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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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 !!!!!!

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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Exciting New Releases

I have been remiss in blogging lately. However, I promise that I have been spending my time well. Since the announcements of the ALA awards in late January, I have been preparing for starting up the Mock Newbery club again. I needed to get a jump on some of the new titles so that I could have some book talks for our first meeting. There are some really great titles hitting the stores and shelves. I have included a couple of reviews below. Let the hunt for the best begin.

Half a ChanceHalf a Chance by Cynthia Lord
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I loved Rules by Cynthia Lord, so I was excited to receive this ARC from Netgalley. My every expectation was met with this wonderful story. Half a Chance explores moving away, moving in, moving on and moving forward. It also looks at friendships, the art of photography and the sadness of Alzheimers.
Half a Chance is about a young girl, Lucy, whose father is a professional photographer with a strong sense of wanderlust. Therefore, she has moved a lot and has developed concerns about making and keeping friends. Her family has just moved to a house on a lake in New Hampshire. She is befriended by the neighboring family who summer at the lake. The grandmother is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s and the family is working desperately to capture and preserve the joys of this possibly last summer of memories. The story tells a gentle but gripping portrayal of the ravages of this disease.
Lucy is also a budding photographer and yearns for her nomadic, preoccupied father’s approval. She and the neighbor boy enter a photo contest and spend the summer seeking perfect photo ops. There are some wonderful descriptions of the art that is photography in the book.
I knew that Cynthia would not disappoint. I can’t wait to hand this to my Mock Newbery Club members. They will love this poignant and hopeful story.

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The Mark of the DragonflyThe Mark of the Dragonfly by Jaleigh Johnson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I received this from Netgalley as an ARC. I thoroughly enjoyed this story. It is a fantasy with a hint of steampunk. The main character is a spunky heroine ( my favorite kind) with a special talent for fixing mechanical things. She is surviving on her own, when she stumbles onto a fragile young girl who she feels compelled to protect. Together they embark on a spectacular journey where they meet some wonderful friends and some terrible enemies. As with all good journies, they also find some self discoveries along the way .
Oftentimes, I struggle with fantasies. I find myself plunked down in a world with weird characters and unknown culture and societal rules. It takes some quality writing to build a fantasy world that will grab me and engage me. I frequently feel like I am in a foreign land with no map or understanding of the language. Jaleigh Johnson did a great job of building this world and developing the characters. My students also struggle with these issues. So I am excited to find a book I can put in their hands that will give them an engaging new world.
The Mark of the Dragon fly has all I could ask for. There was an adventurous journey, great battles, scary monsters, hidden magical talents, valued friendships and a hint of romance (culminating in holding hands). My students have been eagerly watching my progress in this book. I have a line of students impatiently waiting for their turn to read this. I hate to tell them it hasn’t been released quite yet.

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Ophelia and the Marvelous BoyOphelia and the Marvelous Boy by Karen Foxlee
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I received this book on Netgalley and wanted to get a jump on the books published in 2014. This book was a wonderful surprise. I read it straight through on a short plane ride. It was a fantasy that was reminiscent of “Night in the Museum” rolled in with “The Lion,the Witch and the Wardrobe.
There were wizards, a Snow Queen, an absentminded father and endangered sister and most importantly an endearingly strong, courageous underdog of a heroine. She even has to stop to puff on her inhaler at every turn.
Stories in a museum have the potential of becoming bogged down in description and minutia. But Karen Foxlee handles this masterfully. The setting provides a fascinating maze for the adventure and a rich format for the author’s rich use of language. She uses some very interesting writing techniques to give the story life. She repeats the description of the path our heroine takes through the museum. It makes us feel as if we are running through these same rooms in search of hidden keys, magical swords and a Marvelous Boy.
Karen Foxlee gives us a retelling of the Snow Queen tale, but underlying is a deeper story of the crippling power of grief. She gives us a glimpse of how we can allow the clouds of sadness can leave us frozen and lost.
I can’t wait to put this in students’ hands.

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ALA Awards Announcements!!!

drum-roll-please
This morning, Monday January 27,2014 at 8:00am the ALA announced their annual awards. I know that many of my students participating in our Mock Newbery Club are eager to know the results. Unfortunately, our brutal weather in the Midwest closed schools so we were not able to view this broadcast as a Club together.
There were so many great books recognized that I won’t be able to share them all here. I will highlight just a few that I think will be interesting. If you want to see the full list, go to:
http://www.ala.org/news/press-releases/2014/01/american-library-association-announces-2014-youth-media-award-winners
JOHN NEWBERY AWARD
newbery[1]
The Winner Was: FLORA AND ULYSSES: The Illuminated Adventure by KATE DICAMILLO
Flora and Ulysses
Flora and Ulysses

There were three Newbery Honor Awards(sort of like runner-ups)

RANDOLPH CALDECOTT AWARD
caldecottmedal

The Winner was: LOCOMOTIVE by BRIAN FLOCA
This beautiful book also won a SIEBERT HONOR (the category for informational/nonfiction books)

Locomotive

There were three Caldecott Honor Awards:

This is a collection of some of the best of Children’s literature this past year. There are many other awards that I have not highlighted and there are many, many wonderful books from 2013 that did not make this award list. I know that our Mock Newbery Club had a wonderful time reading as many new books as possible. We now have some new award winners to catch up on. Then it is off to 2014 and all the great books yet to be published and read!!

Reading in 2014

Where to begin? There are so many wonderful things to share since my last post. It has been a busy fall/winter. WE are within a week of the ALA announcements of the 2014 Caldecott and Newbery Book award winners. WE have participated in a Mock Caldecott club, in the primary grades, and a Mock Newbery club with the 3-5 grades. Everyone is very excited to see if their favorite book will win the prize.
The contenders according to the Banting Mock Caldecott Club are:
Mr Tiger Goes Wild

Little Red Writing

Journey

Exclamation mark

Carnivores

The Day the Crayons Quit

AND THE BANTING WINNER IS: The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt

The contenders according to the Banting Mock Newbery club are:
True Blue Scouts of Sugarman Swamp

The Center of Everything

Flora and Ulysses

Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library

Doll Bones

Counting by 7's

A Tangle of Knots

AND THE BANTING WINNER IS: A Tangle of Knots by Lisa Graff

The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man SwampThe True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp by Kathi Appelt
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In my pursuit of the possible Newberry prediction, this very fun book comes closer than the others I have read so far. I absolutely love the voices in this romp through the swamp. Kathi Appelt gives us the voice of the Scouts themselves (raccoon brothers), the desperate grieving Chap, the ridiculously depraved Jaeger Stitch (alligator wrestler), the amoral, greedy Sonny Beaucoup and a third person narrator with a great sense of humor. These characters only scratch the surface though. As you can imagine the bayou is full of Characters, whether they are human, humanoid, or animal. Kathi Appelt brings them all to your living room to tell their story. I have read her The Underneath and was taken by her talent in writing personification. Beyond the fun characters and their stories that are all on a crash course to merge into a fabulous tale, this book would be a wonderful model for exploring the writer’s craft. In our fourth and fifth grades we assign a unit on writing personification, or the giving human qualities to non-human or even inanimate objects. This story would be so wonderful to kick that unit off. The voice and point of view of the narrator is worthy of dissection for a mini-lesson also. Oh yes, she also has some extraordinary examples of onomatopoeia. I will let you look that one up. 🙂 All in all, I loved this book, both its story and its writing!
I have included a wonderful blog post from Kathi Applet about her writing of this fun story. http://kirbyslane.blogspot.com/2013/08/friend-friday_16.html

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