Monday, May 14, 2018

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

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.




With the warm weather and plenty of rain, the grass and the trees are becoming green, green, GREEN! I'm so happy to be back outside on my deck. One of my favorite places to sit with a glass of iced tea and my books! Hopefully you've been able to get outside and enjoy the weather and some awesome reading time. Here's what I've been reading this past week:



Picture Books









This fascinating picture book biography focuses on Ada Lovelace's contributions to the future development of computer technology. With beautifully rendered illustrations that incorporate mathematical equations into the artwork, this book shares with young readers the early life of Ada Lovelace, who was the daughter of Lord Byron, and her education. At a time when women weren't considered for careers in science or mathematics, Ada became a pioneer. She became friends with Charles Babbage and worked with him on developing his ideas for inventions that could process numbers. This is a terrific book to encourage young girls, and all children, to work hard and learn as much as they can in school. It's a great book to have in a classroom library.







Those that enjoy jazz music and are familiar with Louis Armstrong will enjoy this picture book biography about his wife, Lil Hardin Armstrong. In the early twentieth century, women weren't encouraged to play jazz music. Lil was trained to play classical music on the piano, but she really enjoyed playing swing music. After she grew up, she moved from Memphis to Chicago and became a well-known jazz musician before she met Louis Armstrong. It was Lil that helped Louis become a famous trumpet player. There are lots of interesting facts and gorgeous illustrations to help tell Lil's story. While this book is a biography, it was written in first person point of view. This might be confusing to some young readers, who might be tempted to think this is an autobiography. According to the Author's Note at the end of the book, "Lil Hardin Armstrong didn't write this book, of course. But in a way, she did." Rockliff adds that Armstrong was working on a book about her life when she passed away that was never published. "Since Lil never got to tell her own story, I tried to tell it as she might have chosen to. I used many of her own words from the interviews she gave over the years." The author also includes a list of some Lil Hardin Armstrong's songs that can be found online. It might be fun to share some of this music with young readers as part of Lil's story.



Middle Grade Fiction






This fun graphic novel is one that was very popular in my fifth grade classroom. Lots of kids love graphic novels and those that are car enthusiasts constantly had this book checked out (which is why I'm finally getting around to reading it myself). Three friends are working together to build the best lowrider in order to win a carload of cash. The book uses Spanish words and phrases throughout the text with footnoted definitions. The artwork was created with red, blue, and black ball point pens, which at first made me think that someone had defaced the book.







This middle grade novel tugged at my heartstrings as the story about a twelve-year-old quirky genius who must come to terms with the sudden death of her adoptive parents developed. Willow Chance’s parents die suddenly in a car crash, leaving her all alone in the world. She must quickly develop relationships and figure out a new definition of family.

I connected very quickly with the main character, Willow. A gifted student who struggles to relate to peers and the adults around her, she finds herself compelled to spend time with a school district counselor. This is where she befriends two other marginalized individuals – Mai and Quang-ha. Learning to speak Vietnamese, she quickly develops a friendship with Mai, a high school student a few years older. When tragedy strikes, these characters along with Mai’s mother form a unique bond which had me really thinking about just what it means to be a family. Many young people today have all sorts of families – some stable, and some not. But this book has a lot to say about the people who choose to be together and help each other.

This book also provides a lot of great lessons for young people. The imagery of plants is strong throughout the story, as Willow’s backyard garden is no longer available to her for comfort. In her new circumstances, she finds new ways to connect to the natural world around herself and to establish roots and grow anew.







Stories about animals, especially dogs, have always been popular with the middle grade students I’ve taught. This novel, while being a terrific tale of a boy separated from his dog during Hurricane Katrina, packs a lot more between its covers. This story has a lot for young readers to take away: the touching bond between a twelve-year-old boy and an injured dog, the responsibility the young man takes on as he works hard to earn money to take care of his new pet, and the coming-of-age moments when he realizes that life is not fair and that sometimes growing up means making difficult choices.

The story starts on the day Tyrone “Li’l T” Roberts and his family are riding in a cramped car to church on a Sunday morning. When the car hits a dog, Li’l T’s life changes. He falls in love with this underfed, scruffy, three-legged dog and spends his entire summer working to buy food for him. But when the family must evacuate their New Orleans home ahead of Hurricane Katrina, they are forced to leave the dog behind. When the storm is over, the devastation makes it impossible for the family to return right away. When they do come back, the dog is missing.

As I was reading this, it occurred to me that it’s been nearly thirteen years since Hurricane Katrina destroyed so many homes and lives. Middle grade students might need some background information on this storm to fully appreciate what this family and others like them were facing. But there is a lot in the plot events that kids will recognize and be able to relate to. Li’l T feels helpless because he’s a kid and doesn’t have the money or the independence to be able to search for the dog like he would like to. This has ripple effects throughout the whole family’s efforts to rebuild their lives in Mississippi after the storm. Li’l T has a strong, supportive family and my favorite quote comes from his grandfather when he tells him, “Men take things on their shoulders and carry them…” Li’l T argues, “I ain’t a man, Granpa T.” And his grandfather responds, “You’re close. You’re getting awful close.”


Monday, May 7, 2018

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.










Spring definitely has sprung here in Central Ohio. And with it, all of the fun things to do now that we can get outside and enjoy ourselves. This weekend we were able to attend the Central Ohio Folk Festival at Highbanks Metro Park, a wonderful place near where we live. This awesome free event featured music workshops, concerts, and dance demonstrations. It just feels so good to be able to enjoy art events, good weather, people-watching, and fun times in the warm weather. I also was able to get outside and do some reading! Here's what I read last week: 



Picture Books






Children are learning about technology concepts such as computer coding at younger and younger ages. So this fun summertime picture book that tells the story of young Pearl and her quest to build the best sandcastle ever is a terrific way to introduce this topic to both young readers and the grown-ups who care for them (many of whom are also unfamiliar with coding). According to the foreword written by Reshma Saujani (founder and CEO of Girls Who Code): "Girls Who Code is an organization that wants to teach every girl to learn to code! And you don't have to wait until middle school or later to introduce girls to coding. Just like kids begin to learn about subjects like animals, history, and space before they get to kindergarten, we want to make coding a familiar part of every child's world. By introducing the core concepts of coding to children now, we're helping prepare them for a future of changing the world through code." This book is a terrific addition to any child's bookshelf, as this important topic is going to be an essential component of his or her education.






Bullying is occurring at epidemic levels and kids are really hurting because of it. The child in this picture book doesn't want to go to school because there's a mean girl that is constantly calling him a weirdo. For a long time this boy doesn't tell his mom, but suffers on a daily basis. When his mom starts to figure out that something is up, he shares his problem with her. Young readers will appreciate the advice she shares and enjoy reading to find out how this problem is resolved. This book could generate some good discussions in classroom communities and also parents could use this book as a tool to help their own children deal with this stressful situation.






Young readers will find a lot of fascinating information and much to inspire them to learn as much as they can about the world around them in this wonderful picture book biography about Marie Curie. Engaging narrative text and lovely illustrations rendered in watercolor and mixed media tell the story of Maria Salomea Sklodowska, born in Poland in 1867, who was always hungry to learn about everything. She taught herself to read at the age of four, and as the child of educators, worked hard to be the best student in her class. After she grew up and moved to Paris to continue her studies, she married Pierre Curie, and together they made many important scientific discoveries that revolutionized the world's understandings in physics, chemistry, and medicine.

While the book is written for young readers, I found a lot of information to be new and informative. I didn't realize that people didn't at first know that radioactive elements such as uranium and radium were dangerous. The book tells readers that "Since its discovery, radium had become very popular. People drank it to cure arthritis, and companies put it in lipstick and face powder to make skin shine. Shampoo, soap, chocolate bars, and toothpaste all contained radium. The element was even painted on watches and aluminum instruments to make them glow in the dark." The book goes on to discuss the female factory workers who painted these watches and instruments, the Radium Girls. "As they painted, they would moisten the tips of their brushes in their mouths again and again to keep a very fine point. Some of the girls painted their teeth and fingernails with the glowing paint for fun. But eventually the girls began to notice that when they sneezed into their handkerchiefs, their handkerchiefs glowed in the dark. Then they started to lose their teeth. They had accidently poisoned themselves."

With interesting details and nice endnotes that include a timeline of events and resources for further study, this book is a nice nonfiction resource to include in your library.


Middle Grade Fiction







Middle grade readers who enjoy spooky novels will have a good time reading this gothic horror story from last year. I won a copy of Elizabeth and Zenobia from GoodReads and I just now got around to reading it. It was released last fall, and it is certainly appropriate for the Halloween season.

Elizabeth and her friend, Zenobia (whom nobody but Elizabeth can see), go with Elizabeth’s father to live in a dreary old estate where he can pursue his studies of wildflowers. Witheringe House is dark and creepy and the girls are convinced that it is haunted. They spend time sneaking about and having séances to find out what lurks within the walls of this scary place. As they start to put the pieces of this mystery together, Elizabeth finds that she’s going to have to be brave in order to bring happiness to her father and this house once and for all.

I think this book will appeal to mature middle school readers who appreciate older style mysteries. This book has many cultural and literary references that might be puzzling to kids: “The Raven” by Edgar Allan Poe, “Night Thoughts” by Edward Young, “The Grave” by Robert Blair, and the “The Lady of Shalott” by Alfred, Lord Tennyson. The book also deals with paranormal topics like necromancy – communicating with the dead – so it might be scary to sensitive readers.






This middle grade realistic fiction novel looks at the world through the eyes of Candice Phee, a quirky thirteen-year-old growing up in a small town in Australia. This book was originally published in Australia under the name My Life as an Alphabet. Candice, the main character, was given an English assignment to write an autobiography in 26 paragraphs, one for each letter of the alphabet. Feeling that was too limiting for her, she wrote 26 chapters – A is for Assignment, B is for Birth, C is for Chaos, and so on.
As readers progress through the pages, they come to realize that Candice’s family is dealing with a lot of stress and unhappiness. Years ago, Candice’s baby sister passed away suddenly from SIDS, her mother has been battling breast cancer, and her father’s relationship with his brother is strained due to a problem in the business they shared. Candice also has a hard time at school as she gets teased by her classmates for being a “Special Needs” student.

But for all that seems depressing about Candice’s circumstances, readers will find themselves the peculiar way that she looks at problems. She is a person who actively pursues solutions to problems and won’t be stopped until she is satisfied. And more often than not, her solutions produce smiles and laughter in those that were previously miserable. Due to some mature themes and language, I would recommend this book for kids in middle school even though the cover material says it’s suitable for grade 5/age 10 and up.