Disappointed

23 Apr

With Jerry Spinelli’s name on the cover, I knew I would read The Warden’s Daughter. 

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Publisher’s Summary: Cammie O’Reilly lives at the Hancock County Prison–not as a prisoner, she’s the warden’s daughter. She spends the mornings hanging out with shoplifters and reformed arsonists in the women’s excercise yard, which gives Cammie a certain cache with her school friends.

But even though Cammie’s free to leave the prison, she’s still stuck. And sad, and really mad. Her mother died saving her from harm when she was just a baby. You wouldn’t think you could miss something you never had, but on the eve of her thirteenth birthday, the thing Cammie most wants is a mom. A prison might not be the best place to search for a mother, but Cammie is determined and she’s willing to work with what she’s got.

It took me a while to get into the story. Cammie is a hard character to like, but I was willing to give her a chance. She grew on me bit I never really got to the point that I loved this book. Part of it was Cammie, part of it was that I wasn’t willing to suspend my disbelief and accept that Cammie would have free run of the prison. I did that just fine with All Rise For The Honorable Perry T. Cook but found it hard to do so here. Maybe it was pacing. The Warden’s Daughter felt a bit draggy.

Jerry Spinelli books usually delight me, but this one just left me disappointed.Lots of other people liked this more than I did and the book has received several starred reviews. Give it a try, and see what you think.

This week’s book talks 4/17-4/21

21 Apr

Monday: The Door in the Alley (The Explorers #1)  by Adrienne Kress

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Publisher’s Summary:Featuring a mysterious society, a secretive past, and a pig in a teeny hat, The Explorers: The Door in the Alley is the first book in a new series for fans of The Name of This Book Is a Secret and The Mysterious Benedict Society. Knock once if you can find it—but only members are allowed inside.

This is one of those stories that start with a pig in a teeny hat. It’s not the one you’re thinking about. (This story is way better than that one.)

This pig-in-a-teeny-hat story starts when a very uninquisitive boy stumbles upon a very mysterious society. After that, there is danger and adventure; there are missing persons, hired thugs, a hidden box, a lost map, and famous explorers; and also a girl on a rescue mission.

The Explorers: The Door in the Alley is the first book in a series that is sure to hit young readers right in the funny bone.

 

Tuesday: My Name is Not Friday by Jon Walters

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Publisher’s Summary: ‘This boy has bought me. This white boy who don’t even look as old as I am. He owns me body and soul and my worth has been set at six hundred dollars.’

Samuel’s an educated boy. Been taught by a priest. He was never supposed to be a slave.
He’s a good boy too, thoughtful and kind. The type of boy who’d take the blame for something he didn’t do if it meant he saved his brother. So now they don’t call him Samuel. Not anymore. And the sound of guns is getting ever closer…

An extraordinary tale of endurance and hope, Jon Walter’s second novel is a beautiful and moving story about the power of belief and the strength of the human spirit, set against the terrifying backdrop of the American Civil War.

Wednesday: Overturned by Lamar Giles

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Goodreads Summary: Nikki Tate is infamous, even by Las Vegas standards. Her dad is sitting on death row, convicted of killing his best friend in a gambling dispute turned ugly. And for five years, he’s maintained his innocence. But Nikki wants no part of that. She’s been working on Operation Escape Vegas: playing in illegal card games so she can save up enough money to get out come graduation day.

Then her dad’s murder conviction is overturned. The new evidence seems to come out of nowhere and Nikki’s life becomes a mess when he’s released from prison. Because the dad who comes home is not the dad she remembers. And he’s desperately obsessed with finding out who framed him—and why.

As her dad digs into the seedy underbelly of Vegas, the past threatens everything and Nikki is drawn into his deadly hunt for the truth. But in the city of sin, some sinners will do anything to keep their secrets, and Nikki soon finds herself playing for the biggest gamble ever—her life.

 

Thursday: One Good Thing About America by Ruth Freeman

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Goodreads Summary: It’s hard to start at a new school . . . especially if you’re in a new country. Back home, Anais was the best English student in her class. Here in Crazy America she feels like she doesn’t know English at all. Nothing makes sense (chicken FINGERS?), and the kids at school have some very strange ideas about Africa. Anais misses her family–Papa and grandmother Oma and big brother Olivier–because here in Crazy America there’s only little Jean-Claude and Mama. So she writes letters to Oma–lots of them. She tells her she misses her and hopes the war is over soon. She tells her about Halloween, snow, mac ‘n’ cheese dinners and princess sleepovers. She tells her about the weird things Crazy Americans do, and how she just might be turning into a Crazy American herself.

Friday: Genevieve’s War by Patricia Reilly Giff

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Publisher’s Summary: Thirteen-year-old American girl Genevieve has spent the summer of 1939 at her grandmother’s farm in Alsace, France. Then she makes an impulsive choice: to stay in France. It proves to be a dangerous decision. World War II erupts. The Nazis conquer Alsace and deport the Jews and others. A frightening German officer commandeers a room in Meme’s farmhouse. And when Gen’s friend Remi commits an act of sabotage, Gen is forced to hide him in the attic–right above the Nazi officer’s head. Genevieve’s War is a gripping story that brings the war in occupied France vividly to life. It is a companion work to Lily’s Crossing, a Newbery Honor Book

Until we meet again

20 Apr

My great Harry Potter reread (via audiobooks) is over.

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I listened to all seven books in the car, mostly during my commute to school. Here are the stats:

  • 69 discs
  • 119 hours
  • approximately 828 miles

As I live in the US, all the discs were narrated by Jim Dale, who I think does a magnificent job.

Although I have reached the end of the series, I am sure this is not goodbye, just until we meet again. I will watch the movies again, and I will remark on the many bits that have been left out or streamlined for the sake of the movie’s length. I am certain I will read the series again, either in print or as audiobooks. I must admit, though I am curious to hear the Stephen Fry audiobooks that are available in the UK.

You can compare the two voices here.

My new audiobook mission is to revisit some classic science fiction during my commute: Robert Heinlein, Larry Niven, Arthur C. Clarke, and other authors of that ilk to see which ones I can add to my classroom library. I’ll keep you posted

Spring is in the air

18 Apr

Yesterday, when it rained, it didn’t chill me to my bones. Yes,it was damp, but it was a warm, April rain.

I’ve noted the change coming. For the last few weeks, when I arrive at school, I have been greeted by birdsong. That doesn’t happen in Winter and it warms my heart to hear it.

A lot of other things don’t happen in Winter, either.

I am sleeping with a window open regularly.

I  turn the heat up to take the chill out of the house in the morning, but rarely run it the rest of the day.

I consider NOT wearing tights with a skirt.

I choose a light sweater, rather than a heavy one, knowing it will likely travel home in my school bag.

What are your harbingers of Spring?

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When good kids make bad decisions

17 Apr

We often tell 6th graders who have done something really stupid, that this is the time in their life when they can make mistakes and truly learn from them, never repeat them. We let them know that, when they are older, the consequences of their actions will be more severe. We say this when they turn in a friends work as their own and mess around in the bathrooms. We have really good kids.

But sometimes, really good kids make tragic mistakes, and it adults don’t tell them this is their chance to learn, they want them punished.

That is the premise of Jeff Zentner’s second novel, Goodbye Days.

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Publisher’s Summary:What if you did something so terrible that it literally steals your breath away?

Something you wish you could take back every waking minute of your life. Something everyone is guilty of doing at one time or another—but this time, it destroyed life as you knew it forever.

“I would tell you that I definitely killed my three best friends. Here’s the cruel irony for the writer I am: I wrote them out of existence.

Where are you guys? Text me back.”

Carver Briggs never thought a simple text would cause a fatal crash, killing his three best friends, Mars, Eli, and Blake. But now Carver can’t stop blaming himself for the accident and even worse, a powerful judge is pressuring the district attorney to open up a criminal investigation.

Luckily, Carver has some unexpected allies: Eli’s girlfriend, the only person to stand by him at school; Dr. Mendez, his new therapist; and Blake’s grandmother, who asks Carver to spend a “goodbye day” together to share their memories and say a proper farewell.

Soon the other families are asking for their own goodbye day with Carver—but he’s unsure of their motives. Will they all be able to make peace with their losses, or will these goodbye days bring Carver one step closer to a complete breakdown or—even worse—prison?

Although intended for a slightly older audience, this is a YA novel that I can easily put on my 6th grade shelf. There is a little romance, but the book is intelligent and heart-breaking.

This week’s booktalks 4/10-14

14 Apr

MONDAY

I picked up an ARC of Amina’s Voice by Hena Khan at the ALA Midwinter. I was thrilled to finally share it with my class.

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Publisher’s Summary:  A Pakistani-American Muslim girl struggles to stay true to her family’s vibrant culture while simultaneously blending in at school after tragedy strikes her community in this sweet and moving middle grade novel from the award-winning author of It’s Ramadan, Curious George and Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns.

Amina has never been comfortable in the spotlight. She is happy just hanging out with her best friend, Soojin. Except now that she’s in middle school everything feels different. Soojin is suddenly hanging out with Emily, one of the “cool” girls in the class, and even talking about changing her name to something more “American.” Does Amina need to start changing too? Or hiding who she is to fit in? While Amina grapples with these questions, she is devastated when her local mosque is vandalized.

Amina’s Voice brings to life the joys and challenges of a young Pakistani American and highlights the many ways in which one girl’s voice can help bring a diverse community together to love and support each other.

TUESDAY

Night Witches by Kathryn Lasky is a nice bit of historical fiction with a strong female lead.

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Publisher’s Summary:16-year-old Valya knows what it feels like to fly.

She’s a pilot who’s always felt more at home soaring through the sky than down on earth. But since the Germans surrounded Stalingrad, Valya’s been forced to stay on the ground and watch her city crumble.

When her mother is killed during the siege, Valya is left with one burning desire: to join up with her older sister, a member of the famous and feared Night Witches-a regiment of young female pilots. Using all her wits, Valya manages to get past the German blockade and find the Night Witches’ hidden base … and that’s when the real danger starts. The pilots have been assigned a critical mission, one with the· power to inflict serious damage on the Nazis. Valya will give anything to fight for her country, but when the person she loves most goes missing, she must make a choice between duty and the deepest desires of her heart.

With her signature blend of lyrical writing and heart-racing action, historical fiction master Kathryn Lasky sheds light on the war’s unsung heroes – daredevil girls who took to the skies to take on the Nazis … and won.

WEDNESDAY

My students were excited to know that they could read Jason Reynolds’ Miles Morales before it gets published in August.

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Publisher’s Summary: Miles Morales is just your average teenager. Dinner every Sunday with his parents, chilling out playing old-school video games with his best friend, Ganke, crushing on brainy, beautiful poet Alicia. He’s even got a scholarship spot at the prestigious Brooklyn Visions Academy. Oh yeah, and he’s Spider Man.

THURSDAY

I have a few readers who LOVE funny books, so, even though I don;t, I keep an eye out for laugh aloud books they might enjoy. I had a lot of kids laughing out  loud when I read a bit from  Pottymouth and Stoopid by James Patterson and Chris Grabenstein.

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Publisher’s Summary: David and his best friend Michael were tagged with awful nicknames way back in preschool when everyone did silly things. Fast-forward to seventh grade: “Pottymouth” and “Stoopid” are still stuck with the names–and everyone in school, including the teachers and their principal, believe the labels are true.

So how do they go about changing everyone’s minds? By turning their misery into megastardom on TV, of course! And this important story delivers more than just laughs–it shows that the worst bullying doesn’t have to be physical…and that things will get better.

FINALLY, FRIDAY

It has felt like a really long week. Fortunately, I’ve been reading the book I shared today:  The Lotterys Plus One by Emma Donoghue. It made me laugh and think deeply about what it means to be a family.

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Publisher’s Summary:Meet the Lotterys: a unique and diverse family featuring four parents, seven kids and five pets – all living happily together in their big old house, Camelottery. Nine-year-old Sumac is the organizer of the family and is looking forward to a long summer of fun.

But when their grumpy and intolerant grandad comes to stay, everything is turned upside down. How will Sumac and her family manage with another person to add to their hectic lives?

The Lotterys Plus One, internationally bestselling author Emma Donoghue’s first novel for children, features black-and-white illustrations throughout, and is funny, charming and full of heart.

This one felt a little young for some of my students but I liked it a lot, so added it to my classroom library.

The hottest book in my classroom library

13 Apr

A few weeks ago, after I’d finished reading it, I booktalked Fonda Lee’s Exo  and added it to my classroom library.

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It hasn’t been back on the shelf since. Kids are passing it, hand to hand and urging the person reading it to read faster.

Author Summary: It’s been a century of peace since Earth became a colony of an alien race with far reaches into the galaxy. Some die-hard extremists still oppose alien rule on Earth, but Donovan Reyes isn’t one of them. His dad holds the prestigious position of Prime Liaison in the collaborationist government, and Donovan’s high social standing along with his exocel (a remarkable alien technology fused to his body) guarantee him a bright future in the security forces. That is, until a routine patrol goes awry and Donovan’s abducted by the human revolutionary group Sapience, determined to end alien control.

When Sapience realizes whose son Donovan is, they think they’ve found the ultimate bargaining chip . But the Prime Liaison doesn’t negotiate with terrorists, not even for his own son.  Left in the hands of terrorists who have more uses for him dead than alive, the fate of Earth rests on Donovan’s survival. Because if Sapience kills him, it could spark another galactic war. And Earth didn’t win the last one . . .

I don’t read every book before I add it to my library. I do like to read books that lean more YA than middle grade, though. Sixth grade advanced readers are funny creatures. They have the cognitive abilities to tackle complex text, but lack the life experience to understand mature content. Exo is the perfect sort of book for my students: action-packed sci-fi to challenge their reading and an age-appropriate moral dilemma.

If you like science fiction, or know someone who does, pick up a copy of Exo.

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