Monday, January 30, 2017

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

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

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


It's been a busy week, but I still was blessed with time to get in some reading. Hopefully you had a great reading week, too.

Enchanted Air: Two Cultures, Two Wings: A Memoir by Margarita Engle, Edel Rodriguez (Illustrations)  
This is a fascinating childhood memoir written in verse of Margarita Engle, a Cuban-American poet and novelist. She relates how her American father and Cuban mother met and fell in love. As a child, the family traveled back and forth as a matter of course between the beautiful island neighbor and her American home in California. She often felt torn between the two countries, like she didn't entirely belong to either. When the revolution in Cuba changed everything, it had a profound effect on her. The Bay of Pigs Invasion and the Cuban Missile Crisis not only closed the door on the ability to travel back and forth, but made her question the policies and ideologies that kept neighbors from talking to each other and solving problems peacefully. This would be a good book to share as part of a study on Cuba and America's relationship with it. It also may help understand some of the larger issues of nationalism and immigration that are relevant now.

A Poem for Peter by Andrea Davis Pinkney, Steve Johnson (Illustrations), Lou Fancher (Illustrations)  
This biographical tribute poem shares the inspiring life story of Ezra Jack Keats. Keats won the Caldecott Medal in 1963 for The Snowy Day, a story with an urban setting featuring an African American main character. This well researched narrative shares the difficult life of this son of Polish immigrants during a time when jobs and money were difficult to get and discrimination against Jews made his circumstances even more painful. The illustrations do a wonderful job of incorporating the collage techniques that made Keats' work special. I would definitely love to get my own copy of this book! 

Cat on the Bus by Aram Kim 
With spare text and lovely illustrations, this picture book tells the story of a homeless cat who dashes on to a city bus. He's befriended by a kind grandfather who takes the cat home. This story makes great use of onomatopoeia and would be fun to share in the classroom. 

Sewing Stories: Harriet Powers' Journey from Slave to Artist by Barbara Herkert  
This a well-illustrated and interesting picture book biography of Harriet Powers. Born into slavery, Harriet learned how to sew and tell stories through quilts. When slavery ended, her quilt-making became a skill that paid her well and caught the attention of many people. Interesting facts about the life and times of this artist are scattered in quilt blocks across the pages. End notes and a resource list make this book a good starting point for further research. 

President Taft Is Stuck in the Bath by Mac Barnett, Chris Van Dusen (Illustrations)  
This funny picture book tells the story of President William Howard Taft getting stuck in the bathtub in the White House. Hilarious illustrations show some of the most important members of his cabinet standing around the tub trying to figure out how to get him out. There is a list of fun facts about President Taft and bathtubs in the back of the book. 

Waiting for the Biblioburro by Monica Brown, John Parra (Illustrator)  
This is a fascinating book about a young girl who lives in a remote village where she doesn't have access to school or books. She has one book that she reads over and over again. All of that changes when she and her neighbors get a visit from a man leading two burros carrying library books on their backs. Based on the story of a real-life librarian, Luis Soriano Bohorquez, this book tells the story of a traveling library providing books to people who live in rural Colombia. This book is written in English and Spanish. 

The Animal Hedge by Paul Fleischman, Bagram Ibatoulline (Illustrator)  
This is a beautiful story about following your heart. A farmer has three sons and a barnyard full of animals. He loves the animals with all his heart and taking care of them is his greatest joy. But times get tough and he has to sell the animals and the farm. He and his sons move to a small house with a hedge all around it. Soon though this family sees magic in these hedges, as they are able to clip it and shape into their hearts' desires. Readers who enjoyed The Night Gardener by the Fan Brothers will love this narrative and it's wonderfully painted illustrations. 

Nocturne by Jane Yolen, Anne Hunter (Illustrator)  
This book would be a terrific one to share with young readers at bedtime. A parent and a child take a walk in to the nighttime world around their house and get to see the wonderful bits of life that they never get to see during the day. Beautiful, poetic language along with stunning paintings really make this book something to savor. In the end the child snuggles into bed with the dog sleeping on a rug beside it, to drift off too sleep dreaming about the wonders of the night. 

Letting Swift River Go by Jane Yolen, Barbara Cooney (Illustrator)  
This beautiful picture book tells the story of one girl's memories of the town where she was raised. Many years ago, the Swift River communities of western Massachusetts were bought by the government and flooded in order to form the Quabbin Reservoir. Sally Jane shares her happy childhood memories and her experiences once the purchase was made to quench the powerful thirst of Boston, many miles away. The illustrations complement the narrative perfectly. This book could be a great way to discuss how things change over time and the importance of preserving memories. 

The Garden of Abdul Gasazi by Chris Van Allsburg  
This Caldecott Honor book is one that I have not read until now. I really enjoyed it, as I have all of Chris Van Allsburg' books. Alan Mitz gets quite an adventure when he is asked to take care of Fritz, Miss Hester's dog. He's somewhat of a naughty animal, and runs away from Alan, into the forbidden garden of Abdul Gasazi, a retired magician. With beautiful black and white drawings, this story has Alan and readers wondering what really happened. I'm sure this could be used to start some wonderful discussions with young readers. 


Monday, January 23, 2017

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

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

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


It's the beginning of the third grading period and the start of the second half of the school year. In the midst of the testing and report cards, thankfully we've had a reprieve from the nasty weather of winter. With the temperatures in the 50s and 60s, we've been able to have outside recess and run off some of the pent up energy. And we've still been able to make time for reading some terrific books. Hope you've had a great reading week, too!
Middle Grade Novels

Scar Island by Dan Gemeinhart  
I had the opportunity to share a copy of Scar Island by Dan Gemeinhart with my BookRelays Twitter group. What an intense, exciting book! It is the story of Jonathan Grisby, a young man who has been sent to the Slabhenge Reformatory School for Troubled Boys. This institution is in a massive, albeit crumbling, complex on an island. The place is just awful and his sentence appears to be a long nightmare. But on the first day after his arrival, tragedy strikes and all of the grown-ups are gone. Suddenly the kids are in charge. The inmates are running the asylum.

The book is so well written, I was hooked from the very beginning. The story sort of reminded me of Holes by Louis Sachar and Lord of the Flies by William Golding. The characters are very well developed. We find out about them in bits and pieces throughout the narrative. But the main character is very mysterious. It takes a long time to figure out the crime for which he was sent to this island, although the reader is frequently told that it was pretty bad.

Once the boys are on their own, Jonathan manages to find a library from which he can borrow old books. The first book he takes is Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe. He starts reading it out loud to one of his friends, and soon there's a whole group of boys who wants to hear it. I love the way the warmth of reading by candlelight with friends is contrasted by the cold, dark imagery of rats, sword, and the hungry menace behind the ancient door.
There's plenty of drama in this book. I think a lot of young readers will enjoy the conflict and suspense that seems to end each chapter. It's hard to put the book away, when you just want to know what's going to happen next.

There's some strong language and some pretty intense imagery. This would be just right for a mature middle grade reader.

The Girl in the Well Is Me by Karen Rivers 
So much happens in this book, even though most of the narrative takes place in a single setting - a dusty, old well in the middle of Texas. Kammie and her mother and brother have recently moved to Texas to reset their lives and make a fresh start. In an attempt to become friends with a popular clique of girls at her new middle school, Kammie was standing on a board that covered the well and singing the national anthem. Suddenly the board broke, and Kammie plunged deep into the well, with her arms pinned to her sides. Attempts to wriggle free only make her slide further down. As she waits for someone to rescue her, she thinks back to the events that led to her predicament. This book has so much suspense as you keep reading to find out what's going to happen. This book also deals with many issues that are so relevant to middle grade readers - peer pressure, bullying, having a parent who is incarcerated - that I'm sure I would have quite a few students who would be able to relate to and enjoy this book. 
Picture Books

Egg by Kevin Henkes  
Using spare text and simple watercolor and brown ink illustrations, this sweet picture book tells the story of family, friendship, and acceptance of differences. Three of four eggs hatch and the little birds fly away. But they return to the fourth egg that has not hatched. With help from the birds, the egg hatches to reveal a surprise. This surprise is frightening to the birds and they fly away. Young readers will want to keep with the story to find out how these birds will deal with this very different family member. 

In Plain Sight by Richard Jackson, Jerry Pinkney (Illustrations)  
This heartwarming picture book celebrates the special relationship between a little girl and her grandfather. Sophie's grandfather lives in her family's apartment, and spends much of his time by the bedroom window. Every day Sophie comes to him for a unique Lost and Found game that the two of them share. I love Jerry Pinkney's illustrations and the way they capture the special bond that this family enjoys.  

Owl Sees Owl by Laura Godwin, Rob Dunlavey  
This beautiful picture book uses a reverso poem to tell the story of a young owl's adventurous night flight. The gorgeous illustrations and spare text bring to life this owl's trip through the forest to a pond, where he's startled by his reflection and flies back home to the warm safety of his nest. 

An Artist's Alphabet by Norman Messenger  
Beautiful watercolor paintings transform the letters of the alphabet into stunning works of art. This is a great book to inspire the imagination.

Pond by Jim LaMarche  
This beautifully illustrated picture book takes us through all the seasons in a year as Matt, Katie and Pablo reclaim a pond from a littered dirt pit in the neighborhood. One day as Matt was walking, he noticed a small stream of water. With help, he cleared away the junk and moving rocks, sticks, and mud to hold the water. Eventually they had a pond where they could spend time enjoying the new plants and animals that moved in. This would be a great book to help young readers take steps to reclaim nature in their own neighborhoods and communities.

Hey, That's MY Monster! by Amanda Noll, Howard McWilliam (Illustrator)  
This would be a terrific book to read at bedtime! Ethan checks under his bed for his monster, but realizes his monster has left for another child who needs him. It turns out that Gabe, Ethan's monster, has moved down the hallway to his little sister's room. She's a little girl who does not want to stop playing and go to bed, so obviously she needs a monster to scare her to sleep. But Ethan wants his monster back so he can go to sleep. Young readers will have fun reading to see if there's some other monster that can get Emma to go to bed. The digitally colored illustrations are awesome. 

Frank and Lucky Get Schooled by Lynne Rae Perkins  
This fun picture book takes a look at the academic subjects Frank studies in school by relating them to all of the ways that he and his dog, Lucky have fun together. Perfect for the beginning of a school year, readers learn a little bit about science, geography, art, history, and math in a very clever, humorous way. 

A Poem in Your Pocket (Mr. Tiffin's Classroom Series) by Margaret McNamara, G. Brian Karas (Illustrations)  
This great mentor text uses a story about a little girl struggling through the writing process to come up with a perfect poem to present to an author visiting her school for Poem In Your Pocket Day. Things at school usually come pretty easy for Elinor. But has she and the other students in Mr. Tiffin's class study poetry in anticipation of a visit from Emmy Crane, a famous poet, she stresses out because she can't write a perfect poem to put in her pocket. This would be great to share with students during National Poetry Month in April. 

Whale Trails, Before and Now by Lesa Cline-Ransome, G. Brian Karas (Illustrations)  
This picture book uses a compare and contrast text structure to show readers how people's relationships with whales has changed through the years. We meet a little girl whose father is the captain of a whale-watching boat. The book alternates between the excitement of whale-watching today and the whaling expeditions in the past. This book would be a great starting point for research, as it also has an author's note and references in the back. 

Dozer's Run: A True Story of a Dog and His Race by Debbie Levy  
This is an awesome story, especially for dog lovers. This inspirational picture book tells the true tale of Dozer, a dog who became so curious by the runners going past his home, that he took off and joined them. It turned out that the runners were participating in the Maryland Half Marathon to raise money for cancer research. Everyone was so excited about the dog running the entire course, that donations poured in to sponsor Dozer's run. 

The Paperboy by Dav Pilkey  
This Caldecott Honor book was written back in 1996, but I am only just now reading it. Most of my students know Dav Pilkey for his Captain Underpants series, which is very popular with them. I would like to share this one with them, because of the beautifully rendered illustrations that tell the story of a young man who gets up before the sun comes up on a Saturday morning to deliver the morning newspaper. Most of the students in my class don't have a newspaper delivered to their homes, and so I'm not sure if they understand much about paper routes. 

Time Train by Paul Fleischman, Claire Ewart (Illustrator)  
This is a fun picture book about a spring break field trip back in time to study dinosaurs. When Miss Pym and her students buy their train tickets, they are planning to visit a dinosaur monument in Utah. But as the train trip gets under way, they realize they are getting more than they bargained for. Beautiful illustrations of children getting up close and personal with prehistoric creatures really bring this story alive.