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Oh, Ellen, editor.
Flying Lessons & Other Stories. Crown, 2017. 218 pages (978–1–101–93459–3)

Ages 9-14

“Blame my Uncle Kenneth. Everybody else does.” (Tim Tingle) “It’s a lot of pressure to pick a good elf name.” (Tim Federle) “Nani wears a fur coat to the beach.” (Soman Chainani) Whether starting with irresistible opening lines like these, or easing more quietly into the lives of their characters, the 10 short stories in this anthology are wonderfully crafted slices of life. Whether funny or poignant, painful or hopeful (and most are a combination), these stories featuring mostly contemporary older children and teens are widely varied in style and setting. The unifying theme is this: Everyone’s voice matters, everyone has a story. What the stories also have in common are vividly realized characters whose lives feel genuine and are exceptional to the extent that every child and young adult is exceptional—singular and needing to be seen. Inclusion itself should not be exceptional, however. It should be deep and genuine and meaningful as it is within and across these pages featuring diverse writers—something foundational to the vision of this work that models how any anthology, regardless of theme, should be conceived. The result is a collection of stories that will spark recognition, and connection, and enjoyment for all readers in a multitude of ways. Additional contributors include Kwame Alexander, Kelly J. Baptist, Matt de la Peña, Grace Lin, Meg Medina, Walter Dean Myers, and Jacqueline Woodson. ©2018 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

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Khan, Hena. Amina’s Voice. Salaam Reads, 2017. 197 pages (978–1–4814–9206–5)

Ages 9-13

Amina is unhappy that her best friend, Soojin, has started inviting Emily, a classmate neither of them has ever liked, to spend time with them. At home, Amina’s family is getting ready for the visit of Thaya Jaan, her father’s older brother, from Pakistan. To impress Thaya Jaan, and support their Imam, Amina’s parents insist Amina and her older brother, Mustafa, complete  in their mosque’s upcoming Quran recitation competition. Mustafa, who wants his parents to let him play high school basketball, agrees willingly. But Amina suffers from serious stage fright—it’s why she never tries out for a solo in her middle school choir, despite her talent and love of singing. A swiftly paced novel showing a Muslim family and community as part of the fabric of American life also includes a hateful attack when vandals break into the mosque. No one is hurt, but the damage is great and the fear and sadness palpable. So, too, is the caring. People both within and outside Amina’s faith community offer solace, support, and help repairing the damage. This welcome story has finely developed primary and secondary characters, from Amina, Soojin, and Emily (whom Amina comes to appreciate) to Amina’s family members, including her at-first intimidating uncle, who proves to have both conservative ideas and an open mind. The novel is set in the Milwaukee-area community of Greendale. ©2018 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

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Dairman, Tara. The Great Hibernation. Illustrated by Rebecca Green. Wendy Lamb Books / Random House, 2017. 260 pages (978–1–5247–1785–8)

Ages 7-10

During St. Polonius-on-the-Fjord’s annual Founder’s Day event, everyone over 12 years, 4 months, 6 days old must eat a slice of bear liver in honor of the North Sea village’s long-ago founders, who survived a cold winter after eating bear liver and falling asleep until spring. Twelve-year-old Jean, participating for the first time, spits her piece out when no one is looking. Hours later, every adult and teenager in town falls into a sleep from which no one can wake them—not a typical Founder’s Day occurrence despite the long-ago miracle. The town charter says children must do their parents’ jobs if the adults are incapacitated, so the kids step up. Jean is convinced the mayor’s son, Magnus, is up to no good when he announces plans to carry out the election to decide whether the town will build a thistleberry processing plant—something sure to change St. Polonius forever. Along with her younger brother, Micah, best friend Katrin (giving cutting edge haircuts at her mom’s salon), 8-year-old Axel (operating his dad’s snowplow), and Isara, who’s keeping everyone fed at his immigrant parents’ Thai restaurant, she investigates. Magnus, in turn, passes restrictive laws and deputizes other kids to keep Jean and her friends in check. The silliness is not without substance in this novel that takes political machinations to a not-unrecognizable extreme, but it’s the story’s over-the-top charm that wins the day.  ©2018 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

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Going, K. L.
The Shape of the World: A Portrait of Frank Lloyd Wright. Illustrated by Lauren Stringer. Beach Lane Books, 2017. 32 pages (978–1–4424–7821–3)

Ages 5-9

“When the baby grew into a boy, his mother gave him gifts: cubes, spheres, cones, pyramids, cylinders. The boy loved the smooth shapes.” Young Frank Lloyd Wright builds with his blocks as a child, and, during summers on his uncle’s farm (near Spring Green, Wisconsin), “He saw shapes everywhere he looked. He found an arch inside the pathway of a frog, a cone inside the petals of a flower … ” This picture book look at Wright emphasizes the fascination with geometric shapes and love for the natural world that permeated his singular, brilliant career as an architect. “When other architects chose walls, he chose windows. … He built a house like a honeycomb, a museum like a shell … ” It is Wright’s work, rather than the sometimes difficult aspects of his personality, that takes center stage in this appreciative, accessible, gracefully illustrated account. ©2018 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

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Raczka, Bob.
Niko Draws a Feeling. Illustrated by Simone Shin. Carolrhoda, 2017. 32 pages (978–1–4677–9843–3)

Ages 4-8

Niko loves to draw. His pictures, inspired by what he observes, are abstract images of the in between—the feeling or action or intent—of a situation. He draws the “ring-a-ling” of the ice cream truck, not the truck or the ice cream; the hard work of a mother bird building her nest, not the bird or nest. Friends and family don’t understand his pictures. Believing that no one will ever understand his art, Niko expresses how he feels in a picture he tapes to his door. When new neighbor Iris learns Niko draws, she asks to see his pictures. Looking carefully at each one, she doesn’t ask what they are. When she gets to the one on his door she says, “It looks like how I feel. You know, sad because I had to move.” Niko knows he’s found someone who understands him: a new friend. A straightforward yet thoughtful narrative touches on abstract art, the complex experience of creative inspiration, and the emotions of being misunderstood. Mixed-media illustrations provide a winning accompaniment, conveying the concrete of Niko’s world, including his mixed-race family, and his abstract art. ©2018 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

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Kvasnosky, Laura McGee. Little Wolf’s First Howling. Illustrated by Laura McGee Kvasnosky and Kate Harvey McGee. Candlewick Press, 2017.  24 pages (978–0–7636–8971–1)

Ages 3-7

Little Wolf is eager to go out at night with his father, Big Wolf, to learn how to howl. As the moon begins to rise, Big Wolf demonstrates a howl that ends with a lengthy “ooooooooooo.” Little Wolf’s first attempt starts strong but his enthusiasm gets the better of him as he brings it to a close: “I’m hoooowling, ’oooowling, ’ooooowling!” Which isn’t, Big Wolf notes, “proper howling form.” Big Wolf demonstrates. Little Wolf tries again. This time, his howl starts strong and ends with a jazzy “dibbity dobbity skibbity skobbity skooo-wooooo-woooooooooooo.” Big Wolf praises Little Wolf for many things. “But your howling. It is not proper howling form.” So they try again. This time, Little Wolf ’s ending is even more unrestrained. And Big Wolf can’t help it: he starts tail-wagging and ear-twitching and paw-tapping along. Distinctive digitally rendered paintings reminiscent of colored block prints create an inviting backdrop for a story begging to be howled aloud. ©2018 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

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Heiligman, Deborah.
Vincent and Theo: The Van Gogh Brothers. Godwin Books / Henry Holt, 2017. 454 pages  (978–0–8050–9339–1)

Age 14 and older

As a young man, Vincent Van Gogh worked at an art auction house but was neither happy nor successful. He turned to God and ministered to the poor with great humility and an unsettling passion for self-denial until he was asked to leave his post. At 27, he returned home and began to draw and paint with purpose, relentless in the desire to improve. His brother Theo, two years younger and a successful art dealer, was his greatest critic and staunchest supporter financially and emotionally. Excited by the new style called Impressionism, Theo encouraged Vincent to use more and more color in his work. There had been signs for years that Vincent could be unstable, sometimes subject to deep sadness and withdrawal, sometimes frenzied. Theo, too, battled despair. A narrative that quotes liberally from their prolific correspondence details their individual struggles, while the devotion between them is its heart and soul. This exquisite, remarkable book told in the present tense positions readers as intimate observers of Vincent’s and Theo’s lives. Two portraits emerge in rich detail: a deep-thinking, gifted artist who was a troubled, gentle, compassionate man; and an insightful critic who recognized his brother’s brilliant mind and work, devoting incredible energy and resources to nurturing and supporting him. Uplifting, poignant, and tragic by turns, the brothers’ lives unfold in a work of exceptional literary nonfiction weaving scholarly research (further detailed in ample end matter) into a vivid, immersive account. ©2018 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

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Zarr, Sara. Gem & Dixie. Balzer + Bray / HarperCollins, 2017. 282 pages (978–0–06–243459–3)

Age 12 and older

Gem took care of her sister Dixie when they were younger and their parents were addicts. Now both in high school Dixie makes friends easily, whereas Gem is lonely, an outcast. Although their mom got sober and kicked their dad out years ago, she struggles to pay the rent and buy food, and sometimes slips back into dangerous habits, oblivious to her daughters’ physical and emotional needs. When the girls’ dad shows up out of the blue with money to burn, Dixie is thrilled, Gem suspicious, their mom furious. She dumps out all the food he buys, appalling Gem, who is often hungry, and tells him to go. He leaves behind a hidden backpack full of money. When Gem finds it, she sees it as a chance for her and Dixie to escape. For Dixie, their journey is an adventure. For Gem, it’s survival. On the road, Gem and Dixie are often at odds, but also gradually finding their way back to a small bit of common ground. Gem’s determination, a well-meaning if fallible guidance counselor, and the kindness of strangers are threads of genuine hope leaving a lasting impression in a story that doesn’t minimize poverty or despair. ©2018 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

JANUARY (3)

May 16th, 2017 | Posted by etownsend in Babies, Toddlers and Preschoolers | 2017-2018 | 2017-2018 Babies, Toddlers & Preschoolers | January - (Comments Off on JANUARY (3))

1 Big Salad: A Delicious Counting Book by Juana Medina. Viking, 2016

A playful concept book imagines salad ingredients as animals as it counts from one to ten: one avocado deer, two radish mice, three pepper monkeys, four carrot horses, etc. Medina uses photographs of actual vegetables set against a stark white background, and then adds black ink lines to embellish each vegetable in order to bring out the animal—nose, ears, and feet added to the radish mice, for example. All the animals mixed together add up to one big delicious salad, shown in a photograph of the salad in a big wooden bowl with two inked hands and arms holding it up. Even those who can already count to ten will enjoy seeing the vegetables transformed into appealing animals. (Ages 2–5)  © Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Try these early literacy activities with children:

  • Read: “Winter Adventure” in Goodnight Songs
  • Talk: About trying new foods. Try some of the foods in the book that are new to you.
  • Sing:  “Apples and Bananas” by Rafi. Look for other versions of the song online or at the library.
  • Write: Trace numbers with your fingers. Count with your fingers. Or, write a grocery list together
  • Play: Provide kids with printed out pictures or magazine pictures. Have kids add their own drawing to make an animal. Or, make faces with cut up pieces of fruit – blueberry eyes, orange slice mouth.
  • Math or Science: Make the salad and salad dressing in the book or make a recipe of your own. Talk about measurements. How much of each ingredient do you use for the recipe?

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JANUARY (2)

May 16th, 2017 | Posted by etownsend in Babies, Toddlers and Preschoolers | 2017-2018 | 2017-2018 Babies, Toddlers & Preschoolers | January - (Comments Off on JANUARY (2))

Marta! Big & Small by Jen Arena. Illustrated by Angela Dominguez. Roaring Brook Press, 2016

“To a lion, Marta is tranquila. Quiet, very quiet. / To a rabbit, Marta is ruidosa. Loud, very loud.” The same textual pattern is used on each two-page spread, cleverly describing an active little girl’s qualities in terms of comparisons and opposites. Spanish adjectives are seamlessly incorporated into the text and for each one, the English word follows as an echo. When all of Marta’s qualities are reiterated at story’s end, the animal names appear in Spanish, easily decipherable from the clear picture clues. The appealing illustrations capture Marta’s spirited nature and underscore the girl-power theme of the book, which ends with Marta described as “clever, very clever, like una niña.” (Ages 2–5)  © Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Try these early literacy activities with children:

  • Read: Pick out the Spanish words in the book. Practice saying them together. Look at the included glossary.
  • Talk: Revisit the idea of opposites. Introduce the idea of comparatives ­such as “bigger” or “smaller”. Compare your child to things in the room. Ask: What are bigger than? What are you smaller than?
  • Sing: “This is Big, Big, Big”. If you don’t know it, find it on the Jbrary Youtube channel.
  • Write: Different sizes of letters, shapes, or squiggles.
  • Play: Pretend to be the different animals in the book.
  • Math or Science: Scavenger hunt – find something big. Find something small. Find something bigger or smaller than the objects you found.

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JANUARY (1)

May 16th, 2017 | Posted by etownsend in Babies, Toddlers and Preschoolers | 2017-2018 | 2017-2018 Babies, Toddlers & Preschoolers | January - (Comments Off on JANUARY (1))

Music Is … by Brandon Stosuy. Illustrated by Amy Martin. Little Simon, 2016

This purposefully inclusive board book celebrates music as something for everyone. The illustrations show distinctive, individual people of color with a range of ages and body types. There are women playing electric guitars and a man playing a harp, a little girl with two men—presumably her dads—and so on. Some of the concepts may be a bit advanced for a typical board book audience (Lo-fi vs. Hi-fi; “fuzzy” guitars), but definitions of the music terms are provided on the final page, a welcome element for any adult who may be unsure of something’s meaning. (Ages 1–3)  © Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Try these early literacy activities with children:

  • Read: “Snowfall” from Goodnight Songs and listen to the song on the accompanying CD.
  • Talk About opposites.
  • Sing: Pick a song. Sing it fast. Sing it slow. Sing it loudly and quietly.
  • Write: Listen to music and draw a picture of what you hear using colors and shapes.
  • Play: Dance to your favorite music.
  • Math or Science: Talk about how you can make music with your mouth or your hands. What other ways can you make music with your body?

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JANUARY (2)

May 10th, 2017 | Posted by etownsend in 2017-2018 | Intermediate (Grades 3-5) | 2017-2018 Intermediate | January - (Comments Off on JANUARY (2))

Freedom Over Me: Eleven Slaves, Their Lives and Dreams Brought to Life by Ashley Bryan. A Caitlyn Dlouhy Book / Atheneum, 2016

From historical documents he acquired, Ashley Bryan gives breath and life to 11 enslaved individuals listed on the Fairchilds Estate Appraisement of 1828. The document identifies most of them by name, and as boy, girl, woman, or man, along with their “value.” The cold, brutal reality of a price attached to a human life is at the foundation of this work. But in imagining these individuals’ histories, daily lives, hopes, and dreams, Bryan defies that erasure of human- ness. For each person, he has created two poems and two paintings. The first poem/painting pair is a sober portrait, set against fragments of documents related to slavery, alongside a poem detailing elements of their lives and histories. The second poem/painting pair is a “dream” poem, and a vibrant, often joyful scene. In “Bacus dreams,” the blacksmith tells how every strike of his hammer against hot metal is an outlet for his anger, a blow for justice. In “Charlotte dreams,” she speaks of her artistry as a weaver, a means of self-discovery. In both these dream poems the speakers note the distance and difference between how their owners see them, and who they are. Across this extraordinary work, it is not only a sense of individual lives that emerge, but also of a community of individuals caring for one another. An author’s note includes a reproduction of the estate appraisal, which every word in this work defies. © Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Start some conversation with these discussion prompts:

  1. Which person stands out to you the most? Why?
  2. Why does the author feel it was important to create stories and dreams for the people on a receipt?
  3. What do you notice about the illustrations on each page?
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