Book Review: Ordinary Hazards, by Nikki Grimes

Nikki Grimes is one of my favorite writers, gathering beautiful words in her notebooks over the years, which are now mixed with memories in Ordinary Hazards (coming 10/08/19 — thank you for providing ARCs, WordSong/Highlights).

The content is dark, yet hopeful. The words are tragic, yet inspirational. Some poems made me laugh (“Math Madness”) and more made me cry (“Reunion”). Ms. Grimes shares everything with the reader, making the reader feel her pain, believe in God, and hope for the future, all at once. The cover of the book reveals a beautiful, silvery sparkling butterfly; that’s Ms. Grimes — a cocooned child who emerges as a powerful and poetic, soulful adult.

“Words have the power to change a life, the power to save a life.” The last poem is the perfect, gripping ending to a heartfelt story of a human. Thank you, Ms. Grimes, for your words.

Book Review: The Tornado, by Jake Burt

        What does it take to avoid the school bully? Fifth grader and innovative thinker, Bell Kirby, has an elaborate plan that works, until the day Daelynn Gower, the new student with rainbow hair and crazy attire, arrives.
     Back in 4th grade, former friends, Bell and Parker Hellickson (the principal’s son), had a falling out over a hallway water fountain and a chipped tooth. After that incident, Parker became a diabolical bully and Bell became his favorite victim. In the present time, Bell created a notebook full of systems and solutions for every possible encounter, and was able to mostly avoid Parker (and Mr. Hellickson). Until now.
     When Daelynn becomes the new target, Bell must either step up and do something, or let it go and revel in the relief that Parker has finally decided to leave him alone. It seems like an easy choice, but it proves more difficult than Bell thought. Plus, Bell finds out during Creator Club that more kids have more stories to share about Parker and his “accidental antics.”
     The Tornado, by Jake Burt, is a book about bullying that is true-to-life, from the victim/bully mentality of kids all the way down to adults who say there is “zero tolerance,” but don’t act on their words. This book should be read aloud, discussed, and shared widely; it is important and timely. Put this book on your radar. Be prepared for this middle-grade must-read in October 2019.

Happy Fourth of July! Book Review of Grace Goes to Washington

I’m so happy to live in a country where I am able to read and write. I’m celebrating the 4th with some books and my computer.

Today I read the upcoming Grace Goes to Washington, by Kelly DiPucchio. This title is due out September 3, 2019 from Disney-Hyperion and is another friendly and fun book about Grace and her adventures. (See also, Grace for President.)

As Grace’s class prepares for a field trip to Washington, DC, Mrs. Barrington prepares the children with a lesson about the three branches of government. She leads the learning about checks and balances, asking, “Who’s in charge here?” Later, while Grace and her fellow student council members work to decide how to spend the latest fundraiser money, they find correlations between their arguments and those of the government officials who run our country. With the help of a new friend, Grace can see that keeping an open mind to new perspectives and voting are ways to get things done.

The author gives children the chance to get involved in government, even if they are not old enough to vote yet. Read the Author’s Note and list of how to be an involved citizen. Kids and adults alike will love reading and sharing Grace Goes to Washington.

Happy Fourth of July!

IMWAYR: Picture Books and Memoirs

I’m spending the week with my granddaughter and today we headed to The Brain Lair Bookstore to visit Kathy (the owner and my book buddy). “M” spied one of her favorite authors right away and said, “Hey! Look! We have How to Build a Sandcastle! How about we get It’s NOT Jack and the Beanstalk?” (We have that one already, thanks to our generous and amazing friend, Josh Funk. We also have Mission Defrostable, so we searched the shelves for something we don’t already own.)

We looked a little deeper and I found a title I knew she hadn’t seen before – Claymates by Dev Petty and the fabulous Lauren Eldridge. I said Dev Petty was the author who wrote I Don’t Want to Be a Frog, and “M” was convinced. She immediately opened her new book and started to read. Not only did we buy the book for her home, now we have to go buy some clay so we can make some “claymates” animals ourselves.

 

 

We returned home and I read How to Read a Book by Kwame Alexander, with art by Melissa Sweet, who dazzled us with her beautifully-created pages. It’s a touching poem Kwame wrote for his daughter; it’s neon pink and “clementine”-colored and makes you want to find a tree to sit under so you can read the rest of the day. There are so many surprises in this book — it’s so much fun to read, again and again! Don’t forget to discover the Author and Illustrator Notes and that back jacket flap with the biographies (hint: those glasses!).

During the week, I’ll share Lita Judge’s newest, Homes in the Wild: Where Baby Animals and Their Parents Live, with “M”. It’s wonderful and “M” loves animals, so I’m sure she’ll love this book. Animals build shelters – some hidden, some underground, some in trees, etc. The descriptions are perfect for older readers of picture books (middle school and up), reminding the reader of well-known animals’ homes and introducing new animals, too. Lita’s illustrations are beautiful, and her words entertain and inform, making this one of the best picture books of the year so far (according to me).

 

After the little one goes home, I will finish Brave Face by Shaun David Hutchinson and begin the ARC of Ordinary Hazards by Nikki Grimes (due out October 8, 2019 from WordSong). I’m so happy that Kathy shared this ARC with me. I’ve been waiting a while to see it in person — I love everything my friend Nikki Grimes writes. The cover is brilliant! I am amazed that she wrote this memoir for us, and I have been following the news about this book for months. I already pre-ordered my copy, so I’ll get to savor it later, as well.

 

 

It’s Monday! What are you Reading? is a meme hosted by Kathryn at Book Date. It is a great way to recap what you read and/or reviewed the previous week and to plan out your reading and reviews for the upcoming week. It’s also a great chance to see what others are reading right now…you just might discover your next “must-read” book!

Kellee Moye, of Unleashing Readers, and I decided to give It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? a kidlit focus. If you read and review books in children’s literature – picture books, chapter books, middle grade novels, young adult novels, anything in the world of kidlit – join us! We love this meme and think you will, too. We encourage everyone who participates to visit at least three of the other kidlit book bloggers that link up and leave comments for them.

IMWAYR: Summer Reading Begins!

It’s FINALLY summertime, and while I only have a little time off, I’m ready to read and write much more. Here are the two best reads of my first week of summer:

The Bridge Home, by Padma Venkatraman – Viji and her little sister, Rukku, live a hard-knock life (literally) in India. Appa drinks and gets angry, and takes out his frustrations on Amma and the girls. Viji knows it’s time to run — to start a new and better life — and takes Rukku with her. Little does she know, life outside of home is not much better. The girls need to constantly find work and food, and with the help of two homeless boys, Muthi and Arul, they are able to find shelter under an abandoned bridge. They even find a trusty canine friend to help them out.

To survive, the companions form a family. They take care of each other and work at the trash dump, scavenging enough to buy food and some basic supplies to make a home. They become quite successful…for a while. But being your own boss tends to have its own challenges, as the youngsters soon find out. They must maintain, and then change, to survive the harsh realities of Chennai’s rainy season. Viji discovers that she may need more help than she can give…is it too late to invite adults back into her life?

Padma Venkatraman wrote a beautiful novel with relatable characters and a heartbreaking look at life as a homeless child in India. The reader cheers for the children all through their journey to find out what family means, and to find home.

The Past and Other Things That Should Stay Buried, by Shaun David Hutchinson – I love Shaun David Hutchinson’s work — The Past and Other Things That Should Stay Buried got me again. Dead or not, July Cooper is a riveting character. Dino, her once-best-friend, is left to deal with her untimely demise…is that right? Not to mention a new relationship with Rafi and all the other things that Dino has to confront in his life. Nothing is as it seems in this YA read. You’ll love it!

Up Next: Brave Face, by Shaun David Hutchinson – I saw this one on Facebook after I finished The Past and Other Things...so I stopped by the public library and picked it up for tonight’s entertainment, as it is raining. (Again.)

 

It’s Monday! What are you reading?

It’s Monday! What are you Reading? is a meme hosted by Kathryn at Book Date. It is a great way to recap what you read and/or reviewed the previous week and to plan out your reading and reviews for the upcoming week. It’s also a great chance to see what others are reading right now…you just might discover your next “must-read” book!

Kellee Moye, of Unleashing Readers, and I decided to give It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? a kidlit focus. If you read and review books in children’s literature – picture books, chapter books, middle grade novels, young adult novels, anything in the world of kidlit – join us! We love this meme and think you will, too. We encourage everyone who participates to visit at least three of the other kidlit book bloggers that link up and leave comments for them.

IMWAYR: Thrilling & Beautiful Books

The weather hasn’t been nice lately – rain most of the time – which gives me lots of inside time to read. This week I share an upcoming YA thriller and a new picture book.
Every Stolen Breath, by Kimberly Gabriel
Set in modern-day Chicago, Every Stolen Breath is a fast-paced, YA thriller that readers are going to love. Lia, a teenager with asthma, PTSD, and anxiety, has been desperately trying to expose her father’s killers for two years. Her father was attacked and murdered by the Swarm, an organized mob of crazy teens, famous for their brutal killings in high-profile areas, such as Navy Pier.

Lia cannot uncover the truth about her father’s death by herself. While trying to overcome her own disabilities, she must trust in the skills and stories of others: a former Swarm member, a reporter who loves drama and TV cameras, and two loyal school friends with social media smarts who will help her – even if it means more danger. Lia is convinced that she knows how her father died, but there are secrets to be revealed, and many people who attempt to halt her efforts — even if it means silencing her forever. No one is safe from the secrets.
This novel by Kimberly Gabriel, a Chicago native, will be sold in November, 2019. (Blink YA Books) Add it to your reading list today.
Bloom Boom! by April Pulley Sayre
I love celebrating the seasons with April Pulley Sayre!
Another beautiful, colorful tribute — flowers!
This makes me think of all the wondrous days yet to come (once it stops raining).
(Beach Lane Books, 2019)

It’s Monday! What are you Reading? is a meme hosted by Kathryn at Book Date. It is a great way to recap what you read and/or reviewed the previous week and to plan out your reading and reviews for the upcoming week. It’s also a great chance to see what others are reading right now…you just might discover your next “must-read” book!

Kellee Moye, of Unleashing Readers, and I decided to give It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? a kidlit focus. If you read and review books in children’s literature – picture books, chapter books, middle grade novels, young adult novels, anything in the world of kidlit – join us! We love this meme and think you will, too. We encourage everyone who participates to visit at least three of the other kidlit book bloggers that link up and leave comments for them.

Book Review: The Season of Styx Malone by Kekla Magoon

seasonofstyxmalone_magoon2018

Caleb Franklin narrates the story of how he and his brother, Bobby Gene, met Styx Malone and got into the “biggest trouble we’ve ever gotten into in our lives.” The first page is one of those excellent leads we talk about in English class. You know when you read the first page, the story isn’t going to let you go until you finish. I love the line, “It all started the moment I broke the cardinal rule of the Franklin household: Leave well enough alone.” (p. 1)

Styx Malone lived in the woods near the Franklin house in Sutton, Indiana. He was a 16, a loner, and quite extraordinary. Caleb was drawn to Styx the moment he laid eyes on him. Caleb didn’t want to be ordinary. He spent his time dreaming of what was out there in the world, while Styx lived it. In the back woods of Indiana, one could get stuck in the ordinary of each day (like Mr. Franklin), but Caleb and Bobby Gene decided that hanging out with Styx Malone could get them places — maybe even Indianapolis, or beyond.

Styx Malone showed the brothers what it was like to live: how to talk so that you get what you want, how to act cool, how to pull off the impossible. The boys spent the summer learning about the Great Escalator Trade — a way to trade small things for bigger ones, all the way up to items that could make dreams come true. Caleb liked the stories Styx told, and being with Styx made him feel extraordinary, but it also got him grounded, and eventually changed his life — and his family’s lives — forever.

Kekla Magoon tells amazing stories, and The Season of Styx Malone is no different. The adventures, the fun, the trouble — many twists and turns in this tale of teen friendships and family issues kept me reading and wondering what would happen next. Since Ms. Magoon grew up in Indiana, I felt a connection to her and the story of small town life vs. big city dreams. I, too, once dreamed of living in a big city like Indianapolis, or Chicago, or New York City. One quote that stuck out for me, especially as a writer, was, “A happy ending depends on where you stop the story.” (p. 117) Kekla Magoon stopped this story at the perfect point — making The Season of Styx Malone an extraordinary must-read.

Published in 2018 by Wendy Lamb Books, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books

Book Review: The Thing With Feathers, by McCall Hoyle

The Thing With Feathers, By McCall Hoyle 

Emilie is a teenager with issues. She struggles with returning to school after homeschooling, with making high school friends, and with navigating her first crush, a handsome athlete named Chatham. She also has two other problems: grieving her father’s death from cancer and living with epilepsy.

Emilie’s mom and Dr. Wellesley, her therapist, desperately want her to succeed in public school, and try to help her gain confidence, but she doesn’t want anything to do with school. She wants to stay at home, where she’s comfortable and unafraid, and where her service dog, Hitch, is by her side. With all the love and care she has around her, from her mom to her teachers to the school nurse, what does Emilie think could possibly go wrong at school? Well…everything.

The Thing With Feathers is for every person trying to survive the ups and downs of daily life: the teen with medical issues, the popular jock, the peers in English class, the cheerleaders, the parents, the teachers, the animal lovers, the poets, and the community volunteers. The setting — a small community in the Outer Banks — is perfect for this twisting, turning plot of changing tides, smooth and rough waters.

This is a story of a teen wrapped up in a life of high school drama, and more. It’s a story of hope in the midst of chaos. Best of all, it’s a story of love against all odds.

A Five-Star Year: Best of 2018 Books

I’ve seen a number of “Best of” book lists this week, and I always wonder how my list would stack up against the others in any given year. This year, I used a friend’s recommendation to review my Goodreads.com list, and when I looked, I found many books that received my rare “5-Star” rating (maybe not-so-rare, then). Just a note, there happens to be 20 titles on the list. I didn’t limit the list to 20; it just worked out that way.

Other notes of importance for readers…

Before I show you my “Best of 2018” list, please know that I read many books this year, and that most of them I rated “4-Star” reads. I usually like the books I read (I don’t abandon often), so I have a tremendous amount of “recommended” books. I wrote a post, #MustReadin2018″ and many of the books I read are not on this “Best of” list. To narrow this “Best of” list, I chose only the “5-Star” books from my Goodreads account. Also, I limited this list to the “5-Star” books that were published in 2018. I categorized these titles by format, but I don’t have them in any particular order. Here they are:

Picture Books — Yes, this list is heavy on the picture books. I successfully used these books at school, and/or my PD sessions, “Picture Books are Perfect for Middle School” and I highly recommend them.

Dreamers by Yuyi Morales

Alma and How She Got Her Name by Juana Martinez-Neal

The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson

What If… by Samantha Berger

Mixed: A Colorful Story by Arree Chung

A Seed Is the Start by Melissa Stewart

The Rough Patch by Brian Lies

The Brilliant Deep: Rebuilding the World’s Coral Reefs by Kate Messner

Mission Defrostable by Josh Funk

Drawn Together by Minh Lê

The Word Collector by Peter H. Reynolds

Got to Get to Bear’s by Brian Lies

What Do You Do With a Voice Like That? The Story of Extraordinary Congresswoman Barbara Jordan by Chris Barton

Graphic Novels — Graphic novels are becoming a favorite in school and here at home. These two titles stayed with me.

Speak: The Graphic Novel by Laurie Halse Anderson (illustrated by Emily Carroll)

Hey, Kiddo by Jarrett J. Krosoczka

Professional Texts — I’m always reading to learn, and these PD books really did change the way I think.

Being the Change: Lessons and Strategies to Teach Social Comprehension by Sara K. Ahmed

Game Changer! Book Access for All Kids by Donalyn Miller and Colby Sharp

Fiction/YA/MG — These stories captured my heart and stuck with me.

Loser’s Bracket by Chris Crutcher

In Sight of Stars by Gae Polisner

Rebound by Kwame Alexander

Have a Happy New Year! I look forward to reading with you in 2019.

Book Review: Wishtree by Katherine Applegate

Wishtree has been around for over 200 years, and in that time she has seen many changes in the lives of the animals and the humans who surround her. Every May Day (May 1st) people come from all around to tie pieces of cloth with written wishes on the tree. It’s a tradition that Wishtree enjoys, until one day, a young male comes and changes the tree’s life, and the lives of all who live nearby. Wishtree decides that maybe wishes should come true — she’s an optimist, you see; but the animals who live in her hollows disagree. With the help of her best friend, a crow named Bongo, and 2 school children, Wishtree provides more to the neighborhood than even she realized she could. This is a beautiful story of hope, friendship, and acceptance, told by a tree. And what a story it is!

 

Wishtree book cover picture by Goodreads.