Sunday, February 4, 2018

Brrr, it's cold in here!

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Winter isn’t coming, it’s already here! This year has been especially brutal for most of the United States, and since I love nothing more than getting cozy on the couch with a good book when the temperature drops and the wind starts to blow, I thought it only made sense to dedicate an episode to books set during the winter.

Welcome to episode three of the second season of Happy Reading, a podcast that spotlights and celebrates middle grade titles that all share a common theme. I’m Sarah Threlkeld, a current elementary school librarian, former 6th grade reading teacher, and someone who loves watching the snow pile up outside her window, but isn’t a fan of  actually being in it. It has snowed twice in the Seattle area so far this winter and, while I wouldn’t mind a day or two off from school, I am definitely ready for some sunshine and blue skies.

Brian’s Winter by Gary Paulsen

I finally got around to reading Gary Paulsen’s masterpiece Hatchet a few years into my gig as a middle school teacher and, boy howdy, did it blow my mind! I’ve been meaning to read the follow up, Brian’s Winter, for years and thanks to this episode I finally devoured the adventure book in just a few sittings. In Hatchet the main character survives a summer in the Canadian wilderness and is rescued in the end (sorry for any spoilers). After that book was published Gary Paulsen received a bazillion letters from readers who wondered what would have happened to Brian if he hadn’t been rescued. Would he survive a brutal Canadian winter with no more than his wits and his trusty hatchet? If you’re curious to know the answer you’ll have to pick up a copy of Brian’s Winter. Here’s an excerpt where the reality of Brian’s situation comes hurtling at him full-force.

excerpt - pages 70-72

The Seventh Wish by Kate Messner

I always love it when a book teaches me about a topic that is completely foreign to me. Kate  Messner’s The Seventh Wish was a double whammy - I learned all about ice fishing and Irish dancing. As if that wasn’t cool enough, the book also brilliantly explores magical realism, long-term  friendship, and the effects of addiction on families and communities. This is the kind of book that stays with you long after the last sentence. Here’s an excerpt where Charlie, the main character, is ice fishing with some neighbors and catches more than she expected.

excerpt - pages 20-23

Shadow on the Mountain by Margi Preus

I am always in awe of everyday people who risk their lives to protect their family, community or country. It’s even more impressive when one of those people is a teenager. Shadow on the Mountain by Margi Preus recounts a 14-year old Norwegian boy’s evolution from a carefree soccer-playing teenager to a daring spy who worked for Norway’s resistance movement during World War II. Over the course of five years Espen, who is based on a real person named Erling Storrusten, sacrifices friendships, his family’s safety, and his own life to weaken the Nazi’s hold on his beloved country. His story comes to a thrilling climax as Espen dares to escape his homeland through snowy mountains on a pair of skis. Here’s an excerpt where Espen is both thrilled by and anxious about completing his first delivery for the Resistance.

excerpt - pages 19-20

The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street by Karina Yan Glaser

New York City is one of my favorite cities in the world, so when I come across a book that perfectly captures the energy and attitude of the Big Apple, I get pretty dang excited. Karina Yan Glaser’s debut novel The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street is one of those books. As you might surmise from the title, the book centers around the Vanderbeekers, an utterly charming family of seven that lives in a beloved brownstone on 141st street. Life is moving along swimmingly, until the parents break the news to their five children that their crotchety old landlord is evicting them in a mere five days. Oh, and it’s Christmas. Most kids would be devastated and, after shedding a few tears, start packing. Thanks goodness the Vanderbeekers are not most kids. They rally together and come up with an ingenious plan to win over the landlord. Will it work? You’ll have to read this delightful realistic fiction novel to find out. Here are the first few pages to give you a taste of The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street.

excerpt - pages 1-4

The Evil Wizard Smallbone by Delia Sherman

The last book I’m spotlighting wasn’t even on my radar when it was released, which is a shame because it is absolutely fantastic. Every word in Delia Sherman’s The Evil Wizard Smallbone is necessary and paints a riveting picture of life in a bewitched seaside town in Maine. The book opens with Nick running away from his abusive uncle and smackdab into a snow storm, which he is completely unprepared for. He happens upon Evil Wizard Books and convinces the curmudgeonly owner to let him stay for the night, having no idea that he’ll end up staying there for months, cleaning the bookstore, tending to some farm animals and secretly learning magic. Nick will also encounter a pack of angry bikers that morph into werewolves and townspeople who are harboring a huge secret. Whether you love fantasy or not, I bet you will find The Evil Wizard Smallbone to be absolutely magical and you won’t be able to put it down. Here’s the scene where Nick is caught in the snowstorm that drives him towards the evil wizard’s bookshop.

excerpt - pages 5-10

Thank you so much for listening to this episode of Happy Reading! I hope hearing about those wonderful middle grade books didn’t leave you feeling too cold and that you discovered at least one or two new titles for your TBR list. I’d love to hear about your favorite wintertime books! You can find me on Twitter at @WordNerd153 and at the podcast’s website at Transcripts of all the episodes are also on the website. If you enjoy this podcast, I would adore you forever if you posted a review on iTunes. Thanks again for listening and happy reading!

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Run for your life!

Episode 2 - Running

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Growing up I had no interest in sports. I didn’t want to participate in them, talk about them, or watch them. My older brother played soccer for years, dabbled in basketball (he is 6 foot 4, after all), and even went through a phase where he rode his bicycle everywhere. I was content to let him be the athlete in the family while I read, baked, hung out with friends, and watched TV. As you can imagine, I wasn’t the healthiest kid on the block. In fact, for years I joked that the only way you would see me running was if I was being chased by a homicidal maniac and even then it wasn’t guaranteed. Then, at some point in my mid-20’s, I had the crazy idea that I should start running. Fourteen years later I still lace up my running shoes several times a week and head out the door. It keeps me sane, makes me feel strong, and puts a smile on my face. This time of year people often focus on things for which they are thankful. Since I am grateful for running and books, it only made sense to record an episode that combines the two.

Welcome to the second episode of the second season of Happy Reading, a podcast that celebrates middle grade fiction by theme. I’m Sarah Threlkeld, a current elementary librarian, former 6th grade reading teacher, and finisher of six half marathons. Today I am going to spotlight three middle grade novels and a YA title, all of which celebrate the joy and agony of being a runner. Who knows? Maybe you’ll be inspired to take a jog around your neighborhood after listening to this podcast.

Between the rhythm of your footfalls, the sound of your breathing and the thump, thumping of your heart, running is its own kind of poetry, so it makes perfect sense that Sharon Creech wrote heartbeat, about one girl’s love of running and how it centers her when everything seems to be changing, as a book in verse. Twelve-year old Annie just found out her mother is pregnant, which was completely unexpected. Her grandfather is struggling to remember the details of his life and Annie’s best friend Max is acting strange. Luckily, Annie has one thing in her life that will never change - running. But is it enough? Here are three poems from heartbeat by Sharon Creech.

Excerpts: pages 4-5, 10, and 15-19

Bang! When you’re a runner that can be an exciting sound, one that gets your adrenaline pumping and cues your legs to pump up and down faster than the wind. If you’re middle schooler Castle Crenshaw, who prefers to be called Ghost, it’s the sound that haunts him, the one that he heard the night his father chased after him and his mom in a drunken rage, threatening to shoot them if they left. Now Ghost runs his mouth, runs on the basketball court, and runs away from all of his problems. He has no idea he can also run to compete, until he sees an elite track team practicing at the local park and he knows his feet can help him fly past everyone else. Will Ghost be able to take direction from Coach, bond with his teammates, and stay out of trouble, or will his past destroy his chances for a shot at the Junior Olympics? Here’s an excerpt from Ghost by Jason Reynolds.

Excerpt: pages 6-7

As someone who will never be a top finisher of a race or even place in the top hundred, I really appreciate the tagline on the cover of Sidetracked by Diana Harmon Asher - it reads “The most important race is with yourself.” Joseph Friedman is having a hard time figuring out his place in the world. He is plagued by anxiety, bullied by classmates, and struggles academically. He doesn’t have any friends, unless you count his grandfather, and doesn’t seem interested in much except surviving middle school. Then on the first day of seventh grade two things happen that will change Joseph’s life - one of his teachers convinces him to sign up for the newly formed cross country team and he meets Heather, a new student who seems fearless and inspires Joseph to face some of his fears, too. Sidetracked is thought-provoking, funny and full of endearing characters that readers will cheer for. I couldn’t stop reading it and can’t wait to add a copy or two to my school library. Here’s the scene where Joseph visits the new track for the first time and runs into Heather, who he has only admired from afar.

Excerpt - pages 20-23

What would you do if the one thing you were most passionate about was suddenly taken from you? That’s exactly what happens to sixteen-year old Jessica in The Running Dream by Wendelin Van Draanen. One moment Jessica is basking in the glory of achieving a personal best in the 400 for the Liberty High track team and the next she’s in a hospital bed, her right leg missing from the knee down. Her family and friends are optimistic that life will eventually return to normal, but Jessica is certain that she will never again experience the joy that running brought her. Then she meets Rosa, a classmate with cerebral palsy who is confined to a wheelchair. Rosa believes Jessica is capable of more than just learning to live with a prosthetic leg. Will Jessica begin to believe it too? Here are two short chapters from the beginning of The Running Dream by Wendelin Van Draanen.

Excerpts - pages 6 and 16-17

Dying to run a 5k yet? Or at least prepare for a reading marathon? If you know of other fabulous middle grade books about running, I would love to hear about them. You can track me down on Twitter as WordNerd153 or email me through my website, You’ll also find transcripts of each episode on my site, as well as links to the books I spotlight.

Thank you so much for listening to this podcast! I hope you discovered a few books to add to your TBR pile and were inspired to log a mile or two. Shoutout to my dear friend Emily Moore, who is an exceptional librarian and also a runner. In fact, I bet she listened to this episode while pounding the pavement. Until next time, dear listeners, happy reading!

Sunday, October 29, 2017

I ain't 'fraid of no ghosts!

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Creepy boarding schools where students are locked in their rooms. A chain letter that leads to death. Young girls with supernatural powers. A prank on a teacher that goes horribly wrong. When I was a kid I wanted to get my hands on all of the horror books I could find. In middle school I devoured everything by Lois Duncan and Christopher Pike and as a high schooler I sought out titles by Stephen King, Dean Koontz and John Saul. There’s just something about sitting in a darkened room all alone, wondering what a supernatural baddie or evil teen will do next to make your skin crawl. Which is why I thought I’d get back in the swing of things with an episode about spooky titles aimed at readers ages 8-12 (and those of us who adore middle grade fiction, despite being just a tad older).

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Let's take a look back...

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If you happen to be an educator, you are probably drowning in responsibilities right about now. If the new year has already started for you, I hope everything went off without a hitch and you aren’t doubting your decision to take responsibility for guiding the next generation toward independence. No pressure right? The first day of school in my district is the Wednesday after Labor Day. Today is Tuesday. This means I have zero more days left to get the library ready for 700 kids. Anxiety starts to creep in if I spend more than a minute thinking about everything I need to get done by tomorrow morning and then inevitably I notice my giant stack of library books that are being neglected and the office bookshelf that’s crammed with untouched titles and the three bags full of books I agreed to read for a local librarian review group, some of which I’ve had since December, and my anxiety starts to grow.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Summer camp, here I come!

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Summer camp. Just hearing those words stirs up all kinds of wonderful memories of my days as a camper, whether it was day camp through the Boys and Girls Club or sleep away camp with my Girl Scout Troop. Early morning polar bear plunges, singing by the campfire, eating just the chocolate and graham crackers for my s’mores because marshmallows are gross, being covered in dirt from head to toe and not caring one bit, secret training sessions with Bill Murray so I could unexpectedly bring victory to my team in the color war competition - yep, those were some of the best summers of my life and, as an adult I'm still a tad smitten with the idea of kissing my regular life goodbye for a few weeks to commune with the great outdoors (providing there are real showers and toilets, of course). Since we are in the thick of summer vacation, I thought it only appropriate to spotlight some fantastic novels aimed at eight to twelve year olds that take place at camp.