#IMWAYR June 1, 2015

Well, here we are; it's Monday again. Time to check in with hosts Jen From Mentor Texts and Kellee and Rickie from Unleashing Readers, to find out what bloggers around the world are reading this week.

I managed to find time to get some blog posts done this week. I reviewed a couple of novels (see below) and talked about a strategy for getting readers more involved in recommending books to other readers. We call this student starred books.   

I've been reading lots of picture books this week, but I'm only talking about two that fit perfectly into one of our school's learning teams focusing on social responsibility. 

If You Plant a Seed by Kadir Nelson

This book. This book gave me shivers and left me with tears in my eyes. I was expecting something about agriculture. It is, kind of, but it's about growing whole new kinds of communities and changing the world. The sparse words and glorious illustrations took my breath away.

A Rule is to Break: A Child's Guide to Anarchy by John Sevin and Jana Christy

This is one of those books that you want to read to children and ensure you have time for profound conversations. I like some of the ideas. It begins, ironically, with, The opposite of rules is Anarchy! and then goes on to give ways (that sound like rules to me) for how to be an anarchist.

All of these are laudable no matter what. The most interesting conversations will arise from some of the other pages wherein, for me at least, they beg to ask, but what about people around us? What is the difference between right and wrong and how can we know? 

Bird by Crystal Chan
I just finished this book Sunday, before last weeks post. I adored it so much I had to blog about it.
I have never finished one of Nielsen's books without feeling completely satisfied. This one is no different. 

The Mark of the Dragonfly by Jaleigh Johnson narrated by Kim Mai Guest
It didn't take long for me to be grabbed and held captive by Piper's voice and story. She lives in a world where constant meteor storms bring all kinds of refuse from other places. She dreams of escaping the town she is in and getting a job as a machinist somewhere else. In the mean time, she goes out after these storms in search of salvageable debris to sell. Then she finds Anna, a young girl who has been injured in a storm. She brings her home and within hours both of them are on the run from a dangerous man. 
I liked so much about this steampunk, science fiction book. I can't wait to get a copy for our library! I'll definitely read more by Jaleigh Johnson.
Currently I'm listening to The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex. (It's so much more than I anticipated) I'm reading Etiquette and Espionage by Gail Carriger on my device and Platypus Police Squad: The Frog Who Croaked by Jarret. J. Krosocka as an old fashioned book. 

I'm trying to get on top of my to read list, as I suspect Carrie Gelson is going to want updates soon. (I've only got 22 of 58 completed) So whatever I read next, it will probably be at least one or two of those. I'll just have to see what arrives from the library as well.

We Are All Made Of Molecules by Susin Nielsen

We Are All Made of Molecules is told in two voices. 

Ashley is a seriously irritating 14 year old. She is filled with anger since her father announced he was gay, and their family fell apart. She comes across as bitchy, shallow and insecure. I didn't particularly like her at first.

Stewart is a gifted 13 year old who is grieving for his mother who died a few years ago. He is socially awkward, but aware of it. In spite of this, he seems to have a capacity for empathy that Ashley, at least at first, seems to lack. 

Stewart's father and Ashley's mother have fallen love and decided to move in together. Ashley is negative right off the bat, whereas Stewart has reservations, but is hoping for positive outcome.

It doesn't help their relationship that Stewart is going to the same school as Ashley, and to top it off, is in some of Ashley's classes. Then it looks like Stewart is going to have trouble with Jared, a new kid at school, but when Jared discovers that Stewart is Ashley's stepbrother, he lets up and even arranges for Stewart to become the school mascot. Eventually Stewart is instrumental in helping them pair up. It's all good until Stewart realizes that Jared has a dark side and is dating Ashley for nefarious purposes. Unfortunately, Ashley is so self absorbed that she wouldn't listen even if he told her.

It takes near disaster before the two step siblings finally reach a truce. Thankfully the crisis forced Ashley to to see the world through clearer lens. 

What works for me:
I appreciated the parents in this book. They are mature adults who care about their children. When they have problems, they work them out. 
I liked reading about neighbourhoods and shops that I am familiar with. It's an affirmation that who we are matters. 
While Ashley's father is gay, it's his keeping a secret for so long that is the problem for Ashley; his being gay is really no big deal. 
I am also impressed that even though I didn't like Ashley at first, I still ended up caring for her. 
I love that students who Ashley had disdained to have anything to do with at first, were the ones to gather round her when she was down. 
Students can have some thoughtful discussions about which of these two are truly socially dysfunctional

What doesn't work:
Stewart had been seeing a therapist after his mother's death and continued with her when it was an emergency. Given Ashley's parents fairly high economic status, it seemed incongruous that she wasn't sent to one after her parents divorce. 
Ashley's nearly overnight metamorphosis from spoiled brat to humanitarian felt unrealistic to me. (But I'm not overly upset about it.) 
This book teeters between middle grade and a young adult fare. There is a party with drinking and some predatory sexual behaviour that will make me cautious about who I recommend it to. 

I read this through Netgalley, but I am adding it to my shopping cart so it will be here for next September!


Every year we have a student starred book campaign. This year my library monitors suggested we make posters to let people know more about it. So we created these (coloured in by these same monitors) and plastered them all over the school. 

We started a display of previously starred books and then made an announcement at an assembly. Right afterwards readers started bringing books to me that they wanted to star. (Adults are not allowed to star books!) 
A student starred book is a book any student loves and thinks other readers will love also. Students star all kinds of books; nonfiction,  picture books, novels and graphic novels. Even when we don't have an official starring campaign, readers come asking to star a book. If a reader wants to put a star on it, we just do it. I admit to loving my conversations about why they want to star this book. 

It's the first chapter book they read on their own.
It made them cry.
They loved the characters.
It was loaded with adventure.
It is really creepy.
They love the illustrations.
It surprised them.
It's the best book they ever read. 
They finished it in one night!

The test for how good a book really is, is revealed on the inside cover. Every reader who agrees that the book should be starred gets to put a star on the inside cover. Opening the book tells just how much love a book is getting. 

As soon as I book talked Greenglass House by Kate Milford, I had a reader ask if he could star the book. This is the kid who talked me into reading it in the first place. The reader after him also starred it. 

Our copy of Matched by Allie Condie is getting pretty ratty as you can see from the photo, but it is still getting lots of love from readers. 

There are few books around with as many stars as Dragonbreath by Ursula Vernon. 

Both our copies of The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznik are loaded with stars. Occasionally a reader get really excited and puts many stars in one book, but most of the readers don't mind the enthusiasm. 

The best thing about student starred books is that even when the big hoopla is over, readers find these gems, like hidden treasures, shelved among the rest of the collection. Hopefully, it helps them decide on a book that they love and want to add a star to. 

As soon as the books have all been returned, I'll try to post a full list. 

Bird by Crystal Chan, read by Amandla Stenberg

Jewel was born on the day her brother died. While his given name was John, he was nicknamed Bird by his grandfather. At the age of five he tried to fly off a cliff. 

This event has haunted the family. You find it in the invisibility cloak that shrouds Jewel. It's there in the silence: in the words not allowed to be spoken and the lost voice of her grandfather who hasn't uttered a word since that day. It's in the tension of unspoken guilt, shame and bitterness that permeates their interactions with each other. It's in the sorrow that blankets them all like a heavy fog quilt. 

On the day Jewel turns twelve, a boy named John arrives in their lives. Through his friendship, Jewel finds the strength to challenge the family secrets and figure out who she is without having to try and make everyone happy. Grandfather thinks John is a ghost or 'duppy' as they are referred to in Jamaica, where he hails from. Just who and what this John might be is unknown, but one thing is for certain, his arrival disrupts the family. 

Bird is a book that ponders ideas of faith and religion. It examines how what we believe can transform what we see and hear to fit within it's parameters.
Bird is a book about friendship and the power of it to help us see ourselves better.
It's about family and how messed up and lost we can feel in the middle of it.
Ultimately this is a book about redemption. No matter how fractured and steeped we are in guilt and loss, forgiveness for ourselves and others, is always possible.

What I liked:
I loved these characters. They are complicated, rich, and totally believable. That they have flaws, just makes them more authentic. 
I like that it is a multicultural mix of people of different colours and ethnic backgrounds. It was interesting to learn about Jamaican beliefs and culture. 
The writing is heartbreakingly beautiful. It's akin to poetry. Amandla Stenberg's narration felt as though Jewel herself was speaking to me. 

What I didn't like:
Honestly, there is nothing I didn't like. I do think that some of my readers will find it too slow going for them though.  

#IMWAYR May 25, 2015

Well, it's Monday again: a time to take stock of my reading and check out what other bloggers have been up to the past week. It's also when I'm reminded how precious public libraries are. If I had to purchase all these books I want to read, by the time I was barely started, I would be bankrupt. To see what all the buzz is about, check out Jen from Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee and Rickie from Unleashing Readers, our hosts for this weekly event. 

There are two weeks of circulation left in this school year so I've set out my last display of new books. The rest will have to wait for next fall. Here are a few of the new picture books I read while getting them ready. I'm looking forward to book talking the first two at our Monday morning assembly. 

5 stars
Mama Built a Little Nest by Jennifer Ward and Steve Jenkins
Holy Crow! This is some gorgeous book! Jenkins' illustrations are absolutely stunning! I love that Ward has a poem about a specific bird's nest on one side of each two page spread and on the other side there is informational text in smaller font.

5 stars
When Otis Courted Mama by Kathi Appelt and Jill McElmurry

This book is as delightful as everyone says it is. Cardell, a lovable young coyote, has to get used to Otis, his mother's suitor. I think many children will empathize with Cardell. McElmurry's illustrations depict the setting and events with glorious simplicity. And the text, well, Appelt can hardly do wrong in anything she takes on. 

3.5 stars
Home by Carson Ellis

There is much about this book I admire, but I'm not exceptionally impressed. Carson's illustrations are lovely and match and enhance the sparse text. My delight, however, is seriously tempered because of the stereotypical ways some peoples are represented.

3 stars

There are parts of this book I like and other parts that jarred. Check out the link if you want to read more details about this book.

5 stars

Feathers and Fools by Mem Fox

This isn't a new book to me, but one that I felt we needed in our library. It's an allegory for how war comes to be, and ultimately, the steps we need to take for how to avoid it in the future. 

Ask The Passengers by A.S. King

4 stars
This is my first A.S. King novel. It won't be my last. I came to care deeply for these characters. I'm in awe of King's ability to portray such depth and complexity in all of them, even the minor ones. Devon Sorvari's voice and narration captured Astrid's essence and enhanced my enjoyment of this story. Just when I think I'm done with the gay characters coming of age and into awareness and acceptance of who they are, and want to read about them just living regular lives battling evil and doing whatever fictional characters do, a book like this comes along to make me wonder about this.  

3.5 stars
Hold Me Closer: The Tiny Cooper Story by David Levithan

I wanted so much to love this book, and I did, kind of. Yet in spite of some brilliant lines and universal truths, it just didn't quite work for me. I think it's the format. I would love to see it performed, but as it is, I kept picking it up and putting it down. I'm the kind of reader who really needs to finish a book before starting another, (except for audiobooks) so this seriously got in the way of my reading much this week. 

First Frost by Sarah Addison Allen (an adult read)

4.5 stars
I fell in love Sarah Addison Allen and magical realism upon reading The Sugar Queen. I love some of her books better than others, but I especially love the Waverly family. They are introduced in Garden Spells, wherein the two sisters Claire and Sydney, reconnect with each other and against what seem like insurmountable odds, fall in love and set out on the path to happily ever after. 
In First Frost, the two sisters, on the surface at least, seem to be happily married and settled into the town of Bascom North Carolina. Except that neither of them is truly content. As the autumn moves closer to the first frost of the year, the one that sets the enchanted apple tree into blooming again, the whole family is unsettled and edgy. As if this isn't enough, an elderly con man is poking around preparing to disrupt their lives. 

Here are a few quotes that resonated with me:
"when you are abandoned as a child, you are never able to forget that people are capable of leaving, even if they never do."

“She wished she had known back then. Known that happiness isn't a point in time you leave behind. It's what's ahead of you. Every single day.”

I've just finished Bird by Crystal Chan as an audiobook. I'm in the process of writing a post about it. Suffice to say, it's just stunning!

I've got The Mark of the Dragonfly by Jaleigh Johnson ready to start listening to. Last week I started listening to Five Kingdoms, the new series by Brandon Mull, but it was too creepy for me so I stopped and happily went on to Bird. I'll try to get back to it, but these books where children are in danger can totally freak me out. Currently I'm reading with my eyes, (from netgalley) We Are All Made of Molecules by Susin Nielsen.

I've got Platypus Police Squad: The Frog who Croaked by Jarret J. Krosoczka waiting for me. I am hoping that All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven becomes available as an audiobook for me this week as I am next up in line for it. I've downloaded Another Day by David Levithan from Netgalley and hope to get to it. Other than that, I've suspended all my library holds until I get caught up on what I've got here at home to read. (It's a tower that's steadily growing!)