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 !!!!!!

Another GN

Page by PaigePage by Paige by Laura Lee Gulledge
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This whole GN genre is growing on me. This book really grabbed me. The cloud of self-doubt that follows this young heroine is my own constant companion. Perhaps for someone who doesn’t suffer this bane, they might find her hard to believe. But for me I feel her pain, still at 50 years old!!! She even threw herself “a pity party”! Been there, done that a thousand times.
The artwork in this graphic novel is wonderful. I read once that the art of a truly great GN must tell the story in a way words alone could not. I believe that very aptly describes the marriage of text and art in this story. Where I would normally quote part of the text to show my connection to it, here I would have to copy and paste one of the illustrated frames.
Given careful discernment, I can enjoy the contribution to literature made by the Graphic Novel.

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Entering the World of GN (Graphic Novels)

118944[1] AMERICAN BORN CHINESE by Gene Luen Yang
…bravely into a new literary world! It was suggested that I start my discovery into the genre of Graphic Novels with this book. While I wouldn’t say I am totally enamored with the style in one sitting, I can add some new enlightenments to my knowledge base. I have argued for several years with classroom teachers to allow certain GN books to qualify as “reading”, without truly embracing the genre in my own reading. In order to stay true to my goal of staying current in Children’s and Young Adult literature I really must break into this world.
That being said, American Born Chinese was a good place to start. It is a stand alone novel, so it bypasses the stereotypical “comic book series” feeling. I must admit this story could not have been told in the same way in any other style. Although listed as children’s lit, I would not hand it to anyone under middle school. There is a lot of girlfriend/boyfriend reference that rings far more relevant for the older grades. The story is cleverly written in three distinct tales that wrap together in a surprising end. The theme itself has stayed with me in subtle ways for several days. I often judge the quality of either a book or movie by how much I think of it in the days following my completing it.
So in that regards, this one popped into my consciousness during quiet moments many times. Leaving me with a “…Umm!!” moment. The theme takes us into the world of 1st generation Americans specifically and being comfortable and true to ourselves in general. It was a poignant voice for Chinese Americans and although the immigrant voice has commonalities, each ethnicity has its unique roots and responses. But the lesson of finding our place in spite of societies’ pressure to conform is universal, especially for adolescents.