Monday, November 13, 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...

Maurice the Unbeastly by Amy Dixon

Maurice does not behave like a Beast should, but he wants to fit in so he goes to The Abominable Academy for Brutish Beasts. Although Maurice tries hard, he just is not beastly enough. Maurice is about to give up until he has the opportunity to show everyone he has a useful skill. Maurice, may be less than beastly, but he is charming and shows that it's okay to be oneself.

Read the Book, Lemmings! by Ame Dyckman

The lemmings repeatedly jump off the cliff (the side of the S.S. Cliff, a ship that is actually a whale) and Foxy repeatedly saves them. If the lemmings would read Foxy's book about lemmings, they would know they are not supposed to jump off cliffs. If the lemmings are going to read they book, Foxy will have to teach them how. I love the lesson about the power and wonder of reading, but there is also much to give readers a laugh in this book.

Patina by Jason Reynolds

In the second book in the Track series, Jason Reynolds tells the story of Patty, who is new to the track team and very competitive. When she's running she can escape from a less than ideal life situation. She and her sister are living with their aunt and uncle after their father died and their mother became confined to a wheel chair. This book gives a glimpse into the life of a character dealing with the challenges of fitting in and striving to make sense of what life has given her. Patty is a resilient and strong character who readers can learn from.

A Book to Look for in 2018

The Uncanny Express (The Unintentional Adventures of the Bland Sisters Book 2) by Kara LaReau

Jaundice and Kale are happiest when they are at home darning socks, tying knots, and cleaning. Their parents, who are off having an adventure, send them to meet their aunt at the train station. When Jaundice and Kale show up, they are whisked of on the Uncanny Express as assistants to a magician, an adventure their parents planned for them. Their adventure soon turns into a mystery. There's a lot of wordplay and Jaundice and Kale's over-the-top dullness is amusing. Jaundice and Kale may be bland, but their adventures are not. 

Monday, November 6, 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...

Windows by Julia Denos

A boy and his dog take a walk at dusk, noticing the windows on the buildings in his neighborhood. This is a warm, sweet story that shows if we take the time to observe there is much going on around us. The colors in the beautiful illustrations slowly change to show the passage of time as the day turns into night. Lovely book, which is actually based on a city in my state of Massachusetts, where the author and illustrator live.

Keep Calm and Sparkle On! (The Wish List #2) by Sarah Aronson

In the second book in the Wish List series, Isabelle continues her fairy godmother training, but she is now in level two which is proving to be much harder than the first level. While Isabelle is trying to master her fairy godmother skills, she's also worried that others will find out she broke one of the godmother-in-training rules by leaving a jar of sparkles with Nora, her practice princess who is actually a regular girl. Now Isabelle needs to get her sparkles back and grant a happily-ever-after to her new practice girl without making her friend unhappy. Those who enjoy magic and fantasy will find Isabelle's situation delightful. Even though a fantasy, Isabelle faces realistic problems and situations with friends that young readers will be able to relate. Isabelle is always determined, warm-hearted, and well-intentioned as she figures out how to meet the challenges she's given in order to become a fairy godmother. This book publishes in December, but while you wait you could check out the first one in the series, The Worst Fairy Godmother Ever!

Caleb and Kit by Beth Vrabel

Caleb has cystic fibrosis. One day he is out walking in the woods and he meets Kit. Kit is mysterious and intriguing and Caleb is quickly drawn to her. The two become friends and their friendship gives Caleb an escape from his overprotective mother, his perfect brother, and his distant father. As Kit's family situation is slowly revealed to Caleb, it becomes apparent that she has secrets of her own. This is a book that can help readers build understanding and empathy for those who are facing difficult situations. It also shows the power of friendship. 

Curse of the Harvester (Dream Jumper, Book 2) by Greg Grunberg

I had to read this book quickly because I have students who have been eagerly waiting for this one after reading the first Dream Jumper book. Ben learned in book one that he is a dream jumper, meaning he can jump into other's dreams and save them. Ben and his friend, Jake, continue their dream adventures in this book and Ben faces some threatening challenges. There is lots of excitement, action, and interesting characters. Based on the ending, I believe there will be a third book, and hopefully there is because the first student who borrowed the book is already asking about it.

A Book to Look for in 2018

Shadow Weaver by MarcyKate Connolly

This is an enchanting, magical, and chilling fantasy that publishes in January. You can read more of my thoughts about the book here

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Shadow Weaver by MarcyKate Connolly

I remember, as a child, making shadow puppets with a flashlight. My brothers and I, usually while camping in a tent, would twist our hands and fingers into various shapes and shine the light on them to amaze each other with shadows that mimicked animals and other creatures. Emmeline, in Shadow Weaver by MarcyKate Connolly, has an uncanny ability to control shadows that extends beyond simply making shadow puppets. She can weave shadows into almost anything she can think of, use them for her own protection, and even communicate with her own shadow.

Emmeline is proud of her shadow weaving, but not everyone appreciates her magic. Her parents decide to send her to Lady Aisling, who promises to cure Emmeline so she will no longer have her magical abilities. Emmeline and her shadow, Dar, run away into the woods where they meet a boy, Lucas, with his own form of magic. Not only are Lady Aisling's guards looking for Emmeline, but Dar wants to become a real girl and needs Emmeline to help her. Emmeline becomes torn between her shadow friend, Dar, and Lucas and his family who have helped her to escape danger.

The plot of Shadow Weaver is both mysterious and thrilling as Emmeline and her new friend Lucas must defend themselves from those who want to harm them. In the midst of Emmeline's fight to keep her magic, she also struggles with decisions she has to make about where her loyalties lie. Emmeline also learns an important lesson: friends may not always be well-intentioned. With magic and the juxtaposition of light versus dark and good versus evil, this fantasy is a little creepy, but also enchanting. This is an intriguing book for readers looking for an imaginative and magical story that will give them a bit of a chill. There is a second book planned as the ending leaves readers anticipating a sequel. 

I thank the author, MarcyKate Connolly, for providing me and my book review group, #BookExcursion, with an advanced reader copy of the book. The book publishes in January.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Literacy Night Cafe: Now Serving Books

Spreading the love of reading and getting students interested in books is one of the parts of my job that I am most passionate about. A book tasting, not an original idea, but one that is widely written about on various literacy blogs and websites, has been an effective way to help students learn about books that interest them and motivate them to try out new titles, authors, and genres. For the first time, I hosted a literacy night at my school based on the idea of a book tasting. Watching students interact with their families as they "sampled" books and listening to them talk about books they may like to read was a joy. To a literacy specialist, there is nothing better than witnessing this excitement about reading.

Before students returned to school at night with their families, the school cafeteria was set up to resemble a restaurant. Five tables were covered in red and white checkered tablecloths and set up with battery-operated candles and platters of books. Each table was designated for one of the following genres or types of books: realistic fiction, fantasy, adventure, mystery, and graphic novels. A "Now Serving" sign, stating the book genre for the table, was placed on each of the five tables. 

 As families entered the cafeteria, Italian dinner music played and a virtual "fire" crackled on the projector screen. Students were given a "menu" which served as a place for them to record book titles they were interested in reading, a raffle ticket for the opportunity to win one of three book prizes, and a bracelet with the words "I Love to Read". Parents were given a handout with ways to encourage reading at home. For the first fifteen minutes, students visited the raffle table and a table where they could help themselves to bookmarks, stickers, and pins related to various books and reading. Many of the freebies available were provided by generous children's authors who I reached out to through Twitter. Students enjoyed cookies and juice that were donated by local supermarkets.

When families finished their snacks, I spoke briefly about the importance of reading and letting students choose what they want to read. I played this Dav Pilkey video in which he shares research about reading for fun. Then I explained the book tasting to families. I told them that similar to food, you don't know if you are going to like a book until you "sample" it. I also explained that sampling a book is like sampling food, meaning that you read only a little bit, such as the description on the back or the first page or two. "I Love to Read" pencils were passed out to each student and the book tasting began.

For about eight minutes, families "sampled" the books at the table where they sat. Students jotted down titles of books on the "menu" they were given when they arrived. There were a variety of levels of books on the tables, from picture books to early readers to chapter books, for families to peruse. When the designated time was up, families moved to the next table. Families had the opportunity to visit all of the tables. In between table rotations, two students told a book-related joke. After families visited all the tables, raffle winners were chosen and students had the opportunity to sign-out any of the books they were interested in borrowing to read. I think families left for the night feeling excited about books and reading.

Some of the books at the "Mystery" table. 
The planning for this night involved gathering books to place at each of the tables. I chose mostly recently published titles. Being a reader of children's literature, these were books I know and love. I also made sure to include those books that tend to be popular among students. I purchased the books through a grant from an organization I am a member of, the Southeast Regional Reading Council, a local council of the Massachusetts Reading Association. With this grant, I was also able to purchase some of the supplies needed for the night. Thanks to SERRC, the generosity of children's authors, local supermarkets, and the teachers who assisted me with the event, the first family book tasting event at my school was a success. 

Monday, October 30, 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...

Give Me Back My Book by Travis Foster

Redd has a book, but Bloo insists that the book is his. While the two are arguing about the book, Bookworm grabs the book for himself. Redd and Bloo have an idea to get their book back. They not only get their book, but they learn to share. This is an amusing story, told through dialogue, that shows the joy of books.

Malala's Magic Pencil by Malala Yousafzai

This books provides a version of Malala Yousafzai's story that is accessible to young readers. Malala's determination is inspirational. The idea that it's possible to make change through writing is an important one to share with our youngest students.

The Wolf, the Duck, and the Mouse by Mac Barnett

A mouse is gobbled up by a wolf. Within the belly of the wolf, mouse discovers a duck and the two quite enjoy dancing and feasting together where they are safe from the outside world. When a hunter threatens the wolf's life the mouse and the duck must defend their home. This is a quirky, creative, and humorous tale telling the story of why wolves howl.

Wallace and Grace Take the Case by Heather Alexander

Wallace and Grace have a detective agency and they solve mysteries together. Edgar asks them to help solve the mystery of the ghost in the garden. Wallace and Grace solve the mystery, but they also reveal an adorable surprise that will delight young readers. I think many early readers, those who like mysteries and animal stories, will find this a fun read.

It's a Mystery, Pig Face! by Wendy McLeod MacKnight

Tracy and her friend Ralph find a bag of money at the baseball field and they decide to hide it and figure out who it belongs to. Although Tracy doesn't want her brother tagging along, he becomes involved in their detective work. The trio finds out that solving a mystery has its challenges. This book tells the story of a fun and mysterious summer adventure of a group of neighborhood children, but it also has lessons about friendship and appreciating siblings. Thanks to the author, Wendy McLeod MacKnight, for sending me a copy of this book.

The Gauntlet by Karuna Riazi

Farah and her friends discover an unusual looking board game. When Farah's younger brother disappears into the board game, Farah and her friends must enter, as well, to rescue him. The board game brings the friends to a magical world where they are faced with a set of challenges. If they win the challenges they return home. If they don't, they are trapped there forever. This book is a page-turner, fast-paced and mysterious. The setting of the book is interesting, too, as the world of the board game is an imaginary Middle Eastern city. This is also a story about family and teamwork.

A Book to Look for in 2018

Stella Diaz Has Something to Say by Angela Dominguez

Stella, who hasn't yet mastered English, feels different from the others in her class. She feels uncomfortable speaking in school unless it's to her friend Jenny. This book tells the story of Stella's struggle to fit in and find her voice. Stella's story is one that some students will be able to relate to and will help others empathize with those who may have a similar struggle. Stella shows that it's possible to overcome our fears and that it's okay to be oneself. The author's note at the end of the book explains that much of the story is based on her own life. This book publishes in January.

Monday, October 23, 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...

It's Not Jack and the Beanstalk by Josh Funk

This is the story of Jack and the Beanstalk, only Jack does not want the story to be told the way it's supposed to be told. As the narrator tells the story, Jack talks back complaining and offering his suggestions for how the story should go. From the first page where Jack is not wearing pants and throughout the rest of the story, Jack brings humor and fun to the story of Jack and the Beanstalk. It's not the ending you expect from Jack and the Beanstalk, but Jack does manage a happily ever after. This is a fun and unique fractured fairy tale that students will find very entertaining. This book already has me eager for the next, It's Not Hansel and Gretel, which will be published in 2019.  Thanks to Unleashing Readers, one of the hosts of It's Monday! What Are You Reading? and the publisher, Two Lions, for a copy of this book.

Cucumber Quest: The Doughnut Kingdom by Gigi D.G.

Cucumber only wants to go to start school at Puffington's Academy for the Magically Gifted, but he's been chosen to save Doughnut Kingdom before Queen Cordelia achieves her plan for world domination. His sister, Almond, seems more suited for the job, but her mother thinks it's too dangerous for her. Together the siblings set out to save the world. With a Gumdrop Forest and a Caketown, there is lots to this story that is sweet, but there is also evilness as Cucumber and Almond become involved in a battle for the Dream Sword. Graphic novels with adventure and humor, like this one, are always a hit with middle grade readers.

If Found...Please Return to Elise Gravel by Elise Gravel

Elise Gravel's illustrations are imaginative and fun. This book is a recreation of Elise's black notebook which she draws in at night while her daughters sleep. Within the book's pages there is lots of inspiration and encouragement for those who like to draw or those who may feel their drawings aren't any good. Readers will love looking at the drawings of creatures Elise has invented, many of which will give them a laugh. The book itself looks like a little black notebook. If I was a kid, I'd be asking for my own black notebook to doodle in after reading this book.

My Robot Ate My Homework: Project Droid #3 by Nancy Krulik and Amanda Burwasser

Logan has a cousin, Java, who is actually a robot his mother built. Logan has Java do his homework for him, but this backfires when his teacher announces a geography bee and Logan realizes his class could find out what he did. Logan must learn his geography facts to win the competition. Java's literal understanding of the world and Logan's attempts to cover up the fact that he's a robot is entertaining and humorous. This is a great read for transitional readers.

Holly Farb and the Princess of the Galaxy by Gareth Wronski

Holly Farb has just lost the school election and she wants nothing more than to get into a prestigious private school. One day at school she gets kidnapped by space pirates who think she is the Princess of the galaxy and she finds herself in space along with a new kid from school and her teacher. They have an exciting space adventure as they try to get home. Imaginative, with lots of action and humor, this is a book that science fiction readers will enjoy.

Mabel Opal Pear and the Rules for Spying by Amanda Hosch

Mabel's parents own an antique spoon museum, but it is only a cover since they are spies who are often sent on secret missions. When her parents go missing and her Aunt Gertie is arrested, Mabel is determined to solve the mystery of what is happening and save the spoon collection from her greedy and shady aunt and uncle who have suddenly shown up in town. This is a fun mystery with interesting characters. Mabel herself is a delight with her cleverness and quick-thinking.

A Book to Look for in 2018

Spy Toys by Mark Powers

Dan is a Snugliffic Cuddlestar, a toy bear with a computerized brain, but because he can't control his own strength he is sent to the rejects pile. Along with another toy and a robot rabbit, he is chosen to be a spy toy and protect the senator's son from being kidnapped. Dan is unsure about his assignment and worried about his abnormal strength, but he learns to put those thoughts aside to keep the senator's son safe. The toys are involved in an amusing adventure, but their experience shows the power of believing in oneself. This is the type of fast-paced, humorous, sort-of-silly book that many middle grade readers enjoy. There are many pictures throughout which will entice reluctant readers and those who prefer shorter chapter books. This is one with lots of kid appeal.

Monday, October 16, 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...

Finding Gobi: The True Story of One Little Dog's Big Journey by Dion Leonard

Gobi has quite a journey in this story, as does Dion, the runner who was determined to find a way to bring Gobi home. Dion found Gobi, or rather Gobi found him, when he was running an ultramarathon through China. Gobi would not leave Dion's side even as he ran through the desert in extreme heat and when the race was finished Dion knew they belonged together. Bringing Dion home to Scotland was not an easy task to begin with, but then Gobi disappeared. This is a true story of Dion and Gobi's friendship and how they beat the odds to be together.

Peculiar Incident on Shady Street by Lindsay Currie

This is a spooky story that is more than just a spooky story. It is also a story of a girl dealing with changes in her life and navigating new friendships. You can read more of my thoughts about this book here.

The Unicorn in the Barn by Jacqueline Ogburn

With a unicorn and a talking cat, I think this book will be one that intrigues elementary readers. Eric starts taking care of an injured unicorn at the farm where his grandmother lived before she went into a nursing home. He discovers there are other magical creatures and he agrees to keep them secret. He also hopes to heal his grandmother with the help of the unicorn's healing magic. This is a touching story that those who have lost a grandparent will be able to relate. I think this book has a good blend of fantasy and realism to entertain readers, but also teach life lessons.

A Book to Look for in 2018

Just Like Jackie by Lindsey Stoddard

I loved so much about this book. It's about family and learning to accept one's differences. Definitely a heart-warming read. It doesn't publish until January of 2018, but it's one to be on the lookout for. You can read more about my thoughts here.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Just Like Jackie by Lindsey Stoddard

I have taught many students throughout the years who have what could be considered untraditional families. For some students, their grandparents play the major role in their upbringing. There are definitely middle grade readers who will be able to relate to Robinson, the main character in Just Like Jackie, who is being raised by her grandfather.

Robinson has a tough exterior and does not let anyone get away with teasing her about her family even if it means she has to use her fists. When she gets in trouble for fighting at school and her grandfather is called in, Robinson starts to worry that others will find out that something is wrong with him. Lately, he is starting to forget things and get confused. School, also, presents a problem for Robinson when she has to complete a family tree project. Unlike others in her class, she doesn't have any family members besides her grandfather to put on her tree. Robinson would like to know more about her mother and is afraid with her grandfather losing his memory that she will never find out.

Robinson is a character I immediately liked. She acts tough, but she has a sweet side to her, as well. Although it gets her in trouble, she stands up for herself and what she thinks is right. The relationship Robinson and her grandfather have with each other is heartwarming. She is determined to take care of him and find a way for them to stay together.

Just Like Jackie is a story that shows how family can be more than just those who we are related to. It's also a story of friendship. Robinson's story shows how challenging it can be when one feels different from her peers. Although she doesn't always make the right choices, she learns that friends and family stick together and help one another. This is a book that middle grade readers, whether their families are untraditional or not, can learn some important life lessons. This is one to keep an eye out for when it publishes in January of 2018.

Thank you to the author, Lindsey Stoddard, and the book's publisher, HarperCollins, for sharing an advanced reader's copy of the book with my book group, #BookExcursion.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

The Peculiar Incident on Shady Street by Lindsay Currie

Tess is not happy that her family has moved to Chicago from Florida. Not only is the weather very different from back home, but she misses her art teacher and her best friend. The house that her family moves into on Shady Street does not help matters either. An old house, built in the 1800's, it seems dark and uninviting. Tess and her family aren't living in the house long before Tess starts to get spooked. She finds a mark on her sketch pad that she didn't make, the lights flicker on and off, she has weird dreams, and her brother Jonah starts to talk about seeing ghosts. More and more strange occurrences take place and Tess comes to the conclusion that her house is haunted.

When Tess is exploring her neighborhood she meets Andrew and, knowing she should make friends, introduces herself. Andrew has a friend, Nina, who knows a lot about graveyards. Together, the friends start investigating the mystery of what is happening on Shady Street. Their research takes them to a nearby cemetery where they begin to connect the haunted happenings in Tess's house to a six-year-old girl who died over a hundred years before. The friends' journey to figure out the mystery is filled with just enough spookiness to entertain middle grade readers without being too dark or scary.

Middle grade readers who like spooky stories and mysteries will be intrigued by the plot of this book. But, this book is more than just a spooky story. Tess is a wonderful character navigating middle school life as she moves to a new place and has to make new friends. Tess shows that it's possible to make the best of a situation that is less than ideal. Middle grade readers will also be able to relate to the challenges of friendship and getting along with others that Tess works through in the book.

About the Author

Lindsay lives in Chicago, Illinois with one incredibly patient hubby, three amazing kids and THREE DOGS! She's fond of tea, Halloween, Disney World and things that go bump in the night!

An author of young adult and middle grade fiction, Lindsay is represented by Kathleen Rushall, of Andrea Brown Literary Agency. Her middle grade novels are published with Simon & Schuster/Aladdin. Her young adult novels are published with Flux/Llewellyn and Merit Press.

The Peculiar Incident on Shady Street, published by Aladdin, is available today. Thanks to Lindsay Currie and the publisher for providing me with a digital advanced review copy of the book.

Monday, October 9, 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...

Ada Lace, On the Case by Emily Calandrelli

Ada has recently moved to a new neighborhood and is missing her best friend. She would rather be outside exploring and researching, but she is stuck inside because of the cast on her leg. Ada befriends a girl in the neighborhood and together they investigate a missing dog case. This book has a mystery, friendship, and a character who loves science and technology. This is a shorter text with quite a few illustrations so it will appeal to transitional readers and those who don't have the stamina yet for longer chapter books.

Open if You Dare by Dana Middleton

Birdie and her friends find a box buried in the ground with the words, "Open if you dare" written on it. The clues lead Birdie to a mystery about a girl who lived in the neighborhood decades before. As Birdie becomes wrapped up in the mystery she is also facing challenges of being middle-school aged, such as a friend who is moving away, an annoying younger sister, and friends who are beginning to like boys. This is a story that many middle grade readers will be able to relate to, but the mystery also makes it an intriguing read.

Gertie Milk and the Keeper of Lost Things by Simon Van Booy

This is one of two books I read this week about lost objects. Gertie Milk wakes up on a mysterious island with no memory of who she is or where she is from. When she meets a strange little man, named Kolt, he explains that she is on the island of Skuldark and she has been chosen to be a Keeper of Lost Things, as he is. Together they travel in time to return lost objects while they try to escape the clutches of the Losers who want to destroy all knowledge. Gertie and Kolt's time travel is adventurous, but also leads them to encounters with historical figures and gives some clues to Gertie's life. The quirky characters and imaginative setting make this an enchanting story.

A Book to Look for in 2018

The Train of Lost Things by Ammi-Joan Paquette

Marty's favorite possession, a jacket given to him by his father, has gone missing. Marty has also learned that his father, who has cancer, has limited time left. To get his lost jacket back, Marty goes on a journey to find the Train of Lost Things, a train that collects lost treasures that children have lost, which his father has told him stories about. When Marty finds the train he meets two other children also searching for lost objects. Through his journey, Marty learns about love and memories. This is a heart-breaking and sweet story of hope and resilience. The book publishes in January of 2018.