add on

add on

5.11.13

Harry Potter Anyone?

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
by J.K. Rowling

This week I opened a Harry Potter book for the first time in years. The last time I read Harry Potter and the Socerer's Stone was about  6 years ago when my son was seven. I had put him off as long as I dared, and we read it together, in case Quirrel and his little friend might frighten him.  Before that, this was the book most often requested in the libraries in which I read books aloud.  The year it was published and for many years after, I read this book regularly.

I must say that once the movie came out, the requests began to diminish. I am not sure that many kids are taking the time to read the books at all.  They may read one or two, but the whole series is certainly reserved for the reading enthusiast.  That is why I am reading it know.  My 6th grade book club wanted to read and discuss the books.  Enough of the kids had read none of the books that we decided to go back to the beginning.  When going to get the cover art I was surprised to see it had changed.
I am looking forward to talking with the kids about the books. I am sure the other novels, if not movies, will come up in the discussion.  Harry is a terribly flawed hero and I love pointing that out to kids.  It seems to make them believe that they too might have a bit of hero inside.

As expected, the book was great.  I had forgotten how much I loved McGonagal, Hagrid and Snape.  They are lively characters even in the beginning.  It was nice to be reminded of how Hermione found her spot in the trio that would go on to change the wizarding world.  Mostly, it was nice to read through this horribly imaginative book.

If your reader hasn't read the series and is up for a bit of fantasy, you can't go wrong here.  I would remind you that with every book Harry is a year older and his problems age with him.  He begins as an 11 year old.  Let that be your guide.

By the way, do any of you find it odd that in three of my bookclub books the name Granger comes up? Mrs. Granger in Frindle, Hermione Granger in Harry Potter and Granger, Guy Montag's friend, in Fahrenheit 451.  Weird Huh?

23.10.13

Dork Diaries

Dork Diaries
by Rachel Renee Russell

I finally read one of the Dork Diary books.  My fourth grade book club chose #3, and I was compelled to comply.  I have to say the kids love the series! So, I was willing to give it a go.

I think it resembles a Disney sitcom.  The main character, Nikki, has two best friends and an enemy MacKinsey.  According to the group, and other kids I know, the books all start with Nikki doing something silly and MacKinsey finding out about it.  This enemy has quite a bit of dirt on Nikki, including that she only attends their lovely private school because her father exchanges bug extermination for her tuition.  MacKinsey spends a good bit of time working to keep Nikki down.

In #3, Nikki is captured singing karaoke with her sister on film my MacKinsey.  In order to avoid embarrassment, Nikki originally refrains from participating in the school wide talent show. The story unfolds from here and explores the common themes of friendship, determination, working to belong, and loyalty.  If you are a reader or fan of the basic sitcom, you can guess the rest.

So, would I suggest you get the book for your kid?  I would if you have a non-reading girl. It is a great starting place.  Once she is hooked on reading, you can push her toward some of the other great comedians on the page.  You could start with Clementine and Zoe, chic geek, and move toward Pippi Longstocking. Every child needs a path into reading.  If this format might appeal to your reader, definitely give it a try!

15.10.13

The Book Thief

The Book Thief
by Markus Zusak

I am currently enrolled in a class called The Historian's Craft.  Among other things, we have to read a scholarly text and write a book review.  In addition to reading the text, we had to find at least two other reviews of the book.  What I discovered in reading through the many reviews of the book I chose is that everyone finds something different in the text.  Every review differs in the way it identifies significant information, techniques and conclusions.

I was given the opportunity to reread The Book Thief this month, when my seventh grade book club chose it for the October read. I must say that it was as original as I remembered, but different characters touched me.  The first time I read the book, its protagonist Liesal demanded all of my attention.  She is the focus of the book and the narrator, so this is no surprise.  This time I fell in love with Max and Hans.

In Liesal's life there are four significant men:  her brother, Rudy, Max and Hans.  Max is the Jewish man who hides in her basement and Hans is her foster papa, who invites Max to stay.  The lessons of generosity and determination I learned from these men surprised me.  Death, the narrator, comments at one point that he expects them to meet him standing up.  Apparently, this happens when a person has regularly given of himself, making his soul light.

If you want more details about the story jump over to my last review on this touching text.  If you have read it before, give it another go, you will not be disappointed.

9.10.13

John Grisham for Young Adults?

The Firm
by John Grisham
 
 
Many "middle readers" have read the Theodore Boone books by John Grisham, but is his work suitable for the Young Adult reader?  I tested this theory this month with my 8th grade book club.  It is a small group.  So small, in fact, that I can't divide them by genre.  This fact forces us to get very clever with book selection.  As a group we face the conflict between fantasy, non-fiction and realistic fiction. 
 
This month, I suggested we give John Grisham a try.  My thinking was that the fantasy kids might like the adventure and suspense and those more interested in real life, true or not, might appreciate the plot.  The kids were agreeable to the author and chose The Firm for a starting place.  I was pleased with the choice because I had read it before and seen the movie years ago.  I must admit, I told them I was not ready to read A Time to Kill with them.  It is my own hiccup.  I am just not ready to face that kind of hate with a group of kids.
 
I downloaded the novel and listened, since it was technically a reread.  The narrator didn't sound like I imagined Mitch sounding like (or was my view affected by Tom Cruises portrayals?).  In any case, I was surprised by how much the book varied from the movie. 
 
For those of you who haven't read the book or seen the movie, it is a legal thriller.  Young Mitch, a recent law school graduate, is lured to Memphis by the money and promise of a secure future at a small law firm.  Before you know it, he finds his life invaded, not only by the firm, but by the mob and his past, as well.  There are many twists and turns, making the novel fast paced and fun to read.  If your young adult likes the book, they should try the other legal thrillers by John Grisham.  Some contain more adult themes, so you may want to supervise the selection.  There are many, and they are a bit formulaic, but they are worth the time.

1.10.13

Wonder

Wonder
by R.J.Palacia

I only pick the first book of the year for my book clubs.  I choose the books by reviewing a list of questions I put on the registration forms.  I ask the kids questions like, "what is your favorite movie? video game? book? and author?"  After I review the questions, I group the kids by interest and age.  I try to pick a book that I think will appeal to the genre of interest.

Now, I have group of 6th graders starting their fourth year with me in book club.  I have to say I would have told you I could pick a book for any of these kids.  They usually love fantasy and adventure books.  But, this month they took me by surprise.  I have to say they are growing up.

One of my most dedicated readers told the group that they just had to read Wonder by R.J. Palacio.  He had read it four times and cried at the ending every time.  He explained, " It is a book about a boy who is going to school for the first time in fifth grade.  He had been homeschooled up to now because his face is terribly deformed.  Going to school was hard for him, but it is a great story."  This young man is very respected by the group, so they agreed to take on the novel.  So, my fantasy kids are delving into realistic fiction with both feet.

I am proud of the group and glad to have read the book.  I have been tempted by the cover for the past year, but hadn't made the time to read the book until now.  My young friend was right.  This book is a must read.  It is a classic coming of age novel with a cast of flawed characters.  August, the main character, wears his flaws openly on his face.  The others hide them more effectively, but they are revealed little by little to the reader as the story unfolds.  If you have a middle school student, this book is a must read!

20.9.13

Jake Ransom

Jake Ransom and the Skull King's Shadow
by James Rollins


I was flipping through a back issue of School Library Journal when I found this review:

“Gr 5–9—Eighth-grader Jake and his older sister Kady are invited to the British Museum to view the Mayan treasures their archaeologist parents discovered shortly before their disappearance three years earlier. Jake takes along what is left of their parents' possessions: a field log, a sketch book, and two halves of a gold Mayan coin (worn by the siblings around their necks). At the exhibit, Jake examines a two-foot-tall solid gold pyramid with a round hole in its side. He places the Mayan coin in the slot, which creates an explosion, transporting the siblings to another place and time. Calypsos is a land inhabited by dinosaurs, mythical and fantastical creatures, and people from long-lost civilizations.

Upon their arrival, Jake and Kady befriend two teens, Pindor and Marika. Together they must save Calypsos from the banished Skull King who threatens to return and take over the land. The pace of the story is occasionally a little slow, but readers who stick with it will be caught up in the adventure, particularly those who are interested in Mayan culture. The characters are likable, especially Jake and Pindor, who experience the insecurities of most teens. Simple drawings add visual aid to the descriptions of Mayan glyphs and other objects. Unanswered questions surrounding their parents' disappearance and the connection between Jake and the Skull King will have readers eagerly looking for the next installment in the series.—Kelley Siegrist, Farmington Community Library, MI”

Now, lately I have been having a lot of requests for books for a child who loves books by Rick Riordan, so the review jumped out at me.  I have to admit, I am not sure why I didn't notice it the first time through.  I was intrigued by the hero, Jake Ransom, a cross between Carter Kane and Indiana Jones, so I gave it a try. 

I liked the book, but wish we could find a way to liberate children without disposing of their parents. Are we really that bad? 

It was a fun read and I am recommending it to my son for a break from his required reading at school.  I find that as the books on his required reading list get harder, I need to help him find the books that simply entertain.  For my 7th grader, Mr. Rollins’ new series fits the bill.  If he likes the first book as much as I suspect, I will check out the next in the series, Jake Ransom and the Howling Sphinx.

18.9.13

Book Club is BACK!

What a stack of books?  These are the book club kids choices for the month of October.  I have read some of them.  Two of the books are new to me: Dork Diaries #3 and Wonder.  I will tackle them first and then begin rereading the other titles.  I have to say book club takes a bit of time, but it is worth it once I am back with the kids.

I have been hosting these clubs for four years now.  In the process, a few lessons have been learned.  I thought I would share them with you today, in case you are thinking of hosting one yourself.

Tip #1- Keep the group to under 10.
I must say I think 7 or 8 is the perfect size.  If you have just an hour and everyone has read the book, this gives everyone time to speak their mind.  Besides, with a smaller group you can all fit around a table.

Tip #2-Let the kids pick the book.
I have tried every possible arrangement and finally seem to have found the best way to choose a book for my students.  First, I organize the students according to interests.  For years, it was just by class or grade, but we could never settle on a title.  Second, I bring a few books along, within the group's preferred genre, to prime the pump.  They rarely choose my title, but they always get the conversation started.

Tip #3- Bring Snacks-
I did not bring food along last week.  It was missed.  I don't know why, but when you are sharing a book, somehow food makes it better.

Tip #4- Don't be afraid to tackle difficult books
Topics are only too scary, too sexy, too real or too adult if we refuse to talk with the kids about them. Now,  I am not suggesting letting a young child take on an overly complicated or disturbing book. But, when they are ready, or if they are going to read it in spite of you, take on the challenge and help your readers navigate the themes.  I promise they will impress you!

If you host a book club, please share any gems you have learned along the way.  If this inspires you to get started, let me know how it is going.


10.9.13

The Graveyard Book

The Graveyard Book
by Neil Gaiman

Book clubs are up and running once again. The first group to assemble were the fifth graders at 8:00 am.  I have to tell you that the hour made this a difficult meeting for me.  If you combine that with the fact that many of the members were new to the group this year, I worried that we might not ever get things rolling.

The book I chose for the group was a bust.  By 8:05, we had established that the book was uninteresting and too long. What to do for the remaining 50 minutes?  We talked about some of our favorite summer reading.  This brought us to 8:15.  I was certain that Jerusalem, the keeper of our book room, had stopped the clocks. Staring out into the group, I made one last attempt at engaging them.  I had brought along a bag of books as suggestions for next month's reading.  After showing them to my readers, I encouraged them to browse the book room shelves for the books they found appealing.  We collected 10 books.  They turned out to be magic books.

As the students sorted through the titles, they started talking with each other.  They read the book descriptions.  They evaluated titles and cover art.  They pondered what the awards some of them had received might be for.  Finally, they put the books into 3 categories:  Mystery, Horror, Realistic Fiction.

I asked how they planned to narrow down the choices. After all, they only needed to read one book.  Just like in House Hunter, they started by eliminating one genre, realistic fiction.  Then, after much discussion, they reluctantly put the mysteries aside, deciding on horror for October.  A pretty apt choice, I must say.  I haven't read the book they selected yet, so I will report on that before Halloween. I do, however, have a favorite horror book myself, The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman.

The first few pages are heart wrenching.  I hate to give away the drama, but I will tell you that it results in a baby finding a new home in a graveyard.  In the world of Gaiman's creation, the ghost of a person continues living in the graveyard in which they are buried.  The baby, BOD, is raised by the ghosts of this graveyard and the other sorts of creatures that inhabit it like werewolves and vampires.  Life is good for Bod as long as he stays in the graveyard.  But, as he ventures out, the events that forced him to his new home conspire to find him.

If you are not taken with this plot line, check out the post "Mystery Anyone?"  You will find some other suggestions there.


26.8.13

Inferno By Dan Brown

Inferno
by Dan Brown

I usually grab the images for my book recommendations from  Barnes and Noble.  I have a process:  see how the blog is doing, open a new post, type in the title and insert the image URL copied from www.bn.com.  I just did my search for Inferno over at Barnes and Noble, and Dan Brown's novel is the first to populate the search, but it isn't the only one...

Next to the image of the novel I was looking for, there are a few steamy romance novels,some science fiction books and at number 10, Dante Alighiere's original.  I must admit that this doesn't really surprise me. The classics aren't always on the top of contemporary reading lists.  I have to admit that I have never read it myself.

I have, however, read and listened to Dan Brown's novel that uses the Dante original as a backdrop to his latest suspense thriller.  I have read many of Brown's novels and must say that he is a master of place.  I have never been to Italy, but through his pages I truly get a sense of its antiquity and majesty.  Italy's backdrop of art, history and architecture creates a perfect setting for this thriller.  Much like Angels and Demons and The DaVinci Code, the mysteries of the novel unfold because of Robert Langdon, the book's main character's, knowledge of code and symbol.

I have challenged my 8th grade book club to read this novel because I am tired of hearing from this group that the story is boring.  They may have many things to say about this novel, but boring isn't one of them.  I am hoping they will go on this ride with Robert and help prevent what might be the next world wide disaster. If it goes well, I hope to share a few of their thoughts with you.

12.8.13

Igraine the Brave

Igraine the Brave
by Cornelia Funke
narration by Xanthe Elbrick 

With delight, I am planning my first trip to Great Britain.  As I read through the travel books, I keep seeing the beautiful images of the castles.  This is the land of fairies, dragon, knights and squires that I grew up reading about.  The creators of these stories have painted a country that I can only hope will live up in reality.

One newer book on the scene, that visits the land of magic, knights and honor is Igraine the Brave by Cornelia Funke. This is exactly the kind of book I would have devoured in elementary school.  In my day, all of the heroes of these tales were men.  In this wonderful story, Funke creates a spunky girl who plans to grow up to fill her grandfather's armor.  Though her parents had hoped it was a phase, after a mishap of magic, they are forced to let her have a go with lance and armor.

In spite of the looming danger, Igraine leaves home on her quest to find the giant that can help undo the magical mistake made back at the castle.  The road will be long, but the reward will be great.  If she succeeds she will restore her family, defeat a dark lord, and help a sorrowful knight restore his honor.

The narration is upbeat, the characters lovable, and the story line clear.  For any new reader who dreams of dragons and giants, talking cats, and magic mice, this book is a must.

Age Range 8-12

5.8.13

The Giver

The Giver
by Lois Lowry

Last fall at the National Book Festival, I had the honor of attending a talk by the writer Lois Lowry.  She was at the festival promoting her newest book, Son.  It is a continuation of the story she began 11 years ago with her Newbery Award winning novel, The Giver.  If you have middle school aged children, this title may be familiar to you.  The Giver was added to the required reading list of most middle schools in America once it became so acclaimed.  It was added because it met two major hurdles: it is loved by 11-13 year old readers, and it fulfills the science fiction requirements in my state's English standards.

Son will be out in paperback soon and inevitably onto my 8th grade book club lists, so I decided to listen to The Giver this week.  I must admit I also listened to Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children.  I've read it before but enjoyed listening to it again all the same.  If you want to know the details about this book, check out my post.  It was wonderful listening to The Giver.  I read it when it was published, and don't remember liking it as much as I did this time.

In the future, as described by Lois Lowry, every member of the community has a specific job that is assigned to them at the Ceremony of Twelve.  The jobs are assigned to children after years of being observed by the adults of the community.  Once you are given a job, it is yours for a lifetime.  Twelve year old Jonas is assigned the job of receiver.  There is only one receiver in the community at a time.  He is the only member of the community who holds memories.  Once Jonas is chosen, the past receiver becomes the giver and begins passing all of his memories to Jonas.  At first, the process seems delightful to Jonas, but in short order, the pain of difficult memories begins to weigh on Jonas.  The more he learns, the more he begins to distrust his society.

There are four stories that evolve around this futuristic society.  According to Lowry, she only meant to write one story.  She received so many inquiries about the characters of her novel she began adding other novels: Gathering Blue, Messenger and now Son.   I must say, listening and reading these novels is worth your time.


29.7.13

Wildwood

Wildwood
by Colin Meloy
illustrated by Carson Ellis
narration by Amanda Plumber

The listening project has picked up speed.  I finished the book I mentioned last week. Surprise, it was Wildwood by Colin Meloy. In addition, I have completed another story and have moved on to book number 4.  I am starting a listening journal, much like my reading journal, to keep up with the books I have completed.  Keeping notes in one place about the books I am reading and hearing helps me to lead discussions in my book club meetings.  When you read as many books as I do, many of them too quickly, you tend to lose track of some of the best details.  I encourage my kids to keep journals, too.  You might want to try it yourself.  If nothing else, it might prevent you from picking up a used book, with enthusiasm, only to open it once you get home and see your own name written in the front.  Honestly, this has happened to me!

The story of Wildwood was original and intricate.  Every time I thought I had learned all of the rules of the place, a new twist was added.  Pru and Curtis, two of the many heroic characters in this novel, were flawed and lovable.  As a person who reads a lot of children's stories, I was delighted that these two 12 year olds had the courage to solicit help from others in the novel, with honesty.  I guess they had enough troubles on their plates without compounding the problems by distrusting the adults and capable animals around them.

When we meet Pru, we quickly learn that she is a bright and capable 12 year old. Tragically, while responsible for her infant brother, Mac, he is kidnapped from a Portland, OR, park by a murder of crows. That's right a flock of crows is called a murder (and this is not the only wonderful new word your reader will learn in the course of reading this novel). After untangling this reality, Pru speeds away from the park trying to keep up with the birds.  Finally acknowledging that the pursuit is hopeless, Pru watches the crows take her brother into the Impassible Forest.

Helpless, Pru makes her way home and finds that she is being followed by one of her classmates, Curtis. Though the two were once friends, as they've grown older, they have grown apart.  Afraid and angry, Pru dismisses Curtis out of hand and continues to try to contemplate a plan that will help her rescue her brother.

She will construct a plan.  She will carry it out.  And, Curtis will be her unlikely helpmate.  This is all I am going to say about it for now, except to add that while I loved the story and have even given a copy of the book to one of my closest friends who teaches 4th grade for a read-a-loud, I found the narration average.   I like the sound of Amanda Plumber's voice, but I would have liked it if she read a little faster.  The other downside of listening to this novel is that you will miss the fantastic illustrations by Carson Ellis.  You may remember her from Mysterious Benedict Society fame.

22.7.13

Second Hand Books

Second Hand Books
a few thoughts...

The book I have chosen to listen to this week is rather long, and though I have listened during every spare moment, I have yet to come to the end.  Next week, I will be able to comment on it. So far, it is a wonderful story, so check in next week for a full review.

In the mean time, I thought I would say a word or two about used books.  Honestly, what could be better?  This past weekend my family and I went to CALS, our library's used book sale, and we found a few gems.  My husband headed straight to the "literature" section, having a renewed interest in reading the classics.  He found a few to bring home:  A Separate Peace, Babbit, Scarlet Letter, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, Return of the Native, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and The Pearl.  My son went in search of hardback books by Michael Shaara and Brian Jacques. I headed straight to the old books.

In the shelves, I found three gems.  I collect early readers, and I found two in beautiful condition.  I also found a 1941 book of snakes for my son, the want-to-be herpetologist.  All of the drawings in the books are wonderful, none of the books smell of mold, and the book of snakes has 87 color plates in the back.

I had to go looking for my son once I was ready to leave. I found him sitting on the floor with his nose in an old book about planes. He has long been interested in bio-mimicry.  Maybe with these two books in his arsenal he will create a mechanical flying snake.  Anything is possible.

All kinds of organizations host used book sales.  Schools and libraries are typical benefactors.  In my area, you can also always visit Goodwill and Savers to scan used books.  Finally, you can check for local flea markets, used book stores and the internet.

When we got home from buying our box full of books, I took the opportunity to go through my own shelves and cull out unneeded titles.  I was able to refill the box I brought home and make a donation to my library.  In six months, my donated books will find themselves on the "for sale" shelves at the CALS used book sale.  What a wonderful cycle!

15.7.13

The Peculiar 
by Stefan Bachmann
narrated by Peter Altschuler

So, the experiment is coming along nicely.  I have listened to an entire book and clocked a few miles on the road and treadmill in the process. After listening to this novel, I am convinced that we have learning styles and that auditory learning is a weak area for me. Listening took some practice.  I found that it was entirely too easy for my mind to wander and to lose track of the story.  At first, this frustrated me because I did not know how to use my Nano.  I thought I had to go back to the beginning of the chapter in order to retrace my steps.  As I was complaining of this to my son, he taught me something new.  There are two small dots on the bottom of the first screen I see when listening to a book.  It means there is another page.  On the second page, I can choose to loop the story, change the speed of narration (1x, 2x, 1/2x) and drag a little dot just a bit to the left and rewind.  I have to say that bit of knowledge has smoothed the way for me to continue this listening exercise.

The book was terrific and it was written by 19 year old Stefan Bachmann!  Now I am not saying it will replace The Outsiders, by then 16 year old S.E. Hinton, as the best novel written by a young phenom, but it is well worth your time if you like fantasy or steampunk.   I must tell you that the narration added to the thrill of the plot.  Peter Altschuler masterly created characters through distinguishable accents and voice changes. And, the pace at which he read the novel supported the plot brilliantly.

This mysterious novel, which begins with a description of the Fay and Human Wars,  presents the reader, or listener in this case, with the tale of conflict.  The fay have long been subordinate to the humans since losing the wars.  Magic has been subdued by all of the metal used by this Victorian age England.  One politically powerful fairy, Lord Lickerish, is poised to reclaim the world for the fairies.  In order to reach his goal, he has to find just the right changling or peculiar, a child who is only part fairy.  When we come to the story, his plans have already killed 9 changlings.  But, what Mr. Lickerish does not know is that his plans have been discovered by two unlikely and reluctant heroes, Bartholomew and Mr. Jelliby.  Will they meet?  Will they help each other foil Lord Lickerish's plans?  I have to say it is worth reading or listening to find out.

Suggested Reading Level:  Grade 5-8

8.7.13

A New Experiment

I am finally back from vacation.  It was great to be away, but I am having trouble finding my bearings.  Do you know what I mean? Anyway, upon my return, I have come to realize that I need to start maximizing the way I use my time, or I am never going to get everything done around here.  I have a job, analyzing data for a school, my family, and this fall I am going to learn to do research like the pros.  With all this in mind, I have constructed a new reading plan for myself.  I am going to listen, so I can multi-task.

I am forever espousing the virtues of reading aloud and now I am going to let someone read aloud to me.  I will listen while I do a few other things, like exercise, clean house and run errands.  I have long been an NPR listener, but for now that is going to be put on the shelf, so to speak, to make room for children and young adult stories.

Here is the plan.  I am going to listen to books I can download from my local library, yeah CALS.  Once I have found a winner I will let you know about it.  I am going to judge the book by how easy it was to listen and the quality of narrations.  Be assured that I will only recommend stories that I think are worth knowing about, as always.  Who has time to read about a book you shouldn't bother listening to or reading?  If I get the hang of listening, I may even listen to my book club selections this year.  We don't start up again until September, so I have some time to figure this all out.

If you have any advice on how to stay focused on the story without the words right in front of you, please pass them along! I must admit, I regularly stop and reread, so staying focused is going to be my biggest challenge. Next week, I will have heard a few new stories and will be able to give you at least one suggestion.  Happy listening to me!

24.6.13

Summer vacation

I am spending some time with family for a week and a half.  See you all after the 4th!

17.6.13

What about rereading a book?

One of the best things about being a reader who works with children is that I have an excuse to keep reading my favorite books, especially my favorite children's and YA books.  It is always a surprise for my book club members to realize that I like to reread books.  By the time children are capably reading chapter books, they seem content to read through the novel just once, even if they loved it.  Parents are frequently taken aback by my attitude toward rereading, too.  I try reminding both child and adult of the number of times they read through picture books.  Have you ever heard of someone only reading Goodnight Moon, Chicka-Chicka-Boom-Boom, or Pat the Bunny, just once?

Why is it that we approach novels so differently than we do other works of art?  People design their walks through the park so that they can see a favorite sculpture.  Think of the reproduction posters made of great works of art sold and ultimately hung on walls.  There must be millions!  And, don't lets forget how many times we will hear a song in the course of our lives.  We learn and recite poems, buy copies of our favorite films for re-watching and binge on the best television shows.

It may take more of a commitment to take on a novel again, but I assure you that if you liked it the first time, the second read will be its own reward.   I find that the first time I read a novel, I am anxious to get to the end and find out what is going to happen.  The second time I make my way through the story, I become well acquainted with the characters and the places the author is writing about.  If I have an inclination to read a book for the third time, it makes its way onto my list of books to share as a read-a-loud.  By the third reading, I know the story well enough to perform it for my audience.  As a matter of fact, I have read The Secret Garden often enough that I think I am ready to record the audio book.   But, first I will have to work on my British accent.

What are you favorite books?  Have you ever thought of reading them more than once?  Do you encourage your children to reread?  If not, why not start this summer?

10.6.13

Wuthering Heights

Wuthering Heights
by Emily Bronte

As I mentioned last week, my son made his way to camp this week.  It is in a remote location.  At the camp, electronics aren't allowed and there is no internet or cell service.  Luckily, he is a reader, so a good old fashioned book, a book light and flashlights were on the list of things to bring, and they will help fill any down time.

In preparation for his departure, we made our way to Barnes & Noble to find the perfect book.  We looked around for about thirty minutes and he had trouble deciding on anything.  I can assure you that none of the books on the "Summer Reading" tables were in his stack.  I poured over the tables and quickly realized that the chances of him, or any child, picking one of these classic books was slim to none, unless it was because of some required list from school.  The covers were just so blah!

Because he could settle on nothing in particular, we made our way to a local resale shop, and he picked a Dan Brown novel, Deception Point, that I was able to purchase for $2.99.  Resale is my go to if I can't get the book at the library.  In this case, I was reluctant to send a library book along.  Still, I couldn't get those wonderful stories, trapped in stunningly lame covers, off my mind.  So, I headed to my local book seller.

There I found my favorite shelf of classic literature and was reminded that Penguin Classic Deluxe Editions is putting quite a bit of effort into attracting new readers.  Just look at this cover for Wuthering Heights.  It thrilled my 8th grade girls' book club enough for them to give the novel a try.  In this age of dark male leads and tortured female characters, who wouldn't want to give Heathcliff and Cathy a go.  As a lover of English and American Classics, I totally support Penguin's efforts to give the stories a new life with our young adult readers.  Just google "Penguin Classic Deluxe Edition" and you will find the extensive list of newly designed covers, by fashion illustrator Ruben Toledo, that are carefully protecting some of our best stories.

This Wuthering Heights cover is part of the couture collection.  Here is how Penguin describes the new covers:

Couture Deluxe Editions

READ ICONIC NOVELS DRESSED IN A FIERCE DESIGN BY ACCLAIMED FASHION ILLUSTRATOR RUBEN TOLEDO. COLLECT ALL SIX TITLES IN THE COUTURE-INSPIRED COLLECTION.

3.6.13

My Family for the War

My Family for the War
by Anne C. Voorhoeve

I have been spending a good bit of my time researching the British involvement in World War II, lately. I came across a young adult novel about a girl who fled Berlin, before the start of the war on one of the kindertransports. I have to say, I was unaware that Jewish children were evacuated from Germany without their families, alone and confused. Learning a tid bit like this is why I love historical fiction.

Like The Book Thief, My Family for the War, gives the reader a look into the lives of German citizens. It is also a great coming of age story. Ziska is able to face the world alone, like in most good stories about kids, but in this case it does not begin with the death of a parent. Instead, Ziska is sent to face this uncertain time in history to live out the war in London.

This is definitely a young adult book, but if you have an 8th grade or above, who has an interest in historical fiction, I would check out this novel. It will be on my ninth grade book club list next year.

28.5.13

Could you recommend a book?

Summer is here and my son is on his way to a couple of sleepover camps for the first time.  I was never a camper myself, so I find I have very little information to offer on the typical goings on at camp.  As usual, I thought I should get him a book to read about it, but realized that I cannot think of a single book about going away to camp.  We did watch both of the parent trap movies, but that has exhausted my options.

If you would please leave some camp related book  titles in the comments, so we can try them out, it would be appreciated.  I hope you are all having a wonderful holiday weekend. Thanks for the help!

25.5.13

Summer Mystery Series

I was wandering around the stacks at Fletcher Library Monday and string of bright blue book spines jumped out at me. Upon closer examination, I realized they were the Hardy Boys series. I must tell you I am not sure I ever read a Hardy Boys novel, but my husband loved them as a kid. His other favorite was Encyclopedia Brown, another great series of mystery books for kids. With the Hardy Boys located, I went searching for the Nancy Drew books. This is a girl I knew and loved well as a child. I didn’t know the author’s name – originally Caroline Keene as it turns out – and so I just walked the stacks looking for other collections of common spines until I found her.  Read More

20.5.13

Mercy Watson to the Rescue

Mercy Watson to the Rescue
by Kate Di Camillo

It occurred to me on Friday, while I was playing pictionary with my third grade book clubs, that I rarely talk about books for them.  They are all interested in reading Harry Potter and Percy Jackson, but there are some wonderfully funny books that will entertain them without too much challenge.  This allows them to read on their own.

Kate Di Camillo has long been one of my favorite authors.  After  reading Because of Winn Dixie, I was a fan for life.  In addition to the longer chapter books she writes for middle readers, she has given life to a wonderfully funny little pig named Mercy.  Mercy belongs to the Watsons and they love her dearly.  Mercy lives next door to the Lincolns, sisters Eugenia and Baby.  The neighbors have mixed opinions of Mercy.

In Mercy's first adventure we learn about her love of buttered toast.  A love that will help her rescue her beloved Watson family in a time of need.  Mercy is comical and would be happy in the company of other literary characters like Amelia Bedelia and Clifford.  Trouble is never too far away, but Mercy always manages to survive.


17.5.13

The Name of this Book is Secret Series

The Name of this Book is Secret
by Pseudonymous Bosch

Summer is coming, and I am aware that it can be hard to get kids thinking about reading. The library is offering their summer programs and many schools will have summer reading lists. If you are opting out of these, you might consider introducing a series to your kiddo.
 
One series I would recommend begins with The Name of this Book is Secret by Pseudonymous Bosch. It is written with 3rd-7th grade readers in mind, and a mysterious narrator spends a good bit of time engaging the readers as a part of the story, an additional character you might say... Read More

13.5.13

Mythology

The Companions Quarter Series
by Julia Golding

We have spent the better part of the evening creating a minotaur mask and it has inspired my son to write a recommendation for the blog...

The one thing I found interesting about the series it that it is part of a genre called "eco-fantasy."  I had never heard of it before, but I can tell it is a great genre.  To my surprise these four novels include a dense plot line.

Each of the novels has creature from mythology, but the stories are original.   There are three primary characters, Cole, Coney and Coney's Aunt Evelyn.  By the end of the series, I considered Coney a friend.  It probably won't surprise you to find that she had magical qualities.  Each novel has its own adventure, but common characters.

The qualities each of the characters possess, help  them defeat the threats present in their worlds.  The pace it fast and the language smooth.  I think any young reader would love it.

Recommendation contributed by an enthusiastic 12 year old reader.

6.5.13

Little Women

Little Women
by Louisa May Alcott

I believe many things bring people together; among them common experiences.  Reading a book can be one such experience.  It is great when a new book becomes popular.  I can always hear the kids talking about the newest Rick Riordan or James Patterson once they are available.  Reading classic novels can bring people from different generations together.  To that end, a few colleagues of mine and I have been working on a list of 100 books all kids should read during their K-12 years.

For our book club parties, I created a pictionary game from the list.  As the game proceeded, it was clear to me that these particular 5th graders were not familiar with the titles they were finding on the tickets.  One began drawing and quickly got the group to guess the word "little."  I expected the guesser to go straight to Stuart Little or Little Women.  Instead, they never got the title.  It was Little Women by Louisa May Alcott.  I was stunned. So, if your reader hasn't given this classic a try, maybe it is time.

The setting is a New England town during the Civil War, actually Alcott's home, Orchard House, in Concord.  A family's father, Mr. March, has left for the War. He leaves behind his wife and four daughters, with little to survive on but their love for one another.  The novel weaves together the virtues of domesticity and work, while commenting on the pursuit of wealth.  It has been well loved since its release in 1868.  It was sold as a book for girls, but I believe the strength of the male characters makes it a reasoned, if not good, choice for boys.  If nothing else, your boys will become familiar with the challenges of being a woman in the 1860's.

I grew up loving these women.  Marmee, Amy, Beth, Jo and Meg.  I even had a set of Madame Alexander Little Women dolls that I shared with my sister.  We wore them out!  Even if it doesn't have an enduring impact on your reader, it will allow them to share some common ground with the generation of readers that have come before them.

Note:  If you, too, loved Little Women as a child, you should read Geraldine Brooks novel, March.  It is about Mr. March and what he was up to while he was away at war.

30.4.13

The North Star

The North Star
by Peter H. Reynolds

A year ago I started this blog, because it concerns me that so many capable readers stop reading between 3rd-8th grade.  After making their way through the Harry Potter and Percy Jackson books, too many children think there are not any more great books to read. I wanted to help parents respond when their children proclaim, "I don't read, because I can't find a good book!"  With this in mind, I have purposely left out the many amazingly illustrated and written picture books.  The intended audience for these masterpieces are adults reading aloud to early readers.

Among this genre of books, you will find works of art and books of true wisdom. The North Star by Peter H. Reynolds belongs in this category.    It is dedicated to "all of the parents and educators of the world, and to those who are brave enough to follow their  dreams."  The words and the drawings effectively point out the well worn paths of decision making and the possible effects of choosing one of them.  In contrast they add beauty and wonder to the paths less traveled.  The story gives voice to following your own instincts and dreams.  It celebrates the individual.

This book is a touch stone for me and my son.  When we hit bumps or times of indecision, I pull it out and read it.  Miller can predict the conversion that will follow, if he arrives home to see the book out in the living room.  For us it is a physical reminder to live the words of Henry D. Thoreau,  "Go confidently in the direction of your dreams, live the live you  have imagined."

If you are looking for some advice on how to navigate your own path after reading, The North Star, check out this old post about Ish, also by Peter H. Reynolds.

25.4.13

Three Times Lucky

Three Times Lucky
by Sheila Turnage

I have been giving the theme of books a lot of thought lately. We spent the last semester in book clubs considering setting and the plan for next year is theme. The better these kids get at reading, the more I have to bring my A game. We will concentrate on some of the universal themes found in books, and then see if any apply to the books we have read. One such theme is "where do I belong and who do I belong to."  Read More...

22.4.13

42

42
movie, currently in the theater

After a year of extolling the virtues of reading, I feel I need to interrupt this important work to tell you about this great movie. I must admit, I am not one to go to the movie theater.  I love movies but prefer sitting at home and watching them in my pajamas.  After hearing all of the praise for this film, I was persuaded to make it to a Sunday afternoon matinee.  Since this is out of the ordinary for me, I insisted that my son accompany me.  He was, instead, strongly suggesting that he ought to be permitted to see the new GI Joe movie, for the second time, I must add.

I put my foot down, and boy am I glad I did.  This film was not only informative, A+ on the teachable moments, but touching and inspiring.  The plot moved along seamlessly, with the help of subtitles and an effective movie score.  The film concentrates on Jackie Robinson's first two years in major league baseball.  It gives equal attention to Robinson and the Brooklyn Dodgers' owner, Branch Ricky.  I knew very little about these two men and their contributions to the civil rights movement.  The movie educated me without preaching.  It shed light on how far we've come and how far we still have to go.

Now, it did not have the action and fantasy that my son has grown accustomed to in his movies and books, but it was a story well told.  So well told, in fact, that it's themes occupied our conversation for the afternoon.  It is my hope that it will inspire my son to look to the pioneers of the past who have helped us get to where we are today.

If you have seen the movie and your reader wants to know more look for:

15.4.13

Bomb: The race to build-and steal-the world's most dangerous weapon

Bomb
by Steve Sheinkin

When my son was quite young, perhaps four, he asked his Montessori Director for a lesson in botany.  The Director had an interest in him working on his reading, and she reminded him that once he learned to read, he would be able to teach himself anything he wanted to learn.   He received the lesson, it was about leaves, but what he remembers most about that moment was that he really needed to master reading.

He spent most of his early reading years in nonfiction books about animals and plants.  As a matter of fact, it took a bit of work to find fiction that would suit him when he became an independent reader.  Luckily, realistic fiction gave way to historical fiction, fantasy and science fiction, and today you will rarely find him without a book.  Sadly, the book is rarely nonfiction, because it is hard to find one interesting enough to keep my 12 year old's attention.

Happily, Steve Sheinkin, has written Bomb: The race to build,and steal, the world's most dangerous weapon.  The cover flap describes it this way:

This is the story of the plotting, the risk-taking, the deceit, and the genius that created the world's most formidable weapon.  This is the story of the atomic bomb.

It is written in short, clear chapters that uncover the details of this secret operation, that would forever change warfare for humanity.  It is one of those books that makes you want to learn more about the time period and what would come next in the history of the world.  It has gotten me thinking a lot about the Cold War.

I believe it would appeal to any capable reader, even an adult, looking for a primer on the creation of the bomb.  Many of us know what the outcome of its use was, but few understand how it was developed.  If you or your reader like to learn, you ought to check out Bomb!


11.4.13

The Saturdays
by Elizabeth Enright

Honestly, I never really understood allowances. I would guess this is because I never got one myself. But, every time the subject of allowance comes up I think of the book The Saturdays by Elizabeth Enright. Read More...

8.4.13

Goblin Secrets

Goblin Secrets
by William Alexander

When ever I get a chance, I like to go listen to storytellers.  There is something different about the experience of hearing a story rather than reading it.  I may have mentioned if before, but my son regularly surprises me my saying, "Mom, in this book I heard..."  He is an avid user of the audio book.  I must say, for me, getting to listen to a story is luxurious, especially if it is told by a master story teller.

With this idea in mind, I am always on the look out for a story that would make a good read-a-loud.  It would be hard for me to list the elements a book must contain in order to be included on such a list, but my interest in reading the book again must be one of them.  I believe the best story readers are familiar with the text and can play all of the parts convincingly.

I have just finished a great read-a-loud book, Goblin Secrets by William Alexander.  In it, we meet a young orphan, Rownie, a small version of his older brother's name Rowan.  He inherited the name for he was given none as a baby.  When we first meet young Rownie, he is living with his grandmother Graba.  His life is meager and lonely, as his brother is missing.  Graba isn't really is grandmother.  She is the witch of Southside and she takes in orphans to do her bidding.  As you might guess, Rownie has special qualities that make him less than content in his life with Graba and the Grubs.  While on an errand for Graba, Rownie makes a choice that will forever change the course of his life.

Alexander has created some particularly loveable and despicable characters.  The conversations in the story are lively and keep the story moving along smoothly.  When I read this book to children in 3rd-5th grade, I am sure this carefully constructed story will roll off my tongue and entertain my audience.  I am just as sure that new facets of the story will reveal themselves with each read so I look forward to sharing this one many times.

4.4.13

The Night Fairy
by Laura Amy Schlitz

One great way to find a new book to read is to look up an author you like and see if her other publications appeal to you. Last week, I recommended Splendors and Glooms by Laura Amy Schlitz. This week, I am sticking with her and recommending The Night Fairy. I cannot tell you how often my third and fourth grade readers ask for a book about fairies. Most of the fairies written about these days seem to be young, cool, great-dressed girls finding their way in and out of trouble. I must say I prefer the fairies of old that spent their time wreaking havoc on humans, like Puck in A Midsummer Night's Dream or the feisty Tinkerbell. read more

1.4.13

Dead End in Norvelt

Dead End in Norvelt
by Jack Gantos

I have to say that I read this book last year before it was announced as a Newbery Medal winner and a Scott O'Dell award winner.  The Newbery Medal is for contribution to children's literature and the Scott O'Dell for outstanding historical fiction.  I loved the story.  The narration is easy to follow, as I am used to living with a young teenager, and the plot completely original.

I haven't written about it here, because, frankly the book is hard to describe.  It is basically about a boy, who's plans for a summer of adventure are curtailed when he is grounded and loaned out to the writer of the local obituaries.  I had a bit of trouble getting my son to bite when I suggested he read the novel.  But, because I rarely lead him astray he took a chance.

I just asked him what his thoughts on the book are.  He said, "Dead End in Norvelt was a great book, I should read it again.  I think the funniest part is the old guy who rides a tricycle and the time the old lady tries to help Jack with his nose bleeds."

The humor is dry, and at times even bizarre and the historical insight novel.  I just have to say, with this one you are just going to have to trust me...It is worth the time.

25.3.13

Beach Music

Beach Music
by Pat Conroy

We have just returned from Beaufort, SC, home of author Pat Conroy.  He is one of my favorite authors because he writes wonderful characters.  His are not among the books I read every year, but this year I picked up my copy of Beach Music and reread it.  I did so because, after reading this book for the first time, I new I wanted to travel to this land of inlet rivers and salt marshes.  I finished the book on the drive there.  As we traveled around Beaufort County, I was able to imagine which real names matched up with the fictionally created towns Conroy described in the book.

It got me thinking that maybe I should try to match my son's books, every once in a while, to the places we plan to visit.  As an example, I could have him read Turtle in Paradise if we were headed to Key West, Little House on The Prairie if we were going to drive through the Midwest, or Wright 3 if we were flying to Chicago for the weekend.

For that matter, I could just suggest a book in an interesting place.   I've always advocated reading as a form of imaginary travel.  As a matter of fact, I take my cue in this way of thinking from Isak Denisen.  In her book  Out of Africa, Denisen asks Karen, after she finishes telling him a story, "Had you been to all of those places?"  She responds, "Until now, I have only been a mental traveler."

So, whether or not you have plans to travel this spring or summer, consider helping your kids along with a book about a particular locale.  If you know where you are headed, send me a note and I would be happy to suggest a book or two for your destination.  If you are staying home, but want your kiddo to know more about a particular place, I would be happy to help out with that as well. So, here is to happy traveling, mental or otherwise.

19.3.13

Spring Break

I am on vacation with my family, but will be back at it next week. Check out this view!

I posted with my iPhone, so please forgive any errors. Thx!

14.3.13


Surviving the Applewhites
By Stephanie Tolan

These days it seems like every newly published book for middle readers (4th-6th grade) I pick up is fantasy and in first person.  I must admit, I long for the days of Ramona Quimby, from Beverely Cleary’s Ramona series and Peter Hatcher, of Judy Blume’s Fudge books.  These wildly funny, realistic fiction novels shed light on the lives of young people in the way fantasy just can’t.   The mishaps that bring on the laugher and the tears are the same stunts our children are up to, and I think, for a newly capable reader, easier to interpret and identify with.

I recently read Surviving the Applewhites by Stephanie Tolan.  It was published in 2003, after my time.  And, my son is as obsessed as his peers with fantasy, so it never found its way to my house until now.  I have to say it was a hoot.  I can see why it won Newbery Honors and made its way onto the New York Times bestsellers list.

We are first introduced to Jake Semple, a kid who has used up all his chances.  He has been kicked out of every school his has ever attended.  He was even blamed for burning one of them down.  Because his parents are in jail, he recently moved to North Carolina to live with his grandfather for a fresh start, but in just a few short weeks is expelled from yet another school.

As a last effort, Jake’s grandfather approaches the Appleswhites for help.  The Applewhites are family of artist who has created an Academy in their home to educate the four children.  They all work independently and pursue their own interests.  Once they decide, in a family meeting, to take on Jake, he is paired with the third daughter, to learn the ropes.

I must say, this story is not only funny, but has an inspirational theme:  that we all have a gift, if only we can find the courage to employee it.  If you and your reader are looking for a break from fantasy, you should give this story a try.

12.3.13

The Sign of the Beaver

The Sign of the Beaver
by  Elizabeth George Speare

When I think back to my childhood, I can picture my box set of the Little House on the Prairie books by Laura Ingalls Wilder.  The books were light yellow and paperback.  They fit perfectly into a light yellow cardboard box, with only 5 sides, creating a mini bookshelf for the books.  I didn't like all of the stories.  The Long Winter and Little House on Plum Creek were my favorites.  Over time, the spines bulged with overuse, making it nearly impossible to fit the entire collection into their bookshelf box.

When my son started going to school, his primary Montessori teacher read Little House in the Big Woods to him and his classmates.  He loved Pa, with his gun and his sense of adventure.  I thought this would mark the beginning of our sharing the rest of the stories.  So, continuing on the boy theme, I read Farmer Boy to him.  He only thought it was fine.  Not to be discouraged, I proceeded to the Long Winter, and he completely detested it.  Sadly, I began to ponder how he would ever experience America's move into the wilderness.  I tried a few of the other books on the theme, but finally moved on.

In the first grade, he brought home a book I had never heard of, The Sign of the Beaver by Elizabeth George Speare.  His reading assignment was to read it aloud to me for 30 minutes each night.  As the story began, I met a father and his son, Matt, heading out into the wilderness to start a new life for the family.  Yeah, I cheered inside, a trip to the west, at last.  Matt and his father built a cabin for the family.  Once it was complete, Matt's father equipped him with a gun and the other necessary supplies for survival, so he could guard the new home while he traveled back East to get Matt's mother and sister.

Now Matt was only thirteen, but if you've read much about the migration West, this was old enough to entrust with such a task.  In short order, a man ambushes Matt in his home and steals his gun.  Matt is left with no protection and no simple way to hunt for food.  Understanding that it would be some time before his family would return, if they returned, Matt began to create a system for survival.  I have to tell you it is slow going until he meets a Native American boy named Attean from the Beaver Clan.

With Attean's help, Matt survives life and its adventures in the West.  They become close friends and Matt is increasingly able to care for himself while he awaits his family.  You and your reader will need to read it yourself to find out whether or not Matt's family makes their way back to the cabin and what happens to the unlikely friendship between Matt and Attean.

If you are thinking of this as an independent read for your child, they should be quite capable readers.  It is suggested for children 10-14.  If, on the other hand, you plan on reading it with her, get started when ever the themes fit your reader's interest. 

4.3.13

What a Character!



Throne of Fire
by Rick Riordan

Rangers Apprentice 
by John Flanagan 

March book clubs began today.  Right now we are all reading whatever book we choose and talking about different parts of the book.  For the most part, when you talk with a youngster about a book they stick to the plot.  First the boy did this and then and then and then, etc.  I have to admit it can make for some rather dry discussions.  So, March is dedicated to character.  Today, I started the conversation by asking, "What character would you like to be friends with?"  At first the children thought they should choose the main character.  I assured them I often found characters other than the protagonist to be more intriguing   For instance, the people in the Harry Potter series I would want to be friends with are Mrs. Weasley, Professor Lupin and Sirus Black.  

To help get the conversation moving along, I asked them who they would want to hang out with at Hogwarts.  Most of the kids said either Ron, Harry or Hermione, but two of my best readers surprised me.  Max said, "Voldemort, I wish he could be my professor at Hogwarts and I would try to turn him around."  James said, "Dumbledore and Hagrid."  When I asked James why, he said Dumbledore would be able to teach him anything that he wanted to learn and that Hagrid was loyal and kind.  Amazing!

With this wisdom in our mist, we moved onto the books the kids read this month.  Max is reading Throne of Fire and said he would be friends with Carter. When pressed for a reason why he said, "Carter is crazy adventurous and he sees the world differently than everyone else, since he is the son of a god.  It would be cool to compare notes."  James is reading one of the Ranger's Apprentice novels and would befriend Will, the main character of the series, if he had the chance.  Will is a small, careful and smart young man, not unlike James himself.  James said he would want to be friends with Will because of "the things we have in common and because of the ways we are different.  I like the way he is always sneaking around."

You might want to try finding out what fictional characters would be in your readers gang.  I am sure you will be surprised by who.  And if not, you will not believe why.


25.2.13

The Wright 3
by Blue Balliett

I am doing research on the 1920s and 1930s.  To collect some oral histories before they vanish, I am headed to Chicago for the week.  I am so excited!  Chicago is perhaps my favorite town.  One of the reasons I love it so much is that is it so beautiful.  One of my favorite things to do there is take the Chicago Architecture Foundation's river tour. We won't be able to go on this trip because they don't run the tour in the winter.  But, we are hopefully going to take a trip out to Oak Park and see the many homes Frank Lloyd Wright designed there.

If you have a reader who is interested in building and likes a good mystery, you should check out The Wright 3 by Blue Balliett.  In the book, we met three youngsters: Petra, Calder and Tommy.  They attend school at the Hyde Park Lab School and have what could kindly be described as an eccentric teacher.  Think Mrs. Frizzle, but in love with art and literature.  The children's classroom is put into a frenzy when their teacher tells them that the Robie House, a home designed by local hero Frank Lloyd Wright, in is need of significant repair, and there is more.  Because the University that owns it can not repair the home, they have instead sold pieces of it to the world's best museum.  The house will be disassembled and shipped around the world to create indoor exhibitions.

Well, this horrifies the children and their teacher, and they decide to attempted to save the house.  Always looking for a teachable moment, Ms. Isabel Hussey insists that her students learn all they can about the house.  This includes a visit to the home, a short walk from the school.  Along the way, many mysterious things begin to happen causing the teacher and the families to worry that the children might come to some harm.  Though they were meant to stop investigating the home, Petra, Calder and Tommy do not.   As they continue looking into the house, more mysteries and danger surround the children.

This is a clever tale.  It is fast-paced for its intended audience, 3rd-5th graders.  As a bonus, the reader learns about Frank Lloyd Wright, and in an interesting twist, about H.G. Wells and his book The Invisible Man.  If your reader makes friends with these children, he or she can read more about them in Chasing Vermeer and The Calder Game also by Blue Balliett.

20.2.13

Book Crush

Book Crush
by Nancy Pearl

The winter weather, with its cold, sunless skies, finds us reading up a storm. When my son and I discover that we have made it through the stack of books on our bedside table, we begin searching for new titles. Friends, Goodreads and blogs like mine are one place to look, but there are other places you can look.  Read More...

18.2.13

I Survived...

I Survived: 
The Sinking of the Titanic, 1912
by Lauren Tarshis

I watched a bit of the CNN coverage of the Carnival cruise ship being towed into port the other night.  I must say, it did nothing to encourage me to book a trip.  I did, however, find some of the comments of the de-boarding passengers interesting.  One person described it as being, "like a third world country."  Another pair of girls, who had won the trip at a basketball game, said it was "manageable,but exhausting."  The one word I kept hearing over and again was "survived."

With this in mind, as I sit down to write this post a little under the weather I must admit, I thought of this series of books published by scholastic called, "I Survived."  Without a doubt, one of the all time favorites is I Survived: The Sinking of the Titanic, 1912.  These books are great for kids in 3rd grade and up. Each of the stories has a child as the main character. They are present during the titled event and survive each time.  The books are a great introduction to historical fiction.  Each gives facts of the events while creating an empathetic character for the reader to identify with.

Some of the historical events covered in the series include:
  • September 11, 2001
  • Hurricane Katrina, 2005
  • Pearl Harbor, 1941
  • Battle of Gettysburg, 1863
  • San Francisco Earthquake, 1906 
You should pick one up at your next book fair!  They are simply fun to read.

15.2.13

Something for the Adults

Lonesome Dove
by Larry McMurtry

I have had some of the best moments lately.  I try to keep track, because all too often the little difficulties in life get me down. Having a list of the great small moments reminds me that it is all worth it.   Anyway, the moments....

First, I went to check out my page on our local library's web site and discovered that Larry McMurtry will be coming for our Literary Festival.  He is among my favorite authors and I must sadly admit that I have been as giddy as a school girl since I read the news. He will be at a dinner that will serve as a fundraiser for the event and the next day he and Diana Ossana will be reading in an event open to the public.

Now, if you are not familiar with Larry McMurtry, you ought to pick up one of his more than forty novels, or watch one of the films adapted from them.  Lonesome Dove, Terms of Endearment,  Some Can Whistle and the Last Picture Show are among my favorite novels, if not films.  McMurtry and Ossana received the Academy Award for their adaptation of Brokeback Mountain and have created many other screen plays together.  Needless to say I will be attending the dinner and if you are from Little Rock you might consider coming to one of the events as well.  You will find more information here, just click.

Second, my husband has been scouring the used book stores online, procuring my favorite McMurtry novels in hard back, in case there is an opportunity to have books signed.  My collection of his novels is sparse, given my admiration for his work.  I first read him in college.  With a limited budget, most books were borrowed from my beloved library or if at all possible purchased in paper back.  It is wonderful watching the collection grow.  What is more wonderful, is that I am again opening the pages of this craftsman's work.  His characters are among my best fictional friends.  Catching up with them after all this time is reassuring and comforting.


13.2.13

Mark Twain: Young Writer
by Miriam Mason

Most nights, my son and I like to curl up together on the sofa or in his bed and read to each other. We go chapter for chapter for about a half an hour. We are both in the middle of books of our own lately so we have been sharing The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Each chapter or two spells out a day in the life of Tom, and we never finish without a belly laugh.

While we were reading, my son was reminded of the biography of Mark Twain he read as a new reader. He leapt up and retrieved a stack of red, white, and blue paper backs from the bottom of his book shelves. Read More...

11.2.13

Ballet Shoes

Ballet Shoes
by Noel Streatfeild


My niece was recently cast as the parrot in her school production of Aladdin.  Needless to say, she is thrilled.  In this role, she gets to sing and make jokes.  A perfect part!  To mark the occasion, I wanted to send along a book with the perfect note inscribed on the inside cover.  When I went searching for a title I was reminded of the books about shoes written by Noel Streatfeild.  Because I have never read any of the stories, I started with Ballet Shoes.  It gets a remarkable recommendation by the online reading community and teachers.

I must say I agree with the critics.  The language is challenging for a middle reader, which I like, and the lessons in hard work and determination are well explored.

The novel concerns three orphans who are adopted by an explorer and collector.  While he is away on a rather lengthy voyage, his great niece is left to raise the girls.  All is well, until the money begins to run out.  Uncle Gum has been away too  long.  To raise money, and as it turns out the girls, the house is opened to boarders.  Each boarder has a special quality or talent that they impress upon the girls.  It is nice to read how this "village" comes together to sacrifice to improve the children's lives.The last thing you should know is that the girls claim one another as sisters and invent a surname of their very own- Fossil...you will have to read the novel to find out why.  With the knowledge that they are the only Fossils around, they vow to make the name famous. 

You should know that I did get Ballet Shoes for my niece, but as a prequel to Theater Shoes, the novel I will give to her on opening night!