Curious, enthusiastic and genuine are words that immediately come to mind when I think about Maya Penn. At eight years old, she started her own companCurious, enthusiastic and genuine are words that immediately come to mind when I think about Maya Penn. At eight years old, she started her own company by selling headbands that she created. She's also really interested in animation, so she taught herself how to create her own films. In this inspirational self-help book, she shares about her own experiences to encourage other teens to develop their own passions and create plans to change the world.
Tweens and teens enjoy Maya's upbeat, casual tone as she starts by talking about her process. She encourages readers to use a dream board to brainstorm ideas and identify what creates sparks they might use to ignite their plans. I especially liked the way she helps kids understand different thinking styles and ways to keep yourself motivated.
The length and detail make this best suited for middle and high schoolers, although several fifth graders were drawn to it. I'd love to see some more of Maya's terrific ideas illustrated for the tween audience--much like an American Girl book. Hand this to creative teens and see what dreams they build, or recommend it to families as a great audiobook for summer listening. ...more
Kwame Alexander hits the sweet spot again, this time scoring a goal with his mix of soccer, family, first crushes, friendship and poetry. As Nick struKwame Alexander hits the sweet spot again, this time scoring a goal with his mix of soccer, family, first crushes, friendship and poetry. As Nick struggles with his parents' impending divorce, bullying at school and figuring out how to talk to the girl of his dreams, he discovers that words and poetry can actually be cool. A great follow up to The Crossover!...more
In Auggie & Me, Palacio delves into three secondary characters from Wonder: Julian, Christopher and Charlotte. This is definitely NOT a sequel--thIn Auggie & Me, Palacio delves into three secondary characters from Wonder: Julian, Christopher and Charlotte. This is definitely NOT a sequel--the action takes place before and during the same time as Wonder. It does not tell the story of what happens to Auggie after Wonder finishes. But it is a companion novel (or rather three short books) best read after Wonder, "an expansion of Auggie's world," as Palacio writes in her introduction.
The three characters at the center of these short books were all impacted by Auggie, but these are their stories. We get to understand Julian, how his nightmares affected the way he reacted to Auggie, how his mother kept making excuses for him as opposed to helping him take responsibility for his actions. Palacio doesn't justify or defend Julian's actions, but she helps readers see inside him. And she lets Julian, who was so awful to Auggie in Wonder, go through his own transformation.
Charlotte's story, in Shingaling, shone the most brightly for me, perhaps because her insecurities resonated with me, or perhaps because her friendship struggles were separate from Auggie's and so more fully developed as a standalone story. But most likely, it's because of the way that Charlotte learns to overcome her worries, her social anxieties and her own inner-judgments to become friends with two girls she didn't know at all before 5th grade started.
Families and teachers will enjoy reading Auggie and Me aloud precisely for the way it leads to conversations, just like Wonder did. There are times that reading Julian's voice may be difficult, with his casual cruelty and naive declaration that he didn't mean to hurt anyone. And Charlotte sounds a lot like an insecure kid at times. But these voice rang true to me, and they let readers see inside other kids.
In the end, Auggie and Me helps create empathy, leads to conversations about kindness and trust, makes way for small steps toward accepting others for who they are....more
Tiger Boy, by Mitali Perkins, is perfect for a family read-aloud--the 4th graders at Malcolm X School in Berkeley are giving it huge thumbs up and I hTiger Boy, by Mitali Perkins, is perfect for a family read-aloud--the 4th graders at Malcolm X School in Berkeley are giving it huge thumbs up and I heartily agree. If you have an animal-lover, or you're looking for a book set in India or Bangladesh, or you're looking for a book with a courageous kid who stands up for what's right -- definitely seek out Tiger Boy.
When a tiger cub escapes from a reserve in the Sundarbans, a delta region straddling the India-Bengladesh border, many of the residents on a nearby island try to find it. Some are worried that its mother will set out looking for it, possibly hurting or killing people in the process. Others have been hired by a wealthy man to capture it for trade on the black market.
Neel is determined to help with the search--protecting the tiger cub is as important to him and he isn't afraid to stand up to greedy Gupta or his hired men. Neel's parents want him to focus on his studies and prepare for his exams. While Neel loves learning and languages, he finds math frustrating and confusing. And how can he concentrate knowing that the tiger cub needs his help?
Mitali Perkins draws in readers, as they feel how much Neel wants to use his special knowledge of his island to help find the tiger. As the CCBC review so clearly puts it,
"The sense of urgency that propels Neel and Rupa’s hunt for the cub creates the perfect amount of tension in an engaging story wonderfully grounded in Neel’s point of view and his experiences in his family and community. Their effort to save the cub helps Neel understand how furthering his education is one means of helping protect the place he lives."
I especially love how Perkins balances the relationship between Neel and his sister Rupta. Perkins both respects the traditional role that women have in this Bengali village, but she also shows Rupta playing an active role.
I have found that my students are not picking this up on their own, even when I recommend it. That's why I think it would make a terrific read-aloud. Parents (or teachers) can encourage kids to give something a try that might be different from the usual books they read. It would make a great book to read this summer or in the fall--see if it leads kids to wanting to learn more about protecting the tigers in the Sunderbans....more
Ellie and Jack might look like they each have everything going for them, but they're each struggling on the inside. When they bump into each other onEllie and Jack might look like they each have everything going for them, but they're each struggling on the inside. When they bump into each other on the first day of school and magically switch bodies, they're forced to see life from a different perspective. While the premise might seem familiar to adults, my students found it compelling and well-written.
"Megan Shull described the setting really well because I felt like I was in the story. I could totally imagine where they would be. Once, when the two characters were switched and the boy was at soccer practice with the girls' team, I could imagine being on the field practicing." "Oh, and I remember how they were at the swimming pool in the very beginning and Ellie's friend was so mean to her."
Shull creates characters and social situations that my students understood because they were so familiar. From sleepover party dramas to friendship issues, our readers saw elements from their own lives. Emily said,
"The Swap was awesome! The characters were super strong. I could feel that they were actually real people.... The girl was being bullied but when she switches bodies with a boy, he helps her with it."
I saw the ending as a bit too predictable, but my students focused on the emotional journey and resolution for the two main characters....more
WOW oh WOW. When a book hits a sweet spot, it zooms from one student to another. As soon as I read the opening lines of The Crossover, with its basketWOW oh WOW. When a book hits a sweet spot, it zooms from one student to another. As soon as I read the opening lines of The Crossover, with its basketball cover and bouncing rap beat, I just knew I had to read it aloud to my 5th graders. But nothing prepared me for how it hooked them. To say they are loving it is an understatement. Fifth grade boys are just about wrestling each other to see who's going to get it next--jostling each other over a novel in verse!
For Josh Bell, basketball and his family are everything to him. He pushes himself to excel, but he loves every minute he spends with the game--especially the way he plays it with his twin brother Jordan and his dad. Kwame Alexander captures Josh's voice and the power of basketball in a way that comes alive for my students. They love the rhythm and pulsing movement, the attitude and sass in Josh's words.
The power of this novel comes not only from Alexander's language but also from the characters and their emotions. As Josh and Jordan (JB) near the championship playoffs for their school's division, friction develops between the brothers and trouble is brewing with their father. Josh starts to resent the fact that JB is spending too much time with his new girlfriend. I love the relationship Josh has with his dad. They tease each other, push each other, question each other in a way that feels so real.
Alexander engages kids on so many different levels. I especially like the Basketball Rules that Josh's dad shares with his sons. How is basketball like life? That's something all sorts of kids can think about, in a way that takes layered meanings to a different level....more
Serafina dreams of becoming a doctor, but she knows that she must go to school to reach her dream. This is no easy feat in modern rural Haiti. How canSerafina dreams of becoming a doctor, but she knows that she must go to school to reach her dream. This is no easy feat in modern rural Haiti. How can she do this when her mother needs her help at home, especially with a new baby on the way? Ann E. Burg writes in free verse poetry, conveying Serafina's struggles in sparse, effective language.
Teachers and librarians might find these two resources interesting: -- an interview with Burg on the CBC Diversity blog -- a Common Core guide which Burg developed for Serafina's Promise
Our students were immediately drawn to Serafina and could connect with her situation, even though it was so different from their own. Several connected it to Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai, a Newbery Honor book from 2012 -- partly because of the use of free verse poetry, but also because of the way both drew readers into a character's situation.
Ben expressed surprise that Burg "got us hooked on the situation so quickly through poetry." Our group agreed that the setting was also a definite strength of Serafina's Promise. Not only could they could imagine being in Haiti, several talked about what an integral part of the story the setting was. "With some books, it could happen anywhere. With this, you knew it was definitely happening in Haiti." I particularly liked the way Burg used Creole phrases throughout, and I know that the first person voice helped kids connect to Serafina's character....more
Life is full of changes for seven-year-old Ty, and he’s not happy about it. His mom is exhausted taking care of his new baby sister, his best friend iLife is full of changes for seven-year-old Ty, and he’s not happy about it. His mom is exhausted taking care of his new baby sister, his best friend is in the hospital, and now his big sister Sandra is driving him to school. Sandra won’t even walk him into 2nd grade; in fact, she shoves him out of the car! In this series spinoff, Myracle returns again to this engaging Perry family from her Winnie Years series (Eleven, Penguin, 2004, etc.), bringing her ear for sibling relationships and family dynamics, this time for readers moving up to chapter books. Young readers will connect with Ty’s struggles at school navigating friendship troubles and at home getting enough attention from his mom. “Hug?” I say in a smallish way. Mom doesn’t want to. She doesn’t want to hug her own son. I can see it on her face.” (p. 40) Funny situations alternate with poignant moments in just the right balance, as Myracle writes perceptively from seven-year-old Ty’s perspective. On a field trip to the aquarium, Ty wanders away from his class and decides to give a baby penguin some special attention, bringing him home in his backpack. Early chapter-book readers may become confused that the penguin problems from the title don’t surface until the second half of the story. Henry’s occasional line drawings match the tone and humor well. A heartwarming start to a new series. ...more
Full review to come. Great voice. Gripping plot. Strong themes: what it means to be a friend, how you find your place, your talents in the world, theFull review to come. Great voice. Gripping plot. Strong themes: what it means to be a friend, how you find your place, your talents in the world, the importance of trust and family and friends. Yes, it's about coping with Aspergers, but it's about so much more. The impact of drugs and alcohol make me hesitant to share with 5th graders. Definitely a middle school book, in my opinion. Great early reviews from students.
Kiara knows that she’s different, a mutant like her hero Rogue from the popular comic book series The X-Men. “It usually took the new kids two weeks to dump me, three weeks at the most.” (p. 1) In fact, Kiara has Aspberger’s Syndrome and cannot process the social cues around her or the emotions surging through her. Kiara feels intensely isolated now that her mom has left to pursue a singing career in Canada and her father has emotionally withdrawn. It often seems that Mr. Internet is Kiara’s only source of information and support. When Chad’s family moves next door, Kiara is desperate to make and keep a friend. Against her better judgment, she joins Chad on his trips to buy large quantities of Sudaphed. At first she believes that it’s just to help his little brother’s cold, but she soon realizes that Chad’s parents are running a meth lab out of their home. Chad certainly manipulates Kiara, but he does not completely reject her. As Kiara and Chad become closer through their shared love of BMX biking, they each discover a sense of accomplishment and pride. Miller-Lachman raises multiple questions through this gripping, gritty story: What does it mean to be a friend? How do you find your place and your talents in the world? The graphic climax creates a tense narrative in which there are no tidy answers. ...more
There's something truly special about the time a young child spends getting to know his or her grandparents. I remember soaking up my grandmother's stThere's something truly special about the time a young child spends getting to know his or her grandparents. I remember soaking up my grandmother's stories, imagining her past and feeling connected to a history larger than myself. The Matchbox Diary captures this special moment, when a great-grandfather shares his stories with a young girl. It's a wonderful picture book to share with children as they start to get to know their own grandparents' stories.