I've read some interesting books recently I wanted to share.
I just finished Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine. The story is told by ten-year-old Caitlin, who has Asperger's and has just lost her brother in a school shooting at the middle school. Unfortunately, brother Devon was the one who knew her best. Now it is just Caitlin and her dad. What is most moving about this story, as they move through grief, is how the reader experiences the world through Caitlin's eyes. Caitlin is high-functioning, but struggles with understanding emotions and therefore, people. With her dad barely coping himself, Caitlin is on her own at home to figure things out. Luckily, she has Mrs. Brooks - a teacher and advocate who challenges and supports. This book reminded me of Wonder by R.J. Palacio, in how it helps the reader take a walk in someone else's shoes. My favorite quote from Mockingbird comes when Caitlin is encouraging her dad to move through his grief: "You have to Work At It Dad. You have to try even if it's hard and you think you can never do it and you just want to scream and hide and shake your hands over and over and over." (p. 162). (grades 5-8)
Another chapter book treat is Kevin Henke's most recent chapter book, The Year of Billy Miller. I picked-up this title because it is a Newbery Honor book. Henke's book reminds me a lot of Beverly Cleary's work with Ramona Quimby, with how Henkes is so spot-on with a child's internal life - emotional and thinking. This story takes place during Billy Miller's second-grade year. The book is longer than a first chapter book like Magic Tree House at 229 pages. However, the generous space on each page, and the larger font size make it very accessible to first chapter readers. This book is divided into 4 sections, based on significant people in Billy's life - teacher, father, sister, mother. Then each section is divided into shorter chapters. Henkes' spot art is throughout. This is a more quiet plot than some of the action-packed titles that we often think of for this age level. However, since Henkes is so spot-on with a kid's life, I think kids would be drawn to it, from his first sentence: "It was the first day of second grade and Billy Miller was worried." (grades 1-3 read-aloud or read-alone depending on reading level)
Paul B. Janeczko has edited a new collection of poems in Firefly July and Other Short Poems. He has chosen really interesting poems and they are fabulously illustrated by Melissa Sweet with her watercolor, pencil, and collage art. It is a GORGEOUS book. And I love that the poems are short - like a taste that makes you want to come back for more. This might be another favorite gift book. Because of this book, I think I finally understand William Carlos Williams' poem about the red wheelbarrow and the rain and the chicken thanks to Melissa Sweet's illustrations. I read one of the poems aloud in storytime last week, and a young boy wanted to check it out that day! (PreS-grade 4)
Finally, Lois Ehlert, author of books like Planting a Rainbow and Moon Rope just published an autobiography entitled The Scraps Book. Because children love cutting and gluing and creating and drawing, the younger of the school age crowd would really eat this book up. However, if an older child really loves to create and wants to make books, then they would enjoy this too. Ehlert describes her process, and how she started on being a picture book artist. She illustrates this book in her signature bright colors and collage pieces. She encourages the reader to find their own "spot" and begin creating now. (K-grade 3)