Tuesday, April 24, 2012



by Mark Haddon (2009)

Space aliens and teenage rebellion, with humor and British expressions.  It's been a few months since I read this so this will be a lame review, but I do remember being entertained by the story, liking the brother & sister characters, and recommending the book to my sons.



by 10 Authors (2007)

Interesting idea, seems to be the fad for a group of authors to co-write a book, and the overall theme stays true even as points of view and times shift throughout.

A family mystery, why did Grandpa leave this gift/puzzle? leads to who really was Grandpa. Lots of characters, lots of world travel. A little challenging, suggested for good readers.

Awesome People Reading

Of course they're cool, they're reading!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Thor's Wedding Day

Thor's Wedding Day

Bruce Coville (2005)

 The story of Thor having to cross-dress to get his hammer back, as told by his goat boy.  Good intro/connection to the Norse myths, with lots of humor.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Tabloidology & Room One

Today's Guest Reviewer is my 105 lb, 10.5 year old 5th grader Son #3 who alternates between two phrases to start every sentence: "Father, how/why...? or "I'm going to invent...."


by Chris McMahen (2009)

Why I picked it up: Because I thought it would be an odd book because of the title.
Why I liked/disliked it: I liked it because it was an impossible funny tale about a school newspaper.
Who I would give it to: My father who likes impossible and funny books about school newspapers.
 [Ed./Father: I do?]

Room One

by Andrew Clements (2006)

Why I picked it up: My dad gave me the book because it was by the same author as Frindle.
Why I liked/disliked it: I liked it because it was 1/8 mystery. 1/8 drama, 1/8 problems, 1/8 school, 1/2 really good book.
Who I would give it to: My dad because he read Frindle and he was the genius who picked it out for me. [Ed./Dad: No argument here!]

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Book Shelves

Why spend an hour taking pictures of our bookshelves?  Cuz I've been spending hours cleaning and organizing my office space and the school/work books.

But I've always liked the sports shelf too:

um, why are you sideways?

Friday, April 13, 2012

I Have Lived A Thousand Years

I Have Lived A Thousand Years: 
Growing Up In the Holocaust

by Livia Bitton-Jackson (1997)

Not an easy book to read.  And they all shouldn't be easy, should they?  A 13 year old Jewish girl and her family are forced into ghettos, labor camps, and concentration camps under Nazi Germany.  The point is made very clear that it is a daily miracle any of them survived the inhumane treatment.  Strong story of will, of family, of caring for others and not allowing oneself to be changed or beaten by a terrible ordeal.

The degrading violence and personal humiliations are not white washed, the facts of daily conditions in the camps are clearly presented.  Great opportunities for a variety of lessons across the curriculum.  I remember visiting a camp, Dachau I think, when I was 11 or 12, and the strongest memory I have is how small and cramped the sleeping areas were, how little room there was between the bunk levels. Still very clear to me 30+ years later.

While I think it's important for children to be aware of the Holocaust and of similar historical and current events, I don't think I'd introduce a book this frank and real until 6 or 7th grade.  Having the students/readers the same age as the author when she lived through these horrors could be more personal and powerful.

And now I want to go read The Book Thief again.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

100 Great Books For Kids

(...I'm sure adults can read them too.)

Scholastic's "100 Greatest Books for Kids"  -- well, we see about that. They can't be great if I haven't read them, right? Time to count...

Hmmm... I'm a failure as a dad/teacher/book advocate: 48/100. Less than half. How did my sons ever learn to read?!?

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Looking for something?

Like talking animals? skateboards? Santa Claus? graphic novels? author Jerry Spinelli? Just click on the TAGS listed on right side column or under each post to find similar books.

The Great Gilly Hopkins

by Katherine Paterson (1978)

Newbery Honor

Several of my students have read this book but all they could tell me,  in hushed, conspiratorial and slightly shocked tones, was that she, Gilly Hopkins used bad words! Being a concerned and responsible adult in charge of their proper education, I had to check this out for myself.

And dammit if she doesn't! Hell, that girl is right sassy and big for her britches, and deserved a resounding thwack on her backside, if you ask me.  She's also in the foster care system, steeling herself for another rejection and desperate to escape and return to the flower child mother who abandoned her.

I wasn't too sure about this one at first but by the end I loved it.  Family is where you find it and make it, and as Trotter says, Life is tough.  It's not a Disney happy ending, and it's probably a little dated unless you're not old enough to know it's dated.

Guys Read: Funny Business

Saw this on a cool blog -- Not Just For Kids -- and love the video, putting faces and voices with the authors' names.  Can't wait to check out the book!

...and here is the "Guys Read" website which looks incredible! Every parent/teacher/librarian should have it cued up and ready for when the guy answers the question "So, whatta ya like to read?" with " Uh..."

Tuesday, April 10, 2012


... How Mirka Got Her Sword

Barry Deutsch (2010)

Entertaining and Educational! Learn numerous Yiddish phrases and all about the Sabbath while enjoying a cute story of a rebel girl and a magic pig.  And a troll. Who knits.

The website has interesting looks at the creative process as Deutsch readies the next book of Minka's adventures, including sketches and rough drafts.

Fullmetal Alchemist

Fullmetal Alchemist

by Hiromu Arakawa (2002-10)

 update: Whew! Finally finished the series. The last few books encompass the Final Battle so they are basically 90% cartoon fighting and explosions, but nothing graphic and good triumphs in the end. The coda is very well done, sweet and heartfelt without being corny. I've found a lot of manga too creepy, too YA, but the stars here are younger boys and they are working to save family and country while taking responsibility for their actions.

original post: Manga, so it took a bit to not turn the pages the wrong way, and get my eyes to focus on the correct corner to start reading -- read a lot of pages in the first 2 books multiple times... to add to my confusion, the library only had 4 of 6 books and one we're missing is #1!

All that aside, cool story, connectible characters (although Al is quite enigmatic until the flashback in book 5 literally fleshes him out), and several instances of life lessons (family, maturity, responsibility) thrown in to add some redeemable qualities. Battles and humor but literary devices as well, def recommendable for 10+ boys... maybe some of the plot will be hard to connect/understand, but there is so much in the sub-plots it's not a big issue.
Then again, it might have something to do with skipping a few books in the series...

Nicholas St. North

... and the Battle of the Nightmare King

William Joyce and Laura Geringer (2011)

Very cool, on so many levels. Not the least of which is the author is the guy who created Rolie Polie Olie.  The illustrations are cool, the chapter titles are cool ("In Which a Twist of Fate Begets a Knot in the Plan"), the setting is cool, and the posters for the upcoming movie are cool.

Too much with the "cool"?

Good story, lots of familiar yet altered characters (Santa Claus, before he became a claymation TV star, was a thief and weapons expert?), orphans, magic, and of course the battle between good and evil. Characters grow and change, the mind is valued over muscle, and people/creatures look out for each other.  Very imaginative, visual, and has a lot of good vocabulary words, which is why I think it's going to beat out The Hobbit for my end of year read aloud.

update: Finished the sequel last night, E. Aster Bunnymund... (2012).  Not as action-filled as the first book, but more illustrations (love the wry captions), more playful interaction between characters, and more humor -- including the dreaded puns on "egg" -- would have been a good book to read before the spring break. Pitch, the bad guy, is back, and the search continues for the means to stop him.  

One more cool: the website for the books, especially where Mr. Joyce visits the moon.

The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games Trilogy

Suzanne Collins (2008-2010)

Ah, another ultra-violent book (and movie*) that is not only accepted and okay-ed but exalted because it will "get the kids to read" -- not sure if there's a grrrrr here or merely a hmmm...

As my three regular readers know (what? Can't count myself? Not famous or eccentric enough to speak in 3rd person?) Ok, as both my regular readers know, I sometimes wail and rant against the amount of violence surrounding us, specifically in children's pop culture. But I did enjoy the book, I found the characters compelling and the violence/Government control/blind faith in leaders as abhorred and rejected by the main characters, the book, and the author.  So it's all good, don't toss the message out with the bloody bathwater, as the saying sort of goes.

I think Katniss is a strong role model, not just for females but for encouraging the questioning of that's just the way it is and because we've always done it that way. Problem solving, putting others first, caring for family, taking responsibility, exploring and understanding how those (of us) in charge are not always right and/or good. I won't let my students read it, and neither will our Librarian, unless parents say ok, and even then I'd be hesitant, if only because I don't want them to miss the good stuff by reading literature/vocabulary over their head. If all they take from it is a desire to shoot something with bow and arrow, did we really "get the kids to read"? FULL DISCLOSURE: My 5th grade son read book 1 and loved it, but he's stuck with me as TeacherDad so you can be sure he'll be stuck discussing thematic elements at the dinner table.

*I thought the movie was very well done. As a movie, it was exactly what going to the theater and becoming immersed in the big screen and the story is all about.  It reflected the book yet stands alone. It looked a little TV movie-ish for the final battle scenes, but District 12 more than made up for that. I'm glad I didn't take my 10 year old, although half my 5th grade class said they went opening weekend. He'll see it on video, and he'll see enough in his life, there's no rush to desensitize him.

"Sex" Tag

Yes, these are children's books, but sometimes the facts of life do get discussed, or romantic feelings, or maybe even mention of the act itself, especially in a YA title.  Usually I will spell out more specifically if it's more than just a casual or humorous reference.  If it's a crush or dating the tag will be "romance" instead of "sex" ...what category does "snogging" fall under?

"Violence" Tag

I've tagged books "violence" not because they're full of death, murder, and mayhem, but because there is some sort of violence at some level -- bullies, fist fights, on up to wartime settings.  Most of the books with this tag are very mild.  ...Fried Worms gets the tag because the friends fight -- really no big deal, but if I had a Quaker student with really strict parents...?  I think I've put the tag on a few books like Paulsen's Hatchet series, even though the violence is very realistic and largely deals with wilderness survival.

Al Capone Stole My Post

Al Capone Does My Shirts

Gennifer Choldenko (2004)

Newbery Honor

One of Son #1's faves growing up, I think he still re-reads it once in awhile. Good brother/sister story as well as a family's struggle with struggling through the Depression and dealing with an autistic child.  Interesting supporting characters, realistic family dynamics/drama, but the star is Moose and his roller coaster of emotions as he deals with being the new kid at school and having a sister with special needs.  Humorous, quick paced, and can lead many ways in discussion.

Some of my students read this and became really interested in Alcatraz, insisting this was a gangster book. Ok. Capone and the prisoners are a part of the story, and if that's what piqued their interest I'll go with it. There is a sequel too, but it's still in the "Read Me" stack. And of course there's a website!


Thought for sure I already read this one, but can't find a post here. Hmm. But it is one of the very first books in my very first Book Club so I'm checking around for stuff to go with it.

Kids love prisons, don't they?

Alcatrez Prison Virtual Tour