Ms. Bixby's Last Day opens with 6th grade kids talking about/"giving each other" cooties. Even when I was in 6th grade 30 years ago, no one talked aboMs. Bixby's Last Day opens with 6th grade kids talking about/"giving each other" cooties. Even when I was in 6th grade 30 years ago, no one talked about cooties. I don't know kids today who do. So, from the start, I was worried that Anderson wouldn't be hot at rendering realistic kids, realistic kid dialogue, etc. This got better as the book went on, but Anderson's protagonists still said/thought (the book is written in the first person) things I can't imagine kids saying/thinking ("I cried hot tears"). The exposition, the self-awareness, always felt a little unlikely and heavy-handed.
NEVERTHELESS, the journey that Topher, Steve, and Brand take in the hopes of creating the perfect goodbye for their hospitalized-and-to-be-transferred-out-of-town-tomorrow teacher is epic. The turns their day takes, the things they learn about each other, made me think of an urban Stand By Me. I'll remember this book, which unfortunately is saying a lot for me (I've read Moby Dick twice and, while I remember beautiful language, can't tell you any more about how it ends than someone who hasn't read it would be likely to have gleaned via pop culture).
I love it when Kate DiCamillo writes purely realistic fiction (is it just this and Winn-Dixie? I don't count Flora & Ulysses)--her simple bA 4.5.
I love it when Kate DiCamillo writes purely realistic fiction (is it just this and Winn-Dixie? I don't count Flora & Ulysses)--her simple but evocative sentences, the way she can break my heart over and over, her child characters. I half-read this in print, and half-listened to the very-well-read audiobook. Elsewhere I saw a comment that it might be "one of those books that appeals to adults more than kids," and that may be a fair argument. I know I plan to recommend it to adults. I think the it-seems-only-a-few-now kids who ask specifically for realistic fiction will dig it, though. While I wouldn't have given DiCamillo's Flora & Ulysses the Newbery award (or probably even an honor), I will not feel disappointed if Raymie Nightingale wins it this year. (I imagine Jason Reynolds's Ghost will be somewhere in there, too)....more
If you have a 5-12-yr old that you want to teach about sex, crushes, bodies, gender, etc in a beautifully inclusive way, this is the book for you. ThiIf you have a 5-12-yr old that you want to teach about sex, crushes, bodies, gender, etc in a beautifully inclusive way, this is the book for you. This book is *not* about "what makes a baby"--the author & illustrator already have a fantastic picture book called What Makes a Baby that I highly recommend to all kinds of families: it explains that a sperm cell and an egg make a baby, not that a man and a woman make a baby (as every other picture book about where babies come from seems to insist). Both books feature wonderful illustrations thanks to illustrator Fiona Smyth: brightly-colored and inviting like Todd Parr's or Keith Haring's, but less iconic and more detailed. This one includes bodies of all sizes and colors (blue and purple and orange and green rather than black and brown and pink) and abilities and genders. It recognizes more than two genders and addresses gender stereotypes. It talks about how you feel in your body when you have a crush (and shows illustrations of differently-gendered twosomes with crushes, both requited and unrequited, and might feel when you have sex (warm and tingly). It is honest and positive about masturbation. As with any book on sex, I recommend checking it out & reading it first before sharing it with your child, but if all of the above appeal to you, don't miss this one. It is something new. ...more
Well, I'm charmed. What could simply be a silly book about having an unusual pet (which was what I expected when I picked it up, thinking it might worWell, I'm charmed. What could simply be a silly book about having an unusual pet (which was what I expected when I picked it up, thinking it might work for a pet-themed storytime) becomes a book about friendship--with the refrain "That's what friends do," for ex:
"That's what friends do: lift each other over the cracks." "That's what friends do: brave the scary things for you." "Because that's what friends do: never leave anyone behind."
Banned from an existing pet club (because "Strictly no elephants"), an elephant and a boy meet new friends with a variety of animals as they walk home) decide to start a new club where [the sign reads] "ALL ARE WELCOME."
The book closes: "My tiny elephant will give you directions [to the clubhouse] if you need them. Because that's what friends do."
Glad to see "everyday diversity" here, a multicolored cast of kids.
A sweeter, softer book than I usually choose for my storytimes (with 60+ kids, I tend to keep things very high-energy and dramatic), but I will definitely try it in mine (friendship, kindness, or pets theme), and think it will work well for just about anyone who tries it....more
"This non-stop thriller starts fast and never slows down. When police show up at Ben’s door looking for his paMy blurb for the library's staff picks:
"This non-stop thriller starts fast and never slows down. When police show up at Ben’s door looking for his parents, Ben tells him what he knows to be the truth: they’re still at work at the car-wrecking business they own. But the police say they’ve already looked there, and leave with no message. Then Ben’s parents’ car squeals into the driveway, where they tell Ben and his sister they’re going on an immediate family vacation. There’s no time to pack clothes. Later that day, Ben’s mom cuts off her hair, and Ben’s, too. What kind of vacation requires weird haircuts? Why does his dad take them to a moldy cabin deep in the woods, with no water or toilet or phone service--only spiders and the stench of dead animals? What’s in the canvas bag Ben spies his dad hiding in the ceiling? And what do you do when the spiders, the dark, and the snakes are far less terrifying than the violent, angry man your dad is becoming? Note: Parents should know that there is one instance of “d_mn” in the book. (5th-8th)"...more
My blurb for our library's June youth staff picks, which doesn't capture plenty that's well-done about the book (Nick and his friends' personal lives-My blurb for our library's June youth staff picks, which doesn't capture plenty that's well-done about the book (Nick and his friends' personal lives--including one with a father arguably wrongfully imprisoned), middle school stuff like first crushes (handled lightly, not superfluous) plodding along in a boring relationship because it's convenient, etc. There's humor throughout that at its best reminds me of Daniel Pinkwater.
One thing really disappointed me: a kid character arriving at the garage sale and seeing people from her school--two are simply identified by name, but a third as "a Hispanic kid." I hate it when only one character "has" a race--implying that white is "of course" the default.
"When Nick, his brother, and his dad move into his Great Aunt Greta’s old house, Nick finds the attic full of useless junk. He quickly gets rid of most of it in a garage sale. Then he begins to hear from his buyers about secret powers the “junk” objects have…a shabby reel-to-reel recorder records what people are THINKING rather than what they say. A baseball mitt pulls asteroids out of the sky. An old camera takes pictures of things that will happen 24 hours in the future. When a sinister organization called The Accelerati shows up at Nick’s house desperate to get their hands on the objects, Nick and his friends race to learn the history of the objects and keep them out of The Accelerati’s hands. Suspenseful, smart, plot-twisting, and often funny, Tesla’s Attic is the perfect adventure to kick off your summer. Even better? It’s the first book in a trilogy, and all three are now available from the library."...more
"I dig in the dirt…and find a worm. Worm wiggles. I did in the dirt…and find a rock. Rock sits. I dig in the dirt…and find a pill bug. Pill bug curls."I dig in the dirt…and find a worm. Worm wiggles. I did in the dirt…and find a rock. Rock sits. I dig in the dirt…and find a pill bug. Pill bug curls. I dig in the dirt…and find a seed. Seed waits. I dig in the dirt…and find a spider. Spider runs…I dig in the dirt…and find a sprout. Sprout grows. I dig in the dirt…and find dirt! Dirt squishes. Then I water the dirt and find…MUD!"
Simple text, great large illustrations (so everyone in a large storytime will be able to see details). Would work as "the short book" for a DIRT or DIG or GARDEN or MUD or even SPRING-themed storytime, or to read to a preschool (or toddler) class before digging and planting seeds....more
Realistic children's fiction can be a hard sell on me, and I really, really enjoyed this one, which has the feel of a new classic on friendship, loss,Realistic children's fiction can be a hard sell on me, and I really, really enjoyed this one, which has the feel of a new classic on friendship, loss, and healing. 12-yr-old Cedar lost her father and younger brother Ben (who was somewhere on the spectrum, though the word is never used) in a car accident a year ago. Now, her mother has purchased a summer home in the town where most of their relatives live--a getaway and a chance to have some extra adult support. The town's chief attraction is Summerlost, a theatre that puts on Shakespeare plays, and employs kids as young as twelve to sell concessions and programs outside on the lawn while the outdoor pre-show (The "Greenshow") plays. The first kid her own age that Cedar meets is Leo, the top program-seller in the bunch, a huge theatre enthusiast, and a boy who is described as "different" and bullied by other boys in a way (for example, doing a higher voice while pretending to be Leo) that suggested to me that he might be gay. The two become friends, after Cedar finally convinces her mom to let her work at Summerlost, too--*some* of the time, the rest of the time taking care of her surviving 8-yr-old brother Miles.
Gary, Leo's and soon Cedar's boss, takes Summerlost extremely seriously: when you step on the grounds, you're "in England," and better look as if you belong there in Shakespearean times. Leo adores Summerlost and Shakespeare and is obsessed about finding out the truth about the death of Lisette Chamberlain, the most famous actress ever to appear at Summerlost. She died young, hours after a performance, in her hotel room where she had been visited by two people. So now the two friends have a mystery to try to crack. Meanwhile, things are getting left on Cedar's open windowsill in the middle of the night, things that have a special significance to her. Is it Leo? Lisette? Or (her deepest hope) her dead brother Ben? A second mystery. Finally, Leo is working to be able to afford a dreamed-of ticket to London, where his father (they aren't close, presumedly because Leo isn't masculine enough) has promised to take him for a Shakespeare performance by a contemporary famous actor as long as Leo can come up with the money for his own plane ticket. The theatre tickets are already purchased, and Leo's fundraising deadline is fast approaching--so he dreams up a new plan to make a little cash on the side, one very likely to cost him his job if he's found out.
Condie writes beautifully, which shouldn't be a surprise but since her work until now has consisted of well-written YA dystopian novels, it was interesting to see those skills flexed in new ways in a middlegrade realistic novel. For example, in this passage, when Cedar remembers her younger brother Ben being bullied by older kids as he tries out a "mainstream" school:
"That was one of the days I didn't understand Ben completely, but I also knew I understood enough. I felt like my heart was cracking. Those were always the hardest times, when I saw Ben get hurt. Until the accident. Then it felt like not only my heart hurt. It felt like even my blood did, like my broken heart was pushing pain through the rest of my body."
A touch I appreciated was the number of times parents or siblings make annoying comments to Leo and Cedar assuming they're romantically involved, not just friends--always trying to sexualize what is simply a good, true friendship between a boy and a girl. At least it almost completely is. Very late in the game, Condie shows the friends kind of contemplating couplehood--on Cedar's part, but it seemed a bit on Leo's, too. This bothered me because it was so unnecessary, and hard to read after feeling like it had been repeatedly made almost entirely clear that Leo's "difference" was related to sexual/romantic orientation, and because I *wanted* there to be this pure boy-girl friendship. This awkward, last-minute addition is what keeps me from giving the book 5 stars--and I wish there was a 4.5 option so I could give it a little more than what I have....more
I've always liked Kimberly Brubaker Bradley's work (though there's a lot more than the two I've read--The Lacemaker and the Princess and The War ThatI've always liked Kimberly Brubaker Bradley's work (though there's a lot more than the two I've read--The Lacemaker and the Princess and The War That Saved My Life), meant to read this one, and finally got motivated to pick it up due to (no shame) several months of listening to Hamilton: the Musical. KBB's imagining of the lives of Jefferson and Sally Hemings's children--2 boys and 1 girl who could pass for white, and 1 boy who could not--made me realize how little I'd thought about them and their circumstances--how one might hunger for recognition from a father, watch his father's fully-white grandchildren strolling around Monticello and laughing arm-in-arm with Jefferson, serve dinner to Jefferson's guests and slowly realizing that one of them is staring in fascinated horror because it's so easy to see one's resemblance to Jefferson, learn that one's best friend is being sold far away by one's father--not because one's father intends anything cruel, but simply because he has no notion of slaves as having ties and personalities and humanity. And then, of course, feeling guilty knowing that your friend could be sold away but that you never would be, or sent to backbreaking field work while you never would be. Horror is the word for what I felt reading much of this book. KBB includes plenty of "just kids growing up" stories--fights with a sibling or friend, games, stand-out days, which makes the death of their innocence all the more painful to witness--like the moment the child who can't pass for white realizes how his life and his siblings' will be different (the two oldest pass into white society when they turn 21, leaving behind their mother and brother, erasing their life histories to start new as fully-white people), and why. KBB's writing is strong and though I see some reviewers felt it was heavy-handed, I didn't feel that way, or at least only a twinge here or there (it was more the twinge of recognizing in advance how the knife would be skillfully twisted, and then, I guess, feeling irritated that it's twisted just like that). I'd recommend this book to adult book clubs as well as to kids....more
A hell of a lot of fun to flip through, and will be a fun assignment (would also be fun to assign all students or members of a writing group to writeA hell of a lot of fun to flip through, and will be a fun assignment (would also be fun to assign all students or members of a writing group to write a sonnet about the SAME pop song, and see the different versions) (and to think about which pop songs have a sonnetish turn and would make natural candidates for sonnetizing). Didriksen's good at this. Some examples:
Thou mayest awaken in a cottage small or in some yet unvisited new land; thou mayest dwell within a lavish hall, where thou dost take a stunning woman's hand. If thou shouldst find this life is not a dream and question how thou cam'st to lead this life: "This place is not my home," thou'lt surely scream-- nor is this gorgeous woman here my wife!" Yea, thou shalt question all that Fate hath wrought: how this became thy home, or th' hand thou'st won-- and this endeavor's further questions brought! Thy greatest plea's to God: "What have I done?" --But time's swift current flows as e'er it does; and all's the same, just as it ever was.
[Talking Heads, "Once in a Lifetime"]
Pray do not turn that crimson lantern on or paint that vulgar rouge across thy face; thou needest not those bawdy vestments don nor with that ruddy brush thy cheeks debase. I beg thee to this sordid life forego: turn not a trick, but prithee turn the page! O, dear Roxanne, thou dost not need to go into that den of sin to earn thy wage. Thou know'st I'll never to thee condescend; yet I must now express my deep regret if thou shouldst there another moment spend, for I have loved thee since the hour we met. --No longer shall I share thee with the night; I beg of thee, snuff out thy scarlet light.
It was a delight to learn much more about the phenomenal Ruth Bader Ginsburg, from youth and education (her mother died one day before Ginsburg's highIt was a delight to learn much more about the phenomenal Ruth Bader Ginsburg, from youth and education (her mother died one day before Ginsburg's high school graduation; she nevertheless went on with her plan to start at Cornell in the fall) and career path (making law review but being almost unable to find a job due to her gender--finding one and making much less after being told that it wouldn't be fair to pay her well since her husband had a good job--co-founding the Women's Rights Project at the ACLU, etc) to surprises like her being frequent hanging-out pals with Scalia (whom she calls "Nino") despite their political differences. I appreciated the annotated excerpts from some of her most well-known dissents, and learning about the way Sandra Day O'Connor welcomed and supported Ginsburg as the second woman on the court (again, despite political differences) and that Ginsburg chose to do the same when Sotomayor and Kagan joined. The only awkward spot was the unfortunate decision to have an artist illustrate her workout routine--and that only because the artist depicted her working out in her judicial robes, likely for a comic effect that instead felt demeaning, unworthy of the rest of the book or its subject....more
This just didn't hit me as strongly as it seems to be hitting others. The part I appreciated the most was the afterword by Dr. Lucy Kalanithi, Paul'sThis just didn't hit me as strongly as it seems to be hitting others. The part I appreciated the most was the afterword by Dr. Lucy Kalanithi, Paul's wife. I'm looking forward to Atul Gawande's Being Mortal, and do imagine they'd make a good paired read for a book club (Kalanithi's book is quite short)....more
A compulsively readable history of mostly mainstream comedy—especially stand-up and sketch—in the U.S., starting with the vaudeville days. I read thisA compulsively readable history of mostly mainstream comedy—especially stand-up and sketch—in the U.S., starting with the vaudeville days. I read this on vacation, and it was a good pick for engaging beach-reading. Nesteroff traces lines of influence as the stand-up stage transitions from a place where comedians always perform in pairs (one playing the straight man), to one where solo comedians tell jokes about other people (“Did you hear about the guy who…?”), to the more personal and overtly political forms we see today. The story of 20th-century comedy is also the story of the 20th century--society, politics, new media, war, racism, sexism, homophobia--and Nesteroff's awareness of that went a long towards maintaining my interest. Expect to feel some rage.
Again, this is a history of mainstream American comedy, which I didn't and don't know much about. If it were a history of 20th century American poetry I know I'd be reading with an eye as to who WASN'T included in the book. So those coming to the book well-versed in American comedy may have a different experience (I really don't know). I did feel like the chapters covering the 1970s-on weren't as detailed or thorough. This might be because it's the period I'm most familiar with--in which case, others more familiar with earlier decades might feel the same way about earlier chapters. ...more