Eliza Bing Is (Not) a Big, Fat Quitter

Eliza Bing Is (Not) a Big, Fat Quitter by Carmella Van Vleet is a nominee for the 2016-17 South Carolina Children’s Book Award.

Eliza Bing, a young girl who struggles with ADHD, needs to prove to her parents that she’s not a quitter. It’s the only way they’ll let her enroll in her dream cake-decorating class at the community center. But how can she convince them? Well, Eliza comes up with the idea of taking her brother’s spot in the center’s taekwondo class. If she can stick with the class all summer, surely that will show her parents that she can handle the class she really wants to take.

Eliza’s parents agree to the deal, but Eliza may have bitten off more than she can chew. Taekwondo requires a lot of focus, and that’s not exactly Eliza’s strong suit, especially when she’s also thinking about the growing distance between her and her friend Tony, starting middle school, and pairing up with Madison, a girl that hasn’t exactly been super-nice to Eliza.

More than once, Eliza wants to give up, but she’s determined to see this class through. She wants to prove to everyone–including herself–that she can be truly dedicated to something.

Will Eliza achieve her goal and finally be allowed to attend the cake-decorating class…or will she find that she’s actually landed exactly where she needs to be?

Eliza Bing Is (Not) a Big, Fat Quitter is a great book for illustrating such character traits as risk-taking, perseverance, and self-confidence. It is also an excellent look at what many students with ADHD face each day. Eliza’s voice is both charming and totally believable, and this character could help some students see themselves in fiction and others to be a little more empathetic to their classmates.

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A Snicker of Magic

A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd was nominated for the 15-16 South Carolina Children’s Book Award.

Felicity Pickle is a word collector. She sees words floating in the air, hovering around people’s heads, and zipping all around. She writes the words in her special blue book, and she carries the book with her everywhere. That includes Midnight Gulch, Tennessee.

Midnight Gulch, her mom’s hometown, is the Pickle family’s latest stop. Felicity’s mom has a wandering spirit, but Felicity is eager to call someplace home, and it seems like Midnight Gulch may just be the home she’s always wanted.

It is here that Felicity meets Jonah, a special boy who immediately becomes her best friend. Together, they learn about the magic that once existed in Midnight Gulch, and they try to figure out just how to bring that magic back.

Felicity soon discovers that the magic of Midnight Gulch is connected to her own family…and a mysterious curse that may be responsible for her mom’s wandering ways. If Felicity can figure out a way to break the curse, using the small snicker of magic still left in this small town, maybe she can finally have the home she’s always wanted.

But can Felicity overcome her own fears and break a curse that’s held Midnight Gulch in its grips for a century? Does she truly have the power–and the words–to make this place truly magical once again? Find out when you read A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd!

This Is the Rope

This Is the Rope: A Story from the Great Migration, written by Jacqueline Woodson and illustrated by James Ransome, is a nominee for the 2015-16 South Carolina Picture Book Award.

This Is the Rope is a moving tale of one family’s journey from rural South Carolina to New York City during the Great Migration. The story begins with a girl finding a simple rope under a tree. This rope would play a part in the girl’s move north, serving as a luggage tie, a clothesline, a jump-rope, a reminder of times gone by, and a symbol of how far one family has come and the bonds that hold them together.

For younger readers, I think This Is the Rope is useful for illustrating stories with one object tying events together. Pun intended. This book could serve as an example to follow when writing their own similar stories. I don’t know how much K5-2nd grade readers would understand about the Great Migration, but this book could also start discussions on why people move from place to place, the differences between living in rural and urban areas, or what life was like during the North and the South during different periods of time.

For older students, This Is the Rope is a simple yet powerful introduction to the Great Migration, which is something that is often glossed over in some history classes. This book could start discussions on why many African Americans chose to move north during post-Reconstruction America, the conditions in the South that forced them to move, and how much work is still to be done to achieve racial equality, not only in the South but also across the nation.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Old School

In Jeff Kinney’s latest installment in the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, Greg Heffley is wondering if life was really better in the old days. He always hears his parents and his grandfather talking about the “good old days,” but he doesn’t see what’s so good about them. No decent electronics, little privacy…and no baby wipes. It all sounds pretty awful to Greg.

This year, Greg is getting a little taste of the “good old days.” For one thing, his grandfather has moved in. This causes a bit of a shuffle in the Heffley house, which means Greg now shares a room with his little brother. There’s also some added stress because Greg’s dad realizes just how much his kids don’t know how to do themselves. This leads to even more changes, like Greg taking more responsibility for himself…and older brother Rodrick getting a job.

Greg’s mom is also getting into the whole “old school” thing. She’s organizing a city-wide weekend with no electronics. This means no TV, phones, gaming systems…nothing. She wants neighbors to get outside and reconnect with each other. Greg isn’t nearly as enthused as his mother. This can only end badly for him.

And finally, there’s the big field trip his class is taking. One whole week roughing it at Hardscrabble Farms. Greg learns fairly quickly that he’s just not cut out for doing things the “old school” way. He’s a kid that enjoys his modern conveniences…and he’s not the only one.

Join Greg as he attempts to try things the old-fashioned way…and realizes that, though people in the past may have been tougher, being a wimpy kid in the present isn’t exactly a walk in the park.

The Boy on the Porch

The Boy on the Porch by Sharon Creech is a nominee for the 15-16 South Carolina Children’s Book Award.

One day, John and Marta step outside, and they find a boy asleep on their porch. They don’t know why he is there or who left him. The boy, Jacob, doesn’t speak, so John and Marta don’t know where he’s from, who his family is, why they were chosen to care for him, or when someone will return for the boy. So they care for him as best they can.

John and Marta grow rather attached to Jacob. They love him as if he were their own…and Jacob seems happy with them. He still doesn’t speak, but he makes music, he paints, he enjoys time with the couple’s animals, and he communicates in his own way. He thrives in this young couple’s care.

But John and Marta are always waiting for someone to return for this boy they’ve grown to love…and one day, it happens. This young couple doesn’t want to say good-bye to Jacob, but they seem to have no choice. Even when Jacob leaves, they let him know that he is welcome to return at any time.

As days go by, John and Marta miss Jacob, and they look for ways to help other children who need special care. They open their home and their hearts to kids who need a little extra love, and they always remember the boy who started them on this journey. And they hope that one day, their beloved Jacob, the boy on the porch, will return to them once again.

I can’t help but think that The Boy on the Porch is a must-read (and a great gift) for foster parents. This book shines a light on the sacrifices many of these people make to care for children in need. They often provide a safe, loving home for kids who’ve only known the opposite. Many, like John and Marta in this story, give children a voice in a world that doesn’t really understand them. This poignant book honors that and shows that the love that foster parents get in return is more valuable than diamonds.

Gingersnap

Gingersnap by Patricia Reilly Giff is a nominee for the 15-16 South Carolina Children’s Book Award.

The year is 1944, and war continues to hold the world in its grips. Jayna knows it’s just a matter of days before her big brother Rob, the only family she has, will be deployed on a ship headed for the fighting in the Pacific. Jayna tries to put on a brave face, but she’s not happy about being separated from her brother once again, and she doesn’t want to live with Celine, their grumpy landlady, while Rob is away.

After Rob leaves for duty, Jayna is comforted by her turtle Theresa, cooking soup, and by an odd presence that seems vaguely familiar. Is this a ghost? If so, who is it, and what does it want with Jayna?

When Jayna receives the devastating news that her brother is missing in action, this “ghost” leads the girl back to their house and to an old box in a closet. There Jayna finds an old blue cookbook and the address of a Brooklyn bakery called Gingersnap (which happens to be Jayna’s nickname).

Jayna, though scared and unsure, sees the bakery’s name as a sign, and she packs up her turtle, the blue cookbook, and most of her belongings and sets off for an uncertain future and a grandmother she’s never known. Jayna is accompanied by the voice of her ghostly companion, and she eventually arrives in Brooklyn. What she finds there, however, may not be exactly what she expected.

Jayna is very confused about her current circumstances and what will happen to her should her brother never return. She likes being in Brooklyn and the friends she’s made, but what if Rob never comes back to her? What if he’s gone forever? Jayna seeks out her ghostly friend to give her some measure of help, but she doesn’t know if that will be enough to keep her brother safe or to preserve the little family she’s made for herself in Brooklyn.

What will become of young Jayna in this time of turmoil? Read Gingersnap by Patricia Reilly Giff to find out!

Charlie Bumpers vs. the Teacher of the Year

Charlie Bumpers vs. the Teacher of the Year, written by Bill Harley and illustrated by Adam Gustavson, is a nominee for the 2015-16 South Carolina Children’s Book Award.

Charlie Bumpers should be excited about going into the fourth grade. He would be…if his teacher were anyone but Mrs. Burke. Charlie has history with Mrs. Burke, so he’s sure that she’s going to make his life absolutely miserable. And he doesn’t care that she’s the Teacher of the Year. Charlie didn’t vote for her.

At first, it seems that Charlie may be right about his new teacher. Mrs. Burke really does appear to have it in for Charlie Bumpers. It doesn’t help that Charlie always finds himself in the middle of trouble. (He doesn’t mean to get into these messes, really! They just kind of happen.)

Charlie hopes that his entire fourth grade year won’t be horrible, but how can he get things on the right track when Mrs. Burke is always waiting on him to mess up? Can he turn things around? Is Mrs. Burke really all that bad? Find out how Charlie comes to terms with Mrs. Burke when you read Charlie Bumpers vs. the Teacher of the Year!

I think this book would be an excellent read-aloud for upper elementary classrooms, especially fourth grade. It’s both funny and relatable, and I think kids will really enjoy it. Also, it’s the first book in a new series, and many students are always game for a cool new series (especially young readers who either really like or are a little tired of Diary of a Wimpy Kid).