Friday, October 9, 2009


Deathnote (12 volume manga series)

Tsugumi Ohba/Takeshi Obata (2003)

I'm not a big violence fan, even in my comics; this does have a lot of frequent and indiscriminate murder, although mostly "off screen" and not graphic at all.  For older students it does raise questions regarding capital punishment, the battle of right vs. wrong, corrupt power, etc.  It's well done with twists and puzzles, interesting characters, and bits of humor.  The later issues tend towards inner monologues and less action.

After Tupac & D Foster

After Tupac & D Foster

by Jacqueline Woodson (2008)

Newbery Honor Book

Three 11-13 yr old girls deal with families, foster parents, growing up, a gay brother in prison, and the music/death of Tupac.   Very well done, the girls deal with personal freedom and maturing while staying respectful of adults and their own self-worth and potential.  Positive role models, coming of age.

Because of Winn-Dixie

Because of Winn-Dixie

by Kate DiCammilo (2001)

Newbery Honor Book

A dog that smiles and is afraid of thunderstorms.  A mother that runs off and a father that preaches.  Quirky townsfolk that help a girl cope. Great book.

I think this book would be useful in helping students start writing, using pets/animals that communicate with children.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Graphic Novels

I enjoy reading graphic novels and comics/comic strips; I think students should be taught to read them critically, just as they would a boring ol' book with no pictures -- why this layout, these colors? what does the facial expression or font style tell you about the characters?  Reluctant writers can create comic panels as a way of learning and practicing the elements of fiction and non-fiction writing.  Can you tell me a story using these images and/or can you tell me the story without the images?

The Wind in the Willows

The Wind in the Willows

Kenneth Grahame (1908)

I think this is the oldest book on my list so far... probably better as a read aloud than independent reading for most students.  Poetic, old fashioned, most people know Mr Toad but I really enjoyed Rat and Mole (and would love to spend an evening toasty by the fire with Badger.

(confession: didn't actually finish this one yet, but the Library wants it back)

Bud, Not Buddy

Bud, Not Buddy

Christopher Paul Curtis

Newbery Medal 2000

This was supposed to start my summer reading, but for some reason something else kept getting shifted to the top of the stack.  My loss.  Now that I finally got to it, the week before school started, I wish I would have read it earlier so I could flip back to page 1 and read it again.

I like books I can connect to music; reading this in class would be accompanied by jazz and 1930's tunes.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Los Perros Magicos de los Volcanes

Magic Dogs of the Volcanoes

por Manlio Argueta

A folk tale about the magic dogs, cadejos, of El Salvador. I love books written in both Spanish and English, I want to have a ton of not only for my ELLs but for all students -- how can you live in SoCal and not know how to say "quesadilla"?!?!?

Small Worlds: Maps and Mapmaking

Small Worlds: Maps and Mapmaking

Karen Romano Young  (2002)

I love maps, exploration, cartography, etc.  I think students should make and read more maps, and this book shows many varieties beyond the traditional road map no one could ever refold.

Junie B. Jones

Junie B., First Grader Cheater Pants

Barbara Park

My first Junie B Jones book -- I tried to get one during 3rd grade "DEAR" time, but they were always snatched up too quickly.  This one would be good to read aloud  in the beginning of the school year, even for older students.  Honesty, cheating, consequences for actions.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Grey King

The Grey King

by Susan Cooper

Newbery Medal 1976

One of the middle books in a series, The Dark is Rising Sequence, of which I have not read any of the others, but each story seems able to stand alone. Magic spells, prophecy and destiny, Good vs. Evil, English boy in Wales.

Very poetic,

connections: A Wrinkle in Time, The Golden Compass

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Catherine, Called Birdy

Catherine, Called Birdy
by Karen Cushman (1994)

Very spunky, this Catherine, aka Birdy; she's a poet, an artist, a diarist, a nurse, and a mischievous, troublemaking runaway rebel.  Good book to help show what a child's life was like in other times, as in 13 going on bride and mother. My 5th graders last year were shocked to learn girls were not always, and in some places are still not, allowed to go to school.  Probably more appealing to girls than boys.



Laurence Yep (1995)

Part history, part historical fiction; well done anti-war with a personal touch students will connect to.

You Wouldn't Want to Be a(n)...

You Wouldn't Want to Be... an Inca Mummy? a Roman Soldier? a Victorian Mill Worker?

illustrated by David Antram

Cool series of books, great illustrations, sometimes gory facts (the Inca Mummy one has quite a few sacrifices) but lots of interesting facts, many centered on a child's life in the specific period.

The Matchlock Gun

The Matchlock Gun

by Walter D. Edmonds

Newbery Medal 1942

A boy must help his mother protect the family while his father is away during the French and Indian War; bravery, responsibility, self-sacrifice, following instructions and remaining cool under fire (figuratively and literally). Probably not 21st century PC depiction of the Native Americans, but it wasn't derogatory either.

connections: the Little House books (is it the art?), Johnny Tremain, Winter Danger

Thursday, August 20, 2009

My Mom the Pirate

My Mom the Pirate

by Jackie French (2003)

cute, funny, good for beginning of school year or new students

Thursday, August 13, 2009

My Side of the Mountain

My Side of the Mountain

Jean Craighead George

Newbery Honor Book 1960

After reading Paulsen's Hatchet books, it's tempting to lable this as "fantasy" -- c'mon, the kid's camping in the back yard talking to Disney animals compared to Brian's ordeal. ; )

Fun read, great ideas for budding wilderness challengers, if at times a bit farfetched and simplistic.

The Time Warp Trio

The Good, the Bad, and the Goofy
Me Oh Maya

by Jon Scieszka (say it like "fresca")

Oh, those three wacky kids and their magical book! Traveling backwards and forwards through time (usually backwards) and getting involved with a variety of historical characters and events, with interesting factoids tossed in for good measure. Some of these read like the weaker Magical Treehouse series, the kids are only put in trouble to get them out quickly, but with much more personality and humor.

An Innocent Soldier

An Innocent Soldier

by Josef Holub (2007)

A farmboy fights in Napoleon's army and befriends a young officer; not very cheerful-- full of hunger, poverty, and the horrors of war (realistically but not graphically), but with humor, personal caring, and positive messages.

Writing style is for a stronger reader; translated, complex sentences and ideas.

connections: Red Badge of Courage, My Brother Sam is Dead

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The Giant Rat of Sumatra: or, Pirates Galore

The Giant Rat of Sumatra

by Sid Fleischman (2005)

Good thing Flieschman Jr or Sr, I can never keep 'em straight, put in the "Pirates Galore" subtitle, because there are a ton of Giant Rats, specifically from Sumatra, in books, plays, poems, etc. out there! Never realized they were so popular...

Part pirate, part western, part history of San Diego; a shipwrecked boy helps a reforming buccaneer become a Californio ranchero and find his long lost childhood sweetheart before heading back to find his mother in Boston. Good adventure, interesting characters, life decisions, personal responsibility, character building. And pirates.

The conclusion to the Great Horned Spoon (which I have not found at the Library yet) trilogy.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Farmer Boy

Farmer Boy

Laura Ingalls Wilder (1933/1971)

I have a soft spot for the Little House books; I received the set for my 8th birthday (still one of the top 3 birthdays of my life -- these books and a baseball glove & bat, all of which I still have around. Sentimental or Pathetic?) and read along with my teacher when she read them aloud to the class, plus my mom probably read them when she was growing up as well.

Anyway, I only have one son left to pass the treasured stories on to, the first 2 have rejected them soundly (without really giving the books a chance, I believe) due to lack of lasers, monsters, or appearance of any magic wands. Their loss.

I love this book in part for the food: pies, breads, ice cream, turkey, sausage, ribs, fresh berries... Almanzo is a hard-working growing frontier boy, and he appreciates his meals! I wonder if my boys have noticed I've stepped up their chores and duties since reading of the dawn to dusk work it takes to run a farm...



Andrew Clements (1996)

A smart-aleck kid defies authority and causes chaos at an elementary school... oh, wait, a creative student leads his classmates in thinking outside the box and expressing their inventive talents.

King of the Wind

King of the Wind

by Marguerite Henry

Newbery Medal 1949

The story of a mute Moroccan boy and his horse traveling across Europe as their fortunes go down, up, down, up again, down further, slightly up, down and out, and finally up again for a happy ending. Especially for the horse, who becomes a very popular stud.

More of an animal story than a boy story, we never get to know too much of the boy or see him grow/change, except through the fortunes of the horse. But quick pace, some humor, and the underdogs come out on top in the end.

connections: ?

Thursday, July 2, 2009

William Blake's Inn

A Visit to William Blake's Inn

Nancy Willard

Newbery Medal 1982

I am a big William Blake fan, painting and writing, but not a big poetry fan. This is one of those "It won the Newbery? Really?" I liked the art (Caldecott Honor) and the ideas behind the poems better than the poems themselves.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Midwife's Apprentice

The Midwife's Apprentice

Karen Cushman

Newbery Medal 1996
Excellent book.
A nameless orphan urchin goes from sleeping in the dung to becoming a midwife's apprentice, learning her self-worth/respect/potential along the way. Great role model, not preachy, interesting characters, and a ton of herbal remedies. I learned you can get a baby out by just shouting up the birth passage "Infant, come forward!" ; )

Timothy of the Cay

Timothy of the Cay

Theodore Taylor (1993)

The follow-up to The Cay alternates between Phillip's rescue and recovery and Timothy's past life from cabin boy to captain of his own ship. Phillip becomes quite independent and makes many important decisions, eventually going with his father back to the cay and Timothy's grave. Timothy's story is a quality portrayal of working hard to overcome fears and predjudice to become a strong, productive man.

connections: shipwrecks, survival, blindness; Hatchet, The Slave Dancer, Winter Danger, Follow My Leader

Ralph S. Mouse

The Mouse and the Motorcycle (1965)
Runaway Ralph (1970)

Beverly Cleary

Ralph is a mouse, and if you are a boy that knows what noises to make in order for a toy vehicle to move across the carpet, you can understand Ralph when he asks if he can borrow your wheels.

Cute stories, boy-centric, discusses taking responsibility and trying to grow up.

Charley Skedaddle

Charley Skedaddle

Patricia Beatty (1996)

Monday, June 29, 2009

Summertime Stack o' Books

I always wonder if the Librarian looks at me funny (when I'm not paying her our weekly fines, that is) since I check out as many books from the juvenile section as my boys do...

summer's first week's results:

The Mouse and the Motorcycle (1965) & Runaway Ralph (1970) by Beverly Cleary

Timothy of the Cay (1993) by Theodore Taylor

Freak the Mighty (1993) by Rodman Philbrick

plus assorted graphic novels (Batman) and parts of a couple of history books...

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Follow My Leader

Follow My Leader

by James B. Garfield (1957)

This is a read-aloud book for my 3rd grade class, but I brought it home to read ahead so I wasn't surprised by anything. I'm normally biased against books published more than a few decades back, and the Eddie Haskell dialogue had me involuntarily rolling my eyes ("Golly, guys, dry up, would ya?") but it turns out to be a worthwhile read.

The hero's name is Jimmy Carter and he's the class president -- how weird is that? --before being blinded in a firecracker accident. He needs to learn Braille and how to work with a guide dog, as well as forgive the boy who caused the accident and prove to the fellows he can still be a good Scout. A lot of opportunities for additional learning: empathy for the blind, of course, and Braille, guide dogs, constellations, bats and radar, and telling time without gasp! a digital clock.

So what is the acceptable/preferred "label" these days, what do I file and tag this as? Handicap, disability, challenged... ???

Friday, April 17, 2009


Guest Reviewer
Son #2


by James Patterson

this book, witch is the fourth, and last book in the series, is about a girl named Maximum Ride, who has wings on her back from the result of being experimentented on by a bunch of mad scientists. when she escaped from the lab, she teamed up with 5 other bird kids. she became the leader of their little group. on their quest to find their real parents, they team up with Max's mom, who is the leader of a group that is trying to raise global warming awareness. When her mom disappears, its up to her to find her(with a little help from the navy) to find her mom.
I enjoyed this book because it has a lot of adventure, suspense, mystery and action.
I hope you enjoy this book as much as i did.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

The Graveyard Book

The Graveyard Book
Neil Gaiman
Newbery Medal 2009
Possibly the spookiest Newbery winner ever? Maybe I could tell you if I didn't try to read it while covering my eyes...
Okay, I finished it. Great book, on the different side from most Newberry winners, but definitely deserving. With all the interesting characters and subplots I wished at times it was a thicker book, but the focus rightfully stayed on the main character.
update: haven't listened to this yet, and will make sure all the lights in the house are blazing brightly when I do, but here Neil Gaiman reads his Newbery winner!

Johnny Tremain

Johnny Tremain

by Esther Forbes

Newbery Medal 1944

Coming-of-age during the American Revolution, a poor but selfish/arrogant boy finds himself and a greater purpose during the birth of our nation.

I heard a lot of negative comments about this one on LibraryThing, mostly within the "books kids are forced to read" threads, but I enjoyed it; as a 6th grader I* may have felt it was long and therefore boring. Who has time in a classroom to have kids read novels anyway? There is some awkward prose, choppy almost fragmented sentences, possibly due to when it was written (?)...

I think there are several movie versions, anyone recommend a particular one?

connections: Paul Revere, colonial/revolutionary America, My Brother Sam is Dead , the Dear America series

*"I" as in a broad, generalized assumption of 6th graders-- I personally probably would have loved it, and I'm surprised I'd missed it way back then...

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Winter Danger

Winter Danger

William O. Steele (1954)

A boy and his father live the "woodsy" life, sleeping in hollow trees and hunting for food, until a extremely hard winter forces the father to leave the boy with relatives; the solitary, independent boy learns about family, community, depending on and helping others. Plus he has a cool battle with wolves.

connections: LHontheP, Hatchet

Thursday, January 8, 2009


Guts: The True Stories Behind "Hatchet" and the Brian Books

by Gary Paulsen (2002)

Paulsen's childhood and adult adventures in the wilderness, focused mainly on hunting and flying; interesting, and good for students to see how real (and dangerous) some seemingly fun "adventures" can be, and also to point how important it can be to "write what you know" -- inspiration for those that can't think of anything to write...

Possible compare/contrast the true accounts and the fictionalized versions from his books.

While reading it, I did feel a little guilty whining when our temps here dropped below 60... brrrrr!

Beedle the Bard

The Tales of Beedle the Bard

by J.K. Rowling (2008)

A nice little addition to the Harry Potter shelf, fairy tales of magic with commentary from the great Dumbledore himself...