Friday, March 30, 2018

Chasing Secrets

Gennifer Choldenko is the author of Al Capone Does My Shirts, which features my least favorite character ever in an otherwise good book. I'm happy to report there is nobody truly vile in Chasing Secrets.

Lizzie loves science and wants to be a doctor, which makes her an anomaly in San Francisco in the 1900s. She thinks she knows it all, but when rumors of the plague begin to spread, Lizzie realizes that she isn't quite as informed as she'd like. She and some new friends set out to uncover the secrets that the adults in power would like to keep hidden.

There is so much to unpack in this novel; it would make an excellent literature circle selection for 6th or 7th graders. There is a lot to discuss about race relations and feminism in the novel, but I was most interested in the issues of medical care in Chasing Secrets.  Is it ethical to hide medical information that could incite panic? Who deserves the best medical care and why? Although this is historical fiction, there are so many links to today. I haven't seen this topic covered in a middle grade novel before and I can imagine it would lead to great classroom debates.

This is excellent historical fiction with mystery mixed in to appeal to a variety of readers. I'm glad I got over my old prejudice against Choldenko's characters and tried out Chasing Secrets.

Saturday, March 24, 2018


Lifetime has been on my GoodReads list for three years and my school finally added it to the library. It is such a quality addition to our collection.

Telling the story of numbers and animals, readers get to learn cool facts, like, "In one lifetime, a giraffe will have 200 spots." The facts are fascinating and I actually hadn't heard any of them before. The illustrations are gorgeous and had me wondering if they were the actual number; are there really 550 eggs in the alligator drawing?

At the end, author Lola M. Schaefer goes into more information about each animal and teaches about averages. Reading this section could lead to more inquiry on students' part, trying to figure out some lifetime facts of their own.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Lawn Boy

If I couldn't see Gary Paulsen's name on the cover, I never would have believed he wrote Lawn Boy. It is such a departure from his boy vs. wild novels. Instead, Paulsen decided to teach about capitalism and the stock market in a slim volume.

When the nameless narrator inherits a lawnmower, he gets asked by a few neighbors how much he would charge to mow their lawns. Things snowball pretty quickly from there and he ends up investing in the stock market, sponsoring a boxer, and earning more money than he ever dreamed.

Lawn Boy could definitely be categorized as a "STEM novel." There is a lot of math done in the book, mostly calculating the amount of money earned. I know many students who would be intrigued by how the money multiplies through the stock market. It could be the provocation for a lucrative passion for a young reader.

This reminded me a lot of Toothpaste Millionaire; both books are very simple stories about teen entrepreneurs. While there are a few challenges, things work out fairly easily for the protagonists. I hope that Lawn Boy inspires readers to try to start their own businesses, but don't want them to be discouraged when they aren't millionaires after a few months. Still, it would be worth pairing these two novels for summer reading or in lit circles.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Four Ways to Teach with Wordless Picture Books

I've written an article for MiddleWeb about using wordless picture books in the middle grade classroom. Please check it out!

Saturday, March 10, 2018

The War I Finally Won

Slow reviewing around here...I'm reading, but mostly board books and parenting books. Still, when I saw the sequel to The War That Saved My Life, I knew I would be devoting nap times to some amazing middle grades lit, rather than washing dishes!

The first book wrapped up happily and neatly, so I was surprised to see this sequel on the shelves at the library. While Ada and her brother were taken in by Susan at the end of the first book, the war continued and recovering from the emotional damage inflicted by their cruel mother continued. Ada's reaction to kindness is an interesting one to discuss with students.

Ada's ignorance is more noticeable in this novel; there are times when she misunderstands a word and frets about nothing for a few chapters. I wonder if the intention was for young readers to worry, as well, or if they should feel pity for Ada not knowing what funeral arrangements are. She is given a dictionary and spends a fair amount of time sharing definitions, which is never a popular plot device.

Still, despite these quibbles, I enjoyed The War I Finally Won. The characters are memorably complex and it's an excellent introduction to historical fiction for young readers.