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.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Picture Book Biographies

For our PYP Unit of Inquiry, we are learning that Every Life Has a Story. Robert Burleigh's picture book, Langston's Train Ride, tells us about how Langston Hughes first realized he could make his dream come true and become a poet.

Set as a flashback, the reader rides alongside Hughes as he travels to Mexico and is inspired to write, "The Negro Speaks of Rivers." I frequently use Hughes' poems in my class, but was unfamiliar with this one. I love that this book could be used as an introduction to poetry, which students often feel is too abstract or out of reach. I also like that it doesn't have to be confined to poetry month or black history month or any other specific time. Finding inspiration and passion relates to everything we teach.

My feelings about the illustrations varied. Full of wild colors, some of the images from outside the train window didn't appeal to me. On the other hand, the art of Hughes' face, full on and realizing what he can accomplish, is truly beautiful.

I love the idea of a picture book as an entry point to a possible new interest. Manfish: A Story of Jacques Cousteau is a perfect fit for my students who live on a Caribbean island and have the opportunity to get scuba certified through our school.

The book starts with a young Jacques, and follows him through his life of inquiry and exploration. He is an inventor, a risk-taker, and a dreamer...namely, someone who I want my students to emulate.

The artwork is whimsical, full of interesting lettering and beautiful details. Readers will especially love the fold-out page which shows how deep and varied the sea can be. I'm so happy this is part of our school library and want to encourage the librarian to face it out and talk it up!

In the same way that a picture book can lead to a new hobby, it can also lead to an interest in a person. Who is more fascinating and appealing than the world's greatest magician, Harry Houdini?

Kathleen Krull and Eric Velasquez's picture book gives an introduction to Houdini via his six most famous tricks. There is so much to learn! I loved finding out that he was an avid reader who spent years studying new acts and that he had the world's largest library on magic.

The idea that Houdini's talent sprung from a desperately poor childhood is fascinating and a great example of someone persisting to find success. Readers will find much to discuss and will be spurred to learn more about Houdini, the man, which the book glosses over. I know that it inspired me to find out more about the subject, which is the ultimate goal of nonfiction: to make readers want to know even more.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

The Truth About Twinkie Pie

I'm always wary of books that are too Southern so it took me a few false starts before I got fully into The Truth About Twinkie Pie. I'm glad I persevered, because this is a charming coming of age novel.

GiGi (short for Galileo Galilei) and her older sister DiDi (short for Delta Dawn) have turned their lives around, despite their rough start being orphaned in a South Carolina trailer park. DiDi won a million dollars in a cooking contest and they moved to New York so GiGi could attend an elite private school. GiGi wants to start a new life and be the normal girl she never was before. It's not so easy to escape your past, especially when secrets continue to come to light.

Interspersed with recipes that relate to the narrative, Twinkie Pie was a sweet novel. I was particularly touched by DiDi, whose dedication to GiGi was beautiful and all-encompassing. I also enjoyed the mini-romance with a truly kind boy. I'm not sure how popular this book will be with my current crop of students, but it's nice to have in mind for kids who like Savvy or A Snicker of Magic.