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

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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!

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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!
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And who doesn't love a good Peanuts strip or Calvin and Hobbes?
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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.
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 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.
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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: