Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus by Dusti Bowling

Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus is a book I want to put in as many readers' hands as possible. Not only is it a book that I think middle grade readers will enjoy, but one they can also learn from. Books, such as this one, that help students understand those who are different from them and develop compassion for others are much needed in our world.

Aven's parents decide to move to Arizona so her father can take a job managing a Western theme park. Even though Aven was born with no arms, she is used to doing things on her own. But, when she starts her new school she has difficulty making friends and at lunch she hides in the bathroom so her schoolmates don't stare at her while she eats lunch with her feet. Then Aven meets Connor, a boy with Tourette's Syndrome, in the library where he hides out at lunch. Aven and Connor's friendship grows; they work together to solve a mystery and help each other feel a little less different.

Through Aven's eyes, young readers can understand what it's like to have a disability. Aven gives readers a look at both the positive and negatives of having no arms. Aven also shows it's possible to look at life through a positive and humorous lens even when faced with challenges. There is a theme of friendship that runs through the story, as well. Aven and Connor look past the differences of each other, as well as others, to see the person underneath. This is a book about accepting others, but also accepting oneself.

The setting of this book is unique. The characters are appealing. There's a mystery that keeps the plot interesting. The book is warm-hearted and inspirational. There is a lot to love about Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus. I hope to spread the love for this book, as it will be one I highly recommend to students and teachers.

Monday, August 21, 2017

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? is a community of bloggers who link up to share what they are reading.  For more information and to find out what other bloggers are reading check out the host blogs: Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers. 

What I've Been Reading This Week...

Bonaparte Falls Apart by Margery Cuyler

Bonaparte is a skeleton whose bones frequently fall off. His friend, Franky Stein, has many creative ideas to help keep Bonaparte in one piece, but it's not until the friends spot a puppy that Bonaparte has a solution. This story, with its bone related puns, will be a delight to read aloud. Although a silly story, Bonaparte and his friends show their cleverness and determination in solving Bonaparte's problem. Many young readers will also be able to relate to Bonaparte's worry about how others will perceive him when he starts school.

Creepy Pair of Underwear! by Aaron Reynolds

This is a picture book that kids will love. The story of Jasper Rabbit and his creepy underwear that frighten him while he tries to sleep at night is a little spooky and very amusing. Read more of my thoughts about this book that is sure to delight young readers here.

Small by Gina Perry

A little girl names all the ways she is small, but realizes she is bigger than she thinks. This is an empowering story. One that can help those who may feel small in the world see that their interests, talents, and dreams can make a difference.

Forget Me Not by Ellie Terry

Every time Calliope's mother breaks up with a boyfriend they have to move. Calliope is starting a new school after their most recent move and she is having a hard time fitting in because of her differences. The other kids don't understand that she has Tourette's Syndrome. The book is partly told through Calliope's perspective and written in verse. Part of the story is told, in prose, through the perspective of Jinsong, Calliope's neighbor, who is conflicted about whether or not to be her friend. This is a touching story about differences and friendship.

Lily's Mountain by Hannah Moderow

Lily's family gets the news that her dad has died while returning from a climb up Mt. Denali. Lily holds onto the hope that her father is alive even though everyone around her knows that it's impossible. Lily thinks she can find him so she convinces her mother to let her go with her sister to the mountain. Lily's journey captures the beauty and danger of hiking through the Alaskan wilderness. Lily is determined and resilient and although she doesn't find what she wants she gets the closure she needs. This book publishes in November.

The Perfect Score by Rob Buyea

Five kids start the school year with a teacher who is not the one they originally expected they were going to have. As the school year progresses, the focus on the statewide assessment test becomes more intense. The students are not only dealing with the pressure to ace the test, but their own individual struggles with family, friends, and school. Rob Buyea, as he did in the Because of Mr. Terupt series, has created interesting characters each with their own unique voice. The story is told in alternating perspectives of the five kids. The adults in the story learn something about testing and the kids learn about compassion, kindness, and friendship. Look for this book in October.

Tumble and Blue by Cassie Beasley

This book has been on my to-read list since hearing about last winter. Cassie Beasley's Circus Mirandus is one of my all-time favorite middle grade books. This is another beautifully written story of magic and adventure. Blue has recently been left by his dad with his grandmother in Murky Branch, Georgia where he is befriended by Tumble, a girl who is determined to become a hero. Together, Tumble and Blue set out to break the curses that they believe have been placed upon them for life. This is a compelling read about bravery and friendship.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Creepy Pair of Underwear! by Aaron Reynolds

There is no kid I know that is not thrilled to discover the word "underwear" in a book. As I read Creepy Pair of Underwear, I thought about how much it would please kids to read a book in which underwear is a main part of the plot. The dedication, in which Aaron Reynolds dedicates the book to kids at an elementary school and "the one kid who asked for a story about scary underpants," further highlights kids' fascination with the undergarment. 

Kids will be fascinated with this book, for sure. Jasper Rabbit spots a pair of glorious, but creepy underwear and his mom agrees to buy them for him. While Jasper insists he is a big rabbit, the ghoulish, green glow of the creepy underwear frighten him while he tries to sleep at night. Jasper tries and tries to get rid of his creepy underwear, but they keep turning back up. Jasper's attempts to rid himself of the underwear are amusing. Although he is a clever problem solver, the underwear seems to have a mind of its own. Readers will root for Jasper to win out over the underwear, but will also be satisfied with the ending in which Jasper conquers his fear and also puts the underwear to good use.

Creepy Pair of Underwear will definitely give kids a good laugh. They will also be entertained by the spookiness of the story and the illustrations. The illustrator, Peter Brown, has artfully created a pair of creepy underwear that appears to be glowing. This book is the perfect combination of fun and fright.

Monday, August 14, 2017

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? is a community of bloggers who link up to share what they are reading.  For more information and to find out what other bloggers are reading check out the host blogs: Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers. 

What I've Been Reading This Week...

This week I've been reading some books that are soon-to-be published. Look for these in September. 

The Book of Gold by Bob Staake

This is a wonderful book about the power of reading. A young boy is transformed from a nonreader into a reader who realizes that reading is about discovery and wonder. As a teacher of reading and a book lover, I am looking forward to sharing this book with my students. Read my review here.

The Daybreak Bond by Megan Frazer Blakemore

Mori and her friends have left Old Harmonie, the utopian community where they live, to keep their friend Ilana, who is more machine than human, safe. Never having left Old Harmonie, the world outside the fence is not like anything the friends could have imagined and there are challenges to their mission that they did not expect. The friends' adventure in a world new to them was interesting, but the bond between them and their loyalty to each other also drew me into the story. In the utopian world of Old Harmonie, traits of humans can be technologically altered so each person can meet their full potential. Mori questions this practice, as will readers. This sequel to The Firefly Code is as engaging as the first. If you are not already a utopian fiction fan, you just may be after reading Blakemore's books.

The Exact Location of Home by Kate Messner

Zig hasn't seen his dad in over a year and his mother won't give him any explanation as to why. Zig thinks geocaching will help him find his dad so he follows the clues around his town. Finding his dad is not Zig's only problem as his mother is unable to afford the bills and they must leave their apartment. Zig and the other characters in this book are facing realistic challenges in their lives. This book deals with a serious issue in a way that will give readers insight without being too sad. The book shows that the lives of others may be different than they appear on the surface. There is also a message of hope as friends, family, and strangers support one another.

The Explorer by Katherine Rundell

Fred, Con, Lily, and Max are traveling by plane to England when their plane crashes. The pilot has died and they are left alone to survive in the jungle and find their way home. There is lots of adventure as the children problem solve and figure out ways to eat and stay safe. In order to survive the children must also work together and, even though they are very different from each other, they become friends. This book about four brave children is for those readers who like adventure and stories of survival. 

One Mixed-Up Night by Catherine Newman

Two best friends each tell their parents they are sleeping at the other's house, but really they have a plan, inspired by From The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankenweiler, to spend the night at Ikea. This is a book about adventure, friendship, and healing. I think middle grade readers will be intrigued by the idea of spending a night alone at Ikea. Read my review of the book here.

Skeleton Tree by Kim Ventrella

This is a unique story that starts with a boy finding a bone, poking out of the dirt, in his garden. He knows that after this day nothing will be the same. This boy, Stanly, has some difficult issues to deal with - his dad is not around, his mother can barely pay the bills, and his sister Miren is getting sicker and sicker. The bone grows into a skeleton which seems to be connected to Miren's sickness. The book is eerie, magical, and heart-breaking. 

The Wonderling by Mira Bartok

Arthur is a groundling, part human, part animal. Only at the beginning of the story he is not known as Arthur, but simply as a number, the number 13. The only home he has ever known is The Home for Wayword and Misbegotten Creatures run by the very evil Miss Carbunkle. Arthur meets a creature, smaller than him, who convinces him to escape from "the Home." Arthur's adventure is a search for the place where he was born, but it leads him to a world he never expected. This book will capture imaginations with its fantasy and magic. Readers will care for Arthur who is kind-hearted and courageous. This book, which will be published in September, is also being made into a movie.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

The Book of Gold by Bob Staake

I am a reading specialist, so it makes sense that I would love books about books and reading. I especially love books about books when they show readers the importance and beauty of reading. This is one of those books.

Isaac doesn't have many interests and his parents can't even get him interested in books when they bring him to the New York Public Library. On the way home from the library, they stop at a shop and the shopkeeper tells Isaac about The Book of Gold. This is a special book, waiting to be discovered somewhere in the world, that when opened will turn into gold. Isaac searches and searches for the book, in hopes that he will find the gold, until he is an old man. As he searches and opens each book he gets more curious and he realizes that he has found something special within the pages of the books he's read after all.

As Isaac is transformed from a nonreader into a reader, this book shows all that can be discovered within books. Isaac reflects on his life and realizes it's been filled with learning and wonder because of the books he has read. The illustrations in this book are detailed and there are pages that shine like gold. As a reading teacher I want my students to improve upon their reading skills, but I also want to nurture their love of reading. My hope is that they see that books can offer them gold. The message within The Book of Gold is one I want my students to learn.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

10 Picture Books to Share This School Year

For the third year, I am participating in the annual Picture Book 10 for 10 event hosted by Reflect and Refine: Building a Learning Community and Enjoy and Embrace Learning.  Bloggers who participate post a list of ten favorite picture books. In previous years, I have picked books related to a theme. My ideas about a theme this year kept changing, so I decided instead to be simple and compile a list of ten picture books I want to share with students during the upcoming school year. A few of these books on my list are tried-and-true. I've read them before and I know students love them. Others are books that are new to me and I want to share them with students for the first time.

10 Favorite Picture Books

Best Frints in the Whole Universe by Antoinette Portis

I read this book to first and second grade classes last year and they loved it. Students were amused with the author's use of inventive language. It's a funny and sweet book about friendship. I plan to read it to our incoming first graders this fall.

The Legend of Rock Paper Scissors by Drew Daywalt

This is another book that was a big hit with students. I read it to a few classes and they loved the imaginative and humorous legend about how the popular game of Rock Paper Scissors came to be.

Madeline Finn and the Library Dog by Lisa Papp

Last year, I read this book to the small groups of students I work with in first, second, and third grade. It's a great book to use to start a discussion about the necessity of persistence when learning to read. Students loved the surprise ending. I'll use this one again to help students think about mindsets for learning.

Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall

Jabari is afraid to jump off the diving board until he gets some encouragement from his dad. This is a wonderful story about courage, optimism, and risk-taking.

Super Manny Stands Up by Kelly DiPucchio

This is another book about courage, but it also has a message about standing up for others. Students at my school have loved other books by Kelly DiPucchio, such as Everyone Loves Bacon and Dragon Was Terrible, so I think they will enjoy this one, too.

The Teacher's Pet by Anica Mrose Rissi

I'll share this book this year because it's funny. There's a few lines and pages that will definitely appeal to kids. The kids in the book also show they are great problem solvers. I am a big fan of Zachariah Ohora's illustrations which also bring a lot of humor to the book.

Owl Bat Bat Owl by Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick 

To support my students in learning to have discussions about text, I plan to start with some wordless picture books. This is a sweet wordless book that will spark discussions about family, differences, and accepting others.

Me and You and the Red Canoe by Jean Pendziwol

There are some books you want to read again and again just to revel in the language. This is one of them. It's a beautiful and poetic slice of life story that pulls you right into the moment. Absolutely gorgeous illustrations. This book will certainly go on my list of mentor texts for teaching writing.

Renato and the Lion by Barbara DiLorenzo

This is a touching story set during World War II. It's also a story about art that gives insight into the time period that many readers do not know about. The watercolor illustrations are as beautiful as the story.

The Book of Gold by Bob Staake

As a reading specialist, I want all students to know the power and wonder of reading. This is a wonderful book that shows there is much to be discovered within the pages of a book. Last year my 10 for 10 list was a list of picture books about books. This is a new favorite book about books to add to my list.

Previous Picture Book 10 for 10 Lists

If you would like to check out my previous 10 for 10 lists you can find my list of ten books about books here and my list of ten books useful for discussing effort and perseverance here.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

One Mixed-Up Night by Catherine Newman

Living not too far from an Ikea, I know there are many who have a love for the Swedish furniture store. I have friends who can spend half a day wandering the showrooms, mock living spaces filled with modern and inexpensive, assemble-it-yourself furniture that entice you into redecorating your own home. In One Mixed-Up Night, Frankie and Walter, sixth graders and best friends, have an obsession with Ikea. For fun, they play the "picking game" with the Ikea catalog, in which they pick the thing from each page they most want. They've only gotten to visit the store itself a few times in their lives.

When their families are planning a visit to Ikea together, Frankie and Walter come up with a plan inspired by the book, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankenweiler. Instead of spending the night at an art museum, they decide to spend the night at Ikea. They tell their parents they are sleeping at each other's houses and they have a night of adventure in the furniture store, jumping in pillow mountains, eating Swedish cake, and zip lining across the warehouse. Children will be enchanted with Frankie and Walter's adventure as they find ways to entertain themselves in an empty store, alone, after-hours.

Frankie and Walter's Ikea night is about more than a fun adventure. Frankie thinks a night at Ikea will bring back the brightness Walter seems to be losing. Throughout the night, Frankie and Walter share memories and the reason for the changes in Walter is revealed. The book explores loss and the emotions associated with it. Two friends learn the power of friendship and love in helping with the healing process.

One Mixed-Up Night is the author's first book written for children. The book, published by Random House Books for Young Readers, will be available in September. Thank you to the publisher for providing my #BookExcursion group with a copy of the book.