The Junction of Sunshine and Lucky

It’s time, dear friends, to bring you another of the 15-16 South Carolina Children’s Book Award nominees, The Junction of Sunshine and Lucky by Holly Schindler. This heart-warming book illustrates that beauty can be found anywhere. All we really have to do is look for it.

Auggie Jones is pretty happy with her life. She lives with her Grandpa Gus, rides around in his old truck, and helps him with his trash hauling business. She doesn’t really care that she and her neighbors live on the poor side of town. They have everything they need, and they’re always willing to help each other in times of need.

All of that, however, is about to change. This year, thanks to budget cuts, Auggie is being moved to a new school, where she’ll come face to face with people who judge her and her neighbors for what they don’t have. One of Auggie’s new classmates, Victoria, is particularly cruel, and it doesn’t help matters that she’s a junior member of the newly formed House Beautification Committee, a group intent on making the town a little more pleasing to the eye. But whose eyes are they worried about pleasing? And what does this mean for those who don’t have the money to make large improvements?

Well, Auggie decides to show the committee and Veronica that her house is something to be proud of. Auggie begins looking through the trash that Gus hauls around, and she starts to see potential in some of the discarded items. Where some people might simply see a broken toaster, Auggie sees a lovely metal flower. Where one person sees broken windows and pottery, Auggie sees a way to make colorful mosaics. And it doesn’t stop there. Pretty soon, Auggie and Gus are taking old, broken-down machines, and giving them life as whimsical pieces of art.

But not everyone sees Auggie’s creations as the beautiful works of art that she does. Some call them eyesores and demand they be removed…or else. What is Auggie to do? How can she convince people that her house and others in her neighborhood are beautiful in their own special ways? Can she find a way to show people that beauty is all around? It doesn’t matter if it comes from a trash dump or a fancy store. Beauty can be found anywhere if one takes the time to simply look.

_______________

The Junction of Sunshine and Lucky is a great book for libraries that serve upper elementary and middle grade readers. It’s a quick, easy read, and it also teaches some important lessons: staying true to yourself, looking for beauty in the world, standing up for what you believe in, forgiving those who’ve wronged you, and working together to affect change. I don’t care what age you are; these lessons are important for all of us.

I also think The Junction of Sunshine and Lucky would be a great read for those interested in art, recycling, or just making stuff. (I’m trying to figure out a way to make some kind of display centered around this book and my library’s new Makerspace. If you have any ideas on this, let me know in the comments.) I plan to share this book with the art teachers at my school as well as the sponsors of our Environmentalist Club and Robotics Team. I think there’s definitely something they can use here. And now that I think about it, there may also be some parts of the book that fit with science standards–recycling, engineering, etc.–so there’s a whole new connection to explore. It’s kind of exciting!

I’m very happy that The Junction of Sunshine and Lucky is a part of this year’s SCCBA nominee list. I hope my students (and teachers) enjoy it as much as I did. If you think you might enjoy this book and want to learn more about it, you can connect with author Holly Schindler on her website, Goodreads, and Twitter. You can also learn a bit more about the book by checking out the book trailer below. Enjoy!

Keeping Safe the Stars

It’s time, once again, to bring you one of the 14-15 South Carolina Children’s Book Award nominees, Keeping Safe the Stars by Sheila O’Connor.

While reading this book, I wished that I could turn off my adult brain for just a bit and approach the book from a child’s perspective. I think the entire experience would have been a bit different. As it was, this book left me anxious nearly the whole way through. I think any adult reading Keeping Safe the Stars will feel the same way. I look forward, though, to getting my students’ take on this book. I imagine they’ll see something in it that I didn’t.

Pride, Nightingale, and Baby Star are three kids who live in virtual seclusion with their grandfather, Old Finn. When Old Finn gets sick, however, these three kids will have to rely on their own wits to stay together…and keep everyone from knowing that they’re on their own. None of them wants to return to a shelter or group home like the one that they were in when their mother died. Keeping safe the Stars is the most important thing in the world.

Thirteen-year-old Pride (also known as Kathleen) is determined to take over until Old Finn returns. She goes to town for groceries, she cares for their elderly neighbor and her siblings, and, when she discovers that Old Finn has been moved to a hospital in the city, she devises a plan to earn money and get to her beloved grandfather.

It doesn’t take long for everything to start weighing on young Pride’s shoulders. She’s told her share of lies to make sure no one discovers she and her siblings are alone, but those lies are catching up with her. Pride knows that if she can just get to Old Finn, he’ll tell her what she needs to do. He’ll show her how to keep her family safe.

When Pride, Nightingale, and Baby finally make it to Old Finn, though, they discover that their situation is more complicated than ever. This family–a group that is independent and self-reliant to a fault–is going to need help to make it through the days ahead. But who can they rely on to give them the help they need while keeping them together?

Pretty soon, Pride and her siblings will discover that the help they need is all around. All they have to do is accept it.

_______________

Set against the backdrop of the last days of Nixon’s presidency, Keeping Safe the Stars is, in my opinion, a book about keeping a family together at all costs, being honest with oneself and others, and asking for help when it’s truly needed.

As an adult reading this book, I have to say that I was filled with anxiety with the turn of every page. The mere thought that three kids would have to take care of themselves–and worry about how to buy groceries or pay bills–left me feeling uneasy. (And no, I’m not naive enough to think that this doesn’t happen around the world every day.) I wanted to leap into the pages and smack the adults around the kids. Tell them to wake up! At the end of the book, I realized that at least a couple of people saw more than Pride wanted them to see, but I was still rather frustrated. Kids need to be free to be kids, not forced to take on the worries and responsibilities of adults.

I found it very interesting that Pride, who lied quite a bit to keep others from discovering the truth, compared herself to Nixon. She sympathized with him a bit, and wondered if he may have told so many lies to protect those around him. It was an interesting parallel, and it could lead some young readers to seek more information on the Watergate scandal and what ultimately led to Nixon’s resignation.

I’m hoping, at the very least, that Keeping Safe the Stars will encourage young readers to ask for help when they feel that their worries are too much for them to handle alone. Sometimes, we all need a bit of help to make it through.

Keeping Safe the Stars is a good addition to upper elementary and middle school library and classroom collections. I look forward to talking about the book with my own students. Like I said before, I’m betting that their view of this book will be a little different than my own!

For more information on Keeping Safe the Stars and author Sheila O’Connor, take a quick peek at the author’s website. Enjoy!

The Amazing Adventures of John Smith, Jr. AKA Houdini

This will not be a standard post, but please bear with me.

Like most avid readers, I use books to escape from the pressures of everyday life. Something happened a couple of days ago, though, that even books can’t really help me with. (Please allow me just this little bit to get this out, and I’ll get to my latest read.) On Sunday morning, my uncle was killed in a tragic accident. Anyone who knew my wonderful uncle knew that he was larger than life, so the news of his death was a shock to everyone. I still don’t fully believe it. I’m waiting on him to walk through the door with his huge smile and a hug for everyone he encounters. Everyone adored him, and none of us can really process why this happened. Right now, the platitudes that people offer during times like these mean absolutely nothing to me (or the rest of the family, I imagine). We simply want David back.

I haven’t mentioned this to anyone except my mother, but my uncle’s passing has hit me very hard. You see, Sunday wasn’t just another day for me. It was my birthday. For the rest of my life, I’ll associate that day with the loss of one of the men I loved most in the world. I’m sure the rest of my family will feel the same. My birthday is no longer something to celebrate. That date is something to mourn. I don’t even know how to reconcile that in my own mind, and I know my uncle would fuss about this, but I just can’t help it. Maybe one day I’ll be able to get past my feelings about this, but it is not this day.

I do ask everyone to keep my family in your thoughts and prayers. We’ll need all the help we can get to make it through this tragedy.

I did try to escape through a book during the past couple of days. I put away the book I was reading (which dealt with way too much death), and I began reading a somewhat light-hearted novel that I thought would lift my spirits just a little. That book was The Amazing Adventures of John Smith, Jr. AKA Houdini by Peter Johnson. (I’ll be calling this book Houdini from this point forward. That title is a little long to keep typing.)

In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll admit that I read this book because one of the teachers at my school was concerned about some swearing in it that a third grader had brought to her attention. Before I made any decisions on whether to keep or remove the book from my school library, I knew I had to read it, so I figured now was as good as any time. Yes, there is a little swearing (the “d” word a couple of times), but, in my opinion, it was not gratuitous, and it fit the character’s situation. (Not every kid is raised in a wholesome, religious, stable, conservative family.) The main character also mentions that a good, publishable kid’s novel (which he’s trying to write) shouldn’t contain any explicit sex. (He’s right, by the way.) Some kids and parents might simply see the phrase “explicit sex” when browsing through this book and decide to throw a conniption fit. I was a little concerned as well…until I actually read the book.

Houdini tells the tale of a thirteen-year-old, nicknamed Houdini as the title suggests, who has decided to write a novel about his life after hearing an author speak at his school. He explores what makes a good kids’ novel and proceeds to write the happenings of his rather eventful life. He talks about his family’s struggles with making ends meet, his brother’s deployment to Iraq (and what happens when he eventually returns), dealing with the neighborhood bully, and his relationships with his friends and neighbors. At the end, even Houdini is surprised at how writing (and noticing) everything around him changes not only him but his family and friends as well. He realizes that nearly everything is interconnected and that, if he takes the time to really get to know someone, they may just surprise him.

Even in this dark time in my own life, Houdini put a smile on my face. This was a good book that I think a lot of readers, particularly boys, will relate to. After reading it, I will say that this is not a book I would recommend to a third grader. I think this book is okay for readers in fifth grade on up. Middle grade readers will enjoy it.

Here’s the big question: am I going to remove Houdini from my school library? No. I think it does have a place in the elementary library, but I do believe library professionals–including myself–should know their readers and be mindful of which readers are mature enough to handle a book like this one. (Also be aware of which parents or teachers will have a problem with a bit of swearing or frank talk between a group of thirteen-year-old boys.) As I’m sure everyone knows, maturity levels vary greatly between a group of kids (or adults). What one reader may find offensive or scandalous, another will view as commonplace or even funny. As always, keep this in mind when recommending any book to a reader, no matter what his/her age may be.

Lola and the Boy Next Door

Before I begin telling you about Stephanie Perkins’ Lola and the Boy Next Door, I must urge you to read the amazing Anna and the French Kiss.  A couple of notable characters from Anna appear in Lola’s story, and it might be helpful–but not totally necessary–to read about their story before diving into Lola’s.  And, honestly, Anna and the French Kiss is a funny, romantic, beautiful novel that you really need to read anyway.  So do that.  Now.

Moving on to Lola…I loved everything about this book.  It’s got it all:  quirky, memorable characters, teen angst and drama, humor, and, most importantly, a love story that readers can really root for.  I also enjoyed that, unlike many other YA novels, Lola’s parents had a presence in her life.  They had rules they expected her to follow (which she didn’t always do, of course), and, in my opinion, Lola respected her parents and wanted their respect in return.  That was a nice change of pace from what I normally read.

Lola Nolan is a true individual. She dreams of being a fashion designer, and she sees clothing as a way to really express herself.  Lola’s appearance may change from day to day, but some things will always stay the same.  She will always be a loyal daughter, friend, and girlfriend.  She loves her dads, she supports her best friend, and she’s devoted to her boyfriend, Max.  In fact, she and Max (who is much older than her) have big plans for the future.  She’ll design fabulous costumes, and Max will enjoy success as a rock star.  All the while, love will keep them together.  (Anyone else have a Captain and Tennille song playing in their heads right now?)

Well, as you know, plans have a way of unraveling…especially when Lola’s first love–the boy who broke her young heart–moves back into the house next door and makes it clear he’s never forgotten Lola.

Cricket Bell was the first boy Lola ever loved, and, now that he’s back in town, Lola must face him, the past, and the rather confusing feelings Cricket inspires.  Can Lola and Cricket put the past behind them and be friends (even though one–or both–of them wants more)?  If they can be friends, how will Lola explain this relationship to Max, the boyfriend who’s been the center of her life for months?

Lola is becoming more conflicted by the minute.  She and Cricket are closer than ever, and it’s clear that there are strong feelings on both sides.  But Lola is still with Max.  Max, an older guy her parents and friends hate, a guy who’s not always nice or there for Lola, a guy who may not be as perfect as Lola once thought.  Will Lola wake up and see what’s obvious to everyone else in the world?  Will she give the boy next door the chance to be the boy that captures her heart?  Read Lola and the Boy Next Door to find out!

This book is an absolutely perfect example of young adult romance.  Stephanie Perkins has captured the very essence of young love and the drama that goes along with it.  Lola, like most teenage girls, is confused yet determined to go her own way, and she wants to be loved by those closest to her…and sometimes she makes things more difficult than they need to be.  I think we can all relate.

I’ll admit that Lola takes second place when it comes to my favorite character in this book.  I fell in love with Cricket Bell (and I think most readers will, too).  He is the perfect guy–not brooding or moody like most guys in YA novels–and he’s my new standard for, well, everything.  Move over Edward Cullen.  Cricket Bell has just taken your place.

If you’d like to read some truly stellar love stories, you must check out both Anna and the French Kiss and Lola and the Boy Next Door.  We can also look forward to another book to join these two, Isla and the Happily Ever After, due out in the fall of 2012.

For more information on author Stephanie Perkins and her wonderful books, visit http://stephanieperkins.com/index.html.  You won’t be disappointed.