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.