” between the action on the stage and the people in the audience.  For example, when a child reads Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey, they see Mrs. Mallard and Michael (the police officer) safely guide the eight ducks across the busy street. It’s wonderful, but the reader is not part of the action.

I’m not usually a fan of “novelty” books. Books are perfect just the way they are.  But the number of fun and interactive picture books is increasing, and kids love them. These are books that invite participation and make the reader part of the story.  An added bonus of interactive picture books is that they can draw reluctant listeners in. If you’re reading to an especially restless group of young children, try one of these interactive books, and then a few weeks later, they will be ready to hear if Jack, Kack, Lack, Mack, Nack, Ouack, Pack, and Quack make it to the other side.

Herve Tullet is the master of the interactive book, and his work has clearly inspired some of the books listed below.  His three magical books are Press Here, Mix It Up, and Let’s Play.  It’s nearly impossible to resist playing along with Tullet’s masterful books.  In Let’s Play, he asks the reader to follow a yellow dot.  On the opening pages, the dot is in the center of the page, and the text reads: “Press the top corner to get me started.”  Of course, I did- and on the next page, the dot had moved to the top right corner. Tullet’s books are better than an iPad!!

Bunny Slopes by Claudia Rueda (Bunny is ready to go, but needs help from the reader to get down the hill.  The best page is when you are asked to “tilt” the book so that Bunny can go down the bunny slope!)

Tap the Magic Tree by Christie Matheson (Matheson’s book follows an apple tree through its seasonal changes.  I like the page where you “shake the tree” and then on the following page, the apples are on the ground.)

The Book With No Pictures by B.J. Novak (As the title announces, there are no illustrations in Novak’s book.  But the text explains exactly how books work.  When the page tells you to read the word “blork,” you do it of course because it’s the next word on the page.  Hard to explain, but brilliant!)

We Are In a Book! by Mo Willems  (“I think someone is looking at us,” Gerald says to Piggie in this episode of the popular duo’s adventures. Similar to Novak’s book, the power of this book comes from the realization that the reader has to say what’s on the page.  Really fun.)

Stretch, Wiggle, and Bounce by Doreen Cronin (Perfect for active toddlers, Cronin’s popular series gets kids to touch their toes, bounce, and “wake up with a wiggle.”)

Life on Mars by Jon Agee  (A new book by one of my favorite authors and illustrators. At first glance, this book does not seem to fit into this list of books that invite a child to participate, but the reader is absolutely essential to the clever premise of this story.  It only works with the barrier between author and reader broken. )

Some other interactive picture books to explore….

Warning: Do Not Open This Book! by Adam Lehraupt

Please, Open This Book! by Adam Lehraupt

Open Very Carefully: A Book with Bite by Nick Bromley

Don’t Touch This Book and Don’t Push the Button by Bill Cotter

We’re In the Wrong Book by Richard Byrne

This Book Just Ate My Dog by Richard Byrne

This Book Is Out of Control! by Richard Byrne

Can You Make a Scary Face? by Jan Thomas

Huff & Puff by Claudia Rueda

Plant the Tiny Seed by Christie Mathewson

Have Fun!

The Kids Have a Point…

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A friend recently asked if I could recommend a book for her 7th grade son that is “not as depressing” as what he reads in school and much of what they find in bookstores.  It was not the first time I’ve heard that question. A few years ago, a 6th grade girl, browsing in the school book fair, said: “it seems like every book is sad.”  I try to keep a mental list of titles to recommend when faced with this question: The Great Green Heist by Varian Johnson, The Last Boy at St. Edith’s by Lee Gjertsen Malone, The Wild Robot by Peter Brown, and Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson, among others.  But they have a point.

Earlier today, while reading reviews of book I’m considering for Inly’s summer reading list, these lines jumped out at me:

“When thirteen-year-old Stevie Grace Tanner’s parents are killed in a freak accident, their deaths uncover a wealth of family secrets….”

“After his father dies, twelve-year-old Flip has to leave Amsterdam for Mossum, a remote island in the North Sea, to live on his uncle’s farm.”

“Clair and Abigal have few memories of their mother – she died when they were very young….”

“After her mother was murdered in cold blood….”

“Constantly on the move after her father’s death, Calliope June Snow (Calli) arrives in St. George, Utah, with her lovelorn mother, a few suitcases, and an egg carton rock collection.”

There are lots of wonderful new books – and I definitely cherry-picked the lines above to make my case, but Harry Potter is only one character in a long line of orphans.

I understand why authors make this decision.  The readers of middle grade and young adult realistic fiction are starting to crave some independence. They want to act rather than being acted upon.  The process of “coming of age” is necessarily part of a separation – kids want to see other kids solve problems themselves rather than being saved by a well-meaning parent or guardian who comes to their rescue or provides them with “the answer.”  That being said, I would like to see more middle grade novels in which the young protagonist has to navigate adolescence with their families. That is the reality for many young readers, and those changing relationships are rich with material for a novel.

I recently reviewed Nicole Helget’s new novel, The End of the Wild, for School Library Journal.  A timely and worthwhile read.  Here’s an excerpt from my review:

“Eleven-year-old Fern has more responsibilities than most kids her age. Since her mother and baby sister’s death in a car crash two years earlier, she has lived with her stepfather, Toivo, and her two younger brothers. Fern works hard to help keep her poor family together.  Toivo, a veteran of the Iraq War, has been unemployed since losing his job as a mechanic, and although he does odd jobs to support his family, he drinks too much and the family struggles to keep food on the table. Fern is central to the family’s success. Their house is surrounded by woods that, as her name suggests, Fern treasures as both sanctuary and food basket…..Fern is struggling to select a project for the school’s STEM fair, when she learns that her beloved woods are being considered for a wastewater pond for a fracking company…..an excellent book for a young reader who is interested in learning about one of today’s most complex environmental issues.  Fern is a likeable character who is, in her words, learning “what kind of adult do I want to be.” A worthy goal.”

Finally, I highly recommend this article from today’s New York Times:

Note: The banner photo was taken from Inly’s school library where you can see the maker space downstairs.

 

 

 

Three Books and Three Projects…

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I’m happily surrounded by stacks of new books – spring releases to read during Tuesday’s expected snow storm!  Here are three favorites…

Life on Mars by Jon Agee — I read this to a group of 7th and 8th graders last week and they loved it.  After our spring break, when I have a  chance to read it to younger kids, I anticipate the same enthusiastic response.  Agee’s picture books are witty and smart.  In this one, a young astronaut lands on Mars (carrying a chocolate cupcake) determined to find signs of life.  He walks all over the planet, but begins to think nothing could live in the cold and dark environment he encounters. Ultimately, he finds a flower growing among the rocks, but part of the fun here is that the reader sees more than the young astronaut!  The story is interactive in the best way.

For Mars-like vistas, check out Jason Chin’s new picture book, Grand Canyon, especially the spectacular double gatefold. Like this one, Chin’s previous books Redwoods and Island, blend breathtaking illustrations with enough facts for kids who enjoy knowing the numbers. Here’s an interesting one: the Grand Canyon is 277 miles long and more than a mile deep.  This book is both information rich and inspiring enough to make the reader want to plan a trip to Arizona!

A small book that could easily be lost on the shelf – Bertolt by Jacques Goldstyn – deserves to be on permanent display.  The story opens with a young boy looking for his lost mitten and who, it is clear, prefers the company of “his” oak tree, Bertolt, to being with other people.  The boy spends many happy hours with his tree, but one spring the tree does not grow any leaves, and he has to accept that Bertolt has died.  I’m not going to tell you what he does next.  It would not be fair to take the moment away from you. You have to see it yourself.

Our fourth, fifth, and sixth grade students recently completed their book projects – each of them read a book that is a “window” to a life different than their own. After reading the book, they were assigned a project with very few parameters other than it had to be hand-made, no 3D printing this time around.

The projects were all wonderful, but I’ll share three of them….

The picture below is a project based on the novel George by Alex Gino.  George is about a boy who knows she is meant to be a girl.  When George’s class presents Charlotte’s Web, George hopes for the role of Charlotte so that everyone, especially her mom, will see her as a girl.  The Inly student who read this book decided to represent the process of transformation. It’s a lovely and thoughtful project.

The banner picture at the top of the post was taken during a middle school class last week. I gave the kids time to select books for their March break reading.  We had stacks of books all over the floor, and they recommended them to friends, selected their own reading, and talked about their favorite books. It was a happy hour!