Archive | October, 2016

Happy Hallow Reads

31 Oct

Last week, I book talked five books with some Halloweenie connection.

The scariest book was the first one, Coraline,  by Neil Gaiman.

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I admitted to the kids that I had never read the book or seen the movie. I told them that Iknew enough about Gaiman and the book to know that it twists reality in a way that seems eerily possible and that seemed to intrigue a few students.

Next up was Raina Telgemeier’s Ghosts, a graphics novel to steer us into safer territory, since I don’t really read scary books.

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Many students had read Telgemeier’s other books and that was enough of a recommendation.

On Wednesday, I told them about My Zombie Hamster, by Havelock McCreely. Zombies and humor seem a perfect combination for sixth graders.

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Thursday, I told them about a new one in our classroom library, The Accidental Afterlife of Thomas Marsden by Emma Trevayne. This book gave me a chance to explain a little of the history of grave robbers.

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The last book I told them about was one of this year’s OBOB books: Zombie Baseball Beatdown  by Paolo Bacigalupi.

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I’m not yet sure what I will book talk today. I think I will decide once I am in my classroom. I will take a few minutes to leaf through the book bins and choose the 5 books of the week.

 

 

Little changes, day by day

30 Oct

“Little changes, day by day.”

That’s the last line on page 177 of Sharon Creech’s novel in verse,  Moo.

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Publisher’s Summary:Fans of Newbery Medal winner Sharon Creech’s Love That Dog and Hate That Cat will love her newest tween novel, Moo. This uplifting tale reminds us that if we’re open to new experiences, life is full of surprises. Following one family’s momentous move from the city to rural Maine, an unexpected bond develops between twelve-year-old Reena and one very ornery cow.

When Reena, her little brother, Luke, and their parents first move to Maine, Reena doesn’t know what to expect. She’s ready for beaches, blueberries, and all the lobster she can eat. Instead, her parents “volunteer” Reena and Luke to work for an eccentric neighbor named Mrs. Falala, who has a pig named Paulie, a cat named China, a snake named Edna—and that stubborn cow, Zora.

This heartwarming story, told in a blend of poetry and prose, reveals the bonds that emerge when we let others into our lives.

Although the book narrated by Reena, Zora is the real star. She is a Belted Galloway, a real breed of cow I’d never heard of before.

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Reena and Luke are fish out of water when their family moves to Maine. Ornery Mrs Falala and Zora, two birds of a feather, help adapt to their new surroundings. Beat and Zep, two young people who live nearby and know cows, also help them learn to embrace their new home. “Little changes, day by day.” That’s how Reena and Luke become part of their new surroundings.

Reading Moo made me want to move to Maine and raise cows. It’s not going to happen since I am horribly allergic to most farm animals. But, check out the cool back cover.

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This is a novel that touches on themes of loss, friendship, and belonging. The novel in verse format makes this a quick read. Creech plays with language and poetry in a way that will draw in many and transport them to a better place.

A Way Without Words

28 Oct

I’d heard good things about Matt Phelan’s Snow White,  so I put it on hold at the library.

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When it arrived, I leafed through it, confused at first. I read the jacket flap and became totally intrigued by his alternate setting for this traditional tale.

Publisher’s Summary:The scene: New York City. The dazzling lights cast shadows that grow ever darker as the glitzy prosperity of the Roaring Twenties screeches to a halt. Enter a cast of familiar characters: a young girl, Samantha White, returning after being sent away by her cruel stepmother, the Queen of the Follies, years earlier; her father, the King of Wall Street, who survives the stock market crash only to suffer a strange and sudden death; seven street urchins, brave protectors for a girl as pure as snow; and a mysterious stock ticker that holds the stepmother in its thrall, churning out ticker tape imprinted with the wicked words “Another . . . More Beautiful . . . KILL.” In a moody, cinematic new telling of a beloved fairy tale, extraordinary graphic novelist Matt Phelan captures the essence of classic film noir on the page—and draws a striking distinction between good and evil.

 There are very few words in Phelan’s retelling of this classic tale. But words are not needed. The story is so familiar and his illustrations so detailed that the story tells itself. Check out the trailer:

LOL

27 Oct

I have a couple of boys who truly laugh out loud when they read. They are young 6th graders. They like funny books and they really get into them. The class will be reading silently, then, suddenly a snort or a chortle erupts. The best part of this is that these boys seem to be oblivious to the effect of their outbursts. They blithely carry on reading.

Jonathan Follett and Matthew Holm must have had in mind when they wrote Marvin and the Moths.

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 I can picture them chortling as they read this book, which I won in  Goodreads Giveaway. For my part, I found it a little slow to get started and stereotypical, but it will be a welcomed addition to my classroom library.

Publisher’s Summary:Matthew Holm, the Eisner Award–winning co-creator of Babymouse, teams with his childhood best friend for a hilarious prose debut.

Middle school is off to a rocky start for Marvin Watson. Doomed to misfit status, his only friends are a girl with major orthodontics, the smelliest boy in school, and the trio of sarcastic man-sized moths that live in his attic.

No one said middle school would be easy! Also, no one said that Marvin’s town would be threatened by mutant bugs, including a very hungry, Shakespeare-quoting spider. But life in the suburbs is full of surprises. Will Marvin be the one to unravel the mystery behind the mutants and save the town? Or will he be too busy with the real threat: his first school dance?!

This hilarious send-up of middle school has the humour of James Patterson’s I Funny, the underdog hero of Diary of a Wimpy Kid, and the zany action of NERDS… and features illustrations by co-author Matthew Holm, New York Times bestselling illustrator of the Babymouse series and Sunny Side Up.

Plus: talking moths!

 

Doing my civic duty

25 Oct

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I strode through the library doors, eyes peeled for the blue box. It usually sits on the counter top to the right of the doors. Sure enough, it was right where I expected it to be. I marched forth bearing the all important white envelope and dropped my ballot in the box.

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Oregon is a vote-by-mail state, but that requires a stamp. To ensure that the price of a stamp isn’t a hindrance, official ballot drop off boxes are available in all libraries. There are other official drop off locations, including some 24-hour drive-through drop off boxes.

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Ballots can be dropped off from the day they are received until 8:00 PM on Election Day.

It had felt especially satisfying filing out the ballot this year. I had worked on a ballot measure and felt as though I was a little more on top of Oregon politics than I’d been in some previous years. I always vote, but  I pay more attention in some years than others.

Civic duty #1 accomplished, it was on to the embarrassing civic duty.

With a little less sparkle in my step I walked up to the check out desk.

“I  have a fine and seem to have lost a book. I would like to pay for it,” I shamefully admitted to the librarian.

“Let’s take a look at your account,” she replied cheerfully. If she was judging me, she did not show it.

I gave her my card and, before I could say the title of the book, she asked, “It Ain’t So Awful Falafel?”

“How did you know?” I queried.

“It was the oldest book in your account. That comes to $16.99,” she replied.

“What about the overdue fine?” I asked. “I returned a book two days late, too.” This felt like confession!

“No overdue fine for children’s books,” she chirped cheerfully.

“Even for adults?”

“Even for adults.”

Fines paid, I went to the holds shelf to pick up the books awaiting me. I promised them, I’d take better care of them than I did with It Ain’t So Awful, Falafel. 

I had pulled up to my local public library ready to perform two civic duties: one exciting, the other, embarrassing.  I left feeling satisfied.

 

My Lady Jane

24 Oct
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by Unknown artist,painting,1590

Lady Jane Grey, the Nine Day Queen, became the de fact English monarch immediately following the death of Henry VII’s only son, Edward VI. She ruled from 10 July until 19 July 1553, a pawn in the machinations of courtiers and other heirs to the throne. Her life ended when she was beheaded on February 12, 1554.

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Most of my knowledge of Jane comes form the 1986 movie starring Helena Bonham Carter and Cary Elwes.

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When I first saw the cover of My Lady Jane,  by Brodi Ashton, Cynthia Hand, and Jodi Meadows, I anticipated a traditional tale of the Tudor dynasty.

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But, then there were those white notes written on the cover. I knew I was in for something a little different.

Publisher’s Summary:The comical, fantastical, romantical, (not) entirely true story of Lady Jane Grey. In My Lady Jane, coauthors Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows have created a one-of-a-kind fantasy in the tradition of The Princess Bride, featuring a reluctant king, an even more reluctant queen, a noble steed, and only a passing resemblance to actual history—because sometimes history needs a little help.

At sixteen, Lady Jane Grey is about to be married off to a stranger and caught up in a conspiracy to rob her cousin, King Edward, of his throne. But those trifling problems aren’t for Jane to worry about. Jane gets to be Queen of England.

Like that could go wrong.

My Lady Jane  is full of comical (and not so comical) cultural references. Gifford, a secret poet, is forever quoting  Shakespeare.  Instead of the conflict between Catholics and Protestants, there is a conflict between Verities, regular people,  and Eðians, people with the power to shapeshift into various animals.

As I write this, I am a few chapters short of the ending. I can’t help hoping that this excellent trio of authors will find a way to leave Jane, Gifford and King Edward alive at the end. After all, when you are rewriting history, why not keep the protagonists alive!

Book 4: Staying Strong

23 Oct

When I picked it up, I thought, sadly, that The Creeping Shadow  was the fourth and last book in

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Jonathan Stroud’s Lockwood and Co. series.

Publisher’s Summary: After leaving Lockwood & Co. at the end of The Hollow Boy, Lucy is a freelance operative, hiring herself out to agencies that value her ever-improving skills. One day she is pleasantly surprised by a visit from Lockwood, who tells her he needs a good Listener for a tough assignment. Penelope Fittes, the leader of the giant Fittes Agency wants them–and only them–to locate and remove the Source for the legendary Brixton Cannibal. They succeed in their very dangerous task, but tensions remain high between Lucy and the other agents. Even the skull in the jar talks to her like a jilted lover. What will it take to reunite the team? Black marketeers, an informant ghost, a Spirit Cape that transports the wearer, and mysteries involving Steve Rotwell and Penelope Fittes just may do the trick. But, in a shocking cliffhanger ending, the team learns that someone has been manipulating them all along. . . .

The story line remains strong, and minor characters, especially Holly and George, become more developed. The skull, whose identity I hope to have revealed, is kidnapped. Lucy is drawn back into the fold of Lockwood and Co. And, although the manipulator is who I suspected it would be, the manipulation was not managed the way I had anticipated.

According to Goodreads, the untitled  fifth book is due out sometime in 2017.

This week’s book talks

21 Oct

At the beginning of the year, I committed to giving my students a book talk every day. I had a good personal library. As part of a district-wide language arts initiative, we were given large classroom libraries this year as well as a way to catalogue and check the books out.Book talking has let me tell about many of the books in both libraries.

This week, I book talked:

 

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A sinister problem has arisen in London: all nature of ghosts, haunts, spirits, and specters are appearing throughout the city, and they aren’t exactly friendly. Only young people have the psychic abilities required to see — and eradicate — these supernatural foes. Many different psychic detection agencies have cropped up to handle the dangerous work, and they are in fierce competition for business.

In The Screaming Staircase, the plucky and talented Lucy Carlyle teams up with Anthony Lockwood, the charismatic leader of Lockwood & Co., a small agency that runs independent of any adult supervision. After an assignment leads to both a grisly discovery and a disastrous end, Lucy, Anthony, and their sarcastic colleague George are forced to take part in the perilous investigation of Combe Carey Hall, one of the most haunted houses in England. Will Lockwood & Co. survive the hall’s legendary Screaming Staircase and Red Room to see another day?

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Josh and his twin brother Jordan are awesome on the court. But Josh has more than basketball in his blood. He’s got mad beats too, beats that tell his family’s story in verse. But both brothers must come to grips with growing up, on and off the court, as they realize breaking the rules can come at a terrible price, resulting in a game-changer for their entire family.

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My sister Rose lives on the mantelpiece.

Well, some of her does.
A collarbone, two ribs, a bit of skull, and a little toe.

To ten-year-old Jamie, his family has fallen apart because of the loss of someone he barely remembers: his sister Rose, who died five years ago in a terrorist bombing. To his father, life is impossible to make sense of when he lives in a world that could so cruelly take away a ten-year-old girl. To Rose’s surviving fifteen year old twin, Jas, everyday she lives in Rose’s ever present shadow, forever feeling the loss like a limb, but unable to be seen for herself alone.

Told with warmth and humor, this powerful novel is a sophisticated take on one family’s struggle to make sense of the loss that’s torn them apart… and their discovery of what it means to stay together.

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When 12-year-old Gratuity “Tip” Tucci is assigned to write five pages on the true meaning of Smekday for the National Time Capsule contest, she’s not sure where to begin. How about when her mom started telling everyone about the messages aliens were sending through a mole on the back of her neck? Maybe on Christmas Eve, when huge, bizarre spaceships descended on Earth and the Boov abducted her mother? Or when the Boov declared Earth a colony, renamed it Smekland (in honor of glorious Captain Smek), and forced all Americans to relocate to Florida via rocketpod?

In any case, Tip’s story is much, much bigger than the assignment. It involves her unlikely friendship with a renegade Boov mechanic named J.Lo.; a futile journey south to find Tip’s mother at the Happy Mouse Kingdom; a cross-country road trip in a hovercar; and an outrageous plan to save Earth from yet another alien invasion.

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For thirteen years, Ben Tomlin was an only child. But all that changes when his mother brings home Zan — an eight-day-old chimpanzee.

Ben’s father, a renowned behavioral scientist, has uprooted the family to pursue his latest research project: a high-profile experiment to determine whether chimpanzees can acquire advanced language skills. Ben’s parents tell him to treat Zan like a little brother. Ben reluctantly agrees. At least now he’s not the only one his father’s going to scrutinize.

It isn’t long before Ben is Zan’s favorite, and Ben starts to see Zan as more than just an experiment. His father disagrees. To him, Zan is only a specimen, no more, no less. And this is going to have consequences. Soon Ben is forced to make a critical choice between what he is told to believe and what he knows to be true — between obeying his father or protecting his brother from an unimaginable fate.

Half Brother isn’t just a story about a boy and a chimp. It’s about the way families are made, the way humanity is judged, the way easy choices become hard ones, and how you can’t always do right by the people and animals you love. In the hands of master storyteller Kenneth Oppel, it’s a novel you won’t soon forget.

 

 

Going Back in Time

20 Oct

The last book I reviewed, The Mark of the Plague, was set in the mid 17th century. As a lover of historical fiction, it was a delight to read a book set in a time period that rarely appears in kid lit. Today’s book, The Passion of Dolssa,  by Julie Berry is set even further back in time.

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Publisher’s Summary: Buried deep within the archives of a convent in medieval France is an untold story of love, loss, and wonder and the two girls at the heart of it all.

Second birthday

18 Oct

It’s Dad’s second birthday since he passed away.

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We are doing a mini unit on personal essays in sixth grade and today we are quick writing some micro stories, and lists (tight and extended).  I thought I’d try some of these strategies talking about my dad.

Microstory 1:

We weren’t a family that prayed at meals, except on special occasions. Because we weren’t a family that prayed at meals my father developed a strategy for  a successful grace. Before the meal he would write the grace on a slip of paper. Then, he would bring it to the meal and slip it under the edge of his plate . When all heads were bowed, he’d slip the paper closer and read the text.

Tight List 1:

My dad loved crossword puzzles, his children’s education, and a cool beer on a hot day.

Extended list 2:

My dad loved doing the crossword puzzle and always had one affixed  to his clipboard, next to his mechanical pencil and extendable eraser. My dad took an interest in our education, expecting us to do our best and asking questions about what we were learning. My dad loved to sit on the back deck sipping a cool beer on a hot day, admiring his backyard.

Microstory 2: 

In grade 6, my dad essentially made our science fair project. My twin sister and I were partners and Dad suggested we make a telegraph. We spent several hours with him, down in his workshop where he cut tin and wire. We watched as he nailed and screwed the  parts together. Finally, when it was finished, we got to test it out. He’d made the wires extra long, so you could send morse code from one room to another. We got an A.

Tight List 2:

My dad was an excellent electrician, gardener, and chef.

Extended List 2:

My dad was an excellent electrician and handy man who could build or fix anything. My dad was an excellent gardener who grew orchids inside and roses outside. My dad was an excellent chef who didn’t mind doing the dishes afterwards.

Before sitting down to write these, I hadn’t intended to share these with my students. I think I might, now. I can use these as models of the ideas, before I show how to apply the strategies to the topic I’ve chosen for my personal essay.

Randy Ribay

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