Posted in Intermediate, Middle Grade, Non-fiction, Non-Fiction

Birds and Their Feathers brings art and STEM together

Birds and Their Feathers, by Britta Teckentrup, (March 2018, Prestel), $16.95, ISBN: 9783791373355

Ages 6+

It’s always wonderful when art and science come together to show us the world in all of its natural beauty. Britta Tecktentrup’s Birds and Their Feathers is a stunning example. The book introduces readers to the science of plumology – bird feather science, or plumage science. If this is a new term for you, you’re not alone; this is a branch of ornithology that I wasn’t aware of, either! The book beautifully blends fascinating facts about plumage and birds with breathtaking artwork to give readers a wonderful introduction to this area of the natural world, with spreads dedicated to the structure and development of the feather; types and colors of feathers (they all have their own jobs!) and wings, human usage of the feather, and how humankind was so inspired by the feather, we used it to take flight on our own.

The artwork is quietly breathtaking, using earth tones and collage artwork to create soft, yet dramatic, pictures of birds and their plumage. The endpapers are covered with feather artwork so realistic, you’ll swear you can feel their softness under your fingertips. The writing is never overwhelming; rather, each page has anywhere from a few lines to a handful of paragraphs dedicated to its topic, with facts like: “The inside of a feather needs colours that help protect it and keep it durable. Such colours may include red and yellow, which can prevent bacteria from harming the feather”; “Some birds can make different sounds generated by their feathers”; and “Some fish-eating birds eat their own feathers to line their stomachs, which protects them from sharp fish bones”. This book is perfect for kids and grown-ups alike.

Perfect for a nature study or STEM project, Birds and Their Feathers is a must-add to your nonfiction shelves. Get your readers working with feathers to make their own art, and if you can find a feather or two to show off the parts of a feather up close (wear gloves if you get this from outside!), even better. I’d use this in my Discovery Club in a second. Birds and Their Feathers has a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly.

 

 

Feathers: Not Just for Flying, by Melissa Stewart/Illustrated by Sarah S. Brannen – Science picture book on how different birds use their feathers.

Feather, by Cao Wenxuan/Illustrated by Roger Mello, Translated by Chloe Garcia-Roberts – A fable about a feather trying to find its origin.

 

Advertisements
Posted in Fiction, Middle Grade, Middle School, Realistic Fiction, Tween Reads

Grief and conflict collide in The Girl with More Than One Heart

The Girl with More Than One Heart, by Laura Geringer Bass, (Apr. 2018, Amulet), $16.99, ISBN: 9781419728822

Ages 10+

Briana is starting her eighth grade year when her father dies of a sudden heart problem. Her mother spirals into grief, leaving Briana with the responsibility of caring for her 5-year-old brother, Aaron, who’s on the autism spectrum. Briana thought of her father as “her” parent and her mother as “Aaron’s parent”, which introduces frustration and resentment on top of her own grief. Briana feels a “second heart” form in her stomach, which communicates to her in her father’s voice, telling her to “find” her mother, and to “let go”.

Told in the first person in Briana’s voice, this novel is a touching, sensitive look at the complicated grief process: it’s messy, frustrating, and filled with mixed emotions, especially when thrown into the volatile mix of adolescent emotions. The writing is so believable, so real, that I felt overwhelmed by both Briana’s and her mother’s grief at points. Readers receive a wealth of information through Briana’s “Before Aaron” flashbacks, back to when her mother had as much time for her as her father; back when they were a cohesive, whole family. This process also helps Briana become a more present sibling to Aaron, and to reach out to new friends when the opportunities present themselves. We get a glimpse of what grief can do to a parent, and the effect of that grief on a child, and we see how the extended family – in this case, Briana’s grandfather – have to take on roles that they may be unprepared for.

The Girl with More Than One Heart is a must-add to your realistic fiction collections, and keep this one in your booktalking pocket for books on grief and loss.

 

Readalikes:

 

Never That Far, by Carol Lynch Williams: Twelve-year-old Libby and her father work through their grief after her grandfather dies.

Ms. Bixby’s Last Day, by John David Anderson: Three school friends give their dying teacher the best day ever.

A Monster Calls, by Patrick Ness: Thirteen-year-old Conor’s mother is fighting cancer and losing; at the same time, a yew tree tells Conor stories and expects him to tell his.

The Haunted House Project, by Tricia Clasen: Andie tries to hold onto her mother’s memory by having her “haunt” the family home.

Counting by 7s, by Holly Goldberg Sloan: Twelve-year-old Willow loses both parents in a car accident, leaving her to find her place in the world.

Teen Librarian Toolbox and Pragmatic Mom have additional choices, all excellent reading.

Posted in Fiction, Middle Grade, picture books, Preschool Reads, Toddler Reads, Tween Reads

Book List for Beginning Activists

It’s getting harder and harder, waking up to the world we’re living in today. Some of our best defenses are, and will always be, empathy and information. I was inspired to create my own list of books to cultivate young activists by CuriousCity’s Books for All of Us post; I hope these books inspire you, too. Remember what J.R.R. Tolkien told us: even the smallest person can change the course of the future.

 

A is for Activist, by Innosanto Nagara, (Nov. 2013, Triangle Square), $9.40, ISBN: 978-1609805395

Available in board book or hardcover, A is for Activist is a rhyming abcedary of activism. The book introduces little ones to ideas like Co-Op, Equal Rights, Grassroots, Indigenous, and Justice. Best for pre-k and up in terms of grasping the concepts, but it’s never too early to get an ABC book in front of the little ones. The illustrations are loaded with new things to find with each reading.

 

Change the World Before Bedtime, a collaboration by Mark Kimball Moulton, Josh Chalmers, and Karen Good (Schiffer Publishing, 2012). $16.99, ISBN: 978-0764342387

One of my storytime constants, Change the World Before Bedtime is loaded with ways for kids to make positive changes in their world, from eating locally to visiting a sick friend, to donating money from a lemonade stand to a good cause. It’s another rhyming text, with homespun, cozy artwork that immediately evokes the warm fuzzies.

 

Say Hello!, by Rachel Isadora, (Apr. 2010, GP Putnam), $14.95, ISBN: 978-0399252303

Everyday activism! Carmelita is a little girl going to visit her abuela. As she walks through her neighborhood, she and her neighbors greet one another in their native languages: “Buenos días!”, “Konichiwa!”, “Shalom!”, and other joyful salutations embrace the multicultural world in which we live. Say Hello! will have kids sharing their own greetings with one another.

 

The Smallest Girl in the Smallest Grade, by Justin Roberts/Illustrated by Christian Robinson, (Sept. 2014, GP Putnam), $16.99, ISBN: 978-0399257438

Little Sally McCabe may be the smallest girl in the smallest grade, but she’s making big things happen when she decides to speak up when she sees bullying at the playground. This rhyming story lets kids of all sizes know that we can all make a difference.

 

Letters to a Prisoner, by Jacques Goldstyn, (Sept. 2017, OwlKids Books), $18.95, ISBN: 9781771472517

This wordless picture book is inspired by human rights organization Amnesty International’s letter writing campaigns. A man is arrested during a peaceful protests and languishes in jail. A cruel guard burns letters that would sustain the man, inspiring more letter writers to come together and create a winged army of written support that overwhelms the guard and lifts the prisoner up and away. The book illustrates the power of the written word to sustain as well as to take a stand.

 

A Good Day for Climbing Trees, by Jaco Jacobs, Translated from Afrikaans by Kobus Geldenhuys/Illustrated by Jim Tierney, (Apr. 2018, One World Publications), $11.99, ISBN: 978-1-78607-317-4

Middle graders have more of a grasp on the world around them, can take action in different ways. Marnus, the 13-year-old protagonist in A Good Day for Climbing Trees, and a friend take action to save a local tree from demolition by petitioning and holding a sit-in, which alerts others to their cause. Readers get a more involved view of activism, and some potential results, here.

 

This is just a small handful of the growing number of books out there.  I encourage you all to read these books, read them to your kids, and add them to your collections.

 

Posted in Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

Dusti Bowling spends 24 Hours in Nowhere

24 Hours in Nowhere, by Dusti Bowling, (Sept. 2018, Sterling), $14.95, ISBN: 9781454929246

Ages 9-12

Gus is a 13-year-old kid, abandoned by his parents, living with his grandmother in Nowhere, Arizona. When Bo Taylor, the worst bully in town, tries to force him to eat a spiny cactus, Rossi Scott interferes. She’s one of the best dirt bike racers in nowhere, and she’s got designs on winning the big race the next day – until she gives up her bike to save Gus. Now Bo has the bike, and Gus heads to Dead Frenchman’s Mine in the hopes of finding a piece of gold to get the bike back. Matthew, one of Bo’s cronies, is along for the trip, making sure Gus doesn’t spray paint a rock; Jessie, Gus’ former best friend, and Rossi show up to talk some sense into Gus, but a cave-in traps the four friends, leaving them to seek a way out and avoid mountain lions.

I loved Dusti Bowling’s fantastic debut, Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus (2017), so I immediately requested the ARC for 24 Hours in Nowhere. I am happy to say, there’s no sophomore slump here! Dusti Bowling continues writing smart, empathetic books about kids who are just doing the best they can in the face of everyday life. The teens share stories about their Worst Day Ever, giving us a glimpse into poverty, abuse, neglect, abandonment, race, (Jessie is Mexican-American, and Rossi is Native American, from the Tohono O’odham Nation) and white privilege, all within the greater examination of life in poor, rural America. Gus is a first-person narrator and alternately has moments of introspection, empathy, and humor. There’s a little bit of Goonies, a little bit of Holes, and a lot of great storytelling to be found here. Psst… teachers… put this one on next year’s Summer Reading lists, please?

Check out Dusti Bowling’s author website for extras (just Cactus for now, but sure to be updated with 24 Hours shortly) and school visit info, including free Skype visits! 24 Hours in Nowhere has a starred review from School Library Journal.

Posted in Intermediate, Middle Grade, Non-fiction, Non-Fiction, picture books

H is for Haiku and the magic of the small moment

H is for Haiku, by Sydell Rosenberg/Illustrated by Sawsan Chalabi, (Apr. 2018, Penny Candy Books), $16.95, ISBN: 978-0998799971

Ages 5+

Sydell “Syd” Rosenberg, who lived, wrote, and taught in New York City. Syd passed away in 1996, but her daughter, Amy Losak, made it her mission to see her mother’s work published. H is for Haiku, is a fun, illustrated book containing 26 “small moments” haiku: little slices of daily life. As Ms. Losak notes in her introduction, “Haiku poems make small moments big”.

Reading H is for Haiku took me back to sons’ “small moments” units in elementary school. They and I both struggled with the idea of a small moment; often puzzling over the feedback, “no, smaller”. How could a trip to the grocery store get smaller? H is for Haiku is the book to go to for those moments: a cat dreams; rain water collects in an old watering can, a girl rides a bike downhill. Syd Rosenberg captures the magic in these tiny moments, finding the poetry in the everyday and illuminating them for readers. Sawsan Chalabi’s artwork is a treat, bringing creativity and movement to these magical moments with color and bold fonts.

A library card’s potential, through the eyes of a new reader. I want a print of this for my library!

This is so Queens. I love it. Book samples courtesy of Penny Candy Books.

This is a great way to bring poetry, particularly haiku, to kids. It’s a great way to explain small moment writing to students, too. Consider adding H is for Haiku to your collections, or giving a copy to your poetry readers. To see more of a illustrator Sawsan Chalabi’s work, visit her website; to learn more about Amy Losak and her mother’s haiku, visit the Penny Candy website.

Posted in Fiction, Middle Grade, Realistic Fiction

The Key to Everything: But will it cure?

The Key to Everything, by Pat Schmatz, (May 2018,  Candlewick Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9780763695668

Ages 9-12

Eleven-year-old Tash is angry. She doesn’t want to go to camp, but her Uncle Kevin needs to travel to Australia, and she and Cap’n Jackie, their friend and neighbor, clashed over the whole business. Tash ends up having a pretty good time at camp, after all, but returns home to find Cap’n Jackie gone: she’s had a fall and is in the hospital, and Tash’s world turns upside down overnight. She’s determined to return a special key to Cap’n Jackie; one that opens up a magical world to her, and that’ll make it all better. Cap’n Jackie even said so, so it has to be true, right?

The Key to Everything can be a bit hard to follow. We have Tash, seemingly abandoned by her mother and living her with uncle while her father is in jail. Kevin, who takes care of Tash, Cap’n Jackie, a loving and cantankerous older woman, and Nathan, Cap’n Jackie’s nephew, who lives in New York, but comes back when Cap’n Jackie is hurt. We don’t get a lot of exposition in this story, but we do learn that family is who you make it. Two major characters, Jackie and Nathan, are gay; something that’s very lightly touched on, but it’s nicely done. Tash suffers from PTSD and a fear of being alone, while Jackie struggled with agoraphobia. Readers have to put in a bit of work to make all the lines connect, but it’s a solid read about family, grief, moving on, and growing up.

Posted in Fiction, Historical Fiction, Middle Grade, Realistic Fiction, Tween Reads

My Year in the Middle: Relevant then, relevant now

My Year in the Middle, by Lila Quintero Weaver, (July 2018, Candlewick), $15.99, ISBN: 9780763692315

Ages 8-11

Sixth-grader Lu Olivera and her Latin American family find themselves in the middle of a civil rights struggle in their Red Grove, Alabama neighborhood one hot summer in 1970. The tensions run high in her integrated school: black kids sit on one side of the room, white kids on the other; she sits in the middle row. She’s in the the middle child, smack dab between her older, activist sister and younger twin siblings; she’s in the middle when it comes to local politics: many of the white families want to re-elect segregationist governor George Wallace, while Lu and her family support incumbent Albert Brewer. Many of her classmates are leaving their school to go to a private, white school. When Lu befriends fellow track runner Belinda Gresham, an African-American girl, and her classmates turn on her, she decides it’s time to take a stand.

Inspired by the author’s Alabama childhood, My Year in the Middle is a story of civil rights and finding one’s voice. Lu puts up with the passive racism in her community, with remarks like, “she’s from South America, she doesn’t mind going to school with Negroes”. But seeing how her African-American friends are treated by her fellow classmates, and by the general public in her town, pushes her buttons. Lu is a character who stands out: she’s a character of color stuck in the middle of the Civil Rights Movement, but because she’s not African-American, she’s tolerated: until she digs in her heels and says, “No more”. She gives and receives support from her black classmates and from Sam, her classmate and crush, a white preacher’s son who is bullied for his civil rights stance.

Lu is at once relatable and a mirror for our society today. We’re still divided, and more and more people are forced from the middle to take a stand. Readers may recognize recent political speeches and attitudes in George Wallace’s condescending stumping and the racial tension that permeates Lu’s classroom. My Year in the Middle is a solid work of historical fiction that provides excellent discussion topics for readers on civil rights, social justice, and where we’ve gone versus where we are.