Thursday, June 30, 2016

Wish by Barbara O'Connor

My wish came true when my librarian friend, Melanie from Rhode Island, mailed out her galley copy of Wish by Barbara O'Connor to me for what seemed like only hours after I requested it from her. This book will tug at your heart, make you hold your breath, smile, reach for the tissues, and then exhale.  It will make you crave orange jell-o in a mug and for a friend to whisper "pineapple" in your ear.

Charlie has just moved temporarily from Raleigh to the Blue Ridge Mountains to live with Gus and Bertha in their house perched off the mountain.  For now her dad, aka "Scrappy" is, as she prefers to call it, in a correctional facility and her Mama is struggling to get back on her feet.  Charlie's family is "broken." Always seeing seeing the glass half empty, Charlie is now surrounded by half full people. There's Bertha, her mother's sister, who is nothing like her.  Then there's Howard and his red headed family who live next door, and there's even her sister, Jackie, who is so upbeat and positive when she comes out for a visit that Charlie yearns to be more like her.  For so much of the book I just wanted to grab Charlie's shoulders, look into her eyes and then point them all around the good world she was living in. At times I almost thought I was shaking the book a little. Even when Jackie tried to tell her, she just didn't get it.

Every time there is an opportunity to make a wish, Charlie takes it.  A red bird.  11:11. Pointy end of a slice of pie. A wishbone...As the "mad continues to swirl inside" her, she keeps on wishing.  You wonder--with perseverance like Charlie's, her wish has got to come true, right?

Hints of Sharon Creech, Sarah Weeks and of course, Barbara O'Connor, this is a beautiful middle grade novel that students will adore.  I cannot wait to put it in their hands. They will not throw a pity party for Charlie like she wants them to, but instead they will WISH to hang out in her room next to the canning jars, put their head on her Cinderella pillowcase, and play with Wishbone and Howard "on [this] side of heaven."

I'm sorry to say that this book does not come out for another couple of months, but until then be patient, inhale, appreciate what is around you and know that Wish is a "ray of sunshine [not only] at the end of a long sorry day" but any time.

Last summer I went to the mountains outside of Asheville.
This is how I imagined the mountains of Colby to look.

Outside the house we stayed in by Lake Lure, NC

Ahhh...a happy place....

Monday, June 27, 2016

Happy Book Birthday to Nine, Ten: A September 11 Story

I was so excited to meet Nora at the Hudson Book Festival this past May.

In Judaism because days begin at sundown, we call the night of a holiday "erev". So, in my family when the day before a birthday finally comes around we start celebrating.  I'm celebrating now, Nora Raleigh Baskin--Happy Erev Book Birthday, Nine Ten: A September 11 Story!

This September 11 marks the 15th anniversary of the day that changed our lives forever. We can all tell you where we were and what we were doing while we looked up into that "robin's-egg blue" sky, the same color as Naheed's first hijab and her eyes. The hijab that represents who she is, where she comes from and how much it matters to treat people right. 

But as much as you always want things to remain constant, they don't.  Things changed for Naheed once she got into middle school and things changed for all of us as the days leading up to 9/11 fell into line. Nine, Ten... gives us a snapshot into September 9, the Erev, and the day of from the point of view of four middle school kids spread out across our nation. This is the story of not only Naheed in Columbus, OH but of Aimee in LA, whose mom just got a job at Cantor Fitzgerald and Will in Shanksville, PA who is trying to come to terms after losing his truck driver dad who died late at night when trying to help someone and Sergio, who is navigating life while living with his grandma in Brooklyn.  No matter who you are or where you were on the morning of September 11, your life changed.  Maybe it was already changing before then, like these adolescents, and maybe this event just made those changes stronger.  Whatever it is, we will never forget.

And then it happens.  "It was clear that the world was about to blow apart, if it hadn't already, and suddenly nothing else mattered but getting home. It was a primitive instinct, a drive, a need to find family no matter how far."  We called.  We hugged.  We visited.  The world did fall apart that day and ever since then we have been working to piece it back together.  The world "was screaming out loud." Our job is to help get it to inhale and exhale.  Thank you, Nora Raleigh Baskin for giving us the opportunity to share a book with students that will help bring that scream down to just a murmur.

I was even more excited when she agreed to LEAP with me!

All American Boys

My new thing now is to allow myself to listen to YA books while I am alone and running.  It's like a little treat.  I almost feel a little naughty because I am always telling people that I don't read above a fifth grade reading level.

With each book I read (or listen) to by Jason Reynolds, I become a bigger fan.  That's why it has been SO hard for me to follow the tweets and Facebook posts from this past week at ALA Annual in Orlando.  I wish I was there.  I wish I heard Jason and Brendan speak and accept their CSK awards at the breakfast yesterday morning.  I'm just thankful for Twitter though, because at least I can have a slight feeling of being there and can commiserate with those who are also posting with the hashtag #alaleftbehind.

I cannot express enough times how important All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely is for every teenager and adult to read.  It is real.  It hits home.  It makes you think and discuss. It sticks with you long after you finish it.  You want to talk about it with friends and family as if Rashad and Quinn are really people.  How can we stop this?  What can we do?  #NoMoreRashads It makes me want to go out and just buy a bunch, pay it forward and hand them out randomly to any black, white, gay, Latino, Jewish, straight, Asian, Native American, trans, mixed, just plain ole American teenager I see.  It is that an important book. I have this sense, perhaps a false one, but a sense nonetheless, that if everyone read it, maybe we can actually make a difference.

Innocently, ROTC Rashad goes into Jerry's to buy a bag of chips.  That bag and that afternoon will change his life (and yours) forever.  A woman trips, the bag falls into his bag, a cop accuses him of stealing and beats him till it hurts us all.

Quinn and his buddies, Guzzo and Dwyer, were outside of Jerry's when they witnessed what happened to Rashad...

#RashadIsAbsentAgainToday Guzzo's brother, Officer Paul.

And then begins the struggle of Quinn.  Can he really support Paul Galluzzo's story? Paul, who is almost like family? Paul, who, when Quinn lost his father years ago stepped in to play a "big brother-father figure" role?  Paul, who thinks he was "just doing his job"?

Many questions are left unanswered.  What will happen to Rashad? Quinn? Paul? What about all the other Rashads out there who are absent today? What can we do to stop this? Jason and Brendan did their part to write this incredibly powerful, important book.  What we can do is read it, talk about it, stand up and pass it on.  #PleaseNoMoreRashads

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Wolf Hollow

I must have liked this book. Otherwise, I wouldn't have given it as a gift to two of my library volunteers. Yeah, I really liked it and I know these ladies will, too. I believe it's a great "companion" to The War that Saved My Life (which they both adored).  It's one of those, "if you liked that book, then read this" as in both books take place during World War II with strong young, female first person protagonists figuring out who they are and always wanting to do right.

Annabelle has secrets. These secrets are big and for a while she even keeps them from her parents.  Is this the right thing?  I don't know, but it's definitely something to talk about.  Annabelle protects people we believe to be innocent. She is also bullied so badly by a very mean Betty Glengarry.  Then when things go terribly bad for Betty, you struggle internally for your own feelings for Betty and what's best all around.  Oh my.  Another heart clutching, brain spinning story that I can't wait to have long hearty discussions about with kids.  What happens when bad things happen to bad people?  I can picture that ethical discussion going on for a very long time.

And then there is Aunt Lily. She's a character you can never empathize with, even at the end.  How can one person despise someone so much but flirt with his "twin"? Really, Aunt Lily? It's a challenge ever to have kind thoughts about her when she never offers them herself. 

This is the story of Annabelle's strength, Toby's mysteriousness, a heartless Betty, and a family just trying to do the right thing.  All along, WW II is a backdrop with a free Kodak camera and party line telephone playing key roles.

I listened to this book and thought the reader was sweet but don't think this is a make or break audio book. I went ahead and gave the hardcovers to my volunteers feeling confident that the written words are just as powerful as the ones spoken.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

The Adventurer's Guide to Successful Escapes

As part of the Little Brown Faculty Lounge, I received some ARCs of Wade Albert White's first book in his new series, The Adventurer's Guide to Successful Escapes. The book is slated to be released in September.  You will want to make sure to get a copy for your library.  Kids will devour it up.  Four fifth graders read it and this is what they had to say about it:

"This book is the best book that I've read in awhile and it is really intense.  When Anne is trying to escape St. Lupin's, there are so many iron knights and zombie sharks, you can't put it down.  It is so intense!"

"It never gets boring. We wanted to read the whole book the first day we got it."

"It was so good, I could read it again!"

"My favorite character was Anne because she is courageous, adventurous and brave."

"Dog was my favorite character because he is awesome and he can survive a dragon attack."

"Jeffrey was my favorite character because he always makes me laugh when he talks."

-Tyler, Morgan, Ethan and Declan

Of course, a leap for reading!

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

As Brave As You

I cannot tell you the last time I heard my husband laugh out loud at a book we were listening to in the car.  I have to be honest, he is not a reader.  He keeps his brain challenged by doing crossword puzzles every day. He lives for the Sunday NYT magazine.  But this book had him laughing and smiling on the highway while my son and I subjected him to yet, another audio book.

Subject? Not this time.  He craved more and so did we.  In fact, one day Zack and I sat in rush hour traffic for nearly an hour  (not something that usually happens to us in Albany) and were not frustrated at all because it meant 35+ minutes more than we expected to be in the car to listen.

So what makes this book so great?  Genie and his older brother Ernie, are spending a month away from their parents and home in Brooklyn to stay with their grandparents in North Hill, Virginia. Wait! Brooklyn is not like the country!  How are these boys going to survive?  Especially when they don't have Wifi!  But after picking peas, making friends with the next door neighbor, Tess (who just happens to be cute and close to Ernie's age), hiding a secret about "Michael Jackson" (Grandpop's beloved bird), exploring a big yellow house, and an attempt with a lesson on how to shoot a gun (so poignant right now and perfectly addressed in the novel), Genie and Ernie learn about the strength of family, love, courage and most certainly, that it doesn't take long to grow up, like maybe about a month?

I don't know what it is about this book, but it has stuck with me for days now.  We already gave a copy away as a gift to one of my son's friends for his birthday.  There wasn't one character I didn't love and want to hug.  Even Crab. I sympathized with him.  Teeth Man didn't scare me; he was just weird. And Dad just has a lot of stuff still held inside that he needs to figure out and maybe a hug would be a good place to start.

Guy Lockard is the reader on the audio book.  Boy is he talented!  He's got Grandma's slang down and Tess's flirts and Grandpop's insistence.  It's as if Jason Reynolds was right there telling him exactly how he imagined the voices to sound.

The whole package is perfect and I can't wait to share it with students in the fall.  It is definitely one of my top Newbery contenders so far this year and I've fallen hard for Jason!

When I took this picture over a year ago, I had no idea how much I would love Jason Reynolds.
This is his first middle grade novel, up until now he has only written YA.
You know it--his YA books on my TBR pile!

We were all moved by Jason's speech at the 2015 ALA Coretta Scott King Awards breakfast but no one more than my friend, Susan.  I was with her when we ran into him the next day and am so glad I got this picture of the two of them together.

And the next time I see Jason?  We will leap, for sure!

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Bring Me a Rock

It's Another Book Birthday!

Today we celebrated the book birthday of Bring Me a Rock by Daniel Miyares with 150 kindergarten and first grade students.  Another great party honoring our special author/illustrator guest with smiles, songs and fans!

A fable-like tale (yes with a great moral at the end) about a grasshopper who demands the insects to bring him big, exciting rocks for his majestic pedestal, a "stack" of rocks shall we say?  Hence our stacked pringle snacks--

...and when the "stack" of rocks begins to teeter, who comes to the rescue but the little ant with his tiny pebble.  How does he do it?  We'll have to dig deeper into our STEM curriculum to figure that out! And we will!  A beautiful book by our friend, Daniel Miyares (Float and Kwame's Surf's Up) with a wonderful lesson about how even the smallest tricks can make a difference.

When Daniel and I had our test run earlier that morning, he was behind a blank wall.
Of course, I said something so he moved his location!  How sweet is that?!

It's hard to see, but he is reading the book to us.

Bring me a pringle!

Goodbye, Castleton.  (for now!)

This is the second time we have had a video chat with Daniel and it is always great.  Since we tried the "webex" Daniel was able to share his computer screen with us and show us older versions of the book.  While he was doing that I held up the final copy of the page.  That was pretty cool!  Thank you, again, Daniel for a wonderful visit and happy book birthday a couple days late!
And on a related note--My bookseller extraordinaire, Rondi, from Bookhouse Albany, wrote this review that is on display in the bookstore:

Saturday, June 4, 2016


Screenshot from my phone.
I love this cover right down to the 3 in "Federle"

I have a confession to make.  I have not been able to stop thinking about Tim Federle since I finished his newest book and YA debut, The Great American Whatever two nights ago. Is it his voice? Maybe.  But I didn't feel this way after listening to him read both Nate Foster books (Better Nate than Ever and Five, Six, Seven, Nate). Is it the characters?  Could be. But as much as I loved Quinn, Geoff and Amir, I loved Nate and Libby, too. The story?  I don't know--I love a good Broadway plot as much as, or more, than a coming out-coming of age novel. Whatever it is, I just can't shake Tim and sorry to say, this middle aged woman happily married to Kevin, has just added Tim to her "double digit" list of author/illustrator crushes.

"16 going on 17" (Sound of Music, 1965) year old Quinn lost his sister in a car crash in front of their high school almost six months ago.  Unable to cope with it, Quinn has kept himself hostage in his home until now.  Now when his best friend, Geoff, not only gets him out of the house but takes him to a college party.  It's there that Quinn meets Amir, later finds out a secret he never could have imagined had been kept from him, grows up quite a bit, and figures out who he is with the help of his friends, his long ago inspiration and even his sister in a strange sort of way.  Can you call a book a page turner if you listen to it?  Whatever you call it, I could not stop listening.  I secretly hoped my running partner would cancel (she did) and I always wished to be alone in my car without any young ears around (never happened). Yet, in record time, I still managed to finish and crave more.

I don't read a lot of YA literature. I'm a K-5 librarian and there are way too many middle grade novels out there for me to devour.  I think the last YA book I read was two years ago when The Fault in Our Stars was all the rage. Tim's book is way more mature than even that book that sometimes I felt my traditional middle grade ears were not quite ready for what was to come. But that's ok.  Maybe even I grew up during the book.  I needed to be shaken up a bit and it felt good to take the time out of my #mglit life and read Tim's latest masterpiece.  And I wonder--I am all Newbery all the time but could it be that I actually read something in the running for Printz?

Then, kind of related, is Tuck.  Tim Federle co-wrote the book for the Broadway show, "Tuck Everlasting".  I wanted to see it so badly but only a month after opening night, it closed. Agh.  At least I got a picture by the theatre. But if I could live forever I hope a date with Tim at his favorite spot in Pittsburgh would make it to the calendar, as well as a comfy couch to cozy up with one of Tim's books and maybe even another YA novel....Ahhh....

Actually taken on the morning of their opening night.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Can I Tell You a Secret?

We LOVE Anna and Chris AND their books!

It's ANOTHER book birthday party!

You know I love my book birthday parties and we had another one today!  This time celebrating our friends, author Anna Kang and her illustrator husband, Chris Weyant.  We are some of their biggest fans ever since this fall's Geisel project.  Bet you didn't know, though, that I was at the event at ALA last summer watching them receive their Geisel award with tears in my eyes as they spoke.  I even got a fuzzy picture while Anna was speaking:

San Francisco, CA ALA Annual, June 2015
But today was all about Monty.  Monty has a secret that he hasn't even shared with his parents.  He asks us, the readers, if we can keep a secret and when we shout, "YES!" he discloses that he can't swim. Now, this would be tough for anyone, but it's especially hard if you are a frog.  Finally, Monty gets the nerve up to tell his parents his secret.  Does he do it?  Does Monty overcome his fear?  Does he end up in the water?  You don't think I'm going to give it all away, do you?  This is the perfect book to read by the pool just before you get your toes wet (oh, and the rest of your body, too, perhaps, just like, uh...maybe a new friend named Monty?).

Introducing Monty!  Anna read us the book!

These first graders were captivated!

Check out some of their mouths wide open--they are so interested in the story!
And how cool is that to have the author read it to you?!!!

Here the young artists are at work drawing Monty, thanks to directions from Chris!

Showing Chris and Anna the finished products!

We have some talented kids in our school!

Chris and Anna together!  Love them!

Some smiling artists--Notice the "Happy Birthday" wishes? Too cute!

Yes, that is a cup of popcorn in his hand!
What's a party without food and "Rattner Popcorn"?!

That was my Monty.  I always tell the kids, "There's a reason I didn't go to art school."

What a fun day! Thank you, Anna and Chris and happy birthday, Monty!