Tag Archives: children’s

5 on getting the vote


The elections are coming.  (Insert your own suggestively menacing sound.)  That makes it a great time to talk with kids, young and old.  These five books address the topic in very different ways, but all speak to the power of having the right to vote.

For younger readers – grades K-3:

  •  Lillian’s Right to Vote, Jonah Winter and Shane Evans – 100 year old Lillian thinks on the history of her African American family’s voting rights as she walks to the polls.
  • One Vote, Two Votes, I Vote, You Vote, Bonnie Worth and Aristides Ruiz – The Cat in the Hat takes readers through how American’s vote, how parties are formed and interesting facts like why Election Day is in November.
  • Around America to Win the Vote, Mara Rockcliff and Hadley Hooper – Nell Richardson and Alice Burke take a trip across and around America to support votes for women in the early 20th
  • Miss Paul and the President, Dean Robbins and Nancy Zhang – A biography of Alice Paul, suffragist and women’s rights advocate.

For older readers – ages 12 and up

  • Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom, Lynda Lowery Blackmon as told to Elspeth Leacock and Susan Buckley, illustrated by P.J. Loughran. Blackmon was the youngest marcher in the 1965 voting rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama.
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One person making a difference

bk_letyourvoiceEvery time I hear “If I Had A Hammer”, I think of three things other than a hammer, a bell and a song.  I think of nuns, protesting, and then Pete Seeger.

Back in the early 1990s, I lived at the Queen of the Holy Rosary convent for a spell.  Not all of the nuns living there were social justice activists, but a few were, and they were my ride to anti-war protests.  I worked with them in a clinic for the homeless and uninsured by day, and by night, they kept living their faith promoting peace.  In the space before I went off to spend two years volunteering full-time, it was eye-opening for me to see how strongly they tried to live their principles.

It was at one of those peace rallies that I first understood Pete Seeger’s influence.  We sang several of his songs – all easy to sing, all songs for regular people to join in on – and I was struck by how powerful it was to sing together of hope, love, and the future.  It all sounds hopelessly idealistic, I know.

Let Your Voice Be Heard brought me back to that time.  Pete Seeger’s long life was filled with social justice activism, from standing up for the poor and working men and women to working for voting rights and against the Vietnam War.  He was also an environmental activist and cared about people just listening to and getting along with each other.  His story may seem far away from young people today – he was actually called before the House Un-American Activities Committee during the 1950s—but his life is really the story of all of us.  What do we care about enough to stand up and be heard?  Can we do that and be nonviolent?  Can we create a better future for all children, not just our own?  And what will that demand from us?

There’s a lot to think about after reading this book.  In the author’s note, Anita Silvey comments on the wealth of information out there about Pete Seeger because of his very public life.  I imagine it was difficult to narrow it down into this beautiful and moving remembrance of his life, but I’m glad she took the time, both so I could walk down memory lane a bit, and so I could learn a few new things about an exceptional person who shared the earth with us for a good, long life.

Let Your Voice Be Heard:  The Life and Times of Pete Seeger by Anita Silvey


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Words have power

saving wonderTowards the end of the book, Curley’s Papaw says, “Never take any word for granted… they all have the power to shape our world.”

Throughout the book, we’ve watched Curley learn word after word – eradicate, fallible, gullible, persist, untenable, venerable – as his world is changed.  It’s not just that he might be losing his way of life and the mountain he’s loved.  He’s already lost his parents and little brother to accidents connected with the coal mining in the mountains.  He might also be losing his beloved friend Jules to the new guy in town,as well as Old Charley, the tree they’ve climbed and watched the world from.  To Curley, it sometimes seems like everything is changing, all at once, and at a speed he just can’t keep up with.

Curley’s connection to nature and love for his home carries the story, and the other characters ring true, too – his Papaw’s relationship with an old friend, the new kid in town, the people in the community with mixed feelings about the power of the coal company.  The story doesn’t tie everything up in neat little bows, although there are some convenient revelations here and there, but that’s kind of like life, isn’t it?

Saving Wonder by Mary Knight

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Outsiders, mysteries, friendship

trunelleFinding someone who understands can be a lifelong struggle, no matter you are.  Imagine being a precocious, intelligent boy with a flair for fashion and drama and two unreliable parents who drop you with cousins in Monroeville, Alabama during the Great Depression.  Living in the neighborhood is a girl who has short hair “like a boy”, wears overalls, admires Sherlock Holmes, and is tough as nails.  She’s also bound to be an outsider, but together you could be a formidable team.

Truman Capote and Nelle Harper Lee, the future authors, spent part of their childhoods together in Monroeville, and this partially imagined set of connected stories about their time as friends is what you’d expect – funny, sometimes witty or snarky, full of bumps up against authority and what society expects.

Much of what happens will already be familiar if you’ve read To Kill a Mockingbird, but it’s a fun read even so, and an interesting way to start a conversation about people who stand out as Nelle and Truman did.  In this version of their lives, both struggled with figuring out who they wanted to be and how they wanted to be seen, even if they seemed confident in who they were at first glance. Together, their friendship gave them a safe place to figure that out while pushing the boundaries of small town life.

Tru and Nelle by G. Neri

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Read all about it! Spunky girl detective, Al Capone’s Chicago, tough female reporters…

isabelfeeneyLooking for strong characters?  Action?  Clever retorts?  Friendships that aren’t sappy?  Oh, this one’s perfect for you!

Isabel Feeney is an exceptionally plucky newsgirl, trying to help out with the family finances after her father has died in the Great War.  She dreams of being like the lady reporters who do more than write about fashion and society news.  Her idol is Maude Collier, a Tribune reporter who writes about crime, bringing to light the good and bad about the murderesses and other criminals so prevalent in Chicago at that time.

Then one night, one of Isabel’s regular customers is too close when her criminally connected boyfriend is shot and killed.  Did Miss Giddings do it?  Isabel arrives just after the shots are fired, doesn’t believe it, and with the help of Robert, Miss Giddings’ son, and Flora, daughter of the deceased, she sets out to prove it.

Their friendship is not an easy one, but it’s often hilarious and full of snappy dialogue.  Isabel’s got theories, tons of them, and she ropes in anyone close by to help her pull apart what really happened.  Maude realizes Isabel’s got a nose for stories, even as Detective Culhane dismisses her, so she helps.  Nothing stops Isabel from confronting people who might have been out to harm Miss Giddings or Charles “The Bull” Bessemer, and while you might clue in to who did it before the end if you read a lot of mysteries, it doesn’t dampen the joy of the ride with these characters.  Sassy, spunky, 100% fun.

Isabel Feeney, Star Reporter by Beth Fantaskey

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Of super fans, scandal and big, big hearts — Soar

Soar_Comp2Jeremiah loves his baseball, and until he arrives, so does Hillcrest, Ohio. They are obsessed with the game.  The high school team wins and wins and wins.  Everyone in town looks up to the coach.  Kids dream of being on the team.  Even Jeremiah, who can’t play, dreams of that.

And then, the fall.  A popular player dies.  Why?  Has he been taking performance enhancement drugs?  Is the coach behind it?  Has winning become more important than how you play the game?

Jeremiah tells the story from his own, very unique, point of view.  He loves his dad, Walt, who adopted him after finding him in the company break room.  Jeremiah’s had years of medical complications and constant moves, but through it all, he and Walt have always shared baseball.  When the middle school baseball team falls apart – is there even a team? – Jeremiah starts talking to the players, coaching the kids and even a few adults in how to reach their potential and bring the game (and the joy) back.

Even for people (like me) who are not big sports fans, this is a beautiful book.  Being part of a team, loving something deeply, feeling sadness when people make big mistakes – these are things we can all relate to.  Nicely done, Joan Bauer.

Soar by Joan Bauer

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Buffalo Bill was a Kansan? How’d I miss that?

BB-Book-CoverWidget2Oh, how I wish we’d had a book like this back when I was learning Kansas history! I grew up in east central Kansas, and although I’ve lived in Iowa for most of my adult life, every once in a while something pops up about Kansas history which intrigues me. Andrea Warren’s book, The Boy Who Became Buffalo Bill: Growing Up Billy Cody in Bleeding Kansas, went on my list as soon as I saw the library had ordered it for just that reason. You never know, I thought. It could be good, right?

I love history, but there’s a lot of blah history for kids out there, especially when it seems to be written as part of a series which will fill in the blanks for school book reports. More on that another day…. Today let’s talk about how cool Buffalo Bill was.

His family moved to Kansas just as the conflicts began over whether Kansas would become a free state or a slave state. Billy Cody’s father was a free-stater, and he became well known enough that those he disagreed with tried to track him down and kill him again and again. Billy Cody helped take care of the homestead and his family, and he was good enough at shooting things and working with horses that he managed to get a job herding cattle as a nine-year-old.  Then he signed on with a supply company to help take a wagon train west when he was just eleven. Through years of work as a trail hand and a guide, he got to know military officials and Native Americans, settlers and trappers. Later, he fought in the Civil War, rode with the Pony Express, shepherded wealthy people on buffalo hunts, and his fictionalized exploits became the subject of dime novels. His Wild West shows eventually took a version of the West to Europe, even performing for the Queen of England.

The West and the United States changed drastically and quickly in just the seventy-one years of his life — 1846-1917. Warren’s book brings so much of this time period to life by telling Billy-later Bill-Cody’s story. It’s well worth a read if you’ve never quite understood that whole “Bleeding Kansas” thing and even if you have.

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365 days – 1,342 items in the book bag, give or take a few

book stack

Why would one person check out this much stuff? Books, magazines, graphic novels, movies, music, picture books, middle grade, teen, mysteries, history, sci-fi, tv series, the occasional puppet and so much more. E-books and e-audiobooks aren’t even included, nor are the things which never end up in my email folder of library receipts. If I actually buy something, it’s not counted – and those are often the books I’m most excited about and can’t wait for the library to get. My husband and son also figure into this number; it’s usually just easier to check out what they want when I’m at work. And some things never get read or watched, even though they come home with me.  So I’m never sure exactly how many books I read.

Still, why so many?  It’s not just that I love the library and work in one. My healthy holds list means that I’m never short on new things to look at. (Often there are 80-90 things on that list in addition to everything I have checked out.) I also follow authors and what’s new in publishing, and I lead a writing group, which frequently has me thinking about storytelling or word choice or past favorite reads. Teaching a college class this fall also meant I needed books to look over and consider for student assignments. Some of those items are books or cds I requested when I was scheduled to lead story time or wanted to talk about a particular topic at one of my volunteer gigs.

When I look at everything the library shared with me (for free!), I see new favorites and things to laugh about, scary stories, great friendships, love, grief, fear, and hope. My life is so much more exciting and full because I read. I can’t wait to see what the next year holds – more books, more tears, more laughter, more joy.

Not everything I read was published in 2015, but many were. Here are just a few of my 2015 favorites, in no particular order, grouped by loose categories:

Picture Books

Wolfie the Bunny

Rude Cakes


Last Stop on Market Street

Please, Mr. Panda

Boats for Papa

Leo: A Ghost Story

Imaginary Fred

Nerdy Birdy

We Forgot Brock!



Middle grade

The Terrible Two


Gone Crazy in Alabama


The Curious World of Calpurnia Tate

Beware the Power of the Dark Side

Confessions of an Imaginary Friend

The Thing about Jellyfish

Circus Mirandus


Graphic Novels

The Graveyard Book, vol. 1 & 2


The Sleeper and the Spindle (I’m putting this one with the graphic novels, because it’s such a beautifully illustrated version.)

The Phantom Bully

Little Robot





Teen Fiction

Under a Painted Sky

Silver in the Blood

Carry On

Everything, Everything


Library of Souls


Teen Nonfiction

Symphony for the City of the Dead

Most Dangerous

I Will Always Write Back



Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend

A God in Ruins

Between the World and Me

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Another Rumble in Funjungle

BigGame3Big Game by Stuart Gibbs

Teddy Fitzroy’s adventures started a few books ago – first Belly Up, then Poached, now Big Game. Switching between middle school drama and life at FunJungle, a zoo/theme park which is also his home, these stories manage to weave in first crushes, bullies, fun facts about animals, and research on conservation. Big Game continues the exciting ride and throws in appearances from familiar, comic characters like Large Marge and TimJim, the inseparable twin bullies.

This time, Rhonda the Rhino is in danger from someone who might want her horn. (It’s worth a lot of money in Asia for its reputed medicinal qualities, as if it wasn’t enough that she’s endangered and pregnant.) In the past, there were hippo assassins and koala kidnappers to stop. Funjungle still seems ill-prepared to deal with both security logistics and elephant stampedes, although J.J McCracken, its wealthy founder, has expectations of everyone, including Teddy. J.J. McCracken’s daughter, Summer, has come back into the picture after leaving boarding school back east to be middle school queen bee in Texas.

Stuart Gibbs also has two other series – Spy School and Moon Base Alpha – and all are fun for middle grade readers. There’s always a good mix of action, humorous misunderstandings, and silly mishaps in his books, and the fun is blended with really interesting tidbits of information and realistic relationships. The cool kids aren’t always cool. The parents aren’t always clueless. The bad guys aren’t always 100% bad. And the endings aren’t always quite as predictable as you might expect, which is an especially nice twist when you read a lot of middle grade.

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How to Swallow a Pig: Step by Step Advice from the Animal Kingdom

how to swallow


Need to woo a ewe? Unlikely, perhaps, but very interesting and somewhat dangerous, too.

Want to go incognito? Disguises always come in handy.  You could follow the lead of an octopus, and mimic a sea snake, or a lion fish, or even a jellyfish.

Feeling hungry? You could catch a meal like a crocodile. Pretend to be a log, lunge, lunge again. You might just get lucky, even if you’re just lunging across the lunch table.

Or go for a whole pig.  Why not?  Science is awesome.

For these and many other important life choices – decorating, cracking nuts, warning others of danger – How to Swallow a Pig is a go-to resource. Read it, enjoy, and learn a little, too.


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Refugees, Immigrants and the World Outside

red pencil

Recent media attention on refugees and immigrants has me thinking about how to talk with kids about big topics. It’s easy to oversimplify the issues involved – political conflict, war, race, gender, hatred, allies, enemies, history – but understanding the fine distinctions is tougher. So here’s a short list of good children’s and teen books which touch on the struggles of refugees and immigrants. It’s a way to start the conversation, at least, and to get kids and teens thinking about the many perspectives involved.

I Lived on Butterfly Hill, Marjorie Argosín

A Long Walk to Water: a novel, Linda Sue Park

Inside Out and Back Again, Thanhha Lai

Esperanza Rising, Pam Muñoz Ryan

Never Fall Down, Patricia McCormick

The Language Inside, Holly Thompson

Shooting Kabul, N.H. Senzai

The Red Pencil, Andrea Davis Pinkney

Outcasts United: the Story of a Refugee Soccer Team that United a Town, Warren St. John

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Read you will

trilogy_header_newIn 1977, I was twelve years old. Old enough to ride my bike almost everywhere. Old enough to have some babysitting money to spend. Not old enough to be cynical or to have to pay for car insurance. As I remember it now – who knows if this is accurate? — I saw the first Star Wars movie more than 10 times that summer, riding my bike to the closest theater for the matinees whenever I could. My friend Amy and I had Star Wars shirts, and I started a collection of character cards. My Burger King Star Wars glasses are somewhere in the attic still.

Time passed, the characters in the second trilogy didn’t speak to me, Disney bought the franchise, and here we are now, waiting for the release of a new Star Wars movie. Someone with some smarts and a marketing plan decided that putting out some middle grade Star Wars books would be a good idea. Someone decided to rely on popular authors like Alexandra Bracken, Adam Gidwitz (A Tale Dark and Grimm), and Tom Angleberger (Origami Yoda series) to do the work. It could have been a complete disaster – predictable retellings falling flat, a whole generation of bored tweens who wouldn’t understand why this whole thing was such a big deal.

But no— fortunately, these authors are too good for that. Alexandra Bracken uses The Princess, the Scoundrel and the Farm Boy to set up the later novels. She relies heavily on the movie script, which worked fine for me, and creates the world of the Empire and the Rebellion in all its most wonderful and most horrible realities. As an adult reading the stories of my youth, it was quick and action-filled and fun, even in the scary moments. Knowing how things would turn out didn’t diminish the story one bit.

Adam Gidwitz follows up with the story from The Empire Strikes Back, but he sets a different tone. So You Want to Be a Jedi? lets the reader really imagine Luke’s internal battle to become a Jedi, and the reader IS Luke, charging ahead, realizing at the last minute that he might not be ready, wanting to help his friends. It’s intense and yet still funny, and maybe some kids will learn to meditate before they face their personal Darth Vaders. Who knows? Loved it!

Tom Angleberger takes on The Return of the Jedi in Beware the Power of the Dark Side! His narrator is all-knowing and sometimes judgmental, which somehow was the perfect follow-up for So You Want to be a Jedi? .

“An endless desert. Two robots. Two robots plodding through and endless desert. Fear not, reader! It will get better!”

There are moments when you, like the characters, are left hanging, and others when you’re in on the joke. This playful, quirky spin worked so well for me that I forgot at one point that I knew exactly what was going to happen. That’s part of the real joy of these books for grown-up fans. Instead of pretending we don’t all have an idea of what’s going to happen, these retellings take what we already know and spin and bounce and have fun with that knowledge. What fun for me! What fun for my 12 year old self remembered!

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More graphics for kids = more fun!

little robotLast spring I made a book list for the 5th grade class I visit. It was full of comics and graphic novels; some of the kids already knew about most of them. Smile, Zita the Spacegirl, Sisters, Babymouse, Squish and Amulet are so popular that the school library can only keep them long enough to check them in. I just blogged about Awkward not long ago, and I’m always excited when I come across new graphic novels for kids. Just last week, I found two more: March: Grand Prix, The Fast and the Furious by Kean Soo and Little Robot by Ben Hatke.

Worried about kids not reading enough? There’s plenty to love in all books as far as I’m concerned. Weak readers often need more practice, but in my experience forcing any kid to read anything usually does not make them love it, and if you don’t love reading, why do it with all of the other distractions out there?

Maybe the kid who likes Amulet can be encouraged to read some fantasy eventually. Maybe the kid who loves Big Nate will eventually take on The Wimpy Kid or some Andrew Clements and then The Fourth Stall. Zita the Spacegirl could lead to The Search for Wondla. The kid who likes Sidekicks could move on to Powerless. There are so many possibilities out there, and we really just want kids to read, right? Why not have fun while doing it?

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When hunger is not imaginary – Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate

crenshaw katherine applegate

I’m not sure what kind of an imaginary friend I was expecting – is there a standard imaginary friend?? – but a very large, bossy, and uncooperative one was definitely not it. Crenshaw is Jackson’s imaginary friend, but Jackson does not seem that happy to see him again. The last time Crenshaw was around, Jackson’s family was living in their car. Jackson’s family is in a tough situation again.  Is that why Crenshaw’s returned?

Katherine Applegate’s The One and Only Ivan is a favorite for many upper elementary kids, so I was expecting a lot from this book. It’s not really what I thought it would be, but it’s also more than I expected. Hunger and homelessness is a tough thing to talk about with kids. Those who have never experienced it can’t really imagine it; those who have lived it understandably might not want to spend a lot of time thinking or chatting about it.

Katherine Applegate has taken the larger issue and brought it down to a closer level, one with realistic characters and feelings we can all relate to –Jackson’s glass-half-full parents, his fears about losing friends, the sister he loves, and the imaginary friend he feels too old for. It’s not a happy book, but it’s a good one.

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Awkward – where the middle grade meets the graphic (novel)

Chmakova_Awkward_HC.jpg-200x300Peppi Torres is the new kid at school, and it’s middle school. No matter how much she plans ahead to survive it all with grace, it seems like things go wrong in a big way. She drops all her stuff and gets lumped in with the school nerd. She gets away from him by being mean, regrets it, doesn’t say anything, and then ends up having him as her science tutor. Oh, the daily humiliation! Oh, the awkwardness of it all!

Awkward is Peppi’s story first, but the characters and situations ring true to anyone who’s had an unpleasant time of it at that age. There’s a boy obsessed with sunspots, a girl focused only on beating the science club at anything, mean kids, and quirky teachers. The story captures those intense moments when you think you know who you want to be, but you just haven’t gotten there yet. It seems like everything is ganging up on you to keep you from getting there. Waiting is not easy. (True for Elephant & Piggie in the Mo Willems’ book of the same name. No less true for a twelve year old.)

Comic books were not considered literature when I was a kid. It didn’t matter; I still loved what I loved — the thrill of getting a new comic book, reading the story, and looking at the weird ads. It was always over too soon. A few things have changed with comics and graphic novels since then, especially the quality of the storylines and the variety of topics. (There might well have been great storylines and huge variety when I was younger, too, but I was mostly a Richie Rich fan. Enough said.)

And there are still people who don’t feel that the work counts as “good” reading. I frequently have parents come in to the library who don’t want their kids to read graphics, because they need to be reading “real” books. Really? Not even for fun? With video games, Netflix, and distracting apps, you’d think people would be happy to have kids read anything. Have they even picked up a graphic novel in the last ten years?

I think they’re just assuming they know what graphic novels are all about. And they’d mostly be wrong. Graphic novels might not be for everyone – some people just don’t really like the visuals along with the text – but there is such variety and such good stuff that it seems nuts to take away the option from any young readers. Svetlana Chmakova’s Awkward fits right in there with the best of them.

Some other favorites:

Amulet series – Kazu Kibuishi

Zita the Spacegirl, Ben Hatke

El Deafo, Cece Bell

Babymouse, Squish series, and Sunny Side Up – Jennifer Holm

Big Nate series – Lincoln Peirce

Roller Girl – Victoria Jamieson

Smile, Drama, Sisters – Raina Telgemeier

Jedi Academy series – Jeffrey Brown

Also graphic versions of The Graveyard Book, The Lightning Thief, The City of Ember, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

Wonderstruck, The Invention of Hugo Cabret – Brian Selznick (a text/graphic blend)

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The Claw, the Wing & the Smoke – a Family with Silver in the Blood

silver in the bloodDacia and Lou are New York society girls before the turn of the 20th century. Their biggest concerns are maintaining fashionable wardrobes, finding the right husband, and not doing anything to cause a scandal. Suddenly, they’re shipped off to Europe to reunite with their quirky, kind of scary Romanian relatives. Before you know it, there are bats and werewolves, vampires, royalty, treason, shape-shifting transformations. Scandal? Who has the time to worry about THAT?

There are so many secrets, and decisions to make, and a new future to forge.   Dacia, who’s always been the daring one, can’t seem to cope with anything. Lou, who’s always relied on Dacia, becomes stronger and takes charge.

Even if you’re not a fan of vampires, werewolves or shape-shifters, give this one a try. Instead of depending on others, Lou and Dacia take on the  world on their own terms.  And the loose ends aren’t all tied up, so maybe we’ll even be lucky enough to head down a different path with them in a sequel?

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More fun with wordless (or almost wordless) picture books…


A boy in a classic yellow rain slicker heads out into a wet day with his newspaper boat. Will it float? Where will it go? Will it be ruined? A girl goes to a crowded pool and finds a whole new world – and a new friend – once she dives in.

Float (by Ben Miyares) and Pool (by JiHyeon Lee) reminded me why I love wordless picture books. There’s something clean and simple about looking at the pictures as you flip the pages, and at the same time, you feel like you’re in an art gallery or museum. Why did the artist use those colors? Why did s/he leave something out or add something in or cut something off? With all the words swirling around, it’s easy to forget the impact the visuals can make.pool image

As I mentioned in an earlier post, wordless picture books can be a great way to work on storytelling with everyone from young children to adults or with language learners or to help young writers think about what is important and what is missing in stories, and why that’s important.

Want to see more? Check out this Pinterest page.

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My weakness for Brian Selznick

marvels cover 2

When I heard that a new Brian Selznick (The Invention of Hugo Cabret, Wonderstruck) was coming out, I admit it. I pre-ordered. Months in advance. Months! Finally, my extremely handsome new friend arrived. I waited a few days to read it, knowing that it would be over too soon. I took it with me to show off to some of the 5th graders I volunteer with. They didn’t exactly “ooh” and “ahhh”, but I did hear one say, “Cool.” Well, ok. I am not cynical enough to be a 5th grader, I guess.

I love Brian Selznick’s work. Love, love, love it. The art draws you into the story. The story connects back to the art. Before you know it, the visual and verbal blend into something more than. More than what? I don’t exactly know, but I don’t care, either. “Reading” his work is a different kind of literary experience and such a rare and wonderful one. What is truth? What is fiction? Does it matter if you are loved and love?

I know that when I go back through it again, I’ll find details in the art which I missed before. I know the story will resonate with me in a different way. And I’ll still love it.

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When not everything is so black and white…

my brother's secret

At first, life seems very simple to twelve-year-old Karl. Hitler is a great leader. His father is off winning the war for Germany, and Karl is on his way to earning medals in the Hitler Youth. Some of the older boys might pick on the weaker kids, but they’re only trying to make them strong. They have to be strong for Germany.

Then Karl finds out his father has been killed on the eastern front. His mother is grieving, and while he wants to believe he’s proud his father died for the Vaterland, Karl really just wants his dad back. His mother decides they should move to another town to live with his grandparents. His older brother might be involved in some of the vandalism in town. A party official seems too interested in them. And suddenly, everything is not so clear.

Rules are broken, lives are changed. Sometimes it’s not so easy to figure out who the good guys and the bad guys are. There’s a lot to think about and discuss in this book, especially if you’re a fan of books that deal with World War II. Worth a read!

My Brother’s Secret by Dan Smith

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Spies, lies & family ties

The Double Cross (and other skills I learned as a superspy) by Jackson Pearce

double crossTwelve-year-old Hale Jordan is in spy school, with spy parents, and a younger sister who’s about to make junior agent before he does. He lives in the Sub Rosa Society spy apartments, and the spy cafeteria only serves healthy food, which makes finding snacks a challenge. (He’s known as Hale the Whale by his classmates for his size.) He could always move into IT work, but his dream is to follow in his family’s footsteps and be a field agent. He’s mapping out his own alternative path, scheming to win races by planning ahead, when his parents go missing, and he finds out almost everything he’s believed is a lie.

Spies in high places have very low expectations of what he can do, and Hale uses that to start unraveling the mystery around his parents’ disappearance. He also makes new friends in unexpected places, friends who appreciate his skills and cunning. There’s action, there’s danger, and there’s cool spy gear – who doesn’t want a tiny belt attachment that explodes into a tent?   And there’s a win for the underdogs and good guys in the end. A great end-of-summer read.

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