Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan‘s Willow Chance is one of the most amazing young woman I’ve ever encountered in a book. She is brilliant and somehow changes the lives of every person she encounters. And she is not the only well-crafted character in the book–everyone in the book is important and very well developed. This is a wonderful middle grade book that I now know why so many people love it....more
Each time I pick up a Jennifer Brown novel I know I'll not want to get to until I am done, and this book was no different--I read it in one sitting. JEach time I pick up a Jennifer Brown novel I know I'll not want to get to until I am done, and this book was no different--I read it in one sitting. Jennifer Brown sure knows how to craft a story! Torn Away is a gut-wrenching book that so perfectly portrays grief and fear and sadness....more
A Thirst for Home is a heart-wrenching story that was inspired by the author’s adopted Ethiopian daughter. It looks at the struggle for food and water in Africa and how some mothers must give up their children for adoption in hopes of their survival. This book would be a perfect companion to A Long Walk to Water....more
This is one of those books that grabs you and sucks you in. I mostly love our main character. She has had to grow up too quickly thus making her a bit rough around the edges, but the way that friendship, family, history, poetry, and stories smooth her out is just so well done. Although at times I felt Grace came off older than she is, I realized, after talking to Carrie G., that it is because of the hardships she has endured. And the cast of characters, family and friends, who play a role in Grace’s transformation all are so well crafted. The Secret Hum of Daisy is a beautiful book because of Holczer’s word choice, Grace’s story, and the look at grief, family, and friendship....more
My Review: Matt Tavares's four superbly crafted biographies take a look at the life of each man, but as more than a baseball player. We learn about their childhoods, where they came from, and their dreams and hopes. Each book includes aspects of the history surrounding them including the Depression, wars, and racism. Additionally, these books are crafted beautiful with lyrically written prose. These books are must reads for lovers of baseball, history, and biographies in general.
Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: I was lucky enough to be asked to write a teachers’ guide for each of these books. For each book, I created discussion questions and activities (including cross-curricular activities). I plan on using this guide in my own classroom with the books in a lit circle type of setting. Each group will be given one of the biographies, will complete the discussion questions and activities, and then become experts on their player before presenting. These biographies are asking to be in classrooms, and I hope the guide helps show how they can fit into a language arts/reading class.
While reading this book, I had no question that it deserved the Schneider Teen Award. The Schneider Family Book Award honors a “book that embodies an artistic expression of the disability experience for adolescent audiences,” and Girls Like Us take us into Quincy and Biddy’s worlds as they learn to transition from a special-ed classroom in high school to real life in such a true matter, it definitely meets the criteria for the award. In many ways, the book is like any book about girls who just graduated from high school: learning to live with a roommate you don’t understand, learning to be responsible, etc. However, the challenges that these young ladies face because of their disabilities puts the book on a whole different level. Although the book is primarily about Quincy and Biddy’s life, it does illuminate some serious issues towards the treatment of differently abled individuals. (P.S. I love the ending very much!)
There is so much to talk about with this book! Because it impacted myself and a few of my friends, we decided to have a Twitter chat focused around it (#GLUChat). If you have read the book (because there are spoilers) check out our conversation: https://storify.com/trkravtin/girls-l.... Thank you to Teresa for archiving and Michele, Carrie, Alyson, and Leigh for taking part in it with me!...more
I love historical fiction because it introduces me to history in a way that will suck me into it and help me retain the information. Many historical fiction books also choose lesser known aspects of history to share. Rory’s Promise does all of the above. When I was done with the book, I immediately went and book talked it to my reading class though I found myself talking to them even more in depth about the history it shares (which then make them want to read the book even more). Rory’s Promise touches on orphans, mining, race relations, religion, kidnapping, building of the west, and The Foundling Hospital of NYC and does so in such a fascinating yet educational way. I learned so much from the book, and I immediately went and did more nonfiction reading when finished. AND it was a book I couldn’t put down!...more
This book’s ending was so shocking. I sat with my mouth hanging open, just shocked. It was so sudden and really caught me off guard. The emotion I felt starts with the characters. Jimmy is a nobody in his high school until Renee enters his life. Renee is special. She doesn’t care about what others think, she stands up to the bullies, and she actually befriends Jimmy. Renee is who propels our plot. She gets Jimmy to get out of his comfort zone, she is mysterious so I was always trying to figure her out, and she was smart and beautiful....more
I can’t say enough great things about this novel as it helped me out of my latest reading slump! I also think it is interesting because I read Jackie Chan before reading Jumping Off Swings, and I think that may have changed my perspective. It is interesting to think about how the different order of reading can change how you view a book. I went in with no expectations because I didn’t even know what had happened to Josh, so I think that the reveal of that secret was bigger for me than if I’d read it in the other order. Because I was naive about the past, I went in with no past feelings for Josh and really just hoping for the best for him. I found myself struggling with him and crying with him because his hurt was so deep. Though Stella and Larry enter his life, I didn’t think he’d let them in, but instead, they become a huge part in him healing. I really loved Living with Jackie Chan (as well as Jumping off Swings which I read immediately after finishing Jackie Chan). Jo Knowles always impresses me with her ability to tell tough stories in ways that makes it so that the reader can connect....more
What I Think: I am a big fan of twists on classic stories, fairy tales, etc. and this one was quite an interesting one. Dora is an orphaned, young lady who is trying to learn more about her past, so she goes searching for her biological father, Sherlock Holmes, only to find he is dead. But do not worry, Dora has her father's deductive genes which we learn quickly when she goes to another detective to help her solve her cousin's mystery. It is through this random meeting that mystery that becomes Secret Letters comes to light. My favorite part of this book is Dora. She is a strong, clever female character in a time when females were not supposed to be any of the such. On top of all this, she is observant, like her father, so her deductive reasoning skills are something to be jealous of. AND she is snarky. I love snarky girl characters mostly when it is exactly what they aren't supposed to be. Now, Peter Cartwright is not anything to shake your head at either. He sees that Dora is exactly the detective he needs to solve the mystery he is in charge of and puts faith into a woman when his senior partner shunned her. It is because of Peter that Dora gets to even be a detective.
Read Together: Grades 9 and up
Read Alone: Grades 9 and up
Read With: Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, Charles Dickens
Snatch of Text: "I really should have ended there. But I had discovered more about him, and he was staring at me now with such a look of baffled rage that I could not stop myself. "You were critical of my cousin from the first!" I continued furiously. "Why did you judge her like that and turn away? She never injured you. And yet the story of her old romance obviously upset you so much that you could not speak to her impartially. I wonder why? could it have something to do with the fresh imprint of the missing wedding bad upon your finger? You took the ring off less than a year ago, judging by the fair strip of skin above your knuckle. And yet, sadly, you aren't wearing mourning. I am very sorry for you, sir, and because I am not blind, or innocence, I will conclude that you are a good man who is very angry at some other lady who has badly wronged him." I had never experienced a silence like the one that followed that declaration." (p. 46-47)
Mentor Text for: Allusion, Deductive Reasoning, Dialogue, Snarky Humor
Writing Prompts: Read a Sherlock Holmes story and show how the plot arc, characters, deductive reasoning, and mystery are similar and/or different between the story and Secret Letters.
Topics Covered: Sherlock Holmes, Illicit Love, Deductive Reasoning, Writing in Code, Strong Woman Protagonist, Family, Victorian England...more
Annie and Rew have only vague memories of their father who died triumphantly and don’t remember their mother at all who decided she didn’t want to be a mom. They now live with their grandmother who suffers with an agoraphobia-type disorder. Some days she rarely leaves her room leaving Annie to be in charge of the household, her brother, and any tough decisions including lying to her social worker. This has lead to Annie having to grow up faster than other 11-year-olds. Most of her days, she spends time with her brother near the zebra forest telling stories and reminiscing about their father and the adventures that he would have taken if he was still alive. Though, like in all of our lives, one moment can change everything and with a rattling, stuck backdoor Annie and Rew’s lives will never be the same.
Sometimes you come across quiet novels that aren’t being talked about in the mainstream that are very entertaining and well done. This is one of those books. It starts out quietly with amazing stories being told between Annie and Rew and great character development. Then the plot twist changes everything! And the suspense, emotion, and background story really starts to build....more
A student who is in my yearbook class was so excited when he saw my classroom library that he came bounding over to me the first week and asked me, "You have so many books! So you read a lot, right? Have you read Wolves of the Beyond?!" He was so excited. And how can a teacher kill a kid's excitement in 2 seconds? By answering, "No. I'm not sure what that is..." Well, he was so flabbergasted by my lack of knowledge that he brought me the book to read, pretty much commanding me to. And I have to say, I am pretty glad he did.
Lone Wolf is obviously the beginning of what is going to be a majorly epic animal fantasy series similar to Erin Hunter's books and Redwall. This series is a spin-off of Lasky's Ga'Hoole series yet I never found that not reading Ga'Hoole hindered the story in the least. Though it takes place in the same land as the other series, it is new characters and still includes description and a map to help with the setting.
While reading, there were 3 things that really impressed me. 1st, like most fantasy animal fiction, I am always amazed by how an author can get into the head of animals. Lasky describes the animal instincts, aggression and emotions in such a beautiful way as if she can read their minds. 2nd, the world building in phenomenal. It amazes me when an author can build such a high fantasy world for their animals to live in. Finally, the immense plot development that is required to make these epic series and ones that intertwine like Wolves of the Beyond and Ga'Hoole astonish me even more.
Mentor text for: Setting, Characterization, Plot Development, Descriptive, World Building (Mapping)
Snatch of Text: "In the Cave Before Time, he had seen two constellations of wolves. One was the starry one on the rock ceiling. The other "constellation" was not stars but the hunting and traveling formation of wolves running together. In that formation he had sensed a common feeling, a spirit of fellowship. It made him fell all the more lonely. He had wanted to run with those wolves, to be part of that "constellation," ever since he had first seen the picture." (p. 145)...more
In the end, this was a beautiful book. Well written, emotional, though incredibly slow and hard to get into at the beginning. Worth it in the end; glaIn the end, this was a beautiful book. Well written, emotional, though incredibly slow and hard to get into at the beginning. Worth it in the end; glad I stuck with it. ...more
Sophie is a normal teenager who struggles with going between her divorced parents mostly when they live in completely different cultural situations- her father has a office job in America and her mother runs a bonobo sanctuary in Congo. Though she was born in the Congo, the last handful of years have been spent in America with her father and returning to Congo and her mother's sanctuary. The book begins with Sophie being picked up and while waiting in a check point, she spots a baby bonobo who is not being treated well and, against everyone's wishes, buys him. Otto now enters into her life and ours. He becomes the co-star of the book and begins to change Sophie's feelings about being at the sanctuary. But then, right before she is about to leave, chaos at the hand of revolutionaries envelopes Congo and Sophie finds herself in a completely type of situation. Now if you follow me here or on Twitter, you know that I am a sucker for ape books and I have been lucky that many people who care a lot about apes write some amazing ape books - this is a book to add to that list. It left me with even more of a passion for saving these animals who are our closest relative. I. Love. This. Book. It quickly moved into my favorites list even while I was only half way through with it. It is such a journey that you take with this young lady and the growth you see in her (and Otto) is incredible. On top of that, Eliot Schrefer is an author who not only can tell a good story, but he can help you become part of the story and visualize and feel everything that is happening. And I am not alone in this love. Endangered was a finalist for The National Book Award, Eliot Schrefer was a hit at the Scholastic Brunch at NCTE, and it is being gushed about on Twitter: "ENDANGERED is one of those books that has a powerful impact, makes you think, and sticks with you long after you've closed the final pages." -Jillian Heise (@heisereads)
"ENDANGERED was a can't-put-down book with an emotional and intelligent story that left me wanting to learn more about bonobos and the conflicts in the Democratic Republic of Congo. I enjoy books that engage me and leave me thinking, and Eliot Schrefer has balanced that beautifully in this novel." -Jillian Heise (@heisereads) "ENDANGERED is so, so good! Highly recommend to everyone, even though I am only halfway through it. @kelleemoye, you weren't kidding." -Ricki Ginsberg (@ReadwithPassion)
"@kelleemoye @eliotschrefer It is such a complex book. Would be great to teach! Very accessible for kids, too." -Ricki Ginsberg (@ReadwithPassion)
Read Together: Grades 6 and up
Read Alone: Grades 7 and up
Read With: Half Brother by Kenneth Oppel, Hurt Go Happy by Ginny Rorby, The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate, The Chimpanzees I Love by Jane Goodall, Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, Faithful Elephants by Yukio Tsuchiya (via Jillian Heise), Non-fiction books about bonobos and the Democratic Republic of Congo
Snatch of Text: "The man released the bonobo. The little ape sat down tiredly in the dirt and lowered his arms, wincing as his sore muscles relaxed. I kneeled and reached out to him. The bonobo glanced at his master before working up the energy to stand and toddle over to me. He leaned against my shin for a moment, then extended his arms to be picked up. I lift him easily and hugged himself to me, his fragile arms as light as a necklace. I could make out his individual ribs under my figures, could feel his heart flutter against my throat. He pressed his lips against my check , I guess to get as close as possible to my skin, and only then did I hear his faint cries; he'd been making them for so long that his voice was gone." (p. 3-4)
Mentor Text for: Imagery, Emotional Impact, Figurative Language
Writing Prompts: Sophie makes many decisions throughout the book that many people, specifically her parents, would not have agreed with. Would you have made the same decisions as her? Were there any you would have done differently? Do you think her decisions were worth it? Use text evidence to back your answers.
Ben is introduced to Zan when he is 8 days old. Zan is his new baby brother. At first Ben is resistant to loving Zan, but that changes as he gets to know him. Ben loves Zan more than anything in the world. He would do anything for him. But others, including his father, don't understand why he has such an attachment to Zan. Yes, Zan is his brother, but Zan is also a chimp. A chimp who Ben's father is researching by conducting an experiment to see if chimps can learn language. To Ben, Zan has become a member of the family, but to others, he is just a specimen.
Ever since I started teaching and I was introduced to Willie B. through a short story and Sukari in Hurt Go Happy, I have gotten a mild obsession with apes- specifically chimps, gorillas and orangutans. I have often visited the Center for Great Apes where I learned even more about the life of chimps in entertainment, testing and living with humans.
Also, in the last couple of years, I have been introduced to Kenneth Oppel through his other books- Matt Cruse series, Victor Frankenstein and Silverwing- and I have adored every word of his that I have read/listened to.
So, when Half Brother came out, I knew it was a book I had to read. But then it got pushed aside again and again. For some reason, I just never got around to it. Until my best friend listened to it and insisted it be the next audiobook I read- and I am so glad she did! Half Brother is such a touching, suspenseful, well-done, amazing story. It pulls at your heart strings throughout and makes you think about all that it means to be human.
Kenneth Oppel obviously did a lot of research for this project. Half Brother is set in the 1970s at the peak of chimp research including research for the space program, medicine and language acquisition (Project Nim & Project Washoe) and also the beginning of protest against such experiments. This book teaches you the history of this time through a fictional experiment that is not much different than the real ones.
Half Brother is an emotion-filled, thought-provoking book which brings Zan and his family to life in 1973. This book is made to be a discussion as it introduces so many tough topics and is one that I cannot wait to discuss with students. ...more
I read this book in one sitting, and when I finished, I kicked myself for waiting so long to read such a great book! Carley's story is so heart-wrenchI read this book in one sitting, and when I finished, I kicked myself for waiting so long to read such a great book! Carley's story is so heart-wrenching and well written that it grabs you by your heart strings. And though I may not agree with it, I love that the ending is just so real. ...more
*I hadn't read the first Tyrell book, but it didn't matter. Tyrell is such a real character that even without the descriptive back story that is proba*I hadn't read the first Tyrell book, but it didn't matter. Tyrell is such a real character that even without the descriptive back story that is probably in the first book, I connected with him. He has had a rough life and all he wants is to be a man.
Coe Booth brilliantly captures the voice of a teenage boy growing up in the Bronx. Never does the dialect seem forced, it just flows as if Tyrell was telling you his story.
I truly hope that there is a third Tyrell book, because I really want to know what happens to him. ...more
When I started Never Fall Down, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I began it because Ricki recommended it to me, but I didn’t read the back or have any prior knowledge about the book. So, when I began, I had no idea how tough this book was going to be.
I also have to preface with my ignorance of the Cambodian Genocide. I blame my lack of world history education because this is a time of history that should be taught. It, along with the Holocaust and Armenian Genocide, was based in racism and the attempt to purify a country. Reading Arn’s story throws you right in the middle of the genocide, and Patricia McCormick doesn’t hold anything back. Every time you think nothing can get worse for Arn and the Cambodians, something does, but you also have such hope for Arn’s survival as you seen him overcome every obstacle he faces. Even though death actually stares him in the face throughout the book, this young boy somehow continues. He continues through starvation, excessive work, lack of sleep, and murder surrounding him. Arn stated in interviews with McCormick that music saved his life, but I think it was more about his willingness to do whatever was needed to survive and especially anything to help those he cared for to survive.
Patricia McCormick tells our story in a broken English dialect that was influenced by “Arn’s own beautiful, improvised English” that McCormick heard in her head after interviewing him and traveling with him to Cambodia over a couple of years. The extent that Ms. McCormick went to ensure that Arn’s story was a true representation of his trials and heroism is honorable....more
Take The Secret Garden throw in some folk tales, a dash of mysterious characters, and a handful of Ellen Potter's luscious descriptions and you have yourself The Humming Room. Ellen Potter does a great job of capturing what we all loved about The Secret Garden- the secrets, the mystery, the hope; but she also added in her own touches through a unique setting on the St. Lawrence River and the folk tales that exist in this magical place. I also loved Roo much more than Mary from The Secret Garden. I understood why Roo was angry and acting the way she was while I always felt that Mary was just being spoiled and rude. And Roo is a character than many will connect with. Her subtle way of going about life and appreciating so many little things is a beautiful quality. Also, some readers will connect with her need for isolation and her disconnect from other people- a quality that is not often found in a book and just might be what this reader needs. Overall, a beautiful book giving homage to a wonderful classic. ...more
Summary: Jack is an orphan- his mother died of dust pneumonia and his father hanged himself- and he cannot take it in Oklahoma any more. The dust bowl has officially taken over and is sucking the life out of everything it can. While determining his plan, Jane, a neighbor girl, and her brother, Tony, trudge into his front yard looking for help because they too have lost everything in their lives. The three decide to steal a dead neighbor's car and make their way to Texas where Jane and Tony have relatives. This decision starts an adventure that none of them could have bargained for including mobsters, guns, alligators, slavery, train hopping and a carnival.
What I Think: When you begin this book, you think you are going to read a normal historical fiction book about the dust bowl. The beginning is so depressing- filled with death and dust- expressing the emotion of the era. I felt that it captured the dust bowl so well. Our characters were dealing with tragedies in their life that we can't even imagine happening to us, but the children just breezed over it like it was a normal day occurrence. But then the book changed. I still don't really know how I feel about the book because it was so far from what I was expecting. When the kids meet mobsters on the side of the road, I couldn't believe that the author made that choice for this story, but then everything kind of snowballed from there and I was sucked into this crazy movie-esque adventure where just when everything seemed okay, something else horrible would happen.
Although I question the plot, I did really enjoy the characters. Jack was a simple good-ole-boy and all throughout his narration I could hear his voice in my head. Jane, on the other hand, was anything but your normal girl from this era. She was well read, always comparing their journeys to the quests of Sir Galahad, Odysseus, Jason or another story, and she had a mind of her own. I love that she stood up for herself often and wouldn't waver from what she believed in. Although she was a big liar, she often used it for good, not evil and overall was a fantastic story teller. Tony, her brother, was the side kick and bit of humor in the story. He was a sweet boy who had to make some tough choices. The characters are really what made this story.
*secret* I really dislike the cover. I think it looks way too modern and also doesn't capture the essence of the story. *sh*...more
*Wow. Marissa Meyer completely impressed with this one! I was afraid that it was going to be just another dystopian or fairy-tale retelling, but it was so unique and really was entertaining and well done. I can definitely see why Cinder was a huge hit when it came out and I am so glad that I finally got to read it. What I specifically loved about Cinder is it didn't completely rely on being a fairy tale retelling or on being a pure dystopian novel- it is a unique combo of the two.
Characters: I love how Marissa Meyer didn't overwhelm the story with too many characters, as I have seen in other dystopian novels, she specifically delved deep into the most important characters. It made me, as a reader, feel like I had a deeper connection with the characters who actually mattered.
Setting: Holy world building batman! I am always a huge fan of a character who can build a world that is futuristic yet completely realistic. Although the Lunar colony and the glamours are a bit of a reality stretch, Kai's Commonwealth is completely plausible.
Conflict: Wow! Levana is so evil! She is a great antagonist to go up against the hardcore Cinder and handsome Kai.
In the classroom: The parallels between Cinderella and Cinder combined with many human issues throughout Cinder will definitely make it so it can be part of a classroom read aloud or novel analysis.
Topics: War, Humanity, Mechanics, Propaganda, ID Chips, Plagues, Politics
Snatch of text: "The screw through Cinder's ankle had rusted, the engraved cross marks worn to a mangled circle. Her knuckles ached from forcing the screwdriver into the joint as she struggled to loosen the screw one gritting twist after another. By the time it was extracted far enough for her to wrench free with her prosthetic steel hand, the hairline threads had been stripped clean." (p. 1)
"The lingering moon caught Cinder's attention, and a shock of goose bumps covered her arms. The moon had always given her a sense of paranoia, like the people who lived up there could be watching her, and if she stared for too long, she might draw their attention. Superstitious nonsense, but then everything about Lunars was eerie and superstitious." (p. 43)
(Went back and forth between a 4 and a 5, so sticking with a 4.5 only because I figured out the big secret. Otherwise- Loved it!)...more
Summary: Jonathan (Jono) and Julie's mother might as well be nonexistent. She sleeps through the day, goes out to drink at night and then comes home to pass out. Jono is in charge of Julie since he is 8 years her senior. It isn't too bad, except when their mom forgets to get their government check for food or if she spends it all on booze. But then their mother goes one step too far- she hits Julie. Jono cannot take the thought of being separated from Julie because of their mother, so the two of them run away to make it together.
What I Think: This is one of those books that when you are done you have to go just sit somewhere and breath. It is too real. By the end you are so attached to the characters that leaving them feels like part of you is being put away with the book. It is so emotionally draining. It is a story of finding hope when there is none. When all choices are poor choices, but you still have to make one.
Siobhan Parkinson is the Children's Literature Laureate of Ireland and she has received this honor for a reason- the writing of this book is phenomenal. The authenticity of her voice resonates throughout the book. Jono is sarcastic, funny, dramatic... real.
I think that this book has just enough drama and realism in it to hook a reader. Often I find that some really well written books just do not have the kid appeal that you'd hope. This book is different because most students can connect with (or find interesting/horrifying) what is going on with Jono and Julie. However, I could foresee a problem with some of the Irish slang in the book. Although the book is universal, Jono is Irish and as any 16 year old boy would, he uses slang just not American slang. I could see how a struggling reader would find this a difficulty. ...more
I cannot imagine living in a family who I knew wouldn't approve of me if they knew the truth about me. Alyssa has had to live that way for the last 4I cannot imagine living in a family who I knew wouldn't approve of me if they knew the truth about me. Alyssa has had to live that way for the last 4 years of her life after she came out to her friends at age 13. She knew she had to keep the truth from her father as he was an open homophobe. She Loves You, She Loves You Not tells two stories: one of Alyssa's first real relationship followed by her father finding out she was a lesbian and disowning her. Two of her starting over in a new town where she has been forced to move to to live with her mostly nonexistent biological mother. This novel is a truthful and honest look into Alyssa's life- the peaks and the valleys. ...more