Tag Archives: Literature

The Things that Haunt Us

16 Jul

Today my summer school program is being audited by the Migrant Education program. Well, not just mine, the whole summer program that my school district is running with MEP funds. I thin there are 3 elementary, one middle & 2 high school programs. That means they might come, or they might not. It will haunt me today. I’ll be looking over my shoulder all day wondering when the flock of inspectors will swoop down upon us.

This is not exactly how Mary Shelley Black feels in In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters, but there are some parallels.


The first thing I love about the book was the setting. Rarely anymore do we see books about the first World War, which has almost become a forgotten war. I guess we can thank  Downton Abbey, in part for reminding people about “the war to end all wars” . And the centenary of the 1914 armistice is only a little more than a year away. In any case, this book is set in 1918, as the war is ending and the flu pandemic is taking its toll. The story is a marvelous combination of themes of the time: science, spiritualism, flu and war.

Mary Shelley is a logical science-minded girl who is sent from Portland, to live with an aunt in San Diego, when her father is arrested as a traitor. An old family friend is involved in spiritualist photography, which Mary holds in great disdain. Her aunt and many who have lost loved ones, seek out spiritualist photographers and mediums to have one last connection to those they’ve lost. When a good friend of Mary’s dies,and she becomes haunted by his spirit, Mary uses her logical powers to help him find peace.

What I loved about Mary is the reality of her reaction to the tragedy around her. It makes me think about all the buzz around PTSD  and what it takes to “recover”. Some people manage better than others, but no matter what, their pain is real.

Winters weaves historical fact into her narrative in a natural way and her extensive research makes the novel ring true.

Monkey business

15 Jul

In 1979, when my niece Rachel was still a tiny tot, she would come over to our house, grab me by the hand and ask me to read the 1979 National Geographic article about Jane Goodall and the Gombe chimps. When I asked her to tell me what a monkey said, she would say “OOO, OOO, OOO”. She’ll probably die hen she finds out I’m writing about something she doesn’t remember.

There a great new graphic biography out about Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey and Biruté Galdikas, by Jim Ottaviani and Maris Wicks.


Primates: The Fearless Science of Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey,and Biruté Galdikas recounts how these three women were recruited by Louis Leakey to study chimps, gorillas and orangutans.

On a more amusing note, Mac Barnett has Count the Monkeys,  one of the most fun counting books I’ve seen in a while.


What I like most is that the ages are full of whimsically interactive directions that keep the reader engaged, like this page, where the readers are asked to put their arms over their heads and roar.


Go ahead. Try one or both.You won’t regret it.







It’s raining beginning biographies!

13 Jul

There just seem to be a ton of beginning biographies out right now. Or maybe they all my holds on biographies came in at once. I can’t remember having so many checked out at one time. Here’s what I have on my shelf right now, in no particular order.


Gandhi: A March to the Sea is written by Alice B. McGinty, and illustrated by Thomas Gonzalez. As the subtitle suggests, the book focuses on the famous march to the sea to protest Britain’s monopoly on salt production. McGinty uses this to introduce kids to Gandhi’s life & work. Gonzalez’s illustrations are beautifully realistic and remind me a little of Kadir Nelson’s work, in the way he fills a page.


Like many people, I’ve always had a fondness for Albert Einstein and even had a poster  hanging in my dorm room in college. On a Beam of Light: A Story of Albert Einstein, by Jennifer Berne and Vladimir Radunsky, celebrates the way Einstein looked at the world and explains Einstein’s thoughts in a way kids can really understand. Radunsky’s illustrations capture the book perfectly match the book simple and complex at the same time, like E = mc2.


In 1830,  The Beagle,  not yet carrying Charles Darwin, “took”   indigenous people from Tierra del Fuego back to England. Jemmy Button illustrated by Jennifer Uman & Valerio Vidali with words by Alix Barzelay, tells the story of young Orundellico, named Jemmy Button by the Captain, who gave his family a button in exchange,  and his experiences in England, where he met the King.


Here is wonderful book that captures the energy of a great collaboration. When Stravinsky Met Nijinsky by Lauren Stringer is all about the collaboration of these two Russian artists and The Rite of Spring, which caused a sensation when it debuted in Paris in 1913.


Mister and Lady Day: Billie Holiday and the Dog Who Loved Her,  by Amy Novesky and Vanessa Brantley Newton is a moving testament to a great singer and her love for dogs. And it shows the steadfast love dogs have for their two-legged family members.


For people who love Math and numbers, and everyone else The Boy Who Loved Math: The Improbable Life of Paul Erdos by Deborah Heiligman and LeUyen Pham is a must. After reading it, I sort of wonder if Erdos was on the autism spectrum. But I love the way the words and pictures work together to capture Erdos’ quirky personality and obsession with math.

I hope you’ll find something great in these books for you, your classroom, you kids or your library.

Winger: Top of the library pile

11 Jul

Because I spent 10 days focused on knitting the “Kiss Me, Hardy” Pullover, I now have a giant stack of library books and a great dilemma. Which do I read first?  Since I am mostly a logical person, I have sorted them by due date and Winger by Andrew Smith, rose to the top.


Ryan Dean West is a 14-year-old ruby-playing junior at a private school. He plays rugby and has bait of  a potty mouth. We meet him at the beginning of the story, as two football players are attempting to dunk his head in a toilet. I’d heard a bit of a buzz about this book, so although it began with typical teenage boy dialogue and hijinx, I suspected it would be worth reading. Ryan Dean is really likable and I couldn’t put the book down. Andrew Smith lets us see into the mind of a teenage boy. What’s there is disgusting, funny and sensitive. Like all of us, Ryan Dean is trying to fit in and figure out the world, It is rare that I laugh out loud and cry at a book, but I did both with this one. By the end, all  could say was “WOW”!

I don’t want to give too many details & spoil it, but you should read this one. It reminded me of Spud by John Van de Ruit,


which came out 5 or 6 years ago, and which left me feeling the same way. If you haven’t read that one, it is also worth your while.


A Mouth-Watering Graphic Memoir

10 Jul

Portland, OR gets called Beervana, but it is a great place for good food, too. I just live a couple of blocks off “Restaurant Row”, where NE & SE 28th cross Burnside. Lucy Knisley has a great graphic novel out.


RELISH: My Life in the Kitchen, celebrates her development as a foodie as would be a great read for young adults who love food & memoir, as well as those of us who are older than the author. Not just a straightforward, chronological narrative, she shows us significant culinary points and discoveries in her younger years,


as well as offering some of her favorite recipes. like this one for huevos rancheros.


This is a fun read that will get you thinking about your life in the kitchen.It might even inspire you to write your own kitchen memoir.

The “Kiss Me, Hardy” Pullover: 10 days of manic knitting

9 Jul


I sewed the pieces together last night and so, the “Kiss me, Hardy” pullover project is over. It was wonderful to finally pull it on last night, although I didn’t leave it on for long because the evening was warm. I can hardly wait for Autumn and cooler weather when I can wear it for real.

I knit perhaps more compulsively that I read. In warm summer weeks I rise early to air the house out before the sun comes up. Yesterday morning, after knitting past my bedtime, I got up at 4:15 to finish the sleeve and begin the neck. I finished the neck and sewed it all up after I got home from summer school.

Here is another picture of the sweater, by itself.


I listened to these audiobooks while knitting the sweater:

1.   Au Revoir, Crazy European Chick  by Joe Schreiber – awesome, but a little violent

2. Personal Effects  by E. M. Kokie – amazing

3.  Uncommon Criminals by Ally Carter – a fun romp with the rich & infamous

I’m taking a week off from knitting ( I already have 2 more projects lined up) so I can catch up on my reading.

Lucha Libros

6 Jul

If I filled a library with books on topics I was interested in it would be a wonderful place. For me. Fortunately, libraries are built on the interests of everyone. Sometimes I share those interests, often times I don’t. Take wrestling for example. I am totally not interested in it. But there are several really great books for kids about lucha libre, a form of professional wrestling that has developed in Mexico and other Latin American countries.

The newest is Niño Wrestles the World written and illustrated by Yuyi Morales.The book is a testament to a child’s imagination.


Underpants clad Niño has no trouble fending off monstrous opponents, whose biographies appear on the end papers.  When his little sisters awaken from their naps, he is in for a no-holds-barred wrestling match that will truly test his skills. Sound effects and ring announcements pepper the age-appropriate text and the illustrations capture the essence of lucha libre and Niño’s imaginative play. I  predict this one will be on the Pura Belpré  Illustrator Award list in January 2014.

For a lightly older crowd, we have LUCHA LIBRE The Man in the Silver Mask : A Bilingual Cuento by Xavier Garza.


This bilingual book from 2005 would not stay on the shelves of my library.When Carlitos attends a wrestling match in Mexico City with his father, his favorite masked-wrestler has eyes that are strangely familiar. Garza captures Carlitos’ excitement and enthusiasm it is contagious! The graphic-novel-style illustrations, reminiscent of Mexican folk art,  enhance  the story.

Finally, for readers ready for chapter books there is Maximilian & The Mystery of the Guardian Angel  also by Xavier Garza.


This bilingual book was a  2012 Pura Belpré Author Honor Award winner. It is similar in that a young man, Margarito, loves lucha libre match. However,  in the summer just before sixth grade, he tumbles over the railing at a match in San Antonio and encounters his greatest hero of all time: the Guardian Angel. As the book unfolds, Margarito learns the surprising, true identity of the Guardian Angel.

These are all great books to get Hispanic boys reading. At my school, where we are about 70% Hispanic, this can be a struggle, but these 3 books will entice even the most reluctant readers.

Breaking up is hard to do

30 Jun

I’m currently reading one break up  book  ( Going Vintage by Lindsay Leavitt )


and  listening to  another in the car ( An Abundance of Katherines by John Green).

In  Going Vintage, sixteen-year-old Mallory learns that her boyfriend is cheating on her with his cyber “wife”. As she looks through some of her grandmother’s things, she decides life was simpler in the past. She rebels against technology by following her grandmother’s list of goals from 1962, with help from her younger sister, Ginnie.

In  An Abundance of Katherines, recent high school graduate and former child prodigy, Colin has been dumped for the nineteenth time by a girl named Katherine. He sets off on a road trip with his hirsute and Lebanese  best friend,  to try to find some new direction in life while also trying to create a mathematical formula to explain his relationships.

Both are funny and poignant. Both make me think about what I was like as a teen. Both are worth reading.

Summer Beach Reads #1: Lite fare for the thinking girl

28 Jun

OK, so I haven’t gone to the beach yet and probably won’t, although I’m rather likely to sit under a shady tree in Laurelhurst Park with a book. In summer I long for lighter fare; a ripping good yarn that is a fast & fun read. Here’s the first qualifier I’ve read.


If I were a teen, I think I’d want to drop out of school & become a thief after reading  Heist Society  by Ally Carter. Kat Bishop is trying to leave the family business (theft) but gets drawn back in when her father is framed for an art theft he didn’t commit. Exotic locations, art, history, wealth, a little romance and very likable characters make this a wonderful summer read. Lite fare for the thinking girl. I have the second book in the series on hold at the library and can’t wait to get it.

2013 Hub Reading Challenge final check-in

22 Jun

reading challenge logo - finisher

The HUB reading Challenge ends today. I finished a few weeks ago, but kept going because there were books on the list I wanted to read. I loved some and had to force myself to finish others. I abandoned a few.  I hope that through my posts about it, you might join the 2014 HUB Reading Challenge. Or, you might just find a really great book to read.

I have a notebook where I record the books I read. This week, I added a new subtitle: Summer Reading. I hope your summer reading experience is as wonderful s I hope mine will be. I’ve posted the list of the books I read for the HUB Challenge below, in case you’d like to add some of them to your summer reading list.


1. Blumenthal, Karen – Steve Jobs: The Man Who Thought Different

2. Green, John – The Fault in Our Stars (audio)

3. Hopkinson, Deborah – Titanic: Voices from the Disaster

4, Levinson, Cynthis – We’ve Got a Job: The 1963 Birmingham Children’s March

5. Levithan, David – Every Day

6. Saenz, Benjamin Alire – Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

7. Sheinkin, Steve – Bomb: The Race to Build – and Steal – the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon

8. Hoose, Phillip – Moonbird: A Year on the Wind with the Great  Survivor B95

9. Mazer, Harry – Somebody, Please Tell Me Who I Am

10. Hicks, Faith Erin – Friends with Boys

11. Danforth, Emily M. – The Miseducation of Cameron Post

12. Murakami, Takashi – Stargazing Dog

13. Telgemeier, Rania – Drama

14. Pierce, Tamora – Alanna: The First Adventure

15. Paolini, Christopher – Inheritance (audiobook)

16. Pierce, Tamora – In the Hand of the Goddess

17. Pierce, Tamora – The Woman Who Rides Like a Man

18. Pierce, Tamora – Lioness Rampant

19. Lambert, Joseph – Annie Sullivan and the Trials of Helen Keller

20. Hartman, Rachel – Seraphina

21. Fetter-Vorm, Jonathan  – Trinity: A Graphic History of the First Atomic Bomb

22. Andrews, Jesse – Me & Earl & the Dying Girl

23. Bray, Libba – The Diviners (audiobook)

24. Long, Mark – The Silence of Our Friends

25. Wein, Elizabeth – Code name Verity (audiobook)

26. Backderf, Derf – My Friend Dahmer

27. Adams, S. J. – Sparks: the epic, completely true blue, (almost) holy quest of Debbie

28. Brenna, Beverley – The White Bicycle

29. Buzo, Laura – Love and Other Perishable Items

30. Brunt, Carol Rifka – Tell the Wolves I’m Home

31. Newman, Leslea – October Morning

32. Fama, Elizabeth – Monstrous Beauty (audio)

33. Semple, Maria – Where’d You Go Bernadette

34. Hassman, Tupelo – Girlchild

35. Baggott, Julianna – Pure

36. Crockett, S. D. – After the Snow

37. Sloan, Robin – Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore


Randy Ribay

YA author, teacher, nerd

The Fat Squirrel Speaks

Knitting, spinning, and assorted awesomeness.

Global Yell Blog

A blog about children's & YA lit, with some basset news thrown in

Jone Rush MacCulloch

Deo Writer: Musings to Spark the Spirit

Klickitat St. Readers

Just another WordPress.com site


A blog about children's & YA lit, with some basset news thrown in


A blog about children's & YA lit, with some basset news thrown in

Gail Carriger

A blog about children's & YA lit, with some basset news thrown in

Kate Messner

A blog about children's & YA lit, with some basset news thrown in

Cybils Awards

A blog about children's & YA lit, with some basset news thrown in

Someday My Printz Will Come

A blog about children's & YA lit, with some basset news thrown in

The Librarian Who Doesn't Say Shhh!

Opening books to open minds.

Tundra Book Group

Home of Tundra Books, Puffin Canada, Penguin Teen Canada, and Friends

andrea gillespie

Inquiring My Way Forward

Kirby's Lane: A Place for Readers and Writers

A blog about children's & YA lit, with some basset news thrown in

The Horn Book

A blog about children's & YA lit, with some basset news thrown in

The History Girls

A blog about children's & YA lit, with some basset news thrown in

%d bloggers like this: