Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Samantha Loses the Box Turtle by Daisy Griffin

This is the first book in the Samantha series. Samantha is a 3rd grader who, like her mom the zoologist, loves rescuing animals. In this story Samantha, along with her two younger sisters and her grandparents, saves a box turtle that is in the middle of the street. Her mom explains that the turtle is a wild animal and, therefore, cannot be kept as a pet. However, since Samantha's class is studying life cycles, her mom allows Samantha to take the turtle to school for a day. That's when Samantha loses the box turtle!

Students, especially those who love animals and learning facts about them, will really enjoy getting to know Samantha and her family. I was excited to discover that the author, Daisy Griffin, lives in Auburn! (I hope to meet her one day since I live in Auburn too!) As a bonus, the book has a fun fact list at the end and a quiz to check your level of expertise on box turtles. I recommend this book to 2nd-4th graders.

By Mrs. N.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Dear Mr. Henshaw by Beverly Cleary

While I have been a huge fan of Beverly Cleary since childhood, I had never read Dear Mr. Henshaw. This summer I listened to the audiobook, so I guess I still cannot say that I've read it. However, I can say that I've enjoyed it!

The story's main character is a 6th grade boy named Leigh Botts.  In 2nd grade Leigh wrote a thank you letter to Mr. Henshaw, the author of his favorite book, for a class assignment. Now that he is in 6th grade, he writes to Mr. Henshaw again for another author-related class assignment. Thus begins a friendship between a lonely boy struggling to deal with his parents' divorce and a wise author. The entire book is written as a series of letters and journal/diary entries, a format which I love!

Dear Mr. Henshaw is a short but sweet and honest story that I recommend to boys or girls in the middle to upper elementary grades.

Mrs. N.

Friday, July 17, 2015

El Deafo by Cece Bell

El Deafo is the graphic novel memoir of author Cece Bell and what her childhood was like as a deaf person. All the characters in the book are portrayed as rabbits, perhaps because rabbits traditionally have excellent hearing. The story begins with the reason for Cece's hearing loss...meningitis at the age of four. A little later she is equipped with a large hearing aid called the Phonic Ear, which comes with a chest strap, head phones, and even a microphone for her teachers to wear.  Cece cannot help but stand out as different! Despite bouts of embarrassment and humiliation, Cece learns to appreciate the Phonic Ear, not only for allowing her to hear the world around her again but also for giving her a super power. You see, as long as her teacher is wearing the micophone, Cece can hear her wherever she the hall, in the teacher's lounge, even in the bathroom! She imagines herself as the super hero El Deafo, Listener for All. Read Cece's story and find out is her super powers can grant her her greatest wish...a true friend.

I recommend this book for any students who enjoy graphic novels or memoirs, which are nonfiction accounts of real people's lives. Like Wonder and Out of My Mind, this book has the potential to change lives by changing attitudes.

Mrs. N.

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

The Graveyard Book, a Newbery Award winner, begins with the murder of an entire family...well entire, that is, except for a one-year-old boy. This toddler escapes to an ancient graveyard where he is adopted by a ghost couple and guarded by a being who is neither dead or alive. Readers come to know this remarkable boy as Nobody (Bod) Owens. Bod is raised in the graveyard and is taught mysterious, ghostly skills such as the ability to fade from view when necessary. Gaiman maintains a level of suspense throughout the novel by periodically shifting the storyline to the murderer known as the man Jack. The man Jack is determined never to give up his search for Bod, and he will not be satisfied until he is dead. Will life outside the graveyard ever be possible for Bod or is he forever confined to the safety of the graveyard? Those readers who relish surprise endings will be rewarded.

Since the story's plot is complex and very supernatural, I recommend the book to strong readers who enjoy the fantasy genre. By the way, I listened to this book on CD and thoroughly enjoyed Neil Gaiman's narration!

Mrs. N.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper

This book was another recommendation from my 10-year-old niece. In fact, it is her all-time favorite book so far! (That's saying a lot because she is an avid reader.)

Out of My Mind is the story of 10-year-old Melody, an incredibly smart girl with cerebral palsy. Like R.J. Palacio with Wonder, author Sharon Draper does a tremendous job of allowing her readers to view life from the perspective of someone living with a disability. It is eye-opening! While I have known a few people with cerebral palsy, I never realized how frustrating they must feel living with a functioning brain trapped in an essentially paralyzed body.

Overall, Melody's story caused me to take an honest look at how I relate to people who live with varying types of disabilities. For this reason, I believe Sharon Draper has accomplished what so many authors strive to accomplish; she has written a book with the power to change lives for the better.

Highly recommended for upper-grade elementary students.

Mrs. N.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

A Little Bit of Spectacular by Gin Phillips

My daughter posted an earlier review of Gin Phillips' first children's book, Hidden Summer, which I read and really enjoyed. A Little Bit of Spectacular is Mrs. Phillips' second book for children. Like her first, it is set in Birmingham, Alabama where she lives. This one is great for readers who like a little mystery in their fiction. Olivia, the main character, is struggling to adapt to her recent move to Alabama. One day she finds an intriguing message written on the bathroom wall of her favorite coffee shop--"We are Plantagenet--and this begins her quest to determine the meaning and the person (people) behind the message. Olivia finally begins to make headway in solving the mystery after she makes her first friend, Amelia (the "Frog Girl"). Like all good books, this one leaves readers with a bigger, more important message...there is a little bit of spectacular in each one of our lives if we just open our eyes to see it.

Mrs. N.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

All the Answers by Kate Messner

Have you ever wished for the ability to know the answers to every test you take at school...without studying? Have you ever wanted to know what's going to happen before it happens? These common fantasies are explored in All the Answers. The story centers around a blue pencil that Ava Anderson finds in the family junk drawer the morning before her math test. During the test, she discovers that the pencil answers questions for her in a voice that only she can hear. This is the beginning of an adventure in which Ava and her best friend Sophie come to realize the pros and cons of having all your questions answered.

I borrowed All the Answers from my 10-year-old niece who explained that it was one of her all-time-favorite books. I recommend it to students who like to read fantasy mixed with realistic fiction. I also recommend it to those who struggle with anxiety as Ava does. In the end, her experience with the pencil teaches her an important lesson about living life in the moment.

By Mrs. N.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko

Al Capone Does My Shirts is a story set in the 1930's on Alcatraz Island outside of San Francisco, California. The island is home to Alcatraz, the infamous maximum-security prison that was once located there. Moose's Dad gets a job at the prison so that his sister Natalie, who has severe autism, can go to a special school in San Francisco that will meet her needs. His family moves to the island while the famous American gangster Al Capone is incarcerated there. As Moose and Natalie adjust to their new life, they have adventures with several other children who live on the island and eventually with Al Capone himself!

While the story is fiction, Ms. Choldenko did extensive research on life on Alcatraz Island before writing this book. She even interviewed people who lived there during the setting of her story. This makes the plot believable. For that reason, I recommend this book to students who enjoy realistic fiction. Also, students who have a sibling with special needs will enjoy relating to Moose and Natalie's relationship.

P.S. My family listened to this book on CD while traveling on vacation. If you haven't tried an audiobook before, it really helps pass the time on long trips!

By Mrs. N.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Jefferson's Sons by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

Hooked on historical fiction and excited to read another book by this Kimberly Brubaker Bradley, I read Jefferson's Sons next. This book is about Thomas Jefferson's secret children, the ones whose mother was Sally Hemings, a slave at Monticello. The story is told from the perspective of three different slave children, including two of his own sons. (I love when children narrate!) The subject matter of this book fascinated me, and I found myself wanting to know more about this part of Jefferson's life. I really appreciated the amount of research the author put into writing this story; she based as much of it on fact as possible. If you are interested in getting a glimpse into the lives and minds of slaves whose father was the president of the United States, read this book.

 Kimberly Brubaker Bradley books bring important historical time periods alive and make them personal for the reader. I highly recommend this author to upper grade readers who like historical fiction and maybe even those who don't think they do.

By Mrs. N.

The War that Saved my Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

Summertime and the living is easy! I am loving having the time to read great books for children (and adults)!

For fans of historical fiction, I have discovered a wonderful author...Kimberly Brubaker Bradley. I read The War that Saved my Life first; it is the story of what happens to10-year-old Ada and her younger brother Jamie when they are sent away from London during Germany's attack on England in WWII. While their Mam's abuse and neglect is appalling, the love and acceptance they find once they leave the city is heartwarming and so well-deserved. The book expanded my definition of family and reminded me of how important it is to be loved and valued for exactly who you are. It also included just enough adventure and suspense to keep me reading to the end!

Mrs. N.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Glory Be by Augusta Scattergood

Glory Be is historical fiction set in the summer of 1964, the height of the Civil Rights movement. The story takes place in the small town of Hanging Moss, Mississippi and centers around the closing of the community swimming pool and Glory's twelfth birthday. While the story focuses on Glory and the summer of her awakening to the injustice of segregation, a second storyline about Glory's older sister Jesslyn is also developed.

I recommend Glory Be to 4th - 6th graders who like historical fiction and are particularly interested in the Civil Rights time period. It is also a good choice for students who like to read realistic fiction about family and friend relationships.

By Mrs. Norton  

Rain Reign by Ann M. Martin

Rain Reign is the story of Rose Howard, a 5th grader with Asperger's syndrome who lives in a small town in the state of New York. The main characters include Rose, her distant father, her beloved Uncle Weldon, and her dog Rain. The story revolves around what happens when her father lets Rain out during a hurricane.

My favorite aspect of the book is that Rose narrates the story. Since she is a child, this makes the writing simple and easy to read. Even better than that, though, is the fact that the first person narration allows readers to see from the perspective of a person with Asperger's syndrome. I teach several students with either Asperger's or Autism, and this book made me understand and appreciate them more.

I recommend Rain Reign to upper elementary students who are up for reading a book that will both open their minds and touch their hearts. I also recommend it to students with Asperger's or Autism themselves. Thanks to author Ann Martin, you can finally read a good story to which you can personally relate!

By Mrs. Norton

Sunday, April 26, 2015

The Hidden Summer By Gin Phillips

What was going to be the best summer ever went suddenly awry.

13-year-old Nell and Lydia are best friends and have been for a really long time. They planned to go through summer like normal(sleepovers and just hanging out together). Then one day they are forbidden from seeing each other. Nell can't imagine what will happen if she loses her best friend and if she doesn't have a place to go to get away from problems at home. The girls have to find a place of their own. Nell and Lydia spend the summer hiding out on an abandoned golf course. They discover many hidden things and figure out that they are not the only ones seeking a safe place. Nell begins to realize what it means to be "seen" in this adventurous book.

I recommend this book for the upper grades and for anyone who likes a spark of adventure.

By Camille Norton

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

I selected Brown Girl Dreaming because it is this year's Coretta Scott King Author Award winner. I later discovered that it is also a Newbery Honor Book, a Robert F. Sibert Honor Book, and a National Book Award Finalist. After reading it, I can see why it has racked up the awards!

This is a memoir of Jacqueline Woodson's childhood days written in verse. I agree with Mrs. Woodson that poetry is the perfect genre for this book. The chapters are short poetic snippets of memories that are sequenced in such a way that they tell the story of her growing up in both the South (South Carolina) and in the North (New York City). Her childhood included some very historic moments in the Civil Rights Movement from peaceful Martin Luther King with his freedom marches and bus boycotts to violent Malcolm X and the Black Power movement.

My favorite parts of the book were the chapters about her time in the South. I loved her descriptions of the time she spent with her grandparents: "the weight of our grandparents' love like a blanket with us beneath it, safe and warm."

I recommend this book to upper-elementary students interested in the memoir or biography genres. Despite the fact that it deals with some important, historic issues, the book is an easy read thanks to the verse and its short chapters.

By Mrs. Norton