Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Scary School....looks like a great book for reluctant young readers

This is probably the most important book review of the summer…..and I haven’t  read the book! My ten year old daughter is a bit of reluctant reader. Oh, she has her head in a book all the time so long as it’s a comic book, graphic novel or an art book. She’s highly visual and a younger sister to a “super student and super reader," sometimes a tough act to follow as a little sis. She doesn’t  always see books or text heavy reading as “her department” in our family.

However, when I saw my ten year old absorbed in Scary School by Derek the Ghost….I took note. Scary School is a chapter book illustrated by Scott M. Fischer. As my daughter tells me, each chapter is told by a different member of the school community (we grown-ups know this as a multi-voice novel). The story was highly interesting, contained great graphics that my illustration-lovin kid likes and………led to a “secret chapter” that ends the book at the book’s website:

When my daughter went to the Scary School website she had to take a quiz on the book to gain access to the secret and final chapter of the story. This was quite enticing to my reader and she was excited to get to the website where she was laughing out loud at what she read there. There are lots of additional cool places for ten and eleven year olds to visit at the site: games, links, tour of the “school”, tour of the book, about the author and more. Even better, this is a book that appeals to boy and girl readers.

Now that my daughter has finished the book I’m going to grab it and see why it’s so cool. I hope other parentss of reluctant readers will find a way to introduce this book to their child(ren). I’d love to know what they think.

Scary School Book 2 comes out in June 2012. My daughter is already making sure that I know that so we can get it. I love hearing this from her!

Kent, D. Scary School. New York: Harper Collins Children, 2011. Print

Sunday, August 28, 2011

September is Library Card Sign Up Month

September is Library-Card Sign Up Month

This coming month, schools will be encouraging students to fill out applications for library cards at their local public library.

Some related links to get your student excited about going to the library:

Explore the public library that is home to lion cubs Lionel and Leona and their parents, Cleo and Theo, at this PBS Kids companion site.

This website, from the Library of Congress, offers a wealth of information about life, history, government, and culture in the United States. The online resources are searchable, or visitors can use the site map and index tools to locate information.

Presidential Libraries grade 7 and up

From the National Archives, this site links to ten Presidential libraries and two Presidential materials projects. The site includes Presidents George H. W. Bush, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Gerald Ford, Herbert Hoover, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, Franklin Roosevelt, and Harry Truman.

This site promotes quality reading through book reviews, related games, author biographies and interviews, and more. Students can also learn how to set up a successful book club and find discussion guides for select books.

International Reading Association/National Council for Teaching English.   Thinkfinity. Verizon Foundation. 2010. Web. 28, Aug. 2011.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Colonial Voices: Hear Them Speak

Somewhere in the archives of this blog is a list of picture books to support Virginia’s Sixth Grade Social Studies curriculum. Colonial Voices: Hear Them Speak will now be included. I LOVE this book nominated for a 2012 Virginia Readers Choice Award for elementary school students. Admittedly, I’m a social studies geek and partial to American Colonial history…..but even so, this book has much to offer kids from ages eight to ninety-eight.

Ethan is the printer’s newspaper boy sent out for deliveries of an important notice for Boston colonists on December 16, 1773. In the endpapers of the book, we see that he sets out at 5:30 am and doesn’t finish his duties until 9:00 pm when at the last of several meetings of the  he week, he is caught up in the Boston Tea Party.

What is lovely about this beautifully illustrated book are the many layers of information. Each stop on Ethan’s delivery route describes a different person that lived and worked in 1773 Boston. As the work of each man, woman, free person and slave are described, their attitude toward patriotic rebellion is related so that not only does the overall message of the book describe a historic event but it provides an complex understanding from multiple perspectives. The final words of the story, “WHAT WILL HAPPEN NOW?” lead the reader to question where this event led the American colonists. Brilliant! A short and age appropriate Historical Notes section gives the curious and more advanced readers additional facts and information. Also, brilliant.

Colonial Voices: Hear Them Speak reminds me very much of Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! Voices from a Medieval Village, the 2007 Newberry Award winner and reads equally well. I’m not certain that every elementary school child would pick this book up for reading entertainment….since it is school related. However, it’s a tremendously entertaining way of learning history that I hope teachers will include in their classrooms.

If I were teaching colonial history to young children, I would ask small groups act out Ethan’s delivery of notices throughout Boston as well as the Tea Party itself. Children will get a flavor for how ancestors felt at the time of this critical event in our nation’s history. Colonial Voices would be a super addition to middle school and even high school library for low readers or new to English readers who need to catch up on American history in a short amount of time before taking those stressful state tests. Much can be explained about America’s rebellion of British colonial rule through the incident of Boston’s Tea Party.

There are some excellent sources on the web to find out more about this book and its author, Kay Winters, who has written many great picture books for children. Have fun with this one. I sure have!

Animated book chat/review for children of Colonial Voices: Hear Them Speak

Author Kay Winters website, The Magic of Story, includes information about the author and all of her books. A kid and grown up friendly site:

Winters, K. Colonial Voices: Hear Them Speak. New York: Dutton Children’s Books. 2008. Print.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Clockwork Three

The Clockwork Three is a fantastic middle school read. It's fun stems from a blended genre of historical-fiction, fantasy and steam-punk.  

If you are new to the term steam-punk, I am too. From what I’m learning, steam-punk writing refers to stories set during Victorian times when steam power was the dominate energy source for industry, transportation and most of life. The time period is paired with a punk rock attitude toward an overly technological world. I’m still searching for a true understanding of the genre and am glad that Wikipedia has a page devoted to it for reference:

Author of The Clockwork Three, Matthew J. Kirby, based his book on a true historical account of a boy kidnapped from Italy in the 1870s, brought to NYC to play fiddle on street corners for the financial gain of his padrone.  However, as the three main fictional characters of the novel, Giuseppe, Hannah and Frederick, find each other and work to solve each other’s problems, elements of fantasy and steam-punk enter their world as well. The story is full of running down the street suspense and kids triumph over all with smarts and pluck sentiment. Fun!

I cannot wait to introduce this book to middle school students—especially readers who also enjoy The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick. An automaton has a key part to play in both books. Historically, automatons were a fascination for people in a pre-computer age of the 1800s. The works of Charles Babbage's, ground breaking work of the time is mentioned in The Clockwork Three for those interested in the infancy of computer technology.

For super readers, The Clockwork Three is a quick read as they will not want to put the fast paced story down. I’m thankful to Elizabeth Jones at Stonewall Middle School for recommending it to me as that kind of book. She is right!

The Clockwork Three has earned tons of great reviews and is beginning to show up on readers choice award lists and others. Check out more about the author and the book at the website links below:

Interview with author, Matthew J. Kirby:

Matthew J. Kirby’s blog:

Wikipedia’s information about the book:

Kirby, M. The Clockwork Three. New York: Scholastic Press. 2010. Print.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Drita, My Homegirl

Drita is ten and a refugee from Kosovo. She has endured much in her homeland but is fortunate to be able to immigrate to America. Immigrating to New York City is not an easy task, however. First, Drita must move into a very small apartment and learn a new language, enroll in a school of many different customs and cultures….not to mention try not to upset her mother who is clearly dealing some sort of emotional breakdown as a result of life as a refuge.

Maxie is a popular, fast talking, smart and funny African American girl who has a challenging past of her own. Despite the fact that she’s on track for becoming a comedienne, she misses her mother who died in a car accident. Grandma seems to become the boss of her life and worse, Maxie’s Dad is dating a woman he wants his daughter to meet...not Maxie’s idea of what life should be.

In either an act of necessity or brilliance, Miss Salvato, the girls' fourth grade teacher, assigns Maxie the story of Drita’s journey to America as a Social Studies project. How on earth can Maxie study a girl who doesn’t even speak English?! “It will be a wonderful challenge for you” says Miss Salvato (21).

Maxie and Drita alternately tell their stories throughout the book to help readers understand how the girls struggle to build common ground. By the end of the story we are proud and delighted to have seen the birth of their friendship. The voice of each girl is distinct and believable. Readers come to like both girls and are proud of them as they present a shared final chapter in the form of a social studies project. This book would be especially good for elementary age girls learning about classmates who have immigrated from another country. It would also make an excellent read aloud book.

Jenny Lombard is a New York City public school teacher that just couldn’t allow the amazing stories of her students go without telling in the form of a book. Drita, My Homegirl is her first novel. Hopefully, it won’t be her last. This book has been nominated as a 2012 Virginia Readers Choice for elementary school. It is on the readers choice lists of twenty other states. Wow. I'd say it's worth a read!

Author Jenny Lombard’s website gives background for herself, her students and how this book came into existence:

Lombard, J. Drita, My Homegirl. New York: Puffin Books. 2006. Print.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Food for Thought: YA Literature and Religion.....touchy, touchy

The topics of religion and literature has always been interesting to me.

This YALSA (Young Adult Library Services--a part of the American Library Association: blog post has much food for thought and lists of award winning books for teens that relate to religion.

To go straight to the lists of books links, scoll to the very end of the post.

Happy Reading

The Red Necklace: A Story of the French Revolution. by Sally Gardner

The Red Necklace is a fabulous book by Sally Gardner. It is  also a nominee for a 2012 Virginia Readers Choice Award in the High School category. However, I know this book is in the middle school library where I work and I'm delighted that it is.

The Red Necklace is a story of the French Revolution that involves love, intrigue, deception, evil and a bit of magic. Even though the book reads like a good ole fashioned romance, the main character is a teen gypsy boy of uncommon magical talent who uses it for good as the tide of Revolution carries away logic and reason in 1792. The main character is so interesting and real that the book has great potential as a guy AND girl read. I recommend it for readers in grades seven and up.

A quick search of google didn't turn up any awards for The Red Necklace. However, the author has a website and interesting blog. On her blog, I read a speech that she had given to prize winning authors at a school. Her speech was as much for the students not winning a prize that day as the winners. Ms. Gardner also discussed difficulties in her life overcoming dyslexia. Wow! This author who spun a wonderful, page-turning, magical tale of the French Revolution spent time in her life unable to read?! Amazing. I can't wait to read a bit of this action packed book to middle schoolers and then let them know it was written by a woman who once could not read...and struggled to learn how. This kind of triumph really does inspire students.

Check out Sally Gardner's website to see publicity for The Red Necklace, its sequel The Silver Blade and more books that are in the works from her. I will be looking for The Silver Blade as I must know what happens to the main characters I came to love so much in this book.

Gardner, S. The Red Necklace: A French Revolution Story. New York: Speak. 2007. Print.

I love this list inside the front cover of the book--historical novels:


Aurelia by Anne Osterlund
A Company of Swans by Eva Ibbotson
A Countess Below Stairs by Eva Ibbotson
General Winston's Daughter by Sharon Shinn
I, Coriander by Sally Gardner
The Morning Gift by Eva Ibbotson
Queen's Own Fool by Jane Yolen & Robert J. Harris
Red Moon at Sharpsburg by Rosemary Wells
The Safe-Keeper's Secret by Sharon Shinn
The Smile by Donna Jo Napoli
A Song for Summer by Eva Ibbotson
Wolf Queen by Tanith Lee

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Our Library of Congress is a great resource for reading

I have never spent enough time exploring the Library of Congress website. It's just full of great, free reading resources for all ages, but especially for teens.