Thanks to the @kidlitexchange network for the free review copy of his book – all opinions are my own.
I have found that I really enjoy reading middle-grade historical fiction. They are an amazing way to learn about periods in history from a completely different perspective. Of course, I realize that you have to take the information with a grain of salt, but they encourage readers to ponder aspects of history and potentially do additional research themselves.
Recently I was given the opportunity to review My Brigadista Year, by Katherine Paterson, thanks to the Kid Lit Exchange. This book tells of an “army” of volunteer teachers who were called upon to end illiteracy in Cuba shortly after Fidel Castro came to power. The book itself takes place between March and December of 1961 as we follow young Lora on a life-changing journey.
Lora is a thirteen year old girl inspired by the posters put up at her school that called for young men and women to join an army of teachers. She has never been outside of Havana and her family doesn’t want her to participate, but she is determined. Continue reading →
Thanks to the @kidlitexchange network for the free review copy of his book – all opinions are my own.
I had so much fun reading this book and would find myself finding ways to sneak in a chapter here and there. Quite impressive for a debut novel, but it is obvious that Jake Burt knows his audience well (he teaches 5th grade). Totally not surprising that the book is already a BEA Editor’s Buzz Pick for 2017!
Nicki Demere is a foster kid who happens to also be a kleptomaniac. After getting sent back from her most recent family, she finds that while her background of crime hasn’t helped her win over families, the US Marshalls might have a need for her to help hide a family of 3 by making them a family of 4. Continue reading →
Diversity in children’s literature has always held a strong place in my heart and is something that I promote at every possibility. When Charlottesville happened, I couldn’t wrap my head around how our country had seemingly traveled backwards in time. I went back to check out books that focused on diversity, that focused on the experiences of racism that African-Americans have faced in this country, I took comfort in how far children’s books have come to show inclusion instead of exclusion. It wasn’t enough, but it was a start. Continue reading →
My younger daughter asked me what kind of books I like to read most the other day. She asked if I liked fiction, realistic fiction, or non-fiction. I had to think about that question for a while because I really had a hard time making a decision. I realized that these days, I seem to be drawn to realistic fiction. I blame the NC Battle of the Books for that and a slew of really amazing realistic fiction books both aimed at younger and more mature audiences. That said, books are still about escapism and fun, which is why I had a blast reading the new book, The World’s Greatest Adventure Machine, by Frank L. Cole.
Book Description (from publisher)
An adventure novel about four lucky kids and a mysterious, but thrilling ride for fans of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory or Jurassic Park! Continue reading →
If you are a fan of middle-grade fiction, you have most likely heard of the book Wonder, by R.J. Palacio. Wonder deals with a child who has a cleft palate and his experiences when he goes to a real school for the first time rather than being home-schooled. He can’t hide his condition but he also won’t allow it to define him. There is a reason this book has received a great amount of praise. For similar reasons, the new book Caleb and Kit by Beth Vrabel (Running Press Books, Sept. 2017) is going to be a hit for the middle school crowd.
Caleb and Kit tells the story of 12 year old Caleb, who suffers from cystic fibrosis, a diagnosis meaning lungs that fill with mucus and a shortened lifespan. He feels completely overprotected by his mother and his “perfect” big brother. Even his closest friend, Derek, makes sure that he is included when the other kids play sports, but also makes sure that he doesn’t over-do it. Caleb is aware of his condition and knows how to take care of himself, but no one ever seems to let him. When summer break comes and he has to spend each day in a camp with mostly 8 and 9 year olds, he just can’t take it. To add insult to injury, his father has started a new life with a woman who seems oblivious to his condition.
Caleb’s life changes when he gets lost in the woods behind his house one day and meets Kit. Kit is like no one he has ever met. She is home schooled and seems to be free as a bird. Kit believes that she can talk to animals and fairies and doesn’t worry about what anyone thinks. Her mantra is “I do what I want,” a concept that especially appeals to Caleb who feels so trapped by those looking out for him. Kit’s fantasy world and the freedom Caleb feels when he is with her lure him to make some very unwise decisions, including some that risk his health. Early on the reader knows that there is more to Kit than meets the eye. She isn’t just a girl with a lot of freedom, she is a girl who isn’t being cared for and who is struggling simply to survive. It just takes Caleb a lot longer to figure this out.
I couldn’t put this book down. It was wonderfully written, honest, and had true to life middle grade voices. Caleb had moments of exceptionally bad behavior, but a) he’s 12 and b) he is fighting for his own voice and his life. Caleb had never really been given the ability to make his own decisions and figure out who he was. He also had quite a chip on his shoulder and found it difficult to comprehend what others might be thinking or feeling. Common enough for any tween, let alone one with CF. Caleb and Kit is a must read and one that I couldn’t stop thinking about.
***Note – I received a digital review copy from NetGalley in return for my honest review.
A big part of growing up is figuring out friends and, as you get a bit older, what it means to be more than friends. I remember that when I was in the 5th and 6th grade, one of the book series that was incredibly popular, and which I adored, was Sweet Valley High. Now no one is going to argue that this was high quality literature, but it was fun. These books hit on topics that I was thinking about, but wasn’t ready to quite voice or fully understand. Most of my friends were at least a year older than me, and the notion of boys was definitely in play.
Back in the day, the Sweet Valley High books were intended for preteens, the market that we now consider tweens. Were the SVH books quality literature? Not even close. Were they brain candy and super fun? Absolutely. Kids have to be kids and read light fluff from time to time, especially when we put so many pressures on them. So where am I going with this? I want to take a look at the Choose Your Own Ever After series published by Kane Miller and available through Usborne Books & More.
Choose Your Own Ever After is a series of books that were first published in Australia in 2014. The concept behind these books is that each one lets you choose your own path and change the story based on your decisions. Many people recall the Choose Your Own Adventure series written in the late 70s and early 80s. These books work within that same concept, but have fewer decisions to make and the choices are based on bigger issues. A sample question is do you go to the big party with your two closest friends so they can chase the boys they like or do you go to the movie night/fundraiser for the club at school that you have been a long-time member of? Continue reading →
There is something truly joyous when your children read and ENJOY books that were childhood favorites of yours. Not that we don’t adore new books (we are currently fighting over an Advance Review Copy to be shared soon), but there are times when you remember that classics are classics for a reason. The latest in a series of books J has enjoyed that I remember loving as a kid? The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin.
The Westing Game is a mystery reminiscent of the board game Clue (another family favorite). In this book, 16 people find themselves at the reading of a man’s will which says that a) he was murdered, b) the murderer is in the room, and c) whoever figures out who did it will win a sizeable inheritance. The group is split up into 8 pairs and they are set off on their journey to figure out who did it. At the same time, each of these characters holds a secret or two.
Turtle Wexler might be one of my all time favorite characters created and feels like the star of this particular book. Given that this was written in 1978 when you didn’t have a lot of spunky, unusual female characters, she was special. She is exceptionally bright and not as “pretty” as her older sister, Angela, but she has a very caring heart. She is a character that feels very true to life and that doesn’t seem to change with a different generation reading the book.
Another interesting thing about this book is that while there is an external focus on solving the mystery of who killed Sam Westing, there is a deeper, more internal mystery unfolding throughout the book – figuring out just who the characters are, their secrets, and how they are all related (literally and figuratively).
J, at 10 and in 4th grade, adored the book. She couldn’t put it down, kept asking me questions that I couldn’t remember the answers to, and repeatedly said “this book is awesome!” That’s pretty high praise from an avid reader. Ellen Raskin received a Newbery Medal for The Westing Game in 1979 and the award hasn’t lost its shine.
When we think of the Civil Rights Movement, we understandably think about the African-American experience. I wrote once before about how Mexican Americans in California were segregated into various schools and we have all heard of the horrible injustice of the Japanese Internment camps. As a Jew, I have long heard stories of quotas and some regions not allowing Jews to purchase homes or join certain clubs. There has always been a fear of things that are different and unknown. For this year’s Multicultural Children’s Book Day, one of the books I was sent was Making Friends with Billy Wong, by Augusta Scattergood. This book gave me pause to consider the Asian American experience, especially in the South.
This novel focuses on Azalea Ann Morgan, a young girl who is sent to live with a grandmother that she barely knows during the summer of 1952. Her grandmother needs some help while she is recuperating from an injury and Azalea has been volunteered for the job. Azalea is very shy and doesn’t like talking to strangers, and more than anything, she misses her best friend back in Texas. Grandmother Clark has a very strong personality and is seen as something of one of the town’s matriarchs, but that doesn’t mean that Azalea likes her right off the bat. Early on, she encourages Azalea to befriend Billy Wong, a young Chinese-American boy living with his great-aunt and uncle and helping them at their grocery store.
Azalea is not comfortable with meeting anyone new, but especially not a “foreigner,” which is how she sees Billy. She fears going to Mr. Wong’s store assuming that she won’t be able to understand anything he says since she doesn’t speak Chinese. Grandma Clark, ever the one to bring people together, finally helps Azalea break down her walls by making her take Billy to ice cream on a scorching hot day.
The reason that Billy is living in in Paris Junction is so that he can go to a better school. According to the author’s note in the back of the book, the Jim Crow laws of segregation in the South also impacted the Chinese immigrant population, which was surprisingly large. In 1927, a Supreme Court case classified Chinese Americans as “colored,” which led to many communities not allowing Chinese students to attend the segregated white schools. for Billy’s character, in his hometown he would have to go to the Negro school, which offered a substandard education. There had been a Chinese Mission school that his older siblings had attended, but it closed down. However, in Paris Junction Billy was allowed to go to the white school. While on the topic of Billy, from time to time, the novel switches to Billy’s voice in the form of his writings. From these small moments, we can see the prejudice from Billy’s eyes which lends additional power to his plight.
I was surprised to learn of the large number of Chinese immigrants that moved to the south as migrant labor and wound up opening neighborhood groceries that served black and white clientele. But as one might imagine, their being in cities that historically had been segregated didn’t always allow for smooth transitions. As Augusta Scattergood alludes to in this book, other students were not happy with the notion of students who were different coming in and excelling on the sports teams and in the classroom. Local businessmen were also not always thrilled with the Chinese grocery stores, especially if they took business away from them. By setting this novel up through the eyes of 11 and 12 year olds, you can really get a sense of what the experience was like.
Scattergood uses her novel to touch on a variety of topics. There is the fear of those that are different. There is also a general anxiety around people and learning how to deal with strangers. Azalea and her grandmother learn how to be a family and how important family bonds are. Finally, there is also the character of Willis DeLoach who has a lot of anger and is incredibly misunderstood, but behind his prejudice is a little bit of jealousy and a lot of burdens bigger than a boy his age should be dealing with. Grandma Clark is the glue trying to put the whole town together.
This middle grade novel has a lot going for it and was a great read. Many kids can empathize with one or more of the characters and see how hard it is to be different. I also think that reading the author’s note and understanding the true history behind this story is important. A great read for kids 8+.
I received this book from Scholastic Books as a part of the 2017 Multicultural Children’s Book Day.
I have been involved with Multicultural Children’s Book Day since it started. Having grown up in Los Angeles, surrounded by a diverse community, I never thought about the notion of being different. Now that I live in a small town in the south, I am much more aware just how hard it can be to be a minority and to be misunderstood. I have always tried to teach my daughters to love everyone and to believe that we are all one human race and that all of our histories and differences should be celebrated. I also know how important it is to be able to see yourself in the books you read, even more so when you are in the minority, so I look forward to this blogging event every year.
Multicultural Children’s Book Day 2017 (1/27/17) is in its fourth year and was founded by Valarie Budayr from Jump Into A Book and Mia Wenjen from PragmaticMom. Our mission is to raise awareness of the ongoing need to include kids’ books that celebrate diversity in home and school bookshelves while also working diligently to get more of these types of books into the hands of young readers, parents and educators.
Despite census data that shows 37% of the US population consists of people of color, only 10% of children’s books published have diversity content. Using the Multicultural Children’s Book Day holiday, the MCBD Team is on a mission to change all of that.
Current Sponsors: MCBD 2017 is honored to have some amazing Sponsors on board. Platinum Sponsors include Scholastic, Barefoot Books and Broccoli. Other Medallion Level Sponsors include heavy-hitters like Author Carole P. Roman, Audrey Press, Candlewick Press, Fathers Incorporated, KidLitTV, Capstone Young Readers, ChildsPlayUsa, Author Gayle Swift, Wisdom Tales Press, Lee& Low Books, The Pack-n-Go Girls, Live Oak Media, Author Charlotte Riggle, Chronicle Books and Pomelo Books
Author Sponsor include: Karen Leggett Abouraya, Veronica Appleton, Susan Bernardo, Kathleen Burkinshaw, Delores Connors, Maria Dismondy, D.G. Driver, Geoff Griffin, Savannah Hendricks, Stephen Hodges, Carmen Bernier-Grand,Vahid Imani, Gwen Jackson, Hena, Kahn, David Kelly, Mariana Llanos, Natasha Moulton-Levy, Teddy O’Malley, Stacy McAnulty, Cerece Murphy, Miranda Paul, Annette Pimentel, Greg Ransom, Sandra Richards, Elsa Takaoka, Graciela Tiscareño-Sato, Sarah Stevenson, Monica Mathis-Stowe SmartChoiceNation, Andrea Y. Wang
We’d like to also give a shout-out to MCBD’s impressive CoHost Team who not only hosts the book review link-up on celebration day, but who also works tirelessly to spread the word of this event. View our CoHosts HERE.
MCBD Links to remember:
MCBD site: http://multiculturalchildrensbookday.com/
Free Multicultural Books for Teachers: http://bit.ly/1kGZrta
Free Kindness Classroom Kit for Homeschoolers, Organizations, Librarians and Educators: http://multiculturalchildrensbookday.com/teachers-classroom-kindness-kit/
Free Diversity Book Lists and Activities for Teachers and Parents: http://bit.ly/1sZ5s8i
Hashtag: Don’t forget to connect with us on social media and be sure and look for/use their official hashtag #ReadYourWorld.
It’s interesting watching your reader grow in maturity. This year has seen great strides for J who continues to grow, not only as a reader, but in general maturity. Friday morning I was reading a post from the Nerdy Book Club about the “just right” book and what that means and it resounded with me. I am happy to say that J has never focused much on her “level” and always has read for pleasure. She has had great teachers and I’m definitely not one to push for reading levels.
These days, unfortunately, many kids focus a great deal on the “level” of the book and less on the story itself. That’s one thing if the book is required reading, but if you are reading for pleasure, it should be just that – pleasurable. When J was obsessed with Harry Potter or the Land of Stories, it was like you couldn’t pull her away from them. She knew every detail backward and forward. She could actually even recite the chapter titles from the first Harry Potter book.
So these year I watch with fascination as J approaches her required reading list for the Battle of the Books. J has long desired to be a part of the Battle of the Books. While she could easily read and comprehend most of the books at an early age, the rules state that you have to be in 4th or 5th grade for the elementary competition. A big reason for this, I believe, is less about reading level and more about having the maturity to read books that you don’t necessarily like all that much. She took a quick break from one book in order to plow through another and the different purposes and the distinction feels very clear to me.
The first book she is reading is Woods Runner, by Gary Paulsen. This is one of the books for the Battle of the Books this year and tells of a 13 year old boy living in the American frontier during the American Revolution. While Samuel is out hunting one day, his parents are taken captive by British soldiers. Samuel then sets out to find them. The story is filled with very detailed descriptions of muskets, rifles, bayonets and other weapons of the time. There are also many instances where readers learn of the practice of scalping someone. After each chapter there is also a page with historical notes that help fill in some of the holes that might exist by reading a book that takes place in such a different time. I would say that we are about half-way done with this book and while some parts are fabulous and keep you yearning to know what it going to happen, there are many other parts that you just have to trudge through.
The second book is Gertie’s Leap to Greatness. She inhaled this book. It was given to her on Thursday afternoon and by Sunday evening she had finished it. When I asked her what she liked about it, she just said it was great. I’ve started reading it myself, but haven’t gotten into the heart of the book yet. Gertie has been compared to Ramona Quimby, but slightly older and definitely more modern.
The story is primarily about Gertie Reece Foy, a fifth grade girl who has made it her goal in life to become the best fifth grader in the universe. Why? Her mother had moved out when she was a baby, but a few days before 5th grade started, Gertie saw a for sale sign in her mother’s front yard. Gertie feels the need to become her absolute best self so that she can walk up to her mother’s door, hand her back a locket that she had given her, and then her mother “would know that Gertie Foy was one-hundred-percent, not-from-concentrate awesome and that she didn’t need a mother anyway. So there.” But there is just one problem in Gertie’s plan. The new girl, Mary Sue Spivey, also wants to be the best fifth grader.
This book is the trials and tribulations of an 10 year old trying to become her best possible self. In seeking out her greater self, she stumbles upon the greatness that was already inside of her. Even if the kids who are reading it don’t completely get that message, they will see her try new things, fail, and pick herself right back up and figure out a new plan of action. Gertie’s “leap” to greatness is really made up of many small steps that all of us need to take.
I loved watching J tear through a book again, it just really made me think about how we all approach books. When a book really moves a kid, or an adult, they simply can’t put it down. Gertie’s Leap to Greatness, Serafina and the Twisted Staff, Frindle, The Monster War, these are the books that have been favorites recently in between the required reading she has done. She’s definitely enjoyed some of the BOB books more than others and doesn’t wait for me to share in the reading, but she absorbs them and enjoys them in a completely different way. That’s okay, she is learning of the wide variety of styles and flavors out there. If only we could all be as smart as our kids.