Tuesday, January 21, 2020

One True Way, written by Shannon Hitchcock, reviewed by Amanda Davies

Summary: Allison Drake, Allie for short, is a new student at Danielle Boone Middle School in 1970s North Carolina. She and her mom have moved to have a new start after her brother was killed in a car accident and her dad left. On her first day at school, Allie meets Samantha (Sam) Johnson and realizes that she's just met the most important person at school. Sam is friends with everyone, plays basketball, and rides horses. And she's nice. But when Sam's mom attempts to get their teacher, Miss Holt, and the basketball coach, Coach Murphy, fired because they're gay, both Allie and Sam realize that they need to figure out what they believe and who they are going to be. Matters become even complicated as Allie and Sam realize that their feelings for each other might be more than just friendly and they have to negotiate their families', their churches', and their community's expectations for them.

Straight Talk for Librarians: Allie and Sam's story is a lovely and realistic first love story. Like many middle grade books, the main characters are dealing with issues of identity, belief, popularity, grief, and problems at home. Hitchcock reveals the feelings that Allie and Sam have for each other gently and gradually, so it's no surprise when they admit that they both have feelings for each other. There are discussions of whether the girls have kissed but Hitchcock doesn't include any physical contact between them beyond them sitting shoulder to shoulder.
Parents like Sam's mom in the book, who believe that homosexuality is an abomination, might object to the content. Any challenges could be easily defended with a selection policy that emphasizes the importance of a collection that provides both windows and mirrors (Sims Bishop) of students' experiences.
Librarians looking only for #ownvoices representations of what it's like to be a gay middle school student may want to look elsewhere, although Hitchcock was intentional in having the books reviewed for authenticity.

Sonia Sotomayor: Be Bold, Baby!, written by Alison Oliver, reviewed by Klaudia Janek

Summary: Sonia Sotomayor is another book in the Be Bold, Baby! board book series by Alison Oliver. Fans will notice the continuity in the bold colors of Oliver’s illustrations. It’s a very succinct overview of Sonia Sotomayor’s life designed for the youngest of readers. The book starts by advising readers to “be a good listener.” A quote from Sotomayor states that “Abuelita would close her eyes and recite poems written long ago about the tropical land our family had left behind.” The book goes on to encourage readers to explore, be courageous, be helpful, be vocal, be a mentor, be just, be a good sport and to be an inspiration to others. Each declaration has a corresponding illustration that is a scene from Sotomayor’s life as an example of how she did each of those things. Babies will love the mirror at the end so they can see themselves reflected as part of the story. Older readers will enjoy the more detailed author’s note at the end.

Straight Talk for Librarians: This board book is a perfect fit for the PreK section in a school or public library. If you have others from this series, then this is a necessary addition. This book needs to have an older reader reading this book out loud for the younger reader. The vocabulary is pretty high level and is designed to be discussed with the examples from the illustrations. It sends a positive inspirational message. Each of the women featured would be good role models for growing readers. I think the mirror is a really nice interactive touch that finishes the story. It’s a great example to use to introduce the newest readers to what a biography is.

Hope for Winter: The True Story of a Remarkable Dolphin Friendship, written by David Yates, reviewed by Klaudia Janek

Summary: This informational picture book is the real story behind the Dolphin Tale2 movie. Winter was the dolphin who received a prosthetic tail. Winter needed companionship and was paired with another dolphin named Panama. Panama was an elderly dolphin that did not have a lot of time left. Another rescue dolphin named Hope was paired with Winter. Hope would not have been able to survive in the wild since she was found injured at a very early age. They both now live at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium.

Straight Talk for Librarians: The story in this picture book is told in such a way that as the facts are presented, it is still suspenseful and readers will keep hoping that things will turn out for Hope and Winter. There are a lot of photographs that help to tell the story. I think this book does a lot to raise awareness about dolphins and about the Clearwater Marine Aquarium and the dedicated team of scientists. This book is good for independent reading in informational texts. It is packed full of information and there is some scientific terminology that readers will learn. The book is positive and hopeful, even though the dolphins ended up at the aquarium due to tragic circumstances. It might be a bit of a tear-jerker, but is a must-read for all dolphin lovers.

Free to Fall, written by Lauren Miller, reviewed by Bethany Bratney

Summary: Rory has always been an exceptional student, but she’s never really felt like she fit in with her peers. She is overjoyed when she hears that she has been accepted to Theden Academy, an elite boarding school which she has always dreamed of attending. Perhaps at Theden, she will finally feel accepted. Just before she leaves, her dad reveals that her mother, who died during Rory’s birth, also attended Theden, but dropped out just before graduating. Rory receives a gift, a relic from her mother’s past with a clue hidden inside. At Theden, for the first time in years, Rory hears The Doubt, a rebellious inner voice that most people hear as children, but manage to suppress as they age. The sudden reappearance of the Doubt, the mysterious connection to her mother, a secret society on campus, and several characters whose intentions are unclear leave Rory feeling unstable and keep the reader guessing until the very end.

Straight Talk for Librarians: This book is a page turner filled with nearly constant suspense. It begins very typically, starting with romantic tension with townie, North, and a frenemy roommate, but then verges out into secret societies, spy behavior, and historical connections to power and money that have been hidden for centuries. As Rory’s understanding of her mother’s involvement at Theden grows through carefully crafted clues, the depths of Rory’s connection to a major global conspiracy become clear. Timely topics around the concept of artificial intelligence, vaccinations, and the abuse of technology may provide curricular connections while also ramping up the excitement of the plot. Rory is a fully developed character that readers will root for, though some of her friends and relatives are not as clearly drawn. Nonetheless, the plot of the book is so exciting that even reluctant readers may pick up this novel if they can look beyond the length.


Thirty Minutes Over Oregon: A Japanese Pilot’s World War II Story, written by Marc Tyler Nobleman, reviewed by Klaudia Janek

Summary: This non-fiction picture book starts with a prologue about Pearl Harbor happening on December 7, 1941. Then the story starts on September 9, 1942, from the perspective of Nobuo Fujita as he was getting ready to drop two bombs on Oregon. He flew an airplane that was catapulted from a Japanese submarine. The idea was to drop a bomb that would cause a devastating fire that would spread to nearby towns. The bomb that detonated caused a small fire that was largely unnoticed. After the war, Fujita returned home to a Tokyo suburb. He never talked about what he did during the war and his family knew nothing of his missions. In 1962, Brookings Oregon was trying to increase its tourism industry. They asked Fujita to come visit as a symbol of reconciliation between individuals and between nations. Some people protested this but eventually accepted the visit. Nobuo Fujita was not sure how the visit would go, but he accepted responsibility for his actions during the war. His guilt was growing over his actions in the war. Fujita was welcomed to Brookings and friendships were created. People realized that our soldiers were doing their job and Fujita was doing his job for his country. Fujita donated thousands of dollars to the town library so that younger generations would read about other cultures and not repeat the mistakes that lead to World War II. A quote from Nobuo at the end of the story states “What a stupid war we made.”

Straight Talk for Librarians: If you go to read this story out loud to a class, practice first. It’s a bit of a tear-jerker and difficult to get through if you don’t practice ahead of time. This is a powerful tale of war and reconciliation told from the perspective of a Japanese soldier fighting the US during World War II. I think it will get students to realize that it was not just the US who suffered loss during the war, but it really affects all sides. I think the story also shows that war takes its mental toll on soldiers they have to deal with it for their rest of their lives. I think that Nobleman portrays Nobuo Fujita as a hero, even though he was our enemy during the war. He accepted responsibility for his actions and tried to make it right through apologizing and educating the younger generation so as not to repeat the mistakes of history -- this is what made him a hero. Fujita worked to promote peace in various ways. It’s a good message to share with all readers. We achieve more through peace than we do through fighting. If you are in an IB School, Fujita embodies many traits of the IB Learner Profile. This can lead to really good discussions in the history classroom. It might inspire some students to write their history internal assessment or extended essay on this lesser-known event from World War II. For older DP students this would be a good story to work into a Theory of Knowledge classroom. It’s a beautiful story that enhances the IB philosophy of global understanding. I also think that Melissa Iwai was the perfect choice to illustrate this book. Her watercolor drawings enhance the tone and emotions of this story. The colors she chose perfectly illustrate the pacific northwest and the peace during a sunrise - even during wartime. The expressions of the characters give so much depth to the text that readers will feel the same emotions. Overall, this book pays tribute to the importance of global understanding.

Bull, written by Davis Elliott, reviewed by Caroline Rabideau

Summary: Have you heard the Greek take of Asterion the Minotaur, ruler of the stars? Minos seems help from the God, Poseidon. In return, Poseidon asks for the sacrifice of a white bull. Once king, Minos decides he doesn’t need to hold up to his end of the deal, and keeps the bull for his own. Poseidon, as revenge, makes Minos’ wife, Pasiphae, fall in love with the white bull. From this love, she conceives Asterion, half man, half bull. Though he grows up in the castle, loved by his mother, Minos wants to be rid Asterion and is seeking the right opportunity. He enlists a local engineer, Daedalus, to build a maze so challenging that, once Asterion is placed in it, he will never find his way out. When Minos beloved son dies tragically, Minos blames Athens, and tells them they will sacrifice 7 sons and 7 daughters to the crazed minotaur once per year. But when one of those sons volunteers, what will become of Asterion?

Straight Talk for Librarians: I was captivated by this book, from the minute I saw the cover to the very end of the authors notes. I am so blown away at the skill and craft hidden between the pages. For each character in the book, Elliot uses a different type of poem that he felt best fit that character’s personality. His use of alliteration, coupled with words or phrases our students use every day was both fascinating and edgy. The book read at a quick pace, and was gripping from start to finish. Elliot combined just enough crude language and imagery, plus a dose of sexual jokes and innuendos, to give the reader a taboo feeling, like maybe they were too close to these characters, maybe it bordered on too much information. And yet, his writing, style, and language make the story very real, very down to earth and approachable. I think, for any high school teacher who works with Greek literature in their classroom, this would be a great tool! It would be a great opening story to start discussing Greek lit, and would succeed at getting students attention and making them interested to read more. Further, the whole time I was reading this, I wanted to be back in my AP lit class with Mrs. P. She would have made us act this out, and it would have been great. Though Elliot adds passion and emotion to the characters, I often found myself wondering what tone I should be saying sections in. Should I sound angry, jealous, or sympathetic. This would be a great way to begin this conversation with young theatre students. How would they interpret the characters words? How would they add action to the story? Done on a simple stage like a theatre in the round, I think passionate actors could make such an impact using the spirit Elliot has embodied in his characters. Finally, to talk about poetry. Elliot uses less common poetry structures, like ottava rima, and Italian form of poetry, or cywdd, a Welsh form, to lend personality to his characters. This would be a great introduction to discussing forms of poetry, and using structure in student writing to further emphasize the purpose of the work. I will warn teachers, this book is not for the faint of heart. It has many sexual innuendos, and many straight forward details, which even trounce the number of swear words also woven into the text. Though I did think the sexual content might have slightly overpowered the story, I found that it read with the same wit that I find from Shakespeare, just more modernized and much more raw. I often found myself laughing at the situation as if it were comical. There were a number of swear words, but I was so focused on the text, I found they faded away, mixed in with words like “word,” “whatevs,” “pie hole” and “lol.” Then, in true teacher style, Elliot mixes the common slang with words like “odious,” “consonance,” and “asphyxiating,” giving enough detail to understand the meaning of the word, while also giving the book the high-quality, classic feel of a work of art. I would recommend this book to Mrs. P, my high school English teacher, who was fearless in her pursuit of making us love literature. She often gave us scandalous or emotionally-changed works to read, knowing her audience, knowing what caught our attention. This book will captivate your students and could be read completely in one to two class periods. It is slightly uncomfortable and unnerving to read, but I feel there is intention behind that. I’d say, if you’re comfortable with the topics included, go for it.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Cowpoke Clyde Rides the Range, written by Lori Mortensen, reviewed by Klaudia Janek

Summary: This is the second book that features Cowpoke Clyde. This time, he is looking through a “cat-y-log” and thinking about buying a bicycle. Cowpoke Clyde is used to riding horses and can’t imagine a ride that would not eat, stray, buck, bite or neigh. He decides to give it a try and finds that riding a bicycle is not as easy as some might think. It takes time to get used to it and figure out the brakes. A horny toad lizard, hare, porcupine, bighorn sheep almost get run over by the “new-fangled” steed. But after a while, Cowpoke Clyde was “ridin’ like a pro in some two-wheeled rodeo.”

Straight Talk for Librarians: I would say that this book makes for a good read-aloud with all the rhyming text. I am not totally sure how younger readers will react to the old-fashioned expressions and Clyde’s colloquial way of speaking. There was a noticeable lack of necessary twang when I tried to read it out loud in my Michigan accent (dialect?). Somewhat laughable, really. But the book captures what I would imagine a western ranch would look like. The animals fit with what I think lives “out west.” The illustrator did a fantastic job with the facial expressions on Cowpoke Clyde’s face when he was scared or frustrated. The animal expressions are also laugh out loud funny. The story ends with a positive message of not giving up. We face things in life that are new or not always easy and it’s important to stick with it. I think if readers like this book, they will go to the library looking for Cowpoke Clyde and the Dirty Dawg. So be ready!

Fairy Spell: How Two Girls Convinced the World That Fairies Are Real, written by Marc Tyler Nobleman, reviewed by Klaudia Janek

Summary: This non-fiction picture book by Marc Tyler Nobleman will grab readers’ attention with the beautiful illustrations, by Eliza Wheeler, and the historical photographs used to support the text. This story starts during World War I, when Frances and her mother moved from South Africa to Cottingley, England. Frances was staying with her aunt, uncle and sixteen-year-old cousin, Elsie. The cousins became fast friends and were practically like sisters. During 1917, the girls spent a lot of time by a stream in the woods near Elsie’s home. Frances was mad at the adults in her family because they did not believe in fairies. Elsie convinced her father to let her borrow their new camera to take a picture of the fairies. This was during a time when photography was so new, that most people had never taken a picture or even had a camera. Elsie took one photo and her father developed the photo. The photo was of Frances surrounded by fairies. The girls were adamant that the fairies were real and their parents did not know what to think. Elise took another photo and the adults were beginning to believe that fairies were real. News of the photos spread and were discovered by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. He published an article in a popular magazine and all of a sudden the whole world was debating the existence of fairies and the authenticity of the photographs. Eventually, the furor died down and the articles were largely forgotten until 1965, when another reporter tracked the women down to ask them again about the fairies. The truth was not revealed until 1983. Elise was 81 and Frances was 75.

Straight Talk for Librarians: What a great purchase for all school libraries! Younger readers will enjoy the non-fiction picture book about the great fairy mystery and older students will get a first-hand look at the research process. This book is such a good example of how history can be fun, exciting and intriguing. It would be an inspirational book to get them started on their own historical research process. I think it would make for a good read-aloud before jumping into an IBDP history internal assessment or extended essay. For younger students, it’s a good lesson on celebrity culture, source analysis and the idea of hoaxes. The author’s note at the back of the book makes for an interesting read. The sources used for this book set a good example for students as it gives insight into how historians and authors do research for books. The beautiful, pastel watercolor illustrations coupled with reproductions of the original Cottingley Fairy photos add so much to the story. Teachers and librarians can use it to teach information literacy and discuss source evaluation, hoaxes, and image manipulation. This is a book that readers of all ages can enjoy and learn from.

The Crossover (Graphic Novel), written by Kwame Alexander, illustrated by Dawud Anyabwile, reviewed by Amanda Davies

Summary: This graphic novel version of Alexander's novel in verse includes all of the same text as the original with illustrations added by Dawud Anyabwile. The Crossover follows Josh Bell, also known as Filthy McNasty, as he plays basketball, talks trash, and learns about what it means to be a brother, son, and friend. Like many siblings in middle school Josh and his twin Jordan love each other and are constantly fighting. Girls and basketball start to strain their relationship in new ways. When the boys realize that their former NBA-playing dad isn't as invincible as they thought he was, they have to decide how they're going to handle it.

Straight Talk for Librarians: Alexander's outstanding, visual poetry is brought more vividly to life by Anyabwile's illustrations. Anyabwile restricts his color palette to orange, black, and white, continuing the colors first used on Alexander's novel. The orange brings to mind the color of a basketball and is used largely as background color other than when it's being used for the ball itself. Anyabwile uses a combination of framed and unframed illustrations to help direct the reader's focus. Students who loved the novel will love this graphic version of it. English teachers could easily use the book as a mentor text for student writing, either in its entirety or as individual poems. In addition to having students model their own writing after Alexander's, Anyabwile's illustrations provide inspiration for illustrating text or as mentors for projects in art class. There is so much to unpack throughout both the text and illustrations when it comes to allusion, theme, onomatopoeia, word choice, voice, color palette, and inference.

Dog Man: A Tale of Two Kitties, written by Dav Pilkey, reviewed by Klaudia Janek

Summary: This is book #3 in the Dog Man series and a play on A Tale of Two Cities. Petey the Cat is up to no good once again. He is out of jail and continues plotting his world domination. He has a cloning mishap and creates a totally cute and adorable kitty version of himself. This kitty is super friendly and the opposite of Petey. During this time, Dog Man is involved in an accident with a chain of events that ends with Flippy, the telekinetic and super strong fish, creating an army of demonic Beasty Buildings. George and Harold are “totally mature” at this point, but their dialogue and drawings are similar to their previous work.

Straight Talk for Librarians: This book is a must purchase for all Dog Man fans. I think overall this series enjoys a wide circulation at all school libraries and you can’t be missing number three from the series. Kids will enjoy the artwork, the dialogue, and the fliporama. The back of this book contains real pictures of readers reading to their dogs. I think that is a great inspiration for all readers to read to their pets. There is a companion website that fans are aware of and enjoy. There is a lot of evidence pointing to reluctant readers becoming enthusiastic readers because of these books. Dav Pilkey has a personal message for readers in the author’s note as he identifies with being labeled a struggling reader. Young readers will learn new vocabulary from the dialogue and will probably recommend this series to their friends.

Captain Underpants and the Sensational Saga of Sir Stinks-A-Lot, written by Dav Pilkey, reviewed by Klaudia Janek

Summary: This book is the 12th!!! Captain Underpants book. I think readers who love this series will read and re-read this book until the next one comes out. This book starts with George and Harolds comics and then leads into the first chapter. Readers are reminded that George and Harold have duplicates from the last story. So, it’s George and George and Harold and Harold. The first chapter will immediately hook readers. “Before we get into all of that, I should point out that it’s impolite to use the word heck. These books have been criticized for their inappropriate language, and we’re going to put a stop to that sort of thing once and for all. From now on **, you won’t be reading any more words like heck, or tinkle, or fart, or pee-pee. No, sir! Those words are highly offensive to grouchy old people who have way too much time on their hands. In the interest of pleasing all the grouchy old people (GOP) out there, I have also included topics especially for them. So this adventure will contain references to health care, gardening, Bob Evans Restaurants, hard candies, FOX news, and gentle-yet-effective laxatives.” And the story goes on.

Straight Talk for Librarians: I LOVE this book for the commentary for all the people who have tried to ban Captain Underpants or point it out as “bad” examples of books. It is totally all the grouchy old people. This book has quite a sophisticated vocabulary and really is funny! It’s a bit of an introduction to political commentary that I think readers of all ages will understand. The escapades are still crazy and humorous. A plot between good and evil will have readers clamoring to finish this book. Every library should have these books to hook readers and give all readers a chance to enjoy Dav Pilkey’s work.

Please Say Please!, written by Kyle T Webster, reviewed by Klaudia Janek

Summary: This book will take young readers on a journey of learning how to go from saying “I want!” to “Please.” There is a very demanding little girl at the beginning of the book and a man in an orange tuxedo. The tuxedo man encourages the little girl to say please throughout the pages as she asks for things. The man threatens to walk away when the manners are up to his standard and the girl quickly learns. The girl asks for food, a ball, a kite, a cat, and a giant.

Straight Talk for Librarians: I think this book is deliciously weird. As an adult, that is my best description. There is a giant tiger named Fluffy. The illustrations are bright, bold and really stand out to young readers. Asking for a giant is totally random. This book is a good read-aloud. There is some rhyming and the speech bubbles are a good introduction to future comic book reading. I read it to my 4-year-old and she giggled throughout the story. While a “please” will not get a child EVERYTHING they want...by the end of the story, my daughter knew the main character needed to say please. She was inspired to name her own stuffed tiger Fluffy and gets a kick out of it every time she tells someone its name. It is a good etiquette lesson for PreK readers. It’s funny and readers will enjoy combing over every inch of the page spreads to look for new, fun things they missed the first time around.


Snow Job, written by Charles Beniot, reviewed by Klaudia Janek

Summary: This book starts in 1977. Nick is in his senior high school and he is reevaluating what he
wants in life. He makes a list inspired by a book that he has been rereading. His list is: Stand Up, Stand Out, Stand By and Stand Fast. He feels that throughout the course of high school he sort of settled for the group he hangs out with, the music he has been listening to, his family life and his job. Nick is pretty smart, but he has not put a lot of effort into this future. Nick is tired of spending weekends drinking cheap beer and getting high. His most meaningful relationship is with Karla and they are just friends, but Nick starts to want more. Nick testified as a witness to a crime he saw and put away someone who was older than him, but ran in the same circles and went to the same school. When he was released from prison, he started to pull Nick into the drug world. He also meets Dawn, who reminds him of Joan Jett, and gets involved with drug-running and witnesses physical abuse and prostitution.

Straight Talk for Librarians: I would say this book is definitely a fast-paced psychological thriller. It skirts the edge of mature YA and adult worlds. Nick is definitely not a perfect character. But as a teenager about to graduate from high school, you can see him maturing and really taking to heart his list and trying to become a better person. Who, by the way, is inspired by the main character in a book that he keeps checking out from the library. 💙💗 Nick does not do drugs and does not let himself be cheated. He really has a pretty solid moral compass. The drug-running is a gray area because he is trying to better his life, but desperate times do call for desperate measures. I was too young to remember the 70’s and it’s a time period that does not dominate the YA world, so I think this decade is somewhat refreshing in this book. It gives some insight into when Disco Fever was a thing, eight-tracks were in cars, Pintos and Gremlins were on the road and it was easy to be underage and buy beer at local stores. It seems like a different world without cameras everywhere and cell phones that dictate your social life. I also love the references to Joan Jett and the Ramones. It might inspire a new generation of readers to discover their music. The twist at the ending is huge. I would say that it is consistent with the noir feel and that there is not a “happy” ending, but it is a satisfying ending.

After I finished the book, I really appreciated the book cover. There is a triple meaning (I think.  At least that is what I got out of it). It refers to people getting snowed (conned), white power in a baggie (cocaine) and a lot of the story is set in the winter while it is snowing. It’s really quite clever, but also quite mature. This book is definitely for high school students. It’s a good independent reading choice. It is also perfect for those students who want to know what it was like to grow up in the 1970s.