May Carnival of Children’s Literature

If you are looking for some great reading this weekend, look no further than the May Carnival of Children’s Literature!  Melissa Wiley over at The Bonny Glen has put together a fantastic carnival this month, full of reviews and articles focusing on children’s literature.

Our Eco-art book!

Yay! Today my class’ eco-art photobook arrived, and it turned out beautifully! The book includes photos of both class’ eco-art and the poetry that it inspired in my students. The book was created as part of the Voices….From the Land project through EIRC.

The book, a 12×12 photobook made on Shutterfly

The awesome back cover, a collage of the art created in our schoolyard.

One of the photo/poetry spreads. (Made smaller because I don’t want my students to be recognizable!)

Another photo/poetry spread

One of the poems that a student wrote after creating his group’s artwork.

Another poem.

The final page in the book- a photo I took inCape May coupled with my favorite quote (and mantra).

I am completely in love with this project. It is a great marriage of art, science/ecology, language arts, and technology. We will also receive books from two other schools (including one in New Zealand!). How cool is that?  Even cooler?  The fact that I might get to meet that teacher from New Zealand at a workshop this summer.  Talk about making global connections in a new world, huh?  Absolutely amazing.

My favorite quote from today was, “Wow, Miss M!  I am published in a real book!”

Percy Jackson and Greek Mythology

Right now, my two classes are completely obsessed with our read-aloud: The Lightning Thief (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book 1). I chose the first book in the Percy Jackson series as our final read aloud for the year because it is the perfect tie-in with my kids’ Greece unit in Social Studies.  I love the entire series, and was hoping my kids would enjoy the book (and get hooked on the series over the summer).  In no way was I prepared for complete and utter obsession that would result!

My students are BEGGING to have more read-aloud time everyday.  We stop and talk about the myths that Riordan alludes to and they are quickly becoming experts on Greek mythology.  It is a perfect example of using a read-aloud to teach the content areas.  My two classes have been reading the novel together and the other two classes on our team have not.  During the Greece unit, their social studies teacher has commented numerous times on my class’ enthusiasm and knowledge about the mythology, gods, and goddesses.  All of the knowledge has come from the conversations that spring from our read-aloud.  No direct instruction, just conversations!

The best part?  Many of my students purchased the first 3 books from Scholastic and told me that their plan for this summer is to read the next 3 books in the series.  That’s the best thing this reading teacher can hear.  :)

Hot Books in May

As a sixth grade teacher, with almost 50 students, I see all sorts of books throughout the day. We just finished our standardized testing, so my students have been keeping a few books piled beneath their desks, to relax with after testing. Here’s a peek into a few of those piles.

Underneath many desks, next to the glittery sneakers and ankle bracelets on my girls, are the brightly colored covers of The Clique novels by Lisi Harrison. While they are far form being great literature, my girls are devouring them as fast as they are published, passing a few copies around the class from one girl to the next. We had a great discussion the other day about the books and the way many adults view them—as a bad influence. The girls laughed and said, “We don’t take them seriously! We know these are characters. We would never act the way they do, but it’s fun to pretend we live the wealthy, fabulous lives they do!”

Moving around the room, it’s obvious that another popular series right now is Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson and the OlympiansThe Lightning Thief

There, on the floor, I see the covers of two graphic novels. The first is Amelia Rules! Volume 1: The Whole World’s Crazy (Amelia Rules). That one has definitely made the rounds in my room. Across the aisle is the second book, a new favorite for my graphic novel lovers. Amulet: Book 1 (Amulet) is a big hit and my students can’t wait for the next book to come out.

Some of my students prefer an old favorite during testing, to ensure they aren’t rushing through the test to get to their novels. The most popular choice? Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules (Diary of a Wimpy Kid) by Jeff Kinney. The covers are bent, the pages dog-eared—these books are obviously well loved!

Up in the front of the room I can see a few ARCs being read. Allie Finkle’s Rules For Girls: Moving Daythe dead and the gone by Susan Beth Pfeffer (courtesy of the author herself, making it hallowed pages for my students). The waiting list is a mile long and I can see that this student will be passing it on very soon. On a side note, this one would definitely distract me from any kind of testing!

I can hear a muffled giggle on the far corner of the room. Shooting a glance I hope says, “I am so glad you are reading and loving your book but for heaven’s sake SHH! We can’t get in trouble!” When I see the book in her hand, I know why she is having trouble keeping a straight face. Her head is buried deep in Just Grace by Charise Mericle Harper, a favorite of mine. She later told me it’s the best book she has ever read!

We may be taking our high-stakes standardized testing this week, but glancing around the room at my sixth-grade readers who are in the reading zone I know that those books in their hands say more than any test score ever will. These are readers, through and through. They may not all have been readers when they walked through my door in September, but they are all passionate, critical readers today! Each student has a favorite book or a favorite author. No one hesitates to pick up their novels when testing is completed, and they beg to continue reading when testing is completed and we begin classes for the day. That’s meeting AYP in my book!

Originally published in the May edition of The Edge of the Forest

The Year We Disappeared: A Father-Daughter Memoir by Cylin and John Busby

I have to admit- I am a crime show junkie. I never miss an episode of Law and Order: SVU, Without a Trace, or Shark. I watch the reruns of Law and Order on TNT. I love reading crime blogs online and web sleuth message boards. So when I received an ARC of The Year We Disappeared: A Father – Daughter Memoir by Cylin and John Busby, I was thrilled. Yesterday I sat down to read it and finished in one sitting. This is a thrilling YA memoir with huge adult crossover appeal. In this day and age of TV crime dramas, this true life tale of a family nearly destroyed by a brutal shooting will not go unnoticed!

When Cylin Busby, now a a writer for young readers and former Teen editor, was nine years old she lived a normal live on Cape Cod. Then, overnight, her family’s life changed forever. A policeman in smalltown Falmouth, Massachusetts, her father is shot in the face on his way to work the overnight shift for the local department. The point-blank shots tear off John’s jaw, leaving it laying on the passenger seat of his car. While John is fighting for his life, he is also fighting to bring the perpetrators to justice. He knows that local small town, petty crimes and arsonist Raymond Meyer is to blame. However, Meyer holds the town and police department in the palm of his hand, and the investigation goes nowhere. Meanwhile, John’s family is placed under 24-hr surveillance while doctors struggle to repair his face. He can no longer speak or eat and is forced to spend months in the hopsital. Cylin and her brothers must live with constant police presence, including escorts to school, police officers guarding their classrooms, and a high-tech security system. This eventually leads to no contact with friends, as most of them are too scared to even speak to the family anymore.

Worst of all, the shooter is still on the loose. With little being done by the local police department, John struggles with the anger he faces due to his injuries and the the revenge he so badly wants to enact on the man who has destroyed his family. Cylin struggles to come to terms with this new life her family is forced to live and her own fears. Over the course of a year, the family realizes that life can’t continue this way- and they disappear- moving to a new state, where no one knows them or their story. And they pray that no one from their old life finds them.

The story is told in alternating chapters by John and Cylin. The reader experiences both of their lives through that harrowing year. From the shooting to its awful aftermath, the story is at times heartbreaking. It also shows how families can come together and rise above even the worst circumstances.

Today, John and his wife, Polly, live in an undisclosed location. To this day, the man who shot John has never been prosecuted. His family still lives with the fear of retaliation in the back of their minds. Yet John and Cylin have decided to share their story in this jaw-dropping memoir of life on the run for an average family.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

In a future world, North America as we know it has been destroyed and the continent is now divided into 12 regions. The capital of this new nation, Panem, is in the Rocky Mountains and the remaining districts (1-12) are spread in descending order throughout the continent. Katniss lives in District 12, the last district, in what we call as the Appalachian Mountains. The closer you are to the Capital, the better off your district is. District 12 is in charge of mining coal and as the last district they are exceedingly poor. Starvation is a way of life and ever since Katniss’ father died in a mining accident, she has been in charge of caring for her mother and 12 year old sister, Prim.

The capital is bent on reminding the districts who is boss and does this by withholding food, supplies, and other necessities. Their trump card is the annual Hunger Games, which are held to ensure that no district makes an attempt at a rebellion or uprising. The Hunger Games are a like a combination of American Idol and Survivor, with Roman gladiator games tossed into the mix. Each district is required to supply one male and one female child between the ages of 12 and 18 for the annual event. The competitors are chosen via a lottery system. Families can buy more food and supplies for the year if they purchase additional entries into the games. Thus, the poorer you are the more likely it is that you have dozens of entries in the mix. The entries compound each year, so there are children with dozens of entries in the mix. Those who are well-to-do have fewer entries, with some only responsible for one entry. (In other districts, wealthier ones, children are raised for the opportunity to participate in the Games. These “Careers” see the games as an honor).

Ever since her father’s death, Katniss has been forced to purchase extra entries to ensure the survival of her mother and Prim. This, coupled with her talent for illegal poaching/hunting, has allowed them to live as comfortably as possible. Each year she hopes and prays that she is not picked, as the entire nation watches the drawing live, either in person or on their television. This year is different, however, as Prim is old enough to be entered. Katniss has not allowed her to gain extra entries, so she has only her required entry into the games. When Prim’s name is drawn, Katniss immediately volunteers to take her place, an old custom that has not been called into action in District 12 in many years.

Katniss and Peeta, the two competitors chosen from District 12, are immediately swept into a whirlwind of events that eerily resemble our culture’s obsession with reality TV. They are whisked to the Capital, where they receive stylists, makeovers, interview coaching, and gourmet food and living accomodations. While Peeta and Katniss slowly become friends and come to terms with their fate, they also realize that in order for one of them to survive, they must kill the other. You see, the Hunger Games leave the 24 competitors in a secret location (desert, tundra, etc) and the competitors must fight to the death. While the entire nation watches live on TV. The sole survivor wins food and supplies for their district for the next year, and set themselves up for life.

I read this novel in less than a day. The action is non-stop and heartpounding at many points in the story. Katniss is a likable character: she isn’t perfect, she isn’t a moral compass, and sometimes you even want to hate her. However, the situation she is thrust into is eerily similar to the modern-day obsession with reality TV and you can’t help but wonder if this the frightening direction into which we are headed. Collins never mentions a year in the novel, so it could be tomorrow or a thousand years from today. That in itself will keep you engrossed in the novel. The story is violent and writhe with betrayals, but there is also kindness, love, and drama. This is one novel you will not be able to put down. This is the perfect start to what should amount to a fantastic trilogy.

*For anyone who enjoyed Susan Beth Pfeffer’s Life As We Knew It and the dead and the gone, Collin’s Hunger Games should be a natural choice.

Rapunzel’s Revenge by Shannon and Dean Hale

I have to admit- I am not a graphic novel reader. Sure, I will read one, but it’s never my first choice. I think it’s because I read so fast and I tend to skip the pictures to get to the words, and then I have to go back to the pictures. It just slows down my normal reading pace. However, I was absolutely thrilled when I received an ARC of Rapunzel’s Revenge from the publisher. I read it in one sitting last night and can not wait to pass it on to my students. What a phenomenal story!

First, let’s begin with the size. The ARC is 7 1/2 x 10 7/8.  It’s bigger than your average book and it serves the illustrations well.  Nathan Hale’s (no relation to the authors) illustrations are just gorgeous.  I am not a “picture person” when it comes to books, hence my tendency to avoid graphic novels.  However, Nathan Hale forced me to linger over each and every panel!  The illustrations are beautiful and there is just so much going on in every one!

As for the story, WOW!  First of all, I so admire people who can co-write.  I can barely manage to write on my own, and coupled with the fact that I am a control freak, I can’t imagine writing with someone.  However, Shannon and Dean have crafted a fantastic fairy tale re-telling of Rapunzel’s story.  A much, much better story than the first time around!  The story is in direct contradiction to the original in many parts, but that’s what makes it so great.  Rapunzel is strong, witty, and smart.  No damsels in distress in this fairy tale!  The world she lives in is a mix of the Wild West and a fairy tale world.  Sounds crazy, right?  It works. And it works great!

This is going to be the perfect graphic novel for reluctant readers, fairy tale lovers, readers who love fairy tale retellings, and anyone who loves books that make you laugh out loud.  I can not wait to pass this one onto my students.  I can already foresee the fight that will break out over who gets to read it first.  And second.  And third.  And so on!

Tennyson by Lesley M.M. Blume

Lesley M.M. Blume’s Tennyson is a stunning Southern gothic tale, haunting and lyrical. It’s 1932 and the Depression has hit the United States hard. Unaware, Tennyson and her little sister, Hattie, live a wild and carefree life in the backwoods of Mississippi. Their home, Innisfree, is a tiny cabin set back in the forest, inhabited by their parents, Emery and Sadie, and a wild dog named Jos. The girls live a life full of freedom until the day their mother leaves.

When Emery goes off in search of his wife, he leaves the girls with their Aunt Henrietta, at his childhood home, Aigredoux. Aigredoux is the ancestral Fontaine family home in Louisiana, that Emery and Sadie left far behind when they married. In ruins since the end of the Civil War, the family has lost all their money and their place in high society. Aigredoux itself has been overrun by vines, moss, and the weight of its own past. While there, Tennyson is haunted by dreams of her family’s past and the “blood money” that built Aigredoux, on the backs of slaves. The dreams horrify her and at the same time inspire her to write the tale of her family’s demise. She knows that if she can get the story published in the one magazine her mother always reads, Sadie will see it and come back home.

This is a novel that intelligent readers will love, because Blume does not condescend or speak down to her readers. In many ways, Tennyson reminded me of Natalie Babbitt’s Tuck Everlasting. Both books treat children as intelligent human beings by handling realistic situations and stories. Yet they both embrace the magical realism that is all too often missing in children’s fiction. Both books also end rather abruptly, as life often does. Unlike Babbitt, Blume chose to chop her final two chapters from the original manuscript, which sound as if they would have served the same purpose as Babbitt’s Epilogue in the sense that it would have let the reader know exactly what happened to each character farther in the future. I applaud Blume’s bravery in removing the chapters and letting the reader decide for themselves.

Blume has crafted a haunting and poetic novel that will stay with you long after closing the book. She captures the spirit of the old South in ways that make you love and loathe it. Just like Tennyson says, “That’s what the Mississippi does. It tempts you in, and then it catches you. It loves you and doesn’t want to let you go. So it pulls you down to the bottom and keeps you there.”

Be sure to check out Blume’s great website, including links to many plantation houses.

Baker & Taylor Fall 2008 Preview

Before today, I had never been to a publisher’s preview. When my school librarian passed on the information about Baker & Taylor’s Fall 2008 Preview, I jumped at the chance. Instead of heading to school this morning, I headed up to Bridgewater, NJ to attend the event.

The preview was held at Arbor Glen, an adult living residence in Bridgewater, down the road from their warehouse. Unfortunately, the warehouse is under construction, so they were unable to offer tours like they normally do. But you know what? That is more than ok, because Arbor Glen was gorgeous! I was about ready to move in by the end of the day.

The event was held in a conference room, and I was thrilled to find water, coffee, muffins, and various pastries. The preview actually lasts 3 days, but I chose to attend today’s session because it was the easiest day for me to get away from my classes. As I had never been to a preview before, I was not sure how it would work. I arrived with 5 minutes to spare, so I grabbed a pastry (which was delicious) and found a seat just as the lights dimmed.

The publishers in attendance spoke one by one, introducing their biggest titles for next fall, with a Powerpoint to help with the finer details. I was was one the few non-librarians in the room, so the ISBN numbers, etc were not as important to me as to others, so I mostly looked at the pretty cover art images.

The morning began with Scholastic. They presented a good deal of titles, but the following were my favorites:
Maze Of Bones (39 Clues) by Rick Riordan- I should hate the idea of this series. I never like series books that are written by more than one author. Online games tied to books seem desperate. I hate it when publishers advertise books as “THE NEXT HARRY POTTER!!!!!!”. Yet, I can not wait to get my hands on this. Can. Not. Wait. The rep from Scholastic was extremely enthusiastic, and never once compared it to Harry. And my favorite part is that the few ARCs that were printed are missing the last two chapters, so that reviewers can’t get a head start on the game! The series will have two books next year, 4 in 2009, and 4 in 2010. The first book will be out in Sept. 2009

Dog Lost by Ingrid Lee- I am a sucker for animal stories. Especially dog stories. This sounds like a tearjerker! “11-year-old Mackenzie has got one friend in the whole world: Cash, his brown-eyed pit bull. His dad won the runt after a long night of drinking and gambling–ever since Mac’s mom died, that’s all he seems to do, and soon he erupts in a rage at the innocent pup, takes her away in the trunk of his car, and dumps her in the middle of nowhere. Mac vows to find Cash and bring her back home–he has to: All strays are about to be outlawed! Little does he know that while he searches for Cash, she’s surviving her own adventures and proving in the process that all dogs–even pit bulls–are born good”.

Along Came Spider by James Preller- A story of two best friends, Spider and Trey, who realize that growing up can be hard when you are different. One of the boys has a learning disability, and when they enter 5th grade he becomes a target for bullies. Is it time for the boys to end their friendship or stand up for each other?

Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins- YES YES YES! The buzz on this one is great. And I got an ARC today! Can not wait to read it. The rep described it as American Idol meets Survivor meets the end of life as we know it.

Kin (The Good Neighbor) by Holly Black- a new graphic novel series. Creepy and a 3 part series. I am looking forward to this one!

Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Emperors of the Ice: A True Story of Disaster and Survival in the Antarctic, 1910-13 by Richard Farr- Another one I was lucky enough to scoop up an ARC of. This is a non-fiction book, grades 6 and up, that tells the tale of Apsley George Benet Cherry-Garrard’s journey to Antarctica to study the emperor penguin in the spring of 1910. A true life survival tale!

A Life in the Wild: George Schaller’s Struggle to Save the Last Great Beasts by Pamela S. Turner- Scientist George Schaller is on a mission: to save the world’s great animals and their environments. This biography, illustrated with Schaller’s own amazing photographs, examines the amazing life and groundbreaking work of the man International Wildlife calls “the world’s foremost field biologist.” I can’t wait to get a copy of this, if only for the photographs alone. It looks gorgeous!

Charlesbridge
Sea Queens: Women Pirates Around the World by Jane Yolen- Jane Yolen. Enough said. I will definitely be ordering this title!

Random House
Moxy Maxwell Does Not Love Writing Thank-you Notes by Peggy Gifford- I loved the first Moxy Maxwell book. Moxy’s voice was so like my little sister’s that I had to love her! The rep told us, in hushed tones, that this one is even better than the first!

Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman by Marc Tyler Nobleman- The true story of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, two Depression-era teens who created Superman, and their quest to find a publisher willing to take a chance on a new medium- comic books. In the end, they sold the rights to DC Comics for $130. Yes, you read that number right!

Those are only a handful of the books I saw today. I wrote down pages and pages of notes, with a lot of books added to my “must-get” list. Fall 2008 looks like an exciting season for most publishing houses!

To be continued later, after American Idol. Coming up, a summary of Lesley M.M. Blume’s author talk (amazing) and the unreal lunch provided by Baker & Taylor (delicious!).

Nonfiction Monday- Independent Dames by Laurie Halse Anderson

I don’t normally review picture books, but when I saw a preview of Independent Dames: What You Never Knew About the Women and Girls of the American Revolution by Laurie Halse Anderson, I knew I had to have it. Laurie Halse Anderson is one of my favorite writers, I love books that focus on women in history, and it looked like a great example of a multigenre book for me last unit of study. I was right on all counts!

The only question is how to review this title.

Independent Dames is a great example of a multi-genre picture book. The illustrations are done by Matt Faulkner (who also illustrated Thank You, Sarah: The Woman Who Saved Thanksgiving with Laurie Halse Anderson) and play a major part in the story. Independent Dames is not your typical picture book. Instead of one narrative thread through the pages, there are four types of writing on each spread- a timeline, biographical information, narrative storyline, and dialogue bubbles. My students are working on multigenre research projects right now and I can’t wait to share this with them so they can see how a topic, such as women in the Revolutionary War, can be shared through various genres.

The story begins in the narrative box, with a narrator welcoming the reader to another school play. The slightly sarcastic tone informs the reader that while the play is fine and dandy, the students are missing about half the important people and half of the story. As the story continues, the narrator introduces the fact that women were heavily involved in the fight for freedom, even if history books tend to leave out their stories. The story of the Revolutionary War is then told across the pages of the book, in the slightly sarcastic, know-it-all voice of the narrator.

I LOVED the voice in this book. Absolutely loved it. This is a picture book built for intermediate grades and middle schoolers, and the voice will speak to them. Middle schoolers are sarcastic, they are know-it-alls, and they certainly don’t want to be treated like babies. Too many non-fiction picture books talk down to students, dumbing down the information and making the topic dry and dull. Anderson makes the information accessible and dare I say, even fun!

There are 89 women profiled throughout the book. Most of the women are featured in biographical sketches that explain their contribution to the war effort. While the wives of the Founding Fathers are featured, they play a small role compared to the other various women profiled. The women whom Anderson chose to feature constantly elicited exclamations from me as I read. For example, I had no idea that Sybil Ludington was 16 years old when she rose 40 miles through the night to spread the news of a British attack and round up militia members. Remember Paul Revere? He rode 16 miles. Total. Who knew?! The biographical sketches are all easy to read and do not burden the reader with unnecessary information. In my opinion, Anderson gives just enough information to interest the reader and hopefully convince them to research further on their own!

Each page also includes dialogue boxes which add a little bit of humor to Faulkner’s illustrations. The dialogue boxes and illustrations continue to showcase the play that the story focuses on. I laughed out loud while reading many of them!

At the bottom of each page is a timeline that spans 1763-1920 (women get the vote!). The timeline highlights all the important events of the Revolutionary War. This is also every teacher’s dream. :)

Finally, the book ends with four pages that profile “Even More Dames”. Laurie Halse Anderson provides information on even more Revolutionary dames, while also debunking myths (Molly Pitcher). Anderson also focuses on women of all races and creeds- there are African-Americans, Oneida women, Loyalists, and Tories throughout the book.

The books concludes with an author’s note, illustrator’s note, a bibliography, and an index of the famous dames. Every teacher’s dream!

I can not wait to add this title to my classroom library. Laurie Halse Anderson has created the ultimate non-fiction book for middle-schoolers. I can’t wait to use it for my multi-genre study and my Women’s History Month project. Independent Dames: What You Never Knew About the Women and Girls of the American Revolution is an absolute MUST for all classrooms and libraries! And the best part is, students will actually want to read it!  It can be read at a glance, with the narration and dialogue bubbles, or kids can read deeper and examine the crawl/timeline.  This is a book that can be read over and over, with kids learning something new each time.

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