Friday, February 17, 2017

Joel ben Izzy interview
I recently interviewed Joel ben Izzy, author of Dreidels on the Brain, as part of the 2017 Sydney Taylor Book Award blog tour. Joel is the recipient of the Sydney Taylor Honor Book in the Older Readers category. In the interview, we discussed how his work as a novelist and a storyteller.

"I suppose that, as a storyteller, most of my life walks the tightrope between fiction and non-fiction," he said, describing Dreidels on the Brain as "mostly a memoir, with some parts fictionalized. But I think that the hard and fast distinction between 'fiction' and 'non-fiction' is overrated," he explained. "I think of my writing as something between the two - 'faction.'"

Learn more about Joel's writing rituals, his stories, and his inspirations in our interview at Bildungsroman.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Orbiting Jupiter by Gary D. Schmidt

Joseph is 14 and just got out of prison.

He took a pill that made him go sideways and he attacked a teacher.

Now, as part of his rehabilitation he must stay away from his unstable father and join Jack and his parents as a foster child.

Living on a farm, Joseph works out his demons and tells his foster brother Jack, who's twelve, bits and pieces of his life story.

Gutless by Carl Deuker

Brock is a good, strong name usually associated with a strong character. Not so in this sports novel however. Our Brock is a good kid but as the title suggests he is somewhat of a shrinking violet when it comes to high pressure situations..

Monday, February 13, 2017

Playing For The Devil's Fire by Phillippe Diederich

I spoke with my students just last week about how books are both mirrors and windows, reflecting on our own lives and also providing glimpses into lives much different than ours. Mirrors that help us see ourselves with deeper understanding, windows that help us understand others more deeply, building empathy for others. Playing For The Devil’s Fire by Phillippe Diederich is a needed window into life in contemporary Mexico and the necessity of building empathy rather than walls.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Fuller's Earth: A Day with Bucky and the Kids

Imagine a guy figures out that the geometry he learned in school was not nature's geometry. Buckminster Fuller did that. He called nature's geometry "synergetics," to distinguish it, maybe, from the wrong-headed ancient mathematicians.
Their geometry was based on a flat earth, with trees and buildings that were perpendicular to it, and therefore parallel to each other. Guess what? The earth is not flat, and the trees are not at right angles to it. Bucky also objected to school geometry's basics - the point, which has no length, width or depth, the line, which is a collection of those nonexistent points, and the plane, described by those lines. Who cares? Well, nature's geometry doesn't use squares or cubes very much. Fuller shows how triangles and tetrahedra (a four-sided figure, all of whose faces are triangles) are much more stable and less likely to collapse because of a self-reinforcing structure that squares and cubes do not share. NASA's construction of the International Space Station is based on this, using his invention, the octet truss. Quick quiz: 1) Looking at the sky, what direction is the moon? 2) On the moon, looking at the sky, what direction is earth? Bucky informs us that there's no "up" or "down" in Universe. He was a most original thinker, and Fuller's Earth is the best introduction to his mind-altering ideas. Richard J. Brenneman deserves a lot of credit. He gives the reader a transcript of Fuller explaining his "explorations in the geometry of thinking" (Fuller maintained that thought has shape.) to three youngsters, and then answering questions they put to him. If you want more, other books by Fuller himself include Intuition; And it Came to Pass, Not to Stay; and I Seem to Be a Verb. R. Buckminster Fuller was known as the planet's friendly genius. I cannot recommend Fuller's Earth highly enough.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

MARCH: Book One by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell

Today's post is part one of a three-part series. Why is that? Well, because there are three volumes to MARCH, the story of John Lewis's life as a young activist.

The entire series has a framing device: the story itself starts on January 20, 2009: Barack Obama's first inauguration day.

We are with an older John Lewis as he gets up and heads to his office prior to the inauguration, where he interacts with people--including a mother who brings her kids by just to see his office and is shocked to actually meet Congressman Lewis. The rest of John Lewis's story, including his childhood, his growing activism, his acquaintance with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the march on the Edmund Pettus Bridge where John Lewis was badly beaten while peacefully protesting, is told in a series of flashbacks.

Below is a spread featuring the mother and her sons, Jacob and Esau, there to see Mr. Lewis's office.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

I love Trevor Noah. Truly, a good human being. I love hearing him talk about growing up in a time that included the end of apartheid and the beginnings of the new South Africa. Of what it was like to have a white father and a black mother at a time when that was not accepted.
As I listened to this book, which is totally worth it just to hear him speak in all of the languages he knows, I just kept thinking about what an amazing life he has led. Coming from a place where caterpillars were considered an ingredient, albeit not very often, to reach the level at which he performs daily is inspiring. I really appreciate the way that he can take a situation that is completely unacceptable and poke fun of it in a way that makes one think about it but laugh at the same time. He is really not afraid to say what he is thinking, and that has mostly served him well. Though at times, doing so has earned him a display of affection from his incredible mother in the form of a hiding. He candidly discusses behaviors that landed him in trouble and how he and his mother dealt with those situations. Always with a laugh and some positive spin on it to make it a learning experience, not just the mindless and heartless act of a troublemaker.
I will be talking this book up at the schools in my district!

Just for fun, here is a link from between scenes at the Daily Show which shows Trevor discussing feminism in South Africa. It's a good example of what it is like to listen to his book.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Atlas Obscura

The book Atlas Obscura is the incredible encyclopedia/adventure guide that developed from the equally impressive website of the same name. Arranged geographically, the book takes readers on a mind blowing tour of the world that includes entries about museums of the odd and strange (and even mummified dead), geographical oddities and all sorts of unexpected art and architecture. It's endlessly fascinating and sometimes downright creepy.

This is the kind of book that is designed to beguile - it draws you in with the full color illustrations, shifting fonts and cool topics and before you know it, you are learning a ton about all kinds of thing you never even thought to look into.

There are also details about visiting all of these places, ranging from whether or not they are dangerous to how to catch a boat or bus or truck to get you there. But even though you might never plan to go to some of these places (which often redefine the words "off the beaten trail"), it doesn't matter. The text is cheeky and fun on its own, even without the round-trip ticket to see it for yourself.

A few of the entries discuss some sexy type destinations (who knew there was a bathroom in the Vatican with paintings of frolicking nymphs?) but nothing seriously explicit or beyond what you would see in any museum. It's perfectly fine for teens and honestly, seems tailor made for that age group (especially those who like the mention of occasionally creepy places.

Check it out - and the website - for something truly special.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Langston Hughes

Today, I want to share the words of Langston Hughes.

I am so tired of waiting,
Aren't you,
For the world to become good
And beautiful and kind?
Let us take a knife
And cut the world in two -
And see what worms are eating
At the rind.

Dear readers, and writers, and bloggers, and teachers, and librarians, and publishers, and mentors: A lot of people are feeling the weight of the world right now. Lend them your ear, and your shoulder. Let them share their stories with you, and share your stories with them. Lend them books that have helped you get through hard times, and encourage them to read, and write, and speak, and share. Words can heal. Believe in the power of books. Keep hope alive.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

He Said, She Said by Kwame Alexander

A football star tries to get with a girl that is out of his league so to speak.That is the initial premise of this novel but as with many such books, there is a bit more beneath the surface. Kwame Alexander is more famous for his award-winning The Crossover but He Said, She Said does a good job of exploring complicated themes while still making the book accessible.

Image result for he said she said novelYou would think that a guy who speaks about himself in the third person (using his nickname to boot) is an incorrigible narcissist. Anyone can change if they have the right motivation however and in this case the motivation is a woman.  Claudia is a French-speaking, novel-reading, article-writing knockout who resembles Beyonce. There is one problem though, she only dates college guys. Worse, she knows all about T-Diddy's reputation with the females.  T-Diddy will have to change his game up if he ever wants a chance with Claudia.

The seed idea of this novel is the result of a writing workshop Alexander's hosted with some teens and the dialogue is spot on. I liked the fact that some of the chapters were completely in Facebook format chat complete with likes, comments and sub comments.

As T-Diddy does all he can to court Claudia he realizes that his play handbook does not have a chapter for a woman like her and he resorts to serious measures to woo her. That's when the consequences become serious. I like that the wisdom of the ancestors is also recognized as they frequently offer guidance to T-Diddy about matters of life and love. I did have an issue with the portrayal of Claudia as snooty; being black and liking finer things are not mutually exclusive. Some read alikes for boys would be Anna Banks' Joyride and Dana Davidson's Jason & Kyra.

See lots of other reviews on my site here