Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Brainstorm 149: The Power of Chalk, a Crayon, or a Pen

Art and imagination can be powerful, and there are many books which celebrate this. Here are a few books which all feature drawings that do a little more than just decorate the page. (I think you'll get the picture after reading about a few of the books.) Many of these would make great compare/contrast opportunities when read together, and of course they all celebrate the power of imagination and an art instrument in your hand.

Picture Books

Bad Day at Riverbend by Chris Van Allsburg
There is something mysterious happening to the poor folks of Riverbend. Strange lines and squiggles are appearing around town. The townsfolk are trying to get to the bottom of this strange phenomenon while readers eventually get a special perspective the townsfolk are missing.

Recommended Readers:

  • Anyone/Unique Story Fans: A book really anyone should enjoy. I've never read a plot quite like this anywhere else.
  • Mystery Fans/Observation Skill Builders: Hand this to would-be sleuths and readers practicing their observation skills and see if they can figure out what is going on before the reveal. 
  • Light Disaster Story Intro: Also would be a good intro to light disaster fantasy/scifi tales.

Chalk by Bill Thomson
One rainy day, three kids find a toy dinosaur with a bag of chalk in its mouth. One of the girls takes a piece of chalk and draws a sun. All of a sudden the real sun shows up in the sky and the rain stops. The other girl grabs a piece of chalk and draws butterflies on the ground, and suddenly the air is filled with brilliantly colored, living, flying butterflies. Then the little boy takes a piece of chalk and with a mischievous smile draws a T-Rex. He doesn't smile for long though, as the T-Rex comes to life and starts chasing the kids around. Thankfully one of them grabs another piece of chalk and with some quick thinking, solves the problem

Recommended Readers:

  • Wordless Book Fans/Art Fans/Imaginative Reader/Problem Solvers: Hand this to wordless book fans, amazing art fans, readers with great imaginations, and those who want to practice their problem solving skills (How would they stop the T-Rex?).

Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson
Harold’s purple crayon takes him on some amazing adventures.

Recommended Readers:

  • Purple Fans: Purple lovers will likely grab this one just for the profusion of purple inside.
  • Imaginative Readers/Art Lovers: Readers with great imaginations will enjoy seeing where Harold's crayon takes him, and art lovers should enjoy the message that art can take you anywhere.

Journey Trilogy by Aaron Becker
Magical chalk takes a girl in the first book, and others in later books, on magical journeys to fantastic new places.

Recommended Readers:

  • Wordless Book Fans: This series is completely wordless and open to a variety of activities such as getting pre-readers to tell the story using the pictures clues.
  • Imaginative Readers/Fantasy Fans/Amazing Art Fans: All three books take readers to fantastic new places that will make their imaginations soar. And the artwork is amazing. (Journey even won a Caldecott Honor for its artwork.)

Lines by Suzy Lee
What starts as a wordless book featuring a single ice skater making lines on pristine ice turns into something else when the skater falls and the artist gets frustrated.

Recommended Readers:

  • Winter Sport Fans: Ice skating fans and winter sports fans should enjoy this for the fun with ice skating. 
  • Perfectionists: Perfectionists, especially artists who are perfectionists can walk away with a little more from the story as it is a subtle commentary on the potential beauty and even fun in mistakes they may be tempted to throw out. 
  • Wordless Book Fans/Art Fans/Imaginative Readers: And of course, a good pick for wordless book fans, art fans (Suzy Lee does so much with just a few lines!), and readers with great imaginations.

Mina's White Canvas by Hyeon-Ju Lee, translated by Mi-Kyoung Chang
Mina creates a snowy landscape with her white crayon that comes to life. She then goes out to explore and uses her crayon to help free some new friends.

Recommended Readers:

  • Kindness Advocates: The story has a good moral that kindness creates bonds of friendship. 
  • Imaginative Readers: Another good one for readers with good imaginations. What do you see in a field of white?
  • Korean Lit Fans: Have you every wanted to try some Korean lit? This was translated from Korean.
  • Animal Story Fans/Winter Story Fans: A cute winter tale featuring some delightful animal friends.

My Pen by Christopher Myers
The power of a pen is explored in this celebration of imagination and creativity.

Recommended Readers:

  • Art Classes/Artists/Art Fans: This is a fantastic book for art classes and those looking for some art inspiration. Watching Myers with his creative pen makes readers just itch to pick one up themselves. And for those who would rather look at art than create it, it also provides a feast for the eyes.

Middle Grade Fiction

The Rithmatist (Rithmatist, #1) by Brandon Sanderson, ill. by Ben McSweeney
Joel wants to be a Rithmatist, a person who can make chalk circles, lines, and drawings come to life. He knows more than most teens his age do about Rithmatics. He can draw all the circles and stuff, but he missed the 8yr old ceremony and never became one. That doesn't quench his thirst to know as much as he can about Rithmatics, but there's just one problem...only Rithmatists are allowed to take Rithmatic classes. So Joel comes up with a hair-brained scheme to get to do an independent study with one of the Rithmatist professors at the academy he attends and his mother works for. But things get more serious when Rithmatist students start turning up missing with evidence of foul play. Can he and Professor Fitch figure out what is going on before it incites political problems or even war?

Recommended Readers:

  • Fantasy Fans/Reimagined History Fans/Mystery Fans: Sanderson has come up with a fun re-imagined America of ~100 years ago with fantasy and steampunk elements, and enough mystery to keep you tearing through pages, so definitely recommended to fantasy fans, reimagined history fans, and those looking for an interesting magical world. 
  • Patient Sequel Waiters: Not recommended for those who can’t patiently wait for the sequel. Sanderson is promising one, but as yet the publication date keeps getting pushed back for one of his zillion other series. (But those who like this book can happily explore many of Sanderson’s other works while waiting.)

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Brainstorm 148: Building readers' cultural intelligence through books

In today’s world it is really important to have cultural intelligence (often abbreviated as CQ), an understanding of cultural differences and the ability to bridge those differences respectfully. The beginning of the school year at an international school, such as where I work, is a time when cultural differences often jump out to new students and teachers. (And even those who have been in this setting for a while.) Here are some books that can help build cultural intelligence or at least open the discussion about needing to build cultural intelligence.

Picture Books & Juvenile Nonfiction

We Eat Dinner in the Bathtub by Angela Shelf Medearis, ill. by Jacqueline Rogers
Harris invites his friend Josh over for dinner. As the friends talk, it becomes clear that their two families use the various rooms in their house for very different things.

Target Readers: Recommended for those looking for a starting point for talking about different ways different families or cultures do things, an intro to reading plays (because it has pictures of the character talking in front of the text, much like the way a character's name is written before text in a play), and those who like hyperbole and humor.

Dear Primo: a Letter to My Cousin by Duncan Tonatiuh
One cousin in a big US city and one cousin in a rural Mexican village exchange letters about their everyday lives.

Target Readers: Recommended for readers who want to build their CQ, kids who are starting a pen pal relationship, readers who like stories about realistic kids, and readers who like stories based on authors’ experiences (make sure you read the author's note on being a citizen of both Mexico and the US).

At the Same Moment, Around the World by Clotilde Perrin
Starting in Sengal, go around the world and investigate what people are doing in different time zones and countries at the same moment.

Target Readers: Recommended for readers working on their CQ, curious readers, readers who want to check out books in translation (this was originally published in French), and readers studying the concept of time zones and time measurement. (There are simple but sufficient notes on the development of time pieces and time zones in the back, as well as a fold out map showing the locations of all the people and places mentioned.)

The Way Home in the Night by Akiko Miyakoshi
A little rabbit is carried home at night, noticing the various activities of others and while going to bed she imagines what each of them must be doing at that moment.

Target Readers: Recommended for a bedtime read aloud, for animal lovers, those curious kids who wonder what strangers do after they’re out of sight, and anyone who loves enchanting illustrations. Oh, and if you’re looking for Japanese books translated into English, snatch this up too.

Houses and Homes by Ann Morris, photos by Ken Heyman
A survey of houses from all over the world, the different styles they can take, places they can be, and materials they are made from.

Target Readers: Recommended for social studies classes, readers building their CQ, curious readers, and budding architects.

Birthdays around the World by Margriet Ruurs, ill. by Ashley Barron
A survey of 15 different cultures around the world and how a child there would celebrate their birthday including any special traditions and foods. In the back of the book is a glossary and pronunciation guide to foreign words and phrases that appear, like how each culture wishes someone a happy birthday. The book includes a broad range of different traditions from personal birthday parties, to cultures where you give gifts instead of receive them, to cultures where a personal birthday isn’t celebrated as much as a certain time when everyone turns older.
I received an ARC of this title from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Target Readers: Recommended for readers building their CQ, little foodies (you get introduced to special celebratory foods in each culture), and curious readers.

Food Like Mine by DK Publishers
A survey of the main food staples around the world. Primary focus is given to the top four staples: rice, wheat, corn (maize), and potatoes. Each staple gets a couple spreads on facts about that food, how it is grown and harvested, the varieties available, and various sample dishes made with it around the world. Then three to four recipes from around the world are provided with step-by-step photographed cooking/baking instructions. The end of the book includes informational pages and recipes for honorable mention food staples: dairy, chicken, sweet potatoes, chickpeas, and plantains.

Target Readers: Recommended for readers building their CQ and their international taste buds, budding chefs, those studying food nutrition (there are lots of interesting facts about the food staples included), and curious kids.

Middle Grade Fiction

The Nameless City (The Nameless City, #1) by Faith Erin Hicks
Kai has just come to the city to meet his father and train with the Dao forces. So far, he's lived with his mother who is a tribal leader. The city is huge...and rather complicated. It has been conquered so many times that if you ask ten people on the street what it is called, you will get ten different names. The city is coveted for its strategic location for trade, and in its history has regularly changed hands. The Dao are the most recent conquerors and have held the city for thirty years, longer than anyone else. Kai's military leader thinks the Dao will only be able to continue to hold the city by increasing their army strength. Kai's father thinks they should form a council of all the different people groups' leaders to maintain peace. As Kai goes into the city on his own and meets Rat, a girl of the streets and part of the people who've stayed in the city through all the changing conquerors and tend to hate the Dao, he begins to see the Dao and political ideas from multiple perspectives. Their friendship becomes vitally important when assassins start plotting to kill the emperor and Rat overhears them.
Note: Some violence

Target Readers: Recommended for readers building their CQ as this provides an opportunity to see prejudice and social injustice through new eyes in a way that points out how important it is to move past these issues for the better of everyone. Also a great pick for graphic novel fans, mystery fans, and fantasy fans. Series fans will be happy to know there are currently two books in this series with a third coming out soon.

The City on the Other Side by Mairghread Scott, ill. by Robin Robinson
Isabel is a poor little rich girl in San Francisco just after the big earthquake in the early 1900s. She has everything she could want, except her parents’ positive attention and love. She stumbles across the Veil one day into the fairy world and finds herself in the middle of a fairy war between the Seelies and the Unseelies. Isabel suddenly finds herself tasked with taking an important necklace to someone in the city named Miyori for the Seelie forces. The Unseelies are fast on her trail, and only the necklace’s power and Isabel’s new friends, a human boy named Benjie and a fairy named Button, are there to help her in an unfamiliar version of San Francisco.
I received an ARC of this title from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Target Readers: This is a good one for seeing the importance of cultural intelligence in an imaginary situation that is easily translated to real life. Also recommended to fantasy graphic novel fans, stand alone story fans, and those who want to accidentally learn a little bit about the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake (there’s a little educational afterward with a quick summary of the real history of San Francisco in the back).

Heart of a Samurai by Margi Preus
Manjiro was fourteen when he set out with four friends on a fishing trip that went epically bad. They were swept away from the shores of Japan in a storm and shipwrecked on a deserted rocky island. Eventually an American whaling vessel spotted and rescued them. Japan had strict isolationist laws at this time, and Manjiro and his friends knew they'd never be allowed to return home. The captain of the whaling ship was kind and fair, and gave the refugees safe passage to Hawaii. During the trip, Manjiro picked up enough English to communicate and was dubbed John Mung by the crew. He quickly took to sailing and was spellbound by all the things there were to learn and see in the world. When his friends stayed on Oahu, Manjiro decided to continue sailing. He was taken in by the captain as a son, and when they returned to America, welcome into the captain's home. There Manjiro went to school and learned a trade, eventually setting out to sea again and reuniting with his old friends. They decided to venture back to Japan and take a chance. Their return was anything but easy; but it was providentially timed for Manjiro proved very important in helping Japan and America understand each other when Admiral Perry steamed into Japan.

Target Readers: Recommended to readers who want to learn history through fiction. This is a slightly fictionalized account of an actual historic person (since Preus imagines dialogue and such). There really was a kid named Manjiro who was shipwrecked, joined an American whaler, learned in America and returned to Japan just in time to help the two countries better understand each other when Perry arrived. Readers can learn about building cultural intelligence with Manjiro and the importance of having people with CQ to solving potential world conflicts. Also a great read for anyone looking for sea adventures, books about people overcoming prejudice, or third culture kids.

The Lost Kingdom of Bamarre (The Two Princesses of Bamarre, #0.5) by Gail Carson Levine
Long before there were two sisters in Bamarre, the Bamarre were slaves and peasants because they opened their land to the Laktis in need and the Laktis thanked them for their kindness by taking over. The Laktis think the Bamarre are weak by nature and claim it's for their own good that they're in charge. But the Bamarre grow tired of their servile status and long for someone to lead them to freedom.
When she was a small child Peregrine was handed over to Lady Mother to pay her father's trespassing fine. Her older sister Annet is also taken by Lady Mother to serve as Perry's maid. Perry grows up thinking she is a Lakti taken in by Lady Mother and Lord Tove. But as she nears the age when Lakti go to battle, the fairy Halina appears to Perry to tell her the truth of her Bamarre heritage and her hopes in Perry to help bring things to rights. Perry is shocked. What can she do?
Note: Some violence.

Target Readers: Recommended for readers looking to see why cultural intelligence is important, those who like important messages in their fiction (this deals with prejudice), readers who enjoy fantastic writing, fantasy fans, and fairytale rewrite fans (there are loose parallels to Rapunzel but Levine has definitely made a unique story). And of course, fans of The Two Princesses of Bamarre will enjoy picking up this prequel.

Young Adult Fiction

Piecing Me Together by Renée Watson
Jade is trying to manage navigating the world of her elite, mostly white prep school during Junior year as an African American scholarship student from the hood. Jade loves the opportunity to get a good education, but she sometimes finds it exhausting to try and fit in. They give her plenty of opportunities, but Jade doesn't know how to handle "good opportunities" that at the same time assume certain things about her. Like putting her in the Woman to Woman group. Yes, she'll get a college scholarship out of the program but so far she feels like the program just wants to teach her how to not be black and her mentor seems flaky. At least this year she has Sam, who rides the same bus to school as her. The two bond over not being rich like the rest of their classmates. But sometimes Jade gets upset when Sam, who is white, doesn't understand the racism she faces. Jade is working on learning to speak up for herself and not quit things when they get hard, but it isn't easy. Her life feels like her favorite hobby, making collages of recycled papers, and she can't quite figure out how to make them stay together. Is she about to just fall to pieces instead?

Target Readers: This is a book about figuring out who you are and what your place in the world is, and how to navigate the broken parts of this world. It isn't easy, it isn't necessarily always fixed the way we like it, and like Jade we must figure out our job in fixing the brokenness. My students may not have the same exact skin color as Jade, but I think many of them will identify with her on several points. All of the students at my international school know what it is like to try to straddle two or more cultures and figure out who they are amongst all these seemingly vastly different parts. They also will get going to a school that most of their peers from "home" can't hope to comprehend. And all of them know the tension of being a chameleon at times in order to fit in. And unfortunately racism and injustice is a universal problem, not one just found in America. So though many have pegged this as a timely piece for America, I think it is a timely read for anywhere. Anywhere two or more cultures bump up against one another you will find Jades who will read this and recognize echoes of their own struggles and perhaps be motivated to not quit, to speak up, and to do what they can to make things better
Note: Click on the title to see notes on content.

YA & Adult Nonfiction

I Will Always Write Back: How One Letter Changed Two Lives by Caitlin Alifirenka & Martin Ganda with Liz Welch
In the fall of 1997 two tweens are connected as pen pals through school assignments. Caitlin was a typical American girl living in Pennsylvania who loved to go to the mall. Martin was a boy from Zimbabwe with a brilliant mind but whose family struggled to find the funds to keep him in school. For a few letters the two just conversed on a surface level, but when Caitlin finally realized the dire situation Martin and his family were in, both of their lives changed as Caitlin's eyes were opened to the hurting people of the world and Martin gained a friend willing to invest love and her babysitting money in his future. Eventually, Caitlin's entire family got involved in helping Martin and his family survive the tumultuous recession in Zimbabwe and figuring out how to help Martin come to the States for university.
Note: Click on the title to see notes on content.

Target Readers: Recommended to anyone who likes inspirational true stories.

In the Land of the Blue Burqas by Kate McCord
A single, middle-aged American Christian who went to work in a small town in Afghanistan for an NGO to help Afghans in a variety of ways, relates what it was like to live there. Religion is one of the principal topics of conversation, so McCord spends a lot of time breaking down what the average Afghan Muslim man and woman believe, and how she would explain her own beliefs to them when asked.

Target Readers: Recommended for anyone who wants to build their CQ, especially if you want to understand the Afghans as people, not just news items. Also a good read because the author is a good example of someone with high cultural intelligence. She does an excellent job of being true to herself but also being able to really understand and bridge cultures.

The Elephant Whisperer: My Life with the Herd in the African Wild by Lawrence Anthony with Graham Spence
Lawrence Anthony bought a game park in South Africa called Thula Thula used for hunting and turned it into an animal reserve with eco tourism. In this book he shares some of the challenges of getting the reserve up and running, battling poachers, keeping good relations with his Zulu neighbors, building up the animals protected in the reserve, and figuring out how to get a restless herd of elephants settled there. Next to the poachers the elephant herd provided one of Anthony's biggest challenges. He was the herd's last shot at life. They had broken out of too many other reserves. It took all of Anthony's creative juices to figure out a way to outsmart these wily animals who did things like smash the batteries running the electric fences so they could break out. While relating these challenges, and showing the progress Anthony makes over several years, readers get a peek into the life of a ranger running a reserve that keeps itself running with eco tourism.
Note: Some language.

Target Readers: For those looking for good examples of someone with a high CQ, this is another good read. Anthony did a great job of understanding his Zulu neighbors and workers, and finding common ground. Of course, elephant lovers and animal lovers in general should also find this a very engaging read. And readers looking for engaging autobiographies should snatch this up.

The Cultural Intelligence Difference: Master the One Skill You Can’t Do without in Today’s Economy by David Livermore
An intro to cultural intelligence and how to build it.

Target Readers: Recommended to those who’d like to better understand what cultural intelligence is and why it is important. There are several books out there on the topic. This just happens to be one we have in our library. But Livermore is a recognized expert on the topic.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Brainstorm 147: Library Love

Last week I included all the subjects taught at our school…except library. I know! How can the librarian forget library!? To make it up, this week’s post is all books for library classes and library lovers. Maybe this worked out well anyway, because there are lots of great books about libraries. In fact, too many to include in just one post. I may have to do another one of these sometime.

Fiction Picture Books

Bunny's Book Club by Annie Silvestro, ill. by Tatjana Mai-Wyss
Bunny gets hooked on books during the library's outdoor story time in summer. But when story time has to move indoors again, Bunny finds himself in desperate need of more books. He figures out a way into the library and soon he's got several other friends hooked on books. But everything is in danger when Bunny and his friends get caught by the librarian one night. Will they lose access to the wonderful books forever?

Recommended Readers: Anyone who loves books, reading, libraries, and cute animals.

Goldie Socks and the Three Libearians by Jackie Mims Hopkins, ill. by John Manders
Goldie Socks takes a short cut through the woods to school since she's running late and comes upon a house made of books. As a book lover, she can't resist the home of the three libearians (bear librarians). It takes her a while, but she eventually finds some books that are just right, and then a cozy place to read them.

Recommended Readers: A nice pick for prediction exercises and fairytale comparisons as this doesn’t quite end like the normal tale. Of course book lovers and pun lovers will enjoy this the most.

The Librarian from the Black Lagoon by Mike Thaler, ill. by Jared Lee
Kids share horrific rumors about what the school librarian and library are like, only to find out it’s a bit different.

Recommended Readers: Hand this one to your favorite librarian. It is my personal favorite of the series because the bolting and the laminating bits are hilarious. Oh, kids think these books are funny too.

The Mermaid’s Purse by Patricia Polacco
Polacco relates a story of a girl born during a storm who developed a love for books, created her own library, and from a young age devoted herself to sharing books with her community. When disaster strikes, the community she blessed with books and knowledge returns the favor.

Recommended Readers: Any and all book and library lovers. Readers who like fiction books based on real people (make sure to read the author’s note in the back about her grandmother and the real Mermaid’s Purse). There's a lot of words in this picture book (as is common for Polacco) so this might be better for middle elementary grades than preschool or kindergarten. It would also make a good inspirational read aloud for middle graders before they brainstorm ways to help their own community or how to help those who need disaster relief aid. And of course, recommended to those who like inspirational, feel-good stories.

The Midnight Library by Kazuno Kohara
The midnight librarian and her assistant owls help all the animals find the perfect book, and encourage reading till dawn.

Recommended Readers: This is definitely a book aimed at library lovers, book lovers, and owl lovers, but what will most likely enthrall a larger audience is the unique illustration style. Kohara illustrates the entire book using only thick black for outlines, midnight blue for the background, and yellowy-orange for highlighted items/creatures. It is utterly unique, but captivating and so very cute, so don’t be ashamed to pick this up for the artwork or cute factor too.

Picture Book Biographies

The Man Who Loved Libraries: the Story of Andrew Carnegie by Andrew Larsen, ill. by Katty Maurey
A picture book biography of Andrew Carnegie, who worked his way up from an immigrant bobbin boy to one of the wealthiest men in America. He invested much of his wealth in philanthropic interests, such as building libraries. This book focuses on how a library was important to Carnegie growing up and how that inspired him to build more libraries. Further information on Carnegie, his philanthropic endeavors, and how he went about deciding where to build libraries can be found in the back of the book.
Thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for a free early read of this in exchange for an honest review.

Recommended Readers: Picture book biography fans and engaging nonfiction fans, those studying the history of libraries (and why libraries/access to knowledge are important), and those studying philanthropists and strategies of making sure local communities are involved in philanthropic endeavors they benefit from.

Miss Moore Thought Otherwise: How Anne Carroll Moore Created Libraries for Children by Jan Pinborough, ill. by Debby Atwell
A biographical picture book about one of the women who helped create the modern children's library.

Recommended Readers: Picture book biography fans and engaging nonfiction fans, library and librarian lovers, and just perhaps kids who take access to library and books for granted.

Juvenile Nonfiction

Book: My Autobiography by John Agard, ill. by Neil Packer
Book introduces readers to his earliest origins and many forms, from clay to leaf to skin to paper to digital, and the various cultures who influenced his development. Book also gives readers little history lessons on alphabet origins and other writing and printing tools that have revolutionized his from over the years. And lastly, he gives a little shout out to libraries through time.
(And just a warning, this book has the worst title to find using a search engine of any kind. My librarian hint, look for the author John Agard instead.)

Recommended Readers: Engaging nonfiction fans and random history sponges, book lovers and librarian lovers.

The Library of Alexandria by Kelly Trumble, ill. by Robina MacIntyre Marshall
Trumble takes readers back in time and tells about the formation of this legendary library, the famous men who helped build it and studied there, and how it likely came to disappear.

Recommended Readers: Those interested in ancient scientists, ancient mathematicians, or just Greek and Roman Empire history. And of course, library lovers.

Middle Grade Fiction

Mr. Lemoncello’s Library series by Chris Grabenstein
A series about a string of competitions involving puzzle solving, book knowledge, and library skills run by eccentric Mr. Lemoncello for kids and often revolving around the astounding library he’s built in his hometown of Alexandria, Ohio.

Recommended Readers: Adventure fans, puzzle lovers, and book lovers just can’t get enough of this series that Chris Grabenstein is still adding to (#4 is said to be coming out next May).

Book Scavenger series by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman
A series about kids who love puzzles and books and are involved in an online book puzzle competition called Book Scavenger developed by Garrison Griswold. The kids solve various mysteries that revolve around books in each of the books in this series.

Recommended Readers: Adventure fans, puzzle lovers, mystery lovers, and book lovers really enjoy this series which is also still growing. Also a good one for those random history sponges, especially tidbits about San Francisco bay and Mark Twain in book #2 and Alcatraz Island in #3.

The Forbidden Library series by Django Wexler
Alice's world is turned upside down the first time when she accidentally sees her father having a conversation with a real, live fairy. Her world is then overthrown again when her father is presumed dead after the boat he is traveling on sinks in a storm and she is sent to live with an Uncle Geryon she's never heard of. Life there is rather dull, until she follows a cat through a rather unusual library on the grounds of the estate and finds herself inside a book. After this accident, Alice discovers that she is a Reader, someone who can find and use magic in books. Once this becomes known, it is clear that there are many people and other creatures interested in using Alice for her skill. Alice's one goal is to figure out what for sure happened to her father, while others want to use her skills for the power struggles going on in this world that she just stumbled into.

Recommended Readers: Fantasy fans ready for a little more serious adventures (I feel like this series is a good segue between lighter middle grade fantasy and more serious YA/Adult fantasy). Library fans will find the library that Alice explores most extraordinary and intriguing. Readers who prefer to only start a series after is it complete can dive into these books safely. The last book just came out in the past year and the series is now complete at four books.

YA/Adult Fiction

Jade Dragon Mountain (Li Du, #1) by Elsa Hart
Li Du was an imperial librarian until he was exiled by the Emperor. Since then he's been traveling and gathering knowledge here and there. He has shown up in Dayan, the southwest of China and must register with the local magistrate in order to pass through. Unbeknownst to him, he's planned his visit just as the Emperor is about to visit for a grand festival where the Emperor will make an eclipse happen. As a scholar, Li Du knows the truth, that Jesuit astronomers have determined the date of the eclipse and the Emperor is just going to take advantage of it to further establish his authority in these borderlands. Li Du's plans to just pass through town get disrupted when a Jesuit priest he meets is murdered just days before the arrival of the Emperor. The magistrate - who happens to be Li Du's cousin - wants to sweep it under the carpet and pretend the death is natural. But Li Du can't let it rest, and with the help of a traveling storyteller, persuades the magistrate to let him investigate. But he must solve the case before the Emperor arrives. With just days to unravel the case and a host of suspects it will take all his wits and powers of observation.

Recommended Readers: Librarian fans, Chinese history fans, and mystery fans. Historical mystery fans who enjoy series can rejoice that there are currently two books in this series out with a third one is coming out this next week. Note: There is some violence.

The Invisible Library series by Genevieve Cogman
Irene, a spy for the Library, works to rescue unique books from perilous times and locations for preservation. To do her job she must travel to many different times and universes, but thankfully she can make a passage anywhere there’s enough books. She is sent on several missions that don’t go quite like expected with her assistant, Kai, who is training to be a librarian even though he is a dragon and the Library tries to distance itself from the fey/dragon tug of war going on over various worlds.

Recommended Readers: Library fans, book lovers, fantasy fans, and alternate history/steampunk fans are most likely to enjoy this series. Note: There is a minimal amount of swearing and some violence.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Brainstorm 146: A Little Something for Everyone 2018-2019

The Brainstorm is back for a new school year! I started off the year with a little something for everyone last year and I liked how that went. So here’s a little something for every subject at school (or at least all the subjects at our school). Core subjects have two books, one for upper level classes and one for lower. Here’s to a great new school year of reading!


The Little Red Cat Who Ran Away And Learned His ABCs (the Hard Way) by Patrick McDonnell
Little Red Cat ends up on quite the chase after accidentally upsetting an alligator, a bear, a chicken, and a dragon. Their chase takes them all over the place, with each page highlighting something or an action that starts with the letter of the alphabet displayed. There's a guide for what each item or action was in the back of the book for those who like to check.


I Spy: an Alphabet in Art designed and selected by Lucy Micklethwait
On each spread of this book you're asked to spy something in a classic piece of art that starts with each letter of the alphabet. A guide is provided in the back of the book.

I like the way this book introduces classic art pieces in a fun way as part of a hide-n-seek puzzle. Too often art is introduced in dry and boring ways. But on each page the artist and name of the piece are included at the bottom of the spread. Kids will learn some art history while having fun.


The Case for Miracles by Lee Strobel
Lee Strobel starts off his investigation into whether or not miracles happen, and whether or not it is reasonable to even believe they happen, by addressing the case against the miraculous with an interview of the editor of Skeptic magazine, Dr. Michael Shermer. Strobel then goes on to explore the opposing view, that miracles do happen, with interviews of other experts from a variety of faiths, including scientists, theologians, missionaries, and detectives. Along the way Strobel seeks to establish how a miracle can be well-documented, why some people - even Christians - are reluctant to believe in the supernatural, and what to do with miracles that don’t happen despite many prayers.

Most books on miracles just relate stories of miracles that the author has heard about and are largely limited to the author’s acquaintances. Few if any will include comments on the reliability of the stories. Few will have the guts to talk to someone who genuinely doesn’t believe in miracles and have a civil conversation about why. But Strobel does. He approaches this more from a research perspective, and the modern miraculous stories that are included are largely shared by the interviewees and all are well documented. He also gets deeper into the heart of the issue. Is it reasonable? Is there precedence? What about the miracles in the Bible? Is every “miracle” really a miracle? Probably the most powerful chapter in the entire book is the final one talking about why God wouldn’t bring about a miracle in certain cases. (A box of tissues is advisable for this chapter.) And then Strobel closes by weighing the two sides, admitting his persuasion, but ultimately acknowledging that he cannot make up anyone’s mind for them. The reader must decide what to believe. Highly recommended. Oh, and there are also student and kid versions of this book out there.*


Potions & Parameters (Secret Coders, #5) by Gene Luen Yang, ill. by Mike Holmes
The Secret Coders use LightLight and their growing coding skills to help them hunt for Hopper’s dad, but things don’t go as planned and it is revealed that Dr. One-Zero has something even more evil in the works for the entire town.

This series is so good in helping readers learn coding basics in a very fun way. Things covered in previous books get resurfaced or built upon so you don’t forget what you’ve already learned, and constant progress is being made in knowledge. How to code circles gets introduced in this one, as well as how to code any polygon.*


Ain’t Nothing But a Man: My Quest to Find the Real John Henry by Scott Reynolds Nelson with Marc Aronson
Nelson shares how he was researching the men who worked on the railroad, and that led him to start looking for the real John Henry. There were enough details consistent throughout the various version of the song that suggested people were singing about a real man. He shares about his research process and what he eventually uncovered about a man who worked the railroad named John Henry.

This is just as much about the process of doing historical research and how to dig for information from the past as it is about John Henry. What Nelson uncovered about Henry and how the song has evolved and been misunderstood is absolutely fascinating. Highly recommended for history teachers, music teachers covering folk songs, writing teachers, and any students about to start a research project. Also a good read for those interested in railroad history and African American history, or just history in general. It's a quick read, but packed with all sorts of good stuff. Make sure to check out the further info and resources in the back of the book too.

The Word Collector by Peter H. Reynolds
Some people collect rocks or stamps or art. Jerome collects words. He loves basking in their sound and look. But then Jerome finds something even better than collecting words...stringing them together and giving them away.

Whether you're introducing kids to the concept of strings of words forming sentences, or empowering them to use their words for good, this is a fantastic read. Kids should get introduced to some new vocabulary and go away inspired from this book. Highly recommended to language arts and reading teachers to have on hand for repeat readings throughout the year to inspire any class.


Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
The classic story of the governess who falls in love with her charge’s guardian, but his secrets may prevent Jane from ever having a happy ending.

It sounds kind of funny to say, but if you really want to practice your French go read some classic Brit Lit. Jane Eyre especially has huge chunks of dialogue in French, and there’s no translation so you gotta work those language skills.

Learning Support  

The Wild Book by Margarita Engle
Fefa struggles to read. The doctor says she has world blindness and she'll never be able to read, but Fefa's mother does not give up. Mamá gives Fefa a blank book to help her collect words. Fefa isn't sure about the book. She finds reading so hard she isn't sure she likes words. But when her brother is injured and becomes her tutor, some of the slippery words start to become a little more manageable, and eventually Fefa is able to save the entire family with her reading.

The Wild Book is historically just a little after the Cuban civil war and focuses on one girl with dyslexia and her family during a time when bandits were prevalent and kidnappings were common. I recommend reading the author's note at the end telling how this story is based on her grandmother's life as a little girl with dyslexia in Cuba and some of her real adventures, including the potential kidnapper. I haven't come across very many historical fiction books about children with dyslexia or Cuba, so this is worth having for both of those points. It's also a very approachable length at just over 120 pages and written in free verse poetry, so middle graders who struggle with words like Fefa or are reluctant readers may find this a bit easier to tackle.

Life Skills

The Girl Who Thought in Pictures: the Story of Dr. Temple Grandin by Julia Finley Mosca, ill. by Daniel Rieley
A picture book biography of Temple Grandin, who was misunderstood as a child because of her autism but eventually found a love of animals and made a name for herself as a brilliant livestock scientist and speaker on autism.

Told in rhyme, this is an inspiring picture book biography about a woman who overcame a lot. There's extensive notes the back with further information on Temple's life and accomplishments.


Sandwiches!: More Than You Ever Wanted to Know about Making and Eating America’s Favorite Food by Alison Deering, ill. by Bob Lentz
Sandwiches is part infographic guide to the history and fun facts of food you happen to find between two slices of bread and part cookbook. The book is divided into five sections, from easiest to assemble at level one to sandwiches that require some prep work in level five. Kitchen safety instructions are provided as you go along with ideas of ingredients to swap out in various sandwiches or dares to try some more out there ingredients on a select few sandwiches for the brave.

Whether you’re hungry for knowledge or hungry for a meal, this is a fantastic book to satisfy those cravings.*


Summertime Rainbow: a Bilingual Book of Colors by Belle Yang
With text in Mandarin and English, some rabbits explore the colors in the garden.

There’s a helpful pronunciation guide so you can learn your colors in Mandarin pretty easily with some cute rabbits.


Engineered!: Engineering Design at Work by Shannon Hunt, ill. by James Gulliver Hancock
A tour of various fields of engineering both traditional and emerging, with examples of real engineers in these fields and projects they have worked on. Each field of engineering gets 4-6 pages of information.

This is attractively designed and intriguingly informative. I kept spontaneously sharing tidbits from this book with whoever I happened to be near at the moment. There were so many fascinating little things. That said, there’s a lot of information packed in here so I can’t see many middle graders sitting down to read this straight through, but it is good in little chunks over a few days. Highly recommended for any kids who like fun facts or problem solving. Science or math teachers, snag this and read it aloud in filler time to your students! This would also be a good resource for those studying newly emerging career fields.*

Lifetime: the Amazing Numbers in Animal Lives by Lola M. Schaefer, ill. by Christopher Silas Neal
In one average lifetime...animals can do some amazing things. Schaefer and Neal tell and show kids some of the average numbers for the lives of common and uncommon animals. The back of the book includes more information on each animal, a breakdown on how the author figured out the numbers for each animal, an instructional guide on averages, and some further animal math problems.

This book is simple, but informative. And it could be used with a wide age range, from little ones just learning to count to those discovering averages, rounding, and applications of math problems to real life. The illustrations are simple, but eye-catching. Animals definitely make "boring" old average finding a bit more interesting.


Let’s Make a Joyful Noise: Celebrating Psalm 100 by Karma Wilson, ill. by Amy June Bates
A rhythmic celebration of making a joyful noise inside and outside of church based on Psalm 100.

The rhythm and rhyme of this are done in such a way as you almost start compulsively clapping and tapping you foot as you read. Kids will love making a joyful noise along with you as you read. I also love the unique illustration style that seems to hum with the vibration of singing and joyful noises.


Run with Me: the Story of a U.S. Olympic Champion by Sanya Richards-Ross
An autobiography of Olympic 400 meter champion Sanya Richards-Ross. Sanya shares her life story from her early childhood to the present focusing on sports highlights but also sharing other important life moments, and incorporating lessons on how things she's learned in sports can have parallels in life as well, especially living as a Christian.

Her little bits of advice are solid and I can see teens benefiting a lot by following them. This was a great read. I tore through it (which seems fitting), and came away inspired by her story and her comments. Highly recommended and not just to track fans.


The Culture Code: the Secrets of Highly Successful Groups by Daniel Coyle
A look at what "secret ingredients" turn a team into a family. Coyle interviews businesses, sports teams, schools, and military groups recognized for their successful teamwork and family-like feel to find common ingredients while also looking at research in this area. His findings provide clear steps any group can use to help turn their team into a solid knit unit.

Coyle's research was fascinating, very readable, easy to implement, and highly suggested for anyone who is trying to turn a group of random people into a close-knit group.


Comics Squad!: Recess edited by Jennifer L. Holm, Matthew Holm, and Jarrett J. Krosoczka
A short story graphic novel collection that revolves around recess.

Some graphic novel short story collections can be all over the place, but this one has a solid common target group and theme. And the contributing authors/illustrators are some very popular people among graphic novel readers. There should be a story in here for just about every lower and middle grade student.


Life on Surtsey: Iceland’s Upstart Island by Loree Griffin Burns
In 1963 a volcano erupted off the coast of Iceland and created a brand new island which was named Surtsey. The scientific community got the Icelandic government to make Surtsey a sanctuary so no one is allowed to visit except scientists with special permission. Because of this forethought, scientists in Iceland (and around the world) have been able to observe the progression of life making Surtsey their new home (a process called succession in science circles). Few people in the world have set foot on Surtsey, but entomologist Erling Ólafsson is one of them who has been there several times. Author Loree Griffin Burns joins him and few other scientists on the 2015 expedition to visit the island and collect data about what is living on Surtsey now after several decades of existence.

A fascinating look at a unique place on Earth. I also appreciate the very real picture Burns gives readers about what life is like in the field for scientists, it can be wet and cold and there may be no bathrooms, but if you aren't scared away then you may be cut out for this stuff. Burns also gives a little Icelandic phonics/reading lesson which I found added a little more atmosphere to the book and helps further transport readers to this distant land. A splendid resource for classes studying succession in life sciences or biology or botany classes.

Tiny: the Invisible World of Microbes by Nicola Davies, ill. by Emily Sutton
An introduction to microbes for kids.

This is a scientifically sound intro to protists and bacterias. It is well balanced so kids are warned that some are bad but also reassured that many of them do lots of good too. Very few actual names of microbes are given, they are just introduced in broad terms with a focus on their size, where they live, how fast they can replicate, and what kinds of things they do. The illustrations help kids visualize each of these topics very well.

Social Studies

Killers of the Flower Moon: the Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann
Back in the 1920s, the Osage tribe started becoming very wealthy, thanks to terms that made them the owners of all the stuff that came out from under their territory, including oil. And in the 1920s, there was a whole lot of oil coming out. But as the Osage grew wealthier, they didn't necessarily grow healthier and members of the tribe started dying at an alarming rate, and when two shootings happened, people started to realize that maybe all those deaths weren't so natural after all. But anyone who went in to investigate the murders seemed to end up in an early grave themselves. Local law enforcement wasn't getting any results, and the Osage's cries for justice eventually brought J. Edgar Hoover's new investigators on the scene. This is the story of how horrible injustice and hatred was brought to justice despite a seemingly invincible web of corruption. And then the author relates how many other Osage likely were the victims of greedy people, out for a share of their oil money...any way they could.
Note on content: Violence and murder described.

A hard but really important read. It speaks a lot about how the truth will set people free, and that justice can win the day even where it seems evil is invicible. For many the justice is much too late, but it is important for their descendants to know that their heartache is heard, the lives lost are valued, and to acknowledge that terrible wrong was done. (Click the title to see more of my thoughts.) I like that Grann includes some of his research process in the end of the story to give readers a peek at what happens before the page is written. It also helps the reader better appreciate just how much work and research goes into a book like this, at least one that is done well and incorporates extensive primary resources. It's an important book and put together very well. Highly recommended to anyone interested in history, true crime, or who values justice.

Ten Cents a Pound by Nhung N. Tran-Davies, ill. by Josée Bisaillon
A mother and daughter in the hills of Vietnam talk back and forth about the future. The girl wants to stay near and help her hard-working mother whose body is strained from picking coffee for ten cents a pound. But the loving mother urges her to use that ten cents to go to school and gain a freedom that knowledge can bring to go beyond the village and labor that is all her mother will ever know.

This is so simple but profoundly powerful. How many mothers are there out in the world with just this vision and sacrifice? Many, many thousands. This is an ode to those women who sacrificed and labored long hard years so their children could have a better life. The illustrations are a fitting style for a Southeast Asian setting. A touching and powerful little picture book perfect for cluing kids into the way so many people in the world live, a way to help them understand the privilege and power of going to school, and of course would also make a great Mother's Day read as they ponder all their own mothers have done for them. *


2 Fuzzy, 2 Furious (Unbeatable Squirrel Girl novels, #2) by Shannon Hale & Dean Hale
Things have been pretty quiet since the end of Squirrel Girl's last adventure. Crime is at an all time low in Shady Oaks. A huge difference from pre-Squirrel Girl times. In fact, the neighborhood is now safe enough someone is building a mall between Shady Oaks and Listless Pines. Everyone is excited about the new mall. Especially because the mall builders are holding a contest to determine the mall mascot and either Shady Oaks or Listless Pines' secondary schools will get free pizza. Something feels off about the mall to the Tippy-Toe and the squirrels, and also to Ana Sofía. Has anyone else noticed that the mall logo looks an awful lot like the Hydra logo our is she just imagining things? She's a little scared to ask Doreen. She doesn't want to get laughed at. Doreen is also trying to figure out how this friend thing works. Should she talk about the teacher who doesn't seem to like her? Why does middle school life have to be so complicated?

I absolutely LOVE Squirrel Girl's voice and attitude. This book talks about prejudice, hate, and resolving conflicts in a way that is totally entertaining and not preachy but is super solid on the advice. So good. Doreen and Ana Sofía often speak in Spanish or Spanglish and the Spanish isn’t always translated so you get to exercise your language skills while enjoying a fantastic (and frequently funny) superhero story.


Queen Sirikit: Glory of the Nation
A biography of the Queen Mother of Thailand.

A perfect read right now with her birthday this weekend.

*Books with an asterisk after the review are titles that publishers and Netgalley were kind enough to give me ARCs of in exchange for an honest review.