Saturday, February 6, 2016

Ice Dogs

This has been a great year of growth for me as a teacher, particularly because my students are mostly boys. Many of my tried and true tactics just don't work for their wiggly bodies. They also came in with a proud aversion to reading. Luckily, that has changed and it has kept me on my toes, finding books to recommend to them.

Ice Dogs is a book I would never have considered in the past, but my students love Gary Paulsen and this feels like a more modern version of his novels. Victoria is an accomplished dog sledder who finds Chris, a recent Alaskan transplant, after a snowmobiling accident. Together, they must fight their way through a blizzard to make their way home.

There is terrific action and tension in the novel that the pages flew by. This is exactly what my students need. I love the subtle challenges to gender roles, with Victoria being an athletic outdoorswoman and Chris being the one who can sew booties for the dogs. There's so much to learn from Ice Dogs. This will be my next book talk, for sure.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

The Voyage of the Frog

This is not a book for everyone.

In fact, I have had it kicking around various classroom libraries and never read it because nothing about it appealed to me. But when a reluctant reader grabbed it, I said I would read it alongside him so we could discuss it. He finished it far more quickly than I did, but we both enjoyed it and he is off on a Gary Paulsen bender.

This is the story of David, a young boy who sets out on a sailboat to scatter the ashes of a beloved uncle. When a storm knocks him off course (and knocks him out), David spends nine grueling days surviving in the elements with barely any food or water. Since there's only one character, there is almost no dialogue and the pages look like large blocks of text. Daunting to many young readers, except those who love sailing and the outdoors so much that those blocks of text are invitations to imagine what they would do in a similar situation. For students like that, I am grateful for Gary Paulsen and all of his books. I'm not his target audience, but those readers need exactly these books.

Monday, January 25, 2016

I Survived: True Stories

Hooray for Lauren Tarshis, who saw a hole in the children's literature market and filled it with historical fiction novels for developing readers. The key to success for this series is that the novels follow a young person through a disaster. When I spotted a book of nonfiction stories that mirror the series, I knew it would be the perfect addition to my classroom library.

The five sections of the book are expertly arranged to appeal to young readers. There are many photos, sidebars with facts, and follow up information on the disasters. I will be sharing this book with my class this week and know that I am in for a lot of amazement over what they read. I love that one of the disasters Tarshis selected was the Boston Molasses Flood. As a native Bostonian, I had never heard of this event, and it totally captured my imagination. How awful it must have been to have everything covered with sticky sugar! The cleanup from that disaster had to have been far more complicated than recovering from a traditional water flood.

I want my students to read nonfiction that causes them to wonder and I Survived: True Stories does just that.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

The Dive Series

I can't think of a better fit for my students, in terms of topic, reading level, and pacing than Gordon Korman's Dive series. With a class full of developing readers who already have their scuba certifications, this series was an easy sell. True, the first three chapters have quite a bit of exposition. I solved that by recording those chapters so they could follow along with me. Once they got the characters straight, my students buzzed quickly through the series before moving to Korman's other trilogies, Titanic, Island, and Everest. That's twelve books guaranteed to keep my students reading and clamoring for more.

When the four interns on a dive expedition realize they were only chosen because they are terrible divers, they discover that there is something nefarious happening. Treasure hunters are searching for sunken gold, and the teenagers refuse to let them get it first!

I like that the characters each has a distinct "issue" but it doesn't overshadow the story, nor does it prevent them from becoming friends. The characters have very different backgrounds, but it never comes up as they get to know each other. I wish the same for my students as they meet new people, through diving and otherwise.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

The Red Bicycle

I am bulking up on nonfiction picture books as a way to get my students more interested/less intimidated by this genre. Neighborhood Sharks is the gold standard in my classroom. I keep trying to meet it, and while Jude Isabella's The Red Bicycle doesn't quite get there, the students will enjoy it.

As the subtitle says, this is the "extraordinary story of one ordinary bicycle." Big Red starts its life in North America, when a boy saves up to buy his own bike. After many happy years together, the boy outgrows Big Red and decides to donate it. The bike travels across the Atlantic to Burkina Faso, and its adventures continue.

As a newly minted social studies teacher, I love that there are so many connections that I can make. Whenever we discuss a new place, the students put a pin in our map. This is a great opportunity to talk about Burkina Faso and what life is like there. I learned a lot, too!

It's really important that nonfiction texts don't feel like work. This is an excellent mentor text because it is narrative nonfiction; readers get caught up in the story and realize that nonfiction doesn't have to sound like a boring textbook.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Red Queen

My students are going to love this one.

I have many current and former students who are thirsty for any dystopian novel and have read them all. Add Victoria Aveyard's Red Queen to the list.

Mare Barrow has always been one of the unfortunate ones, a Red in a world where the Silvers rule with their special powers. When a series of events expose her as a Red with Silver abilities, she learns that no one can be trusted and anyone could betray her.

Yes, there are many similarities to the dystopian novels that came before: the hometown best friend who is the soulmate, forbidden love, a girl who rises from something to nothing...but it's ok. It works and once the reader gets over it, they enjoy the book and eagerly anticipate the rest of the trilogy. I know I do.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Best of 2015

Happy 2016 and Happy Six Years of Devour Books!

To celebrate, I wanted to share my favorite books that I read this year. According to the Year in Books, I read 134 books and 27,965 pages. 

My favorite book of 2015
Carry On by Rainbow Rowell
Favorite picture book of 2015
Marvelous Cornelius by Phil Bildner
The most popular book in my classroom in 2015
Storm Runners by Roland Smith

Favorite graphic novel of 2015
Rust by Royden Lepp

Saddest book I read in 2015
The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin
The book I read and loved just for me in 2015
Dark Triumph by Robin LaFevers

Favorite nonfiction book of 2015
Neighborhood Sharks by Katherine Roy
My favorite love story of 2015
P.S. I Still Love You by Jenny Han
The book I recommended most in 2015
El Deafo by Cece Bell
The best historical fiction of 2015
The War that Saved my Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Roller Girl

Finally! I have been waiting forever to read this book, so when I saw our school librarian unpacking it from a box, I borrowed it before she even had time to label it!

Raina Telgemeier is the hero of all my female students, and Victoria Jamieson's debut graphic novel will appeal to them just as much, if not more. I loved that this book focused on a sport (roller derby) rather than family or friend issues. Sure, there is plenty of drama, but readers also learn a lot about how roller derby works.

The illustrations and bright colors will appeal to readers. I am eager to see if the male graphic novel fans in my class check it out. I think some brave souls will, and then will realize how much there is for everyone to love in Roller Girl.

Our school library has this copy, but I definitely need a copy for my classroom, as well. This book is wonderful.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Rust: Visitor in the Field

I inherited a pile of books from a teacher who was leaving our school. Hidden was a piece of gold that is really called Rust: Visitor in the Field. It's a graphic novel that the boys in my class are going to love.

Set on a farm after a world war that was fought by people and robots, Rust chronicles a young farmer who helps save a boy with a jet pack who was being chased by a killer robot. Jet Jones feels he owes a debt to Roman and his family, so he helps out around the struggling farm. But the killer robot was just one of many, and it might be safer if Jet wasn't at the farm at all.

My favorite thing about this book is that there is actually very little text. The first 30 pages are a practically wordless depiction of war. I want to use them to teach inference because Royden Lepp's illustrations tell so much. When there is text, it is simple, which will appeal to my developing readers.

It's only the first in a trilogy, so I need to get the other books soon. I know once I Book Talk Rust, it won't be on my shelves for long.

Monday, December 14, 2015

The Meaning of Maggie

I have been trying to get my hands on The Meaning of Maggie for ages, so when it arrived at our school library, I begged the librarian to let me have it before she could even process it. When I first started reading, I wondered what I was in for. Maggie has a very strong voice - self-confident, boastful, intelligent, and naive. The sentences are long and can be convoluted. But once I got to the heart of the story, I was hooked, and ended up crying as I read the end.

Maggie has two older sisters and cool parents. Her life has shifted a bit since her father's legs and arms have gotten "sleepy" and her mother has gone to work in a hotel. Maggie is kept in the dark about what's really happening with her father: multiple sclerosis. It was strange to me that such a smart kid wouldn't have more questions about her father's deterioration, but I suppose it is natural if this is the way he's been her entire life. When she finally realizes the gravity of her situation, she decides to fix him.

I fell in love with this family and the way they joked around, in spite of everything. For example, when the father falls out of his wheelchair, he says he is just warming up for a game of Twister. I don't know of many books with a character with MS, so I think this will be beneficial for kids who live this reality. For the rest of us, it's a touching coming of age story.