Wednesday, January 17, 2018

American Panda



I should be getting ready for bed right now. My down comforter is whispering my name.  It will just have to wait a little longer so I can finish my hot chocolate (with extra whipped cream).

Grab your calendars folks because you are going to want to circle, highlight and star February 6.  That's the day to go out for stinky tofu with a side of American Panda by Gloria Chao.  Maybe put in for the personal day now.  If not, don't say I didn't warn you--I did not accomplish anything on this snow day until I finished this book.  I hated that I had to go out and shovel.  I considered bribing one of my kids to come out with me, not to shovel, but to read the book aloud while I labored.

17 year old Mei is a freshman at MIT. She is the daughter of Taiwanese immigrants who can't shake their traditions.  She's going to be a doctor, married to Harvard educated Eugene. No where in her parents' grand plan is there something that says, "Mei, choose what you want to be. Be who you are." And yet, somehow she manages to do just that.

Only through her love of dance, the realization that a germaphobe who doesn't care for biology shouldn't be a doctor, older brother Xing and Darren, her adorable Californian Japanese suitor, does Mei break out of the mold her parents sculpted for her at birth. But it's certainly not easy.

I laughed.
There's a dinner scene at Chow Chow with Mei's aunt and grandmother that had me laughing out loud until I gasped and held my heart.
That time Mama was in Mei's dorm room and screamed so loud when she found a "candy bar wrapper."
The jabs at Dartmouth. Oh my.  I immediately had to share that with my 40 something Dartmouth alum friend who's response was, "Ouch."

I cried.
Darren is so kind. Period.  Love always makes me weepy. Weddings make me cry until...
Mama tries.  Please be happy, Mama, I pleaded.

I held my breath.
The family. The traditions. Breaking free. How was it all going to play out?

Like a panda this book IS black-and-white. There is no question that it is a one-sitting read with a side of hot chocolate and a whipped cream mustache.

As with most of my YA books, I have my friend Alicia Abdul, to thank for recommending this one. She texted me when she finished and said she wasn't going to begin a new book that night because she wanted American Panda to be the last thing she read in 2017.  If that isn't testament to a good book, I'm not sure what is.

Have you put in your paperwork for that personal day yet?

ps-Thank you Netgalley for the opportunity to meet Mei before anyone else.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

LOVE


Everyone was talking about LOVE. I didn't think I could go wrong by throwing a book birthday party without even turning one page before pub date.

My friend, Alicia, wrote that it will "unequivocally be a classic."
Mr. Schu was posting about it.
The New York Times published an article about Loren Long that will make you even more in awe of him than you already are.
Matt de la Pena wrote an inspiring thoughtful article in Time magazine that has already been shared thousands of times.

Yes, the book world was talking and I wanted in on the action. With at least three starred reviews and an author and illustrator that I trusted would create one beautiful book how could LOVE be anything but wonderful. Today was the day I found out I was right.

The bookstore ordered me 30 copies of LOVE.  Unbeknownst to them (and me!), I managed to sell all 30 copies!  I bet we could have sold more, especially after the fact.  It always amazes me when I sell books and the illustrator or author isn't even visiting in person. Imagine if they had been there--I guarantee they would have gone through a couple of pens each.

Six classes came to the party: One first grade, four second and one third, totaling about 150 kids. Sounds like a recipe for rowdy behavior.  Nope. You could hear a pin drop when I read the book out loud.  Note: I had not read it before and got choked up at the end.  Alicia had warned me about that but I really didn't think it could happen and yet there I was with a big ole' frog in my throat.  When I finished, I asked the kids to describe how the book made them feel.  The very first answer was "calm."  Step aside yoga, pick up a copy of LOVE.  And I believe her.  It was like all 150 of us had just let out a deep breath and begin mindfulness.

But that's not all.  And I'm not talking about the heart shaped brownies and chocolate covered marshmallows made on the spot from a chocolate fountain that Mrs. Seres brought in.  I'm talking about a virtual visit from Matt and Loren right there in Castleton Elementary's old gym.

Could you please pass me some calming pills? My heart was racing.  Next came the sweat. If the technology failed, I just wasted Matt and Loren's time.  OR my mighty iPhone 6, could save the day and be my hero.

Ring. Ring. FLASH. There they were.  Matt and Loren.  Loren and Matt.  In our "old gym." With 150 kids. Talking about their new book that EVERYONE is talking about. Pinch me NOW. We sang "Happy Birthday" and a student from each grade asked a question. My principal was amused at my Hollywood reaction when they appeared on the screen.  "You would have thought that was Matt Damon and Brad Pitt up there."  Funny how he chose those actors.  Not my type. And anyway, there they were, Loren and Matt sitting side by side talking with us about their book, deserving every LA scream I had in me.


I'm trying to pinpoint what makes this book so special.  The language speaks to all of us, just as love is universal.  No matter who you are, you will find at least one page that you can relate to.  There were a few for me but the one that hit my heart the hardest was picturing my husband and I under the yellow umbrella.  "Your loved ones will stand there like/puddles beneath their umbrellas,/holding you tight and kissing you/and wishing you luck." Say it isn't so that some day soon I will be letting go. Until then, I will wrap my daughter's love all around me like a king sized down comforter. LOVE.

Thank you Matt and Loren for bringing LOVE into Castleton, New York today. Of course, I'm leaping.



LOVE is...



Saturday, December 30, 2017

My Favorite Latino Book People of 2017

I was driving around the other day and got excited when this came on NPR:



I completely agree that "2017 was a great year for Latino culture and the arts." I'm just disappointed that not one reference to poetry or prose by Latino writers or illustrators was mentioned. So here's my own personal addendum to the story.  


Picture Books 


I love anything that Carmen Agra Deedy writes and says.  If you ever have the opportunity to hear her speak, drop everything and go.  She will make you laugh and cry and laugh again.  Then you will cry because it's over.  I was fortunate enough to see her twice in 2017--once at the TLA conference in San Antonio in April and then in October at the Bank Street Book Festival in NYC.  Both times wonderful.  I love The Rooster Who Wouldn't be Quiet.  It has a great message and is a fun read aloud.  Mrs. Yager's third graders even performed it at our November assembly.

My fifth grade Reading Ambassadors loved The Chupacabra Ate the Candlelebra written by Marc Tyler Nobleman and illustrated by Ana Aranda.  A fun story with vibrant illustrations that light up the page.  We all love the funny and unpredictable ending.  

Everyone is talking (including me) about Margarita Engle's poetry anthology, Bravo! Poems about Amazing Hispanics, beautifully illustrated by Rafael Lopez.  I referenced the book and shared the poem on Pura Belpre when teaching about the award named after her.


I was introduced to author poet Emma Otheguy at the Bank Street Book Festival when I attended her Latinx literature book group.  Her gorgeous English and Spanish biography in verse on Jose Marti, Marti's Song for Freedom, illustrated by Beatriz Vidal, is a must for all collections in all buildings.  


One of my second graders in my Mock Caldecott class pretty strongly shared that All the Way to Havana by Margarita Engle and illustrated by Mike Curato is his top pick for Caldecott so far.  Enough said.



Middle Grade

Mr. Reischer and his book group
I absolutely LOVE The First Rule of Punk by Celia C. Perez.  Malu is full of the spunk that I wish I had when I was 12 and she is way cooler than I ever will be.  I'm going to recommend this book to everyone beginning from strong readers in third grade through middle school. If it's up to me we'll all be singing Ramones alongside Lola Beltran.

There hasn't been much buzz around My Brigadista Year, Katherine Paterson's latest, but I enjoyed it. It's the 1960s and brave young Lora leaves her family in Havana for a year to teach folks in the country how to read.  Seems simple, but Lora learns so much from her year away from home.

If you read my blog, you already know that I love Ruth Behar and her middle grade debut, Lucky Broken Girl.

Grab your apron and your poetry pen before you begin reading The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora by Pablo Cartaya. Right after I read it I wrote in my notes, "Pick up this epically awesome MG novel about family, love and the courage to speak your mind."

Young Adult

In September I read Benjamin Alire Saenz's The Inexplicable Logic of My Life and fell hard for the characters and Saenz.  I literally could not put it down.  Brushed my teeth with it, listened to the audio everywhere, and read past midnight many nights. It's not a short book but I got it finished in only a few days and that's with being swamped at work.


One of the last books I read this year was I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sanchez.  The first line has you hooked, "What surprised me most about seeing my sister dead is the lingering smirk on her face." It made me cry, laugh ("You think you're all grow up.  You're only fifteen.  You don't even know how to make a tortilla...", smile (boyfriend Connor), hold my breath...I don't know if it was because I am a parent of a fifteen year old myself, Jewish (there are so many similarities in cultures), a good story with a strong heroine or a combination but this was an all around winner in my book. 




I also really loved Adam Silvera's They Both Die in the End. I kept hoping throughout the whole book that for once Death-Cast would be wrong.  "Life isn't meant to be lived alone.  Neither are End Days."





May your loved ones, friends, colleagues, students and beloved characters keep you from being alone in 2018.  Happy New Year!




Friday, December 22, 2017

I Love You Like a...AND PIZZA!

Sometimes I feel like this could be a first grade musings blog but then I turn around and write extensively about a project with fifth, third, second, fourth...so it really is all encompassing.  Yet today it is all about the six year olds.

I Love You Like a Pig

Last week I read I Love You Like a Pig with words by Mac Barnett and art by Greg Pizzoli.  Then we attempted to write similes with first graders.  A bit of a challenge but we did it.  The classroom teacher and I already have a list going of things to change should we do it again next year.  We made our own book and dedicated it to a friend who moved to another school last Friday.  Check out our book here:



Read more publications on Calaméo

Ninja in the Kitchen

This week we donned our aprons and chef hats and made the trek into the bowels of our building to the old faculty room.  There we rolled out pizza dough, spread the sauce, added pepperoni and cheese and watched our creations bake in the ancient oven.  The smell wafted through our building and once again, success! Thanks to Luke Flowers and his Moby for the inspiration. The kids also read Michael Garland's Pizza Mouse to themselves while we waited for the pizza to bake.  Hiyah! It was a delicious batch of fun!



ps-Do you spy one of the students wearing my Lunch Lady apron?!

Sunday, December 17, 2017

The week BEFORE the last week of school

A new school week is about to begin.
Celebrations.
Giggles.
Joy.
Antsy kids (and teachers) ready for break to begin.

As far as the week that just passed, I want to share three highlights with you:

Phone a Friend

If you read no further, please check this out. OMG! Kwame Alexander called me for his finale of his Facebook show, #Bookish! I was SO NERVOUS!  I don't even think I sounded coherent or intelligent.  Let's just say thank goodness for the editor!  Kwame wanted me to recommend one book for lower elementary.  One book?!  The pressure to pick just ONE book.  Well, I picked Debbi Michiko Florence's Jasmine Toguchi, Mochi Queen*.  I think this is a great chapter book for beginner readers.  I read it aloud to the first graders and we were on the edge of our seats at the end of every chapter.


Then, Friday Kwame was on NPR.  You, too, can get in on the poetry...


Oh, for the love of reading

We are nearing the end of our Newbery book groups.  What a success! We had 16 groups lead by many different people including a recess monitor, principal, assistant superintendent, PE teacher, library volunteer and a secretary. End of book parties began happening including my own with cream puffs, homemade salsa and guacamole with my Lucky Broken Girl kids.

Then Mrs. Kelliher, our fifth grade math teacher, started a group with Someday Birds.  We showed the trailer (included at the end of the blog) and kids put their name in a hat to be picked for this Tuesday/Thursday lunch group.  Only six got in, but one bought the book with his own money so he could join, too.


I got this email at about 8pm one night from our Special Ed teacher:

So I approached her about leading a group after school.  Again we showed the book trailer (also at the end of this post) and this time so many kids wanted to sign up that we ended up writing down the kids who didn't. Kids were asking when they were going to find out and you would have thought we were announcing the lottery winners when we told them who got in. Oh, for the love of reading and the power of the Newbery project.

I Love You Like a Pig












Mrs. Kosinski's first graders are coming up about once a week now to read a book and then do an activity related to the book.  We're calling it #ReadItMakeItTakeIt. It's been great--we've tied shoe laces, sewed buttons, made mochi (*see above under "Phone a Friend) and on Friday we made a special book for a friend that is moving to another district.  We read Mac Barnett and Greg Pizzoli's I Love You Like a Pig and then wrote our own similes for people we love. Tomorrow I will upload them into Calameo and everyone will be sent the digital copy.  The book will be dedicated to Eva. We are so sorry she is moving.  We love her like a juicy strawberry in June.

Mr. Slim Goodbody


I almost forgot we had an assembly on Friday that I highly recommend. Mr. Slim Goodbody kept students from K-5 AND adults entertained for over an hour!  I'm not sure who else could do that.  Kwame, maybe?  We were all laughing, attentive, engaged...it was great.  Kudos to the PE Department (my mentee included!) and the PTO for inviting him to CES. Here's the link to the website for the information on the assemblies.  Of course, I took a leap with him.


Now on to this week.  I can only dream about what's in store...


Book Trailers





Friday, December 8, 2017

My own personal twin day



This day started out pretty darn good and I couldn't stop smiling ALL. DAY. LONG.  Thank you, Alexis.

If I didn't know already (even though I think I kind of did) after today, I am pretty sure I was meant to teach in an elementary school.  How did I come to this conclusion?  If I, a woman in her late 40s, owns the same leggings as a five year old adorable kindergartener, then I was meant to be her librarian!

A couple of weeks ago I was in Alexis's class and noticed her leggings. "OMG! I have the same ones!" I dropped everything and emailed her mom.


Today was THE DAY!  It finally came! I couldn't sleep for 10 days!  Perhaps I will sleep tonight.


Anyway, when Alexis entered the library and they could hear me screaming down the hall (and I have soundproof walls).   Oops!  Thankfully, I don't think it travelled downstairs to the principal's office. 

So I twinned with this shy, sweet, always smiling girl today.  A huge reason to celebrate and leap! What was your reason to leap today?






We had to pose with a couple of my favorite books!

And of course, the leap!



Monday, December 4, 2017

Martina and Chrissie



 I had all intentions of writing about something else tonight but then Chris Evert, THE CHRIS EVERT, commented on one of my tweets from earlier today. What?!  That's just too cool! And of course, it all began with a book.


Every Monday, Mrs. Yager's third graders eagerly enter the library for our "book of the week."  Many of the books have been nonfiction narratives about people the students would never normally meet: Ada Lovelace, James Van der Zee, Sophie Blanchard, Muddy Waters, Eugen Sandow...And today it was Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova.


 

After I introduce our book of the week in the library, Mrs. Yager revisits it in the classroom and continues to work with it throughout the week.  All of these books increase our background knowledge and expose our students to other worlds and life stories.  The kids are going to know so much by the end of the year! We did coding in honor of Ada, hot air balloon facts and an experiment in the library for Sophie, photography for James, a fitness log for Sandow, etc.

















Today's book was Martina and Chrissie (written by Phil Bildner and illustrated by Brett Helquist)





We talked tennis, rivalry, competition, perseverance, fitness, concentration and more. We watched the above trailer and some of the 1978 Wimbledon match (see below). The kids were fascinated by the tennis and fortunately, Mrs. Yager's husband plays so she knew the rules.  I'm not much of a tennis player and you definitely don't want me to keep score.

To me, the discussion on healthy rivalries was even more interesting since I just finished watching the ESPN 30 for 30 documentary on the Lakers and Celtics. (Yes, now I am a full fledged Lakers/Magic Johnson fan). There IS a 30 for 30 on these two amazing women (I would have been surprised if there wasn't).  I must get my hands on it. Pronto.  In the meantime, you really should read this book.  The writing is well done, almost poetic and the illustrations are impressive.  You could hear the "oohs and ahhhs" when I shared a full page spread or the close up of Martina.  The back matter includes a timeline and further sources. The book makes you want to know more about tennis and these amazing athletes. I look forward to sharing it with more classes, especially in January during our 4th grade Sibert Smackdown.

And I just have to say this: "The love we have for this book is infinitely farther from the love in the game of tennis." So true!

PS-Thanks for the tweet, Chris!  Made my day!