Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Story of a Girl --a novel by Sara Zarr

This amazing first novel by author Sara Zarr begins like this:
"I was thirteen when my dad caught me with Tommy Webber in the back of Tommy's Buick, parked next to the old Chart House down in Montara at eleven o'clock on a Tuesday night. Tommy was seventeen and the supposed friend of my brother, Darren.
I didn't love him. I'm not sure I even liked him.

The car was cold and Tommy was stoned and we'd been doing pretty much the same thing a dozen times before, and I could smell the salt air from the beach, and in my head I wrote the story of a girl who surfed the cold green ocean, when one day she started paddling in the wrong direction and didn't know it until she looked back and couldn't see the shore."
In a brief moment, Deanna Lambert's life is changed forever, at home, at school, and in her own mind and heart. This is the powerful story of her longing and her exertions to escape a life that is defined by one past indiscretion.

This is definitely a book for older teens.

Ballerina Dreams: A True Story by Lauren Thompson

Once upon a time there were five little girls who shared a dream. They wanted to be ballerinas and dance onstage like their sisters and cousins and friends.

But it would be hard for these girls to make their dream come true. They had cerebral palsy or other physical disabilities, which meant their muscles didn't move the way they wanted them to. Some wore braces. Some girls used wheelchairs and walkers to get around.

But these girls were determined. And they had a dedicated teacher. Every week they practiced. They worked hard. And one day, they were ready.

Author Thompson intersperses the story of prepping, practicing and spiffing up the costumes, makeup and little girl decor with close-up photos of each girl, her role in the recital, and her specific challenges, seen or unseen. Most importantly, she and photographer James Estrin capture the joy of the girls and their families at their accomplishments. This book shares that joy with readers a in unique and personal way.

This true story will delight young children from ages 3 and up and their parents, particularly children who delight in performing and overcoming challenges.

Lenny's Space by Kate Banks

Nine-year old Lenny is quirky, intelligent and in love with the world. And he comments on what he notices, what he loves, what he intensely dislikes.
His difficulty is that he does not know when sharing all this information is wanted, needed, or appropriate.
Lenny is lonely, he yearns for a friend; and he is brushed aside by his mother, his teacher, his fellow students. No one really appreciates his uniqueness or his struggle to figure out his world until he meets Muriel, a savvy school counselor, and when he encounters his first friend, a boy named Van.
Writing with wisdom, humor and poignancy, the author shows us the strange, troubled, and fascinating daily life of a boy who might be labeled in many schools "impulsive," "willful" , or "clueless."
Grandma's Book Letter recommends this book for parents and counselors of middle school youth for insights about children who look,on the outside,like Lenny but whose thoughts and feelings are unique.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Why War is Never a Good Idea by Alice Walker

" Though War has a mind of its own, War never knows Who it is going to hit." When she wrote this picture book, Alice Walker set out to provide a vehicle to help adults talk to children about war and the realities of war. Her writing is poetic but not sentimental. And her emphasis is upon the effects of war on people and on our precious Earth, a favorite theme of Walker's.

She begins with several idyllic scenes in villages and moves on to describe the dark and destructive forces which make up warfare. Illustrator Stefano Vitale has created images which symbolize those forces and amplify the words, words like "Here War is munching on a village, its missiles taking chunks, big bites out of it." However, author and illustrator are careful not to glorify or even portray the death of human beings, the ultimate consequence of war. Adults guiding their children to try to understand war by using this book will have to explain about death for themselves.

Recommended for children 10 years and up, with adult guidance and discussion.

Alice Yazzie's Year by Ramona Maher

This unique picture book will appeal to many children who are ages 6-10. It offers gentle but persistent descriptions of daily life for Alice Ben Yazzie, in the months leading up to her twelfth birthday. Alice lives in Navajo country; the author intersperses her daily thoughts and activities with commentary on the condition of the land in Black Mountain country, the juxtaposition of old ways such as herding sheep, and the new ways, like learning computer drafting. Through this approach, she makes contemporary Navajo life more real and vivid for readers.

Aided by the soft colors and textures of Shanto Begay's drawings, readers will get an intimate look into Alice outdoors waiting for the yellow schoolbus, talking to a captive buffalo at the rodeo, and sleeping under her grandmother's picturesque woven rug. Begay dedicates his illustrations "to all the girls of the Navajo Nation who emobdy the spirit of Alice Yazzie. Grow into your holiness, into your lives. Sow and harvest compassion and strength."
Begay was born and raised in the Navajo Nation community of Shanto, Arizona. His artwork is famous and collected worldwide.

Beetle Bop by Denise Fleming

This oversize picture book, intended for children ages 1-6 but sure to be enjoyed by others, including adults, is dramatically illustrated in bold colors and sizes. Author and illustrator Fleming created many beetles, often larger than life, or even larger than a page, by pouring colored cotton fibers through hand cut stencils. The result: "Big beetles, small beetles, crawl-up-the-wall beetles." They are set against a background of a human hand,a light bulb,or a lizard with a flicking tongue, all objects that children can identify.
Overall, this is a great book for story time in a library or a classroom, due to the size of the image, the vibrancy of the colors, the large print, a minimum of words and a maximum of delightful pictures.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Feathers by Jacqueline Woodson

"Hope is the thing with feathers
that perches in the soul,
And sings the tune--without the words,
And never stops at all."
Emily Dickinson

Frannie doesn't know what to make of the poem she's reading in school. She hasn't thought much about hope. There are so many other things to think about. Each day, her friend Samantha seems a bit more "holy." There is a new boy in her class everyone is calling the Jesus Boy. And although he looks like a white kid, he says he's not. Who is he?

During a winter full of surprises, good and bad, Frannie starts seeing a lot of things in a new light--her brother Sean's deafness, her mother's fear of having another miscarriage, the class bully's anger, her best friend's faith and her own desire for "the thing with feathers."

Monday, August 13, 2007

Give the Gift: 10 Fulfilling Ways to Raise a Lifetime Reader by Matthew Gollub

Matthew Gollub makes a very strong case for the vital part that parents and other caregivers play in the literacy of their children. He highlights the many important choices they make every day. Furthermore, he says: "One of our most important choices is how we support our children in reading. Our attitude toward reading, and our encouragement, mean more to our children than our level of expertise." Gollub begins with a fundamental recommendation--"Read to your child every day."

The book has a lively and colorful comic book format so that adults who read it are not overwhelmed with text. Hints appear on every page to illustrate successful strategies. They are hints like "cuddle your child when reading aloud" and "Librarians want to help you. Introduce your child and ask for suggestions."

The author devotes ample attention to the challenge that TV and video games make to reading by devoting a whole section to "how to save kids from too much electronic media." And he tackles the special techniques which are useful for connecting with teenagers through books, libraries and other sources.

All in all, this large format book with its family-friendly illustrations and sensible, straightforward language is chock-full of ideas for getting your child's attention, encouraging reading and modeling behaviors which benefit them for a lifetime.
Some portions of the book are available in 8-page literacy booklets in Spanish or English. See for more information.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Henry's Freedom Box by Ellen Levine

This is the true story of Henry, who dreams of a world where his life belongs to him. But when his family is sold to another slave owner, he risks everything. With the strength and conviction of the best kind of hero, Henry makes a harrowing journey in a wooden crate--and mails himself to freedom.
Kadir Nelson's luminous paintings bring this story alive for children, helping them to see and imagine what it was like to fit in that box and bump along to another place--and to anticipate freedom.

For readers 8-12.

Dragon Dancing by Carole Lexa Schaefer

In this very large and playful picture book, there are dragons, sparkly paper, ribbons, spangles and squiggles. Children put them them all together using their imaginations.
The result? A dragon dance of joyful exhuberance, a birthday celebration in which all the children can participate.

For ages 3 and up, to the delight of the adults who love them, read to them, play with them.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Red Moon at Sharpsburg by Rosemary Wells

India Moody lives in northern Virginia with her family. They are caught in the whirlwind and chaos of the Civil War. India, at 14, has intense questions about the war: why is it happening, is it about slavery, why do some neighbors fight for the North while others don uniforms for the South? Underneath it all is the unspoken question: what is war really like and why do people pursue it, often to hopeless ends?
Wells uses the probing of India as she navigates between her parents, the oncoming Union troops, freed slaves, and ravaged neighbors to ask these important questions which are contemporary in the age of Iraq and Afghanistan. She experiences the horrors of a battlefield while she presses to find her father who is in charge of ambulances and care of the wounded in his Rebel regiment.
Although the story of Civil War chaos and struggle has been told many times, this book offers a unique opportunity to readers, their parents and teachers to look at the issues it raises and come to their own conclusions.

Big Alaska: Journey Across America's Most Amazing State by Debbie S. Miller

See Alaska through the eyes of our national symbol, the bald eagle. That is the intriguing focus of this journey to some of the extraordinary places in an extraordinary state, Alaska.
Author Debbie S. Miller writes often and skillfully about her home state; here she emphasizes the distinct size and unique features of the forests, mountains, and parks of Alaska. Illustrator Jon Van Zyle creates visual portraits of the wildlife, natural features and special locations which are featured, such as Denali National Park, the Iditarod Trail and the Yukon River and its tributaries.
This nonfiction book will delight young readers(8-12) and others who are eager to "see" Alaska for themselves. Miller is a totally reliable source about all aspects of this special place; she includes descriptive facts, state symbols,and climate records to expand her readers' store of information. Teachers and librarians will want to include the book in their contemporary US geography collections because of its beauty and accuracy.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

The New Policeman by Kate Thompson

This excellent teen novel was originally published in England by Greenwillow Books. It features Irish teen J.J. Liddy who discovers that time is "leaking" from his Irish world into the land of the fairies. When he attempts to stop the leak, especially because his mother has requested a gift of more time in her life, he finds out a lot about the history of his musical family. It seems his parents and grandparents, and now J.J. and his sibs, have been playing, composing and sharing the folk music of their area for as along as anyone can remember. The fiddle J.J. plays had belonged to his grandda, a fiddle with a story. So J.J. sets out to enter another land and learn music and background from the little people.
Lyrical, magical, humorous and practically brimming over with Irish tunes both on the page and in the lilt of the story, this is a great read for anyone ages 10-16.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Tasting the Sky: A Palestinian Childhood by Ibtisam Barakat

In her memoir, Barakat captures what it is like to be a child whose world, and the world of her parents,is shattered by war. She shares her memories of the Six Day War, fleeing alone as a 3 year old because she is inadvertently left behind in a flood of fleeing refugees. Reunited with her family, she evokes the sights, sounds, fears and small joys in trying to keep safe and to go on with life.
In a UN school for refugee children, the child is unexpectedly filled with pleasure as she discovers Alef, the first letter of the Arabic alphabet, and the beginning of her journey into language. Although her mother cautions her to forget war and privation, she discovers that language can be both a refuge and a deliverance.

Author Naomi Shihab Nye says: "Nothing is missing in this exquisite, tender account of a Palestinian childhood--love, attachment, struggle, fear, humor, resilience. Ibtisam Barakat is a luminous writer and thinker. She is a wonderful healer, too."
Older middle-schoolers and teens will find this book of great interest.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

BRONZEVILLE by Gwendolyn Brooks

In 1956, Pulitzer Prize winner Gwendolyn Brooks created a collection of poems that celebrated the joy, beauty, imagination, and freedom of childhood. She reminded us that whether we live in the Bronzeville section of Chicago or any other neighborhood, childhood is universal in its richness of emotions and experiences.
Now, a brand-new generation of readers will savor Ms. Brooks's poems in this reillustrated edition featuring vibrant paintings by Caldecott Honor artist Faith Ringgold.

BECAUSE OF YOU by B.G Hennessy

This gentle picture book begins: "Each time a child is born, the world changes. When you were born, there was a new person for your family to love and care for. And because of you, there is one more person who can love and care for others."
The narrative continues, celebrating the potential of every person, in language very young children can understand. The author promotes the idea that even the youngest child can make a difference.
Hiroe Nakata's illustrations show children in everyday situations--and also embracing the world (the globe). Parents, teachers, and grandparents will find great pleasure in reading this book to children ages 2-5 and interpreting for them what it means to be a peacemaker.

Clementine by Sara Pennypacker

Quirky, hilarious, bumptious Clementine is having a bad week. She helps a friend cut off her hair, for good reasons only they understand. Though viewed by some adults as a trouble maker, Clementine will bring on smiles, empathy, ideas and enjoyment from young readers( ages 7-9). Illustrations in this book are superb also.

The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron

Lucky is a lively ten year old girl who lives in Hard Rock, California, population 43, with her foster mother, Brigitte. It's a desert town where Lucky desperately wants Brigitte to stay with her because he own mother died in a tragic accident in a desert rainstorm. She believes that Brigitte, however, wants to return to her home in France, sending Lucky back to her father. Lucky is unusual, humorous and imaginative. Her paid job, one of the very few in Hard Rock, is to clean up after twelve-step meetings at the local community center. When no one is aware, she eavesdrops on AA meetings and learns about Higher Powers. And wants to gain some for herself.
This Newbery Award winning book will delight most middle school girls, particularly those who like coming-of-age tales. Controversy over a single word in the text was ill-founded and should be ignored.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom

Author Carole Boston Weatherford and illustrator Kadir Nelson have created a deeply moving and respectful portrayal of Harriet Tubman as both a slave and a free woman. Interspersed with the story of her decision to leave her husband and family and escape to freedom are the words she hears from God, spurring her on and inspiring her to overcome her fear and the wiles of the slave catchers on her trail.
Thus, the book is not only a physical journey from Maryland to Pennsylvania and then into the South for nine trips to bring relatives out of slavery. It is also Tubman's spiritual journey and a testament to her resiliency in the face of violence, terror and greed.
The large format of the book enables the large, powerful images to stand out and to beckon the reader inside the story; with help from adults, many ages of children and teens can find inspiration and excitement in this new tale of the Underground Railroad.
This book received both a Caldecott honor designation and a Coretta Scott King Illustrator award from the American Library Association at recent ceremonies.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Langston Hughes (a collection of poetry for young people) is superb!

David Roessel and Arnold Rambersad have brought together an appealing collection of twenty-one poems by beloved writer Hughes. It celebrates the joys and the sorrows of African Americans both young and old. Illustrator Benny Andrews draws readers in with his colorful scenes in the lives of ordinary people. This amplifies Langston Hughes' philosophy, which was always to write about the people he knew and the ordinary--and courageous-- lives they led.
The book includes anecdotal comments about the poet's life on most pages, explanations of certain words, and a forward about Hughes' life and contributions to art and literature in America.

American Library Association Announces Its 2007 Book Awards

The American Library Association has announced the winners of its 2007 awards for outstanding writing and illustration in children's literature published in the United States. To view the complete list of awards, access; click on Awards and Scholarships; then click on Books and Media Awards.
The high profile Newbery Award went The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron. This fine book is getting undeserved negative publicity for one word in the context of the story. Grandma suggests you check it out from your local library or buy a copy and read the delightful coming-of-age story for yourself.
Grandma will write more about Lucky in a future blog.

Hattie Big Sky is outstanding book for young teens

When Hattie is orphaned at age 16, her uncle in Montana provides a home for her by willing his homestead to the young woman. She travels to the homestead on her own and begins the brave challenge of living on her own and surviving in wild Montana before the first world war.
The book is so well-written it won a Newbery Honor from the American Library Association this year. It is based on a true story from the family of the author, Kirby Larson, who sensitively reveals the triumphs and tangles of Hattie. Of particular interest is the sub-plot of neighbors who harass or shun those of German descent in the ranching community around Hattie and her friends. This is based on actual incidents and legislation resulting from accusations of sedition in the Dakotas and Montana at this period.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Middle school readers will want to dive into GREEN GLASS SEA by Ellen Klages

Eleven year old Dewey travels alone to a town that is not on the map. It's 1943 and she's joining her father at his new workplace in the New Mexico desert. Since it's wartime, his work is part of a very big secret, and she has never lived with him by herself, Dewey has a lot of questions.

The author makes the locale, the secrets, the people and the landscape come alive in her descriptions of life at Los Alamos during the building of the atom bomb. This is an old story, but this time, it's told from the perspective of Dewey and her friends--and her nemesis, Suzy, who also feels like somewhat of a misfit. Suze likes art; Dewey likes mechanical challenges and building things from odd findings at the dump.

Sometimes Dewey and Co. are just kids and other times they must figure out how to act and react in this unusual environment. A compelling read for both girls and boys who like mystery and well-developed characters.

Tuesday, February 6, 2007 is hot!

Here's a source that teachers, parents and kids can use to find lots of great information, ideas and activities for school, home and community that will help to promote tolerance, understanding and respect. In the latest issue of TEACHING TOLERANCE, the magazine produced the Southern Poverty Law Center, you will find timely articles and outlines for discussing size acceptance ( no more "fatso" name-calling), the need for gay-straight alliances, and breaking stereotypes.
And, the project has a new, free storybook called RHINOS AND RAZZBERRIES to encourage tolerance and respect in children as young as four. You can download an orderform at

And don't forget to sign up for a subscription to the magazine so you'll get every issue at

Monday, January 8, 2007

Drumbeat... Heartbeat: A Celebration of the Powwow, by Susan Braine.

With skillful use of pictures and words, the author shares her lifelong love of the powwow, the place where she reconnects with family and friends who honor each other and the spirits of their ancestors.

King and King

King and King, by Linda de Haan and Stern Nijland, is a lighthearted tale of love and marriage among non-traditional young lovebirds. Pressured by his mother to get married, the prince rejects her choices and finds another prince who wins his heart.

Thank You, Mr. Falker

Thank You, Mr. Falker, by Patricia Polacco

This painful but hopeful book is the author’s own story of how she learned to read and of her hero, a teacher who “unlocked the door and pulled [her] into the light” and away from the ridicule of her peers.

How Does It Feel to Be Old?

How Does It Feel to Be Old? by Norma Farber.

In this poignant book, illustrated with loving detail, a grandmother speaks to her granddaughter with honesty and humor about growing old. She speaks of the special joys, happy times and those that were not so happy. She speaks of the past and the future, the good things and the not-so-good things about being old.

Breaking Through

Breaking Through, by Francisco Jiménez

Told from a teen’s viewpoint, this is a true tale of Jiménez’ own Mexican-American family. They bring hopes and strong backs to the US where they endure deportation, a return to the States, and daily struggles to work two jobs and go to school. (Spanish version: Senderos Fronterizos)

Nips XI

Nips XI, by Ruth Starke.

Lan wants to be a real Aussie; he thinks the way is through playing cricket. As a joke, and a means to fend off ridicule, he calls his newly constituted cricket team, of all Asian boys, the NIPS XI. They find a tired-out former star player who will coach for free and the fun—and work—begin on the way to breaking cultural barriers and playing cricket.

The Year of the Dog

The Year of the Dog was written by illustrator Grace Lin as the book she wished she had when she was growing up. She finds humor and irony in being too Chinese for her American friends and too American for Chinese friends. The drawings are full of exquisite detail to amplify this story about finding herself.


Firegirl, by Tony Abbott.

Tom, a 7th grader, responds in shock and horror when Jessica, a disfigured burn survivor, joins his class at school. This is the story of Tom’s internal responses to Jessica’s physical appearance and the actions and words of their classmates, whose fear propels them into aggression and exclusion of their new classmate.


Rules, by Cynthia Lord.

Catherine, age 12, just wants to live a normal life, but that’s nearly impossible with a brother who has autism and a family that revolves around his disability. She devises rules for her brother to avoid embarrassment and conflict.

Accidents of Nature

Accidents of Nature, by Harriet McBryde Johnson.

Teenager Jean has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair, but she’s always believed she’s like everyone else. She’s never really known another person with a disability before arriving at Camp Courage. There she meets Sara, who welcomes her to “Crip Camp,” nicknames her Spazzo and turns her world around.


Families by Susan Kuklin

This splendid picture book for all ages is about 15 real families. In color photos, it reflects the kaleidoscopic diversity of American families: mixed-race families and immigrant families, families of gay and lesbian couples, large and small families, religious families, families with adopted children or children with special needs. Kuklin collaborated with the children, using their own words and their ideas about how their families and homes look to them.

Thursday, January 4, 2007

Shades of Black

Shades of Black:
A Celebration of Our Children, by Sandra L. Pinkney, expresses the joy of kids who celebrate “I Am Black; I Am Unique.” Lively photos illustrate the beauty of their skin color and their hair. A small treasure to be enjoyed by all ages.

Monday, January 1, 2007

What a Wonderful World

What a Wonderful World, by George David Weiss and Bob Thiele, uses color, bold illustrations by Ashley Bryan, and the words of a song made famous by Louis Armstrong to celebrate a beautiful, harmonious world for children.