Fish In A Tree - written by Lynda Mullaly Hunt
Is it enough to say that I read this book, with the exception of a few pages, all today? Yes, it's not very long, but still, it's been a while since I had a book I just could not put down. It's about Ally, her brother Travis, two classmates who become dear friends, and Mr. Daniels, a teacher. It's about friendship and allies, teachers who dig deeper, and about bullies (their needs too), bystanders as well as up-standers. Lessons learned, many. One is from a Grandpa, now deceased, whom Ally loved, whose words she remembers: "be careful with eggs and words, because neither can ever be fixed." Another is something Ally finally learns: "Now I realize that everyone has their own blocks to drag around. And they all feel heavy." Many rich conversations could be started from this book-a gem!
When Otis Courted Mama – written by Kathi Appelt and illustrated by Jill McElmurry
Cardell is just fine with his “perfectly good daddy, step-mother Lulu and little step-brother”, but likes having his “perfectly good mama” all to himself. Different suitors come and go, until Otis. Cardell waits a long time for his Mama to send Otis away, but that time doesn’t come, although a bit of a growl from Cardell does. This story by Kathi Appelt is going to be a wonderful addition to a school library for all those children who have to figure out that the step-parent is also going to be an okay member of the family. And for all children to realize there are different kinds of families. The story is also beautifully told, with authentic setting details from the desert (“a handful of ocotillo flowers”), and poetic descriptions that feel good (“When his perfectly good daddy howled, the stars shimmered and the moon beamed”.) The words are enhanced by McElmurry’s illustrations that make coyote life look a lot like human lives, except for the howling!
Magnus Maximus, A Marvelous Measurer – written by Kathleen T. Pelley and illustrated by S.D.Schlindler
At my state reading conference, I recently was lucky enough to see Kathleen Pelley present. She lives in my city, too, and what stories she told, of her cultural background (father was Irish, but she was born in Scotland), and what she remembered of the stories she was told growing up. And she shared inspiring quotes, some of each of her books, especially this one, which I purchased at the site. I can imagine using this for many lessons, the least of which is regular measuring. Magnus Maximus was so clever at his measuring and brave, too (the lion event) that he becomes famous, and has a statue created of him by the townspeople. He measures both regular things and unusual things. For example, he measures “the wobbliness of a jellyfish” to the “itchiness of an itch”. He is seen measuring who has the “floppiest of ears.” and “the stinkiest socks”. What happens to Mr. Maximus is a lesson all of us must learn, that sometimes there really is “too much of a good thing”. He needs something else, and that is what you’ll discover when you read the book.
Going Over – written by Beth Kephart
It’s appropriate that I’ve saved an article about the 25th anniversary of the Berlin wall coming down, which was last fall. I planned to share it with students, but found it just recently in a pile of papers. And I was in the midst of reading this book when I did find it. This book, reviewed with love and enthusiasm by Carrie Gelson was one I knew I would enjoy. I was just finishing high school when the wall went up, and spent much of my adolescence worried about the cold war and the possibility of atomic war. We also worried a lot about those in east Berlin. Like all historical fiction, Kephart tells a tale of heartbreak and triumph, and keeps the reader on a sharp edge all the book. There is beauty in her words: “When the magpies are out, they stripe the night.” And the background details of the workers shipped from Turkey to do the jobs that are needed, isolated and in need is a part of the fabric of the tale, too. Ada, a fifteen year old living with her mother and grandmother in the west, and the grandmother’s friend through the war and the terrible time after when the Russians came lives in the east, with her grandson, Stefan. Ada and Stefan are in love, have seen each other only 4 times a year since childhood, and want only to be together. Ada pushes Stefan to find a way to jump, the thread that carries the story all the way with such underlying tension that I almost didn’t want to know the end. “Will he end up safe in the west?” is the question.
Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, and the Fight for Civil Rights – written by Steve Sheinkin
I’m old enough that I know there was no mention in my history textbooks of this important part of our civil rights history. It saddens me to think I’d never heard of these brave men who did the right thing, and were punished because of racism for that action. Sheinkin tells this story of 50 men who joined the Navy during World War II to fight for their country, and, they hoped, to have the adventure of going to sea. They didn’t know that their superior officers would deem them unfit for anything but cleaning bathrooms and washing dishes in the mess halls, or for loading dangerous explosives, without training too. You’ll be shocked at the story, and intrigued by the details of this story, now written to keep it alive for our children to know and pass on. There are pictures enough to help imagine the scenario of the events, and of the men also.
Next: After this week I have a week's vacation coming, and so many books are in the pile. I just purchased the new Sharon Draper book, Stella By Starlight, so that will be one of them. And I have the NetGalley copy of Elizabeth Wein's new book, Black Dove, White Raven. I'm excited to have some s.l.o.w reading time!