Monday, July 25, 2016

It's Monday! What are you reading?

We had a lot going on in our house last week, helping our daughter prepare for her first post-college job...which just happens to be in Japan.  There was a lot of last-minute shopping and packing and repacking and memory-making, so I only have three books to report on this week:

Crenshaw, by Katherine Applegate, is a story to tug at your heart with every page turned.  Jackson, the ten-year-old narrator, is facing homelessness once again.  His parents do their best to keep a roof over their heads; mom takes on several part-time jobs, and his dad does what he can in between bouts of MS. Unfortunately, even a yard sale of all but the bare necessities can't keep the eviction notice away.

Crenshaw, Jackson's imaginary friend who arrived the first time they lost their home, shows up yet again--this time bigger, and wiser.  He also happens to be a cat--one that Jackson's real-life dog, Aretha, seems to be able to sense as well.  Crenshaw helps Jackson navigate the wide range of feelings that come with his family's struggles, including anger at his parents for not providing a roof over their heads.  

I envision this story being read as an introduction to a project-based learning event on homelessness in our own community.  For students who only think of the homeless as stoplight panhandlers, it brings the plight of homeless families to light.

For my personal reading, I finished The Inventor's Secret by Andrea Cremer; I thoroughly enjoyed it!  (See my last post for more details.)  Recommended for upper middle school and up-- it does have a romantic subplot that might make younger readers uncomfortable.  I found it interesting that the main female characters in this story are on equal footing with the boys/ young men, since the scene is set in post-Revolutionary War times.

I also finished Rob Bell's Velvet Elvis.  This pastor of Mars Hill church has a fresh take on Christianity, stripping away the dogma and doctrines to get down to the main business of the religion--to bring heaven to earth, through service and love and inclusion.  This is the second book I've read of Bell's; the first was Love Wins, recommended by a friend who happens to be a Lutheran pastor herself.  Both books are short--only 200 pages or so--but filled with so much to think about that I could only absorb a few pages at a time.

I'm diving into some more Bluebonnet Award nominees this week, as well as some professional and personal reading.  What are you reading during these last few weeks of summer break?  

Monday, July 18, 2016

It's Monday! What are you reading?

My official start day for the school year is August 8th, but I only have seventeen work-free days until then due to professional development meetings and workshops.  I still have eight Bluebonnet Award Nominees to read; yikes!

This past week, I picked up The Chicken Squad:  The First Misadventure by Doreen Cronin (of Click, Clack, Moo fame).  It was a very fast read, even for this slow reader.  The premise is fun and silly--four chicks who like adventure and mystery, overseen by the family dog who attempts to keep them out of trouble.  In this first book of a series, the chicks--Dirt, Sweetie, Poppy, and Sugar--are approached by a freaked-out squirrel to find out what the green floating saucer is doing in their yard.  Because this book is so short, it would be a great intro to writing from another perspective as well as breaking the fourth wall, since JJ the dog addresses the reader directly.  Lots of illustrations, larger type, and short chapters make this a great bridge book for beginning or reluctant readers.

Space Case by Stuart Gibbs had me in my first book coma of the summer!  Each chapter of this science fiction novel left me wanting more.  The story is told from the perspective of Dash, a twelve-year-old boy stationed with his scientist parents, little sister and several other scientist families and workers on the first-ever moon base. Moon living isn't all it's cracked up to be, and gets even more interesting when one of the scientists dies under mysterious circumstances. Dash is convinced it wasn't an accident, but the adults aren't so sure.  An interesting cast of characters keeps readers guessing until the surprising conclusion, opening the door for the next book in the series.
Gibbs intersperses pages from a fictional NASA manual for moon living with corresponding events and details in the story; their juxtaposition makes for a ready lesson on persuasion and propaganda, as the hype doesn't always measure up to the reality.  I got to meet Stuart Gibbs at our state library conference in April, and his friendship with a real-life astronaut has given him access to information that makes living on the moon a believable possibility. 

I am reading a book JUST for me this week:  The Inventor's Secret, a steampunk novel by Andrea Cremer.  I don't think I've read steampunk since the required reading for my master's degree of Leviathan by Scott Westerfield; I'd forgotten how much I enjoy this genre.  Cremer's series is set in an America which lost the Revolutionary War and is still under Britain's rule.  Sixteen-year-old Charlotte and her older brother Ashley are living in the Catacombs, a secret hideout for children of Resistance fighters battling Britain's Imperial Empire.  The children support the Resistance by scavenging for metal parts to be used in weaponry and war machines; the older children, like Charlotte and Ash, take on riskier roles of espionage and rallying support for the cause.  I'm enjoying this just-for-fun novel!

On deck for this week:  Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate, The Terrible Two by Mac Barnett and Jory John, and continuing with Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan.  I'm still making my way through Drapeau's Sparking Student Creativity--a work assignment--and Bell's Velvet Elvis, a personal choice.  

It's Monday!  What are you reading during these steamy days of summer? 

Monday, July 11, 2016

It's Monday! What are you reading?

After taking a week off for the holiday (and taking a break from reading, to be truthful!), I'm back at chipping away my to-read pile.

This week, I finished:

Nightmares!  by Jason Segel and Kirsten Miller is a creepy-yet-sweet story of a tween boy coming to terms with his mother's death, his father's remarriage, moving into the town's creepiest house, and dreams that are becoming scarier and more real each night.  The nightmares begin to fill him with the "darkness", affecting his relationships with his father, little brother, and best friends; he doesn't want a relationship with his "stepmonster".  Is his stepmother really a witch from the Netherworld?  Charlie and his friends face their fears in this supernatural story that has a satisfying ending.

There was a lot of buzz about A Fine Dessert by Emily Jenkins, illustrated by Sophie Blackall.  You can read about the author's statement here, and the Texas Library Association's statement here.  Aside from the controversy, I found it to be a fascinating look at how food gathering, preparation, storage, and service has changed during the past four centuries.  This book would be a great jumpstart for projects on how any common recipe/ item/ process has changed over the years.  I would be sure to read the author's notes, and discuss the points made in the linked articles regarding the incomplete/ inaccurate depiction of slavery with students when doing a book talk.

I was immediately drawn in by the gorgeous illustrations in Hiawatha and the Peacemaker by Robbie Robertson, illustrated by David Shannon (yes, of No, David! fame).  Then the story grabbed me as well.  Robertson's retelling of an Iroquois tale that describes how the Five Nations stopped warring and became one is a powerful testament to peace.  I found several details that mirrored those in other major religions (i.e. Hiawatha forgiving the evil Tadodaho, the Peacemaker driving the snakes out of Tadodaho and climbing a tree that could lead to his death, but reappearing the next morning).  As with the previous book, the author's notes are worth sharing, especially Robertson's memories of visiting a longhouse with his own Native American relatives.

Roller Girl, a graphic novel by Victoria Jamieson, is a coming-of-age story.  Two elementary school friends discover their differences may be driving them apart as middle school approaches.  Astrid, the main character, decides that roller derby is her new passion, while her friend Nicole is pursuing ballet--and boys, an interest Astrid doesn't share.  The lengths Astrid will go to in becoming a roller derby skater are exasperating, commendable and touching, as we watch her lie to her mother, fume at her own incompetence yet persevere, and wilt in the face of a dying friendship.  There is growth in the struggle that tweens will be able to relate to,  and maybe learn from Astrid's mistakes. 

What's next?  Personal reading:  Velvet Elvis by Rob Bell.  Professional reading:  Sparking Student Creativity by Patti Drapeau.  Children's lit:  Space Case by Stuart Gibbs.

What is in your reading pile this week?