Monday, April 25, 2016

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? April 25, 2016

Happy Monday!

Last week I hosted a stop for the blog tour in support of The Mechanical Mind of John Coggin by Elinor Teele, so I didn't post my weekly reading recap. This post covers two weeks. The weather is warming up, so less reading is happening on weekends. I'm not sad; I've been waiting for sunshine and warmth for weeks and weeks!

Here's what I've been reading since my last post:
  • Simple Starts: Making the Move to a Reader-Centered Classroom by Kari Yates (April 11, 2016) PD book; would be great for a teacher just embarking on moving to a reading workshop.
  • Bunheads by Sophie Flack (April 12, 2016) YA about choosing between your passion and a new relationship
  • The Mechanical Mind of John Coggin by Elinor Teele (April 16, 2016) MG book about an extraordinary boy and his quest to escape an overbearing great aunt.
  • I Survived the San Francisco Earthquake by Lauren Tarshis (April 16, 2016) MG HF, just as the title says
  • Stick Dog Dreams of Ice Cream by Tom Watson (April 16, 2016) MG humor in the style of Diary of a Wimpy Kid, but with dogs.
  • Imagination According to Humphrey by Betty G. Birney (April 16, 2016) Another cute entry in the Humphrey series
  • Double Cross (and other skills I learned as a super spy) by Jackson Pearce (April 19, 2016) Fun MG read about a spy school.
  • The Hero Two Doors Down by Sharon Robinson (April 20, 2016) MG HF based on the true story of the friendship between Jackie Robinson and a young neighbor
  • The Princess in Black by Shannon Hale & Dean Hale (April 20, 2016) Fun early read about a princess who is also a superhero of sorts
  • Forever Your Earl by Eva Leigh (April 24, 2016) Trashy romance novel
  • Scandal Takes the Stage by Eva Leigh (April 24, 2016) Trashy romance novel
Quite an eclectic list.  I've been in the mood for variety lately.

What have you been reading?  Head over to Unleashing Readers or Teach Mentor Texts to link up your list!

Happy Reading!

Thursday, April 21, 2016

The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge

The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge
(Amulet, May 2016)

Summary from publisher:
A young female scientist discovers the dangerous nature of truth -- and the bewitching power of lies -- in this deliciously creepy tale by master storyteller Frances Hardinge, author of Cuckoo Song.
Faith Sunderly leads a double life.  To most people, she is reliable, dull, trustworthy -- a proper young lady who knows her place as inferior to men.  But inside, Faith is full of questions and curiosity, and she cannot resist mysteries; an unattended envelope, an unlocked door.  She knows secrets no one suspects her of knowing.  She knows that her family moved to the close-knit island of Vane because her famous scientist father was fleeing a reputation-destroying scandal.  And she knows, when her father is discovered dead shortly thereafter, that he was murdered.
In pursuit of justice and revenge, Faith hunts through her father's possessions and discovers a strange tree.  The tree bears fruit only when she whispers a lie to it.  The fruit of the tree, when eaten, delivers a hidden truth.  The tree might hold the key to her father's murder -- or it may lure the murderer directly to Faith herself.

I am generally not a fan of mysteries, but I find myself appreciating and enjoying them more and more lately.  In the case of The Lie Tree, I found myself drawn to the twists and turns of the plot that kept me guessing about the identity of the murderer.  At first, I couldn't decide what this book wanted to be.. we had a teenage girl, fascinated by science but subject to the discrimination of her time; a tension between Creationists and followers of that upstart writer Charles Darwin; a well-respected reverend who is cast from Society after falsifying a fossil.  Once Reverend Sunderley is found dead, however, the book settles into form and Faith immerses herself in finding her father's killer.

More than figuring out the mystery of Reverend Sunderley's murder, I was fascinated by the Lie Tree, the specimen he took great pains to conceal from the inhabitants of Vane.  When Faith realizes the tree could possibly help her with her search, she feeds it lies without considering the impact the spread of those lies would have on others.  It was fascinating to see how the not-so-nice parts of Faith's personality came to the forefront as she plotted and planned and lied.

Hand this one to readers who enjoy historical mysteries.  The plot twists and slow revealing of necessary information will keep readers hooked until the last page.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Rescued by Eliot Schrefer

Rescued by Eliot Schrefer
(Scholastic, April 2016)

Summary from publisher:
Raja has been raised in captivity.  Not behind the bars of a zoo, but within the confines of an American home.  He was stolen when he was young to be someone's pet.  Now he's grown up and is about to be sent away again, to a place from which there will be no return.
John grew up with Raja.  The orangutan was his friend, his brother. But when John's parents split up and he moved across the country, he left Raja behind.  Now Raja is in danger.
There's one last chance to save Raja -- a chance that will force John to confront his fractured family and the captivity he's imposed on himself all of these years.
Eliot Schrefer's last two novels, Endangered and Threatened, were both finalists for the National Book Award.  With Rescued, he brings his remarkable storytelling to the American landscape, giving us a boy who must redefine his own humanity and an orangutan who will need his help in order to return home.

This third book in Eliot Schrefer's Ape Quartet is just as good as the first two.  In this installment, Schrefer writes about Raja, an orangutan raised in captivity as John's beloved pet.  Schrefer's storytelling is strong; he brings the reader into the John's life, from the harrowing first scene to the breathtaking last.  There were moments in this book where I didn't want to read on, because I couldn't imagine how the scene or situation could possibly have a happy ending (spoiler... not all of them do), but the overall need to find out what happens in the end kept me turning the pages.  I read all of Rescued in one sitting - a snowy winter Friday night.

In all three of these books, Schrefer is doing more than just entertaining readers.  He is opening eyes to the lives and treatment of the great apes, homo sapien's closest genetic relatives.  In looking at the habitat loss and treatment of these animals, Schrefer shows us how our actions have repercussions in the natural world, ones that we might not intend and likely do not know about.  I can't wait to read the final book about gorillas.

Because of some violent and scary scenes, this book is not for very young readers.  Hand this one to kids in grades five an up who love stories about friends and family and who don't mind being scared.  Pick it up yourself.  You won't regret it.

Monday, April 18, 2016

BLOG TOUR! The Mechanical Mind of John Coggin by Elinor Teele

Illustration by Ben Whtehouse

I'm thrilled to be a stop on the blog tour for The Mechanical Mind of John Coggin by Elinor Teele!

I've been reading a lot of middle grade books lately as I prepare to move from middle school (where I read and book talked mostly YA books) to third grade.  I have to say many of them have left me wanting.... more.  When I heard about this new title, I was hoping to find a book I could add to my new classroom library or use as a read aloud.  I found a winner.

Here's my review:

The Mechanical Mind of John Coggin by Elinore Teele, with illustrations by Ben Whitehouse
(Walden Pond Press, 2016)

Summary from publisher:
Roald Dahl meets The Penderwicks in this quirky, humorous, whimsical, and heartwarming middle grade debut about two siblings who run away from home to escape working in the family coffin business.

John Coggin is no ordinary boy. He is devising an invention that nobody has ever seen before, something that just might change the world, or at least make life a little bit better for him and his little sister, Page. But that’s only when he can sneak a break from his loathsome job—building coffins for the family business under the beady gaze of his cruel Great-Aunt Beauregard. 

When Great-Aunt Beauregard informs John that she’s going to make him a permanent partner in Coggin Family Coffins—and train Page to be an undertaker—John and Page hit the road. Before long, they’ve fallen in with a host of colorful characters, all of whom, like John and Page, are in search of a place they can call home. But home isn’t something you find so much as something you fight for, and John soon realizes that he and Page are in for the fight of their lives.

John Coggin isn't a boy who settles.  He hates living with and working for his awful Great-Aunt Beuregard in the family coffin business, and as soon as he sees a chance to escape, he takes it.  Though things don't go as well as he hoped, he and Page embark on a wild adventure.  From traveling with a ragtag circus to helping a baker to excavating an archeological dig, John and Page learn they must use the brains in their heads to outwit Great Aunt Beauregard and find happiness together.

I really enjoyed this non-stop adventure.  John and Page are smart and resourceful, and the people they meet are mostly kind and helpful, which makes up for the awfulness of his great aunt.  Teele's writing is fast-paced and humorous, and reminded me yes, of Roald Dahl as mentioned above, but also Lemony Snicket.  Kids will enjoy seeing John, Page, and thier friend Boz as they travel the countryside, evading Great-Aunt Beuregard and coming up with amazing inventions.

Hand this one to readers who enjoy not-so-realistic humorous fiction that is full of action.

Want to know more?  Check out this episode of WaldenTV:

Thanks to the generosity of Walden Pond Press, I am giving away a signed copy of The Mechanical Mind of John Coggin.  To enter complete the form below.  The giveaway will be open until April 22, 2016.

Monday, April 11, 2016

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? April 11, 2016

Happy Monday!

It was back to work this week, and as we slide into the last weeks of the school year, my schedule at school is heating up. That means I have less time to plan professional reading into my schedule, and it also means I am more tired at night so I read less.

Here's what I managed to finish this week:
  • Core Instructional Routines by Judy Dodge and Andrea Honigsfeld (April 5, 2016)
  • The Wild Robot by Peter Brown (April 8, 2016)Yep. That's it. two books. I'll take it, though. 
  • Just Like Me by Nancy J. Cavanaugh
This week I plan to:
  • Finish Simple Starts by Kari Yates
  • Continue to choose books from my TBR shelves in the basement. :-)
I really hope that the weather warms up so that I can get out into the yard and start working on the flowerbeds and get some sun as well.  This winter has been long enough!

Don't forget to head over to Unleashing Readers or Teach Mentor Texts to link up your weekly reading recap!

Happy reading!

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Hour of the Bees by Linsday Eagar

Hour of the Bees by Linsday Eagar
(Candlewick, 2016)

Summary from publisher:
While her friends are spending their summers having pool parties and sleepovers, twelve-year-old Carolina -- Carol -- is spending hers in the middle of the New Mexico desert, helping her parents prepare to move the grandfather she's never met into a home for people with dementia.  At first, Carol avoids prickly Grandpa Serge, whose face is covered in strange bumps that catch the shadows and don't let go and whose eyes are impossibly old.  But as the summer wears on and the heat bears down, Carol finds herself drawn to Serge, fascinated by his crazy stories about an ancient oasis in the desert with a green-glass lake and a tree that gave the villagers the gift of immortality.  As the thin line between magic and reality starts to blur, Carol must decide for herself what is possible -- and what it means to be true to her roots.

This book is beautiful.  The story is SO not what I expected when I read the blurb on the back. Yes, it is the story of Carolina spending her summer in the desert with her family.  But it really is a story of self-discovery and a story of family lore and a story of ancestors and a story of HOPE.  Eagar's writing is gorgeous.  I could imagine myself right there with Carolina in the heat of the desert, desperately bored at first but then fascinated by her grandfather's stories.  I loved the magical element to the story and the mystery of the family's history and stories.  In the end, my favorite thing about the book is Carolina's relationship with Grandpa Serge.  It made me long for my own grandparents in a way I haven't for a while.

Hand this one to readers who enjoy magical realism or finding-your-place stories.  Readers who enjoy character-driven stories are going to love this one.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Duke by Kirby Larson

Duke by Kirby Larson
(Scholastic, 2013)

Summary from publisher:
With World War II raging and his father fighting overseas in Europe, eleven-year-old Hobie Hanson is determined to do his part to help his family and his country, even if it means giving up his beloved German shepherd, Duke.  Hoping to help end the war and bring his dad home faster, Hobie decides to donate Duke to Dogs for Defense, an organization that urges Americans to "loan" their pets to the military.  Hobie immediately regrets his decision and tries everything he cna to get Duke back, even jeopardizing his friendship with the new boy at school.  But when his father is taken prisoner by the Germans, Hobie realizes he must let Duke go and reach deep within himself to be brave.  Will Hobie ever see Duke, or his father, again?  Will life ever be the same?

Kirby Larson is one of my favorite authors.  I loved Hattie Big Sky and The Friendship Doll.  Now that I'm reading more books for younger readers, I decided to check out Duke as an addition to my new classroom library.  I'm so glad I did.

Historical fiction is one of my favorite genres, but I've had trouble getting kids interested in it in the past.  I don't think that will be a problem with this one.  Duke is, at his heart, about a boy and his dog and their unique friendship.  Kids will relate to this, and at the same time they'll learn a bit about what life was like here in the United States during World War II.  I liked that Larson showed how kids went about their lives - going to school, riding bikes, playing baseball - just like kids today, but that the war lurked in the background with its ration stamps, war bonds, and service flags.  Larson's writing style pulls readers in and keeps them hooked.

Duke would make a great read aloud in a fourth or fifth grade classroom, especially during a study of historical fiction.  It would be great to talk with kids about the kind of research Larson had to do in order to write the book.  They could also talk about how kids' lives in the 1940s compare to kids' lives today.