Sunday, May 31, 2015

El Deafo

I feel like I have been waiting forever to read Cece Bell's graphic novel memoir, El Deafo. I even added it to our recommended summer reading list without reading it, which isn't usually a good idea, but in this case, it worked out. I loved this book.

Bell's deafness resulted from an illness when she was four years old; being preliterate ruled out writing to communicate. Eventually, she gets the Phonic Ear, a large device that helps her hear. When her teacher wears the microphone, Cece can hear what she says, anywhere in the school. This "superpower" inspires her alter ego, El Deafo, into acting braver than Cece really is.

I loved reading about a person with hearing loss, but think that my students will relate to Cece's struggles to fit in, which mirror their own experiences. On the cover is a blurb by Wonder author R. J. Palacio...it's fitting because these two books are great complements. Readers who loved Wonder will also enjoy El Deafo. I have a big crew of male graphic novel readers in my class. It will be interesting to see if they embrace this novel as they have so many others. I plan on book talking this on Monday morning.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Fish in a Tree

I really enjoyed Lynda Mullaly Hunt's One for the Murphys so much that I added it to the suggested reading list for this summer. I've been eager to check out her latest, Fish in a Tree, for awhile. I was not disappointed and am excited to see where she goes next.

Ally has somehow made it to sixth grade without anyone realizing her big secret: she can't read or write. Leaving aside the implausibility of this (my kids are overly tested), it seems like sixth grade would be another year that she would slip through the class. Until Mr. Daniels showed up to cover her regular teacher's maternity leave. With his wacky ties, his nickname for the students "Fantasticos," and his genuine caring, Mr. Daniels refuses to let Ally slide. His goal is to convince her that she is smart, and slowly, she starts to believe it.

Fish in a Tree felt like Because of Mr. Terupt, but with better writing. At times, I thought the book might have been written for pre-service teachers, with all the explicit strategies for teaching dyslexics clearly spelled out. But when Mullaly Hunt lists all the famous people who have had dyslexia, I know it's geared towards middle grade students, as most adults are familiar with that list by now.

I know exactly the students in my class that need to read this novel. I'm excited to suggest it to them.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Scarlett Undercover

Hooray for a book that is truly original! I loved Jennifer Latham's debut novel, Scarlett Undercover, and hope that YA readers will embrace its smart, funny, and independent heroine.

Scarlett graduated high school two years early and works as a detective, solving all the crimes except the one that she wants most: that of her father's murder. While his death and her mother's death from cancer led to her sister becoming a more devote Muslim, it made Scarlett wary and distrustful. When a young client asks her to help learn why her brother is acting so weird, the case becomes far more serious and may lead her to answers about her family.

Scarlett is an awesome protagonist - sarcastic and aspirational, but still vulnerable. Latham struck a great balance with a Muslim American heroine. I learned about Islam, but also didn't feel like the book was didactic or shoving diversity at the readers. Her voice was unique; it felt like an old gumshoe updated to sound like a teenage girl. Somehow, it worked.

It's too mature for my fifth graders, but I will be buying a copy for the middle school library, and actively recommending it to the teenagers I know.


Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The Terrible Two

Pure fun and destined to be the most popular book in my class library. 

I learned about The Terrible Two from a student who was reading it. One look at the cover and I was asking to borrow it when he finished. Then another boy was reading it on his Nook. (We've had an explosion of Kindles and Nooks in my classroom this year. My heart grew a thousand times.) Kids are circling it on my desk, debating whether both boys on the cover are pranksters, when one looks so innocent. I hang up all the covers of the books I've read and one of my lower level readers said one of her goals was to read a book that I've read. (See what I mean about my heart?!) This is the book I will recommend. Hooray for The Terrible Two!

When Miles moves to a new school, he is determined to continue his reputation as a legendary prankster. There's only one problem: the school already has a mysterious prankster and he or she is way more clever than Miles! 

This is a book to read for its funny illustrations, random cow facts, aspirational pranks, and the fact that it makes turtlenecks cool. The Terrible Two is essential.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Saint Anything

At my school in Colombia, we had a daily Drop Everything And Read time. When I get my hands on a new book by Sarah Dessen, I drop everything and read until the book is finished. Even better when Saint Anything is Dessen's best book in years.

Touted as being much darker than her usual work, Saint Anything tells the story of Sydney, who has always been overshadowed by her dynamic brother, Peyton. When Peyton's downward spiral ends with him in jail for drunk driving, Sydney becomes completely invisible, except to her new group of friends.

I didn't find this book to be particularly dark, but the big difference is that Saint Anything doesn't mainly focus on the romance. It is Dessen, after all, so there is a romance, but the friendships are given equal importance, as well as the family dynamics. These aspects make it Sarah Dessen's most well-rounded book.

If you read one Sarah Dessen book, you'll want to read them all. It feels so good to have new words from one of my favorite authors.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Picture Book Biographies

For our PYP Unit "Every Life Has a Story," my students are reading biographies. I have a variety of texts available for book circles, will have kids watch biographies on www.brainpop.com, and everyone will read at least one "Who Was..." book, which is like mainlining a biography. One of my groups is going to read a variety of picture books.

Wilma Unlimited: How Wilma Rudolph Became the World's Fastest Woman is my favorite that I have read so far. It is really beautiful, with dynamic illustrations layered over photographs that relate to the page's topic. I only vaguely knew about Wilma Rudolph, so learned a lot about her and the perseverance that she showed throughout her life. Imagine going from a child who was unable to walk to an Olympian. Now I want to read a book about Wilma's mother, who had 22 children!


When Marian Sang tells the life of Marian Anderson, a gifted singer who performed before an integrated crowd of 75,000 people at the Lincoln Memorial. I had never heard of Anderson before and know that my students won't have either. While the writing was fairly ordinary to me, the illustrations are gorgeous. The muted colors and attention to details had me savoring the pages. I don't know many small children who would enjoy this as a picture book, but in a study of biographies, it makes a great addition to a middle grade collection.


Wanted Dead or Alive: The True Story of Harriet Tubman was published in 1965, and it shows. It could be placed next to When Marian Sang as an example of how far children's books have come. The illustrations are sketchy, all blue, and at times reminded me of grave rubbings we used to do in Girl Scouts. There was new information about Tubman in the book; in my head, she started the Underground Railroad, but now I know that isn't so. Still, there are so many better texts about this time period.


The Real McCoy: The Life of an African-American Inventor teaches the reader about Elijah McCoy, the inventor of the Oil Cup for locomotives, as well as many other inventions. I know I'll be thinking of him the next time I am at the ironing board! I love the idea of my students learning about the inventors or everyday items, and even better when they are people who showed determination and hard work to succeed. Something that I found interesting was that so many African Americans went to Europe so that they could be educated: Marian Anderson and Elijah McCoy both did so, then returned to the United States to struggle with racism. McCoy grew up in Canada, so I wondered why he moved to the US, when he could have had less problems in his birth country. I appreciated his advice for young people: "Stay in school. Be progressive. Work hard."