Friday, May 31, 2013

Armchair BEA: Non-fiction

When I was a child, my favorite non-fiction was biography. Other than that, my non-fiction reading was usually dictated by the fiction I was reading. I read a lot of historical fiction and would get curious about the real events surrounding the book. I remember reading piles of books about World War II and then the history of Russia when I was in middle school. My non-fiction reading was almost always for a purpose, rather than for entertainment except for some of the biographies.

It wasn't until I was in my thirties before I began to start randomly reading non-fiction in much the same way I choose fiction. Non-fiction was finally something to read for fun. I still read more fiction, but I am likely to pick up something like The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements (which was hilarious) or The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary for no reason at all beyond curiosity.

I prefer narrative non-fiction and have consumed several excellent examples in the past few years. Most of my favorites are young adult and children's. Here are some of the best of the best in no particular order:

Do you read a lot of non-fiction? What is it about non-fiction that you enjoy?

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Armchair BEA: Genre Fiction

The genre that I return to over and over again is fantasy. In middle school I started out with Anne McCaffrey and moved on to Tolkien, but my taste in fantasy has varied over the years. I tend to like the high fantasy and especially the fantasy with a bit of fairy tale. Some of my all time favorite fairy tale retellings are:

Spindle's End
The Frog Princess
Rapunzel's Revenge
A Tale Dark and Grimm
The Goose Girl
Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow
The Stinky Cheese Man
The True Story of the Three Little Pigs
The Paper Bag Princess
Lon Po Po
Cinderella Skeleton
Where the Mountain Meets the Moon
The Princess Curse
Book of a Thousand Days
Wildwood Dancing
Just Ella

What genre pulls you in and enchants you?

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Armchair BEA: Classics

cover images from Goodreads

When I was in elementary school, I was given a handful of paperback children's classics. Several of them captured my imagination and led me to read the originals. Little Women and Treasure Island are two that stuck with me over the years. After that, I managed to find many loves among the classics. A Little Princess, The Secret Garden, the rest of the Alcott novels and Anne of Green Gables were some of my favorites. In sixth grade we watched the Masterpiece Theatre version of A Tale of Two Cities and it quickly gained favorite status. I also dove into Shakespeare for a time. Next, I branched off into the fantasy world with Tolkien. I have read every single one of these titles multiple times. They never get old.

I do notice one thing though, I don't find much racial diversity within the older classics. Fortunately, over time, I began to find books like Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry, The House on Mango Street, Fallen Angels and more recently The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian and many others. This topic was discussed on the Diversity in YA tumblr about a month ago. I hope that in the future, when we discuss classics, there will be more diversity on the lists than we have seen so far.

Do you have favorite classics that you would recommend?

Armchair BEA Introduction

Design by Emily of Emily's Reading Room

I am excited to be a part of Armchair BEA for the first time. Here is some info that will help introduce me and my blog.
  1. Please tell us a little bit about yourself: Who are you? How long have you been blogging? Why did you get into blogging? My name is Crystal and I believe that I have been blogging since August 2011. I started the blog after participating in a class that was about creativity and I was looking for a way to express myself around what I loved - books. I had also run across a few challenges that were a bit easier to do if I had a blog: 10 for 10 and the Write Fifteen Minutes a Day Challenge.
  2. Name your favorite blog(s) and explain why they are your favorite(s). Because I am an elementary school teacher librarian, my favorite blog is Watch.Connect.Read by Mr. John Schu. He posts fantastic book trailers and stays current with #kidlit news. Another blog that I enjoy is Rich in Color where I am a co-blogger. It has been very cool to work together with other bloggers  and I love the excuse to read diverse YA.
  3. What are you currently reading? I am currently reading Drowned Cities and Summer of the Mariposas.
  4. Tell us one non-book-related thing that everyone reading your blog may not know about you. In addition to reading, I run. My favorite race at this point is a half marathon. I have completed two  marathons, but definitely like halfs better. I also love to interact with other teachers and librarians with the hashtag #runteacherrun. Unfortunately I am injured right now, but am looking forward to getting back to running soon.
  5. What literary location would you most like to visit? Here is a post with that answer. The post includes the top ten real and fantasy (most literary) places where I would like to read.

Monday, May 27, 2013

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 Goodreads or by clicking on the Goodreads widget along the side of my blog.

I read entirely too many books this week for me to be able to write reviews, so this time, it is just a list.

Picture Books

Caldecott Books

I finally started working on the Nerdcott Challenge again. It's been a long time.

Early Chapter Books

As I look at this, I realize that Early Chapter books are what I don't tend to read.
I will need to work on that.

Young Non-fiction

Young Adult

The Coming Week:
I will finish up the audio book of The Drowned Cities. I will also finish reading Summer of the Mariposas. I think I will start reading an ARC of A Moment Comes by Jennifer Bradbury. I will also read the ARC of Gum Girl! Chews Your Own Destiny. Aside from those, I may grab pretty much anything. Have a great week of reading!

Sunday, May 26, 2013



I am so incredibly excited about NerdCamp Battle Creek on July 11th. The day is planned as a literacy focused EdCamp and is being organized by Nerdybookclub members for any educators who want to attend. Just like any EdCamp, there is no registration fee since all of the presenters will be volunteering their time and sponsors will be helping fund the camp in an effort to support education. I am looking forward to learning with many educators who are crazy about reading. Meeting many twitter friends and some excellent authors will also be lots of fun.

If you aren't convinced yet, Colby compiled a list of 10 Reasons Why You Should Come to nErDCamp.

If you have July 11th free and you can make it to Battle Creek, MI that day, you will definitely want to get registered. I hope to see you there!

**But, never fear, there is a twitter account for the event so even if you can't attend, there will be posts galore so you can still see what is happening.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Review -- Squish No. 5: Game On!

Title: Squish: Game On!
Authors: Jennifer L. Holm & Matthew Holm
Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers
Pages: 96
Review Copy: Digital ARC from Edelweiss
Release Date: May 28, 2013

Summary: Introducing Squish-a hilarious, action packed graphic novel series from the award-winning creators of Babymouse! Filled with superheroes, comics within comics, and gross-out science, Squish is perfect for fans of Dav Pilkey's Captain Underpants, Dan Gutman's Weird School, and Jarrett Krosoczka's Lunch Lady.

Beep! Beep! Squish can't get enough of his awesome new video game Mitosis! (Mitosis is what happens when cells divide. Who says video games can't be educational?) In fact, he may even be obsessed! He plays at school...even in his sleep! Are video games taking over Squish's life?! And can Squish's favorite comic book hero, Super Amoeba, stop the Creeping Black Mold that's taking over Small Pond? Find out inSquish #5: Game On-saving the world, one cell at a time!

Yowza! You can draw comics, too! Look in the back to find out how to draw one of the Squish characters! Also includes instructions for a sensational science experiment you can do at home! Shazam! --image from Goodreads & summary from Edelweiss

Review: Before I even got to the story, a smile broke out on my face. Colby Sharp (a Nerdybookclub member) must have flipped when he saw his name on the dedication page. He is a huge Babymouse and Squish fan and has promoted these books through Twitter, his blog and in his classroom. 

As for the story, the Holm duo has hit on a theme that many readers will relate to easily: video game obsession. If it hasn't affected them, they have likely seen it strike friends and/or relatives. It is so difficult to set aside a game when it is all shiny and new. That is especially true when there is a bit of competition with everyone else around you. Squish is such a great character because though he is an amoeba, he is still a complicated being with many good qualities and a healthy dose of flaws such as obsessing over a game to the detriment of all else. His imperfections, of course, are a large part of his appeal.

There is so much more going on though besides this single storyline. As always, Super Amoeba comics make an appearance with a lesson to be learned. There are always many jokes all along the way such as those related to Squish's literature assignment -- Moby Dick with his quote, "Call me Squishmael." There is also a small dose of science as we learn about mitosis -- the theme of the video game the friends are determined to master.

My students have loved every single volume of Squish and I believe they will fall for this one too. There is plenty of humor for all of them with a dash of teaching and a whole lot of fun. Get it soon!

Monday, May 20, 2013

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 Goodreads or by clicking on the Goodreads widget along the side of my blog.

Picture Books

As no surprise to me, my first grade students adored That is Not a Good Idea. They had all watched the AWESOME trailer during their Mo Willems unit and pretty much freaked out when they saw it in my hands. Mo has once again grabbed our funny bone and just won't let go.

Bluebird is not even remotely humorous though. Wow. It has gorgeous illustrations and is about bullying and loss. I found the ending sweet, but a bit abrupt, so I was left with mixed feelings.


We have been reading a lot of Valerie Bodden's books recently since she is coming to visit our school this week. I am excited to have a non-fiction author coming to share about her research process and her writing life. Her books are interesting and I always learn something new when I read them. The students loved finding out more about scorpions. Did you know there are about 1,500 kinds, but only 20 are harmful to humans?

Middle Grade

I found it difficult to like the main character for quite some time, but by the middle of the book I warmed up to him. I enjoyed the book for the most part. It has a great sense of mystery and even a  fantastical feel though it is more along the lines of sci-fi truly. The characters are interesting too. I had trouble with the ending though. It wrapped up in an all of a sudden way with a few loose ends, but I have heard a rumor that there may be a sequel. Even with the less than neat ending, I would definitely recommend the book to others. I just didn't like it as much as I expected to after hearing so many positive reviews.

Young Adult

I was perfectly in the mood for Shatter Me. You know how sometimes you just want to read a certain genre or have been looking forward to a specific book? This one had been on my radar for quite some time and I was excited to finally get it. Juliette was complex and strong. I loved her story and am excited to learn more about her in the next book. Two of the books this week were audio since I had a road trip. I finished up Eli the Good. May I just say PTSD stinks? This was a great novel with much to think about. Families can be fabulous, but they are also super complicated. The Story of a Girl was another book centering on family issues and above all forgiveness.  It made me cry multiple times and brought me right back into my past. Being a teen is not something I would ever choose to repeat. Finally, I read Beauty, a re-telling of Snow White. I reviewed it over on Rich in Color. I like novel length re-tellings because there is more character development, but this didn't have quite as much as I would have liked though I did enjoy it. One thing I did learn while reading it is that buying books online for the Kindle app is alarmingly easy. Ack. I could get in serious trouble having one click ordering for most any book I want instantaneously. That is a temptation I did not really need to know about right now.

The Coming Week:
I am listening to --and loving -- The Wolves of Willoughby Chase and cannot quite fathom how I have overlooked it all of these years. I am about half-way through Prodigy and since I listened to the first book it is interesting to see some of the names in print like Metias and Kaede. In my mind they were spelled a completely different way. Also, I am not sure I enjoy reading blue text. I am completely loving the story though. When I left home without a book the other day, I was lucky enough to stumble on a bookstore and picked up Stupid Fast (which I heard about through Jen and Kellee). Quite the unique book. I am hoping to finish all three of these and maybe read a few more along the way. What will you be reading? Have a great week.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Another Year Winding Down

Some Things That Have Made Me Smile This Year

Skyping with Fabulous Authors
 The Origami Yoda Series
Watching Students Read  Together
Finishing the #Nerdbery Challenge with this book

I have been neglecting this blog a bit lately as the craziness of the end of the year has been taking hold. Realizing that I only meet with my classes one or two more times makes it all too real. We have done some fantastic things this year, but there are activities we didn't get to. I am already plotting and planning so I can try to fit those in next year.

This has been a learning year for staff as our district has been implementing the Common Core State Standards and a new English Language Arts curriculum. That has been exciting and fun and crazy making. We have seen students getting creative with the new lessons. I am hoping though that next year will be a little less stressful since we have already been through it once.

I think that I often am so busy at the end that I don't even have time to truly say goodbye to the students that are going on to middle school the way I would like to and I hope to do better with that in the next few weeks.

I wish you the best as your year finishes. Have fun!

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Tuesday Trailer: Giants Beware

This trailer has been around for quite a long time,
but I saw it today and had to post it. 

Sunday, May 12, 2013

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 Goodreads or by clicking on the Goodreads widget along the side of my blog.

Picture Books

Of the picture books, I definitely enjoyed Buffalo Bird Girl and Dreaming Up the most. They were fantastic. I had read a very thorough review of Buffalo Bird Girl earlier in the year on Debbie Resse's site and was so glad to finally get to read it for myself. I really appreciated the mix of artwork and photographs to help tell her story. This is a very accessible biography and I will be adding it to our library. I reviewed Dreaming Up yesterday and loved it.

Middle Grade and YA

Hold Fast was a twisty mystery and I enjoyed the connections to Langston Hughes. It is also a good look into the issue of homelessness. It got a few tears out of me. 

Anna and the French Kiss was a mixture of things for me: annoying, funny, cute, annoying, sweet, and a little predictable. I was listening to it on audio and came close to giving up a few times since the main character was driving me up the wall with the poor me stuff. At about the second or third CD though she finally had a reality check and that changed. The predictability was also annoying, but the cute and sweet factors made up for a lot. I became more of a fan as it went along.

Vader's Little Princess was a nice shot of humor. Hole in My Life was sobering. I read it for the Printz Challenge, but also because Jack Gantos will be in town next week. Yay!

I think my favorite YA this week was The Crown of Embers. Elisa is awesome and I am enjoying seeing her grow.

The Coming Week:
I am finishing up the audio of Eli the Good (read by the author) and am starting to speak with a southern accent as a result. I have just started reading Shatter Me and have The Water Castle on deck. I will need to read something for my review on Rich in Color for Friday too. Stop by to see the new look if you have a moment and let us know what you think.

What will you be reading? Have a great week!

Picture Book Party


Title: World on a String
Author: Larry Phifer
Illustrator: Danny Popovici
Publisher: Storytime Works
Pages: 36
Review Copy: Netgalley
Release Date: June 4, 2013

Summary: Picture book that offers a uniquely uplifting perspective on loss. 

World on a String is the story of a young boy, Charlie, who finds and befriends a big red balloon. Soon, Charlie and his balloon become best friends. They play together. They go to school together. They do everything together.Then, one night, Charlie’s balloon comes untied in a thunderstorm. At first, Charlie is very sad. He imagines that his friend is lost, tangled and all alone. However, by remembering the happy times they shared, Charlie is able to shift his perspective, deal with his loss and, ultimately, he imagines his balloon as a very important part of the starry sky. -- image and summary via Goodreads

Review: I fell in love with the playful illustrations from the very first page. They bring the words to life and add depth to the story. The soft yet vibrant colors keep the reader floating gently through to the end. The bubbly bath and pirate scenes are sure to amuse readers. The text could have been stronger without the rhyming, but it has a positive and helpful message. World on a String would speak gently to a child who is grieving the loss of something or someone. The text was okay, but the illustrations could almost carry the book alone. I hope to see more illustrations by Danny Popovici in the future.

Title: Good Night, Monkey Boy (Board Book)
Author: Jarrett J. Krosoczka
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Audience: Ages 2 to 5
Pages: 36
Review Copy: Edelweiss
Release Date: May 14, 2013

Summary: Who's that eating a banana? Swinging from the shower curtain? Making faces in the mirror? Why, it looks like a monkey! 

But not to Mommy. Mommy knows it's her own monkey boy, and even monkey boys need their sleep. But first, they need to clean up their room and take a bath. Then she'll read a story. "Good night, Monkey Boy...and no more bananas!" -- image and summary via Edelweiss

Review: This is a sweet bedtime story that speaks of family love. Monkey Boy is a charmer in spite of his monkey-like behavior. Any child who has been a little too wild during the day, will appreciate that Monkey Boy still gets plenty of loving and fun. Young children will be sure to enjoy his sly banana smuggling. His facial expressions are also adorable.   It would be fun to mimic them while reading. 


Title: dreaming UP
Author: Christy Hale
Publisher: Lee and Low
Pages: 40
Review Copy: Netgalley
Release Date: October 12, 2012

Summary: A collection of illustrations, concrete poetry, and photographs that shows how young children's constructions, created as they play, are reflected in notable works of architecture from around the world. -- image and summary via Goodreads

Review: The thought that went into this book amazes me. The book highlights some amazing  architecture. What sets the book apart though, is that for every structure, there is a mixed media illustration of young children creating a similar structure with everyday materials such as stacking cubes, legos, mud or even the cardboard tubes from paper towel rolls. There is also a concrete poem that also speaks of the children's creations while it gives the reader another way to imagine or "see" the shapes that make up the two structures. There are four layers to the book: the photographs, the artist's illustrations, the text, and the shape of the text. Tracing the many shapes was a lot of fun and young readers will want to get out their building materials and get to it. This was also a multicultural work. The authors chose works from all over the world and there is a diverse group of young people in the illustrations. I was glad to see that there was a mix of both boys and girls too.

Sometimes as an adult reading to a young child, I wish that the authors provided more information in simple non-fiction texts. Happily, I discovered that there are fantastic endnotes. They included brief, but interesting biographies of the architects and details about each work of architecture. Two of the fourteen were female, but there is a gender imbalance in that profession so this may just be a reflection of that reality. I loved this book and will definitely be adding it to our collection to inspire our future engineers and architects.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Tea Cakes for Tosh

After reading Tea Cakes for Tosh, I knew I wanted to taste them. Fortunately, the author provides a recipe on her website. 

With all of my ingredients together -- including my audio book -- I was ready to begin.

And then, YUM, they were finished. Give them a try sometime.

Monday, May 6, 2013

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 Goodreads or by clicking on the Goodreads widget along the side of my blog.

I am strapped for time so will let the stars speak for themselves today. 
1=did not like it, 2=eh, 3=liked it, 4=really liked it, 5=it was amazing

The Past Week:

Picture Book

Middle Grade

Young Adult

The Coming Week:
I was listening to Eli the Good on audio, but the 4th CD is messed up, so if I can find another copy, I will finish that. Then I started Anna and the French Kiss, but I have to say I am not loving it so I may not finish. I requested The Crown of Embers from the library and it is "in transit" so that is up next. Jack Gantos is coming on May 20th, so I am going to try to get my hands on Hole in My Life that I need to read for the Printz Challenge anyway. I will also need to pick something to read for my next Rich in Color review. What will you be reading? Have a great week!