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.