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.

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