Archive | December, 2014

He’s watching you!

16 Dec


Four days until the Break!

There are moments when I think I won’t make it alive. Last friday, one of my boys arrived and announced that he hadn’t taken his meds that morning or the evening before. Fortunately, he is a sweet kid trapped in a jittery body. After lunch he cam up to me to ask if he could go outside to run laps because he had a lot of  energy. There was no one out there, so we came up with a plan B: emptying the book share boxes and reorganizing them. He was back to normal yesterday, but I sure needed a drink Friday evening.

Like many schools, we are hyper-vigilant about behavior before  any break. School-wide, we are on the lookout for “secret behaviors” and although my 4th graders get excited by this, I have found the most effective way to redirect their behavior is to remind them that Santa is watching. Some fourth graders still believe and I let those kids know that Santa consults with teachers. For the kids who no longer or never believed, I make it humorous.

Many of the  kids at my school are poor and won’t have a TV version of Christmas. They will probably have a meal with their family. Many have been adopted by various organizations. We are writing stories about wishes right now and, though some kids are writing about wishing for “stuff”, many others are writing about being together with their family, making Christmas happy,making life easier for their parents and other generous ideas. I think they might actually get the meaning of the holiday season.


Space Case

15 Dec


As I started to listen to Stuart Gibbs’ Space Case, I had a little flashback to the 1970’s TV series Space 1999. Both Space Case  and Space 1999 feature moon colonies named Moonbase Alpha.

Humor and suspense combine in this space mystery. It is the year 2040 and twelve-year-old Dashiell Gibson is famous the world over for being one of the first humans to live on the moon and bored out of his mind. It’s not the great space adventure everyone told him it would be. When Moon Base Alpha’s top scientist turns up dead. Dash senses there’s foul play afoot, but no one believes him. There are lots of suspects, but it is easy to keep track of them. Although parts of it are predictable, the ending was a surprise.

Kids, particularly boys, interested in space travel or mysteries will really enjoy this fast paced adventure.

I listened to the story on CD (provided to me by Audiobook Jukebox). It was well narrated by Gibson Frazier, who has also narrated other books by Stuart Gibbs. Although an adult male he does a good job giving voice to characters from young girls to old men. The audiobook, on 6 CDs, runs about six and a half hours.

Success! and Morris/Nonfiction Challenge Check-in #1

14 Dec

Yesterday I took sweet Marley for a meet and greet, hoping he would go home with the family.


I had a good feeling about the potential adopters based on our phone conversations (someone else had done the home visit). And as I pulled into the parking lot of the dog park where the meet & greet would take place, potential mom’s hands flew to her north in excitement. They brought along their 13-year-old basset, Midge, and we chose the dog park so we could let the bassets get to know one another on neutral ground. Although Marley seemed more interested in running with the big dogs than socializing with Midge, things went well. He is on a two-week trial and my fingers are crossed that the has found his forever home.

Once I was home I sat down and finished Gabi, a Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero. WOW!!


I can see why this book is a Morris finalist. The voice is so strong; I just wanted to give Gabi a hug. Written in the form of a diary, this book is an easy read, though it taps some heavy themes: teen pregnancy, meth addiction, gay teens. It is all done sensitively and really makes you see some sides of these issues you don’t always get to see.

Imaginary friends

12 Dec

As a twin, I never needed an imaginary friend, but I know lots of people who had one when they were young. My favorite belonged to a roommate I had in Colombia. Her imaginary friend was named  Chalk Lipstick.

In Dory Fantasmagory by Abby Hanlon, Dory’s older siblings won’t play with her because they say she acts like a baby.


She also has endless energy, a vivid imagination and imaginary friends. Since her siblings won’t play with her, she spends a lot of time with her imaginary friends  outsmarting the monsters all over the house, escaping from prison (aka time-out), and exacting revenge on her sister’s favorite doll.

Her imagination actually helps solve the problem with her older siblings. When Dory (aka Rascal) becomes a dog she’s invisible to the little-girl–stealer but appealing to her older brother, who, it turns out, always wanted to have a dog.  Unfortunately, with this success, Dory refuses to turn back into a little girl, which turns her siblings against her again. In a final act of bravery,however, Dory proves that she is no longer a baby.

This is a great book for kids ready to move on to chapter books. Dory is six and has a very strong and compelling voice. Child-like drawings with hand-lettered speech bubbles add to the true to life humor of this book.

This would be a great  read aloud or early venture into chapter books.

More than just a number

11 Dec

I get weepy around Christmas time. My twin sister likes to send me Hallmark ads to see if I’ll cry. t’s always the good kind of cry, and I try to get her back. So imagine how surprised I was to find myself more than a little teary-eyed at the end of a picture book about hockey!  The Highest Number in the World is written by Roy MacGregor and beautifully illustrated by Geneviève Després.


From the publisher: 9-year-old Gabe (Gabriella) Murray lives and breathes hockey. She’s the youngest player on her new team, she has a nifty move that her teammates call “the Gabe,” and she shares a lucky number with her hero, Hayley Wickenheiser: number 22. But when her coach hands out the team jerseys, Gabe is stuck with number 9. Crushed, Gabe wants to give up hockey altogether. How can she play without her lucky number? Gabe’s grandmother soon sets her straight, though–from her own connection to the number 9 in her hockey-playing days to all the greats she cheered for who wore it, she soon convinces Gabe that this new number might not be so bad after all.

 What starts off as a simple story about a disappointed little girl becomes a much more complex and meaningful tale once Grandma starts sharing her story. Talk about girl power and historical context.

As a kid hockey wasn’t even an option for me. Where I grew up, girls didn’t play, we watched.  Hockey heroes were big for us. I loved watching Guy Lafleur skate down the ice hair flying (these were the days before mandatory helmets). In 1979, Roch Carrier, published The Hockey Sweater, which you can watch as an excellent National Film Board of Canada short here. The Highest Number in the World, feels like an homage to  The Hockey Sweater and girls in sports all at once. I’m going to be sure my twin sister reads this one. I bet she cries, too.


10 Dec


 I love that Scott Westerfeld surprises me. Each new series is unlike the one before. I suspect that turns many people off, but I love it.

Afterworlds intertwines two stories, told in alternating chapters. First, we have the story of Darcy Patel, teenage author who has had a book accepted for publication during her senior year of high school. She decides to forgo college, move to New York and dive into the world of YA authors. I loved this because I figured Scott  Westerfeld knows a lot about how all this works. Darcy is young and naive, but willing to explore a new world. She struggles with rewrites because she poured her heart and sol into the draft she sent out. Although a girl who has always been lucky, Darcy is an engaging character and her naiveté and insecurity actually make her more endearing. What Westerfeld does brilliantly is alternate Darcy’s story with the novel she has written. This is a darker tale of life between death, terrorists and spirit guides who lead the deceased to the underworld.

I listened to the book on CDs generously provided by Audiobook Jukebox. This was really well-narrated by two readers: Heather Lind (Lizzie) and Sheetal Sheth (Darcy). The voices are different enough to easily differentiate the two stories, yet similar enough that they seem connected, just as Lizzie is connected to Darcy. Lind’s voice is a little lower, which is perfect for the darker story of the Underworld. The book is on 12 CDs, runs about 14 hours and is published by Simon & Schuster.

This would be a good  beginning book for a teen who isn’t a huge fan of sci-fi/fantasy, but might want to try it out. It would also be excellent for someone interested in becoming an author.

Rudolph Stamps: A Slice of life story

9 Dec


I went to the post office last week to buy holiday stamps. And what to my wondering eyes did appear but the Rudolph stamp collection!


My dad was a stamp collector. He is still alive but no longer collects stamps. Although I love looking at cool stamps from around the world  or that celebrate important people or events, I never really understood the appeal of stamp collecting. That said, I love holiday stamps and the USPS has really outdone themselves this year. Just looking at them makes me sing and want to be a dentist. Just joking.

Last year, I chose these:


As I mentioned in a previous SOLS post, I send a lot of cards this time of year, and that is my mani reason for buying holiday stamps.  However,  I like to put holiday stamps on the few bills I still pay by mail. I like to think that the person opening the envelope has just a moment of cheer in what otherwise be a very dull day at work.

YALSA’s 2015 Morris/Nonfiction Reading Challenge Begins!

8 Dec


It’s that time of year again. Besides being the holiday season it is the season  for  YALSA’s Morris/Nonfiction Reading Challenge. I posted the finalists last week, when their were announced so you can look back there at the titles or read ahead for the official links to them. Here’s what the challenge entails in a nutshell:

Challenge objective Read all of the finalists for the   2015 Morris Award  debut YA authors, all of the finalists for  YALSA’s 2015 Award for Excellence in Nonfiction, or both between now and the Youth Media Awards on February 2.

Challenge rewards Beyond experiencing the best of the best that new YA authors and YA nonfiction have to offer, everyone who finishes the challenge may use what they read toward our 2015 Hub Reading Challenge. The Hub Reading Challenge includes prizes (!!!), so by participating in the Morris/Nonfiction Reading Challenge, you’re getting a head start on reading some of the best books published this year and you’re giving yourself an advantage in trying to win those prizes. 

Challenge guidelines

  • The challenge begins at 8:00AM Eastern Time on Monday, December 8 and ends at 7:45AM Central Time on Monday, February 2. (And in case you’re wondering, the challenge ends on Central Time because the awards will be announced live at the 2015 ALA Midwinter Meeting in Chicago– which is on Central Time.)
  • Participants may count the reading they have done since the finalists for each award was announced last week (December 3rd for the Morris and December 4th for the Nonfiction Award, to be exact). If you read one of the finalists before the announcement of the shortlist for that award, you must re-read it for it to count.
  • Participants may read either all of the finalists for the Morris Award, all of the finalists for the Nonfiction Award, or both. The challenge cannot be completed simply by picking five titles between the two lists; participants must read the entire list of finalists for one or both awards.

For more info or to sign up, check out The Hub’s announcement of the reading challenge.

I have a bit of rereading to do and some new books to meet. I’m in and I hope you are too.

Wilbur, Ivan, and now, Audrey

7 Dec


Wilbur is perhaps the most famous farm animal to escape the slaughterhouse. Ivan was not destined for the slaughterhouse, but he faced a grim future. And now we have Audrey.

From the publisher: Audrey is a cow with poetry in her blood, who yearns for the greener pastures beyond Bittersweet Farms. But when Roy the horse tells this bovine dreamer that she is headed for Abbot’s War, the slaughter house, Audrey knows that she must leave her home and friends sooner than she ever imagined. With the help of a whole crew of animals and humans alike, Audrey attempts to escape the farm she lives on–and certain death. Cleverly written as an oral account, this unique illustrated tale of an animal on the run, told “to camera”, uses over thirty narrative voices, including six humans, four cows, three sheep, two sheep dogs, one pig and a very silly rooster. Full of heart and humor, Audrey (cow) is ultimately a very human story about life and death, friendship, and holding on to one’s dreams–based more or less on a true story.

This is great book for taking to kids about voice. With so many characters, it is hard to believe that each one has a unique voice, but they do! Dan Bar-El is an artist with words. One cow’s grief over losing her son is compared to “a mist like we’d get on gray, foggy mornings that made the farm seem as if it were fading away along its edges”. Humor, realism, sadness, adventure and a lot heart make this a wonderful book, and an excellent read aloud. It would also be fun to create a class writing project trying to emulate this style in different setting, depending on what you are studying.

I highly recommend Audrey (cow). It would make a great gift for an elementary school student if you are still looking for books to give during this holiday season.

2015 Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults Award

6 Dec

The 2015 finalists are:

Laughing at My Nightmare written by Shane Burcaw, and published by Roaring Brook Press, an imprint of Macmillan’s Children’s Publishing Group;


This one was not even on my radar, but I now have it on hold at the library.


The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion & the Fall of Imperial Russia written by Candace Fleming, and published by Schwartz & Wade, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books;


Ida M. Tarbell: The Woman Who Challenged Big Business—and Won! written by Emily Arnold McCully, and Published by Clarion Books, an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers.


I’ve seen this one around, but hadn’t paid it much attention. It’s now on hold, too.

The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, and the Fight for Civil Rights written by Steve Sheinkin, and published by Roaring Brook Press, an imprint of Macmillan’ Children’s Publishing Group;


Popular: Vintage Wisdom for a Modern Geek written by Maya Van Wagenen, and published by Dutton, an imprint of Penguin Young Readers Group.


 Check them out if you haven’t done so yet.

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