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Telling her story

20 Aug

I have book club tonight and I spent Sunday immersed in the motel world of Kelly Yang’s Front Desk.

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Since I was the one who recommended the book, I thought I should have it finished before we met.

Publisher’s Summary: Mia Tang has a lot of secrets.

Number 1: She lives in a motel, not a big house. Every day, while her immigrant parents clean the rooms, ten-year-old Mia manages the front desk of the Calivista Motel and tends to its guests.

Number 2: Her parents hide immigrants. And if the mean motel owner, Mr. Yao, finds out they’ve been letting them stay in the empty rooms for free, the Tangs will be doomed.

Number 3: She wants to be a writer. But how can she when her mom thinks she should stick to math because English is not her first language?

It will take all of Mia’s courage, kindness, and hard work to get through this year. Will she be able to hold on to her job, help the immigrants and guests, escape Mr. Yao, and go for her dreams?

I was worried that, having recommended a book I hadn’t read, it would be a dud. It was no such thing.

I recognized a lot of former students in Mia – children of immigrants whose lives are not easy. This book shows the power of words and the importance of telling your story. Sometimes we try to shelter children from hard truths, but many children face hard truths everyday, Yang drew on her own childhood experiences – some of which might shock readers –  to write this debut novel that gets to the heart of what it is like to be an immigrant to this country.

 

A very good dog

19 Aug

Let me start by saying  I couldn’t have read Good Dog by Dan Gemeinhart at certain points in my life. It is not an easy book. And yet, right from the start, I fell in love with Brodie.

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Publisher’s Summary: Brodie was a good dog. And good dogs go to heaven.

Except Brodie can’t move on. Not just yet. As wonderful as his glimpse of the afterlife is, he can’t forget the boy he left behind. The boy he loved, and who loved him in return.

The boy who’s still in danger.

So Brodie breaks the rules of heaven. He returns to Earth as a spirit. With the help of two other lost souls — lovable pitbull Tuck and surly housecat Patsy — he is determined to find his boy and to save him.

Even if it costs him paradise. Even if he loses his eternal soul.

Because it’s what a good dog would do.

For those of us who have lost a pet or a family member recently, this book might be too much. With a little distance, though, it might be cathartic, though you might need to have a hankie handy.  It gives us hope that there is an afterlife for people and pets.

In my opinion, this is Dan Gemeinhart’s best book yet.

Dealing with change

1 Aug

Earlier this week, my school website changed my role from teaching 6th grade in Green Hall to 7th grade in Red Hall. As I have said before, it isn’t a bad change, but any change can be tricky to navigate. The familiar is always more comfortable.

This Duck and That Duck navigate changes of their own in Ellen Yeomans’ The Other Ducks.

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Publisher’s Summary: This Duck and That Duck were the best of friends. They did everything together but sometimes two ducks just isn’t enough.

When This Duck declares that he wishes there were Other Ducks around so they could waddle in a line (a very ducky thing to do), That Duck is quite confused.

That is until This Duck and That Duck go swimming, look down, and finally meet The Other Ducks.

Unfortunately, The Other Ducks never seem to come out of the water! Oh how This Duck and That Duck wish The Other Ducks would waddle outside the big puddle with them. But it’s getting colder and their feathers are starting to itch for warmer weather.

Will these best friends ever find their companions?

This is sort of a slapstick buddy book. But That Duck, with the encouragement of This Duck, faces some fears and grows as a person, or rather, as a duck. Even if the humor isn’t your cup a tea, persevere to the end – it will melt your heart.

This was a sweet and funny book that got me thinking about Farfallina & Marcel by Holly Keller, which is a less humorous but equally sweet.

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Simply beautiful

22 Jul

In What I Leave Behind,  Alison McGhee doesn’t take on topics that haven’t been covered before. She does, however, take on familiar topics in a whole new way. It is simple and beautiful…and simply beautiful.

There are 100 words on 100 pages. It is poetic and thoughtful – perfect for a teen who loves thoughtful literature but accessible for reluctant readers. Each page has a Chines character and my only complaint is that I would have liked a little more information about that. I did some research on my own, and that satisfied my curiosity.

I loved Will. He is a nice boy with a lot to bear. His father is gone and his friend has been raped. He makes sense of the world by walking, thinking and being kind. We need more people like Will.

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Publisher’s Summary: After his dad dies of suicide, Will tries to overcome his own misery by secretly helping the people around him in this exquisitely crafted story made up of one hundred chapters of one hundred words each, by award-winning and bestselling author Alison McGhee.

Sixteen-year-old Will spends most of his days the same way: Working at the Dollar Only store, trying to replicate his late father’s famous cornbread recipe, and walking the streets of Los Angeles. Will started walking after his father committed suicide, and three years later he hasn’t stopped. But there are some places Will can’t walk by: The blessings store with the chest of 100 Chinese blessings in the back, the bridge on Fourth Street where his father died, and his childhood friend Playa’s house.

When Will learns Playa was raped at a party—a party he was at, where he saw Playa, and where he believes he could have stopped the worst from happening if he hadn’t left early—it spurs Will to stop being complacent in his own sadness and do some good in the world. He begins to leave small gifts for everyone in his life, from Superman the homeless guy he passes on his way to work, to the Little Butterfly Dude he walks by on the way home, to Playa herself. And it is through those acts of kindness that Will is finally able to push past his own trauma and truly begin to live his life again. Oh, and discover the truth about that cornbread.

Proving yourself

14 May

Sometimes, I get exhausted reading serious realistic books. I love them, but the weight of the characters’ problems is sometimes too much for me  and I need something a little more action-packed.

This weekend, I picked up The Mad Wolf’s Daughter by Diane Magras and was carried back in time to 13th century Scotland. This excellent first middle grade novel moves at a fast pace as Drest, our heroine, seeks to rescue her family, held captive by a lord. Although she sets out by herself, she is not alone. She has the voices of her brothers in her head, giving her advice. She also has a wounded knight who she is taking back to the castle from which he came – and the one in which her father and brothers are being held captive. I was so caught up in the tale, I read it in one day. Talk about escapism!

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Publisher’s Summary: A Scottish medieval adventure about the youngest in a war-band who must free her family from a castle prison after knights attack her home–with all the excitement of Ranger’s Apprentice and perfect for fans of heroines like Alanna from The Song of the Lioness series.

Grand Slam

16 Apr

I wish I could be in kid in Mr. Ward’s poetry class. He is a teacher in Nikki Grimes’  Between the Lines, known for his open-mic poetry readings and boys vs. girls poetry slam.

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Publisher’s Summary: Darrian dreams of writing for the New York Times. To hone his skills and learn more about the power of words, he enrolls in Mr. Ward’s class, known for its open-mic poetry readings and boys vs. girls poetry slam. Everyone in class has something important to say, and in sharing their poetry, they learn that they all face challenges and have a story to tell—whether it’s about health problems, aging out of foster care, being bullied for religious beliefs, or having to take on too much responsibility because of an addicted parent. As Darrian and his classmates get to know one another through poetry, they bond over the shared experiences and truth that emerge from their writing, despite their private struggles and outward differences.

The novel in verse is narrated in multiple voices that alternate with Darrian’s. There are some tough issues in the book  but nothing, that would keep it out of my 6th grade classroom. It is definitely written for kids as there is a feel good ending and lots of hope for this group of high school kids.

An old-fashioned caper

15 Jan

I am always a little skeptical when celebrities turn author. I wonder if they got preferential treatment or if their fame in another area let them jump the queue and get a book deal when other, sometime better, writers are slogging away.

When Decembrists frontman Colin Meloy’s first book,Wildwood, came out in 2004, I was intrigued. I read it and enjoyed it, especially because it was firmly set in Portland. It was followed by two others in the series. All three were illustrated by his wife, Carson Ellis, best know for Du Iz Tak?

The pair also teamed up on 2017’s The Whiz Kid and the Grenadine Kid,  but the setting moves from the forests of Portland to the city of Marseille.

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Publisher’s Summary: It is an ordinary Tuesday morning in April when bored, lonely Charlie Fisher witnesses something incredible. Right before his eyes, in a busy square in Marseille, a group of pickpockets pulls off an amazing robbery. As the young bandits appear to melt into the crowd, Charlie realizes with a start that he himself was one of their marks.

Yet Charlie is less alarmed than intrigued. This is the most thrilling thing that’s happened to him since he came to France with his father, an American diplomat. So instead of reporting the thieves, Charlie defends one of their cannons, Amir, to the police, under one condition: he teach Charlie the tricks of the trade.

What starts off as a lesson on pinches, kicks, and chumps soon turns into an invitation for Charlie to join the secret world of the whiz mob, an international band of child thieves who trained at the mysterious School of Seven Bells. The whiz mob are independent and incredibly skilled and make their own way in the world—they are everything Charlie yearns to be. But what at first seemed like a (relatively) harmless new pastime draws him into a dangerous adventure with global stakes greater than he could have ever imagined.

This was such a fun read! It got me thinking about that scene in Oliver!

It also saw me flexing my fingers and practicing my sleight of Hand. I imagined myself as a magician or retrieving things from pockets using only my index and middle finger. Not other people’s pockets…just my own. But don’t worry – I don’t think younger readers will be pulled into a life of crime by reading the book. And I hope they do!

 

 

A Winter Break Fave

4 Jan

I have to go back to work today. It is a good thing I love my job,

Fortunately, I will have the lingering memory of one of my favorite Winter Break reads to soothe my heart.

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The main character in Jared Reck’s debut, Matt, is just an all around nice guy. He has nice friends, and a nice family. He is nice to his little brother. He isn’t the star player on his basketball team, but he aspires to it, and we know he will be in a few years.

As in many YA novels, something bad happens and he tries to deal with it on his own. What sets this one apart is how his family rallies to help him. It is a lot quieter than other debut novels, but it is wonderful.  Just a lovely, lovely book!

Publisher’s Summary: Seriously, how can you see a person nearly every day of your life and never think a thing of it, then all of a sudden, one day, it’s different? You see that goofy grin a thousand times and just laugh. But goofy grin #1,001 nearly stops your heart? 
 
Right. That sounds like a bad movie already.
 
Matt Wainwright is constantly sabotaged by the overdramatic movie director in his head. He can’t tell his best friend, Tabby, how he really feels about her, he implodes on the JV basketball team, and the only place he feels normal is in Mr. Ellis’s English class, discussing the greatest fart scenes in literature and writing poems about pissed-off candy-cane lumberjacks.

If this were a movie, everything would work out perfectly. Tabby would discover that Matt’s madly in love with her, be overcome with emotion, and would fall into his arms. Maybe in the rain.

But that’s not how it works. Matt watches Tabby get swept away by senior basketball star and all-around great guy Liam Branson. Losing Tabby to Branson is bad enough, but screwing up and losing her as a friend is even worse.

After a tragic accident, Matt finds himself left on the sidelines, on the verge of spiraling out of control and losing everything that matters to him. From debut author Jared Reck comes a fiercely funny and heart-wrenching novel about love, longing, and what happens when life as you know it changes in an instant.

 

A book for animal lovers

4 Dec

One Amazing Elephant, by Linda Oatman High, is a quiet middle grade novel. It reminds me a little of The One and Only Ivan  because it alternates perspectives between Lily and Queenie Grace, providing readers with a deep understanding of and empathy for the elephant’s experience.

It seems to be flying under the radar and not getting a lot of attention, but there is definitely an audience for it. Any reader who loves animals will love it.

 

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Publisher’s Summary:  A poignant middle grade animal story from talented author Linda Oatman High that will appeal to fans of Katherine Applegate’s The One and Only Ivan. In this heartwarming novel, a girl and an elephant face the same devastating loss—and slowly realize that they share the same powerful love.

Twelve-year-old Lily Pruitt loves her grandparents, but she doesn’t love the circus—and the circus is their life. She’s perfectly happy to stay with her father, away from her neglectful mother and her grandfather’s beloved elephant, Queenie Grace.

Then Grandpa Bill dies, and both Lily and Queenie Grace are devastated. When Lily travels to Florida for the funeral, she keeps her distance from the elephant. But the two are mourning the same man—and form a bond born of loss. And when Queenie Grace faces danger, Lily must come up with a plan to help save her friend.

Friendship & Forgiveness

3 Dec

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The Ethan I Was Before, by Ali Standish, is a book I chose to add to my Mock Newbery Club list before I’d actually read it. It was getting some buzz and was on the lists of a few other people.

Publisher’s Summary: Life can be transformed in one moment, but does that one moment define you for life?

Lost in the Sun meets The Thing About Jellyfish in Ali Standish’s breathtaking debut. A poignant middle grade novel of friendship and forgiveness, The Ethan I Was Before is a classic in the making.

Ethan had been many things. He was always ready for adventure and always willing to accept a dare, especially from his best friend, Kacey. But that was before. Before the accident that took Kacey from him. Before his family moved from Boston to the small town of Palm Knot, Georgia.

Palm Knot may be tiny, but it’s the home of possibility and second chances. It’s also home to Coralee, a girl with a big personality and even bigger stories. Coralee may be just the friend Ethan needs, except Ethan isn’t the only one with secrets. Coralee’s are catching up with her, and what she’s hiding might be putting both their lives at risk. The Ethan I Was Before is a story of love and loss, wonder and adventure, and ultimately of hope.

My sense from the club members who have read Ethan is that they liked it well enough, but it isn’t top of their list. It reminded me a lot of Bridge to Terabithia. 

Randy Ribay

YA author, teacher, nerd

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