Saturday, March 28, 2015

Mish mosh

I got two boxes of books this week from our book fair and it's safe to say, the kids were as excited about the books as I was.  They practically snatched the books out of my hands on Thursday and Friday, so I can't wait to see if they live up to the hype.  The big winners were "The Zodiac Legacy-Convergence" by Stan Lee (so how could that one miss?  Published by Disney, written by Stan Lee (of Spiderman fame) and it's about a group of kids who have super powers based on the Chinese Zodiac).  Awesome.  The other big winner was "Loot" by Jude Watson.  How can you lose with a plot that includes a world renowned thief, orphans, terrible foster care, evil and unreliable adults, long lost relatives and hunt for treasure?  Ummm, you can't and the kids were super excited.

I read a couple of new ones this week and they were wide ranging.  The first one is an adorable picture book called "Voices are not for yelling" by Elizabeth Verdick.  As a teacher, it's exactly what you would hope for in a book with this title... short pieces of text,  lovely, bright colored pictures, and a great lesson in manners.  Every school is going to want copies of this one for their shelves and I'm so glad I found it.

The second one I heard about in Mock Newbery group on Goodreads and I got an advanced readers copy from Netgalley.  It's called "Serafina and the Black Cloak" by Robert Beatty.  It has a very interesting premise... a girl named Serafina lives hidden in the Biltmore House (in Asheville, NC).  Her dad is a maintenance man there and they have been living in the basement (unnoticed) since Serafina was a baby.  At 12, Serafina has never been to school (but she knows how to read) and has no friends and spends her nights catching rats.  One night when she's out hunting, a scary man in a cape chases another little girl into her path.  The girl disappears screaming in terror.  Serafina doesn't exactly see what happens but the man in the cape starts to chase her too.  Other kids disappear and Serafina knows she has to find out what happens.  There's some nice history about the Biltmore House and their family but I found parts of the story really scary (I think I'm a wimp about kids being taken from their parents).  It's super compelling to read and it does have a happy ending but I think it might be too big for my elementary school students.  

I also read one called "Icebreaker" by Lian Tanner.  I also found this one very compelling, but I think I didn't like it as much as Serafina.  I tried explaining the plot to my most rabid reader at school and I must have done it badly because she kept saying 'That sounds confusing" and I guess it is, a little.  It starts off with a list of all the characters (which, personally, I hate, because I think it's kind of cheating.  Shouldn't you put all that into the story rather than have to go back to this list all the time to figure out who's who?  Although, maybe the story would have been less confusing if I had...)  Anyway, then the prologue tells about a professor who has built a mechanical child but there are a group of people called the Anti-Machinists who are determined to destroy the mechanical child so the professor puts the child into a box and then onto a boat.  And then 100 years pass.  The people onto the boat have sort of fallen into a society of sorts that is sorted into three groups.  The three groups try to have as little to do with each other as possible (but being on a boat, that's sort of difficult). They are sailing in apparently Arctic waters with no destination in mind.   There is a girl that doesn't appear to belong to any group and they call her the Nothing girl and she appears to have raised herself.  One day, she sees a boy on the ice and calls to rescue him.  They do although they are deeply suspicious of him and keep him locked up.  The Nothing Girl (who's name is Petrel) wants to find out more about him and as she's talking to him, one of the characters is murdered.  Everyone immediately assumes it must have been the new kid and Petrel and so they go on a bit of hunt to try to find out who really committed the murder.  It was very hard to put down, but you can see where it was a bit complicated.  

Monday, March 23, 2015

Don't miss these!

After a bunch of dogs, I hit a winning streak this week.  I read three completely awesome books that you SHOULD NOT MISS.  They are all advanced readers copies that I read from Netgalley, so look for them in book stores SOON.

The first one is called "Goodbye Stranger" by Rebecca Stead.  I have been mystified by why people love Rebecca Stead's writing.  Ok, well, I get why they like her writing, she writes about quirky, interesting characters, but I've really hated some of the plot twists she puts in. "When you reach me" and "Liar and Spy" I found annoying BUT "Goodbye Stranger" is so great!  She has these completely amazing characters-Bridge (short for Bridget) who was in a life threatening accident as a third grader and told that she must have some big purpose in life to have survived such a terrible accident so now as a seventh grader, she's still wondering what that purpose might be.  She has two best friends, Tab (short for Tabitha) and Em (short for Emily), who, although they are very different people, have been friends since elementary school, although going to middle school has strained their friendship.  There is also a second story teller, who is also a girl, but unnamed, and at first does not appear to be connected in any way to the first characters but in Rebecca Stead fashion, it turns out, they ARE connected, in a big way.  Anyway, as they move through their seventh grade year, they have many choices and that's what makes this book so great.  Choices like, should you send a boy a picture of yourself because you really, really like him?  Should you join a club because it interests you or because your friends are in the club?  Should you continue to be friends with a person because you've been friends with them a long time or are there lines that get crossed where you can't go back?  I'm not sure if I can put this one in my elementary library, but boy, I can't WAIT to start recommending kids read it.

The second one I read is called "The Churchill Club" by Phillip Hoose.  It's a non-fiction book about a group of middle school kids in Denmark during World War 2 that essentially waged a guerrilla war against the Nazis.  It's built heavily around interviews with one of the initial organizers, Knud Pedersen.  There are lots of photographs that remind you that this a completely true story and these things really happened.  It tells how a group of middle school kids would get an idea to try to fight against the Nazis in a country where the king essentially allowed the Nazis to come without a fight, the kinds of things that they did, and the consequences of what they did.  I also really loved the ending that told what happened to each of the kids after the war (I always hate it when they end these kinds of book at the end of the war, as though the war is the only thing that was important).  There is also an extensive list of the sources the author used to write the book, which I think would be great to show kids.  This would be an excellent addition to any unit about World War 2 but it would also be good to use when talking about civil disobedience.  

The last sparkly one this week is called "A Whole New Ballgame" by Phil Bildner.  It's a fiction book about a group of fifth graders who are living with a new teacher.  This is a very diverse group of kids (kids who speak different languages at home, kids who are autistic, kids who are in wheelchairs) and are surprised that because of budget cuts, they have a new teacher.  Their new teacher is a lot different from their old teacher (who had been teaching for at least 25 years), this new teacher has tattoos, thinks kids should learn because it's awesome, read whatever they choose, and should not spend their time preparing for tests.  It talks about the pressure on teachers to practice test taking skills, the value of research and friendship and teamwork.  It also has a really great narrator and although it probably has a happier ending than it needed, I think kids are really going to like this one a lot.  You  might use this one with books by Amare Stoudemire called "STAT" because of the themes of basketball and character or "4 kids in 5E and 1 crazy year" by Virginia Schwartz which has themes of writing, test taking, diversity, and friendship.  

Monday, March 16, 2015

New things!

I've had a stupid cold this week and I spent a lot of time watching TV and re-reading Harry Potter.  But I'm feeling better now and I was digging around in Netgalley and there's some really great stuff there!

I just read a picture called "The Queen's Shadow" by Cybele Young.  It's a funny story about a queen who has lost her shadow and she accuses the animals she is dining with of stealing it.  One by one they explain they couldn't have possibly have done it because of the way that they see.  There is some great scientific information in the book about the way different animals see and it has a funny ending.   The pictures are scientifically Victorian so you get both the queenly theme and the scientific accuracy of the animals.  I liked this one a lot.  This would be a great one to go along with some of Steve Jenkins books like "What do you do with a Tail like this?".

The second one I read was a middle grade fiction chapter book called "Seriously Wicked" by Tina Connolly.  It had a very funny premise... Camellia, a middle schooler, is the assistant of a truly wicked witch.  They have a pet dragon in the garage and in addition to trying to algebra, Cam is responsible for gathering all the ingredients for the witch's evil spells and not letting anyone know that she lives with a witch.  It's a precarious balance and one that is upset when a new handsome boy comes to town and the witch hatches a plan to take over the town, which coincides with a phoenix's rebirth, that could cause the end of the world.  In addition to being exciting, it's also funny and fresh.  Another big winner.  This would be great to compare with one like 'Half Magic" by Edward Eager or "Harry Potter".  

The last one I read is called "Fort" by Cynthia DeFelice.  It's about two 11 year olds, Wyatt and Augie, that build a completely amazing fort where they like to spend their time camping and just hanging out.  Unfortunately, two mean kids find their fort and are intent on destroying it.  Wyatt and Augie come up with a really great plan to stop that from happening.  It has been themes of friendship, bullying and being kind.  It would be great paired with "Wonder" by R. J. Palacio.  

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Picture book biographies

I got some new books today, YAY!  I suppose it's a sign of my madness that when I get a box of new books, it always feels like Christmas.  So of course,  I hauled several of them home to read.  There were three gorgeous picture book biographies that I had been reading about on other blogs that I FINALLY got for our library.

The first one is called "The Right Word" by Jen Bryant and Melissa Sweet.  These two have teamed up before to write some awesome biographies about people you might never have heard of (like Tony Sarg, who invented the Macy's parade balloons-"Balloons Over Broadway").  This one is about Peter Mark Roget, of the thesaurus.  It gives nice background information about the life of Dr. Roget, including the amazing number of things he invented, besides the thesaurus, but in my opinion, what really brings this one to life is the art work of Melissa Sweet.  There is so much energy in these pictures, they practically leap off the page.  As part of the pictures, there are lists of synonyms for words on the page, so in addition to being a great biography, it would be a great book for talking about synonyms or vocabulary in general.  Loved this one.  Here's the book trailer for it.

The second one I got is called "Josephine" by Patricia Hruby Powell about the life of Josephine Baker.  I was a little nervous when I picked it up because it's pretty thick for a picture book but I shouldn't have worried.  The book is written in free verse so the story flows beautifully and the art work is such a great reflection of the text-jazzy, exciting, intense.  It tells about her life struggling to become a performer and particularly how racism played a role in her life and how she chose to live it.  It also gives you a great picture of how hard people have to work to be successful.  It was a great story.  

The last one (for now) is a picture book biography of Carl Sagan called "Star Stuff" by Stephanie Roth Sisson.  The pictures are nice-a wide eyed Carl Sagan is born in New York and grows up to be Dr. Carl Sagan, famous astronomer.  I thought this one was a little light on information, but it had a nice message of curiosity and research to find out all the things you want to have answers to.  

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Chapter books from the Book Fair

There were a lot of picture books I hadn't read at the book fair but there were even more chapter books that I hadn't read.  I read pretty fast, but I'm still having trouble finishing all the books I wanted to read before the end of the book fair.  I wonder if my principal would mind if I took the day off tomorrow so I could finish reading....

There were some completely stellar ones on the list.  Two by Lynda Mullaly Hunt... I hadn't read "One for the Murphys" which got a lot of buzz last year.  It's about a girl named Carley who is put in a foster home (with the Murphys) because of a terrible incident with her stepfather and mom.  Her mom was badly injured and couldn't take care of her so Carley is sent to foster care.  The Murphys are a solid family with three young boys and Carley finds it difficult that people can be so kind to each other.  She makes friends and learns to trust the Murphys.  I was a little surprised by the ending. This would be a great one with "The Pictures of Hollis Woods" by Patricia Reilly Giff or that oldie, but goodie "The Great Gilly Hopkins" by Katerine Paterson.   Hunt also has a new book out this year called "Fish in a Tree" and it was equally wonderful.  This one is about a girl named Ally who has moved around a lot.  Her dad is in the military and has been deployed (again).  Her beloved grandfather died recently and her mom works a lot (as a waitress).  Her older brother works in a garage.  Ally is a talented artist and is good at math but she also has a big secret, which is she doesn't know how to read and by 6th grade, she's learned to  hide that pretty well.  There is some great background knowledge about kids with learning disabilities, particularly dyslexia.  There are also some awesome characters.  This one would work well with "Thank you Mr. Falker" by Patricia Polacco as well as "Do Bananas Chew Gum?" by Jamie Gilson.

I also really loved this new one by Stan Lee (of Spider Man fame) called "The Zodiac Legacy: Convergence".  The main character, Steven Lee is a Chinese American with distant parents and a loving grandfather.  They encourage him to take a trip to Hong Kong to connect with his culture (which he finds overwhelming and unfamiliar) and finds he has magical powers that are connected the Chinese Zodiac.  He finds others with similar powers and finds that they are being hunted by an evil genius intent on harnessing all their powers so he can take over the world.  It's very fast paced with tons of action.  I liked it a lot.  Here's a book trailer about it.

Gordon Korman also had a new series that has a very interesting premise, which is almost impossible to describe without spoiling the plot but I'll try.  The book is called "Masterminds", which makes more sense about 75% into the book, but it's about some kids who live in a "Pleasantville" kind of town called Serenity.  They have average sounding families who mostly work in a plant on the outskirts of town that makes traffic cones.  The town is guarded by some very strict police officers who wear purple uniforms, so the kids called them Purple People Eaters.  The kids have been taught that their town is perfect and so no one needs to come or go from the town.  One day, two of the kids decide that they should ride their bikes just beyond the town limits (there is a car in a garage that sounds very cool).  As they ride, one of the boys, Eli, is struck seriously ill.  Eli spends a few days in bed and is better (but doesn't want to cross the line again) but when he's well, he finds out his friend is being sent away.  His friend leaves a cryptic message and Eli starts asking questions.  Some of his other friends have other similar questions.  It's pretty exciting and the characters are interesting enough that I'd like to read the next one in the series, when it comes out.