Monday, May 26, 2014

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? 5-26-14

Thanks to our dynamic hosts: Jen at Teach Mentor Texts and Kelle at Unleashing Readers.
Head to either blog to find reviews as well as dozens of links to other blogs filled with reviews!

Books I Read this Week:

Nightingale’s Nest by Nikki Loftin
Razorbill, 2014
240 pages
Recommended for grades 5-8

         I finished Nightingale’s Nest the other day, and was immediately sad.  I’m sad that my time following Gayle and Little John has come to an end.  But one thing’s for certain, they are still with me, and will be for a long time to come.
         This sweet and tough story lets readers suspend reality, while keeping the story grounded in absolute reality.  A serious juxtaposition between the world we are stuck in, and the world we want to be in-the world with magic and powers that cannot be defined by science and logic.
         There is gently Gayle, a foster child that claims her parents flew away.  She needs to wait in a tree for their return, and in the meantime spreads wonder through her otherworldly singing.  A song without words, that tells a story and has healing abilities.
         There is Little John, an older boy who carries the grief of losing his younger sister a year ago.  With a father that drinks, and a mother that needs help grasping the reality of losing her daughter, Little John is as lost as Gayle.
         The power behind beauty and ugliness in this book is stunning, and I urge you to spend time getting lost with these characters.

Aviary Wonders Inc. by Kate Samworth
Clarion Books, 2014
32 pages
Recommended for grades 2+

I first came across this on another blogger's Monday post.  Immediately I was drawn to the beautiful cover art, and being a bird lover I just typed in the title and requested the book through the library.
Well...I blindly opened this one up only to be terrified!!  Ugh, what a sad dose of reality covered in layers of beauty and fantasy.
Just in case you are like I was, totally unaware of this book's premise, it is a catalog for people to order bird parts to create their very own living bird.  Choose the body, the legs, the coloring, etc.  Since we've lost so many species, and are still doing so, Aviary Wonders Inc. began supplying the world with "design and build your own" birds in 2031.
Though the book looks fun and fanciful, the saddest page for me was the page showing the bird body as it arrives-no parts yet attached, holes where the beak and legs will attach.
A wonderful book to read and discuss with children.

André the Giant: Life and Legend by Box Brown
First Second, 2014
Graphic Novel: Biography
240 pages
Recommended for high school and adult readers

Hitting high on the best seller list for graphic novels right now is this big guy.
I admit that my most familiar memory of André is his part in The Princess Bride, not as his wrestling career.  But as I read I certainly learned a lot about wrestling and about who André the Giant was.
It's not all pretty, and this glimpse into André's life should not make its way into young readers' hands. 

 There is plenty of rough language and adult content, which is why I'm giving my copy away!  I'd rather this book make its way into some high school classroom library, or into the hands of an adult that is interested in reading about the giant!

Fill out the form at the bottom of this post for your chance to own my Advanced Readers Copy.

I'm Currently Reading:

Because it's almost time!!

On Deck:

Thanks for stopping by!  Have a wonderful reading week :)

Monday, May 19, 2014

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? 5-19-14

Thanks to our dynamic hosts: Jen at Teach Mentor Texts and Kelle at Unleashing Readers.
Head to either blog to find reviews as well as dozens of links to other blogs filled with reviews!

The days truly feel like they are flying by right now.  Sometimes I feel like I'm flying along with them, and other days I feel utterly left behind.

I only have nine more days with my students until my maternity leave begins.  Nine days, after spending two wonderful years with this group of diverse learners and thinkers.  My mind (and body!) is in a place it's never been before, and I find myself needing a reminder to slow down and honor the place I'm at with my students.  The nine day countdown is the same span of time for both me and the students, but the impact and feelings around it are not the same.  There is a genuine bond that is formed after spending two years with a group of students, true power in the long-term relationship between teacher and student.  And so, my goal for the next two weeks is to be totally present with my kiddos, mindfully appreciating each one of them.

Books I Read this Week:

The Dyerville Tales by M.P. Kozlowsky
Walden Pond Press, 2014
336 pages
Recommended for grades 4-8

Wow.  I read this book slowly, and even then, I didn't spend enough time with young Vince.  The summary of the book can be found here.  
I love the parallel journey readers are taken on, as they follow young Vince setting out to find his father, and as they follow Vincent (Vince's grandfather) retell the story of his life through his book: The Dyerville Tales. 
Readers will wonder where the truth begins, and where it ends.  They will wonder if Vince is truly going to find his father.  There will be moments of joy, sadness, and times when they are scared.  And at the end of the book, readers will want to close it, only to turn it over to start again.  At least, that is how I experienced The Dyerville Tales.
Now, a warning on age appropriateness.  On my ARC it says 3rd to 7th grade.  I gave my 4th graders fair warning about some of the scary parts, because there are some parts of this book that might legitimately bother young readers.  And, there are thrill seeking readers that will find this not at all scary!  It depends on the reader, but even though, I don't think I'd put it in the hands of many 3rd graders.

The Dumbest Idea Ever, by Jimmy Gownley
Graphix, 2014
238 pages
Recommended for grades 4+

This memoir by Jimmy Gownley, creator of the Amelia Rules series, gives readers insight into his youth, specifically his high school years, when he became a comics writer/illustrator.
I was struck at first by how idealistic Jimmy's young life was.  Perfect grades, skilled athlete, got along with everyone...I was waiting for the: just kidding, no one's life is that perfect.  But it didn't come...Jimmy's life was pretty perfect.  And then he got sick, was out of school for weeks, and rethought who he was and what he wanted out of his life.  Hence, a change occurred which ultimately brought Jimmy on a journey to create his first comic book.
In a time when graphic novels are such a huge part of children's literature, I think young readers really appreciate the vast array of genres available to them.  A glimpse into: how did this guy get where he is today?  is fun for those budding artists that dream of one day creating their own comics.  Look at the success in Raina's memoir, Smile.  Kids like reading about people, and they like learning, as much as they like to be entertained.

A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd
Scholastic Press, 2014
320 pages
Recommended for grades 4-6

I listened to this on audio-great reader, very youthful sounding, which gelled well with the young narrator.
This one has been bouncing around the internet for months now, so I now my review isn't the first you've come across.  So, I will get straight to the point. 
I enjoyed it, but I didn't love it.  I admittedly got tired of the phrase, "a snicker of magic."  I'm sorry.  I think this book is perfect for girl readers that like a realistic fiction story about friendship and overcoming one's personal battles.  Because even though there is mystery and fantasy, this story feels very realistic throughout.

I'm Currently Reading:

On a side note, I had a TON of fun at the 2014 Maine Comic Arts Festival held in Portland yesterday:
The book geeks arrived...

Me with my buddy Ben Hatke

Ben's fun presentation...

Portland's Own: Lincoln Pierce

The amazing Kazu Kibuishi!

Jimmy Gownley (and my buddy Sam-a fellow MSBAer and total book geek!)

This event was a blast, and was free to kids under 12, only $5 for the big people.  If you live in Maine, get to it next year!

Have a wonderful week!

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

The Dyerville Tales Blog Tour & Guest Post

Welcome to the 9th stop in The Dyerville Tales blog tour!  For a chance to win a signed copy of the book, simply leave a comment in response to M.P. Kozlowsky's guest post on criticism (please include an e-mail address I can contact you through).  For an extra chance at winning, tweet the link.  Make sure you tag me (@BlueSockGirl) so I can include your entry.  Good Luck!

Contest will close on Friday, May 9th at 10:00pm Eastern Time.

The tour runs through May 14th and is filled with author posts and giveaways, so check out all the stops!

For a compete list of tour stops visit M.P. Kozlowsky's blog.

About the Book:

Provided by Walden Pond Press:
by M. P. Kozlowsky

Neil Gaiman’s Coraline meets Anne Ursu’s Breadcrumbs in M. P. Kozlowsky’s The Dyerville Tales, a powerfully imaginative middle-grade novel that blurs the line between fantasy and reality, from the author of Juniper Berry.
Vince Elgin is an orphan, having lost his mother and father in a fire when he was young. With only a senile grandfather he barely knows to call family, Vince was interned in a group home, dreaming that his father, whose body was never found, might one day return for him. When a letter arrives telling Vince his grandfather has passed away, he is convinced that if his father is still alive, he’ll find him at the funeral. He strikes out for the small town of Dyerville carrying only one thing with him: his grandfather’s journal. The journal tells a fantastical story of witches and giants and magic, one that can’t be true. But as Vince reads on, he finds that his very real adventure may have more in common with his grandfather’s than he ever could have known.
Its unique voice and ability to combine creepiness with great story and character development make The Dyerville Tales a real standout middle-grade novel.

Guest Post:

Reviews As Seen Through the Fingers
Today, as I write this, The Dyerville Tales has been released into the wild – a book birthday as some call it – and already I am worrying about the reviews, scanning Google and Twitter for any mention and critique of my hard and deeply personal work.  Typically, writers are a sensitive bunch and, also, it must be said, somewhat self-destructive.  We know, regardless how wonderful the book really is, there will be people who dislike it, people who will absolutely destroy everything we sweated over for months on end in one small paragraph or maybe even in a short line or two.  And still we seek these reviews out.  There will be positive reviews too, a handful of glowing ones mixed in, but these are merely placeholders of self satisfaction until the next negative review rolls along.  The negative ones are the ones that stick. 
            There has been talk about whether negative reviews should even be written anymore, with some authors refusing to take down another because they know the ill effects it may have.  There is the constant advice among writers to avoid Goodreads and Amazon reviews at all costs.  And I get that.  I completely understand it.  I just won’t be able to heed such warnings.  At least not at this point in my career.  Not only will I check them daily, I will check them multiple times daily, multiple times hourly, a fool’s errand, some might say.
            But I believe in negative reviews.  I believe criticism is important to all art, and if my book gets torn apart in the process, so be it.  But I also believe in responsible criticism.  I believe in backing up opinions with examples and without resorting to simple attacks in the vein of, “This book sucks,” or “Boring, boring, boring.”  A critique cannot be properly executed in less than one short paragraph.  There should be a deep sense of responsibility in writing them – wishful thinking, I’m sure.  I also don’t appreciate hastily assembled reviews, such as the one Kirkus issued for The Dyerville Tales (the summary was so off base that I am convinced the critic speed read the book, if at all, and this benefits no one; it is merely lazy and negligent).  There is no place for this in criticism.  Commit to the review or simply refrain from commenting.   
            For an author, much can be gained from a negative review; we can use it to grow, as long as the reviewer took their time to explain, in their opinion, what exactly went wrong and where.  It doesn’t mean they will always be right and their words should be heeded as gospel, but perhaps they shouldn’t be ignored either and the same goes for the positive ones. 
            Writers like to say they write for themselves, and in many senses we do, but we also write to be read, otherwise why release the books to the public?  We want to know what people think, we want people to love what we write, but we also open ourselves up to be rejected; and rejection is a terrible feeling and experience, but the best of writers thrive off it.  We feed off it and stew in that rejection and come away stronger and angrier and wiser, and it shows in our next work.  It’s when we give in to that rejection that the hack critics (not all critics) win, when we start to believe every carelessly strewn word and no longer just doubt ourselves but damn our abilities. 
            I’ll read the reviews today and every day after, and I’ll beam with pride at some and wince with pain at others, but I’ll still get back to writing, one word at a time, over and over again, until I have another book ready to prove the doubters wrong and the believers right, and then one more book after that and then one more and one more and one more….        

-       M.P. Kozlowsky, New York City, April 2014

About the author:

M. P. Kozlowsky is also the author of Juniper Berry. A former schoolteacher, he lives in New York City with his wife and daughter. Visit him online at

My thoughts on The Dyerville Tales can be found here.

Monday, May 5, 2014

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? 5-5-14

Thanks to our dynamic hosts: Jen at Teach Mentor Texts and Kelle at Unleashing Readers.
Head to either blog to find reviews as well as dozens of links to other blogs filled with reviews!

Monday has arrived again, and I find it much less painful after finishing up a fun and relaxing weekend! Saturday was stretching to reach 70 warm degrees, a perfect day for yard sale hopping with a friend.  However, once Sunday rolled in we found ourselves in an odd pattern of sun, rain and HAIL.  Come on Maine, give us some uninterrupted spring!

I hope you found yourself surrounded with many reasons to smile this past weekend, and that you could carry those smiles with you as you headed into work this morning.

Books I Read this Week:

January 1905 by Katharine Boling
Harcourt, 2004
Historical Fiction
170 pages
Recommended for grades 4-7

The final reading/writing research project of my school year is designed around the students exploring the history of child labor in America.  We are mainly focusing on mill and mine workers, and will be using Lewis Hine's haunting photographs as deep sources of curiosity, inspiration and wonder.  When focusing on a whole class topic such as this, I like to tie our read aloud in.  This is the first year I have used January 1905 as a read aloud, and I'm happy to share my thoughts:

In this story readers follow twin sisters Pauline and Arlene through alternating narration over the course of a few days in their lives.  Pauline is a mill girl.  Arlene would have been a mill girl, but a foot deformity keeps her from being employed.  Arlene's role is to stay home to do the cooking and cleaning while her family is at work.  Each sister envies the others' lot, though Pauline seems to be much more resentful and full of hatred.

My students pointed out the lyrical sound of the text, and made me assure them on more than one occasion that it is not a poetic narrative!  I appreciate that they are listening to this story with their writer ears, commenting on the craft of the writing.
The mill scenes are not harsh, but I did do some censoring of this story as I read aloud.  The overseer of the factory supposedly touched Pauline inappropriately before the story begins, and I didn't see the need to go there.  I also skipped around some during the scenes where Arlene is assisting in a home birth.  None of these sections of the book would make me shy away from giving the text to a 4th grader, but when reading aloud I need to consider that not all my students are ready for those topics.

I'm Currently Reading:

Yes, I've been reading this book for a while now...but there is a reason for that:  It is too good to be rushed through.  Truly, the story and the writing are such that I want to spend as much time as possible with them.  I find myself reading a chapter and wanting to close the book to let it settle in.  This doesn't happen often with me, but it certainly does from time to time.  I will be posting as part of The Dyerville Tales blog tour tomorrow, so stop back for a guest post from M.P. Kozlowsky, as well as for a chance to win a signed copy of the book!

I'm Currently Listening to:

I love listening to audio books all year, but springtime in Maine means Friday afternoon commutes home get a whole lot longer.  And while our out of state visitors are very important to our economy, sometimes it helps to get lost in a story instead of lost in "Why is it taking me so long to get home?!"

On Deck:

Really, I plan on reading this soon!

Have a great reading week, and thanks for stopping by!