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Rising to the Challenge

10 Jun

I read a lot, as you well know, and I can often predict how things will end. Sometimes, though, you see it coming and it still makes you cry.

This weekend, I read Planet Earth is Blue  by Nicole Panteleakos, and it was like a gut punch. I totally knew what was coming, but the reaction of the main character, Nova, was so well written that I wanted to crawl through the pages to give her a hug, even though she doesn’t like to be touched.

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Books can do a lot to teach kids to feel empathy for others. It was interesting to see what was going on in Nova’s mind, while people around her misunderstood everything she was about.  At 232 pages, Planet Earth is Blue,  isn’t a long book – it can easily be finished in an afternoon by a pool – but it kept me riveted.

 

20 May

Books set in summer seem to be finding their way to me. Thoughts about summer are certainly making their way to me, and my students. I was grateful for the return to rain after three weeks of summery weather – it helps keep students focused.

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The main character of Lynda Mullaly Hunt’s  Shouting At the Rain also appreciates a good storm.

Publisher’s Summary: Delsie loves tracking the weather–lately, though, it seems the squalls are in her own life. She’s always lived with her kindhearted Grammy, but now she’s looking at their life with new eyes and wishing she could have a “regular family.” Delsie observes other changes in the air, too–the most painful being a friend who’s outgrown her. Luckily, she has neighbors with strong shoulders to support her, and Ronan, a new friend who is caring and courageous but also troubled by the losses he’s endured. As Ronan and Delsie traipse around Cape Cod on their adventures, they both learn what it means to be angry versus sad, broken versus whole, and abandoned versus loved. And that, together, they can weather any storm.

As a teacher of 6th graders, I see this sort of relationship struggle frequently. Kids come into 6th middle school with friends from their neighborhood and elementary school. Middle school is a bigger pond. Some friendships endure. Some are abandoned. Some take a new shape. Watching my students negotiate this can be tough. Right now I am watching a good kid fall under the spell of someone with, shall we say, less of a work ethic. I have a feeling he will be all right, but I am am watching him and will intervene if I think I need to.

 

All that and there’s a basset hound, too!

4 Apr

It’s only been a month, but it feels like forever since I’ve written about books. After floundering around thinking about which book I’ve read in the last month, I finally settled on one that has a basset hound, because what’s better than books and bassets, right?

The basset hound in Jeff Zentner’s Rayne & Delilah’s Midnite Matinee  is not the main character. He does make several appearances though and provides both comic relief and comfort.

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Publisher’s Summary: Every Friday night, best friends Delia and Josie become Rayne Ravenscroft and Delilah Darkwood, hosts of the campy creature feature show Midnite Matinee on the local cable station TV Six.

But with the end of senior year quickly approaching, the girls face tough decisions about their futures. Josie has been dreading graduation, as she tries to decide whether to leave for a big university and chase her dream career in mainstream TV. And Lawson, one of the show’s guest performers, a talented MMA fighter with weaknesses for pancakes, fantasy novels, and Josie, is making her tough decision even harder.

Scary movies are the last connection Delia has to her dad, who abandoned the family years ago. If Midnite Matinee becomes a hit, maybe he’ll see it and want to be a part of her life again. And maybe Josie will stay with the show instead of leaving her behind, too.

As the tug-of-war between growing up and growing apart tests the bonds of their friendship, Josie and Delia start to realize that an uncertain future can be both monstrous…and momentous.

I’m going to be honest here, the story takes a bizarro turn when the girls meet the producer they think will change their lives. However, it also does a great job tackling how friendships evolve as young people grow older, the complex feelings around parental abandonment, and the excitement and uncertainty as high school ends and teens prepare to move on to the next phase of their lives.

 

Rebel Librarians, Unite!

19 Dec

My sister told me about a book that wasn’t even on my radar.

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Although it has some classic debut novel imperfections, I loved it so much it is my current read aloud for my 6th graders, who can totally relate to June’s lack of control in her life, and her desire to do something slightly subversive.

 

Resilient Nora

29 Nov

Sometimes it takes a while to get to know – and like – a character. I liked Nora right away. She is the eponymous protagonist of Everlasting Nora by Marie Miranda Cruz.

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Publisher’s Summary: After a family tragedy results in the loss of both father and home, 12-year-old Nora lives with her mother in Manila’s North Cemetery, which is the largest shantytown of its kind in the Philippines today.

When her mother disappears mysteriously one day, Nora is left alone.

With help from her best friend Jojo and the support of his kindhearted grandmother, Nora embarks on a journey riddled with danger in order to find her mom. Along the way she also rediscovers the compassion of the human spirit, the resilience of her community, and everlasting hope in the most unexpected places.

This engaging novel will give readers a glimpse into what life is like for impoverished children and how resilient they are. Before reading the book, I hadn’t heard about the people who live in Manilla’s cemeteries. This book opened a whole new understanding of poverty I hadn’t had before. Even though the story has a happy ending, it is a realistic ending. I won’t spoil it and tell you exactly what happens. I will tell you that, at the end, Nora is happy and still living in the cemetery.

Another great book to give as a holiday gift for a young reader in your life.

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.

Life on the move

24 Sep

 

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Kids shouldn’t have to wish for a toilet, but Felix does. That’s because he and his mom are living in their Westfalia van. They’d had a house, but  due to a series of unfortunate events, they became homeless.

Nielsen does a great job illustrating what it is like to be homeless – how to tay clean, eat, cover-up that you aren’t – in a way that let’s the reader understand how exhausting it can be. I loved Felix’s voice. He felt like an authentic 7th grader and I pictured him in the halls of my middle school, trying to keep everything together. When you pick up the book, keep an eye on Mr. & Mrs. Ahmadi. They are the real heroes of this story.

 

 

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