Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Waiting on Wednesday - Listen, Slowly by Thanhha Lai

WoW is a weekly meme hosted by Breaking the Spine in which we share the titles of books whose release we are eagerly anticipating.

Listen, Slowly by Thanhha Lai. 272 p. HarperCollins Publishers, February 17, 2015. 9780062229182.

Publisher synopsis: This remarkable novel from Thanhhà Lại, New York Times bestselling author of the National Book Award–winning and Newbery Honor Book Inside Out & Back Again, follows a young girl as she learns the true meaning of family.
A California girl born and raised, Mai can't wait to spend her vacation at the beach. Instead, though, she has to travel to Vietnam with her grandmother, who is going back to find out what really happened to her husband during the Vietnam War. Mai's parents think this trip will be a great opportunity for their out-of-touch daughter to learn more about her culture. But to Mai, those are their roots, not her own. Vietnam is hot, smelly, and the last place she wants to be. Besides barely speaking the language, she doesn't know the geography, the local customs, or even her distant relatives. To survive her trip, Mai must find a balance between her two completely different worlds.
Perfect for fans of Rita Williams-Garcia and Linda Sue Park, Listen, Slowly is an irresistibly charming and emotionally poignant tale about a girl who discovers that home and culture, family and friends, can all mean different things.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday - 2014 Favorites

TTT is a weekly meme hosted by Broke and Bookish. This week's theme is 2014 favorites.

I flagged 37 books as 2014 favorites this year. Here's my top ten of those:

Middle Grade:

Five, Six, Seven, Nate by Tim Federle.

The Secret Hum of a Daisy by Tracy Holczer.

Gabriel Finley and the Raven's Riddle by George Hagen.

Rhyme Schemer by K.H. Holt. I am upset with myself for not reviewing this one. Told from the bully's POV in verse, this short read is quite powerful.

The Iron Trial by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare. This is very quickly becoming a favorite in my school. Every student I have recommended it to has returned to the library panting for the next book. Me too.

Young Adult:

Champion by Marie Lu. This trilogy started with a bang and just got better and better. I highly recommend the audiobook for a fantastic performance.

Dreams of Gods and Monsters by Laini Taylor. Another trilogy that got better with each book. Each one immersed me in another world and destroyed me. So good. The audiobook performances are amazing!

Cress by Marissa Meyer. This third in a planned quartet plus one prequel keeps up the momentum started in the first two. Another amazing audiobook performance. I had to check to see if the narrator had changed because Rebecca Soler changed her narrator's voice for each book to suit the mc.

Death Coming Up the Hill by Chris Crowe. Powerful read. I booktalked it to eighth graders and they are all intrigued. There's a waiting list for the book.

Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater. Raven Cycle series #3. I just finished this last night. Wow! I wasn't enamored of Will Patton's narration but the world of Henrietta is so, so vivid. Tears were shed as two of my favorite characters died.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Non-fiction Monday: The Great American Dust Bowl by Don Brown

The Great American Dust Bowl by Don Brown. 80 p. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, October, 2013. 9780547815503. (Purchased)

I purchased this for my school library collection mostly because it fits in beautifully with a unit the sixth grade language arts teachers do around Karen Hesse's Out of the Dust. The reviews were strong and I enjoyed other books by the author. I finally got around to reading it and would like to recommend that any teacher or librarian who covers The Dust Bowl in their curriculum purchase this title. Never have I read a more kid-friendly and cogent explanation of the myriad causes, scientific as well as historic, of this devastating disaster.

There are plenty of startling black and white photos from the era that cause one to gape. The art in this book evokes a similar response. The palette of yellows and browns perfectly mirror the desolation. A photo from 1935 is included on the Selected Bibliography page and, as an ominous reminder that dust storms can still happen, a photo of a dust storm over Phoenix in 2011. Source notes are also provided.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Honey by Sarah Weeks

Honey by Sarah Weeks. 152 p. Scholastic Press/ Scholastic Inc., January 27, 2015. 9780545465571. (Review from arc provided by publisher)

For all of Melody's ten years, it has been just her and her dad. She doesn't ask much about her mother because it seems to cause her father too much pain. She tells herself that she's fine with that. What she's not fine with is the fact that she overhears her father call someone, "Honey" on the phone. What does this mean? Who can it be? Why hasn't her father said anything to her? With the help of her best friend, Nick and her annoying, little neighbor, Teeny, Melody investigates. The investigation centers around The Bee Hive, a new salon that recently opened and all clues seem to point to her teacher - the teacher she hates and seems to hate her in return.

Meanwhile, in a parallel story, a dog named Mo misses his original owner even while his present owner takes fine care of him. He just knows that something is missing in his life. 

I finished it with tears brimming. What a treasure! What a perfect middle grade book! Perfect length, gorgeous cover, not one wasted word, a beautiful father/daughter relationship, a hysterical grandfather, a great boy/girl best friendship, an adorably annoying, pesky younger neighbor, a hoot of a misunderstanding and the longing of a dog.

This is one I've been picking up and opening to random sections to reread. It's one I will reread many times. I see an audiobook is releasing at the same time, so I'll be reading it with my ears as well.

ETA: In case my short review didn't make this clear: Honey is a must purchase addition for middle grade collections. Sarah Weeks has quite few fans among my fifth and sixth graders. Before I began booktalking the heck out of Pie, I was booktalking the heck out of So B. It and students who love gentle reads on the sad side just adore them all.

Additionally, I mentioned that the cover is perfect but I want to elaborate a bit. I love how it is similar to the cover of Pie in its colorful simplicity. While the stories are not related they both share main characters with yearning hearts.

Waiting on Wednesday - The Way to Stay in Destiny by Augusta Scattergood

WoW is a weekly meme hosted by Breaking the Spine in which we share the titles whose release we are eagerly anticipating.

The Way to Stay in Destiny by Augusta Scattergood. 192 p. Scholastic Inc., January 6, 2015. 9780545538244.

Publisher synopsis: When Theo gets off a bus in Destiny, Florida, he's left behind the only life he's ever known. Now he's got to live with Uncle Raymond, a Vietnam War vet and a loner who wants nothing to do with this long-lost nephew. Thank goodness for Miss Sister Grandersole's Boarding House and Dance School. The piano that sits in Miss Sister's dance hall calls to Theo. He can't wait to play those ivory keys. When Anabel arrives things get even more enticing.  This feisty girl, a baseball fanatic, invites Theo on her quest to uncover the town's connection to old-time ball players rumored to have lived there years before. A mystery, an adventure, and a musical exploration unfold as this town called Destiny lives up to its name.

I did so love Ms. Scattergood's debut, Glory Be and am so looking forward to this.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Absolutely Almost by Lisa Graff

Absolutely Almost by Lisa Graff. 288 p. Philomel Books/ Penguin Young Readers Group, June, 2014. 9780399164057. (Purchased)

Ten-year-old Albie starts fifth grade at public school after he's kicked out of his tony New York City private school for failing to keep up academically. His frustrated parents don't understand why he isn't making the effort and his Grandpa Park is withering in his assessment of Albie. About the only thing he'll miss from private school is his best friend but since he lives in Albie's building, that's okay. Some of the bright spots in attending public school are his teachers - Ms. Rouse allows him to read Captain Underpants books and Mr. Clifton, his math club teacher helps him understand math. He has also made friends with Betsy, unkindly called, Stuttering Betsy by Darren, who has a litany of unkind names for Albie.

He does try and he does care. He's just not sure what to do. Then Calista comes into Albie's life and she finds ways to smooth the edges. When his mother forbids Captain  Underpants and insists he read Johnny Tremain, Calista creates a Johnny Tremain cover for his Captain Underpants book. Through her, Albie learns how donuts can turn a sad day better.

Short chapters and lovely writing perfectly capture dozens of little moments in Albie's life and made me ache for him and wish I could reach into the story to give him a hug. Graff seems to have a way with slightly oddball characters. I recently read and loved an older title of hers called Umbrella Summer. She first won my heart with Sophie Simon Solves Them All. And, last year, A Tangle of Knots was a National Book Award Finalist. It's no surprise that Absolutely Almost is getting some Newbery buzz.

This would make for a wonderful middle grade read aloud. I am also seriously in love with the cover. It is perfect!

Top Ten Tuesday - New to Me Authors

The TTT theme this week New to Me Authors. Check out others' TTT picks over at BrokeandBookish.

Well, I skimmed over the 333 books I've read so far this year (falling short of my 2014 Goodreads goal), only 20 were by authors who were new to me. Granted, I didn't check the picture books and non-fiction titles as carefully, but I wonder what that says about my reading? 10 were debuts.

1. Daniel Kraus: I haven't read anything by him despite compelling reviews because his books are decidedly more mature for my crowd. There are only so many way-YA books I can read in a year since my priority is middle grade to younger-YA. But Scowler won the Odyssey Award and I always read the award winners and Kirby Heyborne is one of my favorite narrators; so I listened. And was haunted. Yikes, the imagery in this one will follow me till the day I die. <shudders>

2. Christine Heppermann: File under too YA for my crowd as well but I needed to read Poisoned Apples: poems for you, my pretty to satisfy my feminist fix. Excellent stuff.

3. Celine Kiernan: I received Into the Grey for review and it's one of my 2014 favorites. Atmospheric, suspenseful and compelling. Definitely going to read more by her.

4. Sarwat Chadda: Read the first two books in his Ash Mistry trilogy at the recommendation of one of my students. I had to send to the UK for the third book since plans to bring it to the U.S. are not yet set and fans needed to know what happened!

5. Kwame Alexander: I'm a huge fan of verse novels as well as basketball so The Crossover would've caught my eye even without all the starred reviews and Newbery buzz. I got He Said, She Said in my ALAN box, although I believe this is also one that skews a bit old for my crew.

6. Liz Prince: is a graphic novelist who made her YA debut this year with, Tomboy, which I got a chance to review for a blog tour. I will definitely be on the lookout for her if she does any more for a younger audience. 

7. Patricia Newman: One of my favorite informational books this year was Plastic Ahoy: investigating the great Pacific garbage patch. Not only was it fascinating on a variety of levels, but fit so perfectly into a seventh grade science unit. 

8. George Hagen: made his children's debut this year with, Gabriel Finley and the Ravens Riddle. He also visited my school and got all the fifth and sixth graders riled up solving riddles. The book has appeal for middle grade fantasy lovers, especially fans of Rick Riordan's books or Suzanne Collins' middle grade series, Gregor the Overlander. 

I'll end my list with two favorite debuts (in a year of amazing debuts):

9. Megan Jean Sovern: The Meaning of Maggie. I cannot believe I didn't review this! Definitely one to give to your middle grade students who love weepies. I adored this family and Maggie's voice. 

In a very strange coincidence, there's another novel not only dealing with MS, but also set in the seventies AND a debut to boot. It also made my favorites of 2014 list - Nest by Esther Erlich. (I know, I snuck in an 11th author.)

10. Tracy Holczer: The Secret Hum of Daisy is just lovely. I'm so looking forward to reading Tracy's sophomore novel, The Encyclopedia of Small Things coming in May, 2016.