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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Spring Break Reading

We have had a week of continued below average cold and prolonged winter for our Break this past week. So it was perfect to catch up on my reading (and knitting of course). I have shared some of my reviews:

MOCK NEWBERY CONTENDERS

I Kill the MockingbirdI Kill the Mockingbird by Paul Acampora
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book was a mixed bag for me. It was the story of three friends the summer before starting high school. They are assigned a summer reading list with one of the choices being “To Kill A Mockingbird”.
Somehow, they decide to hype up demand for the book by making it appear to be disappearing. I had trouble buying into that part of the story. It just seemed to lose it’s focus as the story went along.
I did however, really enjoy the characters and their summer of learning new things about themselves. The whole hide/steal the books conspiracy was interesting from the point of view of the power of social media. The whole thing took on a life of its own and the kids had to find a way to justify what they had done and find a way to end the game.
I would be hard pressed to see this one as a Newbery but a fun read, that I think students would enjoy.

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West of the MoonWest of the Moon by Margi Preus
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was actually very captivated by this little story. It read very quickly but had a lot to offer. I had so many personal connections to the story that it was really interesting for me. This was basically a historical fiction about 2 sisters and their perilous journey to immigrate from Norway to America in the 1850s. However, it was written like a fractured fairy-tale. The author brought in about a dozen different well-known Norwegian folktales. While their journey follows these tales, it is based in reality. I loved how the author worked in real life explanations for the superstitions of the time period.
My husband is half Norwegian with his grandparents immigrating in the early 1900’s. I have done some research into the history of this immigration into the Midwest (Iowa and Wisconsin) and found Preus’ research very spot on. I will for sure have to pass this on to my mother-in-law, she will love the folktales and little ditties that the girls sing.

Addendunum: As this book keeps rattling around in my brain, I decided I needed to add a few more comments. I think my initial review made it sound a little too fluffy. While this book uses folktales as it’s vehicle, they are the more “grim” style. While much of the grimness is eluded to, there are some tough topics, such as; death, disease, child abuse, threatened sexual assault, childbirth, and abandonment.

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Under the EggUnder the Egg by Laura Marx Fitzgerald
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As an adult reader, I love a good mystery. But in Juvenile literature I find them disappointing. Common problems for me are that the “mystery” to be solved is contrived and trivial, or the participation of children in the solution is too far-fetched. I really didn’t find I was troubled with either one of these issues with this middle grade mystery. I found the young detectives believable and engaging. Granted both girls are stuck with absentee parents which gives them the freedom and necessity to undertake this adventures.
Theo has lost her Grandfather to a car accident and is left with what seems to be a mentally ill mother. She teams up with Bodhi, a child of entertainment “Stars”, who lives with very little adult supervision. They embark on a search into Renaissance art history to identify a painting that may be Theo’s salvation.
The two characters play well off of each other, with Theo being old school- find answers in a book at the library-style and Bodhi being a techno geek.
The story has a lot of depth and good discussion of feelings good, bad and selfish. The descriptions of Renaissance art is well done. It is informative without being too tedious. Eventually there is another historical period that comes to play in the story but that would be a spoiler and I will leave that for you to discover.

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YOUNG ADULT NEW RELEASE:

The Journey of Hannah WoodsThe Journey of Hannah Woods by Helene Forst
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I received this book in a Goodreads Giveaway. I was very eager to read this right after I had completed Laurie Halse Anderson’s The Impossible Knife of Memory. Both stories deal with the timely and urgent issue of PTSD. Anderson’s book dealt predominantly with the destruction and devastation of PTSD on the victim and their families. Forst’s book on the other hand focused more directly on the treatment process.
There are many theories regarding treatment modalities for this difficult psychological challenge. The story of Hannah Woods’ journey involves extensive psychotherapy, a carefully monitored detox program and an unbelievably loving and supportive environment.
All that being said, I found that in spite of the seriousness and difficulty of this topic, the book was not really gritty enough. The author gave very detailed descriptions of Hannah’s therapy sessions, experiences with Tai Chi and too good to be true grandparents and friends. But it all felt unbelievable and slightly contrived. I realize that the author was taking into consideration the tender age of her audience (teens) but the truth is that today’s teen is exposed to a level of gritty that would surprise most of us adults. I know that I would have a hard time selling this neatly wrapped up story to my very street smart middle schoolers.

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ThreatenedThreatened by Eliot Schrefer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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The Impossible Knife of MemoryThe Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I love everything Laurie Halse Anderson writes. The problem with her books is that the world must stop once I pick one up. I mean STOP! The Impossible Knife of Memory was no exception. I bought the book on a Friday afternoon and finished by Sunday evening.
This story is about a teenage girl and her wounded warrior father. He suffers from PTSD and their life is rapidly disintegrating as he chooses all the wrong coping mechanisms. This is a very timely theme with so many of our men and women soldiers returning to civilian life and struggling to cope.
Each of the teens in Hayley’s social circle have some form of major crisis going on at home. They all struggle to support each other while being thrust into an unfair parental role in their families. Just like the parents, they fall into some destructive coping mechanisms. This theme of making poor decisions is common to Anderson’s YA novels. She is the master at drawing the reader into the angst.
I must say that although I enjoyed this book immensely, for some reason I didn’t find myself as completely consumed by the characters as I have in some of her other books. I suppose that is what accounts for the 4 stars instead of 5. The first book by Anderson I read will probably remain my favorite. Speak, published in 1999 still grips me. I also felt the angst in Wintergirls to such an extent that I felt physically ill.
Just as a side note, Laurie Halse Anderson also writes superb middle-grade historical fictions, I love these as well.

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A child’s view of Taliban oppression

The Breadwinner (The Breadwinner, #1)The Breadwinner by Deborah Ellis
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I downloaded this book from the library as a trilogy. I finished the first book which was The Breadwinner. It is set in Kabul during the early years of the Taliban domination. I have read a couple of novels with this same setting and they all describe the same tragic environment. The oppression of women and educated citizens is hard for Americans to fathom.
This story was rather simply written so it would be good for a middle grade reader. There is plenty of meat to the story, it is just not terribly complicated writing.
Because this is a trilogy, the first book seemed to end rather abruptly. In time I will try to return to finish the rest of the series. I would recommend this book to any readers that are following any current events in the Middle East right now.

Grade level Equivalent: 5.5
Lexile MeasureĀ®: 630
DRA: 50
Guided Reading: V

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Wisconsin History

One Came HomeOne Came Home by Amy Timberlake
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What an interesting book. I chose this one because it was an historical fiction set in Wisconsin. As I work with students in Wisconsin, I am always looking for books with local connections. This was set in 1871 in central Wisconsin near the Wisconsin River. The author chose to create a story around the annual nesting of passenger pigeons in the woods surrounding this central Wisconsin town. This was an annual migration that I had never heard of before. The author does discuss this in her note at the end and acknowledges that this is a very obscure historical event.
Putting aside this odd historical setting, I really enjoyed the characters and their storyline in this book. It reminded me of “True Grit”, “The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate”, and “The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie”. The heroine is spunky and pushes against society’s restrictions and carries on a delightful inner dialogue.
My only real disappointment with this book was that right at the very end the author chose to insert a reference to the hugely fatal, largely unknown, Peshtigo Fire on the same day as the infamous Chicago Fire. This is a big subject and I feel deserved a whole book to itself not just a passing glance. It muddied the ending as far as I was concerned.

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