Review: Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer

“When I first got my library card and wrote Blackbird Farm on the form, she didn’t know I was Dad’s daughter or Jim Brown’s grandniece, and she asked me how long my family was working there. I think she still feels bad about that.” page 76

Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer by Kelly Jones, illustrated by Katie Kath.
Borzoi, Alfred A. Knopf, Random House, New York, 2015.
Speculative/realistic fiction epistolary novel, 216 pages.
Lexile:  880L
AR Level:  5.2 (worth 5.0 points)

Sophie Brown’s family has moved from LA to Gravenstein, California.  They’ve traded their apartment for a house and farm filled with all the many things her great-uncle Jim had saved.  A farm doesn’t feel right without any animals, but they’ll have to be cheap because money is tight since Dad lost his job and they started relying on Mom’s income as a freelance writer.  Then a chicken turns up… a very special chicken.

Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer

Amazon kept recommending this book to me since I started buying diverse books.  Nothing in the description suggests a PoC is in this book and in the tiny cover preview, Sophie didn’t look dark-skinned.  Eventually I ordered a copy – but mistakenly got a hardcover instead of the paperback.  Once it arrived I was glad for the mistake, because as soon as he saw this book, our reluctant reader started insisting that I read it to him that night.  I don’t turn down his book requests, and they are loving it so far.

This book was a wonderful surprise.  The format is unusual (just like those chickens).  There also is a paranormal/science fiction aspect that would be a major spoiler to discuss.

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Review: I Got This

“I’m also incredibly proud of my Puerto Rican heritage, but at first I wasn’t sure why everyone was talking about it. Then I realized that as I was growing up, there hadn’t been any Latina role models in gymnastics!” page 149

I Got This: To Gold and Beyond by Lauren Hernandez.
HarperCollins Children’s Books, HarperCollins New York, 2017.
YA biography, 231 pages.
Lexile:  1020L.
AR Level:  6.8 (worth 5.0 points) .

Laurie Hernandez was a bit of a dark horse.  Just turned 16 and only recently eligible for the US Olympic team, she not only was part of the winning 2016 gymnastics team, she also won the silver medal in balance beam.  Fresh off her Olympic win, she went on to win Dancing with the Stars, a nationally televised ballroom dancing competition.

I Got This Laurie Hernandez

This book is definitely a teen read.  Apparently Hernandez’s nickname in the press is the Human Emoji, and she embraces that as each of the 20 chapters has a different emoji associated with it (a few do repeat).   However, she also manages to pack in information about gymnastics and some startlingly good life advice, coming from a 16-year old.

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Review: The Memory of Light

“There’s something fragile about all of them, like they’re holding on to what the world expects of them by some brittle branch that could break at any moment.” p. 24

The Memory of Light by Francisco X. Stork.
Arthur A. Levine Books Imprint, Scholastic, New York, 2016.
YA realistic fiction, 326 pages.
Lexile:  HL680L  (What does HL mean in Lexile?)
AR Level:  4.4 (worth 12.0 points)
NOTE: This book is not for 4th graders.

We meet Vicki in the most intimate and vulnerable time in her life – after she’s just attempted suicide and is now hospitalized for severe depression.

The Memory of Light

I got this book through a branch loan (CSviaS) after Naz recommended it to me when we were discussing the sad lack of books about disability with intersectionality.  It took a while to come through with holidays interrupting ILL services and me being on vacation, so during that time, I thought of one book in my collection and accidentally encountered another at the store.  I’ve also been hitting up Google with the idea of reviewing a number of books about disability by people of color and generating a list for kids, parents, and teachers.  Just like early readers, this is one of those little niches of the book world that we need to diversify.

This book is beautiful.  That probably seems like a strange thing to say about a book about depression, but the writing is just lovely.  It reminded me of To Kill a Mockingbird, not in any way the content, but the writing style.  I was quickly immersed in Vicki’s world and wanted her to heal and live.

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Review: We Can!

The earliest readers need diverse books too! Here’s one appropriate for the beginning reader.

We Can! (also titled If You Can, I Can) by Gay Su Pinnell, illustrated by Barbara Duke.
Scholastic, New York, 2002.
Realistic fiction, 9 pages.
Lexile: BR  (What does BR mean in Lexile?)
AR: not leveled
NOTE: Intended for the earliest beginning readers, a later edition is titled If You Can, I Can.

We Can is the sweet story of two non-white brothers, told in extremely simple words with pictures carrying most of the story, for the earliest of pre-readers and beginning readers.

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We Can! by Gay Su Pinnell, Illustrated by Barbara Duke.

I was delighted to find a nice selection of early readers at a local thrift store.  It is incredibly difficult to find a good batch of books at this level in general, let alone culturally appropriate and diverse books, so I quickly sorted through the stack to find any that had diverse characters.  At a dollar each, this particular store was a little expensive for pre-readers (most places sell used ones for 50 cents down even as low as 10 cents, especially for used books which have writing and highlighting in them as some of these did), so I wanted to only select those that I might not find elsewhere.

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Awards You Might Not Know About

Book awards beyond the Newberry and Caldecott.

We’ve all heard of the Newberry and Caldecott Awards.  In fact, you might even have done a book report on one at some time in your childhood.  If you’re a savvy librarian or teacher, you might know about some of the other awards like the Giesel or Wilder Medals.

But did you know that there are many awards out there specifically for helping you find the best books and authors for a host of diverse groups?

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The Coretta Scott King Book Awards – 2016
There are four different categories.  This long-running award is probably the most likely to be seen on the shelves of your local bookstore.  The number of honors (vs. awards) seems to change yearly based on what is published.

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Schneider Family Book Award – 2016
“The Schneider Family Book Awards honor an author or illustrator for a book that embodies an artistic expression of the disability experience for child and adolescent audiences.”  Both fiction and non-fiction are eligible but fiction tends to win more.  Categories are Children’s, Teens, and Middle School, and multiple books can win, but there are no honors.

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Stonewall Book Award – 2016  
Running since 1971, this award honors books relating to the gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender experience.  There are currently six categories including fiction and non-fiction for children, YA, and adults, and up to four books can be honored in some categories (it varies by year).

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Pura Belpré Award – 2016  
“The Pura Belpré Award, established in 1996, is presented annually to a Latino/Latina writer and illustrator whose work best portrays, affirms, and celebrates the Latino cultural experience in an outstanding work of literature for children and youth.”  There are winners and honors for authors and illustrators, fiction and non-fiction are mixed with fiction more predominate.

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American Indian Youth Literature Award – 2016   
These awards are given every two years to fiction or non-fiction books in the categories of picture book, middle grades, and YA. “Books selected to receive the award will present American Indians in the fullness of their humanity in the present and past contexts.”

 

Of course, awards are not perfect.  Some years mediocre books win an award, other times modern classics are passed over (Amazing Grace) and don’t win any awards.  However, for parents, teachers, and librarians, these award lists can be a huge help as we try to find quality books in areas we might not be very knowledgeable in.

What major awards am I missing?  Does your local library buy the winners of these awards?

Early Chapter Book Review: Pedro – First Grade Hero

A multicultural cast for the very youngest of chapter book readers.

Pedro: First Grade Hero by Fran Manushkin, Illustrated by Tammie Lyon.
Picture Window Books, Capstone, 2016.
Early chapter book fiction, 90 pages + 5 pages of bonus material.
Lexile: Pedro Goes Buggy – 310L
Pedro’s Big Goal – 250L
Pedro’s Mystery Club – 330L
Pedro for President – 320L
AR Level:  Pedro Goes Buggy – 1.9
Pedro’s Big Goal – 1.9
Pedro’s Mystery Club – 2.3
Pedro for President – 2.2
All worth 0.5 points each.
NOTE: This early chapter book is a compilation of the first four Pedro books.

Pedro is a hard worker who loves to have fun too.  He plays soccer, solves mysteries, collects bugs, and even runs for class president, all with his best friends Katie and JoJo.

I got this book at Target because after reading this article, I changed my buying habits there.  My local store recently cut way back on books, so I like to encourage them by buying something every month or two.  Ever since reading that article, I make a point of buying practically ANY diverse books that turn up at Target, doing my little bit to tell them that diversity matters to their customers.  I’ve gotten an interesting variety of books.

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Pedro: First Grade Hero by Fran Manushkin, Illustrated by Tammie Lyon.

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