June 3, 2016

Those Shoes by Maribeth Boelts, illustrated by Noah Z. Jones

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , at 2:22 pm by suebe2

Those Shoes
by Maribeth Boelts
illustrated by Noah Z. Jones

Jeremy used to be the fastest boy in his class until one of the other boys showed up in black high tops with two white stripes.  He’s confident that these cool shoes make him the fastest.  One by one, other boys in the class get a pair of these awesome new shoes.  Grandma takes Jeremy to the store, hoping beyond hope that she has enough saved up but the shoes are too expensive.  Besides, he needs snow boots with winter coming.

Then one of Jeremy’s shoes falls apart while playing kickball.  He has to find a new pair in the school’s charity box.  The only pair that fit him are blue with a goofy cartoon character on the side.  They are far from cool and every laughs.  Everyone except Antonio.  He doesn’t have a pair of the cool shoes either and his shoes are taped together.

But Grandma doesn’t give up.  They go to the resale and second hand stores.  Cowboy boots. Women’s dress shoes.  They see all kinds of shoes before they spot a pair of the right shoes.  Jeremy lies to his grandmother, telling her that the too-small shoes fit.  At home, he keeps hoping that they’ll stretch but he still can’t wear them to school.

Eventually Jeremy gives the cool shoes to Antonio who has smaller feet.  But he doesn’t want credit for the gift.  He leaves them on Antonio’s porch for his new friend to find.

Writing a book that teaches a message isn’t easy.  Believe me, I read through a pile of them this week and a lot of them were just painful.  Some of the painful books get good reviews because they teach lessons about bullying or kindness and adults are desperate to teach children about these things.  But those aren’t the books that help children internalize the message.  Books like this are because the message is wrapped up in a characters and a story that young readers enjoy.

Noah Jones illustrations, created from watercolor, pencil and ink, help bring the story to life.  The cools shoes are distinct and easy to spot as boys tear around the playground.  Jones does an equally awesome job depicting the emotions of the various characters.  We don’t need to be told who is braggy and thoughtlessly cruel or who is ashamed or happy.  We can see it right there on the page.

This book is an excellent choice for the classroom or story time.  There is a lesson but there is also a story.  Focus on the story and let the young readers discover the lesson, word by word, page by page.




February 18, 2016

Nerdy Birdy by Aaron Reynolds, illustrated by Matt Davies

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 5:55 pm by suebe2

Nerdy Birdy
by Aaron Reynolds
illustrated by Matt Davies
Neal Porter Book/Roaring Brook Press

Nerdy Birdy wears glasses that are too big.  His wings are too small.  He isn’t handsome like Cardinal or strong like Eagle.  He doesn’t even have the super worm catching ability of Robin.  But he likes to read and he’s good at video games.

He’s struggling to get Cardinal, Eagle and Robin to notice him when someone asks him why?  “Because they’re cool!”

The other bird points out that they aren’t very nice to Nerdy Birdy and he’s be better off making friends with “all of us.”  Us?  With that Nerdy Birdy opens his eyes to the fact that there are a lot more nerdy birds than cool birds.  Soon he has a flock full of friends who like the same things that he does.

Then one day along comes a new bird to the neighborhood.  The cool birds don’t like Vulture and Nerdy Birdy wants to be her friend but the other nerds don’t like the looks of this big, black bird.

You’re going to have to read this one yourself to find out how it ends because I refuse to give it away because it was such a pleasant surprise.  I say pleasant because I thought this was going to be yet another story about the outcasts banding together.  “Look, now we’re popular!”  (Yawn.)

Instead, Reynolds took the message a step farther.  Nerdy Birdy got something out of his friendship with the other nerds and because of this he really grows as a character.

This is definitely a book that should be in every classroom collection and on every counselor’s bookshelf.  It has great messages about bullying and friendship and bravery.  As a mom, I would really have loved to have this book when my own little Nerdy Birdy (my sister still calls him that) was a fledgling.

Give this book space on your shelf.  When you share it, be prepared for some lengthy discussions.


March 26, 2012

Orchards by Holly Thompson

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , at 1:11 am by suebe2

by Holly Thompson
Random House
AR 6.5

Just who is to blame when someone who has been bullied takes her life?  This is the question that Holly Thompson asks in this free verse novel.

Our narrator is Kana Goldberg, half-Japenese and half-Jewish American.  After a classmate hangs herself in another classmate’s orchard, a suicide note is found implicating a group of 8th grade girls, including Kana. As a result, summer plans are upended as the adults find someplace for each of these girls to spend their summer.  Kana is sent to stay with her aunt, uncle, cousins and grandmother in Japan.

In Japan, Kana finds herself in a world where she doesn’t quite fit in.  She’s simply not Japanese enough — not even her ample butt which her grandmother comments on almost daily.

Each and every day, Kana wonders what she should have done differently back at home.  When she sees a Japanese classmate being bullied (she’s arrived in Japan with a month of school left and gets to spend part of her summer vacation in classes), she decides to intervene.  Instead of being grateful, the other girl brushes her off and Kana is no longer the fascinating visitor from America.  She is simply tolerated.

Ironically enough, Kana’s family owns an orchard and this is where she spends large parts of her summer, tending trees and getting to know her cousin, Koichi.  It isn’t the orchard Koichi loves as much as it is the equipment that he gets to tinker with and he is soon issuing her challenges.  “What is the best way to do this?  How can we more efficiently do that?”

All the while, Kana is learning the Japanese traditions for honoring the dead, including her grandfather who died three years earlier.  She makes offerings, lights incense and helps her grandmother in countless tasks — not because she necessarily understands them but because it is the right thing to do.

I’m not going to discuss the plot any more because I don’t want to ruin the ending, suffice it to say that this story is depressingly realistic, but the way it is handled is appropriate for a middle grade audience.  While numerous books discuss “boy bullying,” I haven’t seen nearly as many that feature the less physical girl version.

Kana was initially a little hard to sympathize with but that’s probably because I am the Mom of a tween.  Can you say, “I want to pick her up and shake some sense into her”?  But her attitudes were irritatingly realistic and, initially, self-serving.

The free verse format makes for a quick read that will pull in young readers and hopefully make some of them think about how they act and react with their classmates.

A must read for middle schoolers and those who work with them.



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