Monday, December 5, 2016

MMGM: The True Gift

Today's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday pick
The True Gift: A Christmas Story,
by Patricia MacLachlan and Brian Floca
The True Gift: A Christmas Story
Written by Patricia MacLachlan
Illustrated by Brian Floca

Atheneum Books For Young Readers, 2009
Grades 2-6, 81 pages
6400 words, 480L


       Liam and I sit on the backseat of Papa's old car. The car heater isn't working, so Liam and I share a blanket. We can see our breath in the air.
       "How many books did you bring?" whispers Liam.
       Liam and I share a worry. Our school closes for ten days, and we're going to Grandpa and Gran's house. We always go there in December, waiting for Christmas and Mama and Papa to come Christmas Day. We worry about not taking as many books as we'll need.
       "I brought fifteen books," I say.
       "I brought thirty-seven," says Liam.


Maybe this is more of a chapter book, but the narrator is old enough to be a middle grade character, and the story is so touching and well-written, that it would make a great fireside read for all ages this season.

Lily and Liam go to their grandparents farm like they do every Christmas. When Liam notices the white cow in the field is all alone this year, he gets the idea she must be lonely. And when Liam gets an idea in his head, all his sister can do is hang on for the ride.

As in all MacLachlan's books, the voice is genuine from the first page. She reveals the innermost thoughts of her characters effortlessly through dialogue and actions. Her subtlety is unmatched. I love the ending after the ending in this story, but I warn you, it may bring a tear, or maybe I'm just extremely sentimental. If you are already of fan of Sarah Plain and Tall, then you know there's every reason to give this book a try.

 1. If you enjoyed The True Gift, I recommend any of Patricia's other books, including those reviewed by other MMGMers below.

Sarah, Plain and Tall
Illustrated by Marcia Sewall
Reviewed by Jennifer
White Fur Flying,
Cover art by Amy June Bates?
Reviewed by Mundie Moms
Kindred Souls,
Cover art by Erwin Madrid
Reviewed by Karen
The Truth of Me
Cover Art by Erwin Madrid
Reviewed by Jennifer
Reviewed by Michael

The Poet's Dog, Art by Kenard Pak
Reviewed by Patricia
Reviewed by Rosi
and one of my personal favorites

Journey, Illustrated by Barry Moser
review from Publisher's Weekly

2. Want to know more about Patricia MacLachlan? You can read a Q & A with the author on Publisher's Weekly or listen to an audio interview from Reading Rockets. Harper Collins has provided a video biography below.

3. And if you are very clever, perhaps you can make a White Cow or Brown Cow Christmas ornament using the pattern on Doobie's Doings. The book and ornament together would make a great gift.

cow Christmas ornament courtesy Doobie's Doings

Have you reviewed a Marvelous Middle Grade Book along this theme? Please leave the link in the comments below. Thanks!

Check out all the Marvelous Middle Grade Monday recommendations for December 5, 2016.

MMGM started way back in 2010 by Shannon Messenger, author of Keeper of Lost Cities. Each week, participating bloggers review our favorite books for ages 8-12. Why not join us?

Friday, December 2, 2016

PPBF: Winter Trees

Today's Perfect Picture Book Friday pick

Winter Trees, poetry in linoleum print collage,
by Carole Gerber and Leslie Evans 
Winter Trees
Written Carole Gerber
Illustrated by Leslie Evans

Charlesbridge, 2008
Grades K-5, 507 words
reading level 3.7

Poetry, Nature, Winter

Crunch! We walk through fresh new snow that sparkles on the frozen ground.
It's peaceful here among the trees—our footsteps make the only sound.

Illustrated with linoleum prints, the book follows a child's trip through the woods, identifying seven species of trees as they appear in winter, leafless.
Both the MC and his dog explore the woods using all of their senses to enjoy the beauty of winter even as the text identifies characteristics of the trees found in most Northeastern deciduous forests. Intricate illustrations and lyrical text make distinguishing different types of trees easy--even in the middle of winter, when only bare branches stand like skeletons against the sky.

What I Love:
I love the perspective used in this book. Thinking about how nature looks during a different season makes this story fresh. Leave it to a poet to see things with new eyes. Startlingly beautiful as a walk in the woods, when your heart pounds and you hold your breath because the stillness is so complete. Rhyme is off in one places with a couple nearly-off meters, but still rhythmic and informative, moving the narrative forward. I loved it. Highly recommended!

Selected for the 2008 John Burroughs Young Readers List and as a NSTA/CBC Outstanding Tradebook for 2009.


Thanks to Stacey of GluedToMyCrafts
for this crafty painted tree
1. Obviously, the best activity would be to use this book as a guide and see how many of the trees in your neighborhood match the trees in the book. If you don't live near a deciduous forest, use your senses to take note of the trees which grow in your area. I recently reviewed Welcome to New Zealand, where I posted links for starting a nature journal along with the suggestions mentioned in the book.

2. Sue blogs about ideas to look for and record in your nature notebook every "Wild Wednesday" on Archimedes Notebook.

3.For a holiday themed tree craft, get messy on KidsActivitiesBlog using their instructions for a cute handprint Christmas tree.

4. eHow has step-by-stepp instructions for creating birdseed ornament feeders which readers con hang during their nature walks.

5. Where Imagination Grows produced simple glass jar luminaries for fall, but by changing the color of the tissue paper, I think these would be a beautiful craft to go along with the book, and they double as pretty teacher gifts.

6.A few cookies and a little decorator's icing from FineMotorSkills, and you'll have cookies as pretty as hers, decked out in wintery branches and snowflakes. Her step-by-step instructions include plenty of photos and her text is easy to follow.

7. Check out these and more Perfect Picture Books at your local library.

Reviewed by Sue
Reviewed by Penny

Reviewed by Loni
Reviewed by Cathy

Reviewed by Susanna
Reviewed by Joanne

Reviewed by Julie
Reviewed by Joanne

Have you reviewed a Perfect Picture Book along this theme? Please leave the link in the comments below. Thanks!

Check out all the recommended titles for Perfect Picture Book Friday
for Friday, December 2, 2016 available on Susanna Leonard Hill's blog.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Creativity is a Process

"Inspiration is for amateurs -- every great idea I've ever had grew out of work itself. Sign on to a process and see where it takes you."

Chuck Close*

Art Nouveau-style bookplate,
by Otto Tragy

*Via CBS News

Friday, November 25, 2016

MMGM: Squashed

Today's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday pick

Squashed, by Joan Bauer
Written by Joan Bauer
Speak, Imprint of Penguin, 1992
Ages 8-12, 194 pages, Lexile 930
about 48,400 words

I was preparing my secret booster solution of one part buttermilk, two parts Orange Crush, and about to inject it into the thick stem of my world-class Big Max—technically a variety of squash, but often the winner in giant pumpkin contests. I called him Max for short. He was the biggest squash I had ever grown— 107 inches wide around his middle—which put him over three hundred pounds, approximately. Awesome was the only word for it, especially since this was only August. We had forty-six days to go until the Rock River Pumpkin Weigh-In and Harvest Fair, where I, at sixteen years of age, am the only teenager ever to enter the adult growing division. I was facing heavy competition for the blue ribbon from Cyril Poole, four-time Weigh-In champ and a deeply despicable person. If I didn't win, I was sure I'd die, which was why I couldn't bother with anything else right now."

All Ellie can think about is her prize pumpkin, Max. He's her confidant and security blanket in a way. Though Max is just a vegetable, Ellie goes to him for comfort and refuge from her teenage troubles. Sometimes, it's like he's taking care of her. Her dad doesn't understand her. She's awkward and nerdy, in a growers-kind-of-way. She is smitten with Wes, the new boy in school, and she is constantly at war about her desire to weigh less and her desire for comfort food.

Everything in Ellie's life is a dichotomy. She is driven and absolutely sure of herself, and yet she struggles with self-image and others' perception of her. Ellie says she can't bother with anything else, but the book is about just the opposite. She takes pains to build a relationship with her dad, she wants to impress Wes, she diets on and off again, and she spends precious time despising her rival pumpkin grower, Cyril Poole.

Ellie's strong voice, genuine teen-age mutability, and penchant for comparing life to a vegetable patch make this a book I couldn't put down. I just had to review it here because, while it was the first and probably not the best of Joan Bauer's amazing novels, it is largely unsung. Thankfully, Speak has put the story back in print with a new cover and a new chance at popularity. It's hard to get readers excited about a story where the MC grows a prize pumpkin (trust me, I've tried) but I am convinced they will see a part of themselves in her inner struggles, whether they live in the city or the heartland.

1. If you enjoyed Squashed, I recommend anything else by Joan Bauer, particularly Hope Was Here or Rules of the Road, which are even better. But don't take my word for it, read reviews by other MMGMers.

Rules of the Road, by Joan Bauer
Hope Was Here, by Joan Bauer
Soar, by Joan Bauer

Hope Was Here
Reviewed by The Paige Turner

Close To Famous
Reviewed by Jenni Enzor, Shannon Messenger, That's Another Story, and Mrs. Yingling Reads.

Reviewed by Always in the Middle

Almost Home
Reviews by The Hopeful Heroine and Mrs. Yingling Reads.

2. Feeling the need for comfort food? Joan Bauer includes a pumpkin bread recipe on her site. Bake some up and cuddle up for a cozy read. Or make a Beef and Pumpkin shepherd's pie for dinner, courtesy Nestle Very Best Baking.

3. The crux of what Joan's books represent is encapsulized in these ten short video clips from AdLit.

Have you reviewed a Marvelous Middle Grade Book along this theme? Please leave the link in the comments below. Thanks!

Check out all the Marvelous Middle Grade Monday recommendations for November 28, 2016.

MMGM started way back in 2010 by Shannon Messenger, author of Keeper of Lost Cities. Each week, participating bloggers review our favorite books for ages 8-12. Why not join us?

PPBF: Baseball Biography

There's no official Perfect Picture Book Friday today, but I wanted to take the opportunity to introduce a few of the worthwhile picture books I've read this fall.

Today's theme is BASEBALL!

The William Hoy Story,
by Nancy Churnin and Jez Tuya
Also reviewed by Vivian Kirkfield
The William Hoy Story: How a Deaf Baseball Player Changed the Game
Written by Nancy Churnin
Illustrated by Jez Tuya

Albert Whitman & Company, 2016
Ages 5-8, 620L

Biography, Disability, Nonfiction,Sports

"William Scooped dust to dry the sweat off his slick rubber ball. He stared at the small X he'd chalked on the barn wall. He closed his eyes. He opened them and threw. Bam! He hit the mark. He stepped back so he could try again."

William Hoy loved playing ball. He was an outstanding athlete. He made it all the way to the major leagues, but when he got there he discovered there was a communication problem. Hoy invented a system of signals for the base coaches and the umpire.
William also happened to be deaf. His hand signals improved game play for both hearing and deaf players, and made it easier for the spectators to see what was happening.

I'm not sure how much of this is urban legend, but William Hoy was a great baseball player, and hand signals did improve the game for everyone. The story points out some of the challenges Hoy faced as well as his accomplishments. The folk-art style compliments the mood of the story. The text is a bit straightforward, but well-organized. Great for classrooms and at home.

The Kid From Diamond Street,
by Audrey Vernick and Steven Salerno
Also reviewed by Beth Anderson
The Kid From Diamond Street Written by Audrey Vernick
Illustrated by Steven Salerno

Clarion, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016
Ages 4-7, 40 pp, 880L

Biography, Nonfiction, Sports

"Born into a Philadelphia family in 1912, Edith was the youngest of ten kids. Nearly as soon as she could walk, Edith was playing ball with her big brothers and neighbors."

Edith Houghton started playing professional baseball when she was 10 years old. She practiced hard, traveled the world, and followed her dreams. Sport-a-phobes and baseball fans alike will cheer for this plucky kid from Philadelphia.

I loved this inspiring and empowering peek at the life of a famous teen. The MC feels like an authentic, yet extraordinary young girl. This book is a great example of using available data to create a flowing story while sticking to the facts. Bouncing text. Fun, animated illustration style.

Queen of the Diamond, by Emily Arnold McCully
Queen of the Diamond: The Lizzie Murphy Story
Written and illustrated by Emily Arnold McCully

Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 2015
Ages 5-8, 460L

Biography, Sports, History, Nonfiction

In 1900, baseball was America's national pastime. No other form of entertainment came close. Every boy owned a ball, a glove, and a dream.

Lizzie Murphy was a better baseball player than most of the boys she knew. Decades before Edith Houghton played on a girls pro team, Lizzie was playing for two different amateur boys' teams, eventually moving to the pros. She played in All-Star games and batted against Satchel Paige. Lizzie didn't just play, she earned a living. A worthwhile biography with jaunty, expressive text and lively illustrations.

Check out these and other Perfect Picture books at your local library.

Reviewed by Kirsten
Reviewed by Maria

Reviewed by Erik
Reviewed by Kirsten

Have you reviewed a Perfect Picture Book along this theme? Please leave the link in the comments below. Thanks!

Thursday, November 24, 2016

5 Things to Be Thankful For

During the Thanksgiving season, we traditionally gather together and count our blessings: home family, prosperity. Many posts will focus on gratitude. Some will encourage readers to find things about which to be thankful even amid the trying circumstances of their lives. But I would like to submit to you this year, while those are good and noble ideas, there are 5 things we have probably neglected.

Thankful for family, by Joanne Roberts

Be grateful for hardship.
"Count it all joy when ye fall into diverse temptations." James 1:2

When was the last time you said thank-you when you were struggling against a rash reaction? A hateful response? An addiction?
Difficult things in our lives give us chances to be an example to others and make us better people. I absolutely look forward to the day when I won't have to think twice about saying and doing the right thing. Until then, I'm counting my difficulties as blessings. (James 1:12)

Be grateful for suffering.
"But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ's sufferings..." I Peter 4:13

This particular admonishment is speaking of persecution, but I think it can be equally applied to suffering wrongfully, condescension, or physical suffering. (I Peter 2:18,19)
Those who hold an opinion differing from the mainstream are continually blasted for their beliefs. Religious and moral freedoms are challenged on every side. The current political climate engenders strife, and while there is a general appeal for tolerance, those who speak the loudest deepen the divides rather than healing them. Complaining certainly isn't the answer. How would a thankful spirit transform our communication?

Be grateful for everyone in government.
"I exhort therefore, that, of thanks, be made for all men; For kings, and for all that are in authority;" I Timothy 2:1,2

 No matter your country or political leanings, this is a very clear call to specific, purposeful thankfulness for specific, generally objectionable, people.
I've had cause to meditate on this thought for the last eight years, and see the need to discipline ourselves to it in the next four.

Be grateful for those in opposition to us.
"Bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you." Luke 6:28

This one's especially hard for me. I get so tired of people who feel entitled. Self-righteousness fosters the opposite of gratefulness.
What would happen if we followed the rest of the commands in Luke 6?
"And unto him that smiteth thee on the cheek offer the other also; and to him that taketh away thy cloak forbid not to take thy coat also. Give to every man that asketh of thee; and of him that taketh away thy goods ask them not again...But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again;"

Be grateful for everything.
"In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you."
I Thessalonians 5:18

Everything. Fill in the blank.

This is only possible with supernatural intervention.
But if you want to do the impossible, then you need Someone who is capable of that. That's God.

I've lost some readers here. Sorry to hear that. I hope they'll be back.

For those of you still reading, here's where I'm coming from. I'm a born-again follower of Christ.*

I was recently reminded that God never asks us to do the impossible. He does that part. (Romans 8:28, Mark 10:27, Luke 1:37, Philippians 4:13, Isaiah 43:2,7)

*Email me with any questions. I'll do my best to give you the truth. Or you can look at this clear explanation of my beliefs.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Straightforward Writing

“Anyone who wishes to become a good writer should endeavour, before he allows himself to be tempted by the more showy qualities, to be direct, simple, brief, vigorous, and lucid.”
~ H.W. Fowler*
Raven bookplate available from Florentine Collections

*Via Rosi Hollinbeck on The Write Stuff