Sunday, June 24, 2012

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

This has been an unusually busy reading week with twenty-six books read. That's a few too many to review, so I will just hit a few.

Newbery Challenge: I read Amos Fortune, Free Man. I felt like the book made freedom sound important and worth fighting for, but at the same time managed to make the white slave owners somehow look like they were pretty blameless. I didn't enjoy the slant it had to it. The author seemed sympathetic to the slave, but also didn't quite seem to want to hold the white characters accountable. Anyway about it, I wasn't a big fan. It also bothered me that it is billed as a biography, but it is clearly a novel. That is always problematic. I found a great discussion of some issues of Amos Fortune here.

Best YA: Code Name Verity was definitely the most intriguing YA book that I read. It dealt with two young women involved in WWII. One was a pilot and the other was her friend. The book is full of action, suspense and incredibly powerful situations that tugged at my emotions. War is just horrific and there is no way around it.

Best Middle Grade: One for the Murphys was a fantastic book about resilience. Carley is in the foster care system and has many issues. Beware, this book is likely to require tissues, but it is completely worth the emotional disturbance it may cause.

Best Picture Book: Pecan Pie Baby is a great book about a young girl adjusting to the idea of a new baby joining their family.

Best Non-fiction: This is a difficult one because I read several really good ones this week. First Girl Scout: The Life of Juliette Gordon Low was probably the one I enjoyed the most. That may simply be because it was the most complete since it wasn't a picture book. Basketball Belles and the Irena Sendler picture books were excellent as was Words Set Me Free: The Story of Young Frederick Douglas, but First Girl Scout was just very thorough and Juliette's life and personality is truly fascinating.

Plan for This Week: I am in the midst of The Lost Hero by Rick Riordan and so will finish that, then I will read its sequel and my final 2011 Nerdy Nominee, The Son of Neptune. I also plan to re-read Divergent in preparation for reading Insurgent. Another one I am looking forward to is The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom. Aside from that, I will read the next Newbery, Ginger Pye. Along the way, I may get sidetracked by random picture books, but that is always fun. Happy reading!

Friday, June 22, 2012

Capture the Flag

Title: Capture the Flag
Author: Kate Messner 
Publisher: Scholastic
Pages: 240
Audience: Ages 8-12
Genre: Mystery/Adventure
Review Copy: ARC from publisher
Release Date: July 1, 2012

Description from Goodreads
Three kids get caught up in an adventure of historic proportions!

Anna, José, and Henry are complete strangers with more in common than they realize. Snowed in together at a chaotic Washington D.C. airport, they encounter a mysterious tattooed man, a flamboyant politician, and a rambunctious poodle named for an ancient king. Even stranger, news stations everywhere have announced that the famous flag that inspired "The Star-Spangled Banner" has been stolen! Anna, certain that the culprits must be snowed in too, recruits Henry and José to help catch the thieves and bring them to justice.

But when accusations start flying, they soon realize there's more than justice at stake. As the snow starts clearing, Anna, José, and Henry find themselves in a race against time (and the weather!) to prevent the loss of an American treasure.

Review: Within the first two chapters, a major crime has already been committed.  We know the how, but not the who. Throughout the story, some creative and intelligent children work to find the culprit. Anna, a budding young journalist, Henry, a serious gamer, and José, the Harry Potter expert, team up and provide plenty of humor and adventure for the reader. It is difficult to find engaging and sufficiently complicated mysteries at this reading level so this definitely fills a niche. Mid to upper elementary students will get a kick out of this one with a character named Senator Snickerbottom (made me giggle every time I saw it), art thieves, many great action scenes, and a tricky mystery to solve. Kate Messner has written another winner.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Summer Throwdown

Teachers Brian (@brianwyzlic) and Jillian (@heisereads) along with librarians Kathy (@thebrainlair) and Sherry (@LibraryFanatic) have invited all to participate in a #summerthrowdown. This is a friendly and fun competition between librarians and teachers. According to Jillian's blog the purpose is: 

"To support, encourage, and celebrate reading and librarians and teachers. To network with other teachers and librarians on twitter to grow our PLNs. To enjoy a friendly challenge to keep us motivated to read as much as possible this summer. To hold ourselves accountable because we'll have to tell someone how much we're reading."

This pairs very well with #bookaday and so I figured I would jump on in and give it a try. Let the games begin!

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

I love that Kellee and Jen at Teach Mentor Texts have this set up for Mondays. It keeps me reading and everyone's reading journey adds to my own.  Between this and Donalyn Millers' Book-a-Day Challenge, I am having an excellent reading summer.  Over the past week I have read 20 books. I'll share a few of them here. 

Newbery Challenge: I made quite a bit of progress this week. I finished The 21 Balloons which was quite the adventure. It reminded me somehow of Mr. Popper's Penguins with the formality of the speech and writing. King of the Wind was a great horse adventure, and my favorite of the week was A Door in the Wall. It is a brief, but wonderful story set in the middle ages.

Caldecott Challenge: Arrow to the Sun and Ashanti to Zulu were up this week. The illustrations were great in both, but Ashanti to Zulu's text was superior by far. Debbie Reese does a fantastic job explaining about how Arrow to the Sun is not truly a Pueblo Tale and how McDermott has presented a very flawed picture of the Pueblo people.

Young Adult: Chopsticks (trailer here) was quite an experience for me this week. It is a novel told without a traditional narrative. The reader must gather information from images of programs, notes, photographs, and all types of objects. There are also videos and audio playlists that you can access online. If you take advantage of all of the media it becomes much more than a novel. In addition, the story is a bit of a mystery. I recommend it not just for the story, but for the overall package. 

Non-Fiction: A fun one this week was Brothers at Bat: The True Story of an All-Brother Baseball Team. I had no idea such teams existed. Another great one was The Beetle Book by Steve Jenkins that I reviewed here.

For this week: I have piles and piles of books just waiting for me. I am excited to have Code Name Verity in my hot little hands and I will finish up The Latte Rebellion. Have a great week of reading!

Sunday, June 17, 2012


You may not be able to see them, but just above the grass, there are many, many lovely beetles hovering. When I walked my dog to the park today, I had no idea we would see hundreds of them.

They completely reminded me of The Beetle Book by Steve Jenkins that I read just last week. I enjoyed all of the beetle trivia he provided. I wonder though, why I love to have a butterfly land on my arm and give me true butterfly kisses, but when a beetle lands on me I have a very negative reaction. What is it about them that creeps me out? I didn't mind the one that landed on my capris, but when one zoomed into my face, I shrieked. When one landed on my arm, that appendage started to flail around wildly almost before I even processed the fact that a beetle was there. Jenkins book was awesome and it definitely was why I stopped to check these guys out in spite of the risk of getting too close to them. Once I got over my heebie-jeebies, it was pretty fascinating to watch them so thank you Steve!

Steve Jenkins' book grabbed my interest from the start. The endpapers of the book are gorgeous with splotches of jewel green, red, and many other colors swirling about. The illustrations are just fantastic all of the way through like his previous books. His collage or cut paper style of creating images gives depth and texture to the illustrations. They are just eye-popping. He included scale information along the way so that the reader can keep everything in perspective even if it is enlarged to see the details. 

There are tons of facts packed into the 32 pages. He includes just the type of information that my students will love to learn like, "the hide beetle eats the dried skin and flesh of dead animals. Natural history museums use these beetles to clean bones for display" from p. 18. There is even a great section about beetle chemical warfare. 

I can't wait to share this one with my students in the fall!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Summertime, Summertime

My "To Be Read" Piles for this Summer
While at the public library today, I ran into two students and their mother. I love that they were out getting books over the summer! She asked me how many books I have read so far since school got out, but I really didn't have a good answer. I guessed maybe 20. When I checked Goodreads, it told me that I have read 30 picture books (including some non-fiction) and 7 chapter books. I was just a little off the mark there. This is why summer is wonderful for me though! I get to read so many more books. If you live in the area, I hope to see you out at the library or in the bookstores this summer. Happy reading!

Monday, June 11, 2012

Choose Kind

One of the most thought-provoking books that I have read in the past year is Wonder by R.J. Palacio.

You can see the author's introduction to the trailer here:

And the actual trailer here:

If that doesn't convince you to read the book, stop by Jen Vincent's blog to read about when she went with Michelle, one of her students, to meet the author. You may need to have a tissue with you.

I read this powerful book several months ago, but it has pulled me back and I started to re-read it yesterday. It just continues to speak to me. Palacio has created incredible characters that seem to live and breathe, and in the process, they take your breath away. On a lighter note, she also has an amazing fart scene which is almost always a plus.

Throughout the book, readers are offered glimpses of a variety characters who are kind, indifferent, mean, and/or ignorant. They are encouraged to "choose kind." Fortunately, Palacio writes this in such a way that it doesn't feel preachy, but it still packs a positive punch. Since the publication of the book, an anti-bullying campaign has been started encouraging us all to "choose kind." 

This fall, at least one of our 5th grade teachers will be starting the year by reading the book aloud. I am hoping that even more students and teachers will also read it and we can all begin to choose kind more often. To help encourage this, we will have quotes from the book posted throughout the school. I am pretty excited to be sharing the Wonder of Wonder and I hope you will join us.

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

School's Out for Summer! That means I will need to change the way I am doing this posting. I have been writing everything I read, but now that school is out, there are simply too many titles to list. So first, I will point you to my Goodreads link on the right side of this page if your curiosity drives you in that direction. There you would be able to see everything. I will keep posting anything related to a book challenge like the Newberys or Caldecotts, but otherwise, only the best of the best will make it to my Monday post.

Newbery Challenge: I finished Rabbit Hill which was like home cooking - comfortable and not terribly exciting, but great if that is what you are craving. Strawberry Girl was a little better in that the characters were way more interesting to me, but the dialect was a bit much to take after awhile. It was quite entertaining overall. The next one was slightly bizarre and a little more random. Miss Hickory had a unique fantasy farm thing going on that was a lot more creative and unexpected than Rabbit Hill, but I just kept thinking that it was more than a little strange and not necessarily in a good way. The chapters didn't always have much to do with each other, but at least it wasn't boring - and best of all it was short.

Middle Grade Chapter Books: Capture the Flag by Kate Messner had my attention and I am not really a mystery fan at this point in my reading life. I really enjoyed the fun and adventure of several kids working together trying to solve a crime at the airport.

Tween Novel: I absolutely loved Bluefish by Pat Schmatz. A lot of people have it pegged as YA, but I think tweens could enjoy it too. Schmatz did an excellent job with the characters. It felt like I knew them.

Young Adult Fantasy: I finally got to Finnikin of the Rock and unfortunately, I didn't get enough sleep that night since I stayed up until after 2:00 finishing this one. In the beginning, I wasn't sure if I would make it through as some things just seemed too muddy and the story was being told in such small bits and pieces, but eventually it didn't matter anymore. Great fantasy.

Poetry: I found Emma Dilemma: Big Sister Poems and had a great time with Emma and her sister Jess. I was a big sister and could totally relate.

Picture Books: Colby Sharp had praised Boy and Bot so highly that it was a must read. LOVED it! Had to share it with my 14 yr. old too. She cracked up. It's definitely a keeper. Another fun one was C.R. Mudgeon. It's fun and fabulous watching the staid grump adjust to his positively perky new neighbor. Finally, The Art of Miss Chew was another wonderful Patricia Polacco book that highlights an awesome teacher.

Non-fiction: Life in the Ocean: The Story of Oceanographer Sylvia Earle was a beautiful book and very illuminating about ocean life. Her childhood seemed very much like that of Jane Goodall in that she spent a lot of time outside exploring and observing nature. It might be good to look at Me...Jane and this book together.

I have a humongous pile of books in our home office just waiting for the coming week. Thinking about all of the reading ahead of me, I get a little giddy. I am such a book nerd and I adore summer Bookaday. So for next week, I am starting The 21 Balloons for the Newbery Challenge and may also finish King of the Wind. I started to re-read Wonder yesterday. I am reading carefully and making notes so I can post quotes around the school for the fall. I picked up Same Sun Here today and am excited to finally get to it. There are several re-reads in my pile including A Monster Calls and The One and Only Ivan. Who knows where the week will take me? I am just excited to be on the summer book adventure. Happy reading.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Teachers Write

I am excited to get back into the habit of writing through Teachers Write. It's a virtual summer writing camp for teachers and librarians and I am sooooo glad that Kate Messner and her cohorts are offering us this fantastic opportunity.

Last summer I participated in a class called The Artist's Way. As members of the class, we were expected to write every morning for at least thirty minutes. This was part of exploring and expanding our inner creativity. We also got to have artist dates every week where we set aside at least an hour to create or appreciate art on our own. It was a fantastic experience for me. I enjoyed the writing and I especially loved having an excuse to go off with my camera taking pictures or making a collage from images out of magazines. It was like getting to be a kid again without all of the negative filters that I had built up over the years.

This led me to be open to National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo when it was mentioned on Twitter. I had heard about it the year before and thought it sounded cool, but this time, it actually sounded possible. Writing 50,000 words in one month was a pretty huge undertaking for me as I have never really written anything beyond an article or a very short story. The guidelines were perfect though. We were to write without editing. To write in a flow of words. No filters. Exactly what I needed to do. It helped that my teenage daughter agreed to do it with me and that we found a local group that met once a week. I loved working at a table with a bunch of other people struggling through the same task at different speeds and working in wildly different ways. It helped that we had live jazz music, super yummy crepes and chai lattes available too. We ate, laughed, and vented together all month long. The minute I finished though, I saved the file and never touched it again from November until today, when I finally shared it with six young ladies who were convinced that they needed to read their teacher's book no matter how boring or silly it might be.

Coincidentally, today is also the first day of Teachers Write. I am once again working amongst a large group of people with the common goal of tapping into our creativity and writing something. We aim to push at our self-imposed boundaries in spite of the vulnerable feelings we might experience. With this challenge, I hope to remember what it feels like to be a student in language arts class being asked to write to a prompt. I also hope to remember how good it feels to express myself and tell a story and I would love to find my writing voice. I have been blogging for awhile now and am beginning to know my non-fiction voice a little, but I am way more uncertain about my fiction voice.

I am once again on a new adventure. I can't wait to see where this leads.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

This has been a pretty great week of reading. 

Newbery Challenge: I finished Johnny Tremain. This was a re-read. This hasn't been my favorite Newbery, but I have ehad njoyed this book all three times that I have read it.  The author really does an excellent job at creating a very human, flawed, annoying main character that still manages to get my sympathy.

Caldecott Challenge: I am really going slowly through this challenge. I will have to catch up a bit over the summer. I enjoyed reminiscing with Song of the Swallows. San Juan Capistrano was one of my favorite field trips as a child. The gardens were fantastic and the history of the place was certainly interesting.

See You at Harry's was the most emotionally difficult book that I read this week. Tears were flowing throughout this one. Jen Vincent and Colby Sharp were discussing this book and I have avoided reading what they said, but now that I have finished, I will finally get to see what they had to say about it. I am looking forward to that.

Picture Books: Blue Sky is simple and sweet while Beep and Bah is simply hilarious. My first grade students loved it.

I am the Book is my penultimate 2011 Nerdy Nominee. I really enjoyed the many poems about books and poetry. I am going to order this one for sure. I want to post two of the poems in my LMC for next year too.

Netgalley was kind to me this week and I was able to read three excellent graphic novels. Amulet #5 was filled with action and adventure and definitely will satisfy my students. Drama had plenty of drama and fantastic characters. I really enjoyed the memoir Little White Duck: Growing Up in China. There aren't that many books set during that time period in China so it is intriguing to read about it.

Funny Business had some very funny stories. I especially liked Eoin Colfer's story about how he came up with Artemis Fowl. The other one that really got me laughing was the one by Kate DiCamillo and Jon Scieszka.

A Stone in the Soup: A Hmong Girl's Journey was a great discussion starter with my second grade students. The Hmong students had a lot to say and the other students were able to ask questions and hear some history of the Hmong people. It helped that the story incorporated a story everyone was already familiar with too.

For the next week I will be reading Rabbit Hill and Strawberry Girl for the Newbery Challenge. I am also going to start Book-a-day so I will likely just share a few of my favorites because I should be reading at a much faster pace. I finally have Finnikin of the Rock so it is in my pile for this week. I also checked out some new non-fiction. Happy reading!

Winding Down

I can't believe that there are only two more days left in the school year. One of those days is an early dismissal so we are really down to an hourly countdown. The year seemed to fly by at an amazing rate. I achieved some of my goals, but not all.

We were able to have every grade Skype with an author or at least another class this year. We met with:

Authors who graciously Skyped for free:
Tom Angleberger (Origami Yoda & other chapter books)
Kate Messner (Marty McGuire, picture books, & other chapter books)
Jean Marzollo (I Spy & other picture books)
Alan Silberberg (Milo, Sticky Notes & Brain Freeze)
Linda Urban (Mouse was Mad & chapter books)
Michael Scotto (Latasha and the Red Tornado, picture books & another ch. book)
Laurel Snyder (Bigger than a Breadbox, picture books & chapter books)

Classes from:
Burlington, WI
Battle Creek, MI
Oak Brook, IL
York, NE
Newton, MA

We were also able to bring in the author Kashmira Sheth to share with all of the elementary students too, thanks to funds from the PTO.

I tried many new things this year including the technology zoo. That is something that I want to set up for a few times during next year.

We had a great response to first grade book club (once a month) and I even started a small fifth grade lunchtime book group too.

We wanted to create a video tour of the school and our tech crew shot a lot of footage for that, but it never came together and the editing seemed like an impossible task. Instead, brief bits of the footage were used in our first video yearbook. I am hoping that the students and families will enjoy that.

It remains to be seen if students are more energized around summer reading, but a student and I created a school blog and I am encouraging students to use that space to talk about reading this summer. We are also going to have a space for posting pictures of students reading over the summer. If it gets even one kid reading more than they would have, it will be a success.

This was a year of our iPad implementation since we got a cart of 30 iPads in September. Figuring everything out was a challenge and I am still learning, but they have been a wonderful tool for many of the teachers. I look forward to moving forward next year now that we have base knowledge and experience.

NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) was a new adventure for me this year also. Tomorrow I will be sharing my work with the girls from my lunchtime book club. Nobody has seen the final product, but they have been asking to read it. I can't remember if it was Kate Messner or Laurel Snyder, but one of them said you are a writer when you write, but you are an author when you share it. So I am finally sharing. Will that make me an author?

I am looking forward to summer for the chance to reflect on the past year and plan for the next.