Monday, November 23, 2015

Book of the Week: Poems in the Attic

Poems in the Attic
by Nikki Grimes
illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon
Published by Lee & Low, 2015
40 pages
ISBN: 978-1-62014-027-7
Ages 5-9 
A warm picture book collection alternates between poems in the voice of an African American girl whose mom is away in the military, and poems in the voice of her mother as a child, growing up in a military family that moved many times. The contemporary girl’s discovery of her mother’s childhood poems has inspired her to write her own, which often reflect on the differences between their childhoods, especially as she is living in one place with her grandmother while her mom is away, rather than moving from place to place. But there are many parallel experiences that play out in the two poems on each page spread, one in each voice. There is a strong sense of connection and continuity—grandmother, mother, grandchild—while in both present and past there is a child missing a parent who is away on duty. The illustrations do a terrific job of distinguishing between present and past on the same page spread. An author’s note talks more about the experiences of military children and identifies the actual U.S. air force bases which formed the locales for the places the girl’s mother lived as a child.  ©2015 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Monday, November 16, 2015

Book of the Week: Dumplin'


by Julie Murphy
Published by Balzer + Bray / HarperCollins, 2015
375 pages
ISBN: 978-0-06-232718-5
Age 13 and older

Willowdean routinely introduces herself as a fat girl, but her feelings about her body are much more complicated than this suggests. The daughter of a former beauty queen, she’s rarely allowed to forget she isn’t thin. Still, Willowdean makes no apologies for her weight. She decides to enter the local Miss Teen Blue Bonnet pageant for her beloved late aunt, who died of a heart attack at 36 and lived largely in seclusion because of her weight. She’s also doing it for the girls she’s convinced to join her—three other teens at school who don’t meet typical standards of beauty. Together, she tells them, they can make a statement. But when Willowdean’s pretty best friend Ellen signs up with them, Willowdean feels betrayed. Meanwhile, Willowdean is growing close to Bo, on whom she’s had a longstanding crush. But she recoils when he puts his hand on her waist while they’re kissing, worried what he’ll think of her fat. She can also imagine what people at school would say if they see the two of them as a couple. It’s easier to picture herself with Mitch. Like Bo, Mitch is an athlete. Unlike Bo, he’s on the heavy side. Both boys genuinely like her. Bo is the one she’s attracted to. Mitch is the one she’s convinced herself makes sense, although she knows she’s not being fair to Mitch in letting him think she feels more. Willowdean’s ultimate struggle isn’t accepting herself, it’s accepting the love of others in an insightful, honest, funny novel that comes with a big ol’ riotous dose of Dolly Parton. ©2015 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Monday, November 9, 2015

Book of the Week: Queen of the Diamond

Queen of the Diamond: The Lizzie Murphy Story

by Emily Arnold McCully
Published by Margaret Ferguson Books / Farrar Straus Giroux,   
32 pages
ISBN: 978-0-374-30007-4
Ages 5-9

Lizzie Murphy grew up in the early twentieth century in a baseball-loving family. Lizzie was both eager to play and savvy, bargaining her way onto her brother’s team. By fifteen, she was playing on two amateur teams. At eighteen, she set out to earn a living playing baseball, despite her mother’s concern. “But it’s what I do best,” Lizzie replied. To the manager of the semi-pro team who signed her, as a woman Lizzie was a novelty who would bring more people into the stadium to see the game. But Lizzie was a good player and she demanded to be paid the same as her male teammates. Not long after, her mother gave her a jersey with her name across the front. “You’re a pro now….your fans will want to see your name.” Lizzie played professional baseball for seventeen years. In an author’s note at the end of this spirited account, McCully writes that Lizzie wasn’t the only woman to play on teams with and against men, but she was among a small number, and she was not only the first woman to play a major league exhibition game, but “the first person to play on the National and the American leagues’ all-star teams.” A photograph of Lizzie in uniform accompanying this note is the winning run in this surprising and inspiring volume. ©2015 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Monday, November 2, 2015

Book of the Week: "Malcolm Under the Stars"

Malcolm Under the Stars

by W. H.  Beck
Illustrated by Brian Lies
Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015
272 pages
ISBN: 978-0-544-39267-0
Ages 7-10

In this sequel to Malcolm in the Middle, Malcolm the rat learns Amelia, the nutter (child) to whom he is closest in Mr. Binney’s classroom at McKenna School, is leaving in a week. Her family has to move because her dad lost his job. Meanwhile, the school itself is at risk of closing because the almost 100-year-old building is in need of major repairs. The district doesn’t have the money and plans on transferring the students to other schools in the fall. Malcolm and the Midnight Academy, the organization of classroom pets who help protect McKenna School, decide to investigate the legend of a hidden stash, presumably left by the man for whom the building was named. Could it be enough to cover the costs? In the context of a satisfying mystery, author W. H. Beck excels at creating appealing and surprisingly complex human and animal characters, and the heart of her story lies with them. The students in Mr. Binney’s class are at once singular and recognizable, and as she further develops two of their characters Beck reveals, as she did with others in the first book, that they shine in unexpected ways. The same is true of some of the animals Malcolm encounters. The lesson for Malcolm? Everyone is more than they might seem. And everyone deserves a second chance. There are moments of tension and drama and a hint of scary before all is well, but the lasting feeling is one of warmth.  © 2015 Cooperative Children's Book Center

Monday, October 26, 2015

Book of the Week: The Rest of Us Just Live Here

The Rest of Us Just Live Here

by Patrick Ness
Published by HarperCollins, 2015
317 pages pages
ISBN: 978-0-06-240316-2
Age 13 and older

Mikey, his sister Mel(inda), and their friends Henna and Jared, are about to graduate high school. Mel has anorexia and Mikey lives with severe anxiety and OCD, neither fitting the image their high-aspiring politician mother wants their family to project. Henna’s parents plan on taking her to the Central African Republic to do missionary work, despite the war there. Jared feels the weight of being an only child on the verge of leaving his single-parent father. Jared is also a god. Well, technically a quarter-god. And there is the delicious twist in this emotionally rich story about facing a time of transition and uncertainty: The otherworldly is real. When indie kids (it’s always the indie kids) in the foursome’s small community begin disappearing, it isn’t the first time. In the past the culprits were vampires and soul-sucking ghosts; now it’s aliens. Mikey and his friends aren’t indie kids (despite Henna’s name) but are aware of the danger, which plays out in hilarious chapter openings chronicling the indie kids’ efforts to combat the threat, making for a merry satire on countless young adult novels. But the heart of this novel is the reality of change—in relationships, in circumstances, in what we understand; imperfect families; and the sustaining power of friendship. As a narrator, Mikey is real and complex, and a little bit heartbreaking. As a work of fiction, Ness’s book is funny and tender and true, and a little bit dazzling. ©2015 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Monday, October 19, 2015

Book of the Week: The Book Itch

The Book Itch: Freedom, Truth and Harlem's Greatest Bookstore

by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson
Illustrated by R. Gregory Christie
Published by Carolrhoda, 2015
36 pages
ISBN: 978-0-7613-3943-4
Age 8 and older

Vaunda Micheaux Nelson revisits the topic of Lewis Michaux and the National Memorial African Bookstore that were the subject of her singular young adult novel No Crystal Stair, here introducing her great uncle and his Harlem store in a picture book told in the engaging fictionalized voice of Lewis Michaux’s son. Young Louie shares the history of the store, which his father could not get a bank loan to open because the banker believed “Black people don’t read.” And he shares a sense of the vibrant, vivid gathering place the store is, with its “zillion books” by Black people—African Americans, Africans—and others who aren’t white; with its many visitors from the famous (Muhammad Ali, Malcolm X) to the anonymous (the boy who spends every Saturday reading at the store); with its readings and rallies; a place of activism and action. Read to learn, his father tells him, and to learn how “to figure out for yourself what is true.” In the aftermath of Malcolm X’s death, Louie is comforted by his father’s reminder that “His words will never leave us.” And Louie thinks about the importance of words, and the importance of their bookstore as a place to find them in a picture book strikingly illustrated by R. Gregory Christie. Nelson tells more about the store, which closed in 1975, and her personal connection, in end material that includes photographs and a bibliography. ©2015 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Monday, October 12, 2015

Book of the Week: All American Boys

All American Boys

by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely
Published by Atheneum, 2015
320 pages
ISBN: 9781481463331
Age 13 and older

Authors Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely put the issues of police bias and violence against Blacks and white privilege front and center in this novel that alternates between the voices of high school students Rashad Butler and Quinn Collins. African American Rashad is brutalized by a white police officer who makes a snap judgment of a scene and assumes Rashad was harassing a white woman and stealing at a neighborhood store where he’d gone to buy potato chips. Quinn, who is white, shows up as handcuffed Rashad is being pummeled by the cop on the sidewalk outside. The officer is his best friend’s older brother, a man who has been like a father to Quinn since his own dad died in Afghanistan. In the aftermath of the beating, hospitalized Rashad deals with pain and fear, and his family with fear and anger and tension, especially between Rashad’s older brother, Spoony, and their ex-cop dad. As the story goes viral, Quinn is feeling pressure to support Paul but can’t stop thinking that what Paul did to Rashad is wrong. He begins to realize that saying nothing—he slipped away from the scene before he was noticed—is also wrong. Silence, he realizes, is part of the privilege of being white, and it’s part of the problem of racism, something too few are willing to acknowledge, including school administrators and some teachers in the aftermath. Rashad and Quinn and their classmates are singular, vivid characters—kids you feel you might meet in the halls of just about any school in a novel that is both nuanced and bold as it explores harsh realities and emotional complexities surrounding race in America. ©2015 Cooperative Children’s Book Center