Thursday, August 29, 2019

Brainstorm 184: Books for Word Collectors of All Ages

Are you a word collector? Do you like to expand your vocabulary?  Do you enjoy finding that perfect word for the situation? Then I have some books for you today. The first is a celebration of being a word collector, first discovering the wonders of language, the vast amount of vocabulary out there, and the joy of sharing just the right words with others. Then there are two picture book biographies of men who were serious word collectors. Next are two books that will help you incorporate some splendid words from other languages into your vocabulary. And, finally, a reflection on learning a new language and vocabulary along with Tolkien’s thoughts on the power of creating a language.

What Is a Word Collector?

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.

  • Target Readers: Language Arts Teachers/Classes, Reading Teachers/Classes, Kids Who Want to Use Words for Good, Curious Readers, Lower Grade Readers on up

Two Historical Word Collectors

W is for Webster: Noah Webster and His American Dictionary by Tracey Fern, ill. by Boris Kulikov
A biographical picture book of Noah Webster that focuses on how his dictionary developed from Noah's personality and interests as a youngster to its evolution as he actually started to work on it, on to completion. Along the way some of the most important highlights of Webster's life outside of the dictionary writing are also mentioned but only in very broad terms.
An interesting book, though it definitely leaves a lot of gaps in Noah Webster's life to learn from other sources. This is just as much a biography of the American dictionary as it is of Noah Webster. Having read the middle grade/young adult biography Noah Webster: Man of Many Words by Catherine Reef I think I know why there are so few details about his life in this picture book biography. Webster was a bit of a piece of work outside of his dictionary work, and not the best role model for kids. Focusing on what he did accomplish that is admirable was probably the safest route for a picture book biography. Older readers who want more info can check out Reef's book on the eccentric word collector.

  • Target Readers: Dictionary Appreciators & Studiers, Language History Fans, Word Collectors, Curious Readers, Lower Grade/Middle Grade Readers

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. The book also touches on his many, many accomplishments outside of his thesaurus. He was quite the Renaissance man! Talk about opposite of Webster. Here's a man kids can look up to as a great role model. 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. Also, beautifully illustrated!

  • Target Readers: Picture Book Biography Fans, Multi-Talented People Biography Fans, Language History Fans, Synonym/Antonym Appreciators & Studiers, Art Lovers, Curious Readers, Award Winner Readers, Lower Grade/Middle Grade Readers

Two Books for People Wanting to Expand Their Vocabulary

What a Wonderful Word: a Collection of Untranslatable Words from around the World by Nicola Edwards, ill. by Luisa Uribe
A survey of words from around the world that convey thoughts that often just don't translate into one single word in any other language. Each spread shares one word with a related illustration and then about three paragraphs of text that talk about the word, the culture the language comes from, or something about the country where the language is spoken. This book does a fantastic job of picking words from a vast array of languages, including some pretty obscure ones and more familiar ones. There is a pronunciation guide in the back of the book but it comes with a warning that many of the languages are tonal so just a written pronunciation guide may not be enough to know how to say the word correctly.

  • Target Readers: Language Collectors, Curious Readers, Language Lovers, Coffee Table Book Hunters, Quick Little Bite Readers, Middle Grade Readers on up

Lost in Translation: an Illustrated Compendium of Untranslatable Words by Ella Frances Sanders
A look at 52 words from all over the world that just don't quite have an equivalent word in any other language and must be explained by a whole sentence (or sentences) if they are translated. The words relate to a little bit of everything from natural occurrences to emotions to things you may find in your home. Each word is presented in a two page spread. One page of the spread gives the word and definition with an illustration, the other page identifies the language it comes from and gives one paragraph of further information. I like this book a little bit better than What a Wonderful Word because the further information in this one flows and connects better.

  • Target Readers: Language Collectors, Curious Readers, Language Lovers, Coffee Table Book Hunters, Quick Little Bite Readers, Middle Grade Readers on up

One Book on Learning a Whole New Language

In Other Words by Jhumpa Lahiri, translated by Ann Goldstein
Lahiri shares about her decision to learn Italian, and then her decision to read and write only in Italian, even though she has won awards for her writing in her most comfortable language, English. She talks about learning a new language, and living overseas to immerse herself in it. She explores the differences between writing in a language that is new versus writing in one that is familiar and fluent. She ponders her relationship to Italian versus her birth language of Bengali and the language she grew up with at school, English. And she also shares some of her Italian short stories. The book is published with Italian and English texts side by side.
As an expat who works with students at an international school, most of whom are reading and writing in a language they've adopted and may not speak at home, I found Lahiri's writing fascinating and very relevant. She is able to put into words emotions, frustrations, and motivations for language learning that many will readily identify with, especially among international students. As the child of immigrants, she also gives voice to third culture kid issues (though she does not use that label) and how that influences how she feels about the languages she knows. All that to say, I totally get what she's saying here. And I know so many others who also get it. I may not have a drive to learn another language the way she does, but I definitely understand why she is doing it. I think many secondary or university ELL students would benefit from reflecting on some of her thoughts and knowing they aren't alone, and teachers of such students would benefit from understanding the joys and struggles with a new language. I have already pushed this into the hands of several of our Secondary English teachers.

  • Target Readers: Students Learning/Writing/Reading in a Foreign Language, Language Teachers (English or other languages), Memoir Fans, Language Lovers, Third Culture Kids, Curious Readers, Fans of Works in Translation, Quick Read Fans, Young Adult Readers on up (also approachable to upper Middle Grade).

One Book on Creating a Whole New Language

A Secret Vice: Tolkien on Invented Languages by J.R.R. Tolkien, edited by Dimitra Fimi & Andrew Higgins
This book starts off with an over 60 page introduction about the setting both immediate and broader in which "A Secret Vice" was developed. Following the lightly edited actual speech, is another short treatise Tolkien wrote about the relationship of aesthetic appeal and invented language development. Finally, a Coda is included on the influence of Tolkien’s invented languages on people and fictional languages of today.
The interest level of this book varies broadly. At times it is exceedingly interesting to hear about Tolkien’s creative process in developing languages and the broader context that influenced him. At other times, talk of intensely technical language development grammar details is threateningly soporific. The Coda is the most readable part of the whole book, and probably of most interest to light Tolkien fans. Those more dedicated and the linguistically curious are the most likely to make it through the rest of the book. But no judging those who pick and choose what to read of this.

  • Target Readers: Die-hard Tolkien Fans, Those Who Teach on Tolkien, Linguist Nerds, Would-be Fictional World Creators, Young Adult Readers on up

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Brainstorm 183: Meet the Monuments Men

Do you enjoy artwork? How about old architecture? Then, you probably are grateful for the work of a small but instrumental branch of soldiers formed in WWII called the Monuments Men. While other soldiers were picking up guns and flying planes, these men (and one woman) were hunting down stolen artwork, trying to think of ways to save historic architecture in the middle of a war zone, and preserving artwork, music, and books that hadn’t yet been snatched by greedy people or blown up by bombs. It’s a more heartwarming part of WWII history, and incredibly fascinating. Learn more about the Monuments Men then and now in these 4 books.

The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves, and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History by Robert M. Edsel with Bret Witter
During WWII there was a very small group of men and women among the Allied troops given the task of keeping the art and monuments of Europe as safe as possible and with their rightful owners. The task was incredibly overwhelming, especially since at the time when the Allies were pushing the Germans out of France and Belgium back into Germany there were only about 9 men in all of Europe in charge of making sure that overzealous army leaders didn't bulldoze a historic building. They were also trying to find all the artwork the Nazis had "claimed" and stashed away in secret storage sites. Their work wasn't made any easier by the fact that many leaders had never heard of their division, and several doubted their authority. But these men, and others that joined as the years went on worked tirelessly to save buildings and monuments that could be saved, organize restoration of those that could be repaired, and hunt down and return all the stolen artwork they could. Without their efforts, many of the famous European art treasures would have arguably been lost forever. And they also had a huge impact in reinstating good will between people in the aftermath of the war. (It isn't a frequent practice that the conquering army returns the "spoils" to where they were before the war.) The scope of the topic is extremely broad, and Edsel even admits he had to cut out an entire area of Europe (Italy & N. Africa) to keep it from getting unwieldy. (Thus the Saving Italy book.) And though it is broad, Edsel does a good job of reorienting the reader to the place and people involved as he jumps around.

Target Readers:
Adult/YA Nonfiction Fans, Art Lovers, WWII History Buffs, Obscure Fact Sponges, Scavenger Hunt Fans, Unsolved Mystery Fans

The Greatest Treasure Hunt in History: the Story of the Monuments Men by Robert M. Edsel 
This is Edsel’s adaptation of The Monuments Men for middle grade/young adult readers. This is an especially great new book for those who love the fiction book below.

Target Readers: 
Middle Grade Nonfiction Fans, Art Lovers, WWII History Buffs, Obscure Fact Sponges, Scavenger Hunt Fans, Unsolved Mystery Fans

Saving Italy: the Race to Rescue a Nation’s Treasures from the Nazis by Robert M. Edsel
In The Monuments Men Edsel highlighted the action of the special Allied task force in charge of preserving and restoring the arts of Western Europe to their rightful owners during and after WWII, but he did not have space to cover the Monuments Men's work in Italy. This is their book, and in addition also looks at some of the Italians and even Germans instrumental in preserving the arts of Italy for Italians. The book focuses on a handful of the most instrumental men in that arena, the plights of arts and monuments in the region during the war, and how these men worked tirelessly to preserve, restore, and most importantly help the Italian people.

Target Readers:
Adult/YA Nonfiction Fans, Art Lovers, WWII History Buffs, Obscure Fact Sponges, Scavenger Hunt Fans, Unsolved Mystery Fans

Click Here to Start by Denis Markell
When Ted's great uncle Ted dies and leaves him anything in his apartment with a hint there's treasure in there, Ted is a teensy bit excited. However, when he, his best friend, and the new girl show up to start cleaning, they find a bunch of junk. Ted is rather disappointed...until he gets on his computer that night to play a new escape game and it looks just like Uncle Ted's apt. The next day, Ted decides to treat the room like the game, and sure enough, there are hidden surprises. Ted and his friends are off on one crazy scavenger hunt that starts to get dangerous. Someone else also wants Uncle Ted's treasure, badly.
Puzzles to solve, a scavenger hunt with someone else hot on the trail, action and adventure that are balanced out with interpersonal relationships between the three kids, and personal growth for all through the experience...what more do you want in a story? I also liked that the author worked in that Uncle Ted's was part of the Japanese American WWII division that accomplished amazing feats, giving readers a little historical info along with the fun. The Monuments Men show up at one point in the story, which is why I’m including this book here. Introduce middle grade readers to the Monuments Men with a fun read, and then have The Greatest Treasure Hunt in History on hand for curious readers who want to learn more.

Target Readers:
Scavenger Hunt Fans, Biracial Character Fans, Mystery Lovers, Middle Grade Contemporary Fiction Fans, and Middle Grade WWII History Buffs.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Brainstorm 182: If Hogwarts didn't come through...other literary boarding schools

Boarding schools have been around in literature for quite a while. David Copperfield and Jane Eyre both suffer through miserable ones, the boys in Little Men give Jo (March) Bhaer a taste of her own childhood antics, Sara Crewe experiences the highs and lows of boarding life in The Little Princess, and the setting seems to be one that alternately horrifies and enchants readers with the possibilities. In more modern history, it seems everyone is waiting for their invite to Hogwarts. But Hogwarts is not the only option. So, if you’re keen to slip away to life at boarding school, and you’re a bit bitter about Hogwarts’ lack of communication, here are some other options.

Click on the titles for my full summaries and reviews of the titles (if there’s a series mentioned, the link will take you to the first book in the series). The two letters after each blurb indicate the target reader interest level. YA=Young Adult, MG= Middle Grade (3rd-8th), LG=Lower Grade (K-3rd)

Magical Boarding Schools

Life needs a little more excitement in it. Give me a school where dragons, fairy tale characters, or magic gone awry can keep things interesting.

Cheshire Crossing by Andy Weir, ill. by Sarah Andersen
Claim to have been to some fantastical world during those days your family couldn’t find you? You just might end up sent to this school along with Dorothy Gale, Wendy Darling, and Alice Liddell. YA

Dark Mirror series by M.J. Putney
Part of the Regency era gentry and scandalized your family by letting it slip that you have magical abilities? You might be sent here to be reformed…or if you choose to find your way to the secret group underground, you could get better at your magic and be called on to help rescue friends in a different time period. YA

Dragon Slayers’ Academy series by Kate McMullan
Tired of the stink of the family cabbage farm and all your brothers? Want to earn riches beyond your wildest dreams? Head off to learn some dragon slaying…it’s perfectly safe. Mostly. Ok, maybe not, but it IS hilarious. LG

The Magisterium series by Holly Black & Cassandra Clare
Super, duper bummed that you didn’t get into Hogwarts? Want to hang out with a chosen one hunted by a dark lord in an underground school? Then sign up for magic classes and meals of fungus. MG/YA

My Plain Jane by Cynthia Hand, Jodi Meadows, and Brodi Ashton
Would you like the full, miserable, classic British boarding school experience with dashes of humor? Eager to hang out with a precocious author and her characters? How do you feel about secret government operatives? YA

Spy Schools / Schools Laden in Mystery

No one knows what goes on at these schools, and if anyone finds out they might not live to tell about it.

The Mystery at Black Hollow Lane by Julia Nobel
If you’re looking for all the atmosphere of Hogwarts minus the magic, you might need to try to get into Wellsworth. Old buildings, a mixed bag of teachers and students, LOTS of secrets, and some jolly good football. MG

The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place by Julie Berry
Ever dreamed of running a school when the headmaster dies in his soup? Keen to solve a murder mystery with your classmates? Prickwillow Place may be many things, but it is never dull. YA

Spy School series by Stuart Gibbs
Do you have what it takes to save the country or world without anyone knowing? Maybe see if you can just survive the classes here first. MG

Scifi Schools

Go far, far, FAR away for school. Like outer space. Or just hang out with aliens.

Dark Energy by Robison Wells
Want some fairly normal prep school stuff, new friends, and a front row seat to the first alien encounter? YA

The Nikola Kross series by Eliot Sappingfield
Are you a certified genius who has been bored all your life in school? How do you feel about parahumans?  Prepare for a wild and wacky educational experience at The School. MG

Project Terra series by Landry Q. Walker, ill. by Keith Zoo
If you want to attend the elite terraforming school in the universe, this is where you go. Just be prepared to solve some mysteries with your alien friends in between your quantum physics experiments. MG

Seventh Grade vs the Galaxy by Joshua Levy
Attend school in space aboard PSS 118! Only, summer vacation may get a little bit interrupted and your heroic services may be required. MG

Realistic Schools / Historically Realistic Schools

Life is difficult enough, let’s skip the magic, aliens, and spies around every corner.

Bloomability by Sharon Creech
Want to experience life oversees? Go to Switzerland and attend the school your Aunt and Uncle teach at. MG

Enthusiasm by Polly Shulman
Don’t want the full boarding school experience? How about befriending some people who attend one and get dragged into some of their school events? Also, be prepared to live and breathe Jane Austen. YA

Navigating Early by Clare Vanderpool
Need to go somewhere to deal with grief? Head to Maine and learn unexpected things with an unusual friend. MG

There are lots more boarding school books out there. What's your favorite? Share it on social media with the hashtag #myhogwartsalternative

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Brainstorm 181: Artsy ABC Books

Well, the best laid plans oft go awry, right? My plan to post several summer shorts editions of the Brainstorm obviously didn’t happen. (I got a whopping 1 of them posted.) Here it is August 9 and the first week of school is coming to a close. I had this summer shorts post ready to go, but just never got it posted. So we’ll call this the close of summer/ease back into school Brainstorm. Today I’ve got a pair of artsy ABC books and a tangential third book that fits the topic but is also a little different.

Artsy ABC Pair

These two ABC books are the kind of thing you could have sitting on your coffee table or chop up and hang on the walls. They are just as much works of art as they are the alphabet in book form. Neither have any words.

Alphabet Kingdom by Starla Michelle Halfmann
In this book, each spread shows a decorative capitol letter on the left page and an imaginatively colored animal that starts with that letter on the right. I say imaginatively because Halfmann's illustrations are kind of impressionistic in that she adds colors to the animals that aren't true to real life. They're very vibrant and eye-catching though, and I can see little ones I know being enthralled with the brightly colored animals. The back of the book includes a list of all the animals included in case you can't figure them out. I had to look for N which is a nyala.

Target Readers:

  • ABC learners
  • Animal lovers
  • Art lovers

An Artist’s Alphabet by Norman Messenger
Have fun analyzing this ABC book which features retro-style illustrations of the letters of the alphabet. I couldn’t always figure out if something in the illustration correlated to the letter or not. But fans of art deco will likely gather this up, and ABC learners can still practice their letter identification skills with it.

Target Readers:

  • ABC learners
  • Art lovers

The Tangential Third

ABC Dream by Kim Krans
This is another wordless ABC book with beautiful illustrations, but there’s a lot more going on in each illustration than is immediately evident. Each page or spread features several things that start with that letter, and EVERYTHING on that page is significant from the name of the item to its positioning. So not only can kids work on their ABCs, but even older readers will get a good mental workout figuring out how everything relates to that letter of the alphabet. Some pages are definitely easier than others. If a little one (or an adult co-reader) gets stuck, there is a list for each page in the back of the book.

Target Readers:

  • ABC learners
  • Art lovers
  • Puzzle lovers