Thursday, December 28, 2017

Some New Middle Grade Favorites!

                                                         Refugee by [Gratz, Alan]

Every once in a while, I read a book that affects me so profoundly that I call all of my friends and tell them they HAVE TO READ IT! Refugee by Alan Gratz is one of those books. I'll admit, I've never been a huge history buff so I tend to shy away from historical fiction. This book, however, might have changed my reading habits. It tells three different stories about children who become refugees while escaping persecution. The first child is Josef whose Jewish family is running from the atrocities of WWII by ship. The second is Isabel, a Cuban girl whose family is trying to escape the oppression of Castro in 1994 by raft and finally, Mahmoud whose Syrian family is struggling to flee war torn Syria on foot. Each one of their stories is completely engrossing. The dangers the families face seem unreal, and it's difficult to grasp that this all really happened and is still happening today. These stories are very emotional and focus on innocent children during wartime. Their journeys stem not from bravery, but from life and death situations. However, the bravery they show facing numerous challenges is a continuous theme throughout the book

The chapters rotate through the three narrators and just when I couldn't wait to see what happened next, it would switch to the other stories. This is quite all right though as each chapter is as captivating as the next. I did have a friend mention to me that she skipped through and read each child's story completely. My advice would be not to do this because you might not fully appreciate the twist at the end of the book.  This one is a bit tough for me to gauge a recommended age level. This is marketed for 9-12 year old children. The reading level is fine for middle grade students, but some might be scared by the guns, bombings, drownings, and other near death experiences. It was difficult for me to process the heartbreak, so I worry about sensitive readers. I would say 6th grade and up with parents being aware of the content.

                                                                   Laura Ingalls Is Ruining My Life by [Tougas, Shelley]

I recently finished Laura Ingalls is Ruining My Life by Shelley Tougas after Amazon suggested I might like it based on my other interests.  I had never heard of this book before, but I had to give it a shot based on the title alone! I’ve always been a Little House fan and was curious as to the premise of this story. I found it to be very entertaining with several great lessons for middle grade students. Charlotte and her family have been nomads for as long as she can remember. Her mother is a free spirited hippie like woman who moves her family from town to town in a constant search for positive energy and spiritual fulfillment. For this most recent move, Charlotte’s mom is trying to write a children’s book about prairie life so naturally she must transport her children to the town of Walnut Grove to channel the ultimate prairie spirit- Laura Ingalls Wilder. A small town like Walnut Grove isn't really at the top of Charlotte's list of  places she would like to live, so her  journey starts with a negative attitude before she even arrives.  Adding to that, Charlotte, her twin Freddy, and half sister Rose have been uprooted so many times that Charlotte is determined not to make any friends since she will just have to leave them when her mother gets another whim and moves them again. Girls at school try to befriend her, but Charlotte is convinced they will be like mean girls she has known in the past and her new teacher, Mrs. Newman, doesn’t stand a chance with Charlotte again based on past experiences. Charlotte's grand plan is to isolate herself as much as possible and limit social interactions. When her brother Freddy, the only constant in her life, starts to pull away and make new friends, Charlotte feels lonelier than ever. Adding to her struggles, while made famous through the Little House books, life in Walnut Grove is difficult. The town is tiny without a lot of activities and the winters are extremely harsh  In a twist of events, Charlotte, who is sick of hearing about Laura, inadvertently gets a job volunteering at the Laura Ingalls Museum and ultimately realizes the old books can actually teach her a thing or two about acceptance and gratitude.

This is a book I would certainly everyone whether they were fans of Ingalls or not.  I thoroughly enjoyed all of the references to a Pa Ingalls, Plum Creek and Nellie Olsen, but besides the history, it’s mostly a story about family and sibling relationships. As brothers and sisters grow older, roles change and these three children have to navigate that. There is much of the book that was funny and lighthearted but also parts that were a little sad. Living with a flighty mother that needs as much care as a child is another problem facing the siblings. Reading about the mom was frustrating at times because while she loves her kids, her choices are very selfish. While her character is annoying the rest of the story is quite enjoyable. Of course I was rooting for Charlotte to overcome her fear of rejection and find true stability and happiness but there are some funny bumps along the way. I hope that students will read this and perhaps take another look at the original Laura Ingalls Wilder books.

                                                            Restart by [Korman, Gordon]

Restart, Gordon Korman’s newest novel, is a phenomenal book. I wish every middle school would make it required reading. The story begins with eighth grade student Chase falling from his roof and waking in the hospital with amnesia. While he can walk and talk, he has no memory of his family, friends, or life before the fall. When he is finally ready to return to school, still suffering from amnesia, he notices that students seem to be avoiding him and teachers aren’t especially nice to him. Worst of all, the boys that say they are his best friends are total thugs and they expect Chase to be the same way. He soon discovers that the other students avoid him because they fear him. Before the accident, he was the school’s worst bully. He was merciless to students who couldn’t defend themselves and horribly disrespectful to adults. The post-accident Chase can hardly believe the terrible stories he hears about the way he used to be before he hit his head.  He doesn’t have the slightest inclination to be rude or mean to anyone or any memory of acting that way. He’s kind, thoughtful, and polite and is actually disgusted by the boys who were once his friends. They still behave the way he used to behave and they don't respect his choice to be a better person. Chase attends school each day hoping for someone he used to bully to give him a second chance. Finally, Brendan, a boy Chase used to torture from the AV club, reaches out and offers Chase a spot in the club. The other members are horrified. Chase made their lives miserable and is even the sole reason one of the club members, Joel, had to switch schools. Joel’s sister, Shosanna, has the most difficulty with Chase and is very upset that he gets assigned to work with her on a special project at the community retirement home.

What I found so moving in this story is the depths of Chase’s guilt when he discovers who he used to be. I could feel his deep regret as I was reading each chapter. Even though he targeted many students  before the accident, Chase is a victim now as well. He is a victim of his past actions and suffers the consequences. The sub plot of the retirement home is a way for him to redeem himself.  Meeting some of the elderly residents helps to shape the moral compass of the new Chase. While the amnesia is at first tough for him, all of the characters in the book, including Chase, come to learn that it is actually a profound gift for them- the chance to start over and become the people they were once too scared to be. I highly recommend this book to all middle level readers.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Book Fair Bonanza

It's the most wonderful time of the year- that's right, Book Fair time! We recently held our school book fair, and I'm always amazed at how excited both students and parents are to attend. As soon as I announce the fair date, the kids burst into squeals of delight. I also celebrate because I know I will have the chance to peruse many new titles. Today's post is about some of my favorites from the fair.


When I first glanced at this book, I thought it was going to be much scarier than it actually was. I thought there might have been ghosts or haunted woods or something creepy, but the story is NOTHING like that at all. It's actually a really neat story with a few unexpected plot twists. The main character in The Secret of Nightingale Wood by Lucy Strange is Henrietta, Henry for short, a young girl living in 1919. Her family moves to a new home after the tragic death of her brother Robert. Her mother is suffering from extreme depression due to Robert's death and the family hopes that country living will help them all to heal. The father, growing frustrated with Mama, takes an extended work trip leaving Nanny Jane in charge of Henry and her baby sister Piglet (yes, Piglet). Before he leaves, Father allows a local doctor to take care of Mama, but Dr. Hardy is a little TOO excited to try experimental treatments on her. Mama is growing worse everyday, not speaking or eating and sleeping all day long while Henry has been banished from seeing her. Henry knows she MUST save her mother but how can a young girl take on the powerful town doctor? Henry finds help and guidance in the mysterious lights in the woods of Hope House and at the same time helps to solve a mystery from long ago.

I really liked this book. While it dealt with mature topics, the tone and writing is still definitely for children. It powerfully portrayed the effects of grief on an entire family. Also what is unique about this story is the description of treatment for mental illness at this time in history. People suffering from depression had little help and being locked away was the best answer. Henry was a very strong and brave character who refuses to give up on her mother. She is clever and willing to take whatever risks necessary to keep Dr. Hardy away from Mama. The mystery of Hope House and the hidden room (I love a good hidden room) added to the suspense of the story. This isn't exactly a lighthearted tale, but a great story nonetheless for the right mature middle grade reader.

                                                         Weekends with Max and His Dad by [Urban, Linda]

Weekends With Max and His Dad tackles the subject of divorce in a positive way. Instead of dwelling on Max's sadness, Lind Urban write about all of the adventures Max gets to have with his dad when they spend their weekends together. Each weekend is a new experience where Max gets to meet fun new neighbors, set up the new apartment and play super spies with his Dad (all while eating their special pancakes).

Divorce is very difficult for an entire family, but what's nice about this book is that it doesn't focus at all on the problems that led to the parent's separation. It doesn't mention anything that happened before their first weekend together. Max isn't bitter or sad and his father is genuinely excited to see him and spend time together. It's obvious to the reader that Max's Dad is trying very hard to help Max feel safe and loved. Max has two homes and one isn't better than the other- just different. I wouldn't go so far as to say that this story makes divorce look easy- Max still has times where he feels awkward and uncomfortable in his new circumstances, but his father's obvious care and love helps him adjust. Max learns that his father's new place can be filled with love and be just as much of a home as the one he shares with his mother. This is geared towards students in grades 2-5 and the writing clearly reflects that age group. There is quite a bit of humor and again, no deep raging emotions about divorce. It's sweet and I would certainly recommend it to young students whether their situation matches Max's or not.


My gripe about graphic novels has always been that young students will often read them without checking the reading level or looking to see if the content is appropriate. If it's got pictures, most kids will assume it's fine for all ages. Unfortunately, that's not always the case and students are reading graphic novels way above their reading and maturity level. Graphic novels are just super fun to read and everyone wants one! This is why I have been on a hunt for graphic novels that are perfect for a young audience. I think According to Aggie fits the bill! It's an American Girl graphic novel by Mary Richard Beumont based on the recurring "Aggie" article in  AG Magazine.

 Aggie is 11 years old and is finding that her friendships are beginning to change. Her best friend Fiona is starting to pull away and cancel their long standing Friday afternoon play date. They didn't have a fight or any kind of disagreement. Fiona is simply starting to develop different interests and make new friends. Aggie is saddened by the way things are going and searches for an answer as to why things are changing. As Aggie's mother tells her, sometimes there is no real answer.  Along the way Aggie befriends a new student and realizes that while she misses Fiona, she can still be happy.

This is a very common problem for young students. As they grow and change, friends often drift apart. What this novel does so well is that it is empathetic to young children in this situation while offering hope. I think someone going through friendship changes  will find a lot of comfort from Aggie's situation. Being in graphic novel form makes this story easy to read and the content never gets too mature. It is simple and sensitive to tween feelings and sure to be an excellent choice for parents and children to read together.

                                                               Bizzy Mizz Lizzie by [Shannon, David]

I'm certain we all know people with seriously over-scheduled children. I'd love to wrap this one up and anonymously mail it to some of my mom friends.  Bizzy Mizz Lizzie is the latest creation of the AMAZING David Shannon. Lizzie is a busy bee that is involved in a ridiculous amount of after school activities. She flits from one thing to the next without ever having time to stop and be lazy with her friend Mizz Daisy. My favorite line in this story goes something like, "the only bee busier than Lizzie is her mother who has to fly her everywhere." I'm sure most parents can relate! Along with participating in an abundance of activities, Lizzie also feels the need to excel at all of them. She goes full speed ahead until one day she just physically can't do it anymore. She cracks. The consequences of what she sees as a failure turn out to be EXACTLY what Lizzie needs- time to stop and quite literally smell the roses. I think this book is for kids of all ages because this is an ever growing problem and a great lesson for both children and parents (myself included).

                                                        I Am Peace: A Book of Mindfulness by [Verde, Susan]
I Am Peace is the perfect book to heal the Bizzy Mizz Lizzies of the world! Written by Susan Verde and illustrated by the phenomenal Peter Reynolds, this is a book about mindfulness. Mindfulness is a word I have been hearing quite a bit lately. I think it's growing in popularity because our world is moving at a frenetic pace that we haven't seen before. Mindfulness is the practice of being in the moment and aware of current surroundings. It's a way to calm and relieve stress. Too often, our children are in the "what if" worry zone and need reminding to focus on the present. This book is a beautiful guide to doing just that. Each page takes the reader on a guided mediation to connect with earth, wonder about nature and focus on the fives senses. It asks the reader to close his or her eyes and be still. I read it to my second grade class and I think I got as much out of it as they did. I'm not sure I ever sat in my classroom with my eyes closed and focused on the sounds around me. I could hear other teachers, kids in the hallway, doors closing, footsteps, the heater switching on, and music from somewhere in the building. I was quite refreshed when I opened my eyes. I really enjoyed reading this book and my students shared they liked it as well. I think it's an excellent gift (and reminder) for all ages.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

I'm Back And So Are These Stories!

I'm back to blogging! I took a full month off from my blog to focus on my family, back to school preparation, enjoying the last days of nice weather and everything else the end of summer brings! I have certainly kept reading, and I'm excited to share some new titles. All of the books I read this week are the second in a series. I'm not a huge fan of sequels, because like the movies, they sometimes disappoint, but I simply must find out what happens to my favorite characters.


I don't think this one is so much a sequel as it just shifts focus to another character in the Charm Girls club series by Jenny Lundquist. The first book about the girls is The Charming Life of Izzy Malone. There we meet Izzy and her friends and learn of their delightful club. The charm girls earn charms for their bracelets by completing a variety of  different tasks. In The Wondrous World of Violet Barnaby, we learn more about Violet, who in the first book, recently lost her mother. It's now been a year and a half since her mother's passing and Violet's father has remarried. He could have dated and married any eligible female on the planet but instead chose "The Hammer," the strictest and most difficult teacher at Violet's school. As she is packing her belongings to move into The Hammer's (Melanie's) house, Violet finds a letter addressed to her that her mother wrote before she died. Her mother compiled a Christmas Wish List full of experiences that she wanted Violet to have such as making a snow angel and baking Christmas cookies. Unfortunately, Violet is NOT in a holiday mood and moving to a new home surrounded by someone else's belongings (someone who is NOT her mother), isn't helping her Christmas spirit. Violet must rely on her friends, her new crush, and her new step siblings to find some holiday joy.

I haven't read the first book, but I ordered it immediately because I really liked this one! Violet is heartbroken, and she's trying to navigate her new surroundings and deal with her grief at the same time. The entire blended family struggles with combining old and new traditions, and I think that's a relatable topic for many children today. Violet is a likable character and her friends will show readers what true friendship among tweens should look like. They aren't mean girls obsessed with material goods or any of those typical stereotypes. Great book for grades 4 and up!


I adored The Littlest Bigfoot by popular adult author Jennifer Weiner. I'll admit I was nervous to read the second installment, Little Bigfoot, Big City because I was afraid it wouldn't be as great as the first. I found it to be better than a typical middle novel because there were answers to some of the questions but there was another cliffhanger at the end. Many readers love this kind of thing, but I like instant gratification! While I want a resolution ASAP, it's such a unique story that I will hang in there until the end.

Alice learns at the end of the first book that she isn't human so she is searching for answers about what she might be instead. We do get an answer to that question, but a good bit of the story is about her changing friendship with Millie. Like any pre-teen females, they have hit a rough patch and become a little insecure about their bond. As Alice is searching for answers to her past, Millie is focused on achieving her dream of becoming a future singing superstar. Each girl is on a very different path, but they still need each other for support.

Like all of  Ms. Weiner's novels, this book is engaging and fun to read. The Yare lifestyle is simply fascinating to me and I actually gasped out loud when Millie took the potion to remove her fur!! The story moves quickly and as new mysteries are revealed, we get answers to questions from the first book. I really like this series and I hope I can encourage more students to give it a chance!

                                                              Swing It, Sunny by [Holm, Jennifer L.]

First let me start by writing that I really liked the first book in this series- Sunny Side Up. Jennifer Holm certainly has a talent for writing children/YA books. I think most young readers can find themselves represented in her characters and their stories. Swing It Sunny picks up shortly after Sunny returns from her grandfather's home in Florida. The main conflict of the story remains Sunny's struggle with her brother's troubles. In this book, Dale has been sent to boarding school to try and get his life back on track. Sunny is disappointed that it's taking longer than she would like and she is unsure of where she stands with him. Luckily she has her best friend and also a fun new neighbor to keep her smiling.

I liked this story, but I wanted much more. I finished reading it in fifteen minutes. I know my students will love the style of short chapters and of course, the pictures are awesome, but I found myself wanting more conflict and plot twists. I kept reading waiting for something big on the next page, but then it ended. Sunny does get a resolution to her problems with her brother and she gains a lot of self confidence from her baton twirling older neighbor. Maybe I am missing the point. I often gripe that graphic novels are too mature for young readers. Perhaps Sunny's conflicts are just enough for the 9-12 age group. The quick turnaround of her problems and lack of any major drama are what elementary age students are looking for. Maybe I spent this summer reading too many complicated novels with twists and turns. The 70's references of Six Million Dollar Man and Gilligan's Island etc., are really fun to read and it certainly makes me nostalgic! No matter what I think, I DO believe my students will pick this up and it will get checked out every week!

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

The Real Us Blog Tour


I’ve been a fan of Tommy Greenwald for a long time. My students and my own children love the Charlie Joe Jackson series, so I was thrilled to get a copy of his newest title The Real Us. It certainly didn’t disappoint. This book is for every tween who struggles with both fitting in and standing out.

Calista Getz is the prettiest and, of course, most popular girl in her class. She is admired by her classmates, coaches and teachers. Calista’s first week of school begins perfectly with her two best friends, Ellie and Ella, by her side and the promise of a date with super cute Patrick for the First Week Dance. Everything at her lunch table is going really well, but Calista and her friends aren’t the only ones in the cafeteria. Artistic and quiet Damian White has watched Calista from afar all last year, and he knows there is much more to her than her looks. He doesn’t dare approach her due to an embarrassing medical condition that causes him to sweat- A LOT! Laura Corbett also watches Calista and wonders why they stopped being best friends once Calista became uber popular. Laura remembers how Calista used to love soccer and reading and all of their fun adventures before Calista’a popularity soared. It hurts that Calista seems to have moved on from their friendship, but there's no room at the popular table for smart, but chubby Laura.

While the week starts well on Monday, it soon takes a terrible turn for Calista when on Tuesday she gets a pimple, a scaly face rash, and an elbow to the nose. Her looks suddenly turn from beautiful to something from a horror movie. While her face will certainly heal in a couple of days, unfortunately, that’s all it takes for her popular “friends” to drop her like a hot potato. How can they do this to her? She's never had anyone ever treat her this badly. Luckily, Damian and Laura refuse to abandon her like the other kids, and they help Calista understand that she is so much more than her good looks. She has brains and depth and an awesome sense of humor. After her face clears, will Calista return to the popular crowd and their shallow ways or will she find that maybe she has more to offer?

On the cover of this book it says, "You're more than what people see" and that is certainly the theme of this story. Damian sweats like crazy and Laura is overweight, but they are the most fantastic kids in the book. They represent the majority of a realistic school population where most kids aren't part of the beautiful crowd. This story is told through the three main characters voices in alternating chapters so the readers get a great sense of how the events of the first week of school effect everyone so differently. I'll admit, I was a little surprised by the feelings the tweens revealed.  Kids like Calista and Patrick are supposed to rule the school while the Damians and Lauras are supposed to get out of their way, but what makes this story so terrific is that they don't all play into their sterotypes. Laura and Damian aren't the typical outsiders who cower when the popular kids walk by. They are confident and sweet and actually pretty secure kids. They stand up for themselves to kids who are pretty intimidating (Will, Ellie, and Ella) and speak up for others. This isn't a depressing tale of kids who aren't popular getting tormented. It feels more realistic than that. I was also pleasantly surprised by Patrick. I expected him to be the good looking snob who puts kids like Damian in the trash can, but instead, he's a great guy. He's just trying to find his way like everyone else. (I think maybe I've seen Mean Girls one too many times). Even Calista quickly learns not to take herself too seriously and gets over the idea of having to be perfect within the time frame of the story. I think that's what makes this a great upper elementary/middle grade book- it all happens within a week so there's no long drawn out bullying or crisis. This is a light and refreshing look at the class system in middle school. The writing flows easily with humor and heart and I would swear Tommy Greenwald was a pre-teen girl in a former life since he writes them so well! This book is a great way to start a discussion with kids about discovering who they REALLY are and how they REALLY feel and then becoming a more REAL version of themselves. I can't wait to add this to my library!

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Ghost Stories by the Campfire #scarystories

If you've been following this blog at all, you know my FAVORITE genre is creepy (but not too scary) books. The three books I chose to read this week all fit into that category!

                                                             One for Sorrow: A Ghost Story by [Hahn, Mary Downing]

The QUEEN of children's spooky stories just published this gem last week. Mary Downing Hahn's One For Sorrow is set in 1918, but it's content is very relevant for today's youth. Annie Brown is the new girl in school and can't wait to make friends. She's always been well liked and never had a problem fitting in with other girls. On her first day, she is immediately taken under the wing of Elise Schneider who proclaims they will be "best friends forever." Initially, Annie is excited to have a buddy until she realizes that the other girls can't stand Elise. She is mean, clingy and awkward and is later revealed to be a liar and thief. Elise has deep problems that cause her bad behavior, but the other students treat her terribly not having an ounce of sympathy for her. Poor Annie can't seem to break away from her new "friend" and  falls victim to the same bullying that Elise does. When Annie is finally able to get away and befriend the popular girls, she leave Elsie alone once again. Going further, Annie joins in the relentless teasing that Elise endures.

Soon the Spanish Influenza rips through the town taking Elise as one of its victims. Annie feels badly but is also slightly relieved she will never see Elise again- or so she thinks!!! SHAZAM!! In typical Mary Downing Hahn fashion, Elise begins to haunt Annie from beyond the grave and forces her to get even with all of the mean girls. Annie feels like she is slowly losing her mind and is desperate for a way to rid herself of the ghost.

Quite honestly, I don't even have to read a summary when it comes to this author. I love everything she writes, and I know my students will as well. She's been writing since I was a little girl, and I am thrilled she is still producing scary tales. That said, I was actually a bit torn throughout my reading because Elise really is a nasty girl, and I had trouble feeling sorry for her. It's an interesting view of bullying- does a mean, hateful girl, who is sometimes a bully herself, ever deserve a taste of her own medicine? Of course no one should ever be teased, but I had a hard time finding sympathy for her. At the same time, I don't think the character could have been written any other way. She needed to be awful in life so her ghost could be awful in death. In all, a great read and my students will love it.


                                                          The Girl with the Ghost Machine by [DeStefano, Lauren]

Where has Lauren DeStefano been all of my life? The Girl with the Ghost Machine is excellent and quite unique. This one really made me think. What if you could spend one more minute with a dearly departed soul? Would you do it at any cost?

Young Emmaline's mother died tragically, and her father has locked himself away in the basement searching for a way to bring her mother's energy back to the land of the living.  He spends so much time on his ghost machine that he neglects sweet Emmaline. Much to her shock and surprise, his machine works! She can talk to her mother again- but not without a price.

This review is tough to write because I don't want to give away any of the story. There are quite a few twists and turns. I read this one to the last page without a break- it is fantastic! The characters are well written and the plot is incredibly creative. Be warned- if you have lost anyone close, it will be difficult not to think of that person while reading this book. The main theme of the story is grief and the different ways we all handle it. I finished reading with the lingering question of "what if?" for a few days after I closed it.

I am excited to add this to the library and will read some of DeStefano's other stories.


From what I can deduce, the The Peculiar Incident on Shady Street is Linday Currie's first solo novel and it's a beaut! I don't often find ghost stories for middle grades set in modern times, and it was a nice surprise.

Young Tessa is faced with a move from sunny, bright Florida to a cold and wet Chicago town. She's not happy about the move, and it's made even worse when things start to go bump in the night in her new room. Ghostly drawings appear mysteriously in Tessa's sketch book, her brother's doll cries real tears, and she feels a deep sense of sadness throughout the house. Tessa is certain there is a ghost trying to tell her something. When she accidentally blurts the truth about her haunted home, her new classmates react in a surprising way. Instead of thinking she's crazy, they vow to help her solve the mystery. Andrew, Richie, and Nina become her partners in the paranormal, and they work together to solve a puzzle that's over 100 years old. From libraries to graveyards, they leave no stone unturned to help their ghost find peace.

I thoroughly enjoyed this mystery. I always love a ghost story that is "just right" for younger grades (4-5). It kept me on the edge of my seat but wasn't too scary or violent in any way.  It's a neat story and the kids' adventure kept me interested and turning the pages. There is the usual dynamics of tweens trying to find their way and make friends, and the characters are relatable nice kids. There is one small thing bugging me- there is a character, Cassidy, who seems kind of thrown in without a purpose. I don't see a reason for her other than possibly setting up a sequal??? I did have a few unanswered questions at the end, so I'd love a second book. I'm  excited to add this title to the library when it's published this October!

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

I Love Summer Reading! #summerreading

My summer reading in a hammock under a big maple tree continues! I've found a few titles that I had not seen before so I'm excited to share.

                                                             Exit Strategy (MAX) by [Allbright, Lauren]

Exit Strategy by Lauren Allbright is on my list for purchase this fall. I think my male students will really enjoy it.

12- year-old Ross moves from school to school more frequently than some kids change their underwear. His mom is a musician with a traveling show, and Ross moves with her to various cities on the tour always enrolling at a new school.  He's pretty quiet in class while he's there, but he has developed an interesting way to leave when it's time to move on to a new district. On his last day, Ross likes to play an epic prank! Whether it's goldfish in the toilets or salt in the coffee machines, Ross starts thinking of his "exit strategy" on the first day. While his pranks are becoming more and more creative, what would happen if Ross had to stay in one place for a while? Who is he if he's not the guy who pulls the last day prank? When an unexpected event lands him in a permanent place, Ross sets out to discover how to be funny without his tricks. He even turns the question of "how to be funny" into a science project. His research leads him in a surprising direction and he discovers that the formula for funny might not be that cut and dry.

This story was very entertaining. It's unique and quite endearing. Like most middle grade book characters, Ross has to sort through the minutia of bullies, cute girls, and nerdy science partners. His research on the art of humor will teach him (and the reader) a fantastic lesson. How important is it to be funny? What makes someone or something funny? Do we all laugh at the same things?  Does it matter? This is a great book for a reluctant reader because of it's humor and general tomfoolery (that's a great word that I need to use more). My students are going to like this one a great deal.


I'm sorry I didn't get to this book sooner than now as it was published last year. This is another one on my list for order!

Far From Fair by Elana Arnold is a terrific book. Odette's life is about to change in a way few of us can imagine. Her parents have made the decision to simplify their lives. They sell their house and all of their belongings and purchase an RV called "the coach." The plan is for her family to live in the camper and travel wherever the road  might take them. They will bring only what fits in the coach and only the necessities. While her parents are incredibly excited, it feels like the end of the world for Odette. What about her school, her friends and HER CELL PHONE!? Sharing a confined space (a definite breach of privacy) with her parents and younger brother on a permanent basis feels like the end of the world for Detters. Worst of all, no one bothered to ask her if she would want this life. Nonetheless, they begin their journey up the west coast. Their first stop on their adventure is to see her wise and beloved Grandmom Sissy who Odette discovers is gravely ill. Her grandmother has always been a calming presence for Odette, but Sissy's illness adds to the upheaval of the family's new life. Odette feels more and more powerless with each passing day. Why won't anyone listen to what SHE wants and needs?

I happened to be reading this book while I was camping with my family. We were on the third day and I was starting to get a little antsy for the comforts of home and my nice soft bed. I kept looking around as I was reading trying to imagine what it would be like to actually live in the camper. A simple life of adventure and family togetherness seems so appealing until the kids start fighting, the dog starts barking and wifi is no where to be found. This story led to some AWESOME discussions with my children. How much do we really need? Is technology ruining our family time? Wouldn't a cross country adventure be amazing? The jury is still out in my family.
I think my 4th-5th grade students will really be able to relate to Odette and her frustrations. The end of this story also teaches a powerful lesson best summed up by the Rolling Stones- You can't always get what you want, but if try sometimes, you just might find, you get what you need.

Monday, July 3, 2017

It's Monday What Are You Reading? #IMWAYR 07/03/2017

Happy Summer! There's something about reading in the summer that is simply magical. I love reading under the shade of a big tree, or while swinging in a hammock, and especially while sitting on a beach. I've read two books this week that I really enjoyed and they are fittingly set during a summer vacation!

                                                         Quicksand Pond by [Lisle, Janet Taylor]

Quicksand Pond by Janet Taylor Lisle, starts the way I like all of my books to start- with mention of a long ago mystery and its lingering consequences. Jessie and her family move to a run down rental cottage in a seaside town to try to recapture a simpler time without internet and constant distractions. On the first day, Jessie discovers a huge pond close to her new house and even better- a raft capable of taking her exploring. She soon befriends a local girl named Terri Carr and they start their summer spending long lazy days fixing the raft and having adventures on the pond. As they grow closer, Terri explains all of the local lore focusing on a murder where Terri's grandfather was wrongly accused (so she says). The more Jessie learns of the town's history and of Terri's abusive father and troubled brothers, the more she wonders if being friends with Terri is a good idea. The "no good" Carr family reputation follows Terri wherever she goes and she feels Jessie start to slip away. Soon enough, events happen that paint Terri in a bad light and Jessie must decide whether she trusts her new friend or the town gossip.

This is a very engrossing story. Terri and Jessie's friendship is the main story, but there are many subplots- Jessie's parents crumbling marriage, old Henrietta Cutting's knowledge of the long ago murder and Jessie's older sister Julia's quest for independence. There are actually a few too many subplots happening, and I would have liked the focus to have been solely on the girls' friendship. The story is also wrapped up very quickly. I finished reading with many unanswered questions, but perhaps I am supposed to draw my own conclusions. Putting the abrupt ending aside, this book is a page turner for sure!  Ultimately, while this is a story about a summer friendship, it's primarily about how a false accusation can ruin lives and the rippling effect it has on everyone involved.

                                                           The Emperor's Riddle by [Zhang, Kat]

I have never read anything by Kat Zhang before, but I'm glad I tried The Emperor's Riddle. I usually don't love books set in China, but this one is EXCELLENT! Mia Chen is spending the summer with her family visiting her mother and Aunt Lin's village  in China. Mia is very close to her Aunt Lin and is excited to spend time with her exploring history and solving puzzles (their favorite hobby). Aunt Lin has shared stories of ancient treasures with Mia for as long as Mia can remember and their trip to China is the perfect setting to go exploring. One night, Aunt Lin suddenly disappears and while Mia's mother chalks it up to her wandering personality, Mia knows something is wrong. She discovers a clue and a secret map that can help her find her Aunt, and she must convince her older brother Jake to assist her. Mia and Jake face the task of solving a mysterious series of riddles and traveling through a foreign country without telling their mother!

This book was terrifically fun to read! It is a mystery, adventure, and a history book rolled into one. Mia is clever and persistent and her brother becomes a faithful assistant. Each riddle brings them to a different part of China and as a reader, I learned an incredible amount of history. What could have become a complicated story remained light and easy for children to read. The puzzles fall into place quickly and that helps keep the momentum going. The young detectives are very likable and while it's perhaps a far fetched idea that they could actually locate an ancient treasure, this story is exciting and fun. I think it's an excellent summer reading book for children who love following clues!

Monday, May 29, 2017

It's Monday What Are You Reading? #IMWAYR 5/29/2017

This month I have read through a lot of books, but none that I have really felt compelled to blog about. I read The Uncommoners- a Harry Potter type of story about a hidden magical world where common objects become magical ones. Think a spatula that can turn someone invisible or a suitcase that can transport a person to the other side of town. I liked it a lot, and I think my students will like it as well. I also read Unusual Chicken for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer. It was a sweet story about Sophie Brown a city girl who inherits her uncle's farm and his group of very unusual chicken. She does her best to learn about them and keep them safe. It's a cute story with a hint of a mystery. I also just finished The Warden's Daughter by Jerry Spinelli. I couldn't get into it. I tried over and over but it wasn't for me. I've never been a fan of prison settings.
I don't usually write a full blog about a book unless I REALLY love it. The three books above were good, but not my favorites.
The Uncommoners #1: The Crooked Sixpence by [Bell, Jennifer] Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer by [Jones, Kelly]The Warden's Daughter by [Spinelli, Jerry]

But there was one book in my reading this week that I enjoyed very much.


The Goldfish Boy by Lisa Thompson is incredibly intriguing. It is a page turner for sure. This is yet another book about severe OCD (it seems to be a hot topic this year), but unlike the others I've read, the OCD is a side story to a great mystery. Middle school student Matthew Corbin sits in his window every day watching his neighbors. He waits and watches and writes about their comings and goings. He's nicknamed The Goldfish Boy because people only see him from behind the glass of his window. Matthew has severe OCD that prevents him from going outside or really having any human contact for fear of spreading germs. When he's forced to interact with other people, his skin crawls until he has a chance to wash in scalding hot water. Even latex gloves and being covered from head to toe stop working for him. He can't go to school, go out to play, or even enjoy a game of pool with his father. When a neighborhood child goes missing, Matthew is the last one to see him from his post in the window. He becomes a key witness in the investigation and his weeks of watching and spying lead to some intense theories and clues.

As I was reading this story, Matthew's anxiety and fears radiated from the page. I felt his struggle as he clearly wants to interact with his family and neighbors but just can't bring himself to do it. In one part of the story, Matthew watches a young boy fall into a pond but his OCD prevents him from running outside to help. His frustration and desperation are heartbreaking as he screams from his window. The other neighbors think he's strange but don't really understand the depths of his illness. This is a great book to introduce this difficult condition.

Besides his struggles, there are actually two mysteries here- the first is the missing toddler and the second is the incident that starts his OCD. I was surprised by both revelations! I think upper elementary students will enjoy this story as much as I did.

Monday, May 1, 2017

It's Monday What Are You Reading? #IMWAYR 5/1/2017

                                                             Family Game Night and Other Catastrophes by [Lambert, Mary E.]

I've been reading YA books for years, and I thought I had read about every possible heavy topic such as divorce, drugs, grief, self harm, sickness and the like. I was pleasantly surprised to pick up  Family Game Night and Other Catastrophes and read about a topic I haven't encountered yet in children's books- hoarding. Hoarding has many psychological facets, but this book by Mary Lambert focuses not on the hoarder, but on the effects for the children living in that house.

Annabelle won't let anyone within five miles of her home for fear that her classmates will see chaos in her house. Over the years, her mother's "collection" has grown to include hundreds of newspapers, canned good, old toys, milk cartons, and a plethora of other useless items. Annabelle struggles with how to help her mom while trying to navigate middle school and the typical drama that goes along with that age. When her little sister Lindsay gets buried in old newspapers one morning and begins to have nightmares, Annabelle frustration grows. Her father leaves seemingly unable to cope with the mess and her grandmother comes to the rescue albeit not in the right way. Her methods of simply trying to throw the mess away makes things even worse.

This book was very well written and Annabelle's voice as the narrator is perfect, This is a very adult topic, but Lambert writes it in a way that is perfectly relatable for a preteen. It's a very moving story about family dynamics. The love and loyalty between the family members is obvious and as much as Annabelle wants her mother to stop, she also protects her mom from their grandmom who isn't exactly warm and fuzzy. As a reader, I felt Annabelle's angst and her embarrassment along with her feelings of helplessness. Her desire to be as neat and clean as possible (actually obsessively) is of course her way of trying to control a terrible situation. This is a great read and stays on the fringe of the horrors of hoarding just enough to keep it perfect for pre-teens. I will absolutely recommend this book to my students.


What a refreshing book for children! The Kindness Club: Chloe on the Bright Side by Courtney Sheinmel is a very cute story about Chloe, the new girl in school. The first day she gets "adopted" by the popular kids and is really excited until she sees their true colors. Led by the sneaky Monroe, the "It Girls" fit the bully stereotype perfectly. The girls in the It Girls Club have rules about what to wear, who to talk to, and even how to wear their hair. Chloe starts to feel uncomfortable by some of these new rules and is torn between finally being popular and doing what she knows is right. Luckily, she gets assigned a Science project with Lucy and Theo (two people she is not supposed to talk too) and they start The Kindess Club. They are out to prove that kindness benefits everyone.

This book was very easy to read and had an AWESOME message for kids. It's ultimately about how kindness trumps bullies and has countless lessons and teachable moments throughout. I think this is a book that will benefit every reader. There is a side story about Chloe's parents getting divorced but even then Chloe tries her best to put the kindness test into action.

 I think it's a great story to read to a class or between parent and child. It's the first in a new series, and I'm looking forward to the others.


Thursday, April 6, 2017

Spring Update #MustReadin2017


Hello fellow readers! I put an ambitious 40 book on my Must Read list and I'm excited to say I've read 15 of them (even with a few extras thrown in)! I'm excited to have found some wonderful books and new authors but here is my dilemma- I started a couple of them that I just didn't like at all. I've really tried but I can't bring myself to finish them. Does that mean I'll never reach my goal? Does giving them the old college try count at all? I won't name the titles I didn't like because I don't want to cloud anyone's judgement, but for the most part, I have read some amazing stories. You can look through my blog to see most of them. I have a couple more to add to the list today.


I have been waiting for this book to be published ever since I started hearing about it last year. As the mother of an autistic child, I was curious as to how Elana Arnold would portray the main character in A Boy Called Bat. I'm thrilled to write that she hit it right on the nose! While we are never told that Bat is autistic, it's implied through his smaller classroom, need for routine and difficulty with social skills. Much of the story focuses on Bat's frustrations with people that don't necessarily like to do things the way he needs them to be done. Even his own father (his parents are divorced) doesn't understand that his son can only successfully function within a routine designed around what makes Bat comfortable. One night, Bat's mom, a veterinarian, brings home an abandoned skunk kit. There's something about the baby that calls to Bat and he begs to care for the skunk until it can be released into the wild. It will take a lot of convincing and a good bit of research on Bat's part to prove to his mom he can do it. With the help of a very supportive teacher, Bat sets out to show he's the best person for the job.

I've read books about autism before, and I always found the main character to be struggling or sad,  but Bat is simply- Bat. He is happy and content and while he certainly has quirks he struggles with, he has enough love in his life to help him get through uncomfortable situations. From beginning to end, readers watch his growth and improvement in difficult areas, especially socially. His love for the skunk and determination to give Thor the best possible care show a very loving side to child that might otherwise be accused of being unfeeling. Thor doesn't demand Bat talk to him or look at him like people do. He is totally accepting of Bat's warm snuggles and care. It's with this acceptance that Bat starts to venture out of his comfort zone. Bat will never be "typical" but there is hope at the end that he can bend just a bit more. This is an excellent book for younger students because of it's large font and short length. It's just enough of a glimpse into the world of someone with differences and how other students can be more accepting. Grades 3 and up and an EXCELLENT read aloud with class discussion.


In A Rambler Steals Home by Carter Higgins, 10 year old Derby is a rambler. She and her brother and father spend the year traveling to different locations in their RV and setting up their food cart for business. Hot chocolate at a christmas tree farm, apple cider and pie at a pumpkin patch and finally, Derby's favorite, a burger and fry stand at the Rockskipper's baseball field in VA. Every summer when Derby's family returns, she reconnects with the townspeople who have become her family over the years. When they pull into town this time, something is different- someone is missing and Derby does her best to find a way to help and heal her closest friends.

Told though Derby's eyes, this is a very sweet, easy to read story. It's perfect for a baseball lover as the sport is a HUGE part of all of Derby's interactions. I really enjoyed how  the townspeople's lives revolve around their favorite team. As I was reading, I felt like I was a part of the lazy hot summer days by the creek eating apple pie and  waiting for the Main Street parade to begin- small town life at its best. Her father Garland does his best to make up for their absent mother and the community fills in the rest of the gaps. Like any girl her age, Derby starts to grow and wonder about her life, friends and missing mother. She is sassy, funny and a great narrator sharing her life among a colorful cast of characters. 3rd grade and up.

Monday, March 27, 2017

It's Monday What Are You Reading? #IMWAYR 3/27/2017


                                                              Time Stoppers by [Jones, Carrie]

I'm giving fantasy a try! Not typically my favorite, but my students love it, so I have to try and embrace it. This week I read Time Stoppers by Carrie Jones.

Annie Nobody is exactly as her name describes- a nobody. She is bounced from one horrible foster home to the next. She has no friends or family and desperately seeks to be loved. Unlike Annie, Jamie Alexander DOES have a family, but they treat him terribly. He has threadbare clothing, barely enough to eat and often has the sneaking suspicion that his family doesn't quite love him the way they should. Luckily for both of these children, it's quickly revealed that they are indeed in the wrong places and they were both born to do great things like save the world! They were stolen from the lives they were meant to live and with the help of a brave dwarf named Eva, they are returned to the magical town of Aurora. There they discover a new world of fantastic creatures (ghosts, dwarves, elves, wizards etc..) and Annie and Jamie are cherished and loved as they have always wished.
As Aurora is attacked, they, along with some new friends, must bravely fight the forces of evil and learn to navigate a magical new world.

As I always write- I'm not a fantasy lover, so it takes a pretty special book to hold my interest. From the first chapters I was invested in Annie and Jamie's sad stories, and I rooted for them to find a place where they belonged. There is a good bit a humor in this book, and I enjoyed being introduced to a colorful cast of fantastic characters. It was satisfying to read both of the main characters evolution from scared children to brave heroes.

I think young fantasy lovers will enjoy this because the story moved quickly and it was easy to read. My only criticism would be that I never found out who or what stole Annie when she was a baby. I was hoping for a resolution to that lingering question but perhaps it will be answered in the sequel!

                                                                   Siren Sisters by [Langer, Dana]

Siren Sisters by Dana Langer is a really neat story. Sirens seem to be the new craze replacing vampires and zombies. They are fascinating creatures, and I'm excited that there is middle grade novel exploring the myth.

Lolly is a twelve year old girl with three gorgeous sisters. Like typical siblings, they go to school, work in the family diner and care for each other when they aren't doing the bidding of the Sea Witch and using their voices to crash boats into the shore. That's right- they are SIRENS! Lolly (against her will) is set to become a siren and join her sisters on her thirteenth birthday but she fights fiercely against the magic that would make it so. She simply can't understand how her sisters could destroy ships and risk lives. Why would they agree to become sirens? To make matters worse, one of the head townsmen, discovers the sisters' magic and makes it his personal mission to destroy them. Lolly and her best friend Jason have to rescue her sisters and break the siren curse before Lolly's transformation.

This story is really interesting. The back story and history of the Sea Witch and sirens woven into the story is engaging. Aside from the magic, Lolly's evolving friendship with Jason is sweet and very typical of a twelve year old girl. It's hard enough for her to be a pre-teen, but scales growing on her feet when all she wants to do is wear sandals to the school dance is the worst!
 As she and Jason scramble to rescue the sisters, a secret is revealed that I NEVER SAW COMING! It's very unique and proves that love between siblings is a bond that can't be broken. Lolly is a likable and brave and a character that I think my students will enjoy getting to know.

Monday, March 6, 2017

It's Monday What Are You Reading? #IMWAYR 3/6/2017


 As I written many times before, I love finding books that I haven't heard a lot about out there in the library blogosphere . I always feel like I'm making a rare wonderful discovery!  The two books I read this week haven't really been on my radar through any of the library feeds I follow, but they should be!


 A couple of years ago I read Please Ignore Vera Dietz and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I've been following Amy Sarig King ever since. She didn't disappoint with Me and Marvin Gardens. It was a refreshingly original plot and I think boys will really be fond of it. It's the story of an  11- year- old boy named Obe who lives on his family farm in Pennsylvania. Years ago, his family owned thousands of acres of land but because of a mistake his grandfather made, the land had to be sold and Obe's family has only one small patch left.  Obe fiercely protects this patch from the pollution that the new housing developments are bringing to his precious creek. One day while patrolling, he finds a creature that he can't identify (probably because it's the only one of its kind). It's part boar, part dog and part scaly, slimy mess! To top it off, this strange new animal ONLY eats plastic. Obe names his new lovable pet Marvin Gardens (after his father's obsession with Monopoly) and has to find a way to keep the animal safe from neighborhood bullies and others who might try to take Marvin away. Unfortunately for Obe, Marvin's "droppings" become toxic waste and the entire development becomes curious about what's leaving the mess behind. Out of options, Obe turns to his favorite Science teacher for help as to how to protect his land and Marvin.

This story reminded me a little of Hoot by Carl Hiassen with its strong focus on protecting the environment, but I think it's easier for kids to read than Hoot . Along with environmental themes, this book has a strong focus on staying true to oneself and not giving in to peer pressure. Obe is a very kind and conscientious boy who finds he's not "cool" enough to hang around the other boys in his grade and in the end, finds true friendship where he least expects it.
There were many earth friendly lessons and also quite a bit of information about the many environmental dangers in today's world, so this would be a fantastic read aloud around Earth Day!



Fairy tale loving young ladies will really like If the Magic Fits by Susan Maupin Schmid. I believe this is her first book, and I know it's the start of a new series.
Darling Dimple has spent her entire life in the castle and when she comes of age she gets her job assignment- Under Scrubber (yup, she scrubs the pots). It's not the worst job, but it keeps her from her true dream of becoming Princess Mariposa's best friend. One day her dream (sort of) comes true and she gets promoted upstairs to Under-Presser. Even though Darling must get through mountains of sheets and handkerchiefs that need pressing, she is able to explore and  finds her way into a magic closet full of 100 beautiful gowns. Unable to resist the temptation, she tries on number 11 and discovers that each dress has the power to disguise her as someone else in the castle. This come in handy as a mystery begins to unfold and Darling is the only one who can save the day. She must be careful as she faces an unknown evil villain, magical stone dragons, and a horrible roommate bent on making Darling's life horrible!

A little slow in the beginning, but once Darling sets foot into the magical closet, the story becomes a wonderful adventure. This book has magic dresses, friendly mice, an enchanted canary and all sorts of other fantastic elements. Also, Darling is a fabulous heroine! She dreams big and doesn't let her station in life define her. She has an incredible imagination, and I found myself rooting for her every step of the way. I think girls from 3rd grade and up will really enjoy this.