Monday, November 9, 2020

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? 11.09.2020

This weekly post comes from Jen at Teach Mentor Texts
 and Kellee and Ricki at Unleashing Readers.  
It's a great source to find new books to use with your students.

Last Week's Adventures
I ended up taking last week off as a break from all things social media.  For sure needed a breather!  So from two weeks ago:

Nonfiction picture books that celebrate people who followed their dreams.

Be sure to visit this post to read about Josh Funk's newest - It's Not Little Red Riding Hood - and find some teaching ideas.

Picture Books

For Beautiful Black Boys Who Believe in a Better World
For Beautiful Black Boys Who Believe in a Better World
written by Michael W. Waters
illustrated by Keisha Morris
If you are looking for a book that talks about the horrible loss of black lives in an appropriate way for young readers, this is the book you're looking for.
Young Jeremiah sees on TV again and again, over a period of years, young black people lose their lives for what seems to be no reason, at least that can be explained on TV.  Jeremiah questions his father about what happened, but does not want to engage in a conversation.  Eventually he does and appropriate ideas for all people are shared on how to use your voice - vote, march, pray, speak out are a few mentioned.
I like how the passing of time is noted not only by the names of the victims mentioned, but also by the desire of the main character's, Jeremiah, desire to grow locs, which take time.
There is a lot that I like about this book.  The violent ways that these victims' lives were ended are not mentioned in detail, but sometimes in a brief, matter-of-fact response or not at all.  It also has a very realistic portrayal of young kids when they see unsensible things happen - while some kids have questions, many others don't want to talk about the scary thing that has happened, it's too hard to process.  It is also noted that police officers have lost their lives and the blue ribbons honor their service and lives.  
The story is straight to the point, it would be very difficult for a reader to miss the message of this book.
There is an extensive discussion guide included at the end of the book.  Would be perfect to share with parents if they wanted or needed to extend the conversation.

Smug Seagull
Smug Seagull
by Maddie Frost
Fans of the Pigeon will like this one.  Seagull is just that - pretty smug.  He thinks highly of his snatching snacks skills.  Until he meets Crab, who is able to get snacks with a more gentle approach.

Northbound: A Train Ride Out of Segregation
Northbound: A Train Ride Out of Segregation
written by Michael S. Bandy and Eric Stein
illustrated by James E. Ransome
Written in the perspective of a young Black boy who is taking a train ride from his hometown in Alabama up to Ohio, during the time of segregation.  As he travels, he discovers there are certain parts of the United States that allows people of different races to mix and mingle on the train.  Being a child, the young boy takes the opportunity to find a new friend from the "Whites only" section to play and explore the train with, until traveling into another area of the United States where segregation is enforced.
An excellent story to use when talking about the civil rights era and how different parts of the country viewed races and rights differently.

Shubh Diwali!
Shubh Diwali!
written by Chitra Soundar
illustrated by Charlene Chua
Diwali begins this weekend!  Brightly illustrated, this book gives a glimpse into celebrating this holiday.

Federico and the Wolf
Federico and the Wolf
written by Rebecca J. Gomez
illustrated by Elisa Chavarri
Fractured fairy tales are fun and I really enjoy ones that have a cultural spin on them.  This is a perfect one - Federico has gone to the market to get the ingredients needed to make some pico de gallo with his grandfather.  The tale goes pretty much as expected with a Mexican-American flair.

Rot, the Bravest in the World!
Rot, The Bravest in the World
by Ben Clanton
I adore reading Rot, the Cutest in the World out loud.  It's funny and I love seeing the look of surprise on faces when I get to the turning point of that book.  There is something special about hearing giggles as you read to children!
This one fell short for me.  I think kids will still like it because it features a younger sibling outwitting an older sibling.  And there are some silly moments.  I know I am going to enjoy reading "indubitably" out loud.  But it doesn't quite capture the charm of the first book.

The Night Before Christmas
The Night Before Christmas
written by Clement C. Moore
illustrated by Loren Long
Thank goodness I know the poem well because my eyes were feasting on the amazing illustrations by Loren Long.  Taking place in 4 different homes in different locations, the book shows that the heart of Christmas is family.
I don't buy too many Christmas books anymore, instead I have been focusing on having books of many cultures.  But this one was a must have!

Sun Flower Lion
Sun Flower Lion
by Kevin Henkes
I can see how the Geisel committee might be taking a careful look at this one.  Coming in at only 60 different words and a simplistic storyline, young, independent readers will enjoy reading this one on their own.  At first glance, the storyline seems simple and quick to read, but when you look deeper and notice the metaphors and similes, you can see how masterful Henkes is with his writing.
What confuses me are the use of chapters in this picture book.  It succeeds in splitting up each noun - sun, flower, lion - into its own chapter.  Even though the chapters are 1-3 pages each.

Fox versus Winter
Fox Versus Winter
by Corey R. Tabor
The first page says it all, "Fox does not like winter."
Same, Fox.  Same.

The Elephant's New Shoe
The Elephant's New Shoe
written by Laurel Neme
illustrated by Ariel Landy
I really enjoyed this story about Chhouk, the Cambodian elephant, who, due to a wire snare, had his foot cut off.  Chhouk had difficulties walking and it was infected when animal rescuer Nick Marx found him.  Marx worked hard for years, integrating him into the Rescue Center and partnering with Cambodian School of Prosthetics and Orthotics to find ways for Chhouk to walk and run again.

Kamala and Maya’s Big Idea
Kamala and Maya's Big Idea
written by Meena Harris
illustrated by Ana Ramírez González
Maybe a good book to add to your reading rotation this week? 
Carries the message that kids can make a difference.

Middle Grade

Brother's Keeper
Brother's Keeper
by Julie Lee
A historical fiction middle grade novel that takes place during the Korean War.  I don't have any books based in this timeline so it was definitely one to check out.  
Sora and her brother Youngsoo are separated from  their little brother and parents by a bomb while trying to get from North Korea to South Korea.  Sora must do what she can to keep her and her brother alive and continue their trek to their uncle's home in southern South Korea.  This story of survival gives readers what life was like during this time and the North Korean regime.
It's also a story of familial tradition in this Korean family, where boys are prized and girls are expected to train to be a proper Korean wife and mother.  Sora would rather learn and become a writer than learn about cooking and because of this, her mother sees her as a failure.  It was hard to read the scenes when her mom, thinking she was doing the right thing, be so harsh and not understanding of how Sora wanted to live her life.
While there wasn't anything that would keep me from handing it to a 3rd/4th grade reader, I think with the complexities of war and survival themes, this book is best for 5th grade and up.

No Place for Monsters
No Place for Monsters
by Kory Merritt
One of the best things about this book is its hybrid format.  While a longer book (379pgs), it is FULL of fantastic black and white illustrations that add to the feel of the story.  I am looking forward to more hybrid books like this from the author.
Levi and Kat live in a town where nothing seems out of place, at least from what the people can remember.  Because there is something out there that is taking young kids and erasing all memories and physical things of that person.  But Levi and Kat remember and are working hard to make sure what happened to others, does not happen to them.  But with a creepy monster named the Boojam looking for them, and mysterious, elderly neighbors that seem to know more than they should, and a skeleton monster-dog named Willow trying to help, Kat and Levi figure out they may only have each other to lean on.
This was a good story to read at Halloween-time and while I was able to read it at night, it was a creepy read!  I was a bit turned off that this monster was after kids and took them at night.  I have 3rd and 4th grade readers and I can see that bothering them enough that it could give nightmares.  I would hand this one to older readers!

Adult Novel

The Last Story of Mina Lee
The Last Story of Mina Lee
by Nancy Jooyoun Kim
One of the reasons I get frustrated with adult novels is the characters frequently act in a way that you know is just going to cause trouble.  They keep doing the same thing over and over, which you know if they just faced their issue, it would be over.  Of course that makes for a too short novel, so it would never work.  But because it goes on for so long, it just annoys me.  Middle grade novels have characters like that too but the problem has to be resolved in a quicker and tighter framework.  
This was one of the problems I had in the book.  While I understand some of the decisions by the character were made because of cultural reasons and the effects of being undocumented in a society that harshly punishes for that, it still left my annoyed when a character acted in a way that could have been resolved much quicker.  And the ending was wrapped up so quickly - you went along with the novel for so long and then it was wrapped up in a page or two!

Currently Reading

by Jennifer Niven
Haven't heard much about this one, but I will give it a try!

I apologize that I have not been commenting on blogs the past couple of weeks.  It was hard to be on social media for a bit but I have so much hope for the future and a clearer head, I'll be back looking at what everyone is reading this week!


  1. Some of these are new to me, Michele, & I enjoyed your opinions of them. I did love "For Beautiful Black Boys", the message & its beautiful illustrations, too. I will look for The Elephant's New Shoe, Brother's Keeper, & I'm unsure about No Place for Monsters & that taking of children. It feels uncomfortable although I usually like scary stories. I have a friend who is Norweigan & grew up being told that trolls would take children who went outdoors at night. She says she is still afraid of the dark. Thanks for all the others, too. I shared Northbound today also, enjoyed the weaving of the story with the history.

  2. Enjoyed Brother's Keeper and sort of want to buy Fox versus Winter for putative grandchildren, since my own children loved I Can Read books. Will restrain myself. Love the wide range of ages and topics you covered.

  3. For Beautiful Black Boys has been on my radar. I think it recently won an award.

  4. I agree with Fox, as well! My students loved Smug Seagull when I read it aloud before the end of last year. They liked drawing the seagull, too after I showed them a video of the author giving a drawing lesson.

  5. I definitely get needing to take a break from everyone's blithering (even that of the people on your side) during election season. For Beautiful Black Boys Who Believe in a Better World looks excellent, as does The Elephant's New Shoe! Also, Kamala and Maya's Big Idea looks excellent (especially considering the blurbs are by Elizabeth Warren, Stacey Abrams, and Megan Rapinoe—could you have better blurbs?)! I get your frustration with The Last Story of Mina Lee as well—I CANNOT stand books where the solution is obvious and I know, if I were in that situation, I would be smarter than that character! (I have more empathy if I know I would be just as mixed up as the protagonist.) Thanks for the wonderful post!

  6. I understand the need to take a break. I'm contemplating retiring my blog, but then, by participating here, I get recommendations for books I might otherwise overlook. Thanks for the heads up about Fox Versus Winter. As soon as I saw this title I added copies of the series to my shopping cart as Xmas gifts for my grandchildren. I've also added Brother's Keeper to my list.
    I appreciate what you said about the difference between MG and adult novels. Those character flaws can drive me crazy too, and I appreciate how succinct MG can be in dealing with the problem.