Sunday, October 30, 2011

I Positively Recommend ...

Positively by Courtney Sheinmel is a beautiful and thought provoking novel about a teen girl that is HIV positive.  When we meet Emmy, she is 13 and her mother has just passed away from complications due to the AIDS virus.  She is scared and lonely and everything in her life has changed in this moment.  She will have to go live with her father and step-mother who is expecting a child soon.  The reality of living with HIV is tough for Emmy who can’t seem to fit in anywhere anymore.  Her friends at school don’t understand.  Her step-mother is too neat and overbearing.  Her father isn’t help either.  By the time Emmy’s emotions boil over, she has pushed away her best friend, disappointed her father, and scared her step-mother into suggesting that Emmy be sent away for the summer to a camp for others that are HIV positive.

Emmy resists joining the fun at camp.  She finally doesn’t feel different, but can’t seem to move forward.  Throughout the book, Emmy is insightful and sincere, sharing her story with deep emotion and feeling.  I wasn’t sure what to expect from a 13 year old narrator dealing with so much.  I was pleasantly surprised and moved by the story.  Emmy shows real anger, perspective, fear, and in the end makes positive changes in her life.  In simple narrative in the back of the book, Courtney Sheinmel tells her story of growing up being a volunteer of the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, befriending Glaser and her family.  Sheinmel drew on her experience working with the foundation to write Positively.   While this book dealt with real-life difficulties, pain, and life and death I felt really good after reading the story.  It teaches important lessons about how to stay positive, that everyone makes mistakes, and walks young adult readers through a life with HIV.  I hope YA readers are able to gain empathy and perspective on children with health problems like this.  I would recommend this book to 6th graders and up.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Guest Blog: Ready Player One Review

My blog is new.  New to me, new to everyone.  I enjoy reading these books and really enjoy writing the reviews and making any connection I can with other bloggers, authors, teachers, readers, and mothers.  As I continue to read more and more, I noticed my blog is having an impact on others in my life including my husband who reads my blog daily and has picked up a few of the books I have reviewed or talked about.  Recently, he read a YA book that he thought deserved a little blog time, so I thought I would do a short interview about the book and write about it for the blog.  Here we go:

So, you read a YA book and want me to talk about it on my blog.  What’s the book and what made you want to read it?  The book is Ready Player One, the first novel by Ernest Cline.  He is the screen writer of one of my favorite movies, Fanboys.  I heard about it while listening to a podcast.  He was interviewed and the book sounds like a lot of fun.

Is this book outside your reading genre?  I usually read sci-fi novels, so this is close to what I usually read.  The book is science fiction.  It takes place about 30 years in the future in a dystopian society.  Most common and popular form of information is this thing called OASIS.  It’s like a on-line game/internet/virtual reality.

So, Dystopian society books are really popular with readers in YA.  Did you enjoy reading this type of book?  Would you read more books like that? Yes, but the real draw for me wasn’t the portrayal of the bleak future.  It was a book just packed full of 1980’s pop-culture references.  The plot of the book centers on finding a series of Easter eggs left by the creator of Oasis.  This guy was a big nerd growing up in the 80’s.  Whoever solves the puzzle gets a multi-billion dollar fortune.  All the clues to the puzzle are just these references to 80’s pop-culture.  The egg-hunters all study 1980’s pop-culture to educate themselves for the ‘game’.

So …. Were you a big nerd growing up in the 80’s? Yes.

It sounds like you really enjoyed reading this book.  Who else do you think would enjoy reading it?  Middle school and high school students who have a love of video games, as well as Fanboys in their 30’s and 40’s who fondly look back on growing up in the 80’s would really like this book.  

Anything else you want to share about reading this book?  The book did make me laugh and I really didn’t want to put it down once I started reading.  I don’t think I have been this pleasantly surprised about reading something that I didn’t know a lot about going into it since I read the first Harry Potter book.  I have a couple of friends I would really like to recommend read it.

Excellent, that is what a reading community is all about, sharing your reading, great reads, thoughts during reading, etc. with others.  Thanks for talking with me.  I am going to post this on the blog.  Do you have a next book that you are going to read now?  I think we are going to read Darth Paper Strikes Back together, right? Yep.  Love reading together.  :)

Thursday, October 27, 2011

More Books Worth a Second Look

Since my last edition of Books Worth a Second Look I did finish (and reviewed) The Duff, I also read The Strange Case of Origami Yoda.  I continue to read (and enjoy) parts of Anna and the French Kiss. The real story here is that I got caught up in a book that wasn’t motivating me to read.  For whatever reason, I was stuck about half-way through Bumped.  The story was interesting and I think it would have appeal to teen girls.  I just couldn’t suspend belief enough to finish the book.  I hate putting books down, but after reading Donalyn Miller’s The Book Whisperer, I know I have permission to put books down and I am sending this one back to the library.  Now I am ready to choose a new book!  Here are a few books on my To Be Read pile these days:

Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick
I was already excited about this book after reading several reviews.  I saw the huge displays in the bookstores too.  By huge displays, I have to say that the book itself is HUGE!  I was a little overwhelmed at the idea of reading that huge of a YA book.  I finally set my sights on the book at our local store and decided to pick it up.  Opening up the book was like a treasure!  I quickly read through the first five or six chapter and realized the book was exciting and a new literary experience.  I am ready to read this book and get lost in the story!  I also wonder if we'll be seeing more books with this fascinating half pictures, half story format.

Smile by Raina Telgemeier
This quirky graphic novel has me thinking that maybe (maybe!) I would enjoy this book.  I am not only intimidated, but also unsure about graphic novels.  I don’t even know how to read them!  Do I scan the page and pictures first?  Do I read the dialogue boxes in a certain order?  I feel like a thirty something year old virgin when it comes to reading graphic novels!!!  So, I have heard good things about this book and I feel I am ready to take the plunge!  I may not have worn orthodontia, but I had many other awkward things in my middle school years!

Bigger than a Bread Box by Laurel Snyder
Love, love, love the concept of this book.  I want it in my hands!  I have read enough reviews to be 100% intrigued by the plot.  Here is what I hear about the book: The new girl in town (love it) is dealing with difficult family situations when a little magic (love it) comes her way.   What’s not to love about this book?  This book screams to be used in the classroom, right?  I am excited to read this book and review it for others, so it’s a front-runner on my to-be-read list.   
The Friendship Doll by Kirby Larson
Here is another admission from me:  I played with dolls until it was embarrassing.  I remember writing about making my own doll clothes in middle school which garnered laughter from my classmates.  I don’t keep dolls in my house now or have doll-like collectibles being a parent to a Lil Guy who likes balls and books more than anything.  (Yes, I tried gauging his interest in dolls, but he doesn’t really care for them.  Even at his grandmother’s house where the toy baskets have a bit of everything, he ignores the dollbabies.)  Anyway, I heard about this book which focuses on dolls sent as a symbol of friendship from pre-WWII Japan to girls in the United States.   I like the connections between the 2 countries, the time period, and the concept.  I hope I would enjoy the book as well.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Books or Treat
Review: Scaredy Cat, Splat

I admit, I am a sucker for holiday books.  Just like decorating the house, I love to get in the spirit by reading Christmas, Easter, Hanukkah, Halloween, and everything in between.  I love spending my winter break wrapped in a warm blanket with a holiday novel.  That’s why Lil Guy’s book shelves have their fair share of Halloween and Autumn books.  I was pulling all of these books off the bookshelf to make sure they gain some heavy rotation before the holiday comes and goes when I found Scaredy Cat, Splat by Rob Scotton.  Opening up the front cover I saw an inscription to Lil Guy from his grandparent’s from last Halloween.  I am happy now we’ll get to read this book a couple of times this year (and for years to come).  I also want to just express how much I love books as gifts, especially with inscriptions!  It’s a joy to read a book and put Lil Guy’s hand over the inscriptions and remind him of his family and friends who share their love of books.  So, give a book … and don’t forget to write a short inscription to remind others that you want to share your love of books with others.

Scaredy Cat, Splat by Rob Scotton

Splat is a big and clumsy cat who is the star of Rob Scotton’s series, Splat.  These picture books are funny and short, offering a comical look at a young cat who always falls into trouble.  In this installment of the series, Scaredy Cat, Splat, it’s Halloween.  We find Splat at school with his classmates who are competing for the title of Scariest Cat.  While Splat is more scared then scary, he spooks his whole class and then sends them into a fit of laughter when his jack-o-lantern lands on his head.

Being a teacher, I always enjoy books that include a little part about school routines.  This book includes a teacher doing a spooky (but not too scary) read-aloud.  What could be better than a book that promotes reading aloud in the classroom????  I did read this book to my Lil Guy who was interested in the story, especially the spooky parts which were more cute than anything.  I am sure I will read this a few more times in the next week.  I could also see this book being read in a classroom to any K – 3rd grade classroom.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Non-Fiction Picture Book
Review: I Will Come Back for You

I Will Come Back for You: A Family in Hiding During World War II by Marisabina Russo is a true story of how one woman survived Italy’s involvement in WWII.  Told from the point of view of a grandmother, Nonna, recounting the story to her granddaughter, this story tugs at your heart and reminds us of the strength and courage of a generation of people who are to quickly leaving us.  Although Russo has just slightly simplified the story for retelling’s sake, we are like eavesdroppers on a grandmother sharing a family memory.  This is what makes this story beautiful and sincere.

Young parents Jacob and Sabina had already fled from Germany as Jews as this story begins, but soon their country of Italy joins the war and Jews are now in danger in Italy too.  While Jacob is held detained away from his family, he must escape to join the resistance movement.  Even mother, Sabina, must escape with the help of locals who are fighting against the German invaders.  The story doesn’t hide real truths of the war, including one page entirely black that answers what happened to Jacob.  Included in the story are the connections to a charm bracelet worn by the grandmother with charms from each memory of the brave family and neighbors who worked to protect Nonna and her family.  In addition to a glossary of words and events, Russo shares photographs of her great grandmother before, during, and after WWII and a afterward that expands on her family's experience.

A true story that must have been difficult to retell because of the deep personal connections, Russo has found a perfect balance of being a storyteller and memory keeper for her family.  I enjoyed the charm bracelet connection as well as the clever ways that the characters kept safe.  Storied like this as best shared.  I strongly feel that if we don’t connect across generations, we all lose.  I would recommend this book to 3rd to 5th graders.  This book is a gentle reminder of the effects of war and how sharing stories with your family across generations can create connections.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Four Worded Wonder
Review: Orange Pear Apple Bear

Orange, Pear, Apple, Bear is an artistic new board book from author Emily Gravett.  The book is simple and sweet.  At first, I wasn’t sure how Lil Guy would take the text which consists only of the four words: apple, pear, orange, and bear.  Sometime the words are used as nouns while sometimes the words are adjectives (or words that describe).  One page shows an orange bear while another shows a pear (shaped) bear.  The combinations are clever and imaginative with sweet hand-drawn and water-colored illustrations.  The illustrations are all set on plain white backgrounds in muted colors which only add to the imaginative feeling of the book.

My Lil Guy enjoyed this book, being able to name the pictures, he felt like he was reading it himself.  I am sure the earliest of readers would be able to independently enjoy this book as well.  My Lil Guy, at age 2 liked the pictures and was satisfied with the ending as well.  (The bear makes a snack of the apple, the orange, and the pear.)  The book was well worth the look.  I have heard good things about the author and I think Iwill have to check for more books by Emily Gravett soon.

Friday, October 21, 2011

The Story-Time Scene

I am quite new to the StoryTime scene.  I have read stories in school to children for years, but now that my Lil Guy is ready to sit and listen to stories we have been going to bookstores and local libraries to for storytime.  I wasn’t sure what to expect at first, but was happy to hear the kids sing a few songs, stand up and do motions, and some other really cute little activities.  The past few weeks I have been trying a new storytime at a new library that really hits my fancy.  At this storytime not only do we get to sing songs and hear stories but we also get play things.  I admit, before these story times I didn’t really understand the merit of felt boards (gasp!) or props that help children interact.  Now though, I am won over to the interaction with books, stories, and music that can come together during toddler storytime.

My Lil Guy is 2 and ½.  He loves books but sometimes storytime can be overwhelming with unruly tots and long stories that take too long to tell to a group since everyone really wants to see the pictures.  He also loves to sing-along (my fault, since I constantly sing at him) and is an enthusiastic singer for favorite songs like Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes or Row, Row, Row Your Boat.  All of this being said, he would still ask after each story, after each song or chant, “Are we finished yet?” Meaning he was just read to go home.  I was beginning to worry that storytime was more for me than him.

Well, a few props, felt board activities, and interactive songs later, and we both are enjoying storytime more.  Imagine a room of 10 to 15 toddlers sitting on a carpet in the library on a rainy day.  What do you think would be a great prop for them to play with?  How about umbrellas?  I wasn’t sure when they started passing out the umbrellas to the kiddos and expected them to all control themselves.  What I discovered was that every child wants to hold an umbrella, twirl it around, pop it up and down, and it is a perfect prop when tied to a song or story.  Another surprise was when our storytime leader turned off the lights and passed out flashlights to sing Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.  Lil Guy loved this!  Egg shaped shakers, sticks to hit together in rhythm, puppets and stuffed animals, feathers, and rubber duckies in the hands of toddlers all inspire imagination and play.  

So, maybe every storytime has these creative and fun interactions, or maybe I just lucked out and found a great storytime with nice kids, fun interaction, and good stories.  How about you?  What do you think of storytime?  What’s your best experience with your Lil One and storytime?

Friday, October 14, 2011

Non-Fiction Fix
Review: Do You Know Which Ones Will Grow?

Do You Know Which Ones Will Grow?  is Susan A. Shea’s first novel.  The book is illustrated by Tom Slaughter.  The book sets out to ask readers which items grow and is tailored for children who know they are growing bigger.  The book features items like bear cubs, baseball caps, stools, and fox kits.  The text on each page is structured as rhyming text.  Children will enjoy answering the questions such as:  Does a car grow to become a truck?  (Children really like answering questions like this.)  Each page also offers a lift the flap that show the item growing bigger.  

Much like other picture books that offer questions that readers can respond with yes or no,  My Lil Guy at age 2 loves to shout Yes or No to these predictable questions.  He enjoyed this book and he always enjoys opening lift the flap books.  At age 2, I prefer board books for lift the flap books for him.  We are pretty much past ripping of pages, but board books are just more durable!  The illustrations by Slaughter are bright and color, appealing to preschoolers and toddlers, but also to the art minded parent.  The bold shapes and intense colors kind of remind me or Henri Matisse’s paper cut outs.  (What do you think?)

Matisse's Jazz (1947)
This is a book that thinks outside the box.  It was unexpected to find a non-fiction book with such captivating illustrations that will also engage little ones.  I look forward to more books from this author and illustrator Slaughter.  I could see this book being used for an elementary science or art class.  I know Lil Guy will enjoy reading this one multiple times.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Hey, Look!
Review: Duck! Rabbit!

Duck! Rabbit! is the kind of book that you just have to pick up and read.  I admit, I saw it on bookshelves in the library and at bookstores, but it wasn’t until I picked up the book that I got it.  So, here is the question:  What do you see what you look at the front cover of the book?  A rabbit?  A duck?  When I first looked at the book I only saw a duck.  I thought maybe if I physically turned the book and squinted, I might see a rabbit, but really, truthfully I only saw a duck.  Then, I read the book and held the book in my hands.

Duck!  Rabbit!  by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld starts off by introducing 2 points of view.  Opinions are voiced from off the page and can’t seem to agree.  They try to convince each other that the animal on the page is either a duck or a rabbit.  I started off agreeing with the duck voice, but as the book went on:  I changed my mind and decided that it had to be a rabbit!  Now when I look at the book I can’t even remember that I once thought it was a duck!

My Lil Guy and I were giggling while reading this book.  I enjoyed the simple drawings and the short but persuasive text.  I would love to use this book in a classroom to explore perspective.  Perfect for pre-schoolers, young readers, and those who want a book that poses a question!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Easy Reader Reading
Review: Gus Gets Scared

Gus Gets Scared by Frank Remkiewicz is an easy reader book for the very young. With only 65 short words this sweet book is about a rhino boy who feels adventurous enough to spend the night in his brand new tent. Each page offers hand-drawn and charming illustrations by the author, Remkiewicz, whose illustration style you might recognize from his other popular works including the Horrible Harry and Froggy series. The book is labeled as Pre-1which is suggested for pre-school and kindergarten age students.

You might think a book with only 65 words would have a difficult time telling a complete story, but in Gus Gets Scared we get to meet not only Gus, but also his family. We learn much about him from the adorable illustrations and his short adventure. One page shows young Gus carrying a flashlight and sleeping bag into the tent; Gus has his head held high, but is obviously struggling with the task as his tongue is sticking out a little to the side in a face full of concentration. I have to admit this drawing tugs at my heart-strings since I see this look often on my Lil Guy’s own face as he attempts difficult tasks.

My Lil’ Guy likes this book a lot and at age 2 he even ‘reads’ some of the pages independently. Also as we read the book, he also can retell the story and can tell the points where Gus gets too scared. The book isn’t scary either. It’s only a cute little owl making sounds that makes Gus gets too nervous in his little tent in the backyard! One of the things that makes easy reader books like this so popular is that they are inexpensive, lightweight, and (as the name denotes) easy to read. I know that anyone looking for a simple easy reader will fall in love with Gus the way we have! Remkiewicz is publishing several other books about the little rhino, Gus, and I am going to be sure to pick those up too.

*I nominated this book in the Easy Reader Category @ Cybils.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Cybils are Here

Even though I am new to the world of blogs,
I was proud to have recommended one book
in the YA category for Cybils.  For anyone
who doesn’t know about Cybils, it is
Children’s and Young Adult Bloggers Literary
Awards, given to the best judged books in a
variety of categories.  The judging panels
vary for each category, but consist of a
who’s who among the best the
Kidlitosphere.  Nominations are still open,
so feel free to go and make a nomination.
(Be sure to read the rules!)

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Weekend Theme: Down on the Farm
Review: Dairy Queen Series
Review: Wow, It's A Cow!
Review: Pig-a-Boo!

This week my Lil Guy has been talking a lot about the farm.  We went to a local children’s museum and he could have played for hours in the room set up to look like a farm.  He plucked apples that were stuck with velcro to the painted trees and ‘drove’ around in the mini tractor.  He wore a cow costume and pretended the chicken laid eggs.  This week he also got a new pair of overalls which he thinks makes him a farmer.  Put this together with the countless farms actually close by that he can see as we drive, and you have a Lil Guy who at age 2 and a half is convinced that farming is the career for him.  I guess I got caught up in it too, reading some books that were set on a farm and learning a little bit about farming too.  That is why this week’s Weekend Spotlight is: Down on the Farm.

Kids love farms because of all the animals and free space to run and play.  From a very young age animal sounds are favorites and are imitated by babies and toddlers very early.  My Lil Guy is no exception.  He loves wearing farm animal costumes and tells each of us in the family that we are different animals.  He pretends there is a donkey in the car as we are driving for example, braying and then asking if we heard anything.  It’s all big fun at our house.  It’s no surprise that farm books and farm animals books are favorites too.  I also got caught up in the farm craze this past week as I finished the Dairy Queen series by Catherine Gilbert Murdock.  Here is some of the best of the farm books at our house this week.

Dairy Queen Series

Dairy Queen is a trilogy of YA books written by Catherine Gilbert Murdock.  The books are set in Wisconsin on a dairy farm.  The books are written from a teen age girl’s point of view;  D.J. is sharing her story with some perspective, sharing details about her life, and the consequences of her actions.  We meet her family, her friends, and even a few foes.  All of this means that the Dairy Queen books are sweet and fun, full of teenage angst, and very lovable.  In fact, I read the first 2 about a month ago but just couldn’t bring myself to read the last of the books and say goodbye to these characters that I really enjoyed.  While some YA fiction revels in wild teens who partake in wild activities, author Murdock instead portrays a teen who struggles to make choices, thinking about her family and the consequences.  Don’t get me wrong, our main character, D.J. has a good time and gets into trouble, but there isn’t too much shock factor with these books.  Since I grew up in a rural community myself, I found these books to be very reflective of my own teen years.

Note: The series has 2 different covers.  I really can't decide which one I like best, but I thought I would offer them both up here since (I admit): I do judge a book by its cover and maybe you do too.

In the first of the 3 novels, Dairy Queen, we meet D.J. and her family, plus a quarterback who plays for her high school rivals football team.  Brian has come to her farm to gain work ethic for the upcoming football season and help with farm chores.  D.J. sees Brian as a spoiled kid, but nonetheless, she takes advantage of help and forms a close bond with him.  As the summer continues D.J. starts to train Brian on football basics using her years of playing against her brothers as experience. 

In the second novel, Off Season, D.J. is still caught up in football drama, but manages to focus on her own sports career as well.  We see D.J. spending more and more time with Brian, but each are unsure the terms of the relationship.  Meanwhile D.J. is also dealing with friends, bullying, and family tragedy.  Once again D.J. is introspective, thoughtful, and mature as she navigates her life in front of us.

In the last book in the trilogy, Front and Center, D.J. is finally able to focus more on herself.  She is looking toward her future and trying to move on from some painful memories.  D.J.’s sports career finally hits a stride too.  She continues to be painfully shy though and finally starts to show emotion and stand up for herself.  The narration and conclusion are beautifully done in this book and will leave readers both satisfied and also also wanting more (if only author Murdock wanted to continue the series!).

I just adored these books.  I wish that these were the types of books I had read as a young teen.  Characters like D.J. are not common enough in YA fiction.  D.J. is so real!  She has doubtful moments, she never thinks of the right thing to say at the right time, and she loves her family even though she doesn’t always understand them or agree with them.  Author Murdock doesn’t come across preachy or goody-two shoes either.  Because the story is told from a teen’s point of view, the story comes across as very genuine and real instead of short and choppy .  Because of this, a reader really does connect with D.J. and all of her situations. 

It is without hesitation that I recommend these books to YA readers.  Perfect for even older middle school students, the books are short enough to keep hesitant readers interested and full of enough details and storyline to satisfy most readers.  I have also read Princess Ben by Catherine Gilbert Murdock, but these are even better.  I had read on Murdock’s website that she doesn’t intend to continue D.J.’s storyline, which to me is a loss.  Although the conclusion to D.J.’s story does satisfy, my mind keeps drifting back to where she might be a couple of years.  My only advice to readers is that if you decide to try the Dairy Queen trilogy, go ahead and get all 3 books because you won’t want to stop at 1, 2, or maybe even 3 like me.

Wow, It's A Cow!

Wow, It's A Cow! by Trudy and Jay Harris is a well-loved book at our house.  The farm theme is a favorite, but it’s the funny story and hilarious illustrations by Paige Keiser that keep us wanting to read this one again and again.  In this book you meet a farmer who is in search of his cow.  He meets several animals but each one is not the cow.  The illustrations show an ‘udderly’ fabulous cow acting like a different farm animal with each page have a flap to lift showing the real farm animal.  This results in really funny scenarios such as the cow doing the backstroke in the pond and sitting up in a tree near a tiny nest.  The last page is a small reward of opening 2 barn doors to reveal a farmer milking a cow.
As I was looking to review this book I saw that the book was dedicated to Harris’s own grandchildren, which I thought was sweet.  I also wasn’t surprised to find that Trudy Harris is a kindergarten teacher, which is perfect since I could see a class reading this at circle time.  I would recommend this book to parents who like to read aloud to toddlers, preschool teachers, and young children who feel that farming might be a career for them someday.  It’s cute and interactive.  It will also make you laugh. 


Pig-a-Boo!: A Farmyard Peekaboo Book by Dorothea DePrisco is a toddler book with a lot going for it.  Pig-a- Book is a peek-a-boo game with farm animals.  Each pages has a short riddle about a farmyard favorite.  The book has a hard cover like a board book but has stiff, glossy cardboard pages that open to reveal a hiding farm animal.  Each of the hidden animals also has a piece of texture to touch and feel.  The texture spots are a little 3 dimensional too, with the horse having yarn pieces that stick out from the book.  The text is cute and will definitely keep toddlers attention.  Lil Guy likes this one but isn’t simple enough for him to read yet and isn’t long enough for him to choose for us to read to him over and over again, so for now it’s not being read too often at our house, but may come into favor again on a whim.   I think most toddlers will enjoy this book, especially if they are into farm animals.