Shy little Billy is not so sure he's smart enough for second grade. With a sensitive teacher and understanding parents he learns how to enjoy it.
Why I picked it up: Kevin Henkes’ picture books like Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse and Wemberly Worried are some of my favorite read-alouds because of their child’s-eye-views of school. Seeing his new chapter book, I wanted to find out how he worked his craft in prose.
Why I finished it: Henkes’ characterization of Billy Miller reminds me just how endearing second graders can be. Before the first day of school he worries, “Papa, will I be smart enough for second grade?” His Papa reassures him that while, “Ms. Silver and the great nation of China might think that this is the Year of the Rabbit, I know -- and I know everything -- that this is the Year of Billy Miller.” When fearing he might have made a bad first impression on his teacher, Billy earnestly collects a number of silver-colored gifts which he offers with the comment, “Here, these are silver like your name.” (She accepts only the paper clip, while reassuring him that it is the perfect sort of gift.) By the end of the year, when asked to write and recite a poem about one special person in his family he decides to write it about his Mom, but only after checking that it wouldn’t hurt his dad’s feelings.
Readalikes: Short novels that have a similar wise, gentle narration. Henkes’ Sun and Spoon tells the story of a reflective little boy overcoming his fear of losing the memory of his grandmother, Cynthia Rylant’s The Van Gogh Cafe explores death via a thoughtful girl with a bit of magical help, and Patricia MacLachlan's Sarah, Plain and Tall trilogy provides a kids-eye-view of life's big changes.
@bookblrb: Billy isn’t sure he’s smart enough for second grade, especially after he makes a bad first impression on his teacher.
A fast-paced and revelatory narrative of one of the most epic and consequential periods in 20th century history—the Arab Revolt against the Turks in World War I and the secret “great game” to control the Middle East. Based on years of intensive primary document research, Lawrence in Arabia definitively overturns received wisdom on how the modern Middle East was formed. ?
“Among the many individual stories of World War I that will doubtless be told and retold for the centenary years between 2014 and 2018, that of T. E. Lawrence stands out from all the rest. . . . Anderson is able to explore the muddles of the early twentieth-century Middle East from several distinct and enlightening perspectives.” —The New York Times Book Review
“Thrilling. . . . It’s a huge assignment, explaining the modern roots of the region as it emerged from the wreckage of war. But it is one that Anderson handles with panache. . . . Anderson brilliantly evokes the upheavals and head-spinningly complex politics of an era. . . . [Lawrence in Arabia] shows how individuals both shape history and are, at the same time, helpless before the dictates of great power politics." —The Boston Globe
Click here to read an excerpt.
Of all the formally dressed animals who walk stiff-backed and upright in the Victorian village Mr. Tiger calls home, he is the only one who seems uncomfortable. He can't take it anymore and decides to break free from convention.
Why I picked it up: I was drawn in by the cover’s stylized jungle plants and smiling tiger in a suit and top hat.
Why I finished it: I wanted to see how wild Mr. Tiger would really go. I was slightly concerned he might devour a neighbor, though I was both relieved and disappointed that he didn’t.
It's perfect for: Anyone dissatisfied with where Where the Wild Things Are left off why can't Max live that fully in his daily life?) or who dreams of swimming in fountains, walking on all fours, or spending more time au naturel.
@bookblrb: Mr. Tiger is tired of his formal, stiff-backed, upright life. He throws off his clothes and goes wild.
Winner of the National Book Award
In this brilliantly written, fast-paced book, based on three years of uncompromising reporting, a bewildering age of global change and inequality is made human.
As India begins to prosper, the residents of Annawadi, a makeshift settlement near the Mumbai airport, are electric with hope. Abdul, a teenager who sorts and sells garbage, is on the verge of lifting his family of eleven out of poverty. Asha, a mother of three, is determined to make her daughter Annawadi's first female college graduate. Even the poorest among them, like the homeless scrap-metal scavenger Kalu, feel themselves inching closer to good lives. But when Abdul is falsely accused in a shocking tragedy, suppressed tensions over religion, caste, sex, power, and economic envy escalate. As the true contours of an unequal, desperately competitive market city are revealed, so too are the resilience and ingenuity of the people of Annawadi.
"This book belongs on reading lists as a work that allows high schoolers to see the incredible hardships of life in a developing country." —School Library Journal, “Adult Books 4 Teens” blog
“There are books that change the way you feel and see; this is one of them.” —Adrian Nicole LeBlanc, author of Random Family
Click here for a teacher’s guide
Click here to read an excerpt
Willow is a genius with a talent for helping others. She calms herself down by counting by 7s, and she loves nature and gardening. Willow is so intelligent she gets a perfect score on the state proficiency test. Nobody believes that a twelve year old could do so well and finish in only seventeen minutes, so she is sent to counselor Dell Duke to determine if she cheated. After a session, she finds out that her adoptive parents have died in a car wreck.
Why I picked it up: I had been helping my son with his multiplication tables. He had just finished the 6s as I was digging through a box of books. As we discussed the next step of counting by 7s, this book appeared in my hand. It was a sign.
Why I finished it: There aren't many books with strong plot twists and turns that are as plausible as this one, and every twist had a satisfying ending. Willow's parents die, but they had no family she can live with. Her counselor and two other kids, Mai and her brother Quang-ha, are with her when she learns of her parents' deaths. Mai and Quang-ha say they will take care of Willow, even though Mai and her family live in a garage. Mai's mother does her best to stay ahead of social services to ensure that Willow is cared for. Dell Duke stays involved as her counselor, even though he is fairly ineffective and has issues of his own. Willow takes him on as a special project and helps him gain more confidence.
It's perfect for: Rebecca, from my writing group, who works in a middle school library. She's always looking for a perfect read for her middle schoolers, and I know she'd appreciate the care and detail that Willow takes with Quang-ha when she helps him work on his school papers. Quang-ha is nearly failing school, but Willow helps him every step of the way. I know she'd also appreciate Willow's charm and quirkiness, especially her strange love of diagnosing illnesses. (Rebecca doesn't diagnose medical conditions but she's excellent at treating poor grammar.)
@bookblrb: After Willow’s parents die, another family takes her in and tries to make sure she’s cared for.
Out of the depths of the Depression comes an irresistible story about beating the odds and finding hope in the most desperate of times—the improbable, intimate account of how nine working-class boys from the American West showed the world at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin what true grit really meant.??It was an unlikely quest from the start. With a team composed of the sons of loggers, shipyard workers, and farmers, the University of Washington’s eight-oar crew team was never expected to defeat the elite teams of the East Coast and Great Britain, yet they did, going on to shock the world by defeating the German team rowing for Adolf Hitler. The emotional heart of the tale lies with Joe Rantz, a teenager without family or prospects, who rows not only to regain his shattered self-regard but also to find a real place for himself in the world. Drawing on the boys’ own journals and vivid memories of a once-in-a-lifetime shared dream, Brown has created an unforgettable portrait of an era, a celebration of a remarkable achievement, and a chronicle of one extraordinary young man’s personal quest.
"Every sport needs its laureate. With The Boys in the Boat, crew has found its voice in Daniel James Brown, who tells a thrilling, heart-thumping tale of a most remarkable band of rowing brothers who upstaged Adolf Hitler at the 1936 Olympics. Well-told history, packed with suspense and a likable bunch of underdogs at the heart of an improbable triumph." —Timothy Egan, author of The Worst Hard Time??
"The Boys in the Boat is not only a great and inspiring true story; it is a fascinating work of history." —Nathaniel Philbrick, author of Mayflower and In the Heart of the Sea
Previously unknown and now extinct creatures of North America are lavishly brought to life in this collection of original paintings, wood carvings, and sculptures by Seattle artist Scott Musgrove.
Why I picked it up: I was telling library school stories to a friend and mentioned the mythical Pacific Northwest tree octopus, an example librarians once used to teach students how to evaluate websites. My friend (very seriously) replied, "You know about the Albino Walktopus, don't you?" Then he lent me his copy.
Why I finished it: The eyes are incredible. I don't know how to describe them: bovine, alien, insect-y, and some that are eerily human. The way they reflect light makes me feel like I can imagine what the creature is thinking.
There is so much detail to linger over; even the frames are works of art, with meticulously carved custom plaques displaying both Latin and common names.
I desperately want one of Musgrove’s wood carvings for our guest bedroom because nothing could say "welcome" better than the mounted bust of a Lepus Perilous on the wall.
It's perfect for: My brother, David. One of our funniest afternoons was spent at the aquarium coming up with recipes for placards next to the tanks. I know Musgrove's introduction will speak to him: "Who knows how many medical secrets, links in the food chain, and lip-smacking hors d'oeuvres have been lost forever as a result of Man's reckless and wanton recklessness?" There is even a recipe for the Hairy Brook Trout.
@bookblrb: Paintings, wood carvings, and sculptures of unknown and extinct creatures.
Chloe’s older sister, Ruby, is the girl everyone looks to and longs for, the one who can’t be contained or caged. When a night with Ruby’s friends goes horribly wrong and Chloe discovers the body of her classmate London Hayes floating in the reservoir, Chloe is sent away from town and away from Ruby. But Ruby will do anything to get her sister back, and when Chloe returns to town two years later, deadly surprises await. As Chloe flirts with the truth that Ruby has deeply hidden away, the fragile line between life and death is redrawn by the complex bonds of sisterhood.
“This glittering puzzle box of a story about the exertion of one girl’s will over life and death is as moving as it is creepy.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred)
“Suma (Dani Noir) uses the story’s supernatural, horror movie–ready elements in the best of ways; beneath all the strangeness lies beauty, along with a powerful statement about the devotion between sisters. Not your average paranormal novel. —Publishers Weekly (starred)
“…An atmospheric piece that draws readers in and holds them through unexpected developments.” —School Library Journal (starred)
Tired of the relentless pace of your kids’ lives? Feel like you’re a neglectful parent if your kids aren’t doing all the activities and getting all the toys that their friends are? Sit back, kick up your feet, and let your kids be bored for once in their lives while you read this manifesto on being a Mean Mom: the kind who says no and means it, the kind who refuses to cater to her kids’ every whim, and the kind who raises self-sufficient, confident, well-rounded citizens of the world.
Why I picked it up: My daughter says I’m the meanest mommy ever, so clearly this is my manual.
Why I finished it: Every chapter gave me another YES THIS YES moment, whether it was about refusing to pack a purse full of snacks for a thirty-minute errand (because YOU WILL NOT STARVE, KID) or teaching basic life skills, like pumping gas or making pasta. The sooner kids learn to do things for themselves, the more confident and accomplished they'll be -- and the less this slacker mom will have to do for them. WIN-WIN.
It's perfect for: Parents who recognize the craziness of modern parenthood but need an extra nudge of “yes, you’re doing fine. Keep at it” now and then. Tread carefully, though -- this is not the book to whip out at your first PTA meeting if you haven’t read the room correctly. Schipani has sympathy for the societal pressures, but suffers no fools. Yes, crossing the street can be dangerous, but a ten-year-old who can’t tell the difference between a busy thoroughfare and a quiet cul-de-sac because his parents never trusted him to learn will turn into a college graduate who has no idea how to manage a checking account.
@bookblrb: A manifesto for parents who need to stop catering to their kids’ every whim and relax.
While Brimsby makes wonderful hats, he and his friend talk. But one morning his friend says he’s leaving to pursue his dream of becoming a sea captain. After that things are too quiet, so Brimsby sets out to make some new friends.
Why I picked it up: The cover image’s attractive, smooth lines and shapes, paired with the subtle colors in the sky, made the silver foil title really pop.
Why I finished it: There’s a moment on the second page of the story where Brimsby and his friend are chatting over tea. Their conversation is conveyed in picture-filled word balloons, and it’s clear they’re making up a swashbuckling adventure together. It’s a hard thing to pull off and it’s done very well here. This is a beautiful, comic-picture book hybrid that uses the best bits of both forms to great effect throughout.
Readalikes: The way Brimsby makes friends with birds struggling to stay warm reminded me of the friend-filled moments of Andy Runton’s Owly graphic novels.
@bookblrb: After his friend leaves to become a sea captain, a hat maker sets out to make some new friends.
Hydraulic Fracturing (fracking), the injection of pressurized water deep into shales of permeable rock to release natural gas and petroleum, is a deeply controversial process. It provides good jobs with high salaries while making the United States less dependent on other countries for our energy needs. Gold believes that those who say that fracking, fouled aquifers, and earthquakes are unrelated are reminiscent of cigarette companies who said that smoking didn’t cause cancer. The key to responsible extraction of these necessary fuels seems to be somewhere between no-holds-barred fracking and take-no-prisoners ecological protection.
Gold, an investigative reporter for the Wall Street Journal, spent years covering the industry plus five years researching this book. North Dakota is likened to the Wild West as workers come from all over the United States for the high paychecks. Money is being thrown around as companies jockey to purchase mineral rights and bring in equipment to sink productive wells. This book provides a detailed look at both the benefits and the unintended consequences of the rapid, largely unregulated growth in hydraulic fracturing.
Why I picked it up: Fracking has been contentious from day one. Since the U.S. has now (in just a few years) become a net natural gas exporter, I wanted to read all about the benefits and impacts of production.
Why I finished it: I consider myself fairly informed on this topic, but there was a lot I didn’t know. The industry has developed ever-more-effective techniques to maximize profits, like drilling sideways through the shales of compressed gas. The creation of a well, especially the concrete layer that separates the drill and the escaping gas from the water tables that the drill shaft passes through, is crucial. Any mistakes can lead to fouled water containing saline and other drilling fluids. Oftentimes, the prime location for a well is right next to a house on property where an oil company owns or leases the mineral rights. By statute and contract rights, a well can be situated as close as twenty feet from the house. These wells make a god-awful racket, but homeowners have no right to object and there’s little they can do to ameliorate the noise!
I also enjoyed reading about the “Man Towns” full of single men, cheap housing, bars, and prostitutes that have sprung up all over North Dakota as the area scrambles to provide enough infrastructure (schools, roads) and civil servants (teachers, safety inspectors and policemen) to serve its rapidly growing population.
It's perfect for: My brother-in-law, Jon, who tends to be a conservative, pro-business Republican. He would probably be rooting for the jobs that would be created by opening more land to fracking. Yet I think Gold’s expose on its hazards would make him think twice because he’s a hunter and a conscientious steward of wilderness areas.
@bookblrb: A detailed look at the benefits and consequences of the rapid growth of hydraulic fracking.
Elsa wakes up one night to find her grandmother crying over old photographs. She’s remembering when she was a little girl during World War II, and people started treating her differently because she was Jewish. She talks about the people who helped her hide after her parents were taken away, and how she survived.
Why I picked it up: The girl on the cover looks confused by the yellow Star of David sewn onto her coat. Did she really not know why it was there?
Why I finished it: This book is brilliant in the way it stays in a little girl’s point of view, both in the present (Elsa) and the past (her grandmother). It allows the story to explore what happened to Jews in occupied France in a way that kids can relate to: being bullied at school, separated from friends and parents, and forced to rely on adults at a time when it’s becoming clear they don’t always have kids’ best interests at heart. But this isn’t pap. The horrors of the situation are still strongly implied. When Elsa’s grandmother was finally reunited with her mother, who had been in a concentration camp, her mother was so physically wrecked that Elsa didn't recognize her.
Readalikes: My favorite historical graphic novels that are often recommended for kids, but are good enough to appeal to adults, Annie Sullivan and the Trials of Helen Keller, Bluffton, and Houdini: The Handcuff King.
@bookblrb: Elsa’s grandmother tells her about the people who helped her survive the holocaust.