Showing posts from July, 2011

Fantastic Friday: The Unwanteds by Lisa McMann

The Unwanteds
by Lisa McMann
Aladdin, 2011.
To be released on August 30, 2011.
Grades 4-8
Reviewed from copy received through Giveaway hosted by Charlotte's Library.

Book blurb:
Every year in Quill, thirteen-year-olds are sorted into categories: the strong, intelligent Wanteds go to university, and the artistic Unwanteds are sent to their deaths. Thirteen-year-old Alex tries his hardest to be stoic when his fate is announced as Unwanted, even while leaving behind his twin, Aaron, a Wanted. Upon arrival at the destination where he expected to be eliminated, however, Alex discovers a stunning secret—behind the mirage of the "death farm" there is instead a place called Artime.  In Artime, each child is taught to cultivate their creative abilities and learn how to use them magically, weaving spells through paintbrushes and musical instruments. Everything Alex has ever known changes before his eyes, and it's a wondrous transformation. But it's a rare, unique occ…

Extra Book Review: Mermaid Mysteries

Rosa and the Water Pony (Mermaid Mysteries, Book 1)
by Katy Kit, illustrated by Tom Knight
Albert Whitman & Company, 2011.
Grades K-2
Reviewed from ARC provided by publisher through NetGalley.

Book blurb:

The mermaid friends are excited about Mermaid Bay's annual carnival where the best performance wins a beautiful pearl necklace! Rosa uses magic to create a pony out of water, and she plans to perform amazing tricks on its back. But just before the carnival begins, the magical water pony is stolen. Who is trying to sabotage the friends' performance--and why? (

This is a cute book, aimed at readers just ready to start reading chapter books.  I think the chapters could have been a little shorter for this particular age group, but that is a minor quibble.  The illustrations are cute and perfect for beginning readers, balancing out the text nicely. The biggest problem I had with this book was the shallowness of the story and the blandness of the characters.  Howe…

Wild & Wonderful Wednesday: The Year of the ...

The Year of the Dog & The Year of the Rat
by Grace Lin
Little, Brown & Company, 2006 & 2008
Grades 2-4
Reviewed from purchased copies.

Book blurbs:
It's the Chinese Year of the Dog!  When Pacy's Mom tells here that this is a good year for friends, family and "finding herself," Pacy begins searching right away.  As the year goes on, she struggles to find her talent, deals with disappointment, makes a new best friend, and discovers just why the year of the dog is a lucky one for her after all.Pacy has another big year in story for her.  The Year of the Dog was a very lucky year: She met her best friend, Melody, and discovered her true talents.  However, the Year of the Rat brings big changes: Pacy must deal with the possibility of Melody moving away, find the courage to forge on with her dream of becoming a writer and illustrator, and learn to face some of her own flaws in the process.  Along the way, Pacy encounters prejudice, struggles with acceptance, and fin…

Book Talk Tuesday: Troublemaker by Andrew Clements

by Andrew Clements, illustrated by Mark Elliott
Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing, 2011.
Grades 2-6
Reviewed from e-galley provided by publisher.

Andrew Clements has long been known for his prowess in writing school stories.  I've read many of the books that he has written for the elementary crowd and liked all of them.  I liked some more than others of course, but still he is remarkably consistent.  Here's the blurb for his newest:
There’s a folder in Principal Kelling’s office that’s as thick as a phonebook and it’s growing daily. It’s filled with the incident reports of every time Clayton Hensley broke the rules. There’s the minor stuff like running in the hallways and not being where he was suppose to be when he was supposed to be there. But then there are also reports that show Clay’s own brand of troublemaking, like the most recent addition: the art teacher has said that the class should spend the period drawing anything they want and Clay d…

Nonfiction Monday: National Geographic Readers

I'll admit right off the bat, that I'm a member of the National Geographic Society and as such tend to really like the stuff they produce.  But the fact is that a lot of the books they produce are very well done, both in terms of writing and photography/illustration.  Plus, their books usually include maps and I love a good map.  Another one of my pet peeves is when a story involves a journey of a some kind and their is no map to help organize all the different places.  After I read the Lord of the Rings the first time, I went out and found a map, it was just to confusing otherwise.

Sea Turtles (National Geographic Readers)
by Laura Marsh
National Geographic, 2011.
Grades 1-3
Reviewed from purchased copy.

This book gives general information about sea turtles, where and how they live, the different types of turtles, and why they are endangered.  I confess, I didn't really think that I would learn anything new from this book, after all it is for beginning readers, but I did learn…

Fantastic Friday: The Mostly True Story of Jack

The Mostly True Story of Jack
by Kelly Barnhill
Little Brown & Company, 2011
Grades 3 and up
Reviewed from ARC provided by publisher.

When Jack is sent to Hazelwood, Iowa, to live with his crazy aunt and uncle, he expects a summer of boredom. Little does he know that the people of Hazelwood have been waiting for him for a long time. . . .
When he arrives, three astonishing things happen: First, he makes friends-not imaginary friends but actual friends. Second, he is beaten up by the town bully; the bullies at home always ignored him. Third, the richest man in town begins to plot Jack's imminent, and hopefully painful, demise. It's up to Jack to figure out why suddenly everyone cares so much about him. Back home he was practically, well, invisible. ( When I started reading this book, I was impressed with two things.  First, the writing was excellent, it flowed smoothly allowing the reader to focus on the story rather than the writing.  Second, the story was…

Read- a- Loud Thursday: The Trouble with Chickens

There are certain kinds of books that I especially love to read out loud.  While I love books that have characters from other countries and by extension, accents, I am not very good at accents and I find it really difficult to be consistent with them, so I usually don't bother.  What I can do well, is emotion, anger, fear, confusion, etc.  So when I find a book that has a lot of emotion of one kind or another, I like to look at it as a possible read-a-loud.  When I heard about this book I immediately thought it might be a possible read-a-loud.

The Trouble with Chickens: A J.J. Tully Mystery
by Doreen Cronin, illustrated by Kevin Cornell
Balzer & Bray, 2011
Grades 1-3
Reviewed from purchased copy.
J.J. Tully is a former search-and-rescue dog who is trying to enjoy his retirement after years of performing daring missions saving lives. So he’s not terribly impressed when two chicks named Dirt and Sugar (who look like popcorn on legs) and their chicken mom show up demanding his help…

Wild & Wonderful Wednesday: Which genre is it?

More and more books these days are combining genres.  You have historical fiction with science fiction or fantasy (Leviathan by Scott Westerfield), humor and mystery (The Trouble with Chickens by Doreen Cronin), or animal and realistic (Young Fredle by Cynthia Voigt). It's fun to see the many different ways that authors are finding of telling stories.  On the other hand, it makes it harder to teach genres because there is so much crossover in the books being published. I guess what it comes down to is helping the students learn to step out of their reading comfort zone and try something new once in a while.  I try to do this myself and I have discovered some new favorites (more about this is coming posts).  So, when I came across Ghost Messages, I was intrigued. 

Ghost Messages
by Jacqueline Guest
Coteau Books for Kids, 2011
Grades 3-6
Reviewed from purchased copy.

Thirteen-year-old Ailish, a feisty Irish fortune teller, is about to become part of history.  She becomes trapped on the mi…

Book Talk Tuesday: Princess Posey

Princess Posey and the First Grade Parade
by Stephanie Greene, illustrated by Stephanie Roth Sisson
G.P. Putnam's Sons, 2010
Grades K-2
Reviewed from purchased copy.

Posey is really nervous about starting first grade. Instead of getting walked to her classroom, her mom has to drop her off at the Kiss-and-Go Lane. Then she'll have to walk into school and face the Monster of the Blue Hall all by herself. Worst of all, she has to do it without the one thing that always makes her feel brave and special: the tutu that turns her into the Pink Princess. But when Posey inspires her new teacher to throw a first-day parade in which all the kids are invited to wear whatever makes them feel the most comfortable, first grade starts to look a lot more promising. ( Posey and the Perfect Present
by Stephanie Greene, illustrated by Stephanie Roth Sisson
G.P. Putnam's Sons, 2011
Grades K-2
Reviewed from purchased copy.
Posey loves first grade, her two new best friends,…

Nonfiction Monday: Ida Lewis

Picture book biographies have a difficult task.  They must take the life of a person and condense it into only a few words and pictures.  This is challenging in that people are complex, motivations and feelings can be hard to explain to a picture book audience in a way that they understand.  Marissa Moss does an excellent job in her newest book.

The Bravest Woman in America
by Marissa Moss, illustrated by Andrea U'Ren
Tricycle Press, 2011.
Grades K-3
Reviewed from purchased copy.

Ida Lewis loved everything about the sea, so when her father became the official keeper of Lime Rock Lighthouse in Newport, Rhode Island, she couldn't imagine anything better. Throughout the years, Ida shadowed her father as he tended the lighthouse, listening raptly to his stories about treacherous storms, drowning sailors, and daring rescues. Under her father's watchful eye, she learned to polish the lighthouse lens so the light would shine bright. She learned to watch the sea for any sign of …

Wild and Wonderful Wednesday: Gary D. Schmidt

I am delighted today to highlight one of my favorite writers.  Gary D. Schmidt not only has a remarkable way with words, but his characters almost seem to leap from his books they are so real.  I first came across his books when I picked up Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy, which won a Newbery honor.  I was stunned at the power of his words.  For those of you who haven't read it, the story revolves around Turner, the son of a minister, who befriends an African American girl who lives on an island off the coast of Turner's hometown and struggles to live up to his father's expectations.  Unfortunately, this friendship causes trouble for Turner and his family and he has to decide where he will stand. A very thought-provoking book about discrimination, courage, friendship, and family. 

Another book of Schmidt's that I loved is The Wednesday WarsHolling Hoodhood is the only student in his seventh-grade class who doesn't go to religion classes on Wednesday afterno…

Nonfiction Monday: How They Croaked

How They Croaked: The Awful Ends of the Awfully Famous
by Georgia Bragg, illustrated by Kevin O'Malley
Walker and Company, 2011
Grades 4-8
Reviewed from my school library copy.

I debated for quite some time about whether to read this book.  There is after all a warning at the beginning that the book contains "the blood, sweat, and guts of real people."  And I've never been one for grossness.  But in the end I decided that in order to share it with my students, many of whom I knew would be fascinated by this book, I needed to read it.

This book specifically looks at the lives (briefly) and unpleasant 'ends' of some of the worlds most famous people.  Included are King Tut, Cleopatra, Henry VIII, Pocahontas, George Washington, Edgar Allan Poe, Charles Darwin, etc.  I confess that I didn't really expect to learn anything new.  I love history and most of the people Bragg talks about are well-known.  But I did learn things that surprised me.  For example, I had no …

Fantastic Friday: Animal Fantasy

I like animal stories as a rule, whether realistic like Jim Kjelgaard's dog stories or humorous like Dick King-Smith's or fantasy like Brian Jacque's Redwallseries or The Mistmantle Chronicles by M. I. McAllister or TumTum and Nutmeg by Emily Bearn.  I could go on and on.  Obviously I am not the only one who likes these kind of stories, because they keep getting published.  One thing I find interesting and ironic, is the prevalence of  mice as main characters in many of these kind of books (Redwall, TumTum and Nutmeg, Ralph S. Mouse, A Mouse Called Wolf, Bless this Mouse, Mouse Guard, etc.) yet in the real world, few of us are thrilled to see a mouse. The book I'm reviewing today is, of course, about a mouse.  But this book combines both realism and fantasy.

Young Fredle
by Cynthia Voigt
Alfred A. Knopf, 2011.
Grades 3-6
Reviewed from purchased copy.

Fredle is an earnest young fellow suddenly cast out of his cozy home behind the kitchen cabinets—into the outside. It's …

Wild & Wonderful Wednesday: Animal Rescue Team

Today I am highlight the Animal Rescue Team series by Sue Stauffacher.  There are currently four books in the series,

Gator on the Loose
Special Delivery
Hide and Seek
Show Time
Knopf, 2010-2011
Grades 2-4
Reviewed from purchased copies.

Each book follows the adventures of Keisha and her family who run an animal rescue organization.  The book covers do a good job of showing what animals are highlighted in each book.  In addition to the animal parts, the books follow the pretty normal life of a young girl and her friends and family.  One of the things I especially liked was how easy it was to relate to Keisha and her family and friends.  I also really enjoyed the multicultural aspects involving Keisha's mother who is from Nigeria.  While these books may not be high-class literature, they are fun and I plan to add them to my library.  Recommended for students who love animals (which is almost all students at my school).  Below, I've included a brief synopsis of each book.

 Meet the Car…