Sunday, March 11, 2018

Macy McMillan and the Rainbow Goddess

Macy McMillan and the Rainbow Goddess by Shari Green (ISBN: 978-1772780178)

Okay, time to recap.  Things this pink librarian loves:
- bright colors
- sweet baked goods
- books (especially that connect to our summer reading themes)

This next book checks all but one of those boxes.  Can you guess which one it does not?  If you guessed football, you guessed correctly. (Tom Brady, I still love you forever.)  So back to Macy McMillan... she's a hearing impaired girl being raised by a single mother whose life is pretty great.  But all of that is about to change as her mother plans to remarry a guy with two kids of his own who lives on another side of town.  Macy's best friend will no longer be within biking distance, and her new family is not yet fluent in American Sign Language (ASL).  Macy can really only imagine a dim future.  To make matters worse, Macy's mother insists that she go next door and assist her elderly neighbor in packing up her home for an eventual move into an assisted living facility.  Macy has only ever known Ms. Iris to be cranky, and the older woman doesn't know a single sign (unless you count a pretty nasty face scowl as the universal language for 'get-off-my-lawn').

Yet upon entering Iris' house, Macy discovers rooms painted in beautiful rainbow shades, shelves full of carefully curated books, and the scent of cookies wafting from the kitchen.  Iris is a woman with lots of stories to tell, and as the two women learn to communicate through notes and gestures, Macy begins to understand that a long view of time and friendship is the only way to weather the temporary swells and storms of life.  This book provides a glimpse into the deaf experience, as well as a lovely perspective on aging and end-of-life issues.  Definitely deserving of the various accolades it has so far received, Macy McMillan is a quick and delightful read about a girl who is really like all of us: yearning to be heard and understood.

Want more? The following video shows multiple images and quotes that the author compiled to reveal important elements, themes, and moments of the story.  It's just a fun, visual way to explore the story a bit!

Homemade tees: Iris is an expert baker and cookies sort of become a traded language throughout the story.  Especially at her age, this shirt probably sums up Iris' philosophy regarding life and sweets:

Or, if you were wanting to show some specific love to Macy and other individuals with hearing impairments (or rainbow goddesses in general), try this shirt instead!

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Lucky Broken Girl

Lucky Broken Girl by Ruth Behar (ISBN: 978-0399546440)

Hey guys, remember how I'm looking for books about diversity?  You know how the ALA announces the winners of their various youth media awards every February?  I thought to myself, "Hmm... let me see if any award winning books this year perhaps address the experiences of minorities in the US or elsewhere!"  Sure enough, I've found another gem!  The winner of this year's Pura Belpré Author Award is Lucky Broken Girl and I am a lucky (librarian) girl for having the chance to read it.

Ruthie is a young Cuban-Jewish immigrant whose family moves to NYC in the 1960s in hopes of a better life, away from oppression in Castro's Cuba.  She struggles with a language barrier, a mother who misses her home, and a boisterous family full of interesting characters who cannot always 'see' her through the chaotic noise of their lives.  Her grandparents emigrated to Cuba from Germany during WWII because of their Jewish heritage - they speak a delightful mix of Yiddish-German-Spanish.  Her mother makes both Caribbean pastries and kosher dinners.  Her neighbor on one side is from India and teaches her to pray to Shiva, a little girl friend from Belgium gives her endless cream puffs, and a Mexican artist neighbor on the other side introduces her to the paintings of Frida Kahlo.  Her life really is a bouillabaisse of flavors and cultures; but everything comes to a screeching halt when she is bedridden as the result of a terrible car accident.  For months, Ruthie's life is on hold as she waits to heal from wounds both physical and emotional.  

Yet in her waiting, she discovers a new inner strength.  In her moments of darkness and anger, her neighbors and family share their sources of light: good books, art kits, snacks smuggled past over-protective mothers, piñatas, prayers to saints and painters, and Cuban cha-cha-cha music.  Ruthie emerges as a shining example of female resilience, beauty, intelligence, and ingenuity.  Her buoyant and brave family and neighborhood friends provide for all of us an example of how love and courage are all you really need in life.  This book is a must read!

Want more? Here's the book trailer, made by the author herself!

Here's also a lengthier interview with Ruth Behar about her writing and the importance of diverse literature for middle grade readers:

Homemade tees: one of my favorite tid-bits in this book is the similarity between Ruthie, in her bedridden state, discovering painting and her connection with Frida Kahlo as a bedridden artist.  Therefore, this t-shirt seems perfect for any fan of Lucky Broken Girl.

PS - remember how I recently reviewed Refugee by Alan Gratz?  I am loving the connection between all of these various books about immigrants and how many of them have characters from Germany, Cuba, and the US. #BookNerdAlert

Wednesday, January 17, 2018


Refugee by Alan Gratz (ISBN: 978-0545880831)

There are only so many books or movies or commercials that have made me tear up and cry in my life.

Just kidding. I'm full of lies.  I cry really easily and probably 234,098,234 different things have evoked this reaction from me, and sometimes I purposefully watch YouTube videos of soldiers coming home and surprising their families just to have a good ugly cry.  I am ridiculous.

But this book made me cry properly.  It did it in all the best ways and for all the best reasons.  (See also, "The Boy in the Striped Pajamas."  That one resulted in me having to move to a fresh spot on my couch because I had significantly dampened one arm-rest.) This historical fiction novel weaves together the seemingly unconnected lives of three refugee children: Josef escaping Nazi Germany during WWI, Isabel attempting to flee from Cuba in the 1990s, and Mahmoud, a Syrian boy on the move in 2015.  Each chapter rotates from child to child, and each face surprisingly similar perils and challenges.  Without giving away the beautifully satisfying ending, the reader will come to discover that their lives intersect in the most meaningful of ways.  It reminds me of the clichéd (and truly preposterous) saying, "Everything happens for a reason."  But again, in the most wonderful way and with lovely literary artfulness (is this a word?).  

The subject matter is definitely heavy at times, but very timely given that estimates show that 5.1 million Syrians have fled their country since 2011 and another 6.3 million Syrians are displaced within their country.  Families fleeing their homes because of political, civil, or religious unrest is nothing new - but for many kids growing up in the US, it's a somewhat foreign idea.  Fiction can communicate real truth, and Refugee conveys the massive challenges of human migration while also revealing the human heart at the center of each child's journey.  These stories may be made up, but the realities behind them were and are not.

This book has already been sitting on best seller lists, and has racked up its fair share of starred reviews and awards, but I suspect it's not done yet.  I wouldn't be at all surprised to see it take a few more major awards before all is said and done.  It's a fabulous story for any middle grade reader and I'm excited to share it all around town!

Want more?
Alan Gratz is no stranger to the historical fiction genre.  If you think this one sounds good, you should also check out Prisoner B-3087 and Projekt 1065 - both good books in their own rights!

Here's Scholastic's book trailer for the novel, which they're promoting.  Because they want you to buy it.  But they should be promoting it anyway... because it's fantastic.

Furthermore, if you have 45 minutes to spare, here's the author himself answering questions about Refugee and his process as a writer:

Homemade tees: I'm actually going to take a break from posting t-shirts you should buy or wear, and instead applaud the volunteers sporting these jerseys:
The UNHCR is an organization under the United Nations that is dedicated to saving lives, protecting rights and building a better future for refugees, forcibly displaced communities and stateless people. They do amazing work, and provide really helpful information for advocacy on their website.  While I'm not asking you to donate, I certainly think that giving money to them is probably more effective than just buying another t-shirt...

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Flying Lessons, and Other Stories

Flying Lessons, and Other Stories - edited by Ellen Oh (ISBN: 978-1101934593)

Is this my first time reviewing a collection of short stories?  I think it might be!  This book is another I read on my quest for summer reading options that address diversity.  What an absolute winner!  PLUS, it's a nominee for this year's Delaware Diamond book award, which means I'm encouraging Delawarean children to read it anyway. ;o ) This delightful book includes short stories by: 

With a line-up like that, how could I not read this book?  As mentioned previously, our school is looking to expose students to the broader idea of diversity as something that we all have.  Just because you are Caucasian in a predominantly white area does not mean you lack diversity as an individual.  Likewise, a school filled with Muslim children is still diverse in the many ways that each child might approach political issues or math problems.  We are all unique in some way.

So with short stories about Hispanic ballers, Middle Eastern travelers, young crushes, alcoholic parents, loss and heartache and stereotypes and coming-of-age, there is something here for everyone.  If the most controversial thing I could think to say about this book is that in one story, the word "ass" is used one time, I think we're doing a great job.  I believe this book would be perfect for reluctant readers, or any person who only has a few minutes to read while sitting in a doctor's office or on the toilet.  We need books like this!  Furthermore, this book is published in large part because of the phenomenal work of the people at We Need Diverse Books (and we really do, too).  Because really, every child should be able see themselves in the pages of a book - or become more aware of those outside of their tiny part of the universe as well.

Want more?
Here's a little tidbit about how this book came to be:

Homemade tees: with a book that includes many stories, it's hard to sum up this tome in a single tee.  So instead, I found one that hints at my favorite, most hilarious part of one of the stories.  You'll have to read this great collection in order to get my silly reference.

Friday, November 10, 2017

As Brave As You

As Brave As You by Jason Reynolds (ISBN: 978-1481415910)

Guys, can we talk about how much I love Jason Reynolds? (Is he the next Walter Dean Myers... we shall see.)  Also, anyone who knows me knows I love a good Schneider Family Book Award winner.  So this book is the perfect formula for "a book Katelynn will love."  

Set in Virginia (the rural version) in the summer of (insert recent year here), Genie and Ernie have to spend several weeks with their grandparents so that their marriage-on-the-rocks parents can spend alone time fixing their relationship.  The boys are used to the streets of their native Brooklyn, not the hills and knolls of the South.  To make matters even more complicated, their grandfather is completely blind and never really ventures outside of his house.  While inside, you'd never guess that Grandpop is visually impaired; however, outside, a simple thing like walking through the grass can be an anxiety-inducing activity.  Genie always thought his Grandpop was pretty brave, but some of his thinking shifts when he realizes how limited his grandfather's life really has become.  

A young girl down the street inspires the boys to venture into the woods, where they uncover other family secrets about their deceased veteran uncle, and the tension between their dad and his father.  Needless to say, there is a lot to be unpacked in this generational story about young African American boys figuring out how to function in the world and in their own family.  The book addresses what true bravery really is, and how to be courageous in our relationships with each other.  It will make you smile, and cry, and long for more pages at the end (why must good books always end??).  It was a five out of five stars book for me, and I can't wait for students to read it too!

PS - it won a bunch of other awards too.  Like... a bunch.

Want more? There are so many great videos of Jason Reynolds accepting awards and talking about reading, and just being generally awesome.  But check out this one about why he thinks it's important that kids read:

Homemade tees: This book teaches the lesson that we can all learn from each other what it means to be brave through the situations of our lives.  Check out this t-shirt for a beautiful visual reminder of this fact - 

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Home of the Brave

Home of the Brave by Katherine Applegate (ISBN: 978-0312535636)

Every year, our school chooses books for students to read for summer reading. We're looking for about six options for our students this summer, and we'll be reading books for the next several months in a hunt for the best ones. Our theme this year is diversity, and not just racial diversity. You see, diversity is really all of the various parts of us that make us unique - it could be race, but also religion, gender, sexual orientation, cultural upbringing, languages spoken, adventures experienced, educational attainment, socioeconomic status, physical disabilities, learning styles, and so much more. Therefore, we want books that will give our students windows into the lives of other kids and teens around the world, and which will also provide some of them with mirrors to see that they are not alone in their experiences.

And so, we now enter Home of the Brave. I was looking for books that have characters from other places, and this book fits the mold. Kek lived in Darfur, Sudan (Africa) with his mother, father, and brother. But after tragedy strikes, only Kek and his mother survive. They become separated and Kek travels to the US to live with an aunt and cousin in Minnesota. Equal parts haunting and sad, heartwarming and funny, the story narrates how Kek learns to find his way in a strange new land. Thinking that the "washing machine" will help his aunt with her pile of dishes, he puts all of the plates and cups in only to find that the agitator breaks them all. Another young friend has to tell him that a washing machine for clothes and a dishwasher are two different appliances. Kek eventually discovers, not too far from the urban metropolis where he lives, a small farm with a forlorn cow. From a family of herders, Kek has finally found the familiar: a sad cow who just needs a bit of attention and who becomes like family. Despite struggling with a language barrier, missing his parents, attempting to acclimate to a whole new culture, and living with extended family with their own share of issues, Kek finds his own sort of success in the Home of the Brave.

The cover of the copy I read was so terrible. I thought to myself, "What kid is going to want to pick up this book?" Monochrome and sort of strange illustration, I had a negative initial reaction. But after only a few pages, I was hooked in this story. It is honestly one of the best books I've read about the refugee experience, and such an accessible story as it deals with common issues like loss, the desire to fit in, and friendship in unexpected places. I was so excited to discover that the book has been re-released with a fresh cover and I'm keeping all my fingers crossed that this book makes it to our final cut of summer reading options!

Want more? If you want to hear the author talk about the book in her own words, check out the following video!

Homemade tees: there are not a lot of shirts you can find with "Home of the Brave" on them without there also being American flags, bald eagles, and assault rifles on them. (This seems like a whole other blog post waiting to happen...) So instead, I'm going the route of diversity. How can you celebrate what makes your experience unique? How can we also find common ground with those around us? This shirt is a fun place to start!

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

The Seventh Most Important Thing

The Seventh Most Important Thing by Shelley Pearsall (ISBN: 978-0-553-49728-1)

Sometimes a book comes along that reminds you that you just love good books about real life.  This is one of those books.  Subtle, uncomplicated, sweetly told, predictably heartwarming.  It's also an interesting piece of history about James Hampton's folk art - a piece of Americana that I was unaware of until reading this book.

The story goes that Arthur Owens throws a brick at a man's head, and ends up in juvie court to discover his sentence.  Rather than return to jail, he is sentenced to community service helping the very man he attacked.  The Junk Man, aka: Mr. Hampton, is the neighborhood quirk though.  He travels the streets with a rickety shopping cart, picking through trash cans to take tidbits that others have discarded.  Arthur is definitely not excited about helping with this rubbish-collecting endeavor or what it will do for his reputation.  To make matters worse, at his first day on the job, he's given a difficult list of the Seven Most Important Things to find: light bulbs, foil, mirrors, pieces of wood, glass bottles, coffee cans, and cardboard.  Mirrors aren't just hanging out in everyone's garbage cans.  For weeks, Arthur continues to trudge along, collecting these items.

But it's one day that Arthur finally discovers what all of his collecting is for.  Mr. Hampton is building, within a garage behind a tattoo shop, a creation beyond description.  The Throne of the Third Heaven is pieces of what he believes Heaven will look like - but made out of... you guessed it... the Seven Most Important Things.  Light bulbs covered in pieces of sparkly foil and cardboard attached to chairs to look like angels' wings.  It's something to behold and Arthur begins to realize that his hours digging through refuse have paid off in a beautiful way.

The ending of the book I'll protect - but I'll say that reading about a troubled young boy forming a tender relationship with an eccentric aging gentleman was really a treat.  Anyone with a middle grade reader should encourage them to try this book, and then do a bit of Google image searching to learn more about the real artist behind the story.  Yay!

Want more? Watch this Vertigo-inducing video of the actual art display (seriously... something is up with this video quality - but it's still cool looking!)

Homemade tees:
I sort of feel like this shirt would be perfect for Arthur or Mr. Hampton.  Maybe you too could become a neighborhood recycler?