Category: Elementary School

Catching a Storyfish by Janice N. Harrington

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Catching a Storyfish by Janice N. Harrington (InfoSoup)

Moving away from Alabama is hard for Keet. She is moving closer to her beloved grandfather though, which helps. The two of them spend days together fishing, something that Keet used to find challenging because she loves to talk and tell stories. But at her new school, she is teased for her accent and suddenly her words start to dry up. She finds it hard to make friends and even at home she isn’t talking much. Slowly though, Keet starts to find her voice again and makes a new friend. Just as she starts to talk though, her grandfather suffers a stroke and struggles with the slow recovery. Keet though has just the solution, showing him the way forward with stories.

Harrington’s verse novel is pure loveliness. Throughout she plays with various poetic forms, delicately moving from haiku to concrete poems to narrative form with many others included too. She nicely lists them at the end of the book, talking about their difficulty and what makes a poem that form. Her skill is evident throughout with all of the forms as she tells the story of Keet and her progress from losing her confidence and her voice to finding it again. The voice of Keet’s new friend is including in the poems as well, often playing against ones in Keet’s voice.

The characters here are given time to grow and stretch on the page. Keet is a wonderful character filled with a great energy and drive, but also stuck in a lack of confidence that hits her out of nowhere. It is a book about quiet and both its power and the ability to drown in being silenced. It is a book about friendship, about family and the importance of finding your place and your voice.

Beautifully written and strikingly gentle, this book is a celebration of the individual and their ability to speak their own stories. Appropriate for ages 8-12.

Reviewed from library copy.

 

Somos como las nubes / We Are Like the Clouds by Jorge Argueta

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Somos como las nubes / We Are Like the Clouds by Jorge Argueta, illustrated by Alfonso Ruano (InfoSoup)

This stunning book of poetry looks at the flood of children from Central America who are making their way to the United States. 100,000 of them have walked to our country, escaping to safety and what they hope is fresh opportunities. The book opens with a few poems that show the beauty of Central America and then swiftly moves to the problems and the gangs that are in control. Then begins the long march north, the trust placed in coyotes that lead them, the dangers they face, the rough conditions and the courage it takes to head towards the unknown. The book ends with poems of Los Angeles and hope.

Written by a Salvadoran poet, this book’s poetry soars and lifts even when speaking of dark and dangerous subjects. Throughout there is a focus on hope and the distant wonder of the United States. There are poems of the journey that are aching with loss. There are poems of strong parents who carry children and others of the children alone and fearful. It is a book that captures the range of immigrants coming to the United States, particularly children from Central America whose story is shared with such poignancy on these pages.

The art by Ruano is startling and beautiful. He has surreal moments in the art that capture a little touch of playfulness at first. That moves quickly to sense of isolation at times, of being alone in a stark landscape. Towards the end, there is one painting of a child afloat in the air on a blue, cloud-like sleeping bag who is finally heading home with his parents. It is a picture of such tenderness and captures the youth and dreams of these children.

An important book that shows the plight of Central American children as they walk to the United States, this is a challenging book of poetry that demands attention. Appropriate for ages 8-12.

Reviewed from library copy.

10 Great Books for Older Children on Bullying

While my “10 Great” series so far has focused only on picture books, I want to share some great books for older children as well. Here are some wonderful books about bullies and bullying to share in classrooms and families:

Better Nate Than Ever Cartwheeling in Thunderstorms

Better Nate Than Ever by Tim Federle

Cartwheeling in Thunderstorms by Katherine Rundell

Friends for Life Garvey's Choice

Friends for Life by Andrew Norriss

Garvey’s Choice by Nikki Grimes

Maxi's Secrets: (or what you can learn from a dog) My Heart Is Laughing

Maxi’s Secrets by Lynn Plourde

My Heart Is Laughing by Rose Lagercrantz, illustrated by Eva Eriksson

Pack of Dorks (Pack of Dorks #1) Wolf Hollow

Pack of Dorks by Beth Vrabel

Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk

Wonder Words in the Dust

Wonder by R.J. Palacio

Words in the Dust by Trent Reedy

 

Gertie’s Leap to Greatness by Kate Beasley

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Gertie’s Leap to Greatness by Kate Beasley (InfoSoup)

Gertie doesn’t know her mother at all, since she left Gertie and her father behind. Gertie lives with her aunt and father, who is often gone working on an oil rig. But when a For Sale sign goes up on her mother’s home and she expects to leave town soon, Gertie discovers that she wants to prove to her mother that she should never have left. So Gertie goes on a mission to become the best fifth-grader in the universe. When school starts though, there is a new student in her class, Mary Sue Spivey, who seems to be a lot more likely to be the best. She gets perfect grades, their teacher loves her, and even Gertie’s best friend befriends Mary Sue. When tryouts for the play come though, Gertie is selected as the lead, but can she actually become the perfect fifth grader and get her mother to witness it?

Beasley has created a story filled with characters who are vastly human. Gertie herself struggles with success, has trouble keeping her strong personality under wraps, sets herself immense goals through her missions, and yet has a huge heart and a desire to do the right thing. That right thing though is often warped under her reasoning into something that many people might see as overtly wrong.

The book has plenty of twists and turns, all based on Gertie herself and what she is creating around her. Sometimes that is good things and other times it is pure trouble. She also discovers that young people can be “fickle” and uses that word to keep herself from being too overly concerned when they turn against her and also too caught up in when they like her again.

Ideal for children who enjoyed Clementine, this book has humor, pizzazz and one great heroine. Appropriate for ages 7-10.

Reviewed from e-galley received from Edelweiss and Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

 

Things Too Huge to Fix by Saying Sorry by Susan Vaught

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Things Too Huge to Fix by Saying Sorry by Susan Vaught (InfoSoup)

Dani’s grandmother suffers from Alzheimer’s and is slowly reaching the end of her life cared for by Dani and her parents. So when her grandmother sends Dani on a mission to find a letter and key, Dani isn’t sure that it’s real. She discovers both the letter and key, then has to follow the trail of clues her grandmother left in her writing to discover the truth of a feud that her grandmother had with Avadelle Richardson, a novelist who wrote about a riot that happened at Ole Miss. It’s a riot that both Dani’s grandmother and Avadelle actually were caught up in. As Dani gets closer to the end of the trail, she finds more and more secrets and history and modern life begin to collide.

Vaught has written a taut novel that takes readers on a journey through Civil Rights history in Mississippi. Told through the eyes of Dani, the book is accessible to modern children and shows that racism is far from over. With our recent election, it is also a timely book that speaks to the deep-seated racism still at work in our country today. Vaught uses excerpts from Avadelle’s fictitious novel to show the historical context that the riot took place in. It does show how far we have come, but also speaks to how far we have to go.

The complex friendships of middle grade children are captured here, with Dani and her best-friend Indri sharing the adventure while her “not-friend” Mac, grandson of Avadelle continues to also be a part of it though at times the two are not speaking, just like their grandmothers. This modern division is a clever way to show how friendships change, shift and fall apart, something that mirrors what is seen in the novel and in the grandparents’ relationship.

A rich look at Civil Rights, racism and the decisions too big to be unmade, this novel is a timely look at today and our shared past. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from copy received from Simon & Schuster.

 

Benny and Penny in How to Say Goodbye by Geoffrey Hayes

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Benny and Penny in How to Say Goodbye by Geoffrey Hayes (InfoSoup)

Benny and Penny return in another graphic novel perfect for new readers. In this story, the two mouse siblings start the story by jumping in piles of leaves. Penny worries that Benny will hurt the leaves, but Benny explains that the leaves are already dead. Then Penny discovers a dead salamander in the yard. Penny wants to bury the salamander but Benny gets angry and tries to stop her over and over again. As Penny moves ahead with burying the salamander with the help of another friend, Benny listens in and then starts feeling sad rather than angry about the little dead creature.

Hayes speaks to the experience of death for young children in a gentle and understanding way. He captures the movement from anger at loss to grief in a way that is organic and natural, allowing Benny the ability to feel his emotions and contrasting those with the way his sister is reacting. Both reactions are supported by the book, allowing children to think about their own emotions.

Hayes sets the book in autumn, showing seasonal aspects throughout the story. There are fallen leaves, bare trees, and a sense of change throughout the book. As always, Hayes beautifully illustrates his graphic novels, allowing them to be an ideal bridge between picture book and chapter book.

A lovely look at a child’s first experience with death, this graphic novel is gentle and filled with kind understanding. Appropriate for ages 5-7.

Reviewed from copy received from TOON Books.

 

A Bike Like Sergio’s by Maribeth Boelts

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A Bike Like Sergio’s by Maribeth Boelts, illustrated by Noah Z. Jones (InfoSoup)

Ruben would love to have a bike like his friend Sergio has. Even though his birthday is coming, Ruben knows that he doesn’t get presents like bicycles. His family is large and there’s not enough money even for all of the groceries they need some weeks. One day when he is at the store for his mother, a lady in front of him drops a dollar bill. Ruben picks it up and puts it in his pocket, but when he looks at it later he discovers it’s actually a one-hundred dollar bill! That’s enough for him to get the bike he’s always wanted. Now Sergio has a dilemma, does he give the money to his family for groceries? Does he give it back to the woman? Or does he buy the bike of his dreams?

Boelts has created a story that is much more than a lesson in morals. This story is about ethical choices yes, but also about economic disparity and families living on the edge. It is a story told with real subtlety and offering an understanding of what would drive a child who is good at heart to steal what they thought was a dollar. It’s a book about the stories we tell ourselves to make our decisions “right” and the way that doing the right thing may not always be easy or clear.

The illustrations by Jones are modern and rather quirky. They fill the page with the vividness of the urban setting. The love and caring of Ruben’s family are also celebrated in the illustrations.

Subtle and smart, this book about decisions and doing the right thing asks all the right questions. Appropriate for ages 5-7.

Reviewed from library copy.