Book Review: Hey, Kiddo by Jarrett J. Krosoczka

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Hey, Kiddo‘s subtitle is “How I Lost My Mother, Found My Father, and Dealt with Family Addiction.” Jarrett’s brave memoir is a graphic novel commentary for our times. Jarrett is brave to share his story in this memoir, and I’m so glad he did. We book lovers say, “Books save lives,” and I’m sure this particular book will help someone going through tough times.

One thing you need to know before reading this story is that, although it’s true that there are terrible forces in the world that overshadowed his family life, Jarrett’s story is not all sad. His grandparents who raised him are funny, smart, and loyal to each other. His mother does love him, although her addiction doesn’t allow her to be there for him. His friends are the same friends you and I have (and had) — they play games, go to dances at school, learn to drive, etc. Jarrett’s teachers in school take care of their students the best they know how, and Mr. Shilale, the art teacher, encourages Jarrett to stick with (and expand) his art studies. Again, I’m so glad Jarrett did. His early creative endeavors led him to write Lunch Lady graphic novels and books in the Star Wars: Jedi Academy series that we all know and love. Once he found his father, their growing relationship helped Jarrett grow to be a stronger man, too.

Why I Loved This Book: I loved that Jarrett Krosoczka opened his world and invited me in. I enjoyed getting to know him, and his family, and his story is one worth sharing. I love that this is a nonfiction graphic novel. The artwork is Jarrett’s own, and I love how he intertwined memorabilia into the pages (all the way down to his grandmother’s pineapple wallpaper). I love that this book is publishing in 2018, when so many students I know are facing hard family lives themselves, and I hope they are able to see themselves in this book.

Why You Should Read Hey, Kiddo: Read Hey, Kiddo to remember your youth. Read it to identify with the people in the book, and around you in your own life. Read the Author’s Notes in the back of the book — they will allow you to become Jarrett’s friend. Read it to enjoy the art and creativity. Read it to inspire you to share your story.

 

 

 

Book Review: A Pocketful of Poems

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I love it when Nikki Grimes shows the reader different types of poetry — She’s a master at placing words to catch your interest and attention. Pocketful of Poems (2001) features haiku. The narrator, Tiana, celebrates the seasons with words she finds in her pocket. Spring, pigeon, homer (reminds me to cheer for my baseball team), pumpkin (which reminds me of my favorite season), and gift are just some of the words Tiana invites you to use to create your own haiku poems. Exploring Javaka Steptoe’s textures and creative placement of color and objects on the page make this book even more fun to read over and over. The hand-sculpted gilded alphabet makes me want some letters for my own pocket. Celebrate the seasons with Tiana, and maybe even write something yourself.

Book Review: SWING by Kwame Alexander and Mary Rand Hess

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In another amazing collaboration from Kwame Alexander and Mary Rand Hess, we follow Noah and his best friend, Walt through the ups and downs of high school life. Noah and Walt are NOT on the school baseball team, but Walt hits the batting cages with fierce commitment and passion, channeling his love of jazz to help him find his SWING. Noah is a faithful friend and follower, while working on his own passions, especially his love for Sam, a beautiful BFF he’s known since “forever” ago. Sam has a boyfriend, though—none other than the buff baseball star of the team, Cruz. 

When Noah finds a birthday gift for his mom at a local thrift store, he also finds his courage in the box — the words of old love letters that were left inside. Noah copies the words for his love, longing to live the life that Cruz now has. When Walt delivers one of the letters to Sam, however, the three friends’ relationships start to change.

Meanwhile, the neighborhood is dealing with bigger issues — there’s life and love, and then there’s allegiance and angst. Patriotic duty vs. empathetic obligation towards our fellow man. Kwame and Mary SWING the readers thinking around, fluctuating with hard-hitting emotion that leaves one breathless, wondering about our own lives in the midst of all that is good and evil. Our own little lives — up against the global society.

What I loved about Swing: I loved ALL the characters in Swing, right down to the grandma who is supposed to be keeping an eye on Noah while his parents are away, and Floyd, Walt’s “love doctor” cousin. Swing will remind adults of their high school days, and help current students find ways to deal with their feelings, all while helping us think about our place on this earth.

Why you should read Swing: You will laugh with, and long for, the characters. You’ll reminisce, and maybe even renew your friendships from high school. You’ll cry. You’ll think. You’ll want to be a better person after reading Swing.

IMWAYR: Losers Bracket by Chris Crutcher

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It’s Monday; What are You Reading?

Last week: Losers Bracket by Chris Crutcher

Chris Crutcher is a master of dialogue in this tug-of-war story of two families and the girl who stands in between them. Smart and sneaky, 17-year-old Annie manipulates her basketball team to play in the losers bracket during basketball tournaments in order to get a chance to run into her biological relatives. Her “bios” are losers, and her foster family, especially Pop, would rather see Annie earn a college scholarship than see her follow the dark path chosen by her mother and her sister. But her foster family isn’t perfect, either, and this book title reflects on not only basketball, but Annie’s life. She always seem to get involved with trouble somehow.

Annie’s therapist, book club friends, teammates, foster brother, and one unlikely ally keep her going — learning to stand up for herself while also supporting her in her efforts to be a part of the family, whichever family that is at the time. You cannot choose who you love. But Annie has to make some tough decisions, and maybe even cause a little trouble, to find the life she wants…and to write her own story.

Highly recommended for high school and up.

This week: The Third Mushroom by Jennifer L. Holm and Astronaut/Aquanaut by Jen Swanson 

I already read the Author’s Note, Recommended Resources, and “Mellie’s Gallery of Scientists” in the back of the book, The Third Mushroom. I’ve always been interested in scientists and their stories, so I want to find out how Jennifer L. Holm weaves fiction and fact together. I read The Fourteenth Goldfish a while back and liked that one, so I’m looking forward to this new title.

Highly recommended for grades 3-6.

Jennifer Swanson was kind enough to send me Astronaut/Aquanaut, which is another book I cannot wait to open (probably tonight after I write). The back cover reads, “Space and the Ocean: If you don’t think they go together, think again!” I am intrigued by the cover, and the photographs and diagrams in this colorful book will bring students and their teachers together to learn more about space and the oceans. Look for a review in the near future!

Highly recommended for upper elementary and up.

How is your reading life going? Grab a book this week and dig in!

“It’s Monday! What are you Reading?” is a meme hosted by Kathryn at Book Date. It is a great way to recap what you read and/or reviewed the previous week and to plan your reading for the upcoming week. Kellee Moye, of Unleashing Readers, and Jennifer Vincent, of Teach Mentor Texts have given IMWAYR a kidlit focus. Join in the fun! Choose a great book, read it, and share your thoughts with us!

Review: THE WRITE THING by Kwame Alexander

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Have you ever wanted to start a writing workshop in your classroom? Do you run a writing workshop that needs some…tweaking? THIS is your answer! Kwame Alexander’s The Write Thing: Kwame Alexander Engages Students in Writing Workshop and You Can Too is THE how-to guide to get started (or to change your boring routine). Kwame leads you personally through the steps to write, publish, and present student writing in a new way – with poetry. Why poetry? Kwame explains that question in chapter one of this fabulous new professional development book.

In The Write Thing, Kwame is right there with you all the way. As I read, I could hear his voice talking to me. Kwame’s Book-in-a-Day approach (2006) inspires new and veteran teachers alike to start and continue a student-led writing workshop and publishing “house” in the classroom. The book is organized into three essential parts, with features called “Kwame QuickTips”, “Solo Acts” (voices from other writers and teachers), “Lessons in Action” (plans), “KwameTime” videos, “You Can Too!” (reflection questions), and “Questions for Kwame.” You are never left alone in this writing PD. It’s like your own teacher preparation class, with Kwame as your teacher.

When I watched the “KwameTime” videos, he was in the room, guiding and encouraging me to use poetry to teach writing. In each chapter of The Write Thing, we read poetry, looked at possible mentor texts lists (organized by grade level), and used the writing workshop approach to help students learn to tell their own stories through writing, publishing, and presenting their work.

Kylene Beers wrote the foreword for The Write Thing, where she nudges the reader consider poetry as “the neglected genre” and to adopt a new vision for teaching – she asks teachers to use poetry at all times of the school year, not just during the designated month in the spring. I found myself reading this book straight through, but I will also take Kylene’s advice to slow down and “linger, muse, reread, mark…” I look forward to seeing students succeed as writers because of this book.

As a bonus, The Write Thing includes Appendices (A-D) that will make your teaching life easier. (What teacher doesn’t want that?) It’s ALL “write” there. Kwame Alexander is the “life force” (say Greg David and Priya Sitaraman) – “a captivating authentic leader who connected easily and deeply with (our) students during our writing workshops…”

If you’re a writing teacher, buy The Write Thing by Kwame Alexander. Start your school year with a fresh, new, exciting approach to writing class. Encourage your students to write and present their stories. And don’t forget, have fun!

 

IMWAYR: Albie Newton, by Josh Funk

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This picture book in verse is from Josh Funk, one of our family’s favorite authors. Albie Newton is a boy genius-inventor-classmate who is always thinking and creating, much to the dismay of his peers. When Albie moves to a new school in the middle of the year, he wants to make new friends, so he spends his time inventing something amazing (instead of playing with the others).

Well, after Albie dumps the garbage can and steals the wheel from the hamster cage, the class notices that he’s tearing up the room. “But Albie didn’t notice all the problems he was causing. Focused on important things, he never thought of pausing.” When the kids form an “angry mob” to confront the pest, Shirley (a girl who sees Albie differently) comes to Albie’s defense.

Maybe it takes effort to make friends, and what IS acceptable effort? Albie’s actions may get him into trouble, but at the end of the day, do his actions lead to friendships? Read Albie Newton and find out. Make sure you look carefully at all the illustrations by Ester Garay, too. There are secrets, clues, and references to popular culture hidden throughout the book.

Josh Funk is a genius-rhymer-children’s-book author who knows what it’s like to focus on a task. Albie Newton is the sixth book (out of 9) for the author since 2015!

 

 

IMWAYR: In Sight of Stars

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It’s Monday, and I’m reading this masterpiece again. In Sight of Stars, by Gae Polisner, touched me and I needed to reread tonight.

In Sight of Stars is the story of Klee (pronounced Clay: long-a sound, after the Swiss painter, Paul Klee), an artist and high school senior who suddenly finds his world turned upside-down. He lived in New York City, which was perfect for this budding artist — his father took him to all the great museums and led Klee to study the great artists — until his father’s death.

Klee’s mother moves him to the suburbs. He is lost, until he finds Sarah, the perfect girl in his art class. Well, not perfect. Klee discovers his life is out of control, and he spins right into the “Ape Can” — a psychiatric hospital for teens. As Klee struggles to find out what in his life is real and what is imaginary, he holds tight to the artwork on the wall in the therapist’s office, and remembers his home in the city with his dad. Will he ever be able to overcome the dark nights? Maybe if he can set his sights on the stars…

This book moved me. Many times I related to Klee as a mother, as a teacher, as a possible friend. I felt his experiences as he did, and I struggled with him until the end of the book. The art discussions between the characters led me to research artists on my own — Klee, Van Gogh, and more. The twists and turns of the plot events swirled in my head and my heart. One intriguing move Polisner made in this story is using alternating timelines. The flashbacks and present time frames made the twists even more realistic — my own head was spinning out of control with Klee’s memories vs. current actions throughout the story. The ending then dramatically, and yet gently, allowed me to breathe again with the main character. Since I read the book the first time, I find myself outside at night quite a bit, looking at the stars. The cover of the book notes, “To find the stars, you have to face the dark.” Perfect.

 

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