Elle and Coach by Stefany Shaheen

elle and coachHachette Book Group

Stefany Shaheen doesn’t need to think when asked what was the worst day of her life. It was November 28, 2007, the day her daughter Elle was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. Elle and Coach recounts the family’s journey and the trials they faced managing Elle’s chronic illness. Elle was active in the fight against the disease and signed up for many research studies. She and her mom also acted as delegates and spokespeople for the fight to find better treatments and a cure for this autoimmune disease. It was through their advocacy that they learned about medical service dogs who can alert to blood sugar lows and highs simply through their sense of smell. Coach is the dog that changed Elle’s life.

Elle and Coach was written for adults, but is not a difficult read and may appeal to ‘tween and teen readers who are interested in diabetes or medical service dogs. Elle’s story is a strong and courageous young woman and the stories of Coach’s skill are both heartwarming and awe inspiring.

I loved this book and read it quickly in a weekend. Coach doesn’t become involved in the story until about half way through, so a warning and a bit of skipping may be called for in the case of dog-loving and impatient younger readers. I think they’ll think the delay is worth it though and cheer on Elle, an amazingly strong and appealing girl. This would be a great addition to middle school and high school libraries or classrooms. Highly recommended.

I read Elle and Coach as an electronic ARC courtesy of Hachette Book Group and NetGalley.

Picture Books

Nonfiction Picture BooksIt’s been years since I’ve been in the classroom as a teacher, but when I read children’s and young adult books I still think about which students I’d recommend them to. I think about how they might be useful in teaching or introducing one subject or another. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think of books primarily as teaching tools, but I do think that a great book is a wonderful way to open readers up to new information, insights, and experiences.

For the last few years I’ve been wondering whether nonfiction picture books could be used in classrooms for middle school and high school students. Would they be a good way to introduce a new topic, or would the kids just shut down because it seemed babyish and they were embarrassed?

I have a fair number of friends who have become middle school and high school teachers, but none of them have tried using picture books with their classes. So the question has been simmering in the back of my mind until recently.

Pernille Ripp is a teacher from Wisconsin. I’ve been following her blog for about a year. She’s forthright and honest about the joys and struggles of teaching. She questions everything, and she’s not afraid to get student opinions to make sure that her teaching methods are working for them. I just love her sensibilities.

Last year Ms. Ripp moved from teaching elementary school to teaching seventh grade English. This summer she’s written a couple of great posts on using picture books in the classroom. Here is her excellent post on why picture books belong in every classroom. And here is a post on her current 10 favorite nonfiction picture books.

She’s convinced me that picture books can have an important place in a classroom of older kids. If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you’ll know that I do occasionally review nonfiction picture books. Since Ms. Ripp has confirmed my belief, I’m going to add nonfiction picture book reviews as a regular feature on the blog. I’ll post them on Tuesdays, so watch this space!

Are you a teacher or librarian who uses picture books with kids in middle school or above? I’d love to know about your experiences!

Peak by Roland Smith

PeakHoughton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers, 2008

Fourteen-year-old Peak Marcello is nearly two-thirds of the way through his secret goal when he gets nabbed, hauled by police onto the top of his latest skyscraper, even before he’d had a chance to tag it. Before Peak knows it he’s been arrested, appeared in court before a judge, and he’s headed out of the country in his father’s custody, the father he hasn’t even heard from in the past seven years. The worst part of it is, Peak’s dad has an agenda—an agenda that Peak’s both excited about and scared of. Peak’s dad wants his son to be the youngest person to climb Mt. Everest. Peak doesn’t have any idea if he can make it, and there’s a deadline, Peak’s fifteenth birthday is coming up fast.

Peak is an engrossing adventure story. Peak Marcello is a kid to be admired. He’s strong, addicted to climbing (no surprise, since his parents were a legendary climbing team), and more than a little reckless. He’s also been put in a crazy position where he’s got to figure out how much he can handle, who he can trust, and whether or not he should cut and run.

I loved this book for all kinds of reasons. I loved reading about cold Mount Everest on sweltering hot summer nights. I loved learning about the details of climbing Everest – you’ve got to go up and down bunches of time just to acclimate to the altitude. I loved accompanying Peak through his doubts and through his suspicions of everyone’s motivations. Were his feelings real? Were they affected by lack of oxygen or physical duress? Why does everyone want something from him?

This book moves right along, and I think it will draw in all types of readers. Peak is a great pick for classroom and school libraries. The Edge, the sequel to Peak, will be out in October. I’ll be looking for it!

I read Peak courtesy of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers and NetGalley.