Monday, December 22, 2014

Happy Holidays!

I am about to walk out the door and head home for the holiday.  Eight days of sitting in front of a fireplace in the wilderness, my family all around me, and probably a lot of movies and wine.  So I'll be on hiatus from all my forms of socializing via online media.  Not that I have blogged a whole heck of a lot this fall.  Still, this break will be on purpose.

I hope you are all doing something that fills your soul this week.  See you in 2015!

L to R
Steve (bro), Jessie (sis), Zach (bro), Me

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Plus One

On the heels of closing this year's book recommendations as gifts, I landed on this article featured in the (my) beloved Brain Pickings.  Today, she tweeted about a book called Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress by Christine Baldacchino. I'm linking to her article because she gives you a beautiful description and a trailer.  I think we should all buy this book.

In 2014 I was continuously disappointed with decisions that humans made regarding other humans.  I watched with the world as we seemingly took steps backward in treating each other with the respect and dignity each person deserves.  I attended a conference in children's literature that screamed for more diversity in the books we share with kids.

Today, on the cusp of 2015, I read about Morris Micklewhite and I was, yet again, reminded of the power in literacy.  The ability to write and the ability to read can make a change.  Bravo to the Christine Baldacchinos, the Jacqueline Woodsons, the Andrea Beatys, and all the other wave makers.  Let's take 2015 to a whole new level.

Nobody should feel like this. Ever.

Day 8, Baby Books

Everyone is having a baby.  No really.  In the last year, friends and family have welcomed eight babies into the world, and that is only counting close friends and family.  If I counted all the FB friends popping those suckers out, man, that would be a lot of time wasted.  I haven't been able to keep up with gifts on all these babies but the last three I managed to get some goodies out.  My new approach to baby gift giving?  Baby books and baby hats.  Knitting hats don't take me nearly as long as the toys do so they have been a quality solution to cranking out gifts quickly.  I can start with a cool hat pattern and then find a book, or start with a good book and find a pattern.  Here are three that I came up with recently.  These books and hat patterns work as holiday gift giving ideas too!

Little Owl's Orange Scarf by Tatyana Feeney

Mas recommended this book last year for Christmas.  This Thanksgiving my cousin Mary Kate had a little girl, Ella Jane.  Her baby shower was owl themed so I thought this would be the perfect book to go along with the theme.  To go with the book I found a pattern for an owl hat and knit one up for baby Ella.  Alas, I didn't get a copy of Little Owl in time so I ended up giving her The Paper Bag Princess, which is a pretty good read as well.

Owl Hat for Ella

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Day 7, Honoring All Abilities

Recently a friend of mine emailed me for a list of books that honored students with different abilities.  She is a principal and wanted to infuse more books featuring students into her classrooms as one way of teaching acceptance.  I was pleased to send her a long list.  Did you know that there are some really fantastic books out there that feature kids with all sorts of differences?  We've seen a big push recently for diverse books.  Well, here is an addition to that push for diversity in a way we don't usually think of.  Being a special education teacher, these books are near and dear to my heart. In addition to Wonder and Wonderstruck (I JUST noticed that connection, ha!) here are some new books to add to your list.

I think Cece Bell, author of El Deafo, really highlighted the importance of reading books from different perspectives.  (Also, have you read this?)  She said,

El Deafo is based on my childhood...It is in no way a representation of what all deaf people might experience. It's also important to note that while I was writing and drawing the book, I was more interested in capturing the specific feelings I had as a kid with hearing loss than in being 100% accurate with the details. ... I felt different, and in my mind, being different was not a good thing. I secretly and openly, believed that my deafness, in making me so different, was a disability.  And I was ashamed....I'm no longer ashamed of being deaf, nor do I think of myself as someone with a disability.

El Deafo by Cece Bell

The main bunny in this book goes by the name "El Deafo."  At least that is her super hero name.  After recovering from meningitis as a 4 year old, she loses her hearing.  When she is old enough to go to school she is outfitted with The Phonic Ear, a devise that connects her own hearing aids to a microphone worn by her teacher.  At first she is unsure about the device because it attracts so much attention.  Then she realizes that when the teacher leaves the room she can hear everything her teacher says.  She starts to imagine her life as a super hero and El Deafo is born.  I love that this book shows how Cece (yes, this is based on the author's life.  See above.) is a normal girl, just like everyone else, with just one different thing.  I love how she accepts her difference as something awesome.  It is a great story of friendship and what it is like to be a kid.  Also, it is a graphic novel.  My kids drooled over it when they saw it in my hands. :)

Friday, December 19, 2014

Day 6, True Stories

Nonfiction seems to be the forgotten child of children's books of the past but I can assure you, my fellow readers, that this is no longer.  Nonfiction books are stealing the glory of other children's books a whoooole lot.  These books tell new perspectives, bring unique stories and experiences to life, and teach the world a thing or two.  Maybe it is the amount of nonfiction required in the Common Core standards (yes, I uttered the words-that-must-not-be-named) upping the stock of fantastic nonfiction.  I'm not really sure.  All I know is I love learning from these books.

The Right Word by Jen Bryant and Melissa Sweet

Jen Bryant and Melissa Sweet team up for another winning biography.  I loved A River of Words and Balloons over Broadway. and The Right Word is a winner again.  This time they explore the life of Peter Roget, the inventor of the thesaurus.  In this book we discover that Roget was a shy boy but loved collecting words and kept them in notebook.  He organized them in different ways and eventually created the first thesaurus.  Did you know that the word thesaurus means treasure house in Greek?  Yup!  That and a whole lot of other cool things are waiting for you in this amazing book.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Day 5, Getting Graphic

My students LOVE graphic novels.  They don't care what it is about.  I see them perusing the shelves in the library with frustrated looks on their faces and when I ask them my favorite question, "Can I help you find a book?" they respond with, "You don't have enough graphic novels."  "Have you tried Pippi Longstocking?"  "Do you have it in a graphic novel?"  "Hm. No, what about Gregor the Overlander.  It is written by Suzanne Collins!  She wrote the Hunger Games!"  "Is it a graphic novel?"

I honestly can say that I don't share their love of graphic novels.  My brain isn't wired to read that way.  Alas, I do pick up a few because they are so well-loved.  I will admit, I haven't read all the books listed below.  However, these are the ones my kiddos love so chances are the young people in your life will love them too. I also find that kids who loved Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Geronimo Stilton are big fans of these books too, if that helps your stockings get stuffed at all.

Sisters by Raina Telgemeir

Sisters is the sequel to Telgemeir's hit Smile.   I haven't actually read Sisters but I did read Smile.  Both are based on Telgemeir's own life experiences and my kids are ridiculously in love with these books.  One student said to me today, "All I want for Christmas is Sisters Miss Howe."  This student is a 9 year old Haitian boy.  I am not sure if that is the demographic Telgemeir was going for but it definitely speaks to the breadth of the audience she is reaching.  This book tells about what happens with Raina gets to be a big sister for the first time.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Day 4, Poetry in Prose

Some stories can't be told without the beautiful form of poetry to assist them.  Recently, there seem to be a lot of lyrical novels, novels told in poetry form, hitting the shelves, especially for middle grade students.  Here are two of my favorites from the year.  These would be great gifts for that child who has a heart as big as the world, notices the world around them, and stares at the clouds and stars whenever possible.
Yes, all my books come from the BPL

The Red Pencil by Andrea Pinkney and illustrated by Shane Evans

Amira is a 12-year old girl living in a rural Sudan.  She enjoys her farm, her new lamb, and dreams of going to school when her friend leaves for a school in Nyala.  One day that all comes to a halt when her town is attacked by the Janjaweed.  Homes are burned, her lamb is lost, and her father is shot down before her eyes. The Red Pencil is both heart breaking and eye opening.  Andrea Pinkney explains that sometimes the toughest stories need to be written in lyrical prose, there is just no other way to experience them.  Between her beautiful language and Shane Evans' illustrations (remember him?  from the thing I did?), Amira's story balances between her words and sketches.  This is a book the current fifth graders in my school are reading.  They read A Long Walk to Water last year and I think both these books are perfect for showing students what is happening in the world around them.

I just noticed these pictures are terrible! And I returned the book!
Man, I sincerely apologize for that!  Now you HAVE to get the book!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Day 3, Tradition! (for your Older Readers)

First of all....Happy Hanukkah! Here are more books for whatever your motivation is to give gifts.

Folktales are all stories that have roots in the tradition of oral storytelling.  They can come in the form of fables, fairy tales, myths, and more.  Today I bring you two new books from this year that honor that tradition, but with their own story to tell.  These are longer reads for the middle schooler or teen in your house.

Egg & Spoon by Gregory Maguire
Gregory Maguire transports us into the world Elena, a poor young girl in a small town in Russia, and Ekaterina (Cat), a wealthy girl of the same age who stops in town on a train.  When Elena and Cat have a mishap involving a Fabergé egg and a moving train, the two girls find themselves in a completely different world.  Maguire weaves in Baba Yaga, Rasputin, and a narrator who is stuck in prison for, well, you don't quite know as he tells this story. 

The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavendar by Leslye Walton
I picked up this book because it said it held a bit of magical realism a la Garcia Marquez or Allende. That was enough for me to get reading!  Walton takes you back into the family tree of Ava Lavendar to learn the magic that twists its way through their tale.  Coupled with a subtly magic past is a history of lost love.  Ava, when she is born, is completely normal except for the wings she is born with.  Ava's mother keeps her hidden in the house but curiosity gets the better of her and she sneaks out with a neighbor friend.  Nathaniel Sorrows sees her and thinks she is an angel, which sounds romantic but he ends up being a bit of a cuckoo bird.  This is definitely a book for a much older reader...think high school and early college.  But a haunting story worth picking up!

Monday, December 15, 2014

Day 2, It's as Easy as ABC!

Alphabet books are no new addition to the world of picture books.  They just happen to be one of my favorite formats.  This year, three amazing alphabet books hit the shelves.  These are great for your early readers looking to learn their ABCs in a cool way, for your older kiddos who will understand their subtle humor, or for the grownups in your life who need a good giggle every now and again.

Once Upon an Alphabet by Oliver Jeffers
*sigh* Oliver Jeffers.  I want to be his artistic bff.  He has yet again come out with a work of quirky brilliance.  In One Upon an Alphabet, a hefty book, Jeffers gives each letter its own story.  Wanna know how an owl and an octopus fare in their adventures out on the ocean?  Flip to the story of the letter "O."  You will even find some guest appearances from Jeffers' previous books. 

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Day 1, Something is Missing...

My grandiose plans of reviving the 12 days of book gift ideas totally failed this year.  I don't know why because I had some ideas and actually drafted the blog entries but it just sorta slipped away.  So, I'll hit you with what I have.  Eight days of holiday gift ideas!  Here we go!

Wordless books have been popular for awhile.  I love reading them with kids and students because they can tell their own story and everyone has their own version.  (Not to mention the great inferencing skills you can build...c'mon I'm a teacher after all...)

Today I bring to you three wordless books and one...picture-less book!  These are some of my fave's from the year that will be sure to find a place in any home.

Journey by Aaron Becker
Remember how The Purple Crayon opened up the possibility of a world within one singular drawing tool?  Well, Journey takes it one step farther. A girl draws a door on her wall and opens up a world of possibility.  It is no wonder this won the Caldecott.  Check out Quest for a beautiful sequel.