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Nightbird. Alice Hoffman. 2015. Random House. 208 pages. [Source: Review copy]
What one word best describes Alice Hoffman's Nightbird? I'd go with atmospheric. Did I enjoy it? Yes, for the most part. It's not a perfect fit for me, I'm not the ideal reader--the ideal match--for this type of book. But I enjoyed it and can easily recommend it to others knowing that they probably will enjoy it even more than I did.
The heroine of Nightbird is a young girl named Twig. (I have to say that I quickly came to love Twig.) Twig's life is a lonely one. For her family has a super-big secret that would endanger them all if it became known. Her mom trusts her to do what is best for the whole family. She can't invite friends over to her house, and, knowing that, she doesn't feel exactly comfortable going over to other people's houses. She knows that any "friendship" she begins would only lead to frustration and disappointment and misunderstandings. But when a new family moves in next door, a new family that isn't exactly "new" to the town, a family with historical roots in the community, Twig takes a chance and makes her first friend. Her mother may not exactly approve, so some discretion is needed, but Twig's life will never be the same...
The less you know about this one, the better, in my opinion.
I was not disappointed by Cynthia Lord's newest middle grade novel, A Handful of Stars. The book is set in Maine during the summer. Lily is a girl being raised by her grandparents; her best, best friend is a nearly-blind dog named Lucky. Lily hasn't been spending much time with her human best, best friend, Hannah, though. The girls may just be drifting apart, something that Lily thought was impossible at one time. But a chance meeting with Salma, a migrant worker in a blueberry barren, changes everything. Lily and Salma soon are inseparable, and, they seem to have a lot in common considering there "apparent" differences. (Differences that don't matter all that much when all is said and done.) Salma seems to understand perfectly the bond between Lily and Lucky, and, is eager to help Lily find a way to pay for the surgery that may give Lucky back her sight. Not every near-stranger will volunteer their time and talent every single day after a long day picking blueberries! Salma has her own way of seeing the world, and, Lily is used to seeing things only one way, her way. And Salma's presence in her life seems to be a great thing for Lily, and Lucky. But can Lily be such a blessing to Salma too? She just might!
This is a friendship-themed coming of age story that is more sweet than bitter.
If you have kids who love Elephant and Piggie or Frog and Toad, laughing at the way these friends play together, bicker and work through their conflicts, then you're going to love Ballet Cat: The Totally Secret Secret. It sparkles with humor, but underlying it is a real understanding of friendship.
Ballet Cat’s best friend Sparkle Pony is getting a bit tired of always playing ballet -- but what’s a BFF supposed to do? Sparkle Pony tries to suggest other things. He tries to go along and dance. But then he realizes that he's holding onto a big secret.
"I will always be your friend, Sparkle Pony! No secret can ever change that."
"Sometimes..." "Yes, I'm listening."
New readers (and little siblings) will delight in how Bob Shea builds this story, with expressive illustrations and large speech bubbles. They can laugh at the exaggeration, but also relate to how Sparkle Pony feels. I love this climax:
"SOMETIMES I DON'T WANT TO PLAY BALLET!"
This would make a great book to act out as readers' theater, but it would also make a great one to talk about at home. I can even see bringing it up in the car the next day:
"You know, I was thinking about Ballet Cat and her friend. I wonder why it was hard for Sparkle Pony to tell her that he didn't like ballet?"
Friends need to accept differences--adults know that, but often it's hard to put into practice. This is a great story about just that: loving each other even more than we love our individual interests.
Friends not only figure out how to work out conflicts, they also encourage each other and grow together. The Story of Diva and Flea is a delightful new chapter book that is going to have huge appeal, and at its heart it's a wonderful story of friendship.
Diva has lived at the same building in Paris for as long as she can remember, loyally guarding the front courtyard. "She took her job very seriously," making sure that everything is safe. But she is a very small dog, and just a little nervous.
"If anything ever happened, no matter how big or small, Diva would yelp and run away."
When alley-cat Flea wanders past Diva's building, flaneur-ing as he does through the streets of Paris, Flea is fascinated by the little dog. Unfortunately, Flea also finds it very funny when Diva yelps and runs away. This happens day after day, until Diva has had enough:
"Then one day Diva didn't yelp or run away. Instead, she looked right at Flea's big face and asked, 'Are you trying to hurt my feelings?' Flea had never thought about it like that."
Right from the beginning, readers know that Diva and Flea are completely different: one lives in the world of humans, the other explores the streets of Paris on his own. But it's this moment--when Flea realizes that he's hurt Diva's feelings--that the story crystalizes and captures readers' interest. Flea apologizes, and their friendship develops from there as the two learn from each other.
With Flea's encouragement, Diva ventures out beyond the gates of her courtyard. It is scary for nervous little Diva, but she learns to trust Flea and be brave. I'd love to talk with kids about what helps Diva take these steps. How do friends support one another? How have they encouraged a friend?
I loved learning about the friendship behind this creation, how Mo Willems started with the idea of a story but then reached out to Tony DiTerlizzi. Enjoy watching this video where they share the story behind the story:
Please complete the rafflecopter below to enter for a chance at winning one copy of The Story of Diva and Flea and a DIY friendship bracelet kit. The giveaway will run from Tuesday, October 6th until Wednesday, October 14th. a Rafflecopter giveaway
Imaginary Fred by Eoin Colfer and Oliver Jeffers is a big deal for a few reasons. First off, Imaginary Fred is the first picture book written by Colfer, author of the phenomenal eight volume series about the twelve-year-old millionaire, genius and criminal mastermind, Artemis Fowl. Colfer's newest, possibly more amazing series W.A.R.P. features a teenaged American FBI agent, Chevie Savano
If you’re looking for picture books exploring friendships of massive proportions, then these two latest delights are for you. Perfect for melting any sized heart! Blue Whale Blues, Peter Carnavas (author, illus.), New Frontier Publishing, 2015. On first glance, I noticed something different about Peter Carnavas‘ most recent creation compared to his previous works. […]
With plenty of visual puns and word play, this upbeat and funny picture book is a great place to start a conversation about friendship. Rosenthal and Lichtenheld are two of my favorite picture book creators--I adore sharing their Duck! Rabbit! with kids. Their newest creation is full of their trademark humor and definitely worth seeking out.
As the Kirkus Review points out, you almost hope that the titles is what inspired the creators from the beginning. What shape does friendship take? Can people who are as different as a circle and a square still be friends?
Although there is no real plot, there is plenty of humor and thoughtful messages in this picture book. I really like how they show the characters as shapes. For me, this helps young children see some of the metaphors but it also helps them see themselves in the book. By having just basic outlines of the shapes, with funny cartoonish expressions, Lichtenheld invites readers to seem themselves as characters in the book.
"Friends welcome others to join in."
The puns keep rolling along, inviting kids to figure them out and invent their own. "Friends are always there to lean on," as the shapes all lean in together. "Friends play fair and [insert the yellow square]."
Friendship isn't always easy. When conflict happens, friends never "stay bent out of shape for long." Kids would enjoy coming up with some of their own observations about friendship, adding on to the book as they go.
The review was kindly sent by the publisher, Scholastic. 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.
One of the constant themes we talk about in our school library is friendship. How can we be a good friend? What happens when conflict arises? How do friends resolve their differences? This week I'd like to share five terrific new books that all deal with friendship, and two old favorites. These all work best for early elementary -- ranging from kindergarten up through early third grade. Several are chapter books, but others are picture books.
Make sure you stop by on Tuesday for a giveaway of The Story of Diva & Flea. This new short chapter book comes out on October 13th, but you'll get an early glimpse and a chance to win a copy here.
Do you have any favorite friendship books that you like reading with children? What helps them think about how friends work through problems? I'd love to hear of books that your families or classrooms have enjoyed.
The review copies came from our school library, public library, home library and the publishers. 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.
I find that my students particularly respond to books that touch their hearts, that talk honestly about how kids can survive through difficult times, about how we can keep hold of hope even though everything seems like it's about to crumble around us. I can't wait to share Crenshaw, Katherine Applegate's newest novel, with my students and friends.
Jackson knows that his parents are worried about having enough money for rent. And he's noticed that lately, the cupboards seem pretty bare. But he's a no-nonsense kind of guy, entering 5th grade--the kind of kid who likes to learn all about the facts, not get lost in make believe stories. That's why he's seriously perplexed when he sees a giant cat surfboarding at the beach.
"Maybe I'd gotten sunstroke at the beach... Maybe I was asleep, stuck in the middle of a long, weird, totally annoying dream... Maybe I was just hungry. Hunger can make you feel pretty weird. Even pretty crazy."
Applegate draws readers into Jackson's story, blending humor with small moments that place you right in Jackson's world. For example, instead of just telling us that Jackson is hungry, she shows us how he plays a game with his little sister called Cerealball: "a good trick for when you're hungry and there's nothing much to eat."
Jackson is resilient and smart -- and that's why he's so perplexed that this giant imaginary cat has come to visit him again. But it's also why we, as readers, can relate so easily to him. He wants his parents to realize that they can tell him what's going on, but he's also shaken by the uncertainty. Will they have to move? Will they have to live in their van again? Will he have to change schools?
Applegate helps kids see the impact of worrying, something that kids can relate to all too well. She shows them how a friend can help, how talking with your family can help. But she does more than this. Applegate creates a voice for kids struggling with hunger and homelessness. She says, in effect, I see you, I know you, I care about you. And she helps all of us say the same thing.
When students perform in front of their class at school, we talk about how the audience holds their heart in their hands. I feel the same way about authors who write the books that we read as kids. They hold our hearts in their hands as they take us on a journey. Friends, I hope this is a journey that you take as well.
This book trailer does a great job of introducing the story to kids:
Please use this opportunity to talk with kids about hunger and what we can do about it. Support local food banks and food drives. Check out all the local bookstores that are participating in a nationwide food drive throughout October: #CrenshawFoodDrive.
The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher, Macmillan, and we've already purchased several more copies for school. 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.
In this picture book for older readers, Patricia Polacco tells the story of Johnnie Wallen, a Kentucky boy who manages to get his parents to say he is older than 15 years, allowing him to enlist in the army and fight in WWII.
After basic training, Johnnie is assigned to the Sixth Infantry, Company G, Twentieth Division and sent to the Pacific theater. On the ship, Johnnie is called "the kid from Kentucky" by everyone because of his youth. But the kid from Kentucky was an crack shooter by age 10, and now the army trains him as a marksman and for heavy ordnance (explosives). In now time, Johnnie earns the nickname the Kentucky Kid after proving himself quite adapt at going into the jungle to seek and destroy machine gun nests.
The Kentucky Kid's unit soon finds themselves on Luzon, an island in the Philippines, where they need to level the land to bivouac and to build an airstrip. It is a hot job in a jungle infested with biting insects, and after a while, Johnnie is covered with bug bites. Looking for water to cool his bites, he discovers a small native village where women are trying to catch fish with their bare hands.
There, he meets a little girl who shows him how to treat his bug bites with the leaves of a local plant. Grateful for the relief and the friendly gesture, Johnny repays the young girl's kindness with the chocolate bar from his K-rations, tells her his name was Kentucky Jon, which immediately becomes Tucky Jo when she repeats it, and he begins calling her Little Heart because of a heart shaped birthmark on her arm.
That night, Tucky Jo whittsd a little hinged doll to give to Little Heart, which delights her. Then, one day when she didn't show up, Tucky Jo goes to find her in her village. There, her grandfather, who does speak English,explains that she hasn't spoken since she saw the Japanese kill her mother and take away her father and brother.
And, he goes on to explain, the Japanese took all the young men, all the food and all the fishing lines and nets. As a result, the people in the village are starving. Well, Tucky Jo is a doer and in no time, the people in Little Heart's village have all the fish they could eat and preserve - how? You'll have to read the story to find that out.
When Tucky Jo learns his unit is leaving and will be bombing the jungle, he convinces his sergeant to let him evacuate the village first, which is very successful. But when the truck with Little Heart pulls away, it is the late time Tucky Jo sees his little friend. Or is it?
After the war, Johnnie goes home, a highly decorated soldier, marries his sweetheart and raises a family. As he gets older, and his health fails, he needs to be hospitalized. Johnnie's nurse is very kind, so kind that he begins to wonder, especially after he sees the small heart shaped birthmark on her arm. Could it be...?
According to her Author's Note, Patricia Polacco writes that the story of Tucky Jo and Little Heart was inspired by listening to WWII veterans talking about their experiences in the Pacific Theater and is based on the story that Johnnie Wallen related to her. Of course, there is some poetic license, but the reader will have to figure that out for themselves.
Palacco has created as story about friendship, kindness,and ingenuity, while at the same time showing the terrible impact that war has on children. Little Heart has clearly been traumatized by what she had witnessed, compounded by a state of starvation, but Polacco has portrayed these things in such a way that they won't traumatize the reader, but will evoke feelings of empathy for Little Heart.
And there are the signature Polacco illustrations done in color pencil and markers. The illustrations capture Little Heart's vulneribility and her fragile state, and Tucky Jo's youth and enthusiasm, and his innate kindness that shines in his eyes.
Tucky Jo and Little Heart is an ideal book for introducing young readers to the war in the Pacific, or for any one interested veteran stories that come out of WWII..
This book is recommended for readers age 7+
This book was borrowed from the NYPL
Johnny Wallen passed away on January 9, 2010. If you would like to know more about decorated hero of WWII, you can read his daughter's tribute to her father HERE
Arthur, For The Very First Time. Patricia MacLachlan. Illustrated by Lloyd Bloom. 1980/2002. HarperCollins. 128 pages. [Source: Library]
I enjoyed reading Patricia MacLachlan's Arthur, For the Very First Time. Readers meet a young ten-year old boy, Arthur, and journey with him to his aunt-and-uncle's farm for an eventful summer. Arthur is a somewhat troubled young boy. Troubled being VERY relative of course. He's having trouble communicating with his parents. They still haven't told him that he's to have a little brother or little sister. Though he has figured it out himself. He hasn't exactly told them he knows or how he feels about this "happy" event. Arthur definitely spends time wishing things were different but believing that they can't be different. So how does Arthur spend his time? Well, before visiting Aunt Elda and Uncle Wrisby, he spent most of his time writing in his matter-of-fact journal. He spent a lot of time OBSERVING the world around him, but, not necessarily taking part of it. During his summer vacation, however, things will change for the better. Arthur will start living a little bit more--in some cases, a LOT more.
The book is definitely character-driven. I loved that. I loved meeting Arthur, his aunt and uncle, his new friend Moira. I loved meeting some of the animals as well. Like the chicken, Pauline, whom everyone speaks to in French! It was just a very satisfying read.
Now ask any dino-mad four year old about a T-Rex’s favourite food and they’ll know: T-Rexes love their meat.
So what happens to poor Reg when it turns out he loves…. veg? Will his dino friends still accept him as one of their own? Will Reg be brave enough to be true to himself?
T-Veg: The Tale of a Carrot Crunching Dinosaur written by Smriti Prasadam-Halls and illustrated by Katherina Manolessou is a vitality packed, vibrantly illustrated tale about breaking the mould and learning to embrace difference. From the zest and zing of Manolessou’s bold and almost day-glow dinosaurs, to the bounce and energy-packed rhymes of Prasadam-Halls, this is the picture book equivalent of a super healthy, organic, freshly-pressed and delicious smoothie. As if packed with key vitamins and minerals it will lift your mood and put a spring in your step!
The book’s recipe mixes:
1 part Humour (kids – especially those whose veg is only ever smuggled surreptitiously into their diet – will delight in the crazy notion of a veg-loving T-rex)
1 part Emotional Meat (exploring daring to be different and being a good enough friend to recognise when you are wrong)
2 parts Visual Richness (intense patterns add depth to the eye-catching illustrations).
All are combined to serve up an extremely tasty treat whatever your preferred diet!
Letting the kids invent a new vegetarian meal. This has become a favourite activity with M: I let her choose what vegetables she wants, she chops them up, adds the herbs and spices she likes, and roasts them all in the oven. We’ve had some delicious (and different!) meals as a result. M really likes to use The Flavour Thesaurus when she’s planning a new dish.
Trying the vegetable challenge. Visit the (super)market and see if you can identify every vegetable on sale. Be brave and choose one new vegetable to try!
If you liked this post you might like these other posts by me:
Investigating the dinos in your home and putting them in a time line. Like us you might find there is an unexpected bias towards dinos from the Cretacous, not the Jurassic as you might have thought.
Young children who are just ready to move beyond "beginning readers" need short chapter books with big appeal. These readers, often in 2nd grade, are still developing their reading stamina. Our students are loving Owl Diaries, a new series with big kid appeal.
When Eva gets a diary, she is sooo excited. She is so happy to tell all about her life at school, her best friend Lucy. Eva is a cheerful little owl, who acts and talks just like a bubbly little 7 year old girl. Eva begins by introducing herself, and this helps young readers build a sense of her world. Every page has drawings and only one or two short paragraphs.
"Hello Diary, My name is Eva Wingdale."
Eva is always full of ideas and enthusiastically pursues them. In the first book, she decides that her school should have a spring festival and undertakes planning it all by herself. In the second story, she's sure that she sees a ghost but is frustrated when no one will believe her. In both stories, Eva works to build her friendships and figure things out in a satisfying way.
"My very BEST friend in the whole owliverse is Lucy Beakman."
Rebecca Elliot's charming artwork is definitely the highlight. Eva and her friends have big, expressive eyes. The colors remind me of just the sorts of clothes that so many kids pick on their own. The text is simple to read, a bit on the overly cute side, but appropriate for the audience.
The perfect audience for this short chapter book are kids who have moved beyond Henry and Mudge, but are not quite ready for the Magic Treehouse or the Rainbow Fairy books.
A finely woven novel exploring grief, hope and friendship, Storm Horse by Nick Garlick moved me to tears, even though I started reading it with a great sense of wariness, my inner cynic poised to be proved right with the slightest hiccup in plot, writing or characterization.
Having recently lost his parents, a young boy can’t believe he’ll ever feel at ease with the relatives who have agreed to take responsibility for him. But all that changes when he makes friends with a horse. A growing sense of trust and (self) belief enables him to find a place where he’s happy to belong, even though in the process he comes face to face with some of his greatest fears, loss and sadness.
This page-turner, with dramatic, breath-taking scenes worthy of the vast gloomy shore skies under which it is set made me nervous before I turned the first page; Storm Horse is set on the Frisian islands off the north coast of the Netherlands and is partly inspired by a very emotive true life story about a lifeboat disaster that devastated an island community.
Surrounded by huge and exhilaratingly beautiful sandy beaches, the lifeboat on Ameland was traditionally launched by horses who pulled the boat over the sand and then into the tide, enabling launches where no pier existed. But in 1979 eight horses drowned during a lifeboat launch and in this small island community their terrible loss was felt deeply and powerfully and is still remembered with great sorrow, but also pride, for launching lifeboats with horses was something unique to this particular community, long after other Frisian islands had given up on this tradition.
As it happens I know Ameland and this story rather well (the photo above shows M and J visiting the grave and memorial to the eight horses back in 2012, whilst the photos below show a re-enactment I once saw of how the lifeboat used to be launched), and so when I found out about a novel set on the Frisian islands, centered on horses and lifeboat rescues I was both curious and anxious.
Starting a novel when you already have an emotional investment in it is a scary thing. What if it doesn’t live up to your hopes? What if you feel it betrays the beauty / the sorrow / the wonder you feel about certain events or places or times?
But I took the plunge and turned the first page and…
…Well here’s why I think you might enjoy this book as much as I did, even if you’ve never heard of the Frisian islands and have not one ounce of hope at stake when you come across it in your local bookshop or library:
Storm Horse is brilliantly plotted with chapter endings which demand you turn the page and read just a bit more. I actually read this book in a single sitting and couldn’t believe how the time and pages had whizzed by.
Garlick’s characterization is lovely, authentic and satisfying. From the most wonderful Aunt Elly, who exhibits the kindness, compassion and wisdom that we all wish we had, to the silent and imposing (and ultimately big hearted) Uncle Andries, via uncannily spot-on observations about life as a seven year old who wants to be a part of everything, to the thoughtfulness of old and lame Mr Bouten, the cast of this story is rich and not without humour.
Bereavement and how people cope with loss is explored in several different strands, each offering a different light and reflection on the grieving process and being able to eventually see light at the end of a sorrowful tunnel.
Quietly and powerfully Storm Horse gives its readers a sense that they can find a way to hold on to what matters to them, through perseverance, through patience, through resourcefulness and generosity. What a great gift from a book, don’t you think?
This is no literal re-telling of the terrible, heart-breaking events of the 14th of August 1979; Garlick sets his story on an imaginary island (though Ameland is briefly mentioned), and yet all the details ring beautifully true. The challenges of island life are not shied away from, but read this moving, convincing, vivid novel and I think you may nevertheless fall in love.
Now… what will my lifeboat-mad, Dutch husband who spent every childhood summer on Ameland think of this book? Well, somehow I’m going to have to find the time to read it aloud to him and the girls as I now know I needn’t have worried: Storm Horse is a cracker.
Disclosure: I was sent a free review copy of this book by the publisher.
I would expect to find this book in the part of the bookshop/library aimed at 8/9 – 12/13 year olds.
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Even though children are surrounded by other kids at school, they often don't feel seen or acknowledged. Mac Barnett and Christian Robinson tap into this feeling in their delightful story about Leo, a little ghost who makes a friend.
Leo has a hard time making friends because he’s a ghost. No one can see him. But we can. He’s pretty satisfied spending time by himself, but he is happy when a family moves into his house. It's good to have company. But the family doesn't see things the same way.
Kids will know just what it's like not to be wanted, and they will empathize with Leo as he leaves home. The cool blues of Robinson's illustrations match the soft, subdued mood. One afternoon, "Leo found himself roaming along a sidewalk covered in drawings." Jane looked right up at Leo and asked if he'd like to play. At first, Leo is stunned that she's talking right to him.
"Leo, do you want to play Knights of the Round Table?"
Leo is delighted by her imaginary play as she knights him in their game, but he's nervous that she will be scared when she finds out he’s a ghost. I love how accepting Jane is, how open she is not only to Leo but also to her own imagination. Jane is kind, direct and self-assured--definitely one of my favorite characters this year.
I won't give away the ending, but be rest assured that it will bring a smile to your face and let kids know that they can find a friend who likes them just the way they are.
Enjoy this book trailer. Just like the book, the kids' voices shine through.
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
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.
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.”
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.)
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:
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."