Book Review: The Wonder of Wildflowers by Anna Staniszewski

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The Wonder of Wildflowers is a MUST read, but also MUST discuss title. This book covers lots of topics in a kid-friendly way — and encourages empathy while also staying true to yourself. 

Amber is a liquid magic — when you drink the recommended amount each day, you are stronger, healthier, and smarter. Amberland is the place to be to experience the benefits of Amber. Mira’s family moves to Amberland by invitation — her mom is a scientist working with Amber. But as an immigrant, Mira is not allowed to have Amber like her friends, Krysta (the mayor’s daughter) and the others, at least not until the citizenship papers come in, which will be any day now. 

Mira is excited to see what Amber can do for her, but her new science partner for the wildflower project, Daniel (the weird classmate who doesn’t seem to benefit from the magic), is a constant reminder that Amber may not work the way it’s intended. But, why? Tata (Mira’s father) refuses to use Amber, saying he is enough without it, and Mira’s current talents (like writing) are enough, too.

Will Mira and her family be able to reap the benefits of magical Amber? Or will Mira discover something else instead? As the story unfolds, so does the mystery.

I am moved by how many social issues are presented through the pages of this book, recommended for ages 8 and up. I would posit that middle school and high school students could benefit from deep discussions surrounding immigration, government funding and regulation of foods and drugs, corruption, as well as peer pressure and school-based issues. I love how the story is perfect for the elementary age range, but the handling of these deeper topics is also compelling for the older group.

The Wonder of Wildflowers by Anna Staniszewski is timely and important, and Tata (MC Mira’s father) is my favorite parent of #kidlit so far this year. 

Thank you, Simon & Schuster and Ms. Staniszewski, for allowing me an Advance Reader Copy of The Wonder of Wildflowers. I enjoyed it, and I know fellow readers will, as well.

 

Best Books of 2019 — What a Year of Reading!

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Here it is! The Best Books of 2019! What a Year of Reading!

I pored over my book lists and reviewed my book stacks to create this “Best of 2019” list. I found it difficult to decide which books are “best,” since I (pretty much) like everything I read. I’m also a reader who reads what my friends recommend, and as a middle-school teacher-librarian, I read many #kidlit books, which makes this particular list different from some others I’ve seen. I’ll explain briefly. My criteria for this “Best Books List” 2019:

  • Book was published in 2019
  • Book was rated “5 Stars” on my Goodreads account
  • Book meant something special to me as a reader
  • This is my list as a teacher-librarian/reader, not influenced by other readers or reviewers.

This list is of books is organized by release date. I did not rank the books other than their “5-Star status.”

January 7, 2019 — The Art of Comprehension, by Trevor A. Bryan

January 8, 2019 — What is Given From the Heart, by Patricia C. McKissack

January 29, 2019 — Cicada, by Shaun Tan

February 5, 2019 — Bloom Boom! by April Pulley Sayre

February 5, 2019 — Song For a Whale, by Lynne Kelly

February 12, 2019 —How I Became a Spy, by Deborah Hopkinson

March 5, 2019 — When You Are Brave, by Pat Zietlow Miller

March 12, 2019 — Shout! by Laurie Halse Anderson

March 12, 2019 — Just Like Rube Goldberg, by Sarah Aronson

March 19, 2019 — Internment, by Samira Ahmed

March 21, 2019 — Reading to Make a Difference, by Lester Laminack and Katie Kelly

March 22, 2019 — Carl and the Meaning of Life, by Deborah Freedman

April 1, 2019 — Carter Reads the Newspaper, by Deborah Hopkinson

April 2, 2019 — The Undefeated, by Kwame Alexander

May 7, 2019 — Other Words for Home, by Jasmine Warga

May 14, 2019 — My Papi Has a Motorcycle, by Isabel Quintero

June 4, 2019 — On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, by Ocean Vuong

June 4, 2019  — Where Are You From? by Yamile Saied Méndez

June 18, 2019 — How to Read a Book, by Kwame Alexander

September 3, 2019 —White Bird, by R. J. Palacio

September 3, 2019 — More To the Story, by Hena Khan

September 17, 2019 — At the Mountain’s Base, by Traci Sorell

September 17, 2019 — Stormy, by Guojing

October 1, 2019 — Maybe He Just Likes You, by Barbara Dee

October 1, 2019 — The Tornado, by Jake Burt

October 1, 2019 — I Can Make This Promise, by Christine Day

October 8, 2019 — Ordinary Hazards, by Nikki Grimes

October 8, 2019 — Look Both Ways: A Tale Told in Ten Blocks, by Jason Reynolds

October 15, 2019 — Give and Take, by Elly Swartz

November 5, 2019 — Every Stolen Breath, by Kimberly Gabriel

What were YOUR favorite books of 2019?

 

Book Thoughts: White Bird by R.J. Palacio

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After reading Wonder for the “ump-teenth” time, I was adding it to my list of “Books of the Decade” today and I WONDERED how this book has stayed at the top of “kids’ favorites” lists for so long. Of course, it’s the story, which is universal and “real” for students in schools (and their parents and teachers). I was thinking about my top books of 2019 this week. Yesterday, I had a student run into the library. (What? No running!) He slammed White Bird (by R.J. Palacio) down on the counter (What? Why slam the book?) and pushed it towards me. (Hey! Are you okay?)

“This is the BEST BOOK I EVER READ!” I was stunned. This particular student reads a lot. White Bird has been on my “To-Be-Read” list for a while, but I never really looked at it much while it was circulating in the library. It has been popular since its recent release and a “Want to Read” title on my Goodreads account, so I said, “I’ll read it next. Thanks for the recommendation.”

I’m glad I read this book now. This year. This week.

White Bird tells the story of Julian’s grandmother (from Auggie & Me/Wonder), who hid from the Nazis during World War II. Julian has some schoolwork to do for class, so he calls Grandmère to learn more about his family history. What he learned took his breath away. (From Goodreads: “This is Grandmère’s story as a young Jewish girl hidden away by a family in Nazi-occupied France during World War II told in graphic novel form.”)

My thoughts: This book is a call for kindness, good deeds, and love of humanity – we really do need to take care of each other in this world. We must not let others steal our light; we must be a light for others. (I think this is true for any human, religious or not. #weareALLhuman)

Although it’s fictional (but historically accurate – see back matter), White Bird is a heart-wrenching tale of a survivor and the people who helped her survive. It’s about loving your neighbor. It’s also a warning and a prophecy: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” (George Santayana) The quotes throughout the book hit me like a “ton of bricks,” as the saying goes. In 2019, we need these messages (and we need to act!) more than ever before (in my lifetime, anyway).

White Bird by R.J. Palacio is an important book with strong, not subtle, messages about the world we all live in. I’m giving the book 5 stars and adding it to my “Best Books of the Year” list tonight. If you haven’t read it yet, take my student’s advice: Read it now.

 

Book Review: 7 Ate 9, by Tara Lazar

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I just love using picture books for my middle school classroom! This book will help both math and reading teachers spread the book love. This is 7 Ate 9: The Untold Story, by Tara Lazar, and illustrated by Ross MacDonald, and it is comic genius in picture book form. 

Private I tells the story of his newest case: 6 banged on the detective’s door, scared that 7 is coming to get him. Private I took the odd case and started looking for the root of the problem. But 7 cannot be found for questioning. There are a number of suspects, and quite a few witnesses to interview, too. Private I’s work seems to multiply as the case moves forward. Can he solve the case in time, or will the numbers be subtracted, one by one?

If you’re looking for a twisted mystery, Tara Lazar provides the narrative. If you’re looking for some math vocabulary to add to your lesson plans, this book is a positive addition to your library. If you want to read a beautifully-illustrated picture book during your child’s bedtime routine, Ross MacDonald serves up the cake — I mean, pi.

Have fun reading 7 Ate 9 soon!

Book PREview: All of a Sudden and Forever by Chris Barton

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I was reading some new Net Galley titles tonight, and I came across Chris Barton’s upcoming, All of a Sudden and Forever: Help and Healing After the Oklahoma City Bombing (due February 2020). I felt compelled to write, since the Oklahoma City bombing happened while I was in labor with my second daughter. I remember watching the news story unfold between ice chips and contractions almost 25 years ago; now this book captures the day to be remembered in a creative picture book.

This book is a lovely way to honor those affected by the events of April 19,1995. These words by Barton are perfect (especially repeating “not all at once,” to reinforce that healing takes time) and Nicole Xu’s faceless-and-yet-totally-descriptive characters add so much to the story of the Survivor Tree. I hope every child gets a chance to read this book and learn more about how to take care of each other in this world, especially after tragedy.

Add this book to your preorder list now. Share the story. Feel the love.

 

Book Review: Stargazing by Jen Wang

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“Moon is everything Christine isn’t.” The back cover describes this new middle grade graphic novel to a tee. When you’re young, you naturally compare yourself to the people around you, and that’s exactly what happens in this book. Christine is reluctant to meet Moon, the new girl across the street. Their parents get along and want the kids to be friends, but Moon is sort of…different…okay, weird. At school, Moon is known as “the girl who fights” – a rumor started after people ask where she came from, what is she doing here?

Soon enough, though, Christine becomes friends with Moon. As neighbors, they start with the convenience of being the same age and sharing Chinese food and culture. Moon’s interesting and fun; she loves dancing to K-Pop music and is a talented artist. The girls spend lots of time together and Christine feels like a new person around Moon – not the stuffy “do-your-homework-and-get-all-As” student of the past. But hanging around with Moon also leads to other observations, starting with stargazing. Moon says she belongs among the stars, and sees celestial beings telling her that she isn’t from Earth. (Well, that’s…interesting.)

Christine also notices that Moon sometimes “spaces out,” and this leads to events at school and at a birthday party that may be dangerous for the friendship, and for Moon’s well-being. When Moon gets into another fight, her world changes drastically. Now the fun-loving, dancing, happy Moon is not. Can Christine be the friend that Moon needs, or will the friendship end in disaster?

Why I Loved This Book: I loved Stargazing because this story is parallel to any young person’s life in school and with friends. Feeling (and being) weird, insecure, and out of this world are issues everyone faces at one point or another, and Christine and Moon’s stories are not unlike our own.

Why You Should Read Stargazing: This is an important book about friendships, families, and life issues. It’s also an easy-to-share graphic novel that friends and families can read together. Christine and Moon will help you to understand life better and hope for more dancing days to come.

My rating: ****

Recommended for ages 8 and up. Published by First Second, 2019.

Book Review: Jack Kerouac Is Dead to Me (April, 2020)

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Gae Polisner’s new novel, Jack Kerouac Is Dead to Me, is due in April 2020 from Wednesday Books, but you should pre-order this now.

JL Markham’s teen years seem typical, and yet this main character grabs the reader’s attention and holds on for dear life. In Jack Kerouac Is Dead to Me, JL’s stories surround her butterfly habitat, her family struggles, and her relationship with Max Gordon, who she hopes will take her away from all the high school drama when he graduates and moves to California. She’s packed and ready to leave as soon as Max is. He’s sort of a roughneck with a cool ride, but he’s also intelligent and cares for JL. Right?

JL’s mother has dissociative disorder and depression, which provides a major conflict for JL — a mother who lives alternate realities, wearing revealing kimonos around the house and writing letters to a dead author (enter Jack Kerouac). Dad took another stint with his out-of-town business and left JL and Mom in the best possible position he could, financially anyway. Mom doesn’t deal well most days, but she sees Dr. Marsdan faithfully so that she might get better sooner than later. JL’s “best friend forever,” Aubrey Andersson, now has new friends, Niccole and Meghan (think “Mean Girls”), so JL wraps her energy into raising beautiful butterflies in the solace and safety of her bedroom. She even learned to fix one’s broken wing by watching a video. Butterflies are stronger than we humans think, and they provide a safe and stable environment for JL in an otherwise cruel world. As for Max, he’s invested, he’s all in, he’s there for JL every step of the way. Right?

What happens when childhood friendships end, but adult life has yet to begin? What’s next for 15-year-old JL? Will she be caged in – stuck in the past, or fly away to a bright future?

Why I Loved This Book: I loved Jack Kerouac Is Dead to Me for the references to strong girls who are intelligent and can live life on their own (even if they don’t know how yet), for how the characters made me feel (reliving my own high school days), and for the twists and turns that the alternating timelines led me through. I wanted to smack JL’s friends and hug her at the same time, letting her know that life works out, eventually.

Why You Should Pre-Order Jack Kerouac Is Dead to Me: You’ll want to learn more about raising butterflies (it’s fascinating!). You’ll want to scream at Aubrey. You’ll want to yell at Dad over JL’s phone. You’ll want to hug Mom and tell her everything will be okay. You’ll want to help Max see the love that is standing there, waiting for him. And you’ll want to encourage JL to live her best life, leaving her past behind. This book is remarkable. Gae Polisner has done it again. Add it to your list now, and be ready to read in 2020.

My Rating: *****

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