Thursday, December 31, 2015

Year-end Update: Must Read in 2015

Where, oh where did 2015 go?

The thing I dislike the most about aging is how quickly time flies. How I wish I could make time s-l-o-w down!

A whole year has passed since I joined Carrie from There Is A Book For That, and others in composing my 2015 Must Read list. And, while I am currently away on vacation, and feel the need to do vacation activities, it's time for a year-end update.

On January 1 my Must Read list looked like this:

By July 2 I had 5 titles remaining:  Baseball Is ...,Grandfather Gandhi, If I Stay, The Summer of Letting Go, and The Unlikely Hero of Room 13B.

Baseball Is ...
A wonderful nonfiction picture book for the baseball fan. Despite the American bent, we had a lot of fun with this one as Canada's team found itself playing ball in October this year. (Go Jays Go!) Lots of facts. Beautiful illustrations.

Grandfather Gandhi
I waited a long time for this one. And it didn't disappoint. I'm not sure what moved me the most: the story itself, or the story of how the book came to be written. Inspirational.

If I Stay
I have to say I was a little disappointed with this one. Too much hype perhaps? Not sure. I certainly didn't bother with the sequel.

The Summer of Letting Go
Has become one of my go-to recommendations. Even better than The Pull of Gravity. Sweet and touching. A must-read.

The Unlikely Hero of Room 13B
One of my favourite reads of 2015. In many ways it reminded me of Eleanor and Park, with those very real characters - the ones you don't expect to see in the starring roles. Read this one.

15 titles chosen for this list. 15 titles read. A mix of genres. Brown Girl Dreaming and Ordinary Grace probably affected me the most. But overall, so much good reading.

I can't wait to see what 2016 brings.

Monday, November 30, 2015

What's Making Me Happy This Month - November

As November comes to a close I think about what was making me happy this month.

Sunshine and warm, oh so warm days. I can't remember a November that packed so many delicious, soak-em-up-while-you-can days. Reading outside in November? That definitely made me happy this month.

And I have to make mention of the literary events that I attended this month: the TD Canadian Children's Literature Awards, and Eric Walters' and Eugenie Fernandes' book launch for Today is the Day. Great fun and lots of book love on these evenings.

Oh, and the fact that I went home with some original book art? Definitely made me happy.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

What's Making Me Happy This Month - October

What's making me happy this month?


It's October, and as Anne says, " I'm so glad to live in a world where there are Octobers."

My morning walks never fail to stop me dead in my tracks at the stunning beauty that is set before me. Year after year. I am in awe at this rhapsody of colour. Happy is an understatement. 

Speed Book Dating is also making me happy this month. A little bit of fun I have with my Intermediate students. It makes me happy to see them meeting new books, new authors. 

We have been having some wonderful fun in the Library this month with nonfiction picture books. This is definitely making me very happy. 

A half hour sitcom, once a week, to make me laugh: The Grinder, on Fox. I knew I would like Rob Lowe, but didn't suspect that Fred Savage would be so funny.

A new-to-me podcast is making my drive to school a lot quicker these days: Missing Maura Murray.  If you were a fan of Serial, and are waiting for something to fill the void before Season 2, I recommend this one.

After a summer hiatus, Book Club is back on. I look so forward to reading and discussing big people books with this fun group of ladies. I just finished Lisa Genova's Inside the O'Briens. The Huntington's was a little frightening, but I loved the characters in the novel.

As October draws to a close, I have found lots to be happy about in this beautiful month. How about you? What's making you happy this month?

Friday, October 2, 2015

Stay Strong: A Musician's Journey from Congo

There couldn't be a more relevant time to read Stay Strong: A Musician's Journey from Congo, with refugee issues taking the front stage each day in the news. And this is exactly what occurred to me when I was asked by the publisher to read and review Natalie Hyde's latest book.

Debuting under Clockwise Press' new nonfiction Arrivals* series, Stay Strong tells a story that we all need to hear.

Growing up, Gentil Misigaro only knew the world as a place of loss, fear, and death. For fifteen years he and his family moved from country to country to escape the violence, but it followed them from their village in Congo to Rwanda and then to Uganda. Through it all Gentil found strength and hope in music. When his family got the news that they had finally found a new home in Canada, Gentil saw his music as a powerful force that could bring positive change to his new homeland and to the world. (from the publisher)

Natalie Hyde does an excellent job of detailing the terror that was experienced and witnessed by Gentil and his family without resorting to graphic descriptions. The reader is consumed by the extreme fear that ruled the lives of the Misigaros for over 15 years.  They were "never free from fear".  I was struck by the passage of time - life continued despite the lack of a permanent home or the continuation of violence and uncertainty. And yet, remarkably, Gentil continued to have hope. I'm not sure I could have done the same.

Upon learning that they had been accepted as refugees to Canada, Gentil "felt as though they had won the lottery".  But his story does not end there. The theme of music, which is woven throughout Stay Strong, helps Gentil adapt to his strange new home, and then to become a valuable contributor to his community.

Stay Strong is an enlightening read. It is an uplifting read. And it is an important read. Young people should be challenged by this book to be grateful for the peace and security that most have been afforded, and to search for a way that we can all make our world a better place to live.

Stay Strong: a Musician's Journey from Congo by Natalie Hyde. Clockwise Press, 2015.
ISBN: 9780993935121
Ages 12+
Set in dyslexia-friendly font. Includes Timeline, Resources, How Kids Can Help

*Arrivals is a narrative non-fiction series featuring the life stories of inspiring immigrants and refugees from all over the world who have come to Canada to find a better life. In return they have made valuable contributions to their new home and have been positive influences in their communities.

I would like to thank Solange from Clockwise Press for the copy of Stay Strong that she provided to me in return for an honest review. This copy will find a new home in my school library where it will be shared with young Canadians who I'm sure will be interested in hearing Gentil's story.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

What's Making Me Happy This Month - July

What's making me happy this month?


Time to catch up on gardening, household chores, paperwork.

Time to read. Slowly. Uninterrupted. With purpose, and time for reflection.

Time to enjoy a little afternoon siesta. But not for too long.

Time to explore, discover, learn. Lots.

Time to visit, reconnect, share extra time with the ones I love.

Time to slow down a little, take stock, reflect.

Time to savour.



Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Summer Update - MustReadIn2015

There's really something to be said for setting realistic goals.

Last year, I was living in dread of the Must Read updates. Sure. I was reading lots, but I had just lost interest in some of the titles on my MustReadin2014 list. I had a bit of a wandering eye, you could say.

Not this year. I am still in love with my assortment of picture books and YA, Middle Grade, and Adult Fiction.

Halfway through the year and 10 out of 15 titles completed.  More importantly - 10 out of 15 titles enjoyed.

On January 1 my list looked like this:

On April 1 I was happy to talk about these titles:

Today, I add 3 more titles to my Completed List:

I devoured this fun read! A member of my new Book Club recommended it after we read Liane Moriarty's The Husband's Secret. She claimed that she liked Big Little Lies much better.

Me too! Moriarty is like an Aussie Maeve Binchy with a little more bite.

Grab this one for a great day at the beach. Or head to bed early on a rainy night and read until the last page is turned. It can be done!

“The dead are never far from us. They're in our hearts and on our minds and in the end all that separates us from them is a single breath, one final puff of air.” 

I'm still not sure how Ordinary Grace ended up on my Must Read list, but as it turns out, it appeared on the Reading List for my new Book Club (which, by the way, I am loving. How fortunate was I to be invited to join a great group of fun, intelligent women?).

I absolutely adored this novel. It is a mystery to me how an author can so adeptly create tone and pace. I was easily transported to the summer of 1961 where this coming-of-age story takes place. Outside of the beautifully written prose, Ordinary Grace had me thinking a lot about family, faith, and finality. I'm sure I will re-read this one.

In anticipation of an author visit by Eric Walters, I read the YA novel The Rule of Three. It may be a little unfair -  it's no secret that dystopian fiction is not my genre of choice, but I just didn't find this narrative as exciting as the previews would have me believe it was going to be. Still, it's a great story idea, and in the right hands it may be better received.

So, what's up next? I've just cracked open If I Stay. It's too soon to have formed any worthwhile opinion, yet.

If it ever gets to resemble summer in my neck of the woods, I'm going to start on The Summer of Letting Go. I'm saving it for a quintessential summer day and heading poolside.

In a few days I'll be jumping on a train and going to our nation's capital to visit Daughter1. My plan is to have The Unlikely Hero of Room 13B in my carry-on bag and ready to go.

That should leave me with 2 Picture Books - a realistic goal for the October 1 update, wouldn't you say?

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Must Read in 2015: An Update

Can you believe it? One quarter of 2015 is behind us already.

It's time for a Must Read in 2015 update.

You may recall that I chose 15 titles that I absolutely had to read this year.

7 Picture Books. 2 Middle Grade Novels. 4 YA Fiction. 2 Adult Fiction.

Not only am I happy to report that I have completed 7 of the 15 titles, but I am thrilled to share that I have absolutely loved what I've read, so far.

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson. (Coretta Scott King Book Award, Newbery Honor)

I listened to this memoir in verse on audiobook; read by the author herself. The language and cadence of speech is exquisite.  I savoured every word. The universality of the author's childhood experiences touched me, and left me thinking that the title could easily have been Girl Dreaming.

I will be purchasing a hard copy of this one, for sure.

Hope Springs by Eric Walters. Illustrated by Eugenie Fernandes

A picture book for the older child (grade 2+), this is a wonderful book for initiating a discussion on global awareness. The back material, or Story behind the Story, was especially appreciated; as were Ms. Fernandes colourful illustrations.

As we prepare for Eric Walters to visit our school next month, one student wondered aloud how he has time for all his writing, considering his humanitarian responsibilities.

Mama Built a Little Nest by Jennifer Ward. Illustrated by Steve Jenkins

This non-fiction picture book is just a real treat. Catchy rhymes are paired with delightful collage illustrations; while providing facts on different birds and their nesting habits. A great addition to any library or personal collection.

The Scraps Book: Notes from a Colorful Life by Lois Ehlert

I borrowed this autobiographical picture book from my public library, and had to renew it. I read it over and over again. I'll definitely be purchasing it for my school library. What a treasure! It is an ode to the creative process. Buy it!

Shh! We Have a Plan by Chris Haughton

Simple and adorable. This is a smart, fun picture book for the younger crowd. It makes a great read-aloud.

Stella by Starlight by Sharon M. Draper

I think I have admitted before that I am a huge Sharon M. Draper fan. Well, the fan crush has risen tremendously after reading Stella. Historical Fiction, geared for middle grades, Stella presents the reader with the segregated world of the 1930's American South. I loved the family relationships, and the juxtaposition of kindness with  the cruelty that is experienced. Another winner!

Two by Kathryn Otoshi

While not as impressed as I was with Zero and One, Two definitely has a place in the school library. Three's a crowd problems pop up all the time. What a great story for dealing with the issue.

There you have it. 7 Must-Read titles. I would recommend every single one.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Red: a Crayon's Story

The other day I received this wonderful gift at a Publisher's Display Day:

What a treat! Reminiscent of Drew Daywalt's The Day the Crayons Quit, but with it's very own individual punch, this one is a real winner!

The reader immediately notices from the cover that something is not right. Students made interesting predictions about what went wrong, and what will happen in the pages of the story. Which is right? the label, or the colour that we see? 

Frustration, self-doubt, concern, impatience, and ridicule ensue when Red Crayon fails to produce the expected red drawings, and colours blue. Some have advice for him. He needs to press harder. He's broken inside. His label is too tight. Others offer support and hope. Give him time, he'll catch on. It is only when he meets Berry, a crayon who recognizes his true blue character, that Red realizes he is Blue! 

This delightful new picture book can be enjoyed and discussed on many levels. Very young readers love the crayon characters and want to know about the more exotic names like Cocoa Bean and Hazelnut. Astute readers appreciated the word-play humour: he needs to really apply himself; and the fact that the grandparents are named Silver and Grey. My grade two students easily made the jump to the importance of being true to oneself. Older students talked about the damage that labels can cause. Not only does Red present the issue of accepting differences, but it offers a hopeful response that everyone can get behind.

Red: a crayon's story by Michael Hall. Published by Greenwillow Books (an imprint of HarpersCollins), 2015.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

The Gospel Truth

On a recent trip to South Carolina, I happened to stumble upon this:

Ruins of former slave dwellings,
Baynard Plantation, Hilton Head Island, SC
As moving as this find was, what made it most remarkable was that I had just finished reading this:

It wasn't difficult for my mind to take the short journey from a former Sea Island cotton plantation in South Carolina to an 1858 Virginia tobacco plantation. To stand where over one hundred enslaved humans once lived and toiled, and to listen for their voices, was a very emotional experience for me.

Not that any of this was really necessary. Phoebe's voice came out loud and clear to me through the pages of Caroline Pignat's touching story. Although mute, Phoebe's strength and determination are infectious.

In addition to the heroine, The Gospel Truth is told from the viewpoint of five other characters. I almost hesitate to tell you that it is written in free verse, because when I have mentioned this to some, they have responded with: "Oh, I don't think I'd like that." Really? It is the poetic beauty of the spoken, as well as the unspoken word; the careful arrangement, and the cadence of the speech, that elevates The Gospel Truth from another good story about American slavery, to an amazing and poignant portrayal of the human spirit.

Words of a White Man

                                                                 I hand them what I've brought.
                                                                 Each man silent,
                                                                 as he stands in the moonlight considering what he holds:
                                                                 a compass
                                                                 a knife
                                                                 a pistol
                                                                 twenty dollars

                                                                 a chance for freedom.

                                                                 "I can give you the tools," I say,
                                                                 "to guide and protect you.
                                                                  I can show you the path,
                                                                  but in the end,
                                                                  it's you that must choose it
                                                                  and walk it.
                                                                  You alone that must risk it."

                                                                  I watch them weigh it.
                                                                  Each man wondering if he's willing
                                                                  to wager his life
                                                                  on the words of a white man
                                                                  in the woods at midnight.

I highly recommend this one!

The Gospel Truth, by Caroline Pignat. Red Deer Press, 2014.
327 p.
Ages 12+

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Let the New Year Begin - #MustReadin2015

So, last year I joined Carrie from There's a Book for That and others in compiling a list of books that I chose from my TBR pile to read in 2014. No biggie.

Or so I thought.

Even though I thought I was being very realistic - I only chose 10 titles for this particular challenge, I regret to say that I just didn't make it. 6/10 titles completed. Despite my good intentions, my reading was led astray.

I did; however, discover a few things. And this is a good thing. As 2014 wound down and I was trying to get through one of my adult fiction choices, I decided that perhaps I am trying to spread myself too thin. I have always had a very wide range of reading interests, but maybe I just don't have enough time to satisfy all my curiosities.  I love children's literature (as an elementary school librarian I would hope that that would be the case), and the many amazing children's books that have been published in recent years have fanned the flames of this love affair. I will always enjoy a good adult historical fiction or mystery book, and I get plenty of adult reading in with my book club. I can't get over the feeling though, that this reading is taking me away from kidlit and YAlit. And this is where I need to be now.

With that said, I turn to #MustReadin2015. A new year. A new list. A bigger mix of genres.

15 Must Reads for 2015. This year. For sure.

Picture Books

Baseball is ..... by Louise Borden. Illustrated by Raul Colon. I'm a sucker for a day at the ballpark. Looking forward to this one.

Grandfather Gandhi by Arun Gandhi and Bethany Hegedus. Illustrated by Evan Turk. I hope this is the inspirational biography I think it will be.

Hope Springs by Eric Walters. Illustrated by Eugenie Fernandes. EricWalters is visiting our school this spring - I want to make sure I'm ready. I've always loved the illustrations of Ms. Fernandes.

Mama built a little nest by Jennifer Ward. Illustrated by Steve Jenkins. I've been hearing about this one a lot this year. And a recent Nerdy Book Club Award winner.

The Scraps book written and illustrated by Lois Ehlert. More non-fiction picture book love.

Shh! We have a plan written and illustrated by Chris Haughton.  Am I the only one who hasn't read this one yet? That's why it's a must-read.

Two written and illustrated by Kathryn Otoshi. I adore Zero and One. Can't wait for the next installment in a series that gets read all the time.

Middle Grade Fiction

Stella by starlight by Sharon M. Draper. I have been known to gush about Out of my mind to anyone who will listen. Looking forward to more from this author.

Middle Grade Memoir Poetry

Brown girl dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson. This has been on my TBR list since its publication date and is not getting pushed off.

YA Fiction

If I stay by Gayle Forman. A huge YA hit series, and highly recommended by some of my students.

The Rule of thre3 by Eric Walters. As I said, Eric will be coming for an author visit. And it's an OLA Forest of Reading Red Maple nominee this year.

The Summer of Letting Go by Gae Polisner. I had this one on my summer reading last year. When I didn't get to it, I decided to wait until Summer 2015. It'll be my first read of the summer.

The Unlikely Hero of Room 13B by Teresa Toten. I'm not sure when Ms. Toten's novel first appeared on my radar, but the introduction it received at the TD Book Awards put it on my Must Read list.

Adult Fiction

Big little lies by Lianne Moriarty. I recently read Ms. Moriarty's The Husband's secret as a Book Club choice. I loved it. An Australian Maeve Binchy, in my opinion. One of my Club friends recommended Big little lies as an even better choice.

Ordinary Grace by William Kent Drueger. I have no idea where I heard about this novel. It could be that it has turned up on some YA lists. It has me intrigued.

There you have it. Three updates are planned for this year: April 2, September 2, and December 31. Can I beat 60%? What do you think?