This month I have read through a lot of books, but none that I have really felt compelled to blog about. I read The Uncommoners- a Harry Potter type of story about a hidden magical world where common objects become magical ones. Think a spatula that can turn someone invisible or a suitcase that can transport a person to the other side of town. I liked it a lot, and I think my students will like it as well. I also read Unusual Chicken for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer. It was a sweet story about Sophie Brown a city girl who inherits her uncle's farm and his group of very unusual chicken. She does her best to learn about them and keep them safe. It's a cute story with a hint of a mystery. I also just finished The Warden's Daughter by Jerry Spinelli. I couldn't get into it. I tried over and over but it wasn't for me. I've never been a fan of prison settings.
I don't usually write a full blog about a book unless I REALLY love it. The three books above were good, but not my favorites.
But there was one book in my reading this week that I enjoyed very much.
The Goldfish Boy by Lisa Thompson is incredibly intriguing. It is a page turner for sure. This is yet another book about severe OCD (it seems to be a hot topic this year), but unlike the others I've read, the OCD is a side story to a great mystery. Middle school student Matthew Corbin sits in his window every day watching his neighbors. He waits and watches and writes about their comings and goings. He's nicknamed The Goldfish Boy because people only see him from behind the glass of his window. Matthew has severe OCD that prevents him from going outside or really having any human contact for fear of spreading germs. When he's forced to interact with other people, his skin crawls until he has a chance to wash in scalding hot water. Even latex gloves and being covered from head to toe stop working for him. He can't go to school, go out to play, or even enjoy a game of pool with his father. When a neighborhood child goes missing, Matthew is the last one to see him from his post in the window. He becomes a key witness in the investigation and his weeks of watching and spying lead to some intense theories and clues.
As I was reading this story, Matthew's anxiety and fears radiated from the page. I felt his struggle as he clearly wants to interact with his family and neighbors but just can't bring himself to do it. In one part of the story, Matthew watches a young boy fall into a pond but his OCD prevents him from running outside to help. His frustration and desperation are heartbreaking as he screams from his window. The other neighbors think he's strange but don't really understand the depths of his illness. This is a great book to introduce this difficult condition.
Besides his struggles, there are actually two mysteries here- the first is the missing toddler and the second is the incident that starts his OCD. I was surprised by both revelations! I think upper elementary students will enjoy this story as much as I did.
Monday, May 29, 2017
Monday, May 1, 2017
I've been reading YA books for years, and I thought I had read about every possible heavy topic such as divorce, drugs, grief, self harm, sickness and the like. I was pleasantly surprised to pick up Family Game Night and Other Catastrophes and read about a topic I haven't encountered yet in children's books- hoarding. Hoarding has many psychological facets, but this book by Mary Lambert focuses not on the hoarder, but on the effects for the children living in that house.
Annabelle won't let anyone within five miles of her home for fear that her classmates will see chaos in her house. Over the years, her mother's "collection" has grown to include hundreds of newspapers, canned good, old toys, milk cartons, and a plethora of other useless items. Annabelle struggles with how to help her mom while trying to navigate middle school and the typical drama that goes along with that age. When her little sister Lindsay gets buried in old newspapers one morning and begins to have nightmares, Annabelle frustration grows. Her father leaves seemingly unable to cope with the mess and her grandmother comes to the rescue albeit not in the right way. Her methods of simply trying to throw the mess away makes things even worse.
This book was very well written and Annabelle's voice as the narrator is perfect, This is a very adult topic, but Lambert writes it in a way that is perfectly relatable for a preteen. It's a very moving story about family dynamics. The love and loyalty between the family members is obvious and as much as Annabelle wants her mother to stop, she also protects her mom from their grandmom who isn't exactly warm and fuzzy. As a reader, I felt Annabelle's angst and her embarrassment along with her feelings of helplessness. Her desire to be as neat and clean as possible (actually obsessively) is of course her way of trying to control a terrible situation. This is a great read and stays on the fringe of the horrors of hoarding just enough to keep it perfect for pre-teens. I will absolutely recommend this book to my students.
What a refreshing book for children! The Kindness Club: Chloe on the Bright Side by Courtney Sheinmel is a very cute story about Chloe, the new girl in school. The first day she gets "adopted" by the popular kids and is really excited until she sees their true colors. Led by the sneaky Monroe, the "It Girls" fit the bully stereotype perfectly. The girls in the It Girls Club have rules about what to wear, who to talk to, and even how to wear their hair. Chloe starts to feel uncomfortable by some of these new rules and is torn between finally being popular and doing what she knows is right. Luckily, she gets assigned a Science project with Lucy and Theo (two people she is not supposed to talk too) and they start The Kindess Club. They are out to prove that kindness benefits everyone.
This book was very easy to read and had an AWESOME message for kids. It's ultimately about how kindness trumps bullies and has countless lessons and teachable moments throughout. I think this is a book that will benefit every reader. There is a side story about Chloe's parents getting divorced but even then Chloe tries her best to put the kindness test into action.
I think it's a great story to read to a class or between parent and child. It's the first in a new series, and I'm looking forward to the others.
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.