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.