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.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Wonder Woman at Super Hero High, by Lisa Yee

This super cutie book showed up in the post the other day, and I promptly snagged it to take it home. I constantly on the look-out for all things super hero, and when there is a girl power theme, I'm all for it.  Plus, Lisa Yee?  I'm all in.

Wonder Woman has lived on Paradise Island with her mother her whole life, and she has been happy there. But Wonder Woman actually goes behind Hippolyta's back and applies to Super Hero High. It's not that Wonder Woman wants to leave home and her mother, but she does want to spread her wings and figure out who she is.

Wonder Woman is ecstatic when she finds out she is accepted, and is even more thrilled when her mother lets her go.

The thing is, Wonder Woman hasn't exactly been around the block. Have you ever met someone who takes everything literally?  Well, that is Wonder Woman to a "t"!  When she is told to get a clue she goes looking for one! Imagine moving from Paradise Island to being roomies with vlog obsessed Harley Quinn?

Permeating the school are the regular high school cliquey concerns, but what is on the minds of everyone is the upcoming team selection for the elite Super Triathlon Team.  Whispers around the hallways say that Wonder Woman was recruited for this very task, and that she's a shoe in.  Wonder Woman is starting to believe it too, because someone is leaving her nasty notes encouraging her to leave the school.  Can Wonder Woman live up to her mother's standards while figuring out the ropes of high school?

Readers meet so many characters along the including Beast Boy, Bumblebee, Star Sapphire, Cheetah, Frost, Golden Glider, Katana, Green Lantern, Red Tornado, Crazy Quilt, Hawkgirl among others.  I was grateful for an internet search or two to figure out who is who.  Perhaps a back-matter listing of characters and attributes would be helpful.

Overall, this is a super fun start to a series that will fill a gap.  While the characters are over the top in a comic book way, their larger than life characteristics obviously fit the occasion.  Even though the books are branded as DC SuperHero Girls, boys will pick up these titles as well.  The pages are filled with plenty of action and drama, and I can't wait to see what comes next!




Saturday, February 27, 2016

The Nest, by Kenneth Oppel

Steve is the kind of kid who worries. He has few friends, but he does have rituals...like washing his hands, reciting his bedtime lists and cocooning himself in his blankets just so before falling asleep. The year before, his parent were concerned. They sent him to Dr. Brown, a therapist, to help him with his worries.

But now there is a new baby in the house, and the baby is sick.  Steve's parents are back and forth to the hospital everyday. There are big words being bandied about. Words like congenital and degenerative.

Soon Steve starts having dreams that are at once alarming and soothing. He dreams of an angel in wasp form who promises to "fix" the baby. Each time Steve dreams he is transported to a gauzy nest, of sorts. This angel soothes Steve into believing that fixing the baby is possible. She demands that Steve offer her a word that would allow her to move on with the new baby. Steve remembers that Dr. Brown has told him that dreams just are that -- and they have no power over him. So he utters the word. Yes.

But not all dreams stay in the slumbering world, and soon the wasp nest that has been growing under the eaves outside of the baby's room, takes on a much more menacing air.  Steve's worries are now compounded, and as he worries about being crazy he must decide how to best save the baby from the events that have their genesis in his dreams.

Oppel has created a mesmerizing modern fairy tale that has a menacing feel but is buoyed up by hope.  The Nest is the kind of book that is best consumed in one gulp. I find myself distracted by the thought of it as time goes on.