Tag Archives: best books of 2016

We’re Full…of Beans

Oh, Jenni Holm. How I am thankful for you.

As a parent, your books make reading fun. Babymouse was J’s first graphic novel that she loved. Proof: her 2nd grade diorama.  H, like any younger sibling, followed suit. He doesn’t care if a book is pink or blue. He’s all about fun. And Babymouse is fun to read.

When your new chapter book came out – Full of Beans – I read it. LOVED it. Talked about it. And gave it to J – now a 4th grader – to read. And she did: she likes Jenni Holm books, after all. And like the little brother he is, H picked it up. He started reading it a week ago, then said he was almost done the other night. Like a good teacher-parent, I asked what he liked about it. Turns out, there was a lot that went over his head. So: FAMILY READ ALOUD.

Full of Beans is a brilliant read aloud: fast-paced, diverse characters, memorable setting. And as we read, we sometimes talk. About Key West. Rum-running. Choices. Through your story, we’re building understanding and empathy for others whose lives might be different from ours.  We are inferring (who DID paint “Queen Dot’s Throne” on the outhouses?). Learning. Enjoying. And, ultimately, connecting.

History is a tricky subject to teach and to learn. (My childhood report cards are evidence of this.) I truly believe literature – specifically kidlit – is a magic portal for learning and understanding historical events and outcomes.  Full of Beans is a brilliantly accessible novel to introduce readers to the Depression, the New Deal, and how lives are impacted by economics. This was not my goal; rather, it is a happy result of our time spent reading and reflecting on Beans, his choices, and his family.

Our reading and conversations about Full of Beans has really stuck with my kids. Yesterday, while grocery shopping, there was a kid-initiated discussion on which character each child would choose to be and why. Ultimately, H chose Termite…because everyone loves dogs, even flea-ridden ones. J was Beans. Naturally.

So Jenni, thank you. Our family is full – full of appreciation for the stories you share with us readers year in and year out. Full of gratitude for creating memorable characters who have depth and flaws.  Full of admiration for writing historical fiction that is appealing and informative.  The bright, shiny 2017 Scott O’Dell Historical Fiction Award is truly deserved.

Du Iz Tak?

There’s been a lot of  buzz about Carson Ellis’s newest picture book, Du Iz Tak?: it seems like every journal, Best Of list, and bookstore has it listed as a top picture books of the year.

Du Iz Tak? by Carson Ellis

You may have noticed that it wasn’t part of my Best Of 2016 list (it’s there now).  Yes, I’d read the book. It took longer expected, for a book having so few “words” (we’ll get to those in a moment).  My verdict: it was okay. Not Best Of worthy. I could leave it.

But I hadn’t stopped thinking about the book (there’s a sign).  So last night, we read it during Family Story Time.  Telling J&H (ages 9&7) that it had no real words in it piqued their interest. And 25 minutes later, we sat back, completely amazed and blown away by what Ellis created…and I admitted I was wrong.  This book is so, so worth of Best Of honors.

Let’s start with the illustrations. Ellis shows readers the passage of time – and the unfurling of Mother Nature’s gifts – with a simple, accessible ease. Grass grows, characters enter and exit with appropriate speed, seeds fall (then grow), seasons change. The cycle of life is clear, which is needed in order to make sense of the words.

The words – yes, words. You can read this story of 100% nonsense words…with a little work. And that was what made this book a grand slam to my kids. Du Iz Tak?, in our house, translated to What Is That?  Look at the cover: two insects (or oodas, as we figured out), one pointing at the green sprout – and a question mark as punctuation. It *had* to be asking What Is That?  As we read, flipping pages back and forth, we slowly figured out Ellis’s language. Using body language and gestures as well as capitalization and punctuation, we deciphered the insect’s conversation. What an exemplary example of using text features/illustrations to infer language. And for students working on decoding…it doesn’t get any better. This book is a teaching dream.

My gut says that sharing it as a whole-class read-aloud maybe tricky, but it’s totally doable. Maybe share on a doc cam would work well – to allow all to really “see” the illustrations. I’d certainly read it twice: first, without stopping, having children really pay attention to the pictures. The second time, we’d try to figure out the language. I think it’d be super-fun AND educational. Imagine pairing with an insect unit!

Fantasy. Insect Story.  ©2016.  Recommended for ages 6+. Plan on spending 20+minutes reading – and thinking through – this one.

Best of 2016: Early Readers, Graphic Novels, Nonfiction…

Broad category here, so please forgive me. As usual, I didn’t read enough nonfiction. Or graphic novels (to my daughter’s chagrin). I did read lots of beginner readers/transitional books, and these are exceptional.  Here are some great choices from 2016:

Best retelling of a fairy tale in graphic novel format: Snow White by Matt Phelan

Best cover of the year that also happens to be a stellar graphic novel for young readers: Narwhal: unicorn of the sea! by Ben Clanton

Best for super-fans of Ezra Jack Keats (um, ME!): A Poem for Peter by Andrea Davis Pinkney

Best use of language to describe the essence of seasons: When Green Becomes Tomatoes by Julie Fogliano

Best nonfiction story to use to develop growth mindset among students: Whoosh!: Lonnie Johnson’s super-soaking stream of inventions by Chris Barton

Best math concept book since The Greedy TriangleThe Cookie Fiasco by Dan Santat

Best gift for teachers during Teacher Appreciation Week: The Thank You Book by Mo Willems

Best realistic portrayal of divorce through a child’s eyes: Weekends With Max and His Dad by Linda Urban

Best “bad boys…but not really” story: The Infamous Ratsos by Kara LaReau

Best must-read of the year as chosen by my 7-year-old son: Dog Man by Dav Pilkey

…and now, a little lagniappe.

What is lagniappe?  A bonus or unexpected gift. Also, a little bit of my Louisiana years coming out. 🙂

I didn’t read much YA this year (shame on me!), but these stood out:

Three completely different stories, characters, problems – but similar in that they’re each unforgettable. Like YA? You won’t be disappointed by these.

Happy reading, y’all!

Ballet Cat series by Bob Shea

Ballet Cat: Dance! Dance! Underpants! by Bob Shea

Ballet Cat loves ballet, especially with her friend Butter Bear. But Butter Bear does not want to do super-high leaps. Excuses and diversions only work for so long, as Butter Bear ultimately admits she’s embarrassed to leap and for others to see her underpants. Self-confidence and friendship shine in this series. (Ages 4-8)

One of the titles shared at Build a Better Collection, part of PSESD’s 2016 T-L Summit.

Full of Beans by Jennifer L Holm

Full of Beans by Jennifer L Holm

Beans’s home island of Key West is in despair: his dad has gone North, looking for work and has left him in charge as the man of the house. Beans is collecting cans and pulling fire alarms to earn a few pennies when the New Dealers arrive, intent on reimaging his town into a tourist destination. A prequel that stands alone. Releases 08.30.16. (Ages 8-12)

One of the titles shared at Build a Better Collection, part of PSESD’s 2016 T-L Summit.

Why I Conference

Recently, a friend asked me to share some of the highlights from a recent conference.  I talked about the sessions on diverse books, the moments chatting with authors/illustrators on the exhibit floor, and the advance titles perused and picked up.

What I couldn’t quite express was the value of my biggest takeaway: the opportunity to network with some of the best in the field of librarianship.

Attending numerous conferences this past year – including ALA Annual, AASL, NCCE & WLMA – has afforded me the opportunity to be surrounded by hundreds of professionals in the library and information technology worlds. It has taken practice, but walking into a session, meeting, vendor exhibit, or event alone and striking up a conversation is when the best ideas, information, and connections happen. Introverted to the core, it’s a struggle…but one that pays off in huge dividends. I’ve met a mentor in inspiring Susan, a conference friend in dedicated Beth (we meet up every year!), a passionate maker in Bethany, a like-minded colleague in Cheryl and more.

It was meeting Bethany through a mutual friend at NCCE that brought about a dream opportunity: to present at a regional T-L Summit on the Building a Better Collection: the best literature of 2016. With the fabulous Mike Fleming taking YA and me sharing kidlit, I’m hopeful this collaboration will continue for years to come. Getting out there and connecting with others builds relationships that improve my ability to teach, to learn, and to share.

And speaking of sharing: there were 48 titles in the BBC presentation. I’ll be blogging one a day for the next month and a half. If you love one, please comment. Because we all learn when we share and connect.