Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Summer Reading Part 2: The New Classics


      As teachers, we all love to read the "oldie but goodie" books to our students. Caps for Sale, A Wrinkle in Time, The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory etc.. These are tried and true tales that children love. This week I read a few stories that I think will  join the ranks of these books. These titles, I hope, will become a staple of my collection and I'm guessing teachers will read them to their classes for years to come.


The Wild Robot by Peter Brown is fabulous! I have encountered so many fellow readers this summer who have gushed about this book. The story is completely original. Fresh off the assembly line, Roz, a robot, crashes onto a deserted island. Not knowing how she got there or that she doesn't belong, Roz does everything she can to survive the wilderness and adapt to her surroundings.
At first the animals run away from her in fear, but they slowly learn that she is good and kind and simply wants to help them however she can.

Oh Roz! She is so sweet and nice that I kept forgetting she was a robot. Of course metal and the natural elements of the island don't really mix so she often finds herself in a pickle, but she keep trying. She analyzes her surroundings and determines the best course. Even though she isn't technically alive, she experiences love, friendship, and even fear. It is very well written and easy to read. I think both students and teachers will love it. Grades 3 and up.

If ever a book deserved a Newbery Honor Award, it is this one. The War that Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley is an incredible story that tells the tale of two children during WWII who struggle through less than ideal circumstances. Ada is 9 years old and suffers from a club foot. Because of her deformity, her cruel mother locks her away with no crutches, no education, no friends, barely any food and certainly no love or comfort. Ada have never been outdoors, never felt the sun, never experienced Christmas and doesn't even know when her birthday is. As the war begins, Ada and her little brother escape to the country where children are being sent to keep them safe (Ada has to sneak out and crawl to the train station). They are placed with a childless woman, Susan, who despite her initial protests, grows to love the kids and provides a wonderful home. 

While Ada and Jamie's life prior to Susan is horribly sad, I never felt depressed while reading because Ada has such a strong spirit. Reading about how much even the smallest gift or kindness means to Ada I am reminded over and over how horrible her mother was. Regardless, Ada is determined to find a happy life. She can be difficult and doesn't trust Susan at first, but she SLOWLY begins to come around and appreciate this new chance at happiness. She is a spitfire who yearns to ride horses and run like other children. Susan does everything she can to help Ada's dreams finally come true while navigating air raid drills and preparations for the war. I read a description of this book that is perfect- "Ada's journey is both heartbreaking and triumphant." Again, for as sad as this book could be, the tone didn't feel that way. It was interesting, hopeful, and healing. I REALLY liked this book and I think I am going to read it aloud to my students come September.
                                                            Raymie Nightingale by [DiCamillo, Kate]

Kate DiCamillo is a favorite author of teachers around the world. Her writing is beautiful and her stories are always entertaining. Children often check her books out from the library, but I've always felt that a student would get more from her books if there was teacher and classroom discussion. It's just that her books are so rich in meaning that students often miss key teachable moments on their own. When my son read Because of Wynn Dixie, he kind of skipped over the bottle tree not realizing about how important it is to the story. Raymie Nightingale is the same kind of story- underlying meanings and deep soul searching themes that kids might miss without a little guidance. I like this sentence from the Kirkus Review "somehow such modest prose carries the weight of deep meditations on life, death, the soul, friendship, and the meaning of life without ever seeming heavy, and there's even a miracle to boot."  

Raymie is a young girl whose father just left the family. She has convinced herself that if she wins the local beauty pageant, he will come home. Of course to win a pageant, she had to learn to twirl a baton. She attends a local twirling class and meets two unexpected friends. The frequently fainting Louisiana with the crazy grandmom and tough talking daughter of a cop, Beverly. The unlikely trio embarks on a mission to save beloved pet and they learn the value of friendship.

I enjoyed this book. It was funny and sad and there was never a dull moment. I really think my students will like it as well, but I do worry that it's just a tad too deep for them to really "get it." This one, in my opinion, is better read along with a parent or teacher. 

                                                                  Fort by [DeFelice, Cynthia]

This book is a perfect summary of what I wish for my son. I wish that he would have a summer of camp outs, building forts, sharing secrets, laughing hysterically, and finding adventure. Fort by Cynthia DeFelice is a description of that ideal boy summer. Wyatt and Augie pay a trip to the local junk yard and find enough sheet metal to build a spectacular fort in the woods; however, their dreams of perfect summer nights are soon dashed by the local town bullies. The boys quickly launch Operation Doom to teach the bad seeds a lesson.

Reading this book in the summer was perfect because I could easily picture everything that was happening in the story. I think my students will relate to this book and the boys, especially reluctant readers, will thoroughly enjoy it. One of my favorite parts is when the boys befriend a teenager with special needs. They show him kindness and he repays them in an unexpected and hilarious way.

 I wish I was still young enough to run off into the woods with my best pals! 4th grade and up.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Summer Reading Part #1


I have a pile of books to get through this summer (both adult and children) and I'm slowly making my way through them between swimming lessons, summer camps, and beach days!

I am THRILLED to have found this great new series, Fairy Tale Reform School, by Jen Calonita. I think elementary school students (especially girls) will really love it. The first in the series is Flunked. This is the story of Gilly, the poor shoemaker's daughter, who gets caught stealing items that she hopes will help feed her very poor and hungry family. Gilly gets sentenced to three months at Fairy Tale Reform School where all of the teachers are former villains. The headmistress is Cinderella's stepmother, the school therapist is the Evil Queen from Snow White, and there are several other now reformed famous villains teaching the students the error of their ways. Throughout her stay, Gilly learns there is a mysterious plot to destroy the school and she and her new friends try to get to the bottom if it. Are the royal princesses to blame? The Big Bad Wolf? A secret enemy from long ago?

This book is a lot of fun. There's magic, mystery and lots of enchanted items. I especially enjoyed all of the fairy tale references because I felt like I already knew so much about the recognizable characters (Rapunzel hair care products anyone?). The story moves quickly and the dialogue is very funny. It questions whether bad people can really change and just how much trust one can have in a former bad apple. Super enjoyable!


I've always been a HUGE Joan Bauer fan and have found I can never go wrong recommending her books to my students. Soar is no exception.
Jeremiah's life revolves around one thing- baseball. He lives and breathes it, but unfortunately, due to a serious heart condition, he can't play. Hillcrest, his new town, is known for baseball, so Jeremiah does the next best thing to playing- he starts coaching. Shortly after he arrives, the town is rocked by a scandal and the townspeople start to give up on baseball. It's up to Jeremiah to save the town and the team.

Jeremiah is a fantastic main character. His life is full of multiple struggles, yet he remains positive in the hopes that his can-do spirit will rub off on his team. He is courageous and funny and an extremely likable character. I found him to be incredibly inspiring. Jeremiah refuses to give up, and I actually cheered out loud a few times while I was reading. Even though it's a baseball story, I think both boys and girls will enjoy it.


Pax by Sara Pennypacker has been on my reading list for a while. It's critically acclaimed and in serious contention for major book awards.

Peter has been caring for his fox, Pax, since Pax was a kit. They are the best of friends. When his dad enlists in the army, Peter is forced to leave Pax on the side of the road on the way to live at his grandfather's house (no animals allowed). Peter lives one day without Pax and realizes that he can't spend his days without his beloved pet. He packs his school bag with essentials and begins a 300 mile trek back to his old home to find Pax. Meanwhile, Pax is confused by his new surroundings, but remains confident that Peter will come back for him some day.

This story is told with alternating narration between Peter and Pax. It was really fascinating to read Pax's chapters because I never really gave much thought as to what a fox might be thinking. He feels sad and betrayed to be left on the road, but he never gives up on his "human" Peter. I think Ms. Pennypacker wrote in beautiful detail what it must be like to be a domesticated wild animal now forced to survive on its own. Pax never knew how to be a true fox and must learn from others like him how to survive. Meanwhile, Peter's journey is interrupted by an injury and he is forced to spend time with a reclusive army veteran while he heals. This old woman, Vola, teaches Peter valuable lessons about life and grief and he teaches her a few things as well.

I'm not going to reveal if Peter ever finds his fox, but the ending is satisfying. I liked this book, but I'm not certain my students will fully appreciate it. It's emotional and there are some deep lessons throughout, but I'm not sure a young reader will pick up on them without a little help. Also, it's a bit slow at times, and I found myself skimming through some of the "Pax" chapters. There will definitely be some kids who really like it, and I will keep it front and center in the library come September in the hopes the right reader will give it a chance.