Sunday, May 9, 2021

Middle Grade Monday: Kodi by Jared Cullum

Kodi by Jared Cullum. 176 p. Top Shelf Productions/ IDW Publishing, August, 2020. 9781603094672. (Review of finished paperback borrowed from public library.)

It is quite rare for a book to appeal to both avid and reluctant readers, but this gorgeous graphic novel does just that and I can't wait for my students to meet Katya and Kodi. 

Katya is a comics-loving loner who is bullied mercilessly at school. She's staying with her motorcycle-riding Meema in the Alaskan wilderness. Her Meema wants her to get out and meet new friends. Katya just wants to stay in the cabin and read. She's forced to trek into town though, where she purchases a slushy drink and snacks. A sudden storm causes her to rush back home and along the way, she encounters a huge bear who is interested in her slushy. They're both startled by a huge clap of thunder and the bear becomes pinned by a fallen tree. Katya comforts the bear and races home for help when she finds she can't lift the tree. A reluctant Meema pulls the tree off the bear with rope and her trusty motorcycle, then tends to its wounds. Katya names him Kodi and feeds him salmon while he heals. Once he's back on his feet, the two enjoy spending time together in the woods. 

When Katya needs to leave suddenly to return to Seattle, she leaves Kodi with a photo and a painting of the Needle. Kodi is bereft and treks each day to the docks in search of Katya. One day, a ship docks for the day from Seattle and Kodi stows away. Nothing will keep him from finding Katya, who, in the meanwhile is perfectly miserable at school.

Though the premise is a bit unbelievable, every second is utterly believable thanks to the author/ artist's nuanced, immersive and gorgeous water color panels. The book also gets better with each rereading as the reader notes new details. There were a couple of unanswered questions though-like where are the parents? And, why is Katya so terrified of water? GoodReads labelled this book #1. Here's hoping those questions are answered in book #2.

I just adore this book and look forward to getting it into my students' hands. 

Thursday, May 6, 2021

#tbt: Ghetto Cowboy by G. Neri


Ghetto Cowboy by G. Neri. 218 p. Candlewick Press, August, 2011. 9780763649227. (Own)

#tbt features Ghetto Cowboy by G. Neri. This book is the reason why I'm so excited for the release of Polo Cowboy (see yesterday's post). Seventh grader, Cole is heading down the wrong path fast and his single mom has had it. She packs a bag, loads Cole into her car and heads out of Detroit fast. She dumps him in Philadelphia to live with his dad, whom he has never met. He doesn't know what to expect of his dad or of the mean streets of Philadelphia. He certainly doesn't expect horses. Harp, his dad is a cowboy. A Black cowboy? In the middle of a city?

Mr. Neri was inspired by an article in Life magazine about the cowboys of Philadelphia. While Cole's story is fiction. The stables on Fletcher Street really exist and their existence is continually threatened by developers. The novel is short, illustrated and instantly engaging.

Ghetto Cowboy was published in 2011 and won quite a few State Book Awards. It was adapted for film and renamed Concrete Cowboy. It was recently released on Netflix. In the film adaptation, Cole was aged up and other changes were made, but the story of the stables and the father/ son relationship remain at the heart of the film.

Polo Cowboy releases in October. There's plenty of time to pick up Ghetto Cowboy. Happy reading!

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Picture Book Review: Free by Sam Usher

Free by Sam Usher. 40 p. templar books/ Candlewick Press, April, 2021. 9781536217049. (Review of finished copy courtesy of publisher.)

I have always loved books that focus on grandparent/ grandchild relationships-even more so now that I've become a grandparent. Sam Usher's Seasons with Grandad series (Snow, Rain, Sun, Storm) has company with this new series starter. 

In Free, our favorite ginger-haired boy (Has he grown a bit?) awakens to find a sick bird on his windowsill. He has been studying birds, as evidenced by the bird books and binoculars on his bed and the bird feeder outside his window. He runs to his granddad demanding to help the bird.* They make a cozy bed, consult some books and give him some water. When the bird perks up, Granddad suggests they put the bird back outside. The boy doesn't want to but Granddad gently insists. The two think "that's that," but the bird has other ideas. It shows up for breakfast, lunch and tea. That's when Granddad decides that the two need to lead the bird back home. And so they do. It is here where the fantastical Mr. Usher imbues in all these books begins. Oh, what an adventure! 

The pen, ink and watercolor spreads charm with warmth and intimate details. Please don't skip the end pages and title page! The story is sure to prompt wonderful discussions with young readers. I can't wait to see what other adventures await the pair in this endearing new series. Don't miss it!

*Just this morning, a movement on the roof of my husband's Jeep caught my eye as I took Boo out for a walk before heading to work. It was a female cardinal and I thought it a curious place for a bird to alight. Then a movement on the ground caught my eye and it was a baby! I looked up to look for a nest in the tree overhanging my driveway, but saw nothing. I puzzled over the problem on our walk, but both birds were nowhere to be seen upon our return. I suppose mama coaxed her baby into a safer spot. Thank goodness. 

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Waiting on Wednesday: Polo Cowboy by G. Neri

Polo Cowboy by G. Neri. Illustrated by Jesse Joshua Watson. 288 p. Candlewick Press, October 12, 2021. 9781536207118.

Publisher synopsis: How does a Black kid from North Philly wind up playing polo? The much-anticipated sequel to Ghetto Cowboy, now a major motion picture starring Idris Elba and Stranger Things’s Caleb McLaughlin.

When Cole moves in with his dad, Harp, he thinks life will be sweet—just him and his horse, Boo, hanging out with Philadelphia’s urban cowboys. But when Harp says he has to get a job, Cole winds up as a stable hand for the polo team at George Washington Military Academy, where the players are rich, white, and stuck-up—all except Ruthie, the team’s first and only girl, who’s determined to show the others she can beat them at their own game. As Cole and Ruthie become friends—and maybe more—he starts imagining his future, maybe even at the academy. But between long workdays, arrogant polo players, and a cousin trying to pull Cole into his dangerous business, that future seems remote. Will Cole find the courage to stand and be seen in a world determined to keep him out? With striking illustrations by Jesse Joshua Watson, celebrated author G. Neri’s novel weaves themes of tenacity and community into a rousing sports story inspired by Philadelphia's real -life urban cowboys and polo players.

Teen Tuesday and Audiobook Review: The Awakening of Malcolm X by Ilyasah Shabazz with Tiffany D. Jackson

Image: Macmillan

The Awakening of Malcolm X by Ilyasah Shabazz and Tiffany D. Jackson. Unabridged e-audiobook, ~7 hours, 54 minutes. Read by Landon Woodson. Macmillan Young Listeners, January, 2021. 9781250619105. (Review of e-audiobook downloaded from public library.)

Teen Tuesday features The Awakening of Malcolm X by Ilyasah Shabazz and Tiffany D. Jackson. This fictionalized biography of the author's father, Malcolm X, covers his young adult life from about the age of 18 through his 20s. Ms. Shabazz, Malcolm X's youngest daughter, wrote a novel about his early life in X: a Novel along with Kekla Magoon in 2015. She went on to write a fictionalized biography of her mother, Betty Before X in 2018. Teen readers who are interested in the life of the Civil Rights activist, but not ready to tackle his autobiography would do well to start here.

In The Awakening of Malcolm X, Malcolm Little and his friend are framed in a robbery investigation by the white woman Malcolm was dating. While she planned all the robberies, when the three were caught, she claimed that Malcolm forced her to, earning Malcolm and his friend hard time in prison.

This first-person narrative pulls no punches. Life in Charlestown Prison was brutal. Malcolm was angry and not always cooperative with the racist system. He ended up in solitary confinement more than once, but he was smart and his family were supportive. His brothers and sisters tried to visit regularly. It was through his brothers that he discovered Islam and was eventually transferred to another prison where prisoners were treated better and education was encouraged. By the time he left prison, he had devoted his life to Islam and became Malcolm X.

New-to-me narrator Landon Woodson delivered an emotionally gripping performance. I am really hoping for more books from Ms. Shabazz about her complex and brilliant father. 

Sunday, May 2, 2021

Middle Grade Monday: Nat Enough by Maria Scrivan

Nat Enough by Maria Scrivan. 240 p. Graphix/ Scholastic Inc. April, 2020. 978133538199. (Purchased.)

Happy Monday! I hope you had a wonderful weekend! Mine went fast. I did some garden clean-up (not enough), a lot of walking with Boo (18 miles) and a fair amount of reading(4 books).

Middle Grade Monday features Nat Enough by Maria Scrivan. This gentle graphic novel is shy Natalie's sketchbook. As summer ends and middle school approaches, she has some worries. Her BFF Lily moved across town and she has seen very little of her over the summer. Any calls or texts Natalie sends are answered with excuses why the two can't get together. On the eve of the first day of school, Nat's got radio silence. She spies Lily heading to school with another girl, who looks super-cool and stylish. Nat's locker is close to Lily, but Lily rebuffs her attempts at friendship. Lily's rejection reinforces Natalie's feelings of not being enough - not cute enough, not smart enough or not athletic enough.

The terrain of fractured friendship and navigating new school situations should be familiar to most tweens. Natalie is endearingly underconfident and relatable. The author/ artist captured the drama and dialog of middle school well. The peppy palette and energetic panels keep the story moving. Fans of Shannon Hale and Raina Telgemeier will be happy to include Natalie. I know this one won't sit and am looking forward to reading Forget Me Nat and Absolutely Nat.

Friday, April 30, 2021

Fact Friday: What Breathes Through Its Butt? Mind-Blowing Science Questions Answered by Emily Grossman

Image: Bloomsbury

What Breathes Through Its Butt? Mind-Blowing Science Questions Answered by Emily Grossman. Illustrated by Alice Bowsher. 224 p. Bloomsbury, November, 2020. 9781547604524. (Review of finished copy borrowed from public library.)

Happy Friday! We made it through another week. It felt like a long one to me, especially when I thought yesterday was Friday. I hope everyone has wonderful plans for the weekend. I hope to plug in an audiobook and get in the garden!

Before I introduce the Fact Friday feature, I'd like to just say the science is amazing! There's just so much to read and learn in the sciences. There's really something for everyone from nature and animals to technology and invention. Still not sold that science is cool? Read on. 

Fact Friday features What Breathes Through Its Butt? Mind Blowing Science Questions Answered by Emily Grossman and illustrated by Alice Bowsher. Don't know the answer to that one? Check out this energetically informative scientific stream of consciousness. Each question comes with multiple choice answers and rather hilarious, rambling answers accompanied by bold black and white illustrations. The questions about poop and farts are the bait. Who can resist? But then, there are questions and answers to other questions you didn't know you wanted to know about. How many bones are in a giraffe's neck? How much does the Internet weigh? What animal has the strongest bite?

This book is for science geeks and science skeptics alike. I'm so looking forward to adding this to my library's collection. One question that wasn't answered in this book was one my youngest son asked when he was in fourth grade twenty years ago: How many dimensions does a sunbeam have? His science teacher at the time couldn't answer it.