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All posts for the month July, 2013

Amelia’s Notebook series, by Marissa Moss

Published July 29, 2013 by Dagmar

Amelia's NotebookIf you’re looking for a fun read for tweens and middle school girls, here’s a great choice.  Marissa Moss’ Amelia Notebooks are written like diaries that look like composition books full of Amelia’s writing and her many drawings.   Amelia is 10 and has an older sister named Cleo.  They act a lot like you’d imagine an annoying younger sister and a more annoying older sister might act.

In Oh Boy, Amelia, Amelia can’t believe how her sister Cleo changes when she’s around a boy she likes. Amelia tells it like it is. “I know why Cleo’s suddenly so polite.  She’s eating lunch at school with Oliver now, and she doesn’t want him to htink she’s a rude slob…If Oliver saw the real Cleo, there’s no way he’s ask her to go out with him.” and “Today when Oliver came over, Cleo actually fluttered her eyelashes at him – I thought that only happened in cartoons!  I thought I’d see big pink hearts pop up over her head.”

As Amelia tries to make sense of the way Cleo is acting, she has her own struggles in “Life Skills” class.  Amelia has to sew, something and that does not come naturally to her.  Amelia talks about “The Truth Behind Boy and Girl Things”  Her truth?  “All girls aren’t the same, and neither are all boys.  And even if most girls like something, I don’t have to like it, too.”

Amelia’s sewing project is a disaster, and she’s really nervous about her teacher’s suggestion that they have a fashion show with everyone modeling their projects.  Her big challenge though, is making a science project that will impress Oliver enough that he’ll invite her to go the state science fair.  Amelia loves science and is dying to go to science fair.

Will Amelia get through the fashion show and get to go to the science fair?  Will Cleo figure out that it’s better to be yourself than to try to change yourself to get someone to like you?

Read this fun book to find out and enjoy the entire series of Amelia’s notebooks!

As a note, our school was lucky enough to receive an author visit from Marissa Moss.  She did a great presentation and writing workshop for our sixth grade.  Yay, Marissa!

More summer reading reviews

Published July 25, 2013 by Dagmar

Moving through my summer reading list, I took on a a historical novel, Kira-Kira, by Cynthia Kadohata, a fairytale adventure, Robe of Skulls, by Vivian French, an environmental novel, One White Dolphin, by  Gill Lewis.

kira-kiraKira-Kira is a powerful, Newbery Medal-winning, story of the strong bond between two Japanese-American sisters living in Iowa and Georgia in the 1960s.  Katie’s sister Lynn best friend, her mentor and the person that taught her that kira-kira means glittering.  Kira-Kira takes many forms: stars in the sky, the sea, people’s eyes.  Katie’s family struggles.  Her family moves to Georgia where her parents find work in chicken hatcheries owned by a very rich man who does not treat his workers well. Katie’s parents work around the clock to make a living and are are devastated when Lynn is diagnosed with a terminal illness.

I was really touched by the beauty and the sadness of this book.  I loved the portrayal of Katie’s strong love for her sister, her quirky but sweet Uncle, her hard-working parents, her love for her little brother and how Katie manages her pain of her sister’s illness.  I will definitely recommend this to my tween and middle school students.

Robe of SkullsFor those of you in search of a fun, fairy tale fantasy, you may enjoy The Robe of Skulls.  I think this book would work best for third and fourth grade readers.  Robe of  Skulls is the first of a series of four books in the Tales of the Five Kingdom’s series.

Lady Lamorna has ordered a new fabulously creepy robe of skulls from the Ancient Crones.  Unfortunately, this wicked sorceress’s trunk of gold is empty.  She has no money to pay for her robe.  What will she do? Why, devise a nasty scheme to turn all the royal princes and princesses into frogs and ransom them, of course.  Little does Lady Lamorna know as she sets out on her evil mission with her troll, that she will meet a very evil stepsister who wants to steal the money Lady Lamorna earns and a young girl named Gracie Gillypot who might just foil her plans.

onewhitedolphinOne White Dolphin is an environmental story based in Cornwall, England.  Kara Woods is a girl who lives with her father at her aunt and uncle’s house.  Her mother, a marine biologist and environmentalist, disappeared while on a scientific mission.  Kara is bullied at school by the sons of powerful fishermen whose parents opposed her mother’s efforts to save the local reef from destruction and dolphins from being caught in fishing nets.  When an albino dolphin calf washes ashore, Kara and her new friend Felix team up to help the dolphin survive and to fight to save the reef that fishermen will destroy as they dredge it to find scallops.

I found myself rooting for Kara on her quest to save what her mother had fought so hard for.  There are several exciting and suspenseful scenes that I really enjoyed as well.  I’d recommend this book to tweens and middle school students.

Richard Wright and the Library Card, by William Miller

Published July 23, 2013 by Dagmar

richard wrightThis book is a great read aloud for African-American history month.  I plan to use it with my third and fourth graders.  The illustrations by Gregory Christie are excellent.

Richard Wright loved to read but had no access to books as a child or as a young man.  He would read scraps of newspaper or whatever words he could find.  When Richard finds work at an optician’s office, he notices that one of the white men there seems different – as he would understand Richard’s need for books.  Richard gathers his courage and asks the man if he can use the man’s library card.  When Richard goes to the public library.  When the librarian questions him about the books he is checking out, Richard lies to her and tells her that he can’t read.  He tells her that he is just picking up books for the card’s owner.  White people in the library snicker at him.

This is the fictionalized account of an important episode in Richard Wright’s life, written about in Wright’s famous autobiography, Black Boy, published in 1945.  Highly recommended.

Mammoths and Mastodons: Titans of the Ice Age, by Cheryl Bardoe

Published July 16, 2013 by Dagmar

mammoths2Here’s a great non-fiction book for enthusiasts of the pre-historic era.  It begins with an important discovery by two boys just north of the Arctic Circle in 2007.  Two boys found a frozen baby mammoth.  The mammoth, later named Lyuba by scientists, died nearly 40,000 years before and was fully intact.

Mammoths and Mastodons does a great job of connecting the past with the present.  It includes information about the current scientific work of three paleontologists and how their work builds our understanding of these great creatures and how their work might be able to help us save elephants and other large mammals today.  I learned in the book that elemammothsphants and mammoths lived at the same time, 5 million years ago.  One of the questions scientists are trying to answer is “Why didn’t elephants go extinct when mammoths went extinct?”

In addition to the photographs throughout the book, there are interesting panels of information, like: Did dinosaurs and mammoths live at the same time? and Do these elephants and mammoths seem almost human?

This book is targeted toward upper elementary and middle school readers and would be a great book for students interested in prehistoric animals or modern day elephants.

Ask Mr. Bear, by Marjorie Flack

Published July 12, 2013 by Dagmar

askmrbearHere is an old fashioned but very sweet book that is always a hit with my preschoolers.  Although the illustrations are dated, there is good preschool-level suspense when Danny goes into the woods to talk to a bear.

Danny wants to buy a gift for his mother for her birthday.  He asks a hen, goose, goat, sheep, cow and then finally a bear what to give his mother.  The bear gives the best answer, a hug.

Greek Myths and Legends, by Graphic Universe

Published July 9, 2013 by Dagmar

graphic universeOne of my favorite genres is the graphic novel.  I have many students who are graphic novel devotees and will read anything written in this format, including mythology and American history.

My students are big fans of The Olympians series of graphic novels.  They’ve read all the books in the series that I have in the library (Zeus, Hades, Hera, Athena and Poseidon).  They are eagerly awaiting the newest book in the series, Aphrodite.

Thank goodness for Graphic Universe and their series of Greek mythological tales.  They’ve helped quench my students’ thirst for Greek myths.  These graphic novels include myths like Jason: Quest for the Golden Fleece; Theseus: Battling the Minotaur; Trojan Horse: The Fall of Troy, Perseus: The Hunt for Medusa’s Head and others.

While these tales are a quick read (I often get them back the same day I check them out), there are quite a few of them and they do a great job broadening my students’ understanding of Greek myths.  Written by various authors and drawn by various artists, these books bring these stories to life in a dramatic and exciting way.  I would recommend them to any mythology or graphic novel fan.

Baby Beluga, by Raffi

Published July 7, 2013 by Dagmar

babybeluga3This book was the book that made my kindergarten class sing last year.  Baby Beluga is a great song song by children’s musician, Raffi.  The book is part of the Raffi Songs to Read series.  I love to sing, and singing Baby Beluga with a crowd of kindergartners is absolutely the best.  We created hand movements and sang this book at every class time.  The kids brought tears to my eyes when they performed Baby Beluga with their teacher at an assembly.  I love “singing” this book to any young child.

This book follows the song exactly as it is sung.  Check out Raffi singing the song on YouTube to hear how the song goes. The illustrations by Ashley Wolff are sweet.  Best yet, this inspired an interest in whales in my library!  Off we were to discover more about Beluga whales, blue whales, gray whales and more!  If you like to sing, Baby Beluga may just be the book for you.

Ivy and Bean, by Annie Barrows

Published July 4, 2013 by Dagmar

Ivy and BeanIn the first book of the Ivy and Bean series, we meet seven year old Bean — a girl with a lot of friends.  She doesn’t need a new friend, particularly the nice girl, Ivy, from across the street, because “nice, Bean knew, is another word for boring.”  Ivy wears a headband.  Bean definitely does not.  When Bean’s plans to play a prank on her older sister go south, Ivy steps in to help.  Ivy surprises Bean.  “Ivy looked like a wimp, but she didn’t talk like one.”  So begins Ivy and Bean’s friendship.  It’s a great book that shows that people can surprise you and friendship can come from any corner.  I just loved this book and can see why this series so popular in my library.  It’s cute without being “too cute”.

Ivy and Bean is a wonderful early chapter series perfect for 2nd and 3rd grade.  There are now 10 books in the series.

Summer reading update continued

Published July 4, 2013 by Dagmar

Happy 4th of July!  Summer is my favorite time to hunker down with my books, and I’ve read three more books from my summer reading list.  You can see the reviews of the first three summer reading list books I read, here.  My hope is to find great books to recommend to my tween and middle school students next school year.  I’m happy to say that I found one book that I absolutely love, one that I liked, and one that I know I should like but feel lukewarm about.  Let’s start with the good news.

PSBeElevenThe book I absolutely loved and just know will fly off my shelves is the sequel to One Crazy Summer, P.S. Be Eleven.  I think it’s best to first read One Crazy Summer (click the link to see my blog post).  Briefly, in One Crazy Summer, Rita Williams-Garcia tells the story of Delphine, Vonetta and Fern.  These three young girls leave Brooklyn, where they live with their Pa and grandmother, Big Mama to fly to Oakland, CA, to meet the mother that abandoned them. Their mother, Cecile, is unapologetic about leaving her children to become a poet in CA.  Life in Cecile’s neighborhood in North Oakland means learning and living with members of the Black Panthers, something very foreign to the girls’ family in Brooklyn.  (My public school is located just blocks from where One Crazy Summer takes place in Oakland.) The girls, who have always taught not to make a spectacle of themselves, learn the words “oppression”, “revolution” and “Black Power”.  I didn’t know what to expect from P.S. Be Eleven, but I was so pleased that it picked up right at the end of One Crazy Summer.  In P.S. Eleven, the girls continue their relationship with Cecile by writing to her often.   But, in this book, you enter their lives with Pa, Big Mama, their uncle Darnell, fighting in the Vietnam War, the sensation of the Jackson Five, and the girls’ new stepmom. I love the way the three sisters interact, and I had to smile every time they said “Power to the People”.  I also love getting to know Delphine and her family a little more.  This book is excellent – just as good as One Crazy Summer, but different.  In One Crazy Summer, you admire Delphine’s strong, independent and reliable nature.  In P.S. Be Eleven, you wish that she didn’t have to be quite so strong and reliable, and you root for Cecile as she tries to convince Delphine to just “Be Eleven”.  While I think I got even more out of this book, because I lived at this time, I think kids will get a valuable glimpse into the late 60s and early 70s.  I can’t wait to recommend this to my students.  My son, who loved One Crazy Summer, has already declared that he plans to read it.

Lincoln's Grave RobbersI am a big fan of Steve Sheinkin’s books.  Although I haven’t written about it yet, I loved his book, The Notorious Benedict Arnold, as well as his award-winning book, Bomb: The Race to Build – and steal – the Most Dangerous Weapon in the World. Lincoln’s Grave Robbers was a good book, but it wasn’t great.  It tells the story of a fantastic plot by counterfeiters in the 1870s to steal Abraham Lincoln’s body and ransom it.  The book begins with various stories of counterfeiters and the birth of the United States Secret Service, the organization formed to catch them.  Only after several chapters do you understand how their stories link to the plot to steal Abraham Lincoln’s body.  Once the link is made, the book is off to the races, and lots of suspenseful chapters ensue.  When the story is completed, the book goes into true tales of body snatching that are somewhat interesting (a little gruesome, maybe) but again, disconnected from the rest of the book.  So, while an interesting premise and a suspenseful story, this book just didn’t knock my socks off, as Sheinkin’s other books did.

out of the dustI was really looking forward to Out of the Dust, by Karen Hesse, after reading her fabulous book, Witness, about the infiltration of the KKK into a small town in Vermont in 1924.  Out of the Dust won the 1998 Newbery Medal.  Written in verse, Out of the Dust tells the story of girl named Billie Jo who lives with her mother and father on a small farm in the Dust Bowl in the 1930s.  Her father tries to make a living farming through the many dust storms and drought.  The family becomes very poor.  The family’s struggle extend beyond their financial circumstances to a terrible tragedy.  I can appreciate that this book is powerful and tells of an important time in our nation’s history.  I just can’t move past the grim feeling I had as I read much of the book.  I was glad that it took a happier turn at the end, but think it will be tough to enthusiastically recommend this book to my students.

Seven Blind Mice, by Ed Young

Published July 2, 2013 by Dagmar

seven blind miceThis Caldecott Honor book is a favorite with my young readers.  I usually read it to pre-k through 1st grade.  The colors are brilliant, set on a black background.

Seven mice, red, green, yellow, purple, orange, blue and white, try to understand the large object in front of them.  Each one feels a different part of the whole and makes a guess as to what the object must be.  It isn’t until the seventh mouse runs “up one side, down another and across the Something from end to end” that he discovers that the “Something” is an elephant.  The others, then do the same and agree with the white mouse.   The moral? “Knowing in part may make a fine tale, but wisdom comes from seeing the whole.”