Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie

Drums, Girls, And Dangerous Pie by Jordan Sonnenblick has been sitting in my to-read pile for about 3 months now. I’m not sure what inspired me to pick it up today, but I am so glad that I did. I spent the last 2 hours reading and crying, feverishly wiping tears off my face so no one around me would notice. Sonnenblick has written an extremely powerful book that every student should read.

Steven is your average 8th grader- he can’t talk to girls to save his life, the girl he loves has no idea he exists, and his little brother, Jeffrey, tends to annoy him more than anything else. Steven’s greatest love in life are his drums and practice pads. He is a gifted drummer who is lucky enough to be in the All-City Jazz Band. In fact, he and his friend Annette are the only 8th graders in the whole city who are selected for the All-City Jazz Band. Steven spends all of his free time at school and at home practicing his songs and preparing for the city-wide concert later that year. Music is his thing and the concert is his one moment to shine.

One morning, Steven decides to be the good big brother and make Jeffrey “moatmeal” (translation: oatmeal) so that Jeffrey doesn’t wake their parents up. As Steven grabs the oatmeal from the cabinet, he leaves 5 year old Jeffrey on the kitchen stool, a big no-no in his over-protective mom’s eyes. Steven thinks his mom is a little too overprotective, and really, what can happen in 5 seconds? But while he has his back turned, Jeffrey falls off the stool and his nose begins to bleed. When their parents rush downstairs after hearing Jeffrey’s cries, they are unable to stop the bleeding. From that moment on, Steven’s life is turned upside down.

Jeffrey’s illness becomes the focal point of Steven and his family’s life. Steven struggles with being an 8th grade kid and the older brother of a very sick little boy. Steven is such a real character- I felt like I knew him and almost like I would be him if I was in the same situation. While Jeffrey’s illness is the most important aspect of the family’s life, it is not always the most important part of Steven’s life. This is a struggle for him. How normal can you be when your life at home is anything but normal? Sonnenblick handles the storyline with a deftness I did not expect. I laughed out loud while tears ran down my cheeks at many points. I am very seriously considering this as my next class read-aloud, despite the fact that I know I will cry through a great deal of it.

No More Dead Dogs

 No More Dead Dogs by Gordon Korman

Wallace Wallace, middle school football star, has a problem. His English teacher asked the class to write a book review for their latest novel, the award-winning Old Shep, My Pal. His problem? Wallace has made a promise to himself that he will never tell a lie, after his dad lied to the family throughout his childhood. For 13 years, he has been as honest as the day is long. Wallace writes an honest review- he hated the book! Well, his English teacher is infuriated by his review, because it doesn’t even prove that he read the book! But Wallace really did hate the book- he is sick and tired of reading books where the dog dies. From Sounder, to Old Yeller, to Where the Red Fern Grow- the dog never makes it out alive!

Wallace’s punishment for refusing to write a glowing book review is that he must serve detention until he hands in an appropriate book report. His detentions will be served during football practice, so he is forced to miss games and practices. The worst part? He must serve his detention at drama club rehearsal…..where they are rehearsing their school play- Old Shep, My Pal. 

While this seems like a terrible form of torture, Wallace begins to make the best of the situation by sharing his thoughts about the play. Speaking honestly, he offers suggestions for dialogue and staging. Shockingly, his ideas are pretty good. Before he knows it, he has taken over the play! But nothing comes that easily. His team mates hate him, he still has an incomplete in English, and someone is sabotaging the play and trying to frame him!This was a very funny book.

Told in chapters that alternate viewpoints between Wallace, Rachel (the Drama club president), Trudi (Rachel’s boy-crazy best friend), and Mr. Fogelman (the English teacher/director), the reader is able to experience the story from all angles. I have to agree with Wallace, I admit it. I wish that sometimes, maybe just once, the dog didn’t have to die!

I have a few students in mind who would enjoy this book. It’s rare to find a book where the protagonist(s) aren’t blatantly aimed at one gender or the other. This isn’t a boy or girl book- both sexes will enjoy it! It has sports, drama, and a bit of rebelliousness in it. A great addition to my classroom library.

Hot Books in the New Year

It’s time for my monthly installment of books that I currently can’t keep in my classroom library. Some of these I have booktalked, to get the ball rolling, while others are strictly gaining popularity based on 6th grade word of mouth!  

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rulesby Jeff Kinney: As I said in my review, this was the most hotly-anticipated new title of the year in my classroom. The waiting list is currently 25 students long (of my 42) and includes both boys and girls, advanced and reluctant readers. It has also kicked off a resurgence of popularity for the first Diary of a Wimpy Kid, as you must have read #1 to get on the waiting list. Hopefully, when I receive my next two copies from Scholastic this week, I can get this into the hands of more readers! 

Twilight (The Twilight Saga, Book 1)by Stephenie Meyer: This one baffles me. I adore this entire series, and have plenty of coworkers who can’t keep it in their classroom library. For some reason, it wasn’t attracting readers in my room. But, right before the holidays one of my girls decided to give it a try. She came back this month begging for New Moon (Twilight, Book 2). Because she liked the novel, I saw a friend of hers take it out this past week. We shall see! 

Albino Animalsby Kelly Milner Halls: When I booktalked this book, 5 hands immediately shot into the air asking if they could have it first. I think it is a combination of the subject matter, the amazing pictures, and the fun facts. A definite must for any classroom library! 

A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray: I recommended this series to my students who enjoy Lois Duncan and other paranormal stories. So far, they like it better than some of Duncan’s weaker works. Bray writes wonderful historical fiction without slamming them over the head with information. Plus, who wouldn’t want to have visions and be in control of the realms? 

The Periodic Tableby Adrian Dingles: My students just finished a unit on chemistry in their science class, where they focused on the periodic table. They’ve been laughing over this great book ever since! I have caught them reading different elemental descriptions out loud to each other, or sharing them even after they have read the book. The information is funny and accurate, so they remember it! I found about this book through the Cybil nominations a few months ago and I can not recommend it enough. 

Last Shot: A Final Four Mystery by John Feinstein: My sports enthusiasts love this novel. As one of my students said, “I won a writing contest once, like the main character. But I didn’t get a trip to the Final Four!”. It has everything- mystery, sports, platonic friendships, and a male and female main character.

Poetry Friday

I have spent much of this past week researching family genealogy, specifically my Scottish ancestry.  This inspired me to read some Scottish poets and when I stumbled on this poem, I knew I had to share it.  My family immigrated from Glasgow, so I loved this poem.


City! I am true son of thine;
Ne’er dwelt I where great mornings shine
Around the bleating pens;
Ne’er by the rivulets I strayed,
And ne’er upon my childhood weighed
The silence of the glens.
Instead of shores where ocean beats,
I hear the ebb and flow of streets.

Draw thy fierce streams of blinding ore,
Smite on a thousand anvils, roar
Down to the harbour-bars;
Smoulder in smoky sunsets, flare
On rainy night, with street and square
Lie empty to the stars.
From terrace proud to alley base
I know thee as my mother’s face.

When sunset bathes thee in his gold,
In wreaths of bronze thy sides are rolled,
Thy smoke is dusky fire;
And, from the glory round thee poured,
A sunbeam like an angel’s sword
Shivers upon a spire.
Thus have I watched thee, Terror! Dream!

While the blue Night crept up the stream.

This is an extract from a much longer poem by Alexander Thomson who lived from 1830 to 1867.
In the classroom today, I read a few selections from Laura Amy Schlitz’s Newbery-award winning “Good Master!  Sweet Ladies!”.  They really enjoyed the poems and I promised we will read more of them when we study the Middle Ages later this year!

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Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules by Jeff Kinney is perhaps the most anticipated book of the year for my students. I added Kinney’s first book in the series to my library last year and it quietly made a few ripples. This year, my students became obsessed. My two copies flew from student to student, never returning to my shelf! When the book fair sold paperback copies at least half of my students purchased one. They begged our librarian to add a copy to the library. They recommended it to their siblings. They read parts aloud to their parents. It took over! Since November they have asked at least once a week if I was able to track down an ARC. Well, this weekend our librarian came home from ALA Midwinter with a copy of it. She immediately cataloged it and gave it to us.

You would have thought I was offering each student a million dollars when I asked who wanted to read it. We ended up pulling a name out of a hat and they developed strict rules- each student gets the book for one day and one night. Then it must be passed on. I have also ordered two more copies from Scholastic’s book clubs (which will be here on Monday and will go into circulation immediately!). Today, I watched as the student who currently has the book read it in the library, with three more students reading over his shoulders! It was a sight to see, and made me so very proud. Jeff Kinney has made these students love reading.

Before sharing the book, I did manage to read it myself. I have to say, this one is even funnier than the first! I caught myself laughing out loud at a few points. You see, Greg is getting ready to go back to school. But his wasn’t the typical summer vacation. Do not ask Greg how he spent his summer, because he is not about to tell anyone. Let’s just say, it’s even worse than the fact that his mom won’t buy him a real bathing suit and makes him wear his older brother’s hand-me-down speedo. Yes, even more humiliating than that! Unfortunately for Greg, his older brother, Rodrick, knows all about the incident Greg wants to keep under wraps. But as we all know, secrets never stay secret for long.

Kinney’s books really work wonders for reluctant readers. They build confidence, make the students laugh out loud, and are realistic. The sibling relationships between Greg and his brothers reminded me of my own house growing up. Brothers can be cruel, and it’s every man for himself!  The scenes in school are everyschool- they make my almost-middle schoolers laugh out loud.

Do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of both of Kinney’s books. And next September we can look forward to “Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Last Straw”! By the way, my bet is on a green cover for the next one.

Classroom Awards

My class this year helped me with my goal of reading the Newbery before it was announced at the ALA Midwinter meeting. They cheered me on, snagged my ARCs after I read them, and helped keep me motivated when my to-be-read pile became overwhelming. On Monday morning they came into the room asking, “Did Emma-Jean win?? Did they announce it? Was it a book you read??” (We read Emma-Jean aloud, and they loved her!). After I shared the winners with them, I also told them I had good news for all of them- one of their favorites had won the Caldecott Medal! Needless to say, everyone who had read “The Invention of Hugo Cabret” was thrilled beyond words. It was a great day!

On Monday, I also had the pleasure of introducing our latest project to them- our very own classroom awards! The students spent our reading workshop time reviewing the list of previous Newbery winners to see which ones they had previously read and enjoyed. As a class, we discussed the books to see if they had any special qualities in common. They had read and average of 6-8 books from the list. Needless to say, they were a bit impressed that I have read 86 of the winning titles/honor books!

We then reviewed the criteria and terms for the Newbery Medal. We read each rule carefully, noting the definitions of the phrases that we were not familiar with. The students were shocked that the rules were so open. They thought that it was much stricter and seemed to think only certain books could even be eligible for the award. It was certainly an eye-opening experience for them.

After reviewing the past winners and learning about the terms for the Newbery Medal, we began to brainstorm criteria for our own classroom award- the Mulbery! The students conferred with one another, sharing criteria as they brainstormed. Other students would then respond to the suggestions. Once we came to a consensus, the rule was added to the chart. After about 15 minutes of debate, we came up with the following criteria:

  • books may be published in any year
  • ARCs are eligible to win
  • books must be published for ages 10-16 (they decided that they tend to read YA novels with a few MG thrown in)
  • authors do not have to be American or maintain American residency
  • fiction books must be at least 100 pgs. to be eligible
  • both fiction and non-fiction books are eligible
  • if necessary, the committee may designate categories, such as “Best Series”, “Best New Author”, etc.
  • each student may nominate up to 3 titles
  • nominations will close at the end of March
  • in order to vote for the awards, you must have read a percentage of the books (TBD) or your vote will be discarded
  • only my students are eligible to cast votes

Criteria may be added at a later date, should the class deem it necessary. However, they seem fairly content with the rules as they stand. We are all very excited about making our own little mark on the world of children’s literature. My students have very strong opinions about what makes a great kid’s book. Who am I to argue with them- they are the experts! They were shocked that some of their favorites, including Darren Shan’s “Cirque du Freak” series, Andrew Clements’ books, and “Tuck Everlasting” are not award-winners. It should be interesting to see what they choose at the end of the year. I will be sure to keep you all updated!

2008 Books

I was just looking over my Amazon wishlist, noting how many of the titles have release dates in 08 when I stumbled on this post over at Chasing Ray. To join in the throng of kidlitters who have already posted lists, here are the books I am most looking forward to reading in 2008!

The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary Pearson: I can not wait to read this. I managed to snag an ARC at ALA Midwinter and it is at the top of my to-be-read pile. Reviews have been glowing and it has a gorgeous cover! Plus, I love butterflies, so the cover immediately caught my eye. This sounds like a great read and I think I have a few students this year who will also enjoy the novel.

Trouble by Gary Schmidt: I know almost nothing about this novel, other than the fact that Gary Schmidt wrote it. And that’s more than enough for me!

Sweethearts: I just finished reading Sarah Zarr’s “Story of a Girl”, which was amazing. I am looking forward to getting a copy of her newest novel because I love the way she so expertly captures the voice of the average high schooler. This sounds like a great friendship novel.

Sunrise Over Fallujah by Walter Dean Myer: To be honest, I think this novel appeals to me because I have friends fighting in Iraq. Walter Dean Myers captures “the moment” so well in all of his books and I am sure that this one will be no different.
Rumors: A Luxe Novel (The Luxe) by Anna Godbersen I admit it. I am dying to know what happens next in this series!

The Sky Inside by Clare Dunkle Another book that I have seen reviewed sporadically, as ARCs begin to trickle out into the wider world. Dystopian novels are some of my favorites, so this sounds right up my alley!

Two Stephenie Meyer books are on my list. First up, her debut adult novel-

    The Host: A Novel

Then……the latest in the Twilight Saga.

    Breaking Dawn.

Out of the Wild by Sarah Beth Durst Because I adored the first one so much! I am looking forward to this publishing date.

Also on my radar: the newest book in the Percy series (Rick Riordan), Rick Riordan’s new project with Scholastic, “The Willoughbys” by Lois Lowry. And I am sure many, many more!

I Did It!

WOW!  I did it!  I read the Newbery this year before it was announced!!  Not only that, but I read the Caldecott, too!  This will probably never happen again!!!  I was in complete shock this morning when I realized this.  How amazing is that? 

My Newbery Predictions

Tomorrow morning will be very exciting, for reasons besides the (hopefully) impending snow…….it’s Newbery Day! The 2008 Newbery Award will be announced at 7:45am from ALA Midwinter in Philadelphia. I know that thousands of books are published each year and the odds that I will have already read the Newbery are slim to none, but I can hope. I can’t begin to decide which should win the gold and which should be Honor books (or how many honor books there may be this year). Here are my predictions for this year’s awards.

  • Emma Jean Lazarus Fell Out of a Tree by Lauren Tarshis (I really, really want this book to win the gold!)
  • Home of the Brave by K.A. Applegate
  • Wednesday Wars by Gary Schmidt
  • Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! Voices from a Medieval Village by Laura Schlitz
  • A Crooked Kind of Perfect by Linda Urban

I will be waiting with baited breath tomorrow morning, hoping one of “my” books wins. Of course, the odds are that another book will sweep in, under the cover of night, and take the big prize. (If that is the worst case scenario, it just means I will have another book to add to my pile of must-reads.)   My students are also very excited about tomorrow’s awards. They get to school at 8:10am and I have already promised to let them know the winners as quickly as I can. I signed up to receive the winners via text message from ALA, so I should know very soon after the awards are announced and before the students get to school. We will be spending our reading workshop tomorrow reviewing the terms and criteria for the Newbery along with perusing the list of past winners. We will then use this information to develop criteria for our own class award (to be awarded later in the school year). This way, the award will be a “real” part of their life even if we have not yet read the winner. Should the winner be a short(er) novel, it may just become our next read-aloud!

ALA Midwinter ’08

I just got back from spending the day on the Exhibit Floor at ALA Midwinter ’08 in Philadelphia. All I can say right now is, “WOW”! The boyfriend and I walked to the train station carrying 6 totebags full of ARCs, signed copies, and other knickknacks.

More to come later, after I decompress!


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