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

A young girl finds One Good Thing About America every day

One Good Thing About America, by Ruth Freeman, (March 2017, Holiday House), $16.95, ISBN: 9780823436958

Recommended for readers 8-12

At home in the Congo, nine year-old Anaïs is the best English student in her class. She loves spending time at her grandmother’s home. She loves her family: her father, her older brother, Olivier, and younger brother, Jean-Claude, and her mother. But now, her father is in hiding, her older brother, stayed in Africa with their grandmother, and Anaïs, Jean-Claude, and their mother are living in a shelter in Crazy America. Nothing about the people or the language makes sense to her – why would anyone eat chicken fingers? Why do vowels change sounds with every word? – and she misses her home, her life before.

Written in the form of letters from Anaïs to her grandmother, One Good Thing About America, by Ruth Freeman, a teacher who works with English Language Learners. Motivated by her students’ determination and their stories, this is her tribute to them as much as it is a chance to create an understanding of the immigrant experience in America. Anaïs, her family, and her classmates and neighbors develop through the course of the story; experiencing sleepovers, mac and cheese dinners, Halloween, and even a frightening emergency room trip. We never get the full story behind Anaïs’ father’s trouble with the mining company, but readers understand the urgency of the situation: her father is in hiding, on the run, and no one that associates with him is safe. While Anaïs longs for her family to be whole again, she has the added challenge of learning a new language and making a new life in a strange country where nothing makes sense. She has good days and bad days; goes from hopeful to frustrated, and every reader will appreciate and understand where she’s coming from. Little doodles throughout the book illustrate new things Anaïs encounters, from the crunchy fall leaves that “make the sound of eating toast” to ice cream and pizza.

A list of English words Anaïs struggles with – what she hears, as opposed to what she learns – also helps readers understand the challenges our language and colloquialisms present to English language learners. Words in French, Anaïs’ native tongue, introduce readers to some new vocabulary.

One Good Thing About America is a good book for all communities. In our current socio-political climate, I daresay it should be a summer reading selection for middle graders (and their families). I suggest booktalking with Andrea Davis Pinkney’s The Red Pencil and Thanhha Lai’s Inside Out & Back Again for excellent discussions about the differences within the refugee experience.

Posted in Early Reader, Intermediate, Non-Fiction

Wild Animals of the South – beautiful animals, beautiful artwork

wild_1Wild Animals of the South, by Dieter Braun/Translated by Jen Calleja, (March 2017, Nobrow), $35, ISBN: 9781909263970

Recommended for ages 5+

This gorgeous companion to Braun’s Wild Animals of the North (Nobrow, 2016) introduces readers to animals in the Southern hemisphere. Organized by continent: South America, Africa, Asia, Australia, and Antarctica, readers will enjoy the beautiful, colorful illustrations. The emphasis here is on the illustrations, making this a great starter book for younger children; caregivers can read the short passages on featured animals, which offer fun facts. For example, while most know that a male lion’s mane is his crowning glory, did you know that female lions prefer males with more beautiful and lustrous manes? And that other males will hold back when a male with a more impressive mane appears?

The art is stunning. Braun’s illustrations are geometric, with strong lines and rich colors. There is a wry sense of humor in some – the lion’s lush mane, for instance – while others, like the breaching humpback whale, are breathtaking. A waddle of penguins, under a snowy sky, stand in the stark shadow of glaciers. Braun captures habitats with the same beauty the he sees in the animals themselves.

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The $35 price tag may be a bit steep for some readers, especially those who are looking for more information than artwork (but that’s what libraries are for!), but this book is gorgeous for wildlife lovers and art lovers. For more of Dieter Braun’s illustrations, make sure to visit his website.

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Posted in History, Middle Grade, Non-Fiction, Non-fiction, Tween Reads

Black History Month: Shackles from the Deep, by Michael Cottman

shackles-from-the-deepShackles from the Deep: Tracing the Path of a Sunken Slave Ship, a Bitter Past, and a Rich Legacy, by Michael Cottman, (Jan. 2017, National Geographic Society), $17.99, ISBN: 9781426326639

Recommended for ages 10-13

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Michael Cottman investigates the wreck of a 17-century slave ship, the Henrietta Marie, and goes on a journey that will take him from the Caribbean islands, where the Henrietta Marie docked to unload hundreds of kidnapped Africans to be sold into slavery, to Africa, to see Goree Island – location of the Maison des Esclaves; House of the Slaves, and the Door of No Return; the last glimpse enslaved Africans would have of their homeland – with his own eyes.

Cottman’s journey is as personal as it is professional. He struggles with anger at the slavers themselves, and with the manufacturers of the shackles, discovered by African-American diver Captain Demostenes “Moe” Molinar, in 1972. Cottman discovers that many of the men behind the Henrietta Marie were members of their parishes, even philanthropists in their own communities, and yet turned a blind eye to the suffering of countless men, women, and children caught up in the slave trade. He wonders if the spouses and children of these men knew that their comfortable lifestyle came at the expense of human misery, and he agonizes as he tries to understand, and forgive.

Adapted for younger readers from Michael Cottman’s 1999 book, The Wreck of the Henrietta Marie, Shackles from the Deep introduces readers to the aftereffects of slavery, centuries later. Entire families have been lost to history; people feel unrooted, to some degree, to this day. Imagine wondering your ancestors endured the brutal conditions of slavery, and never being able to find out the answer? By personalizing his story, Michael Cottman makes this already important book vital reading for middle school students and above.

We are still dealing with the fallout from centuries of slavery. It is personal, and by adding his story to the story of the Henrietta Marie, Michael Cottman invites readers to look at events that may seem so long past through different eyes. What we also get, unexpectedly, is a call to action for young divers of color to continue exploring the waters of our planet to learn more about our collective past, and our future.

An important book for libraries and nonfiction collections, Shackles from the Deep has received a starred review from Booklist. There are four pages of full-color photos; an index, and further resources on deep-water exploration, shipwrecks, and slave ships.

The West Virginia Division of Culture and History has a comprehensive booklet on the Henrietta Marie, from their 2000 expedition at the West Virginia State Museum. It would be an excellent companion to any social studies unit on slavery and an accompaniment to Shackles From the Deep.

Posted in Intermediate, Non-Fiction

This Fall, Natumi Takes the Lead!

natumiNatumi Takes the Lead, by Gerry Ellis with Amy Novesky, (Nov. 2016, National Geographic Kids), $16.99, ISBN: 978-1-4263-2562-5

Recommended for ages 4-8

I completely dropped the ball on World Elephant Day last week; I was away with Husband and my brain was on vacation. I’m so sorry, because in addition to my loving elephants, I wanted to let you all know about a great book that’s coming out from NatGeo Kids in early November.

Natumi Takes the Lead is the true story of a young elephant who was orphaned, rescued by a farmer and sent to an orphanage. Sounds like a Disney film, right? But it’s so much  more than that, because this story happens too often. Poachers and hunters still slaughter elephants for their ivory tusks or for big game trophies, leaving young elephants, like Natumi, to fend for themselves.

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Natumi is also a powerful story of a shy elephant who gains the confidence to become the leader of her new little family group. With the love and nurturing she receives from her rescuers at the orphanage, she gains confidence and takes the lead in bringing her new family back to the wild: a protected African preserve.

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I first discovered Natumi at PLA earlier this year, and fell in love with the beautiful photos and the elephant’s story. NatGeo has a way of making these animals more realistic than any animated movie character. NatGeo, through beautiful, empathetic writing and photography, brings out the personalities of the world’s animals, and their stories motivate readers to take action. The best part is that NatGeo tells kids HOW they can take action: by learning more about their world, and providing resources to help kids do just that.

Resources at the end of the book include a map of Natumi’s home and where the elephant’s live in Africa; lists of organizations, websites, and books; facts about elephants, and an infographic on elephant growth, to give readers a frame of reference about Natumi’s age and size when she was orphaned and where she’ll be as she ages.

Natumi isn’t due out until November, but it’s a great addition to your younger nonfiction sections, and a great book for young animal lovers.

 

 

Posted in Graphic Novels, History, Middle Grade, Non-fiction, Tween Reads

Child Soldier tells a survivor’s story

child soldierChild Soldier, by Michel Chikwanine & Jessica Dee Humphreys/Illus. by Claudia Davila, (Sept. 2015, Kids Can Press), $18.95, ISBN: 9781771381260

Recommended for ages 10+

In 1993, Michel Chikwanine was a 5 year-old boy living in the Democratic Republic of Congo. He admired his father, a human rights lawyer, and loved his mother, who took care of children from all over the neighborhood who needed food or care. He was surrounded by friends and family, played soccer, and goofed off with his friends.

His father talked to him about the world as they listened to the news on the radio together; he had no idea that he would become directly involved in world events so soon, though.

On the way home from school one day, he was kidnapped by rebel militants and forced to become a child soldier. He was drugged and forced to kill, tortured and starved, until weeks later, he was able to escape and return to his family. But how do you return to a life when, at the age of 5, your childhood has been taken away?

This heartbreaking, yet inspirational biography is Chikwanine’s story, told in graphic novel format. Michel provides a brief background on his country, so that we may follow the history of conflict that has led to a society that creates child soldiers. We see his parents struggle to give Michel his life back and the risks they take as activists to fight against this happening to another child, ever again: his father is jailed, his home attacked, and his family separated as they escape to protect Michael and his siblings.

The story is told, both in words and pictures, in a way that will grasp younger readers’ attention. They can see themselves in Michel’s childhood: playing games, enjoying friends and family, attending school. The story, while horrific, never becomes too graphic for younger readers – it’s important, because we need younger readers here to know this is happening to children their age and younger. It’s also important for children to see that adults can take care of their children; we see Michel escape on his own, but adults in his village return him to his family, and his family takes action to protect their son.

Child Soldier is ultimately an inspirational story: Michel’s childhood has been taken from him, but he rises from the ashes and recreates himself, becoming a young man with a mission. He is a human rights activist with a story to tell and motivates young people to action. A graphic novel is a wonderful and powerful way to introduce a discussion on human rights in the classroom, and Child Soldier includes discussion questions and information, information on how to get involved and help, and primary sources for further research to facilitate these discussions.

Over the last two summers, I’ve noticed more books on child soldiers showing up on summer reading lists for kids in grades 4 and up. I’m glad to see this subject being addressed in the schools, and hope that this book is on next year’s summer reading lists.

Child Soldier is a book in Kids Can Press’ Citizen Kid series, a collection of books about global issues that seeks to make our kids better global citizens.

Child Soldier is on sale on September 1, but you can take a look at the book trailer here and see some of Claudia Davila’s beautiful artwork.

Posted in Fiction, Middle Grade

Cybils Middle Grade Fiction – A Few Reviews

Hey there!

I’m working hard, getting through my Cybils Middle Grade nominees – there’s so much good fiction out there! – so I thought I’d give a quick update on a few I’ve read so far.

red pencilThe Red Pencil, by Andrea Davis Pinkney, (Sept. 2014, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers), $17, ISBN: 978-0316247801

Recommended for ages 8-14

Amira is a 12 year-old girl living in Darfur. She dreams of going to school, something her mother will not hear. She will marry a husband who can read for her, her mother tells her. That all changes when the Janjaweed come.

When her village is attacked by the Sudanese militia, her life is changed forever. She, and the survivors of her village, make their way to a refugee camp, where she grieves and learns how to start life anew.

Written in verse, The Red Pencil is one of the most powerful books I have ever read. It’s about time we see fiction about this time and place in history hitting our bookshelves. Children need to read this book, and teachers need to discuss it with them. If you don’t have access to this book yet, PLEASE – find it, read it, and share it.

 

crossoverThe Crossover, by Kwame Alexander, (March 2014, HMH Books for Young Readers), $16.99, ISBN: 978-0544107717

Recommended for ages 8-14

Josh and his twin brother, Jordan, are lightning on the basketball court. The sons of a basketball player whose pro career was derailed by an injury and the assistant principal of their school, they have a strong family background that emphasizes teamwork and schoolwork.

Josh loves to rhyme, cranking out beats in his head as he plays. Jordan has other things in mind these days, though – namely, a girlfriend. Josh has a hard time with accepting this third party in his and Jordan’s relationship. Throw in their father’s health problems that he refuses to seek help for, and you’ve got a compelling read that will appeal to all readers, male and female, sports fans or not. There’s a flow and pacing to this novel, also written in verse, that just moves the pages on its own. Josh is a likable kid, and readers will see themselves in his shoes as he talks about his fears and frustrations.

The Crossover has been designated as a Kirkus Best Children’s Book of 2014, one of Publisher’s Weekly’s Best Children’s Books of 2014, and a School Library Journal Best Book of the Year.

Posted in Fantasy, Preschool Reads, Uncategorized

When You Wish Upon the Moon… Randy DuBurke’s Moon Ring Takes You on a Trip

Book Review: The Moon Ring, by Randy DuBurke, Chronicle Books 2002
Recommended for ages- 4-8

the moon ring

Maxine, a young girl, sits on the porch, with her grandmother, seeking relief from the summer heat, when a magic ring seemingly falls from the blue moon. Maxine is swept away on a magic ride around the world – to the South Pole, a wild savannah, and New York City, accompanied by some new friends. But what happens when she runs out of wishes?

The book is a fun fantasy tale about magic and the moon. We always hear about wishing on a star, but the moon is the star of the show here (no pun intended). Randy DuBurke gives readers a classic fairy tale elements – granting wishes, being transported to exciting adventures and locales, and the temporary scare – the wishes have run out!

Young readers will enjoy the close relationship Maxine and her wise grandma who knows that magic is out there. Maxine is drawn with a wonderfully expressive face – it makes for fun reading, with prompts to children learning about facial expressions and emotions. The exciting, changing landscapes are beautifully rendered in pen, ink, and acrylics on cold waterpress paper. The story uses its space well, alternating between full-bleed spreads and framed panels. I read the digital version of this book, so I can’t speak to the fonts, but I’m sure a read-aloud with the actual book will work better with a young group.

The Moon Ring is a playful, fun book that makes for a good read-aloud session. This would be a great addition to a read-aloud about magic, imagination, or the moon. There are many rhymes and fingerplays about the moon that would be good companions to this book – Hey Diddle Diddle would be a fun start!