Sunday Subway Reflections: The Night Gardener and The Right Word

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This week, I went back to more SilverBirch Reading.  My count is now six books read (four more fiction to go and ten non-fiction).

The Night Gardener (Jonathan Auxier)

The Night Gardener (Jonathan Auxier)

My focus on the subway was The Night Gardener.  As much as I liked this book, which I was reading on an ereader, I kept thinking it was taking me a long time to get to the ending. Not until I got to part three did I realize the slow boil the author, Jonathan Auxier.  He has created an atmospheric story, set during the Victorian era.  I was reminded of The Secret Garden (Frances Hodgson Burnett) as Molly and her brother, Kip, enter the Windsor’ family’s home, you have a feeling of dread.

This book gets creepier and creepier as the story enters the garden of your mind and the roots take hold of your imagination.  What would you want most in the world?  Would you be willing to live with the nightmares this want brings you?

Stories are woven through the story as the reader needs to figure out, with Molly, the difference between a story and a lie.  Any student who loves scary stories would love this tale.  It takes time but the ending is worth all the time it takes to read this book. Perseverance is key as you find yourself learning about yourself as you learn about the characters.

If you go to Mr. Auxier’s website, you can actually see and hear the music that inspired him throughout the writing of this story.  Most importantly, he writes in his author’s notes about the many books that inspired him.  As an adult, it was amazing to see many authors and book titles on the list that crept into my mind as I was reading his book.  For children, they have lots of books to look forward to reading.

On a different note, I read a picture book, I would like to recognize this week too…

The Right Word by Jen Bryant is one of the best picture book

The Right Word (Jen Bryant)

The Right Word (Jen Bryant)

biographies I have read in a long time.  As a child, I would have returned to this book to pore over the pictures to find new clues and ideas to how Mr. Roget created his special thesaurus.  I owned a thesaurus when I was a child but a Roget Thesaurus would be a true gift with this book.  An amazing tale of a thoughtful person.  The right word for this book is: #inspiringwords!  (only in Twitterverse world could this word exist).

The book trailer for The Right Word:

Sunday Subway Reflections: Monday Newbery Edition

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The Crossover.  Yep.  It won. I had a feeling it was going to win.  True story.  This is the first time I have ever been this close to calling something.  Well, the story takes a few weeks…

The Crossover

The Crossover (Kwame Alexander)

Last reflection, I spent time talking about a Silverbirch nominated book by Evan Munday.  You can read the blog here.  Now when I wrote that blog, I wrote about the fact that Evan Munday was haunting me.  And that he works at a local independent book store.  I actually bought The Crossover from him.  He was behind the counter when I went to pick up my copy of the book I ordered.

Now go back another week when I ordered the book.  The person who ordered the book for me,  asked me why a lot of people were ordering the book.  I said that based on my blog research and the Twitterverse, I believed that it was a contender for the Newbery award.

Then, I read it.  And yes, I read it on the subway.  At times, I regretted reading it on the subway as I started to get teary eyed and had a lump in my throat.

The boys, Josh and Jordan Bell, and their family become a part of your heart as you read Kwame Alexander‘s energetic text.  At times, your heart is in your chest and your breathing so hard, as if you are on the court with the two boys.  You are a part of the game from the first verse (yes, the book is written in verse, as is Brown Girl Dreaming).

So, this story has been in my heart for two weeks and I held it close to my chest as I waited with bated breath to hear the words I heard this morning.  Today, I was beaming with pride, as if I had written all the books and was so excited I could burst.  I emailed fellow teachers, readers, friends and my mother to share my excitement.  And my book club readers were excited as they voted on which one of the three books they are going to read together.  It’s amazing how books bring us all together.
Brown Girl Dreaming

I can’t wait to share this book with my students at school.  These boys should be on every library bookshelf. I will also email my friends, that I didn’t email today, to tell them they should read it too.  Especially all my former co-workers at a middle school where the basketball game is a huge part of the culture and lexicon.  This is the book that will turn non-readers into readers.

El Deafo (Cece Bell)

El Deafo (Cece Bell)

As for El Deafo and Brown Girl Dreaming. They deserve the acclaim and accolades as well.  I am proud to have read all three diverse  books this year.  

Even though two of the books are memoirs, the book that won the medal, has so much truth on its pages as well.

Thank you Newbery Committee 2015.  You had this Brown Girl Dreaming cheering for The Crossover and advocating for the little bunny in El Deafo.  Well played team.  Well played.

The complete winners list:  http://www.ala.org/alsc/2015-alsc-book-media-award-winners

Monday: Finishing the Book (In Real Life)

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This post was started last Monday, January 19th.

I needed to write about the graphic novel I started last night before bed and finished this morning on the subway.  It’s all because my library technician asked me to read the book as she downloadthought it was very pertinent to the grade 6 unit on Money; however, there is some language used in the story.    By the time I finished the text, I needed to put it in the grade 6 teachers’ hands to see what they thought of it.  My only concern about the use of some of the words is how they can be taken out of context when not read in the story.  Girls (and boys) swear.  It’s a fact of life.  And they use it most when with friends.  And that’s how I see the words being used in this story.

There are so many themes that show up in this text: girls and gaming, self-esteem, global issues, virtual money, and relationships: teachers, parents and friendships, that it would be a shame to not share this book with the students.

Here is what I wrote on GoodReads:  This is a great modern graphic novel.  With the exception of some use of language, children (ages 11 and up), should read this book as the author and illustrator do an excellent job of combining real life and the online gamer life of a young girl.  I have watched children quickly transition to their online personas without any regard to “real life” and this text clearly shows how blurred lines can occur without any thought.  The parents that show up in the story are believable as they interact with their daughter in real way.   The story is not tied up in a nice tidy bow but in a way that encourages readers to see that how one’s world works is not the same for others.  

Cory Doctorow and Jen Wang have created a text that has many layers and encourage the reader to go back and re-read to discover the many ideas they have included in this story.  As an educator, this text is a great addition to the school and classroom libraries, as it makes you think about how we all interact with each other, on-line and in real life.

An excerpt:  In Real Life (Comic Excerpt)

Sunday Subway Readings: From Monday to Munday

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Evan Munday has haunted me all week.  At Monday’s school assembly, when one of the Senior Girls shared the week’s News in Review, she mentioned Evan Munday’s twitter campaign to post a pen and ink drawing of missing and murdered indigenous women to Stephen Harper’s twitter handle- hoping to inspire change in government to look into this injustice.  What the student forgot to mention was that Evan Munday has since stopped this campaign, at the request of family and friends, as they felt the cartoons added too much light to the stories.  You can read about it in this article:  Evan Munday stops tweeting images of missing, murdered women.  Or check out Evan Munday’s blog: I don’t like Mundays.

Dead Kid Agency: Dial M for Morna

Dead Kid Agency: Dial M for Morna

Now, at the time, I had just started book two in Mr. Munday’s series: The Dead Kid Detective Agency (Dial M for Morna).  I couldn’t believe that the author was the same person who had written this book.  October Schwartz is a thirteen year old high school student who’s best friends happen to live in the local cemetery.  These best friends who live in the cemetery are ghosts brought to “life” by October as they work together to solve current mysteries and a promise to solve each and every one of the ghosts untimely deaths.

There are a lot of eighties references thrown in the story for humour, so there were many times when I shook my head thinking, I can’t imagine the students getting all these jokes Mr. Munday throws into the mix.  The appendices at the back of the book, help the reader understand all the pop culture references and who all the characters are in the story.  Not only are pop culture references mixed into the story, Mr. Munday created five dead friends who are each of a time relevant to Canadian history.  Canadian historical facts are sprinkled into the story and they all have cultural relevance.

I would have loved this book when I was a kid.  As an adult, I laughed a few times at the jokes and the wink and smile attitude of the narrator.  I still have yet to have a student read the book all the way through. I look forward to book three and really should go back and read book one.  Until then, my dead friends will go back to the cemetery and wait until the next full moon.  I have other books to read.

If you were reading closely, you would see that I mentioned that Evan Munday was haunting me this week.  As I continued to read the book and share the story of Mr. Munday’s twitter campaign, I flipped to the back of the book to see if there was a picture of the author.  There was and then I realized, I had actually interacted with the author this week, in real life!  Mr. Munday happens to work at my local independent book store and he happened to sell me one of my next “books-to-read”.   From Monday to Munday, it has been a week of interesting connections.  I can’t wait to see what this week brings in reading.

Sunday Subway Reflections (Silver Birch: Red Wolf)

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Red Wolf by Jennifer Dance

Red Wolf by Jennifer Dance

Finally, a novel for children that grounds it story in Canadian history, specifically around children in Residential Schools.  This story focuses on one family’s experience as their first child, Red Wolf, is sent to a Residential School.  The author juxtaposes the story of a wolf, who in his story, watched his family being shot for their fur.  The wolf’s story of trying to survive the wilderness is just as important as the boy trying to survive the school system.

Thomas Moore before and after his entrance into the Regina Indian Residential School in Saskatchewan in 1874.

Thomas Moore before and after his entrance into the Regina Indian Residential School in Saskatchewan in 1874.

One thing Jennifer Dance does is bring in most of the issues that faced First Nations families: loss of land, loss of language, family, alcoholism, suicide, abuse, and loss of culture.  At times, I was wondering how difficult this book would be for students to read this text but one of my students wanted to read it right away and is totally caught up in the story.

When I shared the story with my Book Club, the students were able to make connections with their prior knowledge of going to the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) and knowing some of the stories from exploring the art, including seeing the image of Thomas Moore (see image), before and after his entrance to a Residential School.

One of the most poignant moments in the story is when Red Wolf shaves his head in respect for the loss of his friend.  The teacher mistakes this moment as the boy becoming more attuned to the “Canadian ways”.

As difficult as it is, this is a book that will inspire many dialogues.  One in particular, for me, was when Ms. Dance, placed caring characters, such as the school nurse and a local farmer, who do their best to show kindness and compassion to the children at the school: Where were the Canadians that recognized the horrors that happened in the Residential schools?  To me, and the students, it really is a hard to understand that the atrocities were carried on for so long.

More information about residential schools: A History of Residential Schools in Canada  

Sunday Subway (Beach) Reading Reflection: Silver Birch 2015 (Me and Mr. Bell by Philip Roy) .

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Happy New Year!

I have been busy reading (haven’t we all) in preparation of the Ontario Library Association Forest of Reading 2015. I still have many books to read and finish,  including my Adult Fiction books I started during the second week of holidays, but I digress.  Here is a link to the nominees: Silver Birch Fiction Nominees 2015.

It will take me all week to post about the books I have read. Here’s the first:

Me and Mr Bell by Philip Roy

Me and Mr Bell (Roy)

This book is about a young boy, Eddie MacDonald, who is not like the rest of the children in his family.  He’s a dreamer, who sees the world differently than the people in his life.  School is not easy and Eddie is resigned to the fact that he will just work on the farm.  But his dreams open him up to an opportunity that brings him face to face with Alexander Graham Bell who sees young Eddie as a philosopher who should use the mistakes he makes as stepping stones to great accomplishments.

Philip Roy does a great job of creating a character where readers will learn that reading and writing does not come easily to everyone, but that we all have gifts that we should be encouraged to use.  At one point, young Eddie meets Helen Keller and in that moment, Eddie recognizes he needs to communicate with her in a different way than most people.  As a reader, you hope that the people in Eddie’s life learn to communicate with him, that recognizes his intelligence.

Sunday Subway Readings: from Fairy Tales to Angels (what the kids are reading)

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This past two weeks have been a whirlwind. I didn’t post last week’s, as I was out of town (and I decided to read an adult book ). Last week’s subway reading was focused on John Sandford’s most recent Prey book (Field of Prey #24). I am proud to say I have read every book in this particular series. I don’t know why, but I’ve always considered Lucas Davenport to be my friend, so I always want to revisit and see what gruesome crime he is solving in Minnesota.

But I digress.  I have two other series, this post is all about.  One that’s popular in my junior library, and another that is popular with my former students, who are now in high school.

What my current students’ are reading:

Land of Stories: The Wishing Spell (Chris Colfer)Chris Colfer’s Land of Stories: The Wishing Spell (Book 1).  I wanted to like this book.  Yes, I’ll admit it. I love fractured fairy tales.  I love fairy tales.  Even some of the Disney versions.  But, this book did not work for me.

As a teacher-librarian, I struggle with the idea of being honest with my feelings with a book especially since I work with younger students. So, instead of listing what I don’t like about this book, I will write why I know my students would like it (and most likely, countless other students out there).

The reason why to have The Land of Stories (Colfer) series in the library is:

  •  Fairy Tales– always have and always will appeal to young audiences, whatever text form they appear in- the characters are familiar and different in ways that make the reader feel enchanted with the story
  • Series– more than one book with the same characters is a good thing for younger readers- they are return readers and students take comfort in knowing their narrators
  • Siblings (twins)- appeals to both boys and girls (Rick Riordan’s Kane Chronicles, The Spiderwick Chronicles, etc… Readers love when there is a family element

My former students (who have entered high school):

I have a group of students I stay in contact with from my former school, where I was a middle-school teacher-librarian.  They are avid readers and one day, I was in a thread of messages where the students were squealing (via emojis and texting abbreviations) about this series by Jessica Shirvington.  Now, that I work with younger students, I try to focus most of my reading attention on books aimed at students under the age of twelve; however, these messages made me reserve a copy from the local public library, so I could familiarize myself with their favourite angels.

Embrace (Book 1) Jessica ShirvingtonEmbrace is the first book of five in the story of Violet Eden.  A girl who doesn’t believe in a lot of things but has to come to terms that she now needs to believe in the unbelievable.  Good and bad people lurk in dark corners.  She has the outgoing best friend.  And the hottest guy around is actually her partner in angel life.  (I have to be honest and say that I am only halfway through this book.  My goal is to finish before the end of the weekend- tomorrow is Thanksgiving Monday in Canada, so no school.).  Again, this wouldn’t be a book that I would choose to read but because the students’ were reading it and declaring their love for the book, I thought I should join in their conversation.  They will most likely, try to encourage me to read more books in the series but I will politely decline and state that I have more books to read and if time permits, I will join them on their journey to complete the series.

I do have to say that I would have been a reader of both of these series, The Land of Stories as a junior school student and The Embrace Series as a young adult.  It’s easy to criticize the writing in both these series as being clichéd, repetitive, and better edited.   As much as we want students to read more literary texts, I think there’s a time and place for fun and enjoyable reading.

Just like I continue to read my Prey series by John Sandford. I know it’s not the best storytelling.  It also is clichéd, repetitive and could be better edited.  But I know I’ll be at the library next summer, reserving book number 25.  As will my students for their latest adventure in Land of Stories.  Or whatever series they are connected to- there’s a time and place for all stories.