Now Read This!

I’m enjoying a growing trend in Middle Grade reading: novels in verse.

book love

These stories have a narrative arc, and character development, and all the things you’d expect from a novel-length work. But, they are told through the medium of poetry rather than prose.

Two of the main things I love about this type of novel are the beauty of the language, and the accessibility of the stories. This style of writing is particularly well suited for people who claim to not like poetry, or kids who are reluctant readers. There is a lot of white space in poetry, which can be very welcoming to readers who feel stuck when they see a page full of words.

Brown_Girl_Dreaming-200brown girl dreaming (Penguin/Nancy Paulsen Books 2014) by Jaqueline Woodson (newly named Young People’s Poet Laureate) won the 2014 National Book Award.

Through a connected series of poems, Woodson chronicles her life growing up in the 1960s and 70s in both the North and the South. I gained a much deeper appreciation of the landscape of our country at that time while reading her touching, often funny, and deeply personal story.

My favorites were the “how to listen” poems.

how to listen #3

Middle of the night

my grandfather is coughing

me upright. Startled.

***

how to listen #7

Even the silence

has a story to tell you.

Just listen. Listen.

***

Give yourself the chance to listen to her words. They’re beautiful.

Cover of The Crossover by Kwame AlexanderThe Crossover (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014) by Kwame Alexander was this year’s Newbery Award Winner.

The Crossover is a heart-pumping story of basketball phemon twin-brothers Josh and Jordan Bell. But as the jacket flap says: Josh has more than hoops in his blood. He’s got a river of rhymes flowing through him – a sick flow that helps him find his rhythm when everything’s on the line.

This book is a natural summer reading pick for sports lovers. The word play, especially during scenes that describe basketball games, is really fun.

From Dribbling:

…Be careful though,

’cause now I’m CRUNKing

CrissCROSSING

FLOSSING

flipping

and my dipping will leave you

SLIPPING on the floor, while I

SWOOP in

to the finish with a fierce finger roll…

Straight to the hole:

Swooooooooooooooosh.

FREE Basketball Camp for 3rd & 4th Graders

However, it’s not exclusively for sports fans. There’s a tender story of family at the heart of this novel that will appeal to all readers.

Basketball Rule #1

In this game of life

your family is the court

and the ball is your heart.

No matter how good you are,

no matter how down you get,

always leave

your heart

on the court.

***

Happy Reading!

The Book Aunt’s Gift-Giving Guide 2014

If you’re casting about for gift ideas for your friends and family, I suggest you consider giving BOOKS! You might not steal the show at the holiday gathering, but later, when you have tired kids who want to curl up with the original hand-held escape, the glory will be yours. When the mid-winter relatives have cabin fever, and the book you gave is their salvation, you will be thanked. (If you’re worried about giving books as gifts in case they’ve already been read, just be sure to include a gift receipt!)

There are SO MANY great choices out there. This is a small sampling of some I’ve come across in 2014. In each case, I suggest a “pair with” gift and a profile of who the book may be best suited for. Happy shopping!

Picture Books (ages 0-5+)

Flora

FLORA AND THE PENGUIN by Molly Idle. This is a seriously adorable wordless winter tale of a friendship on ice. Young kids will enjoying “reading” it themselves, over and over. Great for kids who like interactive (lift-the-flap) books, ice-skating, and/or penguins. Pair with a stuffed penguin or a coupon to take the recipient ice skating.

Novak

THE BOOK WITH NO PICTURES by B.J. Novak. On the flip side to Ms. Idles wordless book, this book is pictureless. Perfect for the “little devil” on your list, the book goads the adult reader into saying silly sounds and words because “Everything the words say, the person reading the book has to say.” Pair with a whoopie cushion.

Middle Grade novels (ages 8-13ish)

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THE DIRT DIARY by Anna Staniszewski. The first in a series, this book introduces us to Rachel, whose imperfections make her perfectly lovable. Rachel is a girl who loves to bake, but to help out her mom, must clean toilets instead. Great for the kid who always seems to have good intentions that lead to bad results! Pair with a cookie sheet and baking mix.

Hattie

HATTIE BIG SKY by Kirby Larson. Another first in a series, this is perfect for Little House on the Prairie type fans. Hattie is a 16-year-old who leaves Iowa to prove up on her late uncle’s homestead claim near Vida, Montana. Pair with a pair of warm socks and/or a cat.

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DIARY OF A WIMPY KID, THE LONG HAUL by Jeff Kinney.  Kids simply can’t get enough of this series! A natural choice for reluctant readers, text and pictures intertwine to tell the latest adventure of Greg Heffley and his family as they set out on a road trip. Pair with one of the DIARY OF A WIMPY KID book journals – a combination of blank pages and journalling suggestions – to get kids writing as well.

Young adult novels (ages 12 +)

5thWaveBig

THE FIFTH WAVE by Rick Yancey. This book is perfect for your older sci-fi loving kid. In brief, it’s a classic “alien’s attack and take over the world” scenario, with fantastic pacing and lots of layers. I read it because I was vetting it for my own kid, and was surprised how much I liked it. There is a smattering of profanity, but it is used as needed, not gratuitously. Pair with an air-soft gun.

TruthBig

ALL THE TRUTH THAT’S IN ME by Julie Berry. I thought this was going to be another sci-fi story, due to the setting being a town called Roswell Station. But this haunting book is actually historical fiction. The main character, Judith, is unable to speak, yet you will never forget her voice. Perfect for older kids who will understand the nuance of mentally imbalanced adults, and the importance of sometimes sharing secrets. Pair with tickets to a local colonial village.

Fiction and Non-Fiction for the grown-up set

UnbrokenBig

UNBROKEN by Laura Hillenbrand. This is the incredible story of olympian-turned WWII Lieutenant Louis Zamperini. Recently made into a movie, this book will appeal to the avid runner and/or history buff on your list. Pair with a WWII documentary, or movie tickets to see Unbroken when it opens.

CastingOff

CASTING OFF by Nicole R. Dickson. This book tells the story of Rebecca Moray, who comes to an island off the coast of Ireland to research a book on Irish knitting, and how she and her daughter interact with the people there. Perfect for the knitter on your list. If they’re Irish, extra points. Pair with knitting needles/yarn.

I’m sure you know of several more books in each category that you’ve loved and could give as gifts! This year, I encourage you to do just that. Happy holidays, and happy reading!

Hey, Mikey! He likes it!

Breaking news:  Boy reads book without pictures or potty humor – and likes it!  “I think this is going to be my new favorite series,” says Boy, age 9. “I’m excited because [the book] actually took me longer than a day to read.”

Related news:  Mom is knocked over by feather; faints.

What is this magic that has entered my home and swept away my son and his imagination? Friends, I give you:

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From the jacket flap: “Jennifer A. Nielsen has woven a heart-racing tale full of danger and bold adventure, lies and deadly truths that will keep readers on the edge of their seats.”  True, all of it, true!

I have written in the past about my struggle to find the right books for my capable but reluctant reader.  Since my son was between books (because, you know, everything he ‘liked’ took him less than a day to read), I suggested we start this one together.

“No thanks,” he said, looking at the cover and not seeing any underpants.

“Okay, well, I’m going to read chapter one right now.  Why don’t you come sit next to me and just give a listen?  You can leave whenever you want,” I said.  (There may have been a sleeve of Girl Scout cookies near me as well, but I swear I didn’t mean it as a bribe).

He begrudgingly agreed.  On page 2, I read, “The butcher gave me one final kick in the side, then leaned low toward me. ‘If you ever come into my shop again, I’ll cut you up and sell you as meat at the market.  Got it?'”   That’s when my son sat up a little straighter and said, “Oh.  This is a really good book.”

And that is how our adventure with THE FALSE PRINCE began.  The story, the first in Nielsen’s Ascendance Trilogy, is a medieval adventure with swords, plot twists, dungeons, and more plot twists.  It had been awhile since I’d read something aloud to my son, and it was so fun to share our reactions when surprises popped up.  In the end, he finished reading the book on his own because he couldn’t wait for the next bedtime to keep reading the story.

This type of fantasy/adventure is not typically a genre I gravitate to, but in this case, I’m so glad I did.  (Special thank you to Librarian Friend #2 for the loan).  I highly recommend THE FALSE PRINCE to any writers looking for good examples of world-building.  Nielsen hits the mark with this one.

Additional related news:  Mom trips over self on the way to the bookstore to purchase Book Two of the Ascendance Trilogy, THE RUNAWAY KING.

What is it about underpants?

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I’ve been reluctant to admit that I am raising a reluctant reader.  At two months old, my kid was bapping the pages of board books to turn them faster than I could read.  Look at that, I thought smugly… So clever! As a kindergartener, he would follow along when his older sister poured over early readers, and blurt out words if she stopped to sound them out.  I’d look over at my husband and arch my eyebrows as if to say, Pretty good, eh?  

As he advanced in grades, reading remained a strength.  I thought that “getting my boy to read”  was one of those battles I wouldn’t have to fight.  I made the mistake of assuming that because he was able to read, he would want to read whatever I got for him from the library, book store, community book sale, you name it.  So many great books!  Hey, MANIAC MAGEE by Jerry Spinelli, he’ll love that!  Oooh…TREASURE ISLAND, what boy could resist?

"No thanks"

“No thanks”

But time and again, my son would look at the cover of a book, read the first paragraph, then shrug his shoulders and pass the book back to me, saying, “no thanks.”  The latest blow came after I’d made a special trip to a fantastic indie bookstore.  Carefully, I selected Gary Paulsen’s HATCHET.  Cool title.  Invokes violence.  He’ll bite.  

“No thanks.”

A week after that I was at a big box store and saw a stout volume of the first three books (Super Burp, Trouble Magnet, and World’s Worst Wedgie) in the George Brown, Class Clown series by Nancy Krulik.  Nearby was book #7 in the series: the picture on the front was of a boy in underpants, of the tighty-whitey variety.  My son had loved that other famous Captain of the unmentionables, so I sighed and put the collection of the first three stories in my loaded cart.  It just wasn’t what would pick.

That night I handed it to him the way you would hand a banana to a hungry ape.  Hoping it will satisfy.  He checked out the cover, and nodded seriously.  He opened the front page and read one, two, three, paragraphs.  He looked up at me, and clutching the book to his chest, said, “YES.  This is the perfect book.  This is the kind of book you should be getting me.”

"Yes please"

“Yes please”

I hadn’t even realized I how harshly I was judging the underpants, diaries, and other graphic novels he gravitated to.  There is a place for stories that simply seek to be silly and fun.  And apparently one of those places is on my son’s nightstand. I had to just get over myself and my vision of what were the right books. The right book, it turns out, is any one that makes a kid run up to his room after school so he can get back to the story.

I have to remind myself that maturity level and style of humor have a lot to do with what works right now.  I haven’t given up on to Treasure Island, Maniac Magee, or Jerry Spinelli.  But for the time being, here are some that have worked for us:

1) George Brown, Class Clown (Series by Nancy Krulik) “Mom, did you know a lady wrote this?”  Yes, and I thank her!

2) Captain Underpants (Series by Dav Pilkey) “I love letting the funny seep into me.”

3) Diary of a Wimpy Kid (Series by Jeff Kinney) The “Do-It-Yourself” books in this series have the added benefit of encouraging creative writing.

4) Horrible Harry (Series by Suzy Kline)

5) The Strange Case of Origami Yoda, Darth Paper Strikes Back, and The Secret of the Fortune Wookie, all by Tom Angleberger.  Bonus side effect of son taking an interest in origami.  (At least when the end result is a Star Wars character).

There are many other fantastic graphic novels out there that are kid favorites.  If you have suggestions that have worked for the reluctant reader in your life, I’d love to hear them!

 

A Stormy Read

How bad could the storm possibly have been, I wondered, as I read the first pages of Donn Fendler’s fantastically exciting memoir, Lost Trail.  (Down East Books, 2011)  Then five days ago, Sandy blew in with her hurricane force tropical tempest, and I realized how anxious bad weather can make us.  Even though I was safe in my home, miles and miles from the storm’s true path, my heart was racing and my ability to prioritize real vs. imagined danger was compromised.

So, in that moment, it was easier for me to imagine how a 12-year-old Donn Fendler from New York felt when a storm blew in as he summited Mt. Katahdin 73 years ago ago.

When Donn went on a fishing trip with his father and a group of friends in the northern Maine woods in the summer of 1939, the only care on his mind was finding the best fishing spot.  He never imagined he’d soon be in a race for his life.

Lost Trail is the true story of Donn’s 9-day adventure and struggle for survival alone on Mt. Katahdin, with nothing but the clothes on his back.  It is an exciting, page turning, uplifting story, which has been retold in a fantastic graphic novel format with Lynn Plourde.  The amazingly talented illustrator, Ben Bishop, has rendered the story with pen strokes that seem to grab the urgency of the situation and pull you into the story.

The story alone had me reading at a frantic pace, but the kicker is the actual newspaper articles and clippings from the Bangor Daily News, which chronicle the swell of people who surged in to help, and their trickling departure when it seemed all hope was lost.  I couldn’t imagine what Donn’s parents were thinking and feeling the day that the News reported: “Boy’s Body Likely Found.”

Of course, since he tells the story himself, you know the ending is a happy one:

Mr. Fendler now splits his time between Tennessee and Maine.  Through the years he has told his survival tale countless times, including in the 1939 book Lost on a Mountain in Maine by Joseph B. Egan (HarperCollins), which I’ll likely check out now for my son and I to read.

If you’re like me, you struggle with whether graphic novels are “really” books that your kids can “really” put on their reading log for school.  Since he was tiny, my son has always gravitated toward anything resembling a comic.  I remember snuggling my then two-year-old, wanting to read The Very Lonely Firefly, but instead reading something like:  and then with his last mortal breath, Dr. Mentor slashed the antidote from the wretched hands of the evil bomb maker…ROARRRRR screamed Hulk, his sinewy muscles snapping…. 

I’ll tell you what, those ‘graphic novels’ often have some pretty juicy vocabulary. Lost Trail is no exception.   The story is uber-compelling, and this re-telling is a guaranteed slam-dunk in any 8-10 year-old’s arsenal,  reluctant reader or not!