Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Clayton Byrd Goes Underground by Rita Williams-Garcia

Award-winning author Rita Williams-Garcia's new book is out! As soon as I heard, I zipped over to my local public library and checked it out. The star of the book is Clayton Byrd, a young "blues harp"(harmonica) player who lives to play the blues with the Bluesmen. His grandfather, Cool Papa Byrd, heads the group and is Clayton's mentor. He has taught Clayton everything he knows about blues music and about life.

Early in the story Cool Papa Byrd dies, leaving Clayton alone with his mother who forbids him from playing his beloved blues harp. Distraught over his grandfather's death and desperate to follow his dream to play with the Bluesmen, Clayton runs away and takes a ride on the New York City subway in hopes of finding them. Instead, Clayton finds out that while Cool Papa Byrd taught him a lot, life still has much to teach him.

I recommend this book to kids who have an interest in and appreciation for music. Because the setting is mainly the NYC subways, a little background knowledge of big city life will help with comprehension.

Mrs. N.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany, & Jack Thorne

There is nothing like a couple of sick days to grant readers that coveted extra time to read! Thanks to my recent illness (and Natalie C's willingness to share her book with me), I have finished the new Harry Potter!

As many of you have likely heard by now, this 8th book in the Harry Potter series is actually a play...written in play form with stage directions and everything. Don't let the format scare you off, though. You will find that you quickly adjust to it once you start reading.

The story picks up 18 years after the Battle of Hogwarts. Harry, Ron, Hermione, and the gang are married adults with children. The main characters are Albus, Harry's youngest child, and Scorpious, Draco's only child. The boys are best friends and are Slytherins at Hogwarts. The core of the adventure involves Albus and his attempt to come to terms with who he is and what his place is in the wizarding world. A new dark character and a Time Turner machine are forces to be reckoned with throughout the story. However, more than anything else, the new Harry Potter is about the relationship between a father (Harry) and his son (Albus).

Recommended for mid-upper elementary Harry Potter fans.

CAUTION: Frequent backwards time travel and references to Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire as well as other Harry Potter books make knowledge of the Harry Potter series helpful.

By Mrs. N.

A Mango-Shaped Space by Wendy Mass

A Mango-Shaped Space revolves around Mia Winchell, a 13-year-old girl for whom sounds, words, and numbers have specific colors and patterns. For example, her best friend Jenna's name is "a bright, shimmering shade of green with some yellow highlights" while her sister Beth's name is "the murky brown of swamp water." When she was young Mia assumed everyone experienced sounds, words, and numbers in color the way she did. However, a traumatic classroom experience in third grade made it clear that she was all alone in her view of the world. At that point she began keeping her colorful view of life a secret from her family, Jenna, everyone.

Failing grades at school force Mia to tell her parents the truth and seek help. Eventually she learns she has a type of synesthesia, a condition in which a person's five senses cross in different combinations. This leads Mia on a path of self acceptance that involves a interesting love interest or two and has a sweetly satisfying ending.

A Mango-Shaped Space, a Schneider Family Book Award Winner, is a great example of the overlap between fiction and nonfiction. The book allows readers to experience the real-world condition of synesthesia and Mia's fictional life...double bonus!

Recommended to upper elementary students.

By Mrs. N.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker by Patricia Hruby Powell

Biography #6

This is the award-winning biography of Josephine Baker, the famous African American dancer from the 1930s era. While it is a picture book, the story of Josephine's life is longer than the average picture book. Author Patricia Powell divides it into 6 chapter-like parts by time periods.

Josephine's life is a rags to riches and back to rags tale about an incredibly determined young girl who lived to sing and dance on stage.She grew up poor in segregated America, a place where she was deemed inferior because of the color of her skin. However, after traveling to Paris, France to perform in a show, Josephine became famous. The people of France loved her...despite her skin color!

While Josephine was forever grateful to the French people and loyal to France, she longed to achieve fame in her own country as well. Read this biography and discover if Josephine's big dream ever came true. Also read to find out more about this fascinating woman such as why her family was known as her "Rainbow Tribe" and what animal she had as a pet.

Recommended to upper elementary students (4th grade and up).

By Mrs. N. 

Bad News for Outlaws by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson

Biography #5

Bad News for Outlaws: The Remarkable Life of Bass Reeves, Deputy U.S. Marshal is a picture book biography about Bass Reeves,  a real hero of the Wild West. Reeves began his life as a slave in Texas. He escaped into Indian Territory (what is now Oklahoma) and eventually became a deputy U.S. marshal charged with tracking down outlaws. His way with horses, his skill with guns, and his lack of fear made him an excellent fit for the job. Reeves became known for being tough, honest, and good. He even arrested his own son! He was also known for capturing outlaws by disguising himself. Bass Reeves was so good at his job that some outlaws just gave up and turned themselves in when they found out that he was on their trail.

I must admit that I had never heard of Bass Reeves before coming across this book. (I ordered it because it won the Coretta Scott King award.) I must say I truly enjoyed learning about such an honest and admirable real-life character from the days of the Wild West. I recommend this biography to 3rd - 6th graders who like to read about the cowboys and Indians era in American history.

Note: The back of the book includes helpful resources such as a glossary of Western words, a timeline of Reeves' life, and a list of websites and books students can use to further their learning on the subject.

By Mrs. N.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

The Noisy Paint Box by Barb Rosenstock

Biography #4

The Noisy Paint Box is a book about two subjects you may have never heard of before...Vasya Kadinsky, a famous Russian artist, and synesthesia, a genetic condition unheard of during Kadinsky's lifetime.

Kadinsky is famous for being one of the first painters of abstract art (art that is not supposed to look like anything specific). Instead of painting landscapes or flowers or people, Kadinsky preferred to mix colors and paint shapes and lines that made people feel different emotions.

The unusual thing about Kadinsky was that he could hear colors as he painted. Also, he could see colors when he heard music. Most experts believe that he had what we now call synesthesia, which means his senses communicated in ways other people's do not. These abilities helped him become a very successful artist.

While The Noisy Paint Box is a picture book, I recommend it to open-minded, older students who have an interest in art.

By Mrs. N.

P.S. The illustrations in this book won the Caldecott Honor and were created by Mary Granpre, the Florida artist best known for illustrating the Harry Potter books.

The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus by Jen Bryant

Biography #3

The Right Word is the story of Peter Mark Roget, the man who created the first thesaurus (book of synonyms). As the winner of both the Robert Sibert Medal and a Caldecott Honor, this book is full of fascinating facts about Roget as well as unique, detailed collage illustrations.

At the age of eight, Peter began writing his own book called Peter, Mark, Roget. His Book. His book was full of word lists rather than stories.He listed Latin words he was learning from his tutor, plants and insects he saw in London's parks, and eventually synonyms. As an adult, he decided to create a book that would help people find the exact right word whenever they needed it. Today Roget's Thesaurus has remained in print continuously since 1852!

I recommend this book to students with experience using a thesaurus. They will be interested in learning the history behind such a useful resource. In fact, any student who recognizes the power of words will appreciate this book and enjoy celebrating Roget's gift of the thesaurus to the world.

By Mrs. N.