Tuesday, October 1, 2019

MAYBE HE JUST LIKES YOU by Barbara Dee

Happy book birthday to Maybe He Just Likes You by Barbara Dee - the book is out TODAY so you better get your copy! Thanks to the @kidlitexchange network and Simon Kids for the review copy of this book - all opinions are my own. 


With the #metoo movement pushing sexual harassment and consent into the spotlight, this book is the perfect way to introduce the topic to middle grade students. Mila is dealing with unwanted physical contact at school - behaviors her teachers brush off as "teasing" and her friends write off as "flirting". But Mila doesn't like it, and when she asks the boys to stop, they don't. She doesn't feel comfortable going to the male principal or male guidance counselor, who coaches all these boys on the basketball team. Since no one else will shield her from this harassment, Mila changes how she dresses and tries to never be alone in the hallways. The abuse continues, and Mila's other relationships suffer as a result. She doesn't know how to stop the harassment, but knows she can't take much more. Who can help? Who can she trust?

This book is too real, and sadly I'm sure every tween (and adult...) reading it will have had experiences similar to Mila's. The subject is wonderfully handled, with a practical resolution that will definitely stick in my mind in case I ever need to use it. I think this would be a great book club book for girls in 4th-8th grades, to give them a safe space to talk about things that have happened or might happen to them and an opportunity to understand what they should do about it.

Monday, September 30, 2019

TWO TOUGH TRUCKS by Corey Rosen Schwartz, Rebecca J. Gomez, and Hilary Leung

Thanks to the @kidlitexchange network and Orchard Books for the review copy of this book - all opinions are my own. Two Tough Trucks by Corey Rosen Schwartz and Rebecca J. Gomez, illustrated by Hilary Leung, released September 17th, which is great because my kid keeps asking to read it again and again, so we can already get our own copy!


This is a fun book about the first day of school, keeping an open mind, and making friends. Mack loves to drive fast, and easily conquers new things, while Rig is more cautious and reserved. Mack keeps showing off and leaving Rig in his dust, which frustrates both friends. When Mack finds something he's not so good at, he realizes he needs to slow down and be open to asking for help. Can Rig help him reach his goal?

My kid loves trucks, so the book was a hit based off the title alone. The illustrations are so vibrant and cute, and there is so much to see on each page spread. This is a must-read for any transportation lover, kid starting school, or kids working to make new friends.

Side note: How cute is the custom ISBN for this book? 

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

The Worst Christmas Ever by Kathleen Long Bostrom and illustrated by Guy Porfirio

Thanks to the @kidlitexchange network and Flyaway Books for the review copy of this book - all opinions are my own. The Worst Christmas Ever, by Kathleen Long Bostrom and illustrated by Guy Porfirio released September 17th, which gives you time to get your own copy before Christmas!


Matthew's family moves to California in the fall, and as they're getting ready for Christmas, Matthew is sad that there's not much changing of the seasons in their new state. The family gets a Christmas tree and volunteers to be in their church's nativity scene to feel the holiday spirit. Then Jasper, Matthew's beloved dog, goes missing! Matthew is upset about being in a new place that doesn't feel like home OR Christmas, and now he has to hope for a miracle to find his dog again.

This is a lot of story packed into a gorgeous picture book! Even though it's still hot and humid outside with Christmas several months away, my son loved reading this book and asked for it several nights in a row. It's not overly holiday-themed, so don't worry about reading it too early in the year and getting tired of it - this is one you won't mind reading over and over!

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

ASTRONUTS by Jon Scieszka and Steven Weinberg

I was so grateful to get this book from @ChronicleKidsBooks. I’ve been a fan of Jon Scieszka since falling in love with The Stinky Cheese Man in elementary school. I’ve read many of his other books over the years, and was so happy to see he’s continuing the silliness.


AstroNuts is a totally wacky book about four animals who were trained as astronauts to help find a new planet if/when humans wrecked Earth. Except there was a typo in the information, so instead of being skilled astronauts, the animals are AstroNUTS! They live up to their name and turn their adventure into a big crazy mess.

The writing style of this book was so fun and easy to read, and the art style is amazing - collage and sketch, with explanations at the back of the book about how illustrator Steven Weinberg made the art. I’ve already loaned my copy to one student, who read it in one night!


I have plans to use the book as a mentor text for creative writing lessons, because it shows that writing and art don’t have to be serious, and you don’t have to be “grown up” (no offense, Scieszka and Weinberg) to create a great book.

Monday, September 23, 2019

EVERY OTHER WEEKEND by Abigail Johnson

Thanks to the @kidlitexchange network and Inkyard Press for the review copy of this book - all opinions are my own. Every Other Weekend by Abigail Johnson releases January 7, 2020. Mark it on your calendars, because you don't want to miss this one.



Jolene and Adam both come from "broken" families. Jolene has never felt like her family unit was whole, while Adam's is in transition, struggling to repair itself instead of break apart completely. Adam's dad starts renting an apartment in the same building where Jolene's dad lives, and the teens meet by chance. Forget meet-cute - this is meet-strange, and it sets the tone for the friendship that develops between Adam and Jolene. 

The story is told in alternating points of view, which works nicely with the overall theme of every other weekend. You don't feel like you're missing out on the characters' "other lives", because the story is so well-developed during those precious weekends. 

There are so many beautiful quotes in this book, about family, relationships, and creating art which, for Jolene, is making movies. The situation with the film critic was so well done that I think it almost needs a trigger warning - it was too real, but the resolution couldn't have been any better.

Every Other Weekend is a great unique young adult read that perfectly balances reality with a dose of sweet romance.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

THE CLASS by Frances O'Roark Dowell


Thanks to the @kidlitexchange network and Simon and Schuster for the review copy of this book - all opinions are my own. The Class by Frances O’Roark Dowell releases on October 8, 2019, and you’ll definitely want to get your own copy then!


The Class is told by twenty different characters, all classmates in Mrs. Herrera’s class. Ellie is an aspiring author who needs an idea for her next book, so she starts taking notes about her classmates. She sees a student who used to be a goody-goody starting to turn bad. She sees boys labeled as “jocks” showing more depth and emotion than she would have expected. She watches everyone to see how they interact and what their relationships are like, because Ellie is struggling to find friends herself. When some of Mrs. Herrera’s special things go missing, all of the students have their suspicions of who took what, but all these students also have their own reasons why they might be the thief.

Because of the unique way of storytelling, the reader doesn’t get any foreshadowing, and can’t put all the pieces of the mystery together until the book is finished. Each character has a distinct voice that will make the reader think of students in their own classes - I know it did for me! I can’t stress the positivity of this enough - it makes you see things from other people’s points of view, including how and why they act the way they do. I think this is so important in building empathy, especially in a school setting when it’s so easy to dismiss others as “weird”, “loud”, “good”, or “bad”. I’m going to recommend this as a book club pick for the 6th and 7th graders at my school - or maybe even share as a group read-aloud. It’s very powerful and important, while still being an enjoyable book kids of all ages will want to read.

Monday, September 9, 2019

Back to School in Verse

Last week I shared some of the back to school books I read with young students. This week, I'm going to share one book I was able to read with multiple grades.

A New School Year: Stories in Six Voices 
by Sally Derby, illustrated by Mika Song

This book of poetry features diverse children starting kindergarten, first, second, third, fourth, and fifth grades. Each student has a poem from the Night Before, In the Morning, At School, and After School. Students have different living situations, different ethnicities, and different abilities and talents. I made copies of the poems and had students in each grade read them aloud. 

For one Lower Elementary library class, I have a mix of first and second graders. After first graders read the poems, they shared words that described their night before and first day of school. Some second graders even chimed in with how they remember feeling the year before. The other Lower Elementary class has a mix of second and third grade students. It was interesting to hear their reactions to poems about students in other grades, in other schools (fictional, yes, but still relevant). It was wonderful to see how they could relate to these characters.

One Upper Elementary class has fourth and fifth graders, so we finished up the book with those poems, and then they wrote their own. For the group of 6th and 7th graders, I found an assortment of poems online. Several were about starting school and the end of summer, so we took turns reading those aloud before they wrote their own. A bonus pack of poems was about growth mindset, dreams, and pushing yourself to see what you could accomplish. These were read aloud and then also used as jumping off points for their own poems. I was so impressed at the variety of poetry style and the depth of emotion these students shared!

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Happy 5th Blog Birthday, How I Feel About Books!

I started this blog on September 8, 2014. It was a requirement for the course Literature for Children and Young Adults that I was taking as a graduate student in the School of Library and Information Studies at Texas Woman's University. I loved the idea of starting a book blog, because I had previously reviewed books on my personal blog. I'd highlight books I really loved with their own post, and wrote round-ups reviewing books I had read that month.

Reviews for my coursework required a certain format and intense look at the book; once my degree was finished, I tried to keep up that dedication, but it got to be a bit much. I worked as a teen services librarian in a branch of the public library, and read and reviewed at least 4 books a month for their Teen Bookletters newsletter. Then I worked as an elementary school librarian in a public school (we're just not going to talk about that period of my life), and as a librarian in a Montessori elementary school, where I currently still am. I've also been active in the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA), a branch of the American Library Association (ALA).

Over time, I've started and stopped producing two different podcasts, one book related, one creativity related. I've started an Instagram outlet for the blog. I've been part of wonderful kidlit communities on Instgram, including @KidLitPicks and @KidLitExchange. I've been a member of several different book clubs. I've started (and neglected) a YouTube channel featuring book round-ups, book recommendations, and short reviews called A Book a Minute.

I've read more books than I can count (but I keep track on Goodreads, of course), and reviewed them all with at least two sentences in a personal document, whether I share them anywhere else or not. I've tried to get back to my class-style of reviews, and I've tried to just write quality, personal reviews. I'm still trying to find the balance and merit with reviews on this blog.

I do know that I like adding some personal posts, like this one, and a few I've shared about writing, and some about TV shows I've enjoyed and how they influenced my thought process. I don't have a personal blog anymore, and while I don't feel the need to share everything with the internet like I did in my 20s, I do like sharing things that aren't strict reviews. And I'm not making a living as a reviewer, and this blog is How I FEEL About Books, so I think it's ok to get a little personal, a little informal, a little off-topic now and then.

But basically, I'm just proud of keeping this thing chugging for five years. Here's hoping I can keep it going for five more!


This was my first post.

Monday, September 2, 2019

Back to School Books

It's back to school season, and we've actually been in session for four weeks now! I started library classes by reading several different back to school books to students aging from 18 months to 5th grade.


The biggest hit this year was We Don't Eat Our Classmates by Ryan T. Higgins. Toddlers, Early Childhood, and Kindergarten students all loved the silliness of this one. It naturally lends itself to discussing how to make friends, be kind, and consider others' feelings, so it's not only a great read-aloud, but also a great jumping off point for lessons that need to be gone over at the beginning of the year.

School's First Day of School, written by Adam Rex and illustrated by Christian Robinson, was a close second. I read this one to Early Childhood last year so some students remembered it, but you can never read a great book too many times. This book also led to some great conversations about others' feelings - the concept of a school building being nervous is silly, of course, but it loosened students up and helped them think about how others might feel even if you don't know them well or don't think they would feel certain ways based on their actions.

First Day Jitters by Julie Danneberg, illustrated by Judy Love, is actually the first book I read to the Early Childhood classes. The twist ending is delightful for both students and teachers, so it was fun to have a teacher in the library (as they are for the first session) to enjoy this book and help the students realize that the twist ending is actually true!

Back to School with Bigfoot by Samantha Berger and Martha Brockenbrough, illustrated by Dave Pressler, was a silly read-aloud. I used this one to talk about how students got ready for the first day of school, but mostly we inspected each page of illustration. This book is vibrant and gorgeous, and there are a lot of hidden gems in the pictures that are worth taking a closer look.

For toddlers alone, we enjoyed It's Your First Day of School, Busy Bus! by Jody Jensen Shaffer, illustrated by Claire Messer. The story is about Busy Bus being nervous as he prepares for his first day of school, but on a simpler level than some of those I read the older students. This book also gives the opportunity for some engagement and movement, for example when Busy Bus tries out his new stop sign, wipers, and horn. I used some of the motions from Wheels on the Bus for those parts.

The Pigeon HAS to Go to School by Mo Willems was, obviously, another hit. Everyone loves the Pigeon, and the endpapers provide a great discussion beyond the book. The front endpapers show empty desks, and the back endpapers have birds sitting in each desk. You can ask students to find each bird (such as an owl, toucan, etc), or have them point to and name each bird.


Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Birthday by Meredith Russo

Everyone raved about Russo’s debut novel, If I Was Your Girl, but it fell flat to me because it lacked emotion and realism. I thought Amanda had it too easy as passing, and the trans issues were glossed over. My thoughts on the lack of depth in If I Was Your Girl doesn’t make it a bad book, but I had hoped for more struggle, more reality, and more information that trans teens (or anyone, really) might need to know to understand this issue better. (You can read my full review here, so I don't hijack this review with something only semi-related.)

That being said, I definitely wanted to give Russo a second chance, so I was eager to read Birthday. And wow, did it deliver!
  

Eric and Morgan were born on the same day, and a freak September blizzard in their small Tennessee town left their families stranded in the hospital together for several days. They bonded and became close family friends, and Eric and Morgan became best friends. They celebrate their birthday together every year, and this book is told from their alternating points of view, only on their birthdays from the ages of fourteen to eighteen. Seeing just these glimpses into the lives of Eric and Morgan was enough to get a good story rounded out, with enough room to imagine what the characters are like during the rest of their lives.

Over time, Eric and Morgan's families grow apart. Morgan loses his mother to cancer and struggles with the aftermath. When Morgan quits the football team, Eric's father labels him a sissy and doesn't treat him like family anymore. When Eric joins the football team, he and Morgan start to grow apart.  There were so many layers to this story - family relationships, school struggles, self-loathing and self-acceptance, friendship, love. It wasn’t too much, and it was all well-done and balanced to create a realistic world with characters you can easily identify with and understand.

Eric and Morgan are such deep characters, and I loved getting to see inside of both of their heads and hearts. They both struggle with identity and self in such real ways, and I was so glad all of that was laid out on the page for readers. I highly recommend this book, and hope it gets as much, if not more, attention than Russo’s first book. It is well-deserved.

Monday, August 26, 2019

The Whisper Man


Backstory:
The Whisper Man by Alex North was my first selection from Book of the Month. This is totally a #bookstagrammademedoit type of thing. I've tried two different subscription boxes, years ago. One was a selection of local goods - food, crafts, coffee - that I really enjoyed, but got pretty pricey over time. The other was a young adult book club subscription. I was sent a YA book that had post-it notes marking certain pages, and small gifts wrapped up with the corresponding page number labeled on it. The idea was that it was an immersive experience - you're reading the book, then opening a gift that relates to what's happening in the story. It's a great concept, but I didn't enjoy many of the books, and the gifts were things I didn't really need or use, so I stopped that subscription as well.

Cue seeing The Whisper Man all over #bookstagram, with all the blurbs saying how creepy it is, how you shouldn't read it at night. I looked it up online to get my own copy, but it didn't release until August 20th, and this was the beginning of August when I was seeing it all over the internet. So I read more into everyone's posts, and saw that they were getting it from the Book of the Month subscription club. I found a code to get my first book for $10, and selected The Whisper Man.

It got to me a few days later, but I was finishing up one book, and had one that I needed to read to review. Once those were out of the way, I started The Whisper Man.


Plot:
Tom Kennedy's wife dies unexpectedly, so he moves his young son, Jake, to a new town for a fresh start. Jake had been pulling away from his dad since his mother's death, and while they had never been close, the distance bothered Tom. It also bothered Tom that Jake was talking to himself. Except... not to himself. Jake seemed convinced that a little girl was his friend and was always around, even when no one was with him. Jake has trouble at his new school, which adds to the stress Tom is feeling about the state of his life. Their new house is odd and unsettling, too. Tom is determined to find out the history of the house, and especially the mystery of the junk in the garage.

At the same time, the local police are investigating the latest kidnapping of a young boy. Twenty years ago there had been a string of related kidnappings, and the cops were sure they had arrested the correct man. He's been in jail since, but now another kidnapping has occurred. It could be a copycat, but some of the details were never released. The police realize that their suspicions of the killer having an accomplice might be true.


My Thoughts:
I enjoyed this book overall, but I had no problem reading it at night. It was creepy and unsettling, yes, mostly because the boys being kidnapped were approximately the same age as my son, so of course that might bother a person a bit. Some of the twists were pretty entertaining, but I do wish we had gotten more information about the killer who was in jail and the accomplice. I can't say too much without spoilers, but there was a lot that could be explored there, or perhaps better explained. I'm glad I read it, and I'm looking forward to more Book of the Month books, but I don't think this story lived up to the hype.

Monday, August 19, 2019

FAKE by Donna Cooner


Thanks to the @kidlitexchange network for the review copy of this book - all opinions are my own.


Fake by Donna Cooner is a unique take on the high school popularity game. Maisie is tired of being ashamed of her overweight body and tired of hearing the popular kids make cutting remarks about how she looks. When she’s forced to be lab partners with Jesse, the king of these insults, she’s determined to make him suffer. She creates a fake online profile for a pretty girl she names Sienna, and gets to work making all of the popular kids believe Sienna is real. Maisie, who already escaped real life by drawing comics, now puts work into developing Sienna’s internet presence. Before too long, even Maisie has trouble remembering what is real and what happened online. She’s scared at being found out, but she‘s hooked on feeling popular and accepted.

Personally I was drawn into this book because Maisie is overweight and uncomfortable with it. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE all these YA books with overweight main characters who love their bodies and have confidence oozing out of every pore, but that wasn’t my experience. I was a chubby kid and struggled with weight and body image all through high school, and I wasn’t comfortable with it or confident about it. I always wanted to see that reflected in fiction, because otherwise I felt even worse about myself. Why wasn’t I confident about my size like other characters? Why was I so nervous about standing in front of the class and letting them see my whole body instead of being like other characters? I love that Maisie lets body conscious teens feel seen and understood, then empowers them in a realistic way. 

I highly recommend you check this book out for yourself when it releases on October 1, 2019!

Monday, August 12, 2019

The King of Kindergarten


Plot Summary
Today's a big day - the first day of kindergarten! The story is told in second person, with "you" being the little boy starting school. He wakes up, gets ready, has breakfast, and is encouraged by his parents to be kind and strong. He goes through the routine of the school day, which is brand new and exciting to him, such as "the never-ending mystery of numbers". Everything is (appropriately) described in terms of royalty, from the school bus being a "big yellow carriage" to sitting at "your round table". 

Critical Analysis
The illustrations in the book are colorful, vibrant, and convey the excitement of the text. The royalty humor will appeal to adults as much as to children, who so often love imagination play and making grand pronouncements about their everyday tasks. The words have great rhythm in their simplicity; they explain the first day of kindergarten with concise happiness. The children and adults in this book are realistically diverse.


Personal Response
Today is my son's first day of kindergarten, so I love the timing of this book's release! We went to see author Derrick Barnes at a local bookstore a week ago, and it was fantastic to hear him read his own work. He also talked extensively and candidly about his writing life. He was also very open about his family, as this book is based on and dedicated to his youngest son. (Crown was also written about and for an older son.) I love the language used in this book because my son definitely repeats new words he learns, and there are very vivid, descriptive words for him to integrate into his vocabulary.



Reviews and Awards
From Publisher's Weekly: "When a mother gives her son the titular nickname, it inspires him throughout his first day of school—the child imagines that a chalk-drawn crown is sitting on his head as he walks through the 'towering doors' of the 'grand fortress' and into his 'Kindergarten Kingdom.'"
     Kirkus Reviews notes, "The playful illustrations use texture and shadow to great effect, with vibrant colors and dynamic shapes and lines sustaining readers’ interest on every page. Text and visuals work together beautifully to generate excitement and confidence in children getting ready to enter kindergarten."

Connections and Activities
At the book signing, we were given promotional crowns, as seen in the top picture. A fun craft would be for new kindergartners to decorate their own crowns. You could start from scratch with white paper and colors, or use gold paper and have them add stickers and jewels.
Kindergartners can also talk about their own first day, or if they haven't started yet, they can talk about their expectations and how they imagine their days might go. This activity can be continued on paper, with students drawing themselves as kindergarten royalty, their school as a castle, their own personal carriage, etc.

Read it for yourself!

Barnes, Derrick. 2019. The King of Kindergarten. Ill. by Vanessa Brantley-Newton. New York: Nancy Paulsen Books.

Monday, August 5, 2019

First Camp Nano in the Books!

July was my first time participating in Camp Nanowrimo, though I've tried to participate in Nanowrimo every year since 2007.  I always love having a push to write, which has been my favorite thing about Nanowrimo, even when I didn't win. But participating in Camp always felt like too much - I don't know if it was the timing or just my mindset.

Summer is actually a great time for me to write, because work is a little slower and my kid is up playing longer, since the sun's out later, so that gives me time to explore my ideas. Since I started pushing myself to write daily this year, and have actually been writing daily since June, this seemed like a good way to continue my streak.

Spoiler alert: I won!


I put a little more at stake for Camp Nanowrimo, though. I challenged myself to a 20,000 word short story... but really, I wanted write about 1,000 words of fiction most days. One day I knew I'd be off work, so I set a goal for 1,500 (and didn't reach it - that'll teach me!), and one day I knew I'd be meeting my overall goal of 20,000 words, so I relaxed to 500 words. Since my 20,000 goal would be reached before the end of the month, my more informal goal was to complete that one short story, and at least start two more. I want to aim towards finishing more so I can start submitting like I did in college (and have hardly done since then, whoops).

Here are some stats for my month of Camp

  • I wrote 31/31 days!
  • I wrote 25,956 words total.
  • I reached my 20,000 word goal on July 19th.
  • I wrote an average of 837 words a day.
  • My biggest writing day was 1630 words.
  • My smallest writing day was 76 words. (Let's be honest - I barely tried that day. It was a big day and I was drifting off to sleep before I remembered I hadn't written, and I didn't want to break the streak. But I'll allow it.)
  • I wrote 11 fiction pieces - four are complete. I have ideas on how to finish 3 others. The rest... who knows! I'll have to look them back over after some time away.

Friday, August 2, 2019

Dahl Study: Mr. Botibol

My author study of Roald Dahl started with a reading of his Collected Stories while watching the accompanying episode of Tales of the Unexpected. Each Friday I'll recap a story and show (with spoilers, just so you know), but I encourage you to read and watch them on your own if you're interested!


- - -

"Mr. Botibol" from Collected Stories (read 7/14/19)

Mr. Botibol has lunch with a businessman who wants to buy his father's business. He accepts the first offer, even though the businessman threw a number out there to get the bidding started. The businessman is excited about the deal and orders lots of drinks for the two of them. Mr. Botibol isn't used to drinking, and the alcohol goes to his head. He starts talking about success, and how he's never had any. He gets home and listens to the radio, which is playing a symphony. He is overcome by the music and pretends to conduct it from his chair. It makes him feel good, so he stands up and gets into it with his whole body. He's exhausted when it's over, but feels proud of himself. He pretends that he composed the work and just conducted it, and the audience is demanding more. He looks up when more symphonies will be on the radio, and conducts those, too.
     This all makes him feel so good that he decides to convert a room in his home into a theater. He installs theater seating, a small stage, a box for the conductor, and special record players and speakers. He gets records of different kinds of applause, and buys a variety of symphonies to conduct. He loves acting like a famous composer. Botibol then decides to get a piano so he can pretend to play. He goes to the store to get one rigged to be silent, then goes to buy more piano records. There he meets a woman who starts talking about what music she loves. Never really having relationships, he awkwardly invites her over to his house to listen to music. She agrees and comes over and he explains his hobby to her. She doesn't seem to think it's weird, and pretends to play the piano while he conducts her. When he invites her back, she says she can't come because of work. She reveals that she's a piano teacher.

"Mr. Botibol's First Love" from Tales of the Unexpected (viewed 7/14/19)


The episode was pretty much the same as the written story. Overall it was an interesting story to read, because it seems like a pretty strange hobby. I thought it was amusing at one point - who hasn't danced as if they're onstage, or sang into a fake microphone and pretended they're a famous singer? But once the woman came over, I saw it from her point of view and realized how strange I would have thought it was if a man acted that way on a "date". The visual version of the story wasn't as interesting, but that's just my personal opinion.