Monday, October 23, 2017

It's Monday! What are you reading? Halloween Favorites - A Picture Book Roundup

It's hard to believe it is almost Halloween, again. We have been busy reading some old and new favorite picture books to celebrate the day and would like to share some of them with you.

The Pomegranate Witch by Denise Doyen, illustrated by Eliza Wheeler
Chronicle Books, 2017, 40 pages, age 5+
I have wonderful memories of fall - of roller skating and eating pomegranates when we stopped for a rest, so I can totally understand why the kids in this small town would want to get some of the red juicy fruit from the legendary old pomegranate tree. The only problem is the tree is haunted by an old, mean witch. Then, five friends decide to storm the tree, but ,alas, their efforts are thwarted by the witch. Four kids retreated, but one snuck up to the tree, plucked off a juicy pomegranate, and shared it with his friends. Luckily, on Halloween, when the witch is away, her kind, friendly sister welcomed the kids with cider and treats - and that’s no trick. But, wait, could the witch and the kind sister be one and the same?  A close reading will generate lots of speculation. And don’t forget to think Halloween costume.
Since my young readers have asked to be read this again and again, I can say with certainty that this is really a delightful Halloween story that will not disappoint. Doyen tells her story in a rhyme that never falters, and Wheeler’s the India ink and watercolor illustrations have just the right amount of eeriness to them so little ones won’t get scared (and yes, we did enjoy a few pomegranates, inspired by this story).

Click, Clack, Boo!: A Tricky Treat by Doreen Cronin, illustrated by Betsy Lewin
Atheneum BFYR, 2013, 40 pages, age 4+
It’s Halloween and Farmer Brown doesn’t like it. He puts out a bowl of candy on the porch, locks up the house and puts out a “Do Not Disturb” sign, then he goes to bed. Little does he know that while the animals in his barn love Halloween and are having a party, a dark, spooky creature is heading towards Farmer Brown’s house. When Farmer Brown hears a tap, tap, tapping on the front door, he opens it and sees the bowl of candy is gone. But there’s a note on the door, and there’s lots of noise coming from the barn. What could his barnyard animals be up to on Halloween night? A big surprise for Farmer Brown? 
This is a fun Halloween book, especially for kids who might be a little nervous about all the costumes, and decorations associated with it. The text is lighthearted, with repetitious sound words adding to the spookiness throughout the story. Lewin’s watercolor illustrations, in the colors of Halloween, along with her goofy costumed animals add to the fun of Farmer Brown’s big surprise at the end.  

Pug & Pig Trick-or-Treat by Sue Lowell Gallion, illustrated by Joyce Wan
Beach Lane Books, 2017, 40 pages, age 3+
Now that Pug and Pig are best friends, it’s time to think about going trick-or-treating together. Pug and Pig’s costumes make them look like skeletons. They fit nice and tightly, which makes Pig. Pig even likes the mask so no one will know who he is. But Pug is not at all happy with the tight fit of his costume, or his mask - no one will know who he is. Can these siblings find a way for both Pug and Pig to be happy? Umm…looks like Pug has an idea.
This is a great story about how simple problem solving can avoid disappointments and possible meltdowns, showing young readers how effective a compromise can be. Wan’s simple illustrations really capture the emotions each pig feels, and she even manages to depict movement as Pug runs out the doggy door after coming up with his idea. A lovely second book for new and old fans of Pug & Pig, and anyone who like a gentle Halloween tale.  
You can download a Pug & Pig Halloween Party Kit HERE
You can also download a Pug & Pig Trick-or-Treat Teacher's Guide HERE 

Zip! Zoom! On A Broom by Teri Sloat, illustrated by Rosalinde Bonnet
Little, Brown BFYR, 2017, 40 pages, age 4+
“One goes zip./Two go zoom./Three witches glide from room to room.”  Readers count the 10 witches all throughout the house, busy doing witchy stuff. But when all 10 witches decide to ride together on a broomstick, it’s a little too crowded and a little too heavy: “Ten take off, packed too tight./Ten witches bicker, start to fight.” One by one the witches begin to fall: “Nine witches squabble, squirm for room./ One topples from the plunging broom.” But don’t worry, in the end, all are fine
I thought this was a jolly counting book as it doesn’t feel like learning to count to ten so much as a story that just happens to involve numbers 1-10. Bonnet’s india ink and watercolor illustrations are a bit dark, but are also chockablock with all the images a kid could want in one book รก la Halloween, and they will spend lots of time going over the pages to see what’s there. 

I Want to Be in a Scary Story by Sean Taylor, illustrated by Jean Jullien
Candlewick Press, 2017, 32 pages, age 3+
A little purple monster tells an unseen author that he wants to be in a scary story. The only problem is that every time the author begins a story, it’s too scary for little purple monster. The dark and scary forest, the spooky house, witch inside the spooky house, the ghost inside the spooky house all prove to be too much for little purple monster. Maybe it would be better if little purple monster were in a funny story about a tweet-weeny monkey and his friend - a ginormous monkey. Scared, the little monster runs off, but in the end, he’s the guy in a scary story who get the last laugh. And, yes, little purple monster wants to be in another story the next day. 
Julien’s bold ink and digitally colored illustrations done in a palette of Halloween colors add lots of scary ambience to the story. Though the word Halloween is no where to be found, this is a perfect story to read around that time, but it works year round, too.

The Scariest Book Ever written and illustrated by Bob Shea
Disney-Hyperion, 2017, 40 pages, age 4+
A fearful ghost invites the reader to explore the dark scary woods outside his house, but conveniently spills some orange juice on himself and tells the reader to go without him. The woods turn out to be colorful trees full of woodland creatures preparing for a spooky costume party, and there are crafts and cupcakes. Ghost thinks the reader is pulling his leg whenever there is a report about what’s happening in the woods. Can Ghost be convinced that the woods are scary in time to go to the party? 
This is another fun, not just for Halloween book. The conversation is one-sided, with Ghost making all kinds of misinterpretations about what’s going on, but that will surely invite young readers to turn this into an interactive story. Shea’s illustrations alternate between light pastels in the woods to dark and spooky oranges, blues, yellows, and black in the house - just the opposite of what kids would expect. A fun book that may help kids overcome their own Halloween-type fears.

Behind the Mask written and illustrated by Yangsook Choi
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2006, 40 pages, age 5+
When young Kimin can’t decide what to be for Halloween, his mother suggests he look through his grandfathers belonging. Inside one of the suitcases, he finds a mask that he recognizes - he had been frightened when he had seen his grandfather wearing it as a young boy, but now he realizes his grandfather was a professional Korean dancer and the masks were part of his dances. Kimin decides to honor his grandfather’s memory by wearing the mask and robe that once had scared him. Trick or treating with his friends is a real success, but Kimin receives a real treat when a note to him from his grandfather is discovered. Be sure to read the Author’s Note about Talchum, or traditional Korean mask dancing.
This is a nice Halloween story that shows how our immigrant heritage can become part of our American cultural traditions without losing any of its meaning or importance. And Choi’s softly painted illustrations add much to the atmosphere of this beautiful intergenerational story.  

Keeping the Halloween theme going, we are planning on reading Lola Levine and the Halloween Scream by Monica Brown and some Edgar Allen Poe.

What are you reading this week?

It’s Monday! What are you reading? is a weekly meme hosted by Kathryn at Book Date. It’s Monday! What are you reading? - from Picture Books to YA is a kid lit focused meme just like the original and is hosted weekly by Jen at Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee at Unleashing Readers. 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. Twitter: #IMWAYR 

Friday, October 20, 2017

Poetry Friday: October - Author Unknown

It hasn't felt much like fall lately, with the warm temperatures we have been having, but yesterday we went and picked out some mums and pumpkins in preparation for Halloween. Then I remembered this poem I have used in the classroom and in home schooling and I thought I would share it, even though the leaves are still clinging mightily to the trees here in NYC.

I hope you enjoy this poem as much as my students did.

It's Poetry Friday and Leigh Anne at A Day in the Life has this week's roundup.

Monday, October 16, 2017

You Bring the Distant Near by Mitali Perkins

You Bring the Distant Near is a family story told in three parts, each covering a different time in the lives of five women.

Part One begins with a move. After living in Ghana and then London for a number of years, Rajeev Das gets a job in New York and moves his family, wife Ranee, daughters Tara and Sonia, into an apartment in Flushing, Queens. Though her daughters adjust to life in Flushing, Ranee is distrustful of the black kids who live in the neighborhood and wants to move. After a year in Queens, they move into a house in Ridgeford, New Jersey. 

Renee tries to hold on the some customary Bengali traditions, but her daughters quickly assimilate to life as Americans. Tara, the eldest daughter, wants to study theater, while Sonia’s interests lie more towards feminism and politics, aware of their parents desire for them to keep at least some of their Bengali cultural. 

Part Two begins after the tragic death of Rajeev. The Das family suddenly finds themselves at odds with each other, yet each painfully missing Rajeev. In high school, Sonia wins an all expenses paid trip to Paris, happy to get away from home. Fellow African American student Lou Johnson, handsome and friendly, has also won a spot on the trip, and although the two have always been at odds with each other in New Jersey, they quickly become friends in Paris. After college, Sonia and Lou marry, causing Ranee to completely stop speaking to Sonia.

Meanwhile, Tara pursues an acting career, while also being pursued by Amit Sen, a successful Bengali man. After refusing several marriage proposals because Amit had been picked for her by her parents, Tara finally says yes on a trip to India to spread her fathers ashes in the Ganges, and a visit to his childhood home. Tara continues with her acting career, becoming a famous actress/singer in India.

Part Three belongs to the daughters of Sonia and Tara. Chantel, or Shanti, has been raised in New York, living in Harlem with her parents, Lou and Sonia, and attending an exclusive private school on full scholarship. Anna, or Anu, has been living in Mumbai, and going school there. Now, though, she is in New York and in the same school as Shanti. Anu is not happy about the move. She is proud to be Bangali to the core, and considers Mumbai her real home. She has also inherited her grandmother's talent for sewing, even making and wearing her own salwar kameezes. 

You Bring the Distant Near is a compelling intergenerational story that is actually told more in a series of vignettes that sometimes skips over years, and yet, nothing is lost. Perkins has created five women, all seemingly so very different from each other and yet held together by their Bengali heritage, whether they embrace it or not. And it is a mark of Perkins talent as a writer that shows us the changes in each of these women over time and the events, both personal and public, that impact their lives. It is a slow, gentle novel, that more than once brought tears to my eyes.

The five female characters that Perkins has created are very well developed, truly finely tuned, but my personal favorite was Ranee. In Ranee, I saw my own father’s struggle to assimilate into American life while retaining his cultural identity. Ranee, like my dad, eventually finds the balance that works for her. And in that respect, Perkins has really captured the complexities of what being an immigrants means, as she explores the high cost and ways in which the Das family loses their cultural connections to their past and the ways in which they find redemption.

This book is recommended for readers age 12+
This book was an EARC received at NetGalley

FYI: The title of this book comes from a poem which is printed at the beginning of the book. It was written by Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941), an Indian poet who also figures into the story of the Das family frequently. Tagore won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913, the first Asian to do so. You can find more of his beautiful poetry at the Poetry Foundation HERE

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

The War I Finally Won by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

The War I Finally Won is a sequel to The War That Saved My Life.

When last we left our evacuees, Ada Smith and her younger brother Jaime, they had been taken away from Susan Smith (no relation), with whom they had been living after being evacuated from London, and brought back to London by their mother despite the constant bombing. Sure enough, one night during an air raid, they don’t make it to the shelter because of Ada’s severely clubbed foot, and in the midst of everything, Susan appears to take them back to her house in the countryside.

Now, with her club foot surgically corrected, thanks to the generosity of her best friend’s wealthy parents, Lord and Lady Thorton, Ada returns to the country with Susan and Jaime. And, since Susan’s house has been destroyed by a bomb, they will be living in a cottage on the Thorton estate. 

Then word comes that Ada’s mother was killed in a bombing raid, and Ada finally begins to feel like maybe she actually isn’t the terrible person her mother always said she was. When Susan becomes their legal guardian, Jaime immediately begins to call her Mum, but Ada can’t bring herself to do that, and actually resents that Jaime could do it so easily. Calling Susan Mum would require a level of trust that she will always be there, and as Ada knows all too well, you just can’t count on that during a war.

When the government requisitions the Thorton manor for war use, the very formidable Lady Thorton moves in with Susan, Ada and Jaime. And when Ruth, a Jewish refugee from Germany is brought there by Lord Thorton to receive math instruction from Susan, so that she can eventually join him in his secret war work in Oxford, things really get tense. Ada and Jaime are convinced that Ruth is a spy, but Lady Thorton takes an immediate and intense dislike to Ruth, seeing her only as an enemy German, and the reason her son Jonathan had joined the RAF and put his life in danger.  

Ruth and Ada don’t hit is off, either, until they discover a mutual love for horses. But Lady Thorton refuses to let Ruth anywhere on the estate property, except the cottage, and especially the stables. When Susan gives her horse Butter to Ada as a Christmas gift, Ada lets Ruth ride her in secret and slowly the two girls develop a fragile friendship.

There is lots going on in The War I Finally Won, which I liked. War is a chaotic, confusing, demanding time and Bradley has really captured that. At the same time, the characters that appeared in The War That Saved My Life have the same feel to them, as they should, and even Jaime, whom I felt was a little thin as a character before, has become a more developed personality. 

The thing I found most interesting was the relationship between Susan and Ada. In the first book, it seems so clear cut, but now, Ada keeps Susan at an unexpected distance. Why? With her mother dead and gone (no, that is not a spoiler), I had expected that the three of them would form a nice, lasting family unit. But, ironically, it will take more loss, more sorrow and the realization that anything could really be gone in the blink of an eye for Ada to finally see the need to let herself trust more and that is the war she must finally win. 

The War I Finally Won is so more than just a satisfying coming of age sequel. While it explores the theme of trust, within that theme, it also explores the idea of how we define family. For those who haven’t read the first book, The War That Saved My Life, I would highly recommend doing so (though it isn’t necessary to enjoy this second book). 

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was an EARC received from the publisher

Sunday, October 8, 2017

The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

This review of The War That Saved My Life was originally published on The Children's War in 2015. On October 11, 2017, the sequel The War I Finally Won will be available. I highly recommend both.

Born with a severely clubbed foot, Ada Smith, 10, has been kept imprisoned and abused by her Mam in a one room flat her whole life.  Mam sees her foot as a mark of shame and humiliation, and so Ada never learned to walk, scooting around on her bum as she waits on Mam and younger brother Jamie, 6.  Then one day, Ada decides to learn to walk, keeping at it despite all the pain and blood.

In 1939, when war comes to England, Ada is told that Jamie will be evacuated to the safety of the countryside, and she will remain in the flat - bombs or no.  But Mam doesn't know Ada's secret and when evacuation day arrives, she and Jamie take off for the train station together.  Eventually arriving at a small countryside village, all the children are selected by residents except Ada and Jamie, who are taken to the home of Susan Smith (no relation) and left in her care.

But Susan is depressed, mourning the death of her friend (though clearly more than friend), Becky.  The two women had lived there together for years and Susan had inherited the property.  The last thing she wanted now were two children to take care of.  And yet, she does.  She feeds Ada and Jamie, buys them new clothes and shoes to replace the dirty, raggy things they arrived in, and allows them to find their own way through a certain amount of benign neglect.

And Susan has a pony named Butter that Ada determines to learn how to ride and care for.  Soon, she is riding all over the village and surrounding area.  Susan has also taken Ada to a doctor about her foot, and she has been given crutches to help her walk.  But when Jamie begins school, Ada refuses to go not wanting to admit she can't read or do simple math.  Eventually Susan, who has a degree in math, figures it out and offers to teach her at home - an offer not very welcomed by Ada.  But why not?

Ada and Susan are two people carrying around a lot of physical and emotional baggage, thrown together by a war they don't really feel connected to and which at first doesn't feel quite as real as the personal war they are waging with themselves.  But gradually, they forge a relationship with each other and begin to feel like a family.  And then Mam shows up and takes the Ada and Jamie back to London, despite the bombing and Ada is forced to scoot around on her bum once again.

Now that they have seen another side of life, is it over for Ada, Jamie and even Susan?

What a powerful story The War That Saved My Life is.  It is everything that makes historical fiction so wonderfully satisfying.  There is lots of historical detail about London and the countryside in those early war days, including the rescue of British soldiers from Dunkirk (Susan's house is on coastal Kent, the closest point in England to Dunkirk). 

I thought that Susan and Ada were drawn well, with lots of depth to their personalities, but not Jamie so much.  He really felt like just a secondary character, mostly there for contrast and to move the story along in a believable way.  The shame Mam felt over Ada's foot is quite palpable, but also seemed to empower her with the ability to abuse her daughter, making her plain scary, though a rather one dimensional character at the same time.

One of the things I found interesting is that in the beginning Ada, the child, is such a strong, determined character, while Susan, the adult, was kind of weak and irresolute.  And yet, they have things to teach each other.  And to her credit, Bradley doesn't actually come out and directly let the reader know that Susan and Becky were partners, but its clearly there.

If your young readers loved Good Night, Mr. Tom by Michelle Magorian, they are sure to love The War That Saved My Life.  If they haven't discovered Good Night, Mr. Tom yet, perhaps it's time to introduce them to both of these fine books.

This book is recommended for readers age 9+

This book was an ARC received from the publisher
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