Thursday, February 22, 2018

Brainstorm 135: Dog books for the Year of the Dog, plus some wild dog reads

I missed posting a Brainstorm because I was on a school trip last week, but I was planning on doing one on dogs in literature in honor of the new Chinese Year, the Year of the Dog, that started last week. I am trying to avoid using any of the iconic dogs of lit. So here are some of the lesser known (or new to the scene) dog books that go on beyond Lassie, Snoopy, Scooby, Pluto, Goofy, Odie, Spot, Biscuit, Ribsy, Clifford, Lady & the Tramp, and the Big Bad Wolf. And since I missed a week we're going to make this a longer post and tack on some extras, some of the more wild dogs of literature, foxes, wolves, and coyotes. Obviously, all of these are great reads for animal lovers, specifically dog lovers, so consider that be the target reader for every read.

Fiction Picture Books

Bogart and Vinnie: a Completely Made-up Story of True Friendship by Audrey Vernick, ill. by Henry Cole
Vinnie, a hyper-active dog who loves everyone gets lost and wanders into a wildlife park. There, he befriends Bogart, the grumpy rhino. What will happen to their friendship when Vinnie's family finds him?

This had me laughing quite a bit. Vinnie reminded me a bit of a family dog (and also the dog from Up). Cole worked comedic magic with his illustrations in this. And Vernick's twist in the way the story ended was unexpected and more humorous. Lots of fun. A must for animal lovers. Do a fiction/nonfiction reading pair by combining this with a real life interspecies relationship story. There's lots out there. You can also check out kids' observation skills and have them debate whether Bogart is happy with the way things turned out or not; see if they can find clues in the text and illustrations to back up their opinion.

A Dog Wearing Shoes by Sangmi Ko
Mini and her mom find a lost dog wearing shoes. They take him home and try to care for him until his owner can be found. When the little dog is claimed, there's only one thing for Mini to do.

This is a shameless plug for animal adoption, but it is cute and animal adoption is noble (as long as the family is ready for it). The illustrations are charming in their black and white with splashes of color.

Extraordinary Jane by Hannah E. Harrison
Jane is a glaringly normal dog in a family of extraordinary circus dogs. She can't do the things her parents or her siblings do, so she tries to find her special talent. The results vary from humorous to disastrous. Eventually, Jane and the circus master realize that Jane is best just being herself.

A spectacularly illustrated book about being ok with being "normal."

Fetch by Adam Glendon Sidwell, ill. by Edwin Rhemrev
Where do pet dogs come from? According to this book they come from a place at least nine sunsets away where dogs can do whatever they dream of doing. But if they get too adventurous and stray from home, some find they don't want to leave our world.

A cute and imaginative story about the life of dogs. It looks like a movie-tie-in book but as far as I can tell, it isn't linked to any movie.

A Greyhound a Groundhog by Emily Jenkins, ill. by Chris Appelhans
A celebration of sound with a greyhound and groundhog discovering friendship along the way.

This is one whopper of a tongue twister in text. In introducing the characters and telling of their romp, Jenkins has fun with the assonance and consonance of greyhound, groundhog and these compound words' word parts along with a few other similar starting or ending words. The illustrations are cute, and I'm sure kids will love hearing adult readers get tongue-tied reading this aloud.

Harold's Hungry Eyes by Kevin Waldron
When Harold's favorite chair goes missing, he goes out to rescue it and ends up lost. Besides being lost Harold has one more big problem, he is always super hungry. As he tries to find his way home the city starts turning into food items before his starving eyes.

A curious art style that combines ink illustrations with a collage of food photographs makes Harold's hungry journey home quite humorous for readers as normal things turn into food items of a similar shape. Definitely an imaginative and unique book.

I Love Dogs! by Sue Stainton, ill. by Bob Staake
A simple, colorful book that celebrates dogs of all kinds.

The repetitive refrain of this book, and abundance of things to look at in the illustrations make this a good one for beginning readers. Of course, it'll also be a hit with dog lovers, and language arts teachers could use it when teaching about adjectives. There's way too much going on in the illustrations to take in during just one reading. This is a book to be looked at again and again. Could also be used in an I-spy game.

Learning to Ski with Mr Magee by Chris Van Dusen
Mr. Magee decides that he and Dee should try skiing. He rigs up a basket for Dee to ride in on his back and heads for a small hill near their home to try things out before driving to the mountains. Skiing proves a bit challenging for Mr. Magee, especially when a moose and a ravine get in his way.

This book is in here for the sake of Dee. I could've chosen any of the Magee stories, but faithful Dee makes it through a lot in this story. Van Dusen's illustrations in this are amazing and hilarious, and it's all about the way he uses perspective. Keep an eye out for the milkman's truck, it likes to sneak into Magee & Dee's adventures.

The Perfect Dog by Kevin O'Malley
A little girl tries to decide which kind of dog would be perfect as her new pet.

The book repeatedly uses superlative adjectives with illustrations demonstrating these comparisons well. Great book when covering this in language arts. Also a good pick for families adopting a dog.

The Great Puppy Invasion by Alastair Heim, ill. by Kim Smith
The people of Strictville have an unprecedented emergency on their hands when puppies start showing up in town.

If you want to teach irony or hyperbole or farce to kids, this is the book to use. The people of Strictville are horribly afraid of the cute creatures invading their town and think the cuteness is all a ploy. And they take it so seriously, it is quite humorous. Of course, there's one brave boy in the town who shows the rest that they're blowing the situation way out of proportion. Lots of fun if you understand the way this is poking fun at juxtaposing cute puppies into a typical monster/alien invasion plot and the illustrations are fantastic.

Twinky the Dinky Dog by Kate Klimo, ill. by Michael Fleming
Twinky is a teeny dog and he's treated more like a toy or accessory than a dog. Twinky dreams of running with the big dogs at the dog park, but it isn't until he proves his ferocious heart that his owner starts to treat him like a real dog.

A sweet little story that shows that stature has nothing to do with heart, and ponders what it's like to be a dog treated like an accessory. Super cute illustrations and a fun concept. For a fun similar read of a misunderstood pet who saves an owner from would-be thieves, read this one with Crictor by Unger.

Lower Grade Fiction

Captain Pug: the Dog Who Sailed the Seas (Pug, #1) by Laura James, ill. by Églantine Ceulemans
Pug and Lady Miranda are going to a boating birthday party at a lake. Lady Miranda dresses Pug like a captain, but Pug is a bit afraid of water. He decides he needs to overcome his fear to make Lady Miranda proud, but first he needs to fortify himself with some courage in the form of food...preferably jam tarts. And while in search of victual fortification, Pug inadvertently sets himself on a seafaring adventure with Lady Miranda trailing behind trying to find him.

A cute animal story for lower grade readers. It's a little silly at times but also cute. Lady Miranda is a character and has two porters dressed in olden clothes in tow everywhere she goes. They all provide plenty of entertainment when Pug isn't on the page. Pug has further adventures as a cowboy and I hear he's going on safari soon too.

All Paws on Deck (Haggis and Tank Unleashed, #1) by Jessica Young, ill. by James Burks
Haggis and Tank are two dogs with grand imaginations. To beat boredom they climb aboard their pirate ship and let loose their imaginations on a grand pirate adventure.

Wowsers was this story loaded with homophones (aka puns)! If you're not into puns steer clear, but I've been noticing a resurgence in pun popularity with kids so I think the target audience will love it. They'll also love the abundance of full color illustrations. (One could argue that the extensiveness of the illustrations turn this into a graphic novel, but one could also argue that the layout of the text is in more traditional illustrated book format. Whatever it is, it's got lots of pictures.) Haggis and Tank's imaginations are grand things and take readers on one wild and crazy pirate adventure. It's a fun chapter book for kids just branching off into the chapter book world.


Copper by Kazu Kibuishi
Copper is an adventurous human and Fred is a cautious canine. Together they have all sorts of adventures, both mundane and out of this world. This is a collection of a bunch of short comic adventures, the longest only being a few pages long. The end of the book also has a step-by-step look at the way Kibuishi creates comics from rough sketched idea to digital files.

Kibuishi is better known for his graphic novels, but this collection of comics is great too. There's plenty of material both fun and whimsical, and sometimes even a little philosophical (I think Fred and Calvin would have quite interesting conversations). And the little piece at the end about how Kibuishi creates his comics is super interesting and informative. A nice guide for kids interested in making their own comics as it gives a healthy reality check along with great advice. Probably best enjoyed by middle grade on up though there's nothing in here bad for lower graders.

Middle Grade Graphic Novels

Laika by Nick Abadzis
This graphic novel fictionalized version of the story of Laika is told focusing on two people and one dog. First it focuses on Laika (originally called Kudryavka) from birth, to an unhappy adoption, to life on the streets, to life as a test dog for the Soviet space program. Secondly, it focuses on the man who designed Sputnik and Sputnik II. And thirdly, it focuses on a lady named Oleg who works for the Soviet's space program as the dog handler, who is brokenhearted when Kudryavka is chosen because she knowns that Sputnik II has no re-entry option other than burning up in the atmosphere and Kudryavka will not return from this mission.

Abadzis includes much fact and obvious research in this graphic novel. The only reason it gets fiction status instead of pure history is that he also imagines thoughts for Laika and some of the people involved. I have noticed quite the drop off in historical fiction interest among our students, so I'm quite happy to find good graphic novel historical fiction books, as those they will read. I can see this as being a great discussion starter with kids about whether animals should be used as test subjects. Both sides of the issue are somewhat addressed in the book. Obviously, those who don't like books in which the dog dies should avoid this one. But it is a good option for those studying the space race and the Cold War who want a Soviet perspective.

Robot Dreams by Sara Varon
Dog makes a robot friend for himself and takes him on a beach vacation. They both have fun until robot gets stuck laying on the beach after the water fun. Dog can't budge the robot, so he has to leave him. So we get to see what happens to the robot over the course of a year, and when things aren't really happening, what the robot daydreams happens. Meanwhile, the dog is doing his best to get the robot back, but circumstances are definitely against him.

This is practically wordless, the story is almost entirely told through pictures. Which is not a problem. They are a great way to get beginning and reluctant readers into reading habits. This is a cute story, and surprisingly doesn't quite end the way I expected. We'll just say it is bittersweet. That doesn't seem to be a problem with the student readers, though. This is constantly checked out. I'm pretty sure students would read Sara Varon's grocery list as long as she illustrated it. They LOVE her stuff.

Middle Grade Fiction

Frogkisser! by Garth Nix
Anya is the younger princess in the kingdom. She aspires to be a sorcerer when she grows up and delights in days burying her nose in books in the library. But when her evil step-stepfather turns her older sister Morven's beloved Prince Denholm into a frog, Anya promises to get him changed back. That becomes a bit more complicated when Morven switches her affections in the time it takes Anya to fetch the right frog from the castle moat. Soon the matriarch royal dog is sending Anya on a Quest to both find the ingredients necessary to change Prince Denholm back into a human and to seek aid in getting rid of her evil step-stepfather who obviously has designs on the throne and has just informed Anya he's shipping her off to boarding school...on the other side of the world and which requires an almost certainly fatal journey. With Ardent, one of the faithful royal dogs, Anya sets off with nothing but a recipe and some hastily packed items chosen by the royal dogs (who are loyal and loving, but not the best packers). As Anya heads out, word of her quests soon spread and she gathers a posse of creatures hopeful that the "Frogkisser" can change them back into their own shapes too and others eager to see the Kingdom of Yarrow's rights restored. But is a second princess whose education has been neglected up to such big jobs?

This has been slightly mis-marketed. It was being touted as a YA fairytale. But it 100% feels like a good ol' middle grade-aimed fantasy quest, not really anything in it that would push that up to young adult. Not to say that teens couldn't like this, just that it feels...umm safer than most YA. (And there's no mushiness at all. This is not a happily ever after with a prince kind of fairy tale.) It actually reminded me quite a bit of The Wizard of Oz and Wrede's Calling on Dragons in that a rather straightforward quest soon gathers a very hodge-podge group of travelers seeking help from the first quester's goal. There are also nods to various fairy tales along the way, most notably The Frog Prince and Snow White and the Seven Dwarves and Robin Hood (the Snow White twist was hilarious). Nix even mentions in the back that old classic fantasy tales by those such as Lloyd Alexander and Diana Wynne Jones were heavy inspiration for this. It shows. So go in expecting a middle grade fantasy quest with some fractured fairy tales along the way and you should enjoy it. It's fun and lighthearted. Yes, Anya's sorcerous step-stepfather is quite nasty but you're never overly worried. Ardent reminds me of Doug from Up and he provides much of the comic relief. He was definitely my favorite character, though Smoothie the otter who has been turned somewhat human is a close second. (And if Moatie the monster in the moat had gotten more time, he'd have been top. He was unforgettable.) I appreciate the growth Anya goes through along the way. She isn't a fluffy, overly sweet and naturally loving princess just throwing around niceness everywhere and has some realistically honest selfish desires, but she grows through the book. She's a refreshingly honest and more realistic princess. I also liked the concept that the royal dogs were the main guards of the royalty and the kingdom and were immune to magic (and can communicate with humans if they choose to) and that the otters are the royal guards of the waterways. (And the cats claimed to be independent but often helped protect the royalty too. How true to cat nature.) That was a fun new concept. Finally, I'll never think about magic carpets the same way again after the treatment Nix gave them. Don't take the magic carpet ride! All around, highly recommended to quest fans and fractured fairy tale fans. (And just tell the boy fantasy fans to ignore the cover and give it a shot.)

Duke by Kirby Larson
Hobie, a 5th grade boy in Seattle in 1944, is really plagued by the question of whether he is doing all he can to help the war effort. So far he's had to take over being the man of the house so Dad could go fly fighter planes in Europe, and he's just had to say goodbye to his best friend Scooter who is moving so his Dad can help build ships in Portland. Hobie makes sure to buy war stamps and help out with his little sister at home, but when someone suggests that maybe he should donate his beloved dog, Duke, to Dogs for Defense, Hobie thinks that may be too much. But the idea keeps plaguing him everywhere he turns. Mom says he's made enough sacrifices for the war, but Hobie starts to feel that maybe Duke could help make the war end faster. So he donates Duke, and immediately starts having second thoughts. In between plotting ways to get Duke back, Hobie gets to deal with normal 5th grade stuff...making friends, dealing with the class bully, and trying not to be annoyed too much by his little sister. Life isn't always easy, especially when you get telegrams saying your dad is now a Prisoner of War or letters saying that your best four-legged friend might be going into danger. Hobie finds he has some things to learn over that year about attitude and motives, sacrifice, and just a tiny bit of what it really means to be a man.

I completely devoured this book in one afternoon. It does have a slightly larger than normal font, but Hobie's day to day experiences on the home front keep you reading. He is impeccably normal, flawed, and sometimes awkward (all in lovable ways) driving you to want to know what this 5th grader (eventually 6th) gets himself up to and how he grows along the way. You also want to keep reading to make sure his dad and dog make it through the war ok. And I have to admit, Ms Larson surprised me with the outcome of the book on both those points. We'll just say she didn't take the typical route with the return of Dogs for Defense animals. (This is mostly based on a made for TV movie my siblings and I LOVED as kids called Chips the War Dog. And by the way, if you want more of a flavor of the Dogs for Defense program by following what the dogs went through this would be a great resource...if you can even find it around any more.) I loved many things that Ms Larson managed to work into Hobie's life to give a good picture of many aspects of life in America during WWII. A great historical fiction pick, and super pick for animal lovers. Note: If you are the easily moved to tears type, you may want to keep a box of tissues nearby while reading this. No dead dog…but, well, you just might need a tissue or two. If you like this story, Larson has several other WWII dog stories.

Jubilee by Patricia Reilly Giff
Judith was dropped off at her Aunt Cora's house on the island when she was quite young. Her aunt is loving and wonderful and calls Judith Jubilee, her celebration. But ever since then she has hardly ever spoken. Only in her special place can she say anything aloud. Which makes it hard to make friends. As the summer wraps up, Judith will find her life unexpectedly impacted by a dog, an unexpected friend, a new teacher, and her mother.

This is a short, simple but moving read about an upper elementary girl with selective mutism who loves nature and lives on an island off the coast of Maine. The island setting and her love of nature give this a comfy outdoorsy feel. The book makes it into this post for the dog who touches Judith's life. I absolutely love Judith's Aunt Cora. She is a wonderful woman. Judith's new teacher is pretty great too. The changes that come to Judith's life aren't quite as big as some may hope for, but they are moving her in a healthier direction mentally and socially so there is a sense of peace about the ending. Make sure you read the author's acknowledgements page. It is touching to hear that this is an ode to many of the students who stood out in Giff's years of teaching and helped her love doing what she did. That's pretty cool.

The Poet's Dog by Patricia MacLachlan
Two children are taken in by an Irish wolfhound at the start of a horrible winter storm. The dog has the unique ability to communicate with certain people - poets and kids. The children are delighted to meet this talking dog and take shelter in his master's house with him for the days the snow endures. As they get to know each other, the children learn about the dog, why his master isn't at home, and a little about themselves too.

This is a quick but poignant read (the dog would approve, he likes the word poignant). It tugs at the heart strings and manages to say a lot in less than 100 pages. It's a tiny bit sad, a tiny bit survival story, a tiny bit nostalgic, and a lot sentimental sweetness. Would be good for reluctant readers (since it is short), those who like winter survival stories, those who like feel-good stories, and of course, dog lovers.

Juvenile Nonfiction

Gobi: a Little Dog with a Big Heart by Dion Leonard, ill. by Lisa Manuzak
Gobi, a little stray dog is excited by all the people passing who want to play chase. She adopts one of them men running in a race through the Gobi Desert, and keeps up with him through the multi-day race. The two form such a great team she goes home with him to Scotland after the race.

What a crazy and touching true story about a little dog adopting a man! I don't think he could have asked for a better pet, either. He definitely needs a dog who can run long distances, and Gobi proved she can do that. The illustrations are the perfect blend of cartoon and realism; kids should be drawn in by both them and the sweet story. I can see the animal fans eating up the story. And of course, definitely the perfect read for dog lovers. (But parents beware. Your kids may start encouraging you to go run an extreme race in the Gobi in hopes of getting their own new pet.) There are adult and young reader chapter book versions of this story too for those who want to find out more details.

Stubby the War Dog: the True Story of World War I's Bravest Dog by Ann Bausum
Stubby is a tough little dog who adopted American soldier J. Robert Conroy during basic training. When Conroy deployed to Europe for WWI, Stubby snuck over with him and quickly earned his stripes by helping the unit as only a canine could.

Everyone loves a hero, especially one that's furry. One century later, Stubby continues to be a great WWI ambassador. This book is a nice "light" way to educate kids and preteens about WWI. It covers the basics but keeps the gore to the minimum. The dangers of war are kept real, as Stubby didn't even make it out unscathed, but kids shouldn't walk away traumatized. I really appreciate Bausum's honesty in the way she wrote this. With a famous canine veteran who enjoyed the spot light for years, all sorts of stories are out there about Stubby's exploits, both true and fictional. Bausum does a great job on outlining what is known for sure and what is conjecture, a fantastic model for an audience in the formative process of learning how to write reports and essays. (The author's Research Notes in back of the book are worth a read too. She tells how she first came across Stubby, and how she maneuvered the minefield of research with so many myths about Stubby circulating out there.) A good pick for lessons on WWI, or a non-fiction read for animal lovers.

Adult Nonfiction

The Dog Who Could Fly: the Incredible True Story of a WWII Airman and the Four-Legged Hero Who Flew at His Side by Damien Lewis
Robert Bozdech, a Czech airman flying with the allies, and his French pilot, had just escaped a crash into no-man's land between France and German lines when he stumbled across a starving little puppy in an abandoned farm house. Afraid the whines of the puppy would give away their position, Robert smuggled the puppy to safety with them and found himself a best friend for the war. Ant (later renamed Antis) was loyal to a fault. He and Robert had all sorts of escapades and adventures during WWII, and they both managed to survive to see the end. This is the story of their incredible friendship.

Antis is quite the adventurous canine and likely to melt more than a few hearts even from the distance of the past. His crazy loyalty to Robert is endearing (though sometimes frustrating). I felt there were a few times when the author went a little overboard in putting thoughts into the dog's mouth, but that was really my only issue with the book. It's a nice, heartwarming story about a guy and his faithful doggy.

I, Toto: the Autobiography of Terry, the Dog Who Was Toto by Willard Carroll
A look at the life of the iconic dog who appeared in The Wizard of Oz movie as Toto.

Ok, so I haven't read this one yet. However, I'm including it here because it is the most popular nonfiction dog story in our library. Toto, or Terry, is a winner with the students.

Bonus Brainstorm: Five foxes, a coyote, and two wolf books.

Fiction Picture Books 

Ooko by Esmé Shapiro
Ooko is a fox. He doesn't have any friends though, and he notices that other foxes have things called Debbies. He finally finds himself a Debbie, but Debbies aren't as fun as he thought. But never fear, Ooko does find a friend.

Ooko is a cute little fox who just wants a friend. I love how he mistakenly dubs all humans as Debbies and thinks all dogs are foxes. And the friend he eventually finds is quite cute too. Cute and fun for animal lovers.

Read the Book, Lemmings! by Ame Dyckman, ill. by Zachariah O'Hara
Foxy reads a book on lemmings and finds out they don't really jump off cliffs. Unfortunately, it seems the lemmings didn't read the book. Foxy tries to explain things to them, and tries to get them to read the book. But there is a problem.

I know, lemmings are not wild dogs. But Foxy is one of the kindest foxes you'll ever meet.  He's a patient and caring fox who is continually rescuing the lemmings and trying to help them out. Kids will be delighted by the silly antics of the lemmings. You'll learn what ditto means if you didn't know. Oh, and you'll also learn that it is important to know how to read and discover that lemmings don't usually jump off of cliffs (despite the common misconception). An educational and fun book featuring some cute little lemmings in an arctic sea port also being visited by a sailor fox and bear.

Nonfiction Picture Books

Coyote Moon by Maria Gianferrari, ill. by Bagram Ibatoulline
Follow a coyote mother one night as she tries to find food for her cubs.

Ok, let's put this right out there. Yes, the coyote gets a turkey dinner but all you see are feathers in her mouth. Some may want to avoid this book for that reason. Otherwise, it is a beautifully illustrated book about a nocturnal critter most kids in the United States will probably see in their lives regardless of where they live (I've personally seen more than one beside a major highway in a city). The back of the book includes further information about coyotes, where they live, what they eat, and life cycle patterns. I learned more than one thing about coyotes in this quick book. And the text flows beautifully. It reads much like a poem. Hand this to the animal lover who is ok with the predator/prey thing, and mentioning that, this would be a good book to use when talking about predators and food chains.

The Secret Life of the Red Fox by Laurence Pringle, ill. by Kate Garchinsky
Follow a vixen for one year to find out about the life cycle, habits, and habitat of the red fox.

This is GORGEOUSLY illustrated. It also has good information on red foxes for kids but the highlight is definitely the illustrations.

Graphic Novel

The Big Bad Fox by Benjamin Renner
Fox is a horrendously unsuccessful raider of the farm. To the extent that instead of stealing chickens he usually gets beat up by chickens and the other farm animals give him pity turnips as he hightails it out of there. Wolf can't get anywhere near the farm because the dog actually goes after him (the dog ignores Fox). So Wolf gets the grand idea to have Fox steal some chicken eggs, raise them for a few months, and then they'll split a meal of the tender chicks. The first part goes ok, Fox manages to get and hide the eggs from the farm residents. The second part also goes well, Fox hatches and raises the three chicks. But therein lies the problem to part three, Fox becomes a bit attached to the three chicks in the process. When Wolf tries to hold Fox to the deal things get interesting.

This was hilarious start to finish. From the way the farm animals treat the fox to Fox's mothering adventures to the mother hen's fox elimination training with the other chickens, it's super fun and quite entertaining. So entertaining in fact, the hilarity should stand up to multiple re-readings. And the humor is such that it should appeal to anyone from 5 to 95.

Middle Grade Fiction

Pax by Sara Pennypacker, ill. by Jon Klassen
As the war approaches, Peter's father is headed off to the front, Peter is headed to his grandfather's, and Peter's fox Pax is headed to the woods. Peter's father says that's what's best. But after abandoning Pax on the side of the road and arriving at Grandpa's, the guilt starts to overcome Peter. He realizes he can't just leave Pax alone in the wilderness. He's raised him from a kit. What chance does a tame fox have in the wild with a war closing in on his location? So instead of heading to school the next morning, Peter sets out to traverse the 300 or so miles to where they left Pax. But Peter's plans get waylayed by an accident, and he finds himself recovering under the care of an amputee former-soldier, a woman who has sequestered herself in the wild to find herself after PTSD. Healing from his injury, both Peter and Vola find the chance encounter also addressing injuries in their hearts. Meanwhile, Pax is trying to wait for his boy he knows will come back. He runs into a group of wild foxes who have their own opinions of humans. And the foxes know that the war is edging ever closer to their location. Will the boy and his fox be reunited before war tears them both apart forever?

The setting of this book takes some close observation and a bit of time to figure out. I eventually figured out it is set in a near future fictitious war over water between two nameless sides. So it is actually a very light dystopian/scifi futuristic read. The presence of coyotes (which only live in the Americas) and the mention of encounters with Arctic creatures eventually helped narrow down the location to somewhere in present day Canada or Alaska. I read one review that said this was historical fiction, but the presence of Ziploc bags and the location means it isn't any past war. This is speculative fiction. But speculative fiction so lightly and covertly done that it takes close observations to figure out it is such. The chapters alternate between Peter and Pax's points of view. Peter has a LOT of baggage from his past to work through. He's dealing with the death of his mother about five years before, a father who has anger issues (and the fear that he has the same), the coming war, and guilt over abandoning Pax. Any one of those things would have been plenty to work through in one book. It only works because Vola, the woman who takes him in after his injury, also has a mountain of baggage she's working through. She's a teensy bit ahead of him, and they are able to help each other sort some things out. There's a whole bunch of potential topics of discussion from their interactions from debating whether or not Vola did the right thing in not sending Peter immediately back to his Grandpa to which of them benefitted more from their time together. Vola's issues and the time with the foxes also brings up discussion topics related to war and its affect on everything from environment to animals to people. That said, the time with Pax is a bit lighter and gives readers a bit of reprieve from the intensity of hanging out with Peter and his issues. On the surface, this is a simple tale of a boy and his pet trying to find each other. Under the surface, it tries to tackle a whole slew of deep, hard topics from the ethics of war to how we avoid our own potential to hurt others. It doesn't promise to have all the answers, but it should get kids thinking. This is a good one to read with kids if you want to have some deeper discussions. So far students seem to struggle to finish this one on their own, but with some guidance I think it would be better. If you want a more light-hearted middle grade fox story, you might want to try Cinnabar, the One O'Clock Fox by Marguerite Henry.

Juvenile/Young Adult Nonfiction

Once a Wolf: How Wildlife Biologists Fought to Bring Back the Grey Wolf by Stephen R. Swineburne, photos by Jim Brandenburg
A look at the common perceptions of wolves in history, how the wolf was hunted out of much of the USA, and then how scientists started to study wolves and their impact on the ecosystem and changed their policies, moving towards reintroducing the wolf to Yellowstone Park.

I would love to see a revised edition of this with notes from the almost 20 years the wolves have now had at Yellowstone. Not that this isn't a good read as it is. It is a fascinating read. The historical notes on how rangers and scientists viewed wolves in the past and how their change in understanding came about was so well explained. There are great photographs and the text is very readable. It provides a very balanced view of predators and their importance in the ecosystem even though we sometimes view them as mean since they kill other animals. This moved up to one of my favorite Scientists in the Field books.
Note: Click on the title to see why this is probably best for middle school on up.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Brainstorm 134: Past YMA book award winners

Next week is award week in the kid lit world, so it seems a perfect time to look back at some of my favorite award winners. (I do not envy this year's Caldecott or Newbery selection committees in the choices they have to make this weekend!) There are many, many awards handed out at the Youth Media Awards. I don't have space to look at all of them, so I've picked four awards I appreciate and will share a few of my favorite books that have won each award…so far. If you'd like to see the full list of awards or watch as the YMAs are announced next week, check out this link.

Randolph Caldecott Medal - Awarded "to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children."

Tuesday by David Wiesner
The wordless and fantastic adventures of some flying frogs on a Tuesday night.

Target Readers: 

  • Art Lovers: Wiesner's art is absolutely stunning. It's no wonder he has several of these medals and honors on his books.
  • Fantasy Lovers/Imaginative Readers: Wiesner's story literally lets imagination take flight. I haven't met a reader yet who doesn't at least smile at the antics of these frogs and the people and other animals in the town.
  • Wordless Book Fans: I think this book can take full credit for making me fall in love with wordless books. It is one of the first I remember coming across, and it spurred me to go out and hunt down more. There are so many great ways they can build reading and language skills with few to no words (this does have one very short sentence to set the stage). 
  • Humor Fans: As alluded to, the antics of the flying frogs are great comic material.

Grandfather's Journey by Allen Say
Say tells the story of his grandfather, who left Japan and travelled the United States. His grandfather was so enthralled with the country he returned to live in California after getting married in Japan. But after a while, his grandfather longed for Japan and returned where eventually his grandson was born to whom he passed on his wanderlust.

Target Readers:

  • Historical Fiction Fans: See both Japan and the US change over the 1900s.
  • Immigrants/Third Culture Kids: A fantastically illustrated story of how travelers, immigrants, and third culture kids can never quite feel 100% at home. A superb choice for kids (or adults) who may wonder where home is or in which culture they belong.
  • Art Lovers: Superb, realistic illustrations make you feel like you've been to the places Say's grandfather went.

Three more Caldecott winners I love:

A Sick Day for Amos McGee by Philip C. Stead, ill. by Erin Stead
Amos McGee works at the zoo and takes good care of his animal friends meeting their unique needs each day. So when Amos is sick, his animal friends come to his house and take care of him.

Locomotive by Brian Floca
Take a ride on the Transcontinental Railroad when it was brand new. Meet the men who work the train, see how the train works both mechanically and for the passengers' needs, and take a gander at the scenery that was passed through.

Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey
The classic picture book about a family of ducks in Boston.

John Newbery Medal - Awarded "to the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children." (And if you don't know much about the man for whom the Newbery was named, check out the 2017 picture book biography about him, Balderdash!: John Newbery and the Boisterous Birth of Children's Books by Michelle Markel, ill. by Nancy Carpenter.)
Oh boy, there are so many good Newbery winners (which makes sense) I'm having trouble choosing. I've decided to share three that both I and the students I work with love that have come out in the past ~20 years, and then one of my favorites from when I was in the target age group.

The Giver by Lois Lowry
Jonas' idealistic world is shattered as he is trained to become the next Receiver.

Target Readers:

  • Dystopia Fans/Scifi Fans: I can always tell when 6th grade starts reading this each year as there's then a rush for the rest of the series and the middle grade dystopia shelf in the library gets cleaned out. I credit this book with creating many dystopia fans.
  • Building Social Awareness: I love that dystopias often get kids aware of real social issues in their world in a way that makes them eager to make a difference.

The Crossover by Kwame Alexander
Joshua and JB Bell are right on track to follow in their father's pro basketball footsteps, or even blaze past them. They're currently leading their middle school basketball team on the road to the playoffs, just a few more wins and the championship is theirs. But life gets a little rocky for Josh, aka Filthy McNasty, when his twin gets a girlfriend and his father starts having health problems. Josh has to deal with these feelings of anger welling up in him before they ruin his basketball season or even worse, his family.

Target Readers:

  • Sports Lovers: Basketball stories are not all that easy to come by for middle graders. This filled a needed gap when it came out.
  • Reluctant Readers: A lot of the readers I see picking this up are reluctant readers, but they will eagerly devour this one and Kwame Alexander's soccer story Booked. The novel in verse format makes the pages fly by and even very good readers will feel better about themselves for getting through a book so quickly.

The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill
A story about a town trapped in a dark tradition, a yearly sacrifice of the newest born babe, a boy named Antain who cannot abide with these traditions, a mother whose sanity flies away, a witch, a tiny dragon, a monster, and Luna, the sacrificial baby girl who gets accidentally filled with magic. We watch as Luna grows up, and her adopted family has to figure out how to handle her magic. We watch as Antain grows into a man troubled by his town's traditions until the day it is his own child about to be sacrificed, and something must be done. Most of all, it is a story warning of the dangers of bitterness and trumpeting the power of hope and love.

Target Readers:

  • Fantasy Fans: The magical world plus the tiny dragon in this fully satisfied all my desires as a dedicated fantasy fan. 
  • Fans of Intricate Writing: The plot line of this is rather complex for a middle grade novel, modeling some great writing.
  • Those Who Need a Dose of Hope: The message in this story is so powerful and important, you cannot shut the covers unmoved. 

The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin
The reading of a will sets off a complicated mystery/game. I don't actually remember when I first read this as a child, but I do remember loving the mind games and mystery very, very much.

Target Readers: 

  • Mystery Fans/Puzzle Fans: Raskin's Newbery winner is a perfect read for those who love who done its and puzzle-filled reads like Mr. Lemoncello's books.

Three more Newbery winners I love:

Moon over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool
Moon over Manifest is primarily about healing wounds and finding home. It does so by following the stories of several of the people in Manifest, a mining town in Kansas that is made up of a lot of immigrants. The book is happening in 1936, following the story of Abilene Tucker, whose daddy is a drifter and sent her to Manifest for the summer. In her quest to get to know her daddy, she learns a lot about the town through the stories of Miss Sadie, old newspapers, and interactions with various townspeople. Most of the stories take the reader back to Manifest in 1918. WWI, flu epidemics, racial issues, the corrupt and oppressive mining operation and a mixture of moonshine and "elixir" all are involved in that storyline. All the stories, even those seemingly unrelated, cleverly come together at the end.

The Whipping Boy by Sid Fleischman, ill. by Peter Sís
A prince and a pauper tale in which a bratty prince and his whipping boy learn important lessons when held by outlaws.

The Door in the Wall by Marguerite de Angeli
A young man in Medieval times who is crippled in a fall learns that he isn't completely worthless despite his disability.

Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Medal - Awarded "to the author(s) and illustrator(s) of the most distinguished informational book published in the United States in English."
This is an award I really didn't know about till recently. I'm still working on reading many of the past award and honor recipients. But so far, seeking out Sibert Medal and Honor winners has been a surefire way to find great nonfiction books. I like that it helps bring readable nonfiction to the attention of students who might otherwise just discount these books because they are "boring" nonfiction.

Kakapo Rescue: Saving the World's Strangest Parrot by Sy Montgomery, photos by Nic Bishop
Kakapo are flightless parrots that live in New Zealand. With less than 100 kakapo known in existence, they are in grave danger of extinction. Sy Montgomery and Nic Bishop take readers to visit these rare birds and the scientists and volunteers trying to ensure they make a population recovery. Through a 10 day trip, readers get to know much about the birds, some individual characters Sy and Nic meet, and the joys and heartaches of the scientists working with these birds.

Target Readers:

  • New Zealand Fans: Travel to a very remote part of New Zealand in this book few get to see.
  • Bird Studiers/Endangered Animal Awareness: Birders and animal activists should geek out over this strange birdy.
  • Science Teachers: If you cover ways to help an endangered animal population recover, this study is an interesting one to include.
  • Nonfiction Fans: If you're looking for engaging nonfiction, Sy Montgomery & Nic Bishop form a team that do a fantastic job of making interesting text and amazing photos that will draw in even reluctant nonfiction readers.

The Wall: Growing up behind the Iron Curtain by Peter Sís
Peter Sís has created a unique autobiography of his life growing up in Czechoslovakia during the Cold War. As he says in the afterward, "I find it difficult to explain my childhood; it's hard to put it into words, and since I have always drawn everything, I have tried to draw my life -- before America..."

Target Readers:

  • Memoir Fans: The blend of drawings and words to tell his story makes it all the more powerful and poignant. An interesting glimpse into life under Communism for kids, or for that matter, people of any age. 
  • Art & Life under Communism Studiers: The illustrations in this are highly symbolic and could be used in art or history class to be analyzed for their subtle messages. (As Sís explains, artists under Communism had to be masters of subtle messages.)

The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus by Jen Bryant, ill. by Melissa Sweet
A picture book biography of Peter Mark Roget. The book starts with Roget's childhood and follows him through to successful publication of his thesaurus in adult life. A very nice timeline with further details of Roget's life is provided in the back of the book along with informative notes from the author and illustrator.

Target Readers:

  • Picture Book Biography Fans/Nonfiction Fans: A very informational and beautifully illustrated biography of a fascinating man.
  • Word Lovers/Language Arts Teachers/Science Teachers: Roget was also an accomplished scientist as well as a word lover. An interesting man to highlight in language arts or science classes, and kind of challenges that common conception that you have to be math/science OR a writer/creative person.

Schneider Family Book Award - Gives out three awards in the division of Teen, Middle School, and Children's Book to "honor an author or illustrator for a book that embodies an artistic expression of the disability experience for child and adolescent audiences."
This is another award I've only known about for the past couple years. I love the way that it recognizes books that build empathy in readers! I'll share one favorite for each of the divisions.

The Running Dream by Wendelin Van Draanen (Teen Schneider Award winner)
Jessica is a runner. She lives to feel the wind in her face and the thrill of crossing the finish line. So losing a foot in an accident feels like the end of the world. In fact, she sometimes wishes she could trade places with the girl who died in the accident and possibly had it easier. But in the midst of despair and grief, Jessica's family and best friend Kayley will NOT give up on her or let her wallow in grief. Once Jessica gets out of the hospital, Kayley practically drags her out of the house and back to high school, even though Jessica is scared of how people will look at her now. But being different turns out a great way to find out who really cares about the real her, like her track team that gives her an unexpected dose of hope by deciding to try and raise $20,000 for a special running leg so Jessica can someday live that running dream she has every night. And there's also Rosa, a math whiz and super wise friend who happens to have cerebral palsy, and who ashamedly, Jessica had always totally ignored before the accident. Beyond learning some important things about herself, Jessica realizes that people like Rosa and herself want to be known and loved for who they are, not for their conditions, and she decides to use the platform her accident has given her to raise awareness of this in her town.

Target Readers:

  • Non-mushy Contemporary YA Fans: I actually get a fair amount of requests for a non-mushy realistic YA read, and this is my go-to recommendation. So far, everyone I've given this to has loved it, and that's a fair number of readers. 
  • Amputees & Cerebral Palsy Understanding: If you want to better understand those who have recently experienced an amputation or who have cerebral palsy, pick this one up.

Close to Famous by Joan Bauer (Middle School award winner)
Foster is going to be the first kid on Food Network. She is an artist in the kitchen. She may not have a way with written words (she only managed to pass 6th grade by the skin of her teeth), but she has a way with ingredients. She also happens to be trying to make a place for herself in Culpepper, WV after she and her mom ran away from Memphis to get clear of her mom's ex-boyfriend. He is nowhere near the stellar character her dad was, but her dad died in the Iraq war several years ago. There in Culpepper, Foster meets Macon a height challenged boy who is going to make documentaries (starting with one about how the new prison in Culpepper is not creating all the jobs it promised), Miss Charleena a Hollywood star taking a break in her hometown, Mrs Perseverance who is trying to save the church from being sold and keep open a place to help out families visiting prison inmates, and a couple other characters trying to make ends meet and find their dreams.

Target Readers:

  • Contemporary Fiction Fans/Foody Fans: Let's be honest, the cupcakes on the cover are what make most people pick this one up. There is plenty in here to satisfy the foody fans. The main character and the zany but real-feeling people in the town are the fun that continues to draw readers further in.
  • Reading Disabilities: Foster puts a cool and relatable face to reading disabilities.

A Boy and a Jaguar by Alan Rabinowitz, ill. by CáTia Chien (Children's book winner)
Alan is a stutterer. The only times he can speak clearly are when he is singing or when he is talking to animals. Alan loves animals, he talks to his pets every day. One day, he promises the jaguar at the zoo that he'll work to find his voice so he can help get the jaguar a better situation. Eventually, Alan does find his voice. He is still a stutterer, but he learns things to help him speak more clearly. That doesn't change his love for animals, and he goes on to become a naturalist and help create the first jaguar sanctuary in Belize.

Target Readers:

  • Picture Book Autobiography Fans/Animal Fans: An inspiring true story about a boy who overcame his disability by embracing it and realizing it makes him who he needs to be. Also an inspiring book for kids who dream of working with and helping animals.
  • Stuttering: This book is all the better for helping readers understand stuttering since it is true.