Monday, October 28, 2013

Summer Days, Starry Nights

I recently discovered a new-to-me author. And she's Canadian!

Last month I stumbled upon Vikki VanSickle's Words That Start With B, and I loved it. Although I was anxious to continue the Clarissa and Benji series, lo and behold, I caught wind of Summer Days, Starry Nights. I even had to put a hold on it at my public library - usually a good sign.

OMG! I enjoyed Summer Days even more than I did Words. I am not sure how Ms. VanSickle packs as much as she does into a small 219-page novel, but this middle-grade book has it all: memorable characters, wonderful descriptive passages, believable events, and relevant themes.

Although set in 1962, the story is timeless. The author readily captures that time and space between childhood and young adulthood, and she does such a bang-up job of it. My emotional response to Reenie Starr returned me to the days when I couldn't decide if I was in a hurry to be grown up, or wanted to remain in the protective cocoon of childhood for eternity. I dare anyone to read this novel and not feel 13 again.

I was also transported back to the Muskoka summers of my youth; in my case, the 1970's version: endless days of reading, diving from the dock, canoe trips with just my Dad, oh, and learning the all-important skill of making mixed drinks for our adult visitors. Ms. VanSickle's beautiful descriptive language is to be credited for this response. My all-time favourite book in this genre is Kit Pearson's Looking at the Moon (Book Two in the Guests of War trilogy), and it is for this very same reason. The author realistically and effortlessly plunks the reader down in the middle of Ontario cottage country during simpler times.

On a serious note, I was particularly struck by the author's sensitive and realistic approach to the subject of mental illness in the form of depression. Her unique way of introducing and handling this relevant subject makes for a great conversation starter. Summer Days, Starry Nights would be an excellent book club choice for a mother/daughter or middle-grade book club.

I'm looking forward to more from this author.

VanSickle, Vikki. Summer Days, Starry Nights. Scholastic Canada, 2013. 219 p.
Genre: Realistic Fiction, Historical Fiction
Audience: Grade 5+

Starred review Canadian Children's Book Centre's Best Books for Kids and Teens 2013.


Saturday, October 26, 2013

Terror Behind the Walls

Last Fall, I enjoyed an absolutely AMAZING long weekend in Philly. The historical sites, the museums, the Reading Terminal Market, the Philly Cheese Steak, the BYOB restaurants, the out-of-this-world-picture-perfect weather - I loved it all.

The Sunday afternoon found us soaking up the sun and lingering over flights of craft beers at a local, while listening to the cheers of Eagles' fans watching their home opener. I began doing what I always tend to do on road trips -  postponing our departure; trying to pack in just one more activity.
 We made the decision to visit one last site before hitting the road. Don't worry! Mr. Fun was our driver and he was only getting little sips of the delicious seasonal brews. Our choice? Eastern State Penitentiary.

Opened in 1829, Eastern State Penitentiary was a product of the Enlightenment. Today it stands in "controlled ruin." Historically, architecturally, socially -  I found it fascinating, and would highly recommend a visit to any Philly visitor. Since time was a bit of an issue, we opted for the self-guided audio tour and one additional interactive tour with a staff member. There are numerous ways to experience ESP, but count on spending two hours minimum.
What I don't think I could recommend, though, is the annual Terror Behind the Walls that ESP puts on each October. I am not exaggerating in the least when I say that I had chills walking around this place on a sunny Sunday afternoon. I know my limits - I could not handle the scarefest of Terror Behind the Walls. But that's not to say that it wouldn't suit the fright needs of others.
I recently came across an NPR piece about this Halloween treat. You can check it out here. ESP also has an excellent website: It is chock-full of historical and research resources, and educational extension activities.

I just read in the Travel section of my newspaper this morning that the new Benjamin Franklin Museum has opened in Philly.  Now there's a place a life-long learner can sink her teeth into. Was Ben not one of modern times' original life-long learners? I believe it's soon time for a return visit to the City of Brotherly Love.

Monday, October 7, 2013

My Library Helper

I, like many school librarians, have a library helper. Carley takes her job very seriously. She bounds into the Library each day to see if there are books waiting in her bin to be reshelved. Sometimes I try to warn her that the container is too heavy and she should take two or three loads. Nothing doing. She is a strong girl, and regardless of how full it is, she always carries the bin from the library cart over to the picture book area, and quickly gets to work - announcing each letter where the book will be shelved. On the days when I haven't yet emptied the Book Return and no books are waiting for her, she gives me a distinct look that lets me know she is disappointed in me.

The other day I thanked Carley for doing such a great job. She then told me that she is going to high school (as in next September). She hugged me, and told me how much she is going to miss me. Not nearly as much as I, and our whole school community is going to miss her.

It just so happens that my library helper has Down Syndrome.

When we were working on our One Book One School activity last year, we used Natalie Merchant`s song Wonder. R.J.Polacio has shared that the song played a part in the writing of her bestseller.
  Coincidentally, the song Wonder by Natalie Merchant came on the radio that night, as I was thinking about the ice cream incident, and something about the words to the song just got to me. I started writing Wonder that very night. (from the author`s website)
I found a Youtube video of Natalie Merchant performing Wonder where she discusses her involvement with children with special needs, and the inspiration for the song. I absolutely adore this version, and I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

Wonder Video