Mock Newbery Mid-Summer Meeting

I hope everyone has been reading this summer. I have not heard from most of you so I trust you are having a busy summer. We planned to get together during the summer to catch up on the new books we have read. As promised, I will be at the Waukesha Public Library next Tuesday August 5 at 11:00AM. Please email me or leave a comment here if you are able to attend. I need to have numbers so I can find a good space for us. Be sure to bring the titles and authors of new books you have read this summer.

Here are 2 that I just finished:

Rain ReignRain Reign by Ann M. Martin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was an incredible book! The protagonist has OCD and Aspergers. The story is told in first person and Rose is so endearing. She has a frank and vulnerable voice that makes us feel her struggles with the disease and her difficult life. She gives Aspergers a poignant voice and personality. The story revolves around the lose of her beloved dog and I must confess to shedding tears at several points while reading. Rose has a coping mechanism of discovering homophones(homonyms), thus the title Rain Reign. Very special book.

How to Outrun a Crocodile When Your Shoes Are UntiedHow to Outrun a Crocodile When Your Shoes Are Untied by Jess Keating
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I think that students will enjoy this well enough. I had a difficult time connecting with the main character. For most of the book I found her to be kind of whiny. She is a middle-schooler who struggles with being awkward and unpopular. There are of course plenty of fellow students who bully her and exploit her fears. Ana happens to have parents who are zookeepers and there are several interesting animal references throughout the book.
I think the thing I liked the best was the moral at the end of the story. Ana finally recognizes the support and encouragement of family and friends and realizes that the best weapon against bullies is to be brave from within. This I know is a tough lesson when you are in the midst of the difficult years of adolescence. But the truth is that we seem unable to eliminate the presence of bullies no matter how we try to teach kindness. Perhaps it is time to teach kids to short circuit the bully’s power by moving away from them and towards the strong person we are meant to be. Yes as Auggie tells us “choose kind” but also choose strength.

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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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Still Reading…….

In spite of all that excitement of a new grandson, I have been trying to keep up with the summer challenge. I am going to split this post into 2 parts. The first one will be the picture books I have read with just a picture of the book and the second will be the chapter books with my review.

PICTURE BOOKS

CHAPTER BOOKS

Circa NowCirca Now by Amber McRee Turner
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I really, really enjoyed this book. Circa, is a young girl who loses her father in a devastating tornado early in the story. She and her father had worked together on special Photoshop projects. They were particularly devoted to restoring photos for a memory care home in their town. As a way to work through her pain and loss she wants to continue this project even though her mother objects. In the process, she starts to believe there might be something magical about her photo-shopping. In addition, as she and her mother try to return to their lives with Dad, an unusual guest appears on their doorstep.
This story was heart-breaking on many levels. The characters each must find a way through their grief and fears. The frightening effects of memory loss are explored from several perspectives.
The book reminded me somewhat of A Snicker of Magic. In both stories, the interconnections of our lives with those around us prove to be stronger than mere coincidence. The characters and their stories are easier to follow in Circa Now. The language is not as poetic or melodic as A Snicker of Magic, but I think young readers will enjoy this story more.

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The Swift Boys & MeThe Swift Boys & Me by Kody Keplinger
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Oh this was a powerful read!!! I cried and cried, and had to take a break. But I couldn’t stay away. I had quickly fallen in love with all these characters.
Nola has grown up next to the three Swift brothers who have been her “best-best friends” through childhood. But the boys’ father, Mr. Swift, leaves the family one night with no explanations or even a good-bye,and life will never be the same. The painful process of growing up and leaving behind childhood is so poignant in this story. Nola’s voice in telling her story of this life changing summer is beautiful in its heart-breaking candor.
It is going to be so hard to pick a favorite for the Newbery this year!!

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Divergent (Divergent, #1)Divergent by Veronica Roth
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was a “stay up all night”; “I’m not doing any dishes, laundry or cooking”; “Shush I am at the good part” kind of book. I could not put it down. I had kind of burned out on the whole dystopian genre but I had a student who LOVED this book and then the movie came out and I couldn’t hold out anymore. I am so glad I can now converse with the students on this one. It was a well built world (set in Chicago, my hometown) with powerful characters and thought provoking themes.
Beatrice’s world consists of 5 philosophical factions. Abnegation, Dauntless, Candor, Amity, and Erudite. Now I must confess I had to look a couple of those words up. In true Dystopian fashion there is an evil controlling government that our courageous characters discover and fight against. The action was non-stop and gut-wrenching. Of course it wouldn’t be complete without young love.

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The Fault in Our StarsThe Fault in Our Stars by John Green
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I realize that every single one of my friends have given this book 5 stars. I suppose this review suffers from my delay in reading the book, combined with the deluge of expectations that have built up. I often find things (movies and books) anti-climatic if I am exposed to too many rave reviews.
I started hearing John Green accolades over a year ago and because The Fault in Our Stars was on huge waiting lists last summer, I chose to read Paper Towns by John Green instead. I would almost say that I was more enamored with that book than this one.
I think that John Green has a beautiful gift with the written word. However, I think his plots are slightly formulaic. He always has a love story boiling in teen-age existential angst, a moderately crazy girl and an epic road trip. The Fault in My Stars has a little added emotional tug with the childhood cancer theme. I would call it a teen age “Tuesdays with Morrie.”
All that to say that I still gave it 4 stars, just couldn’t give it 5. I still read it in less than 2 days, and yes I sat at the coffee shop and shamelessly cried in public as I finished it this morning.

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A Long Walk to Water: Based on a True StoryA Long Walk to Water: Based on a True Story by Linda Sue Park
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

My friend Holly recommended this book. She actually created a group with her students to help support the cause for clean water in the African region. This book paralleled 2 young people coming of age in Malawi Africa. At first I had trouble seeing how their paths would cross. Because one story, the young civil war refugee, was 15 years before the story of the young Malawian girl struggling for water. But never fear it is a powerful story and worthy of a unit in most classrooms!!

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CaminarCaminar by Skila Brown
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This quick book is written in verse. It is interesting to me how many books in verse share such heavy subjects lately.
I read this in companion with “A Long Walk to Water” and they fit together in a powerful way. This book is also set in a war torn country, Guatemala. The young narrator tells of the government and rebel soldiers tearing through his quiet remote mountain village. So many difficult places to grow up in this world….

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AND LAST BUT NOT LEAST…..A GRAPHIC NOVEL

CardboardCardboard by Doug TenNapel
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I have such a hard time with graphic novels. Just not my style, but I respect their value and their draw for readers. This one is highly regarded, by a highly acclaimed Graphic Novelist. The story is of a boy and his father following the death of his mother. The father has fallen into depression and hard times. The only gift he can give his son for his birthday is a piece of cardboard. Of course, the cardboard is magic….
I followed the story for a while, but it seemed to spin off into chaos after a while. That is one of my biggest complaints about graphic novels, is that they cause me to lose all focus. I did not like the antagonist in the story, not because he was a bad guy, but because he was sort of unbelievable to me. Anyway I can see the story’s draw and maybe I will try something different by this author.

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KEEP READING !!!!!!

School’s Out for Summer!!

Officially there are 2 more days of school. However, I am exercising the rare indulgence of a volunteer and calling yesterday my final day. I finished up most of the projects with classes, cleaned up and packed all my books, and said my bittersweet goodbyes to the graduating 5th grade.
That being said, I have very few excuses to not fulfill my goal of a book-a-day. The main downside of this challenge is that I don’t read fast enough. I have a huge TBR list but most of them are several hundred pages that I won’t finish in one day. I will have to check in with my Nerdy friends to find out how they deal with this. My plan is to have the longer books in progress and a steady supply of picture books to fill in on a day to day basis.
The Witch of Blackbird PondThe Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This wonderful Newbery winner truly stands the test of time. It was written in 1958. I don’t even remember if I ever read it as a young person. I do remember that it was a favorite of my oldest son’s. The writing and vocabulary is true to the time period of the late 17th century. I started reading this with 4th grade advanced readers as a guided reading experience. This was definitely a stretch for them but what rich, rich language for them to be exposed to. I suppose it could be said, based on the length of our vocabulary list, that this was not a good fit for them. But we were all pretty hooked. They were baffled by the living conditions of the early American settlers. They were outraged by the intolerance and rigidity of the Puritan society. And they were intrigued by the hint at witchcraft.
Unfortunately, we ran out of time to finish this up together. I knew that this rainy, dreary first morning of summer break I had to finish it!! We were just pages from all the action of the witch trial against Kit. I really hope that they pick up a copy this summer and finish up this story. We were just at the “good part”!!

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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.

2015 Mock Newbery Club

  I was so excited to have so many students join our first meeting of the Banting 2015 Mock Newbery club.  We will be reading books published in 2014.  Each reader will report back to the group their review of the book and if it should be considered as a possible Newbery Contender.

Here is the list so far of the recommended titles:

A Snicker of Magic  Half a ChanceThe Mark of the Dragonfly  Ophelia and the Marvelous BoyThe Ghosts of Tupelo Landing  Seven Stories Up Zane and the Hurricane: A Story of Katrina

Tesla's Attic (Accelerati, #1) Silver People: Voices from the Panama Canal  Boys of BlurNightingale's Nest  Under the Egg  The Riverman