Sunday, September 25, 2016

Raymie Nightingale, by Kate DiCamillo

I was a kid running wild and free in the 1970s, and I find myself intrigued with the fiction written these days that takes place during that time period. It's a convenient time period, for sure. By this I mean that technology hadn't yet tethered us to our parents, and I'm assuming that most kids were like my sister and I -- running around the neighborhood and beyond with friends and coming home when we got hungry.

Raymie is a girl who isn't really noticed much by her parents. Her father has actually just up and left with a dental hygienist and Raymie's mom is spending her time staring into space. Raymie finds some comfort in neighbor Mrs. Borkowski who seems to know everything and always has time to talk to Raymie. She has also hatched a plan to get her father to come home.

Raymie has decided that she will enter and win the Little Miss Central Florida Tire 1975 pageant. This will result in her picture in the newspaper. Her dad will be so proud of her, he'll have to come home. When Raymie tells her dad's secretary her plan, Mrs. Sylvester says Ramie just has to learn to twirl the baton as her talent.  This is how she ends up at Ida Nee's place for twirling lessons along with Beverly Tapinski and Louisiana Elefante -- two girls who couldn't be more different from one another.

Louisiana is a wheezy and delicate girl, prone to swooning, while Beverly is the tough talking daughter of a cop who swears that she's seen things. In between these two, Raymie Clarke is a steadfast girl just doing her best to understand others.

Over the next few days, Louisiana dubs their trio the Rancheros, and even though Beverly refuses to live by the moniker, it becomes clear that Louisiana often gets her way. As the girls search for Louisiana's beloved cat, perform good deeds, experience loss, and do a little breaking and entering along the way, they slowly reveal their worries to one another.  They become tied together by the brokenness that surrounds them.

As always, DiCamillo leaves poetry on the page. But this book felt different to me. I was talking to a colleague about it and I noted that it felt like it had a big dose of Horvath in the pages. Some have said the girls are too quirky and almost derivative. I disagree. When you look closely, kids are weird. And if they allow themselves to be honest with who they are, Beverlys and Louisianas and Raymies are completely reasonable. Trying to mend neglect with toughness or fantasy is innately human. I really enjoyed this quiet and quirky summery read. I do wonder at today's kids sitting with the 1975 setting. I'm interested in their feedback.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Furthermore, by Tahereh Mafi

To be honest, I was first drawn to this book because of the gorgeous cover. Who wouldn't fall for the jeweled toned rich hues suggesting autumn evenings wrapped up in cashmere? Then I noticed the girl, front and center oddley white except for a hint of a blush on her cheeks and gold toned eyes. I was curious.

Furthermore joined me on my journey upstate to my summertime reading retreat.  It's August pub date meant it wasn't the first book that I read, but I kept eyeing it as I pulled others from the shelf.  Clocking in at 393 pages, this is not a slight read, but once I started it, I put it down only to sleep.

Alice, almost twelve, is filled with anticipation for Ferenwood's annual Surrender. She is anxious for life to change, because frankly Alice's life hasn't been so easy lately.  Not only is Alice considered odd, even by Ferenwood's magical standards, her father is still missing.  Alice's father is the one who really cared for her and understood her despite her differences from everyone else in Ferenwood. He indulged her and listened to her. And now it was only Alice, her three little brothers and her mother.

 "Alice was beginning to realize that while she didn't much like Mother, Mother didn't much like her, either. Mother didn't care for the oddness of Alice; she wasn't a parent who was predisposed to liking her children." (p.10)

Because of her situation, the Surrender is more important to Alice than she can really say.  Ferenwood is a magical place, and everyone who resides there has magical gifts. The Surrender is the time when all the 12 year olds share their gifts upon the stage.  At the end of the surrender, only one child would be celebrated and given a task. The task is always an adventure of some sort and is rather secretive as well. This year there are 86 twelve-year-olds. Alice meeds to win the task in order to leave her home.

But Alice is odd, and she believes that in this magical world, her love of dance is her gift. After all her father always encouraged her to listen to the earth and to dance when she feels it.

Alas.

Alice's failure on the stage, however, is not the death knell for adventure. An acquaintance of hers named Oliver approaches her with a request. One that will bring her on the adventure of her life if she chooses to accompany him.

What follows is an adventure reminiscent of the Phantom Tollbooth, with a dash of Through the Looking Glass and a coming of age bent.  Furthermore is a place like no other. The orderly magic of Ferenwood is wild here, and the rules seem to change from town to town.  Will Oliver and Alice be able to find her father and bring him home?

This is a fantasy adventure that will keep readers on the edge of the page. Interestingly both Alice and Oliver are unlikeable at times for very different reasons which get slowly revealed as their adventure moves along. At first I was worried about the idea of Alice being white in the sea of color that is Ferenwood.  What did it mean? But it works in that it others Alice in a way but helps explain her own magic as the story unfurls. 

I enjoyed the voicey nature of Furthermore. Alice, though exasperating, is endearing as well. I was charmed by the chapter sections' headings as well as the fox! There is a cinematic aspect to Furthermore and I would *love* to see it on the big screen.

Thursday, August 04, 2016

The Peculiar Night of the Blue Heart, by Lauren DeStefano

If there is one request I get from students the most it is, "Stacy! I want a scary book!" This is always tricky business, because invariably this question is not coming from an 8th grader. It's coming from a 4th-6th grader. And honestly, there aren't that many titles. This is one of the reasons I am so thankful for DeStefano.  I first got to know her through The Curious Tale of the In-Between, which is so absolutely creepy and scary in a subtle way. I am incredibly happy to have gotten my hands on The Peculiar Night of the Blue Heart, which is perhaps even scarier.

Lionel and Marybeth live with Mrs. Mannerd in a home for orphans. They are among the youngest in the home and couldn't seem more different from one another. Lionel is somewhat of an animal boy. He would rather eat with the animals and be outdoors with the animals than do anything as seemingly silly as eat at a table with untensils! Marybeth, on the other hand, has perfect manners, is a quiet child, and does things like brush her teeth and comb her hair without even being asked. While everyone else in the house thinks that Lionel is weird, Marybeth does not.

Marybeth often follows or accompanies Lionel out on his journeys into the woods to see the animals. Lionel often talks about the animals he is friends with, and just recently he has been talking about a fox with a blue coat that he saw but is unable to track. One rainy night, Marybeth sees a streak of blue running outside of her window. When she goes to wake Lionel, she is admonished and chased away by one of the older boys he shares a room with a decides that she will go track the animal on her own. She heads out into the dark and rainy night toward the river. As she plummets into the river she is surrounded by a blue light before she surfaces.

When Marybeth shows up back at Mrs. Mannerd's house at the end of the following day, everyone is relieved to see her alive. Lionel is one of the first to realize that the Marybeth that returned to the house is not the Marybeth who left. She is not wearing her glasses anymore, has not plaited her hair. When one of the older boys steals her breakfast because she is too slow, she does something that is decidedly not Marybeth. She lunges across the table and bites his neck!

What was that blue light in the water that surrounded Marybeth?  And how did it get inside of her?

What follows is an absolutely chilling tale of ghostly possession, friendship, madness and family. Moody and atmospheric, readers will be able to picture the settings and feel the tension and desperation Lionel feels as he tries to save his friend.

Breathtaking!

(Publishing 9/13/16)


Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Mother-Daughter Book Camp, by Heather Vogel Frederick

The girls are back! It's their last summer together before heading off to their various colleges and Jess (and her mom) have convinced the girls that a summer being counselors at Camp Lovejoy. Jess had gone there when she was younger, as had her mom and her aunt.  Most of the girls were up for it, but Megan needed some convincing. She did have her offer of a fashion internship, but she has been reassured that she will be able to take advantage of it another time. So, here they are, piled in the minivan, driving through the pouring rain to New Hampshire.

The girls are excited because they have figured out that Jess and Emma are going to be co-counselors to the youngest girls, Becca and Megan will be co-counselors for the eight year olds, and Cassidy volunteered to be a co-counselor with another girl named Amanda to the nine year olds. But you know what they say about the best laid plans. It turns out that there has been a change. A counselor who had planning on coming to camp had a family emergency, and now Jess is moving up and Emma is going to be co-counselors with...Felicia! Felicia Grunewald, Jess' cousin. Immediately Emma knows that this is going to be one disastrous summer.

And summer certainly has its' bumps. The youngest campers are beyond homesick, Emma is still heartbroken over breaking up with Stewart, and Cassidy seems to be rubbing stalwart head counselor Marge Gearhart the wrong way. Plus there is Felicia with her sackbut (look it up!) to contend with.

The shenanigans you'd expect in a summer camp novel are all here, complete with a boy's camp across the lake, pranks and competitions. The girls bring their bookclub to their campers as a way to ease their homesickness.  The book of choice this time is Understood Betsy, by Dorothy Canfield Fisher.

All in all this is a fun ending to a great series. The girls are put in the mothering role and rise to the occasion. Their parents make appearances midway through camp as well as through letters and phone calls. Readers will be able to figure out that Vogel Frederick was a camper herself, and many of the happenings at Camp Lovejoy were mined from her own experiences. I do have to say, I think that a few of the traditions that are at Camp Lovejoy would not actually fly at a camp today -- specifically the one involving the peanuts. That said, these things weren't make or break moments for me.

This will be a treasured series for many, many years to come. I have had students read through all of them as well as the books that the girls read in their book club. We *never* have the full series on the shelf at once and this is a series that kids recommend to each other all the time. If your kid didn't take this book to camp, mail it on out!

Monday, July 04, 2016

The Seventh Wish, by Kate Messner

I always look forward to books by Kate Messner. Why? Because I know they will be solid, kid centered and bring something to the table. I had read online that she had recently been disinvited to a school due to the content of her latest book.  I quickly went to my TBR pile and pulled out my copy to give it a go.

Charlie's sister Abby is home from college for the weekend and things aren't going exactly like Charlie had imagined they would.  When she goes to wake Abby up to see if she will come out to look at the lake with her just in case the ice flowers have shown up again, Abby waves her off telling her to just go away. Somewhat chagrinned, Charlie trudges out to the lake only to see that the ice flowers have come back. Her neighbor Drew and his nana are also out on the lake but they are checking the ice for fishing possibilities. Drew tells Charlie about the fishing derby he plans on entering and the prize of $1000 for the biggest lake perch. Since Charlie really wants a new dress for her Irish dancing competitions, she decides to give it a go.

But despite living near the lake, Charlie is scared of its winter ice. So when she joins Drew and his nana, she sticks closer to shore. Soon everyone is landing fish left and right except for Charlie. When she finally pulls one in, it's hardly bigger than the bait she used to catch it. But right before she releases it she hears something. The fish is talking to her. "Release me and I will grant you a wish."

Well, what would you do? Charlie hastily wishes on her crush liking her and to not be afraid of the ice anymore. What harm could wishing on a fish really do?

Anyone who has read a fairy tale knows that wishes can easily go awry. And Charlie's wishes are no exception. While no harm is truly done, Charlie finds herself out on the ice more and more  (since she miraculously is no longer afraid of the ice) with Drew and his nana. Not only is it adding to her feis dress fund, but it's getting her out of the house. It turns out that Abby has changed in ways that Charlie never even imagined. While she was away at school, she started dabbling in drugs which led to a full blown heroin addiction. Who can Charlie even talk to about this? When she thinks about it, she feels ashamed and bewildered. How could Abby, who she had always looked up to, done this?

Kate Messner has written an important book that somewhat gently looks at the fact that anyone can be swiftly taken down by drugs, and specifically by opiates. I live on Staten Island where opiate abuse and heroin are at an all time high.  I commute to Manhattan with my children, and by the time they were 9 and 12 respectively they could tell the difference between someone napping and someone in a nod. They have witnessed police using narcan on people who have OD'd in the ferry terminal. They watched me try to convince the friends of a woman in the throws of an OD to allow me to call an ambulance for her. Kids aren't too young for this story. My kids are living this story everyday they commute. And the brothers and sisters of kids all over our Island are living Charlie's story.  So I would like to applaud Kate Messner for telling this story. It is one I plan on sharing and book talking whenever I get the chance.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Favorites

Each year, as school comes to a close, I like to run some statistics to see how our collection is being used.  I run reports for the top 50 check outs of the school year, and then the top 10 based on format. It would come as no surprise to anyone who has spent any time at my school that graphic novels rule the day.  With 5 active comic book clubs, the format is beloved.  We do have some straight fiction and non-fiction in the mix as well.

Without further ado, here are some of the top 50 with the audience of tweens in mind!

Sunny Side Up, by Jennifer Holm











Nimona, by Noelle Stevenson











A Tale Dark and Grimm, by Adam Gidwitz












Auggie and Me, by R.J. Palacio












So You Want to Be a Jedi, by Adam Gidwitz












The Apothecary, by Maile Meloy











Diary of a Wimpy Kid, by Jeff Kinney












The One and Only Ivan, by Katherine Applegate












I'd love to know what your students/patrons loved this year!

Wednesday, May 04, 2016

I am Jazz -- A Community Read Aloud

1st graders explore the cover before
reading. Photo by S. Chapman
Last Thursday, my entire school took part in a school wide reading of I Am Jazz, a picture book about Jazz Jennings.  Students from the 4s to 8th grade all read the book aloud and had discussions about different things ranging from the idea of "you are who you are", to being supportive allies, to bathroom politics.  The classroom conversations were all different based on the age of the students and the amount of information they brought to the rug. The high school library curated a collection of books featuring LGBTQ youth, and pushed out information from the Human Rights Campaign.

I am reminded time and time again, that my school is a pretty special place.  Yes, 4 year olds can talk about what it means to be transgender, as can 7 year olds, 10 year olds and 17 year olds. There are different entry points to these discussions and different directions that they can take.

Our community read aloud came about because of the Human Rights Campaign surrounding the cancellation of a read aloud of the book to support a transgender student in in Mount Horeb, WI.  From the HRC website -

       “Transgender children and youth are being targeted by anti-LGBTQ lawmakers and hate groups,” ... “Now, more than ever, they need to hear from adults who support and affirm them and help others understand who they are. And that can be as simple as sitting down for story time and opening a children’s book.”

Oftentimes teachers and librarians shy away from having discussions or sharing books that may provoke a reaction from some of the community.  It is important to realize that by not sharing stories about all people, whole segments of our communities are silenced.  As has been stated again and again in the We Need Diverse Books campaign, books are windows and mirrors.  And when young readers don't ever see themselves, they often feel lost and alone.

So if you've been avoiding booktalking or reading aloud certain titles, just dive in and do it. Chances are someone in the audience will breathe a huge sigh of relief, and others will have their eyes opened.