Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Graceling


Graceling (The Seven Kingdoms, #1)Title: Graceling
Author: Kristin Cashore
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication Date: October, 2008 
Audiobook Narrator: David Baker and Full Cast Audio
Audiobook Publisher: Full Cast Audio
Audiobook Publication Date: June, 2009
Genre/Format: Fantasy/Novel
Summary: Katsa is graced with the ability to kill a man with her bare hands. Ever since her grace became evident, King Randa has been using Katsa as his very own hit man and Katsa's reputation as a man killer precedes her. However, Katsa doesn't like what she has become and what King Randa makes her do. Then when Katsa meets a Leinid prince, she realizes that she is much more than just her grace. 

What I Think: Although this book always intrigued me because of the premise, it also terrified me because I am scared of high fantasy. High fantasy is intimidating because of having to completely immerse yourself in an invented world and sometimes I find it hard to imagine somewhere that doesn't exist. However, with Graceling, the characters are so strong that the original confusion with the setting didn't even bother me and then by the time I thought about it, I'd lost all confusion and was in Katsa's world. 

As always, it is nice to see a kick-butt girl hero and Katsa is probably the most awesome there is. She is amazing and as she finds herself, she stays as kick-butt, but then becomes more human too. It is a great transformation that makes her an even stronger protagonist.

I also want to say that I listened to the audio, my 2nd full cast audio, and really enjoyed it. I think that by having different voices for each character really helps make the story come to life (and this one had a special appearance of Tim Green, author of Football Hero, as King Leck!)

And- nice homage to Jane Eyre there at the end :)

Now to get the audio for Fire and wait for Bitterblue!

What Jen Thinks: I didn't listen to this book. When I read it (a long time ago), I read the physical book but now that you told me Tim Green is part of the audiobook I my have to listen to it! I know his kids read for characters in his Football Genius series. 


I love fantasy but agree with Kellee that high fantasy sometimes scares me. When I think of hardcore fantasy, I think of Ursula Le Guin - and she really scares me. I easily slipped into the world Cashore puts together in Graceling. I love her description and the imagery she incorporates. I agree that Katsa is an amazing protagonist. I think the idea of certain people having Graces is really intriguing. My favorite part would have to be how Katsa and Po interact and complement each other. This is one of my most favorite fantasy books!
Read Together: Grade 7 to 10
Read Alone: Grade 8 to 12
Read With: The Last Dragon by Jane Yolen, Ash by Malinda Lo, Castle Waiting by Linda Medley, Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones, Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta
Snatch of Text: 
“When a monster stopped behaving like a monster, did it stop being a monster? Did it become something else?” 


“How absurd it was that in all seven kingdoms, the weakest and most vulnerable of people- girls, women- went unarmed and were taught nothing of fighting, while the strong were trained to the highest reaches of their skill... 'It seems better to me for a child to have these skills and never use them, than not have them and one day need them,' she said.” 

*No page numbers available since I listened to the audio*  
Mentor Text for: Characterization, World Building, Descriptive
Writing Prompts: If you could possess "a grace" what grace would you want to have? 
Topics Covered: Gender, Adventure, Identity, Love, Perseverance, Courage, Heroines

Kellee *hearts* it:
Jen *hearts* it:
and   

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Sidekicks

SidekicksTitle: Sidekicks
Author & Illustrator: Dan Santat
Publisher: Scholastic, Inc. 
Publication Date: July, 2011
Genre/Format: Fantasy/Graphic Novel
Goodreads Summary: Look up in the sky! It's a BOLD new graphic novel about SUPERHERO PETS! Captain Amazing, superhero and savior of Metro City, is getting old. He's out all hours battling arch-villains, catching thieves, and helping little old ladies cross the street. He doesn't even have time for his house full of pets. He needs - a SIDEKICK! Captain Amazing's four pets agree. But each one of them thinks HE should get the sidekick spot - and a chance for one-on-one time with the Captain. Get ready for sibling rivalry royale as pets with superpowers duke it out for the one thing they all want - a super family. A BOLD and BRILLIANT graphic novel romp by whiz kid Dan Santat. 
What Jen Thinks: I feel like I am still really new to graphic novels. I had to warm up to them because at first they really gave me headaches. After Babymouse and Lunch Lady though, I have gotten used to them a bit more. I love Zita the Spacegirl and Anya's Ghost. This book felt a little more graphic novel-y to me...which means, my brain had to work a bit more but it was okay. I love all the animal characters. They are super fun. I love that while the story is about them vying for a spot as an animal sidekick, it's also about making amends for the past. 
What Kellee Thinks: To be a popular book in my classroom of mostly struggling and reluctant readers (specifically with my boys), it is essential that a story be fast paced, fun, action-packed and it is even better if it is humorous and a graphic novel so I am sure you can see that Sidekicks is perfect! It is being passed around like the loved graphic novels before it- Amulet, Bone, Ghostopolis, Foiled, Knights of the Lunch Table, etc. And as an homage to classic super hero stories, Sidekicks is perfect for students who already are in love with the stories by Marvel and DC or as an introduction to these classics.  
Read Together: Grades 2 to 7
Read Alone: Grades 3 to 8
Read With: Hyperactive by Scott Christian Sava, Extraordinary Adventures of Ordinary Boy by William Boniface, NERDS by Michael Buckley, Hereville by Barry Deutsch, Knights of the Lunch Table by Frank Cammuso, Amulet by Kazu Kibuishi, Ghostopolis by Doug TenNapel
Snatch of Text: 
"Are there any last requests before you become a late-night snack? -Cat
I-I have to pee. -Shifty
Ugh! I guess we'll start with the blue one first. -Cat
No, No, No! I have to pee too! I- -Fluffy"

Since Sidekicks is a graphic novel, a snatch of text doesn't capture the full essence of the book.
We thought we should include the book trailer as well. 

Mentor Text for: Paneling, Dialogue, Humor, Plot Development, Onomatopoeia, Predicting, Inference
Writing Prompts: If you were a superhero and was going to have an animal sidekick, what type of animal would it be, what would its name be and what type of power would it have? 
Topics Covered: Good vs. Evil, Friendship, Loyalty, Change, Super Powers, Determination, Family

Jen *hearts* it
Kellee *hearts* it
 and

Sunday, February 26, 2012

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? 2/27/12





It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? From Picture Books to YA! 
It's Monday! What are you Reading? is a meme hosted by Sheila at Book Journeys. It is a great way to recap what you read and/or reviewed the previous week and to plan out your reading and reviews for the upcoming week. It's also a great chance to see what others are reading right now…who knows, you might discover that next “must read” book!
After doing the meme for a couple of weeks, we realized this would be a fun meme to start up with a kidlit focus - anyone reading and reviewing books in children's literature - it can be picture books, chapter books, middle grade novels, young adult novels, you name it in the world of kidlit and it's in! We have loved being a part of this meme and we hope you do too!  We encourage everyone participating to go and visit the other kidlit book bloggers that link up and to comment on as many posts as you can. We love talking books and believe in sharing and discussing what we're reading. We hope you join us!

Last Week's Book Adventures:
Jen Says: I had another great reading week! What can I say, I'm on a roll. First off, I read From What I Remember... by Stacy Kramer and Valerie Thomas (this was on NetGalley from Disney-Hyperion) and I loved it!!! It was a crazy-exciting book that I couldn't stop thinking about and wanted to read every second of the day. It was awesome. I also finished Amelia Lost by Candace Fleming, Dead End In Norvelt by Jack Gantos, The Abundance of Katherines by John Green, and My Life As a Furry Read Monster by Kevin Clash.

I actually did make it to a pile of picture books because my kids were at my parents' yesterday morning. My favorite, by far, was Here Come the Girl Scouts by Shana Corey. I got to read Plant a Kiss by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, just like Kellee. I love the simple text but the fun story and the sparkles, of course. Last week, I also read Extra Yarn at least three times with different students and also read A Sick Day for Amos McGee by Philip C. Stead. 


Kellee Says: I had a pretty good reading week as well.  I also read Amelia Lost and thought it was a phenomenal biography.  I also read When Life Give you OJ which had come highly recommended and enjoyed it. I also continued on with John and Travis's list by reading A Pet for Petunia, Perfect Square, and Ice.  


Also read I Must Have Bobo from the NYT 2011 noteable list and Amy Krouse Rosenthal's book that is illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds Plant a Kiss because I love Peter Reynolds. This week I also read some graphic novels: Jellaby and Jellaby: Monster in the City by Kean Soo which I ADORED (and I'll review later), but I was sad to find out that they are out of print now.  I also finished the sequel to Resistance by Carla Jablonski, Defiance.  It is not often that you find historical fiction graphic novels and they are good ones at that. 


Lastly, I took a trip down memory lane by reading Dragon Tales books by Dav Pilkey: Dragon's Merry Christmas, Dragon's Halloween, A Friend of Dragon and Dragon's Fat Cat and I remember why I loved them when I was younger. 

Reviewed Last Week:
My Life Undecided Between Shades of Gray  

Just click on any picture above to go read the review


Upcoming Book Adventures: 
Jen Says: I'm about halfway through The Boy Book by E. Lockhart on audio. After I finish it, I'm going to listen to Torment which is the second in Lauren Kate's Fallen series. I have lots of books I seem to be reading...I'm not sure why, other than I just have so many books I really want to read. I'm still reading The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom by Christopher Healy and have just started Wonder by RJ Palacio. I'm actually reading an adult novel, too! I started The Lover's Dictionary by David Levithan yesterday.

I am getting ready for World Read Aloud Day...but before that we get to celebrate Read Across America. In honor or Dr. Seuss's birthday I'll be reading The Lorax - my all-time favorite Seuss book and possibly my all-time favorite picture book.

Kellee Says: This week I am finally going to read Wonder which everyone is raving about. Next to that I am not sure, but I will continue listening to Fire by Kristin Cashore and hope to get another YA book in. I also bought The One and Only Ivan on Saturday so if I can I will read Ivan too. 

This Week's Reviews:
   Sidekicks  Graceling (The Seven Kingdoms, #1)  
Check back throughout the week to hear about these books. 
So, what are you reading this week? 
Please link up below and don't forget to check out other blogs to see what they are reading!

 and 

Read Along on I-94 - The Pull of Gravity - Part 4

Jen: We’re back! Last week we left off after discussing our impressions of Nick’s Dad from The Pull of Gravity by Gae Polisner. Now we can continue our discussion by getting back to Nick’s mom’s role in the situation.

Back to moms...the poor mom! I would be curious to see what happens with Nick and his mom and brother when he gets home. That’s where the 31-year-old mom in me comes out because I can imagine how I would react if it was me and hope she would be strong.

GAE: What would “strong” entail for you? Would Colby’s answer be different? Colby? And more importantly, would Nick’s? Would my kids’?

JEN: Well, the mom is all supportive of the dad but he’s not being honest with her. I would hope she would give him a piece of her mind. I feel like Nick is the kind of kid would side with his mom. I feel like the dad not being honest with them whether he’s sleeping with MaeLynn, in love with MaeLynn, or just needing MaeLynn as support. Once you aren’t truthful, don’t you lose people’s trust?

COLBY: I’m all about “till death do us part”, and now that I don’t know what the mom knew and what she didn’t know, I’m all confused. I like thinking about what Gae said about kids not being privy to everything that has to do with parents’ relationships.

JEN: I thought the mom thought the dad was really in New York and really doing his article. But I could be inferring. So if the dad totally betrays the mom and is off sleeping with someone else or in love with someone else, doesn’t it kind of suggest that has has given up on the “til death do us part” of marriage? And then if he wants to come back it would just be lots of time spent patching up his relationship with his wife then and getting her trust back, right? I’ve never been in that situation but I don’t know if I could give my trust again. It would be really really really really hard.

It’s true that we are adults talking through this and with our adult brains analyzing the situation but I think kids would realize how Nick is a nice kid and hopefully see that the parents’ relationship, however they interpret it, is not healthy.

GAE: This is not a non-sequitur (and no Googling/cheating): Do either of you know what I do for a living (I mean, a real living, when my books aren’t making me millions *coughs*)?

COLBY: Are you an Olympic swimmer?

GAE: *shakes head NO*

JEN: I was going to say swimming in frigid waters!

Now I’m thinking a divorce lawyer...

GAE: *touches nose* But moreso, a divorce MEDIATOR. And I don’t know much, but what I do know are these two things: 1. When parents come to me to get divorced and one parent has cheated, the kids don’t care in terms of it affecting whether they want their parents to stay together. It’s almost primal (or something) that that’s what they want. So whatever we as adults think of what happened with Nick’s parents and MaeLynn, I assume that what Nick would want most is for his parents to stay together IF they could and could be at all happy. 2. The second thing I know from all my years of mediation training, is that grown up kids, looking back, would rather have had their parents separate or divorce than stay together and be unhappy. Look at how complicated and competing those two things are. I just find it all so fascinating and layered. I’m not sure what my point is exactly except that I think that whatever happens when Nick gets home, his first hope will be that even if his dad effed up, his mother and father my try hard to repair things. Does that then compete with Jen’s hope that his mother will be “strong?” Can strength come instead from understanding, rebuilding, forgiving, etc.? I’m interested that it hasn’t come up how much Nick’s father sacrificed early on by giving up the work and city he loved to move for the mom... although Colby sort of alluded to it at some point. Phew! Done.

JEN: I just hope the mom is “strong” in the sense that she is true to herself and expresses herself and how she feels. It is so interesting to hear how your experiences in real life become part of the story you wrote as an author. Here’s another question, should the parents then try to stay together knowing the kids are just going to rather them be separate later, or should they separate knowing it’ll be hard now but the kids would rather that when they are older.

And I have to say that the dad is part of the decision-making so if he did sacrifice living in the city it must have been for good reasons and he chose to go along with it, right?

Okay, I can stop complaining about the dad in the book now. I just hope readers and Nick learn from the parents’ relationship.

COLBY: Well, I think we know how Jen feels about the dad:) I think that the dad probably went along with it because he loves his family. I’m guessing that he had no idea that it would end up turning him into FatMan2.

GAE: So would it be a stretch to say you felt any sympathy toward him? Be honest.  Either way. (LOL, I like that Jen is answering even though we already know HER answer!) Oh wait, Jen is now surprising me... :))

JEN: Sometimes it is so hard for me to have sympathy when I have never been in a situation like that. I have no idea how I would respond but I hope I would be able to talk to my family and make things work.That’s another thing I like about books, it helps me develop empathy. If I encounter someone who is in this situation in real life, I know I’ll think back to this book and try to be understanding.

COLBY: Jen, you are making me defend someone that I don’t agree with. That makes me laugh. As a man, I think that FatMan2 (I like calling him that) doesn’t feel like a man. He is fat and not really working. Nothing wrong with being a little fat, but he was pretty much on top of the world, and now the things that once defined him he now feels like a loser (I need to clean that sentence). I’m not trying to defend him, but I think that when lives get turned upside down people sometimes have to look somewhere else to fill a void that they are not getting somewhere else. He should have turned somewhere else.

Do you think the mom should have handled things differently?

JEN: Yes and no. I think the dad should have been able to talk to his wife and work on things together but even if the mom had tried and tried and tried it sounds like the dad wanted to do things in his own way. And if he was relying on MaeLynn I’m going to guess he might not have been open to working through things with his wife. It seems like he was closed off from her. The mom could have played a role in helping him but he would have had to have wanted her help.

GAE: I LOVE how my totally made up fictional story has you type-arguing with one another! I love all the stuff we all read into books. I love how in TPOG,  we really have NO insight into what the mother knows or doesnt know but we've made assumptions that fit our understanding of the world, sometimes to a stereotyped degree. Like the assumption the mom doesn't know vs. the mom gave her blessing and said, “you go do what you need to do and tell me when you figure it out”. We don't know! but we view the world in a particular way - from years of anecdotes or whatever... and we bring that to the table. It makes you realize why none of us read a book the same way. Or view any art the same way. So much has to do with what we subjectively bring to it.

JEN: It is amazing what books can do. I love that we all interpret books in our own way based on our own experiences. They have the ability to justify or expand our lives and our understanding of people.

COLBY: The power of talking and sharing books is CRAZY AWESOME.

JEN: Gae, thank you so much for joining us AND, more importantly, for not telling us what really happened to the characters in your head. I have no idea how you restrain yourself from telling readers how you believe them to be and letting us work things our for ourselves. But I appreciate it.

GAE: This was pretty amazing for me! I think it’s not my job to tell readers how it is because how it is, is however it is FOR THEM. RIght?

JEN: Exactly! I just think it’s amazing that you are able to do that.

GAE: Thank you for letting me do this! Really. It was totally utterly awesome. And for reading and talking about my book. It means so much to me.

COLBY: Thanks for writing books for young adult readers that don’t suck (and for hanging out and chatting with a couple of teachers).

GAE: Well, I’m glad TPoG doesn’t suck. Let’s see how the next one is... ;)  When there is a next one. Wish me luck. It’s written . . . :)

COLBY and JEN: We’ll be eagerly waiting! Thanks again!

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Dystopian vs. Post-Apocalyptic Week 7: More Accessible than Ever


Sarah is another one of my fellow dystopian lovers and I was so excited when Sarah asked if she could put student quotes in her guest post- what a great way to show the real impact of this genre! 

     I didn’t know it at the time, but I was first exposed to dystopian literature when I read Brave New World by Aldous Huxley for my senior AP English class.  I remember being confused as I read Huxley’s classic, but I tried my best to make sense of it so I could write my essay.  I didn’t read another dystopian novel until I took Literature of Non-Western Cultures during my under-grad.  The title escapes me, but my professor organized this class so we were reading and studying utopias, dystopias and ending with myopia.  Thankfully my professor took more time to explain the differences which helped my understanding greatly.
  
     I’m bringing up my past experiences with dystopian literature because besides wishing that Y.A. had boomed when I was in high school, I wish titles like The Hunger Games, Memento Nora, and Unwind were around when I was reading those required high school and college titles.  I think I would have had a better understanding of Brave New World if I had already been exposed to dystopian titles written for teens.  Young adult authors and publishers have done a top-notch job making dystopian and post-apocalyptic stories more accessible and easy to understand for our teens.  This is an intriguing, discussion-heavy genre that should be explored by teens, and now it’s easier and more fun than ever.  I’ve read quite a few dystopian and post-apocalyptic titles, so I know that not all of them are “fun,” but my students love reading them regardless.  I teach mostly freshmen and I’ve noticed that in general they aren’t very interested in the government.  Once I started reading The Hunger Games aloud to my freshmen, more and more of my students started asking questions about the government and whether something like the Hunger Games could actually happen one day.  These two genres in Y.A. are provoking thoughtful discussions.

      When I blog I focus quite a bit on my students because everything I read is with them in mind.  Granted I get to enjoy some fabulous novels in the process, but the more important part is connecting my students with titles.  I love exposing them to new authors, topics, genres, and more.   With the recent popularity of dystopian and post-apocalyptic stories, I’ve been collecting a large variety of titles for my kids.  I’m actually having a hard time keeping up with all of them, so I’ve asked some of my kids to be student reviewers for me.  These students have formed a book club of sorts because they’re often swapping books once they’ve finished.  One of my freshmen boys discovered that he likes dystopian novels, but after reading Enclave by Ann Aguirre, he’s found that he prefers post-apocalyptic novels.  Since this discovery was made, I’ve been handing him all the titles I have and can find that fit this genre.  I’ve really enjoyed listening to him recommend titles to his friends in class.  Because my students are my focus, I’ve compiled a list of their favorite dystopian and post-apocalyptic titles.

In no particular order, these are the dystopian and post-apocalyptic titles borrowed the most often:
Memento Nora (Memento Nora, #1)

A couple student opinions:
“I like The Maze Runner series the best because it has a mix of adventure and suspense, 
and it never goes as you think it will.  It also has a mix of betrayal and love; 
it’s a mix of all human emotions into one.”  - Christian, 9th grade
The Maze Runner (Maze Runner, #1)
Enclave by Ann Aguirre—This book was very good.  I didn’t want to put it down.  
This book drew me in to keep reading because I couldn’t figure out what would happen next. 
 This book was also filled with weird, wild creatures and what the world looks like now.  
Also I like this book because it’s full of new ideas, but it’s not ridiculous. 
Enclave (Razorland, #1)

Ship Breaker is written by Paolo Bacigalupi.  This book was also very good.  I kept getting 
in trouble for reading when I wasn’t supposed to.  This book drew me in because it could really happen.  Also, there were weird creatures like half-men.  Ship Breaker was cool because it shows the 
fight for survival in a hard world destroyed by killing all of our resources.”  -Anthony, 9th grade
Ship Breaker (Ship Breaker, #1)
Sarah is a high school English teacher with a passion for both YA literature and connecting it with her students.  She fell in love with YA lit the summer of 2006 when she took Young Adult Literature with Dr. Steffel at Central Michigan University.  She read about 20 books in six weeks and hasn't stopped since! Sarah can be found on Twitter @yaloveblog or at her blog.
and 

Friday, February 24, 2012

Anderson's Children's Literature Breakfast 2012

On Saturday, I got to to to the Tenth Annual Anderson's Children's Literature Breakfast! It was my third year attending this event. The first time I went, I got to meet Meg Cabot and, you know, I love her, so it was great. Last year, I was excited to meet and chat with Tim Green. This year, was another year that did not disappoint with amazing authors. AND, I got to catch up with some of my favorite Tweeps, which rocked.
From left to right: Top Row - Augusta Scattergood, Jane O'Connor, Katherine Applegate
Bottom Row - David Small, Gordon Korman, The One and Only Ivan!
I have students who read and loved Katherine Applegate's Roscoe Riley series and I am really in love with The One and Only Ivan right now. I'm glad she wrote a book that speaks for animals. At the event, she talked about how people should think about how animals are treated and trained when they go to a circus. Sometimes, I think that there is a huge disconnect between what animals go through and what we experience. Go Katherine for bringing more awareness to these issues!
If you are looking for an inspirational publishing story to share with kids, it should be Gordon Korman's. I love his story and asked him to share it at our table and then it was part of his great speech. Basically, he was in charge of collecting money for the Scholastic book orders and sending it in to Scholastic. After writing his first book, he just sent it along with the book orders - and they published it! How great is that?
David Small is a remarkable man. I read his graphic novel memoir Stitches before the breakfast. After knowing so much about his childhood, I was holding back tears as I listened to him speak. He didn't even talk about his life, he talked about the most recent picture book he illustrated, but I couldn't help but think of all he has been through in his life. He seems like such a nice person and his thought process that he described for the illustrations in One Cool Friend by Tony Buzzeo was so deliberate. It was an inspiration just to listen to him. All I can say is: Read Stitches.
I totally forgot to bring my feather boa! And anything sparkly! I'm sure if I had girls, I would have been more prepared to meet Jane O'Connor. As she talked about the new Fancy Nancy Super Sleuth, the first in the new Fancy Nancy chapter book series, I watched her point her toe behind her. It was like she was just having so much fun. She seemed so young at heart and to really enjoy talking about Nancy. I'm very excited for the new chapter book series, I went home and devoured the ARC and it is super cute!

This is an event that I will look forward to every year I'm sure! I would recommend anyone who can make the drive to keep their calendar open for next year. If you aren't close enough to make the drive, I would recommend looking for an Indie bookstore nearby that do author events. It is a wonderful experience to meet our beloved authors and illustrators face to face. 

Sadly, I don't have a group picture with tweeps...I know, it's so upsetting. Although Colby and I did get a picture with our March Reading Along I-94 book that we'll share soon! 

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Extra Yarn

Title: Extra Yarn     
Author: Mac Barnett   
Illustrator: Jon Klassen  
Publisher: Balzer + Bray 
Publication Date: January 17, 2012 
Genre/Format: Fiction - Mild Fantasy/Picture Book 
GoodReads Summary:  
This looks like an ordinary box full of ordinary yarn.
But it turns out it isn't.
What I Think: I love this book! I have been reading this with all of my students and telling anyone I can about how awesome this book is. I'm as much in love with the story as I am with the artwork. I love to knit and crochet (when I can find time) and the textures and colors that Klassen brings to this book are amazing. I just want to wrap myself up in the pages. For I Want My Hat Back fans, there is a special treat in this book! The rabbit and the bear both make appearances...one wearing a fabulously hysterical sweater dress. I would suggest you read it solely for their cameo apperances but there are a number of other reasons to read this book. (Although, I have to say, it is fun when kids notice the bear and the rabbit!) A true sign of a great mentor text is when a book can be referred to again and again for a number of different reasons.


After you read the story, marvel at the artwork and find our beloved rabbit and bear, you can go back and think of the message Barnett is sending to students. If ever there were a book to span from Pre-K through high school, this would be it. My students have been working on inferring character traits, so we have read the book thinking about what we can infer about Anabelle and the archduke. Anabelle is such a great character, she's so nice and generous even when people aren't so nice to her. Mr. Crabtree is such a quirky character and she is nice to him. While we read and infer, we have been also talking about how things change when we accept people for who they are and are kind to others regardless of who they are. It's great that this book focuses on spreading kindness to everyone but doesn't have anything to do with being mean first and changing your ways or defending anyone. It's just about being nice to be nice. 


There is a part in the book when the illustrations go from happy and colorful to very dark because of what is happening in the story. The first time I read this book to my son he was so upset at what happened on this page. Since then, I have read it with students from 4th through 9th grade and they all have the same reaction. It's priceless. For anyone teaching climax or a turning point in the plot, or mood even, this book is amazing. It is so apparent that it is a great example of all of these. 


When reading this as a writer, what I noticed is that Barnett starts many of the sentences with conjunctions. I understand that there is a place for this but it doesn't work for me in this book. When I read it, I find myself wanting to cut those conjunctions out because I feel like it constricts the flow of the story (but, of course, I don't). What I have been pointing out to my students as we read, is that Barnett chooses some great words to use. He doesn't say "ask," he says "demanded". He doesn't say "threw", he says "hurled". I love pointing out when authors use $100 words. These words really bring the characters to life. Also, Barnett has written a kind of pattern book that is engaging across all ages. I LOVE IT! 


P.S. - This is a book about yarn-bombing which is fascinating if you type it into a search engine. This really happens! It would be interesting to debate whether yarn-bombing should be considered graffiti or not. At the Anderson's Breakfast, when they booktalked this book, they suggested working on math skills by teaching kids how to knit and measuring the circumference of objects to yarn-bomb. 
Read Together: Grades Pre-K - 12 
Read Alone: Grades Pre-K - 12 
Read With: I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen, A Sick Day for Amos McGee by  Philip C. Stead, Stand Tall, Mollly Lou Melon by Patty Lovell, non-fiction about knitting, articles about yarn-bombing 
Snatch of Text:  
"On a cold afternoon, in a cold little town, 
where everywhere you looked was either the white of snow
or the black of soot from chimneys,
Annabelle found a box filled with yarn of every color."
Reading Strategies to Practice: Making Inferences, Making Connections, Making Predictions 
Writing Strategies to Practice: Characterization, Mood, Narrative, Word Choice 
Writing Prompts: Think of a time in your life when you or someone you know did something for another person just to be kind. How did it make you feel or how did it change your outlook? 
Topics Covered: Kindness, Generosity, Giving, Bullying, Attitude, Greed, Making Judgements, Knitting, Yarn-Bombing, Integration - Math, 

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Between Shades of Gray


Between Shades of GrayTitle: Between Shades of Gray
Author: Ruta Sepetys
Publisher: Philomel Books
Publication Date: March, 2011
Genre/Format: Historical Fiction/Novel
Summary: In 1939, Stalin was expanding the USSR and invaded the Baltic countries of Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia. He then started deporting anyone who he deemed a threat to his vision. This included scholars, reporters, or anyone that has been outspoken against him. Between Shades of Gray is about 15 year old Lina who, along with her mother and brother, is ripped from their home one night in 1941 and thrown into a truck to be deported to Siberia. They are separated from her father and their only hope is to stay together so that maybe they can be together as a family one day. 
What I Think: This one is hard to put into words. This is such a powerful story with characters that you grow to love as they are put through hell. What makes the hell even more grotesque is that it is based off of stories that really happened during a time of history that does not get spoken of too often. Like Holocaust books, this book is one that will rip you apart as you read it. It starts so suddenly and you are breathless as Lina and her family are dragged from their home and put into trucks and trains with conditions none of us can even fathom. Since the book is told from Lina's point of view and she had no idea that her family was even in danger, the fear and shock that she feels resonates with you as a reader and lends the the horror that you will feel. But the true theme behind this book is love & hope and how important they are and how they can be found even in the most horrible of situations. 

Ruta Sepetys did a couple really brilliant things with this book that I really appreciated. First, I loved the theme of art throughout the novel and how it is what kept Lina sane. How she weaved Munch and his artwork throughout the story really captured my attention. Second, I really appreciated the way that she would use a single word to trigger a memory that Lina would share with us. It is exactly how real life is when you make connections between the present and memories. 

I will say that the only negative thing I have to say is that I wanted more. I really felt that it started to rush a bit towards the end and then it ended too suddenly. However, it was not done in a way that hurt the brilliance of the book, but just enough to bother me. 

And now, I am intrigued by this time of history. As I've stated in the past, I didn't feel like I had a very good history education and often learn new things from historical fiction- this was no exception. I'd always known Stalin was evil, but I never knew why. This book taught me so much and has made me want to learn more. I was talking with a friend about it and she made a very good point- we often don't learn about genocides or other hardships within a country if the dictator doesn't cross borders. It is only when it starts to affect us do we begin to care. That needs to change and this history is one example of why.
Read Together: Grades 7 to 12
Read Alone: Grades 7 to 12
Read With: Breaking Stalin's Nose by Eugene Yelchin, Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank, Letters from Rifka by Karen Hesse, Angel on the Square by Gloria Whelan, The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
Snatch of Text: 
"They took me in my nightgown. 
Thinking back, the signs were there- family photos burned in the fireplace, Mother sewing her best silver and jewelry into the lining of her coat late at night, and Papa not returning form work.  My younger brother, Jonas, was asking questions. I asked questions too, but perhaps I refused to acknowledge the signs.  Only later did I realize that Mother and Father intended we escape.  We did not escape
We were taken." (p. 3) 
Mentor Text for: Characterization, Making Connections, Background Knowledge, Asking Questions, Flashback
Writing Prompts: Throughout Between Shades of Gray Lina often connects her life with the artwork of Edvard Munch.  Find a piece of art that you feel represents a time in your life and write about how the art and/or the artist's style fits your life. 
Topics Covered: Cross curricular- Soviet Union, Coming of age, Identity, Family, Art


Tuesday, February 21, 2012

My Life Undecided

My Life UndecidedTitle: My Life Undecided
Author: Jessica Brody
Publisher: Farrar, Straus, Giroux
Publication Date: June, 2011
Genre/Format: Realistic Fiction/Novel
Summary: Brooklyn never seems to make the right choices. She fell in an abandoned mine shaft when she was two and it has been down hill since then. Now that she is 15, nothing has changed and the book starts with her arrest for arson, trespassing and underage drinking after throwing a party at a model home and ultimately burning it down. She has to figure out how to make better decisions! Or why not let others make decisions for her?! Brilliant! So, Brooklyn starts a blog where her users can vote on her next decision. Through her followers' decisions, Brooklyn learns more about herself than she bargained for. 
What I Think: First, I have to say that I love the concept of this book! Although Brooklyn and her problems are very similar to other protagonists you may find in YA books, Jessica Brody throws in a nice twist with the addition of the blog. It gives the novel the uniqueness that makes it stand alone. I also love Brooklyn's narration and had more than a couple laugh out loud moments. 

I loved the boys in the novel (yes, there is a romantic story line), but I will say that it bothered me that it was the nerdy, smart debate boy vs. the sexy, bad boy smoker. I felt that they were both a bit stereotypey at times; however, I will say that Brody made sure that they were both loveable characters so that the choice was even harder. The "bad boy" was overall a nice kid (although I hate that bad boy always has to smoke) and the "nerd" was more than what he seemed to be. 

The message that this novel sends is very obvious, but it is done through an enthralling story so it never seems naggy or preachy. I think it is a message that many teens need to hear. Most teens make decisions like Brooklyn does and watching her go through them might help them reflect on their own choices in life. Actually, thinking back to when I was a teenager, this whole idea of having others make teenagers' decisions is pretty brilliant :) 

Finally, I will say that there was a suprisingly touching moment in this book that had me crying and I found that it was the major turning point in Brooklyn's life. I liked that something that didn't seem too important to Brooklyn ended up being the thing that ultimately affected her the most. 

I loved that this book could make me laugh and cry. It was truly well done.

Read Together: Grades 8+
Read Alone: Grades 8+
Read With: Just Listen by Sarah Dessen, This Lullaby by Sarah Dessen, Not that Kind of Girl by Siobhan Vivian, Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver, Lessons from a Dead Girl by Jo Knowles
Snatch of Text: 

My parents have been telling me for years that I make "bad decisions." But I never believed them. Because, you know, they're parents. And since when are parents ever right about anything?...



So it isn't until now, at this very second- with sirens blaring, the crowd of people gathering to try to steal a gossip-worthy peek, and the overall chaos of a bod idea turned very bad- that I start to think my parents might just be onto something. 


Because when you're being handcuffed and lowered into a backseat of a squad car, you kind of have to start reconsidering that way you live your life. (p. 4-5)  

The police station smells like burnt toast. As if someone popped a piece of sourdough in the toaster oven and forgot about it. Or maybe the flecks of smoky odor are just lingering in my nostrils from the fire. Rebellious stowaways clinging to the inside of my respiratory system like an annoying guest who refuses to leave long after the party is over. (p. 6)
Mentor Text for: Humor, Plot Development, Voice, Predicting, Cause/Effect, Making Connections
Writing Prompts: Write a blog post like Brooklyn explaining a situation you are in and the decisions you need to make. 
Topics Covered: Popularity, Choices, Friendship, Love, Change