If you’re still looking for a present for a young book lover, check out Ban This Book by Alan Gratz. Larrabee and I read it aloud over the Thanksgiving break. I give it two enthusiastic thumbs up.
Ban This Book is the story of Amy Anne Ollinger, a 4th grader who never speaks up for herself. Not at school where her classmates see her as a bookish mouse. And not at home where her two younger sisters’ needs always come first. She spends as much time as possible in the corner of the school library where she can read in peace.
Then, one day, the school board removes several books from the library–including her favorite book (From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler). Amy Anne, in a private act of rebellion, resolves to read all of the books on the banned list. But as she collects the books, she finds that her friends are interested in them too. So she starts a Banned Books Locker Library and finds herself speaking out against censorship.
You have to like a book that teaches kids about the First Amendment, features a school visit from author Dav Pilkey, and mentions lots and lots of good books.
R.J. Palacio‘s Wonder was the best book to read aloud and also the worst.
Larrabee and I borrowed it from from Blaine this fall because we knew the movie was coming out in November, and we always try to read the book first.
Auggie Pullman has a congenital facial deformity, and because of his health problems, he’s been home schooled until now. Wonder is the story of his 5th grade year, his first one in school, told through the points of view of Auggie, his sister, and several other kids.
It was the worst book for me to read aloud because it made me cry. And I don’t mean just a few sniffles over one sad scene. Sometimes Larrabee worried that we’d never get through the whole book.
But it was also the best book for me to read aloud. It sparked great conversations about empathy, about being different, about challenges and blessings, and about being kind. At the end, after all the tears, the book made me smile.
For those of you who want to read more about Auggie, R.J. Palacio has written three more stories from the points of view of Julian (his main tormentor), Christopher (his oldest friend), and Charlotte (a 5th grade classmate), collected in a book called Auggie & Me: Three Wonder Stories.
And we saw the movie adaptation last week. It’s very good too.
Larrabee’s latest read-aloud choice was The Wingsnatchers by Sarah Jean Horwitz.
It’s a fantasy adventure about Carmer, a magician’s apprentice, and Grit, a flightless faerie princess, who team up to stop a threat to the world of the fae.
Unlike some of his friends, Larrabee does not consider himself an expert on faeries. He’s obsessed with both magic tricks and machines, though, so he chose this book based on the promise of amazing stage magic and terrifying mechanical cats. On those points, the book did not disappoint. And the faeries turned out to be pretty cool too.
We enjoyed the fast-moving plot and the intriguing setting, and we look forward to the sequel.
Clayton Byrd Goes Underground is the latest book from the talented Rita Williams-Garcia. It’s about music and grief and family.
Clayton Byrd loves to spend time with his grandfather, Cool Papa Byrd. He especially loves to play his blues harp in Washington Square Park with Cool Papa and the Bluesmen.
When his grandfather dies unexpectedly, Clayton does not know how to deal with his loss. He’s in trouble at school and at odds with his mother (who is still angry at Cool Papa). So Clayton runs away to join the Bluesmen. But on the subway, he encounters a hip hop group and ends up in even more trouble.
I enjoyed this one more than Larrabee did. He liked the character of Clayton, but he says he prefers books with “fewer sad parts and more action.”
If you and your kids love science, I’m sure you’re familiar with Bill Nye the Science Guy. But did you know that he and Gregory Mone are writing a series of science adventure books for middle grade readers?
The first book is called Jack and the Geniuses: At the Bottom of the World and takes place in Antarctica. Larrabee and I both enjoyed the mix of mystery, adventure, humor, and real science and technology facts.
Twelve-year-old Jack lives with his genius foster siblings, Ava (age 12), who designs drones and speaks multiple languages, and Matt (age 15), a math whiz. A chance encounter leads the three to an internship in the lab of Dr. Hank Witherspoon and a trip with him to Antartica to judge an invention contest. When they arrive, though, they find that one of the scientists is missing along with all of her research.
We liked that the book includes a science experiment relating to density (a concept that’s key to the plot).
Larrabee and I are looking forward to the second book in the series, Jack and the Geniuses: In the Deep Blue Sea, set in Hawaii.
Dav Pilkey was in Santa Cruz today as part of his Supa-Epic Tour o’ Fun!
Larrabee and I both enjoyed his latest book, Dog Man: A Tale of Two Kitties. It’s a comic book about Dogman, a cop with a dog’s head, Petey, an evil cat, and Lil’ Petey, his stubbornly good clone. It has a nice message and an appealingly zany style. Larrabee’s only complaint was that it was too short. He flew through it in one sitting, chuckling all the way.
Pilkey, who has written dozens of books, is best known for his Captain Underpants series. But our family favorites are Kat Kong, a pun-filled picture book in which a giant cat goes on a rampage through the streets of Mousopolis, and Dragon’s Fat Cat, an adorable book for beginning readers about a dragon who adopts a cat.
I hope Pilkey’s visit will inspire Larrabee to draw more comic books and that someday he’ll get to tell a group of kids about his very first comic: Ocelot vs. Cloud.
I just finished reading Ellen Raskin’s The Westing Game with Larrabee. This book won the Newbery Medal in 1979, and I remember liking it as a child (although I found that I’d largely forgotten the plot). Now, apparently, it’s a “modern classic.”
Sixteen residents of Sunset Towers are summoned to a nearby mansion for the reading of Samuel W. Westing’s will. The will turns out to be a puzzle. The heirs are placed on teams of two and given clues. The ones who figure out who killed Mr. Westing will inherit his $200 million fortune.
This book was an challenging read aloud choice for us with its large cast of (mostly adult) characters and twisty mystery plot. We enjoyed it, though. I doubt if Larrabee would have liked reading this one on his own, but together we were able to keep the heirs straight, and we had fun trying (and mostly failing) to guess the answer to the will’s puzzle.