Review: Some Writer!: The Story of E.B. White by Melissa Sweet

Charlotte’s Web was the very first read aloud novel I shared with our oldest daughter, Theadora.  While I knew what was coming, I still cried right along with her when it got to that point.  We still marveled at the story, breathed it in together, and thus the book became a part of the narrative that weave us together as a family.  I was therefore excited to read Some Writer!: The Story of E.B. White by Melissa Sweet, because it turns out there is so much I did not know about the famous author who has brought the story of Wilbur and Charlotte into our lives.

This book, by far, is one the best biographies I have ever read.  The depth of knowledge, the whimsical magic of the illustrations, and the sheer breadth of information is, indeed, wondrous.  I kept taking pictures of quotes I wanted to write down, as well as things I wanted to use as teaching materials with my students.  I had several students in mind that I want to hand this to as I was reading it as well, thinking of those who love writing, who need inspiration, or who just need an amazing book.

Biographies can be hard to read and write, I feel.  They often fit a narrow audience because of the way they are written or you are not quite sure that children will stick with them.  But this one sets the bar.  This is the book I want to use to teach my students how to write non-fiction, this is the book I want to use when I want to teach them how to be better writers, period.  I am so grateful to the publisher for sending me a copy of this book, I already ordered another for my classroom, because I think this one will just reside in my house as I try to find my own inspiration to write.  What a tale!  What a book!  What a life!

This is absolutely appropriate for any age and could be used elementary through college.

 

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Review: The Best Man by Richard Peck

I had never read a Richard Peck book before I read The Best Man.  I am not quite sure why I hadn’t, after all I have many of his books in our classroom library.  When I received this book as an ARC from the generous people at Penguin, I jumped right and then finished it in one gulp.  The writing is whimsical, relatable, and it pulls you right along the story.  I loved the voice of the narrator, how he offers up glimpses of story that will happen later and how you are not quite sure what the whole story is about until it is done.  I am excited to place this book in the hands of my 7th graders, as well as book talk it to others.  It definitely deserves to be read and will be loved by many.  Just as a great book should be.

From Goodreads:

When Archer is in sixth grade, his beloved uncle Paul marries another man—Archer’s favorite student teacher. But that’s getting ahead of the story, and a wonderful story it is. In Archer’s sweetly naïve but observant voice, his life through elementary school is recounted: the outspoken, ever-loyal friends he makes, the teachers who blunder or inspire, and the family members who serve as his role models. From one exhilarating, unexpected episode to another, Archer’s story rolls along as he puzzles over the people in his life and the kind of person he wants to become…and manages to help his uncle become his best self as well.

 

Review: A Time to Dance by Padma Venkatraman

My students have been obsessed with free verse novels the past year.  It is hard not to be when some of the greatest books are being published in this format.  So when I was gifted a copy of A Time to Dance by Padma Venkatraman and noticed that this was not only a book written in free verse, but also represented  a cultural view that most of my students have not been exposed I knew I had to read it.  So I fell into the pages of the story of Veda and her dreams of becoming a dancer.  Wrapped in the beautiful world of India, I found myself reaching for my iPad as I read wanting to understood more fully all of the culture that was being shared in the pages.

It was a beautiful reading experience and one that I am thrilled I can pass on to my students.  One that I know will catch many of them too as they cheer for Veda and find connections between themselves and the story unfolding before them.  For too long my classroom library has not had enough multicultural diversity in its text, this books a small step toward rectifying that, and a beautiful one at that.  I highly recommend this book for 4th or 5th and up.

From Amazon:

Veda, a classical dance prodigy in India, lives and breathes dance—so when an accident leaves her a below-knee amputee, her dreams are shattered. For a girl who’s grown used to receiving applause for her dance prowess and flexibility, adjusting to a prosthetic leg is painful and humbling. But Veda refuses to let her disability rob her of her dreams, and she starts all over again, taking beginner classes with the youngest dancers. Then Veda meets Govinda, a young man who approaches dance as a spiritual pursuit. As their relationship deepens, Veda reconnects with the world around her, and begins to discover who she is and what dance truly means to her.

 

Review: The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner

When Donalyn Miller raves about a book, I tend to listen.  After all, she has guided me to many incredible books before.  So at ISTE last week when she posted about The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner, I quickly jumped on my phone and ordered the book so it would be waiting for me as I got home.  I had no idea what the book was about.

After finishing The Raven Boys series by Maggie Stiefwater, I was in a conundrum; how do you top that series with anything?  How do you find your next read when the previous four books were so exquisitely written?  Well,  it turns out you read The Serpent King.  Set in a small town in Tennessee, told in the perspective of three friends, the book is unlike anything I have read before.   It simply catches your heart and does not let go.  There was so much I recognized in the book; the desire to be something more, the loneliness that comes with being different, the way that friendship can mold you into something you never thought you could be.  Simply put, the story of Dill, Lydia, and Travis is one that so many of us will recognize, will settle into and will carry forward with us as we think of our own experiences.

But it is not just my own recognition of elements that made me love this story, it is how I will be able to hand it to kids and hope that within its pages they may find something that sustains them.  That within its pages they may, indeed, find slivers of themselves but then also see a different path then the one they may feel they have to take.  That within its pages they may realize that life has not been determined for them but instead is something they can shape so they can become more, become better.  I am so grateful to the author for writing this book.  So if you teach middle school an up, please add this book to your library, but before you do; read it yourself.  And perhaps, you might find yourself with tears running down your cheeks at a family BBQ, so thankful that this book was written and we now get to pass it on to others.

From Amazon:

Dill has had to wrestle with vipers his whole life—at home, as the only son of a Pentecostal minister who urges him to handle poisonous rattlesnakes, and at school, where he faces down bullies who target him for his father’s extreme faith and very public fall from grace.
 
The only antidote to all this venom is his friendship with fellow outcasts Travis and Lydia. But as they are starting their senior year, Dill feels the coils of his future tightening around him. Dill’s only escapes are his music and his secret feelings for Lydia—neither of which he is brave enough to share. Graduation feels more like an ending to Dill than a beginning. But even before then, he must cope with another ending—one that will rock his life to the core.

 

Review: Nine, Ten: A September 11 Story by Nora Raleigh Baskin

It was a clear blue sky and I was driving to work when the music pumping through my radio was interrupted.  The hosts were confused, I remember, reporting that there was a fire in one of the World Trade Centers, possibly caused by a plane, they would let us know when they knew more.  I remember looking at the driver in the car next to me, wondering if they had heard what I had just heard.  That night, as I finally got home, exhausted from a day of so much fear, my boyfriend, for he was not my husband yet, held me and told me not watch TV. Don’t watch it.  Don’t watch it.  But we did, didn’t we?  Over and over it played on our screens, imprinting into our hearts, into our minds, and we wept for we were a nation changed.

Everyone has their story of where they were when they first heard about the towers.  At least everyone old enough to remember.  We teach a generation of children that only know about 9/11 through the stories that we share.  That certainly can google and watch in on YouTube but will never fully understand how changed our world became that day, 15 years ago this year.  This is why I am so grateful to the authors that have taken it upon themselves to tell the story of 9/11.  That tell the story from so many different angles and yet with the same purpose; never forget, heal, but remember.

Nora Raleigh Baskin’s book Ruby on the Outside was a book that I said all libraries should own because it told a story that some our children live every day; a parent incarcerated.  Her latest book Nine, Ten: A 9/11 Story is another must own, must read, must share, must discuss.  Written delicately, yet honest, it follows four different children on the days leading up to what we know as 9/11.  The four stories means that we get four different perspectives of that day, of what it meant to be an American after the event.  I love the four different perspectives because they mirror so well how we felt as a country; fractured but together.  All with our own experiences coloring how we viewed the event.

This book is a must add to your library as we continue to try to teach such a historic and frail moment.  It is appropriate for young students, but my 7th graders also love it (I was gifted an advanced review copy).  I am grateful to the authors that are giving me the tools to make our future understand why we changed so much as a nation, why we are the way we are now.  How we came together as a country, even though these days, that seems like a long lost memory.  Perhaps books like this will help us remember how alike we all are, rather than how different.  One can only hope.

From Amazon:

Ask anyone: September 11, 2001, was serene and lovely, a perfect day—until a plane struck the World Trade Center.

But right now it is a few days earlier, and four kids in different parts of the country are going about their lives. Sergio, who lives in Brooklyn, is struggling to come to terms with the absentee father he hates and the grandmother he loves. Will’s father is gone, too, killed in a car accident that has left the family reeling. Naheed has never before felt uncomfortable about being Muslim, but at her new school she’s getting funny looks because of the head scarf she wears. Aimee is starting a new school in a new city and missing her mom, who has to fly to New York on business.

These four don’t know one another, but their lives are about to intersect in ways they never could have imagined. Award-winning author Nora Raleigh Baskin weaves together their stories into an unforgettable novel about that seemingly perfect September day—the day our world changed forever.

 

Review: The Seventh Wish by Kate Messner

Kate Messner has long been an author of must buy books.  Her range and talent mean that she is represented quite well in my classroom library, and the students love her work as much as I do.  Kate Messner gets it when it comes to writing books for kids about kids and that kids will want to book talk to others.  She writes from the heart, yes, but she also writes from a deep place of wanting to make this world a better place for any kid who may need the book she has created.  She writes so that children can find themselves in her books or can learn more about others.  And that is the beauty of her latest book; it is a book that will not only allow children to relate, but also for them to learn about a reality that many children face, and often a reality that not many children share out loud.

The moment I heard about the controversy surrounding The Seventh Wish by Kate I was torn up about it.  After all, here is a book that handles a topic that often is out of the maturity range for students and yet is so gravely needed in our middle grade classrooms. In fact, I wrote a blog post dedicated to the preservation of hard topic books and why they are so important for our classroom libraries.   The Seventh Wish is about figuring yourself out, reconnecting with your family, and yes, it is also about a child dealing with an older sibling’s addiction problem and the effects on the family.  The Seventh Wish is a book I wish didn’t have to be written, but it does, and it is so well done.  And the thing is, this book is not “just” about opiate addiction and the effects of it on a family.  It is about a girl trying to come to terms with what it means to be a middle schooler, who is trying to create the type of life she envisions for herself.

This book can be handled to those who may have experiences with drug addiction, but even more so, it can be handed to those who haven’t.  And while it may not be a great fit for some kids, it is for others, and it is for those kids that this book should be a part of a classroom library.  So yes, this book is appropriate for the grades it is written for.  Yes, this book is needed in our classroom libraries.  Yes, this book is not too much, nor too mature for our students.  It is a book that will stay with you for a long time, that can lead to discussions, that can lead to  a kid perhaps making better choices later in life.   I don’t often give books 5 stars, I am rather stingy that way, but this book.  This one got 5 stars.

For a much better worded review, please see the Barnes and Nobles Kid Blog.

From Amazon:

Charlie feels like she’s always coming in last. From her Mom’s new job to her sister’s life away at college, everything else always seems to be more important than Charlie’s upcoming dance competition or science project. Unsure of how to get her family’s attention, Charlie comes across the surprise of her life one day while ice-fishing . . . in the form of a floppy, scaly fish offering to grant her a wish in exchange for its freedom. Charlie can’t believe her luck until she realizes that this fish has a funny way of granting wishes, despite her best intentions. But when her family faces a challenge bigger than any they’ve ever experienced, Charlie wonders if some things might be too important to risk on a wish.

Review: A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

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I knew this book existed, after all, I had heard its name many times in circles of trusted readers.  Yet for some reason A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness and illustrated by Jim Kay had never made it into my classroom, let alone my hands.  Yet when I heard Colby Sharp and Travis Jonker discuss that it would be featured on The Yarn, one of the best podcasts out there for book lovers, I knew I had to read it before I listened.  

So I did.  Over two glorious days my world was in the skillful hands of Patrick Ness.   I ended the book in my classroom, choosing to read the final pages rather than prep for the next day.  The book is mesmerizing.  The book is thought provoking. The book calls to be shared and read again and discussed with as many people as possible.  I book talked it the very next day to my students, unsure of what to really say.  How do you book talk a book that is unlike anything you have read before?  How do you convince them of something so beautiful without giving it away?  It turned out, I really didn’t have to as the book spoke for itself.  I know how a long list of 7th graders eager to read it and experience it for themselves.  And that is the power of an incredible book.

From Amazon:

At seven minutes past midnight, thirteen-year-old Conor wakes to find a monster outside his bedroom window. But it isn’t the monster Conor’s been expecting– he’s been expecting the one from his nightmare, the nightmare he’s had nearly every night since his mother started her treatments. The monster in his backyard is different. It’s ancient. And wild. And it wants something from Conor. Something terrible and dangerous. It wants the truth.

 

 

Review: Lily & Dunkin by Donna Gephardt

Lily and Dunkin

Lily & Dunkin first came into my life in the form of a vox from a friend.  Had I read this book?  If not, please do.  The only problem was that it had not been published yet and so like many others, I waited forever it seemed for the book to show up on my doorstep.  It was worth the wait.

In the pages a gentle story unfolds of an unlikely friendship between two teenagers, both struggling; Lily (or Tim as she was born a boy) is trying to make the world come to terms with how she feels and Dunkin with where he fits in the world.  Both of their stories are so well-written.  Both of their stories deserve to be read by children.

We teach so many kids, especially in middle school and high school, that it often takes us months to uncover even slivers of who they really are.  We may think that we have all of the books we need for our students to find themselves within their pages, and yet, time and time again I am reminded of the variety of books we need to make sure that not only is every child is represented, but also that every child can find themselves.  Lily & Dunkin is beautifully written, with care to represent these two stories so that in their humanity comes our understanding.  I am proud to place this book in our library, to booktalk it to my 7th graders and to pass it into the hands of my students.  This book does not just belong in middle school, I think it could be used with 5th graders as well.

From Goodreads:

Sometimes our hearts see things our eyes can’t.

Lily Jo McGrother, born Timothy McGrother, is a girl. But being a girl is not so easy when you look like a boy. Especially when you’re in the eighth grade.

Dunkin Dorfman, birth name Norbert Dorfman, is dealing with bipolar disorder and has just moved from the New Jersey town he’s called home for the past thirteen years. This would be hard enough, but the fact that he is also hiding from a painful secret makes it even worse.

One summer morning, Lily Jo McGrother meets Dunkin Dorfman, and their lives forever change.

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.

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.