Sunday, September 27, 2015

How did I miss these?

I've been doing some reading on things that I've been seeing on some lists but haven't had a chance to read and wow, now that I've read them, I'm a little sorry I waited so long, but oh well, better late than never.

The first one I actually read this summer and somehow forgot to blog about it.  It's called Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan.  It's kind of a genre defying book because it starts off as a fairy tale and then has three parts of what appear to be unrelated historical fiction and then finishes as both a fairy tale and modern fiction.  It sounds a bit confusing but I assure, the story is anything but.  It starts with a boy named Otto who is wandering around in a forest and gets lost.  He is approached by three sisters who have quite a fantastic story.  They leave him back at home, a bit confused, but with a harmonica to remind him of his quest.  Then we go to Freidrich in Germany in the late 1930s.  Then to Ivy in California in 1941 and finally to Mike in Pennsylvania.  I don't want to tell you too much more about the plot because it's so much fun to have it revealed.  I will tell you that I think Pam Munoz Ryan is a genius and this story proves it.

The second one is also historical fiction and is also set in World War 2.  It's called "The War that Saved My Life" by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley.  It's about Ada who lives with her mom and her brother Jamie in a one room apartment in London.  Life is pretty limited for Ada because her mom doesn't want her to ever leave the house because Ada has a deformed foot.  When kids are evacuated from London because of the fear of bombing, Ada's mom sends Jamie, but not Ada.  But Ada runs away anyway.  They end up with a single lady who says pretty plainly that she doesn't want them.  It turns out the lady is suffering from a big loss and is quite depressed.  She takes the kids anyway and it over time, it becomes clear that they are saving each other.  Ada is a great character with a lot of strength of character and kids are going to find it easy to connect with her.  This one might be good to connect with "One Crazy Summer" by Rita Garcia Williams (another mom who sent her kids away) or "Echo" by Pam Munoz Ryan (World War 2 connections), or "Lost in the Sun" by Lisa Graff (dealing with anger issues). 

The last one I really wanted to read in the spring last year when the book fair came through but I was busy and just didn't get a chance so this year, it was one of the first ones I scooped up.  It's called "The Mark of the Thief" by Jennifer Neilsen.  A bit of a disclaimer, first, I'm a BIG fan of Jennifer Neilsen's - I loved "The False Prince" and the other books in that series and I also loved "A Night Divided" so I wasn't surprised that I loved this one too.  It's about Nic, a slave boy who is working in the mines near Ancient Rome.  Unsurprisingly, he hates the work, he hates his owner and the only reason he's sticking around is to protect his sister.  One day, a man comes to the mines and asks for someone to go down into a very small chamber and retrieve an amulet.  Naturally, Nic is the one who has to go.  The amulet is guarded by a griffin, which attacks Nic.  Nic somehow only comes away with a scratch but suddenly seems to have magical powers.  He is approached by a senator from Rome and is told varying stories about who is trying to worm their way into power in Rome and how they plan to do it.  Each plan involved treachery and each one has someway to use Nic and get his sister back.  Each one also seems to have some gaping hole that Nic can see through.  So lots of political intrigue, magic, action... it's a terrific book.  

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Scholastic Book fair

Oh it's that time of year again and we are hosting the Scholastic Book Fair this week.  I found a couple of books there that I really liked and I can't wait to share them with the kids.

The first one is a picture book.  It's called "I Wish You More" by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and illustrated by Tom Litchenheld.  It's a very pretty picture book about wishing positive intent for someone else.  It's full of little truisms like "I wish you more will than hill." or "I wish you more Woo Hoo! than Whoa!".  What's really great about this one is that you can read this one a million times for lots of different reasons.  One teacher I showed it to wanted to give it as a gift to her pregnant daughter.  One wanted to give it to her partner on their five year anniversary.  One kindergarten teacher looked at it and said it would be great for teaching beginning sounds and another teacher thought it would make a great mentor text for writing.  See what I mean?  Everybody I've shown it to loves it.  You will too.
The second one is a graphic novel and they only have it in a paperback copy at my book fair, but I'm going to need to get in hardback for my library, because this one is going to get checked out A LOT.  It's called "Sunny side up" by Jennifer Holm and  Matthew Holm.  They are a brother and sister team that have written a series of graphic novels called Babymouse and Squish.  The kids LOVE those and this new one, while more serious, they are also going to love.  In fact, I hauled it out at my fourth grade book club on Friday and just flipped through the pages so the kids could see it and they started moaning "Please.... must read...."  Music to my ears!  The pictures are gorgeous and the story is awesome.  Sunny is 11 in 1976 and is going to spend the summer with her grandpa in a retirement community.  She had big plans to spend her summer with her best friend at the shore, but because of a cataclysmic event (which is alluded to through the book but finally told almost at the end) she ends up with grandpa.  Grandpa's idea of big fun is different from hers and kids are in short supply in the 55 and older community where he lives.  It's a great story and did I mention how awesome the art work is?  Full color and very eye catching.  Don't miss this one.  

Here's a super short book trailer about it. 

And here's an interview with Jennifer Holm and the 2015 National Book Festival.  

The last one is historical fiction and it's another one I'm going to need to get in hardcover because I can already tell it's going to get a lot of play.  It's called "A Night Divided" by Jennifer Neilsen.  Jennifer Neilsen wrote one of my favorite series-a fairy tale series- that started with "The False Prince".  Her books move at a super fast pace so they are extremely hard to put down.  She also manages to write about some of the most interesting characters you'd ever want to meet.  In this case, she's telling the story of Gerta who lives in Berlin in 1961.  She has two older brothers and a mom and dad who love her.  Her parents and older brothers lived through World War 2 (she was a post war baby) and are trying to make a life in eastern Berlin.  Her dad believes that the Russians are not taking the country in the right direction and is concerned enough that he wants to go to the west.  Mom wants to stay (she has a good job and her mom lives out in the countryside).  Dad decides that he and one of the older brothers will go to the west and see if they can find a place to live and jobs and be back in a day or two to get everyone else.  Except that overnight, the Russians build the Berlin wall.  This book shows what it must have been like living near the wall and some of the things that happened.  I think the kids are going to love it.  

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Teen struggles September 2015

There are some amazing new books out there for teens who are struggling, which is one of my favorite genres!   Here are three really great ones to look for.

The first one is called "Salt to the Sea" by Ruta Septys.  She has already written a couple of terrific pieces of historical fiction, one called "Between Shades of Gray", which is about a Lithuanian family trying to survive during the Russian occupation.  The second is called "Out of the Easy" which is set in New Orleans in the 1950s.  I was really lucky to get to hear her speak at a reading convention and was completely impressed with her research skills and the way she tells a story.  This book is an excellent example of her storytelling prowess.  It's told from the perspective of four different people, which is a bit confusing at first.  One is a German sailor, one is German art restorer, one is a Lithuanian nurse, and one is a young Polish girl.  Each of them have a story to tell and each of them has suffered terrible losses.  The sailor mainly tells his story in letters home to his girlfriend.  The art restorer is hiding a secret that could destroy them all.  The Polish girl believes she's going to die soon and the Lithuanian nurse wants to help people.  It's suspenseful and emotional and will make a great addition to a unit on World War 2 but it would also be amazing to read it and think about the refugees today that are lining up on the shores of Europe, desperate to escape the war in their own countries.

And here's a little video about Ruta Septys talking about the real story behind "Shades of Gray" which tiptoes into "Salt to the Sea".  

The second one is a modern story called "The Thing About Jellyfish" by Ali Benjamin.  This is her first novel and she has such a strong and interesting voice I can't wait to read her next book.  This one is a terrific beginning.  "The Thing about Jellyfish" is about a girl named Suzy.  She's starting middle school and is struggling to find her place in the world.  She's had some pretty difficult times.  Her mom and dad divorced, her big brother moved out (and into an apartment with his boyfriend), and she and her best friend have a big falling out before summer vacation.  On top of that, the best friend dies in a swimming accident (before the book starts).  Suzy's first plan is to stop talking.  The second plan is to figure out how her friend (who has been a strong swimmer the entire time they were friends) could have drowned.  She comes up with a hypothesis and then decides to get some expert advice in Australia.  This one has some big themes of dealing with loss, family structure, friendship as well as the scientific process.  It would be great connected to a book like "Counting by 7s" by Holly Goldberg Sloan. 

The last one is also modern fiction but because of it's rural setting, has a bit of an old fashioned feel.  It's called "Orbiting Jupiter" by Gary Schmidt.  It's about a family, mom, dad and son Jack that are welcoming a foster son.  Joseph has had a hard time.  He tried to kill a teacher and at 14, he's a dad and is desperate to connect to his daughter.  The story comes out a little at a time and it is so very hard to put down.  It's really hard not to completely fall in love with all the characters in this story (except maybe for Joseph's real dad) and to wish that they were a part of your own community.  It has big themes of love and redemption and doing the right thing.  I loved this one.  

Here's a video with a conversation with the author about the book. 

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Super fun new reads for middle grades September 2015

Big news!  I got picked to be on the CYBILS panel to judge middle grade fiction!
So excited and I'm getting to work with some awesome other bloggers!  I can't wait to get started.  In the meantime, I'm trying to polish off my Netgalley list and wow, did I find some good ones.

My new favorite book is called "The Girl Who Could Not Dream" by Sarah Beth Durst.  It starts with a seminal event, Sophie is 6 and she decides to take a dream and dream it herself.  She dreams a monster (6 tentacles, 4 scaly claws, black iridescent fur, 3 rows of razor sharp teeth) but the monster turns out to be friendly and smart and hilarious.  The story flashes forward to when Sophie is 12.  You then find out that her parents have a book store and they also distill and sell dreams.  Sophie does not dream and really, really wants to.  Monster has become her friend and protector but a complete secret from everyone except her mom and dad, which limits her opportunities to have other friends.  One day Sophie goes down into the store with Monster (she's not supposed to go there during business hours for safety reasons) and runs into a customer, Mr. Nightmare, who gives her the creeps.  He turns out to be an evil villain and Sophie has to go on a rescue mission.  The dream creatures in this book are both hilarious and terrifying.  If you like fantasy fiction, you are going to love this one.  It was awesome.

The next one is non fiction and I think kids are going to love this one.  It's called "Be A Survivor" by Chris Oxlade.  It's filled with tips about how to survive if you are faced with an emergency situation.  It has ways to make shelter and fire, ways to get water if you didn't bring enough, how to signal for help.  The graphics are bright and colorful and easy to understand.  I used to love stuff like this and I know my students will too.  I'd better make sure I order several of these.  

The last one is also non fiction.  It's a biography of Lewis Michaux called "The Book Itch".  Lewis Michaux started a book store in Harlem called "The African Memorial Bookstore".  Although Mr. Michaux did not have many opportunities for advanced schooling, he believed mightily in the power of the word and the power of reading.  He started the book store on a cart and eventually moved into a building where he attracted large numbers of people, including famous Civil Rights leaders like Malcolm X.  The pictures are strong and warm and there is lots of Michaux's wisdom throughout the book.  I liked this one a lot.  

Monday, September 14, 2015

New non fiction - September 2015

Boy are there some terrific new non fiction titles out there!  Let me tell you about a couple of them.

The first one is called "The Great Monkey Rescue" by Sandra Markle.  It's about golden lion tamarins.  The book starts with some background information about the tamarins and then moves into how scientists are trying to reintroduce the tamarins back into the wild.  There are some gorgeous, engaging photographs that are sure to attract readers.  There are also some great text features that will make it a good non-fiction mentor text.

The second one is also about animals and it's called "8: An Animal alphabet book".  Each page (and sometimes a full page spread) is one letter.  There are eight of one animal (like ants for A) but then there are also other animals that also start with the letter (which, happily, are listed at the bottom of the page, if like me you are thinking to yourself "What is a seagull doing on the A page?  Oooohhh, it's an albatross."). There is also a page in the back with a list of all the animals and a single fact about  each one.  I liked the concept a lot and I think kids will have a really good time with it naming all the animals.  This is what the cover looks like. 

And here's an example of what the pages look like.  

This last one I read as an advanced readers copy and it won't be released until January or February of 2016 but it is certainly worth looking for.  It's called "Radioactive" by Winifred Conkling.  It's all about the Curie family and their discoveries of radiation.  It has kind of a funny time line... it starts off with Irene Curie and her husband Frederic Joliot presenting their findings to the Solvay Conference in Brussels.  It tells a bit about their science and how they made their discoveries and then it goes back to Marie Curie and her husband and THEIR science and how they eventually had this baby named Irene.  The science was very interesting and it has lots of graphical elements to help understanding some of the science.  The story of the Curies' lives is rich and detailed.  The book is over 200 pages long though, so this is definitely a book for bigger kids.  

Monday, September 7, 2015

New (and old) middle grade fiction August 2015

I've been reading some middle grade fiction in my after school hours this week.  I found a couple of terrific new ones and an old that I missed when it came out.

The one I missed is called "Tesla's Attic" by Neil Shusterman and Eric Elfman.  This is the most fun science fiction I've read in quite some time.  It's about a boy named Nick who's had a big traumatic loss and so his family has moved across country.  He didn't want to move but he's putting on a brave game face for his dad and his little brother.  They are moving into an elderly relative's house (she died before the story starts and that's not the big loss) and so they have a bit of cleaning up and cleaning out to do.  Nick claims the attic as his space and wow, is there a lot of junk in the attic.  Nick decides to have a garage sale to clean things out and make a little extra money and that's when the weird stuff starts.  Nick finds a lamp and when he turns it on, people seem to be drawn to the garage sale.  Once there, the people feel compelled to buy things and pay the most ridiculously large amounts of money the things.  Once people buy the things, they find that the items don't work the way you might expect.  This book was funny, suspenseful, and had interesting characters that I liked a lot.  If you haven't read this one yet, look for it, because it was awesome!  Here's a book trailer for it.

The second one is a new one and this one is called "The Last in a Long Line of Rebels" by Lisa Lewis Tyre.  This one is about a girl named Louise who lives in a small town in Tennessee where her family has lived for generations.  Her dad runs a junk yard and they are struggling a bit financially.  Some of the leaders of the town seem to want to take their house and Louise is upset at the thought of moving.  She and her friends uncover a mystery as to why people believe this house is worth more than it might seem.  In addition, there is a very nice little subplot about racism and some lovely little journal entries from Louise's great grandmother, during the Civil War.  I liked the characters in this one and the mystery was just great.  A nice fresh voice...

The last one I read is called "The Sign of the Cat" by Lynne Jonell.  I heard about this one from a webinar the Junior Library Guild and they had it at my local library.  I was surprised to see that I had already read books by Lynne Jonell... she wrote a really funny one called "Emmy and the Incredible Shrinking Rat" which I read back when I was a classroom teacher and really enjoyed.  So I was not shocked that this one is terrific and funny and mysterious all rolled into one.  Duncan is a boy growing up on an island called Dulle in a kingdom of Arvidia.  His mother is a music teacher and his dad died some time back.  He is often left to his own devices and he has learned to speak Cat.  His mother has some fairly odd requests for him.  He's always supposed to wear his cap, he's never to draw attention to himself by getting good grades or winning at anything and most importantly, he's to stay away from the docks.  He is quite obedient, but Duncan is finding that he'd really like to be noticed and when he gets a really great score on the test to get into the Academy, he and his mother have a confrontation that set a big change into motion.  I loved this story that has themes of treachery and loyalty, misunderstandings and moments of clarity and I especially love the cats in this book.  Look for this one, RIGHT AWAY.