Friday, December 30, 2016

Winter break

Hoo boy, did it feel like a long slog to get to winter break.  In their wisdom, our district decided our kids should go to school until December 22 and we should have December 23 as a teacher workday.  It's so much fun to have special holiday events, concerts, tree lightings, parties, but wow, the level of excitement and anticipation (which has been building since OCTOBER) was pretty intense.  I was relieved to see at a local retail outlet that we have Valentine's day to look forward to, so thank goodness we have something to keep the crazy level high.

But so now, we are back home after a wonderful visit with family and we have some time to relax and finish up projects and READ.  YAY!!!  I told the kids that my goal was to read a book a day all winter break, and frankly, I'm failing at that so far, but I'm hoping to catch up a bit now.  I did get to read a couple of brand new picture books on the plane and they are just terrific.  The first one is called "There, there" by Tim Beiser.  It's about a bear and a hare who are stuck in their den because it's raining.  The hare is not having his best day, he's quite unhappy about the rain and all the things he's missing because it's raining.  The bear, on the other hand, is having a fine time, making muffins and trying to comfort the hare.  However, the whining gets to be too much, so the bear takes the hare outside to give him a lesson on appreciating what they have.  It has a really nice message of optimism.  The pictures are very cute.  There's a nice rhyming structure and a very funny ending.  I think this one will be a big hit.

The second one is called "The Fog" by Kyo Maclear.  I really like Kyo's work, because even when she's writing books for little kids (or maybe especially when she's writing for little kids), the stories always feel really big, like there's a bigger message that she knows the kids are going to understand, even if it's not obvious.  "The Fog" is a book like that.  It's about a little yellow bird who lives in an icy land.  The bird notices things, including the people who come to visit.  One day, a warm fog moves in, and land changes.  People don't come to visit any more and the other birds don't mind, in fact, they barely seem to notice.  The bird finds a human friend and they try to find others who notice the fog too, and there are others, even though they might be far away or really different.  As the girl and the bird connect with others, the fog begins to lift and they begin to see things more clearly again.  The metaphorical message is lovely.  The text is spare and simple, but big.  The pictures are lovely and simple, but inviting.  I really liked this one a lot.  If you'd like to see more of Kyo's remarkable work, here's a link to her blog

The last one is actually a picture book, but it's really a graphic novel.  It's not my favorite format, frankly.  I find the pictures move too fast and I like creating the mental images in my head, but Stan Lee's series "The Zodiac Legacy" is so compelling, I'm willing to overlook the whole graphic novel distaste I hold.  In case you don't know, Stan Lee came up with this idea about a group of young people who have special powers based on the Chinese zodiac.  Each of the characters has a super power, like Roxanne who is a Rooster and can use her voice in some pretty amazing ways, or Liam, who is a Ram, and is invulnerable.  Of course there are some really great villains who also have Chinese zodiac super powers.  Mr. Lee wrote two books that my students LOVED but I always sort of assumed these would end up as graphic novels and so when one showed up in my Netgalley shelf, I was more than happy to read it.  This one is the second one in the graphic novel series (I missed one?!!  Gahhhh!!!) and it's called "The Zodiac Legacy 2 Power Lines".  It has the same characters from the text based book but it's really great to see how artists imagined them as well as get some visuals on how they might solve problems.  The story starts with the team on a high speed train from Paris to London and the train is out of control.  The team has a new addition, one of the bad guys has asked to join the team and although he's explained that he wants to work for good, not evil, the rest of the good guys are having a hard time trusting him.  So even though he's flying a helicopter right behind the train, they are reluctant to ask him for help.  These books are very fast paced, very exciting, and having a terrific blend of action and interpersonal drama.  The graphic novel is going to be a HUGE hit at my school.  Here's a link to the Disney webpage about the books.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Something new!

I found some great new titles on Netgalley this week.  This first one was a big surprise to me.  It's the second in a series by author Gene Swallow about a girl named Elspeth who is living between two worlds-the real world where she is a middle schooler adopted by two relentlessly boring people who love her very much and the other is a nursery rhyme world, where she is the daughter of Jack and Jill (the fetch a pail of water duo).  The nursery rhyme world, New Winkieland, is full of funny characters as well as danger-the evil Mary, Mary has taken Elspeth's best friend as a hostage and now it seems the only way to get Farrah back is to make a deal with the evil Krool, who nearly killed Elspeth in her last visit to New Winkieland.  This one is full of text references to lots of different nursery rhymes (I had to stop and do a little research half way through the book to find out about one of the nursery rhyme references and was fascinated to find that nursery rhymes actually have political references) as well as new versions of some of the old rhymes.  I really liked this story and I think the kids will too-given their fascination for stories like the Sisters Grimm by Michael Buckley and Rick Riordan's series based on different myths.  The first one (which I can't WAIT to look for now) is called "Blue in the Face: A Tale of Risk, Rhyme, and Rebellion" and the one I read (which had enough background information included in the book so I could totally figure it out) is called "Long Live the Queen: Magnificent Tales of Misadventure" by Gene Swallow.

This second one is realistic fiction and it has such a marvelous main character.  It's called "The Charming Life of Izzy Malone" by by Jenny Lundquist.  It's about Izzy (NOT Isabella) who is adapting to life in middle school.  Her former friend, Violet isn't speaking to her and Izzy is trying to get on to a paddling team with the "in crowd".  The "in crowd" isn't having it.  She also has to contend with a perfect older sister (who, in addition to being perfectly kind and well behaved, is also a musical prodigy), her grandmother and her great aunt (who is her grandmother's twin), and her mother is running to be the mayor of her small town.  It's a complicated plot but Izzy is so wonderfully unique and interesting, I couldn't wait to see what happened.  There's a bit of a mystery and a small amount of (middle school) romance.  I thought this one was terrific. 

The last one is a picture book.  It's called "When We Were Alone" by David Alexander Robertson.  It's about a little girl talking with her grandmother.  The story is posed in a question and answer format.  The girl asks about her grandmother's clothes, her hair, even how she spends her time.  The answers all stem back to a time when her grandmother was separated from her family (of Native People) and forced to assimilate into white society.  I think this would be a nice story book to start a conversation about Native people with kids who have no background information on this kind of thing.  The story isn't scary or painful to read but it gives you a really clear idea of how much the Native people lost during this time.  The pictures are terrific too-very modern and blocky but with so much emotion.  I liked this one a lot.  It would be great with a unit on Native Americans or a unit on social issues.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Books about wars

This week I seem to have fallen into a patch of books about wars.    Here are some that I thought were good.

The first one is a memoir or possibly a biography about a girl named Krystyna who grew up in Poland in the 1930s.  Her dad was the chief justice of an appellate court and her mother had degrees in chemistry and philosophy.  At first, they were fearful of the Germans but things really went badly when the Russians invaded.  Her father was persecuted and ran away and Krysia and her mother and brother were deported to Kazakhstan where they lived for a while and then went to Persia (which is now Iran), eventually emigrating to Zambia.  It would be good to connect this one to Ruta Septys' books-either "Between Shades of Gray" or "Salt to the Sea" which are also about people who were unwillingly relocated during World War 2.

The second one I read is a picture book called "Flowers for Sarajevo" by John McCutcheon.  It's told from the viewpoint of a little boy who's dad sells flowers in the market.  His dad gives flowers to different people during the day, including the grumpy spice merchant, Goran.  The boy's father leaves for the war and the boy carries on selling flowers.  One day, something terrible happens.  A bomb falls on the bakery where people were waiting in line to buy bread.  Twenty two people are killed and going back to the market is hard.  But a cellist comes and plays beautiful music and it seems to help people.  The art work in this book is gorgeous-the pictures are modern and friendly, focusing on the people in the pictures.  Kristy Caldwell did a great job matching the art work to the text.  There are some historical notes at the end as well as a song.  I think this book would be a great addition to any library.  

The last one is a non fiction book called "See American History World War II" by James Robertson and  Mort Kunstler.  It gives a well-organized overview of World War 2 with lots of what appear to be period art works.  The art work gives this book a lot of life and I think that's actually what  I liked best about it.  Mort Kunstler is an historical artist and I really liked the retro feel of it. link to his website.   The text has short chapters about different parts of the war and does a good job of giving a thorough overview of key battles (and not just in Europe) as well as some of the keys to the ending of the war.  This would be a great book for an elementary library where kids are just starting to learn about world wide conflicts.  

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Now for some real action

This week I got to dip back into the Netgalley pool.  There have been some titles languishing, unread, there for many weeks so it was great to be able to read some of these new ones.

The first one is a magical fantasy book.  It's called "The Evil Wizard Smallbone" by Delia Sherman.  It's about a boy named Nick who has been living with an abusive uncle, Gabe, and his rotten cousin, Jerry.  Nick's mom died sometime before and Nick has gotten tired of the abuse from both of them.  One day, after a violent altercation with his uncle, Nick runs away.  There is a terrible storm and he ends up at the home of the Evil Wizard Smallbone.   The wizard decides that Nick would be a good apprentice (although at first, Nick is just looking for a way out), but the wizard has other ideas.  There is another even more evil wizard about, and the Evil Wizard Smallbone is looking for a way to defeat him.  This one is funny (Smallbone has a gift for transfiguration and as consequences, he turns his apprentices into other things, with some very surprising results) as well as mysterious and just a little bit scary.  The characters in it are very likable although they are a bit prickly at first.  I liked this one lot and I think the kids will like this one too.

The second book is from a series that I started quite some time ago.  In fact, I didn't recognize the title, but I did recognize the story once I started reading, and it was good enough that I kept reading, which is pretty unusual for me.  The first one in the series is called "Ennara and the Fallen Druid" by Angela Shelley.  This first one introduces Ennara, who comes from a magical family and was marked as an infant as having special magical powers.  She's been getting magic lessons from her aunt but the evil shapeshifters seem to be gaining power, making bolder moves until Ennara is forced to confront the big evil.  She is surrounded by friends who also have magical powers as well as mentors and teachers.  It's quite well written and very fast paced-lots of action and lots of plot twists with vivid descriptions.  I liked this one a lot.  I also got to read the second one in the series, which is called "Ennara and the Book of Shadows".  Ennara has come back home and is enrolled in magic school, but some of the professors and other kids don't really like her and are trying to thwart her.  However, the evil shapeshifters make a reappearance and it's up to her and her friends to save the world.  This one was equally exciting and compelling to read.  This one starts to give Ennara some romantic connections, which I didn't care for, but teenagers seem to like the sighing and the smoldering gazes... 
This one also started to remind me a lot of Harry Potter-the group of kids, each with different magical talents, who come together to face a big evil, but one of them is more powerful and holds the group together.  I think middle schoolers will like this series a lot, but it's probably too big for the elementary crowd.   Here's the book trailer.

The last one is out of my usual element-It's called "Iron Man- The Gauntlet" by Eion Colfer.  I'm not exactly sure where this comes in the Iron Man story, I haven't seen the movies or read the comic books or anything else about Iron Man but this is a very exciting story.  It starts with a bit of background information about Tony Stark, the main character, who is a genius and is motivated to do good in the world because his father owned a company that developed weapons that killed lots of people.  Tony has developed a suit that is Iron Man and is so technologically advanced that you can operate with your mind and it has millions of self protection features, including an artificial intelligence system.  It turns out there are some chinks in the armor and Tony is put in some very compromised situations and yet manages to battle out with his superior intellect.  It's a very fun and exciting story to read.  I struggled a bit with it because there are several incarnations of the suit and the artificial intelligence interface in each one is a different name (and sometimes multiple different names, as the AI can change as it evolves).  I think the kids will love this one.  

Monday, September 26, 2016

Newbery possibilities?

I belong to a group on Goodreads called Mock Newbery and they try to choose books that they think will be Newbery contenders. They aren't always right about who wins, but they always have great new book suggestions.

For September, they are reading "Ghost" by Jason Reynolds.  I read his book last year called "The Boy in the Black Suit" and liked it a lot too.  This one has that same fresh voice.   It's about 12 year Castle who is having a hard time.  His mom works a lot AND is trying to go to school so she can get a better job.  They live in a small apartment in a bad neighborhood.  Castle has trouble in school because he gets really angry and either strikes out or runs away.  He's very good at running.  One day when he's hanging out, he comes across a running team with a coach.  He hears some of the kids trash talking so he goes to prove that they aren't all that.  He runs as well as one of them and earns himself a spot on the team.  Practice is a lot harder than he thought it would be, but he really wants to do this.  He makes some stupendously bad choices, but keeps trying.  I really liked Castle's voice and his persistence.  I think kids will identify with him as someone they know.  It might not be a Newbery winner, but it's going to be one of those books that gets checked out A LOT.

Another one that keeps coming up on people's lists for Newbery winners is "Maybe a Fox" by Kathy Appelt.  It's about a girl named Jules who loves, loves, loves her big sister Sylvie.  Sylvie likes to run and takes care of Jules, because their mom died some time back.  At the same time, a litter of fox kits are born and the mother believes one of her babies is born to do something special.  Then Sylvie disappears.  This is a sad book, full of beautiful writing, emotion, and pain.  It would be a great one to help kids who are dealing with a loss but it will also appeal to those kids who like reading sad things. There is also a terrific mystical element with the fox that gives a spiritual lift as well as a few plot twists.  This is one not to miss.  

Here's a book trailer about Maybe a Fox.  

The last one on this list today is "Wolf Hollow" by Lauren Wolk.  Annabelle lives in a rural community in Pennsylvania in the 1930s.  A new girl moves into their community and things start changing fast.  The new girl, Betty is manipulative and mean and suddenly Annabelle is in the middle of a really big problem without a clear solution.  This is a terrific mystery with excellent plot twists.  The characters are interesting and so well written that they practically leap off the page.  The historical aspects of the book add an interesting dimension, but it could easily be set today (and it might be really interesting to do some compare and contrast with that). This one has great themes of loyalty and friendship and taking care of your friends, as well as post traumatic stress syndrome and taking action.  I think I liked this one the best of these three.  

Monday, August 29, 2016

Previews of coming attractions!

I've had time to dig around in my Netgalley folder and there are some great books you should be on the look out for!

The first one is a sequel to one I really liked last year.  It's a combination of dystopian future and a Robin Hood story.  The first one, by Kekla Magoon was called "The Shadows of Sherwood".  The second one is called "The Rebellion of Thieves" and it was just as terrific as the first one.  In the first one, Robyn is kind of a loner, she likes to build things out of recycled junk she steals from junk yards.  One night when she's out looking for new parts, her parents disappear.  Not like aliens took them, but this looks like there was a big struggle and Robyn fears for their safety.  Robyn runs away and finds a group of friends who help take care of each other.  It turns out there has been a change in leadership in her community and not really for the better.  In this second book, Robyn has established herself and a leader and a rallying point-when she goes out and steals things, she leaves notes to let everyone know who is doing the stealing.  Most often, she's stealing food and supplies, which she gives to the less fortunate people of her community, so she's quite a hero to them and less so to the powers that be.  There is a contest and Robyn thinks she might be able to use entering the contest as a way to rescue her mom.  This book is really exciting and it's a lot of fun to make the connections to the traditional Robin Hood story.  Robyn is a terrific character-strong and resilient.  I like her a lot.

The second one is a super fun combination of graphic novel and regular text.  It's called "Isabella for Real" and it's by Margie Palatini.  It's about Isabella, who has a big, loud, multigenerational Italian family that lives close by her and are very involved in her life.  Isabella has an aunt, Kiki, who was an actress in a successful soap opera, but has been cancelled.  However, the character was so beloved, that she still has thousands of fans who know her as her character, The Contessa.   Isabella gets accepted to a prestigious local private school and the students somehow believe that the Contessa is Isabella's mother.  She tries to correct them, but they are so excited, eventually she just starts agreeing with them.  About the same time, her cousin Vincent, starts taking video of the family and posting them on Youtube, where they become an internet sensation.  Isabella realizes that eventually her friends are going to figure out that she's been lying to them and goes to great lengths to try to stop her friends from figuring it out.  What's great about this are the panels of graphic illustrations.  It adds a really fun element to the story.  The characters are also terrific-so funny and it's easy to hear their strong New Jersey Italian accents.  The only thing that might slow kids down on this one is the way it bounces around in time.  I thought it was terrific and I think the kids are going to like it a lot too.  

The last one is a picture book biography of Malala Yousafazi called "Malala: Activist for Girls' Education" by Raphaele Frier.  In case you don't know the story of Malala, she grew up in Pakistan, where her parents encouraged her to get a good education, in spite of the Taliban and their desire to keep women ignorant.  Malala spoke out often and loudly until a Taliban member shot her three times and she was taken to England for medical treatment.  She was the youngest person to receive the Nobel Peace Prize and continues to speak out about the need for education of girls and women.  It's a great story and this one has some amazing art work.  I also really liked the notes in the back of the book that had information about people that Malala admired and modeled her own work after as well as some of the projects that Malala continues to work on.  This one would be great paired up with another picture book biography that came out last year called "The Right to Learn" by Rebecca Langston-George and it will make a great addition to any library.  

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Books about September 11

We've all been figuring out how to talk to our smallest students about September 11.  For the past 15, as adults, we've all been trying to process what this event meant to our country and although there have been a few things to talk with little kids about what happened, most of it is so big and so scary, that it didn't seem like a good idea.  Thankfully, some amazing authors and illustrators have been able to create some stories that introduce a conversation about what happened in way that is emotional without being overwhelming.

The first one is called "Seven and a Half Tons of Steel" by Janet Nolan.  It's about a piece of the Twin Towers that was removed from the crash site and used as part of a new Navy ship.  This one JUST came out last week (August 1st!) and one really great thing about it is how hopeful it feels.  A terrible, scary thing happened, but people could take that wreckage and turn it into something strong and powerful.  The other thing that's really great about this one is the art work.  I read this one as an electronic advanced readers copy and usually that means the art work is a bit jumbled or small, but this one.  Holy Cow.  The art work GLOWED, the pictures practically leapt off  my kindle.  I think this one is going to be a great one for elementary schools because of the simple text but bigger kids will really appreciate the amazing art work. 

Another new one, that is also a picture book is called "Saved By the Boats" by Julie Gassman.  I wrote about it in a blog post here.  It also had amazing art work, but in a really different way.  The art work in "Saved By the Boats" is really muted with a limited palette but wow, what an amazing emotional impact.  I loved this one too. 

Of course it's not enough to just have picture books, there are bigger kids who don't have first hand knowledge the events of September 11.  Luckily, there are some good new chapter books about September 11 too.  I already reviewed one that I liked a lot on this blog, called "Towers Falling" by Jewel Parker Rhodes.  (Here's a link to that one if you want to read it).  There's a even newer one that's getting a lot of buzz called "Nine, Ten" by Nora Raleigh Baskin.  It's told from the perspective of four different kids from really different backgrounds in different parts of the US on September 10, 2001.  Each one of them are dealing with different kinds of social issues-moving, divorce, death of a parent, bullying.  Each of them also has part of their story that takes them very close to the events of September 11.  It's not an easy book to read.  It gets a bit confusing switching between all the characters, but it's worth a bit of persistence to have the opportunity to talk about all these different points of view on an event like September 11.  This one would be a good read aloud for middle grade and middle school kids.  


Monday, August 8, 2016

More new stuff

I've been having a good time branching out from all the picture books I've been reading and Netgalley has been very obliging to have a terrific array of books to choose from!  Here are some of the latest and greatest....

The first one is a YA book called "Rivers of Shadow" by Leo Hunt.  It's the second in a series about a boy named Luke Manchett who is a necromancer.  I didn't read the first one, but the author left enough of a trail through this one to be sure that newbies like me could totally figure it out.  The story starts with Luke trying to wallow his way through high school.  It becomes apparent from the get-go, that things are different for Luke this year.  Last year he was a jock with lots of friends and this year, he has a freaky girlfriend, a dead father, and everyone seems to think he's toxic.  It turns out (in the book before) that Luke found out that his dad was a necromancer and passed on this great skill to his son.  Luke wasn't particularly interested and isn't terribly fond of the man it turns out his dad was, but he gets dragged into the fray.  In this story, a new girl shows up at school and turns things upside down.  Luke ends up on an epic quest.  It was super exciting and really scary.  There's a lot of funny dialogue and Luke is very likable.  I found myself comparing it to Lish McBride's series that started with "Hold Me Closer Necromancer", which I also really liked.  If you like scary books, this is a great one to read.

Also in Netgalley this time around was a non-fiction book for cooks called "Eight Flavors" by Sarah Lohman.  It's all about the history of some of the big flavors we use all the time in cooking today but really weren't that common until the last 100 years, like pepper and vanilla.  Each chapter spotlights one flavor, telling about the history of this flavor, how it's produced, how people used it in the past and how people use it today.  Each chapter also includes some recipes (all of which looked great).  I thought this book was terrific.  It was well researched and well written.  I think lots of grown ups will find this one great too.  

The last one is a scary book.  In fact, it's called "The Most Frightening Story Ever Told" by Philip Kerr.  I don't usually like scary books but this one is very funny and has so many nods to classic scary literature that it was really hard to put down.  It starts off with an introduction to the main character, Billy Shivers.  Billy is recuperating from a terrible car accident so he is pale and thin and small and doesn't like to be outside much, his parents are poor and he doesn't have any friends.  It feels a lot like a Roald Dahl book.  He ends up at the weirdest scary book store-the owner has lots of notes around the store explaining how things go (also reminiscent of Dahl) and Billy ends up spending a lot of time there.  The book store isn't doing very well and plan is hatched to try to get back at some kids who were mean to the store owner as well as make some money for the store.  There are lots of references to scary literature from some of the greats like Edgar Allen Poe and Mary Shelley and lovely scary short stories.  I thought it was great and it will make a great addition to my library.  

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

More new non fiction

The summer is winding down!  The teachers at my school return on August 9.  This is always a time of year that feels so full of potential.  So many new ideas to try and so many new books to read!  I found some non fiction books that are going to be great for my library!

The first one is the third one in a series about famous people as kids.  This one is called "Kid Artists" by David Stadler.  (the first two were "Kid Presidents" and "Kid Athletes").  The artist one is just as great as the first two were.  It follows the same format-short chapters about different famous artists as they were growing up.  The stories usually tell an interesting but kind of unusual story about the subject that gives you an idea of what kind of artist they would become without telling the entire life story.  There are funny little cartoony illustrations along the way that break up the text.  There is an interesting variety of artists too, from far back in history (Leonard da Vinci) to more modern (Andy Warhol). The first about Presidents and Athletes are rarely in my library, because they get checked out almost the minute they come back.  I can see this happening with "Kid Artists" too!

The second one is also an historical book.  It's called "Awesome America" by Time for Kids.  The title should give you an indication of what it's going to be like-lots of gorgeous photographs and text features like text boxes, captions, and graphical elements and it's going to be simply written without too much depth on any one topic, but broad overview.  This one is meant to spark the reader's imagination and hopefully have them do more research to find out more, not a definitive tome on any one topic.  It does that beautifully and it will certainly have a place in my elementary school library.  

This last one is science rather than history based.  It's called "Monster Science" by Helaine Becker.  It looks like it will be scary, and it is, a little bit, but this book uses monsters as a hook to teach kids about science.  Each chapter focuses on one monster (some are specific monsters, like Frankenstein and some are categories, like zombies).  It starts off with an introduction of the monster from both a historical and sometimes a literary perspective, which sounds like it might be boring, but the pieces of text are short and fairly compelling to read (they ARE about monsters, after all).  After the introduction is complete, there is information about the different kinds of science that might be involved in this monster.  For example, in the chapter about Frankenstein, there is information about electricity (and the scientists Volta and Galvani) as well as a discussion about electricity in the body, how neurons work, and organ transplants.  Each of the topics is short with fun little cartoonish pictures and I think they are very engaging.  I think kids are going to like this one a lot.  

Friday, July 22, 2016

Summer vacation fun

My husband and I just got back from our epic summer adventure.  It started June 17 and finished yesterday, July 18.  We drove 5,700 miles, visited 100s of relatives and friends, attended two professional conferences (one each) and a family reunion, and ate WAY more than we should have.  But we had a great time and are VERY pleased to be home.  Needless to say, there has been a gap in my reading, but I am totally caught up on my talking and chatting skills!

Last night I finished one that I've been reading for awhile.  It didn't take me a long time because it was boring, it took a long time because I kept getting interrupted.  It's called "The Left Handed Fate" and it's by Kate Milford.  You might remember Kate Milford's early work that got a lot of buzz, called "The Green Glass House".  That one was a very excellent mystery and this one is too.  "The Left Handed Fate" is set on a pirate ship in 1812 and has an amazing array of characters.  One of the main characters is Lucy, who is the daughter of Captain.  She has a half brother Liao, who loves fireworks and is in charge of a young man, named Max, who is trying to find the world's greatest weapon.  They are being chased by the French, who would also like to have the weapon but are captured by Americans.  There are some very exciting chases, some excellent magic, as well as plot twists and some very funny writing.  It also has a connection to the "Green Glass House" which is mentioned in the author's notes (because I totally missed it).  I think this one would work for upper middle grade and high school-it's kind of big for the littler kids.

The second one I read is my one of my students' favorite authors, Tom Angleberger.  It's called "Fuzzy" and it's a science fiction story about a girl named Max (short for Maxine).  Max attends a local middle school that is being run by robots.  There are teachers there but everyone is monitored by a computer called Barbara.  Large amounts of data are gathered on the kids and the adults at school and are shared with parents, teachers, and administrators.  One day, some scientists come in with a project.  They have a really smart robot that SHOULD be able to learn and adapt to it's surroundings.  They want to try it out in a middle school before sending it to Mars.  Max is selected to act as the robot's guide.  This is a really fun book to read and I think the kids are going to like it a lot.  It's very fast paced and there are some very likable characters.  What will be very interesting about this book is to see if teachers and the kids pick up on some of the social commentary about the use of technology in schools, the use of technology in the military, and what really makes people human.  It's going to pair well with another new book that just came out called "The Wild Robot" by Peter Brown, which is also about a robot that can learn it's environment.  

The last one is also a mystery.  It's called "The Thief's Apprentice" by Bryan Methods.  It's set in England vaguely in the past.  The main character, Oliver, is an ordinary boy who lives with his parents who are very well to do (his dad owns an engineering firm).  At the beginning of the story, Oliver is intrigued by a series of thefts of art.  The thief steals the art but then returns it a few days later.  Scotland Yard has nicknamed the thief "The Ruminating Claw".  I don't want to spoil the fun for you, but let me tell you, there are some great plot twists and some terrifically funny dialogue.  Even better, this one looks to be the beginning of a series.  Don't miss this one!

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

New non fiction look fors

I love non fiction books for kids.  And it turns out that my Montessori kids love them too.  Here are some really interesting ones I found lately on Netgalley.

The first one is called "Like a Bird - the art of the American Slave Song".  It's written by Cynthia Parker and illustrated by Michelle Wood.  It's a collection of 13 slave songs and gorgeous paintings that depict them.  There is some short text about the symbolism of the pictures as well as the history of the songs.  I found it very interesting and the pictures are amazing.  The artwork is full of details that will encourage kids to look and look again to notice all the details.  This one would be great for some of those lessons where kids are expected to compare and contrast different kinds of media-in this case, art and music.  The full text of the songs is also included.  I think this one will be great in our library.

The second one is called "Sachiko" and it's by Caren Stelson.  It's the story of the survivor of the bombing of Nagasaki.  Sachiko was six years old in 1945 and lived with her extended family in Nagasaki.  The story starts off by telling about the difficult time the Japanese people had during the war and continues through the dropping of the bomb as well as the aftermath.  The story is interspersed with pages of important historical information, like there is a page about the emperor of Japan, one about Gandhi, one about the bombs.  It also includes  photographs of Sachiko's family as well as period photos.  I thought this was great.  The story goes very quickly-it's a very compelling story and it was surprising to me how the misery continued long after the bomb had been dropped.  In addition to the radiation poisoning and cancers, Sachiko also had to deal with bullying because they were not allowed to speak about what had happened, so the kids at her school all thought she was weird that her hair had fallen out (from radiation) and that she was behind (because she'd missed a year of school).  But it also goes on to tell how Sachiko survived and used her experiences to help others find peace.  I think this is a really important book in the wide variety of stories about World War 2.  Many of my students seem to think that World War 2 is only about Jews being murdered, but there was a lot of man's inhumanity to man going on during that time, and it's important for kids to know the full story.  This one would be a good one to have as a part of that collection.  

The last one is a picture book biography of Henri Matisse.  It's called "Mr. Matisse and his Cutouts" by Annemarie van Haeringen.  It tells in a very simple fashion how Matisse was inspired to decorate his very white hospital room while recuperating from abdominal surgery.  He couldn't paint but there was a paper bag and  he cut a bird out of the paper bag.  His assistant brought him more paper and more scissors and soon he was directing how to place his cutouts all over the room.  It's a really great story of persistence and perseverance as well as a commitment to art.  I liked it a lot.  The only thing I didn't like about the story was it felt like it was pandering to the kids.  The story talks about Matisse's tummy and I think (ok it's the Montessorian in me) that feels like kids should have the correct nomenclature and they shouldn't worry if they have a tummy ache that they are going to end up in the hospital like Matisse.  Other than that, I think this will be one that both classroom teachers and art teachers will like a lot.  

More Sunshine State young readers

I'm digging through the Sunshine State Young Reader list for grades 3-5.  I hope I'll have the stamina to read the 6-8 list and maybe even the Teen Reads.  I've also started on the picture books.  Surely during the summer break I'll have more time (she said optimistically).

This first one is called "Serafina's Promise" by Ann Burg.  This book is written in verse and it's about a girl named Serafina who lives with her parents and her grandmother.  Serafina also has a baby brother who is sick.  Serafina's family lives in Haiti (which is never stated but you can kind of figure it out.  The kids might need help though).  Her family is too poor for her to go to school but when they visit the doctor, Serafina is inspired to become a doctor, and so she starts trying to think of ways to convince her mother that it's a good idea to let her go to school.  Her mother has had a lot of trauma in her life (which you learn about as you read) and so letting Serafina go to school doesn't really seem like a good idea, but Serafina and her dad wear her mother down, until eventually mom agrees that Serafina can go to school.  Life in Haiti is difficult though and two big things happen, one is a flood that sweeps away Serafina's house and the second is an earthquake, which is even more devastating.  I liked this story and I know there are a lot kids in my school that have been to Haiti or have relatives there and will be able to strongly identify with Serafina.  I wonder though, for the most part, if the kids will really be able to empathize with someone who wants to go to school so badly.  Most of our kids take school for granted and they can't imagine why anyone would be so motivated to go to school.  I think it would make for a good conversation.  This one would connect well with one I just read called "I am Drums" by Mike Grosso, which also has a strong and highly motivated girl character, or "Ruby's Wish" by Shirin Yim Bridges , which also has a girl character who really wants to go to school.  You could also pair it up with "Brown Girl Dreaming" by Jacqueline Woodson, which is also written in verse.

The second one is called "The Worm Whisperer" by Betty Hicks.  It's about Ellis who lives in a small town in NC.  Ellis lives with both his parents, but his dad hurt his back and can't work.  Ellis is very worried about him but his dad needs an operation and since dad isn't working, they don't have enough money for the operation.  Ellis comes up with a plan to race a wooly worm, which all his friends think is a big joke but Ellis feels like he can really talk to the worm.  There are some funny parts, like when Ellis takes the worm to church, and some scary parts, when the worm disappears, but it's a really nice story.  Ellis works hard to help his family and it's a really good story.  

The last one (for now) is called "Eddie Red-Mystery on Museum Mile" by Marcia Wells.  It's about a boy named Edmund who is 11 and lives with his mom and dad and attends a private school for the gifted.  Edmund's life is set for upheaval when his dad loses his job.  No job means no more private school and Edmund really loves his school.  About that same time, his dad breaks up a fight in an alley and it comes to the attention of the police that Edmund has a unique gift-he has a photographic memory, which allows him to recreate pictures of things he's seen.  He's also a very good artist so he can draw what he has seen very accurately.  Some one in the police department thinks it would be a good idea to have Edmund come in and help the police on a case they've been trying to solve about series of thefts from different museums.  The detective, Detective Bonano, isn't crazy about this idea but Edmund persists and they tell him they will pay for his tuition if he solve the crime.  Detective Bonano gives him an alias-Eddie Red.  This is a very fun book to read.  Eddie has a great voice-the chapters are very short and are interspersed with the pictures that Eddie is talking about drawing.  Ed also has a terrific friend named Jonah who is an interesting sidekick.  I think the kids are going to like this mystery.  It was dangerous enough without being too scary.  It would also pair well with John Grisham's new series, Theodore Boone, Kid Detective, which was also a great series about a boy who solves mysteries.  

Monday, June 6, 2016

Summer reading challenge

I'm challenging my students to read a book a day during our summer vacation, which started yesterday.  I'm off to a good start, thanks to Netgalley!

Today I got to read "Gertie's Leap to Greatness" by Kate Beasley.  Kate's sister, Cassie, wrote one of my favorite books from last summer, Circus Mirandus, and Kate's story is just as good.  It's about Gertie Reece Foy who lives with her great aunt Rae.  Gertie's dad works on an oil rig so he's gone a lot.  Aunt Rae also takes care of a little girl named Audrey who is kind of like an annoying little sister.  Gertie's mom left the family when Gertie was very small and although she lives fairly close by, Gertie doesn't know her.  Gertie is very excited about the new year in fifth grade until a new girl shows up and then Gertie decides to be the best fifth grader ever.  Gertie is such an interesting character with such strong feelings and emotions.   She's more thoughtful than Clementine but with just as much heart.  This is a very well written story with very believable characters and situations.  The illustrations in it are wonderful-pen and ink drawings that seem simple but have so much life to them.  They add a lot to the story.  I thought Gertie was just terrific!

The next book I read was also a chapter book and it was so much fun.  It's called "The Wrong Side of Magic" and it's by Janette Rallison.  It starts off with a tribute to a favorite fifth grade teacher who read "The Phantom Tollbooth" by Norman Juster to the class.  Having been a teacher who read "The Phantom Tollbooth" to her class, I can tell you, it's a book that changes kids' lives and apparently, Jannette Rallison was one of those who was changed.  "The Wrong Side of Magic" starts with an ordinary boy named Hudson (much like Milo) who has an annoying little sister, worries about getting on the wrong side of the popular kids, and is a pretty good athlete.  His dad is away on a tour of duty in the Marine Corps and his mom is pretty strict.  One day, his little sister's kitten gets sick and they don't have enough money to pay for a vet.  A weird girl down the street gives his sister what she says is a magical compass to help her get medicine that will fix the cat.  Hudson tries to show her that the compass doesn't work and is whisked off to a magical land.  This sets in motion a series of events that include attacks by blood hounds, boils, magical mirrors, British accented unicorns, an evil king, a princess requiring rescue and some truly selfless acts.  It was tons of fun and super compelling.  I can't wait to share this one with my students.  

This last one is called "Wish" by Barbara O'Connor. It's about a girl named Charlie.  Charlie's been removed from her home in Raleigh and sent to live with relatives she doesn't know in the mountains of NC.  Her dad is in jail for fighting and her mom often doesn't get out of bed all day.  Her big sister is staying with friends in Raleigh so she can finish school, but Charlie is moving in with her aunt and uncle.  At first, Charlie is very angry that she's there and takes every opportunity to be mean.  But her aunt and uncle are so happy to have her there (they always wanted children but could never have any), the family down the road are poor but so loving to each other and there is a stray dog in the woods that Charlie is determined to catch.  I think there are a lot of great social issues in this one that will make it an interesting read for my bigger kids.  I worry that it all seems a bit too good to be to true-that Charlie should end up in a community where everyone is kind and loves her, where the stray dog she catches immediately loves her and is well behaved (and house trained) but it was a good story and I couldn't put it down.  

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Middle grade fiction look fors

There's some great new middle great fiction coming out in the next few months.  I've been SOOO lucky to get to read them as advanced readers copies!  I can't wait to get these into the hands of kids.

The first one is a sequel to a book I read last year called "Serafina and the Black Cloak" by Robert Beatty.  I was lucky enough to get to hear Robert speak at the NCRA meeting in Raleigh in March and he's just as charming and interesting and you would imagine him to be.  The new one that's coming out in July (I think) is called "Serafina and the Twisted Staff".  What's great about both of these books is that they weave historical fiction (they are both set at the turn of the 19th century in Asheville, NC at the Biltmore House) and folkloric fantasy.  I can't tell you too much of the story without completely giving a way the plot, but let me tell you, the story is exciting and fast paced and well written.  Everything you'd want in a middle grade novel.  Don't miss this one.

Here's a link to a book trailer that Robert Beatty made. And this is what the cover looks like.  Isn't it awesome?

This next one is the second one a new series by Jackson Pearce about kids who are spies.  The first one is called "Doublecross" and this one is called "Inside Job".  The main character is a boy named Hale who is 12.  Hale is overweight and people assume he isn't too good at being a spy because he failed every class in spy school.  In "Doublecross", his parents disappear and it turns out SRS (The Sub Rosa Society-the agency his parents have been with for years and has been training Hale and his sister Kennedy) is not quite what it seems.  "Inside Job" picks up where "Doublecross" left off.  This time, Hale and his friends are trying to figure out what happened to his parents as well as trying to chase down the bad guys, who are the agency they used to work for.  They have decided they need to follow the money trail, which takes them to Geneva, Switzerland.  (This made it extra funny for me, because my sister owns a home near Geneva).  What's great about this one is how funny it is on top of the mystery.  So many times you think "They are so BUSTED!" and they managed to escape and even succeed.  This one is a very fun second installment in a great mystery series!

The last one is called "Soar" and it's by Tracy Edward Wymer.  This one is realistic fiction so it's really different from the other two, but it's really compelling and very well written.  It's about a boy named Eddie who is starting 7th grade in his small town in Indiana.  It's not off to a great start because his dad died the year before.  His best friend moved away and a new girl moved in and he has a teacher who knew his dad but doesn't seem to have liked him.  His mom is also really busy trying to work to earn enough money to keep their household going and there is a bully in his grade that he can't seem to avoid.   It's a lot to deal with and Eddie has to work through each one a little at a time.  Eddie is a very compelling character with a great voice.  The issues Eddie is dealing with seem overwhelming at times and that's part of what makes this story so great.  As each issue is dealt with, different layers of the story unfold and it's lovely.  It's probably too big for my elementary kids-there were a couple of scenes where Eddie was thinking about his dad that made me think it might be too intense for them, but it is a great story.  I really couldn't put this one down.  

Monday, May 23, 2016

New non fiction

My students really love nonfiction.  I think it has to do with the Montessori attitude where things are based in reality, starting with concrete and moving to abstract, or maybe their parents just prefer to read nonfiction with them.  In any case, the nonfiction books in my library get a work out and I know these new ones I've been reading are going to be great additions to my library.

The first one is an easy sell in my library.  It's called "The Great Leopard Rescue" by Sandra Markle.  It's about the Amur leopards which live in Russia and are among the most endangered animals on earth.  They are big-almost twice the size of a German Shepherd and there are fewer than 1000 of them left.  The book details why they are endangered (habitat reduction) and what scientists are trying to do to help save them.  The book is full of engaging photographs of the leopards with small pieces of interesting text.  My kids are going to love this one.

The second one is a biography of a young man who is a boxer and will likely be competing in the Rio Olympics this summer.  The book is called "Next Round" by John Spray.  It's the story of Arthur Biyarslanov, who was born in Chechnya and his family fled the country during the war.  Arthur had a hard time-the trip from Chechnya was difficult and dangerous.  There was a traumatic and uncertain time in a refugee camp before finally settling in Canada, which was also difficult because of the language and cultural differences.  But Arthur is a very competitive athlete and at first, soccer or football was his sport of choice but he ended up in boxing.  He's done very well in boxing, winning a gold medal for Canada in the Pan Am games in 2015.  This book will be a great addition to the library to help kids learn about the athletes of Olympics and I'm looking forward to putting it my library.  

Here's a little video about Arthur.

This last one would be just the right thing for the summer but I think it's not coming out until the fall. No matter, it's still totally worth looking for.  It's called "Recycled Science" and it's by Tammi Enz and Jodi Wheeler-Toppen.  It's divided into four chapters, each one with a different category of materials that you might recycle.  The chapters are plastic bottle science, cardboard tube science, craft stick science, and snack pack science.  Each chapter has several different projects and have clear directions as well as pictures to help you through some of the more complicated projects.  The photos have a modern, industrial feel which lends itself well the to the topic.  There are also some sneaky little short passages that explain the scientific concept that is being applied, which the grown ups will probably really like.  The projects are very interesting and I can see my students really loving this one.  Although I'm afraid I might have to buy several copies because I'm pretty sure this one that is going to go missing almost right away!  

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Brand new middle grade fiction

New books!  New books!  New books!  It's so exciting to get new books!  I just got a big box of new books for our library!  I don't even remember how I chose them, but here are some of my new favorites.

The first one is called "My life in pictures" by Deborah Zemke.  It's a short chapter book about a charming girl named Bea (short for Beatriz).  Bea likes to draw and has a very annoying little brother that she calls "The Big Pest".  She has a best friend who lives next door named Yvonne and they have marvelous adventures together until Yvonne moves away to Australia.  A new family moves in and guess what?  They have a child the same age as Bea!  Except he is a monster.  Bea draws to work her way through this problem and it has a great ending.  This one would pair up well with "Like Pickle Juice on a Cookie " by Julie Sternberg-it has the same short chapter format, as well as a similar art and writing style.  The kids are going to like this one.

This one is so new it's not even published yet!  I read it as an advanced readers copy through Netgalley.  a lovely fairytale called "The Changelings" by Christina Soontornvat.  It's her first book and after reading this one, I'm sure it won't be the last, because it was great.  It's about a girl named Izzy who's family has just moved to a very small town.  They have inherited her grandmother's house but Izzy misses her friends and her old home.  She's also completely exasperated with her little sister, Hen, who is always up to something annoying.  They have been warned to stay away from their neighbor because she is a witch, and the girls, who love fairy tales, start looking for clues.  The neighbor catches them and it turns out she's not really a witch, but she does love to garden and seems nice. Then one day, Hen disappears and Izzy sets out to find her.  The neighbor turns out to be more help that Izzy would have imagined because Hen has been captured by Good Peter and taken to Netherbee Hall, a transition point between the human world and faerie world.  I really liked this story a lot.  There are very interesting characters, some great plot twists and a good mystery.  This will be a great addition to our fantasy unit in the upper grades.

This last one has been getting a lot of buzz in the blogs I read.  It's called "The Wild Robot" by Peter Brown.  I finished it yesterday and usually I can't wait to run to my computer and write about a book, but this one felt like I needed a bit more time to process.  It's about a robot who is being shipped across an ocean along with 5 other robots.  The ship encounters a hurricane and the robots are thrown off the ship and end up on a island.  The other 5 robots are destroyed, but one of them arrives intact on an island.  The robot is meant to adapt to it's surroundings so it looks around and starts moving.  The animals it encounters think it is a monster and flee.  As it's trying to figure out what to do, it accidentally destroys a goose nest, killing the parents and all of the goslings except one.  The robot then tries to save the baby.  It turns out the robot is good at taking care of things so the baby thrives and the robot integrates into the animal community.  The art work is all in black and white.  It's very futuristic and modern.  The ending was surprising enough to me that I won't tell you about it but I didn't really love this one.  The writing felt very straight and hard edged to me (and maybe that was purposeful, to sound like a robot).  I also kept getting distracted by what felt like exceptions to the rules-the robot is not programmed to have feelings, but it worried and seemed to feel affection for the baby goose.  It did make me think a lot about what it might look like in the future if there were robots that could do multiple tasks for humans what that might look like and some of the ideas presented felt big but I just didn't really like it.  And I suppose that's part of the beauty of books-even if you don't love this one, there's another one out there waiting.  I'll be interested to see how my kids like this one.  

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Picture books for really little kids

I'm always surprised when kids think that picture books are just for little kids.  Many of the picture books that are coming out have complicated story lines and big vocabulary, which may or may not be appropriate for really little kids.  The ones in this review are meant for really little kids.

The first one is by one of my favorite authors, Henry Cole.  We had an author's visit from Henry back in April and my students talked about it for weeks.  He is very engaging and so much fun.  His latest picture book is called "Spot, the cat".  It's a wordless picture book and tells the story of a day when boy leaves the window open and his cat goes out for walk.  The pictures are black and white pen and ink drawings and are so detailed that this book probably won't make a good read aloud, you need to be able to take your time and examine the pictures closely so you can see every little thing.  I suspect this one will want to be read several times, over and over again, so you don't miss any of the good stuff, because there's a lot of it.  This one will be great for talking about story structure (even with bigger kids) and helping with developing oral vocabulary.

Here's an example of some of Henry's amazing art work.

The second one is going to be perfect when we come back from summer vacation.  It's called "I hear a pickle" by Rachel Isadora.  My little kids start off the year with science observations, in other words, they talk about their senses.  This sweet little book has pages of examples of the five senses that are going to invite tons of conversation.  The pictures are lovely and soft drawings with watercolor overlay.  I think this one would also make a great mentor text for the kindergarteners in some of their first writing projects.  

The last one is also going to be a great one for working on oral vocabulary.  This one is called "My House" by Byron Barton.  It's about a little cat who shows the reader all the important parts of the house, including his owner.  The pictures are bright and colorful and simple.  This one will also have a lot of applications as a mentor text for some of those first stories when we're trying to get kids to write about things they know.   This will work well with a book like "A House is a house for me" by Mary Ann Hoberman.