Thursday, October 19, 2017

#tbt: Charlotte's Web by E.B. White

Charlotte's Web by E.B. White. 192 p. HarperCollins Publisher, January, 1952.

In #tbt news, 2017 marks the 65th anniversary of the publication of Charlotte's Web by E.B. White. This story of a runty pig named Wilbur, who was rescued from the ax by a feisty girl named Fern and then saved from being turned into a Thanksgiving roast by a true friend named Charlotte, won White a Newbery Honor and leagues of fans. At 65, this timeless classic shows no signs of retiring. If you have not read it, you really must. And, the audiobook is not to be missed! White narrates it and his performance is superb!

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Audiobook Review: Refugee by Alan Gratz

Refugee by Alan Gratz. Unabridged audiobook on 7 compact discs. 7 hours, 37 minutes. Read by Michael Goldstrom, Kyla Garcia, Assaf Cohen. Scholastic Audio, July, 2017. 9781338191073. (Review from purchased audiobook.)

When I received the arc of Refugee last summer, I was thrilled, but kept skipping it on the tbr pile because I just knew that it would gut me. I needed to be in a strong emotional place to read and reflect on what I was sure to be an important book. Somehow, I never got there. Recently, a fifth grader ran to me clutching his copy and asking if I had read it. When I said no, he put his book in my hands and said, "You HAVE to read this! Really! You have to!" Chastened, I said that I would. Then looked to see if was available as an audiobook so that I could read through the tears I knew were going to fall.

Gratz has lots of fans at my school, his Projekt 1065 and Prisoner B-3087 are consistently checked out and recommended student-to-student. Personally, I loved a couple of earlier books, Samurai Shortstop and The Brooklyn Nine. Recently, I enjoyed his latest elementary/ low middle grade title, Ban This Book.

Refugee is told from three points-of-view. There is Joseph, who is on the cusp of his thirteenth birthday and whose father was recently released from Auschwitz. The family has been told to leave Germany. They have secured passage on the ship, the St. Louis bound for Cuba with other Jewish families fleeing Nazi Germany.

Then, there is Isabelle, who is fleeing Castro's Cuba in 1994, when the Communist leader announced that anyone who wanted to leave Cuba could, with no repercussions. She, her parents and grandfather and her neighbors pile into a leaky boat to make the perilous 90 mile journey to the coast of Florida.

Finally, there is Mahmoud, a young Syrian boy, who is trying to flee Aleppo with his parents and younger siblings during the Civil War that is raging there right now. His flight is perhaps most perilous having to survive crossing the Mediterranean, then several countries before reaching Germany.

It would've been perfectly reasonable to keep these three stories separate and parallel. Each one is compelling in its own right. Gratz has brought each child's plight to vivid life. It would've made for a perfectly memorable book. That he chose to connect the three stories at the end adds an emotional wallop that, frankly, I don't think I will recover from. I mean that as a compliment. 

All three children face the unthinkable. All three are traumatized, yet push on. All three suffer from incredible guilt over an impossible decision each had to make. Gratz skillfully ratchets up the suspense as he cuts between the stories. Readers will quickly become invested in each child. I got a bit weepy through most of the recording, but was glad to be reading with my ears as the tears flowed pretty continuously through discs six and seven. Mahmoud's story evoked haunting memories of the photos from Aleppo that have shocked the world, notably, the little boy in the ambulance. It was very much on my mind during Mahmoud's story. 

I do believe that the performances of all three narrators heightened the experience of the book because two of the three narrators read with beautifully accented English and also fluently pronounced the Syrian or Spanish words. When I read with my eyes, I read with my own accent. Listening to a narrator who is fluent in both languages means I am not mentally butchering the pronunciation of the foreign language words.  

The Author's Note at the end is not to be missed. Allen Gratz provides historical context, including the importance of the photo I just spoke of, and what is real and fiction in the story as well as places one might donate to help present-day refugees in crisis. This is a first purchase for any library - both the audiobook as well as the hardcover. It would be a spectacular class read or book club book. But don't forget your tissues. Lots of tissues. I will need tissues when I booktalk this book.

Waiting on Wednesday: One Smart Cookie by Elly Swartz

One Smart Cookie by Elly Swartz. 288 p. Scholastic, January 30, 2018. 9781338143560.

Publisher synopsis: Sometimes you need to keep a few secrets.

Frankie knows she'll be in big trouble if Dad discovers she secretly posted a dating profile for him online. But she's determined to find him a wife, even if she ends up grounded for life. Frankie wants what she had before Mom died. A family of three. Two is a pair of socks or the wheels on a bicycle or a busy weekend at the B&B where Frankie and Dad live. Three is a family. And Frankie's is missing a piece.

I adored Swartz's debut, Finding Perfect and am so looking forward to this. Plus, that cover! I have and have had hounds in my life who did exactly that!

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Teen Tuesday: Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds

Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds. 304 p. Caitlyn Dlouhy Books/ Atheneum Books for Young Readers, October 17, 2017. 9781481438254.

Teen Tuesday wishes Jason Reynolds' Long Way Down a happy book birthday! Reynolds burst on the scene a few years ago with When I was the Greatest and seven of his eight books have won multiple awards. Long Way Down was named on the National Book Award Longlist before it was even published. 

This powerful blank verse novel takes place in the time it takes to ride an elevator from the seventh to first floors of Will's apartment building. His brother, Shawn has been murdered and Will is following the rules of his neighborhood - don't cry, don't snitch, get revenge. As the elevator stops at each floor, time and reality bend as Will is joined by family and friends who were victims of gun violence and "the rules."

Click here for my full review of the arc. I can't wait to get a finished copy to add to my library collection!

Monday, October 16, 2017

Middle Grade Monday: Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick

Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick. 608 p. Scholastic Inc., September, 2011. 9780545027892. (Purchased)

I read this back when it was published in 2011 but didn't blog about it, nor was I on Goodreads then. I recall enjoying the story. I did not have the chance to reread the book before seeing the movie the other but took the opportunity to do so over the weekend. 

Wonderstruck tells parallel stories - one set in 1927 and one in 1977. The 1927 story is told in illustrations. It is the story of Rose, a child who was born deaf to a famous actress. Rose lives in Hoboken, NJ with her stern and cold father while her mother lives in New York City to pursue her acting career. Rose meticulously clips articles about her mother's career and lovingly keeps a scrapbook. She loves to watch her mother in movies because they are silent and accessible to her. One cannot skip a single illustration because each one advances the story and each one is remarkable.

Ben's story is the one set in 1977. He was born deaf in one ear and never knew his father. His mother recently died in a crash and he's living with his aunt and uncle. He finds a clue to who his father might be while searching through his mother's belongings. After a freak accident takes away his hearing in his good ear and lands him in the hospital, Ben decides to run away to New York to find his father.

There are a couple of plot contrivances to swallow, and there is a distinct nod to From The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler (Celebrating 50 years this year), but suspend belief and go along for the ride. It's a satisfying one.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

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:

Red & Lulu by Matt Tavares. Unpgd. Candlewick Press, 

Publisher synopsis: Separation and miles cannot keep a determined cardinal from his loved one in an ode to serendipity and belief that is destined to be a new Christmas classic.

Red and Lulu make their nest in a particularly beautiful evergreen tree. It shades them in the hot months and keeps them cozy in the cold months, and once a year the people who live nearby string lights on their tree and sing a special song: O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree. But one day, something unthinkable happens, and Red and Lulu are separated. It will take a miracle for them to find each other again. Luckily, it’s just the season for miracles. . . . From Matt Tavares comes a heart-tugging story combining the cheer of Christmas, the magic of New York City, and the real meaning of the holiday season: how important it is to be surrounded by love.

Pick a Pine Tree by Patricia Toht. Illustrated by Jarvis. Unpgd. Candlewick Press, September, 2017. 9780763695712.

Publisher synopsis: A festive read-aloud brimming with all the joy and excitement of Christmastime — beginning, of course, with picking out a tree!

Part of the magic of the Christmas season stems from the traditions that families and friends take part in every year: hanging up stockings; putting lights in the windows; and, one of the most important of all, picking out and taking home the Christmas tree. With style and warmth, debut author Patricia Toht and Jarvis, the author-illustrator of Alan’s Big, Scary Teeth, evoke all the rituals of decorating the tree — digging out boxes jam-packed with ornaments and tree trimmings, stringing tinsel, and, at long last, turning on those twinkling lights. Joyously drawn 

Traveling the Blue Road: poems of the sea collected by Lee Bennett Hopkins. Illustrated by Bob Hansman and Jovan Hansman. unpaged. Sea Grass Press/ Quarto, October 17, 2017. 9781633222762.

Publisher synopsis: Gorgeous illustrations surround a collection of poetry written for children about the courage, beauty, and promise of sea voyages. Compiled and edited by award-winning poet Lee Bennett Hopkins, the poems describe how the sea has historically shone as a metaphor for hope and despair and served as a pathway for people searching for new life, including poems about the pilgrims coming to the New World, the Mariel boatlift, the Vietnamese boat people, a Dutch slave ship, the current migration situation in the Mediterranean, and the voyage of the St. Louis.

I have coveted this one ever since viewing a couple of pdf printouts from the book at the July publisher preview at Quarto. Thanks Michelle!


After the Fall by Dan Santat. unpgd. Roaring Brook Press, October, 2017. 9781250179371.

Publisher synopsis: From the New York Times–bestselling and award-winning author and illustrator of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend comes the inspiring epilogue to the beloved classic nursery rhyme Humpty Dumpty.

Everyone knows that when Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall, Humpty Dumpty had a great fall. But what happened after?

Caldecott Medalist Dan Santat's poignant tale follows Humpty Dumpty, an avid bird watcher whose favorite place to be is high up on the city wall—that is, until after his famous fall. Now terrified of heights, Humpty can longer do many of the things he loves most.

Will he summon the courage to face his fear?

I adore this man and his work. He just keeps getting better.

That's what's new with me. What's new with you?

Friday, October 13, 2017

Brian Selznick's Wonderstruck (Movie)

Boy, when it rains, it pours! I have been so busy with children's books-related events these last few weeks, but especially this past one! Last night, I had the pleasure of attending a special showing of Brian Selznick's Wonderstruck thanks to Scholastic and Lizette Serrano. 

I brought my husband as a plus one. We met #3 son, who lives and works in Manhattan down the block for dinner. We ate at Uncle Jack's Steakhouse a few doors down from the Whitby Hotel, where the screening was to be held. As NY steakhouses go, this was pretty good. Interesting decor, very attentive waiter and delicious food.

I wondered about how the screening would work at a hotel instead of a movie theater. When I found the smallish, boutiquey place, I really wondered! The lobby was filled with art. We were directed downstairs where there were several rooms, one of which was a screening room with comfy seats. We were welcomed, Brian said hello and the movie commenced.

It has been quite some time since I read the book and I did not have time to reread before the screening but it all came back. While Wonderstruck is not my favorite of Selznick's three bricks, I did like it and am in awe of his style, the magnificent visual storytelling and how he takes the reader on an unforgettable journey in every one of his projects. I think he told a fascinating story and probably introduced a new generation to the wonder of the silent film era as well as a window into the lives of the hearing impaired. 

The movie was just gorgeous. Beautifully cast with veteran and new actors alike; gorgeous cinematography; and music that was just perfect. I was unaware until the interview at the end of the movie that Millicent Simmonds, who stars as Rose, is deaf and that the casting call went out seeking a deaf actress. This is Millicent's first movie and she just shines. Her story is told silently in black and white and her close-ups reveal such intensity and beauty. New York of the 1920s is beautiful as well as the Museum of Natural History.

My husband, who hadn't read the book, thought the film was lovely. So, I hope that it reaches people beyond the children's literature community because it is quite special. 

I rarely go to movies but I am seeing two within the span of a few days. On Sunday, I am joining my colleagues and some students and Sarah Weeks for a special screening of So B. It at the AMC Theaters in the Palisades Mall. Tonight, I am trekking back into the city to listen to Laurie Halse Anderson interview Sherman Alexie. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian turns ten this year!