Sunday, December 30, 2012

It's Monday! What are you Reading?

Jen & Kellee over at Teach Mentor Texts host a meme every Monday that invites people to share the children's and young adult books they have been reading over the past week and what they plan on reading the following week.

You may find more complete information about what I am reading at or by clicking on the Goodreads widget along the side of my blog.

I have been cramming in as many Nerdy Nominees and Newbery books as I can in the past few days so I have quite a list for the past week.

Nerdy Nominees

I fell in love with Every Day. I loved the main character and the premise of the book was rather unique. The main character wakes up every day in a different body. It's a bit mind-bending and the concept kept me reading at a rapid clip to find out how it could all make sense. Boy21 was another one that didn't have a typical plot. It almost had too much going on for me, but my attention never strayed. The main character, Finley, is a quiet kid, but the book speaks even when he doesn't. Lulu was definitely a bit of comic relief. I wish I enjoyed her more, but she is kind of annoying to me. There are many series books with somewhat snotty girls and I know lots of kiddos that like them so I am sure it will circulate well in our library even if it isn't quite my cup of tea. Temple Grandin was my favorite of this bunch. Her story is so inspirational. I love that she is focused on what she wants and goes after it. And it is so cool that her mother advocated for her all along the way. Best of all, the text is very accessible and has a wonderful balance of images.

Newbery Challenge

This was a boatload of Newberys for one week, but vacation was the perfect time to get ahead and I am trying to get to Shiloh quickly. As of today I have read 65 Newberys. Shiloh is number 71. It also happens to be on the WI Battle of the Books list. My teams will be meeting later this week and we will begin battling. That is one of two books that I haven't read before so I am hurrying to get to it. So far I have read every single one in order and I am trying to stick to that.

I believe that all of these were re-reads for me, but some of them hadn't been in my hands since elementary school way too many years ago. Dicey's Song was really hazy in my memory though it was fantastic. Surprisingly, I didn't enjoy The Westing Game as much this time. I had a really positive memory of it and while it was fun and entertaining, it seemed to have a lot of hard edges to it.

Three of them though felt like I was meeting up with old friends. Jacob Have I Loved and Dear Mr. Henshaw brought both smiles and tears. I was tossed right back into my teen years with Jacob Have I Loved. There is so much raw emotion in there. Another friend was The Hero and the Crown. Robin McKinley does fantasy so well. I remember finding this story in middle school and  being fascinated with the idea of a girl fighting a dragon and relying on herself to solve problems. This was a very empowering book for me then and I loved falling into it again.

Random Books

In the midst of all of the other reading, I also grabbed these two for fun. It was great to learn more about the life of Annie Sullivan. I had no knowledge of her background before she worked with Helen Keller. It is a graphic novel and is done well. My only complaint is that my eyes are about ready for bi-focals and sometimes the text was awfully tiny to accommodate the pictures. Fury of the Phoenix was a sequel to Silver Phoenix. This fantasy went in a different direction as we got to see from the perspective of an evil character. Those bad guys are often more interesting that the others. The book had a different feeling to it, but I was still happy to learn more about Ai Ling and Chen Yong.

For the Coming Week:
I am still whittling down both the Newbery and Nerdy lists and imagine that will fill up my spare time this week. Next up is The Whipping Boy. Have a great week and Happy New Year!

Friday, December 28, 2012

Little White Duck

Title: Little White Duck: A Childhood in China
Author: Na Liu and Andrés Vera Martínez
Publisher: Graphic Universe
Pages: 108
Audience: 9-13
Genre: Memoir in Graphic Novel Format
Review Copy: ARC from publisher
Release Date: October 12, 2012

Description from Goodreads:
The world is changing for two girls in China in the 1970s. Da Qin—Big Piano—and her younger sister, Xiao Qin—Little Piano—live in the city of Wuhan with their parents. For decades, China's government had kept the country separated from the rest of the world. When their country's leader, Chairman Mao, dies, new opportunities begin to emerge. Da Qin and Xiao Qin soon learn that their childhood will be much different than the upbringing their parents experienced. 

Eight short stories—based on the author's own life—give readers a unique look at what it was like to grow up in China during this important time in history.

My Review:
This is an intriguing grouping of eight short stories depicting a unique part of Chinese history. Blending dreams, memories, family rituals, and Chinese folktales, these stories transport the reader to a time of radical change for the people of China. The book begins around the time of Mao Zedong's death. The people of China had been isolated and schooled strictly in the government's ideology and with his death, many changes began. The authors manage to be very respectful of the parents' beliefs and loyalty to Mao. The mother had benefited greatly from the government through medical care during her bout with polio. The stories show everything from a child's perspective so it is not surprising that the view of Mao Zedong is a positive one. The stories point to a hopeful future in spite of the difficulties of the time.

The stories are fascinating since they show everyday life of a young child experiencing an upheaval in her life. There are fears, disappointments and joys that most children can relate to in some way even if the setting and context may be unfamiliar to readers. 

The illustrations are beautiful and the yellowed paper/background adds to the feeling of the past. They add a rich layer to the stories. To see a sample, click here

This would be a great text to pair with Red Scarf Girl by Ji-Ji Jiang.

To find out more about the book, read the School Library Journal interview with illustrator Andrés Vera Martínez or listen to his Meet the Author segment on

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Simple Life

A Gathering of Days won the Newbery Award in 1980 so I am reading it for the Newbery Challenge that Mr. Schu and Mr. Sharp are leading. What I notice is that Catherine, the main character, lives in a very simple time. They have few belongings, there are few choices for food, and few choices about what a female may do in life. The girls do not learn math in school and she is essentially running the household at the age of thirteen since her mother and a young brother both died.

While I wouldn't want to go back to those times, there are definitely things that appeal to me. It seems that as a whole, Americans tend to value choice and variety. We are happy to see cereal aisles in the store with hundreds of choices. We appreciate having many restaurant options. I am not sure how some of us would cope if we only had one nice outfit and one or two for daily wear. 

As I prepared dinner this evening, I was happy to use the electric stovetop for our soup. The refrigerator was also welcome. We have so many wonderful things that make life easier, but we also have a million more things to distract us and make us question our decisions. When there is only frozen soup as a dinner choice, there is no problem figuring out what to make.

During our time off, I have had the chance to take several walks in our winter wonderland. With a camera in my hand, my eyes are always scanning to see what the world is saying. To enjoy the beauty or the ugliness. Without the many distractions that are usually present in my daily life, peace flows in and I feel love for the world and appreciation for the very air I am breathing. 

The 1800s are not where we live, but we can have a taste of that simple life by looking for quiet moments in the day and keeping our eyes open for the wonders around us. Another book I am reading, Every Day by David Levithan expresses this too. When two characters are frolicking at the beach, one notes that, "We have returned to a world that is capable of glistening, and we are wading deeper within it." Somehow this may work into a kind of goal for the year, but mostly, this is just a bit of pondering.

I wish you a new year of wonder. Peace out.

Looking down from the bridge at the icy river.

Monday, December 24, 2012

It's Monday! What are you Reading?

Jen & Kellee over at Teach Mentor Texts host a meme every Monday that invites people to share the children's and young adult books they have been reading over the past week and what they plan on reading the following week.

You may find more complete information about what I am reading at or by clicking on the Goodreads widget along the side of my blog.

Last week was one final push to read Nerdy nominees. Whew. Voting was fun, but the middle grade section was tough with so many awesome choices.

Nerdy Nominees This Week

Of all of them, I would have to say The Wicked and the Just was the one that was the most interesting. I enjoyed being transported back in time to Wales. Life can be so difficult for people and it is easy to overlook the troubles of those around us. This book brings that out and lets you think about it for a good long while.

Zombie Makers was certainly the gross-out book for the week. You do NOT want to be reading this while eating. Eeeeew! Parasites galore here and fabulous close up illustrations.

The most moving book of the week had to be October Mourning. This is a collection of poems related to the brutal beating of Matthew Shepard. Getting through that without tears would be nearly impossible for me. Like with The Wicked and the Just I hear my high school English teacher lecturing about "Man's inhumanity to man."

As you can see by the stars, it really was a great group of books. I appreciate having such a wonderful list of books to go to for reading suggestions.

Newbery Challenge

These are two tough reads one after the other. Both of these were re-reads and I think that I have read Roll of Thunder at least three times now. Both managed to tug on my emotions even knowing what was coming. I put them both on my "Made-me-cry" shelf. Ack. But they are worth it. The injustices in Roll of Thunder rile me up every time I read it. I did read one person's review of it though that riled me up even more. He thinks that the book just teaches people to be racist. I think he missed the point.

Bridge to Terabithia was moving, but I think that the ending was a bit rushed for me. It wraps up so quickly I felt that I didn't have time to adjust so how could he possibly already be at peace? I still loved it though.

The Coming Week
I have just started The Westing Game for the Newbery Challenge and I have several more Newberys here at home so I plan to work my way through those. I will also keep plugging away at the Nerdy nominees. I have a humongous pile for holiday bookaday and will enjoy having the extra time to relax and read this week. Happy reading!

Saturday, December 22, 2012


I just read over my post from the beginning of the year that listed my goals both personal and professional.

1. Read 650 books as part of the Goodreads Reading Challenge As of today 728 completed!

2. Participate in John Schu's Newbery Challenge (read all Newbery award books by Dec. 2013) As of today I have finished 56 which is more than half.

3. Read all of the Caldecott books (including honors) as part of the Caldecott Challenge at LibLaura5 with Laura and Anna at AtoZ Library I have read many, but I am much farther behind on these. 

4. Finish the last 29 Nerdy Award Nominees that I have not yet read Complete!

5. Read at least twice as much non-fiction this year than last (about 50 books) Did it with 92 read so far.

School Related
1. Arrange for Skype Author visits for every grade level
Every grade level had a visit, but one class did get missed.

2. Read more non-fiction with every grade level using some of the info from Passport Nonfiction from Sarah and Amy We read & used more non-fiction this year for sure.

3. Have my first Technology Petting Zoo like @pageintraining Did it! Read about it here.

4. Collaborate and connect with teachers, librarians, and students beyond our district Did it!

1. Complete a graduate class Library Services for Children and YA
Did it!

2. Remain calm and at peace as much as possible in spite of son's graduation from High School Okay, so not as great with this one, but we did survive it. :)

Putting goals down in writing seems to really help me focus. I need to work on doing this twice a year instead of just once. I would like to have new goals at the beginning of the school year too. 

I definitely met most of my goals and it gives me a warm fuzzy feeling inside, but it also makes me want to get started on a new list. Over the next few days I will be thinking seriously about my goals and hopefully will pick some good ones that will help me learn and grow and have some fun. Have a great week!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

It's Monday! What are you Reading?

Jen & Kellee over at Teach Mentor Texts host a meme every Monday that invites people to share the children's and young adult books they have been reading over the past week and what they plan on reading the following week.

You may find more complete information about what I am reading at or by clicking on the Goodreads widget along the side of my blog.

The Past Week
Except for the books House Held Up by Trees, Millions of Snowflakes and Skippyjon Jones, everything I have read in the past week has been something off of the Nerdy Book Club nominees for the Nerdie Awards. And everything was a LOT. 

I will highlight the best of each format here.

Picture Book
Each Kindness grabbed my heart and shook it around a bit. It reminded me of Larger Than Life Laura in that the characters in the story had an opportunity to show kindness and they make a choice. This would be a perfect book for use with Wonder or others that discuss how we interact with those around us and what an impact we can make.

Bomb was just an amazing look through the many machinations that were occurring in the race to get this most terrifying weapon first. I thought that it was helpful to have read one of last years' Nerdy nominees for some background - the Feynman graphic novel. These two books would work well paired together.

Young Adult
No Crystal Stair is fiction, but reads like non-fiction. Sometimes it was hard to remember that it was a novel simply based on a real person. Lewis Michaux was quite the character. I appreciated the unique way he thought and rationalized his actions as a child. He wanted a bicycle. So when his mother told him something like the Lord helps you when you get to working on it too, he went out and helped himself to someone else's bicycle. He seemed to have interesting boundaries about what belongs to people, but I had to admire his style. He was sassy for sure and it was fascinating to see how he grew into his purpose in life as he learned his history and shared the African American culture with those around him through his bookstore in Harlem.  It sounded like a fantastic place. He certainly had the gift of hospitality. It was also interesting to read the book about Lincoln and Douglass in the same week, since this book referenced Frederick Douglass many times. What especially stuck with me is what Frederick's slave owner said about how educating the slaves would make them unfit for slavery. This was a thought provoking book and highly entertaining.

Graphic Novel - YA
I found Friends with Boys to be a lot of fun. The main character is starting high school, but has always been home-schooled, so this is a big transition for her. There were serious aspects to the story, but I appreciated the underlying humor. This was one of the more light-hearted books that I read this week and I really needed it at the time.

Graphic Novel - Elementary
Just have to say that Giants Beware! was an absolute hoot. It's a completely ridiculous, but charming adventure with a fierce and fabulous giant slayer named Claudette. I have many students that will go nutso over this one.

For more on this, see my earlier post here. I found Walking on Earth and Touching the Sky to be heartbreaking at times, but worth it. It seemed that the teens are speaking from their hearts and I appreciated their distinct individual voices. This is a beautiful and powerfully emotional work.

Early Chapter Book
I loved, loved, loved Sadie and Ratz. Hannah has named her hands Sadie and Ratz and tells us all about the things they love to do and the trouble they can create. A great look at sibling interactions with a nice helping of humor.

I was also reading Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry this week, but did not finish yet.

Not my faves:
Skippyjon and Lies, Knives, and Girls in Red Dresses were two that I could have skipped. Skippyjon is quite popular with many of my students, but it bothered me on a culturally responsive level with its accents and Spanglish. Lies is made up of things I usually enjoy - folktale retellings and poetry, but somehow this one just didn't sit right with me. It seemed like the violence was even more forced than in other similar books such as A Tale Dark and Grimm, but I am sure there will be fans. 

For Next Week:
Hopefully, I will finish off Roll of Thunder and more of the Nerdy nominees so that I can vote by the end of the week. Then watch out, because bookaday will be on. Should be a great week.

Saturday, December 15, 2012


Yesterday as I watched tweets come through about what was happening in Connecticut, it became harder and harder to think about anything else. My heart was breaking for the many families wondering if their loved one was still alive. I cannot even imagine the pain they are feeling and will continue to feel. Anytime I even try to put myself in their place, I have to back off or start weeping again. I stayed away from the news for awhile today, but then checked again. Seeing the names and getting more news  stirs up the sadness again and some outrage too.

I don't know what the solution or answers might be to this situation. I don't know how we keep this from happening again. Stricter gun laws? Arming school staff? Improving mental health care? These are some of the things I saw bandied around today online.

So what do we do when we walk into our schools next week? I plan to love our students, do what we can to make them as safe as possible, help them process this, and trust that our society as a whole learns from this tragedy and works toward change.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Some Nerdy Poetry

In reading some of the books on the Nerdy short-list, found here, I have come across a few noteworthy poems this past week. Some of them were old friends and some are now brand-new friends. A few were even hidden in a narrative rather than featured in a poetry collection.

From Forget-Me-Nots: Poems to Learn by Heart
  Selected by Mary Ann Hoberman

The Road goes ever on and on
(from The Fellowship of the Ring)

The Road goes ever on and on
      Down form the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
      And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
      Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
     And wither then? I cannot say.
      J.R.R. Tolkien

From A Stick is an Excellent Thing by Marilyn Singer

Really Fast!
Skateboard races,
          pigeon chases,
                running bases.
              Backyard dashes,
            racecar crashes,
       puddle splashes.

Everything's a blast
      when you do it really fast!

From Walking on Earth & Touching the Sky
    Edited by Timothy P. McLaughlin


Racism is a strong bullet through a person's heart.
Racism is like a bank with lots of unkind words.
Racism is like a gun in a child's hands
loaded with all the words a devil would say
     --Julian Bear Runner


Quiet is the ringing in the ear.
Quiet is the pitch of the night.
Quiet is the feeling of relaxed.
Quiet is the soft touch of friends.
Quiet is the tenderness of babies sleeping.
     --Tia Catches

The Earth is God's face showing all over the place. --Sandy Red Feather

From No Crystal Stair: A Documentary Novel of the Life and Work of Lewis Michaux, Harlem Bookseller

Mother to Son

Well, son, I'll tell you:
Life for me ain't been no crystal stair.
It's had tacks in it,
And splinters,
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor--
But all the time
I'se been a-climbin' on ,
And reachin' landin's,
And turnin' corners,
And sometimes goin' in the dark
Where there ain't been no light.
So, boy, don't you turn back.
Don't you set down on the steps.
'Cause you finds it's kinder hard.
Don't you fall now--
For I'se still climbin',
And life for me ain't been no crystal stair.
     --Langston Hughes

The Dream Keeper

Bring me all of your dreams
You dreamer,
Bring me all your 
Heart melodies
That I may wrap them 
In a blue cloud-cloth
Away from the too-rough fingers
Of the world. 
    --Langston Hughes

I really appreciate the Nerdy Book Club and it's unceasing quest to inspire and encourage reading. I especially like that we help each other to push past our usual boundaries and read a wide variety of books. I love being a part of this wonderful reading community!

Monday, December 10, 2012

It's Monday! What are you Reading?

Jen & Kellee over at Teach Mentor Texts host a meme every Monday that invites people to share the children's and young adult books they have been reading over the past week and what they plan on reading the following week.

You may find more complete information about what I am reading at or by clicking on the Goodreads widget along the side of my blog.

The Past Week
Except for the book Rabbit's Gift, everything I have read in the past week has been something off of the Nerdy Book Club nominees for the Nerdie Awards. I am busy trying to read as many as possible before voting. There are 154 nominees so it's a daunting task, but a fun one. Here are the ones I have squeezed in this past week.

For Next Week:
I will continue to chip away at the nerdie nominees. I am reading Bomb right now and have several more non-fiction books in my stack. I love that the list pushes us into books that we normally wouldn't pick up. Have a great week!

Sunday, December 2, 2012

It's Monday! What are you Reading?

Jen & Kellee over at Teach Mentor Texts host a meme every Monday that invites people to share the children's and young adult books they have been reading over the past week and what they plan on reading the following week.

You may find more complete information about what I am reading at or by clicking on the Goodreads widget along the side of my blog.

NaNoWriMo is finally over so my reading should pick up now. Four books in one week is way too few for my taste. I enjoyed writing and becoming a winner again, but I am excited to have more reading time again!

The Past Week

Newbery Challenge

Jumping back into the Dark is Rising series was a bit tricky, but still satisfying. I didn't remember all that I could have, but things still made sense for the most part. It is tricky when you have to read a random book out of a series on its own. The Grey King was high fantasy and definitely shifted me into a whole other time and place. Cooper brings the reader into this rather stark and forbidding landscape full of many hidden powers and it is all rather thrilling. I read the entire series as a child and loved every minute of it. I also found this great video of Susan Cooper talking about her writing. She has a fun sense of humor that peeks out every once in awhile. She is also a fellow book lover. She said that when she was a child, "I inhaled books like a vacuum cleaner." 

By the way, the biography page on her website has very interesting information and some wonderful photos.


Donalyn Miller from The NerdyBookClub recommended Falling Down the Page: A Book of List Poems recently so I just had to get my hands on it. I found many favorites inside and was so excited to show it to our 5th grade unit just getting ready to start a poetry unit. This book is a perfect mentor text to use with students hesitant about writing poetry. I especially loved the one about the pencil. I think many people will find favorites inside. 

YA Fantasy

I got to read Silver Phoenix by Cindy Pon. I started it after 11 at night and that was a grave mistake. The book pulled me in immediately and I couldn't not shake loose until about 1:00. I finished it up in the morning. I am glad it was a weekend. The main character, Ai Ling, is learning about herself and the rather unusual power she has to slip into a person to hear their thoughts and feel their pains. Very soon after the book begins, she is compelled to set out on a journey to find her father and has many adventures. I was not prepared for the wide variety of horrifying creatures that she encounters. Whew. I am glad that this series is a bit older so that the next one is already available and I will not have to wait for it.

Historical Fiction Picture Book

A Boy Called Dickens by Deborah Hopkinson is actually difficult to pin down. It is biography"ish" but isn't truly a biography as the author explains at the end. It's more historical fiction focused in on one person in a picture book. She has provided information within the framework of a story. I thoroughly enjoyed the old fashioned illustrations. 

For the Coming Week:
I will be reading as many books from the Nerdy Book Club Award Nominees list that I can possibly get to in the next two weeks. I can't wait to vote.