Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge 2015

Alyson Beecher over at Kid Lit Frenzy hosts a Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge and has a roundup every Wednesday. I love the encouragement to explore more non-fiction. I am thankful that she has this challenge because I know I have read more nonfiction texts as a result.

Tuesday Tucks Me In: The Loyal Bond between a Soldier and his Service Dog truly spoke to me. 

 Written by Fmr. Captain Luis Carlos Montalván with Bret Witter
Photographs by Dan Dion 

Summary via Goodreads: From former U.S. Army Captain and New York Times bestselling author of Until Tuesday, comes what has declared the "Best Nonfiction Children's Book of 2014." As narrated by Tuesday, Tuesday Tucks Me In is a day in the life of this service dog extraordinaire and tail-wagging ambassador for all things positive and uplifting in the world. The book takes us through a typical day of adventures, starting with Tuesday waking Luis in the morning and greeting him with dog breath in the face, and then ending with Tuesday cuddling up to Luis on their bed, the last moment they spend together before sleep.

My Thoughts: This book is a little bit of perfection. A book narrated by a dog is brilliant. Even better that it is told in simple brief text for young readers. The photographs are wonderful and convey the love and care that Tuesday and Luis have for each other. What really helps this cross over into excellence though is that the book shares this different type of service job. Readers may believe that service dogs are only for blind people. Not only do they see that service dogs partner with people for a variety of reasons, but in particular, readers learn about PTSD. This is a topic that many young readers may be dealing with in relation to family members and there simply aren't very many books that address the issue. The only other one I've read for young children is a middle grade chapter book called Fig Pudding. This is an opportunity for younger readers to find out a little bit about PTSD even if they have no experience with it in their family or neighborhood.

The text and the note at the end provide a lot of information about service dogs, disabilities and PTSD, but the book also has lighthearted moments. We see Tuesday with Luis under the bathroom stall and hanging out at an amusement park.

I will tell you though, I had tears flowing when I read this as I thought about the cost of war that goes beyond a monetary price tag. There are so many families that have been affected by war. This book shares some of that pain, but in a way that children can relate to without being overwhelmed. There is hope and healing here. If you want to have a glimpse into the book, watch the trailer below.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

It's Monday! What are you reading?

It's Monday! What are you reading? is a meme hosted by Sheila at Book Journeys. Jen Vincent over at Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee Moye from Unleashing Readers decided to put a children's and YA spin on it and they invite anyone with an interest to join in. You can participate by creating your post then visit one of their sites to add your site. Finally, visit at least three participant blogs and comment to spread the love.

If you want to know more about what I am reading, visit me at my Goodreads shelf. Images via Goodreads unless otherwise noted.

Last Week on the blogs: 

A review of an adult poetry collection - Monsters, Zombies + Addicts: Poems 
by Gwendolyn Zepeda

Tree of Wonder by Kate Messner
Illustrated by Simona Mulazzani 
for NFPB Challenge
Review of Revenge of the Angels
by Jennifer Ziegler

Celebrating The CCBC, Oktoberfest, family and fall

The Past Week:

This was a great week for reading. I was able to visit bookstores and libraries and enjoy piles of picture books. Standouts for me were Tuesday Tucks Me In, Mama's Nightingale, When the Slave Esperança Garcia Wrote a Letter, Leo: A Ghost Story and Water is Water though many were wonderful. The novels I read were all page turners. I listened to both Irises and This Song Will Save Your Life and enjoyed both of them. I pretty much read both Stella by Starlight and Lies We Tell Ourselves straight through. They were both amazing historical fiction. I was disconcerted by the number of times I had to read the N word in Lies, but it certainly fit the time period and situation. I don't think I have ever encountered it so many times anywhere before, but as the main character was also counting how many times she had to hear it each day, the repetition gives readers a taste of that experience.

The Coming Week: I am still planning to read Out of Darkness. I'm listening to Steve Jobs: The Man Who Thought Different. I stopped reading Harriet the Spy last week because I was having trouble with reading her very negative views of people, but I may give it one more chance. I also have Jackaby and I've heard really good things about it from Pernille Ripp and some others on Twitter. We'll see what else falls into my hands. Have a great week of reading!

Reading Challenge Updates:
Diversity on the Shelf/Diverse Books - 172/100
Goodreads - 428/520
#MustRead2015 - 43/53
Diversity Reading Challenge - 12/12
Pura Belpré Challenge -86/86 (some were read prior to this year)

Around the World with Books

Saturday, October 3, 2015


Discover. Play. Build.  

Ruth Ayres has a link-up on weekends where people link to posts that are celebrations about their week. I love this reminder to celebrate every week.

The past 24 hours has been filled with some great things to celebrate. Yesterday I was able to attend the The Cooperative Children's Book Center Advisory Board Meeting at UW Madison. In general, meetings aren't always exciting, but at the CCBC, we're talking about books, education, and literacy and meeting with colleagues who care about these things - so it's actually a good time. If you aren't familiar with the CCBC, they are a wonderful resource. They have excellent bibliographies and other resource lists available. They also offer Intellectual Freedom resources which include some helpful infographics.

After the meeting, I was able to read books for over an hour and then met up with my son for dinner. I love having time with him whenever I am able to visit Madison.

This morning was another treat. We were able to go to the Oktoberfest parade and see our senior march with the band. This is another of those lasts we'll witness this year. The weather was a little nippy, but the sun was shining and we had a nice time sitting and watching the parade.

When I got home, I was able to ride my bike to the library. Our town is sleepy on most Saturdays, but because Oktoberfest is going on just south of us, the ride to the library was super quiet. There was hardly any traffic. I could hear someone pounding in nails and leaves were rustling everywhere, but otherwise, there was hardly a sound.

Fall is not very long here in Wisconsin so we will have to enjoy it in the next few weeks. The leaves are changing and the temps are in the 50s and 60s for highs now. We are solidly in what I would call football weather. Pumpkin dishes and drinks are on all of the menus. Fall isn't my favorite season, but I appreciate many things about it like the leaves, the pumpkins, the brisk breezes and the sense of change in that air.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Review: Revenge of the Angels

Title: Revenge of the Angels: The Show Must Not Go On
Author: Jennifer Ziegler
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Genre: Realistic, Humor
Pages: 245
Review copy: ARC via Publisher
Availability: On shelves now

Summary:  The Brewster triplets from Revenge of the Flower Girls meet The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, in a new, sweetly hilarious holiday story from Jennifer Ziegler!

When we last saw them, Dawn, Darby, and Delaney Brewster stopped their big sister from marrying the wrong guy, proving that they can accomplish a lot when they work together. Now, they are turning their smarts and high-energy hijinks to something completely different: their local Christmas pageant! They've been practicing looking wise and stroking long, fake beards in preparation for their roles.

But what if they're not cast as the wise men? What if instead they have to play angels in the pageant? Distasteful. Deplorable. Dreadful. And it's not like anything else is going their way this holiday season, either. Can the triplets figure out what to get for their mom, solve a mystery about a stolen Santa, and recover their holiday spirit in time for the pageant? Of course they can! And they'll do it with humor and charm, or they're not the Brewster triplets.

Review: The Brewster triplets made me laugh. That they wanted to be wise men was fantastic and I was rooting for them the whole time. They plotted and planned and worked towards their goals even when they seemed nearly impossible.

This book worked much better for me than the first one. I had trouble keeping the triplets straight in Revenge of the Flower Girls, but that became easier in this second book. I also appreciated that there were several plot lines, but this time none of them seemed quite so serious as the prevention of a marriage. Added together though, they provided just the right amount of tension.

The girls keep getting themselves into trouble, but they also manage to help each other back out of it. I had to giggle as they fell in and out of scrapes throughout the book. The girls use both their wits and courage to solve their problems and it was a fun time watching it all unfold. This is a nice light realistic middle grade novel that is sure to be a hit especially around the holidays.

-- Cover image and summary via Goodreads 

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge

Alyson Beecher over at Kid Lit Frenzy hosts a Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge and has a roundup every Wednesday. I love the encouragement to explore more non-fiction. I am thankful that she has this challenge because I know I have read more nonfiction texts as a result.

Tree of Wonder: The Many Marvelous Lives of a Rainforest Tree 
by Kate Messner, illustrated by Simona Mulazzani

Summary via author page

Deep in the forest, in the warm-wet green, 1 almendro tree grows, stretching its branches toward the sun. Who makes their homes here?

2 great green macaws,
4 keel-billed toucans,
8 howler monkeys,
16 fruit bats,
32 fer-de-lance vipers,
64 agoutis,
128 blue morpho butterflies,
256 poison dart frogs,
512 rusty wandering spiders,
1,024 leafcutter ants.

Count each and every one as life multiplies again and again in this lush and fascinating book about the rainforest.

My thoughts: First, I really love the recent trend of decorating end papers. I love the shadows of animals on the forest colored background. I also liked the concept of showing the varied wildlife that is able to live because of the tree.

The inclusion of math added a fun layer to the text. Seeing the numbers doubling made me always wonder which animal could be coming next. I also enjoyed the extra math problems at the end of the story.

Messner also includes several ways to continue learning and/or to help save the rainforest or the animals living there.

Tree of Wonder will be a nice addition to our nonfiction collection. 

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Hmong Children's Literature

We celebrated Hmong New Year in La Crosse earlier this month. As always, it was amazing with fantastic food, fun, music, dancing, sports and so much to see. Hmong people have been living in the area for forty years now and have brought much to strengthen the community including this celebration.

Teaching in an elementary school, I want to make sure that the Hmong culture is also represented in our library. I wrote about that on the Nerdybookclub blog. I've looked around and have found some great books and have also added some artifacts to our collection. A few people have asked me about specific titles and resources so I wanted to share them here.

The best possible place to start when looking for resources is online with Hmong ABC. They have a physical bookstore in St. Paul, MN on Como Ave. If you are close enough to visit, it's also helpful to visit both the Hmongtown Marketplace (this is where you will find the bookstore) and the Hmong Village Shopping Center. Both shopping areas are in St. Paul and provide access to all kinds of Hmong art, clothing, music, and more. One other online resource for Hmong handicrafts is Redgreen Rivers™.

At Hmong Village, I also found a place that makes custom t-shirts and pins, Big Eye Little Eye. They have an online presence, though not all of their products are shown there. I was able to buy a t-shirt that shows the numerals 1-10 and the Hmong words for each of them. When I wore it to school many students were able to count in Hmong with me as we read my shirt. I looked, and that particular shirt isn't available online yet. You can see it here in our library window display.

Our school has a large story cloth that shows the journey of the Hmong people from Laos to Thailand and then to the U.S. Our art teacher also purchased a smaller story cloth showing Hmong New Year. He has it on display in his classroom. There is another small cloth I purchased at Hmong New Year that shows all sorts of animals. At the markets and the local New Year celebration, I've also acquired a small girl's traditional outfit, a pair of baby shoes, a ball that is used in a game at New Year, a purse, and a bracelet. These items will all be going into the Hmong Culture Kit I'm putting together for the LMC. The kit will be available for checkout to staff. I would also like to add at least one music CD and a few other items, but it will be a work in progress.

As for books, Hmong ABC is not the only place to get them, but they have the most extensive collection that I have found anywhere. Here are a few more places that offer Hmong materials:

The Reading Together Book Project - Melody of the Qeej, Shoua and the Northern Lights Dragon, and The Imaginary Day

D.C. Everest High School - Zaj Lus: A Hmong Children's Story Collection, titles for older students or for professional collections: Looking Back, Stepping Forward: The Hmong People, Hmong in the Modern World 

Project Hmong: Books for Young Readers - This is a series of controlled vocabulary books that are also bilingual.

Here are two newer self-published titles that I want to highlight:

Hmong Names by Susan Kaying Pha - here's an article about it from Hmong Times Online. I've had baby name books in my library before and students love to look up their names along with other family member names and even those of friends. I'm planning to purchase this one soon.

Gathering Fireflies was written by Mai Chao, an art teacher in our community. She wrote this novel-in-verse and created some illustrations to accompany the text. It's aimed toward middle school and high school. She wrote about a young boy who is interviewing his grandparents and learning about his cultural heritage. Mai Chao believes that it's time for Hmong voices to tell their own stories. I own this one for my personal collection, but would recommend it to our middle and high school.

If you would like to see the titles we have available in our school, visit our catalog via this link. Click on Northern Hills and then search Hmong. We only have about 50 titles right now, but I'm always looking for more.

Here are some of our most popular titles:

Zaj Lus : A Hmong Children's Story Collectionby D.C. Everest Students and Staff

Many Ideas Open the Way : A Collection of Hmong Proverbs by Randy Snook
The Terrible Journey : A Hmong Child's True Story of His Escape from Laos to Thailand by Cha Ya
Dia's Story Cloth by Dia Cha
I Won't Bite! : English/Hmong = [Kuv tsis tom!] by Rod Campbell
Pw zoo, Tus Me Ntshuab/Good Night Little Sea Otter by Janet Halfmann
Ka's Garden/Kab lub vaj by Maggie Lee McHugh and Dr. Bee Lo
Tougi the Toad Finds His Smile by Gaonou Thao

My Family is Special to Me by Bao Xiong

Nine in One, Grr! Grr! told by Blia Xiong, adapted by Cathy Spagnoli

Another favorite is our Hmong New Year book. Students and staff from our school made this using Shutterfly. Several of our students took cameras to Hmong New Year. The photographers got many wonderful photos that were used to create a nonfiction book that shares the celebration. 

If you know of other titles that would be good for us to acquire, please let me know.

Review: Monsters, Zombies + Addicts

Title: Monsters, Zombies + Addicts: Poems
Author: Gwendolyn Zepeda
Publisher:  Arte Publico
Genre: Poetry
Pages: 84
Review copy: Final copy from publisher
Availability: On shelves now

Summary: "I was scared of a thing that might have happened. In daytime I'm sure it never did. / At night, I don't trust daylit memories or instincts. In nightmares, like filmstrips, the feared thing occurs." In her second poetry collection, monsters real and imagined chase Houston Poet Laureate Gwendolyn Zepeda through late nights when she can t sleep. Ghosts routinely visit in the early morning hours, but in spite of her fears, she dares to believe that she has escaped the devils that once followed her.

This collection of 62 narrative poems contains witty observations about the rituals of contemporary life. In "Cocktail Hours", she wonders, "What if all my nights were Christmas lights on patios with tinkling drinks and fun conversations." And in "Recipe for Fun," Zepeda offers a ten-point guide to soothing away life's frustrations, including a suggestion to get some peace by giving "everyone in your house pizza, cat food or video games."

Musings on family, remembrances of childhood games and encounters with strangers (and ants!) fill this clever, thought-provoking collection in which Zepeda dares to express her individuality. She knows that she is different, "Maybe I am a boy in drag. Especially here, where I don't feel like everybody else." She doesn't follow others blindly or do what society expects of her. Readers will appreciate this second poetry collection, which is deeply personal yet universal in its hopes and fears.

Review: Since I usually review children's and young adult titles, I want to make it clear that this is an adult collection. It's marketed adult and is written from an adult perspective. Having the word zombies on the cover may still get the attention of a few YA readers or adult readers that don't usually venture into poetry. The word zombies is what caught my attention. The title also lets you know that this is a darker poetry collection. Zepeda delves into the creepy and disturbing areas of life. There is a smattering of humor here and there, but on the whole, these poems are unsettling and are definitely not sweet and pretty ditties. These poems were unlike any other collection I have dipped into before. The poems expressed some strong emotions and called to my own.

Whether the topics were drinking too much, anxiety attacks, a brother's anger, devils, maggots or nightmares, Zepeda's poems are probing into scary aspects of life and into the dark places of the mind. Real or imaginary, the effect is the same. Hansel and Gretel has always been a disturbing story, but under Zepeda's pen, it becomes even more chilling.

The book is organized in four sections: Addicts and Obsessions, Monsters and Warriors, Zombies and the Bitten and Animals and Nature. Animals and Nature had several of my favorites and were more likely to be amusing. One that I really liked was "Recipe for Fun" mentioned above in the summary. Feeding others then hiding in the bathroom with a salt scrub sounds appealing to me. It made me want to write my own recipe for fun too.

It is a poetry collection, but a few of the pieces appear to be narrative essays. Even when they don't have the tradition form of a poem though, all of the selections are filled with rich imagery capable of calling up emotions - and strong emotions at that.

While I don't often venture into the realm of the creepy, I'm glad that I had the chance to walk through the twisted paths found here.  -- Cover image and summary via Goodreads

Interview with Gwendolyn Zepeda via WordMothers
"Gwendolyn Zepeda Explains Her Life to Strangers"