Posts tagged ‘Family’

Building Our House

 

Each month for a previous job, I wrote a maximum 150 word review of a new book that came into the library during the month. I’ve expanded that idea to the blog in a feature I’m calling To the Point Tuesdays. If you want to play along, just post a link in the comments and I’ll add them to the post. This one (along with some others) never made it into the blog, so forgive me while I play catch-up.

Building Our House.jpgBuilding Our House
Author/Illustrator: Jonathan Bean
ISBN: 9780374380236
Pages: 48 pages
Publisher/Date: Farrar Straus Giroux, c2013

Based on his parent’s experience building their house, Jonathan Bean brings to life the entire construction process. Starting with a blank unbroken field, the family toils and perseveres. Through rain, wind, and snow, they lay the foundation, raise the frame, and add the roof, windows, siding, and insulation, until they can finally move in. Lots of muted colors lend an understated tone, and the illustrations and story combine to bring a warm feeling to your heart. Look for the tiny details (such as a pregnant cat and kids playing with the wheelbarrow) as this family makes a house a home.

The Seventh Most Important Thing

Seventh Most Important Thing.jpgTitle: The Seventh Most Important Thing
Author: Shelley Pearsall
ISBN: 9780553497281
Pages: 278 pages
Publisher/Date: Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, c2015.

Arthur’s first week back at school was about as successful as his first day or probation had been. Going from juvie to school was like going from one extreme to the other. In juvie, you learned to avoid everyone else. If some convict kid wanted to cut in front of you in the food line or steal your banana pudding at supper, you let him, no questions asked.
When Arthur got back to school in December, everybody avoided him. He felt as if he were inside an invisible box. Nobody bumped into him in the hallway. Nobody spoke to him. When he sat down in the cafeteria for lunch, the other kids picked up their trays and left. The whole school knew what he’d done, of course. Nothing was a secret at Byrd Junior High. You couldn’t fart without somebody knowing. (57)

Arthur T. Owens had his reasons for throwing a brick at the Junk Man’s head, but the judge doesn’t want to hear them. The judge also doesn’t want to listen to the fact that the brick actually hit him in the arm, but he will listen to the Junk Man. That’s how Arthur finds himself working 120 hours of community service for the Junk Man, whose real name is James Hampton. Mr. Hampton gives Arthur a list of seven things to collect, including mirrors, lightbulbs, and cardboard, which Arthur has to dig through trash, quite frequently in the snow, in order to find. But as his hours start adding up, Arthur’s involvement with Hampton also increases, until eventually it’s his investment that is the only thing keeping the project alive.

This story is one of those stories that you don’t think could possibly have happened, and then you realize it’s inspired by actual events. There actually was a James Hampton, an eccentric artist who lived during that time period, although come to think of it the only mentions to a year are in the very first chapters and the lack of technological references mean it could have taken place in any time period. Pearsall’s author’s note separates fact from fiction and includes a couple pictures, although it becomes obvious she’s taken a few liberties with details and timelines. But this is ultimately Arthur’s story, and it makes sense that Arthur’s character was the most developed. He’s not a bad kid, but he’s not seen as a good kid either based almost exclusively on his family history, and so when one thing goes wrong, the whole world turns against him. His judge and parole officer are no nonsense type people, his principal assumes the worst of him and is convinced Arthur’s the instigator in trouble at school even when told otherwise, and even his younger sister keeps calling him a bad person, but he makes allowances for her because she doesn’t understand. Arthur swings from proving them all right to proving them all wrong as he works at making his own reputation, and I feel like those attitudes are fairly accurate to modern day beliefs as well. This novel could provoke discussion on a number of topics.

Visitors Story Time

After losing my flash drive which had all of my past story times on it, I’ve realized that I need a better method of maintaining my digital files. Plus, after stealing utilizing other people’s brilliance in story time materials, it’s only fair to share and share alike. So without further ado, here’s my most recent story time about visitors. Are there other books that I’m forgetting that would work with this theme?

Songs:
Over the River and Through the Woods
We’re On Our Way to Grandpa’s Farm (with Puppets!)
Oh Susanna!

*Introduce Signs: Visitors and Family

Say Hello.jpgBook: Say Hello!
Author/Illustrator: Rachel Isadora
ISBN: 9780399252303
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, a division of Penguin Young Readers Group, c2010.
This is a great introduction to the concept of other languages. The little girl is traveling to visit her grandmother, and says hello to a multicultural (if slightly stereotypical) cast of people in over a half dozen languages, which are later identified on the last page of the book. I had a little bit of trouble with the Arabic greeting simply because it’s the longest and I probably should have practiced a little more, but otherwise most are familiar greetings (Buenos Dias, Bonjour, Jambo, Konichiwa, etc.). Some of your patrons might recognize languages they speak at home.

Little Elliot Big Family.jpgTitle: Little Elliot Big Family
Author/Illustrator: Mike Curato
ISBN: 9780805098266
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: Henry Holt and Company, LLC. c2015.

I stole this book of my processor’s cart when I saw that it had arrived. Mike Curato’s beautiful illustrations return, this time with pint-sized details. Elephant’s friend Mouse leaves for a pig family reunion, leaving Elephant to spend the day by himself contemplating his lack of family, when Mouse returns for him. Don’t miss the title page, where you see mice setting up for a family reunion with seats made out of spools and toy blocks and bottle caps serving as plates. Elephant’s independence makes you think he’s an adult, but he’s just a baby as portrayed by his reaching on tiptoes and stretching his trunk up to buy a movie ticket from the classically stylized ticket booth. The movie poster is so artistic Curato even included shading that suggests the reflective glass that encases it. Elephant’s solitude is emphasized by the scenes, such as the two page spread where he is in the theater, with the lettering on one side and there’s Elephant all by himself on the adjoining page. Wonderful subtle nods to multiple cultures, with an African American man playing in the park with his children and Hebrew writing on the Delicatessen sign are a delight to discover. The theme of having a home to go to and a family, even if they aren’t related by blood, is perfect for this holiday season as people visit one another.

Ribbit.jpgTitle: Ribbit
Author: Rodrigo Folgueira
Illustrator: Poly Bernatene
ISBN: 9780307981462
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Random House Inc., c2012.

A not-so-subtle story of the pursuit of friendship still has it’s humorous moments, and the illustrations are animated enough to engage an audience. Pig suddenly appears in the frog pond, happily Ribbit-ing away. Not knowing what to do, but jumping (pardon the pun) to the conclusion that there must be a reason, they set out to ask the beetle. When they return and find Pig no longer present, the beetle points out the obvious “Maybe he just wanted to make new friends”. All the animals get together by the end of the book in an unlikely location.

*I’ve wanted to incorporate signs into my story time for a very long time, and I finally decided to stop waiting until the right time and just start. There’s a great website lifeprint.com that allows for searching for a specific word and also gives not only an image but a short video of the word being signed in American Sign Language. A great place to start. I printed flash cards from Babysignlanguage.com and propped them up for parents to see when I instructed them on the sign.

Sunny Side Up

Sunny Side Up.jpgTitle: Sunny Side Up
Author/Illustrator: Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm
Colorist: Lark Pien
ISBN: 9780545741651
Pages: 217 pages
Publisher/Date: Graphix, an imprint of Scholastic Inc., c2015.

”Are we going shopping for new swimsuits for the beach today?”
“Sunny, I have some bad news. We won’t be going to the beach house after all. Your dad thinks it’s best that we cancel the trip.”
“Cancel???”
“I’m sorry, sweetie.”
“But what about Deb? What about all our BIG PLANS?”
“We thought of something even more fun for you to do instead! We’re going to have you visit Grampa in Florida. You’ll get to fly down all by yourself! A ‘big girl’ trip. Doesn’t that sound fun?” (191-192)

Ten-year-old Sunny Lewin will not be visiting the beach house with her family and best friend as planned, but instead has been sent to Florida by herself to spend the remaining weeks of her summer vacation with her grandfather in a 55+ community. The only other person even close to her age is a boy named Buzz, the son of the care-taker. He introduces Sunny to catching lost cats and fishing golf balls out of the ponds to earn spending money for comics. As Sunny learns about the secrets these superheroes keep, her thoughts keep returning to the secrets in her own family that have forced her into this position. Should she have said something sooner? Should she say something now?

I spoke with a colleague about the problem with problem novels recently. Problem novels need to have it as an aspect of the novel, and not have the problem monopolize the plot. An African American character does not always have to overcome racism, a transgender person does not always have to come out of the closet, and a disabled person does not have to always triumph over adversity. As I mentioned in my review of the Great Good Summer, it’s important to see kids dealing with all sorts of problems.

But there is very little action in the sleepy senior citizens community in Florida. The big mystery of the book is why Sunny was sent to Florida, and readers don’t even realize there was a specific reason for this until half way through the book. While revealing her concerns eases her internalized tensions, it doesn’t really solve the problems that caused them, and her struggles aren’t well represented in the visual format of a graphic novel. Multiple flashbacks allude to something sinister, but it is vague and takes too long to develop. The bright colors conflict with the subject matter, which I hesitate to call more mature but is definitely different than the lighter fare of Roller Girls or Smile, which I think is the audience that would be appealed by the cover. I wonder if Sunny’s talk with her grandfather could really make a lasting impact in her life. Even in the author’s note, Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm state that they wrote the book “so younger readers who are facing these same problems today don’t feel ashamed like we did” and encourage readers to “reach out to family members and teachers and school counselors,” but doing that will not solve the initial problems that caused these feelings. This is a very different book then Babymouse or Squish, and I think readers will be surprised.

Counting By 7s

Counting by 7sTitle: Counting By 7s
Author: Holly Goldberg Sloan
Narrator: Robin Miles
ISBN: 978162406902 (audiobook)
Pages: 380 pages
Publisher/Date: Penguin Audio, c2013. (audiobook)
Dial Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., c2013. (print book)

I’ve got some toddler memories, but my first sequence recall is kindergarten; no matter how hard I’ve tried to forget the experience. […]
I can still hear Mrs. King, spin straight and shrill voice booming:
“How does this book make you feel?”
She then made a few exaggerated yawns.
I recall looking around at my fellow inmates, thinking: Would someone, anyone, just shout out the word tired? […]
So when the teacher specifically said:
“Willow, how does this book make you feel?”
I had to tell the truth:
“It makes me feel really bad. The moon can’t hear someone say good night; it is two hundred thirty-five thousand miles away. And bunnies don’t life in houses. Also, I don’t think that the artwork is very interesting.” […]
That afternoon, I learned the word weirdo because that’s what I was called by the other kids.
When my mom came to pick me up, she found me crying behind the Dumpster. (16-18)

Willow Chance, adopted into a loving family, has an obsession with the number seven, medical conditions (particularly skin disorders), and plants. She is analytic, reserved, and highly gifted and lacks social skills, which makes it difficult to make friends but easy to memorize complex languages and scientific concepts. She finds an ally in older student Mai, who visits with her brother Quang Ha the same slacker school counselor that Willow is forced to see after being falsely accused of cheating on a test. These three unlikely companions, along with Mai’s mother and brother, are thrust together upon the sudden death of Willow’s parents. Forming a bond from secrets, everyone’s lives begin to change as they struggle to help Willow. What will come of quiet girl who has now lost her family for a second time?

Full disclosure: I have not yet read Wonder R.J. Palacio, which everyone I’ve talked to keeps comparing this book too. I will soon, I promise. I found myself comparing it to Rules by Cynthia Lord or Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine. In any case, Willow is an instantly intriguing character. Narrated by Robin Miles, Willow’s voice is given the subtle nuances that it deserves. She is self-assured when dealing with numbers, details and scientific facts, but quiet and reserved when faced with making decisions affecting her own life and social interactions. Miles distinguishes between the characters well, even realistically portraying the counselor Dell Duke’s stutter, but it’s Willow who readers are understandably drawn to, as she tries to make sense of things.

Mai’s brother Quang Ha is understandably upset by the new living situation, as the family has few resources to begin with and they are essentially taking care of a stranger. There’s little explanation behind Mai and her mother’s immediate acceptance of Willow’s circumstances and instant claim to her, and I find Dell Duke’s passiveness and eventual involvement in the lies hard to reconcile, but the whole situation changes everyone for the better. This is a story of a whole community coming together to aid in a girl’s recovery, and becoming a very nontraditional family in the process. I don’t think this would be the outcome in real life, but if readers are willing to suspend belief they will be richly rewarded with this engrossing tale.

Brothers at Bat

Today’s suggested theme for Picture Book Month is heroes. Well apparently last week’s post on the creator of Batman was one week too early (hehe). However, yesterday’s theme was friendship, and these guys featured in this true story definitely showcase the meaning of friendship, playing baseball together as friends and brothers for years.

Title: Brothers at Bat: The True Story of an Amazing All-Brother Baseball Team
Author: Audrey Vernick
Illustrator: Steven Salerno
ISBN: 9780547385570
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: Clarion Books, an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, c2012.

I have a hard time imagining what life would have been like for this unique family. The Acerra family had sixteen children, and all twelve boys played baseball. If they grew up in today’s world, they would be featured in a reality television show. Instead, they lived their life and played baseball as a family, and stayed together throughout it all. Eventually, the whole family/team was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame!

While we don’t get a lot of factual or enumerated statistics, what do we get is a nice story that emphasizes the family. It’s written in a tone that mimics the oral tradition quality, making readers feel as if they are sitting around a dinner table hearing the stories from someone who was there, either growing up with the family or watching from the sidelines. That feeling probably comes from the fact that the author sat down to dinner with two of the surviving brothers to talk about their past. There’s a real connection made, and I know I was relieved to find out that all six brothers who went of to fight in World War II made it home alive. Vernick brings that emotion home by saying “Mama Acerra cried each time a boy walked in that door.” The artwork lends itself to that old-time feel as well. You can get a really good glimpse inside Steven Salerno’s thought process by checking out his blog, where almost exactly a year ago he gave us a glimpse at this book pre-publication.

As the snow flurries start falling and families start gathering for the holidays, you might want to take this book home and spark discussion of what family life was like for previous generations. Or maybe just use it to remind yourself that winter only lasts so long, and eventually thoughts will turn again to spring and baseball.

This post is in honor of Nonfiction Mondays. For the entire round-up of all the bloggers who participated, check out Perogyo over at Perogies and Gyoza.

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