Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Grown up books

Since it's winter break, I've had a chance to do some reading and I actually got to read some grown up books in the last few weeks!  I love the end of the year lists of best books.  I figure if someone is bothering to make a list of the best ones, they've read more than one or two and so it's worth at least looking at what other people are reading.  This past week I read a couple that were highly rated this year.

The first one (and my favorite) is called "All the Light We Cannot See" by Anthony Doerr.  This is a great story.  It's about two kids growing up during World War 2.  If you think you've read enough about World War 2 (I think I have), don't skip this one.  It's told from the perspective of two different characters.  One is a girl in Paris who is blind.  Her dad works in a museum and loves puzzles and models so he builds a model of their neighborhood so she can navigate the neighborhood by herself.  They end up fleeing Paris and going to live with a distant relative in the Brittany region.  At the same time, a boy is growing up in Germany.  His father was killed in a mining accident and the boy is told over and over again that he will have to go and work in the mines too (which panics him to no end) but he's really smart and learns to make radios by himself.  He ends up at an exclusive German boarding school when the war breaks out.  This one is exquisitely written and I kept putting it down so that I wouldn't finish it too soon.

The second one is mystery.  It's called "The Farm" by Tom Rob Smith.  It's about a young man living in London.  His parents have moved to Sweden to pursue a retirement project of a farm.  They have grown somewhat distant since the move.  One day, the son gets a call from his dad, the mom is very sick and has been committed to an asylum.  The son is understandably concerned, books a flight to Sweden but as he's getting ready to board the plane, gets a call from his mom saying she has been released from the hospital, she's coming to London and the dad has committed crimes for which she has evidence that she wants to show him because he is the only one she can trust.  This one was really hard to put down  and I loved how it made me think about how well I really know my own parents.

The last one was also highly rated on the year end lists, but I didn't really like it.  It's called "The Paying Guests" by Sarah Waters.  It's set in post World War 1 England.  Frances is living with her mother in a big house.  They have many debts because of her father's poor investments and her brothers were killed in the war.  They decide that they should take in tenants to help with expenses.  The tenants are much lower class than Frances and her mother so there are questions about how friendly they should be with the tenants but (unsurprisingly) Frances becomes closer than is necessarily appropriate.  There was a lot of heaving bosoms and pretty graphic sex.  I felt like the author took too long to tell about the action and so I ended up skimming quite a bit and I HATED the ending, which felt like the way my students some times end a story "THE END".  Not my favorite.  

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Previewing new books

I've been busy enough with the books in my hands so I haven't been looking at Netgalley but now that school is out for a few weeks, I had a little extra time to look.  I found a really great one that will be published in March and if you like books that make kids think about global issues, this is going to be one for you.  It's called The Red Bicycle by Jude Isabella.  It's about a red bicycle and what happens to it after the boy who buys it in Canada is finished with it (he outgrows it).  He donates it to charity that takes bikes to Burkina Faso and donates them to charitable organizations there.  I loved how it showed not only that the bike went to a girl who really needed it, but how she used it to help her family.  When she was finished with it, she donated it to another charitable organization which used the bicycle as an ambulance.  The pictures are cheerful and simple but evocative enough to make you feel a part of the story.  It also has information in the back of the book for making connections to some of the charitable organizations in the book.  I can't wait to get this one into our library, I think our kids are really going to like this one.

Another one I read is called One Plastic Bag by Miranda Paul.  It tells the story of a girl living in Gambia that suddenly notices how many plastic bags there are blowing around her village.  At first the bags seem helpful but they don't break down in the soil the way the traditionally made baskets do.  They look ugly laying around.  They blow into the gardens and damage the plants.  The goats eat them and sometimes get sick or die.  The girls of the village come up with an ingenious idea for recycling the bags.  At first the people ridicule them for picking things out of the trash, but when they start making money, people change their minds.  In the author's notes, it appears that recycling effort is working.  I think my students will love thinking about ways they could recycle the bags that we have floating around our community too.  

And here's a video about how to do the recycling from the author.  

The last one I read was called School Days around the world by Margriet Ruurs.  It shows lots of different schools around the world.  I liked it because it showed a variety of different kinds of schools-public schools, private schools, boarding schools.  It had a good range of school but it also raised a lot of questions for me and I guess that's what would make it good starting point for research about different kinds of schools around the world.  It has nice engaging pictures that are cartoonish but show how the schools are the same and different without actually having to show real kids or real schools.  I didn't find this one as engaging as the other two, but it was ok.  

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Great new books

It's winter break here, but the day before our break started, I got three boxes of brand new books, many of which I'd never read, so yippee!  It's winter break, I have tons of free time AND lots of new books to read.  Does it get better than this?

The first one I read is called Pete and Pickles by Berkeley Breathed.  It's about a little pig named Pete that lives a quiet, orderly existence.  One day his order is disturbed by a runaway elephant named Pickles and really, things are not the same after that.  It's a funny and a little strange ride, but as with most friendships, it's totally worth the weirdness.  I think this would be a great book to match up with some of the other unlikely friendship books like Amos and Boris by William Steig, Henry and Mudge by Cynthia Rylant, Mr. Putter and Tabby also by Cynthia Rylant.

I also read "Spoon" by Amy Krouse Rosenthal.  It's also a picture book.  It's about a little spoon who is feeling like maybe his other friends have it better than he has it.  He thinks about what a great life the fork and knife have but his (very wise) mom reminds him about all the cool things that he can do because he is a spoon.  It's a great reminder to think about things in a positive way-there are always things you can't do, but there are lots of things you can do too.  

The last one I read today was also a picture book, but this one is a graphic novel.  It's called El Deafo by Cece Bell.  It's sort of a combination of memoir and autobiography in graphic novel form.  The author lost her hearing at age 4 and uses a comic strip format (with rabbits as the characters) to show us what it was like to grow up with limited hearing.  She comes with the idea that she is a superhero called El Deafo and I think really, she is a super hero, as she takes us on her ride and shows exactly what that was like.  It's a great story.  

Monday, December 15, 2014

SEFLIN workshop

A few months ago, I was approached by one of my colleagues to see if I wanted to help her teach an all day class through an organization called SEFLIN.  If you don't know it, SEFLIN is a group that supports libraries in Southeastern Florida by providing training both online and in person.  I've taken some really great classes with them and so I jumped at the opportunity to teach one, especially face to face.  Our topic was "Using Technology to support the library program" and we had a blast putting it together.  My colleague, Michelle Cates, is the media specialist at Freedom Shores Elementary, and this girl has got it going on.  She is doing some really amazing projects with her elementary students so it was fun to think up new projects that I'm going to do with my own students.  One of my favorite things that Michelle talked about were brain breaks.  My brother is an occupational therapist in eastern NC and this is something he's been supporting in his schools too, so it was great to get some ideas of how to implement this.  It COULD NOT be easier.  If you don't want to sign up for anything, you can go to YouTube and search for brain breaks.  There are tons of fun little short videos that pop up that you can use for free. Like this one.
 If you don't mind giving out a little personal information (and I DO mean, just a little-it's free but they want to know who you are).  There is a great website called GoNoodle. It's put together by Miami Children's Hospital and these are SO much fun.  Michelle showed us one called Hug it out, which is a little yoga and a lot of entertainment in a 2 minute and 40 second video.  My favorite one is called "Happy Merry Everything" which is perfect for this time of the year.

We also talked about using author's websites as ways to incorporate technology.  Many authors have amazing websites and a lot of them have videos with interviews or book trailers on them.  In particular, Jan Brett, has a spectacular website with TONS of videos and things you can download.  Mo Willems also has a great website with lots of fun things to do.  He actually has two different sites, and this one, Pigeon Presents, which, in my opinion, is more fun.

Lastly we talked more about application... how can you apply the technology in your library.  One of the things that both Michelle and I use is book trailers.  We've been using iMovie to create book trailers.  I upgraded my iPads over the weekend and showed the kids how to use iMovie today and if I had offered them cupcakes, I doubt they would have been any more excited.  It was also pretty interesting to show them a few trailers that other people had made and watch them start making connections to the mood of the book and the mood of the templates and really think about which one would work the best.  We also made an audiobook today with first and second graders about Kwanzaa (we did research using a really great online database called PebbleGo, it's perfect for the younger kids).

One of the best things about the workshop was getting to meet librarians from all over our tri-county area.  It isn't often that you get to talk to a room full of librarians and I count myself lucky that I got to!  They are amazing people with great ideas and passion for sharing books with kids and adults.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Stupendously lucky

Thanksgiving just passed here and I've been thinking about gratitude.  You know the kind I mean, the lump in your throat, tears in your eyes kind of gratitude that you get once in awhile (thankfully, I only get it once in awhile, because the tears are often a little embarrassing and hard to explain).  Anyway, I've been having a few more of those moments this week, I think the holidays sort of bring it out.  One of the things I'm really grateful for is my family.  I have a kind and loving husband who has a job that keeps him busy enough without draining him completely and allows him to pursue golf as much as he wants.  My parents are healthy and love where they live and have enough things to keep them busy without making them any crazier than they already are.  My brother has a great job and a wonderful partner and because of the completely amazing political system we have, is going to be able to get legally married in his state (which we are all pretty shocked about, as the state where he lives had just past legislation to make gay marriage illegal and then the Supreme Court decision overturned it-YAY Supreme Court Justices!).  My sister and her family are healthy and happy and able to take an extended trip around the world which they are blogging about here.  And in addition to all these blessings, I have a job that I find interesting, challenging, and most of all fun in addition to being healthy and strong.  So how lucky are we?

I'm also grateful for electricity and specifically air conditioning and refrigeration.  I'm grateful for communication systems that allow us to connect to people all over the planet effortlessly and I'm immensely grateful for the opportunities of education.  As part of that education, I've been reading quite a bit.  The last two weeks I read a brand new book called The Royal Institute of Magic by Victor Kloss.  This is a really fun new book (which I hope will be a series) about a boy named Ben who's parents are missing.  Ben and his best friend Charlie are following clues about their disappearance since the police don't seem to have a clue.  They find a piece of mysterious fabric and then a note which takes them to a building in London, the Royal Institute of Magic.  It feels a bit like Harry Potter or Charlie Bone but the characters are so interesting and so compelling, you'll stop making comparisons pretty quickly (I know I did).  I can't wait to get this one into my school library.

I also read Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell.  She is a completely amazing writer and has such a gift for being able to show us what someone else's life is like.  In this case, the main character is a girl named Cather who writes a blog of fan fiction (which, I'm sorry to say, I'd never heard of).  Fan fiction (if you are clueless as I was) is where people write stories about characters from books you know and love and take them places they want to go.  Cather is struggling with many things in her young life-a twin sister who she adores but who wants her own identity, a manic depressive dad, boys, a very strong and powerful roommate (who scares her), freshman year of college.  It was a great story and really hard to put down.  Here's a book trailer about it.  

And right now I'm in the middle of "I am Malala" which fills me with gratitude, that I live in a place that offers religious and educational freedom.  More on that one later...

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Miami Book Fair 2014

Yesterday I got to go to the Miami Book Fair and wow, was it terrific.  In case you didn't know, there is a completely AMAZING book fair in Miami every year in November.  The down side is that the weather in November can be a bit dodgy.  It's Miami, so what that translates into is pretty much a range of choices... either it's sunny, quite warm and muggy or we get a cold front and it can be quite cool and windy.  This weekend we had the remarkable combination of lots of wind, muggy, rainy and not too hot.  Although it was not picture perfect weather, the event was as usual, just wonderful.

The first thing that's awesome about the Miami book fair is that they invite authors from all over the place to come and speak.  Miami is a bilingual kind of town so there are many Hispanic as well and English speaking authors.  There is also an amazing range of authors from chefs to political commentators to fiction, poetry, non fiction, murder mysteries and kids books.  In fact, it's a little hard to plan your schedule because there are so many amazing authors speaking all at the same time.

I'm really lucky because my husband is a chef and one of his former colleagues is one of the culinary geniuses at Miami Dade College (his name is Jose Casales and he is awesome!).  Two years ago, Jose invited us to come and volunteer and it was a blast.  My husband got to make desserts and I got to run food into the author's suite (all those authors!  Squueee!!!).  But this year, he got to make more desserts and I got to sign authors in at the desk.  So it was pretty thrilling when Kazu Kibuishi, the author of the Amulet series (which my students are completely insane over) walked up to the desk.  I tried not to gush too much or drool on his shoes but when I asked if he could sign my books it was hard not to swoon as HE DREW THE CHARACTERS right on the inside cover of the book and then signed his name!  I went to the session that he did with two other graphic novelists (Ben Hatke who wrote Zita the Space Girl and Dave Roman who wrote the Space Academy) and they spent the hour drawing and talking about how they come up with their ideas.  One of things they all kept saying was that they weren't particularly good artists to start with but that they really liked drawing and by doing it over and over again, they got better and that, really, the only reason they were good is just because they had done it so often and that they were doing their own thing, not copying someone else's work.  The other thing that Kazu said that really resonated with me is that it takes him about 8 months to create an Amulet book and that the time includes the time to completely re-write the book 4 times.  He creates as he goes and sometimes he ends up in places he doesn't really like, so he goes back and does it again.  I really loved that.

I also got to sign in Katherine Applegate.  I didn't remember to bring any of her books along (rats!) but she was so nice and so friendly.  I really enjoyed her talk about Ivan and how she'd gotten her idea to write the story.  It was also really cool that two of Ivan's zookeepers from his zoo in Atlanta came to hear Katherine speak.  They'd brought a copy of a book that Ivan had personally put his fingerprint in (how cool is that?).  

The last two authors I didn't get to sign in but boy was I glad I went to hear them.  They were two of the National Book award finalists this year and I LOVED their books.  One was Deborah Wiles who wrote Revolution, which I reviewed here.  The other was Eliot Schrefer who wrote Threatened, which I reviewed here.   Eliot talked at length about how he'd gotten the idea for his book which started with a pair of jeans and ended with an afternoon of watching Youtube videos.  Isn't that funny how one little thing can spark your imagination?  Debbie (that's how she introduced herself to me!) used a lot of her own experiences of spending summer in Alabama during the 1960s to build Revolution.

I missed some really great opportunities too... John Cleese spoke on Sunday night and Jason Seigel was there promoting his new book but you can't do everything, but I'm glad I got to see some of it!  You should totally go next year!  

Sunday, November 16, 2014

This week's reading

I've been reading a big mix of things this week.  I finished another one on the short list for the National Book award for young people.  This one was called Noggin by John Corey Whaley.  It's about a 16 year old boy who had been dying of leukemia, had his head cryogenically frozen, then five years later his head was reattached to a new body (of a boy of a similar age who had died of a brain tumor) and he wakes up.  The author's voice on this was amazing... a strong clear voice of this young man who is 16 and trying to cope with not only being gone for 5 years but living with a body that's different from the one he left behind.  Parts of it are funny and parts are heart rending.  It was a great mix of social issues and humor.  Here's a book trailer about it.

I also read on called The Infinite Sea by Rick Yancey.  It's the continuation of a book that came out last year called The Fifth Wave about an alien invasion of the earth.  I really loved the first one and this one was good too.  They are super fast paced.  This one was a little hard to start because although I felt like I remembered all the characters from the last book, I felt a little fuzzy at first.  Sometimes it's hard to tell who's telling the story (it changes) and because the characters mostly have two names (One of the main characters is Ben but they also call him Zombie) it can be a bit confusing (at least to me).  But it's a great story and I can't wait for the next one to come out (which I know is coming because I heard him speak last month at the Library Media Conference in Orlando and, if you like that sort thing, a movie of the Fifth Wave is also coming out in 2015).   Here's a book trailer about that one.

Today I read one on Netgalley called Tiger Boy by Mitali Perkins.  It's about a boy growing up in modern day India.  His village is near a tiger preserve and it talks at length about some of the challenges of living in rural India... poor job prospects, expensive and inadequate health care, the poor quality of schooling, the lack of respect for the rural people, the poor opportunities for learning for girls and people who try to exploit all of those things.  It also talks about how awesome it is to be part of a loving family in a place where you feel like you belong and appreciating the place.  It would be a great story to use to compare and contrast American (or some other country) and Indian culture or if you wanted to talk about tiger preservation.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Reading award winners

This week I've been reading award winning books.  My local library JUST got in the books that are on the short list for the National Book award for young people so I totally SCORED.  I'd read three of them already, so I had two left.  This week I read one of them called "Threatened" by Eliot Schrefer.  He also wrote Endangered which was also on the short list for the National Book award last year and I can totally see why.  "Threatened" was such an interesting story with very compelling characters and very topical situations.  It's about a boy named Luc who lives in Gabon.  He is so ignorant that as he starts to tell his story, I was bit confused about how he had come to live in a boarding house (essentially a share cropper kind of situation where he owed a lot of money from his mother's and sister's extended hospital stay so he was working off the debt, which sounded like it would probably take forever).  Luc is serving drinks at a local bar when an unusual man comes in.  The man is Arab and apparently a scientist who wants to study chimpanzees.  He hires Luc to carry his bag and then to go on his expedition into the bush.  Luc has been taught from an early age that chimpanzees are dangerous and so he goes with a LOT of trepidation.  There are TONS of great things to connect to in this story... AIDS orphans, chimpanzee and endangered animal protection versus the needs of the indigenous people, the politics of Gabon, scientific research by big American companies, Jane Goodall and Diane Fossey...  AND it's well written and really hard to put down.  I loved this one but I think it's probably too big for my elementary age students, I would think middle school and up could read it.

I also read the Man Booker Prize winner this week.  The Man Booker Prize is for great literature in the United Kingdom and they made a big deal this year that the winner was Australian and not English (apparently they even considered some American literature, even though we aren't part of the UK, but it didn't make the cut).  The book that won is called "The Narrow Road to the Deep North" by Richard Flanagan.  This is DEFINITELY an adult book and it was really good.  It's the story of a man named Dorrigo Evans who grew up in Australia, became a doctor, went to war during World War 2, was sent to a prison camp in Burma and forced to help build a railroad there, fell in love, got married and had a family.  The story is not told consecutively so it's a little confusing about where exactly you are in his life sometimes but the story telling is amazing.  The imagery is rich and vivid (sometimes you wish he'd back off a bit!) and it was hard to put down.  

The last one I read this week was not an award winner but it should have been.  I also maybe shouldn't have read this one right after I finished the "Narrow Road" because it was sort of surprising how similar they were.  This one is called "Between Shades of Gray" by Ruta Septys.  (NOT 50 Shades of Gray, please).  I got to hear Ruta Septys speak at the International Reading Association conference in New Orleans in May.  I'd never heard of her book until then, but it sounded compelling.  It's based on her dad's experiences as a young man who escaped from Lithuania and ended up in America.  So I finally found the book at my library this week and wow, was it great.  It's about a 16 year old girl named Lina who lives with her parents and younger brother in Lithuania in the 1940s.  They have up until this point lived a fairly privileged life... Lina dreams of becoming an artist when the Russians come and take her and the rest of her family to a work camp in Russia.  The train ride there is arduous.  Her dad is separated from the rest of the family but they have hope that he is still ok.  Life in the camp is very hard and they are expected to do farm work and other manual labor to earn their keep.  Starvation and malnutrition are rampant in the camp because the Russians believe that the Lithuanians are inferior to them and they don't have to treat them like people, they are animals, which was exactly the sentiment expressed in "The Narrow Road to the Deep North" by the Japanese.  I really liked this story because it gave a different point of view to World War 2.  "Between Shades of Gray" would make a great mentor text because in addition to the historical part, it also talks about using art to show things rather than telling them.  Using the art pieces mentioned in the story as well as other art work about war experiences would be a great connection.  Here's a video where she tells about how she got the idea for the book.  

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Two to look for

I read two new books on Netgalley this week and I think they were a lot of fun.

The first one is called Witherwood Reform School by Obert Skye.  You might have heard of Obert Skye from his other series about a kid who's closet is a mess and morphs literary characters in to one terrible character, like Harry Potter and Chewbacca, who become "Potterwookie".  They are pretty hilarious and my students like them a lot.  The Witherwood Reform School is a departure from those characters and situations and a leap in a series of unfortunate events.   Two perfectly charming children, Tobias and Charlotte, have been living with their dad (a distracted and overworked but loving parent) and a completely horrible nanny (and how they can afford the nanny when their dad is driving a cab is a bit of a mystery).  Tobias and Charlotte play a trick on the nanny so to punish them, their dad drives them to a deserted place and drops them off.  He drives away but almost immediately turns around to get them but is involved in a terrible car accident which leaves him with amnesia.  He has inadvertently left them at the Witherwood Reform School where kids are brainwashed into compliance.  If your kids like books like a Series of Unfortunate Events or The Name of this Book is Secret by Anonymous Bosch or just about anything by Roald Dahl, they'll like this one too.

The second one I read was a fairy tale adaptation called A Grimm Legacy by Janna Jennings (not to be confused with THE Grimm Legacy by Polly Schulman (I liked that one a lot too).  This one is a little confusing because there are four characters who start in completely different places and are thrown together in a place they don't recognize.  They each appear to be playing parts in different fairy tales and right at the end, you find out why that is (sorry, no spoilers here!).  The characters are all teenagers but none of the situations they get into are very adult (although there is some flirting and a gun makes an appearance).  It seemed like the author was shooting for a YA audience but it read more like middle grade fiction.  It was pretty compelling and there was a lot of action.  The way it ended also gives you the idea that there is more to the story so it will be interesting to see where the series goes after this.  

Monday, October 27, 2014

National Book Award

This week I've been reading some of the young people's books that are on the list for possibilities for the National Book Award.  I find that I'm not such a good judge of great literature because I sometimes don't care for the award winners (like last year's pick-That Thing About Luck by Cynthia Kadohata, which I didn't really like) but I like to read (a lot) and so when someone smarts says "Wow, that's a really great book" it feels like I OUGHT to pay attention.

Of the five that are on the short list for the book award, I've read three of them and believe it or not, I really liked all three.  The other two I've never heard of so I guess I need to get to the library (or more likely, to Amazon!).  Even more surprising, two of the selections this year are non fiction and one of the non fiction one is also poetry.  Holy cow, what diversity!  So here are the three I've read.

"Revolution" by Debroah Wiles is a story about three kids living in Alabama in the summer of 1964.  Two of the kids are step siblings and one is another boy who lives in their town.  Their town is in the middle of some pretty big changes, including having a group of civil rights activists come to town to try to help register black voters.  One of the things I liked best about this book is the graphical elements that Wiles weaves into the story... there are Civil Rights era photographs, cartoons, song lyrics, and quotes from notable people.  For me, I found that when the song lyrics were mentioned, I would keep singing for several pages as I read, almost without really trying and what a different experience that made for reading the books.  I really liked this one.

The second one is called "Brown Girl Dreaming" by Jacqueline Woodson.  It's a memoir (non-fiction!) written in free verse (and it's poetry!) about Woodson's life.  She starts off being born in Ohio, moving to South Carolina with her mother's parents and then moving to NY for her mother to be more independent.  There's some beautiful imagery and descriptive language as well as some depictions of what it was like trying to be from two places-South Carolina where they were safe and well loved but mostly segregated to New York where people made fun of the way they talked but created deep friendships with people that were very different as well as tragedies along the way.  This one is going to be an excellent reading and writing mentor text.

The third one is "Port Chicago 50" by Steve Sheinikin.  It's non fiction (yay!) about a group of African American sailors during World War 2 that are accused of mutiny.  It has a lot of background information about what the racial situation was like at that time (before the big Civil Rights movement) and how people tried to fight against injustice and what the outcomes were.  It was a fascinating story with lots of photographs of the real people involved.  I also liked the extensive bibliography in the back of the book which will be a great teachable opportunity to show kids how people get information to use in their writing.  I liked this one a lot.   Here's a book trailer about it.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

New stuff!

I've been reading some advanced readers copies on Netgalley.  If you haven't heard of Netgalley, it's a website where you can sign up for FREE and read advanced readers copies of books.  I think the hope is that people like us will help generate buzz for the books.  Win-win!  Awesome!  Anyway, this morning I read a really awesome one called Daisy to the Rescue by Jeff Campbell.  It should be out this week and it's wonderful.  It starts off explaining about the mythology of animal rescue and goes into some detail of verifying sources (which would make for a great lesson about fantasy vs. reality). The stories are sorted into groups and before each story there is a sort of a fact sheet with a lovely pen and ink drawing of the animal.  The stories are quite short and the author's voice is strong, which I think the kids will really connect to.  I think this is one that's really going to be worth looking for.

I also read Tucci's Table by Stanley Tucci and Felicity Blunt.  I think Stanley Tucci is an amazing actor so I was completely intrigued by the cookbook.  It has gorgeous pictures of food as well as him and his family in the kitchen.  The recipes are family friendly, healthy kinds of food with easy to follow directions.  The recipes are not particularly innovative (but if you're cooking for kids I think mostly you want food they will eat, not some jaw dropping culinary experience) but rather tried and true classic kind of food, the kind of food you want to feed your family.  I liked this one a lot and the biggest feeling I was left with was I was wondering if Stanley Tucci would like to come for dinner at my house!

The last one I looked at is also a cookbook (I'm married to a chef... it's what we do!).  It's called Bring your lunch by Califia Suntree but I think that title too limiting.  Her recipes are so interesting, I think you could use them for practically any meal.  However, the premise of the book is that you should have something delicious and healthy for lunch.  The author carefully describes the ingredients you might want to have on hand as well as equipment (like having the right containers to take your lunch in-that's a lesson I hadn't had to learn on my own!).  The art work is adorable.  The recipes are organized by themes... sandwiches, salads, using leftovers.  It's a treasure trove of ideas for lunch!  It also has tons of helpful hints (like what kind of canned tuna you might want to buy) as well as suggestions for substitutions and adaptations of recipes.  I really liked this one a lot,  I think it will be a useful addition to many kitchens and I can't wait to try out some of the recipes.  

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Sunshine State Young Readers

If you don't live in Florida, you probably don't know about this award sponsored through the librarians association of Florida (FAME).  The committee picks 15 books for grades 3-5 and grades 6-8 from a list of about 250.  The limits are that the books have to be for pleasure reading, they have to be written within the last 4 years and they have to be written by an American author.  The kids of Florida read the books and vote on which one is their favorite.  So, since I'm a school librarian in Florida, I've been reading the new SSYRA books and like even a really great box of chocolates, there are some you like better than others.

One that completely took me by surprise was 8 class pets + 1 squirrel divided by 1 dog = chaos by Vivian Vande Velde.  It's a pretty skinny little chapter book and has a funny cover but I was pretty sure I wasn't going to like it (really?  Judging a book by it's cover?  Shame on you!).  Well, wow, was I wrong.  This is a very fast paced story about a squirrel who lives near a school and regularly teases a dog that lives close by.  One day when the squirrel is in the middle of annoying the dog, the dog gets loose and the chase is on.  The dog chases the squirrel into the school and the squirrel looks for help from the class pets (some of whom are more help than others).  The first chapter is told from the perspective of the squirrel and the rest are told from the class pets perspectives and the last chapter is told by the dog.  It's hilarious and an easy, quick read and would make a great mentor text for point of view as well as voice.

I was also surprised by Jeff Probst's book "Stranded".  I'm not a big fan of reality TV so I didn't really know who Jeff Probst was but this one was also VERY fast paced.  This one is about 4 kids who are a sailing trip to get to know each other because their parents are getting married.  The kids are not wild about each other (the bossy older sister, the genius baby sister, the two boys who are very different-one is athletic and oppositional, the other one plays a lot of video games) but when they are stranded on a desert island without communication, they pull together to help.  It was very compelling and I was very surprised by the ending.  Here's a book trailer:

The third one I read that I really didn't think I would like was "King of the Mound: My summer with Satchel Paige."  by Wes Tooke.   This one had the saddest beginning of any of the books this year.  The main character is in a hospital recovering from polio.  The doctors think he's awesome-he's worked hard and followed directions and he's healing well, although he still walks with a limp and needs a brace.  His dad, a professional baseball player comes to pick him up from the hospital and let's just say, he isn't a warm and fuzzy kind of dad.  They go home to North Dakota, where his dad is playing on a team and Satchel Paige is the pitcher.  The owner of the team and Satchel Paige are very nice and supportive, his dad, not so much.  Anyway, once you get connected to this character, it's also really hard to stop reading.  There are issues of dealing with a disability, racism, as well as making an effort and trying your best.  By the end of the story, I liked the characters a lot and I was sorry to see them go!  

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Chapter books from the book fair

I love reading chapter books from the book fair.  I've gotten to the point where I really don't want to buy books because I live in a fairly small house without tons of storage so I just don't have room for stacks and stacks of books.  The other part is, why do I want to pay $25 for a hardcover book that I might only read one time?  So I love that I can haul these books home and then tell the kids which ones are worth owning (in my opinion!).

My favorite one from the book fair is called "The Fourteenth Goldfish" by Jennifer Holm. (I bought three copies for the media center and nagged several people into buying it too!) I already adore Jennifer Holm who writes with an amazing mix of humor and deep feelings.  I completely loved her chapter book called "Turtle in Paradise" about a girl who moves to Key West in the 1930s and her graphic novels that she writes with her brother Matt,  "Baby Mouse" and "Squish" are also wonderful.  Her latest book, "The Fourteenth Goldfish" starts with a girl going into middle school.  She has the usual angst about people being her friend (her best friend has joined the volleyball team and is now busy with her new set of friends), her hair, her clothes and then her mom gets two pieces of distressing information on the same day-their long time baby sitter is quitting to take a job at the mall and an emergency call from her dad (Ellie's grandfather) who is a scientist and has been working on a project about aging with some sort of unexpected consequences, many of which are pretty hilarious.  It has a great message about science being super cool as well as believing in yourself and find your own passion, even if it's different from what your parents want.

Here's the book trailer about it!

I also really liked "Half a Chance" by Cynthia Lord.  Cynthia Lord wrote a great book a couple years ago called "Rules" about a girl who has an autistic brother, whom she adores and also doesn't want any one to know about.  She makes up rules for him so he doesn't appear too wacky or draw attention to her in any way.  It's a great book and this new one, "Half a Chance" is really great too.  It's about a girl named Lucy who's family moves to a lake house in Vermont.  Her dad is a famous wildlife photographer who is gone on photo shoots for extended periods of time.  She misses him terribly and uses photography as a way to connect with him, even when he's far away.  She meets some of the kids who live close by her, some of them live there year round, like she will and some will only be there for the summer.  Nate, the boy next door, is a special friend and Lucy gets drawn into not only his circle of friends but his extended family who also come to the lake for the summer.  Unfortunately, Nate's grandma is suffering from dementia and that puts a lot of strain on everyone.  Lucy comes up with an idea to enter a photography contest sponsored by her dad as a way to help.  It has big themes of friendship, kindness, art and what you do for the sake of art as well as separation.

The last one I read from the book fair (and bought two copies for the media center because that's all that were left) is called "The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing" by Sheila Turnage.  I adore her use of language-she writes similes better than any other modern writer.  The first book about this group of characters is called "Three Times Lucky".  It's about a girl named Mo (short for Moses, because as a baby she was rescued from a river after a hurricane by a man wearing military clothes-she calls him the Colonel and a lady named Miss Lana who run a cafe together).  Mo and her best friend Dale like to know what's going on and in the first book they end up solving a murder so in this book, they are continuing their detective ways.  Imagine a plot line that includes a ghost (a real one and a fabricated one), a convict, a moonshiner, a costume party, car racing, poetry from surprising places, a crooked banker, devastatingly handsome men and beautiful women, as well as the best smilies on the planet.  I LOVED this one.  

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Book fair - picture books

We just finished our Scholastic book fair.  I love the book fair.  I love how exciting it is!  Brand new books!  Lots of colorful displays!  Books I've never heard of before!  Shopping!  But as much fun as it is, I'm always happy to pack it up and go back to the regular media center where its peaceful and fairly quiet and I know where (most) everything is.  And I don't have to handle money.

One of the best things about the book fair is getting to read all the new books.  I had a head start this year since I've been using Netgalleys. is a free website that allows you to register and then read books (using an electronic device) before they are published in exchange for reviewing them.  I'm always happy to give my opinion (just ask anyone around me!) so for me, it works out pretty well!  But at the book fair, there were several books that I hadn't seen (in book stores or on Netgalley).

The first one is by one of my favorite authors, Eric Kimmel.  Eric Kimmel writes folk tales and uses all different illustrators depending on the folk tale.  The stories are amazing and the art work always matches the stories so the books all look really different.  The one that was in the book fair this fall is called "Simon and the Bear: A Hanukkah Tale".  It's about a boy named Simon who is sailing from Poland to New York by himself.  His mother and sisters are back in Poland (he's going to send for them as soon as he makes enough money) and his dad is gone.  The trip is not easy but suddenly, the ship hits an iceberg and starts to sink.  Simon is lucky enough to get into a life boat when suddenly a man in a huge fur coat comes and wants to get into the boat.  There isn't enough room so the man gives Simon his pocket watch to give to his son in NY.  Simon decides that he should give up his place in the lifeboat so that the man's son will not have to be without his father.  The man gets in the lifeboat and sails away and Simon ends up on an iceberg with his Hanukkah menorah and some candles.  The rest of the story is about courage and luck and the miracles of Hanukkah.  The pictures are beautiful and it has a very happy ending.   You are going to love this one!

The second one that I found at the book fair that was a big happy surprise was "I know an old lady who swallowed a dreidel" by Caryn Yacowitz.  There have been a large number of riffs on the "I know an old lady" theme, some more successful than others.  This one is awesome.  First of all, if you need a little background information on Jewish culture, this is a nice, easy place to start.  There are references to the foods (like bagels, which aren't typical for Hanukkah as well as latkes and brisket, which are) as well as the games (the dreidel and the geld).  What really makes this one amazing is the art work.  Each part of the song has a different famous piece of art that goes with it.  For example, when the grandmother swallows the dreidel, the artist puts her in Edward Munch's famous painting "The Scream".  There are also references to Andy Warhol, Rodin, Andrew Wyeth, and Henri Matisse, just to name a few.  Art teachers are going to LOVE this one and it should work great with the new Common Core standards where kids are expected to make connections to art (as well as video and sound).

There is also a new version of "My Grandfather's Coat" by Jim Aylesworth.  This is a folktale about a man who has a coat that keeps getting recycled.  It was first made famous by Simms Taback in a version called "Joseph had a little overcoat".  This version is nicely repetitive with interesting vocabulary and lovely pictures.  It would make a good addition to your library, especially if you wanted to compare and contrast to the Simms Taback version.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

MORE non fiction?

When I talk with other elementary school librarians, they are often concerned about the amount of non fiction their students are reading.  The Common Core puts more emphasis on reading non fiction, which is what most adults read (like newspapers and professional documents) so it's important that kids learn to read non fiction as well.  The funny thing is, at my school, which is a public Montessori school, my shelf of books that needs to be put away is ALWAYS heavy on non fiction.  I like to think it's because the Montessori method encourages the teachers to teach from scientific concepts and tends to minimize fantasy, it's probably because it's more complicated to put the non fiction books away and with the amount of time I have to shelve books (the five minutes between classes doesn't allow for a lot of contemplation!)

Anyway, I've been reading some really great non-fiction as advanced readers copies through a group called Netgalley.  It's been an awesome opportunity to read some of the newest books!  I read one today called "Arctic Thaw" by Stephanie Sammartino McPherson.  This one is scheduled to come out October 1.  It's all about what's happening in the Arctic.  Did you know that countries are basically jockeying for position in the Arctic?  That some countries are staking claims to the Arctic, even though there's really no political precedent for that sort of thing?  That because of global climate change, the Arctic is changing faster than any other place on the planet?  That small communities in Alaska are being wiped off the map because of erosion?  It was fascinating and the information was in small enough bites that elementary teachers could easily use this as a read aloud or a mentor text and some elementary school students will find this very interesting.

When Whales Cross the Sea by Sharon Katz Cooper is a beautiful book about whale migration.  The text is very accessible to even fairly small kids but the pictures are what will bring the kids back over and over again.  The pictures have really interesting points of view and allow the viewer to get into places that photographers probably couldn't get.  I can't wait to put this one in our library.

The last one is called " The Case of the Vanishing Little Brown Bats: A Scientific Mystery" by Sandra Markle.  These little brown bats are dying off and scientists aren't really sure why.  The book gives background information on why bats are important as well as describing the process the scientists used to try to figure out why the bats are dying off.  I think the kids will really like this one.  The photographs let you see those adorable little bat faces as well as the places where bats live (like caves) and the scientists that are trying to find out about what's killing them.  I thought it was great.  The text is in small enough chunks to make it easy to use as a read aloud.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Teaching vocabulary

I've been noticing that my students have been struggling with vocabulary for many years.  When I did my master's degree (through Walden University back in the last century), I did my master's project on effective vocabulary instruction, so I read a lot of vocabulary research back then.  It turns out, things haven't really changed.
In "Young Children" July 2010, Tanya Christ and and X. Christine Wang tell us

Some children come to school know- ing far fewer words than others. Hart and Risley (1995) studied young chil- dren’s vocabulary development and found that when children from families with low incomes were 3 years old, they knew 600 fewer words than children the same age from families with upper incomes. By grade 2, the gap widens to about 4,000 words (Biemiller & Slonim 2001).
At my school, they are so concerned about the gap that they've purchased a new amazing vocabulary instructional program that only takes 10 minutes per day and should add 6-8 words to kids' vocabulary each day.  However, it's my opinion that the school day is not enough time to give kids all the vocabulary they need.  Schools need help.  It turns out the help isn't as hard or as scary as you might imagine.  There are two ways big ways kids learn vocabulary.  One is from conversation and the second is from reading.  So if you want to help your child (or children you care about) build their vocabularies, talk to them and read to them.  Many parents stop reading to their kids when their kids learn to read.  BIG MISTAKE.  When kids are learning to read, they have to read easy books, parents can help build vocabularies by reading the kids books that are too difficult for them to read by themselves.

So here are a couple of new books you can look for that might give you some great topics of conversation with your kids.

For the littlest kids, one of the new Caldecott honor books is a wordless book called Journey by Aaron Becker.  Although you might think kids can't learn new vocabulary from a book that doesn't have words, let me tell you, this one will take you places and offer you vocabulary you never even thought of discussing with your child.  This is a book you can look at over and over again without ever tiring of the illustrations (they are amazing) and the more you look at it, the more you'll see.

For slightly bigger kids, or if you really MUST have words, consider poetry.  Usually poets have an amazing sense of word choice.  One of my favorites is Douglas Florian.  He's written several books that have super short poems on a variety of topics including mammals (Mammalabilia), insects (Insectlopedia), and dinosaurs (Dinothesaurus).  Here's an example of one of his poems.  It's called "The Fox"
A fox composed this poem
Not I.
See what I mean?  Amazing vocabulary... little bitty poem.  Anybody has time for that!

For bigger kids, think about some of that old fashioned stuff... those books you enjoyed as a kid have some remarkably great vocabulary.  Also consider non-fiction, that has tons of specific vocabulary (think about all those dinosaur books, talk about specific vocabulary!).  Think about cookbooks or newspapers or instructions for putting things together.  All of those offer great opportunities for vocabulary.  Even the grocery store is a great place to work on vocabulary!

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Back to school

Our kids started back to school this week.  The teachers started back the week before so it's been a pretty busy couple of weeks.  A lot of people don't really understand why teachers are so exhausted the first few weeks (months) of school so let me try to illuminate you.

Imagine that you've just spent the last two months do whatever you like.  For many teachers, this involves another job (like working summer camp, tutoring, or painting houses).  Then you come back to your real job and for the last two months, people have been thinking about ways to make your job more efficient.  In the first week of school, they spend time explaining to you how to do that.  Then you have to completely unpack and re-arrange all of your work materials because in the two months you've been gone, they've come in and cleaned the floors (you may also have had to move your things from one room to another room, possibly on the other side of the campus).  There may also be new materials that you need to review and learn to use in the next week.

Then there are the kids, who, in all honesty, are what makes this job really good.  But there are new ones.  If like me, you see all the kids in the school, there are a few new ones (in my case, a few is 40-50).  In most classrooms, all the kids are new to the teacher.  That means there needs to be a time to learn about your student (and for the student to learn about the teacher) so there need to be assessments and discussions of rules and expectations and reminders that even though you've spent the last two months doing what you want, there are 20 something of us in this room now and things are going to look different then when you are home.

It's fun coming back to school.  I love the anticipation of the new things that are going to happen.  I even like being back on schedule (although I wouldn't complain if the day started a little later).  I like seeing all the teachers and the kids.  School is awesome but I'd be lying if I said I didn't come home the first day and need a nap.

I did get to read some new books this week.  Every year we participate in the Sunshine State Young Reader award.  This is an award put out by the Florida Association for Media Education (FAME).  They put out a list of books and the kids who read them get to vote on which one they think is the best.  Our kids have been very excited about the books each year so I was a little annoyed that I didn't get the books on the list until this week.  I like to read them so I can recommend them to the kids.  So this week I read two.  The first one was called The Adventures of a South Pole Pig by Chris Kurtz.  This story is about a little pig named Flora, who really wants to go on an adventure.  She escapes her pen one day and finds that the dogs she's been hearing bark are sled dogs in training.  She REALLY wants to go with them, so one day, when men with a truck come to take the dogs away, and they come for a pig, she puts herself out there to go to.  She's very excited about all the new adventure and all the animals she meets along the way, but it's not really as glamorous as she thought.  She's down in a dark, smelly hold.  Rats eat her food.  She's by herself.  And the cook keeps calling her names like "my little pork chop".  She ends up making friends with the cat and helping the cat kill rats and then there is a shipwreck.  It's pretty exciting and has tons of great themes to talk about like how helping your friends can help you in ways you never thought possible and setting goals for yourself, even if they seem impossible.  I loved this one.  It would be great to compare this one to books like Charlotte's Web by E. B White or Mercy Watson by Kate DiCamillo which also have pretty heroic pigs.

The other one I read is called Elvis and the Underdogs by Jenny Lee.  It's about a boy named Benji, who was born prematurely and has many health issues but not too many friends.  He faints during stressful situations and one day instead of fainting, he has a seizure.  That means he's either going to need to wear a helmet or get a therapy dog.  His mom says no to a therapy dog so he gets the helmet and is immediately involved in what appears to be a bullying situation.  So they get the dog.  Except that the dog they get is a mistake.  The dog that comes is supposed to be the president's dog.  He's been highly trained and is super smart and he can talk.  Over the next few days,  the dog (who Benji calls Elvis) helps Benji make friends and go on some pretty exciting adventures.  I thought this one was ok.  Some of the fantasy elements were a bit much for me.   But I do think it would be great to compare this one to a story like Because of Winn Dixie by Kate DiCamillo... the themes of friends and dogs would be good together.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Starting off right!

Today was my first day back to school.  I always forget how much stamina it takes to get through a day at school, so this afternoon, I was totally ready for a nap.  Thank goodness my friend, Pam called and teased me into going to the beach.  It was far more refreshing than a nap and I'll probably sleep a lot better!

I've been reading a LOT this summer (and when I count how many books I've read, I'm really surprised!  72!  Holy cow!  Did I do anything else?).  I found a couple that I think will be awesome for the start of the year.

For the littlest kids, I just read one called "F is for Feelings" by Goldie Millar.  It's an ABC book about a variety of feelings, both positive and negative.  What's really great about this one, is that the sentences are short and both name the feeling and give a situation or describe the feeling.  On top of that, there is beautiful artwork that shows not only the facial expression, but the body language and for most of the pictures, it shows the situation where this feeling might occur.  I see this being a great book for vocabulary, for problem solving, for writing.  I ordered two copies from Amazon yesterday because I'm pretty sure my teachers need this one RIGHT AWAY.

The second one is for the middle kids at my school.  This one is a short chapter book called Ava and Pip by Carol Weston.  It's about two sisters, Ava and Pip who's parents are Anna and Bob.  Notice anything about their names?  They are palindromes.  And this is a family that LOVES words.  They play word games and they use their words in lots of amazing ways.  Ava is the younger sister but Pip has trouble with being shy so Ava is very protective.  When Pip's birthday party gets usurped by a new girl, Ava tries to solve the problem  by writing a fable based on the incident.  The fable gets entered into a contest and although it's not THE winner, it gets read pretty widely and the new girl's feelings are hurt.  However, the new girl, Bea, is not one to stand by and watch things happen so she confronts Ava.  Ava apologizes and then she and Bea become friends and together come up with a plan to help Pip with her shyness.  This is an awesome book on so many levels.  First of all, you could read this one and completely ignore all the wonderful vocabulary and writing ideas that pop up in the book and just focus on the social skills and character traits in this one and have a lot of teaching points, but using it as a mentor text for writing is going to get a lot people remembering how much fun language can be.  Don't miss this one.  

For my biggest kids, I can't wait to get Chernobyl's Wild Kingdom: Life in the Dead Zone by Rebecca Johnson.  This is a non-fiction book about the explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear plant in 1986, how the government handled the aftermath of the explosion and what's happened since then.  I found this completely fascinating.  I remember when the plant exploded and although it appears in the news every once in awhile, I wondered what had happened.  It turns out that because of the radiation it's not safe for people to live there so the government (in Ukraine) has cordoned off about a 30 kilometer circle around the plant and it's really surprising what's happened with the animals there. This would be a great conversation starter about different kinds of energy (it references the Fukushima nuclear accident too) and the safety and cost of them, as well as the adaptability of animals and nature.  It was fascinating.  

Saturday, August 9, 2014

New books!

I've been trying to figure out how to get to advanced readers copies so I can read the latest and greatest books so I can then recommend them to my students.  Through a group I follow on Goodreads, an completely awesome book recommending site, I found Netgalley.  Netgalley provides advanced readers copies online (like through a Kindle) so you can read books ahead of time.  Some of them are REALLY badly formatted, but in the case of this last book I read, the formatting didn't distract from the complete awesomeness of the book!

This one was called "Ava and Pip" by Carol Weston.  Ava and Pip are sisters and they are word nerds.  Their names and their parents names are palindromes, they like to play a homonym game, and Ava would like to be a writer.  Pip has some un-named issue that makes her smaller and shyer than Ava so Ava tries to help.  When a new girl decides to have a party the same time as Pip's thirteenth birthday party, Pip is very hurt.  So Ava decides to write a thinly veiled fable about stealing people's friends.  When the story wins a prize at the local contest, the girl figures out the story is about her and confronts Ava.  Ava apologizes profusely and the two become friends and both of them try to help Pip be more outgoing.  There are a ton of writing lessons that you could teach from this book (generating ideas, figurative language, palindromes, homonyms, adjectives, journal writing) but you could also use it to talk about problem solving and making friends.  The characters are super likable and it's a quick read.  I can't wait to show this to my students.

Here is a book trailer about it...

I also read "Spic and Span: Lillian Gilbreth's wonder kitchen" by Monica Kulling.  This is a story about Lillian Gilbreth who was born in 1878 to a wealthy family.  She wanted a life of adventure so she went to university and married Frank Gilbreth.  They both became "efficiency experts" and used video (ok, motion picture cameras) to help them analyze work situations so that workers could be safer and more efficient.  They had 11 kids together and then Frank died unexpectedly.  So as a mom of 11 kids with no job (nobody thought women could do work like this!) she had to figure things out. Her first new client was Macy's and she also started looking around her house at things that would make things better there.  She invented the trash can that you can open with a foot pedal and the first electric stand mixer.  On top of that, the art work that goes with the book is lovely, soft water colors that show the energy of the topic.  I really liked this one.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Magical books

I just finished reading a not very new book called "The Akhentaten Adventure" which is part of the Children of the Lamp series by P. J. Kerr.  I liked the story a lot, which is about twins, John and Phillipa who discover that they are genies, or djinn.  Djinn have a different kind of magical power (one that is depleting to their bodies, so they are instructed to use their powers carefully) and in this book, they spend a lot of time learning about their powers as well as the history of the djinn, both from a historical and a literature perspective.  It got me me thinking about magic as a genre of fiction and why it's so common.

There have been a lot of books about magic in the last few years, most notably Harry Potter, but there have been others like Charlie Bone and Percy Jackson.  The overarching theme to me is most often good versus evil.  I mean it's really cool to be able to do magic and make things happen outside of the world of reality, but if there isn't some compelling reason to do the magic to help others, the books seem a bit pointless.  One of the magical books that didn't get as much play at my school (because I work in an elementary school and this would definitely be a book for bigger kids than mine) was "Hold Me Closer Necromancer" by Lish McBride.  This is another book where the character is unaware that he has magical powers until something silly brings him into contact with the magical world.  In this case, Sam pulls a prank at the fast food restaurant where he works and finds Douglas, a completely evil necromancer who decides he probably ought to destroy Sam.  So Sam has to figure out all his powers, who he should be friends with, who he should tell this big secret to while trying not to get killed by Douglas.  Sound like a familiar plot?  Here's a book trailer about it:

The other magically related book that I read this week was "Thursdays with the Crown" by Jessica Day George.  It's coming out in October.  I really liked the first book in this series called "Tuesdays at the Castles".  It's about a royal family with two brothers and two sisters and the king and the queen living in the Castle Glower.  The castle is actually magical and title refers to the fact that Tuesdays are the day that the King hears petitions from his subjects that day and that castle is often bored and will do things like open a door to allow the sheep to come in from the pasture or lock a visiting (underhanded and evil) dignitary in his room.  In "Tuesdays"  the castle comes under attack and three of the kids have to try to protect the castle and the kingdom (the king and queen are taking the oldest son to magic school and fall under attack).  I missed the Wednesday one, but in the Thursday one, the kids are trying to help heal the castle and there are griffins involved as well as evil magicians and not so evil magicians and apprentices who's loyalties are unclear.  It's complicated but interesting and again... learning powers, trying to figure out who's friends and who's not, good versus evil.  Here's a book trailer for Tuesdays at the Castle.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Books set in England

So I've been on kind of kick lately, for no apparently reason, reading books set in England.  One of my friends recommended one of them to me saying it was kind of a pain to read because the author uses so many English slang words, "Why can't she just write in English?", which is pretty hilarious.  But if you want to feel like you're away, it is sort of like speaking another language and yet it isn't!

The one I just finished is called "Cuckoo's Calling" by Robert Galbraith.  Robert Galbraith is a pseudonym for J. K. Rowling who is a bit more famous for another series she wrote, also set in England, called Harry Potter.  Cuckoo's Calling could not be further from Harry Potter but I really liked it.  The main character is a private detective named Cormoran Strike.  He is an Afghan war veteran and is currently breaking up with his long time girlfriend.  He comes from a complicated family (rock star dad, groupie mom, many assorted half brothers and sisters) and has had many difficulties but is on the verge of losing his business when a big case comes in.  A lawyer is distraught over the loss of his sister and asks Cormoran to investigate.   All of the characters are well thought out and well described and I especially liked Strike's secretary.  Very fun book to read.

Another one that I read that was recommended by a different friend was called "The House at Riverton" by Kate Norton.  My friend said it had a bit of a slow start but she got to the point where she couldn't put it down and that's exactly how I felt too.  It starts off in modern day with an elderly lady thinking back to a pivotal event in her life.  There are a lot of characters at first but as it goes on, the characters begin to sort themselves out.  If you like Downton Abbey,  it has that kind of feel to it. There is a big mystery that doesn't really sort itself out until the very last few pages.  It was great.

Those two were both grown up kinds of books.  There was also one that my niece recommended called "Best Friends and other Enemies" by Catherine Wilkins.  It's about a girl, Jessica, who is struggling with a new girl in her school.  Her best friend Natalie, has gotten very chummy with Amelia and Amelia is flat out mean to Jessica.  I didn't really get why Natalie would continue to be friends with someone who was so very unkind but my niece (who's 11) really enjoyed it.  I thought the characters were interesting and I think girls would really like this story and maybe identify more with the characters than I did.