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.

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.

“What Are You Reading?” Wednesdays (February 18, 2015)

The SilmarillionWhat are you currently reading?

I’m kinda/sorta (re)reading The Silmarillion, but I will be honest with you: I’ve been in the worst reading slump. I just can’t focus on anything, and it’s awful.

What did you recently finish reading?

Since I last updated, I’ve read: In Real Life, Take Me Out to the Yakyu, The Hobbit (can you tell I’m on a Middle-earth kick?) and the online edition of Nimona. (I can’t wait for the print version this May.)

What do you think you’ll read next?

Ugh, I don’t know. I just hope I’ll find something to pull me out of this slump.

Top Ten Tuesday: FREEBIE: Top Ten Favorite Books to Reread

Top Ten TuesdayThis week’s Top Ten Tuesday (hosted by The Broke and the Bookish) is a freebie and it’s too much responsibility!

I decided to write about my “Top Ten Favorite Books to Reread.” Some books stand up well to rereading and revisiting at every stage of life, but others fall flat when you’re older and wiser.

… and, since I’m still pretty new to this book blogging game, I thought it would be a good “getting to know you” list.

  • More More MoreMore, More, More! Said the Baby, Vera B. Williams I haven’t read this book in years – maybe literally even a decade, at least – but it was my absolute favorite book when I was just a baby and toddler. I asked my mom to read it to me so many times that she eventually got sick of it and hid it on top of the fridge, forgotten until I grew tall enough to reach up there for the chips I wanted for an after school snack.
    I always loved books, no doubt thanks to my mother’s patience in reading this book to me over and over and over again, until I can still – twenty years later – recite some of it from memory. (I probably would have hidden it from me, too.) Maybe I didn’t just learn to love reading from my parents, but to love rereading, too.
  • The Little Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry My fourth grade teacher read this one out loud to us, and I remember the dreamy feeling of knowing I had just experienced something important but not quite knowing what. I knew that I didn’t understand it, not really, and I understood that understanding would come in time and there was no need to rush it. I was basically Hermione when I was in school – know-it-all, frizzy hair and everything (see below, about Harry Potter) – so it really was incredible, knowing that I didn’t know and that knowing would come in time. Now it’s my honor to read this aloud to my fourth and fifth grade students and hope it touches one of them the way it touched me.
  • Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's StoneThe Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien I finished reading Fellowship of the Ring in the theater, frantically turning the last few pages as the lights went down on the Saturday matinee. (Spoiler: Boromir dies at the beginning of The Two Towers. Imagine my surprise.) My dad took me to see it. I was so excited. It was hard – I fought harder to read The Lord of the Rings than I have ever struggled to read a book in my life – but it was so worth it. I return to this one periodically when I need a reminder of my dad, or of who I am – as a person, as a reader. Every time I reread it, I feel like I understand it differently; I used to identify most with Merry and Pippin, or Éowyn, but last time I read it, Boromir really… I finally got Boromir.
  • Harry Potter (series), J.K. Rowling I loved books before I read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (USian), but I haven’t loved something so completely before or since. I doubt I ever will. Growing up with Harry was a thing, and nothing quite like it will ever happen again, I think. I dressed up for the book release parties of Book 4, Book 5 and Book 6. (I was in China when Book 7 was released.) Whenever I feel sad, or nostalgic, or homesick – or, let’s be honest, just whenever – I like to pick this up and reread it, revisit Hogwarts. Every time I read it, I identify more or less with other characters. I’ve always been very much like Hermione – she’s probably what made me adore the series so much – and as I’ve grown up, I’ve understood or identified with Tonks, and McGonagall and Remus.
    I read Sorcerer’s Stone thirty two times before I stopped counting (and I stopped counting in seventh grade/2002).
  • The Golden CompassHis Dark Materials (series), Philip Pullman The only books that mean more to me than Harry Potter are His Dark Materials. While Harry Potter was a lot more fun, His Dark Materials moved me, when I was a tween, in a way I didn’t really understand. I only knew for certain that I had experienced something monumental, something huge and life-changing, and I didn’t know why. I couldn’t even say what had happened; I still remember sitting in the library parking lot trying to explain to my dad. Every time I reread this, I understand it a little bit better, and I feel like Lyra (re)learning how to read her alethiometer.
    I never really identified with Lyra – never in my life have I been half as wild or wily as her – but I admired her, and I still do. I wanted her as my friend, even as I was a little frightened of her; now I want to protect her, and I want Mary Malone as my friend.
  • TSUBASA: RESERVoiR CHRoNiCLE, CLAMP I’ve only read this series front-to-back, first-to-last twice, because it’s long, and because my entire collection is, inconveniently, located on the other side of the planet. But I would be lying not to include it, because I would read and reread volumes over and over (… and over and over) waiting for the next release when it was in English-language serialization and I just love it soo much. I can acknowledge that the plot is … unstable, what with all of those plot holes, but gosh, I just love the characters and I swear, this silly manga series got me through college with at least a little sanity left over, even if it is completely ridiculous.
  • TSUBASAThe Vampire Lestat, Anne Rice Unlike the other books on this list, The Vampire Lestat has no particular deeper meaning to me. I don’t have, like, a deep attachment to it, or anything. It’s just fun. It’s some funny brain fluff and Lestat is a really great narrator. I’ve reread some of the other Vampire Chronicles books, but this one is my favorite, no doubt. Maybe it’s because I like Nicki? Or because Lestat is my favorite member of the Coven of the Articulate?
  • The Drawing of the Three and The Waste Lands (Dark Tower series), Stephen King I can’t honestly include the whole series here, because I usually skip The Gunslinger and lose interest again somewhere in Song of Susannah and I always skip the middle flashback bit of Wizard and Glass, but man, some of the scenes in The Drawing of the Three and The Waste Lands (and even Wizard and Glass and Wolves of the Calla) are so cool. Like, I just know it will be soo satisfying to watch Eddie Dean destroy Blaine. I’ve already read that part a million times but I always cheer anyway, even though I know what’s going to happen.
  • How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Dr. Suess I’ve mentioned before that I reread this book every year around Christmastime. It’s true. My mom used to read it to me every Christmas Eve, and now I read it to my students during their last library visit before winter vacation. I love the rhyme and rhythm of the story, and I love the memory of my mother reading it to me, and I love that, once again, I have it nearly memorized. Most pages I can say without even looking, and the rest need only a glance before I’m off.
    I have to like the books I read aloud, as I usually read them between six and fourteen times a week, depending on my lesson plans, but this one is always my absolute favorite.

What about you? What are your favorite books to reread? What did you choose for your Top Ten Tuesday list this week?

Judging a Book by its Cover: The Littlest Angel

Today is December 18th. Do you know what that means?

It means there is one week until Christmas!

The Littlest AngelOne of my favorite Christmas traditions is the picture books my mom would read to us every Christmas Eve, after our one present and movie, just before bedtime. One of those books, my favorite, is The Littlest Angel. My mom still has her childhood copy, complete with scribbles. Obviously, that one, the angel’s dresses sloppily colored with a blue crayon, is my favorite.

When I moved to Japan in 2011, my mom bought me my own copy. It’s the most recent edition, with illustrations by Paul Micich. They’re very beautiful, but not quite what I grew up with, so I went looking into other illustrated editions.

I mean, I didn’t know re-illustrating picture books was a thing you could do. Certainly, no one would ever dare redo the illustrations for that other Christmas children’s classic, How the Grinch Stole Christmas? (As if the live action movie wasn’t sacrilege enough!)

The Littlest AngelSo off I went to investigate these other versions.

I like this one a lot. I think the angel looks like a cutie, and they’ve captured his facial expression perfectly – but maybe a little too perfectly. I miss the cartoony, soft look of my mother’s book. It might be dated, but that’s what Christmas tradition is all about.

I know it’s unfair to compare these books to my book. It’s like buying a loaf of banana bread, even from a fancy bakery, and complaining that it doesn’t taste just like my mom’s.

I should be glad that this book gets redone, the story updated with new illustrations for new readers. Maybe someday the copy I had will become someone’s favorite, the illustrations they cherish.

“What Are You Reading?” Wednesday (November 26, 2014)

Brown Girl DreamingWhat are you currently reading?

I’ve wanted to read Jacqueline Woodson’s Brown Girl Dreaming since I first heard about it, but after National Book Awards, I knew I had to read it. (I hadn’t known that Jacqueline Woodson grew up as a Jehovah’s Witness, which made me that much more interested in her memoir. I was never religious, but my BFF in high school was a Witness and I used to read the Watchtower and Awake! magazines.)

I can’t wait to get this book into my library. I think it’s so valuable, and so important, and so good. My students love novels-in-verse historical fiction – the older students’ teachers read them Tofu Quilt and I have a few girls who rave about Inside Out & Back Again, and I think this will be an appreciated addition to the collection.

I also started The Twistrose Key while waiting in line at the Tokyo Takarazuka Theater for a friend, and I … read a bit, and then checked Twitter or Facebook, then read a bit. I don’t know. Lately talking animals just don’t do it for me? That’s what made me put down Hollow City, too. It’s weird, because I grew up on the Redwall books and, duh, Iorek Byrnison in The Golden Compass, but I dunno. I’m going to keep at it, but slowly.

What did you recently finish reading?

Last week, I was eight books behind on my Goodreads Challenge. This week, I’m only three. I read Mem Fox’s Reading Magic, hoping there would be some useful tips for teachers, not parents, but there wasn’t much.

finally finished Superman: The High-Flying History of the Man of Steel and The Cambridge Companion to Children’s Literature. (I was nearly finished with both of those things, anyway. I just actually got around to finishing them this week.)

The Story of Fish & SnailI read all of Poisoned Apples: Poems for You, My Pretty. I was super excited for this book after Kelly Jensen‘s glowing review, but I found it a little bit meh. Maybe it would have been better in print, or even on a bigger screen, so I could get a better view of the photos that accompany each poem?

In my library collection, I had the opportunity to read Fortunately, The Milk in one short sitting during an inservice day, and the good luck to read the utterly delightful The Story of Fish & Snail. I read it out loud eight times from Monday to Friday, and I liked it more and more each time – definitely a keeper. One class even asked for an encore. It’s so much fun to slam the book shut when Fish says “THE END.” and the students can see there are still pages left. (I like that the end then is a new beginning, and doesn’t say “THE END.” I liked how cleverly the illustrations are used to be in the book/about the book. It’s meta, but it’s subtle.)

What do you think you’ll read next?

Well, like I said… I’m not so good about TBRs. I think The Twistrose Key will be a lingering read. That’s not a bad thing, just different. After Brown Girl Dreaming, if I’m not burned out on novels-in-verse, I might pick up Inside Out & Back Again. One of my students adores this book, it seems like a good “readalike,” and I know she would be thrilled if I picked up a book at her suggestion.

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Books I Want to Reread

Top Ten TuesdayThis week, I’d like to start doing Top Ten Tuesday, brought to you by The Broke and the Bookish, which I discovered via the delightful The Dirigible Plum.

This week’s topic is Top Ten Books I Want to Reread.

I love to reread; rereading is, for me, one of reading’s chief pleasures. I love to return to the same story again and again, like when I was little, always begging my mom to read “More, More, More” Said the Baby just one more time, please.

I also reread a lot (a lot), so I’m going to fudge this one a bit and make it, Top Ten Stories I’d Like to Reread/Rewatch/Revisit.

  1. The Golden Compass, Philip Pullman I’ve been thinking about these books a lot lately, and how His Dark Materials made me who I am as a reader, and even as a person. It’s become part of my personal mythology.
  2. Saiyuki, Kazuya Minekura This one is totally a book. It’s a comic book series, but that counts, right? I love these stupid boys and their stupid journey. My roommate and I have an art calendar on the wall, currently featuring these losers around a kotatsu and it’s reminded me why I adored this series so much in high school and I still do.
  3. TSUBASA: RESERvoiR CHRoNiCLE, CLAMP Speaking of stupid things I really love, TSUBASA. It’s a bit of a train wreck and my friends make (loving) fun of me for being so obsessed with this series, but I miss it. Like Saiyuki, I have the whole thing in print at home on my bookshelf … on the opposite side of the world. At least it’s getting a sequel, WoRLD CHRoNiCLE, so I get to come back to my favorite characters and the weird capitalization in the title.
  4. The Magicians, Lev Grossman I read this at a very, very strange time in my life and I think the general weirdness of the time really colored my experience. I remember it being, like, earth-shattering, but other people whose book opinions I trust have told me otherwise. I was making some bad choices back then, and I can’t decide if I want to know if this was one of them, or just let it rest.
  5. Good Omens, Neil Gaiman & Terry Pratchett I haven’t reread this since I moved to Japan. It wasn’t the one book I brought with me and footnotes are such a pain in ebook format. That totally ruined this book for a friend of mine. But maybe I can get it for a Christmas present – one for her and one for me?
  6. So Yesterday, Scott Westerfeld I have this one sitting on my desk for D.E.A.R. times during this month. I remember it blew me away in high school, even though I never got into Westerfeld’s other books. I owe all of my interest in advertising – which, in a long and convoluted way, lead me here – to my English teacher at my votech school giving me this book. It’s showing it’s age, but I still love it anyway.
  7. “More, More, More,” Said the Baby, Vera B. Williams My only memory of this book is that I absolutely loved it, so much that my mom hid it from me for years and I didn’t find it again until I climbed up onto the kitchen counter to get the potato chips off the top of the fridge. That’s a good memory to have.
  8. The Clown-Arounds, Joanna Cole & Jerry Smath This is another one that I don’t even remember. I had forgotten about it entirely until my mother mentioned having lunch with her coworker who gave it to me and my sister when we were little. Now I’m curious, because while I can’t recall any specific images or even what it was about, I remember the feeling of joy that it brought me when I read it and pored over the pictures.
  9. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, J.K. Rowling No discussion of rereading would be complete for me without including this book. I read the whole series over and over again until the spines cracked and the pages fell out, always waiting for the next book, until suddenly, there were no more next books, so I started all over and read them again. When I hit hard times, these are the first books I (re)turn to for comfort.
  10. Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood See, here’s where I’m fudging it a bit, but I’ve been thinking about this TV show too often lately not to include it. I could say I’d like to (re)read the manga, but I’ve actually only seen the anime(s – both versions, the 2003 and the 2010 reboot/remake). This story is just so good, but for me, it would lose something if it weren’t in living color.

EDIT: Oops, this was the topic like two weeks ago. Oh, well! I can never get enough of rereading and I’ll show up on time next week. (I need some sleep.)