Library Heroes

What librarian doesn’t have something of a weakness for books about books? I can’t imagine I am alone in finding stories that celebrate stories particularly charming. That was, of course, how I ended up reading The Tiny Hero of Ferny Creek Library by Linda Bailey, which is the story of a bug who loves books. This is unusual for bugs, mind you, and Eddie’s family thinks he’s a bit strange for his preoccupation with reading. They don’t expect much of him at all. Too much of a dreamer.

As an aside, how many kids who always have their heads in a book are written off this way? It makes me sad to think about.

In any case, Eddie is a bug of action no matter what his family thinks. When his beloved Aunt Min, who taught him to read, is missing, he braves the wider world to find her. The bug’s eye view of the world is sure to get kids laughing, and the references to children’s books (both obvious and not obvious) throughout are fun to spot.

As if this wasn’t enough to make this book a winner, get this: After Eddie finds Aunt Min at the library, naturally, he learns that the library is in danger of being shut down. What can a little bug do to save a library populated by “squishers”? Sticky notes. Eddie leaves sticky notes in the library asking the squishers to save it, to keep it open and full of books. The kids at the library think it’s a ghost leaving the notes, but it doesn’t matter who left the notes, they will save the library as requested.

I love this. I love the idea that even the smallest person, or insect in this case, can make a big difference, and I love the idea of sticky notes being the way the difference happens. I’ve always thought that notes left in unexpected places had a particular sort of power, and it seems I’m not the only one. At the library where I work, I’ve found two sticky notes inside the front cover of picture books with messages for whomever may find them. I have no idea who is leaving these notes. I’m fairly certain it’s not a tiny bug or a ghost, but I agree with their sentiments.

I’ll be watching for more of these notes in the library. Meanwhile, I added The Tiny Hero of Ferny Creek Library to my Animals list and the Books & Libraries list on my wiki. I quite recommend the book to young readers looking for a humorous and charming adventure.

If you like… Roald Dahl

The most consistently popular posts on my blog are these “If You like…” posts, so I thought I might try to do more of them. What better author to start up the series again than Roald Dahl? His books are beloved by kids and grown-ups. His quirky, subversive style has endured for over 50 years with a strong base of adoring fans. But once you finish the 19 children’s books Dahl wrote, what next? While I imagine that very few authors measure up to Roald Dahl in most fans’ eyes, here are a few books that might satisfy readers looking for something similar:

Ms Rapscott’s Girls by Elise Primavera is a whimsical adventure that includes the social satire that Dahl fans enjoy. I read it aloud to my daughter, and we both found it quite charming.

The Perilous Princess Plot by Sarah Courtauld is an absurd fairy tale style story full of wit and wordplay. It’s a princess story, but it’s sarcastic and funny. What could be better than that?

The Doldrums by Nicholas Gannon is another whimsical adventure story with quirky characters that reminded me a lot of Roald Dahl’s books.  And I wasn’t the only one who saw the similarities. Both the Booklist and the School Library Journal reviews compared the book to Dahl. I will say that it’s a bit long and slow moving at times, but the dreamy nature of the story pulls the reader along well enough.

Operation Bunny by Sally Gardner stars Emily Vole, an abandoned child who has been adopted by a pair of terrible parents who treat her like a servant. But things change for Emily when she gets to know her neighbor Miss String and all sorts of magical things start happening. This is a silly adventure full of the sort of humor and wit that Dahl fans know and love.

Need more suggestions? Try these:

Weird and Wonderful Books for Kids who Like Roald Dahl

If you like Roald Dahl you might also like…

The BFG Readalikes

Living in a Multilingual World

Every document that comes home from my daughter’s elementary school comes in three different languages: English, Spanish, and Somali.  In the hallways, you can see various languages on signs and posters.  Her school isn’t a language immersion school; it’s just a typical school in Minneapolis.  According to the school district, there are 96 languages or dialects spoken by students or their families throughout the city, and her school is only 31% white.

Our kids are growing up in a world in which you can’t count on the people around you speaking your language.  You might have to meet people somewhere between your language and theirs or listen for more than just the meaning of words.

I was thinking about this as I read Gabi, A Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero, which is written in journal format and includes a lot of Spanish words and phrases throughout the book.  Gabi’s life is in both languages, and it feels real to have both languages represented in her journal.  I don’t speak Spanish, but I loved Gabi’s story.  I connected with her through her intimate and humorous diary entries as she sorted out big issues like cultural identity, family problems, and feminism all while discovering the power of poetry.  It’s a story that will stick with me for a long time.  Sure, I didn’t always know the Spanish words, but I did know Gabi.

At the AWP Conference in Minneapolis in 2015, I attended a session in which M. Evelina Galang spoke about her book Angel de la Luna and the 5th Glorious Mystery, and she shared her experience that young people never seemed to question the inclusion of Tagalog in her book the way adult readers did.  The teen readers accepted that it was part of the story and created their own context around it.  Galang advises readers in a post you can download on her web site to “feel the words” they don’t understand.  In her book, Galang creates a rich world full of feeling that will give readers an opportunity to connect with Angel’s experience whether they know any Tagalog or not.

My daughter, a third-grader, is far from reading these teen novels, but she could “feel the words” in Juana & Lucas by Juana Medina, which includes lots of Spanish words in the text as the story follows a young Colombian girl as she learns English. Juana is a wonderfully likable character, and it is easy to relate to her even with a limited knowledge of Spanish.  Her story is just the thing to generate enthusiasm for learning a new language!

I also made sure to share I’m New Here by Anne Sibley O’Brien with her last year when a new student arrived in her class. The student had only recently arrived in the country from Somalia and spoke very little English, much like Fatimah in the book. I’m New Here helped us to talk about how it would feel to go to school in a different country and explore how we might connect with people when we don’t share a language. This conversation could easily be had in a classroom setting, and teachers may be interested in the resources available on O’Brien’s web site, including a community event kit and a video. Pair it with Meg Medina’s Mango, Abuela, and Me for the way the story blends English and Spanish as grandmother and granddaughter attempt to communicate despite not speaking each other’s language.

These are the books that reflect the world in which we live, and I hope to see even more cultures and languages (especially Somali!) represented on the shelves of our libraries to help us remember that there are ways to connect with people and things we share with them even when we don’t share a first language.

Book Review: Nightlights by Lorena Alvarez

My initial reaction to Nightlights by Lorena Alvarez was, embarrassingly, “huh?” I was excited to receive a review copy from the publisher because the art looked beautiful, the setting was unusual in a children’s book, and my nine-year-old loves graphic novels.  I expected this to be a rave review all around, but upon receiving the book, I found I didn’t know what to make of it. Sure, the illustrations were as beautiful as I had expected, and the story’s Colombian setting isn’t one often found in books for kids. Those things are true. But I wasn’t expecting a story that was so dark and creepy. Could I share this with my sensitive nine-year-old? It was the stuff of nightmares, I thought.

The book, however, has stuck with me in a way that had me rereading it multiple times. To appreciate the illustrations. To make sense of the story that seemed so unsettling and almost unfinished. It was a book that wouldn’t let me go. That alone must mean something, I thought.

As I reread the story again and again, I found it shifted from the dark and creepy nightmare I saw at first to something empowering. The little girl in the story encounters a strange darkness and instead of running from it, she finds a way to live with it. To allow what might have been scary to be part of her world. The openness of the ending, so unsettling at first, seemed more appropriate when viewed through this lens.

Maybe the monstrous character of Morfie is Sandy’s doubt and insecurity. Maybe the story shows Sandy learning to live with that kind of anxiety and still be creative. I’m not sure what the author intended. But I know that Nightlights deserves to be read. Maybe more than once.

More about Nightlights:

Crocodile Stories

It seems to be a general rule that every story in which an amputee character gets any page time at all will also feature a crocodile. Or maybe a shark or a tiger. It doesn’t matter what wild animal one chooses, and it doesn’t matter what the truth of the story is. What matters is surprising people.

No one expects much from a less than fully limbed person, and I can speak from personal experience when I say that it can be rather draining to live a life in which people don’t expect you to be able to tie your own shoes or do much of anything for yourself. I surprise people on a near daily basis by my ability to accomplish the most basic of tasks.  In a world of such constant underestimation, there is an almost irresistible pull to really surprise people, to shock them into considering their assumptions, to change the story they’ve told themselves. That’s where the wild animals come in.  No one ever expects a crocodile.

While it is perhaps something of a cliche for an amputee character to make up some wild story about their limb loss, I can’t deny that it happens. I laughed when I read  the scene in A Time to Dance when Veda responds to rude people with a crocodile story. I’d have done much the same if I were her. I did much the same many times as a teen. I am, and always have been, happy to answer questions asked kindly, but there was a time in my youth when rude questions, comments, or staring were almost certainly answered rudely or with a crocodile story intended to shut down the conversation by surprising people.

In The Doldrums, Adelaide tells a crocodiledoldrums story with the words “chewed it clean off” when a man stares at her prosthetic leg. The man is so surprised he leaves the cafe without his coffee.  Later she finds that the story works initially with the other kids at her new school, but it quickly gets out of hand.  A word of advice: if your goal is to shut down the conversation, a crocodile story will only work with adults.  Kids will just be more interested and probably call you “crocodile girl.” That is exactly what happens to Adelaide. It isn’t exactly a winning strategy for getting people to leave you alone, and it definitely won’t make you any friends.

However, I have found that it is often the people who don’t react quite like everyone else who make the best of friends.  Adelaide’s crocodile story makes Archer, a wannabe adventurer, jealous. “It’s an odd thing to be jealous of a girl whose leg was eaten by a crocodile. Few people would be jealous of that. But Archer was few people. And it wasn’t so much the loss of a limb as it was the entire story.” That, of course, is the beginning of a real friendship, or at least, it becomes a real friendship when they eventually get past Adelaide’s story and Archer’s jealousy.

It has been a very long time since I told a crocodile story about myself. These days I am much more focused on keeping the conversation open, but there are times when I am tempted. Especially considering the real story of my limb difference is so boring. Of course, I’ve learned that the boring story is the most unexpected of all.  The truth is, I’ve gotten so much more surprise from “I was born this way” than I ever did from any wild animal story I told as a kid.

 

Thursday 3: Limb Difference Awareness Month

April is a busy month for awareness.  Autism, Sexual Assault, and Poetry are probably the most well known, but I would like to acknowledge Limb Loss/Difference Awareness Month for obvious reasons.

I am pleased to report that there are a growing number of books for young readers that feature characters with limb differences. Here are three books for young readers that I recommend for understanding what it’s like to lose a limb or be born with a limb difference.

LimbDifference

Dangerous by Shannon Hale is a science fiction novel about fighting aliens that features a heroine who was born with one arm.  She is awesome.  Read more of my thoughts about it here.

Red Butterfly by A. L. Sonnichsen is a middle grade verse novel I referenced in this post.  The main character in the story was born with only two fingers on one hand.

One-Handed Catch by M.J. Auch is about a boy who loses his hand in an accident.  I reviewed it more thoroughly here.

These books are great choices for middle schoolers.  I offer more great books that I think can be used to open up discussions about differences in this article in Book Links Magazine from 2011: Just Like You–Helping Young People Understand Disabilities Through Books.

Friday Find: Brains On!

brainson“Wait! Pause it!”

We were listening to an episode of Brains On!, and my six year old could barely hold in her comments and questions.  I let her choose among the recent episodes, and she chose Is There Life on Other Planets? which opened with an excerpt from a science fiction story about aliens written by a kid, not too much older than my daughter.

“So this is a real story written by a real kid?” was her first question.  Then we had to go to the Brains On! web site to see the young author’s alien drawings.

Astrocat_001That was only the beginning  of the speculation and discussion that the episode sparked in her.  It wasn’t just the day we listened to it, either.  The ideas stuck with her enough to bring it up again and again.  We explored more about space in Professor Astro Cat’s Frontiers of Space, which has a great spread with speculative aliens that my daughter loved.

We will definitely be listening to more of Brains On! And catching up on past episodes.  I love that it features kids asking real kid questions, and I am excited to explore more science with my daughter.

Since I am always thinking about books, I already have a few books in mind for some of the other episodes:

  • For Water, Water Everywhere we will check out Did a Dinosaur Drink this Water by Robert Wells and Let’s Drink Some Water by Ruth Walton.
  • The Soil–Can You Dig It episode fits well with A Handful of Dirt by Raymond Bial.
  • In How Do You Catch a Cold? there is talk of sneezes; Explore more in Sneeze! by Alexandra Siy.
  • If you listen to Is There Life on Other Planets? with kids a bit older than my six year old, you can direct them to The Alien Hunter’s Handbook by Mark Brake for more about what life is and how to find it.

Happy listening, reading, and exploring!

Interested in past Friday Finds posts? Click here

Looking beyond labels

goldendomes

Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns by Hena Khan is a beautiful book that provides a child’s eye view of Muslim culture.  The book has received several positive reviews and honors, but it still managed to spark a social media controversy when children’s book author and former educator Kate Messner recommended it to her Twitter followers.

The School Library Journal article about the incident quotes Messner as saying that the Twitter user who took issue with her recommendation, then using the handle “atheistactuary,” seemed to have “set up a search for  Islam, and made it their mission to seek out anyone that had something positive to say about the religion.”  Messner, for her part, maintained a diplomatic tone throughout the exchange.  She promoted diversity and openness in her original post, and she didn’t back down from that in a multi-day back and forth with this Twitter user who seemed intent on painting all Muslims as terrorists, misogynists, or otherwise dangerous.

I can’t be alone in thinking that this controversy shows why books like Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns are important.  We need to humanize people who are different if we want to raise kids who are willing to see beyond their own experiences to make the world a better place.  To see people as individuals rather than as a label full of our preconceived notions.

While I have made no secret of my non-belief–thus making me an atheist or agnostic depending on your definitions of the words–I do believe in people.  I prefer to wear “Humanist” over “atheist” most of the time since that puts people first.  It emphasizes values over beliefs, and that’s important to me.  The specifics of my beliefs about the universe are less important than my values of openness and diversity.

I suppose I am still glowing with a cooperative spirit after reading Chris Stedman’s Faitheist, which encourages non-religious people to get involved in interfaith activism.  It was hugely inspiring, and it has motivated to me to share this specific message: not all atheists are like the Twitter user in this incident.  Please don’t use this as a reason to add to the already strong prejudice against the non-religious.   We are people beyond our label just like Muslims, Christians, and others.  We are as committed to the common good as anyone else.

No matter what your religious affiliation (or none at all), do check out Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns as a way to open a conversation about another culture with young children.  The lush illustrations portray every day life in a Muslim family.  It builds understanding without preaching, and I recommend it highly.  Teen readers might find Growing Up Muslim by Sumbul Ali-Karamali or Does My Head Look Big in This? by Randa Abdel-Fattah provide a similar glimpse into Muslim culture.

Check out my For Secular Families page for more posts about children’s books related to religion to promote a people-first perspective in your family no matter what you believe.

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.  A portion of purchases made from these links may benefit Proper Noun Blog.  Thanks for your support! :)

April Book Pick: The Fairy Ring by Mary Losure

Do you believe in fairies?  Sir Arthur Conan Doyle did.  The man best known for creating the greatest fictional detective of all time, Sherlock Holmes, but he also wrote a book called The Coming of the Fairies.  Twin Cities writer Mary Losure came across The Coming of the Fairies book in a local independent book store and became intrigued with the story of the Cottingley Fairies featured in Doyle’s book.  Two young girls apparently photographed the fairies, and these photos were seen as proof of the existence of fairies by some.  A photograph is proof, right?  In the 1920’s, cameras were still a pretty new technology.  Not many people had the equipment to take a photo much less alter a negative to create a fake photo.  Still, it was hard for many people to believe.

fairyringThe Fairy Ring by Mary Losure explores the story behind the photographs.  It is a fascinating piece of narrative nonfiction that looks at how a hoax might begin very innocently and spiral out of control quickly.  It is written for kids (middle school age, primarily), but I recommend this book even beyond that audience.  After all, we live in a world of fake photos and fake news and hoaxes of every sort.  Sometimes the fakes are easy to spot.  But sometimes they are much more difficult.  It might seem impossible to kids that these photos were ever taken as proof of fairies, but we’ve probably all been taken in by some online hoax at some point.  This is a book that will have you thinking about proof and asking yourself: Would I have believed?

CottingleyFairies4

Mary Losure’s newest book, for which I am on a library waiting list, is called Wild Boy.  It was recently featured of the Daily Circuit.

Did you miss last month’s Book Pick?  Check it out: The Burgess Boys by Elizabeth Strout

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.  A portion of purchases made from these links may benefit Proper Noun Blog.  Thanks for your support! :)

Choosing Kind

choosekind

wonderWhen I first read Wonder by R.J. Palacio, I had no idea how popular it would become. Frankly, I was distracted by my disappointment that it hadn’t been published in time to include in my article about books that explore physical differences.  I blogged about for my employer twice (naming it a “promising bloom” here and mentioning the multiple narrator device here), and it’s come up this blog at least once that I remember.

Since then it has become a bit of a phenomenon.  There was award buzz, a hashtag, and a whole movement surrounding this book.  And it’s moving beyond kids: in the UK, there is an adult/all ages version of the book on shelves.  I’m happy whenever you get adults to consider young people’s point of view by getting them to read children’s books, but this book in particular, I’d like to push into the hands of the general public.  It is an opportunity to see out so many difference eyes, to see why people make the choices they do, and what the consequences of those choices might be.  The best way to get people to make kind choices is to share stories like this one.

If I haven’t convinced you to read it yet, perhaps the book’s trailer will do so:

Kindness is an all ages choice, and this book spans a wide range of ages, as I mentioned.  But for those with preschoolers or primary graders looking to explore kindness and empathy, try one of these:

  • homeforbirdFairy Goes A-Marketing – this is a picture book version of a poem about a fairy who sets her caged animals free or gives away she things to help others.
  • Say Hello – Explores the feeling of being left out and encourages kids to include everyone.
  • Jamaica’s Blue Marker – Jamaica doesn’t want to share her markers with Russell until she learns to look at why he acts so mean at school.
  • Each Kindness – A new girl starts at Chloe’s school, but she won’t play with her.  It is only after the new girl has moved again that Chloe realizes she could have been kinder to Maya.  
  • A Home for Bird – A little frog goes to great lengths to help a new friend find a home.

These books are great for starting discussions, but in all honesty, any story will do.  In the words of Pulitzer Prize winning author Jane Smiley:

“Reading fiction is and always was practice in empathy — learning to see the world through often quite alien perspectives, learning to understand how other people’s points of view reflect their experiences.”

Wonder stands out because it is the story of someone who is very different and it explores the choices we make when faced with difference, but I believe that fiction can create a kinder world if we let it.

Please, choose kind.

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.  A portion of purchases made from these links benefits this blog.  Thank you for your support!