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:


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.

View all my reviews

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.

View all my reviews

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.

View all my reviews

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.

View all my reviews


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.



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.

View all my reviews

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!!

View all my reviews

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.

View all my reviews

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.

View all my reviews

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!!

View all my reviews

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….

View all my reviews


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.

View all my reviews


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!

View all my reviews

Book-A-Day Challenger Summer 2014

WOW! I really thought June would never arrive. Then lo and behold, it is already June 4. I set my goal for the Book-A-Day challenge to run from June 1 to August 30, giving me 90 days/books to read. It does not bode well for my goal that I am already behind. But in my defense, school is not out for another week and a half. So I have to fall back on picture books.

June 1, 2014

June 1, 2014

June 2, 2014

June 2, 2014

June 3, 2014

June 3, 2014

June 2, 2014[/caption]

I hope some of you will join me in this challenge. It is sooooo important to keep reading all summer. Feel free to leave me a comment here to share what books you have read.

ALA Awards Announcements!!!

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:
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)


This beautiful book also won a SIEBERT HONOR (the category for informational/nonfiction books)


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


Exclamation mark


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

Middle-Grade Biographies

Charlotte Bronte and Jane EyreCharlotte Bronte and Jane Eyre by Stewart Ross
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I remember why I loved biographies as a young reader. This detailed, very honest look at Charlotte Bronte was wonderful. As an adult, I find “grown-up” biographies pretty pedantic and boring. But these biographies designed for middle-grade readers are so much more succinct. I love “Jane Eyre” and “Wuthering Heights” (by Emily Bronte) and much prefer their dark gothic style to simpering Jane Austin literature. But everything I had ever read about the Bronte’s had described them as also simpering and reclusive. This novel however, presented Charlotte as the tough, independent and impatient personality I would have expected from the creator of Jane Eyre. The author did a great job of connecting her life with the details from her fictional works. This would be a great quick kick-off to a study of Jane Eyre.

View all my reviews

John Brown: His Fight for FreedomJohn Brown: His Fight for Freedom by John Hendrix
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I do love the style of this illustrator. This particular book he is the author and illustrator and I like it better than the ones that he collaborated with another author.
John Brown is a very interesting figure in American History. Unfortunately, he was destined to serve as a martyr. He is often portrayed as a crazy man of violence. In truth, his crusade does dissolve into mayhem. Was this the only choice? Probably, considering the entire country eventually feel victim to a bloody Civil War in pursuit, of this crusade. I am fascinated by a figure that chose to fight another man’s battle to the death.
Hendrix does a good job of describing this man and his era in a quick and succinct manner. In spite of the “picture book” style, I would still consider this for older middle-grade readers.

View all my reviews

Nurse, Soldier, Spy: The Story of Sarah Edmonds, a Civil War HeroNurse, Soldier, Spy: The Story of Sarah Edmonds, a Civil War Hero by Marissa Moss
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This rating might be closer to 2.75. But I can’t seem to bring it up to 3. I was really looking forward to this book. I had seen the Illustrator interviewed and was fascinated by his art. Also, it fit my passion for historical medical/nursing content. I don’t know why, but it left me slightly disturbed. It felt so weird that this woman was able to pass as a man so completely. I found myself staring at the illustrations trying to see the woman in there. There were also a couple of real photos of Sarah Edmonds as a man and as a woman, and even those perplexed me. I wonder how a young audience would react. Just an unusual choice of characters to present I guess. I couldn’t tell you any of the actual facts presented so I was totally distracted.

View all my reviews