Five Minute Mini Reviews: Sakura Medal 2016 Edition: Picture Book Round 1

It’s almost Sakura Medal season at school! Students start reading and voting in October, but before that, my book bowl team members get an exclusive sneak peek to start reading for the competition. We had our first meeting on Friday, and I think we got a good group together.

This year, it’s my goal to read all of the English-language books for elementary: twenty picture books, twenty chapter books, and twelve graphic novels.

I started with the picture books on a (rare…) slow day. Since the students vote once for every five books, I’ll read five at a time and tell you which book gets my hypothetical vote. (Librarians longlist and shortlist the nominees, but the winners are chosen by students’ votes.)

  • The Book With No Pictures, B.J. Novak  Exactly what it says on the tin: This is a book with no pictures. It starts out looking boring and serious, and then goes over the top with weird noises and funny words and ridiculous sentences.
    I heard so much about this book that I was excited to order it.
    #unpopularopinion: I did not enjoy this book at all.
    My students enjoyed it. They thought it was great. Classes begged me to “trick” their teachers, to go tell them that this was a Very Serious And Important Book About Reading. Talking about the book was fun.
    Reading the book? was not fun.
    Maybe because I don’t do ~voices. A better reader might enjoy it more, but I didn’t even like it when I read it in my head. I gave it two stars, but assumed I’d bump it up after reading it aloud. I actually dropped it down to one star. I love meta books like that, but I’ve read better.
  • Unicorn Thinks He's Pretty GreatUnicorn Thinks He’s Pretty Great, Bob Shea Goat’s life was just fine until annoyingly perfect unicorn showed up and ruined everything. But as Goat gets to know cupcake raining unicorn, he learns that nobody’s perfect.
    Okay.
    That’s how I felt about this book. It was okay. I think my students will like it, but I was neither impressed nor underwhelmed. In fact, it took me awhile to remember, What was the fifth book I read?. The art is okay. The text is okay. The moral is actually pretty interesting, but okay.
    One thing that annoyed me: Unicorn is jealous of Goat’s cloven hooves, but traditionally, unicorns are depicted with cloven hooves, and sometimes even with a goat’s beard. I thought that was a missed opportunity, because 1) it’s wrong, and 2) you could have really played up the commonalities between Unicorn and Goat to greater effect for the moral.
  • Miracle Mud: Lena Blackburne and the Secret Mud that Changed Baseball, David A. Kelly When baseballs are brand new, I guess, they’re too shiny for the batters to see properly. So back in the day, they used to soak them (too soggy) or spit chewing tobacco on them (too stinky) to wear down the shine. Lena Blackburne, wannabe baseball player extraordinaire, discovered some special mud back home that’s still used to this day.
    This book surprised me, in a good way. I’m not “sporty.” The only sport I can stand to watch is baseball, and that’s because you don’t have to pay attention. But I picked this one up because I thought Lena was a woman. (I was wrong.)
    I didn’t know anything about this special mud. This was something completely out of my field (ahem) and I liked it! I learned something new, and the prose and illustrations were nice. I don’t mean to damn it with faint praise. I mean, they were nice; nothing stand-out, but not distracting, either.
  • NesraddineNesraddine, Odile Weulersse A little boy overhears people criticizing his father for riding to town while he walks, and tries to find a solution that will please everybody. First, he rides and his father walks, but people shake their heads about kids these days. Then neither of them walk, or both of them. Spoiler alert: You can’t please everybody.
    I liked this book from the cover. I loved Nesraddine’s curious little face, and I knew I wanted to read his story. (I didn’t know about the real (“real”) Nasraddin, a philosopher, and at first, I thought it was the name of a town or a street because of the cover design.)
    Nesraddine is so gentle. It’s a fable, but it’s not anvilicious. Nesraddine learns an important lesson, but his father’s teaching is kind and he allows Nesraddine to experiment and learn for himself – until he suggests carrying the donkey to town!
    The art was warm and sweet. Even the criticizing characters are given their humanity by the painted illustrations, and Nesraddine and his father are lovingly drawn.
  • Weasles, Elys Dolan When the weasels try to take over the world, nothing goes as planned. A variety of colorful characters scurry through the story, alternately helping and getting underfoot while everyone tries to fix The Machine.
    I remember this one being nominated, and I liked it. I even voted for it’s inclusion in the list, because it looked like fun. It was fun. I enjoyed reading it to myself, but it didn’t work for me as a classroom readaloud. I think it’s better for partner reading, like an I Spy game: What’s this weasel doing? What’s that weasel doing? There are several weasel characters to follow through the story, each one up to something different. (My favorite was the weasel who tries a new flavor of coffee. She does not enjoy it.)
    This could probably be a good book to read before starting a group project, examining how each weasel helps (or hinders) progress.

… and this round’s winner is: Nesraddine! (If you couldn’t guess from my review.)
I just love this book so much. I finished it and immediately read it again so I could take my time to linger on the pictures, the flow of words.

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48 Hour Book Challenge

48 Hour Book Challenge

This is the 10th Annual 48 Hour Book Challenge, hosted by Mother Reader. I will be reading from 2:30pm Friday to 2:30pm Sunday, JST. (I started reading before I made my starting line post, because I’m knew to this whole thing.) I’m aiming for the minimum twelve hours, to ease myself into the challenge, but who knows? I might keep going once I get started.

Want to join? Sign up here.

Then Now Next Thursday (June 4, 2015)

Heart and the BottleTHEN

I finished reading The Last Unicorn. It was just as lovely as I remembered.

I also read two picture books: Owl Babies, an old childhood favorite, and The Heart and the Bottle, a new childlike favorite.

NOW

I’m currently in the middle of several things: Naomi Novik’s Uprooted on my phone, Mossflower on my home and work computers via Open Library, and Sabriel on audiobook through my local library! CLAMS kindly set me up with an online library card, even though I live abroad! (I’m still legally a resident of S. Yarmouth, Massachusetts.) I’m like a kid in a candy store now that I have my library card, but I have to remind myself to be reasonable and only borrow as much as I can read. Free access to so many (English) books is such a relief. Why didn’t I ask for a library card sooner?

MossflowerI also listened to some of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stoneduring a dentist’s appointment. I only made it into the second chapter and I don’t listen enough to justify two audiobooks out from the library at the same time, but it was soothing. I mean, it’s not like I don’t know how the series ends.

NEXT

Well, first I have to finish all this. After that? It’s anyone’s guess, honestly.

Then Now Next Thursday (May 21, 2015)

The Last UnicornTHEN

I haven’t finished anything since How to be a Heroine, whoops. I got most of the way through Shelf Discovery, and I may still finish reading it, but I got distracted.

NOW

The Last Unicorn Tour came to my hometown. I don’t live there, but my mother went to the show and met Peter S. Beagle. So of course I had to pick up The Last Unicorn again. I don’t think I “got” it the first time I read it, or the time after that. It’s one of those books that changes meaning for me every time I read it, but each time, it becomes more and more beautiful as I understand it more deeply, or differently. So I’m taking my time.

NEXT

While looking for the image to use with this post, I discovered Two Hearts,the coda to The Last Unicorn, which is available for free on the author’s website. I will certainly read that when I’m finished The Last Unicorn, and after that… I’m not sure. We’re doing a big order for books at the library, so I’m sure I’ll want to read some of those, and then it’s summer. Everything is up in the air, to be honest.

Then Now Next Thursday (May 7, 2015)

How to Be a HeroineTHEN

blew through How to Be a Heroine over the week, although I seriously wondered if Samatha Ellis only ever read classics growing up. Review to come later. I had a busy offline week.

NOW

On a reading memoir kick from How to Be a Heroine, I picked up Shelf Discovery: The Teen Classics We Never Stopped Reading. It’s … okay. I don’t find it as witty or as well researched as Heroine, but I also haven’t put it down yet. It’s easy to read, a series of small (aptly named…) “book reports” on a theme, like kids in danger or supernatural powers. I was hoping for a little more research and self reflection, but you can’t win ’em all.

NEXT

This week blew by me pretty quickly because it was a vacation, so I still have to start my #SecondChanceChallenge books, Pantomine and The Twistrose Key. Plus, I have a library meeting coming up tomorrow where we all get together and debate books until we can agree on a list of twenty(ish) picture, chapter, middle, and high school books for the upcoming school year reading program, and I always end up with a lot on my TBR shelf after that, even if not everything makes the shortlist.

Then Now Next Thursday (April 30, 2015)

The Darkest Part of the Forest THEN

I finished reading (and reviewed) Virgin: The Untouched History. Since I last posted a round up, I’ve also started and finished Holly Black’s The Darkest Part of the Forest. That’s the quickest I’ve finished a fiction book, like, all year. I’m just having such a hard time concentrating, but man, it’s so good.

NOW

I’ve been really into nonfiction this year, so I read the intro to Neil Gaiman’s Trigger Warning, but then found that I wasn’t really interested in the stories, so I put it down and picked up How to be a Heroine, which I like a lot, even though I haven’t read most of these classics, except Anne of Green Gables.

NEXT

Karen Jensen on Teen Librarian Toolbox proposed the #SecondChanceChallenge, to give a book you dropped a second chance. I signed up and said I would try to read and finish The Twistrose Key and Shadowplay. Both were very good (like, I loved Pantomime, which is the first book in Shadowplay‘s series) but just not what I was looking for at the time, so I’ll give them both another chance.

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Books Which Feature Characters Who _____________

Top Ten Tuesday This week at The Broke & The Bookish, the Top Ten Tuesday theme is “Top Ten Books Which Feature Characters Who _______,” fill in the blank. I decided to go with “Top Ten Books Which Feature Characters Who I’d Like to Befriend.”

Isn’t that why we read, right? I love to spend time with these characters. Here are some that I would love to be their friend.

  1. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's StoneHarry Potter, J.K. Rowling I don’t know if I want to be Hermione’s best friend, or if I just want to be Hermione. I’m not even sure we would have gotten along in school, because we would have been too similar and always competing to be the best in our class. I’m sure as adults, we could look back fondly on our respective know-it-all, insecure school days and laugh about how much we had in common, even though she was learning spells and defeating Dark Lords while I was stuck studying algebra and defeating school administrators, which is not quite as exciting. But Hermione is clever and caring, which are two traits I value highly in my friends.
  2. Weetzie Bat, Francesca Lia Block Weetzie Bat would either be a wonderful friend, or her quirky weirdness would get old fast if it felt too forced. I think Weetzie is a genuinely oddball individual with a big heart. I would have loved to be her friend in high school. I needed a Manic Pixie Dream Girl, and that’s Weetzie’s M.O. It would have been so fun to hang out with her, because she’s so daring and adventurous and I’m so… not. Plus, Weetzie needs a friend to gently check her casual hipster racism so she stops wearing feathered headdresses.
  3. His Dark Materials, Philip Pullman Many of the characters in my list are kids or teenagers, either people I would have liked to be friends with when I was their age, or who I would like to mentor now as an adult. But I would want Mary Malone to be mymentor. She’s everything I wish I could be: compassionate, courageous, clever. She’s a scientist, a researcher like I want to be. (I want to study children’s literature, not Dust.) I would love to hear all about her adventures in other worlds, and emulate her as a teacher who is honest and open with her students, a good guide and role model, even if she is the “serpent.” I want to talk to her about Dust and science and falling in love and China.
  4. SaiyukiLet’s Eat Ramen, Nagumo + Aji-ichi I love ramen and, unlike Saeki, I have no shame about walking into a ramen shop full of businessmen slurping their noodles. I bet Saeki knows more about it than me (and she can read Japanese, which I can’t, really), but I’m not worried about going to a ramen shop with no other girls in sight. We could be ramen buddies! I hope she likes miso. (It would be a little weird, hanging out with a high school girl.)
  5. The School for Good and Evil, Soman Chainani Although she’s grim looking, with tangled hair and tattered clothes, Agatha genuinely has a heart of gold. She spends the whole book looking out for Sophie, her best and only friend, even though Sophie is shallow, vain, and very unkind to her. Agatha is a good person with a good heart, the kind of person anyone would want to be their friend, and she deserves someone who won’t put her down all of the time like Sophie.
  6. Saiyuki, Kazuya Minekura The boys of Kazuya Minekura’s Saiyukiare a tough talking, rude bunch, who act like they don’t have time for anyone’s BS, but really, they’re all good people. want to go on a road trip with them across ancient China! They have this great camaraderie, even when they’re at each other’s throats, and I really like that. They can fight with each other and still care about each other, too. It was the “breaking of the fellowship” vibe from the last Tokyopop translated volume that really had me on tenterhooks, because I would hate for this band to break up!
  7. Hetty FeatherCastle of Shadows, Ellen Renner Princess Charlotte, usually known as Charlie, is a scrappy but upstanding young girl. She has a hard time of it sometimes, and I wish I could live in her world and maybe do a bit of a better job teaching her than her tutors. I like to think she’d find me cool enough that she wouldn’t always skip her lessons. With no mother, or even really a maternal figure, it sounded like she could really use a “cool big sis” in her life, and I think she sounds like great fun to get to know. She’s very admirable, and also very funny.
  8. Hetty Feather, Jacqueline Wilson In the first book, Hetty’s very young, and I wished I could reach into the pages and take better care of her than the awful foundlings home. By the end of the last book, she’s grown up to be a very courageous, if somewhat brash, young woman, who is very certain of her morals and unafraid to find her own way in a society that doesn’t have a place for someone like her: a foundling, an orphan, a poor girl who refuses to settle in to be either a servant or a farm wife. I hope some of her courage would rub off on me.
  9. Vampire LestatChangeless, Gail Carriger i know a lot of people don’t like Madame Genevieve Lefoux because she’s… morally ambiguous, to put it tactfully, but I think befriending her would certainly make life a lot more interesting. Unlike the others on this list so far, I’m not even 100% sure I would trust her. Okay, I probably would trust her, because I’m a trusting person, but it would be a bad idea. I would befriend Mme Lefoux against my better judgement, no doubt beguiled by her vanilla and machine oil scent and incredible fashion sense.
  10. The Vampire Lestat, Anne Rice I saved the two most questionable choices for last. Like Madame Lefoux, I am sure Lestat is not to be trusted, but I’m still intrigued by this soulful rock star memoirist persona. At least i would be smart enough not to trust him. (Even I’m not that gullible!) Like Madame Lefoux again, having Lestat in your life would certainly make everything a lot more exciting. But maybe that’s why it’s best to only visit him in his own book, where you can safely shut the covers on him.