Bob

“All the things I choose to put in my head are what make me, me.  I plan to choose wisely.” –Bob

This excellent advice comes from a middle grade novel, Bob, written by Wendy Mass and Rebecca Stead.

Here is my version of Bob’s advice:

Turn off the television except to watch carefully chosen content.  Stay informed, not hoodwinked.

Choose to read–the dictionary, the encyclopedia, good stories, sublime poetry, how-to books.  Choose wisely.

Now for the review part:

If you like a little mystery and a little magic carefully crafted by two master storytellers, choose this book.

Another Gem from the Hale Duo

2 Fuzzy, 2 Furious is the second volume in the Unbeatable Squirrel Girl series written by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale.  Shannon is the Newbery-winning author of The Princess Academy.  Her husband, Dean, quite keeps up with her.

This middle grade series from the Marvel universe gives you  philosophy, literary writing, word play, and action/adventure in one lovely piece.  Is it unseemly for a grandmother to be fangirling? I may not squeal when someone mentions the series, but I do intend to read every volume of it as it is written.

The characters are not caricatures.  The Hale’s wonderfully capture teenage angst. The superheroes are beautifully flawed. The relationships are sometimes rocky, but not mean.

Don’t take my word for it. Here are a couple of quotes from the book.  The first is from an Ana Sofia chapter.  She is SQ’s best human friend.

“After a few hours online, Ana Sofia was a hop, skip, and a jump from giving up on humanity entirely and locking herself in the attic Emily Dickenson-style—but with the internet. She could totally do Dickinson as long as she had a laptop with a high-speed connection.

“But even offline, the tension kept building.”

My favorite philosophical conversation takes place between SQ (aka Doreen) and her parents, Maureen and Dor.  She’s telling them that she’ll be out late because she  has to confront Hydra. (The Avengers are busy battling Thanos in outer space.) She doesn’t tell them the whole story, however, because we all know that parents of teenagers can’t take the whole story.  What she does tell her parents is that she just doesn’t know if she knows what she’s doing.

“Can I tell you a secret?” Maureen said. “We don’t know what we’re doing either.”

“Well, yeah,” said Doreen.

“They laughed, and Dor cut into the butter pecan cake he’d baked earlier without knowing how much they’d need it now.

“You know you’re doing great, right?” said her father, his mouth full of cake.  “You know nobody knows what they’re doing and we’re all just figuring out how to be us as we go along.”

This book is highly recommended, whether you’re a young reader or an old one.

 

Paired Picture Books

It is never too soon to discuss books with your kids.

I’m not advocating turning family reading time into a lesson. In fact, I don’t really advocate for classroom reading time to become a lesson. There’s plenty of time for lessons but not nearly enough time for just enjoying a good book.

Book discussion should come naturally. If you read to your kids regularly, you know how this works.

“How come he did that?”

“Where did the bear go?”

I love when kids make connections between two books or stories. If you read to them enough, it is bound to happen. In fact, pairing texts might help it happen.

I thought of paired picture books when I read two very different counting books—Kathi Appelt’s Counting Crows and Kelly Milner Halls I Bought a Baby Chicken—to a two-year-old.

Then, Hannah Harrison’s Friends Stick Together and Tammi Sauer’s But the Bear Came Back showed up at my house within days of each other. I sat down to read them both on the same evening. I was immediately struck by how they were alike and how they were different.

Both are books of unlikely friendships and both contain wry humor.

In the Sauer book, illustrator Dan Taylor’s touches, especially the book titles, are a hoot! And Harrison’s illustrations always deliver.

The youngest kids will enjoy the books read straight through without the asides and the parent footnotes. With repeated readings, though, they will begin to notice the sophisticated (and Levi’s sometimes unsophisticated) humor. Let them make discoveries.

I recommend both books heartily. So does the two-year-old. I recommend them as a pair. And I dare you to find the long-legged bird that makes an appearance in both books.

Two Books: One for the Adults and One for the Kids

This one is for the big people:

If you want to understand court intrigue in 16th-Century England, and the power that came with title, wealth, and ostentatious display, read Murder by Misrule: A Francis Bacon Mystery by Anna Castle.

It might help readers understand the goings-on these days in state and federal capitals. It’s a rich man’s game.

Tudor rulers weren’t the first to use religion as a tool of control, but the fight between the Catholics and the Church of England during the reigns of Henry VIII’s two daughters was bloody and anything but holy. The author of this historical mystery has certainly done her homework on the topic.

And this one is for the kids:

Kids without supervision, a missing locket, spies, an unreliable uncle, and a science lab make for a good story. Along with the story are some really cool science experiments.

Nick and Tesla’s High-Voltage Danger Lab is the first title in a series by Bob Pflugfelder and Steve Hockensmith. Kids will eat it up, like 200 cans of chicken noodle soup. Okay, you’ll have to read the book to understand that reference.

I read the e-book, but I’m buying a hard copy for my grandson. Lists and diagrams are easier to read in the hard-copy versions, and I expect he’ll need the lists and diagrams to build an electromagnet or a rocket squirrel.

Dragonbreath

The best children’s literature is sophisticated, imaginative, and literary. But literary and sophisticated aren’t enough. For kids to bother with it, a story has to move.

The Dragonbreath series by Ursula Vernon has it all! Imagine yourself laughing out loud as a dragon and a nerdish iguana battle ninja frogs. And Vernon draws you into the story so well, you willingly suspend disbelief when were-wieners battle their arch nemesis, biting potato salad.

Not feeling it yet? Listen to this excerpt from Curse of the Were-Weiner:

“Wendell exhaled. He wanted to say, Are you sure? Or maybe Do we have to?

But it was Danny, and Danny was always sure, even when he was completely wrong.”

Kids will love these stories. So will discerning grownups.

Building Empathy

Over the holidays I read Liar and Spy by Rebecca Stead. Yeah, some of my stack books have been waiting for years.

It occurred to me as I read that the only thing better than experience for building empathy are good stories. Fiction must be part of the school curriculum. It is essential to building critical thinking skills and it lets students walk in someone else’s shoes.

Nonfiction is important, but it isn’t more important than fiction.

Liar and Spy gave me the same feeling I got the first time I read Harriet, the Spy. I’d never had the run of an apartment building and Harriet probably never watched her grandmother wring a chicken’s neck and fry it up for lunch, but we were the same kid anyway.

If we can’t travel, we can read. If we can’t meet our other selves, we can still find them in a book. Books in the hands of kids are as important to the future of the world as adapting to climate change will be.

Rural Oklahoma kids need to read about a boy in a Brooklyn apartment as much as they need to read about an Afghani girl who must disguise herself as a boy to work in the market. They need to read about a Sudanese boy escaping a civil war and a Midwestern boy surviving the Chicago fire, both coping with loss. They need to know the how and the why of a Somali boy on a pirate ship and of a young slave who will risk her life to learn to read. They need all this to see that we are all as alike as we are different, to understand how circumstances shape each of us.

As for Rebecca Stead, she deserves every award she gets. Read her stories for her storytelling skills and for literary excellence. You’ll even build your vocabulary. Painlessly.

Midwest Book Review, Children’s Bookwatch

“Froggy Bottom Blues” is a delightful origin of the blues tale with friendly froggy, bird, and animal characters for musicians. Loosely based on the biography of W. C. Handy, composer of “Memphis Blues” and early blues performer and collector, “Froggy Bottom Blues” follows the odyssey of E. Z., a froggy daughter who traveled [up] the Mississippi to follow a dream of becoming a great blues singer, inspiring other animal friends to become blues musicians along the way. Child-like illustrations present the characters of E. Z., Pelican, Woodpecker, and Cat, animal friends who also become blues musicians with E. Z.’s encouragement. One of the most beautiful aspects of “Froggy Bottom Blues” is the theme of sharing as a basic component of blues and perhaps all great music. Simply told and creatively illustrated, “Froggy Bottom Blues” tells a compelling tale about the birth of the blues, in the eyes of a talented, determined frog female who becomes a successful blues singer. It is a perfect introduction to the blues and the rich cultural background of blues musicians on the southern trip [up] the Mississippi River.

Froggy Bottom Blues
Sharon Edge Martin, author
Timothy Lange, illustrator
Doodle and Peck Publishing
P.O. Box 852105, Yukon, OK 73085 9780998930275 $9.99 http://www.doodleandpeck.com