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:


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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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

“Bring On The Books” by Donalyn Miller

My grown boys like to use the phrase “bro-mance” which I think is a Seinfeld reference. Well I have a confession to make….I am having a some sort of “…mance” with author/teacher/superhero, Donalyn Miller. I loved her first book titled, The Book Whisperer, and faithfully followed her blog of the same title. Then she joined forces with Colby Sharp and Cindy Minnich to create and nurture The Nerdy Book Club . My life will be forever changed by the creation these three genius teachers have given the reading world. Their open-hearted approach to community building and expertise sharing could possibly be the solution to world peace!! You think I exaggerate but I am serious!

These three travel the country sharing at teacher and reading conferences, they travel the world through their website and twitter. They bring wonderful authors, speakers, teachers, readers, life-long learners to my coffee klatch every morning. Are you starting to get the extent of this “…mance”?

So this morning I wanted to introduce you to my friends. In her continued effort to share, Donalyn Miller posted this presentation on slideshare, of exciting new literature for 2014: “Bring on the books”

I shared just a couple of these on my last post but I can see I need to get busy. I hope that some of my Mock Newbery Club followers will check out what Donalyn sees for the future of 2014 reading.

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!!!

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


Many members of our Mock Newbery Book club have asked about a list of the suggested books. Here is the list thus far:

The Water Castle by Megan Frazer Blakemore
The Real Boy by Anne Ursu
The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp by Kathi Appelt
Paperboy by Vince Vawter
The Center of Everything by Linda Urban
Escape from Mr. Lemoncollo’s Library by Chris Grabenstein
Etched in Clay by Andrea Chang
One Came Home by Amy Timberlake
Zebra Forest by Adina Rishe Gewirtz
Doll Bones by Holly Black
The Wig in the Window by Kristen Kittscher
A Tangle of Knots by Lisa Graff
Hold Fast by Blue Balliett
Rump: The True Story of Rumpelstiltskin by Liesel Shurtliff
Sidekicked by John David Anderson
Navigating Early by Clare Vanderpool
Counting by 7’s by Holly Goldberg Sloan
Beholding Bee by Kimberly Newton Fusco
Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures by Kate DiCamillo
The Thing About Luck by Cynthia Kadohata
The Mouse with the Question Mark Tail by Richard Peck
Listening for Lucca by Suzanne LaFleur
Moxie and the Art of Rule Breaking: A 14 Day Mystery by Erin Dionne
Sugar by Jewel Parker Rhodes
The Ugly One by Leannne Statland Ellis
What I Came To Tell You by Tommy Hays
Written in Stone by Rosanne Parry
Sure Signs of Crazy by Karen Harrington
Words with Wings by Nikki Grimes
Hide and Seek by Kate Messner
Brotherhood by A.B. Westrick