Saturday, March 17, 2018

Éirinn go Brách: Books for St. Patrick's Day

Éirinn go Brách!
Happy St. Patrick's Day!Being of Irish descent, I will be wearin' o' my green today and readin' o' these books:

Patrick: Patron Saint of Ireland
by Tomie dePaola
Tomie dePaola retells many of the stories of saints. His illustrations are beautiful and this one is of particular note as it's the story of St. Patrick as he is kidnapped and taken to Ireland. While there he receives visions and begins to convert the Irish peoples to Christianity.

There weren't any snakes I've been told, but Tomie recreates that story, among others of Patrick's life.
Including where Patrick teaches about the Trinity using a shamrock

Fiona's Luck
by Teresa Bateman

Fiona is a sassy, smarty young Irish lass. She uses all her wit and wisdom and outsmarts a band of leprechauns, including their king. A fun retelling of  an Irish folktale.

Jamie O'Rourke and the Big Potato
by Tomie dePaola

Tomie comes in again with another retelling of an Irish folktale. Jamie O'Rourke is lazy, so lazy in fact that he is the laziest man in all of Ireland. When his wife is injured and no longer can do any work, it falls upon Jamie. When he runs across a leprechaun and is able to make a wish he wishes for the biggest potato ever. He thinks his problems with work will all be solved. But alas.... 

Tomie did another retelling of Jamie O'Rourke, as well as one of Fin M'Coul. Fin is the giant credited with creating the Giants Causeway in Ireland:

581454 551768

Tim O'Toole and the Wee Folk
by Gerald McDermott

Tim O'Toole is very poor but when he encounters a band of leprechauns and steals their golden goose, he thinks all of his problems will be solved. Is Tim really smart enough to trick the leprechauns? Probably not and a fun retelling of another folktale ensues.

Tales from Old Ireland
by Malachy Doyle

This is a beautifully illustrated collection of seven Irish folktales. Wonderfully written, and fun to read aloud. 

The Wishing of Biddy Malone
by Joy Cowley

Biddy stumbles across a fairy village and is given three wishes but soon learns that not everything easily attained is good and sometimes everything you really need is found within yourself.

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Something Old and Something New in Adventurous Reads!

I decided that I like the quick something old and something new theme. So I'm pulling it out and doing it again.

Something Old
This book is old, and I've owned a copy since it came out but only just read it.
The Thief Lord
by Cornelia Funke

This book? Wow, amazing! It has everything you could want! Adventurous scenes, harrowing chases and escapes, spying, mystery, magic, thievery, love, humor all set amidst the gorgeous background of Venice, Italy.

Bo and Prosper are two children hiding in Venice from their aunt, and the detective she has hired to find them. They are taken in by a group of orphaned children that work for "The Thief Lord".
That's just the beginning...
This is a wondrous story. This would be a great book for a family read-aloud. I'd suggest tucking into the book with a plate of pasta to help set the stage!

The story was a huge hit in Germany and was eventually translated to English and made it way to England and then America.

Definitely read this or revisit it if you have already read it.

Something New
The Explorer
by Katherine Rundell
This book has racked up all sorts of awards in England. I'd like to see it get a bit more exposure here in the U.S.

Four children are headed home for school break when their plane crashes in the Amazon jungle and the pilot dies.

The children struggle to survive on their own in the jungle. One of them stumbles upon clues that lead them to a hidden, ancient city. There they meet "the Explorer".
I loved this book and hope you will too!

Happy Reading

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Reading the Immigrant Experience

Two fabulous books that I have read this past year both deal with immigrating to the United States. One is historical and the other more contemporary.
90 Miles to Havana
by Enrique Flores-Galbis

90 Miles to Havana takes place during the early 1960's Operation Peter Pan (Operación Pedro Pan) when over 14,000 unaccompanied children were sent from Cuba to the United States. The story is heart breaking as we witness parents struggle with the decision to send their children away from them in the hopes of keeping them safe from the Cuban Revolution. The story is based on the author's own experience. This is an adventurous story, with edge-of-your seat action. A great view into a very catastrophic time in history.

The Only Road
by Alexandra Diaz

This is one of the best books I have read in the past year. It follows Jamie, and his cousin, who in order to avoid the choice of either joining up with gangs in their small Guatemalan community, or be killed is another heartbreaking story. This also is based on true events.

The harrowing journey is nothing compared to the heartbreak of the family who knows that they only hope for their children is to send them off to escape in hopes of a better life.

Happy Reading!

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Hello World!

The Hello Atlas
The fun of this book is that you can connect to the free app to listen to the different languages represented in the book. The book includes simple greetings in over 100 languages.
This goes WAY past the common English, Spanish, French etc.
 It even includes on of my favorites, Samoan!
The book is divided by geographical region and then shows people from those areas going about their day, including general greetings.

The pictures are delightful and fun to look at it. This is a GREAT opportunity to discover the world!

Happy Reading!

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Celebrating Women in March

Since March is Women's History Month I'd like to highlight a few great picture book biographies throughout the month. Here are a few to begin checking out:

Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer: Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement
by Carole Boston Weatherford
A poetic telling of the life of Fannie Lou Hamer and her journey towards civil rights. Most of the women that drove the movement have been overlooked throughout history, so this is a wonderful picture into a lesser known figure.

Bon Appetit! The Delicious Life of Julia Child
by Jessie Hartland
Simply Delightful! Written more in graphic novel form, but a fun picture book recounting Julia's life becoming the famous chef that she was.

Martina & Chrissie: The Greatest Rivalry in the History of Sports
by Phil Bildner
I love the illustrations in this one in particular. This chronicles the parallel lives of these two tennis greats and their fantastic rivalry on the court, and friendship off of it. A great snippet in time also with Martina being from the USSR.

Georgia in Hawaii: When Georgia O'Keeffe Painted What She Pleased
by Amy Novesky
There are multiple picture books on Georgia O'Keeffe however none are as beautifully illustrated as this one. The pictures are stunning and it is an interesting view into a time of her life.

Wangari Maathai: The Woman Who Planted Millions of Trees
by Frank Prevot
This is a good account of the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai. She, along with her organization, planted over 30-million trees in Africa to assist in sustainability and as a form of nonviolent protest.

Miss Mary Reporting: The True Story of Sportswriter Mary Garber
by Sue Macy
I had no idea who Mary Garber was, however she was the first female sports writer in America. She began her career in the 1950's when NO woman was writing about sports, or ever given a voice to discuss a man's world.

by Patrick McDonnell
I cannot explain how much I love this book. It is a very simple story of a young Jane Goodall. Most of the information on her future career and life with chimpanzees comes in a page at the end of the book. But the pictures are delightful of young Jane and her stuffed chimpanzee, definitely one to look for!

Happy Reading!

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, and Something Blue

I won't even waste time commenting on my lack of consistent book reviewing. I've read literally hundreds of books since the last time I've blogged, but mostly record them on my Goodreads account.

So often I am asked for book recommendations, and I still love giving out suggestions.
I'm hoping to at least throw quick posts up with ideas and not make them be such looooonnng extravagant posts as before.

Here's my latest and since I still love a "theme" I'm going with the old wedding mantra of "Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, and Something Blue" with some of my top rated books I've read in the past year.

Something Old

A String in the Harp
by Nancy Bond

Look at that one, not a great cover right?
There are other covers and they are all MUCH worse. So here we go with the whole "don't judge a book thing"...

This is a mix of fantasy and everyday. Peter, a boy in Wales, finds an old harp key and soon it is transporting him back and forth into the world of Taliesin (who is according to Wikipedia an early Brythonic era Welsh poet who wrote the Book of Taliesin.) So basically an ancient Welsh bard.
I loved this book as it transported me to Wales and left me with the desire to go exploring the ancient fells of Wales.

But it's also fantastical, and mysterious and filled with adventure. 

Something New

The Lie Tree
The Lie Tree
by Frances Hardinge

The more of Frances Hardinge's books that I read, the more that I love them. Her writing style is beautiful and clever. It's also another mystery with some good fantasy thrown in.
We follow Faith, a young 14 year-old daughter of a famous Natural Scientist who has taken his family to hide away on a small island to run from the scandal of being recently labeled a fraud.

There are wonderfully written nuanced scenes of Faith observing childhood and adulthood and the roles in which woman are relegated in her time period. It's also a fun romp of a mystery and sometimes a little spooky!

Something Borrowed

When the Moon Comes
by Paul Harbridge

Sometimes I "borrow" a book from the library. If I love it, I end up buying it.  This one I loved and is now on my list to buy...

This books doesn't say it's a lovely Minnesota winter night, but it could be.
It's a lovely picture book of children playing hockey on the flooded beaver pond under a full moon.
It's simply beautiful. I can picture my little nieces and nephews as the characters of this story.

It is also a book that I would label as "quiet". It's a must read!

Something BLUE

The Someday Birds
by Sally J. Pla

I loved this book. I'm still unsure why this didn't win any awards except that many awards are biased and overlook smaller, lesser read books like this.

This follows Charlie, a boy who is on the autism spectrum (not labeled that way, but obvious to me) as he is forced to travel cross country with his siblings to go be with their injured father (a news correspondent).  Charlie doesn't just change his routine easily so there's some funny moments. There are also some really sweet and heartwarming moments.

Charlie is obsessed with birds, and has a list of birds to "observe" with his father. He decides that the road trip is the perfect time to look for each of them. I loved it.

So there are four recommends.
I'm contemplating beginning my own annual BBA's. (Becky Book Awards).
I love me a shiny label on a book but so often of late find the "winners" disappointing so I may start my own...
Hope to blog again soon.
Happy Reading!

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Thankful for Books

Squanto's Journey: The Story of the First Thanksgiving
by Joseph Bruchac
This is a great story with beautiful illustrations telling the story of Squanto. It doesn't always read as emotive but sometimes more flat and factual but a title many prefer because it doesn't have a toned down version of the treatment of the natives and Squanto's life.

To add to that I know that the Thanksgiving story of my youth isn't seen as politically correct and some people prefer to not even acknowledge or celebrate the Thanksgiving story. I'm not one of those and still enjoy a good "First Thanksgiving Day" story, but if a well rounded telling of the story is preferred then the above title is excellent.

In fact if people want to acknowledge where out modern holiday came from the following book is a great choice.

Thank You, Sarah: The Women Who Saved Thanksgiving
by Laurie Halse Anderson
Sarah Hale really is the one we have to thank for continuing to advocated to many presidents to set a day of national thanksgiving. President Lincoln obliged her and thus we have Thanksgiving.
It is a very well done and interesting story, especially if you aren't aware of all the aspects of what Sarah Hale did (I was not). Great read!

Another oldie, but goodie
The Thanksgiving Story 
by Alice Dalgliesh
This is a Caldecott Honor book from 1955, and follows the Hopkins family on their trip across the pond on the Mayflower and their arrival in the New World. I like this account of the the Pilgrims and their journey and first year at Plymouth Plantation. It is a bit long, and I have found that the pictures (depending on your copy) can seem a bit dull and boring to younger children. However it is still a great story but may be appreciated more by an elementary age child.

When I was a child the book that we all read, and the story we all knew was
Squanto: Friend of the Pilgrims
by Clyde Robert Bulla
Bulla does a great job recounting Squanto's life and befriending of the arriving pilgrims.

This is labeled a biography and you'll often find it in the non-fiction section, but many will argue that it is fictionally retelling of Squanto's life. I'm a big advocate and lover of the biography series of
"Childhood of Famous Americans" which are also the same type of retelling.

Squanto: Young Indian Hunter
by August Stevenson

Image result for william bradford pilgrim boy
William Bradford: Pilgrim Boy
by Bradford Smith
This book has been republished and is an interesting account of the young orphaned boy who would go on to become the first governor of Plimoth Plantation.

Another good set for studying the Pilgrims as well as the native Wamponoags are the following:

People of the Breaking Day and Pilgrims of Plimoth 
both by Marcia Sewall
Sewall tells of the world of the Wamponoag before the Pilgrims arrived in Massachusetts. The companion book tells of the home that the Pilgrims built in their new found land of Plimoth Plantation.

Thunder from the Clear Sky
by Marcia Sewall
This companion also to the above tells of the meeting of the two cultures and worlds of the Wompanoag and the arriving Pilgrims.

But for me Thanksgiving isn't only the telling of the "first" thanksgiving but includes fun things like football and the parade. I am a BIG lover of sitting in my snugglies, with a big cup of coffee watching the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.

Bringing this book to be one of my favorites.

There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed Some Pie
by Alison Jackson
This book is silly, but I love it.
I was the parent helper years ago in my son's preschool class and I got to sit - criss-cross applesauce  - on the reading carpet and listen to the teacher read this aloud to us. Cute, but the ending - that's why I love it.

And if you  also like the parade the following Sibert Award book is a great addition to the day.
Balloons Over Broadway: The True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy's Parade
by Melissa Sweet
A great biography on Tony Sarg, the man responsible for bringing us the giant Macy's Day Parade balloons. A true story, a quick picture book, factual and fun.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 20, 2016

A Great Dickensian Read!

Image result
Smith: The Story of a Pickpocket
by Leon Garfield

I just finished this book. It is truly one of the best books I have read in quite a while.
It is a wonderful Dickensian story about a young urchin pickpocket, Smith, who unwittingly picks the pocket of a man who a few moments is killed for the item that Smith has just pocketed.

It is adventurous and page turning. The kind of book you read at night and think "I must get to bed...but just one more chapter..."

The language of Leon Garfield is also wonderful, skillful and rich. I realize that a book is clever and the language is dense and delightful when I need to slow my reading pace down a bit to take in all the words. He writes akin to classic literature.

This is a great book to read as a read aloud. There are a few scenes of murder, very Dickensian Victorian alley way types, yet they do happen.

Leon Garfield is a master and I cannot recommend his books enough. He is the author of the wonderful Shakespeare stories also. A wonderful first exposure to the stories of Shakespeare.

Happy Reading!

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Award Winning Graphic Novels - the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Graphic novels are all the rage and I've been slow to jump on the bandwagon. At first I mostly thought of them as those awful big-eyed manga books.
Not a fan.

But I've always liked comic books.
Growing up I was a HUGE fan of Archie and Richie Rich!
Image result for archie
Image result for richie rich

And who doesn't love a good Peanuts strip or Calvin and Hobbes?
Image result for 1950's peanuts lucy
Image result for calvin and hobbes
But really these are different than "graphic novels".

In my process of trying to read all of the Newbery Award books I finally had to jump in and read a few. The Newbery Award has been awarded to two graphic novels, each an Honor Award Medal, for the past two years (2016 & 2015).

El Deafo
El Deafo
by Cece Bell
Ok, I'll admit this was not the best place for me to start because even though this is a positive, uplifting story (a memoir really) of a young hearing-impared girl, I was utterly bored. The pictures were alright but that didn't sell me on it.
I realize that if I was young I might like this better. Maybe it's my age, but it could have sufficed as a much shorter story. 
Maybe you'll like it...

So I jumped into the next Honor Award. This one for 2016.
Roller Girl 
Roller Girl
by Victoria Jamieson
This one I liked better than El Deafo. It wasn't the greatest thing I've ever read, but it was a cute story and I enjoyed it and know I could recommend this to young girls. It has a real 'girl power' element that I liked. Astrid's mom takes her to a Roller Derby and soon Astrid is attending summer Roller Derby camp. The story is all about starting middle school, going on separate paths from your childhood best friend, trying to figure out who you are and what you're all about when you're twelve-years-old. It has a very positive message and is a fitting choice for a Newbery.
Pretty soon I started picking up other graphic novels, and have found some that I am a big fan of. Considering that historical fiction is my favorite, it isn't surprising that some of these stories told through graphic novel format have been some of my favorite.
March: Book One (March, #1) 
March: Book One
by John Lewis
This one is exceptional.
I've only read Book One, there is also a March: Book Two, and recently March: Book Three was published.
This trilogy is  the story of Civil Rights Activist and future senator, John Lewis.  It begins when John is a young boy living with his sharecropping family in Alabama. It is the Jim Crow years and segregation is the law. This follows John as he goes off to study and begins to take part in the nonviolent lunch counter sit-ins as a member of the Nashville Student Movement.

I  highly recommend this one.
Maus I: A Survivor's Tale: My Father Bleeds History (Maus, #1)  Maus II : And Here My Troubles Began (Maus, #2) 
Maus I & II
by Art Spiegelman
These are phenomenal. I read them both in one sitting, I couldn't put them down. These are gritty and raw and deal with the Holocaust, both the events during the War and the fallout and effects on the survivors for years to come.

This is a very good example of how you cannot assume comics are for young children - don't let comics and pictures make you think that it is simple and for the young. This one is rough and heavy. But exceptional for a teen reader.

Art Spiegelman tells his father's story of living through the Holocaust as well as how it weighs upon him and his relationship with his son afterwards. The survivor guilt is immense. These books are profound.
Image result for american born chinese
 American Born Chinese
by Gene Luen Yang
This is one of the few Printz winners that I have really enjoyed. I thought it was going to be light and funny. It is at times but still has a big "ah-ha" punch to it.
I really like Gene Luen Yang's style. His drawing are fantastic.

This books tells three stories simultaneously, one of a young boy moving into a neighborhood as the only Chinese; the story of the Monkey King from Chinese mythology; and the story of visiting cousin Chin-Kee who embodies every horrible Chinese stereotype. This book is another one that is great for a teen reader. The deeper significance and message may be missed on the young.

Reading this book became the turning point for me in defining a book as "good for a graphic novel" and simply categorizing it as a great novel.

Back onto history, I also read Gene Luen Yang's book, Boxers
Boxers (Boxers & Saints, #1)

This tells the story of the Boxer Rebellion in China in the early 1900's.
Which I didn't really know much about. It did prompt me to do a bit of research on the event (hello wikipedia) and this book captures the awfulness of the Boxer Rebellion. Chinese sought out, killed and revolted against Westerners and the Christians. This mixes history with magical realism and combines into a really crazy story. Probably not that interesting to teens (in truth) but I appreciated the retelling of the rebellion, and again Gene Luen Yang's illustrations are amazing.

This a a two-parter, which I haven't read the 2nd part of yet.
Saints (Boxers & Saints, #2)
Saints tells the story of a Chinese Christian who becomes involved in the Boxer Rebellion.

The Complete Persepolis
The Complete Persepolis
by Marjane Satrapi
This is a four-part memoir of Iranian, Marjane Satrapi. She is born right as the Islamic Revolution takes control of Iran and this chronicles her life growing up in that repressive Muslim regime. This is another that had me spellbound. The contrasts between private life and public life under the Iranian government are fascinating. Marjane eventually realizes that she cannot handle the repressive life of Iran and exiles herself to Austria, and then later to France.
Again this one is for an older teen, but one definitely worth the time to read. Adults should read it as well. It is still banned in Iran, so for that fact alone read it.

The last one I read was a Caldecott Honor Award from 2015.
This One Summer Book Cover.jpg
This One Summer
by  Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki (illustrator) 
The Caldecott Award is given to "the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children."
This one has had a lot of press because others join me in being horrified that this book is a Caldecott winner. I'll admit if we are basing this solely off of the artwork, I like it. I like Jillian Tamaki's style and the illustrations, done only in shades of blue, are very well done and beautiful. But the story!!
I would ask you when I say "child" what age do you think of? The Caldecott justifies this selection as a book for older (6th grade and up) children. The story is  a "coming-of-age" story of a girl at her summer lake home where she spends time with her childhood best friend and family while swimming and lazying and enjoying summer. She likes to rent horror movies from the corner store where she also goes to see the boys that work and hang out there. They're often outside drinking, smoking marijuana and swearing, talking about sex and whether one of them got his girlfriend pregnant or not. There are multiple swear words, drinking, smoking, relaying of graphic sexual acts, and touching on topics of teen pregnancy and abortion. The parents of of our young main character are having major marriage issues coupled with a miscarriage and a suicide attempt.
I am not a proponent of censorship. However I am a FIRM believer in knowing what your child is reading, and deciding together what is appropriate for you and your child. I would strongly disagree that this book is for the 6th grade student, and would caution parents to be aware of what is in this book.

The core of my problem with this book isn't the foul language or activities that I find inappropriate for the age group, but rather that books for children have become books about "issues". No longer are characters developed and motivated outside of dealing with specific "issues".
The "issues" faced often become more defining of the character than the actual character's traits.
I still believe that there is joy in the everyday and simple and simply believe that there is far superior choices available for children to read.
This book has received a lot of flak around the country, One of the Caldecott selection members justifies her choice here: