Thursday, July 31, 2008

Atre y Pico Award

Atre y Pico AWARD

We received an Arte y Pico Award from 2 blogs: one is The Reading Zone, and the other is a blog called debrennersmith: writing and reading. Thanks so much to Sarah and Deb for honoring us with this award. We're flattered by their kind words!!

Essentially this award is like a Meme. There are rules for paying it forward after your blog gets recognized.
They are as follows:
1) Select 5 blogs that you consider deserving of this award, based on creativity, design, interesting material, and contribution to the blogger community. The blogs can be in any language.
2) Post a link to each blog so that others can visit.
3) Each award-winner has to show the award and link to the blogger that awarded it.
4) The award-winner and the one who has given the prize have to show a link to

So, with no further ado, here are 5 blogs we would like to recognize for this award (you'll notice we've included 3 authors we think you should check out):

1) Read, Read, Read by Megan Germano. Megan is a 5th grade teacher with a passion for teaching. We have loved watching her blog in the last year. We love her reviews and find ourselves agreeing with her opinions on books about 100% of the time. Reading someone's blog is more fun once you've met them, and we both got to meet Megan last year at the Dublin Literacy Conference. More importantly, Megan and I (Karen) are card-carrying members of the Barbara O'Connor Fan Club!

2) Creative Literacy is written by Katie D. Katie is someone else we know personally, so we know how committed she is to teaching children, and that comes out clearly in each and every one of her posts! Katie is also a mother to 3 boys, affectionately called Larry, Curly, and Mo, when she writes about them. She is a primary teacher, always on the lookout for the best and brightest picture books to serve as mentor texts for her reading and writing workshops. She is also a person, just like a lot of us, struggling to find the balance in her personal and professional lives, and her posts reflecting on finding this balance are delightful to read. Finally, she is one of our favorite people to call to make a Cover to Cover (children's bookstore) trip!!

3) Jody Feldman, the author of The Gollywhopper Games, has a post that we like to follow closely. Initially, we started reading it to get a glimpse into the mind of the author of a book we enjoyed so much. Now, we read it because we enjoy her reflections on being a writer (she's currently in the middle of a rewrite, and it's been interesting to hear about it -- both the good days and the bad days). She also has "The Friday Five" -- where she shares 5 things she's been thinking about -- they're usually very eclectic items. Each of her posts ends with a face that has an emotion written with it -- this allows us to know her mood for that day or that topic. Jody also writes about herself -- recently she's been doing some volunteer work.

4) James Preller is another author with a blog worth checking out. He is the author of the Jigsaw Jones mystery series, Six Innings, and the soon to be released, Along Came Spider (which we reviewed and loved!!). There are lots of reasons to read Preller's blog. He has Fan Mail Wednesday, where he posts a letter from someone and then responds to it. He also appears to be quite the fan of YouTube, because he's always posting a clip from there. He is an avid fan of baseball and shares that love in a variety of posts on that topic with his blog readers. It is fun hearing about his new projects. But the main reason we include him on our award list is his delight to be part of the kidlit blogosphere. He is so grateful that a place exists where people talk about books for kids.

5) Our final award goes to Sarah Prineas, author of The Magic Thief. We had the good fortune to meet her this past June as we kicked off our 48 Hour Challenge with other Columbus bloggers at Cover to Cover bookstore. She was giving a short talk about her new book, The Magic Thief, and a little about the books that will be sequels to the original. Her blog has been fun to follow as she talks about all that goes into publishing a book for the first time. The post where she quit her day job to take up writing fulltime was fun reading. We chuckle almost every time we read a post that is a conversation between her and her husband! Finally, we followed her and her family during the floods in Iowa City in June.

We hope you check out some of these blogs. They're all good reading!

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The bus ride, my shock, and my resolution

In our last four posts, both Bill and I have mentioned the trip we took to Boston with a busload of soon-to-be-middle school students. As we rode for miles and miles and miles and hours and hours and hours on the bus, I made a shocking observation. Of a busload of 35 children, I only saw 5 of them reading a book to pass the time at any point in time. Five!

I don't know the exact technology terminology, but the bus activity of choice was connecting to other people's hand-held game systems, and playing video games. While I don't have a personal vendetta against these games, I am just shocked at how many hours were spent by so many playing video games, and how only 5 students chose to read.

One reason I was shocked was that out of the 35 students, 23 came from the school where I teach. That means 23 children had myself or 2 of my colleagues (both who are passionate about language arts, also) as teachers last year. And I might add, they also had Bill as the school librarian! Because I know this, I am well aware that they were inundated with great books and teachers who demonstrated a passion for books.

So, knowing this, I am shocked by the fact that only 5 children chose to spend free time reading a book on this very long bus ride (I do need to add a disclaimer here that I wasn't sitting beside each child every minute of the bus trip, so there may have been a few others).

My resolution, then, as I approach this new school year is to find a way to help children want to make reading a free choice activity. To do this, I need to continue to find books that "hook" children who are finding it difficult to select a text. I need to make sure the books I choose to read aloud are powerful and interesting, and engage students in the story line. I need to continue reading my favorite blogs, so I always have new and current book titles to share with the students. I need to figure out what fascinates boys when they read (did I mention that out of the 35 students, 26 were boys?!). I need to match ALL students with the book that is "just right" for them. I need to develop a community of readers that lead literate lives both inside and outside of the classroom.

Right now, my resolutions are fairly global; my job will be to fine-tune them as I get to know my new community of students on August 25.

Maybe next year on the bus to Boston, more readers will be visible. That's my goal.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

A Radio Flyer Flies Into the Pit

I am now safely back from my second student trip to Boston, and after a night's sleep in my own bed, I'm ready to get back into it, at least until I leave for a golf trip to Michigan on Thursday. My friend Karen did an awesome job of keeping us "current" even while riding a bus full of kids to and from Beantown, and she'll probably do the same while I'm gone golfin'. Isn't it great to be part of a team?

I included Friday My Radio Flyer Flew by Zachary Pullen. I loved the pictures and simple short story in this book. A young boy finds his father's Radio Flyer red wagon, and, because of the name Flyer, he dreams of making it fly. Each two page picture spread shows the boy working on the wagon. The detail in these illustrations is amazing. The artist includes such emotion in the young boy's face that the reader can feel the hope and imagination going into making the wagon fly.

What kid hasn't dreamed of making their bike, wagon, sled, lawn chair fly. Zachary Pullen brings it to life with incredible pictures that actually could stand alone. The text is simple and well written and compliments the art work wonderfully.

Although most of my PICKS FROM THE PIT are books that are noisy or that include lots of different voices, this one will be read so that we can enjoy the art work together.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Coming Home on the Bus and Beachcombing: Exploring the Seashore

Well, on Saturday and Sunday, the bus took all of us to Harvard, to catch our "Duck" tour, to explore Quincy Market/Faneuil Hall, Buckman Tavern, Bunker Hill, Plimouth Plantation, and Mayflower II tour. And Sunday night, the bus is taking us all the way back home to Ohio. That's right -- we'll be sleeping on the bus! We arrive back in Dublin, bright and early Monday morning (and then I'm going home for some real sleep!).

The last picture book I wanted to share is one I picked up the last time I was at Cover to Cover Children's bookstore. Beachcombing: exploring the seashore is by Jim Aronsky, who wrote another one of my favorites, The Brook Book.

In fact, Beachcombing is set up in a very similar fashion to The Brook Book (see my review here). Aronsky starts off by letting the reader know what he/she will need to wear to be a "complete beachcomber". After that, each 2-page spread is dedicated to great details about different things you might find at the beach: seashells, crabs, horseshoe crabs, jellyfish, coral beaches, coconuts, beach birds, "special finds", and shark teeth.

Each section has 2 kid favorite nonfiction text features: diagrams and labeling. Lots of good information, but no overkill. I was especially fascinated (as well as repelled) by the jellyfish.

Aronsky has a "homesy" voice -- he doesn't talk over the reader's head, and he doesn't make it too simple. It feels like a natural conversation between him and the reader. His voice really drew me further into a topic I already enjoyed. What a great mentor text to discuss voice in nonfiction with your students!

I love the beach and the ocean, so when I saw this book, I knew I had to have it. The fact that I loved The Brook Book so much was a double bonus! Beachcombing was published in 2004, so it's been around for a while, but it's definitely worth a look (and maybe even a purchase!)

Friday, July 25, 2008

Still on the Bus and Ida B. Wells

Well, I'm still on the bus, headed for Boston. According to our itinerary, we will have spent Thursday at Niagra Falls and Fort Niagra, and then stopped for the night in Syracuse. Friday, we will be back on the bus EARLY, and headed to Boston -- first stop, the Freedom Trail. It looks like it will be an fun, but action-packed day!

Before I left on the bus, I had a chance to read a picture book I had gotten as an ARC back in June (thank you Sally!). Ida B. Wells, Let the Truth Be Told by Walter Dean Myers is a book that humbled me. It humbled me for 2 reasons: 1) Ida B. Wells was an amazing lady, and 2) I'm not sure I had ever known about her before reading this picture book.

Ida Bell Wells was born in 1862 to parents who were slaves. Three years later, that changed with the Thirteenth Amendment. Ida went on to school where she learned much, at the same time becoming more and more aware of the injustice to blacks, specifically lynchings. When Ida was 15, her parents and one of her brothers died of yellow fever. Ida went on to get a teaching degree, and also raise the rest of her brothers and sisters.

That alone is amazing feat, but Ida B. Wells was not done with her accomplishments in life. Important things to know about her:

1) On a train, when she refused to leave the ladies' coach, she was dragged out by the conductor, and moved to the smoking car. She decided to sue the railroad and won. Unfortunately, the court's ruling was later reversed.

2) She was a prolific writer. She started by writing in a journal, and then moved on to writing for her chuch paper and some black newspapers. She eventually went on to be part owner of one of those newspapers.

3) In 1892, friends of hers were arrested by a white mob, and then murdered. Ida used her writing as a weapon -- in her newspaper, she encouraged black people im Memphis to economically boycott white businesses.

4) Because of the angry white reaction to her boycott suggestions, she moved to New York, and then Chicago. She started writing articles about the poor treatment of black people, and wrote much about the crime of lynching. She wanted justice for all. She eventually published a book on the topic of lynching.

5) When Chicago wanted segregated schools, Ida B. Wells fought to keep Chicago schools open for all children.

6) She was one of the major speakers and organizers of a group that eventually became the NAACP.

7) Ida marched for, and wrote about, suffrage with her friend, Susan B. Anthony.

Ida B. Wells: Let the Truth Be Told is a testament to an amazing woman. On a slight soapbox here -- if it's our job as teachers to prepare our students for coping in the real world, then exposing them to people who have fought for social justice should be an important part of what we do. Ida's story, and many others like hers, are important stories to share.

This book is important, also, because it shows how powerful the written word can be.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

An Early Bus Trip and Naming Liberty

About a month ago, I blogged about Greetings From the 50 States by Sheila Keenan. I was blogging in honor of my blog partner, Bill's, trip to Boston with a motorcoach bus full of 5th and 6th graders to Boston for 4 days. Now, a month later, my time has come. Tomorrow morning (Thursday), I will be joining Bill on the bus to Boston (I have to be there by 5:45...AM!!!!). I will be leaving behind three nonfiction picture book reviews for your enjoyment (hopefully, you'll be reading them sometime loooong after 5:45!).

In keeping with the patriotic nature of this trip, the first book I'd like to talk about is Naming Liberty by Jane Yolen and illustrated by Jim Burke. I've been reading a lot on other blogs lately about the book Lady Liberty by Doreen Rappoport, and Naming Liberty seems like a perfect companion book to share with that one.

Naming Liberty is a fabulous book, with multiple entry points:

1) There are two different story lines on each double-page layout. The left side is told by a little girl in first person narrative. She and her family are hoping to immigrate to America from the Ukraine. The right side is about Frederic Auguste Bartholdi, the creator and designer of the Statue of Liberty. This side is about the vision of Lady Liberty, and how that vision became a reality.

2) Both parts of the story are written in verse format. What a great model for children with their own nonfiction writing!!!

3) The little girl's story line is all about immigration -- families wanting to come to America for a better life, saving up money over several years to afford the passage, sending some family members before others, some changing of culture and heritage when reaching America (specifically how names got changed), working at menial labor in America, the boat ride to the new country being difficult at times.

4) Being able to compare 2 wonderful texts about the same topic -- Naming Liberty and Lady Liberty. Taking the time to really do some comparing and contrasting of the 2 books will be a great lesson for the writers in your classroom.

5) Jim Burke did some fabulous paintings for this book -- the conversation of how his illustrations enhance Yolen's text would be great!

6) Naming Liberty gave me goosebumps of pride as I realized what an incredible symbol the Statue of Liberty is (and has been) to so many people!

7) At the end of the text, we find out which parts of the story were based on true stories from Yolen's family. I don't know why I love information like this, but I really do!

I loved this book, and can't wait to buy my own copy (I borrowed mine from the library)! It makes me happy to know how many great nonfiction texts there are available now for children. Naming Liberty fits that category -- it makes history accessible and significant for children. Therefore, it becomes a must, must have for my classroom!!!

***In addition to this amazing book, the Yolen / Burke team will be releasing Johnny Appleseed at the end of August (for my review, click here).

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

All Shook Up

There are plenty of good books about broken families out there, but Shelley Pearsall adds a new twist, no pun intended, but enjoyed never the less!

In All Shook Up, 13 year old Joshua Greenwood's parents are divorced. He lives with his mom in Boston, and his dad lives in Chicago. It's clear from the beginning that Josh doesn't have a lot of contact with his father and is much more comfortable with his mom. Mom is a list maker, rule follower, and doesn't deal well with people who don't have a plan or when her plans are mixed up.

When Grandma breaks her hip in Florida, Josh is sent to live with his dad in Chicago. We're not talking a short visit here, he will be enrolled in school and it could be several months. As usual when dealing with his parents, Josh doesn't get a lot of say in the matter, and he has learned it's easier to just go with the flow, so he's packed on a plane and takes off for Chicago.

Dad is the furthest thing from Mom. No lists, not much plan, little communication and he's late to pick Josh up at the airport. Imagine Josh's surprise/embarrassment when his dad shows up in a loud Hawaiian shirt, blacker than black dyed hair, and some ugly sideburns. Josh tries to walk ahead of him so that people won't associate them together.

As it turns out, the shoe store where Dad, Jerry Denny, worked for 15 years went out of business and now he's out of a job. On a whim he enters an Elvis contest at the local mall, and wins. Lo and behold, Jerry Denny has a new career, ELVIS IMPERSONATOR!

Shelley Pearsall does an outstanding job of exploring the emotions of Joshua Aaron Greenwood, "divorced kid." Divorce is tough enough on a kid, adjusting to two homes, dealing with the feelings that it might be your fault, anger and bitterness, new relationships and Pearsall covers them all with honesty, and humor. Throw in the fact that Josh's father goes out in public dressed as "the king" and the humiliation keeps on growing.

In addition to dealing with the divorce, Josh has to adjust to a new middle school. He has been pulled from his friends and popular comfort zone and thrown into an unfamiliar setting. Right away he figures out the lunch time seating arrangements, popular kids next to the vending machines, average kids in the middle of the room, nerds near the garbage cans. He immediately begins to figure out how to make it over to the vending machines. As the father of a middle school boy, I can fully appreciate that Josh makes it to the vending machines due to his athletic abilities.

Josh is also forced to deal with some of the "garbage can" clan due to his father's friendships. One of the "garbage can" clan happens to be Dad's, girlfriend's daughter, Ivory. Ivory and her mother Viv run a second hand clothes shop and Josh is forced to work there one Saturday while his dad and Viv attend a small business workshop.

I love the way Shelley Pearsall forces Josh to interact with people he wouldn't ever associate with on his own. The situations are real, not forced at all. Some important lessons can be learned by students who read this book if they are paying attention.

All in all, I liked this quick read a lot. The ending is, again, real. Without giving anything away, let's just say it ends right and all . Everyone happy, with their station in life, and Josh accepting, not loving his father's new life.

Go here to see all of Shelley Pearsall's research into Elvis Impersonators. Very extensive!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Building Manhattan by Laura Vila

I remember from teaching third grade that one of the topics we had to cover was the growth and development of cities. Of course we always focused mostly on our town's history, but I always liked to throw in one of our country's big cities for a comparison. Now it's been 15 years or more since I taught third grade, and I'm not even sure if this is something they still cover, but whatever level discusses this topic, they need to be using Laura Vila's new book, Building Manhattan.

With limited text and bright, simple pictures, Vila takes Manhattan from a island just forming, to a natural habitat for animals and plants, to a home of Native Americans, to Dutch and English settlement, through the American Revolution into the modern city we know today. It is amazing how much information is Laura Vila presents with so few words. Her paintings, though, are full of information that children will pick up on, and the beauty of it is that they will pick up on different information each time they look at the pictures. This is not a book that they will soon grow tired of, in fact, I have a feeling it will be one that teachers will need to replace frequently, as the student wear it out.

I will not only be placing this book in the library, but will be strongly recommending it for teachers to place in their classrooms.

As I researched other reviews I found this page by page background at Laura Vila's website. It appears that Laura has included her research on the facts. What an awesome classroom tool to take this book even further in depth. She has even more activities to go with the book here. Wow! My enthusiasm for this book just keeps growing!

Saturday, July 19, 2008

The Mysterious Case of the Allbright Academy

I love that I have a job where not only do I recommend books to students, but students also recommend books to me!! Such was the case with The Mysterious Case of the Allbright Academy by Diane Stanley.

For one of our last Book Clubs of the year, we were in our class meeting, and various students were recommending books they would like others to read with them. That is the first time I had heard of this title. The student who had recommended it had found it on the "new book" shelf of our local public library. It has a copyright of 2008, but it was available on Amazon by Dec. 26, 2007. A group of five girls decided to read and discuss it together, and as I eavesdropped on some of their Book Club conversations, I was very intrigued by some of their discussions. I decided The Mysterious Case of the Allbright Academy needed to go on my pile of summer books to read.

I'm so glad I did! For one thing, I love the mystery genre, and this definitely falls into that category. I also love books where kids band together to stop something bad from continuing to happen, or happening at all. Again, this book does that! Finally, I like endings that resolve themselves happily, but realistically.

When I was looking at other reviews of this book, one reviewer likened it to the Stepford Wives, and that is a good analogy.

The plot in a snapshot:
- Siblings Franny (who narrates the story), Zoe (very bright), and J.D. (Zoe's twin brother) are admitted to the very selective Allbright Academy. Franny and J.D. get to go because Zoe's pre-admission tests were off the charts, so the Academy REALLY wants her, but she refuses to go to a boarding school without her brother and sister. So the Allbright Academy accepted Franny and J.D. as add-ons.
- On the campus of the Allbright Academy, all the students dress perfectly, have great hair, have great manners, always know the correct thing to say in any given situation, keep their rooms tidy and spotless, eat healthy foods all the time, and study very seriously.
- Brownies are a big culprit in the story (sad, because I love brownies), and they are served to all students daily
- Franny and a group of friends she has made at Allbright (Cal, Brooklyn, and Prescott) stumble onto the secret of the perfection of Allbright Academy students, and make plans to rectify the situation
- Franny's best friend from home, Beamer, gets involved. He puts to use his talent as a videographer.

What follows from that point is page-turning fun. The Mysterious Case of the Allbright Academy is a mystery I would like to make available to my students looking for mystery / adventure.

Franny and Beamer also appear in The Mysterious Matter of I.M. Fine. I'll be checking out this book by Diane Stanley soon -- I like her characters, and she sure knows how to have fun with titles!

For more reviews, check out:
book bits
Books for Kids Blog

Thursday, July 17, 2008

New Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson

On a recent visit to Cover to Cover I was given a preview copy of Science Fair, a new novel by the authors of the Peter and the Starcatcher series Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson. I haven't read any of the Starcatcher series, but my son has read and liked all of them. Because of this, I was intrigued by this title, plus, it was my favorite price!

The story revolves around Hubble Middle School just outside of Washington, D. C. their mascot is the Fighting Orbital Observatories, and its prestigious science fair. The fair is sponsored by a millionaire alum and is the highlight of the year. The problem is that the fair is always won by one of the students from the rich neighborhood, Manor Estates.

The main character, Toby Harbinger has suspicions that the ME kids cheat. Since he and his friends are teased daily about their clothes or hair or whatever else the ME kids can come up with, Toby decides to uncover the cheating plot. In the process his group of friends get wrapped up in a plot by a small country called Kprshtskan, a poor, mountainous nations with few vowels. It seems a secret agent from Kprshtskan has a plan to use the science fair projects of the ME kids to bring down the United States by controlling the electrical grid and causing massive blackouts.

On the way their is a subplot of Toby selling his parents' rare Star Wars collectibles to a man named D. Arthur Vaderian, get it? Mr. Vaderian and large hairy friend that Toby nicknames the Wookie, chase Toby to try to get even more of the Star Wars stuff. I laughed out loud at the description of the Darth Vader character who always dresses in full costume complete with voice changer and light up light saber. Occasionally the batteries go out and he has to wait to speak until the Wookie replaces them.

I loved this book and I think better readers will too. There are some extremely funny parts, including character names and middle school conversations. There are some page turning chase scenes, including one with our heroes driving the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile to get away from the FBI, CIA, Homeland Security and any number of other police agencies.

The only two drawbacks I see to this October 2008 release is the length, 384 pages will intimidate some readers, and some of the humor may be lost on kids. All in all, it's a fun read and I'll be recommending it to my kids who are good readers when it comes out.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Retired Kid by Jon Agee

Add another title to my possible PICKS FROM THE PIT! Jon Agee is known for his off beat, quirky picture books, and his new one, The Retired Kid will make a kid pleasing read aloud.

Brian decides being a kid is too hard, what with the school work and soccer practice and vegetable eating and music lessons and dog walking and baby sister sitting. He's exhausted! So he announces his retirement, and after his parents throw him a retirement party, he moves to The Happy Sunset Retirement Community in, where else, Florida.

Once there he has a new set of friends named Ethel, Wally, Myrtle, Phyllis and Tex who goes on about his hip replacement, complete with x-rays. His best friend Harvey takes him fishing, to baseball games or the movies, and starts Brian thinking about whether retirement is all it's cracked up to be. After remembering "the good times" like the school musical, the math test he aced, and scoring a soccer goal, Brian decides to come out of retirement and return to the job he loves, being a kid.

As usual, Jon Agee provides plenty of humor and colorful pictures that kids will love. I think the idea of retiring to Florida will also appeal to the kids, I know it sounds pretty good to me, but sitting on Ethel's teeth may be enough to make them change their minds. At the very least, it will make them laugh, and in THE PIT..that's a very good thing!

Monday, July 14, 2008

Negro League Baseball

We have a malfunctioning home computer at the moment, and I'm only able to get on about once a week. Anyway, last night as I was catching up on my emails, I found a delightful surprise. Back in June, a Katy Widrick had left a comment on my post about We Are the Ship by Kadir Nelson.

Katy was sharing a video link with me that I am now passing on to others. As I watched the clip, I got a little teary. Her comments explain it so well, that I'm just copying them in below.

"My company does video news stories on great people with awesome attitudes -- they don't get much better than some of the Negro League players who broke barriers in baseball!

You can see a video we did at MLB's recent symbolic draft of Negro League players, which includes Millito Navarro, Peanut Johnson, Charley Pride and Bill Blair as well as Ken Griffey and Dave Winfield.

I hope you enjoy it!"

Here is Katy's link to the video:

With all the press and attention I'm sure Kadir Nelson will get around awards time, this would be a great clip to share with kids. I think it could lead to some wonderful conversations. It's definitely worth the seven minutes or so it takes to watch!!! Enjoy!

For more Nonfiction Monday posts, go to Picture Book of the Day.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Hate That Cat

Mary Lee at A Year of Reading snagged an ARC of Hate That Cat by Sharon Creech at Cover to Cover back in June when a bunch of bloggers here in Columbus, Ohio, decided to start our 48 Hour Challenge together. After reading it, she blogged about it here.

Luckily for me, she passed the ARC on, and I was able to read it this weekend. Hate That Cat is a fabulous book!! I loved it!! I can't wait to be able to buy my own copy, and then share it with my students!! It made me both laugh and cry. And there's a part in there about Jack's (the main character) mom that caught me off-guard (either that, or I just missed it in the first book). There were several poems involving her, most notably the last one Jack writes called, "This is Just to Say", that found me crying and needing multiple Kleenexes (but in a sappy way, not a sad way)!

Once again, Sharon Creech does a phenomenal job of showing how Jack progresses as a writer over time through his different pieces, just as she did in Love that Dog. It feels very natural. And the inferences we can make about Miss Stretchberry and her writing instruction make me want to strive to be an even better facilitator of writing workshop in my classroom.

Mary Lee's post makes great reading. I'm just throwing in my 2 cents worth. Hate that Cat is a must have and must read!!!!!

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Did Fleming Rescue Churchill?

Subtitled "A Research Puzzle," this book will work well in the classroom where students are working on first research projects. I don't plan on putting it in the library, but I will definitely be recommending it to our third grade teachers.

Jason gets to school late on the day that inventors are assigned for the big class research project. All of the "cool" inventors, The Wright Brothers, Edison, Franklin are taken and he gets stuck with Sir Alexander Fleming. Since he's never heard of Fleming, Jason assumes he must not have done anything too important. When his teacher informs him that Fleming discovered penicillin, Jason is a little more impressed, but not much.

Jason immediately complains to his teacher that it will be too hard to find information, but Ms. O'Mara sticks to her guns and challenges Jason to complete the report. His first response, which is very realistic, is to head to the internet. I love his teacher's response to first check sources like encyclopedias and biographies as they tend to be more accurate and credible than the internet. WHAT!? I don't really thing students question this fact, they just like the quickness of the internet.

As Jason begins to discover things about his inventor, he is both impressed and disappointed. It seems Fleming discovered penicillin but didn't really develop it any further. Jason uncovers a story about a Fleming man saving a Churchill man from a swamp in Scotland and then penicillin saving Winston Churchill from pneumonia that turns out to be untrue.

In the end, Jason uses all of the information in his report as a way to show that he really did his research in order to find out the truth behind Sir Alexander Fleming.

I like the simple story of this book and the reading level is such that all beginning researchers can read it. What I really like about the book is how it works through the research process without being boring. The book has lots of tips and pointers for beginning researchers embedded in the story and at the end it has a list of tips and helpful hints. In the beginning I said I would be sharing it with our third grade teachers. Even though other grades can benefit from this book, our third grade does famous Americans and inventors as their topic, and it is the first in depth research the kids do. I think the kids and teachers will find this book very helpful.

Friday, July 11, 2008

The Mysterious Benedict Society - Part II

I just finished reading The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey by Trenton Lee Stewart. I was so excited when I learned that Stewart was bringing back some of my favorite characters -- Reynie, Sticky, Kate, Constance, Mr. Benedict -- in a sequel to The Mysterious Benedict Society.

This book actually begins with a reunion of the characters at the farm where Kate currently lives with her newly discovered father (in the first book), Milligan. This reunion was a perfect device to help my over-50 brain remember some of the minor, but important, characters from the first book. There's Kate and Milligan. Then, there's Reymie and Miss Perumal and her mother. Finally, Sticky and his parents, the Washingtons.

The reunion begins when Reymie, Sticky, Miss Perumal, her mother, and the Washingtons all arrive at Kate and Milligan's farm. They spend some time catching up on one another's lives, and then they head out to visit Mr. Benedict, Constance (who lives with Mr. B now because he's adopting her), Rhonda, and Number Two. Unfortunately, the merry group arrives to find out Mr. Benedict and Number Two have been taken by the dastardly Mr. Curtain (Mr. Benedict's evil brother / villain of the first book, also).

This is where the real fun and action begin -- the kids solve the first of many puzzles that Mr. Benedict has left for them, and then armed with that knowledge, they sneak out of the house and head off to save Mr. Benedict and Number Two from an awful fate.

Along the way, they meet some interesting new characters. They take a ride on a ship called the Shortcut, where they meet Captain Nolan and Cannonball. Though these two characters are helpful in the beginning, their importance is made more clear by the end of the story. The children also soon encounter the real bad guys of the story called the Ten Men. The Ten Men carry briefcases, and have 10 different ways to hurt/kill someone, therefore, the name Ten Men. I felt they were the "real" bad guys of the story, especially in a a couple of nerve-wracking scenes toward the end of the book. It seemed like Mr. Curtain was a more minor character for most of the book.

And then there's Milligan who plays a much more important part in this book than in the first one. He is a character with real determination and grit. He is in the spy business, he's great at disguises, he's very smart, and he certainly knows how to fight, even when he's horribly outnumbered.

Between the puzzles and riddles from Mr. Benedict, the traveling to exotic places the children do because of the clues from the puzzles they solve, the new characters, the new and improved Milligan, a couple big fight scenes, concern for Mr. Benedict's welfare, The Perilous Journey was a real page-turner. I was able to finish it in one day, and I thoroughly enjoyed it!!

What's even more fun is that Stewart left the door wide open for a possible third book. We'll have to wait and see if he's just teasing us, or if there will be another book which would allow us to spend some more time with these precocious children and the adults who care for them!!

Other reviews of this book:
Bookshelves of Doom
Read, Read, Read
Help Readers Love Reading
Shelftalker (there's a great link here to take a personality test and find out which MSBS character you are most like!! I was most like Reynie. )

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Diamond Willow: A Story Within the Story

Diamond willow refers to the wood of a willow tree found in the northern country that when stripped of its bark, various diamond shaped spots are revealed. Inside each diamond is a darker spot that is left by branches that have broken or fallen off.

Helen Frost uses the pattern of the diamond willow for her new book. Each page has a part of the story told in diamond shapes. The paragraphs are actually diamond shaped! In the middle of each diamond BOLD words can be found that form another part of the story. The bold type actually gives insight into Diamond Willow's, the main character, thoughts and feelings about what is going on in the big story. WHOA! At first I was a bit skeptical of the premise, but I was quickly hooked and the kids will be too.

Diamond Willow is a 12 turning 13 year old girl growing up in Alaska. She is part Athapascan Indian and lives in a very remote part of Alaska where people get around on snow machines and dog sleds. She has the typical pre-teen issues at middle school, and wants very much to mush her way, on her own, twelve miles to her grandparents' house. When she finally convinces her parents to let her, we find out that her ancestors inhabit the bodies of the animals in the story. Their story is told in the traditional paragraph form. They are each introduced before they give their viewpoints.

It is through the animals, including the sled dogs, that we find out the twist in the story. I don't want to give anything away, because this is such a beautiful story, but suffice it to say that I was a bit surprised. The story is filled with fantastic language and description. Helen Frost has captured the drama and teen angst of middle school in very few words. The BOLD font story is just as dramatic as the full story and it's only a sentence per page. What a great lesson for students who tend to be word and think more is always better.

I have to say, I overlooked this one several times at my local library, and I'm sorry I did. I am quickly adding it to my Newbery short list.

Fuse #8 reviewed it much earlier here.

For an example of the BOLD text idea look here.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Andrew Clements' latest - Lost and Found

Lost and Found is the latest book published by the prolific Andrew Clements. As with most of his books, the main setting of the story is a school. The premise of the story, twins struggling to find their own separate identities, is a good one.

The twins, Jay and Ray Grayson (no, I didn't mistype that) have just moved into a new school. On the first day, Ray has to stay home ill. While at school, Jay soon realizes that there is no record of both of the twins at their new school; only him. So, the plot thickens -- the twins decide to start taking turns as to which one of them will show up each day and be "Jay" Grayson. As their trickery continues, what each boy realizes is that he really enjoys being a "stand-alone" person, and not a twin.

The lengths the boys go to in order to maintain the facade of only being Jay Grayson is at times funny, and at other times, slightly confusing. From the beginning, you realize that inevitably the boys' plan will go awry, adults will find out, and there will be consequences.

Clements did a nice job helping me, a non-twin, understand the difficulty a twin might have in trying to establish his/her own individual identity. My favorite part of the book is the last page and last illustration where it shows the twins' feet going in two separate directions at school -- in some small way, the boys are able to achieve the goal of some independence from each other.

The idea behind Lost and Found is a good one, but I think this book plays to a more limited audience (twins) than some of his books that were favorites for my class and me this year -- Frindle and No Talking.

Don't get me wrong -- I will definitely be adding Lost and Found to my Andrew Clememts collection. I still feel he is an author that has maintained a "feel" for some of the issues that happen to children in early adolescence (5th and 6th grade), and he can relate to school issues as well. And truthfully, kids just love reading his books!! They enjoy the topics that are familiar to them, and they enjoy the comfort of the text in chapter format, combined with the occasional illustration (done again in this book by the same illustrator for No Talking -- Mark Elliot). Personally, I just loved other books of his more.

I will be interested to talk to the first students that pick it out of the "new book" section at the beginning of the year...

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Big Plans for THE PIT!

I know it's only July, but I've been compiling my list of possible picks for THE PIT since school ended. I just read one that has definite possibilities. I'll keep you posted on others I've run across during my summer reading.

Big Plans by Bob Shea is just a whole lot of fun and will make a hilarious read aloud. In case you've forgotten, Bob Shea wrote one of last year's PIT favorites, New Socks. The story revolves around the class trouble maker sitting in the corner, already I can relate to this book! As he sits there after writing the proverbial "I will not..." statements, he hatches his BIG PLANS for the world that he intends to take over.

Just like New Socks, Bob Shea is a master of creating a voice for his character. The chick in New Socks is full of self confidence thanks to his new orange socks, and the ornery little boy in BIG PLANS just oozes comic villain personality traits. As he goes through his list of what he will do and how people will react he continually repeats the catch phrase, "I have big plans, big plans I say!" All he needs is the "AHH-HA-HA-HA!" laugh to complete the picture. The kids are going to love him as much as they loved the jelly bean shaped New Socks chick. Shea throws in a new twist in this book, just what every boy with BIG PLANS needs, a side kick. In this case, a mynah bird he meets while climbing a mountain. The bird's catch phrase "I'm in" adds even more laugh out loud to this incredibly fun story.

This book has the illustrations of Lane Smith of Stinky Cheese fame and they more than compliment the strong story line. Smith combines his drawings with collages and even a real photo of the White House when our hero takes over for the president.

I know this book will appeal to all of the students that pass through my library, and I can't wait to share it with them. For more reviews of Big Plans, go here, here, and here.

Monday, July 7, 2008

The Missing: Book 1 -- Found

I was browsing in my favorite children's bookstore, Cover to Cover the other day, when Franki (A Year of Reading) pointed out a book that has gotten a lot of buzz recently. It was from a new series by Margaret Peterson Haddix called "The Missing". The book is called Found.

I was so mesmerized by the intrigue in this book that I started and finished it all in one afternoon. I am not usually a fan of science fiction, but this book had me on the edge of my seat the entire time I was reading. The fact that the "heroes" in this book are two 13 year old boys, and one of the boys' 12 year old sister, really made the action in the plot line more meaningful to me.

The story starts mysteriously with a prologue where a plane just "appears" at a gate at the airport, but no one gets off. When a new employee finally goes onboard to see what is happening, she discovers 36 babies, one in each of the seats. No one else, including the crew, can be found.

Fast forward to chapter one which starts 13 years later, when we meet our main characters: Jonah, Chip (his new friend), and Katherine (Jonah's sister). We quickly find out that Jonah was adopted into his family and Katherine was born into the family. Shortly after that, we learn that Chip finds out he was adopted, also (he was unaware of that fact for 13 years). Then, both Jonah and Chip start to receive anonymous notes in the mail:

"You are one of the missing."
and later
"Beware! They're coming back to get you."

I don't want to spoil this book for anyone by divulging too much (there are important surprises and plot twists and turns throughout the whole story), but the rest of the book contains many interesting things:
- breaking into a safe
- a trip to the FBI
- ghost-like appearances
- a list of witnesses
- a list of survivors
- time travel
- a device called "the Elucidator"
- the partial knowledge of exactly who "the missing" are
And that's just naming a few!

What I do know for sure is that the last chapter, and especially the last page, left me wanting much, much more! After checking around online, it would appear that the next book in the series is called Sent, and it is due out in Spring 2009. The last time I felt myself feeling this way, dying to know what happens next, is when I finished City of Ember -- such a cliffhanger!! For that same reason, I'll be anxiously looking forward to the second book in The Missing series. Found was a great book, but I have about a bazillion questions after finishing it. I'm hoping the next book, Sent, will help answer those questions.
All that being said, Found would be a great book for anyone who loves science ficiton or things involving time travel!!

For more reviews of Found:
The Reading Zone
Books for Kids Blog
Book Obsession
Jen Robinson's Book Page

Sunday, July 6, 2008

OUR 100TH POST!!!!!

Thank you!!!!

Well, today marks our 100th post -- it's hard to believe that we've only been doing this since February! Our first posts (here and here) seem like just yesterday!

First of all, we'd like to say thank you to MaryLee at A Year of Reading -- she spent several hours one cold, Saturday morning helping us set up our blog. We had the ideas, but she had the expertise we needed to get it all going.

We also want to say thank you to all of you who stop by to read our blog, and support our efforts. We've really had a lot of fun creating it together, and we look forward to many more blog posts to come!!!! We hope you continue to stop by and check us out!

Bill and Karen

Friday, July 4, 2008

Puddlejumpers: More Good Fantasy

So it seems like fantasy is the genre of the year to me, maybe because I've just started paying attention to it, but all of my reading lists are heavy with fantasy. Since I've read so much of it lately, I've come to figure out what characteristics I like in the fantasy books I read. First, I like stories that mix the real world with the fantasy world, and the characters cross back and forth easily. Second, I like fantasy without a lot of weird creatures that I have to remember what they are and if they are good or evil. Third, I like fantasy with character names that are not too out there and hard to pronounce. OK, so I'm not a hardcore fantasy reader, but I have come to appreciate the genre more in the last year. I've moved beyond my Harry Potter phase and have found some good stuff. My latest read is a perfect example.

Puddlejumpers by Mark Jean and Christopher C. Carlson meets all of the above criteria for me to call it good fantasy. In addition to all of that, it has good mystery, great suspense, and exciting battle action! What more could you ask for.

The story begins with the birth of a baby that is identified by Puddlejumper prophesy as "The Rainmaker" who has been sent to save their people. The Puddlejumpers are elf like creatures with webbed feet that move between the underneath world and the above world through puddles. They depend on water for their entire survival. The boy's mother dies during child birth and two Puddlejumpers, Root and Runnel are sent to help raise the Rainmaker until they can safely kidnap him.

The Puddlejumpers are opposed by an evil tribe of beings called Troggs. Troggs are big, hairy, ugly things that smell through a nose on the end of their long tails. Gross, right? In an exciting chase scene, the Troggs chase the Rainmaker through the snow and ice and eventually they all get separated. The Rainmaker who has been named Shawn by his father is found by a trucker who takes him to a boys' home in Chicago where he spends his first 13 years going by the name Ernie Banks and being abused by the caretaker.

Through a totally believable set of circumstances Ernie ends up back on the farm where he was born through a program that gets troubled boys out of the city for the summer. The Rainmaker/Shawn/Ernie is reunited with his father. The family farm and the small community surrounding it are all failing due to a lack of rain. Shawn/Ernie begins to investigate with the neighbor girl Joey and they stumble upon the underground and Shawn/Ernie's ability to puddlejump.

From this point the book gets too exciting to put down, I had to stay up to finish it. It involves undercover Troggs, a sheriff on the take, Shawn/Ernie shrinking to the size of a Puddlejumper, and an epic battle between the Troggs and the Puddlejumpers led by The Rainmaker!

The writing and language are superbly done and hard to put down. The authors' description of autumn life on the farm before Shawn is kidnapped is perfect!

He took a deep breath. There was a sweet crispness in the air that promised winter but remembered summer.

This is a book for better readers, probably upper elementary, but it hooked me from the first chapter and held me to the end. I'm pretty sure the kids will feel the same. This definitely qualifies as one of my favorites of the year!

Thursday, July 3, 2008

2nd Installment of Allie Finkle's Rules for Girls

The second book in the series, Allie Finkle's Rules for Girls, written by Meg Cabot, will be released this September. It is called The New Girl. It deals with Allie's transition into her new school, after her family has moved to a new part of town.

I read and reviewed the first book, Moving Day, and thoroughly enjoyed it. I thought it would really appeal to girls, especially those in 3rd, 4th, and 5th grades. The same is true for The New Girl -- very appealing! Like any reader, I found myself far more comfortable with the characters in the 2nd book of the series, plus I was even familiar with the settings. If I felt like this as an experienced reader, think how much support it would give to younger readers we know.

The New Girl has many elements that were enjoyable:
- the dilemma of what to wear the first day of school (would a plaid skirt over jeans be the right choice, and why does her brother choose a pirate outfit for his first day in kindergarten?!)
- will the other 4th graders like Allie?
- what do you do when the tough girl in the class says she is going to beat you up (do you listen to your dad and punch her out, or try to intimidate her like your uncle suggests?)
- being one of the finalists in a spelling bee when you know you're a bad speller (Allie loves animals and can spell anything relating to them, but otherwise, she hasn't a clue)
- having your parents and grandma show up for the spelling bee during the day when no other students' families came
- preparing for your first ever pet
- figuring out what to eat when your stove or oven won't be delivered until the end of the month (how many Hot Pockets can one family eat?)
- getting along with Grandma who is visiting for a week but orders lobster for dinner at Red Lobster (Allie is an animal lover, and can't stand the idea of one of the lobsters from the tank in the lobby being used for Grandma's dinner)
- a final showdown with the bully who has made your life miserable (will Allie take the observant custodian's advice on this?)

I was glad to see Cabot stayed true to having each chapter start with a rule Allie needs to think about. She also uses a favorite technique I use (and probably overuse) in my own writing - (parenthesises). Allie Finkle's Rules for Girls is a fun series, and this second book, The New Girl was enjoyable reading!

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Doreen Rappaport and Kadir Nelson Team Up for a New Lincoln Book

Ok, so I'm back from my first trip to Boston and after a full day of rest, I'm ready to get back to the blogging thing. All in all it was a good trip, 35 kids left with me and 35 came back...I'm pretty sure they were the same 35, so that's good.

During our visit to Cover to Cover to open the 48 Hour Book Challenge, I picked up a preview copy of a new book written by Doreen Rappaport and illustrated by Kadir Nelson. Actually, Karen found it, handed it to me and I never gave it back.

Abe's Honest Words: The Life of Abraham Lincoln is bound to get a lot of attention when it is released in October. This dynamic duo has produced a beautiful book that will be at the top of many award lists. It seems that Nelson is bound to win big this year and by teaming with Rappaport, he may win more than once!

Doreen Rappaport's poetic description of Abraham Lincoln are simple and elegant all at the same time. The language will reach readers of all ages, and the book will serve as a great introduction to, in my opinion, our greatest president. Rappaport mixes her text with quotes from Lincoln. Some of the quotes are familiar, The Gettysburg Address, Second Inaugural Address and The House Divided speeches, but she manages to put some in that are not familiar and really speak to the character of this great man.

"The things I want to know are in books; my best friend is the man who'll git me a book I ain't read."

Doreen Rappaport has captured Lincoln in a clear, concise, voice that will touch anyone who reads this book.

What more can be said about Kadir Nelson's artwork? He manages to capture so much emotion and personality in his paintings, that the reader becomes part of them. The detail in this book, as in all of his books, is amazing. My favorite is painted from behind Lincoln as he addresses a crowd during an election. No two people in the crowd have the same expression. Some are thoughtful, others hopeful, some skeptical, but all are totally focused on the speaker, Abraham Lincoln. The artwork is breath taking.

I have long been a fan of Lincoln, even a collector of memorabilia as a kid. This book will become part of my collection at home and at school. Rappaport and Nelson have captured Lincoln in a dramatic yet kid friendly way.