Review: Eleven by Tom Rogers

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Once in awhile, I am gifted a book to consider for the Global Read Aloud.  This the book Eleven by Tom Rogers came to me at my school and I was immediately drawn to it.  The cover told me that the story had something to do with 9/11 and yet I was not sure what to expect.  After all, how do you write about an event that still is so raw in our history and yet do it in a way to capture middle grade readers?

It turns out you do it exactly like Tom Rogers did.  The book follow Alex, a boy whose 11th birthday falls on 9/11, who lives in New York City.  As we follow him throughout the day, we see the story slowly unfold as it dawns on him what is happening in his city.  We also have a dual perspective from the man in the white shirt, which fills in some of the holes that our 11 year old protagonist would not know about.  I cried when I read the book and then I smiled, because I finally found a book that I can hand to the generation of kids that I teach that will offer them a little slice of what it felt like that day.

I should have known that a book that is sold at the 9/11 memorial would be a great read, and it is.  This book is a Global Read Aloud contender for 2016 and should be added to any classroom 3rd grade and up, but I know that my middle schoolers will love it as much as I did as well.

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Review: Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo

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I fell in love with the work of Kate DiCamillo a late summer evening as I read The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane.  who would have thought that a porcelain rabbit who seemed so stuck on himself would bring me to tears ad remind me of my own humanity.  Since then, I have cherished the memories that her writing has provided for my life; the Global Read Aloud falling in love with Edward that year, my own daughter and I listening to the audio book as we drove to school in the early mornings.  When I was asked by Candlewick Press if I would at all be interested in receiving an advanced review copy of her new book Raymie Nightingale I am sure my resounding yes could be heard all the way to their offices.

I abhor book spoilers so I will stick to the official description of the book

Raymie Clarke has come to realize that everything, absolutely everything, depends on her. And she has a plan. If Raymie can win the Little Miss Central Florida Tire competition, then her father, who left town two days ago with a dental hygienist, will see Raymie’s picture in the paper and (maybe) come home. To win, not only does Raymie have to do good deeds and learn how to twirl a baton; she also has to contend with the wispy, frequently fainting Louisiana Elefante, who has a show-business background, and the fiery, stubborn Beverly Tapinski, who’s determined to sabotage the contest. But as the competition approaches, loneliness, loss, and unanswerable questions draw the three girls into an unlikely friendship — and challenge each of them to come to the rescue in unexpected ways.

But what the description does not tell you is how much you will love this book.  How Kate DiCamillo once again has written a tale of unlikely friendship, a journey of souls, that will lead us to question our own.  There were so many parts of the book where I longed for someone else to read what I had just read so that I could talk to them about it.  And that is why I am proud to add Raymie Nightingale as a Global read Aloud contender.  Wonderful, inspiring, and conversation starting describes the book, but why take my word for it?  Read it yourself when it comes out April 12th.

 

Review: Pax by Sara Pennypacker

I don’t really do animal books.  As anyone who has heard me tell the tale of how The One and Only Ivan was selected for GRA 2012, they will know that when a book features an animal I tend to take a very long time to even pick it up.  If a book gets a lot of hype, it sometimes takes me much longer.  So when Pax by Sara Pennypacker, yes, the Sara Pennypacker of Clementine amazingness, was brought to my attention I gladly put it in my to-be-read pile.  And then promptly avoided it for a month.  After all, a book about a fox and boy –  wasn’t that just a new version of Where the Red Fern Grows?

Yet last night, after finishing Touching Spirit Bear, I figured I may as well keep this animal trend going and I settled in to this tale of a boy and his fox and the world that separates them.  And I read for 3 hours.  And I stayed up too late.  And this morning I slipped it in my school bag so I could read during my prep, and then I read during my lunch, and then I read after school.  And tonight, I finished it and it is so wonderful. So magical. So heart-wrenching. So deep.  And all I want to do is to talk about others with it.

And that is why this book is the newest contender for the Global Read Aloud 2016.  This book is meant to be read aloud.  This book is meant to be shared, to be discussed, to be read to a silent room where students just want you to read just one more page.  This book is magic, pure and simple.

So order it now, it comes out February 2, 2016.  Read it, hold it close, and then pass it on to as many people as you can.  While this is a book that asks you to reflect, it is also a book that begs to be shared.  For 4th grade and up, I have a feeling Pax will be a book we remember for a long time to come.

This One Book

On Sunday night, I cried in my airplane seat.  I held the book in my hands and cried not because it was sad, but because it was so true.  Because the words I had just finished reading made me think about my own privilege, about the conversations Brandon and I will never have to have with our son, Oskar.  About the thousands of boys whose everyday life can be changed in a single second.  And how I have no idea what to do about it other than continue to ask questions, continue to have the conversations in our classroom, and continue to place books like this in the hands of my students even if they make me feel so incredibly uncomfortable.  Because this book should do exactly that.  And not only that, it should make us weep at the society that we live in and the ways that we perceive each other.  It should make us angry and ashamed.

So today, I handed the book to another teacher and then promptly ordered another copy.  I know that for some of my students it is too mature, but for others it will be the book that they pass on from kid to kid.  It will be the book that makes them question the society that we live in, and for that I am so grateful.  We need books like this.  We need to cry in our airplane seats more often at the injustice that we participate in.

Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely’s masterpiece All American Boys is a Global Read Aloud contender for 2016 because the world needs to be in on this conversation.  Go read it.  Please.

Book Review: We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

I have been trying to get this book from my students for a few months now, hunting it down, asking if I could please read it next.  It seemed an impossible task until I put my foot down and simply took the book.  The students would have to wait a few days to get it back.  I had just finished Unwind and figured I might as well start this one, my sleep could wait 15 more minutes while I started a new book.  Then I had a problem; an hour later I was still reading and the night was getting later and later.  That is the type of book experience this book will give you.

We Were Liars is a must read.  Well-written with a story-line that keeps you turning the page, and short enough for even my more meticulous or reluctant readers to pick up and not feel intimidated.  Strong language and some more mature things in it means kids need to be ready for the subject matters, but a vivid story and accessible language means it will find a wide audience, that’s why this book is a Global Read Aloud contender.

Bottom line: A must add to any 6th grade or up classroom.

From Goodreads:

A beautiful and distinguished family.
A private island.
A brilliant, damaged girl; a passionate, political boy.
A group of four friends—the Liars—whose friendship turns destructive.
A revolution. An accident. A secret.
Lies upon lies.
True love.
The truth.

Book Review: Stella by Starlight by Sharon Draper

This is a book that makes you curious.  This is a book that fills your mind.  This is a book that leaves you with wonder.  This is a book that pours into your heart.  If you haven’t purchased the latest book Stella by Starlight from the incredibly talented Sharon Draper then you are missing out.  I admit, I had to get into the rhythm or song of this book but once I sat down and had a longer stretch of time, the book enveloped me, calling me in and held onto me until that final page, that left me wanting to read on.

This story, with its many layers, with its history, with its very real past written in such an accessible way will be one of those books that will live on through my students.  I cannot wait to answer their questions about the past, I cannot wait to share their predictions, their concerns for the characters within the book.  I cannot wait to see a child fall into the song of the book and sit there quietly, wondering much like I did, whether Stella will be able to overcome it all.  Wonder whether she will be able to fight through all of the hurdles life has set in front of her.  I cannot wait to see a child finish this book, and sit there for a moment, still filled with the world that Sharon created, and then realize that they just had an incredible experience, all within the pages of a book.  I am so thankful that Simon and Schuster sent me a copy.

Bottomline:  A must add to any classroom, 4th grade or up but will definitely resonate with middle schoolers as well.  This is a Global Read Aloud contender.

From Goodreads:

When the Ku Klux Klan’s unwelcome reappearance rattles Stella’s segregated southern town, bravery battles prejudice in this Depression-era tour de force from Sharon Draper, the New York Times bestselling author of Out of My Mind.

Stella lives in the segregated South; in Bumblebee, North Carolina, to be exact about it. Some stores she can go into. Some stores she can’t. Some folks are right pleasant. Others are a lot less so. To Stella, it sort of evens out, and heck, the Klan hasn’t bothered them for years. But one late night, later than she should ever be up, much less wandering around outside, Stella and her little brother see something they’re never supposed to see, something that is the first flicker of change to come, unwelcome change by any stretch of the imagination. As Stella’s community – her world – is upended, she decides to fight fire with fire. And she learns that ashes don’t necessarily signify an end

Book Review: All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

I was lucky enough to get to read an ARC of this book through Netgalley.  Not knowing what to expect I actually read this book this summer and then thought I wrote a review about it.  Boy, was I surprised that I didn’t when it came time to link it as a Global Read Aloud contender.  Because that’s exactly what this book is; it is a book meant for others to hear and to start conversations about suicide and what it means to feel like no one in the world understands you.   While it starts in a quiet way, it also sneaks up on you and all of a sudden you cannot put it down, you have to finish it and when you do the emotions start.

While this is definitely a more mature book, I would feel comfortable handing it to some of my 7th graders because I think some of them would really connect not just the story but the way the characters develop and the identities they try on.  I don’t know how the author took such a hard topic, and one that many of us have experienced firsthand, and spun a beautiful story around it, but she did, and my reading life is better because of it.

Bottomline: 7th grade and up depending on your students, more mature, but oh so very beautifully written.  Global Read Aloud contender for 2015.

From Goodreads:

Theodore Finch is fascinated by death, and he constantly thinks of ways he might kill himself. But each time, something good, no matter how small, stops him.

Violet Markey lives for the future, counting the days until graduation, when she can escape her Indiana town and her aching grief in the wake of her sister’s recent death.

When Finch and Violet meet on the ledge of the bell tower at school, it’s unclear who saves whom. And when they pair up on a project to discover the “natural wonders” of their state, both Finch and Violet make more important discoveries: It’s only with Violet that Finch can be himself—a weird, funny, live-out-loud guy who’s not such a freak after all. And it’s only with Finch that Violet can forget to count away the days and start living them. But as Violet’s world grows, Finch’s begins to shrink.

Book Review: Rain Reign by Ann M. Martin

I hated the cover of this book for some reason so it sat in my to be read pile for a few months,  Stupid me, what do I tell my students all the time and yet here I was judging a book by its cover.  One day, a student came to me and told me to read this book, that I wouldn’t regret it.  Once again, my students were right.  What an incredible, powerful, story of one girl and her dog.

Rain Reign seems simple enough, this isn’t a book with a lot of action but it is within this more delicate story that its power lies.  I couldn’t help but wonder what Rose would say next, how she would react, and what would become of her.  I read this book in one night and was truly sad when it ended.  Not because of the ending, but because the story was finished, I would no longer be a part of Rose’s life and that was sad.  What an incredible read this is for any 4th grade classroom and up.  This is also a Global Read Aloud contender for 2015.

From Goodreads:
Rose Howard has OCD, Asperger’s syndrome, and an obsession with homonyms (even her name is a homonym). She gave her dog Rain a name with two homonyms (Reign, Rein), which, according to Rose’s rules of homonyms, is very special. Rain was a lost dog Rose’s father brought home. Rose and Rain are practically inseparable. And they are often home alone, as Rose’s father spends most evenings at a bar, and doesn’t have much patience for his special-needs daughter.
Just as a storm hits town, Rain goes missing. Rose’s father shouldn’t have let Rain out. Now Rose has to find her dog, even if it means leaving her routines and safe places to search. Rose will find Rain, but so will Rain’s original owners.

Book Review: Fish by L.S. Matthews

This little unassuming book that starts with the story of a fish is deep.  I read it in one sitting, mesmerized by the sparse words and the depth of knowledge that seeped through the pages.  Who knew that such a small book could carry such a weight?  Throughout the book I could hear the conversations this book would prompt, how it would keep students at the edge of their seats wondering what would be around the next corner, on the next page.  I also knew that this is a gateway book; one that can lead to a wealth of discovery about the world and the history of Africa and other continents.  This is why it is a Global Read Aloud contender for 2015 and a must add to any classroom library 5th grade and up.

From Goodreads:

“My story starts the day that my parents told me we must leave our adopted home forever. Because of the soldiers and the drought we barely had enough to eat and we could no longer stay to help the people in our village.
Right before we were leaving I saw a fish in a small brown puddle and I knew I had to take it with me. The journey would be hard to get across the mountains–to the safety of the border and the people there who could help” us.” Yet when I put the fish in the pot I never realized what we would have to face. It never occurred to me to leave Fish behind.

Book Review: Finding Serendipity by Angelica Banks

I received this book as an advance copy with the specific purpose of looking at it as a possible Global Read Aloud contender and boy was I happy I did.  Angelica Banks, who is really two authors, Heather Rose and Danielle Wood, has spun a masterful tale of adventure and finding ones place.  While there are many things that I love about the book, it was how clearly I knew who I could pass this book on to.  Which students will read this book and make it one of their favorites.

The book offers adventure, magic, and a heroine who may not always know the answer but continues toward The End no matter how hard her journey may become.  I loved the message of the book and cannot wait to hand it to students.

Bottomline: A must add for any classroom 3rd grade and up.  This one is a Global Read Aloud contender for 2015.

From Goodreads:

Tuesday McGillycuddy loves stories – and her mother is a writer. A very famous writer, who has locked herself away in her writing room to finish the final book in her best-selling series for children. But when Tuesday knocks on her door, she discovers her mother is missing!

In search of Serendipity, Tuesday and her faithful dog Baxterr soon find themselves on a very dangerous mission. They enter the magical world where stories come from, a mysterious and unpredictable world, full of real danger and heart-stopping adventure.

With the help of pint-sized heroine Vivienne Small, Tuesday will need all her wit, courage, perseverance and imagination in order to get to The End and be reunited with the people she loves.