Posts Tagged ‘realistic fiction’
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I first saw All the Bright Places (Alfred A. Knopf, 2015) sitting on the nightstand in the guest bedroom at my brother’s house on top of a stack of books. Of course I had to go through the stack and see what was there. (It had been left by a librarian friend of my brother’s who didn’t have room in her luggage to take it with her.) This ARC, though, is the one that caught my eye. It looked interesting with the sticky notes of the front cover and the blurb on the back intrigued me. I had plenty of other books to read, though, so I put it back down and left it closed.
As soon as I returned home and started reading the flood of reviews–almost all of them raving about this book–I started kicking myself for not reading it while I had the chance or at least begging to take it with me. (I could have even snuck it into my suitcase and claimed not to know how it got there.) Thank goodness a trip for work took me back through Phoenix where I immediately grabbed the book and started reading.
Finch had me from the very first page. After all, he tells half the story and gets to start it off with “Is today a good day to die?” Even though he is standing at the top of the school bell tower, it must not be a good day to die. Not only does he not jump, but he talks down the popular Violet Markey–and then lets the story stand the she is the hero who saved him. (The truth is somewehere in the middle–they help each other.)
Violet has been frozen with grief ever since the death of her sistser in a car accident (which Violet survived). Finch bursts into her life with an energy that draws her out into the land of the living once again as they explore the weird and unusual landmarks of Indiana for a school project. While Voilet grows stronger on every page, Finch struggles with demons of his own that box him in more and more until he struggles to see any way out.
Yes, Jennifer Niven confronts some tough issues in this book–mental illness, suicide, grief, abuse. Yes, the end broke my heart and left me a blubbering mess. No, I did not find this book depressing. In fact, I found myself snorting many times as I read. It’s hard not to get carried away with Finch’s grand adventures–and he can be quite persistent. Just ask Violet, who finds herself exploring places and feelings far outside the boundaries she set for herself after her sister’s death. As she says, “With Finch, you never know.”
There are many things I love about this book: Niven’s unflinching, honest look at mental illness and suicide and grief. She doesn’t sugarcoat any of it and neither does she glamorize it. More importantly, she does’t sweep these issues under a rug and pretend they have no effect. The alternating narration allows her to get inside Finch’s mind and experience something of what it is like to be in the grip of mental illness. Violet’s chapters shows her own journey through grief-and her struggle to understand and help Finch as he spirals deeper into the trap of his own mind. Even through the toughest parts of this story, there is still hope.
I love the fact it’s set in my home state of Indiana. I want to go on my own wanderings to explore the more eccentric sights of my state. Alas, I cannot find any evidence of the bookmobile park, but I can visit the world’s largest ball of paint. Even more, I love the idea of experiencing the small moments with such great enthusiasm, even if it’s just the highest point in Indiana.
I love that the adults in their lives are not ignored. Finch’s parents are a disaster (unfortunately I have met parents even worse), but as Finch said, Violet hit the jackpot with her parents. They aren’t perfect, but they are there when she needs them. Even though teachers and school counselors play a small role, they are portrayed as caring if overworked. I especially liked Mr. Embry, the guidance counselor.
I love the fact that this is a book I want to share and to talk about. This is a book that can begin conversations–important conversations. As we begin talking about mental illness and grief and suicide, just maybe we can remove some of the stigma. Maybe people will offer support and help to those who struggle with mental illness instead of calling them “freaks.” Maybe we can save someone’s life.
Have you read All the Bright Places? What did you think?
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I was captivated by The Kneebone Boy (Scholastic 2010) from the very first page–actually from the back cover, which gives an excerpt that introduces the narrator: “I was the one voted to tell you ths story because I read the most novels, so I know how a story should be told. Plus, I’m very observant and have a nice way of putting things, that’s what my teacher, Mr. Dupuis, told me. I can’t tell you which Hardscrabble I am–Otto, Lucia, or Max–because I’ve sworn on pain of torture not to. They said it’s because the story belongs to all three of us, and I suppose they’re right, but it seems unfair since I’m doing all the work. No one can stop you from guessing, though.”
Ellen Potter does a delightful job channeling this particular Hardscrabble to tell the story of three ordinary (almost) children who have a most extraordinary adventure. It all begins when their father leaves unexpectedly to draw anothe portrait of a royal in exile. Instead of sending the children to stay with thei neighbor Mrs. Carnival, he sends them to London to stay with their cousin Angela in London. Unfortunately (or not, depending on how you look at it), Angela is not at home, and the children decide to explore London on their own. They then follow a few clues to meet their great aunt Haddie Piggit (who is living in a castle folly) and just maybe discover the secret of their missing mother.
Don’t worry if you don’t know what a castle folly is. Max–who is sometimes too smart for his own good–will fill you in and teach you many more interesting tidbits as well. Lucia’s determination to have an adventure leads them down many unexpected pathes. Otto–even though he hasn’t spoken in years except with his hands–has a knack for discovering hidden things. Together, the Hardscrabble children explore the castle folly, meet the mysterious Kneebone Boy, and outsmart several adults.
I loved the narrator. (Yes, I figured out pretty quickly which Hardscrabble wrote the story down, but I’m not telling. You’ll have to read it for yourself. In addition to telling the story with just the right amount of detail to give a decidedly otherworldly feel to the tale, the narrator gives insightful commentary on the process of the story itself, even having the nerve to disagree with Mr. Dupuis about the best way to tell a story.
This is a book I want to put in people’s hands to read, but I find it difficult to describe. In some ways it is an ordinary story about ordinary children, but it feels most extraordinary. It feels like a fantasy adventure even though everything is explained in the most believable and realistic manner. Most of all, it makes me think about what makes a hero. These three children go on a hero’s journey. Even though they end up righht where they started and nothiing of their outward circumstances has changed, they are different. That makes all the difference in the world.
Have you read The Kneebone Boy? What did you think?
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Did you know that November is National Picture Book Month? I didn’t until Jen Vincent of Teach Mentor Texts shared her plans to read #bookaday–and share out on her blog–for the month. I decided to join in the fun.
When it comes to middle grade and young adult literature, I can list hundreds of books on hundreds of topics and genres and by hundreds of authors. But when it comes to picture books, not so much. I’ve been seeing the pictures books shared by other readers and have wanted to explore this format more.
I headed to the children’s room in our public library and quickly became overwhelmed. All those thin books sticking out at odd angles up and down the shelves. Where do I even begin? I sat down at one end of the shelves and began browsing. (Of course, I didn’t write down any of the titles I discovered through IMWAYR or other blog posts.) Even so, it didn’t take long to create a stack of books to bring home.
I discovered some familiar friends among the authors. Some wrote books that I enjoyed reading to my daughter when she was younger. Other were authors I recognized from their books for middle grade or young adult readers. The picture books did not disappoint.
Hello, Red Fox by Eric Carle – My daugher (and me, too) loved Eric Carle. We had board books and hardback and paperback picture books. As soon as she saw Hello, Red Fox, she recognized Carle’s distinctive artwork. I was surprised there was another Carle book that we hadn’t read. Little Frong invites his friends to his birthday party, but Mama Frog thinks they are the wrong color! Using an optical illsusion based on the color wheel, the reader helps Mama Frog “see” the right colors. As a kid, I loved these illusions. I enjoyed the concept even now, but my eyes are getting old! It’s hard to stare at the colors page after page.
Louise, The Adventures of a Chicken by Kate DiCamillo and Harry Bliss – How could I go wrong with a story by Kate DiCamillo? Louise is a brave chicken who yearns for more adventure than she can find in the hen house and farm yard. She discovers pirates sailing over the seas, lions rampaging at the circus, mysterious strangers lurking at a bazaar. After each adventure, she is glad to return home…until the next adventure calls.
The Story of Holly & Ivy by Rumer Godden and Barbara Cooney – Godden’s The Diddakoi was one of my most treasured books from my grandmother’s library. Discovering The Story of Holly & Ivy was like having tea with an old friend. The magic of Christmas wishes brings together three unlikely characters on a cold Christmas night. The oprhan ivy wishes for a family of her own, so she sets out for Appleton to find the grandmother she is sure is waiting for her. Holly wishes to leave her perch in the toy store window so she can be some little girl’s Christmas doll (even if the scary owl Abracadabra says impossible). Mrs. Jones wishes for a child and decorates a tree even though she’s not quite sure what she’s hoping for this Christmas.
Strega Nona’s Gift by Tomie dePaola – Of course I remembered Strega Nona. This one turned out to be another Christmas story. (I’m really not trying to rush the season, but I do love Christmas stories.) Strega Nona is cooking and cooking and cooking for all the feasts through the month of December in her village of Calabria. She even cooks a feast for the animals, but something goes wrong when Big Anthony can’t resist the goat’s treat. What will it take to set the world right again?
I have even more great picture books to share tomorrow. What picture books should I be looking for to read next? Let me know your suggestions in the comments.
Author Richard Levine sent me a copy of his first book, Two Kids
, for me to review. He also graciously agreed to answer my off-the-wall questions after reading the book. I hope you enjoy reading about Two Kids and learning more from Richard Levine
(Firedrake Books, 2014) is about, well, two kids. DC is tall and gawky–except when on a tennis court or softball field. She moves to Westwood with her family and becomes frieds with Rob, who is shy and awkward–except when he’s making up headlines for his life. The two friends share a wacky sense of humor and a vivid imagination that allows them to see more than just the world around them.
Two Kids is a quiet book, and more episodic, that tells the story of a friendship. Most of their adventures revolve around friends and family. How do you deal with a dad who is so strange he must be from another planet? How about a little sister who must be channeling the devil itself with her mischief? Some of my favorite scenes include their explorations of the Overhill property and their visit to Swinburn Island (beware of the birds!) There’s an unforgettable ride in a small airplane and a fishing trip where some of them end up all wet. Not all goes smoothly, though. Each of them faces a heartbreaking tragedy during the course of the year, but through it all DC and Rob hang together.
Before you read Two Kids for yourself, enjoy hearing from Richard Levine!
1. Fishing and flying play a part in several key scenes. What adventures have you had fishing or flying?
I’m not really a fan of fishing, as I find the idea of hooking fish for fun troubling – for food, of course, is a different matter. I have, however, been out on party boats; in fact, once when my two daughters were young, like the kids in the book, we went out fluke fishing on the Long Island Sound. Also on the boat was my mom’s second husband, who was in the early stages of Alzheimer’s at the time, and, I suppose, provided the inspiration for the old man in the book who goes overboard.
I don’t have any experience flying in small planes, but years ago a friend of ours did learn to pilot small planes and once flew his whole family out to visit us in northwest New Jersey, landing his rented plane in a small air field. When they took off to go home later that day, it was windy, and the plane wobbled on take-off, seeming to just barely make it over the tree line. Watching that plane take off was pretty scary – as was, I later learned, being inside the plane!
2. DC is tall and gawky (except on the softball field, of course) and frequently stumbles into embarrassing situations. What gawky scenes have you fallen into?
I’m of average height, and growing up pretty much always was – so I was never gawky or gangly, and always had good control of my limbs. D.C., however, of course, is another story – gawkiness was just one of those attributes I could give her (there’s so much freedom in writing fiction!) that would contribute to her uniqueness or singularity, and that I could have some fun with in writing the story.
3. Rob likes to create headlines for the events in his life. What headline would you write for something in your life right now?
Hmm. How about: Retired Doc Wows with Debut Novel. That would be a nice headline, daydreamy like Rob’s headline about winning the New York City marathon: The Kid Wins! Kenyan Second.
4. One of my favorite places in Two Kids is the Overhill property. It reminds me of all the hours I explored the woods and pond of fields surrounding my grandma’s house as a kid. Where is your favorite place to explore?
I suppose my favorite natural place right now is a local rail trail that’s been reclaimed as a park; it’s a trail that runs alongside a stream that feeds into a lake on which water lilies float and swans glide effortlessly. I go jogging on the trail regularly and, while doing so, have come across all sorts of additional wildlife – deer, squiggly snakes, egg-laying snapping turtles, and once even a slowly moseying bear (yes, we have black bear in northwest New Jersey!). Another time, while jogging there, a grey heron flew directly over my head, schooling me on how big those birds really are — truly pterydactylish! Although not quite like the book’s more secluded and expansive Overhill property, it’s still a beautiful place to jog, walk, or roam.
5. What is your favorite kind of frog?
Definitely the dart poison frogs, because they’re so cute and colorful — but because they’re so toxic, they remain my favorites just so long as the terrarium glass that separates them from me is thick enough.
6. What was your journey with this book–from writing to publishing?
The journey was long, as I’m afraid the answer to this question will be. I got the idea for the novel several years ago, but my first draft was way too brief – a fact brought home to me when one of my daughters read it in an hour. The novel then ballooned to 400 pages, way too long. When friends, family, and others who read it suggested ways to improve it, my first reactions were always defensive — but in the end, I would generally come around. Motivated by the incorrect belief that the novel was “close,” I revised it no fewer than umpteen times (often a section that I had once thought well-written would make me cringe upon re-reading it later). If I had been smart enough early on to recognize how far from “close” it really was, I might well have just given up. But I was blind to that and kept on revising, with the notion of trying to make every word chosen, every sentence and paragraph crafted, just right. When I thought I had finally gotten it right (again, mistakenly), I self-published it with the title, Island Eyes, Island Skies, but months later, revised it some more, and re-published. It received some nice reviews, and was even listed with just four other books under the heading, Children’s Fiction, on a book list in honor of Jewish American Heritage Month compiled by the Cuyahoga County Public Library (Cleveland region) in conjunction with the Maltz Museum. Late last year, Nikki Bennett, an author and blogger who had given it a nice review, founded a new publishing company, Firedrake Books, and agreed to publish my book. She had some thoughtful suggestions about improving it, some of which I, of course, initially resisted. Ultimately, I came around and made the changes she suggested as well as some additional ones, including the new title. Firedrake published Two Kids this summer, and after all the work and many revisions, I believe it’s finally the book I set out to write several years ago.
It’s Monday! What are you reading? Is a meme sponsored by Sheila at Book Journey. Kellee at Unleashing Readers and Jen at Teach Menor Texts gave the meme a kidlit twist. It’s a great way to reflect on what you’ve read and reviewed the last week and plan what you want to read next. Join up with us and discover what good books other people are reading.
It was a quiet reading week, but I enjoyed meeting lots of interesting people that I interviewed this week. Now I have lots of writing to do!
Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick – Once I neared the end, I couldn’t stop listening. This is one of the most powerful books I have read in some time. Leonard will stay with me as well the questions this book raised. We never know how much the people we come in contact with every day might be hurting or how much our words and actions can impact them. I know I will be treating the people around me with more kindness and paying more attention.
Chinese Cinderella by Adeline Yen Mah – My heart ached for the rejection and cruelty that Adeline experenced within her family. As I read I marveled at her strength and courage and resilience. How did she do it? So many children would have withered under the acts of cruelty she lived with daily. She found strength in her Aunt Baba and grandfather as well as in her success at school.
I’m currently reading…
The Summer of Letting Go by Gae Polisner – We didn’t read much last week with all the work assigned before break and the last games of the soccer season. Now that my daughter is on fall break, I’m hoping we can get back to reading every night.
Les Miserables by Victor Hugo – It’s still slow progress, but I’m still reading some every week. The rebels are regrouping in the barricade, preparing for the next wave of attack from the army.
Again Calls the Owl by Margaret Craven – I just barely got started with this one, but I can tell I will enjoy it. Craven’s prose brings to life such a different time in the world.
Secrets of Writing High-Performance Business-to-Business Copy(AWAI) – Another couple of chapters read this week and another class down. I am learning that I enjoy this type of business copywriting more than I thought I would.
We have lots of catching up to do over fall break–all those projects that kept getting pushed back until we have more time. There’s shopping for winter clothes and a college visit. I hope to make progress on the books I’m reading.
What have you read this week?
Gae Polisner’s The Summer of Letting Go (Algonquin 2014) will haunt me in all the best ways long after I turn the last page. If you are looking for THE book to take to the beach or to the pool with you this summer, this is it. Even if you are nowhere near a beach or pool, this hopeful, heartbreaking story will transport you there.
Francesca (known as Frankie) Schnell has been stuck in her life ever since she let her little brother SImon drown four years ago. Now that she is about to turn sixteen, things are changing whether she wants them to or not. Her best friend Lisette is dating Bradley, the boy Francesca likes. Then another Frankie–Frankie Sky–shows up and cracks open questions that Francesca may never be able to answer.
One of the things I love about this book is the questions that it raises. What is Frankie Sky’s connection to Simon? What happens after we die? There are more than enough coincidences to make Francesca–and readers–wonder, but the questions linger instead of being neatly answered. It is in the asking and living of the questions that Francesca begins to live again and to let go of the guilt that plagues her.
How can you not love characters that live in these pages? I love Francesca’s awkwardness and confusion and courage. She’s not perfect, but she is willing to step up and do the hard things. Frankie Sky is a whirlwind of energy and mystery–a four-year-old that is wise and stubborn beyond his years even when he tries to fly. It is definitely Francesca’s story, but I love the supporting characters just as much, from the mysterious neighbor Mrs. Merrill to the struggling Mrs. Schyler. Even the parents come across as real people–a welcome presence in a YA novel. Oh yes, there just might be even a little romance.
Now I hope I can talk my daughter into reading it, but I may have ruined my chances by raving too much about it.
I’ve been a fan of the Harry Potter series ever since my first year of teaching when a student presented a book report on Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. I stood in line at midnight release parties to ge the latest book as soon as it came out. So when I heard that JK Rowling had written another book after finishing the Harry Potter series, I knew I wanted to read it. I just didn’t get around to it until now.
Someone donated A Casual Vacancy (Little, Brown, and Co., 2012) in a box of books for our Little Free Library. I have to confess that I snagged it out to read before placing it in the library. I am so glad I did. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Even though A Casual Vacancy is set in a small English village, I felt right at home. Pragford reminded me of many small towns I have lived in. I guess people don’t change that much around the world.
The death of Barry Fairbrother sets off a chain of reactions that both reveal and shift the existing faultlines in the relationships of the characters. At first I found it difficult to keep track of the many different characters affected by Fairbrother’s death, but soon I was making connections between them as Rowling skillfully wove their stories together. Many times the characters were not even aware of the threads connecting them in unsuspecting ways.
The novel begins and ends with tragedy, but along the way it is filled with humor. That humor is needed as Rowling gives an unflinching look at some of the more selfish motivations shared by many of us. The good people of Pragford have never forgiven the poor people of the Fields (mainly government subsidized housing) for being thrust upon them. The good people of Pragford are ready to do almost anything to remove the Fields filled with undesirable people from their picture-perfect village. Of course, Pragford is only picture-perfect as long as no one looks too closely or digs too deeply for long-buried secrets.
Even though A Casual Vacancy is filled with Muggles only, I loved every page. It is not a book for every fan of Harry Potter, especially younger fans. Rowling gives an unflinching glimpse of real life–including the darker side of drug abuse and promiscuity and violence. I will be looking for her latest books, published under a pen name, to see what else she can pull out of her pen.
I was captivated by Willow’s voice from the first page of Counting by 7s (Scholastic 2013) until the very last page. Willow is not your ordinary girl, and she won’t let you forget it. First off, she’s brilliant, but not the teacher’s pet. I suspect her teachers don’t get her. She loves numbers and is fascinated by plants and medical conditions. She also picks up other languages such as Vietnamese in her spare time.
She also does not fit in at her new middle school. When she scores a perfect score on the state standardized test (after showing no aptitude for high ability to her teachers), the principal accuses her of cheating and refers her to Dell Duke, the school psychologist. Outside of his office, Willow meets Mai, a chance encounter that will change all of their lives.
What do I love about this book? Let me count the ways. There’ll be seven since that is Willow’s favorite number.
1. Connections: Even when life seems random and cruel, connections bring people together. Willow has a real talent for bringing people together, especially people who didn’t realize they needed each other.
2. Voice: Once you read what Willow has to say, you won’t be able to get her voice out of your heart. She is true and honest and sees the world a bit differently–more brilliantly–than the rest of the world.
3. Alternating points of view: Willow is not the only teller of this story. A third person narrator fills us in on the rest of the characters from pseudo-psychologist Dell Duke to Vietnamese nail salon owner Patty and generous taxi driver Jairo.
4. Unforgettable characters: Even the ones who rub you the wrong way at first–like Dell Duke and the angry Quang-ha–turn out to have a better side. Mai is a loyal friend from the start, and Pattie opens her arms and home to a little girl.
5 . Coincidences: Is life random and cruel? Is life random and lucky? Maybe it’s all of these and none of these, but Willow experiences them all.
6. Passion: Willow gives everything to her interests. She has mastered medical textbooks and would be glad to sit down with you to discuss any concerns you have. She has created a garden oasis out of a desert–not just once, but twice.
7. Family: Whether it’s the family she’s lost or the new family she’s found, Willow comes home to people who love her for who she is. Now if we could all be that lucky.
Holly Goldberg Sloan has crafted a brilliant story of love and loss, passion and friendship, tragedy and miracles.
I don’t have a guitar, but this book might inspire me to pick up my dulcimers again.
For my students, music is not only the soundtrack of their lives (as it is for mine, too), but music is their lives. If they could, they would go through their days with music pouring into their ears. Many of them have music pouring out of them as well, through singing or playing an instrument.
As soon as I saw the cover of Guitar Notes (Scholastic 2012) staring at me from the shelf of the Scholastic Book Fair, I knew I wanted to add it to my classroom library. Mary Amato did not disappoint me with this witty and heartwarming story. The premise is clever. Two students–completely opposite in temperament and musical styles–end up sharing a music practice room on opposite days. They begin leaving notes for each other–at first insulting, but later revealing.
The point of view switches between Tripp Broody and Lyla Marks, letting us get to know them separately and gradually, just as they get to know each other. Tripp is desperate to spend time with a guitar–any guitar–now that his mother has taken his away until he pulls up his grades. Lyla is desperate, too, but desperate for a break from the high expectations her father and friends place on her for perfect grades and perfect cello notes. Neither Tripp’s mom nor Lyla’s dad are bad parents; they are just imperfect ones who don’t see what’s right in front of them.
The notes that Tripp and Lyla write are highlights of the book. They are funny and sarcastic, downright snippy at first. But soon Tripp and Lyla are looking forward to receiving and writing the notes. They challenge each other to be honest, and they teach each other what they love about music. As they come together, they begin writing songs to share together. As I shared bits of the book with my students, they were sure romance was on the way. I was glad Amato did not take the obvious path with that part of the plot. The friendship that grows between Tripp and Lyla is so much more than just a romance, even if it takes a tragedy to reveal the depths of their friendship to their parents and friends.
This novel is an ode to the power of music, and it doesn’t stop with the last page. In the back of the book is a copy of the “Thrum Society Songbook,” which has the lyrics and chords for each of the songs that Tripp and Lyla write. Throughout the book, Tripp and Lyla share pages from their notebooks where they brainstorm and write their lyrics. You can also visit the Thrum Society website where you can listen to and download the songs for yourself. Amato provides the tracks and karaoke tracks. Even though the songs are copyrighted, Amato gives permission for readers to write their own lyrics, perform and record the songs, or create music videos for the songs for noncommercial use. The website also gives free resources for songwriting–writing notebooks, blank chord charts, links to songwriting videos and more.
Stefan auditioned for a part in the action movie Ice Planet Earth never dreaming that he would actually get the part. Now he finds himself on location in mountains of Slovakia. He is trapped with a stuck up costar Raine, annoying costar Jeremy, and supposedly cursed costar Cecil. Throw in some trained wolves for the movie and wild wolves surrounding the set–a run-down abandoned castle–and a blizzard closing in, and Wolf Storm (Scholastic 2011) has all the ingredients for an action-packed adventure.
Dee Garretson creates a story filled with suspense and danger. The tension between the young costars soon turns to tension to survive against ever escalating dangers. A snowstorm turns into a blizzard. A blizzard turns into an avalanche. Wild wolves circle closer, hungry. Now Stefan, Raine, Jeremy, and Cecil have one chance to do whatever it takes to survive.