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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.


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...


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.


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.


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...


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- 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! 


Band of Brothers
by Stephen E. Ambrose

recommendation contributed by:

Seventh grade Student
Handle:  Jason Connery

The Book Band Of Brothers by Stephen E. Ambrose is an amazing piece of non-fictional literature. In this book Ambrose portrays the perilous times of E. Company in the airborne division. This book is a non-fictional book, yet Ambrose portrays it almost as if it was a piece of fiction. The book starts of slow, yet it slowly picks up to a non stop action book you can't put down. Even if you don't like non-fiction you will love this book!


The Emerald Atlas

The Emerald Atlas
by John Stephens

With short, rainy days hanging around my house and spring break just around the corner, I keep wondering where we should go to get out of town.  "Where" is a question my book clubs and I are pondering this semester, as well.  Does setting, time and place, really matter to a novel?  One of my groups of fifth graders decided today that it definitely does.  As a matter of fact, they also determined that how a character gets from one place to another significantly impacts the pace of the story.  I offer this wonderful time travel adventure, The Emerald Atlas, as a case in point (a book I have mentioned here before, but have just now read myself ).

Not unlike many young adventurers, the three siblings in the novel are considered orphans.  I say considered, because the children believe their parents are alive.  After a series of orphanages, each more dismal that the last, the children are finally sent to a small town on the edge of Lake Champlain that can only be accessed by a boat.  As they approach the opposite shore, a fog and heaviness settles in creating a place that looks and feels hopeless.  When Kate, Emma and Michael arrive to Cambridge Falls they find only a creepy grand home, a deserted town, a cook and a groundskeeper.

Before long, the children find a strange book.  Michael, who is a novice photographer with a Polaroid camera, takes charge of the book.  He slips a photograph into its blank pages, and he and his sisters find that they have traveled to the time of the photo.  As you might guess, they find that in the past Cambridge Falls has many peculiarities.  Each, as discovered, explains its current state. It is a tangled tale that finds the children traveling to new times and places at lightening speed.  The chase for answers, that begins when Michael places the photo in the book, will lead the children to answers they didn't even have questions for.


Boy: Tales of Childhood

Boy: Tales of Childhood
by Roald Dahl

I find that you always have to be on the look out for a book suggestion.  If you are reading this, I hope you have found some good recommendations here.  I must admit that I can find a book title everywhere.  The other afternoon, while flipping channels, I came across the movie, You've Got Mail.  They were at the scene where Tom Hanks takes his aunt and brother into Meg Ryan's bookstore for story hour.  With an eye on the book Ryan was reading, I noticed the name Roald Dahl under the title Boy.  Now, I was sure I had read every book written by the man, so this intrigued me.

I turned off the t.v., got out my computer, opened up our library's web site, and searched for the book.  I found it in the Biography section.  Yeah!  Requesting it, I only had to wait a day or two and it was then mine to borrow and read.  (I LOVE the lending library!)

I was so delighted by the stories of this man's boyhood.  The tales he shares in this volume stretch from birth to age 20.  I have been doing research on my grandfather, lately, and was delighted to find that they were born in the same year, 1916.  After all of my reading about the depression in America, it was nice to learn a little about what was happening on the other side of the pond.  Not to mention that it just fueled my longing for the next installment of Downton Abbey.

If your young reader isn't a fan of fiction, you ought to let them try this biography.  As usual, Dahl paints dramatic and hilarious portraits, and in this case they are real.  They will also be granted some insight into the seeds of some of his famous novels.  If you find that they have an appetite for the book, there are a few other  volumes:  D is for Dahl, facts and trivia about the author, and Going Solo, about his time in the Royal Air Force during WWII.  And as ever, his novels are without compare.  Reading his biography might the just the thing to persuade your young reader to give his novels a try!