Tuesday, December 15, 2015

do something beautiful

Watch George Saunders on how to tell a good story... from this article in The Atlantic. I just bought The Very Persistent Gappers of Frip by George Saunders as a holiday gift for my kids, and I can't wait to read it!

George Saunders: On Story from Redglass Pictures on Vimeo.

Bonus Extras...

George Saunders - Extras (Reader/Writer) from Redglass Pictures on Vimeo.

George Saunders- Extras (Writing Tricks) from Redglass Pictures on Vimeo.

George Saunders-Extras-(Darkness) from Redglass Pictures on Vimeo.

Monday, December 14, 2015

finding the explanations that no one else can give you

On a recent trip, I read The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin. It is wonderful! Every teacher, every parent, and every library should consider this book for a read aloud. It's the type of book that can change lives and reads beautifully.

From Goodreads:
This stunning debut novel about grief and wonder was an instant New York Times bestseller and captured widespread critical acclaim, including selection as a 2015 National Book Award finalist!

Suzy Swanson is in seventh grade and dealing with tragedy.

During the first three weeks of seventh grade, I'd learned one thing above all else: A person can become invisible simply by staying quiet.

The book moves back and forth through time from the present to the previous school year. It reflects a lot on the importance of the choices we make, the consequences of those choices, and the power and redemption of empathy.

Sometimes you want things to change so badly, you can't even stand to be in the same room with the way things actually are.

This is also a wonderful book about science, and women in science, and the beauty of science. I loved Mrs. Turton, and I wish there were more Mrs. Turtons in the world.

Mrs. Turton says when something happens that no one can explain, it means you have bumped up against the edge of human knowledge. And that is when you need science. Science is the process for finding the explanations that no one else can give you.

The point, she said, was to learn how to research, how to find out more about anything we wondered about. "That's what science is," she explained. "It's learning what others have discovered about the world, and then - when you bump up against a question that no one has ever answered before - figuring out how to get the answer you need." 

 As readers of The Thing About Jellyfish, we learn many fascinating facts... about jellyfish, about the scientific method, cosmology and the expanding universe, about the accomplishments of long-distance swimmer Diana Nyad, the pathogenesis of zombie ants, the sixth mass extinction, and many other scientific topics.

Back in 1968, people saw Earth rising over the moon and believed they mattered. They believed they could accomplish anything. What if we could feel that way again? There are so many things to be scared of in this world: blooms of jellies. A sixth extinction. A middle school dance. But maybe we can stop feeling so afraid. Maybe instead of feeling like a mote of dust, we can remember that all the creatures on this Earth are made from stardust.

I highly recommend this book! It would make a wonderful gift for all the middle grade and young adult readers you know. 

If you're still not convinced, read the beginning for free HERE.

Be sure to read the author's note at the end, because as Mrs. Turton says...

"What did you learn from your research? Take a step beyond your own investigation to consider the implications for future questions. What else is there to learn? Where might your inquiry take you next?"

Thursday, December 10, 2015

the heart of Auschwitz

It sits like a jewel in a museum showcase.

On December 12, 1944, Polish teenager Fania Landau turned 20 while imprisoned in Auschwitz. Fania had spent the past year in the concentration camp and didn't expect her birthday to be remembered. However, her friends risked everything to make her a gift.

This weekend I read the historical fiction novel, Paper Hearts by Meg Wiviott. Written in verse, this beautiful novel  is based on the lives of Fania Landau and Zlatka Sznaiderhauz, and their story of survival.

In the midst of incredible horror, love and friendship become a weapon against oppression and hatred.

Here is one of my favorite parts:

The Birds

Spring brought the rains
And the mud.

But no birds.

They avoided the belching black smoke,
Billowing stench,
Impenetrable gray,
Incessant trains.

Much later,
People claimed,
We did not know.
I had no idea.
I didn't do it.

How could they not have known,
When the birds did?

This is an incredible book and should be put in the hands of all readers. This story will open the door to many conversations on current events regarding discrimination and labeling any group as other. Readers can ponder the power of humanity and the role of empathy in overcoming racism, hate, and indifference.

I highly recommend this beautiful book for everyone you know.

figuring out where your interests are

At our junior high school, students learn about World War Two in eighth grade. My daughter was in eighth grade last year, so we read a lot of great books to dig deeper into the subject. This year, my son is in eighth grade and we are finding even more incredible stories.

If you know a reader who is curious about World War Two, here is an awesome list of books that will help foster sustained and substantial learning through stories.

World War Two Book List:

The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brusker Bradley

Paper Hearts by Meg Wiviott

A Night Divided byJennifer A. Nielsen

Bomb by Steve Sheinkin

The Book Theif by Mark Zusak

The Diary of Anne Frank by Anne Frank

Counting the Stars by Lois Lowry

The Boys Who Challenged Hitler by Phillip Hoose

Code Talker by Joseph Bruchac

Hidden by Loic Dauvillier

Whispering Town by Jennifer Elvgren

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys
(also don't miss Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys - to be released in February)

The Tin Snail by Cameron McAllister

Unbroken (young adult adaptation) by Laura Hillenbrand

The Boys in the Boat (young readers adaptation) by Daniel James Brown

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

“You know the greatest lesson of history? It’s that history is whatever the victors say it is. That’s the lesson. Whoever wins, that’s who decides the history. We act in our own self-interest. Of course we do. Name me a person or a nation who does not. The trick is figuring out where your interests are.” 
― Anthony DoerrAll the Light We Cannot See

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Books make excellent holiday gifts!

Books make excellent holiday gifts!

Here are some new ideas for the young book lovers on your shopping list:

Teen Book Gifts:

Everything Everything by Nicola Yoon
Teens will love this star crossed romance about secrets, lies, love, and discovery. “love makes the world go round” or in this case, “love makes everything, everything go round”.

The Rest of us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness
"What if you aren’t the Chosen One? The one who is suppose to fight the zombies, or the soul-eating ghosts, or whatever the heck this new thing is, with the blue lights and the death?"  Teens will be able to relate to the characters in this book and they love the dialog as well.

Every Last Word by Tamara Ireland Stone
“My friends can’t know about my OCD or the debilitating, uncontrollable thoughts, because my friends are normal. And perfect. They pride themselves on normalcy and perfection, and they can’t ever find out how far I am from those two things.”
  It's great to see teen books that deal with chronic mental illness. Samantha McAllister has Purely-Obsessional OCD and is consumed with dark thoughts and worries that she can't turn off. Teens will relate to the peer pressure of high school, the desire to fit in, the struggle of overcoming obstacles, and the power of friendship.

Walk On Earth A Stranger by Rae Carson
"Trust someone, Mama said. Her dying words, burned into my heart. But she was wrong. When there’s gold to be had, you can’t trust anyone. Not a single soul."  "This is book one of a new trilogy (The Gold Seer). I loved this historical fiction -  mixed with magic - mixed with an adventure journey - book. Set in Gold Rush era America, teens will love the spirit of adventure and the American history with a magical twist.

If you are still at a loss for a gift for your teen, check out DFTBA.com

Middle Grade Book Gifts:

Marvels by Brian Selznick
“That’s what life is, Joseph realized, miracles and sadness, side by side.”
This book is two seemingly unrelated stories--one in words, the other in pictures. The illustrated story begins in 1766 with Billy Marvel, the lone survivor of a shipwreck, and charts the adventures of his family of actors over five generations. The prose story opens in 1990 and follows Joseph, who has run away from school to an estranged uncle's puzzling house in London, where he, along with the reader, must piece together many mysteries. Middle grade readers always love Brian Selznick's amazing books.

The Tin Snail by Cameron McAllister
"Some things aren't meant to be. The rest aren't meant to be yet."
Loosely based on the true story of a tiny car in 1940s wartime France. The Tin Snail faces a tough challenge: to carry a farmer and his wife, a flagon of wine and a tray of eggs across a bumpy field in a sleepy French village - without spilling a drop or cracking a shell.

There are so many Middle Grade books posted on this blog; please flip to past posts to fill your gift list.

If you still can't find a gift for your middle grade reader, check out TeeTurtle.com 

Happy Holidays!

And, Happy Reading!

Monday, November 9, 2015

with all my heart and then some

This weekend I read House Arrest by K.A. Holt. I love novels written in verse, and this story about 12-year-old Timothy did not disappoint.  It was amazing.

Here's an excerpt from the jacket cover:

Stealing is bad.
I know.
But my brother Levi is always so sick, and his medicine is always so expensive.

I didn’t think anyone would notice,
if I took that credit card,
if, in one stolen second,
I bought Levi’s medicine.

But someone did notice.
Now I have to prove I’m not a delinquent, I’m not a total bonehead.

That one quick second turned into
a judge
a year of house arrest,
a year of this court-ordered journal,
a year to avoid messing up
and being sent back to juvie
so fast my head will spin.

It’s only 1 year.
Only 52 weeks.
Only 365 days.
Only 8,760 hours.
Only 525,600 minutes.

What could go wrong?

This is a beautiful story about empathy and pride and sacrifice and family and devotion and choices ... and one domino falling on another and another, with seemingly no end in sight.
Boys don't write in journals,
unless it's court-ordered.
At least, this is what I've figured. 

Middle grade and young adult readers will love Timothy and I am so excited for them to read this story. The book is Timothy's court-ordered journal. His voice is authentic and he has a huge heart.

We're fine. 
Please don't worry. 
It's not like we live in a cave in China. 
Or a hut in Africa. 
It's not like there are flies circling my face. 
Or clods of dirt caked on my feet. 
We have enough. 
We're OK. 
Please, Mrs. B, don't talk about social services again. 
We're doing our best. 
We're fine.

Life throws a lot at Timothy and we get to process emotions and learn right along with him. Readers will be able to relate to how good people can get caught in bad systems. It is hard to show others how deep your sorrow can go, or how immediate your family's need really is.

One year ago. 
Like one of those machines 
where the ball falls in a bucket 
and knocks over a bottle 
that lights a match 
that pops a balloon 
that scares a chicken 
who lays an egg 
that cracks in a pan 
and makes your breakfast for you. 
One year ago it all started. 
One year ago I made this crazy meal 
that I am still eating.

I loved this book with all my heart and then some. 


Friday, September 25, 2015

It is magical and matter-of-fact

If you know any early elementary school students, this book would be a wonderful read-aloud.

If you know a 4th, 5th or 6th grader, this book would be a wonderful addition to their reading collection.

If you know a middle grade or young adult reader, they will love this charming book.

If you know a human who has ever struggled, this is the book for you.

Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate is beautiful, brilliant, and lovely.

Ten year-old Jackson and his imaginary friend, Crenshaw navigate the fine line between making it in the world and not. Jackson's family has fallen on hard times. Anyone who reads this story will rethink what it means to 'fall on hard times' and how they can help others. Readers will see how very, very thin the line between making it and not can be.

This book handles homelessness and hunger and illness and asking for help and telling the truth and coping with loss and being a family. It is magical and matter-of-fact, and readers will love it.

A beautiful spin-off created by the book is #CrenshawFoodDrive. Bookstores and schools can participate in food drives nationwide. For details, checkout CrenshawTheBook.com

Be honest with kids; they have amazing ideas...

Monday, September 21, 2015

with words. with truth.

Many high school and college students are reading Between The World And Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. For an excerpt check out this article in The Atlantic or my post on Samaritan Blog

If you or a student you know has read Between The World And Me and is looking for a like minded book that's an easier read...  or if you have a middle grade reader who is interested in what it means to be black in America, be sure to read X: a Novel by Ilyasah Shabazz. X is a fictionalized account of Malcolm X's youth.

Written by Malcolm X's middle daughter, X is a historical fiction novel that highlights racial injustice. It is a perfectly timed book for young people today. With students' lives overlapping with the racially charged deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri and Eric Garner in New York City, it is the perfect time to take another look at the life of Malcolm X.  This is a brilliant story of the self creation of Malcolm X, and what it means to fight against what is wrong in the world.

"I'm not meant to be part of the things that are wrong with the world, but neither am I meant to run from them. I'm meant to fight against them. I can't hold my own in the ring, but out in the world, I do know how to fight. With words. With truth."

Friday, September 11, 2015

readings and conversations

If you are in Boise on October 6th for The Cabin's exciting kick-off event of the Readings and Conversations 2015-2016 season, look for my silent auction book basket at the gala dinner and auction.

It's a great collection of middle grade books to inspire and engage young adult readers (if I do say so myself).

The money raised from the silent auction directly supports some awesome Cabin programs including "Writers in the Schools" and "Summer Writing Camps".  If you can't make it to The Cabin event but would still like to check out these amazing books, stop by The Library!

Here's a list of the titles:

Hidden by Löic Dauvillier, Marc Lizano, and Greg Salsedo

Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead

The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

The Crossover by Kwame Alexander

Sunny Side Up by Jennifer L Holm and Matthew Holm

El Deafo by Cece Bell

The Boy In The Black Suit by Jason Reynolds

George by Alex Gino

This One Summer by Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki

All The Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

Circus Mirandus by Cassie Beasley

My wish for you: Happy Reading, Creative Writing, and Inspired Conversations.


Friday, September 4, 2015

the Churchill Club... most were ninth-graders

This is a fantastic, narrative nonfiction book filled with amazing primary source information!

This school year appears to be all about reading nonfiction. The Boys Who Challenged Hitler: Knud Pedersen and the Churchill Club by Phillip Hoose is a book I will recommend eagerly this year.

We spent part of our last two summers in Copenhagen, so this book became a clear choice for a nonfiction read.

From the jacket...
At the outset of World War II, Denmark did not resist German occupation. Deeply ashamed of his nation’s leaders, fifteen-year-old Knud Pedersen resolved with his brother and a handful of schoolmates to take action against the Nazis if the adults would not. Naming their secret club after the fiery British leader, the young patriots in the Churchill Club committed countless acts of sabotage, infuriating the Germans, who eventually had the boys tracked down and arrested. But their efforts were not in vain: the boys' exploits and eventual imprisonment helped spark a full-blown Danish resistance. Interweaving his own narrative with the recollections of Knud himself, here is Phil Hoose's inspiring story of these young war heroes. 

The Boys Who Challenged Hitler will inspire young readers to stand up for what they believe in, to use what they know to make a difference, and to do what they can regardless of their age. 

What more can you ask of a book? 

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Sunny Side Up

I loved this graphic novel! Sunny is 10 years old in 1976, and I loved being able to time travel so brilliantly back to my childhood.

From GoodReads:
"Deceptively simple but packed with heartfelt and complex relationships. Sunny's reactions to all the things going on around her ring true and the exploration of a difficult topic is done appropriately for the reader's age. This is a gem."

It's a great story about the struggle of addiction, the idea of heroes, and how we can be hurt by others but it's not our fault.

This graphic novel is perfect for readers facing hard truths and complex relationships involving substance abuse.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Sir Stinks-A-Lot

Captain Underpants is the most banned book in America... and the newest book, The Sensational Saga of Sir Stinks-A-Lot has just been released. It is a comic masterpiece that Captain Underpants' millions of fans will enjoy. I know I loved it!

Even if you've never read a Captain Underpants book, you should give this one a try. The beginning of this book gives you a brief summary of what went before so you won't be lost.

I love how Dav Pilkey pokes fun at grown ups who have forgotten what it's like to be a kid. And how he has brilliantly embraced his 'haters' who are offended by the language and misbehavior of George and Harold. 

But, in this book especially, I appreciated the brief time travel to George and Harold's future selves. I loved seeing how their beautiful adult lives had unfolded.

So, embrace your freedom to read and read America's most banned book. Get this book for all the reluctant readers you know who are bored by school. It will be revolutionary!

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Be Who You Are

I just read a book that needs to be in school libraries everywhere...

GEORGE by Alex Gino.

From the book jacket:

When people look at George, they think they see a boy. But she knows she’s not a boy. She knows she’s a girl. George thinks she’ll have to keep this a secret forever. Then her teacher announces that their class play is going to be Charlotte’s Web. George really, really, REALLY wants to play Charlotte. But the teacher says she can’t even try out for the part . . . because she’s a boy. With the help of her best friend, Kelly, George comes up with a plan. Not just so she can be Charlotte — but so everyone can know who she is, once and for all.

This book is brave and funny and hopeful and heartbreaking. I'm so glad it exists! 

I love the conversations this book will start. In my own house when we were discussing GEORGE, my daughter said, "Cisgenders need to be able to support their transgender friends." Which led to her explaining to me what cisgender means and how I shouldn't stereotype gender roles. It was awesome! Young adults today see gender as a spectrum which allows for a rich diversity in identity.

I loved the clever use of pronouns. The story is told in the third person and 'she', 'her', 'herself'... are used in relation to George.

I loved George's conversation with her older brother, Scott:
Scott put down his fork. "So do you?"
"Do I what?" 
"Think you're a girl?"
"Yes." George was surprised at how easy that question was to answer.
"Weird. But it kinda makes sense. No offense, but you don't make a very good boy."
"I know."
Scott looked at George as if his sibling made sense to him for the first time. George had never been gladder to have an older brother.  

And her mother's comment:
"You're one tough cookie. But the world isn't always good to people who are different. I just don't want you to make your road any harder than it has to be."
"Trying to be a boy is really hard."
Mom blinked a few times, and when she opened her eyes again, a teardrop fell down her cheek.
The final chapter from Charlotte's Web begins chapter 2 of the book and plays a big role in the story. You can read it HERE... be sure to grab a tissue first. 

courageous and persistent

“It had been awful, but I hadn't quit. I had persisted. 
In battle I had won.” 

― Kimberly Brubaker Bradley, The War that Saved My Life

School has started, and already I have a request for a good historical fiction book. Look no further than The War that Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley.

From GoodReads:
Nine-year-old Ada has never left her one-room apartment. Her mother is too humiliated by Ada’s twisted foot to let her outside. So when her little brother Jamie is shipped out of London to escape the war, Ada doesn’t waste a minute—she sneaks out to join him.

So begins a new adventure of Ada, and for Susan Smith, the woman who is forced to take the two kids in. As Ada teaches herself to ride a pony, learns to read, and watches for German spies, she begins to trust Susan—and Susan begins to love Ada and Jamie. But in the end, will their bond be enough to hold them together through wartime? Or will Ada and her brother fall back into the cruel hands of their mother?

This masterful work of historical fiction is equal parts adventure and a moving tale of family and identity—a classic in the making.

I loved Ada. She is a survivor, courageous and persistent. Her story has an overarching theme of battle and war, both inner and outer. And the difference between lying and liars is beautifully told. The historical detail of the book is amazing and frequently ties in to the larger theme, especially the posters: "Freedom is in peril. Defend it with all your might."

If you or someone you know is looking for historical fiction, this is the book for you. The War that Saved My Life touches on many facets of World War II and life in England at that time: child evacuees, bombing raids, rationing, Land Girls, victory gardens, the Dunkirk evacuation, and more.

There's a great resource page from Penguin Books that's worth taking a look at for more information. There's a map to show how close Kent is to France and how far London is from Kent. There are also some great statements to consider as you read: "There are different kinds of truths, not just one 'real' truth.", "Sometimes we start to believe what other people think of us." Do you agree or disagree?

This is a beautifully written book and it deserves all the awards it will undoubtedly win.