Thursday, June 13, 2019

Planet Earth is Blue

Planet Earth is Blue by Nicole Panteleakos. Grades 4-7. Random House, May 2019. 240 pages. Review copy provided by publisher. 


It's 1986 and Nova has just been placed in a new foster home, a home without her older sister for the first time, and Nova is devastated. Her sister said she'd always be there for her, which is especially important to Nova because Nova has autism and she is almost completely nonvocal. Bridget was the one person who could always understand her and who knew that Nova understands more than anyone gives her credit for. Nova can read, she knows the alphabet, she knows what's going on around her, but since she mostly doesn't speak, most adults in her life assume that she's developmentally delayed. 

Nova is obsessed with space and right now she's particularly obsessed with the upcoming Challenger launch - the chance to see a teacher in space for the first time. Her sister Bridget has promised to come back for the launch, so they can watch it together. As the days count down and the launch gets closer and closer, Nova starts to get nervous that Bridget won't keep her promise. 

Written partly in the third person and partly in first person as Nova writes letters to her missing sister, this is a book that will have you feeling all the feels. 

My thoughts:  Readers who like to feel ALL THE FEELS need look no further. This book absolutely broke my heart. All I could do after I finished it was sit in the dark and listen to "Space Oddity" by David Bowie on repeat. Okay, that's maybe a little dramatic. But seriously. The feels. The title of this book and the heavy referrals to Nova's favorite song are so apropos because the way that song makes me feel is exactly how this book made me feel.

I kind of feel like this book is a love letter to what foster families and special education teachers can be, too. It's set in a time when our understanding of autism was much different than it is today. Nova's unfortunately used to being shuffled around since her mentally ill mother lost custody of the girls when Nova was little. But this new foster family is the first family that begins to really understand Nova and learns how she communicates. They know she loves space and enroll her in an astronomy class at school, they put her in a school with a good special ed program and teachers that begin to reach her in a way no teachers have before.

The book picks up speed as it goes along and the countdown to the Challenger space shuttle disaster gets closer and closer. Of course we know what's going to happen, we know it's not going to be good. I do kind of wonder if middle grade readers will be familiar with what happened at the Challenger launch - you might want to make sure before you hand this to kids or else the ending could be pretty devastating.

The author of this book was a teacher at a school for children with autism and has a lot of experience working with kids with autism and with foster kids. So, although it's not an own voices title, it's written by someone who has a lot of knowledge.


Readers who like Sharon Draper's Out of My Mind (Atheneum, 2010) for its glimpse inside the mind of a nonvocal child with disabilities will love Nova's story, as well; particularly the parts written from Nova's point of view.

Ann M. Martin's Rain Reign (Feiwel & Friends, 2014) is another heartfelt story about kids on the autism spectrum who face really hard things in their lives.

The quest for understanding and for people in their lives who will communicate with them on their own terms is also a strong theme in Song for a Whale by Lynne Kelly (Delacorte Press, 2019). Twelve-year-old Iris is Deaf and goes to a mainstream school where many people assume she's not smart or struggle to communicate with her.

Monday, June 10, 2019

Ten Picture Books for Father's Day

Father's Day is coming up on Sunday, June 16 and I have ten great picture books to share or display at your library.


Dad and the Dinosaur by Gennifer Choldenko, illustrated by Dan Santat. (Putnam, 2017). Nicholas is scared of lots of things, but having his toy dinosaur nearby helps him face the world. When his dinosaur goes missing, Nick must count on his dad's help to face his fears. This is a really sweet story about a father's power to encourage.

A Different Pond by Bao Phi , illustrated by Thi Bui. (Capstone, 2017) Bao and his father go to the pond early in the morning to try to catch fish for their family's food before his father head's off to his second job. And as they fish together, Bao's father tells him about a pond he fished at when he was a boy in Vietnam. This is a beautiful, quiet story about the power of family.


Hair Love by Matthew A. Cherry, illustrated by Vashti Harrison. (Kokila, May 2019) Does anything show fatherly love better than a father willing to work and work at getting his daughter's hair just right? I love the expressive illustrations in this adorable picture book.

Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall. (Candlewick, 2017). When Jabari is unsure about jumping off the high diving board at the pool, it just takes some encouraging words from his father to give him the courage to take the plunge.


My Dad Used to Be So Cool by Keith Negley (Flying Eye Books, 2016). A young boy looks at his dad's tattoos and imagines all the cool things his dad used to do, like playing in a rock band and riding a motorcycle. This is an ode to all the "cool dads" out there, or dads who like to think they're cool, anyway.

My Daddy Rules the World: Poems About Dads by Hope Anita Smith. (Henry Holt, 2017). This collection of poems celebrates all kinds of dads, from dads who snore to dads to cook breakfast to dads serving overseas. Some funny, some poignant, this collection has a little something for everyone.

My Papi Has a Motorcycle by Isabel Quintero, illustrated by Zeke Peña. (Kokila, May 2019) Daisy Ramona takes a ride on her papi's motorcycle all around their neighborhood and visits all her favorite places. As they ride together, Daisy notices that her neighborhood is changing, but one thing will always be the same: her love for her father.

Don't forget the grandpas! It's their day, too!


The Bagel King by Andrew Larson, illustrated by Sandy Nichols. (Kids Can Press, 2018). Every Sunday morning Eli's zaida goes to the bakery and gets bagels for everyone. But when zaida falls and the doctor insists he has to rest, Eli must take things into his own hands. This is a charming story about one boy and his grandpa and the community around them.

Natsumi! by Susan Lendroth, illustrated by Priscilla Burris. (Putnam, 2018). Natsumi is sometimes a little... much. But her grandfather is always patient and accepts her as who she is. When he introduces her to a new hobby, he knows just what will suit her.

Drawn Together by Minh Lêillustrated by Dan Santat. (Disney-Hyperion, 2018) When a young boy visits his grandfather, they find it hard to communicate because they don't speak the same language. When they sit down to draw together, they find that art is a different way they can communicate. I love Dan Santat's brilliant illustrations in this book that shows that love is stronger than language barriers.

(This post first appeared in a slightly altered form on our staff blog: Floyd County Library Staff Blog!)

Friday, June 7, 2019

Firefly Award Kit Update

A couple of months ago, I posted about the Firefly Book Award Kits that I made for our library in order to spread the word about the Indiana Early Literacy Firefly Award and try to collect more votes from our county.

I am happy to say that we had a lot of success with this program, learned a lot, and plan to continue (and expand it!) next year. My goal was to collect 100 votes with the Firefly Kits and we ended up collecting 196 votes. Together with the other programs we did, we sent in over 200 votes. I'm really proud of that and hope that we can make it even more next year!

Teachers were really enthusiastic about participating. I had the most success in reaching out to preschools and daycares that we have already worked with in the past, but I hope that next year with some experience under our belt we may be able to advertise it more broadly and pick up some new groups. 

I really did not have to convince teachers about the worth of this program. Once they understood what it was, they were super into it. I had several teachers ask me about participating again, so I think we'll hit the ground running next year. My plan is to get this started earlier in the year next year since we now have a template for it. That will allow more time for the teachers to keep the bags and more time to spread the word. 

I decided to make the bags circulating for one week, but several of the teachers kept them longer in order to do the activities in the provided teacher guide. One preschool made their own voting poster for the whole school. One preschool even took pictures of all the crafts the kids did and make a big thank-you poster for us! I love the creative things the teachers thought to do with the voting and I want to encourage that. I had no problem being flexible with the check-out time since we never had a wait list for the bags. Next year, starting earlier will give us even more time, so I will probably extend the check-out time. 

Next year, I would also like to circulate the bags to families, too. We did not have a ton of participation from individual families with our in-house voting. I think we might get more participation if families could check out all the books and read at home. I didn't want to do that this year since we had a limited number of bags for our pilot program and I had a small window of time. I wanted to concentrate on groups of kids to get the most bang for our buck. If we offer the bags circulating to the public, I think it'll be easier to spread the word and that may catch the eye of our local teachers, too. 

It was a great, pretty easy program to run and I think our teachers and their students got a lot out of it. It was definitely successful and I'm excited about doing it again next year!

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Roll With It

Roll With It by Jamie Sumner. Grades 4-7. Atheneum, October 2019. 256 pages. Digital galley provided by publisher. 


Ellie is a kid who tells it like it is - which surprises some people because Ellie has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair. People expect her to be sunshine and inspiration, but Ellie doesn't hold back from telling people exactly what she thinks. Ellie loves baking and dreams of being a professional baker. And one big thing that's going on in her life is that her grandfather is not doing well. So Ellie and her mom decide to move to small town Oklahoma to help out. 

Now, not only is Ellie the new kid, she's the new kid in the wheelchair who lives in a trailer park on the wrong side of town. It could be a recipe for disaster, but unexpectedly Ellie has met some kids that she's connected with. For the first time, she's found her people. She's found kids who not only see her but see her for who she is instead of just seeing "the kid in the wheelchair". 

Now, Ellie's just got to convince her mom that moving to this small town that's kind of unequipped to handle a kid in a wheelchair - a kid sometimes in fragile health - is the best thing that's ever happened to her. 

My thoughts:

Ellie's voice grabbed me from the first page and just wouldn't let go. I honestly couldn't put this book down. This is a story with a lot of heart and humor and an absolutely unforgettable protagonist. Author Jamie Sumner has a son with CP, so she writes from a place of experience with CP and wheelchairs and the like. I don't have the knowledge to judge how accurate this story is to a disability experience, but coming from a writer who has a lot of experience with a close family member with a disability gives me some confidence in its authenticity. 

So, I appreciate a story about a girl living with a visible disability and I really appreciate having a girl in a wheelchair on the cover. But at its heart, this is a story with very universal themes - finding true friends who accept you as who you are, doing what you need to do to help family members in times of need. This is a book that has wide appeal to readers who enjoy character-centered stories and characters with strong voices. 


When I think about middle grade novels with strong voices, my first thought is always of Mo LoBeau in Three Times Lucky (Dial, 2012) by Sheila Turnage. Although the subject matter is different, readers who love characters with a strong voice who aren't afraid to say what they think and a story set in a small, rural town will enjoy both of these books. 

Braced by Alyson Gerber (Scholastic, 2017) is an own-voices, character-centered story about 12-year-old Rachel who must wear a back brace when her scoliosis worsens. Readers interested in reading about characters living with a visible disability may enjoy both of these. 

Finding true friends is a major theme in Roll With It and readers interested in more stories about girls finally finding true friends who like them for who they are may enjoy Because of the Rabbit by Cynthia Lord (Scholastic, 2019). When Emma starts a new school after being homeschooler through fourth grade, her greatest wish is to find a best friend. But navigating new friends turns out to be harder than she thought it would be. 

Saturday, June 1, 2019

#MiddleGradeMay Wrap Up!

And that's a wrap for Middle Grade May! I had a fabulous month reading and sharing middle grade books with you all. I've still got some book posts I'm working on (things got nuts toward the end of this month with Summer Reading coming up!), so look for those in the coming weeks. 

And check out my Instagram, where I've got video booktalks of some of my favorite new and upcoming middle grade reads (more to come there, too). 

This month, I wanted to concentrate on new and upcoming middle grade books. I was hoping to read 10 books and ended up reading 12 books, so I met my goal. Here's what I read this month: 


Pie in the Sky by Ramy Lai (Henry Holt, May 2019). 

Other Words for Home by Jasmine Warga (Balzer + Bray, May 2019). 

Because of the Rabbit by Cynthia Lord (Scholastic, March 2019). 


The Great Penguin Rescue by Sandra Markle (Milbrook, 2017). 

Lalani of the Distant Sea by Erin Entrada Kelly (Greenwillow, September 2019). 

Roll With It by Jamie Sumner (Atheneum, October 2019). 


Planet Earth is Blue by Nicole Panteleakos (Random House, May 2019). 

Camp by Kayla Miller (HMH Books for Young Readers, April 2019). 

All the Greys on Greene Street by Laura Tucker, illustrated by Kelly Murphy (Viking, June 2019). 


Girl of the Southern Sea by Michelle Kadarusman (Pajama Press, May 2019). 

Each Tiny Spark by Pablo Cartaya (Kokila, August 2019). 

Dear Sweet Pea by Julie Murphy (Balzer + Bray, October 2019). 

What a great month of books! Next up, I'm going to be going back to my Romance Project and picking up a bunch of LGBT books for Pride Month. 

What's on your reading agenda for this summer?