Sister to Sister

My eleven-year old sister is too much like me. This is the text message she sent me at 10pm. “Don’t tell mom cause I’m supposed to be in bed right now, but do u know where they sell cheap book lights? Flashlights are too hard 2 hold & read at the same time so I need 1 that clips onto the page. Or do you have one? Cause I read at night.”

Needless to say, I just ordered her a booklight and it’s on its way. I told her not to tell Mom. :)

Some Great Hi-Lo Books for Middle School

One area that my classroom library is lacking in is high interest books for some of my developing readers.  No one in 6th grade wants to look like they are reading a “baby” book, but I hate watching them struggle with books that are above their level.  Needless to say, I was thrilled when I saw a Capstone Press catalog because they publish lots of fiction and nonfiction that are perfect for middle school developing readers!

The Pukey Book of Vomit (Edge Books) by Connie Colwell Miller is perfect for those kids who love to be grossed out. It covers fascinating topics like “How Vomit Happens” and “Upchuck!”. Needless to say, EW! The book itself is a great mix of straight text, graphics, sidebars, and diagrams. Personally, I learned that when you throw up, your stomach actually turns almost completely inside out! Again- Ew. While the subject matter is gross, The Pukey Book of Vomit (Edge Books) is awesome. It’s a big hit with all my boys, who are now experts on puke.

How to Survive a Flood (Edge Books) by Matt Doeden taught me a lot about how to stay safe in a flood. Doeden teaches the reader how to survive a flood if you are trapped in a car, if you are caught off guard, and a variety of other situations. Again, the book is full of nonfiction features and the subject matter is perfect for dormant and developing readers. Highly recommended.

Carnival of Horrors (Shade Books) by Phillip Preece is perfect for those kids who want to read Cirque du Freak but just aren’t there yet. They love that the cover of the book looks like a middle school book and not like a baby book. But on the inside, there is plenty of white space and the text is perfect for developing readers. The story isn’t that scary, but it’s good enough. The illustrations are creepy, though!

Summer of Sabotage by Bob Temple. Again, the cover really sells this one. It doesn’t look like a baby book! In fact, the cover actually creeps me out a little, and I’m the teacher! This is a great mystery about a water park where strange accidents keep occurring. The two main characters are determined to find out who is causing these accidents, though they could easily be the next victims.

All of these books are aimed at students in grades 5-9, but they are written at a grades 2-4 reading level. The fiction books aren’t fantastic writing- characters are flat, the stories are predictable (to me). But for developing readers, these are perfect. And honestly, the nonfiction titles are awesome for any elementary or middle school classroom.

Staying Positive

For those of you who don’t know, I teach in NJ.  The state budget is in dire straits and education is taking the hardest hit under our new governor.  As a result of the awful budget situation, I received my RIF letter on Friday.  I’m staying positive and hoping that I am brought back after this all shakes out, but I am also drafting various contingency plans.  I can’t imagine not teaching, so I am crossing my fingers that there is a spot for me come September.

However, today was an amazing day, spent with my best friends from college, their husbands, dogs, and kids.  We went to Ag Field Day at our alma mater and it was amazing.  Thank goodness for good friends!  And cute babies.  :)

They Never Came Back by Caroline B. Cooney

Caroline B. Cooney is a go-to author for me.  Whether I am looking for the perfect book to hook a reluctant reader or a fantastic mystery that will keep my readers on their edge of their seat; Cooney is the answer.  She writes fast, suspenseful, non-stop action thrillers that leave you thinking that maybe the story was true.  Were you reading a newspaper account of an actual story or was it fiction?

Her newest endeavor is no different. They Never Came Back is a fast-paced thriller about a young girl whose parents embezzle millions in a financial scam. When they flee the country, their ten-year old daughter Murielle is left behind. In the ensuing 5 years she is put into the foster care system and seems to disappear.

Now going by the name Cathy Ferris, Murielle enrolls in an accelerated language summer program in her hometown of Greenwich. Thinking she will be able to get a glimpse of her beloved cousin, Tommy, she is shocked when he recognizes her. At that moment, her life once again changes. Suddenly, the FBI is back. They want to use Cathy/Murielle (whoever she is) as bait to lure the parents back to the US. Cathy isn’t sure if she wants to remember her old life. And she had no idea how her parents’ actions affected others, like their employees who were sent to jail in their place.

Awesome, awesome, awesome book. I could not put it down. A great introduction to some of the recent financial scandals, this book educates while keeping readers on the edge of their seats. As a teacher, I was thrilled to see the characterization of the ensemble characters. They are overachievers, kids who are willing to give up their entire summer to learn a new language. And they are attached to their cell phones, social media, and laptops. The ensemble and background characters ring true and bore more than a striking resemblance to my own students.

Highly recommended for middle school and high school libraries!

*Review copy courtesy of the publisher

The Clearing by Heather Davis

My students just began our Holocaust study so I am on the lookout for most historical fiction centered around WWII.  We normally have a common read aloud focused on the Holocaust while guided reading groups/lit circle hybrids read a variety of books focused on different aspects of life during WWII.  I am always on the lookout for new books about this time period because our Holocaust/WWII unit never fails to have my students asking for more books.  When I received a copy of The Clearing I was excited to read that this romance dealt with a family stuck in 1944.  Perfect!  I was pleasantly surprised when I found myself unable to put this sweet romance down.

Amy moves to the country to live with her Aunt Mae after an awful experience with dating violence.  (NB- I volunteered with Sexual Assault Services in college, so this is a cause close to my heart. I am thrilled to see it getting more exposure in YA). She is drawn to a fog-filled field behind Mae’s house because it seems to be the perfect place to hide from the rest of her life.  But when she crosses through the mist she discovers Henry, a boy stuck in an endless summer, and his family- still in 1944.  By some miracle of time and faith, Henry and his family are stuck in the past.  Henry prayed that nothing would change, trying to stave off the tragedy that will strike the family in the future. Miraculously, his prayer has been answered.  But Amy’s appearance on to Henry’s side of the mist brings him more happiness than he’s ever known.  He falls hopelessly in love with her.  Unfortunately, her mere presence threatens to destroy his safe existence.

I couldn’t put this book down.  It reminded me in many ways of The Time-traveler’s Wife, another favorite.  I already have a list of students that I know will adore By some miracle, Henry and his family are stuck in the past, staving off the tragedy that will strike them in the future. Amy’s crossing over to Henry’s side brings him more happiness than he’s ever known–but her presence also threatens to destroy his safe existence.

I loved this book.  In many ways, it reminded me of another favorite of mine- The Time Traveler’s Wife. I have a mental list of students who will be begging me for a copy of this novel.  As a teacher, I especially love the positive message of the story.  It’s not necessarily a happy ending, but it is the right ending.  This is a tale of love, loss, and letting go.  The story alternates between Henry and Amy, which I really enjoyed.  However, it also jumps between first person and third person.  That was a little jarring for me and I found myself taken out of the story whenever the point of view changed.  However, it wasn’t enough to make me stop reading.

And again, I am very happy to see a book dealing with dating violence.  It’s not graphic, and it’s not even a main plot (more of a subplot), but it’s there.  Definitely a discussion starter.  Highly recommended for romance readers, especially as a tonic for the over-the-top Twilight lovers out there!

*Review copy courtesy of publisher

NJ School Budget Elections

Tomorrow, April 20th, is the NJ school budget elections.  Please get out and vote if you are registered in NJ.

Birthmarked by Caragh M. O’Brien

I have been on a dystopian kick lately, so I was very happy when I cleaned out a bookshelf and found a forgotten ARC for this novel. Birthmarked is Caragh M. O’Brien’s first novel for young adults and she has hit it out of the park. I read a lot of dystopian, and I’ve read a lot lately, and this has quickly risen to the top of my favorite’s list. It had me on the edge of my seat throughout the story and left me guessing at many turns.

Gaia is a midwife, like her mother, though she is still in training. When the book opens, she is delivering her first newborn without her mother’s assistance. All is well until she must take the infant from its mother. The Enclave, within the nearby city walls, demands a quota of babies each month- the first 3 delivered by each midwife. The babies are taken from their parents outside the walls and brought to the Enclave, where they are adopted by the wealthy families inside and brought up as their own. Gaia has never questioned this routine. Then, her parents are mysteriously arrested and taken away. She must break into the walled Enclave in order to rescue her parents and soon finds herself wrapped up in secrets and lies that no one has ever considered. As the story rises, the imperfections of a “perfect” race and the dangers of and genetic manipulation becomes more and more engrossing. Gaia is forced to make difficult choices to save herself and her loved ones.

I couldn’t put this down.  Gaia is a realistic character whom I felt like I knew.  Her thoughts and emotions were so real that I found myself completely wrapped up in her story.  She is forced to make heartwrenching decisions that led me to question some of my own thoughts.  I also loved the slight romance that she and one of the Guard captains find themselves involved in.  It’s not enough to turn off my macho readers but it’s just enough to rope in some of my romance readers.

Birthmarked would be a great read along with The Giver or during a study of the Holocaust. The Enclave’s quest for genetic perfection brings up some unintended consequences beyond the obvious. Birthmarked will also lead to some great discussions. Highly recommended for middle school and high school classrooms!

Note- my cover looks nothing like the current cover.  I wasn’t a huge fan of the ARC cover and the new one is much better!

*ARC courtesy of the publisher

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