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Results 1 - 25 of 77,339
1. The Worst Best School Year Ever

The Best (Worst) School Year Ever. Barbara Robinson. 1994. 117 pages. [Source: Bought]

First sentence: Unless you're somebody like Huckleberry Finn, the first day of school isn't too bad.

Premise/plot: This book is a sequel to the Best Christmas Pageant Ever. Both books are narrated by a girl named Beth who bear witness to the awfulness of the Herdman family. The book loosely takes place between the first and last days of school. The chapters are more episodic than linked to one another. All focus in on the Herdman family. Some chapters are better than others. I wouldn't say that any were wonderful.

My thoughts: I really LOVE, LOVE, LOVE The Best Christmas Pageant ever. And I think the reason why was that it had a point--a redemptive point. The Herdmans surprised everyone with their humanness, and, they weren't just the town joke when all was said and done. That isn't the case with The Worst Best School Year Ever. While there was one touching moment when Beth, the narrator, noticed Imogene at her best, that alone wasn't enough to make up for all the "let's laugh at the Herdmans." The scene I did like was when Beth noticed the initials on the blanket "returned" to baby Howard. I.H. When Howard lost his blanket--he was the bald baby whose head the Herdmans tattooed with waterproof markers--Imogene gave him her old blanket and pretended it was his that she had found. Only Beth suspected the truth. The first book seemed to end with a fuzzy removal of the "us" and "them" distinction. Not so with this one. And that is disappointing.

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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2. The Sibling Reality: When Picture Books Stop Being Nice and Start Getting Real

I love it when a blog title makes me sound old.

Now that my kids have reached the ripe ages of five and two, I’m finding myself more interested in picture books that pick apart the nature of sibling relationships in interesting ways .  I don’t mean fighting.  I mean that crazy pushmepullyou of loving each other to the extreme mixed with scream-at-the-top-of-your-lungs annoyance.  With that in mind, I’ve been trying to come up with a variety of picture books that celebrate this tricky balance.  Books where it’s not all sweetness and light nor vinegar and . . . uh . . . darkness (note to self: work on metaphors before posting to readership).

Here’s just a quick smattering of some of my favorites at this precise moment in time.

Big Red Lollipop by Rukhsana Khan, ill. Sophie Blackall

BigRedLollipop

I am now and forever Team BRL.  Back in the day when I reviewed it I mentioned that for me this is a book about grace.  Telling kids to forgive other kids is tricky, but telling them to forgive their little annoying siblings?  Add in the fact that this is one of the very rare picture books you’ll find about a American Muslim family that isn’t about their faith in some way and you’ve got yourself a winner.

Cooking with Henry and Elliebelly by Carolyn Parkhurst, ill. Dan Yaccarino

cookinghenry

Speak truth to me, but softly.  Give me picture books about siblings, but get a little heart in there.  Now in some ways, I feel that Parkhurst’s book remains one of the funniest and most honest displays of sibling relationships I’ve ever seen.  That moment when the mom says, “Sweetie, she’s two. You don’t have to do what she says,” just squeaks with familiarity.  I am that mom.  I live that mom’s life.  Albeit with the genders of the kids switched.

A Birthday for Frances by Russell Hoban, ill. Lillian Hoban

birthdayfrances

I’m in that weird position as a librarian where I know all the “classic” children’s picture books and I know to read them to my kids, but I’m still shocked when I finally discover that some of them are more contemporary, funny, and honest than a lot of the stuff being published today.  Take Frances.  Now there’s a character I hope we never lose.  She has lots of great books but this may be my favorite.  Clearly Russell Hoban knew children, because that relationship between Frances and her sister has all the qualities of a real sisterhood.

Baby Says by John Steptoe

BabySays

*checks watch*

Nope.  Still not back in print.  Still weird.  He just got a street named after him, guys.  The fact this isn’t even a board book is bizarre.  My son loves it, possibly because the baby gets to bean the brother upside the head with a teddy bear and all that brother does is sigh and get the kid out of his crib.  But that shot of the messy baby kiss on his brother’s nose . . . I’m not a sentimental soul in the least, but that gets me.

I’m open to any and all suggestions for more titles of this ilk, if you have them.

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3. Benny and Penny in How to Say Goodbye by Geoffrey Hayes, 32 pp, RL 2


Benny and Penny in How to Say Goodbye is the sixth book featuring these bickering siblings and, as always, Geoffrey Hayes captures the intense and fleeting emotions that young children feel and how they make sense of the world around them perfectly. And, as always, his illustrations are marvelously charming and the natural world that the mice live in gently beautiful. Hayes's graphic novel series is perfect for emerging readers looking for something beyond Frog & Toad and Amelia Bedelia.


In How to Say Goodbye, Hayes has his mice brother and sister encounter death. While playing together in the fall leaves, Penny finds a salamander she named Little Red. She knows that it is dead, having a grasp of what death it. Benny reacts with anger, throwing the salamander into the bushes.


Penny gets help from Melina and the two make plans for Little Red, Benny skulking around the edges of their activities. As the they prepare for the burial, Benny and Penny have memories of Little Red, each feeling their grief in their own ways. They also find ways to honor the life of the salamander. As the story draws to an end, another salamander appears and a new friendship begins.



You can read my reviews of other 
Benny & Penny books here





Source: Review Copy


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4. Nine Years Old!


Pixabay image

Every year as September winds down, I like to give a little birthday party for the blog. She's nine years old now and half a million views from her beginnings in 2007 as a class project.

The blog has connected me to you, dear readers, over the years and continues to call me - even if I resist her siren song far more in semi-retirement.

Thanks for all your support and friendship. I still can't promise more frequent posts but we shall see what next year brings.

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5. The Six Week Check-in

Many of us are fast approaching the sixth week of school. Many of us consider that the first of countless milestones in our school year. Six weeks in, routines are beginning to solidify,… Continue reading

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6. Long Way Westward

The Long Way Westward. Joan Sandin. 1989. 64 pages. [Source: Bought]

First sentence: "Look, Carl Erik," said Jonas, "the streets of America are not paved with gold."

Premise/plot: The Long Way Westward follows a Swedish immigrant family as they travel across parts of the United States to reach their new home in Minnesota. Their travel involves a lot of TRAINS. The immigrant experience of the late nineteenth century is captured quite well in this early chapter book.

My thoughts: It is so nice to have stumbled across historical fiction for the youngest of readers. Historical fiction was probably my first true genre to LOVE, LOVE, LOVE. And I think I would have really enjoyed this one if I'd read it as a kid. As an adult, I can still appreciate it and recommend it to teachers, parents, and grandparents to share with young readers in their lives.

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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7. Jedi Academy: A New Class by Jarrett Krosockza, 176 pp, RL 4




Jeffrey Brown authored the first three books in the Jedi Academy series, two of which I enthusiastically reviewed here. This trilogy is HUGELY popular in my school library and a fantastic alternative to Diary of a Wimpy Kid. Before that, Brown wrote a trilogy of Darth Vader, a comics series that imagines Vader's life as father to Luke and Leia. Brown's new series debuted in August and features prehistoric siblings Lucy and Andy as they deal with typical kid stuff while also being filled with scientific information and facts about pre-history. 



Jedi Academy was too good to let go, and quite smartly, Scholastic has tapped Jarrett Krosoczka, author of the Lunch Lady series of graphic novels. Jedi Academy: A New Class finds young Victor Starspeeder making a midyear transfer from the Jedi Academy at Obroa-skai, where he has had a series of mishaps to the Jedi Academy at Coruscant. Victor decides that he is going to start keeping a journal of his time at Jedi Academy because that is what his father, who died when Victor was a baby, did.

The Jedi Academy has its own challenges, starting with Christina, Victor's big sister, who already goes there. She tells him in no uncertain terms that once they are at school, they are strangers. Navigating the new school on his own, Victor is swayed by Zach, and older student, who turns out to be a bully and a prankster with his own agenda. He also gets stuck with Artemis, an asthmatic kid in a black hooded cloak who just might be a Sith. Victor tries to make friends, impress a girl, and get his special project on the planet Endor completed while also trying to stay out of trouble and keep Zach from getting him kicked out.


Krosoczka hits all the right notes in Jedi Academy: A New Class, continuing and updating features that Brown introduced in the first three books like handwritten notes between characters, school schedules and pages from the school newspaper, including an advice column by Ms. Catara, the school guidance counselor who is also a Gungan. Krosoczka also creates a couple new twists, including the Galaxy Feed, which is a social media type feature that pops up on a tablet like device, and a page of comic strips that look at classics like Family Circus, Peanuts and Garfield through the lens of Star Wars. I especially liked, "Huttfield," in which Jaba the Hutt is the lazy, food loving star of the strip.

While I love that this series continues on (and I hope that, after another three books a new author/illustrator takes on this challenge) and am thrilled that I have more of these books to offer students, for me, Krosoczka's take on the academic world of the young Jedi lacks a bit of the depth, heart and humor that I found in Brown's books. But hey, I'm pretty sure I'm not the target audience for these books...

Source: Purchased

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8. The Ask and the Answer

The Ask and the Answer. Patrick Ness. 2009. 536 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Your noise reveals you, Todd Hewitt.

Premise/plot: The Ask and the Answer is the sequel to the Knife of Never Letting Go. To refresh your memory, these are the first two books in the science fiction Chaos Walking Trilogy by Patrick Ness. In the first book, readers met Todd and Viola. Todd is the conflicted hero who can't decide if he's willing to kill in order to "become a man." Viola is the newly arrived colonist whose parents died in the crashing of the scout ship. She puzzles Todd because she does NOT have noise. All the men, all the animals have noise. Women are mysteriously noise-free. Their thoughts cannot be heard by others. (Women can and do read the thoughts of men. And MEN hate this so very much). The Knife of Never Letting Go ended in a horrible place. Our two had spent over four hundred pages racing to reach a town called Haven only to arrive and....

Viola spends this book worried about Todd--they are separated for most of the book--and worried about what will happen next. Will the women (led by Mistress Coyle) war with the President's army? The women are THE ANSWER. The army (mainly if not exclusively men) are THE ASK. Both seemed determined to defeat the other no matter the cost. Both seem short-sighted and not really thinking about what is best for the planet, best for humanity. Mayor Prentiss and Mistress Coyle seem to be two peas in a pod--stubborn, selfish, dishonest.

Todd spends this book worried about Viola--as I said, they are separated for most of the book. He will do his duty and do whatever the Mayor (the PRESIDENT) says if he promises to keep Viola safe and allow them to see each other and be together again. He'll bide his time following orders--always kept close by the Mayor's son, Davy--until an opportunity comes along. Todd doesn't like being in the army. He doesn't like working with the slaves--the SPACKLE. He doesn't like banding the slaves or the women. But unlike the women of The Answer he doesn't physically rebel and become violent. He's still conflicted.

Mainly the book is about the skirmishes between The ASK and THE ANSWER...and the lies and broken promises of Mistress Coyle and President Prentiss. Todd and Viola are sad, lonely, angry, confused. More than anything they want to be TOGETHER and live in a peaceful community. This seems impossible.

My thoughts: I really LOVED, LOVED, LOVED this one the first time I read it. I can't say the same the second time I read it. Perhaps because you can only be surprised by the story and characters once. One thing that really surprised me the first time was the character arc of Davy Prentiss. The ending of this one is SOMETHING especially the first time I read it.

I would still recommend this series with a few reservations. First, I think you have to read all three books in the proper order, and, close together at that. I think the books will have the biggest impact on readers if they're read back to back. Second, I think that the series isn't for all readers. You have to be fine with a moderate amount of profanity and really enjoy science fiction set on another planet. If you don't enjoy science fiction, then this series probably won't seem all that good.
"If you ever see a war," she says, not looking up from her clipboard, "you'll learn that war only destroys. No one escapes from a war. No one. Not even the survivors. You accept things that would appall you at any other time because life has temporarily lost all meaning." "War makes monsters of men," I say, quoting Ben from that night in the weird place where New World buried its dead. "And women," Mistress Coyle says. (102)
Everyone here is someone's daughter," she says quietly. "Every soldier out there is someone's son. The only crime, the only crime is to take a life. There is nothing else." "And that is why you don't fight," I say. She turns to me sharply. "To live is to fight," she snaps. "To preserve life is to fight everything that man stands for." (215)
© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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9. It’s Slice of Life Tuesday!

WRITE a slice of life story on your own blog. SHARE a link to your post in the comments section. GIVE comments to at least three other SOL bloggers. Today’s inspiration comes from… Continue reading

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10. Evil Wizards

The Evil Wizard Smallbone   The Evil Wizard Smallbone has some competition in the evil department in this book by Delia Sherman.  But Nick, the runaway who takes refuge with the old, smelly, grumpy and wicked wizard, has to do some heavy duty sleuthing - and endless chores - to get to the bottom of Smallbone's dastardly behavior.

The setting is backwoods Maine where the coyotes are numerous and the wolves rule the forest - some on motorcycle.  The small village of Smallbone Cove depends on the evil wizard for their protection against, what, exactly?  Here is part of the mystery.  Another part is why so many of Smallbone Cove's residents look so similar and how some of the residents can be as old as they say they are. 

An odd mix of werepeople, selkie legends, the reversing of spells, and ancient badness come together in a delightful fantasy.  I loved the ending.  And I thoroughly enjoyed the ride there.  I also liked the smart alecky books that plague Nick as he searches for answers.  That boy is too curious.

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11. The Grand Tour

The Grand Tour: The Life and Music of George Jones. Rich Kienzle. 2016. 288 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Would he or wouldn't he show up?

Premise/plot: The Grand Tour is a biography of George Jones that seeks to balance a focus on his life and on his music. The author takes on the role of music critic and biographer. In the prologue he explains his approach, "Jones's life and music are inseparable. The music often triumphed even during his worst personal moments. His evolution from twangy imitator to distinctive new voice, from influential vocalist to master of his craft, is as important as his personal failings. Exploring that musical side--how he found songs and recorded them; the perspectives of the public, those involved in creating his records, and Jones himself--is pivotal to understanding the story. I've attempted to take the long view, examining not only his life and the events that shaped him from start to present, but simultaneously exploring his immense musical legacy, all in a clear chronological context." (13)

My thoughts: I started listening to George Jones' music this summer. And what I loved, I really, really LOVED. So I was curious to pick this new biography up at the library. I picked it up as a new fan and not an expert, so perhaps keep that in mind. But I enjoyed this biography very much. I think I might have appreciated aspects of it even more if I was familiar with more of his albums, more of his songs.

The prologue of this one had me hooked. Here is how the author describes Jones' voice: "The voice was raw nerve put to music...Yet above all that was his consummate ability to explore pain, sorrow, heartbreak, and emotional desolation." (9)

It was an often absorbing read full of highs and lows. I would definitely recommend it.

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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12. Geis: Book One, A Matter of Life and Death by Alexis Deacon, 96 pp, RL 4



This summer, I discovered that Alexis Deacon, picture book illustrator, author and frequent collaborator with another favorite of mine, Viviane Schwarz, had created Geis, a graphic novel that was already on sale in the UK. I waited patiently for it to go on sale here and, when I finally got to read Geis, I was surprised, enthralled and left breathless by the beauty of the illustrations, the rich world building and the fast pace of the story. I was so sad to read the end of Geis, but, I realized half way into it that it is a trilogy, so there is more to come!



Geis begins with a definition of the word "geis," pronounced "gesh," which is a Gaelic word for a taboo or curse, "like a spell that cannot be broken and certain rules must be obeyed." In an unnamed world that is reminiscent of a Bruegel painting, the Great Chief Matarka is dying without leaving an heir. Fifty people, including the Grand Wizard, the High Priest, the Chief Judge and the Lord Chamberlain have been called to her death bed. Among them is Io, the young daughter of the Kite Lord. Matarka has devised a contest that will determine who will take her place, but Niope, an evil sorceress, using Death Magic, has taken control of the event and tricked the fifty attendees into signing their names to a cursed parchment.



The fifty attendees are hurtled to various corners of the realm by the sorceress and must return to the death chamber to prove their worthiness. Io is the first to return where she learns the horrible truth of the geis from the sorceress. Nemas is next and together, the two know the truth of the challenge the fifty souls face but are not allowed to speak of it. When they do, the curse renders them speechless. They learn that they have until the next sunrise to leave the castle and return for a challenge that will leave all but one of them dead. As Io and Nemas prepare for this battle, we see others facing their fates, some of which are horrific, with bravery and cowardice, together and alone.


Geis is over almost as soon as it starts, yet you reach the final page of this graphic novel feeling like you have been gone for much longer. This is in large part due to Deacon's amazing illustrations and masterful world building. I was reminded immediately of the work of Maurice Sendak, some of which I have shared below. Io proves to be a young but brave and moral hero, struggling to survive in a world that no longer makes sense. I can't wait to see how she faces her next challenge!





Source: Purchased



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13. Dog Loves Counting

Dog Loves Counting. Louise Yates. 2013. Random House. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: Dog loved books. He loved reading them late into the night and didn't like to leave them for long.

Premise/plot: Dog knows he should go to bed, but, he's having trouble falling to sleep. He decides to count something--not sheep--to help him sleep. So he opens a book, finds himself inside, of course--Dog gets lost in books, becoming part of the action--and starts to find things to count. He makes friends too, of course.

My thoughts: Of the three books, this is my least favorite. I still love Dog as a character. And I can even relate to not wanting to put down his book and go to bed. But as an adult reader, I can't really lose myself in a book that focuses on counting from one to ten and back again. I just can't. For young children, of course, this one is still recommended. But it feels more 'educational' than the previous two in the series.

Text: 3 out of 5
Illustrations: 3 out of 5
Total: 6 out of 10

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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14. Mervin the Sloth is About to Do the Best Thing in the World by Colleen AF Venable, illustrated by Ruth Chen


I'm kind of done with meta picture books, but I will never be done with sloths, especially sloths named Mervin. Happily, Mervin the Sloth Is About to Do the Best Thing in the World is a really fantastically fun meta picture book. Colleen AF Venable, graphic novel designer for the excellent FirstSecond by day and graphic novelist by night, makes her picture book debut with the help of illustrator Ruth Chen.


Mervin the Sloth Is About to Do the Best Thing in the World begins with Mervin, center page, slowly moving to the right with each page turn, as the title drops in from the top of the book over the course of a few pages. A red panda, Mervin's friend, strolls onto the scene, taking excited notice of the falling title. More and more friends arrive, all speculating about the best thing in the world that Mervin is about to do. Flying? Digging? Gazelling (which is not even a word, as bird points out)? Is Mervin going to fight a shark? Turn into a robot? Do all our homework? Invent a time machine? 

There will definitely be lots of laughs as you read this book out loud, which is a must. Mervin the Sloth Is About to Do the Best Thing in the World should not be read alone and when you get to the end of the book you will see just why...


Be sure to watch this brief video of Colleen and Ruth doing a stellar job reading their book out loud!




Soon to be on the shelves of my school library, Colleen's graphic novel series Guinea PI:





Source: Review Copy


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15. September Reflections

Stand-Out Books Read in September 2016

1) Miracle Man. John Hendrix. 2016. Harry N. Abrams. 40 pages. [Source: Library]
2) Emily's Runaway Imagination. Beverly Cleary. 1961. 288 pages. [Source: Bought]
3) Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew'd. (Flavia de Luce #8) 2016. 320 pages. [Source: Review copy]
4) Applesauce Weather. Helen Frost. Illustrated by Amy June Bates. 2016. 112 pages. [Source: Review copy]
5) Dog Loves Drawing. Louise Yates. 2012. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]
6) Good Good Father. Chris Tomlin and Pat Barrett. 2016. Thomas Nelson. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy] 

5 Places "Visited" in September 2016

1) Oregon
2) Kansas
3) England
4) Iowa
5) Galilee

Picture books:
  1. Good Good Father. Chris Tomlin and Pat Barrett. 2016. Thomas Nelson. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]  
  2. Dog Loves Books. Louise Yates. 2010. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]
  3. Dog Loves Drawing. Louise Yates. 2012. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]
  4. What is a Child? Beatrice Alemagna. 2016. Tate. 36 pages. [Source: Review copy]
  5. A Child of Books. Oliver Jeffers. 2016. Candlewick Press. 40 pages. [Source: Review copy]
  6. Fascinating: The Life of Leonard Nimoy. Richard Michelson. Illustrated by Edel Rodriguez. 2016. 40 pages. [Source: Review copy] 
  7. Swallow the Leader. Danna Smith. Illustrated by Kevin Sherry. 2016. HMH. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]
  8. Dog Loves Counting. Louise Yates. 2013. Random House. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]
Early readers and early chapter books:
  1. Wagon Wheels. Barbara Brenner. Illustrated by Don Bolognese. 1978. HarperCollins. 64 pages. [Source: Bought]
  2. The Long Way Westward. Joan Sandin. 1989. 64 pages. [Source: Bought]
Contemporary (general, realistic) fiction, all ages:
  1. Applesauce Weather. Helen Frost. Illustrated by Amy June Bates. 2016. 112 pages. [Source: Review copy]
  2. The Best (Worst) School Year Ever. Barbara Robinson. 1994. 117 pages. [Source: Bought]
Speculative fiction (fantasy, science fiction, etc.) all ages:
  1. Snow White. Matt Phelan. 2016. Candlewick. 216 pages. [Source: Review copy]
  2. Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians. Brandon Sanderson. 2007. Scholastic. 308 pages. [Source: Library]
  3. Alcatraz Versus the Scrivener's Bones. Brandon Sanderson. 2008. Scholastic. 322 pages. [Source: Library]
  4. Alcatraz Versus the Knights of Crystallia. Brandon Sanderson. 2009. Scholastic. 299 pages. [Source: Library]
  5. Alcatraz Versus the Shattered Lens. Brandon Sanderson. 2010. Scholastic. 294 pages. [Source: Library] 
  6. The Scourge. Jennifer A. Nielsen. 2016. Scholastic. 368 pages. [Source: Review copy]
  7. Hansel and Gretel. Neil Gaiman. Illustrated by Lorenzo Mattotti. 2014. Toon. 54 pages. [Source: Review copy] 
  8. The Borrowers. Mary Norton. Illustrated by Beth and Joe Krush. 1952/2006. HMH. 192 pages. [Source: Library] 
  9. The Stars Never Rise. Rachel Vincent. 2015. 368 pages. [Source: Review copy]
  10. The Flame Never Dies. Rachel Vincent. 2016. 343 pages. [Source: Review copy]
  11. The Heart of Betrayal (Remnant Chronicles #2) Mary E. Pearson. 2015. Henry Holt. 470 pages. [Source: Library]
  12. The Beauty of Darkness (Remnant Chronicles #3) Mary E. Pearson. 2016. Henry Holt. 679 pages. [Source: Library] 
  13. The Ask and the Answer. Patrick Ness. 2009. 536 pages. [Source: Library]

Historical fiction, all ages:
  1. Wolf Hollow. Lauren Wolk. 2016. 304 pages. [Source: Library]
  2. Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew'd. (Flavia de Luce #8) 2016. 320 pages. [Source: Review copy]
  3. Emily's Runaway Imagination. Beverly Cleary. 1961. 288 pages. [Source: Bought]
Mysteries, all ages:
  1. Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew'd. (Flavia de Luce #8) 2016. 320 pages. [Source: Review copy] 
  2. Wolf Hollow. Lauren Wolk. 2016. 304 pages. [Source: Library]
Classics, all ages:
  1. The Borrowers. Mary Norton. Illustrated by Beth and Joe Krush. 1952/2006. HMH. 192 pages. [Source: Library]
  2. Emily's Runaway Imagination. Beverly Cleary. 1961. 288 pages. [Source: Bought]
Nonfiction, all ages: 
  1. B is for Big Ben. Pamela Duncan Edwards. 2016. 32 pages. [Source: Library]
  2. Fascinating: The Life of Leonard Nimoy. Richard Michelson. Illustrated by Edel Rodriguez. 2016. 40 pages. [Source: Review copy]
  3. Agatha: The Real Life of Agatha Christie. 2016. 130 pages. [Source: Library]
  4. Winning Balance. Shawn Johnson and Nancy French. 2012. Tyndale. 256 pages. [Source: Library] 
  5. The Grand Tour: The Life and Music of George Jones. Rich Kienzle. 2016. 288 pages. [Source: Library]
Christian fiction:
  1. Good Good Father. Chris Tomlin and Pat Barrett. 2016. Thomas Nelson. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy] 
  2. The Revolt. Douglas Bond. 2016. P&R. 240 pages. [Source: Review copy]
  3. Crossroads in Galilee. Elizabeth Raum. 2016. BJU Press. [Source: Review copy]
Christian nonfiction:
  1. Unashamed: Healing Our Brokenness and Finding Freedom from Shame. Heather Davis Nelson. 2016. Crossway. 192 pages. [Source: Review copy]
  2. Miracle Man. John Hendrix. 2016. Harry N. Abrams. 40 pages. [Source: Library]
  3. Overcoming Sin and Temptation. John Owen. Edited by Justin Taylor and Kelly M. Kapic. 2006/2015. Crossway. 462 pages. [Source: Review copy] 
  4. Don't Follow Your Heart. Jon Bloom. 2015. Desiring God. 196 pages. [Source: Downloaded for Free]
  5. 52 Little Lessons from Les Miserables. Bob Welch. 2014. Thomas Nelson. 224 pages. [Source: Bought]
  6. Song of Songs. Ian M. Duguid. 2016. P&R. 216 pages. [Source: Review copy]
  7. Winning Balance. Shawn Johnson and Nancy French. 2012. Tyndale. 256 pages. [Source: Library]
  8. What Grieving People Wish You Knew About What Really Helps (And What Really Hurts). Nancy Guthrie. 2016. Crossway. 192 pages. [Source: Review copy]
  9. Voice of a Prophet. A.W. Tozer. 2014. Regal. 208 pages. [Source: Bought]
  10. Unshakable. K. Scott Oliphint and Rod Mays. 2016. P&R. 160 pages. [Source: Review copy]
  11. The Lion First Book of Bible Stories. Lois Rock. Illustrated by Barbara Vagnozzi. 2012. Lion Hudson. 96 pages. [Source: Library]

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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16. My Thoughts: We Know it Was You by Maggie Thrash

4 yummy frosted ginger cookies

Cover Love:  I'm not sure.  I don't hate it, but I don't love it.
I just don't feel it is very eye catching nor does it fit the tone of the book, however, I like it as a cover.  I like the font and the huge, accusatory title.

Why I Wanted to Read This:  I was in the mood for a suspense book and this one sounded like it fit the bill.  Here's the synopsis from GoodReads:

It’s better to know the truth. At least sometimes.

Halfway through Friday night’s football game, beautiful cheerleader Brittany Montague—dressed as the giant Winship Wildcat mascot—hurls herself off a bridge into Atlanta’s surging Chattahoochee River.

Just like that, she’s gone.

Eight days later, Benny Flax and Virginia Leeds will be the only ones who know why.
Romance?: Not really. There are a lot of romances that happen or were already happening in the book (it's set at a high school), there just isn't any romance for or between our main characters.

My Thoughts:
I really liked this book for several reasons.  First off, it takes place at a boarding/prep type school.  Although there is a dorm, there aren't a lot of "boarders" and they are kind of looked down upon by the local kids who attend the school.  I like this reversal for a prep school type setting.  Normally, the local kids are the ones looked down upon, rather than the boarders.  Because of this setting the population of kids is pretty small, everyone knows everyone and the class lines area kind of blurred.  Seniors are friends with lower class men and pretty much everyone knows everyone else!

The author writes from several different points of view during the course of this book, with Benny and Virginia being the main two characters.  One thing I loved was how the author wrote about the perceptions each character had of the others.  Benny constantly was devaluing Virginia in his head and she was constantly thinking about what a nerd Benny was.  Neither of them truly saw what was going on with each other, nor were these perceptions easily changed.  It just felt really true to teenagers and high school because sometimes its so hard to change your reputation.  People don't want you to change who you are!

The mystery was also really well done, a lot of red herrings.  I found the "who done it" to be a little implausible, but overall was keep interested the whole book.  I also liked all the little kernels the author threw out there that didn't get answered.  This book is titled "Strange Truth #1" so I am looking forward to learning more about Benny and Virginia in upcoming books.  There is a mystery involving Virginia that is alluded to several times in the book that I am especially looking forward to learning more about.  I really liked Virginia!

Overall, I liked the setting of a small. elite school and  the mystery.  The smallest thing that kind of bothered me was the ages of Benny and Virginia, they seemed a bit older and more mature than 15.

To Sum Up:  Even though Benny and Virginia are 15 year olds, I feel that there were a few things in this book that make it too mature for my library.  However, it's a great mystery and a fun read so I will recommend our high school librarians buy it for their collections.

Thanks to Simon & Schuster for the review copy!

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17. Come Out Come Out Wherever Your Are - YA Reads to Thrill and Chill

August and September went by in a blur!  What I thought was the beginning of another school year has turned into fall, meaning Halloween (coincidentally, also birthday) is around the corner! With that said, it's time to find some some fiendishly scary YA reads to display!

For me, horror fiction for young adults seemed to wane in a time where werewolves and vampires were having illicit romantic affairs.  But it began to rear its scary head in recent years, and there have been some AWESOME horror novels for teens published in the last few years.

A frequently asked question, is what is the definition of YA horror?  And to me, it's anything terrifying that happens to you in real life or on a paranormal level.  Of course, this opens the playing field to a LOT of perspectives, so this list of 10 definitely is more paranormal heavy.  But I couldn't help putting in two terrifying novels that are VERY reminiscent of horror in the real world.

** watch only if you dare...movie trailers may not be suitable to all audiences

There are in no particular order....


When you're covered with tattoos to protect you from evil, then encounter a huge flock of crows chasing you, you know something is about to happen.  But it's when you show up at a cornfield knowing something evil lurks between the stalks...yes, it's that creepy!


book trailer



Horror movie pair: Children of the Corn
Nothing screams horror more than an axe murder.  And that's what you'll find between the covers of this great non-fiction book.  Narrative style writing makes this read easy, and the pictures, eyewitness testimonies and life for Lizzie Borden will draw readers to the end.


book trailer


Horror movie pair: Halloween
This is horror...when the characters of this book are abducted and put into an underground bunker with no way to escape, the psychological thrillfest for the sociopath that kidnaps them begins.



book trailer

Horror movie pair: Saw
Entering a contest is easy, but living through it is a different matter altogether.  This is what happens when the teen winners of a contest by horror movie director goes from awesome to creepy.  Facing your fears is one thing, living to tell them is quite another...



book trailer

Horror movie pair: Final Destination



Okiku crawls out of the well, her black hair dangling in front of her deathly face.  The next thing you know, she is hanging from the ceiling looking at the man who just committed murder.  Then the lights go out and the terror begins...steeped in Japanese ghosts and Shinto exorcisms, this book will make you scream with pleasure. 



book trailer

Horror movie pair: The Ring

Jen and her father have just moved into Harmony House, home to several violent episodes, including the death of children.  People in the small town seem to know what's going on, but Jen doesn't and the voices become more real with each day she lives and survives....





Horror movie pair: House on Haunted Hill

Evil is on the hunt for those strange and peculiar people who hide from him.  But it's what happens when the hiding place is revealed.  It's up to Jacob to keep these peculiar, and sometimes dangerous, children alive, if possible.  The old pictures alone are sure to touch a nerve and fill it with dread.


book trailer

Horror movie pair: I actually couldn't think of one for this  because it's just so different and...peculiar (bwaaa-haa-haaa) Here's the movie trailer 

Two young women are trying to run to safety in a world filled with sharp knives.  The one thing they can't shake off is the fact they see the dead all around them.  Not only do they see them, but the dead won't leave them alone....ever...Are they here to help or hinder?







Horror movie The Sixth Sense

The entire premise of this book is to take something sweet and turn it into something dark and horrible, and these writers hit the mark! Think you know Alice in Wonderland?  How about Sleepless in Seattle?  Think again....






Horror movie pair: The Birds or Psycho

Going down a detour is irritating as best.  But going down one in the middle of the woods can cause a little different mood, unless you're narcissistic and on a cell phone.  But when the main character wakes up from an accident and finds herself in a basement, you know something bad is about to happen...




Horror movie pair: Misery

Beautiful house, never for sale.  It's been handed down through generations of a family, and it's special.  But a lot of sadness has occurred within the walls of this house.  Mom died, the aunt disappeared....but perhaps you can hear the scratching on the inside of the walls and the cry to let them out?  CREEP FACTOR times TEN!





Horror movie pair: The Conjuring

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18. The Inquisitor's Tale, or Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog by Adam Gidwitz, illustrated by Hatem Aly, 384 pp, RL 4


In 2010, A Tale Dark and Grimm the debut novel by Adam Gidwitz, captured my attention and that of many other readers, young and old. Gidwitz is a master story teller and his reworking of the fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm, many of them less than well known, is marvelous. I was thrilled when my son shared my enthusiasm for this book and even more excited when I discovered that reading it out loud was a great way to entice my students, many of whom are reluctant and/or struggling readers, to persevere with a longer book. True to his story telling nature, Gidwitz is back with The Inquisitor's Tale, a manuscript illuminated by Hatem Aly and like no other children's book I have read before.

Set in 1242 and echoing the structure of Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales, The Inquisitor's Tale finds an (initially) unnamed narrator at the Holy Cross-Roads Inn, a day's walk north of Paris. It is the perfect night for a story as a group gathers around the rough wooden table, sticky with ale. The king will be marching past the inn on his way to war with three children and their dog. A brewster, a librarian, a nun, a butcher, a jongleur, a chronicler, a troubadour and the innkeeper take turns telling stories of these three children and their dog, each one adding to the tapestry of their story. Subtly but surely, Gidwizt presents characters who are discriminated against or (much) worse, for gender, religion, and class.

Jeanne is a peasant girl who is seized with visions of the future. As an infant, her parents killed her babysitter/protector, Gwenforte, a white greyhound with a copper blaze on her snout, thinking that the dog had attacked Jeanne. Far from the truth, the loyal Gwenforte had saved the baby from an adder that made its way into the house. Realizing their mistake, they gave the dog a proper burial in a grove that quickly became a holy place and the dog thought of as a saint. Years later, after seeing a beloved neighbor, thought to be a heretic, hauled off by a huge, fat, red headed monk from Bologna, Jeanne knows she must keep her fits and the visions that follow a secret. She must also keep Gwenforte, who has come back to life, a secret.

The second child is William, an oblate. The son of a great lord fighting in Spain against the Muslim kings and a Saracen from Northern Africa, he was left at a monastery as a baby. More than his dark color, the size of William is a constant source of amazement and occasional frustration - or worse - to the monks. William's great size, strength and appetite, both for food and knowledge, make him a threat to some of the monks and he is sent away with a donkey, saddlebags full of books to be delivered to another monastery by way of a forest inhabited by fiends. 

Finally, there is Jacob, a Jew who survives the burning of his village by Christian boys and has the ability to miraculously heal the sick and injured. Jacob only wants to be reunited with his parents, but his ability to read and his love of his religion shape his path. As The Inquisitor's Tale unfolds, it becomes clear that, not only is this a story about stories and storytelling, it is a story about books. There are many strange twists and turns in The Inquisitor's Tale, including a hilarious incident with a dragon who, by way of a lactose intolerance issue, comes to pass gas that sets knights on fire. This leads to a fantastic scene with a cure from Jacob that involves vomiting up a tremendous amount of French cheese, Époisses, which Jeanne describes as tasting like life, "Rotten and strange and rich and way, way too strong." As the tales are told, we come to learn that King Louis is planning a book burning that the children will inevitably be part of. In fact, he has had his monks gather up all the texts written in Hebrew and  created an enormous bonfire in the heart of Paris. Being an oblate, William has a deep reverence for books, knowing the time and effort that goes into copying out a text. Being Jewish and able to read, Jacob also has a great reverence for books and the word of the Talmud. It is this reverence for books that leads the three children and Gwenforte to an amazing standoff with the king and his terrible mother at Mont Saint-Michel, the incredible island commune in Normandy.

While The Inquisitor's Tale has a deep vein of Christian thought and history running through it, Gidwitz makes his story richer and more engaging by also highlighting those who suffered in the face of Christianity. He begins the book, which he researched for six years and includes an extensive and interesting author's note as well as an annotated bibliography, with a quote from poet W. H. Auden that calls for loving "your crooked neighbor / With your crooked heart." It is this thought, one that Jacob reads in the Talmud and Jeanne notes that Jesus said, but in reverse, that drives the story and the children. As their adventures escalate and they meet many broken, crooked, questionable adults (they are the only children in the story) and they forgive and love their neighbors over and over. When they find themselves discussing Cain, Abel and the use of the word "bloods" (and not "blood," which William attributes to drunk scribes) they compare the loss of one life, which is really the loss of many - the descendants that person may never have - to the loss of books and the knowledge they contain and can eventually touch many lives with, Willam saying, 

A scribe might copy out a single book for years. An illuminator would then take it and work on it for longer still. Not to mention the tanner who made the parchment, and the bookbinder who stitched the book together, and the librarian who worked to get the book for the library and keep it safe from mold and thieves and clumsy monks with ink pots and dirty hands. And some books have authors, too, like Saint Augustine or Rabbi Yehuda. When you think about it, each book it a lot of lives. Dozens and dozens of them.

To this, Jeanne adds, "Dozens and dozens of lives, and each life a whole world." Having worked in almost all aspects of the world of kid's books at this point in my working life, I feel compelled to add to this idea. It is truly amazing, even in this day when books are printed by machines and illustrations can be created on computers, to realize how many hands touch a written work before it becomes a book on a shelf, from the literary agent (and the agent's assistant) to the editor at the publishing house to the booksellers, reviewers and librarians who embrace the story and pass it on, retelling it to invite new readers. And that's not even mentioning the writer's critique groups and family and friends who read manuscripts in the early (and late) stages. Storytelling touches us all, whether we write the words or not, and I am grateful to Adam Gidwitz for reminding us of this - especially with such a highly entertainingly readable book like The Inquisitor's Tale!

source: review copy











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19. Time for WWU Poetry Camp, Poetry Makerspace, and 40 POETS all in one place!

Over a year ago, Sylvia Tag (librarian) and Nancy Johnson (professor), at Western Washington University, had the idea to host a "Poetry Camp" and invited Janet (Wong) and me to come and speak. Of course we said YES! Then Janet had the idea of inviting poets we know if they'd like to come and join us. And 40 poets said YES YES YES! And now the time has come and we're gathering in Bellingham, Washington, at the WWU Poetry CHaT Center for poetry for young people with 100+ others to talk poetry, make poetry art, share poetry ideas, and just plain have fun together! Here's the lowdown on the Saturday conference activities.


But first, we gather with just the poets to share ideas and have fun. Kathy Humphrey is presenting social media strategies. Paige Bentley Flannery, Sara Holbrook, and Michael Salinger are sharing presentation tips. JoAnn Early will be talking about publishing and Julie Larios will inspire us with Oulipo Leaping ideas. Then Robyn Hood Black will lead us (and the public at large) in a fun Makerspace activity night. What a blast!


The 40 poets presenting this weekend?


Janet helped create a special Poetry Camp celebration book of poems by each of the 40 participating poets and I've adapted that into a mini-slideshow. Plus, we're talking about sharing poetry everyday and making connections across the curriculum. (Hope to share details about all of that later.) So excited to meet each of these people IN PERSON and spend a few days reveling in poetry, writing, sharing. I plan to share photos and nuggets from this amazing experience afterward. Stay tuned. 

For the rest of the Poetry Friday gathering, go to Karen's place here.

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20. Writing: A Path to Become an Intentional Educator

What if there was a way to build in opportunities to reflect, in writing, about my teaching right in the place where the lesson plans reside? And what if that place could also offer daily inspiration and opportunities to set positive intentions for the week ahead?

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21. Passive Program Power


Kelsey Johnson-Kaiser, Youth Services Manager at George Latimer Central Library in St. Paul MN, and I presented a session on passive programming at the Minnesota Library Association this week. The following links can lead readers to more information about the programs we talked about - and introduce you to some great bloggers!!



1000 Books Before Kindergarten (origins, facts, research, planning tips and more!)

Craft Cart and Scavenger Hunt 1 (ideas from St. Paul libraries)

Check-Out Clubs (tried and true hits from La Crosse Public Library, WI)

Tabletop Prompts 1  (from La Crosse Public Library, WI)

Tabletop Prompts 2 (from Gretna Public Library, NE)

Exploration Station (from Monroe Public Library, WI)

Scavanger Hunt 2 (from Gretna Public Library, NE)

Scavenger Hunt 3 (from Texas)

Scavenger Hunt 4 (from La Crosse Public Library, WI)

Letter of the Week (from La Crosse Public Library, WI)

Pinterest Passive Program Board (a plethora of ideas from...everywhere!)

Book - DIY Programming and Book Displays - Amanda Struckmeyer and Svetha Hetzler

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22. Review of the Day: Cloud and Wallfish by Anne Nesbet

cloud-and-wallfishCloud and Wallfish
By Anne Nesbet
Candlewick Press
$16.99
ISBN: 978-0-7636-8803-5
Ages 9-12
On shelves now

Historical fiction is boring. Right? That’s the common wisdom on the matter, certainly. Take two characters (interesting), give them a problem (interesting), and set them in the past (BOOOOOORING!). And to be fair, there are a LOT of dull-as-dishwater works of historical fiction out there. Books where a kid has to wade through knee-deep descriptions, dates, facts, and superfluous details. But there is pushback against this kind of thinking. Laurie Halse Anderson, for example, likes to call her books (Chains, Forge, Ashes, etc.) “historical thrillers”. People are setting their books in unique historical time periods. And finally (and perhaps most importantly) we’re seeing a lot more works of historical fiction that are truly fun to read. Books like The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley, or One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia, or My Near-Death Adventures by Alison DeCamp, or ALL of Louise Erdrich’s titles for kids. Better add Cloud and Wallfish by Anne Nesbet to that list as well. Doing what I can only characterize as the impossible, Nesbet somehow manages to bring East Germany in 1989 to full-blown, fascinating life. Maybe you wouldn’t want to live there, but it’s certainly worth a trip.

His name is Noah. Was Noah. It’s like this, one minute you’re just living your life, normal as you please, and the next your parents have informed you that your name is a lie, your birth date is wrong, and you’re moving to East Berlin. The year is 1989 and as Noah (now Jonah)’s father would say, there’s a definite smell of history in the air. His mother has moved the family to this new city as part of her research into education and stuttering (an impediment that Noah shares) for six months. But finding himself unable to attend school in a world so unlike the one he just left, the boy is lonely. That’s why he’s so grateful when the girl below his apartment, Claudia, befriends him. But there are secrets surrounding these new friends. How did Claudia’s parents recently die? Why are Noah’s parents being so mysterious? And what is going on in Germany? With an Iron Curtain shuddering on its foundations, Noah’s not just going to smell that history in the air. He’s going to live it, and he’s going to get a friend out of the bargain as well.

It was a bit of a risk on Nesbet’s part to begin the book by introducing us to Noah’s parents right off the bat as weirdly suspicious people. It may take Noah half a book to create a mental file on his mom, but those of us not related to the woman are starting our own much sooner. Say, from the minute we meet her. It was very interesting to watch his parents upend their son’s world and then win back his trust by dint of their location as well as their charm and evident love. It almost reads like a dare from one author to another. “I bet you can’t make a reader deeply distrust a character’s parents right from the start, then make you trust them again, then leave them sort of lost in a moral sea of gray, but still likable!” Challenge accepted!

Spoiler Alert on This Paragraph (feel free to skip it if you like surprises): Noah’s mom is probably the most interesting parent you’ll encounter in a children’s book in a long time. By the time the book is over you know several things. 1. She definitely loves Noah. 2. She’s also using his disability to further her undercover activities, just as he fears. 3. She incredibly frightening. The kind of person you wouldn’t want to cross. She and her husband are utterly charming but you get the distinct feeling that Noah’s preternatural ability to put the puzzle pieces of his life together is as much nature as it is nurture. Coming to the end of the book you see that Noah has sent Claudia postcards over the years from places all over the world. Never Virginia. One could read that a lot of different ways but I read it as his mother dragging him along with her from country to country. There may never be a “home” for Noah now. But she loves him, right? I foresee a lot of really interesting bookclub discussions about the ending of this book, to say nothing about how we should view his parents.

As I mentioned before, historical fiction that’s actually interesting can be difficult to create. And since 1989 is clear-cut historical fiction (this is the second time a character from the past shared my birth year in a children’s book . . . *shudder*) Nesbet utilizes several expository techniques to keep young readers (and, let’s face it, a lot of adult readers) updated on what precisely is going on. From page ten onward a series of “Secret Files” boxes will pop up within the text to give readers the low-down. These are written in a catchy, engaging style directly to the reader, suggesting that they are from the point of view of an omniscient narrator who knows the past, the future, and the innermost thoughts of the characters. So in addition to the story, which wraps you in lies and half-truths right from the start to get you interested, you have these little boxes of explanation, giving you information the characters often do not have. Some of these Secret Files are more interesting than others, but as with the Moby Dick portions in Louis Sachar’s The Cardturner, readers can choose to skip them if they so desire. They should be wary, though. A lot of pertinent information is sequestered in these little boxes. I wouldn’t cut out one of them for all the wide wide world.

Another way Nesbet keeps everything interesting is with her attention to detail. The author that knows the minutia of their fictional world is an author who can convince readers that it exists. Nesbet does this by including lots of tiny details few Americans have ever known. The pirated version of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz that was disseminated for years throughout the German Democratic Republic? I had no idea. The listing of television programs available there? Very funny (did I mention the book is funny too?). Even the food you could get in the grocery store and the smell of the coal-choked air feels authentic.

Of course, you can load your book down with cute boxes and details all day and still lose a reader if they don’t relate to the characters. Noah could easily be reduced to one of those blank slate narrators who go through a book without a clear cut personality. I’m happy to report that this isn’t the case here. And I appreciated the Claudia was never a straight victim or one of those characters that appears impervious to the pain in her life. Similarly, Noah is a stutterer but the book never throws the two-dimensional bully in his path. His challenges are all very strange and unique to his location. I was also impressed by how Nesbet dealt with Claudia’s German (she makes up words or comes up with some Noah has never heard of and so Nesbet has the unenviable job of making that clear on the page). By the same token, Noah has a severe stutter, but having read the whole book I’m pretty sure Nesbet only spells the stutter out on the page once. For every other time we’re told about it after the fact or as it is happening.

I’ve said all this without, somehow, mentioning how lovely Nesbet’s writing is. The degree to which she’s willing to go deep into her material, plucking out the elements that will resonate the most with her young readers, is masterful. Consider a section that explains what it feels like to play the role of yourself in your own life. “This is true even for people who aren’t crossing borders or dealing with police. Many people in middle school, for instance, are pretending to be who they actually are. A lot of bad acting is involved.” Descriptions are delicious as well. When Claudia comes over for dinner after hearing about the death of her parents Nesbet writes, “Underneath the bristles, Noah could tell, lurked a squishy heap of misery.”

There’s little room for nuance in Nesbet’s Berlin, that’s for sure. The East Berliners we meet are either frightened, in charge, or actively rebelling. In her Author’s Note, Nesbet writes about her time in the German Democratic Republic in early 1989, noting where a lot of the details of the book came from. She also mentions the wonderful friends she had there at that time. Noah, by the very plot in which he finds himself, would not be able to meet these wonderful people. As such, he has a black-and-white view of life in East Berlin. And it’s interesting to note that when his classmates talk up the wonders of their society, he never wonders if anything they tell him is true. Is everyone employed? At what price? There is good and bad and if there is nuance it is mostly found in the characters like Noah’s mother. Nesbet herself leaves readers with some very wise words in her Author’s Note when she says to child readers, “Truth and fiction are tangled together in everything human beings do and in every story they tell. Whenever a book claims to be telling the truth, it is wise (as Noah’s mother says at one point) to keep asking questions.” I would have liked a little more gray in the story, but I can hardly think of a better lesson to impart to children in our current day and age.

In many way, the book this reminded me of the most was Katherine Paterson’s Bridge to Terabithia. Think about it. A boy desperate for a friend meets an out-of-the-box kind of girl. They invent a fantasyland together that’s across a distinct border (in this book Claudia imagines it’s just beyond the Wall). Paterson’s book was a meditation on friendship, just like Nesbet’s. Yet there is so much more going on here. There are serious thoughts about surveillance (something kids have to think about a lot more today), fear, revolution, loyalty, and more than all this, what you have to do to keep yourself sane in a world where things are going mad. Alice Through the Looking Glass is referenced repeatedly, and not by accident. Noah has found himself in a world where the rules he grew up with have changed. As a result he must cling to what he knows to be true. Fortunately, he has a smart author to help him along the way. Anne Nesbet always calls Noah by his own name, even when her characters don’t. He is always Noah to us and to himself. That he finds himself in one of the most interesting and readable historical novels written for kids is no small thing. Nesbet outdoes herself. Kids are the beneficiaries.

On shelves now.

Source: Galley sent from publisher for review.

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23. Literacy Coaches: The Art of Voicing-Over

Are you an instructional coach? As part of your work, do you demonstrate minilessons, conferring, or small group work in classrooms? If yes, then this post is for YOU!

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24. Counting Kids - Still Thinking About Summer Reading/Learning

There was recently a thread on the ALSC listserv discussing whether there was a national "finisher" rate for summer reading program.

It became clear pretty quickly that definitions of finishing ranged from counting the number of kids who signed up to the library setting a goal and counting the kids who reach it - and everything in between. It was also pretty apparent that each library takes an individual approach to SLP and the idea of any national benchmark beyond number of kids participating (and even that is shaky) is apples and zucchinis.

I have had my turn at this dance over the years. When we shared information with our schools, we kept careful excel sheet or database data that we updated each time a child returned. When we looked to increase usage by certain grade levels or from certain schools, we loved our stats - and used 'em. When we handed incentives along the way or created a goal, we kept track to see when kids hit that level. I have been stat bound on some level most of my career.

But this summer I watched as colleagues at my former library dispensed altogether with sign-ups. When children registered they put a sneaker on a pillar. Throughout the program, kids could pick up weekly activity sheets. Both methods used the "count back" strategy to arrive at numbers. You know how many sneaker cut-outs you began with and count what you have leftover to determine sign-up numbers (1000 sneakers; 25 left = 975 kids starting the program). You have 300 copies of a weekly activity sheet and at the end of the week you have 10 = 290 kids participated that week.

This took the pressure and onus off the staff and provided less widgeting for kids. Since the library went prizeless a few years ago (except for a book for the kids) and seldom used stats on grade level or school, this was a simple evolution. Kids earned a book this summer after returning once and a "Summer Reader Lives Here" yard sign when they self-reported a 5th return visit.

Record keeping and definitions of success can be administration/board driven or an internal call to crazy stat keeping. But when we break down what we really - no I mean, REALLY - need in stats we gather (whether in-house or online), it may become clear that we are over-asking kids and over-working staff for returns that have no larger meaning.

Finding ways to simplify the process of getting the numbers we need (kids signed up; average participation rate) can take some real stress out of a busy time and carve needed time to reach out and really interact with kids and families. And seems worth the change!

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25. Insights from an Author and a Giveaway

Claudia Mills' newest book Write This down was released on September 27th. In a recent essay, she shares some of her processes and revision decisions as she worked through drafts to published copy.

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