Read On!

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

Mustaches for Maddie

April20

A few months ago, I was sent a novel from Chris Schoebinger at Shadow Mountain Publishing. After I read it, I’ve shared it with some readers who have enjoyed it as much as I did. I now have a waiting list to read it. Mustaches for Maddie (2017) was written by Chad Morris and Shelly Brown. The authors tell the story of their daughter, Maddie, and her struggles with a serious medical condition. (No spoilers here!) Maddie loves mustaches, and she has many different ones that she puts on to brighten up her day or lighten up a situation.

Maddie faces navigating the social mores of sixth grade that so many children of her age encounter. She wants to be friends with Cassie, the social leader in her class, as do so many of the other girls. Cassie bullies the girls, tries to manipulate the boys, and determine who is “in” or out. Maddie feels bad for those who aren’t included, but she isn’t confident enough to challenge Cassie. When she begins to have medical problems, Maddie realizes how important friendships are. No matter how serious a situation, friends will support her and wear mustaches!

Mustaches for Maddie is a charming novel that entertains readers as it challenges them to be aware of their actions. Maddie faces serious medical challenges with bravery and humor. The authors’ daughter, the “real” Maddie, wrote a poignant letter that is included at the end of the book. I picture her wearing a mustache as she wrote it. Here is an excerpt from that letter:

I try really hard to be friends with everyone. We don’t always realize what trial other people are going through. Sometimes it takes courage to be kind to some people. But we need to always stick up for what’s right. You can do it. Anytime, anywhere, you can have compassion. Everybody needs a friend and that friend can be you So show them that you truly care.

Be kind. Smile more. Laugh more. Dream more.

 

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.

 

Thank You Julius Lester and Ursula Le Guin

January26

The children’s literature community lost two giants in the field this week, Julius Lester and Ursula Le Guin. Both writers made significant contributions, not only with the books that they wrote, but also with the intellect that they brought to the discourse of literature for children and young adults.

Before becoming a writer, Julius Bernard Lester (1939-2018) hosted a radio and television show, recorded albums of original and traditional songs, and taught English and history at the university level. He was a distinguished photographer and professor at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst from 1971 until he retired in 2003. While his courses were highly sought after, he was not afraid of conflict. The Afro-American Studies faculty voted to have him removed from their department because of his characterization of James Baldwin’s writings as being anti-Semitic. He finished his tenure in another department, and he continued to be honored as a distinguished teacher. (Photo from Jewish Week)

Lester was also highly honored in the children’s literature field by numerous award committees: the Newberry, the Coretta Scott King, and the Boston Globe/Hornbook. It’s difficult to choose my favorite book that he wrote for children. I continue to introduce many of them every year in my classes. Lester collaborated with illustrator, Jerry Pinkney, when he modernized the Uncle Remus Tales of Brer Rabbit in multiple volumes. They also produced significant picture books together: Sam and the Tigers: The New Telling of Little Black Sambo, John Henry, and Black Cowboy, Wild Horses: A True Story.

Ursula Kroeber Le Guin (1929-2018) wrote more for intermediate readers, young adults, and adults. She grew up surrounded by her parents’ friends who were intellectuals in many fields. Her fantasy and science fiction novels, short stories, and poetry were groundbreaking because she pushed the boundaries in her alternate and alternative worlds. She wrote thoughtfully about gender, religion, race, and environmentalism. (Photo from Time)

Le Guin, also, was honored throughout her life by numerous organizations: the Library of Congress, the American Library Association, the National Book Foundation, and the Science Fiction Research Association to name a few. The Library of Congress recognized her contributions in 2000 and awarded Ursula Le Guin the Living Legend Award in the Writers and Artists category. In 2016, the New York Times described Le Guin as “America’s greatest living science fiction writer”.

Le Guin was influenced by many fantasy writers, among them were J.R.R. Tolkien, Lewis Carroll, and Kenneth Grahame. In turn, her writing has influenced important contemporary writers like Neil Gaiman and Salman Rushdie.

Ursula Le Guin’s most important novels were her Earthsea Cycle: The Wizard of Earthsea, The Tombs of Atuan, The Farthest Shore, Tehanu, The Other Wind, and Tales from Earthsea. The Wizard of Earthsea won many awards and was greatly discussed when it was published. Le Guin didn’t write this for a strictly juvenile audience, she wrote it for readers. Her books are similar to Tolkien’s because adults gain as much from them as young adults do.

Ursula Le Guin and Julius Lester have left legacies that will live on for future readers to enjoy.

 

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.”

Richard Peck – The Best Man

November18

Ironically, it was my students who taught me to be a writer, though I was hired to teach them.

Richard Peck

Richard Peck’s novels for children and young adults have received many awards and commendations: the Newbery Medal, Edgar Allan Poe Award, Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction, Edgar Award, and as National Book Award finalists. All of this recognition means nothing to a fifth, sixth, seventh, or eighth grade reader. They aren’t impressed. They want to read books that speak to them where they are. Richard Peck does just that.

After serving in the military, Peck became a teacher, first in a high school. In many interviews, he speaks of then being involuntarily transferred to teach English in a middle school. While his educational career wasn’t long, it was there that he observed so much about adolescents. His keen insight comes alive on the page as a reader becomes immersed in his stories.

long My favorite character that Peck has created is Grandma Dowdel, first introduced in A Long Way from Chicago. His descriptions of her have brought her to life for me. Maybe she reminds me of one or both my own grandmothers, and that is a gift from this author. Thank you Richard!

bestRichard Peck’s latest book, The Best Man (Dial), is contemporary fiction. His protagonist, Archer Magill’s voice is that of an average (if there is such a person) sixth grade boy. He often doesn’t recognize the enormity of the personal events around him. His best friend, Lynette discusses that with him when he witnesses a bullying situation at school. Archer and two other boys have found a smaller classmate tied up in the bathroom with the word “gay “ written on his forehead in fluorescent marker. The student teacher, whom all of the students admire, handles the situation with the bullies and their class by explaining that being gay is not just a word, it’s an identity. Mr. McLeod says that it is his identity. Archer never even considered that, and Lynette talks with him about it.

You really take your sweet time, don’t you, Archer?
Time to what?
Mr. McLeod must really have put it out there if you picked up on it. He must have spelled it out.
It got spelled out all right, on Russell’s forehead.

Archer’s family members help him navigate the daily decisions that he makes that define him as a person. There is a great deal of humor in the author’s sensitive descriptions of bullying, homosexuality, divorce, and the hierarchy in middle school. Even though the author is addressing these weighty topics, he does so in a highly entertaining way, recognizing them as aspects of everyday life. In my opinion, this is another award winner for Richard Peck.

In the following clip, Richard Peck discusses the importance of reading aloud to your children. The Best Man might be just the book to read aloud with your pre-adolescent or adolescent. It would open up some important areas of discussion for you all.

Anne of Green Gables

November4

anneWhen I was young, the first book that I ever owned was an abridged version of Anne of Green Gables. The book was larger than most and lushly illustrated. I fondly remember pouring over this version for hours as my introduction to this spunky heroine. Anne is fearless and imaginative as she tackles the hurdles of finding a family.  While she stands her ground and won’t be intimidated, she has a gentle soul and a kind heart.

Lucy Maud Montgomery based her novel on a story that she had heard about a couple who were sent an orphan girl instead of the boy they requested to help on their farm. She used experiences from her childhood as well as her home in rural Prince Edward Island, Canada as the foundation of the story. Montgomery went on to write many sequels to the original (1908) Anne of Green Gables.

Be sure to mark your calendars for this Thanksgiving evening when PBS will premiere a new film adaptation of Anne of Green Gables. In 2017, Netflix will also be presenting eight episodes of this beloved story.

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.

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

 

 

Massachusetts Children’s Book Award

March4

MCBA_rdax_230x150And the DCD winners are…

What a celebration of books and reading we had this week at school! Thirty-five fourth and fifth graders participated in the Massachusetts Children’s Book Award reading program this year. Eleven students read all of the twenty-five books that were nominated.

landchrisThe discussion was spirited, and when the voting was finished, there was a tie for the best book between The Land of Stories: The Wishing Spell by Chris Colfer and Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library by Chris Grabenstein. In The Land of Stories, twins enter a magical world of fairy tale characters through a special book. Grabenstein tells the story of a group of children who stay overnight in the new town library designed by Luigi Lemoncello, a master puzzle maker in Mr. Lemoncello’s Library. They form teams to solve his master puzzle.

Our discriminating readers chose four other books as their favorites:

Kizzy Ann Stamps by Jeri Watts
The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate
Honorable Mention: Rump: The True Story of Rumpelstiltskin by Liesel Shurtliff and Counting by 7s by Holly Goldbery Sloan

It will be interesting to learn the statewide voting results later this month.

Historical Fiction

November20

Alice whenSome books that I pick up as just an entertaining read pique my interest to further investigate the subject they present. That’s what happened with Rebecca Behrens’ contemporary story, When Audrey Met Alice (Sourcebooks, 2014).  The main character portrayed in the book is Audrey Rhodes, and she is the “First Daughter” in the White House. With her mother as President of the United States and her father a busy scientist, Audrey has no one to share her challenging experience as an only child who faces the spotlight. She attends Friends Academy in Washington, D.C., and it is difficult for Audrey to determine whether her fellow students are interested in being her friend only because of her mother’s position. It is also a bit difficult for a middle school girl to even talk to a boy when her Secret Service agent is hovering nearby.

Audrey plans a pizza and movie party for the entire eighth grade to see an advanced screening of a popular movie. When there is a security breach before the party, the White House is locked down and Audrey’s party is canceled. This furthers the First Daughter’s feelings of loneliness and isolation.

AliceShortly after the party, Alice discovers a treasure under an old floorboard in a closet in the Family Residence Dining Room. It was a fabric wrapped bundle that contained some old postcards, a pack of old cigarettes, and a leather diary. The items belonged to Alice Roosevelt, Theodore Roosevelt’s oldest child, and the diary was written during Alice’s years living in the White House. Instead of sharing her find, Audrey hides them in her room and begins to read Alice’s diary. At last, she has found someone who understands what life as a First Daughter means.

The author did extensive research on Alice Roosevelt. She incorporated true information about Alice into the diary that her fictional character, Audrey, found. Alice was certainly a colorful character for her times, and probably even by contemporary standards. In Alice’s fictional diary, she writes about wearing a color of blue that she enjoyed. There was a shade that was named after her, “Alice Blue” became popular in women’s fashions of the times. The color is used by the United States Navy in insignia and trim on vessels named for Theodore Roosevelt. There was even a hit song in a Broadway musical, Irene that was “Alice Blue Gown”. Rebecca Behrens website has interesting information to further investigate Alice.

I hope that some middle school readers might enjoy When Audrey Met Alice as much as I did.

(Photo of Alice Roosevelt from Wikipedia)

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