Friday, December 24, 2010

Happy Kwanzaa

Much like the other December holidays, Kwanzaa has few truly worthy books for me to suggest. There are those that are preachy and/or teachy but few that add a good story to that mix.

Luckily there is a new one this year that is charming, clever, and teaches a great deal about this holiday that is not well understood outside of the African American community. Li'l Rabbit's Kwanzaa by Donna L. Washington is perfect for young listeners to learn a little bit about the seven principles of Kwanzaa with a sweet text and bright illustrations leading them along. Li'l Rabbit wants Granna Rabbit to be well enough to join in the traditional feast, Karamu, but Mama Rabbit is too worried and Granna is too ill to make it happen. Li'l Rabbit sets out to find a way to cheer everyone and celebrate the way they have in years past. Of course Li'l Rabbit is successful in some joyfully surprising ways. The book includes an explanation of Nguzo Saba--The Seven Principles of Kwanzaa with instructions to look back through the story to find examples of each principle. My group of young listeners who had barely heard of Kwanzaa left the library knowing a little more about the holiday and smiling over a good story.

Seven Spools of Thread: A Kwanzaa Story by Angela Shelf Medearis is a somewhat more complex story that springs from an original African folktale. Readers will learn about the Ghanian art of weaving Kente cloth as well as the seven principles of Kwanzaa as they follow this story of a father, a weaver, who asks his sons to make gold from silk tread. They learn to work together while each bringing unique talents to the problem. The story reads like a true folktale and does not get overly preachy. I have had older students come back to request a re-reading of this story and talk about what they learned from it when they first heard it in first or second grade. The illustrations are beautifully lush with lots of red and gold. The book also includes notes about the holidays and some craft ideas.

May your Kwanzaa and the new year be filled with the seven principles of Kwanzaa:
Ujima--Collective Work and Responsibility
Ujamaa--Cooperative Economics

Merry Christmas

Frankly, I find good children's books for Christmas to be few and far between. Most either try too hard and end up being schmaltzy or seem to feel that a carelessly placed Santa here and there means that there is no need to focus on plot. Therefore this list is short and has taken much more thought than is evident.

When I was a child the Christmas Eve tradition was to sit under the tree while my mother read Clement Clarke Moore's A Visit From St. Nickolas (Also commonly known as The Night Before Christmas). Now, nearly 200 years after it was first written, there are still myriad editions of this classic available. My advice to anyone looking for a copy to keep for family Christmas for years to come is to look at as many different ones and choose the illustrations that best suit your idea of what the story should include. If you are looking for video editions a quick Google search will find many. My students in grades K-2 preferred a video made in 1950 that starred marionettes but I confess that it got old quickly for me. They said the video with Wynton Marsalis was too confusing even though they giggled along with me through many of the scenes.

There are just two picture books that stick out in my mind as being worth a Christmas visit. Readers who are just getting a grasp on Christmas symbols as well as those who are older will enjoy Minerva Louise on Christmas Eve by Janet Morgan Stoeke. The curious chicken, Minerva Louise, tries to understand the lighting bugs on the tree outside the farm house. More confusing changes are found when she slips inside, like the chicken who sits atop the indoor tree and has laid colorful eggs all over the tree. Children love to point out her mistakes as she identifies the items that mean Christmas to most children, but apparently not to chickens.

Olivia Helps with Christmas by Ian Falconer will appeal to adults as well as the children to whom they read this clever book. Olivia, the young pig of great charm and energy, is eager to help her family get ready for the arrival of Christmas. As the song in Free to Be You and Me (or was it Free to Be a Family?) says, "Some kinds of help are the kind of help we all could do without." Olivia is a perfect example of this truism, but it is impossible to angry with her since she is so earnest about her efforts and her excitement.

I am not sure why there are children's novels written for Christmas. I can rarely get anyone to try to read them. Often a good story goes unread just because it is set at Christmas. That is the case with The Christmas Genie by Dan Gutman. This discussion of how a class can decide on one wish that will be fair to everyone is a worthy one, if not the best written book by Gutman. The genie arrives on the day before break begins with one wish to give fifth grade class, but only if they can decide together in just one hour. The resulting suggestions and the discussions about them are both humorous and philosophical. I wish that teachers could share it with their classes throughout the year but this emphasis on Christmas limits its appeal and its usefulness.

The Christmas Rat by Avi is another book that could be set at any time of the year and be just as good. I have gotten some people to read this at other times of the year when they request a scary book. Eric is an eleven year old boy who is home alone in the his apartment because it is Christmas vacation and waiting for the exterminator that his mother has sent to come. The exterminator turns out to be one very strange man who enjoys his job a little more than he should. Don't read this book when you are home alone.

I suggest that instead of limiting yourself to Christmas books, you reach out for a good book set any time of the year. Forget about the weather and lose yourself where ever the book takes you.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Happy Hanukkah

Yes, yes, I know that Hanukkah is long over for the year, but I had to share my favorite books of the holiday with students before I could readily tell folks which ones I like best. I am sticking with my favorites, all of which are by the amazing Eric Kimmel who not only writes books of stories from the Jewish tradition, but also has myriad original stories and retellings of folktales from world cultures. Simply stated, any book with Kimmel's name on it is worth a good look and probably belongs in your collection.

For the younger listeners in my group, I prefer The Chanukah Guest which features a hungry and confused bear who drops in on Bubba Brayna when he smells her latkes cooking. Bubba Brayna is a good cook but, as she nears the age of 100, her eyes and ears are failing her. She mistakes the bear for the rabbi. Kids love the confusion as they go through the rituals of the first night of the holiday.

Students in second grade and up invariably request Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins which has a little bit of humor, lots of almost ghastly goblins, and several clever tricks to suit every taste as Hershel works for eight nights to save Hanukkah. Reading it out loud is hard on my voice as I try to make each goblin from the one the size of a horsefly to the gigantic King of the Goblins have a different and appropriate voice.

Storytellers and their listeners delight in The Jar of Fools: Eight Hanukkah Stories from Chelm. Perhaps you already know how the city of Chelm came to be filled with fools when angels were sent to deliver fools, the wise, the honest, the dishonest, and so forth in even number to every city around the world. Unfortunately for Chelm (but a boon for storytellers), the angel carrying fools, tripped upon approaching the city, filling it full of fools with no room for the more clear headed. This book includes that history plus eight examples of the problems of having a city of fools. There is the story of the pitchfork that is used for a menorah, the young boy who finds something far, far better than chicken fat for frying latkes, and the stranger who rents them a magic spoon for mixing up the best latkes ever. The stories read well and are joy to tell.

Speaking of telling stories, it is one of the joys of my job to listen to the stories that the children tell. I asked them to tell me about Hanukkah. While some of the students told stories that matched very closely what I have been told and read, some were an interesting mix of stories from various holidays, not all of which were Jewish. Locusts, various kings, babies in the rushes and in mangers, and Santa Claus all made guest appearances before we got things narrowed down a bit. I was pleased to see the smiles of those who knew the story from Hebrew School and were so proud to share it. However, my favorite moment may have been when it took a Muslim and a Hindu to give the most accurate description in a class of first grade students.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Five for the Adults

Book fair books are not just for kids. I like to add a few of my favorite adult books. As I moaned about in an earlier post, I have not read a lot that excited me over the past few months. So I decided to suggest some older books for your enjoyment. In years past I have sent out lists of suggested reading for adults and inadvertently included books that are no longer in print. Oops! Today I decided to make sure that everything I suggest is still available so I went to the bookstore and looked at the paperback shelves. Here, in no particular order, are some of the books I saw and remember fondly.

Peace Like a River by Leif Enger is a lovely, heart-wrenching story by the 11 year old boy who wants to keep his family intact after his older brother guns down bullies who break into the family home. What can or should a family do to help and protect a brother who has done something horrible, yet, perhaps, justifiable?

Still Alice by Lisa Genova tells the story of the onset of Alzheimer's through the voice of a woman who is diagnosed at a very young age. She makes a list of things that she must remember and slowly watches them fade away. The picture is grim yet beautiful. The author works with Alzheimer's patients which makes the reader feel that this is a fairly accurate portrayal.

A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving may be the best of this well-respected American author. Owen Meany is a dwarfish boy who accidentally kills his friend's mother and believes that perhaps he is a messenger of God. It is a tightly written story with much to offer.

The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay is the story of an English boy growing up in apartheid South Africa. Race can not be ignored but the essence of this powerful work is the boy's growth to adulthood in a story filled with pain and joy and humor.

Black Swan Green by David Mitchell is another coming of age story, this one set in England at the time of the Falklands War. Jason Taylor narrates the story in a way that he never could orally due to a stutter that haunts his every interaction as he covers his life over a span of 13 months in 1982 and 1983.

Five Favorites times Five

In preparation for our upcoming Book Fair, November 14, I am publishing five favorites in several different categories. Please go back through earlier posts on this blog for more ideas. Then tell me some of your ideas for books that I forgot to mention. If you add your thoughts in the comments section more people will get to see them.

Middle School Readers are not always easy to please. No matter how many adult suggestions they get, it is their peers who ultimately will direct them to the books that are popular now. Here are a couple of new titles and some older books that are worth considering again.

Archvillain by Barry Lyga (grades 5-8) is the first in a promised series. The narrator thinks a lot of himself because he is, after all, a genius who is embarrassed by how stupid his parents and classmates all seem to be. When he is mysteriously slimed in a meadow near his school (could it have been a meteor shower or an alien invasion?), he becomes even stronger and smarter. That would be good if there were not now an alien among them with similar strengths. How can the alien be outwitted before he takes over the world? Can being bad do good for the world?

Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper (grades 4-7) is told by a young girl with cerebral palsy who has never been able to communicate with any but her closest care givers and then only in the simplest fashion. Because of this she is kept in special education classrooms with no expectations that she understands anything. When she gets a special computer program similar to that used by Stephen Hawkings, she is able to show her vast knowledge and earns a spot on the school quiz bowl team. Instead of a simplistic, happy ending, this book ends realistically, but with a solid dose of hope.

The Prince of Mist by Carlos Ruiz Zafon (grades 6-8) is an eerie story of a boy who moves with his family to a deserted house on the coast of Spain during World War II. Soon they learn of a boy who died in the house and a strange magician who had power over the people who live there. Adults and many teens have read and enjoyed Zafon's Shadow of the Wind without realizing that Zafon began his writing career with this book for young adults.

Daddy Long Legs by Jean Webster (grades 6 and up) was one of my favorite books when I was young and I am thrilled that it is still around nearly 100 years after its first publication. It is a romantic story of young orphan who is given the task of corresponding with the benefactor who has sent off to a good school. Told in letters illustrated with girlish drawings, it is a joy to watch the romance grow with unexpected results. A girl can dream and I dreamed my way through this book more than once. I can not guarantee that today's teen will love it the way I did, but, as I said, a girl can dream.

The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman (grades 6 and up)and the rest of this His Dark Materials series rank with the greats of fantasy. The trilogy is a magnificent creation of parallel worlds, philosophical discussions, and magical beasts. Don't bother seeing the movie which totally missed the beauty and impact of the stories and left out many important parts.

Fiction for Grades 3-5 must take into accounts the varying interests of the readers. Some readers want to try a little of everything and are willing to bite off more than they perhaps can digest. Others will want the safety of a familiar series. Either approach is probably just right. Don't ignore those series, but this list will introduce some books that might have been missed.

Half Magic by Edward Eager (grades 3-6) was the book that pushed me happily into a long phase of reading every bit of fantasy that I could get my hands on--including every book Eager ever wrote. When I can get a new reader drawn into these books I consider it public service. They have just the right blend of family, fantasy, magic, and humor.

Freddy the Detective by Walter R. Brooks (grades 3-6) is just one of a series that my daughters and I laughed over as we read through them all. Freddy is pig who imagines himself to be quite talented, though that is debatable. Readers soon learn to appreciate all of the quirky characters on the farm.

Spacehedz by Jon Scieszka (grades 3-5) is a book that I almost did not pick up. There was something about the look of the cover that I could not appreciate. It got great reviews so I finally dived in and I am so glad I did. The cover is perfect for this story of a young school boy is given the task of welcoming two new students who just happen to be space aliens. They have learned everything they know about earth from advertising. This leads to much confusion and hilarious situations. I am now proud to be a Spacehead.

On the Blue Comet by Rosemary Wells (grades 4-7) will come as something of surprise to those who think of Rosemary Wells as writing only charming picture books. With beautiful illustrations by Bagram Ibatoulline, this slice of life from 1929 to 1942 is complete with real characters like Ronald Reagan and Joseph Kennedy. Oscar Ogilvie is an 11 year old boy living in Cairo, Illinois, with his widowed father with whom he shares a love of model railroads. The depression, however, means that they must sell the trains and their house to survive. The heads to California to find work, leaving Oscar with a very uptight aunt. Things progress rapidly when Oscar jumps into the model trains to escape a bank robbery. He travels across the country and ten years into the future . The excitement is palpable and the historical facts make it seem real.

Justin Case: School, Drool and Other Disasters by Rachel Vail (grades 2-5) boldly enters the realm previously held sway by the likes of Ramona Quimby, Judy Moody, and Clementine, with the trials and tribulations of elementary school. The difference is that Justin is a boy so he sees things a bit differently than those girls did. Readers who like, or think they would like, The Wimpy Kid will like enjoy the antics Justin records in his diary.

Beginning Readers are books with limited vocabulary and, thanks to Dr. Seuss and others, a good story. The large type helps those just mastering reading to speed through the stories and lots of illustrations help fill gaps in comprehension.

The Cat on the Mat is Fat by Andy Griffiths is a thicker book with several stories to help readers feel that important sense of accomplishment. The stories are pure silliness with simple black and white illustrations and plenty of rhyme.

Lulu and the Brontosaurus by Judith Viorst features a very spoiled girl who is not willing to give in when her parents refuse to buy her a brontosaurus for her birthday. They have given everything else she has ever wanted so why not this. After arguing her point for nearly two weeks, she runs away from home. The author kindly offers several alternative endings so everyone can live happily ever after.

Buzz Boy and Fly Guy by Tedd Arnold is the latest in this amusing series of easy readers about a boy and his pet fly. In this tale, they become superheroes in a comic book written by the boy. I have yet to meet a child who does not appreciate the sly humor in these wacky stories.

Ten Apples Up on Top by Theo LeSeig always surprises me by how much young readers enjoy it. It is among the simplest of simple stories. The build up to the climax gets kids to the edge of the seats--either with anticipation or laughter.

Little Bear by Else Holmelund Minarik is one of those books that makes mothers get a little teary eyed. Little Bear is such a sweet fellow with such heartwarming adventures that it is impossible not to love him. Luckily for adults, young readers love him, too.

Picture Books truly are for readers of all ages. There was a recent New York Times article about how picture books are not selling the way they did in years past. Don't miss these wonderful books or think that people are ever too old to enjoy a good picture book.

A Bedtime for Bear by Bonnie Becker follows nicely on the heels of A Visitor for Bear. The little mouse is back to see bear, this time planning to spend the night. Anyone who has ever had a sleep-over knows that even the most well meaning guest can disturb set routines and bear likes his routines to be just so. Of course these friends work it out perfectly, but it is not easy.

Children Make Terrible Pets by Peter Brown caught my eye immediately with its cover illustration that reminded me a bit of the best of Tomie DePaola. A happy little bear brings home what she hopes will be a perfect pet--a child that she names Squeaker because to her ears that is all he can say. Mother's repeated warning that children make terrible pets does not bother little Lucy. She and Squeaker have fun but the child is also a bit of a bother.

Junkyard Wonders by Patricia Polacco will be best appreciated by readers in grades three and up. It is Polacco at her best as she remembers her own experiences as a new student put in the "special" class for children with troubles learning in the usual ways. Thanks to a very special teacher, the class learns lessons about their own strengths and teaches the school bullies a few lessons as well.

Harry the Dirty Dog by Gene Zion is an older book that endures because it is such a good story. Harry is a white dog with black spots who hates to take a bath. When he wanders away and gets terribly dirty, his family does not recognized the black dog with white spots who comes back home. If you are dirty enough, Harry realizes, a bath is wonderful.

Caps for Sale by Esphyr Slobodkin has many imitators but is still the best "monkey see, monkey do" book there is. Act out the story with any group of monkeys you might encounter.

Non-Fiction is sometimes a hard sell to readers of any age. Happily for all of us, there are more and more non-fiction books that are as enjoyable as fiction.

For Good Measure: The Ways we Say How Much, How Far, How Heavy, How Big, How Old by Ken Robbins (grades K and up) is the best introduction to measurements that I have ever seen. Using photographs and a paragraph or two of interesting text, this book helped me understand and relate to measurement in ways I never had before.

Hot Diggity Dog: The History of the Hot Dog by Adrienne Sylver (grades 1-4) features a hot dog space ship on its cover which is a good clue to the irreverent history that is presented within. The hot dog is an American staple so why not learn about its humble origins and rise to fame. Lots of bright illustrations and interesting sidebars add to the enjoyment of this food history.

Ballet for Martha: Making Appalachian Spring by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan, illustrated by Brian Floca (grades 2-6) is a collaborative effort that tells the story of the collaboration that became an American classic. Choreographer Martha Graham, composer Aaron Copeland, and set designer Isamu Noguchi are the contributors who are shown working together to create a masterpiece. If you are planning to see any ballet in the near future, read this book for a fuller understanding of what goes happens before the curtain opens.

Weird by True 2: 300 Outrageous Facts from National Geographic (All ages) is bright and bold and full of facts that will keep anyone who picks it up flipping through it for more trivia to amaze and amuse friends and family. It is a perfect bathroom book but will also prove useful in a backpack, at the dinner, or on the coffee table.

The Cartoon History of the Universe by Larry Gonick (Grades 6 and up) is just one in a large series of cartoon introductions to history, science, and more all set in a fun and funky graphic format. The beauty of it is that the reader does not even realize how much is being learned in a way that is hard to forget.

These are just a few of my favorites. Look back through the blog for more and come see me for personalized suggestions. Happy reading.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Quick Suggestions

I was a little surprised when the Parent Organization (ESPO) took me up on my offer to briefly speak about some good books at their meeting this past week. Time was of the essence, both for me to gather books and for the meeting to end at a reasonable time. Life was wild last week, but I had several good new books that I had just finished reading, so I grabbed them along with a couple of other favorites. Then I edited my growing pile. (Word to the wise: Never ask a librarian to talk about a few good books. Librarians have trouble picking out just a few favorites. We love to talk about good books almost as much as we love to read them.)

Here are the books that I showed at the ESPO meeting. All are well worth your time.


The Chicken Thief by Beatrice Rodriguez--I can not say enough good thinks about this wordless and wonderful book. The pictures are detailed and the surprise ending is just exactly what I would have wanted to have happen if I had thought about it clearly.

Olive Goes to Venice by Ian Falconer--The amazing pig's latest adventure takes her to Venice where she learns to love gelato. This is not my favorite Olivia book but that is simply because the others are so good.

Art and Max by David Wiesner--Two friendly lizards share an appreciation of art which leads to a demonstration of many art media. There is a solid mix here of humor and art.


Bink and Gollie by Kate DiCamillo and Alison McGhee--These two girls seem like opposites but that does not stop them from being great friends. The firendly and engaging illustrations show the girls' visible differences--one is quite tall and the other is short--and the differences in what interests them. This is a wonderful example of how best friends come in all sizes.

ELEMENTARY--Grades 2-5

Tumtum and Nutmeg: The Rose Cottage Tales by Emily Bearn--More beautifully told tales of two mice with just the right about of adventure. and a hefty dose of charm. If you loved the first book, you will love this one, too, but you don't need to read them in order.


Scumble by Ingrid Law--This is the sequel to Savvy. Both books are about a family which gains unexpected magical powers on their 13th birthday. Magic is not always easy for those who get to handle or understand.

Toby and the Secrets of the Tree by Timothee de Fombelle--This sequel to Toby Alone continues Toby's quest to save the tree that is his entire world, people with good people and those who would rather destroy the tree than lose their power. The environmental moral is strong and the story is even stronger.


Bibiloburro: A True Story from Colombia by Jeanette Winter--This simple picture book tells a powerful story of a man who takes books by burro to children in the mountains of Colombia. Google "biblioburro" to see videos and read some inspiring articles.

Marsupials by Nic Bishop--Bishop takes the most astounding wildlife photos I have ever seen. Check out all of his other books as well--Frogs, Butterflies, Spiders, and Lizards. One of my favorite parts of each book is the end piece where Bishop explains how he gets his photos. Many take hours and hours of waiting and hoping.

I will soon be putting up more lists as we prepare for our annual book fair. Keep checking back for those suggestions.

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Story of Reading

It has been nearly a year since I attended a conference on the brain in Boston. When I returned from the conference my own brain was filled with myriad new concepts and exciting ideas while being blurred from the exhaustion of travel and long days full of lectures, some stimulating and some not so much. I pushed the ideas to the back burner with promises to get back to them.

Now I have been asked to join others who went to the conference and others like it to present to the staff about what we learned. Yikes! What did I learn? What is worth sharing? Why didn't I take better notes?

One statement has stayed with me all these months. Let me paraphrase. "Human beings took about 2,000 years to develop a practical alphabet which allowed humans to read. We expect children to learn how to read in about 2,000 days." This idea was presented by Tufts University professor of child development Maryanne Wolf. To remind myself of what she said at the conference and to understand and expand on those thoughts, I just finished reading her book, Proust and the Squid: The Story and the Science of the Reading Brain. This book proved to be a readable treatise that provides just what the title promises.

Since I can not do justice here to all that it has to say nor give you the time and space you deserve to really ponder the many ideas and concepts, I will just encourage you to read it. You will soon be thinking of what reading means to you, what really determines fluency, who is an expert reader, and what is the cause of dyslexia. Here are a couple of my favorite ideas and some thoughts about them.

Dyslexia, she states, is often accompanied by enhanced creativity. The book explains in some detail why this seems to be the case. The conclusion should be obvious but that is often not the case at all. Dyslexic people are often taunted for this complicated way that their brain functions. It is not unusual for peers and even teachers to call them stupid or lazy. The important thing for all of us is to remind dyslexic people of all ages of their special talents--help them find those talents and then put them to use while helping them learn strategies to acquire learning. As a society we run the risk of missing the next great thinkers, inventors, artists, and other potential world changers if we do not take the time to foster the growth of these people and utilize their amazing gifts.

Reading changes the way we utilize language and thus the way we understand our world. It is nearly impossible to read something without images, memories, and connections springing unbidden into your thinking. Wolf wonders what the impact of new formats for reading and writing will have on reading. Will digital reading with the ease of jumping from one thing to another, clicking to learn definitions, that "back" button waiting to lead us back to where we were, and the way information is organized radically change our idea of knowledge? Socrates worried that the alphabet would negatively impact our memories (perhaps it has) and that it would make us believe we had knowledge when all we had was information (again, perhaps it has). What will our newest technologies do to these same things? Will we assume that we have knowledge because we have done a Google search and copied and pasted ideas from someone else?

Can you tell that I have delved into many new thoughts after reading this book? That is what reading is all about.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Ending Summer with a Bang

If you read my last entry, you know that I ended it by feeling a little disappointed that I had not read enough books that I truly loved this past summer. Thank goodness that I finished the summer with a great read--so great that I can't wait to talk about it.

Many people have enjoyed Silverwing, others in that series about bats, and various other titles by Kenneth Oppel. Now Oppel has a very different new book. Half Brother takes place in the 1970s when interest in human relationships with other species was growing. (Think of Koko and her kitten or the chimps that went into space.) At that same time of protest about many things there were the beginnings of animal activism, protesting testing on animals. Ben Tomlin, the narrator of this book, is thrown into the middle of all of this at age 13 when his family brings home a baby chimpanzee which they hope to teach to use sign language. If that is not unsettling enough, Ben has had to move across the country from Toronto to Vancouver where his father, a psychologist, will now be working. He is put in a private middle school and works to makes friends, especially with the very cute daughter of his dad's new boss. So there is some good old fashioned love interest and teen angst in this book. It offers a nice balance to the odd life that Ben lives with a chimp for a baby brother. He and his dad soon disagree about what role Zan, the chimp, has in the world. Is Zan a little brother or science experiment?

There is much here to enjoy. The writing is good and will tug at the heartstrings of all but the most jaded amongst us while offering up difficult questions to ponder about the importance of scientific investigation as well as the importance of keeping humans humane. I highly recommend this book to middle school readers and their older siblings and parents, too.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

What I Read All Summer

It is that time of year that people in education--whether students or teachers--think back to the summer that is rapidly disappearing and take assessment of what they did. I remember the annual "What I Did Last Summer" essay from my youth. (Every fall, my junior high English teacher titled his "Painting Lines on Idaho Highways", a title that reassures me every year that my summer was pretty darn good.) In most ways this is one of those essays, but looks not so much at what I did, although it suggests that I spent a significant amount of time with my nose in a book, but what I read.

This summer I tried to pace myself by alternating my reading assignments. I would read an adult book for pleasure, then a children's or young adult novel, then a professional development book, and then another work of juvenile fiction. I mixed it up with picture books and simple non-fiction whenever the mood hit or I made a purchase for the library. As I look back at all that I read, I realized that this was not a summer of many truly great reads. For your sake, I will only include those that I am willing to suggest that others might enjoy reading.


City Dog, Country Frog by Mo Willems, illustrated by Jon Muth is a perfect read for the beginning or the end of summer. It talks of the passing of the seasons and of friendships that grow and change. There is no need to mention that the illustrations are perfect, but it is there is no way I omit a reference to the smile on the face of a happy dog and a joyful frog.

A Sick Day for Amos McGee by Philip C. Stead, illustrated by Erin E Stead is the work of a couple who spent a part of their year in Ann Arbor, which makes the book more special to those of us who live here. However, this book has merit no matter where one lives. The story is of a zookeeper who tends to the needs and concerns of his animals above and beyond the usual call of duty. The animals are beside themselves when Amos McGee is so sick that he can not come to work. They respond just the way that true and trusted friends should.

The Church Mouse by Graham Oakley is not a new book. In fact, finding it in the bookstore took me right back to when I read and re-read it with my children. At first take this tale of mice who befriend the old cat in a church seems a bit verbose, but then the charm of each character--from the mice to the cat to the old English vicar--takes over. The humor is perfect, as is the exciting climax. The illustrations by the author are rich with color and detail.

FICTION--Grades 5 and up
My Life with the Lincolns by Gayle Brandeis was not exactly what I expected and much better than I had anticipated. The narrator, Mina Edelman, is a 12 year old girl living in the Chicago area in 1966. She is convinced that her family is the reincarnation of the Abraham Lincoln family. She has figured out how their names and interests reflect those of the Lincoln's. The connection should be clear to everyone since her father whose initials are A. B. E. advertises his furniture as "Honest Abe's" and even puts on a stovepipe hat and beard for his television advertisements. Mina sets three goals for herself--not to die at age 12 like Willie Lincoln did, keep her mother from going crazy, and keep her father from being shot. The difficulty of these goals becomes more intense when her father gets increasingly involved with the Civil Rights movement and takes Mina along with him to meetings and protests. The story rapidly shifts from hilarious to serious and back again. I admire and respect Mina Edelman for all she thought and did and I admire the author for capturing the time and the feelings of a young girl so perfectly.

Whales on Stilts by M. T. Anderson is one of those books I have been meaning to read for years. It is one strange book. A team of middle schoolers with an eye for adventure--Lily who has yearns for adventure and keeps an eye out for the unusual, Katie the heroine of a popular series of horror stories who actually lives the stories, and Jasper who is known as the Boy Technonaut--spend their summer investigating the employer of Lily's father. Lily becomes suspicious because her dad's boss wears a paperback over his head and seems to be designing stilts for whales, whales that plan to take over the world. The story is full of high tech adventure, crazy ideas careening out of control, science gone mad, and friendship.

Smile by Raina Telgemeier is a biographical novel in graphic format. Entering middle school is challenging in the best of times, but looking decidedly different just makes it worse. Raina fell hard on her front teeth just weeks before beginning sixth grade. This led to months in complicated orthodontia gear while undergoing various surgeries to correct the problem. The story does not dwell on the medical aspects of this ordeal but on the additional burden it places on her struggles to be liked in school. The resulting story is well suited to the graphic format which helps move the story along, giving evidence of how truly out of place she looks without having to describe the look.

The Cardturner by Louis Sachar caused more than one head to turn when it was published earlier this year. Sachar is well-liked for his many successful books like Holes and Wayside School is Falling Down, but who can pull off a young adult novel about playing bridge? Sachar can. There is a strong story with adventure and magical reality here that will keep the reader ready to go to the next bridge tournament. The author teaches bridge, too, while thoughtfully marking those parts that are detailed strategy both so they can be skipped when reading for the story and re-read when the interest is on the game. Our school's resident bridge expert gave it his stamp of approval.

London Calling by Edward Bloor takes the protagonist through an old Philco radio back to the time of the London Blitz to experience war first hand. There is a lot of history here and a lot of heart. This a tough book because it takes a close-up look at life for the average working family in London in 1940. Equally important is its consideration of the accuracy of history and what makes someone a hero.

FICTION--Grades 3-5

I have to confess that I did not find much that really excited me in this section. Here are some titles that I am confident will be enjoyed by many, even if they did inspire me enough that I want to write about them.
The Strange Case of Origami Yoda by Tom Angleberger
Justin Case: School, Drool, and Other Daily Disasters by Rachel Vail
Whittington by Alan Armstrong
Amelia Rules by Jimmy Gownley (a graphic work)
The Adventures of Ook and Gluk: Kung-Fu Cavemen of the Future by Dav Pilkey (a graphic work)
The Secret Zoo by Bryan Chick


Kakapo Rescue: Saving the World's Strangest Parrot by Sy Montgomery with photos by Nic Bishop is worth looking at just for the pictures taken on an island of the coast of New Zealand where scientists are struggling to keep this strange, beautiful, and friendly bird from extinction. Once you see the pictures, however, you will want to read the text to find out more about this amazing bird and the scientists who work with it. As is always the case, Sy Montgomery tells her story well.

Pop! The Invention of Bubble Gum by Meghan McCarthy greets you with a bright cover that, yes, truly pops. Who could resist the life story of bubble gum with any cover but the cartoonish illustrations in this simple, picture book style history capture the joy of the subject from the very first bite.

Biblioburro: A True Story from Colombia by Jeanette Winter is another picture book style non-fiction that will capture readers of all ages. Deep in the wilds of Colombia lives a teacher named Luis who has more books than his small home can hold. In an act of good will that warms the hearts of librarians everywhere, he loads his books on the back of his burro and sets out to share them with the children of neighboring villages. The illustrations capture the feel of South America and the story will captivate young readers and listeners. The author includes more information about Luis and his work to share the joys of a good book.


The Selected Works of T. S. Spivet by Reif Larsen appealed to me on many levels. First, the format of the book is wider than the usual novel, allowing for copious footnotes and illustrations in the sidebar. These are the notes of the young narrator who has an eye for detail. Secondly, the narrator is a young man coming of age in an unusual age. Who wouldn't like that?
Thirdly, he lives in a small town in my home state and is fairly eager to leave. Finally, it is primarily a long (rail)road trip. It is almost impossible to describe the story so I will leave it to you to discover it for yourself just as T. S. Spivet discovers his world.

The Horse Boy: A Memoir of Healing by Rupert Isaacson is part travelogue with beautiful descriptions of the trip between Ulaan Baatar and the forest of Siberia on the edge of Mongolia where the reindeer people live, part spiritual journey as the author's family learns about the beliefs of the area and explores their own thoughts, and part a study of autism. Somehow this books melds those diverse aspects into a usually cohesive story. If treating an autistic child with shamans in remote corners of the world works for them, who am I to argue? I saw the movie of this book earlier in the year and would recommend it along with the book.

Mathilda Savitch by Victor Lodato is yet another book written in the voice of a twelve year old. (This must have been my summer of remembering adolescence.) Here is a girl trying to understand the death of her older sister and why her parents have totally shut down. That is pretty heavy stuff but throw in the concerns about terrorism that are everywhere around her and you will be doubly surprised by the humor that abounds throughout the book.


Unless you ask I will spare you the details of the books I read that were supposed to make me a better teacher, librarian, and person. I will put only the title information so you can decide if you want to pursue them further.
Crossing Over to Canaan: The Journey of New Teachers in Diverse Classrooms by Gloria Ladson-Billings
The Hardest Questions Aren't on the Test: Lessons from an Innovative Urban School by Linda F. Nathan
Brain Rules by John Medina
Race Matters by Cornel West

Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel Pink

I read over 70 books this summer from picture books to the heavy stuff and these are the only ones that really spoke to me. Go figure.

Monday, August 30, 2010


Yes, I have now successfully completed the Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins. It didn't take long because this is a "can't put it down" novel. I am not going to give you a review of these books other than to tell you that I enjoyed them and can easily understand why millions of people aged 12 to 80 have devoured these dystopian, young adult novels.

What has fascinated me is the discussions that I have been having with my young (as in middle school and high school) friends. Many spent the early part of August counting down the days to the Mockingjay release that marked the conclusion of the trilogy. They wondered if the author would adequately tie up all the loose ends. They worried that it would not be as exciting as the first two in the series (The Hunger Games and Catching Fire). They were stressed that someone would tell them how it ends before they had a chance to read it. (Note to all readers: Don't spoil the ending for others, no matter how much you want to gloat about reading the book first or how excited/upset/disappointed you are by it. Plain and simple, that is unfair to other readers.)

Now these young adults are debating the fine points of the plot and the writing. What is the message? Why did the people who survived live while others who we loved died? Was there too much violence or not enough? Was the writing equal to the plot or the plot equal to the writing?

The protagonist and narrator of the series is a young woman but most of the discussions I have seen and heard from my group have been between young men. That, to me, is the sign of a good young adult novel. Both boys and girls are reading and discussing the book. And they are proud to have read some fine literature and not in the least upset that the book focuses first on a woman. I am very lucky to have gotten a chance to be a part of these discussions, especially when I can merely eavesdrop. Thank you, Facebook.

Adults, some time to read these books and discuss them with the young adults in your life. Or just read them because they are good stories. Here is an essay from the New York Times Book Review about the joys of reading young adult books. Start reading or you will never know what you have been missing.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Chickens to the Rescue!

As I searched for books to share with campers this summer and as I put them away, I kept seeing picture books featuring chickens. Two of my recent acquisitions are also picture books that talk about chickens. I do not know how poultry flew to the top of interesting picture books, but they seem to be everywhere. Here are some of the best of the flock.

Chickens to the Rescue by John Himmelman is a joy to read aloud. Make sure everyone can see the illustrations showing the chickens in swimsuits as they rescue things down the well or showing amazing strength as they stop the pick-up and save a cow stuck in the tree because they are half the story. Listeners are soon chanting along "Chickens to the rescue!" whenever the humans or other farm animals have another problem. They won't be prepared for the twist at the end.

The Chicken of the Family by Mary Amato will likely strike a chord with anyone who has an older sibling who was not immune to some heavy duty teasing. I can easily imagine my older brother convincing his rather gullible little sister that she is, in fact, a chicken. The older sisters in this charming story go to the extent of putting eggs and some feathers in their sister's bed. She gets the last laugh and they get in trouble with Mom and Dad.

The Plot Chickens by Mary Jane Auch features a book loving chicken who decides that she should write a book. She solicits the aid of three quirky hens and sets to work. Alas, publishers are less than excited about books by chickens. The entire story is filled with puns and plays on words that add fun to the working plot. That alone would make this a book worth reading, but there is the added bonus that it works as an good introduction to the writing process from start finish. Use it as a reference when writing a story of your own.

Speaking of chickens who like books, Book! Book! Book! by Deboarh Bruss turns an old joke about a chicken in the library into a full story with plenty of conflict. There is plenty of humor, too, as the farm animals head to the library--they are lonely and bored when all the kids go off to school--and try to ask for a book. The librarian can't interpret "Neigh, neigh" or "Bow Wow" but she knows just what to do when the chicken says, "Book! Book! Book!" (or "Bawk! Bawk! Bawk!). This is a story made for telling and dramatization.

The Featherless Chicken Chih-Yuan Chen offers a moral of acceptance of all, even those who look very different and have no sense of style. It is the wonderful, amusing illustrations that make the book soar above its moral to include humor and interesting discussion possibilities. It is never preachy and always fun.

Stuck int he Mud by Jane Clarke also plays with a familiar theme. We all know the story of a giant vegetable that requires everyone in the neighborhood to pull it out of the ground. In this telling of the tale, it is a little chick who is appears to be stuck in the mud. Its worried mother summons everyone to help save her baby. The twist at the end will bring smiles all around, except, perhaps, for the mother hen.

The Minerva Louise series by Janet Morgan Stoeke also plays with the unexpected. In this case it is the confusion that Minerva Louise, a chicken, has with the items that her farm family has around. Start the school year with Minerva Louise at School and then follow her escapades as she finds a hat, a friend, or decorations for Christmas and Easter.

If you have a high tolerance for puns and almost painfully bad jokes, you will enjoy two books by Kevin O'Malley. I find that fourth and fifth graders are the best audiences for Gimme Cracked Corn and I Will Share and Animal Crackers Fly the Coop. Both books are retelling of familiar folk tales with a twist that will keep readers laughing and groaning at the steady flow of jokes as they gradually realized what tale is really being told. They shout out, "Hey, isn't this that story about, you know, those animals who scare the crooks?" Yes, they are right, of course.

The most serious book on this is Ruler of the Courtyard by Rukhsana Khan which takes place in Pakistan. A little girl is afraid of the chickens in her courtyard so she scurries to get to the bath house. She tells herself that she must be brave but it is difficult. While working up the courage to recross the courtyard she spies what she is sure is a snake just a few feet from her feet. When she gets the courage to deal with the snake, she realizes that chickens are not as scary as she thought they were. The illustrations are bright and bold, capturing both the tensions and the relief that this charming girl feels.

My two newest additions are among the most appealing books I have encountered recently.

Interrupting Chicken by David Ezra Stein will ring true to anyone who knows someone who interrupts. The young chicken wants a bedtime story but every time his father starts a familiar story, the chicken interrupts with a quick finish for the story. When father suggests that the interrupting young one tell the story, there is a flurry of activity as the story gets scribbled into a notebook. I especially like the colorful illustrations of the story itself juxtaposed with drab pictures in the storybook. The interruptions jump right into the storybook itself.

The Chicken Thief by Beatrice Rodriguez has no words at all but tells an adventurous tale of a chicken taken from its friends by a fox. The detailed illustrations follow the fox as her runs off with his catch with her friends, a bear, a rabbit, and a rooster, in hot pursuit. The surprise ending is just what I wanted to happen and should thrill young readers who are sure to pour over this book again and again, creating their own explanations of what is happening between the chicken and her friends and then when she is with the fox.

Enjoy a chicken book or two. They will have you clucking for more.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Singapore Connections

Soon after school got out in June, I was treated to a visit from the librarian at the Canadian International School in Singapore. She is also Aunt Sarah to some of my favorite Emerson students. One of the wonders of the world is the connections that are made this way.

Sarah and I had a nice time speaking "librarian" together, comparing what we do and why we do it. I have high hopes that together we will find a way to connect our two schools on opposite sides of the world, sharing those things that make our schools special as well as the myriad things we have in common.

One of the interesting things done by the International Schools in Singapore--there are several--is to all vote on favorite books. The librarians of the schools nominate books to be short listed for the Red Dot Awards each year. Students in each of the schools vote to have the final say in choosing four titles to be anointed with the coveted Red Dot. Go to the Red Dot website to see the winners and the nominees for 2010. One of the most interesting things to me is the variety of choices at each of the four reading levels. They strive to have titles and authors that represent the world. This means that some of the books are very familiar to me while others have never crossed my path. Sadly, many of those in the latter category are not readily available in the USA, having been published in Singapore or Australia or some other interesting, but far away, place.

Wouldn't it be fun to get a group of loosely tied schools together here for something similar? I have my eyes and ears open for schools near and far that might want to develop a similar program.

Thank you, Sarah, for introducing me to this program. I will keep watching your suggestions. Who knows where this will lead us.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Choice Books

At some point during the 2009-2010 school year, all of the fourth graders in Mrs. B.'s class got the chance to pick the book they read from the genre of their choice. To conclude the reviews from Mrs. B.'s class, here are reviews of some of those choice books.

Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko
Moose is with his family on the same island as public enemy #1! He doesn't have any friends on the island because they all live in Santa Monica, where he used to live. He goes to school in San Francisco where he plays baseball on Monday. He helps this girl named Piper with her "Projects". Like the time she took all the other students' clothes and washed them in her own washer and said they were done by Al Capone. That plan backfired and Moose got in a lot of trouble even though he didn't do anything. Alcatraz Island is a place where the worst criminals of all live. Moose has never seen the criminals before but he knows they are out there. Will Moose ever see Al Capone? Read to find out.
Rating: I give this book ***** stars because I love every part of it. I also liked that it is actually true that kids used to live on Alcatraz and I would be way too scared if I lived on an island with a bunch of criminals.

Stormbreaker by Anthony Horowitz
Stormbreaker is about a boy, Alex Rider, whose uncle dies. He has been told that he died in a car accident, but when he finds his uncle's car there was a bullet hole in the window. A little later he finds out that his uncle was a secret agent. Now Alex has to finish his uncle's mission. The mission is to go to Sayle Enterprises and find out what the Stormbreaker is.
Alex is only doing the mission to figure out who killed his uncle. Is Sayle the nice guy Alex thinks he is? Will he be able to stop this computer from being launched?
Rating: I rate this book *** stars because I do not like shooting and killing and spy books. I do not think many girls would like this book, but boys who love these things would love it.

Savvy by Ingrid Law
This is a book about a girl named Mibs which is short for Mississippi in the Beaumont's family. Mibs is about to turn 13. Thirteen is the age that all Beaumont children get their savvy, their magical power. A few days before her birthday disaster strikes; Mibs' dad was in an accident on the highway. This upsets Mibs terribly when her father doesn't wake up. When she has a birthday party that Miss Rosemary arranges at the church, she finds a pink bus that has Salina written on it. That was the city that her dad was in at the hospital. She was risking a lot because damage could be done with her savvy. She gets on the bus and runs away with her brother Fish, her brother Samson, Miss Rosemary's son Will, Will's sister Bobbi, and Lester a pink Bible delivery man. They ran away to get to Mibs' father but Lester has stops on the way.
Mibs thinks her savvy is waking people up because that morning she had woken up the pet turtle and woken her sister Gypsy. She assumes that she can wake her father. This leads them to a huge adventure that is risky and dangerous. Will Mibs' savvy turn out how she thought it would? Will she be able to wake her father?
Rating: ***** I give this book 5 stars because there was always something exciting going on. I could never stop reading this book.

The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Prisoner's Dilemma by Trenton Lee Stewart
Reynie, Sticky, Kate and Constance are some of the most talented kids int he world. The whisperer is a powerful weapon that can bring back memories, brainsweep, and many other things. Mr. Curtain is the evil brother of Mr. Benedict and the maker of the Whisperer. Mr. Curtain has a new plot to retake his Whisperer and rule the world. Mr. Curtain bribed a high ranked government official to take the Whisperer. The Ten Men raid the house and captured the children. It is up to the four children to stop Mr. Curtain, S.Q., and his evil ten men. What will happen in this book of good, evil, ten men, sentries, buckets and briefcases? Read to find out.
Rating: I would rate this book *****five stars. It was one of the best books I have every read. It always kept me on the edge of my seat. If you like Harry Potter and Percy Jackson you will love this book. It ends my favorite series of all time.

An Acceptable Time by Madeleine L'Engle
Polly O'Keefe is the daughter of Meg O'Keefe. She moves in with her grandparents, Alex and Kate Murray. She likes living with them very much. One day Polly was walking over to the Star Watching Rock and all of a sudden she was in a different place. The trees have moved, everything has changed, the Star Watching Rock is small and in better condition. Polly was about 3,000 years ahead of her time. She looked around and about an hour later she was back in her own time. She ran back to her grandparent's house and told them everything. Her grandma told her that she went through a time gate. She also told Polly that she should never go back tot he Star Watching Rock. The next day Polly's friend Zachary came over. They take a little walk and end up going through the time gate. They get stuck in the time gate and Zachary gets very ill. They have to wait there until the time gate will reopen. Will they be OK? Will they get back to their own time? Read the book and find out!
Rating: I would give this book 5 out of 5 stars because it kept me at the edge of my seat. It did take me a long time to read, but it's worth all the time.

Peter and the Shadow Thieves by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, illustrated by Greg Call
This book is about a boy named Peter who can fly and lives on an island with his other friends and protectors that call themselves the Mollusks. But there is trouble on that island. The trouble is pirates! They are out for Peter's friends but they know they can't attack the boys with the Mollusks around, so they try to sneak there by using a distraction. While that's going on at the island, Peter is flying to London with his fairy Tinker Bell to help his friend Molly. She is about to be attacked by different pirates and a creature that takes people's shadows. They are attacking Molly's family because her family has a very special object called star stuff. The star stuff is so important because it has powers that can do all sorts of things. For instance, it can make people fly. What will happen to the boys, Peter, and Molly? Read to find out.
Rating: I give this book ***** stars out of ***** stars because I think this book is very, very good and got me at the edge of my seat. Though I think you should read the first one first because then you will know what will be going on.

Muggie Maggie by Beverly Cleary
This book is about where Maggie does not want to learn cursive. Maggie is forced to learn cursive. Then the teacher finds out that Maggie is not doing what she is supposed to be doing. So then Maggie's mom gets a note from the teacher. Then Maggie starts writing her name in cursive when everyone was practicing letters. Then Maggie becomes note monitor and she delivers notes to the principal and the principal writes back. Then she still does not want to learn cursive. Did she learn to write cursive? Read the book and find out.
Rating: I give this book ** stars because there was not any excitement.

The True Confesions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi
Charlotte Doyle is a young lady attending Barrington School in England, until her father sends for her to come to America on a ship called the Seahawk. Once on board, Charlotte hears strange rumors about the captain, Mr. Jaggery. She thinks he's a nice gentleman and when he tells her to look out for two circles, a round robin, she says she will even though she was warned by a man named Zachariah not to trust him. When she sees one and tells Captain Jaggery, she sees he is the murderer everyone told her about. She tries to stop him, but she just made it worse. and now captain and crew are mad at her. She needs to prove to the crew she is sorry, but what can she do?
Rating: I give this book ***** stars out of five, because it was exciting.

Redwall by Brian Jacques
Redwall is a book about castle times but with animals in it. Rats are attacking Redwall and Mossflower forest. They are experienced fighters and will not stop at anything. Mattiaus is a mouse; he has lots of adventures and he is one of the main characters. One of his adventures was he had to fight a serpent to get a famous sword that might save Redwall. Will Redwall stand or will it be burned down by the rats, read the book to find out.
Rating: I would give this book ***** because it was a really good book and I loved it. I would recommend this book to other people and I think they would enjoy it.

More Fantasy Reviews. Thanks Grade 4!

Let's finish up the reviews of fantasy novels from Mrs. B.'s fourth grade class, 2009-2010.

The Secret of Platform Thirteen by Eva Ibbotson
One day three nurses take the prince out of Platform 13 and a nasty old woman, Mrs. Trottle, steals the prince. Four rescuers, a hag, a wizard, a giant and a fey, have to try to rescue the prince. The king and queen have to make the giant invisible so people will not notice him. All there is left of him is his eyeball floating in the air. The only way people will not be able to see the giant is if he shuts his eye, and he only had to do that a couple of times. The rescuers try really hard to impress the prince but all he does is insult the creatures.
All of the rescuers have lots of feelings and one the island people care a lot. The prince grew up with a rich mother so he is very spoiled. He always makes an excuse to skip school, then he says he wants to go out for lunch and has a lot of junk food. The hag got so mad when she saw this that she wished she was never a rescuer. The rescuers only have nine days until the portal to Platform 13 closes, but they never give up.
One day the wizard brings out something that will only come out once in five hundred years and the prince insults it. Then it goes back in. The four rescuers try many things to get the prince back but it is really hard. Will the four rescuers be able to save the Platform by bringing the prince back?
Rating: I rate this book **** stars because the book had many details and I didn't want to put the book down. Some parts were sad, but I think this would be a good book to read!

The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien
This book is about a long time ago when dragons were the kings of the earth. In the book is a dragon who likes to steal gold and sleeps with his eyes half open and can smell anyone and anything. It's also about a man named Bilbo Baggins who tries to steal the gold from he dragon. Bilbo Baggins is a small, little, fat, intelligent man. He is not big on adventures but he's good at many things. You can find out what he's best at if you read the book.
Rating: I do say *** out of ***** for everything. It's not bad but it's not good.

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
This book is about a boy whose parents get murdered, but he escapes to the nearby graveyard to be raised by ghosts. By the age of six he can talk well; he knows math; he knows lots of other knowledge of the spirits. His personality gets DARKER. He soon is captured by ghouls, and that was getting to be a nightmare until his magical tutor finally got the perfect chance, and she took it! After so long his family's killer hunts him down until he tricks him, but he brings friends along! Again he finds himself running away from an unstoppable man. In the end he barely defeats them and see the future the he was always waiting for...
Rating: I gave this book 4/5 stars because the book was sweet and sad.

Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer
The book Artemis Fowl is about a 12-year-old boy named Artemis Fowl who wants a lot of fairy gold. One night on the full moon he captured a fairy to lure the other fairies to his house so he could get more gold. What Artemis didn't know is that he captured the brave Captain Holly Short. Now, down in the inner core where the fairies live Commander Root (another fairy) is getting geared up with his gun and his other equipment to save Holly. After a while, Commander Root finds out where Artemis lives (he lives in a house in Dublin, Ireland) and gets to the house. With a little help from the mulch-digging and eating dwarf Mulch Diggums, Commander Root is able to get into the house. Will Holly ever escape and what will happen to everyone else?
Rating: I will rate this book 3 out of 5 stars because it wouldn't catch my attention. There would be some funny and interesting parts, but to me it was not a book that I would read again.

Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
Alice goes to her dad's friend's house and follows a white rabbit (March Hare) down a very long rabbit hole. As she was falling, she tried to grab as many things as she can to stop her from falling any deeper. Because everything she grabbed was loose, the objects (vases, flower pots, paintings, etc.) ended falling on top of her. (All she could see falling down was just darkness down to the world of Wonderland.) Alice meets the Mad Hatter, who later becomes her friend. He tells her that she has to go to the Red Queen's castle to get the Vorpal Sword, to slay the Jabberwockey on Frabjous Day. Alice sneaks into the castle but Stayne, the Knave of Hearts, sees her and tells the Red Army to attack her. She gets free. On Frabjous Day, Alice is supposed to slay the Jabberwockey's head off, but Red Queen got in the way and Alice killed her. Everyone was happy, even Stayne, the Red Army, and everyone who lived in Wonderland except the Jabberwocky. Will the Jabberwockey kill Alice? Or will Alice slay the Jabberwockey? Read the book to find out.
Rating: I would give this book 4 out of 5 because some parts were interesting and some parts I wanted to stop reading. It's not the best or worst book I have read.

Peter and the Starcatchers by Dave Barry and Ridly Pearson, illustrated by Greg Call
Peter and the Starcatchers is about Peter Pan before he became a magical person. Peter was born in 1775 and he never died because of the stuff called star stuff that was very powerful and had magic powers. Star stuff is something that falls to earth from space and these people called starcatchers find the star stuff and get rid of it. Peter meets a young starcatcher named Molly and they become friends and try to get rid of the star stuff before Black Stache. Black Stache is a pirate who loves treasure. In the end Black Stache does not get the star stuff and is carried away by his first officer called Smee.
The main characters are Peter, Molly, Black Stache, and Smee. Peter is a red headed boy who likes to be in charge of his friends who are orphans. Peter is also an orphan. Molly is a girl who belongs to a rich family and is a starcatcher who found the star stuff and is trying to get rid of it. Black Stache is a pirate and loves to have treasure and will do anything to get it. Smee is Black Stache's first officer and has been first officer longer than any other.
Rating: I would rate this book ***** stars because it had a lot of action and was very exciting at all times. Also was never boring and it kept me at the edge of my seat the whole time I was reading it, I never wanted to put the book down at all so that's why I loved it.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

The Fantasy World of Fourth Grade

Moving right along with the book reviews by the 2009-2010 fourth graders in Mrs. B.'s class, we are now up to fantasy, one of my favorite genres.

Many Waters by Madeleine L'Engle
Sandy and his twin brother Dennys mess up with their father's science experiment and end up in a desert populated with munchkins. Sandy and Dennys get a sunstroke and suffer for a couple of months and have to put up with some things such as death, captivity, and a big flood. Then Sandy and Dennys meet Noah. Like in Noah and the Ark. Then Noah introduces Grandfather Lamech. Grandfather Lamech said that El has told him that a flood is coming. El is like a god that only people that believe in him can hear him. So Noah, Sandy, and Dennys build an Art. But will Sandy and Dennys be able to put up with all these things? Will the people on the island be able to survive the flood? Will Sandy and Dennys be able to get back home? Read the book and find out.
Rating: I would give this book 5 stars because I always wanted to know what will happen next to Sandy and Dennys and wondered if they were going to get back home.

Seven Day Magic by Edward Eager
There were five children named Barnaby, Abby, Fredericka, John, and Susan. They go to the library one day and Susan checks out an old book. When they are walking home Susan opens up the book. There is nothing in it! She shows the other children. When they get home they check all the pages and realize that exactly what they had just said was in the book. Maybe it's a magic book. Fredericka wishes for a dragon. They go outside. A dragon swoops down and grabs Fredericka. Will the children save Fredericka and unravel the mystery of the book?
Rating: I would rate this book * one star. It wasn't exciting or funny. A couple of times I wanted to stop reading and start a new book. It was one of the worst books I have ever read.

Emily Windsnap and the Monster From the Deep by Liz Kessler, illustrated by Sarah Gibb
This book is about a curious eleven year old girl named Emily Windsnap. She loves to explore. One day when she was exploring with her friend, Shona, they found a cave. They decided to see what was in it. They found a huge monster called the Kraken! That monster was Neptune's monster. (the King of the Sea) When Neptune found out that the monster had escaped, he was furious. Emily and Shona were the only people who could calm the Kraken down. Meanwhile Emily's enemy, Mandy, was going to go on a cruise with her family and it wasn't going well. What will happen to Emily and Shona? Read to find out.
Rating: I give this book four stars out of five stars because I like funny books better and some parts were boring. Other than that, I really liked it.

The Sisters Grimm and the Tales From the Hood by Micheal Buckley, illustrated by Peter Ferquson
This is a great book about two girls named Sabrina and Daphene and their family. The family lives in Ferryport Landing, a town full of everafters (live people that were in fairy tales). In this book they have to complete two missions. The first one is about Mr. Canis, the old bodyguard for the Grimm family. Mr. Canis is a friendly man but when he has anger he blows with rage and turns back into the big bad wolf. The police have been looking for the big bad wolf for years to put him in jail so when the police see him they arrested him. They have to get Mr. Canis out of jail before it's too late.
The second problem is that Sabrina and Daphene's parents are under a sleeping spell. Goldilocks is the only one who can break the sleeping spell because she truly loves Mr. Grimm. But they are out of luck because Goldilocks is moving from town to town because a man is chasing after her. Even though they have to battle against the man and get Goldilocks back they get to see the beautiful cities like Paris, Chicago, New York, and they even get to see the ocean. Will they complete their missions in time?
Rating: This book had an abundance of action in each chapter. There was magic, mystery and suspense. I give it 5 stars.

Which Witch? by Eva Ibbotson
Arriman the Awful needs a wife. Even though he is the blackest wizard there is, he is aging quite rapidly and needs a son to take over his role. Which witch will he choose? Will it be Mabel Wrack, half mermaid and great at fishy magic; Old Mother Bloodward who knows every spell in the book except the turn-yourself-young-again spell or the Shouter twins who would kill each other to win over Arriman? All of the witches are scared of Madame Olympia who knows the blackest magic in the universe. Poor Belladonna doesn't stand a chance against the other witches because she only specializes in white magic, not black. Belladonnna already realized that the young wizard is alive but Arriman doesn't have a clue. What will happen?
Rating: I gave this book four stars because most of the time it was exciting and had nail biting moments. The rest of the book gave me no emotions.

The Giggler Treatment by Roddy Doyle
This book is about adults getting the giggler treatment. The giggler treatment is about if adults are mean to the children then they get poop on their shoe. Adults get poop on their shoes until they stop being mean to the children. The Gigglers don't poop. The dog owner makes Rover poop outside and the Gigglers get the poop and pay Rover 20 pence.
Mister Mack was being mean to his children because he put his kids in bed early because they broke the kitchen window. The Giggler thought the kids were in their rooms for a long time but they were in their room for two minutes. The Gigglers put poop on the sidewalk. Does Mister Mack step on the poop? Read the book to find out.
Rating: I give this book ***** stars because the book was funny. It was funny because the gigglers were hilarious.

The Candy Shop War by Brandon Mull
The Candy Shop War is about four friends, Nate, Summer, Pigeon, and Trevor, who discover a candy shop owned by Belinda White. She is a magician who gives magical candy to children in exchange for shady tasks. Her goal is to drink from the fountain of youth, a thing of liquid that would make her more powerful and younger. After the children find out she betrayed them they go to Mr. Stott, the ice cream man, who is also a magician. He helps them try to beat Belinda to the treasure. Belinda recruits three bullies from their school, Denny, Eric, and Kyle. She also gets a few magical creatures, a Gusher, A Fuse, and a Kinetic. Will they be able to stop Belinda White?
Rating: I would give this book five stars because it had a lot of action an magic in it. I also would recommend it to other people.

Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O'Brien, illustrated by Zena Bernstein
It all started with a family of four field mice and their widowed mother named Mrs. Frisby. Her children were called Teresa, Martin, Cynthia, and Timothy. One day Timothy became terribly ill with pneumonia and the seasons were turning from winter to spring. The only problem, other than Timothy being sick with pneumonia, is that in a matter of time Mr. Fitzgibbon, the farmer, and his sons pull out the plow. Mrs. Frisby's house is right in the middle of the field and she needs to find a way to move her house before time runs out. Luckily, she finds a magnificent species of super rats called the Rats of NIMH who can help her. Can she persuade the rats to accompany her with the help of her children, a crazy crow named Jeremy, an out of this world owl and another field mouse named Mr. Ages?
Rating: I liked this book because it was thrilling and always made me wonder what would happen next. I GIVE THIS BOOK FIVE STARS *****

Inkheart by Cornelia Funke
Twelve year old Meggie and her father, Morimer, were snug in their house when suddenly a strange man appeared outside. Mortimer led him inside and took him into his office. The next thing she knew Meggie was in the car on the way to her Aunt Elinor's house. Aunt Elinor was obsessed with books and her walls are all book shelves. Meggie and Mortimer take the stranger with them whose name is Dustfinger. When Mortimer reads aloud characters come out of the book. He read Dustfinger out of a book named Inkheart. When someone comes out another person goes in. When Dustfinger came out, Mortimer's wife went in. Dustfinger is a fire eater. He puts on a show for Meggie later at night. The next day they are off to Capricorn's village.
Capricorn is a cold souled person whose heart is ink black. Capricorn captures them and puts them in a horse stall that Capricorn uses as a dungeon. Later they escape and find an old shack to hide in. After awhile Dustfinger sets fire to Capricorn's house as a distraction. What will happen next? Read Inkheart to find out.
Rating: I give this book ***** stars because I loved the adventure in the book.

Coraline by Neil Gaiman
Coraline had just moved to a new apartment, but her parents still ignore her. They are always busy. Then one day, Coraline found a locked door. when she unlocked it, she found another world. Living there is a magical mother. Coraline thinks the other world is a wonderful place, until one night at dinner her magical mother says she wants to sew buttons on her eyes. Coraline goes back until her magical mother steals her parents and locks Coraline in a secret room. In the room there are three ghosts that the magical mother already stole. They tell Coraline to find their souls and she will be free from the magical mother. The magical mother says if Coraline can find the souls and where she hid her parents, Coraline can go back to her world with them. But how can Coraline find them? And what if the magical mother doesn't let her go back.
Rating: I give this book ***** stars because it was really suspenseful and it had a lot of action in it.

Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
Jess is a boy who loves to run. He also loves to make up animals and draw them. One day a girl came to live next to Jess. Her name was Leslie. Leslie and Jess became best friends. They wanted a place for just the two of them. They find a creek and a tree hanging over it. That gave Leslie an idea. She tied a rope onto the tree sot hey could swing across the creek.
Then they started to build the castle. They built and built every day after school until it was finally done. They named the area Terabithia.
On Easter they had to go to church. Leslie found out and wanted to go with Jess's family. Leslie went with them. When they got there, Leslie started reading the Bible. She said, "I don't believe this." Jess's sister said, "If you don't believe this then you might not got to Heaven!" Still, Leslie didn't believe it.
One morning, Jess got a call from his favorite teacher to go to the Smithsonian with her. Jess was so excited he told his mom and was running to the driveway, where the teacher would be waiting. On the car ride, he thought about Terabithia. Then he thought of Leslie. Jess forgot to tell Leslie! Jess thought she would be fine and everything will be all right. Or will it?
Rating: I give this book **** stars because it made me want to read more. At the end of the chapter it stopped at an important part and made me want to continue reading. I think some people may not like this book though because it wasn't as action packed as other books.

The Indian in the Cupboard by Lynne Reid Banks, illustrated by Brock Colein
This book is an action of adventure that inspires children to read the fantasy and mystery of Omri and his action figures. Imagine a young boy with his action figure coming to life and trying to defend themselves from danger. How the action figures come to life is a secret you can uncover by reading the story. Many magical things begin to happen as you go deeper and deeper into the book and discover the purpose of Omri's birthday present, the cupboard. Omri finally discovers the secret, but you can only find out by reading this fantasy story.
Rating: I really enjoyed the book because it was full of adventure and magic. Even though it was a fantasy book, I still felt like it was a real story! It was easy to read because it was so exciting and in parts of the book it had dangerous parts. I would give it 5 stars and I would suggest that all my friends should read it.

Fablehaven by Brandon Mull
Fablehaven is a story about a girl named Kendra and her younger brother Seth. When their parents are going on a cruise, Kendra and Seth must go to their grandparent's house until their parents are back. While Kendra and her brother are at their grandparent's house they soon discover a big secret. Their grandparents own Fablehaven, a secret sanctuary that gives magical creatures a place to stay. They find out that fairies, satyrs, and freaky demons all exist and find refuge in these secret sanctuaries. Kendra and Seth gain all of this knowledge fast and soon after quickly find trouble. An evil witch named Muriel is set loose in Fablehaven and she wants to release Bahumat, an evil demon who could destroy Fablehaven and everyone in it that has taken refuge at Fablehaven. Can Kendra and Seth, along with their grandparents, Lena, and Dale (who are new friends) save the day? The existence of Fablehaven and the existence of themselves? Read the book to find out.
Rating: I give this book 5 stars because each chapter was full of suspense and the author has so many wonderful ideas. I would highly recommend it to people who love magical creatures!

Half Magic by Edward Eager
Half Magic is about a girl named Jane who has a magic coin. The problem is the coin only wishes half of your wishes. So they travel around making unsafe wishes and it turns into a big problem, they mess up history, their cats speaks English and meows, and their little sister has only half her body.
Everybody in town is worried because a dog statue starts speaking and Mark's friends play basketball with half a body. Now they are worried because they messed up everything and might not be able to fix it. They only have limited wishes and they have only a couple more wishes left. Can they fix all their problems? Will anybody believe them? Will they be able to fix any trouble?
Rating: I give this book ***** stars because it really caught my attention so I felt like I was int he book.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

More mysteries--Thanks, 4th grade

More mystery books reviewed by Mrs. B.'s 2009-2010 fourth grade class.

Daredevils by Franklin W. Dixon
One day Frank and Joe Hardy were watching a movie called "Flame Broiled". When the movie was over they went home to find that their dad had a note from Brian McCaully, an old friend in Hollywood. It said that his son, Terrence McCaully (a friend of Frank and Joe, also a stuntman) was entering the Daredevil Fest and thought someone didn't want him to compete. Now the boys have a one way trip to Hollywood to solve the mystery.
While they're in Hollywood they meet some pretty suspicious suspects and do a lot of dangerous stunts like hang-gliding, sky diving, and extreme truck driving.
Rating: I give this book 4 stars because it made me want to look deeper into the book and find all its secrets. It made me want to read it for hours and hours.

Stolen Stegosaurus by Paleo Joe
This book is about two kids, Dakota and Shelly. Shelly is 9 years old and she thinks she knows everything. Dakota, on the other hand, is much different. He's average. He is 10 years old. Dakota doesn't like Shelly very much. He thinks she's a total brat. They go on a dino dig with their friend Paleo Joe. They head out to North Dakota because that is one of the best digging sites. Then Shelly finds some dinosaur eggs and thinks she is the best person in the world. They figure out that the dino eggs belonged to a stegosaurus. Then they find some bones of a stegosaurus but don't find any more! Can they find the dino bones? Read the book and find out!
Rating: I would give this book only half a star because it didn't really catch my attention and it didn't really have much action. I would recommend it if you are the type of person who likes mystery books.

Disappearing Acts by Betsy Byars
Disappearing Acts is a book about a girl named Herculeah Jones, and her friend, Meat. Herculeah is a detective who helps Meat with finding his father who ran away when Meat was born. When Meat goes to joke classes at Funny Bonz Night Club, he finds a dead body in the bathroom. When the director goes back to check, the body is gone. Meat tells Herculeah, and she comes back to look. But then she finds a clue to Meat's case and she thinks she can find his father. Can she solve both cases? Which case will she choose? Read the book to find out.
Rating: I gave this book **** stars because it was good, but it was sometimes a little boring.

Howliday Inn by James Howe
This book is great. It's about a family who goes on vacation and leave their pets, Chester and Harold, at Chateau Bow-Wow. Chester gets worried that Howard and Heather are werewolves. When Harold wakes up, Chester has gone missing. Harold can't trust anyone, not even Howard or Heather! He talks to his friend Max--Louise has now gone missing, too! They look at the gate and it was opened. What happened to Chester and Louise?
Rating: I gave this book five stars because it has a lot of detail and is interesting, but I knew that they would solve the mystery.

Chet Gecko in Farewell My Lunch Bag by Bruce Hale
In this book someone has been stealing food from the kitchen and if the lunch lady does not figure out who has been stealing the food from the kitchen she will lose her job. So the lunch lady asks Chet for help and Chet agrees. It is only because he does not want to say good-bye to stink bug pie. Chet's partner, Nattily Attired, helps him with this mystery. They try talking to many people who do not like the lunch lady, but none of them did it.
This book takes place at Emerson Hicky Elementary. All the teachers there are mean. The only nice grown-up is the lunch lady. Can Chet save his stink bug pie and the lunch lady? If you want to find out, read the book!
Rating: I rate this book **** because it was good, but if you read it again it is no fun because you know the ending and it will not be a mystery. This book had a lot of details.

Bunnicula by Deborah and James Howe
This book is about two children that have a dog named Harold and a cat named Chester. One day they go to a Dracula movie and find a bunny; they name him Bunnicula. Chester finds out what Bunnicula is doing every night. Chester is worried that Bunnicula is going to take over the house. Will Bunnicula take over the house or will Chester and Harold stop him?
Rating: I give this book a * star rating because it was not really a mystery book. It was boring. A lot of other people like this book, but, personally, I don't.

Seven Day Magic by Edward Eager
This book is about five children who love to read. One day they find a book at the library that is due in seven days instead of fourteen days. While they start reading it, they notice that it is about their own lives. They didn't know where the book came from. They start making wishes to the book thinking they would come true, and they do. Their first wish was to go to Oz land and help save the munchkins from the evil dragon. They traveled there from a flying house. Mr. Oswaldo is the one who made the house fly by using a special potion. Ms. Funkhouser is Mr. Oswaldo's maid who cleans up all the magic that goes wrong. Will the five kids save the munchkins or will the dragon eat them all? Read to find out.
Rating: I gave this book **** stars because people who like adventure and mystery would love it. Also that most parts were exciting and they kept me on the edge of my seat.

The Tower Treasure by Franklin W. Dixon
This book is about the Hardy boys. The Hardy boys are the main characters in The Tower Treasure. First is Frank Hardy. He has blond hair and is a little older than Joe Hardy. He is also a little more responsible than Joe. Joe Hardy has short black hair and is more athletic than his brother, Frank. He is also a little more positive than his brother. The setting takes place in Bayport, New York. Bayport is a small town with a a lot of people. This is where Frank and Joe were born and raised by Mrs. and Mr. Hardy. The mystery in this book is about money and jewels that were stolen from these rich people called the Applegates. When the Applegates found out that some of their property was stolen, they were both furious. What will happen next? Will the Hardy boys solve the case or not? Read to find out.
Rating: I would rate this book **** because it had a lot of action in it and it was really good at times, so I would recommend this book to all readers.

The Hardy Boys and the Arctic Patrol Mystery by Franklin W. Dixon
This book is about two boys named Frank and Joe Hardy that go to their friend's house. A man tries to kidnap them from solving the mystery of their disappearing friends. They go to Iceland to give a man named Rex Hallbjornson $50.000 for saving a billionaire's life at sea. The pilot of the plane is the man who kidnapped Frank and Joe's friends. They killed him and then the plane crashed, but they were fine. Will the boys catch the thief? Read the book to find out.
Rating: I would give this book a **** star rating because the book had a lot of suspense and I never was bored of it.

Sammy Keyes and the Psycho Kitty Queen by Wendelin Van Draanen
This book is about a girl named Sammy Keyes who notices a problem in her neighborhood: there are cats disappearing everywhere and their owners aren't happy. In this book, Sammy goes out of her way to find these kitties. Now for the facts: There are dead cats in garbage cans. There were wrestlers that had weird names. Some people were acting very suspicious. Cats were forced to fight each other. A police officer was dressed up as the wrestler Al Gato. Crazy people were betting on fighting cats. The main characters in the book were Sammy, the sleuth; Mom, the liar; Grams, the worrier; and Tony, the betrayer. Now you know the basics of the book. Read it for the fun of it!
Rating: My rating was 4 out of 5 stars. It was awesome!

Nancy Drew and the Invisible Intruder by Carolyn Keene
This book is about a teen-age girl detective named Nancy, who loves to solve mysteries! The mystery in this book is about an invisible intruder who tries to get a deed to a hotel. In order to do that he has to scare the people who are staying at the hotel. Eventually the word will spread that there is a ghost in the hotel. He wants that because nobody will stay there and it will get bankrupt. Nancy has to try to find the person who is making all these ghosts appear and report that person to the police. Will Nancy be able to find the person before the hotel gets bankrupt? You'll have to read to find out.
Rating: I give this book *** stars out of five stars because it was a little boring. I never got interest in the book and I knew Nancy would solve the mystery.

Nancy Drew and the Mystery of Nancy's Mysterious Letter by Carolyn Keene
This book is about a teenager named Nancy Drew who gets a letter that is supposed to be for a famous actress named Nancy Smith Drew. While Nancy is trying to find Nancy Smith Drew, another mystery has taken place. Nancy's friend, Ira Nixon has a stepbrother named Edgar Nixon who has stolen a LOT of money from him. When Nancy stays at the hotel that Nancy Smith Drew stayed at, she finds out that Nancy Smith Drew is going to marry Edgar Nixon. Finally, Nancy finds Nancy Smith Drew at an airport. When Nancy tells Nancy Smith Drew that she is about to marry a thief, she doesn't know what to say. Then Nancy sees Edgar walking to the bathroom. Will she ever catch him?
Rating: I will rate this book *** stars out of five stars because it was to read but it was too short of a book.

Sammy Keyes and the Hollywood Mummy by Wendelin Van Draanen
This book is about a girl named Sammy Keyes who lives with her grandmother. She runs away with her best friend, Marrissa, to see her mother who left one year before to become a movie star. When they arrive in Hollywood they discover that her mother pretends she is twenty years younger, dyes her hair, makes fake newspaper clippings about her acting, makes fake roles, and changes her name to get the part of Jewel in a T. V. show. Max, the man that Sammy's mother is going to marry, is secretly trying to ruin her career. When the friends are trying to rescue Sammy's mom, they have to go through obstacles and little mysteries along the way. Will they be able to stop Max and the maids that help along the way in time?
Rating: I gave this book four stars. It was full of suspense, mystery, adventure and action.