Bella & Bean by Rebecca Kai Dotlich

Back in April I was lucky enough to have coffee with Kathi Appelt, who was in the area for a school visit.  We had a great time talking about books, writing, and blogging.  Before parting ways, Kathi told me she had a book I absolutely must read.  She said she knew I would love Bella & Bean by Rebecca Kai Dotlich.  I wrote down the title and promised to look for it.  Of course, I promptly forgot about all of this in the chaos that is the end of the school year.

Last week I was at a district meeting and was thrilled when the supervisor pulled out Bella & Bean for a read-aloud!  Of course, I immediately remembered Kathi’s recommendation (and then felt bad for forgetting!).  After listening to the story, I was hooked.  Kathi was 100% right- I loved it!  I can not wait to share this book with my students this year.  

Bella and Bean are best friends.  Bella is a writer- a poet- always playing with words and concentrating on her writing.  She begins each day ready to sit at her window-side desk, writing about the beauty around her.  her best friend Bean is outgoing, fun, and hands-on.  She’s always trying to get Bella to put her writing aside to come and play by the pond.  All day long Bean pokes her head through the window of Bella’s house and tries to get her attention.  She shows Bella her new hat, shows off her “cute toes”, and tries to convince Bella to think of the word “Bean” if she is concentrating on words.  Bean is adorable and I wanted to run off with her!  The illustrations by Aileen Leijten are precious and you just want to dive into the book with Bean.


But Bella will not be distracted.  She even gets grumpy with Bean!

 

I don’t have time for hats, Bean,’ said Bella. ‘I’m writing new poems…I can’t think about rivers and moons when you are talking about hats,’ said Bella.”

Bella perseveres through the distractions and is rewarded- her poems are stunning!    

But what about Bean?  And their friendship?  I won’t spoil the ending for you because it is absolutely perfect.  I admit I couldn’t wait to find out what happened while we were being read to!  I will just tell you to get this book ASAP.

I can not wait to use this picture book in my 6th grade classroom this upcoming year.  There are so many ways I foresee using it.  Of course, it will be wonderful during our poetry unit.  Bella’s poems are not only wonderful but her methods and wordplay will inspire many students.  It will be a great mentor text for my 6th graders.  One of my favorite lines says, 

“The sky poured stars like sugar…”

How gorgeous is that?  I love it!  I can already see Bella inspiring many of my writers.  She certainly inspired me.

Bella & Bean is also a window into the writing process.  I think I will start our writing workshop this year with this book.  What a wonderful way to introduce my students to the workshop we will be a part of during the year.  

But the story is not just about writing.  It’s beautiful on so many levels.  It’s also about friendship and tolerance.  It’s about taking time to live life, not just watch it go by.  It’s about being disciplined but also having fun.  It’s about opposites attracting. Due to the multi-layered text, this book is perfect for kids of all ages, from preschool to high school.  In fact, the adults at my meeting all fell in love with it!  There is no age limit on this one.  And anyone who aspires to be a writer can’t help but be inspired by  Bella & Bean.  Be sure to pick this up for your classroom library!  And maybe even for your teacher library. ;)

Notes from the Dog by Gary Paulsen

Every year, I have a few students that I refer to as my “Paulsen Posse”.  They read every book Gary Paulsen has written, use him as a mentor in their writing, and talk about all of the Paulsen-like adventures they plan to live.  Now, I like Gary Paulsen as much as the next guy- maybe even a little more because he inspires so many dormant readers.  But I’ve never connected to him like the posse does.  

That just changed. Notes from the Dog is Gary Paulsen’s latest novel (available tomorrow!).  A thin little book, I didn’t give it much thought when I sat down to read.  Little did I know…

Finn is a fifteen-year-old loner.  His goal for summer vacation is to talk to as few people as possible.  He figures he can get by just talking to his father, his true friend, Matthew, his grandfather, and his dog, Dylan.  It’s not that he doesn’t like people.  He just can’t figure them out so he prefers to avoid them.  Settling in for a summer full of books, his world is turned upside down when Johanna moves in next door.  Housesitting for the summer, Johanna is cool, pretty, and chatty.  Before he even realizes it, Finn has been swept up into her world.  And you know what?  It’s not that bad….a pretty, older girl likes Finn!

Johanna treats Finn like an equal.  He finds it easy to talk to her which never happens with girls.  Plus, Dylan loves her.  And she’s pretty, which doesn’t hurt. Slowly but surely, she manages to draw Finn out of his shell. But most importantly, she’s a good friend to Finn.  She’s obviously not your typical twenty-five-year old.

Something else not typical? Johanna is battling breast cancer.  

Spending the summer with Johanna, Finn learns what it means to really care for someone on all levels- physically and emotionally.  Johanna is young, only in her mid-twenties, but she is fighting an all-too-often fatal disease.  Yet she always has a smile on her face.  She and Finn set out to plant a garden in his yard, something Johanna has always wanted.  Also something Finn is awful at;  he’s got the blackest thumb in the world!  But working with Johanna opens his small world to new ideas and made him braver.  Johanna constantly encourages him and tries to make him see how awesome he really is.  She even manages to set him up on a date or two!

At the same time, Finn and Matthew vow to raise enough money to sponsor Johanna in the breast cancer triathlon she hopes to compete in before the summer is over.  Even though the two friends can’t imagine Johanna competing (she can barely get out of bed some days), they move outside their comfort zone to raise enough funds.  For Finn, this means making presentations to groups of people.  Before he knows it, he’s talked to 100x more people than he planned to during the summer.  

I don’t know how to put into words what I think about this book.  It is a must-read and a much-needed book.  Breast cancer is so prevalent these days, yet there is very little of it in middle grade literature.  When it is mentioned, it’s all-too-often in a “girl” book.  Paulsen takes a decidedly female topic, which affects the entire family, and presents in it a book that will appeal to both genders.  Too many of my students lives are touched by cancer and I know they will connect with this book.

 But don’t think this is a depressing book because it is about cancer.  It’s also a funny book that will have you laughing at loud.  Like when Finn and Matt are camping at the arboretum and get lost!  Or when Grandpa announces he is moving in with his new girlfriend!  There’s a certain feeling of joy that jumps between the pages of the book.  Johanna lives every day to the fullest and you can’t help but be inspired by her.  Her joy is contagious and even Finn is affected.  It spreads to his father, his classmates, and eventually the whole town.  Paulsen has crafted a testament to the importance of community and friendship in today’s world.

This is a must-have for any middle school or high school library.  As always, Paulsen packs a powerful punch.  And I am now an official member of my classroom’s “Paulsen Posse”!

Be sure to check back tomorrow for an interview with Gary Paulsen!

 

 

 

Review copy provided by the publisher.

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