Robert McCloskey

I’m slowly making my way through Elizabeth Bird’s definitive list of “100 children’s books that belong in every library (snarky annotations included)” from Children’s Literature Gems: Choosing and Using Them in Your Library Career.  It’s a great list and I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to dive head first into kids’ lit.

This list brought to my attention two classics by McCloskey that I hadn’t read before.  One is “Make Way For Ducklings.”  As two duck parents try to find a duck home for their ducklings, they see (and the reader sees) Boston from a “duck’s eye view.”

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Mr. Mallard has caught some heat for having something come up (abandoning Mrs. Mallard?) as soon as the eggs began hatching–although he was looking for a home for them.  Like a lot of the older Caldecott winners, you may be offended but I think the book is a trailblazer.  Boston now has bronze statues in honor of its most famous ducks.

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I also enjoyed Time of Wonder by McCloskey.  This is a very unique picture book because it’s told in the second person (“Now you even see the drops on the water…on the age-old rocky point…on the bayberry…on the grass…. Now take a breath–IT’S RAINING ON YOU!“).  The reader is transported to 1950s Maine, then spends an enjoyable day at the beach before an oncoming storm starts to pick up.  The second person narration really makes the storm seem immediate, although it’s such an unusual storytelling method that it does almost create a surreal effect.  This was McCloskey’s second Caldecott.  Yeah, it’s about rich white kids, but it’s so unique in the children’s literature cannon (for telling a story about the reader) that it’s worth looking through.

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Fablehaven

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Fablehaven by Brandon Mull tells the story of 13-year-old Kendra and her 11-year-old brother Seth, who are forced to spend two weeks over the summer with their grandpa and grandma Sorenson while their parents take a Scandinavian cruise. Neither Kendra or Seth is looking forward to this. They haven’t spent much time with their grandparents before and they hardly even know them. They arrive at Fablehaven, which they have never been to and discover it’s a massive estate with warning signs posted everywhere about trespassing and their grandpa sets some odd rules about where they’re allowed to go and what they’re allowed to do during their stay. The rules  are strange and leave both Seth and Kendra a little curious. Seth sets out to create mischief and Kendra works to discover a secret about Fablehaven. Between the two of them they uncover what Fablehaven really is and what their grandparents actually do there. Eventually Seth gets them into some trouble and they must both work together to save Fablehaven and their grandparents before it’s too late.

The interaction between Seth and Kendra was really great. I thought Brandon Mull really got what it was like to be that age and how siblibings interact with each other. I also enjoyed the differences between the two characters. Seth is an adventurer and a risky taker, while Kendra is a rule follower who thinks everything through before acting. I recently did a book talk with this book for 6th graders and had their full attention, those that hadn’t already read it wanted to after I told them what it was about. I will say though that if there is anything about this book to be skeptical about it’s the cover. I don’t think it’s just me either, some of the students thought it looked a little weird until they heard what the book was about. What I love most about Fablehaven is that it is a great fantasy book for middle grade kids that girls and boys can enjoy. It’s a great story for anyone who enjoys fantasy and children’s books.

American Born Chinese

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My first graphic novel of the year is the young adult gem, American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang.  This quickly-moving piece weaves together three stories.  One is a parable about a monkey king with super powers including flight, immortality, and super-strength…but who is still just a monkey and therefore treated like a second-rate citizen by the other gods.  The second story is about Jin Wang, a typical second-generation Chinese American who must deal with the usual teenage growing pains on top of being continuously stereotyped by his teachers (who introduce him as Jing Jang from China instead of Jin Wang from San Francisco) and white classmates (who immediately ask if his family eats dogs).  The third section of this story features Chin-Kee, who is an offensive caricature of a Chinese relative who comes to visit his very white jock cousin Danny.

I was initially intrigued by the first section, captivated by the second, and bewildered by the third (which seemed offensive and out of place at first).  However, the second time through each section, the author does some very Almodóvar-esque tying together of these disparate stories.  My eyes popped, my jaw dropped, my mind was blown, and then I ran out of clichés just as I finished the last page.  I wholeheartedly recommend American Born Chinese.

The Liebster Award

Thank you so much Heather Ellis for our Liebster Award nomination!

Link to her blog: http://heatherellisbooks.wordpress.com/

http://heatherellisbooks.files.wordpress.com/2014/01/leibster.jpg

1) What is your favourite book of all time? Well there are so many great books that I have loved over the years, but I’m from the Harry Potter generation, so I’m going to go with Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.

2) Have you ever met anyone famous? No, I have not. I’m not sure I would do anything if I did.

3) Do you like sports, what is your favourite? I love sports! I love playing volleyball. My favorite sport is actually football. My team just happened to win the nfc championship last week. I’m extra excited for the superbowl! Go hawks!

4) What is your favourite, juice, tea or coffee? I am definitely a coffee person, but not everday. Juice is really good too though…

5) Where is your favourite place in the world? I haven’t been to too many places, but my favorite place to be is home.

6) What was the last movie you watched? The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

7) Do you have any new years resolutions? I guess I want to read a lot more books this year, if that counts.

8) Have you stuck to your new years resolution? Yes, I’ve actually already  finished 2 books and I’m halfway through 2 more.

9) What is your favourite music band? The Black Keys

10) Do you plan an instrument? I used to play the clarinet, but it’s been a long time.

The rules for Liebster Award are as follows:
•Each nominee must link back the person who nominated them.
•Answer the 10 questions which are given to you by the nominator.
•Nominate 10 other bloggers for this award who have less than 200 followers.
•Create 10 questions for your nominees to answer.
•Let the nominees know that they have been nominated by going to their blog and notifying them.
We have nominated the following bloggers for the Liebster Award:

1. The Bibliophibian

http://breathesbooks.wordpress.com/

2. The Skiffy and Fanty show

http://skiffyandfanty.com/

3. NovelSisters

http://lydiamhill.wordpress.com/

4. Mummy’s to do list

http://mummystodolist.wordpress.com/

5. slate breakers

http://slatebreakers.com/

6. Librarian Arika

http://librarianarika.wordpress.com/

7. The BookYArd Writers

http://bookyardwriters.wordpress.com/

8. Tammie Painter

http://tammiepainter.com/

9. Tiffany Samson

http://tiffanysamson.wordpress.com/

10. Shells of Our Minds

http://smames.wordpress.com/

10 questions for you to answer:

1. Why did you start your blog?

2. Who is your favorite book character?

3. What is one of your favorite quotes?

4. If you could meet anyone, living or dead, who would you meet?

5. What would you name the autobiography of your life?

6. What’s your favorite indoor/outdoor activity?

7. If you could learn to do anything, what would it be?

8. 15 hours of a train journey through a scenic route or a 1 hour plane journey?

9. If you were to get an opportunity to live anywhere in the world, which place would you choose?

10. Would you ever go skydiving/bungee jumping/deep sea diving/paragliding?

Aristotle and Dante

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe is a 2012 young adult novel by Benjamin Alire Sáenz. This book has won a number of awards, including the Pura Belpré Award (for a Latino author whose work celebrates the Latino experience), the Lambda Award (for works which celebrate LGBT themes), and the Michael L. Printz honor (which means it was one of the runners-up for the best young adult novel of the year). I thought this work explored themes that really matter in a very realistic, engaging way.

The basic plot of the book focuses on the relationship between Ari and Dante. They meet and quickly become best friends during one summer. At the end of the summer, Ari dives in front of a car to save Dante. When Dante moves out of state for the next school year, he admits to himself and Ari that he is gay. Ari says he will always be his friend, but that he likes girls. When Dante returns the following summer, Ari’s parents sit him down and tell him that it’s obvious to everyone except Ari that he’s in love with Dante, and that they should be together. The story ends as Ari and Dante begin dating.

The novel is told from Ari’s point of view. The main shift in values occurs as Ari learns first to accept that his best friend is gay and has strong feelings for him, and then to accept that he himself is gay and reciprocates those feelings. The self-acceptance only comes in the last few chapters.

The theme of homosexuality blends very slowly into the novel. For the first 50-100 pages, Ari and Dante develop a very close friendship, but there is a marked lack of hitting on each other, or outward signs of physical attraction. The only intimacy is emotional. They even discuss dating and kissing girls, but at this point neither admits to same-sex attraction.

When Dante moves from the southwest to Chicago, he begins writing Ari letters to stay in touch. In these letters, he recounts his teenage experimentation with alcohol, marijuana, kissing girls, and finally with kissing boys. Ari is very apprehensive about Dante’s out-of-the-closet sexuality, because he fears that Dante may be attracted to him and that this may ruin their friendship. He becomes somewhat distant, and only writes back to 1 out of every 7 letters he receives. To me, this says that Dante is trying to figure out who he is with all his experimentation, and that he begins to settle on an identity when he admits to himself and his best friend that he is gay. Ari, on the other hand, continues to believe and say that he is straight; he has a crush on a girl at school, but not much comes of it. Perhaps Ari and/or Dante are bisexual.

Another big moment in the story is when Dante comes out to his parents. He was very afraid of how his family would react. He came out as a result of being beaten while kissing a boy; unfortunately, this hate crime is very realistic. Ari’s instinctively violent reaction to the news of his friend’s beating helps convince him (along with his instinctive reaction to push him out of the way of the car) that his strong feelings for Dante are more than just platonic, and that he’s probably bisexual or gay. Ari’s parents and Dante’s parents are both very supportive of their son’s sexualities, which is probably the case with many (but certainly not all) actual parents. In this case, both sets of parents could tell that their sons were gay before the sons admitted it to themselves and to their families.

One thing I really liked about this book, and probably one the reasons it won the Lambda award, is that it portrayed homosexuality as something that is quite normal. Nobody chooses to be gay, and it’s sometimes very difficult for young adults to admit to themselves that they are gay. While this one is sure to be challenged, I would definitely include it in a high school or middle school library.Image