Read On!

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

Ken Jennings

October4

Jennings, Ken, Ancient Egypt illustrated by Mike Lowery (Little Simon).

This past spring many families who had never tuned in to the game show, Jeopardy, followed the news about James Holzhauer, a contestant who had an amazing winning streak. Holzhauer amassed a great deal of money as his winnings, and he was eventually defeated by Emma Boettcher (a librarian!). The furor over Holzhauer’s wins was because many viewers wondered whether he would beat previous winner Ken Jennings’ records of wins and cash. Ken Jennings remains the top Jeopardy winner with 74 consecutive wins. He earned $3,522,700.00 on the show.

Jennings is not just a Jeopardy champion. He was a software engineer before he appeared on the program, but now he is a best-selling author. While his adult trivia books have been on bestseller lists, his children’s Junior Genius Guides are popular among our students. The guides sound like Jeopardy categories as he has written about dinosaurs, Greek mythology, U.S. Presidents, the human body, maps and geography, outer space, and Ancient Egypt.

The format of the Junior Genius Guides delights young and not so young readers since Jennings writes with humor and language that appeals to today’s readers. He begins his discussion of the First Period in Ancient Egypt with the following:

…And now we’re in the year 3500 BC, the very end of the Stone Age. Here are some things that haven’t been invented yet:
Bronze
Written Language
The wheel
The world population is less than fifteen million. In our time that’s about the population of the Los Angeles area. But here in 3500 BC, that’s every single human being on earth.

His guide on Ancient Egypt is one of the nominees for this year’s Massachusetts Children’s Book Award.

MCBA

September25

Once again, we will be promoting the nominees for the Massachusetts Children’s Book Awards (MACBA) during the 2019-2020 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 Patricia MacLachlan and Kwame Alexander, 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 their own 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 can be found on our DCD Library page.

One of this year’s nominees is Alexander Hamilton: The Making of America by Teri Kanefield ( Abrams)

Alexander Hamilton was born in 1755 on the island of Nevis in the British West Indies. By the time he was fourteen years old, he and his brother were orphans. Because of the unfair laws of inheritance, the two boys were left no money or property. They both had to count on the generosity of others and fend for themselves. Alexander was highly intelligent, and he learned much about finance, international commerce, and the shipping and trading markets from his employer. He was also a talented writer, and his employer started a scholarship fund to send Alexander to America for further education. That began his love for the United States as he worked to form our young nation.

 

 

MACBA

April4

The winner and honor books for the 2019 Massachusetts Children’s Book Award were announced this month. While our readers at DCD didn’t choose the state winner, they voted for three of the books that are the 2019 honor books.

Jennifer Nielsen’s book, A Night Divided, was this year’s winner. Her thank you letter discusses her novel and her inspiration for it.

“The book’s origin came from Ilona, a friend of our family’s. She was born into East Germany and at age five, her family made the decision to escape. Ilona’s parents planned to escape through the countryside. However, they didn’t want to take a five-year-old running through the countryside, so a different plan had to be put in place for Ilona.

Her grandparents in the west would come over by train, and then return by train with Ilona – not on the seat beside them because she had no papers. Instead, Ilona was drugged, put to sleep, and hidden in the baggage car of the train beneath a pile of hay. The knew the car would be searched at the border, and if Ilona even rolled over in her sleep, she would be sent back to East Germany alone and her grandparents would be arrested, or worse.

In the end, all of Ilona’s family successfully escaped, but when I heard her story, I knew I wanted to tell the story of the people of East Germany. It means so much to me that you then read this book, and loved it.”

To read the rest of Nielsen’s acceptance letter go to the MACBA site here.

The honor books are Ghost by Jason Reynolds, A Handful of Stars by Cynthia Lord, Rain Reign by Ann M. Martin, and Framed by James Ponti.

MCBA

February27

This week, we celebrated reading with our annual Massachusetts Children’s Book Award voting party. Prior to choosing their top books, the participating students advocated for their personal preferences. Many of the children commented that they were introduced to new authors and series that have now become favorites.

The winner of the vote is Rain Reign by Ann Martin. Rose is thrilled that her name is a homonym (rows). She names her dog Rain because that also has homonyms (reign and rein). Rose’s autism is evident through the rules that she makes for herself. It is difficult for her father and her teachers to understand her. When Rain disappears in a flood, Rose must break her own rules and overcome her fears to search for him.

There were three books that came in very close in the voting.

Ghost by Jason Reynolds is about a track team from an elite middle school where the main character is not only running on the field but also running from his problems.

Framed by James Ponti is an entertaining mystery about middle schooler who has a knack for solving mysteries, even one that puzzles the FBI at the National Gallery.

Towers Falling by Jewell Parker Rhodes tells the story of three friends from very different cultures whose families are all affected by the event of 9/11 that happened before Déja, Ben, and Sabeen were born.

Massachusetts Children’s Book Award 2018

April13

The winner and honor books for the 2018 Massachusetts Children’s Book Award were announced this month. Our readers at DCD chose the same book as the state winner, and they also voted for two of the state honor books.

This year’s most highly rated book is The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley (Dial). The setting is Great Britain during WWII. The protagonist is Ava, a young girl who was born with a club foot. Her mother shows Ava no affection. Ava envies her brother who is able to run free and escape the loveless home. When children are being evacuated from London and welcomed into homes in the safer countryside, she sneaks off to join her brother whom her mother put on the transport. When the siblings are sheltered by a recluse who is forced to house them, Ava finally experiences something that she always longed for, kindness. Yet, she does not know how to accept it. The fourth, fifth, and sixth graders who read this novel all enjoyed this book. They have now moved on to the sequel, The War I Finally Won which was recently published.

The two honor books that DCD’s readers chose are Space Case by Stuart Gibbs (Simon & Schuster) and Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt (Nancy Paulsen Books). There were a number of quality selections that were nominated for the award this year. Our readers were introduced to some authors and genres that were new to them. We look forward to Salem State University’s publication of the list of nominees for 2019. Those will be announced soon.

 

MACBA Nominees

November7

If the name Ken Jennings sounds familiar to you, then you might be a fan of the television show, Jeopardy. Jennings holds the record for the longest winning streak on Jeopardy with 74 straight wins. Today’s intermediate readers know him for one of this year’s Massachusetts Children’s Book Award nominated books, Ken Jennings’ Junior Genius Guides: Maps and Geography, illustrated by Mike Lowery (Little Simon). It’s interesting to ask the students if they like this book because it’s difficult for some to read non-fiction, especially non-fiction that appears to be about disparate topics. Others enjoy the randomness of the facts that they learn from Jennings. Lowery’s illustrations that accompany the topics are similar to those of Jeff Kinney’s in his “Wimpy Kid” books.

Another non-fiction nominee this year is Coral Reefs: Cities of the Ocean (First Second) by Maris Wicks. The author/illustrator uses a graphic format to describe many of the fish and creatures that can be found in a coral reef.

More MCBA Nominees

September28

There are two graphic novels that are nominated for this year’s Massachusetts Children’s Book Awards: Lowriders in Space by Cathy Camper, illustrated by Raúl the Third (Chronicle) and Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson (Dial).

When I was a child, I never paid attention to author’s notes in books. Now, I try to impress on young readers that there is often a treasury of background information that will often add to their enjoyment. There is “A Note About Lowriders” in the back of Camper’s graphic novel that should really be at the beginning of Lowriders in Space. A lowrider is a customized car with hydraulic jacks that allow the chassis to be lowered nearly to the road. This custom was created by Mexican-Americans in Southern California after WWII. The author took this idea and created a fantasy about a car that travels out of this world.

Roller Girl is entertaining with a message about growing up. Astrid is a twelve-year-old girl with a best friend, Nicole. The summer before middle school, Astrid signs up for roller derby camp while Nicole goes to ballet camp. It’s a difficult time for Astrid as she struggles to learn to skate, and she watches her friend slip away from her. Even so, she grows and learns about herself as she becomes a secret pen pal with the adult roller derby star. The author, Victoria Jamieson, was a professional roller derby skater herself.

 

Massachusetts Book Award Selections

September22

Be loving enough
to absorb evil
and understanding enough
to turn an enemy into a friend. –Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

When books are selected for the Massachusetts Children’s Book Award Program, the selection committee carefully considers genre, the quality of the writing, and the inclusion of a variety of cultural groups. As I look at the list every year and introduce them to children, I discuss each book’s uniqueness. I also point out similarities in style or theme. Two of this year’s nominated books are written in verse, but that isn’t the important similarity. The protagonists in the books must learn to navigate in a society that often discriminates against them. They work to turn prejudice into acceptance.

Full Cicada Moon by Marilyn Hilton (Penguin) is a novel written in first person. The narrator, a young girl, has moved with her family to Vermont. Her heritage is half-black and half-Japanese, and in 1969, Vermont was mostly white. Mimi Yoshiko Oliver finds out that to answer her classmates’ and adults’ questions about “what she is”, she needs to figure out “who she is”. Mimi defies stereotypes, and she also wants to be an astronaut, an opportunity that wasn’t open to women at that time.

brown girl dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson (Penguin) is also written in first person, and it is an autobiography. This book has already received numerous awards, among them was a commendation as a Newbery Honor Book. Woodson writes about living in South Carolina and Brooklyn, New York. Her family were Jehovah’s Witnesses, and she experienced racial and religious discrimination. For me, one of her most poignant selections is “because we’re witnesses”.

because we’re witnesses

No Halloween.
No Christmas.
No birthday.
Even when
other kids laugh as we leave the classroom
just as the birthday cupcakes arrive
we pretend we do not see the chocolate frosting,
pretend we do not want
to press our fingertips against
each colorful sprinkle and lift them,
one by sweet one
to our mouths.

No voting.
No fighting.
No cursing.
No wars.

We will never go to war.

We will never taste the sweetness of a classroom
birthday cupcake
We will never taste the bitterness of a battle.

Massachusetts Children’s Book Award

September15

Once again, we will be promoting the nominees for the Massachusetts Children’s Book Awards (MCBA) during the 2017-2018 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 who is participating. 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 Liesel Shurtliff and Tom Angleberger, 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.

Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt (2015) falls into the genre of realistic fiction. Readers can easily relate to the contemporary characters. Ally struggles in school, and her older brother is sorry that he can’t help her because academics aren’t his strength either. She doesn’t want to bother her mother because her father is on active duty overseas, and her mother has enough worries. A new teacher understands that Ally isn’t really a troublemaker, but she is a creative girl who learns differently. My favorite quote in the book is, “Everybody is genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

Massachusetts Children’s Book Award

May16

The Massachusetts Children’s Book Award (MCBA) 2017 winner and honor books were announced recently. It’s always interesting to compare the state-wide choices to those made by our DCD readers. Often, our DCD choices come pretty close to those from all over Massachusetts. This year, we had chosen two of the four top books.

MCBA 2017 winner
El Deafo by Cece Bell
MCBA Honor Books
The Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer L. Holm
Poached by Stuart Gibbs
Loot: How to Steal a Fortune by Jude Watson
Bliss by Kathryn Littlewood
 

DCD Voting Results
Winner
Poached by Stuart Gibbs
Honorable Mention
El Deafo by Cece Bell
Book Scavenger by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman
I Survived: The Great Chicago Fire by Lauren Tarshis

El Deafo is autobiographical, and it is written in graphic form. Don’t let the art fool you into dismissing the book as easy. Cece Bell handles the topic of being hearing impaired with sensitivity and humor.

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