Monday, June 23, 2014

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? 6-23-14

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!

Wow, almost a month has passed by since I last posted.  I feel strangely guilty about that.  I mainly feel guilty because I've had nothing but time on my side.  Since I began my maternity leave in the beginning of the month I can't claim I've been too busy to post.  But it's a new and different head space I find myself in, and though I continued reading, I found myself withdrawn from parts of my internet community.

Baby on the way isn't the only change looming heavily on my mind.  I recently accepted a new job beginning in the fall.  I am moving from the public teaching realm into the private sector.  And though I am beyond excited for this change, as it feels like the right time for me to make the move, I am saddened to leave my current school family.  Eight years ago my principal took a chance on me when I was a newbie with no experience.  The district supported me as I attended conferences and provided me the opportunity to earn my Master's degree.  The teacher I am now is all due to the relationships and experiences I collected over these past eight years.

Packing up my classroom was a huge project.  Yesterday evening my husband and I packed the last of my things, and I stood in the doorway of room 214 for the last time.  

But, onward we go.  The good news is that my position is a new one at the school I am moving to, and a large building expansion is under way.  My new classroom isn't even built yet, so there is zero, zip, nada pressure to be in there until the end of summer.  Next up: having this baby!

There I am, on my due date last Thursday.  Needles to say, I'm not smiling that big all the time...Like right now, as I struggle to reach the keyboard...

Books I Read this...Month:

Shackleton: Antarctic Odyssey by Nick Bertozzi
First Second, 2014
Historical Fiction/Graphic Novel
125 pages
Recommended for grades 5+

Young fans of graphic novels may be drawn to this book without sufficient background knowledge surrounding Shackleton.  This is not to say that readers of course have to start somewhere when embarking on any new knowledge, I'm just not sure this would be the best text to start with on the subject at hand.  The pacing of the story and the gaps in explanation could leave some readers, especially young ones, confused.
The artwork and writing was not a standout to me on either account.  And perhaps some of my lacking passion around this text has to do with the fact that I live in Maine.  We spend a huge part of our year enduring winter and longing for the sweet salvation of springtime.  Maybe I just can't enjoy a book set in the Arctic ;)

The Spy Catchers of Maple Hill by Megan Frazer Blakemore
Bloomsbury, 2014
Historical Fiction/Mystery
310 pages (ARC)
Recommended for grades 4-6

Set in a small town in Vermont during the 1950s, fifth grader Hazel lives next to the graveyard that her family owns.  Hazel wants to be just like Nancy Drew, and always has an eye out for a mystery to solve.  Soon Hazel sets her sights on the new gravedigger, Paul Jones.  Certain Jones is a communist spy, Hazel begins her own spying mission.
Overlap Hazel's spy mission with the entrance of Samuel, the new boy to town.  Samuel seems to have a lot in common with Hazel: Super smart, curious, and without a real friend in the world.  The two slowly hit it off, but there is something being whispered about Samuel's past that keeps escaping Hazel's ears.  What is the story behind her new friend?
I enjoyed this story, and found Hazel to be an engaging character to spend time with.  As much as I know readers as young as 4th grade would enjoy this story as well, it is safe to say the backdrop of the communist scare in America would go right over their heads.  But even so, it either piques a curiosity that they question and learn more about, or they enjoy a mystery with a few background holes to it.

Knightley & Son by Rohan Gavin
Bloomsbury, 2014
313 pages (ARC)
Recommended for grades 5-8

13-year-old Darkus spends his Saturdays visiting a hospital to sit by his father's bedside.  For the past four years Darkus has made the visit, talking things over with his father, even though the conversation is completely one sided.  Mr. Knightley has been in a coma, with the possible cause and the recovery outcome both unknowns.
Before slipping into his coma, Mr. Knightley ran a detective agency out of London.  While unconscious, Darkus has spent years reading through all of Knightley's case notes.  So, when Knightley suddenly and strangely wakes up, Darkus proves to be an unexpected resource in Knightley's next big case.  And the case is a strange one indeed.  Some mysterious new text, The Code, seems to be having a strange effect on some readers.  When a string of crimes breaks out the one common thread is the book.
The characters are not deeply developed, but enough so that you feel their individual personalities throughout.  The mystery is the main focus, and I'm sure there are many readers who won't mind more action than character development.

Mr. Puzzle: Super Collection by Chris Eliopoulos
Capstone Young Readers, 2014
Fantasy/Graphic Novel
127 pages
Recommended for grades 2-4

I'm sorry, but I have no words for how awful this book is.  Ok, maybe I have a few, because what is criticism without something to substantiate it?
First off, the premise of the book is that a boy finds a puzzle in a museum, puts it together and then has powers to become Mr. Puzzle, the superhero.  Mr. Puzzle can solve any calamity because his body can morph into any shape necessary.

The first short story in this collection goes something like this:
Traffic on the highway.
Giant bad guy with a wrecking ball attached to his head makes a hole in the highway to stop traffic.
Drivers are upset about not being able to drive over or around the giant hole.
Mr. Puzzle flies in and makes his body fit the hole.
Drivers drive over hole.
Bad guy is mad and leaves.

I seriously thought this ridiculously basic and unentertaining story was a joke.  But alas, the rest of the book is filled with the exact same story, over and over again with a different bad guy in a different setting.  Oh. My.

Jasmine and Maddie by Christine Pakkala
Boyds Mill Press, 2014
Realistic Fiction
203 pages
Recommended for grades 5-8

Pakkala certainly captures the world of a middle school girl in this realistic fiction story about two seemingly different girls.  Many middle school girls will find an ally in this text.  Be it either with Jasmine, struggling to make a new life for herself in a new town after recently losing her father, or with Maddie, the girl who has it all, nice house,  big family, etc.
But Maddie is losing her place alongside her best friend, and is secretly feeling as lost as Jasmine is.
This story explores: friendships, relationships, right vs. wrong, pressures, family dynamics and economics, school, etc.

The Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier
Amulet Books, 2014
350 pages
Recommended for grades 5-8

That cover, that cover!  Open the book to find swirls of dark leaves, and page after page of darkness, wind and leaves, the tree, and the Night Gardener!  From these opening illustrations a tone is set that is carried throughout the entirety of this story.  Darkness, mystery and magic await the brave reader!
If you've read M.P. Kozlowsky's Juniper Berry, then you are familiar with being careful about what you wish for, and are already weary of visiting a tree to get that wish.  But here we have an entirely different tale, and one geared towards an older reader.
Truly masterful storytelling takes readers on a journey alongside orphans Molly and Kip as they seek employment at Windsor Manor.  
What is the story behind the tree that grows alongside and within the walls of the house?  Why is the family looking weaker and sickly?  And who or what on earth is visiting the house in the middle of the night, and what is his purpose?  Chilling, and with a timeless flare, this will stand out as one of my favorite books of 2014, I just know it.

West of the Moon by Margi Preus
Amulet Books, 2014
Folklore/Traditional Literature
213 pages
Recommended for grades 6-8

Well it appears that Amulet Books has a passion for embellishing their novels with lovely artwork and design, and I for one, appreciate it!  As with The Night Gardener, West of the Moon opens with pages of thoughtful design.  And again, a great cover.

 If you love Preus for her last two historical novels, Heart of a Samurai and Shadow on the Mountain (and let's face it, what's not to LOVE about those two books?), then you should prepare for a detour in content and style.
Not based as heavily on fact as her last two novels, West of the Moon still finds its roots in a wondering over past lives and experiences.  Preus shares her inspiration which was found in the pages of her great-great grandmother's diary, in particular, an entry written during the crossing of an ocean to a world of new opportunity: America.
Woven throughout with Norwegian folk tales, one young girl must escape poor living conditions, find her sister, and against all odds, cross to America to find her father.
Readers that enjoy the art of story will be happy to lose themselves here.

I'm Currently Reading:

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