Monday, June 29, 2009

Max Quigley Technically Not a Bully


This book by James Roy was originally published in Australia in 2007, but it is making its debut in the United States this year.

Anyone who reads our blog with regularity knows I'm very character driven when I read, and I was disappointed to find that I found the main character, Max Quigley, to be unlikeable for the first part of the story. He did some amusing things, but truly he was a bully to many other children, and I'm not a fan of bullies at all. Max does gradually make changes in his behavior (and the gradual changes were very believable), and I actually LOVED him for something he does at the end, but for me, it was a long time coming.

I've heard some very positive things about this book, so I started rereading the reviews out there, and I came to this conclusion: I think that me being female had something to do with my reaction. Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not trying to stereotype all female readers, but I do think this is a book that boys will love more than me (sort of the same way I can laugh at parts of the movie Dumb and Dumber, but my husband thinks the whole thing is hysterical):
  • An incident in the lunchroom -- "So I figured I was totally justified in throwing his baked bean sandwich onto the ground next to my tragically splattered pie and grinding it into the concrete with my shoe" -- -- gross food humor
  • On April Fool's Day, Max puts his sleeping brother's hand in warm water and makes him wet himself -- bodily function humor
  • Max wanted to be a wrestler for a whole school Literature Day celebration, and wrestle with his friend. He had to find a book on wrestling to justify his plan -- action better than a book report any day
  • The notepad illustrations throughout the book that make Max's thinking more visible -- fun, sarcastic humor
What I do love about this book, and why I will definitely include it in my classroom library is that James Roy does a wonderful job of presenting two perspectives of bullying. Since the story is written in first person, most of the time the reader is inside the mind and motivations of a bully. But, every once in a while, we are able to see the point of view of the person being bullied. The one child being bullied is actually very clever, and his reactions and comments are a little confusing at times for Max -- I enjoyed that. For my 5th graders, I think both viewpoints are important.

Roy himself is quoted as saying, " I also wanted the reader to go full journey, but start out thinking, 'I like this kid - he's naughty, but kind of fun.' Ultimately, I wanted to write a hopeful book, not just for victims of bullies, but for perpetrators themselves."

After I read the quote, I realized Roy accomplished what he set out to do in Max Quigley Technically Not a Bully. Job well done!

Sunday, June 28, 2009

The Return of the Homework Machine

When I purchased my copy of The Homework Machine by Dan Gutman during a Scholastic Book Fair at our school two years ago, it spread through my class like wildfire. It was one of those books that really just appealed to the masses.

So, when I saw Return of the Homework Machine, I had to pick it up. It didn't disappoint. The story has a similar organization to the first book:

  • The reader can tell that the characters are answering questions posed by the police. The story is told in short snippets from each character's perspective.
  • We learn a great deal about each character through these snippets.
  • It's also a great device for moving the story forward at an energetic pace. I found that once I began reading the story, there was no good stopping place. I always wanted to know what the next character would have to say.
  • The four main characters from the first book are back: Snik (aka Sam Dawkins), Judy Douglas, Kelsey Donnelly, and Brenton Damagatchi (the "brains" of the group).
  • The computer chip that they threw into the Grand Canyon in the first story plays an important role in this story.
That being said, there are also some differences:
  • They are now all in sixth grade.
  • Their sixth grade teacher, Mr. Murphy, is a key character to all that transpires this time. In fact, he even joins them on their little adventure.
  • Snik and Brenton learn how to build rockets and send them up in the atmosphere. Later in the story, it just so happens that Mr. Murphy used to work for NASA, and helps them get a rocket FAR into space.
  • Someone dies in the attempt to find treasure.
What I really liked about this story, aside from its appeal for kids, is that I think it will leave readers wanting to know a little more about the history of the Grand Canyon. I also enjoyed the adventure/suspense/looking for lost treasure.

I originally got Return of the Homework Machine as an ARC, but I will most definitely be purchasing it for my classroom library. I anticipate that it will be recommended by the students to each other -- another "wildfire" on my hands! :)

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Boston Bound


I'm turning the blog over to Karen for the next few days, I'm leaving this morning at 6:00 a.m. for Beantown on the first of my two annual student tours. Over the next few days I'll have a lot of time to read, 14 hours there and 14 back and I'm treating myself to a grown up book. I'm taking The Lost Constitution by William Martin and awesome historical fiction writer and also the latest issue of School Library Journal so I'll have lots of books to reserve when I get home.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Also Known as Harper


WOW! I just finished reading Also Known As Harper and couldn't wait to write about it! I've had more than one conversation with my blogging and teacher friends about having trouble recently finding "that" book that touches me and makes me say, "WOW!"

Also Known as Harper is THAT book for me. A first novel by teacher Ann Haywood Leal, this book is touching in a way that makes it a must read for all kids 5th grade and above. The topic is homelessness, and Ann Haywood Leal knows of what she writes from her volunteer experiences in a soup kitchen. Her bio in the back of the book states that "from the very first day, she was unable to get the clients out of her mind." She used her experience to create the very real characters that make the reader aware that a lot of us are not too far removed from being among them. What an example of character study.

Harper Lee Morgan is named for the famous author, her mother's favorite. She has inherited her mother's love for words and lives up to her namesake. Harper has one dream, to win the writing contest at her school and get the opportunity to read her poems in front of the whole school. Unfortunately for Harper, her father does everything he can to discourage her talent, constantly criticizing her for being lazy and having no ability to write at all. He has also done this to Harper's mother through the years to the extent that her mom no longer writes. After the death of a newborn, Harper's father begins to drink, and his rants get even angrier. The only family member spared is Harper's little brother, Hemingway. Eventually Harper's father leaves the family never to return.

Hemingway Morgan, Harper's little brother adores his big sister, and she is left in charge of him often as their mother is constantly working or looking for work to keep the family together. Hemingway spends every afternoon looking for his father to return. He panics if they are not home for him to "do his watching." While Harper knows Hemingway's watching is pointless, she does what she can to help him continue doing it.

Mrs. Morgan, Harper's mama who was forced to drop out of school to take care of her many younger brothers and sisters. She harbors dreams of writing and jots down ideas until her verbally abusive husband convinces her that she has no ability and isn't smart enough to spell or put sentences together that make sense. She continues to love her children, always doing what's in their best interest, or whatever it takes to survive her miserable circumstances. Her one saving grace is reading To Kill a Mocking Bird repeatedly and keeping track of the times with tally marks on a wall.

Mrs. Early the Morgan's landlord who lives next door and puts eviction notices on their door daily. She takes joy in the power she has over the Morgans and even though her situation isn't much better, she reminds them constantly that she has the power to throw them out on the street at any time. Eventually she does, moving all of their belongings from the house to the curb while the Morgans are away at school and work. After offering room to store their things, she sells them off to help pay the back rent without telling the Morgans. In the end, we find that she is not entirely heartless and provides the opportunity for homeless people to get a shower at least once a week at the hotel where she works as a house keeper.

Winnie Rae Early is the landlord's daughter and Harper's nemesis in school. Winnie holds it over Harper's head that they own the house where the Morgan's live. She also rubs it in every chance she gets that Harper probably won't be in school for the writing contest which will give Winnie the chance to win and read her poetry in front of the whole school even though she doesn't have near the talent that Harper does.

Lorraine and Randall Kelly, two homeless children that live in a tent city near the motel where the Morgan's end up after the eviction. The two are pictures of survival. Lorraine is the same age as Harper but she doesn't speak, and according to Randall who talks enough for both of them, she hasn't since a house fire burned all of their possessions and left them homeless. The Kellys are the Morgan's first true friends. Lorraine and Harper are able to communicate even though Lorraine doesn't speak. They are examples of strength and hope and confidence in the story.

Finally, Dorothy, and elderly lady that wanders the grounds of the motel pushing a wheel chair full of various items that might appear as other's trash. Harper is initially afraid of her but once she learns the tragic story of Dorothy's family her feelings change. Dorothy isn't homeless, but does what she can to help those that are, especially the Kelly's and eventually the Morgans.

Lorraine, Randall and Dorothy help Harper and Hemingway survive, and they show them that just because they don't have a permanent home, they are not without dignity.

In the end, Harper never gets to enter the writing contest which she would undoubtedly win, she never gets to read her beautiful poetry in front of her school mates, in fact, her mother keeps her from going to school so she can work more hours. For Harper this is a tragedy since school has always been her one safe refuge from the world. Something we educators really need to be reminded of from time to time. However, Harper learns that there are more important things in the world than winning writing contests, things that aren't temporary, things like friends, and family and the fact that no matter what anyone else says, she will always have her writing.

I like that the story doesn't end with Harper getting her wish, it's more realistic that way, but honestly, Harper gets much more. This is a must read! It has Grand Discussion written all over it!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

How Can a Potato Chip Be Puzzling?


The Potato Chip Puzzles by Eric Berlin answers that very question. This book is a fun read for students who might have enjoyed The Gollywhopper Games or The Mysterious Benedict Society books. It also brings to mind the television show, The Amazing Race.

The Potato Chip Puzzles is another book that centers around Winston Breen (a whiz at puzzles) and his friends. The first was titled The Puzzling World of Winston Breen. The great part is that you don't need to read them in order, as far as I can tell. This book was able to be read as a stand alone book. But, if you have students who end up enjoying this book, you will have a second book to which you can refer them -- always a plus!

In The Potato Chip Puzzles, Winston is recruited by his school principal to help solve a mysterious note that came in the mail. When Winston figures out how to break the code, he and his principal find out that their school has been chosen to compete in a snack food company's puzzle contest. The winning school will win $50,000.

Winston is allowed to choose his team, and he selects good friends of his who are also good puzzle and problem solvers. However, each team needs a teacher/coach, and this selection is made by the principal. From the very beginning, sparks fly between the chosen teacher and Winston.

The contestants are sent to Simon's Snack Foods that weekend, and from there, the real fun begins. Each solved puzzle sends the contestants from one location to another. None of the puzzles are easy to solve, and even when the contestants arrive at the accurate location, they still have to figure out where the next clue is.

To spice things up a little, there is an unknown person trying to sabotage all of the other contestants. All the elements make for a fun mystery -- puzzle solving, clues, and the mystery of the sabotage.

The Potato Chip Puzzles is a fun read and a quick read. Puzzle solvers will love it, and there is even additional fun at the back of the book for them to try.

Monday, June 22, 2009

When You Reach Me


When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead is a book I won't forget for quite a long time. I was fortunate enough to get a review copy from Sally Oddi, owner of Cover to Cover. I had put it in my TBR pile until I read Mary Lee's post about this book (she even links to other reviews). It immediately became the book I needed to read next.

Because of Mary Lee's comments, I made the time to both read and reread this book -- I'm glad I did. There were so many clues to what happens at the end (even the front cover makes sooooooo much more sense); I just missed/overlooked some of them the first time through. For this reason, and a bazillion others, I am definitely thinking about reading this aloud to my students next year.

Yes, the rereading strategy is great, but as Fuse #8 mentions in her comments about the book when she added When You Reach Me to her mid-year Newbery list, the story jumps back and forth in time. Thinking through these jumps with students would be important. I do worry that a student reading this on their own might get confused, or not even realize that there were changes in time. Or maybe this is just an excuse to read this book with as many people as possible. :)

I'm being a little vague in this post because I can't tell many things without giving the important plot points away. Giving those plot points away will detract from your reaction to the ending. I will say it is character driven, but character motivation in When You Reach Me is critical -- yet another great conversation to have with students.

This book also has a section that deals with someone trying to be successful on the game show, The $20,000 Pyramid, that brought back many fond college memories for me. Lots of time spent playing this game with college friends.

I have read so many fabulous books this summer, but When You Reach Me is by far one of the best.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Adventures in Graphic Novels

I just finished reading 3 graphic novels in a row. As I've said before, I'm not a big fan of the genre but it's growing on me. Add the fact that when I went to buy the books on my daughter's summer reading list one of the three was in graphic novel form, and I'm becoming more accepting. Somewhere, my blogging mentor Mary Lee is smiling!

Wonderland written by Tommy Kovac and illustrated by Sonny Liew is a sort of retelling of Alice in Wonderland with some rather strange twists. The reader is introduced to the Queen of Spades and the main character the White Rabbit's house maid named Mary Ann. As the front flap says, the story grows "curiouser and curiouser" as all of the characters, new and old, mistake her for the Alice Monster. I liked the story of this one, I think it might be a bit too confusing for most of my readers, and I loved the artwork. Of the three I just finished, Sonny Liew's drawings are my favorite. I'm pretty sure those who are bigger fans of the real Alice in Wonderland story are going to love this one.

Hyperactive written by Scott Christian Sava and illustrated by Joseph Bergin III was probably my favorite overall of the three I read. I say this because I know I can put it in our library and it won't stay on the shelves. While sitting in class little Johnny Johnson realizes that the world around him moves TOOOOO SLLLOOOOWWW! Classes are too long, the walk home too slow, daily chores too much time, and then his metabolism goes crazy and he finds he can move at superhuman speed. As he races around the playground to prove that he has super speed, his best friend Freddy only has one request, to be his sidekick. I love the dodge ball scene where the girl bully has plans for Johnny's head that involve the two dodge balls she is holding, but Johnny's super speed kicks in and the bully's team is devastated on the gym floor and former drill sargent PE teacher is in shock. The story is fun and the kids will like this one as much as The Knights of the Lunch Table because it's simple and the illustrations bright and colorful. I like this one a lot.

Joey Fly Private Eye in Creep Crawly Crime written by Aaron Reynolds and illustrated by Neil Numberman was a funny take off on old detective movies complete with the beautiful butterfly victim who turns out to be trouble. Joey Fly takes on an assistant a young scorpion named Sammy Stingtail to solve the mystery of the missing diamond pencil case. I love the way that Joey talks in the classic tough guy detective phrases like "A butterfly. Swallowtail, if I didn't miss my guess. She was a tall drip of water. And I was suddenly feeling parched." The book made me laugh throughout and the case is pretty predictable so the kids will probably solve it too, and that's a good thing. I'm not sure they will get the humor as much as I did, but the drawings are well done and entertaining, so the kids will most likely enjoy this one.

It looks like I've found two more graphic novels to add to the library, our collection is growing and I'll keep looking. I'm pretty excited because I just learned at Frank Cammuso's blog that book two of the Knights of the Lunch Table is ready for release and can be pre-ordered at Amazon.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Umbrella Summer was a "wet" one for me

I love Lisa Graff. Her books, The Thing about Georgie and The Life and Crimes of Bernetta Wallflower, were instant hits with both my students and me when I read them aloud. Graff has such an understanding of whatever character she is writing about. As someone who tends to read books that are more character driven, I think Lisa Graff is amazing with her character development.

So, when I heard her latest book, Umbrella Summer, was out, I quickly ordered it and then waited impatiently, eagerly awaiting the delivery of this book. When it got here, I was busy preparing for two different book clubs, so I had to set it aside until I finished those preparations. Yesterday afternoon, though, I finally had some time alone, so I picked up Umbrella Summer, settled into the loveseat on my screened porch and began reading... Oh my gosh!!!!

The first thing that I was drawn to was the front cover of this book. I love the font that was used for the title, but better yet is the simple light blue background on which you see 2 legs in hot pink rainboots. The upper body is hidden by the most darling polka dot umbrella. At this point, I'm just loving the visual artistry. As I read the book, however, the symbolic artistry took my breath away.

In the first chapter, I learned some very important information about the main character, Annie. First, her brother Jared died in the past year, and the day that would have been his birthday is coming soon. Second, his dying has caused Annie to become incredibly worried about safety. Whenever she rides her bike, she wears elbow pads, knee pads, bike helmet (good idea), and Ace bandages for her ankles. That is in addition, to the other band-aids she has plastered all over her body. In fact, she wears all this even though she walks her bike down hills. The reader finds out a little later, Annie wears her bike helmet and Ace bandages when she's walking somewhere, even without her bike. We also find out that Annie loves reading a book that tells about all sorts of possible ailments -- their symptoms and how to remedy them.

Annie's family (mom and dad), best friend, neighbor (who is also her Junior Sunbird leader), an annoying boy acquaintance, Jared's best friend, and her new neighbor that just moved in across the street are all pivotal characters in this story as Annie tries to navigate through her grief. Each one plays such an important part in her healing.

I don't want to ruin the story for you. It is too delicious for you not to experience some of the events without any preconceived notions.

I will say that Umbrella Summer was a "wet" one for me because I needed numerous tissues to wipe away tears at one point -- I am an emotional reader, but Graff tugged at my heartstrings in multiple ways. The umbrella as an analogy for how to live our lives is a powerful one. I'm sure if I choose to read this aloud to next year's class (which I probably will), I will be modeling how good writing can affect people deeply and that tears might sometime happen.

Lisa Graff has now written three separate stories, each unique with their own characters, and all amazing!!! Umbrella Summer is a must-add book to anyone's collection!!! I can't wait to introduce this author to my students through read aloud, knowing that I also have two other amazing books by her to recommend to students afterward.

See Franki's (A Year of Reading) post about same book here.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

A Calpurnia Tate update


I recently posted my thoughts about The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate. It is a debut novel by Jacqueline Kelly. Jackie (I can call her that now :) ) saw my post, and left a very gracious comment on our blog. Using her name, I was able to link to a website she has about Callie (Calpurnia) and herself. It's definitely a site worth checking out.

It has many amazing parts:

  • a spectacularly beautiful homepage, using the front cover of the book in its design
  • It has an excerpt of a wonderful part of the story when Callie's mom decides she needs to teach Callie how to cook
  • It has an "About Callie" section where there are some more excerpts from the book, along with pictures of things in Callie's world
  • It also has an author page, and after reading Jackie's bio, I am not surprised that she developed a character as rich as Callie. And the turquoise top she's wearing in her picture is pretty wonderful, also! :)
You know that feeling when you discover something wonderful, and you just have to share it? When I saw this website, I really wanted to make it more public. Hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Learning Technology

Much has been written on the kid lit blogs recently about the use of technology in the classroom, or in my case, the library. Franki and Mary Lee have dedicated many posts to The 21st Century Classroom on A Year of Reading and I have posted about finding time to learn the new things and putting them to use to improve literacy. I know that I need to increase my use of technology in the library this next year, but since I'm not willing to totally give up the books, I'm looking for ways to merge the two. Mary Lee has been posting a mosaic she creates periodically and I really liked the looks of them. The thought occurred to me that the kids could create them using features from their favorite books and then others could try to identify the book based on the pictures. I used Flickr's Big Huge Lab to create this mosaic of our recent trip to the beach to try and learn how to do it. It was fairly simple, fun and not too time consuming. The only trouble I may have is that our school filters won't let us use Flickr for the project. So I'll continue to look for a school friendly program or site to use.

Friday, June 12, 2009

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate


I recently picked up The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly from the new book section of our public library. I was drawn to the beautiful cover design -- it reminded me of the silhouette pictures my mom and dad used to get of my brother and me. But, if you look at the cover more carefully, you can see all manner of wildlife within the branches and the vines. This picture of a girl with a net surrounded by wildlife sets the tone for the rest of the book.

I loved, loved, loved this book for many reasons:

  • The beautiful cover drew me to Calpurnia right away.
  • This story is very character driven. My two favorite characters are Calpurnia and her grandfather. Calpurnia is a happy young girl who loves nature. Her grandfather is seemingly a crotchety old guy until he and Calpurnia form a relationship of respect based on their mutual interest in all things living.
  • I also love Calpurnia for being her own person in a time in history where women were supposed to be good at cooking, needlework, darning, and all other housewifely things. Instead, Calpurnia was much happier being outdoors in nature, observing different types of plants and animals.
  • The fact that her grandfather owned a very successful pecan company, and then walked away from it all to pursue his own scientific inquiries -- now that's a man to be reckoned with in my opinion.
  • As Callie and her grandfather discover each other through their passion for nature, the reader also learns a lot about scientists along with Callie. The joy of discovering something new, the methodical way you have to pursue an experiment, having the right equipment when you go exploring, respecting nature, recording observations in careful detail -- these are all the things Grandpa teaches Callie in their times together.
  • I love that this is a piece of historical fiction. Having Callie live in this time period - 1899 - enhances the story. We realize just how special Calpurnia is to want different things than most girls.
  • The secondary characters are enjoyable as well. Calpurnia has 6 brothers, and each of them are involved in a small storyline of their own. The stories that are the most enjoyable are the ones when some of the brothers start to like girls -- in fact, three of them like Callie's best friend all at the same time. That plot twist leads to some very funny antics on their part to get the girl's attention.
  • The language in this story is beautiful, and very descriptive. And it is amazing to me how easily this book reads. The reader becomes so immersed in Callie's life, and life in general at the turn of the century, that it becomes very difficult to put this book down.
The about the author flap says that this book is Jacqueline Kelly's first novel. I have to say, she really knocked it out of the ballpark on her first attempt.

It was pointed out to me that this book recently made Fuse#8's mid-year Newbery predictions. I generally love the books she selects; I was just surprised that I had read Calpurnia and loved it myself before hearing her praise for this book. :) The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate is the best historical fiction novel I've read since Hattie Big Sky. And it's one of the top 3 books I've read this year.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Catching Fire


I have read a couple of different posts recently where bloggers have said Catching Fire, the sequel to The Hunger Games, is better than the first book. I would be hard-pressed to disagree. My exact words when I just finished reading Catching Fire -- OH! MY! GOSH! (and I was talking to myself, since the rest of my family is in bed, fast asleep).

Suzanne Collins delivers in spades with this sequel. Katniss continues to be a character to reckon with. But, what is also nice in this book, is how lesser characters from the first book are more developed this time around. Like the first book, the suspense and action will have you riveted the entire time.

You won't find any spoilers here. Just a strong recommendation that you make sure you have The Hunger Games read by September when Catching Fire will be released. Just make sure you have some uninterrupted time to read, because you will not want to put this book down once you start. Then you can be like me, counting down the days until the next book in this series will be available.

Monday, June 8, 2009

48 Hour Challenge Wrap-Up (K)


Well, in 48 hours, I was pleased with what I got accomplished. I finished 6 books, and managed to avoid any type of cooking or cleaning all weekend. In addition, I had a blast with other Central Ohio bloggers Saturday morning. And last, but not least, I owe Mary Lee (A Year of Reading) $2 for every book I took out of Cover to Cover bookstore that morning -- total of 21 books. That money will go to a cause very special to Mary Lee.

I had lots of fun again this year.

I didn't get to blog about the last book I read, but look for that tomorrow ( rumor has it that this book made Fuse #8's list of mid-year Newbery predictions).

Sunday, June 7, 2009

48 Hour Wrap Up (Bill)

So we drove for about 9 hours today giving me plenty of time to read, but making blogging nearly impossible. We have arrived safely in a hotel in Florence, SC, just a little over an hour from the beach and I finally have time to wrap up my 48 hours. Although I didn't get the chance to read nearly as much as I would have liked, I did complete 4 books, one of them 500 pages so for Mary Lee's sake, I'm counting that as three books, bringing my total monetary donation to $20 which doesn't sound like much, but when combined with all of the other Central Ohio Bloggers donations it should look pretty good.

My final read was AWESOME! I'm a big fan of the book Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko, in fact, we used it in one of our first Grand Discussions. Just to catch you up, Moose Flannery lives on Alcatraz during the 1930s because his father works as a guard on the island. Strange but true, the guard's families actually lived on the island with the prisoners and everything. Moose's sister Natalie is autistic even though that wasn't a diagnosis in the 1930s and the family struggles with her outbursts especially Moose's mom.. To make a great book shorter, Natalie gets into school for special kids and the reader and Moose are left to wonder if Alcatraz's most famous resident, Al Capone, had something to do with it. In the very end, Moose finds a note in his shirt pocket with the simple word "Done." He suspects Capone put it there and that it must mean that he had something to do with Natalie's entry into the school. Great book! It really left me wanting more.

Imagine my surprise on Saturday when Sally, the owner of Cover to Cover, handed me an ARC of Al Capone Shines My Shoes! I had no idea there would be follow up book but I was thrilled to get my hands on a copy of it, so thank you Sally!

This book picks just shortly after Natalie enters school and things in the Flannery household are much calmer. Moose's mom is much more relaxed and his father seems to have a little extra spring in his step. They all miss Natalie, but in the 1930s when autism wasn't understood and even thought to be contagious by some, it must have been a bit of relief to the family.

Moose receives another mysterious note asking him to get yellow roses for Al Capone's wife Mae who will visit the island. He breaks into hives from the worry of how he will pull this off without getting caught and putting his father's job in jeopardy.

All of the characters are back and Gennifer Choldenko spends a little more time developing the relationships between the kids including Piper, Jimmy, Scout, Annie and Moose. When Natalie comes back for a visit she is carrying a bar spreader in her suitcase which the kids find and suspect all sorts of plots. Of course Natalie has no idea what it is or what it's for but it comes out that she has had contact with convict 105 from the first book and he placed it in her suitcase.

Choldenko does a fantastic job of portraying Natalie and the improvement she has made since she has been away. Most likely because of how close she is to the issue since she grew up with an autistic sister. I love the way she portrays the kids realistically. Moose continues to try to please everyone and ends up angering some. Annie is the tomboy baseball player who has a crush on Moose but is too proud to show it. Jimmy continues to try to learn baseball so Moose will like him better, but still loves science and more thoughtful things. And then there's Piper, the Warden's daughter who uses her position to her advantage and doesn't care what damage it does to others. Piper is a classic beautiful mean girl who Moose can't stay away from. I love that in the end, even though the whole cast has to work together to thwart an escape, Piper never changes. Gennifer's realistic characters are so well done and believable that I don't get tired of reading about them.

The book is scheduled for release in September of 2009. I may recommend it to those that have already read the first Al Capone book, but it is for a more mature audience then most 5th graders. As Karen said in her earlier post, sometimes the second books disappoint, but not in this case, I liked it just as much as the first.

48 Hour challenge - 5th book done (K)


I just finished Gary Paulsen's newest, Mudshark. Lots of fun! This is a book full of interesting characters within a school setting -- a very observant student (his name is Mudshark), a student who loves creating things in science, a student/magician, a custodian who is a Renaissance man, a librarian who loves children coming to her library, a principal who makes the funniest morning announcements, a know-it-all parrot who lives in the library. There are many layers of mini-mysteries within the story, but it is a quick read, and everything is settled quite satisfactorily.

It is a smaller book, only 82 pages. I can think of several students this past year who struggled a little with longer texts that might enjoy reading this book. The size is very similar to Paulsen's LawnBoy.

Best yet, with all the conversations going on about 21st Century Literacy, electronic blackboards play a significant role in the story.

For more of a review, see what Bill had to say.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

48 Hour challenge - 4th book done (K)

A year ago, during the 48 Hour Book Challenge, I got to meet Sarah Prineas, the author of The Magic Thief series, at Cover to Cover. I bought the first book, read it, and loved it -- very unusual for someone who isn't a fan of fantasy. It seems only appropriate that one of the books I purchased today was the second book in the Magic Thief series, Lost.

Like the first book, the adventures and magic in this book center around a very unlikely hero, named Connwaer. One of his most notable talents is his ability to pick pockets; another is his ability to pick locks. Conn is an apprentice to a magician by the name of Nevery.

When I reviewed the first book, I said that I thought this would be a series accessible to a wider number of readers. Both books have many supports for readers. They both have maps in the beginning to help the reader understand where events take place in the story. At the back of each book, are sketches of the main characters followed by descriptions. There are also more detailed sketches of the different settings in the story with accompanying descriptions. The Magic Thief series also has a slightly larger size font with space between lines -- easier to read. It's one of those books that looks thick, but doesn't take long at all to read.

Within the story, there are many letters and journal pages written by Conn's master, Nevery. When Conn gets exiled, he writes letters to Nevery as well. Within all this writing is a secret code. The reader can find the translation guide in the back of the book.

One final bonus in the back, that I really enjoy is the list of recipes for some of the food cooked in the book. I don't think this is a part that will appeal to kids, but I like it! :)

Sometimes, you can be disappointed by a second book in a series, but I didn't feel that way at all about Lost. I even realized I was much more comfortable reading a fantasy book the second time because I knew the characters and the setting from the first book. That comfort level allowed me to enjoy the fast pace of the magic this time.

Now that I have 2 books in this series, I look forward to recommending the Magic Thief series to students in the fall. If they like one, they'll have another to read. Though, I must say there is a little bit of a cliffhanger at the end of Lost. Readers will want to know what happens to our hero, Conn, next.

48 Hour Challenge-Book 2-Bill

Between garage sales, graduation parties and vacation prep, I managed to squeeze in a book! Mudshark by Gary Paulsen features Lyle Williams whose quickness in a game called Death Ball earns him his nickname as a 12 year old detective. Mudshark hones his skills of observation by watching his toddler triplet sisters and keeping them out of trouble. Mudshark is cool at school, because he is smooth and smart and knows the answer to almost anything due to his powers of observation and the amount of reading that he does. Mysterious things happen at his school and the principal depends on Mudshark to figure out why. In this book all of the erasers begin to disappear and Mudshark finds them.

Paulsen is funny and entertaining in this very short quick read. The principal's announcements at the beginning of each chapter are hilarious and me and my high school freshman son laughing out loud. Did I say "high school freshman son?" WOW! when did that happen, I'm getting old. I'm off to do more packing and hopefully get in some more reading before bed.

48 Hour challenge - 3rd book done (K)

My third book read was Kate DiCamillo's latest, The Magician's Elephant, due out in September '09. This is actually on loan from Katie (Creative Literacy) who picked this ARC up a few weeks ago.

I heard Katie say at breakfast this morning that she thought that Kate DiCamillo writes in such a poetic way. That really describes this book well. The Magician's Elephant has a rhythm and a repetitiveness that just stays with you. I am so admiring of her word choices as well -- it appears to be written simply, yet the language is so beautiful!

In addition, for a happily ever after person like me, this book is full of hope, even in seemingly impossible situations. The story lifts you up, and makes you want to be a better person.

It appears that there will be many pictures throughout the text, but they weren't all finished for the ARC. I will look forward to the final version of The Magician's Elephant to see how the pictures move the story along. In that way, it reminds me a lot of The Miraculous Journeys of Edward Tulane.

This would be such a wonderful book to share with students!

48 Hour challenge - 2nd book (K)


**This post is dedicated to my just-graduated 5th grade class! **

I just finished Sent, the second in The Missing Series by Margaret Peterson Haddix. The first book, Found, was the last read aloud I shared with my class this past school year. It had most of them on the edge of their seats wondering what would happen next. I didn't get to finish Found before the end of the year, so it showed up on many of their summer reading lists.

They were then planning on reading Sent as soon as it was available to them. I'm telling them now that it is DEFINITELY worth it. I'm not a time traveler fan, but this book is just one adventure after another, so I truly enjoyed it.

Without ruining the plot, the castle on the front of the book is a great clue for the fact that some children will be time traveling back to the 15th century. What I enjoyed equally as much as the adventure in this book, is the historical component. I wound not have thought that from the first book, Found, but I predict there will be historical components in each of the remaining books in the series as well.

Sent is great reading! Coming out in August 2009! Be sure to check it out!

48 Hour Challenge -- breakfast and books!!

We had a fabulous time again this year at our 48 Hour Challenge Breakfast! We missed some of our friends who weren't present (Mary Lee, Abby, Lauren, Kristine, Megan, and Stella), but the remainder of us (Karen S, Franki, Katie, Bill, Mandy, Julie, and yours truly) had some yummy food and great conversations. We were especially glad to have Julie and Mandy there because they were the "newbies". Our group of Central Ohio bloggers just continues to grow and grow.

After breakfast at Northstar Cafe, we were headed to Cover to Cover, where the owner, Sally Oddi, had set up a wonderful table of ARCs for our enjoyment. And enjoy we did!! I got the next in The Missing series by Margaret Peterson Haddix -- Sent -- and Franki snagged another great book - the sequel to The Hunger Games - Catching Fire. We live close enough together that we've agreed to read these books first and then switch. SO excited about both of these books!

But, that doesn't take into account the other 14 ARCs I got, in addition to the 6 books I actually purchased. And ML, if you're reading this, you know I owe you lots of money based on how many books I took out of CTC (21 total)!! Unless the fish are really biting at your fish-a-thon, I'm betting we'll take my book total times $2. I couldn't think of a better cause to donate it to.

Unlike Bill, I don't have an order of all the books I'm going to read, but I did start Sent as soon as I got home. We'll see where I go from there.

So, I've brought you up to date on my 48 hour progress: 1 book finished last night, breakfast this morning with other kidlit bloggers, browsing in the best children's bookstore ever, and now I'm back to actually reading until about 5 PM tomorrow night. So many choices, so little time! :) What a great problem to have!

First Book and Breakfast

I've just returned from breakfast, I had the yogurt again, I'll let Karen post the pix since I really don't have a digital camera that I can count on. We also had a great time at Cover to Cover, as usual Sally was more than generous with the ARCs and my reading stack as predicted has changed a bit, I'll update you later. I walked out of the store with the low number of the day, thanks for reminding me...numerous times Franki...14 books but I'm very excited about all of them.

I finished my first book Tumtum and Nutmeg by Emily Bearn. The title characters are wealthy mice that live in Nutmouse Hall. They begin to take care of the somewhat neglected children that live in the house and have adventures with their friends including the eccentric General Marchmouse. I like the stories and was reminded of E.B. White animal stories. The book is actually 3 stories in one book making it just over 500 pages. Since it's written for younger kids in my mind I think I might do one as a read aloud with kindergarten or first grade students, I'm not sure they would want too much more than that at one time.

Here's my updated reading list:

Mudshark by Gary Paulson
Al Capone Does My Shoes (ARC) by Gennifer Choldenko
POP (ARC) by Gordon Korman
Excellent Emma (ARC) by Sally Warner

Friday, June 5, 2009

48 Hour challenge - 1st book done


One of my students got me Scat by Carl Hiaasen as an end of year present. I decided that it would be my first read of the 48 Hour Challenge.

Much like Hiaasen's book, Hoot, this book is about preserving the nature in Florida. What is a little more unique in Scat is that both grown-ups and kids join forces against the bad guys -- in this case, an oil drilling company.

The cast of good guys have impressive credentials:

  • Nick - the boy whose dad lost an arm in the war, who tries to learn how to do things one-handed as well, even in times of crisis, even when face to face with a panther.
  • Marta - Nick's friend who sticks by him in times of adversity
  • Duane Scrod Jr. (aka Smoke) - by all accounts, a "bad" boy but through the course of the story, we learn there is much, much more than meets the eye
  • Mrs. Starch -- an aptly named teacher. She isn't my style of teacher, but she has the same heart when it come to her students. She wants them to learn and to be critical thinkers. Turns out there is also a little more to her than we might at first believe. Definitely someone for A Year of Reading's Top 100 Teachers in Literature!!!
  • Twilly - the mysterious, unknown man whose heart belongs to nature
The plot twists aren't totally surprising, but they are enjoyable. Hiaasen is at his best when describing the almost extinct panther -- beautiful language.

Great first read. Now, it's off to bed for me, and up bright and early to meet the Central Ohio bloggers for breakfast and a trip to Cover to Cover.

48 Hour Challenge Kickoff--Bill

Library packed up and closed for the year...check
A few things completed on the "honey do" list...check
Lawn mowed...check
Provisions for beach vacation purchased...check

Let summer begin, time to sit back with my stack of books and start reading. As soon as I log in with Mother Reader I'll be on my back porch with my books and a cold beverage just like my friend Karen. Here's what my stack looks like for now. It most likely will change after my morning at Cover to Cover.

Tumtum and Nutmeg by Emily Bearn
The Baseball Card Kid by Adam Osterweil
Mudshark by Gary Paulson
Project Sweet Life by Brent Hartinger
A Recipe 4 Robbery by Marybeth Kelsey
Granny by Anthony Hurowitz
Crows and Cards by Joseph Helgerson

You'll see me listed twice in a row at Mother Reader, oops!

48 Hour Challenge Begins! (Karen)


  • Today was my last teacher workday (ok, I still have to pack my room for a move, but I'll worry about that next week).
  • I came home and put my wicker loveseat on the screened porch -- hadn't gotten to it yet this year.
  • Fluffed the loveseat with some comfy pillows.
  • Swept out the screened porch and watered the ferns.
  • Am getting ready to get a snack and an ice cold drink.
  • Will be choosing my first book to read.
  • The 48 Hour Challenge has begun!!!!!
  • PRICELESS!!!!!!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

48 Hour Challenge is Coming! (part 2)


A while back, I announced that I would be taking part in Mother Reader's 48 Hour Challenge for the 2nd year in a row. Some important facts to know:

When: I will start my 48 hour challenge right after school this Friday (which happens to be my last day of school!), and will continue until Sunday evening, June 7th. I will spend part of Saturday engaged in some fun book-related activities (see "where" below). I can't think of a better way to begin my summer break than with a pile of books all begging to be read!

Where
: I will be meeting some Central Ohio bloggers at the always tasty Northstar Cafe, and after much chatting and eating, will be heading to the best children's bookstore I know -- Cover to Cover. When I'm not eating at Northstar Cafe or trying to snag the best books and ARCs at Cover to Cover, I will be reading and blogging at my house. I anticipate that my reading will mostly take place on my screened in porch.

Why: I do this mostly because I love books, and this whole event is just a lot of fun!!! But this year, there is an added component. In an effort to "give back" for my enjoyment, I am pledging $2 per book I take out of Cover to Cover on Saturday (purchased or ARC) OR $2 per fish caught at a fish-a-thon this weekend (whichever one is more) to a cause near and dear to Mary Lee (A Year of Reading).

RSVP: I hope you'll join Bill and me here as we read and blog this weekend. We'd love to hear what you're reading also.