New Books of Note (My Recent Recommendations for Teachers)

Alison Morris -- March 31st, 2010

Last week I sent an e-mail out to a couple hundred local teachers and librarians (those in my e-mail address book), in which I told them about our store’s upcoming events (next week = Gary Paulsen!) and extolled the virtues of more than a few forthcoming books I thought might be of interest to them. Looking over the message later, it occurred to me that these recommendations might also be of interest to some of you as well, so I’ve pasted the text of the message below. I hope you’ll share your favorite recent discoveries (for any age!) in the comments field at the end.

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I’ve been reading and loving so many things of late, it’s hard to know where to start! Here’s a quick introduction to a few of my new favorites.

The hottest title on our shelves this week is The Wimpy Kid Movie Diary by Jeff Kinney (Abrams, available now, $14.95). Lest you dismiss it as just a big movie studio’s way to make more money, let me tell you that this is not just marketing fluff. This is a really, really, REALLY cool book that explains, in great detail, how the Diary of a Wimpy Kid movie was made. Even kids who aren’t Wimpy Kid fans (are there any?) will enjoy reading this book, because it will tell them everything they’ve ever wanted to know about what happens on a movie set, how casting works, what costume makers think about, how much time is spent filming each day, how a script is written, how film is edited, and so on and so on and so on. This is a great non-fiction pick for reluctant readers!

Did you read The Squirrel’s Birthday and Other Parties by Toon Tellegen (Sterling, available now, $12.95) — one of my favorite all ages read-alouds of 2009? If so (or if not!) you’ll want to be sure to pick up a copy of Letters to Anyone and Everyone (Sterling, available now, $12.95), which features correspondences in letter form between the same charming woodland creatures as appeared in the first book. (Note that you can read these books in any order!) There are reportedly many more of these Toon Tellegen gems being imported from the Netherlands, which makes me more than a little bit happy. I can’t wait to read the next one!

Looking ahead a bit… Pam Munoz Ryan has a terrific new novel coming in April (Scholastic, $16.99) – it’s a fictionalized biography of poet Pablo Neruda called The Dreamer, and it is lush and lyrical and just. plain. great. Printed in green ink (what Neruda called the color of hope) with illustrations by Peter Sis, it is a must read for grades 4-8. I would not be surprised to see this book on a few big awards lists come next year. (I certainly think it deserves a place there!)

Another famous historical figure appears on the pages of A Nest for Celeste by Henry Cole (HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen Books, available now, $16.99). This clever tale is narrated by a mouse who befriends the teenage assistant of John James Audubon while the two are collecting avian specimens in Louisiana. Lively pencil illustrations fill the pages of this novel and do much to enhance the story of a mouse with understandable doubts about Audubon’s practice of shooting birds in order to paint them. While topic of guns may not play well in all elementary school classrooms, I think this book is probably best appreciated by kids in grades 3-5.

Sarah Weeks fans will not be disappointed with her forthcoming novel As Simple as It Seems (HarperCollins, coming in June, $15.99), which stars two very memorable, very likable characters, each facing genetic hurdles that are all too common but not often seen in middle grade novels. One was born with fetal alcohol syndrome, the other is allergic to everything under the sun (yes, peanuts included).

Be prepared to fall in love (again) with Deborah Wiles’s wonderful ability to bring life to the page. Her new novel Countdown (Scholastic, $16.99, coming in May) is fresh, funny, and chock full o’ fuel for discussion. As if that’s not enough, it’s the first in a trilogy of books set in the 1960s that’s replete with visual artifacts from the time (newspaper photos, advertisements, media quotes, pop culture images) and the first in a trilogy, meaning we’ll get to spend time with these characters for longer than just the length of this one volume. This book is probably best suited to grades 4-8.

I think it would work be interesting to pair Countdown with Rosemary Wells and Dino Fernandez’s forthcoming My Havana: Memories of a Cuban Boyhood, illustrated by Peter Ferguson $17.99 (Candlewick Press, coming in August, $17.99, probably best suited to grades 2-5). One of the topics in Fallout is the Bay of Pigs invasion, and with that comes some discussion of life in Cuba under Fidel Castro. My Havana is about Fernandez’s childhood in the 1950s, in pre-Castro days, but it sets the stage perfectly for what will follow in the 1960s, where the story is picked up in Fallout. This book ties nicely also to immigration units and studies of architecture!

Middle school and high school teachers will want to get their hands on Sources of Light by Margaret McMullan ($16, available now, probably best for grades 6-10). Ever since I read her first novel, How I Found the Strong, I’ve been waiting for the world to wake up and discover her near-perfect prose. McMullan’s new novel about a girl discovering the art of photography and the nuanced emotions on both sides of the struggle for Civil Rights could (and ought to be) the book that finally makes that happen. I read this book in one sitting, and I know it’s going to stay with me (for which I’m grateful).

Another winner for mature readers is Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta (Candlewick Press, available now, $18.99). I fell madly in love with the cast of this deeply emotional fantasy when Melina herself sent me a copy almost a year and a half ago. I meant to blog about it then. And I meant to blog about it a month later. And I meant to blog about it soon after that. And now… Well, now the book is available here, and the word is out, and I am very late telling the world that this is a magical, memorable story that will not soon leave you. If you like your protagonists (both male and female) smart and strong, and you like your romance heart-stopping, this is the book for you.

As for new picture book favorites? Where to start?!

Last year at our event with Kevin Henkes, he gave us a sneak peek at his new picture book, My Garden (Greenwillow, available now, $17.99, all ages), and we all wished we could get our hands on our own copies right away! FINALLY that’s possible, and oh it was just so worth the wait! Once again Henkes proves beyond adept at capturing a child’s sensibilities and transferring them to the page. The imaginative garden that blooms on these pages will sow the seeds of creativity in any child who hears it.

While we’re on the topic of read-alouds, one of my new favorite new ones has to be Hip & Hop, Don’t Stop! by Jef Czekaj (Disney Hyperion, available now, $16.99, probably best appreciated by grades 1-5). A tortoise and the hare for the hip-hop generation, it’s clever, it’s hip, it’s funny, and your students will both laugh uproariously and award you double points for coolness when you share it with them.

Also great for riotous reading fun: Shark Vs. Train by Chris Barton ($16.99, coming in May, ages 2 – 102). Shark and Train compete at tasks as ridiculous (and outrageously funny!) as pie-eating and lemonade-selling. This is the book I’m giving to all the preschool through first grade boys in my life this year, and I’m confident that they will L-O-V-E it.

On the opposite end of the spectrum – the quiet end – is a lovely, lovely new book called The Quiet Book, written by Deborah Underwood and illustrated by Renata Liwska (Houghton Mifflin, available now, $12.95, all ages). Liwska’s soft, beautiful illustrations depict different animals experiencing various kinds of quiet (first one awake quiet, making a wish quiet, and so on). Kids will enjoy thinking about the other kinds of quiet they know too. It seems almost impossible not to sigh or coo when you read this one!

The poetry book you MUST have this season? Mirror Mirror: A Book of Reversible Verse by Marilyn Singer, illustrated by Josée Masse (Dutton, available now, $16.99, grades 2-12). Marilyn Singer – the genius Marilyn Singer – has created a new form of poetry here, and the results are sparkling! Surprising! Read the poem on the left. Read the poem on the right. One is a “flipped” version of the other. (The last line of the left poem is the first line of the right poem, and so on.) Sometimes by inverting the poem, the narrator changes or the perspective shifts. Each time a familiar fairy tale or character is presented anew. You will marvel at the idea that anyone was capable of pulling off this trick!

More poetry greatness = Ubiquitous: Celebrating Nature’s Survivors by Joyce Sidman, illustrated by Beckie Prange (Houghton Mifflin, available now, $17, grades 2-8), The same dazzling duo created the Caldecott Honor-winning Song of the Waterboatman and Other Pond Poems, and Joyce Sidman is the author of this year’s Caldecott Honor book Red Sings from Treetops and This Is Just to Say: Poems of Apology and Forgiveness, which is one of our favorites. The ingenious endpapers alone make Ubiquitous a book worth owning!

My graduation gift pick: So Many Days by Alison McGhee, illustrated by Taeeun Yoo (Atheneum, available now, $15.99, all ages). Understated. Perfect. Not at all saccharine.

My pick for “Book on a Topic You *THINK* Will Be Boring But You Are In For a Surprise”: For Good Measure: The Ways We Say How Much, How Far, How Heavy, How Big, How Old by Ken Robbins (Roaring Brook Press, $17.99, available now, for all ages judging from the fact that my husband and I both read all 48 pages and found it fascinating.) Who knew the topic of measurement could be this interesting? I love the way history, social studies, math, and English lessons intersect here! More fun non-fiction with an unusual theme: Pop! The Invention of Bubble Gum by Megan McCarthy (Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books, coming in May, $15.99).

My pick for fantasy fans and language lovers: A Dignity of Dragons: Collective Nouns for Magical Beasts by Jacqueline K. Ogburn and illustrated by Nicoletta Ceccoli (Houghton Mifflin, $17, coming in May). A flurry of yeti. A splash of mermaids. A riddle of sphinx. What could be more clever?

Earth Day Must-Haves: Here Comes the Garbage Barge by Jonah Winter, illustrated by Red Nose Studio (Random House/Schwartz & Wade, available now, $17.99, grades 1-8); Poetrees by Douglas Florian (Simon & Schuster/Beach Lane Books, available now, $16.99, grades 1-8); and We Planted a Tree by Diane Muldrow, illustrated by Bob Staake (Golden Books, available now, $17.99, preK-3rd grade). Here Comes the Garbage Barge is non-fiction of the lively, memorable sort and WOW are the illustrations in this book cool! (Flip the dust jacket over to see how they were done, AND watch the uber-cool video on YouTube.) I have already heard reports of this being a great read-aloud with 5th graders. Poetrees is a grand-slam of a poetry book from the wildly witty Florian about what? Trees. Obviously. Again — a great read-aloud. Finally, We Planted a Tree is a great book about the positive impact that planting trees has on the lives of people all over the world. A complex topic is presented simply and clearly here, with bold, cheerful illustrations. Terrific!

A Great Mother’s Day Read: Little Rabbit and the Meanest Mother on Earth by Kate Klise and M. Sarah Klise (Harcourt, available now, $17). Over the top fun, with a big top twist!

A Great Father’s Day Gift: The Extraordinary Mark Twain (According to Susy) by Barbara Kerley, illustrated by Edwin Fotheringham (Scholastic, available now, $17.99, grades 2-8). A biography of Mark Twain and his daughter Suzy who wrote her own biography of her dad when she was just 14 years-old. Clever, funny, touching, and a great homage to the bond between father and child.

My New Favorite Beach-Themed Read: A Beach Tail by Karen Lynn Williams, illustrated by Floyd Cooper (Boyds Mills Press, available now, $17.95). I love the simplicity of this story and the fact that it’s so kid-centered. Dad takes Gregory to the beach, where Gregory draws a lion in the sand. “Don’t go in the water, and don’t leave Sandy,” says Dad. Dad snoozes under an umbrella, as Gregory draws Sandy’s tail — a tail that gets longer and longer and longer as Gregory absentmindedly draws his way down the beach and away from Dad. When he finally realizes that Dad is no longer in sight, Gregory follows Sandy’s tail and finds his way back. This is a light, fun story, illustrated with sandy looking artwork rendered perfectly by Floyd Cooper. Young readers will love the building suspense as Gregory strays further and further from familiar ground, and they’ll revel (secretly) in the joy of being able to stray where they want to, while still being tethered to home.

And this is just the tip of the iceberg! There are many, many more gems arriving now and coming in the next few months, including my husband‘s graphic novel of The Odyssey, coming from Candlewick Press in October! (Yes, I’m biased, but I think when you see it you’ll be really, really pleased.) So far 2010 is looking to be yet another great year for books!

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Okay, ShelfTalker readers, now it’s YOUR turn! What new (and/or forthcoming) books are you excited about? Please share your recent discoveries here!

3 thoughts on “New Books of Note (My Recent Recommendations for Teachers)

  1. marilyn donahue

    Alison, thanks for this post. It gave me info I need for my upcoming book. After studying what is filling the shelves of our local bookstores, it is such a relief to know that not ALL the new books this year will be dark ones! I will share these titles with my SCBWI Schmoozers and with the Writing Project this summer at UC Riverside.
    Marilyn Donahue
    Author/Consultant

  2. Jenn Dowell

    Oh I’m so glad to know FINNIKIN is so good–I have my copy ready and waiting to be read! And I’m dying for Marchetta’s THE PIPER’S SON–have you gotten a sneak peek at that one yet?

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