On the blog:
- Some thoughts about soft starts for our students and ourselves
I have always loved the troublemakers best, because with Carla Shalaby, I believe they shine a light on what is unjust, unnecessary, and even cruel in our school systems. I didn’t entirely understand why the troublemakers were my favorite students until I became the mother of a troublemaker. And I realized that every time my son acted out, it was in protest–in protest of nonsensical policies, of learning that didn’t make sense, of teachers who couldn’t stay regulated, of unfair treatment of himself and others. The troublemakers will tell us exactly what is wrong–if we will only listen.
Shalaby’s book is not an easy read. She profiles four elementary students at different schools who, for different reasons, have been labeled troublemakers. She dispassionately recounts the isolation, punishments, private beratings, public scoldings, sarcasm, and cajoling these children receive literally all day long from their teachers–and these are good teachers–in an effort to get these children to be quiet, orderly, seated, compliant. It’s a searing indictment of an institution that so often and so absolutely does not work.
Lest you think it’s all bad news, however, there is that wonderful final chapter that lays out a classroom management approach based on treating children like humans, recognizing and meeting their needs. Shalaby calls this love, which it is, though we might also call it empathy or connection. This is a very short book with a very powerful message–and a must-read by teachers and administrators.
I had one set of feelings about Positively Izzy when I finished it last night, and another set this morning after I skimmed some reviews because I was so confused by the ending. My feelings last night were that this was a sweet, if slow-moving, story about two middle-school girls who navigate friendships and family through the talent show at school. The format is what I think is so appealing about this book–Izzy’s chapters written as an illustrated novel, Brianna’s as a graphic novel. The characters aren’t very detailed or well-rounded, and very little happens. Sometimes that can be very charming, but here I just found it a bit dull.
Then, there is an epilogue at the end which seems to introduce new characters in Brianna’s family and a final spread that I found quite confusing. The final spread is obviously a twist and obviously meant to reveal something about the characters, but I didn’t get it. (Many other readers would, I’m sure.) I had to go to the reviews this morning for help. Review after review was either “I didn’t see the twist coming” or “I don’t understand the ending of this book at all” or “Ever after I figured out the twist, I didn’t understand this book” or, my favorite, “I had to read Goodreads reviews to understand this book.” Me too! Finally, a kind reviewer spelled it out for me clearly and succinctly. And then I was irritated. I think I would have enjoyed this book far more had I known about its twisty little secret from the beginning.
Sparks! is great fun and a good readalike for fans of Hi-Lo and Sidekicks. Two cats escape a lab where evil scientists have been experimenting on them. The experiments have made one of the cats an engineering and technological genius. She invents a mechanical dog suit for them so that they can perform daring heroic acts and save hapless humans who are constantly getting themselves in scrapes. But there is an evil antagonist who is trying to thwart and trap them. The dynamic between the cats is a delight, and despite the silly-sounding plot, there’s a lot of deeper thematic elements about friendship, trust, and overcoming fear.
Fake Blood is a hoot. It’s a graphic novel bout a boy who, with some help from his friends, pretends to be a vampire because the girl he loves is obsessed with vampires. Everything goes quite wrong, of course. It’s a strong story about friendship and the power of books and stories to influence our lives. Very well-paced with memorable characters. And there are some very funny scenes.
The Unwanted is another must-read nonfiction graphic novel from Don Brown. Once again, I’m amazed at how Brown can take an incredibly complex story–in this case, the many stories of the millions of Syrian refugees who have been forced to leave Syria and try to find a place to live–and write a short, engaging, easy-to-follow explanatory graphic novel that still manages to honor and reflect that complexity. With so much that is misunderstood about the war in Syria and the plight of Syrian refugees, we really need stories that help us understood and empathize. This is that book.
Another fun entry in the Narwhale and Jelly early reader series. There’s not much to say about Peanut Butter and Jelly, except that it has the engaging conversations between Narwhal and Jelly and the silly situations we’ve come to expect in this series. If you enjoyed the first books in the series, you will enjoy this too.