It's Monday! What Are You Reading? 1-6-14

Visit our hosts Jen & Kellee at Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers for their reviews as well as links to all the other blogs participating in the book sharing fun!  There are so many new books to discover, and so many great conversations to be a part of!

Books I Read this Week:

The Menagerie by Tui T & Kari Sutherland
HarperCollins, 2013
277 pages
Recommended for grades 4-6

Fantasy lovers will enjoy all the mythical creatures in the secret menagerie, and adventure lovers will have fun on the quest of seeking out 6 young griffin cubs that have scattered themselves about town.

With many unanswered questions-and a "To be continued..." ending, readers will not feel resolution at the conclusion of book 1 in this new series.

Personally I wasn't riveted by the storyline, but there are certainly plenty of young fantasy lovers that will love this long yet accessible story.

The Great American Dust Bowl by Don Brown
Houghton Mifflin, 2013
Graphic Novel- Nonfiction
80 pages
Recommended for grades 4+

The artwork in this story absolutely reflects the devastating subject matter found within these pages.  Simple flipping through the pages feels like being surrounded by a cloud of dust.

This text is a good introduction to what the Dust Bowl was, its causes, and how people survived and perished during its wrath.

You will not find an in-depth look at any one aspect of the dust storms or their effects that occurred during the time of the Dust Bowl of 1935, instead readers will be exposed to a general big picture.

Where Out of the Dust, by Karen Hess, left a lasting impression of the despair hardship during the dust storms, The Great American Dust Bowl hardly left any such impression on me. 

Which is why I think this text would pair marvelously with Out of the Dust, allowing for some great contrasts and comparisons.

The Nazi Hunters by Neal Bascomb
Arthur A. Levine, 2013
245 pages
Recommended for grades 8+

After reading Bomb! last year it is hard to place another nonfiction novel next to it without feeling like Bomb! is a show stealer.  Though the result and path of the mission in The Nazi Hunters was unknown to me before concluding the book, it just didn't capture me throughout its journey.

The story of justice after the Holocaust is not one I've read though, and it is too important to be ignored.  So many books about the Holocaust end with the subjects perishing or surviving.  It leaves a gaping hole to be filled in the minds of our youth: What happened to the people that caused and carried out this horrific event?

So even while it wasn't my favorite nonfiction novel, there were certainly moments that caused pause for reflection, moments where I was moved to tears, and moments of inspiration.  One such beautiful passage is below:

"For their ashes are piled up on the hills of Auschwitz and the fields of Treblinka and are strewn in the forest s of Poland.  Their graves are scattered throughout the length and breadth of Europe.  Their blood cries out, but their voice is not heard.  Therefore I will be their spokesman."
-Attorney General Gideon Hausner

White Fur Flying by Patricia MacLachlan
Margaret K. McElderry, 2013
Realistic Fiction
116 pages
Recommended for grades 3-5

This is the fourth 2013 book I've read where we have a nonspeaking boy character.  Just something I noticed.

The Cassidy family loves animals;  Dad is a vet, Mom is passionate about opening their house to rescue and foster Great Pyrenees dogs and sisters Alice and Zoe care deeply for reach creature brought into their home.

When a new boy, Philip, moves in next door Alice and Zoe befriend him.  Philip is staying with his aunt and uncle and won't speak to them, nor anyone other people...Philip does seem to have a bond with the dogs though.  It isn't until the end of the book that the reader learns why Philip is choosing not to talk.

A quick-but not simple-book, as MacLachlan seems to be known for.  It might have to do with the length of the text, but there didn't seem to be enough here to grab me.  If the book were longer the characters and story could be developed more.  Given the weight of the things Philip must be dealing with, it seemed to cut that issue short.

The Misadventures of Salem Hyde: Spelling Trouble (Book 1) by Frank Cammuso
Abrams, 2013
Graphic Novel-Fantasy
95 pages
Recommended for grades 3-5

Ok, this was much cuter than I thought it would be!  This new series is by the creator of The Knights of the Lunch Table, which I also found to be quite endearing in its own way.

Salem is a witch that doesn't control her powers well.  She is also lacking in the friend department.  When her nonmagical parents need suggestions on helping their daughter they turn to her witch aunt.  Salem's aunt suggests an animal companion for Salem, and she knows just the animal for the job.  Salem is hoping for a unicorn.  She gets Whammy the cat.  The two are not fast friends, but it turns out the Whammy is perhaps just the pal Salem needs.

The Year of Shadows by Claire Legrand
Simon & Schuster, 2013
410 pages
Recommended for grades 4-7

This year I've read around 100 middle grade texts published in 2013.  With so many under my belt it is with tons of excitement that I am just now finding another favorite of the year!  Last year I was introduced to Legrand through her creepy The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls.  That story was for older readers, and certainly not for everyone, though I did enjoy it quite a bit.  

The Year of the Shadows has a much broader readership available to it than Cavendish does.  I can see many of my readers getting excited over this text, and in fact I can't wait to prove myself right when I book talk it this week!

In this story we are confronted by a 12-year-old girl that harbors anger over her mother leaving, and that anger manifests itself through a lack of relationships at school, poor attention and focus in her academics, but mostly it boils over into a hatred for her father, whom she thinks is at fault.

When we meet Olivia she is forced to move into Emerson Hall where her father works as a Maestro.  Along with her 80-year-old Nonnie, Olivia and the Maestro set up home as best they can, which isn't much to speak of.  Trying to hide the fact that she is living in the Hall and can barely afford clothes and food, Olivia's life isn't looking up.

And then she discovers the ghosts of Emerson Hall, and everything changes.  It is through Olivia and Henry, a boy she reluctantly lets into her life, that these ghosts can find peace.  And at the end of this long and complicated journey there is hope for Olivia to find peace as well.

Readers will notice and perhaps be surprised by Olivia's feelings and actions towards her father, which are truly vile, but if you've witnessed a child dealing with a loss of a parent, it is often the one they are left with that takes the brunt of the difficult and hard to pin emotions.  

I'm Currently Reading:

On Deck:

Thanks for stopping by!  Have a wonderful reading week.  I'm headed back to school this morning, after two bonus days off last week due to snow!  It's been a long vacation, and a much needed vacation, but it's back to reality today!  If you are returning to work today I wish you a wonderful first day back.

Have a great reading week :)


  1. Wow! Some great recommendations this week. Thanks for the heads up about the "non-speaking" character in White Fur Flying. I have taught a student with selective mutism and it used to be that you could never find characters in books who were selectively mute. Glad to see more characters featured in MG/YA titles. Thinking of getting Salem Hyde books for my class. Glad you enjoyed!

    1. Thanks Carrie! The Salem Hyde series will be a good addition to your classroom library-they are fun, short and not too fluffy, you know?

  2. I'm looking forward to reading Dust Bowl when I grab it from the library today. I'm planning on stealing Nazi Hunters from my daughters shelf soon, but I certainly know what you mean with regards to the post-Bomb nonfiction reading experience. It really doesn't get any better than that!


    1. I look forward to your thoughts on Nazi Hunters. It might be that I was feeling pressure to finish it for a deadline, but it just wasn't as enjoyable as I'd hoped. I've seen mixed reviews on Dust Bowl too, it's always interesting to see what different people take away from the same story.

  3. I just finished The Year of Shadows too! I wasn't expecting to like it as much as I did (generally ghost stories are not really my thing), but I was completely smitten with Olivia, Henry, Igor and their ghosts.

    And, having just put 2 + 2 together, congratulations!

    1. Thanks Laura! I will be a little bit bigger when I see you this weekend :) I was so glad that we get The Year of Shadows in time, I would have been sad if we'd missed giving this one a chance. A solid chance- I loved it!

  4. I've read a couple of great reviews now of Year of Shadows--gotta get my hands on this title! I agree with you on Bomb--one of my favorite books period. The Nazi Hunters looks interesting. You're right--not usually the focus of books about the Nazis or Holocaust. I'll definitely be looking for that one. Thanks!

    1. Thanks for the feedback Elisabeth! Legrand's writing is lovely, and her characters are quite distinct. I hope you enjoy it!

  5. Hello there Nicole, I always love reading your candid thoughts about the books that you read, so refreshing. I've read all your reviews with great interest. Like you I loved Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse. I had the privilege of hearing her speak and receive an award in 2012 during the Children's Literature Conference in Simmons College in Boston. She's amazing. There were a few parts read aloud as well from Out of the Dust. I've been meaning to get my hands on The Great American Dust Bowl for precisely that reason, plus I think my 12 year old daughter would also be fascinated by it. I shall also be on the look out for Nazi Hunters. We're going to have a War and Poetry theme soon, so I think that would be a perfect time to read this book. Have a great reading week, Nicole!

    1. Thank you so much for your comment Myra! It must have been so special to listen to Karen Hesse speak. I'd love to see what you and your daughter think of The Great American Dust Bowl. I was just at a book committee meeting yesterday and people thought very highly of it, more so than I did. I love hearing others opinions on why they like or dislike a book that I've also read-sharing opinions brings our books back to life after we've finished them. Hope you had a nice weekend!!


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