Monday, July 10, 2017

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is a meme hosted by Sheila at Book Journey as a way to share what you have read and/or reviewed in the past week. It's also a terrific way to find out what other people are reading.

Jen Vincent, of Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee Moye of Unleashing Readers have given this meme a children's literature focus: picture books, middle grade novels, etc. They "encourage everyone who participates to support the blogging community by visiting the other bloggers that link up and leave comments for them.


I'm getting ready to hit the road and visit family! I'm always glad to spend time relaxing and enjoying family and friends that I don't get to see very often. I'm sure I'll also have plenty of #opportunity2read as well! I'll keep track of all of the awesome books and update my blog in a few weeks. Hope you're having a good time relaxing with your favorite books as well!  Here's what I've been reading the past week:
Middle Grade Fiction

A Sky Full of Stars (Rose Lee Carter #2) by Linda Williams Jackson  

I had the opportunity to read an ARC of this book that was shared with my #BookRelays group by the author. I was thrilled that I would be able to keep reading Rose Lee’s story.

A Sky Full of Stars is the sequel to last year’s Midnight Without a Moon. Set in Mississippi in 1955, it tells the story of Rose Lee and what it must have been like to be raised by black sharecroppers at a time when racial tensions were increasing with gruesome crimes like the murder of Emmett Till and the beginning of nonviolent protests like the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

The story picks up where the first book ended. Thirteen year old Rose is now able to attend school and it is there that her friend, Hallelujah, encourages her to become more involved in resistance activities. She also comes to know her own cousin, Shorty, better and he’s convinced that violence is the only way things will improve. 

The storytelling in this book is superb! I love that Rose Lee’s circumstances are very complicated and that there are no simple answers. The characters illustrate the contradictions of these complex times. Ma Pearl, the severe matriarch of the family, refuses to allow anyone in the family to become involved with any of the resistance movements being advocated by organizations like the NAACP, because of the very real danger to their jobs, their home, and their lives. At the same time, she seems to obstinately stand in the way of anyone in the family trying to improve their circumstances, especially if it means they will become big-headed or “beside themselves.”

I also like that Rose Lee’s narrative is woven with factual information of the events of the times. This book, along with Midnight Without a Moon, would fit well in a study of the Civil Rights Movement. There are some mature themes, so I think it would be more appropriate in a middle school setting (grades 6-8) than in an elementary school classroom.

You May Already Be a Winner by Ann Dee Ellis  
I had the opportunity to read a digital ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for a review. This middle grade novel taps into the stress that so many young people have placed on their shoulders by the inability of their families to manage their households. When money issues, jobs, and daycare problems become the responsibility of adolescent children, it affects every aspect of their lives - especially school. Unfortunately, many kids are placed in these circumstances, where they are forced to take care of themselves and younger siblings and become the “adults” of the family far too soon. I believe that many of these kids will definitely be able to relate to this story.

The plot and style of this book reminds me a lot of the book Death By Toilet Paper by Donna Gephart. In Gephart’s book, Benjamin is a seventh grader who’s coping with the death of his father, his mother’s financial problems, and his ailing grandfather. Benjamin is constantly entering contests and sweepstakes with hopes of winning a big prize that would help his family be able to stay in their apartment.

In You May Already Be a Winner, Olivia is a sixth grader dealing with a multitude of problems caused by the adults in her life, and their inability to get their act together. Her father left the family in the past year, her mother works long hours as a maid, and Olivia frequently is called upon to stay home from school to take care of her younger sister, Berkeley. Olivia enters as many online contests as she can, with hopes of winning big and lifting her family out of their circumstances.

The characters certainly grabbed ahold of me and my heart just ached as I read this story. Through the years, I’ve worked with many kids that have to grow up way too quickly. Kids should be able to be kids and focus on school, friends, and fun and not have to spend their time worrying about whether their families will have food or a home. I think that this will be a book that will resonate with lots of readers. I think it's a great book to have in upper elementary and middle school classroom libraries.

Puppy Pirates Super Special #2: Best in Class (A Stepping Stone Book(TM)) by Erin Soderberg  
This is a cute early reader chapter book that takes readers aboard the Salty Bone, a pirate ship run by puppies (although there is one human, Henry, on board). In this volume of the Puppy Pirates series, the crew welcomes a new puppy to the ship. When the new recruit tells the puppy pirates about puppy school, everyone is eager to find out more about it. Young readers will have fun finding out if the puppy pirates will be able to have their own puppy school on the ship, and who will win the most ribbons for being the best. 

Escape from the Great Earthquake (Ranger in Time #6) by Kate Messner 
There is lots of action and adventure for Ranger in this latest volume in the Ranger in Time series. As Ranger's family is preparing to donate used clothing to refugee families being helped by their church, the search-and-rescue dog is called into action. He finds himself in San Francisco after the great earthquake of 1906. After he rescues Lily, a Chinese immigrant, from a toppling building, he accompanies her on a mission to help her friend, May, and her family. The narrative gives readers a look at the way Chinese immigrants were treated in the early twentieth century through the lens of the great earthquake. The narrative also obliquely ties the experiences of the earthquake refugees with modern day refugees from foreign countries. The author provides background information at the end of the book for readers who might want to find out more. This series is popular among middle grade readers and a good one to have in a classroom library, especially as it inspires further research. 
Picture Books

Life by Cynthia Rylant, Brendan Wenzel (Illustrations)  
Wow! This book is absolutely beautiful! The simple, poetic text combines with the stunning artwork to create an experience. I was brought to tears because of the wonderful message that this book shares with ALL readers who come to it. In a world that seems to have gone crazy with anger, sadness, and despair, we need more of these types of reminders of how wonderful life is. I borrowed this copy from the library, but I'm definitely getting my own copy so I can enjoy it and share it with others! 

Monster's New Undies by Samantha Berger, Tad Carpenter (Illustrator)  
This fun picture book uses adorable illustrations and rollicking, rhyming text to share the dread of shopping for new underwear and the joy of finding a pair that fit perfectly. ALL readers will be able to relate to hanging on to favorite undergarments until they fall apart, and the agony of shopping for new ones because of the difficulty in finding something that fits just right. This would be fun to share with young children as everyone starts their back-to-school shopping! 
Super Saurus Saves Kindergarten by Deborah Underwood, Ned Young (Illustrator)  
This would be a great read aloud for the first day of school, especially for kindergartners. Arnold is a little dinosaur with a big imagination. As he's getting ready for his first day of kindergarten, he is certain that the teacher is an evil villain with a deadly T-Rex by his side. Arnold is transforming himself into Super Saurus and plotting his escape. Young readers will certainly be able to relate to the uncertainty that Arnold fears and have a good time reading to find out how the first day goes! Bold, colorful acrylic paintings along with Arnold's artwork, which was created with acrylics and colored pencils on watercolor board, make this an awesome picture book to have on the shelf!  

Home in the Rain by Bob Graham  
This sweet picture book takes readers on a rainy trip home from grandma's house. Mom and Francine are all buckled up in their seats, driving in a heavy rainstorm, and forced to pull off the road to wait for the rain to lighten up. Readers get to be part of a sweet conversation about what Frankie's soon-to-be-born baby sister will be named. This would be a terrific book to share with young readers who are waiting for a baby brother or sister to be born. The author lives in Australia, so it's interesting to see in the illustrations that all the drivers are sitting on the right hand side of the vehicles; something that may need explaining to children. 

Enormous Smallness: A Story of E. E. Cummings by Matthew Burgess, Kris Di Giacomo (Illustrations)  
This picture book biography tells readers about the life of the poet e.e. cummings. Using a easy to follow narrative style and illustrations that incorporate samples of poetry, this would be a great mentor text for playing with words and language.  

  Me...Jane by Patrick McDonnell 
With engaging, kid-friendly text and beautiful illustrations rendered in India ink and watercolor, this picture book biography shares the inspirational story of Jane Goodall's youth as she spent all of her time learning about nature and animals. As she grew up, she read Tarzan books and dreamed of one day traveling to Africa to help animals. This would be a great resource to have on the bookshelf as a great start for further research and as an inspiration to young people to find ways to help make a difference in the world around them.

  Skit-Scat Raggedy Cat: Ella Fitzgerald (Candlewick Biographies) by Roxane Orgill, Sean Qualls (Illustrator) 
This picture book biography tells the fascinating and inspirational story of Ella Fitzgerald. She grew up at a time when most people had little money, but she was able to dance on the street for spare change. After her mother died, things really went downhill for Ella. With an engaging, narrative text and colorful illustrations done in acrylic, pencil, and collage, this story of how she got her act together through hard work and determination to become a star. It would be fun to listen to some of her recordings to complement the story, especially for young people who probably have never heard of her.

Monday, July 3, 2017

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is a meme hosted by Sheila at Book Journey as a way to share what you have read and/or reviewed in the past week. It's also a terrific way to find out what other people are reading.

Jen Vincent, of Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee Moye of Unleashing Readers have given this meme a children's literature focus: picture books, middle grade novels, etc. They "encourage everyone who participates to support the blogging community by visiting the other bloggers that link up and leave comments for them.

Hope everyone is having a terrific time celebrating the 4th of July! This long holiday weekend has so much to enjoy - getting together for food, fun, and fireworks with family and friends. But there's also plenty of time to relax in the shade with a good book! Happy Reading on your holiday weekend! Here's what I've been reading:

Early/Middle Grade/YA Fiction (Chapter Books)

Fergus and Zeke by Kate Messner, Heather Ross (Illustrations)  

This is a fun early reader chapter book that will be enjoyed in many classroom libraries. Told from the point of view of the classroom pet mouse, Fergus, Miss Maxwell's class is preparing to go on a field trip to the museum. No one is more excited than Fergus, as he stows away in a student's backpack to go on the trip with the class. At the museum, Fergus meets a new friend, Zeke. Zeke is a mouse who lives at the museum, so he is able to show Fergus all sorts of cool things. Young readers will be able to relate to the fun of a field trip and making a new friend and also the stress of realizing you've lost track of the group and you might miss the bus! Digital illustrations do a wonderful job of showing the classroom, the bus ride, and the museum in bright, inviting colors. This would be a great one to have on hand at the beginning of the school year as kids are getting to know the classroom rules about pets and field trips. It would also be a good mentor text for writing from different points of view.

See You in the Cosmos by Jack Cheng  

I read a copy of this book that was shared with me by my friends in my #BookRelays group. It tells a coming of age story about an 11 year old boy who starts out boarding an Amtrak train to New Mexico to attend a rocket festival and finds so much more during an odyssey that takes him to Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and back home again. The story is told through the boy’s audio diary, recorded on a Golden iPod, which he plans to launch into outer space.

Alex is very intelligent and mature for his age. He takes care of himself and his mother, who we learn spends a great deal of time in bed. His father is no longer alive, and his older brother lives in California working as a sports agent. So no one objects when he and his dog, Carl Sagan, leave town to attend the rocket festival. The older boy who helps him deal with Amtrak officials by posing as an older brother tells Alex that he hopes he finds what he’s looking for. As the events of the book unfold, it becomes clear that what he's looking for isn’t as simple as launching a rocket into space.

There are lots of moments where Alex, along with readers, learns some profound lessons about life and love. I love this quote about love that is like “a sacrifice but in a good way; you trade a part of yourself for something that's even bigger than you, and it feels good but weird at the same time; it's totally worth it, though.”

Because this story is told entirely through Alex’s audio recordings, there are several opportunities to teach inferencing skills, if you're using this in a classroom. There were a couple of times where something dramatic occurs, and I had to piece together clues to try to figure out what was going on. This book would be appropriate in a middle school classroom library.

The Magic Finger by Roald Dahl 

Roald Dahl was such an awesome storyteller and this story is a great example of that. In a turn of the tables, a family of avid hunters find themselves on the other end of the rifle and begging for mercy! The little girl who lives next door to the Gregg family becomes very angry at their recreational hunting sprees, so she turns her "magic finger" on them. As a result, they grow wings and shrink to the size of birds. They're forced to live in a nest, while human-sized ducks take over their home. It would be fun to use this as a mentor text for writing fantasy stories. What if you had a "magic finger"? What would happen if you had to switch places with birds? 

Picture Books

Back to School with Bigfoot by Samantha Berger, Martha Brockenbrough, Dave Pressler (illustrator)  

Everyone gets nervous about starting up a new school year. It's normal to be nervous about new teachers, new friends, and new things to learn. But it's even harder when you're Bigfoot! Bigfoot is worried because he stands out in a huge way and he feels very self conscious about his size. School aged children will definitely be able to relate to these feelings, and the brightly colored, humorous illustrations will make it an awesome book to share with kids. This is one that would make a terrific read aloud on the first day of school! 

Can an Aardvark Bark? by Melissa Stewart, Steve Jenkins (Illustrations)  

This fascinating and fun nonfiction picture book would be great to share with young readers before a trip to the zoo. Grouped together according to the type of sounds they make, the book provides brief, factual information about 35 different animals. With information on so many different animals, kids will certainly have the opportunity to hear them at the zoo or in their own backyards. Colorful and wonderfully detailed illustrations make this a terrific resource for any bookshelf and a great starting point for further research. 

What Is Chasing Duck? by Jan Thomas  

This early reader book has more than just simple text and a few rhyming words. I love the way the author takes the ingredients of a beginning reading book and throws in bright, humorous illustrations, great opportunities for young readers to make predictions, and a fun twist that will let everyone enjoy a giggle or two. Young children will be able to relate to running away from scary things and relying on friends to help face fears. This would make a great addition to any primary bookshelf! 

There Might Be Lobsters by Carolyn Crimi, Laurel Molk (Illustrations)  

This fun picture book shares a day at the beach for Eleanor and her dog, Sukie. Told from Sukie's point of view, there are many scary things at the beach: big stairs, big beach balls, big waves, and maybe even lobsters! Despite all of Eleanor's urging, Sukie refuses to go into the water; until her stuffed monkey floats out with the waves. This book has a great message about being brave and overcoming fears. Great illustrations, rendered in watercolor, acrylic, and ink pen, the artist shows all of the fun details of people enjoying themselves on the beach.  

Trains Don't Sleep by Andria Warmflash Rosenbaum, Deirdre Gill (Illustrations)  

This book is a lovely poem describing different trains. For primary classrooms studying transportation, this would be a great book to include in the mix. The oil paintings are just beautiful!  

Share, Big Bear, Share! by Maureen Wright, Will Hillenbrand (Illustrations)  

This fun, rhyming picture book teaches young readers important lessons about listening, friendship, and sharing. Big Bear has a huge container of blueberries that he's very excited to enjoy. But each time he settles down to eat his tasty treat, the Old Oak Tree tries to give him an important reminder. Young readers will have fun finding out if Big Bear will ever get the message. Warm, colorful illustrations make this a lovely book to have on a primary bookshelf. 

The Treasure Box by Margaret Wild, Freya Blackwood (Illustrator)  

This hauntingly beautiful picture book shares the power and strength of words and stories. In the midst of war, a library is destroyed. One of the few remaining books is protected like a treasure by the man who had borrowed it. As the man and his boy are forced to leave their home, this book goes with them. The illustrations, rendered in pencil, watercolor and collage, are softly colored and evoke the feeling of reverence for the written word. The text that forms part of the illustrations is taken from foreign editions of The Silver Donkey by Sonya Hartnett and of Once and Then by Morris Gleitzman, which of course makes me want to find these books and read them. 

Stormy Seas: Stories of Young Boat Refugees by Mary Beth Leatherdale, Eleanor Shakespeare (Illustrations)  

As young people see news stories about refugees, especially from places like war-torn Syria, this book is an excellent nonfiction resource to help them understand what it must be like for kids their age to have to flee from their homes. This book shares details from interviews of five people who were forced to escape their countries under very dangerous circumstances to try to find someplace where they could live in peace. Often they wound up in refugee detention camps, where conditions weren't too much better than the countries they left. The text is appropriate for middle grade students and the illustrations, collage style pictures, are very poignant.

When an Elephant Falls in Love by Davide Cali, Alice Lotti (Illustrations)  
This is a sweet book that is a celebration of all the strange things people (and elephants) fall in love. Anyone that's ever had a crush or fallen head over heels in love will be able to relate to not being able to decide what to wear, hiding when the object of your affection is around, and writing letters you'll never have the nerve to send. This might be good to share with young readers closer to Valentine's Day.

Gifts from the Enemy by Trudy Ludwig, Craig Orback (Illustrations)  

This beautifully written and illustrated picture book biography tells the story of Alter Wiener, a holocaust survivor, who, despite the horrible atrocities he witnessed, focused on the kindness of a German stranger who risked her life to give him food. Alter grew up in a small Polish town in a home that was "full of books, food, laughter, and love." His parents were very kind and giving, and raised him to always look for the best in people and to help those less fortunate. After Germany invaded Poland in 1939, Alter was captured and sent to several different prison camps where he was treated cruelly and never given enough food. A German woman took a big risk and secretly gave him food every day for a month. This book has lots of terrific messages for young readers about kindness and bravery. The back of the book has some great discussion questions and activities for teachers who would like to share this in their classrooms.