Eighth Grade Superzero by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich

On the first day of  eighth grade, Reggie lived every student’s worst nightmare- he puked.  On stage.  Practically on the principal.  In front of everyone.  Now, his classmates only refer to him as Pukey.  Along with his out-of-work father, his annoying older sister (and her drama), and his issues at school, Reggie has a lot on his plate.  In other words, he is your typical young teen.  His greatest escape is his greatest creation- Nightman.  With his best friend, Joe C., drawing the illustrations and Reggie writing the story, his comic allows him to be the superhero he wishes he really was.

When his youth group gets involved at the local homeless shelter, Reggie’s eyes are opened to some of the problems in his own neighborhood.  His best friend, Ruthie, always looking globally and acting locally, is thrilled at the prospect of him taking on more of the world’s issues.  His other best friend, Joe C., is a little more uncomfortable with the whole thing.  Then Reggies learns that his “Little Buddy”, kindergartner Charlie, is a resident at the shelter.  But no one is more surprised than Reggie when he suddenly leaps on a table during lunch and declares his candidacy for 8th grade class president.

Really?  Can a kid everyone calls “Pukey” really become president?  And can anyone win a middle school election by talking about real issues, instead of running on a platform of popularity?

I was thrilled with this debut novel.  Longer than a typical middle grade novel, it fits that older-middle-grade niche perfectly.  I have a lot of 6th graders who are too old for many middle grade books but not really ready for YA.  Reggie is an eighth grader dealing with the day-to-day problems of being in middle school.  There are girl issues, family issues, popularity issues, faith issues,  and even global issues.  While it may sound like a kid volunteering at a homeless shelter is a little preachy (or unrealistic), Rhuday-Perkovich writes it perfectly.  Reggie is uncomfortable and unsure of himself for the first few visits, but he grows and develops as a person with each subsequent visit to the shelter.

Make no assumptions- Reggie isn’t perfect.  He isn’t a goody-two-shoes or unbelievable as a teen.  He struggles with making decisions and he doesn’t always make the right ones.  In fact, he makes the wrong decisions an awful lot.  Just like a real kid.

This is a don’t midd debut from an author I expect to hear great things from.  It wouldn’t surprise me to hear about Eighth-Grade Superzero come next year’s award season. This is a superbly written book about growing up in today’s world.

It’s Almost Newbery Time!

You can look forward to my Newbery predictions next week, but first a quick reminder:  you can watch the announcement live on the web!  I’m disappointed that we won’t be in school for the announcement (it’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Day), but I know I will be up bright and early to watch!  It will be a little lonely, seeing as I won’t be surrounded by 40 students shouting, hooting, hollering, clapping, and generally being on the edge of their seat.

If you are like me and you are not attending ALA Midwinter next week but you still want to watch the winners announced live you can go to the live webcast of the Newbery and other awards on 1/18 at 7:45 a.m. EST (the link can be found in the press release) .  I’ll be tweeting my reactions live, barring an unforeseen exhaustion, aka oversleeping.

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly

I absolutely adored The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate.  I put off reading this for way too long and wish I had read it back in May, so I could have recommended it to my students!  

Calpurnia Virginia Tate, or Callie Vee for short, is the lone girl amongst six brothers.  The year is 1899, and girls aren’t expected to have careers when they grow up.  But Callie loves exploring, learning about nature, and spending time with her grandfather.  What she doesn’t love is knitting, cooking, and all other “household” activities.  She wants to be a scientist when she grows up, and Grandfather encourages her.  Together, they explore the countryside  as Callie learns about the scientific method and growing up.

There is so much to love about this book.  It’s historical fiction that kids will actually enjoy!  There are great little tidbits about the turn of the century- kids will love the idea that Coke was invented and wasn’t always around.  It’s also the time when automobiles were invented, science was on the brink of so many discoveries, and it was the turn of the century.  The setting is ridiculously real- you can almost feel the suffocating heat in a time before air-conditioning.  But it’s the character’s that really drive the story.

Callie reminded me a bit of Anne Shirley, of Anne of Green Gables . She’s spunky in a believable sort of way, intelligent, and self-deprecating. Her family is also well-developed, with six brothers, a mother, father, and Grandfather. One of my favorite chapters involves Callie’s utter horror when she learns that three of her brothers have developed crushes on her best friend. As the oldest of six kids, I felt Callie’s pain. Especially when she finally can’t take it anymore and divides up the days of the week, allowing each boy one day to walk her and Lula home. When they ask about the other two days of the week she tells them she needs her space! I was laughing out loud.

Pick this one up for your classroom library, but be sure to read it first. You’ll love it! This is a great pick for strong intermediate readers or middle schoolers. But I loved it even more than my students, I think! I especially can’t wait to share it with my new classes when we begin our monarch butterfly unit. I think Callie’s love of nature and science will really spark something in them, too!

This one is getting a lot of Newbery buzz, so read it now!

 

 

Purchased by me.

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

Rebecca Stead’s First Light was the second book I reviewed when I started blogging. When her newest novel, When You Reach Me, started getting buzz on various blogs that I read I knew I wanted to read it when it was published in July.  

When You Reach Me is historical fiction, though I don’t think a lot of kids will even realize it.  Set in 1978, I felt subtly pulled into a different era, yet much of it was familiar. Miranda is in 6th grade, an age I know well.  Anyone who has ever been on the cusp of middle school knows what a strange world it is- one where friendships change overnight, crushes are born, and parents seem to aim only to embarrass you.  Miranda already has enough to deal with as a 6th grader so when a mystery falls into her lap she does her best to ignore it.  After all, she has a lot on her mind!  Her best friend, Sal, stopped hanging out with her.  Her mom is about to be a contestant on the $20,000 Pyramid, and she might be developing a crush on a boy in her class.  

But when Miranda receives a series of strangely prophetic letters over the course of a few months, she doesn’t know what to do.  It all begins when she finds a small, stiff piece of paper bearing the following message:

M,

This is hard. Harder than I expected, even with your help. But I have been practicing, and my preparations go well. I am coming to save your friend’s life, and my own. I ask two favors. First, that you write me a letter. Second, that you remember to mention the location of your house key in the letter. The trip is a difficult one. I will not be myself when I reach you.

Each letter is odd and they seem to get stranger as the book goes on.  But when Miranda reaches the conclusion of the notes as a tragedy is sort-of-averted, you will be astonished.  I certainly was!

This is a book that is different from any other book I have read.  As a huge fan of Madeline L’Engle’s books, especially A Wrinkle in Time, Miranda’s love of the same book was a familiar one for me.  I have a feeling Rebecca Stead was also a huge fan of A Wrinkle in Time.  But this is a hard book to describe without giving away spoilers.  All I can say is go out and pre-order this one!  It ships in just a couple of weeks.

I can’t wait to read this to my class next fall.  Each chapter is short and ends on a paragraph that will have kids begging you to read more.  It’s also a fairly quick read, which I will need with my new schedule.  And I think it will garner quite a few shiny stickers come award season!

I can also imagine booktalking this one.  In 6th grade I have a lot students who enjoy the tv show LOST (as do I).  I would call When You Reach Me LOST for the middle school set.  The strands of the story all start weaving themselves together, leaving you breathless at the end, much as I imagine I will be at the end of the final season of LOST.  There’s mystery woven throughout the book yet it also feels entirely realistic.  All in all, a perfect read.

When the Whistle Blows By Fran Cannon Slayton

Fran Cannon Slaytons’s When the Whistle Blows is a historical fiction novel set during the 1940′s. Sounds pretty typical, right? Wrong! This is anything but your typical historical fiction book and I think that is going to work in its favor when readers pick it up.

Jimmy is the youngest son of a railroading family in rural West Virginia. He and his two older brothers long for the day that they can join their father working on the railroad. But their father swears that will happen over his dead body- the railroad is dying he says, being replaced by the diesel engine. This is a book about life in a small town, about growing up with two older brothers, about dreaming and hoping, about scheming and causing trouble.

Where this novel rises to greatness is in the format. Each chapter is a small vignette, a snapshot in time. The chapters all take place on the same day, but in different years. The story begins on All Hallow’s Eve (Jimmy’s father’s birthday) in 1943 and ends on All Hallow’s Eve 1949. You are with Jimmy through events, both big and small, that shape his life. You watch him grow and mature, as you also watch his father weaken and grow smaller. Built like short stories, some of the chapters will leave you begging for more but Slayton effortlessly weaves the years into one another.

This is a novel that I think will appeal to a variety of readers. Dormant/reluctant readers will enjoy the chapters because they are small worlds unto themselves. They aren’t intimidating, which can often be a problem with novels on grade-level for dormant/reluctant readers. Underground/gifted readers will be able to dig deep into this story and analyze the changes that occurred during this time period. (In fact, I am going to booktalk this at the end of our Holocaust/WWII book clubs because it covers the same time period so differently). And this is a book that supports developing readers, because it allows them to bite off small chunks of the story at a time. Finishing a chapter can be a satisfying experience because it’s like finishing a short story. And for me, this was a fantastic read! I read it in bits and pieces this weekend (I just couldn’t find an hour to sit down and focus!) and had no trouble stopping at the end of a chapter because I knew I would be moving a year forward when I returned to the book. Of course, I was flying through the end of it, a bit choked up! *

Fran Cannon Slayton has written a quiet novel that will surprise many readers. Her prose is powerful, yet understated. Critics, teachers, librarians, and reviewers alike will love this one. But I also think kids will love it! Jimmy gets into plenty of trouble, causes a lot more, loves sports, and even manages to get some spying done. There is a secret society, a prank gone very awry, a graveyard hangout, and trains galore. I know When the Whistle Blows is going to fly off my bookshelf when I booktalk it!

When the Whistle Blows is a book that I think we will be hearing a lot more from when award time rolls around!

*This would also make a fantastic read-aloud. Teachers could share a chapter a day and not worry about missing a day here and there. The story is very strong, but the format allows for some time off without losing the momentum.

Savvy by Ingrid Law

 OK, I admit it- I let this one sit on my TBR pile for way too long.  During spring break I have finally had time to sort through my piles and when Savvy surfaced at the top, I picked it up and brought it out to the porch to read. Boy am I glad I did! Well deserving of the Newbery Honor it took home in January, Savvy is fantasy for those who think they don’t like fantasy.  

Mibs is about to turn thirteen which is a big deal in the Beaumont family.  See, they aren’t exactly a normal family.  Each member of Mib’s family possesses a magical ability or a ‘savvy’, as they call it. When a member of her family turns thirteen, their supernatural gift manifests itself. For her older brother Fish, he discovered he could cause hurricanes.  Another brother, Rocket, can create and control electricity.   Once a savvy makes itself known, the Beaumont’s begin home-schooling so that they can learn to control their power before living out the rest of their life. 

A few days before Mibs’s thirteenth birthday, her poppa is involved in a terrible car accident on the interstate. When Mibs awakens on her birthday to find her brother’s turtle alive again (after a very long “hibernation” that the rest of the family knew was death), she is convinced her savvy is to awaken living things.   She decides that she must get to her father’s bedside immediately.  Unfortunately, he is in a hospital almost 100 miles away.  Never one to give up, Mib manages to sneak onto a bus belonging to a bible salesman.  What she doesn’t count on is the adventure that begins the moment she steps onto the pink bus.   Before she can get to her father, Mib, her brothers, and the preacher’s kids are entangled in the bible salesman’s life as they take off on an overnight adventure.  During the journey Mib’s discovers a lot about herself and realizes that she might not be the only one with a secret.

Savvy is tween-perfect fantasy.  The world-building is minimal and the setting is in the midwest.  The characters are regular kids with regular kid problems- compounded by the fact that they have a savvy.  The savvys are a little like super-powers, so I think Savvy will appeal to some of my super-hero fans.  I also think it will appeal to my realistic fiction readers because Mib is a pretty typical tween.  She is dealing with her first crush, family issues, frienships, and growing up in general.  The fantasy aspect isn’t overwhelming but her savvy is pretty cool.  In fact, I bet more than one of my students has wished for a

similar ability at some point in the past few years!  Highly recommended, this is a book that will stand the test of time and will appeal to a variety of readers.

 

 

(On a side note, I am fan of the original cover.  The paperback has a different cover, on the right, and I just don’t like it as much!)

ALA Youth Media Awards (Or, I Read the Newbery!)

While watching the ALA webcast live today, my class kept laughing at me.  I would call out my predictions as the awards were introduced- for the awards besides the Newbery because I shared those predictions with them on Friday.  Of course, I was wrong more than I was right- but the kids didn’t care.  They thought it was hysterical that I yelled “Mo Willems!” before the Geisel Award was announced, and I was right.  I was wrong about the Morris Award (I predicted Graceling would get it).  I predicted one of the Caldecott honors (A River of Words: The Story of William Carlos Williams), because I am a huge William Carlos Williams fan.  

 

And then we got to the big award- the Newbery.  The kids were on the edge of their seat.  And so was I!

2009 Newbery Award Winner:
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman- I got this one in just under the wire! But I did love it. My review gives more information on my thoughts.

I do think this will be a popular winner.  It’s creepy, well-written, suspenseful, and oozing with kid appeal.  My students haven’t read it yet and I am contemplating making it a read-aloud in the coming weeks.  But I already know they will love it. I think the committee did a great job with this one!

 

2009 Newbery Honor Books:

The Underneath by Kathi Appelt- YES YES YES YES! I was so afraid this would get shut out because it seems to be a “love it or hate it” book. When the announcement was made, I literally jumped into the air and so did my students. We were so excited! For those who think this isn’t a kid-friendly book, I say fie on you! It makes kids think and treats them like adults. While my students might not have picked it up on their own, they loved it as a read-aloud. This book screams to be read-aloud and shared. Yay Kathi Appelt!

Savvy by Ingrid Law- I own this one. Does that count? I never made it a priority to finish reading it, but now I will. And another bonafide fantasy? Kudos to the committee!

After Tupac and D Foster by Jacqueline Woodson- I haven’t read this one, and I don’t own it. But I ordered it tonight.

The Surrender Tree: Poems of Cuba’s Struggle for Freedom by Margarite Engle- And this one came out of nowhere for me. I hadn’t seen it on any Mock Newbery lists. But isn’t that what makes the Newbery great? I can’t wait to pick it up!

 

I will admit, my class and I were shocked at the exclusion of Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson. That was a heavy favorite in my two classes. And I had more than a handful of students who were upset that Diamond Willow by Helen Frost was left out, too. But all in all, I am thrilled with the list!  And the reaction of my kids as The Underneath  was announced was absolutely priceless.  Talk about being engaged with their reading!  And when Gaiman’s book was announced as the winner, there was a chorus of, “You read that, Miss M.!”  and “Wow!  They decided it was eligible!” (we had talked about the eligibility issues in our Newbery unit).  

Congratulations to all of the winning authors today and the amazing committees!  

 

 

*And to complete my bragging, I read and loved The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks back in the spring. And I own The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume II: The Kingdom on the Waves, both Printz Honor Books. :)

 


Class Newbery Watching and Reaction

(Stay tuned for my personal reactions to the awards today).

At 10am, my students walked out of Spanish class and into the library.  The librarian and I had been trying to get the webcast to work and were at that point desperately watching the mouse move around the screen as our computer tech managed a quick installation from the other end, which would hopefully allow us to watch.  My cell phone kept buzzing as it received Tweets about the Alex Awards.

Right in time for the second award to be announced, the webcast worked!  We all gathered around the laptop, too afraid to set up the projector in case we interrupted the connection and dropped the announcements.  My phone continued buzzing, as my tweets were bout 30 seconds ahead of the announcements.  We were thrilled when Laurie Halse Anderson won the Edwards Award, excited when i predicted the Geisel and one Caldecott Honor, and on the edge of our seats for the Newbery announcements.

 

Below, our reaction to the announcement that The Underneath won an Honor!
cimg3374

(They almost immediately begged me to send a congratulatory email to Kathi Appelt, so I obviously obliged!)

 

cimg3375(Please laugh at my hysterically excited reaction to THE UNDERNEATH)

Newbery Predictions 2009

When I first began blogging I was inspired by Franki and Mary over at A Year of Reading.  Like them, I wanted to be able to read the Newbery before it was announced.  Little did I know that this endeavor would lead me to the kidlitosphere and a broader blogging spectrum of reviews, middle school language arts, and teaching.  But deep down, I still compete with myself, trying to predict the Newbery winner.  So here is my annual list, my picks for 2009!

(In no particular order, as I feel these are all distinguished and could take home the medal or an honor).

Newbery 2009 Predictions:

  • The Underneath by Kathi Appelt- Distinguished? Check. Gorgeous? Check. Phenomenal writing? Check. Appelt’s book absolutely stunned me when I first read it. With an unassuming cover, I figured it was nothing more than another animal story. I could not have been more wrong. The Underneath was my first read-aloud of the year and my 6th graders were totally engrossed in the story. Check out my review here.

 

  • Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson-  Historical fiction that kids actually want to read?  What more could a teacher ask for!  When I first read Anderson’s latest middle grade novel, I knew I wanted to share it with my students.  We just finished reading it together a few days ago and they loved it.  Living in NJ, they had tons of connections to the battles mentioned and the Revolutionary War in general, so they loved the setting.  And Anderson’s meticulous research makes this novel even better.  Check out my review here.  

 

  • Diamond Willow by Helen Frost- If distinguished writing and a unique style are what the committee is looking for, then Diamond Willow is the Newbery winner for 2009. A phenomenal story and a style that I haven’t seen anywhere else! Another one that my students loved (and the one that seemed the most accessible to all levels of readers). Check out my review here.

 

  • The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman- For some reason, I never got around to this one. Then a few weeks ago I saw it at the library and decided to give it a try. Wow, am I glad I did! A creepy story that will keep readers on the edge of their seats. Check out my review here!

 

  • Tennyson by Lesley M.M. Blume- I know this is a title that hasn’t been mentioned on many prediction lists, but I am trying to be its personal champion! Tennyson is a lyrical, poetic story that is dark and gothic. I read it back in May and it’s still on my mind. I would be thrilled to see it take home a medal on Monday, because I think it so deserves one! Check out my review here.

 

I know where I will be on Monday morning.  My class and I will be listening to the announcements over the web, with my cell phone nearby (t0 receive the Tweets in case we have any technical problems!)  Regardless of who wins, there are a few authors across the country who will receive a life-changing call on Monday morning.  I can’t wait to find out who those authors are!

 

(And I still have more reading to do before Monday!  On my pile? Knucklehead: Tall Tales and Almost True Stories of Growing up Scieszka, The Porcupine Year, and Bird Lake Moon.

Diamond Willow Read-aloud

On Friday, both classes finished reading Diamond Willow . They loved it! When we came to the twist about Willow’s past, they literally gasped out loud. Below are a few of their final thoughts on the book:

 

“More books should do the bold words thing.  It’s so cool!  They tell you what the character is thinking deep down.”

“It must have been really hard to write a whole book using the right diamond shapes and making sure you had all the words for the bold parts.”

“This was my favorite book that we read all year.”

“This was an awesome book!  

 

There was more, but I was trying to jot down their thoughts while they were all very excited and talking about the end of the story.  Needless to day, we are now extremely excited for the awards announcement on Monday!  We even moved our assembly schedule around so that we can all head down to the library and listen live.  My afternoon class can’t be there for the live announcement, so we have sworn the morning class to secrecy and will replay the recording for the afternoon class (trying to preserve some of the excitement)!  I will be sure to post our reactions on Monday!

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