Sunday, June 7, 2009

Starting Summer Reading Early

One of the hardest things about packing up all of the library so early this year has been that I can't read a book and immediately hand it off to the perfect young reader. It is difficult to finish a good book and not seek out that student that I just know would love reading it next. So here is the next best thing, I guess--telling everyone who reads this blog about some of the great books that I have read in the past couple of weeks. Add them to your summer reading. You won't be sorry.

Picture Books

Traction Man Meets Turbo Dog by Mini Grey is the second Traction Man book, featuring an action figure with something of a fixation on what he wears. Since half the fun of playing with dolls--and action figures are at least partly dolls--is changing their clothes, that makes perfect sense. Traction Man befriended a scrubbing brush in the first book and now they are inseparable friends. Together they head out to explore Mount Compost Heap and get a bit messy. When human intervention causes Scrubbing Brush to mysteriously disappear, Turbo Dog tries to work his way into Traction Man's life. As everyone knows, a Turbo Dog with his robotic voice are no substitute for a loyal scrubbing brush. All ends well--except maybe for Turbo Dog. These stories are so quirky that it is impossible not to get caught up in their simple plot and endearing illustrations.

Spuds by Karen Hesse is one of those picture books that will be best appreciated by people in at least second grade and read with joy by doting grandparents who will identify with this sweet story of hardship and redemption. The story, set during the Great Depression, features a group of children who sneak off under cover of darkness to pick potatoes left behind in a neighboring farmer's recent harvest. They work long and hard to fill a gunny sack will the tubers to fill their tummies. Alas, they are caught red-handed by their mother. To make matters worse, they soon discover that potatoes and rocks look an awful lot alike in the dark. The farmer is understanding and the kids learn some lessons about kindness and sharing.

Duck! Rabbit! by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Tom Lichtenheld uses an optical trick to create a story told entirely in dialogue between two unseen characters. Is that oval with a dot and two long projections off of it a rabbit or a duck? It all depends on how you look at it. After enjoying this simple story you will want to make time to lie on the grass and look up at the clouds to see what shapes you see floating there.


Orangutan Tongs by Jon Agee combines two favorite ways to appreciate words--poetry and tongue twisters--plus Agee's signature illustration style. Try reading about Swiss wrist watches, noisy noises that annoy oysters, unique New York, and many more challenges for your tongue.


Mermaid Queen: The Spectacular True Story of Annette Kellerman Who Swam Her Way to Fame, Fortune, and Swimsuit History by Shana Corey offers a picture book style introduction to a woman who was an early proponent of equality for women. Kellerman was born in Australia in the late 19th century. When she developed muscle problems in her legs, her parents encouraged her to exercise them through swimming. Soon she was not only walking, she was swimming and racing against the best men in the area. When the family needed extra money a teen-aged Annette developed a show in the local aquarium that caused her fame to spread. Soon she traveled to England where she performed for royalty, after some quick costume adjustments. When she came to the the U.S. to perform her vaudeville style act, she decided to go to a Boston beach for a swim before the show. Staid Bostonians did not approve of women showing a bit of ankle at the beach and Annette was summarily arrested. This arrest and the resultant trial not only made waves, it also made changes in swimsuit design. When you slip into your suit this summer, thank Annette Kellerman for her courage and sense of showmanship. This book is perfect to share with readers in grades two and up. After I read it, I had to rush to the Internet to read more about this woman who was news to me.

Novels for Readers in Grades 2 to 8

Cowgirl Kate and Cocoa: Rain or Shine by Erica Silverman
is just one of many is this popular series of Early Readers that feature a girl and her horse as they go out on a variety of adventures. They are perfect for those horse loving girls who are ready for chapter books.

The Hinky Pink by Megan McDonald is another easy reader that will be enjoyed by those who are ready for a little more meat to their stories. It is a retelling of an old favorite that I first read in A Bed Just So. Here it is a young princess who is bothered by the Hinky Pink who demands a perfect bed. She has to try many bed styles before finding one that is perfect.

Dying to Meet You : Book 1 of the 43 Old Cemetery Road Series by Kate Klise is not nearly a gruesome as the title suggests. Yes, it is about a boy who lives on Cemetery Road and a ghost who lives there with him. There is even a creepy man who wants to move into the house. The entire story is told in letters between various characters and contains a generous dose of humor along with some mysterious happenings and adventures of a ghostly sort. This is perfect for those readers who have moved beyond easy readers into longer chapter books but still appreciate the brief segments that letters provide and will appeal to readers in grades 3 to 6.

The Totally Made-Up Civil War Diary of Amanda MacLeish by Claudia Mills is one of those middle years readers (let's say grades 4 to 6) that will appeal to girls who like a little angst, a lot of reality, and a little humor in their reading. Amanda is assigned to write a fictional diary of a girl living in the time of the Civil War. Meanwhile, Amanda's home life is falling apart. Her parents fight about the least thing and then her father moves out. Amanda works out some of her angst through writing her diary.

Oggie Cooder by Sarah Weeks features a boy who, not too surprisingly, has trouble making friends in fourth grade. He dresses oddly and has odd habits. His most recent interest is "charving", a combination of chewing and carving that he has perfected on slices on American cheese. He is trying to charve every state. Wyoming and Colorado are easy, of course, but Texas is a struggle. It seems to me that Michigan would also offer some challenges. There is only one child at school who will have anything to do with Oggie and most of the others delight in making fun of him. All this changes when a wildly popular TV talent show comes to town seeking kids with unusual talents. The vainest girl in town takes a sudden interest in learning to charve. Oggie misinterprets the attention in a way that will surprise few readers but is painfully realistic. Things don't work out the way anyone expected, but suffice it to say that ten minutes of fame is not what everyone wants or needs. Readers in grades three and up will find much to enjoy in this short novel.

Canned by Alex Shearer features another boy who marches to his own drummer. Fergel Bamfield has a reputation for cleverness (at least in the eyes of his parents) but even he realizes that it is more because he is eccentric than because of his above average grades. He refers to himself as "Nerdy Boy" in Internet chat rooms so he can get that name out of the way. He find a distinctly odd hobby that leads him to a wild adventure as well as helping him find a friend to share that adventure. Fergel decides to collect cans--cans that have lost their labels and end up in the bargain basket at the supermarket. His parents humor this hobby even as they fail to understand it. They really don't listen to Fergel much so when he finds a human finger in one of the cans he decides not to tell this parents. Only when he meets a girl who also collects cans and who has found an ear in one of her cans, does Fergel, aided by Charlotte, decide to do something. This books if full of great British humor, wild twists, and a rollicking good story that will devoured by readers in grades four and up.

Project Sweet Life by Brent Hartinger is a good choice for Middle School readers who are already dreading the day that they will have to give up the fun and relaxation of summer to get a job. The boys in this novel are 15 and convinced that jobs are optional at this age. Unfortunately for them, their fathers disagree. All three boys are told in no uncertain terms to get jobs. Instead they come up with a plan to earn $7,000 in just a few days so that they can have the rest of the summer off. As you can imagine, their plans are not as sweet and simple as they had planned. They may not be working as a life guard or serving up KFC, but they certainly end up working hard when they wanted to be hardly working.

Thirteenth Child by Patricia C. Wrede has gotten good reviews that refer to it as a cross between Little House on the Prairie and Harry Potter. Let me disagree with that. This novel for Middle School readers puts Little House to shame with its new twist on life on the American frontier. Just having magic classes does not equal the exploits of Mr. Potter. (I confess I am not a huge fan of either of those series. Feel free to disagree with me but don't let that stop you from reading this book.) The narrator of the story is a girl born minutes before her brother who is the magically powerful seventh son of a seventh son. The people in their home town, including her aunts and uncles, feel that the 13th child is always unlucky and the family would have been wise to let her starve rather than risk the lives of those around her. Partly to escape these unpleasant folks, the family moves farther west where the father teaches practical magic at a land grant college. There are magic adventures as the students learn how to deal with their magic. I was especially intrigued by the different philosophies of magic that are taught and which are appreciated while others are rejected. Will the 13th child save the settlement from invading beetles or will she help to destroy it?

Erratum by Walter Sorrells is another magical novel for upper elementary and middle school students. As a book lover and a word lover it was easy for me to get totally engaged in this story of the importance of words in creating and maintaining our world as we know it. According to this book there are many other universes and what we do in one may influence what happens in others. When Jessica mysteriously is given a book called Her Lif, she is totally confused. But then, she has always had a sense that she doesn't fit in with her family or her current life so maybe this is worth exploring. Whether she wants to or not, events push her from one unreal experience to another at a heart pounding pace. This is one of those books that has adventure, humor, and a solid narrative along with philosophy to ponder long after you finish the last page.

One Graphic Novel

Rapunzel's Revenge
by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale
is, as the title suggests, a retelling of the story of Rapunzel. As befits a graphic novel of a fairy tale, it has excitement, interesting twists of plot, and a happy ending. Rapunzel has strength that is extends far beyond her hair and she knows how to use that hair to best advantage. Anyone over the age of 9 or so will find something to enjoy here.

What I am Reading Now

The Big Splash by Jack D. Ferraiolo
is what I began this morning. Since it is about life in middle school, that is the reader to whom it will most appeal. It begins much like a traditional crime/detective novel. Here the crime bosses are kids with squirt guns that they use to wet the most embarrassing areas of one's clothing, causing humiliation of the sort that no one in middle school ever wants to experience. If the first few pages are any indication, I am going to enjoy this one. UPDATE: June 11--I finished this book. It was interesting to say the lealst and kept me reading even though I was getting tired of the detective novel format. I am hoping that most (or all) middle schools are nothing like this crime laden school. However, I realize that the tensions among the kids are just as sharp even if the "taking out" is not as clearly defined. I am interested to see what middle school kids will think of it.

Throughout the summer, I will be updating suggested reading for readers of all ages. I checked out almost 50 books (some are boring professional reading that I won't be sharing with you as suggested reading though I may talk about what I learn) from the Emerson library for the summer (50 fewer books to pack); I bought several adult books just for me at the Book Bash; and I have my public library card at the ready. I plan to read, read, and read. Ah...summer

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