Read On!

Mrs. Farquharson’s musings about books for children and young adults

Graphic Nominees

October28

mcbaWhen those involved in nominating books for the Massachusetts Children’s Book Award (MCBA) at Salem State University choose titles, they look for representatives of different genres. There are selections that represent non-fiction, historical fiction, fantasy, and contemporary fiction. Recently, there have also been graphic novels as nominees. It’s important to understand that a “graphic novel” is not a genre, it is a format. A graphic uses art that is similar to comic books, with sequential panels and dialogue telling the story. Graphics are conceived in every genre: fiction, non-fiction, history, science fiction, or fantasy.

elTwo nominees for the 2017 MCBA are in graphic form. El Deafo by Cece Bell (Abrams) is a memoir. In this 2015 Newbery Honor Book, Bell uses humor to tell her unique story of growing up as a hearing impaired child. She was equipped with a bulky hearing aid that included a box like piece strapped to her chest. This made it difficult to make friends, so Bell imagined herself as a superhero.

zooOur other selection is The Stratford Zoo Midnight Revue Presents: Romeo and Juliet by author Ian Lendler and cartoonist Zack Giallongo (Roaring Brook Press). When the zoo closes at night, the animals come out of their cages. They are all actors, and they stage one of the world’s classic plays.

2017 Massachusetts Children’s Book Award (MCBA)

September23

mcbaOnce again, we will be promoting the nominees for the Massachusetts Children’s Book Awards (MCBA) during the 2015-2016 school year at DCD. Even though I’ve written about this program before, I would like to explain it to parents who have never had a fourth, fifth, or sixth grader before now. This voluntary reading incentive program has become a popular event for many students. Started by Dr. Helen Constant in 1975, it is administered through Salem State University. Twenty-five books are nominated for the award, and our voting for the DCD favorites will take place in late winter.

 
There are many obvious benefits to reading along with us for the next few months. Students are often introduced to authors who are unknown to them before this, and they return looking for other books by them. Some of the authors, like Jennifer Holm and Lauren Tarshis, are already favorites of many intermediate readers. An important benefit that may not be obvious is that our readers become critics. They learn how to evaluate literature through plot, characters, and interest, and they have fun doing so. Throughout the next few months, I’ll highlight some of the nominated titles. Links to the reading lists and our required journal pages can be found on our DCD Library page.

 
From time to time, I’ll be reviewing some of the titles under consideration for the award. So…let me write about two today. Both of the books fall into the same genre, which I term realistic fantasy or magic realism. The (often) contemporary characters live in a world or society that we recognize, but magic happens. When this is portrayed to a reader by a talented author, one accepts this different reality and enjoys the story.

 
blissBliss, by Kathryn Littlewood (HarperCollins), introduces a delightful family who own a bakery that is beloved in their town. The protagonist, Rose, suspects that her parents employ magic when baking some of their special foods. When her parents go out of town, Rose and her siblings are supposed to protect the family’s Cookery Booke, that is kept under lock and key. They are surprised when a flashy and an unknown aunt rides into town on her motorcycle. Rose is drawn in by her new-found aunt, and she begins playing with powerful magic. This is the first book in the Bliss Bakery Trilogy. The other books are A Dash of Magic and Bite-Sized Magic.

 
14thJennifer Holm’s book, The Fourteenth Goldfish (Random House for Young Readers), is a humorous book that tackles the subject of immortality. Humor and immortality? Yes, the main character, Ellie, is a sixth grader who is struggling to navigate middle school. She misses her best friend, and she learns that her mother had been replacing her goldfish every time it died without her knowledge. When a new, weird boy approaches her, he reminds Ellie a lot of her grandfather who is a scientist obsessed with immortality. Many readers may know Holm from her graphic novels featuring Babymouse.

The Beatles

May6

…But tomorrow may rain, so I’ll follow the sun.   – The Beatles

As a baby boomer, I enjoy sharing my memories of growing up and the music that I enjoyed and still enjoy with children. They have a vague concept of a band named The Beatles, but few know anything about the “Fab Four” or their songs.

fabTwo recent additions to our collection should intrigue intermediate and middle school readers. Fab Four Friends: The Boys Who Became the Beatles by Susanna Reich, illustrated by Adam Gustavson (Henry Holt) is a picture book biography and a fine introduction to the early lives of John, Paul, George, and Ringo. The young men had much in common, growing up in Liverpool, England and finding escape in music.

beatlesA more sophisticated and more comprehensive title is How the Beatles Changed the World by Martin W. Sandler (Bloomsbury). There are many black and white and color photographs throughout the book that chronicles the rise of one of the most influential musical groups in history.

And the winner is…

April15

ivanSalem State University announced the winner of the 2016 Massachusetts Children’s Book Award (MACBA) earlier this month. The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate (Harper Collins) received the most votes. DCD’s fourth and fifth graders had voted for this as one of their top choices, although they awarded it an honorable mention. The story, published in 2012, is told from the perspective of Ivan, a gorilla in captivity. When a baby elephant is added as an attraction at the same shopping mall, a rare and poignant friendship develops between the two animals. This book has already received many awards given by adults. Many children are touched by the story, even though there are many sad aspects to it.

Two of the MACBA honor books were chosen by our students in a tie as their number one choices. Mr. Lemoncello’s Library by Chris Grabenstein (Random House) and The Wishing Spell: The Land of Stories, #1 by Chris Colfer (Little Brown) were immensely popular. The sequels to both books are in high demand in our library.

librryland

 

 

Nooks & Crannies

October16

cranniesIt’s always a happy time for me when I discover a new author to share with students. Jessica Lawson is my latest “find”, and I’ve been recommending her latest book, Nooks & Crannies (Simon & Schuster).

In the beginning chapters of Nooks & Crannies, I thought that I knew the formula that Lawson was following for the plot. The setting is London in the early 1900s, and six children received an invitation from the Countess of Windermere to spend a weekend at her “magnificent and secluded home”. Hmm…that was sounding like Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory or the more recent Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library by Chris Grabenstein. I predicted that the most deserving child would be recognized by the generous benefactor. The author soon surprised me with an early twist in her plot by introducing a rather nefarious Countess.

As I continued into the story, Nooks & Crannies began to remind me a bit of an Agatha Christie mystery for our middle readers. The heroine is an eleven year-old girl, Tabitha Crum, whose parents have arranged to put her in an orphanage as soon as the weekend is over. Because of their neglect, she had to fend for herself, and her only friend and confidant is Pemberley, a mouse. Once at the estate, Tabitha and the other children learn that one of them may be an heir to a fortune. Not everything is as it appears to be though, and Tabitha soon has questions about the Countess and her knives, a sick old lady, secret passageways, and mysterious happenings.

This novel is great fun, and I look forward to reading Lawson’s previous book, The Actual & Truthful Adventures of Becky Thacher which is a take-off of Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Let’s hope that Lawson will have many more books in the future.

Massachusetts Children’s Book Awards

September18

MCBAOnce again, we will be promoting the nominees for the Massachusetts Children’s Book Awards (MACBA) during the 2015-2016 school year at DCD. Even though I’ve written about this program before, I would like to explain it to parents who have never had a fourth, fifth, or sixth grader before now. This voluntary reading incentive program has become a popular event for many students, and it was started by Dr. Helen Constant in 1975. It is administered through Salem State University. Twenty-five books are nominated for the award, and our voting for the DCD favorites will take place in late winter.

There are many obvious benefits to reading along with us for the next few months. Students are often introduced to authors who are unknown to them before this, and they return looking for other books by them. Some of the authors, like Kate DiCamillo and Patricia MacLachlan, are already favorites of many intermediate readers. An important benefit that may not be obvious is that our readers become critics. They learn how to evaluate literature through plot, characters, and interest, and they have fun doing so. Throughout the next few months, I’ll highlight some of the nominated titles. Links to the reading lists and our required journal pages can be found on our DCD Library page.

From time to time, I’ll be reviewing some of the titles under consideration for the award. So…let me write about one today.

“Life itself is the most wonderful fairy-tale.” – Hans Christian Anderson

(Quote taken from Liesl Shurtliff’s website.)

rumpWhen I first started to read Rump: The True Story of Rumpelstiltskin by Liesl Shurtliff, I was skeptical. For me, as a reader, the writing was not enticing. The story wasn’t grabbing my attention in a positive way, but I decided to give it more of a chance. I’m certainly glad that I did since I became a part of the fantastical world that Shurtliff created. Her clever explanation and imaginative retelling of the traditional tale of Rumpelstiltskin made me sorry to see the tale end. The trailer for the book might give you some indication of how I was at first “put off” by the beginning chapters. Since I’m now promoting the book to students, and discussing it with them when they have finished it, many of them have expressed the same thoughts. They weren’t sure at the beginning, but they enjoyed it as they got into it.

This book is a perfect example of a child’s growth as they begin to read critically.

 

Two Novels

June5

There have already been a number of quality books published in 2015 for our intermediate and young adult readers. Two of my latest favorites are Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan (Scholastic, 2015) and Stella by Starlight by Sharon Draper (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2015). These books are each challenging with their content and intriguing with their plots.

echoEcho is a difficult book to describe because it shifts back and forth from fantasy to reality. In a mysterious and forbidden forest, a man meets three strange sisters who deliver a prophecy, a promise, and a harmonica. That harmonica is intertwined within three other stories. Readers will be drawn to the challenges that Friedrich in Germany, Mike in Pennsylvania, and Ivy in California face during different time periods. This is a long book with 592 pages, and readers will be so engrossed in the plot that they will be disappointed to have it end.

Pam Munoz Ryan speaks about her writing and another of her books, The Dreamer, in this video.

stellaStella by Starlight is realistic fiction that challenges readers to face the realities of racism in the United States. The main character lives in Bumblebee, North Carolina, in the heart of the segregated south. In this Depression Era story, the Ku Klux Klan are making a reappearance and terrorizing many in the area. Sharon Draper talks about her inspiration for her latest book.

***On an unrelated note, “Stella by Starlight” is also the name of a 1940s jazz classic. To hear Miles Davis perform it, check out this video.

Let the Reading Begin

May22

MCBA_rdax_230x150It was an exciting week for our rising fourth, fifth, and sixth grade readers  because the announcement of the 2015-2016 nominees for the Massachusetts Children’s Book Award. This voluntary reading incentive program has become a popular event for many students. The organizers at Salem State College have responded to librarians’ suggestions and requests to publish the nominees as soon as possible in May. Fortunately for us, the list was published last Friday afternoon. We were able to get many of the titles for our book fair this week. As the children plan their summer reading, we’ve encouraged them to use the MACBA list for suggested titles and authors.

7Some of the books that have been nominated for the 2016 award are already favorites of mine. One of them, Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan is a sophisticated novel for our readers. When I wrote about it on February 20, 2014, I thought that the Newbery Award Committee should have recognized it, and I said
Willow is unique, and depending on your point of view, you will want to be her friend, or teacher, or parent. Her world falls apart when she is in middle school. It’s no spoiler to tell you that in the opening chapter, the reader learns that Willow’s parents die. While this shatters Willow’s world, a diverse group of individuals reach out to save her. It is Willow who saves them and brings out each one’s “giftedness” (my term). Do share this book with a fifth, sixth, or seventh grader, but be sure to read it yourself too.

While Counting by 7s is one of the most sophisticated books on the list, there are titles that will interest children of various reading levels. All of the nominees and their reading levels are on the Salem State College website. We will be promoting these particular books until our voting party in 2016.

Spring Reading

May15

There are some very entertaining new novels for children and young adults that have been published this spring. I have a stack of books to read, and I want to recommend two this week.

fishFish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt (Penguin, 2015) is a novel that many readers from ages 10+ might enjoy. I did! The narrator of this story is Ally, a sixth grader who is struggling to navigate school. She is contending with the typical social issues that occur during those middle school years. As an outsider, Ally is trying to fit in. Her difficulties are compounded by the fact that her father is in the military, and he is currently stationed overseas. Her family has moved around a lot because of her father’s assignments, and school hasn’t been easy for Ally or her older brother. Maybe it’s because she was never in one school for very long, or maybe Ally was very good at faking her ability, but no teacher had picked up on Ally’s academic deficits. The situation in her present school is similar to that in her previous one, she gets sent to the principal’s office often for causing problems. Her new sixth grade teacher realizes that Ally can’t read, and that she is dyslexic. Even though the main character is a girl, one of her best friends is an interesting boy, and this might help with the appeal to our male readers. Ally’s teacher’s words to her are some that all children who struggle need to hear,

Everybody is smart in different ways. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its life believing it is stupid.

allKate Messner is another novelist who can speak to youngsters as if she were their peer. In All the Answers (Bloomsbury, 2015), her middle-school protagonist is Ava, a girl who is often overcome by her fears. Whether it is family, social or academic issues, Ava feels that she doesn’t have the courage that her best friend, Sophie, does. Ava is also worried about her grandfather in a nursing home and her parents arguing a lot. When she uses a pencil from her family’s junk drawer, Ava is shocked to learn that the pencil has magical powers. When she writes out a question with the blue pencil, she hears a voice that gives her the answer. The pencil tells her that it can only divulge facts, and that “People have free will.” Still, there are not only academic facts that Ava and Sophie learn, but also facts about the boys and girls in their class. Perhaps they weren’t supposed to know some of these facts. How ethical is it to use the pencil?

2015 MA Children’s Book Award

March12

MCBATwenty-two of our fourth and fifth graders celebrated reading at this week’s Massachusetts Children’s Book Award voting party. In order to participate in this voluntary reading incentive, our requirement for the children was that they had to read at least six of the nominated books. While they didn’t vote with us, the sixth graders have been reading many of the titles as part of their English class. The more books the children read, the better they were able to discuss the strength of the plots of the books. Four children read all twenty-five titles on the list. There was a spirited discussion of the merits of many of the titles. It was energizing to hear the girls and boys recommend the books to each other, as well as comment on similar books or other books by the authors under discussion.

flagThe clear winner was Capture the Flag by Kate Messner (Scholastic, 2012). In this contemporary mystery, three seventh graders, who never met previously, join forces when they learn that the flag that inspired The Star-Spangled Banner is missing from The Smithsonian. Anna, Jose’, and Henry team up to try to find this important piece of Americana. When they are snowed in at the D.C. airport, they begin a quest that opens their eyes to more than they expected.

The children also voted for “honor books”. These were other books that also received top votes or might have been a second favorite book. DCD’s honor books are The Familiars, Liar and Spy, and The Son of Neptune.

familiarsThe Familiars by Adam Epstein (Harper Collins, 2010) is a magical fantasy about an ordinary cat that is mistakenly chosen as a young wizard’s pet. The alley cat joins forces with a blue jay and tree frog that have supernatural gifts. They form an alliance to rescue their owners.

liarLiar and Spy by Rebecca Stead (Wendy Lamb Books, 2012) is another story about a new friendship that is developed between two very different seventh graders. They track a mysterious man who lives in their Brooklyn apartment building.

sonRick Riordan continues to be a favorite author with The Son of Neptune (Disney, 2011). After many read this volume in The Heroes of Olympus Series, they discussed the strengths and weaknesses of various Greek and Roman gods and their half-blood children.

We look forward to the results of the statewide voting which will be released in a few weeks.

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