Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Saving Red

I adore Sonya Sones and am always excited to read a new novel in verse by her. I hadn't heard about Saving Red when it came out last year, but was eager to find it when a Goodreads friend posted about it. Unfortunately, it doesn't quite live up to my other favorite books by her.

While doing volunteer work, Molly meets a homeless girl named Red who is wild and spirited. Trying to make amends with a trauma in her past, Molly decides to get Red back home in time for the holidays. As she gets closer to Red, Molly realizes that she is mentally ill, not free-spirited. Undeterred, Molly learns a lot about Red, but even more about her own family.

I didn't connect with the characters in this novel the way I usually do with Sones' work. Still, I appreciated that the book shows the spectrum of mental illness and different ways that people cope with tragedy. I think it will be eye-opening for young readers who haven't read much about mental illness before. It's a soft introduction to a heavy topic.

Friday, September 1, 2017

The Cod's Tale

I grew up in Massachusetts and spent many summers on Cape Cod, but never gave much thought to the name's provenance. It was only when I read Mark Kurlansky's World Without Fish that I realized the waters where I swam used to be filled with giant, ugly cod. I loved Kurlansky's deep dive into overfishing, so I checked out the audiobook version of his children's book, The Cod's Tale.

Who knew how important this fish was to the history of the world, the development of many countries, and the growth of various industries? I was fascinated by what I learned. I enjoyed listening to the audiobook, but I think the intended audience of young readers will want to have the book handy for the illustrations. This is a masterful piece of nonfiction writing that belongs in school libraries.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Animal Picture Books

I teach sixth grade, but am known around my school for being a prolific reader, which get me on committees such as Book Week and Summer Reading. I've been trying to expand my picture book reading so I can better recommend to the younger set. I recently read two awesome animal-related books that I had to share.

The first is Emily Jenkins' A Greyhound A Groundhog, which is all about the "ound" phonics. This fun and clever text has beautiful illustrations by Chris Applehans and a tongue twisting rhythm that will leave readers giggling. Best of all, they won't realize that they are practicing a challenging vowel pattern, over and over again. I wrote to our PYP Coordinator, asking her when this pattern is learned, because this book will definitely be recommended to that age group.

Brendan Wenzel's They All Saw a Cat is a book that I want added to our school's library. There are too few words for a summer reading list, but the message in this book is great: we all have different perspectives and see things differently.

The book follows a cat and the illustrations show how different things see the cat, according to their circumstances. It's a fantastic idea that can open up some excellent conversations. The discussion could be simple, such as the bee illustration below and how their eyes work. But I plan on using it in our unit on marine protected areas to get my students thinking about how many different stakeholders (fishermen, environmentalists, the government) see a stretch of water differently. Until the school has a copy for us to explore up close, I will be using this online read aloud.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Roanoke: The Lost Colony

As we learned about the potential colonization of Mars, I wanted my students to learn about past attempts at colonization that failed. One that has always fascinated me is the colony of Roanoke, which vanished from Virginia in 1580. Jane Yolen's Roanoke: The Lost Colony is a picture book exploration into the topic.

I love an unsolved mystery and the fact that scientific and technological advances have yet to clear this up. This picture book offers different theories and interesting background information, but allows the reader to decide what they think happened. Moving forward, I'll always have this on display during this unit for students who want an extension or are curious to learn more.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

By the time this review posts, I will be the mother of a son. Perhaps that is why I was so affected by Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe. Perhaps I don't even need that reason because the writing is so beautiful. Whatever it is, I listened to the entire audiobook in a day and loved it all.

Ari has always felt different--angrier and quieter than most boys. He never had a friend until he met Dante, who was everything he wasn't: outgoing, loving, and happy. Through their unlikely friendship, the boys truly come of age and learn who they really are. It's a story about all kinds of love: between best friends, between outcasts, between families, and between people who love each other.

Many YA novels have static parent characters or leave them out entirely. Benjamin Alire Saenz delves into the emotional lives of Ari and Dante's parents, who are complex and interesting. The mother in me nodded every time there was a reference to how much these teenage boys love their parents, even if they weren't able to say it out loud. It is hopeful and beautiful.

Part of the reason I finished the book so quickly was Lin-Manuel Miranda's narration of the audiobook. I could listen to him read anything, and he embodied the characters so well. I highly recommend adding this to a high school class library.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

The Red Pencil

I wanted to like this so much more than I did, and it really disappoints me. The Red Pencil was on my Goodreads shelf for a year and a half before I actually got my hands on it. I thought I would fly through a novel in verse about a girl in Sudan. I was so excited to connect it to my students' reading of A Long Walk to Water. I thought it would be a great way to excite students about poetry. None of that happened, though.

Amira is twelve years old when her village is attacked by the Janjaweed and she needs to flee to a refugee camp. It is there (after about 60% of the book) that she is gifted a red pencil that allows her to hope for more: to be educated. Of course, that is easier said than done when you are in a war zone.

I usually read novels in verse in a day, but I had to force myself to finish this book. I found the timeline unappealing: it took so long to get to the actual refugee camp and pencil, then I wanted to know more about what happened at the end. The beginning dragged out. If I struggled to read it, my students don't have a chance. I won't bother to book talk this one.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

We Need Diverse Picture Books

Hooray for the meeting of Sherman Alexie and Yuyi Morales! Thunder Boy Jr. is a fun book that features Native American characters who have a proud culture, but it is not the focus of the book. This is a family story that everyone will enjoy.

Thunder Boy was named after his father, but is eager for his own name. He lists all the cool things he has done, considering each for his possible new name. In the end, his dad comes through with a name that fits him perfectly.

I love the opportunity for discussion after reading. Kids will no doubt want to think about the exciting experiences in their lives and other potential names for themselves. This is a fun addition to your library.

My Mother's Sari was added to the suggested summer reading list for our incoming first graders, partially because it relates to their upcoming study of cultures, and partially because it is easy enough for developing readers.

Sandhya Rao wrote a book that is simple but appealing. Is it strange that the endpapers were among my favorite parts? In these, the author explains how a sari is worn.

Although the story is good, the best part of My Mother's Sari is the artwork. Nina Sabnani takes a mixed-media approach, using illustrations as well as photographs of actual saris. The fabric pops and had me thinking which one was my favorite.

This book could fit with a lot of different units: cultures, clothing, even creativity. I look forward to hearing family feedback about it.

I like the idea of reading The People of Twelve Thousand Winters on Thanksgiving, rather than just books about the Mayflower and the Pilgrims. Trinka Hakes Noble's picture book tells the story of Walking Turtle, a member of the Lenni Lenape tribe, who carries his cousin everywhere, due to the cousin's twisted leg. When it is time for the coming of age ceremony, the boys will be parted because the disabled are not allowed to attend Warrior School.

I thought there were interesting facts to learn and the illustrations were engrossing. But there is a huge missed opportunity: the book cuts off before the most interesting part! What happens in Warrior School? I know most young readers would like to know more about that. Adding ten more pages would have broadened the appeal of the book.

Thursday, July 27, 2017


Our school librarian is on a mission to add many nonfiction graphic novels to our library. Primates by Jim Ottaviani and Maris Wicks, is an excellent addition that will span readers from grades 3 - 7.

I love that readers of different ages will take different lessons from the book. In reading about Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Birute Galdikas, younger readers might be inspired by these women who dreamed of living in the wild and studying animals. Slightly older readers might be heartened by the fact that none of them were experts when they started out, but rather, they were hard workers who wouldn't give up. An even older audience might read into the references to mentor Louis Leakey's romantic interest in the women and intuit that there is much more to Dian Fossey's life than is laid out in this children's book.

The cover has major appeal; as it sat on my desk, several students gravitated to me and lined up to read it when I finished. They won't be disappointed and I hope they will be inspired to learn more about these complicated and accomplished scientists.

Friday, July 21, 2017


Raina Telgemeier's Ghosts was among the most anticipated books in my class this year. Students would ask me constantly when it would be published. When it finally was, the students tracked who had it and who would get it next. I love a book that the class fully owns with nothing from me except the money it costs to buy it!

Cat's family moves to Northern California because the air will help her younger sister's cystic fibrosis. Cat isn't excited about the move, and even less so when she realizes that the Day of the Dead and ghosts figure so prominently into community life. She rejects it repeatedly, until she realizes that maybe some time with ghosts is just what she needs.

I love Telgemeier's books and artwork, but I really didn't connect with the protagonist here. Cat is so negative about everything that she comes across as a drag. I want to be on the main character's side, but I found myself liking everyone else better than her. There is controversy around this book which is worth considering, but I also know that no amount of controversy will stop kids from devouring everything Telgemeier publishes.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

The Worst Class Trip Ever

It's safe to say that I am finished with the genre of middle school, silly, growing up, boy-oriented books. There's nothing wrong with the plethora of offerings from James Patterson and the rest of the gang, I have just read too many of them. My students love them and don't need me to recommend them, so I can turn my attention to less beloved genres.

As an addition into this set of literature, The Worst Class Trip Ever, is welcome. Clearly, Dave Barry can write humorous books and I know that my kids will enjoy it. The story follows Wyatt on his eighth grade trip to Washington DC and the hijinks that ensure when he may or may not have prevented a terrorist plot.

I read 100 pages and then said, "I'm done." Kids love these books and I am happy. I just don't need to read any more of them!