#IMWAYR July 27, 2015

It's Monday again, my favourite day of the week. Time to check in with hosts Jen From Mentor Texts and Kellee andRickie from Unleashing Readers, to find out what bloggers around the world are reading this week. My partner and I head off early this morning into high country. There will be no internet once we arrive, but I'm going to try to read as many blogs as I can while on the road before it disappears. 

A Handful of Stars by Cynthia Lord

5 stars
Sometimes I wonder how authors can consistently wow me with their writing. Cynthia Lord is one of them. I admire her for fitting relevant social issues into everything I've read so far. In this one, two girls from different backgrounds become friends as they paint boxes for mason bees. I fell head over heels for all these characters. This is a book that deals with prejudice, loss, friendship and finding out what is really important.

The Unwanteds by Lisa McMann

3 stars
This book didn't wow me, but it did manage to draw me into its world and get me to care about the characters somewhat. In the world of Quill, when children reach a certain age, they are labelled wanted, necessary, and unwanted. The unwanted are sent away to die. Only it turns out that the unwanted are the lucky ones who end up in the magical world of Artimé. This is a land where magic, emotions and the creative arts are celebrated.  

Twin boys end up separated and find themselves in these different worlds. Aaron remains in Quill where he begins to climb the social ladder towards a prestigious position. Alex, on the other hand, ends up in Artimé where he longs for his twin to join them. He finally figures out a way to contact Aaron, but instead of saving him, ignites events that may well bring about the downfall of Artimé.

I like the ending of this book - it was satisfying, but tantalized readers to want to find out more. 

I struggled with this strange dichotomy of creativity in this book. It breaks my heart that as education funding gets strangled, it is the fine and performing arts that get axed, but I believe that creativity is a much deeper concept that this.

The Great Good Summer by Liz Garton Scanlon

4 stars
This is another sweet middle grade novel about a girl who's mother takes off with an itinerant preacher one summer. Eventually Ivy and her friend, Paul, decided to take off in search of her. It's a journey fraught with suspense and near disaster. The two find help in unusual characters. This is a book about friendship, loss and finding out who you are. 

I really came to care about Paul, Ivy, her father, and even her mother. As a parent I could really connect to her father's anxiety and fear when the two children run away. I liked the contrast between Ivy and her faith in God and Paul and his faith in science. I think that as they grow, these beliefs will mature and change with them.

3 stars
Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliett (audiobook)

I downloaded this book because I have readers who like this series. I wanted to see what it was that drew them in. Maybe it is because I have been listening to Skulduggery and The Unwanteds, but this book was too slow for me. It is a thoughtful, academic mystery that just didn't get me excited, although I did manage to finish it. I'm going to be looking at readers who like it with some awe and appreciation when they next come asking me for more like this.

4 stars
Loula and Mister the Monster by Anne Villeneuve (netgalley)

I love Loula and Gilbert, the family's lovely chauffeur. In this adventure they do their best to teach Mister, the rambunctious hound, how to behave.

5 stars

Water is Water by Miranda Paul & Jason Chin (illustrator)

This beautiful book tells the reader about the water cycle all the while revealing our personal relationship to its many incarnations. Chin's glorious illustrations embrace and enhance the patterned poetry of Paul's text.

enormous smallness: a story of ee cummings by Matthew Burgess & Kris Di Giacomo (illustrator)

5 stars
although the cover doesn't use all lowercase letters in the title of the book, I feel compelled to change it here. i read my first cummings poem in high school, lo these many years ago, and entered into an infatuation with his work that has lasted till this day. for a few years i refused to use capital letters, even into my first year of college. there, one of my beaus gave me a collection of cumming's love poems. he is long gone, but i still have the book.

i like the choices of poetry here in the book, but there aren't enough of them. It does include in just spring which gets posted on our library poetry wall just about every year. i would have a hard time choosing a favourite of his poems, but somewhere i have never travelled, gladly beyond, resonates for me about the transformational power of love.

I didn't know how much i had been waiting to read this biography until i had it in my hands. it feels like uncovering the secrets of an old friend.

i didn't know that cummings
         wrote his first poem when only three
         wrote screenplays
         loved elephants
         cherished Paris
         drove an ambulance in the first world war

after finishing this book I went to read more about his work. one of the interesting facts i discovered was that cummings was influenced by Amy Lowell, another of my favourite poets.

i'm getting this book for our library for those teachers planning on making writing a focus this year.

3 stars
A Tale of Two Mommies by Vanita Oelschlager & Mike Blanc (illustrator) (netgalley)

This is a charming story of a group of children playing. Two of them ask questions to a friend, who has two mothers, as to which mommy does certain things. Ultimately what this book shows is a young boy who is well loved by his parents.

A Year in the Life of a Total and Complete Genius by Stacey Matson

4 stars
One of my goals was to read more Canadian authors this year. With books like this, it's pure joy. 

Arthur Bean has big dreams. He plans to grow up and become a famous author. In the mean time he has to get through the many challenges of grade seven. 

Told through journal entries and emails back and forth to different characters, this story takes us through the year following the death of his mother. His father has kind of checked out of life and isn't paying much attention to anything. Then there is the writing contest due April 1. He's certain he will win if only he can come up with a story idea. The ideas, however, just don't want to come. He's got a crush on his writing buddy, but she's already got a boyfriend, even if he is a jerk. On top of all this, he has to tutor Robbie Zack, a bully who threatens him regularly. 

Arthur tests the patience of all his teachers, but for the most part, they recognize his creative brilliance and do their best to rein him in. It isn't easy. It requires an expert sense of humour. When his regular teacher breaks her leg, the substitute doesn't cope well with him, leaving both of them unhappy. 

I suspect fans of Diary of a Wimpy Kid will like this book. It has some drawings but is much more text based. It would also be an interesting book for teachers to use as mentor text since Arthur has to complete a number of writing assignments.  

Currently I'm listening to Curtsies and Conspiracies (Finishing School #2) by Gail Carriger. I've in the middle of More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera on my device and I'm in the middle of Circus Mirandus by Cassie Beasley as a hardcover. 

Up next, I've got Shadow Scale by Rachel Harman, a pile of paperbacks, and a whole mess of titles on my device. I am so looking forward to being where my options are hiking, fishing, or reading. I'm hoping there won't be any hiding from, or running from, bears. 

Water is Water by Miranda Paul & Jason Chin (illustrator)

This is one of the titles I've previewed this summer in preparation for a unit on the hydrosphere that some teachers at our school are planning for the fall. 

Through poetry, Miranda Paul takes the reader through the water cycle, and in the process, the different configurations of water across a year. I liked the pattern that emerged as the poem progresses, with each refrain connecting to the next form. This repetition will engage younger (and older) readers and excite them into trying to guess what comes next. 

Pour me a cup.
it heats up.

Watch it curl by.
Steam is steam unless

Jason Chin's illustrations are flat out glorious, making this book irresistible for readers who are fans of non-fiction picture books as well as everyone else. What is important about them is that they assert, and make personal, our connection to water in all its expressions. 


I appreciated the more detailed section at the end that delivers scientific information about each aspect of water revealed in the book. Another page gives examples of what percentage of different living things are water. There are other interesting facts in there as well. 
Did you know that people can only drink 1% of the water on earth? If that fact doesn't get us thinking about conservation, I don't know what will. 

This is a fabulous title for my younger readers, and will be an interesting introductory text for the older ones. It is in my shopping cart!

Loula and Mister the Monster by Anne Villeneuve

Loula loves her dog Mister. 

He's "a little too messy, a little too clumsy and a little too hungry a LOT of the time." 

When she hears her mother say that she's had enough and it is time to get rid of the monster, Loula is worried she will get rid of Mister, who is after all, a bit of a monster. 

After a troubled sleep, she decides to smarten Mister up and teach him some manners.

It starts out ok as she gives him a bath and dresses him in a tie. But it all falls apart when she tries to teach him some table manners. Alas, those cheese tartines are irresistible.

Once again, Gilbert the chauffeur, comes to her rescue. Together they take Mister to the park to see if they can teach him some good manners. 

You can probably anticipate how it turns out as they try to teach him to:

Walk, not run. 
Keep calm and breathe deeply. 
Stay out of Puddles. 
Don't jump on everything. 

Unfortunately, dog whisperers they are not, and eventually the trio end up in serious trouble at the local museum. They leave the park deeply dejected. It looks like Mister just might be a hopeless case. 

Will Lulu's mother get rid of him? 
You will have to read the book to find out.

What I liked:
This book is fun! It's filled with whimsical humour and sweetness at the same time. You can't help but love Loula, Gilbert, her mother, and especially Mister. 
These watercolour illustrations are exceptional. They exude so much joy and tenderness. 

What I don't like:
This is a netgalley copy, and I won't be able to get a real copy until September 1. Then it will be too long a wait before I get to read more Loula adventures. 
I guess I'll have to purchase a copy of Loula and the Sister Recipe, and find our copy of Loula is Leaving for Africa to reread while waiting for the next update.  

#IMWAYR July 20, 2015

It's Monday again, my favourite day of the week. Time to check in with hosts Jen From Mentor Texts and Kellee andRickie from Unleashing Readers, to find out what bloggers around the world are reading this week.  

I missed posting last week because my life is kind of out of control occupied. My son is getting married on the labour day weekend in the Southern Okanagan Valley here in BC. Since he and his sweetheart are living and working in Korea this summer, I have been left to deal with the details of pulling it together. It's a heck of a lot of work! On top of all this we are in the middle of renovations of our house there. Since we are doing much of it ourselves, it means we have been crazy busy. I was hoping to get a star wedding ring quilt done for them, but since I've barely gotten the paper pieces cut out, I've conceded it might be done by their first anniversary. On top of all this, I took my mother on a road trip for four days so she could meet up with friends and family. If it wasn't for audiobooks, I wouldn't have gotten any reading in at all!

I did managed to scrape out time to put together a digital list of books students at our school think you should read over the summer. I blogged about The Red Bicycle by Jude Isabella. I've also been working on transforming a huge paper poster illustrating our school philosophy into digital format. I'm spending hours steeped in the world of Photoshop. 

Here is what I have accomplished in my reading life in these past two weeks. 

4 stars
The Red Bicycle by Jude Isabella and Simone Shin (illustrator)
I enjoyed this story that reveals the different incarnations of a red bicycle. It makes a difference in the lives of all its owners from Leo in America, who first purchased it, to Alisetta in Burkina Faso who used it to improve her family's standard of living. Then it was transformed into an ambulance and used to help many different citizens in that country. 

4 stars
The Letter Q by Sarah Moon et al
Unfortunately I had to return this book to the library when I was about 2/3 done as I was unable to renew it. I loved reading the letters from the writer's older selves to their younger ones. Like the goodreads write up says, I learned things about some of my favourite authors I never expected, and I also learned about myself. I'm left thinking how wonderful it would be to get our students to write a letter to their older selves.

I'm not generally a fan of violent books and I don't often read an entire series, but I'm just hooked on Derek Landy's Skulduggery Pleasant collection. They are fast paced with plenty of action and fascinating characters that mature and evolve as the series progresses. 

4 stars
Dark Days (Skulduggery Pleasant 4) by Derek Landy
At the end of the last book, Skulduggery was sucked through a portal into the land of the faceless ones. In this book Valkyrie sets out to save him. It means fraternizing with vampires and zombies and delving into the magic of the necromancers. An old enemy of Skulduggery is released from prison and sets out to destroy him and the Irish Sanctuary, the ruling center for magic in Ireland. 

4 stars
Mortal Coil (Skulduggery Pleasant 5) by Derek Landy
In Dark Days, Valkyrie learned that her true name is Darquesse, a women who is foretold to bring about the end of human life on earth. The leader of the necromancers causes the release of Remnants, psychopathic spirits who possess humans. These spirits think that Valkrie, as Darquesse, will become their leader. What I liked most about these last two books is that Valkyrie is growing up and becoming more independent of Skulduggery. 

Unfortunately, our library has no more of this series available as audiobooks. 

4 stars
The Martian by Andy Weir
If someone told me how much science there was in this book, I might have doubted it could be so scintillating. But it grabbed me by the throat and kept me coming back for more. It's the story of an astronaut who gets left behind on a mission to Mars when his companions are led to believe that he died in a freak accident. He manages to survive through his ingenuity and determination. I listened to it while painting the basement of our house. It made this boring job enjoyable. Unfortunately, this is a book for older readers. I won't be getting it for our library, but I definitely encourage others to read it. 
4.5 stars

The Railway Children by E Nesbit narrated by Renee Raudman
My mother and I listened to this book on our road trip. We were both enchanted by this classic tale of a family with three children whose life changes drastically when the father mysteriously goes away. It is a charming story with delightful characters. It's a bit dated, but still wonderful. 

5 stars
Masterminds by Gordon Korman
This is the first print book I've read in ages, well in over a week anyway. I sat down with it and finished it in one setting. I loved it! I'm accustomed to Korman grabbing my attention through plot based stories. What I enjoyed about this one is the development of the different characters as well as the story line. It's the story of a group of children who live in an ideal town. They discover that who they are, and what the town is really up to, are not at all what they have been taught. I can't wait to get a copy for our library. This is the first in a new series. I might even read more of them!

Currently I'm listening to The Unwanteds by Lisa McMann. It is the first in a series that many of my readers are infatuated with. I'm not crazy about it, but it is entertaining me. I'm in the middle of Cynthia Lord's A Handful Of Stars and expect to be finished with it by tomorrow. 

Up next I've got a couple of library books: The Great Good Summer and More Happy Than Not that I need to get finished so I can return them before we head out of the city for a week long camping trip and more renovations on our house in Oliver. I've started Shadow Scale by Rachel Harman, but I'm saving it to read when I am in the magical wilderness. 

The Red Bicycle by Jude Isabella & Simone Shin (Illustrator)

This is the story of a bike with many lives. 

Leo, it's first owner, worked hard for two years to save up enough money to purchase Big Red. He loved his bike and rode it back and forth to school and everywhere he went. Eventually though, as is the way of things, he grew too big for it. He wanted Big Red to go to someone who would love the bike as much as he did, so he decided to donate it to an organization that sends bikes to a country that needs them. After sprucing Big Red up, Leo rode it to the shipping container where he helped pack up the bikes to ready them for travel.

Big Red traveled across the Atlantic Ocean to Ghana. There the container it was in was loaded onto a truck and continued its journey to the city of Koudougou in the country of Burkina Faso. Big Red and his next owners, Alisetta and her grandmother, Awa Sawagogo, traveled in a bush taxi to their village. After Alisetta learned to ride the bike, she used it to chase the birds away from their sorghum crop. Because of Big Red, the family harvested more sorghum. Alisetta used the bike to take products to village markets to sell. This led to a better quality of life for all of them. Soon they had enough money to send Alisetta's two younger siblings to school. Eventually they saved enough cash to purchase another bike, but while Alisetta was away, an out of control pig  damaged Big Red. 

As there was no money to repair it, Big Red went to the local medical clinic. Boukary, their mechanic, fixed it and attached a small trailer that held a stretcher. Big Red was transformed into an ambulance and ready to go to work again. Haridata, its next rider rode it to smaller villages to collect patients and deliver them to the local hospital. She traveled a half hour to collect her first patient, a young boy with a broken leg, but at other times she journeyed much farther. Big Red became famous and was known as Le Grand Rouge by the children in the surrounding areas. 

This is a picture book for older readers, as there is a lot of text on the pages, but each page also has a sentence in larger font for younger readers. I just wish this text was easier to read as in my Netgalley copy, it blends into the background. 

As you can see from the above images, Simone Shin's illustrations are works of art. They bring an immediacy to the story, helping readers connect more deeply with the individuals and their situations. She also makes us love Big Red, who is perhaps, the most important character in the book. 

This is one of those books that makes me wish I was teaching in a classroom again. It has so much potential. The section at the back gives readers more information about organizations that donate used bikes. There are even notes for teachers with advice for how to use the book. We have a few teachers at our school who focus on social justice issues. I know they will love this book!