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 canSerafina 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....more
Young Lara dreams of becoming the next kennel steward, following in her father’s footsteps raising prestigious borzoi dogs on Count Vorontsov’s countrYoung Lara dreams of becoming the next kennel steward, following in her father’s footsteps raising prestigious borzoi dogs on Count Vorontsov’s countryside estate. When her mother has a newborn son, Lara is caught between honoring her family’s traditional values and her own dreams. Suddenly Lara’s father suggests that she should stop spending time with her beloved dogs and learn skills that would be more useful in finding a husband. Lara has a deep connection to the borzoi, especially her beloved Ryczar, and will go to great lengths to protect them - especially against ferocious wolves. Readers will be swept along by the challenges Lara faces as she struggles to convince her father that she should be able to become the next kennel steward, raising borzoi dogs worthy of the Tsar. In her debut novel, Bay Area author O’Brien takes readers into the world of a Russian noble estate in 1914. O’Brien weaves in many historical, cultural and linguistic details to create a fully realized setting, without overpowering the story. An author’s note provides interesting background on O’Brien’s interest in borzoi dogs, Count Vorontsov’s famous kennel, and other historical aspects of this story. ...more
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, theFull 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. ...more
Drama really made me smile. I love Telgemeier's drawing style, the way she conveys so many emotions in her characters' expressions - they make it so eDrama really made me smile. I love Telgemeier's drawing style, the way she conveys so many emotions in her characters' expressions - they make it so easy to relate to and connect with her characters. But more than that, the story captures so much of the struggle of middle school - trying to figure out who your real friends are, who you like, what you want to do. My 5th graders will really respond to this story, as well middle school students.
It's interesting how the early ARCs have printed the grade range as grades 4-8, and the later ARCs change this to grades 5-8. I do agree with the change. I don't think that 4th graders are as interested in crushes, boy-friend/girl-friend dramas. These younger kids will be drawn in by Telgemeier's style, but the story will resonate with older children.
I agree with Paul Hankins when he writes, "Character arcs that address being gay in middle school are very timely for young readers. And for this reason, DRAMA may be a tender reader-advisory book. Raina doesn't shy away from the subject and presents homosexuality in a way that will be accessible to middle grade readers." I found this element of the story so pitch-perfect to tweens and young teens. Throughout, there's an underlying tone and message of acceptance and support for your friends.
Can't wait to see the final book in full color!...more
Loved the blend of so many types of media to draw you into telling a story: photographs of the characters/actors, found objects from their lives, pos Loved the blend of so many types of media to draw you into telling a story: photographs of the characters/actors, found objects from their lives, postcards & text messages, TV & YouTube clips, photo album snippets, formal letters and newspaper clippings, short wordless videos of the actors. Definitely appealed to the 15-17 year old me, but I was comfortable sharing it with my 13 year old. Loved the way it leaves you pondering, without exactly putting everything on the table. And yet the spareness leaves me yearning for more, for a deeper look into the characters, instead of just a hint of who they are and how they feel. Read the iPad app version of the story....more
In 1927, Japanese schoolchildren sent 58 dolls to the children of the United States as a gesture of goodwill and friendship. Kirby Larson shapes a touIn 1927, Japanese schoolchildren sent 58 dolls to the children of the United States as a gesture of goodwill and friendship. Kirby Larson shapes a touching story, following the travels of one of these dolls, Miss Kanagawa. At first, Miss Kanagawa is haughty and dismissive of the children who come to see her on display. “I am above all an ambassador, a dignitary. I simply happen to be a doll.” But through the course of the story, her heart is awakened by four different children she meets during her travels throughout the United States during the Depression years and those leading up to World War II. The narrative focus shifts from Miss Kanagawa to the four girls who bond with this special doll. First Bunny, an upper-class girl from Manhattan, is furious that she was not chosen to speak at the welcoming ceremony for the dolls. The font changes to mark the shifting narrative voice, as Miss Kanagawa sees that Bunny’s anger comes as much from loneliness as snobbery. With each child she meets, Miss Kanagawa is able to see that good intertwines with bad, and that she can help coax more thoughtful actions from her wisdom. The narrative thread follows Miss Kanagawa as she changes hands over the next eleven years and bonds with these four girls, from New York to Illinois, Kentucky to Oregon. Even though each character’s story only lasts for one chapter, Larson develops full characters with emotional resonance and unique perspectives, shedding light on how the Depression affected a range of children. The historical details are rich and interesting, woven throughout each story. The final chapter effectively brings the story to the present day, providing a sense of closure and possibilities. An interesting author’s note provides information on the line between fact and fiction for each of the chapters, as well as more information on the history of the Friendship Dolls....more
Seventh grade: it’s smack in the middle of the tween years, and a time full of transition for so many kids. Seventh graders are standing with a foot iSeventh grade: it’s smack in the middle of the tween years, and a time full of transition for so many kids. Seventh graders are standing with a foot in each side of growing up - one side leaning into their teenage years, yearning to grow up and become fully independent, the other side keeping a toe in their childhood. I just finished listening to The Wednesday Wars, and - oh, how this book spoke to me, made me laugh and cry and feel and connect. I absolutely loved it.
It’s 1967, and Holling Hoodhood has just started seventh grade in Long Island, New York. He’s sure that his teacher Mrs. Baker hates him, absolutely hates him, and he’s dreading Wednesdays. Every Wednesday afternoon, he has to stay with his English teacher while all the other kids go to Hebrew school or catechism since he is the only Protestant in his class. At first, Holling and Mrs. Baker keep their distance. Holling spends his afternoons perfecting the art of cleaning blackboards and pounding erasers. But soon Mrs. Baker gives Holling a copy of Shakespeare’s collected works, and Holling finds that he actually likes these plays.
Holling’s voice really spoke to me. This was a perfect audiobook, one whose first person narration is brought to life by a versitile, nuanced narration by Joel Johnstone. Holling’s feelings, his uncertainties and frustrations, and his discoveries really come alive with this narration. But it wasn’t just that - Johnstone gave each character his or her own voice. I completely agree with Camille at the BookMoot:
it seems to me that Johnstone understood every word, every syllable and even the spaces BETWEEN the words of this Newbery honor book. … Gary Schmidt is a very clever writer. I burst out loud laughing as Holling attempts to navigate seventh grade in spite of accidents, death threats, deadly rats, diagrammed sentences, a flower-child older sister and a distant and opportunistic father. “ http://www.bookmoot.com/2010/07/wedne...
Gary Schmidt has written a story that is both a funny school story that boys and girls will relate to, and a poignant historical novel that speaks to parents and children about the transitions adolescents go through. I found myself laughing out loud, sighing, yearning for a teachers like Mrs. Baker, and cringing at the chasm between Mr. Hoodhood and his children. I loved the connections to Shakespeare, and I can see reading this again and again.
I have just started the companion novel to The Wednesday Wars that Gary Schmidt has just published: Okay for Now. It is definitely a bit darker, but friends have raved about it as well.
Listen to Gary Schmidt’s recent presentation at the New York Public Library where he talks about Okay for Now and The Wednesday Wars - available here at YouTube. http://youtu.be/Rm--Vl9yWJ8...more
When I was a kid, I loved reading about girls who went against the grain and weren't "good little girls," wearing dresses and doing what everyone expeWhen I was a kid, I loved reading about girls who went against the grain and weren't "good little girls," wearing dresses and doing what everyone expected of them. I think that's one of the lasting appeals of Laura Ingalls Wilder. She had spunk and a sparkle in her eye. Jennifer Holm has created a wonderful character May Amelia with this same appeal. Living with a pack of brothers, May Amelia wants to do all the exciting, brave things her brothers do - swimming in the Nasel River, working with the animals, helping run the family farm. But living in the Washington state frontier wilderness in 1900 isn't easy - especially when her father declares that Girls Are Useless. This wonderful historical fiction will appeal to 4th and 5th graders who love characters with heart, courage and spunk.
The Jackson family lives in logging country in rural Washington State in 1900, in a community settled by many Finnish immigrants. It's a hard life, with rain, mud and work; but it's also a life full of family and community, traditions and adventure. This is a sequel to Holm's Newbery honor book Our Only May Amelia, but The Trouble with May Amelia can be read on its own since Holm introduces each character nicely.
May Amelia certainly has courage and guts, or Sisu as the Finns call it. As the only girl in a family with seven brothers, she must carry the weight of cooking and cleaning when her mother goes to help catch babies as the local midwife. While her father continually criticizes her as a useless girl, she thinks she may have won his respect when she helps her Finnish-speaking father by translating for a gentleman who asks them to invest in a new company establishing a local harbor for the logging business. But when the man turns out to be a fraud and the family loses everything, everyone blames May Amelia.
May Amelia's spirit and voice shines through on every page. I loved the first person narrative that Holm created - this reads aloud in my head just as if May Amelia is talking right to me. Holm takes you into really hard times for the family and despair for May Amelia, but the family's love and humor pulls through. This powerful, compelling novel will reach your heart and make you laugh....more
This was an incredible book, one that I could only read in small chunks, letting each bit resonate with me, seep in. I loved the way that Schmidt tookThis was an incredible book, one that I could only read in small chunks, letting each bit resonate with me, seep in. I loved the way that Schmidt took Doug, the main character, to the depths of despair and then showed a glimmer of possibilities of what might be, how things might get better. At first, the book struck me as too dark. I'm afraid that many 5th and 6th graders might get turned off by the beginning. But, oh how good it was....more
Who am I? Where do I belong? Who can I trust? These are questions that all children ask as they grow older, but for twelve-year-old Tracy these questiWho am I? Where do I belong? Who can I trust? These are questions that all children ask as they grow older, but for twelve-year-old Tracy these questions haunt her. In the moving story Dogtag Summer, Tracy knows that her mother was Vietnamese and she was adopted when she was six, just after the Vietnam War ended. But her parents won't share any other real information with her. So she is left with a hole in her heart, an empty place inside her.
Tracy's summer between 5th and 6th grade was supposed to be filled with lazy days swimming in the river and building a project with her best friend Stargazer. But when the two of them find an old ammo box and a dogtag inside it, Tracy's world starts cracking around her. She knows the story of how she was adopted, but there are so many unanswered questions - so many missing pieces that it "left an empty, scooped-out place" inside.
Her father - a Vietnam War vet - buries himself in work, his cocktails and the nightly news, refusing to answer any questions. "It wasn't long until my dad came back in the front door. In the stillness, the quiet rooms of our house echoed with secrets." Her mother tries to answer her questions, but she can barely communicate with her husband, much less really understand Tracy's longings or help her fill in the missing pieces.
As Tracy searches for her identity, a sense of home and where she belongs, she remembers bit by bit more of her childhood. Each chapter begins with a brief snippet of a memory, almost like a fragment of a dream, of Tracy's childhood in Vietnam. She remembers living with her grandmother, having her mother visit her, and running away from the bright lights of an American jeep. She remembers the villagers calling her con-lai, or 'half-breed', because her father was an American GI. But she can't remember enough to put all the pieces together, to fill the longing in her heart.
Partridge conveys Tracy's emotional struggle realistically, showing how this young girl is torn by the secrets stifling her home, and yet how she is unable to really articulate what it is she needs to understand. Her writing is both accessible and full of wonderful images. I can't wait share this with students....more
Inspired by the real life adventures of Manjiro Nakahama, Margi Preus has written a riveting historical fiction, filled with action, suspense and confInspired by the real life adventures of Manjiro Nakahama, Margi Preus has written a riveting historical fiction, filled with action, suspense and conflicting cultures. At the age of 14, Manjiro was a young teen living in a small Japanese village when he went to work on a fishing boat. On January night in 1841, his boat was caught in a terrible storm and the crew washed up onto a tiny remote island. After barely surviving on this rocky outcrop, Manjiro and his shipmates were rescued by an American whaling ship passing by. The American captain, John Howland, treats them with respect, but life aboard the whaler is not easy. Manjiro must learn English, try to understand the ways of the Americans, and earn the respect of both his Japanese crew and the American crew.
I was fascinated by the tensions between the isolationist Japanese culture and the expansionist, nationalist American culture. Manjiro decided to stay with Captain Howland, effectively becoming his son and returning to Massachusetts with him. Preus helps readers think about what it would be like to be in Manjiro's situation, knowing his own people would not trust him if he returned after living with the Americans. He was caught between the two cultures, and struggled to establish his own identity, his own sense of who he was.
While the book has plenty of excitement and suspense to hook tweens, it's the growth and development of Manjiro's character that will stay with them. I was fascinated that this young boy who was supposed to be a simple fisherman and nothing more, ended up becoming so much more. This book will appeal to strong 5th grade readers as well as middle schoolers looking to expand their horizons....more
Sneaking to watch your father's secret society meeting. Launching rotten cabbages at high school bullies. Running through an eerie cemetery in the midSneaking to watch your father's secret society meeting. Launching rotten cabbages at high school bullies. Running through an eerie cemetery in the middle of the night. These are the makings of a great book to read with your sons. Fran Slayton's debut novel, When the Whistle Blows, is a compelling coming-of-age story that will appeal to a wide range of boys and their families - I highly recommend it.
Jimmy Cannon grows up surrounded by the boys and men of his small West Virginia railroad town - his buddies Neil, Mulepie and Ajax, his brothers Bill and Mike, his Uncle Clarence the biology teacher, and the machinists at the railroad yard. But one man is central to his life: his father, W.P. Cannon. Throughout this story, Jimmy and his father can never see eye-to-eye; they can barely talk to one another. Their stubbornness builds a wall of silence between them. And yet, each of the stories in this novel brings Jimmy closer to his dad, closer to appreciating who he was and what mattered to him.
Each chapter in this novel is a snapshot in time, following a day in Jimmy's life from each year from 1943 until 1949. The day is particular, though: All Hallows Eve. Yes, that's Halloween, but more importantly it's Jimmy's father's birthday. When the Whistle Blows is historical fiction at its best - it gives you a true sense of a place and time so different from ours, but it shares a universal story. As Jimmy grows from a boy to a young man, he learns to accept the change that is inevitable in his life, that diesel trains are certainly coming and will certainly change his town. But he also learns that the center of his life isn't necessarily the trains, but his family and friends.
So this book will appeal to you - but will it appeal to your son? I think it will. It's full of funny moments and descriptive writing. Here, Jimmy has just been taunted by his older brother Mike and a friend.
"Cars are more than just a pastime to Rowlesburg High School upperclassmen; they're a living, breathing, oil-changing obsession. I can see Stubby and Mike laughing in the rearview mirror as the car squeals away. Pains in my you-know-what, the both of them. "I spit hard onto the ground. The spit is good quality - heavy and thick with no lumps - and it comes out in a perfect, spinning wad that slaps itself onto the ground just the way I'd like to slap Stubby upside the head." (p. 25 - ARC)
Later in this same chapter, Jimmy and his friends develop a scheme to throw rotten cabbages on Stubby's precious car - but end up ambushing Deputy Heevie Marauder's car instead!
Fran Slayton's writing reminds me of Gary Paulsen's How Angel Petersen Got His Name, and Harris and Me - two of my favorite stories of boys growing up and the funny escapades they find themselves in. I hope you enjoy this! ...more
Imagine all the adults in your life suddenly disappear. Isn't that every teen's fantasy? Leave me alone - I know how to take care of it all by myself!Imagine all the adults in your life suddenly disappear. Isn't that every teen's fantasy? Leave me alone - I know how to take care of it all by myself! That's where this amazing book starts, and oh what a ride it is. I highly recommend it to any teen who loves science fiction or realistic fiction - my only caveat is that it's a long book, so you have to be ready to dive in.
Gone sucked me in from the very beginning. I was caught - completely immersed in this imaginary world where the kids are in charge. One day, sitting in history class, Sam Temple's teacher disappears. Suddenly, he's just gone - poof. Sam starts exploring first his school and then the town. The grownups have all completely disappeared. The kids who are 13 and 14 are the oldest kids around, and so have to start figuring things out. What do they do with kids who are hurt? What about the daycare center full of babies and toddlers without any teachers? What about the kids who are raiding the grocery stores? The excitement quickly turns to fear as a fire starts in a building near the daycare center.
The kids soon realize that they are completely by themselves without computers or cell phones, and without any sign of rescue. They are trapped inside a force field barrier that surrounds the town, and whatever caused this is also causing mutations in birds and animals - along with some strange powers in some of the children. Soon, a band of kids from an exclusive prep. school outside of the town come down - they want to be the leaders. One of the reviews for Gone describes the book as Lord of the Flies written by Stephen King.
I couldn't put this book down. Even though it's a long book (over 500 pages), I read it in a week - literally at every chance I got! I really liked the suspense - it turns out that Sam's 15th birthday (when everyone disappears) is in just a few days. The relationships between the kids appealed to me; I liked the way the friendship and then romance developed between Sam and Astrid. I found the characters well developed and interesting. I think this book would be a hit with girls and boys, grades 7 and up....more