If you haven't seen it, here is the 2015 challenge by Gathering Books. It's always fun to participate in another reading challenge. Check it out! I'm aiming for level four- over 35 award winning books!
Here's what I've read in the past week. Vacation, even with family visiting, offers lots of wonderful time for reading!
The Family Romanov – written by Candice Fleming
This has been a great book to read over break, with long stretches of time to digest all the information about the tragedy of Tsar Nicholas and his family. I use the word tragedy because in the way he was presented here by Ms. Fleming, he seemed weak and stupid to me. I kept hoping he would literally “see the light”, yet he clung to the advice of his beloved and trusted wife, Alexandra. And you know how touched, then heavily influenced she was by the “starets” (Russian work for prophet) also known as Gregory Rasputin. If it weren’t so terrible for millions of Russians who died of either starvation or the war, I might hold some sympathy, but the years under the Tzarist rule as well as then Lenin and Stalin were never kind to the ordinary citizens. The story is fascinating to read and contemplate. Amazingly, at the end, I find that some of this story is still not complete! You’ll need to read to discover what is still continuing.
Mountain Dog – written by Margarita Engle and illustrated by Olga & Aleksey Ivanov
I have a complaint about this verse novel by Margarita Engle; it’s too short! I enjoyed the way she put the story together, alternating the main character, a boy named Tony, with the experiences and feelings imagined, and told, by the other main character, Gabe, a rescue dog. Tony’s early life is filled with fighting pit bulls who win or die, and he is in charge of keeping track of the bets and money. His mother is going to prison for animal cruelty, and Tony is headed to live in the mountains to live with a great Uncle he’s never met, who is a forest ranger and a volunteer that helps find lost people in the mountains by using a rescue animal. His “mountain dog” is Gabe. There is so much to love about the story, Gabe has many wonderings from the beginning, he’s scared and lost, just not in the woods, but inside. Eventually he really is rescued by his Tio Leo and that wonderful dog, Gabe.
The community plays a small part in his changes, especially a new school friend, Gracie, and her grandmother. Margarita Engle slips in much information in subtle ways, like the small school that Tony attends is reminiscent of the one-room schoolhouses of long ago. Also, the book includes bits of information about those, like Tio, who escaped an island, nearly dying from the travel on a raft. There is much to discuss within the story. What a great read aloud it will make, with multiple ideas to discuss and beautiful language to share. Tony finds “stars that seem to be cradled by branches” and hears “an owl hoots in shivery air” while Gabe wants Tony to feel “the floating lightness of never-lonely”. “Fide Ganem” (trust the dog) is shared at the beginning, which is an ancient Roman search-and-rescue proverb.
Although the book is fiction, it is based on Margarita Engle’s personal experiences helping her husband, owner of search-and-rescue dogs.
Blizzard – written and illustrated by John Rocco
My family in Colorado survived such a blizzard as described by John Rocco when all of us neighbors had to dig out our own street, and we even had a sheepdog, just like in the book. I loved reading Rocco's story based on his own adventures as a boy in 1978 in New Hampshire. Using tennis rackets for snowshoes, he made it to the store to get needed supplies for his family and his neighbors. There are two double pages that open up and show his path through the neighborhood. I imagine many kids will love talking about this book, what they would do in their own homes, whether they think they could make it like John did.
The Book With No Pictures – written by B.J. Novak
Can’t wait to share this with some kids. It may not have pictures but it does have pleanty of funny words, words to giggle, chortle, guffaw, and laugh out loud over. I didn’t laugh very loud (I was in the library) but I started grinning, then at the end, had a big, big smile.
Lord of The Forest – written by Caroline Pitcher and illustrated by Jackie Morris
A baby tiger is born, and spends the beginning of his growing up on the search for the “lord of the forest”. His mother has told him that when all silence simmers in the trees”, the lord of the forest is on his way. As tiger searches, other animals proclaim that they are the “lord”, but the peacock and rhino are too noisy, and the elephant carries someone on his back. The tiger continues his search, as the author writes “his eyes were worlds of wildness”. It’s a lovely story of anticipation enhanced by full color paintings by Jackie Morris. Young readers will wonder and predict what the end might be.
Nana In The City – written and illustrated by Lauren Castillo
It’s fun for me to read books about grandmothers because I am one, and I enjoy seeing what others write about what grandmothers do. In this special book, whose illustrations reminds me of some earlier ‘looks’ of picture books, colorful and bold, a little boy visits his Nana in a large city which seems very loud and scary to him. It’s so loud he even struggles to go to sleep-noisy trains and traffic! And it’s scary seeing some strange people, some who are homeless. The first day, however, Nana gives him a cape, one we’ve seen her knitting just the night before, and special things happen. The scary and the noisy turn out to be “extraordinary” instead, a very good place to visit. You’ll need to read to see all the details of this sweet story.
Blue on Blue – written by Dianne White, and illustrated by Beth Krommes
A rhyming story pairs beautifully with the out of doors. Whether sunny day or rainstorm, every part is rhythm and rhyme! “Singing, swinging outdoor play./White on blue on sunny day.” shows a satisfying scene of the mother hanging out the wash, baby playing on blanket, and sister jumping rope. We see that they live either on the ocean or on a bay. The scenes change with wind and then rain, stormy weather, and father hurries in with the horses from plowing, pigs shelter under the tin roof. It’s so stormy that sister hides her head under a coverlet! At the end, calm prevails, but the story has shown us a beautiful day from dawn till bedtime, from sun to rain to moonlight. Beth Krommes’ woodcut pages are gorgeous, show so much detail on each double spread.
Next: There are so many books on my list, but for this final week of vacation, it may be one for adults. I have more than one I really want to read. What's your next book, perhaps the first book of 2015?