Big Mothers

21 Aug

No, not the eclipse. I will write about that tomorrow.

Today is a tale of two books, each with a character named Big Mother, each written by a Canadian woman.

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The Big Mother of Madeleine Thien’s Do Not Say We Have Nothing is a singer in pre-revolutionary China is truly named Big Mother Knife. Not a main character, she is the mother and grandmother of two of the main characters, Sparrow and Ai Ming, Sparrow’s daughter.

Publisher’s Summary: Madeleine Thien’s new novel is breathtaking in scope and ambition even as it is hauntingly intimate. With the ease and skill of a master storyteller, Thien takes us inside an extended family in China, showing us the lives of two successive generations–those who lived through Mao’s Cultural Revolution in the mid-twentieth century; and the children of the survivors, who became the students protesting in Tiananmen Square in 1989, in one of the most important political moments of the past century. With exquisite writing sharpened by a surprising vein of wit and sly humour, Thien has crafted unforgettable characters who are by turns flinty and headstrong, dreamy and tender, foolish and wise.
At the centre of this epic tale, as capacious and mysterious as life itself, are enigmatic Sparrow, a genius composer who wishes desperately to create music yet can find truth only in silence; his mother and aunt, Big Mother Knife and Swirl, survivors with captivating singing voices and an unbreakable bond; Sparrow’s ethereal cousin Zhuli, daughter of Swirl and storyteller Wen the Dreamer, who as a child witnesses the denunciation of her parents and as a young woman becomes the target of denunciations herself; and headstrong, talented Kai, best friend of Sparrow and Zhuli, and a determinedly successful musician who is a virtuoso at masking his true self until the day he can hide no longer. Here, too, is Kai’s daughter, the ever-questioning mathematician Marie, who pieces together the tale of her fractured family in present-day Vancouver, seeking a fragile meaning in the layers of their collective story.
With maturity and sophistication, humour and beauty, a huge heart and impressive understanding, Thien has crafted a novel that is at once beautifully intimate and grandly political, rooted in the details of daily life inside China, yet transcendent in its universality.

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The Big Mother of Claire Cameron’s The Last Neanderthal is the matriarch of a failing Neanderthal clan, and the mother of the main character, Girl.

Publisher’s Summary: Forty thousand years in the past, the last family of Neanderthals roams the earth. After a crushingly hard winter, their numbers are low, but Girl, the oldest daughter, is just coming of age and her family is determined to travel to the annual meeting place and find her a mate.

But the unforgiving landscape takes its toll, and Girl is left alone to care for Runt, a foundling of unknown origin. As Girl and Runt face the coming winter storms, Girl realizes she has one final chance to save her people, even if it means sacrificing part of herself.

In the modern day, archaeologist Rosamund Gale works well into her pregnancy, racing to excavate newly found Neanderthal artifacts before her baby comes. Linked across the ages by the shared experience of early motherhood, both stories examine the often taboo corners of women’s lives.

Haunting, suspenseful, and profoundly moving, THE LAST NEANDERTHAL asks us to reconsider all we think we know about what it means to be human.

These were probably the two best adult books I read this summer.

 

Getting to know you

20 Aug

Earlier this year, I joined a book club. It might surprise you that I’ve never belonged to one. This group is devoted to children’s & YA literature. Instead of reading, then discussing one book a month, we have a list of 10 or more. One of the books from our July meeting was Yours Sincerely, Giraffe by Megumi Iwasa. and illustrated by Jun Takabatake.

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Publisher’s Summary:It’s hard to imagine someone you’ve never seen. Giraffe is bored, as usual. He’d love a friend to share things with. So he writes a letter and sends it as far as possible across the other side of the horizon. There he finds a pen pal – Penguin. Giraffe knows nothing about penguins and his letters are full of questions. What does a penguin look like? Where is a penguin’s neck? And so the letters begin to fly from horizon to horizon. Yours Sincerely, Giraffe is a funny tale of mistaken assumptions and friendship.

There is a lot to like here, especially when there is so much talk about how we treat people who are other. Misunderstandings and assumptions happen, but the new friends work through the problem to come to a deeper understanding.

On a somewhat related theme, I just saw this video of Grace Lin talking about racism in favorite childhood books. It is worth watching.

We need this book

18 Aug

What I didn’t tell you about in my blog posts about the ALA conference, was how delightful it was to meet Katherine Applegate.

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When I descended the stairs to the room where the MacMillan dinner was being hosted, she was the only person there. She explained that the hosts had stepped out for a moment to take care of some business and she was left in charge. She was a wonderful hostess and an easy conversationalist.

I had already received an advance reader’s copy of her new novel, Wishtree,  so I got the one I received that evening personalized for my sister, who I felt bad about abandoning that evening. We have both read our books and both loved it. We both cried.

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Publisher’s Summary: Trees can’t tell jokes, but they can certainly tell stories. . . .

Red is an oak tree who is many rings old. Red is the neighborhood “wishtree”—people write their wishes on pieces of cloth and tie them to Red’s branches. Along with her crow friend Bongo and other animals who seek refuge in Red’s hollows, this “wishtree” watches over the neighborhood.

You might say Red has seen it all. Until a new family moves in. Not everyone is welcoming, and Red’s experiences as a wishtree are more important than ever.

Funny, deep, warm, and nuanced, this is Katherine Applegate at her very best—writing from the heart, and from a completely unexpected point of view.

This is a beautiful story. It is one of the books on my Mock  Newbery list and it would make an excellent beginning of the year read aloud.  It doesn’t come out until September 26th,  and it skews slightly younger than my students, but I am still thinking about reading it to my students. It is just that beautiful.

 

 

A Classic Neighborhood Mystery

17 Aug

Summer is a time to curl up with a good mystery. Middle grade mysteries are not like BBC police shows. They are infinitely less gruesome, but they are as cerebral.

The Goldfish Boy, written by English author Lisa Thompson, is reminiscent of Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window.  In both tales, a person confined to a room, observes his neighborhood, and digs deep when a crime is committed.

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Goodreads Summary:Matthew Corbin suffers from severe obsessive-compulsive disorder. He hasn’t been to school in weeks. His hands are cracked and bleeding from cleaning. He refuses to leave his bedroom. To pass the time, he observes his neighbors from his bedroom window, making mundane notes about their habits as they bustle about the cul-de-sac.

When a toddler staying next door goes missing, it becomes apparent that Matthew was the last person to see him alive. Suddenly, Matthew finds himself at the center of a high-stakes mystery, and every one of his neighbors is a suspect. Matthew is the key to figuring out what happened and potentially saving a child’s life… but is he able to do so if it means exposing his own secrets, and stepping out from the safety of his home?

Because it is a middle grade novel, it wraps up happily and satisfactorily.

Kickstarting

15 Aug

Along with about 60 colleagues and I gathered yesterday to spend the day with TCRWP’s  Mary Ehrenworth. We’ve been fortunate in my school district over the last few years to have Mary come a few times. We have also been fortunate enough to have TCRWP trainers come to our schools for days at a time. I have loved every minute of it. And yet, when the email came a few days ago saying shed be talking about grammar, I can’t lie – my heart sank.

I should have known better.

Here are a few of the many things I learned.

  1. Kids master grammar. Then comes slippage. With exposure to the various ways people write on social media, students unlearn spelling and grammar rules. Mary said that 3rd graders have better skills in some areas than 8th graders, who have greater exposure to social media. We need to teach them to code switch and expose them to a high volume of accurate language.
  2. We can teach grammar in meaning full ways
    • Demonstration – a ten minute mini-lesson, once they have a draft they are invested in
    • Inquiry centers – 20-25 minutes once during a unit, once they have a draft they are invested in, so they can apply the skill to their draft RIGHT NOW!
  3. Extravaganza & Interludes – a way to study tricky grammar in which kids make tools for other units

We spent some time working together to create some Inquiry centers. My teaching partner and I made centers that focused on narrative paragraphs and writing dialogue. We thought the dialogue center would be helpful for that small group of student who wrote ONLY DIALOGUE in their narrative.

After this work, we broke for lunch. Mary packs a lot into a morning.

In the afternoon we looked at teaching verb tense by looking at the movement of time. Mary taught some mini-lessons and we learned ways to have kids create timelines  for fiction and non-fiction, through read-alouds and shared reading.

Needless to say, even though I am sad that summer vacation is almost over,  I am now excited to get back to school and apply what I learned.

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Madly reading through the last weeks of summer

14 Aug

I’ve had this pile of books sitting around. Maybe I have more than one pile.

Here are two truths about my book piles:

  1. They are not stagnant. Books come and books go.
  2. They are shrinking.

I’ve been blitzing through my piles, trying to get as many books read before I have to go back to school.

While at ALA, I got arcs of two graphic novels, aimed at two different demographics, but both are the first in a series.

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The Sand Warrior is geared to a middle school audience and my arc will end up in my classroom library,

Publisher’s Summary: The Five Worlds are on the brink of extinction unless five ancient and mysterious beacons are lit. When war erupts, three unlikely heroes will discover there’s more to themselves—and more to their worlds—than meets the eye. . . .

• The clumsiest student at the Sand Dancer Academy, Oona Lee is a fighter with a destiny bigger than she could ever imagine.

• A boy from the poorest slums, An Tzu has a surprising gift and a knack for getting out of sticky situations.

• Star athlete Jax Amboy is beloved by an entire galaxy, but what good is that when he has no real friends?

When these three kids are forced to team up on an epic quest, it will take not one, not two, but 5 WORLDS to contain all the magic and adventure!

 

As with most of his books, Scott Westerfeld’s The Spill Zone is geared to an older audience. There is some language and activity in the book that will keep me from putting it in my 6th grade classroom library, but I can imagine teens connecting with the main characters.

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Publisher’s Summary: Three years ago an event destroyed the small city of Poughkeepsie, forever changing reality within its borders. Uncanny manifestations and lethal dangers now await anyone who enters the Spill Zone.

The Spill claimed Addison’s parents and scarred her little sister, Lexa, who hasn’t spoken since. Addison provides for her sister by photographing the Zone’s twisted attractions on illicit midnight rides. Art collectors pay top dollar for these bizarre images, but getting close enough for the perfect shot can mean death—or worse.

When an eccentric collector makes a million-dollar offer, Addison breaks her own hard-learned rules of survival and ventures farther than she has ever dared. Within the Spill Zone, Hell awaits—and it seems to be calling Addison’s name.

Revisiting old friends

13 Aug

Although I got the book over a year ago, I finally read Stars Above by Marissa Meyer.

Stars Above

This was a great way to revisit my old friends from the Lunar Chronicles series, without rereading the whole series. A collection of nine short stories, we learn a little more about the characters and their backgrounds.

CONTENTS

The Keeper: A prequel to the Lunar Chronicles, showing a young Scarlet and how Princess Selene came into the care of Michelle Benoit.

Glitches: In this prequel to Cinder, we see the results of the plague play out, and the emotional toll it takes on Cinder. Something that may, or may not, be a glitch….

The Queen’s Army: In this prequel to Scarlet, we’re introduced to the army Queen Levana is building, and one soldier in particular who will do anything to keep from becoming the monster they want him to be.

Carswell’s Guide to Being Lucky: Thirteen-year-old Carswell Thorne has big plans involving a Rampion spaceship and a no-return trip out of Los Angeles.

After Sunshine Passes By: In this prequel to Cress, we see how a nine-year-old Cress ended up alone on a satellite, spying on Earth for Luna.

The Princess and the Guard: In this prequel to Winter, we see a young Winter and Jacin playing a game called the Princess and the Guard…

The Little Android: A retelling of Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid,” set in the world of The Lunar Chronicles.

The Mechanic: In this prequel to Cinder, we see Kai and Cinder’s first meeting from Kai’s perspective.

Something Old, Something New: In this epilogue to Winter, friends gather for the wedding of the century.

 

 

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