Love That Dog

12 08 2012

I love this book.

It’s brilliant.

Jack is a reluctant…





In Miss Stretchberry he has a






According to Jack, boys don’t write poetry.

Jack does.

He doesn’t realize it at first.

He grows to



and love poetry

Sharon Creech has written a beautiful book about opening your mind.  Her young protagonist doesn’t want to participate in the class poetry assignments, but a great teacher (who never actually appears in the story) coaxes and coaches him into spilling his feelings out on the page.  Along the way she introduces him to some great poetry by William Carlos Williams, Robert Frost, William Blake, and, most importantly, Walter Dean Myers.  The story you read is made up of Jack’s poems.

Jack finds his muse.  And himself.

A brilliant, brilliant, brilliant book.

In my quest to read 90 books in 90 days this summer, Love That Dog was #70.

Jack and Larry

9 07 2012

I enjoy baseball books, but this is a very different sort of baseball book.  Jack and Larry: Jack Graney and Larry, the Cleveland Baseball Dog is not so much about the game as it is about the relationships we form in sports.

Barbara Gregorich is a local author who has an affinity for unique baseball stories.  Her previous book is about a women’s baseball league in the 1940s and this one is about a baseball dog.

Yup, you read that right – a baseball dog.  You see, Jack Graney was the Cleveland Naps’ (this is before they were the Indians) left fielder and lead off hitter.  The team was bad.  Real bad.  Jack felt a great deal of that was because of the lack of camaraderie on the team.  Then in 1912, the team’s trainer won a bull-terrier in a card game.  He brought the dog, Larry, to the ballpark and he became the team’s mascot.

Slowly, Larry brought the team together.  They started to play like more of a unit, more like a real team.  It took some time, but they improved in the standings.

This book is about the team while Jack and Larry are there – from 1912 until the early 1920s, how the team fares during that time period, and the relationship built between man and dog, as well as the friendship Jack has with some of his famous teammates (Nap Lajoie, Tris Speaker, and Ray Chapman.

The whole book is written in a very simple, free verse poem form that feels like a baseball historian is having a very relaxing conversation with the reader.

It’s a great book for baseball fans, fans of novels written in verse, and history buffs.  The best part is that it tells an unknown piece of baseball history in a very unique way.  As much as I know about baseball (and a few years ago I read a pretty long adult book about the 1920 Indians season), I hadn’t heard of Jack Graney and never knew Cleveland had Larry as a mascot, and even without Larry, Jack is a pretty interesting guy – first batter to face Babe Ruth, first player to wear a number on his uniform, and the first former player to become a major league broadcaster.  I highly recommend this one.

I’m on a mission.  I want to read 90 books in 90 days this summer.  Jack and Larry was #34.

The One and Only Ivan

4 06 2012

One of my favorite books when I was a kid was Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White.   The book was probably close to 30 years old the first time I read it, and that was probably around 30 years ago, yet it’s still a perfect book for kids.   There’s  Wilbur, the pig who needs protecting; Fern, the little girl with the heart of gold; Templeton, the rat that provides comic relief (and a little help), Homer, the man who owns the farm; and, of course, Charlotte, the spider who plays the role of unlikely hero.

Fast forward.  It’s 2012 and you have The One and Only Ivan.  It’s almost the same cast of characters – except you replace Wilbur with Ruby the elephant, Fern with Julia, Templeton with Bob the dog, Homer’s farm with Mack’s pseudo-circus, and Charlotte with Ivan the silverback gorilla.

Ivan’s story is told by Ivan.  He’s been in this glass box for 27 years, and he hasn’t seen another gorilla since he and his sister Tag were captured as babies.  He’s grown, physically, into a massive silverback gorilla.  Yet, having been raised by Mack like a human child, eating human food, wearing human clothes, and now put on display for human amusement, he doesn’t feel like a silverback.  Silverbacks are supposed to protect their family.  Ivan has no family, no one to protect.

Until Ruby, a baby elephant is brought to the show.  Then Ivan, much like Charlotte had to do 60 years ago, has to figure out a way to protect the one he loves.

Ivan is such a unique narrator that the book is unlike anything else I’ve ever read.  He’s sweet, he’s thoughtful, and he feels that humans waste too many words, so his story is told in short, choppy bits, expressing just what needs to be expressed in a perfect way.  It’s kind of prose, but almost a free-verse poem, or maybe it’s just written the way that gorillas think.  Either way, it’s a beautifully written, amazing story that is sure to be on the “classics” list right next to Charlotte’s Web a few years down the road.

I didn’t think that Katherine Applegate could top her last book, Home of the Brave, but she has.  I can’t wait to read what she writes next.

This was my 16th book this summer (and my favorite so far).  That puts me more than 1/6 of the way to my goal of reading 90 books in 90 days over summer break.

Inside Out & Back Again

2 06 2012

What a beautifully written book.  Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai is one of those novels written as a series of poems that seem to be getting very popular nowadays.   This wonderful story was a National Book Award Winner, a Newbery Honor book, and is now on the 2013 Rebecca Caudill nominee.  

It’s almost autobiographical, telling the story of a 10 year old girl named Ha, who is escaping South Vietnam with her family (mom and three brothers) as the Vietnam war is ending.  It’s 1974, and the American troops have pulled out of the country.  The Communist North is slowly taking over, and Ha’s mother decides it’s time for her family to leave. 

The story is told in three parts: Part one is life in Vietnam, showing Ha’s life at home, the things she loves, and all she’s ever known.  Part two is about the family’s escape on a navy vessel.   The third part tells about how Ha and her family adjust to life in Alabama, which is quite a far cry from Vietnam.

The book is made all the more poignant in the end when the author’s note reveals that the story is based on her own experiences, leaving Vietnam and arriving in 1970s Alabama.  

Overall, I highly recommend this lovely little story.  It’s the perfect addition to any study of the Vietnam war or poetry.  

This is #10 in my quest to read 90 books in 90 days this summer.  

Shark Girl

26 05 2012

Lately there have been a whole bunch of really good novels for young people written in poetry form.  I read Home of the Brave by Katherine Applegate earlier this year, and that was fantastic.  Heaven Looks a Lot Like the Mall by Wendy Mass (who visited our school a few years ago) is a great book.  Love that Dog and Heartbeat by Sharon Creech, Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse, and Sold by Patricia McCormick are all wonderful books – and really quick reads  – that are great novels with outstanding characters told in a series of poems.

Yesterday I read another one – Shark Girl  by Kelly Bingham.  This one’s about a 15 year old girls who is attacked by a shark during a family trip to the beach.  She loses her right arm, the one she uses to draw and paint, so she seems to lose a little bit of her self worth too.

The story takes place over the course of about a year, during which Jane deals with her mom’s need to protect her, her brother going away to college, her friends looking at her just a little bit differently, and the stares and pseudo-sympathy of complete strangers that just won’t let her create her “new normal.

Shark Girl is a great summer read.  It’s quick (I don’t read fast, and I finished in one day), it’s interesting, and it has a wonderful main character that you really want to root for.

In my effort to read 90 books in 90 days this summer, Shark Girl is number 2.  Follow my progress here or on Twitter @MCLiterature.