Glorious Summer

Tomorrow, July 23, is predicted to be the hottest day so far this year. A super hot day is perfect for lying around reading a “cool” book. I have a pile waiting for just such a day. I must admit that the past couple of weeks have been such wonderful weather that I have slowed down on my reading. Hours on my bike and in my kayak are taking my time.
Since July 1 I have read a wide variety of books. Several picture books, a couple of graphic novels and just one Newbery contender.

Picture books:

Graphic Novels:

Novels:

Capture the Flag (Capture the Flag, #1)Capture the Flag by Kate Messner
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was a wonderful middle-grade mystery. The 4 young characters were diverse on many levels and had to learn the value of collaboration and cooperation. There was a very real crime, true bad guys and plenty of action. I picked this one up to read because I received and ARC for the third installment in this series. After this first one I can’t wait to read #2 and #3. I totally plan on buying all three for the 3rd grade classroom library I am working on this summer.

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Better Nate Than EverBetter Nate Than Ever by Tim Federle
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I start many reviews with the phrase: “I wanted to like this….. ” But this time I am going to flip that. ” I wasn’t really sure I wanted to like this…
I had actually passed over it a number of times. I guess I just wasn’t sure how I felt about an LGBT story for my elementary grade students. Since I work mostly with younger elementary advanced readers I have to be discerning . They have the skills to read almost anything but not the maturity always.That being said, I chose this title for my road trip to nErDCampMI this week. I knew that Tim Federle the author, had narrated this audio edition himself, AND he had won an ALA award for this rendition. My need to have evidence before spouting too strong of an opinion won over and I plugged it in.
It was a contagious story with a sparkling character and Federle gave a wonderful performance. My fears were allayed as Nate himself tells us a number of times that he just doesn’t know and isn’t ready to know where he will land on the sexuality continuim. He is definitely a dramatic and one of a kind personality. Nate delves into his passion of Broadway while navigating the confusion of pre-adolescence and dodging the abuse of cruel middle school bullies. Federle gives him a voice that is driven by Nate’s energy but avoids becoming a cliche. Nate’s open and vulnerable sharing of his journey to New York and the confusion of emotions it evokes is precious and heartbeaking. It was perfect as an audio book and I miss Nate in my car!
I would hand this to some of my 4th or 5th graders without a problem.

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I am totally addicted to this series!
Insurgent (Divergent, #2)Insurgent by Veronica Roth
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is proving to be an amazing dystopia. I found myself struggling a little with believability more with this second installment. However,as it drew to a close and Roth took the reader to the conclusion I was entranced again. As I process the story today I am impressed with how Roth uses the dystopia style to force reflection of our own personalities.
In this book there is still plenty of fast-paced action and romantic tension, but we get a much closer and insightful look at each faction. The factions; Amity, Abnegation, Candor, Erudite and Dauntless each showcase an essential and valuable attribute of society. I have always believed that when we consider our own personality traits we find that our strongest best trait is also the source of our worst weakness. So much of personality is a double-edged sword. Roth shows us the advantages and the pitfalls of each faction.
I think the story of these factions also has something to say about the value of diversity. We need a diverse society, that is willing to work in cooperation and collaboration in order to survive the future.

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This is the one Newbery Contender. I REALLY Liked this one!
Absolutely AlmostAbsolutely Almost by Lisa Graff
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

So many great books to chose from this year!! I totally loved this one. It was a pretty quick read but full of heart. I think I want to make it my go to read aloud next year.
This newest offering from Lisa Graff has an entirely different feel from last year’s A Tangle of Knots. This one had far fewer characters and a gentle, less frenetic flavor. It reminded me a lot of Wonder.
Albie, the main character is a kind-hearted struggling student. Every teacher will want to reach out and hug him.

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Another Day, Another Book, Another Possible Newbery

So I have done pretty well with my book-a-day challenge thus far. It is June 7 and I am only one book behind. I wish I could use the excuse that today’s book was not a picture book (256 pages) and therefore should count for 2 days at least. But that would kind of embarrassing.
Anyway, below are my readings and reviews for yesterday and today:

Tesla's Attic (Accelerati, #1)Tesla’s Attic by Neal Shusterman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Hmmmm,I am not sure what I want to say about this book. It is written with wonderfully challenging vocabulary (enough so that it will take an advanced elementary reader to manage it) and well fleshed out characters. I actually really connected with the characters and would like to know what happens to them in the next installment. However, I think the science part of the story was tough to follow. I know that Nikolai Tesla was a genius and therefore I shouldn’t expect to have his science explained. But I do think it took a little too much blind faith by the reader to buy all the science-fiction that provided little to no explanation.
I suppose more of that may be offered up in the next in the series. That too, makes me hesitant about its Newbery hopes. The committee rarely chooses a book in a series.
I have had several students clamoring for this title and they finished more quickly than I did. So what do I know. :}

Blockhead: The Life of FibonacciBlockhead: The Life of Fibonacci by Joseph D’Agnese
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was a very cute picture book about Fibonacci, one of the great minds in Math History. He discovered what we refer to as the Fibonacci pattern today. 1,1,2,3,5,8,13,21,34……..
It is a pattern he demonstrated could be found in the repeating patterns of the natural world. When they were middle-schoolers, my two sons were fascinated with fractals and the Fibonacci pattern.
This was another example of an incredibly complex topic being creatively explained for a young audience. I love these books because I can glean a tidbit of new knowledge without having to wade through an agonizingly long and dry adult non-fiction.
I guess, I need pictures!

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Book-A-Day Challenger Summer 2014

WOW! I really thought June would never arrive. Then lo and behold, it is already June 4. I set my goal for the Book-A-Day challenge to run from June 1 to August 30, giving me 90 days/books to read. It does not bode well for my goal that I am already behind. But in my defense, school is not out for another week and a half. So I have to fall back on picture books.

June 1, 2014

June 1, 2014

June 2, 2014

June 2, 2014

June 3, 2014

June 3, 2014

June 2, 2014[/caption]

I hope some of you will join me in this challenge. It is sooooo important to keep reading all summer. Feel free to leave me a comment here to share what books you have read.

More Wisconsin History

Books in a Box: Lutie Stearns and the Traveling Libraries of WisconsinBooks in a Box: Lutie Stearns and the Traveling Libraries of Wisconsin by Stuart Stotts
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I am so enjoying middle grade biographies this summer. This great book caught my eye on my new library shelves. I wish I was Lutie Stearns, or at the very least could meet her. She pretty much single-handedly established the library system for the state of Wisconsin in the early 1900’s. There were wonderful pictures of Lutie, small turn-of-the-century towns in Northern Wisconsin, and darling settings for the traveling libraries she distributed. I ride my motorcycle all over this state and often wonder what life was like on these farms a century ago. Thanks to this biography I have a more defined imagination. I can now imagine Lutie traveling these same small roads through these obscure lonely towns. I work with students that refuse to read and take the millions of books at their disposal for granted. This book really makes one stop and consider what it would have been like to yearn for the access to a book.

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Middle-Grade Biographies

Charlotte Bronte and Jane EyreCharlotte Bronte and Jane Eyre by Stewart Ross
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I remember why I loved biographies as a young reader. This detailed, very honest look at Charlotte Bronte was wonderful. As an adult, I find “grown-up” biographies pretty pedantic and boring. But these biographies designed for middle-grade readers are so much more succinct. I love “Jane Eyre” and “Wuthering Heights” (by Emily Bronte) and much prefer their dark gothic style to simpering Jane Austin literature. But everything I had ever read about the Bronte’s had described them as also simpering and reclusive. This novel however, presented Charlotte as the tough, independent and impatient personality I would have expected from the creator of Jane Eyre. The author did a great job of connecting her life with the details from her fictional works. This would be a great quick kick-off to a study of Jane Eyre.

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John Brown: His Fight for FreedomJohn Brown: His Fight for Freedom by John Hendrix
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I do love the style of this illustrator. This particular book he is the author and illustrator and I like it better than the ones that he collaborated with another author.
John Brown is a very interesting figure in American History. Unfortunately, he was destined to serve as a martyr. He is often portrayed as a crazy man of violence. In truth, his crusade does dissolve into mayhem. Was this the only choice? Probably, considering the entire country eventually feel victim to a bloody Civil War in pursuit, of this crusade. I am fascinated by a figure that chose to fight another man’s battle to the death.
Hendrix does a good job of describing this man and his era in a quick and succinct manner. In spite of the “picture book” style, I would still consider this for older middle-grade readers.

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Nurse, Soldier, Spy: The Story of Sarah Edmonds, a Civil War HeroNurse, Soldier, Spy: The Story of Sarah Edmonds, a Civil War Hero by Marissa Moss
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This rating might be closer to 2.75. But I can’t seem to bring it up to 3. I was really looking forward to this book. I had seen the Illustrator interviewed and was fascinated by his art. Also, it fit my passion for historical medical/nursing content. I don’t know why, but it left me slightly disturbed. It felt so weird that this woman was able to pass as a man so completely. I found myself staring at the illustrations trying to see the woman in there. There were also a couple of real photos of Sarah Edmonds as a man and as a woman, and even those perplexed me. I wonder how a young audience would react. Just an unusual choice of characters to present I guess. I couldn’t tell you any of the actual facts presented so I was totally distracted.

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