Friday, October 20, 2017

Friday Memes: Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes

Book Beginnings is hosted by Rose City Reader and Friday 56 is hosted by Freda's Voice.

Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes. 186 p. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers/ Little, Brown and Company, April 17, 2017. 9780316262286.

Publisher synopsis: A heartbreaking and powerful story about a black boy killed by a police officer, drawing connections through history, from award-winning author Jewell Parker Rhodes.

Only the living can make the world better. Live and make it better.

Twelve-year-old Jerome is shot by a police officer who mistakes his toy gun for a real threat. As a ghost, he observes the devastation that's been unleashed on his family and community in the wake of what they see as an unjust and brutal killing.

Soon Jerome meets another ghost: Emmett Till, a boy from a very different time but similar circumstances. Emmett helps Jerome process what has happened, on a journey towards recognizing how historical racism may have led to the events that ended his life. Jerome also meets Sarah, the daughter of the police officer, who grapples with her father's actions.

Once again Jewell Parker Rhodes deftly weaves historical and socio-political layers into a gripping and poignant story about how children and families face the complexities of today's world, and how one boy grows to understand American blackness in the aftermath of his own death.

First line(s): How small I look. Laid out flat, my stomach touching the ground. My right knee bent and my brand-new Nikes stained with blood.

Page 56: "Dad? Is it true he was twelve?"
     Officer Moore holds Sarah at arm's length. "It's a rough neighborhood."
     "Same age as me."
     "You don't know him. You didn't see him."
     Sarah looks at me. She does see me. We're the same height. Probably in the same grade. Seventh.
     "He's-" She points, stops, stutters. "He was my height."
     Her father blinks, like he doesn't recognize her. Like he can't believe she's contradicting him.
     She plunges on, "You said he was big. Scary."

I was having dinner at the hotel bar last July when I went to the Scholastic Reading Summit in Virginia. Ms. Rhodes was the afternoon Keynote Speaker. When she sat down next to me to wait for friends she was meeting for dinner, I interrupted her solitude to say how much I enjoyed her address. We ended up chatting and she talked more about Ghost Boys. I put the title on my "to order" list. 

I was supposed to attend the Little, Brown preview earlier this month and hoped that there would be arcs of Ghost Boys, but I was not able to attend and was sad about that because these previews are the highlight of my life. Imagine my surprise when John Leary, from Hachette, booktalked it (among other titles) at my local school librarians meeting yesterday after school! He had a variety of arcs, including Ghost Boys for the taking. Guess who made a beeline for Ghost Boys at the end? 

I have three YA books that need to be read by October 28, but I put them on hold to dive into this. 

Fact Friday: Grand Canyon by Jason Chin

Grand Canyon by Jason Chin. 56 p. Roaring Brook Press, February, 2017. 9781596439504.

It's time for Fact Friday! What is eighteen miles wide, two hundred seventy-seven miles long and one mile deep? The Grand Canyon was formed over millions of years of erosion. The canyon is home to an incredible array of flora and fauna and a place of great beauty and wonder. Can't get there? Check out Grand Canyon by Jason Chin. The art in this informational picture book is astonishing and features impressive gatefolds and plentiful back-matter for would-be tourists, budding geologists and science teachers.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

#tbt: Charlotte's Web by E.B. White

Charlotte's Web by E.B. White. 192 p. HarperCollins Publisher, January, 1952.

In #tbt news, 2017 marks the 65th anniversary of the publication of Charlotte's Web by E.B. White. This story of a runty pig named Wilbur, who was rescued from the ax by a feisty girl named Fern and then saved from being turned into a Thanksgiving roast by a true friend named Charlotte, won White a Newbery Honor and leagues of fans. At 65, this timeless classic shows no signs of retiring. If you have not read it, you really must. And, the audiobook is not to be missed! White narrates it and his performance is superb!

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Audiobook Review: Refugee by Alan Gratz

Refugee by Alan Gratz. Unabridged audiobook on 7 compact discs. 7 hours, 37 minutes. Read by Michael Goldstrom, Kyla Garcia, Assaf Cohen. Scholastic Audio, July, 2017. 9781338191073. (Review from purchased audiobook.)

When I received the arc of Refugee last summer, I was thrilled, but kept skipping it on the tbr pile because I just knew that it would gut me. I needed to be in a strong emotional place to read and reflect on what I was sure to be an important book. Somehow, I never got there. Recently, a fifth grader ran to me clutching his copy and asking if I had read it. When I said no, he put his book in my hands and said, "You HAVE to read this! Really! You have to!" Chastened, I said that I would. Then looked to see if was available as an audiobook so that I could read through the tears I knew were going to fall.

Gratz has lots of fans at my school, his Projekt 1065 and Prisoner B-3087 are consistently checked out and recommended student-to-student. Personally, I loved a couple of earlier books, Samurai Shortstop and The Brooklyn Nine. Recently, I enjoyed his latest elementary/ low middle grade title, Ban This Book.

Refugee is told from three points-of-view. There is Joseph, who is on the cusp of his thirteenth birthday and whose father was recently released from Auschwitz. The family has been told to leave Germany. They have secured passage on the ship, the St. Louis bound for Cuba with other Jewish families fleeing Nazi Germany.

Then, there is Isabelle, who is fleeing Castro's Cuba in 1994, when the Communist leader announced that anyone who wanted to leave Cuba could, with no repercussions. She, her parents and grandfather and her neighbors pile into a leaky boat to make the perilous 90 mile journey to the coast of Florida.

Finally, there is Mahmoud, a young Syrian boy, who is trying to flee Aleppo with his parents and younger siblings during the Civil War that is raging there right now. His flight is perhaps most perilous having to survive crossing the Mediterranean, then several countries before reaching Germany.

It would've been perfectly reasonable to keep these three stories separate and parallel. Each one is compelling in its own right. Gratz has brought each child's plight to vivid life. It would've made for a perfectly memorable book. That he chose to connect the three stories at the end adds an emotional wallop that, frankly, I don't think I will recover from. I mean that as a compliment. 

All three children face the unthinkable. All three are traumatized, yet push on. All three suffer from incredible guilt over an impossible decision each had to make. Gratz skillfully ratchets up the suspense as he cuts between the stories. Readers will quickly become invested in each child. I got a bit weepy through most of the recording, but was glad to be reading with my ears as the tears flowed pretty continuously through discs six and seven. Mahmoud's story evoked haunting memories of the photos from Aleppo that have shocked the world, notably, the little boy in the ambulance. It was very much on my mind during Mahmoud's story. 

I do believe that the performances of all three narrators heightened the experience of the book because two of the three narrators read with beautifully accented English and also fluently pronounced the Syrian or Spanish words. When I read with my eyes, I read with my own accent. Listening to a narrator who is fluent in both languages means I am not mentally butchering the pronunciation of the foreign language words.  

The Author's Note at the end is not to be missed. Allen Gratz provides historical context, including the importance of the photo I just spoke of, and what is real and fiction in the story as well as places one might donate to help present-day refugees in crisis. This is a first purchase for any library - both the audiobook as well as the hardcover. It would be a spectacular class read or book club book. But don't forget your tissues. Lots of tissues. I will need tissues when I booktalk this book.

Waiting on Wednesday: One Smart Cookie by Elly Swartz

One Smart Cookie by Elly Swartz. 288 p. Scholastic, January 30, 2018. 9781338143560.

Publisher synopsis: Sometimes you need to keep a few secrets.

Frankie knows she'll be in big trouble if Dad discovers she secretly posted a dating profile for him online. But she's determined to find him a wife, even if she ends up grounded for life. Frankie wants what she had before Mom died. A family of three. Two is a pair of socks or the wheels on a bicycle or a busy weekend at the B&B where Frankie and Dad live. Three is a family. And Frankie's is missing a piece.

I adored Swartz's debut, Finding Perfect and am so looking forward to this. Plus, that cover! I have and have had hounds in my life who did exactly that!

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Teen Tuesday: Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds

Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds. 304 p. Caitlyn Dlouhy Books/ Atheneum Books for Young Readers, October 17, 2017. 9781481438254.

Teen Tuesday wishes Jason Reynolds' Long Way Down a happy book birthday! Reynolds burst on the scene a few years ago with When I was the Greatest and seven of his eight books have won multiple awards. Long Way Down was named on the National Book Award Longlist before it was even published. 

This powerful blank verse novel takes place in the time it takes to ride an elevator from the seventh to first floors of Will's apartment building. His brother, Shawn has been murdered and Will is following the rules of his neighborhood - don't cry, don't snitch, get revenge. As the elevator stops at each floor, time and reality bend as Will is joined by family and friends who were victims of gun violence and "the rules."

Click here for my full review of the arc. I can't wait to get a finished copy to add to my library collection!

Monday, October 16, 2017

Middle Grade Monday: Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick

Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick. 608 p. Scholastic Inc., September, 2011. 9780545027892. (Purchased)

I read this back when it was published in 2011 but didn't blog about it, nor was I on Goodreads then. I recall enjoying the story. I did not have the chance to reread the book before seeing the movie the other but took the opportunity to do so over the weekend. 

Wonderstruck tells parallel stories - one set in 1927 and one in 1977. The 1927 story is told in illustrations. It is the story of Rose, a child who was born deaf to a famous actress. Rose lives in Hoboken, NJ with her stern and cold father while her mother lives in New York City to pursue her acting career. Rose meticulously clips articles about her mother's career and lovingly keeps a scrapbook. She loves to watch her mother in movies because they are silent and accessible to her. One cannot skip a single illustration because each one advances the story and each one is remarkable.

Ben's story is the one set in 1977. He was born deaf in one ear and never knew his father. His mother recently died in a crash and he's living with his aunt and uncle. He finds a clue to who his father might be while searching through his mother's belongings. After a freak accident takes away his hearing in his good ear and lands him in the hospital, Ben decides to run away to New York to find his father.

There are a couple of plot contrivances to swallow, and there is a distinct nod to From The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler (Celebrating 50 years this year), but suspend belief and go along for the ride. It's a satisfying one.