Monday, November 12, 2018

Review: Sweep by Jonathan Auxier

Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her MonsterSweep: The Story of a Girl and Her Monster by Jonathan Auxier
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

"We are saved by saving others."

Eleven-year-old Nan Sparrow is the best climber in London. She learned everything she knows from her Sweep who disappeared a few years ago. He left Nan only his hat and a strange lump of charcoal. When Nan becomes trapped in a deadly chimney fire, she finds herself unharmed in the attic, and her small, odd char has come to life. Over the next few days, her new friend grows and transforms into a golem of ash.

Auxier's Sweep: The Story of a Girl and her Monster is a wonderfully complex story that feels as if Charles Dickens wrote a fairy tale. As a bit of historical fiction, it builds an eye-opening world in Victorian London where children experience grinding poverty and abuse. But the story balances these dark elements with the warmth of friendship, the love of found family, and the freedom education brings.

Supported by a cast of wonderful characters, Nan's fight for her own life becomes a fight for social justice. This warm-hearted novel shows us what it takes to save ourselves by saving others.

View all my reviews

Monday, November 5, 2018

Review: The Benefits of Being an Octopus by Ann Braden

The Benefits of Being an OctopusThe Benefits of Being an Octopus by Ann Braden
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Seventh-grader Zoey has her hands full as she takes care of her much younger siblings after school every day while her mom works her shift at the pizza parlor. Not that her mom seems to appreciate it. At least there’s Lenny, her mom’s boyfriend—they all get to live in his nice, clean trailer.

At school, Zoey tries to stay under the radar. Her only friend Fuchsia has her own issues, and since they're in an entirely different world than the rich kids, it’s best if no one notices them. Zoey thinks how much easier everything would be if she were an octopus: eight arms to do eight things at once. Incredible camouflage ability and steady, unblinking vision. Powerful protective defenses.

Unfortunately, she’s not totally invisible, and one of her teachers forces her to join the debate club. Even though Zoey resists participating, debate ultimately leads her to see things in a new way: her mom’s relationship with Lenny, Fuchsia’s situation, and her own place in this town of people who think they’re better than her. Can Zoey find the courage to speak up, even if it means risking the most stable home she’s ever had?

This was a powerful book about the effects of poverty on the life of one girl, her siblings, her mother, and her friend. There seem to be few books with main characters who live in small-town poverty, and I imagine a lot of kids will be able to see themselves in Zoey.

Zoey often imagines herself an octopus, with the ability to camouflage herself and with eight legs to care for her younger siblings and still finish her homework. Zoey carries a lot of responsibility for a twelve-year-old, which leaves her very little time to do schoolwork or even be a kid herself. But even through all of this responsibility and stress, Zoey grows braver through her membership in the school's debate club. I particularly liked the way she learned to stand up for not only herself, but for other people.

I recommend this book for readers of all stripes. It's very well-written but also fast-paced. A must for classrooms and libraries.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Reaching Readers with Halloween Books That Feature Diversity!

Halloween is upon us. Most of the kids I know LOVE being spooked as much as they love free candy. But has anyone tried giving out books for tricks or treats?
I’d bet if they found any of the books below inside their goodie bags, they hardly miss the candy. What do you think? 

Here are the Ten Halloween Picture Books featuring diverse characters that you can read with your children while you gobble up the goods.

10 Trick-or-Treaters
A Halloween Counting Book
By Janet Schulman, Linda Davick (Illustrator)
Ages 3-7 years.

10 trick-or-treaters
on a dark and spooky night
out to get some candy
or give someone a fright.

Los Gatos Black on Halloween
By Marisa Montes, Yuyi Morales (Illustrator)

This lively bilingual Halloween poem introduces young readers to a spooky array of Spanish words that will open their ojos to the chilling delights of the season.

Los Gatos Black on Halloween is a 2007 Bank Street - Best Children's Book of the Year, the winner of the 2008 Pura Belpre Medal for Illustration and a Pura Belpre Honor Book for Narrative.

Monster Trouble
By Lane Fredrickson, Michael Robertson (Illustrator)
Ages 4-8 years.

Nothing frightens Winifred Schnitzel—but she DOES need her sleep, and the neighborhood monsters WON'T let her be! Every night they sneak in, growling and belching and making a ruckus. Winifred constructs clever traps, but nothing stops these crafty creatures. 

Behind the Mask
By Yangsook Choi
Ages 4-8 years

Halloween is coming. “What are you going to be?” the children ask one another. Kimin says he will be his grandfather. “Going as an old man is not very scary,” they tease. What the children don’t know is that Kimin’s grandfather was a Korean mask dancer. And Kimin doesn’t know that the mask holds a secret for him.

The Dead Family Diaz
By P. J. Bracegirdle, Poly Bernatine (Illustrator)
Ages 6-9 years

Little Angelito Díaz is feeling scared. It’s the Day of the Dead when he and his family must walk among 
the Living.

Dia de Los Muertos
By Rosanne Thong, Carles Ballesteros (Illustrator)
Preschool- 2nd Grade.

It’s Dia de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead) and children throughout the pueblo are getting ready to celebrate! They decorate with colored streamers, calaveras—or sugar skulls—and pan de muertos, or bread of the dead. There are altars draped in cloth and covered in marigolds and twinkling candles. Music fills the streets. Join the fun and festivities, learn about a different cultural tradition, and brush up on your Spanish vocabulary as the town honors their dearly departed in a traditional, time-honored style.

The Closet Ghosts
By Uma Krishnaswami, Shiraaz Bhabha (Illustrator)
Ages 6-8 years

Moving to a new place is hard enough without finding a bunch of mean, nasty ghosts in the closet. This looks like a job for Hanuman, the Hindu monkey god who can change shape in the blink of an eye and chase goblins and demons away with his thundering voice. When Hanuman answers Anu's plea for help, she rejoices — until she realizes those pesky ghosts don't seem to be going anywhere. 

Pumpkins, Pumpkins Everywhere
By Smriti Prasadam-Halls, Lorena Alvarez Gomez (Illustrator)
Ages 5-6 years.

Follow the adventures of four little trick-or-treaters as they make their way to the pumpkin parade.

Zen Ghosts
By John J. Muth
Ages 4-8 years

It's Halloween. The trees are ablaze in fiery reds. Excited children don colorful costumes. And there's mystery and fun around every corner!

Boo, Katie Woo
By Fran Manushkin, Tammy Lyon (Illustrator)

Katie Woo is dressing up like a monster for Halloween. She plans on scaring everyone in the neighborhood. But she is disappointed when everyone knows it’s her. Katie can't seem to trick anyone, and that is the only treat she is interested in.


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