WOW oh WOW. When a book hits a sweet spot, it zooms from one student to another. As soon as I read the opening lines of The Crossover, with its basket...moreWOW oh WOW. When a book hits a sweet spot, it zooms from one student to another. As soon as I read the opening lines of The Crossover, with its basketball cover and bouncing rap beat, I just knew I had to read it aloud to my 5th graders. But nothing prepared me for how it hooked them. To say they are loving it is an understatement. Fifth grade boys are just about wrestling each other to see who's going to get it next--jostling each other over a novel in verse!
For Josh Bell, basketball and his family are everything to him. He pushes himself to excel, but he loves every minute he spends with the game--especially the way he plays it with his twin brother Jordan and his dad. Kwame Alexander captures Josh's voice and the power of basketball in a way that comes alive for my students. They love the rhythm and pulsing movement, the attitude and sass in Josh's words.
The power of this novel comes not only from Alexander's language but also from the characters and their emotions. As Josh and Jordan (JB) near the championship playoffs for their school's division, friction develops between the brothers and trouble is brewing with their father. Josh starts to resent the fact that JB is spending too much time with his new girlfriend. I love the relationship Josh has with his dad. They tease each other, push each other, question each other in a way that feels so real.
Alexander engages kids on so many different levels. I especially like the Basketball Rules that Josh's dad shares with his sons. How is basketball like life? That's something all sorts of kids can think about, in a way that takes layered meanings to a different level.(less)
Serafina dreams of becoming a doctor, but she knows that she must go to school to reach her dream. This is no easy feat in modern rural Haiti. How can...moreSerafina dreams of becoming a doctor, but she knows that she must go to school to reach her dream. This is no easy feat in modern rural Haiti. How can she do this when her mother needs her help at home, especially with a new baby on the way? Ann E. Burg writes in free verse poetry, conveying Serafina's struggles in sparse, effective language.
Teachers and librarians might find these two resources interesting: -- an interview with Burg on the CBC Diversity blog -- a Common Core guide which Burg developed for Serafina's Promise
Our students were immediately drawn to Serafina and could connect with her situation, even though it was so different from their own. Several connected it to Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai, a Newbery Honor book from 2012 -- partly because of the use of free verse poetry, but also because of the way both drew readers into a character's situation.
Ben expressed surprise that Burg "got us hooked on the situation so quickly through poetry." Our group agreed that the setting was also a definite strength of Serafina's Promise. Not only could they could imagine being in Haiti, several talked about what an integral part of the story the setting was. "With some books, it could happen anywhere. With this, you knew it was definitely happening in Haiti." I particularly liked the way Burg used Creole phrases throughout, and I know that the first person voice helped kids connect to Serafina's character.(less)
Life is full of changes for seven-year-old Ty, and he’s not happy about it. His mom is exhausted taking care of his new baby sister, his best friend i...moreLife is full of changes for seven-year-old Ty, and he’s not happy about it. His mom is exhausted taking care of his new baby sister, his best friend is in the hospital, and now his big sister Sandra is driving him to school. Sandra won’t even walk him into 2nd grade; in fact, she shoves him out of the car! In this series spinoff, Myracle returns again to this engaging Perry family from her Winnie Years series (Eleven, Penguin, 2004, etc.), bringing her ear for sibling relationships and family dynamics, this time for readers moving up to chapter books. Young readers will connect with Ty’s struggles at school navigating friendship troubles and at home getting enough attention from his mom. “Hug?” I say in a smallish way. Mom doesn’t want to. She doesn’t want to hug her own son. I can see it on her face.” (p. 40) Funny situations alternate with poignant moments in just the right balance, as Myracle writes perceptively from seven-year-old Ty’s perspective. On a field trip to the aquarium, Ty wanders away from his class and decides to give a baby penguin some special attention, bringing him home in his backpack. Early chapter-book readers may become confused that the penguin problems from the title don’t surface until the second half of the story. Henry’s occasional line drawings match the tone and humor well. A heartwarming start to a new series. (less)
Full review to come. Great voice. Gripping plot. Strong themes: what it means to be a friend, how you find your place, your talents in the world, the...moreFull review to come. Great voice. Gripping plot. Strong themes: what it means to be a friend, how you find your place, your talents in the world, the importance of trust and family and friends. Yes, it's about coping with Aspergers, but it's about so much more. The impact of drugs and alcohol make me hesitant to share with 5th graders. Definitely a middle school book, in my opinion. Great early reviews from students.
Kiara knows that she’s different, a mutant like her hero Rogue from the popular comic book series The X-Men. “It usually took the new kids two weeks to dump me, three weeks at the most.” (p. 1) In fact, Kiara has Aspberger’s Syndrome and cannot process the social cues around her or the emotions surging through her. Kiara feels intensely isolated now that her mom has left to pursue a singing career in Canada and her father has emotionally withdrawn. It often seems that Mr. Internet is Kiara’s only source of information and support. When Chad’s family moves next door, Kiara is desperate to make and keep a friend. Against her better judgment, she joins Chad on his trips to buy large quantities of Sudaphed. At first she believes that it’s just to help his little brother’s cold, but she soon realizes that Chad’s parents are running a meth lab out of their home. Chad certainly manipulates Kiara, but he does not completely reject her. As Kiara and Chad become closer through their shared love of BMX biking, they each discover a sense of accomplishment and pride. Miller-Lachman raises multiple questions through this gripping, gritty story: What does it mean to be a friend? How do you find your place and your talents in the world? The graphic climax creates a tense narrative in which there are no tidy answers. (less)
There's something truly special about the time a young child spends getting to know his or her grandparents. I remember soaking up my grandmother's st...moreThere's something truly special about the time a young child spends getting to know his or her grandparents. I remember soaking up my grandmother's stories, imagining her past and feeling connected to a history larger than myself. The Matchbox Diary captures this special moment, when a great-grandfather shares his stories with a young girl. It's a wonderful picture book to share with children as they start to get to know their own grandparents' stories.
Blue Balliett centers her most recent book around the rhythms and themes of Langston's Hughes poetry, but the story is firmly rooted in today's urban...moreBlue Balliett centers her most recent book around the rhythms and themes of Langston's Hughes poetry, but the story is firmly rooted in today's urban American landscape. Balliet's novel touched me - it's a powerful, emotional story of the way a young girl tenaciously holds fast to her dreams, in the face of terrible circumstances.
One bitterly cold winter afternoon, Early Pearl's father disappears. One minute Dash is riding his bike home from work, and the next he is gone, without a trace. As eleven-year old Early, her brother and mother reel from the news, their apartment is ransacked and they are suddenly on the run without any money.
With nowhere else to go, the Pearls seek refuge in one of Chicago's homeless shelters. Early is certain that her father is still alive and that if she pays attention to the clues, she will be able to find him. Through it all, she is steadfast in her certainty that she needs to hold fast to her father's dream that they are a family that will survive.
Balliett tells her story through Early's point of view, and I slipped into her perspective right away. I loved the way Early thought about situations, turning them over in her mind to look at them from all angles. I loved, loved the way she thought about words. Here's just one of my favorite examples:
"What happened at 4:44 on that grim January day was wrong. Wrong was the perfect sound for what the word meant: It was heavy, achingly slow, clearly impossible to erase. Wrong. The word had a cold, northern root as old as the Vikings.
Where was Dash? How could he have vanished into that icy, freezing moment?" (p. 23-24, ARC)
Balliett's writing is imbued with rhythm, description and meaning -- in a way that got right to my heart. Balliett shares with her readers her love of language, of words, of ideas. But she shares much more. She shares her hope and optimism that even in hard times, we can hold fast to our dreams. Through Early's story, she gives a face to homelessness, making sure that readers think about what it would be like to suddenly lose everything. It might seem cliched to talk about giving a face to a problem, but I was struck by how easy it was for the police to ignore the Pearl family.
There are certainly some flaws to this book. Part of me liked how names had significance (I chuckled when I figured out that Lyman Scrubs was a liar), but part of me found it too obvious. The international crime ring that Dash became innocently involved with seemed stereotyped, a bit out of a James Bond or Tom Cruise movie. And I never, ever figured out Skip Waive's roll (or name). But, I completely agree with the Booklist review:
"But what’s wonderful about this book, overshadowing the plot flaws, is the way Balliett so thoroughly gets inside the mind of a child accustomed to love and protection—and who now sees her life slipping away. Sadness and stoicism mingle freely in ways that will pierce all readers. Early is a clever heroine, and her smarts are enhanced by the poetry of Langston Hughes, which ripples beautifully through the story and infuses it with hope."
Hold Fast is getting positive early reviews, both from students I have shared it with and professional journals. It's gotten starred reviews from Booklist and Kirkus. The Chicago Tribune has a very interesting article on Hold Fast, interviewing Balliett as well as homelessness activists.
Share this with children who love books that get to the heart and make them think about bigger issues, like Rules by Cynthia Lord or Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper. But also share it with children who love language, poetry and words.(less)
Roscoe Riley is a good-hearted first-grader who gets into all sorts of mishaps with his teachers and friends. When Roscoe is worried that his friends...moreRoscoe Riley is a good-hearted first-grader who gets into all sorts of mishaps with his teachers and friends. When Roscoe is worried that his friends can’t sit still for the upcoming open house performance, he thinks that Super-Mega-Gonzo Glue might be the perfect solution. This series is both funny and thought-provoking--a winning combination.(less)
I'm so glad that the Katie Woo stories have been brought together as a chapter book. It works very well. This is much easier than Ivy & Bean or Ma...moreI'm so glad that the Katie Woo stories have been brought together as a chapter book. It works very well. This is much easier than Ivy & Bean or Magic Tree House, but still feels like a chapter book.
Katie Woo loves playing with her friends JoJo and Pedro. They do everything together, from losing teeth to looking for ghosts. But even friends argue. How is she going to put things right? Kids relate to Katie - sometimes she can be bossy even if she doesn’t mean it. But underneath, she’s got a good heart.(less)
Hmmm, lovely ending - just the sort that pulls me back to wanting to reread it all again to savor the development. Are there "supposed to"s in life? De...moreHmmm, lovely ending - just the sort that pulls me back to wanting to reread it all again to savor the development. Are there "supposed to"s in life? Destiny? Or do we choose to do each thing we do? When we're lost in the vortex of figuring something out, how can we turn to our friends for help? Listen. That's what Gigi said. And that's what I want to take away from this lovely book. It won't appeal to everyone as it tells its story in a winding, reflective way. But it's a story that will sink deep for some. One that I'm definitely looking forward to sharing.(less)
Ginny's life is full of notes and messages: doodles to friends, to-do lists, text messages, refrigerator notes from "The Management"(aka her mom), ang...moreGinny's life is full of notes and messages: doodles to friends, to-do lists, text messages, refrigerator notes from "The Management"(aka her mom), angry notes pinned to her door (stay out!) and teachers' notes on her homework assignments. Stuff surrounds her every day - her cell phone, her backpack, school supplies, lunches, even worms to dissect in the science lab. Holm and Castaldi show all this through a photo-collage that makes reading this book like peeking into someone's personal scrapbook or diary - the stuff of their life.
Ginny's excited about the beginning of the new school year. She's just moved into a new, bigger house with her mom and step-dad. The beginning of the year goes pretty well. She likes her new science lab partner. She makes the cheerleading team. She even starts to fall in love (one of the big items on her "to do"list). But life throws curve balls, as every tween knows. Ginny's mom announces that she's pregnant; but it's when her step-dad loses his job a week before Christmas that everything starts to turn upside down.
The visual storytelling will hook kids from the very beginning. Holm has created an authentic voice with Ginny. Her poems read like a kid trying to do an assignment, just to get it done. Kids will relate to Ginny's struggles at home and at school. But most of all, they will love having to figure out the story through all the clues. There isn't a straightforward narrative. You have to infer at each step of the way to fill in the missing pieces. And they will love seeing so many familiar parts of their own life in Ginny's stuff.
Ginny is not a kid prone to reflecting on the intricacies of her life. On first read, this might seem like this story stays on the surface of Ginny's life. But there are big issues sandwiched between the text messages and homework assignments. Ginny wrestles with issues many kids see around them - relationships, job loss, stomach pains, family changes. The visual nature of the story and Ginny's authentic voice let kids read between the lines, thinking about how these changes are affecting Ginny more deeply than she always lets on.(less)
Thirteen-year old Carley Connors works hard to keep her feelings completely hidden in order to protect herself. After all, her mother taught her how t...moreThirteen-year old Carley Connors works hard to keep her feelings completely hidden in order to protect herself. After all, her mother taught her how to be street smart and tough on the streets of Vegas. But her step-father has beaten her terribly, and now, Carley finds herself taken from her mother. There’s so much anger swirling around inside Carley that she can’t let herself get close to her foster family, the Murphy’s. And yet, she finds herself watching this loving family, struggling to understand their unconditional love, and longing to be part of their family. Little Michael Eric is the first to connect with Carley, with his innocent superhero play, but Mrs. Murphy’s patience and knowing love do finally reach through. As Carley’s caustic exterior starts to soften, she starts to understand what it means to belong - until her own mother decides that she wants Carley back. Debut novelist Hunt creates fully realized characters, with authentic first person narrative and snappy dialog. This is not a story with easy answers. By the end, readers will celebrate Carley’s strength and growth, even as they struggle with the difficult path she has in front of her. [review based on ARC] (less)