Noggin by John Corey Whaley
Travis died five years ago. Now he’s alive again. But not the same and nothing else is the same either. Travis’ head is now attached to a different body, a healthy body, one not dying of cancer. You see, when Travis was dying of cancer, he and his parents took a huge risk and had his head severed from his body and frozen. Now Travis is one of two survivors of the cryogenic procedure and he has returned to the same home, the same parents, the same friends, but not the same life. His girlfriend is now engaged to someone else. His best friend who had admitted he was gay just before Travis died is now dating a girl and about to move in with her. His mother can’t look at him without crying. And Travis’ room which used to be his haven now is sterile and hotel-like. But Travis is the same except for his body. It was as if he closed his eyes and reopened them. So what is a guy to do? Well, he still has to finish high school, get his driver’s license and of course try to regain the girl. But nothing is simple when you are on a completely different timeframe than everyone else!
Whaley blends immense amounts of humor into his novel. Though Travis’ experience is unique, it also speaks to the universal experience of being a teen, of not fitting in, of making bad decisions, and yet of being vitally alive at the same time. Whaley also cleverly turns the trend of books about dying teens on its head (pun intended). This is a book about life but also deeply about loss, grief and death and how funny it can all be.
What is most surprising about this book is the honesty it has and that through its humor there are deep truths revealed. Whaley deals with the emotions of Travis’ return beautifully like in this scene on page 40 when he sees his best friend for the first time:
He let go for a second and wiped his face with the back of one sleeve before holding me by each shoulder and sort of just staring at me for a while with this expression that I’m still convinced no other person has ever had, a combination of shock, joy, pain, and terror. It was like I could see all his memories of me projected into the air between us, rushing and swirling around and enveloping us both in a nostalgic haze.
This book has tremendous heart and a strong sense of its absurdity. It has depth, humor and cool scars too. Pure teen reading perfection. Appropriate for ages 14-17.
Reviewed from copy received from Atheneum Books for Young Readers.
Plant a Pocket of Prairie by Phyllis Root, illustrated by Betsy Bowen
Prairies used to cover vast swaths of the United States, but are almost entirely gone now. In this nonfiction picture book, young readers are invited to create their own small prairies at home. Root offers ideas for what native prairie plants should be planted first and then ties each plant to a type of wildlife that will arrive along with the plants. Butterfly weed invites monarchs to your yard. Asters and rough blazing star bring even more butterflies. Toads, birds, mice, bumblebees, and more may appear in your little garden. And who knows, if lots of people plant a little prairie, eventually we may have prairies back across the nation.
Root has written this book in poetry that rhymes at times and others not. There are rhymes at the ends of lines, then internal rhymes within a line, and other times it is the rhythm and flow of the words themselves that create the structure. It has a strong organic feel to it, the names of the plants flowing into those of the animals they will bring to your yard. The book ends with information on all of the plants, animals and insects mentioned in the book as well as further information on the state of prairies in the United States and where you can go to see a prairie.
The illustrations by Bowen are light and free. They focus on the plants and animals, showing them clearly. Along the way, one bird moves from page to page, planting seeds that grow into the garden and building her own nest in the new habitat. There is a sense of the garden expanding and building as the book continues, yet that light feel continues throughout.
A song of the prairie, this book will inspire young gardeners to try native plants and is a great addition to curriculums in schools doing their own garden programs. Appropriate for ages 5-8.
Reviewed from digital galley received from University of Minnesota Press and NetGalley.
A study in Frontiers in Psychology, an open access journal, shows that mothers reading picture books to their children share just as much information about the content in narrative and non-narrative picture books.
The study from the University of Waterloo observed 25 mothers as they read books to their toddlers. One book about animals was narrative while the other book about animals was not. The study showed that the amount of statements by the mothers about the animals did not vary according to the formats. The conclusion of the study is:
Although non-fiction books and documentary films may first come to mind when one thinks about the genres of media that are likely to provide natural facts about the world, the present findings suggest that both narrative and non-narrative children’s picture books stimulate such pedagogical talk from mothers. While the narrative books promoted more references to individual characters, the non-narrative books elicited more instances of labels. Surprisingly, the two types of books encouraged similar amounts of generic talk about kinds of animals and talk about natural facts. Based on these findings, we leave the reader with one final piece of generic information: picture book stories aren’t just for fun; they’re for learning, too.
I love a study that proves the power of reading any sort of book to children. Beautiful!