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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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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August is Mystery Month at my Book Boot Camp

The London Eye MysteryThe London Eye Mystery by Siobhan Dowd
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The genre of Mystery was my first love as a reader. They are my earliest recollections of favorites. I started with an attic full of antique books from my Great Grandfather Wood. My Dad and I shared The Bobbsy Twins, Nancy Drew, and Cherry Ames (who by the way was the Most influential person on my choice of Nursing as a career). As I moved into adolescence I enjoyed the gothic mystery/romance of The Bronte sisters, Phyllis Whitney and Georgette Heyer. The classics of Raymond Chandler, Rex Stout, and Sir Conan Doyle captured me also. In adulthood I continued to share a love of mysteries with my Dad. We exchanged novels by Dick Francis, Elizabeth George, Sue Grafton, Patricia Cornwell, Diane Mott Davidson, Laurie R. King. Oh my I certainly digress! But what fun I am having.
Anyway,all that to say that once I started reading current popular children’s literature I have been somewhat disappointed with the offerings. I admit my tastes had grown a lot grittier over the years and children’s mysteries cannot really encompass that. But too many of them were skewed toward fantasy or over simplified.
In this lovely story geared for middle grade readers, I find satisfaction. This is a matter of fact mix of mystery and frank look at autism. Throw in the bonus of London (one of my favorite cities) as a setting and I was hooked. There is a real mystery, the disappearance of a cousin,that the protagonist Ted feels responsible for. Ted has high level performing autism, but is acutely aware of how different his brain is from others. Ted and his sister Kat struggle through the chronic stress in their sibling relationship and collaborate on a solution that even the police could not suss out.
I loved that there was a real urgency and despair around solving this mystery. I loved the internal dialogue of Ted. I loved his rather detached descriptions of how the adults around him were reacting. He also was obsessed with weather and the scientific details that the author threw in on this topic were wonderful.

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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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