Wednesday, September 22, 2010


I am really excited about a new post I should be able to write in about a week. My plan is for it to be the first of many in a monthly recurring post. It's going to be called... Are you ready? Are you really ready? Flashback Newbery!

I have so many *Hall of Shame" Newbery books I haven't read. I was especially shamed when I read a post by a blogger who has read ALL the Newbery Honor books since 1926! She did it systematically (a la Julie and Julia). That's impressive. But why would someone want to go back in time? Especially when life has changed so much in the past 100 years? Won't the stories in these books be dusty and boring? I feel called to do a fearless and searching inventory of some of these hallowed books!

A Marty McFly for Newberys!

Because my oldest has hit fourth grade and my day from 3:00 involves wearing many hats including but not limited to homework whip-cracker, short-order cook, chauffer, dog-catcher (our new rescue dog is a houdini) etc... And day-time is filled with work, plus stuff so boring to list it will put you to sleep. So you get it- I need to use my reading time wisely. If that's the case, why would I want to get in a time machine and read old childrens' books especially when so many great ones are coming out every single month? (I'm reading those too, but that is not the point here!)
This is why. Because getting in a time machine and going back to some early Newbery winners has been SO MUCH FUN!  More details to follow SOON!
*This is Uncle Rico's time machine from Napoleon Dynamite. Remember? Nerdelicious.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Pablo Neruda- The Dreamer

Pamela Munoz Ryan is one of my favorite authors, so when I heard that she had written a fictionalized story about the life of poet Pablo Neruda, I knew I had to get my hands on the book. The Dreamer was not what I expected, but it was a perfect homage to Neruda and was a delight to read. 
I was expecting a young adult book, or at the very least a book for upper middle-grade. Pablo Neruda is a sophisticated romantic (read racy) Chilean poet. The book is suggested for a wide middle-grade audience from grade 4 to grade 9, dipping down low into fourth grade was not what I'd anticipated. The book itself is weighty and long, 384 pages. But it is filled with gorgeous drawings, whimsical poetry and light-hearted visual imagery that seem to match the character of the fictionalized Chilean boy, Neftali Reyes who sees, hears and feels poetry all around him from an early age. The story is hefty enough to engage an older reader but the drawings that hint at the story ahead are engaging enough to draw in younger readers who will be intrigued by Neftali and want to know why such drawings are on the page, and wonder where the drawings will lead them.  
As NeftalĂ­ grows into a teen, he becomes increasingly aware of the plight of the indigenous Mapuche in his Chilean homeland. Pamela Munoz Ryan does a wonderful job of integrating these themes of social injustice, neither overwhelming nor becoming secondary to NeftalĂ­’s story.

For any readers who loved Pamela Munoz Ryan's Esperanza Rising or (my own personal favorite) Becoming Naomi Leon, her fans, here, will be equally entranced by her writing and storytelling, and moved by Sis' illustrations. The Dreamer would also be appreciated by any young reader (or old!) who doesn't feel like a natural fit in traditional academic surroundings or who likes to color outside of the lines. Feeling, seeing and hearing creatively all around you can feel like a curse if your surroundings are asking you to behave, but Pablo Neruda and The Dreamer teach us to not snuff out the candle, the world needs to see and be warmed by that special and unique light!  

Thursday, September 16, 2010

I heart Taylor

So I just had to post a link to this blog entry by Cheryl Klein because not only do I love almost every post on her blog, this one is particularly eerie to me because in it I learned that I am not the only person who lays awake at night dissecting Taylor Swift lyrics!

There is a line in Taylor's song Mine that I listened over and over again so I could write it down and figure out why it sounded so so beautiful and why a few short words made up an entire story. I loved reading Cheryl's post today and seeing that I am not the only person who thinks her words are sheer perfection when it comes to teens and getting to the heart of the matter.

One thing Cheryl didn't bring up was the beautiful song Taylor sang at the VMAs earlier this week. Someone said to me that she really put "Kanye in his place." Huh? What? I didn't feel that way at all! Listening to the song, it felt like an olive branch. Didn't you think?

I looked online and there seems to be great controversy about her intent. So let me set this straight. I feel like I'm entitled because I couldn't have been prouder of Taylor, I felt like she was my little sis up there teaching a jaded world about forgiveness and quiet grace. It was so not a jab.

And of course she wrote a song about it, that's what Taylor does. She's a teenager and she's Taylor Swift, so if all the adults out there think she should've just taken it in stride and moved on, they clearly don't remember what it means to be a teen. Millions of young girls (and boys) listen to her music and if they haven't lived through an experience that required an act of forgiveness yet, they soon will. I love that Taylor wasn't about revenge and payback.

Because I have a mental catalog of her music, I feel like I can say without a shadow of a doubt that Taylor can't let go of the past without learning from it. How cool is that? Keep writing Tay Tay. Whether or not you agree with all her messages is one thing (I personally don't), but there is no denying that she set a glorious example of forgiveness and turning the other cheek. I heart Taylor.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Boy-friendly Newbery Medal Winners-Gold, Silver and Bronze!

Newbery Award winning books are considered the best of the best in the middle-grade division of childrens' books. Each January, one Newbery Medal book is chosen as the winner. One to three Newbery Honor books may be chosen as well. The judges are librarians from all around the country who know their middle-grade fiction like a cat knows a canary, so when a new crop of books come on the scene each year, and a few rise to the top, the books are scrutinized and thoroughly dissected.

That golden seal means a lot. It means little dreamy girls who journal a lot will rub their fingers over the bas relief circle and dream that some day someone will cozy up in a corner somewhere and read her words (oops, that slipped out). Out of my dream state and back to reality! What it really means that every book store and library in the United States and beyond will order and shelve that book, and although many will agree with all the accolades and hearty praise, there will also be voices of dissension claiming that book had no place as the King of the Hill. The voices will try to push the book off its throne, dirty its knees and make its author cry.

In my recommendation of awesome boy-friendly Newberys, I do in no way mean to make this list exclusive. I am sure there are many Newberys able to make a boy smile and giggle. But this summer my son happened to read three that made his heart soar. Yesterday his fourth grade teacher announced that each person in the class needed to be on the look-out for a Newbery to read this year. He said boys moaned and groaned around the room and he was hoping that he could slip them a copy of his favorites so they could know that this task wasn't nearly as painful as they were anticipating.

So, in keeping with the 2010 Summer Olympics, here are the Gold, Silver and Bronze of Boy-Friendly Newberys according to my favorite fourth-grader:


HOOT by Carl Hiassen

Hoot is an eco-adventure starring an imminently likable main character, Roy, and a barefoot boy who catches fish with his bare hands. Their quest involves saving a species of burrowing owls from certain extinction by fighting the corporate machine, Paula's Pancake House. Paula's company is trying to build on the owls' sacred breeding ground. Some people feel "boy" books do not have the character-development offered in "girl" books. Not true with Carl Hiaason. His characters jump off the page, wave you toward them with enthusiasm, twinkle and don't let you go until the very last page. My son says Roy is his favorite character in a book, ever! He says if the other two books in the trilogy, Scat and Flush, were Newberys, they might bump the other two out of their medals. Maybe.

*Both Hoot and Holes are movies (no surprise there). Fortunately we hadn't seen either movie before we found these books. After reading both books, we rented the movies. Of course neither movie lived up to the movie he'd "already seen in his head"! 

The Silver

HOLES by Louis Sachar

Stanley is sentenced to hard time at a labor camp/detention center for boys. His days with his fellow inmates are spent digging holes for the warden. This one is hard to sum up without getting into anything that might take away from the experience. There is a wonderful historical component Sachar weaves in back and forth along with Stanley's story. It sounds confusing, but it's not. And my son seemed to enjoy both storylines which eventually blend to create a satisfying and exciting read. Stanley and his buddies were phenomenal characters, creating the perfect blend of people and plot to keep you hooked!

The Bronze

MANIAC MAGEE by Jerry Spinelli

I love Jerry Spinelli. Star Girl is one of my all-time favorite books, so I had high-hopes for Jerry's ability to connect with my son. Jeffrey Maniac Magee has a lot of the sweet, naivete and allure I found in StarGirl and my son warmed up to him just as I had hoped. This is the oldest book of the three, having won the Newbery in 1990. This book deals with racial tension, prejudice, tolerance and acceptance. After reading this one, the whole family listened to the audio book while on a trip and not only did it have us all laughing, it created an opportunity for open and important dialogue about stereotyping and cultural differences. I personally think Jerry Spinelli is one of the greats in middle-grade fiction and I am surprised this one is not a movie along with Hoot and Holes.

Caveat: Once you hear the audio book, your family may have a hard time not chanting the jump rope song written about the legendary Maniac Magee by young girls who lived in the neighborhood! 

Now that I've completed this post, I realize that all three books were penned by male authors. Hmmm.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Freshly-Brewed Monday Book Recommendation

I didn't plan this. I really did just finish  The Last Best Days of Summer. It's been in a pile since I bought it in May, but I got side-tracked by Suzanne Collins maniaville, (go Katniss!) and a bunch of other books in the heap. Cut to September, now my boys start school in a few days, the season is winding to a close and I find myself writing about a wonderful book called The Last Best Days of Summer. Finishing this sweet hopeful book and knowing the last week of a glorious summer is slipping out of reach seems meant to be. Finishing a near-perfect book and a near-perfect summer is always bittersweet.

Twelve-year-old Lucy thinks August is the most perfect time of the year. August is when she spends time with Grams at the lake house. Grams is the person Lucy feels most known by. The person who makes her feel safe and centered. That is, until this summer. Grams is a different person this summer and it couldn't be happening at a more confusing time. Lucy's best friend sends her off with a stack of teen magazines, hoping Lucy will study up on how to increase their popularity and Lucy eagerly leaves behind Eddie, a friend with Down's Syndrome who she enjoys but only will admit it deep down inside. How can Grams be losing it when Lucy desperately needs her so much.

I love Valerie Hobbs' simple straightforward writing. She lured me in with Defiance (Imagine bringing together an eleven year old boy with cancer, a spunky old neighbor lady and a cow named Blossom. Are you hooked yet?) I have been eagerly awaiting this one and it did not disappoint. Once again she brings together characters who are so different from one another and manages to create this amazing harmony. Stuff that really does happen in life, but often feels artificial in print. With Hobbs it feels anything but artificial. My heart went out to sweet Lucy, grappling with the indescribable pain of losing her childhood, coupled with her beloved Grams, losing her memory, drifting away from Lucy when she needed her most. And innocent Eddie, who was so very unaware of the difficulties around him, but who added so much to the story and to Lucy's growth throughout the book.

This book has that "girlfriend" quality I remember longing for and looking for in books as a young reader. A book that provided a friend hidden in the pages. Someone who could articulate her frustration like I often could not, someone who's life felt a little out of control but she was muddling through anyway. This book will touch many girls' hearts. I know I will recommending it and giving it to many!