Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany, & Jack Thorne

There is nothing like a couple of sick days to grant readers that coveted extra time to read! Thanks to my recent illness (and Natalie C's willingness to share her book with me), I have finished the new Harry Potter!

As many of you have likely heard by now, this 8th book in the Harry Potter series is actually a play...written in play form with stage directions and everything. Don't let the format scare you off, though. You will find that you quickly adjust to it once you start reading.

The story picks up 18 years after the Battle of Hogwarts. Harry, Ron, Hermione, and the gang are married adults with children. The main characters are Albus, Harry's youngest child, and Scorpious, Draco's only child. The boys are best friends and are Slytherins at Hogwarts. The core of the adventure involves Albus and his attempt to come to terms with who he is and what his place is in the wizarding world. A new dark character and a Time Turner machine are forces to be reckoned with throughout the story. However, more than anything else, the new Harry Potter is about the relationship between a father (Harry) and his son (Albus).

Recommended for mid-upper elementary Harry Potter fans.

CAUTION: Frequent backwards time travel and references to Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire as well as other Harry Potter books make knowledge of the Harry Potter series helpful.

By Mrs. N.

A Mango-Shaped Space by Wendy Mass

A Mango-Shaped Space revolves around Mia Winchell, a 13-year-old girl for whom sounds, words, and numbers have specific colors and patterns. For example, her best friend Jenna's name is "a bright, shimmering shade of green with some yellow highlights" while her sister Beth's name is "the murky brown of swamp water." When she was young Mia assumed everyone experienced sounds, words, and numbers in color the way she did. However, a traumatic classroom experience in third grade made it clear that she was all alone in her view of the world. At that point she began keeping her colorful view of life a secret from her family, Jenna, everyone.

Failing grades at school force Mia to tell her parents the truth and seek help. Eventually she learns she has a type of synesthesia, a condition in which a person's five senses cross in different combinations. This leads Mia on a path of self acceptance that involves a interesting love interest or two and has a sweetly satisfying ending.

A Mango-Shaped Space, a Schneider Family Book Award Winner, is a great example of the overlap between fiction and nonfiction. The book allows readers to experience the real-world condition of synesthesia and Mia's fictional life...double bonus!

Recommended to upper elementary students.

By Mrs. N.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker by Patricia Hruby Powell

Biography #6

This is the award-winning biography of Josephine Baker, the famous African American dancer from the 1930s era. While it is a picture book, the story of Josephine's life is longer than the average picture book. Author Patricia Powell divides it into 6 chapter-like parts by time periods.

Josephine's life is a rags to riches and back to rags tale about an incredibly determined young girl who lived to sing and dance on stage.She grew up poor in segregated America, a place where she was deemed inferior because of the color of her skin. However, after traveling to Paris, France to perform in a show, Josephine became famous. The people of France loved her...despite her skin color!

While Josephine was forever grateful to the French people and loyal to France, she longed to achieve fame in her own country as well. Read this biography and discover if Josephine's big dream ever came true. Also read to find out more about this fascinating woman such as why her family was known as her "Rainbow Tribe" and what animal she had as a pet.

Recommended to upper elementary students (4th grade and up).

By Mrs. N. 

Bad News for Outlaws by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson

Biography #5

Bad News for Outlaws: The Remarkable Life of Bass Reeves, Deputy U.S. Marshal is a picture book biography about Bass Reeves,  a real hero of the Wild West. Reeves began his life as a slave in Texas. He escaped into Indian Territory (what is now Oklahoma) and eventually became a deputy U.S. marshal charged with tracking down outlaws. His way with horses, his skill with guns, and his lack of fear made him an excellent fit for the job. Reeves became known for being tough, honest, and good. He even arrested his own son! He was also known for capturing outlaws by disguising himself. Bass Reeves was so good at his job that some outlaws just gave up and turned themselves in when they found out that he was on their trail.

I must admit that I had never heard of Bass Reeves before coming across this book. (I ordered it because it won the Coretta Scott King award.) I must say I truly enjoyed learning about such an honest and admirable real-life character from the days of the Wild West. I recommend this biography to 3rd - 6th graders who like to read about the cowboys and Indians era in American history.

Note: The back of the book includes helpful resources such as a glossary of Western words, a timeline of Reeves' life, and a list of websites and books students can use to further their learning on the subject.

By Mrs. N.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

The Noisy Paint Box by Barb Rosenstock

Biography #4

The Noisy Paint Box is a book about two subjects you may have never heard of before...Vasya Kadinsky, a famous Russian artist, and synesthesia, a genetic condition unheard of during Kadinsky's lifetime.

Kadinsky is famous for being one of the first painters of abstract art (art that is not supposed to look like anything specific). Instead of painting landscapes or flowers or people, Kadinsky preferred to mix colors and paint shapes and lines that made people feel different emotions.

The unusual thing about Kadinsky was that he could hear colors as he painted. Also, he could see colors when he heard music. Most experts believe that he had what we now call synesthesia, which means his senses communicated in ways other people's do not. These abilities helped him become a very successful artist.

While The Noisy Paint Box is a picture book, I recommend it to open-minded, older students who have an interest in art.

By Mrs. N.

P.S. The illustrations in this book won the Caldecott Honor and were created by Mary Granpre, the Florida artist best known for illustrating the Harry Potter books.

The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus by Jen Bryant

Biography #3

The Right Word is the story of Peter Mark Roget, the man who created the first thesaurus (book of synonyms). As the winner of both the Robert Sibert Medal and a Caldecott Honor, this book is full of fascinating facts about Roget as well as unique, detailed collage illustrations.

At the age of eight, Peter began writing his own book called Peter, Mark, Roget. His Book. His book was full of word lists rather than stories.He listed Latin words he was learning from his tutor, plants and insects he saw in London's parks, and eventually synonyms. As an adult, he decided to create a book that would help people find the exact right word whenever they needed it. Today Roget's Thesaurus has remained in print continuously since 1852!

I recommend this book to students with experience using a thesaurus. They will be interested in learning the history behind such a useful resource. In fact, any student who recognizes the power of words will appreciate this book and enjoy celebrating Roget's gift of the thesaurus to the world.

By Mrs. N.

The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain by Peter Sis

Autobiography #2

Peter Sis is an artist who grew up in Czechoslovakia when the country was under the control of the Communist Soviet Union. Sis uses a graphic illustration style to tell fascinating, at times shocking, details about living under a dictatorship. For example, Peter could only draw what he wanted at home; the government determined what he could draw while he was in school. The book also includes snippets from the journal that Peter kept as a boy, giving readers an amazing first-hand account of this time period.

The Wall is an example of a picture book written for older students, preferably those who have been introduced to the Cold War and are interested in learning more through a first-hand account. I enjoyed reading about the Cold War era and found the format and the personal account so much more interesting than a history book. Be sure to read the introduction and the afterword; they help explain the Cold War time period more completely.

By Mrs. N.

P.S. The Wall won the Robert F. Sibert Medal and is a Caldecott Honor Book.

Me...Jane by Patrick McDonnell

Biography #1

I am on a biography/autobiography kick right now, so get ready to hear about the lives of some extremely fascinating people! I'll start with Me...Jane, a Caldecott-winning book about the life of Dr. Jane Goodall. Jane Goodall is perhaps most well-known for her work with chimpanzees in Africa. For example, through her observations of chimpanzees, Jane discovered that, like humans, they could make and use tools!

Instead of focusing on her accomplishments as an adult, however, Me...Jane focuses on Jane Goodall's childhood and the dreams she had for her future. This is a simple story for young children that conveys the positive message that dreams do come true.

By Mrs. N.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Amulet: The Stonekeeper by Kazu Kibuishi

Amulet is a a fantasy adventure series written in graphic novel form.  It is a series that needs to be read in order, so I started with book one, The Stonekeeper.

The book has a shocking opening scene that leads to a family's move to start a new life. Emily, her younger brother Navin, and their mother move into their great-grandfather's home out in the country. The house, which appears haunted, is full of dirt, dust, and mysteries. Their adventure begins when Emily finds an amulet (a stone on a necklace) in great-grandfather's study. Later that night their mother is kidnapped in the basement by an octopus-like creature and taken to a underworld. Emily and Navin, with the aid of their great grandfather and some of his inventions, make chase and attempt to rescue their mother.

Because of the dramatic beginning and certain high-adventure elements, I recommend Amulet to older students who enjoy graphic novels and series reading. If you have not read graphic novels, they are quick and easy reads. This is mainly because they rely more heavily on illustrations than they do on text. If you like comic books, you know what I mean. In fact, graphic novels are essentially comic books bound in book form.

CAUTION: Readers are left with a "to be continued" ending and may feel compelled to immediately read book two.

By Mrs. N.

Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate

I knew I wanted to read Crenshaw because Katherine Applegate, the author, wrote The One and Only Ivan. (It won the Newbery Medal a few years ago; you should definitely read it!) Also, the cover--a boy seated on a bench beside a gigantic cat--made me curious. It just looked like a book I would like.

Crenshaw is the story of Jackson, a 10-year-old boy, whose family is going through hard times and is on the verge of living in their minivan...again. Crenshaw, a huge, outspoken cat, is his imaginary friend who shows up whenever Jackson needs him. The first time Crenshaw appeared Jackson was a 1st grader. Now that he is a fifth grader, Jackson doesn't want him around. He thinks that he is too old to have an imaginary friend and that he can protect both himself and his younger sister from the stresses at home. What he discovers, though, is that life can be a bit much to handle on your own, and everyone needs a little help, whether real, imaginary, or both.

I loved this book and highly recommend it to 2nd - 6th graders! Like The One and Only Ivan, Crenshaw's chapters are short, making it a quick read. Almost too quick for me because I wasn't ready for this beautiful story to end.

Mrs. N.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

My Friend Has Dyslexia by Amanda Doering Tourville

This book is a one of a series of books called Friends with Disabilities. I chose to read it because I know of several children's book authors who are dyslexic, and I have been trying to learn more about it.

What I like about this book is that it explains dyslexia in a very simple way that gives readers an idea of what people with dyslexia deal with, both mentally and socially. "Did You Know" facts are included throughout the book, and it also contains a "To Learn More" page of print and digital resources on dyslexia.

I recommend this book to young students interested in learning about the topic of dyslexia.

By Mrs. N.

The Red Lemon by Bob Staake

The Red Lemon is a fun-to-read-aloud picture book filled with Bob Staake's bright, graphic illustrations and rhyming story line. When you read it, notice Farmer McPhee's changing facial expressions. He goes from pure yellow happiness to all-over red anger when he discovers a red lemon on one of his lemon trees. Unable to imagine any possible use for a red lemon, Farmer McPhee hurls the fruit as far as he can. It lands on an island where 200 years later...

On second thought, read The Red Lemon to find out if Farmer McPhee was right about red lemons.

I recommend this book to young elementary students who enjoy rhyme and great illustrations!

By Mrs. N.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Anything but Typical by Nora Raleigh Baskin

Anything but Typical is another Schneider Family Award winning book. (If I haven't mentioned it before, I love this award given to books that work to increase our understanding of human differences!)

The story is narrated by its main character--Jason Blake, a 12-year-old autistic boy who is a gifted writer. He sets out to tell his story in a way that "neurotypical" people can understand. He does a great job of it too, explaining his difficulty looking directly at people, the extreme amount of self control it takes to avoid flapping his hands when he is anxious, his hypersensitivity to smells, the way clothing or shoes feel, etc. And perhaps most important of all, he dispels the myth that just because he appears not to feel does not mean that he does not feel.

Readers get to see just how much Jason feels when it comes to his relationship with Phoenixbird. Phoenixbird is actually the username for Rebecca, a girl whom Jason comes to know through Storyboard, a website where people can post their writing and receive feedback from other members. Phoenixbird is starting to become Jason's first real friend (maybe even girlfriend) when they get the chance to actually meet at the annual Storyboard Convention.

What happens next is both uplifting and heartbreaking.

I recommend this book to older students who are open to reading realistic fiction with the power to expand their perspective on life. Like many Schneider Family Award winners, Anything but Typical reminds me that people are all unique and no one person is superior to another. We would all do well to remember that.

By Mrs. N.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins

If you've read or seen The Hunger Games trilogy, you may be interested in trying out Suzanne Collins next five-book series called The Underland Chronicles. The books are not continuations of The Hunger Games storyline. Instead, these stories follow Gregor, an 11-year-old boy, as he has adventures in the dark Underland below New York City. The Underland is a world that Gregor and his 2-year-old sister Boots accidentally discover after falling through a grate in their apartment building basement. This fantasy includes roaches, spiders, rats, bats, and even humans as characters. An ancient prophecy guides the suspenseful plot to a satisfying conclusion, leaving readers ready for their next trip to the Underland.

I recommend The Underland Chronicles to students who love the adventure/fantasy genre and who enjoy reading series.

By Mrs. N.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Interrupting Chicken by David Ezra Stein

Interrupting Chicken, winner of a Caldecott Honor, is a funny picture book about, you guessed it, an interrupting chicken! In this simple story, Papa attempts to put little chicken to bed with a bedtime story. As usual, he cannot get through a story without little chicken's enthusiastic interruptions. I love Papa's advice to little chicken after her first interruption: "Try not to get so involved." That turns out to be an impossible task for his book-loving daughter. With each story, Papa grows more and more exasperated.  At last he has the brilliant solution of reversing things and allowing little chicken to read him a bedtime story instead. Read Interrupting Chicken to find out if Papa's strategy works.

I recommend this book to readers who enjoy repetition in stories and a good laugh! Young readers will especially enjoy the bright illustrations and the expressive faces of Papa and little chicken.

By Mrs. N.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Chasing Redbird by Sharon Creech

Chasing Redbird centers around Zinny, a 13-year-old girl, who discovers an old, overgrown trail behind her family's farm in Bybanks, Kentucky. The story follows her efforts to clear this trail all the way from her backyard to the neighboring town of Chocton. The project becomes her obsession over the course of a summer in which she is struggling to come to terms with the recent death of her beloved Aunt Jessie and the past death of her 4-year-old cousin Rose. It also helps her develop a sense of independence and identity, which she desperately desires as one of a family of seven children. The most captivating part of the story for me was 16-year-old Jake Boone's sweet, though often illegal!, attempts to impress Zinny. Readers will find the ending gratifying as Zinny, at long last, is freed from the guilt and lack of self-esteem that has burdened her for far too much of her young life.

I recommend this book to upper elementary students who enjoy coming of age stories mixed with a smidge of innocently humorous romance.

By Mrs. N.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

The Maze Runner by James Dashner

Despite the fact that I have enjoyed science fiction books such as Among the Hidden, Divergent, and The Hunger Games, science fiction is not my favorite genre. I read The Maze Runner because my 13-year-old daughter had just finished it and recommended that I read it too. I must admit that I am glad I did.

The story centers around Thomas, a teenage boy who is transported to the Glade to join other boys who have been trapped in the center of a towering maze. None of them have any memory of their lives outside the Glade. Over the two years of their captivity, the group has formed a community with leaders and jobs. Their goals are survival and eventual escape. Shortly after Thomas's arrival, the first and only girl arrives and announces that, "Everything is going to change." That is when the adventure begins!

Because of the mysterious, complicated story line, I recommend this book to 5th or 6th graders who are strong readers. Dashner keeps readers in the dark until the story's end, and even then, all is not revealed. After all, The Maze Runner is the first book in the series.

Caution: This book contains high levels of adventure, violence, and disgusting creatures.

P.S. The Maze Runner has been made into a PG-13 movie.

By Mrs. N.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo

If you are a Kate DiCamillo fan like I am, you can understand my excitement over her new book, Raymie Nightingale. This is the story of three 10-year-old girls, all aspiring to enter the Little Miss Central Florida Tire pageant for vastly different reasons. The girls meet at summer baton lessons and soon become the "Three Rancheros," unlikely friends who are drawn together by the experiences of loneliness and loss they have in common.

What I love about DiCamillo's writing is that it is almost like poetry in that she chooses her words so carefully and keeps her writing sparse. This is a fast read, thanks to the short chapters. I enjoyed getting to know each one of the characters (Raymie, Beverly, and Louisiana) and will miss being in their world. I know a book is good when I feel sad that it is over.

If you like Because of Winn Dixie or any other Kate DiCamillo book, give this new one a read. You will not be sorry!

By Mrs. N.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Comets, Stars, the Moon, and Mars by Douglas Florian

While I love poetry, I do not often choose to read poetry in my free time. I decided to change that and selected Douglas Florian's collection of space poems to get myself started. Florian presents his poetry in a picture book format using bright, colorful collage-style illustrations. Most pages have cool, circular cut-outs allowing readers an early peak at the coming page.

This collection is a great example of nonfiction poetry. The fun, often rhyming poems make learning about the universe, galaxies, sun, moon, planets, and black holes a pleasure! As you would expect with informational text, a glossary is even included that defines the titles of the poems within. It is a great source of space facts.

Here are a few verses from "Pluto," my favorite poem.

Pluto was a planet.
Pluto was admired.
Pluto was a planet.
Till one day it got fired.

I recommend Comets, Starts, the Moon, and Mars to kids of any age who are up for learning about space in a whole new way!

By Mrs. N.

The Great Fire by Jim Murphy

This month I am challenging myself to read outside my comfort zone and experiment with genres I do not read often. (This explains why I read the graphic novel Bone earlier.) This also explains why I just completed The Great Fire, an informational book about the 1871 fire that destroyed the city of Chicago. I had always heard about "The Great Fire," but I never learned about it while I was in school. While reading the historical fiction book A Long Way from Chicago, the Great Fire was mentioned, and I decided to learn about it once and for all.

Author Jim Murphy helped my fiction-loving self by writing this nonfiction book as a narrative. Instantly I was able to "get into" this real-life disaster story. By relying on many primary sources, Murphy is able to describe the fire from the points of view of people who actually experienced it. As I was reading, I was reminded of the TV news footage of 9/11 New York City when the Twin Towers were attacked by terrorists. Terrifying stuff!

Known for his award-winning historic nonfiction photo essays, Murphy does a great job rekindling the Great Fire and allowing readers to experience it for themselves, both through his writing and through the many drawings, maps, and photos throughout the book.

I recommend this book to upper elementary lovers of history, readers of nonfiction, or people like me who want to challenge themselves to try out the nonfiction genre.

By Mrs. N.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Fish in a Tree by Lynda Hunt

Among its many awards, Fish in a Tree won this year's Schneider Family Award, which is given to an outstanding book that captures the disability experience. I typically love the books that win Schneider Family Awards, and this one was no exception.

Ally has always worked hard to hide the fact that she can't read. Usually her efforts involve causing distractions that get her sent to the principal's office. Fortunately for her, though, her new teacher Mr. Daniels sees through her troublemaker act and discovers that she has dyslexia. He also discovers that Ally is an extremely bright and talented girl. With his help and the support of a couple of true friends, Ally learns to read, to accept herself, and to embrace the important truth that everybody is smart in different ways.

I highly recommend this book to upper elementary students who loved R. J. Palacio's Wonder or who have ever struggled with a subject in school. Like WonderFish in a Tree is a powerful book with the potential to change lives for the better.

By Mrs. N.

A Long Way from Chicago by Richard Peck

A Long Way from Chicago, a Newbery Honor Book, has been on my to-read list since Mr. Higg told me how much he loved it. It was a very appropriate read for the summer because it is about a brother and sister's week-long summer visits to their Grandma's. At first the siblings are not thrilled with the idea of being sent away from their big city life in Chicago to Grandma's sleepy small town. Over the summers, though, they learn that neither the town nor their Grandma is what they expected.

Richard Peck organizes the book's eight chapters by Joey and Mary Alice's annual summer visits; therefore, the chapters can be enjoyed together or own their own as individual short stories. Because the visits span the years 1929-1935, readers get a little taste for what life was like during the Great Depression.

A Long Way from Chicago is a funny story that I recommend to 3rd-6th graders who are open to historical fiction.

By Mrs. N.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Bone: Out From Boneville by Jeff Smith

In an attempt to grow our library's popular graphic novel section, I decided to sample a series we do not currently have. Jeff Smith's Bone books are about three cousins (Fone Bone, Phoney Bone, and Smiley Bone) who have been run out of Boneville and are on a quest to find their way back. At first I didn't think I could get past the odd fact that the main characters are animated bones. Also, I struggled to like or even care about Phoney Bone and Smiley Bone. However, thanks to my appreciation for Fone Bone and my determination to finish the book, I got drawn into the mysterious and adventurous plot. The turning point for me was when Thorn, the first human character and Bone's love interest, came on the scene. Because Jeff Smith leaves readers hanging at the end, I may very well read the next book in this oddly engaging graphic series.

I recommend Bone books to students who enjoy the graphic novel format and like reading fantasy adventures.

Caution: Do not read this book if evil rat-like characters who lurk in the dark woods or dragons who breathe fire give you nightmares.

by Mrs. N.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

This Is Not My Hat and I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen

I Want My Hat Back, a Geisel Award honor book, is the first of Jon Klassen's picture books about missing hats. It is the story of a very polite bear who loses his red, pointy hat and goes in search for it. I especially like how the type color changes when a different character speaks. This makes the dialogue easy to follow.

This Is Not My Hat, a Caldecott Medal winner, is Klassen's second hat story. It is about what happens when a small fish steals a large fish's hat. I love the small fish's cocky attitude and that the reader is always one step ahead of him.

Both books have simple, straightforward text and wonderful illustrations, making them excellent choices for beginning readers. However, both books also employ a clever, sophisticated sense of humor and thought-provoking endings that allow the reader to figure out what happened for him or herself. These are features an older audience will enjoy.

If you can only get your hands on one of these books, read This Is Not My Hat. It is the funnier of the two.

By Mrs. N.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Ninth Ward by Jewell Parker Rhodes

In 2005 Hurricane Katrina devastated the U.S. Gulf Coast. I will never forget seeing news footage of people stranded on their New Orleans, Louisiana rooftops awaiting rescue by helicopter. One of the hardest hit areas of New Orleans was the Ninth Ward. Ninth Ward is Jewell Parker Rhodes first book for children, and it is about Lanesha, a twelve-year-old girl, and her attempt to survive the storm with her 82-year-old guardian Mama Ya-Ya and her classmate/friend TaShon.

While the story's plot focus is on the hurricane, it is much more than a literal storm survival story. Mama Ya-Ya, Lanesha, and TaShon are all society outsiders who are characterized by an amazing inner strength that allows them to be survivors of something arguably greater than a category 5 hurricane; they are survivors of life.

I recommend this book to 3rd-6th grade readers who enjoy realistic fiction, survival stories, natural disasters, and heart-warming, inspirational stories.

By Mrs. N.