Announcing KidLit Gems!

KEM GEMS WILL BECOME KIDLIT GEMS!

Elise, our E in KEMs, will retire from KEM Gems to make time for a good cause: creating children’s picture books. Her début title, If You Ever Want to Bring Your Alligator to School, Don’t!, comes out July 14, 2015. Plus she’s writing new stories, all  while illustrating The Magic Word, written by Mac Barnett. Unfortunately, (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it), she no longer has time to review books.

Kristi Janikula Herro

Kristi  Herro

Me, Anna Marras

Me, Anna Marras

Louise Aamodt

Louise Aamodt

 
Kristi Janikula Herro, co-owner and editor of SpotOn Editing, Minnesota SCBWI Meet-up Coordinator, and Literacy Volunteer of America  will continue reading, reviewing, and recommending Gems with me.

We’re pleased to announce that critique buddy, Louise Aamodt, 2015 MN Book Awards judge for Children’s Literature, runner-up of the 2011 Cheerios Spoonful of Stories Contest, and bilingual ESL teacher, joins us to form KidLit Gems. We think you’ll agree, Lou has the perfect qualifications to serve as a children’s literature ambassador.

We chose our new name because KLM Gems sounds too much like an airline and MLK Gems . . . well, you get the gist.

To properly close our KEM Gem Chapter we awarded a “thank you” gift to our most faithful KEM Gem supporter, Randy Holland.

The Grand Poobah of all KEM Gem supporters, Randy Holland. Kidlit Gems supporters, there will be more awards to come. Just sayin . . .

To properly close our KEM Gem Chapter we awarded our most faithful KEM Gem supporter, Randy Holland, a “thank you” gift of To Kill A Mockingbird.

Lucky for us, Elise will still be a constant in our lives as a critique partner, but we will miss her keen illustrator’s-eye  appreciation for the visual artistry of each Gem. We hope she’ll continue to educate us with regular cameo appearances in the Comment Section.

ELISE’S FAREWELL

Elise Parsley

Elise Parsley

“I want to thank Marlys for hosting our Gem reviews for the past year! Personally, I tend to stick to short, funny books with lots and lots of illustrations. Marlys and Kristi, however, have pushed me to read a wider range of titles than I otherwise would, and I’ve learned much from their unique perspectives and book choices. I’ll do my best to keep up with the monthly KidLit titles reviewed on this blog, and I hope you’ll do the same.

 

KIDLIT GEM’S MISSION

To have a coffee-style chat about children’s books and the elements that make them shine.

 

It’s just like KEM Gems with a twist. Each month Kristi, Lou, and I will recommend three books that match a theme. We’d like to hear your selections, too!


Gems can come from any children’s genre–picture book, chapter book/easy reader, middle grade, graphic novel, or YA.


MARCH’S THEME (A tribute to all illustrators out there!)

Illustrative Gem

What illustrative gem would you recommend?

Critique friends Elise Parsley. Kristi Herro, Alicia Schwab, Louise Aamodt, and me. Elise will pass the Gem reviewing torch to Lou, starting March 15th.

Critique friends, including Alicia Schwab, center. Elise says, “Here’s the torch, Lou! Thanks for picking up my slack!”

 

THE BEST CHRISTMAS PAGEANT EVER

As KEM’s Christmas gift to you, we recommend The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, a seasonal classic you’re sure to love.

BestChristmasPageantEver6Chapter Book Fiction
Text copyright © 1972
Barbara Robinson
Picture copyright © 1972
Judith Gwyn Brown
Published by HarperCollins

AWARDS

ALA Notable Children’s Book
Georgia Children’s Book Award
Indiana’s Young Hoosier Book Award
Minnesota’s Maud Hart Lovelace Book Award
2012 School Library Journal’s Top Hundred Children’s Novels
Library of Congress Children’s Books


WHY THE BEST CHRISTMAS PAGEANT EVER IS A KEM GEM

KKRISTI’S TAKE
Barbara Robinson’s first person story about misfits is outrageously funny. Like all true comedies, that which is tragic is conversely Herdmanlarious. Robinson’s narration accomplishes this edge through the voice of the innocent, yet watchful protagonist’s narration. The unbiased account of the Herdman’s understanding of the birth of Jesus is sweet and provoking. Ask yourself, would you want a bullying Herdman in your classroom? Like Jesus, the narrator embraces the scarcely lovable and interjects wisdom upon her fellow peers’ and parisioners’ judgmental ways. Afterall… isn’t that the point of Christmas, to open our hearts, unto ALL?

Favorite line
But as far as I’m concerned, Mary is always going to look a lot like Imogene Herdman–sort of nervous and bewildered, but ready to clobber anyone who laid a hand on her baby.

KEM Sapphire
E
ELISE’S TAKE
Second only to the Bible, this was the most-read Christmas story in my house growing up. My dad still can’t read it aloud without stopping to gasp for air. Barbara Robinson brilliantly captures the politics of the everybody-knows-everybody small town, and the chaos of the annual Christmas pageant in a small town church. Her characters remind you of your neighbors and the kids you grew up with, her dialogue pokes fun at annual Christmas traditions and expectations, and her Herdmans show us what it must be like to hear the Christmas story for the very first time. Ralph, Imogine, Leroy, Claude, Ollie, and Gladys ask the questions that those of us who grew up in church often fail to ask, and the result is a very sincere and poignant version of the nativity, black eyes and all.

Favorite line
“…Joseph and Mary, his espoused wife, being great with child…”

“Pregnant!” yelled Ralph Herdman.

Well. That stirred things up.

KEM Diamond
MGrayANNA MARRAS’ TAKE
This story brought me from stomach-buckling laughter to pillow-hugging tears. Barbara Robinson shared the true meaning of Christmas without proselytizing or gushing. Through subtle humor from the curious introspection of the young narrator, most of this story touches your heart between the lines. It’s tragic, because many of us know the Herdman’s—that family of practically-orphans lost between the cracks of society. Yet, it’s magic, because Robinson showed us how a rag-tag troop of clueless outcasts can teach an entire community about acceptance, growth, and wonderment. And Robinson accomplished this without adding one iota of pity or condescension.

Favorite line
Mrs. Wendleken didn’t even want cats to have kittens or birds to lay eggs, and she wouldn’t let Alice play with anybody who had two rabbits. 

GEMrub


Please share your The Best Christmas Pageant Ever comments!

PERSEPOLIS: THE STORY OF A CHILDHOOD

 “. . . Since then, (1979, after the Shah fled Iran to escape the Islāmic revolution), this old and great civilization has been discussed mostly in connection with fundamentalism, fanaticism, and terrorism. As an Iranian who has lived more than half of my life in Iran, I know that this image is far from the truth. This is why writing Persepolis was so important to me. I believe that an entire nation should not be judged by the wrongdoings of a few extremists. I also don’t want those Iranians who lost their lives in prison defending freedom, who died in the war against Iraq, who suffered under various repressive regimes, or who were forced to leave their families and flee their homeland to be forgotten.

One can forgive but one should never forget.”

~From the introduction of THE COMPLETE PERSEPOLIS
Marjane Satrapi, Paris, September 2002

PersepolisGraphic Novel, Memoir
by Marjane Satrapi

Copyright © 2000 in French, by L’Association, France
Persepolis
English translation copyright © 2003 by L’Association, France
Published in the United States by Pantheon Books, a division of Random House

Age Range: 11 years-adult
Grade Level: Middle Grade-Adult

Text and illustrations by Marjane Satrapi

 

 

AWARDS

Prix Alph’art Coup de Coeur at Angoulême
Prix du Lion in Belgium
Prix Alph’art du meilleur scénario
The Prix France Info
The Young Adult Library Association Recommendation
Named one of “100 Best Books of the Decade” by The Times (London)
Winner of the 2003 Fernando Buesa Peace Prize (Spain)
A New York Times Notable Book
A Time Magazine “Best Comix of the Year”

WHY PERSEPOLIS:THE STORY OF A CHILDHOOD IS A KEM GEM

KKRISTI’S TAKE
Marjane Satrapi’s autobioGRAPHIC novel is: an art form with comic content, a coming of age narration, illustrative of revolutionary Iran, unique, historical, and provocative! Reading it felt a bit like scanning a box of Satrapi’s neatly organized film negatives. The sparse and purposeful word choice intensifies Satrapi’s high-contrast inking. The wedding of her visual and literary style provides the perfect medium to unveil BOLD commentary about how the Islāmic Revolution tainted childhood innocence.   Although this rebellious first person narration is rendered in black & white, PERSEPOLIS delves into the murky greyness of political conflict; a YA must read!

Click here for chapter summaries.

Favorite line
“The revolution is like a bicycle. When the wheels don’t turn, it falls.”

KEM Sapphire
E
ELISE’S TAKE
Although PERSEPOLIS is heavy with political and social issues, Marjane Satrapi’s childlike perspective is still refreshing and relatable. She gives readers an honest and poignant look at the traditions that suppress many in her distant Iranian culture. Simultaneously, we also read about a girl whose struggle with identity and security is not so different from our own. Marji’s experiences of making friends and understanding political changes, as well as her quest for independence and respect are universal themes to which readers of all ages will relate.

Visually, PERSEPOLIS is a marvelous spin on the traditional memoir. The graphic layout offers a genre for young readers who still crave visual references at an age when other illustrated books may appear childish. The images give a youthful quality to some difficult subjects, yet the novel remains sophisticated in its simple, organized presentation.

Favorite line
“I tell you all this because it’s important that you know. Our family memory must not be lost. Even if it’s not easy for you, even if you don’t understand it all.”

KEM Diamond
MGrayMARRAS’ TAKE
Because this graphic memoir lives up to its genre, PERSEPOLIS: THE STORY OF A CHILDHOOD makes a riveting read for all middle grade through adult readers. In this, Satrapi relives her childhood in a country gone mad. Satrapi explains the complexities of war, politics, Iranian history, and culture through reflective but stark black and white comic strips. The absence of red, the color of gore and bloodshed, mercifully buffers readers from the unspeakable suffering inflicted by the Islāmic Revolution. The absence of censorship thwarts the aggrandizement of war. Satrapi’s humor serves as an unexpected encourager, prodding us forward with hope.

As a child, Marjane Satrapi desired to become a prophet. As a young adult she desired to become a revolutionary. In her own way, she accomplished both.

Favorite line
“It was funny to see how much Marx and God looked like each other. Though Marx’s hair was a bit curlier.”

GEMrub

Did you know that, pre-1979,  Iranian women and girls were free to dress as they chose? THECOMPLETEPERSEPOLISYoung adult and older readers enjoy The Complete Persepolis, which includes Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood and Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return.

If you’ve already read the story, I highly recommend watching The Complete Persepolis motion picture, winner of the Cannes Film Jury Prize in 2007.  Your heart will break for the plight of the Iranian people while you fall in love with Marjane, her colorful grandmother and her courageous family. The artistically exquisite movie provides a perfect summary and refresher after reading the two-part memoir.

INTERVIEW WITH MARJANE SATRAPI

Please share your Persepolis comments, too!

THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN

“One day, a still day when the hot air hummed, the humans came.”
~ Ivan, page 128 in THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN

THEONEANDONLYIVAN600 IVANBACKCOVERMiddle Grade/Chapter Book Fiction
Age Range: 8-12 years
Grade Level: 3-7
HarperCollins Publishers
Text copyright © 2012 by Katherine Applegate
Illustration copyright ©  2012 by Patricia Castelao

AWARDS

2013 Newbery Medal
2012 Christopher Medal
Gold Medal in Juvenile Literature 2012 California Book Award
Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators 2013 Crystal Kite Award Winner
#1 New York Times bestseller
School Library Journal Best of Children’s Books 2012
Kirkus Reviews Best of Children’s Books 2012
Amazon 2012 Best Books of the Year
Middle Grade Chicago Public Library Best of the Best 2012
New York Public Library 100 Books for Reading and Sharing
2012 Cybils shortlist
2012 middle grade fantasy (Children’s and Young Adult Bloggers’ Literary Awards)
Texas Bluebonnet Award, 2013-14 Master List

2012 Nerdies Book Award, middle grade fiction
Starred Review, Kirkus Reviews
Starred Review, School Library Journal
Starred Review, Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books

WHY THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN IS A KEM GEM

KKRISTI’S TAKE
Grab the box of tissue. THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN, inspired by a real gorilla named Ivan, will change your perspective, forever! In this illustrated novel told from the point-of-view of Ivan himself, Katherine Applegate has taken the tried and true, “when a stranger comes to town” plot, and authentically created heartache, humor and heroics. Ivan, in and of himself, is remarkable; he creates art. When Ivan meets Ruby, a needy baby elephant, he confronts his fears in order to help his peers. This reflective story about a silverback gorilla’s humanity has a silver lining that will leave you shining.

Like the novel, Patricia Castelao’s drawings are extraordinary, simple, yet, sophisticatedly rendered.

Favorite line
“Someday, I hope I can draw the way Julia draws, imagining worlds that don’t yet exist.”

KEM Sapphire
E
ELISE’S TAKE
Katherine Applegate of ANIMORPHS fame has a reputation for weaving humans and animals in unique ways. Her latest narrative combines human emotion and dialogue into the lives of a great silverback and his unlikely collection of friends in the Big Top Mall. Applegate incites sympathy for every one of these characters, not just the indicted performers. We learn to see that the stray dog, the janitor and his daughter, and even the animal trainer have both good intentions and their own personal heartbreaks.

Through quiet, bite-sized chapters, we experience these relationships, the losses each individual has suffered, and the hopes he or she clings to. Although each vignette is packed with emotion and sensory detail, each is also concise enough for readers to digest a little or a lot in one sitting, perfect for a reluctant or busy reader.

Favorite line
“Because she remembers everything, Stella knows many stories. I like colorful tales with black beginnings and stormy middles and cloudless blue-sky endings. But any story will do.”

KEM Diamond
MGrayMARRAS’
 TAKE
This fictional treasure, based on the captivity of Ivan, a real-life silverback, evokes compassion and empathy for all creatures, great and small.

The extra white space formatting of Applegate’s thoughtful text and Castelao’s moving illustrations calls readers into a deeper contemplation of Ivan’s lonely and desperate experience. This gorilla memoir made me feel the bankruptcy of the collapsing infrastructure and the human flaws and frailties surrounding Ivan and his companions. I cheered for Ivan while he thrived as a primate art prodigy and again, when he rediscovered his true nature as protector.

I’m a better human for having experienced life through Ivan’s eyes.

Thanks to Katherine Applegate and Patricia Castelao for following their creative natures to assemble this poignant story of love and self-worth.

Favorite line
“Humans always smell odd when a change is in the air.  Like rotten meat, with a hint of papaya.”

GEMrub

The One And Only Ivan Book Trailer by Katherine Applegate

Please share your One and Only Ivan comments, too!

1 ZANY ZOO

DegmanOneZanyZooPicture Book Fiction
Age Range: 3-7 years
Grade Level: Preschool-2
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Text copyright © 2010 Lori Degman
Illustration copyright ©  2010 by Colin Jack

AWARDS

2008 Cherrios New Spoonful of Stories New Author Contest
Mom’s Choice Awards
Nominated for the 2012-2013 South Carolina Children’s Picture Book Award

WHY 1 ZANY ZOO IS A KEM GEM

KKRISTI’S TAKE
1 Zany Zoo
by Lori Degman and illustrated by Colin Jack packs a real punch with a rhyming zoo bunch. This classical counting book’s tightly woven narration craftily uses animal antics and alliteration to recall a boy’s early arrival at a zoo. I love that the snappy Seussian text has been paired with equally fanciful hand-drawn ink sketches. The digital cartoon images elevate the hilarity of the romp, after all, it’s not everyday that elephants pack their trunks.  A contemporary classic!

Favorite line 
“9  fickle leopards are waiting in line to trade in their spots for some fresh new designs!”

KEM Sapphire
E
ELISE’S TAKE
Degman’s winning manuscript provides a much-needed example of a rhyming story that is in fact a story. Though the events of the morning are somewhat episodic, we do see a rise in action and feel the zookeeper’s growing frustration as he hunts for his stolen keys. The rhyming is not forced or generic, and the chaotic characters are anything but predictable. Degman gives opportunity for young readers to count and name a wide variety of zoo animals. Even skunks, often overlooked in animal-themed books, get some time in the spotlight.
Jack’s hilarious, expressive characters and active line work is perfect for this busy story. He provides viewers with a hidden fox on each page and plenty of details to discover each time they return to this rousing chase.

Favorite line
“7 sad hippos were making repairs, from damage they caused playing musical chairs.

KEM Diamond
MGrayMARRAS’ TAKE
Children of all ages will wait in line for good rhyming picture books. Kids, for immediate gratification, and adults, because they know how silly stanzas endure from generation-to-generation through memorization and retelling. Like colorful cotton candy, funny rhymes almost always make you happy. Yet they have extra staying and bonding power when crystallized. That’s why I’d wait in line for Lori Degman’s 1 Zany Zoo, because I know the story will stick around awhile.

Few can write humor and few can write poetry, but Degman does both. And well.

Jack Colins’ whimsical illustrations and retro color palette make me feel young again. They take me back to Hanna and Barbera, Loony Tunes, and Disney classics. And new, hilarious details jumps out with every reading. Bravo!

Favorite line
“2 sporty zebras in goggles and flippers were snipping the walrus’s whiskers with clippers.”

GEMrub

Many children’s book legends were/are also picture book poets: A. A. Milne, Theodor Seuss Geisel, Shel Silverstein, Jack Prelutsky, Judith Viorst, Dan Yaccarino, Anna Dewdney, Corey Rosen . . .

But agents and editors will beg you not to write a rhyming picture book. Why? Because they are drowning in poorly written submissions.

What makes a rhyming picture book so hard to write or publish?

  • Phrases need to read smoothly, with precise beats, using words that are fresh, original, and intriguing—not the standard “you”, “to”, and “blue”.
  • Each rhyme should be pure, but not forced. A book with too many near-rhymes, like “tag” and “bake” will annoy, not entertain its readers.
  • A good picture book requires a plot that unfolds naturally, without being manipulated to fit rhymes.
  • Rhyming stories are difficult to translate into other languages. These limitations make them a bigger challenge to market internationally.

Yet, what books do you most cherish from your childhood? We’re willing to bet there’s at least one rhyming picture book on your list.

Please share your 1 Zany Zoo comments, too!

KIRA-KIRA

KiraKiraMiddle Grade Fiction
Age Range: 10-14 years
Grade Level: 5-9
Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Text copyright © 2005 Cynthia Kadohata
Cover photo copyright ©  2004 Julia Kuskin
Book design by Ann Sullivan
Jacket design by Russel Gordon

 AWARDS

2005 John Newbery Medal
ALA Notable Children’s Books
Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature
Blue Spruce YA Book Award Nominee (CO) Booklinks Lasting Connections
Booklist Editors’ Choice
CCBC Choices (Cooperative Children’s Book Council)
California Collections Capitol Choices List (DC)
Charlotte Award Suggested Reading List (NY)
Dorothy Canfield Fisher Book Award Master List (VT)
Garden State Teen Book Award Nominee (NJ)
KSRC Middle School Titles – Top Pick
Kiriyama Prize Notable Book NYPL
“Books for the Teen Age” Nene Award Master List (HI)
Pacific Northwest Young Reader’s Choice Award
Master List Thumbs Up! Award Master List (MI)

WHY KIRA-KIRA IS A KEM GEM

KKRISTI’S TAKE
Cynthia Kadohata’s KIRA KIRA is a shining example of a contemporary book for young readers that delves into the prejudices Japanese American kids experienced post-WWII. The first person prose reads simplistically, pointedly and often contains vignettes that feel like they have been torn straight from a journal. A journal, much like Katie Takeshima’s sister’s diary. Kadohata accomplishes this authenticity through her details that always foreshadow, from the first line, all the way to the last line. There’s just enough, but not too much. This mastery of careful observation is also evident in Kadohata’s characters that leap from the page, both perfect and imperfect. I found myself wishing for a sister, just like Lynn, even if it meant experiencing illness and loss, because in the end, the glimmering gift of hope endured.

Favorite line
“I keep her diary in a drawer next to my bed.”

KEM Sapphire
EELISE’S TAKE
Katie Takeshima may struggle to find themes in her assigned readings for school, but the themes of persistence, sacrifice, and love clearly permeate her narration. Kira-Kira is described as the Japanese term for glittering or shining, and Kadohata’s writing truly shines when she slows down to reveal a conversation, a car ride, or a family meal. I found myself rushing through Kadohata’s frequent summarizations to get to her next fully realized scene. Kadohata doesn’t focus explicitly on discrimination in this mid-century novel, nor does she leave it out. This Japanese family is not called names or physically harmed, but neither are they included in regular society or given equal opportunities in their Deep South neighborhood. The topic is subtle (often the case with discrimination). In the end, however, familial love and service outshines the community’s prejudices.

Favorite line
It was as if the house were healing Lynn. That made me love the house even more than I would have anyway.

KEM Diamond
MGrayMARRAS’ TAKE
For me, a novelist hits a home run when their story makes my laughing tears co-mingle with my sad ones. Cynthia Kadohata hit a homer. Her first- person novel, KIRA-KIRA, seems so genuine, you’d swear she’d written a memoir as a youth. Kadohata welcomes readers into the intimate and difficult lives of the Japanese-American Takeshima family as their middle child, Katie, grows from a 5 year old in the 50s into an adolescent in the 60s. Kadahota covers the topics of family, work, reproduction, friendship, marginalization, and death with such naïve, thoughtful, and inquisitive candor, I came away feeling like Katie Takeshima truly lived and breathed as my quirky childhood friend.

Favorite line
When Uncle Katuhisa knocked on the door, I made him give me a password. He said with irritation, “Open up now, young lady, or bear my wrath.” That happened to be the password, so I opened the door.

GEMrub

At the 2014 Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Summer Conference in Los Angeles, Kahodata shared that her Kira-Kira inspiration came from the life and death of her beloved dog. That must have been one delightful pet.

Please share your KIRA-KIRA comments, too!

HEN HAD HER HAM

HENHADHERHAMEarly Reader

Age Range:
3-6 years

Reading Level A:
Preschool-Kindergarten

Published by
McGraw-Hill School Division

Text copyright
© 2003 Meish Goldish

Illustration copyright
© 2003 Andy San Diego


WHY HEN HAD HER HAM IS A KEM GEM

KKRISTI’S TAKE
In HEN HAD HER HAM, Meish Goldish constructs a sequentially ordered recipe for learning new words. A simple sentence structure feeds the reader with clear, consistent cues that help build vocabulary, one layer at a time, just like making a sandwich. And like every good recipe, Goldish has the perfect balance of sugar and spice, stacking this leveled book with silly surprises that mix whimsy into what can otherwise be a frustrating experience; learning to read.  Andy San Diego’s illustrations of the only character in the story, the hen, are equally filled with sugar and spice. The hen’s facial expressions encourage a beginning reader as they struggle to make phonetic sounds. The true gem of this book is that it combines consistency with silliness.

Favorite line
“Hot peppers? HOT! HOT! HOT!”

KEM Sapphire


EELISE’S TAKE
This easy reader is a splendid reminder of where we all started. Using one and two-syllable words, Goldish takes us through a simple action done by a simple character. San Diego’s no-nonsense illustrations provide some direction, but they are by no means a crutch for a young reader. The gross factor in Hen’s choice of condiments will keep kids turning pages until the end reveals a slight shift in both text and illustrations. Hen’s final condiment is her undoing as she bites into her meal. Hen and her sandwich are a fun and silly way for new readers to meet milestones in literacy and know the triumph of completing an entire book.

Favorite line
“Hen had her ham with grape jelly.”

KEM Diamond


MGrayMARRAS’ TAKE
In HEN HAD HER HAM, Meish Goldish’s funny word sandwiches stimulate the appetites of new readers. Illustrator Andy San Diego’s  adventurous, googly-eyed  protagonist educates via giggle-inducing entertainment.

HEN HAD HER HAM taught my youngest granddaughter that she can read–and read well. Our early reader’s confidence has grown to the point that she typically re-reads HEN’S story until A) she gets hungry, or B) a grownup hides the book to keep their eyes from glossing over.

I can particularly identify with Hen because her tongue sticks out when she concentrates; like mine, as I write this. And I’m wondering why San Diego didn’t draw her some milk to follow that surprise ending. Water’s not going to help.

Our copy is a little bent, but if you ever want to borrow HEN HAD HER HAM, I know a little girl who would read it to you.

GEMrub

 Please share your HEN HAD HER HAM comments, too!

EVERY SOUL A STAR

Did you know that some people call the total solar eclipse Nature’s Greatest Coincidence? During this phenomena, the moon and the sun look the same size from the earth. But the moon is 400 time smaller. Coincidentally, (or not), the sun circles the earth 400 times as far away as the moon. That’s why they seem the same size to us. If the moon were even a few miles smaller in circumference, it wouldn’t hide the face of the sun.

EVERY SOUL A STARMiddle Grade Fiction
Age Range: 8-12 years
Grade Level: 3-7
Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, Hachette Book Group
Text copyright © 2008 Wendy Mass
Cover photo copyright © 2008 Pat La Croix/The Image Bank/Getty Images

 AWARDS

California Young Reader Medal
First Annual Homeschool Book Award


WHY EVERY SOUL A STAR IS A KEM GEM

KKRISTI’S TAKE
EVERY SOUL A STAR took me on a stellar journey where I learned about individuality, friendship and astronomy. Wendy Mass weaves together three points-of-views to show us how it feels to be an outsider. Ally, the alpha girl, Bree, the beauty and Jack, who wants to hide in a box, learn that their uniqueness is what makes them radiate from the shadows of ordinary life. Wendy has channeled the mesmerizing energy of a solar eclipse into a fairy-tale ball, only there’s no magic or evil, just truth and hope that connects us universally. This is one of those books that I didn’t want to end because I had met three very dear friends, and without them, there was a void.

Favorite line
“And as streams of light fan out behind the darkened sun like the wings of a butterfly, I realize that I never saw real beauty until now.”

KEM Sapphire
EELISE’S TAKE
The collision of celestial paths in a solar eclipse is a perfect backdrop for the meeting of three very different lives. In EVERY SOUL A STAR, Mass masterfully alternates between Ally, Bree, and Jack’s first-person perspectives and elicits a sympathetic response from her readers towards each. By the end of the story, I was invested in all three kids, their flaws, their insecurities, and their personal growth.

Mass’ description of the solar eclipse was also a highlight. My only opportunity to see a solar eclipse for myself was during second grade. We were forbidden to look outside (under threat of certain blindness!), so I was thrilled to “see” the big moment through this novel.

Tip: For extra glory, read Ally’s chapter 7 while listening to MPR showcase a very dramatic Buffalo Philharmonic.

KEM Diamond
MGrayMARRAS’ TAKE
In EVERY SOUL A STAR, Wendy Mass treads where few writers dare to go–into the galaxies of three fictional adolescent minds, in first person, and in present tense. What a brave soul. She shines as a psychological  genius–a prerequisite for anyone who loves teenagers.

Mass camouflages astrophysics amidst entertaining character dialog and reflections. The subliminal lessons work so well, I’ve reserved August 21, 2017, the next mainland total eclipse, to camp in the middle of nowhere with a red flashlight and a telescope. If EVERY SOUL A STAR can ignite a late-in-life star-gazing passion in me, imagine the astronomically bright potential for a 13-year-old reader.

Favorite line
“I sure as heck won’t tell them that it used to belong to my dad when he was a baby and that he left it in my crib when he took off. And I definitely won’t tell them that I say good night to it every night before I go to sleep.

It’s just too pathetic.”GEMrub

Every Soul a Star Book trailers by Maria M.


Every Soul a Star Book trailer by Sarah Simmons

EVERY SOUL A STAR Resources

Please share your Every Soul A Star comments, too!

GRANDPA GREEN

MacMillan Children’s Publishing Group calls Grandpa Green “the book grownups read to those still growing.”

GRANDPAGREENIIPicture Book Fiction
Age Range: 5-9 years
Grade Level: Kindergarten-4th
Published by Roaring Book Press,
Holtzbrinck Publishing Holdings
Ltd Partnership

Text and Illustrations
Copyright © 2011 by Lane Smith

 

Peek inside.

Peek inside.

AWARDS

A Caldecott Honor Book
A New York Times Best Illustrated Book
A Publishers Weekly Best Children’s Book
Silver Medal Society of Illustrators
An Amazon Best Book
Kansas City Star Top 100 Books
A Barnes & Noble Best Book
A School Library Journal Best Book
Seven Impossible Things Top Ten
A Time Out New York Kids Best Book
Junior Library Guild Selection
Starred Review by Publishers Weekly
Starred Review by School Library Journal

WHY GRANDPA GREEN IS A KEM GEM

KKRISTI’S TAKE
GRANDPA GREEN ornamentally grows our imagination, and creates a place like paradise. This quiet story dedicated to a grandparent derives its energy from the wonderfully clever illustrations. What makes GRANDPA GREEN standout from other sentimental picture books that chronicle a life are the clever, conflicted, laugh-and-cry moments; especially the ending. GRANDPA GREEN reminds both the young and the old that there’s a resolution to every problem, even the ones that seem the most unfortunate.

Lane has created a masterpiece with humor and heART.

Favorite line
“But the important stuff, the garden remembers for him.”

KEM Sapphire
EELISE’S TAKE
Using an art form within an art form, Smith has done it again. His illustrations of topiary designs are brimming with texture, humor, and profound depth as they explore pieces of a fictional gardener’s biography. While some shapes are immediately apparent, I found I could not rush through this book. Each spread demands that the reader pause, or else risk missing a visual surprise. A dramatic four-page gatefold at the ends elaborately reviews the entire story of the gardener’s well-lived life.

Smith’s quiet story explores a wide range of universal emotions, and undoubtedly sparks imagination and discussion across generations of readers.

KEM Diamond


MGrayMARRAS’ TAKE
Wowee! Wow! Wow! I want what Lane Smith eats for breakfast. Who else would have thought to narrate a story about a long and fulfilling life through a great-grandson’s guided topiary tour? Smith’s enigmatic illustrations and elegant silence drew me to one conclusion. Each page turn dazzled me with a new truth.

GRANDPA GREEN covers the three “r’s” of relationship, reverence, and remembering. The Ancient Greek symbol of regeneration and rebirth, GREEN, provides the perfect color scheme for a book about the generational gift of life–and the ultimate last name for Great Grandpa. This timeless and gentle book will bless generations to our great-grandchildren and beyond.

Favorite line (Kristi and I didn’t compare notes. Honest.)
“But the important stuff, the garden remembers for him.”

GEMrub

What do you like most about GRANDPA GREEN?

TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD

MockingbirdCoverbySarahJColemanYoung Adult Fiction

Age Range:
12 years-adult

Grade Level:
Jr. High & up

Published by HarperCollins

Copyright © 1960 by Harper Lee

AWARDS

Pulitzer Prize, 1961
Alabama Academy of Honor, 2001
Honorary Doctorate, University of Notre Dame, 2006
Presidential Medal of Freedom, 2007

WHY TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD IS A KEM GEM

KKRISTI’S TAKE
It’s no wonder that Harper Lee’s, TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, is an American classic. Her coming of age YA novel addresses the moral nature of human beings through the eyes of innocent children. Thanks to a stranger coming to town, Dill, who brings all the thrill, we see both the good and the evil in Maycomb County.

Harper Lee has put into prose a warning to the reader: Beware of false accusations.  The morally good Atticus, reminds us of this when he has a heart to heart with Scout, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.” when discussing how Scout is teased about gender and cautions against using fists to solve problems.  The novel weaves so many themes: small town, the south, social justice, community.  But most of all, the true gems are the characters. And to use Atticus’ flattery, Lee’s spot-on dialogue is a marvelous moral compass for the reader to navigate our modern day cruelties, in a global world where the pull between good and evil still lurk in the night.

KEM Sapphire

EELISE’S TAKE
Reading this book for the first time as an adult left me wishing that more adults would read it. It’s often talked about as a children’s book, and for good reason. Lee masterfully exposes bigotry and hypocrisy for the ugly diseases they are among the hearts of mankind and young Scout Finch provides a safe vantage point for such heavy topics.

However, MOCKINGBIRD is by no means a book leveled only at young readers. The narrator is a thoughtful, observant child within the story, but her musings as a narrator contain maturity that only time and experience can produce. Its tragically timeless themes aren’t going away any time soon. I found Lee’s tremendous, solo work a compelling refresher on decency and compassion towards my neighbor, no matter our differences.

Favorite line
“But I never figured out how Atticus knew I was listening, and it was not until many years later that I realized he wanted me to hear every word he said.” ~ Scout Finch

 KEM Diamond


MGrayMARRAS’ TAKE
Harper Lee stands out as a pioneer  writing genius who broke every rule of the story-telling trade. She held a floodlight to the ugliest social dynamics of her time and blew the cover off America’s more subtle snobbery. She dared to educate generations of adults through the narrative voice of a child. Then she did something even more absurd. She created a young protagonist, Scout Finch, who was astonishingly independent, wise, articulate—and female.

Recommending this book as a KEM GEM may seem like a no-brainer. But we’d do a disservice if we didn’t. If you haven’t read TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, slide it to the top of your bucket list. It’ll make you want to hug a defense lawyer, visit a shut-in, resolve a human rights violation, and become a better person—after you roll down the street in a tire.

Favorite line
“The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience.” ~ Atticus Finch

GEMrub

One can see Lee’s influence in other written-for-adult, court room drama masterpieces; for instance, John Grisham’s A Time to Kill and Aaron Sorkin’s A Few Good Men. In fact, I’m certain Matthew McConaughey studied Peck’s Atticus before playing Jake Tyler Brigance in A Time to Kill, the movie.

to-kill-a-mockingbird-trailer-title-cardAtticusFinchAtticusandScout
If you’ve read the book, I highly recommend watching To Kill A Mockingbird Movie1962) the movie as well. You’ll see why Gregory Peck’s performance gained him the honor of the American Film Institute’s #1 hero in 100 yearsAnd you’ll marvel that Mary Badham (Miss Jean Louise Finch) had no acting experience prior to her starring performance.
Random facts about To Kill a Mockingbird

  • In a 2006 survey of librarians, To Kill a Mockingbird ranked first in their list of books you should read before you die.
  • TKAM is loosely autobiographical. Nelle Harper Lee DillofTKAMfashioned  Atticus after her own attorney father.
  • Mr. Lee unsuccessfully defended a black father and son accused of a murder;  rendering him unable to save them from execution by hanging.
  • The book character, Dill, (Charles Baker Harris), was inspired by Harper Lee’s neighbor and best friend, Scout-Mockingbird_lTruman Capote (Truman
    Streckfus Persons).
  • Harper Lee served as research assistant for Truman Capote’s best-selling novel In Cold Blood.
  • Scout Finch continues to rank as one of America’s favorite movie tomboys.
  • Lee received support to write TKAM through the generosity HarperLeeand encouragement of bene-
    factors, Michael and Joy Brown.
  • The 1960’s novel, translated in 40 different languages, has over 30 million copies in circulation.
  • Harper Lee loved the TKAM screenplay–a testament to her humility.
  • Miss Lee once threw her manuscript out a window–proof that she was, in fact, human.
  • A classic movie line: “Miss Jean Louise, stand up. Your father’s passing.” ~ Reverend Sykes.
  • A fun surprise: the young Robert Duvall.

Please, share your TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD comments with us!