Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Book Review: A Fierce and Subtle Poison by Samantha Mabry


 
 
 
I had the opportunity to read a digital-ARC of this book, provided by NetGalley.com.  There's a lot of action packed into this story of a seventeen-year-old boy, Lucas, whose father is a big-shot developer of resort hotels in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Every summer, Lucas comes to the island to live in his father's hotel and hang around with his friends in the old, touristy part of the city. He's a bit of a party-boy who drinks with his friends and finds pretty girls to make out with on the beach.
 
In the neighborhood streets near the hotel, there's a house around which many rumors have swirled through the years. The legends center around a cursed girl, Isabel. The local senoras tell stories about a witch with green skin and grass for hair. They say the girl eats the exotic, poisonous plants that fill the courtyard garden. Many believe that her touch can kill and that she can grant wishes.
 
One popular story tells of a tiny kitten who fell victim to this witch's poison:
 
"A tiny kitten, its eyes barely open, got separated from its mother and found itself alone on the sidewalk in front of the courtyard. The kitten mewed and mewed all night. The next morning someone found it curled up into a ball, dead from chewing on a leaf that had fallen from one of the tall bushes. 'Everybody knows,' Carlos (a friend of Lucas) claimed, 'that the plants in that courtyard are full of poison. If you touch them, they'll make your nightmares come true. Then you'll burn with fever. Then you'll die.'
 
Lucas has always been fascinated by these stories and is drawn to the fantasy of Isabel and her magic. On the same day his new girlfriend, Marisol, disappears he begins receiving mysterious letters. Lucas goes to the cursed house to find answers and finds himself swept into Isabel's dangerous world of poison: her dangerous touch combined with the toxic relationship with her father, a renowned botanist.
 
This novel has lots of action, interesting characters and an exotic setting to draw readers into this story.  I enjoyed being brought into the world of Old San Juan's tourist areas, as I visited this city on a cruise a few years ago.
 
 

 
 
 

The combination of mystery and magic along with the suspense of solving the disappearance of local girls before time runs out makes this book a real page-turner. The author includes several steamy romance scenes, dangerous storms, and dramatic events. However, as Lucas became more deeply involved in Isabel's world, the story becomes somewhat confusing. Characters' motives are complicated and it begins to feel like there are so many storms, dangerous bouts of poison-induced sickness, and chases around the island that the author's message gets lost in all of the action.
 
Lucas seems to be affected by all that is occurring around him. We get the sense that he will turn from his party-boy ways to become someone more thoughtful and caring. But there's a lot to go through to get to that point.
 
A Fierce and Subtle Poison by Samantha Mabry
Hardcover, 288 pages
Expected publication: April 12, 2016 by Algonquin Young Readers

Monday, December 28, 2015

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.
 
I love Winter Break! We had a terrific Christmas with my husband's family. And now we're enjoying the last week of the year with my family! But with the wintry mix we're having on the Mississippi River in Keokuk, Iowa, it's a perfect time to stay indoors and READ!
 
 
Last week was a great chance to start reading some of the YA and middle grade novels that I've been meaning to enjoy.
 
The Crossover by Kwame Alexander   This book is terrific and I'm really excited to share it with my fifth grade students. It's a fast-paced novel in verse that centers on twins, Joshua and Jordan Bell. The story is from Joshua's (aka Filthy McNasty) point of view and we experience the thrill of their junior high school basketball team's journey to the championship tournament. Their father is a former professional basketball player and their mother is the assistant principal of their school.

As the story develops, we see that the relationships among each of these family members is very complicated. I love that this family is so real; there are no easy answers to the challenges and frustrations that come with the changes of growing-up. But throughout the book, we are presented with a set of Basketball Rules that are really great life lessons.

Basketball Rule #1: In this game of life
your family is the court
and the ball is your heart.
No matter how good you are,
no matter how down you get,
always leave
your heart
on the court.

The language that the characters use to express complicated feelings and circumstances goes a long way to helping you grasp the lessons of this story. One of my favorites is used early on in the Second Quarter (the book is divided into the periods of a basketball game) and again towards the end of the novel: "like pushing water uphill with a rake."

Basketball fans will no doubt enjoy all of the game imagery that is presented in verse. The words and the typeset are presented in a way so that you really feel as though you are immersed into the world of this basketball court. Non-basketball fans will appreciate the thrill of the victories and defeats and learn a lot of terminology that will help them come away with a new understanding of the sport. I am really looking forward to using some of my new insights the next time I watch basketball!
 
 
All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven  This is a difficult book to read in a number of ways. It deals with tough issues - suicide, bullying, domestic abuse - with characters that are very complex and real. The main characters, Theodore Finch and Violet Markey, meet at the top of the high school's bell tower. They're both up there for unclear reasons, but they wind up saving each other. This is the beginning of their relationship. As the story unfolds through each character's point of view, I began to enjoy and care for these two. I relaxed and began to enjoy their trips to different "Wonders of Indiana". Finch and Violet really seem to help each other overcome some deep issues - Violet has only recently lost her sister in a car crash which she survived and Finch's dysfunctional family never seems capable of recognizing his needs and helping him.

But then the relationship becomes complicated and distressful. The book really had a hold on me and I just had to keep reading, even though it's uncomfortable and depressing. I really could see this story from many perspectives - besides the main characters, I ached for the families of these two as they seemed to be powerless over the events swirling around them. I think this is an important book for teenagers to read. Although, I would recommend that teachers or parents discuss the book with kids, especially some of the more emotionally charged parts.

Monday, December 21, 2015

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.
 
It was a hectic week at school as we were gearing up for Winter Break. Even with all of the work to finish, I managed to get in some time for reading. Here it is:
 
 
I Have a Dream: The Story of Martin Luther King by Margaret Davidson  I really enjoyed reading this biography of Martin Luther King, Jr. I appreciated that it was more substantial than many of the wonderful picture book biographies of this civil rights hero, but at the same time, it was written in kid-friendly language that is accessible to all of the students in my classroom. While I am pretty familiar with many of the details of King's life: his education, his rise to prominence during the Montgomery Bus Boycott, his speeches, his participation in marches for freedom and justice; I still learned quite a bit from this book.

Near and dear to my heart and the hearts of fellow Book Nerds - "Books were a kind of magic for Martin. They took him so many places. They told him so many new things. Most important, they introduced him to so many people who became heroes in his life." In his formative years, King spent a lot of time studying the lives of heroes like Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, Booker T. Washington, and George Washington Carver. Reading about these historic figures inspired the young man to do something big and important with his life. "Whatever he grew up to be, he wanted to help his people. He wanted to make their lives better."

As the struggle for freedom and Civil Rights wore on, however, King had many times when he was tired and discouraged from the fight. After being unjustly arrested, harassed and threatened, he was very close to giving up. At his lowest point, he prayed out loud - "Lord, I'm down here trying to do what is right. But Lord, I must confess that I'm weak. I'm afraid. The people are looking to me for leadership. If I stand before them without strength or courage, they, too will falter. I am at the end of my powers. I have nothing left. I can't face it alone." As he gained peace and an inner calm from his time spent reaching out to God, we see just how difficult this period of time was for King and how human he was.

This book also provides young readers with a glimpse of the personal, playful side of Martin Luther King, Jr. I think this is awesome, because kids can relate more to him and his family. King traveled far away from home frequently, and so his children would be so happy and excited when he returned - "Oh, how the children loved these times when their daddy was home. Martin could seem very serious when he was giving a speech or leading a march. But at home he was full of fun - teasing and tickling and roughhousing."
 

Cracker Jackson by Betsy Byars   This book takes a riveting look at a very serious topic: domestic violence. The book opens with Jackson receiving a note from a former babysitter, Alma, warning him to stay away. Jackson is convinced that her husband, Billy Ray, is hitting her. Jackson is only eleven, but he's facing a grown-up problem and he doesn't know to whom he should turn for help. The book is very suspenseful and compelling.



Firefly July A Year of Very Short Poems by Paul B. Janeczko, Melissa Sweet (Illustrations)
This beautiful book of poetry is perfect for all ages at any time of year. The illustrations are stunning and really pull you into this celebration of all of the seasons.


Neighborhood Sharks: Hunting with the Great Whites of California's Farallon Islands by Katherine Roy   This book is great resource for people who can't get enough information about great white sharks. Sharks are very popular with my students, and the beautiful paintings that show the feeding habits of the sharks of California's Farallon Islands and the informative text would be a big hit in my classroom.


Once Upon an Alphabet: Short Stories for All the Letters by Oliver Jeffers   This book is a lot of fun for kids and grown-ups. Each letter has a short, silly story that goes along with it. The illustrations are hilarious and really add to the fun of the whole book. Because it's so silly, I was excited to turn the page to see what would come next. At one point, the reader is encouraged to skip pages - "E,e How many elephants can you fit inside an envelope? Turn to the letter N to find out..."

I borrowed this book from the public library, but I'm pretty I'd love to have my own copy for both my classroom and to have at home.




 

Monday, December 14, 2015

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.
 
Hope you've had an awesome week! Here's what I've been reading:
 

Satch & Me by Dan Gutman  For those who enjoy reading the Magic Tree House or Time Warp Trio series, this book (part of the Baseball Card Adventure series), should be a great fit. Joey Stoshack has a secret power - he can travel through time with baseball cards. When he touches certain cards, he disappears from the present and reappears in the past:

"If I'm holding a 1919 baseball card, it will take me to the year 1919. If I'm holding a 1932 card, I'll show up in 1932. It's just about the coolest thing in the world. But as far as I know, nobody else can do it. But I can take people with me when I go back in time. I know that because I've done it."

Joey and his Little League baseball coach, Flip Valentini, want to take a radar gun back in time to see who was the fastest pitcher in history. They wind up traveling to the year 1942, to meet up with Satchel Paige.

When Joey and Flip find themselves in a South Carolina diner in 1942, they're surprised by the cheap food prices and how different everything is. They also see firsthand the racism of the times. When a busload of black baseball players is denied service, Flip buys the food for them. They spend time talking to the team and find out more about Satchel Paige. And this starts their adventure.

This book is an awesome mix of the excitement of time travel, an honest depiction of the racial bigotry that prevented many talented black baseball players from joining Major League baseball teams, and great sports entertainment for readers who love baseball. The author has done extensive research and includes photographs of the players and a helpful list of resources for those who want to learn more.



Anastasia Krupnik by Lowis Lowry  Anastasia Krupnik is a 10-year-old that has a lot of strong opinions about what she loves and what she hates. Her father is a professor of literature and a poet. "Sometimes he read his poems to Anastasia by candlelight, and lets her take an occasional (very small) sip of his wine."

Her mother is a painter. "Very often there was a smudge of purple on her cheek, or a daub of green on one wrist or elbow. Sometimes she smelled of turpentine."

The book chronicles all of the important events that occur in the year that she is ten. Each chapter begins with a revised running list of the things she loves and the things she hates. As she goes through the trials and tribulations of the year, items are crossed off one list and reappear on the other.

This could be a good mentor-text for writing. Anastasia writes a poem early in the book that her teacher, Mrs. Westvessel doesn't appreciate at all. When she recites it in class and her teacher asks for an explanation, I LOVE Anastasia's response: "It's a poem of sounds; it's about little things that live in tidepools, after dark, when they move around. It doesn't have sentences or capital letters because I wanted it to look on the page like small creatures moving in the dark; I don't know why it doesn't rhyme; it didn't seem important."

Anastasia's green notebook is her way of keeping lists of things that are very important to her. She lists the important events in her life, words that she loves, and the previously-mentioned "Love" and "Hate" list. She also records her choice for the name of her soon-to-be-born baby brother (which is a very nasty name).

One day, Anna goes with her father to one of his classes. After she agrees to go along, she goes to her room to change into her "poetry outfit": "Anastasia's poetry outfit was quite simple. She put a black turtleneck shirt on with her jeans, replaced her owl's eye-shaped glasses with dark glasses, and undid her pony tail. She combed her hair straight and flat. If she had had time she would have painted her fingernails crimson."

Since this book was published in 1979, there are definitely some references and ideas that are dated. This could generate good discussions comparing and contrasting that period in time with the present day. Also, because there is some foul language and references (including the previously-mentioned baby's name), I would recommend using this book with mature readers and providing appropriate guidance.
 
 
The Scraps Book by Lois Ehlert   Wow! What an inspirational picturebook. Lois Ehlert has written and illustrated so many wonderful books. This book takes you into her studio and into her life. Ehlert shares how her parents inspired her to start creating art - her mother sewed and her father had a basement workshop. She shares some of her techniques for creating the awesome collages that we find in her books. For anyone who loves art, this is the perfect book.
 

Hooray for Hat! by Brian Won   It's hard to stay grumpy when you read this book! The back cover lets you know that "Happiness is best when it's shared". And the front dustcover flap advises "Grumpy days don't have to stay that way..." Elephant starts off the book grumpy, but a surprise present delivered to his door cheers him up. He goes visiting all of his grumpy friends and shares his surprise. Watch what happens when people spread their cheer! The illustrations are adorable as we all enjoy the happiness spreading around.


Jospehine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker by Patricia Hruby Powell, Christian Robinson (Illustrator)  I've always enjoyed reading and learning about the music and entertainment of the early twentieth century - imagining the flappers of the Roaring Twenties dancing the Charleston in Paris. So I was eager to read this book about the life of Josephine Baker. I loved it!

Right after the title page, is a page with this quote:

"I shall dance all my life....
I would like to die, breathless,
spent, at the end of a dance."
- Josephine Baker, 1927

The next page ends with, "America wasn't ready for Josephine, the colored superstar. PARIS WAS."

This biography, with stunning illustrations, takes us from Josephine's difficult childhood in St. Louis, through her hard work and determination to perform on vaudeville stages, to her arrival on Broadway. All throughout this story, you're faced with the sad reality of racial inequality and segregation. She couldn't enter through the front doors of the theaters in which she performed.

When she finally traveled across the Atlantic to France, she encountered a completely different world. The story takes readers through her rise to success abroad and her return to America. She wanted to make a difference in the lives of black people here.

This is an awesome biography. It definitely makes me want to learn even more about Josephine Baker's life. The author has included a good list of resources for readers who want to continue reading about her life.
 

Lenny & Lucy by Philip C. Stead, Erin E. Stead (Illustrator) I really enjoyed this picture book. Before I even opened the book, I was drawn to the cover art of the wood-paneled car loaded up with this family's possessions and the drive through the tall trees of the forest. And on the back cover, the flowered wallpaper with the sentence "And Millie was a good friend to Peter." That sentence intrigued me, as neither Millie nor  Peter's name is in the title.

The book opens with this scene, as you meet Peter, who is very unhappy about this trip. We're not sure about the circumstances that led to this move, but you feel sympathetic to this youngster. I'm glad he had that dog. The story is so heartwarming as he starts building Lenny and Lucy to guard the bridge and house from anything that might come out of the forest. When Millie comes from next door and shares her binoculars and marshmallows, everything seems just about perfect.

This book is very comforting and pleasant to read and the illustrations are terrific. Even before Millie asked if Peter had ever seen an owl, I had already notice the owl that seems to show up on just about every page. I have to get my own copy of this book, for sure!



Louise Loves Art by Kelly Light   This is a cute story about a little girl who loves to draw and create artwork. She also loves her little brother, Art. As she's getting ready to put on her own art show (at home, down the stairs and through the rooms to the kitchen), her little brother surprises her with his own work of art. The drawings are a lot of fun, and I think some of my students with younger siblings will certainly be able to relate to this.
 

Monday, December 7, 2015

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.
 
It's been a super busy week, however I was able to get SOME reading in:
 
 
 

Maple by Lori Nichols   This is sweet, heartwarming book about a little girl who grows up loving the maple tree she was named for. The tree was planted before she was born and they grew up together. Then she becomes a big sister to Willow, with the accompanying tree. The illustrations are beautiful, especially the maple leaves!


Maple & Willow Together by Lori Nichols   I love this really sweet sequel to Maple! Maple and her younger sister, Willow, do everything together. And the beautiful illustrations make all of their activities look adorable. My favorites include the two girls reading upside down on the sofa, playing in the tub, and sleeping together.
 

Maple & Willow Apart by Lori Nichols   This is another awesome installment in the Maple and Willow picture book series. Maple is old enough to start kindergarten, but Willow is lonesome playing by herself. Watching how these close sisters deal with this new circumstance is really heartwarming and adorable. I love the illustrations in this book, too.
 
 
 
Little Pig Joins the Band by David Hyde Costello    This is an adorable book about a Little Pig that's too little to play the marching band instruments his grandfather sets out for him and his older brothers and sisters to play with. It's great watching the Little Pig try to figure out a way that he can fit in. I love the illustrations. My favorite is the Little Pig trying to play the drum that's way too big for him. All you can see is his little snout sticking up above the rim of the drum.
 

I Can Help by David Hyde Costello  This was a nice picture book about a little duck who gets lost and when a monkey helps him find his way back to his family, a chain reaction of kindness begins in which all the young animals help each other solve their problems. The illustrations are lovely, and this would be an awesome book to have in any child's library collection.
 

Number One Sam by Greg Pizzoli   This is a cute picture book about a racecar-driving dog who is used to always winning, always being number one. Through the course of the story he learns a thing or two about friendship, and how some things are more important than winning a race. Love the illustrations.

 
Flora and the Penguin by Molly Idle   This is a terrific wordless picture book that does an awesome job of telling a story with beautiful illustrations. A girl and a penguin meet up on a frozen pond and a fast-friendship is made. They ice skate together and the pictures and flaps really give the sense of the graceful movements. Something happens that interrupts the dance and suddenly these two friends aren't together. This book says so much about friendship and helping each other. I love it!
 

Power Down, Little Robot by Anna Staniszewski, Tim Zeltner (Illustrator)  This is a cute picture book about a little robot who doesn't want to go to bed at night. He has a really cute "robot bedtime routine." The illustrations are very colorful and fun to look at. This might be a fun bedtime read.


Emily's Blue Period by Cathleen Daly, Lisa Brown (Illustrator)  The author does a terrific job telling an important story about a young girl dealing with her parents' breakup. She finds a way to express herself through her art. Lots of my students really enjoy art class and I think they would be able to relate to this book.


Circle, Square, Moose by Kelly Bingham, Paul O. Zelinsky (Illustrator)  This book is a lot of fun for both young children and the grownups who read it. It starts out teaching us about different shapes, but there's a naughty moose that's run amok and is threatening to ruin the book. See what the zebra does to try and take care of the problem. Hilarious illustrations work with the simple text to make this an awesome picture book.


The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus by Jennifer Fisher Bryant, Melissa Sweet (Illustrator)    This 2015 Caldecott Honor winning nonfiction book is a great biographical account of the life of Peter Mark Roget, creator of Roget's Thesaurus. The illustrations are awesome and the information on Roget's life and how he created lists from the time he was a youngster is fascinating.




 

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Pippa Morgan's Diary Spotlight/Giveaway

 
 
 
 
This review is based on a digital ARC from NetGalley. This is a fun book that reminds me of Dork Diaries for the elementary school kids. Pippa starts writing in a diary when her best friend, Rachel moves away. In this diary we learn about, Catie Brown, one of the most popular girls in Pippa's class. When Pippa is partnered with Catie for a class project, she accidently blurts out that she auditioned for Voice Factor and wowed the judges. When Catie is impressed and becomes Pippa's best friend, Pippa has to work really hard to keep up the big lie. This book has a nice message about being yourself and friendship.
 
 
This book spotlight features an excerpt from the book and a Rafflecopter giveaway for two finished copies of the book (scroll down to the bottom).
 
Pippa Morgan’s Diary
By Annie Kelsey
December 1, 2015; Hardcover ISBN 9781492623281
 
Book Info:
Title: Pippa Morgan’s Diary
Author: Annie Kelsey
Release Date: October 6, 2015
Publisher: Sourcebooks Jabberwocky
 
Praise for Pippa Morgan’s Dairy
“With its approachable style and friendly language, this is sure to please both older fans of Rebecca Elliott’s “Owl Diaries” (Scholastic) and reluctant readers alike.” –School Library Journal
“Likable characters in humorous situations make for a promising series opener.”  –Kirkus
“A charming story about the lengths you can go to win someone over, this is a great addition to the perennially popular illustrated-journal trend in middle-grade fiction. Although the character-created sketches can draw Wimpy Kid comparisons, the tone more closely matches Marissa Moss’ Amelia’s Notebook (1995)… the perfect quick read for any student with starry-eyed aspirations and a big imagination.”- Booklist
 
Summary:
Sometimes a little white lie can land you in a whole lot of trouble…
 
Pippa’s new BFF Catie Brown is perfect. So perfect, that Pippa tells her a teeny tiny lie—that she once auditioned for Voice Factor—to impress her. And it works.  It works so well, in fact, that Catie enters Pippa into the school talent show.
 
The only problem? Pippa can’t sing. Not at all.  In fact, her singing is so bad it scares the neighbors. But if she doesn’t participate in the talent show, Catie will know she lied. But if she does participate, the whole school will find out what a horrible singer she is...including Catie!
 
It’s up to Pippa to put an end to this pesky problem!
 
Goodreads Link:
 
Buy Links:
 
Barnes&Noble- http://ow.ly/UZcJF
Books A Million- http://ow.ly/UZcQi
Indiebound- http://ow.ly/UZd9D
 
About the Author:
 
Annie Kelsey is a pseudonym for a well-known children’s book author.
 
Excerpt from Pippa Morgan’s Diary
 



Sunday
I can still smell the stink of the moving van. Rachel and I just hugged and cried as they loaded her stuff on. Then I watched like a big-eyed kid who’d just lost her puppy while Rachel waved out of the window of her parents’ car.
I will NEVER forgive Rachel’s parents—I STILL CAN’T BELIEVE THEY DECIDED THAT RACHEL SHOULD LIVE IN SCOTLAND INSTEAD OF THREE DOORS AWAY FROM ME!
Scotland is, like, a gazillion miles away.
Rachel said Nothing Would Change Really. *rolls eyes* She said, We’ll still be best friends even though I’m so far away. I love Rachel but sometimes she can be one fry short of a Happy Meal.
Of course we’ll be best friends. But it’s not the same. I can only talk to her on the phone. I don’t get to see her every day.
We can NEVER AGAIN dress up in my dad’s extra-high-visibility cycling gear and go and stand under the fluorescent lights in the supermarket and see how many shoppers we can dazzle. The frozen-food section was best because the freezers had this cold blue glow that turned us practically luminous. We’d offer to help shoppers reach for fish sticks or ice cream and try not to giggle when they’d half-close their eyes like they were staring into the sun.
We loved dressing up. Last summer, we pretended we were characters from The Lady of Morpeth Abbey—which was our favorite TV show EVER. It was soooo romantic and all the characters wore beautiful old-fashioned clothes. Rachel and I raided every thrift store in town until we’d made the BEST costumes. Rachel dressed as Mr. Hunderbentleman (buckle-y shoes and a frilly shirt and a big hat and everything) and I wore ten big skirts on top of each other and put my hair in a bun so I looked like Lady Monteith, and we spent the whole day talking like our characters.
RACHEL: Lady Monteith, may I bring you something from my morning stroll as a token of my admiration?
ME: I would be eternally grateful if you brought me a dozen roses, Mr. Hunderbentleman, for my pretty nose needs something delicate to smell.
RACHEL: (giggling) My dear lady! Why don’t you stroll with me and we may smell the roses together?
ME: Oh, Mr. Hunderbentleman! I am so lucky to know such a kind gentleman as you.
And we did it ALL day. Mom and Dad thought it was really funny (Mom and Dad were still married then) and it was the best day ever. Then Mom told us to go and get changed because my big skirts kept sweeping things off her knickknack shelf and Rachel had to go home for dinner.
I wonder what Rachel’s having for dinner tonight? I could have the same thing and it’d be like we were having dinner together like we used to when Rachel’s mom went to yoga.
But I can’t even text her to ask because she’s living on the side of a mountain in the middle of NOWHERE.
 
 

 
 
 
 
Rafflecopter Giveaway Link:
Enter to win a copy of Pippa Morgan’s Diary (U.S.  & Canada only)
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Monday, November 30, 2015

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.
 
Thanks to Thanksgiving Break, I was able to do quite a bit of reading this week!
 

Raising Rufus by David Fulk   I received a copy of this middle grade novel from the author to place in my library at school. He was hoping to spread awareness of this book. I am so happy that he sent it to us, because I really enjoyed reading it and I'm excited to share it with my students.

Raising Rufus pulls the reader in right away with characters that are very authentic. My students often have a difficult time getting hooked into books unless they can relate to the characters. The eleven-year-old protagonist, Martin Tinker, is a small town boy who experiences many of the same problems that a lot of students do: he's shy, he's a bit small in size, he's not athletic, and he's bullied by the son of the local sheriff. He prefers to spend time alone either exploring the woods near his home or studying in his lab (which is a seldom-used barn in his back yard).

The action in the story starts on the first pages, as Martin is chasing a butterfly into the local quarry and is nearly killed in a rock slide. As he emerges from the rocks, boulders and chunks of ice, he discovers "a smooth, oval object, a bit smaller than a football, grayish-brown and covered with ... were those speckles, or just chunks of dirt?"

Martin takes the object home along with other fossils he found. After a week, it becomes clear that the object is an egg because it hatches, and a baby lizard is born. But this isn't an ordinary lizard, it is a Tyrannosaurus rex:

For my complete review, please visit: http://www.janatheteacher.blogspot.com/2015/11/book-review-raising-rufus-by-david-fulk.html

 
 
 
Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminiated Adventures by Kate DiCamillo, K.G. Campbell (Illustrator)  I really enjoyed this book. It was so much more than I thought it would be. I was expecting a great story, because I've enjoyed Kate DiCamillo's other books, like Because of Winn-Dixie and Tiger Rising. Several of my students read Flora and Ulysses last year and really liked it.

The characters are so interesting and the story of a squirrel that has a near-death experience that leaves him with the power to fly and type poetry is very engaging. But the voice that DiCamillo gives to the main character, Flora along with a love of words and how they can be used, makes this book irresistible.

The book has so much to say about observation, overcoming fear, friendship, love, and finding your way home when you're lost. I feel like I need to read the book again and again. And I bet I'll pick up something new and wonderful each time. What an awesome thing for a story to do!
 

Trouble at Betts Pets by Kelly Easton   This book follows Aaron Betts, a fifth grader whose family runs a pet store. Aaron is a typical kid who has homework and chores. He develops an unlikely friendship with Sharon Trout, a wealthy classmate who was assigned by the teacher to tutor Aaron in math. There's a bit of a mystery in the pet store as animals and pet supplies have been disappearing with no logical explanation. Readers will be engaged as we learn about some of the social issues in Aaron's Cleveland neighborhood and the mystery is solved. The story has a positive message, that we should get to know people before we make assumptions about them.



The Little Gardener by Emily Hughes  This is a beautiful picture book with a lot of meaning for me. On the surface, it's a cute story about a tiny farmer with a cute pet worm who is passionate about his garden, but needs help. But when I looked at how hard the little gardener worked at the daunting task of taming this garden, I couldn't help but see that as a metaphor for teaching! Teachers works so hard, but often it feels like the job is too much and we get overwhelmed. I can relate to the little gardener staring at the moon and praying for a little help! When I saw how it turned out, I felt a little emotional. What an encouraging story for anyone who feels small in the face of an enormous job!
 
 

Little Elliot, Big City by Mike Curato   This was a cute story about a little elephant, who has a difficult time getting around the city because he's so small. He is so small that he finds it difficult to buy cupcakes. When he helps out someone who's even smaller than himself, he learns something about friendship.



A Crow of His Own by Megan Dowd Lambert, David Hyde Costello (Illustrator)  This is a fun book with beautiful watercolor illustrations about trying to fill the shoes of a famous predecessor. It's tough to try to live up to someone else's great example. Clyde tries and tries to make his morning wake-up crow even more special than Larry's. Readers will be anxious to see if Clyde is ever going to figure out how to make daybreak crow his own.
 
 

Drum Dream Girl: How One Girl's Courage Changed Music by Margarita Engle, Rafael L√≥pez (Illustrator)  This is a really special book that allows all children to dream to be whatever they want to be. The beautiful, colorful illustrations along with Engle's poetry tells about a young girl who very passionately longed to make music drumming. All along the way grown-ups tried to discourage her because she was a girl. Through persistence and tenacity, her father finally agreed to send her to a music teacher. She learned and worked and practiced until she was ready to play her drums for others.



The Farmer and the Clown by Marla Frazee  I loved this book for the amazing story it tells about friendship and love with beautiful illustrations and a wordless text. The author builds the relationship and character development with great attention to small details. I love the shared meals, chores and bedtime, but my favorite is the switching of the hats at the end.
 
 

 
Tucky Jo and Little Heart by Patricia Polacco  Wow! What a terrific story! Polacco tells the story of a young soldier fighting in the South Pacific during WWII. He befriends a young girl who gives him special leaves to heal his bug bites and he shares food and supplies with her and her family. Eventually they have to evacuate the area and he never sees her again, until years later when she is able to repay his kindness. The illustrations are powerful and emotional and support the text of this story. Have tissues handy!
 
 


Mummy Cat by Marcus Ewert, Lisa Brown (Illustrator)  This book is an interesting look at daily life during the time of ancient Egypt, especially the special relationship between a cat and a queen. As the mummified cat wakes up for his once-in-a-century search for his beloved queen, the murals and hieroglyphics inside the pyramid tell the story of jealousy and foul play. The end of the book has informational text about mummies and hieroglyphics. I'm pretty sure that several of my students would be fascinated by this book.



Interstellar Cinderella by Deborah Underwood, Meg Hunt (Illustrator)  This is a fun twist on the Cinderella fairy tale. Set in outer space, Interstellar Cinderella is able to make repairs to broken robots and spaceships. She rescues the prince by fixing his broken spaceship. The sharp, brightly colored illustrations really bring the story alive and everyone can cheer for the ending. I love that this Cinderella is strong heroine and someone that all young people can aspire to become!




The Troublemaker by Lauren Castillo  This book is a lot of fun to read. Kids of all ages can relate to being bored and having fun with a sibling's prized possessions. But when everyone's stuff, including the little boy's, starts disappearing, the mystery begins. The true culprit is another one that most homeowners can relate to! The illustrations really draw the reader into the story, especially as we are aware of the true thief! You can see the bandit in the first silhouette illustration! My favorite is the picture showing the creature at the little boy's window in the moonlight! This book is awesome for everyone!




Melvin and the Boy by Lauren Castillo  This book is so simple, and yet so heartwarming and sweet. The boy wants a pet so badly, but all of the pets he suggests are either too big or too much work or too noisy. Everyone else gets to enjoy a pet, it doesn't seem fair. When he finds a turtle at the park, it seems as though he'd be the perfect pet. But it takes great maturity and sensitivity for the boy to see that the turtle isn't really happy. And this little boy is faced with a decision to make. The illustrations do a wonderful job of capturing the sweetness of this story. My favorite is when he's sitting on the steps of his apartment building watching everyone else walk by with their pets, including someone passing by with a llama!
 
 

Baby Bear by Kadir Nelson   This book is absolutely wonderful - the story is sweet and heartwarming, while the illustrations are stunningly beautiful! As the baby bear searches for the way home, he receives advice from all the other creatures of the forest: the mountain lion tells him to retrace his steps, the frog tells him to trust himself, the moose tells him to listen to his heart and so on. The advice is good for anyone who feels like they're not sure which path to take to turn out all right. Very moving! I love it!