Archive | September, 2015

The National Book Award Longlist

17 Sep

Well, they’ve been announced and here are the nominees for YOUNG PEOPLE’S LITERATURE.

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  • Becky Albertalli, Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda (Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins Children’s Books)
  • M.T. AndersonSymphony for the City of the Dead: Dmitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad (Candlewick Press)
  • Ali BenjaminThe Thing About Jellyfish (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers)
  • Rae Carson, Walk on Earth a Stranger (Greenwillow/HarperCollins Children’s Books)
  • Gary Paulsen, This Side of Wild: Mutts, Mares, and Laughing Dinosaurs (Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing)
  • Laura RubyBone Gap (Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins Children’s Books)
  • Ilyasah Shabazz, with Kekla Magoon, X: A Novel (Candlewick Press)
  • Steve SheinkinMost Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War (Roaring Brook Press/Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group)
  • Neal ShustermanChallenger Deep (HarperCollins Children’s Books)
  • Noelle StevensonNimona (HarperTeen/HarperCollins Children’s Books)

I’ve only read three of these so it looks as though I will have to make some adjustments to my “to read” pile…again.

The Return of Fall Rains

16 Sep

Almost everyone I know is relieved at the weather change. Fall seems to be back: they sky is grey and it seems to have rained overnight. A big El Niño debate is raging: will it be really rainy or really cold?

One of my first winters in Portland, an El Niño year,  it was so rainy they sand bagged downtown for fear the Willamette River would overflow. It didn’t, but floods certainly happened in outlying areas.

This gets me thinking about Don Brown’s new nonfiction book Drowned City: Hurricane Katrina & New Orleans.

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This is a stunning graphic chronicle of the tragedy that hit New Orleans in 2005. As with The Great Dust Bowl, the illustrations are powerful and the text combines facts and details that attest to wide research and reading on Brown’s part.

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Brown does not shy away from telling the hard parts of this story, in addition to the heroic. Graphic nonfiction makes for an easy way to build students’ background knowledge of events that happened before they were born or before they can remember. This book will be an excellent addition to any classroom library.

Watching 6th graders grow strong: A Slice of Life Story

15 Sep

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They came in last Tuesday bright-eyed and excited, full of nervous enthusiasm. They learned about their schedule and met all their teachers. We disappointed them by waiting until the next day to give them their lockers, the mark of maturity they’d dreamed about for week.

Then reality hit.

There was a lot of “stuff” to fit into their locker.

Five minutes of passing time suddenly seemed really short.

The A/B day schedule was confusing.

They forgot to bring things they needed and carried things they didn’t.

But slowly, oh so slowly…

Things began to fit in the locker.

They made it to class on time.

They made it to the right place at the right time.

They made new friends.

We are still working out some kinks, but our sixth graders are growing, stepping up to challenges, and taking root.

 

Having faith in an author

14 Sep

I’m currently  listening to Elizabeth Wein’s  Black Dove White Raven in the car.

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When I popped the first disc in, I felt a little unsure as the story began. It didn’t seem to be much of a story and I was confused by the setting (why didn’t I know the story was set in Ethiopia?). But I loved her two earlier novels, Code Named Verity and Rose Under Fire, so I had faith that the story would pull me in as they had. I’m now on the 4th disc, and it has.

The novel is set in the  Ethiopia of the 1930’s, on the cusp of war with Mussolini’s Italy. Haile Selassie’s coronation, attempts to modernize his country while fending off European aggression and speech to the UN form the historical backdrop. Here is a news clip about his speech  that failed to convince the League of Nations members to help.

This is historical fiction done well. It is also a moving story about friendship what makes a family.

Publisher’s Summary: Emilia and Teo’s lives changed in a fiery, terrifying instant when a bird strike brought down the plane their stunt pilot mothers were flying. Teo’s mother died immediately, but Em’s survived, determined to raise Teo according to his late mother’s wishes―in a place where he won’t be discriminated against because of the color of his skin. But in 1930s America, a white woman raising a black adoptive son alongside a white daughter is too often seen as a threat.

Seeking a home where her children won’t be held back by ethnicity or gender, Rhoda brings Em and Teo to Ethiopia, and all three fall in love with the beautiful, peaceful country. But that peace is shattered by the threat of war with Italy, and teenage Em and Teo are drawn into the conflict. Will their devotion to their country, its culture and people, and each other be their downfall or their salvation?

In the tradition of her award-winning and bestselling Code Name Verity, Elizabeth Wein brings us another thrilling and deeply affecting novel that explores the bonds of friendship, the resilience of young pilots, and the strength of the human spirit.

Germ warfare

13 Sep

September means exposure to back-to-school contagions. That’s why most schools now include had sanitizer on their supply lists. That’s why new teachers get sick so often. I taught at my last school for 12 years and for the last few, I didn’t even get a cold. I knew those germs intimately and had developed a good system of defense. Now that I’m at a new school, I’m being extra cautious, taking more precautions that usual to keep myself healthy, although I think the problem is less severe at a middle school that it is in an elementary school. I hope I’m not carrying new germs into my new school community, either. I;d hate to be a Typhoid Mary.

Yes, poor Mary Mallon, who has gone down in history as Typhoid Mary, or Terrible Typhoid Mary: A True Story of the Deadliest Cook in America  which is how Susan Campbell Bartoletti refers to Mary in her recently published book.

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Publisher’s Summary:This is the story of a cook – a quiet, diligent cook who kept to herself. Her speciality was homemade ice cream topped with fresh peaches, which she served on hot summer days. She worked for some of the wealthiest families in New York, who spoke highly of her skills.

In August 1906, when six members of one household nearly died, the cook mysteriously disappeared – and the hunt for Typhoid Mary began. The resulting story became a tabloid scandal. But the true story of Mary Mallon is far greater than the sensationalized and fear-mongering stories. It’s also a lesser known story of human and civil rights violations. How did this private and obscure domestic cook become one of the most notorious women in American history? What happens to a person whose name and reputation are forever damaged? And who is responsible for the lasting legacy of the woman who became known as Typhoid Mary?

There is not a lot of documentary evidence of Mary Mallon’s life, so the book is as much a narrative of hygiene and social customs at the time Mary lived. Because of this, Bartoletti has to create an idea of what could have happened by using words such as “probably”, “perhaps”, “may have”, etc. In spite of this, I found this a very interesting read, and would be great nonfiction companion to Deborah Hopkinson’s The Great Trouble (about  a cholera plague in London) and  Laurie Halse Anderson’s Fever, 1783 ( a Yellow Fever outbreak in Philadelphia).

10 Reason to Read Children’s Books Instead of ‘Grown-Up’ Books by Isabelle Sudron

12 Sep

#9 is my favorite reason.

Nerdy Book Club

Some may think that you grow out of kid’s books as you get older. There are those that think they are predictable and unrealistic. There is even the notion that children’s books are not challenging enough for our big old brains. However, there are many of us that feel otherwise, myself being one them. Children’s fiction can be some of the most honest, witty and humbling stories you’ll ever read.

  1. They’re more intelligent

a wrinkle in timeIf you place a confusing, fictional situation in front of an adult, then they will immediately start to question things. How did she get from there to there? Why did he do that, when he could have done this? Surely, that isn’t possible?

Children, on the other hand, have big, fantastic imaginations with no limits, as do the books they read. If you place an unusual, fictional situation in front of them, it won’t take them…

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Small Magic

11 Sep

Grandpa Ephraim is dying.

And Micah is about to lose the only family he can remember. So he and Grandpa Ephraim are holding out for a miracle, one that can only come from Circus Mirandus.

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Publisher’s Summary:Do you believe in magic? Micah Tuttle does. Even though his awful Great-Aunt Gertrudis doesn’t approve, Micah believes in the stories his dying Grandpa Ephraim tells him of the magical Circus Mirandus: the invisible tiger guarding the gates, the beautiful flying birdwoman, and the magician more powerful than any other—the Man Who Bends Light. Finally, Grandpa Ephraim offers proof. The Circus is real. And the Lightbender owes Ephraim a miracle. With his friend Jenny Mendoza in tow, Micah sets out to find the Circus and the man he believes will save his grandfather.

What I really love about this book is the way it tells two stories. First, there is the story of the circus itself, all magic and wonders. Then there is the far more serious story of Micah and the loss of his grandfather. This is Cassie Beasely’s first novel but she moves back and forth between these two stories marvelously.

As the book states so simply “just because a magic is small doesn’t mean it is unimportant”. This magical book could be a Newbery contender.

Fields, Lakes & Gowganda

10 Sep

My mother was born in a town called Field, in northern Ontario. We used to joke that she was born in a field. Let’s just say I got my sense of humor from my dad.

She grew up speaking French and was told she’d go to Hell if she played with English kids. She started learning English when she started school. Fortunately for her, her oldest sister, my Aunt Yvette, married and English-speaking Protestant, to Mamère’s horror. Mamère had softened  by the time my mother married an English-speaking Protestant.

I got thinking about my mom’s young life as I read Out of the Woods by Rebecca Bond. It is a retelling of an episode from her grandfather’s life, and is set not far from where my mother gee up.

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Publisher’s Summary:Antonio Willie Giroux lived in a hotel his mother ran on the edge of a lake. He loved to explore the woods and look for animals, but they always remained hidden away. One hot, dry summer, when Antonio was almost five, disaster struck: a fire rushed through the forest. Everyone ran to the lake-the only safe place in town-and stood knee-deep in water as they watched the fire. Then, slowly, animals emerged from their forest home and joined the people in the water. Miraculously, the hotel did not burn down, and the animals rebuilt their homes in the forest-but Antonio never forgot the time when he watched the distance between people and animals disappear.

The book has a magical feel. Perhaps it is because of the quality of the art, which feels like old sepia photographs. Perhaps it is the quiet voice that tells this story. I just which i had been there, to see the humans and animals, gathered together in the lake.

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Although this isn’t really a personal narrative, it is the retelling of a family story, so I will set it out during my erosional narrative unit for kids to browse if inspiration is needed.

The First day of School – A Slice of Life Story

8 Sep

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“I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.”

― Joan Didion

I’m thinking that this will be a year full of learning, for my students and for me.

I’m looking forward to a fresh start and new challenges.

I see a lot of work ahead this year, but I am still excited.

I want every kid I see to love learning

I fear I might not achieve that goal.

As I set off to start my 27th year of teaching, I am amazed that I still love it this much and still have so much to learn. Someday, I hope to be as good as Mr. Keating and ask my students with confidence, “What will your verse be?”.

Hamsters & Unicorns

7 Sep

Today is the hardest day: the day before school starts.

It is important to make it last, to suck the marrow out of every last bit of “freedom”.

It is a good thing I love my job.

I will help myself escape reality by immersing myself in three exciting graphic novels, all perfect for the elementary set.

Princess Hamster: Harriet the Invincible is the first volume of a new series by Ursula Vernon.

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Publisher’s Summary: Harriet Hamsterbone is not your typical princess. She may be quite stunning in the rodent realm (you’ll have to trust her on this one), but she is not so great at trailing around the palace looking ethereal or sighing a lot. She finds the royal life rather . . . dull. One day, though, Harriet’s parents tell her of the curse that a rat placed on her at birth, dooming her to prick her finger on a hamster wheel when she’s twelve and fall into a deep sleep. For Harriet, this is most wonderful news: It means she’s invincible until she’s twelve! After all, no good curse goes to waste. And so begins a grand life of adventure with her trusty riding quail, Mumfrey…until her twelfth birthday arrives and the curse manifests in a most unexpected way.

There is a second volume entitled Of mice and Magic due out in March 2016.

Equally as pink and purple are two books by Dana Simpson: Phoebe and her Unicorn and Unicorn on a Roll.

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Publisher’s Summary:A boy and his dog . . . a girl and her . . . unicorn?

It all started when Phoebe skipped a rock across a pond and accidentally hit a unicorn in the face. Improbably, this led to Phoebe being granted one wish, and she used it to make the unicorn, Marigold Heavenly Nostrils, her obligational best friend. But can a vain mythical beast and a nine-year-old daydreamer really forge a connection? Indeed they can, and that’s how Phoebe and Her Unicorn unfolds.

This beautifully drawn strip follows the unlikely friendship between a somewhat awkward girl and the unicorn who gradually shows her just how special she really is. Through hilarious adventures where Phoebe gets to bask in Marigold’s “awesomeness,” the friends also come to acknowledge that they had been lonely before they met and truly appreciate the bond they now share.

The fun continues in the second volume.

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Publisher’s summary: One year has passed since Phoebe skipped a rock across a pond, accidentally hit a unicorn in the face, and was granted a single wish—which she used to make the unicorn, Marigold Heavenly Nostrils, her obligational best friend. In some ways, not much has changed. At school Phoebe still clashes with her rival–and sometimes “frenemy”–he ever-taunting and imperious Dakota. Outside of school, she still fills her free time with extra-credit homework assignments, dramatic monologues about the injustices associated with school cliques, and imaginative conspiracy theories regarding global forces like the “powerful construction paper lobby.” But unlike before, Phoebe now has a best friend to share it with—someone to make her laugh and to listen to all her extravagant ideas.

In this second volume of Heavenly Nostrils, titled, Unicorn on a Roll, the reader is invited on a journey into the lives of Phoebe and Marigold as they navigate the difficulties of grade school, celebrate the winter holidays, and explore their super hero/super villain personas together. Join in the fun, as Phoebe competes against Dakota for the leading role of “Lisa Ladybug” in their fourth-grade play—or as she struggles to “manage” the PR debacle related to her nose-picking-scandal. (“I will neither confirm nor deny the events surrounding Boogergate.”) Witness a band of unicorns staging an “intervention” and learn all the details of Marigold’s secret crush on a mysterious creature she has never seen. Perhaps most important, watch as this surprising friendship between a charming, nine-year-old dreamer and a vain, mythical beast forever changes both of them for the better.

Whether you are in or out of denial, have a great Labo(u)r Day!

Randy Ribay

YA author, teacher, nerd

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