Friday, January 29, 2016

Books for the Reluctant Reader When Wimpy Kid isn't Enough

I've been a reader my entire life, so it pains me to share that my son would rather cut off an appendage than read a book. He's a ten-year-old science loving, robot making, future engineer who finds no value in fiction. He'll read non fiction books about computers or electricity but just flat out doesn't enjoy a good story. So why do I keep looking for something he might like? Because fiction books will improve his problem solving and analytical skills. They will increase his vocabulary, comprehension, and ability to make predictions. I tell him until I'm blue in the face that fiction books will make him smarter!

My hunt for fiction books that he would like began a few yeas ago. I bought him all the usual high interest titles such as Big Nate, Magic Tree House, Timmy Failure and of course Diary of a Wimpy Kid. He read them all begrudgingly but he didn't really like them. Harry Potter, A Series of Unfortunate Events, and Spiderwick Chronicles (books most kids love) were too scary for him and made him even more resistant. So now my challenge was to find something he would read AND like AND that would not be scary.

I came across a book that had a title he couldn't resist- Charlie Joe Jackson's Guide to Not Reading by Tommy Greenwald. Charlie Joe doesn't like to read either, but of course by the end of the story, he reluctantly finds value in books. My son devoured this  which was great because there are five Charlie Joe books! My boy read them all, and some nights I even had to force him to put them down and go to bed.

It's certainly been a long road of trial and error but I've since managed to find a few that he really truly enjoyed. Hopefully this list will help another reluctant reader!

Monday, January 25, 2016

Under Their Skin

I couldn't wait to start the new Margaret Peterson Haddix series. I've always been a fan of her books, and her work is a big hit with my students. I can't wait to show them her newest story Under Their Skin.

I am struggling with writing a summary because there are so many secrets and twists, and I don't want to give anything away! Nick and Eryn's mom is getting remarried to her boyfriend Michael. Michael has two teenage children but Nick and Eryn are told they will NEVER get to meet them. What is going on with these mystery step-siblings? What is the big secret? Why must they stay hidden? Nick and Eryn set out to find the answers to this puzzle.

What I liked about the story is that several secrets are revealed rather quickly, so it doesn't drag out the sibling mystery too long; however, after that is resolved, an even bigger plot twist is introduced. I'm pretty good at predicting which way YA mysteries will go, but I didn't see this one coming. I'm excited to get this one on the library shelves. Ages 10 and up.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Fuzzy Mud

This week I finished Fuzzy Mud- the latest by Louis Sachar. I think Fuzzy Mud was a very interesting book that my students will really enjoy.

My favorite thing about this author is his diversity. From Holes, to Marvin Redpost, to Wayside School- Mr. Sachar certainly has many original ideas. One thing his books  have in common is that they are all entertaining and easy to read. Fuzzy Mud is no exception.

This book tells the tale of fifth grader Tamaya who finds a strange kind of "fuzzy mud" while cutting through the woods on her way home and the medical consequences of her touching this unknown substance. This story has a few different plot lines happening. First, Tamaya is running through the woods with a friend trying to escape the class bully, and second, the mud is the byproduct of a science experiment gone wrong. It also tackles the difficulties of telling the truth when the truth might bring a punishment or cause a dip in popularity.

The author blends all of the story lines together beautifully. It's suspenseful and flows nicely between a few time jumps. Also, this book teaches more than one valuable lesson to the tween/teenage set. Besides its young readers, it made me stop and think about the repercussions of advancing science. I think both genders will like it and I think it's a great choice for kids who want something with a little depth. This does not have a cookie cutter plot, and it was a really refreshing read!

Sunday, January 17, 2016

The Jewel Series

I'll admit it- I'm a sucker for a book with a girl in a beautiful ball gown on the cover. Whoever started that trend in dystopian novels is a genius.  I loved The Selection series by Kiera Cass and Ruby Red by Kerstin Geir so when I saw the ball gown girl again on The Jewel by Amy Ewing, I bought it knowing nothing about it. Let me start with the warning that this is NOT a YA book for elementary students or really even middle school. The adult themes put it at the high school level for sure.

Violet is lot #197 in the auction of young ladies to be purchased by the highest bidder. These girls go on to become surrogates for the royal families that cannot have children of their own. Each surrogate has unique magical powers and at first, their lives in the Jewel (where the royals live), is much better than their life of desolation and poverty anywhere else in Lone City. As the surrogates soon learn, there is an undercurrent of violence, competition, and unimaginable cruelty behind the beautiful royal walls. Violet gets help from a very unlikely source to escape the Jewel and like most novels of its kind, she and her friends begin a revolution to fight against the oppression of the lower classes.

After The Hunger Games, I began to feel like every dystopian book had the same formula. I've been searching for one that offered something original and I certainly found it in this series. The idea of the surrogates and their magic powers  is completely unique as is the other cast of characters (the companions and ladies in waiting). It's very suspenseful and there are quite a few twists that I didn't see coming. It is also just racy enough to satisfy romance lovers.

While I liked the story quite a bit, I found the heroine to be unlikable. I think she is whiny and ungrateful. Every time someone offers her help, at great peril to themselves, she always does the exact opposite of what she is supposed to do. I think I would have probably just left her after the second time she directly went against me! I'm sure many people find her stubbornness endearing, but I do not. I just wanted her to be genuinely grateful to her saviors.

The Jewel introduces the reader to this society and The White Rose continues the story complete with an  awesome cliffhanger.  It was hard to stop reading and feed the other people who live in my house! The final book,The Black Key will be published this October.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

The Worst Class Trip Ever

Before I was a librarian, I was a middle school English teacher. For my first lesson, on my first day of teaching my very first class, we examined  Dave Barry's article Memories of Dating. It was such a hilariously funny story that I still remember my students roaring with laughter. My new teacher nerves vanished instantly, and ever since I've always had a soft spot for Mr. Barry's work. I've been really anxious to read The Worst Class Trip Ever and it did not disappoint. Though not quite as entertaining as his books for adults, it was still funny, and I think middle school students will love it.

It tells the story of Wyatt and his pals who unwittingly uncover a terrorist plot while they are on a school field trip in Washington DC. Rather than calling the police, Wyatt and his fellow eighth grade friends take matters into their own hands to stop the bad guys. Of course their wacky plans go wrong, in every possible way, but they still manage to save the day.

This is a very fast read that would be great for a reluctant reader. I really think boys (grades 5  up) would love it. The plot is predictable but fun, and it would probably be a welcome break from school assigned reading. The best part about it is that it's totally light and clean! There are no swear words, inappropriate dialogue, or dark heavy themes (which is hard to find these days). Also, it's told through the voice of an eighth grade boy and feels very authentic. I will certainly purchase this for my library, and I predict it will fly off the shelf.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Finding Winnie

Well I am certainly happy that I found Winnie! This year's Caldecott winner is Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World's Most Famous Bear. It is a delightful tale about a WWI veterinarian who rescues a baby bear. After winning the hearts of the soldiers, Winnie eventually has to go and live at the London Zoo. It's there that she meets a young boy named Christopher Robin and his dad, A.A. Milne.  The rest, as they say, is history!
This is such a sweet story and of course the illustrations are AMAZING. I really enjoyed the last few pages where they share photos of the real Winnie and Christopher Robin. I'm not sure that kids would be allowed in the zoo's bear pen in this day and age, but lucky for us all, Winnie became great friends with the Milne family. This one is definitely being added to our library.

Sunday, January 10, 2016


I am so excited for tomorrow morning's announcement! Who will the lucky award winners be??



Or even....

We will have our answers soon!!!

Saturday, January 9, 2016

The Poe Estate

The Poe Estate was FANTASTIC! I couldn't put it down, but, to be fair, it's my favorite kind of book- part magic/ghost story/ hidden secrets. 

Sukie and her parents move into her ancestral home after the death of her sister, Kitty, but Kitty's trouble making ghost moves with them. The house is full of spirits, flying broomsticks, and ancient secrets including one about a buried treasure. To find the treasure, Sukie and her friends must travel through some of the most famous ghost stories of all time that have been protected by a magical library.

This book is the third book in The Grimm Legacy series, but I don't think you need to have read the others to enjoy/understand it. The last chapters were a bit tough to navigate as Shulman kept referencing books I haven't read since college (Hawthorne, Poe, James, Wharton) and that is one main reason why I think it's for an older age group (7th grade & up). While it often referenced some really creepy stories (Fall of the House of Usher anyone?) this story wasn't scary at all. It was 
light-hearted and funny.
In a world of Dystopian novels, this was a refreshing fantasy that reminded me of Harry Potter and who wouldn't love another Potter book??!!!

Where to Go After Magic Treehouse

One of the questions I get asked most frequently is what to read after completing the Magic Tree House Series. These are my go to suggestions:

Time Warp Trio by Jon Scieszka
Chronicles the adventures of three boys who travel through time using a magic book.

The Secrets of Droon by Tony Abbott
Three friends discover an enchanted stairway in one of their basements which turns out to be a portal to the magical world of Droon.

The Zack Files by Dan Greenburg
Zack is a ten- year- old boy who seems to be a magnet for paranormal activity and often finds himself in hilarious situations.

The Underworlds by Tony Abbott
Four elementary school friends watch as their friend, Dana, falls through the floor of their classroom. They discover that the school basement is the entrance to the underworlds and they have to face creatures from mythology to get her back.

A Blind Guide to Stinkville

From Amazon- For the first time in her life, after moving to a new town, Alice (who is blind) feels different- like she's at a disadvantage. Back in her old neighborhood, everyone knew Alice, and Alice knew her way around. In Stinkville, Alice finds herself floundering. She can't even get to the library on her own. When her parents start looking into schools for the blind, Alice takes a stand. She's going to show them and herself that blindness is just a part of who she is, not all she can be.

I really liked this book. It's not easy to move to a new town, especially for Alice who suffers from albinism, but she is determined to make a new life for herself. It's a heartwarming story about fitting in, facing the town bully, making friends, and accepting that sometimes life throws a few curve balls. This book covers many topics- handicap, depression, learning disabilities, and even The Civil Rights Movement.  It was easy to read and certainly kept me interested. The people she meets in the town are interesting characters, and Alice's love for her dog, Tooter, is adorable. Alice is a strong character and teaches the reader many lessons. I hope my students will give this one a chance. Grades 4 & up.

Friday, January 1, 2016


Here is my list of books I absolutely want to read in 2016! It's a bit ambitious, but I'm going to do my best. These are 48 titles I've collected over the year from various magazines, websites and blogs. I think my next favorite is somewhere in this group! Comment and let me know if you've already read any of them and what you think.