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.