Thursday, May 25, 2017

As Brave as You by Jason Reynolds

Ernie and his brother Genie are from Brooklyn so they've seen it all and then some. That is until their parents pack them off to a small town in Virginia one summer to stay with their grandparents. Rural Virginia is a lot different from the big city for a lot of reasons, chief among them being that for one, they live out near woods where all kinds of critters (and snakes) live.

26875552.jpg (318×474)Genie is younger and he looks up to his older brother Ernie who is cool, always wears sunglasses and unfailingly sticks up for Genie, especially when other kids call him names like Geenie Weenie. They share a close brotherly bond and they need that bond more than ever since their parents are going through a bit of a rough patch-the summer trip to their grandparents' is meant to be a chance for their parents to work some issues out.

Everyone is scared of something but grown ups are usually better at hiding that from kids. For a kid like Genie this is a coming-of-age moment in his life since he isn't used to seeing grown ups have such visceral reactions to things that scare them. Grandpa for his part, although he is blind does not hesitate to do things around the house, the fact of which astounds the boys.

Reynolds deftly intertwines various topics in this novel, among them the complicated nature of family relations, the dichotomy between city and country and others which I won't divulge so I don't leak spoilers.

Being brave in most books for this age group involves kids finding the strength to do (or say) things. Reynolds inverts that dynamic and shows us that it's ok not to do things that scare us. Some read alikes to this book are Shelley Pearsall's The Seventh Most Important Thing, Andrew Clements' The Jacket and Daphne Benedis-Grab's Army Brats.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

How to Avoid Extinction by Paul Acampora

28697361.jpg (314×475)Road trip!  I love road trip books and this middle grade novel by Paul Acampora is one of the better ones I've read in a while. Leo lives a very conventional (some would say boring) life in Pennsylvania. His grandfather has recently passed leaving a gap that his grandmother and mother are still trying to fill.

His grandmother has recently begun to wander off and poor Leo has been tasked with making sure no harm befalls her. Granny has other plans however and when she decides to take off in her vintage Buick from their home in Pennsylvania, Leo, his cousin Abbey and a big, gassy dog called Kermit hop along for the ride! (much to Leo's mother's chagrin)

What a ride it turns out to be as they journey across the plains and westward in search of dinosaurs. As with any road trip there are hijinks along the way but these serve to make their bond becomes even stronger. Like any family, they have secrets and long-simmering resentments that threaten to boil over but I won't reveal any spoilers here.

Another thing that I love about this book is that Abbey and Leo are open-minded enough to embrace other cultures and cuisines and experiences. The description of champorado makes the dish sound absoutely divine and I intend to find a place that serves it here in my city. Acampora's message overall is that because of its large size we need to try to learn about other people and how they see life. Some read alikes to this novel are Jack Cheng's See you in the Cosmos, and Fish in a Tree by Lynda Hunt.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

King of the Bench

y648.png (396×600)Just when you thought that the middle grade lovable loser category was filled along comes Steve Moore with No Fear, the first installment in the King of the Bench series. If you have read all the Timmy Failure, Diary of a Wimpy Kid and The Misadventures of Max Crumbly series then you should make a beeline for this book.

Steve is an average middle schooler with great (if not somewhat overprotective) parents. He desperately wants to be a sports star and baseball is his sport of choice. He has a few problems however: he's not exactly a star athlete, he has a paralyzing phobia and the team already has a few star athletes already, one of whom happens to be a girl he finds attractive.

Steve's weird tryout to get on the team, his daily school routine, his unorthodox pets, his crazy friends and more are all detailed in this laugh-out-loud book (the sporting goods store episode is particularly hilarious as is Carlos' gas issues).

Books like these are formulaic to some extent but I think part of their continuing appeal is that many more athletes than not are average and most kids are average and there's nothing wrong with that.  The fact that the main character is named Steve suggests that there may be some autobiographical details
in the book (or not, maybe I'm trying to read too much into it). This is a fun, quick read for grades 3 and up.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

STEM on a Budget- Things that Move

 Budget cuts affect everyone and the climate since the turn of the year has not been friendly to libraries to say the least what with threats to various funding sources and the like. Conversely however, STEM and STEM-based programs have gained traction in schools and libraries as educators seek to make science fun again.

These programs however cost money and a single magnetic set for example can cost well into the hundreds on Lakeshore and similar sites. This post  is  snapshot of a recent STEM program for babies and toddlers that I put on at my library. I work in a multi branch system and we have a library of materials available for check out so this enabled me to use materials free of charge. I did make some simple ramps using some cheap posterboard I got at the dollar store.

I did not want to forget babies since they often are the furthest ones from our mind when we think of every program except baby storytime. However if we provide simple directions to the parents and caregivers and provide an inviting space, the little ones can indeed have a great time. One thing I would change for next time is to make a few small 3x 5 laminated cards with simple instructions for activities parents can do at home with their little ones.

In the next few months we will do Texture, Size and Shape. That should provide lots of fun learning opportunities for families.

Friday, April 7, 2017

The Harlem Charade by Natasha Tarpley

61lNbRTlzwL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg (331×499)Is it ever too early to encourage kids to become active in their community? From an early age some parents teach their offspring about volunteering, fundraising, canned food drives and the like. Some kids however become influenced by what their parents and guardians don't do and this is part of the story in this novel for middle grade readers.

Jin's grandparents run a bodega and make kimchi and she is content to help out in the store and journal her observations. Then two weird things occur. One night an older gent buys a goat's head pez dispenser and then later a kid from her school comes in and leaves metro cards on the shelves. Thus begins some new friendships as her world opens up.

Jin along with a reticent classmate named Alex and a newcomer called Elvin are drawn into a decades old mystery that involves history, friendship and art. In the process they learn about each other, about themselves and about the wonderful borough in which they live.  The author Tarpley lived in Harlem and her love for the borough shows in her descriptions of the streets and various sections of the borough.

Gentrification is not something you see covered a lot in middle grade fiction, neither is the Harlem Renaissance but Tarpley manages to do so without being heavy-handed. I recommend this book for ages 8+. Some read alikes to it are The Great Shelby Holmes by Elizabeth Eulberg, Blue Balliett's The Wright 3 and Kate Messner's Capture the Flag.

Friday, March 24, 2017

The Evil Wizard Smallbone by Delia Sherman

Image result for the evil wizard smallboneMagic, young apprentice...evil wizard...seems pretty straightforward right?  Well not so much. Set in a coastal Maine town, Sherman's novel mixes realistic fiction with fantasy in just the right amount to enthrall both lovers of fantasy as well as realistic fiction in equal measure.

Nick is a tough cookie. he has to be, he lives with a bully older cousin and an uncle who doesn't know how to spare the rod. Could Nick help his case by not getting into trouble at school so much? Sure. Nick doesn't learn his lesson though so he seizes his chance one bitterly cold night and runs away and ends up in a strange house with an even stranger old dude who just so happens to be a wizard-an evil wizard if you believe the denizens of Smallbone Cove.

Before long Nick is learning a thing or three about magic and beginning to tolerate life with Smallbone, his quick temper and his menagerie of animals. Journeys to Smallbone Cove are exciting too and You can't escape your past though and Nick finds he has big choices to make when his former life catches up to him.

This is a slightly irreverent read as you may expect. Insults and barbs fly back and forth regularly so I would recommend it for ages 9+ simply because I think most kids at that age have enough sense to know not to go around repeating the stuff they read in books. Some read alikes are Rick Riordan's Magnus Chase series, Kelly Barnhill's The Girl Who Drank the Moon and Holly Webb's Rose.

Friday, March 10, 2017

I Am Drums by Mike Grosso

Image result I judged this book by its cover (really cool, vibrant and eye-catching).  Plus, I love books about kids who are into music. I think there is just so much boy/girl drama that one can take. Not that this book doesn't have any...but more on that later.

Girls aren't into drums right? I used to think so years ago until I saw a music video with Lenny Kravitz's drummer (will never forget how cool she looked in one of his videos, afro flowing and drumsticks flying). Some of the characters in this book think girls shouldn't play drums either. It's a good thing that the protagonist is no shrinking violet

 Sam (short for Samantha) is a sixth grade drummer who  desperately wants to get better at the drums. However all is not well with her family and her dad is always mad...the last thing he wants to hear about is noisy (and expensive) practice. Sam chances upon a drum tutor and thinks up ingenious ways of earning cash.

Sam has other issues at school however, some of which  she may not be able to solve by herself. My take away from this book is that it is never too late to ask for help. I think even as adults we sometimes hesitate to ask for help lest we be perceived as weak or a screw up. This book is apt for kids in grades 4 and up.  Some read alikes are Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo, A Crooked Kind of Perfect by Linda Urban and Ten Good and Bad Things About My Life (So Far) by Ann M, Martin.