Monday, November 18, 2019

Monday Reading - Special Books

              Visit Kellee and Ricki at UnleashingReaders and Jen at Teach Mentor Texts to see what they've been reading, along with others who post their favorites. Yikes, sorry this is so long! I wanted to share them all! 
             If you're going to NCTE, wishing you a marvelous time! 

Thanks to Candlewick Press for this copy!
        I've enjoyed reading and seeing so many books this year, from serious to humorous, from frightening to satisfying. And I am grateful to all the authors and illustrators whose words and art have landed in my lap. This book by Helen Cooper is one you don't want to miss!
         If you like a fantasy for middle readers and if you love just a few illustrations in chapter books, and if you like those tense, scary moments that make you stand up to take a wee break and pace around a bit before going back to the page, this is the book. The first time in the US, published in the UK a couple of years ago, I am so glad to have read The Hippo at the End of the Hall. It all revolves around a young boy, Ben, with a single mom, trying hard to make ends meet via a little shop above their basement apartment. An invitation arrives with the milk, delivered by bees. It's one from the Gee Museum, "Come Now or Come Never", and Ben, never before deceiving his mother, takes off to discover answers to questions he has held to, but never thought would be answered. His father was lost at sea. His mother won't talk about him. And somehow Ben keeps secret a dream (or was it?) from years ago where his father had taken him to meet someone, to visit, and at the end of the hall, was a hippopotamus! Ben certainly now wants to know more. After all, he has that invitation! 
         The book takes place over only a few days, but it fills one up with museum delights, often called "curiosities". There is danger lurking from greedy landgrabbers and a terrible rainstorm, plus a witch who may or may not be good. Animals can talk, yet only a few people hear them or listen. A few, like the hippo and an owl, stand with Ben no matter the danger! I adored every bit of this tale, would think it would please many young fantasy lovers and make a great read-aloud! Both text and pictures are by Helen Cooper.
          Helen Cooper's website is here! She has won the Kate Greenaway medal twice, for Pumpkin Soup and The Boy Who Wouldn't Go To Bed. In the author's note, Helen writes of the genesis of the story, her early fascination with museums. Among others, she highlights The Harvard Museum of Natural History. I was so excited because I have been there and I have seen the hippo! It is a fascinating museum, has a fabulous exhibit of glass flowers and sad-to-see, the last dodo.

        Margaret Simon and I have known each other for a lot of years, online! We met while blogging and continue to keep in touch in various ways. Margaret has published several books, most recently a beautiful book of poetry focusing on her Louisiana home place, the Bayou Teche. I love it and not only does it have beautiful poems but shares some prompts for writing and art. This time I'm sharing about the sequel to Margaret's first novel, Blessen
       Blessen LaFleur, now a sixth-grader, tells her story with all its meanders, just like the Bayou Teche. Despite the sorrow of losing her hen, Blue, in the earlier book and the tragedy of her father drowning while saving Blessen, she is happy with her new hen, Sunshine. As readers learn of the love she has for her chicken, Margaret also lets us know that this setting is an important part of the story, allowing Blessen to repeat the "snake" story, legend of how the Bayou was formed. Blessen is often outside, doing chores or playing. She says, "I imagine walking on the clouds with the treetops as my roof. The tall grass tickles my bare feet."   
         Blessen and her single mom live in a trailer. We learn about her grandfather, who also passed away recently. There has been sorrow in her life, but she is surrounded by a loving family, a grandmother and aunts. There is a 'for sale' home nearby and Blessen first notices a little girl playing, thinks she might have a new friend/neighbor. After a few days of being curious, she meets Harmony, a joy-filled seven-year-old. Blessen eventually figures out her new friend is homeless and now missing her mother. Blessen's such a loving child, and after a few days of play, she brings Harmony home. It doesn't last because social services arrive to take Harmony for placement in a foster home. What happens next to Blessen as she tries to save Harmony from a strange foster home? Together they call themselves "the guardians of nature." And what an adventure for a day they have!     
            Margaret deftly weaves the various parts of the story allowing Blessen tell what's happening, what she feels about her past, the fact that the father she had barely known and is now gone, was African-American. Her mother and her mother's family is white. While Blessen does tell about it, a concern in part is that she doesn't look like her mother with straight blond hair. Blessen's curls give her fits! That small thing gives us a peek inside, and realize she's a typical, happy, sometimes grumpy, 11-year-old who loves her chicken and her family. Her introspection shows a thoughtful girl growing up. She thinks about being a hero: "Isn't that what a hero is someone who tries to do the right thing at any cost?"             
           One final thing I loved is knowing that other important character, Harmony. She's a seven-year-old who's been living in a vacant house, but is a cheerful girl, happy to find her new friend, Blessen. Margaret shows this "bouncy" young girl so beautifully through poetry. When something big happens, she sings a rhyme! Here's one example: 

     Monkey see, Monkey Do
     We are together, me and you.
     swinging in the high gum tree
     Praying someone sets us free

           "Swinging in the high gum tree" is a fun inclusion in the midst of sadness. For a rather brief book, I found myself more and more involved, loving Blessen more and more, wishing for good times for Sunshine (along with some struggles), and of course, crossing my fingers for a happy outcome for Harmony. I enjoyed it very much.

          For all kinds of artists, those young ones who need oversight and those who have started, but need more ideas. In beautiful pages with many, many examples, Jeannie Baker has created a 'how-to' collage book to learn much from. For example, there is an introductory page to "paper" with her own example, a second double-page telling how to create a paper collection, ending with a 'how-to' play with paper. Jeannie includes similar pages for nature, the beach, and the kitchen! If you love to do art and want to learn more or want to work with students in this medium, this would be a marvelous addition to your art books! Thanks to Candlewick Press for the copy!

         I read and shared Nancy Vo's The Outlaw last year, and still remember the stark illustrations so beautifully created. Here again in her second of the Crow stories trilogy, Nancy writes that her art is done in "ink, watercolor and acetone transfer on Rising Stonehenge (a fine art paper), using newspaper clippings and fabric patterns from the 1860s to 1870s."  I wanted to share the full description because the illustrations are fabulous!
         Here in The Ranger, a ranger, named Annie, comes across a wounded fox, helping it to recover, but promising not to tame it. After recovery, it keeps close, and one day, the ranger too needs help. A bear attacks. After the help, Annie asks now if they are "even", belying the belief that friends do not keep count; it hurts feelings. It's a story told in brief words with illustrations that share more, one to talk about with other readers, a lesson of friendship. There is a bit of magical realism in this story which will bring much discussion. I love these books!

        I finally found RainCity Librarian Jane Whittingham's books at my library and they are darling stories, just right for younger readers! Both books are published as not quite board books, but with sturdy pages.

              Is it a book to start the day, preparing for a "wild" day, or to end it as a tired child, remembering all the wonderful things that happened. In poetry quatrains, Jane takes the 'wild one' in all the wonderful things that can happen in a day – hanging from the monkey bars, sliding down a slide, swimming. But Jane takes each action and compares it to an animal, like 'swimming like a guppy' or 'hopping like a hare' (at bedtime). All the way through the day, until finally sleep comes, this little wild one is having lots of fun, like she and those animals on the cover show. Noel Tuazon's soft watercolors bring the scenes to life beautifully. 
          This little girl, her younger brother and her mother venture out splashing like the ducks on a rainy, rainy day, covered with rain gear, They 'splish splash, splish splash, down the lane", find the stream where ducks swim, "quack quack, flap flap, Watch them go." Lighning brings them in quickly, ready for a cozy time with hot chocolate and painting. Painting what? Those ducks! Noel Tuazon illustrates this second book by Jane, again with his delightful soft watercolors.

              I finished White Bird by R.J. Palacio in one sitting. From the Goodreads blurb: "In R. J. Palacio's collection of stories Auggie & Me, which expands on characters in Wonder, readers were introduced to Julian's grandmother, Grandmère. This is Grandmère's story as a young Jewish girl hidden away by a family in Nazi-occupied France during World War II told in graphic novel form." As much as one can enjoy a story from the Holocaust, I did enjoy this. Knowing more of Palacio's character's backstory, this time more from his grandmother is good. The fact that it is Julian asking her for the story for a school project means Julian will be learning more, too.
          The story of the grandmother, a native of France, nearly caught in the Nazi net for all Jewish children to be taken from the schools, thinks quickly and hides in the school's bell tower, then saved by that "other" Julien. Thus, the subterfuge begins, with Sara, the grandmother, living in a barn loft for over a year. Julien is shown as the stronger character. Even crippled by polio, he continues to help Sara, getting to know her in daily secret visits, while his mother also visits with food and other needs. I liked the muted tones of the art by Palacio, inked by Kevin Czap. The subtle emotions shown and then changes of the two children as they grew older are beautifully done. This heartbreaking story came to life even more with the illustrations.
           Palacio ends with bringing the past together with today's challenges, showing the grandmother reading a current newspaper with news of the refugee families being separated and  gazing out the window at the Statue of Liberty with worry, perhaps connecting back to the quote from the prologue from George Santayana: "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."
          There is extensive back matter which includes an Afterword by Ruth Franklin, an Author's Note, a Glossary, a Suggested Reading List, and Organizations and Resources for further research, and a Bibliography.

I finally finished The Last Train to London by Meg Waite Clayton. You can read my full review here on Goodreads.  It is based on the true story of Truus Wijsmuller (aka Tante Truus), a member of the Dutch resistance, and her struggle to save innocent Jewish refugee children throughout Europe during the height of the Nazi regime's crimes against humanity Pre-World War 2. 

Now Reading: The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead. Next up may be Toll by Neal Shusterman!


  1. I remember trying to find Wild One when it first was published and having a hard time. I just was able to request it from my library and I went ahead and ordered A Good Day For Ducks, Too. Thanks for reminding me! Have a great week!

    1. They are simply wonderful, Jana. I am glad that you found them. Thanks!

  2. The Nickel Boys was heart-breaking to read, but it's an important and powerful book.

    1. I've had it for a while, and while I know it won't be easy, I want to read it! Thanks, Lisa

  3. Linda, you have written a wonderful review of Sunshine. I love Blessen and her sweet heart and am glad to finally get this new story out in the world. I'll be sending you a print copy. Some day we will meet face to face. So many hugs to give.

    1. Thank you, Margaret. Your book was easy to share, a beautiful story. I hope we do meet in person someday! Have fun at NCTE!

  4. Wow, out of all of your books, Wild One is the only one I've read!
    I need to read White Bird, but I still have not read the single stories from Wonder. One day I'll get to everything :)

    1. I always feel behind, too, Michele, & I don't work full time as you do! No worries, I'm trying to read what feels right for me, too. Have fun at NCTE! And at the competitions with your daughter!

  5. I want them all! These sound so good, but I'm especially excited to get my hands on Playing with Collage because of the young artists in my family. This looks fantastic! And oh my goodness, I'll have to see if you finished The Toll by Neal Shusterman. I just have to avoid any spoilers since I'm about to begin Thunderhead. :)

    1. No, I just started Toll. It's going to take a while! The collage book is really good, Shaye! Hope you enjoy it! Thanks!


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