Saturday, April 25, 2015

My Life With the Chimpanzees

Mention Jane Goodall to me and my thought process is "Chimps, Africa, was she the woman from Gorillas in the Mist? I heard that one of the primate scientists was difficult and possibly racist. Was that her or Dian Fossey?" (It was Dian Fossey.) Clearly, I am not very educated about her.

My 5th graders are in the PYP Unit of Inquiry: Every Life Has a Story and will be reading biographies. Two girls are doing a book club with My Life with the Chimpanzees so I decided to read it with them.

Something that struck me was how privileged Goodall's background is. She grew up in a manor, met the Queen of England, and was a baroness after her first marriage. I guess that makes sense, as it would be difficult to have the opportunity to travel to Africa and volunteer in the 1960s without a safety net.

One of the guiding questions for our unit is how the individual has affected change. That question will be so easy for the girls who read this book. Jane Goodall did so much for chimpanzees, but really for animal rights in general. While I found the book meandering a bit at the end, the bulk of it is fascinating and will give my students some great information on a fascinating person.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

A Snicker of Magic

 A Snicker of Magic has a lot of buzz around it, so I wanted to check it out because I am building my middle grade recommendations. Unfortunately, this reminded me too much of Savvy: rambling plot, too many quirky characters, Deep South setting, and magical powers. It took me forever to read and I was surprised to see on my Kindle that it was 311 pages, because it felt like twice that.

Felicity Pickle's mother has a wandering soul and moves her and her sister Fannie Jo around the country in their car, the Pickled Jalapeno, every time a thunderstorm falls too close to a certain date of the month. (Do you see what I mean about the rambling and the quirk?) They head back to her hometown of Midnight Gulch, a place that used to be magical but has lost its charm, due to a curse. Of course, it becomes Felicity's job to break the curse, so that they can stay in town.

There is an audience for this book. And there are some beautiful moments, like the character "The Beedle" who commits random acts of kindness, which is something that all children should learn about. And when Felicity is asked if she has a crush, she replies, "More like an inflate. He makes me feel the opposite of crushed. He makes my heart feel like a balloon, like it's going to blow up and fly right out of my chest." What a lovely description for what so many middle grade readers are beginning to experience.

I'll add A Snicker of Magic to a list of suggested books for summer reading. It's always an option, just not one I'll be pressing heavily.

Monday, April 13, 2015


Confession time: for years, I have been recommending Legend to students as a book they should read if they liked The Hunger Games. Now that I'm teaching my youngest students ever, I wanted to make sure that it is a book I could safely recommend. Happily, I am in the clear. The first in Marie Lu's series is a perfect book for dystopian fans, and less violent than The Testing, which I have also recommended.

Alternating between the perspectives of June and Day, we learn about life in a future where the Republic and the Colonies have daily battles and the gap between the rich and the poor is constantly widening. While both are prodigies, wealthy June has had every advantage and poor Day lives on the streets, praying that his family won't catch the plague. Pitted against each other, they don't realize how much they have in common.

Obviously, I am about three years behind on the reviewing this, but better late than never, especially since I can now have in-depth conversations with my fellow readers.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Watch the Sky

I was a huge fan of Kirsten Hubbard's Wanderlove and Like Mandarin, so was very excited to read her first middle grade novel, Watch the Sky. The cover drew me in, and I was thrilled when NetGalley accepted my request to read it early. I'm always looking for the next read aloud for my fifth graders. Unfortunately, this won't be it.

Jory's life is anything but typical. His family spends their lives preparing for an attack, searching for signs, and trying to avoid the notice of Officials. His stepfather, Caleb, believes that something is coming, so they must prepare. Jory is enrolled in public school so that he can "hide in plain sight," but this taste of normalcy makes him question if Caleb is right. Jory doesn't know who to believe, but he does know that time is running out.

I felt anxious for Jory throughout the entire novel. Caleb was such a dangerous character, full of mercurial moods and strange beliefs. It made me sad to see him instill fear in the family, and feed off of Jory's mother's agoraphobia and weakness. Luckily, he had his adopted sister, Kit, a strange girl with selective mutism. Hubbard keeps hinting that Kit might be an alien, or at least that she has a fascinating back story, but we never get it. I wish we had learned more about the most interesting character in the book.

More than anything, the reason I won't be sharing the book is the ending. I'm an adult and had a hard time figuring out what happened. No spoilers, but I couldn't tell if a character died or not. If I was sent to the internet to search for answers, I'm sure my students would be even more confused. I was disappointed by Watch the Sky, but haven't lost my faith in Hubbard.