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Sunday, October 31, 2021

Non-Fiction Pick: Who Were the Navajo Code Talkers?


Who Were the Navajo Code Talkers? 

A WhoHQ Book 

by James Buckley Jr. 

Illustrated by Gregory Copeland

Penguin Workshop


112 pages

ISBN: 9780399542657

When the U.S. become involved the World War II, the Axis powers were already taken huge parts of Europe. The marines recruited twenty-nine men who could speak the Navajo language. Their code saved missions, men and countries. Their "code" was never broken, and no one knew about their secret mission until twenty-five years later. 

The Navajo have lived in the southwest over one thousand years and called themselves Diné (dee-nay). The history of the Navajo Nation is addressed including their horrendous treatment even after serving in World War I. The Navajo now reside in the four corners area: where New Mexico, Utah, Arizona and Colorado meet. Over 14,000 Navajo served in WWI and 540 served as Marines in World War II, twenty-nine of them in the Navajo Code Program. 

Their job was to choose Navajo words which would represent letters of the alphabet; for example: N is nesh-chee, or nut. The men had to memorize each letter quickly and translate messages back and forth to demonstrate how it could be used to pass along secret information. 

The Navajo code talkers are considered instrumental in the battle for Iwo Jima. They were crucial for the entire outcome of fighting in the Pacific. It wasn't until 1968 the government allowed the code talkers to tell their story. Now revered for their bravery, spirit and heroism, the Navajo code talkers are truly great Native American heroes. 

Highly recommended for every school and classroom library. Great read for reluctant readers and fans of World War II. A powerful book celebrating heroes of this country. 

Friday, October 29, 2021

Beautiful, Poetic Voice Pick: Aristotle and Dante Dive into the Waters of the World

Aristotle and Dante Dive Into the Waters of the World

by Benjamin Aliré Saenz 

Simon & Schuster  


528 pages

ISBN: 9781534496194

Benjamin Aliré Saenz's prose sings off the pages and cannot be compred to any other writer, YA or not. In Aristotle and Dante Dive Into the Waters of the World, Aristotle and Dante are in their senior years of high school. Set in a border town (El Paso?) in the 1980s, both boys are closeted but accepted with love and acceptance from their families. We don't see this in YA much, and it's beautiful to behold. 

Themes of love, joy, sorrow, friendship, belonging, self-acceptance, desire, growth, family and coming out as gay in an era that was rife with AIDS and people were afraid they might "catch something" from touching or knowing a gay person.

This Amazon reviewer from Canada says:

"For me, parts of the story brought back sad memories of AIDS and the early days, and I try not to think about that time. Like the author, I lost my brother to the condition, and I thought, "It could happen to me." I was closeted then much because of the time, much because I couldn't defend myself, and because I was scared. I watched a lot of young men who died while visiting my brother in his hospital stays, many young men with promising, creative, and rewarding lives.

I always knew I was gay, although I didn't always know what it was or what the word was to describe myself. At first, all I knew I was that I was different and I didn't fit in. But it wasn't just because I was gay - I am disabled too.,,,

I am a lot like Ari in that I am always "in my head." In contrast, my Doug reminds me of Dante a lot. Yes, the characters remind me of us, except we are much older than the two young men depicted in this story.

It's nice to see a lovely story about two men falling in love. When I grew up, gay stories carried a lot of strife, struggle, and usually ended in death. "

What a tribute to Saenz's gentle story that has touched so many young men (and women) who are afraid to "come out" to their parents, family and friends. Although much more understood and accepted today, as a career educator myself, I have had discussions with many kids about how they can tell their parents. 

Saenz pays tribute to all who teach and impact teens which is a love letter to teaching and I, for one, applaud this at the highest level. 

If you enjoyed Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, you MUST READ this book! If you haven't discovered Saenz and his characters, you need to purchase both books. If you don't cry, you may need to have your tear ducts examined. 

The BEST YA OF THE YEAR! If this one doesn't win every single award, I'd be shocked. I have had the extreme honor and privilege of meeting Benjamin Aliré Saenz several times, and he is the most patient, gentle, understanding, understated, and humble humanitarian I've ever met. Bravo, Mr. Saenz! Thank you for such a joyous opus! This is truly the HIGHLIGHT of your writing career. 

So highly recommended I give it every star in the universe! 

Grade 8 and up. 


Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Picture Book Pick: Tomatoes for Neela

 Tomatoes for Neea

by Padma Lakshmi

Illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal 

Viking (Penguin Random House)


40 pages

ISBN: 9780593202708

Beautiful, ethereal illustrations (acrylic paints and colored pencils on hand-textured papers) lovingly capture a young girl learning to cook and her relationship with her amma  (mother) and her paati (grandmother) who lives far away in India. Through cooking, the mother and daughter embrace their family's heritage. 

Neela loves cooking with her mother and writing down each recipe in her notebook. A cloth-covered book Neela is sure, "...belonged to a wizard," sits on a shelf in the kitchen. It is her paati's recipe book. Amma takes Neela to the market on Saturdays where they buy ingredients for the week's meals. The market is alive with people selling and buying all sorts of fresh produce. Neela is excited to learn more about the tomatoes they will need to cook paati's favorite tomato sauce. 

Neela learns to use produce that is in season and to can the rest for the long winter. Young readers will learn the names of types of tomatoes and their history. Top Chef judge Padma Lakshmi includes two of her family's recipes: Neela's Tomato Chutney and Paati's Tomato Sauce and fun facts about tomatoes and a note about farmworkers with a brief bibliography of books about farm workers for children. 

Caldecott Honor Winner illustrator Juana Martinez_Neal will likely win another honor with her work on the lovely picture book. 

Highly, highly recommended ages 3-7. 

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Geraldine Pu and Her Lunch Box, Too!

Geraldine Pu and Her Lunch Box, Too!
Ready To Read Graphics
by Maggie P. Chang
Illustrations by the author
Simon Spotlight
64 pages
ISBN: 9781534484696

A Junior Literary Guild Selection 

Geraldine Pu takes her lunch to school every day. Her amah (grandma) packs yellow curry and stinky tofu for her. A boy named Nico makes fun of her lunch calling it stinky. Pretty soon other kids at the lunch table join in calling her lunch "gross" and "weird." Geraldine is mortified. She asks Amah to pack her a sandwich for tomorrow's lunch. 

The next day, she has a bao ( a special sandwich in her lunch) which is a type of Chinese sandwich. Nico again says mean things about Geraldine's "strange" lunch, and Geraldine doesn't eat her bao. Later, she hides her lunch box from her Amah. She doesn't want to hurt her grandmother's feelings. 

The next time Geraldine opens her lunch box, she sits far away from Nico, but he's still saying, "Yuck, that stinks." This time, it's not Geraldine's lunch, it's Devon, a boy from her bus. Geraldine knows exactly how he feels and goes to sit beside him. She even tries a bite of the fruit Devon says that in Jamaica is called, "stinking toe." They bond over their stinky lunches. 

What a cute way to introduce emergent readers to different cultures and foods other than their own! Included is a page of definitions of all the Mandarin Chinese and Taiwanese words and Geraldine herself instructs readers how to navigate reading a graphic novel. An intelligent book about inclusion and belonging. A must read! This would be a great class read and tie it to a discussion about foods that are popular in the children's households. 

Highly, highly recommended. This little gem of a book will be an award winner for sure! 

Sunday, October 24, 2021

Ready to Read Fun: Goat Wants To Eat


Goat Wants To Eat


Simon Spotlight

by Laura Gehl

Illustrated by Fred Blunt

32 pages

ISBN: 9781534483613

Goat Wants To Eat introduces young readers to word families, sight words and "bonus words" they will read in this cute story about a hungry goat and a cat who just wants a nap. 

Goat follows cat around to every new napping spot and eats it! Poor Cat tries to escape in a boat, but when that doesn't work either, the two animals share a hammock. 

Illustrations by Fred Blunt done mostly in pastel colors match the two characters. Cat has a stuffed cat that appears on every spread and page with Cat. Young kids who have a favorite stuffed animal or blanket will empathize with Cat. 

Three questions at the end of the book get young readers thinking and talking about what they read. Well-done! 

Highly, highly recommended ages 3-5. 

Saturday, October 23, 2021

Hilarious Early Reader: Thunder and Cluck: Friends Do Not Eat Friends


Thunder and Cluck: Friends Do Not Eat Friends

Ready to Read Graphics

by Jill Esbaum

Illustrations by Miles Thompson

Simon Spotlight


64 pages

ISBN: 9781534486522

Thunder is a giant dinosaur who likes to roar and scare everyone. Cluck is a witty, kind bird. Cluck wants to show Thunder that even though he thinks he's big and scary, he's secretly not.

Young readers will giggle at Cluck's arguments for Thunder to be friends with him. Thunder doesn't stand a chance with Cluck's quick energy and intelligent dialog. 

Two very different animals become friends. Thunder realizes he's lonely and having Cluck around could be fun and interesting. 

Beginning panels tell young readers how to read a graphic novel, what a speech bubble is and the definition of panels. Colorful illustrations by Miles Thompson capture the personalities of the two character: the joy of Cluck and the pessimism of Thunder. Brilliantly done! 

Thunder and Cluck is a Junior Library Guild Selection and is up for more awards this year. Keep your eyes on this book. A must have for every young reader and library!

Highly, highly recommended ages 3-5. A great introduction to graphic novels! If you're a parent or have young kids to buy for, you need to buy this book ASAP.  

Friday, October 8, 2021

Graphic Novel Pick: The Hunger Heroes: Missed Meal Mayhem


The Hunger Heroes: Missed Meal Mayhem

Book One

(Graphic Novel-Chapter Book)

by Jarrett Lerner



128 pages

ISBN: 9781534498808

Publication Date: October 26, 2021

The Hunger Heroes get an urgent call: a student at the elementary school has skipped breakfast and now he won't be able to concentrate to pass his math test. Hunger Heroes to the rescue! They jump into their Hovercraft (a giant flying taco, of course) and zoom to Pinchkid (hilarious!) Elementary School.

The Hunger Heroes are: a bean named Mr. Toots (haha!), A Chip Ninja, Tammy the Tomato and Leonard the wedge of cheddar cheese. First, they'll have to find a way into the school and navigate through a boisterous gym class where dodge balls threaten to smash them, they duck, dash, dart and dodge then they'll have to figure out the maze of hallways to find hungry Jason in Mrs. Sternbladder's (silliness, tee-hee) classroom where there are RULES against any type of food, or even more horrifying, SNACKS! 

How will  the heroes help Jason and escape the peril of Mrs. Sternbladder? Only the brain of Jarrett Lerner could dream up this silly, funny, wacky and entertaining jaunt into a school to save a student in the nick of time to ace his math test. 

The advance reader copy has a book one on the spine, so I'm sure there's more Hunger Heroes in our near future. Fun reading for fans of easy readers, those who are reluctant readers and fans of graphic novels. 

Highly recommended grades 2-6.