Monday, September 24, 2012

Best Graphic Novel of the Year!

Here's what kept me busy this weekend.  I'm still plugging away at The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls, which is better savored. 

Hunter Moran Saves the Universe by Patricia Reilly Giff
Holiday House, 2012
Recommended Grades 3-5
Realistic Fiction/Crazy Adventure (128 pages)

I wasn't blown away by this story, but I can certainly see some major boy appeal to it.   Young readers will like the mystery and adventure around trying to figure out what Mr. Diglio buried in his backyard (the twin boys in the story think it is a bomb).  There is trouble with parents and siblings, middle of the night rendezvous, and weird townspeople.  The problem for me was how quickly one thing ran into the next, never giving my mind time to create a world where these characters lived.  I think young readers might have trouble picturing the story unfold and have trouble keeping characters straight, as there are many minor characters.

Cardboard, by Doug Tennapel
Graphix, 2012
Recommended Grades 4-6
Fantasy (283 pages)

LOVE.  I love this book because it is funny and crazy and heartwarming. 
When Cam's dad gives him an empty cardboard box for his birthday he doesn't let it get him down. Together they work to create something amazing out of that plain box.  Rich kid bully, Marcus, across the street taunts Cam for being poor.   Magically, the man Cam and his father created out of cardboard comes to life and becomes a member of their family.  Use your imagination here, it works :)  What follows is jealousy and cardboard creations gone mad.  Marcus gets his hands on the magic cardboard and begins creating terrible and dangerous monsters.  When Marcus needs help most he finds that Cam, the boy he constantly put down, is the one there to help him.  The artwork is absolutely amazing.  Yucky Marcus could not have been more perfectly visually created.  Fast paced, deep storyline, creative, stunning artwork, this is what graphic novels are all about.  You could do some great things with characterization using this book.
It gets my vote for best graphic novel of the far :)
I just get such a kick out of Marcus, he is soooo despicable and yet so lovable by the last page.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

I Call this Post: Two Very Different Books...

Sometimes going to bed at 7:00 is awesome.  Because you can read and read and read, and STILL get to sleep on time.  I don't get to do that often, but I did the other night and here's what I spent my time with:

The Year of the Book by Andrea Cheng (Great illustrations by Abigail Halpin)
Houghton Mifflin, 2012 (146 pages)
Realistic Fiction, Grades 3-5

If you love books you will appreciate this simple, sweet, yet very deep story.  If you don't love books, why are you reading this blog? ;)  

One of my favorite novels of the year so far!  This little story packs a lot of emotion into it.  4th grade Anna Wang might be dealing with things unfamiliar to many, like being a first generation American, but she also deals with things we all can relate to, like hurt feelings.  Anna feels on the outs, and lets it get to her at first, but she reaches within and realizes that others are fragile too, and she makes the choice to be the kind of friend she wants to have.  Wonderful book to share with young female readers!  

And on the non sweet side:

The Sinister Sweetness of Splendid Academy by Nikki Loftin
RazorBill, 2012 (283 pages)
Fantasy, Grades 4-6

First off, great title.  Secondly, the author has a great first name.  But seriously, this book was fun to read.  Sixth grader Lorelei has a pile of problems.  She is struggling with figuring out her undiagnosed learning disability, trying to live with her obnoxious stepmother, and coping as best she can with the fairly recent death of her mother...which she thinks she caused.
But when Lorelei and her new friend Andrew begin to piece together what is happening at Splendid Academy, all her old problems are not all she has to worry about.  Because frustration and embarrassment and grief are tough to deal with, but being alive to deal with them is better than being...not.

October is right around the corner, which would be a swell month to read this spooky tale.  


Saturday, September 8, 2012

Step Inside My Classroom!

The first week of school with my new batch of 3rd graders has been so amazing.  The group of students I will be sharing the next 2 years with have been impressing me by how quickly they have become a community.  Before they entered our classroom on the first day of school I snapped some pictures of the room.  Here's how it looked:

The bulletin board right outside the room in the 3rd/4th hallway.  I was inspired by a similar board on pinterest.

Welcome to my room!  I made the letters above the door the summer I was hired.  This is the last year I can use them!  
Yay :)

Here's the view from the doorway.  We are so lucky to be on this side of the school with a view of the garden.  I feed the birds all year, so we see many types throughout the seasons.

State Book Award book shelf, lunch count and...the most awesome shelf that a custodian saved from the dump for me.  He built the selves and I gave it some paint.  It is big enough to hold all 18 bins and literacy binders!  

Our small group table.

Student mailboxes, etc.

Inside the bureau are all our general supplies (glue, scissors, colored pencils, etc.) as well as math supplies behind the double doors.  Keeps things neat and uncluttered.

Looking towards the right side of the classroom library

Summer reading bulletin board, filled with pictures of the kids and myself reading this summer.

Another pinterest inspired bulletin board!

Where they will track their home reading minutes this year.

Our retelling board used for read alouds.

Library Buds

My bench, I use the storage for seasonal books.

I have been looking for a magazine rack for years.  I happened upon this one last month at TJMaxx.  Our magazine drive begins in a couple of weeks, so I'm leaving the top spot free for a subscription of the kids' choice.

And finally, my space.  The flowers were a sweet surprise from my friend next door.

Feel free to leave any Qs or comments.  And if you have a classroom tour online let me know about it!


Tuesday, September 4, 2012

First Read Aloud Video

Happy first read aloud to all! 
Thanks to Colby Sharp for creating & Nerdy Book Club for sharing!

Monday, September 3, 2012

Celebrity Status Trumps Good Writing

Everywhere I turn I see rave reviews written about this book.  And its status on the New York Times Bestseller List is being flaunted around.  So, I got thinking that maybe I shouldn't write a negative review.  Maybe that is something I, as a book reviewer, should keep more to myself.  Or quite the opposite.  

The Land of Stories: The Wishing Spell
Written by Chris Colfer
Little, Brown and Company, 2012
438 pages

Here is the synopsis on Amazon:

Alex and Conner Bailey's world is about to change, in this fast-paced adventure that uniquely combines our modern day world with the enchanting realm of classic fairy tales.

The Land of Stories tells the tale of twins Alex and Conner. Through the mysterious powers of a cherished book of stories, they leave their world behind and find themselves in a foreign land full of wonder and magic where they come face-to-face with the fairy tale characters they grew up reading about. 

But after a series of encounters with witches, wolves, goblins, and trolls alike, getting back home is going to be harder than they thought.

    The main reason I am writing this review here is because I am tired of hearing only positive things about this book.  I find it misleading and I know that there are many other better written stories for our readers.  Chris Colfer is an actor on the television show Glee, and this book reads like a long drawn out screenplay.  Descriptions are either nonexistent or so basic that my students could paint a far better image.  When describing a cavalcade of knights arriving in front  the twins, Colfer describes them only by saying: "Their armor was clean and shiny."  OK...
    Colfer puts most of his story in the dialogue and the narration seems to be just a means to link those speaking parts together.  He misses the beauty that can go into a well written narrative.  A story should not leave its reader breaking away from the flow to consider how awkwardly written it is.  Truly though, I could go on and on, and that would be too harsh.  So, here are a few things that bothered me in a (sort of) list:

The extreme overuse of poor similes:
"Mrs. Peters was staring at her as if she had just witnessed a gruesome rural animal give birth."
(I couldn't think of a gruesome rural animal...pig, cow, mouse.  Dunno.)
"Alex clambered up the tree faster than any animal she had ever seen in a documentary."
(Doesn't that just flow off the lips.)
Compares the witch with the gingerbread house to: "...staring at her as if she were a rabid Tyranosaurus rex about to pounce on them at any moment."
(#1 rabid T-rex.  #2 would pounce be the best word to describe the movement of a T-rex? #3 the word rabies makes, I believe, 3 appearances.  At least one more I flagged when the twins come upon some unicorns. )
The similes go on and on and on and on...

Lack of revision.
If Colfer spent any time at all revising this novel we would not see the following phrase appear so often:
"Steam was practically coming out of the teacher's ears and nostrils." pg.75
"Steam was practically coming out of their nostrils."  pg. 361
"...Conner said.  Steam was practically coming from his ears."  pg. 164

Some of the writing just simply strikes me the wrong way.  Like when Conner sees the gingerbread house on page 112. "'Whoa,' Conner said.  'I feel like I might get diabetes from just looking at that place."

    Overall, the story is so horribly written that I BEG Colfer's editor to help him make the next book in the series a bit smoother.  The plot of the book doesn't bother me.  I can fall into the most fantastical storyline and believe every line of it.  But that is where the hard work on the author's part comes in.  Colfer must read more to become a better writer.  This is not a script, it is a novel.

Go on, tell me I'm wrong.  I can take it.  

But there's more to this post.  To honor my feelings, I am giving away my copy of the book!  Just leave a comment below for your chance of winning!  I will pick a winner from comments and retweets on twitter.  Good luuuuck.  Come on, don't you want to read it?!