Thursday, May 24, 2018

#tbt: A Hole in My Life by Jack Gantos

A Hole in My Life by Jack Gantos. 200 p. Farrar Straus & Giroux, March, 2002, 0374399883. (Own)

A Hole in My Life by Jack Gantos was published in 2002 and was awarded both Printz and Sibert Honors. It is Gantos' brutally honest account of his life as a jailbird. He didn't have the most stable and supportive parents as he was growing up. He was working a series of dead end jobs hoping to pay for college and getting nowhere when he was approached by two men and asked if he could sail a boat from St. Croix to New York City. The fact that the boat was filled with two tons of hashish didn't bother him. He was getting $10,000! It wasn't long after docking in New York City that the FBI, who had been trailing the men, arrested them. Gantos was sentenced to five to fifteen years in prison.

Yes, the man who went on to write the Rotten Ralph books, the Jack books and the Joey Pigza books; the man who eventually won a Newbery Medal for Dead End in Norvelt, made some bad choices. He wanted to be a writer. He wanted to go to college. He wanted to survive prison. 

The eighth grade LA teachers do a memoir unit and this is one of my go-to memoirs to book talk. It is a powerful read. Every single student who has checked it out has been bowled over by it and most have go on to read his other books. 

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Waiting on Wednesday: Lu by Jason Reynolds

Lu by Jason Reynolds. 192 p. Track series #4. Atheneum/ Caitlyn Dlouhy Books, October 23, 2018. 9781481450249.

Jason Reynolds released the cover of the final book in his Track series on social media on Monday. Honestly, these books are never on the shelf and I've had to replace Ghost twice already because it was "borrowed" without being checked out and never returned!

Publisher synopsis: Lu must learn to leave his ego on the sidelines if he wants to finally connect with others in the climax to the New York Times bestselling and award-winning Track series from Jason Reynolds. 

Ghost. Patina. Sunny. Lu. Four kids from wildly different backgrounds with personalities that are explosive when they clash. But they are also four kids chosen for an elite middle school track team—a team that could qualify them for the Junior Olympics if they can get their acts together. They all have a lot to lose, but they also have a lot to prove, not only to each other, but to themselves.

Lu is your quintessential pretty boy athlete, complete with fancy cleats, sunglasses, and a lot of attitude. The kind of guy you either hero-worship or want to PUNCH. He runs the most loved race—the 400 meter dash—and is crazy talented. He should be—he’s been running track since he was small; because he’s albino his parents got him involved in sports to help with his confidence. But it sort of backfired—now Lu has confidence to spare, and the swagger hasn’t earned him any friends. As in none. Plus, his dad, who also shares his son’s penchant for being flashy, has gotten caught up in some type of illegal activity. The Newbies on the team (Ghost, Patina, and Sunny) don’t put up with Lu’s shining around, but they also don’t avoid him like everyone else does. They call him out on his BS, but include him in the horseplay. Will they be the first kids to crack through his armor and see more to him than the cloak of peacock that hides his lack of color?

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Teen Tuesday: The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness

The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness. 479 p. Chaos Walking Trilogy #1. Candlewick Press, September, 2008. 9780763639310. (Own)

Teen readers who are fans of science fiction and have a bit of stamina will find themselves immersed in twelve-year-old Todd Hewitt's world. He landed on a colony planet where a virus infected all the men and presumably killed all the women. The virus causes all the men's thoughts to be broadcast creating a cacophony of noise that can drive a man crazy. There are no secrets in Prentisstown. Todd is the last child and, when he turns thirteen will "become a man." When Todd and his faithful dog, Manchee, whose thoughts Todd can hear as well, find a "hole in the noise," the two are shocked by what silence is. It isn't long before their secret it out though and the two are on the run. There are many twists and turns in this intriguing plot, which ends in a cliffhanger. Luckily for readers, all three books are out and there is no waiting. 

Monday, May 21, 2018

Arc Review: This Moment is Your Life (and so is this one) by Mariam Gates

This Moment is Your Life (and so is this one): a fun and easy guide to mindfulness, meditation and yoga by Mariam Gates. 241 p. Dial Books for Young Readers/ Penguin Random House, May 22, 2018. 9780399186622.

Happy book birthday tomorrow to This Moment is Your Life (and so is this one)! And not a moment too soon. Stress levels among school age children are quite high and seem to reach younger and younger students. We had a third grader get so worried about the state test that she threw up and every year we seem to see more incidents of anxiety and school avoidance. 

While a small amount of stress can improve performance and learning. Too much is not healthy and definitely affects performance and learning. Educators are incorporating relaxation and mindfulness techniques into their professional toolboxes. This Moment is Your Life (and so is this one) would be a useful addition to any school or classroom library. 

The book is attractively designed and the layout is user-friendly. It can be read chronologically or be browsed by section. The tone is calm and soothing. It's conversational and relatively easy to follow. There are some useful tips for incorporating mindfulness, meditation and yoga into a young person's life. I wonder if this will be available as an audiobook. This might be useful, especially for the exercises in mindfulness and meditation.

Each of the five chapters ends with a tool kit. These pages are framed by a colored border making the sections easy to find. Colorful spot art illustrates various concepts such as Mind-Full vs. Mindful. (p. 32) Art after page fifty-three was either marked TK or black & white sketches. I read an arc so I'm not certain whether they will remain sketches or will be full color art. The tool kit contains activities such as journaling, breathing techniques, visualizations and yoga poses. 

The poses are broken down into bullet points that are pretty straightforward and easy to follow, if not terribly detailed. I do have some comments about Forward Lunge (or high lunge) on page seventy-five. Step five just states to "bring your right hand to the ground." The direction is not specific and the illustration shows the right hand on the ground on the outside of the right foot. Doing this is a bit awkward, but doable. I was always taught to put my right hand on the inside of my right foot. While there are some poses that call for placing the hand on the outside, these are called revolved poses and are slightly more difficult. 

Another thing I found curious were a couple of the names. I know there are variations and I might be nit-picking, but the pose called Cat Tilt in the book is really two poses Cow Tilt and Cat Tilt - or Cat/ Cow. The pose in the book is called Cat Tilt but the illustration shows Cow Tilt. 

Standing Half Moon gave me pause as well. I googled it and found one video that called the lateral stretch a Standing Half Moon One, but the both arms were shown over the head. The rest showed Standing Half Moon to be what I thought Half Moon was - a balancing pose on one leg and one arm, supporting a raised arm and a raised leg. This is a quibble though. I practice daily and asked each of my teachers what they called the pose pictured - six called it a side bend or a side stretch and only one called it a Standing Half Moon. 

To be honest, Half Moon, one of my favorite poses, never struck me as looking like a half moon. The Standing Half Moon pose in the book looks like a crescent moon to me but one of my teachers said crescent is when you do a backbend in low lunge. It made for some interesting discussions this week.

Again - two quibbles in what is otherwise a balanced, accessible introduction to mindfulness, meditation and yoga - a practice I believe most people would benefit from but especially our over-scheduled, stressed out teens.

Backmatter includes resources - nineteen books were recommended along with five web site names and eight apps. Notes were marked to come. There was no index in the arc.

About the author: Mariam Gates has a master's degree in education from Harvard University and has been teaching children for more than twenty years. The founder of Kid Power Yoga, she now devotes her time to training adults and children in yoga and mindfulness. She is the author of the picture books Meditate with Me, Good Night Yoga  and Good Morning Yoga. She lives with her husband, Rolf Gates, and their two children in Santa Cruz, California. 

About the illustrator: Libby VanderPloeg is an illustrator and designer living in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. She grew up in Grand Haven, Michigan on the edge of the Great Lakes, and since then, she has lived in Grand Rapids, Chicago, New York and Stockholm. She's created book covers and editorial illustrations for The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and Design*Sponge, among others, and as well as a line of cards and prints that she sells via her Etsy shop and in stores.

I am looking forward to reading the finished book and sharing it with my students. I was asked to share some pictures of me doing some favorite poses from the book. I chose Downward-facing dog but it's not a favorite pose. I find that the poses I am most reluctant to do are the ones I need the most. Over the years of my practice, I have grown stronger and more flexible and don't mind Down-dog that much anymore. I also chose Warrior Two because if you are holding the pose correctly (and I should be bending my front knee a bit lower) and breathe slowly and deeply for five to ten breaths, you get a real workout of your arms and legs! And finally, I showed a deep side angle pose (brought to the ground with the twist, except my arms should be better aligned. ;-) I must say, asking to have my pictures taken in the poses was a bit uncomfortable. But moving outside one's comfort zone is good. And seeing the photos, helps me to make corrections next time.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

What's New? Stacking the Shelves

Stacking the Shelves is a weekly meme hosted by Tynga's Reviews. Hop on over there to ogle what other bloggers got this week.

For review: Bonanza this week! A box arrived from Penguin Random House and a package arrived from Candlewick! All the Penguin titles intrigue, but these two made me do a happy dance!

Harbor Me by Jacqueline Woodson. 192 p. Penguin Young Readers Group, August 28, 2018. 9780399252525.

Publisher synopsis: It all starts when six kids have to meet for a weekly chat--by themselves, which no adults to listen in. There, in the room they soon dub the ARTT Room (short for "A Room to Talk"), they discover it's safe to talk about what's bothering them--everything from Esteban's father's deportation and Haley's father's incarceration to Amari's fears of racial profiling ad Ashton's adjustment to his changing family fortunes. When the six are together, they can express the feeling and fears they have to hide from the rest of the world. And together they can grow braver and more ready for the rest of their lives.

The Law of Finders Keepers by Sheila Turnage. 352 p. Mo & Dale series #4. Penguin Young Readers Group, September 11, 2018. 9780803739628.

Publisher synopsis: The heart-warming conclusion to the beloved Mo & Dale Mysteries by Newbery Honor author Sheila Turnagefeaturing the most shocking case yet!

Pirate fever sweeps through the town after an opportunistic treasure hunter shows up looking to lay claim to Blackbeard's lost gold buried somewhere in Tupelo Landing. When the (probably) world-famous Desperado Detectives--Mo and Dale and Harm--are hired by Mayor Little's mother to find the pirate loot for her, and the high-stakes race for riches is on!

But that's not the only treasure hunt in town. Mo LoBeau unearths shocking new clues that may lead to her long-lost Upstream Mother--in the riskiest, scariest, and possibly richest case of her life.
Will Mo find her Upstream Mother? Can the Desperados sidestep Blackbeard's curse and outsmart a professional treasure hunter? Will Dale faint under the pressure of Valentine's Day? 

Could the stakes be any higher? Yes. With twin treasures hanging in the balance, Mo, Dale, and Harm realize one of them may have to leave Tupelo Landing. For good.

Begone the Raggedy Witches by Celine Kiernan. 288 p. Candlewick Press, September 11, 2018. 978076369963.

Publisher synopsis: When witches kidnap her dad, Mup is swept up in a wild tide of magic that carries her to another world. Can she reunite her family and find her way back?

On the night that Aunty dies, the raggedy witches come for Mup’s family. Pale, cold, and relentless, the witches will do anything for the tyrannical queen who has outlawed most magic and enforces her laws with terror and cruelty — and who happens to be Mup’s grandmother. When witches carry off her dad, Mup and her mam leave the mundane world to rescue him. But everything is odd in the strange, glittering Witches Borough, even Mam. Even Mup herself. In a world of rhyming crows, talking cats, and golden forests, it’s all Mup can do to keep her wits about her. And even if she can save her dad, Mup’s not sure if anything will ever be the same again. First in a new trilogy by Irish author Celine Kiernan, this tale of family and forbidden magic charts a fresh path through the landscape of beloved fantasy tradition — and promises to bewitch any reader in search of stories to love.

Other Wood by Pete Hautman. 320 p. September 11, 2018. 9780763690717. 

Publisher Synopsis: What happened in the woods that day? Pete Hautman’s riveting middle-grade novel touches on secrets and mysteries — and the power of connections with family and friends.

“Hatred combined with lies and secrets can break the world.” Grandpa Zach used to say that before he died, but Stuey never really knew what he meant. It was kind of like how he used to talk about quantum physics or how he used to say ghosts haunted their overgrown golf course. But then one day, after Stuey and his best friend, Elly Rose, spend countless afternoons in the deadfall in the middle of the woods, something totally unbelievable happens. As Stuey and Elly Rose struggle to come to grips with their lives after that reality-splitting moment, all the things Grandpa Zach used to say start to make a lot more sense. This is a book about memory and loss and the destructive nature of secrets, but also about the way friendship, truth, and perseverance have the ability to knit a torn-apart world back together.

Merci Suárez Changes Gears by Meg Medina. 368 p. Candlewick Press, September 11, 2018. 9780763690496.

Publisher synopsis: Thoughtful, strong-willed sixth-grader Merci Suarez navigates difficult changes with friends, family, and everyone in between in a resonant new novel from Meg Medina.

Merci Suarez knew that sixth grade would be different, but she had no idea just how different. For starters, Merci has never been like the other kids at her private school in Florida, because she and her older brother, Roli, are scholarship students. They don’t have a big house or a fancy boat, and they have to do extra community service to make up for their free tuition. So when bossy Edna Santos sets her sights on the new boy who happens to be Merci’s school-assigned Sunshine Buddy, Merci becomes the target of Edna’s jealousy. Things aren't going well at home, either: Merci’s grandfather and most trusted ally, Lolo, has been acting strangely lately — forgetting important things, falling from his bike, and getting angry over nothing. No one in her family will tell Merci what's going on, so she’s left to her own worries, while also feeling all on her own at school. In a coming-of-age tale full of humor and wisdom, award-winning author Meg Medina gets to the heart of the confusion and constant change that defines middle school — and the steadfast connection that defines family.

Louisiana's Way Home by Kate DiCamillo. 240 p. Candlewick Press, October 2, 2018. 9780763694630.

Publisher synopsis: When Louisiana Elefante’s granny wakes her up in the middle of the night to tell her that the day of reckoning has arrived and they have to leave home immediately, Louisiana isn’t overly worried. After all, Granny has many middle-of-the-night ideas. But this time, things are different. This time, Granny intends for them never to return. Separated from her best friends, Raymie and Beverly, Louisiana struggles to oppose the winds of fate (and Granny) and find a way home. But as Louisiana’s life becomes entwined with the lives of the people of a small Georgia town — including a surly motel owner, a walrus-like minister, and a mysterious boy with a crow on his shoulder — she starts to worry that she is destined only for good-byes. (Which could be due to the curse on Louisiana's and Granny’s heads. But that is a story for another time.) 

Called “one of DiCamillo’s most singular and arresting creations” by The New York Times Book Review, the heartbreakingly irresistible Louisiana Elefante was introduced to readers in Raymie Nightingale — and now, with humor and tenderness, Kate DiCamillo returns to tell her story.

Speechless by Adam P. Schmitt. 304 p. Candlewick Press, November 6, 2018. 9781536200928.

Publisher synopsis: How do you give a eulogy when you can’t think of one good thing to say? A poignant, funny, and candid look at grief, family secrets, difficult people, and learning to look behind the facade.

As if being stuffed into last year’s dress pants at his cousin’s wake weren’t uncomfortable enough, thirteen-year-old Jimmy has just learned from his mother that he has to say a few words at the funeral the next day. Why him? What could he possibly say about his cousin, who ruined everything they did? He can’t recall one birthday party, family gathering, or school event with Patrick that didn’t result in injury or destruction. As Jimmy attempts to navigate the odd social norms of the wake, he draws on humor, heartfelt concern, and a good deal of angst while racking his brain and his memory for a decent and meaningful memory to share. But it’s not until faced with a microphone that the realization finally hits him: it’s not the words that are spoken that matter the most, but those that are truly heard.


The Icarus Show by Sally Christie. Unabridged audiobook on one MP3-CD. 5 hours : 11 minutes. Read by Joe Jameson. Scholastic on Brilliance Audio, March, 2017. 9781536681611.

Publisher synopsis: Alex has worked out a foolproof plan to avoid being picked on. Don’t React. It’s so simple, it just might work.

David, a boy in his class, Does React. He’s branded a weirdo, becomes an outcast, and is given a terrible nickname. Alex is determined not to suffer the same fate.

But one day, Alex gets a note in his bag that forces him out of his safe little world.

Who sent the note? And is what it promises true—will a boy really fly?

The Icarus Show is a powerful story about friendship, loneliness, and a strange kind of genius.

That's what's new with me. What's new with you? Leave a comment with a link to your stack and I'll stop by.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Fact Friday: Writing Radar by Jack Gantos

Writing Radar: using your journal to snoop out and craft great stories by Jack Gantos. 204 p. Farrar Straus & Giroux, August, 2017. 9780374304560. (Own)

I love hosting authors, be it for the day or an hour while on a book tour.  Students are highly interested to hear about the creation of their favorite books - from idea through publication and sometimes beyond (I'm looking at you, Sarah Weeks). I especially love the look on my students' faces when our author talks about revision. Kenneth Oppel shared a slide with a photo of the revisions for This Dark Endeavor that stood several feet high. They were gobsmacked. Students don't like to revise. Many seem to think that authors write a finished product on the first go-round, despite the fact that their teachers and I tell them they don't. As I look around the audience, I see students casting furtive glances at their LA teachers, who are usually nodding in agreement. It's nice to have back up. Reading this book or having your students read this book is the next best thing to having an author come in-person. 

And what an author he is! I have read and adored much of Jack Gantos' work. I have also heard him speak on several occasions and stood on lines for autographs where he greets each person as though he has know them forever. It truly is remarkable. He also draws a cartoon with his autograph.

Writing Radar is a master class in creative writing. It is conversational yet structured, often laugh-out-loud funny and quite practical. It's great to hand to your budding writers or to use in creative writing class. It really is a must purchase for any school or classroom library along with the audiobook, which the author narrates. In fact, read the book with both your ears and eyes simultaneously. That way, you don't miss out on Gantos' many illustrations and you actually get to hear the maestro instruct.

Writing Radar: using your journal to snoop out and craft great stories by Jack Gantos. Unabridged audiobook on 3 compact disks. 3.5 hours. Read by the author. Macmillan Audio, August, 2017. 9781427291219. (own)

Thursday, May 17, 2018

#tbt: Uglies by Scott Westerfeld

Uglies by Scott Westerfeld. 425 p. Simon Pulse/ Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, February, 2005. 9780756972370. (Own)

Reissued with new cover, May, 2011. 9781416936381. (Own)

#tbt features Uglies by Scott Westerfeld. Uglies is book one in the Uglies series, which was originally intended to be a sci/fi/dystopian trilogy but ended up a quartet. It was published in 2005 and its sequels are Pretties, Specials, and Extras. In Uglies, It is 300 years in the future and sixteen-year-old Tally Youngblood is eagerly awaiting her birthday when she will receive an operation that will make her a Pretty. Once a Pretty, she will live on Pretty Island and her life will be one continuous party. Nothing wrong with that, right? The series' covers were revamped in 2011 and it was recently announced that Westerfeld will return to the world with a new series called The Imposters.