Monday, August 26, 2013

danyelle recommends The Adventures of a South Pole Pig by Chris Kurtz

You know that oft-repeated bit of parenting advice, If your child refuses a certain food, continue to offer it to him and he may develop a taste for it?  Well, although no amount of exposure has helped me develop a taste for mushrooms--no way, no how--I have found that advice to be helpful for not only picky eaters, but for picky readers, as well.  Continue to offer (and sample) a variety of books and before long you'll have a reader with expanded reading tastes.  But, here's my confession:  Besides detesting supposedly-edible fungus, I am also not a fan of talking-animal books.  I can't quite put my finger on the reason for that--after all, it's not as though they have an unbearably squishy texture--but generally, books with animals that talk end up at the bottom of my to-read stack.  So, here we are in August, and I have just gotten around to reading the January release, The Adventures of a South Pole Pig, featuring Flora, a talking pig.

Flora lives with her mother and her brothers in a cage; well, not actually a cage, as her mother points out, "It's a pigpen." (1)  But, it's all the same to Flora who longs to see new things and have adventures.  More than anything, Flora wants to be a part of a dog sled team, so when an opportunity to get out of her pen and join the dogs presents itself, Flora takes it.

Flora tells the story with her consistently upbeat voice and positive attitude.  As she heads to Antarctica believing she will be a sled dog, readers understand that she is being taken on the voyage as food.  This irony creates some amusing situations like the time Flora is chained in the ship's hold, and yet she persuades herself to hold on to her dream.
"Was it possible . . . could she be the precious cargo?  Being put down here had to have something to do with being special.  Or maybe it had to do with the training a sled pig needed.  Yes, that was it!" (90)
With a couple of unlikely friends, Flora discovers how "adventure comes to those who choose it but turns into trouble quick if you don't know how to land on your feet." (46)  And through all that adventure and trouble, she refuses to give up.

Plenty of action that moves the plot along quickly and clever humor that rises above silliness will hold young readers' interest.  But, the best thing about the story is the characters.  Yep, that's right, it's the talking animals:  Oscar, a dog who is "more than a dog"; Sophia, a cat who changes her solitary ways; and Flora, who tries "hard not to be too piglike." (257)  Flora's optimism and her enthusiasm for new experiences make her an irresistible character and make this a book that I'll be re-reading, this time to my kids.

Move this book to the top of your to-read stack today.

The Adventures of a South Pole Pig: A novel of snow and courage
by Chris Kurtz
illustrated by Jennifer Black Reinhardt
published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
January 2013
Recommended for ages 7-12

*Chapter 2 makes a great book talk.
**A great read-aloud scene is at the end of chapter 35 when Flora and Oscar talk about sled dogs being "a little crazy".  See pages 259-260.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

danyelle recommends Ol' Mama Squirrel by David Ezra Stein

Because they validate my protective mothering side, I enjoy reading books where conscientious mothers, particularly fiercely vigilant ones, are portrayed as heroes.   And you won't find a more heroic mother than David Ezra Stein's Ol' Mama Squirrel. 

Baby squirrels might make tempting snacks for many creatures, but Ol' Mama Squirrel declares, "It won't happen on my watch!"   "Chook, chook, chook!" she scolds, and the cat, the owl, and the dog leave in search of easier prey.  When a grizzly bear climbs into her tree, she goes at him with a fury, but once he gets over his initial shock, he just laughs.  After all, she may be crazy, but she is only a "puny squirrel." But Ol' Mama Squirrel is not easily intimidated, and she scoops up her babies and raises the alarm.  While one squirrel may not be a threat to the grizzly, a hundred mama squirrels send him packing.

Using muted colors and simple shapes, Stein keeps the focus on his titular character.  Ol' Mama Squirrel is the star of the story whether she is shaking her fist at an airplane or waving her arms at a dog. Circular snapshots shows her baring her teeth, swinging a stick, and giving a war cry.  Her fearlessness is accentuated with bold, flowing lines and dramatic perspectives -- one that puts the readers right behind her as she faces down the bear.

Check out the book trailer, preferably with a child on your lap.  Then read about how Mr. Stein made the art at Pen & Oink.

Ol' Mama Squirrel
by David Ezra Stein
published by Nancy Paulsen Books
March 2013
Recommended for ages 3 and up

If you want a look at the art for Mr. Stein's newest book, Dinosaur Kisses, head over to Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.  Don't miss the trailer at the end of the post.

Monday, August 19, 2013

For the Love of Reading Information

The kids are headed back to school, and if you would like some enjoyable and inspiring schooling for yourself, consider attending Utah Valley University's Forum on Engaged Reading.  Speakers include Marla Frazee, Sara Pennypacker, Jim Murphy, Loren Leedy, and Jan Pinborough.  You can get more information and register here.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Link to It: The Power of Summer Reading

I read with interest the article, “Summer Reading or Bleeding” from the August Issue of School Library Journal.  I encourage every librarian and parent to read the full interview (online here) now, and again in April as they prepare for summer.  Consider, that according to Richard L. Allington, “More than 80 percent of the rich/poor reading gap accumulates during the summers.  But low-income children gain as much reading growth during the school year as middle-class students.”  That statistic should motivate every one of us to help all get kids access to books. 

Even in schools where most of the students come from middle-class homes, think of the advantage to our students if we were to provide every child “with books they can and want to read.”  My children have the benefit of a home filled with books.  Further, they have access to books from our public library and from their school libraries, and even better, they have teachers who care about giving them books they want to read.  But what of the students who don’t have books “they can and want to read,” especially over the summer?  They return to school in the fall needing remediation to catch up to their peers, and that affects all the students.  Allington calls on librarians to “get over past-due fines and serving as the protectors of the books,” and instead, to put “as many books in kids’ hands as possible.”  Something to think about.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

What Comes First?

Every story begins with a first sentence -- that first impression that is the author's chance to immediately engage a reader.  An opening might jump right into the action or give a glimpse of where the story is headed; it might set up a mystery or hint at a theme; it could introduce a character or establish the setting; but whatever it does, a strong opening sentence captures a reader's attention and imagination.

Here are a half dozen of my favorite first sentences from this year's books:
  1. "I had arrived early for my own assassination."
  2. "If I'd known what there was to know about Early Auden, that strangest of boys, I might have been scared off, or at least kept my distance like all the others."
  3. "In the Urwald you grow up fast or not at all."
  4. "Back before I shot Mr. Bennett, most every day was 'bout the same."
  5. "Kouun is 'good luck' in Japanese, and one year my family had none of it."
  6. "This is how Kyle Keeley got grounded for a week."
What are your favorites?

And just in case you don't recognize the first sentences above, here are the books they begin:
1. The Runaway King by Jennifer A. Nielsen 
2. Navigating Early by Clare Vanderpool
3. Jinx by Sage Blackwood
4. Prisoner 88 by Leah Pileggi
5. The Thing About Luck by Cynthia Kadohata
6. Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library by Chris Grabenstein 

Saturday, August 3, 2013

diane recommends Astronaut Academy: Re-entry by Dave Roman

In the summer, I like to spend all of my free time reading, so, when my little brother was reading a book that I thought looked a little odd, I thought, "Why not give it a try? I have time . . . " And, so I started reading it. As soon as I finished, I needed the second one, and, luckily for me, my brother had it.

Often the first book in a series is really good, and the second is not quite as good, but this is not the case. I thought the first one was amazing, but the second one was actually my favorite. I have re-read these books multiple times.

Hakata Soy is a boy who has just started Astronaut Academy. And he appears to be the only normal kid at the not-so-normal school, but as you follow him, you learn things about his past that make him special too.

They live in a weird world where you can give your hearts away--literally--to loved ones. And as you follow them, you find things that make this world different, but believable and funny at the same time.

One of my favorite things about these books are that you get the stories through different points of view every page.  It is really fun to see how everyone's time at the school connects together and by letting you see what the other characters think, it makes the situation believable. I love these books!

I am usually not a huge fan of graphic novels, and I would rather just read the words than have to look at the pictures to see who is talking, but these pictures are something you don't want to skip out on. Especially with, "Team Feety Pajamas" you can't not look at the pictures. Without the pictures, and the dialogue that goes along with it, this book wouldn't even be very funny. So, you should pick it up when you can, because I wasn't very impressed with the cover, but the books are amazing!

If you want to look at the first 24 pages of Astronaut Academy: Re-entry for free, look at (It used to have the first 180 pages, almost the entire book, but they pulled it off when the book came out.) But, I would recommend reading Astronaut Academy: Zero Gravity first.

Astronaut Academy: Zero Gravity
by Dave Roman
published by First Second
June 2011
Recommended for ages 9-12

Astronaut Academy: Re-entry
by Dave Roman
published by First Second
May 2013
Recommended for ages 9-12