What a week! For a good part of the week, I feared I was going to have only board books and word books to report as "reading." It was one of those times when reading took a backseat to capitalizing on time with my young nephews (ages 2 and 5). But, alas, I managed to squeeze in a few gems.
What I Read This Week:
The Matchbox Diary, by Paul Fleischman, illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline
(Candlewick, March 2013)
A little girl visiting her grandfather has the opportunity to hear his stories and get to know her family's history through his "matchbox diary." Each of the collected matchboxes stores a small object that represents an significant moment in grandfather's immigration story. His granddaughter is inspired to document her own stories.
Wow. Just wow. Something about this book struck me, and it quickly jumped to the top of my list of favorite historical fiction picture books. The book is really an intimate invitation to experience grandfather's journey alongside the child. Objects that could be mistaken as meaningless (for example, an olive pit or a bottlecap) evoke emotion when paired with stories of what was endured by immigrants in their journey and while settling in America. Fleischman portrays a realistic recollection by the grandfather, and paired with the illustrations of Ibatoulline (whose work I also loved in Crow Call), the tales of history become "ours," too.
On a Beam of Light: A Story of Albert Einstein, by Jennifer Berne, illustrated by Vladimir Radunsky
(Chronicle Books, April 2013)
This book is a picture book biography of Albert Einstein that touches lightly on the youth of Einstein and emphasizes more heavily the power of an inquisitive spirit.
I suspect this book will resonate with students who can relate to the character of Einstein--those who are thoughtful, questioning, and imagining of possibilities. The book could be encouraging and inspiring to students who dream of non-traditional approaches to learning and learn best through experiencing and engineering their learning. The book paints a picture of Einstein as a tangible person with gifts, like us, but whose talents were exceptional.
Mouse was Mad, by Linda Urban, illustrated by Henry Cole
(HMH Kids, 2012)
When Mouse gets mad, he tries doing what other creatures do to emote, but the feedback he gets is that these things don't work for him. When he finally stops and is still to deal with his madness, the other animals become curious about his stillness. They try Mouse's approach with little luck.
You can't help but feel for poor little Mouse as he looks for a way to express his madness! With a series of animal actions (ie. stomping) that young readers can imitate (like Mouse!) this book is sure to win favor, and tucked away is a reminder to honor ourselves and our emotions.
Kepler's dream, by Juliet Bell
(Puffin Books, 2012)
Her parents are divorced, and she rarely sees her father, so this summer, Ella will spend months with her estranged grandmother (her father's mother) while her mother undergoes a stem cell transplant to treat her leukemia. Ella struggles to acclimate to life in Albuquerque in the home of her rigid and traditional grandmother. Ella's grandmother has a strong emotional attachment to books and stars, and when her prized copy of Kepler's Dream goes missing, Ella and her new friend, Rosie, go on a mission to find it. But what they ultimately find is so much more and may bring peace where relationships are broken.
Ella is a new friend of mine who will sit with me for a long time because of the way she makes peace with the imperfections in her world. She is a likely friend of many intermediate aged girl-readers. The symbolism of astronomy and Kepler's Dream is woven thoughtfully into the characters' plights. Many small messages reside within making it likely that most readers will come away with something that tugs at their heart. I'm eager to read this with some of my Breakfast with Books club members before the vote for Maine Student Book Award.
Zane and the Hurricane, by Rodman Philbrick
(The Blue Sky Press, February 25, 2014, based on an Advanced Reader Copy)
Zane's father, who died before he was born, had roots in New Orleans, Louisiana, and at the request of his great-grandmother, Zane visits in late August of the fateful year of Hurricane Katrina. A story of devastation and survival ensues when the hurricane strikes and Can Zane survive and make it home to his mother who waits in New Hampshire?
Everything about this book is vivid and alive. Philbrick captures the horrors and realities of New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in a way that will captivate readers and trigger emotions ranging from empathy to outrage. Zane's story is a story of survival that will keep the pages turning and the book will be passed frequently from the hands of one reader to another.
What I am Reading Next:
See, this is tricky. According to my "vacation TBR list" that I made with my students, I should be tackling
- The Literacy Teacher's Playbook, by Jennifer Serravallo
Zane and the Hurricane, by Rodman Philbrick
- Wake Up Missing, by Kate Messner
- The Spy Catchers of Maple Hill, by Megan Frazer Blakemore
All would be great options for my next read, however...
Fangirl, by Rainbow Rowell turned up under the tree with my name on it, and selfishly, I'd like to indulge.
So guess what? My students are about to learn something important:
TBR lists are constantly subject to rearranging and sometimes it's about going with what speaks to you!