Saturday, May 21, 2011

Mockingbird. A lovely and important book

I’ve just finished a most amazing book, Mockingbird, by Kathryn Erskine. The story is simply lovely but this juvenile fiction is no light-weight read. Its tale grows from a place of adversity. Mockingbird was written in response to the Virginia Tech Shootings of 2007 as well as the author’s desire to let people know what it’s like to experience Asperger’s Syndrome.
Mockingbird opens with 5th grader, Caitlyn Smith, reeling from the challenges of making it through her brother’s funeral. One of those challenges is that Caitlyn’s mother has already passed away after a battle with cancer. This situation would be difficult for any child. However, Caitlyn has Asperger’s Syndrome. She experiences the world differently than everyone she knows—and, her brother had been the one person in her life that taught her how to behave in ways that allow her to engage in her world. As Caitlyn says, “how not to be annoying to other people.”

Now that Devon is gone, Caitlyn has to rely on her grieving father and a counselor at school to get her back on track with fifth grade and ready to enter the middle school where her brother was shot and killed. As terrifying as this would be for a child, Caitlyn has some unique gifts and talents that help her her out. Readers will cheer out loud when they learn how she employs her specialness on a journey toward personal and community healing.

At first, I had difficulty reading Mockingbird because of the text. Words were capitalized in unusual ways that threw me off until I realized that the author was using this style to slow readers down so that they could feel how a child with Asperger’s Syndrome feels. For example, whenever Caitlyn mentally checks herself to make eye contact, the text reads, “Look At the Person”. Clearly, making eye contact has been a skill that Caitlyn has purposely worked on with her counselor at school--it's literally a school lesson she is working to internalize and we can see that through the way words are emphasized in the text. There are many, many ways that we learn a child with Asperger’s works to live in a non-Asperger’s world in Mockingbird. I’m grateful for that experience.

As the story progresses we see how much Caitlyn treasures the nickname of Scout that her brother bestowed on her since she is like Scout in his favorite movie, To Kill a Mockingbird. In fact, if you like the book/movie To Kill a Mockingbird, you will like Mockingbird. There are interesting parallels.

Caitlyn works to make friends and achieve developmental milestones such as experiencing empathy and emotional closure after her brother’s death. Her black-and-white no-nonsense manner of approaching these challenges is heartwarming in its way. And, Caitlyn becomes involved in a project that helps herself and others heal in a "good and strong and beautiful" way. Yay Caitlyn!

Mockingbird is a book that I recommend to readers in grades four and up. The author has done magnificent research:

I believe that a child with Asperger’s would appreciate people reading this book so that others could understand how it feels to walk in their shoes.

If you have a chance to read Mockingbird, please let me know how you liked it and what you took from it. I would love to see this book win the Virginia Readers Choice Award for Middle School in 2012.

Awards Mockingbird has already won

– Virginia Readers Choice nominee, 2011-12

– 2011 SIBA finalist

– Capitol Choices 2011

– Golden Kite Award 2011

Erskine, K. Mockingbird. New York: Scholastic Books, 2010. Print.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Virginia Readers Choice Winners 2011--Great Reading for All Kids!



Primary: CHESTER by Melanie Watt
(Kids Can Press)

by Lenore Look (Random House)

by Cliff McNish (Carolrhoda)

by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic)


Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Meerkat Mail

A great picture book for readers of all ages is Meerkat Mail by Emily Gravett. This book has been out for a few years and is in public libraries everywhere. Every inch of Meerkat Mail is part of the story from the cover, end papers, title page…all of it. In the story, Sunny Meer Kat is tired of living with dozens of meerkats in his family….so he hits the road. From the homes of various cousins, Sunny writes postcards home. The postcards are hilariously interactive. Readers flip each card over in the story to discover with Sunny that there’s no place like home and that when away from the safety of our family one always needs to watch out for jackals! Along Sunny’s journey, readers learn cool facts about meerkats and animals that are related to them. This book delivers loads of giggles in the comical illustrations and lift-the-flap style postcards.

Meerkat Mail was a 2009-2010 Virginia Readers Choice nominee and nominee for a Greenaway Award.

Gravett, E. Meerkat Mail. New York: Simon & Schuster Books, 2006. Print.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Page by Paige Nominated for a YALSA Award!

Wow! I knew that Page by Paige was a beautifully written and illustrated book.....but it's been nominated for a YALSA Award--as a great graphic novel for teens. YALSA stands for Young Adult Library Services Association. It's a part of the American Library Association. They have annual awards for best books in several categories including: Fiction, non-fiction, graphic novel, adult books written with teen appeal and more. Winning a YALSA award is a super big deal for authors. I'm so happy for Laura Lee Gulledge. She's hit a home run with her first book!

Monday, May 9, 2011

Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper

Out of My Mind. By Sharon Draper

I am an admitted Sharon Draper fan. I love that this HS English teacher stretched her wings and became a novelist for young people. Sharon Draper offers truth to so many young people through her stories. I’ve just finished her latest book, Out of My Mind. It’s not only an amazing story, but an important story.

Main character Melody is gifted….arguably the smartest kid in the school. She has a photographic memory, can see and taste the colors of music. But, at age eleven, she has never spoken a word, taken a step, or even drawn a smiley face. Melody’s brilliant mind is trapped inside a body dominated by cerebral palsy.

When I first began this book, I had to put it down because I was literally feeling claustrophobic. The thought of all my thoughts being trapped in my mind, unable to get out, as Melody experienced, was so difficult for me that I needed a break from reading her story. However, as Melody grows up and benefits from her parents steadfast love, the cheerleading of a super advocate and education assistant, she is more and more able to participate in her world….where she runs into prejudice from peers, educators, and other adults so strong that Melody has to find new ways to mentally survive. The ups and downs in this story kept me turning pages right to the end to find out if Melody triumphs over what seem like insurmountable hurdles and hurts thrown in her path.

In the end, Draper has created a new hero for me in the character of Melody and a family that fiercely and politely seeks what she needs to live with dignity.

Out of My Mind is a book aimed for middle school audiences. However, I think that anyone in grade four or above would benefit from reading this book. The novel is loaded with ideas for discussion and challenges for all of us to find and befriend the Melodies in our own lives.

Sharon Draper discusses writing this story and her intensely personal motivation for crafting Melody as a spunky, smart eleven year old that wants friends, cool clothes and everything an eleven year old wants on her website: . Check it out.

Draper, S. Out of My Mind. (2010). New York: Simon & Schuster. Print.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Page by Paige

I had a wonderful chance to read a new book by a new author yesterday: Page by Paige by Laura Lee Gulledge. Laura Lee is a 97 graduate of Osbourn Park HS, attended Marsteller MS and Coles ES. So, I was already inclined to enjoy the book by this local author. And, I know Laura Lee’s mom—we’re writing buddies and she’s kept me up to date on progress of the book as it’s developed. After I read the book, however, all I could think was Wow! And Thank you Laura Lee for an incredible read!

Page by Paige is a graphic novel….but so, so, so much more. First, the story is fabulous, especially for teen girls. The main character in the book, Paige Turner (her parents are writers) is a teen artist struggling to share all the sides of herself with her parents and friends. She’s scared, shy, sneaky, funny, loving, curious, brave and smart….and lives mainly inside her head. How’s a girl to share all that without coming across as too self-absorbed?! Through the story, Paige figures “it” out through art. First, she starts with a new best friend in the form of a  sketch book and some art “rules” passed on to her from her grandmother. Then, as Paige begins to blossom…..she blooms bright in a way that solidifies friendships, leads to romance and a satisfying understanding of her relationship with her parents.

I’m a mom and teacher librarian who has been learning lots about graphic novels in the past few years. Most people unfamiliar with them see them simply as comic books….and to some extent they are. The artwork of graphic novels is very comic-book-ish. However, the artwork in Page by Paige is more expressive than typical graphic novel art. There is shading, attention to detail and depth that truly move the story graphically. My favorite graphic in the whole book is of Paige hugging her cat with what looks like thousands of arms….doesn’t hugging a purring cat just feel like layers of hugs (for us cat lovers, anyway). Another great moment is when Paige says she bites her tongue and shows what that really feels like----her ideas bleed out of the corners of her mouth.

Additionally, graphic novels contain all the elements of a novel such as: a story that holds from beginning to end, well developed main and supporting characters, plot, theme, chapters. Page by Paige delivers all of the above beautifully. Best of all, there is definitely room for a continuation of the story in an upcoming book. I want to know more about how Paige and where her sketch-book leads her.

You may be wondering who I think should read this book? I gave Page by Paige to my ten year old and twelve year daughters to read….it’s not so much for my 8 and 7 y.o. sons. Although, I won’t keep it away from the boys. If they want to read it, or more likely just look at the graphics, that’s fine with me. My ten year old is very much an artist at heart and as she read the book she “ooooohed” and “ahhhhhhed” over the fantastic way that Paige’s ideas are expressed graphically. That was fun for me to listen to as she read.

I have no problems allowing my daughters to read this book. However, I would categorize this book as a true YA book and will highly encourage 12-18 year olds to read it. The level of self-reflection and the honest description of feelings of this teen character are very much those of someone in 8th grade or older. There is no sexual content (outside of a couple of jokes spoken between characters)….it’s more because Paige is discovering her true self in a way that most pre-teen and younger readers just don’t get yet.

Reviewers are giving Page by Paige lovely reviews (see Page by Paige at I'm delighted that the book has been well recived. It is a wonderful example of how important art is for artists and all of us trying to understand who we are as people. If all of us made friends with a sketch book, wouldn't the worldd be a better place? Page by Paige is an inside, truthful and positive look at how teens today are thinking and working to make their way in our world. I’m giving Page by Paige book two thumbs up and cannot wait for volume II to come out. 

Gulledge, L. Page by Paige. New York: Amulet Books, 2011. Print.