Saturday, February 07, 2015

Moonpenny Island, by Tricia Springstubb

Flor and Sylvie are the best of friends.  They live on Moonpenny Island - a small island that only boasts 200 residents when all of the summer folks leave.  Even though Sylvie and Flor seem quite different from one another, they compliment each other very well.  Sylvie doesn't make fun of Flor's fears, and when she does laugh at her, it's not the kind of laugh that hurts her feelings.

Imagine Flor's surprise when Sylvie announces that she is leaving Moonpenny and moving to the mainland in order to live with her aunt and her uncle and attend private school.  It seems that Sylvie's big brother's mess ups have made her parents want a better situation for her.

One day, Flor goes off on her bicycle to hang out in the old quarry after her parents have a fight. She runs into a girl she doesn't know! It's a girl with hiking boots wearing an oversized sweatshirt.  She says her dad is a geologist, and that they are on Moonpenny Island because of all of the fossils.  The girls strike up an awkward friendship and not unlike Flor and Sylvie, Flor and new girl Jasper need each other.

What follows is a poignant story of friendship, family and change. Springstubb is at her very best as she coaxes the characters along in their journeys and sets the stage for the story to unfold. This is the summer that everything is changing for Flor and her family.  It's that eye opening summer...the one where a certain degree of innocence is lost and truths are revealed.  The juxtaposition of the three families gives readers much to think about.

This is a book that will stay with readers.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

The Truth About Twinkie Pie

I was lucky enough to receive this ARC a long time ago. It was irresistible.  I mean, look at that cover! Read that title! I am a person who has never even had a twinkie, but I knew I needed to read this one.  Sometimes a book just gives you a feeling, and this one was calling to me.

Twelve year old Gigi (short for Galileo Galilei) and big sister Didi (short for Delta Dawn) have moved from their trailer park digs in South Carolina to an apartment in Long Island.  One of the only things they have brought with them is their late mother's recipe book which helped the girls win big money in a cooking contest, and Didi is set on giving Gigi a better life that she had.  Gigi is all registered to go to Hill on the Harbor Preparatory School and as long as she keeps following Didi's recipe for success by studying hard and getting top grades, everything will be great.

But here's the thing...Gigi is ready for some changes.   She has even come up with her own recipe for success that doesn't include studying in the library every extra moment of the day.  Instead she wants to find friends her own age, try on a new version of her name, and find ways to have the qualities she knows her late mother would see in her shine.  Gigi (now Leia) is feeling confident about memorizing her locker combination and her schedule and is ready for her first class on her first day when she crashes into Trip who just happens to be the most beautiful boy she's ever seen, and is also in her English class.  All of a sudden this front row girl was sitting in the back row next to Trip.

But change isn't alway smooth or easy, and even though Trip and most of his friends are super nice, mean girl Mace notices Leia's dollar store shoes and less-than-healthy E-Z Cheeze sandwich and makes sure that Leia knows that she is the square peg at school.  Leia can handle the insult about the shoes, but nobody makes fun of Didi's cooking!

Readers will be rooting for Leia as she navigates through all sorts of changes in her life. From the tony world of private school to freshly unearthed family secrets, Leia's life is not following any recipe!  Kat Yeh has written a treat of a middle grade story that will tug on your heart strings and make you smile in equal measure.  The multifaceted characters and rich turns of phrase that had me reading with a twang are only a couple of the reasons I read this book in one big gulp.  The Truth About Twinkie Pie is a book with honesty and heart and I cannot wait to share it with the tweens in my life!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Year End Favorites

For many reasons, I will be super happy to kick 2014 to the curb.  But as I look back on all of the amazing books I read this year, I will keep them as a bright spot of the last 365.  I make no attempts to balance my favorites of the year. I don't look at award criteria. What I look for is a balance of high quality writing, great stories, interesting information and the good old heart-song book.  There were many to choose from this year, and these were the ones that rose to the top for me.

Brown Girl Dreaming, by Jacqueline Woodson

Rising to the very top is this amazing memoir that goes beyond genre and format and is simply dreamy.  Luscious and glorious all at once, this is a family story, a writer's story, a story of race in America, and the story of a girl. It is a book I will revisit in pieces and as a whole.







Greenglass House, by Kate Milford

This is a book where I have loaned out my personal signed copy (sans dust cover) to a student when we didn't have it in the library.  Rich in setting and cinematic in scope, I just love Milo and his family and can imagine that if I read this at 11 years old, I would have dreamed of living in the inn. I think this may become a read aloud Christmas tradition in my house.






The Crossover, by Kwame Alexander

There is no denying the poetry of Kwame Alexander.  Begging to be read aloud, but at the same time an intimate story of brothers and family that wants to be read in corners and quiet rooms, this one will surprise, delight and kick you in the gut in equal measure.






Nest, by Esther Ehrlich

Character driven, so sad yet hopeful, Chirp and Joey went straight to my heart. This is a quiet book nestled into the Cape Cod 1970s setting that tackles serious themes with aplomb.







Neighborhood Sharks, by Katherine Roy

Defying age categorization, this non-fiction incredibly illustrated book about the Great Whites of the Farallon Islands will have readers pouring over the pages again and again.







The Family Romanov, by Candace Fleming

Incredibly informative and readable at the same time, this is Fleming at her best.  Thought provoking and oddly timely.









These are the titles that rose to the top for me.  What are your favorites of 2014?

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Real Life Tween Reader

I've been watching L read since she was a wee one.  It became clear very early that she was mad about mythology and fantasy, and it's been very fun watching her grow as a reader.  I asked if she would be open to answering some questions for this blog, and she happily agreed.

Do you consider yourself a reader?
Yes I do because I read a lot and I love to read.

What are your favorite genres to read?
My favorite genres are fiction, historical fiction, and fantasy.

How do you select the books you want to read?
I usually select books from recommendations from my mom and from the school librarians.

What is your favorite book so far?
It's tough to choose a favorite book, but on of them is called "Dear America: I Walk in Dread", by Lisa Fraustino.  Another is "The Blood of Olympus", by Rick Riordan.

What is your favorite thing about reading?
My favorite thing about reading is just getting engrossed in a book and not getting enough of it.

Do you read on an e-reader/phone/computer?
I don't usually read on the internet because I like the feel of books.

What kinds of books do you think are the most popular with kids your age? Why?
?

What are you currently reading?

Friday, November 07, 2014

The Greenglass House, by Kate Milford

Our brains seem to want comparisons.  Every time a new book comes out, editorial blurbs sing, “For fans of….”, or “Blank meets blank in this striking new novel…”  I am both attracted to and wary of these comparisons, because they often create a false hope.  After all, a significant amount of connection to a story comes by what we bring to it.  I was first struck by the gorgeous cover of The Greenglass House, by Kate Milford and then I started hearing the buzz.  I started to hear talk of The Westing Game . Now, if you don’t already know, any time someone asks me what my favorite book of all time is, The Westing Game slides quickly from my mouth.  No questions asked. Over the adult titles that I have swooned about, the Newberys I have loved, the picture books that spawned the art that is matted and framed on my walls, The Westing Game is still firmly on the tippy top of the pile.  So the talk worried me a bit.


Silly me.


Milo and his family have just settled in for the holidays at their inn, The Greenglass House.  The guests have all departed, school is out for a couple of weeks, and it’s officially family time.  Imagine Milo’s surprise when the bell rings to alert the family that a guest is ready to come up the hill in the rail car called the Whilforber Whirlwind. Situated on the top of Whilforber Hill, the inn is somewhat iconic in their town.  Nagspeake is a smugglers’ town, and Milo’s parents are as likely to get paid in goods by the folks passing through as they are money. But smugglers have seasons and the winter holidays are not smuggler time.  Who could be coming to stay now?


Milo and his family are even more surprised when the bell keeps ringing!  More than one guest?  What is going on?


After the passel of guests shows up, Milo’s folks call on their regular help to come and help with meals and rooms and such.  Since it is break, the cook brings her kids and even though  Milo has never met Meddy before, the two get along famously even starting to role play using Odd Trails -- a game Milo’s own dad played when he was young.  Milo’s personal character Negret comes in handy when guest’s belongings start disappearing.  

This is such an atmospheric, multi layered story -- I just can’t say enough about it.  When you put all of the aspects of the story into writing, they can seem overwhelming.  We have the mythos of the town, the rules of the game, the mysterious guests, the criminality afoot, Milo’s own adoption story and sense of self, the lore of the house...it goes on and on.  But in Milford’s deft hands all are perfectly balanced and unfurled just so.  I started to slow down as I read this one, because I didn’t want it to end.  I ache to see this on the big screen, and am anxiously awaiting the first real snow of the season so I can hunker down and treat myself all over again!

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Red Pencil, by Andrea Davis Pinkney






We begin with Amira's 12 birthday.  She is finally old enough to wear a toob yet young enough to enjoy her Dando lifting her to the sky.  Amira lives on a farm in South Darfur surrounded by friends and family, but changes are afoot.  Amira's best friend Halima and her family are packing their things and moving to the city.  They say the city has more opportunities.  Amira wishes she could go with them to Nyala and attend the Gad Primary School with Halima.  Amira is not so sure about her Muma's old fashioned ways.

                  "She does not like the idea of Gad,
                    or any place where girls learn
                    to read
                    or write,
                    in Arabic or English
                    or think beyond a life
                    of farm chores and marriage." (p. 13 arc)

Soon, the extra chores of 12, missing Halima, and trying to solve the ongoing bickering between her father and villager Old Anwar seem anything but troubling.  The relative peace of her village is shattered when the Janjaweed  attack, changing Amira's very existence.

Amira and the other survivors must pick up the pieces and leave the ruins of the village to find safety.  Their trek takes them to the refugee camp Kalma - the Displaced People's Camp.  Amira doesn't like this space surrounded by fences and barbed wire.

                    "Everywhere I look,
                      I see
                      people, people, and more people.

                      I'm glad to stop walking.
                      I'm glad we have finally reached who-knows-where.
                      But already I do not like this place." (arc p. 139)

It would be easy enough to give up in such a desperate place with no real end in sight.  Amira and her family have lost so much.  But when Amira meets Miss Sabine and is given a gift of a red pencil she discovers some things about herself, her family and those on the journey with her.

Written in free verse, The Red Pencil is a story of family and loss and hope.  It was eye opening for me on a number of levels.  One is that it is so easy for me not to see what is happening in the world from my perch here in NYC.  The horrors of Darfur in the early 2000s seemed so far away in time and place that I wonder how many people in North America are aware of what was happening.  I find myself very impressed with the deftness of Andrea Davis Pinkney's hand when it came to writing the passages dealing with the violence.  She truly tells the story from a 12 year old's point of view, and the free verse format allows for silences that speak volumes.  The illustrations by Shane W. Evans are playful within this serious book and somehow bring a feeling of safety to the pages.

A must read for librarians, teachers and students.


Monday, September 01, 2014

Brown Girl Dreaming, by Jacqueline Woodson

I was lucky enough to hear Jacqueline Woodson speak about and read from Brown Girl Dreaming during the School Library Journal Day of Dialog last spring.  If any of you have seen Woodson before, you know she is charming, and dynamic and funny.  She read a few poems from the book and spoke of her family and writing life.  Like the rest of the librarians, I waited in line to speak with Ms. Woodson and have an arc signed, but 10 minutes or so into the wait I knew this arc wasn't going to be for me to keep.  Instead, I had it signed for a student and gave it to her when I saw her next.   So like so many others, I waited for the book birthday to get my hands on the hard cover copy on the day of its' release.

I'm not sure I can add much to the conversation around this book, as I agree with the buzz.  Brown Girl Dreaming is more than a book or a memoir....it is a gift.  We follow Jacqueline and her changing family from Ohio to South Carolina and up to NYC and each poem is a revelation of sorts that brings the reader through the timeline of Woodson's life.  From the "how to listen" haikus to poems like "sometimes, no words are needed", "stevie", and "as a child, i smelled the air" I found myself closing the book to pause again and again.

I had posted a photo of "stevie" on Instagram and commented that I was swooning over this book, and a friend commented that her copy is so dog-eared that she isn't going to share it with her students.  It made me comment back that this is the kind of book you carry around with you.  I will take the dust jacket off, and place it in my school bag.  And when the world gets to be a little too much, I will open the pages and gift myself with a little bit of magic.