Tuesday, April 28, 2015

What's new?

The Florida Association of Media Educators (FAME) announced the winners of the Sunshine State Young Reader award this week.  It didn't come as a surprise to me, because the kids at my school also voted this one as being the best, it was Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library by Chris Grabenstein.  The kids loved the suspense, the cryptic puzzles, and the non-stop action, so if you haven't read it, by all means, get it and read it soon!  They also announced the nominees for next year and I was happy to see that not only have I read many of them, we already have several of them in our school library.  Here's a little video that shows them.

This week, my favorite book was an older title that was recommended by the amazing Liesl Shurtliff when she came to speak at our school.  She said she had been reading "Fablehaven" by Brandon Mull to her boys and that it was really good.  Really good was a big understatement!  I can't believe I hadn't read this before!  It's about two kids, Kendra and Seth, who are going to stay with their grandparents who they don't know very well.  The grandparents live far away and don't travel much so they just haven't spent too much time together.  When the kids arrive, their grandmother is away and their grandfather has a lot of rules (which Seth believes are meant to be broken).  It turns out that breaking the rules at Fablehaven has bigger consequences than a timeout or going to bed early.  Fablehaven is a sanctuary for magical creatures and not all of them are very nice.  This was a very exciting and fun read.  It would be great paired up with "The Sisters Grimm" by Michael Buckley or "the Spiderwick Chronicles" by Tony DiTerlizzi.  I can't wait to get it in my library.

My big kids are reading books about social issues so I pulled a couple of picture books that I could read to them during their library time.  The good news is I got to read a great story called "Train to Somewhere" by Eve Bunting.  The bad news is I also had to deliver the speech to the kids that Mrs. Tanner cries when she reads books like this because she is connecting so strongly to the story because the writing is so great.  It keeps me from feeling like a freak and their classroom teacher says she does the same thing.  Phew.  This lovely picture book tells the story of Marianne who is heading west from NY city.  Her mother has left her on the steps of an orphanage there.  Her mother promises that she will go west and make a better life and come back and get Marianne.  The orphans are being sent out west with the idea that anything will be better than being on their own in  New York City in the 1890s.  The kids have formed bonds with each other and are sad to be separated but Marianne holds fast to the idea that her mom is waiting for her at one of the stops.  This one has a lot of opportunities for conversation about why a parent might have to leave their child or why kids might be better off out in the country rather than in a big city.  It might also be good to pair up with one like "Cheyenne Again" also by Eve Bunting to talk about why people make decisions about other people's kids.  

I also read advanced reader's copy of "The Baking Life of Amelie Day" by Vanessa Curtis.  It's about Amelie who is 12 and really wants to be a great baker.  She's set her sights on entering a baking competition and makes it into the finals.  Except that Amelie also has cystic fibrosis which leaves her vulnerable to infections and with difficulties breathing.  She has a very supportive network around her and I thought it was really interesting to see how the author portrayed her parents as having very different ideas about how they should treat someone with a chronic and potentially fatal illness.  I also really liked all the recipes in the book.  This would be great matched up with a book like "President of the Whole Fifth Grade" by Sheri Winston (many recipes and difficulties to overcome) or "The Honest Truth" by Dan Gemeinhart (really sick kid trying to reach a goal).  Here's book trailer about it. 

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Old and New

This week, in addition to reading some new titles, I've also been trying to clean out the library (in library speak, this is called weeding).  There is a precarious balance in libraries in having enough books, particularly enough copies of the "It" book, and having books languishing on the shelf for years at a time with no one ever checking them out.  Our school library dates back to the 1920s and although there are very few books from THAT far back, it's not unusual to find books from the 1960s (it's hard to throw out perfectly good books!).  But I've been a little ruthless this week, trying to get more books that my kids will actually read rather than having shelves full of books that no one wants to pick up.

I'm a little sorry I weeded this one out, but I removed it from the system before I read it and once I read it, I thought, "Oh heck, I know several kids who would really like it" but I gave it to an awesome 3rd grade teacher at my school who thought it would make a really great read aloud next year.  It's called "Help!  I'm a prisoner in the library!" by Eth Clifford.  It's about two girls, Mary Rose and Jo Beth who's mom is having a baby and a dad who always waits until the last minute.  The girls are going with their dad to their aunt's house so she can take care of them while their mom has their new sibling but their dad runs out of gas.  And it's snowing, hard.  So dad walks to the gas station and leaves Mary Rose and Jo Beth in the car.  Jo Beth has to go to the bathroom so she and Mary Rose walk to a library they just passed.  Unfortunately, it's closing time and when the librarian locks up, she doesn't notice the two girls still in the library.  What's really great about this book is that many things happen (the power goes out, the girls hear funny noises) and Jo Beth imagines the worst (We'll be trapped here forever!  That thumping noise must be a ghost!  That wailing noise must be a banshee!).  It turns out that librarian is a kind woman who lives above the library and they come up with a very inventive idea to let people know that they need help at the library (since this was before cell phones and phone lines are down because of the storm). This would be a really fun one to use to  teach making predictions or suspense.

Our earth club is currently raising money to help elephants and one of our special education teachers is teaching a unit on social issues and is using ethical treatment of animals as her social issue.  She's using "The One and Only Ivan" by Katherine Applegate, but she suggested to raise interest in the elephant project, that I might want to read "The World's Greatest Elephant" by Ralph Hefler.  It's a picture book but has quite a bit of text that is completely worth reading because it's such a great story.  It's about a boy and an elephant that are born on the same day.  The boy's father is an animal trainer in a circus in Germany so they grow up together and develop a special bond.  Many terrible things happen to them (and I don't want to spoil it for you!) but they remain committed to each other for their entire lives.  This would a great one for teaching about social issues but also for making predictions and creating a time line.  The pictures are beautiful and the story is amazing.  Don't miss this one.  

A new one I read is called "Eden's Wish" by M. Tara Crowl.  It's about a girl named Eden who is a genie.  The story opens with Eden granting a man three wishes.  There are rules about the wishes, which she tells him about, but when she grants his wishes, she's not exactly nice about it.  It turns out, 12 year old Eden feels confined by being a genie-she has to live in a bottle, she's at the beck and call of what ever human picks her up, she can't go outside on her own.  Not that her life is really difficult, she lives in a beautiful bottle with everything a girl could ever want but when she finds a way out, she goes out into the world ready to live and experience everything, without really considering the consequences.  However, unsurprisingly, there are people who know about genies that would like to be able to use their power for themselves and Eden is actually in danger.  This is a great book to talk about trust and what you value and what's really important.  I think it would match well with another fairy tale that I read last year called "Iron Hearted Violet" by Kelly Barnhill, which also has themes of trust and wanting things to be different.

The last new one I read is called "Escape from Baxter's Barn" by Rebecca Bond.  It's about a group of animals who live in a barn.  The owner, Dewey, has fallen on hard times and the cat, who sneaks into the warm kitchen, overhears Dewey telling his brother that he is going to burn down the barn and try to collect the insurance money.  The animals hatch a plan to strike out on their own and find a new home that meets their needs.  This would be good to pair with "Charlotte's Web" by E. B. White which is also about animals banding together to help each other.  They both have themes of finding your own family and how that isn't always the one you start with.  

Thursday, April 16, 2015

This and that

I've been reading eclectically this week... I even read what passes for a grown up book this week!  Here's what's been on the list:

The Six by Mark Alpert was my favorite.  This is an action packed science fiction novel for at least middle grade and young adults.  Adam Armstrong is 17, has muscular dystrophy and is confined to a wheel chair.  At best, he has a few months to live.  His dad is a computer scientist who works for the government and has been working on an artificial intelligence project that is about to change Adam's life.  This program would allow a computer to extract Adam's memories and download them into a computer.  The memories would then be uploaded to a robot that would essentially BE Adam.  Adam's mom is vehemently against this idea because she is a conservative Christian who believes that God created life and humans should get out of the way.  5 other kids are given the same process and at the same time, the pilot project, "Sigma" has gone out of control and is trying to force a war with Russia.  There are a billion great ideas to talk about in this book, like end of life issues, how hard to work to save some one with a terminal illness, what exactly is life?  I loved this one and it would be great paired with some other great science fiction like "The House of the Scorpion" by Nancy Farmer or "A Wrinkle in Time" by Madeline L'Engle.

I also read "Miracle Cure" by Harlan Coben.  There is an author's note at the beginning that tells that this book was previously published in England and that it was written quite some time ago (1991) and so some of the innovations that were just dreams in the book have come to fruition.  It also cautions that maybe it's not as well written as some of his later works.  One thing for sure, in my opinion, is that Harlan Coben writes amazing dialogue.  I just love the conversations he puts together and this one is no different.  The story is a group of doctors who think they have discovered a cure for AIDS, a separate group trying to stop them, a reporter, a hit man, a professional basketball player, and  a sleazy sister.  The book is a real page turner and hard to put down, even if it's a bit more cartoony and less well considered than his other works.  Still a good one.

The last one is another one for middle grade kids.  It's called "The Book of Dares for Lost Friends" by Jane Kelley.  It's about two girls, Val and Lanora, who are starting middle school.  Val has a loving and supportive family and Lanora's parents are acrimoniously divorced.  The girls are nervous about starting middle school, but Lanora decides that she is going to recreate herself-new look, new friends, new activities.  Some of the choices are not so good and Val decides she has to save Lanora.  What's good about this book are the ancillary characters-Val's little brother, Drew, her new friends, The Poets, a mystical and mysterious boy named Tasman.  I just didn't really buy the part that Lanora would dump everything to go to middle school, including her values.  When you compare one like this to a book like "Goodbye Stranger" by Rebecca Stead, also about going to middle school and reinventing yourself, or maybe finding your own true person, I felt like "The Book of Dares" didn't really ring true.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Awesome new books!

I just read some amazing new books.  The first one was a sequel to one of my favorite books from a couple of years ago.  It's called "The Curious World of Calpurnia Tate" by Jacqueline Kelly.  The first one was called "The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate" and Calpurnia or Callie V as she is called by her family is a terrific character.  Callie lives with her large family in Texas in 1900.  She has 4 brothers, a mom and dad who care about her a lot (although they REALLY don't understand her) and a grandfather who really does understand her.  Callie is VERY interested in all things scientific and her mother despairs that she will ever become a lady (not if Callie has anything to say about it).  I love that Callie is so interested in science (in this one she does dissections, creates a barometer that forecasts a devastating hurricane, and becomes a veterinary assistant) and although she wants to please her mother and father, she also continues to push for opportunities that wouldn't normally be available to girls during that time period.  It would be a great compare and contrast story and great for character analysis.  

The second one I read is called  Book Scavenger" by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman.  It's about a girl who loves puzzles and has moved a lot of times (her family has set a goal of living in all 50 states and is writing a blog about it).  Emily also loves playing a game called Book Scavengers (which I was crushed to find was actually fictitious!  Rats!  I really wanted to play it!), which is an online game where you hid books and post clues on line.  People can earn points by finding the book first.  Her new town, San Francisco, starts off different right from the very start.  First, she makes a new friend almost immediately.  James lives in her building and is also a big puzzle fan, which is good because her brother has developed his own interest in music and is kind of leaving Emily behind.  Second, San Francisco is the home of the Book Scavenger founder, so Emily is really excited to be so close!  There is also an attempted murder, skulking bad guys, excellent ciphers, and a ton of literary references.  If you liked "Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library" by Chris Grabenstein, you are going to love this one.  

The last one I read is called "Max the Brave" by Ed Vere.  This one is a picture book and I'm not sure I'm really going to be able to give this one what it deserves.  I downloaded it from Netgalley and I hope this isn't the way it's supposed to be, because the way it was, was a pain.  First of all, the orientation was a bit wonky.  When I had my iPad in landscape, the book formatted to portrait.  When I turned the iPad, the book turned too.  So I basically had to read it sideways.  But ok, it's free.  The second thing though was that it felt like the pages were out of order.  On one of my pages, Max the cat is saying yuck and looking behind him as he runs away.  But it there isn't anything on the page before it to give you any indication of what might be yucky.  Anyway, it's a cute little story with simple pictures and apparently Max is trying to catch a mouse but he doesn't know what a mouse looks like, so he keeps asking.  It's a bit like P. D. Eastman's "Are you my mother?".  I will look for it in a real book rather than trying to read it online.  

Thursday, April 2, 2015

MORE new stuff?

Gees... more new stuff?  Who writes these books?  How can anyone possibly keep up?  Well, I'm here to help!

Do you have to teach your students about text features?  Well, I found a book today that your boys (and probably some of the girls) will be falling over themselves to get a look at.  It's called "Super Basketball Infographics" by Jeff Savage.  Each two page spread has a different kind of graphical element with facts about basketball.  The graphs are visually interesting (using size to relate proportion) as well as being vibrantly colorful but the information was also very compelling.  And the variety of graphical presentation was staggering!  This is going to be a great addition to your classroom library (although it will probably disappear pretty fast.  Better buy two!).

The second one I read is by Louis Sachar, (famous as the writer of "Holes" and "The Wayside School" series).  This one is science fiction and it has a really interesting premise.  A (pretty crazy) scientist has invented (or maybe genetically modified) a micro organism to give off energy.  It splits crazy fast but the scientist is quite sure that when exposed to oxygen, it will die.  Although the first batch was quite expensive to make, the rest will be incredibly inexpensive.  Free energy!  What a deal.  Until it turns out that the micro organism mutates.  The kids in the story seem to be innocent bystanders and there is some happily misleading foreshadowing but I didn't really love this one.  I think you could have some very interesting conversations about energy consumption and responsibility but I never really connected to the characters.  

The last one is a super fun mystery/spy thriller.  Hale is 12 and his family lives in compound of a big spy network.  The children of the spies are also being trained to be spies so the kids are taking classes in things like Disguises, Tactical support, and Home Intelligence.  Hale always feels like a loser because he is overweight and struggling to pass the Junior Agent field test.  His younger sister, Kennedy, thinks she can already pass the test (and probably can) so that makes it even worse.  One day, his parents leave for a mission and don't come back.  Hale suspects that they are being held by a competing spy agency called the League, so he goes undercover to try to figure it out.  This book is exciting and funny.  I thought the characters were interesting (although the adults are a bit more ridiculous than I prefer, but I think the kids will like it) and well developed.  This would be a great one to pair with a more serious spy book like "Stormbreaker" by Anthony Horowitz.