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Katie > Seven more of your own choice, but do not use the books I have assigned for the whole class readings, e.g., Alexie, Alvarez, etc.

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Katie Manuel | 21 comments Last Shot (Final Four Mystery, #1) by John Feinstein

Last Shot: A Final Four Mystery by John Feinstein

This is a realistic fiction mystery novel appropriate for grades 5-8. I don't tend to choose books about sports very often, but I found this when looking for a high-interest book for a boy who really liked basketball. I really liked how some of the characters were real people who are prominent in the basketball world today (Dick Vitale, Coach K, etc.) The plot follows two students who won a journalism contest as they get behind-the-scenes access at the March Madness Final Four. They overhear a conversation between a coach and a star player involving blackmail. The two kids have only 48 hours to figure out who to trust and how to prevent this player from being blackmailed into losing the final game. It's an exciting read!

I would recommend using this book in small groups or independent reading. Because it's a mystery, it lends itself well to lessons and modeling related to making and refining predictions. It also has a strong theme of right vs. wrong. It may also be interesting to compare and contrast some of the characters in the book to their real-life counterparts.


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Katie Manuel | 21 comments On My Honor by Marion Dane Bauer

On My Honor by Marion Dane Bauer

This is a short novel (only 90 pages) that was a Newbery Honor Book. The story follows a very simple plot, but the emotions of the main character are very complicated. Two neighborhood boys are good friends even though they have very different personalities. Tony is impulsive and a bit of a daredevil. Joel is more cautious and a bit of a worrier. Tony wants to climb the bluffs at Starved Rock, and Joel agrees because he is sure his father won't let them ride their bikes there alone. Much to his surprise/disappointment, his father agrees to allow them to ride to the state park as long as they promise they won't go anywhere else. The boys set out, and due to Joel's fear of climbing the bluffs, he is somewhat relieved when Tony decides to swim in the dangerous Vermillion River instead. Without realizing that Tony is not a strong swimmer, Joel dares him to swim to the sandbar. True to Tony's personality, he agrees to the challenge, and that is the last decision he makes before going missing in the river. Joel is left to deal with the weight of his guilt and a terrible truth. (I'm not ruining it - I promise! The back of the book lets you know that Tony vanishes in the river!)

This book promotes great discussion about how choices have consequences, peer pressure, and honesty. I'm currently using it in a guided reading group with kids who tend to be a little on the impulsive side. I think this is a great book for reluctant readers because it is short and begins with action right away. I would recommend it to grades 3-6. I think it could also be used as a read aloud because there are several stopping points that lend themselves well to discussions. The story reminds me a bit of Bridge to Terabithia due to the tragedy involved and the young characters having to cope with loss and guilt.


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Katie Manuel | 21 comments The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin

The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin

I fell in love with this book as a student teacher, and reread it this year to prepare for a literature discussion group with a group of my sixth graders. I chose it for this group because they are working on using their reading log for specific purposes to help increase their understanding, rather than just summarizing what is going on in their books as some of the students had previously been doing. We are now working on looking for clues to solve the mystery.

The story contains 16 main characters who were chosen to compete to be the heir of Mr. Samuel Westing's fortune, but must win his little mysterious "game" in order to claim the $200 thousand dollar prize. However, the characters do not actually know Mr. Westing or why they were chosen. They are put into pairs and given a series of very strange, hard to interpret clues. The true personalities of the characters begins to shine through as they are pitted against one another, with each pair given a different set of clues. As the story unfolds, the reader and characters will notice that the clues relate to the song "America the Beautiful" and that the letters left out of the clues are important. Eventually, one character realizes that there is a different meaning for his "life was taken" than they had all originally thought and this character solves the mystery.

I do not recommend this book as a read aloud because there are so many characters and clues to keep track of. It needs to be read in longer doses in order to make sense of the clues effectively. I recommend using it at 5th grade or above as a book club or a buddy reading option. Most students would benefit from chances to discuss their ideas and predictions, rather than trying to keep it all straight in just their own head.


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Katie Manuel | 21 comments Drums, Girls & Dangerous Pie by Jordan Sonnenblick

Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie by Jordan Sonnenblick

This novel is told from the point of view of a middle school student named Steven who begins as a typical boy. He has an annoying little brother, would like to spend the majority of his time playing the drums, and he has a huge crush on a girl he doesn't think he will ever have a chance with. Suddenly, his world is turned upside down when his 5 year old brother Jeffrey is diagnosed with cancer. Steven's priorities change, people look at him and talk to him differently, and he struggles to find a balance with his family between his own hopes and dreams and their preoccupation with Jeffrey's health. He learns a lot about love and friendship throughout his journey with his little brother.

I think this is a perfect novel to add to your "bibliotherapy" lists because it really seems to "get" the emotions that children and young adults go through when a sibling is ill. I had a girl in my class a few years ago whose little sister had cancer, and this quickly became one of her favorite books. I think it is appropriate to use during whole class, small group, or individual instruction. It covers a wide range of emotions and feelings. One minute you are laughing, the next you are crying. The characters feel like your friends because they are so well-developed.


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Katie Manuel | 21 comments The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo

The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo

DiCamillo is one of my all-time favorite authors. She is well-known for Because of Winn-Dixie and The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, which are two other books I highly recommend. She has a way of completely drawing her readers into her imagination and making fantasy feel real.

The Tale of Despereaux is about a little mouse who disobeys all expectations of his mouse community by choosing to interact with a human - Princess Pea. As a punishment, he is sent to a dark dungeon and never expected to return alive. Two other stories intertwine with his. One is the story of Roscuro, a rat with an obsession with light, and the other is Miggery Sow, and child who can barely hear due to all of the "clouts" to the ear she has been given throughout her life. These three characters end up interacting due to a common thread - Princess Pea.

My favorite part of this book is the language DiCamillo uses when she speaks directly to the reader. It's like having a little built-in teacher helping set the purpose and keep you focused, but she does so in such a cute way. I think this book could be used in primary grades as a read aloud and in older grades for independent reading or book clubs.

This book is also a movie, but I've heard the stories are quite different.


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Katie Manuel | 21 comments Miss Alaineus A Vocabulary Disaster by Debra Frasier

Miss Alaineus: A Vocabulary Disaster by Debra Frasier

This is a picture book that tells the story of a little girl who is sick on Vocabulary Day, which is the day their teacher assigns new words. She calls a friend to have her read the list over the phone, but writes down "Miss Alaineus" instead of "miscellaneous." She becomes very embarrassed when she writes the incorrect version on the board and gets laughed at by her classmates. In the end, she chooses to make a joke out of her mistake during a class event where all students dress as a vocabulary term. She makes a wonderful cloak that contains "a collection of unrelated objects."

This book is great for context clues, homophones, and all things vocabulary. I really liked the dedication page, which totally set the tone for the rest of the book. It is dedicated to Calla, who is not a flower. What a great little teachable moment to preview the way authors sometimes define something by using a comma and renaming it with what it is or is not! There are also sentences going around the border of each page using unique words for that letter of the alphabet.


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