“Picture Books are Perfect” – Review of I Am Every Good Thing

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I Am Every Good Thing by Derrick Barnes and Gordon C. James is the newest must-read picture book for middle school, and everyone else! This is a joyful celebration of all good things: gravity, moonbeams, cinnamon rolls, skateboarding, using a microscope, being polite, paper airplanes, swimming…and being human! I love the language — “I am a lightning round of questions…” reminds me of my former 6th grade students and my current grandchildren. The references to family, creativity, respect, worth, and love make this the feel-good book of the year.

Happy Book Birthday, Dusti Bowling!

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The Canyon’s Edge by Dusti Bowling

Nora’s therapist asks, “What do you fear?” (Dying.) and “Are you likely to die in this situation?” (Yes.)

It’s been a year since Nora and her dad lost her mother in a violent, unprovoked event. Dad has been grieving by taking Nora out of school and avoiding people; Nora doesn’t want to deal with the questions, either, and has pushed away her best friend in the process. After a year, it’s time to start healing. Dad and Nora take the Jeep to the canyon, where the family spent their lives climbing and hiking — a favorite bonding activity. To move forward, Nora and Dad must come to understand “why,” avoiding the “what-ifs” of this new life. Nora writes in her notebook to capture what was, what is, and what might be in the future.

As the father/daughter team climb through the canyon, terrible things happen. When a flash flood smashes them against a wall and sweeps her father away, Nora is left alone to face the scorpions, snakes, and The Beast. Can she use what her therapist taught her (breathe, move, hope) to find her father again, or will the canyon take what is left of her family?

Dusti Bowling is a master of words in this gripping and suspenseful new middle-grade Southwest story. Students should study the character development, writing engaging scenes, figurative language, and poetry (I love haiku, too!). Any reader who loves outdoor adventures will love this book.

Happy Book Birthday, Dusti Bowling! I’m so happy to see this book out in the world!

Book PREView – Becoming Muhammad Ali by Kwame Alexander and James Patterson

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Becoming Muhammad Ali is a long-awaited look at a legend, written by legends James Patterson and Kwame Alexander. Cassius Clay was young, charming, and funny, and his friends loved him. His family loved him. He loved himself! Full of swagger, Cassius seemed to succeed at anything he tried. Backing him up with words of wisdom and enough discipline to keep him humble, Momma Bird, Mr “Cash” Clay, and Granddaddy Herman made sure that Cassius was an upstanding citizen and at least a “B” student. As he grew stronger, Cassius became more sure of himself — walking into the path of famous boxers and trainers who would eventually lead him to “the greatest” career he could ever hope for.

“Lucky” (Lucius), Cassius’ best friend, tells the story to the reader, adding his own flair to the fire that was Chicago’s Golden Gloves championship boxing in the late 1950s and early 60s. Alternating with poems signaling Cassius’ voice, the story is also a series of flashbacks to those early days of the boy who would become “The Greatest” and most loved boxer of all time.

Patterson and Alexander are a perfect pair for this book, inspiring all sports fans – especially kids who believe in their own destinies. With historical notes and a bibliography, the life of young Muhammed Ali is here for a new generation of dreamers to read. This book is for middle grade readers up to adult. The publishing date for Becoming Muhammad Ali is set for October 5, 2020 by Hachette Book Group. Preorder this one now!

Book Preview: The Canyon’s Edge by Dusti Bowling

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The Canyon’s Edge by Dusti Bowling

Nora’s therapist asks, “What do you fear?” (Dying.) and “Are you likely to die in this situation?” (Yes.)

It’s been a year since Nora and her dad lost her mother in a violent, unprovoked event. Dad has been grieving by taking Nora out of school and avoiding people; Nora doesn’t want to deal with the questions, either, and has pushed away her best friend in the process. After a year, it’s time to start healing. Dad and Nora take the Jeep to the canyon, where the family spent their lives climbing and hiking — a favorite bonding activity. To move forward, Nora and Dad must come to understand “why,” avoiding the “what-ifs” of this new life. Nora writes in her notebook to capture what was, what is, and what might be in the future.

As the father/daughter team climb through the canyon, terrible things happen. When a flash flood smashes them against a wall and sweeps her father away, Nora is left alone to face the scorpions, snakes, and The Beast. Can she use what her therapist taught her (breathe, move, hope) to find her father again, or will the canyon take what is left of her family?

Dusti Bowling is a master of words in this gripping and suspenseful new middle-grade Southwest story. Students should study the character development, writing engaging scenes, figurative language, and poetry (I love haiku, too!). Any reader who loves outdoor adventures will love this book.

Happy Book Birthday, Dusti Bowling! I’m so happy to see this book out in the world!

(September 8, 2020 from Little, Brown and Company)

Book Review: Seven Clues to Home – Happy Book Birthday!

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It’s finally here! Happy Book Birthday to Seven Clues to Home by Gae Polisner and Nora Raleigh Baskin!

Joy and Lukas had been friends ever since second grade, when Mr. Carter told each student with a summer birthday to stand up and be recognized before the end of the school year. “August…How weird is that? What are the chances?” (p.15) Lukas loved math, so he tried to figure out the chances. Joy played along. As time moved along, the two became closer, literally living in next-door apartment buildings. They studied math together, solved puzzles and riddles, and Lukas set up an elaborate scavenger hunt for Joy to figure out each year on her birthday. Even though Lukas had a troubled older brother, Joy hung out with him while her parents cautiously watched. Her own family was a little difficult, with a sort-of-snobby-but-caring older sister and two younger siblings who needed lots of attention. So Joy and Lukas were the perfect pair — together for all time. Until Lukas died on Joy’s twelfth birthday.

A year later, Joy strums her beautiful red birthday guitar and thinks about Lukas. She thinks about his troubled older brother – how people warned her about “that family.” She knew none of it was true. As she celebrates her birthday, she thinks about her friend who will not celebrate this year. She thinks, “If I don’t tell the stories – of cupcakes and scavenger hunts and holes in the sand – they will be lost forever.” (p.11) She must tell the story of her friend, Lukas, the story that’s true. She decides to open the envelope that held the first clue to the scavenger hunt Lukas set up for her a year earlier. Before his death. Before he could reveal the one thing that he never could during his lifetime. Now, Joy has to keep the birthday tradition alive. She has to find the next clue.

Seven Clues to Home is the story of Joy and Lukas: their friendship, their families, and their last scavenger hunt. Told in alternating chapters, Joy tells the story of the hunt in present time while Lukas tells his story of setting up the hunt the year before, and how the clues would lead to his biggest secret, finally revealed. Although it’s a story about grief and loss, it’s also a friendship story, a family story, and a town’s story of sticking together in the best and worst of times.

I love Gae Polisner and Nora Raleigh Baskin. Separately, their writing is intriguing, interesting, inspiring. When they collaborate…wow! Make sure you don’t miss Seven Clues to Home, out today from Alfred A Knopf Books. Start your summer with this 5-Star book.

 

Book Review: Tracking Pythons by Kate Messner

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I recommended Tracking Pythons: The Quest to Catch an Invasive Predator and Save an Ecosystem to a student and I found that I loved it, too. I’m not a snake person, but this research trip that turned into an informative and interesting book for (older) children made me motivated to read more, as the back matter of the book suggests.

Author Kate Messner traveled to meet and travel with the team of scientists, including Ian Bartoszek, who were charged with tracking pythons and studying the ecosystems these gigantic snakes destroy. I learned how (NOT!) to catch a python, how much one python can eat as it grows to 15 feet long (!), and even something about responsible pet ownership of snakes. Many of the stories were humorous, such as Ian’s story of weighing one of the captured pythons at a supermarket’s scale (109 lbs!). Another scene included (gross!) pictures of a python who had eaten a deer. Back matter included “Invasive Species Most Wanted List” and a timeline of the Burmese pythons’ Florida invasion.

I was left in awe: “It’s always a mistake to underestimate the power of a Burmese python.”

This is an excellent nonfiction read for older elementary children or teens who need a mentor text for their own research projects.

 

BOOK REVIEW: LIFT by Minh Lê and Dan Santat

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LIFT is a fantastical picture book for any child or kid-at-heart. I don’t know a child who hasn’t wanted to push elevator buttons to see where the big silver box takes them. After her little brother beats her to the “push” one day, Iris becomes upset. She is supposed to push the button! Later, the building elevator breaks. No more buttons – Oh, no! Iris spies and swipes the old elevator button from the scrap pile (left behind by construction workers) and takes it to her bedroom. Push! Where THIS elevator button takes Iris is an alluring adventure.

Minh Lê’s simple, imaginative words and Dan Santat’s rich, wondrous illustrations make this marvelous story a must-read for 2020. (Coming May 5, 2020 from Little, Brown Books for Young Readers)

Book Review: Jack Kerouac is Dead to Me by Gae Polisner

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Gae Polisner’s new YA novel, Jack Kerouac Is Dead to Me, is out today! Happy Book Birthday!

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 Read 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.

My Rating: *****

Book Review: Green Lantern Legacy by Minh Lê

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Mihn Lê adds to the popular trend in middle grade books — comic book heroes — with Green Lantern: Legacy. (DC Comics, 2020)

Teen artist, Tai Pham, hangs out and draws in his grandmother’s (Bà’s) store, Jade Market, after school, dreaming of his future. Another brick through the front window, another attack. The family (who lives in the apartment upstairs) wants Bà to sell the store, but she refuses, saying, “We will not let fear drive us from our home. Not again.” She refers to leaving Vietnam many years ago and shows her resolve to keep what she and her family have gained from years of work in Coast City. Jade Market is not just a store. It is home.

When Bà passes, her jade ring becomes Tai’s keepsake. What he learns is that ring chose him to join in a secret — a society of space cops called Green Lanterns — who work against fear, and Yellow Lanterns, to save the earth. Can he handle the power and pressure? Tai’s friends may be able to help him, but he must find his inner strength to carry on his grandmother’s legacy.

This new graphic novel is sure to capture attention from a wide range of readers. Andie Tong’s colorful comic illustrations and Minh Lê’s captivating text make this book a must-read for middle school readers, and there are references to woo the adult crowd, as well. Add Green Lantern: Legacy to your reading list today.

Audiobook Review — Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You

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Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi

Read by Jason Reynolds, with an introduction by Ibram X. Kendi

(provided by libro.fm)

Wow, wow, wow. I’m not an audiobook reader, but I’m listening to books more in an effort to be intelligent while also cleaning house on the weekends. I can tell you, Jason Reynolds can read to me any time.

Stamped… is NOT a history book, as Jason explains. It is a text for the here and now. Reviewing the story of how systematic racism (in the form of needed slavery) started, the book takes the reader (listener) through time periods in history where power and control were keys to success. Any time that power or control was threatened, people changed roles, laws, and society to “right the white.” It’s scary — all that learning (I DID know about Thomas Jefferson’s “other side”) — only to come to the present time, still living the exact same truths.

It was a disturbing, yet entertaining listen; Jason Reynolds’ laughter while relaying a snippy comment or the humor attached to an unjust situation (I’m thinking of the Thomas Jefferson story again: “Oh, no! Oh, no!”) makes the audiobook flow and keeps the listener engaged. It’s a conversation piece, too, and that makes Stamped… perfect for book clubs in secondary history classrooms, university discussions, or even your own living room.

Chapter 7…whoa! Chapter 9 was my favorite, where Jason spoke about “Uplift-suasion” — Abolitionists urged the newly-freed people to go to church, speak proper English, etc. “Black people couldn’t be accepted as themselves…Make yourself small. Make yourself unthreatening. Make yourself the same. Make yourself safe. Make yourself quiet to make white people comfortable with your existence.”

If you haven’t read Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You yet, add it to your reading list. Better yet, listen to the audiobook, read by Jason Reynolds. It will make you think. Then you should act accordingly, as if you have learned something. I know I learned.

 

 

 

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