Calli Be Gold is Lovelace nominee choice which will particularly appeal to young female readers because Calli is such a genuine and convincing charactCalli Be Gold is Lovelace nominee choice which will particularly appeal to young female readers because Calli is such a genuine and convincing character. The youngest of three siblings, Calli's older brother is a basketball star and her sister is a member of a competition synchronized skating team. Their calendar at home is covered in post-its, color-coded to match each individual and his or her activities. There are few post-its on the calendar for Calli. Her father, especially, pushes her to try activity after activity in an effort to find something at which she excels: her passion. Calli doesn't have a passion for anything exclusively and she feels out-of-place within her own family.
A lot of young people (and adults too, for that matter) can identify with the feeling that he or she isn't "good" at anything special. There is a lot of emphasis on "success," "winning," and high scores in both academic and athletic arenas. Calli helps us all to realize it's okay to have your passion be compassion for others, laughing with friends while sledding down a hill or simply a quiet cup of hot chocolate while curled up in a big comfy chair with no scheduled appointments for an afternoon.
So much of growing up, and continuing to grow as individuals even when we are adults is rooted in finding our own unique voice in a world that can often be VERY LOUD. Calli Be Gold is a independent or read-aloud choice from the Lovelace nominees which offers the opportunity to spur a discussion about these very things in a classroom or a family. ...more
Linda Mulally Hunt's touching new novel is based on the words of one of her characters:
"...if you judge a fish on its ability to climb a tree, it will
Linda Mulally Hunt's touching new novel is based on the words of one of her characters:
"...if you judge a fish on its ability to climb a tree, it will spend its whole life thinking that it's stupid."
Ally has struggled to read for as long as she can remember. As she has watched her peers read alongside her in classrooms she has always assumed her inability to do the same is due to her being stupid. So she covers the fact she can't read by acting out, covering her mistakes with jokes and attitude.
Consequently, Ally ends up in the Principal's office frequently for her behavior. She feels miserable about herself and what she believes others think about her.
People act like the words "slow reader" tell them everything that's inside. Like I'm a can of soup and they can just read the list of ingredients and know everything about me. There's lots of stuff about the soup inside that they can't put on the label, like how it smells and tastes and makes you feel warm when you eat it. There's got to be more to me than a kid who can't read well.
Ally wants to believe there is more to her, to who she is as a person than what others seem to see, but she feels increasingly hopeless about the possibility of discovering what that might be.
When her classroom teacher goes out on maternity leave, the long-term substitute for the class brings with him a fresh perspective from which to see Ally's behavior. Mr. Daniels sees the bright, engaging child that is Ally underneath the behavior designed to hide what she feels is her lack of intelligence. When she inadvertently confesses that she would prefer to be invisible he responds with:
"I'm glad you're not invisible, Ally. Because this class wouldn't be the same without you."
I don't believe him, but it makes me happy he said it.
Fish In A Tree is a story about finding and believing in yourself. Many of us--child and adult--have been in Ally's position: seeing ourselves as flawed, beyond help or hope, yet with that niggling little feeling that there is something more to us down deep. Without the knowledge of how to uncover it, nourish it and bring it forth into the world it's easy to feel lonely and hopeless. As a teacher I have met students like Ally, have seen them make similar journeys and radiate with the knowledge of who they are when they find it. It is a magical thing to behold whenever, wherever it happens.
Fish In A Tree gives the reader the opportunity to witness Ally's transformation as she gradually uncovers those things about herself that DO make her special and wonderful in every sense of the word. It also gives the reader the chance to discover in Ally's story pieces we can apply in our own lives as we look for the same realization about ourselves. Because the nature of Ally's story also lends itself to conversations about differences and self-confidence Fish In A Tree is an excellent reading choice in an upper elementary classroom or as an independent or family bedtime reading option. ...more
Lily lives with her grandparents in a small town, her mother having died in a car accident when she was very young. At the opening of the book Lily'sLily lives with her grandparents in a small town, her mother having died in a car accident when she was very young. At the opening of the book Lily's dog, Lucky, who is old and blind has taken off running and Salma Santiago (a daughter of one of the migrant worker families who comes to pick blueberries in the summer) is able to catch Lucky before he accidentally hurts himself. So begins an unexpected friendship between the two girls.
As Lily begins to pursue her friendship with Salma she is more conscious of the feelings, attitudes and assumptions other townspeople have regarding the migrant worker families. Salma's strong, independent thinking style is frightening to Lily. When Salma says to Lily
That's what I like about art. It lets me become more like myself, not more like everyone else.
Lily begins to challenge her own thinking:
Maybe when we see things all the time, we stop really looking at them. And it takes an artist, someone who can look past the ordinariness, to remind us how special they really are.
Painting bee houses with Salma is the beginning for Lily. She marvels at Salma's bold use of color and line and shape. She is shocked by Salma's idea to compete for the Blueberry Queen title in their traditional small-town pageant. Even though she thinks Salma's reasons are valid and well-thought out, she worries about the reaction of the townspeople to something so different and unexpected. She is afraid for her friend--that she will be treated badly or hurt. And she is afraid of what that means for herself--IF she openly supports her new friend.
Reading Cynthia Lord's newest work, A Handful of Stars, I wasn't sure--at first--what, exactly, the book was trying to be. Is it a story about the treatment of migrant worker families? Is it about growing up and changing friendships? Is it about letting go of grief? All these themes are interwoven into Lily's story. Ultimately, though, A Handful of Stars is a deft combination of all these things. It is a story of one girl's struggle for courage in her own life: the courage to find her own voice when standing next to a friend who is making a difficult choice, to speak with her own voice as she defines herself as an individual. Getting older and discovering you have different ideas and opinions than the adults around you who have raised you and love you can be exhilarating and scary at the same time.
The piece of this story that has stayed with me is Lily's realization that "courage" is not some daunting, overwhelming quality or characteristic. When it occurs to her that she only has to be a little more courageous than afraid in order to do something scary her entire perspective about what she is capable of doing shifts drastically. A Handful of Stars is a book that is easy to read in language and structure, genuine in the emotion and voice of Lily, its main character, and significant in its non-preachy message about doing something you know is right--even when it's hard. ...more
Lisa Graff's newest novel, Lost in the Sun, refers to the phenomenon often referenced in baseball when an outfielder attempting to catch the ball loseLisa Graff's newest novel, Lost in the Sun, refers to the phenomenon often referenced in baseball when an outfielder attempting to catch the ball loses track of where the ball is due to the angle or brightness of the sun. "Lost in the sun" perfectly describes how Trent feels about the course of his life. He is in sixth grade. He has an older brother and a younger brother. His parents have divorced, his dad is remarried and having a new baby with his new wife. And--oh yeah--last year, Trent shot a hockey puck to another classmate during a neighborhood game and--due to a condition which no one had ANY way of predicting and for which NO ONE is really to blame--the kid on the other end of that pass died after being hit by the puck.
Trent feels horribly guilty about the accident. He's angry with his father. Trent's thoughts, feelings and actions throughout Lost in the Sun are achingly genuine. A young teenage boy absolutely overwhelmed with sadness, guilt and anger--some of the most difficult emotions for any of us to navigate--Trent lashes out at everyone.
He is quick to physical anger with his classmates. He is equally quick to use hurtful words with his peers and his family. The hardest moments for anyone are those when our feelings are so strong and so painful that they outstrip our ability to find words to speak about them. As a 6th grader Trent cannot figure out how to explain or express the torrent of emotion that is ripping through him every day. It's painful in a way that isolates him from those who care about him and want to help--but don't understand how to do so.
Trent wants to feel loved, to believe his parents are proud of him but so much feels hopeless to him. His attempts are courageous, regardless of their flaws. You hurt for him as he stumbles through some of his most painful times because we all see elements of our own feelings in his.
It shouldn't have felt so terrible, knowing that my father didn't want me, especially since I didn't want him either.
But it did. It did feel terrible....
I wanted to say that he was the one who should go easy on me. I wanted to say that if he loved me so much, then why did he have to be such a jerk all the time.
But I looked at Mom's face, and she was so hopeful. She was trying so hard to raise a good kid, not a screw-up. So instead I just said, "I'll try."
When Trent says or does something that--when seen only outwardly at face value--seems malicious and unfeeling he regrets it almost immediately. But by then it feels to late to do anything about it--to change it. So he gives up. He continues his behavior and he continues to hurt. A companion book to her much earlier Umbrella Summer, in Lost in the Sun Lisa Graff has expertly given voice to a child struggling to find his. And it is worth hearing. ...more
Wish Girl--like Nikki Loftin's work Nightingale's Nest--has moments where the characters and language seem to transcend the pages of the book. Peter hWish Girl--like Nikki Loftin's work Nightingale's Nest--has moments where the characters and language seem to transcend the pages of the book. Peter has been severely bullied at school. In an effort to change his situation her parents have moved his family to a rural area of Texas.
His parents are more extroverted than Peter and his older sister, while she genuinely cares about him, is resentful about being taken away from her school and friends. They communicate primarily by yelling. When you add in a toddler younger sister and the fact that Peter is sensitive to noise in general it is easy to see why Peter struggles to find a way to belong and feel accepted within his family.
Wish Girl is Peter's journey. It is the story of how he comes not just to realize what he needs from his family but he finds his voice to ask them for it.
Peter discovers peace in the quiet of nature and is at first disappointed to meet young Annie--a resident of a nearby summer camp also seeking to escape a place where she is frustrated and feels as though she doesn't belong. Annie is terminally ill with cancer and doesn't want to participate in the aggressive treatment her mother has scheduled because she is afraid of the long-term side effects. Her greatest desire is to be an artist and she is trying frantically to create as much art as she can before she loses herself to possible brain damage from medical treatment.
As Peter and Annie become friends he is amazed by the realization that she seems to like him exactly the way he is, without feeling he needs to be or behave in any other way. He is particularly moved when he finally tells Annie about the horrendous bullying he has been through and she cries for him:
Crying for me. I reached up and wiped her face with my hand. No one had ever cried for me, I didn't think. Cried about me, sure, cried that I was such a loser son, such a failure.
But never for me.
This powerful moment speaks to the heart of the story in Wish Girl. A great independent or read-aloud choice, Wish Girl has the ability to open all kinds of discussion and insight with young readers--either together or individually. ...more
Jaden, now age 12, was adopted by Penni and Steve from Romania when he was 8 years old. Left in an orphanage by his birth mother at age 4, moved to foJaden, now age 12, was adopted by Penni and Steve from Romania when he was 8 years old. Left in an orphanage by his birth mother at age 4, moved to four different group homes in Romania before being adopted, Jaden is convinced
He only had one mother and she'd given him away when he was four....His mother, the only person he figured he'd ever loved, had given him up. He refused to feel love again, ever.
Jaden's parents have taken him to psychologists and psychiatrists to help him understand and deal with his feelings, to begin to accept that they love him. He has a history of starting fires and other impulsive--often destructive--behaviors. Now their family is traveling to Kazakhstan to adopt another child--a baby.
He figured he knew why they were adopting again: They weren't satisfied with him. Whenever he thought that, he felt tears welling up. He didn't know if he was upset for himself, because they weren't satisfied with him, or for the baby, because if the baby was up for adoption, it meant the mother had abandoned him, and Jaden knew what that was like.
Jaden's behavior is frustrating and heart-breaking for his parents--and for him. Like any child, he often doesn't understand why, exactly, he does or says things. He wants so desperately to be loved but can't bring himself to allow it, having felt so hurt for so long. Half a World Away is a story of love. It is one boy's journey to his family, to his ability to see the possibility of giving and receiving love. Half a World Away is a great springboard for discussion about international adoption of older children, and, simply, about the love of a family and everyone's need to find that kind of enveloping love in his or her own life.
Rhyme Schemer is the story of 7th grader Kevin Jamison. And it is not a pretty one. Kevin is a bully with all the low self-esteem and cruelty toward oRhyme Schemer is the story of 7th grader Kevin Jamison. And it is not a pretty one. Kevin is a bully with all the low self-esteem and cruelty toward others that go with it.
Kevin is also a writer. He carries a notebook and writes in it about his feelings and the events of his life in free verse poems--which why Rhyme Schemer, itself, is written in this form in Kevin's own words. Constantly in the Principal Hartwick's office for physically or verbally bullying another student, Kevin is given detention helping Mrs. Little in the library. He begins a campaign as the Poetry Bandit in the school, creating poetry out of the pages of other books. They are clever and funny and popular with the students--although NOT with the teachers, as they are part vandalism and often part disrespect for particular teachers.
One day on the way to school Kevin's brother Petey throws his notebook out the window of the moving car. When Kevin goes back to find it that afternoon--walking all the way home from school--he cannot. He starts a new notebook, but soon discovers that one of the students whom he has picked on mercilessly has found the notebook Petey threw out of the car.
Kevin now finds himself on the other end of the bully spectrum--the victim instead of the perpetrator. In his new role, being on the receiving end of blackmail, verbal threats and physical assault, Kevin begins to change his perspective on himself and those around him. at the same time he continues his detention in the library and ultimately finds a surprising ally there.
Reading the beginning of Rhyme Schemer I did not think I was going to like Kevin. I was appalled at his cruelty to others despite what he was feeling inside. The brilliance of Rhyme Schemer is the transition Kevin makes in his own life. His insight into and realizations about his own despicable behavior as well as the dawning recognition about his own true gifts is the crux of the book. I found myself cheering for Kevin halfway through the book and I would not have predicted that strong a reaction at the beginning.
Rhyme Schemer is a perfect example of how knowing the center of what makes you special and unique and valuable is the key to eradicating bullying from both ends of the spectrum. ...more
Margaret's father has been wrongly convicted of arson and murder, found guilty by Judge Lucas Biggs. Knowing her father is innocent, Margaret is devasMargaret's father has been wrongly convicted of arson and murder, found guilty by Judge Lucas Biggs. Knowing her father is innocent, Margaret is devastated. Encouraged by her good friend Charlie and his grandfather (who has a deeper connection to her family--and the Judge's--than Margaret or Charlie realize) Margaret dares, for the first time, to use her unusual gift: the ability to travel through time. It is a genetic trait of the O'Malley family, one which they take an oath to respect and NOT to use.
Margaret, Charlie and Grandpa Josh believe Margaret can travel back to Judge Biggs' youth in an effort to help him become in the present the good-hearted man he could have been. But "history resists," as Margaret is told by her great-aunt in the past. And she finds this to be true. The roots of the conspiracies, personal anger and ugliness that lead to her father's conviction are much deeper, darker and more twisted than Margaret could have imagined.
Margaret's trip into the past has elements of both failure and success--as do many events in our own lives. The specific goal Margaret sets out to accomplish is not necessarily the one she achieves. Margaret begins to see people, her life and the lives of her family in a new, compassionate and inspiring light.
Saving Lucas Biggs is an interweaving of science fiction, fantasy historical and contemporary fiction. It was more than I expected as a reading experience. It is a classic story about what it means to care about each other written in a fresh, unexpected and compelling way. I loved that the plot did not necessarily rely on time-travel or supernatural events or devices to resolve the conflicts in Margaret's life.
Saving Lucas Biggs could be an excellent read-aloud for upper elementary or middle school students. IT could also be used as a family bedtime reading selection for older children as it provides a springboard for appreciating those we love and discussions about values and what standing up for your beliefs might look like for you. ...more
Nikki Grimes has become one of my favorite authors over the last three years. I first discovered her work when the first book in her brilliant young DNikki Grimes has become one of my favorite authors over the last three years. I first discovered her work when the first book in her brilliant young Dyamonde Daniels series appeared as a Division I nominee for the Maud Hart Lovelace Award. The way she easily slips into the dialogue and behavior of her young characters, giving their voices strength and authenticity is brilliantly natural.
Words with Wings is truly a joyful cradling of a young girl's heart. Gabby's parents have separated and she and her mother have moved farther away from her father. A daydreamer as long as she can remember, hearing a word causes it to take flight in her imagination, joining with a myriad of other words and images along the way until she has a whole flock zooming through her imagination. Although this gift often allows her to appreciate the joy of a single moment, block out the pain of losing her father or hurtful words flung by others, Gabby's tendency also interferes with her ability to concentrate in school and at home.
Written completely in free verse Gabby's story is nothing short of magnificent. Grimes' use of each carefully chosen word in the novel is exquisite. Individually the poems are by turns moving and joyful, aching and insightful. Together they tell a rich yet simple story of a sensitive young girl trying to navigate loneliness and discover the places inside where she will find the best parts of herself.
I started turning down the edges of pages so I could go back when I finished the book and read my favorite passages again; I soon realized I was marking five out of every six poems I was reading. The poems alternate between Gabby's own story and the springboards certain words provide for her imagination.
The poem within the story that bears the book's title is perhaps the best representation of what the reader can expect:
Words With Wings
sit still on the page
holding a story steady.
Those words never get me into trouble.
But other words have wings
that wake my daydreams.
They fly in,
silent as sunrise,
tickle my imagination,
and carry my thoughts away.
I can't help
but buckle up
for the ride!
It is worth buckling up for the ride you will take reading Words with Wings. This is a feast for the writer, the reader, the daydreamer in all of us! This is one I know I will be using in classrooms as a read-aloud--especially in conjunction with poetry and writing units, as well as in my theatre classrooms. ...more