Monday, November 5, 2012

2012 Reading List - Revisited

This school year has been a big one for me. I started work on my Master's Degree. I am in the Educational Leadership program at the University of Northern Iowa. I'm in the Principalship program. It is a 37 credit hour program that takes 2 full years to complete. 425 hours of internship are needed by the end of the two years and I am attempting to accomplish this while still teaching and raising two little rambunctious children!

Suffice it to say, my involvement over at Heavy Medal this year has been almost non-existent. I still read each post and all the comments and I long for the time and expertise to contribute. But I have found that my heart just isn't in it because my time has been allocated elsewhere this year. I've really enjoyed reading a lot of professional works, about teaching and leadership, and found that I have read far to little of this type of work over the last few years as a teacher. But I do miss spending time reading for enjoyment. For fun.

Back in March, I listed 18 titles I was excited to read this year. I feel like I haven't read anything, so I was a little pleased and surprised when I revisited this list and discovered that I had in fact read 7 of them. Not great, but not near as bad as I was expecting. I also have read a few titles from this year that I did not include on that list.

Here are my most recent readings, and a short blurb about what I thought . . .

I would compare Rebecca Stead's LIAR & SPY, to M. Night Shymalan's Unbreakable movie. Both Stead and M. Night had monster success with earlier or first works (WHEN YOU REACH ME, The Sixth Sense). Both Stead and M. Night captivated audiences with their twist endings. Both artists' follow-up works, were highly anticipated. I found both, to be quieter than their predecessors.

I felt like LIAR & SPY was Stead's arthouse flick. Her attempt at a quieter, more subtle work than what WHEN YOU REACH ME turned out to be. I'm not sure Stead would have ever expected WHEN YOU REACH ME to become the blockbuster it did, but it did nonetheless.

I do like Stead's characters and language, and boy can she write New York City, but my problem with LIAR & SPY was that nothing seems to happen. It just didn't pull me in the way WHEN YOU REACH ME did. Maybe it's unfair to compare the two. I'm not sure how the casual reader is going to be able to not do that though. There are so many similarities in the narrative, there's so much mystery to the story, that in the end, I felt more letdown than anything. I also think children will be bored by it. And my 5th graders, devour WHEN YOU REACH ME.

If there's a book I would like to champion for the Newbery Medal this year, despite my limited range of completed readings, it would be Jerry Spinelli's JAKE & LILY. I'm a Spinelli-geek. I love the guy. I have a sentimental connection to MANIAC MAGEE and it probably blurs his work to me. Leaves me biased.

I read early on in the Newbery season that WONDER was "the book" to read/beat. Period. I also read early on that WONDER was "the book" about bullying that kids should read. Period. I have to "wonder" (sorry for the bad pun), if whoever said that had read JAKE & LILY.

I didn't realize before reading it, that JAKE & LILY was about bullying. I didn't think it would cover that territory. When it did, I was blown away at the subtle change in direction of the narrative. I wondered if kids would catch on. So I read it out loud to my 5th graders. They were speechless.

The book starts out with Jake and Lily, two twins, alternating chapters and writing about their connection as twins and friends. Then Jake begins to change and wants to spend time with other friends and Lily has trouble accepting this. My 5th graders strongly disliked Lily during this stage. But Spinelli has a few tricks up his sleeve. And shortly after Jake decides to spend some time away from Lily, Spinelli yanks the tablecloth out from under the plates and silverware and the narrative takes an unexpected turn. Spinelli's language is fun and kid-friendly. The man may be getting up there in years, but he sure knows how to crawl inside the mind of a 12-year-old.

I strongly disagree with whoever said WONDER was the book to read about bullying this year. If your child only reads one book about bullying this year, make sure it's JAKE & LILY.

In an attempt at reading something outside my comfort zone this year, I purchased BOMB: THE RACE TO BUILD AND STEAL THE WORLD'S MOST DANGEROUS WEAPON by Steve Sheinkin on my iPad, without knowing it was raking in the starred reviews from various children's literature magazines. To make Jonathan Hunt happy over at Heavy Medal, I just wanted to make sure I tackled a nonfiction title and this one sounded the most appealing.

Wow. If all nonfiction authors could write at such a breakneck pace, and weave such a taut story, I would read more of it. I couldn't turn the pages fast enough. It reads like a Hollywood screenplay, and I could no doubt, imagine this as a psychological thriller someday playing on the big screen. I was totally sucked in to the narrative, and the most impressive feat, to me, is the number of different angles to this story. There were so many people involved in researching the bomb and building the bomb and then to add to it, the stealing of ideas . . . I devoured this book in mere days. It was fantastic.

If I was handing out grades for these titles, which is something I like to do, I'd give . . .

LIAR & SPY: B

JAKE & LILY: A+

BOMB: A

I've got a nice head start on the work I'll need to complete for my grad class in the next few weeks, so I'm really hoping for the time to read some more of these titles. My wife bought me IN A GLASS GRIMMLY for my birthday, and I can't let it sit on the kitchen table, untouched any longer.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The Case of the Deadly Desperados

Shoot-'em-up Westerns are a rare thing in children's literature. It's one sub-genre of the historical fiction canon that I can say I haven't read a lot of. Truth be told, I haven't even encountered many. Lots of historical fiction novels for children are set within the same time period as Caroline Lawrence's THE CASE OF THE DEADLY DESPERADOS, but none in recent memory have taken the same path Lawrence has to tell her story. This book was a blast!

THE CASE OF THE DEADLY DESPERADOS begins with P.K. Pinkerton, our twelve-year old hero, hiding out in the bottom of a cave. His foster ma and pa have been scalped and murdered by none other than Whittlin' Walt and his 'pards. And worse yet, now they're after P.K. because he has in his possession a document that would make its bearer incredibly rich. Gunfights, clever disguises, Soiled Doves, and saloons ensue.

If this book was eligible for the Newbery, I would be championing it pretty hard this winter. But sadly, Caroline Lawrence does not reside in the US and apparently this novel was published in the UK before its rights were purchased and published here, early this 2012. Either way, I am making it my mission to insert this title into as many conversations as I possibly can.

Random Acquaintance #1: Hey Mr. H! Did you catch Clint Eastwood on the Republican National Convention the other night?

Mr. H: No I didn't. Have you read THE CASE OF THE DEADLY DESPERADOS by Caroline Lawrence though?

Random Acquaintance #2: Hey Mr. H! How did your fantasy football draft go?

Mr. H: Not bad. Have you read THE CASE OF THE DEADLY DESPERADOS by Caroline Lawrence?

Random Acquaintance #3: Hey Mr. H! How are the kiddos? 

Mr. H: The fam is doing well. Thanks for asking. By the way, have you read THE CASE OF THE DEADLY DESPERADOS by Caroline Lawrence?

Seriously. I cannot say enough about how much I enjoyed this book. I am a father of two children now. My daughter is two and a half years old and my son is six months. My life consists of going to school, coming home to entertain them and make supper, wash dishes and pick up the house, put the kids to bed, and then maybe, just maybe, take a little bit of time to catch up on school work and lesson plans. Plus, I've started graduate school this year and am earning my masters in Educational Leadership. Suffice it to say, I don't have a lot of time to read for fun.

Taking part in the discussions on Heavy Medal during Newbery season is something I love to do. I can't possible read even half of the books people will be discussing in depth on that blog this year, but if I focus my efforts, I can tackle the big ones. Wasting time reading books that are ineligible, or not worthy of discussion, will frustrate me because I could have spent that time reading a favorite of bloggers over there. Even knowing that THE CASE OF THE DEADLY DESPERADOS is ineligible, doesn't bother me. Not in the least! I should be upset but I don't care. That's how much I liked this book!

I loved P.K.'s voice. It's reminiscent of THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME. I'm sure Asperger's syndrome is not something that was being diagnosed back in the Wild West. Which makes the intricacies of P.K.'s narrative so rich. It's obvious P.K. is autistic, but a name cannot be placed on it because it doesn't exist. P.K. refers to his difficulties showing and feeling emotion as his "thorn". He struggles socially because he has no emotional response to situations. His foster ma and pa were scalped right in front of him and he was as sober as could be!

Which makes Lawrence's twist ending, that much more clever. A twist ending you say? Sometimes knowing a twist ending is coming, ruins a reading experience. Not that case with this book. I promise you, there are two surprises in this book you will never see coming. I didn't anyway. And I can't remember the last time a book caught me the way this one did.

It's crude and it's violent. It's thrilling and surprising. It's the book I've enjoyed most this year. I can't wait to see where Lawrence takes P.K.

Final Grade: A

The False Prince

THE FALSE PRINCE by Jennifer A. Nielsen was the first book I noticed this year, with any type of Newbery buzz. Newbery buzz, as children's literature fans are sure to know, can be a double edged sword. Peak too early, and you may find yourself doomed (OKAY FOR NOW). Swoop in at the last minute, and sometimes you're in better shape (MOON OVER MANIFEST). Suffice it to say, we're now in September and the current buzz surrounding this book, is almost non-existent.

Jonathan Hunt listed THE FALSE PRINCE on his 2013 Newbery Reading List back in January already, the same time I was able to get a paperback copy in my hands through a Scholastic Book Order. Oddly enough, Amazon doesn't list the publication date until April, but since I was hearing things back in January I felt lucky to get my hands in on the action early! Which I rarely ever get to.

THE FALSE PRINCE tells the story of Sage, an orphan thief who finds himself recruited ('kidnapped' might be a better word) along with three other orphan boys, by a powerful man named Conner. Conner plans to pit the boys against each other in hopes of disguising one of them as the long-lost (and believed to be dead), young prince of a discontent nation. With certain death awaiting those Conner doesn't find worthy, each boy is determined to win his approval. As Conner's true motive begins to reveal itself, an even bigger secret surfaces that alters everything!

A strange sense of deja-vu came over me while reading this book. About halfway through I felt as if I had read this book before. Then it hit me . . . I had! Back when it was called THE THIEF by Megan Whalen Turner. Once I realized this, reading this novel became an interesting experience. Because I began to see everything differently. In fact, I began to realize that Nielsen was more than likely going to end her novel exactly as Whalen Turner had, by pulling the rug out from under readers. I even guessed how . . . just like Megan Whalen Turner! By using an unreliable narrator.

Novels with unreliable narrators are a tricky thing. When done well, they can blow readers away. When done not-so-well, they can leave readers frustrated, confused, and angry. Books like this almost seem to invite criticism. To me, it's different if the narrator has amnesia or is suffering from denial or something like that. But when the narrator is a perfectly healthy individual who is purposely hiding something from the reader, only to reveal it at the very end when the story reaches its climax, I tend to feel as if the author was merely out to "trick" their readers. Personally, I feel like that is the case with this story.

I admit, Whalen Turner's novel could be very guilty of this as well, but she went on to write an extremely complex series of novels, each one exceeding the previous in terms of brilliance. So it's easier to forgive her for tricking her readers. Nielsen has planned a trilogy with this cast of characters so it may be unfair to judge her yet. But right now, I can't think of any other way to describe this novel than to say it's THE THIEF's younger, easier-to-read cousin.

It's not a bad book. The psychological intrigue was interesting. I liked the suspenseful way the kidnapped boys began to compete against each other, yet, befriend each other and rely on each other in the same way. In the end though, I just felt sorry for the other boys because I was able to see through the main character's secret early on and they weren't able to see that they were competing in an unfair competition.

I suppose, if a younger reader has not encountered THE THIEF, and enjoys middle-aged suspense and mystery, this would be a good read. However, if that child reader is smart, and loved the taut storytelling on display in THE THIEF, I'm afraid they are going to put this one down because it just doesn't stand up when compared.

Maybe comparing it isn't fair. But THE THIEF was just that good. I couldn't help it.

Final Grade: B

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The One and Only Ivan

What is it about children's books and animal cruelty? Have you ever noticed how many children's books have been written about dying animals? When I was in grade school, I hated books about animals. WHERE THE RED FERN GROWS, CHARLOTTE'S WEB . . . I never understood why kids would want to read sad books about animals. Maybe it was because we were never animal people in my family. Pets were messy, a lot of work, and we were a sensitive bunch and I think deep down, just never wanted to get to know something so cute and cuddly that was going to die long before us.

I bring this up because I should have known what was coming in THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN. I should have seen the sad looking animals on the front cover and stayed far away. I should have read the blurb on the jacket by none other than Kathi Appelt, author of THE UNDERNEATH for crying out loud, and put this book back on the shelf. But I had to give it a try . . . there's just something about distinguished literature for children and sad animals . . .

Ivan is a mighty gorilla, trapped in a small circus (that doubles as a shopping mall) with an aging elephant, a stray dog, and a new baby elephant. Ivan is quite the artist and people pay $25 for his artwork (which is usually just of a banana). When Ruby, a baby elephant joins the troupe and begins asking questions about their existence, Ivan finds himself promising her a better life, unaware of how he can provide one for her. Sad, sad animals ensue . . .

As I mentioned earlier, the back of this novel boasts a quote from Kathi Appelt, author of the brilliant THE UNDERNEATH, and I find it rather fitting because of all the children's novels I've read in recent years, the one that screams comparison the most, is THE UNDERNEATH. Everything in THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN is so darn sad. Depressingly sad. When the details of Ivan's background are brought to light, I found myself needing to put the book down and take a break, just as I did with Appelt's novel at times.

Ivan narrates this book in a sort of verse-prose that is both simple and compelling at the same time. It's quite the feat by author Katherine Applegate. Ivan is an artist at heart and there's only so much art he can make inside the walls of his domain. The fact that he's an artist made it easier to stomach some of the beautiful language coming out of the mouth of this gorilla. But at times, I couldn't suspend my disbelief to the extreme because the figurative language was pretty for the sake of being pretty, and not something a gorilla, even this gorilla, would ever come up with. The wordiness of the verse took away from the poignancy of the story at times for me, oddly enough. Quite often, this style of writing is supposed to bring out the poignancy of stories.

If Applegate's novel were to come away with some Newbery hardware this winter, I can't say that I would be too surprised. However I can't believe that there isn't better written, more distinguished novels, out there for kids this year. THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN is a very good book, don't get me wrong. It's a very meaningful book, but it's a sappy sort of book that oozes Newbery . . . sad animals, dying animals, friendship and art, uplifting message (albeit, with an over the top, happy, somewhat cliched ending) . . . Maybe this is why I found myself not rooting for it in the end. Because it wouldn't surprise me if everyone else is.

Final Grade: B

Summer Hiatus?

I always have such big plans for the summer. Last year, I wanted to read 10 books. I read 2. This year, I wised up and set no such goal. Heck, if I read 2 books this summer I'll be thrilled. Well, I've done a little better than that in preparing for Newbery season and Heavy Medal discussions.

I try to choose books carefully. Of course, I want to read the Newbery frontrunners, but I also want to read books for me . . . books that I know will not be contenders but I enjoy, and books that could be dark horse contenders and need someone to champion them. I think I may have already found one of those . . .

I read my good pal Patrick Jennings' latest, INVASION OF THE DOGNAPPERS as the school year came to a close, as well as Jennifer Nielsen's THE FALSE PRINCE. I'll post official "reviews" soon, but I'll wet the appetite a bit by saying I liked one, and don't know what to think about the other.

Then I went on to read THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN by Katherine Applegate. I am currently reading THE CASE OF THE DEADLY DESPERADOS by Caroline Lawrence and Sara Pennypacker's SUMMER OF THE GYPSY MOTHS is sitting on the nightstand waiting to be opened.

Books I want to read because they WILL be talked about this winter:
- WONDER
- THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN
- LIAR & SPY
- SPLENDORS & GLOOM
- SUMMER OF THE GYPSY MOTHS
- THREE TIMES LUCKY

Books I want to read that will probably not be in contention for ALA awards, but I want to read them anyways:
- THE INCORRIGIBLE CHILDREN OF ASHTON PLACE: THE UNSEEN GUEST
- INVASION OF THE DOGNAPPERS

Books I want to read that are not frontrunners, but look like my thing and may need a voice:
- THE CASE OF THE DEADLY DESPERADOS
- IN A GLASS GRIMMLY
- JAKE AND LILLY
- WHAT CAME FROM THE STARS
- THE MIGHTY MISS MALONE
- IRON HEARTED VIOLET
- THE HUMMING ROOM

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Boy Detectives, Origami Yoda, and ADHD

With Newbery season behind us, I've been having some fun with my reading choices. I'm not yet worried about cramming for discussions about age appropriateness and the underappreciation of nonfiction. Instead, I've been playing catch up with some authors that have escaped me in recent years.

First up, Sara Pennypacker. The spunky little Miss Clementine is a tad young for the students I teach, so suffice it to say, these books had slipped under my radar until recently. I have a few students each year, who can't get into books and are always looking for something to read independently. Usually they can't get into books because they are trying to get into books that are too difficult for them. And surprisingly, I don't have this problem with boys too often! It's my social butterflies, my girls.

Clementine will be a perfect fit for them. She's funny. She's insightful. She's endearing. The readability of the books is easy. The plots are simple and straightforward. Yet the voice that Sara Pennypacker has perfected is a brand of quality that is not always found in easier readers like these. Clementine's zany narrative is so deprived of focus and attention, that for many of my students that battle their own attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, it has to be reassuring to read this girl's thoughts.

The thing I loved the most about each of the three titles I read, is the way Clementine is deeply loved by her family and accepted by those in charge at her school. So often in books like this, I feel like the teacher gets the bum rap, mistreating the student and misreading the student's intentions. Most teachers I know, are patient people. We have to be. I couldn't help thinking while I read, that if Clementine was in my class, I would love her! Thankfully, Pennypacker understands this too. Her teacher understands her. Her principal understands her. Sure she has to own up to the trouble she causes, but they are caring and patient with her, just like most teachers I know, would be. The same cannot be said for other children's books that portray children with ADHD. So often the teacher is viewed as the villain. This was rather refreshing.

There are five Clementine books and I have only read three (CLEMENTINE; THE TALENTED CLEMENTINE; and CLEMENTINE AND THE FAMILY MEETING). A sixth one is also on the way, CLEMENTINE AND THE SPRING TRIP. Ms. Pennypacker has dipped her ink in the FLAT STANLEY series (four books) and has a stand alone title coming out this year that promises to be worth the read (SUMMER OF THE GYPSY MOTHS). She's an author I highly recommend. It's easy to see why her work has wide appeal.

Next up, an author whose work may not have the same wide appeal . . . Tom Angleberger. I read THE STRANGE CASE OF ORIGAMI YODA last year and thoroughly enjoyed its unique approach to storytelling. Lots of boys gobbled it up too. Yet when I tried it as a read aloud with a mentor text writing lesson, it fell pretty flat. And this year, in my experience anyway, kids have grown bored with DARTH PAPER STRIKES BACK. It was widely read, no doubt. I just didn't see that same fevered excitement that I saw with ORIGAMI YODA. Boys read that book and recommended it to their friends. Then they reread it! With DARTH PAPER though, boys read it and say "Eh, that was okay, but I want to read THE HUNGER GAMES now!"

I tried HORTON HALFPOTT as a classroom read aloud too, and it just didn't work. Personally, I enjoyed it and it's English brand of humor, but not too many of my students did. The other thing I wondered about was Angleberger's chamilion-like departure of voice from his ORIGAMI YODA and DARTH PAPER books. The reason kids connected with them is because Angleberger was so effectively able to channel his inner 5th, 6th, or 7th grader and speak like real kids speak. HORTON HALFPOTT reads as if it was written by an entirely different author. It's wordy and descriptive and it's humor is very subjective. All humor is subjective in a way, but the humor present in this book, is just odd. I laughed out loud on a number of occasions, but my students were confused and found very little of it funny. By the time the book concluded, they could have cared less who stole the Lump. They just wanted to get on with the next Brixton Brothers book!

Which leads me to Mac Barnett . . . Having never read his first Brixton Brothers mystery, THE CASE OF THE CASE OF MISTAKEN IDENTITY, I decided to use it as a mentor text in my writing class. I wanted to teach the students how to write mystery stories. This book was recommended to me and it was an immediate hit with my students. We had to go on and read the entire series.

Every book follows a similar pattern . . . boy detective Steve Brixton easily solves a case that has proved difficult to solve; Steve Brixton and his chum Dana get wrapped up in a bigger, seemingly unrelated case; Steve and Dana find themselves in many absurd, life-threatening adventures; Steve solves the bigger case which always ties back into the original, seemingly unrelated case. The second and third books also literally pick up right where the previous book left off. The best part about them, you never know where these books are going or just how crazy the adventure is going to get! Steve gets shot at by baddies, is kidnapped, is trapped in burning buildings, takes part in thrilling car chases, and falls out of second story windows on a regular basis. All the while providing a witty narrative that serves as a perfect How-To on how to write good old fashioned detective stories.

I had a lot of fun watching my students check out old Hardy Boys books from the library and see where author Mac Barnett's inspiration came from. I read the Hardy Boys growing up. I loved the Hardy Boys growing up. The Brixton Brothers tongue in cheek spoof on the Hardy Boys series was hilarious to me as an adult reader and when my students began investigating the Hardy Boys books, they saw the resemblance immediately. It was awesome!

Barnett has released three Brixton Brothers mysteries, each illustrated by none other than Adam Rex. THE CASE OF THE CASE OF MISTAKEN IDENTITY kicks things off in thrilling fashion, while setting up the series perfectly. The second novel, THE GHOSTWRITER SECRET picks up right where the first novel left off and the reveal at the end, flips the entire series on its own head. A pretty daring move by Barnett to turn __________ into a baddie. The most recent, and third novel, IT HAPPENED ON A TRAIN, is the longest of the three and I'd be lying if I said it didn't feel like it. The beginning of the book tends to drag a little and a lot happens before anything actually happens! But, it picks up the speed and ends just as thrillingly as the preceding two.

I can't wait until the fourth, DANGER GOES BERSERK, is written and released. And I know my students agree.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Looking Forward to 2012

So I understand how silly this post seems, now that we're turning the page on March and almost heading into April, but I haven't yet begun my reading of "newly" published books, so I feel like I can still write about the books I'm looking forward to reading this year.

I'm going to list my Top 10, and start with number one to alleviate any sort of suspense, and then even round out with some honorable mentions. The books I am putting in my Top 10 are books that I am bound and determined to read at all costs this year. The books in honorable mention, I will get to if I can. So without further ado, the top 10 children's books, that I am most looking forward to in 2012 . . .

LIAR & SPY by Rebecca Stead. The Newbery Medal winning author of WHEN YOU REACH ME is back and I'm not sure I can wait until August to get my hands on her latest. The world has been waiting patiently to see how she would respond to the success of WHEN YOU REACH ME. At the end of summer, we shall find out. There's not another book I'm looking more forward to. Everything else on this list pales in comparison. LIAR & SPY is a book of two friends, attempting to spy on a mysterious older man living in their apartment building.

THE INCORRIGIBLE CHILDREN OF ASHTON PLACE: THE UNSEEN GUEST by Maryrose Wood. I love these books. They are a guilty pleasure of mine. They probably will not be discussed thoroughly on Heavy Medal come Newbery Season, but this third installment (which I believed to be the final, but am now not so sure), will be a book I will drop other books to read. They remind me of the beloved SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS. I think I have an idea where the plot is heading now, after book 2, but I'm ready to be surprised. THE UNSEEN GUEST comes out next week, so I will not have to wait long to find out. 

IN A GLASS GRIMMLY by Adam Gidwitz. The man who brought us A TALE DARK AND GRIMM is back, and this time he's brought Jack and Jill along with him. The book's tagline promises more fractured fairy tales (maybe The Frog Prince, maybe Jack and the Beanstalk) and I couldn't be more excited. This book doesn't come out until late-September though. Ugh. If it's anything like A TALE DARK AND GRIMM, it will be a hit amongst myself and my students, and worth the wait. I love the fact that Gidwitz is a teacher too. Behind LIAR AND SPY, probably the book I'm looking forward to the most!

INVASION OF THE DOGNAPPERS by Patrick Jennings. My Pal Patrick . . . After meeting him last year I became an instant fan . . . According to the man himself, Mr. Jennings finished the final draft of his latest novel while sitting in one of my own personal favorite local coffee shops (Cup of Joe), while staying in Cedar Falls, IA as the featured author of our annual Cedar Valley's Youth Read event. I became an instant fan of Jennings upon meeting him and am excited for his newest book. Jennings has a real knack for understanding kids. He runs a kid's writing group out of his own home and learns a lot from them. My students thoroughly enjoyed his novels GUINEA DOG and LUCKY CAP. This comes out at the end of April. 

WONDER by R.J. Palacio. This book appears to have an early leg up in terms of Newbery buzz. It is about a boy with sever facial deformities, going to a public school for the first time. It was released already in February and has people comparing it to OKAY FOR NOW, which as some of you know, was my favorite novel of last year. That's a comparison worth getting excited over! Blogger Betsy Bird featured it in her Spring Predictions and traditionally, she usually gets at least one title right. This is a book I want to be ready to discuss on Heavy Medal in the Fall.

THE FALSE PRINCE by Jennifer A. Nielsen. I've recently become hooked on Game of Thrones. Not the books. The television series. The medieval era has always been an interest of mine, and I've read comparisons of this book to Megan Whalen Turner's magnificent THE THIEF. THE FALSE PRINCE kicks off The Ascendance Trilogy . . . could this be the next big thing among some of Turner's avid fanbase? Or will it fail to live up to the bar Turner set so high? This book isn't officially published until April, but for some reason a paperback was offered in a Scholastic book order, so I snatched it up.

THE MIGHTY MISS MALONE by Christopher Paul Curtis. Another man that I have had the honor of meeting, thanks to Cedar Valley's Youth Read. Another man, kind enough to spend a week in our community, among our students, talking about his books and his craft. I met Christopher Paul Curtis fresh off his Newbery win for BUD, NOT BUDDY and the man was as genuine as they come. BUD, NOT BUDDY was fantastic and so was ELIJAH OF BUXTON so why wouldn't THE MIGHTY MISS MALONE be? Plus, for some reason, that striking cover is one of my favorites of the bunch. Miss Malone looks to come with an abundance of sass. I've already purchased this book and can't wait to read it.

THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN by Katherine Applegate. Another book receiving lots of early Newbery buzz. That buzz is perhaps the only reason it's on this list. I'm envisioning some discussions built around it on Heavy Medal and want to be prepared. Applegate's novel is written in verse and follows Ivan, an easy going gorilla, trapped behind glass, under the watchful eyes of humans, befriending an elephant and a dog. Applegate's novel promises to touch on deeper themes of friendship, courage, and hope in a kid-friendly way, in the vein of Emily Jenkins' TOYS series. This one was released already in January, yet I've failed to get my hands on it.

FAKE MUSTACHE by Tom Angleberger. I have recently been catching up on some reading that I feel I am far behind the world of children's literature on. Primarily the work of one Sara Pennypacker, Mac Barnett, and Tom Angleberger. I zipped through Pennypacker's CLEMENTINE series and loved them. I read Mac Barnett's BRIXTON BROTHERS series with my 5th grade students and we laughed hysterically. And I've caught up with Tom Angleberger's ORGAMI YODA, DARTH PAPER, and HORTON HALFPOTT books. Nevertheless, I am thoroughly stoked for his latest, FAKE MUSTACHE to come out on April Fool's Day.

JAKE & LILY by Jerry Spinelli. Speaking of guilty pleasures, Jerry Spinelli is another one of mine. I can't think of a book I've read of his, that I haven't enjoyed, and seen brilliance in. MANIAC MAGEE remains one of my all-time favorites and recent books like EGGS and SMILES TO GO are books I feel have been overlooked. It feels as if the children's literature world is bored of Mr. Spinelli. But I am not. JAKE & LILY is the story of two twins in the midst of a falling-out of sorts. Spinelli is always emotional and always effective and I'm rarely let down by his work. JAKE & LILY comes out in May.

Others that I am looking forward to and hope I have the time to read . . .
  • THE LEGEND OF DIAMOND LIL by Doreen Cronin. This is the followup to her much beloved early chapter book, THE TROUBLE WITH CHICKENS.
  • SUMMER OF THE GYPSY MOTHS by Sara Pennypacker. The author takes a break from her CLEMENTINE series.
  • WHAT CAME FROM THE STARS by Gary D. Schmidt. A science-fiction/fantasy adventure. Not sure if I can imagine a Gary D. Schmidt sci-fi adventure, but I'm excited to see what it's like.
  • THE HUMMING ROOM by Ellen Potter. Nina over at Heavy Medal was a huge advocate for Potter's THE KNEEBONE BOY. I've read some buzz over her latest and would like to give it a try.
  • SPLENDORS AND GLOOMS by Laura Amy Shlitz. A DROWNED MAIDEN'S HAIR was one of the best children's books I've read in recent years. I was not a fan of THE NIGHT FAIRY. But I'm willing to give anything she writes a chance thanks to A DROWNED MAIDEN'S HAIR. Plus, I hear this is a full fledged novel, her first since A DROWNED MAIDEN'S HAIR.
  • TWELVE KINDS OF ICE by Ellen Obed. Not really sure what this is about, but Betsy Bird insists, it will be big. We shall see.
  • IRON HEARTED VIOLET by Kelly Barnhill. The Minnesota author showed her chops with her debut novel THE MOSTLY TRUE STORY OF JACK last year. While I found it to be semi-flawed, the lady undoubtedly has potential. This appears to be another work of fantasy.
  • THE CASE OF THE DEADLY DESPERADOS by Caroline Lawrence. I'm not sure I've read any good westerns for kids. I'm not sure I've ever wanted to exactly. But this promises to be one. A unique genre untouched by many kidlit authors.