Wednesday, December 4, 2013
ABOUT THE BOOK
It's been two months since Lizzie's daddy disappeared due to the awful Depression. Lizzie's praying he'll return to Bittersweet, Alabama, for her birthday. It won't feel special without him, what with Lizzie's Mama being so sad she won't even talk and the bank nipping at their heels for a mortgage payment.
Daddy expected her to be the best at any cost. But Lizzie claims "that cost me my top grades and my best friend. It's dumped 'em both square into Erin's hands. She's gone batty if she thinks she's gonna get me carted off to the orphanage."
While Lizzie waits, she gets comfort writing in her journal. As time passes, she can only picture her daddy's face by opening her locket. If others can get by, why did her daddy leave? If he doesn't return, how can she overcome the same obstacles that drove him away?
Life is challenging for, soon-to-be-twelve, Lizzie and her mother. With her father having left and her mother in a several state of depression, Lizzie is left to keep things together. But trying to find money to pay the mortgage as well as doing the cooking and laundry plus trying to find time for schoolwork and her friend, Ben, is stressing Lizzie out. And a girl at school is determined to prevent Lizzie from not only taking top honors at school, but from finding a way to keep her home life together as well. And Ben seems to be slipping away as well. Can Lizzie find a way to persist or will she be forced to concede as did her father?
Strengths: The character development here is superbly done. Each character stands out clearly with his/her own problems. Lizzie is such a dominant character though that she has a hard time seeing anything beyond her own problems. This leads to serious problems some of which Lizzie brings on herself with her refusal to listen or ask for help. The themes of friendship, loyalty, persistence, and the power of a listening ear all shine through very clearly. Beautifully written and beautifully told, Every Day After is sure to be a Newbery contender.
Weaknesses: Lizzie's stubbornness and self-focus were rather frustrating at times. I wanted to jump into the book and shake her a couple of times. Hmm. Maybe not a weakness in the story, just a personal pet peeve.
Tuesday, December 3, 2013
ABOUT THE BOOK
The last thing April Grace wants is more change in her life--but that's exactly what she gets! Plus, April has a new mystery to solve when Myra Sue starts sneaking around and acting very suspicious!
From snooty new neighbors to starting junior high to getting a new baby brother to having her "grandmother" get a boyfriend, April Grace has had enough change to last until she is at least 87 years old.
But when it rains, it pours, and April Grace is in for the ride of her life when her prissy, citified neighbor Isabel becomes her gym teacher and a long-lost relative suddenly reappears and throws everything into a tizzy. On top of that, April's sister, Myra Sue, has been hiding something and sneaking around. April needs to find out what is going on before her silly sister gets herself into trouble again. More important, will April find the grace she needs to handle her topsy-turvy life and forgive past wrongs?
Girls will fall in love with April's humor and completely relate to her as she deals with family, friends, drama, and both the humor and the heartache that are part of growing up.
April Grace has a big mouth. She isn't afraid to say what she thinks, even if comes out rather rude. And she has definite opinions about things including her sister, Myra Sue's strange behavior. Having gotten in trouble previously she decides that she won't tell anyone about it until she has some concrete proof as to what her sister is doing. But the unexpected arrival of a relative throws all her plans into chaos, making her wonder what her life is coming to. Throw in a disagreement with her best friend, a surprise birthday party, and her neighbor as her new P.E. teacher and April Grace has a lot to sort through. Can she figure it out in time? Or will things just explode?
Strengths: April Grace is one of those characters that makes you sigh in exasperation yet laugh at her brashness. She has a strong voice and her 'quaint' expressions help create a believable setting. The other characters are also interesting each with his/her own problems and perspectives. The author does a nice job of showing how real relationships sometimes work and sometimes don't work based on those perspectives which may or may not be accurate.
Weaknesses: Much of this book takes place at April Grace's home, which is interesting, but some young readers might find a tad boring, but April Grace's narration is anything but boring. The mystery with Myra Sue isn't too hard to figure out.
Monday, November 25, 2013
ABOUT THE BOOK
Armed with a suitcase and an old laundry bag filled with clothes, Kasienka and her mother head for England. Life is lonely for Kasienka. At home her mother's heart is breaking and at school friends are scarce. But when someone special swims into her life, Kasienka learns that there might be more than one way for her to stay afloat. The Weight of Water is a startlingly original piece of fiction; most simply a brilliant coming of age story, it also tackles the alienation experienced by many young immigrants. Moving, unsentimental and utterly page-turning, we meet and share the experiences of a remarkable girl who shows us how quiet courage prevails.
Kasienka and her mother arrive in England prepared to search for her father who left them behind in Poland. They just received a check from him giving them an idea of where he is living, but Kasienka isn't sure he wants to be found. When she tries to convince her mother of this, her mother ignores her. As the search continues, Kasienka struggles to fit in at her school where she has been placed a year behind where she should be, just because her English isn't good enough. In addition to this, a group of girls starts bullying her for no reason she understands. But slowly Kasienka's confidence in herself grows as she finally makes a friend and pursues her passion for swimming. When a boy shows interest in her, she is excited about getting her first kiss but confused about how it is all supposed to work. Things come to a head however when Kasienka's father is found and it's clear that he wants nothing further to do with her mother.
Strengths: The characters are great including Kasienka, her mother, their neighbor Kanoro, and Will especially shine through. The plot is interesting revolving as it does around a young girl's love of swimming and how it helps her deal with the challenges in her life, including a mother who refuses to listen and accept what those around her tell her. Kasienka's struggles at school are unfortunately all to common, especially for immigrant children. The free verse is beautifully written.
Weaknesses: I'm not sure how many middle grade readers want to read free verse. The format means that a lot of details are left out, but this allows the reader to focus on Kasienka's feelings, which is not entirely a bad thing. I also have issues with 12 and 13-year-old's making out, especially French kissing such as Kasienka and Will engage in. Do we really want to encourage kids this age to engage in that kind of behavior without fully understanding the consequences (which are in no way explored in this book)? Sigh. Maybe I'm the only one bothered by this.
ABOUT THE BOOK
Wanted: One amazing forever home for one amazing sixth grader.
"My name is Gaby, and I'm looking for a home where I can invite my best friend over and have a warm breakfast a couple of times a week. Having the newest cell phone or fancy clothes isn't important, but I'd like to have a cat that I can talk to when I'm home alone."
Gaby Ramirez Howard loves volunteering at the local animal shelter. She plays with the kittens, helps to obedience train the dogs, and writes adoption advertisements so that the strays who live there can find their forever homes: places where they'll be loved and cared for, no matter what.
Gaby has been feeling like a bit of a stray herself, lately. Her mother has recently been deported to Honduras and Gaby is stuck living with her inattentive dad. She's confident that her mom will come home soon so that they can adopt Gaby's favorite shelter cat together. When the cat's original owners turn up at the shelter, however, Gaby worries that her plans for the perfect family are about to fall apart.
Gaby lives with her father now that her mother has been sent back to Honduras because she was in the U.S. illegally. But Gaby's father rarely pays attention to her and barely manages to support them both moving jobs every few weeks. Gaby desperately wants her mother to return and doesn't understand the difficulties involved. When her school class volunteers at an animals shelter, Gaby is asked to write profiles of each of the animals available for adoption, which she does well. But when she falls in love with an abused and neglected cat named Feather, she's willing to do whatever it takes to protect the cat even if it gets her in trouble.
Strengths: Gaby is a likable main character who makes plenty of mistakes throughout the story as she searches for a home to call her own. Her best friend, Alma is a delight with her fiesty ways and sense of humor. The issue of illegal immigration is handled in a sensitive way with Gaby eventually realizing that skipping over the border just isn't possible and even attempting it is dangerous. I also appreciated Gaby's teacher's and the way they handled poor student behavior, including the bullying that Gaby undergoes.
Weaknesses: The legal issues involved in illegal immigration are ignored and other ways for Gaby's mother to return are not explored, giving the book a rather one-sided feel. Gaby's going to live with Alma's family is treated as an informality when legally certain things would need to be done for them to offically be her guardians. The school especially would require a legal guardian for certain things. Child readers though aren't likely to notice any of this, they will simply enjoy a sweet story about finding home and animals.
ABOUT THE BOOK
Alcatraz Island in the 1930s isn't the most normal place to grow up, but it's home for Moose Flanagan, his autistic sister, Natalie, and all the families of the guards. When Moose's dad gets promoted to Associate Warden, despite being an unlikely candidate, it's a big deal. But the cons have a point system for targeting prison employees, and his dad is now in serious danger. After a fire starts in the Flanagan's apartment, Natalie is blamed, and Moose bands with the other kids to track down the possible arsonist. Then Moose gets a cryptic note from the notorious Al Capone himself. Is Capone trying to protect Moose's dad too? If Moose can't figure out what Capone's note means, it may be too late.
I put off reading this series because Al Capone and Alcatraz simply didn't interest me, but I'm glad I finally read one of the books in the series. Now I want to go back and read the two previous books. I found myself really liking this book.
Moose, a thirteen-year-old boy living on Alcatraz Island with his family, feels responsible to make sure his father remains safe now that he is associate warden. Along with that goes the ongoing need to help his autistic sister, Natalie learn to get along socially. Natalie is a genius with numbers but won't even look people in the eye. After a fire guts his family's apartment and Natalie gets blamed, Moose sets out to discover the real cause of the fire, hoping to prove his sister's innocence. With the help of his friends, a cockroach or two, and Moose's own observational skills can Moose find the firebug in time? And what about his father's life, can he protect his father too?
Strengths: Moose is an appealing character as are his friends, Annie, Jimmy, and Piper (sort of). Moose's interactions with his sister are believable. Moose clearly loves his sister but gets very frustrated sometimes with her behavior. The mystery about the fire is an fascinating one as are the methods the kids use to try to find answers (I did appreciate however that it was the adults that discover many of the clues) and they ultimately stumble upon other mischief going on and work to bring the culprits to justice. A satisfying read all around with some surprises along the way, including Capone's involvement. I also appreciated that Natalie plays a key role in the story, using her strength with numbers to help those around her.
Weaknesses: Many children won't read historical fiction because of a mistaken idea that it is 'boring.' And this may not be as action-packed as a lot of kids want these days.
Friday, November 22, 2013
ABOUT THE BOOK
Dad and Ben haven't been getting along recently and Dad hopes a road trip to rescue a border collie will help them reconnect. But Ben is on to Dad's plan and invites Ben's thuggish buddy, Theo. The family dog, Atticus, comes along too and the story is told by Ben and Atticus. When their truck breaks down, they commandeer an old school bus, along with its mechanic, Gus. Next, they pick up Mia, a waitress escaping a tense situation. Only sharp-eyed Atticus realizes that Theo is on the run—and someone is following them.
I'm not entirely sure what to make of this book. In some ways I really enjoyed it, the dog's commentary for example was quite amusing. The relationships between the characters were interesting even though the sudden addition of some characters seemed a tad unbelievable.
When Dad and Ben set off to pick up a rescued border collie pup, Ben assumes it will be anything but typical, after all his father is in charge. But when he finds out that thanks to his father's new business, he won't be attending hockey camp like he'd planned on, he is furious and does everything he can to make the trip as awkward as possible. He starts by inviting his friend, Theo along. Switching to a school bus after their truck breaks down and the added company of the mechanic and a former waitress further confuses things, especially when it becomes apparent that Theo is hiding something and ready to bolt. Will they ever make it to the puppy or will disaster strike first?
Strengths: The characterizations are spot on, each of the characters has an important part to play. They each have their own ideas and problems. The dog provides an amusing and insightful commentary on the human dynamics, sensing things that the people struggle to work through. Ben's father's antics were humorous as was Ben's reactions to them (mind and voice didn't always agree). I enjoyed reading about the relationships that developed between the different characters and how problems were addressed.
Weaknesses: The episodic nature of the story makes it feel not quite connected. And some of the events in the story are downright absurd. Probably won't bother most young readers though.
ABOUT THE BOOK
Are you bored with being so proper?
Do you want to have more fun?
Mr. Tiger knows exactly how you feel. So he decides to go wild.
But does he go too far?
From Caldecott Honor artist Peter Brown comes a story that shows there's a time and place for everything...even going wild.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Peter Brown has always loved telling stories. Growing up in New Jersey, he told stories by drawing whimsical characters andscenes from his imagination. Then, as a teenager, he fell in love with writing, and told his tales with words. While studying illustration at Art Center College of Design, Peter’s love of both words and pictures led him to take several courses on children’s books. And before long he knew he’d found his calling.
After graduating from Art Center Peter moved to New York City to be closer to the publishing industry. He was working on animated TV shows when he was hired to write and illustrate his first picture book, Flight of the Dodo. Peter quickly signed up his second and third books, and his career as an author and illustrator of children’s books was under way.
Peter’s books have earned him numerous honors, including a Caldecott Honor (2013) for Creepy Carrots! written by Aaron Reynolds, two E.B. White Awards, aNew York Times Best Illustrated Book award, a Children’s Choice Award for Illustrator of the Year, two Irma Black Honors, and five New York Times bestsellers.
Peter lives in Brooklyn, New York.
Mr. Tiger goes Wild not only entertains but it illustrates how the strength of individuals helps change society as a whole. Of course, kids aren't going to see that, they will simply get a kick out of Mr. Tiger's going from utterly proper to completely wild and almost back again. The book beautifully illustrates that even the strongest passion isn't enough without someone to share it with. I enjoyed how Brown uses color to highlight Mr. Tiger's change and how 'going wild' can add color to one's life. I have no doubt that child readers will giggle with delight as Mr. Tiger goes from wearing a suit and tie and behaving properly to wearing nothing but his own skin and enjoying being a tiger to the utmost. His wildness actually reminds me of some children I know. ;)
1 print copy of Mr. Tiger Goes Wild
Thursday, November 21, 2013
ABOUT THE BOOK
It's 1944, W.W. II is raging. Jayna's big brother Rob is her only family. When Rob is called to duty on a destroyer, Jayna is left in their small town in upstate New York with their cranky landlady. But right before he leaves, Rob tells Jayna a secret: they may have a grandmother in Brooklyn. Rob found a little blue recipe book with her name and an address for a bakery. When Jayna learns that Rob is missing in action, she's devastated. Along with her turtle Theresa, the recipe book, and an encouraging, ghostly voice as her guide, Jayna sets out for Brooklyn in hopes of finding the family she so desperately needs.
I quite enjoyed this story, especially the relationship between Jayna and her brother, even though we only see them together briefly. It's a short read so there isn't a ton of detail, but enough to give a sense of time and place.
Strengths: Jayna is a strong, likable character with a difficult set of circumstances to face, which she does with courage and aplomb. The secondary characters are appealing as well with Andrew and Millie befriending Jayna and Elise offering grandmotherly care. The book shows how the war effected those on the homefront in terms of rationing and worrying about loved ones.
Weaknesses: I found the ghost voice a rather odd addition to the story, especially since there is no real explanation for who it is or where it came from. Most kids will accept the ghost on faith, but I would have liked more information. Also, this is historical fiction which a lot of kids won't pick up.
ABOUT THE BOOK
When a boy and his dog go for a hike, the boy trips on a fossil, and it comes to life, revealing an ancient plant. The boy is so intrigued that he breaks two more fossils and they too come to life - showing a prehistoric dragonfly and a pterodactyl. The dog jumps on the pterodactyl's back, and the boy, desperate to get his dog back, figures out a way to make things go back to normal. Using original art, this "wordless story" will surely spark imagination and creativity.
Common Core Educator's Guide
Kid's Activity Guide
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Bill Thomson lives in Southington, Connecticut with his wife, Diann, and their three sons, Billy, Nik, and Ethan. Bill has illustrated Karate Hour, Building With Dad, Baseball Hour, and Soccer Hour, all written by Carol Nevius. Bill's first solo book, CHALK, was released in the spring of 2010, and he recently completed his second book, FOSSIL (Fall 2013). Bill is a Professor of Illustration at the Hartford Art School at the University of Hartford.
FOSSIL: Uncovering a Wordless Book
By Bill Thomson
My new wordless book, FOSSIL, is an exploration of imagination that takes a boy and his dog on a fantastical adventure. I hope that in addition to being a book that can be used as a tool for beginning/reluctant readers, as a prompt for writing, or purely as entertainment, FOSSIL may also generate interest in science and prehistoric life for young readers.
While the book has no words, it still involved a great deal of research. Because I work realistically, getting good visual information is critical to the success of my paintings. After researching books and websites to gain an understanding of my subject matter, I carefully selected models, found props, built models, and scouted locations to photograph as reference. Then I looked at these photos to make my acrylic paintings life-like and believable.
To create FOSSIL, I hoped to acquire authentic fossils for a fern, dragonfly, and pteranodon—each of the relics the boy and his dog encounter in my story. Having actual fossils would allow me to light them in different ways and show them from many different perspectives.
My first quest, a fern fossil, was very common and easy to find. I purchased several fern fossils on eBay, a nice resource with a multitude of possible choices. Acquiring dragonfly and pteranodon fossils were not so easy. I learned that dragonfly fossils were extremely rare and expensive, and a pteranodon fossil would be almost impossible to purchase. However, I was able to study the visual aspects of fossils in museums and stores. I decided a more practical goal was to construct my own replicas out of clay for both the dragonfly and pteranodon claw. I made these based on photos of real fossil specimens found in books and the Internet.
To depict the pteranodon, I read a great book titled The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Pterosaurs by Dr. Peter Wellenhofer, and a very informative website called, http://www.oceansofkansas.com/pteranodon.html . My rendition was based on information from these sources, pteranodon models, and my imagination. I even looked at lizards to make its texture more reptilian (pteranodons are flying reptiles). Because it is hard to know exactly what a pteranodon looked like, my primary goal was to blend fact with imagination and depict a convincing creature that would serve the story.
Because FOSSIL has no words to provide clarification, it was critical to create the most visually clear and engaging story possible. After gaining an understanding of my subject matter, I sometimes made artistic choices regarding how I would use information. For example, after observing many fossils, I saw that their rock could vary in color. In my story, I decided to use muted colors to differentiate the rocks and create a subtle link with the fossil and the thing it contained. Although the color of fossil rocks does not actually reflect its content, I made this choice as a visual key for young readers. I also chose not to depict the bone of the wing of the pteranodon so the claw shape would read more clearly. When creating a wordless fantasy, you begin by understanding your subject and then deciding how to weave that information into a cohesive and captivating story.
Possible website links for additional information
Fossils for sale:
One of the wonderful things about wordless picture books is the opportunity to create one's own version of the story. There is so much room for using one's own imagination to explain what one sees or to even add more details. The discussion possibilities are endless, limited only to the imagination of those reading the book. Bill Thomson's new book, Fossil, offers so much in terms of opportunities to discuss fossils, dinosaurs, and other aspects of science in addition to the fun story itself. And the idea of fossils coming to life is an enthralling idea that I have no doubt that kids will love. The illustrations are gorgeous and full of life. And it's clear the illustrator did his homework, the fern, dragonfly and pteranodon all look quite real. And the expressions on the boy's face as the fossils come to life around him are humorous. All in all, a fabulous read.
1 print copy of Fossil by Bill Thomson
a Rafflecopter giveaway
BLOG TOUR SCHEDULE
Sat, Nov 9
Mon, Nov 11
NC Teacher Stuff
Tues, Nov 12
Just a Little Creativity
Wed, Nov 13
There's a Book
Thurs, Nov 14
Fri, Nov 15
Kid Lit Frenzy
Mon, Nov 18
Once Upon a Story
Tues, Nov 19
The Children's Book Review
Wed, Nov 20
5 Minutes for Books
Thurs, Nov 21
Fri, Nov 22
Growing with Science