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.