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monthly author 2015

25

Sep
2015

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: Hello Ocean by Pam Munoz Ryan

On 25, Sep 2015 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Hello OceanHello Ocean written by Pam Munoz Ryan, illustrated by Mark Astrella

From Goodreads: Spend a day at the beach, and take in the ocean through the senses of sight, hearing, feeling, taste, and smell in this lively romp through sand and waves. Glorious illustrations of water, sun, and sky accompany brief, evocative verses, making this a perfect keepsake of a seaside vacation or a striking introduction to the pleasures of a day by the ocean.

Hello Ocean skews a little young since it’s essentially a book about senses. But Ryan doesn’t make it feel like a silly book for little kids, she uses great vocabulary and interesting slant rhymes. Books about senses, at least in my experience, can feel very didactic and very similar to one another. It’s refreshing to see the topic tackled from a nature perspective and a little less heavy-handed with the lesson.

Of course that makes me wonder if this book is better suited to kids who have actually been to the ocean, particularly because it focuses on all the senses instead of just sound and sight, which could be gotten from a video. The book was perfect for a bedtime story in our house this week because we were just at the ocean and it was a nice reminder of our vacation and of the sights, sounds, smells, and feelings my daughter had while running around on the beach.

It would certainly make a nice addition to classrooms studying the ocean, ocean conservation, senses, and poetry. It would also pair well with other beaches although there is specific mention of the salty water.

Reading all of these varied books by Pam Munoz Ryan has been interesting. She’s clearly a talented author, but she manages to handle everything from poetry to picture books to middle grade well. I think any of her books would make great additions to home, classroom and library collections.

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24

Sep
2015

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: Mice and Beans by Pam Munoz Ryan

On 24, Sep 2015 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

K350_Sch_M_B_TWP_jkt_9780439183031Mice and Beans written by Pam Munoz Ryan, illustrated by Joe Cepeda

From GoodReads: Recipe for a Festive Story Time: Mix 1 birthday party, 1 delicious Mexican meal, and lots of children, grandchildren, aunts, uncles, cousins, and surprise guests into a fun romp. Add comic illustrations, jaunty rhythms, and playful refrains. Spice with mystery, and stir everything into a book.

Serve aloud to large groups or small. Finally, store leftovers on a shelf in a child’s bedroom, library, or classroom. Enjoy!

Another terrible book description. Mice and Beans does focus around the grandmother making food for a party, but there’s no recipe or real focus on actual cooking. Little Catalina’s birthday is coming up next weekend and her grandmother is preparing for a party in her small house. Remembering her mother’s advice, Rosa Maria knows her small house can hold all the family, but not mice. Each day of the week she preps something new for the party, from food to having Little Catalina’s present assembled in the backyard. Each night she sets a new mousetrap which mysteriously disappears in the night. Rosa Maria, however, forgets to fill the piñata, but when the party rolls around it has candy in it. Where did the help come from and could she have been remembering her mother’s advice incorrectly?

This couldn’t have come at a better time since my daughter just had her birthday. It’s such a sweet story with the mice creeping about the illustrations helping out. There is plenty of gentle humor in the book as well as the doting grandmother. And be sure to keep your eye out for Rosa Maria and Little Catalina’s mouse counterparts. Give this to kids who enjoyed the story in Just a Minute by Yuyi Morales which features another grandmother preparing for a birthday celebration. It’s also a great read aloud.

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22

Sep
2015

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Kidlit Review: Riding Freedom by Pam Munoz Ryan

On 22, Sep 2015 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

No titleRiding Freedom written by Pam Munoz Ryan, pictures by Brian Selznick

From GoodReads: In this fast-paced, courageous, and inspiring story, readers adventure with Charlotte Parkhurst as she first finds work as a stable hand, becomes a famous stage-coach driver (performing brave feats and outwitting bandits), finds love as a woman but later resumes her identity as a man after the loss of a baby and the tragic death of her husband, and ultimately settles out west on the farm she’d dreamed of having since childhood. It wasn’t until after her death that anyone discovered she was a woman.

This one could actually be a chapter book based on it’s length, larger format, and the pictures scattered throughout. The reading level is a 720L, which isn’t especially high.

Beware a horse dies right at the beginning. It’s not overly dramatic or gory or anything. She just dies of a fever, but for those tender-hearted readers this may be difficult.

Okay I included the description which I got off GoodReads, but assume came from the publisher. But it’s so far off the mark. All that stuff about finding love, having a baby, resuming her identity as a man- NONE OF IT IS IN THE BOOK. Not even in the author’s note where Ryan gives a little more history of Charley. Did the publisher not read the book? I’m confused.

The book follows Charlotte through her years at the orphanage where she is put to work and treated poorly. When her best friend, Hayward, is adopted she decides to run away and make a new life for herself. In forming the plan, she realizes she’ll have better prospects and more safety if she travels as a man. After hopping the stage coach Charley, as she renames herself, finds work as a stable hand and works her way up to being a stage coach driver. This job takes her from Rhode Island all the way out to California where she loses an eye and has to relearn driving “six-in-the-hand”. Eventually she saves up enough money to buy land and horses. She also decides to vote since everyone believes her to be a man.

Ryan has taken a story that is already very interesting and compressed it’s timeline to make it more accessible to younger readers. Riding Freedom is not a biography, but a fictionalized account of Charlotte’s life and I think it would really appeal to third and fourth grade readers. It’s not exactly packed with facts, but there is a good story and enough that I could see it inspiring kids to want to explore more about Charlotte, women’s rights and the Gold Rush.

Charley/Charlotte Parkhurst was an interesting woman/man. From my limited research, I can’t tell if she was dressed and passing as a man because she wanted better opportunities or if she genuinely felt like she was male. Either way, she was fascinating. Here’s the Wikipedia page about her which provides a little more information than the author’s note at the end of the book.

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21

Sep
2015

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Nonfiction Review: How Do You Raise a Raisin?

On 21, Sep 2015 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

RaisinHow Do You Raise a Raisin? written by Pam Munoz Ryan, illustrated by Craig Brown

From Goodreads: People have been gobbling up yummy, nutritious raisins for centuries. Ancient Greeks and Romans awarded them at sporting events and astronauts have taken raisins into space. Find out how grapes become raisins, who introduced the seedless grape, and the many uses for raisins.

Oddly enough we picked up a copy of this book four years ago at the SunMaid Raisin factory. At the time I had no idea who had written it (I just didn’t pay any attention), but we liked the information and how it was presented.

The book is clearly informational, but Ryan writes little rhyming questions and then answers them. This makes for a more engaging nonfiction book. My own daughter has been willing to read the book for a couple years now despite it being rather long. Everything is very interesting. I had no idea how prevalent raisins are or how naturally they are made. After three weeks of drying in the sun, it only takes 10 minutes to get them into the factory and then into a box. This is a good book for all those people who want kids to know where their food comes from.

I will say, I’m not personally overly fond of the illustrations. Some of them are great, but others feel like they fall a little flat. Some pages don’t have a full illustration, but one or two smaller pictures to illustrate one or two questions and answers. The white space around those doesn’t feel intentional. It feels almost lazy. There is also some funny formatting with where the questions and answer paragraphs are placed on the page that can make it a little difficult to follow the text properly. And I really don’t like the font they used for the title and questions, but that’s totally a personal preference.

The book is probably best suited to classrooms and library collections, unless your family is really into food and how it’s made (or if you love the SunMaid factory like we do!). There’s a lot of science and history here so it’s a book you could use in a number of different units of study, such as food science, nutrition, and farm-to-fork.

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20

Sep
2015

In Redux

By Elizabeth Wroten

Monthly Author: Pam Munoz Ryan

On 20, Sep 2015 | In Redux | By Elizabeth Wroten

I’ve been aware of Pam Munoz Ryan for years now, but for whatever reason I haven’t read anything by her. I was inspired to add her to the list when I saw her speak nearly a year ago at the ALSC Institute. I hadn’t realized she was from California which was neat to me. I was also really impressed with all the things she had to say about the importance of diversity in children’s literature.

Here’s her website where she has a lists of all the books she’s written. She is a prolific author! For any teachers out there, she’s got readers theatre scripts for four of her books.

Schedule for the week:

Monday: How Do You Raise a Raisin

Tuesday: Raising Freedom

Thursday: Mice and Beans

Friday: Hello Ocean

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25

Jun
2015

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

New Adult Review: My Name is Jason. Mine Too. by Jason Reynolds and Jason Griffin

On 25, Jun 2015 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

My Name IsMy Name Is Jason. Mine Too. poetry by Jason Reynolds, art by Jason Griffin.

From GoodReads:

Our story. Our way.

A poet

An artist

One black

One white

Two voices

One journey

I would have loved this book in my early twenties. I probably would have wanted to copy the idea of combining poetry and art. That isn’t to say I don’t like it now. I loved it now, I just wish I had had it back then too.

Jason Reynolds and Jason Griffin were college roommates who were lucky enough to become close friends. When they got out of college they moved to New York together where life was not easy. This cemented their relationship even more.

Together they put together this slim book that combines poems written by Reynolds and art done by Griffin. The art and poems weave beautifully together to tell the story of how hard those first years out of college were and how hard it is to be young adult. I could certainly connect with their fears and anxieties about not knowing if they would make rent, worrying that they had made poor career choices, and wanting to find somewhere to belong. This is the book I would give to someone graduating from college. It so perfectly captures that weird stage between the relative safety of college and the time when you can look back and realize you’re really an adult making it in life. It’s also a wonderful glimpse into how strong the friendships and relationships you make at this stage in your life are. I think older high schoolers might find comfort in it too knowing that it’s okay for them not to figure it all out in college. Certainly the book skews toward a more middle class experience, but I don’t know what kind of SES either Reynolds or Griffin came from. Reynolds finished his college degree, but Griffin did not and he talks very honestly in the opening and ending of the books (two dual voice longer poems) about that decision and the doubts he had about it. I think it’s refreshing to see a perspective that didn’t take the college path and still managed to turn out just fine.

I know there is all kinds of vitriol about the new adult label, and I agree that it’s silly that it’s essentially come to mean steamy YA, but this is really what new adult is and should be. It’s a book about how difficult and confusing life can be after college. Especially since you’re sort of expected to strike out on your own (only failures live at home! which is of course not true at all) and know exactly what you’re doing. I’m really glad Reynolds and Griffin put their difficult experiences out there for others to draw comfort and strength from.

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24

Jun
2015

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

YA Review: When I Was the Greatest by Jason Reynolds

On 24, Jun 2015 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

When I Was the GreatestWhen I Was the Greatest by Jason Reynolds

From GoodReads: A lot of the stuff that gives my neighborhood a bad name, I don’t really mess with. The guns and drugs and all that, not really my thing.
Nah, not his thing. Ali’s got enough going on, between school and boxing and helping out at home. His best friend Noodles, though. Now there’s a dude looking for trouble—and, somehow, it’s always Ali around to pick up the pieces. But, hey, a guy’s gotta look out for his boys, right? Besides, it’s all small potatoes; it’s not like anyone’s getting hurt.
And then there’s Needles. Needles is Noodles’s brother. He’s got a syndrome, and gets these ticks and blurts out the wildest, craziest things. It’s cool, though: everyone on their street knows he doesn’t mean anything by it.
Yeah, it’s cool…until Ali and Noodles and Needles find themselves somewhere they never expected to be…somewhere they never should’ve been—where the people aren’t so friendly, and even less forgiving.

Another winner from Jason Reynolds. Clearly he likes to write stories that take place in Bed Stuy. Reynolds is really good at creating a sense of place. He describes the setting so well it’s easy to picture yourself standing around seeing the neighborhood. And part of the setting are the neighbors. There is always mention of the people who live around the neighborhood and around the main characters of the book and they really help bring the story to life.

When I Was Greatest was actually pretty exciting, not something I always expect from realistic fiction. Even though the trouble Ali and Noodles get into doesn’t happen until relatively late in the book (maybe a little past half way through) you just know it’s coming and you can’t help wanting to tell them what a bad idea their plan to go to this party is. But the beauty of the story is when Ali reflects back on whose fault everything is and he takes as much blame as he places on Noodles. As an adult reading it (and probably teens will pick up on this too) there isn’t really any one person to blame. Plus they’re 15, they make bad choices sometimes, but those shouldn’t have to place them in the danger they find themselves in.

When I Was Greatest is less introspective than The Boy in the Black Suit, but Ali and Matt have their thoughtfulness in common. Greatest is a lot more about the friendship between Ali and Noodles and Needles and their brotherhood. There are also themes of parent-child relationships and Ali’s relationship with his sister which contrasts with the sibling relationship between Noodles and Needles. This would be a great book for boys to pick up, but anyone interested in more contemporary, urban fiction should give Reynolds a try. At 230 pages I’m not sure it’s exactly the book for reluctant readers, but it’s exciting enough that they might stick with it. Plus the dialog and setting might draw in readers (this is no Victorian classic).

If I have one quibble it’s with the cover. First of all there is a gun in the story, but I wouldn’t say it has an especially prominent or important role. Not particularly. I would have suggested some boxing gloves. But really the yarn covering the gun is crocheted and Needles knits. A minor quibble, but a quibble nonetheless.

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23

Jun
2015

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

YA Review: The Boy in the Black Suit by Jason Reynolds

On 23, Jun 2015 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Boy in the Black SuitThe Boy in the Black Suit by Jason Reynolds

From GoodReads: Matt wears a black suit every day. No, not because his mom died—although she did, and it sucks. But he wears the suit for his gig at the local funeral home, which pays way better than the Cluck Bucket, and he needs the income since his dad can’t handle the bills (or anything, really) on his own. So while Dad’s snagging bottles of whiskey, Matt’s snagging fifteen bucks an hour. Not bad. But everything else? Not good. Then Matt meets Lovey. She’s got a crazy name, and she’s been through more crazy than he can imagine. Yet Lovey never cries. She’s tough. Really tough. Tough in the way Matt wishes he could be. Which is maybe why he’s drawn to her, and definitely why he can’t seem to shake her. Because there’s nothing more hopeful than finding a person who understands your loneliness—and who can maybe even help take it away.

I know some people really hate when reviewers say a protagonist is relatable, especially when they are non white, because it implies that only likable characters are worth reading about and as if white audiences will only read books about people of color if they can relate. I get it, but I’m going to describe Matt as relatable. And not because he’s a decent kid living in a bad neighborhood. He’s relatable because he’s pretty average. He does fine in school; he has a two parent household; he lives in a house; he has a best friend; and he likes girls. Obviously these things don’t describe all kids, but it was refreshing to read a story about a kid who was coping with his grief, but was otherwise unremarkable and hadn’t been dealt six other horrific and terrible things that he had to work through.

I read another review of the book that thought it was creepy and weird that Matt decides he likes sitting in on funerals, but I completely disagree. Matt is grieving for his mother and he finds solace in knowing he isn’t the only person hurting. Matt’s sitting in on funerals isn’t about a fixation with death, just an inability to move on in his grieving process and a part of that process. As I said, Matt is an average guy and the whole funeral thing doesn’t consume his life nor is it an indication of anything but his mourning process. When he meets Lovey at her grandmother’s funeral she doesn’t seem to be hurting the way he is and that draws him to her. He thinks she holds some magic key to letting grief go. Ultimately it’s the fact that she is and isn’t hurting that helps Matt learn how to move past deep sadness. She is a good friend and great relationship for him to cultivate at the right time and I think that’s a really powerful message and example.

Reynolds can clearly write. The book was fantastic. He even managed to pull off something I find incredibly irritating, which is using slang in dialog. Oftentimes you have slang that contrasts with the narrative prose of the rest of the book and it feels awkward. Not so here. Reynolds has also created characters that are so easy to want to get to know and that you root for. There was also a twist that I didn’t see coming. Not a twist like a murder mystery, but some plot lines converged in a surprising and unexpected way that was jarring and awesome at the same time.

I think high schoolers, and even middle schoolers, will simply like Matt and they will understand what he’s struggling with. They’ll connect with his story and want to follow him through his grief out to the other side where he can live his life. Based purely on setting I would give this to fans of How It Went Down, but The Boy in the Black Suit is a book about a normal kid having a hard time coping with something that gutted him. While not every kid loses a parent so young, every kid understands both how hard that could be and how one thing can change everything for you. Give this to kids who like character-driven realistic fiction that feels modern and fresh.

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21

Jun
2015

In Redux

By Elizabeth Wroten

Monthly Author: Jason Reynolds

On 21, Jun 2015 | In Redux | By Elizabeth Wroten

This month I read three books by Jason Reynolds. I chose him because he’s a newer author. I also tried to read his When I Was Greatest last fall when I was reading a ton of diverse books, but just didn’t get around to it. I had it out from the library, but other books got picked up instead and I finally returned it. I kept it on my radar, though, and when his newest novel came out, The Boy in the Black Suit I decided he would make a good monthly author. His books are amazing and I’m really glad I read them.

Schedule for the week:

Tuesday: The Boy in the Black Suit

Wednesday: When I Was Greatest

Thursday: My Name is Jason. Mine Too.

Links of Interest:

  • i am jason reynolds seems to be a bit of an extension of the poetry from My Name Is Jason. Mine Too. I don’t see any art from his friend Jason, but the poetry is excellent.
  • Here’s his AWESOME website, Jason Writes Books. Because Jason Reynolds is AWESOME. There’s a blog and FAQs and a few other fun and interesting things. Just check it out.

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28

May
2015

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

YA Review: House of Purple Cedar by Tim Tingle

On 28, May 2015 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

House of Purple CedarHouse of Purple Cedar by Tim Tingle

From GoodReads: “The hour has come to speak of troubled times. It is time we spoke of Skullyville.” Thus begins Rose Goode’s story of her growing up in Indian Territory in pre-statehood Oklahoma. Skullyville, a once-thriving Choctaw community, was destroyed by land-grabbers, culminating in the arson on New Year’s Eve, 1896, of New Hope Academy for Girls. Twenty Choctaw girls died, but Rose escaped. She is blessed by the presence of her grandmother Pokoni and her grandfather Amafo, both respected elders who understand the old ways. Soon after the fire, the white sheriff beats Amafo in front of the town’s people, humiliating him. Instead of asking the Choctaw community to avenge the beating, her grandfather decides to follow the path of forgiveness.

I take back everything I said about Tim Tingle. He is an incredible writer. I wish I had read this book before I read his others. It’s now very clear that the other books show his skill, but are still hi-low books and don’t showcase the full range of his abilities. I also don’t think I can do the book justice with this review. I certainly can’t without giving a lot of it away and I think it’s better to read and savor it just knowing it will be worth the time.

In all honesty, this is probably an adult novel with YA appeal. Rose is telling the story as someone preparing to die, nearly 60 years after the events happened. Rose, in the story of Skullyville, is eleven or twelve, but it’s clearly from a reflective standpoint looking back over the events that lead to her crossing out of childhood.

The story focuses around Rose’s grandfather being hit by the town marshal. Amafo decides he is going to take the path of forgiveness in hopes that others in the town will see the marshal for who he is. This seems to anger the marshal even more and he decides he wants to hurt Amafo again by hurting Rose. This sets more events into motion that drag Rose’s best friend and her family into the violence and danger. Others also fall victim to the marshal’s temper and anger and are sucked into events our of their control.

House of Purple Cedar is definitely a serious book, but it’s not without its humor either. There are plenty of scenes (the attempted bank robbery especially) that lighten the mood. The book meanders a bit in a lovely sort of way, but Tingle does a beautiful job of tying it up perfectly at the end. Which isn’t to say there’s a Disney ending, just that all the pieces come together and you realize nothing he’s told you, no matter how off topic or slow it seemed, was extraneous. You get a very clear picture of life at the time and an excellent sense of place. The characters are all beautifully crafted and you even get glimpses into many of the secondary and tertiary characters.

There is also a bit of magical realism introduced through Choctaw mythology. The panther on the cover arrives almost at the end of the book and is a protector not a danger. Rose also begins by sharing a dream she has had since this period in her early life. And as she prepares to die Rose sees the end to her vision and learns to let everything that happened, to let all the fear, anger and hatred she’s held onto, go.

Being historical fiction it has the feel of an old west novel, but this isn’t plup fiction. This is a beautiful novel about forgiveness, everyday life, and how there is not one thing that leads to an event, just a series of interconnected lives. The setting, some of the people, and certainly some of the themes remind me of True Grit.

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