I want to buy a carton of The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt, Newbery Honor Medal winner for 2008 and send a copy to everyone I know from middle schoolers to friends in senior residences. Sent to me by my teacher cousin, I couldn’t put the book down. I laughed, sighed, sympathized with Holling Hoodhood, 6th grader in Middle School on Long Island during the 1967-68 school year. The Vietnam War is an important backdrop for the novel as are Treasure Island (Holling’s favorite book), Mickey Mantle, and several of Shakespeare’s plays as seen from Holling’s perspective. He learns to swear using epithets form “The Tempest” and experiences first love for classmate Meryl Lee Kowalski as he moves from one misadventure to the next. How I have missed this gem written 13 years ago is beyond me! It is a great read-aloud in the style of Holes or an introduction to the time period. I sent my copy, along with Treasure Island, to my cousin of Holling’s age who declared “I read it in 2 days” and was moving on to adventures with Jim Hawkins.
Grumpy Monkey is staring up at me from the cover of Grumpy Monkey, Party Time looking as if the festivities have gone on for just a tad too long. But Grumpy Monkey, who was introduced to readers in Grumpy Monkey, with the help of his jungle friends, in both books by Stephanie Lang and illustrated by Max Lang, learns it’s okay to be yourself, and it’s not always necessary to go along with the crowd. “Party Time” has a delightful double page foldout of all the animals in a conga line!
While Grumpy Monkey will stimulate student writing ideas, most certainly will Can I Be Your Dog? by Troy Cummings. Throughout the picture book, Arfy, a homeless pooch travels up and down Butternut Street mailing messages to residences sharing his attributes and asking for a home. Alas, for one reason or another (“Our cat is allergic to dogs.”) Arfy remains homeless until his “home” becomes a cardboard box. Just when he has given up all hope, he is adopted by an unexpected source. Can I Be Your Dog? would be a great source for student writing responding to Arfy or asking a parent for a pet. Invite a speaker from the animal shelter in to share information about pet adoptions.
Beverly, Right Here by Kate DiCamillo, two-time Newbery Medalist, brings us the story of Beverly Tapinski, a character introduced in Raymie Nightingale. In 1979 Beverly, 14, runs away from home after her dog, Buddy, dies, and there’s nothing to keep her at home with her alcoholic mother. Beverly lies about her age and gets a job busing tables at Mr.C’s, a fish restaurant, and a home in Seaside Court, an RV Community with Iola Jenkins and her cat. Since Beverly has been posing as 16, Iola allows Beverly to drive her huge olive-colored Pontiac with its front end smashed in to the VFW for Bingo as Iola’s son will no longer allow her to drive. Somehow, Mr. Denby, Mr. C’s proprietor, never quite gets around to filling out the “paper work” to officially employ “Beverly Anne”, as he mistakenly calls her.
The entire story transpires in the trailer park, Mr. C’s, and Zoom City, a convenience store, where she meets Elmer working at the check-out counter. Elmer teaches Beverly to dance, and Beverly wins a turkey at the VFW bingo hall. In the limited environment Beverly interacts with a variety of characters, prevents a robbery at Mr. C’s, establishes relationships, and calls Raymie. She, at first appears to be angry and callous, but learns to appreciate the small group of characters who have helped her. Appropriately, the book ends with a Christmas dinner where the main cast of characters gather as a family. The book has a bittersweet feel as it addresses some serious issues without being too specific or depressing. The story is open-ended, allowing for students to add additional material to the story and also provides perspective for discussion on how thing have changed since the 70’s.
While current emphasis heavily focuses on girls, A Boy Like You by Frank Murphy focuses on the character of a boy, and the variety of opportunities that are open to them, many of which are those in which girls also participate. The picture book talks about dreams and vulnerabilities. Beautifully illustrated, by Kayla Harren, depicting diversity of families, ages, and abilities, the book makes gentle reminders, a good addition to any classroom library on how we think of each other.
A new addition to your Black History Month library is A Place to Land: Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Speech That Inspired a Nation by Barry Wittenstein. Stunningly illustrated by Jerry Pinkney it tells the story of the composing and delivery of King’s famous speech with input by actual historical figures (illustrated and identified) almost on an hour-by-hour basis. It continues after the “I have a dream” moments to the civil rights struggle Martin and his colleagues knew still lay ahead and which continues today. Notes and information from the author and illustrator make A Place to Land more of a historical document than a picture book. I can see its use in all classrooms from primary to high school.
Anticipating Women’s History Month, we read about Maria Mitchell, an astronomer, educator, and activist who discovered a comet on October 1, 1847. Still today it is known as “Miss Mitchell’s Comet”. What Miss Mitchell Saw is Maria Mitchell’s story told in starry sky illustrations from her birth to the study of the night sky with her father to her own observations of nighttime phenomena. As a librarian, Maria studied advanced mathematics and celestial navigation. She received a medal from the king of Denmark for her discovery of a new comet. Maria Michell was the first woman elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Visitors can go to the Maria Mitchell House and Museum in Nantucket, where every August 1, on Maria’s birthday, her marvelous gold medal is put on display.
Sweeping away the cobwebs and dust bunnies of yesteryear, Two-thousand-nineteen burst through the door with energy, good will, and positive intentions. Let ‘s capitalize on those qualities with some thought provoking books. Selected as one of Best Children’s Books of 2018 by the Wall Street Journal is The Rabbit Listened by Cori Doerrfeld. A small child is trying to process strong emotions while everyone around him interprets, diagnoses and pre-empts his feelings. Animals stand in for the thinly disguised adults who are quick to counsel youngsters. “Let’s talk, talk, talk about it” clucks the chicken; “I bet you feel so angry!” roars the bear. It is the rabbit who finally just quietly listens. In today’s culture where we are bombarded with noisy demonstrations and “debates” where participants talk over one another, listening is becoming a lost art. Use The Rabbit Listened to brainstorm some phrases and strategies that encourage listening in your classroom, on the playground, and at home. Role play some listening skills that can be used both in and out of school. While we listen we are building relationships and vocabulary!
And while they are listening… the first pages of “It Was So Quiet I Could Hear a Pin Drop” invites children to conjure faint sounds, such as the buzz of a bee or the drip of a tap. Things get louder as we move through the book, and the typeface gets bigger as a train accelerates and finally a volcano explodes! Of course, the narrator comes to her senses on the endpapers and realizes… I’m sure you can guess.
A book of few words, but many ideas is Give Please a Chance by Bill O’Reilly and James Patterson. Each page of the book pictures a typical situation when the word “Please!” should be used. Brainstorm and draw pictures of other times when please could or should be used. Have a rotating team of monitors who notice when someone uses please during the school day. Perhaps a pizza party could be the reward for generating a certain number of pleases. Civility could be fun!!
Have you read the heartwarming Raymie Nightingale, the 2016 novel by Kate DiCamillo, one of my favorite authors. Louisiana’s Way Home reprises one of the beloved “three rancheros”, Louisianna Elefante. Separated from her two buddies, Raymie and Beverly, Louisiana is roused from her bed in the middle of the night by her grandmother and forced to flee to a small Georgia town. There she encounters a surly motel owner, a walrus-like minister, and a mysterious boy with a crow on his shoulder. Louisiana’s Way Home is about finding your place in the world, finding out who you are and what you want to be. Take some time to find out what your students want to be, what their dreams are. I see this as a perfect place to write some poetry, “I am, I wish, I wonder…” I stood in the aisle at Barnes and Noble reading the first chapter before I put the book down. I think I will have to go back …
For teen readers, Markus Zusak, author of The Book Thief, has written Bridge of Clay, his first in 13 years. At 537 pages, this hefty and demanding book chronicles the dissolution and renewal of an Australian family. On second thought, who says only youth should read this book. Treat yourself this New Year by losing yourself in this chronicle of memorable and inventive prose before Hollywood turns it into a movie!