#IMWAYR MARCH 27, 2016

Here we are.  #IMWAYR time again. Thanks to Jen at Mentor Text and Kellee and Ricki at Unleashing Readers for hosting this weekly event where readers of kidlit get together to share what we have been reading in the previous week.

First off, thanks so much for everyone's kind words last week. My mother has just been transferred to the palliative ward at the hospital while we wait for a hospice space to become available. It isn't easy, but we, (my siblings and I) are coping. I've felt some guilt for going away this past week, but  a sister came over from the island to be with Mom and my brother was back from his vacation. Many other relatives made the trek from other places to spend time with her as well. 

Otherwise, my week has been busy with renovations, but peaceful. I read some amazing books and managed to write a couple of blog posts. I found time to listen to the Canada Reads 2016 podcasts and am excited to take some of the questions about the books to use with my book club at school. 


COMPLETED


3 stars
Audacity Jones to the Rescue by Kirby Larson

Although I enjoyed this book, it just didn't work for me as well as I had hoped. Audacity Jones is a spunky young girl who lives at Miss Maisie's School for Wayward Girls. When their benefactor, The Commodore, comes searching for an orphan to help him on a mission, she volunteers. The Commodore and his driver take her on a long road trip to Washington DC. Some kind of nefarious plan is afoot and it's up to Audacity and her friends, both new and old, to stop it. 
I enjoyed this plot but it was the characters and their relationships that kept me going.

4 stars
Honey by Sarah Weeks

I had forgotten why I liked Sarah Weeks until reading this book. You can't help but admire and empathize with her characters. Melody's father is behaving strangely and she wants to know why and who he has been calling Honey on the phone. 
This ois a sweet story that involves mixed up conclusions based on insufficient information. Having the dog in there will make it appeal to many of my readers.



Sweetland by Michael Crummey

4 stars
This is one of the Canada Reads titles that didn't make the short list. I get it since it really doesn't seem to be about transformation and starting over. However, it won the Governor General award in 2014 and I can see why. It continues to haunt me. This book is about the end of a life and the end of the place we call home. In this case it's an island off the coast of Newfoundland. Now that most of the youth have left, the remaining inhabitants have been offered a financial incentive to leave. The catch is that everyone must buy in. Moses Sweetland is the last holdout. The story is circular with present day events triggering recollections of major events in Moses' past. It put me into a state of mourning for Moses and many of my stoic uncles who are now gone. 


3 stars
Dumplin'
 by Julie Murphy

I wanted to like this book more than I did. Unfortunately Willowdean Dixon just didn't grab me and make me really care about her. On top of this I couldn't connect with anybody wanting to participate in a beauty pageant. 





5 stars
The Odds of Getting Even (Tupelo Landing #3) by Sheila Turnage


Gush, gush, swoon, swoon. Yes, I loved this book. Sheila Turnage is one of my favourite writers of middle grade fiction. I flat out adore the idea of her writing a book. I read this, Pax and Crenshaw kind of at the same time. I think my appreciation for them suffered as a result of the inevitable comparison. 



4.5 stars

There is nothing quite so fabulous as a superbly written middle grade novel. This one, a story of a boy and his fox, is going to be in my top ten this year. It's about war and truth and peace. It is a deeply philosophical book. I made some connections to Kate DiCamillo's The Magician's Elephant while reading it, but it stands on it's own. It might be the only book that could hold its own in comparison to The Odds of Getting Even


Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate

I've just finished this one and need to think a bit more about how I feel about it. I enjoyed it, but it just didn't live up to my expectations I think. Maybe I'll change my mind after it percolates with me for a while. 




CURRENTLY

I've just started listening to Through Black Spruce by Joseph Boyden but I'll take a break from it if one of my YA or MG titles becomes available. I'm reading When I was the Greatest by Jason Reynolds.

UP NEXT

All American Boy by Jason Reynolds and whatever strikes my fancy. The Shepherd's Crown by Terry Pratchett, the last in the Tiffany Aching series is ready for me to pick up at the VPL. I will probably start that as soon as I get it. 

The Odds of Getting Even by Sheila Turnage

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I would give a lot to be able to write half so exquisitely as Sheila Turnage. After I finish one of her novels, I have to remind myself to be kind to whatever comes next, because the truth is, she is a very hard act to follow. 

See what I mean from these little excerpts pertaining to Mo's arch enemy.
"Attila's face would be pretty if she didn't live behind it."
"Only Attila possesses perfect tread. The rest of us ride on the slick memory of new tires."

Turnage unique voice invites you into her world from the get go. It's an invitation you can't refuse because if you do, you know you'll regret it. As impossible as it seems, each book seems to outdo the previous. 

If you haven't read Three Times Lucky and The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing, you are living a deprived life. Stop what you are doing right now, go get these books and read them! 

In this, the third in the Tupelo Landing series, the Desperado Detectives, Mo, Dale and Harm, have to figure out who is behind the thefts in their small town. Mo and Harm are pretty sure it is Dale's father, although Dale insists he is being framed. Even more importantly, they have to figure out who is trying to kill Dale's older brother, Lavender.

There are puppies to find the perfect adoptive pet owners for. 

There are enemies to get even with. 

Turnage just gets so many things right. She doesn't shirk from exposing the darker side of living in a small community. "Gossips are like snipers, ... They run out of bullets after a while." At the same time, Tupelo Landing and it's inhabitants are so real and memorable, you could easily think of booking a vacation at the inn. 

What really stuns me though, is her capacity to craft such glorious characters. Each one is a complex individual with strengths and flaws. I swear, you end up caring for all of them, even the most dastardly. 

Here is the thing, even Macon, the escaped convict, and Dale's abusive father, is revealed as a multifaceted human being. Turnage helps us to understand and see the good in Macon that Dale sees. This is why Dale doesn't stop caring for him. When the church is broken into and the clues point to Macon, many people in Tupelo Landing turn on Dale and his family. Dale reflects, "Things are ... wrong," he said. "I can't think it yet, but I can feel it. Right here," he said, laying his hand just below his ribs. "In that place that folds up like a lawn chair when you're scared."
Mr Red claims to have known Dale since his father used to bring Dale by when he was "no bigger than a minute. Macon was a better man then," he said. "But he can't let things go. He's never satisfied. Everything feels like a slight to him. It doesn't matter how much he drinks or steals or makes Rose cry, nothing will ever fill Macon up."
And eventually Dale reveals to Mo, "He did a lot of bad. But he watched over Lavender and ran into that fire same as we did." .... If you don't stand up for the glimmer of good left in somebody, how will it ever be more?"

Ultimately, there are important lessons about life, love and human nature for our characters to learn. Especially on getting even. 
"I want to go see Daddy before he goes to trial," he (Dale) said. "I want to thank him for the things he taught me, and I want to say goodbye."
He looked at me his blue eyes serious. "You wanted to get even with him," he said, and I nodded. "I used to think I'd get even with him one day too. But there ain't no getting even Mo. The only even you ever get is inside yourself - when you don't need to get even any more."


The Tupelo Landing novels are loaded with humor and mystery, and at the same time, imbued with universal truths. Life with all its joys and heartaches, is messy business. This Turnage reveals to us, is what it means to be human. 

Pax by Sara Pennypacker

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I'm pretty sure this book is going to become a classic. It's the story of a young boy, Peter, and Pax, his tame fox. When Peter's father leaves to go to war, the boy is forced to abandon the fox in a forest. He is with his grandfather less than twenty four hours when he realizes what a terrible mistake it was. He gathers what he thinks he will need and heads out, hoping to hike cross country 300 miles to where he last saw Pax.

The story is told alternately from both their perspectives. Pax struggles to survive on his own but manages to connect with other foxes. Peter breaks his leg and ends up convalescing with Vola, a woman damaged from an earlier war. Peter is afraid of his anger and worried that if he lets it loose he will end up like his abusive father. They end up helping each other begin to heal.

At least some of the power in this book comes from the anonymity of place. The characters represent all people and animals caught up in the atrocities of war. It is beautifully crafted and deeply philosophical. I stopped reading many times to make note of quotations from the book. There are many phrases and sentences that took my breath away.

Many of these emerge out of the conversations between Peter and Vola. 

"I have peace here."
"Because it's so quiet?"
"No. Because I am exactly where I should be, doing exactly what I should be doing. That is peace."

"Now you're antiwar, right?
Vola steepled her fingers under her chin. "That's a complicated thing. What I am is for telling the truth about it. About what it costs. People should tell the truth about what war costs. That's taken me a long time to figure out."

"The plain truth can be the hardest thing to see when it's about yourself. If you don't want to know the truth you'll do anything to disguise it."

The water was what the war was all about. Peter remembered Vola asking him which side his father was fighting on. Peter had answered her, stunned that she would even have to ask. "The right side," he'd added indignantly.
"Boy," Vola had said, and then "Boy!" again to make sure she had his attention. "Do you think anyone in the history of this world ever set out to fight for the wrong side?"


Perhaps because I am here with my mother as she nears the end of her life, this sentence where Pax lays down with the old Gray fox resonated powerfully with me. 

He could offer only withness, but nothing else was asked.


#IMWAYR MARCH 21, 2016

Hello #IMWAYR! Jen at Mentor Texts and Kellee and Ricki atUnleashing Readers host this weekly event when readers and bloggers of kidlit get together to share what they have been reading. 

It's been a while since I last participated. I'm an all or nothing kind of person, and if I'm part of this, I feel the need to read everyone's posts and comment. But February was a hard month. My mother ended up in the hospital again. I was in the throws of last minute organization for Winter Tonic, our annual Teacher Librarian professional development and social event. And then, my Aunt Yvonne died. She was only a few years older than I am. I couldn't do and cope with everything, so I prioritized. Once the tonic was over, I carved out some space to grieve and started spending more time with my mom who hasn't left the hospital. 

Anyone who is a school librarian knows that libraries are about so much more than books. I took time to contemplate the workshops I attended at the Tonic, most especially creating more makerspaces in our library. I am loving the kit of Littlebits I purchased and hoping to round up money for more. Then there was the intensity of end of term work with students: finishing up book trailers and helping my young writers publish their stories. (coming soon)

I started out this first week of spring break by attending my last BCTF AGM. I love participating in democracy and appreciate everything I learn when I am there. I had no time to read or even listen to a book for four days! I did read lots of resolutions and rationals for them though.

Although I took a break from blogging, I did not take a break from reading. Reading is my break from real life and one of my first priorities! Here are some novels I have been reading. Don't worry, I'm only going to highlight my favourites today.







NOVELS


Everything Everything by Nicola Yoon
This is a fascinating look into an illness that I know nothing about. Sometimes when an author's writing draws you into their world with such finesse, you just trust them, and go along for the ride. This is what happened to me here. Madeline Whittier has SCID. This means that leaving her house can kill her. Up until now, Madeline has been content with her life, but that all changes when new neighbours move in next door and she starts up an online relationship with their very attractive teenage son.
Some of what I enjoyed most about this book were Madeline's musings and decisions about what it means to have a life. (Ok, So I also loved Madeline's dictionary entries and her Spoiler Reviews)
At one point I thought I would stop reading because I anticipated a tragic, heartbreaking ending. I'm glad I didn't. 
The Boy in the Black Suit by Jason Reynolds
I could have sworn I took notes and wrote about this book, but I can't find them anywhere. I read it while travelling home from my aunt's funeral. Of course I cried. I just adored the sweetness of this story about a young boy who has lost his mother. He attends funerals to watch the mourners and find a connection to others who have experienced his level of grief. It's also a bit of a quirky romance. I love love love all the characters in this story.

Orbiting Jupiter by Gary Schmidt
I am in awe of the way Gary Schmidt crafts his characters. His are young boys to become smitten with in so many ways. This book is no different. Jack lives in a happy family with his mother and father. They take in Joseph, a troubled young man a couple of years older than Jack. Joseph has had a hard life. He lived with an abusive father. Then at 13, he ended up falling in love and getting his girlfriend pregnant. What ensued was a year of hell. By the time he came to Jack's family he was badly damaged. Most of this book is about the redemptive quality of love and acceptance. It reminds us how important a few select adults can be in a child's life. Over time Joseph shares his story with them. More than anything he wants to see his baby girl, Jupiter.
I suspected what was going to happen with Jupiter. I did not like the way Joseph's story went.

Dory and the Real True Friend by Abby Hanlon
I adore Dory! If the gods had given me a daughter, I would have wanted one just like her. I suspect she would have driven me around the bend and I already have two boys who do that.
In this chapter book, Dory goes into grade one. I love the advice her older siblings give her:
You can't wear that dirty old nightgown.
You can't talk to yourself.
Do not move furniture around in your classroom to build a fort.
No matter what, do not use your imagination!
DON'T BE YOURSELF.
At school, after disregarding these directions, Dory finally makes a real best friend. Unfortunately her older siblings don't believe her.
My younger readers are devouring this series!

I Crawl Through It by A.S. King
I'm finished this book, but I'm still trying determine what the heck happened. I've got synapses sparking all over the place, but I'm still working to identify the big ideas. In a strangely familiar parallel reality, four brilliant teens experience the build up to the insanity of high stakes testing week. In the midst of all this, the story is an exploration of the power of belief, truth and honesty, love and acceptance. At least that's what I've figured out so far.

Death by Toilet Paper by Donna Gephart
From the cover you might think this is a goofy book. It is not. While there is humour, it's also a profound story of a boy and his mother coping with the loss of father and husband. They are in dire financial straits and will be evicted from their apartment if they can't come up with enough money soon. Ben hopes to do this by winning some kind of contest.
Toilet paper comes into the story when Ben writes a letter to a toilet paper company telling them how much he misses their superior product now that his mother has to buy a cheaper brand. I enjoyed reading the toilet paper facts at the beginning of each chapter.
There is so much to love about this book. There are sensitive realistic characters dealing with complicated issues. 


The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin
Just bloody lovely. This is a beautiful novel that integrates nonfiction information about jellyfish into a heartbreaking story of loss, forgiveness and acceptance.

The first in this series was published in 2011 and I'm only reading it now. I regret having missed it earlier. Neil FlambĂ© is a 14 year old chef who runs his own restaurant. Because of his superb sense of smell, he helps the police solve crimes. 

GRAPHIC NOVELS


The Outside Circle by Patti Laboucane-Benson & Kelly Mellings (illustrator)
I wish I could say that all of the intergenerational pain dealt with in this book was news to me, but it isn't. It is the story of Pete, an indigenous young man who grew up with a damaged mother who came from a family damaged by the residential school system. He got tangled up in a gangster world of drugs and violence. Then he killed his abusive stepfather and ended up in prison. In prison he connected to a special warriors program that focused on healing him and saving his life.
This book is gritty, but ultimately hopeful. The notes at the end tell more about the program Pete attended.
One of my goals for this year is to read all the longlisted Canada Reads titles. This is my first finished one. Unfortunately, it didn't make the short list. The battle over which book will win begins tomorrow. 



PICTURE BOOKS


Worm Loves Worm by by J.J. Austrian & Mike Curato (Illustrator)
This book is perfection in so many ways. I could connect to the craziness of organizing a wedding since my son was married last September. But this book is so much more than this. I loved sharing it with students and talking about the biology of worms. 

NONFICTION PICTURE BOOKS


Swan: The Life and Dance of Anna Pavlova by Laurel Snyder (Goodreads Author), Julie Morstad (illustrator) 
Beautiful just beautiful. The text is a graceful dance. You must take time to look closely at the images for they are filled with surprises. This ending is the most beautiful reflection on dying.
"Every day must end in night.
Every bird must fold it's wings.
Every feather falls at last, and settles."
I took this in and read it to my mother. We were both in awe. 

Funny Bones: Posada and His Day of the Dead Calaveras by Duncan Tonatiuh
I am such a fan of Duncan Tonatiuh's art. I loved this narrative that educates readers about Posada's art, Mexican history, political cartooning, and the meaning behind the day of the dead. 

This Bridge Will Not Be Gray by Dave Eggers, & Tucker Nichols (illustrator)
I adore the abstract illustrations and the straightforward narrative. Such a beautiful combination! 

I read this just after finished Funny Bones and I think the juxtaposition of the two books made me appreciate the art in each of them more. 

CURRENTLY

I am in the middle of trying to decide what audiobook to go to next. Otherwise I'm reading The Odds of Getting Even by Sheila Turnage and Audacity Jones to the Rescue by Kirby Larson. 

UP NEXT

I've just picked up All American Boys from the library and am nearly delirious with excitement to start reading it!
I'm heading away for a week's holiday next week and loading up on books, but not too many. In my need to prioritize and focus on spending time with my mom, I'm working hard not to overwhelm myself with things I must do, and that includes bringing home an overambitious number of books to read during breaks. Aside from what is on my device, here is what I'm bringing with me. 


I've got some of the longlisted Canada Reads titles as audiobooks and I think my partner and I will listen to one of them on our trip.