Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Gabi: A Girl in Pieces

Gabi: A Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero. Grades 9+ Cinco Puntos Press, 2014. 284 pages. Review copy provided by my local library.

Guys. This book.

I'm so thankful for dear friends like Kelly Jensen and for awards like the Morris Award because I wouldn't have picked this book up on my own (the cover scares me a little) and then I would have been MISSING OUT. 

This fictional diary of Mexican-American high school senior Gabi Hernandez is so real that I could have sworn I had picked up the actual diary of a seventeen-year-old girl. It reminded me of writing in my own diary when I was in high school (much less eloquently, of course), and I don't at all mean that it feels like Gabi's writing in the '90s. I just could really identify with Gabi and the questions that she has and her thoughts about relationships and friendships and family.

The masterful thing is that I don't have anything in common with Gabi, actually. She's a Mexican-American teen dealing with a lot of issues that (thankfully) I never had to deal with in high school. And yet, I feel like she could have been me as a teen.

I also kept thinking about Mattie Gokey (one of my literary BFFs) and Anne Frank. Like, seriously, Gabi is so easy to identify with and root for. I didn't want the book to end, and that's probably the biggest compliment I can give (I LOVE finishing books).

This is probably not making much sense. I'm gushing, I know.

Let's see... Gabi is dealing with a lot of issues. Her dad is a drug addict and hardly ever around. Every now and then he'll try to change, but he's always relapsed. Gabi has two best friends - Sebastian who has just come out to his parents and is now kicked out of their house, and Cindy who has just become a statistic - another pregnant teen. Gabi wonders if all of these problems will keep her from following her dream to go to college. She starts taking a poetry class and falls in love with writing poetry. She's a talented writer with lots on her mind.

This book was just a pleasure to read and I want to make sure you don't miss it. Honestly, the cover scared me a little bit, although once I read the book I could see where it came from - it has to do with a zine about body image that Gabi creates during her senior year.

Sigh. You should probably go read a real review of this book, like the one over at Stacked.

I'd hand this to teens who like reading about characters they can identify with, teens with questions about romance and life and friends, especially teens who appreciate the honesty of Anne Frank's diary.


Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The War That Saved My Life

The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley. Grades 4-7. Dial Books, January 2015. 320 pages. Review copy provided by publisher.


Ada is 10 years old and she’s never been outside of her family’s one-bedroom apartment. Born with a twisted foot, which her Mam calls the mark of the devil, Ada is not allowed to be seen by other people. Her Mam doesn’t let her go to school and has never bothered to help her learn to walk - Ada has to crawl around their apartment. Worst of all, when Mam is angry at her, which is pretty often, she shuts Ada up in a damp cabinet with the roaches for hours.

World War II is brewing and the children of London are being sent away from their parents to live in safety in the country. When Mam decides to send Ada’s younger brother Jamie away to safety, Ada sees her chance. She teaches herself to walk - very painfully - and she sneaks out to join her brother.

They’re sent to the English countryside and taken in by a lady named Susan, a lady who never wanted children but feels it’s her duty to help out in wartime. For the first time, Ada gets crutches so she can walk, she learns how to ride a horse and even to read… but she knows that at any moment Mam could change her mind and everything could be taken away from her.

My thoughts:

There is so much to love about this book, but what I loved most of all is the complicated characters that Ms. Bradley has created here. It's one thing for siblings to experience abuse together, but it's a completely different animal when one sibling suffers abuse and one does not. Ada loves Jamie and wants to protect him more than anything, but as the younger sibling, Jamie cannot reciprocate and he doesn't even see some of the abuse that has been going on. When Jamie gets homesick and longs to go home to Mam, Ada cannot understand how he feels because she is so grateful to have escaped. Logically, she knows that life in London was different for Jamie, but emotionally she cannot identify with what he's feeling.

At the same time, Ada cannot trust in what's happened to her. Sure, life is way better in the countryside, but Ada is very guarded. She knows that at any moment her new life could come crumbling down around her. Her emotions are overwhelming and often volatile... and through it all, Susan is steadfast.

Susan is suffering her own loss. We learn by bits and pieces that Susan is mourning the death of her "good friend" Becky whom she lived with. Becky was obviously someone very important to Susan and we see how having the children around, having others to care for, having someone to come home to is helping Susan deal with her grief.

I just couldn't get enough of these characters and I loved learning their stories and seeing them grow and change.

This is also a great World War II story from a perspective - the English home front - that many kids may be less familiar with. Details bring this historical setting to life - blackout curtains, victory gardens, air raids, and more.

And it's even a sneaky kind of horse book! It may not be enough of a horse story to satisfy super fans, but there are definitely plenty of details about Ada learning to ride and taking care of Susan's pony which had been neglected after Becky died.


Hand this one to kids who love to read about a character they can root for or kids looking for great historical fiction, particularly war home front stories or World War II.

Kids may enjoy The War That Saved My Life if they liked:

  • Half a World Away by Cynthia Kadohata for its emotional and authentic portrayal of an adopted boy struggling to adjust to life in a new world.
  • One for the Murphys by Lynda Mullaly Hunt for a foster kid protagonist who is easy to root for.
  • Books about the WWII home front.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Reading Wildly: Transitional Chapter Books

This year, we've been booktalking to several 2nd and 3rd grade classrooms, which made transitional chapter books (chapter books aimed at 2nd/3rd graders) a must for one of our Reading Wildly meetings. This month, we kicked off our exploration of transitional chapter books by talking about an "article". I printed out slide selections from the presentation A Missing Link in Closing Reading Achievement Gaps: Short Chapter Book Series with Primary Characters of Color by Sandy Carrillo and Jane Fleming.

We discussed the importance of transitional chapter books in building fluency and reinforcing vocabulary. The slides mention that many early chapter book series deal with events and situations that are familiar to kids, which makes the stories easy for children to understand. And they often include a chapter or section to introduce the setting and characters to the reader, setting the stage for the story.

Since they are short, easy books, we had quite a stack of books shared this month! We did not formally book talk all of these, some were just mentioned and briefly described as we were winding down. Here are the books shared at our meeting:

I think we heard about a great variety of stories that will be good to share with those 2nd and 3rd grade classes we're visiting. 

Next month, we'll be discussing mystery books, which is definitely a genre I do NOT gravitate toward (so a month that will be especially good for me!). What are your favorite middle-grade mysteries? 

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Preschool Storytime: Bears

Earlier this week, I did a preschool storytime about bears! Grrr. Here's what I did:

Opening Song: My Hands Say Hello (our typical opening song, repeated every week)

Book: Bears! Bears Bears! by Bob Barner. This is a great book for vocabulary. Simple, rhyming text presents eight different kinds of bears that live all over the world. The kids were familiar with some - pandas and polar bears are very recognizable - but there were some new ones introduced, too!

Book: A Den is a Bed for a Bear by Becky Baines. I like this nonfiction text for its photographs and simple rhyming text that explains the concept of hibernation and what bears do in their dens. This is another one that includes lots of great vocabulary. The trim size is a little small for group sharing and the extra facts on each page do make the spreads a bit cluttered for a readaloud.

I look for books that include words that kids may not hear very often. Books can be a great source for kids to hear words that are not used much in normal conversation. Kids can't recognize these words when reading if they've never heard them before, so it's important to introduce kids to lots of words!

Song with Puppet: Where is Bear? (Found on Storytime Katie)

(To the tune of "Thumbkin")

Where is bear? Where is bear?
Here I am! Here I am!
How are you this winter?
Very tired, thank you.
Go to sleep. Go to sleep.

The bear puppet then "falls asleep" and I ask the kids if they'd like to sing again and we wake up bear and start again! They really liked this song and one of my kiddos picked up the puppet and wanted to sing it with me again during our play time.

Book: Where's My Teddy? by Jez Alborough. This is a favorite of mine because it's a very silly story with lots of rhyming words* and the book has a large trim size that makes it great for sharing with a group.

*Hearing rhyming words help children hear that words are made up of smaller sounds, which helps them when they start to learn to read and sound out words.

Song with puppet: The Bear Went Over the Mountain (Traditional)

The bear went over the mountain
The bear went over the mountain
The bear went over the mountain
To see what he could see!

And all that he could see...
And all that he could see...

Was the other side of the mountain
The other side of the mountain
The other side of the mountain
Was all that he could see!

Book: The Red Sled by Lita Judge. This nearly-wordless book shows a bear and his friends borrowing a red sled and taking it for rides all over the forest before returning it in the morning, leaving only footprints for the little child to find. When I read this whimsical book, I read the sound effects words on the page and I ask the kids to help me tell what is happening. This is a fun story to share in winter since many kids will be able to relate to the experience of sledding.

Felt Activity: Color Bears. I handed out the bears to the children and they brought their bear up to the board when I called their color. With this activity, we practice listening and following directions. We also reinforce color concepts and we practice counting when we count them all up at the end.

Play Time:

I set out wooden blocks and color sorting bears similar to these by Lakeshore Learning. It was amazing to me how long the blocks kept the kids occupied!

I also had a table set up with simple folded typing paper and die-cut bears in red, pink, and purple so kids could make Valentines ("(I love you BEARY much!"). I don't always do a craft, but this was very simple and easy to put together, plus an activity like this encourages children to practice writing (or drawing or scribbling, etc. etc.).

Monday, February 9, 2015

Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom

Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom: My Story of the 1965 Selma Voting Rights March by Lynda Blackmon Lowery with Elspeth Leacock and Susan Buckley, illustrated by PJ Loughran. Grades 6+. Dial, January 2015. Review copy provided by publisher.


"By the time I was fifteen years old, I had been in jail nine times." (pg 13)

So begins Lynda Blackmon Lowery's story of growing up in the Jim Crow South and marching for justice. At a young age, Lynda got involved in the Civil Rights movement in her hometown of Selma, Alabama. Even after she and her friends were jailed for protesting, even being put inside the "sweatbox" where the airless heat was so intense that all the girls passed out, Lynda would not stop in her quest for equal rights. When organizers put together a march for voting rights in Selma, Lynda knew she would be part of it. And even when she was horribly beaten by state troopers in an event called "Bloody Sunday," Lynda knew that she needed to find the courage to keep going, to keep marching.

"If I [gave up], I would never be the person I wanted to be. And the person I wanted to be was a person who would stand up against what was wrong." (pg. 82)

Lynda was the youngest person in the 1965 Selma Voting Rights March. She stood up for what she believed in. And you can, too.

My thoughts:

This is an important first-person account of the 1965 Selma Voting Rights March. It's written in a conversational tone, as if Lynda's sitting across from you at the kitchen table and telling you about her experiences. Some archival photos and color illustrations accompany the text. The illustrations are well-suited to a teen audience, adding splashes of color throughout.

At the back of the book, you get brief bios of some of the casualties of the Selma March - Jimmie Lee Jackson, a young man shot by police at a nighttime protest just prior to the march; Reverend James Reeb, a white minister from Boston who traveled to Selma after seeing Bloody Sunday on the news; and Viola Liuzzo, a white homemaker who was murdered by the KKK while driving folks between Selma and Montgomery after the march.

The Oscar-nominated film Selma may pique additional interest in this topic.


For those interested in learning about young people's roles in the battle for civil rights, suggest any of the following:

For those interested in additional first-person accounts of young people standing up for what they believe in, suggest any of the following: 

And hey, it's Nonfiction Monday! Head on over to the Nonfiction Monday Blog to see what other great nonfiction bloggers are sharing this week!

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

What an Amazing Newbery Year!

WOW. What an experience!

I have just finished up my term on the 2015 Newbery Committee and it's been just an amazing, awesome experience. 

I've written before about what the Newbery Committee does, but I had no real idea what was in store for me this past weekend at the ALA Midwinter Meeting. I had no idea how close the committee members would all feel afterwards. I had no idea how stimulating and thought-provoking our discussions would be. I had an idea about how FUN the discussions would be, since I was able to sit in on Allen County Public Library's Mock Newbery discussion the weekend previous (very ethically observing and not participating!). 

The Newbery Committee met all day on Friday and Saturday of the conference and then again on Sunday morning. We deliberated and discussed for hours, finally getting the chance to talk about the books we'd been reading all year. We followed the Newbery process and voted. 

And we awarded the 2015 Newbery Medal to Kwame Alexander for his book The Crossover

We selected two Newbery Honor books: 

El Deafo by Cece Bell (yes, a graphic novel! Wow!!)


Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson (look at all those award seals!!)

If you have not read all of these books, do yourself a favor and seek them out. I HIGHLY recommend each of them! (Apologies for blurry pictures... I did not get much sleep this weekend...)

I must send out huge thanks and love to all the members of our 2015 Newbery Committee. We have formed a close bond, going through this amazing experience together. It has truly been a life-changing experience. I think it has forever changed how I read; although I no longer have to take detailed notes on each book, I think I will always read more deeply than I used to. It has awakened in me a strong desire to discuss books with others; it's amazing the insights that come from talking about books you love, hate, or don't quite get. And, of course, it has changed children's literature forever (as each committee does every year). 

In fact, this was quite a groundbreaking year for the ALA Youth Media Awards! Not only did the Newbery Committee honor a graphic novel, the Caldecott Committee honored a graphic novel in the upper part of their age range!  For the Caldecott award, "children" are defined as "persons of ages up to and including fourteen " and "picture books for this entire age range are to be considered." It was definitely a bold choice, and one I'm happy to see. If we stop pushing the envelope as children's literature evolves, what are we even doing here? 

A very special honor for me, personally, was that I got to be the one to text Cece Bell the news of her award! That very well may have been a Newbery first, and I'm so lucky to have been a part of it! 

It has been an amazing experience for sure. I wish the 2016 Newbery Committee the BEST of luck and happy reading. 

Now, enjoy this behind the scenes look at the Monday morning awards calls (at about 0:58 you can see me texting Cece Bell the news!):