Book Review – The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl by Stacy McAnulty

Miscalculations of Lightning GirlBy Awnali Mills

When she was eight, Lucy was struck by lightning.  Part of her brain turned off, but part of her brain when into hyperdrive.  Now Lucy is a math genius.  Her Nana homeschooled her, and now she’s ready for college, even if she is only 12.

Not so fast.

Nana isn’t going along with the whole college idea.  She thinks Lucy needs some social skills before hitting the college scene, so she’s sending her to middle school.  Lucy, who is one small step from being agoraphobic, thinks this is a horrible idea, but Nana is firm.  How on earth will Lucy fit into middle school, with her OCD repetitions, fear of germs, and her freaky math skills?  With a little luck from prime numbers and some understanding friends, she just might pull it off.

I enjoyed this book.  And that’s saying a lot, since math is far from my favorite subject—you say “algorithm” and my eyes roll back in my head (I even had to look up how to spell it).  But Lucy sees beauty in numbers, and she finds a way to make her love of numbers work for herself and others.  I found it unlikely that she would find such understanding friends right off the bat. “Middle school—the worst years of my life” is a thing for a reason.  Middle school was awful for everyone I know.  But I think that Lucy’s friends Windy and Levi are great examples to kids about how to be understanding of people’s differences.  Maybe reading about them will make kids more tolerant and more likely to risk being kind.  I hope so.

Recommended for grades 4-7.

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Book Review: The Length of a String by Elissa Brent Weissman

Length of a StringBy Awnali Mills

Imani has always wondered about her biological family.  Her forever family is great, and she loves them very much, but Imani is black, her brother is Guatemalan, and her parents are white, and Jewish.  Sometimes, a girl gets tired of looking different than her family, of being the “diverse” one, of people questioning how she can be Jewish.  It just makes a girl…wonder.

When Imani’s great grandmother Anna dies, she leaves her books to her great grandchildren.  Apparently, Imani is the only one interested, so when she goes through them, she discovers Anna’s diary—the diary she wrote when she was 12 and coming to America to flee the Holocaust in Luxembourg.  As Imani reads the diary, she is drawn into Anna’s world of fear and grief and longing for the family she was forced to leave behind.  Could it be that Imani has more in common with her forever family than she thought?  Could it be that the diary is the key to more than a great bat mitzvah research paper?  Could it lead her to family she never knew about?

I loved this book.  It is both a modern novel and a historical fiction novel.  It’s a diary, a diverse book, and a book about families of all kinds—the ones you’re born into, the ones who choose you, and the ones that you choose.  It made me look up Luxembourg during the Holocaust, because I don’t know that I’d ever heard about what went on there (and most of what I read was eventually revealed in the book, btw).

It made me cry, darn it!

I loved how the diary really made history come alive for Imani, and for me.  I love how it humanized the victims of the Holocaust without doing it in a way that might traumatize elementary students.  I really felt Imani’s frustration with being different, and her longing to know more.  It also made me really appreciate the family stories I’ve heard for years and years, not just about my own childhood, but that of my parents & grandparents.

This would be a great classroom book for accompanying a study of the Holocaust, or a lead in to family trees or family history, especially since it deals with the idea of mixed families and adoption.

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Book Review: Endling: The Last by Katherine Applegate

Endling the LastBy Awnali Mills

Don’t mistake Byx for a dog—she isn’t one.  She’s a dairne, one of the six governing species of the world.  But the numbers of dairne have been dwindling.  Byx decides to go on a quest to find other dairnes, rumored to exist on a living island in the northern sea.  But the ruler of the humans is determined to kill or control all the dairnes, making Byx’s quest a difficult one.  Along the way, she picks up some companions—a fierce little wobbyk, a scary felivet, and a few humans.  But everyone knows that humans, with their devious minds and uncertain loyalties, cannot be trusted.  Or can they?

This book was difficult for me to get into.  I love fantasy, but it’s difficult for me when the main characters, the places, the plants, the culture, and even the incidental creatures are all created for the story.  It takes a while to figure out what things are, and what’s going on (a dog with a pouch? Is she a marsupial?).  I stuck with it because one of my coworkers told me the book was getting a lot of buzz, and I’m glad I did.  Once I got through the initial “huh?” stage, I got invested in the story.  Now I want to finish reading the series.

The story can be read as an allegory about the way humans treat other species like the carrier pigeon, using them and leading them into extinction.  I don’t really mind that so much, since there are humans who are risking a great deal to help Byx on her quest.   Once you get them figured out, the characters are interesting and engaging, and you really want them to win.  Recommended for grades 4-6.  Put it in the hands of kids who love fantasy, adventures, and animals.

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Blanket Storytime 5/16/18

By Awnali Mills

Today our topic was blankets.  The books I chose were Kiki’s Blankie by Janie Bynum and Small Bunny’s Blue Blanket by Tatyana Feeney.

We opened with Wheels on the Bus, and then I introduced my monkey puppet whose name (this week) is Kiki–this is no coincidence.  She had a blue felt blanket.  We talked about her blanket, and I told the kids about my blanket as a child, which was named “Nice.”  None of them could tell me that they had named their blankets, but they assured me that they had them.  Kikki brought out our letter B and pictures of things that start with B.  This led us to the book Kiki’s Blankie which, you guessed it, stars a monkey with a blue blanket.

After the book, we rolled our song cube and sang a few choruses of This is the Way We Take a Bath.  I handed out scarves, and we acted out Oh Me, Oh My.

At breakfast time, milk spilled on my blanket! Oh me, oh my!
Have to wash my blanket and hang it out to dry
(Lunch/peanut butter, snack/banana, dinner/spaghetti)
At bedtime, cookie crumbs dropped on my blanket! Oh me, oh my!
Have to shake my blanket out, no time to wash or dry
I need my blanket, it’s time for beddy bye!
Credit: Perry Public Library

The kids very enthusiastically washed their blankets, and we hung them on our heads to dry with each chorus.  The flannel Six Teddy Bears (cut down from ten) followed, with the children acting out pulling the blanket.

Six little teddy bears sleeping in the bed,
Three at the foot and three at the head.
One little teddy said, “This bed is TOO full!”
So he grabbed the blanket and started to pull.
He pulled and he pulled and he pulled some more,
Until one little teddy went BOOM to the floor!
(Make pulling motions with PULL and clap with the BOOM)

(Count down until…)

One little teddy bear sleeping in the bed,
Zero at the foot and one at the head.
This teddy said, “This bed is NOT full!”
So he put out his paw and started to pull.
He pulled and he pulled and he pulled some more,
Until five little teddies climbed up from the floor!

Credit: I found this rhyme here: SurLaLune Storytime.

I read Small Bunny’s Blue Blanket next, then did the flannel I Once Had a Blanket.  You can do this with scarves, but I made it into a flannel.

I once had a blanket, it was fluffy and new
I once had a blanket, and its color was blue!
I once had a blanket, my mommy gave me one
I once had a blanket that was orange just for fun!
I once had a blanket, the prettiest I’ve ever seen
I once had a blanket, and its color was green!
I once had a blanket, pretty as can be
I once had a blanket that was purple don’t you see?
I once had a blanket, soft as a pillow
I once had a blanket, and its color was yellow!
I once had a blanket, at the foot of my bed
I once had a blanket, and its color was red!

Credit: Adapted from Anne’s Library Life

I made a little teddy bear to go with the blankets from that flannel, so after I Once Had a Blanket, I pulled out the teddy and explained the game we were going to play.  I hid the teddy under one of the blankets, then the kids had to guess which color blanket he was hiding under.  Then all together we said, “Teddy bear, teddy bear, are you under there?”  I kept repeating the process until we discovered the teddy.  We played that for about three rounds, and then I ended with my closing song.

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Book Review – Bone’s Gift by Angie Smibert

Bone's GiftBy Awnali Mills

Bone’s grandmother knows just which herbs will treat her patients.  Her Uncle Ash knows just how to heal sick animals.  Bone can touch an object see images of things that happened around the object.  Bone’s mother used to be able to heal people, but apparently she couldn’t heal herself, because she died of influenza along with a whole bunch of other people.  Or did she?

Bone gets an anonymous note that tells her that her Gift killed her mother.  Could that be true?  Her father is no help—he refuses to discuss the family gifts, saying it’s just silly nonsense.  But Bone knows her gift is real.  Now her father is leaving to fight in World War II, leaving her with her Aunt Mattie.  Aunt Mattie believes in the gifts, but she also believes they’re evil.  If Bone’s mother’s gift killed her, then maybe Aunt Mattie is right.  How will Bone know for sure?  Maybe her mother’s yellow sweater holds the answers.

I love magical reality stories, and this one was a winner in my book.  Except for Aunt Mattie, Bone’s family is loving and caring, but as in any family, there are lots of undercurrents and unspoken things that aren’t said to children—a source of continuing frustration to most children.  What aren’t the grownups telling?  And how do you find out without getting yourself in trouble?  When is obedience the right thing and when is defiance?  These are the questions Bone has to answer.  The Gifts in the story aren’t treated in any mystical way, they are just an aspect of who people are, which makes them even more believable.  I look forward to the rest of the books in the series.  Recommended for grades 3-6.

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Book Review – The Boy Who Went Magic by A.P. Winter

Boy Who Went MagicIn Penvellyn, there is no magic, as everyone knows.  Magic is a curse, once used by the country of Ferenor to do marvelous things, but it destroyed them—or at least that’s what the stories say.  Bert is an orphan who lives in Penvellyn, and his world turns upside down when he (quite by accident) gets involved with the affairs of the pirate called the Professor.  The Professor is after some Ferenor relics that have been collected by Prince Voss.  Bert gets pulled deeper and deeper into the mess until he’s the one who’s doing magic, and Prince Voss is out to take it from him.  Will Bert survive, or will the crazy Prince Voss manage to steal his magic and destroy the Penvellyn people?

The Boy Who Went Magic was a rollicking good read.  It was pretty much action from the get-go, and I could see it in my head like a movie.  I would classify it as steampunk if it took place in Victorian England, but it takes place in a fantasy world.  However, there are airships and swords, horse drawn carriages and mechanical limbs to imbue the book with a steampunk feel.  There’s a daring girl, Finch, as a sidekick (but who is the sidekick and who is the hero is debatable), so there are strong lead characters of both sexes.  I’d put it in the hands of adventure lovers and fantasy lovers in grades 3-6.

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Book Review – Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes

Ghost BoysBy Awnali Mills

Jerome is a 12 year old boy playing with a toy gun when he is shot in the back and killed by the police.  But somehow, he cannot pass on.  Instead, he meets the ghost of Emmett Till who tries to help him process what happened to him.  As a ghost, Jerome watches his family’s grief, watches the court proceedings for the officer who shot him, and watches the officer’s family falling apart.  The officer’s daughter, Sarah, is the only one who can see him and speak with him.  She is horrified by what has happened, but can she change anything?

Not gonna lie, this one was a hard book for me.  It handles some very difficult themes and situations very well.  Because of the real-life violence in it, I would put it at a solid middle school read.  There was a lot of anger in the book.  Jerome is rightfully angry at what happened to him, as is his family.  Sarah is angry with her father.  All of the ghostly boys in the story are angry, and it’s obvious that the author is angry as well—and rightfully so.  Rhodes does show the grief and anguish the officer experiences from his mistake, and I appreciated that balance.  Ghost Boys addresses one small piece of a very large and complex societal problem.  I think it would be a good book for classroom discussions (and Rhodes includes questions in the back for just that purpose), especially if voices from all sides of the issue were included in the discussion.

Again, this is a good book about a hard topic.  Approach with care and a listening heart.

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