Archive | October, 2018

A Different Kind of Monster

15 Oct

I so loved Kiersten White’s three book retelling of the Dracula story (Conqueror’s Saga) that as soon as I heard she was writing a Frankenstein book from the point of view of Elizabeth Lavenza Frankenstein, I put it on hold at the library at the earliest possible moment.

It begins in the present and has frequent flashbacks to fill in the back story. It starts off a bit slowly, but it is worth persevering because the ending is perfect. Much better than the original ending.

In her author’s note, White states that she wanted to write from the point of view of the minor (i.e. female characters) and what a brilliant decision. Whether you;ve read the original or not, you know enough to understand what Victor is up to. He is the one who comes off as the real monster.

 

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Publisher’s Summary: Elizabeth Lavenza hasn’t had a proper meal in weeks. Her thin arms are covered with bruises from her “caregiver,” and she is on the verge of being thrown into the streets . . . until she is brought to the home of Victor Frankenstein, an unsmiling, solitary boy who has everything–except a friend.

Victor is her escape from misery. Elizabeth does everything she can to make herself indispensable–and it works. She is taken in by the Frankenstein family and rewarded with a warm bed, delicious food, and dresses of the finest silk. Soon she and Victor are inseparable.

But her new life comes at a price. As the years pass, Elizabeth’s survival depends on managing Victor’s dangerous temper and entertaining his every whim, no matter how depraved. Behind her blue eyes and sweet smile lies the calculating heart of a girl determined to stay alive no matter the cost . . . as the world she knows is consumed by darkness.

Middle school readers might enjoy this as much as YA readers. There’s nothing age-inappropriate and it is not scary at all.

 

Conference week booktalks 10/8-12

12 Oct

Because of conferences, I only had Kids three days this week.

Monday

Running on the Roof of the World  by Jess Butterworth

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Tuesday

Those Who Run in the Sky by Akiaq Johnston

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Wednesday

Resistance by Jennifer A. Nielsen

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Carry on, Plumdog

11 Oct

Emma Chichester Clark has a new Plumdog book out. It was a delight to sit down and year how Plumdog’s year went. She has such a wonderful perspective on the world and the events around her.

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Publisher’s Summary: In 2014 Cape published Plumdog, a year’s worth of entries from Emma Chichester Clark’s blog of the same name which records the daily life of Plum, her dog, in Plum’s own words and Emma’s delightful illustrations. It was seized on by dog lovers everywhere and became the bestselling book written by a dog of that year … indeed quite possibly since records began.

Another Year of Plumdog is exactly what it says: another year of leaping, catching balls, diving into rivers, puddles, the North Sea, and hanging out with friends.

Yes, it is a dog diary but there is social commentary to. Each entry is a delight to read for dog lovers of all ages. The borders edging every page add to this wonderful book, making it a delight to spend time with.

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I read it snuggled next to Lucy, who has never had as many exciting adventures as Plumdog. Fortunately, she didn’t seem to mind.

 

Driving like a 6th grader

9 Oct

The move from elementary to middle school can be confusing. One of the things I love most about teaching 6th grade is showing the students how to navigate a new way of going to school. In the first week, many students are confused and have that “deer in the headlights” glazed look. Little by little, that look fades and is replaced by each students’ normal mien.

My new car has me feeling like a sixth grader in the first week of school.

The last car I bought was a 2005 Toyota Corolla. I now own a 2019 Subaru Crosstrek.  Boy, have cars changed since! It’s not just the high-tech things that have given me that “deer in the headlights” glazed look. I reach my hand out to adjust my mirrors and find open air. I had to pull over two minutes from home yesterday to read the manual and learn how to defog the windshield.

The Subaru  dealership has an interesting way to help out. When I took possession of the car, I got a quick lesson in how to sync my phone and work a few buttons. I was shown the slimmest of the four (!!!) manuals and encouraged to read it. And, I was told that, in about a week, after I’d had a chance to figure things out on my own, I’d get an appointment with a new car specialist who will help me figure out the aspects of my new car that I haven’t yet. He sent me an email yesterday telling me I should keep a journal to jot down any questions I have.

I think I made a good decision!

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It’s as easy as Pi

8 Oct

I am always hypercritical of books set in school. My biggest pet peeve is referring to a Principal as Principal So-and-so. No one does that in real life. Authors take note: you always call the principal Mr/Mrs./Ms. So-and-so.

I also critique what teachers do in class and think,  A real teacher would never do that.  I often have to suspend my disbelief for the sake of the story.

There is only really one small moment  where I had to suspend my disbelief in The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl, and it was a small moment with an English teacher. It doesn’t take away from all the good things about the book, which does a great job telling the story of a Math genius in middle school.

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Publisher’s Summary: Lucy Callahan was struck by lightning. She doesn’t remember it, but it changed her life forever. The zap gave her genius-level math skills, and ever since, Lucy has been homeschooled. Now, at 12 years old, she’s technically ready for college. She just has to pass 1 more test–middle school!

Lucy’s grandma insists: Go to middle school for 1 year. Make 1 friend. Join 1 activity. And read 1 book (that’s not a math textbook!). Lucy’s not sure what a girl who does calculus homework for fun can possibly learn in 7th grade. She has everything she needs at home, where nobody can make fun of her rigid routines or her superpowered brain. The equation of Lucy’s life has already been solved. Unless there’s been a miscalculation?

A celebration of friendship, Stacy McAnulty’s smart and thoughtful middle-grade debut reminds us all to get out of our comfort zones and embrace what makes us different.

This week’s booktalks 10/1-5

5 Oct

Monday

Zero Tolerance  by Claudia Mills

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Tuesday

Bloody Jack by L. A. Meyer

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Wednesday

The Beloved World of Sonia Sotomayor  by Sonia Sotomayor

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Friday

Just Mercy (Adapted for Young Readers)  by Bryan Stevenson

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3 Oct

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I first saw the cover on Twitter and, even then, not knowing much about Check Please, I knew I wanted to read it. I waited a few months for it to appear in my local public library’s catalogue. As soon as it did, I placed a hold.

It finally came and I brought it to school because I was hoping to talk about it with my kids. I did, but not for the reasons I thought.

You remember that old adage, don’t judge a book by its cover. Well, despite the cute cover – and cute illustrations throughout – this book is really not for 6th graders. The main character is a college freshman. There is some drinking and cussing and some mature themes. I held the book up for them to see and they all agreed it looked really appealing. I told them why I wouldn’t add it to our classroom library. And I told them that I bet some parent or grandparent somewhere will pick this book up for a middle or upper elementary school-age reader and someone will end up shocked. There isn’t anything really graphic, most of the mature stuff is implied. I told them I hoped they’d read it when they were a little older.

It was a very enjoyable graphic novel. It has an online presence and you can read some of it at this link: CHECK PLEASE!

PUBLISHER’S SUMMARY: Eric Bittle may be a former junior figure skating champion, vlogger extraordinaire, and very talented amateur pâtissier, but being a freshman on the Samwell University hockey team is a whole new challenge. It is nothing like co-ed club hockey back in Georgia! First of all? There’s checking (anything that hinders the player with posession of the puck, ranging from a stick check all the way to a physical sweep). And then, there is Jackhis very attractive but moody captain.

A collection of the first half, freshmen and sophmore year, of the megapopular webcomic series of the same name, Check, Please!: #Hockey is the first book of a hilarious and stirring two-volume coming-of-age story about hockey, bros, and trying to find yourself during the best four years of your life. This book includes updated art and a hilarious, curated selection of Bitty’s beloved tweets.

A sequel, Check Please! Sticks and Scones is expected next year. I look forward to reading it…at home.

Notebooks

2 Oct

I have snippets of stories everywhere.

I don’t mean the myriad tales of my life tucked away in my head. Yes, there are lots of stories there, many of which have yet to be told.

I mean written-down snippets – long and short pieces. Some at home in a journal. Some here in this blog. Some in notebooks at school.

And those notebooks served me well yesterday.

Grade 6 Personal narrative unit.

We were doing a lesson on elaboration and adding scenes. I looked over the narratives I’d been modeling for the class. They’d been thoroughly revised and didn’t really have what I needed, so I culled through my old writer’s notebooks at school and found the just right piece. It was a narrative I’d written in 2015 and had an ideal place for me to elaborate on a scene and another where I could add a scene.

Sometimes, teaching feels like performance art and yesterday I was at the top of my game. I pulled out that notebook. With my students seated in the carpeted area, I stretched my hands out to grab my invisible steering wheel and I rehearsed the story of my drive to the emergency vet. My hands shook. My body was tense. My voice quiet.

When they went back to their seats, they were at the top of their games, too.

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Taking Action

1 Oct

This weekend, I read a book that simultaneously saddened me and provided a roadmap to healing. It was a sort of bibliotherapy after a tough news week.

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Publisher’s Summary: When everything has been taken from you, what else is there to do but run?

So that’s what Annabelle does—she runs from Seattle to Washington, DC, through mountain passes and suburban landscapes, from long lonely roads to college towns. She’s not ready to think about the why yet, just the how—muscles burning, heart pumping, feet pounding the earth. But no matter how hard she tries, she can’t outrun the tragedy from the past year, or the person—The Taker—that haunts her.

Followed by Grandpa Ed in his RV and backed by her brother and two friends (her self-appointed publicity team), Annabelle becomes a reluctant activist as people connect her journey to the trauma from her past. Her cross-country run gains media attention and she is cheered on as she crosses state borders, and is even thrown a block party and given gifts. The support would be nice, if Annabelle could escape the guilt and the shame from what happened back home. They say it isn’t her fault, but she can’t feel the truth of that.

Through welcome and unwelcome distractions, she just keeps running, to the destination that awaits her. There, she’ll finally face what lies behind her—the miles and love and loss…and what is to come.

There all sorts of ways to overcome trauma. This week we saw Dr. Christine Blasey Ford confront hers, again, publicly. Annabelle doesn’t want to be seen, and she can help readers begin to understand the guilt and shame that survivors feel. As she attempts to come to terms with the trauma she survived, Annabelle becomes a focal point and a rallying cry and she finds her voice.

Randy Ribay

YA author, teacher, nerd

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