Monday, January 20, 2020

The Line Tender

The Line Tender by Kate Allen. Grades 5-8. Dutton, 2019. 384 pages. Review copy provided by publisher.

So, you know I'm getting ready for Allen County Public Library's Mock Newbery discussion this weekend and The Line Tender was the last book on the list that I hadn't read yet. It's been getting major buzz all year, but I hadn't picked it up yet.

Well, friends. I'm here to beg you not to make the same mistake I did. Pick it up now, please.

What it's about: 

Sharks have started appearing in the waters outside Lucy's coastal Massachusetts town. And for Lucy this news hits closer to home than most. Because Lucy's late mother was a marine biologist. Lucy's mother swam with sharks.

Lucy is not a scientist, preferring to draw instead of learning facts or experimenting, but when she  catches a re-airing of an old TV interview with her mother on the news, she becomes fascinated by her mother's work. And when tragedy strikes Lucy again, she becomes determined to find out more about her mother's last unfinished research project and help see it completed.

To do so, she'll need to grab the line that connects some of the important people in her life - her father, a fisherman, and her elderly widower neighbor - each tied to the project in different ways.

My thoughts:

This is a book that takes a deep dive into grief and the multitudes of ways that people experience it and live with it. Lucy's mother's death is several years old, but it still takes Lucy under at unexpected times. And this is a book that acknowledges that the way to live with grief is to live with it and to keep on living one day at a time, even when you think you can't. And it manages to portray all of this without becoming maudlin or depressing. It's an incredibly moving story with some very poignant moments, but it never feels overwhelming.

This is a book that's essential for some kids. Lucy's story will speak to kids who have experienced loss. It's a book you must have on your library shelves. And I don't think its appeal stops there. Although living with grief is a huge theme in the book, it's also very much a story about the natural world and the work that scientists do. Young marine biologists who can handle a quiet, serious story will find much to appreciate here.


This book reminded me most of Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson, a great favorite of mine growing up. Jess and Leslie become fast friends and build a magical, imaginary world together called Terabithia where they hang out until tragedy strikes. Both books explore loss and grief in poetic, moving text.

Another book that explores loss and also includes research of marine animals is The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin (Little, Brown, 2017). After her best friend dies in a drowning accident, Suzy becomes convinced that the true cause of death was a rare jellyfish sting and she sets out to prove it. 

Thursday, January 16, 2020

6 New Winter Picture Books

Here in Southern Indiana it's been unseasonably warm for December and January, but with short days and plenty of gray clouds, winter is definitely here, even if we're still wishing for snow*! Here are half a dozen great new picture books that are perfect for sharing on wintry days.


Almost Time by Gary D. Schmidt and Elizabeth Stickney, illustrated by G. Brian Karas (Clarion Books, 2020). Ethan knows it's almost maple syrup time, but it's so hard to wait! His dad encourages him to watch for signs that the season is changing (which means the sap will start running) - the days will start getting warmer, the nights will start getting shorter. This quiet picture book pays homage to maple syrup farms and the slow, gradual change of the seasons. This is an especially great book to check out if you have a maple syrup farm nearby (like we do!).

A Big Bed for Little Snow by Grace Lin (Little, Brown, 2019). Just as she did in her picture book A Big Mooncake for Little Star, Grace Lin crafts a sweet pourquoi tale, this time for falling snow. Little Snow loves his soft bed, but when Mama warns him that it's a bed for sleeping, not for jumping, well... Little Snow can't help himself. He's got to jump! The feathers spilling out of his bed cause quite a stir on the town below. This would be a fun one to share when the first snow hits and to imagine Little Snow up in the sky jumping on his bed.


Bird Count by Susan Edmonds Richmond, illustrated by Stephanie Fizer Coleman (Peachtree, 2019). This is a beautiful winter book for budding naturalists as a young citizen scientist participates in the Christmas Bird Count with her mom and their team leader. Called the Christmas Bird Count because it's scheduled around the holidays, this international event doesn't actually have anything to do with any specific holiday. This is a perfect book to share before an outdoor birding excursion or to pair with a nature activity like making bird feeders.


A Day so Gray by Marie Lamba, illustrated by Alea Marley (Clarion, 2019). This is definitely a book we can use around here lately - it's been so gray for so long! But two little girls discover that a day that appears to be gray may actually contain a rainbow of colors if you just know where to look. This is a beautiful encouragement to look a little deeper and it would be perfect to read together before a winter walk to look for colors you may be missing.

Froggy Builds a Snowman by Jonathan London, illustrated by Frank Remkiewicz (Viking, 2020). Fans of Froggy rejoice, he's back with another winter tale. This time, Froggy can't wait to build a snowman at his school's winter carnival, but there are lots of other activities to enjoy first. With callbacks to another wonderful winter Froggy tale (Froggy Gets Dressed - don't miss this one, it's one of my favorites!) and plenty of humor, this is a fun book to share.

When the Snow is Deeper Than My Boots Are Tall by Jen Reidy, illustrated by Joey Chou (Henry Holt, 2019). This is a super cute, bouncy rhyming book about the joys of playing in the snow and seeing it pile up deeper and deeper. I love the vibrant, colorful illustrations of a family enjoying a winter day together as the snow falls. The rhythm of the text is a little awkward sometimes - I would practice reading it before reading to a group - but it's really so cute and includes a lot of great sound words and vocabulary that make it a great choice for storytime.

* I am definitely wishing for snow. My husband who shovels our driveway is... not.

Monday, January 13, 2020

Books to Celebrate MLK Day

Next Monday is Martin Luther King Day, what are you reading? You may have the day off work or school and it's a perfect time to read a book together to honor the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King. Not sure what to read? I have four suggestions for different ages here today.

For the very youngest: 

I am Brave: A Little Book About Martin Luther King, Jr. by Brad Meltzer, illustrated by Christopher Eliopoulos (Dial, 2019). This board book, part of the Little People Change the World series, gives a glossy overview of Martin Luther King, Jr. It doesn't get into super deep topics, but rather concentrates on King's qualities: brave, loving, etc., making this a good choice for sharing with the very young. The cutesy illustrations are designed to appeal to young children and this has been a super popular series at my library.

For young elementary kids:


Be a King by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by James E. Ransome (Bloomsbury, 2018). With simple, direct text, Weatherford pares down Dr. Martin Luther King's dream and presents it to kids in a way that's easy to understand. The text encourages young readers to "be a King" by doing things like "beat the drum for justice" and "set your sights on the mountaintop". This is a good resource for connecting kids with the everyday actions that can lead to change and for celebrating the spirit of Martin Luther King Day.

For older elementary kids:


A Place to Land: Martin Luther King Jr. and the Speech That Inspired a Nation by Barry Wittenstein, illustrated by Jerry Pinkney (Neal Porter Books, 2019). This gorgeous picture book presents the backstory of one of the most famous American speeches. The poetic text is a perfect pairing for this powerful story about powerful and memorable words that changed our nation.

For tweens and teens:

Martin Rising: Requiem for a King by Andrea Davis Pinkney, illustrated by Brian Pinkney (Scholastic, 2018). This gorgeous book explores the months leading up to Martin Luther King's assassination, including his involvement with the Memphis sanitation workers' strike and his last riveting speech in which he seemed to predict his own death. It also explores the continuing work of civil rights after his death. The illustrations are striking and the poetic text is a fitting tribute to such a great man. This is a moving book that's unlike anything else I've read about Martin Luther King and it's not to be missed.

Thursday, January 9, 2020

It's Coming: The Youth Media Awards!

It's beginning to look a lot like Youth Media Awards season!!

Yes, in a few short weeks, the American Library Association's Youth Media Awards will be announced at the Midwinter Conference in Philadelphia. I won't be there in person, but I will be excitedly watching the webcast with (I hope) some similarly excited coworkers. I've booked a meeting room for us at the library and hope to be able to offer comp time to anyone who wants to come in early that day to watch with me. I'm debating whether I should pick up some healthy breakfast items or splurge on some donuts... Hmmm.

The Saturday before the announcements, I will be heading 4 hours north to Fort Wayne to participate in Allen County Public Library's Mock Newbery discussion. I have been reading (and in some cases re-reading) to get ready. I'm not quite finished with all the books, but as soon as I schedule this blog post I'm going to get back to it.

What are my favorites this year?

A Good Kind of Trouble by Lisa Moore Ramée (Balzer + Bray, 2019). I love the plotting in this book and the thoughtful structure that's deceptively simple. On its surface, this is a typical middle school story about a girl dealing with friends and boys and racial tension in her town. As you drill further down, you realize that each obstacle Shayla grapples with in her personal life is preparing her for the huge realization that she needs to stand up for what she believe in, even if it means she'll get in trouble. This is the book I would hand to young activists and I think it's supremely relevant to today. Read my full review with booktalk and readalikes here!

New Kid by Jerry Craft (HarperAlley, 2019). Okay, it's hard to know how the committee will come down on the eligibility of graphic novels. Does the text have to stand on its own? Can storyboarding be considered part of the "text"? If the committee is amenable to graphic novels, I think this one is worthy of consideration and distinguished for its interpretation of theme and appropriateness of style for a child audience. I think the way that Jerry Craft examines racial microaggressions is so skillful because it's hilarious at the same time it's being serious. This makes total sense for the protagonist who processes his own emotions by drawing comics. 

Other Words for Home by Jasmine Warga (Balzer + Bray, 2019). I love the language in this book and the effective poetic structure that conveys big feelings with very few words, which is so appropriate to the story. As Jude moves to America and struggles with learning English and making friends when it's difficult to express herself, the poems play with language and emphasize the important role that language plays in feeling at home. 

Now, like I said, I haven't finished all the books on our mock Newbery list yet and I certainly haven't read or reread nearly as much as any of the committee members. But these three (all books from HarperCollins! I promise they didn't sponsor this post!) are all books of my heart and books I will be proud to promote to kids whether or not they garner shiny stickers (although I would be thrilled if they do!).

What books are your favorite contenders for the Newbery this year?

Monday, January 6, 2020

Picture Book Roundup #2

Hey, I'm an Amazon associate which means if you purchase items after clicking the links on my site I get a small commission. 

What better way to kick off 2020 than with amazing picture books? Here are ten of my recent favorites.

Around the Table That Granddad Built by Melanie Heuser Hill, illustrated by Jaime Kim (Candlewick Press, 2019). This bright and bouncy story features a diverse family gathering and sharing a meal together, celebrating in the inherited dishes, cooking vegetables they grew in their garden, and making traditional and non-traditional dishes. This is a great Thanksgiving book that's not overtly Thanksgiving-y but definitely fits with the season. The first part of the book follows the format of The House That Jack Built, but after the table's set the form deviates into listing the vegetables and dishes they're cooking. It's a little odd, but still a good readaloud and a great one to share when talking about family, food, or being thankful.

Bird Watch by Christie Matheson (Greenwillow Books, 2019). This would make a really great read for a family who likes to bird to introduce young children to some of the techniques and concepts involved. In each spread, there are things to find, whether birds (sometimes identified by their unique plumage) or other woodland creatures. It's not only a fun seek and find book, but a primer on how actual birders identify birds - with distinctive features, location of birds (on the ground, in a tree), etc. Back matter includes more information about birding and about the bird species seen in the book.

Borrowing Bunnies: A Surprising True Tale of Fostering Rabbits by Cynthia Lord, photographs by John Bald, illustrations by Hazel Mitchell (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2019). Could this book BE any more adorable? (Answer: impossible.) Newbery honor author Cynthia Lord here chronicles her adventures with fostering bunnies with super cute photographs and illustrations. When she took in Benjamin and Peggotty to foster them until they were ready for adoption, she got quite a surprise when Peggotty gave birth to four baby bunnies. This is a fun pet story that will really please animal lovers and educates readers about caring for bunnies and bunny behavior.

The Happy Book by Andy Rash (Viking, 2019). Camper (as in "Happy Camper") and Clam (as in "Happy as a") are best friends and they're happy. But when Clam bakes Camper a cake and Camper eats all of it without saving any for his friend, Clam gets sad and enters a new book. Instead of The Happy Book, Clam's spending some time in The Sad Book. And from there, the two friends experience a gamut of emotions as they work through their first fight. Not only is this book funny, but it respects the range of emotions that kids experience and how friends can work through those emotions to express their feelings when disagreements happen. Designed with cartoon dialog bubbles like a comic book, this book is fun for recreational reading, but it also passes along a positive message about the emotions we all experience.

Ho'onani: Hula Warrior by Heather Gale, illustrated by Mika Song (Tundra Books, 2019). Ho'onani doesn't feel entirely wahine (girl) or kane (boy), but somewhere in the middle. When her community announces that they are going to put on a traditional Hawaiian hula chant for kane, she feels drawn to audition, even though the chanters are traditionally boys. This is an empowering story bringing much needed representation to the page. Ho'onani is such a good chanter that she's chosen to lead the group. When her teachers warns her that some people might object to a wahine leading a group of kane, Ho'onani decides to do the show anyway. With her parents' support and her older sister's eventual coming around to it, this is a supportive story that features a nonbinary child in the starring role.''

Pluto Gets the Call by Adam Rex, illustrated by Laurie Keller (Beach Lane Books, 2019). Pluto LOVES being a planet, but when the call comes from Earth that he's no longer a planet, how can he go on? This fun and funny picture book not only pays homage to our favorite planet-that-was, but also introduces young readers to the solar system as Pluto takes a farewell tour and presents facts about each planet along the way. Hand this to fans of The Sun is Kind of a Big Deal or Laurie Keller's The Scrambled States of America for kids who enjoy learning but in a really fun, funny way.

Pokko and the Drum by Matthew Forsythe (Simon & Schuster, 2019). With gorgeous watercolor illustrations (what a color palette!) and a surprising, energetic and humorous story, this is a don't-miss picture book. When Pokko's drum gets to be too loud, her mother and father suggest that she play outside for a bit. She is soon joined by a posse of instrument-playing animals and a posse of music fans, all following Pokko, who is literally marching to the beat of her own drummer. I love the facial expressions on all the characters (how does Forsythe make a frog so expressive?).

Stormy: A Story About Finding a Forever Home by Guojing (Schwartz & Wade, 2019). This super sweet and evocative wordless picture book shows a stray dog and the woman who keeps visiting him, eventually giving him a home. Stormy is very afraid at first and won't let her come close, but she keeps trying, bringing a ball for them to play with. On one stormy night they are finally united and she brings him home. This is a great one for young dog lovers, but I can see strong parallels in human relationships, too, particularly in foster or adoptive situations.

Tiny Feet Between the Mountains by Hanna Cha (Simon & Schuster, 2019). Being little does not mean you can't do big things. Soe-In is a tiny person, but she finds ways to keep up with everyone in her village and pull her weight. When the sun disappears, village elders ask for a volunteer to investigate and Soe-In is the only one who raises her hand. When she discovers that the spirit tiger has accidentally swallowed the sun, she finds a way to help him and save her village with her creative critical thinking. This is a beautifully illustrated Korean tale starring a brave young girl who doesn't give up. I love that it shows different things Soe-In tries to save the tiger and when they don't work she doesn't give up but keeps thinking and trying new things. And the illustrations are just gorgeous.

What is a Refugee? by Elise Gravel (Schwartz & Wade, 2019). This kid-friendly introduction aimed at non-refugee children is a solid explanation of who refugees are and the situations that can cause people to become refugees (notably leaving out natural disaster, but otherwise touching on major causes). This is a good choice for explaining some of the situations kids might be hearing about in the news. Maybe my favorite part was the bit at the end in which the author asked a dozen or so refugee children to tell about themselves. It's obvious that refugee children are just children who have gone through something awful but are just trying to live their best lives.

Thursday, January 2, 2020

Free Lunch

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Free Lunch by Rex Ogle. Grades 6+. Norton Young Readers, 2019. 208 pages. Review copy provided by my local library.

Rex knows he's missing something. He's all ready for sixth grade to start - he's got his schedule, he knows where his bus stop is... but there's something he's forgetting... Oh, yeah! His lunch money!

But when Rex asks his mom about it, she tells him that she's signed him up for the Free Lunch program at school this year. Free lunch. Rex knows what that means - the government's paying for his lunch because his mom and stepfather can't afford it. What he will discover when he gets to the school cafeteria is how humiliating it feels to have to tell the cafeteria cashier that he gets free lunch. And how lonely it feels keeping this secret from his friends. And how frustrating it feels to be singled out by a teacher who thinks you're trash because your family is poor.

This is not an easy book to read. Beyond Rex's struggles with hunger and need, his mother and stepfather are both physically abusive to him and to each other. Being out of work and struggling to keep a roof over their heads creates so much stress in their household that it comes out in fists and fights. Ogle is very clear and even handed about that. While he hates the abuse and lives in fear that the fists will be turned towards his little brother one day, he also recognizes that his mom does love him. Reading this book was a very emotional experience. My heart went out to young Rex and I just wanted to see him come out the other side.

This is an important book to read and an essential book to have on your library and classroom shelves. There are kids who need this book, who need to know that they're not alone in what they're experiencing, to see that you can survive it and you can make a better life, that things can turn around. The hopeful ending will give kids hope. And there are kids and adults who need this book to understand what others may be going through. It's a raw and honest portrayal and doesn't hold back.


Although Free Lunch is memoir, the novel Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt also explores the emotional life of a boy who is dealing with abuse and heavy stuff at home. His actions also cause others to judge his character before they really know the real him and what's going on that makes him act out.


And while Hey Kiddo by Jarrett Krosoczka is a graphic novel and Free Lunch is not, these books are both powerful memoirs about boys growing up with tough home lives as parents face poverty in Free Lunch and addiction in Hey Kiddo.