The teachers are back in school, but since the kids don’t start until after Labor Day, I’m trying to squeeze in as much “summer reading” as I can. One of the best books I’ve read in the past few weeks is Absolutely Almost by Lisa Graff. After Graff’s most recent middle grade novel earned starred reviews from Kirkus, School Library Journal and Publishers Weekly, I moved it to the top of the stack. A good move. Absolutely Almost centers on Albie, a fifth grade boy who lives in New York City, struggles in school. He means well and he really tries, but things don’t come easy. At the opening of the book, Albie has left private school and is the new boy at the local public school. At his new school, he wants so much to “be cool” that he makes some believable and heartbreaking mistakes – including hurting the feelings of a girl who could be a true friend. The best part of Albie’s new life is his awesome new tutor, Calista, a college-age art student who Albie’s mother hires to hang out with her son and help him with his homework. Albie and Calista form a solid and genuine friendship that helps them both through some “sad days.” I love this thoughtful and funny book. School is starting just in time for me to share it with our 4th and 5th graders.
I’ve also ordering books – the most fun part of life in a school library. This is a World Culture year at Inly so I’ve been looking at books that encourage kids to be empathetic and responsible citizens who want to make the world a better place. With the papers full of news about violence, inequality, climate change and war, the importance of school libraries as a source of inspiration and a window on the world seems especially vital. To that end, here are three of the books I’ve purchased this month:
International Night: A Father and Daughter Cook Their Way Around the World by Mark Kurlansky with his daughter, Talia. I heard an interview with father and daughter about their Friday night dinners – that were based on the spin of the globe. The result of their culinary adventure is this cookbook that includes 52 recipes from appetizers to desserts. Looking through the book, I thought I could probably manage the cantaloupe juice from Provence; the only ingredients are a cantaloupe, water and honey. But even as someone who is less than skilled in the kitchen, I enjoyed the “armchair traveler” experience of looking through this book and reading the short essays that accompany the recipes. The book will definitely inspire adventurous eating and possibly some travel plans.
Photos Framed by Ruth Thomson. For our middle school library, I purchased this collection of some of the world’s most culturally significant photographs. Each of the 27 photos includes a note about the photographer and questions to initiate conversation and thought. For example, the well known picture of the “Afghan Girl” by Steve McCurry asks the viewer to consider how “the girl’s direct stare makes you feel.”
Grandfather Gandhi by Arun Gandhi and Bethany Hegedus. A compelling picture book based on the author’s childhood memory of a lesson the older man taught him about the nature of anger: “Anger can strike, like lightning, and split a living tree in two,” Gandhi tells 12-year-old Arun. The beautiful mixed-media illustrations give the book texture and vibrancy that extend the story’s message.
A few other notes….
Taking “a page” from Keith Richards book, Bruce Springsteen has turned one of his songs into a picture book. Based on his 2009 song, Outlaw Pete, the book version (illustrated by Frank Caruso) will be published on November 4.
Earlier this summer, driving to meet a friend at a beautiful ocean view restaurant, I was listening to a report from Ferguson, Missouri which was followed by a story about Syrian refugees. The contrast between my pleasant outing and the news made me feel uncomfortable. Yesterday I saw this illustration by Christoph Niemann. That’s it, I thought with an achingly sad feeling….
Here’s the link: