Monday, January 21, 2013

It's Monday, What Are You Reading?

Hosted by Jen & Kelle at Teach Mentor Texts

This Week I Read:

Summer and Bird by Katherine Catmull
Dutton Children's Books, 2012
344 pages
Recommended for grades...Well, I don't really know!

Some quick things first:  Catmull pulled the lucky card on her cover art, because this cover is stunning. And can we just take a moment to mourn all the excellent books out there that have the most awful covers EVER?  I truly don't know what some publishers are thinking.  Anyway, the cover is what drew me to this book at the book store.  The blurbs were enticing, and I was truly wanting to find out what this debut novel would bring.  

Summer and Bird are two young girls that wake one morning to find both parents mysteriously gone from their small cottage home.  Summer, as the eldest, feels all decisions weighing heavily on her shoulders.  Should they venture into the woods, or seek help with another adult down the road?  We know what they should do, but they don't.  Setting out into the forest the girls have no idea which way to go, but go they do.  As this wild tale unfurls readers learn the true identity of the girls' mother, and what their father did to keep her grounded with the family.  To enjoy this book you must suspend reality and face the notion that you have absolutely no idea what is coming next, and it may or may not please you.  In a Through the Looking Glass style of what is, is not and what is not, is, we travel all over a land below our own, where birds are help captive.  

The writing is stunning, I even found a line to weave into my wedding vows.  But I truly cannot pin this book to what age it is best suited for.  I would say 8th grade and up and up and up.  

The Giant and How He Humbugged America by Jim Murphy
Scholastic, 2012
112 pages
Recommended for grades 5-8

I love a good hoax book!  See my loving review of The Fairy Ring.  Oh wait, bah!  I read that before my blog.  Shucks, I really love that hoax.  

In this splendid hoax we meet some men carrying out a dastardly plot to unearth and show off a petrified giant, found in Cardiff, New York in the late 1800s.  The giant becomes the talk of the country, with visitors paying lots to glimpse the giant.  The giant is a miracle, proof of ancient civilizations, even proof that the giants in the Bible were real, no one knows whether the giant is a petrified man, or a statue, but all agree that he is OLD.  Of course, they were all wrong.  

The back of the book has a few pages of other hoaxes, that stood a chance at changing the way mankind understands his roots.  And the book reminds readers that while the hoaxes are intriguing  they are all rooted in deception, period.

Give this book to a history buff, or someone that just enjoys strange histories.

The Book of Wonders by Jasmine Richards
Harper, 2012
400 pages
Recommended for grades 4-6

The kingdom of Arribitha is ruled by a nasty Sultan that has outlawed all use of magic.  But doing away with magic is nothing compared to what the sultan does to his praisemakers.  Praisemakers are young unwed girls in his kingdom that he imprisons and orders to sing his praises each morning for the city to hear.  But only for ninety days.  At the end of the ninety day term the praisemaker is released on his grounds to be hunted down, in the Sultan's own most dangerous game.
When 13 year old Zardi watches her sister dragged away by the Sultan's men, she is dertermined to stop her sister from becoming the Sultan's prey.  Zardi knows she cannot bring down the Sultan herself, so she plans to stowaway as a boy on a ship that will lead her to the Black Isle, an island rumored to be home to sorcerers.  But Zardi won't be traveling alone, her best friend Rhidan wants to set out to find out where he came from.
Filled with dangerous tasks and beasts, this adventure is a page turner for certain!

What I'm Currently Reading:

Starry River of the Sky by Grace Lin
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2012
Folklore/Realistic Fiction
304 pages
Recommended for grades 4-6

This Week I Plan to Read:


I'd love to hear your thoughts about any of these books!


Monday, January 14, 2013

It's Monday!

Hosted by Jen & Kelle at Teach Mentor Texts

Monday soon?!
This Monday was a little special because we had an EARTHQUAKE during math.  Just a small one, but all the same, it spiced things up.

This week I read:

Sophia's War: A Tale of the Revolution by Avi
Beach Lane Books, 2012
Historical Fiction
320 pages
Recommended for grades 5-8

I'm a big Avi fan, and I always delve into his books with very high hopes.  This tale focuses on a young, fictional girl, Sophia Calderwood, finding her way during the Revolutionary War.  Her family is doing their part to feign loyalty to the king, while secretly their son is fighting in the rebel army.  When the Calderwood's must house a charming British soldier, Sophia finds herself taken with him.  We follow Sophia through rejection, loss, and ultimately her decision to seek justice and revenge for her country.  With true historial figures and war events included, this book would make a wonderful supplement to a study on the Revolution.  I dream that all history teachers include a variety of trade book titles related to their given periods of history/events in history, and for those teachers this book can be added to that stockpile.  A warning though:  This book might bore readers without a rather solid understanding of the time.  At points the book reads slightly textbookish.  The romance and pining for the man Sophia can't have might also bore some readers.  My other major worry is that the uncovering of Benedict Arnold's traitorous plan is laid out with many true facts in place...except for the major twist, which is that a young girl was behind his demise.  

A Game for Swallows: To Die, to Leave, to Return by Zeina Abirached
French Voices, 2012
Memoir, Graphic Novel
192 pages
Recommended for grades 7+

One girl's retelling of a scary night in war torn East Beruit, Lebanon, in 1984.  When Zeina's parents don't come home when they are supposed to, she and her brother fear the worst.  Neighbors from their building begin trickling down to join the children in their apartment, as they listen to the bombing and firing rage through the city.  We see how families are not only made from flesh and blood, and how through tragedy there is great hope of survival.  Zeina was inspired to write about her experience after seeing her grandmother quoted on a documentary on the war.  She felt it was time to share what she remembered.  Reads nicely.

What I'm finishing tonight...or tomorrow:

Have a wonderful reading week!
I'd love to hear what you're enjoying!


Friday, January 11, 2013

A Year in Review: 2012 Middle Grade Novels

     As a member of the Maine Student Book Award Committee, I dedicate my reading each year to current publications geared towards our focused grade spans of 4th through 8th.   Information on what the Maine Student Book Award is can be found on our webpage. I thought it would be fun to reflect on my favorite picks of the year so far.  

     What an amazing year of literature for the middle grade reader!  What follows are some of my standout favorites of 2012.  The following books fall heavily in the category of grades 4-8, though I do deviate from this at times.  This could take a while...

In no particular order:

Favorite Realistic Fiction Selections:

Riding out the Storm by Sis Deans
Henry Holt, 165 pages
Realistic Fiction
Recommended for grades 8+
Why I love it:  An honest look at mental illness and how it can effect the lives of family members.  (Kirkus Review)

Wonder by R.J. Palacio
Knopf Books, 320 pages
Realistic Fiction
Recommended for grades 4+
Why I love it: It reminds us all to be thankful for what we have, and to be mindful of the challenges each other faces.  And because Auggie has the power to make us laugh out loud, and also hang our heads to shed silent tears.

Summer of the Gypsy Moths by Sara Pennypaker
Balzer+Bray, 275 pages
Realistic Fiction
Recommended for grades 4-7
Why I love it:  Sara Pennypacker has brought the darling Clementine into our literary lives, but she is so much more than a single series author.  Foster girls coping with tragedy and how to heal.

Liar and Spy by Rebecca Stead
Wendy Lamb Books, 192 pages
Realistic Fiction
Recommended for grades 5-8
Why I love it: Dialogue is so spot on.  And the volleyball gym scene was pretty much 100% me in high school.  I was moved to big fat tears, Stead certainly reached my heart.

Favorite Sci-Fi Selections:

Cinder by Marissa Meyer
Feiwel & Friends, 390 pages
Science Fiction
Recommended for grades 6+
Why I love it: Sure, I suspected who Cinder was early on, but because I still was riveted to the unfolding of the story, it proves that there is something special here!  A cyborg Cinderella story, the beginning of the Lunar Chronicles.

What Came from the Stars by Gary Schmidt
Clarion Books, 304 pages
Science Fiction
Recommended for grades 5-8
Why I love it: Because Schmidt is a master writer, and the alien stalking Tommy Pepper in this story is hauntingly creepy.

My favorite Hoax Selection:

The Fairy Ring: Or Elsie and Frances Fool the World  (a true story) by Mary Losure
Candlewick Press, 184 pages
Recommended for grades 4-8
Why I love it: The story of how two girls fooled the world into believing their photographs were actual images of fairies was an unknown story to me.  I was fascinated by the unfolding of events, and also fascinated by the people involved.

Favorite Wordless Picture Book:

Unspoken: A Story from the Underground Railroad by Henry Cole
Scholastic, 40 pages
Historical Fiction
Recommended for grades 3+
Why I love it: This book shows the power behind a wordless picture book.  When a young girl comes face to face with a runaway slave in her shed she must make a big decision.  Clever title, stunning artwork, powerful message.

Favorite Fantasy Selections:

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate
Harper, 305 pages
Recommended for grades 3-6
Why I love it: This fantasy is inspired by the real Ivan, a captive Silverback gorilla.  I love it most of all because my third grade students are coming out with the most beautiful and moving reflections and thinkings as we read this story aloud together.  

The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater
Scholastic Press, 416 pages
Recommended for grades 8+
Why I love it:  Because it is simply magnificent.

Favorite Nonfiction Selections:

Zombie Makers: True Stories of Nature's Undead by Rebecca L. Johnson
Millbrook Press, 48 pages
Recommended for grades 4+
Why I love it: Total gross out awesomeness inside these pages!  Amazing looks at how parasites control their hosts to do their bidding.

Giant Squid by Mary Cerullo and Clyde F.E. Roper
Capstone Press, 48 pages
Recommended for grades 3-6
Why I love it: Format of the book combines factual information, photographs, drawings, stories and folklore into a rather captivating read about squid.  Plus the cover feels cool.

The Beetle Book by Steve Jenkins
Houghton Mifflin, 40 pages
Recommended for grades 2-5
Why I love it: The handwritten font style and drawn illustrations give this book a unique feel.  Kids are drawn to the life size images.

Favorite Poetry Collections:

Water Sings Blue: Ocean Poems by Kate Coombs, illustrated by Meilo So
Chronicle Books, 32 pages
Recommended for grades 3-6
Why I love it:  Beautiful  artwork sets the mood for these ocean poems that are as varied in content as they are in style.  Humor on one page and thoughtful contemplation awaits you on the next. 

National Geographic Book of Animal Poetry edited by J. Patrick Lewis
National Geographic, 185 pages
Recommended for grades 3-8
Why I love it: Beloved poets familiar to children and adults alike have been given vibrant photographs as backdrops to their words.

Favorite Adventure Selection:

The False Prince by Jennifer A. Nielsen
Scholastic, 342 pages
Recommended for grades 5-8
Why I love it: Main character Sage is a witty smart-mouth that is immediately endearing.  Manipulation, danger, crowns and lies hook readers from early on.

Favorite Poetic Narrative Selection:

Little Dog Lost by Marion Dane Bauer
Atheneum Books, 198 pages
Realistic Fiction
Recommended for grades 3-6
Why I love it: Chock full of emotions.  Pain of separation, extreme longing, loneliness, hope and love.    Such sweet writing.

Favorite Spooky Selections:

Splendors and Glooms by Laura Amy Schlitz
Candlewick, 400 pages
Recommended to grades 6+
Why I love it: 1800s, creepy, sad and mysterious.  

ParaNorman by Elizabeth Cody Kimmel
Little, Brown Books, 256 pages
Recommended for grades 3-6
Why I love it:  Because I was taken by surprise at how funny and smart this story is.

Ghost of Graylock by Dan Poblocki
Scholastic, 272 pages
Recommended for grades 5-8
Why I love it: Because it is actually quite spooky.  Especially when your house is over 100 years old...

The Diviners by Libba Bray
Little, Brown Books, 598 pages
Recommended for grades 9+
Why I love it: The 1920s period comes to life in this fantasy thriller.  Hands down the book that held me the strongest all year long.  

Favorite Graphic Novel Selections:

Cardboard by Doug TenNapel
Scholastic, 283 pages
Recommended for grades 4-6
Why I love it: Wonderful friendship story disguised as an awesome and crazy monster filled fantasy.  Antagonist Marcus is supremely drawn...perfection!

XOC: The Journey of a Great White by Matt Dembicki
Oni Press, 120 pages
Recommended for grades 4-8
Why I love it: Eye catching illustrations lead us on the journey of a migrating great white and a sea turtle.  Filled with facts throughout.

Giants Beware! by Jorge Aguirre & Rafael Rosado
First Second Books, 204 pages
Recommended for grades 3-5
Why I love it: A headstrong, courageous female lead, a princess wannabe that is anything but fragile and a son of a sword smith that relishes in the art of cooking accompany each other on a journey that leads to much more than the discovery of the giant.

Favorite Historical Fiction Selections:

The Lions of Little Rock by Kristin Levine
Putnam, 304 pages
Historical Fiction
Recommended for grades 5-8
Why I love it: Set in 1958, a year after the news of the Little Rock Nine, we learn what was happening in Little Rock schools.  And are sadly surprised.

The Wicked and the Just by J. Anderson Coats
Harcourt Children's, 352 pages
Historical Fiction
Recommended for grades 8+
Why I love it: It gave me an opportunity to learn about the horrors of occupied Wales in the 1290s through opposing viewpoints.

***Last year I was fortunate enough to be able to present the MSBA to our winning author, Raina Telgemeier for her book Smile. ***

Who will win this year? 
Maine teachers and librarians and of course Students!! should head to our webpage for all the details on how and when to vote:
This spring Maine students throughout our great state will vote on their favorite 2011 publication on our current list.

What's a Bluestocking?

Because I've been asked, and in case you are curious, follow this link to find out what a Bluestocking is!