Friday, December 31, 2010

Thoughts on The 2010 Debut Author Challenge & other Reading Challenges of the Year

The concept of a Reading Challenge is a wonderful one.  It hopefully motivates us to reach beyond what we would normally read and stretch ourselves.  However, most of the time, I find that life gets in the way and I am unable to actually complete a challenge. 

Here are some of my thoughts on the Challenges that I did participate in:

A to Z Challenge:
With the A to Z Challenge (on GoodReads as part of the Wild Things: YA Grown Up Group) this summer, I read 26 books but didn't really get to every letter in the alphabet (thanks @angelasunshine on Twitter).  It was a fun reading challenge, and I enjoyed the on-line interactions with the other participants.  Can't wait for the A to Z Author Challenge which starts on January 1, 2011. 

Twitter's Book-a-Day Challenge (#bookaday):
With the Book-a-Day challenge started by Donalyn Miller, The Book Whisperer (@donalynbooks on Twitter) this summer, I actually found myself reading more than the equivalent of a book per day.  I also expanded my reading greatly by the interactions I found with the other participants.  I explored Graphic Novels and Manga for the first time.  Discovered that my love for picture books could be considered "real reading", and explored books in all genres that were truly wonderful.  The on-line Professional Learning Network that was developed through this challenge is still going strong and one that I deeply value.

The 2010 Debut Author Challenge:
One of my favorite challenges was the 2010 Debut Author Challenge hosted by The Story Siren (Kristi).  The goal was to read at least 12 Debut Author books.  I managed to read 21 Debut author books (including 3 debut picture books and there are probably more that fit the picture book categories), currently in the middle of 3 more 2010 debuts, and have a full stack of a lot more 2010 debuts that I wanted to read but just ran out of time.  In addition to reading these books, I loved interacting with the Debut Authors on-line, supporting their book signings when possible, and creating a buzz for their books even if I didn't get a chance to read them, yet. 

The ones I managed to read on time:
James Burks- GABBY & GATOR
Jennifer Cervantes - TORTILLA SUN
Shannon Delany - 13 TO LIFE
Adam Gidwidtz - A TALE DARK & GRIMM
Christina Diaz Gonzalez - THE RED UMBRELLA
Judith Graves - UNDER MY SKIN
Teri Hall - THE LINE
Anastasia Hopcus - SHADOW HILLS
Jennifer Hubbard - THE SECRET YEAR
Heidi R. Kling- SEA
Lauren Oliver - BEFORE I FALL
Candace Ryan - ANIMAL HOUSE (*)
Jacqueline West - THE SHADOWS
(*) picture books

Currently debut novels in progress:
Kiersten White - PARANORMALCY

Wished I had gotten to sooner - but they are coming:
Alexandra Bracken - BRIGHTLY WOVEN
Kimberly Derting - THE BODY FINDER
Rachel Hawkins - HEX HALL
Karen Kincy - OTHER

So what challenges did you participate in and how did you do?

End of the Year: YA picks of 2010

It was harder to chose 2010 release books to focus on for this year's End of the Year YA post.  In my attempt to read with more diversity, I didn't read as many 2010 releases as I had hoped to read.  However, there were some incredible reads and I decided to go with my 5 top picks from 2010 and several sequels that I really enjoyed.  I am also going to reflect on my favorite debut author books in a separate post.

Top 5 picks (in no particular order):

FIVE FLAVORS OF DUMB by Anthony John - I tend to prefer fantasy or sci-fi fiction.  So when I come across a contemporary fiction book that I loved, it means I really loved it.  I can't rave enough about this book.  Great concept (a deaf teen who becomes the manager of a rock band), an ensemble cast of characters that are all well developed, and a great sense of place & people (Seattle, references to Kurt Cobain, and Jimi Hendrix).  This was my absolute favorite YA read of 2010.

WHITE CAT by Holly Black - This is the first book in The Curse Workers Series and Black has done an outstanding job in mixing fantasy with present day.  In some ways, this book is the Sopranos meets Magic but way better.  In this world, everyone is required to wear gloves because you never know who might be a Curse Worker and by wearing gloves it prevents people from using touch to unleash their powers.  Cassel comes from a family of Curse Workers and yet doesn't seem to have a gift/ability.  However, he does have a secret and can run a con as well as the rest of them.  One of the many things I loved about this book is that there are consequences to the use of these powers.  I so can't wait for Red Glove (Book 2) to come out this spring of 2011.

CHASING BROOKLYN by Lisa Schroeder - I had been under some erroneous impression that I didn't like novels in verse.  This probably came from the belief that I am not really a big fan of poetry so I wouldn't like novels in verse.  However, in about a span of a couple of days (really more like a couple of hours), I read through all three of Schroeder's novels in verse.  I loved the books, and I loved her writing.  Chasing Brooklyn is a companion novel to I HEART YOU, YOU HAUNT ME and though it can be read separately, I was glad that I had read them in order.  This book was particular strong in that it is told from both Brooklyn's and Nico's perspectives in alternating chapters.  Chasing Brooklyn is filled with grief, loss, healing, love, and hope.  And Nico is one of my top fictional crushes.  *heart beats a little faster*

THE RED UMBRELLA by Christina Diaz Gonzalez - I was trying to reserve all of the debut books for a separate post but I just had to add this one to the list.  The Red Umbrella is a historical novel that takes a look at a lesser known part of history - the children who fled Cuba in 1961-1962 during Operation Pedro Pan.  I had an unique opportunity to hear Diaz Gonzalez speak to an audience of predominately Cuban American who had experienced this reality first-hand.  To feel their appreciation for having their story told was amazing.  And Diaz Gonzalez was so wonderful with them as well.  This may be an underdog but I do hope it garners some kind of award recognition.

CLOCKWORK ANGEL by Cassandra Clare - I might be cheating here but this is the first book in a new series even if it is a prequel to her previous series.  And since this is my blog and my picks, I'll allow it. Set in Victorian England in the late 1800's, Clockwork Angel mixes in steampunk features with the world of Shadowhunters and Downworlders that we have come to love in Clare's Mortal Instruments Series.  Though this book seems to bring up more questions than it answers, I am certainly hooked and ready to find out more about Tessa, Will, Jem and the others. 

Just a quick nod to the following 2010 sequels:

MOCKINGJAY by Suzanne Collins - How can a look at 2010 books not include Mockingjay?!  Three years ago I discovered The Hunger Games.  It was literally one of the best books I had ever read.  The conclusion to this series by Collins came in August with the release of Mockingjay.  Though probably the most hotly debated book this year, I appreciated that Collins choose to end her book in a way that was faithful to her vision even if that was different from how I might have wanted the book to end. 

BEAUTIFUL DARKNESS by Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl - I love the world that was created by Garcia & Stohl in Beautiful Creatures.  I wasn't disappointed with this second book in the world of Caster Magic.  Old friends, and new characters, and new challenges move the series to the next level.  The third book in the series will be on my books I pine for in 2011. 

And technically this is a 2011 release, but I read the ARC in 2010 so I will add it here.....

FURY OF THE PHOENIX by Cindy Pon - I had the great privilege of reading this in 2010 despite the release not being until March/April 2011.  This is Pon's sequel to her 2009 Debut SILVER PHOENIX.  I will be reviewing this soon, but let me say that Pon took her sequel in a new direction that shows her growth as a writer.  Fury is a beautiful story of decisions & choice, and love & forgiveness in the beautiful world of Xia that she created in book one.  If it isn't on your list of books to read, it definitely should be.

So what were your favorite YA reads in 2010?  

Thursday, December 30, 2010

End of the Year: Middle Grade Book Picks of 2010

Recently, I listed my top picture books for 2010 (click here to read the post).  Just as with the picture book category, there are a lot of great books that fall within the reading level of first grade to sixth to choose from.  I have limited my choices to releases within the 2010 release year.  The books listed below are not in any particular order of preference.  I loved them all because each spoke to me in their own way.  There may have been some better written books out there and even some that will win awards but these were books that I just plain loved - simple as that.

LULU & THE BRONTOSAURUS by Judith Viorst, illustrated by Lane Smith - Lulu wants a brontosaurus for a pet.  Lulu is use to getting her way.  Brontosaurus has other plans.  I found myself laughing as I read this book.  I have used this as a read aloud for first and second graders and have lent out my personal copy to so many children that I have lost count.  If you haven't read Lulu, what are you waiting for.

BINK & GOLLIE by Kate DiCamillo and Alison McGhee, illustrated by Tony Fucile - Graphic Novel? Comic Book? Early Reader? Call it what you may but this story of friendship, imagination, and adventure between an unlikely pair is just so fun.  I can't wait for the next Bink & Gollie book. 

GABBY & GATOR by James Burks - This comic-book style story about a friendship between the list making vegetarian (Gabby) and the meat eating, toilet fearing Gator is another fun read that makes you want more.  I need to particularly give this book some love and shout outs since it is only available on-line (Amazon, Borders, Barnes & Noble, etc.). This is local Los Angeles author/illustrator Burks' first book and I am looking forward to more from him. 

THE CLOUD SEARCHERS (AMULET BOOK #3) by Kazu Kibuishi - Emily, Navin, and an unusual crew are in search of a mythical city.  There is adventure, trouble, and a struggle to make the right decisions.  I don't know if I just love Kibuishi's illustrations or the fantastical element of this story or the combination but I will say that there are a lot of fans of this graphic novel series over at my school.  This and the previous two books were a big hit at our Winter Book Fair and the copies in my office are checked out as soon as they are returned.

THE STRANGE CASE OF ORIGAMI YODA by Tom Angleberger - Is the origami Yoda on Dwight's finger really dispensing wise advice or is it all a joke that Dwight is playing?  Follow along as a group of students try to navigate friendship, pop quizzes, and crushes while trying to figure out the answer to the question about Origami Yoda's advice.

This was one of the books I bought in the summer and finally had to buy a second copy because students kept taking it from me before I had a chance to read it.  This is a great book to recommend to kids who are fans of The Diary of a Wimpy Kids Series but need prompting to move to something else.  I was thrilled to hear that there would be a sequel to this book. 

A TALE DARK AND GRIMM by Adam Gidwitz - This debut offering by Gidwitz does the Brothers Grimm proud while offering an interesting re-telling of the story of Hansel and Gretel.  I loved this book and couldn't put it down.  Children who love scary tales will find this book to be just right for them. 

TORTILLA SUN by Jennifer Cervantes - A debut novel that mixes loss, hope, love, friendship, magical realism & homemade tortillas and produces a winner.  I read this aloud to my fourth graders who loved it.  Cervantes' book inspired our first Book Cafe which was a huge success and it sold out at our Winter Book Fair. 

OUT OF MY MIND by Sharon M. Draper - This story of a 10 year old girl with severe Cerebral Palsy who finally discovers her voice moved me deeply and reminded me of why I first went into teaching children with Special Needs so many years ago. As I read the book the first time, I find myself nodding in agreement - I knew and worked with many Melodies. What a powerful story.  I read this to the same class as I did Tortilla Sun and the discussion and thought that the book provoked was phenomenal.  If this book doesn't win an ALA award (Newbery, Schneider Family Award) I just may scream.

ONE CRAZY SUMMER by Rita Williams-Garcia - As much as I loved OUT OF MY MIND and want it to win an award, this is very likely the book that will challenge it for the Newbery.  Delphine and her sisters are sent to stay with their mother in Oakland during the summer of 1968.  The same mother who had walked out on them 7 years earlier.  This book left me feeling sad in some ways.  I think that despite the strong sense of place & history for the story (Oakland, 1968, Civil Rights) the message is timeless.  There are still children that parents have walked out on and children who are still trying to find a connection to those same parents.  But books that move me are often the ones I want to share with others and to read aloud with students.  And this is one of them. 

THE KNEEBONE BOY by Ellen Potter - I love watching an author grow as a writer and to develop his or her craft.  After reading SLOB by Potter in 2009, I really didn't think her next book could be better, but  I was so wrong.  Potter knocks it out of the park with this tale of 3 siblings in search of the mysterious Kneebone Boy but who eventually discover a more powerful truth.  Beautifully written and a personal favorite of the year and worthy of an award.

IT'S RAINING CUPCAKES by Lisa Schroeder -  This book is deceptive.  The title and cover may seem whimsical and light and sure there are recipes for cupcakes, but there is also a powerful little story here.  Isabel's mother decides to open a Cupcake shop but it is Isabel who needs to keep her mother from giving up when a mega-bakery opens nearby.  Isabel must also decide whether to please her mother by entering a cupcake recipe in a Baking Contest or to honor her own creativity and submit a completely different recipe that she has personally created.  Schroeder does an amazing job at capturing the struggles of living in the shadow of others and learning to grow into your own person. 

SPILLING INK: A YOUNG WRITER'S HANDBOOK by Anne Mazer & Ellen Potter - I had a chance to review this book before it was released and to try out the writing exercises with my sixth graders last winter.  I knew the book would be a winner when I read it but I didn't realize how much my reluctant writers would love this book until we started using it with them.  It did more for encouraging them to write then any other thing we tried.  If you are looking for a gift for a teacher in your life, I would highly recommend this one.

Now that I shared my favorite Middle Grade books of 2010, leave me a comment with what books moved you?

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

End of the Year: Thoughts on Picture Books of 2010

Image for Google
Last year, I was barely blogging and I did one "End of the Year" post and featured mostly YA books.  This year I have read more widely and will need to do 3 post because I have at least 5 to 10 favorites for Picture Books, Middle Grade Books and Young Adult.  Since I have read nearly 270 pictures books this year, I am limiting the selections to 2010 releases. 

Here are my top five:

CHALK by Bill Thomson - This wordless picture book has the most amazing illustrations.  When I gave it to my teachers for Christmas, I felt like I was giving more than just a book but a true piece of art.  I am already conspiring to do a school-wide activity around this book. I would love to see this book win a major award though unfortunately I have not seen enough buzz for this one.  I will still keep my fingers crossed. 

MIRROR, MIRROR! by Marilyn Singer - Every time I open this book, I am utterly and thoroughly amazed by it.  This book of reversible verse and the images that reflect it as well.  I can barely write a poem in one direction let alone make it reversible.  And then to have the pictures so thoroughly capture the words.  Amazing! 

ART & MAX by David Wiesner - This book about an odd pairing is complex, and one of those books that can be used with older students for discussion and inspiration.  Every time I have read it, (yes, my top 5 have been read multiple times), I smile.  I love how the book starts in one place and how the characters grow and evolve through the book.

OH NO! OR HOW MY SCIENCE PROJECT DESTROYED THE WORLD by Mac Barnett and illustrated by Dan Santat - This is truly an example where the illustrations moved this from a fun book to brilliant.  Santat's illustrative nod to Japanese Monster movies adds another level to this book.  You have to read it more than once just to get all of the references and little additions. 

SHARK VS. TRAIN by Chris Barton, Illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld - I loved the illustrations in this book.  Bright, fun, imaginative!  The text and illustrations work beautifully together in this story.  I suggest covering the initial page (which I feel is kind of spoilerish) when reading it for the first time. 

Not to be forgotten or left out....

CITY DOG, COUNTRY FROG by Mo Willems, Illustrated by Jon J. Muth - There is a lot of buzz around this book.  The illustrations are lovely, and emotion evoking.  The story is tender and touching and grab a tissue worthy. 

THE BOSS BABY by Marla Frazee - It's Marla Frazee - what is not to love.  This is a creative twist on the nature of a being first time parents.  What a great book to give as a gift. 

DAVE THE POTTER: ARTIST, POET, SLAVE by Laban Carrick Hill, illustrated by Bryan Collier - This non-fiction picture book takes a look at the life of man who despite being a slave found a way to leave his mark.  Collier's paintings are phenomenal and this book needs more buzz. 

MAMA MITI by Donna Jo Napali, illustrated by Kadir Nelson - If Nelson illustrates a book it will likely be on any top ten list.  I loved the illustrations.

THE QUIET BOOK by Deborah Underwood, Illustrated by Renata Liwska - A look at all the different ways a child can be quiet throughout the day.  Simple text supported by beautiful, gentle illustrations.  I hope it comes out in a Board Book format. 

I feel sad that I limited myself to only 10 but this post would have gone on and on if I mentioned every picture book that I loved this year.  Looking forward to more in 2011.  So what is on your top 10 picture books for 2010? 

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas and Congratulations to Mid-Winter Giveaway Winners!

I hope that everyone had a wonderful Christmas Day filled with good friends and families, lots of food, and special gifts.  And I hope that there were a few books under the tree. 

Happy Holidays to the following winners:

Congratulations to Alex from Colorado who will be receiving the signed copy of Thirteen Plus One by Lauren Myracle. 

Congratulations to Maria from Venezuela who won the signed copy of Only the Good Spy Young by Ally Carter.

Congratulations to Misha in India who won the signed copy of The Reckoning by Kelley Armstrong.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Welcome to the Mid-Winter's Eve Giveaway Hop

Midwinter's Eve is the longest night of the year so why not spend it entering some great giveaways.

The is a quick hop that runs from 12:01 AM on Tuesday, December 21st to 11:59 PM on Wednesday, December 22nd.  Kathy from
I am a Reader, Not a Writer is hosting this wonderful event and I am so excited to be a part of this Giveaway Hop. 

Giveaway #1:
A signed hardcover copy of Thirteen Plus One by Lauren Myracle

Description from GoodReads:
Winnie Perry is fourteen now, and the countdown to high school is shaping up to be as eventful as an entire year of middle school. Not only are things shaky with her boyfriend, Lars, but BFFs Dinah and Cinnamon have been acting weird, big sister Sandra is college-bound, little brother Ty has smuggled a stolen penguin home in his backpack, and new baby sister Maggie has everything turned upside down. It’s a lot for anyone to handle, and loyal Winnie is so busy worrying about everyone else that she hardly notices that she might just be struggling a little bit herself.

With humor and honesty, Lauren Myracle brings us another pitch-perfect novel featuring the characters that her legions of fans have grown up loving.

Giveaway #2:
A signed hardcover copy of Only The Good Spy Young (Gallagher Girls, Bk 4) by Ally Carter

Description from GoodReads:
When Cammie Morgan enrolled at the Gallagher Academy, she knew she was preparing for the dangerous life of a spy. What she didn’t know was that the serious, real-life danger would start during her junior year of high school. But that’s exactly what happened two months ago when Cammie faced off against an ancient terrorist organization dead set on kidnapping her.

Now the danger follows her everywhere, and even Cammie “The Chameleon” can’t hide. When a terrifying encounter in London reveals that one of her most-trusted allies is actually a rogue double-agent, Cammie no longer knows if she can trust her classmates, her teachers—or even her own heart.

In this fourth installment of the New York Times best-selling series, the Gallagher Girls must hack, spy, steal, and lie their way to the truth, as they go searching for answers, recognizing that the key to Cammie’s future may lie deep in the past.

Giveaway # 3:
A signed hardcover copy of The Reckoning (Darkest Powers, #3) by Kelley Armstrong

Description from GoodReads:
My name is Chloe Saunders. I'm fifteen, and I would love to be normal.

But normal is one thing I'm not.

For one thing, I'm having these feelings for a certain antisocial werewolf and his sweet-tempered brother—who just happens to be a sorcerer—but, between you and me, I'm leaning toward the werewolf.

Not normal.

My friends and I are also on the run from an evil corporation that wants to get rid of us—permanently.

Definitely not normal.

And finally, I'm a genetically altered necro-mancer who can raise the dead, rotting corpses and all, without even trying.

As far away from normal as it gets.

Happy Holiday! And have fun entering all of the giveaways! - Aly

Rules for the Contest:

1. Please do not enter any personal information in the comments section, you must complete the Entry Form to officially enter the contest.
2.  The Contest runs from 12:00 a.m. December 21st to 11:59 p.m. PST on December 22nd.
3.  You must be a follower of this blog to enter.
4.  You must be 13 or older to participate in this contest.
5.  Comments are nice and always appreciated but will not enter you into the contest.
6.  You must indicate at least two giveaways that you would like to enter.  There will be a total of 3 winners selected.  If one of your choices were already selected, you will receive the second choice. 
7.  If you are selected as a winner, I will notify you by e-mail.  If you do not respond within 48 hours, I will select a new winner.
8.  International participants are welcome to enter the contest.

Here is a list of all the participating blogs:

Monday, December 13, 2010

Book Review - The Twelve Bots of Christmas

Author/Illustrator: Nathan Hale
Publisher: Walker Books for Young Children (October 1, 2010)
Reading Level: 4 to 8 years old
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

Description from GoodReads:
Take one robotic Santa, nine cyber-reindeer pulling his techno-sleigh, and twelve days of Christmas circuitry and wizardry—and this incredible holiday offering is guaranteed to add up to every gear-head's delight!
This unique spin on the familiar song just begs to be read aloud, as it retains the cadence and lyricism of the original. With two turbo doves and three wrench hens leading the way, young readers will be thrilled to join Robo-Santa on his annual round of gift giving. Nathan Hale has created a special delivery for all robot fans.

If you are a fan of The Twelve Days of Christmas and like collecting various versions of the same book, then Nathan Hale's The Twelve Bots of Christmas would be a fun addition to a collection.  The verse follows the traditional song with substitutions such as "Two Turbo-Doves" for "Two Turtle Doves" or "Four Calling Borgs" vs. "Four Calling Birds" which allows for children to sing the song as you would its traditional counterpart. 

The brilliant part of this book for me was the illustrations.  The book opens with Robo-Santa in a space-ship like sled led by eight mechanical reindeer.  Rather than a partridge in a pear tree though there is a"cartridge in a gear tree".  The realistic eyes of the "wrench hens" are designed from screws and the neck/head/beak of the "geese-o-matics" truly conjure up images of geese.  I admire the work and illustrations of Hale.  He uses bright colors, and sharp images that make the imaginative pictures pop on the page.  Readers will pick up new things with each perusal through the book.  And I have feeling that if I was more of a sci-fi fan that there may be some nods to the work of other famous robots.

If there is a robot fan in your life, then this would make a great gift.   

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Book Review - A Nutty Nutcracker Christmas

Authors: Ralph Covert, G. Riley Mills
Illustrator: Wilson Swain
Reading Level: 3rd to 5th grade
Publisher: Chronicle Books (October 21, 2009)
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

Description from GoodReads:
This is no ordinary Nutcracker! This time, it's Fritz's story. The traditional Nutcracker tale gets turned on its head in this rollicking Christmas adventure, based on the hit musical A Nutty Nutcracker Christmas by the popular family music rock star Ralph Covert and playwright G. Riley Mills. Includes a bonus CD of songs from the musical, featuring a read-aloud track with the music and story woven together.

This holiday classic receives a modern redux with a change of point of view and rather than a ballet children are drawn into a video game.  First, I will say up front that I have never been a huge fan of the original version which I saw performed on stage before reading it.  Second, I have not seen the musical version that the book is based on.  I am purely reviewing the book version.  

Overall, I very much enjoyed this book version of the Nutcracker.  Instead of being from Clara's point of view, it is told from Fritz's POV.  The book begins with Fritz breaking Clara's nutcracker and being required to stay at home with an elderly neighbor while his family goes out to see the Nutcracker performed.  Fritz also lost the privilege of playing his video game Mouse Hunter 5000.  When the neighbor answers the phone, Fritz sneaks a chance to play his game.  Surprisingly the Mouse King from the game has come alive.  Fritz is then joined by a real live Nutcracker (a girl) and together they go after the Mouse King to save the day.  Of course, a similar twist occurs at the end, where Fritz awakes and wonders if it was all a dream. He then meets the neighbor's niece Marie who looks surprisingly like the Nutcracker.  

I am not sure what it says about me that it is easier for me to accept falling into a video game vs. having a regular dream (and no I did not grow up with video games) but the book really does have a feel of children trapped into the Mouse Hunter 5000 game.  It is humorous and charming in it's own way.  The illustrations are bright, busy, and have a magical quality to them.  The over-sized heads and eyes of the characters provide a cartoon-like feel to the images.  

If you are a Nutcracker purist, this might not be for you.  However, if you like a little twist to your classics, then I would suggest giving a Nutty Nutcracker Christmas a chance.  It is a nice addition to any collection, and may appeal a little more to boys than the original.  My students enjoyed this alternate version and I hope yours do as well.

Note:  The book is accompanied by a CD which includes 5 songs from the play and a read-aloud track with a musical background.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Book Review - My Brother Charlie

In this series of book reviews celebrating National Inclusive Schools Week, today I am focusing on a story that looks at the subject from a sibling's perspective.  

Author: Holly Robinson Peete, Ryan Elizabeth Peete
Illustrator: Shane W. Evans
Publisher: Scholastic (March 1, 2010)
Reading Level: 4 to 8 years old
Source:  Personal Copy
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Description from GoodReads:
Callie is very proud of her brother Charlie. He’s good at so many things  --  swimming, playing the piano, running fast. And Charlie has a special way with animals, especially their dog, Harriett.

But sometimes Charlie gets very quiet.

His words get locked inside him, and he seems far away.

Then, when Callie and Charlie start to play, Charlie is back to laughing, holding hands, having fun.
Charlie is like any other boy – and he has autism.

In this story, told from a sister’s point of view, we meet a family whose oldest son teaches them important lessons about togetherness, hope, tolerance, and love.   

Holly Robinson Peete, bestselling author, actress, and national autism spokesperson, has paired with her daughter, Ryan, to co-author this uplifting book based on their own personal experiences with Holly’s son and Ryan’s brother, RJ, who has autism.

I had a chance to hear Holly Robinson Peete speak about My Brother Charlie at the SCIBA dinner this past February.  She was so honest and straight-forward and compassionate about the topic of autism and what it was like being a parent of a child with autism.  Also, it was interesting to hear her speak about her daughter's experiences.  

When I finally had a chance to read the story, I was pleased to see that the book reflected that same honest, straight-forward compassion.  Additionally, I loved that it was from a sibling perspective.  In My Brother Charlie, Callie is the twin to Charlie who has autism.  Her voice rings true and when I hit the page that talks about how Charlie doesn't let anything stop him when he wants something - even if it is dangerous, I found myself shaking my head in full understanding.  But when Callie says that sometimes Charlie can ruin a playdate, I wanted to clap and give Callie (Ryan) a hug.  

There needs to be more books and more honest portrayals of what it is like for a sibling of a child with autism.  Sometimes I think they are the forgotten ones in the whole journey called "autism".  This book provides a parent or a teacher a chance to talk in a raw and real manner with a child about both the joys and the pitfalls of being a sibling of a child with special needs.  Over the years, as a teacher of children with autism, I have watched the impact the world of autism has had on the child(ren) without autism in a family.  It is more than time to celebrate the way it can shape siblings into warm, caring, and understanding people.  

The mixed media illustrations by Shane W. Evans are engaging and I loved the facial expressions - particularly the eyes of the characters.  Evans captured the spirit of the book.  

At the end of the book, there is a page with recommendations and suggestions for understanding individuals with autism.  I was particularly in awww of the ideas and thoughts presented by Ryan.  She is certainly one awesome and amazing young person.  Her suggestions about an Autism 101 class for her classmates was spectacular.  

Thank you Holly, and Ryan for finding a way to share about your life with RJ through the relationship of Callie and Charlie.  I am proud to be able to feature this book as part of our Inclusive Schools Week activities.  Continue to share your story so that others may be touched as well.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Book Review - Stand Straight, Ella Kate

In this series of book reviews celebrating National Inclusive Schools Week, I am focusing on a story about a slightly different kind of special needs. 

Author: Kate Klise
Illustrator: M. Sarah Klise
Publisher: Dial Books for Young Children (April 29, 2010)
Reading Level: 3rd to 5th grade
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

Description from GoodReads:

Ella Kate Ewing was born in 1872. She started out small, but she just kept on growing. Soon she was too tall for her desk at school, too tall for her bed at home, too tall to fit anywhere. Ella Kate was a real-life giant, but she refused to hide herself away. Instead, she used her unusual height to achieve her equally large dreams.
The masterful Klise sisters deliver a touching and inspiring true story about a strong-minded girl who finally embraced her differences. It’s the perfect book for every child who has ever felt like an outsider.

Familiar to me for their creative and humorous 43 Old Cemetary Road Series, the talented Klise sisters take on the true story of Ella Kate Ewing.   Imagine living in the late 1800's in Missouri and exhibiting amazing growth?  In Stand Straight, Ella Kate, Klise tells Ewing's story with matter of care and just the right balance of humor.  Ewing began her accelerated growth at age 7 and by the time she was 17 she stood 8 feet tall.  Throughout her childhood, Ella Kate was teased by those around her.  Unable to find clothes that fit properly or to even place her legs under a desk, Ewing coped by attempting to slouch.  Her supportive parents would remind her to "stand straight".  At 17 years of age, Ella Kate was offered a job in the Museum of Chicago.  Despite her parents' concern and her own insecurity about her height, Ella Kate accepted the job.  Her time with the museum taught her that she could use her height to her advantage.  Not only did she become an exceptional business woman which allowed her to help care for her parents, but she was also able to build a home that was designed to fit her.  When she accepts a position in the circus as "The tallest lady on earth", her life veers into an adventure with  experiences that were not typically available to women during that time period.

There were quite a number of things that I really enjoyed about this book.  There is a timelessness to this story that will make it appeal to readers of various ages.  Young children will appreciate the book from the perspective of hearing a well developed story.  Older children can learn from the book how to appreciate individual differences and to face diversity.  Ewing was able to turn what might have been seen as a negative into a chance to live her life financially comfortable but to also travel the world.  Sarah Klise's illustations add an extra dimension and perspective to the book.  And at the conclusion of the book there is information about Ewing's medical condition (gigantism) and a photo of the real Ella Kate. 

It was interesting to see how the author and illustrator work together to provide a wonderful story with illustrations that truly enhance the reader's understanding.  A solid addition to any classroom collection of books on celebrating/recognizing differences.

As part of this week's series, I am giving readers a chance to win one of three books.  Please check out the details here.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Book Review - The Junkyard Wonders

As part of this week's focus on positive portrayals of children with special needs in literature, I am taking a minute to discuss author/illustrator, Patricia Polacco's newest book - The Junkyard Wonders.

Author/Illustrator: Patricia Polacco
Publisher: Philomel (July 8, 2010)
Reading Level: 3rd to 6th grade
Source: Personal Collection
Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

Description from GoodReads:

When young Trisha finds out her class at the new school is known as “The Junkyard,” she is devastated. She moved from her old town so she wouldn't be in a special class anymore! But then she meets her teacher, the quirky and invincible Mrs. Peterson, and her classmates, an oddly brilliant group of students each with his or her own unique talent. And it is here in The Junkyard that Trisha learns the true meaning of genius, and that this group of misfits are, in fact, wonders, all of them.
Based on a real-life event in Patricia Polacco's childhood, this ode to teachers will inspire all readers to find their inner genius.

About a month ago, I had a rare experience of seeing author/illustrator, Patricia Polacco at a Literacy Tea held in Carlsbad, California.  I didn't care that I had to drive 2 hours to get to the event.  Polacco lives in Michigan and does not fly.  Since she managed to come out by train, I could tolerate 2 hours both ways in a car.  As I listened to her speak about her life and her stories, I realized that I was experiencing a piece of literary history.  

Polacco has written many of her books from a deeply personal place and The Junkyard Wonders is no exception.  In some ways the sequel to Thank You, Mr. Falker, this books looks at Trish who has left California for Michigan to hopefully be someone different.  However, when she arrives at Room 206 and learns that the other students in the school refer to her class as the "junkyard".  Through the loving and wise, Mrs. Peterson, Trish and her classmates learn that just as a real junkyard is a place of wonderful possibilities so are they.  With the use of "tribes", Mrs. Peterson divides the class into small learning communities that must explore the junkyard and create something special.  Trish and her group settle on creating a plane.

Of course, the book wouldn't be complete without some kind of conflict.  The school bully is determined to foil the Wonders attempt to fly their plane.  Yet the children in Mrs. Peterson's class do not allow this to become an obstacle but instead pull together to do what they have said they would.  In honor of one of their classmates who has recently passed away, the students of Room 206 learn an important life lesson.

Be prepared to whip out a tissue when reading The Junkyard Wonders.  It is a tender, and moving story about what a group of children can do under the guidance and support of a loving, and wise teacher.  Every teacher new and old should read any of Polacco's tributes to teachers (Thank You, Mr. Falker; Mr. Lincoln's Way; or The Junkyard Wonders) and be reminded what is truly important in teaching.  As I think back to the children that I have instructed, I hope that I was that kind of support and tender heart when they needed. 

To celebrate this and several other wonderful books, I am hosting a give away.  One lucky reader will get a chance to win a copy of either -   Out of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper or The Pirate of Kindergarten by George Ella Lyon or The Junkyard Wonders by Patricia Polacco. 

Rules of the Giveaway
1.  All participants must be 13 or older.
2.  Contest ends on Saturday, December 11, 2010 at 11:59 P.M. PST.
3.  This contest is open to international participants.
4.  Please remember to comment on the post but do not leave personal information.  Any comments including personal information will be deleted.
5. Only one entry per person.

Good luck with the contest.