Ghost: Track #1

Ghost

Image Credit: Atheneum Books for Young Readers (Simon & Schuster), Jason Reynolds

Three things I love about this book are:

1) The voice

2) The careful and thorough characterization

3) How Reynolds depicts black male love

Ghost is a character you won’t forget because he’s very honest about everything. He messes up, you feel for him. He does something right, you cheer for him. As he explains, he has “scream inside.” Many people would quickly label Ghost a “bad kid” but what Reynolds does so well is remind readers that behind every person, behind every relationship, there’s a story. Usually the “bad kids” have experienced heavy things and could benefit from real, caring relationships.

Ghost likes sunflower seeds & world records and takes a lot of crap from kids at school. After his dad tries to shoot him and his mom, the harrowing experience leaves him even more shaken up. He learns to run that night (“…running ain’t nothing I ever had to practice. It’s just something I knew how to do.”) and later earns a spot on a track team without even trying. Tough as nails (not really) “Coach” takes Ghost under his wing and they become closer as Ghost learns more about himself. He leaves it all out on the track; pushing himself to be better, in every way. He becomes more disciplined, he finds community in his team, and though he continues to make stupid mistakes, he grows as a young man.

Reynolds does an amazing job of creating voice for this book. Ghost’s AAVE is prominent and used unabashedly, he’s silly and makes interesting connections in his head. I love it; it feels fresh. Reynold’s characters are all very interesting people; he includes little memorable details like…Ghost’s mom hates studying and pretends to study while they watch her favorite love stories. Though this is a slim book, there’s a great amount of character development that’ll keep you interested and excited about the next book in the series.

I love Coach!! He’s the father-figure Ghost needs and deserves in his life. Though he’s kind enough to bail Ghost out of sticky situations, he makes sure to teach him important lessons too. It not just about Ghost’s track potential for him; he recognizes early that Ghost needs guidance and love. He comes from the same rough place as Ghost and is committed to shaping him. This entire book is about connections and relationships but Ghost and Coach’s relationship is what shines the most.

I really enjoyed this book! I’m curious about how children of color are reading/enjoying it too. This is my first book by Jason Reynolds and I can’t wait to read more.

On your mark…set…go!!

P.S. OMG I reviewed a chapter book (it’s been a while)…lol.

Recommended for: 6th Grade and up
Great for: Family, Diversity, Role Models, African American, Sports, Track and Field, Middle School Life, Bullying, Friendship, Determination, Black Boys, Love, Relationships
Book Info: Ghost by Jason Reynolds/Jacket Illustrations by Vanessa Brantley Newton, 2016 Atheneum Books for Young Readers (Simon & Schuster), ISBN: 9781481450157

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Etched in Clay: The Life of Dave, Enslaved Potter and Poet

EtchedinClay

Image Credit: Lee & Low Books, Andrea Cheng

I never had the chance to meet Andrea Cheng but I handled her books, I sold them. I was in the same space as them. A Cincinnati author, talented and kind are some of the things people told me about her. Interestingly enough, I’ve been connected to her for quite some time though; I went to school with one of her daughters, Ann. Recently I was able to reconnect with Ann and spend time with two of Andrea’s close writer friends. Here’s what I can say about Andrea Cheng, now that I’ve read her words for myself and can reflect on her people; her voice is strong and she’s left a legacy of goodness.

Etched in Clay is poetry inspired by the historical record of an amazing man named Dave (David Drake). Dave was a skilled potter/poet who happened to be enslaved. Cheng speaks for him but doesn’t say too much. It’s just enough. We follow Dave from his teenage years fresh off the auction block to his life as a free man in his seventies. He’s sold and re-sold several times within the Landrum family to work their pottery works. His first owner, Harvey Drake, notices his talent and teaches him how to create pottery. Drake’s religious wife Sarah gives Dave a powerful tool too, a spelling book from which he learns to read and write. In his long life, he is split apart from the women and children he loves, he struggles with his lack of agency as an enslaved man and he REBELS with words and poetry. Words spill out of his head and onto his pottery. Dave finds a way to assert his worth as a human being through the liberatory act of black creativity.

DavethePotterWoodCuts

Image Credit: Lee & Low Books, Andrea Cheng

Harvey Drake (like most whites at the time) is conscious of the danger in nurturing the intelligence of a slave. He’s comfortable in his power and is protective of the system that keeps his whiteness above blackness. Though Dave knows he can be lashed for knowing how to read (and showing it), he does it anyway. Even signing his name on a pot is dangerous yet he does it…and by doing so, he reflects on his legacy (his pots are made to last) and asserts HIS power. His defiance is through words.

Andrea Cheng doesn’t romanticize or soften slavery; she gives us a glimpse of Dave’s reality. I appreciate her honest characterizations of the slave masters and their disregard for Dave’s (and the other slaves’) humanity. The entire book is full of excellent characterization! A masterful storyteller has the ability to make you bubble and boil with frustration yet eagerly reach to turn the page. I wanted to keep going and see what would happen to Dave, a man who, like my ancestors, was remarkable.

The woodcuts in this book are also done by Andrea Cheng and just like the writing, they are just enough (and so much). They give us a glimpse into Dave’s life with blocky shapes, black and white lines and outlines that suggest more than tell. Not only do I recommend Etched in Clay for casual reading, I think it’s perfect for the classroom. There are so many lessons to take away and to discuss and Dave should be more well known. I hope you’ll pick up this book and enjoy.

 

 

Recommended for: Ages 11 and up
Great for: Inner Strength, Rebellion, Courage, Determination, Defiance, African American, Slavery, History, Pottery, Creativity, Poetry, Relationships, Black History Month, Black History Month Children’s Books, History-Inspired, Discussion, Classroom
Book Info: Etched in Clay: The Life of Dave, Enslaved Potter and Poet by Andrea Cheng, 2013 Lee & Low Books Inc., ISBN: 9781600604515

Calvin Coconut: Trouble Magnet

CalvinCoconut

Image Credit: Wendy Lamb Books (Random House Children’s Books), Graham Salisbury/Jacqueline Rogers

 

Calvin is a “trouble magnet” because he can’t help but get in sticky situations. This book is very fast-paced and a little all over the place but that’s not a bad thing because the story is so honest, good and funny!

Calvin lives with his mom and little sister Darci in Kailua, Hawaii. Their “famous” dad left them years ago for Vegas but they’re doing just fine. One day, mom tells Calvin and Darci that they’ll soon have a guest from Texas; her name is Stella, she’s fifteen, and is the daughter of one of her friends. She’ll be just like a sister she says. Antics ensue as Calvin finds a pet centipede in the garage, starts his first day of fourth grade, makes a new friend, dodges a bully and barely manages to stay out of trouble.

Salisbury’s writing, characterization, attention to language and cultural details are excellent; he helps the reader feel right at home on the island. From having the kids talk about how much a haole (white person) with blue eyes and blond hair stands out in their community to explaining spam musubi, kimchi and shave ice, he shares his culture. The Calvin Coconut series celebrates how diverse Hawaii is and the honest portrayal of race, difference, and social issues is refreshing.

Jaqueline Roger’s spunky illustrations fit the mood of the story perfectly. Her loose watercolor-sketch style brings the characters to life and she draws expressions so well.

CalvinCoconut2

Image Credit: Wendy Lamb Books (Random House Children’s Books), Graham Salisbury/Jacqueline Rogers

I’m SO ready to hop on a plane and head down to Hawaii!  I just hope I don’t run into someone as silly as Calvin. Be sure to check out this series if you’re looking for something a little different and fun for your kids.

 

Recommended for: 3rd/4th grade and up
Great for: Humor, Friendship, Diversity, We Need Diverse Books, Food Culture, Hawaii, School Life, Single Mothers, Bullying, Family
Book Info: Calvin Coconut: Trouble Magnet by Graham Salisbury/Illustrated by Jacqueline Rogers, 2009 Wendy Lamb Books (Random House Children’s Books), ISBN: 9780385737012

Eagle Song

EagleSong

Image Credit: Puffin Books (Penguin Group), Joseph Bruchac/Dan Andreasen

Okay! To close out Native American Heritage Month, my last pick is Eagle Song. Did you that Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) people, especially Mohawk, built New York City? They have a long history of iron working in the city and many Native families moved down to the Big Apple to make a new life. The transition from traditional communities/reservations to the cold, concrete life of the big city can be a hard for Native peoples and in this book, Danny Bigtree experiences this struggle.

Danny has trouble adjusting to his new life in Brooklyn and it doesn’t help that his peers bully him for being Indian and different. He misses his green home of Akwesasne. His dad travels around the country doing iron work, leaving him alone with his mom and his frustrations. His father comes home from Boston and tells him the story of the Peacemaker and this story gives him strength, especially when he tells it to his son’s class; teaching cultural awareness and respect. Danny keeps his strong father’s words of peace with him as he faces his bully, Tyrone and he slowly becomes stronger and more confident in his new home in the city.

Change is never easy and in Eagle Song, Danny Bigtree has a lot of challenges to overcome. This story isn’t very long but it packs a punch and teaches several lessons. Dan Andraesen’s pencil illustrations bring the story to life, especially the loving scenes between Danny and his parents. I love how Bruchac (Abenaki) weaves in Mohawk words and culture into the story. Eagle Song is a short and easy to read chapter book that touches on a lot of important issues for young children like friendship, loneliness, change, bullying and respect.

For more information about Mohawk Ironworkers, check out these great resources:

To Brooklyn and Back: A Mohawk Journey– Documentary by Reaghan Tarbell

Mohawk Council of Awkesasne- Ratiristakehron: Mohawk Ironworkers

Sky Walking: Raising Steel, A Mohawk Ironworker Keeps Tradition Alive

Booming Out-Mohawk Iron Workers Build New York City– Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) Exhibit

Recommended for: Ages 7-8 and up
Great for: Family, Discussion, Native American Heritage Month, Iroquois, Bullying, Cultural Diversity, We Need Diverse Books
Book Info: Eagle Song by Joseph Bruchac, 1997 Puffin Books (Penguin Group), ISBN: 9780688009144

 

The Honest Truth

TheHonestTruth

Image Credit: Scholastic Press, Dan Gemeinhart

“Here’s what I don’t get: why anyone would try to stop me. All I wanted to do was die. That’s the truth.”

This is a tough book.

Mark, a twelve year old boy, takes his trusty dog Beau on the last adventure of his lifetime and on the way, discovers his inner strength. He’s been battling cancer for years and is emotionally and physically worn out. He finally decides that he’s had enough and runs away to climb Mt. Rainier to die.

The story is told from two perspectives; he tells his story in first person and then the story regularly switches to third person to tell the reader about the person who holds Mark’s biggest secret, his best friend Jess. The Honest Truth is as much about his journey as it is about her struggles, anguish and doubt. Ultimately though, we follow Mark’s emotions most closely, as we watch him switch between sadness, regret, determination, bitterness, love and relief.

This story is powerful; Gemeinhart really explores what it means to be human, to be alive, to look death in the eye and live fully. The relationship between Mark and Jess is amazing but the relationship between Mark and his dog Beau is also extremely remarkable; that little dog loves him to the end of the world! If you’re looking for a great read about the strength of the human spirit, try this one. You’ll be moved. That’s the honest truth.

P.S. Grab some tissues…ㅠ ㅠ

P.S.S. In celebration of a year since the release of his book, Dan Gemeinhart gave us Beau’s voice in a special “lost” chapter. Click here to enjoy! ❤

 

Recommended for: Ages 12 and up
Great for: Emotions, Inner Strength, Friendship, Determination, Growing Up, Cancer, Dogs, Love, Family, Power of Photography, Hope, Grab the Tissues
Book Info: The Honest Truth by Dan Gemeinhart, 2015 Scholastic Press (Scholastic Inc.), ISBN: 9780545665735

 

Cakes in Space

Image Credit: Random House, Philip Reeve/Sarah McIntyre

Image Credit: Random House, Philip Reeve/Sarah McIntyre

Who doesn’t want to read a book about monster cakes in space?? Who could pass up a funky cover like this? Cakes in Space is FUN, snarky, totally ridiculous and a great story. This book is a stand-alone but it’s also the second in the Not-So-Impossible Tale Series by the amazing team, Philip Reeve and Sarah McIntyre. Their first book, Oliver and the Seawigs, is also awesome.

The book opens with Astra and her family heading to the new planet of Nova Mundi which is 199 years away. Before they’re locked into their pods for hibernation, Astra’s rumbling belly leads her to the ship’s “Nom-a-tron” to get a snack. She asks for the ultimate cake. The machine takes an unusually long time to process her request so she goes back to her pod to hibernate. Unfortunately the machine takes her request too literally and…MAKES CAKES THAT ARE ALIVE!! Astra wakes from her hibernation before everyone else, but 99 years have passed and the cakes have had 99 years to evolve and have taken over the ship! She has to fight the cakes and along the way she makes new friends, trusts her gut and uses her smarts.

McIntyre’s sci-fi illustrations are very cute and inviting. She only uses a few colors; orange, black, brown and gray and it works surprisingly well. This book is a mix between a picture book and a chapter book because there’s an illustration on just about every page. If you have a child who is a little trepidatious about jumping into larger chapter books, this is a great bridge for them because it isn’t too long and it has lots of pictures! It’s also one of my recommended read-aloud books for families.

Recommended for: 2nd Graders and up, Children ready for longer chapter books
Great for: Friendship, Sci-fi, Action/Adventure, Girl Power, Read-Aloud, Diversity
Book Info: Cakes in Space by Philip Reeve/Illustrated by Sarah McIntyre, 2014 Random House, ISBN: 9780385387927

A Handful of Stars

Image Credit: Scholastic Press, Cynthia Lord

Image Credit: Scholastic Press, Cynthia Lord

Sweet Summery Goodness is the best way to describe this novel. Cynthia Lord creates a story of friendship set in the backdrop of a blueberry field. It’s a quick read and like the star of a blueberry, this novel is star.

Lily lives with her grandparents and helps them out in their general store. Her dog Lucky is going blind but she desperately tries to save money to get his eyesight back. Her personality is a little uptight and she is doggedly (ha!) focused on her goals. One day, Lucky romps through a blueberry field and almost runs into the busy road but Salma, a young migrant worker, lures him back to safety with her sandwich. The friendship between these two young girls begins with Lucky and he binds them together.

I enjoyed this book so much because in addition to encouraging readers to step outside of their comfort zones/be more open-minded, it also discusses Mexican migrant workers and the troubles that families have settling into new places. Salma desperately wants to feel like she belongs, to establish roots and to have real friends. Lily learns how to view the world more vibrantly though her friendship with Salma. Their worlds combine and they are both better for having found each other.

Recommended for: Ages 11 and up
Great for: Friendship, Community, Diversity, Tween Life, Social Issues
Book Info: A Handful of Stars by Cynthia Lord, 2015 Scholastic Press, ISBN: 9780545700276

Roller Girl

Image Credit: Dial Books for Young Readers (Penguin), Victoria Jamieson

Image Credit: Dial Books for Young Readers (Penguin), Victoria Jamieson

Okay! Are you ready?? One thing I learned from being a children’s bookseller is that graphic novels are HOT! Kids are eating them up. Maybe it’s because they think it “isn’t really reading.” Maybe it’s because of the success of comic-like books like Diary of a Wimpy Kid but young people are rushing to the bookstores and libraries to find fun graphic novels to read. One of the best new graphic novels for kids is Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson. All you need to know about this book is ROLLER DERBY and DRAMA…are you sold yet?? 😉

Jamieson’s spunky main character Astrid is transfixed by her fist roller derby bout and assumes her best friend Nicole will join her for roller derby camp in the summer. Little does she know that Nicole has other ideas. Their friendship is tested and Astrid realizes her strength and determination as she strives to be like her idol Rainbow Brite, the coolest jammer (scorer) on her city’s adult team, The Rose City Rollers.

This is a great tweeny (is that a word??) graphic novel because tweens will relate to the struggles Astrid goes through. She matures, becomes more confident, gains friends, has angsty moments with her mom and finds her passion for roller derby. Jamieson’s art style is fresh and relatable and she creates a great book about growing up. This is one of my favorite graphic novels at the moment and roller derby fans of all ages will definitely love this one.

Recommended for: Ages 11 and up
Great for: Girl Power, Tween Life, Sports, Roller Derby, Friendship
Book Info: Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson, 2015 Dial Books for Young Readers (Penguin), ISBN: 9780803740167