Visit Jen at TeachMentorTexts and Kellee and Ricki at UnleashingReaders to see what they've been reading, along with everyone else who link up. Others join Sheila to share adult books at Book Journeys.
Come visit, and tweet at #IMWAYR. Thanks to Jen, Kellee, and Ricki for hosting!
A Night Divided - written by Jennifer A. Nielsen
I raced through this story, wanted so much to see it have a good end. You’ll need to read it to discover what happens to this family. A father and mother with two boys and a girl are separated when the father and the middle son cross to the west (before the wall was up) to see about immigrating. They were caught on that side, and could not return. I was nearly grown when the wall went up, and my family spoke about it often, although we didn’t have any personal connection to anyone in the east bloc. The Cold War was a terrible time for many. Jennifer Nielsen has written a good introduction to this time in our history that’s appropriate for middle grade kids. It is not too violent, although there is violence. It seems true to those who wished to stay, but forced to be loyal enough to the government that they often betrayed neighbors and friends. It is hard to believe how strong a twelve year old must be to do what this girl, Greta, in the story must have done. I did a little research, and found children who endured such hardships, although it might be difficult for us to imagine. Greta tells her story, her feelings, her terror, yet continues on to do what she feels she must. Luckily her older brother Fritz does join her in time to work at their goal to escape across the wall to the west. One thing I enjoyed very much was that Nielsen put appropriate quotes at the beginning of each chapter. In the midst of their secret plan for leaving, this quote was at the beginning of one chapter: “To begin is easy, to persist is art.” German proverb. It’s a story one shouldn’t miss reading, and sharing with others.
Lovabye Dragon - written by Barbara Joosse and illustrated by Randy Cecil
This is the first book when the little girl, so all alone in a castle, meets the dragon, so all alone, and finally they get together. The dragon finds the girl by following the trickle of tears spread by the little girl. The second book, Evermore Dragon, was just published this year, another adventure between friends. It’s a cute sing-songy story just right for young children to follow along when they meet, how it’s discovered that the roar wasn’t a giant, and wasn’t a monster, but the dragon that she wished for all along. The illustrations fill the page in grays and blues, with a touch of starlight, for it seems that most of these adventures happen in the night.
Wherever You Go - written by Pat Zietlow Miller and illustrated by Eliza Wheeler
There is much to celebrate in this story of taking off on a road trip. Written in rhyming text, the main character rabbit is told that roads will take you wherever you want to go, just open the door! The watercolor and gouache/black line drawings fill the page with the rabbit’s cycling adventures down roads, but each part begins with what roads “do”. First, they “go”. “Over a hill,/under a bridge,/ deep in a valley,/high on a ridge.” And as they “go”, the pictures show so many others outside, like an owl flying and some crocodiles fishing. The characters in this book are anthropomorphized. Throughout the book, we see all kinds of animals in activities like humans: riding buses, staying at a seaside inn, climbing mountains and visiting cities. And the definition of the road widens as the story moves along. Roads “bend, reach, zoom, curve, climb” and finally “remember” because they take you back home. The imaginative detail in the drawings is delightful, and the story itself a wonderful adventure.
Boris and Bella - written by Carolyn Crimi and illustrated by Gris Crimly
Nothing is more amusing than two neighbors who detest each other enough that they don’t even speak, but it’s funnier when it’s a witch and a vampire! Bella Legrossi and Boris Kleanitoff cannot bear to be even close to each other. Bella is the messiest witch in the world, and unfortunately lives next door to Boris, who cannot stand mess. It’s a predictable story of enemies that finally figure out, at a Halloween party given by Harry Beastie that there might be something they can both agree upon. Fun things fill the pages, bat mail carriers, bewitched broomsticks sweeping, and at the party, games like “bobbing for eyeballs”. The six year old I read this too didn’t “get” all the jokes probably meant for older kids, but she asked about them, and also wanted to read the book again. This is an older Halloween book I’ve not known before, and I’m so glad I’ve met Boris and Bella now.
The following two books belong together. In the backmatter of the second one, the author tells of an organization that promotes children’s literature featuring new arrivals. It is www.imyourneighborbooks.org.
My Two Blankets - written by Irena Kobald and illustrated by Freya Blackwood
A young girl tells of her move to a new country with her auntie, because of the war. The metaphor of her “old” blanket, holding the things on it she left behind--language, trees and plants, clothes--comfort her in her homesickness. One girl she sees at a playground befriends her by bringing “words” to help her learn, and then create a new blanket. She keeps the old, but now the new one comforts too. The loveliest line shares beautifully of how it must feel to land in a new place, without the words and landscape: “It was like standing under a waterfall of strange sounds. The waterfall was cold. It made me feel alone.” Freya Blackwood’s illustrations complete the images of this young girl’s experience. Seeing her sitting with her blanket as background, the memories depicted on the blanket, is one poignant scene.
I’m New Here - written and illustrated by Anne SibleyO’Brien
Here are three children from three different countries telling their stories in brief words, but the scary part of being all alone is so evident. “Back home I knew the language. My friends and I talked all day long. Our voices flowed like water and flew between us like birds. Here there are new words. I can’t understand them. The sounds are strange to my ears.” The scene is both happy and confused words fill another page. Can you figure out what the following ‘playground’ words are: “kum awn, hedz up, throat heerr, you mist mee, wun too”? Slowly, each finds a way to become part of the community, who welcome them too. The book acknowledges so well how hard it is to be a new person starting in a completely new community, will help children understand and be more empathetic to new classmates.
Finders Keepers - written and illustrated by Keiko Kasza
It’s a book for the pre-schoolers, a predictable book. A squirrel finds a little red hat, just right to place over the place where he buries an acorn. Unfortunately as soon as he leaves, the wind carries it away, only to be found by a bird who thinks it would make a fine nest. “Finders Keepers.” But then, something else happens, and you guessed it, “Finders Keepers”. The little ones will love guessing what, or who, might be next, and there is a surprise at the end.
Max the Brave - written and illustrated by Ed Vere
The simplest of pictures with black outlining tell the tale of Max the Brave, a kitten who is ready to take on chasing mice. The problem is big; he doesn’t know what mice look like. Young children will laugh at the silliness of Max’s search for a mouse. And when he tackles a monster, thinking it is a mouse, alarming things happen. It’s a funny book, just right for big chuckles from little kids.
Room for Bear - written and illustrated by Ciara Gavin
First, the endpapers are lovely, including the opening of a bear awakening and looking out his cave, ready for a new home. The ending involves a complete little house for ducks, yes, ducks, and they are just outside a cave. The story is what happens in between.
You wouldn’t ordinarily find ducks and bears living together, yet when you read this story, and discover all the wonderful things they do together, you’ll understand. In the beginning they try to enjoy each other’s company, but either the bear or the ducks don’t quite fit each other’s home. It’s a big problem! The bear finally leaves to find his own home, and there is a wonderful page that shows all the things he misses by not living with the ducks. Ciara Gavin paints loving pictures of this strange pairing, and you will love how their tough problem is solved.
Currently Reading: Jack: The True Story of Jack & The Beanstalk - Liesl Shurtliff
Next: The Girl On The Train - Paula Hawkins
I've also been trying to read Nimona by Noelle Stevenson, but the print is very small, so it's not an easy read. I like it so far.