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.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Picture books to look for!

I got to read some very interesting picture books this week from Netgalley.  YAY for advanced readers copies!

The first one is the second in what is apparently going to be a series about a little cat named Max by Ed Vere.  This one is called "Max at Night".  I loved the first one, called "Max the Brave" about a little kitten named Max who is out to hunt mice.  Except he doesn't know what a mouse is.  He goes out into the big world and finds many creatures that are not mice, until a furry little monster (with a long tail and big ears) tells him where to find the mouse.  The kids loved that one and I think they are going to love this one too. In "Max at Night", we find Max getting ready to go to bed.  He has a whole night time routine that he goes through, but on this particular night, he wants to say good night to the moon, so he keeps trying to get closer and closer to the moon.  The pictures are the same as in the first Max book-the pictures are very simple with out a lot of background details, but big eyed Max really keeps your attention.  It's a very sweet story and will invite comparisons to a book like "Goodnight Moon" by Margaret Wise Brown.

The second one is a biography about Nicola Tesla.  It's called "Zap! Nikola Tesla Takes Charge" by Monica Kulling.  It's part of a series of picture book biographies called "Great Ideas" and each one spotlights a different person who made some kind of a technological advancement, but maybe never heard of.  I love these books and we have several of them in the library.  This one is just as awesome as the rest of the series.  It gives background information about Tesla, how he was born and grew up in Croatia, where he astonished people with his math, engineering, and problem solving skills.  He came to America with only the name of a person to find (it was Thomas Edison) who might give him a job.  It follows Tesla through his career and talks, in simple terms, about his big idea, alternating current (which is the electrical system we use today).  In fact, it's kind of ironic that Thomas Edison is a well known hero in American historical literature and so little has been written about Tesla.  YAY for a book that rights a wrong!  The pictures are nice and help to carry the story.

The last one is a non-fiction book called "The Toad" by Elise Gravel.  It's part of a series called "Disgusting Creatures".   I have to confess to being a little confused.  Let me start with the idea that I work in a Montessori school and Montessorians tend to be very rooted in reality-in some models, the Montessorians don't even read fantasy books to their students until they are at least 6, because they believe that the kids don't understand the difference between reality and fantasy and so it's better to just stick to reality.  I also know that my Montessorian students LOVE non-fiction books and I never have any trouble getting them to check out non-fiction books (which is almost always a surprise to everyone else).  So the part about me being confused has to do with the illustrations in this nonfiction book.  It's an over simplification to describe nonfiction as having photographs and fiction having art work, because there is lots of non fiction with gorgeous artwork and fiction with photographs, but the art work in this one is so cartoony and so silly, that it kind of takes away from the whole nonfiction message.  I'm sure this will also be a point that pulls some kids in, but for my little Montessorians, it's not really the right thing.  The information is written in a very conversational way which I think many kids will find fun, but it's hard to picture if kids find these animals disgusting that they are going to want to continue to read about them, no matter how much fun the drawings are.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Sunshine State Young Readers 2016-2017

The new Sunshine State Young Reader list is out and I'm really excited to get started reading them! There are a few titles I've ready read but lots of them that I'd never heard of, so I've got a great list ahead of me!  Just in time for summer vacation!

The first one I read is called "All Four Stars" by Tara Dairman.  It's about a girl named Gladys Gatsby who lives in a small town in NY, famous for it's landfill.  Gladys doesn't really have any friends, but she does have a big passion for cooking.  Her parents think this is a bad idea and encourage her to make friends, watch TV, play on the computer, but Gladys really wants to cook.  She resorts to cooking when they aren't home and one day, things go rather badly.  Gladys is trying to make creme brûlée and uses a blow torch she finds in the garage rather than one that's approved for culinary use and accidentally sets the curtains on fire, just as her parents walk into the house.  Her parents decide that she is banned from the kitchen and from watching cooking shows or reading cookbooks.  Gladys is bereft, but tries to make the best of things.  Her teacher notices and when Gladys writes an essay about being a food critic, things take a funny turn and suddenly, there is an opportunity.  I probably over-identified with Gladys, being a kid who also loved to cook (I married a chef!), but I really admired Gladys' persistence and passion for cooking and food.  I liked this one a lot.

My students have been reading a lot of books about social issues and I'd be lying if I said I wasn't glad to be done with them.  I really like the stories about social issues but for me they are emotionally draining.  I always end up crying and I don't think it's a bad thing, but tears for three classes in a row. Ugh.  Give me a break.  The break came today in the form of this book.  It's called "Pip Bartlett's Guide to Magical Creatures" and it's by Jackson Pearce and Maggie Stiefvater.  Jackson wrote one of my favorite's from last year called "Double Cross" about kids who are in spy school. Their spy parents disappear and so they decide to investigate.   It was great.  I'm sorry to confess I haven't read anything by Maggie Steifvater, but the good news is, I'm totally going to look for her work now, because this one was AWESOME.  It's about a girl named Pip who is kind of a mess (I mean that in a Southern sense, where one says "Oh, she's just a mess, bless her heart) but also in a literal sense-she struggles with personal grooming, much to the annoyance of her family and classmates.  She can talk to magical animals but no one believes her.  She is working hard to do research about magical animals and create her own field guide, based on the one she uses, but even better.  In the prologue, she gets very excited, because on career day, one of her classmate's parents bring in 8 show unicorns.  The result of her conversation with the unicorns was somewhat unexpected.  In fact, the way the unicorns talk was also somewhat unexpected.  I was reading this to my fourth grade class today and I actually had to stop reading for a minute because I was laughing so hard (a nice break from the tears, thank you).  And that's just the first 15 pages of the book. After that, she goes to spend the summer with her aunt, a magical animal veterinarian and then things get REALLY interesting.  I'm really sorry I only ordered two copies of this one because every kid in this one fourth grade class put it on hold today.  (I could only find it in hard cover!) I'd better order some more, tomorrow.  

Here's the book trailer.

Here's a lovely message from both Jackson and Maggie about summer reading!

The last one (in this group) is called "Dinosaur Boy" by Cory Putnam Oakes.  It's about Sawyer who has modified DNA (his grandfather is scientist) and ends up being part Stegosaurus.  It's kind of weird at first-just bumps on his neck (which turn into plates) but when his tail starts growing, things really get strange.  Since this all starts during summer vacation, it's no big deal at first, until he has to go back to school.  His fifth grade classmates are less than welcoming but his school has a zero tolerance for bullying.  One of the kids gets kicked out school right away and more follow, but that's when someone notices that the kids are not only expelled, they've disappeared.  This is a very fun little science fiction book.  There are mystery elements and the whole idea of being a dinosaur is going to be very appealing to some kids.  It's also a pretty easy read so this would be a good one for strong second grade readers up to fifth or possibly sixth grade.  

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Middle grade fiction to look for

Even as the school year is winding down, teachers are starting to put things away for the summer and I'm starting to think about getting ALL THOSE BOOKS BACK (how awesome that people have been using them!), there are still some great new reads to look for!  Check these out...

The first one is called "I am Drums" by Mike Grosso.  It's about a girl named Sam and she loves to drum.  Her family is struggling a bit-her parents are fighting, her dad is having trouble keeping a job and her mom is working long hours to try to keep things together.  Her little brother is a pain and her best friend is finding other things that are interesting.  Sam knows her family can't afford a drum kit, so she makes one herself out of books and her desk.  She knows her family can't afford drum lessons so she hatches a plan to cut grass to earn money and then asks a neighbor to teach her.  She makes some really bad choices but I really admire her determination.  The books makes some great points about lying being a bad idea (and having very big consequences) and parents not being perfect (but loving them anyway) and that kids are not responsible for the actions of adults, no matter what.  This one is going to be a great one for our unit on social issues and I think the kids will like it a lot.

In case you were wondering where authors get their ideas, here's a video of Mike playing some not so traditional instruments.

The second book is probably my new favorite.  It's called "The Girl Who Drank the Moon" by Kelly Barnhill.  I read another one of Kelly's books a couple of years ago, "Iron-Hearted Violet" and it was amazing.  This one might even be better.  This story is told in two voices, which, in my ARC, were not very clearly delineated, except by the voice.  It's a tiny bit confusing at first because the story seems so separate, but the writing is so compelling, it doesn't take long to get completely sucked into the story.  It's about a community where every year, they sacrifice a baby to an evil witch.  Well, actually, it's too scary and dangerous to actually confront the witch, so they leave the baby at the edge of forest and let the witch find the baby.  It turns out that the witch is really not so evil and is completely mystified why these crazy people leave a perfectly good baby at the edge of the forest, so she comes every year, prepared with bottles and warm blankets, and takes the baby to a family that will love it and raise it as their own.  She often has to feed the baby a little starlight on the way and they end up being extra special.  One year, she makes a little mistake and feeds the baby moonlight instead (moonlight being extra powerful) and then completely falls in love with the baby.  It's hard to say what's the best part of the book-the characters who by turn are lovable, funny, terrifying, empathy provoking, and unthinking sheep, the amazing plot turns, the BEAUTIFUL writing.  It was all just awesome.  DO NOT MISS THIS ONE.  

This last one was also awesome!  It's called "The Treasure of Maria Mamoun" by Michelle Chalfoun.  It's about a girl named Maria who lives with her mom in a small apartment in New York City.  Maria's mom is a Lebanese immigrant and Maria's dad is Puerto Rican, but he left before Maria was born.  Maria's mom has to work long hours to afford their life in NY but when Maria starts getting bullied, Maria's mom takes a new job as a private nurse for a very wealthy man on Martha's Vineyard.  Maria is less than thrilled to living so far away from everything she knows, but pretty soon she finds that she likes living so close to beach and finds an intriguing mystery that involves pirates and buried treasure.  She also finds friends, which is a big upgrade from her old life.  I really liked Maria's character, but I also loved the other characters around her- her mother, who works really hard,   the cook and the yard man, the cook's son, Paolo, who struggles with school and making good choices, and the rich old man.  It has some great elements of mystery as well as a lot of historical information about pirates and sailing.  I think kids are going to love this one.  I know I did!