Monday, July 6, 2020

The List of Things That Will Not Change by Rebecca Stead

Thanks to KidLitExchange, Rebecca Stead, Random House Kids, and Wendy Lamb Books for providing a copy of this book to review. All opinions are my own.

Bea’s parents have been divorced for two years when her father announces he’s marrying his partner, Jesse. Bea is thrilled because after ten years of being an only child, she’s getting a sister!

Sonia, her soon-to-be-sister, is also ten. She’s not used to dividing time between parents like Bea is, and Sonia’s mother lives across the country. Bea knows she needs to be understanding, but her excitement overcomes her.

Bea also struggles to keep her excitement under wraps around her mother, who still loves Bea’s father “in a way”. Bea thinks everyone should be excited to celebrate love, but she’s finding out the hard way that it’s not always the case.

Stead has the power to make the simplest statements incredibly emotional. All the pieces of Bea’s life come together to make a beautiful, powerful book.

Saturday, June 27, 2020

How to Be a Girl in the World by Caela Carter

How to Be a Girl in the World by Caela Carter publishes August 11, 2020 from Harper Collins Childrens Books. Thanks to @kidlitexchange, @caelacarter, and @harpercollinsch for sharing this ARC!

Lydia wears long sleeves and long pants even though it's summer. She's tired of the comments boys were making about her body, and covering it is the only way she knows how to get them to stop. Lydia can't tell anyone how she feels, because her friends think she should be flattered by male attention. Even her telling her mom isn't an option, because Lydia feels weird when her mom's boyfriend hugs her a little too long.

It's enough to make Lydia think she's crazy, or wrong, or making it up. When her mom surprises her with a fixer-upper house after living in apartments for so long, Lydia feels a glimmer of hope, that this change will set others in motion. Once she actually visits the house, Lydia feels even better - there's magic in that house, and she's determined to harness it to keep her - and her body - safe.

Reading this book was pretty tough, because it's very real, and I think all women have stories like Lydia's. I know I do, and I never shared them with anyone because I also thought maybe I was overreacting, or wrong. It makes me hopeful that books like this exist for girls now, so they can read a story and know what they're feeling is legitimate and they should speak up and have the right to feel safe and secure wherever they are. I think this is a necessary read for everyone, especially young girls and anyone who works with them, around them, or raises them. Let's empower our youth

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Rick by Alex Gino

Rick is starting middle school with one friend, but he’s starting to realize Jeff might not be the best friend. Jeff is judgmental and teases Rick for everything he is or isn’t. But when Rick decides he wants to join the school’s Rainbow Spectrum club to figure out who he really is, he realizes that Jeff is flat-out hateful. While Rick learns to accept others as they are, his relationship with his grandfather blossoms in a beautiful way. This is a wonderful middle grade book about acceptance, questioning who you are, and finding yourself.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

We Could Be Heroes by Margaret Finnegan

Thanks to @kidlitexchange and @simonkids for providing a review copy of 
We Could Be Heroes by @finneganbegin.

Hank hates the book his teacher is reading to the class. It's really emotional and sad and Hank can't handle it. So he steals the book and sets it on fire in the boys' bathroom. He gets in trouble, of course, but also captures the attention of his classmate, Maisie. Maisie sees strength in Hank, and sees that he's willing to stand up for what he believes in. So she introduces him to Booler, the sweet pit bull next door who is always tied to a tree. Maisie wants Hank to help her free Booler, and as he gets swept up in her plan, Hank learns a lot about himself and friendship.

I love how this book addresses disabilities without shining a spotlight on them. Hank has autism and it's just matter of fact and handled very realistically.Maisie also has a somewhat rare condition that is hidden for much of the book, but is also handled in a realistic manner as it comes out. I think it's important for all kids to have books like this - so they can see themselves in fiction and so they can learn empathy.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

We Dream of Space by Erin Entrada Kelly

We Dream of Space by Erin Entrada Kelly releases May 5, 2020. Thanks to @kidlitexchange and @greenwillowbooks for providing a review copy.

Bird loves outer space and dreams of being NASA’s first female shuttle commander. She’s totally obsessed with the upcoming Challenger launch, and all the lessons her science teacher is using to get the class involved. Fitch, her twin brother, would rather play video games. Cash is the twins’ older brother, who failed and is in their grade, and is also in danger of failing again.

All three siblings and their parents are realistic and compelling characters, and the Challenger launch provides an interesting and suspenseful plot point in this beautiful, emotional story about family, friendship, and the difference between dreams and reality.

Monday, April 13, 2020

Flash Writing: Digital Plays

I'm a fan of all this "you don't have to do all the things" support being posted during this time. It's been hard to push myself to even read at night; after working so hard during the day (at my job and "teaching"/parenting), I just want to zone out before I fall to sleep at 1am.

But also, I am a person who thrives with deadlines. I am the person who had a few weeks to write an outline for her book, and did it in a couple of days. I had almost a year to write the book, but just worked on it here and there until it was down to the wire. I pulled all-nighters before college papers and presentations were due. It's just how I work best, so I'm excited that Playhouse on the Square is doing Flash Writing: A Digital Play Festival. This is a weekly themed writing contest with very brief requirements and very short deadlines, aka right up my alley. At the end of the week, submissions are read by actors on video posted to the Playhouse Facebook page. Then it starts all over again.

Week One's theme was "I dreamed that I..." Click below to view my submission, read (a million times better than I heard it in my head when I wrote it) by Eileen Peterson.
I dreamed that I

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Lila and Hadley by Kody Keplinger

Happy book birthday to Lila and Hadley by @kodykeplinger! The book comes out TODAY, 4/7/2020, from @scholasticinc. Thank you to the publisher and @kidlitexchange for sharing an ARC.

This is a great book about family struggles, coming out of your shell, and includes realistic portrayal of disabilities you don’t often see addressed in fiction. It’s an #ownvoices book, and you need to read it. 

Once Hadley’s mom is arrested, Hadley is sent across state lines to live with her older sister, Beth. Their relationship is strained because Beth left years ago and Hadley never understood why - she just felt abandoned. Add to the mix Beth being a dog trainer and Hadley not being a dog person, but stuck spending time in the animal shelter anyway.

When Lila, a hard-to-reach dog begins interacting with Hadley, she lets herself be convinced to foster and train the dog for the summer. She seems a lot of similarities between herself and the stubborn dog, but agrees to make an effort of Lila does. That includes acknowledging her declining vision and taking mobility classes, as well as putting herself out there to make friends.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

The Space Between Lost and Found by Sandy Stark-McGinnis

The Space Between Lost and Found by Sandy Stark-McGinnis. Thanks to @kidlitexchange and Bloomsbury Publishing for sharing this powerful book, which publishes April 28, 2020.

Cassie’s life has changed a lot lately, as she adapts tomorrow her mom’s early onset Alzheimer’s. Cassie has to watch her mom often, but even when the caregiver is around, Cassie feels too sad and distracted to do the things she used to, like make art or be a good friend.

When Cassie realizes how much her mom is really slipping away from her, she’s determined to give her mother one last epic memory. But Cassie knows she can’t do it alone, so she has to try and reach out to her former BFF, and bridge the gap that has developed while Cassie has been preoccupied with her changing family.

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Everything Awesome About Dinosaurs by Mike Lowery

Thanks to @kidlitexchange and @scholasticinc for sharing Everything Awesome About Dinosaurs by @mikelowerystudio.

My kid loves dinosaurs, and of course I encourage all types of reading, but some of the dinosaur books he brings home from school are a little bland, or too dense for his age. He wants something fun to read, but full of facts - and that can be a tough order for a 5yo! I was relieved to see this book because I knew it would have the information my son wants, and I personally love Lowery’s drawing style and humor - win-win!

Since my son is young, we look at the pictures and read the large, handwritten facts together. Sometimes I’ll read the smaller typewritten facts aloud, but sometimes he’s ready to move on and soak up more information on the next page. I love that, because as he gets older, he’ll be able to keep coming back to this book and learn new things!

As a parent reading it aloud, I especially appreciate the pronunciation key for all of these dinosaurs and other creatures! I definitely stumble over dinosaur names if left to my own devices, so it’s nice to have right under the pictures in this book. I also love Lowery’s trademark humor and random jokes, which help make this book amazing for all ages!

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

The Year We Fell From Space by Amy Sarig King

Liberty’s whole life changes when her parents announce they’re getting a divorce. Liberty turns to the stars for guidance, like she always has, but she’s not able to map out new constellations like she used to. She reads these constellations like a horoscope, so she’s lost without them. Her connection with the stars feels severed, which is how she feels about her dad, who moved out and hasn’t called or visited in months. But still, Liberty asks the skies for answers, and when they reply by sending a meteorite, she’s determined to crack the universe’s code.

This book deftly handles changing family dynamics, friendships, bullying, and depression in a way that reads like fiction but feels like therapy.

Thursday, March 5, 2020

The Disaster Days by Rebecca Behrens

Hannah is babysitting for the second time in her life. She's taken a safety course for babysitters with her friend, and she'll just be at her neighbor's house, but after forgetting her inhaler one too many times, Hannah's mom isn't sure Hannah's responsible enough to be in charge of other kids. Hannah is determined to prove her mother wrong, and is doing a good job until an earthquake shakes the Seattle area and Hannah and the kids are stranded in a damaged house with limited supplies without knowing when someone can come to help.

This book was billed as a cross between Hatchet (which I did not like at all) and The Baby-Sitters Club (which I loved and still love to this day!), so I knew I had to give it a try. I'm so glad I did! This book was fantastic - so realistic, eye-opening, and suspenseful. Though I'm biased because I'm not a Hatchet fan because it seemed too unbelievable, I would diplomatically more compare this book to the Life as We Knew It series by Susan Beth Pfeffer, which also deals with a natural disaster and coping with the aftermath in a realistic way. I had to keep myself from skipping forward to see how many days Hannah and the kids were stranded because the suspense was almost too much to bear!

I finished this book before bed one night, and storms raged all night - which I found peaceful. Little did I know, storms in my city meant a deadly tornado in Nashville, just a few hours to my east. This book plus that tornado made me realize how important it is to be prepared for anything - something Behrens helpfully addresses at the end of this book. 

Sunday, February 9, 2020

STEAM Sunday: Monsters Love Colors

When I was a joint MakerSpace teacher + librarian, I loved using books as my jumping off points for MakerSpace lessons. Books are my comfort zone, and reading a book aloud to start a lesson is a great way to introduce a concept and get everyone on topic. These "lessons" don't have to be done for an entire classroom, and don't even have to be done the way I outline them here, but I thought it would be something fun to share.

Piggybacking off the last STEAM Sunday: Mix It Up! is another color mixing lesson with Monsters Love Colors by Mike Austin. I used this with Early Childhood students, ages 3-6, because it's a bit sillier and younger than Mix It Up! I'm sure it could be adapted to be used with older students, but since Mix It Up! worked so well with older kids, I didn't worry about aging this title up.

Monsters Love Colors is a fun, silly way to incorporate a little movement ("Mix, dance, and wiggle!") into a read-aloud before you get your lesson started. Since we had done the Mix It Up! lesson with colored water the week before, students already knew color mixing basics. That's just one reason I loved that this title was more fun - they had a good time wiggling and sharing their knowledge, and it was also an engaging refresher course.

For this hands on activity, there was a plate of paint at each work station: red, blue, and yellow. I originally did this lesson in Fall, so the challenge was to take those three colors and paint "Five Little Pumpkins" (which we read in library that week - tying it all together!). This meant they had to make orange and green. It was a lot of fun to see students draw their own pumpkins and then color them in. 

There are a lot of challenges you can do with color mixing that don't depend on a season, so have fun thinking up things students can draw that require purple, orange, and green paint.

Monday, February 3, 2020

Dear Universe by Florence Gonsalves

Thanks to KidLitExchange and Little Brown Young Readers for sharing Dear Universe by Florence Gonsalves. This book publishes on 5/12/2020, and I love that it’s going to come out right around graduation season, since finishing high school is such a poignant plot in this book.

Chamomile is counting down the days to prom - and the window for her boyfriend to ask her is dwindling. She tries not to think about it too much, and it’s not hard, because all her friends are looking forward to the senior volunteer trip to Nicaragua. The trip isn’t really on Cham’s radar, because she hasn’t finished her college admissions essay, which is a requirement to go. Cham isn’t even sure she’ll go to college in the fall - she’s too worried about her dad, whose disease is progressing quicker than anyone thought it would.

Cham is determined to keep her home life separate from her school world. She’s constantly pleading with the universe to help her pull it off, but she knows she can’t keep it up forever.

This story makes the reader incredibly invested in Cham’s life - or lives, as she’d prefer to have it. Some of the sentences made me gasp because they capture being seventeen so perfectly - on the brink of a huge life transition, with the world ready for you, while also fearing what might come next.

Getting real for a minute: Sometimes I feel jaded when I read YA books because the romance is so hopeful and pure, it makes me roll my eyes - even though I remember that’s how it was. Or the teens have all the talent in the world if they just stand up to their parents to go after their dreams - but some real kids don’t have that, they’re just average and can’t recognize any outstanding skills in themselves. This book, on the other hand, is the most REAL YA book I’ve read in awhile, that reminds me of my (eons ago) high school self and my friends, and the teens I recently got to know at the library. There’s a bit of romance, but it’s not all happy. There’s a lot of struggle, but it’s real. There’s a lot of true uncertainty and emotion expressed honestly. And there is so much hopefulness and fear that you’ll remember being seventeen in the best way possible.

Friday, January 31, 2020

Bookish Gifts: Mix It Up!

I always try to give a book to young kids, and I love finding the perfect toy or activity to go with the book to show children that reading is fun. I started with my nephew when he was little, and I still have so much fun picking a book that's just right for the child (because you always get the book first!) and then finding something that goes perfectly with the story.

Writing the last STEAM Sunday post about Mix It Up! reminded me of bookish gifts I gave out soon after leading these lessons in MakerSpace. The children loved the interactive story, and when my son and I were invited to birthday parties of a few of these students, I knew I wanted to help them remember that fun and have it at home (without creating a lot of prep and a crazy mess for parents)!

I paired this book with watercolor paper and a palette of basic colors so kids could mix it up on their own. It's a fun way to tie the interactive book to an activity they can do over and over again (and it's just a perk that they'd remember my class lesson, too!).

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

This Is My Brain in Love by I. W. Gregorio

Thanks to KidLitExchange and Little Brown Young Readers  for sharing This Is My Brain in Love by I.W. Gregorio. This book will be released April 14, 2020, so get excited! This is one you won't want to miss.

Jocelyn Wu has always helped out in A-Plus Chinese Garden, her family's restaurant. She and her little brother help cook, serve, clean up, roll silverware, and more - all while juggling their schoolwork and social life. Well, at least now Jos has a social life. It took her awhile to make friends in her small, homogeneous town, but now she has a best friend, Priya, and they spend all their free time making movies. When news breaks that the family's business is failing, Jos begs her dad to let her help revive the restaurant. She's determined to build a social media presence and bring in more customers. Her dad grudgingly agrees, and even lets Jos hire an intern.

Enter Will, a journalist-in-the-making who needs a summer job. He doesn't know what to expect, but he's good at coding, so Jos immediately hires him for the restaurant. Will has to push past his anxiety to help the business, but he doesn't mind, because he's finding he likes Jos as more than just a coworker. The more they work together, the more Will notices that Jos seems to have some mental hindrances. He tactfully tries to express his concerns, but even though she knows something is wrong, too, Jocelyn isn't receptive. She can't afford to admit defeat on any front - not with her family's livelihood and her budding social life at stake.

This Is My Brain in Love is told in two distinct voices. Will and Jocelyn are relatable and honest, and the way they talk about mental health is needed. The storylines are interesting and engaging while still being realistic - there aren't unrealistically high stakes or a glossed-over happy ending. But mental health is handled in a way where readers will understand the story and develop empathy, or they will see themselves in the characters and know what steps can be taken to get help - and that it's ok to want and need that help. 

I.W. Gregorio is a founding member of We Need Diverse Books and has previously published None of the Above, which is another must-read!

Sunday, January 26, 2020

STEAM Sunday: Mix It Up!

When I was a joint MakerSpace teacher + librarian, I loved using books as my jumping off points for MakerSpace lessons. Books are my comfort zone, and reading a book aloud to start a lesson is a great way to introduce a concept and get everyone on topic. These "lessons" don't have to be done for an entire classroom, and don't even have to be done the way I outline them here, but I thought it would be something fun to share.

Herve Tullet makes amazing interactive books that I love reading aloud in storytimes and library classes, and I really enjoyed using Mix It Up! in MakerSpace last year. Color mixing is a great way to kick off art lessons, and if your supplies are limited, it's also a great way to show students they can make their "limited" colors go a lot further!

After experiencing the book together, I got out colored ice cubes. In clear cups, I had students tell me which colors to mix together, and guess which color they would melt together to make. You can also quiz them by asking "What cubes do I need to pick to make orange?"

For individual work, we had three cups of water at each work station, and three empty cups. I put drops of food coloring in each water cup - red, blue, and yellow. Students used eyedroppers to pull colored water and mix it into the empty cups. They had sturdy watercolor paper they could drip water on to make beautiful abstract works of art.

The idea, of course, was for them to make their own hues of orange, purple, and green, but the younger students really enjoyed making their own brand new colors. A way to keep this as a creative learning experience is to have them name their new colors and explain how they made it, as best they could. For example: "I made orablue, by mixing a little bit of red, a little bit of yellow, and even more blue."

I used this lesson for Early Childhood, Lower Elementary, and Upper Elementary students. There was a bit of a mess with all age groups, but I think there's a good way to use this with younger children and not worry about the mess. For Toddlers, you can put paint in ziploc bags and let them literally mix it up! Put red paint in the right side of the bag, blue paint on the left side, place the bag flat on a table, and let the kids smush the color together! Same with blue and yellow, and red and yellow.

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

A Girl, A Raccoon, and the Midnight Moon by Karen Romano Young, illustrated by Jessixa Bagley

Happy Book Birthday to A Girl, A Raccoon, and the Midnight Moon by Karen Romano Young, illustrated by Jessixa Bagley! Special thanks to Chronicle Kids Books for sending me a copy! Don't worry - you can get your magic little paws on a copy today.

Pearl was born in the library, and has grown up in the same branch. It's where she goes after school, where her mom works, and where all her (adult, librarian) friends are. When Pearl discovers the library's statue of Edna St. Vincent Millay has been beheaded, she lets out a scream that sets off a chain of events. Some are good, like a potential new friend who's actually Pearl's age. Some are bad (besides the beheading itself), like the library possibly being shut down due to budget restrictions.

Pearl knows the library is worth saving, even if the adults who work there don't think it's possible. She has passion for books and the building itself, and she if she gets a little help from some magical raccoons, Pearl thinks she can make a difference.

This is a great book for anyone (of any age!) who loves adventure and fighting for what they believe in. Especially if they believe in books and libraries!

The writing style is very innovative, and was fun to see in a middle grade book! Informative footnotes, interesting and funny sidebars, and gorgeous illustrations. The magical realism was so perfectly done, I'm pretty sure I believe that what was presented (no spoilers!) is real. Read it for yourself and let me know what you think about that hint of magic.