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This week’s book talks 6/4-6/8

8 Jun

Monday

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Rebound by Kwame Alexander

Tuesday

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Another Kind of Hurricane by Tamara Ellis Smith

Wednesday

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Isle of Blood and Stone by Makiia Lucier

Thursday

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Okay for Now  byGary D. Schmidt

Friday

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Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale

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4 Jun

My classroom library is organized by genre. There’s only one fiction tub for sport books- and they don’t get a lot of action. Part of that is my fault. I don’t really enjoy books about sports and often tune out during descriptions of games or competitions.

I didn’t tune out of the sports parts of Cynthia Kadohata’s Checked.checked-9781481446617_hr

I think that was because they were as meditative and reflective as any middle grade literary work of fiction I have ever read.

Publisher’s Summary: Hockey is Conor’s life. His whole life. He’ll say it himself, he’s a hockey beast. It’s his dad’s whole life too—and Conor is sure that’s why his stepmom, Jenny, left. There are very few things Conor and his dad love more than the game, and one of those things is their Doberman, Sinbad. When Sinbad is diagnosed with cancer, Conor chooses to put his hockey lessons and practices on hold so they can pay for Sinbad’s chemotherapy.

But without hockey to distract him, Conor begins to notice more. Like his dad’s crying bouts, and his friend’s difficult family life. And then Conor notices one more thing: Without hockey, the one thing that makes him feel special, is he really special at all?

I think this one works for me because of Connor’s voice. It is so authentic. He’s not a great student. He is an excellent hockey player. He loves his Dad and his dog, Sinbad. He just comes across as a very real kid, with very real kid worries.

I’m not going to lie, I teared up a few times (not during the hockey parts) and when I finished, I just had to sit, holding the book for a few minutes before I could move. Such a lovely, lovely book.

 

My last read aloud?

21 May

Choosing a classroom read aloud is important and tricky. I am about to finish our current read aloud and have been thinking about which book I can read aloud to finish off the year. I found it in Breakout by Kate Messner.

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Publisher’s Summary: Nora Tucker is looking forward to summer vacation in Wolf Creek–two months of swimming, popsicles, and brushing up on her journalism skills for the school paper. But when two inmates break out of the town’s maximum security prison, everything changes. Doors are locked, helicopters fly over the woods, and police patrol the school grounds. Worst of all, everyone is on edge, and fear brings out the worst in some people Nora has known her whole life. Even if the inmates are caught, she worries that home might never feel the same.

Told in letters, poems, text messages, news stories, and comics–a series of documents Nora collects for the Wolf Creek Community Time Capsule Project–Breakout is a thrilling story that will leave readers thinking about who’s really welcome in the places we call home.

So, what makes this a great read aloud for the end of 6th grade?

  • a great mix of action and reflection that will appeal to readers who like those types of books
  • a variety of styles and voices that holds readers’ (and listeners’) attention
  • it tells the story of the end of a school year
  • authentic voices – I could visualize the protagonists right away
  • it touches on current issues without feeling preachy

The book comes out on June 5th, and Kate Messner is writing a series of posts about her experience writing the novel on her blog. It is well worth reading and I will probably share her posts with my students because it is interesting to see how she incorporated real life into a work of fiction.

A serious topic and an exciting read

17 May

A book can tackle a serious topic and still be an exciting read. In The Sky At Our Feet, author Nadia Hashimi tackles immigration issues and takes readers on a chase through New York City as our protagonist tries to get to safety.

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Publisher’s Summary: Jason has just learned that his Afghan mother has been living illegally in the United States since his father was killed in Afghanistan. Although Jason was born in the US, it’s hard to feel American now when he’s terrified that his mother will be discovered—and that they will be separated.

When he sees his mother being escorted from her workplace by two officers, Jason feels completely alone. He boards a train with the hope of finding his aunt in New York City, but as soon as he arrives in Penn Station, the bustling city makes him wonder if he’s overestimated what he can do.

After an accident lands him in the hospital, Jason finds an unlikely ally in a fellow patient. Max, a whip-smart girl who wants nothing more than to explore the world on her own terms, joins Jason in planning a daring escape out of the hospital and into the skyscraper jungle—even though they both know that no matter how big New York City is, they won’t be able to run forever.

The writing is tight and the story believable (except maybe for one part, but I willingly suspended my disbelief as I cheered for Jason D). This book will appeal to 10-14 year olds who like a fast paced story and those who love a book with heart.

As a side note, Jason and his mom are always asking and answering riddles. This so inspired me that I printed off a bunch of similar ones with numbers and letters, such as 26 L in the A – 26 Letters in the Alphabet. I gave them to my Enrichment class. At first they groaned, then they got competitive. I whistled hints. At the end of the period, one girl said, “I thought this was going to be lame, but it was really fun!: High praise indeed.

 

 

16 May

I don’t know that Katherine Applegate will ever write another book that will touch my heart the way The One and Only Ivan did. That puts her in a difficult spot because everything else she has written since, just pales in comparison.  On the upside, it means that I will always read what she has written because I know I am in for a journey that has depth and meaning, like her newest book Endling: The Last the first book in a series.

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Publisher’s Summary: Byx is the youngest member of her dairne pack. Believed to possess remarkable abilities, her mythical doglike species has been hunted to near extinction in the war-torn kingdom of Nedarra.

After her pack is hunted down and killed, Byx fears she may be the last of her species. The Endling. So Byx sets out to find safe haven, and to see if the legends of other hidden dairnes are true.

Along the way, she meets new allies—both animals and humans alike—who each have their own motivations for joining her quest. And although they begin as strangers, they become their own kind of family—one that will ultimately uncover a secret that may threaten every creature in their world.

Byx’s journey is a hero’s journey. It begins with tragedy an reader’s know it will end with some sort of triumph, but we will have to keep reading into the next book to find out what form that triumph will take.

One of my favorite characteristics of the dairne is that they can tell when a person is lying. I don’t think that Applegate was thinking about the present political situation, but the idea of fake news popped onto my head as I read. This morning as I was getting up, I was listening to the news and heard about the murder of another Mexican journalist. It can be dangerous to speak truth to power and the dairne do just that.

Applegate’s world building is meticulous and I truly felt as though I was journeying along with Byx. Endling: The Last  is a wonderful journey for middle grade readers.

 

 

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.

Summer reading 2018 – the first post

7 May

Although I still have six and a half weeks of school to go, my mind is already turning to summer reading. What is more stereotypically summery than summer camp?

I only went to Girl Guide camp once. It was the summer between grades 7 & 8 and about 4 of us went from our small-town troop. We shared the same tent and I have very fond memories (and one really funny one) of the whole thing.

Vera Brosgol’s experience wasn’t as great and she uses her memories of camp to tell a less pleasant experience in Be Prepared.

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Publisher’s Summary: In Be Prepared, all Vera wants to do is fit in—but that’s not easy for a Russian girl in the suburbs. Her friends live in fancy houses and their parents can afford to send them to the best summer camps. Vera’s single mother can’t afford that sort of luxury, but there’s one summer camp in her price range—Russian summer camp.

Vera is sure she’s found the one place she can fit in, but camp is far from what she imagined. And nothing could prepare her for all the “cool girl” drama, endless Russian history lessons, and outhouses straight out of nightmares!

In writing class, my students have been working on theme-based essays, turning the protagonist’s life lesson into a universal. Brosgol does that exceedingly well. Although Vera’s camp is centered around Russian scouting, it speaks to the universal desire we all feel to fit in.

 

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