Thursday, April 6, 2017
Hello fellow readers! I put an ambitious 40 book on my Must Read list and I'm excited to say I've read 15 of them (even with a few extras thrown in)! I'm excited to have found some wonderful books and new authors but here is my dilemma- I started a couple of them that I just didn't like at all. I've really tried but I can't bring myself to finish them. Does that mean I'll never reach my goal? Does giving them the old college try count at all? I won't name the titles I didn't like because I don't want to cloud anyone's judgement, but for the most part, I have read some amazing stories. You can look through my blog to see most of them. I have a couple more to add to the list today.
I have been waiting for this book to be published ever since I started hearing about it last year. As the mother of an autistic child, I was curious as to how Elana Arnold would portray the main character in A Boy Called Bat. I'm thrilled to write that she hit it right on the nose! While we are never told that Bat is autistic, it's implied through his smaller classroom, need for routine and difficulty with social skills. Much of the story focuses on Bat's frustrations with people that don't necessarily like to do things the way he needs them to be done. Even his own father (his parents are divorced) doesn't understand that his son can only successfully function within a routine designed around what makes Bat comfortable. One night, Bat's mom, a veterinarian, brings home an abandoned skunk kit. There's something about the baby that calls to Bat and he begs to care for the skunk until it can be released into the wild. It will take a lot of convincing and a good bit of research on Bat's part to prove to his mom he can do it. With the help of a very supportive teacher, Bat sets out to show he's the best person for the job.
I've read books about autism before, and I always found the main character to be struggling or sad, but Bat is simply- Bat. He is happy and content and while he certainly has quirks he struggles with, he has enough love in his life to help him get through uncomfortable situations. From beginning to end, readers watch his growth and improvement in difficult areas, especially socially. His love for the skunk and determination to give Thor the best possible care show a very loving side to child that might otherwise be accused of being unfeeling. Thor doesn't demand Bat talk to him or look at him like people do. He is totally accepting of Bat's warm snuggles and care. It's with this acceptance that Bat starts to venture out of his comfort zone. Bat will never be "typical" but there is hope at the end that he can bend just a bit more. This is an excellent book for younger students because of it's large font and short length. It's just enough of a glimpse into the world of someone with differences and how other students can be more accepting. Grades 3 and up and an EXCELLENT read aloud with class discussion.
In A Rambler Steals Home by Carter Higgins, 10 year old Derby is a rambler. She and her brother and father spend the year traveling to different locations in their RV and setting up their food cart for business. Hot chocolate at a christmas tree farm, apple cider and pie at a pumpkin patch and finally, Derby's favorite, a burger and fry stand at the Rockskipper's baseball field in VA. Every summer when Derby's family returns, she reconnects with the townspeople who have become her family over the years. When they pull into town this time, something is different- someone is missing and Derby does her best to find a way to help and heal her closest friends.
Told though Derby's eyes, this is a very sweet, easy to read story. It's perfect for a baseball lover as the sport is a HUGE part of all of Derby's interactions. I really enjoyed how the townspeople's lives revolve around their favorite team. As I was reading, I felt like I was a part of the lazy hot summer days by the creek eating apple pie and waiting for the Main Street parade to begin- small town life at its best. Her father Garland does his best to make up for their absent mother and the community fills in the rest of the gaps. Like any girl her age, Derby starts to grow and wonder about her life, friends and missing mother. She is sassy, funny and a great narrator sharing her life among a colorful cast of characters. 3rd grade and up.
Monday, March 27, 2017
I'm giving fantasy a try! Not typically my favorite, but my students love it, so I have to try and embrace it. This week I read Time Stoppers by Carrie Jones.
Annie Nobody is exactly as her name describes- a nobody. She is bounced from one horrible foster home to the next. She has no friends or family and desperately seeks to be loved. Unlike Annie, Jamie Alexander DOES have a family, but they treat him terribly. He has threadbare clothing, barely enough to eat and often has the sneaking suspicion that his family doesn't quite love him the way they should. Luckily for both of these children, it's quickly revealed that they are indeed in the wrong places and they were both born to do great things like save the world! They were stolen from the lives they were meant to live and with the help of a brave dwarf named Eva, they are returned to the magical town of Aurora. There they discover a new world of fantastic creatures (ghosts, dwarves, elves, wizards etc..) and Annie and Jamie are cherished and loved as they have always wished.
As Aurora is attacked, they, along with some new friends, must bravely fight the forces of evil and learn to navigate a magical new world.
As I always write- I'm not a fantasy lover, so it takes a pretty special book to hold my interest. From the first chapters I was invested in Annie and Jamie's sad stories, and I rooted for them to find a place where they belonged. There is a good bit a humor in this book, and I enjoyed being introduced to a colorful cast of fantastic characters. It was satisfying to read both of the main characters evolution from scared children to brave heroes.
I think young fantasy lovers will enjoy this because the story moved quickly and it was easy to read. My only criticism would be that I never found out who or what stole Annie when she was a baby. I was hoping for a resolution to that lingering question but perhaps it will be answered in the sequel!
Siren Sisters by Dana Langer is a really neat story. Sirens seem to be the new craze replacing vampires and zombies. They are fascinating creatures, and I'm excited that there is middle grade novel exploring the myth.
Lolly is a twelve year old girl with three gorgeous sisters. Like typical siblings, they go to school, work in the family diner and care for each other when they aren't doing the bidding of the Sea Witch and using their voices to crash boats into the shore. That's right- they are SIRENS! Lolly (against her will) is set to become a siren and join her sisters on her thirteenth birthday but she fights fiercely against the magic that would make it so. She simply can't understand how her sisters could destroy ships and risk lives. Why would they agree to become sirens? To make matters worse, one of the head townsmen, discovers the sisters' magic and makes it his personal mission to destroy them. Lolly and her best friend Jason have to rescue her sisters and break the siren curse before Lolly's transformation.
This story is really interesting. The back story and history of the Sea Witch and sirens woven into the story is engaging. Aside from the magic, Lolly's evolving friendship with Jason is sweet and very typical of a twelve year old girl. It's hard enough for her to be a pre-teen, but scales growing on her feet when all she wants to do is wear sandals to the school dance is the worst!
As she and Jason scramble to rescue the sisters, a secret is revealed that I NEVER SAW COMING! It's very unique and proves that love between siblings is a bond that can't be broken. Lolly is a likable and brave and a character that I think my students will enjoy getting to know.
Monday, March 6, 2017
As I written many times before, I love finding books that I haven't heard a lot about out there in the library blogosphere . I always feel like I'm making a rare wonderful discovery! The two books I read this week haven't really been on my radar through any of the library feeds I follow, but they should be!
A couple of years ago I read Please Ignore Vera Dietz and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I've been following Amy Sarig King ever since. She didn't disappoint with Me and Marvin Gardens. It was a refreshingly original plot and I think boys will really be fond of it. It's the story of an 11- year- old boy named Obe who lives on his family farm in Pennsylvania. Years ago, his family owned thousands of acres of land but because of a mistake his grandfather made, the land had to be sold and Obe's family has only one small patch left. Obe fiercely protects this patch from the pollution that the new housing developments are bringing to his precious creek. One day while patrolling, he finds a creature that he can't identify (probably because it's the only one of its kind). It's part boar, part dog and part scaly, slimy mess! To top it off, this strange new animal ONLY eats plastic. Obe names his new lovable pet Marvin Gardens (after his father's obsession with Monopoly) and has to find a way to keep the animal safe from neighborhood bullies and others who might try to take Marvin away. Unfortunately for Obe, Marvin's "droppings" become toxic waste and the entire development becomes curious about what's leaving the mess behind. Out of options, Obe turns to his favorite Science teacher for help as to how to protect his land and Marvin.
This story reminded me a little of Hoot by Carl Hiassen with its strong focus on protecting the environment, but I think it's easier for kids to read than Hoot . Along with environmental themes, this book has a strong focus on staying true to oneself and not giving in to peer pressure. Obe is a very kind and conscientious boy who finds he's not "cool" enough to hang around the other boys in his grade and in the end, finds true friendship where he least expects it.
There were many earth friendly lessons and also quite a bit of information about the many environmental dangers in today's world, so this would be a fantastic read aloud around Earth Day!
Fairy tale loving young ladies will really like If the Magic Fits by Susan Maupin Schmid. I believe this is her first book, and I know it's the start of a new series.
Darling Dimple has spent her entire life in the castle and when she comes of age she gets her job assignment- Under Scrubber (yup, she scrubs the pots). It's not the worst job, but it keeps her from her true dream of becoming Princess Mariposa's best friend. One day her dream (sort of) comes true and she gets promoted upstairs to Under-Presser. Even though Darling must get through mountains of sheets and handkerchiefs that need pressing, she is able to explore and finds her way into a magic closet full of 100 beautiful gowns. Unable to resist the temptation, she tries on number 11 and discovers that each dress has the power to disguise her as someone else in the castle. This come in handy as a mystery begins to unfold and Darling is the only one who can save the day. She must be careful as she faces an unknown evil villain, magical stone dragons, and a horrible roommate bent on making Darling's life horrible!
A little slow in the beginning, but once Darling sets foot into the magical closet, the story becomes a wonderful adventure. This book has magic dresses, friendly mice, an enchanted canary and all sorts of other fantastic elements. Also, Darling is a fabulous heroine! She dreams big and doesn't let her station in life define her. She has an incredible imagination, and I found myself rooting for her every step of the way. I think girls from 3rd grade and up will really enjoy this.
Monday, February 20, 2017
I always get really excited when I find a new beginner chapter book series- especially a series for boys! Project Droid by Nancy Krulik and Amanda Burwasser is sure to be a hit. Krulik is the author of George Brown, Katie Kazoo, and Magic Bone, so she is pretty much an expert in this genre.
Science No Fair! is the story of Logan Applebaum and his new "cousin" Java who just happens to be a robot. Logan's mom is an inventor, and her latest experiment is to try and design a robot that can pass for a real boy. In this first book of the series, Logan thinks a robot friend will give him an advantage in the school Science Fair, but the minute Java gets to school things start to go hilariously wrong. Java reminds me of Amelia Bedelia. He takes everything literally like "take your seat" and "butterflies in your stomach" with the latter resulting in him shaking Logan upside down to remove the butterflies. The Science Fair doesn't go quite as planned, but it's all very entertaining.
So far there are three Project Droid books, and they have been a huge hit in my library. It's also nice to have books to offer budding engineers!
This novel is a "new to me book" published in 2011. It's one of those that has been on my list to read for a while, but it always got pushed aside for newer books. Luckily, I saw it in the used book store this weekend and grabbed it. I'm SO HAPPY I did because it's wonderful.
Umbrella Summer by Lisa Graff tells the story of 10 year old Annie Richards who is a little different than other kids her age. Annie's older brother died in a freak accident and as a result, she is determined to remain as safe as possible. To say she is overly cautious is an understatement. She wears band-aids over every scratch (in case of infection), ace bandages around her ankles (in case of a sprain), and full padding when she rides her bike (that she won't ride down hill). This is all BEFORE Annie gets her hands on a garage sale book about diseases and begins to wonder if she has a variety of rare illnesses. Of course this is all Annie's way of dealing with her grief. Her parents are struggling themselves so Annie has to find her own way to heal. Luckily for her, a friendly new neighbor teaches her to "put down her umbrella and look at the sun once again."
This story could have easily been a little maudlin, but charming Annie is very endearing. She is funny and her inner dialog throughout the story is quite entertaining. Her list of ailments is ridiculous, but it's all tied to her very real pain. I think this is an excellent book for any child dealing with loss as Annie learns that life does indeed go on after sadness. Everyone can certainly use a lesson on embracing the sunshine in his or her life.
I have a love hate relationship with Lisa Graff. I find some of her books to be incredible (like this one) and some not so much (Tangle of Knots). I will continue to read her books with the hope it will be one I like. :)
I don't often write about picture books, but I recently read A Bear and the Piano to my 1st grade class and they actually started clapping as soon it was over- CLAPPING!
This book, by David Litchfield, is about a bear who finds a piano in the woods and teaches himself to play. His dream is to become a famous musician, so he practices all day, every day. He eventually gets discovered by some human children who convince him to move to the big city to pursue his dream. The bear becomes the most famous musician of all time, but after years of success, longs to see his woodland friends again. When bear arrives home to the forest, his first piano seems to be missing. What actually happened to it is the part that had us all clapping with happiness!
This is VERY sweet story about following dreams and preserving special friendships.
Monday, February 6, 2017
There have been many times I've cried during a sad movie or even a television show, but very rarely do I cry real tears while reading a book. That all changed as I read When Friendship Followed Me Home by Paul Griffin.
Ben Coffin is a twelve- year- old boy who has had significant struggles throughout his life. He's been in and out of foster care and often prefers spending time getting lost in his favorite books rather than being disappointed by the real world. As the story starts, his life seems to be turning around and he's finally starting to feel settled in a new home. While he still struggles to make friends, things begin to look better when he finds and adopts a lovable stray dog. This happy, mouth licking puppy that Ben names Flip, brings a smile to everyone he meets. People can't resist Ben's dog and through Flip, Ben tries things out of his comfort zone and gains confidence. One of his newest friends is Halley, the librarians daughter, and it's through his friendship with her and Flip that Ben begins to flourish and find true happiness. When tragedy strikes Ben's life yet again, it's his close bond with Flip that keeps him from falling apart.
I wanted to reach inside this book and scoop up Ben and give him the life he's always wanted. He is a sweet, compassionate, smart, and kind young man. No matter what life has thrown at him, he doesn't become mean or bitter. He always sees the good in everyone and is a much nicer person than I would be given his same circumstances. As the book goes on, Ben has to deal with some pretty difficult hurdles. Death, abuse, cancer and homelessness are just a few of the serious issues tackled in this book. I think what made me cry is that he is a good boy who just can't catch a break, and I felt so deeply for him. I was constantly rooting for him to have the life he deserved. It's a pretty talented author that can make a reader so invested in their character. While there are many awful things that happen to Ben, the author spreads it out over the course of the story so it's not horribly bleak. Griffin is also careful to keep the focus on Ben's positive attitude so the awful things that happen to him remain totally appropriate for young readers. Nothing is discussed in such detail that it would be too much for a 4th or 5th grade student. I wholeheartedly recommend this book.
I'll admit, I didn't have high expectations for this story. The Secret of Dreadwillow Carse was sent free of charge along with my latest Scholastic order. I had never heard of it or the author Brian Farrey, but lately I've been surprised by obscure books. This one is no exception.
Princess Jeniah is twelve years old and about to become the queen of her land. Before her mother falls into a coma from illness, she begs Jeniah to heed a serious warning. Any leader who enters the kingdom's Carse (a mysterious forest/bog) will bring ruin to the land that has been happy and prosperous for hundreds of years. As far as the princess knows, no monarch has ever entered the Carse, and it's secret becomes too much for her to resist. Across the kingdom, a young recently orphaned village girl, Aon, also wonders about the secret of the Carse. Something about the strange patch of land brings Aon comfort. Unlike the princess, Aon has ventured into the mystical forest and when Jeniah discovers this, she begs Aon to help her solve the mystery of what is deep in the heart of the Carse. The truths Aon uncovers turn Jeniah's entire world upside down.
This book started a little slow but I'm glad I stuck with it. The mystery is really original!!! I don't want to give away too much, but a kingdom where everyone is happy and blessed seems a little too good to be true- and it is. Jeniah has to make some difficult decisions about loyalty and friendship. The characters are brave and kids will relate to them.
This is a fantasy/fairy tale book that will appeal to all students that enjoy this genre. It was easy to read and has a cliffhanger that left me in suspense.
Monday, January 30, 2017
So I've strayed from my Must Read in 2017 list already! I can't help it- I see a shiny new book on the library shelf and I HAVE to read it. What I like about today's blog post is that I had never heard of these titles before I read them. I think I might have found some new favorite authors.
I subscribe to A LOT of different library blogs and none of them have even mentioned this book. I feel like Christopher Columbus discovering a hidden gem. This one will be an IMMEDIATE addition to my library.
At first I thought The Secret of Goldenrod by Jane O'Reilly was going to be a scary book. Creepy house on the cover, the word "secret" in the title, and a porcelain doll that comes to life (there is nothing creepier). It has all the makings of a frightening ghost story, but it's not spooky in the least.
Trina and her father move from town to town fixing up old houses. When they arrive at Goldenrod, she has to start over AGAIN in a new house, new town, and new school. The difference this time is that everyone swears Goldenrod is haunted. It's hard enough to make friends without living in a supposed haunted house that's rumored to have cast a curse on the town. Trina soon finds a secret room with a doll inside that is at least 100 years old. Imagine her surprise when the doll suddenly begins to talk. Augustine, the doll, helps Trina discover the true secrets of Goldenrod. Can Trina prove that Goldenrod isn't haunted the way people think it is and fix the fractured town?
I found this book to be a really unique take on a haunted house. It is haunted- just not the way I thought it was. The house has a tragic history, but instead of being dark and scary, O'Reilly keeps it magical and fun. Before this book, everything I ever read involving a talking doll was terrifying, but Augustine isn't what I first imagined. What little girl doesn't wish for her favorite doll to start talking? I've been ruined by horror movies and forgot that. As for Trina, like many middle grade book characters, she struggles to fit in with her peers. She's confused about her absent mother, doesn't want to be babied by her father, and is desperate to stay in one place. It's easy to read and a definite page turner. Great for a child that thinks they want a scary book (but deep down they aren't ready). LOVED IT!
Anyone But Ivy Pocket by Caleb Krisp isn't a new series, but it's new to me. I found it just in time as the third book is due this Spring.
Ivy Pocket is a twelve year old orphaned maid who finds herself in the middle of a murder mystery ghost story. No matter what she does, Ivy makes one mistake after another, but she would never admit to anything being her fault. She is kooky and unfiltered, and if you ask her, the smartest, most talented, prettiest girl in the room. The story starts with her dunking her employer's head in a bowl of punch. Of course it isn't Ivy's fault that her employer has "brain fever" (according to Ivy of course). Fired and penniless, Ivy accepts a deal from a rich Duchess to deliver a cursed necklace to the granddaughter of an old friend. Ivy embarks on a dangerous adventure that brings death and villainous characters her way. The magical properties and mystery of the necklace bring catastrophe into Ivy's life, but her ridiculously inflated ego keeps her from understanding just how dangerous her situation is.
I think that it will take a mature reader to truly understand Ivy. She is horribly rude with no filter but hilarious at the same time. She doesn't take the blame for anything and I still can't quite decide if she's clueless or brilliant. She invents fanciful stories about her past and her parents that I know aren't true, but I wish they were for her sake. The mystery is very imaginative and kept me reading to the very end. I'm torn on the ages for which I would recommend this because it's dark- think Coraline and Lemony Snicket. It's that Victorian Gothic kind of dark. There are old legends and ghosts and some evil characters in this story. I think fans of scary books would like it, but be careful of readers who frighten easily.
It is often difficult to find biographies for very young students. The Who Was/ Who is series is very popular, but I wanted something that even younger students would enjoy. I wanted something quick and full of pictures. More specifically, I was looking for a biography that I could read aloud in a 15 minute time frame. I found all of that in the series Ordinary People Who Change The World by Brad Meltzer. The illustrations are fun and colorful, and it looks like a graphic novel (which is very appealing to young kids). Each of the books, there are 12 so far, tells the inspiring story of people whose dreams change the world. Even if students can't read all of the words, they can gather enough of the story from the illustrations to understand what's happening. They are easy to read and very inspiring.
I HIGHLY recommend this series for grades K and up.
Monday, January 16, 2017
I'm three books into my goal of 40! I enjoyed all three of these and it wasn't until I finished them that I realized all of the books have middle school boys as the main character.
In The last Boy at St. Edith's by Lee Malone, Jeremy Miner attends St. Edith's Catholic School. It's a great school in a good neighborhood, and he is lucky that he gets to attend. As the title suggests, there's one slight problem- Jeremy is the only boy. There used to be more but they have dropped out one by one until only Jeremy remains. He can't transfer because he is getting free tuition (his mom works there), so he is stuck! The girls treat Jeremy like he's one of them, and no one understands how hard it is not to have any male friends or influences. That leaves him, in his mind, with one option- he has to get expelled! Jeremy and his friend Claudia begin a series of pranks that they are sure will get him removed from school. As with most practical jokes, things don't exactly go as planned and when they begin to backfire, Jeremy must decide how far he will go. Eventually Jeremy realizes that even without other boys, his friends, school, and teachers are pretty great, but is it too late?
This book was really clever and funny and the plot was original. Surprisingly, the female author did a fabulous job of capturing the angst a lonely 7th grade boy must be feeling in that situation. The pranks Jeremy pulls were funny- until they weren't. The things that went wrong made me cringe and when he got in over his head, I was screaming at the page for him to stop and confess! Also, I liked watching him grow up a little and realize what's really important in his life. His friendships with the girls are sweet and deeper than he initially thinks. I believe older boys and girls (5th and up) will enjoy this story.
Like the other books I read this week, All Rise for the Honorable Perry T. Cook by Leslie Connor, is a refreshing original story. How many synonyms can I find for the word LOVE to describe how I feel about this book?
Perry is like any other middle school student in many ways. He loves his Mom, his friends from home, and his very best school friend, Zoey. What sets him apart from others his age is that his home is Blue River Prison, and he has lived there all of his life. When Perry was born, his mom (an inmate) found a way for him to stay with her. He grew up running free around the prison, playing in the laundry baskets, running around the track with the other inmates, and even celebrating his birthdays in funny ways. The inmates are his protectors and closest friends. He leaves the prison for school and various activities but each night comes home to Blue River for dinner and time with his family. Perry is incredibly happy and content. One day, an overzealous District Attorney learns about Perry and removes him from the only home he's ever known. Perry is determined to find a way back to the prison and in doing so, he learns how most of the inmates came to be at Blue River- even his own mother. The answers he uncovers are surprising and teach him lessons about life and second chances.
Despite roadblocks and a very unconventional upbringing, Perry thrives in the prison. He is happy and well cared for. Just because his life is different, doesn't mean it's wrong. Blue River is a co-ed minimum security prison that seems more like a camp- not scary for readers at all. There are so many lessons in this book about friendship, mistakes, and being unique. Perry is a lovable character along with his mother, Big Ed, the Warden and the other colorful inmates. It's funny and suspenseful as we wait to see if Perry succeeds in his mission. This book radiates hope and left me feeling warm and fuzzy! I think it's geared more towards an advanced reader because it's long and detailed but they won't be sorry they gave it a chance.
Break out the tissues for this one! John David Anderson's Ms. Bixby's Last Day is the story of three boys determined to give their favorite teacher (who is sick) one perfect day. Ms. Bixby, with a pink streak in her hair, is the kind of teacher who makes learning fun. She makes school interesting and earns the respect of her middle school students. She clearly cares about them and they feel the same way about her. As the story starts, she reveals she is ill and has to leave school before the end of the year. She doesn't even get to stay for her planned goodbye party. Topher, Steve and Brand decide that Ms. Bixby deserves a perfect last day, and they set out to make it happen. Of course as 12-year-olds, it's difficult for them to get to her with all the supplies they need for the last day. They have to navigate the city bus route, an expensive bakery, a thief, and a book seller who speaks in riddles to make it to Ms. Bixby.
What starts as a story about Ms. Bixby's leaving actually revels itself to be more about the three boys in her class and how she has affected their lives. Each of the boys has an unexpected back story and Ms. Bixby has influenced them in an inspiring and wonderful way. Their determination to get to her is endearing and the plan they have for her perfect day is incredibly touching. While skipping school is NOT ok, their earnest reasons for doing so makes it forgivable. This is a beautiful book about the positive relationships teachers can have with their students, and it reminds me how special it is to be a teacher. Because it deals with illness and some other heavy topics, a reader who is a little more mature might like it better. I highly recommend this one.