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Forget the traveling pants

3 Sep

Normally, I’m all anxious on Labor day because school starts the next day. But we already have a week under our belts and all is well. (Knock on wood!)

Since it is Labor day, let me tell you about two books I read ( in a series) about a teenage girl in an unusual job: gladiatrix.

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Forget the traveling pants, this is the sisterhood of the traveling weapons.  Set in the period when Julius Caesar has returned to Rome and  allowed to hold triumphal gladiatorial games. Cleopatra makes an appearance in both books. So does Vercingetorix. There is just enough detail in the fight scenes to make things vivid, bit not so much that I got bored or grossed out.

I hadn’t realized that there really had been female gladiators in Ancient Rome. The book alters history to make it seem like it was more prevalent than it was, but it is a work of fiction after all.

Publisher’s Summary for The Valiant

Princess. Captive. Gladiator. Always a Warrior. 

Fallon is the daughter of a proud Celtic king and the younger sister of the legendary fighter Sorcha. When Fallon was just a child, Sorcha was killed by the armies of Julius Caesar.

On the eve of her seventeenth birthday, Fallon is excited to follow in her sister’s footsteps and earn her place in her father’s war band. She never gets the chance.

Fallon is captured and sold to an elite training school for female gladiators—owned by none other than Julius Caesar himself. In a cruel twist of fate, the man who destroyed Fallon’s family might be her only hope of survival.

Now, Fallon must overcome vicious rivalries, deadly fights in and out of the arena, and perhaps the most dangerous threat of all: her irresistible feelings for Cai, a young Roman soldier and her sworn enemy.

 

Publisher’s Summary for The Defiant

I picked up a copy of The Valiant   at ALA, hoping it was a YA book with a positive female heroine I could put in my 6th grade classroom library. Although there is a hint of romance, I have no problem adding it to the classroom collection.

The third book in the series, The Triumphant, isn’t due out until February , so I will have to be patient. It is set at the time of Caesar’s assassination – and that bodes ill for Fallon and her friends.

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Put me in coach

23 Aug

I spent a lot of time working on my classroom library yesterday and it is ready. I was thrilled to create new tubs in several categories that I felt were a little lacking. One of those categories was sports books. And I just read an amazing novel about baseball that would be the perfect addition to the tub: Out of Left Field  by Ellen Klages.

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Although we know that Katy doesn’t win her battle to play ball – that would be a work of alternative history – you can’t help but admire her passion and dedication to baseball.    Just We can look to those who came before us to ignite our passion for justice just as Katy took inspiration from all the women she learns about who played ball before her.

Out of Left Field by Ellen Klages is advertised as the third book in the Gordon Family series. I had to look that up and remembered how much I had loved The Green Glass Sea and White Sands, Red Menace.  I might need to reread those. So many books, so little time!

Telling her story

20 Aug

I have book club tonight and I spent Sunday immersed in the motel world of Kelly Yang’s Front Desk.

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Since I was the one who recommended the book, I thought I should have it finished before we met.

Publisher’s Summary: Mia Tang has a lot of secrets.

Number 1: She lives in a motel, not a big house. Every day, while her immigrant parents clean the rooms, ten-year-old Mia manages the front desk of the Calivista Motel and tends to its guests.

Number 2: Her parents hide immigrants. And if the mean motel owner, Mr. Yao, finds out they’ve been letting them stay in the empty rooms for free, the Tangs will be doomed.

Number 3: She wants to be a writer. But how can she when her mom thinks she should stick to math because English is not her first language?

It will take all of Mia’s courage, kindness, and hard work to get through this year. Will she be able to hold on to her job, help the immigrants and guests, escape Mr. Yao, and go for her dreams?

I was worried that, having recommended a book I hadn’t read, it would be a dud. It was no such thing.

I recognized a lot of former students in Mia – children of immigrants whose lives are not easy. This book shows the power of words and the importance of telling your story. Sometimes we try to shelter children from hard truths, but many children face hard truths everyday, Yang drew on her own childhood experiences – some of which might shock readers –  to write this debut novel that gets to the heart of what it is like to be an immigrant to this country.

 

Meet my new friend, Crafty Cat

31 May

I am a hardcore monogamous crafter. I knit. It is my only craft.

My new friend, Crafty Cat, is multi-craftual.

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I first met her in The Amazing Crafty Cat.

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Publisher’s Summary:Sometimes school can be scary and even embarrassing, but not today. Today is Birdie’s birthday, and everything will be perfect! Birdie’s panda-riffic cupcakes are beautiful, and there’s one for everyone. She will be the star of the class. But then . . . disaster! A trip and fall on the way to school means no more cupcakes! Who can save the day? Who can make the class smile again? This is a job for Birdie’s alter ego . . . the Amazing Crafty Cat!

After a quick transformation, Birdie is ready. She’s not afraid of sticky paws or paper cuts. She’s not afraid of anything, even Anya, the class bully. It’s time to get crafting!

I got to know her a little better in Crafty Cat and the Crafty Camp Crisis.

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Publisher’s Summary: Second grade isn’t always a breeze for Birdie. There are just so many opportunities to embarrass herself! But Birdie’s got a secret weapon that nobody knows about—her alter-ego, Crafty Cat! Birdie can become Crafty Cat without anyone noticing, and she always manages to get herself out of a jam using her awesome crafting skills! When Birdie goes to a day-camp for crafting, she knows she’s going to have a great time and be the best in the group. But when things go wrong, can Crafty Cat help Birdie set them right?

And I learned a lot more about her (and friendship) in Crafty Cat and the Great Butterfly Battle.

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Publisher’s Summary: Everyone in Miss Domino’s class is excited about the school play and its lead role, the super-sparkly butterfly. Birdie knows she’d be perfect for the part—unfortunately, she’s not the only one who feels that way. Eight other classmates also want the starring role. And even worse, one of them is Anya! And doesn’t Anya always seem to get her way?

Who can save the day? Crafty Cat! As her alter-ego, Birdie can craft her way out of any disaster. With tape, tissue paper, and her can-do spirit, Birdie will find a way to shine on stage.

From Just Grace and Fashion Kitty author Charise Mericle Harper, the Crafty Cat series is a hilarious, charming, and sweet new graphic novel trilogy for elementary-age readers about a little girl who can craft her way out of any situation. Each volume includes fun and simple instructions for do-it-yourself crafting activities.

 

Proving yourself

14 May

Sometimes, I get exhausted reading serious realistic books. I love them, but the weight of the characters’ problems is sometimes too much for me  and I need something a little more action-packed.

This weekend, I picked up The Mad Wolf’s Daughter by Diane Magras and was carried back in time to 13th century Scotland. This excellent first middle grade novel moves at a fast pace as Drest, our heroine, seeks to rescue her family, held captive by a lord. Although she sets out by herself, she is not alone. She has the voices of her brothers in her head, giving her advice. She also has a wounded knight who she is taking back to the castle from which he came – and the one in which her father and brothers are being held captive. I was so caught up in the tale, I read it in one day. Talk about escapism!

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Publisher’s Summary: A Scottish medieval adventure about the youngest in a war-band who must free her family from a castle prison after knights attack her home–with all the excitement of Ranger’s Apprentice and perfect for fans of heroines like Alanna from The Song of the Lioness series.

A great graphic novelization

9 Apr

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Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak, based on her personal experience of being raped when she was a teenager, first appeared in 1999.

It won  the 1999 National Book Award and the 2000 Printz Award, among many others. It has also been challenged in a number of schools around the country because of the difficult subject matter.

 

 

download-1Now, almost twenty years later, the original story has been  reproduced as a graphic novel, illustrated by Emily Carroll.

The use of grayscale for the illustrations is the right choice for this book, given Melinda’s state of mind through most of the book. In this age where women are speaking up about their experiences of sexual assault, a new audience will have a chance to encounter this powerful story in a new way and learn the importance of having a voice and speaking up.

Upside down and backwards

19 Feb

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I’ve heard (and used) this quote about Ginger Rogers a number of times. I hadn’t realized it originated in a Frank and Ernest comic!

I got to thinking about it because I just read a new picture book biography of Elizabeth “Libba” Cotten, self-taught blues and folk musician, singer, and songwriter. Libba: The Magnificent Musical Life of Elizabeth Cotten is written by Portland Musician Laura Veirs and illustrated by Tatyana Fazlalizadeh.

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Because she was left-handed she played the guitar “upside down and backwards”, a refrain that repeats throughout the book and that brought to mind the Ginger Rogers reference.

Libba Cotten was convinced by her pastor to give up the guitar, saying she played “Devil’s music”. Later in life, she became the housekeeper for  Ruth Crawford Seeger and, in a house full of music, she rediscovered her passion. She made her first recording in 1958 at the age of 62.

This picture book biography includes an author’s note that gives more details about Cotten’s life and Veirs’ lifelong connection to her work, as well as a list of sources.

Here she is, playing her most famous song, “Freight Train”.

 

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