Resistance is futile


Or not.  The pen is mightier than the sword, right?

What do we do in times of strife?  When neighbors and good people are being singled out for persecution or isolation or bullying?

Some writers write.  Katherine Applegate writes.

She’s written about cruelty to animals (The One and Only Ivan) and homelessness and hunger (Crenshaw).  Now Wishtree seems to be calling out to a moment troubled by anger and anti-Muslim sentiments, among other things.   Does it solve any problems?  No, not really.  Could it start some discussions?  Maybe.  In 211 pages, it manages to weave together a history of caring for each other with a tree, its residents, and the people of a neighborhood who might be on the edge of forgetting how we live together and care about each other.  It does this all quietly, with exactly the kind of stillness and humor you’d expect from a red oak.

Wishtree by Katherine Applegate


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Ignorance shackles us like chains

schomburgBeethoven had an African ancestor.  So did John James Audubon, Alexandre Dumas, and Alexander Pushkin.

Arturo (anglicized to Arthur) Schomburg spent a lifetime tracing the history of Africans and their influence around the world.  He read, thought, collected, shared, and challenged society’s views about the past.

It’s an amazing life, and one that includes libraries, making it all the more wonderful, I think.  It’s not a quick read even as a picture book, however, but that’s really for the best of reasons.  The text is detailed and includes such impressive combinations of words that you have to sit and re-read and think about a few of them before moving on to the next page.  And the illustrations are so vivid and beautiful that you really need to look at them more than once or twice.

Schomburg: the Man Who Built a Library by Carole Boston Weatherford and Eric Velasquez

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Another odd book I really like

the-antlered-ship-9781481451604_lgSometimes when I’m mentally working on a poem while I’m driving to work*, a strange question will cross my mind.  Whatever happened to the kid who told me about his plans to be a criminal mastermind in the line for free breakfast?  Why did my great aunt hide money in the tops of her support hose?  Why did Sister Margaret think I couldn’t be trusted to sweep the floor?  Things like that.

I think I respect Dashka Slater and the Fan brothers for finding a way to take an equally odd concept and making it into a picture book.  There’s a fox, you see, with a lot of questions.  An antlered ship appears.  The fox, some deer, a pigeon wearing a bandana, and some others decide to board it and go off on an adventure.  Okay.  Was that ship appealing because it had antlers?  Doesn’t that ship look a little antler-heavy?  Why antlers?  I am clearly thinking about this more than the average six year old would.  Their response to an antlered ship would probably be more along the lines of AWESOME.

So, it’s a little odd, but stretch your minds, people, and take a look.  That antlered ship is pretty cool.

* Yes, I do wait until I hit the parking lot before I write the poems down.

The Antlered Ship by Dashka Slater and Terry Fan/Eric Fan

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Almost wordless but full of meaning

LettersToAPrisoner_cover_screenRGB_1024x1024You don’t need words to understand what’s going on here, although I get that it might be confusing for kids with a limited understanding of geopolitics.

It’s a starting place, I guess, and a reminder that being free to think and say what you want is something that we should cherish and protect everywhere we can touch.

Letters to a Prisoner by Jacques Goldstyn

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Labyrinths, friends, being Bea

waytobeaMiddle school:  obstacle course or performance art?

It can be painful either way, right?  Bea is special and creative and perfect, but she doesn’t see that herself after she loses a friend over the summer before seventh grade.  She desperately wants to find a place for herself, but she questions everything.  These people can’t really like me!  No one will understand!  You almost wish you could jump ahead and know her as the really amazing young woman she’s going to turn out to be—the kind of friend who embraces the quirky in everyone and is kind and open-hearted and funny.

The Way to Bea is one of the best middle grade books I’ve read this year, because it finds such simultaneously light and deep moments in its middle school characters at such a confusing, awkward, and sometimes painful point in their lives.  Our daily lives are not all extraordinary, but we might just be extraordinary once in a while.  It’s also very, very nice to see supportive and equally quirky teachers who are looking out for kids and not part of the problem.  I know so many great teachers that I find it kind of upsetting to read fiction that paints them as unfeeling, annoying, demanding, checked out, or creepy – the kinds of teachers who will always believe a bully because his dad is rich or just do not want to get involved at all.  I don’t know teachers like that – really – so it bugs me when writers use them as an easy target.

So read this one, and then spend a few minutes with Bea creating your own haiku.  Mine?

mazes and labyrinths

blind alleys or peaceful still

which path will you choose?

The Way to Bea by Kat Yeh

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The only thing I’ve ever wanted since right now

i-have-a-balloon-9781481472500_lgOwl and Monkey.  Balloon and Bear.  Can we trade?  Can we share?  Perhaps.  Perhaps not.  The world is full of changing needs and wants.  But be careful what you choose, because all your plans might come to nothing when the ring-tailed lemur shows up with an ice cream cone.

Snarky.  Fun to read.  Not a sharing book.

I Have a Balloon by Ariel Bernstein and Scott Magoon

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Bad seed? Baaaaaaaad seed.

bad seedNice play on words, Jory John.  This bad seed is a happy sunflower seed gone gloriously wrong.  He plays the drums in the library, lies about pointless stuff, tells long jokes with no punch lines, and has some super-duper big eyebrows for a seed.  Deep inside, though, is a good seed trying to get out.  We’re not our reputations, people.  We can be seeds of change if we like.

The Bad Seed by Jory John and Pete Oswald

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Next time, just run.

van gogh deceptionThere is a lot of running in this book, mostly from bad guys.  Throw in a little amnesia, a lot of police officers, art thieves, and the occasional tranquilizer gun, and you’ll be swept up in it.

“Art” is a boy found in the National Gallery with no memory of his parents or why he’s there.  Over the course of a few chapters, we realize he’s somehow connected to a thrill-seeking bad guy who’s set up a plan to create what might just be the biggest fraud in history.  Fortunately, Art comes across Camille and her mom, and eventually figures out why people are trying to kidnap him.  Whew!

Definitely a fun, fast ride, and there are all kinds of mentions of great art and artists to boot.

The Van Gogh Deception by Deron Hicks

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Imagine middle school. Now add sword fights.

alls faire

Or imagine middle school. Then imagine you and your parents are big into the Renaissance Faire scene.  Yes, it could be incredibly awkward or incredibly cool.  It might depend on the day or the variety of mean girl or demanding science teacher you brush up against.  You might even do things you don’t think are nice and then be embarrassed by the outcome. So much drama.

All’s Faire in Middle School is a fun read, though, touching lightly on some things and more deeply on others.  Does being the new kid give you more choices or just more worries?  Who are your real friends?  And what about that annoying younger brother?

Definitely worth a look, especially for fans of Raina Telgemeier or Roller Girl (also written by this author).

All’s Faire in Middle School by Victoria Jamieson

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Look out, Little Red! You’ve got competition.

rapunzel woolvanWill there ever be enough adaptations of fairy tales?

Not until Bethan Woollvin has illustrated every single one of them.

Following up one of my favorites from last year –Little Red­­—is no easy thing, but Bethan Woollvin has done it well, creating a Rapunzel who may be stuck in a tower for a while, but even without knowing the end, you know she’s not there for goodThis Rapunzel will outsmart the witch and ride off into the sunset, heading off into adventures we can’t even imagine.  Wonderful.

Rapunzel by Bethan Woollvin

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