Bank Street Book Fest. It was, to say the least, a literary star studded event and I had a wonderful time. During the day, we had breakout discussion sessions and out of the 10 group choices, I chose Mini Mock Newbery, led by Amy Sears from the Teaneck Public Library. Amy chose 5 books for a Newbery discussion. There were Doll Bones by Holly Black, P.S. Be Eleven by Rita Williams-Garcia, Courage Has No Color, the True Story of the Triple Nickles: America's First Black Paratroopers by Tonya Lee Stone, Navigating Early by Clare Vanderpool and, last and the only one I hadn't already read, The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp by Kathy Appelt.
Well, I have read The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp now and boy, am I glad I did.
Living on the Bayou Tourterelle, in a rusty old 1949 DeSoto Sportsman car, A/K/A Information Central, raccoons Bingo and J'miah have just been promoted to official Sugar Man Swamp Scouts. As information officers, their job is to keep the Sugar Man Swamp safe and they receive their information from the car's radio whenever lightening strikes it. Should the swamp be threatened, these newest information officers are to find the Sugar Man, a creature Yeti-like in stature, who has been sleeping somewhere deep within the swamp for the past 60 years. Trouble is, no one knows exactly where to find him. In fact, no one really knows if he even exists.
Now, the rumble rumble felt by Bingo and J'miah tells them that something is heading their way. A gang of wild hogs, the Farrow Gang, is heading towards the Sugar Man Swamp in search of the delicious sugar cane found there. They will surely destroy the swamp and everything in their path to get at that sugar cane.
At the same time, Chap Brayburn, 12, has his own Sugar Man Swamp problems. He loves the swamp as much as his grandfather did, but his beloved grandfather has just passed away. And now Sonny Boy Beaucoup, who owns the swamp, wants to pave over it and built a Gator World Wrestling Arena and Theme Park with the help of alligator wrestling champ Jaeger Smith. But that means not only razing the swamp, but also all the sugar cane and the Paradise Pie Cafe, where Chap's mother makes her living baking and selling fried sugar pies made from cane found there.
But Sonny Boy Beaucoup is willing to not do any of this if Chap can come up with a boat load of cash. And in fact, Sonny Boy will even sign over the whole swamp to Chap if he can find proof of the Sugar Man really exists and isn't just the stuff of legend.
Suddenly, the Sugar Man swamp and a whole way of life is facing environmental catastrophe one way or another and all there is between that and saving it are two raccoon scouts and one twelve year old boy.
What a story!! It goes here and there, gives the history of things like the DeSoto, the Sugar Man, Chap's grandfather Audie Brayburn, all kinds of dissipate elements and in the end, Kathy Appelt ties them together so neatly, you scratch your head and say to yourself 'why didn't I see this coming?' And she does it all with wit that can be at time dry, snarky, endearing, folksy, and just plain old funny. The Bayou Tourterelle (not a real place) is in Texas, on the Gulf of Mexico and you can hear the southern accent even if you are a tried and true New Yorker like I am. What a master storyteller Kathi Appelt is!
One of the women in my Book Fest discussion group suggested listening to the audio book version of The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp read by Lyle Lovett. So, I borrowed it from the library. If ever a book and a reader were made for each other, this would be it. Lyle Lovett's smooth southern drawl is just the perfect compliment for telling this story and his delivery of the important cadences that make this such a great novel are just spot on. I found myself laughing out loud in public while listening to it.
Now, here's the rub - I was reluctant to read this novel at first. Oy vey, what was I thinking? This just may be my very favorite book of 2013.
This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book and audio book were borrowed from the NYPL
Monday, December 9, 2013
Friday, December 6, 2013
But just before Sarah is whisked off to Rome by her rather hippyish grandmother, Z, Curtis tells her he doesn't want to live a lie by letting people think they are a couple. Still, when her grandmother gives Sarah a journal to records her Roman adventures, Sarah finds her thoughts often turning to Curtis. But does she like him in a "boy-liked" way?
Sarah has lots of time to think about this in Rome. She and Z are supposed to be do the seven church pilgrimage, but after they see church number 6, things begin to get odd. On July 14, a Sunday and also Bastille Day, it is Z's 64th birthday. She decides to buy herself a new lipstick and to go off the see another church, but ends up sitting on the famous Spanish Steps instead - for a long time, while Sarah walks around alone. Z spends the next day in bed, listless. Sarah and Z never get to see the seventh church to complete their pilgrimage before they head back home on Wednesday, July 17th.
I can't go further without giving too much away, but you do find out what happened with Z in Rome and also how Sarah resolves her friendship with Curtis.
It was nice to return to Red Bend, Wisconsin and revisit the Schwenks, even if D.J. played only a minor, but important role in Heaven is Paved with Oreos.
I wanted to like this book so much, but I just didn't. This is too bad because Catherine Gilbert Murdock's Dairy Queen YA series is really good. There are some humorous moments, but I can't say there was any part of the book that gave me a warm feeling. I think the journal style means that we are too focused on Sarah and her thoughts and, Sarah's voice just didn't resonate as that of a 14 year old. In fact, it felt a 12 year old Junie B. Jones pretending to be 14, and grandma Z didn't feel much older.
In addition, the Oreo theme felt really forced and as much as I love Oreos, I just didn't think it worked. It was really purposeless.
I was also a bit disappointed to discover that the travel book that plays such a big part of the book, Two Lady Pilgrims in Rome by Lillian Hesselgrave, wasn't a real book. It would have been fun to read. And learning the she and her travel companion were lesbians, made me wonder why that information was included. For future use, perhaps?
Even though I didn't care for Heaven is Paved with Oreos, the fact of the matter is that Catherine Gilbert Murdock is a favorite author of teens, and I suspect more than one middle grader has read the Dairy Queen novels and they will definitely find their way to this book, especially with that very attractive cover.
This book is recommended for readers age 10+
This book was borrowed from a friend
Monday, December 2, 2013
One day when Clover's friends are over, playing jump rope, the girl asks if she can play with them, but one of them just says no!
Whenever Clover sees the other girl in town, they both watch each other, but Clover thinks the other girl looks sad. Sometimes, she sees the girl out playing in the rain by herself.
One morning, when Clover gets close to the fence, the girl asks her name and tells her that her name is Annie. Not allowed to go over the fence, the girls decide to sit on it. After all, they weren't told they couldn't do that.
Eventually, they ask if they can join the jump rope game that Clover's friends are playing near the fence. And when all the girls get tired of jumping, they sit together on the fence, talking. The story ends on a hopeful note for the future that one day the fence will be knocked down.
The purpose of a fence is to separate people, to make sure that those on either side of the fence stay where they "belong". But, in The Other Side, it shows us how simple it is to bridge a fence, and how it can even become the site of understanding and acceptance rather than exclusion. It made me thing of the words "And a little child shall lead them".
Clearly, in Jacqueline Woodson's story, The Other Side, the fence is a metaphor for segregation. It is a story about race relations in this country, set in the 1950s, judging by Annie's saddle shoes and the dresses on the girls, just before the Civil Rights Movement really came into its own and began to tear long standing, racial divisive fences down.
Added to Woodson's beautiful words are the realistic watercolor illustrations of E. B. Lewis. Lewis always pays such detail to the subject of his illustrations, and The Other Side is no different. These important visual details help us to situate the time of the story, yet oddly enough, because no time period is actually mentioned, and despite these visual clues, Lewis manages to give the story the same timeless quality that Woodson achieves.
The Other Side will leave you feeling uplifted and hopeful. Don't miss it!
This book is recommended for readers age 6+
This book was borrowed from the NYPL
Wednesday, November 27, 2013
Thank you, Barbara.
It is Thanksgiving week and Mr. Scary's first graders in Room One have some activities planned to help celebrate the holiday.
On the Monday before Thanksgiving, the kids begin a list of things that they are thankful for to enter into the school's Thankful contest. The class with the best list will win a homemade pumpkin pie. Trouble is, no one in Room One likes pumpkin pie, it makes them vomit. But a Thankful List is begun and includes such things as cranberry jelly in a can (Junie's choice) and exploding biscuits (you know, the kind that you bash on the counter to open).
On the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, everyone has a Thankful Bag to fill with something they are thankful for. But they can't show each other what's in their bag until it is their turn at Show and Tell. Imagine a whole day of Show and Tell. This is great until rich Lucille opens her Thankful Bag and waves all the money in it around the classroom and everyone goes diving for ones, fives, tens and twenties. A trip to the principal's office delays things a bit. Junie brought in her favorite stuffed elephant and her nemisis May brought in the same exact stuffed animal. Words are exhanged, another delay and both girls end up having their elephants taken away by Mr. Scary. But, despite all, by the end of the day, the class has a list of twenty things on their Thankful List, though Mr. Scary seems somewhat dismayed by what the students listed.
On the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, the class is to come in dressed as pilgrims or Native Americans. Junie isn't happy being a pilgrim, and she is especially unhappy when May comes in dressed as the Native American Princess she wanted to be. First thing in the morning, the winner of the Thankful List contest is named and, much to everyone's surprise, particularly Mr. Scary, it turns out to be Room One because they had the most honest list ever. Later in the day, invited parents and other relatives arrive to enjoy a feast with the kids of food they brought with them. And it turns out that some pumpkin pie is better than others!
Turkeys We Have Loved and Eaten is a laugh out loud story with lots of lessons to be learned. The basic theme here is thankfulness and in the end that is was really comes across. I thought the fact that the teacher didn't try to change the kids' list choices to make it more PC was a nice touch, and I think the list reflects reality more than we might like to think. But that is OK, kids really do like such things as rainbow sprinkles, cookies, but not the coconut kind, and the big box of 64 crayons (I was pretty thankful the first time I got a box of 64 crayons).
Parents and teachers don't generally like the Junie B. Jones books, but kids do. My Kiddo and her cousins always read them and, despite some incorrect grammar and sometimes rowdy behavior, it didn't seem to rub off.
And when you are a 4th grade teacher in a failing school, and a few of the kids in your class have discovered Junie B., and the Amber Brown series and want to read their stories, you are pretty thankful that they want to read anything at all.
This book is recommended for readers age 6+
This book was purchased for my personal library
Monday, November 25, 2013
It's Monday! What are you reading? is the original weekly meme hosted by Sheila at Book Journey. It's Monday! What are you reading? - from Picture Books to YA is a kidlit focused meme just like the original and is hosted weekly by Teach Mentor Texts. The purpose is the same: to recap what you have read and/or reviewed and to plan out your reading and reviews for the upcoming week.
Last week I reviewed the following books:
Flight of the Honey Bee by Raymond Huber, illustrated by Brian Lovelock This is a wonderful story about one honey bee named Scout as she leaves the hive to gather nectar to make honey. There is also a list of things we can do to help prevent bee disappearance and hive collapse. (Picture Book)
Year of the Jungle, Memories from the Home Front by Suzanne Collins, illustrated by James Promois This is about the year Suzanne Collins's father went to Vietnam and what that time felt like to her 6 year old self. An excellent book, especially for kids with a parent who is presently deployed. (Picture Book)
After Iris by Natasha Farrant A funny, sad coming of age, coming to terms book about a quirky dysfunctional family. (Middle Grade)
The Boy on the Wooden Box by Leon Leyson Leon Leyson was one of the youngest Jews that Oskar Schindler is credited with saving. Just before he passed away, Leon write his personal story of surviving. (Middle Grade)
This week I hope to read and review the following:
Heaven is Paved with Oreos by Catherine Gilbert Murdock I haven't started this but I am anxious to read it. I even bought a bag of Candy Cane oreos for the occasion. (YA)
The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp by Kathi Appelt I just finished this actually and I loved it. (Middle Grade)
The Thing About Luck by Cynthia Kadohata I also just finished this and I thought it was a very interesting story and it just won the National Book Award. (Middle Grade)
Junie B., First Grader: Turkeys We Have Loved and Eaten (and Other Thankful Stuff) by Barbara Park This was planned even before we received the news of Barbara Park's untimely death. (Elementary, Read Aloud)
A Medal for Leroy by Michael Morpurgo This looks like another Morpurgo winner. (Middle Grade)
What are you reading this week?
Thursday, November 21, 2013
Now, the Gadsby parents have hired a dissertating student named Zoran to look after the kids while they are gone, who takes his job very seriously, even if he doesn't always get the cooperation he wants. Then, along comes Joss, who has been sent to live with his grandparents next door, and things really get crazy in the Gadsby household. Joss may be Blue's crush, but he is Flora boyfriend obsession.
Communicating with their mother mostly on Skype, and seeing their dad only on weekends, and now only sometimes if then, the kids conclude that their parents are perhaps growing apart and thinking of divorce. And then the Babes run away.
After Iris is one of the best contemporary novels I have read in a long time, and I have read a lot of really great novels lately. The Gadsby children are great characters, all different, but all well fleshed out. Flora is cool and has lots of friends, with the exception of Joss's friends who continually write terrible Facebook comments about her; Blue is geeky and awkward and no longer has any friends as they have moved on to inhabit the junior version of Flora's world and Blue has chosen to become invisible; the Babes have each other and their rats. At first, I thought they were twins as well, but Twig (the only boy) is the younger of the two.
Despite the seriousness of coming to terms with and beginning the real healing work that the death of a child/sibling involves, After Iris is not the morbid story it sounds like it should be. Certainly not when the Babes rats drive into Blue's classroom, dressed and sitting in remote controlled cars. Nor when they are sent off to visit Grandma's in Dorset, who has some wacky ideas of her own about children. And there is a softer side of friend and enemy relationships that are more true to life than usually depicted in novels for middle graders.
The whole thing is narrated in the first person by Blue. Some of the chapters begin with movie transcripts that describe what she is filming followed by diary entries that continue the filmed episode. The transcripts move the story along more quickly that straight narrative. And there is lots of humor and funny bits that keep you going in this well written novel, even as we watch compassionately when the family's coping strategies begin to fall away.
After Iris is definitely a novel about coming to terms with death, but it is also a novel about Blue's own personal process of coming of age, which involves but is not limited to learning to accept the death of her twin sister.
After Iris is a novel not to be missed.
This book is recommended for readers age 10+
This book was borrowed from a friend