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Sunday, November 23, 2014

Top 100:51-60

Ok, I wrote a couple of posts on different topics and went on vacation. Throw in a couple of sick kids and then me catching whatever they had, but now I am finally getting back to my Top 100 Children's Chapter Books. We are almost halfway through, and maybe I will even reach number one before 2015.

60. By the Shores of Silver Lake by Laura Ingalls Wilder

Everyone has their favorite Little House books and  By the Shores of Silver Lake is one of mine. Although this is the fifth book in the Little House series it is the first to focus primarily on Laura rather than the family as a whole. Instead of just chronicling events as the Ingalls family steadily heads west,  By the Shores of Silver Lake is a book about Laura growing up. You get to really see Laura's free spirited personality as well as her unwavering devotion to her family. Also, for girls that are obsessed with horses (like I was as a kid) Laura gets to ride a horse for the first time.

59. Call it Courage by Armstrong Sperry

 I had been afraid that perhaps in Call It Courage, the concept of spiritual courage might be too adult for children, but the reception of this book has reaffirmed a belief I have long held: that children have imagination enough to grasp any idea, and respond to it, if it is put to them honestly and without a patronizing pat on the head.-Armstrong Sperry

 I agree with Sperry that the most successful children's books are not overly sanitized or dumbed down. Call it Courage is an amazing story of survival, inner strength, and self-discovery that strikes a chord with young readers because those are all parts of growing up.

Sperry not only wrote Call it Courage he created 10 gorgeous full-page, blue and white illustrations that were inspired by Polynesian tapas cloths.

I actually remember reading this in school and then watching the movie. Mafatu's compelling story has always stuck with me. The movie was made by Disney and filmed in 1974 so it is quite dated. You should definitely read the book first, which though published in 1940, feels timeless.

58. The Trumpet of the Swan by E.B. White

E.B. White's books are some of the most beloved animal stories ever written and for good reason. Each one exudes warmth and humor without being overly precious. What I especially love about The Trumpet of the Swan and White's other books is the way he creates a complete cast of animal and human characters that are unique and seamlessly blended together. A mute swan playing a trumpet does not come across as ridiculous, but beautiful and sincere. It is impossible not to fall in love with Louis and his endearing parents. Especially his proud, but thick-witted father who loves his son so much he steals a trumpet so that Louis can woo a mate.

In 2011 The Trumpet of the Swan was adapted into a "novel symphony for actors and orchestra" that features the voice talents of John Lithgow, Kathy Bates, Martin Short, and Jesse Tyler Ferguson.You should definitely read the book, but this CD is amazing!!! It really enhances White's story with the different voices and, of course, spectacular music.

Under no circumstances, though, watch the 2001 animated version of The Trumpet of the Swan because it was atrocious! It did nothing to capture the magic and charm of the book.

57. The Ruins of Gorlan by John Flanagan

The Ruins of Gorlan is the first book in the Ranger's Apprentice series which is one of my all time favorite adventure/fantasy series for tweens. I say tweens because the Ranger's Apprentice books are probably better for upper elementary kids, tweens, teens, and even adults (because I read them and thought that they were Awesome!).

Boys (or girls for that matter) that are interested in tracking, hunting, bows, nature, etc. and love nonstop action will not be able to resist the adventures of Halt, the legendary Ranger, and his young apprentice, Will.  The website below contains a video of author, John Flanagan, talking about the various weapons featured in the Ranger's Apprentice such as the long bow and the saxe knife

John Flanagan has also written a spin-off series that focuses on the Skandians (who are kind of like Vikings) called The Brotherband Chronicles. Check out Flanagan's website to read about all of the books in both series as well as download apps and activities.

56. The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken
There are many books in which children suffer at the hands of an evil stepmother, cruel governess, sadistic headmaster, etc. What makes The Wolves of Willoughby Chase such a standout is the unique setting. The book takes place in 19th century England, but this is an altered reality in which the English countryside is plagued by vicious wolves that have migrated to Great Britain from Russia and Europe via a "channel tunnel". Willoughby Chase is the secluded family estate of Sir Willoughby, Lady Green, and their daughter, Bonnie. After her parents go on a sea voyage, Bonnie and her orphaned cousin, Sylvia, are tyrannized by the malicious Letitia Slighcarp and trapped inside Willoughby Chase by ferocious wolves.

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase is an exciting mix of scariness, adventure, and mystery.  It is the first book in the Wolves Chronicles , so if you enjoy The Wolves of Willoughby Chase you should take a look at The Wonderful World of Joan Aiken.

55. Will in Scarlet by Matthew Cody
I am a total sucker for a Robin Hood story and Will in Scarlet is a hugely entertaining and unique spin on the on the legendary archer and thief.

Will Shackley is the 13 year old heir of Lord Shackley who is off fighting with King Richard the Lionheart in the Crusades. During Prince John's treasonous quest to usurp the throne of England Will is forced to flee his ancestral home and seek sanctuary in Sherwood Forest. There Will encounters a drunken Rob, an orphaned girl disguising herself as a young boy, and several other degenerate criminals. Shedding his life of entitlement and wealth, Will Scarlet and a gang of other unlikely heroes take on the nefarious Sheriff of Nottingham, Prince John, and Guy of Gisbourne.

Will in Scarlet is full of twists, turns, and action, but I do want to caution parents that there are mature elements in the book. Obviously, there is violence (sword fights, arrows through the heart, fierce battles, etc.) and Robin Hood is a broken hearted drunk. However, Cody does a spectacular job of transforming the legend of Robin Hood into something new and exciting. I loved it!

54. Gone-Away Lake by Elizabeth Enright
Doesn't every child dream of finding an abandoned, secret place to claim as their own?  While exploring the New York countryside, ten year old Portia and her cousin, Julian come across what appears to be a deserted town on the shore of a giant bog. Portia and Julian learn that the bog used to be a gorgeous lake and the crumbling and empty Victorian mansions once composed a resort community.

Gone-Away Lake is a simple, yet beautifully written book that captures exactly what it means to be a curious and imaginative child. This was one of my favorite books as a kid, because I loved to pretend that I was the one who found this mysterious town and got to explore all of its hidden rooms and corners.

Enright wrote a sequel, Return to Gone-Away Lake, in which Portia's family buys and restores one of the abandoned homes. I think this is when I first started to dream of living in a huge, old Victorian mansion filled with antiques.

53. Wonder by R. J. Palacio

Let me confess that I was incredibly hesitant to read this book. Why? Well, first off I am a huge, huge crier and I knew from the book trailer that Wonder was going to set off my water works.  In addition to weeping uncontrollably, I was worried that I would end up angry and disgusted. I cannot abide cruelty in any form. Seriously, I think that I would be more outraged and upset to hear that my kid was being a bully than if they were actually being bullied. Thirdly, I was concerned that Wonder would be so sappy that it would read more like a Hallmark card than a realistic novel.

So how did I feel after I actually read Wonder. I did cry (a lot) and I definitely wanted to slap a couple of the characters.  As for the book being too sappy, though, I could not have been more wrong. Wonder is so superbly written that you never doubt the authenticity of the plot or the characters. Palacio has different characters (Julian, his sister, his sister's boyfriend, his best friend, etc.) narrate various chapters and each voice comes across as honest and true.

Wonder is a book that should be required reading in every school. There could be no better class motto than, “Kinder than is necessary. Because it's not enough to be kind. One should be kinder than needed.”

52. Black Beauty by Anna Sewell
 Looking at the cover to the left, I must say that Black Beauty is not only "the most famous horse story every written" it also the most beautiful and best written.  Sadly, Sewell wrote Black Beauty as an invalid and died a mere five months after the books was published in 1877.

You will laugh, yell, and weep as Black Beauty plays in the meadow as an energetic colt, is abused by cruel owners, overworked as hansom cab horse, and finally rediscovered by a beloved caretaker who lets him live out his final years in peace.

Nearly 140 years after it was first published Black Beauty still stands as a earnest and heart-wrenching testimony to the mistreatment of animals.

Usually, I prefer the old, original film, but for once I am going to recommend the most recent version. I absolutely love the 1994 film adaptation of Black Beauty starring Sean Bean with the incomparable Alan Cumming providing the voice for Black Beauty.

51. The Five Little Peppers and How they Grew by Margaret Sidney
Don't you just adore these old covers:)
This one is for my Mom because The Five Little Peppers and How they Grew is one of her childhood favorites. In fact, it was my Mom's old copy of the book that I actually read as a kid.  This is the first book in a series that chronicles the lives of the five Pepper children and their Mamsie. When we first meet the five little Peppers they live an impoverished, yet happy life in a rural, little brown house.

Okay, the whole rags to riches plot is somewhat contrived and ridiculous, but The Five Little Peppers just ooze love and happiness.  Who wouldn't want to feel like a part of their family?

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Basketball and a Jazz-Loving Rooster

Each fall the Library of Michigan launches the Michigan Reads! One State, One Book program. If you have never heard of Michigan Reads! it is a tremendous program that promotes literacy by getting kids statewide excited about a picture book. After selecting a book, the Library of Michigan sends a copy of the book, stickers, posters, and an activity guide to head start, preschools, and school and public libraries so librarians, teachers, and caregivers can. The author and illustrator of the chosen picture book also go on a promotional tour to a number of schools and libraries throughout Michigan.

The  Michigan Reads! selection for 2014 was Acoustic Rooster and His Barnyard Band, which is a hilarious, rhyming picture book about a music loving rooster who starts his own jazz band.

Portland District Library was very fortunate to be chosen as one the Michigan libraries that the author of Acoustic Rooster, Kwame Alexander, visited.

Of course, it is always exciting to meet an author, but the experience is so much better when you truly admire their work. I loved how Alexander included a glossary of jazz terms in the back of the book. Also, the characters in Acoustic Rooster are based on real Jazz legends: Duck Ellington, Mules Davis, Bee Holiday, and Ella Finchgerald. Not only is the book fun and adorable it perfect for introducing kids to a music genre that they may be unfamiliar with.

Tim Bowers is one of my favorite illustrators and he did a remarkable job of using the real musicians as inspiration for their animal counterparts.

In addition to writing picture books, Kwame Alexander is a renowned poet who has published poems and novels in verse for tweens, teens, and adults. His most recent book is The Crossover which is a novel in verse for tweens and teens.

To put it simply, I am over the moon in love with this book!!! Twelve year old twins Josh and Jordan excel at basketball, but life off of the court is not always so easy. The Crossover is so much more than a sport story; it is about growing up, choices, change, and consequences.

Coming of age stories are a dime a dozen, but what makes The Crossover a shining star is the lyrical and soulful text.

Dribbling At the top of the key, I'm MOVING & GROOVING, POPping and ROCKING -- Why you BUMPING? Why you LOCKING? Man, take this THUMPING. Be careful though, 'cause now I'm CRUNKing Criss CROSSING FLOSSING flipping and my dipping will leave you
S L I P P I N G on the floor, while I SWOOP in to the finish with a fierce finger roll . . . Straight in the hole: Swoooooooooooosh.

You can almost hear the the staccato thumping of the ball being dribbled up the court. The rhythm of the text has so much impact and it is also fun to read. The Crossover is a great book for reluctant readers because there is lots of white space on every page and since it is in verse it reads very quickly.

If you are a girl and think The Crossover is just for boys YOU ARE SO WRONG!!! If you think poetry is stupid so a novel in verse must be horrible YOU ARE SO WRONG!!!  My 13 year old daughter, Zoe, read The Crossover (because I made her). She was reluctant since it had a basketball player on the cover, but she ended up loving it.  Her comment was that it had basketball, but it was so much more than that.

In case I was not clear: You should check out this book, because it rocks!
Zoe and Kwame