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 !!!!!!

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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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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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