I’m long overdue for a bookish blog post, so here’s a quick rundown of some books I’ve read & loved lately.
ME, JANE by Patrick McDonnell is one of those books that I knew was special the minute I picked it up. First, it’s a beautifully designed book, with thick, lovely paper that feels just right for the story of a girl who grew up with big dreams. This picture book biography of Jane Goodall was actually a gift from my editor at Scholastic — a gift that came to my house addressed not to me, but to my character, third grader Marty McGuire. I laughed and loved the book, as I know Marty would have. Truly, it’s a great book for any kid who loves animals and adventure.
IT’S RAINING CUPCAKES by Lisa Schroeder spent months on my “currently reading” shelf on GoodReads because I was reading it during silent reading time with my 7th grade students…and one of them kept giving me “that look.” (If you teach, you know the look…it’s the one that says, “I sure wish you would hurry up with that book because because I want it NOW.”) So I gave the book to the kid, figuring I’d finish when she was done. Only the book didn’t come back to me when she finished. She gave it to her friend, and that friend passed it on to another friend, and only now with the school year winding down, has it finally come home for me to read the rest. I understand now why it was gone all those weeks. IT’S RAINING CUPCAKES is warm and wonderful and absolutely charming.
Isabel is a kid who dreams of seeing the world, but what she gets is a view of her sleepy Pacific Northwest home town and her mother’s moods, which match the cloudy sky more often than not. While her mom is opening a cupcake shop that she hopes will finally make her happy, Isabel enters a baking contest for kids with a New York City trip as the grand prize. There are plenty of delicious cupcake scenes in this book to make readers drool (I am SO craving cupcakes now), but there’s more here, too — an honest, balanced look at life with a parent whose mood swings really affect the family, a realistic portrayal of friendships with all their ups and downs, and a snapshot of a small-town neighborhood that reminds us what makes local businesses and the communities they serve so special. Highly recommended, especially for older elementary and middle school readers who aren’t quite ready to make the leap to older YA titles.
THE CHIMPS OF FAUNA SANCTUARY is equal parts heartbreaking, and hopeful – and completely fascinating. Author Andrew Westoll spent several months volunteering at Fauna Sanctuary, a huge farm and sanctuary for retired and rescued lab chimpanzees. Its founder, Gloria Grow,has made it her life mission to give back to the chimps who have given up so much. The chimps’ stories are personal and heartbreaking; subjected to years of medical research, they are both psychologically and physically damaged. They’ve been infected with human viruses, undergone numerous surgeries, been knocked out repeatedly by dart guns, and separated from the family groups that are so important to their species. And yet…somehow on a farm in the Canadian countryside, they’ve found ways to begin healing and trusting again.
The author blends the very personal story of Gloria’s chimps with the history of human beings’ relationship with chimps, the debate over lab research and the Great Ape Protection Act, and the sociology of these fascinating animals with whom we share more than 94% of our DNA. This book is marketed as adult nonfiction, but I think it’s one that high school and older middle school students will find both fascinating and moving.
Usually, people say not to judge a book by its cover, but I think with this book…it’s okay. IMAGINARY GIRLS by Nova Ren Suma fits this gorgeous, haunting cover perfectly — it’s fresh, evocative, stunningly written – and paints such an amazing sense of place in the Hudson Valley town where it’s set that the place itself feels like a living, breathing character. And in some ways…it is.
The story opens at the town’s reservoir, where Chloe and her captivating older sister Ruby are at a party. When Ruby encourages Chloe to swim across, Chloe makes a horrifying discovery in the middle of the reservoir — the body of a classmate, adrift in a rowboat. But things aren’t always what they seem, and when Chloe moves away for two years and then comes home to Ruby, things unravel even more until she can’t be sure what’s real — and what’s not. Saying much more would spoil too much, so I’ll leave it at this. IMAGINARY GIRLS is a gorgeously written book – you’ll want to read it slowly enough to savor the voice and the language. Highly recommended for high school – middle school teachers will want to read it first & decide which kids are mature enough to be a good fit for this one.
What about you? What have you read lately & loved?