Samira Surfs

Samira new home is in a one-room bamboo hut with a leaky blue tarp for a roof.  Everything her family owns is there: a cricket bat, a silver pot, a notebook, and a blanket.  They have chickens, bought with the money Mama got from selling her precious gold necklace. And while her father is shrimping, and her mother tends the house and her brother cleans tables and dishes at the cafe, Samira takes her bucket of hard boiled eggs to the beach.  Samira is the best egg seller there.

“A bucket of eggs

turns into bundles of taka

turns into pinches of salt

turns into mouthfuls of joy.”

Life here in Bangladesh was supposed to be easier, better, safer, than their life in Burma, but it doesn’t seem to be ~ yet.  Samira Surfs by Rukhsanna Guidroz tells Samira’s story: a girl, a Muslim, an undocumented refugee, a Rohingya.  It is an important story to notice, note and understand. 

Written in tightly woven verse, readers learn about different aspects of Samira’s new life – why she fears the water, how her family decided leaving Burma was the best choice, why “only boys can change a family’s fate” and how full of fear living a refugee is.

11-year old Samira is determined to show her worth to her family.  With the help of her brother, she learns to read and write English.  At the beach she begins to make friends with other Rohingya refugees and Bangladeshi girls her age. Through her brother’s support and her new friendships, Samira learns about surfing and Cox’s Bazar surfing competition.  The contest specifically invites girls and comes with a 10,000 taka prize.  Samira knows this money would be of great help to her family.

“Why not?

I could learn to surf

Before the contest in six months.

My mind races with the daring

and dreaming

of what could be.”

Samira is a kind, determined, dedicated daughter and friend.  She finds her way in  this new place and she finds her way into readers hearts and minds as she shows girls can also change a family’s fate.

The authors note shared further information about the Rohingya, the refugee camp in Bangladesh and the Boys and Girls Surf Club at Cox’s Beach. 🏄‍♂️🏄🏻‍♀️

I really liked this book.   It tells a story I know very little about through characters that I came to really care about.  This book gave me a lot to think about.

Happy Reading! 📚

The Questioneers

I loved sharing The Questioneers series with my third graders.  These read alouds always inspired important conversations about following your own dreams, developing personal passions, embracing failures and finding ways to overcome negativity.

How do you handle judgement, prejudice, fear, wavering self-confidence and doubt?  With others, as part of a community seems to be the answer shared by this series.  I couldn’t agree more.  Reading this series again,  and again and again, I was reminded of the importance for patience and the need for close observation.  Kids need us to looks at situations through their eyes so we can begin to understand how to support them.

I have enjoyed the first four books in this series, but Aaron Slater, Illustrator holds a special place I’m my heart.  The blurb on the dust jacket shares its essence perfectly.  Here it is:

“Aaron Slater love nothing more than listening to stories with his family out in their garden.  Each summer day, he sits outside and draws, dreaming of one day creating a story of his own.  But when it comes time for him to learn to read, the letters just look like squiggles.  It soon becomes clear that reading is much harder for him than his peers.  When his teacher, Miss Greer, asks the class to write a story, Aaron can’t get a single word down.  He’s sure his dream of becoming a storyteller is out of reach… until inspiration strikes, and Aaron find a way to spin a tale that is uniquely his.”

I hope families and classrooms will find ways to share these books as a way to open doors to discussions about each person’s unique challenges.  These picture books are meaty and important.  The illustrations are full of details that are only discovered from multiple readings.  It’s also fun to see how the books connect to each other.

Which Questioneer are you?  Or is your story waiting to be told?  Can you tell it for yourself?  Have a go at it.  See what you cab do ~ you might surprise yourself.  How fun!

Happy Reading!📚

Books by Antinuke

Finding books that connect young readers from rural New Hampshire to life across the country and the world is challenging.  Atinuke takes on that challenge.

She is the author of three series for 7-to 9-year old readers.  Each one brings readers to the country of her birth, Nigeria and helps them discover a bit of what it is like to live there.  Some of Atinuke’s characters live in city and others live in rural settings – all of them reflect her own young life. 

Atinuke is a storyteller.  Her voice bursts from the pages of her books.  Each is a joy to read.  The language sings in your mind or as you read it aloud.   The stories bring both the setting and characters to life.  I appreciate the repeated refrain at the start of each chapter connecting readers to the story and reminding them of what they already know.  

Too Small Tola is the first book in her newly launched series.  Tola lives with her Grandmommy, her sister and her brother in a rundown apartment house in the megacity of Lagos.  Tola and her sister really like school, her brother, not so much.  Moji, who is very clever, works hard at her studies.  She is hoping to be a doctor one day.  Dapo, who is very fast, hopes to be a futbol player – or a car mechanic.  Tola, who is small, is determined and strong.  Together with Grandmommy (who is very bossy,) they are a family.  They make best of what they have.

Readers will have the chance to consider the gifts of running water, electricity and schooling for all. They will be reminded of what it means to be small, youngest and seemingly unnoticed.  When readers look closer, they’ll find the joys each of those circumstances brings.    

The No.1 Car Spotter series shares the challenges and opportunities to be found when living in rural Nigeria.  I love sharing the tales of Oluwalase Babatunde Benson – the No. 1 Car Spotter in his village… in the world with my third graders and they loved him.

Anna Hibiscus is the main character of Atinuke’s third series.  She lives in a compound with her family.  They are separated from the city and the variety that surrounds them.

 

What authors have you found who share understanding of different cultures and places with your readers?  What books do you share to help children learn more about our world?

Happy Reading!📚

Celebrate “Difference”

Reading about Unbound in early spring, I knew it was a story I needed to read.  I wanted to see how this gut-wrenching, true-life story would be shown.  What a book!  Written by Joyce Scott, Brie Spangler and Melissa Sweet and illustrated by Melissa Sweet, it tells the story of Joyce and her twin sister, Judith.  They are two peas in a pod.  They do everything together until kindergarten.  Joyce goes to school.  Judy stays home.  Judy, readers discover, has what will later be called Down Syndrome and the school that Joyce goes to cannot meet her needs.

Around the time of the twin’s seventh birthday, Joyce wakes up to find Judy missing.  Their dad had taken her to the state school to live and learn.  On that day, Joyce reports, the colors leave leave her world.

After thirty-five years, Joyce is able to become Judy’s legal guardian.  Judy is able to leave the institution behind and live with Joyce’s family.   Joyce takes her to the Creative Growth Center and enrolls her in classes.  This center is devoted to serving artist with disabilities of all kinds.  It takes time, but eventually Judy finds her medium.  She becomes a world renowned fiber artist.  For thirty years she creates and shares her joy and resilience with the world.

In the author’s note Joyce writes:  ” Wherever we live, we find many people who are a bit “different” in one way of another.  These individuals, because of their differences, are often thought of as being less than those of us who consider ourselves “normal.”  They are often kept at a distance, not included in the everydayness of our lives – sharing laughter, and meals, bus rides and work, cozy couch time and a welcome night’s sleep.  Because they are not valued, their unseen strengths and gifts often go unrecognized, unexplored and undiscovered.”

These words are true for Myron Uhiberg’s story too.  Reading The Sound of Silence ~ Growing Up Hearing with Deaf Parents by Myron Uhlberg filled me with respect and wonder for him, and guilt and disappointment for me and the society I am a part of.  There is such incredible strength shared within these pages of this book.  Myron’s story of growing up in the 30’s and 40’s is sometimes funny and other times heartbreaking.  His first language was American Sign Language.  It was how he spoke at home.  No one outside the deaf community communicated with his parents, so Myron found himself in the middle, between the deaf world and the hearing world.  He was the translator during Teacher/Parent conferences.  He was the one who got help when his brother has a seizure.  He was also the one who heard how cruelly and disrespectfully his father is treated at his job. It is a burden to carry and yet he does it. 

These two books – true stories – shine a light on the changes that have been made for the disabled community in our country.  I don’t feel satisfied and I can’t help but wonder what more I can and should be doing so that even more voices can sing and all of our lives can be enriched by hearing those songs.

Here are some other books you might enjoy that connect to the theme of celebrating “difference.”

 

 

 

 

Research has shown that reading literary fiction helps develop empathy.  Readers walk beside the characters of tightly written stories growing our capacity to understand what others are thinking and feeling.  Reading helps you dream of possible futures.  These books can help us  grow our understanding so that, as Maya Angelou reminds us, we can “do the best we can until we know better.  Then when we know better, we can do better.” 

Let’s all be better.  If you have another title to add to this collection, please leave your suggestion in a comment,  Thanks.

Happy Reading! 📚

Choosing read alouds…

I am looking for new chapter read alouds for the beginning of the year.  I am searching for a book we can read in a week.  I am looking for a book that will remind my newly minted third graders of the joys of reading and of what they can do.  I know some of them have read off and on over the summer and some of them have not.

I grew up in a lake town.  All winter long we skated and went sledding.  When May came, we waited for the ice to go out.  We waited for the first few warm days and then we’d ride to the town wharf for the first icy plunge.  I remember standing there toes curled over the edge, arm arched above my head readying myself for the first deep dive – a little question niggling at the back of my mind, “after all the days, all these months, will I remember how…” Push.  Splash.  Gasp.  Yes!  I am looking for the perfect book to dive in together.  We’ll go deep and swim back to the surface with the exhilarated feeling of our new reading year begun.

The books should be fun, full adventure, conjure questions and beg us to explore. They should be new to most, if not all, of the readers in our class. And they should open the door to the world of reading for all.

8 Class Pets + 1 Squirrel [Divided By] 1 Dog = ChaosSo far I am considering 8 Class Pets +1 Squirrel÷1Dog=CHAOS by Vivian Vande Velde.  In it Twitch, the squirrel, lives outside a school.  He begins the story by explaining how much fun he has on the jungle gyms people leave in their yards for him often centered around a snack bar.  While he’s telling about this new “spinney disc” he loses track of time.  He stays out too late and gets chased away by a swooping owl.  To escape the owl, Twitch unfortunately scampers across a dog’s nose.  The dog takes up the chase.  Twitch is desperate to escape he runs into the first place he finds – the open door of the neighboring school.  The dog runs in too, just as the custodian puts the ladder away, shuts the door and leaves for the night.  Twitch and the dog are locked in and the chase is still on.  The classroom pets of the schoolrooms where the action is taking place, tells how the chase is progressing in each chapter – there are eight.  It’s really great fun – and both nothing you and imagine, and everything you can predict at the same time.  The class will be laughing and shaking their heads in surprise as we reach the end.  That’s why I think that might be a good choice.

 

Emily's FortuneEmily’s Fortune by Phyllis Naylor Reynolds might also be a good choice.  In it Emily, age eight, suddenly finds herself alone save for her turtle Rufus.  Emily’s mother had worked for wealthy, Miss Luella Nash.  Unfortunately, an untimely carriage accident had left her an orphan.  Her neighbors, Mrs. Ready, Mrs. Aim and Mrs. Fire had tried to help.   Emily had an aunt by marriage – her father’s sister in-law and she had an uncle – her mother’s brother.  Emily didn’t know either of them well, but her memory of Aunt Hilda’ was warm and kind, while her memory of Uncle Victor frightful and fearsome.   The neighbor ladies had asked questions, offered advice and in the end had suggested that she go to live with her Aunt Hilda in Redbud.  To get there Emily would have to go on a train to Trumpet Junction and from there catch a stage coach the rest of the way.  She would be alone – could she do it?  Just that would be hard enough, but that is not all Emily has to deal with.  She has to keep out of the clutches of Catchum Child- Catching Services.  She has to hide from those who would like to kidnap her and from her fierce uncle who has recently become interested in what she can do for him.  This book is suspenseful with just the right amount of surprising twists to keep the story moving.  The characters are interesting – the kind of people you’d like to spend time with and the writing is fun.  You’ll read right up to the end before you discover “what in blinkin’ bloomers Emily is going to do.”

Marty McGuire

White Fur FlyingFrom there I could choose Marty McGuire or White Fur Flying and then I bet we’ll be ready to sink our teeth into a more complex read aloud that really gets us thinking – The Whizz Pop Chocolate Shop, The Vengekeep Prophecies, The Golden Door…  What would you suggest?  What read aloud do you remember most?

Chained

Chainedby Lynne Kelly

242 pages of exploring many different ideas of what it means to be imprisoned and then freed

I had a hard time getting into Chained – people taking advantage of others, people being cruel to others and to animals twined around Hastin, the teller of the story.  Hastin is kind, dedicated, honorable and true and so I struggled to keep reading when is seemed as though everything in his world was conspiring against him.  I am exceptionally glad I did keep reading.  I can name Chained as the best book I have read this summer.

Why, because at the beginning of the story Hastin was kind, dedicated, honorable and true, as well as being innocent and inexperienced.  At the end of the book Hastin had managed to stay true to himself though no one would ever claim him to be innocent or inexperienced again.  “Baba (Hastin’s father) said that a story is no good if you hear one the ending.  You have to know how you got there.  I still cannot say I will ever be thankful for much of what has happened to me, but everything I’ve ever done has brought me here.”  The truth of that statement strikes me.  Chained is full of richly diverse characters who give readers a remarkable opportunity to examine choices and consequences and the power of relationships as they lead you to “here”.

Hastin, Chandra and Amma are poor.  They are able to get by until Chandra is bitten by a mosquito that gives her a disease that can only be treated by medicine and a hospital.  To receive this treatment the family must borrow money.  Desperate to save her daughter, Amma, Hastin’s mother makes an arrangement with a wealthy merchant.  He will pay for Chandra’s care, if Amma will come a work for him as housekeeper and cook.  When Hastin visits her in the town he sees she has been beaten and is kept in a shack.  Hastin begins to look for work to find a way to free his mother from this place and he meets Timir.  Looking to restart his circus, Timir promises Hastin adventure if he is not afraid of work.  Of course he is not and when Timir agrees to settle Amma’s debt in exchange for one year of work caring for the elephant.  Arrangements are made, and before Hastin knows whether Chandra has survived, he is whisked off into the forest and the circus.  Hastin quickly learns that Timir is not the benevolent soul he appeared to be – he is cruel, vicious and dishonest.  He has no intention of ever releasing Hastin from his service. No matter what agreement had been made, Hastin has no hope of returning home.

It is through this hardship that Hastin learns more of who he is and how he want to be.  Nandita, the elephant, and NeMin, the ancient cook, become Hastin’s new family.  It is from their wisdom and example that he learns to avoid the pitfalls of desperation and despair.  Their examples allow him to stay committed to living an honorable life, never making choices leading to regret.  Hastin remains as strong as a stone, as steadfast as an elephant and as bight as a candle.  If we could all be a bit like Hastin, what an amazing world we would find ourselves in.

I can’t wait to share this book with a group of students.  I can’t wait to find out how they feel and what they will react to.  So many favorite images and characters that will stay with me always.  A powerfully thoughtful book!

 

Destiny Rewritten

Destiny, Rewrittenby Kathryn Fitzmaurice

Des-tin-y: (noun) The hidden power believed to control what will happen in the future; fate.

Who do you think has control of your destiny?  Does it depend on your choices or is it already set?  Should you wait for it to happen, or should you help it along?

If you are Emily Elizabeth Davis you believe that you make what happens in your life.  If your Emily’s mother you believe that what happens is supposed to happen in its own time, unfolding when it is ready.  She says you can’t rush your destiny but Emily has other ideas.  She has some things she’s been waiting to discover for a long time – like who her dad is – and she thinks the time is now.

The day before Emily was born, her mom discovered a first edition Complete Works of Emily Dickinson in a book store followed by a gleam of light.  Emily’s mom chose her name in that moment and wrote then and there: Emily Dickinson is one of the great poets.  The same will be said of you one day.  From that day on, Emily’s mom has marked down all of her important life events by the poem that seems most fitting.  Next to “Angels, in the early morning”Emily’s birth is recorded.  Beside “We should not mind so small a flower” the celebration of her first word.  “I’ll tell you how the Sun rose” commemorates her first steps.  Her book with that first inscription has been with her all her life, but Emily doesn’t really like poetry.  Emily wonders how a person who is destined to be a poet can not understand them so completely.  By accident Emily’s book is given to Goodwill.  An upsetting turn of events.  Her mother says it was for a reason, but, rather than accept that fate, Emily takes action.  Through that action she realizes how much she has and does, shares and desires.  There is something to be said for organized predictability AND there is something to be said for mysterious unfoldings.  Can a life be guided by both?

I love Emily, her family and friends.  Emily is a collector of happy endings.  She loves romance novels because of this and writes frequently to Danielle Steel asking her advice in all things.  (Emily is sure Danielle Steel has some of the best endings) Mortie, Emily’s 8-year old cousin, knows he is destined for a life in the military. He only has 3,752 days until he turns eighteen and can join the Army.  He’s an expert on recon and spy stuff.  Wavey, Emily’s best friend is an excellent student.  She takes pride in doing her best and achieving all she can.  She is committed to making our world a better place – she is the secretary of the Berkeley Middle School Pick Up Trash in Your Neighborhood CLub and is working to write a 32-page paper on the many reuses of packing peanuts.  Celia Ann, another classmate, is a poet and everything she does and sees calls a poem to mind.  Quirky? – maybe, but deliciously so.  The characters blend and weave together creating a story that is happy, sad, thoughtful and surprising.  Sometimes it is good to just let life happen, but sometimes it is better to make a choice and set a new path in motion.

Destiny Rewritten is a book to be read, reread, and pondered. Words like: ‘You can only do what you can do.  You’re one person, but you make a difference by doing these small things.’

and passages  like:

” The only way the army would approve that kind of strategy is if the clouds didn’t rain every once in a while and instead did something unexpected to confuse the ocean.  That would be an excellent strategy because the ocean would be expecting the clouds to rain, so this would throw everything off.”

“I never though of it like that.”

“That’s because you’re not the one joining the army.

I studied the post, trying to see if like he did.  “You think this strategy could work for other things too, like maybe – I don’t know – people?”

Mortie squinted at the ceiling and nodded.  “Affirmative.”

are worth considering.  Destiny Rewritten is a flash and a sparkle – a gem to be savored.

 

 

Fly Away

Flyawayby Lucy Christopher

a great middle grade read – you won’t be sorry you read it!

The special thing between Isla and her dad is birds.  Isla feels free in the wind and the wild.  She feels unsettled and shy at school – especially now that her only friend has moved away.  Seeing the birds soar free is like a balm to her.

Isla and her dad rise early in the morning to watch the swans return to the nearby wetlands preserve, marking the start of winter. Her dad began this tradition with him mom when the swans landed at their farm.  Too many people and houses have changed where the swans winter.  But their awesome beauty and strength is a wonder to see.  As far back as she can remember Isla and her dad have looked for the swans every year.  This one is different though.  Tragedy.  As they watch, the newly constructed power lines injure the front swans.  The lines haven’t been marked properly and the birds can’t see them.   Some plummet to the ground, others are driven away flying in chaos and confusion.  Isla and her dad try to follow them to see where the flock goes.  Isla notices that one young female seems disoriented.  Does she get left behind by those swans able to change direction and avoid the wires?  Isla and her dad lose the birds before their questions can be answered.

The next weekend, they go out again and try to find the swans.  Running across the fields to the preserve Isla’s dad has a heart attack. Instantly the swans are forgotten.  Isla, frightened beyond belief, manages to call for help and get her dad to the hospital. His heart is weak and it is touch-and-go for him as he waits for an operation.

While at the hospital, Isla meets Harry.  About her age, Harry has leukemia, and is waiting for a bone marrow transplant. From his window they can see a small lake and it looks like there’s a swan on it.  Swans don’t fly alone and Isla thinks she might be the one that got separated from the flock the day the whoopers arrived at the preserve. She goes out to see.  Amazingly the swan is not afraid of Isla. While Harry watches, the swan imitate Isla’s behavior, running as she runs, wings outstretched as Isla reaches out with her arms.  The swan doesn’t seem to know how to fly back to her flock.

Here’s where it all comes together – saving a swan, saving a dad, saving a friend – each in dire circumstances.  Because of an art project, Isla works with her grandfather to construct a set of swan wings large enough to wear.  They intricately simulate the movement of wing and feather.  Isla determines to use them to guide her swan back to her flock.  She believes that if she can help the swan then her much adored father will live and Harry, her friend – perhaps even more – will finally beat cancer.  So much rests on her wings – and Isla’s ability to make it all happen fast enough, before the unthinkable happens.

Fly Away is a complex, beautifully written story full of the questions and anxieties of life.  The way each piece of the story is woven together creates a respectful view of life, while offering a glimmer of magic and hope.  Isla’s interests, dedication, family and friends soar through the pages of this book.  When you finish it you’ll feel light and full at the same time.

 

A Crooked Kind of Perfect

A Crooked Kind of Perfectby Linda Urban

211 pages for intermediate and middle grade readers hoping to discover what “perfect” means with family and friends

Four years ago Lyndsey and Josie said I should read A Crooked Kind of Perfect.  Their recommendation is what kept this book on my mind and finally it came to the top of my pile.  I am so glad it did.  A Crooked Kind of Perfect is a soft reminder that marvelous things happen if you stop to take notice.  Nothing is perfect.  Everything has its own unique quirks that can be seen as gifts or embarrassments – each one of us has to decide how to view them.

Zoe Elias is meant for great things.  She dreams of playing like Horowitz at Carnegie Hall.  In her mind’s eye everything it elegant and beautiful – long gowns, tiaras, clapping and smooth flowing music as she makes the piano sing for her adoring audience.  Zoe Elias is meant for great things, but sometimes things don’t work out quite as planned.

Zoe’s dad was supposed to buy her a piano, but instead he came home with Prefectone D-60.  It’s an organ – nothing like the graceful piano she should be playing – but it does come with six month of free lessons from Mabelline Person (pronounced Per-saaahn).  So while Zoe’s mom is working and Zoe’s dad is completing, yet another, correspondence course, Zoe moves through the lessons in the Prefectone D-60 lesson book.  She plays tv show jingles and hits of the seventies.  She learns that socks aren’t cool and that Wheeler Diggs isn’t exactly the kid she thinks he is at school.  Zoe gets pretty good and Mabelline Person suggests that she compete in the Perform-O-Rama organ competition.

Sometimes life is what we expect. Sometimes it’s not. Sometimes the unexpected is better. Sometimes it’s not.   Zoe is on a crooked path discovering perfect.  Read A Crooked Kind of Perfect to find out how it works out.  It’s not what you expect and you’ll be glad.

Take Me to the River

Take Me to the Riverby Will Hobbs

184 pages of suspenseful whitewater adventure, fast paced and flowing with excitement for intermediate and middle readers

Dylan has packed his bag.  At fourteen he’s flying from to Asheville, North Carolina to Alpine, Texas and then taking a bus to Terlingua Ghost Town.  His long lost uncle and cousin live there. Dylan’s never met them before and he’s looking forward to his first chance.  His uncle leads wilderness adventure trips.  Dylan’s been to camp and learned about canoeing, rafting and white water, but this is his first trip out west to give some serious rapids a try.

After hours of grueling travel Dylan arrived at the hotel where he is supposed to meet his cousin and uncle.  They’re not there, but they’ve left a message to hitchhike 80 miles to meet at a ghost town restaurant.  Dylan has to decide:  call home and bring the trip to an end or take a chance – a big chance. He takes the chance.  Fortunately he arrives without harm but again the unexpected happens.  His uncle isn’t there.  He has suddenly been called away to Alaska.  His fifteen-year-old cousin Rio still wants to do a rafting trip.  Again Dylan has to decide:  call home and end he trip, let his mom and dad know no adult is around, or agree to a smaller canyon trip.  He agrees and sticks with his decision even after they are warned about Hurricane Dolly and even after they see suspicious Black Hawk helicopters flying up and down the river.

The first part of their trip is uneventful.  The water is calm and low.  The boys have fun getting to know each other. It kind of cool to know you know what to do in the wilderness.  It’s clear Rio has had a lot of experience, but Dylan can hold his own as well.  One night, while were setting up camp, two figures appear – man and seven-year-old boy.   Both of them are in bad shape.  The boy has red marks on his hands as if his wrists had been tied, his head is cut and his hands are scatter with cactus needles.  They claim one story, but Dylan and Rio don’t believe it is true.  They’d like to help, but something tells them to be wary.  They end up sharing some supplies and even give the strangers their tent before heading off along the river toward the Mexican border.

The predicted bad weather arrives.  Torrential rain comes, filling the river and turning their placid trip into a harrowing challenge for survival.  On top of that they come upon the strangers again.  The man is bad news – but the boy must be helped.   Only Dylan and Rio can help him, but how?  Dylan and Rio are engaged in a suspenseful struggle you’ll be racing to the end to see who comes off the river alive?  Take Me to the River is an exciting ride to the very end.  It’s full of details and description that make you want to raft the Big Bend River and explore the canyons – just not in a hurricane.  Read Take Me to the River.  You’ll be glad you did.