Monday, July 31, 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.


After being away from home for ten days, it was so good to be able to take time to relax on my own deck and get caught up on my reading. Here's what I've been reading this week:
YA/Adult Fiction

Solo by Kwame Alexander, Mary Rand Hess  

I had the opportunity to read a digital arc of this novel-in-verse from NetGalley. I'm really glad that I read it, because I'm sure it'll be hugely successful among YA/middle grade readers. Kwame Alexander’s other novels (The Crossover and Booked) have been very popular with the fourth and fifth grade students in my classroom, and while this book is more appropriate for older students, I know it will hold the attention of the most reluctant of readers.

Written in fast-paced, easily digestible verses, this novel shares the turmoil of a young man who has grown up in the savage glare of the media spotlight focused on his aging rockstar father. Blade, who has just graduated from high school and is about to turn eighteen, has spent a great deal of time mourning the loss of his mother, being embarrassed by the media attention toward his dad’s constant battle with addiction, and dealing with the emotional turmoil of being a teenager in love. As Blade discovers painful truths about his family, his girlfriend, and his own past, he sets off on a journey to Africa. There, he learns so much more than he dreamed he would.

I really like that this book gives young readers an opportunity to look inside the lives of the rich and famous to see that all of the money and material possessions don't amount to much, if you're spiritually and emotionally lost. Money and fame can't shield Blade and his sister, Storm, from the pain of losing one parent and seeing the other parent caught up in the devastating spiral of drug addiction. I also like that the book shows that everyone deserves a second chance and no one is beyond redemption.

When I Am Through with You by Stephanie Kuehn 
I had the opportunity to read a digital ARC of this book from NetGalley. For me there was just too much graphic violence, sexual content, and foul language without any redeeming message for young people. I would not be able to recommend this book to teachers or parents to share with kids.

Buying Time (Legacy #1) by Paula Kay  
My mother encouraged me to read the Legacy series, and this was the first book. It was a nice, but somewhat sad, story about a young woman learning to develop relationships with family and friends after a series of tragic events. I enjoyed the author's descriptions of the main characters' trip to Italy along with the food, wine, and opera music. The book definitely made me hungry for each of those things!  
Picture Books

The Quilts of Gee's Bend by Susan Goldman Rubin  
Vibrant, colorful photography combines with interesting narrative text in this nonfiction picture book that tells the story of a group of African Americans who created beautiful quilts on a plantation in Alabama. The descendants of slaves, these people farmed the land and worked very hard. Making quilts was social entertainment and also a necessary task to keep their homes and families warm and comfortable. As time went on through the Civil Rights era, these quilts were discovered for the amazing works of art that they are. This well-researched book shares their story. This is a nice nonfiction resource to share with middle grade readers.

A Rock Can Be . . . by Laura Purdie Salas, Violeta Dabija  
Simple, poetic text along with colorful, cheerful illustrations share many of the ways rocks make the world a better place. Examples include hopscotch markers, lake skimmers, paving stones, and statues. Factual information about each example is included in the back. This would be a terrific mentor text for poetic descriptions of the things that make up our world. This would definitely be a great book for all bookshelves!

Frances Dean Who Loved to Dance and Dance by Birgitta Sif 
This is a sweet picture book that encourages young readers to have the courage to express themselves without worrying about what other people may think. Frances Dean loves to dance to the music of the birds and the wind. But whenever people are around, she is too nervous to move. She is certain that everyone is looking at her. I think lots of people can relate to that. I often feel the same way, especially when it comes to dancing or exercising in public (that's why I like exercise videos). The detailed drawings reflect the author's love of animals and nature and they also show the busy public areas where folks are engaged in all sorts of activities, except for paying any attention to Frances. The text and illustrations remind readers that most of the time no one is even looking at us, and that it's all right to dance or sing or whatever the creative spirit moves you to do! 

Monday, July 24, 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.

I love summertime and going on vacation to visit family and friends!  We had a wonderful visit with my parents. I love sitting on their deck in Keokuk, Iowa and watching the boats make their way up and down the Mississippi River. We also had a chance to spend some time with my husband's sister and her husband in Mount Vernon, Illinois. We had a great trip and I even had a chance to relax and read! Here's what I've been reading:

Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life by Amy Krouse Rosenthal  

I really enjoyed reading this book! On the one hand, it was thought-provoking and insightful, and on the other hand it was just really funny. There were several places where I laughed out loud, especially in the places where she revealed a truth or observation that I thought only belonged to me. Whenever I realize that we all have some of the same anxieties or peeves, it just makes me feel better, less alone in this world. And I think that is what the author would have wanted. I feel happy that I’ve read this book and gotten to know this author better, and sad to know that she left this world way too soon. And from this book, I now know that feeling is called “wabi-sabi”. While this book is definitely written for adults, and has some language and themes meant for grown-ups, I think that teachers could use selected excerpts as mentor texts for writing personal narratives.
Picture Books

  Claymates by Dev Petty, Lauren Eldridge (Illustrator) 
Playing with clay has never looked more fun and inviting than it does in this awesome picture book! There are two new lumps of clay in the art studio, and they're not quite sure what's going to happen. When the artist is finished, the new figures are glad for the break. Young readers will have fun watching the two friends start playing around with their shapes and features. With all of the new fun shapes the friends become, how will they fix when they hear the artist returning? This would be a fun mentor text to use to help kids create their own clay art and stories!  

The Teacher's Pet by Anica Mrose Rissi, Zachariah OHora (Illustrator)  
This is a fun picture book that shows what happens when the classroom pet grows up and becomes more than just a handful! The illustrations are bold and colorful, but with that older picture book quality that makes it comfortable. This would be fun to read aloud to primary aged students. It would be fun to have them imagine their own classroom pet adventures.

Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall  
Anyone that's ever faced the high dive (or similar fears) will certainly be able to relate to this awesome picture book. For me there was the high diving board on top of a raft in the middle of the lake at Springbrook Campground. But they had a rule, that if you climbed up the ladder, you had to jump off the diving board. Apparently they were more worried about folks slipping on the ladder trying to come down. I climbed up, lost my nerve, and then spent the entire afternoon up there. Finally I had to jump because my family was ready to leave. At any rate, I loved this book because we can all root for this young man that is trying to muster courage to take the leap. This would be a terrific mentor text for writing personal narratives about facing fears.

Sea Monkey & Bob by Aaron Reynolds, Debbie Ridpath Ohi (Illustrations)   
Friends help each other face their fears and keep each other safe. This adorable picture book has a good message for young readers who often have all sorts of things they're afraid of. Sea Monkey is afraid he'll sink to the bottom of the ocean and Bob is afraid he'll float to the surface. This would be great to share with young readers and talk about all the ways friends help each other.  

Pablo Neruda: Poet of the People by Monica Brown, Julie Paschkis (Illustrator)  
This is a fascinating picture book biography about the life of Pablo Neruda, a Chilean poet of the twentieth century. He grew up loving books and word, and was more interested in writing than playing soccer. He used his poetry to speak out for justice and fairness for the people of his country, putting himself in danger. The illustrations are beautiful and incorporate Spanish words throughout the pages. This would be a great poetry mentor text to have on the classroom shelf. 

Monday, July 10, 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.


I'm getting ready to hit the road and visit family! I'm always glad to spend time relaxing and enjoying family and friends that I don't get to see very often. I'm sure I'll also have plenty of #opportunity2read as well! I'll keep track of all of the awesome books and update my blog in a few weeks. Hope you're having a good time relaxing with your favorite books as well!  Here's what I've been reading the past week:
Middle Grade Fiction

A Sky Full of Stars (Rose Lee Carter #2) by Linda Williams Jackson  

I had the opportunity to read an ARC of this book that was shared with my #BookRelays group by the author. I was thrilled that I would be able to keep reading Rose Lee’s story.

A Sky Full of Stars is the sequel to last year’s Midnight Without a Moon. Set in Mississippi in 1955, it tells the story of Rose Lee and what it must have been like to be raised by black sharecroppers at a time when racial tensions were increasing with gruesome crimes like the murder of Emmett Till and the beginning of nonviolent protests like the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

The story picks up where the first book ended. Thirteen year old Rose is now able to attend school and it is there that her friend, Hallelujah, encourages her to become more involved in resistance activities. She also comes to know her own cousin, Shorty, better and he’s convinced that violence is the only way things will improve. 

The storytelling in this book is superb! I love that Rose Lee’s circumstances are very complicated and that there are no simple answers. The characters illustrate the contradictions of these complex times. Ma Pearl, the severe matriarch of the family, refuses to allow anyone in the family to become involved with any of the resistance movements being advocated by organizations like the NAACP, because of the very real danger to their jobs, their home, and their lives. At the same time, she seems to obstinately stand in the way of anyone in the family trying to improve their circumstances, especially if it means they will become big-headed or “beside themselves.”

I also like that Rose Lee’s narrative is woven with factual information of the events of the times. This book, along with Midnight Without a Moon, would fit well in a study of the Civil Rights Movement. There are some mature themes, so I think it would be more appropriate in a middle school setting (grades 6-8) than in an elementary school classroom.

You May Already Be a Winner by Ann Dee Ellis  
I had the opportunity to read a digital ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for a review. This middle grade novel taps into the stress that so many young people have placed on their shoulders by the inability of their families to manage their households. When money issues, jobs, and daycare problems become the responsibility of adolescent children, it affects every aspect of their lives - especially school. Unfortunately, many kids are placed in these circumstances, where they are forced to take care of themselves and younger siblings and become the “adults” of the family far too soon. I believe that many of these kids will definitely be able to relate to this story.

The plot and style of this book reminds me a lot of the book Death By Toilet Paper by Donna Gephart. In Gephart’s book, Benjamin is a seventh grader who’s coping with the death of his father, his mother’s financial problems, and his ailing grandfather. Benjamin is constantly entering contests and sweepstakes with hopes of winning a big prize that would help his family be able to stay in their apartment.

In You May Already Be a Winner, Olivia is a sixth grader dealing with a multitude of problems caused by the adults in her life, and their inability to get their act together. Her father left the family in the past year, her mother works long hours as a maid, and Olivia frequently is called upon to stay home from school to take care of her younger sister, Berkeley. Olivia enters as many online contests as she can, with hopes of winning big and lifting her family out of their circumstances.

The characters certainly grabbed ahold of me and my heart just ached as I read this story. Through the years, I’ve worked with many kids that have to grow up way too quickly. Kids should be able to be kids and focus on school, friends, and fun and not have to spend their time worrying about whether their families will have food or a home. I think that this will be a book that will resonate with lots of readers. I think it's a great book to have in upper elementary and middle school classroom libraries.

Puppy Pirates Super Special #2: Best in Class (A Stepping Stone Book(TM)) by Erin Soderberg  
This is a cute early reader chapter book that takes readers aboard the Salty Bone, a pirate ship run by puppies (although there is one human, Henry, on board). In this volume of the Puppy Pirates series, the crew welcomes a new puppy to the ship. When the new recruit tells the puppy pirates about puppy school, everyone is eager to find out more about it. Young readers will have fun finding out if the puppy pirates will be able to have their own puppy school on the ship, and who will win the most ribbons for being the best. 

Escape from the Great Earthquake (Ranger in Time #6) by Kate Messner 
There is lots of action and adventure for Ranger in this latest volume in the Ranger in Time series. As Ranger's family is preparing to donate used clothing to refugee families being helped by their church, the search-and-rescue dog is called into action. He finds himself in San Francisco after the great earthquake of 1906. After he rescues Lily, a Chinese immigrant, from a toppling building, he accompanies her on a mission to help her friend, May, and her family. The narrative gives readers a look at the way Chinese immigrants were treated in the early twentieth century through the lens of the great earthquake. The narrative also obliquely ties the experiences of the earthquake refugees with modern day refugees from foreign countries. The author provides background information at the end of the book for readers who might want to find out more. This series is popular among middle grade readers and a good one to have in a classroom library, especially as it inspires further research. 
Picture Books

Life by Cynthia Rylant, Brendan Wenzel (Illustrations)  
Wow! This book is absolutely beautiful! The simple, poetic text combines with the stunning artwork to create an experience. I was brought to tears because of the wonderful message that this book shares with ALL readers who come to it. In a world that seems to have gone crazy with anger, sadness, and despair, we need more of these types of reminders of how wonderful life is. I borrowed this copy from the library, but I'm definitely getting my own copy so I can enjoy it and share it with others! 

Monster's New Undies by Samantha Berger, Tad Carpenter (Illustrator)  
This fun picture book uses adorable illustrations and rollicking, rhyming text to share the dread of shopping for new underwear and the joy of finding a pair that fit perfectly. ALL readers will be able to relate to hanging on to favorite undergarments until they fall apart, and the agony of shopping for new ones because of the difficulty in finding something that fits just right. This would be fun to share with young children as everyone starts their back-to-school shopping! 
Super Saurus Saves Kindergarten by Deborah Underwood, Ned Young (Illustrator)  
This would be a great read aloud for the first day of school, especially for kindergartners. Arnold is a little dinosaur with a big imagination. As he's getting ready for his first day of kindergarten, he is certain that the teacher is an evil villain with a deadly T-Rex by his side. Arnold is transforming himself into Super Saurus and plotting his escape. Young readers will certainly be able to relate to the uncertainty that Arnold fears and have a good time reading to find out how the first day goes! Bold, colorful acrylic paintings along with Arnold's artwork, which was created with acrylics and colored pencils on watercolor board, make this an awesome picture book to have on the shelf!  

Home in the Rain by Bob Graham  
This sweet picture book takes readers on a rainy trip home from grandma's house. Mom and Francine are all buckled up in their seats, driving in a heavy rainstorm, and forced to pull off the road to wait for the rain to lighten up. Readers get to be part of a sweet conversation about what Frankie's soon-to-be-born baby sister will be named. This would be a terrific book to share with young readers who are waiting for a baby brother or sister to be born. The author lives in Australia, so it's interesting to see in the illustrations that all the drivers are sitting on the right hand side of the vehicles; something that may need explaining to children. 

Enormous Smallness: A Story of E. E. Cummings by Matthew Burgess, Kris Di Giacomo (Illustrations)  
This picture book biography tells readers about the life of the poet e.e. cummings. Using a easy to follow narrative style and illustrations that incorporate samples of poetry, this would be a great mentor text for playing with words and language.  

  Me...Jane by Patrick McDonnell 
With engaging, kid-friendly text and beautiful illustrations rendered in India ink and watercolor, this picture book biography shares the inspirational story of Jane Goodall's youth as she spent all of her time learning about nature and animals. As she grew up, she read Tarzan books and dreamed of one day traveling to Africa to help animals. This would be a great resource to have on the bookshelf as a great start for further research and as an inspiration to young people to find ways to help make a difference in the world around them.

  Skit-Scat Raggedy Cat: Ella Fitzgerald (Candlewick Biographies) by Roxane Orgill, Sean Qualls (Illustrator) 
This picture book biography tells the fascinating and inspirational story of Ella Fitzgerald. She grew up at a time when most people had little money, but she was able to dance on the street for spare change. After her mother died, things really went downhill for Ella. With an engaging, narrative text and colorful illustrations done in acrylic, pencil, and collage, this story of how she got her act together through hard work and determination to become a star. It would be fun to listen to some of her recordings to complement the story, especially for young people who probably have never heard of her.