Monday, May 7, 2018

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.

Spring definitely has sprung here in Central Ohio. And with it, all of the fun things to do now that we can get outside and enjoy ourselves. This weekend we were able to attend the Central Ohio Folk Festival at Highbanks Metro Park, a wonderful place near where we live. This awesome free event featured music workshops, concerts, and dance demonstrations. It just feels so good to be able to enjoy art events, good weather, people-watching, and fun times in the warm weather. I also was able to get outside and do some reading! Here's what I read last week: 

Picture Books

Children are learning about technology concepts such as computer coding at younger and younger ages. So this fun summertime picture book that tells the story of young Pearl and her quest to build the best sandcastle ever is a terrific way to introduce this topic to both young readers and the grown-ups who care for them (many of whom are also unfamiliar with coding). According to the foreword written by Reshma Saujani (founder and CEO of Girls Who Code): "Girls Who Code is an organization that wants to teach every girl to learn to code! And you don't have to wait until middle school or later to introduce girls to coding. Just like kids begin to learn about subjects like animals, history, and space before they get to kindergarten, we want to make coding a familiar part of every child's world. By introducing the core concepts of coding to children now, we're helping prepare them for a future of changing the world through code." This book is a terrific addition to any child's bookshelf, as this important topic is going to be an essential component of his or her education.

Bullying is occurring at epidemic levels and kids are really hurting because of it. The child in this picture book doesn't want to go to school because there's a mean girl that is constantly calling him a weirdo. For a long time this boy doesn't tell his mom, but suffers on a daily basis. When his mom starts to figure out that something is up, he shares his problem with her. Young readers will appreciate the advice she shares and enjoy reading to find out how this problem is resolved. This book could generate some good discussions in classroom communities and also parents could use this book as a tool to help their own children deal with this stressful situation.

Young readers will find a lot of fascinating information and much to inspire them to learn as much as they can about the world around them in this wonderful picture book biography about Marie Curie. Engaging narrative text and lovely illustrations rendered in watercolor and mixed media tell the story of Maria Salomea Sklodowska, born in Poland in 1867, who was always hungry to learn about everything. She taught herself to read at the age of four, and as the child of educators, worked hard to be the best student in her class. After she grew up and moved to Paris to continue her studies, she married Pierre Curie, and together they made many important scientific discoveries that revolutionized the world's understandings in physics, chemistry, and medicine.

While the book is written for young readers, I found a lot of information to be new and informative. I didn't realize that people didn't at first know that radioactive elements such as uranium and radium were dangerous. The book tells readers that "Since its discovery, radium had become very popular. People drank it to cure arthritis, and companies put it in lipstick and face powder to make skin shine. Shampoo, soap, chocolate bars, and toothpaste all contained radium. The element was even painted on watches and aluminum instruments to make them glow in the dark." The book goes on to discuss the female factory workers who painted these watches and instruments, the Radium Girls. "As they painted, they would moisten the tips of their brushes in their mouths again and again to keep a very fine point. Some of the girls painted their teeth and fingernails with the glowing paint for fun. But eventually the girls began to notice that when they sneezed into their handkerchiefs, their handkerchiefs glowed in the dark. Then they started to lose their teeth. They had accidently poisoned themselves."

With interesting details and nice endnotes that include a timeline of events and resources for further study, this book is a nice nonfiction resource to include in your library.

Middle Grade Fiction

Middle grade readers who enjoy spooky novels will have a good time reading this gothic horror story from last year. I won a copy of Elizabeth and Zenobia from GoodReads and I just now got around to reading it. It was released last fall, and it is certainly appropriate for the Halloween season.

Elizabeth and her friend, Zenobia (whom nobody but Elizabeth can see), go with Elizabeth’s father to live in a dreary old estate where he can pursue his studies of wildflowers. Witheringe House is dark and creepy and the girls are convinced that it is haunted. They spend time sneaking about and having séances to find out what lurks within the walls of this scary place. As they start to put the pieces of this mystery together, Elizabeth finds that she’s going to have to be brave in order to bring happiness to her father and this house once and for all.

I think this book will appeal to mature middle school readers who appreciate older style mysteries. This book has many cultural and literary references that might be puzzling to kids: “The Raven” by Edgar Allan Poe, “Night Thoughts” by Edward Young, “The Grave” by Robert Blair, and the “The Lady of Shalott” by Alfred, Lord Tennyson. The book also deals with paranormal topics like necromancy – communicating with the dead – so it might be scary to sensitive readers.

This middle grade realistic fiction novel looks at the world through the eyes of Candice Phee, a quirky thirteen-year-old growing up in a small town in Australia. This book was originally published in Australia under the name My Life as an Alphabet. Candice, the main character, was given an English assignment to write an autobiography in 26 paragraphs, one for each letter of the alphabet. Feeling that was too limiting for her, she wrote 26 chapters – A is for Assignment, B is for Birth, C is for Chaos, and so on.
As readers progress through the pages, they come to realize that Candice’s family is dealing with a lot of stress and unhappiness. Years ago, Candice’s baby sister passed away suddenly from SIDS, her mother has been battling breast cancer, and her father’s relationship with his brother is strained due to a problem in the business they shared. Candice also has a hard time at school as she gets teased by her classmates for being a “Special Needs” student.

But for all that seems depressing about Candice’s circumstances, readers will find themselves the peculiar way that she looks at problems. She is a person who actively pursues solutions to problems and won’t be stopped until she is satisfied. And more often than not, her solutions produce smiles and laughter in those that were previously miserable. Due to some mature themes and language, I would recommend this book for kids in middle school even though the cover material says it’s suitable for grade 5/age 10 and up.


  1. Oh my, I bet my 12 year old will really like Elizabeth and Zenobia. The description sounds exactly like the types of books and movies he watches (and some of the stories and games he designs). Thank you for sharing!

  2. What a different world we live in from when I was a kid - I remember when we all shared a single computer per class, and now we have picture books about coding! It's pretty darn cool.

  3. Wow, Jana, each one sounds great. I know about the Coding and Sandcastles, will put the others on my list. Elizabeth and Zenobia will attract a lot of readers, I bet. Fun to see the pictures of your folk festival, too!

  4. Thanks for the heads up about The Categorical Universe of Candice. It is just the kind of book I love to read.

  5. All of these are new to me. Well, except for Josh Funk's book. Who doesn't know him!? He's certainly had a lot of picture book success!

  6. Thanks for the great post. I have a copy of How to Code a Sandcastle as well and I really enjoyed it. Even used some of the terms with my grade 5/6 class. Elisabeth and Zenobia looks great for readers who couldn't get enough of things like A Tale Dark and Grimm.

  7. I read Redniss' Radioactive - which is a graphic novel biography of Marie Curie and ever since I have been fascinated by her life. I checked our library system, unfortunately we still don't have Demi's PBB on Curie. The Sandcastle book also looks lovely, I've stacked it in my To-Read on Goodreads.

  8. It is so wonderful being outside again!
    I read How to Code a Sandcastle with two classes this week and they loved it!

  9. I just recently reviewed How to Code a Sandcastle which I agree is fabulous! What Happens Next is new to me and would be a good book to share with students.