Thursday, October 12, 2017

The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill

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I try not to review authors more than once but every so often a book comes across my path that is so intense, so good and so gripping that I bend that rule. I had reviewed another of Kelly Barnhill's works, The Witch's Boyhere and her latest The Girl who Drank the Moon is the subject of this review.

As you may have heard this novel has won the 2017 John Newbery Medal (awarded by the Association of Library Service to Children to the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children) and with good cause. Barnhill has created a world that speaks to the reader on many levels.

There is a witch who steals babies and a young boy determines to find the witch and kill her. Except...the story is a bit more complicated than that. Xan is an old witch who lives with a happy young dragon and a great big creature near a Bog. Xan, in addition to doing witchy things like learning and casting spells, happily takes babies left in a spot every year and delivers them to the Outside Cities. Then one night she accidentally enmagicks a young babe, Luna after giving her moonlight.

Meanwhile in the town from where the babies come, a young lad is trying to make his way in the world and after several false starts he becomes a craftsman and soon settles down with a family. After it is determined that his baby is to be the one sent for the witch he determines to end this once for all. Thus begins an epic quest involving many characters.

The story takes many twists and turns and is certain to thrill readers of all ages. Barnhill deftly weaves in various topics such as conservation, philosophy and even patriarchy. There is one scene near the end of the book involving the dragon that is sure to leave manya reader misty-eyed to be sure. Highly recommended. Some read alikes to this book are Alice Hoffman's Nightbird, Anne Ursu's Breadcrumbs and Chris Colfer's The Land of Stories series.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Let 'em play: Building Creativity in Young Children through Self-Directed Activities

Some of my library colleagues here in Colorado, Katie O'Brian and Kristen Bodine and Andrea Cleland both did presentations at CLEL's recently concluded conference in which they talked about child-centered programs.

Here is what I gathered:
-focus on the process rather than the product. It is not helpful to anyone to have parents and caregivers yelling at their little ones just because they aren't doing it right

-let children explore a material. If they want to talk about the clay or wood then let them do so. The goal is to expose them to a variety of materials that they may not necessarily see each day

-it's not necessary to provide a sample or a template and there is not necessarily a right answer...whatever kids do is the correct answer. Many schools prioritize teaching to the test so often library programs are one of the few places kids can have some spontaneity and autonomy

-some developmental benefits are increased motor skills, greater self expression, sensory exploration, spatial ability, decision making

For highlights from these and other great presentations check this link, we should have most of the session materials loaded here soon.

Here are a few pics:

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Developing motor skills and alphabet knowledge through crafts

Here are some crafts my team either have done this year or plan to do. One of the first things kids will learn in school when they start to write is the difference between upper case and lower case letters. This awesome ice cream craft can be used as part of a craft package in an early literacy space.

This last one is not as time-consuming as others but is just as rewarding. All you need are a small cardboard box, some popsicle sticks, foam or some other type of letters and. In addition to working on fine motor skills it also helps little ones learn alphabetical order. If you want to jazz up the box some craft paper should suffice.

Keeping with the theme of popsicle sticks, puzzles are another good way to help little ones with their motor skills, reasoning, thinking and in some cases letter and number skills. The examples below are just a sprinkling of the many, many ways these sticks can be decorated and made into cool puzzles for little ones.

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Image result for popsicle stick puzzles

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Finding Mighty by Sheela Chari

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I grew up in the 80s and was always fascinated by the emergence of the hip-hop movement. From afar I watched as b-boys used the tenets of the movement (rapping, djing, b-boying and graffiti) to express themselves in the dawn of a new era. Thus, when I saw Sheela Chari's new book, Finding Mighty I was instantly drawn to the cover and the book did not disappoint.

Chari is of East Indian descent and the main protagonists are of East Indian descent as well, something that I had not seen in many middle grade novels but which was a refreshing change as I feel it is critically important for kids to read about different perspectives and cultures.

The story is told in alternating viewpoints- Myla, Peter and his older brother Randall, and centers around the mysterious death of the boys' father, Omar. Randall has joined a group of graffiti artists who tag different parts of the city at night. One night Randall disappears and leaves cryptic clues to help his brother find him. Peter starts to search but soon realizes that he can't do it alone.

In addition to all of the above, Myla and Peter have to deal with being new sixth graders and the transition that this entails. Myla for her part feels invisible and in one interesting exchange between her and Peter they reflect on the pros and cons of the different neighborhoods. Chari does a wonderful job of touching on some deep issues in a very sensitive manner.

There are more characters too including the boys' weird uncle, an ex-con called Scottie Biggs and a nosy reporter called Kai Filnik who has a knack of popping up in the most unexpected places. This is a mystery with twists, turns and a great deal of heart. Highly recommended.  Natasha Tarpley's The Harlem Charade is is another great mystery set in the Big Apple. Blue Balliett's Chasing Vermeer series is a wonderful series of intricately plotted mysteries for middle grade readers.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Posted by John David Anderson

x500.png (500×757) Disclaimer: My oldest son is going to middle school in the fall and I am concerned about bullies and general meanness. I know I am not the only one, quite a few parents had questions about bullying in the open house last month.

Middle school is an awkward time for kids. They are coming into their own and finding a tribe to protect themselves from wolves. The schisms between tribes are usually difficult for middle schoolers to navigate since they haven't experienced anything like that before.

John David Anderson's Posted explores what occurs in one such tribe at Branton Middle School when the principal bans cell phones. The story is told from the viewpoint of Eric, an awkward, somewhat nerdy but decent kid who hangs out with fellow misfits nicknamed Bench, Deedee and Wolf. They eat at their table every day during lunch period and play Dungeons and Dragons on Friday nights.

The cell phone ban at school forces the kids to go old school to communicate and they start using post-it notes in class and worse, on lockers. Anderson explores what happens when kids say things that are downright mean and also what happens when kids unintentionally hurt others. Eric's tribe must deal with turmoil in their own family life, mean kids at school, a new kid called Rose and the sudden stratospheric rise of one of their own on the sports field.

Anderson's characters are ones you root for instantly and the antagonists made my blood boil although I couldn't help wondering what they were dealing with in their own lives. This is a great little book although some of the themes explored might go over the heads of younger readers. I recommend it for fifth grade and up. If you have read every Wonder book and spin-off try this novel.

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.