Category Archives: currently reading

Holiday reading

With some much needed time spent resting after the whirlwind that was the Wonderful World of Reading, today I decided to load up my virtual bookshelf in anticipation of all the free reading time I’ll have once Thanksgiving and Christmas break approaches (that’s minus the eating and #shoppingsmall and socializing time, mind you.)

NetGalley is such a lifesaver, especially when you:

a) are awake at 4am on a Sunday and can’t sleep
b) want a diverse collection of titles to read for personal and professional purposes
c) realize the bag of books you’ve been meaning to read are in the trunk of your car and it’s 30 degrees out at 4am…and raining (finally, California!)
d) have a cat sleeping by your side that wouldn’t take kindly to your getting out of bed, thank you very much.



Boy oh boy, it was such a nice surprise to see that THIS title, not available until May 2017 was available for request:



That’s Ben Clanton’s second book in the Narwhal and Jelly series: Super Narwhal and Jelly Jolt. If you’re looking for a fantastically optimistic and fun book to share with young ones, in the vein of Mo Willems’ Elephant and Piggie series, you must, must, MUST read this.

If that doesn’t sell it, take a look at how cheery and happy the main character is:

Courtesy of

Courtesy of

Sadly, I have to patiently wait for the powers that be to approve my request so that I can infuse my day with a dose of Narwhal cheer. But for the record, I’m such a fan that I *may* be taken as someone who is somewhat, mildly obsessed with the book.

Not a stalker, really

Not a stalker, really

That’s me working to get the first book into the hands of young readers everywhere, and me dressing up as Narwhal for Halloween, and me succumbing to Narwhal and Jelly’s mentioned treat of choice in book #1 (a waffle maker is on the Christmas wish list now, thank you Mr. Clanton).

Can you tell that I really, really like the book?


Notwithstanding the great news about Narwhal, I did pick out a few other titles that I’m excited about sharing:

NetGalley shelf 11/20/16 #1

NetGalley shelf 11/20/16 #1

NetGalley shelf 11/20/16 #2

NetGalley shelf 11/20/16 #2

The first of which ties into a post I made a while back about my challenge to myself regarding mindsets & salads, and I wish I had this book in my hands to encourage me:

Salad in a jar by Anna Helm Baxter (Jan 2017)

Salad in a jar by Anna Helm Baxter (Jan 17, 2017)

The book is my kind of cookbook: simple and straightforward without a whole lot of storytelling, and the photos by Victoria Wall Harris are gorgeous.

For starters, the table of contents utilizes plenty of white space (thank you, designers) and the book is split into 5 sections: dressings, raw food, small jars, big jars and sweet endings.

A short introduction follows, and it covers the types of jars and other equipment needed (spinners, peelers, mandolin). After that are two pages of what I anticipate will be highly pinned images: page 9 showing how to layer the salads and page 11 with a list of the Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen.

Then you have the recipes. Take for example, the breakdown of the Southeast Asian salad. The ingredients are spread out in front of you with a photo shot from above so you see everything needed at a glance. Turn the page and the salad is assembled, with notes at top on the health properties of the salad, and notes below on how to assemble: simply genius!


Ingredients! Photo courtesy of Ten Speed Press


Assembled! Photo courtesy of Ten Speed Press

With 68 recipes included, there’s no shortage of ways to prepare a delicious salad, and there’s even a section for those who are looking for a sweet treat following a salad.

THIS gal will be studying up on the book for the upcoming vegetarian Thanksgiving (2 in the party that are vegetarian, but everybody skips on meat, another story for another day) and I’m hoping…perhaps there will be a follow up on noodle soups in a jar? I also downloaded The Pho Cookbook by Andrea Nguyen, and judging from the photos within (it’s a storytelling cookbook folks), the content looks detailed and intricate and amazingly delicious.


The next series of books I downloaded come from First Second Press, a publisher that’s been growing in my estimation. I read about the Science Comics series via the Horn Book Guide and flipped through their recommended Coral Reefs title with a smile as I found it was beautifully drawn and informative. This morning, while browsing NetGalley, I found three more to add to the collection: Bats, Plagues, Flying Machines.

Each page is intricately detailed, and the panels contain such great information that I can’t wait until they’re published to share them with students.

Courtesy of First Second Press

Bats: Courtesy of First Second Press (Feb. 28, 2017)

Flying Machines: Courtesy of First Second Press

Flying Machines: Courtesy of First Second Press (May 23, 2017)


Plagues: Courtesy of First Second Press (Aug 29, 2017)

What are you reading? (10/16)

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.

A riot!

A riot!

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).

Middles. Ugh.

Middles. Ugh.

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.

Cuteness x 2

Cuteness x 2

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:

  1. A character who doesn’t look like you or live like you
  2. A topic you don’t know much about
  3. 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.

Rooting for Ghost.

Rooting for Ghost.

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.

4th grade me would've appreciated this book.

4th grade me would’ve appreciated this book.

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.

Creative writing for the win.

Creative writing for the win.

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?

What are you reading? (9/16)

Currently Reading

Lily and Dunkin by Donna Gephart

I’m currently making my way through Lily and Dunkin by Donna Gephart which is a novel I want to deliberately take my time with. It tells the story of Timothy McGrother who wants more than anything to start eighth grade as Lily Jo McGrother. And then there’s Norbert Dorfman who has just moved from New Jersey and is dealing with bipolar disorder and a hidden secret, something to do with his father and why he moved.

I’m doing what Gene Luen Yang, National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature calls Reading Without Walls. He’s challenged us to read in one of three ways:

  1. Read a book about a character who doesn’t look like you or doesn’t live like you.
  2. Read a book about a topic you don’t know much about
  3. Read a book in a format that you don’t normally read for fun (chapter book, graphic novel, book in verse, picture book, hybrid book, etc)

I shared the challenge with students during our book talk on Monday, and am tackling 1 and 2 in the challenge above. So far, the book is tough. My heart aches for Lily Jo and I’m holding my breath as to what Norbert has done, both to fit in with the boys at school and with (or to?) his family.

It’s not an easy book, but I didn’t expect it to be. Reading outside of my comfort zone opens my eyes to other perspectives that I would otherwise be blind to. I’m ever so grateful for authors and their bravery at tackling a topic, bringing it to light and showing others, yes, this is life.

Norbert (aka Dunkin) has just made the final cut for the basketball team. Page 148. The next chapter is called “It’s Time To Go”

Deep breath.

And read.