Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Trouble Next Door by Karen English

Image result for carver chronicles trouble nextTrouble Next Door by Karen English is an installment in a great little series called The Carver Chronicles. The characters are for the most part people of color but the setting isn't necessarily urban. The series is set in Carver Elementary school in

In this book,we meet an ordinary kid who sometimes has trouble doing his homework and who is having even more trouble thinking of a great idea for the science fair (something he desperately wants to win). At school he sometimes has to evade a big, gruff kid everyone calls Monster Boy. Then one day Calvin gets a new neighbor-Monster Boy!

Calvin must decide whether or not to accept Monster Boy as his friend as his dad wants him to or to completely ignore him despite the fact that they're neighbors. His friends would recommend the latter option.  Doing so would go against everything his parents taught him and's hard to avoid him when their bedroom windows face each other!

This book covers a lot of subjects (such as different families, bullies, science among others) but in a nice understated manner that is just right for  kids in grades 3 and up. I reckon it has some hi-lo potential as well. Highly recommended and I am going to check out the rest of the series as soon as I get a chance. Some read alikes are The Buried Bones Mystery by Sharon M. Draper, Nikki & Deja by Karen English and Sally Warner's EllRay Jakes series.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Unbound: A Novel in Verse by Ann E. Burg

images (1875×2550)Novels in verse have surged in popularity over the last few years and this is another excellent addition to the genre. Set in pre-Civil War America we meet Grace just as she is told she has to go to the Big House and leave her family whom she loves very much.  Her light skin is the reason she has been chosen for this new job.

At the Big House she meets some other slaves including Jordon, the man servant; Anna, a girl who sleeps on the floor of the master bedroom to help the Mistress and Aunt Tempie the cook. Aunt Tempie takes Grace under her wing and teachers her about the duties in the kitchen as well as the whims of the masters.

Grace is by nature a passionate person who has a strong sense of justice and this sometimes gets her into trouble. At the Big House she is exposed to many slights and microaggressions in a more direct way than when she was in the field and she finds it hard to contain her emotions. Of course impudence can lead to serious consequences and soon she finds that she must grow up a lot faster than she would like.

Aunt Tempie and Grace's mother are, to me, the voices of reason and it is their example that Grace ends up following in the end. Though at first she is tempted to blame all whites for the bad things done to herself and other slaves she soon realizes that such thinking is dangerous. To the author's credit she does introduce one person, Ms Charlotte, who is sympathetic to the slaves' plight. This may be a hard book to read for some but it is well-written. Some read alikes to it are Lisa Fowler's Snakes and Stones and Running Out of Night by Sharon Lovejoy.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

The Great Shelby Holmes by Elizabeth Eulberg

Image result    I don't judge books by their covers but this book by Elizabeth Eulberg not only has two children of different ethnicity but the title is also a nod the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes.  John Watson is new to the great metropolis and just as he and his mother are settling in to their new digs on Baker Street he meets a quirky kid called Shelby Holmes.

 Shelby is a preternaturally gifted child and she spends her time solving various petty crimes in the neighborhood, something which has made her somewhat of a celebrity.  Watson is amazed at the way grown ups treat her. Most grown ups that is, except police officer Lestrade...

 Mixing themes such as non-traditional families, current events, urban decay and so forth. Eulberg captures the atmosphere of the city of New York. There are various other nods to the great detective throughout the book that I won't reveal, I will say though that they add to the story and provide a good chuckle for Holmes fans.

    Holmes is awkward to say the least but Watson has his own health challenges and I liked that Eulberg incorporated that into the story as well. In the end this is a book that a variety of kids can relate to because these are not perfect kids. Some read alikes to it would be Sharon M. Draper's The Buried Bones Mystery, The Harlem Charade by Natasha Tarpley and Elise Broach's The Wolf Keepers.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

The Misadventures of Max Crumbly; Locker Room Hero by Rachel Renée Russell

Image result for max crumblyRachel Renee Russell's ubiquitous Dork Diaries fly off the shelves at most libraries and bookshelves. Not to have the boys feeling left out, she has a new illustrated series aimed at middle grades. The Misadventures of Max Crumbly-Locker Room Hero introduces us to another lovable loser.

As is now standard practice in most of these books, our hero is a quirky kid (in this case an eighth grader) who has the usual issues (bullies, parents and girls) although not in that order. Max doesn't take himself too seriously at all and some of his flashback revelations are hilarious.

Max is new at his school and is not adjusting well to the social cues as well as to the overall structure of the institution. Worse, he soon draws the ire of the school bully, Doug Thurston. It is while fleeing his nemesis that poor Max winds up trapped with no seeming escape in sight. I can't wait to see how Max gets out of this jam.

This is another excellent addition to the burgeoning middle grade illustrated novel field. Read alikes to this would be Jeff Kinney's Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Lenore Look's Alvin Ho, James Patterson's Middle School series and Stephan Pastis' Timmy Failure.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Best multicultural books 2016

What a year it has been!  There have been highs and lows but overall I have grown and  learned so much. The past few weeks have shown me that there is so much to do in terms of people getting to know about other cultures. I think that one way we can do that is through finding books that speak about cultures and experiences that are different to our own.

Early on Saturday morning someone sent me a link to the best off books compiled by the Center for the Study of Multicultural Children's Literature (CSMCL). I am ashamed to say that I have not read as many on this list as I should have.  Kwame Alexander's Booked made the list and if you liked his 2015 Newbery-award-winning Crossover, this is a good follow up and deals with similar issues that middle graders will enjoy.

Jason Alexander's All-American Boys was stirring and timely and I am glad to say that my library system will be one of the stops next year on his book tour/talk. He has two middle grade books on the  CSMCL list as well; As Brave as You which deals with two boys who spend summer in Virginia and discover that their grandfather is blind and another called Ghost which sees four kids from various backgrounds brought together on an elite track team that could see them qualify for a major competition if they can get their acts together.

Tis the season for best of lists and another that I found worth sharing is from Kirkus Reviews. They have best picture books to make you, but I want to share the Best Picture Books about Friends and Community.  Yes, some of the books in this list. Check out their best of middle grade list here.

In terms of music I have recently come across a few cds that contain tracks that can be used in dance parties, story times and the like.  When my kids were younger Putumayo's "Sesame Street Playground" cd was on heavy rotation as we traversed our city.  With songs in languages as diverse as Hindi, Russian and Hebrew I found that even though for some songs I did not understand a word, the beat was so catchy that it didn't matter.  As a matter of fact Putumayo has a treasure trove of cds with great music from across the globe!

Feel free to add your own best of books and/or music in the comments and have a great holiday season!!

Monday, November 21, 2016

Memoirs of a Sidekick by David Skuy

memoirs_of_a_sidekick.jpg (595×877)

Told entirely from the perspective of a somewhat shy seventh grader named Adrian, this is the story of Adrian and Boris who have a secret hideout, code names and dozens of escape plans for when danger is near.

The book is divided into sections each with its own theme. There is an overarching plot however and the sections each contribute to the book's resolution. I admired the boys' naivete and good intentions (they are socially and environmentally conscious) although as a parent of young sons I did find myself shaking my head now and then.

Bullies are always bad especially the sneak bullies, the ones who are model kids and somehow manage to charm grownups. One such bully is the boys' antithesis, Robert. Like many bullies he has his cronies who tag along with him and laugh at his tired jokes and gags.

Politics is a facet of life that cannot be escaped and we find that in this novel the same is true. Boris decides that he wants to be Student Council President and the two hatch a series of operations designed to win the support of key voting blocs in their school

Recent elections have shown that pools cannot be trusted and Adrian feels the same as B-ster (one of Boris' many nicknames) prepares for what is perhaps the most important election in the school's history. The ending is somewhat predictable but this is after all a book aimed at middle grades. I recommend it for kids in grades 3 and above.  Some realisitic fiction read alikes to this book are Chris Rylander's The Fourth Stall and Amy Rylander's The Popularity Papers.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Empathy, Diversity, Cultural Awareness and the Political Process...for kids!

Empathy is a buzzword nowadays and with good reason. When we empathize with someone we can imagine what it is they are feeling and we can better understand their point of view. I am an avid public radio listener and I heard a story not too long ago about what parents wanted their children to know versus what teachers wanted. For young ones games that are inventive and relevant are excellent teaching tools. Here we find several games and apps that do just that.

My own children are feeling much better now but the results of last week's election left them saddened. I know that many children are still coming to terms with what happened. I have searched for some reads that parents and caregivers can use to help. The past few months have seen many difficult issues come to the forefront and although as parents we often try to shield our little ones from the ugly truths, there will come a time when we have to talk. This site lists many good books that can be used to help talk about many of life's difficult issues.

My children are one of a few ethnically diverse children in their school. Thus from time to time we often have some very deep conversations at home about race. This site talks about teaching kids about people who may look or do things differently than they. A big part of that is also understanding and respecting similarities and differences. Lately it seems that people who are "different" have been in the news a lot. For adults who want to gently broach the subject, picture books are a good way to do so and this website has some books that talk about diversity and inclusion.

I have been as surprised as anyone with the level of vitriol spewed in the campaign. It is no wonder that a week later there are still protests and rallies nationwide. Commonsensemedia has a great set of tools to help kids of all ages navigate the campaign season (don't forget, midterm elections are around the corner!) as well as deal with the negative aftermath of an election.

These are just a handful of resources however and if you wish to find more head to your local library!