Saturday, September 4, 2010

Mouse Guard

by David Petersen (2007)

Medieval mice having battles and adventures -- themes of loyalty, courage, sacrifice, and beautiful art.  Some of the panels were a bit confusing in the beginning, and the mice have so very tiny eyeballs I couldn't find them sometimes, but those are minor quibbles.  A collection of the monthly comic Winter 1152 is out, as are other stories involving the fearless and fearsome mice.

Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing

by Judy Blume (1972)

Another favorite from my youth, and if you knew my brother and/or sister* you understand how often I exclaimed "I feel your pain, Peter!"

Nothing deep, just good entertainment, especially for for those students with younger siblings.  I found little Fudge (and Mom) more annoying than endearing, but definitely respect Peter's resiliency.

Love Blume's website, lots of personal insights on story origins and comments on censorship.

*this may read as if my brother became my sister, but I have one of each and my brother has, as far as I know, remained very manly.

Bull Run

by Paul Fleischman (1993)

Various accounts of the Civil War's opening battle.  An interesting idea but too many viewpoints to be a cohesive "story" -- prob better used to supplement a history/social studies unit, or even a readers' theater style to contrast pov.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010


by Judy Blume (1974)

I'm sure I read a first edition of this, way back when, but I certainly didn't remember how mean all the kids were!  Not a cheery read, but probably a necessary one.  I know some teachers make this the annual beginning of the school year read-aloud.

Bullies, cliques, Halloween pranks, and some people get what they deserve, but not all of them. 

I think I'm starting a little "Blume-fest" -- picked up a couple of Fudge books too, and open to suggestions...

Deconstructing Penguins

by L. and N. Goldstone (2005)

Nice companion to understanding what you and/or your children are reading, focusing on the protagonist vs antagonist and theme in each book with clear, simple terms and examples.  Books covered include Charlotte's Web, Babe, Animal Farm and The Phantom Tollbooth.

Kenny & the Dragon

by Tony DiTerlizzi  (2008)

The classic story: rabbit finds dragon, dragon quotes poetry, local knight brought out of retirement kills dragon... no, not really.  This rabbit is brave and resourceful, and refuses to allow the traditional violent end to his new friend.  Nice story of a family working together, trusting in each other and working together to creatively solve a problem, as well as an excellent example of using words, voicing fears and concerns, to communicate instead of inaction.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Good Books For Kids

no time for details, bases are loaded for my 1st place Padres, go check out the site!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

I Read Banned Books!

Not all of them, of course, some are a waste of paper and ink.  But I certainly support their right to be written, published, and read!  Image from the ALA store and Banned Books book.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

The Case of the...

...Graveyard Ghost? ...Barfy Birthday? ...Crooked Carnival?

by Michelle Torrey

The detective team of Doyle and Fossey, scientists and sleuths, solve crimes for their neighborhood and teach principles of Science at the same time!

These are very cool, perfect for the classroom, highly recommended books.  Not only are they neat stories, with both clever and gross humor and Encyclopedia Brown (if he was a science/invention nerd) -like mysteries to solve, but just when the reader's curiosity is piqued there is a DIY activity included -- secret codes, dry ice, make your own pulley* -- with clear instructions and plenty of safety tips.  I think these stories (there's a few cases in each book) would be great to introduce a Science unit, to refresh student brains before assessment, even as a quiz: Can you solve the case?

* these 3 are just from one book, the others have been loaned out to neighborhood kids for summer reading; I told them that's what happens when you live next to a teacher!

Regarding the Fountain

by Kate Klise (1998)

Entertaining story, a 5th grade class and an eccentric fountain artist team up to defeat the water-hogging bad guys, told entirely in letters, postcards, memos, artwork, etc.  Great idea for students stuck on the whole writing thing -- break it down, tell a little at a time, consider the various viewpoints...

The Last Book In The Universe

by Rodman Philbrick (2010)

I read about this book skimming through The Book Whisperer, which is next on my I Read, Therefore I'll Get Hired list, and had to grab it off the shelf.  A little dreary and depressing, but well worth it.  A bit freaky to read during our recent rash of earthquakes, but it's just fiction, right?

The world is separated into the protected, advanced, "ideal" people and the struggling, dying, "left overs" fending for themselves in apocalyptic conditions. Of course there is contact, and our narrator/(anti-)hero becomes part of a bridge that might just save everyone.  Discussions on family, personal and societal responsibility, the effect of decisions.  Lots of cool invented vocabulary, some tough to decipher but a good challenge for students, and a timely story with the year 2012 coming soon...

Saturday, July 10, 2010



by Scott Westerfeld (2009)

An adventurous, thought-provoking, historical, steampunk re-imagining of the causes and beginnings of The Great War.  Moving back and forth between the machine-based "Clankers" and the DNA-manipulating "Darwinists" until the two main characters collide, Westerfeld creates quite an amazing world of 8-legged tanks, flying whales, and young people caught up in a Europe on the brink of war.  Great illustrations, old fashioned pen & ink, and a lot of invented vocabulary.

Good for many discussions, including reasons for war, loyalty, evolution, decisions that alter history, gender roles...

Of course, there is more to the story that goes unresolved than not, as this is surely part of a planned... trilogy? hexology? octology?  

I used the "sex" tag only due to the references, early, few and not dwelt on, to what our hero(ine) must hide, and is glad she does not have ample of, in order to pose as a boy.  I suppose most 4-5th graders could understand and handle it, but ya never know...

Thursday, July 8, 2010

The 7 Habits of Happy Kids

The 7 Habits of Happy Kids

by Sean Covey (2008)

Cute stories to teach life lessons, and not too preachy at all -- would be great for read aloud at the beginning of the school year, even for upper grades (break the ice, remind them of manners, respect, etc.).  There is also a "parents' corner" at the end of each chapter with discussion questions and helpful hints.

Wonder if I could buy several copies and pass them out the first day of school -- can we give parents homework assignments?

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Mammoth Academy

The Mammoth Academy

by Neal Layton (2010)

The Wife rolls her eyes when I laugh out loud reading a children's book, so she was practically dizzy out of her skull as I chuckled my way through this one.  Full of silly art, corny jokes, sweet friendships, creative problem solving, and plain ol' good entertainment.  And cavemen.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Test of Time

Test of Time

by Charles Harrington Elster (2004)

I haven't actually finished this one, I terminated my reading after the initial chapters due to the distraction of bold print words in every single sentence -- why, you query?  Because those bold words just might be on the SAT and I need to build my vocabulary!  There's also some quizzes and a glossary in the back, and it seems like a good idea to expose students to an expanded assortment of words.  My problem wasn't the story, something about college students and Mark Twain break dancing, but too many $3 words is just bad writing.  That said, I'll give it to Son #2 for another opinion...

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Is It Night or Day?

Is It Night or Day? *

by Fern Schumer Chapman (2010)

The story of a Jewish German girl sent to live in America to escape the inevitable in WWII.  Not a cheerful story or rousing ending, but very poignant and seems to accurately portray the swing and resiliency of childhood emotions (which are often the only thing allowing children to survive the horrors this world subjects them to).

This would be a nice companion to The Book Thief, showing a slightly different side (and location) touched by the Holocaust.  Highly recommended.

The author based the story on her mother's life, and has another book and a nice website as well.

* exactly how should the title be written -- It and Or, it and or, It and or ...? I've seen it several different ways. What's the rule, or do I just go by what looks better?

Ugliest Blog Ever?

No wonder I get a headache every time I look at my own blog, it is butt-ugly and makes me wonder if I'm color blind.  My apologies.

Sunday, June 13, 2010



by Scott O'Dell (1976)

The sequel to Island of the Blue Dolphins, although the girl from the island is a minor character; her niece lives in a Santa Barbara mission and longs both to meet/rescue her independent island Aunt and gain her own freedom.  Great for whatever year students study California history and the Missions, and for discussions of how and when to do the right thing -- would you tell the truth if it landed you in jail?

The Wednesday Wars

The Wednesday Wars

by Gary D. Schmidt (2007)

Newbery Honor Book

Very good book, with a lot going on: religion, politics, Viet Nam, sibling rivalry, jerk of a father, hippies, cream puffs, Shakespeare, rats, bullies, heroes, baseball, track, and even a little romance... whew! 

There's a lot going on but a lot to grab on to, and different readers will like/focus on different elements.  Well worth it for higher readers, and a great introduction/companion to U.S. history (late 60's) and The Bard.  Probably good too for a class that thinks they have a mean teacher who doesn't like them...

I wonder if Son #2 realizes that when he's finished reading this one I'm going to start him on Shakespeare -- Macbeth?  Midsummer's Night?

Max The Mighty

Max the Mighty

by Rodman Philbrick (1998)

Gentle giant Max's continuing adventures, a sequel to Freak the Mighty -- this time around Max has more on the ball mentally and a heightened sense of chivalry.  The bad guy is very cartoonish (I even pictured him twirling a thin mustache) and the cross country escape very implausible, but you know from the beginning Max will do something sweet and good and it will turn out all right. 

La Telarana de Carlota

Charlotte's Web (en Espanol)

by E. B. White* (1952)

Of course I've read this one before, but this week it will be in Spanish, out loud, to a 2nd grade class... wish me suerte!

*first posted this with "Stuart Little" as the author; should not blog and watch NBA Finals at same time.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Jim the Boy

Jim the Boy

by Tony Earley (2000)

Loved it.

A boy whose father died before he was born, but is very much present in his and his mother's life*, grows up in small town America with trains, Ty Cobb, the coming of electric lights, and his 3 uncles to show him the way.  Good balance between the lighter county fair and school yard chapters and those that deal with Polio, a dead father, and a scary grandfather.  Captures the confusion and perspective of a young boy well.

*Probably some of the "eternal love" stuff is above a 10 yr old, but even if the boys just skim through those parts there's a lot good in the book.

The Magician's Elephant

The Magician's Elephant

by Kate DiCamillo (2009)

Old fashioned, in a good way -- beautiful illustrations, magic, soldiers, orphans finding/being found by childless couple... It really does have an old time fairy tale feel to it, and the art is a big part of it (almost has a Hugo Cabret look).

Monday, May 31, 2010

Skulduggery Pleasant

Skulduggery Pleasant

by Derek Landy (2007)

Similar to Alchemyst but in more of a gangster (with an er) crime setting; I really like the main characters and wish the story would have gone deeper into our heroic skeleton... but since this is probably 1 of umpteen in a series, maybe that's for another book.
Didn't really like the video game violence, pages of "then she answered with a scissor kick, only to be met with a sweeping blow to..." gets boring. Then again, I'm not 10 anymore...

The Alchemyst

The Alchemyst

by Michael Scott (2007)

I generally try to stay away from books that
a) Son #2 retells me for a breathless hour every morning,
b) looks to be part of a series of 6 (minimum) books,
c) and, in sort of a combo deal of a and b, Son #2 reads said series at a pace of a book a night so that by the end of the week his summaries are so fantasy-imbibed and sleep-deprived as to be fairly incomprehensible...

But of course he's still cute enough to convince me once in a while to try a book.  I like this one for the sibling rivalry and the mythical characters -- of all cultures and times, mixed together in a good vs evil plot -- but as I look at how few pages I have left compared to how many unresolved issues (what about the brother's powers? do we trust this Flammel guy?!?), I know I've been sucked in again.  Fast paced, lots of characters, a little humor, contemporary setting/references.

Monday, May 24, 2010

When You Reach Me

When You Reach Me

by Rebecca Stead

Newbery Medal 2010

A strange book... I liked it, but for some reason my "will students like/get/have any idea" spidey-sense kept me from really liking it.  I like time travel, but (warning: blasphemous statement ahead) I am not a fan of A Wrinkle In Time; I like game shows, but wonder why $20,000 is supposed to make anyone rich? Weird cover. Why 1979? Hmmm...

 That said, I did like it.  Great lead character, strong supporting cast, interesting puzzle, lots of relationship issues to discuss -- plus time travel!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Honus and Me

Honus & Me

by Dan Gutman (1997)

A struggling bench warmer discovers the ability to travel through time by wishing on baseball cards, and wrestles with the desire to use his power to make a lot of money (therefore getting his parents back together) or to do good and the right thing.  He does learn the importance of self-confidence, a solid stance at the plate, and speed on the basepaths.

As one with a closet full of baseball cards, none of (or all of) which will ever fetch 400k and allow me to retire to a life of leisure and reading, I cry every time I read one of these books and the valuable card gets torn or destroyed and fails to bring our hero the riches he deserves.  I do enjoy the historically accurate portrayals of the players and their game, and there is a positive moral usually involved.

The Black Pearl

The Black Pearl

by Scott O'Dell (1967)

The classic tale: boy finds pearl, boy loses pearl. Boy's dad gives pearl away, giant manta wants revenge for pearl, boy steals pearl to toss back into ocean.

Superstition, greed, selfish/selfless, allegory, nature.

Which came first? Doesn't this sound like a Steinbeck story?  I'm going to back and read his version again, it's been awhile...

Monday, May 17, 2010

Bookulate Now!

Stuck on what book to read next?  Don't like any of the suggestions those so called "friends" or "experts" give you? Then you need to try The Bookulating Suggest-O-Mometer  !!! 

Gotta love modern technology, what will they think of next?

Friday, May 14, 2010

Sarah Bishop

Sarah Bishop

by Scott O'Dell (1980)

Somehow I don't think a girl on the run from the Redcoats, a lecherous trapper, an amorous Quaker, and a hungry bear, sharing a cave with bats and a crippled badger, grieving the deaths of her father and brother, would look as good as Sarah does on this cover.

But I wouldn't be surprised, because she is one tough, independent heroine who makes her own way through the Revolutionary War issues between Patriot and Tory. The last chapters with the witch trial were a little awkward, but I like how they were different from the standard girl-in-peril story.

connections: Paulsen's Hatchet books, Johnny Tremain and Brother Sam Is Dead, My Side of the Mountain...

Muggie Maggie

Muggie Maggie

by Beverly Cleary

Maggie doesn't want to learn how to write in cursive -- why should she, she knows how to use her Dad's computer (to update: and text/Netbook/iPad etc) ?
But her smart and sneaky teacher devises a plan and of course Maggie learns to connect her i's and loop her g's...

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

My Last Skirt

My Last Skirt
The Story of Jennie Hodgers, Union Soldier

by  Lynda Durrant (2006)

An Irish girl poses as a boy to get a job, comes to America and works as a boy, then fights in the Civil War as a boy.  The true story of a "petticoat soldier" told as fiction from the girl's pov with elements of immigration, women's rights, war, evolution, and a wee touch of romance.

The ending was a bit odd, our hero/heroine turned from a teen soldier into a grumpy old man, but overall an excellent book. The issues she faces becoming a he are dealt with maturely and realistically, and right from the beginning I saw her as a person, an Irish immigrant then a soldier, rather than a girl impersonating a boy.

Found these other Civil war books to add to the TBR stack.

confession: I stole this book.  Well, just borrowed it really from the teacher I subbed for yesterday, but it's okay since it was my son's class and because I just read The Book Thief.  I'll sneak it into his backpack after he goes to bed.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

The Book Thief

The Book Thief*

by Markus Zusak (2005)

Great book.  Beautiful, simple, touching book.

Very rarely do I want to start a book over as soon as I finish it, but this one is on that special list.  Narrated respectfully by Death, the collector of souls kept extremely busy by Hitler and WWII, it is the story of a girl who loses and gains everything. She knows death and loss from the beginning, but through a new family, friends, and a Jew hidden in the basement we are shown the strength of love, hope, and doing what is right.  It is not always a happy book, and it certainly isn't a traditional happy ending, but it brings attention to what is truly important. 

I really liked the use of art in the story, the pages of illustrations that show us Max's book, not just tell us about it.  Students could make their own nook/graphic novel with old books.

My 15 year old loved it, my 12.75 year old will read it next.  It's not an easy book for every reader, but it's not difficult either. Beyond the Holocaust connection there can be discussions of family, loyalty, risk, and the power of words/books.

*I have found that in the 20+ times I have written the title of this book in various places over the past 2 weeks, I have spelled the word "thief" correctly exactly once.  Well, twice, since I just spelled it right in that last sentence, but that was 'cause I was really, really concentrating.

The Incredible Journey

The Incredible Journey

by Sheila Burnford (1960)

Found my yellowed, well-worn, mid-1970s copy, have to read carefully so it doesn't crumble into dust.

Ahhh... good book. Makes me want a dog.  Quick read, great descriptions -- not too many nouns get by without an adjective or two.  Thought the ending was a bit abbreviated/rushed.  Wish the movie version I saw back in the 70s was available on Netflix.

Things Hoped For

Things Hoped For

by Andrew Clements (2006)

meh. Liked a big part of the book, might have liked the other part of the book if it wasn't so rudely crammed in with the better part.  This is the story of an author that tells a cool story then writes another book and thinks no one will read it unless it tells that same story over again.  Actually it's an interesting story of a girl worrying/studying/practicing to get into a great music school and her aging (then missing) grandfather.  It's about dreams, hard work, sacrifice, family.  It shouldn't be about a creepy invisible English voyeur, but that gets shoved into the book and takes away from the power of the real story's ending.  I'm told creepy spy Brit is part of the next book, but he certainly didn't fit in here.

I would still recommend this book -- music/jazz, Yeats and Wordsworth, New York, higher learning, and a thought-provoking solution that can be food for great discussion/debate.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

banned books

Now I have to go out and read all these... I'm such a rebel.

Top Ten Silly Reasons to Ban a HarperCollins Children's Book

1. "Encourages children to break dishes so they won't have to dry them."
(A Light in the Attic by Shel Silverstein)

2. Children shouldn't be "scared by materials they read in school."
(Scary Stories by Alvin Schwartz)

3. The book "portrays the U.S. government as lacking in intelligence and responsibility."
(The Fragile Flag by Jane Langton)

4. The book "teaches children to spy."
(Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh)

5. "The little boy did not have any clothes on and it pictured his private area."
(In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak)

6. "Children are not ready for illustrations and conversation about jockstraps."
(The Dallas Titans Get Ready for Bed by Karla Kuskin)

7. School board members were concerned about a "sad ending."
(Alan and Naomi by Myron Levoy)

8. Challenged as a summer reading assignment because, "it sounds like pretty explicit stuff."
(The Contender by Robert Lipsyte)

9. The book is "demented."
(The Long Secret by Louise Fitzhugh.)

10. "Promotes cannibalism."
(Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein)

from the Banned Books Resource Guide by Robert P. Doyle, sponsored by the American Booksellers Association
©1997 HarperCollins Publishers

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Freak The Mighty

Freak the Mighty

by Rodman Philbrick  (1993)

This is another one of those books Son #2 has been recommending for several years.  He started reading it to #3 in the truck when we ran errands.  I really liked the "Live Audiobook" version, but we got home at a good part and I couldn't lock the boys in the car until they finished reading, so I finished it up myself.

Outcasts, one huge/quiet/parentally challenged (one dead, one in prison) and one small/loud/obsessed with quests, find each other and form a bond against bullies and criminals.  It's a sad story...

oops, powers running out.

Just asking, but which came first -- this book or John Irving's Prayer for Owen Meany?

Sunday, April 18, 2010

How To Eat Fried Worms

How To Eat Fried Worms

by Thomas Rockwell (1973)

My stomach is still queasily squiggling just writing about it...

The classic boy bets boy, boy goes through with disgusting, humiliating bet, boys fight, boys learn valuable life lessons.

Monday, April 12, 2010



by Jerry Spinelli (1996)

Middle-school football star/bully learns what's really important in life.

Being in sports, and being a guy, all my life I can definitely recognize "Crash" Coogan and his alpha male jock friends.  Now as a coach and parent I see how we reinforce the ego-driven outlook the physically talented are taught to have from an early age.  It's almost natural, probably part of a deeper, hunter/warrior society-centered instinct to praise and follow the one who can knock over the most mastadons.  The first students that get noticed are usually the bigger and faster kids on the playground.

This story follows a star athlete as his family and neighbor/classmate get him to think about other things in life than himself and being popular (pacifism, nature, death); I wish there would have been more to the book at the "end" of his story, his conversion to a nice guy was wrapped up all too quick.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Things Not Seen

Things Not Seen

by Andrew Clements (2002)

Boy wakes up invisible.  Boy does not use invisibility to play pranks or visit the girls' locker room.  Boy meets girl. Boy and girl work together to solve his failure to be visible.  Boy's parents almost go to jail for losing son. Boy learns to appreciate life and the ability to wear clothes.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Crushing on Miss Hickory

... that is, until she had her head eaten and, while it was being eaten, she "went right on thinking... aloud!!!" *

Miss Hickory

Carolyn Sherwin Baily

Newbery Medal 1947

Interesting book, at times a cute anthropomorphic nature/animal story, then a lesson on manners, with a Christmas mystery/miracle tossed in.  And through it all is sweet little Miss Hickory, a twig lady with a nut head, learning to live on her own one winter.  She's sassy, bossy, a touch grumpy, but cuts a fine figure in both fall and spring colors!  She meets a surprising and grisly end at the hands of a hungry squirrel, but lives on after joining her headless self to an apple tree... (yes, you read that right).  She is selfish and hard on her friends in the forest, but has a happy ending reincarnated (?) as an apple branch.

I liked it as a funny book, interesting to read in regards to the seasons changing or when studying apple trees?

*I'm quite sure this violates goes against my Violence Boycott!

connections: The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, The Bubble

R-T, Margaret, and the Rats of NIMH

R-T, Margaret, and the Rats of NIHM

by Jane Leslie Conly (1990)

No wonder I couldn't find any sequels to Mrs. Frisby... on the "O" shelf: the next two books were written by Robert O'Brien's daughter.  Not sure why after a Newbery winning book and successful (albeit altered) Disney movie he didn't write more himself?

While not as charming as the original, this book uses many familiar characters and situations, while focusing mainly on the human aspect: grouchy, lazy, overweight Margaret and her troubled little brother are lost in the woods, found and helped by the super-smart talking rats.  With multiple references to pop culture it's a bit dated, and after the kids leave the rodents (why did the rats let them stay all summer?) and have to deal with family and reporters it's not as interesting, but still a good story for lessons on dealing with adversity, peer pressure, helping others, ethical dilemmas...

Ramona and Her Father

Ramona and Her Father

by Beverly Clearly (1975)

A little more serious than the other Cleary books I picked up -- unemployment, nicotine addiction, abandonment issues, engine trouble... but still sweet, still humorous.  The focus is on Ramona and daily life dealing with her father losing his job and trying to quit smoking, with the strong family bond and balance of relationships throughout.



by Beverly Cleary  (1964)

The adventures of Henry Huggins' dog, the charming, playful, and loyal Ribsy.  Lost at a shopping mall then captured by girls that bathe him in violet shampoo, Ribsy makes his way across town searching for his boy, making friends and having small adventures along the way.

Good read aloud book, chapters stand on their own with many ups and downs to keep things interesting.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Reply to Comments

nevermind, guess I can... Blogger's touchy tonight?

Nope, I can't. It worked that once and then deleted this reply several times, so I give up... here's my reply to the comments from my violence post, if Blogger doesn't muck the whole thing up...

Anyway, excellent points.  I understand violence is a fact of life and needs to be a part of teaching children/students -- can't tell them not to touch the stove without teaching what burning is, right? But I think the line gets crossed, usually unnecessarily, too often and exposes and inures readers to the very thing we want them to avoid.

I haven't looked at my entire list of reviewed books, but the recent Tangerine, which I liked, had unsavory elements that probably did not need to be a part of the book. I won't avoid books like Charlotte's Web on my "violence boycott" but I would pass on Tangerine... and don't get me started on video games!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Violence Overload

Or at least attempting to severely curtail my personal exposure to anything and everything violent, which obviously must include books.  On my original "Inspired..." blog*  I am writing about this quest to eliminate violence in my life, and will probably have some duplicate posts here when relevant to Juvenile/YA literature.

 Is it even possible to participate in and discuss childrens' books without violence (not that we get violent discussing books, but the books contain violence) -- even dear Wilbur is threatened with an axe, and death is certainly an integral part of much quality literature.  How much should we limit a student's exposure to violence, at home or in the classroom, especially if Goosebumps is all he/she will read?

I use the tags violence (51 books), war (12), and action/adventure (44) on this blog, and the "violence" covers a wide range, from battles and fist fights to implied danger.  I just wanted to mark the book in some way that would let me know there is something of a physical, harmful nature in the story.  Hunting is considered violence, as is bullying.  Even a heroic tale or a slapstick comedy may get labeled with the tag.

The world is violent.  Some students' lives are violent on a daily basis.  Pop culture is certainly violent, sometimes overwhelmingly so, which is why I am trying to recognize ways I can avoid as much violence as I can and find alternatives for my children and students, if at all possible.

As always, I welcome comments and suggestions.

*Violence is hard to get away from -- I was going to say "I have hijacked my other blog..."

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Encyclopedia Brown

Saw this awesome collection of original Encyclopedia Browns...  these were big for me in 2nd grade, I remember reading along in my copy as the teacher read to the class.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Henry and Ribsy

Henry and Ribsy

by Beverly Cleary (1954)

This copy I just found on our shelf has only the one date, 1954, so it may have been my mother's book waaaaaay back in the day... I think I may go on a Beverly Cleary jag and get reacquainted with Henry, Ramona and the ol' gang!

03/24: No, I could never forget The Mouse !  Just grabbed a bunch of Ramona & her crew for the afternoon's reading...

Saturday, March 20, 2010



by Edward Bloor (1997)

Kind of a strange book, several types of books blended together -- spooky in the beginning (I'm sure a zombie was mentioned) then a lot of sibling rivalry/jealous of the football star brother mixed with the new kid in school, then a good dose of racial/economic class confrontation, then wraps up with the evil brother terrorizing the neighborhood and dysfunctional family horrors from the past... that said, I liked it!

It's different, and covers a lot of ground, but it's exciting and moves quickly -- perfect for active boys that don't need one theme repeated and dwelt on for an entire book, gives 'em lots to think about and react to. The bad seed football star older brother was a little cartoonish, but the end result is quite dramatic.  The middle section revolving around the new school and the soccer season is the best part, and could actually be read apart from the rest of the book.  Good read.

why I picked it up:  Again, a recommendation from Son #2, plus I'm a big sports fan and do enjoy a cold glass of orange juice.
why I didn't put it down:  At first it was because I thought there would be zombies, then for the sports action, then to save the fruit trees, then to find out just how the heck he was going to wrap this whole thing up!  It's a gripping, involving read on several levels and I couldn't put it down until it was finished.
who I would give it to:  mystery fans, soccer players, new kids in school, underdogs.

The Bubble -- found it!

The Bubble

by Brian D. McClure (2006)

Teach your kids to read, they'll want to go to the library and/or bookstore. Take them to get books, and they'll want to bring home an armful (and drop several between the door and the car -- Every. Single. Time!). Let them bring books home, and inevitably one will get lost among the shelves, stacks, and baskets of books... 

Anyway, found The Bubble and re-read it a few times.  It's a strange little story about the dangers of selfishness; a boy hoarding his toys has a good dream of wealth and possessions turn into a nightmare as everything he tries to keep for himself disappears (even the soil gets fed up with him and takes off) and he dies trapped in a lonely bubble.  A la Ebeneezer, he wakes up and realizes the error of his ways, and we presume goes on to lead a selfless, sharing life.

Very colorful art, great facial expressions, and an important lesson taught slightly in the traditional parental threat You better share or you'll grow up sad and and lonely but with a humor that should easily connect with children.  Good for kids of all ages too, not just the little ones learning how to share toys but with middle school/early teens developing connections to society, peers, and the world around them.

Previous Post: I would like to review this book, as I said I would when the publisher sent it to me, but I cannot find it.  It is somewhere in the chaos called "the boys' room" where I dare not venture without excavation tools, one of those cool helmets with the light on the front, and someone holding on tightly to the other end of the strong rope tied around my waist...

I did read the book before youngest Son #3 absconded with it, and it's a brightly colored story of selfishness resulting in loneliness -- lucky it's only a dream!  I'll revise this review after said Son returns from school and can be tossed into the morass that is his bedroom.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Losing Joe's Place

Losing Joe's Place

by Gordon Korman (1990)

My son has been trumpeting this book for years, and I'm glad I finally got to it in the stack; it's fun, funny, quick, entertaining, and has positive messages without being heavy in the message department.

Jason and two friends are set for a teenage boy's dream summer, complete with bachelor pad, Camaro, and no parents.  But before the all-to-typical Hollywood version of the "dream summer" can develop, Jason and buds face situations that require them to think and get creative to solve problems, as well as get along with several interesting characters.  It's not pure realism, but connectible to many real world situations.

why I picked it up:  Son #2 can be very insistent, and  I needed a lighter read after a few bouts with cancer and racism.
why I finished it:  A lot of interesting characters, plus I related to Jason, the jobless and housekeeping lead.
who I would give it to:**  Boys and girls, overachievers, chefs, kids with older brothers.

*minor quibble: Joe, the big brother, is supposedly a studly and intimidating model/body builder, but dude on the cover looks mighty skinny...
**shouldn't that be "to whom would this I give" or something like that?

"Unshelved" -- Librarians and Book Reviews

Great site! Not only do the comics crack me up, but I easily get 3-4 reading suggestions from each weeks' reviews, from graphic novels to YA to adult books.  And I like the new review elements such as why I picked it up and why I finished it -- good idea for student book report/reviews too.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

kira - kira

kira - kira *

by Cynthia Kadohata

Newbery Medal 2005

Not to be glib, but isn't this my 3rd book in a row where a kid dies?  I need a dose of Diary of a Wimpy Kid or read some Roald Dahl  for awhile...

 Good book for a portrait of a strong family dealing with poverty, racism, and most devastating the death of a child.  Not easy to read, but worth it for the relationships.  As a father and teacher, I really liked the differences and the bond between the sisters.  I thought most of the characters were very believable and multi-faceted, not just props to move a point of the story along.

*should it be capitalized, or not? both k's or just the first?

Monday, February 22, 2010

Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy

Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy

by Gary D. Schmidt (2004)

Newbery Honor Book

This book tried hard to bring tears to my eyes, but I held out.  Beautiful, but not cheerful.

A 13-yr old minister's son deals with racism, grumpy old lady neighbors, the "Eephus" pitch, clams, and falling in love with Lizzie Bright... based on historical events in 1912, the story follows Turner Buckminster as he attempts to adjust to a new town while dealing with being a minister's son.  His only friend is Lizzie, a poor black girl living where the town wants to build hotels.  But Turner learns to stand up for himself and his beliefs, even get a little rebellious, and his Dad, the bully, and the grumpy old lady sidle on over to his side as well.  After a rough (emotionally) climax, the ends are tied up a little too neatly, but after all that is the end of the book.  Thank goodness this isn't one of those "part 1 of 17 in the series" books...

A tough read for some students, but rewarding and much to discuss.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

The Dopple Ganger Chronicles: The First Escape*

*which tells ya right off someone's gonna get caught and have to escape all over again...

DG Chronicles #1 The First Escape

by G.P. Taylor (2008)

I think I ended up liking the premise for the book -- part graphic novel, part enhanced text/page layout -- itself more than the story, although at times I liked it less and then more than my final evaluation.  Got it?  Me neither...

Twin girls at an orphanage,  a myriad of mean adults, a spooky house, a brave cleaning boy comes to the rescue.  Lots of action, interesting characters and ideas, great art, strong message of the importance of family...

I'm not sure what it is about this book that kept it from really capturing me; it might be the shifts between the comic book pages and the text pages, or between the characters and settings as the story progressed.  Maybe the book is too glossy/showy and not enough depth -- the twin orphan girls are brats in the beginning, there are too many bad guys trying to do them in, and the potential hero is vague.  But again I do like the comic/book combo and it appears there are more installments coming, so I'd give the "Dopple Ganger" series another try.

connections: Coraline, Series of Unfortunate Events

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH

Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH

by Robert C. O'Brien

Newbery Medal Winner (1972)

Genetically altered vermin developing their own agricultural society-- Run! Run for the hills!  Actually no, stay away from the hills, since that's where the genius immortal super-sized rats are!

Mrs. Frisby is a widowed country mouse with a sick mouse-child who discovers the neighborhood rats are not all they seem; after chemical/brain testing by scientists the rats (and a few mice) escape the lab and learn how to use electricity.  Some rats come to somewhat gruesome ends, but most of the story is positive and entertaining.

Did they ever tell us what "NIMH" stood for? And is there a sequel?