Sunday, September 21, 2014

Banned Books Week 2014

It is Banned Books Week again and there are events and celebrations happening all over the country this week.  You can find a state by state list of what may be happening in your area HERE

Or… hop on over to YouTube to watch the 2014 Banned Books Virtual Read Out.  There are lots of participants - by authors, celebs and non-celebs, all passionate about speaking out against censorship. 

I like to keep a journal of my favorite quotes from books I have really enjoyed, so I thought I would share some of them here.  I hope you find them interesting and inspiring.

To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee

"I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that Courage is a man with a gun in his hand.  It's when you know you're licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what.  You rarely win, but sometimes you do.  Mrs. Dubose won, all ninety-eight pounds of her.  According to her views, she died beholden to nothing and nobody.  She was the bravest person I ever knew." pg 112

"It isn't okay to hate anybody."  pg. 246

                                 Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone - J.K. Rowling

"Always use the proper name for things.  Fear of a name increases fear of a thing itself." pg 298

"The truth," Dumbledore signed. "It is a beautiful and terrible thing, and should therefore be treated with great caution." pg 298

                           And Tango Makes Three - Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell

"Tango was the very first penguin in the zoo to have two daddies." np

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

"May the odds be ever in your favor." pg 19

The Giver - Lois Lowry

"Our people made that choice, the choice to go to Sameness.  Before my time, before the previous time, back and back and back and back.  We relinquished color when we relinquished sunshine and did away with difference.  We gained control of many things.  But we had to let go of others."  pg 95

                           The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian - Sherman Alexie

"He made me realize that hard work - that the act of finishing, of completing, of accomplishing a task - is joyous." pg 98

Annie on my Mind - Nancy Garden

"Don't punish yourselves for people's ignorant reactions to what we are.  Don't let ignorance win.  Let love." pg 232

Fahrenheit 451 - Ray Bradbury

"There must be something in books, things we can't imagine, to make a woman stay in a burning house; there must be something there.  You don't stat for nothing." pg 51

What are some of your favorite Banned Books?

Friday, September 19, 2014

Alvin Ho: Allergic to the Great Wall, The Forbidden Palace, and Other Tourist Attractions by Lenore Look

It's Christmas vacation and Alvin Ho, 7 year old Chinese American second grader, is back for another adventure and this time he's leaving his home in Concord, MA and traveling half way around the world to visit family in Beijing, China.

For most kids, a trip to China would be an exciting, fun adventure, but most kids aren't Alvin.  For Alvin, it means packing your PDK (Personal Disaster Kit), and climbing into a tin can to fly half way around the world, accompanied by his dad, his mom, older brother Calvin, younger sister Anibelly and baby sister Claire, and oh, yes, all his allergies.  You see, Alvin is allergic to all kinds of scary things, and on a trip to a foreign country, he will be able to add all kinds if fears like flying, heights, and elevators to his repertoire of allergies.

Once in China, Alvin does manage to visit the Great Wall, lose his father's passport (NOT something you want to have happen in China), go through the Forbidden Palace and, my personal favorite, end up in a Chinese hospital.

But anyone familiar with Alvin's previous adventures in fear will remember he is allergic to girls (#1: Alvin Ho is Allergic to Girls School and Other Scary Things), so when his cousin Katie shows him the Christmas tree she decorated with angels bearing the wishes of girls living in an orphanage, Alvin thinks it is a swell idea until the angel he picks says Friend on it.  How do you give a friend?  And to a girl, no less?  It is a conundrum, but Alvin works out with some surprising results.

Although Alvin's obsessive nature sometimes got on my nerves, I think the real benefit of the Alvin Ho books is that they address the many fears that kids often have, and may even provide a kind of relief for the reader when they realize they are not alone.

I also laughed my way though most of Alvin Ho: Allergic to the Great Wall, The Forbidden Palace, and Other Tourist Attractions, partly because so much of what happens is so spot on (right down to Calvin's I Climbed the Great Wall t-shirt, the same t-shirt my Kiddo came home wearing from her first trip to China).  

I've always like Lenore Look's books because he manages to get so much information into the story that you don't even realize you just learned something new about China and Chinese culture.  For example, I didn't know that Chinese buildings don't have a 4th, 14th and 24th floor because 4 is an unlucky number in China and they don't have a 13th floor because that is an unlucky number in Western countries.  And I didn't know that the purpose of acupuncture is to more your stuck Chi (Qi) or energy to help you feel better.  These are just part of Alvin's story and are worked into it so seamlessly.

I chose Alvin Ho: Allergic to the Great Wall, The Forbidden Palace, and Other Tourist Attractions for my first book in the A More Diverse Universe Reading Challenge because so often children's books written by people of color are overlooked and there are so many more that there used to be and so many are wonderful.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Time of the Fireflies by Kimberley Griffiths Little

It's summer vacation and Larissa Renaud, 12, isn't really looking forward to it.  Her best friend is off to Paris with her grandmother and Larissa hasn't any other friends.  But what she does have is a serious scar running down the side of her face, gotten when she almost drowned in the Bayou Teche a year ago after falling from the broken bridge that once crossed over it on a dare.  Ironically, her Aunt Gwen had actually drowned the same way.

Now, living over the antique shop her parents had opened in Bayou Bridge, LA, her mother's childhood home, Larissa's summer prospects don't look interesting, at least not until an old disconnected antique phone rings and the voice on the other end tells Larissa to not only find the fireflies but to trust them as well.  After all, it's a matter of life or death.

Sure enough, later that day, Larissa finds the fireflies at, of all places, the broken bridge where she almost drowned.  As they swarm around her, enveloping her in their bright light, the bridge suddenly appears to be whole and safe.  Cautiously, Larissa crosses over it and by the time she reaches the other side, she has time-slipped back to 1912.

Larissa can't believe what she is seeing - her great great grandmother Anna Normand as a young girl surrounded by family and servants.  Anna's Uncle Edgar had just returned from the Caribbean where he had bought gifts for everyone, including a young African American servant named Dulcie who received a beautiful Victorian doll.  Anna, who received a pony, asks to hold the doll and never gives it back.  Larissa recognizes the doll as one her mother owns, kept locked on a display case, the doll whose eyes seem to follow her whenever she is in the same room.

As Larissa receives more mysterious phone calls from disconnected old phones and travels back to the past again and again with the help of the fireflies, she learns more and more about her family's tragic past and the beautiful doll that great great grandmother Anna had taken from Dulcie, its rightful owner, and who seems to always be present when tragedy strikes.  Is it possible that doll is cursed?  And could Larissa's mother and the baby she is expecting become it's next victims?

I should have known the minute the doll was mentioned that I was in for a creepy doll story.  And what better place to set a time-travel, creepy doll story than in a Louisiana Bayou, which always seems to have an aura of sinister mystery about it, anyway (at least, in books).  And Kimberley Griffiths Little does capitalize on that and has created a delightfully haunting coming of age story in which place is one of the best characters in the book.

Larissa is an OK character.  She's totally focused on her scar and tries to hide it as much as possible with her hair.  But, she is also so wrapped up in her anger at the two girls who dared her to stand on the edge of the broken bridge, that she has never let anyone explain how she was saved that day.  Solving the mystery around the creepy doll does help to pull her out of her self-pity so that she can see things more clearly - past and present.

And the mystery is interesting, though I thought too much time was spent in 1912, so that time travel episodes to other, later ancestors felt a bit rushed.  I did like the story of the doll, made by doll makers in the Dominican Republic at a place called the Island of Dolls, though I wish there had been a little more said about the doll's voodoo roots.

Despite my few grumblings, The Time of the Fireflies was a fun read, compelling and exciting.  I was pulled into the story immediately and read it in one sitting, wanting to find out what happens.  If you liked Doll Bones by Holly Black, you are sure to enjoy this creepy doll mystery.

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was borrowed from the NYPL

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Dog Days of School by Kelly DiPucchio, illustrated by Brian Biggs

Well, by now the first blush of the new school year is over and I suspect there are lots of kids out there who are beginning to wish they didn't have to go to school everyday.  But as Kelly DiPucchio's new picture books warns: be careful what you wish for.

Charlie is pretty tired of school - tired of writing his letters all the time, tired of drawing pictures, just tired of everything about school.  Lucky Norman, he thinks, he doesn't have to go to school cause he's a dog and gets to laze around every day.  So one Sunday night, Charlie wishes on a star that he were a dog.

Next morning, Charlie wakes up in Norman's bed and Norman wakes up in Charlie's bed.  Yes, it's the old switch-a-roo.   Norman goes to school and has fun, while Charlie gets to stay home and does dog things.

It's fun at first, but by Friday, the fun is wearing off for both Charlie and Norman.  And when the weekend is a total disaster for each of them, come Sunday night, Charlie makes another wish - he wishes to be a boy again.

The idea that a kid can make a wish and wake up to find it has come true can be a pretty scary idea for young readers, but writer DiPucchio's dead pan, straightforward text is combined with artist Brian Biggs humorous illustrations to turn this into a lighthearted story kids and their parents will laugh at.  Everything Norman does in school is dog related - for example, making a clay fire hydrant and drawing a food pyramid that consists only of bones, while Charlie gets to do dog things - drinking out of the toilet and digging in the garden.

Why do I suspect that DiPucchio and Biggs both chuckled their way through creating this book?  Perhaps because I and the young reader with whom I read Dog Days of School did exactly that.

So if school is beginning to feel like it isn't so much fun at the moment for your kids, you might want to share this charming story with them.  It worked on my young reader.

Monday, September 8, 2014

It's Monday! What are you reading? #11

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.

The week before last I was in California and returned home on Monday.  I had a lot of work to catch up with, so I didn't get to read as much as I would have liked, but I did read and review these three books:

1- The Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer L. Holm 
What would you do if you were an 11 year old girl and your mother brought home a 13 year old boy who turns out to be your grandfather?  Here is a very funny, entertaining story about just that.

2- Revolution by Deborah Wiles
A coming of age story set in the summer of 1964, Freedom Summer.  Sunny Fairchild, 12, has a lot to learn about herself and about the people in her Greenwood, Mississippi community, both black and white.  The story is supported with copious documentation from the political to the popular.

3- My Friend The Enemy by Dan Smith
In the midst of war, two friends discover that the enemy isn't so very different after all.  

I have another trip at the end of this week, but I am hoping I will be able to read the following, even if I don't get them all reviewed.  

Saturday September 13, 2014 is Roald Dahl Day and this year is also the 50th anniversary of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.  If these aren't two good reasons for celebrating, I don't know what is.  You can hop over to the official Roald Dahl Day website to find some good celebratory ideas.  Our plan is to reread Charlie and the Chocolate Factory this week.
1964 1st American Edition cover 
Already a fan?  You can read the previously unpublished chapter, Fudge Mountain, HERE

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Revolution by Deborah Wiles

It's Saturday night, June 20, 1964 in Greenwood MS and Sunny Fairchild, 12, and her older stepbrother Gillette, 14,, have just snuck into the municipal pool in Greenwood MS for a forbidden nighttime swim.  But as Sunny backstrokes to the edge of the pool, her hand suddenly touches someone else and as she screams and screams, a young black boy, every bit as afraid of Sunny as she is of him, runs from the pool, grabbing his clothes and a pair of new white Converse hi-tops.

Raymond Bullis, 14, just wanted to know what it was like swimming in the cool, clean "white only" pool, especially since the "black" pool had been closed for a long while now and black kids could only swim in the muddy river.

This night begins a intertwined journey which will take Sunny and Raymond through a summer of change that will impact both of their lives as each comes of age in the time that will become known as Freedom Summer

Sunny has heard so much about the so-called "invaders", as the local media refers to those "Civil Righters" coming south to help register black voters and to set up Freedom Schools for their children, but she is also dealing with "invaders" at home.  Sunny was perfectly happy living with just her father and an idealized idea of her mother, a person only known to her in a photo with Miranda, age 19 written on the back.  Sunny has convinced herself that her mother loved her but she left her as a baby because she needed adventures.  Now, Sunny's father has just remarried and everything's changed.   He's brought a new family to live in the house, stepmother Annabelle, Gillette and his little sister Audrey, 5.  And even though Annabelle wants nothing more than to be a mother for Sunny, Sunny is resistant to her every attempt, testing her over and over.

For Raymond and his friends, change can't come fast enough - in fact, even SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) are too slow.  But when he takes things into his own hands, he brings down all the wrath and hatred of Deputy Davis, a little too quick with physical force when it come to the activists, both black and white, and the black residents in Greenwood.

The novel is told from three points of view - Sunny, Raymond and a narrator there to fill in some of the blanks about Sunny's mother and father, as well as Annabelle's first abusive husband, a cop friend of Deputy Davis.  The narrative is interspersed with photos, song lyrics, speeches, political slogans, posters, pamphlets and four of what Wiles calls "opinionated biographies" of SNCC's Bob Moses, Lyndon Johnson, the Wednesday Women and Muhammad Ali, all important figures of the Civil Rights movement, so that the reader genuinely feels wrapped up in the events of that summer along with Sunny and Raymond.

Sunny and Raymond are both believable characters, well drawn as children of the time.  Sunny has always accepted the way things are, believing that the blacks on the other side of the tracks were happy with their separate but definitely not equal lives, and so Freedom Summer is a real eye opener for her.
Raymond gives the reader a credible picture of what life was like on his side of the tracks, from the lack of electricity, indoor plumbing, proper schools and recreation for kids to the threat of job loss if one dared step out of line, all designed to keep blacks down.

If there is a flaw in this book, for me it is the thankfully-not-very-time-consuming substory of the young Civil Rights activist, Jo Ellen Chapman, who reminds Sunny of her mother.  Sunny, even as she realizes Jo Ellen is not really her mother, becomes a little obsessed with her, and the whole thing comes to a quick but unsatisfactory resolution by the end of the book.

As a former history teacher, I loved reading Revolution.  It is a truly wonderful book, and one you won't soon forget as it brings history to life and life to history.  It is the second book of a planned trilogy.  The first book, Countdown, takes place in Washington D.C. and is the story of Jo Ellen's younger sister Franny, 12, and covers time of the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962.  It is also written in the same documentary style.  I am really looking forward to the third book, which takes place in 1966.  1962, 1964 and 1966 were all important, pivotal years in our recent history.

Want to know more about Freedom Summer?

Deborah Wiles has Pinterest boards for both Revolution and Countdown that have more documentary resources for interested readers who might like to follow her boards.  A particular favorite of mine is the  1962 and 1964 playlists of what kids were listening to back then. Be sure to check them out.

Scholastic offers a PDF discussion guide for the Civil Rights Movement, that includes Revolution and The Freedom Summer Murders by Don Mitchell, as well as suggestions for addition books on this important topic.

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was purchased for my personal library

Saturday, August 30, 2014

The Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer L. Holm

Imagine your mom coming home one day with a snarky 13 year old boy in tow that turns out to be your grandfather.  Well, that is just what happens to 11-going-on12 year old Ellie Cruz, and it couldn't have happened at a worse time.  Her parents are divorced, albeit amicably.  She misses 5th grade and is facing 6th grade without her best friend Brianna, who has discover volleyball and now hangs out the other girls on the team.  And she misses her miracle goldfish that has finally died after 7 years, the fish that was supposed to teach her about the cycle of life.  Now, she finds out that her mother has simple replaced her goldfish with another each time it died - 13 goldfish in all.

The last thing Ellie needs right now is a 13 year old grandfather, but that is what she gets.  It seems grandpa, Dr. Melvin  Sagarsky, 76 and with 2 PhDs to his credit, has discovered the secret to reverse aging thanks to a rare jellyfish.  Now he is stuck in middle school with Ellie and is being forced to read The Catcher in the Rye ("All this Holden kid does is whine.  He should just get a job").

So imagine how Dr. 2PhDs middle schooler Melvin Sagarsky feels when a goth kid named Raj calls him a quack while riding the school bus.  It seems that, despite his many published articles, grandpa's lifetime of research trying to find the secret to the fountain of youth isn't widely admired by the rest of the scientific community, even if he does have a fan club in Finland.

Now imagine Ellie's surprise when Raj, who, it turns out, is very much into science, shows up at her house, newly hired as Melvin's lab assistant.  Their goal: to break into the lab where Melvin used to work and steal the rare jellyfish that helped him reverse the aging process.  Natually, Ellie wants in.

Sounds easy enough, right?  Wrong!

You've probably already figured out that this book is pretty funny.  And it is, but at its heart is a rather serious question - what happens if Melvin's discovery works out and people stop aging, what does that do to the cycle of life?

The Fourteenth Goldfish is a character/action driven coming of age novel fueled by science and I really enjoyed reading it.  I liked watching Ellie grow and change, and seeing how she coped with everything going on around her.   It was particularly nice to read about a girl who learns a lot about science and the for-better-or-worse life-changing work of people like Galileo, Issac Newton, Robert Oppenheimer and Jonas Salk from her grandfather.  It's through her many conversations with Melvin that Ellie discovers she also has a real interest in science.  And a real interest in the ethical questions scientific discoveries can generate.  Oddly enough, despite regressing to a snarky 13 year old while still remaining as curmudgeony as ever, even Melvin grows as a character for the same reasons.

It was also nice to read a book that has parents that get along after divorce and a father who is still welcomed in his daughter's home.  And it was nice to see an ex-husband who got along with his wife's new, serious boyfriend.  Perhaps that is why Ellie was able to handle her own age appropriate problems so well.  For example, she and Brianna may have drifted into different interests, but they remained friends.

The Fourteenth Goldfish is a fun, quirky easy to read novel about life, friendship, science and possibility.  Definitely not a novel to miss.

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was an E-ARC received from NetGalley