#IMWAYR November 30, 2015

Some weeks are so crazy, there is hardly time to take a breath between groups of students. Last week was one of those. It's been so intense my brain started shutting down and forgetting words. Ok, that probably might have something to do with the fact that I am not so young as I was, but still, it isn't a comfortable place to be. To top the week off, on Friday, the Scholastic Book Fair arrived. And don't let me get started on my weekend....

Although I love my job, weeks like these affirm for me that it is indeed time to retire. 

In the meantime, #IMWAYR time has come again. Thank you Jen at Mentor Texts and Kelle and Rickie at Unleashing Readers for hosting this weekly event. No matter how crazy the rest of my life is, I'm always ready to make time to sit down and read everyone's blogs. 


PICTURE BOOKS


4 stars
Tadpole's Promise by by Jeanne Willis, Tony Ross (Illustrations)

This book is dark and twisted and I love it! A teacher brought it in for me to read. It's the love story between a tadpole and a caterpillar. They promise each other they will never change, but of course they do. Eventually the caterpillar leaves the tadpole. After it has finished its metamorphosis it comes back to tell the frog how sorry it is. There isn't a happy ending. I laughed and laughed.


4 stars
One Word From Sophia by Jim Averbeck, Yasmeen Ismail (Illustrations)

I'm utterly charmed by this book. I must get it for our library since I can see so many ways to use this book as a mentor for teaching persuasive writing. I also adore Yasmeen Ismail's colourful illustrations!

4 stars

Where Are My Books? by Debbie Ridpath Ohi

When Spencer's books go missing one by one, he sets up a trap to find out who is taking them. He is very surprised to find out who the culprits are, and ends up coming up with a plan to make them all happy. You have to pay attention to the images to realize that whoever is taking Spencer's gift, is leaving him something in return. 

INFORMATION


5 stars
Winnie: The True Story of the Bear Who Inspired Winnie-the-Pooh by Sally M. Walker, Jonathan D. Voss (Illustrator)

The photographs at the beginning and end of this book are a large chunk of why it works for me. Don't get me wrong, Sally Walker's narrative and Jonathan Voss' illustrations flesh the story out and make for compelling reading. For me, it's just these old black and white photographs say, this is real. I got this from our public library and have added a copy to my shopping cart so we have our own copy at school.

NOVELS


4 stars
Don't Even Think About It by Sarah Mlynowski (book club book)

In this book a group of teens get contaminated flu shots. As a result, they develop telepathy and can hear each other's thoughts. Mlynowski tells this story from multiple perspectives so we get to understand what this means for different characters. For some of these students it is a good thing, and for others it means disaster. What it means for the reader, is that we get to understand all of them more deeply. This book offers up a bit of romance, a bit of heartbreak, and a lot of angst. 

5 stars
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

This book is everything everyone has crowed about. It is still sinking in for me since I just finished it late Sunday afternoon, but WOW, that was some listen! Doerr's language is so lyrical and beautiful that if I hadn't been listening to it, I'm sure my book would be marked all over with phrases and sections that left me in awe. I'm planning on reading this with my eyes so I can savour the writing more fully. 


CURRENTLY & UP NEXT 


Rabbit Ears by Maggie de Vries, the book club book I'm into now, is a challenging story subject matter wise, but so far, well worth the read. I've got a whole mess of books out from the VPL, so I'll probably read The Rule of Three by Eric Walters. That will be two more book club books finished. I'm thinking I might start The Penderwicks in Spring as my next audiobook. but I've also got Jasper Fforde's The Last DragonSlayer waiting for me. 
Choices choices choices!


#IMWAYR NOVEMBER 23, 2015

Greetings! 
Hello #IMWAYR! Jen at Mentor Text and Kellee and Rickie from Unleasing Readers host this weekly event where bloggers connect and blog about the kid lit (and other stuff) they have been reading in the past week. 

It has been a week. 

We ended up with around 75 book club member wannabe's. I hate to admit this, but I won't be unhappy if a significant number decide they are not yet ready.  I already met personally with one little guy who wasn't ready to take on this level of reading challenge. I filled him up with a collection of great books for him to read and he left feeling happy. 
The group decided to split up based on age. We will still have family groupings, but they won't stretch quite so wide. This means we will have book club meetings three days a week for the next little bit. After that we three teachers will decide what to do next. 

I managed to get a lot of reading in over these past seven days. I even got some blog posts up! Click on the titles below if you want to read more. I've tried focusing on our bookclub books. We are primarily reading Canadian children's literature. You can see the titles here.  

PICTURE BOOKS


4 stars
From Lands of the Night by Tololwa M. Mollel, Darrell McCalla

I really enjoyed this tale from Tanzania demonstrating how cultures take on and integrate outside influences into their previous understanding of the world. Yet while there is a unique perspective shown here, it's a also a universal story of a family wanting desperately to save their ill baby, by any means possible. A note by the author at the end of the book explains how this melding together of mystical powers is common in different parts of the world.  

5 stars

Before After by Anne-Margot Ramstein & Matthias Ar├ęgui 

Oh how I love this complicated look at change over time. It's filled with consequences and possibilities. These two illustrators have created a wordless work of visual majesty in the simple power of these images. It is a testimony to how sophisticated this book really is, that a list of grade six and seven students put it on reserve after it went on display last week. 

5 stars
My Two Blankets by Irena Kobald & Freya Blackwood (Illustrations)

This is a beautifully illustrated book that tells the story of what it is like to have to flee one's home because of war and then spend time in a refugee camp before moving to a new country. I love the comparison to language and culture as a blanket, but what I love most about this book is that it shows how important and powerful friendship is. 
  


4 stars
Little Elliot, Big City by Mike Curato

I'm either late to get on the Little Elliot bandwagon, or I read this book a while ago and forgot about it. (Honestly, if I don't record it in Goodreads, I can't remember what I read anymore.) There is so much to love about this book - the illustrations, the problems of being different, and the possibility of finding friendship.



5 stars
Blue on Blue by Dianne White & Beth Krommes (Illustrations)

I fell in love with this book cover ages ago and ordered it. I finally got it back from processing, and made time to read it before I put it on display. Beth Krommes images throughout the book are just bloody stunning. I'm not a huge fan of rhyming text unless it really works. Dianne White's poem of a stormy day on a farm works. I can't wait to read it out loud to a group of kids. If you don't own this book, you should get it.

4 stars
Little Tree by Loren Long

This is one of those books you can take one of two ways. On the one hand you can look at it as a story of letting go when you are ready to let go, and then continuing to grow. Or you can take it like I did, a creepy story warning that if you don't learn to let go, your growth will be stunted.
Of course Loren Long's illustrations are just drop dead gorgeous and if you interpret the book from the former perspective, like one of our primary teachers did, and frame it to your students as a happy way of showing that we all grow and change at our own rates, then this book will be amazing to you. I get this, but I still think it's kind of a creepy message without this kind of intervention.

5 stars
The Day the Crayons Came Home by Drew Daywalt & Oliver Jeffers (Illustrations)

What a fabulously brilliant book. Drew Daywalt and Oliver Jeffers have proven, once again, that they are comedic geniuses. I flip through the book for the second, or is it the third time? I've been trying to decide which crayon I love most. I think it's a tossup between Turquoise and Esteban the Magnificent, but the truth is, every time I turn a page, I like this crayon best.

NOVELS


4 stars
TheCat at the Wall by Deborah Ellis (Book Club Book)

This is a disturbing little book. It is set in Bethlehem, Israel, smack in the middle of the conflict zone. While nothing really terrible happens, the possibility of it lurks like the cat on the wall. The cat is both observer and participant in this story of two Israeli soldiers who have taken over a Palestinian home so they can spy on the neighbours. By the finish of the book, Ellis leaves the reader with a miniscule faint hope for peace in the region. I'm not sure if it is realistic or not. 


3 stars
Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer by John Grisham

While this series might not be stellar literature, the books themselves are an engaging read. I am conflicted about the roles enacted by Theodore Boone's female peers, but enough social justice issues relevant to kids are addressed to make me comfortable recommending the series. I read the second one, then went back to this one, and have concluded that they don't need to be read in order. There is a certain amount of setup  here, but I didn't miss it in the second one. 

INFORMATION


5 stars

This is a graphic biography of Michel Chikwanine, who at the age of five, was abducted by rebel soldiers and forced to become a child soldier. His tenure was relatively short, but still scarred him. The story continues on to tell how his family was forced to flee to a refugee camp and how only some of them finally ended up in Canada. While not as graphic as A Long Way Gone : Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah or Never Fall Down : a Novel by Patricia McCormick, this is still an uncomfortable story to read.

CURRENTLY


All the Light We Cannot See is the audiobook I'm listening to these days. I've just started reading Don't Even Think About It by Sarah Mlynowski, another of our book club books. 

UP NEXT


More book club books, and of course I must read the nine books I picked up from the public library on Sunday.

From Lands of the Night by Tololwa M. Mollel & Darrell McCalla (Illustrator)

Ra-Eli's baby brother, Samson, was very ill. The family took him from hospital to hospital but he continued to worsen. Eventually they took him to a healer. They were told to hold a joyful ceremony to call their ancestors, as only they could heal the boy.

And so they did. The ceremony included drums, singing, dancing and plenty of food and drink. Their yard was filled with many guests from all over. 

When it became dark, strange looking creatures arrived from the land of the night. An angel who claimed to have come from Mola (God) followed them. Her message was that Mola was not happy and wanted the party to stop. The music was too loud and he couldn’t rest or think.

The angel was encouraged to come and partake and, reluctantly at first, acquiesced. Other angels arrived and were pulled into the music and dancing.  Eventually even Mola arrived.


At midnight, the ancestors finally showed up, dressed in ornate clothing and headdresses. Both of the girl's parents addressed them, asking for their help. 

What I liked about this book.

Mollel's first line threw me into this story of magical healing. "One day he was well. The next he had grown ill - very ill." Following this, his writing and McCalla's gorgeous illustrations kept me as joyfully captivated by his tale, as guests from other realms were drawn to the celebration itself. 

That the family calls on many deities to help them, is both specific to Mollel's Tanzanian heritage, as well as universal, in that when times are dire, we all tend to call upon whatever forces we might believe might be there for us. 

I appreciated the author's note at the end where Mollel explains the beliefs in this story more fully, and how these melded mystical beings are integrated into his Tanzanian culture, as well as other African countries and places like Brazil and Haiti. After a bit of research, I discovered at CanLit for Little Canadians, that Darrell McCalla, the illustrator, is from Haiti. His vibrant illustrations enhance the global connections in this story. 






Child Soldier: When Boys and Girls Are Used in War by Jessica Dee Humphreys, Michel Chikwanine & Claudia Davila (Illustrator)

Child Soldier is one of our nonfiction book club books or older members. 

It is a biography of Michel Chikwanine. When he was five years old he was abducted by rebel forces in The Democratic Republic of Congo and forced to be a child soldier. Luckily, he managed to escape, but his experiences scarred him. From this narrative, we learn about his life before, during, and after this event. We learn how the situation in his country of origin deteriorated so much that this kind of activity became almost commonplace. 

His father was an activist who spoke against the corruption and lies of governments and rebel forces. Eventually he was kidnapped by them but managed to escape. Then the soldiers came to Michel's home. The family survived, but were forced to flee from their homes.  Eventually they connected up with their father at a refugee camp.  It wasn't until six years later that Michel, his mother and younger sister, were allowed to come to Canada. His father was poisoned and one of his other sisters disappeared before they could bring her over to be with them. 

Life here in Canada was difficult. They had to work hard to survive financially. But it was also difficult to understand that it wasn't that people here didn't care, it was that they didn't understand what is going on in other parts of the world. 

This book goes a long way to remedying this. 

There are some people who think books in graphic form are simple. They are wrong. This book is one of many being published these days that show us that graphic representation of challenging material makes it much more accessible and profound. Claudia Davila's brilliant illustrations capture the innocence of Michel's younger days, the beauty of his homeland, and the darkness of the days that followed.  

I appreciated the end section that tells us more about Michel's life here. Following that is more information about what it means to be a child soldier and even suggestions for what students here can do about it. 

I'm leaving you with a few facts from this book:
"an estimated 250,000 children under the age of 18 are currently serving in government armed forces or armed rebel groups. 
Of that number, it is estimated that over 40% are girls. "

I envision some profound conversations about this one in book club.

I hope you are motivated to read the book and find out what you can do about it. 

The Cat At the Wall by Deborah Ellis

I'm not going to lie to you. This is a disturbing book. Then again, Deborah Ellis has never been shy to take on difficult topics.

It starts out innocently enough. Clare, our narrator, begins by telling us that she died and came back as a cat. Then she proceeds to say that something happened a few days ago that she can't stop thinking about. 

Initially, Clare was a thirteen year old girl who lived in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. She was hit by a truck, and after a period of darkness, woke up in the body of a cat in Bethlehem, Israel. After being chased by a group of other cats she ended up in a one room house with two young Israeli soldiers and one younger palestinian boy. 

Clare as a cat, watches and takes part in the scenario taking place in the West Bank. Throughout this she reminisces about her life as that girl back in the United States. In her last year of school Clare ended up with a teacher, Ms. Sealand, whom she couldn't trick or manipulate. Ms. Sealand caught Clare numerous times behaving cruely to other classmates and adults, which lead to many detentions. For detention, Ms Sealand had students copy out, by hand, the poem, Desiderata. This poem plays a significant part in knitting Clare's past and present life together.  

Through Clare, the cat, we get to know more about these two young soldiers and the young Palestinian boy. They are complex characters who appear to be caught up in circumstances beyond their ken. While the young boy says little, he crafts a miniature city out of recycled materials, and when he is worried or afraid, he rocks and recites the Desiderata. 

I'm thankful that Ellis portrayed so much humanity in all of these characters. 

Tension mounts when the soldiers are discovered; first by the boy's teacher and classmates who have come to see why he didn't come to school, then by rock throwing boys and eventually, the Israeli army.

To be honest, I thought Clare was a self centered, nasty character then, and is marginally less noxious in her life as a cat. There is something sociopathic about her in both of her incarnations. At the same time as tiny glimmers of humanity emerge as intimations of guilt, she also takes pleasure in making other people around her miserable.

Somewhere in the middle of this read I anticipated that Clare would have her eyes opened and end up with an aha moment whereupon she would wake in a coma back in a hospital in America a changed person.

I was wrong.

I suppose Clare does manage to transform a bit. I won't tell you how she does it, but suffice to say, she actually does something good for others. This ending takes us back to the beginning where she states, "I can't stop thinking about it, and I'm not used to thinking very much about things."

I feel like I need to have another read of this book. It is a superb representation of what it must be like to live in the world of the West Bank, but there is more about Clare's character that I think I might be missing - her stubborn recalcitrance is perhaps symbolic of people trapped in that seemingly never ending struggle. Perhaps her eventual questioning and wondering reflect optimism for some kind of Peace in the Middle East. I sure hope so.