Archive | December, 2013

My favorite books of 2013

31 Dec

Although I still have a stack of books to read, here are my 2013 favorites so far:

Picture Books (Fiction)

UnknownThe Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt

UnknownThe Mighty Lalouche byMatthew Olshan

Unknown-2Mr. Tiger Goes Wild by Peter Brown

UnknownUnicorn Thinks He’s Pretty Great by Bob Shea

Picture Books (Non-Fiction)

UnknownHoop Genius: How a Desperate teacher and a rowdy Gym Class Invented Basketball by John Coy

Unknown-1On a Beam of Light: A Story of Albert Einstein by Jennifer Berne

Chapter Books 

UnknownThe Center of Everything by Linda Urban

UnknownCounting by 7’s by Molly Golberg Sloan

UnknownFlora & Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo

UnknownThe True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp by Kathy Appelt

Unknown-1The Year of Billy Miller by Kevin Henkes

Graphic Novels

UnknownBluffton by Matt Phelan

UnknownOdd Duck by Cecil Castellucci and Sara Varon

UnknownRelish: My Life in the Kitchen by Lucy Knisley

YA Lit

Unknown-1Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

UnknownReality Boy by A. S. King

imagesA Trick of the Light by Lois Metzger

UnknownWinger by Andrew Smith

UnknownYaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass by Meg Medina

Adult Lit

UnknownLoteria by Mario Alberto Zambrano

Unknown-1The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown

Some poetry for the end of the year

29 Dec

As 2013 winds down and people start reflecting on the new year and the changes they might want to make, let me introduce you to 2 little books of verse that you can use to reflect on your interpersonal relationships.


We Go Together: A Curious Selection of Affectionate Verse by Calef Brown offers the reader eighteen short poems celebrate love and friendship in silly verses. Acrylic illustrations accompany each poem. My favorite is this one

Because of You

I was once

a half-emptyer.

Now I’m a half-fuller.

Because of you –

the together-puller.

So if I should smile

and say something sunny,

don’t look at me funny

or act surprised.

Because of you,

I’m optimized.

On a more serious note we have What the Heart Knows: Chants Charms & Blessings by Joyce Sidman.


The book is a collection of poems to provide comfort, courage, and humor at difficult or daunting moments in life. It is joyful and serious, heartfelt and heartbreaking. It is a beautiful book with illustrations by Pamela Zagarenski. It opens with

Chant to Repair a Friendship

Come, friend, forgive the past;
I was wrong and I am grieving.
Tell me that this break won’t last–
take my hand; forgive the past.
Anger’s brief, but love is vast.
Take my hand; don’t think of leaving.
Come, friend, forgive the past;
I was wrong and I am grieving.

So, if you have a hankering for some poetry, I encourage you to read these two books. I think both books would lend themselves nicely to some writing activities with kids.

YALSA Morris/Nonfiction Challenge Check-in #2

28 Dec

Thank you to the  Sunset High School library for lending me the book I read this week for the YALSA Morris/Nonfiction Challenge. I couldn’t find it in the Multnomah County Library, The Washington County Cooperative Library System, or any of the Beaverton School District libraries, except for the library at Sunset High. Thanks goodness Imprisoned: The Betrayal of Japanese Americans During World War II written by Martin W. Sandler was worth the wait!


One of the tricks of writing nonfiction is to take a new perspective or add new information to the cannon. Sandler manages to do this, beginning his book with the immigration of Japanese to America, reactions to it, and then the backlash when Pearl Harbor was bombed.

What I found most compelling is the way Sandler portrays the ingenuity and courage of the Japanese Americans’ response. Like Courage Has No Color,  he juxtaposes the American “fight for freedom” in Europe with the plight those whose freedom has been compromised at home. He also follows the story through to the present, explain gin what Japanese Americans have done to receive apologies and restitution.

An excellent read for anyone.

Odd boys

27 Dec

I have finished two really good middle grade books so far on break. Oddly enough, both feature boys who are just a little bit different.

The Real Boy by Anne Ursu


Oscar is a wizard’s apprentice, well, no not really. He is a magician’s hand, but possesses knowledge and understanding of plants tat would make him a great healer. But he is shy and nervous around people, preferring the company of his cats and the books he sneaks out of the magician’s library. In fact, Oscar reminds me f me when I was young. When his Master, along with some others leave their island home, and worrisome things begin to happen, it falls to Oscar, and his new friend Callie, to save their world.

The Boy on the Porch by Sharon Creech


One day a boy appeared on the John and Marta’s porch. A note simply asked them to take care of Jacob and that the writer of the note would be back.  Jacob doesn’t talk, but has musical abilities and has a genuine nature that works his way into John & Marta’s hearts. What unfolds, gently is a story of the power of love to heal and transform, if you are willing to open your heart and home.

I’ve seen both of these titles on f best of 2013 lists, and I can see why. Both are definitely worth reading.

What I Gave and What I Received

25 Dec

Christmas is about the books, the ones we give and the ones receive. So, I thought I’d share my giftapalooza this year.

To my twin sister for her birthday on December 23rd:

UnknownGlaciers by Alexis M Smith

To my twin sister for Christmas:

Unknown-1Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh. I’m a little nervous about this one. I think she’ll like it once she starts reading it.

To Tom, my brother-in-law:

Unknown-2Five Billion Years of Solitude: The Search for Life Among the Stars by Lee Billings.

For my 15 year old niece, Alexis:

Unknown-3Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers. I loved this and I think she will, too.

And here’s what I got:

For my birthday:

UnknownThe Luminaries  by Eleanor Catton. winner of the UK’s  2013 Man B0oker Prize & Canada’s 2013 Governor  General’s Award – 832 pages I can hardly wait to sink my teeth into!

For Christmas:

Unknown The Nine Lives of Charlotte Taylor by Sally Armstrong – My sister loved this book and knew I would so she gave it to me. It’s about a woman living very remotely in early Canada.

My favorite Christmas middle grade novel

24 Dec

Have you ever read this one?


I have recommended this to many girls. If you love Hallmark Christmas card ads that make you weep, this is right up your alley.

In this heartwarming Christmas story, ten-year-old Lucy and her six-year-old sister, Glory, escape from the harsh life of the Grimstone Union workhouse for orphans into the streets of London. For a while, they become mudlarks in the filthy River Thames, searching for bits of things to sell. When they find a beautiful doll by the river’s edge, they fall in love with it — and it leads to a Christmas miracle.

You could pair this with Deborah Hopkinson’s The Great Trouble.


Eel has troubles of his own: He is an orphan and a mudlark, being hunted by Fisheye Bill Tyler, and a nastier man never walked the streets of London. And he’s got a secret that costs him four precious shillings a week to keep safe.

But even for Eel, things aren’t so bad until that fateful August day in 1854—the day the Great Trouble begins. Mr. Griggs, the tailor, is the first to get sick, and soon it’s clear that the deadly cholera—the “blue death”—has come to Broad Street. Everyone believes that cholera is spread through poisonous air. But one man, Dr. John Snow, has a different theory. As the epidemic surges, it’s up to Eel and his best friend Florrie to gather evidence to prove Snow’s theory before the entire neighborhood is wiped out.

Part medical mystery, part survival story, and part Dickensian adventure, Deborah Hopkinson’s The Great Trouble is a celebration of a fascinating pioneer in public health and a gripping novel about the 1854 London cholera epidemic.

This one is sitting on my shelf right now, waiting patiently for me to read it.

Something old, something new

24 Dec

I’ve been dipping into a couple of professional books lately. I don’t always read these cover to cover. Sometimes I do, but often I just open and read a chapter , paragraph, a section.

I’ve been thinking about reading of course, but also about being a better writing teacher. I am fascinated by the National Writing Project and I often think I’d like to do the Oregon Writing Project. One book I’ perusing these days is


It was published in 2003, but still has lots of interesting things to say about writing and the teaching of writing:

..all students can learn to write and that writing is the most visible expression not only of what their students know but also of how well they have learned it.”

“A key element in such systemic change is finding a core group of teachers who write and are enthusiastic about teaching it.”

“…teacher qualifications account for 40 percent of the difference in overall student performance and that teacher quality is more powerful than a student’s socioeconomic background in student learning.”

There is a lot more in there. I just need the time to dig more deeply.

I’ve waited a while for Donalyn Miller’s new book


Here is her essential question: How can we encourage our students to become independent readers after they leave our class? It mass me wish I was back in the library or teaching middle school Language Arts again.Reading in the Wild is a companion to Miller’s previous book, The Book Whisperer. It explores whether or not we are truly instilling lifelong reading habits in our students and provides practical strategies for teaching “wild” reading.

If your new year’s resolution is to make some sort of change in your professional practice, either or both of these would be excellent resources to help you on your journey.

YALSA Morris/Nonfiction Challenge Check-in #1

21 Dec

I’m supposed to be cleaning the house in anticipation of the company coming tonight. Instead, here I sit reading and writing before I take Fiona for her 8:45 acupuncture appointment. I am telling myself I will clean as soon as we get home.

So far, I have read 2 of the nonfiction titles. I finished Go: A Kidd’s Guide to Graphic Design, which I wrote about HERE.

This week, I read Courage Has No Color: The True Story of the Triple Nickles, America’s First Black Paratroopers written by Tanya Lee Stone, published by Candlewick Press.


Having seen the miniseries Band of Brothers,  I was expecting something similar. What I found was a very different story where “Soldiers were fighting the world’s worst racist, Adolph Hitler, in the world’s most segregated army.” Expecting to learn about their missions overseas, I learned that they were the first black paratroopers in the United States military, formed and trained in the heart of the second world war, and then sent to the west coast, where they were pioneers in the field of smokejumping.

I love they way Tanya Lee Stone personalizes the story with details about the men’s lives. The book is full of photos which make the text come alive. Well researched, the back matter includes “The Story Behind the Story”  (Stone’s research process), a timeline of “Desegregation and the Triple Nickles”, source notes, and an index.

Novels in Verse Featuring Resilient Girls

19 Dec

I have been known to encourage kids to read novels in verse by promoting the fact that they look like a lot of reading, but really aren’t. It is true, but that’s not really why I want kids to read them. I just simply love language and story. Verse novels indulge both of these loves.

Here are two new ones, worthy of your time.

Margarita Engle has made a career writing novels in verse. A few weeks ago I wrote about Mountain Dog. In The Lightning Dreamer: Cuba’s Greatest Abolitionist, Engle returns to writing historical novels in verse that are set in Cuba.


Banned books and rebel poets. That alone could interest me, but Engle’s verse is beautiful and quotable in places. She opens the book with

Books are door-shaped


carrying me

across oceans

and centuries,

helping me feel

less alone.

Oh, my bookish friends, who has not felt this way? This is the story of Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda, nicknamed Tula, who opposed slavery in Cuba in the nineteenth century by veiling her work in metaphor. A beautiful book about a stung female character.

Serafina’s Promise,  by Ann E. Burg, also features a female main character.


Living in abject poverty in Haiti, 11 year old Serafina makes a secret promise to her deceased little brother Pierre that she will someday go to school and become a healer so that she can save little babies like him.But Serafina doesn’t go to school because it is too expensive.Challenged by poverty, flood, earthquake and Serafina remains undaunted.The details about life in Haiti create a clear picture of a world far removed from ours.

Both of these books feature resilient girls who set out to meet their goal in spite of the obstacles in their way.

Peaceful Pilgrims?

18 Dec

I love books that shift my thinking. They can be books that add to my knowledge, give me a new perspective on a topic or simply make me think about something I’ve never considered before. Susan Cooper has done all of these things in Ghost Hawk. 


Let me first say that I know there are some historical inaccuracies in this book. That’s why it is listed as fantasy or historical fiction, not non-fiction, people. I defy you to find a work of historical fiction that gets everything right. What I think is important historically is that this book shows readers that the Plymouth colony was not just the  Thanksgiving love-fest we tell kids it is every November.

The book intertwines the stories of Little Hawk, a  Wampanoag boy living in what is now Massachusetts, and John Wakely, a young settler in Plymouth. This is literary fiction, so the audience of kids who might pick this up is not huge, but I think it would be a great novel to use to support a unit on the  early colonization of the United States, or to recommend to kids who love historical fiction.

I listened to this in my car. At first, I wondered about the choice of Jim Dale as the reader, but quickly grew to like his warmth.

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