Staff Picks: Books
Staff-recommended reading from the
You could look only at the illustrations in this book and understand the friendship between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, but, of course, you will want to read the text that explains what transpired between John Adams, the Second President of the United States, and Thomas Jefferson, the Third President of the United States.
Suzanne Tripp Jurmain presents a brief overview of the beginnings of American independence and the important roles of Adams and Jefferson. Noisy John Adams was one of America’s best talkers and shy Thomas Jefferson was one of America’s best writers and together they helped write the Declaration of Independence. Although Adams and Jefferson were complete opposites in appearance, they both “had the same big, wonderful ideas about America. And, whenever they had a chance to work for their country, they did it together.” Interestingly enough, both John and Tom died on the same day, July 4, 1826, the fiftieth birthday of American independence.
Worst of Friends
For a fast-moving look at the crisis of the oceans, check out Mark Kurlansky’s World Without Fish, a 2011 release geared to readers aged nine and up. Kurlansky, a former commercial fisherman, explains how overfishing, pollution, and global warming are a triple threat to ocean eco-systems. He argues that these threats must be resolved by the generation of people that are not yet adults. I appreciated the nuanced explanation of the problems and the potential solutions that are available to us. Punctuated by a multi-part comic strip narrative and other illustrations by Frank Stockton, World Without Fish is fascinating for its design alone. Mark Kurlansky is the author of the bestselling Cod, among other books.
World Without Fish
During this busy holiday season, parents and other adults are scrambling about in search of the perfect gift for their children, grandchildren, nephews and nieces. Well, look no further!
Consider a gift that will entertain and educate kids of all ages and bring your family closer together. Give the gift that keeps on giving - the gift of reading! Reading with a child/children and encouraging them to read independently are two of the most significant things an adult can do to influence a youngster’s life.
Of course, good books make wonderful gifts. Kids naturally enjoy the magic that a book brings as they go over the story and illustrations, (many times, often more than once), practice their reading skills and perhaps learn something new in the process. Magazine subscriptions also make great recurring reading presents.
But maybe the best option for a reading themed gift is to bring a child to the Kalamazoo Public Library sometime during their holiday break. If you time it right, you can attend one of many programs planned for children. Then you can sign up the little guys for their own library cards, which come complete with plastic carrying cases and lanyards. And even though it is free of charge, the amount of pride and joy you’ll see in the little ones’ faces when first presented with it, will form a pleasurable, lasting memory for all gift givers.
Once armed with the card, the child has the entire library’s collection at his or her disposal. They can choose their own books, audiobooks, magazines, CDs, and DVDs. Of course, librarians are always on hand to aid your young ones in the selection process, helping to match the child with books covering their particular interests, and on their reading level as well. Best of all, this process can be repeated again and again. Just return the items and pick out new ones as many times as you like. Truly the best gift of all. And one that will keep on giving for a lifetime!
After you read this great juvenile fiction story, you will conclude that the book: Esperanza Rising IS appropriately titled. Esperanza is the daughter of a wealthy rancher in Aguascalientes, Mexico, in 1930. Esperanza always had servants; the most- trusted servants are Alfonso, Hortensia, and their son Miguel. The day before Esperanza’s thirteenth birthday her world is changed forever when Papi is killed by bandits. When Papi’s evil stepbrothers, Tio Marco and Tio Luis, take over the ranch, Esperanza and her mother and Abuelita (grandmother), hatch a desperate and dangerous plan of escape aided by Hortensia, Alfonso, and Miguel. Undercover, they all stealth away to California where they labor in a company farm camp and Mexican Repatriation is rampant. Esperanza is forced to change her attitude and ideas and is forced to learn common chores in order to survive.
This is a marvelously well-written story about personal change and triumph. Pam Munoz Ryan’s author’s note describes that the book parallels her grandmother’s life who lived much like the characters in this story. This book is a favorite amongst elementary teachers.
When Julie, a generally bored 6th grader living in a small town near Liverpool, is asked to be the “good guide” for two new 6th grade classmates who suddenly arrive from Mongolia, she’s excited to take on the challenge. She teaches them about soccer, British slang, and school uniforms. She ends up learning quite a lot about traditional Mongolian life - but not from the brothers - and wishing the two weren't so secretive and quite so eager to "fit in" at their new school.
Some of the things she thinks she learns from the brothers are expressed as Polaroid style pictures, created for the book by illustrators Carl Hunter and Clare Heney. Frank Cottrell Boyce has crafted a school story that is in part about the ways the adult world can disrupt the lives of children. The Unforgotten Coat was inspired by the real-life story of a girl from Mongolia whom Boyce met during a visit to a school. This is an entertaining real-world that you won't want to put down.
The Unforgotten Coat
I’m currently reading What Would Joey Do?, book three of four in the Joey Pigza series by Jack Gantos. I like reading about Joey and his unpredictable life, his sweet behavior, his incredibly stupid behavior, and his mature logic about himself and his family—the abusive cigarette-smoking oxygenated grandma who raised him, his single mom with whom he now lives and who was AWOL most of his life yet now treats him with love and care, and his well-intentioned alcoholic dad Carter who lives three hours away in Pennsylvania, and his constant companion Pablo, a dachshund who tags along in Joey’s backpack.
Joey is high-strung and has major behavior problems that prompt his mom to get him evaluated resulting in him wearing medicated patches. Joey jumps into laugh-out-loud situations then suddenly sinks to real-life issues loaded with poignancy and despair. Joey is a grown-up little kid and his favorite expression is, “Can I get back to you on that?” Gantos is an extremely clever writer who has created a humorous character you do want to know!
Jack Gantos is the author of the Joey Pigza series:
What Would Joey Do?
Gary Schmidt is one of my favorite authors. The Wednesday Wars is one of his books that I often recommend to middle-grade readers. Now Schmidt has written a companion story, telling about one of the minor characters from the earlier book.
Okay for Now is the story of 14-year-old Doug, who looks and often acts like a thug. Of course, behind every thug is a real person, often with a compelling story. This is that story.
Even if you don’t usually read books from the Teen area of the library, this might be a good exception to make.
Okay for Now
Recently, I was reading the May/June 2011 issue of The Horn Book Magazine when an editorial caught my eye. Written by Roger Sutton, Editor in Chief for the magazine, the editorial, titled “Who Can We Count On?” raises several very good questions about reading in general, and specifically, about summertime reading by schoolchildren. These questions are certainly ones that teachers, parents, librarians, and other concerned adults should ponder. Here they are, with some of my own added:
• How many books should one read in a given time frame?
• Should we encourage schoolchildren to read?
• Does reading level (of the reader) really matter?
• Should summer reading schoolchildren be provided with incentives for reaching pre-set reading goals? And, who should set these goals?
• What types of incentives should be offered? (books, burgers, bicycles?)
• Should the number of books read count for anything?
As a librarian in a public library who works almost exclusively with children’s reading habits, I find these questions “right on the money” for insuring success in a summertime reading program or club. At the Kalamazoo Public Library, the summertime reading program for kids begins in early to mid-June, and continues until the last weekend in August. Somewhere close to twelve (12) weeks. The Library offers summer games for children ages birth-entering Kindergarten, for children entering 1st-4th grade, for ‘tweens who are entering grades five through seven, and for teens entering grades eight through graduation. (Don’t worry, adults, there’s a game for you, too!) Each of these games offers incentives at intervals along the way. Each of the children’s games encourages reading books at one’s pre-determined level (usually from the Accelerated Reader program in the schools). Each game encourages reading for a minimum of twenty (20) minutes a day, and also allows for reading at one’s level and for being read aloud to.
This year, incentives and games are going to be more “across the board” than they have been in the past. Readers will earn paperback books, tee shirts, stickers, and colorful beads at pre-set intervals.
Should you bring your child/encourage your child to come to the library this summer and read in one of the games? Absolutely! And, don’t forget to read yourself! What better role model than a reading parent?
Roger Sutton’s editorial concludes with this question: “…creating a second home on the floor of the children’s room…”. Won’t you join me this summer and read, read, read?
Last week, author Polly Horvath received the $20,000 Vicky Metcalf Award for Children’s Literature. This award is given to a Canadian writer of children’s literature for an entire body of work. That’s nice, isn’t it? What’s even nicer, though, is that Polly Horvath grew up in Kalamazoo! Polly’s mom, Betty Horvath, is also a writer of children’s books.
In addition to this lovely award, Polly has won the National Book Award, a Newbery Honor Award, and the Young Adult Canadian Book of the Year. You can read any of Polly’s books by visiting KPL.
We’re proud to call Polly Horvath one of our own!
Northward to the Moon
Or, if he can’t, The Candymakers certainly can! Author Wendy Mass’ latest novel for upper elementary readers starts out like it might parallel Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory in that there are four children chosen to take part in a candy-creating/making contest at the Life is Sweet candy company. The four are a part of a larger group of thirty-two who will be competing for the best new candy created especially for the contest. So, gather ‘round and join Logan, Philip, Daisy, and Miles as they begin their creative endeavors.
On the surface, this appears to be just another story about four children who each want only one thing: to win the candy contest. About a third of the way into the story, the surface opens up and things really begin happening! Each of the four children brings with himself/herself a secret that, when exposed, will affect the outcome of the contest. Each also shares just a bit about family and past memories, which could also hurt their chances in the contest.
Wendy Mass weaves a tangled web of fantasy about children who are motivated by so many outside factors that they often don’t understand at all. Logan’s parents (owners of the candy factory) have hidden him away from prying eyes for about eight years. Philip’s father seems to stop at nothing to take over others’ businesses, all in the name of greed. Daisy’s family didn’t even tell her when her birthday is so that she won’t blow her cover! And, Miles? Miles is into the afterlife, and is allergic to a great many things, including chocolate chip pancakes.
I’m sure you are wondering what all of this has to do with winning a candy-making contest. Trust me! You will be drawn into this story quickly and you will take on the characteristics of each of the children as their part in this drama unfolds. While some of the surface-opening surprises are really surprises, there are a good many things that happen that the reader can figure out on his/her own. The ending chapters contain at least two “surprises” that I would never have thought of as I was reading this story.
Choose this for a “back to school” read-aloud for your 3rd-4th-5th grade classroom. Then, sit back, and enjoy some good old fashioned chocolate candy/toffee/gum/licorice or gum as you get drawn in to the world of the Candymaker.