Friday, August 16, 2013

Mick Harte Was Here

Mick Harte Was Here

Barbara Park (1995)

A quick read and no mystery, we know from the beginning the brother died in a bicycle accident. Doesn't shy away from the pain and confusion of losing someone, but there is humor mixed in and a likable, connectable main character.

Should be required reading for our school, we had two helmet-less incidents last year, skateboard and motorcycle. Can we duct tape helmets on all kids until they turn 18?

The Fault In Our Stars

The Fault In Our Stars

John Green (2012)

Quite the prolific young man, this Mr. John Green. Author (5 or 6 books since 2005?), websites (leading the "fight to increase awesome and decrease suck"), and YouTube star... when does he sleep?

Cancer isn't new, rare these days is any person that hasn't been touched by it. And while this book is about the pain of living and dying with cancer, it does such a great job letting us know the characters as real, quality people that I didn't feel played when someone died, I felt thankful I was able to read the story.

And I'll probably kiss my boys a few extra times today.

Besides the whole painful death by cancer subject matter there is alcohol, language, and un-explicit sex. Nothing most kids don't see/hear/know about already but I'd still suggest waiting for the teen years to read it.

Sunday, August 11, 2013



by Liesl Shurtliff (2013)

Orphaned "Rump" must find his real name and find his own destiny, amid greedy kings, trolls, feisty friends, magical aunts, and a stubborn donkey. Cute details, funny scenes, interesting characters (love to read more about his friend "Red"), and bad guy situations that keep the peril coming. The last chapters were slightly disappointing, what felt like a build up to action filled climax tended to get bogged down in Rump's inner turmoil/debate/reflection as he figures out who he is and what he needs to do. But overall, very enjoyable.

Someone needs to get a collection together of all the "True Story of..." fairy tale books and tv shows. We've been watching "Once Upon a Time" and the boys like figuring out which character is who.

Hattie Big Sky

Hattie Big Sky

by Kirby Larson (2006)

Newbery Honor Book

Having a soft spot for Laura Ingalls Wilder, this book fits right in, minus Michael Landon as Pa. A girl on her own on a Montana homestead facing extreme weather, diabolical neighbors, stubborn animals, poor baking skills, and the struggle to fence and farm her land in order to meet the claim.

Hattie is definitely independent and capable, but needs and helps her neighbors as they face the harshness of frontier life. The story also deals with the fears of "The Great War" as friends and family are in Europe fighting and the pressure put on German townsfolk to prove their patriotism. A lot of outside issues to explore with this book: WWI, propaganda, farm life, even baseball.

Water Street

Water Street

by Patricia Reilly Giff (2006)

Brooklyn, 1870s, as the city builds a bridge families try to build lives. Bridget, aka Bird, follows in her mother's footsteps as a neighborhood healer while being a friend to a boy with a drunk father and worrying about her older siblings. Interesting picture of inner city life and how friends and neighbors need to help each other.  Bird faces fears and has the strength to help when needed.

"12+" not for content but writing style, some passages jump back or forth and from character to character and can be confusing. The family life and interaction was done very well, easy to know and care for the characters.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Top 100 Children's Novels

Update Time! Let's see how I've done past three years... (red bold)

Thanks to the always interesting TeacherNinja and this amazing person that polled/counted/etc....
here are The Top 100 Children's Novels -- how many have you read?

I thought for sure I would do better, even counting books I know I read in my precocious youth but haven't checked out in 30 years or more... If it weren't for Ms. Rowling and Mrs. Wilder my total would be a lot smaller as well!

100. The Egypt Game - Snyder (1967)
99. The Indian in the Cupboard - Banks (1980)
98. Children of Green Knowe - Boston (1954)
97. The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane - DiCamillo (2006)
96. The Witches - Dahl (1983)
95. Pippi Longstocking - Lindgren (1950
94. Swallows and Amazons - Ransome (1930)
93. Caddie Woodlawn - Brink (1935)
92. Ella Enchanted - Levine (1997)
91. Sideways Stories from Wayside School - Sachar (1978)
90. Sarah, Plain and Tall - MacLachlan (1985)
89. Ramona and Her Father - Cleary (1977)
88. The High King - Alexander (1968)
87. The View from Saturday - Konigsburg (1996)
86. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets - Rowling (1999)
85. On the Banks of Plum Creek - Wilder (1937)
84. The Little White Horse - Goudge (1946)
83. The Thief - Turner (1997)
82. The Book of Three - Alexander (1964)
81. Where the Mountain Meets the Moon - Lin (2009)
80. The Graveyard Book - Gaiman (2008)
79. All-of-a-Kind-Family - Taylor (1951)
78. Johnny Tremain - Forbes (1943)
77. The City of Ember - DuPrau (2003)
76. Out of the Dust - Hesse (1997)
75. Love That Dog - Creech (2001)
74. The Borrowers - Norton (1953)
73. My Side of the Mountain - George (1959)
72. My Father's Dragon - Gannett (1948)
71. The Bad Beginning - Snicket (1999)
70. Betsy-Tacy - Lovelae (1940)
69. The Mysterious Benedict Society - Stewart ( 2007)
68. Walk Two Moons - Creech (1994)
67. Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher - Coville (1991)
66. Henry Huggins - Cleary (1950)
65. Ballet Shoes - Stratfeild (1936)
64. A Long Way from Chicago - Peck (1998)
63. Gone-Away Lake - Enright (1957)
62. The Secret of the Old Clock - Keene (1959)
61. Stargirl - Spinelli (2000)
60. The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle - Avi (1990)
59. Inkheart - Funke (2003)
58. The Wolves of Willoughby Chase - Aiken (1962)
57. Ramona Quimby, Age 8 - Cleary (1981)
56. Number the Stars - Lowry (1989)
55. The Great Gilly Hopkins - Paterson (1978)
54. The BFG - Dahl (1982)
53. Wind in the Willows - Grahame (1908)
52. The Invention of Hugo Cabret (2007)
51. The Saturdays - Enright (1941)
50. Island of the Blue Dolphins - O'Dell (1960)
49. Frindle - Clements (1996)
48. The Penderwicks - Birdsall (2005)
47. Bud, Not Buddy - Curtis (1999)
46. Where the Red Fern Grows - Rawls (1961)
45. The Golden Compass - Pullman (1995)
44. Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing - Blume (1972)
43. Ramona the Pest - Cleary (1968)
42. Little House on the Prairie - Wilder (1935)
41. The Witch of Blackbird Pond - Speare (1958)
40. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz - Baum (1900)
39. When You Reach Me - Stead (2009)
38. HP and the Order of the Phoenix - Rowling (2003)
37. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry - Taylor (1976)
36. Are You there, God? It's Me, Margaret - Blume (1970)
35. HP and the Goblet of Fire - Rowling (2000)
34. The Watsons Go to Birmingham - Curtis (1995)
33. James and the Giant Peach - Dahl (1961)
32. Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH - O'Brian (1971)
31. Half Magic - Eager (1954)
30. Winnie-the-Pooh - Milne (1926)
29. The Dark Is Rising - Cooper (1973)
28. A Little Princess - Burnett (1905)
27. Alice/Wonderland I and II - Carroll (1865/72)
26. Hatchet - Paulsen (1989)
25. Little Women - Alcott (1868/9)
24. HP and the Deathly Hallows - Rowling (2007)
23. Little House in the Big Woods - Wilder (1932)
22. The Tale of Despereaux - DiCamillo (2003)
21. The Lightning Thief - Riordan (2005)
20. Tuck Everlasting - Babbitt (1975)
19. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Dahl (1964)
18. Matilda - Dahl (1988)
17. Maniac Magee - Spinelli (1990)
16. Harriet the Spy - Fitzhugh (1964)
15. Because of Winn-Dixie - DiCamillo (2000)
14. HP and the Prisoner of Azkaban - Rowling (1999)
13. Bridge to Terabithia - Paterson (1977)
12. The Hobbit - Tolkien (1938)
11. The Westing Game - Raskin (1978)
10. The Phantom Tollbooth - Juster (1961)
9. Anne of Green Gables - Montgomery (1908)
8. The Secret Garden - Burnett (1911)
7. The Giver -Lowry (1993)
6. Holes - Sachar (1998)
5. ... Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler - Koningsburg (1967)
4. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe - Lewis (1950)
3. Harry Potter #1 - Rowling (1997)
2. A Wrinkle in Time - L'Engle (1962)
1. Charlotte's Web - White (1952)

53 books read -- looks like I just barely passed 50% ! We need to head to the library...  
How did you do?

Update Results: 6 more!

(originally published April 2010)

Glory Be

 Glory Be

Augusta Scattergood* (2012)

Racial unrest during the summer of 1964 threatens the birthday plans of a girl in Mississippi. A small town deals with segregation, the Freedom Summer volunteers, and getting ready for the 4th of July celebrations. Similar to ...Gabriel King, but not as deep or dramatic; some of the storylines feel undone. Best parts were the sister relationship, Elvis vs Beatles, and the brave Librarian standing up to the town's racist bullies. Enjoyable story, likable main character.

*Gotta be one of the best author names ever!

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Meerkat Wars

The Meerkat Wars, The Gradual Elephant, and Paka Mdogo Little Cat

by H.S. Toshack

Our trilogy of readers is working through this trilogy of African Animal Adventure books...

Guest Reviewer Son #3:

In “The Meerkat Wars” a house cat gets accidentally lost on a trip that she was never supposed to go on. In the wild Sheena must help a young Meerkat in need. The Meerkats befriend Sheena because she helped the young meerkat. I recommend this book to people who like the ‘Warrior’ books because they both involve a house cat that gets lost in the wild and then get befriended by untamed animals.

Guest Reviewer Son #2:

The Meerkat Wars by H.S. Toshack is a very interesting and exciting portrayal of life in the African Baragandiri National Park. The author tells the story of a house cat named Sheena who encounters rival meerkat tribes living on the reserve. Both tribes believe they live under the “one true sun” and battle over supremacy of the desert. The tribes hate each other because they think they are very different from each other, but in fact they are almost identical. The meerkats learn to coexist, and they become allies and friends. In my opinion the tribes represent the many religious groups of the world. The author is conveying that if people just communicate with each other and look past their differences, they will realize that the differences are in  fact very small, and that they are more alike than they ever thought before. If people would stop hating and fighting, and listen to reason like the meerkats, the world would be a much better place. I would recommend this book to anybody who enjoyed reading The Warriors books. Both authors portray the animals in the story as “people” who live and survive as a clan or tribe. Also, both books feature a newcomer who must learn the ways of the animals, and make peace between rivals. In The Meerkat Wars the author places a poem at the start of each chapter, which sets the mood and foreshadows things to come, making the book more interactive with the readers. After each poem, it was fun attempting to guess which animal was being hinted at to appear next in the story. I loved reading the book and I can’t wait to read the other books in the series.

Not much I can add to that!  Interesting adventures, danger and humor, and lots of great animal & Africa learning connections. Some of the humor was British, and some of the jokes (lots of computer themed riddles in the Elephant book) and wordplay would be lost on most students, especially ELLs. Almost seemed it was written for the clever/higher reading child, but there is a lot of good stuff for all level readers. These would be great books for read aloud in younger grades or classes with lots of English learners.

Unfortunately, our cat doesn't seem the adventurous type. I'll have to read the books to him. Special thanks to for introducing us to these books.


Monday, July 22, 2013

Should "YA" Be Rated "R" ?

Is it just me, or have the kid's books gotten a little rougher and a bit racier lately? Now I'm not my father, believing everything would be better if it was the Lone Ranger and Hardy Boys and society is going to hell in a handbasket, but I do think children's literature, even YA, should try to temper the sex and violence. Maybe it was Hunger Games, especially the awful third book, that soured me, but why do massive body counts need to be a part of the story? I think we, as parents and teachers, let our children see/hear/read too much too soon. Yes, some kids can read anything and handle it, but those are usually the exceptions, the smarter, more mature kids. Just a theory I guess, but couldn't too much too soon delay the child's own imagination and creative process? Once you've been read Hunger Games in 4th grade, can you go back to Phantom Tollbooth?

Shadow and Bone

Shadow and Bone

by Leigh Bardugo (2012)

Several reviews call this "Hogwarts in Russia" -- orphan has magical powers, battles the dark power -- but it's not as imaginative or cute as HP and the teen romance gets a bit racier. But it is set in Russia, with snow and mythology and royal courts, and it does have some spooky creatures and dangerous battles, with an feisty underdog heroine and a quick pace that made it a good read.

Reminded me of a more serious, Santa-free The Guardians of Childhood, as well as Westerfeld's Leviathan and Pullman's Golden Compass.

My summer break weight loss plan.

When Zachary Beaver Came To Town

When Zachary Beaver...

Kimberly Willis Holt (1999)

A busy summer for a boy in small town Texas, 1971: a 600 lb boy in a trailer comes to town, his best friend's brother goes to Vietnam, his mother runs off to Nashville, the girl of his dreams loves someone else, he mows the lawn of a senile Judge, and his father raises worms.

Interesting book, full of very descriptive phrases that would provide many examples for use of figurative language. Almost too many personalities and goings on in the first third, might be hard to keep track of the side characters, but when the story focuses it becomes great. Almost got the tears welling up at one point as well.

Good book with many talking points, several angles for different students to appreciate and discuss.
Has anyone seen the movie?

The Silver Child

 The Silver Child

by Cliff McNish (2006)
Book One of the Silver Sequence

The first two chapters of this book were very impressive, original and thrilling, especially for a YA fantasy. Overall the book doesn't finish as strong as the opening, it gets a bit over dramatic and confusing -- narrator switches, too many narrator self-questions (Why did I..., What should I...), and proportion issues (just how big is the "angel"???) but I'm probably being over critical.

Children start to change, gaining X-men like powers and gathering in a city dump. These aren't cool Animorph changes, there's a lot of pain and confusion and the threat of something unknown yet dangerous coming, but between the invasion situation and the children's talents I'm actually looking forward to reading the next book in the trilogy (usually I'm "One and Done").

*Author's website*

Sunday, July 7, 2013

The Shadow Thieves

The Shadow Thieves 

Anne Ursu (2006)
Book One of The Cronos Chronicles

Just started this one, supposed to be really good ("Harry Potter-like!"). So far the language, allusions, etc seem to be at a higher level than HP or Riordan's Lightning Thief, we'll see when the action starts...

If it keeps me up past midnight to finish it, it's a good book. This one is a good book, so I may nod off in middle of re-zzzzzzzz....

Creepy yet nattily attired underworld villain, emotional teens, mythological action & adventure, with an almost Douglas Adams-like sense of humor. I started off thinking "12+" because of some vocabulary and the inferring asides, but a good 10+ reader would enjoy it too. Like some Sesame Street skits, you don't get what you don't get but you still can get it. Enjoyable, especially for fans of Percy Jackson and crew, great connections to Greek mythology, and strong family/personal courage and responsibility message.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Newbery update

1935, 1938
1941, 1942, 1944, 1947, 1949
1960, 1963, 1968
1970, 1972, 1974, 1975, 1976, 1977, 1978, 1979
1981, 1982, 1984, 1986, 1987
1990, 1991, 1993, 1994, 1996, 1999
2000, 2001, 2002, 2004, 2005, 2007, 2009, 2010, 2012, 2013

Jacob Have I Loved

Jacob Have I Loved 

Katherine Paterson
Newbery Medal 1981 

I might have personally liked this book better if I was a girl, especially a girl with a sister. But I'm not, so I don't think some of the elements rang as deep with me -- jealous of her sister, romantic feelings, family role confusion. But there is a lot to still connect with for any reader -- finding one's place in the world, family dynamics and differences in siblings, friendship, strange grandmothers, hard work to achieve a goal.

Some interesting characters come and go in the story, and some stories are touched on but not explained thoroughly, but overall an excellent story. Lots of Geography (East Coast, Chesapeake, crabs and oysters) and History (WWII, German-Americans).

Is there a sequel? The last chapter rang a bell, like I've read that part before or it's part of the next book...?


Archer's Quest

Archer's Quest

Linda Sue Park (2006)
Newbery winner for A Single Shard

Just an afternoon adventure with a time travelling, expert archer King and Legend of ancient Korea, doesn't that happen to every 12 year old boy?

A lot of discussion of respect, discipline, bravery, and trusting one's abilities to solve a problem, as well as Korean history and the Chinese Zodiac. And archery. Clever story, a little humor and enough adventure to keep the pages turning.

The Liberation of Gabriel King

The Liberation of Gabriel King

K.L. Going (2005)

Two friends, a brave black girl and a timid white boy, face bullies, racism, and spiders in 1976 Georgia. Nervous about going into 5th grade, Gabriel tries to spend the summer facing his fears and helps his friend Frita deal with racist adults. Feels like this could have been a much deeper, longer book with all the characters and plot points, but it's almost just a surface sketch. For younger readers it does bring up a lot of discussion-able issues without getting too heavy.

Definitely recommend. Vote for Carter.

The Scarecrow and his Servant

The Scarecrow and His Servant

Philip Pullman (2004)

Fun sometimes silly story of a boy, a scarecrow, and the Kingdom of Birds. A smart boy and a dim scarecrow embark on Quixotic adventures involving desert islands, battles, dancing brooms and lots of birds.

Saturday, June 29, 2013



Lois Lowry (2012)

The conclusion to The Giver etc....

Loved the first 60% of the book then suddenly there's some sort of magic involved??  Maybe it was late and I didn't read it right, need to finish it tonight.

Finished! And it turned out fine, just had me a little worried for a minute. The evil magic part is the weakest aspect, but it does tie in with the series characters having supernatural-ish "gifts" such as healing and future sight. It was an abrupt change from the rest of the book but I should have trusted the great Ms. Lowry. She does know what she's doing, after all. And of course now I need to go back and read all the other books.

Very well done conclusion (or is it?) to the series. The characters and stories all tie together, which may help students still confused and concerned over The Giver's ending. I might even suggest skipping from book 1 to book 4, then going back to the middle ones. I think Jonas was such a strong reader connection it is hard to have the ambiguous end to his story. The mother in this book, Claire, is also a strong character who shows courage, strength, fierce determination. Great Middle School discussion book, lots of Why's to ask.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z

The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z 

Kate Messner (2009)

"One can do worse than be a swinger of birches."

A lot going on in this book, seems like a good one to take your time on with a class. The pretty and popular girl bully angle, mother/daughter communication and understanding, procrastination on school projects, art brain vs over organized brain (also the mother/daughter deal), grandparents dealing with old age and possible Alzheimer's, funerals, running track, young romance, the poetry of Robert Frost, plus lots and lots of trees.

Personally I'm going to try to get my 6th grade boy to read it, although the only hook for him may be the electronic genius friend (sorry son, no dragons, robots, or time travel). But my father does suffer from cognitive issues and this might be a way to see if he has questions about that. It's not all serious stuff, it's an entertaining story with good characters and some humor.

4/5 stars

Monday, June 24, 2013

Secrets at Sea

Secrets at Sea

Richard Peck (2011)

It's Downton Abbey with mice!

Cute story with good dialogue, including a cockney accent, about a family of mice following their family of humans on a cruise to England. Lots of sister dynamics, ball gowns, and a few weddings.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013



Tony Abbott (2006)

A 7th grade boy's world is shaken up by a new student who was horribly disfigured in a fire. He seems to be the only person in the class who is aware the girl may have feelings, and when his best friend rejects being kind to her the boy finds the courage to be her friend and face what happened to her.

Short book, a bit emotional, the main character spends most of last quarter of book crying, but good for discussions on injuries, disabilities, accidents, making the "different" kid feel welcome. The ex-best friend has issues to explore too, plenty of reasons shown why he acts the way he acts.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Dead End in Norvelt

Dead End in Norvelt

Jack Gantos

Newbery Medal 2012

Kind of a funny book, lots of people like it (hence the awards) but it's not a typical story. A lot happens, something on almost every page, and the dialogue is quick and realistic (swear I heard my mother's and grandmother's voices throughout). Humor, strange events, but realistic and lots of historical elements (WWII, Cold War, New Deal, the Roosevelts).

I've seen this called a mystery, but it's not really. The mystery is downplayed until the end and really not important, or I guess not treated seriously. And the Hell's Angels? They're there, then not there....

Saturday, June 15, 2013

The One and Only Ivan

The One and Only Ivan

Katherine Applegate
Newbery Medal 2013

Rare is the book that makes me want to gather up the neighborhood kids and pretend I had a class of my own to read this to. The only distraction as I read was all the lesson ideas popping in my brain. Loved it.

"Magic Realism" children's book style: Ivan is a gorilla and an artist telling us his story, from capture in Africa to shopping mall circus* to a home at the zoo. Sad but warm, cute but real, simple but thought-provoking. Would go nice with Dahl's Magic Finger in helping students learn to respect the animal kingdom.

5 out of 5 stars, highly recommend.

*Do they really have such things? Never heard of it. I could see a petting zoo maybe, but elephants and JCPenny?

I Funny

I Funny

James Patterson (2012)

Are all Patterson's books written with someone else these days? Whoever wrote what in this one did well, and the illustrations work very well also.

James is in a wheelchair, lives with uncaring family and a bully cousin, but wants to be a comedian. Using humor to deal with/avoid the pain in his life he learns to trust the people who care for him and have confidence in himself. Quick read with good message.

Lots of classic humor, great way to introduce students to some old time comedy.

Waiting for Normal

Waiting for Normal

Leslie O'Conner (2008)

Unfortunately, living in a trailer and dealing with hunger, neglect, reading issues, and separated families is the norm for too many children. This book touches on all of this (and more: cancer! music recitals!) in the life of a 6th grade girl but does it with a positive, confident cast of characters that brings hope to the story and reader.

Realistic but not too grim, great characters, humor. A good book to connect with lessons on empathy and recognizing other' circumstances.

Monday, April 1, 2013



by Veronica Roth (2011)

"The greatest book ever" says my 6th grade Son#3 and after months of bugging, and constantly re-positioning it at the top of my TBR stack, I gave in and read it.

Part Hunger Games, part Uglies series, part Hogwarts sorting hat, there's not much new; post-apocalypse society begins breaking down and young people must discover who they really are and, I presume by the end of the series, set the world heading in the right direction. The underdog heroine is likable, the parental deaths are tragic, and the questions/discussion possibilities interesting. Good action, although the climactic battle relied on far too much rote gun play. Teen romance does turn into teen sex, or at least the mention of it as a scary possibility, so now I guess it's time for the father/son birds and bees chat...?

I liked Hunger and Uglies better, but despite my aversion to trilogies I will go grab the next book off the shelf.

And it looks like Ms. Roth is a Blogger too:

**Guest Review by Son #3**

Divergent by Veronica Roth is a #1 New York times best seller. A teenage girl, Beatrice,makes a choice that will change her life depending on who she is. Life is hard where she is after her choice, but this almost perfect world collapses when some one strives to discover some of their cities history. Only a group of people including Tris survived, now she and the other survivors must take their life back. This book is great for people who like the Hunger Games,The Uglies, and The Maximum Ride series. I like this book because it is TOTALLY AWESOME and is impossible to put down, because so much is always happening and there a surprise at every chapter.