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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Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Books I Wouldn’t Mind Santa Bringing This Year

Top Ten Tuesday

It’s a liiiiitle late for Christmas shopping – my friends/Japan family and I are having our Christmas dinner tonight, since half of us have work on Christmas Eve and Christmas – but just in case: here are my Top Ten Books I Wouldn’t Mind Santa Bringing This Year.

I’m breaking the list into two: five books I want for myself, and five books I want for my library.

For My Personal Collection:

  1. Harry Potter and the Philospher's Stone 2014Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone “But Leslie, don’t you already have this? Isn’t it, like, your favorite book?”
    Yes, yes, I do. I have numerous copies, even, but I always want more, like the adorable new Bloomsbury paperback or this French paperback. I collect different editions of this book, but really, I wouldn’t mind if Santa would just bring my existing collection to Tokyo on his sleigh.
  2. Sacred High City, Sacred Low City: A Tale of Religious Sites in Two Tokyo Neighborhoods Living in Tokyo, I’ve developed a hobby bordering on a religious obsession with Shinto shrines, but most of my knowledge is informal, gleaned from what little I remember of undergrad and my limited ability to read the informational pamphlets the priests sometimes give me with my goshuinchō stamps. In 2015, I’d like to do a little more serious research, including this book.
  3. Critical Perspectives on Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials While Harry Potter was my obsession, His Dark Materials changed me in quieter, deeper ways that I didn’t fully realize until I reread the trilogy after moving to Tokyo. I love books about books – at home, I have heaps of books with titles like The Psychology of Harry Potter and The World of The Golden Compassbut this is a more in-depth, scholarly (and thus, expensive) book that I haven’t had the chance to read yet and I would love to get deeper into this story.
  4. NimonaThe Magician’s Book I already have this one in ebook format, but I loved it so much that it would be an honor to have the print edition on my shelf beside my own Magician’s Book(s), The Golden Compass and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (mentioned above). 2014 was the Year of the Magician’s Book, and I’d love to hold the actual, you know, book.
  5. Nimona I read most of this comic free online, but I liked it so much that I want to hold it in my hands and hug it and keep it on my bookshelf and admire it forever. This one might also double-up and go in the secondary library collection, too, because it is just soo great. I haven’t cried over a webcomic since seventh grade.

For My Library Collection:

  1. Olivia Kidney and the…  There are a couple of these (Secret Beneath the City and Exit Academy), and I want them both for the library after a student came up with a copy of the first book, begging me for the rest of the series. I didn’t even know it was a series, but how do you say “no” to one of your best patrons – a girl who comes in every single day to borrow new books and help sticker and shelve for fun in her free time – when they’re just dying for the next book in their new favorite series?
  2. Blossoming Universe of Violet DiamondThe Blossoming Universe of Violet Diamond I tried to order this with the last PTA batch, only to realize – d’oh! – it won’t be released until next year. Oops! But I do really, really want it. I’m trying to build a diverse collection. Many of my students are biracial/bicultural, and I think this is a story that would resonate with them, even if the specifics are different than their own situation – it’s a mirror and a window.
  3. The School for Good and Evil Soman Chainani was one of my Top Ten New-To-Me Authors of 2014, and I really want this book in the library collection. I know what my patrons like, and a certain faction of my patrons likes princesses – loves princesses, even. I think this book would support their interest while maybe subtly dismantling the “princess” archetype, where “princess” means “pretty and helpless.”
  4. Eddie Red, Undercover: Mystery on Museum Mile (Series) Some of my “reluctant” readers have finally branched out from Captain Underpants and started reading Jack Stalwart and Zac Power and asking for more. We don’t have more, is the thing. For some reason, my library collection is weirdly lacking in adventure stories. Here is a solution to that problem.
  5. My Mixed-up Berry Blue Summer I want this book for a bunch of reasons. For one thing, queer characters are underrepresented in my library collection, but And Tango Makes Three is one of the most popular titles. For another, it takes place in Vermont, which is where I grew up, and that’s cool. The students – all international – like asking about where the teachers are from. I tried to buy it last year, but it was “not a priority,” while none of my other fiction picks had any complaints. Hmm. Hopefully Santa can help me out here…

“What Are You Reading?” Wednesday (December 10, 2014)

23281884What are you currently reading?

A Mad, Wicked Folly is on my phone, and thus the one I’m carrying around with me. (True story: I have a repetitive stress injury in my shoulder from check-in/check-out at a very unergonomic desk set-up and a mouse I can’t reach. Carrying books around is painful.)

It’s… It’s interesting. I think I’ll save my thoughts for a proper response. We haven’t had a My Thoughts On… in a bit.

On my desk at work, I’ve still got So Yesterday left to finish. It’s quite the nostalgia bomb, first published ten years ago, and I read it maybe eight or nine years ago, when I was in eleventh grade. I wonder how the story would have to change if it took place in 2014 instead of 2004? I’ve been thinking about that a lot as I read.

What did you recently finish reading?

An elementary student borrowed The Hunger Games with her mum but returned it to my check-in box, which means it ended up on my desk to be dropped off in the secondary library. I just held onto it for a few days in between and reread it in a binge. It’s so disturbing, but also so compulsively readable. I made the mistake of reading the first few pages, and that was it.

The Problem With Being Slightly HeroicI also finished reading The Tastemakers, which was the book on my phone. I liked it! I guess I never thought too hard about food trends before, because I’m neither a foodie nor a trend…y?, but I think that’s the best kind of popular nonfiction, a book that illuminates, in a readable way, something you didn’t know about – maybe something you didn’t even know you didn’t know about.

What do you think you’ll read next?

I try to encourage a community of readers in my library, and that means my students give me recommendations, too, reader-to-reader. I don’t just suggest books from on high. Today I told them I have another ten books to go if I want to reach my goal of 100 books in 2014, so they made a pile of their favorites for me to read: The Problem With Being Slightly Heroic (sequel to The Grand Plan to Fix Everything), Absolutely Almost, and Inside Out & Back Again. I don’t know if I’ll get a chance to read all three before the week is out, but I can borrow them over the holiday and give my eyes a break from squinting at my phone screen all day.