Friday, June 27, 2014

Girl Power!

The books I've been reading this week seem to all have a theme of strong girls! My FAVORITE new one is called "Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy" by Karen Foxlee. It's is a wonderful fairy tale that is a very amazing mix of both fairy tale and realistic fiction. Ophelia is a girl who's mom died recently. Her dad is a museum curator and he's currently working on an exhibit of swords. Ophelia's sister is older and beautiful and kind of mad since their mom died. Ophelia is left to her own devices and ends up wandering around the museum. She takes a funny turn and finds a boy who is locked in a room. The boy explains to her that he has been there for 300 years, a prisoner of the Snow Queen and that she should help him and save the world. Ophelia is a person who believes in science and reality so she really doesn't think this is really possible, but she keeps going back to see him and the risks get bigger and bigger. It's very exciting, has very interesting characters (but realistic and magical) and some great twists to the plot.
I also read one called #16thingsithoughtweretrue by Janet Gurtler. It's about a girl named Morgan who has a summer job at the local amusement park. She doesn't like her boss (he's stuck up), she doesn't want to make friends with her co-workers (they are all laughing at her because her supposed best friend posted an embarrassing video of her on the internet which went completely viral) and so she's trying to get 5000 Twitter followers before the end of the summer. And then things start to change. Her mom gets sick and suddenly everything is upside down. It's a really nice transition that Morgan makes but wow, does this book cover a LOT of ground with personal relationships. I think there are some kids who will really identify with Morgan and some of the other characters. Here's a book trailer about it. The last one was a recommendation from my niece who lives in Vienna and attends an international school there. She is going into 6th grade and is loving this book. It might be hard to find in America, but it might be worth a look. It's called Best Friends and other Enemies by Catherine Wilkins. It's about a girl named Jessica who is best friends with Natalie. A new girl named Amelia moves in and Natalie wants to be friends with her too. However, Amelia is completely horrible to Jessica so Jessica doesn't want to have anything to do with her, but Natalie wants to be friends with both of them. Jessica also has a fairly complicated family life, but she has a super power, she's a cartoonist and she uses her drawing skills for good. I didn't really understand why Natalie was such a spineless wimp and let this new girl, Amelia be mean to her best friend, but my niece explained to me that sometimes girls do that to try to make everyone happy. I so glad she's so smart, and I hope she only has to read about girls as mean as Amelia and not have to try to figure out how to deal with them!

Monday, June 23, 2014

Dystopian future

I really love reading dystopian future books. I loved the Hunger Games and Divergent, which were both made into movies. But I find that I don't really like the movies as much as I like the books. The pictures in my head are scary enough... I don't need ones on a big screen to scare me more! I just finished one that I had never heard of, but was available for the Kindle from my local public library (always a good thing, free books). It was called SYLO by D. J. MacHale. It's the story of a boy named Tucker who lives on an island off the coast of Maine. He and his parents moved there 5 years ago from the mainland because his dad was downsized from a corporate job. Tucker believes that you shouldn't really work too hard because in his experience, hard word doesn't really pay off. He also feels like he doesn't really fit in because most of the families on the island have been there for generations and he moved there only 5 years ago. A series of really strange things happen that turn Tucker's world completely upside down and makes him question every single thing he knows. It's very exciting and full of lots of plot twists and action. I couldn't put it down. Here's a book trailer about it. I also read one a couple of weeks ago that was recommended by the completely amazing author, Lisa Graff. I met her at the April is for Authors event in Palm Beach County and she was telling me about this book she was reading that she could not put down. She was right on! It's called the Fifth Wave by Rick Yancey. It's about an alien invasion of Earth and how it comes in waves. The author starts in the 5th wave but flashes back to show you what happened during the other waves and how the fifth wave actually came to be. It is super suspenseful and leaves you wondering if maybe we haven't already started the first wave... Here's a book trailer about it. I read the City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau a few months back. It's about two kids who are not really friends who live in a city called Ember. The city is very isolated and they seem to be running out of everything (including energy and food) without any real plan for how they might get more. The two kids start putting things together, that maybe there is a way to get out of Ember, although the powers that be seem to think getting out is a very bad idea. This one takes longer to build up and the ending felt a little like a beginning (I'm sure there are more in the series but I haven't worked hard enough to find the rest of the them). How's your book a day challenge going? I've slowed down a bit because we've been traveling but I think the pace is going to pick back up again. Happy reading!

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Fairy Tale Adaptations

One of the "it" books this year for middle grades is called "Rump" by Leisl Shurtliff. It's a chapter book with the back story of Rumplestiltskin, how this little guy learns to spin straw into gold and why he wants a baby (it's not as creepy as you think). It's a great story filled with interesting characters and great writing and good lessons about believing what "everyone says", the power of our choices, and what is destiny. I really liked it. I thought it would be great to pair with Paul Zelinsky's version Rumplestiltskin (and there is a Reading Rainbow episode based around it!). It would also be great to compare with a story like The True Story of the Three Little Pigs by John Scieszcka and any other version of the Three Little Pigs or if you wanted to go bigger, compare it to the Wizard of Oz and Wicked. Here's book trailer about it. I really love fairy tales and there are some great ones out there that you might never heard of. My students really liked "Tuesdays at the Castle" by Jessica Day George. It's about a princess named Celie who lives with her family in a castle that can change itself. If the castle is bored (like on the day the King has to hear petitions) it might open a door to allow the sheep to come in. If the castle likes you, it might give you things you like, flowers in your room or super comfy furniture. If it doesn't like you, it will give you uncomfortable furniture or if you seem untrustworthy, it might lock you in your room. It's a typical fairy tale with evil villains and characters who are worthy and do good deeds. There are two more in the series. Wednesdays in the Tower is the second one and the Thursday one just came out (I have it at my house!). I love Jessica Day George's writing style. She's great! Here's a book trailer about Tuesdays at the Castle. Eric Kimmel is a great writer of folktales and fairy tales. They are SO worth looking for. They are picture books and he uses different illustrators for almost everyone. One of my favorites is called Count Silvernose, about an evil Count who tries to lure three sisters into a pit of fire and brimstone. Luckily, ONE of them is smart enough to see through his vile plans. Another one is called "One eye, two eyes, three eyes", which is a very creepy version of a Cinderella story. That's one of the things that makes fairy tales so much fun, seeing how they are the same and how they are different. Albert Einstein said "If you want your kids to be smart, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be smarter, read them more fairy tales." That's advice I intend to live by!

Monday, June 16, 2014

Delray Beach Public Library

Today I went to the public library in our community and they are amazing! Today was the first day that many of the summer camps started and they were ROCKING it. They had at least three groups of kids doing lessons, getting books, reading, working on the computers, WOW! I was impressed! Thank goodness our community supports reading in this way!

I was looking for books on some lists I've been looking at and although  I couldn't find any of the books that I was looking for (MAN!!),I did find several really great ones that I hadn't read before. I read two by Mo Willems, who you know is a big favorite of mine. I got to read "Listen to my trumpet" which is hilarious. Piggie has a new trumpet and she wants Gerald the Elephant to listen to her. She is making loud noises and Gerald tries hard to be positive. It has a really great ending. I also read "Time to say please" which we don't have at our media center, but I think we really need to get it. It's all about using good manners and even if it's kind of like a lesson, Mo Willems makes it funny.

I also got to read some more great biographies.  The first one is called "The Boy who drew birds" and it's about John James Audubon and it's by Jacqueline Davies and Melissa Sweet.  I liked all the details about his life and I LOVED the art work.  Melissa Sweet is an amazing artist!  If you are interested at all in birds or Audubon's work, you'll really like this one.

The other biography I read was about Clara Barton, who I've read a lot about.  This one, "Clara and Davie" by Patricia Polacco,  is a lot about her early life and that was a part I hadn't really heard about.  I learned that her mom was tired a lot when she was a little girl and so her older brother helped take care of her.  Clara struggled with speaking clearly and so she was home schooled and Davie really tried to protect and take care of her.  Clara loved animals and was really good at taking care of animals and when Davie was badly hurt, she took care of him, which lead to her career as a nurse.  I was really surprised as I read the very end of the book that Patricia Polacco is distantly related to Clara Barton and I love how she uses her own family history to tell a very interesting story. 

I also read two books about math.  I've been looking for this new one about fractals that I haven't been able to put my hands on but since I've been looking in the math section, I did find one I really liked.  It was called "Probably Penny" by Loreen Leedy.  Loreen Leedy writes great books about math.  My favorite (before today) was called "Measuring Penny" but I think I might like "Probably Penny" even better.  It's about a girl who has a dog named Penny and a math teacher who makes his students think and write about math.  This one is about probability and Leedy does a great job of showing the difference between impossible and possible and likely and unlikely.   Here's a video of the whole book!

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Non fiction books

Yesterday, I looked at one of my favorite websites for finding kids books, The Non-Fiction Detectives. Louise and Cathy work really hard at reviewing great non fiction books for kids and they do an AWESOME job. Click here if you want to check out their blog. So I was looking for some of the books they suggested. Of course, it's never that easy to just go to the bookstore and find the exact 12 books you were looking for (they only had a few of the ones I wanted) and there were several that caught my eye that I didn't even know I should be looking for so here are the best ones I saw today. The first one was "Eye to Eye", by Steve Jenkins. Steve Jenkins is a great author. He wrote another book that I really liked called "What do you do with a tail like this?" "Eye to eye" is a similar kind of book that focuses just on animals eyes. You can find out a lot about different kinds of eyes and how eyes have evolved. The pictures are really beautiful too. The only thing that might slow you down is the vocabulary. There is a lot of specific vocabulary, but I think it's worth having to look up a few words get to experience this book.
The second one was called "Scraps" by Lois Ehlert. You're probably familiar with Lois's beautiful,graphic style of art work that she created with cut out paper and water color. This book is a memoir as well as a celebration. It tells about how she started off creating beautiful works of art and then wanting to take the art work and tell a story. That's how she became a writer as well as an artist. This is going to be a great book for inspiring writers AND artists. Here's a book trailer that can show you more. The third one is called "Gravity" by Jason Chin. It is (unsurprisingly) about gravity. It doesn't have a ton of information but the pictures are very fun and super detailed. If you need to do research on gravity, this book probably won't be helpful but if you want a fun book with a science concept and lots of funny pictures, this might just be the book for you.
The last one would be near and dear to Montessorians' hearts. It's called "Grandfather Ghandi" by Arun Ghandi and Bethany Hegedus. It tells Arun's story about how he went to live at the compound where his grandfather was living as a small child. He struggled with feeling that he was not accepted (he didn't speak the local language), some of the kids teased him, he didn't always do well in school but he really wanted to be close to his grandfather. However, his grandfather was very busy and there always seemed to be lots of other people around. Arun does get some good lessons, the most important being that you can choose how you solve a problem. You can either be angry and strike out, or you can turn your anger and look for other solutions. The pictures are nice too... lots of energy and bright colors. I think this would be a great book to start the year with or to use during community meetings to help the conversation about problem solving. Here's a book trailer about it.

Monday, June 9, 2014


Today I went to the new Boca Raton library.  It is a beautiful facility and they have a great selection of books.  It was a pleasure to go and do some reading there.  I got to read some biographies today and they had some I hadn't read before.  My favorite one was called "Bad News for Outlaws: The Remarkable life of Bass Reeves" by Vaunda Michaux Nelson.  It's about a law man named Bass Reeves who started his life as a slave but ended up a famous sheriff.  It was a great story with lots of interesting details about Bass (who could shoot straight with both hands and was pretty tricky about arresting bad guys).  Here's a book trailer about it.
The second one I read was "To Dare Mighty Things: The Life of Theodore Roosevelt" by Doreen Rappaport.  I love the way Doreen Rappaport writes biographies.  She weaves together a story of the person's life, along with quotes from their own writing or spoken words in that is visually pleasing as well as compelling to read.  The illustrator, C. F. Payne, also does an amazing job of capturing the energy and curiosity of Theodore Roosevelt.  It was a lovely book.  Here's a book trailer that I thought was great.

I also read "Daniel Boone's Great Escape" which was very exciting.  It tells about a time when Daniel Boone was scouting and was then captured by the Indians.  He proved his bravery through a variety of experiences but eventually escaped and made it back to the fort and his family.  It seemed like kind of an isolated incident (he did some pretty great things during his life) and I wondered why the author would choose this one event.  The pictures were compelling but it wasn't my favorite book.

There was also a really great graphic novel about a librarian (!!)  It's called Alia's Mission by Mark Nan Stamaty.  It tells the story of a librarian (Alia) who works at a library in Iraq.  When it becomes apparent that war is coming, she starts taking books from the library and putting them in her house to keep them safe.  She has to be pretty sneaky about it because people have told her she shouldn't take the books away, but her worst fears are realized when the army comes through and people start looting.  They take all kinds of things, but leave the books, so she and her friends and neighbors come and help to save the books.  It's pretty exciting and the graphic nature of the book really helps you understand the story.  It would be a great match up with "The Librarian of Basra" by Jeanette Winters. >
The last one was "John Brown: His Fight for Freedom" by John Hendrix.  This was probably my least favorite one today.  Although the pictures were interesting, the text really wasn't.  I really wanted to like this one because I just finished reading some historical fiction based on John Brown and I wanted to get some of the REAL background story.  The best part was it was short.

Tonight I'm reading a murder mystery by one of my favorite authors, Sue Grafton.  I've read her whole series of books which started with A is for Alibi and we are now on W is for Wasted.  I love reading a series of books because you really start to feel like you know the characters.  Happy reading!

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Settling in

So summer vacation has officially started and I've already been to the beach twice.  I also seem to have found the two sea lice that were at our beach (if you don't know what sea lice are, imagine small beasts that go to the places your bathing suit touches and leave an itchy red welt-if you have chiggers where you live, imagine getting them in the ocean).  Thankfully, there were only two and I have a great remedy for them (it's a gel called Sting Stop) so it's all good.

And speaking of all good, Pete and I are settling into the summer vacation thing.  I checked the shelves of our school library before I left and I wanted to know why some of books are never getting checked out.  So I brought a few home and that's the beginning of my reading list.  Today I'm reading The Dark Hills Divide by Patrick Carman.  I read the Chaos Trilogy by Patrick Carman a couple of years ago and really loved it.  This one is sort of slow at the beginning but I'm about half way through and liking it better and better.  It's about a girl who lives in a community that is surrounded by walls, to keep the bad guys out.  However, the founder of the community and wall visionary dies suddenly at the beginning of the book and now she seems to be on a quest to find out more about the walls and what lies beyond.

How's your reading going? I sure hope you've gotten to stretch out with something good!

Friday, June 6, 2014

So summer vacation has officially started, YAY!  And I finished my first book today!  It's called An Abundance of Katherines by John Green.  John Green also wrote the much more famous The Fault in our Stars which is coming out as a movie soon.  He has such a great voice as an author.  His characters are so interesting.  In An Abundance of Katherines, the main character, Colin, is a child prodigy, who is worried that his giftedness is fading.  When his girlfriend, Katherine, breaks up with him, he falls into such a funk that his best (and only) friend, Hassan, demands that they take a road trip.  It turns out that Colin has only ever dated Katherines and as he struggles to make sense of this latest break up, he turns to math to help him predict how all relationships will progress.  Along the way, he and Hassan end up in Gutshot, TN and make some new friends.  It's a really fun book to read, but it has quite a bit of (what might be termed) mature language and some sexual situations that make it inappropriate for elementary school.  

Now I'm on to the big stack.... today when I went back to school, I looked at the shelves in the media center and thought "Why aren't the kids reading these books?"  So I brought a few (ok, like 15 or 20) home and they are either going in the box for Goodwill or on to some recommendation list... no middle ground here...  

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Summer reading challenge

Are you up for a challenge? I am! I’m challenging myself to read a book a day AGAIN this summer. It’s been a lot of fun in the past and I hope you’ll join me! Here’s how it works:
Step 1: Read a book every day. It can be any kind of book, picture book, novel, non-fiction, whatever works for you. It can also be an average. I like reading novels but I KNOW I’m not going to be able to read a novel every day (there are only so many hours in a day and there’s other stuff to do besides read!). So I can also picture that I’m going to spend at least one afternoon at the local library and probably at least one bookstore reading picture books. So if I read three books in one day, I can take two or more days to read my chapter books.
Step 2: Share what you’re reading with someone else. I’m going to be writing here on the blog about what I’m reading and I’m bringing my friend, Pete the Cat, along for company. You can make a list, write a book, make a video, post it on facebook, you decide!
Step 3: At the end of the summer, we’ll compare what we’ve been reading and celebrate! Are you in?

You know... climb every mountain, ford every stream...
follow every rainbow, till you find your dream.