Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Keeper

As a middle school teacher in Colombia, I read more than my share of stories written about soccer. Unfortunately, most sports writing, professional or by my students, causes my eyes to glaze over. That's probably why I never read Mal Peet's Keeper. I'm glad I read it because I have finally found a sports book I love, where I don't gloss over the descriptions of the games. No small feat.

Keeper is the story of El Gato, the world's greatest goalie, who has decided to tell his story to a reporter in the days following his World Cup victory. Paul Faustino, sports writer for La Nacion, is expecting a bonus and a nice headline. He gets way more.

Starting the story in his youth in the rain forest, El Gato tells of a mystical figure known only as Keeper, who trains the boy into someone talented enough to get drafted at age fifteen. This is a bizarre premise, but Mal Peet's writing is so strong that I was carried away with the story and read it all in one day. I am so excited to go to school tomorrow and hype it up to all the soccer loving boys who will take away expert tips and hopefully learn about what beautiful sports writing looks like.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Building a Reading List

I went to South Carolina for a long weekend to do some wedding planning, and although my To Do List was very long, I found time to pop into Barnes & Noble to make a list of books I know my sixth graders will love. Living outside the US, there is nothing better than browsing a book store with so many English options, at such low prices. Here are some photos I took to remind myself to add these books to our order list.


WHAT? Marisa de los Santos has a middle grade novel? 
She is one of my favorite adult writers, so I am dying to get my hands on this one.


My students love all the James Patterson books that are geared towards younger readers. 
This is probably the safest bet around for a book the kids will fight over.


I saw one of the Pre-AP kids reading this book after Stanford Testing. 
Anything called Doctor Proctor's Fart Powder will be a hit in my classroom.


Probably a Wimpy Kid knockoff, but my kids are OK with that.


These three just made the list based on their covers. 




Monday, May 19, 2014

To All the Boys I've Loved Before

I have been chipping away at the books I want to read this year, and one of my most anticipated was Jenny Han’s To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before. I adored her The Summer I Turned Pretty series, and while Shug was good, this is Han at her best: writing about the detailed and fascinating lives of teenage girls.

I loved the world that Han created for Lara Jean, whose life revolves around her father and two sisters. Once her capable older sister Margot goes to college in Scotland, things start to change and her world expands. It also helps that the love letters she wrote to all her old crushes were sent out into the world. This pulls Lara Jean out of her comfort zone and puts her in situations she never imagined, some thrilling and others heartbreaking. 

While I enjoyed it all, my favorite scenes just featured the daily lives of the sisters. Younger sister Kitty braiding Lara Jean's hair, figuring out what to have for dinner when you're scared to drive to the market, baking traditional Christmas cookies...all of these scenes made me feel like part of the story. Best of all, it's the first in a series, so there is more to see from these girls. I've already checked on Han's website and GoodReads, but no publication date yet. I'll keep watching!

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Princess Labelmaker to the Rescue

The Origami Yoda series are definitely my favorite books for sixth graders, and my students agree. The fifth book, Princess Labelmaker to the Rescue, was published in March and my students have been hounding me for a copy. When I flew back to the US to plan my wedding, I was finally able to pick it up.

As always, Tom Angleberger understands middle school minds like no one else. He incorporates details into his books that are so authentic. For example, two characters become obsessed with a gross computer mouse at the local library that was never cleaned. He writes, “So as the weeks went by and the globules just stayed there, we named the mouse Lucky Yucky. And we started a fan club for it – although I have to admit there were only two of us in the club—and we made t-shirts.” Just a tiny vignette that is exactly what twelve year olds would do when they encounter something strange. Multiple Skype chats with the author have shown his similarities to the Dwight character, who he infuses with such endearing strangeness, like when he uses his hoodie strings to tie himself to the library magazine rack. These little details are what make the books so appealing to kids; they see themselves and their peers on every page.

In addition to his insight into adolescents, Angleberger understands what is happening in schools and his series is a protest against the testing culture that has taken over the education system in the United States. Princess Labelmaker features an unlikely heroine, Principal Rabbski, who was the enemy in the first four books of the series. I think it’s important for kids to realize that teachers and administrators don’t like test prep any more than they do, and to learn that their voices have power when they band together.


Is it strange to be sad that there are only two more books in the series? I’ve grown attached to Dwight, Tommy, Murky, and the rest of the kids. I’m already anxiously awaiting the next book and which Star Wars character will get its chance for the cover. Buy this entire series for all the 8 – 12 year olds in your life.

Friday, May 9, 2014

The Silent Boy

One of my students recently gushed to me about The Silent Boy, and I'm reading The Giver to my advisory, so I figured I would check out one of Lois Lowry's lesser known books. It's been in my classroom library for years, but I've always avoided it because of its muted cover and title.

Short and quiet, The Silent Boy is set in the early 1900s, with young Katy telling the events of the year, many involving the Stoltz family. Peggy and Nellie Stoltz are hired girls who have a brother who is "touched". Jacob, the silent boy, is gently and kind to animals, and fascinated Katy. For me, there are some major Of Mice and Men Lenny parallels. As the novel progresses, the Stoltzes become mixed with the families in the neighborhood, with tragic results. My student told me she cried at the end, so I knew something bad was coming, but I was surprised by what it ended up being.

In a way, this is a strange novel because it is written simply enough for middle grade readers, but involves heavy topics like sex and death, and doesn't have the traditional happy ending. Still, I liked The Silent Boy, which is a testament to Lowry's writing. She created a lovable narrator in Katy, someone who celebrates "Fourthofjuly" and has heard her mother refer to something as a "mazing". By filtering the tragedy through the eyes of the child, the reader needs to infer to fill in the blanks, which makes the story sadder and more powerful.

I'm hard pressed to think of which students would enjoy this book; it's too bad because it deserves to be read. My best bet would be to create a book trailer and hope that will entice some readers.

Monday, May 5, 2014

The False Prince

It's hard to believe it's been two years since I've reviewed an audiobook!

Jennifer A. Nielsen's The False Prince is a great re-entry into the media. Full of action and brought to life by Charlie McWade, I looked forward to cooking and cleaning, the two times I get to listen to audiobooks (Bogota isn't earbud-friendly).

This is a perfect book for my students, who love fantasy novels, series, and plot twists. They will be captivated by the story of Sage, an orphan who is selected to secretly compete for a chance to pretend he is the long lost Prince Jaron and inherit the kingdom. Sage is someone the kids will admire: he always has a snappy comeback, hides his skills until the opportune time, and is always one step ahead of the villains, who are everywhere in The False Prince.

With the large amount of books that I want to read, I don't always read entire series; I will read the first book and then move on to the next. My students tell me that the third book in this series is the best, so I guess I'm into the Ascendance Trilogy for the long haul! Fans of The Ranger's Apprentice series will love this one.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

We Were Liars

There are some books that you want to reread as soon as you finish them. Books that take your breath away and shock you. My queen, E. Lockhart's latest, We Were Liars, is one of those books.

The gorgeous, wealthy Sinclair family has everything going for it, living in their own world on Beechwood Island. But, of course, there is much behind the facade. Part fairy tale, part tragedy, this is a book that will haunt you.

As always, I loved Lockhart's writing. Her description of the family home pulled me in and made me want to curl up in a pile of golden retrievers. "It is full of original New Yorker cartoons, family photos, embroidered pillows, small statues, ivory paperweights, taxidermic fish on plaques. Everywhere, everywhere are beautiful objects collected by Tipper and Granddad. On the lawn is an enormous picnic table, big enough to seat sixteen, and a ways off from that, a tire swing hangs from a massive magnolia tree." I want to disappear into a world of Lockhart's creation, and for awhile, I was able to do so.

It's essential to go into We Were Liars unspoiled, so I will leave it at that. Read this book. Then, read it again!