Monday, October 27, 2014

It's Monday, What Are You Reading? (10.27.14)

Every Monday bloggers all over the web participate in an effort to share books we have read and what we are excited about digging into. Thanks to Jen at Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee & Ricki at Unleashing Readers for hosting us all!

What I Read this Week (and last):

Hissy Fitz, by Patrick Jennings
(EdgemontUSA, January 6, 2015, ARC courtesy of NetGalley)

     Hissy Fitz is a big, old cat who is grumpy about the interference of his human family in his cat life. The book tells of his complaints and describes a cat's possible perspective in response to kind--and not-so-kind--kids who have a pet cat. 
     Cat fanatics will find an appreciation in this book for the cat's point of view. Many descriptions had me recalling the relationship my own childhood cat had with my siblings and me. Though the perspective is realistic, I kept waiting for the story to lift off. The book is mainly a series of strung together events from Hissy's point of view.

Project Mulberry, by Linda Sue Park
(Houghton Mifflin, 2005)
     Julia and Patrick plan to team up and win a prize at the state fair, but they need a project that will impress to earn the prize. Limitations prevent them from raising typical animals, and Julia's mom suggests growing silkworms. While Patrick latches onto the idea, Julia has a distaste for the project, feeling it is too Korean, where she is feeling pressure to be normal--or American. The project, in all it's stages of inception through execution provides Julia with the opportunity to explore her values as she grapples with some difficult ethical issues, and helps her to embrace her cultural identity.
     In keeping with my recent theme of reaching back and reading books I've missed along the way, I'm glad my attention was pointed to this book. Not only is the story of Project Mulberry interesting, the characters believable, and the conflicts engaging to the mind, but Linda Sue Park has done something unique with the format of the text, punctuating the chapters with internal dialogue between the main character and herself. These exchanges enlighten readers to "the story behind the story" and the process of writing, the way the novel evolves. 

Courage for Beginners, by Karen Harrington
(Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, August 12, 2014)
     Mysti Murphy's daily life has always been impacted by her mother's agoraphobia, but she feels the pinch more when a sudden accident lands her father--the parent who goes places--in the hospital for several months. The timing of the accident coincides with the beginning of middle school, and Mysti's long-time best friend has decided he wants to conduct a "social experiment," so he stops interacting with her in hopes of getting the attention of other students. Left on her own to navigate middle school, cope with the unknowns in her dad's prognosis, and help her family carry on despite a parent who won't leave the house, Mysti has no choice but to summon a little courage.
     Karen Harrington has a second novel that will tug at your heart (the first being Sure Signs of Crazy). Readers will want to coax Mysti along as she works past this broken and hurtful friendship with her long-time friend and will cheer for her new friendship with Rama. They will share her burden as she laments the troubles and undeserved challenges that come with an agoraphobic parent. And, if the reader is a reader like me, they'll appreciate that Harrington's book isn't heavy in happily-ever-after, but more realistic in it's ending.

The Great Greene Heist, by Varian Johnson
(Arthur A. Levine Books, May 27, 2014)
      It is easy to tell from the very beginning, Jackson Greene is the kind of trouble-making student you want to read for. When the young con detects unethical play in the school's Student Council elections, he gathers a cast of diverse characters around him to help foil their plan and insure the right person wins the presidential position--even if that happens to be his ex-best friend.
     I am so glad to finally be caught up on this book that held the attention of so many in my book-loving circles this summer. It is with good reason that everyone has been buzzing about Varian Johnson's adventure/mystery. The characters' stories and scenes weave together seamlessly, and the reader feels a part of Jackson's recruited team, helping to make things right. Johnson makes heroes of unlikely characters, blurring the stereotypical lines of social class in middle school. The book reads like an action movie, which I suspect will appeal to many students and leave them asking for subsequent adventures. I cannot wait to share this title at school.

The Case of the Vanishing Little Brown Bats: A Scientific Mystery, by Sandra Markle
(Milbrook Press, August 1, 2014, ARC courtesy of NetGalley)
     When scientists discover the Little Brown Bat population is declining, and, upon investigation, notice an unusual white fuzz on the noses of others, the team goes into action to solve the scientific mystery of what is causing more Little Brown Bats to die. This informational text takes readers on the journey from inquiry about the cause of dying bats to discovery of what is happening. With stunning close-up photos and a narrative style of writing, the text will hold the attention of curious readers, inviting them to be on the inside of active scientific research and discovery.

The Elephant Scientist, by Caitlin O'Connell, Donna Jackson, and Timothy Rodwell
(HMH Books for Young Readers, 2011)
     The Elephant Scientist is a Scientists in the Field text that documents the research about elephants and their ability to communicate through their feet and legs. The text chronicles the research of biologist Caitlin O'Connell and her team as they investigated a suspicion that elephants "listen" to the ground for signs as part of their communication. The step-by-step discoveries and explanation of the team's response to their findings made this a page-turning informational text. 

The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend, by Dan Santat
(Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, April 8, 2014)
     Beekle has waited patiently for a special friend to dream him up, but after waiting a long while, Beekle takes matters into his own hands and journeys to the real world, a city setting, in search of his special friend.
      Always a fan of Dan Santat's work, the illustrations in Beekle do not disappoint. The story gives a whimsical play to the theme of friendship and imaginary--and not-so-imaginary--friends. (Thank you, Niki Barnes, for this beautiful gift!)

What I am Currently Reading:
Life on Mars, by Jennifer Brown
(Bloomsbury USA Childrens, August 5, 2014)

What I am Reading Next:
The Terrible Two, by Mac Barnett, Jory John, and Kevin Cornell
I Survived True Stories: Five Epic Disasters, by Lauren Tarshis
All the Answers, by Kate Messner

Monday, October 13, 2014

It's Monday, What Are You Reading? (10.13.14)

Every Monday bloggers all over the web participate in an effort to share books we have read and what we are excited about digging into. Thanks to Jen at Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee & Ricki at Unleashing Readers for hosting us all!

What I Read this Week:

Half a World Away, by Cynthia Kadohata
(Atheneum Books for Young Readers, September 2, 2014)

     Jaden lives with his adoptive parents. From Romania, he has struggled to assimilate to live in America with his family. The book takes us on the journey of Jaden's family to Kazakhstan, where they intend to adopt another baby. Jaden believes their desire for another child is to compensate because he is not good enough. The book chronicles Jaden's experiences in Kazakhstan and his evolution as he discovers his feelings for his family-to-be.
     I'm still sitting with Jaden's story, undecided about the ways students might connect with Jaden's situation. Many students identify with his feelings of inadequacy, but I'm not sure if the international adoption line of the story is going to make it hard for them to access. I'm so curious to hear what other readers think of this book.

Hate That Cat, by Sharon Creech
(HarperCollins, 2008)
     Jack is back in the sequel to Love That Dog. As in the first book, Jack's class is studying poetry, but in this novel in verse, the students are emulating the language of poetry in their own work. Jack's poetry is about his fear of a neighborhood cat, and then his own kitten. Through his poetry, we also learn more about his relationship with his mother.
     Sharon Creech's book pair may be inspiring to writers, encouraging them to try their hand at free verse as a means of telling their story.
In Memory of Gorfman T. Frog, by Gail Donovan
(Dutton Children's Books, 2009)
     Josh is in 5th grade, and whether he's at home or at school, his mouth gets him in trouble--he likes to talk. When Josh finds a frog with three back legs in his backyard, adventure begins. Josh is determined to chase his curiosity about how and why this happened to the frog (named Gorfman). Josh's plight to prevent more frogs from future defects helps him find a new level of self-acceptance.
     The characters in this book are realistic, and the story line will appeal broadly with kids. Josh shows characteristics of an early activist, and so many elementary students have an interest in the well-being of creatures and the environment. I'm looking forward to finding this book a reader this week.

Little Elliot, Big City, by Mike Curato
(Henry Holt and Co., August 26, 2014)
     Mike Curato has created an adorable new character in Little Elliot, who finds himself too small to do most things in his home in New York City. When Elliot comes upon someone smaller than him and realizes teaming up will get them both what they want, and more, his new friendship brings him happiness.

The Invisible Boy, by Trudy Ludwig, illustrated by Patrice Barton
(Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2013)
     Brian is a quiet student who doesn't command a lot of attention. He is often overlooked by students, too. This picture book communicates the feelings of being left out and lonely in a classroom setting, and it offers students an opportunity to consider how they can be compassionate with one another.

What I am Currently Reading:
Project Mulberry, by Linda Sue Park
(Houghton Mifflin, 2005)

What I am Reading Next:
Hissy Fitz, by Patrick Jennings
Finding Serendipity, by Angelica Banks
The Elephant Scientist, by Caitlin O'Connell and Donna Jackson, illustrated by Timothy Rodwell

Monday, October 6, 2014

It's Monday, What Are You Reading? (10.6.14)

Every Monday bloggers all over the web participate in an effort to share books we have read and what we are excited about digging into. Thanks to Jen at Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee & Ricki at Unleashing Readers for hosting us all!

What I Read this Week:

Upside Down in the Middle of Nowhere, by Julie T. Lamana
(Chronicle Books, April 8, 2014)
     All Armani wanted was to celebrate her 10th birthday with her family and friends at her home, but nature had something different in store. Set in the city of New Orleans when the nightmare of Hurricane Katrina struck, this book is the account of Armani and her family as they faced obstacles and hardship at every stage of the natural disaster.
     Julie Lamana's writing is beautiful and heartfelt, even while describing the horror of Hurricane Katrina. Her description and portrayal of the cast of characters and their feelings stretched my reader's heart wide (and demanding something of a tissue-quota). Terrible as it was, it was fascinating to read about a historical event of recent past. This book will linger for a long while for me, and it will be passed on to the right reader at the right time...when that is found.

Gracefully Grayson, by Ami Polinsky
(Disney Hyperion, November 4, 2014, ARC courtesy of NetGalley)
     Sixth-grader Grayson Sender lives in Chicago with his aunt and uncle and two cousins after losing his parents in a car accident when he was in preschool. Grayson has long self-identified as female, but keeps his feelings suppressed with realization that the rest of the world would not take kindly to him, expecting gender conformity. Grayson lands the female lead in his school play and finally finds a means for expressing his true self. 
     Ami Polinsky brings to life a courageous character in Grayson and tastefully crafts the conflict--both internal and external--faced by young people who are exploring their sexuality. This book can broaden students' perspectives and touch on the necessity of tolerance for differences. I'm glad to have had this reading experience.

Bugged: How Insects Changed History, by Sarah Albee, illustrated by Robert Leighton
(Walker Childrens, April 15, 2014)
     Throughout time, insects have played a role in history, guiding discovery and impacting the outcome of known events. Bugged provides both detailed research and shorter quips describing instances and examples of the influence of insects on where we are today.
     Students will find the topic highly engaging once introduced to the material between the cover. True to informational books, readers can move fluidly around the pages, reading as little or as much as they like at a time. I imagine that this book will get passed around a lot in my classroom, with some of the more capable readers investing energy in the lengthier passages and my still-developing readers flittering from text box to image to text box to caption collecting bits and pieces as they go. The back matter of this text is wonderful and serves as a great exemplar of organizing vocabulary and sources for future readers.

No Monkeys, No Chocolate, by Melissa Stewart and Allen Young, illustrated by Nicole Wong
(Charlesbridge, 2013)
     Melissa Stewart creates another nonfiction masterpiece as she illustrates the interdependence of organisms related to cocoa beans in the rainforest. By layering each player and explaining their role in the growth and development of cocoa beans, Stewart reinforces the concept that each one is dependent upon the other, that all have a role to play and each link is vital. The illustrations are beautiful, and the tiny worm commentary in the corners of the page are smile-worthy and offer a voice and personality to the page that will entertain readers without detracting from the text. This book presents interesting information in a digestible bite.

Rosie Revere, Engineer, by Andrea Beaty, illustrated by David Roberts
(Harry N. Abrams, 2013)
     Rosie has an interest in tinkering with all kinds of gadgets and gizmos, until one day her uncle laughs at a very well-intentioned piece, shutting down Rosie's creative juices. One day Rosie's aunt Rose (fashioned to represent Rosie the Riveter) arrives, and when she expresses a desire to fly, Rosie is again inspired to create and build. But her creation crashes. Rosie is ready to quit again when she is unsuccessful, but Aunt Rose inspires her to look at the creation as a first attempt. 
     Rosie Revere, Engineer is another great fit book for developing a growth mindset in children. I am eager to share this book with my students and anticipate they will have great conversations about the similar theme in this book as The Most Magnificent Thing and Ish

What I am Currently Reading:
Hissy Fitz, by Patrick Jennings
(EgmontUSA, January 6, 2015, ARC courtesy of NetGalley)
The Writing Thief, by Ruth Culham
(International Reading Association, April 28, 2014)

What I am Reading Next:
Half a World Away, by Cynthia Kadohata
Finding Serendipity, by Angelica Banks
The Elephant Scientist, by Caitlin O'Connell and Donna Jackson, illustrated by Timothy Rodwell