Archive for July, 2013

Bluffton by Matt Phelan

Bluffton. By Matt Phelan. Candlewick Press, 2013. 240 pages. $22.99

Summer in Bluffton…. On the shores of Lake Michigan in the early 1900’s,  a community of vaudeville performers summers near Muskegon Michigan. Notable is the Keaton family, including young Buster. Henry Harrison much prefers playing baseball and swimming with these transient members of the community to helping out in his father’s store. The friends grow up and move on… but Henry will have the memories of these Bluffton summers. Matt Phelan takes a little known story about a little known town and brings both alive. Using watercolor panels, Phelan seems to innately know what the scene calls for in order to evoke an emotional response from the reader. The dialogue is sparse with his artwork often carrying the storyline for a series of pages. The palette of summer colors is as refreshing as a dip in Lake Michigan. This book, like Phelan’s award winning Storm in the Barn is a perfect entre to the graphic novel genre. It’s time to summer in Bluffton! For readers and artists in grades 4 and up.


My Weird Writing Tips by Dan Gutman

My Weird Writing Tips. By Dan Gutman. HarperCollins Children’s Books, 2013. 154 pages. $16.99 (Hardcover) and $5.99 (Paperback)

What’s there not to love about Dan Gutman promoting writing using his popular My Weird School series. He starts with encouraging a good story, something Gutman know a little bit about. Next are basics of grammar, spelling and punctuation.  Topics are covered in the irreverent form you’d expect from a tie-in with the Weird School kids. Having said that, the message isn’t lost in the humor. While keeping the tone light and lively, Gutman drives home the point that the ability to communicate is vitally important. Teachers will enjoy incorporating sections the book into their writing lessons. Parents will want to have a copy left in their student’s homework spot. We can only hope the kids will pick them up. For grades 3-7.

After Iris by Natasha Farrant

After Iris. By Natasha Farrant. 272 pages. $16.99

Imagine having your twin die. And then imagine life going on. That, in a nutshell, is the story of After Iris by Natasha Farrant. Life for the Gadsby family goes on after the death of Iris, but things will never be the same for Flora, Jasmine, Twig and their parents. But most of all, life won’t be the same for Iris’ twin, Blue. Blue disengages from the family viewing them, as they grieve separately rather than together, through the lens of her movie camera. When Zoran, the Bosnian male au pair, and Joss the new-boy-next-door enter the scene, things can go either way. Will it be further disruption or a mending of the family? Farrant has crafted a poignant story about the fragile emotions that envelope a family as they cope with what life has wrought. At times funny, at times sarcastic, at times heartfelt, all-in-all this is an engaging read. For grades 4-8.

Summer Reading

I’m back from my hiatus and will be actively writing about all things to do with books and reading resources, especially those geared to middle grade readers.

Since I’ve last posted, I’ve taken several classes. In the spring I was enrolled at the University of Illinois’ Graduate School of Library and Information Science as a community credit student taking a course on youth and media.

This summer, I’ve been immersed in picture books! As part of ALA, I attended the preconference sponsored by ALSC celebrating 75 years of the Caldecott Award. What a wonderful day at the Art Institute of Chicago hearing from some of the most notable illustrators in the game today talk about their work and art. I’ve followed that up with an online course through Penn State University on The Art of the Picture Book (LL ED462). I highly recommend this course. It is well facilitated with excellent feedback from Dr. Vivian Yenika-Agbaw. The readings and assignments are interesting and the dialogue with other students is top-notch.

As for actual reading, I’ve turned to some adult books. Don’t miss Colum McCann’s TransAtlantic. The lyrical writing and riveting plot will hold you spellbound. Along with practically everyone else I read Dan Brown’s Inferno, which was everything I expected from a Dan Brown book – fast paced, page-turning action with a neat plot resolution at the end. While at ALA, I picked up an advance reading copy of Sara Paretsky’s newest book, due out this November. Keep an eye out for Critical Mass. I couldn’t put it down. Next up for me, and I’m sure many others, is the Cuckoo’s Calling. Who would have thought it; JK Rowling plays detective!

Enjoy your summer reading… I know I am.

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