Sunday, August 28, 2016

Professor Gargoyle

I have a very boy-heavy class this year and the Tales from Lovecraft Middle School series is perfect for them. The books are short, engaging, and the lenticular covers are the best, changing from regular yearbook photos to scary monsters.

The redistricting of Robert's neighborhood means that the only person he knows at the new Lovecraft Middle School is his longtime bully Glenn. Then rats start exiting lockers, creepy teachers seem to spy on the kids, students start disappearing, and Robert is wondering exactly what he's signed up for. He has to team up with unlikely friends to solve the mysteries of his new school, before he is the next to disappear.

I read this on my kindle, but recommended that the school librarian buy them in hardcover. The covers will suck them in, but the action and strange creatures will keep them hooked.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Fun Nonfiction Picture Books

I am in love with Elise Gravel's Disgusting Critters series. These accessible books will fit perfectly in every library. I know first and second graders who will happily shriek their way through the book, but my fifth graders will also learn something as they breeze through the pages. My mission is giving them access to as much fun nonfiction as possible, so even if the reading level is low for them, a positive nonfiction reading experience is worth a lot!

The Slug is helping me come to terms with the fact that I stepped on one barefoot about twenty years ago. I can still feel it, so spent a lot of time shivering and remembering as I read this book. There was a lot that I didn't know about slugs, like that they have a breathing hole on the side of their head (I wonder how that is different from a mouth, since isn't that what a mouth is?). I was slightly charmed when I learned that they follow each other's mucus trails to find a partner to mate with? Will I ever like slugs or stop thinking about how it feels to squish one? Probably not, but I know more about them now!

The Worm is another treat from Elise Gravel about an insect that is really little more than a digestive tract inside a muscle tube. Gravel manages to make worms cute, although I wondered why all the illustrations had eyes when the book makes a big point out of the fact that worms don't have them! Perhaps the drawings would be too creepy without them, but I wondered if that would be confusing for young readers. While I didn't like it as much as The Slug, I would add this and the rest of the series to my collection and listen to my developing readers squeal!

After reading Meghan McCarthy's Earmuffs for Everyone!, I asked our librarian to add another by the author to our collection. She chose Pop! The Invention of Bubble Gum, which has such a fun cover.

Inside, readers learn about Walter Diemer, who was the first to create bubble gum. As we find out, people have been chewing variations of gum since ancient Greece, but never was it as fun as in the 1920s, when Walter did his experiments. As in Earmuffs, McCarthy emphasizes the effort and perseverance which goes into being an inventor. I want my students to realize that it takes hard work to create something incredible.

While not as chock full of information as Earmuffs, I found this book to be more straightforward and easier to follow. As always with McCarthy's books, there is a lot of fun information in the final pages.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Red Moon Rising

A feminist space western? I can safely say I have never read a book like K.A. Holt's Red Moon Rising, which is too bad because it is totally unique.

Our heroine is Rae Darling, the descendent of space farmers, who lives in constant fear of being abducted by the Cheese, natives of the moon who ride dactyls and cut off ears. Unfortunately, she and her sister are taken, but what they find surprises them. Among the Cheese, females are valued and trained to be warriors. Rae's sister quickly adapts (too quickly to be believable), but Rae struggles to decide where she truly belongs.

While there were a few things that could use some explanation (Horses in space? How do people breathe?), I enjoyed most of the world-building in the novel. Best of all was the Cheese language, which seems incomprehensible at first, but slowly becomes a good portion of the dialogue. Without translation, the reader understands it. I love how Holt did this.

We'll be reading Stuart Gibbs' Space Case as our science fiction novel, but for my advanced readers who have already breezed through all of Gibbs' novels, I'll be recommending Red Moon Rising. It's too good not to.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

World Without Fish

I'm heading back to school soon and moving from the International Baccalaureate's Primary Years Program to teaching sixth grade in the Middle Years Program. Middle school is my home and I am so excited to be part of building the new curriculum at my school.

One of our units will tackle sustainable fishing so I purchased World Without Fish by Mark Kurlansky. I realized very quickly that I needed to buy many more copies and read it with my students. Issues like overfishing, pollution, and the politics of fishing are very complex, but Kurlansky explains them simply and engagingly. The layout of the book is very appealing, with beautiful illustrations, a variety of fonts, and a short graphic novel interspersed throughout the chapters.

This book will be challenging for my students. It's the last book we'll read in the year and I hope it sets them up for the rigors of the MYP. It's also a subject matter that is especially poignant for those of us who live in the Caribbean and love snorkeling, scuba diving, and fishing. I hope that by reading this book early, my students can be the ones to make a change to the way we treat our oceans.

Friday, August 5, 2016

A Curious Tale of the In-Between

Does anyone know any actual children who enjoy gothic tales?

I'll give you Lemony Snicket, but other than that, my very modern students aren't very interested in books that are nostalgically old-fashioned and hip at the same time.

Still, A Curious Tale of the In-Between was a good read, which would probably be downgraded to a decent read if I hadn't been on a plane when I read it. It's the story of Pram Bellamy, a young girl who has the gift of seeing the dead. Her best friend is a dead boy and she doesn't have much use for the living, until she makes a living friend named Clarence. She offers to use her abilities to help him find his late mother, but it ends up being far more dangerous than they ever imagined.

This is a pretty gloomy, atmospheric novel and, as I mentioned before, I don't know many middle grade readers who enjoy that type of book. It seems to be popular with adults who read children's books, so that may be the intended audience. Author Lauren DeStefano is talented, in spite of my roller coaster past with her books. This is a fairly wishy washy review, but that's how I felt about the novel. I wouldn't recommend it to children who have lost a parent, but if you have a reader who enjoyed Liesel & Po, then they just might like this as well.