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.