Tuesday, April 30, 2013

New Reads Roundup

April showers bring flowers, and April books bring remarkable and fun new reads.  Here are my favorite brand-new reads for this month (not necessarily published in April):

Knit Your Bit: A World War I Story

Knitters and history buffs alike will get a kick out of this unique World War I tale.  When Mikey's father is sent to Europe to fight in The Great War, Mikey is eager to help out with the war effort on the homefront.  The men in uniform are always in need of socks, so his teacher suggests that the class help out with the big knitting bee held in Central Park.  Mikey and his friends don't think much of that idea, but when it turns into a class competition between the boys and the girls...look out! I am fascinated with World War I and II homefront efforts, so I am delighted that this is such an appealing and informative look at the World War I homefront activities.  Deborah Hopkinson is an expert author of children's nonfiction and historical fiction picture books; I highly recommend her books (last year's Titanic: Voices From the Disaster and Annie and Helen are some of her best work to date).

Pete the Cat: Pete's Big Lunch

I am PUMPED about the Pete the Cat readers.  Making an easy reader a fun read is a challenge; working with limited vocabulary is certainly tricky. Pete the Cat fans should know that the readers are not like the picture books; you can't sing-read these books.  However, like the picture books, "it's all good" with Pete.  Pete the Cat: Play Ball has a good message about sportsmanship that's not overbearing.

Penny and Her Marble

Kevin Henkes's Penny easy reader stories are darling readers that bridge the gap between beginning easy readers and short chapter books.  Penny faces a moral dilemma in this story, for the lovely marble that she found in Mrs. Goodwin's grass doesn't really belong to her....or does it?

Betty Bunny Didn't Didn't Do It

Telling lies is a normal childhood developmental stage between the ages of two and four. They all do it. It's perfectly normal.  For the parent or caregiver, though,  it's very exasperating and worrisome, no matter how much you tell yourself that it's normal, especially if it seems to be happening more frequently.  The most famous tale about the consequences of lying is, of course, The Boy Who Cried Wolf.  If, arguments about cultural literacy aside, you're looking for a story with a tad less drama, Betty Bunny Didn't Do It should do the job nicely.  Betty Bunny, who learned how to control her chocolate cake obsession  and the consequences of throwing tantrums in toy stores, now has to deal with the consequences of lying and learn the importance of honesty, in her usual roundabout manner. 

Follow Follow: A Book of Reverso Poems

If Follow Follow doesn't end up on the "Best of 2013" lists, I'll eat my hat. (If I had a hat to eat.) If you need to teach the concept of "perspective" in your language arts class,  have your students read this and its predecessor,  Mirror Mirror: A Book of Reversible Verse.  What's reverso poems/reversible verse? Singer's reverso poems/reversible verses go like this: a well-know folk/fairy tale is told through a short poem.  Singer reverses the order of the poem, which tells the same story, but adds an entirely new perspective on the story from another character's point of view.  It's quite extraordinary to read.

Red River Stallion

Rose is half-Scottish, half-Cree, and determined to find her Scottish father after her mother dies.  Following the journey of a new-found beloved horse and his high-born English owner, Rose discovers truths about her identity and navigates the treacherous waters of maturity.  This is a fine read for horse fans and historical fiction fans alike. (I will say that I found the font distracting.)

Road Trip

A new book by Gary Paulsen is an automatic order for me; he's a surefire hit for eager readers and reluctant readers alike. In this age of bloated fantasy novels and neverending series, it's refreshing to find a little over 100 pages book with humor, adventure, and a realistically tender father-son story.  Ben's father is hoping that a trip to save a border collie puppy will bring him closer to his son; Ben isn't so sure, especially when each stop and misstep seems to add another passenger on their trip.  Their border collie, Atticus, is equally wary about the new addition to the family.  The hijinks are told in alternating chapters by Ben and Atticus (and by Gary Paulsen and his son, Jim). This is one of those books that's on the blurry line between children's and young adult books; a mention about a waitress's tight-fitting outfit is about the extent of it.  The alternating chapters flow seamlessly, with the Atticus chapters encompassing the obsessive attitude of a typical Border Collie (Atticus's chapters are quite funny).

I Am Blop!

Herve Tullet's Press Here was one of the knockouts of the 2011 publishing season, so it was with great anticipation that I opened the sturdy pages of I Am Blop!  It should be to no one's surprise that this is just as impressive and innovative as Press Here (it is a bit longer than Press Here).  I Am Blop! includes some very cool color mixing sequences; this is tons of fun.

Exclamation Mark

Can a story about punctuation with a message about accepting and appreciating your own and others' abilities and uniqueness be a hilarious read? It is when Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Tom Lichtenheld create it!  The team behind such creative and just-plain-awesome Duck! Rabbit! and Wumbers books tell the tale of the exclamation mark, who feels weird about being so different from the other punctuation marks, until he
meets question mark, who complements him perfectly. Okay, this may sound incredibly cheesy, but believe me....it works, it's funny, and it's a great example of why picture books shouldn't be abandoned after the age of five (because you're not going to find sentences like "He was confused, flummoxed, and deflated" in easy readers or easy chapter books).

Courage Has No Color: The True Story of the Triple Nickles, America's First Black Paratroopers

I was eager yet a tad apprehensive about reading Tanya Lee Stone's Courage Has No Color. Her Almost Astronauts: 13 Women Who Dared to Dream thrilled yet aggravated me intensely (and stirred up a bit of controversy for various reasons).  Luckily, that apprehension faded quickly once I fell into this inspiring and heartbreaking look at the Triple Nickles.  The terrible attitude toward African Americans in the military during World War II is achingly and honestly depicted, as are the Triple Nickles's courage, strength, and determination.  Stone was fortunate enough to speak with surviving members of the Triple Nickles, which adds a great deal of intimacy and depth to her writing.

Because the Triple Nickles never saw combat, due to the attitudes at that time, there has been speculation that young readers looking for an action-packed war story will be disappointed.  Perhaps, but that's not the scope of the book (whether or not Stone should have made this clear at the beginning is something that's been debated, and I go back and forth about this).  The courage and power of these determined men is admirable and noteworthy.  This is an essential addition to books about African-Americans' involvement in the military; I would pair this with Patricia and Frederick McKissack's excellent Red-Tail Angels: The Story of the Tuskegee Airmen of World War II for an engaging study of African American involvement in World War II.

I Dare You Not to Yawn

Some bedtime stories are soft and dreamy (like Time for Bed), while others are more rambunctious (The Bunnies Are Not in Their Bed).  I Dare You Not to Yawn definitely falls into the latter category.  The dangers of yawning are cleverly conveyed directly to the reader; if you're not careful and you let a yawn sneak up on you, you'll be marched off to bed!  Funny and tons of fun.

Piggies in Pajamas

I need to plan a pigs story time so that I can read Piggies in Pajamas.  These pajama-clad piggies are absolutely not ready for bedtime.  Mama has a few things to tend to before putting them to bed, so the pigs take advantage of their delayed bedtime.  Several times during their fun, though--"Thump, thump, oink, oink--All the piggies fall. Stomp, stomp, stomp, stomp--Mama's in the hall!"--with different variations on that theme popping up throughout the story.  No awkward rhymes here--just scrumptious illustrations and bouncy text.

The Dark

The Dark is awesome. It's funny, it's clever, and it's one of my new Caldecott picks.  Could Jon Klassen pull off a second win in a row? It's only April, so we have a long way to go before next January.  But this is quite remarkable. I can't tell you too much about the story, but basically, it's about a small boy conquering his fear of the dark.  I already have several plans for using it--in our upcoming pajamas story time next May (more details soon), or even for a slightly-spooky Halloween story time. 


Native American characters are all too rare in YA fiction, so I had high hopes for the well-reviewed Hooked.  I wasn't disappointed; not only does Liz Fichera honestly depict the challenges in some Native American communities (unemployment, alcoholism, unfair treatment), but she balances them with positive portrayals of hard work, determination, and self-respect.  Fred (never Fredericka) Oday is obsessed with golf and practices whenever she can (her father's job at the swanky country club allows her this privilege).  She can hardly believe it when she is invited to join the (boys only) golf team at her high school--and neither can the other players on the team.  There's no denying that Fred's skills on the golf course will advance their standings in local tournaments, though.  As Fred deals with being the only girl (and Native American) on the team, she must also contend with her mother's alcohol abuse--and her growing feelings toward golf team superstar Ryan Berenger.  Although the challenges faced on the reservation are not glossed over, they are not sensationalized; Fred's strong relationship with her father and friends are more important, and there is genuine hope for her mother at the conclusion of the novel.  The relationship between Fred and Ryan, including the suspicion each other's family and friends feel toward the other, is developed in a believable manner.  As a representative from Harlequin Teen said in a recent webinar promoting this book (and other new YA books), it's Romeo and Juliet with a happy ending.  I'm looking forward to the companion novel, told from Ryan's sister's point of view.

What a great month for great reads!  I wonder what May will bring....

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