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.

The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain by Peter Sis

Autobiography #2

Peter Sis is an artist who grew up in Czechoslovakia when the country was under the control of the Communist Soviet Union. Sis uses a graphic illustration style to tell fascinating, at times shocking, details about living under a dictatorship. For example, Peter could only draw what he wanted at home; the government determined what he could draw while he was in school. The book also includes snippets from the journal that Peter kept as a boy, giving readers an amazing first-hand account of this time period.

The Wall is an example of a picture book written for older students, preferably those who have been introduced to the Cold War and are interested in learning more through a first-hand account. I enjoyed reading about the Cold War era and found the format and the personal account so much more interesting than a history book. Be sure to read the introduction and the afterword; they help explain the Cold War time period more completely.

By Mrs. N.

P.S. The Wall won the Robert F. Sibert Medal and is a Caldecott Honor Book.

Me...Jane by Patrick McDonnell

Biography #1

I am on a biography/autobiography kick right now, so get ready to hear about the lives of some extremely fascinating people! I'll start with Me...Jane, a Caldecott-winning book about the life of Dr. Jane Goodall. Jane Goodall is perhaps most well-known for her work with chimpanzees in Africa. For example, through her observations of chimpanzees, Jane discovered that, like humans, they could make and use tools!

Instead of focusing on her accomplishments as an adult, however, Me...Jane focuses on Jane Goodall's childhood and the dreams she had for her future. This is a simple story for young children that conveys the positive message that dreams do come true.

By Mrs. N.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Amulet: The Stonekeeper by Kazu Kibuishi

Amulet is a a fantasy adventure series written in graphic novel form.  It is a series that needs to be read in order, so I started with book one, The Stonekeeper.

The book has a shocking opening scene that leads to a family's move to start a new life. Emily, her younger brother Navin, and their mother move into their great-grandfather's home out in the country. The house, which appears haunted, is full of dirt, dust, and mysteries. Their adventure begins when Emily finds an amulet (a stone on a necklace) in great-grandfather's study. Later that night their mother is kidnapped in the basement by an octopus-like creature and taken to a underworld. Emily and Navin, with the aid of their great grandfather and some of his inventions, make chase and attempt to rescue their mother.

Because of the dramatic beginning and certain high-adventure elements, I recommend Amulet to older students who enjoy graphic novels and series reading. If you have not read graphic novels, they are quick and easy reads. This is mainly because they rely more heavily on illustrations than they do on text. If you like comic books, you know what I mean. In fact, graphic novels are essentially comic books bound in book form.

CAUTION: Readers are left with a "to be continued" ending and may feel compelled to immediately read book two.

By Mrs. N.

Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate

I knew I wanted to read Crenshaw because Katherine Applegate, the author, wrote The One and Only Ivan. (It won the Newbery Medal a few years ago; you should definitely read it!) Also, the cover--a boy seated on a bench beside a gigantic cat--made me curious. It just looked like a book I would like.

Crenshaw is the story of Jackson, a 10-year-old boy, whose family is going through hard times and is on the verge of living in their minivan...again. Crenshaw, a huge, outspoken cat, is his imaginary friend who shows up whenever Jackson needs him. The first time Crenshaw appeared Jackson was a 1st grader. Now that he is a fifth grader, Jackson doesn't want him around. He thinks that he is too old to have an imaginary friend and that he can protect both himself and his younger sister from the stresses at home. What he discovers, though, is that life can be a bit much to handle on your own, and everyone needs a little help, whether real, imaginary, or both.

I loved this book and highly recommend it to 2nd - 6th graders! Like The One and Only Ivan, Crenshaw's chapters are short, making it a quick read. Almost too quick for me because I wasn't ready for this beautiful story to end.

Mrs. N.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

My Friend Has Dyslexia by Amanda Doering Tourville

This book is a one of a series of books called Friends with Disabilities. I chose to read it because I know of several children's book authors who are dyslexic, and I have been trying to learn more about it.

What I like about this book is that it explains dyslexia in a very simple way that gives readers an idea of what people with dyslexia deal with, both mentally and socially. "Did You Know" facts are included throughout the book, and it also contains a "To Learn More" page of print and digital resources on dyslexia.

I recommend this book to young students interested in learning about the topic of dyslexia.

By Mrs. N.

The Red Lemon by Bob Staake

The Red Lemon is a fun-to-read-aloud picture book filled with Bob Staake's bright, graphic illustrations and rhyming story line. When you read it, notice Farmer McPhee's changing facial expressions. He goes from pure yellow happiness to all-over red anger when he discovers a red lemon on one of his lemon trees. Unable to imagine any possible use for a red lemon, Farmer McPhee hurls the fruit as far as he can. It lands on an island where 200 years later...

On second thought, read The Red Lemon to find out if Farmer McPhee was right about red lemons.

I recommend this book to young elementary students who enjoy rhyme and great illustrations!

By Mrs. N.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Anything but Typical by Nora Raleigh Baskin

Anything but Typical is another Schneider Family Award winning book. (If I haven't mentioned it before, I love this award given to books that work to increase our understanding of human differences!)

The story is narrated by its main character--Jason Blake, a 12-year-old autistic boy who is a gifted writer. He sets out to tell his story in a way that "neurotypical" people can understand. He does a great job of it too, explaining his difficulty looking directly at people, the extreme amount of self control it takes to avoid flapping his hands when he is anxious, his hypersensitivity to smells, the way clothing or shoes feel, etc. And perhaps most important of all, he dispels the myth that just because he appears not to feel does not mean that he does not feel.

Readers get to see just how much Jason feels when it comes to his relationship with Phoenixbird. Phoenixbird is actually the username for Rebecca, a girl whom Jason comes to know through Storyboard, a website where people can post their writing and receive feedback from other members. Phoenixbird is starting to become Jason's first real friend (maybe even girlfriend) when they get the chance to actually meet at the annual Storyboard Convention.

What happens next is both uplifting and heartbreaking.

I recommend this book to older students who are open to reading realistic fiction with the power to expand their perspective on life. Like many Schneider Family Award winners, Anything but Typical reminds me that people are all unique and no one person is superior to another. We would all do well to remember that.

By Mrs. N.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins

If you've read or seen The Hunger Games trilogy, you may be interested in trying out Suzanne Collins next five-book series called The Underland Chronicles. The books are not continuations of The Hunger Games storyline. Instead, these stories follow Gregor, an 11-year-old boy, as he has adventures in the dark Underland below New York City. The Underland is a world that Gregor and his 2-year-old sister Boots accidentally discover after falling through a grate in their apartment building basement. This fantasy includes roaches, spiders, rats, bats, and even humans as characters. An ancient prophecy guides the suspenseful plot to a satisfying conclusion, leaving readers ready for their next trip to the Underland.

I recommend The Underland Chronicles to students who love the adventure/fantasy genre and who enjoy reading series.

By Mrs. N.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Interrupting Chicken by David Ezra Stein

Interrupting Chicken, winner of a Caldecott Honor, is a funny picture book about, you guessed it, an interrupting chicken! In this simple story, Papa attempts to put little chicken to bed with a bedtime story. As usual, he cannot get through a story without little chicken's enthusiastic interruptions. I love Papa's advice to little chicken after her first interruption: "Try not to get so involved." That turns out to be an impossible task for his book-loving daughter. With each story, Papa grows more and more exasperated.  At last he has the brilliant solution of reversing things and allowing little chicken to read him a bedtime story instead. Read Interrupting Chicken to find out if Papa's strategy works.

I recommend this book to readers who enjoy repetition in stories and a good laugh! Young readers will especially enjoy the bright illustrations and the expressive faces of Papa and little chicken.

By Mrs. N.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Chasing Redbird by Sharon Creech

Chasing Redbird centers around Zinny, a 13-year-old girl, who discovers an old, overgrown trail behind her family's farm in Bybanks, Kentucky. The story follows her efforts to clear this trail all the way from her backyard to the neighboring town of Chocton. The project becomes her obsession over the course of a summer in which she is struggling to come to terms with the recent death of her beloved Aunt Jessie and the past death of her 4-year-old cousin Rose. It also helps her develop a sense of independence and identity, which she desperately desires as one of a family of seven children. The most captivating part of the story for me was 16-year-old Jake Boone's sweet, though often illegal!, attempts to impress Zinny. Readers will find the ending gratifying as Zinny, at long last, is freed from the guilt and lack of self-esteem that has burdened her for far too much of her young life.

I recommend this book to upper elementary students who enjoy coming of age stories mixed with a smidge of innocently humorous romance.

By Mrs. N.