It's Monday! What are you Reading? is hosted by Jen at TEACH.MENTOR.TEXTS. And shared with Ricki and Kellee at UNLEASHING READERS.
And, also visit Sheila at BOOK JOURNEYS for more reviews.
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“No matter how busy you may think you are, you must find time for reading, or surrender yourself to self-chosen ignorance.” ~Confucius
I was in the midst of poets this time last week, at a Highlights Foundation workshop in Honesdale, PA, led by David L. Harrison. Fifteen of us had such a great time talking and writing and learning that we didn't want to sleep, although we did, in wonderful little cabins for some of us, and a lodge for others. I have done some reading this week and want to share some wonderful books, some published by the Boyd's Mill Press, the Highlights publishing house. It was a wonderful time!
Wake Up Missing – written by Kate Messner
I received an ARC of this before it came out, but life’s events kept me from reading it quickly, yet how I wanted to! It seems that every time I had to stop reading, I left at another exciting and crucial moment. The story concerns a topic of concern, the epidemic of concussions among high school athletes, and the effect they may have on these kids’ futures. Kate Messner chooses to have the main character, Catherine, tell her story of having a debilitating concussion and her family’s search for some medical treatment that will help her recover. They find an innovative clinic, seated in the wilds of a swamp, titled I-CAN, the International Center for Advanced Neurology. Cat (Catherine’s nickname) is enrolled, and the story begins with her mother taking her to the clinic, seeing the grounds that sound like a fancy resort, and saying a teary goodbye. There are hints of tension already as slowly we meet the other patients and learn bits of their backgrounds: Ben, Sarah, Quentin, with only brief mentions of Kaylee and Trent, who enter the story later. A few questions arise even before Cat’s mom leaves, like why only six patients, which the clinic head, Dr. Ames, calls ‘guests’.
There are threads of the story that Messner holds throughout the story, like finding, and then keeping the true self as well as a part of an osprey holding onto a too large fish, so large that it ends up drowning rather than let go of dinner. “We watched as bird and fish battled in the glittering water, until finally, the osprey went under for the last time and disappeared. It’s an ominous early hint of shivers to come. As the treatments begin, suspicion fills Cat’s life as odd things happen as parts of conversations among the adults are overheard. Another thread continues about being oneself, and Cat’s thoughts about a friendship back home gone sour feeds this image of this young girl yearning for her home, her “old” life (before concussion), yet continuing to hold on to who she really is, one with strong convictions who will not change for anyone! She says: “I won’t give up who I am to make it (the friendship) happen.”
Kate Messner shows such mastery of foreshadowing all through the story: Dr. Ames is almost saccharine-friendly, Cat finds files, with one mysterious name, and asks questions that are answered only in vague terms during the story. A Dr. Gunther is introduced, with a comment cut-off sharply by Dr. Ames. Later Cat goes to the roof to see if she can see some tropical birds and overhears a cell phone conversation between Dr. Ames and someone. Her suspicions are aroused, and she continues to wonder what’s going on, but doesn’t tell anyone, yet. The plot is indeed thickening. Details entertain as the story unfolds, the other characters are developed, the setting enhanced, and Cat finally, with Sarah, looks at some secret files on a computer. A few days pass, but more and more things happen until Cat is forced into a change of opinion, and along with three of the new friends, the story evolves into a run-for-your-lives nightmare of a night and day. I will certainly recommend this book again and again for those who like mystery/adventure.
Hatchet – by Gary Paulsen
Just finished introducing this old favorite to a group of young readers, who, after reading, were off to find more about Brian's adventures. It's a book of conversational possibilities and I never tire of reading Paulsen's writing. It is good to point out some of his strategies for writing too, to beginning writers. Love this Newbery -honor-winning book!
Stardines, Swim High Across The Sky and other poems – by Jack Prelutsky, and illustrated by Carin Berger
There are so many reviews of this book that I imagine I’m the only one who hasn’t read it! Jack Prelutsky has created “pun-tastic” animals, describing them as only he can in varied poems, with the added bonus of Carin Berger’s beautiful photographed collages set in old wooden cigar boxes. Berger took each poem’s title and content to show how the animals looked and lived. The Harper-Collins site says that 24 exhibits were prepared, but only sixteen are shared in this beautiful book.
Examples from the text include the “Chormorants” who do nothing but “toil from sun to sun/They labor over senseless chores/They’re certain must be done.” The illustrated bird, with an apron and cleaning tools held in its feathered hands, looks ready to work! I laughed out loud at “Tattlesnake, Tattlesnake” when Prelutsky writes “Truly you’re mean./You’re nosy, annoying/you’re venomous, vile/You don’t mind your business,/We don’t like your style.” Berger gives a snake-like creature with a long horn attached to its face. And my favorite is “Plandas” where we see a panda with a pen, holding a very long paper list, and we read, at the end after numerous other things are said: “They plan to play the saxophone/And form their own brass bands…./But PLANDAS never do these things--/They just keep making plans.” Each poem and illustration is a pleasure, and reading the book will encourage children to invent their own creature and “pun-imal” poem!
Face Bug – Poems by J. Patrick Lewis, Photographs by Frederic B. Siskind, and illustrations by Kelly Murphy
I know a little boy of a long time ago who would have loved this book, my son, all grown now, who kept stinkbugs as pets for quite a while, and was fascinated by all kinds of insects. The book celebrates, through the poetic words, photos, and cartoon illustrations, the grand opening of the Bug Museum of 14 real insects, all especially interesting because of what they eat, how and where they live, and their particular looks. I love Lewis’ wordplay, showing such innovation in his created words, like in “Praying Mantis”. Describing the sorry lot of the male in this pair, he writes: “My kind of male! Now be a dear,/Play piggyback,/You mant-iac.” And he calls the American Horse Fly the “Clydesdale of all flies.” The poems are filled with information, and there is more in the backmatter. You might be interested in the Nursery Web Spider who it’s told “builds a nursery ‘tent’” and “puts her eggs inside to hatch/then stands guard by her motherbatch”. The photography is amazing, showing close looks at each. My particular favorite is the Goldenrod Stowaway Moth that looks like it’s covered with orange and cream brush bristles. Finally, the cartoon insects follow along in response to all that is being shown and written about each particular bug. There is much to enjoy on every page!
Grumbles from the Forest – Poems by Jane Yolen and Rebecca Kai Dotlich, and illustrations by Matt Mahurin
It’s not easy to write about just one of the many pleasures received from this book. There are the wonderful poem duos by Yolen and Dotlich, wonderfully creative, in varied styles, and with tongue-in-cheek responses to the original stories that bring laughter and nodding “Yes!” each time. For example, the giant’s wife, of Jack and the Beanstalk fame, warns Jack by telling of all those freckles and toes in the giant’s pockets, and eyeballs in drawers! And the opposing view plays on the words of the rhyme “Jack Be Nimble…” as it tells of Jack’s attack on the giant, and thus escape. Each twosome delivers part or a response to the original stories, so reading those stories first (if you don’t know them) and then enjoying the poems will enhance your experience. Mahurin’s illustrations fill the pages in lovely colorful action that enhance the words. There is a beginning poem of invitation and an ending one, satisfying for both purposes, and two pages of backmatter, summarizing the original plots. I loved the book and can imagine using it in a fairy tale study, but also in poetry, challenging students to write their own poems from stories. I enjoyed this book very much.
Journey – written and illustrated by Aaron Becker
This wordless picture book holds a stern message to parents who are spending too much time away from their children. A young girl is shown to be so lonely that she draws herself into an adventure, filled with the wonder of a castle with all its elements. The illustrations keep one on each page for a long, long time admiring the details, and then discovering more! They are spell-binding! There is sadness, adventure, and a special surprise at the end. The book is reminiscent of Harold and The Purple Crayon, yet holds much more feeling. I imagine using this to tell stories, and to take up a red crayon for oneself and take off on a new adventure.
Night Flight, Amelia Earhart Crosses The Ocean - Written by Robert Burleigh, and illustrations by Wendell Minor
This picture book will be a good beginning to introducing Amelia Earhart to a group of young readers. One of America’s first woman pilots, and one of our tragic mysteries in aviation, After 80 plus years, she still fascinates with her achievements and her stories. This particular book tells about Amelia Earhart’s hair-raising experience when she made her first trans-Atlantic flight, the first woman to do so. Wendell Minor fills the pages with tension in his paintings of the particular events of the story. It’s a good non-fiction adventure book, a model for those interested in adventures. The end papers show the plane and the map of the route, from Newfoundland to Northern Ireland.
Crows, Strange and Wonderful – Written by Laurence Pringle and illustrated by Bob Marstall
For such a brief text, this book gives basic information about the Corvus Genus, of which there are several species, including crows and ravens, jackdaws and rooks. It includes the intelligent behavior and main habits as well as habitat of these birds. For one just beginning to learn about these birds, the information given is good and the illustrations illuminate well.
Next: I've been asked to read and introduce a popular UK author to the US so am starting to read books about Hetty Feather by Jacqueline Wilson. The first one is titled Hetty Feather. I'll also still be reading some books nominated for the Cybils Poetry Awards-lots of fun! And I have Helen Frost's Salt, and of course, always some picture books!