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!
 

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Book Review: 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:
 
"It was bigger than any baby lizard he knew of - a good foot and a half long from head to tail...its front legs were much smaller than its hind legs - too small to be useful for much of anything, it seemed. It was a grayish-brown color, and its head was too big for the rest of its body."
 
Since Martin is the only one around when the egg hatches, the lizard believes he is its mother. Martin names it "Rufus" after his father's brother. As Rufus grows larger and larger, he develops an insatiable appetite for meat. Martin has to get a job in order to pay for its food.
 
As the summer passes, Martin enjoys his "pet" along with his new friendship with Audrey. But it becomes more and more difficult to keep Rufus a secret. He's getting larger by the minute and outgrowing his space in the lower level of the barn, he's very noisy, and very hungry.
 
As all of these complications present themselves, the author does an awesome job of building suspense and excitement. I found myself becoming a bit stressed each time Rufus was on the verge of being discovered by one of Martin's parents. As Rufus grows bigger and bigger, it becomes clear that something needs to be done, but Martin isn't sure who to talk to about this. The action is very easy to visualize and I could definitely see this book being made into an exciting movie!
 
The character development in this book is very compelling. Readers will appreciate the changes in Martin as the story progresses. In the beginning of the book, he is very shy and has very little self-confidence. The needs of a rapidly growing baby dinosaur push Martin to get a job working among the people at the local carnival. He develops a friendship with Audrey, as she is a lot like himself and he needs to have someone he can trust with whom to share this experience. By the end of the book, we can see some significant changes in Martin that will help him as he goes forward into adolescence and adulthood.
 
I know that I have some students that will definitely enjoy this book. I will probably be purchasing more copies, because I'm sure there will be a waiting list for it!
 
Hardcover, 272 pages
Published June 9th 2015 by Delacorte Books for Young Readers
 
 



Monday, November 23, 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.
 
Here's what I've been reading lately:
 

Red: The True Story of Red Riding Hood by Liesl Shurtliff

I had the opportunity to read a digital-ARC of this book from NetGalley (with special thanks to The School and Library team at Random House Children's Books) in exchange for an honest review. Reading this book was a pleasure, as I thoroughly enjoyed Rump: The True Story of Rumpelstiltskin by Liesl Shurtliff and Jack: The True Story of Jack and the Beanstalk by Liesl Shurtliff.
For my complete review, see my previous blog post: http://www.janatheteacher.blogspot.com/2015/11/book-review-red-true-story-of-little.html





Uncle Jed's Barbershop by Margaree King Mitchell   This is a heartwarming story with beautiful illustrations. The narrator, Sarah Jean, had a special relationship with her uncle Jedediah (her grandfather's brother). Uncle Jed became a barber, but hadn't saved up enough money to open a barber shop. So he would visit the family's home every Wednesday evening to cut hair. Sarah Jean became very ill and needed a surgery that the family couldn't afford. Jed gave them the money they needed, even though it put off his barbershop dream even further. Just when he was about to realize his dream, the Great Depression began and he lost all his money and had to start over yet again. Through all of these challenges, he never lost sight of his goals. The messages about perseverance and the importance of family are important ones for youngsters to hear today. I'm looking forward to sharing this book with my fifth graders.






Snowy Day: Stories and Poems by Caroline Feller Bauer (Editor), Margot Tomes (Illustrations)  This is a nice collection of stories, poems, recipes and crafts centered around snow. Black and white drawings by Margot Tomes enhance the literature in this book. There is poetry by Aileen Fisher, Eve Merriam, Ogden Nash, X. J. Kennedy and Karla Kuskin. I found this book at a library book sale and I think it will be a nice addition to my classroom library.





How Many Days to America?: A Thanksgiving Story by Eve Bunting, Beth Peck (Illustrator)
 

A beautifully illustrated story about a family that is forced to flee their Caribbean island home as refugees. They crowd onto a small fishing boat with only the clothes that they are wearing and not nearly enough to eat or drink. As the boat makes its way to America, the people suffer many setbacks - a failed engine, thieves, soldiers forcing them to keep moving to another landing place. When they finally arrive, they have plenty to be thankful for. This is an excellent book to use to compare to the pilgrims in the original Thanksgiving story.

 
 

The Scrambled States of America by Laurie Keller   This is a fun book to read. One day, as the United States were waking up, Kansas was unhappy. He was unhappy because he was bored. So all the states got together for a party and decided to switch places with each other. It's kind of a silly story, but the illustrations are so much fun. As the story progresses, there's so many sidebar captions and jokes that I spent a lot of time just enjoying the pictures. This would be fun to share in the classroom and it could lead to some good discussions about geography and the unique characteristics of each state.




The Scrambled States of America Talent Show by Laurie Keller    This is a fun sequel to The Scrambled States of America. One night, New York woke all the other states and suggested they get together and have a talent show. Everyone was all excited, but then Georgia got a case of stage fright. This is a silly story, but the illustrations with all of the sidebar captions and jokes are so much fun to enjoy.


 

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Book Review - Red: The True Story of Little Red Riding Hood by Liesl Shurtliff


 
 
I had the opportunity to read a digital-ARC of this book from NetGalley (with special thanks to The School and Library team at Random House Children's Books) in exchange for an honest review. Reading this book was a pleasure, as I thoroughly enjoyed Rump: The True Story of Rumpelstiltskin by Liesl Shurtliff  and Jack: The True Story of Jack and the Beanstalk by Liesl Shurtliff .
 



 
 
Shurtliff does a terrific job of taking a classic fairy tale and making it fresh and exciting by giving us the back story of the characters in it. While this book is part of an awesome series, it stands by itself and is enjoyable even if you haven't read the other titles. My students love these books and they don't sit on my shelf for very long.
 
The first chapter introduces us to Red, a little girl with a magical grandmother. Red's grandmother is a well-known witch in The Woods, but Red doesn't believe in her own magical powers. She describes clumsy attempts to perform spells, the worst of which resulted in an injury to her beloved granny. Red refuses to try to use magic out of fear that something terrible will happen.
 
But then her grandmother becomes ill, and needs her Curious Cure-All potion. It is up to Red to go out to The Woods to gather the ingredients for this recipe, which includes pixie venom, tree-nymph wings, and wolf hairs. Granny gives Red a special red cloak with magical powers to wear during this mission.
 
Red is joined on this adventure by Goldie, an annoying, nosy girl with golden curls. Together they encounter nymphs, gnomes, dwarves, and other dangerous creatures. The reader is taken on a journey to find the magic that is going to save Granny.
 
I know that this will be a very popular book among middle grade readers. The story is engaging and suspenseful, even to those who think they know what will happen because of the classic fairy tale. There is danger and violence, but they are appropriate to the story and not over-the-top. Some of the plot events might be a bit confusing for less mature readers, as there are a lot of characters introduced, some with complicated histories and motives.
 
I love the character development in this book. In the beginning of the story, Red is somewhat self-focused and impatient with anything that isn't important to her goals. She makes many attempts to stop Goldie from accompanying her on her adventure. As the story goes along, she begins to realize Goldie's vulnerabilities and challenges (she's desperate to receive love from her own mother). Then she starts to consider things from Goldie's perspective:
 
"Perhaps my mother thought me a little odd. She might not understand me like Granny did, but I never questioned that she loved me. All mothers love their children, don't they?"
 
Through the course of the book both Red and Goldie learn a lot about working together and considering the feelings of others. They learn that there's more to people and situations than what meets the eye. They become wiser, braver and stronger as they go along.
 
I appreciate the positive messages that young readers can take away from this book. Perseverance is such an important lesson to kids in a world where instant-gratification makes them so impatient with themselves. Red is very reluctant to try to use magic to help on this adventure because of past mistakes and the fear that she will cause something awful to happen. At one point, Goldie tells her about all of the cuts and bruises she suffered as she was learning to walk:
 
"I kept walking, even though I sometimes got hurt. I kept trying until I got better and stopped getting hurt. It's simple now, but it wasn't always. Some mistakes need to be made. Sometimes we have to fall down before we can stand up."
 
Another awesome message in this book deals with the power fear can have to hold us back in life:
 
"Fear doesn't only twist our magic, it also makes us forget. It made me forget who I was, the strength and the goodness I had inside me."
 
That's a terrific message for everyone! How much do we lose when we're so afraid that we stop facing life as it comes? When I got to that message, I became a little emotional and I LOVE when books to that!
 
There is so much for readers of all ages to enjoy and take away from this book. I would love to share this book with my fifth grade students.
 
Hardcover, 288 pages
Expected publication: April 12th 2016


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.