Wednesday, May 25, 2016

How to Read Aloud a Book about Jazz When One has a Tin Ear

Six-plus years of piano lessons and one traumatic year of ballet lessons were wasted on me because I have no rhythm and my ability to memorize is not good. Nor am I able to carry a tune. My youngest, who happens to have perfect pitch told me, "No sing, Mommy!" whenever I try to croon at him. Yet, I do love listening to music and admire those who play, dance and perform. 

Some years ago, I came across the book, Charlie Parker Played Be Bop, written and illustrated by a favorite of mine, Chris Raschka. I read through the simple text and decided against using it as a read aloud. Too short, too non-sensical. I didn't get the book. Some years later, I discovered that Live Oak Media produced an audiobook and checked it out. 

Wowzers! I suddenly got the book! There was no way I could ever do justice to the rhythm and delightful playfulness of Raschka's words by doing a straight read aloud, so I shared the audiobook with my elementary classes. This gave me a unique opportunity to really observe each student during read aloud. In each class, there was at least one to whom the music spoke. He or she could not resist moving to the music.

When I made the move to a fifth through eighth grade middle school and a totally flexible schedule, I did not have any opportunities to revisit the book. I did loan the set to the ELL teacher when she mentioned that she was introducing jazz to her students. This year, I have been working with a small, self-contained class and after they seemed to enjoy Bird & Dizz a few weeks back, I dug out Charlie Parker Played Be Bop. 
by Chris Raschka. unpgd. Music Maker Series. One book and one compact disc. Performed by _____ . Live Oak Media, July, 2000. 9780874996692.

The bright palette of the illustrations pop and even the typography gets into the act as the font size changes according to the mood.

I came across this during the search of my shelves for Charlie Parker Plays Be Bop in my home library:
Jazz by Walter Dean Myers. Illustrated by Christopher Myers. Performed by James "D Train" Williams and Vaneese Thomas. Live Oak Media, September, 2007. 9781430100225.

The fifteen poems in this collection required a lot more time and attention. We split the reading over two periods. The volume begins with a brief introduction to provide historical and musical context. The poems and paintings that follow are visual and aural feasts. Myers senior's poems vibrate with rhythm and exude energy and joy. The poems are perfectly married to Myers junior's evocative paintings. The palette is bold, thick outlines lend a sense of movement and playfulness. The background jazz music of the production gets the foot a-tapping and the performances by Mr. Williams and Ms. Thomas are stellar. No wonder it won an Odyssey Award! A glossary and detailed timeline conclude this wonderful introduction to a truly American musical genre. 

I have long been a fan of audiobooks and have two boxes full of books on cassettes stored in my basement to prove it. Reading with one's ears is reading. In this case, reading these books with my ears helped me understand jazz. I highly recommend sharing these wonderful audiobooks with your students.

Waiting on Wednesday: We Found a Hat by Jon Klassen

WoW is a weekly meme hosted by Breaking the Spine in which we share the titles we can't wait to release.

We Found a Hat by Jon Klassen. 56 p. Candlewick Press, October 11, 2016. 9780763656003

Publisher synopsis: Hold on to your hats for the conclusion of the celebrated hat trilogy by Caldecott Medalist Jon Klassen, who gives his deadpan finale a surprising new twist.

Two turtles have found a hat. The hat looks good on both of them. But there are two turtles. And there is only one hat. . . . Evoking hilarity and sympathy, the shifting eyes tell the tale in this brilliantly paced story in three parts, highlighting Jon Klassen’s visual comedy and deceptive simplicity. The delicious buildup takes an unexpected turn that is sure to please loyal fans and newcomers alike.

Oh man, I am such a fan of Klassen's and am so looking forward to this. I really enjoyed I Want My Hat Back and This is Not My Hat. But I must say, after hearing him talk about both books at an NCTE luncheon, I love them even more.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Non-Fiction Monday: Ada's Violin: the story of the Recycled Orchestra of Paraguay by Susan Hood

Ada's Violin: the story of the Recycled Orchestra of Paraguay by Susan Hood. Illustrated by Sally Wern Comport. unpgd. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, May, 2016. 9781481430951. (Review from finished copy won in a blog giveaway.)

Rambling Review Alert!

A couple of reviews ago, I lamented my inability to keep up with the output of children's literature. So many gems gone unread. Today, I am mourning the loss of my news hound self. Once upon a time, I read a couple of newspapers practically cover-to-cover. Once upon a time, I listened to NPR so constantly, I often listened to segments two and three times as it recycled through the day. Once upon a time, I regularly watched not only nightly news, but sought out weekly news shows like 60 Minutes and CBS Sunday. Now, I skim my newspapers and audiobooks fill my driving time. And I hardly ever watch television so it's no surprise that I misses this.

And it's not a surprise that I did not know about Ada's Violin and might not have had I not won it along with every other book Christian Trimmer edited. Talk about overflowing with riches! Thanks again Christian!

Judy Freeman once, okay, many times, has said, "I learn so many interesting things from picture books!" "So true, Judy," says this "never too old for picture books" gal. I adore informational picture books. Well done ones present little nuggets of information to nibble on, ponder, wonder and inspire further reading. I adore this book. Each time I return to it, I love it more. 

Ada lives with her sister in a slum that was built around a garbage dump. Garbage from the city of Asuncion, Paraguay. The residents of Caleura make their living by picking through the tons of garbage to collect anything that can be recycled. Ada and her sister attend school but she and her parents and grandmother worry about her future, especially as she reaches her teenage years. She sees hopeless teens joining gangs. When Favio Chavez posts a notice about free music lessons, Ada's grandmother signs them up without asking.

Ten children show up for the first class but Chavez has only six instruments. Unfortunately, that is not the only problem. He realizes that since the instruments cost as much as a house, they are not safe from theft so he devises a way to make the instruments out of recycled material with Nicolas Gomez  and Tito Romero. "They transformed oil drums into cellos, water pipes into flutes and packing crates into guitars!" Talk about ingenuity!

The students really had to commit. They had three hour lessons and since they had no classroom, they played outside, often in 100+ degree heat. The children were expected to practice at home. Ada would practice for two hours. Talk about grit! 

The lessons went beyond music. Señor Chavez expect them to respect him, themselves and each other. Some dropped out but in time the Recycled Orchestra was born. The rest of the population benefited. "Gancheros trudging home from the landfill might lift their heads to hear the sounds of Ada's violin...or the strains of Bebi's cello... or the strum of Noélia's guitar. A symphony of sound helped to lift them beyond the heat, the stench and their aching backs."

The mixed media collages are absolutely perfect, vibrant hues, a bits of labels, newspaper and such to add texture, depth and interest. Sally Wern Comport managed to convey the deplorable living conditions along but also imbues her subjects with light and hope. 

Back-matter includes an author's note, a color photograph of the orchestra and their instruments and websites and videos, which should definitely be shared with your students. These children play magnificently. The final page includes source notes, a quote from Margaret Mead, a photograph of some instruments up close and a note stating that Simon & Schuster is making a donation the to orchestra and an invitation for readers to do the same.

Ada's Violin is surely, a must-purchase title for all ages. Add the title to your #WNDB list and share widely.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

What's New? Stacking the Shelves

Stacking the Shelves is a weekly meme hosted by Tynga's Reviews. Hop on over there to ogle what other bloggers got this week.

For review:

Falling Over Sideways by Jordan Sonnenblick. 272 p. Scholastic Inc., September 27, 2016. 9780545863247.

Publisher synopsis: It's not easy being Claire. (Really.)

Claire's life is a joke . . . but she's not laughing. While her friends seem to be leaping forward, she's dancing in the same place. The mean girls at school are living up to their mean name, and there's a boy, Ryder, who's just as bad, if not worse. And at home, nobody's really listening to her -- if anything, they seem to be more in on the joke than she is.

Then into all of this (not-very-funny-to-Claire) comedy comes something intense and tragic -- while her dad is talking to her at the kitchen table, he falls over with a medical emergency. Suddenly the joke has become very serious -- and the only way Claire, her family, and her friends are going to get through it is if they can find a way to make it funny again.

I am so looking forward to cracking open a new Sonnenblick offering! My arc arrived with a sheet featuring all of Jordan's titles sporting mostly new designs AND a copy of his debut, Drums, Girls and Dangerous Pie. Thank you Lizette!


Can't Look Away by Donna Cooner. Unabridged audiobook on 1 MP3 CD. 6 hours, 52 minutes. Read by Sandy Rustin. Brilliance Audio, September, 2015. 9781501249952.

Publisher synopsis: Torrey Grey is famous. At least, on the Internet. Thousands of people watch her popular videos on fashion and beauty. But when Torrey's sister is killed in an accident—maybe because of Torrey and her videos—Torrey's perfect world implodes.

Now, strangers online are bashing Torrey. And at her new school, she doesn't know who to trust. Is queen bee Blair only being sweet because of Torrey's Internet infamy? What about Raylene, who is decidedly unpopular, but seems to accept Torrey for who she is? And then there's Luis, with his brooding dark eyes, whose family runs the local funeral home. Torrey finds herself drawn to Luis, and his fascinating stories about El dio de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead.

As the Day of the Dead draws near, Torrey will have to really look at her own feelings about death, and life, and everything in between. Can she learn to mourn her sister out of the public eye?

If You're Reading This by Trent Reedy. unabridged audiobook on 1 MP3 CD. 9 hours, 14 minutes. Read by Ramon Ocampo. Brilliance Audio, February, 2016. 9781511361576.

Publisher synopsis: Mike was seven when his father was killed in mysterious circumstances in Afghanistan. Eight years later, the family still hasn't recovered: Mike's mom is overworked and overprotective; his younger sister Mary feels no connection to the father she barely remembers; and in his quest to be "the man of the family," Mike knows he's missing out on everyday high school life.

Then, out of the blue, Mike receives a letter from his father—the first of a series Dad wrote in Afghanistan, just in case he didn't come home, meant to share some wisdom with his son on the eve of Mike's sixteenth birthday. As the letters come in, Mike revels in spending time with his dad again, and takes his encouragement to try new things—to go out for the football team, and ask out the beautiful Isma. But who's been keeping the letters all these years? And how did Dad actually die? As the answers to these mysteries are revealed, Mike and his family find a way to heal and move forward at last.

That's what's new with me. What's new with you?

Friday, May 20, 2016

Blog Tour: Breaker by Kat Ellis

Breaker by Kat Ellis 334 p. RP Teens/ Running Press, May 24, 2016. 9780762459087. (Review from arc courtesy of the publisher.)

When sixteen-year-old Kyle and his mama move from the hatred in their North Carolina town, they are looking for a fresh start. So Kyle has a new last name because most folks would recognize his old one. His father was a notorious serial killer called The Bonebreaker. He is cautiously optimistic about his fresh start but that evaporates in homeroom the first morning of classes. One of his classmates is Naomi Steadman, the daughter of his father's last victim, the only person to have seen the Bonebreaker and lived. He vows to keep his distance but he has already caught Naomi's eye and there's no denying the instant spark between them.

Everyone has secrets in this modern gothic thriller. Naomi is haunted by the death of her mother. She's also grieving for her grandfather's slow decline due to Alzheimer's. She's fending off unwanted advances by a creepy custodian and tired of the mind games her former best friend is playing. 

Killdeer Academy has a grim history. It was a former asylum for the mentally ill. A section of it burned in a tragic fire, but there are plenty of turrets, secret rooms, dark hallways and urban mythology, not to mention taxidermied predators and prey to lend a suitably creepy atmosphere. Yikes! And that cover! I have a hard time looking away and it ties in so gruesomely to several pivotal scenes in the book. 

The story is told in the alternating points-of-view of Naomi and Kyle. The occasional news clipping or undelivered letter or transcript fill in the story. Do not miss the chapter names. There are plenty of suspects and red herrings to consider as the suspense builds. While I figured out the who relatively early, I did not figure out the why until the big reveal. Teen fans of gothic thrillers will race through this. I am not a fan of gothic thrillers for the very reason why this is so good. The suspense killed me. There were a few minor plot points that irked but not enough to take me out of the story. 

Too bad this is pubbing as a paperback. My students are going to pass this one around.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Waiting on Wednesday: Trouble Makes a Comeback by Stephanie Tromly

WoW is a weekly meme hosted by Breaking the Spine in which we share the titles we can't wait to release.

Trouble Makes a Comeback by Stephanie Tromly. 366 p. Kathy Dawson Books, November 22, 2016. 

Publisher synopsis: A whip-smart, screwball noir myster-with snappy prose, wry humor, and breakneck dialogue-this sequel to Trouble is a Friends of Mine is perfect for fans of Veronica Mars, Sherlock, John Hughes and Carl. Hiassen.

After a fall semester of fiascos: getting arrested, then kidnapped, then blown up in an explosion (all thanks to the weird by brillian Philip Digby), Zoe Webster if looking forwad to a quiet spring. Now that Digby has left town, she's finally build a regular high school life for herself. She's dating Miles, the alternate QB; she knows tirls she considers friends: she's
learning to enjoy being normal and semi-popular. Which of course is when Digby comes back: he's got a new lead on his missing sister and he needs Zoe's help.

Suddenly Zoe is tussling with a billionaire arch-villain, locking horns with armed goons, and digging into what makes the Digby family tick, even as she tries to navigate the confusing and emotionally fraught world of high school politics and locker-room drama. After all, it's hard to explain Digby to a boy like Miles, especially when Zoe isn't sure how she feels about Digby herself - or  how he feels about her.

Now that Digby's back, get ready for another hilarious whodunit filled with razor-sharp dialogue, ridiculously funny action, and the most charismatic, dynamic duo you've ever met. And just try to stay out of trouble.

We dare you.

I learned about this a few weeks ago when the author posted a link to this tweet on FB. Trouble is a Friend of Mine is yet another book I read, I loved, I booktalked like crazy (and it circulated like crazy) and never reviewed! I did feature it in a Friday Meme post - twice, it seems.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Non-Fiction Monday: Bird & Diz by Gary Golio

Bird & Diz by Gary Golio. Illustrated by Ed Young. unpgd. Candlewick Press, February, 2015. 9780763666606. (Review from purchased copy)

Bebop is a jazz innovation that influenced and was influenced by  Dizzie Gillespie and Charlie "Birdman" Parker in the 1940s. This tribute captures the playfulness of Bird's and Diz's collaboration in an innovative format - the pages of the book accordion. While you can read it as a traditional book for the first half, you have a decision to make for how to read the second half. I opted for the dramatic. I put the book on the floor and said, "Wait a minute. Is this book finished?" Confused "No's" was the response. Then I lifted the pages to unfold them out along the floor and read the second half of the book while crouch-walking alongside the pages. This needs to be rehearsed. But the effect was fun. Don't forget to queue up Salt Peanuts! on iTunes for listening to after reading. You may find some budding jazz aficionados in your midst.

This exuberant portrayal of the creative genius and incredible friendship that these two musicians shared is a keeper! I correctly assumed that my group of students were unaware of who Bird and Diz were. I read the title and asked them to predict what they thought the book would be about. Of course, no one was even close. They were delighted by the playful rhythm and language of the text and intrigued by the pastel, impressionistic drawings. When laid out on the floor, the effect is something akin to elaborate sidewalk art.

An afterword provides further explanation of bebop, a discography and concludes with an invitation to draw! One possible extension activity could be to do just that - play Salt Peanuts! and see what images the music evokes. This book could be used in an LA class in addition to art or music class. 

Highly recommended!