Friday, January 29, 2016

Boy, what do we need a car for?

If you are looking for a great picture book, Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña is wonderful and poetic.

On January 11th, Matt de la Peña became the first Hispanic author to win the Newbery for Last Stop on Market Street  -   beautifully illustrated by Christian Robinson. It's the story of a young boy riding the city bus with his grandmother, and wondering why their family doesn't have a car.

"Nana, how come we don't got a car?"

"How come we gotta wait for the bus in all this wet?" 

"How come it's always so dirty over here?" 

Saturday, January 23, 2016

and what was left behind was a smile

Beautiful and Devastating...

“He really could have been any other eighth-grade kid at Eastham Middle School. Except he had a daughter.”

I read Orbiting Jupiter by Gary D Schmidt this weekend. It is a book about friendship and sadness and 'having someone's back' and love and heartbreak... all written in a way that young people can understand and embrace. 

12 year old Jack lives a quiet life on his family's farm in Maine, when his parents take in a 14 year old foster kid named Joseph.

I really cared about these two boys. And, as is always the sign of a good book, they broke my heart wide open.

My favorite quotes:
Christmas is the season for miracles, you know. Sometimes they come big and loud, I guess - but I've never seen one of those. I think probably most miracles are a lot smaller, and sort of still, and so quiet, you could miss them. I didn't miss this one. When my father put his hand on Joseph's back, Joseph didn't even flinch.

"Would you have left a guy being beat up to go find a teacher?" I asked. My father wiped his hand across his face, and what was left behind was a smile. Really, a smile."Not in a million years," he said.

It stayed cold that Monday, and even though it was pretty bright out, there were snowflakes in the air that afternoon again, drifting like they didn't care if they landed. 

You can tell all you need to know about someone from the way cows are around him. 

And the conversation about angels between Reverend Ballou and Joseph...

Reverend Ballou: Maybe angels aren't always meant to stop bad things.
Joseph: So what good are they?
Reverend Ballou: To be with us when bad things happen.
Joseph: Then where the hell were they?

If you know a young adult reader who enjoys good narration, who seeks out bravery, who pays attention to trust, and who sees people for who they are as well as who they could be... then get this book for them. 

Sunday, January 17, 2016

It was everywhere and all mixed up in everything

I recently read All American Boys by co-authors Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely. It's an amazing young adult novel about police brutality told from the perspectives of two high school students. One boy is Rashad, a young black student who is savagely beaten by a police officer. The other boy is Quinn, a young white student who sees the beating but initially acts like he didn't.

The story was so spot on to what we hear constantly in the news. The book beautifully and authentically portrays real-life encounters between young black men and police that end badly.

How did this story come about?

Co-authors Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely had separately published young-adult books for Simon and Schuster and were on a book tour together for the publisher. They ended up sharing hotel rooms on the tour. And while on the road, news came that George Zimmerman was acquitted of the murder of Trayvon Martin. The two men became friends over their conversations about race. Later, after the book tour, Michael Brown was killed by police in Ferguson. That became the urgency the authors needed to write a book about race and police brutality together.

My favorite parts:

"I don't think most people think they're racist. But every time something like this happens, you could, like you said, 'Not my problem.' You could say, 'It's a one-time thing.' Every time it happened."
"But here are the words that kept ricocheting around me all day: Nobody says the words anymore, but somehow the violence still remains. If I didn't want the violence to remain, I had to do a hell of a lot more than just say the right things and not say the wrong things."
"Because racism was alive and real as shit. It was everywhere and all mixed up in everything, and the only people who said it wasn't, and the only people who said, "Don't talk about it" were white."

I wish there were more teachers like Mrs. Tracey.
"Mrs. Tracey stood at the window, looking down over the front steps and the entrance to the school. Even when everyone had taken their seats, she remained by the window, and the rest of the class kept talking, waiting for her to go to her desk. But she didn't. In her hand, she held a copy of the novel The Invisible Man."

Read this book with the young people you know. Begin a much needed conversation. Kids are ready to talk.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Monday, December 14, 2015

finding the explanations that no one else can give you

On a recent trip, I read The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin. It is wonderful! Every teacher, every parent, and every library should consider this book for a read aloud. It's the type of book that can change lives and reads beautifully.

From Goodreads:
This stunning debut novel about grief and wonder was an instant New York Times bestseller and captured widespread critical acclaim, including selection as a 2015 National Book Award finalist!

Suzy Swanson is in seventh grade and dealing with tragedy.

During the first three weeks of seventh grade, I'd learned one thing above all else: A person can become invisible simply by staying quiet.

The book moves back and forth through time from the present to the previous school year. It reflects a lot on the importance of the choices we make, the consequences of those choices, and the power and redemption of empathy.

Sometimes you want things to change so badly, you can't even stand to be in the same room with the way things actually are.

This is also a wonderful book about science, and women in science, and the beauty of science. I loved Mrs. Turton, and I wish there were more Mrs. Turtons in the world.

Mrs. Turton says when something happens that no one can explain, it means you have bumped up against the edge of human knowledge. And that is when you need science. Science is the process for finding the explanations that no one else can give you.

The point, she said, was to learn how to research, how to find out more about anything we wondered about. "That's what science is," she explained. "It's learning what others have discovered about the world, and then - when you bump up against a question that no one has ever answered before - figuring out how to get the answer you need." 

 As readers of The Thing About Jellyfish, we learn many fascinating facts... about jellyfish, about the scientific method, cosmology and the expanding universe, about the accomplishments of long-distance swimmer Diana Nyad, the pathogenesis of zombie ants, the sixth mass extinction, and many other scientific topics.

Back in 1968, people saw Earth rising over the moon and believed they mattered. They believed they could accomplish anything. What if we could feel that way again? There are so many things to be scared of in this world: blooms of jellies. A sixth extinction. A middle school dance. But maybe we can stop feeling so afraid. Maybe instead of feeling like a mote of dust, we can remember that all the creatures on this Earth are made from stardust.

I highly recommend this book! It would make a wonderful gift for all the middle grade and young adult readers you know. 

If you're still not convinced, read the beginning for free HERE.

Be sure to read the author's note at the end, because as Mrs. Turton says...

"What did you learn from your research? Take a step beyond your own investigation to consider the implications for future questions. What else is there to learn? Where might your inquiry take you next?"

Thursday, December 10, 2015

the heart of Auschwitz

It sits like a jewel in a museum showcase.

On December 12, 1944, Polish teenager Fania Landau turned 20 while imprisoned in Auschwitz. Fania had spent the past year in the concentration camp and didn't expect her birthday to be remembered. However, her friends risked everything to make her a gift.

This weekend I read the historical fiction novel, Paper Hearts by Meg Wiviott. Written in verse, this beautiful novel  is based on the lives of Fania Landau and Zlatka Sznaiderhauz, and their story of survival.

In the midst of incredible horror, love and friendship become a weapon against oppression and hatred.

Here is one of my favorite parts:

The Birds

Spring brought the rains
And the mud.

But no birds.

They avoided the belching black smoke,
Billowing stench,
Impenetrable gray,
Incessant trains.

Much later,
People claimed,
We did not know.
I had no idea.
I didn't do it.

How could they not have known,
When the birds did?

This is an incredible book and should be put in the hands of all readers. This story will open the door to many conversations on current events regarding discrimination and labeling any group as other. Readers can ponder the power of humanity and the role of empathy in overcoming racism, hate, and indifference.

I highly recommend this beautiful book for everyone you know.

figuring out where your interests are

At our junior high school, students learn about World War Two in eighth grade. My daughter was in eighth grade last year, so we read a lot of great books to dig deeper into the subject. This year, my son is in eighth grade and we are finding even more incredible stories.

If you know a reader who is curious about World War Two, here is an awesome list of books that will help foster sustained and substantial learning through stories.

World War Two Book List:

The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brusker Bradley

Paper Hearts by Meg Wiviott

A Night Divided byJennifer A. Nielsen

Bomb by Steve Sheinkin

The Book Theif by Mark Zusak

The Diary of Anne Frank by Anne Frank

Counting the Stars by Lois Lowry

The Boys Who Challenged Hitler by Phillip Hoose

Code Talker by Joseph Bruchac

Hidden by Loic Dauvillier

Whispering Town by Jennifer Elvgren

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys
(also don't miss Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys - to be released in February)

The Tin Snail by Cameron McAllister

Unbroken (young adult adaptation) by Laura Hillenbrand

The Boys in the Boat (young readers adaptation) by Daniel James Brown

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

“You know the greatest lesson of history? It’s that history is whatever the victors say it is. That’s the lesson. Whoever wins, that’s who decides the history. We act in our own self-interest. Of course we do. Name me a person or a nation who does not. The trick is figuring out where your interests are.” 
― Anthony DoerrAll the Light We Cannot See