Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Read to Me - Picture Book Challenge ~ I'm Here

I'm Here is a sweet and simple story of a unique little boy's effort to be noticed.  The story is uncomplicated and touching in its effort to show children the importance of accepting differences and reaching out to others.

Author/Illustrator Peter H. Reynolds wrote I'm Here to help readers better understand and accept children on the autism spectrum or kids who are simply different in the way they think and act.  The illustrations help tell the story.  Leaving the background white, Reynolds draws his main character kneeling in the same pose in the first half of the book.  The solitary little boy kneels while the other children in the story play and interact with one another.

The boy never approaches the children.  He does let the children know he's there by building and flying a paper airplane.  It is the airplane, retrieved by a little girl, that opens the door for human contact.  It is the airplane that does the communicating for the boy, and it is the smile on the little girl's face that tells the boy that she is a friend.

I read and discussed this tender story with my six year old daughter.  She loved the illustrations.  She is often drawn to uncomplicated drawings with quiet backgrounds.  Peter H. Reynolds illustrations are fabulous.  Charming and expressive in their simplicity.  The story's message was not easily interpreted by her young mind.  She understood that the boy was alone and isolated from his peers, but she was confused by the giant paper airplane imaginings of the little boy.  She thought he'd made friends with the other kids by building a giant airplane that they helped him fly.  My daughter still enjoyed the story.  I think the book's message was still clear - differences are okay/everyone needs acceptance and friendship.

I brought the book to a first/second grade multi-age classroom the next day.  The discussion flowed effortlessly.  The slightly older students easily identified the boy's struggle and his effort to be noticed.  The empathy they felt for the character was touching.

Peter H. Reynolds conveyed an important message in simple text and charming illustrations.  I'm Here is a wonderful story to share with children.

Blog you later!

Ali B.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

My 2012 Blog Challenges

Hi Blog Friends,

I decided to start the new year off with a few blog challenges.  My first challenge was one I am unofficially participating in ~ The Fourth Annual Comment Challenge.  I learned about the challenge on the SCBWI blog.  What a great resource!  Sign ups were handled through a great kid lit site, Motherreader. The challenge is to comment on 5 blogs per day for 21 days.  I got started a little bit late, so I decided to tweak the challenge to fit one of my personal goals.  As a new blogger, I want to visit as many of my fellow children's literature blogs as I can in 2012.  I'm working my way through the list at Kidlitosphere Central.  I have been visiting many sites and commenting on at least five a day.  There are some inspiring bloggers out there with lovely, funny, helpful, informational blogs.  I'm in great company!

I have also signed on for the 2012 Read to Me Picture Book Challenge sponsored by There's A Book.  I set a goal of reading 12 picture books to a child in 2012.  I'll then review the book, include my child's impression, and post my review in a monthly challenge wrap-up.  I can't wait to share this challenge with my little girl.  She's six and she loves picture books.

My great love in children's literature is middle grades fiction.  It's what I write and what I most love to read.  I am excited to be participating in 2012 Debut Author Challenge.  The challenge is hosted by Kristi at The Story Siren.  The challenge is to read and review twelve young adult or middle grades debut novels between January 1, 2012 through January 31, 2013.  The YA or MG title must be from a debut author and released in 2012.  I've already put six great debut titles in my TBR pile.

Well, I obviously have some reading to do.  I'd better get started.  I'll be posting my challenge reviews here at Literary Lunchbox, so please check back and read about the wonderful picture books and debut author titles I'll be reading in 2012.

Blog you later,

Ali B.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Inside Out & Back Again

Written in breathtaking verse, this book tells the story of H a, a ten year old girl, who escapes Vietnam with her family shortly before the fall of Saigon.  Her father is missing, and her mother must lead the family to safety.  This means leaving their beloved Vietnam, escaping by boat with hundreds of other refugees, and eventually being sponsored by a man living in Alabama.  Inside Out & Back Again is a year in the life of Ha and her family.

I was skeptical at first.  I wasn't sure if I would feel a connection to the characters.  Would this story, written entirely in verse, allow me to feel for Ha and her family?  My doubts were soon displaced by my strong connection to Ha, her three brothers, and her strong and clever mother.  Each verse "entry" is done in chronological order, telling Ha's heartbreaking, yet sometimes funny story, of worrying about her father, missing her papaya tree in Vietnam, and her difficulties learning the English language.

Starting in Tet of 1975 and ending with Tet in 1976, author Thanhha Lai beautifully captures the challenged of immigrant families, the cultural barriers that divide, and the small victories that bring about real change.  The book is fiction, but it is based on the real experiences of Thanhha Lai.  The personal connection the author feels towards her main character is evident in her poetic storytelling.

Inside Out & Back Again recently won the National Book Award for Young Adult Literature, yet it is marketed to readers 8-12.  I think the book spans Middle Grades and Young Adult and is appropriate for for readers young and old.

Blog you later!

Ali B.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Sandwich Swap

I don't blog about picture books very often.  I should, but I don't.  I love them, but I never know how to write a proper and just review without copying the text and illustrations.  The word/picture combination overwhelms me with its beauty and simplicity.  I am wordless.

I stumbled across The Sandwich Swap while browsing the stacks at Barnes and Noble today, and decided I needed to share this gem of a book with others.  I'd just have to do my best.

The story is about two little girls.  Best friends.  In the repetitive text, we learn that Lily and Salma do everything together.  They even like the same things, except Salma likes hummus sandwiches for lunch while Lily prefers peanut butter and jelly.  This difference creates a rift in their friendship, with both girls getting their feelings hurt.  Sides are chosen, insults are hurled, and all the children in the school end up in a food fight.

Lily and Salma eventually reunite, share sandwiches, and realize that their friendship is more important that what they pack in their lunchboxes.  They also decide that differences should not only be tolerated, but celebrated.  The last page of the story is a three page foldout of the school's multicultural feast.  A fun, food-filled way to learn about and share their traditions and meals.

The book is co-authored by Queen Rania of Jordan and Kelly DiPucchio.  The charming illustrations are the work of Tricia Tusa.  I recommend this book to parents, teachers and librarians hoping to spark a conversation about diversity and the acceptance others.

Blog you later!

Ali B.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Tuesdays at the Castle

I can't remember exactly how I learned about this book, but I'm certainly glad I did.  I'm always a sucker for an adventure story with a spunky, girl protagonist.  Princess Celie is a gem.

The story is about the Glower children - Prince Rolf, Princess Lilah and Princess Celie.  The Glower parents, the king and queen of Sleyne, are presumed dead along with their older brother, Bran, after they are ambushed by a group of assassins.  Rolf, Lilah and Celie are devastated, but must carry on with the business of running a kingdom and a castle.  And Castle Glower is no ordinary castle.  It is alive.  It magically creates new rooms, towers, and sometimes whole wings.  It opens passageways with secret doors and often rearranges whole sections of itself.  If it likes you, you will be rewarded by the castle, but if it dislikes you, then you can expect the castle to be very unkind.  The castle favors Princess Celie most of all.

Prince Rolf is to take over as king, but he is only 14 years old.  He and his sisters do not want to go through with a memorial and coronation until they are sure what has become of their parents and older brother.  The councilors of the kingdom advise Rolf to go through with his coronation, but insist that they will advise him in his duties.  It appears the councilors are in on a plot to help a neighboring prince take over the castle and the kingdom of Sleyne.  The royal highnesses are determined to keep this from happening, and to keep Rolf safe from harm.  Thankfully, they have the castle and many royal subjects to help them in their efforts.

Princess Celie saves the day in the end, protecting her big brother and her beloved castle.  I found the book to be a charming tale of castles, magic and precociousness.  There are plenty of chase scenes, ornery tricks and spying to keep any young reader happy.  I only have one small complaint about the story.  Throughout the book, Celie draws maps of the castle.  Maps she intends to use (and does) to help guide people to safety/escape.  These maps play a pretty major role in the plot.  However, the castle is constantly changing.  This is a major plot point as well.  If the castle is always changing, maps would become obsolete?  I wanted a better explanation of how the maps could help if the castle was constantly rearranging itself, or I wanted Celie to use something other than maps to guide her in her rescues.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on Jessica Day George's beguiling MG book.  I'll certainly be looking for other titles by this creative author.

Blog you later!

Ali B.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Revolution is Not a Dinner Party

My brother gave me this book for Christmas.  I'm so glad he did.  I really enjoyed the history lesson and the authentic voice of the main character.  It is the story of a young Chinese girl living under the brutal regime of Chairman Mao.  Although the book is historical fiction, it is based on the life experiences of the author, Ying Chang Compestine.

The novel tells the story of Ling, the daughter of a surgeon and a traditional Chinese medicine doctor during the oppressive final years of Chairman Mao's reign.  Ling's family lives without much political interference until one of Mao's officers moves into their apartment building.  Rapidly, things begin to deteriorate for Ling's family and neighbors.  Citizens are expected to wear Maoist clothing, sing songs of allegiance to Mao, and to give up creature comforts in the name of the revolution.  Then things really start getting bad.  Many of Ling's neighbors are persecuted and sent to labor camps.  Their families are separated and their property destroyed.  The Red Guards are terrorizing the city, beating citizens and humiliating them in public criticism meetings.  Food is scarce and all supplies are rationed.

Ling's world crumbles when her father is taken away.  She and her mother are left alone with no idea where her father has been taken, or if he is still alive.  Ling is attacked and bullied at school for being "bourgeois."  Scared for her father and frightened to stand up for herself and make things worse, Ling is emotionally paralyzed and depressed.  Ling ultimately decides to stand up for herself and her family and begins to push back against her oppressors.  She learns to barter for food, find information, and be true to herself and her beliefs.  Ling fights back and changes her world.

Revolution is Not a Dinner Party is a coming of age story of a young girl who discovers her own strength during one of the most oppressive periods in Chinese history.

If you are a history instructor, teaching about the Chinese Revolution and Chairman Mao's rule, I highly recommend using this book in your classroom.

Blog you later!

Ali B.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

The Apothecary

I just finished Maile Meloy's, The Apothecary.  What a spectacular middle grades adventure story!  Set in 1952's London, The Apothecary tells the story of Janie, a new and reluctant Londoner who has recently moved with her parents from their home in sunny Los Angeles.  Her parents, Hollywood writers, are suspected of being communists, and make the move to London to avoid persecution.  Janie is ambivalent about the move, but soon finds herself embracing her new life after she meets a wannabe spy, Benjamin Burrows, the local apothecary's son.

The plot moves quickly.  Janie and Benjamin become friends, and Benjamin immediately pulls Janie into his spy games.  Benjamin is tracking a man he believes to be a Russian spy, and he and Janie are surprised to discover Benjamin's dad, the apothecary, is one of the spy's contacts.  Nothing is as it seems, and the pair soon learn that Benjamin's dad is no ordinary apothecary.  He is an alchemist, with dangerous secrets and a mysterious book full of elixirs, cures and unbelievable powers.

When the apothecary disappears, Janie and Benjamin are entrusted with the protection of the mysterious book, The Pharmacopeia.  The protection of the book is a matter of world security.  Russian spies are after the book, and now they are after Janie and Benjamin.  Using the book's peculiar elixirs, the two teenagers are able to avoid capture (mostly) and keep the book safe.

With the help of a Chinese alchemist, a Hungarian count, and a London pickpocket, Janie and Benjamin are able to save the apothecary and prevent a nuclear disaster.  At book's end, the amnesia inducing memory elixir and the disappearance of Benjamin and his father keep the reader guessing what will happen next, and hoping the Maile Meloy will write another amazing tale to follow The Apothecary.

The pacing of the plot and the mystery of the story make The Apothecary a fantastic recommendation for young mystery lovers, or for the parent or teacher looking for a captivating read aloud book to share with pre-teen listeners.

I hope you enjoy The Apothecary as much as I did!

Blog you later!

Ali B.