I’ve been making my way through books that make me laugh as a method to de-stress from the hectic months ahead. Some of the books I’ve read recently have come as a surprise, some I heard about en route home listening to NPR, but for October, my aim has been to laugh because, why not?
I really think I deserve it.
I also read some realistic fiction from visiting author Wendelin Van Draanen and caught up with Jordan Sonnenblick’s newest title. But first, the humor.
Scholastic sent a box of advance reader copies and one of the galleys caught the attention of a mom who brings her youngest son to our library every day before he goes to preschool. She noticed the author and commented about how funny his other book was, and that had me curious: how could she know about a book in advance of the advance reader copy?
Turns out, she’d been following Scholastic and bought the book from abroad seeing as author Aaron Blabey’s The Bad Guys book 1 was such a hit with her sons. She was so excited, we dug through the box looking for his book, which she hoped would be the third in the series. Sadly, it turned out to be book one which she’d already read but she said I’d be in for a treat.
She was right.
The Bad Guys by Aaron Blabey tells of a wolf trying to enlist other fearsome animals to reform and do good deeds in the world. In addition to the (big bad) wolf, there’s also a shark, piranha and snake. They warm up to goodness by trying to save a cat stuck in a tree (it doesn’t go well). After that feat, their next attempt is to free all the dogs locked up inside a prison/pound. The writing is nothing short of hilarious and the illustrations really add to what’s happening in the story. Typically, my barometer of when a book is funny is when I can’t keep a straight face reading it out loud. As soon as the kids see me laugh, they start too and I really enjoy hearing them do this (especially one student who has the most delightful belly chuckle).
Sadly, the book won’t come out until January 2017 but it is one guaranteed to engage even the most reluctant reader. I recommend it for grades 2 and up (and secretly wish Scholastic would release the box set all at once in January).
When I first saw the cover for Booki Viviat’s Frazzled, I thought it looked interesting, but I never had a chance to really focus on it. On the long drive home one day, NPR happened to feature her for a segment, and I learned her book was written for middle schoolers with a surprise twist at the end, and I knew I had to read it. True to the interview, the book is written with the most insightful perspective from Abby Wu, who lives in a state of impending doom. I read the first few chapters during the looooonnng waiting period of the debate tournament and it had me chuckling with both the words and the illustrations. A strict mom is depicted as a “momster” complete with fire breath. Abby Wu draws out her imagined lunch tray versus her real lunch tray and moans, “There must be a mistake!” This is a great first book from Viviat, and readers (myself included) will surely clamor for more. I recommend this book for grades 4 and up.
In my sadness over the end of Mo Williams’ Elephant and Piggie series, I’ve since learned that there’s a set of “Elephant and Piggie Like Reading” books that encourage young readers (#eplr). Laurie Keller’s, We Are Growing is part of the new series, as is Dan Santat’s, The Cookie Fiasco. There are more slated to be released which is wonderful news, but they lack the togetherness and twosome-ness of the Elephant and Piggie duo.
Enter Ben Clanton’s A Narwhal and Jelly Book! Book one, Narwhal Unicorn of the Sea, features the sunny Narwhal swimming through the ocean only to meet Jellyfish who has NO idea what a narwhal is. That’s ok because they get to know one another, and after what looks to be a rocky start (prove you’re real, no you!), the two become fast friends. It’s a terrific book and Clanton’s illustrations are delightful. He writes about the making of the series if you care to read about it. (You do). I thought it was refreshing to share a graphic novel aloud and am eagerly awaiting book two in the series. Super Narwhal and Jelly Jolt comes out in May which, coincidence, is the month of my birthday! I like the book so much, I may be dressing up as a narwhal for Halloween…more on that when it comes. I recommend this for grades 1 and above and think the last chapter is the best. The chapter with the kung-fu waffle is a pretty close second.
Speaking of which, you’ve been warned: If you’ll be reading Narwhal Unicorn of the Sea, you may get cravings for waffles afterwards. Honest.
Gene Luen Yang’s reading without walls challenge asks participants to read about:
- A character who doesn’t look like you or live like you
- A topic you don’t know much about
- A book in a format that you don’t normally read for fun
I’d agreed to a series of book talks and was set to remind students about this when I realized: if I was going to put it out there for my students, I should try and adhere to it too.
I picked up Ghost by Jason Reynolds because I didn’t know much about track and field and running. I’d been doing a lot of reading of realistic books and I thought I should challenge myself, broaden the span of my interests and I’m so, so I happy that I did.
A quick note: this was a book I tried via Audible. In addition to wanting to read and blog more this year, I realized I’d be able to do one, but the other would be a little more difficult. I’d been reading over the weekend for pleasure, but with all the driving I do, it made it hard to stop and pause mid-way through the book when what I really wanted to do was to keep reading. What’s more, my weekend reading times were often lost when I visited the family for our get-togethers. I put the two challenges together and thought, why don’t I try listening to books on my commute? Sure enough, I troubleshooted my problem.
Back to Ghost. I book talked it after listening to it via Audible and mentioned to the students how desperately I was rooting for the main character, Ghost. A poor decision maker, Ghost gets into fights, is ashamed of his neighborhood, steals and lies about stealing and somehow, still manages to face each day with humor and a hotshot attitude. It’s that attitude that gets him on the track team. Sitting on the sidelines watching runners practice one day, he strolls on up to the line as runners are getting ready to run, and races along with them. Soon, he’s part of a team and shares with his teammates a dark secret about why he’s a runner. The ending of the book, like some of the others, has me wanting more and I really hope to reunite with Ghost soon and see if I can continue cheering him on. I think middle school students who enjoy sports would appreciate this title.
Finally, my two realistic reads are both from authors I’ve enjoyed and admired over the years. Jordan Sonnenblick has a new title out, Falling Over Sideways. It’s a story from 7th grader Claire as she works her way through middle school. Her best friends are fading away to an advance class in ballet, the kid she thought was an ally in elementary school keeps being mean to her, and she has to continue to be compared to her perfect older brother. Just when things couldn’t get any worse, they do: her dad suffers a stroke and she’s the one that has to accompany him to the hospital. When he leaves the hospital, things are not quite the same with him back home.
I’ve continually said that this is a book that I would’ve appreciated as a kid. My dad had a mild heart attack when I was in the fourth grade and I really would’ve liked reading about a strong character facing the same or similar struggle. Plus, there’s a chapter rather early on where Claire talks about her girl issues that is so spot on. What really had me appreciative is how Claire pushes her dad to be more like himself, to work to get better. The last lines of the book had me tearing up, in a good way. Jordan Sonnenblick is an author that should never stop writing, and I’ve recommended his books over the years to anyone I can. I say grades 5 and up would like his work. Adults, too.
Author Wendelin Van Draanen is visiting MJS this November, so I had to catch up with her newest book, The Secret Life of Lincoln Jones. I’ve introduced her Shredderman book to 3rd and 4th grade students, letting them know that I shared it with 4th and 3rd graders some years ago because I was so impressed the kid in the story is actually using technology!
In The Secret Life of Lincoln Jones, we have Lincoln, hiding his life from his new school mates. See, Lincoln has to stay with mom after school in an old folks home, where his mom works as a caregiver. The folks there are sometimes ornery and have faulty memories, and Lincoln is embarrassed he has to be there. He spends his time making up stories and writing them down in his journal until the ever curious Kandi Kain catches him and helps him focus on the people around him.
There are both laughable moments in this book (zombie in a wheelchair!) as there are touching moments that brought me to tears (when Lincoln witnesses two deaths). The neighbor who lives next door to Lincoln is grounds for discussion on a great number of topics and Van Draanen doesn’t sugar coat things when she writes about domestic abuse (which I’m noticing more authors are addressing). It’s a change from her mysteries and her other stand alone titles and I can’t wait to meet her to talk more about Lincoln and how his story came about.
What are you reading? What have you read?