Monday, November 9, 2015

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.
Here's what I've been reading lately:
The Summer of the Swans by Betsy Byars  Here's another book that I should've read before now. I enjoyed reading this book. Sara is 14 years old and going through growing pains like a lot of kids her age do. She's frustrated by the way she looks and she constantly compares herself to her older sister, Wanda. Her 10-year-old brother, Charlie, suffered brain damage during an early childhood illness. One night, Charlie sneaks out of the house so he can go look at some swans at a nearby lake. In the morning, Charlie is missing and Sara and her aunt are in a panic to find him. Through this crisis, suddenly Sara's problems aren't such a big deal as she realizes what's really important. I believe kids in 5th grade would be able to relate to this book as they are at an age in which they are experiencing many of the same feelings Sara does. I'm going to share this with my students and see what they think.
The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate (Calpurnia Tate #1) by Jacqueline Kelly   I really enjoyed this novel very much. I love that this historical fiction story about a family living in Texas at the turn of the 20th century has a strong young woman as its protagonist. Calpurnia is almost twelve years old, the only girl in a house full of brothers, and more interested in science than in learning the lessons that girls of that time were supposed to learn (cooking, sewing and music).

This story inspires me to take a closer look at the wonders of nature that are constantly on display around me. Callie's older brother, Harry, gives her a notebook in which she is encouraged to write down her observations: "What, exactly, was a naturalist? I wasn't sure, but I decided to spend the rest of my summer being one. If all it meant was writing about what you saw around you, I could do that. Besides, now that I had my own place to write things down, I saw things I'd never noticed before."

As Callie becomes a naturalist and has more questions about the world around her, she approaches her grandfather for the answers. She is a bit intimidated by the old man who "had fierce tufty eyebrows of his own, rather like a dragon's, and he was altogether too imposing a figure for me to have clambered on as an infant."

She soon discovers that she has a lot in common with her grandfather and they become close scientific associates. She helps him in his laboratory as he tries to "figure out a way to distill pecans into whiskey." She also goes on nature walks with him to collect specimens. She helps him find a new plant species that is recognized by the Smithsonian Institution. He also inspires a love of great literature in Callie.

The book chronicles the relationship between Callie and her grandfather along with fun and engaging episodes about the family's life. This is a wonderful middle grade to YA novel that is better for more mature readers. There are a few mature themes such as Callie's taste of the pecan whiskey, but it's still appropriate for an intermediate classroom.

Caddie Woodlawn (Caddie Woodlawn #1) by Carol Ryrie Brink   This is another Newbery Medal Book that I'm only just now reading. Originally written in 1935, this novel tells the story of Caddie Woodlawn, a spirited girl of 11/12 years of age, who enjoys adventures with her brothers, rather than learning to do more "ladylike" things. The chapters describe hunting, plowing, pranks, and bravery in the face of the dangers of the wild frontier of western Wisconsin in the 1860s.

I enjoyed some of the stories and descriptions of Caddie's home life, as it reminded me a lot of the Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder. However, much of the book is dated and out of touch with 21st century values. This is certainly true in the treatment of Native Americans in this book. While the author is sympathetic to Native Americans and reflects this sentiment in Caddie's efforts to help Indian John and his tribe, much of it is condescending and insulting. However, this could be a good teaching point to mature readers. It might be worth considering why a book written in 1935 would have a different viewpoint than what we do today.

I also think this book would be a great companion to The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly. The stories are very similar, with strong female protagonists set in the 19th century. Both girls were adventurous and brave and yet conflicted about what it is to be a "young lady."

I did like some of the adventures Caddie relates. Some are humorous and some are heartwarming. I think my favorite is Miss Parker's handling of Obediah Jones, the schoolhouse bully. At the beginning of the book he provoked a fight in the classroom. When he challenged the teacher to do something about it, she stood up to him and gave him a choice to leave or behave. By the end of the book, he showed great courage in helping to save the schoolhouse from a prairie fire. "Obediah's great, hulking frame, which fitted so badly into the school benches and desks, seemed splendid at last. No grown man could have done braver or harder work than Obediah did that day."

The Story of Diva and Flea by Mo Willems, Tony DiTerlizzi   I loved this book! I've always been fascinated by the idea of visiting Paris. And hopefully, one day I'll be able to travel there. This book does a great job of helping me imagine what it would be like to experience this great city through the eyes of Diva (a little dog who's never left her apartment building's courtyard) and Flea (a cat who's seen everything). This is a fun story of friendship and trying new things. I can really relate to Diva. It's hard for me to go places I've never been or take myself out of my routine. Flea teaches her that "a flaneur does not need a plan to have an adventure. A flaneur creates an adventure whenever the opportunity arises."

The illustrations are awesome. If you look closely, you can see a few of your favorite characters from Mo Willems' other books: Look for the pigeon on page 8 and Piggie on page 11. He's also included himself on page 60. One of my favorite parts of the book is when Diva first looks around the corner of her street and sees the Eiffel Tower. The illustration covers two pages and it captures how magnificent it must be to stand in front of it.

This book is going to definitely be a favorite in my classroom!

Pleasing the Ghost by Sharon Creech, Stacey Schuett   As a fan of TV shows like the Long Island Medium, I was drawn to this book. Dennis has the ability to see and interact with ghosts. His uncle, who had passed away the year before after suffering from a stroke, came with 3 requests. The requests were difficult for Dennis to understand because of the confusing way his uncle spoke. He needed to find a lost poem, finish a painting and dig for buried treasure. Dennis was also being tormented by a school bully. The story is touching, and deals with grief in a way that is kid-friendly. The ghost's difficulty communicating makes it somewhat difficult for the reader to understand the story. But I imagine that's how many of my students feel when they are experiencing comprehension problems in reading.
The Jacket by Andrew Clements   This book gives readers quite a bit to think about. It challenges assumptions and stereotypes about racial bias in a way that has an authentic voice for middle grade students. I'll be interested to see what the students in my fifth grade class think of it.


  1. What? There's a cameo of piggie?? I am going to check that out today! I just have to find a copy, it's on our Mock Newbery list so not sure if there are any around!
    I could not love Calpurnia Tate. So many readers I trust just loved her, but I don't know if it's because I listened to most of it and it was a dry listen, I just couldn't love the book!

  2. I remember reading Caddie a few years back when I participated in the Newbery Reading challenge - and I must have read Summer of the Swans years back, but couldn't remember it any longer. I own a copy of Calpurnia Tate but haven't gotten a chance to read it yet - did you know that there was a sequel?

  3. The first few titles are books I feel I need to read, especially Calpurnia Tate.

  4. Nice assortment of books. I remember reading The Summer of the Swans and Caddie Woodlawn a long time ago. I can see that Caddie doesn't conform to 21st Century values but wonder if they just presents a teaching opportunity. You can see what I read here. Happy reading!

  5. There is another about Calpurnia out this year, but I still haven't read it. I enjoyed this first one very much. It would be interesting to compare the change in outlook with Caddie Woodlawn. Summer of the Swans is one I haven't read in so long, but know that some of my former colleagues used it as a read aloud. Thanks also for those final two. I am unfamiliar with them & will look for them. Lots of good reading this week for you!

  6. I really appreciate your detailed, thoughtful reviews, and thank you for sharing some older books - I hear a lot about the latest new releases, but there are so many classics I've yet to read. Have a great week!

  7. I really appreciate your detailed, thoughtful reviews, and thank you for sharing some older books - I hear a lot about the latest new releases, but there are so many classics I've yet to read. Have a great week!

  8. I am going to have to go back and have another look at Diva and Flea to see if I can find those characters. I love that book! I wish I had time to read The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, but I think I will have to add it to my Must Read in 2016 list....

  9. Calpurnia Tate is so wonderful. I read it aloud to my own children one summer in Hawaii. We all loved it. And Diva and Flea! Loved it too.