Thursday, June 30, 2011

Some fun e-books

There are some e-books at this middle school library webpage that can be read over the summer.....grab an ipod, ipad, i-gizmo or some other gizmo to take a peek at these titles:

The password is provide so that it's open to all.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Heaven is for Real

Heaven is for Real by Todd Burpo

OK, so I just read this super little book that wasn't even on my stack of "going to reads". My sister-in-law gave it to me to read and pass on to my mother-in-law the next time I see her, But THEN, my twelve year old daughter swiped it off the counter and read it before I could even get it to my bedside table stack.

My daughter and I had a really neat conversation about this book. It reminded me of  when I was twelve and read a then very popular book about life after death experiences. With great excitement my daughter told me the basic story of how a four year old boy, the son of a pastor, has a critical health emergency and during it visits heaven and then returns. After the boy recovers, he makes very matter of fact statements about being in heaven, sitting on Jesus' lap and coming back to his father because Jesus was answering his Dad's prayers. Once my daughter told me that much and I enjoyed the enthusiasm of her telling, I knew I had to read it right away so I could be part of the fun too.

The stories that Colton tells his Dad are amazingly biblical and not in the experience of typical or even exceptional four year olds. For a pastor who believes, as in....he's a Wesleyan PASTOR who believes in Christianity.....there are moments of new knowledge and understanding that occur in talking to his son  that are astounding. Despite the fact that Todd Burpo never set out to become an author, the sermons that result from all his talks with his son become a beautiful testimony that he is encouraged to write out.

I won't ruin the fantastic details of the story by giving anything away....but it's kind of like Junie B. Jones likes to say, "wowee wow wow!" And, if heaven really is like this little boy describes, I need to just calm down, live in the love and quit worrying so much about all the things I find to worry about in a day...including what heaven means for me. Heaven is for Real has a similar in feel to Kent Gilges' message of hope. I'm glad I got to read the two books close together.

The book costs less than $10 in paperback from Wal-Mart, is a great two hour read for summer time, lay by the pool reading and just a cool book that can be shared with a friend.

If you can't get ahold of the book, there is a great Youtube telephone interview of Todd Burpo:

Heaven is for Real is a book with a definite religious point of view. I'm more than comfortable with the Christian perspective presented. A few minutes of listening to the Youtube video will let you know if the book is for you or not.

I'd love to know what my friends think about this book. If you read it, let me know!

Burpo, T. Heaven is For Real. Nashville: Tommy Nelson, 2010. Print.

Monday, June 27, 2011

The Little Women Letters

This looks good! Click on the title: The Little Women Letters to see the link:

I remember reading Little Women and loving it. If I were a Language Arts teacher, I'd be all over this one....but do teens read Little Women any more? They should.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Bystander, an outstanding read

Bystander, by James Preller has been nominated for the 2012 Virginia Readers Choice Award….and deserves it.

Bystander is a book I could gush about. The basic story involves Eric, a seventh grader new to town, meeting the biggest bully at Bellport Central Middle days before school begins. However, Griffen Connelly is astoundingly charming, cool, popular….almost charismatic. When Eric actually begins school it seems a blessing that he’s quickly accepted into Griffen’s crowd at lunch. However, Griffen is not what he appears to be and Eric finds himself witnessing Griffen’s mean streak and dishonesty.

Despite the fact that the school is involved in an anti-bullying campaign, it’s extraordinarily difficult for Eric or anyone else to untangle themselves from Griffen’s web enough to stand up to him. All the seventh graders know the answers to questions posed by teachers and counselors about bullying…but what can they do when caught in the situation themselves as either a bully, victim or bystander? The real answers away from adults are much harder to come by.

Eventually, Eric comes to realize, “I’m just as bad as the rest of them.” (p. 86) But, before Eric can turn things around he finds himself attacked and at the center of Griffen’s cruel attention. An on-the-ball Language Arts teacher gets to Eric and his friend Mary with a frank talk about bullying with specific examples from history and some sharp quotes from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. that begin to steer Eric’s thought in a different direction. He knows he has to do something about Griffen but, what?

Will Griffen be able to come to terms with his part in being a bystander and a victim? Will he be able to confront Griffen in a positive and effective way? Will he survive seventh grade?

One of the best aspects of this book is that is that the conflict is resolved by the characters as real-life kids would without the help of adults or parroting of lessons learned in anti-bullying class. For sure, there are some aspects of the way Eric deals with Griffen that parents and teachers need to at least ask their young readers about. But, the fact that Eric does take action in his situation is important.

Bystander is unquestionably a book for Middle School students. The voice and feel of the book are very middle school. I hope that I can encourage middle school students that I know to read this book. It is a wonderful YA read bursting with discussion opportunities and teachable moments. And, I think Bystander is a very strong contender to win Virginia Readers Choice Award.

Bystander has been nominated for Readers Choice Awards in several states:

-Dorothy Canfield Fisher Children’s Book Award (Vermont)

-South Carolina Junior Book Award

-Kentucky Bluegrass Award

-Oklahoma Sequoia Book Award

-Florida Sunshine State Young Readers Award Master List

-Maryland Black-Eyed Susan Master List

A great Youtube trailer for Bystander can be seen at:

A Discussion Question Guide can be seen at:

Author, James Preller’s website has a lot of great stuff about Bystander, his life as a writer and information on more books that he’s written:

Preller, J. Bystander. New York: Feiwel & Friends: 2009. Print.

Friday, June 24, 2011

what took me so long?

We're just tipping into the first full week of summer and I've been to the public library three times. This is good. Summer reading is an activity that all my kids and I enjoy. I have to thank my daughter Jenna for bringing home a really great graphic novel: The Secret Science Alliance and the Copycat Crook.

Usually, I don't read the comic books, junior manga or graphic novels that my kids bring home. I'm delighted that they are reading them.....but graphic novels slow me down. I don't want to have to look at all the pictures to get the story. I just want to read the words and get the story that way.

The Secret Science Alliance and the Copy Cat Crook was different in that once I started reading it I just settled into the fun of the story of three kids with passions for science and inventing. Greta, Ben and Julian are all much so that they try to hide it so as not to be considered too geeky by their peers at school. The three work on their inventions in a secret underground lab that they have built and hang out in. While they are building, each of them helps the others not feel so geeky or out of step with their real worlds...very positive message for kids that like learning.

One day, one of the inventions devised by the S.S.A has literally landed them inside the confines of a local research laboratory where a grouchy old scientist steals the kid's notebook of invention ideas while shoo-ing them away as silly, prattling children. However, the kids soon learn that the scientist begins to rip off their ideas, gaining fame and fortune. In the process of stealing their prized notebook back, the kids discover that grouchy Dr. Stringer is planning a heist of the city's history museum. Quickly, the kids devise a plan to not only get their notebook out of the clutches of the mean old copy cat scientist but to foil the heist and save the day.Will the kids accomplish the tall order of all their plans and remain a Secret Science Alliance? Only those who read the book to its conclusion will find out.

The Secret Science Alliance and the Copycat Crook is a book that each of my kids brought to me and said, "Mom, you've gotta read this one." I'm glad I did. I love that this book makes it cool to be smart and that the heroes are regular kids, worried about being geeky but supported in their love of learning by their friends. It's a great message inside a very cool book full of diagrams, maps, sidebars, charts....all sorts of cool graphics that make the book feel like a scientists invention notebook. I don't know what took me so long to pick up one of their graphic novels to enjoy.....some of them are really cool books!

The Secret Science Alliance and the Copycat Crook has earned the following awards:

Book List “Top 10”

Cybils Award …an award for graphic novels

YALSA Great Graphic Novels for Teens

New York Public Library 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing

Young Hoosier Book Award Nominee

Davis, E. The Secret Science Alliance. New York: Bloomsbury, 2010. Print.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Sweet Picture Book

Pop! The Invention of Bubble Gum by Meghan McCarthy is a fun and fact filled story to read. Pop! takes readers back to Depression Era days to a tiny gum and candy factory on the brink of closing down. Employees were trying lots of different formulas and flavors to try to come up with some sort of break through wow-gum that would save the company.....when little ole Walter Diemer in the accounting department got involved with all the fiddling around. The rest, as they say, is history as Double Bubble was invented and not only saved the company but became one of the world's most popular gum choices.

There's lots more details in the book about where gum came from, why it's pink, how the new gum was introduced to the world and what Walter's life was like after his stupendous invention. The book answers all those questions inventor-type kids really want to know about a thing like gum.  At the end of the book are a bunch of cool facts about Walter, who turned out to be a pretty neat guy, and gum throughout history. A kid can learn a thing or two from Pop! I also love how the author backs up her delightful picture book facts with a ton of great resources for further reading or research. This is a book I'd love to share with elementary and middle school students. We checked Pop! The Invention of Bubble Gum out of our local library. I hope it's in your library too!

McCarthy, M. Pop! The Invention of Bubble Gum. New York: A Paula Wiseman Book, 2010. Print.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Does My Head Look Big In This?

OK, back to our regularly scheduled programming… going off on creative writing tangents based on personal angst. Although, I’m just about to leave India in Eat, Pray, Love….and well, that’s just a whole discussion and then some I’d love to have with someone right there! I really should join a book club one of these days.

Does My Head Look Big In This? Is a wonderful Young Adult novel by Randa Abdel-Fateh. This is the first book that I can remember reading where the heroine is a young Muslim woman. As a middle school teacher-librarian this is important to me….and I hope important to more young women of all backgrounds because we don’t often get to see female Muslim heroines unless they are depicted in extreme circumstances.

Amal is a feisty, smart, argumentative, ambitious young girl who at the age of seventeen decides to take her faith seriously by wearing a hijab, Muslim female head covering, in her average teenage life in Melbourne, Australia. Although she knows that she will face some questionable looks, negative remarks, sterotyping and possibly racism, it’s important to Amal to be authentic in her identity as a Muslim, Palestinian-Australian girl. Amal makes many discoveries in her new life under the veil….some of them she expected….many of them surprises. By the end of the novel, readers are satisfied that Amal has grown as a person and as a Muslim through her experience...."all this time I've been walking around thinking of become pious because I've made the difficult decision to wear the hijab......But what's the good of being true to your religion on the outside, if you don't change what's on the inside, where it really counts." (333)

What I especially enjoyed in this story is that by seeing the world through Amal’s eyes, under her hijab, are the many layers of being Muslim and of Middle Eastern descent. As our heroine struggles with her new visibility, she becomes sometimes a willing and many times an unwilling representative of her religion and culture to her peers. It’s a lot to go through when also dealing with boy crushes, make-up, keeping up with Cosmo, sleepovers, pimples and studying for tests at school! Amal teaches us that Islam has many aspects and that its doctrines are not what we think we know from our media. She also learns much about what it means to be Australian when viewed by so many of her compatriots as an outsider.

Throughout her typical, busy Junior Year, Amal, carefully thinks about how wearing hijab might or might not be part of the experience. We learn that being a teenage Muslim girl is a lot like being a teenage girl of any religious background….and that’s cool.

Does My Head Look Big In This? is Abdel-Fattah’s first book. It’s won several awards including: Australian Book of the Year Award 2006, Notable Book of the Children’s Book Council 2006, on the long list of books considered for the UK Galaxy Book Awards 2006 and on the short list of books considered for the UK Grampian Children’s Book Awards 2006. This author has written several more books about identity issues for Muslims and specifically Palestinians. More about Abdel-Fattah can be learned at her very informative website:

Abdel-Fattah, R. Does My Head Look Big In This? New York: Orchard Books, 2005. Print.

Monday, June 13, 2011

A dead Shuffle, Alchemy, The Book With No Words and an ipod Touch

I’ve heard that there are no coincidences…..and if this is true, I’m a lucky girl because my ipod Shuffle died two days ago.

Last week, I shared this wonderful, touching, full of hope book; A Grace Given by Kent Gilges. One of the quotations in that book that author shares is from Pearl S. Buck; “There is alchemy in sorrow. It can be transmuted into wisdom, which, if it can, does not bring joy, can yet bring happiness.”

The word and idea of alchemy has haunted me since reading it. I’ve pondered it as I wash dishes, walk the dog, weed jellybean garden III. I’m sort of stuck on it. Usually, the best way for me to unstick from anything is to write about it in some way. Alchemy, the ancient art of combining metals to produce gold, or the philosopher’s stone and elixir of life, is rich in history, analogy and a precursor to modern chemistry—lots there to consider and imagine.

My fascination led me to Wikipedia, again. I’m a terrible school librarian for my love of Wikipedia. It’s just so loaded with information and tidbits and links to other pieces of information and tidbits and more links….bad that it can be changed by the readership or anyone with an agenda. We don’t allow students to use Wikipedia as a true scholarly authority because of its changeability. But, its good in that Wikipedia’s accuracy is similar to Encyclopedia Britannica (Study Wikipedia as Accurate as Britannica and handy for ridiculously curious people stuck on a word like alchemy!

Funny that at the bottom of my of my library bag was a playaway book of Avi’s The Book With No Words. This playaway (an MP3 player loaded with a single book) had been in my bag for weeks, renewed by me again and again as one of those stories I was getting too after A Grace Given. The book is a gothic tale about an alchemist. Perfect! The Book With No Words goes right along with my thirst for ideas, words and images of alchemy. Furthermore, the story is great! A thirteen year old servant girl named Sybil, a talking raven and a desperate green-eyed boy join forces to discover Master Thorston’s alchemy secrets before evil Master Bashcroft steals all the riches for himself. In the mix is a mysterious and frightening monk, Wilfred, whose knowledge of The Book With No Words is deadly serious. It’s a great story and perfect for Middle School Age kids who love a gothic world, good vs. evil and stories that give one the shivers. But, that’s all I can say about the book because at the beginning of chapter 4 the playaway went caflooey! It broke and I won’t know the rest of the story until I get back to the library and check the old fashioned book with words to find out what happens to Sybil, Odo the raven and Alfric the green-eyed boy. My ipod Shuffle is dead….so I can’t even load the story onto that from the CD version to listen to as I walk the dog, wash dishes or weed the garden. This must mean I need an ipod Touch.

See, an ipod Touch can serve as an ereader and audiobook player along with soooo many other things. Doesn’t it seem necessary that I ensure being able to finish my story on a new and surely reliable piece of technology such as an ipod Touch? It makes sense to me. So, I’m now shopping around for an ipod Touch.

I’ve wanted an i gizmo for a while now….the justification for why I must purchase one right away seems clear to me--dead Shuffle, broken playaway, little time to run to the library. There are no coincidences, right?

If you can discern the book review in the midst of this rant, pat yourself on the back. Your reading of this journey to an i Gizmo is a bit of alchemy all its own.

Avi. The Book Without Words. New York. Hyperion Books for Children, 2005. Audio.

Monday, June 6, 2011

A Grace Given by Kent Gilges

A Grace Given by Kent Gilges

I thank my friend Laurie for giving me this book. Laurie is a friend that everyone should be so lucky to have. One day in fourth, there was a family across the aisle of Holy Angels Catholic Church with a daughter my age and the promise of a friend. Laurie has been a part of every milestone along my path in one way or another since we met…the wonderful times and the painful ones, including the death of my mother.

As my mother lay dying, Laurie, a music therapist, did more than just visit and comfort me and my family. When we were desperate for something to hold onto in those dark days of the hospital’s hospice room, she created a CD of music from that church we met in decades ago. She recorded her playing the music and singing words that illustrated my family’s faith when there was very little else holding us up. We know that my mother, a strong woman who wept for hymns was carried for a bit by the gift that Laurie gave her and us. The music helped us to cry as well when we needed release. Through the entire event of mom’s death I struggled to explain that being by her side and caring for her was a terrible but beautiful experience. I was honored to be able to be there and felt God’s presence like never before in my life. Laurie’s music was an essential of the beauty I tried to describe.

A year after my mother left us to be with God; Laurie gave me the book, A Grace Given by Kent Gilges. She had personal experience with the author’s daughter, Elie. She told me when she gave it to me that she knew I was ready for the book. I let the book sit on the pile of books that “I’m getting to” for almost a year before starting it……but I’m so glad I did. A Grace Given is not a book that you chose to read….so much as a story that choses to enter and work in you.

In simplest terms, A Grace Given, journals and chronicles the life of Kent’s daughter Elie as she lives with and dies from a combination of brain tumor and major stroke. The terrible beauty of Elie’s illness and death change Kent as a human father and spiritual being. Many of his words stop me in the way that only poetry can. The author was able to put into words the way I felt when I was with my mother in her dying but couldn't articulate. What’s so beautiful is that the story is not sad….there are sad and even devestating moments for sure but the underlying message in the book is hope, hope, HOPE.

In many ways, A Grace Given is a devotional. The author, raised without religion, marries a deeply faithful Catholic wife and spends time throughout their daughter’s illness grappling with the big questions….every question one that I have grappled with myself: Is there a God? Is Jesus God? Why does God allow suffering? Is Catholicism an answer? Is it God that allows suffering--why? Will God exist even if I’m so angry with Him that I reject him? Will He take me back? Gilges includes Bible passages and quotes from famous thinkers to make his case: “There is a blessing sent from God in every burden of sorrow. There is hope in that, even in a dying child” (book jacket).

I sincerely hope that some of my friends will make time for A Grace Given and let me know what they take from reading it. I know that today, my first day after finishing this book, I will be spending less time complaining about my children and more time enjoying the wonder of their healthy selves…and thanking God for every moment of joy He’s given me as mother to the family I belong to.

Gilges, K. A Grace Given. Canandaigua: Cider Press Publishing, 2008. Print.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Leanin' Dog

The Leanin’ Dog by K.A. Nuzum

Eleven year old Dessa Dean knows exactly how many days ago she watched her mother freeze to death. The shock and trauma of the event has left many scars….a bad case of frost bite may be the easiest to deal with. Harder are the night and day mares as well as a deep fear of going outside beyond the porch of her home in the Colorado Mountains. As Christmas approaches, Dessa Dean’s father struggles to bring enough food home from hunting and trapping to feed their tiny family and Dessa Dean fights to convince herself she “isn’t daft” from grieving when a fudge-brown dog shows up at their place.

The stray dog clearly has experienced trauma of her own as she will not come into the house without a LOT of coaxing ….and certainly will not stay with the door shut despite the cold weather. As hero dogs will, Leanin’ Dog’s love and devotion to Dessa Dean begin to pull the girl out of her grief and toward life. Will Dessa Dean be able to handle walking in the outside world again? Will Leanin’ Dog trust Dessa Dean as a friend and master? The answers to these questions are what the reader works toward in this book nominated for a 2012 Virginia Readers Choice Award--in the Middle School category. As the book jacket suggests, “Angels are everywhere.”

From the language, spelling, reference to an Indian-head nickel and lack of running water or electric in the house, readers know that this is a story from the past. That might confuse readers in grades 4-6 a bit. However, the focus of the story on Dessa Dean’s relationship with the dog is strong and clear and that is what kids will want to discover.

Author K.A. Nuzum has provided additional information about herself and this book at:

The Leanin’ Dog has been named a School Library Journal Best Book, been placed on the Dorothy Canfield Fisher Children’s Book Award Masterlist (Vermont) and has received an IRA children’s and Young Adult’s Book Award.

Nuzum, K.A. The Leanin' Dog. New York: Harper Collins, 2008. Print.