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I've traveled through a dark tunnel creatively, but I'm standing here now blinking at the bright light at the end of the tunnel. The best part of my life is that I am surrounded by tremendous people. It's insane to me how many wonderful people have blessed me with their friendship. I received a 10 page hand-written letter from an old friend this week (one of the treasures). The first two pages were quotes from letters over the decades. I wrote this many years ago. It reminded me of what I am about.
"I had a perfect mommy moment today. I was reading a book. I had rolled over on my side and had my legs bent. Slowly I realized I wasn't alone. A sweet child had tucked himself and his book in the crook of my legs. He didn't say anything. He just curled up and looked at the pictures in his book. I felt warm and glowing inside. I felt like I was fulfilling my life. I never have to do anything more."
I am a cozy sort of person. I like cups of hot tea with lemon cookies. I love a ramble in the morning. I love watching stars of a frosty night with warm blanket. I love curling up with a book and being transported to other worlds, other times, and other minds. I love to scribble stories. That is enough.
Our friends find us when we can't find ourselves. They keep us when we are lost. They make us remember when we have forgotten. They name us. I am so thankful that I have found friendship is the light at the end of the tunnel. Making moments for others is a deep part of why I write. I hope you light the world with your creative gifts this weeks. Art is truth beyond the words.
I will be back next week with a new series.
Here is a doodle: SHARD.
Here is a quote for your pocket.
"Why did you do all this for me?" he asked. "I don't deserve it. I've never done anything for you."
"You have been my friend. That in itself is a tremendous thing. I wove my webs for you because I liked you. After all, what's a life, anyway? We're born, we live a little while, we die. A spider's life can't help being something of a mess, with all this trapping and eating flies. By helping you, perhaps I was trying to lift up my life a trifle. Heaven knows anyone's life can stand a little of that."
Back-to-school stories usually focus on what it's like to start school, but what happens to sibling's relationships when kids head off to the classroom? Lori Nichols' newest book provides a tender and charming look at how two sisters cope with the transitions when one of them heads off to school.
Maple and Willow have loved playing together all summer, but when it's time for big sister Maple to start school the transition is especially hard for Willow. "Home wasn't the same without Maple." And when she came home, Maple couldn't stop talking about her new friends. I adore how Nichols shows Willow's perspective, how she tells about her new friend Pip -- an acorn-topped sprite she finds under a tree -- how she explores and finds things to do when Maple is away.
"I had fun too," said Willow. "I played with Pip."
I especially love how Nichols uses her delightful illustrations to develop the story, keeping the language spare. Each picture focuses on the children and their world, but there's enough space to let the reader imagine themselves as being there too.
"And we have loud horns!"
Nichols develops the relationship between Maple and Willow in perfect balance, moving back and forth from each sister's perspective, helping children empathize with both sister. You can see just how excited Maple is to start school, but also how much she misses her sister. And the ending still has me smiling, as the sisters come up with just the right solution.
The next morning, Willow had a surprise for Maple. "Maple, Pip wants to go to school with you today."
Want more back-to-school books? This week I'm reviewing these new favorites:
It's summer, 1941 and there is nothing 12 year old Karl Friedmann enjoys more than being part of the Deutsches Jungvolk, anticipating the day he'll be old enough to join the Hitler Youth. But on the day he wins a badge for achievement during some war games, he is also forced to fight another boy, Johann Weber, whose has just received word that his father was killed in the war. Suddenly, fighting feels more like bullying.
At home, Karl knows his older brother Stefan is the family rebel, always getting into trouble and was even sent away to a boot camp for a week, where the Gestapo had beaten him and shaved his head. When Karl notices an embroidered flower sewn into Stefan's jacket, he wants to know what it means. But before that happens, the Friedmann's receive a telegram that their father has been killed flying for the Luftwaffe. Their mother falls into a terrible depression, not speaking and refusing to get out of bed, so it is decided that the family would go stay with their grandparents in a village near Cologne.
Once there, Karl is kept out of school to prevent him from participating in Jungvolk activities and it doesn't take Stefan long to hook up with some friends who are also rebellious troublemakers. One day, Karl decides to go out for a ride on his bike, but he has an accident, colliding with the beloved car of Gestapo Commander Gerhard Wolff. Luckily, Karl is wearing Jungvolk uniform, but Wolff still seems suspicious of the Friedmann family, anyway. Karl also makes friends with Lisa, a girl who isn't afraid to let her hatred of Hitler and his whole Nazi regime be known. And when he notices that the embroidered flower has been cut out of Stefan's jacket, he is more curious than ever about his brother's activities and friends, suspecting anti-Nazi undertakings.
Slowly, Nazi brutality forces Karl to rethink his own beliefs and patriotism. He learns that Lisa's father was taken away one night because of his beliefs and she has no idea where he is or if he is alive. Instead of feeling proud that his father sacrificed his life for the Fatherland like he is supposed to, Karl feels grief and sadness, and wonders what was it all for.
Karl's suspicions that Stefan is involved with a resistance group are conformed when his brother's finally confesses to him that he is a member of the Edelweiss Pirates, a loosely bound group of anti-Nazi young people who are trying to enlighten the German people to the truth of Hitler and his ideas. Unfortunately, Commander Wolff also suspects Stefan of resistance activities and periodically shows up to search the house. One night, he finds one of the anti-Nazi leaflet that had been dropped by RAF planes in Karl's copy of Hitler's book Mein Kampf. Stefan is placed under arrest and taken away.
Now, Karl and Lisa decide to become their own Edelweiss Pirates and paint anti-Nazi messages around their village, and to find a way to free Stefan from Gestapo headquarters. And although they are a resistance group of two, Karl is still wracked with guilt since it is because he chose to save the leaflet without telling anyone and feels it is his fault his brother has been arrested by the Gestapo - again.
Like Dan Smith's last novel, My Friend the Enemy, My Brother's Secret is a thought-provoking story loaded with action, excitement, and nail-biting tension. Karl's life felt so simple and straightforward before news of his father's death arrived. But his hesitant feeling about having to fight Johann Weber at the beginning of the novel, clearly indicates that there exists a slight crack in his loyalty to Hitler and everything the Führer stands for.
There aren't too many books about young people in Nazi Germany who were involved in the Hitler Youth groups, so it was interesting to read this coming of age novel and to witness Karl's complete turnabout as he begins to see and experience the Nazis for the cruel people that they could be if you opposed them. It is also interesting to see how easily the Nazi could sow an atmosphere of fear, mistrust and suspicion to keep people in line.
Dan Smith always includes nice historical information in his novels which give them such a sense of reality. There weren't many youth resistance groups in Nazi Germany, besides the White Rose (Weiße Rose)in 1942 Munich, and the Edelweiss Pirates (Edelweißpiraten), who, as Smith demonstrates through Stefan, were not pro-Allies even though they were anti-Nazi. Like Stefan, many young people who were part of the Edelweiss Pirates quit school in order to avoid having to join the Hitler Youth, which was mandatory.
My Brother's Secret is a well-written, well-researched, eye-opening, gripping novel with a lot of appeal. Karl is a protagonist that goes from unsympathetic to sympathetic as the action unfolds and as he learns valuable lessons about courage, loyalty, friendship and brotherly love.
This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was an ARC sent to me by the publisher, Chicken House Books
(People tend to think of the Swing Kids (Swingjugend) as a resistance group but they were really a counter-culture group without a political agenda, with a common interest in jazz and dancing.)
Leo: A Ghost Story Written by Mac Barnett Illustrated by Christian Robinson Chronicle Books 8/25/2015 978-1-4521-3156-6 52 pages Age 3—5
“Most people cannot see ghosts. Can you?
“You would like being friends with Leo. He likes to draw, he makes delicious snacks, and most people can’t even see him. Because Leo is also a ghost. When a new family moves into his home and Leo’s efforts to welcome them are misunderstood, Leo decides it is time to leave and see the world. That is how he meets Jane, a kid with a tremendous imagination and an open position for a worthy knight. That is how Leo and Jane become friends. And that is when their adventures begin.”[press release]
Review Leo has lived alone in his house for some time as evidenced by his attire. He spends the time amusing himself with his drawings and taking adventures through the books he reads. Then, much to Leo’s delight, a family moves in, but when Leo tries to welcome them with mint tea and honey toast the family runs into the bathroom, locks the door, and considers their options. The young boy defiantly states,
“I hate tea! And I hate ghosts!”
(I suppose in their fright they forget a locked door won’t keep out a ghost, and it doesn’t.) Leo is floating above the tub. He hears the young boy’s words and decides it is time to leave his home and explore the world. But no one can see Leo. Worse, they walk right through him as he stands on the sidewalk.
Fortunes take a good turn the day Leo meets Jane. Jane is in need of a knight and thinks Leo will fit the bill. King Jane is introducing the new Sir Leo to her royal court—all imaginary friends. Leo is disappointed Jane thinks he is imaginary, rather than real, but Leo does not want to risk scaring Jane with the truth. That night, Leo moves into the living room just in time to see a burglar climbing through the window. The thief does not see Leo, walking right through the young ghost. Leo is not deterred. He finds a way to capture the thief and prove to Jane he is more than imaginary.
Leo: A Ghost Story begins to impress right from the cover. Underneath an inviting book jacket is a classy blue cover with Sir Leo’s shield. The spine simply says, “LEO.” The acrylic painted cut-out construction paper illustrations are shades of blue and blue-grey, and if you look closely—if you contain the imagination—you can see Leo in nearly every spread.
Those without the needed childlike imagination get a chance to see Leo on the occasions he chooses to reveal himself. I love that Leo draws and reads books. An adventure awaiting in books is a terrific message to send young children. I also love that Leo and Jane become friends, showing children that friendship does not need to be conventional, just accepting of differences. Leo is a great friend and an inspiring example for young children, as is Jane. I love Jane’s unquestioning acceptance of Leo, the ghost. When Leo tells Jane he is a ghost and her real friend, Jane replies,
“Oh! Well that’s even better.”
Young children will adore Leo and enjoy his friendship with “King” Jane. Many will commiserate with Leo when his “new family” misunderstands his intentions. What young child has not had something they meant one way been taken the other way? What adult, for that matter. Accepting others despite their differences is a good message and very appropriate for today’s world.
The press release for Leo: A Ghost Story states that Leo is a “charming tale of friendship . . . destined to become a modern classic that will delight readers for years to come.” After reading the story and enjoying the illustrations, it is difficult to disagree. Leo is a charming little ghost who easily captures the reader’s heart.
Full Disclosure: Leo: A Ghost Story, by Mac Barnett & Christian Robinson, and received from Publisher, is in exchange NOT for a positive review, but for an HONEST review. The opinions expressed are my own and no one else’s. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
The View From Saturday. E.L. Konigsburg. 1996. 176 pages. [Source: Bought]
I enjoyed rereading E.L. Konigsburg's The View From Saturday. Though I don't usually "enjoy" (seek out) stories with multiple narrators--alternating narrators--in this case it was just right or practically perfect. Readers meet a teacher, Mrs. Olinski, and the four students on the sixth grade competitive team for the Academic Bowl. (They are Noah, Nadia, Ethan, and Julian.) All five narrate The View From Saturday. Mrs. Olinki's chapters are of the BIG competition day, and each chapter generally ends with a question being asked of the competitors. Usually. The chapters narrated by the students cover much more time, generally are full of flashbacks. It is in these narratives that characters are developed and relationships explored. All four students in her class were connected BEFORE they were chosen.
View From Saturday is a great friendship-focused, school-focused coming of age novel. Each narrative is definitely unique. And I like how interconnected the stories really are.
When I think Newbery, this is the kind of book I think of most of the time.
Corrine La Mer is totally at home on her island. She’s not afraid of the woods like most of the kids she knows, so when two village boys tie her late mother’s pendant to the leg of an agouti she simply follows her instincts and dashes into the woods after it. It is all she has of her mother and she needs to get it back.
But once she retrieves the pendant and is not concentrating on the chase, Corrine does start to feel some unease. Her skin prickles as she thinks about the creatures the villagers talk about inhabiting these woods...the jumbies. Corrine thinks she sees some eyes behind a bush and she hightails it out of the woods straight into the arms of her Papa as he and the rest of the village makes their annual trek to the graveyard to pay respects to those who have passed.
On their way home, a woman stands in the shadows. Corrine’s Papa asks if she needed any help but she refuses.
This is both the end and the beginning.
It is the end of the simple life with the people living on the outside and the jumbies living in the woods. It is the beginning of Corrine’s coming of age. Not only has a jumbie followed her out of the woods, but this particular jumbie has Corrine and her Papa in her sights.
So begins the adventure that will test Corrine’s will. Even though she has always been strong willed and independent, she must bend a little and learn to ask for help and depend on her friends. She learns that things aren’t always as they seem, and that adults are very adept at keeping secrets.
One of the most interesting parts of the story is in the way that Baptiste weaves in a narrative about colonialism, and as Betsy Bird put it “us” and “them”. There are some very poignant moments filled with these big ideas that are handled with aplomb and never seem forced.
This book fills several voids for the audience. First, most of the retellings of folklore in novel format that I have read are European in source. The Caribbean setting is a stand out. Also, this title fits perfectly into the just creepy enough and just scary enough for the audience. The island is lushly painted with its’ port and marketplace and dense woods. Corrine and her friends are off on their own most of the time, but the adults in their lives clearly care for and love them deeply. This gives readers the reassurance that things will hopefully come out okay.
I will be booktalking this one as soon as we go back to school!Add a Comment
What do other kids think of me? Am I the only one going through this? I'm sure that no one can understand how I'm feeling.
While any of us might have these thoughts once in a while, they are particularly intense for tweens -- kids ages 9 to 13 who are no longer little kids, but not quite teenagers. I've noticed that kids this age often turn to realistic fiction, perhaps reading to see how others cope with all the changing friendship dynamics that are happening around them.
Fans of Wonder, by R.J. Palacio, are often touched precisely because they can see inside these social dynamics and get to know a kid who must struggle with these questions. I was eager to read Palacio's companion novel, Auggie and Me, knowing how well she had helped us see inside different characters before. I'm definitely looking forward to sharing these stories with students--they will lead to some thoughtful conversations about empathy, kindness and understanding one another.
In Auggie & Me, Palacio delves into three secondary characters from Wonder: Julian, Christopher and Charlotte. This is definitely NOT a sequel--the action takes place before and during the same time as Wonder. It does not tell the story of what happens to Auggie after Wonder finishes. But it is a companion novel (or rather three short books) best read after Wonder, "an expansion of Auggie's world," as Palacio writes in her introduction.
The three characters at the center of these short books were all impacted by Auggie, but these are their stories. We get to understand Julian, how his nightmares affected the way he reacted to Auggie, how his mother kept making excuses for him as opposed to helping him take responsibility for his actions. Palacio doesn't justify or defend Julian's actions, but she helps readers see inside him. And she lets Julian, who was so awful to Auggie in Wonder, go through his own transformation.
Charlotte's story, in Shingaling, shone the most brightly for me, perhaps because her insecurities resonated with me, or perhaps because her friendship struggles were separate from Auggie's and so more fully developed as a standalone story. But most likely, it's because of the way that Charlotte learns to overcome her worries, her social anxieties and her own inner-judgments to become friends with two girls she didn't know at all before 5th grade started.
Families and teachers will enjoy reading Auggie and Me aloud precisely for the way it leads to conversations, just like Wonder did. There are times that reading Julian's voice may be difficult, with his casual cruelty and naive declaration that he didn't mean to hurt anyone. And Charlotte sounds a lot like an insecure kid at times. But these voice rang true to me, and they let readers see inside other kids.
In the end, Auggie and Me helps create empathy, leads to conversations about kindness and trust, makes way for small steps toward accepting others for who they are.
The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher, Alfred A. Knopf/Random House. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.
As we start looking forward to the beginning of a new school year, I am craving routine in our lives. I love settling down with a read-aloud, either as a teacher or a family. It brings a sense of calm, but sharing a story together also creates a wonderful moment in itself. School Library Journal recently asked a group of librarians what they look for in choosing a read-aloud. I wanted to share my answer and some terrific ideas from friends:
"During this time, I pay special attention to stories that cultivate kindness and community, as well as courage and tenacity. These are qualities and topics that we’ll be talking about throughout the year.
This fall, I’m excited to recommend three new favorites: Katherine Applegate’s Crenshaw; Gennifer Choldenko’s Chasing Secrets; and Rita Williams-Garcia’s Gone Crazy in Alabama. Conversations about these novels will center on friendship, family, and community." -- Mary Ann Scheuer
Read-aloud favorites for Fall 2015
What do you look for in read-aloud favorites? Here are some recommendations from other friends:
"Mitali Perkins’s Tiger Boy is an engrossing tale about a young Bengali boy who undertakes incredible risks to save a tiger cub... Vivid action and suspense, conveyed in simple, clear language, make this a captivating choice." I love this choice from Lalitha Nataraj, at the Escondido Public Library, CA. Tiger Boy makes a great read-aloud (see my full review), and if you have the opportunity -- definitely invite Mitali Perkins to come speak with your students. She's wonderful!
"I look for stories with descriptive language, suspense, and a conflict that will make listeners think when selecting chapter book read alouds. Chris Grabenstein’s Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library makes an excellent choice, offering a perfect blend of mystery, adventure, puzzles, and literary references." My students have loved Grabenstein's mysteries, and I definitely agree with this recommendation from Cathy Potter, the librarian at Falmouth Elementary School, ME.
Daryl Grabarek, editor of SLJ's Curriculum Connections newsletter, suggests one of my favorite chapter books, Toys Go Out, by Emily Jenkins and Paul O. Zelinsky: "Jenkins imbues her characters (stuffed animals and a ball) with enormous personality, and their trials and triumphs ring true to this audience, who are thrilled to hear more of their adventures in Toy Dance Party. And now there’s newly released picture book Toys Meet Snow." Families at our school have loved reading this series aloud at home, and it works particularly well for a kids across a range of ages.
Finally, friend Allison Tran of the Mission Viejo Library, recommends A Whole New Ballgame, by Phil Bildner, "a feel-good story about friendship, basketball, and the surprising things that happen when an inventive teacher shakes up the fifth-grade curriculum. Readers will instantly warm to the likable and refreshingly diverse cast of characters. The realistic dialog makes this a pleasure to read aloud." I haven't had a chance to read this yet, but I am definitely looking forward to trying it soon. I love how Allison described the book’s message of teamwork.
Definitely check out the whole article in School Library Journal. Thanks again to Daryl Grabareck for a great column in SLJ. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.
First sentence: Once upon a time, Peppa's best friend, Suzy Sheep, came to play. "I have something to show you," said Suzy. Suzy held up a photograph of a baby sheep. "Look! It's me," said Suzy. "You're not a baby, Suzy," said Peppa, shaking her head. "This is an old photo," Suzy explained. "It was taken when I was a baby." Peppa snorted. She didn't remember Suzy being a baby. That was just silly!
Premise/plot: Peppa Pig is skeptical that Suzy Sheep and herself were ever, ever babies. The idea is beyond belief. But Suzy's photograph, and the photographs Mummy Pig show her prove her wrong. Mummy Pig and Daddy Pig tell Peppa all about "the olden days" when she was a baby: how she's always been friends with Suzy sheep, and how she's almost always loved jumping in muddy puddles.
"What did we do when we were babies?" asked Suzy. "You cried...you burped...and you laughed!" said Mummy Pig. Suzy and Peppa giggled. It must have been so silly being babies!
My thoughts: Best Friends is an adaptation of an episode of the Peppa Pig television series. ("The Olden Days.") It is one of the last episodes of the show. And it is probably among my all-time favorite, favorite episodes. Adorable, sweet, precious, and FUNNY.
Text: 4 out of 5 Illustrations: 4 out of 5 Total: 8 out of 10
Nelson Almeyda, one of my best friends, died today after living with cancer for more than a year. He was one of the most big-hearted people I’ve known, one of the funniest, sharpest, most expressive and most beloved, and also one of the most private. He was in fact so private about his troubles, so invested in being the one who helped other people and not needing help himself, that even now it almost feels like a violation to be posting this here.
My thoughts are with his wife and young daughter, and the rest of his family, and also with all his many friends, particularly those who were with him at the end. If you’re Googling around, bereft, because you knew him and cared about him, please rest assured he cared about you too, no matter how long it’s been since you were in touch.
In surface ways Nelson and I didn’t have much in common. We had extremely different temperaments and few shared interests or friends, and only one of us was an irredeemable nerd, and it wasn’t him. But there was always an intuitive understanding between us, a sort of emotional affinity that I’ve had with very few people.
As Max says, there aren’t enough people like Nelson in the world. I will love and miss him always.
Enter to win a copy of YOUR ALIEN (Sterling Children’s Books, August 2015), written by Tammi Sauer and illustrated by Goro Fujita!
Giveaway begins August 9, 2015, at 12:01 A.M. PST and ends September 8, 2015, at 11:59 P.M. PST.
Why do animals feature so heavily in picture books? 1. They are so relatable. 2. They provide a sense of comfort and nurturing. 3. They reinforce positive emotions and behaviours such as empathy. Whether these animals are represented as their true natures or anthropomorphically, children (and adults) feel connected to these cute characters and regard […]
AT RISE: Two friends discuss a theatre performance they have just seen
Decisions…decisions… I just started seeing a dietician but I absolutely adore their chocolate-chocolate-and-more-chocolate molten lava cake… One more time couldn’t hurt.
Given that it’s past eight o’clock and the worst time for weight gain, I, on the other hand, will stick to my usual expresso
You’re so holy-holy, perfect, human being
Jealousy is futile. It’s my genes. Everyone in my family is thin, going back generations
You do realize I could eat whatever I wanted without guilt but I don’t, because I respect my body
Hey! Me too! My body tells me regularly, “feed me chocolate-chocolate-and-more-chocolate molten lava cake’ and I’ll make you feel real good!”
Anywaaay…So what did you think of the show?
Well…it had its moments
You didn’t like it, I take it?
I never said that
What are you saying?
It had its moments
Kind of dragged in parts
I dunno. Made me laugh – a lot
That’s ‘cause you’re easily amused
Is it necessary to insult me, just because you consider yourself (makes quotation marks with her fingers) “a playwright”?
It’s the words and how they’re put together that interest me
Seemed like one great show, overall, in my eyes
You didn’t find that the first act seemed to never end?
I go to the theatre to be entertained. Period. I don’t agonize over whether the first act is better than the second because really, I don’t care! If the actors can provide a couple of hours of escapism, then they’ve done their job
We obviously view the entertainment through different eyes. I’m interested in the flow of the dialogue…the inter-action of the performers…things of interest to a person who writes plays -
- remind me how many of your plays have been produced –
So? What does that have to do with anything? It’s not for lack of trying. Have you any idea how many playwrights are out there all over the planet, hoping that someone will share them with the world? Gazillions I can tell you – including me! I mean, well known one’s, too! One day – one sweet day – someone, somewhere will read one of my plays and say, “this is the winner we’ve been waiting for!” One day, you and I, will sit here as we do after a night at the theatre, and discuss the merits of one of my plays. You’ll tell me how witty the dialogue was and how it made you laugh and how lucky that our friendship has maintained over the years…
So, are we ordering or what?
I’m thinking here perhaps it is too late for something heavy like the chocolate-chocolate-and-more-chocolate molten lava cake
Good idea - think healthy
(waitress approaches to take order)
(cont’d.)We’ll have two expresso coffees, please…
I thought you decided against the cake
The cake is on the heavy side but a small butter pecan muffin wouldn’t even register on the scale. Now about the play…the acting was adequate but then they didn't have much to work with...
Pram has never truly been told the tale of her beginnings. A beginning that started with her still inside her mother, even as she hung from the branch of the tree. Pram was orphaned right from the start, but was taken in by her two no-nonsense aunts. Pram is even short for Pragmatic -- named such because it was deemed sensible for a young lady, and sensible is just what the aunts wanted for Pram.
But Pram has always been the opposite of sensible. She’s dreamy, and her oldest and best friend is a ghost named Felix who appeared one day in the pond by the home for the aged where she lives with her aunts.
Pram is forced by the state to actually attend school at the age of eleven and this is where Pram meets her first real life friend. She gets into an argument with Clarence before school even starts when he informs her that she is sitting in his desk. By lunch time they have discovered that both of their mothers are dead and with this the seeds of their friendship are planted.
As time goes on, Pram doesn’t tell Clarence that she can speak with ghosts, but she does agree to accompany him to a spiritualist show where he hopes his mother’s spirit will reveal herself. Things don’t go as Clarence hoped and instead the spiritualist is very interested in Pram. What Pram and Clarence cannot know is that the spiritualist is anything but a charlatan, and a girl like Pram is very valuable to her.
What follows is a haunting and frightening ghost story that straddles the world of the living and the dead. Lyrical and tender, DeStefano’s story will scare readers without tipping into horror. This is an achingly beautiful story of love and loss, of friendship and family. A Curious Tale of the In-Between is for the deep reader, and I can see it becoming that touchstone title that ferries readers into more complex and intricate stories. Gorgeous.Add a Comment
Squish Rabbit is a book that is a perfect read for the youngest in your family because sometimes as adults, I guess we forget how big the world can seem when we were young and small. In mind of that, I recently drove slowly down the street where I grew up. It was a revelation. As an adult everything seemed so small. Driveways I roller-skated down as a child seemed unbelievably wide and steep. But as I looked at them that day through adult eyes, the driveways seemed narrow. And as for steepness, there was barely any elevation at all!
Well here in Katherine Battersby’s Squish Rabbit, Squish is decidedly at that same stage of life when being small and hard to see makes it seem as if life is passing you by. Everyone is busy with grown up things, so even Squish’s stories are ignored. Being lonely, Squish sews a friend literally out of blue plaid cloth but quickly finds this pretend friendship can only fill half the gap. Trees are nice too as potential friends but somehow fall short of expectations.
How Squish in a moment of pique kicks an apple and finds a friend echoes the moment of discovery for each child when he or she finds someone to share and play with. And when the friendship starts with a rescue, so much the better. Squish is a gentle book for the shy child who longs to join the group but may have trouble getting his feet wet or making the first awkward moves towards, “Wanna be friends?” Squish can definitely help your child bridge the gap.
August 2nd - also known as International Friendship Day- is almost here. (I know, summer is going by WAY too fast).
In honor of International Friendship Day, break out your half of your friendship heart necklace and take some time to remind others how much they mean to you. If you’re unable to make plans to enjoy each other’s company, a simple gesture, such as a card or hand-written letter, will certainly make them feel loved.
Better yet, say it with a book! Reading books about friendship gives you an opportunity to talk about the characteristics of a good friend, and seeing others from diverse backgrounds sharing and being kind to each other positively affects how children will interact and treat others.
Here are 8 books that celebrate friendship and some fun activities to make International Friendship Day a memorable one.
One of the simplest and most appreciated gestures is to make someone a card to let them know you’re thinking of them. Receiving anything heartfelt in the mail is a rare and welcomed occurrence these days.
Veronicahas a degree from Mount Saint Mary College and joined LEE & LOW in the fall of 2014. She has a background in education and holds a New York State childhood education (1-6) and students with disabilities (1-6) certification. When she’s not wandering around New York City, you can find her hiking with her dog Milo in her hometown in the Hudson Valley, NY.
It’s not enough to just want something and hope that it will be delivered to you on a silver platter. Unfortunately for most of us, life isn’t that simple. What we try to teach our kids is that you absolutely can achieve your aspirations, your goals, your dreams, but it takes work, persistence and determination. […]
The Great Good Summer. Liz Garton Scanlon. 2015. Simon & Schuster. 224 pages. [Source: Library]
God is alive and well in Loomer, Texas, so I don't know why Mama had to go all the way to The Great Good Bible Church of Panhandle Florida to find him, or to find herself, either.
The Great Good Summer reminded me, in a way, of Because of Winn Dixie. Ivy Green is almost as lovable a heroine as Opal herself. Her narrative voice is certainly strong throughout. Ivy's narration made the novel work well for me.
So Ivy's story, on the surface, is simple: her mom has recently left them (her and her dad) without a word as to where she's going and if she'll ever be back. Ivy and her Dad struggle with their new reality. Some things remain the same: Ivy's babysitting, weekly attendance at church; but some things are VERY different: her mom being gone, her never-subsiding-ache of wanting her mom back, her new friendship with a boy, Paul Dobbs, who most decidedly does NOT believe in God.
One of the book's greatest strengths is in the writing itself:
But the thing is, ideas are my talent. My only talent, really. My voice isn't right for singing, I freeze up in the spelling bee, and I can't shoot a basket to save my life. If I stop coming up with ideas, I'm not gonna have anything left to do or talk about. (5)
Personally, I think if you're an only child, you should automatically be issued a dog when you're born, as a consolation prize, but my mama and daddy disagree. (6)
"Daddy, what are we gonna say when people ask us about Mama?" I stir my bowl of milk. Daddy's right. I'm dawdling. "The truth, baby. They're church folks. Church folks understand other church folks." (23)
Paul isn't a redhead like his mama and sister, and he isn't exactly distinguished-looking either, but he is nice to look at. For a boy that I'm always getting a little mad at, I mean. (44)
I do find it interesting that faith in God is such a big part of this book. Not every character even believes in God. As I mentioned, Paul doesn't. And he challenges Ivy in several scenes, for better or worse. Why do you believe in a God you can't even see? Why do you think there is a God in the first place? How do you know he's real? Why aren't you more skeptical? But there are a handful of characters that do believe in God that do define themselves by their faith in God. And Ivy herself as emotional as she is, as angry as she becomes, does still believe in God.
Does the book get Christianity right? That's hard to say in a way. If your impression of Christianity is that it is a do religion: a do this, this, this, and that religion--a religion defined by things you do and things you don't do--I'm not sure there is enough gospel, enough grace, in The Great Good Summer to change that impression. If you (rightly) hold that Christianity is a done religion: what Christ has done for us, on our behalf, the price he paid to redeem us, to deliver us, then there aren't any passages that scream out heresy either. Though this passage makes me sad:
I hope you can forgive me sometime, Ivy. In the meantime I have to work on forgiving myself. And then it's up to God. That's the really awful thing about this whole mess--I was just trying to get closer to God, which makes it even bigger shame that I messed up as badly as I did." (183)
There were so many things I wanted to say to them both. Like it isn't about trying: trying to be better, or trying to do more. It's about trusting in what God has already done. It's about trusting that Jesus is enough. That God could not love you more than he already does. That he could not love you less either. That he really and truly has paid it all.
I didn't quite love, love, love this one. But it certainly was worth reading.
Lost in the Sun. Lisa Graff. 2015. Penguin. 304 pages. [Source: Library]
It's funny how the simplest thing, like riding your bike to the park the way you've done nearly every summer afternoon since you ditched your training wheels, can suddenly become so complicated. If you let it.
Lost in the Sun reminded me of Speak in some ways. Trent Zimmerman is a disturbed sixth grader who has trouble dealing with something traumatic that happened in his past. He uses art--a journal--to express his feelings, for art comes easier than words. His art is disturbing, violent. Trent feels undeserving. He doesn't deserve friends, so he thinks. He doesn't deserve to be happy. Which, for Trent, means that he shouldn't be playing sports. He feels he owes it to the past--to what happened--to be miserable and to feel the pain of that moment every moment after. Trent also has some major anger issues with his Dad.
Lost in the Sun is a good read, a serious one. My favorite thing about Lost in the Sun was the friendship between Trent and Fallon Little, 'the girl with the scar.' Fallon and Trent are so good for one another. The movie club was such a cute element of this one. As was his watering plants for the teacher that he hated oh-so-much at the start of this one.
I thought Lost in the Sun was well written. It's a compelling read that felt realistic. I think if you like sports--baseball especially--then this one will have any more appeal. (I'm not a sports fan, but, I enjoyed it anyway).
I’m sometimes called the Bread-Bike-Book Woman by people who recognise me in the community but don’t know me by name; I go everywhere by bike and my basket is nearly always full of either baguettes and or books.
Shop assistants will ask what I’ve borrowed from the library, or let me know when the fresh bread is cheap at the end of the day. It’s a sobriquet I’m quite at ease with
Tom McLaughlin‘s The Cloudspotter is actually called Franklin, but because of his passion for watching the sky and imagining what he can see high above him, everyone calls him after his hobby.
To some, the Cloudspotter might appear isolated; Indeed, he doesn’t have many friends.
But what he does have is bags and bags of imagination. He can look at the sky and imagine stories galore in which he’s a hero, and adventurer or an explorer. Simply put, he’s very happy with his head in the clouds.
One day, however, Scruffy Dog arrives on the scene. The Cloudspotter doesn’t want to share his adventures and poor Scruffy is sent packing. But could it be that Scruffy wasn’t trying to take anything away from Franklin? Perhaps he was trying to offer him something? Something kind and full of heart, to make adventures and exploring, on earth or in the sky, even more enjoyable?
Tom McLaughlin’s quiet and thoughtful story is a lovely celebration of the power of imagination to provide comfort and joy, as well as solace. The Cloudspotter also acknowledges that it’s quite OK to be a bit different, to daydream. It shows how when friendship comes knocking it’s about doubling – rather than halving – fun and games through sharing.
All in all a delightful book to encourage us all to be open to spotting more adventures in the world around us.
After sharing The Cloudspotter with my girls, I prepared somewhere comfortable to do a bit of our own cloud spotting…
…we lounged around and saw lots of scenes like this…
…then we went over to the paint station…
…and started covering large sheets of paper with various shades of blue, mixing in PVA as we went. The large sheets of paper were strips of wallpaper lining. The PVA (glue) was mixed in so that we could start sticking “clouds” onto our skies as soon as the paper was covered:
We used a mixture of cotton wool and toy stuffing for the clouds, exploring the different ways these materials stretch and becoming wispy.
Whilst our sky scenes dried, it turned out that cleaning up after painting was almost as much fun as creating our art!
A few hours later, our skies were ready to go above beds, enabling hours of relaxing cloud spotting. Here’s what the kids can now see as they lie with their heads on their pillows:
What can you see in our clouds?
Music to spot clouds by could include:
Blue Clouds by Elizabeth Mitchell and You Are My Flower
Baby Cloud by Caspar Babypants
Both Sides Now by Joni Mitchell
Other activities which could be great fun to try out alongside reading The Cloudspotter include:
I figured, since I live with you real live tweens, it is high time that I have them write some of the book recommendations that appear on this blog. Tween 2 read The Imaginary before school was out, and she loved it! The following is what she has to say about it!
I had just finished a book, and as always, I was looking for a new one. Just like most kids, I like it when a book sticks to me. Sometimes I read the first two chapters of one book and I do not like it and then same with the next, and so on. As usual I asked my mom/librarian for a suggestion. She usually gives me like 8 books and I don’t like any of them, so it is usually hard for her to give me suggestions. This time she gave me this book, and it hooked me right from the introduction. I checked it out and just read it.
The one thing that keeps Amanda happy is her imaginary friend Rudger. After all, she is an only child. There is just him and her. They are best friends. But Amanda’s mother thinks there is something wrong with Amanda. Amanda loves to imagine. Rudger and Amanda always go on adventures in the backyard. Then one day Mr. Bunting comes to the door.
Mr. Bunting hunts Imaginaries. Rumor has it that he eats them! He sniffs them out and this time he has sniffed out Rudger. With Mr. Bunting’s (well let’s say) “assistant” he has almost got Rudger in his clutches! With Amanda unconscious in the hospital, Rudger is alone with nobody believing in him. He is starting to fade away with Amanda not being able to imagine him. All at once he is trying to get to Amanda, escape from Mr. Bunting, and not fade before it is all done. On his way he meets some other imaginaries that help him. But can he make it before fading?
A.F. Harrold has created humor, with scary moments and magic all in one plot. This book was super amazing! Emily Gravett has so many great and detailed pictures. The illustrations and the book work in harmony together. This is a must read book! Ten out of ten stars! **********
When I was a small child, I read and sang folksongs like other children read books. One of my favorite songs to sing was "The Wraggle-Taggle Gypsies, O." I was enthralled with my idea of gypsy culture. The images in my family's book of folksongs were of music and dancing and cards and horses. It all looked so wonderful. And so it was that I was thrilled to receive the story of The Lightning Queen from Scholastic. It was as enchanting as I'd hoped it might be. Middle grade readers will enjoy this finely crafted story of two outsider cultures - Mexico's indigenous people and the Roma, or gypsies. Look for it on shelves in October.
Advance Reader Copy supplied by the publisher. Final version subject to changes.
Mateo travels with his mother every summer to visit his relatives on the Hill of Dust in Oaxaca, Mexico. This year, his grandfather Teo says that he needs young Mateo's help; he begins to tell Mateo a fascinating story of his youth,
As he speaks, his words somehow beam light onto an imagined screen, flooding the room with people and places from long, long ago. "Mijo, you are about to embark on a journey of marvels. Of impossible fortunes. Of a lost duck, three-legged skunk, and a blind goa - all bravely loyal. Of a girl who gathered power from storms and sang back the dead. Of an enchanted friendship that lifted souls above brutality. He pauses, tilts his head, "Perhaps there will even be an itermission or two. But as of yet, there is no end. That, mijo, will be up to you." He winks, clears his throat, and begins. "There once was a girl called the Queen of Lightning ..."
The story then retreats to the Oaxaca of the mid-1900s, a time when Mexico's indigenous Mixteco people crossed paths with the mysterious Roma in the hills outside Oaxaca.
Grandfather put his hand on my shoulder and said, "They are like us, outsiders in Mexico. Both our people have little voice in the government. City folk consider us backward. We live on the fringes, the wilds of our country. So it is with the Rom."
I looked at Esma and her grandparents, who were admiring the sawdust mosaic of the flowered caravan. And I wondered if the key to her people surviving had been separating themselves from outsiders - gadjés. Maybe that's what bonded them together as they danced around their bonfires, night after night for hundreds of years.
As was foretold by the fortune teller and against impossible odds, young Teo becomes "friends for life" with Esma, the young Romani singer. It is as if they are bound to each other by magic and music and the power of lightning - their destinies tied inexplicably to one another.
Teo reminisces to his grandson Mateo,
She could work magic. One moment, I'd felt hurt and angry. The next honored that she'd confided in me. And now, inspired, as though anything were possible, if I believed it enough. She climbed onto the rock, raised her arms. "If you believe you're weak, you'll be weak. You're cursing yourself. Yet if you believe you're strong, you'll be strong. Give yourself a fortune and make it come true."
There is definitely magic between Teo and Esma, the indio boy and the Roma girl, and there is magic in the pages of The Lightning Queen.
Summary : Two boys. Two secrets. David Piper has always been an outsider. His parents think he’s gay. The school bully thinks he’s a freak. Only his two best friends know the real truth – David wants to be a girl. On the first day at his new school Leo Denton has one goal – to be invisible. Attracting the attention of the most beautiful girl in year eleven is definitely not part of that plan. When Leo stands up for David in a fight, an unlikely friendship forms. But things are about to get messy. Because at Eden Park School secrets have a funny habit of not staying secret for long…
Review: David, seen by everyone as a boy, really a girl, is continually teased and misunderstood by everyone bar his best friends, from parents to bullies. Leo is the new guy, with rumours about why he left his old school running around, and he just wants to be invisible. They become friends after Leo sticks up for David, and they
I enjoyed watching the friendship between David and Leo, the ups and downs and the things they tell eachother. Both narrations are well fleshed out, and so are most of the side characters. My favourites were probably Alicia, Essie, and Felix, who are all great in their own way and who I want to befriends with.
I enjoyed the represntation of trans people here. I loved the fact that we see a trans character who has already undergone some of the transition process, and that being trans is not the only facet of their being, they have siblings, families, friends, and romantic issues to navigate too. I also liked the way we saw how gender expectations also influenced the trans characters’ perceptions of themselves, such as David’s despair at his growth spurt, defying his hopes to be small and feminine, because of the expectations society sets for women.
I really appreciated the look at life as a queer child in a modern, less tolerant environment. I’m really lucky to live in a very tolerant school where our trans community, as far as I know, are treated with respect by both staff and students, and there’s no physical bullying. I know nationwide figures for bullying, but like with many things, it all becomes more real, more important, if you’re reading a more fleshed out story, be it fact or fiction, than just looking at statistics.
I found it weird that Leo continues to call David David and he when he’s learn David’s chosen name. I don’t know if that’s internalised cisnormativity or something. I just noticed and wondered why he of all people would continue with that. It changes by the end though. Eh, I don’t know.
I really liked the look at complex family relationships. Leo’s quest to find his father. David’s continual hiding and eventual coming out. The support given and not given to each child. It varies, and feeds into each character.
Emotions were had when reading this. Sadness for the environment that allows the continued bullying. Sadness and happiness when Leo and Alicia get together. Happiness and pride for David when coming out. Pure happiness at the Christmas ball they put up and how happy David.
Overall: Strength 4 tea to an eyeopening story about friendship, family, and being transgender today.
At first glance, life on the icy floes may seem appealing. (Unless you reside in SE Queensland as I do with no real concept of what cold is until you have to live through ‘an unseasonably cold winter’ with little more than a cotton tee-shirt and a pair of bed socks). In Lulu’s world, there […]