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    Stand Up for Your Right to Read

    By Barbara A. Ward
     | Sep 19, 2016

    When I lived and taught in New Orleans, LA, I was the proud owner of a colorful t-shirt emblazoned with images of 40 front covers of books that have been challenged or banned over the years. I was even prouder to have read and owned all those books. I firmly maintain there is value in reading and discussing books that expand one’s worldview and sometimes make a reader feel uncomfortable. Although I might not relish every single book on that banned book t-shirt or even those on the current list of frequently challenged books maintained by the American Library Association (ALA), I support the right of authors and illustrators to share their words and visions and for individuals to read their books. Discourse about conflicting ideas is one of the founding principles of a democracy. Intellectual freedom should be cherished.

    Banned Books Week, a partnership of book publishers, sellers, and advocates of intellectual freedom—including teachers and librarians—provides an annual reminder of the importance of being able to have choice in what one reads. This year, the event runs September 25–October 1, under the banner of Stand Up for Your Right to Read. Chances are that a bookstore or library near you will have displays and speakers lauding the freedom to read. If not, you might consider taking the lead on this project. There are excellent resources provided on ALA’s website.

    Clearly, Banned Books Week brings together book lovers in support of intellectual freedom. Just as clearly, those of us who cherish the right to read should make sure we celebrate this right on a daily basis.

    ALA’s Office of Intellectual Freedom collects and compiles reports from libraries, schools, and the media on attempts to ban books. Often, the same books are challenged year after year. Below are the 10 most challenged books of 2015.

    1. Looking for Alaska, by John Green,cited for offensive language, being sexually explicit, and being unsuitable for age group.
    2. Fifty Shades of Grey, by E.L. James, challenged for being sexually explicit, unsuited for age group, poorly written, and concerns that teens will try some of the practices described in the book.
    3. I Am Jazz, by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings, challenged for being inaccurate and for dealing with homosexuality and sex education, for its religious viewpoint, and for being unsuited for age group.
    4. Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out, by Susan Kuklin, challenged for being anti-family, offensive language, references to homosexuality and sex education, and because of its political and religious viewpoints, and for being unsuited for age group.
    5. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, by Mark Haddon, challenged for offensive language and its religious viewpoint, for being unsuitable for age group, and for profanity and atheism.
    6. The Holy Bible, challenged because of its religious viewpoint.
    7. Fun Home, by Alison Bechdel, challenged for its violence and graphic images.
    8. Habibi, by Craig Thompson, challenged for nudity, for being sexually explicit and unsuited for age group.
    9. Nasreen’s Secret School: A True Story From Afghanistan, by Jeanette Winter, challenged because of its religious viewpoint, for being unsuited to age group, and for violence.
    10. Two Boys Kissing, by David Levithan, challenged because of homosexuality and for condoning public displays of affection.

    Some of these books were published for adult readers. Below I review five titles on the list, books written for children and young adults, all books that I consider essential reading. All of them tell important stories. I would never support removing these books or the others on the list from library shelves.

    Ages 4–8

    I Am Jazz. Jessica Herthel & Jazz Jennings. Ill. Shelagh McNicholas. 2014. Dial/Penguin.

    I Am JazzThe picture book story of Jazz Jennings’s experiences as a transgender girl is simplified here, offering a conversational starting place for parents and teachers to discuss gender roles and gender identity with young children. Through Jazz’s own words, readers are provided with a glimpse into Jazz’s world and her parents’ struggles and eventual coming to terms with their child’s identification as a girl. Jazz herself says that she knew she was a girl at the age of 2. Although it gently addresses the challenges she and her family have faced over bathroom issues and sports team, the book tells Jazz’s story in a positive fashion, offering encouragement and hope for others who are figuring out their own identity. Jazz’s honest story could lead to acceptance, understanding, and appreciation for those like her who have struggled to be allowed to be the person they know they were born to be. Although the book depicts how frustrating and confusing Jazz’s early days were, it also demonstrates the many ways she is just like any other youngster. Rendered with watercolor paints, the colorful illustrations bring a bright and cheerful focus to Jazz’s story that matches her own attitude. This important, groundbreaking book contains three photographs of Jazz as well as her image on the book jacket.

    Nasreen’s Secret School: A True Story From Afghanistan. Jeanette Winter. 2009. Beach Lane/Simon & Schuster.

    Nasreen's Secret SchoolAs the violence and confusion of war in Afghanistan paint her homeland with despair and dismal images, Nasreen has lost almost all there is to lose, including her parents, and yet her grandmother offers her hope even while turmoil swirls through her city’s streets. Under her grandmother’s firm guidance and conscious act of revolution, Nasreen attends school secretly. Simply becoming educated, a process that students in many countries take for granted, becomes an act of rebellion and an indicator of the brighter future that may lie ahead for Nasreen and others like her. The color-drenched illustrations highlight moments of tranquility snatched while violence rages around this young girl. Reading this book might remind young readers of the power of literacy and how reading truly can open up entire worlds and change lives.

    Ages 12–14

    Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out. Susan Kuklin. 2014. Candlewick.

    Beyond MagentaIn this unique collection of interviews intended to subvert gender stereotypes, six teens share their experiences as members of the transgender community. Although there are similarities and overlap in some of the stories and experiences, the journeys described here are unique and certain to evoke compassion and understanding. Readers may flinch at the struggles and applaud the hard-won victories of Jessy, Christina, Mariah, Cameron, Nat, and Luke. Containing some before and after photographs as they transitioned into the gender they were meant to be, the book includes comments from the parents (and significant others) of several of the teens. As much as many of us think we know about this topic, these teens have much to teach us, including the importance of using gender-neutral terms when referring to others and not making assumptions about someone’s gender. The back matter includes helpful resources and a glossary of terms. These shared stories have broken boundaries, opened minds, and allowed others to be themselves. Readers may find it comforting to consider the idea expressed in the book that all of us are somewhere along a spectrum when it comes to gender identity, neither completely male nor completely female.

    Ages 15+

    Looking for Alaska. John Green. 2005. Dutton/Penguin.

    Looking for AlaskaSixteen-year-old Miles Halter finds more challenges than he expected when he attends an Alabama boarding school and leaves his Florida home behind. Quirky misfit Miles enjoys collecting the last words of famous dead people, and he worries that he won’t fit in at his new school. After all, he lacks life experiences. But fortunately for Miles, he falls in with a group of would-be intellectuals more interested in smoking, drinking, hooking up, and having fun than what they’re supposed to be learning in their classrooms, and he starts catching up on all that he has been missing. Miles is attracted to Alaska Young, the girlfriend of his roommate, and yearns for this self-destructive young woman even while conducting a courtship with another classmate. The chapter headings and vignettes hint of the tragedy to come even while exploring the impact of love, loss, and grief. While looking for Alaska and others like her, Miles attempts to find himself. Teen readers are sure to identify with one of the characters in this winner of the 2006 Michael L. Printz Award.

    Two Boys Kissing. David Levithan. 2013. Alfred A. Knopf/Random House.

    two boys kissingFormer boyfriends Craig and Harry may no longer be together, but the two 17-year-olds like each other enough to try to set a new record for longest continuous kiss for the Guinness Book of World Records. Kissing for 32 hours provides a chance for reflection, affording them with time to examine their feelings for one another and deal with the consequences of their actions. While Harry’s parents support their son and have no problem with the media attention garnered by the boys’ locked lips, Craig’s mother has no idea that her son is gay. The book also explores the experiences of other teens and includes posthumous narratives by several men who died from AIDS, thus offering readers and the characters themselves a glimpse into the past, present, and future of gay rights and gender identification. Kudos to the publisher for appropriately placing an image of two adolescent males kissing on the cover.

    Barbara A. Ward teaches graduate and undergraduate courses in literacy at Washington State University, Pullman. She spent 25 years teaching in the public schools of New Orleans, where she worked with students at every grade level, from kindergarten through high school as well as several ability levels. She is certified in elementary education, English education, and gifted education. She holds a bachelor's in Communications, a master's in English Education from the University of Tennessee and a PhD in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of New Orleans.

    These reviews are submitted by members of the International Literacy Association's Children's Literature and Reading Special Interest Group (CL/R SIG) and are published weekly on Literacy Daily.

     

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    Get Hooked on a Story

    By Nancy Brashear and Carolyn Angus
     | Sep 12, 2016

    Series are favorite reading choices at any age. After they get to know characters, readers love to follow them through new adventures. This selection includes the latest books in episodic series as well as inaugural editions of new series with interesting characters and adventuresome plots leaving readers eagerly awaiting the next installment.

    Ages 4–8

    Click, Clack, Surprise! Doreen Cronin. Ill. Betsy Lewin. 2016. Caitlyn Dlouhy/Atheneum/Simon & Schuster.

    click clack surpriseThe farm animals are having a birthday party for Little Duck. Wanting to look their best, Duck “rub-a-dubs” in a bubble bath, the sheep “snippity-clip” their fleece, the cat “slurp-a-lurps” her fur, the chickens take a dust bath and then “shimmy-shake” their feathers clean, and the pigs have a “squish and squash” mud bath. Little Duck watches each of these preparations and does the same. And the cows think they look just fine the way they are and head directly to the party. “No rub-a-dubbing. No snippity-clipping. No slurp-a-lurping. No shimmy-shaking. No squish and squashing.” The animals gather under the maple tree, Farmer Brown brings the cake, and everyone sings Happy Birthday to the very messy honored guest. Little Duck has not gotten the grooming details quite right. With Cronin’s patterned text full of fun-to-repeat phrases and Lewin’s humorous and expressive illustrations, rendered in pen, ink, and watercolor, this latest book about the animals on Farmer Brown’s barnyard is a giggle-inducing read aloud.

    —CA

    Night of the Ninth Dragon (Magic Tree House #55). Mary Pope Osborne. Ill. Sal Murdoca. 2016. Random House.

    night of the ninth dragonJack and Annie are summoned by worried Queen Guinevere to Camelot where King Arthur has been injured defending the kingdom. They must get him to the Isle of Avalon to be healed soon or he will die, but invaders have stolen the golden dragon that unlocks its portal. Disguised as a simple peasant family, Jack, Annie, Queen Guinevere, and King Arthur leave the castle in a hay cart to seek advice from Cafelle, who gives them a riddle with a prophecy. In an exciting race against time to locate the golden dragon, they must quickly solve the riddle, line by line, as King Arthur grows weaker by the minute. Readers will learn more about dragons, unicorns, mermaids, and other magical creatures in Dragons and Mythical Creatures Fact Tracker (2016), the companion book to this latest book in Pope’s popular long running series of magical adventures.

    —NB

    On Bird Hill. Jane Yolen. Ill. Bob Marstall. 2016. Cornell Lab.

    on bird hillRhyming couplets patterned after the cumulative nursery song “The Green Grass Grew All Around” and beautifully composed, brightly colored double-spread illustrations tell the story of a young boy who takes a walk with his dog up Bird Hill where he sees a tree, its trunk, a limb, a twig, and a white bird sitting on a nest and watches the hatching of a chick. The perspective then switches from the boy to the chick. “He saw the twig, limb, trunk, and tree, / And then he saw the moon . . . / … and me, / As I walked down Bird Hill.”  This first book in a series that Jane Yolen is creating for the Cornell Lab of Ornithology is an invitation to take a nature walk and do some birding.

    —CA

    Pigsticks and Harold and the Pirate Treasure (Pigsticks and Harold #3). Alex Milway. 2016. Candlewick.

    pigsticks pirateSir Percival Stout has arrived with a deed, allegedly from Queen Pigtoria, making him heir to Tuptown. His intent is to knock down the entire town to build a “gold-plated mansion in the shape of his head” (p. 6). It is up to Pigsticks and his hamster sidekick, Harold, to come up with three million to buy the town. Fortunately, they have a map to great-great-great-grandpig Pirate Pigbeard the Awesomes’ treasure, which he buried before being killed one dark and stormy night by a herd of stampeding sea horses. Unfortunately, to locate the treasure they must solve the riddle on the map. In three short chapters, filled with clever wordplay and humorous, digitally-created cartoon illustrations, Pigsticks and Harold must think like pirates, talk like pirates, walk like pirates, and be pirates as they team up to save Tuptown in their third adventure.

    —CA

    Ages 9–11

    Full of Beans. Jennifer L. Holm. 2016. Random House.

    full of beansIn this prequel to her Newbery Honor book Turtle in Paradise (2010), Jennifer L. Holms offers readers another story set in Key West during the Great Depression. Ten-year-old Beans Curry’s life centers around being a member of the best (no-girls-allowed) marble-playing gang, the Keepsies; going to the movies (his favorite kid actors are Baby LeRoy and Shirley Temple); and using his entrepreneurial savvy to come up with money-making schemes (such as The Diaper Gang’s baby-tending wagon) to help out his family. When a venture into a life of crime, setting off false fire alarms around town as a diversion for Johnny Cakes, a Cuban rum runner, leads to a disaster, guilt-ridden Beans makes amends by organizing the island’s kids to help the New Dealers clean up their poverty-ridden town to make it a tourist destination. Backmatter includes notes and photographs about Key West in the 1930s and resources of interest to readers wanting to delve further in the period details in Full of Beans.

    —CA

    Wishing Day (Wishing Day #1). Lauren Myracle. 2016. HarperCollins.

    wishing dayOn her Wishing Day, the third night of the third month after her 13th birthday, Natasha follows a local tradition by making three secret wishes at the willow tree: one wish that is impossible, one she can make come true herself, and one from the deepest desire of her heart. After winter break, she returns to school and waits for her wishes to come true, but the one wish she is sure won’t come true is for her mother to return home even though the town’s strange Bird Lady speaks in riddles to her about her mother. It has been over eight years since she left, and Natasha’s father has been depressed ever since. In the meantime, Natasha struggles to identify at least one unique characteristic about herself. More than anything, she yearns to be noticed; for instance, she fancies herself a writer, but never finishes her stories. Natasha’s life is filled with hope, sisterhood, friendship, and unanswered questions in this first book in a trilogy about three sisters and their wishes.

    —NB

    Ages 12–14

    Ghost (Track #1). Jason Reynolds. 2016. Caitlyn Dlouhy/Atheneum/Simon & Schuster.

    ghostSeventh-grader Castle “Ghost” Cranshaw is always running—either away from trouble as when he and his mother had to run when his drunk father threatened them with a gun or toward trouble or “altercations” at school. When he is recruited as a sprinter by the Olympic medalist track coach of an elite youth track team, the Defenders, Ghost has the opportunity to develop his natural talent if he can control his anger and move beyond his troubled past. Ghost, who loves The Guinness Book of World Records, begins to believe attaining his goal of being “the greatest” at something important just might be possible when Coach shares with him that they have common backgrounds and that running can do for Ghost what it did for him. “. . .  you can’t run away from who you are, but what you can do is run toward who you want to be.” Subsequent books in the Track series will focus on the other “newbies” on the team.

    —CA

    Julia Vanishes (The Witch’s Child #1). Catherine Egan. 2016. Alfred A. Knopf/Random House.

    julia vanishesSpira City already banishes magic and hangs witches, but another form of evil is loose now, a killer leaving dead bodies scattered across the frozen city. No one is safe, not even Julia, a thief and spy—and daughter of a witch—whose unique talent is to “vanish,” or simply melt from people’s consciousness. One minute she’s there and in the next, she’s not. Being able to vanish is especially valuable in her current assignment posing as a housemaid in eccentric Mrs. Och’s old mansion. Julia uses her talent to snoop, eavesdrop, and search without being detected by the odd residents: a disgraced professor, a reclusive houseguest, and a frightened young woman and her child. Julia suspects a connection between activities of the residents and the killings. When she sails directly into a new danger from which escape might not be possible, the stakes are higher than she can imagine. Readers will be primed to read the next book in this action-filled fantasy series.

    —NB

    Ages 15+ 

    And I Darken. Kiersten White. 2016. Delacorte/Random House.

    and i darkenLadislav Dragwlya, with her fierce and vicious personality, and her gentle and winsome younger brother, Radu, who were born to a lineage of rulers in Wallachia, are traded to the Ottoman Empire by their powerless father, Vlad Dracul, as part of a treaty. While Lada hates her new home, vows steadfast allegiance to Wallachia, and dreams of returning to her homeland someday as a powerful ruler, Radu embraces everything about the Ottoman culture including its religion. As their lives intertwine in unexpected ways with their new friend, Mehmed, heir to the Ottoman Empire, currents of politics, religion, and sexuality arise in the complex plot. Readers will eagerly await the sequel to this rich and compelling alternate historical account of Vlad the Impaler.

    —NB

    Labyrinth Lost (Brooklyn Brujas #1). Zoraida Cordova. 2016. Sourcebook Fire/Sourcebook.

    labyrinth lostAlex, a Puerto Rican girl from the Bronx, is a bruja who hates magic so much that she performs a spell to get rid of her “gifts” at the Deathday celebration for her 16th birthday. As an unexpected consequence of her hasty actions, her mother and sisters disappear into another realm, and it is up to Alex to get them back. With the help of Nova, a brujo boy whom she doesn’t trust or even like, and her best friend, Rishi, Alex embarks on a journey to Los Lagos, where she must complete seemingly impossible quests in order to save her family. Through increasingly dangerous trials, Alex learns that she shouldn’t fear her magic and that love comes in all forms. The novel ends on a cliffhanger about her father’s disappearance that will launch readers into the next book in the series. An author’s note includes descriptions of Latin American religions and cultures from which Cordova took inspiration.

    —NB

    Nancy Brashear is Professor Emeritus of English from Azusa Pacific University, in Azusa, California. Carolyn Angus is former director of the George G. Stone Center for Children's Books, Claremont Graduate University, in Claremont, CA.

    These reviews are submitted by members of the International Literacy Association's Children's Literature and Reading Special Interest Group (CL/R SIG) and are published weekly on Literacy Daily.

     

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    Feathers or Fur, Animals Help Convey Stories

    By Barbara A. Ward
     | Sep 06, 2016

    Animals are featured in many favorite childhood books, and adults also often gravitate to books about animals to share with children. Perhaps this is the case because animals are often so majestic in their natural settings but also on the home front, because they remind readers of truths about themselves. Here are some of my recent favorite titles in which animals are either featured center stage or play an important role in the storyline.

    Ages 4–8

    Chicken Lily. Lori Mortensen. Ill. Nina Victor Crittenden. 2016. Henry Holt.

    chicken lilyPublic speaking is an activity that makes many brave souls turn chicken. Although Lily, an actual chicken, does many things quite well, she is certainly not a risk taker. When her teacher plans a poetry jam, Lily does everything she possibly can to avoid performing. But then once she figures out how to write poetry and is forced to share her lines onstage, she actually feels validated by the reaction of others as everything turns out fine. Although Lily is just a chicken, she has overcome at least one fear by the book’s conclusion. The illustrations, created with watercolor, pen, and ink, are simple yet complement the story, which is filled with animals but also with lessons for humans.

    Sky Pig. Jan L. Coates. Ill. Suzanne Del Rizzo. 2016. Pajama Press.

    sky pigBecause Ollie, a pig, dreams of being able to fly, his human friend Jack tries all sorts of strategies to help him accomplish his ambitions. Still, even though they tie together branches, use a kite and its string, and even affix wings to Ollie’s back, his time aloft is all too brief. When a hot air balloon offers possibilities for flight, the two seize the moment, and Ollie rises into the air. This child-friendly story provides a message about persistence and friendship while the illustrations, created with plasticine, polymer clay, paper collage, and various found objects including milkweed fluff and watch gears, are particularly eye-catching.

    They All Saw a Cat. Brendan Wenzel. 2016. Chronicle.

    they all saw a catPerspective is what matters most when looking at anything, as is vividly illustrated in this picture book using colored pencil, oil pastels, acrylic paint, watercolor, charcoal, markers, and pencils to depict how 12 different animals see a feline. Not only do we all see different things when we view the objects in our world, but our perspectives, like those of the animals in this book, are different as well. There is even one illustration showing how the cat sees itself when he peers into the water that provides him a mirror to gaze at his own appearance. The rhythmic text moves as fluidly as that slinky feline saunters across the book’s pages. Young readers are sure to enjoy this imaginative journey through nature and revel at the various perspectives on one cat offered here. After all, although all these animals saw a cat, they didn’t all see the same thing.

    Ages 9–11

    Beetle Boy (The Battle of the Beetles). M.G. Leonard. 2016. Chicken House/Scholastic.

    beetle boyTwelve-year-old Darkus Cuttle comes to stay with his eccentric Uncle Max after his scientist father disappears. A rhinoceros beetle named Baxter befriends Darkus and leads the boy and his new friends, Virginia and Bertolt, to the beetle-filled house next door amid a human pack rat’s warren of furniture, clothing, and debris. As it turns out, the beetles next door are highly intelligent, able to follow orders, and seemingly capable of thinking for themselves. The beetles and the youngsters battle with their nemesis, the cold-hearted Lucretia Cutter, who is determined to get her hands on those beetles, no matter the price. Readers will be quickly swept up by this fast-moving story, filled with interesting details about beetles and representing a cautionary example of the perils of genetic engineering.

    Strudel’s Forever Home. Martha Freeman. 2016. Holiday House.

    strudel's forever homeSometimes a dog’s point of view reveals truths about humans that might not be readily apparent, as is shown in this story told by Strudel, a dachshund at a Philadelphia animal shelter. The friendly dog is delighted when Jake, who has been reading to the animals in order to improve his reading skills, impulsively decides to adopt him. But Jake’s family hasn’t made any plans for Strudel’s stay, and they don’t even have dog food for his new pet. Drawing inspiration from the adventure story Jack has been reading to him, Strudel is determined to live up to the fictional dog’s heroics. Nevertheless, as might be expected, he makes mistakes as he tries to fit into his new family such as attacking the garden hose because it resembles a snake. In the end,  Strudel proves his worth as he helps Jake deal with bullying by some would-be thugs and senses that Mom’s boyfriend, Arnie, is untrustworthy. Readers will find Jake’s dilemmas quite realistic, and having a dog’s eye view of the action provides funny perspectives on daily life. This book amuses while also encouraging readers to think about the consequences of their actions and how to deal with those who are trying to take advantage of them.

    The Tragic Tale of the Great Auk. Jan Thornhill. 2016. Groundwood/House of Anansi.

    the great aukYoung environmentalists will certainly be interested in this nonfiction title describing the demise of a species, the Great Auk, the last of which was seen before the start of the Civil War. Thousands of these birds, adept fishers and swimmers, once inhabited the North Atlantic region. The author describes how nature and humans spelled disaster for these creatures that were awkward on land and unable to fly due to their very small wings. Because the Great Auks were so easy to hunt, they provided food for explorers arriving in the area and were often burned for fuel. Eventually, with a reduced habitat and smaller numbers, they became prized for private collections because of their rarity. The author tells the Great Auk’s story in an engaging fashion, identifying turning points from which things could have resulted differently for this species. At the book’s conclusion, Thornhill performs an interesting switch by explaining how the demise of this oddly appealing bird eventually led to the thriving puffin population on Funk Island. Accompanied by exquisitely rendered drawings, created on a computer with Corel Painter, the text will enthrall and sadden readers, perhaps reminding them that when a species is gone, it has disappeared forever.

    Wild Blood (Horses of the Dawn). Kathryn Lasky. 2016. Scholastic.

    wild bloodIn this triumphant conclusion to the popular equine-dominated trilogy, the First Herd is heading toward the mountains and the promise of sweet grass and freedom. The ruthless conquistador El Miedo is determined to find gold and replenish his herd with Estrella and the horses following her. Through trickery, the filly Estrella and the young boy Tijo are captured, and things look quite hopeless. But El Miedo’s overworked mules and some of his horses plot an escape. Filled with characters that readers will love and some they will hate, this fast-paced action story celebrates heroism, including the heroism that may lie within even the most selfish of creatures. Despite the challenges they faced, those horses also had a lot of unexpected allies. By the time the horses reach their destination and possibly their destiny, readers may feel their hearts swelling with pride at how far the characters have traveled.

    Ages 12–14

    The Best Worst Thing. Kathleen Lane. 2016. Little, Brown.

    the worst best thingMiddle grader Maggie Alder worries about a lot of things, including the start of a new school year and her family’s safety. She dreads starting middle school—and for good reason—because many of her classmates seem to have changed and become more interested in makeup and clothing than their previous interests. She is gravely concerned about the fate of rabbits being raised by her neighbor Mr. Gullick, and she worries about another neighbor, Gordy, and the gun he’s been promised for his upcoming birthday. As she devises a plan of action to save the rabbits, she finds unexpected friendship even while resorting to odd coping strategies such as repeating statements and holding her breath. Readers will fall in love with Maggie and this intense story filled with hope, heart, and determination and its glimpse into the often-awkward transition into middle grades, while holding their own breath to see how everything turns out. One of the book’s strengths is how it handles the challenges faced by its characters, often hinting at what’s going on in their lives rather than providing detailed descriptions of what ails each of them.

    Fortune Falls. Jenny Goebel. 2016. Scholastic.

    fortune fallsSadie Bleeker is a very unlucky girl living in Fortune Falls, a town where luck is most valued. Unfortunately for Sadie, those who are lucky continue to multiply their luck, and those less fortunate such as she seem to have little luck at all. As her 12th birthday approaches, Sadie can only hope that her birthday wish will turn things around so she can stay with her family and not be sent off to boarding school for others as unlucky as she is. When her beloved dog, Wink, disappears into the dreaded cemetery and even her best friend, Cooper, seems to have forsaken her as her luck goes from bad to even worse, Sadie is just about ready to give up completely. In search of luck, Sadie finds it in the most unlikely form, that of Jinx, the black cat lurking in her path. How horrible it would be to feel doomed to a luckless future at the age of 12 as you were sorted into the undesirable pile.

    All Ages

    National Geographic Kids Ultimate Explorer Field Guide: Birds. Julie Beer. 2016. National Geographic.

    nat geo birdsBrimming with 175 photographs and numerous tips for novice birdwatchers, this comprehensive but compact field guide offers basic information about birds. In fact, it provides all that is needed to begin the hobby of birding other than binoculars and a notebook. The book is organized according to regions and includes helpful maps showing the range of various birds. The text also includes bird-related activities and jokes. There is even information about birds that closely resemble one another and can fool someone just learning to identify various species. Perfect as a primer for novice birders, this field guide could prove that the family that looks for birds together may spend more time together.  

    Barbara A. Ward teaches graduate and undergraduate courses in literacy at Washington State University, Pullman. She spent 25 years teaching in the public schools of New Orleans, where she worked with students at every grade level, from kindergarten through high school as well as several ability levels. She is certified in elementary education, English education, and gifted education. She holds a bachelor's in Communications, a master's in English Education from the University of Tennessee and a PhD in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of New Orleans.

    These reviews are submitted by members of the International Literacy Association's Children's Literature and Reading Special Interest Group (CL/R SIG) and are published weekly on Literacy Daily.

     


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    Back to School Stories

    By Sandip Wilson
     | Aug 29, 2016

    Whether it’s a term break for a few weeks or three months of summer vacation, going back to school is a time chock-full of possibility and change. The books in this collection reflect experiences of students as they return to the classroom, including the anticipation of the transition to a new school environment, as well as challenges and discoveries through the year. 

    Ages 4–8

    The Class. Boni Ashburn. Ill. Kimberly Gee. 2016. Beach Lane/Simon & Schuster.

    the classTwenty children prepare for the first day of kindergarten in this narrative written in rhyme, starting with steps such as getting up in the morning and selecting what to wear. “Six have laid clothes on a chair./ Three don’t know what to wear!/ Five pull on their favorite jeans./ Two are fashionista queens.” On each spread is a number of children with different emotional expressions, showing different ways of dealing with each step in getting to school, where nervous, friendly, shy, playful, or busy they meet on the playground before going to their classroom. Illustrations, rendered in pencil and colored digitally, include details of the children’s school-day routines of dressing, finishing breakfast in spite of being excited, and getting their belongings together, as well as the anxieties, fears, and even frustrations on the first day.

    Mission: Back to School. Susan Hood. Ill. Mary Lundquist. 2016. Random House.

    mission back to schoolThis manual for navigating first days back at school cautions readers that it is “classified information.” Chapter headings on each page indicate reconnaissance and intrigue in the choice of language. “Rendezvous at vehicle checkpoint” is getting on the bus. “Build diplomatic relations” is learning to say hello in multiple languages. “Conduct fieldwork” is observing insects on the school grounds. The language has multiple meanings. On the spread of a field trip near the school, for example, different children speak while they work. One child says, “Let’s sweep the area for bugs,” while another says, “Watch out it’s a sting operation.” A third student calls out, “Bring on the Swat team.” The playful illustrations, done in pencil and colored ink, depict sharing referred to as “trading assets,” learning conventions of behavior in class, called “learning secret code,” and other aspects of the daily life of the class.

    Sophie’s Squash Go to School. Pat Zietlow Miller. Ill. Anne Wilsdorf. 2016. Schwartz & Wade/Random House.

    Sophie's squash go to schoolGoing to school can inspire excitement as well as create anxiety, so Sophie brings two butternut squash, Bonnie and Baxter, with her to ease her way into starting kindergarten. Reprised from 2013’s Sophie’s Squash, the girl is so involved with her two friends that she stays away from the other children and rebuffs invitations to play and work in small groups. In this story of first-day-of-school adjustment and making new friends, Sophie is irritated by everything in school and rebuffs Steven Green, who wants to be friends. To encourage friendship with Sophie, Steven shares his special friend, a stuffed frog, with her, but to no avail. When she finally shares her squash during morning meeting, he corrects her reference to them as vegetables rather than fruits. Sophie has to make decisions about her special squash friends, and in her growing understanding of what friends are she introduces a project to the class. The illustrations, rendered in watercolor and China ink, depict new experiences and beginnings at home and in school. The enchanting end sheets, showing Sophie interacting with her two friends on a chair, are different front and back.

    Ages 9–11

    The Only Girl in School. Natalie Standiford. 2016. Scholastic.

    the only girl is schoolAfter Bess, Claire’s best friend, moves to California, Claire is the only girl in the fifth-grade class at the school on Foyes Island. In a series of letters to Bess, Claire chronicles the year and shares her hurt and disappointment when her other best friend, Henry, ignores her as he joins in the torment and bullying the boys in the school instigate and which goes unnoticed by the teachers. To survive the bullying, Claire escapes to her clubhouse—the girls’ bathroom—where she illustrates daily events and, when she discovers that someone has been adding pictures that ridicule her to the bathroom stalls, she has a mystery to solve. A winter play, square dance, spring sailing regatta, Claire’s birthday party, and a social studies project in which Claire proposes to solve another mystery related to the history of the island, provide moments when Claire begins to stand up to her tormentors. In her story of betrayal, resourcefulness, and forgiveness, Claire finds her identity and pursues interests that are important to her. 

    Ages 12–14

    The Last Boy at St. Ediths. Lee Gjersten Malone. 2016. Aladdin/Simon & Schuster.

    the last boy at St Edith'sSeventh-grade student Jeremy Miner longs to attend a school other than St. Edith’s School, formerly an all-girls’ school that briefly admitted boys. All the other boys have now transferred, but Jeremy has to stay because he receives free tuition to the prestigious school because his single mother is on staff. His sister, Rachel, an athlete and excellent student, and an old friend, Emily, who also go to St. Edith’s, chide him for wanting to change schools. Only one student, Claudia, sympathizes and plans a series of epic pranks with Jeremy that involve the whole school with the intention of getting him kicked out. Jeremy establishes rules for the pranks and the first few are pulled off successfully. Then events begin to conspire against the pranksters. Their acts affect more schools than just St. Edith’s and involve many of the students, causing Jeremy to question himself and what he thinks is important. In this novel of friendship lost and found, resourcefulness, and unexpected consequences, Jeremy learns that being the only boy in school is not the worst thing that can happen.

    Surviving Middle School: Navigating the Halls, Riding the Social Roller Coaster, and Unmasking the Real You. Luke Reynolds. 2016. Beyond Words/Aladdin/Simon & Schuster.

    surviving middle schoolIn a conversational and humorous style, Reynolds, a middle school teacher, tells stories from his teaching experience, illustrating lessons for living through middle school. He devotes individual chapters to such topics as the hazards of comparing oneself to classmates or one’s accomplishments to those of others, what matters to young people, and how to understand others. He introduces the iceberg concept by recounting experiences of students and explains that young people and adults are much more complex than they appear on the surface. Reynolds dispels myths, or what he calls lies, that can be perplexing for middle school students, such as “Lie #1: The way you look is all that matters when it comes to love and Lie #2: If you’re not going out with someone in middle school, you’re not cool.” His stories and topics reflect a metaphor of “caked dirt” he introduces at the beginning. By explaining how caked dirt can persist in bicycle tires, refusing to come out even with scrubbings, he shows how being caked dirt means not giving up. Students do not give up on pursuing their interests and talents, and teachers do not give up on trying again, learning, and supporting students. He uses quotations from writers throughout and includes a reference list of books, articles, and websites that he integrates into the chapters.

    Where You’ll Find Me. Natasha Friend. 2016. Farrar Straus Giroux.

    where you'll find me2When 13-year-old Anna Collette’s mother is hospitalized from an overdose of antidepressants, Anna must go live with her estranged father, his young wife, and their baby. Although Anna has focused on the ups and downs of her mother’s health, even when her parents were married, now she also has to deal with the rejection of her lifelong best friend, Dani, who has tried out for the cheerleading squad and joined the cool girls. Despondent and disoriented, Anna resists the friendship of Shawna and SaraBeth, who suggest they try out for the annual talent show. As her mother improves and takes up residence with her old friend Regina, a nurse, Anna is apprehensive about communicating with her mother and has a falling out with her father, who has always left care of her mother to others. Anna finds ways to forge a new life and realize the talents she has as she reconciles her relationships with family and discovers new friendships in this novel of identity and discovery.

    Ages 15+

    How It Ends. Catherine Lo. 2016. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

    how it endsAnnie and Jessie are unlikely friends who find each other at the beginning of sophomore year. Annie is cool, outgoing, new in town, and an artist, living with her father, stepmother, and older, perfect stepsister. Jessie is introverted, a conscientious student, and a writer, with a secure, supportive family. Annie and Jessie recount the year from alternative perspectives, as Annie develops friendships with Courtney and her friends, who continue to torment and harass Jessie as they have since middle school. Annie is blind to their actions and chides Jessie about imagined slights and offenses until Jessie’s mother mentions to Annie the anxiety that afflicts Jessie. Annie realizes she can be a better friend by changing how she behaves and shares Jessie’s information with her other friends, thinking that this will change their behavior toward her. Both Annie and Jessie like the same boy, Scott Hutchins, but Annie takes up with him and when she enlists Jessie’s help in doing a pregnancy test, Jessie learns what Annie wants to keep secret. As they each meet the challenges of their secrets they gain insight into themselves and their relationships with friends and family, discovering what and who is important in their lives.

    Sandip Wilson serves as associate professor in the College of Health and Education of Husson University in Bangor, ME. 

    These reviews are submitted by members of the International Literacy Association's Children's Literature and Reading Special Interest Group (CL/R SIG) and are published weekly on Literacy Daily.

     


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    Stories in Rhyme and Novels in Verse

    By Linda T. Parsons and Lisa D. Patrick
     | Aug 22, 2016

    Karen Hesse’s Newbery Medal–winning Out of the Dust (1997) was one of the first novels in verse for young people. This unique form bridges the worlds of poetry and prose by combining the imagery and cadence of poetry with the narrative arc of prose, using rhymed couplets, tanka, and free verse. Although the very young may enjoy the stories in rhyme, older readers may enter and navigate the world of story as created in the verse novels.

    Ages 4–8

    Go Home Bay. Susan Vande Griek. Ill. Pascal Milelli. 2016. Groundwood/House of Anansi.

    go-home-bayThis quiet, lyrical narrative envisions the summer of 1914 when Canadian artist Tom Thomson visited Georgian Bay, Ontario. Invited by Dr. James MacCallum, a Toronto ophthalmologist, Tom spent part of his time there giving art lessons to 10-year-old Helen MacCallum. We witness the gentle unfolding of summer in free verse from Helen’s point of view: “He gives me oils and brush / and palette knife, / shows me how to petal them, / color them, shape them, / make them bloom on a little board.” Vibrant, bold oil on canvas double-page spreads help us see and feel what Helen experiences and are complemented by occasional pencil drawings on white backgrounds. A biographical note gives additional information and resources about Tom Thomson and includes a story about a small painting he gave to Helen, which she cherished throughout her lifetime. This is a welcome companion to Griek and Milelli’s The Art Room (2002) about another well-known Canadian artist, Emily Carr.
    –LTP

    Maxi the Little Taxi. Elizabeth Upton. Ill. Henry Cole. 2016. Scholastic.

    maxi-the-little-taxiIn rhyming couplets, Upton tells the story of Maxi’s first day on the job as a taxi. This anthropomorphic cab reflects the joys, delights, challenges, and fears a young child might experience in the course of a day. Maxi begins his day “flashy and bright” and enthusiastically zips and zooms around town and through every puddle he finds. Sticky fingers, ice cream, mustard, and pigeons leave their mark on him until no one wants to ride in a taxi as dirty as Maxi. A young boy comes to the rescue and suggests that Maxi should stop at a car wash. Although frightened at first, Maxi eventually enjoys the scrubbers and suds as “they tickled his muffler and bumper and hubs.” Maxi emerges shining as brightly as the streetlights and returns to the garage to be tucked in before drifting dreamily off to sleep. Perfect for reading aloud, the rhyming couplets propel the story along nearly as quickly as Maxi navigates the streets of the city, and Cole’s illustrations provide multiple perspectives with color choices that augment Maxi’s emotions.
    –LTP

    Ages 9–11

    Applesauce Weather. Helen Frost. Ill. Amy June Bates. 2016. Candlewick.

    apple-sauce-weather“Today is the day I've been waiting for: the first apple / fell from the tree.” So begins Faith’s introduction to her favorite time of the year. But this is the first year without Aunt Lucy. Will Uncle Arthur still visit and finish his tall tale about how he lost his finger? Faith has hope, but her brother, Peter, isn’t so sure. Faith, Peter, and Uncle Arthur all take turns moving the story along. Lucy’s songs, which reveal the family history behind the applesauce tradition, are interspersed throughout their poems. By the end of the novel, Faith realizes that she is blessed by the stories and songs in her life, “like an orchard of apple trees.” Helen Frost, winner of a Printz Honor for her verse novel Keesha’s House (2003), pens verses that resonate with emotion and rhythm. Amy June Bates’s black-and-white oil-based pencil illustrations bring this heartwarming tale to life.
    –LDP

    Garvey’s Choice. Nikki Grimes. October 2016. Wordsong/Highlights.

    garveys-choiceGarvey loves reading and astronomy, but his father expects him to be an athlete. After turning to food for comfort, his classmates and his sister bully him because of his weight. Garvey’s love of music proves to be a lifeline after his good friend encourages him to join the school chorus, and his outstanding tenor voice ultimately connects him to his father. Each poem in this novel in verse is a tanka, a traditional Japanese form of five lines. Nikki Grimes respects the form’s focus on mood while extending it to center on story. A recipient of the Virginia Hamilton Literary Award, the NCTE Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children, the Coretta Scott King Author Award for Bronx Masquerade (2003), and five additional Coretta Scott King Author Honors, Grimes does not disappoint with this latest offering. In a field dominated by books about girls and body type, Garvey’s Choice provides a realistic and honest portrayal of an overweight male finding his place in the world.
    –LTP

    Little Cat’s Luck. Marion Dane Bauer. Ill. Jennifer A. Bell. 2016. Simon & Schuster.

    little-cats-luckPatches, a little housecat, longs for a special place of her own. She embarks on a grand adventure, one that begins with the chasing of a golden leaf. She encounters a host of friends and foes along the way. At the end of her adventures in the wide world, she discovers that her special place is actually with Gus, a misunderstood dog, and his “special heart.” Gus creates an unlikely family with Patches and her three kittens, whom he watches over and protects. Jennifer Bell’s black-and-white illustrations were rendered in pencil and digitally produced. Newbery Honor winner Marion Dane Bauer is also the author of the verse novel: Little Dog, Lost (2012), a companion book to Little Cat’s Luck. –LDP

    Somewhere Among. Annie Donwerth-Chikamatsu. 2016. Caitlyn Dlouhy/Atheneum/Simon & Schuster.

    somewhere-amongEleven-year-old Ema lives in Tokyo, Japan, with her Japanese father and American mother and identifies as binational, bicultural, bilingual, and biracial. She feels even more like a foreigner in her home country when she and her pregnant mother spend the summer and fall with her fierce obaasan and gentle jiichan rather than traveling to the United States to visit Grandpa Bob and Nana. The first person, free verse poems provide an intimate look at Ema’s life as she negotiates her place within her two very different worlds. Japanese culture and language are seamlessly woven into the narrative storyline in which Ema fears for the safety of her mother and her unborn sibling, misses her father—who must work in Tokyo—observes the lasting effects of WWII on her jiichan, overcomes bullying at her new school, and experiences the international reverberations of the 9/11 attacks in the United States. Ema ultimately comes to understand gangatte: how to endure with strength, effort, and patience.
    –LTP

    Ages 12–14

    Falling Into the Dragon’s Mouth. Holly Thompson. 2016. Henry Holt.

    falling-into-the-dragons-mouthJason Parker’s American family lives in the seaside village of Kamajura, Japan, where his weekly activities (from best to worst) include aikido, weekend hikes, English group, Friday soccer, babysitting his younger sister, tutor time, and—last and worst—school or “The Dragon’s Mouth.” Jason is “the nail that sticks out just waiting to be hammered down,” and the hammering begins when his class forms hans: table groups who sit, study, and do cleaning chores together. Jason meets verbal and physical abuse by drawing on his aikido training and holding his center. Although his teacher turns a blind eye and a friend betrays him, Jason finds strength and safety in the elder Takemura-san, school dropout Daiko, and the dojo. A neighborhood fire and coastal typhoon foreshadow the danger in which Jason finds himself as the bullying escalates to a choking game that nearly kills him. Japanese words and culture are seamlessly integrated in this first person, free verse novel that includes occasional brush-and-ink illustrations, a glossary, a cultural guide, and further resources.
    –LTP

    The Lonely Ones. Kelsey Sutton. 2016. Philomel/Penguin.

    the-lonely-onesFain’s world is dominated by arguing parents, distracted siblings, and bullying peers. In the absence of attention from family and friends, she finds comfort in creating fantastical stories of creatures—creatures that come out at night searching for lonely children like her. Fain escapes into this invented world rather than facing the reality of her lonely life. She writes the stories of these imaginary beings—sometimes it is difficult to tell if they are monsters or friends. When a teacher recognizes her talent and encourages her to enter a writing contest, Fain begins to embrace the possibility of creating a life in the real world. When she wins, the experience leaves her no longer feeling quite so invisible. As Fain begins to connect with her siblings and classmates, the monsters recede, and she is faced with making a difficult choice between remaining queen to the creatures of her imaginary world, or risking life in the real world. Kelsey Sutton expertly and eloquently uses the poetic form of free verse to explore themes of imagination, isolation, and friendship.
    –LDP

    Linda T. Parsons is an associate professor in the Department of Teaching and Learning on the Marion Campus of The Ohio State University, where she specializes in middle childhood literacy and young adult literature. Lisa D. Patrick is a literacy coach trainer at The Ohio State University’s Literacy Collaborative, where she specializes in children’s literature and early literacy.

    These reviews are submitted by members of the International Literacy Association's Children's Literature and Reading Special Interest Group (CL/R SIG) and are published weekly on Literacy Daily.

     

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