5. Five Flavors of Dumb, by Antony John. This was one of those books I wound up finishing in an afternoon without quite meaning to because I didn't want to put it down. It's a fun story, and the main character Piper is an endearing, honest character. The story is a wee bit predictable at times: Girl Who Thinks No One Understands Her Comes to Find Out She's Respected and Liked More Than She Knows, and The People She Wrote Off As Jerks in the Beginning Turn Out To Be A-OK After All pretty much sums it up. But there are enough twists and character depth to keep this theme from being tired. Along with Piper, I really liked Kallie, Tash and Piper's brother Finn. Did want to slap the parents at the beginning (I don't like giving out spoilers but they do something at the beginning I find unpardonable, given the circumstances; I'm glad they are called on the carpet a bit for it). Piper, through chance and a few choice words, is picked to be the manager for the high school's band, Dumb. She has one month to put her money where her mouth is and get a paying gig for the group. Three problems: she doesn't care for the band members. She isn't all that familiar with the music scene. And she has no real way of telling whether the band is good or not because by the way, did I mention that Piper is deaf? Still, as she tries to get the band to come together as a group and attempts to find paying gigs (so she can raise money for college), she surprises herself, and those around her.
6. The Pirate of Kindergarten, by George Ella Lyon, illustrated by Lynne Avril. Was a bit mixed with this book, although I think it's mostly positive. In this story, Ginny loves her class and loves story hour, but has trouble with several things, such as reading, cut and paste projects and even sitting in her chair. During a routine school eye exam, she is diagnosed with double vision (diplopia). She is taken to an ophthalmologist, who gives her glasses and an eye patch. She finds herself now able to read, play and work with ease alongside her classmates. The illustrations are wonderful, and creatively give a taste of what Ginny sees. My issues are nitpicky. The biggest one is I wish there was a bit more information in the back about the condition. I might be speaking for myself, but when I think eye issues and patches, I think amblyopia (which is what I have in my left eye, to a minor degree). An afterwards clarification would have made this good book stronger. Another issue (and this is very minor), I think most teachers, after a week or two of seeing a student struggle to the extent that Ginny was, would have been on the horn to the parents to encourage them to see an eye doctor. This book would be excellent for a class who has a student going through vision difficulties and who may be wearing a patch, to show why it's being used and that it's not "weird." The book doesn't touch on the teasing a student may get after the eye patch is in place, and I wonder if what she goes through after one eye is patched comes across as a "cure." I would think most students, while they would have an easier time, would still have vision issues (depth perception comes to mind).
7. Jimi Sounds Like a Rainbow: a Story of the Young Jimi Hendrix, by Gary Golio, illustrated by Javaka Steptoe. I admit to being skeptical when I saw there was a children's picture book on the life of Jimi Hendrix, but Golio pulls it off. Hendrix, of course, is arguably the best guitar player ever seen (and I'm sure there are people who would object to the qualifying "arguably"). He's also, tragically, known for his rough home life and for dying far too young (27) from a mix of prescription drugs and alcohol. One wonderful thing about this book is not only does it have a nice list of references for Jimi Hendrix, but a list of drug and alcohol abuse prevention references as well. The Story itself, good for second through fourth (maybe fifth) grade, sticks to the younger period of Jimi's life, where he learns to play guitar and finds his voice through music. Through the words and illustrations, Jimi is seen learning to paint pictures with music. The illustrations capture the gritty nature of his surroundings as well as the flow and color of the music. My one complaint is that the text is rather small and is hard to read sometimes.
8. Black and White: The Confrontation between Reverend Fred L. Shuttlesworth and Eugene "Bull" Connor, by Larry Dane Brimner. This is an excellent book for older grade school and up. It offers a look at Birmingham, Alabama, during the Civil Rights movement, concentrating on the antagonistic relationship between the Rev. Shuttlesworth, a contemporary and friend of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and a powerful advocate for Civil Rights, and Commissioner Connor, who was determined to keep segregation and Jim Crow in place. The book includes many pictures and notes, along with sidebars on other pertinent issues to the time (such as the struggle Autherine Lucy went through to attend The University of Alabama.) The struggles for desegregation was a constant one step forward, one step back. Shuttlesworth, along with other Civil Rights activists, was attacked on several occasions; his house was firebombed at one point. The book includes a nice index and source list. One of the more interesting items included is a photograph/copy of a list of rules for protestors, which emphasizes being orderly and polite whenever possible.
9. Interrupting Chicken, by David Ezra Stein. This is a hilarious story, where young chicken begs her papa to read her a story- but then she keeps interrupting with her own ending. Hansel and Gretel, Chicken Little and other stories get "chickenfied." The illustrations are very colorful and zany, the characters almost abstract. This will appeal to preschool and younger grade school. I mean, come on, who hasn't thought "gee how different the story would have been had *I* been there to help!" I can see a lot of good activities being done in connection with this story, such as how readers would change their favorite stories, if they could be in that world.
10. Ling and Ting: Not Exactly the Same, by Grace Lin. Ling and Ting are sisters, and most people think they are exactly the same. But as this story progresses, the reader can see the differences in their personalities, through several short stories. This is good for second grade and up. The illustrations are clean and vivid.
11. We Are in a Book, by Mo Willems. The latest in the Gerald and Piggie books. These always make me smile, they are so whimsical and clever. Here, Gerald and Piggie break the fourth wall, as it were, and interact with the reader (I can so see this one read during a story hour). This also is a nice way to point out some of the features in a book, such as the dialogue balloons and the page numbers. I've enjoyed all of the Gerald and Piggie books but I think this one is my favorite.
12. Bink and Gollie, by Kate DiCamillo and Alison McGhee, illustrated by Tony Fucile. A very cute series of short stories about two good friends, Bink and Gollie. This is good for more advanced grade school readers, or teachers wishing to teach their students new vocabulary words. Both girls are adventurous and imaginative, although Gollie tends to be more sophisticated, and Bink more impulsive. Gollie is sometimes embarrassed by Bink (who seems more like a younger sister). But together they learn to compromise and work out their differences.
13. A Sick Day for Amos McGee, by Phillip C. Stead, illustrated by Erin E. Stead. A very charming story that should appeal to preschool and up. Amos McGee is a longtime and well-loved zookeeper who likes to spend time with the animals. But one day, he gets sick- so the animals visit him instead. The illustrations remind me of the clean, simple and muted tones popular when I was a child. Much attention is given to McGee and the animals, both in the words and the illustrations.
14. Dave the Potter: Artist, Poet, Slave, by Laban Carrick Hill, illustrated by Bryan Collier. This is a neat bit of history, told in an easy to access picture book format. Not much is known about Dave, a potter who was a slave during the 1800s in South Carolina. What is known is that he was a potter - his pots are considered highly collectible and prized today - and he could write, and wrote brief lines of poetry on his pots. Both are very unusual traits for a slave during that time. The story part of the book is good for younger grade school; there is a nice "afterwards" section that goes into more about Dave's life. A teacher or parent can help younger grade schoolers out with this section.
15. Finger Lickin' 15, by Janet Evanovich. This one is slightly different, in that Lula winds up being the target, while Stephanie often is the hapless collateral damage. Lula witnesses a beheading of someone who turns out to be a well-known chef. Lula cooks up the plan to enter in the late chef's annual grilling contest to see if they can find the two killers. The problem is that Lula and Grandma Mazur's cooking skills are worse than mine (and that is saying something!) Stephanie and her family are forced to eat their concoctions, which range from utterly inedible to downright dangerous. The cooking scenes are hilarious, and the ending is almost anti-climatic.