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1. 2015 Mock Newbery discussions at Emerson, part 5: Nuts to You, The Red Pencil + Snicker of Magic

Listening and sharing ideas in our Mock Newbery discussions
In our Mock Newbery book club, students were able to choose which books they wanted to read. In order to vote, they had to read five or more of the nominated titles. I wanted to give them freedom to choose what to read, but I also really enjoyed listening to them recommend titles to one another. We had informal book club meetings once a week for lunch in the library, and then we met in January for our final discussions. Many students chose to read today's three books--I hope I can capture some of their comments.
Nuts to You
by Lynne Rae Perkins
Greenwillow / HarperCollins, 2014
Your local library
Amazon
ages 8-11
Right from the beginning, students started talking about how Nuts to You was both funny and full of adventure. After a hawk captures the unsuspecting squirrel Jed, his friends TsTs and Chai are sure that he's still alive. They set off following a trail of "buzzpaths" and "frozen spiderwebs" (electrical lines and utility towers) to rescue him. I love that the kids responded to the satirical footnotes and twists in language. Just take this example from near the beginning:
“To squirrels, ‘Are you nuts?’ is a combination of ‘Have you lost your mind?’ and ‘You remind me of the most wonderful thing I can think of.’”
Some students had trouble getting into this story and found the tone or perspective confusing. Maisy said at one meeting that she was half-way through the story and didn't quite see what's funny about it yet. McKenna told her that it starts getting funnier and funnier as you start getting more into the book--in fact, she wondered if it would be funnier the second time you read it. Talia and Gwen definitely agreed with McKenna.
The Red Pencil
by Andrea Davis Pinkney
Little Brown, 2014
Your local library
Amazon
ages 9-12
Students consistently mentioned The Red Pencil not only as a powerful, touching book, but also one that they could really understand what the characters were going through even though it was so different from their lives. When the Sudanese rebels attack her village, young Amira's home is destroyed and her whole life is upended. She escapes to a refugee camp, but what about her dreams of going to school?

When we were discussing plot and pacing, Corina expanded on why she thought The Red Pencil was so effective:
"I felt like I always knew what was going on even though it wasn't familiar to me. Each small moment, the author would break it down so you knew how everyone was feeling about it. You didn't know what was going to happen next -- you felt like you were in the present of the story and were right there with the characters."--Corina
I just went back and checked -- it's fascinating that Pinkney writes this in the present tense. Amira's emotional journey was important to students. She had to escape her war-torn home, and she also had to discover how to navigate following her own dream of learning to read and write despite her mother's traditional views.
Snicker of Magic
by Natalie Lloyd
Scholastic, 2014
Your local library
Amazon
ages 8-12
Just look at all those post-it notes--so many kids read Snicker of Magic. We all agreed that kids liked it, but during our Mock Newbery discussions we tried to explore why the story and writing were especially good. When Felicity Pickle moves to Midnight Gulch, Tennessee, our readers could tell right away that she was lonely--but Nia's comment to book club back in October was: "She think the word lonely is really really strong to say." Time and again, students mentioned how Felicity sees words, but they also noticed how the author really shows readers how Felicity feels. This magical element helped them see deeper into Felicity's feelings and Lloyd's themes.

This mix of magical fantasy elements in a real-life setting appealed to many readers. They loved the details like blueberry ice cream that helps you remember lost memories, and they could relate to many of the characters. A few mentioned that the pacing seemed a bit uneven ("sometimes it speeded up and then other times it was really slow or went off into something that didn't go with the plot") but others strongly disagreed and liked the way different plot elements wove together.

In our discussions we didn't have enough time to explore the themes of the stories, but I firmly believe that those underlying themes are a major reason why these different stories all appealed to readers. Whether it's TsTs' loyal friendship in Nuts to You, Amira's resiliency in The Red Pencil or the Beedle's generosity in Snicker of Magic, each of these deeper themes resonated with readers in lasting ways.

The review copies came from my home collection and our library collection. Early review copies were also kindly sent by the publishers, HarperCollins, Little Brown and 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.

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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2. 2015 Mock Newbery discussions at Emerson, part 4: Magic in the Mix + Nest + The Night Gardener

getting ready for book club -- each week, I took notes
What draws us into great stories? Is it the chance to see a glimpse of ourselves in other people? Is it getting lost in another world, so far from our own? Or maybe it's getting swept away by an exciting plot, full of suspense and danger. As we met each week, I loved listening to my students recommending books to one another each week during our book club lunches, hearing what they loved and what captured their interest.
Magic in the Mix
by Annie Barrows
Bloomsbury, 2014
Your local library
Amazon
ages 8-12
Many kids are drawn to stories with characters that inspire them because of their courage and bravery. Molly and Miri return from The Magic Half, but they are the only ones in their family who know that they haven't always been twin sisters. Molly and Miri's brothers always annoy them, but when the brothers stumble through the time portal that Molly and Miri have opened, the twin sisters know that it's up to them to rescue their brothers.

Our 4th and 5th graders all commented about how much they could imagine these characters, how the story pulled them through, and how they liked the mix of time-travel fantasy and historical fiction.
"I liked learning a little bit about the Civil War, but not too much."
"I could really see Molly and Miri and how brave they were helping their brothers."
"When they were scared, walking through the forest, I could feel like I was right there."
In the end, Magic in the Mix was read and enjoyed by many students (our two copies have circulated 25 times already!), but it didn't rise to the top of many final voting lists.
Nest
by Esther Ehrlich
Wendy Lamb / Random House, 2014
Your local library
Amazon
ages 10-14
Eleven-year-old Naomi "Chirp" Orenstein is devoted to her mother, but life starts to fall apart when Chirp's mother is hospitalized for depression. When I first read Nest, I wasn't sure if it was right for an elementary school library, but several of my early readers were adamant that it was an amazing book that should be in our library. Angel and Corina wrote in their nomination,
"It's not a happily ever book, but it shows how much a girl and her family care and love each other after various tragedies.They may not end up with a perfect life but I found it was even better that way."
Nest is suited for students who like heartfelt stories that linger with you. Some students who like realistic fiction could tell that it was too sad, and stopped reading. Speaking with middle school librarians, it's finding a wider audience there. This is definitely a story that makes readers think long after they've turned the last page. What I loved about my students' reactions is how much they related to Chirp's inner strength as she copes with her mother's illness.
The Night Gardener
by Jonathan Auxier
Amulet / Abrams, 2014
my full review
Your local library
Amazon
ages 10-14
Students who read The Night Gardener held it up as an example for masterful plot, setting and character development. "I could see how the tree was built right into the house," said Amelie. "I really imagine the house, seeing how it was old now, but also how it used to be." The setting was integral to creating the frightening tone for the story, especially the suspense that kept students reading. Kaiyah specifically mentioned that she felt right in the forest when Molly and Kip were in their wagon heading toward the Windsor's estate.
friends discussing books for Emerson's Mock Newbery
It's interesting -- I think both The Night Gardener and Nest might be seen as "more appropriate" for middle school students, but are ones that my students advocated strongly for including in our library. They are both emotionally intense stories, but I've found that students will stop reading them if they aren't ready for them. Both have depths in their treatment of different themes that I would love to talk more about with small groups, and both would stand up well to rereading. I was very happy to see both of these excellent books part of our discussion.

The review copies came from my home collection and our library collection. Early review copies were also kindly sent by the publishers, Abrams and Bloomsbury. 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.

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

0 Comments on 2015 Mock Newbery discussions at Emerson, part 4: Magic in the Mix + Nest + The Night Gardener as of 1/25/2015 9:57:00 PM
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3. Book Review: The Bubble Wrap Boy by Phil Earle

Title:  The Bubble Wrap Boy
The Bubble Wrap Boy by Phil Earle review at Death, Books, and Tea
Author:   Phil Earle
Series:    N/A
Published:   1 May 2014 by Penguin
Length:   272 pages
Source: library
Other info: Earle has also written Heroic, Being Billy, and Saving Daisy
Summary :  All my life I've been tiny Charlie from the Chinese Chippie, whose only friend is Sinus, the kid who stares at walls. But I believe that everyone's good at something. I've just got to work out what my something is...
Charlie's found his secret talent: skateboarding. It's his one-way ticket to popularity. All he's got to do is practice, and nothing's going to stop him - not his clumsiness, not his overprotective mum, nothing. Except Charlie isn't the only one in his family hiding a massive secret, and his next discovery will change everything. How do you stay on the board when your world is turned upside down?

Review: Charlie Han is the boy from the Chinese takaway shop, with an overprotective mother and only one friend, Sinus. He plans to find the one thing that will improve his reputation and make his life better, and then he finds it. Skateboarding. However, due to said overprotective mother, he needs to keep his new hobby a secret. One day, he answers the phone to find another member of the family also has a huge secret. These secrets may bring them all together or tear them apart.
I didn’t know what to expect from this really, other than a chinese main character (bringing my total of memorable chinese main characters I’ve read up to four :D) and great things (mainly due to Jim).
It starts off really lighthearted, with a lot of comedy stemming from Charlie’s huge clumsiness and the freidnship that Sinus and Charlie have.  The characters are well developed. Sinus by the end also has secrets and it’s pretty awesome when they come out.  Charlie’s mother is highly overprotective,  but luckily it’s not part of being an overbering non-academic tiger mother; instead, there’s a very good reason and once we learn that reason we see a new side to her and understand her more.
I really liked the fact that family plays a huge part in theis novel. I was not expecting it to be that emotional but the revelation of the secret and all the interactions following made me smile and ugh I can’t describe the happiness from some of the scenes and the sadness from some others and  you just need to read it.
I’d call it a coming of age story because of some of the themese carried through it: the learning ot become more open  with your family, the wanting to make a new identity, the dealing with a major upheaval for the first time in one’s life.
It’s an open ending, which I didn’t like for this because I felt it ended too soon. I’d have liked to know more about Charlie’s mother’s reaction, and the aftermath within the school. However,   Charlie’s costume at the end. Perfect.

Strength 4 tea aka 4 stars at Death, Books, and Tea

Overall:  Strength 4 tea to a mostly funny, but also serious,  coming of age book.




0 Comments on Book Review: The Bubble Wrap Boy by Phil Earle as of 1/19/2015 9:25:00 AM
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4. The Duck and The Darklings: Can my reading year get better than this?

I have my first contender for the very best picture book I’ll read all 2015.

duckdarklingsThe Duck and the Darklings written by Glenda Millard, and illustrated by Stephen Michael King is a gentle and powerful heart salve. It is a tiny yet quenching oasis of love and hope. It is funny and quirky and lyrical and poignant and lovely in that way that makes your lips feel a little like singing when you read its words.

Grandpa and Peterboy live underground because the earth above has fallen into ruin. A quiet air of melancholy pervades their home whilst they remember happier, healthier and brighter times past. One day Peterboy finds a wounded duck which he brings home, even though they have little food to share. Compassion, thoughtfulness and generosity heal the duck, but once she is well enough she is drawn by instinct to leave and fly across the skies. The thought of losing his new friend makes Peterboy sad. Can he let that which he loves go?

Millard has written an exquisite story about hope and friendship. Rarely will you come across a picture book full with such glorious verbal imagery, where in almost every line words and sentences feel like they have been recast, hewn afresh from the language we use everyday. Melodic and evocative, I can’t remember the last time I read aloud a picture book and so enjoyed simply feeling and hearing the sentences blossom into the air as I shared the story.

With echoes of Leonni’s Frederick, The Duck and the Darklings explores the power of stories, real, remembered and imagined, to sustain us. For me it was also a metaphor for mourning and a way through, back to finding a sense of hope after experiencing depression, and how building relationships, even if they ultimately change and move on, is a that which brings us life.

darknessillustration3

M and J probably didn’t react the same way, I shall freely admit! As child readers of this book they adored its unconventionality, its playfulness, its whimsy. Grandpa in the book is highly inventive (there are many illustrations of his contraptions), Peterboy is brave, inquisitive and kind. He has freedom to roam and a valued role in the family and both these aspects also hugely appealed to my kids.

King’s illustrations are a perfect match for this very special story. With lots of black, dark blues and purples, mixing seemingly chaotic splashes and brushes with fine detail, humour and increasing use of colour as hope gradually fills the world between the book’s pages, King has created a beguiling landscape.

darknessillustration2

To paraphrase a line from The Duck and the Darklings, when I’m searching for books to share with my family and with you here on the blog, I wish “for more than crumbs and crusts”; I wish for “scrap[s] of wonderfulness.” And a piece of wonderfulness is truly what this book is.

A detail from the backcover of The Duck and the Darklings. This was the image which especially inspired our sculpture.

A detail from the backcover of The Duck and the Darklings. This was the image which especially inspired our “playing by the book”.

Inspired by the darkness and the forest and flowers which grow as the earth heals, thanks to the blooming of hope and friendship between Peterboy, Idaduck and Grandpa, we created our own sculpture taking King’s illustrations as are starting point. To create the sculpture we used a large cardboard box, a piece of polystyrene (packaging from another box), jam jar and bottle lids, twigs, acrylic paint and tape.

darkness4

First J painted the inside of the cardboard box and the twigs black, matching the black stemmed plants in King’s illustrations. She also painted the back of the lids black (where they weren’t already black), and the insides of the lids bright colours. For all of this it was important to use acrylic paint (rather than poster paint) as it adheres to almost any surface, including wood, metal and plastic.

darkness5

Once the paint was dry we used the tape to stick the lids on the ends of the twigs to create “flowers”, which we embellished with paper leaves.

flowers

Then to bring light into our sculpture we used small batteries and LEDs to create pinpricks of magic.

I think you can just about see in the photo series below how J loved the “magic” of being able to turn the LED on by positioning it carefully on the battery. A simple but exciting introduction to electricity and circuits! We used small CR2032 3V lithium batteries and 5mm LEDs, and what J had to investigate is what difference it made as to which side of the battery the long leg of the LED (LEDs have one long leg, and one short) needed to be on, in order for the LED to light up. Once she’d cracked the magic-making we used electrical tape to fix the LEDs in position, taping around both legs of the LED and the battery to prevent any movement.

darkness3

J stuck her LED lights through holes in the boxes once we’d assembled all our flowers inside the large cardboard box she’d painting black. To help the flowers stand upright, I “hid” a piece of polystyrene packaging under the base of the box. Thus, when J made a hole for her flower to stand in, the flower’s stem also went into the thick polystyrene base, helping it to stay vertical. You can just see the polystyrene in the picture – under the flap at the bottom of the box.

darkness1

Finally we turned off all the lights in our room and entered into our own Darkness, gradually filling with light and hope and renewal.

darkness2

Whilst making our garden in the darkness we listened to music I think could light up any darkness:

  • As steals the Morn by Handel, sung here by Mark Padmore and played by the English Consort. Exquisite, soothing, restorative.
  • Bless the glad earth also by Handel, the last piece in Act 2 of his opera Semele. You can see the production which moved me to tears the first time I saw it here, with ‘Bless the glad earth’ starting around the 45 minute mark. Yeah, I know it’s opera, but don’t think the kids won’t enjoy it; in my experience the “dressing up”, the theatricality, and the whole pomp of it can appeal to kids quite a lot! Just like many kids can fall in love with going to see a ballet, I’m convinced just as many could enjoy opera if given half a chance.

  • Other activities which might go really well with reading The Duck and the Darklings include:

  • Creating a candle hat just like those worn by the Darklings. Seeing as we’re on a role with LEDs I might use one of them, but alternatively you could create a candle out of toilet rolls like Creative Jewish Mom did and attach to your favourite hat (or make one like these from Ikat Bag)
  • Reading the Kingdom of Silk series by the same author and illustrator pair. It’s actually thanks to this series of short novels for young children that I discovered The Duck and the Darklings. The series is remarkable and I will be reviewing this hopefully next month on the blog, but I can’t resist an extra opportunity to bring it to your attention as it is something rare and incredible.
  • Have you read anything yet this year which has simply taken your breath away?

    Disclosure: I received a free review copy of The Duck and the Darklings from the UK distributors, Murdoch Books (YES! This Australian book is easily available here in the UK, your local bookshop should be able to order it without you having to resort to Amazon).

    3 Comments on The Duck and The Darklings: Can my reading year get better than this?, last added: 1/19/2015
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    5. Billy's Blitz by Barbara Mitchelhill

    For his 11th birthday, Billy Wilson's dad surprised him a German Shepherd puppy.  A lot of people were anti-German Sheherds because it was considered a Nazi dog, but Billy loved his, naming her Sheeba.  By Billy's 12th birthday, England is at war with Germany, his dad is away in the Army, and his friends have been evacuated to the country, along with most of London's other schoolchildren. But his mum decides to keep Billy and sister Rose, 6, home with her.  Still, his dad manages to get leave and find a shiny almost new bike for Billy's birthday.

    But soon dad returns to the army, and mum, Billy and Rose spend uncomfortable nights in the Anderson shelter in the backyard in Balham, South London, but no bombs are falling in London yet.  But that all changes on September 7, 1940.  Now, bombs are falling and the three Wilson's decide go to the nearest Underground station when the air raid sirens go off.  That way, they don't hear the sirens, the planes, and the bombs as much.

    Night after night they carry blankets to the station, thinking they will be safe.  And they are, until Balham Station takes a direct hit.  Billy and Rose are separated from their mum, but thanks to the help of a new friend, they make it out of the station.  But where is mum?  It's hard to see anything in all the chaos, dust and debris, but Billy and Rose insist on waiting for her to come out of the station, until a WVS lady, Mrs. Bartley, makes them leave.  After all, bombs are still falling.

    Once in a shelter, it is decided by the authorities that Billy and Rose will be sent to Wales for safety - against their will, and with the Major in charge insisting, rather coldly, that they are now orphans.  Luckily, at breakfast, they meet a boy about Billy's age called All-Off (because he cut all his hair off), who advises them not to go to Wales.  But, although, All-Off gets out of the shelter in time, Billy and Rose are put on a transport truck to Paddington Station and Wales.

    Determined to find his mum and to get back home to finally let Sheeba out of the Anderson shelter where she was put for safety, Billy waits for the right opportunity for escape the transport truck.  By the time that happens, they are far from home and Billy has no idea how to get back to Balham.

    As Billy and Rose make their way home, they meet with even more adventures, setbacks, and disappointments, but Billy finds a best mate in All-Off.  Billy also discovers a courage within himself he probably never thought he possessed, as well as a strong sense of responsibility for Rose and Sheeba and it doesn't hurt that his new best mate has some pretty good street smarts.

    I loved Barbara Mitchelhill's first WWII novel, Run Rabbit Run, based on real events, it's about a sister and younger brother who must deal with some harsh fallout because their dad is a conscientious objector.  Billy's Blitz is also based on a real event.  On October 14, 1940, Balham Station was being  used as a bomb shelter and really did take a direct bomb hit, killing 64 people.  Mitchelhill imagines the aftermath of a terrible disaster for two kids who don't know if their mum made it out alive or not.  Her realistic description of the station, in fact of bombed London generally, are really spot on.

    What Billy saw when he came out of Balham Station
    So is her characterization.  Billy is at times afraid, brave, wanting everything back to normal, or wishing someone else could deal with their problems.  Rose can be a whiny brat, not realizing the seriousness of their situation, yet she can also be brave and helpful when asked to be.  All-Off is a real favorite - definitely his own boy, yet faithful to Billy and Rose.  The authorities, concerned only with evacuating orphans, made my toes curl with anger at their lack of empathy.  Luckily, there is the WVS (Women's Volunteer Service) lady to counterbalance that.

    Billy's Blitz is a compelling realistic novel that gives the reader a true to life picture of London during the Second World War.  We tend to think that all of London's children were safely evacuated but many remained in London with their family and often, family members became separated or worse and kids were left to survive by themselves even while dealing with loss and grief.  Mitchelhill's novel demonstrates how easy it is for this to happen in the midst of chaos, and how easily the best laid plans can go awry, yet she manages to do this without scaring her young readers.  

    This is a novel that is sure to please young readers, especially those interested in WWII and/or historical fiction.

    This book is recommended for readers age 9+
    This book was received from the author

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    6. Lemur Dreamer by Coutney Dicmas

    Last year was (unofficially) the Year of the Sloth.

    There was Sloth Slept on by Frann Preston-Gannon, Sparky! by Jenny Offill and Chris Appelhans, The Power of Sloth by Lucy Cooke and The Lazy Friend by Ronan Badel to name but a few.

    I wonder, however, if perhaps 2015 will be the Year of the Lemur

    lemurdreamercoverLemur Dreamer by Courtney Dicmas (@CourtneyDicmas) stopped me in my tracks when I first saw it; the bold beauty and energy of its cover, with a silver foil moon is genius. I immediately wanted to know where the lemur is off to, and then I noticed that actually he was in a rather perilous situation (can you see the board he’s stepping off?)…

    We all know the power a good opening line to reel us into a story, but with picture books, front covers can have the same task; a single snapshot to seduce us, to pique our curiosity and get us to turn inside. And Lemur Dreamer manages to do that perfectly, drawing us into a tale of an innocent lemur whose habit of sleepwalking takes him on all sorts of adventures but also puts him in danger. He’s got some great friends, however, who keep an eye out for him and come up with an ingenious solution to the trouble he finds himself in.

    Dicmas believes her superpower is “drawing crocodile eyebrows“. She certainly has a real knack for fluid, expressive and joyous animal illustrations, drawn with simple outlines and filled with washes of colour, reminding me at times of the brilliant Polly Dunbar. Dicmas also has a self-confessed addiction to the the colour blue, and this gives the book a perfect soothing tone, ideal for a giggly yet calming and reassuring bedtime read.

    Harold Finds A Voice, Dicmas’ début picture book, was shortlisted in the UK for the 2014 Waterstones Book Prize and I suspect more official recognition of her work will follow swiftly. I certainly will be on the look out for future books by this talented artist.

    Inspired in particular by the shiny cover and one of the interior spreads we turned our hands to creating a Dicmas inspired picture.

    lemur1

    First the girls gave their paper a watercolour wash and once dry, they stuck tissue paper on in the shape of simple buildings. On a separate piece of baking paper (tracing paper would have worked too), they drew another row of buildings, in outline with a few windows and other details.

    lemur3

    M and J stuck the baking paper over the watercolour-washed paper, and then cut out a moon from silver foil, a length of string for a washing line, and copied the lemur’s legs and a pigeon to stick onto the top layer of their image.

    lemur2

    These are the latest additions to our home gallery, alongside last week’s printing and fishing nets:

    bakingpaper2

    bakingpaper1

    Whilst painting, drawing and sticking we listened to:

  • I like Blue Lemurs by Baby Loves Jazz
  • The REM-esque Walking in My Sleep by Sierra Lion
  • You’ve Got a Friend in Me by Randy Newman
  • Other activities which could work well alongside reading Lemur Dreamer include:

  • Drawing on silver foil. The front cover of this book is so alluring with its big silver moon, and that reminded me there’s something quite magical about drawing on silver foil. You’ll need permanent markers (eg Sharpies), and could use foil baking cases instead of sheet foil paper. Here’s some lovely silver foil bunting from Along Came Cherry to give you some ideas to get started.
  • Playing ‘Follow the leader’. Choose a leader and then get the family/group of children to all line up behind the leader. As the leader moves around everyone behind the leader has to mimic the leader’s actions. Anyone who fails to copy the movement is “out”, continuing until just one person is left behind the leader. This person then becomes the new leader. This could merge into one of my favourite games, doing The Ministry of Silly Walks.
  • Making your own lemur with a fluffy, stripy tale, using black and white pompoms and a pipecleaner, just like we did here.
  • What book cover has recently made you stop in your tracks?

    Disclosure: I was sent a free review copy of Lemur Dreamer by its publisher.

    3 Comments on Lemur Dreamer by Coutney Dicmas, last added: 1/12/2015
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    7. Books of Summer – For Kids

    In Australia we’re in the midst of Summer, although here in Melbourne we’ve already had all four seasons in one, sometimes even in one day! A great way to familiarise children with all that the season encompasses is through engaging language experiences. That means providing children opportunities to see, do, touch, listen, read and think […]

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    8. Vietnam Book Five: Walking Wounded by Chris Lynch

    Morris, Beck, Ivan and Rudi have been friends since forever, so when Rudi was drafted, Morris convinced the others join up and go to Vietnam together, thinking they could watch out for each other by joining a different branch of the Armed Forces.  Each of the previous four books in the series focuses on one of the friends.

    Now, in Walking Wounded, Rudi has been killed by friendly fire, apparently, the friendliest fire of all, and this novel follows each man's reaction to their friend's death.

    Morris, whose idea it was for them to all join up, is feeling terrible guilt about having convinced them to do that.  He immediately requests and is granted the job of escorting Rudi's body home.  There is a lot of introspection during the trip.  But once home, Morris has some difficulty being there, in part because he knows the truth about Rudi's death and in part because the adjustment to suddenly being in a civilian setting is difficult for combat soldiers.  This was especially true for Vietnam soldiers, who had to face protesters, as Morris does while home, who held them responsible for the war that they were against.  Morris is still in the Navy and, though he is now stateside for his remaining tour of duty, his request for how he would like to spend that time may surprise readers, but when I think about it, I realized it would be a healing process for him.

    Beck, the smartest one of the bunch, joined the Air Force, flying a C-123 aircraft, defoliating the forests of Vietnam with Agent Orange.  Beck is struggling to keep things together for himself, even as he is almost overwhelmed by the loss of his friend and by the realization that he is fighting a senseless war.

    Ivan is an Army trained sharpshooter, who seems to just appear on different missions in this book, until he finally is shot in the face.  Sent stateside, on a first class plane, Ivan decides to take off once he reaches the states and hitchhikes the rest of the way home.  Despite winning medals, Ivan is having a great deal of difficulty with his Vietnam experience and with Rudi's death and takes off for the family's hunting cabin to be alone.

    I have only read one other book by Chris Lynch, a WWII novel, but I will say that he does know how to write a war book for middle grade readers.  There is enough fighting with the enemy and among the American soldiers themselves to make it feel realistic with being too graphic.  The language is a little cleaner than I would have imagined it was in reality, but that's OK.

    I don't usually read the fifth book in a series if I haven't read the previous four, but I did this time.  I found I didn't have much problem figuring things out.  The novel is narrated in the first person by all four of the friends in alternating chapters, so we get the full effect of their reaction to Rudi's death and to the war in general.  I was a little taken aback by Lynch still giving Rudi a voice, but in the end, it worked.

    I thought Lynch really captured the disorientation, confusion, and anger that accompanied so many Vietnam soldiers as they fought a war they didn't fully understand and returned to a hostile homeland. Morris and Ivan are clearly beginning to experience the emotion toll of the Vietnam war and the disenfranchised feeling so many felt after the war.

    As war books go, that is books that actually take place in the midst of the fighting, this is an excellent novel.  I remember feeling the same way about the first Chris Lynch book I read, The Right Fight.

    Everyone thought that Book 4: Casualties of War was the last book in the series, but then Walking Wounded appeared.  Is this the last book?  Don't count on it.  There are still too many lose ends, beginning with what happened to Beck.

    This book is recommended for readers age 10+
    This book was an EARC received from NetGalley

    This is my Vietnam War book for my 2014 War Challenge with a Twist hosted by War Through the Generations.

    0 Comments on Vietnam Book Five: Walking Wounded by Chris Lynch as of 1/8/2015 7:47:00 AM
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    9. Focus on Positive

    When life throws you down a crooked track, hold close your family, latch onto new friends, throw up your hands and find something to smile about.

    IMG_0177

    While 2014 was definitely a crooked track for us, I want to close it with a look to the good. Shortly after our diagnosis, I had a friend reach out to me amidst his own health crisis. My advice to him was, “Hear the negative, focus on the positive and know that God has both covered.”

    Good advice? I think so – but much easier said than done. This world screams negative. We are bombarded with the bad. The nightly news covers everything wrong with our world first and longest before they throw in one human interest story just before saying good night. (If you missed Kylie on the news, you can watch it HERE)

    While sifting through the ruins of this broken world, how do we see what is good? I have seen a lot of things in my 47 years. To borrow the movie title, I’ve seen the good, the bad, and the ugly. I have driven a man out of the slum of Port ‘au Prince, Haiti and watched as he was given the keys to his new home. I have been fortunate enough to help put a roof on a hut in Swaziland for a family decimated by HIV. Beauty plucked from ugly, good snatched from bad. Both started with a choice to engage.

    Despite my experiences, never in my life have I seen the good side of humanity than from the day Kylie was diagnosed with cancer. The flood of well-wishes, prayers, and support for our family has been as overwhelming as the diagnosis itself. When you hear the words, “Your child has cancer,” the temptation is to curl up in the fetal position, shut out the world and cry. When I was at my weakest, I found an abundance of arms to hold me.

    Friends, family, our school and church rallied to our side.

    The nurses, doctors, childlife specialists, and staff of the Aflac Cancer Center at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta became dear partners in this journey. We also found great care at Levine Children’s Hospital in Charlotte.

    Organizations came alongside to help navigate and let us know we aren’t alone: 1 Million for Anna, Make-A-Wish, Cure Childhood Cancer, The Truth 365, Rally Foundation, Melodic Caring Project, The Jesse Rees Foundation, Along Comes Hope, 3/32 Foundation, Blessed Beauty, Open Hands Overflowing Hearts, Kingdom Kids, Lily’s Run.

    We have seen built a network of people who pray faithfully for Kylie. To be totally honest, I admit there are times when I cannot lift a word to heaven. Maybe a grunt, maybe an angry shake of the fist. Without a doubt, I know there are many people praying for my little girl when I can’t. That is incredibly humbling.

    Then there is encouragement and love. Kylie gets cards and letters daily. At least a dozen young ladies have donated their hair in Kylie’s honor. People all across the country and literally around the world have been #SmileyForKylie. As of today, 87 countries have done it. Grown men have written it on their bald heads.

    Between Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook, we have received over 10,000 smiling selfies for Kylie. Unreal. We have gotten them from celebrities, athletes, and Kylie’s beloved Broadway performers. Idina Menzel made a video. Kristin Chenoweth made two pics and talked about her on a radio show. Laura Osnes posted a word of encouragement to her. She got a box of Broadway treats from Hunter Foster. She had pics from 9 out of 12 musicals nominated for Tony Awards, and the cast of her favorite show, Aladdin have reached out to her over and over again. Sometimes we can trace the web that led to the picture, but most of the time we have no idea how they happen – we have no line to these people. It’s just good. And it is out there – making a choice to engage with our little girl in a time when she so desperately needs it. A thank you will never be enough, but all I can offer.

    Regardless of your view of the Bible, Philippians 4:8 gives us sage advice:

    “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

    I’ll not be able to change everyone’s mind. You can remain a cynic if you choose to. But the things I have experienced in 2014 prove to me that there is good in this world. I choose to think about such things – it is what has kept me going.

    In 2015, we look forward to hearing the words: No Evidence of Disease and watching Kylie resume a normal life. That will be something worth throwing up our hands and smiling about.

     

    Happy New Year from Portsong, your humble mayor & Kylie


    Filed under: Learned Along the Way

    6 Comments on Focus on Positive, last added: 1/3/2015
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    10. John Bloom and the Victory Garden by Leigh Shearin

    When John Bloom, 10, woke up on Monday, December 8, 1941, he woke up to the news that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor the day before.  America was now at war and John feels he needs to do something to support his country.

    John thinks that forming a club with his friends Chewie and Joe so that they can do good-works projects is a good idea. His frineds agree and they name it The American Boys Club, or the ABC, for short.  They decide their first project should be chopping firewood for a neighbor, 98 year old Mr. Hutchins who has been ill and unable to do it himself.  But when Mr. Hutchins greets them at his front door with a pitchfork, they decide to prank him instead, by filling up his outhouse with snow.

    John knows it is wrong to do but goes along with Chewie and Joe to save face.  The next day, looking for something to do after their club meeting, the boys decide to go back to Mr. Hutchins's place to see if the outhouse was still full of snow.  But when they get there, there is no sign of Mr. Hutchins anywhere, until John notices a hand on the floor.  Breaking into the house, he discovers Mr. Hutchins unconscious on the floor.  Chewie runs for the doctor while John and Joe stay at the house.

    It turns out that Mr. Hutchins had fallen and is now required to stay in bed until he recovers, first in the hospital and then at home.  But when John goes over to see how the old man is doing, he discovers that there is no food in the house and Mr. Hutchins hasn't eaten for a while.   Perhaps John has not only found the perfect good-works project for The American Boys Club, but has also made a new friend who can help him do something else good for the war effort as well.

    John Bloom and the Victory Garden is a real home front novel.  Not only does it address the fears that most Americans felt at the outbreak of World War II, but it shows how quickly people responded to being at war.  For example, John's father immediately goes to the Army recruiting office to try to join up; John deals with concerns that his friend Joe, who is Italian, will be sent to an internment camp with his parents and grandmother; America's first demoralizing defeats are acutely felt by the residents of John's town, Appleside, NJ.

    There are other nice touches like how people really depended on their radios for entertainment and news; and that boys still wanted shiny new bikes for Christmas despite the war; and of course, there is talk about rationing, and expectations of food, rubber and metal shortages.

    The characters are well realized, even the secondary characters have a feeling of depth to them.  The community that John lives in is easy to picture and there is a helpful map at the front of the book to situate the reader in Appleside and the boys adventures all over the town.

    There is a lot of talk about food in the novel, dishes made by John's mother and Joe's grandmother, so to satisfy the cravings that will no doubt result from the food descriptions, there are some recipes at the back of the book, including Nonna's Buttered Noodles, which I am going to make this week.

    This is a book that any middle grade reader will enjoy, whether or not they are history buffs, mainly because the themes of friendship, loyalty and helpfulness are timeless.

    This book is recommended for readers age 9+
    This book is part of a blog tour and was obtained from Mother Daughter & Son Book Promotion Services


    0 Comments on John Bloom and the Victory Garden by Leigh Shearin as of 12/31/2014 7:17:00 AM
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    11. Jex Malone, by C.L. Gaber and V.C. Stanley | Book Review

    Jex Malone, by C.L. Gaber and V.C. Stanley, is an exciting mystery and just like a re-imagined Nancy Drew saga, where feisty girls get together to solve crimes and have fun along the way.

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    12. Beacon of Light, 2014

    Most likely you’ve near heard of the writer who I’ve selected as the Beacon of Light for 2014, but he has served as my inspiration this past year, illuminating the shoals of self-doubt and guiding me past the fears and uncertainties that often accompany the writing process. The writer’s name is Chuck Entwistle, a friend of mine from our days as grad students in the MFA program at Vermont

    0 Comments on Beacon of Light, 2014 as of 12/25/2014 3:53:00 AM
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    13. In the Limelight with MG Author: Derek Thompson…

    I want to thank magnificent middle grade author, Derek Thompson for sharing his personal writing journey with us on my blog today. Derek’s book Superhero Club can be purchased from Musa Publishing, Amazon, and other on-line bookstores. Bonus: For a chance to win an ecopy of Superhero Club please check out the Rafflecopter at the end of this post. So let’s get this interview started…

    Welcome, Derek! How long have you been writing?

    I lovedwriting stories as a young child, and the way you could start to create a world or a situation that then, somehow, pulled you into it. My interest in novel writing really took hold in my teens. Writing became a way of exploring ideas, making sense of the world around me, and finding out who I was.

    Very inspiring for younger writers! Where did you get your idea and inspiration to write Superhero Club?

    Generally, I start with the central character and what I learn about them takes the story forward. In the case of Jo, once I understood her that gave me the main challenges and relationships.

    I was an exam invigilator at a local school, which also included one-to-one support for children with additional educational needs (reading, handwriting or explaining some key words and terms). Being back in a school environment allowed me to see how real children behave with one another, and it also made me think about my own schooldays.

    Putting all that together, I wanted to create fully realised, living, breathing characters that readers would care about enough to share their journey.

    Sounds like you’ve done a top-notch job! What sets Superhero Club apart from other books/series in the same genre?

    That's a good question! Superhero Club is set in the present day and touches upon some of the issues that young people face: self-image, bullying, fitting in at school, food issues and modern families. All that said, the book also deals with the importance of friendship, creativity, transformation and self-acceptance. It's written with humour and, first and foremost, is an entertaining read that will have you rooting for Jo, the main character. My hope is that it will also stimulate discussion about the issues raised and encourage anyone who is having any of Jo's challenges to talk to someone about it.

    Hmm…I bet a readers’ guide for this book would be a great investment! As a middle grade author, what is your writing process?

    The character came first and once I 'heard' her voice clearly it as a case of allowing her to tell her own story. I didn't have a fixed idea about where the story was heading until about halfway through the writing.
     
    How long did it take for you to start and finish Superhero Club?

    Once I understood Jo and her situations it was a fairly smooth process - I'd say around a month to put it together and then refine it. There were some ideas I had originally that, on further reflection, were too ambitious for this book. However, they may reach the page in some other form in the future.
     
    A month? Wish I had your typing fingers! Do you have any advice for other writers striving to write in your genre, Derek?

    The most important thing is to understand the lives of young people, as well as what they are reading. Stories need to be relevant to your readers, and emotions need to be authentic. One aspect of fiction that's largely overlooked, I think, is its capacity for enabling and encouraging us to feel. Emotional literacy is as important as literacy itself.

    Above all, write! Worry about all the other stuff later - the editing and pacing can all be worked on, but only if you have a completed story to work with. I'd also say that it's important to have fun with it. Make your readers laugh, cry, think differently and even gasp with surprise.

    Get feedback from young people and school staff if you can - it will give you valuable insight into how your ideas and your writing are received.

    Truly, it’s all about how you make readers feel. Wonderful advice! So, what’s next for Derek Thompson the author?

    I've written two contemporary adult British thrillers (I'm a Brit) that are under review by a UK publisher - best described as an updated British noir. I've also written a standalone transatlantic comedy drama, loosely based on a year I spent living the American Dream in New York and California.

    As regards writing for children, I have some early draft books that need dusting off, and I'm now thinking about another adventure for Jo and the Superhero Club.

    All things considered, 2015 is going to be an exciting writing year!

    Wishing you all the best in 2015, Derek! Okay, here’s one for me, since I’m writing a time travel series—If you could time travel anywhere into Earth’s past, where would you go and why?

    Well, having grown up with Dr Who, time travel has always held a bit of a fascination for me. I'm going to be greedy and choose three journeys through time:

    I'd like to go back into my own timeline (always tricky!), to see myself as a child and to see my family again at that time. Part curiosity and part therapy!

    Next, it would have to be Ancient Egypt. I've been on two trips to Egypt and felt a real sense of connection with the Egyptian history and culture. In particular, Karnak temple at Luxor at the height of its influence and the wondrous Nile would be an amazing sight.

    Lastly, I'd love to see a glimpse of Victorian London, when the railways were the lifeblood of the nation and the London Underground was developing. I would walk along cobbled streets and read about the adventures of a certain Mr. Sherlock Holmes.
        
    Mini synopsis for Superhero Club:

    You only find out you're a butterfly if you spread your wings.

    Twelve year-old Jo has never fit in at school, what with being overweight and over-sensitive. Since Dad moved out, Mom forgets who's who in the whole mother-daughter relationship. Jo has one ambition in life: to be normal. Not gifted, or gorgeous, or even particularly popular. Just normal.

    When Jo's counselor offers her a lifeline, there's a bunch of other misfits sharing the rope. Group sessions could help them to help each other, but Chris doesn't like speaking and Alistair's a self-confessed geek. Like Stevie, the joker, says, “Oh yeah, right bunch of bloody superheroes we are!”

    Sometimes the most heroic thing is to trust a group of strangers, who also have a lot at stake. Jo may find the unlikeliest of friends, and a way to transform her life from the inside. The Superhero Club could give her all that in the blink of an eye. Well, maybe a double-blink!

    Sales links:




    Connect with Derek:


    Pinterest link showing covers and sales link for my books, ors book that contains some of my writing: http://www.pinterest.com/derekwriter/derek-thompsons-books/


    Twitter: @DerekWriteLines

    Author Bio:

    Derek is an adventurer with words, creating fiction, non-fiction and comedy material. He believes in the power of the imagination and the magic of 'what if' to open our eyes to possibility. He is also a magazine columnist and freelancer - see his blog for details.

    a Rafflecopter giveaway

    0 Comments on In the Limelight with MG Author: Derek Thompson… as of 12/15/2014 5:36:00 AM
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    14. The Wonder and The Imaginary; 2 very special books indeed

    I believe any book can fuel the imagination when it arrives in the right hands at the right time, but there are also some which explicitly explore how we nurture creativity and create space for inspiration and following our dreams. The Wonder by Faye Hanson and The Imaginary by A.F. Harrold and Emily Gravett are two such books which I’ve read recently and which have left me brimming with delight, hope and happiness and which have sparked hours of inspired play in my children.

    wonderfrontcoverThe Wonder by Faye Hanson is a sumptuous début picture book about a young boy whose head if full of daydreams which transform the humdrum world around him. Time and again adults tell him to get his head out of the clouds and come back to reality, but this is barely possible for a child who finds wonder, curiosity and delight wherever he looks. Finally in art class he’s able to let loose his imagination onto a blank sheet of paper delighting his teacher and filling his parents with pride.

    The child in this story sees ordinary objects but has the imagination to turn them into astonishing stories, breathtaking ideas, and worlds full of adventures waiting to happen. I know I want to foster this ability in my own children (and in myself!); the world becomes more beautiful, richer, and simply more enjoyable when we are able to imagine more than the grey, wet and humdrum daily life that all too often catches us up. This utterly delightful book is an enthusiastic encouragement to let more imagination in to our lives.

    Click to view a larger version of this interior spread from The Wonder by Faye Hanson

    Click to view a larger version (it’s really worth it!) of this interior spread from The Wonder by Faye Hanson

    Hanson’s illustrations are dense, saturated, and rich. Careful use of colour lights up the boy’s dreams in his otherwise sepia coloured life. Limited palettes add to the intensity of these pictures; it’s interesting that their vitality doesn’t come from a rainbow range of paints, but rather from focussing on layer of layer of just a few colours, packed with exquisite detail. There’s a luminosity about the illustrations; some look like they’ve got gold foil or a built-in glow and yet there are no novelty printing techniques here.

    All in all, an exquisite book that will tell anyone you share it with that you value their dreams and want to nurture their ingenuity, inventiveness and individuality.

    imaginarycoverNow let me play devil’s advocate: Is there sometimes a line to be walked between feeding a child’s imagination and yet enabling them to recognise the difference between real life and day dreams? In The Wonder, there are plenty of adults pointing out the apparent problems/risks of day dreaming a great deal. On the other hand, in The Imaginary, a mother fully enters into her daughter’s imaginary world, not only acknowledging an imaginary best friend, but actively supporting this belief by setting places at meal times, packing extra bags, even accepting accidents must be the result of this friend and not the child herself.

    Amanda believes that only she can see her imaginary friend Rudger. But all this changes one day when a mysterious Mr Bunting appears on the doorstep, apparently doing innocent door-to-door market research. But all is not as it seems for it turns out that Mr Bunting has no imagination of his own and can only survive by eating other people’s imaginary friends. He’s sniffed Rudger out and now he’s going to get him, whatever it takes.

    Click to see larger illustration by Emily Gravett , from The Imaginary by A. F. Harrold

    Click to see larger illustration by Emily Gravett, from The Imaginary by A. F. Harrold

    If you’ve ever wondered where imaginary friends come from, and what happens to them when their children grow up and stop day-dreaming this is a book for you. If you love a good villain, adventures which include libraries and narrow escapes you’ll enjoy this too. If you’re a fan of elegant and attractive books you’ll want to feel this between your hands. The illustrations by Emily Gravett are terrific (in every sense) and incredibly atmospheric, magically adding beauty and tension to a story which I thought couldn’t be bettered.

    Intelligent, clever, thoughtful, and packed with seeds of love and inspiration The Imaginary is perhaps my favourite middle grade/young fiction book of the year. If you want a fuller flavour of this gem before hurrying to get it into your hands, head and heart, there’s a full teacher’s guide to The Imaginary available on the Bloomsbury website and you can watch a video of Emily Gravett working on her illustrations here.

    *************

    One of the ways my girls have been inspired in their playing since sharing these books became clear when they told me they wanted to make a star-making machine to go with the one features in The Wonder (see the illustration above).

    M first wrote out some recipes for stars:

    bluegiantrecipe

    redgiantrecipe

    I provided a little food for thought…

    foodforengineers

    …and a selection of machine parts.

    machinepartsJPG

    Several hours later the star machine was coming together

    starmachine1

    buildingmachine

    Next up a selection of star ingredients were sourced:

    staringredients

    The machine was fed…

    feedingmachine

    Can you see the pulses of one star in the making?!

    starinmaking

    And out popped these stars (here’s a tutorial) at the end of the star making process:

    starsfrommachine

    Here’s one just for you:

    endresult

    Whilst making our machine we listened to:

  • Invisible Friends by Dog on Fleas
  • Imaginary Friend by Secret Agent 23 Skidoo
  • ‘Pure Imagination’ from the original Charlie and the Chocolate Factory film
  • Land of Make Believe by Bucks Fizz (Groan!)

  • Other activities which could work well alongside reading The Wonder and The Imaginary include:

  • Creating a wonder wall on which to write all those curious questions you and the kids want to find answers to. There’s a lovely tutorial for creating your own Wonder Wall over on Nurture Store.
  • Going on a Wonder Walk. I’ve been thinking about places which spark the imagination or create a sense of awe and thinking about how I can take the kids to visit these places and see what ideas the experience sparks. In general the sorts of places I think have the potential to ignite wonder include high-up places with views to the horizon, hidden places, for example underground, enormous spaces whether man-made or natural, and dark places lit only by candles or fire. I think these locations could all work as seeds for the imagination, and so during the coming holiday I’m going to try to take the girls to a place that fits each of these descriptions.
  • Spirals feature a great deal in The Wonder‘s artwork. Here are various art projects which might inspire your own spiral creations: spiral mobiles, spiral suncatchers, spiral wall art made from scrap paper and even human spirograph art (you need huge pieces of paper but this looks great fun).

  • How do you foster your kids’ imagination? And your own?

    Disclosure: I was sent free review copies of both books in today’s post.

    3 Comments on The Wonder and The Imaginary; 2 very special books indeed, last added: 12/15/2014
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    15. A Letter for Leo – Perfect Picture Book Friday

    Title: A Letter for Leo Written and illustrated by: Sergio Ruzzier Published By: Clarion Books, New York, 2014 Themes/Topics: postmen, friendship, letters, birds, weasels Suitable for ages: 3-5 Fiction, 32 pages Opening: Leo is the mailman of a little old town Synopsis: Postman Leo … Continue reading

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    16. Mission Accomplished! Renee Price Launches ‘Digby’s Moon Mission’

    New and local indie author, Renee Price, has recently released the growingly popular Digby’s Moon Mission, just in time for Christmas. Fostering children’s natural curiosity and their young imaginations are key elements to creating a successful picture book, and ones that Renee elicits in her picture book. Digby Fixit is a curious boy with a […]

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    17. Fruits of your Labors…

    Sharing the Good things in Life with my BFF
    The upcoming American Thanksgiving paves the way for the holiday season, and because many of my author friends live in the USA, I feel I’m celebrating being thankful right along with them. Thanksgiving (both in Canada and America) not only gives us time to be with family and friends, but to think about what we’re truly grateful for. It’s also a time for us to reflect on the past year, and take stock in what we have reaped and accomplished thus far. As some of you know, I moved from cottage country to the warmer southern climate of Ontario this summer, and have never looked back. So in keeping with the spirit of giving thanks, I’d like to share one of my experiences since moving down here that I’ll always be grateful for…

    Living in wine country has its benefits. So when my BFF came down for a visit this past September, it was a no-brainer on where to take her. Setting a course for a couple of wineries, getting lost for about 15 minutes, then finally getting back on track, we made it to the first winery, and we were not disappointed.

    To be honest, I’ve never been to a wine tasting. Usually they’re free if you purchase a bottle. We both tried a few—my BFF preferring red, and I going to the light side, our palette’s danced and tonsils rocked to the taste of each wine sampled. My house warming gift consisted of a rather nice chardonnay. Salute!

    Next, we asked for directions to the next winery (far be it for us to put our faith in an out-dated GPS). We found it easily, and met up with a whole lot of bikers on their Ride for MS. What a fun group! We met kindred spirits and wine lovers in two participants named Sharon and Mike, and did a selfie with them! Fun times! Of course more wine was sampled and bought before we cashed in our chips and headed back home.

    This whole experience has taught me something. It takes a lot of time to grow, nurture, and prepare grapes before the wine making process begins and after the wine is bottled. It’s a huge industry that relies on many people. So how would you compare making wine to writing a book? It comes down to this: some wines take years to be released into the world, while others maybe months. Authors can crank out words like stomping on grapes until they’re satisfied with the tone and flavor. Other authors take their time, allowing their words to ferment for a while, let breathe, until they too are ready to uncork their properties. However you write, and whatever you write, you can be sure of one thing: everyone’s tastes are different, and there’s bound to be an audience just for you.


    What or who are you grateful for this time of the season? Your health? Your family? Your job? Red or white? Fiction or non-fiction? For me, it’s our new home, living closer to family, and knowing in my heart that it was time for a change. Oh, yeah, and white, definitely white. Happy Thanksgiving to my American friends and family! Cheers and thank you for reading my blog!

    And a Good Time was had by All!

    0 Comments on Fruits of your Labors… as of 11/24/2014 8:44:00 AM
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    18. How Are You?

    The most disingenuous three words in the English language. Unless you are the ultimate cynic and cast your lot with I love you. I hope that’s not the case.

    Do we ever mean it when we ask? Really? When is the last time you passed someone in the hall and said “how are you” and truly wanted to take the time to know how they were? I’ll bet it’s been a while.

    I’m not holier than thou. I say it all the time and rarely care. If some slick gunslinger is quicker on the draw than me, I even add the oft-disregarded, “I am well, and you?” Of course, I don’t want to know.

    Until yesterday.

    I get these wild hairs – often they involve really stupid things, but this one actually had redeeming potential. I decided to spend my lunch hour in the lobby of my building asking people I saw, “How are you?” and giving them available time and a proper interest to see if they would answer.

    Most people don’t stop long enough to notice my disarming voice beckoning them to unburden themselves. The first seven I asked kept moving and gave the appropriate return without so much as an upward glance.

    I don’t believe that anyone is “fine” like these seven told me. Pawn your lies and rote responses elsewhere.

    Fine

    Number eight seemed to think I had serious mental problems and eyed me warily while reaching into her purse for either a small handgun or pepper spray. Needless to say I decided against an elevator ride with this charmer. “I’ll take the next one, Bonnie Parker.”

    You can trap the elderly.

    In walked a slow, older gentleman. Number nine. He began scanning the directory and seemed somewhat confused.

    “How are you?” I asked in a very welcoming and reassuring tone.

    “I’m fine young man, just fine,” he replied. Something was different, though. Before he spoke, he turned and made eye contact.

    He was rather unkempt, smelled like my high school gym teacher, and had a thick bushel of hair growing out of each nostril. But he smiled warmly. In fact, he smiled all over… an infectious smiled that started at his lips, slowly ran through his eyes and worked its way off his person and onto me. I liked this old dude.

    “Say, would you know where the office of Litton & Driscoll is located,” he asked.

    “I think that’s on the fourth floor.”

    He patted me gently on the chest with some paperwork he had rolled into a tube, like a kid’s telescope. “Thank you, friend.”

    “Don’t mention it.” Judging from his demeanor, this might be my first victim who actually was okay. He might just be fine. I had to be certain, though. “Are you sure you are fine?”

    He looked at me long whilst I returned my best, biggest, dopiest smile.

    “Well, I am headed up to settle my wife’s affairs. So, if you want an honest answer, I suppose I’m not fine.”

    Oh boy…  Panic!   In over my head…  I thought I would learn about a foot ailment… or a wayward kitten. Not this. Why am I so stupid? All of me wanted to say, “I’m fine, and you?” But I got myself into this.

    “I’m sorry to hear that. I can’t imagine.”

    “You married?”

    “Yes, sir. For 22 years now.”

    “Seem young for that.”

    I really liked this old dude.

    “How long were you married?”

    “Fifty-three years last August….”

    And so began a wonderful story of love and loss.

    You know what? I’m glad I asked. In fact, I’m going to break the habit of asking when I don’t care. From now on, I will only ask, “how are you” if I have time and interest in the answer. Try it yourself. Better yet, come join Joseph and me for coffee tomorrow morning and see that infectious smile.


    Filed under: Learned Along the Way

    5 Comments on How Are You?, last added: 11/19/2014
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    19. HAT WEEK: Hooray for Hat! by Brian Won

    Elephant’s day doesn’t get off to a good start. He wakes up GRUMPY.

    When the doorbell rings, it only annoys him. When he thumps downstairs to see who it is, there is a mystery present waiting for him and this unexpected gift – a most spectacular hat – turns his day around and puts a great big smile on his face.

    Keen to share his good fortune Elephant visits his friends. They too have woken up out of sorts but Elephant knows a great way to spread his happiness: by sharing his present and giving each friend a fabulous hat to wear.

    hoorayHooray for Hat by Brian Won is a wonderfully up-beat and joyous ode to friendship, the good things that come from ‘paying it forward’ and teamwork. It perfectly captures the transformational magic of hats; a little bit of frivolity and exuberance bursting out of your head can indeed do wonders to how you feel!

    From the deftly humorous grumpy facial expressions in a range of animals, to the appealing candy colour palette beautifully set off against stark white pages, Hooray for Hat‘s illustrations and design are a delight. The dapper carnival procession of animals are sure to make young readers giggle and banish any blues, helping us remember how little acts of kindness in life can make all the difference. A treat, pure and simple!

    In response to Hooray for Hat we set up our own millinery studio, using old lampshades as bases for our hats (we were able to source lots of old lampshades from a local recycling centre).

    hoorayforhat5

    Lampshades, ribbon, paper, hot clue, sequins and a whole lot of imagination and craziness later we had our hats:

    hoorayforhat4

    hoorayforhat3

    As you can see, they made us feel very happy!

    hoorayforhat2

    Whilst making our hats we listened to:

  • I Wanna Hat with Cherries played by the Glenn Miller Orchestra
  • Top Hat Ramble by Big Country Bluegrass – great for dancing to, but the only free recording I can find on YouTube isn’t great quality.
  • The Tinfoil Hat made both girls giggle

  • Other activities which would go well alongside reading Hooray for Hat include:

  • Playing with the activity sheet Brian Won has created to go with his book. You can download it from here and it includes bunting, different paper hats to make and colouring in.
  • Checking out this Pinterest board with lots of hats kids can make themselves. I like the tissue paper hats and the peacock hat.
  • Choosing to make and deliver a surprise gift for someone, just because…
  • Are you a hat person? If so, I’d love to hear about your favourite hat!

    Disclosure: I was sent a free review copy of Hooray for Hat from the publisher.

    3 Comments on HAT WEEK: Hooray for Hat! by Brian Won, last added: 10/29/2014
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    20. HAT WEEK: Happy Birthday, Madame Chapeau and David Roberts’ previous life as a milliner

    What’s a life without love, even if that love is a bit wonky and not quite what you expected?

    1403988049Madame Chapeau, the latest creation from the finely paired team of Andrea Beaty and David Roberts, does her best to send little flights of joy and love out into the world, by making hats that perfectly match each of her clients. She’s imaginative, attentive and playful with what she creates, and her customers are delighted. However, poor Madame Chapeau lives alone. There clearly once was someone important in her life, but now, on her birthday she is left dining without close company.

    What makes it even harder to bear is that her most treasured hat has been lost en route to her solo birthday meal. Passers-by try to help by offering their own hats to Madame Chapeau, and although their kindness is appreciated. nothing is quite right.

    But then up steps a secret admirer, who has been watching Madame Chapeau for some time. A young girl, clearly fascinated by the hats Madame Chapeau creates, offers the milliner a little something she has been working on. It’s rather odd, but this gift has been made with much love and turns out to be the best sort of birthday present Mme Chapeau could have wished for. A new friendship is formed and – one suspects – a new hat maker begins her training.

    Detail from Happy Birthday, Madam Chapeau. Note the hat that Madame Chapeau is wearing and compare it with the hat in the photo below of David Roberts' mum.

    Detail from Happy Birthday, Madam Chapeau. Note the hat that Madame Chapeau is wearing and compare it with the hat in the photo below of David Roberts’ mum.

    This is a whimsical and charming book which celebrates creativity, generosity and thoughtfulness from start to finish. Beaty’s rhyming text tells a heart-warming tale, but Roberts’ detailed and exuberant illustrations steal the show. With lots of famous hats to spot (look out for Princess Beatrice’s hat, for example, or Charlie Chaplin’s Derby) and fabulous fashion, food and architectural details to pour over, this book rewards repeated readings. Happy Birthday Madame Chapeau is a joyous, life-affirming read and if that isn’t enough of a reason to seek it out, do read Maria Popova’s commentary on the subtle message this book has about diversity and cultural stereotypes.

    We brought Happy Birthday, Madame Chapeau to life by customizing our own hats with pom-poms (these play an important role in the book).

    chapeau1

    Beanie type hats, plus some colourful craft pompoms make for some enjoyably silly headgear – perfect as winter approaches ;-)

    chapeau2

    chapeau3

    I wonder what David Roberts would make of our hats? I ask this because it turns out he was himself a milliner before he became an illustrator. From a young age he had an interest in fashion, making clothes for his sister and her dolls, before going on to study fashion design at college. From this, a special love and skill with hats grew – a love and eye that can clearly be seen in his Madame Chapeau illustrations. I asked David if he would share a little about his love of hats, how it developed and what he finds so enjoyable about making hats. Here’s what he had to say:-

    One of the first hats David Roberts made  - for The Clothes Show competition in 1993.

    One of the first hats David Roberts made – for The Clothes Show competition in 1993.

    “As a kid I was fascinated by Mrs Shilling, and the hats her son David made that she wore to Ascot. They were so theatrical that it would make the news! I loved how she wore these amazing and often bizarre creations with such style and elegance – even if the hat was ridiculous she never looked ridiculous in it.”

    David Shilling with his mother Gertrude Shilling. Photo: Sidney Harris

    “So when I had the option to do a course in millinery while studying for a degree in fashion design at Manchester Polytechnic, I jumped at the chance, and from then on I was hooked.”

    David Roberts' sister in the hat he made her for her wedding day.

    David Roberts’ sister in the hat he made her for her wedding day.

    “I love the sculptural aspect of millinery; a hat can be so individual, so singular, a one off. It’s so exciting to have all your elements to create a hat, cloth, wire, glue, buckram, feathers, beads, tulle, net and just let something evolve in your hands. It can turn in to anything really – an abstract shape or something natural like a plant or a flower.”

    Stephen Jones, surrounded by some of his hat creations, London, circa 1985. Photo: Christopher Pillitz

    “I worked for Stephen Jones for 5 years make his couture hats , where I learned so many skills. And although I loved making his imaginative creations, I stared to realise that I wanted to try my hand at illustrating children’s books – the other great passion in my life.”

    This hat is one David Roberts made for his partner Chris (modelling it here). David used this as one of the hats in Madame Chapeau's shop.

    This hat is one David Roberts made for his partner Chris (modelling it here). Do look out for it in Madame Chapeau’s shop!

    “I am glad I made the step in to illustration, but I do still love to get the wire and beads and feathers out to make a hat once in a while. Madame Chapeau came about when the author Andrea Beaty heard that I had once been a milliner: She wrote the text for me and sent it from Chicago in a hat box! I was utterly captivated by it and enjoyed illustrating it and indulging myself once more in the wonderful world of millinery.”

    This is the hat David Roberts gave to Madame Chapeau to wear. It is one David made for his mum to wear at his sister's wedding.

    This is the hat David Roberts gave to Madame Chapeau to wear. It is one David made for his mum to wear at his sister’s wedding.

    My enormous thanks to David for sharing some of his millinery background with us today. His passion for hats shines through in his gorgeous illustrations for Happy Birthday, Madame Chapeau. Don’t take my word for it – go and find a copy to enjoy yourselves!

    3 Comments on HAT WEEK: Happy Birthday, Madame Chapeau and David Roberts’ previous life as a milliner, last added: 10/30/2014
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    21. The Farmer and the Clown, by Marla Frazee -- listening with our eyes, ears and heart (ages 3-8)

    Our world often seems filled with a cacophony of chatter and bickering -- whether it's on the playground or at home. And so I relish the moment when I can slow down to savor a quiet moment with my students. Marla Frazee's newest picture book, The Farmer and the Clown, creates that quiet moment and helps us see the power of friendship.
    The Farmer and the Clown
    by Marla Frazee
    Beach Lane / Simon & Schuster, 2014
    Your local library
    Amazon
    ages 3-8
    *best new book*
    The book opens as a farmer angrily toils away in solitude. All of a sudden, he's startled as a young clown bounces off a passing circus train. As the farmer brings the little clown home, he looks burdened, exhausted. Just look at the farmer's body language:
    from The Farmer and the Clown, by Marla Frazee
    As the farmer and clown share time together, you can see the farmer's whole disposition change. I love talking with children about what they notice in picture books. With a wordless book like this, we need to listen with our eyes and our heart--just the way the farmer starts listening to the small child.

    Read this book with a child and watch how still they get, how their eyes light up -- especially at the page below when the clown washes off his makeup. And then at the end, the questions I always ask children are:
    • What moment does the farmer start to change? 
    • How can they tell? 
    • What do they notice?

    from The Farmer and the Clown, by Marla Frazee
    At school, we talk explicitly about how important it is to listen with our whole bodies to someone -- to read their body language as well as to listen to their words. The Toolbox Project describes this as the Listening Tool:
    "I listen with my ears, eyes and heart — When I listen as well as hear, I can really understand. When we listen with our ears, our eyes, and our hearts, we become deep listeners who can “hear between the lines.” Our ears bring us the words and intonation; our eyes bring us body language, gestures, and facial expressions; and our hearts bring us empathy—allowing us to walk in someone else’s shoes."
    I think this perfectly describes how we can understand the farmer--and why this book engages readers so emotionally--without any words at all. By listening closely, we develop empathy for another person.

    Read more about the process Marla Frazee used in creating this beautiful book, one of my favorites of the year, at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast -- I loved all the work in progress she shows. I also love the conversation Marla has with Roger Sutton at this Horn Book interview.

    Read The Farmer and the Clown with a little person in your life, and enjoy the warmth of the friendship. Read it with an older child and relish the conversation it can start. Or just find a peaceful moment for yourself and savor the beauty of listening with our eyes, ears and heart.

    The review copy was purchased for our school library. Illustrations are copyright ©2014 Marla Frazee, used with permission from the publisher Simon & Schuster. 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.

    ©2014 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

    0 Comments on The Farmer and the Clown, by Marla Frazee -- listening with our eyes, ears and heart (ages 3-8) as of 11/3/2014 12:31:00 AM
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    22. Storytime: Thanksgiving Roundup

       10 Fat Turkeys by Tony Johnston & illustrated by Rich Deas “Looky!” says a silly turkey swinging from a vine. Gobble gobble wibble wobble. Whoops! Now there are nine.” Girls and boys will gobble up this hilarious counting story about ten goofy turkeys roller-skating on a fence, doing a noodle dance, and more! Give …

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    23. Courage for Beginners (2014)

    Courage for Beginners. Karen Harrington. 2014. Little, Brown. 304 pages. [Source: Library]

    I would definitely recommend Karen Harrington's Courage for Beginners. This middle grade novel is a compelling coming of age novel. It would pair well, I think, with The Swift Boys and Me by Kody Keplinger.

    Mysti Murphy is a seventh grader with special challenges. Her mom is agoraphobic; for as long as Mysti can remember her mom has been that way. Her dad does it all: all the driving, all the errands. But the fall of her seventh grade year, her dad has an accident, and ends up in the hospital in a coma for several months. The guy who has been her best friend--by all appearances--decides to drop her. She won't fit in with his new "hipster" persona. He's decided that by wearing a hipster hat and being a huge jerk, he'll become more popular with people who count. Mysti definitely doesn't count. At least when there's a small chance that others are watching. Mysti struggles. No doubt. The book is about her growing pains--everything going all wrong at once. But does she have the strength and courage to face her problems and cope with them?

    I enjoyed this one. I enjoyed spending time with Mysti. I was very glad that she got to make some new friends. I thought there was a nice balance of scenes between home and school.
    © 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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    24. The Schoolies Series | Book Reviews

    Two excellent installments from the Schoolies series, combining vibrant drawings and lessons on navigating school life.

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    25. The Paper Cowboy

    Levine, Kristin. 2014. The Paper Cowboy. New York: Putnam.

    In the seemingly idyllic, 1950s, town of Downers Grove, Illinois, handsome and popular 12-year-old Tommy Roberts appears to be a typical kid.  He lives with his parents, older sister Mary Lou, younger sisters Pinky and Susie, and a devoted family dog. He and his older sister attend Catholic school, his father works for Western Electric, and his mother stays at home with the younger girls.

    Amidst the backdrop of the Red Scare and McCarthyism, Tommy's discovery of a Communist newspaper in the town's paper drive truck, and a horrific burn accident to Mary Lou, begin a chain of events that uncovers secrets, truths, and lies in his small town populated with many Eastern European immigrants.

    Perhaps the biggest lie is Tommy's own life.  Though he never gets caught, Tommy is a bully, picking on kids at school, especially Little Skinny. When he plants the Communist newspaper in a store owned by Little Skinny's immigrant father, he's gone too far - and he knows it.  Now it's time to act like his cowboy hero, The Lone Ranger, and make everything right, but where can he turn for help?  His mother is "moody" and beats him relentlessly while his father turns a blind eye. His older sister will be hospitalized for months. He has his chores and schoolwork to do, and Mary Lou's paper route, and if Mom's in a mood, he's caretaker for Pinky and Susie as well.

    It's hard to understand a bully, even harder to like one, but readers will come to understand Tommy and root for redemption for him and his family.  He will find help where he least expects it.

         I couldn't tell Mrs. Glazov about the dinner party. Or planting the paper.  But maybe I could tell her about taking the candy.  Maybe that would help.  "There's this boy at school, I said slowly, "Little Skinny."
    .....
         "I didn't like him.  I don't like him.  Sometimes, Eddie and I and the choirboys, we tease him."
         "Ahh," she said again.  "He laugh too?"
         I shook my head.  I knew what Mary Lou would say.  Shame on you, Tommy! Picking on that poor boy.  And now she would have scars just like him.  How would I feel if someone picked on her?
         "What did you do?" Mrs. Glazov asked, her voice soft, like a priest at confession.  It surprised me. I'd never heard her sound so gentle.
         "I took some candy from him," I admitted.
         "You stole it."
         I shrugged.
         "Ahh."
         "It's not my fault! If Mary Lou had been there, I never would have done it!"
         Mrs. Glazov laughed.  "You don't need sister.  You need conscience."
         I had the horrible feeling that she was right.  I wasn't a cowboy at all. I was an outlaw.
    Author Kristin Levine gives credit to her father and many 1950s residents of Downers Grove who shared their personal stories with her for The Paper Cowboy. Armed with their honesty and openness, she has crafted an intensely personal story that accurately reflects the mores of the 1950s.  We seldom have the opportunity (or the desire) to know everything that goes on behind the doors of our neighbors' houses.  Levine opens the doors of Downers Grove to reveal alcoholism, mental illness, abuse, disease, sorrow, and loneliness. It is this stark realism that makes the conclusion so satisfying.  This is not a breezy read with a tidy and miraculous wrap-up.  It is instead, a tribute to community, to ordinary people faced with extraordinary problems, to the human ability to survive and overcome and change.

    Give this book to your good readers - the ones who want a book to stay with them a while after they've finished it.


    Kristin Levine is also the author of The Lions of Little Rock (2012, Putnam) which I reviewed here.

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