Looking Like Me by Walter Dean Myers

After reading Looking Like Me by Walter Dean Myers, I immediately added it to my “Where I’m From” unit. It will fit in perfectly with my beginning of the year activities.

Looking Like Me is a celebration in poetry of who we are as individuals. We are brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, dancers, readers, writers, athletes, and so much more. Each of us is so much more than just the sum of our parts. Myers makes this obvious in his lyrical text. I was almost singing/chanting the words as I read it. The message, that we should all celebrate who we are, is powerful.  And the text itself is gorgeous at many points.  One of my favorites stanzas keeps running through my head.

My words are

sometimes

hurried;

At times they

come out

slow.

At times

they fly like

snowflakes

with

everywhere

to go.

At the beginning of each new school year I get to know my students through “Where I’m From” poems. I think that Looking Like Me will be a great introduction to thinking in terms of who we are. I can already foresee activities where we list who we are. What a great introduction to our new community and to writing!

*Review copy courtesy of publisher

Testing the Ice: A True Story About Jackie Robinson by Sharon Robinson

My students love baseball, especially the boys.  Year in and year out, that’s a given.  One of the most popular players to read about is Jackie Robinson.  When I saw Testing the Ice: A True Story About Jackie Robinson in the Scholastic catalog, I couldn’t wait to read it.

This is a touching tribute to Jackie Robinson, written by his daughter Sharon. While it does explain his how he integrated major league baseball, it is really a story of a daughter and her father. We see Jackie as a father and family man in the story, determined to do the best for his children.

In 1955 the family moved to a 6 acre stretch of land in Connecticut. The children befriended the neighbors and spent hours swimming in their lake and exploring. Jackie spent a lot of time with them, but never went in the lake because he could not swim. But when the lake freezes over, Sharon and her siblings learn just how brave their father is. Because while they know he was extremely brave to integrate baseball, children rarely see their parents the way the rest of the world does. This story is a tribute to Jackie Robinson as a father, not just as a baseball player. And Kadir Nelson’s drawings are gorgeous!

*Review copy courtesy of publisher

The Magic School Bus and the Climate Challenge by Joanna Cole and Bruce Degen

Who can resist The Magic School Bus?  Even my “cool” 6th graders get giddy and sing along with the theme song when clips are included in their science curriculum.  I can’t wait to share the newest title, The Magic School Bus And The Climate Challenge, with our science teachers.

Like all of The Magic School Bus books, the latest title includes all of our favorite characters. The class is putting on a play about global warming but the book Ms. Frizzle brought in is really old. Of course, she immediately remedies that by taking the class on an adventure!

I love The Magic School Bus because all of the scientific information is so effortlessly included in the story. The students include a lot of facts on their looseleaf paper that is shown throughout the book. There are also comic strips, sketches, and graphs. The topics covered include global warming, climate change, alternative energy sources, and ways to go green. The information is thorough enough to explain to students but also leaves room for more research by interested students and teachers.

The Magic School Bus And The Climate Challenge continues the wonderful precedent set by the rest of series. It’s also a great example of multigenre texts, which I plan to share when we work on our own multigenre projects later this year.

*Review copy courtesy of the publisher

Luv Ya Bunches by Lauren Myracle

I’m doing this review without the book in front of me, because I immediately passed it on to one of my students today.  As I was reading it I knew she would love, so I made sure she took it home with her to read over the impending snow day.  I already know that Luv Ya Bunches will be passed from one girl to another and that’s quite a feat. But it really is the perfect book for tween girls.

The story focuses on four tween girls- Katie-Rose, Yasaman, Violet, Katie-Rose, and Camilla (or Milla for short). They are brought together upon beginning fifth grade. On the first day of fifth grade, Violet, the new girl in town, asks for directions from the wrong people. Peppy and super-friendly Katie-Rose gives directions a little too enthusiastically. Shy and quiet Yasaman happens to pass by at the worst moment. Milla, one of the popular girls, ends up being knocked into the ground. At the same moment, Milla’s lucky turtle falls out of her bag and ends up in the wrong hands- Modessa, the queen bee. Out of these disasters, an unlikely friendship is born.

The story is told by all four girls, in a mixture of narrative prose, stage directions, and online chats. Each girl has her own very distinctive personality and voice, and I loved seeing the story through all of their eyes. I especially love how diverse the girls are- it’s not a standard, cookie-cutter story. I also loved how realistic the girls’s situations are. My 6th graders will identify with the issues brought on by cell phones, cliques, and parents.

Highly recommended!

*Copy purchased from Scholastic Book Clubs

Scones and Sensibility by Lindsay Eland

I admit it- I’m a cover girl.  Show me a pretty girl and I’m completely drawn in.  So when I saw a display of Lindsay Eland’s Scones and Sensibility at the bookstore, I fell in love. The loopy doodles! The vintage shadow design! The pinks and purples! It was a girly girl’s dream (and I’m not even a girly girl!). I picked up a copy and finally sat down to read it last week.

What an adorable book!  Polly Madassa was born in the wrong century.  She longs for the days of Anne, Elizabeth, Mr. Darcy, and her other favorite heroes and heroines.  She dreams of a life where gentlemen court young ladies, where love conquers all, and manners take precedence over coolness.  Unfortunately, she lives in New Jersey and is forced to deliver pastries for her parents’s bakery over summer vacation.  But when she sees how many people in her town are in need of love, she decides to put her matchmaking skills to the test.  For isn’t everyone happier when they have found their one and only soul mate?  Polly certainly believes so.  Even if it means ending a few relationships that are clearly wrong for the lovers involved.

I found myself cracking up throughout the book.  Polly is determined to bring back romanticism and does her small part by speaking as a proper young lady would.  This means she speaks like Miss Elizabeth Bennett of Pride and Prejudice and Anne Shirley of Green Gables.  But some of the funniest moments in the story come when Polly inadvertently slips into modern pretween speech.  It’s quite a jolt to hear her exclaim, “That’s awesome!” and then slip effortlessly back into her Victorian voice.

I am hoping that Scones and Sensibility will awaken a few of my readers to the classics like Anne of Green Gables and Pride and Prejudice. Even if it doesn’t, Scones and Sensibility is a fun and inspired middle grade read.  It’s unlike anything else I have read and I look forward to sharing it with my own romantics in class.

To Come and Go Like Magic by Katie Pickard Fawcett

I’ve had an *interesting* week, to say the least.  So when I opened a packed from Random House and saw a book with monarch butterflies on the cover, it was like it was meant to be.  The book had not even been on my radar, but I settled in to read it.

Told in a series of vignettes, To Come and Go Like Magic is the story of twelve-year-old Chili Sue Mahoney. Growing up in 1970’s Kentucky in Appalachia country, Chili dreams of growing up and getting out. Her family and friends can’t understand why she would want to leave home but Chili can’t understand why they won’t let her. But when Miss Matlock is brought in as the new 7th grade substitute teacher, Chili and her friend Willie Bright are both excited. Miss Matlock has traveled around the globe. Town gossips can’t understand she’s come back to the town she grew up in after all this time. Both children are forbidden to befriend her but eagerly start spending time at her house, despite the rumors. As the three spend time together, Chili learns about the world outside Appalachia- rain forests, jungles, foreign lands. But Miss Matlock also teaches her that there’s more to Mercy Hill, Kentucky than Chili gives it credit for: there is beauty all over Mercy Hill, in the most unexpected places.

The vignette style serves this book well. The story flows well without seeming disjointed. At the same time, the reader is able to move through time with Chili without getting bogged down in mundane details. The vignettes reminded me a lot of The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros. Both focus on a different culture and share the stories through small stories. While Appalachia isn’t a different “culture” for some, it is drastically different from the environment of my students.

There was only one point that bugged me in the story, and most likely no one else will notice. The time period is given as 1970’s Kentucky. However, Miss Matlock tells Chili about the monarch butterfly migration to Mexico. It wasn’t until 1976 that Dr. Fred Urquhart published his findings of the monarch migration in National Geographic. I guess the story could take place in the late 1970’s, but that small detail nagged at me throughout the book. Most people didn’t know about the migration to Mexico until well after the 1970’s and the actual location wasn’t shared by Dr. Urquhart until many years later.

Regardless of the monarch connection (a very small one), this was a great story and one I look forward to recommending to my students.

*Review copy courtesy of publisher

Back Soon!

Oh, it’s just been one of those weeks….

I’ll be back with reviews tomorrow.

Share a Story-Shape a Future 2010

Has it really been a year?!  Apparently, it has! The Share a Story-Shape a Future blog tour is coming up again in just a few weeks- March (8-14).  This year’s theme is “It takes a village to raise a reader.”  The tour will last five days and each day will be hosted by a different blog.

Schedule:

Monday,  March 8: The Many Faces of Reading

Hosts: Brian and Steven at Book Dads . Brian, Steven and their guests will be focusing on how we each play a role in helping our children or students learn to read, no matter their age.

Tuesday, March 9: Literacy My Way/Literacy Your Way

Host: Susan Stephenson at The Book Chook. 
Susan and her guests will be sharing creative literacy ideas. Susan will not just be focusing on reading but on all forms of literacy in the 21st Century- writing, art, computers, music.

Wednesday,  March 10: Just the Facts: The Nonfiction Book Hook

Host: Me! at The Reading Zone. 
I will be focusing on promoting nonfiction as a “hook” for engaging readers. Both myself and contributors will talk about using nonfiction with kids and not make it feel like homework!

  We will also talk about historical fiction and pairing it with nonfiction.  I would love to have your post here, too!

Thursday, March 11: Reading Through the Ages: Old Favorites & New Classics

Host: Donalyn Miller at The Book Whisperer.
  Donalyn, the Book Whisperer,  and her guests will look at books for middle grade readers.  She will be recommending “new” classics for the books we loved as children.

Friday, March 12: Reading for the Next Generation

Host: Jen Robinson at Jen Robinson’s Book Page. 
Jen has invited bloggers to answer some of the things parents wrestle with, like “What if I hate to read?” and “Am I at fault if my child hates to read?”  I am really looking forward to this day as Jen has put together a list of awesome contributors across all ages.

But Sarah, how can I help?


You can write a blog post!  Are you interested in participating? We’d love to have you post on one of the above topics!

I am hosting day 3, focusing on nonfiction.   On March 10, I want to be able to link to posts  all over the web and across the blogosphere about using nonfiction with kids of all ages. I’d love to link to your nonfiction reviews, ideas for using nonfiction with different age groups, and anything else you can think of!

If you’d like to contribute a post to day 2, please let me know. You can email me via the Contact Me page here on the blog.  Even if you just have a suggestion for my day, please feel free to email me! We want to include bloggers from all over the blogosphere.  You don’t need to be a “famous” blogger or even an old, established one.  This is a blog tour open to everyone!  Please don’t hesitate to get involved!

Happy Cybils Day!

Oh, and Happy Valentine’s Day, too.  ;)

Today is the day the kidlitosphere has been waiting for with bated breath……today we learn the winners of the Cybils!  Without further ado, I want to introduce the winner of the middle grade fiction panel….

Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson

A huge thank you to my own panel!  I think we did a pretty awesome job of coming up with a fantastic shortlist.  ;)

Middle Grade Fiction Panelists

Sherry Early, Semicolon
Melissa Fox, Book Nut
Abby Johnson, Abby the Librarian
Kyle Kimmal, The Boy Reader
Becky Laney, Becky’s Book Reviews
Sandra Stiles, Musings of a Book Addict

And me!!

And a huge thank you to the judges!  I have no idea how you managed to narrow down out choices to just one book, but you did an awesome job!

Middle Grade Fiction Judges

Kimberly Baker, Wagging Tales
Stacy Dillon, Welcome to my Tweendom
Monica Edinger, Educating Alice
Kerry Millar, Shelf Elf
David Elzey, Excelsior File

It is an absolute pleasure being a part of the Cybils.  I’ve been very fortunate in that I have been a panelist for the last two years.  It has opened my eyes to reading more critically while also looking for kid appeal.  It’s an overwhelming, fantastic, fun job that I absolutely adore.  Thanks to everyone at the Cybils!

For a list of all the winners, be sure to check out the announcement post at the Cybils blog!

Igniting a Passion for Reading: Successful Strategies for Building Lifetime Readers by Steven Layne

If you are a teacher, a librarian, a parent- anyone who wants to get kids reading more- then you need to get your hand on Steven Layne’s Igniting a Passion for Reading: Successful Strategies for Building Lifetime Readers.  I knew I would like the book as soon as I saw the title, but I had no idea how important it would be.  It has earned itself a place of honor on my professional book shelf.

Igniting a Passion for Reading: Successful Strategies for Building Lifetime Readers says so eloquently what I strive for everyday in my classroom-  we need to teach our students to read for the love of reading and not for results on a standardized test.  We need less test prep and more independent reading.  We need teachers who are passionate about books sharing that passion with their students.

Layne focuses on how to teach reading as an art and a love, rather then a set of skills that can be drilled and killed.  The book is packed with ways to inspire readers at any grade level, I could not put this down (which is rare for a professional book)!  While many of his suggestions were things I already do in my classroom it felt great to be validated.  But he also gave me some new, fresh ideas that I have already put into practice in my classes.  And throughout the book Layne calls on authors like Jordan Sonnenblick, Margaret Peterson Haddix, Neal Shusterman, and many others to share the teachers and experiences that shaped them as writers.  I loved these little glimpses into their lives and even gleaned some more ideas from them.

Igniting a Passion for Reading: Successful Strategies for Building Lifetime Readers is a must-have for any teacher who wants to ignite a passion for pleasure reading in their students.

*Review copy courtesy of the publisher

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