Monday, January 16, 2017

It's Monday What Are You Reading? #IMWAYR 1/16/17




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. 

  
                                                                  Ms. Bixby's Last Day by [Anderson, John David]

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. 

Sunday, January 1, 2017

#MustReadin2017


                                                          

There are a few titles on this list that I've been trying to get to for a while, and some that have yet to be published. I'm going for an even 40 this year. I'm excited for all of these picks and I have my first pile ready to go next to my favorite reading spot. My goal is to read them all but I get sidetracked by new authors and new books all the time (not to mention my favorite grown-up books). Fingers crossed!

The Metropolitans by [Goodman, Carol]14 Hollow Road by [Bishop, Jenn]Tumble & Blue by [Beasley, Cassie]Mr. Lemoncello's Great Library Race (Mr. Lemoncello's Library #3)A Rambler Steals Home by [Higgins, Carter]Rise of the Earth Dragon: A Branches Book (Dragon Masters #1) by [West, Tracey]Under Locker and Key (MAX) by [Hymas, Allison K.]The Castle in the Mist by [Ephron, Amy]Forever, or a Long, Long Time by [Carter, Caela]Science No Fair!: Project Droid #1 by [Krulik, Nancy, Burwasser, Amanda]If the Magic Fits (100 Dresses) by [Schmid, Susan Maupin]Yours Truly (A Pumpkin Falls Mystery) by [Frederick, Heather Vogel]The Great Treehouse War by [Graff, Lisa]The Goldfish Boy by [Thompson, Lisa]Hideout by [Key, Watt]The Mighty Odds (The Odds Series #1) by [Ignatow, Amy]Sci-Fi Junior High by [Seegert, Scott, Martin, John]Restart by [Korman, Gordon]Family Game Night and Other Catastrophes by [Lambert, Mary E.]Marion Takes a Break (The Critter Club Book 4) by [Barkley, Callie]Captain Awesome to the Rescue! by [Kirby, Stan]See You in the Cosmos by [Cheng, Jack]Cloud and Wallfish by [Nesbet, Anne]Ms. Bixby's Last Day by [Anderson, John David]The Girl Who Drank the Moon by [Barnhill, Kelly]Nine, Ten: A September 11 Story by [Baskin, Nora Raleigh]Counting Thyme by [Conklin, Melanie]Some Kind of Happiness by [Legrand, Claire]

Monday, December 12, 2016

It's Monday What Are You Reading? #IMWAYR 12/12/16

                                                    




                                                         The Littlest Bigfoot by [Weiner, Jennifer]

      Jennifer Weiner is one of my favorite adult authors, so I was excited to read her first attempt at a children's book. I was not disappointed. Here's the funny thing about The Littlest Bigfoot- no matter how I try to describe it, the plot sounds crazy, but I promise it's fabulous.

      Alice is a twelve-year-old girl who just doesn't fit in no matter where she is. Physically she is a big girl with crazy hair that can't be tamed. Her wealthy family pretty much ignores her existence even though she yearns for her mother's love and acceptance. Also, she has been to SEVEN different schools, but is always asked to leave because of her clumsiness, forgetfulness, or accident prone ways. As sweet as Alice is, she can't seem to find even one friend no matter how hard she tries. Her last hope is a new type of experimental school in the woods where kids are expected to learn outside of the box and find their inner strengths.

      Across the pond from the school is Millie whose life is very similar to Alice's. Lonely Millie doesn't fit in among her friends and neighbors and her family just doesn't "get" her. Millie's dream is to be a famous singer and travel the world, but her family won't even let her leave their village. O.K., now here is the crazy part- Millie is a BIGFOOT! Yes, a bigfoot, as in a yetti  chewbacca looking kind of creature. Millie is obsessed with No- Furs (humans) and longs to get rid of her fur and be part of their world. Inevitably, Millie and Alice meet and become the kind of friends each girl has been longing for all of their lives.

     For as strange as the premise might sound, Weiner has crafted the story in such a way that it is completely believable that Millie's tribe exists with their Etsy store and old Friends reruns to keep them entertained. Her descriptions of how they have cleverly managed to stay hidden for hundreds of years makes me wonder if the Yare might actually be out there somewhere. This book is fascinating and extremely entertaining, but at it's core it's simply a story of friendship and finding a place in the world without feeling like a misfit. I'm hoping I can convince my students to give a try because it is well worth it!



Monday, December 5, 2016

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? #IMWAYR 12/5/2016


                                                



Hello blog readers! Sorry it's been so long. I've been taking a graduate course that has been stealing all of my precious reading time but now I'm back! I've read a few new books that run the gamete of ages and I discovered a new non-fiction series that I'm CRAZY about.


                                                                    

        Finding Perfect by Elly Swartz tells the story of a young girl's struggle with OCD. When we are first introduced to twelve-year-old Molly, we discover that her mother has left town indefinitely, and Molly is convinced that winning her school poetry slam will bring her family back together. Molly worries a lot about her family and she tries to keep everything as neat and perfect as she can in an effort to control her life. As time goes on, Molly's little "quirks" like lining up her pencils and keeping her things organized by color, soon morph into serious obsessive compulsive behavior. Soon Molly struggles to get through her days. She lines up her glass figurines with a ruler, washes her hands over and over, and if she doesn't keep counting by fours, she fears something will happen to her little brother, Soon Molly starts to melt down, and she loses all control. She must find a way to ask for help even though she's scared of what her family and friends will think of her.

      If I ever wondered what it was like to spin out of control with OCD, this book answers that question. As Molly's illness progresses, I could feel her frustration and anxiety- so much so that I had to walk away from the book a few times.  The writing is so powerful that I began to feel anxious while reading. Also, there were so many details, I had to read this book slowly and carefully to catch everything. Ms. Swartz did an excellent job of showing Molly's OCD progress little by little. Additionally, the role of supporting characters surrounding someone who has a mental illness is very important. Molly's friends, siblings, and father slowly start to realize that Molly's behavior is not typical,and they have to find a way to help her. Overall, this is a touching story about a young girl who realizes she's in trouble and her journey to get help and triumph. 



                                                               

       This is Kate Beasly's first book and like her sister, Cassie (Circus Mirandus) it's hard to believe this is her debut novel. I read Gertie's Leap to Greatness right after Finding Perfect and was surprised by the similar theme. I must have been in a mother's abandonment/ daughter trying to be perfect phase. Gertie's mother left when she was young, and she is convinced that if she can be the best fifth grader of all time, her mother will return. Everything seems to be lining up just right for her until Mary Sue Spivey moves to town and does everything just a little better than Gertie. Their teacher seems to favor her and even Gertie's best friends gravitate towards Mary Sue. Of course it doesn't hurt that Mary Sue's father is a famous Hollywood producer. Since only one person can be the best, Gertie must make it her mission to dethrone Mary Sue. 

     Gertie has gumption. That's the word I kept thinking about as I was reading about her. She is determined and funny and nothing can stop her plans once she sets her mind to it. I kept imagining her as a grown up Junie B. Jones. All of her antics come from a place of desperation and a pure heart. This story was fun and easy to read even though I felt badly for Gertie that she just couldn't seem to triumph over Mary Sue. As with most books set in the south, there is a colorful cast of supporting characters as fun as Gertie. There is an interesting side story about her father's work on an oil rig that will spark discussion about the environment if it's used as a class read aloud. Looking forward to more books from BOTH Beasly sisters!


  

                                          

      I've had these book on my list for a while, and now I am so angry I didn't read them earlier! These are AWESOME books- especially if you are a fan of heist movies. My son, a reluctant reader, enjoys movies like Ocean's 11 and Now You See Me, so I knew these would be right up his alley. He is reading Loot right now and is really enjoying it.

     Loot, by Jude Watson,  is the first novel of the series and it starts with the death of Alfie McQinn, thief extraordinaire. Alfie's last words to his son  March are a bit of a mystery that March and his friends will have to solve if they want to stay safe. March knows it will involve following in his father's footsteps to pull off a HUGE jewelry heist that no one, especially a group of kids, has done before.

     I couldn't put this book down. It was like reading a movie script. With every page, the suspense grew. Reading how the complicated heist plans fell into place was exciting and satisfying. It was light and funny so it's perfect for a young age group. Even though it's technically about committing a crime, it is a highly entertaining caper.

     Sting is the second in the series and just as wonderful. I highly recommend both books for boys or girls.



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      I recently discovered this fantastic non-fiction series called Brands We Know by Sara Green.
There are currently 20 books in the series with more in the works. These books tell the history of some of the most recognizable brands in America with colorful pages and easy to read text. The 3rd- 5th grade students at my school are going nuts for them. They are interesting and extremely up-to-date.

      I've learned so much just glancing through them. The man who invented Nike originally sold them out of his car. Nerf was nothing more than a small orange ball for years, and Mario of Nintendo fame was at first called "jump man."

      I highly recommend purchasing the set for a classroom library, or if you have a non fiction reader at home that loves to learn new and interesting facts.