Book Review – Wish by Barbara O’Connor

WishBy Awnali Mills

Charlie’s family is a mess. Her father is in jail being “corrected,” and her mother can’t get out of bed. So the state sent her sister Jackie to live with a friend, and Charlie to live with her Aunt Bertha and Uncle Gus.  Bertha and Gus are absolutely delighted to have Charlie, but Charlie isn’t as thrilled. She has no interest in getting comfortable in the backwoods North Carolina town of Colby, because as soon as her mother is feeling better, she knows she’ll be headed back home.

Still, she slowly forms a friendship with Howard, a kind boy with an up-down walk who introduces her to his crazy family full of boys and mess and love.  Together the two of them work on trapping and civilizing a stray dog Charlie has christened Wishbone.  Because Charlie is all about wishes.  She can tell you everything in the world that lends itself to wishing—a penny on the ground, three birds on a wire, a yellow train car.  She never misses a chance to wish, and she’ll never tell you what she’s wishing for (even though it’s been the same wish for years) because if you tell, a wish won’t come true. And Charlie wants her wish more than anything in the world.

Pretty much, if Barbara O’Connor writes a book, I’m gonna like it, and Wish was no exception.  Despite Charlie’s fierce temper and tough exterior, she tugs at your heart.  She’s had a difficult life and feels so abandoned by her family.  For someone with no control over her life, wishes feel like the only means she has to make her life her own.  Howard is such a sweet young man that I want to kiss his whole face, but he’s not unrealistic in any way.  Despite his handicap, he’s determined to look on the bright side of things, and refuses to be hurt by the teasing he gets.  His quiet kindness is a perfect balm for Charlie’s hurt and anger.

I would give this to any child who is having a rough time at home, is in a non-standard living arrangement, or who has temper-control issues.  I think they would really identify with Charlie’s situation.  Actually, we could all use better temper control, couldn’t we?  So, give it to everyone in grades 3-5.

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Dragon Storytime – 5/2/18

By Awnali Mills

Today’s storytime was all about dragons.  The books I chose were Roar! by Tammi Sauer and Oh, So Brave Dragon by David Kirk.

I started with Wheels on the Bus (our song for this session) and then brought out my puppet, Stanley the Dragon.  He doesn’t eat princesses (too sweet), but he does love pancakes!  He brought us the letter D and pictures of “D” things.  Then we all did a dragon stretch.

Dragon, Dragon
Dragon, dragon, turn around
Dragon, dragon, touch the ground
Dragon, dragon, fly up high
Dragon, dragon float in the sky
Dragon, dragon, shake your tail
Dragon, dragon, scratch your nail
Dragon, dragon, give a roar
Dragon, dragon, drop to the floor.

Then I read the book Roar! by Tammi Sauer.  I like to do some movement after the first book, so we did If You’re a Dragon and You Know It.

Sung to: “If You’re Happy and You Know It”
If you’re a dragon and you know it,
Show your claws.
If you’re a dragon and you know it,
Show your claws.
If you’re a dragon and you know it,
And you really want to show it,
If you’re a dragon and you know it,
Show your claws.

…breathe some fire
…shake your tail
…wave your wings
–from Miss Mollie

Next was the flannel Ten Dizzy Dragons.  Our next book was Oh, So Brave Dragon.  The kids helped me with the roaring, and afterwards a little boy said, “That’s such a nice story.”  I agree!

I handed out scarves next, and we did Color Dragons.
Red dragon,
Green dragon,
Yellow dragon,

Orange dragon,
Brown dragon,
Purple dragon, too!

How many dragons do we see?
Count them now along with me

I had each child (and grownup) wave their scarf when I called their color, and acted astonished that there were no brown dragons.  I don’t know where I got this rhyme from, but I did modify it by removing the last two lines.

Our last flannel was Five Little Dragons, and then we finished by bringing out the toys.

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Book Review – A Long Pitch Home by Natalie Dias Lorenzi

Long Pitch HomeBy Awnali Mills

Fifth grader Bilal and his family have to leave Pakistan in a hurry because of accusations made against his father.  But his father needs to stay in Pakistan to deal with the situation.  Suddenly Bilal find himself living with his aunt and uncle, sharing a room with his 17 year old cousin, and being dropped head-first into American culture.  He misses his father terribly, and his best friend almost as much.  He thought he spoke good English until he got to America, but he can’t understand most of what people say (why does everyone talk so fast?), and nobody plays cricket.  Instead, they play baseball.

Everyone is sure that Bilal will enjoy baseball because he is so good at cricket.  But the two games are NOT the same, no matter what people say.  And will he ever learn to hit the ball with this silly round bat?  The only person who seems to understand what Bilal is going through is Jordan.  The problem is, Jordan is a girl—a girl who’s great at baseball.  And here in America, girls aren’t allowed to be good at baseball.  Softball, yeah, but not baseball.  Jordan is taking what should be a boy’s spot on the baseball team, and all the boys ostracize her for it.  Bilal wants to be friends with her, but he can’t risk the disapproval of the only other friends he’s made in America.  How will Bilal ever learn to navigate the minefields of American culture?  And how can he get his father to America?

I make myself read at least one sports book a year—more if possible.  This one is definitely worth the read.  The focus is on the difficulty Bilal has transitioning from Pakistan to America, and his friends’ fixation on the game of baseball is only one part of it.  Lorenzi does an excellent job putting us into the shoes of new immigrants, and showing us that things that we assume are universal are not, like having dogs for pets, and eating pizza.  The differences are highlighted gracefully, with no blame or accusation implied—we are just different, not better or worse.  And those differences can be managed easily with careful listening, understanding, and kind laughter.  I enjoyed getting a look inside the mind of an immigrant, and felt that it helped me better understand what some might feel.  I think that sports fans would enjoy the book, as would anyone who likes a good story, or people who want to understand immigrants.  I also think A Long Pitch Home would make a great classroom read, and could generate a lot of great discussions.  Recommended for grades 4-6.

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Frogs and Toads, Oh My! Storytime with the Greenies

By Awnali Mills

Last week’s books were all about frogs and toads.  I chose Beware of the Frog by William Bee, and Toad on the Road: a Cautionary Tale by Stephen Shaskan.

I started with Wheels on the Bus, then brought out my frog puppet who brought out the letter F and words that start with F.  Then we dove right into Beware of the Frog.  I ALWAYS debate about whether I’m going to read this book or not.  I absolutely adore it, but it always seems too long for my group.  But I cannot resist its lure, and read it I do.  And the children were mesmerized.  They kept getting closer and closer to me so they could see the pictures better, and did they look scared!  What was coming out of the woods?  What was going to happen?  It was great.

Then we sang Mmm Ahh, courtesy of Jbrary.  Next was the fingerplay Five Hungry Froggies.

Five hungry froggies (Hold up 5 fingers on opposite palm)
On a lily pad.
One little bug
Was all they had.
The first hungry froggy
Zipped out his tongue, (Stick out tongue)
And he caught that bug.
Yum! Yum! (Rub tummy)
(Repeat with other frogs)

The flannel Five Green and Speckled Frogs was next, followed by Toad on the Road.  I chose this book for several reasons.  It’s funny, it’s short, it has great rhyming, and it’s very repetitive, and lends itself well to audience participation.  The kids seemed to enjoy it.

Our next song was accompanied by the uke.  I sang and played, I got the parents to sing along with me by giving them a brief summary of the words (and ordering them to sing), and the kiddos acted out the actions.

All the Little Frogs
(Tune: Wheels on the Bus)
(Act out the motions of the song)
All the little frogs go Hop! Hop! Hop!
Hop! Hop! Hop!
Hop! Hop! Hop.
All the little frogs go Hop! Hop! Hop!
All around the pond.

All the little frogs go Splash! Splash! Splash!
All the little frogs go Swim! Swim! Swim!
All the little frogs go to sleep

The last verse I played and sang more slowly, and the children, with no prompting at all, laid on the ground and curled up, just as if it were nap time.  Frankly, I was astonished!

We finished up with the flannel Ten Little Froggies.
10 little froggies on a lily pad
1st one said, “Let’s catch a fly”
2nd one said, “Let’s hide.”
3rd one said, “Let’s swim.”
4th one said, “Look, I’m in!”
5th one said, “Let’s dive.”
6th one said, “There went 5.”
7th one said, “Where did they go?”
8th one said, “Ho! Ho! Ho!”
9th one said, “I need a friend.”
10th one said, “This is the end.”

I had the kids tell me which of the flannel frogs I had up was the one who said the quote, and that was rather disastrous.  It turned into a bit of a free-for-all.  Perhaps I will number them in the future?  Then I could get the kids interaction without having them all compete with one another to have their frog be the one chosen.

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Book Review – The Stone Girl’s Story by Sarah Beth Durst

Stone Girl's StoryBy Awnali Mills

Long ago, Father carved Mayka and her animal companions from stone.  But Father is long dead now, and over time their marks, the marks that keep them alive and functioning, are fading.  When Turtle finally quits moving, Mayka decides that it’s time to take action.  She will leave the mountain, go to the town of Skye, and find a stonemason to recurve their marks.  The stone birds Jacklo and Risa insist on coming with her.

The three friends discover that the city is much more complicated than the mountain.  Even among the many stone creatures, the friends are unique and no one has ever seen a stone girl before.  Soon they find themselves in danger of never being allowed to leave, but the danger to themselves is only the beginning.  The freedom of every stone creature is in jeopardy.  Can Mayka and her friends stop the enslavement?  Or are they too late?

I really enjoyed this book.  It reminded me of The Girl Who Drank the Moon.  The world felt new and completely different to me, but at the same time, it had the flavor of an old fairy tale—familiar and comforting.  I know that doesn’t make sense, but there it is.  Mayka is sincere and honest, and reads just like a girl who has grown up in an uncomplicated environment.

Most of all, I loved the idea of the marks that animate the creatures.  Each mark tells the story of the creature and shapes their personality.  But the book teaches us that we are the masters of our own stories, and we get to determine for ourselves if we’re going to follow the course laid out for us or if we’re going to change.  Put this in the hands of 3-7 graders who like fantasy, adventure, fairy tales, or just a good story.

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Book Review – The Elephant Thief by Jane Kerr

Elephant ThiefBy Awnali Mills

In Edinburgh, 1872, mute Boy is scratching out a hand-to-mouth existence as a pickpocket.  When the criminal Scratcherd sets him to recover what a dead man stole, Boy is confident he can do the job.  But he never counted on the crazy series of events that landed him in the role of Indian royalty, caring for Maharajah the Magnificent, a gentle elephant on a cross county trip.  Along the way, he acquires a fancy new wardrobe, tons of admirers, a new friend, and a new name.  But will the faceless villains trying to stop their trip kill Maharajah before they get to Belle Vue?  Will Scratcherd catch up to Boy and end his new life before he really gets a chance to enjoy it?

I truly enjoyed this historical fiction story.  It’s based on a true story about Maharajah the Elephant (whose bones can be seen at the Manchester Museum) and the trip he took across the country to get to Belle Vue.  Boy, who has never known a family, or loyalty, or the warmth of friendship, is given the chance to learn all of these things.  He is a diamond in the rough, and watching his old life being chipped away is a joy.  It’s also a great “whodunit,” and had me fooled—which is not easy to do.  I would give it to anyone in grades 3-6 who enjoys historical fiction, loves animals, or likes mystery or adventure.

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Book Review – The Parker Inheritance by Varian Johnson

Parker InheritanceBy Awnali Mills

Twelve-year-old Candice is stuck in the small town of Lambert, SC, for the summer while her newly divorced parents try to sell the home she grew up in.  She’s upset at missing hanging out with her friends, but is enjoying her new friendship with Brandon, the boy across the street.  Together they have decided to try solving the mystery that chased Candice’s grandmother out of town many years ago.  If they can solve the mystery, they will find a treasure—but is the whole thing a hoax?  As Candice and Brandon start unraveling clues, they learn about an ugly racial incident that destroyed three families and has almost destroyed the town.  Will they solve the mystery, or will the hateful past hurt them, too?

Johnson is a master storyteller who successfully weaves the stories of the past with current problems.  He draws subtle parallels between disadvantaged people groups in different times, questioning their treatment and urging tolerance and understanding.  Every time I picked up the book, I lost track of time and had to be pulled away.  I was really impressed by the many threads Johnson wove into a web of clues—I have no idea how he kept track of them all!  Definitely too much for MY brain!  This is definitely an upper elementary to middle school book, because it deals with some pretty ugly violence.  Don’t let that stop you from recommending it to your older mystery lovers—especially fans of The Westing Game (the book is mentioned several times).

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