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Monday, September 17, 2018

Ugly by Robert Hoge

UglyThe author of Ugly, Robert Hoge, was born with severe deformities of his legs and face.  They were so bad, in fact, that he spent much of his childhood in the hospital having surgery after surgery.  This is his story, a memoir, of what it was like growing up and dealing with his differences.

Since I'm a fan of the book  Wonder, by R.J. Palacio, I was interested in reading Ugly as well.  I'm glad I did.  This was a very inspirational and uplifting book (with a surprise ending) about things we all want to do: Fit in.  Be a part of a team.  Have friends.  Be good at something.

In many ways, Robert's childhood was as typical and routine as anyone's.  He had squabbles with his siblings, struggled at school with certain subjects, and occasionally got in trouble for getting into mischief with his friends.  But in other ways, Robert's life was a painful (both physically and emotionally) battle just to survive and get through each day with his dignity intact. Being the target of taunts and insults were an everyday occurrence.  Even adults could hurt his feelings with their careless and poorly thought out comments.  But somehow he made it through and managed to reach a very important and brave decision that would impact the rest of his life - a decision I don't think I could have made - on his own.

There are photographs included, which show that Robert had a loving and happy family life.  There is also a question and answer section which is interesting as well.

Robert Hoge tells his story in very simple language with clear examples and images that readers as young as 3rd grade will be able to handle, but the great thing about this book is that it is appropriate for any age person to read and appreciate.  And everyone should read this book.  The message is a powerful one: No matter how different you may be (or think you are) on the outside, you are  beautiful, unique, and important.

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Monday, September 10, 2018

Once Upon a World board books by Chloe Perkins

Once upon a time, a writer teamed up with different illustrators to create beautiful, colorful board books that re-told classic fairy tales. The tales are simple versions of the classic fairy tales with one twist: the illustrations set the tales in locations around the world, and the art choices reflect the cultures of each individual book's setting.

Once Upon a WorldRapunzel, illustrated by Archana Sreenivasan, sets Rapunzel's tower in India. Instead of a flowing European ball gown, Rapunzel wears colorful saris, dangly jewelry, and flowers in her hair. The flowers and plants in the background are reminiscent of henna art, and multicolored peacocks wander along palace grounds.

Cinderella, illustrated by Sandra Equihua, sets the classic tale in Mexico, where Cinderella feeds chickens through adobe windows, carries carefully wrapped plates of tamales, and works hard to make dresses for her family to wear to the big fiesta at the palace. Cinderella ends the book with roses in her coiled hair and a fluffy white dress that any girl might covet for her quinceaƱera.

Snow White, illustrated by Misa Saburi, calls upon smudged line art that looks like it was painted with broad brush strokes. This book is slightly less colorful than the previous stories, but there is a great emphasis on cherry blossoms and dark trees, and Snow White's life brightens up with the introduction of the seven dwarfs in assorted colorful kimonos.

The Princess and the Pea, illustrated by Dinara Mirtalipova, moves our titular princess to Russia, where the servants wear nutcracker-esque red jackets, the palace has towers straight out of St. Petersburg, and the stack of feather mattresses sports some amazing patterned sheets.

Nothing in the text of any of the stories indicates the change in setting. The art and art styles show that each classic tale can apply to any culture, not just those most frequently depicted onscreen. The change in scenery may appeal to young fairy tale fans, especially since each of these fairy tales has different versions based on the country in which they are told. For slightly older readers who are hungry for different cultural perspectives of classic fairy tales, consider Cinderella: An Islamic Tale by Fawsia Gilani-Williams or Rachel Isadora's takes on Rapunzel and The Princess and the Pea. After all, it is important for children to know that regardless of background or race, everybody deserves a happily ever after.

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Monday, September 03, 2018

Ms. Bixby's Last Day By John David Anderson

The Inquisitor's TaleIts sixth grade and Brand, Topher and Steve are actually enjoying it.  Their teacher, Ms. Bixby, is one of "the good ones."  She builds relationships with her students, spreads Bixbyisms (think Mr. Browne's precepts in the book Wonder), has a pink streak in her hair, can juggle and has worked as a clown.  She also loves reading as there are books everywhere in her class and always reads aloud to her students.  Near the end of school, Ms. Bixby shares with the class that she is sick and has to finish the year early to begin cancer treatments.  The class is going to give her a party on her last day but she enters the hospital earlier than expected.  The boys are upset that they cannot say their good-byes and hear her read the end of The Hobbit to the class, so they decide to take it upon themselves to give her a good "last day."  The three skip school, gather special items for the celebration, and make their way to the hospital for their visit.  Of course the trip doesn't go as planned and they encounter obstacles along the way but in the end, Ms. Bixby does get to finish reading The Hobbit to the boys.

This book is told from each of the boy's perspectives, so the reader learns about the individual relationship with Ms. Bixby from each boy.  The reader founds out about the family dynamics of the boys and that information adds a layer of depth to the characters.

This book is very realistic.  When Topher, Steve and Brand skip school, the boys makes sure to call in their absence.  They develop a plan with a schedule to get them to the hospital and back before the school day is over.  They research the bus routes and places to purchase their supplies.  There is a limited amount of money to buy the materials they need to have their "last time" party with Ms. Bixby.

Readers from this area will be able to relate to the setting as it talks about Woodfield Mall and the city of Chicago.  This story pulled at my heartstrings as I could relate it to a time in my life where a colleague who worked with children had cancer and left with the message that she would be back just like Ms. Bixby tells her students.  It is no wonder that this book was nominated for both the 2019 Bluestem and Caudill awards, as it is a story that will touch the hearts of children as well as adults.  Mr. Anderson has written a moving tale that will make you laugh, remember the teachers who have impacted your life, and bring a tear to your eye.  John David Anderson is also the author of Sidekicked (2013), Minion (2014), and Posted (2017).

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Monday, August 27, 2018

Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt

Fish in a TreeSixth grade Ally Nickerson struggles in school.  It doesn't help that her family has had to move around quite a bit because of her dad being in the military.  Ally's teachers and principal doesn't think she tries hard enough but in truth, she struggles with reading and writing.  Her teacher goes on maternity leave and Mr. Daniels takes over the classroom.  The classroom environment changes quickly.  Ally has always felt that she was not smart, but Mr. Daniels begins to highlight her strengths.  She also notices how he has a special signal for one of the students which helps him control his outbursts.  Mr. Daniels is the first adult in Ally's life to realize she may have a learning disability called dyslexia.  There is also some bullying going on and he works to put an end to that as well.

I really enjoyed this story but I was frustrated that her teachers didn't recognize her struggles and look further into it.  Her family was overwhelmed with dad being in the military, her grandfather just passing away and her mom working lots of hours trying to support her family so they didn't notice how Ally was struggling.   I loved the relationship Ally had with her older brother.  This book is a 2019 Bluestem Nominee.  If you liked this story, you may like Linda Mullaly Hunt's other book, One For the Murphys, a 2015 Caudill Nominee.

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Monday, August 20, 2018

Falling Over Sideways by Jordan Sonnenblick

Falling Over SidewaysClaire's life is typical of most 8th graders, with the ups and downs of friendships, zits arriving at the absolute worst times, and always feeling like she's in the shadow of her older "perfect" brother.  But she's happy because she's got a great family and a few really good friends that get her through the everyday problems that most adolescents face.  Until one morning...

Something happens.  Something bad.  Something big, and scary, and bad, causing Claire's life to change in ways she never thought possible.  While Claire is eating breakfast one morning, her dad suddenly starts acting strange, and falls over sideways into his chair.  To make matters worse, he started talking in nonsense words and crazy, jumbled sentences.  A panicked Claire can't get her mother on the phone, so she calls 911.

Claire's dad had a massive, debilitating stroke.

The author does a great job of telling the story of how every aspect of Claire's life changes, as well as showing how she works through the stages of grief.  It doesn't have a typical happily-ever-after ending, but it's an ending that is very realistic and touching.

Despite the serious subject, this story, written in first person, is really funny at times.  Claire has a very good sense of humor and it comes out in her observations of what's happening around her at home, school, and at the hospital.

I'd recommend Falling Over Sideways for readers from 5th to 9th grade who enjoy realistic fiction.  Happy reading!

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Monday, August 13, 2018

All Summer Long by Hope Larson

All Summer LongBina and Austin, best friends since birth, used to have a Summer Fun Index where they rated each summer through totally scientific categories. Now that they're thirteen, though, Austin thinks that maybe they have outgrown the Fun Index... also, he's going to soccer camp for a month and didn't mention it to Bina. After her parents change the Netflix password to keep her from doing nothing but watching TV, Bina tries to find ways to fill her summer: music, greeting the neighborhood cats, trying her hand at babysitting, and maybe befriending Austin's big sister, Charlie (but maybe not? Friendship is confusing). The worst part is that Austin doesn't seem to want to talk to her anymore now that he's at camp. When Austin comes back from camp, will he want to hang out like they did before? Or has something changed to make him act all weird?

All Summer Long captures that one feeling where someone is being weird around you but you don't know why and don't think you did anything to deserve it, but maybe you did and the only solution is to go listen to music with A Lot Of Feelings for a while until things make sense again. Fans of Drama and Real Friends (as well as Hope Larson's other books) will love Bina's adventures in All Summer Long, especially if they, too, want to rock out and be themselves.

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Monday, August 06, 2018

The Alcatraz Escape by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman

Alcatraz EscapeCode enthusiasts will be thrilled to know that Emily Crane and her friend, James are back.  In the third volume of the Book Scavenger series, James and Emily enter Unlock the Rock, a contest created by legendary game maker, Garrison Griswold.  Mr. Griswold is working with a secretive mystery author, Errol Roy.  His fake name and famous past make him a special character.

In Unlock the Rock, James, Emily, Nisha and Matthew, Emily's brother, need to find and solve four specific puzzles so they can get a ferry ride to the world famous Alcatraz Island.  Many of their fellow students in San Francisco are also trying to win. Before they get to the island, Emily and James get threatening notes in their school lockers.  The first step of the competition is fierce.

When they arrive on the island, strange things start happening.  First, Fiona, a fellow student, loses her special charm bracelet. Matthew is accused of stealing it.  After that, Mr. Griswold almost falls off the tram car going to Alcatraz Island.  Then, Emily, known as Surly Wombat in the book search game, bumps into the obnoxious and overconfident 8th grade book searcher who calls himself the Bookacuda.  He taunts Emily and her friends by saying that they are going to lose.  While all these things are going wrong, Emily is still getting threatening messages on the island.  Could this trip get any worse?

Once the puzzle solvers get on the prison island, they find one puzzle after another to try and solve.  Emily and her friends have to choose the correct four puzzles to solve in order to get off the island.  From talking to actors playing prisoners, to figuring out why the clocks don't match, to addition puzzles, Emily, James, Nisha, and Matthew are in for a tense and thrilling adventure to Unlock the Rock.

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