Friday, April 30, 2010

April Reading Recap

Wow, was April a busy month! And I can't believe we're at its end. My aspirations and predictions for April were fulfilled exactly, so much that I'm a bit in shock. Lots of picture book reading? Check. Updating the blog less frequently? Check. Still reading fantasy? Check. Sunny afternoons on the porch reading and rainy ones in bed with a book? Check. Huh, I like this goal-setting thing.

Books Read in April:
  1. The London Eye Mystery by Siobhan Dowd - review - read 04/03/10 
  2. What Happened to Marion's Book? by Brook Berg - review - read 04/07/10
  3. Duck on a Bike by David Shannon - review - read 04/07/10
  4. Hansel and Gretel retold by Rachel Isadora - review - read 04/07/10
  5. Blankets by Craig Thompson - read 04/10/10
  6. The Dream Stealer by Sid Fleischman - read 04/10/10
  7. No, David! by David Shannon - read 04/15/10
  8. David Gets in Trouble by David Shannon - read 04/15/10
  9. David Goes to School by David Shannon - read 04/15/10
  10. Rhyming Dust Bunnies by Jan Thomas - review - read 04/15/10
  11. The Squeaky Door by Margaret Read MacDonald - review - read 04/15/10
  12. Splat the Cat by Rob Scotton - review - read 04/15/10
  13. It's Spring! by Jimmy Pickering - read 04/15/10
  14. Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green & David Levithan - review - read 04/16/10
  15. Strega Nona Meets Her Match by Tomie dePaola - read 04/18/10
  16. Big Anthony and the Magic Ring by Tomie dePaola - read 04/18/10
  17. Koi and the Kola Nuts: A Tale from Liberia by Verna Aardema - read 04/18/10
  18. Mrs. Chicken and the Hungry Crocodile by Won-Ldy Paye - read 04/18/10
  19. Pretty Salma: A Little Red Riding Hood Story from Africa by Niki Daly - read 04/18/10
  20. Luba and the Wren by Patricia Polacco - read 04/18/10
  21. What Kinds of Seeds Are These? by Heidi Roemer - read 04/18/10
  22. Flip, Float, Fly!: Seeds on the Move by JoAnn Early Macken - read 04/18/10
  23. Fruit Is a Suitcase for Seeds by Jean Richards - read 04/18/10
  24. Jack and the Beanstalk retold by E. Nesbit - read 04/19/10
  25. Jack and the Beanstalk retold by Richard Walker - read 04/19/10
  26. Jack and the Beanstalk retold by John Cech - read 04/19/10
  27. Zeus: King of Gods by George O'Connor - read 04/20/10
  28. Incarceron by Catherine Fisher - review - read 04/25/10
  29. Falling In by Frances O'Roark Dowell - read 04/25/10 
  30. Waynetta and the Cornstalk: A Texas Fairy Tale by Helen Ketteman - read 04/27/10 
  31. The Princess and the Beggar: A Korean Folktale by Anne Sibley O'Brien - read 04/27/10
  32. How I Became a Pirate by Melinda Long - read 04/27/10
  33. Pirates Don't Change Diapers by Melinda Long - read 04/27/10
  34. Bear and Bunny Grow Tomatoes by Bruce Koscielniak - read 04/27/10
  35. Watch Out for the Chicken Feet in Your Soup by Tomie DePaola - read 04/29/10
  36. Tony's Bread: An Italian Folktale by Tomie DePaola - read 04/29/10
  37. Little Grunt and the Big Egg by Tomie DePaola - read 04/29/10
  38. Tom by Tomie DePaola - read 04/29/10
  39. The Art Lesson by Tomie DePaola - read 04/29/10
  40. Papa Gatto by Ruth Sanderson - read 04/29/10
  41. Beastly by Alex Flinn - read 04/29/10
Yes, I know, there are 41 of them, and that seems like an insane amount of books to read in one month, for me. I assure you, it's only because of all those picture books. Here's a breakdown:

33 picture books 
6 MG/YA novels
2 graphic novels

So, I actually did read less novels this month. Oh well, I have three that I'm currently reading and will probably, hopefully, finish in May - like this weekend.  

April Favorite - Picture Book: Hansel and Gretel retold and illustrated by Rachel Isadora

April Favorite: Blankets by Craig Thompson

April Challenge Progress:
41 Library books (79 total)
2 Graphic novels (10 total)
3 Middle grade novels (7 total)

April # of Pages: 3,636 (12,973 total)

May Aspirations:
With 41 books read in April, somehow I managed to write only 9 reviews. I have a stack of books waiting to be returned to the library, if only I could find the time to review them! So, I hope to definitely catch up on some reviews, and if that's not possible, then to just make a better effort to review immediately after finishing a book because that's the best time for me to do it anyway. I'm hoping to also explore some more mythology since I went folktale crazy this month. I really liked the Zeus graphic novel I read, so I'd like to go more in that direction. But I celebrate my birthday for about a week in May, so I know that my reading time will be cut short. I take birthdays very seriously!


Sunday, April 25, 2010

Incarceron by Catherine Fisher

IncarceronIncarceron by Catherine Fisher
published January 2010 by Penguin
448 pages (hardcover), YA

Incarceron is a prison, an experiment to create the perfect world gone wrong. While the world Outside believes that Incarceron is paradise, the Prisoners form gangs and cults and resort to violence and thievery to stay alive. Finn awoke in Incarceron some three years ago with no memory of his childhood, but with the rare ability to see - a Starseer - visions of the past and of Outside. He needs to find a way to escape. And then there's Claudia, daughter of the Warden of Incarceron, privileged and educated living in a castle Outside, but in a world governed by Protocol, stuck in the past with no hope of technological (or any) innovation. But Claudia is completely oblivious to the truth of Incarceron until she steals a key from her father's study, a key that enables her to communicate with Prisoners inside of Incarceron, which is how Finn and Claudia come to know one another and the truth about their world.

What can I say? I didn't love it. At times, I didn't even like it. I was confused most of the time, and then, finally, at the end, when everything seemed to be coming together, it was over. I don't like to wait until the end of a book for the pieces to come together. That's just not my preference. Some people love it, but it drives me crazy. The concept, though? I do quite enjoy it, and I will definitely read Sapphique. Because I want to know more! There was a very slow build-up, but now that I'm into it, over 400 pages later, I'd like to know how this world came to be and whether or not it will be fixed.

What was most jarring/unappealing/annoying to me in this book was the constant switching of perspectives - the story alternates between Claudia and Finn, but it happened too quickly for me. I didn't feel like I stayed with either of the characters long enough to get to know them or their stories. Again, personal preference. I'm also one of those people who can't stand large casts of characters.

So, no glowing review from me, even though I did like the book.

Others who liked it better:
One Librarian's Book Reviews; A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy; Teens Read and Write; Presenting Lenore; Reading Rants!; Guys Lit Wire; Fantastic Book Review


Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Buying and Reading Blue Wednesdays

I feel like I always mention the fact that I do not buy books. My bookshelves (which aren't even mine) are quite sparse, filled with only books that have made quite an impact on me. This weekend, I did the unthinkable - I offered my credit card to Amazon, and I let them send me two brand new and shiny books. New! Shiny! Crisp, clean pages! And oh so very blue! I just. couldn't. help. myself. What'd I get?

Blankets by Craig Thompson
I HAD to buy this book. I didn't have a choice. My library made me give it back before I was ready to. And then I realized that I would never be ready to give it back. I wanted it to keep for always. I read it during Dewey's 24-Hour Read-a-Thon, and I'll review it once I read it again. Because I love it oh so much.

But see, the thing about Amazon is that they make you pay for shipping if you spend less than $25, so I had to find another book to buy...

Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater
I've been wanting to buy this since I read it, but, until now, I've exhibited excellent self-control. When I do splurge on brand new books, I try to buy paperback - I like reading paperbacks better (they're lighter and easier to handle) and hey, they're cheaper. But I really don't like mass market paperbacks, which according to Amazon is what Shiver will eventually be coming out in. Whether or not this is completely accurate, I don't know, but it was enough to persuade me to purchase this lovely book. I thought it went well with the blue and all about love theme. You know what else is blue about this book? The font! Love and blue. Blue and love. I love blue. 

And for some more blue, I'm currently reading:
Incarceron by Catherine Fisher
because my library wants it back by Friday. Hmmph.  


Saturday, April 17, 2010

Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green & David Levithan

Will Grayson, Will Grayson 
by John Green & David Levithan
published April 2010 by Penguin
304 pages (hardcover), YA

Can I first say how much I love author collaborations? I really, really do. Okay, now we can begin the review or something like it.

Jacket flap:
It's not that far from Evanston to Naperville, but Chicago suburbanites Will Grayson and Will Grayson might as well live on different planets. When fate delivers them both to the same surprising crossroads, the Will Graysons find their lives overlapping and hurtling in new and unexpected directions. With a push from friends new and old--including the massive, and massively fabulous, Tiny Cooper, offensive lineman and musical theater auteur extraordinaire--Will and Will begin building toward respective romantic turns-of-heart and the epic production of history's most awesome high school musical.
How refreshing it is to read a YA book about love and friendship through the voices of two male characters! I'm finding it difficult to harness my thoughts because there is just so much I loved about this book. The writing? I couldn't stop laughing. John Green's Will Grayson is too witty for words, while David Levithan's will grayson is deeply troubled but with a sour sense of humor. I wish I was one of those people who carried around a quote journal because I would fill it with lines from this book. Part of the reason I liked it so much is because it resonated with my teen self - it instantly took me back to high school (I suppose it helps that I lived in the Chicago suburbs too) in such a disturbingly vivid way. But the book is set completely in the present, with texting in classes, musical references, and a trip to Millennium Park. I found myself thinking, how is it possible that these adult men could write today's teen boys so well? That's not really a question because I do think that Green and Levithan are very much in tune with the times and interact with youth, while drawing on their own adolescent experiences as well.

When I read it again, I'll have more to say. For now, I'm just giddy from the experience. I don't read a whole lot of realistic fiction, but I'd say this is the best of the genre. Authentic teens with real emotions and problems with the propensity for getting into ridiculous situations.

AND! I can't overlook the gay characters in this book - but gay without the drama of coming out, which is what so many GLBTQ books focus on. No, this book represents gay teens with the same sense of normalcy as straight teens, which is so so important. Yes, Tiny Cooper is a bit over the top in his gayness, but we all know someone like him. will grayson is almost passively gay until he develops a relationship and has the option to explore what it means to be gay and out. And Will Grayson is so not gay but loves his best friend Tiny Cooper in a way that best friends love each other - homophobia is not even an option. I hope that this is an accurate reflection of teens today, with their open minds and hearts, but I know it's not the case everywhere. Maybe not even in Naperville. But somewhere. Somewhere, I hope that people can love who they love, experiencing the joys and pains of all kinds of relationships and friendships.

What I got more than anything else in this book was the intensity of the characters' emotions and personalities. And that's what I remember most about being a teen - every emotion, every touch, every thought, every conversation was magnified - and the people in my life meant more to me than absolutely anything else. My goodness, what a book to evoke such vivid, sentient memories!

I'll stop there because I'm heading into incoherent gushing territory. I'm curious to know what others think because I stayed far away from reviews this time around. Have you read it? Link your review in the comments! You haven't? Well, go read it!


Thursday, April 15, 2010

Picture books

The Squeaky Door retold by Margaret Read MacDonald, pictures by Mary Newell DePalma
published January 2006 by HarperCollins

Based on a Puerto Rican folk song, this is the story of a little boy who has trouble sleeping in his big bed all by himself. His grandma tucks him in and asks if he'll be okay, and he insists that he'll be fine - only to start wailing when she closes the door. To help him sleep, one by one, the animals in the house (and on the farm!) join him in bed, but as soon as the door squeaks closed, the boy and the animals are crying and making noise. In the end, the boy sleeps with his grandparents for a night, grandma fixes the squeaky door, and just the cat sleeps with the boy at night.

This one would be great for a unit on "What are you afraid of?" or paired with a similar book like The Napping House. Or even with more Latin American folktales. There are many directions to go with this one! It is very repetitious and students will definitely want to read along (and make the animal sounds) by the middle of the story. I would use it with K-2 students, depending on the theme.

Rhyming Dust Bunnies by Jan Thomas
published January 2009 by Simon & Schuster

Silliness abounds in this book, in a slightly sophisticated way. Four dust bunnies are hanging out (Ed, Ned, Ted, and Bob), finding rhyming words because that's what they like to do, but one of them (you can guess who) is never able to come up with a rhyming word. Well, it turns out that he's trying to warn the rest of the group about a monster with a broom ::shudder:: and later a vacuum! The text is sparse, with only cartoon bubbles from the dust bunnies and the illustrations are large, filled in with solid colors. It's a clever little story that could serve as a fun introduction to rhyming words and/or poetry.

Splat the Cat by Rob Scotton
published July 2008  by HarperCollins

It's Splat the Cat's first day of school. He's scared senseless and tried everything he can to stay home. Alas, he gets to school, and he finds that it's not so bad. The class greets him with a warm welcome, and he learns that cats are actually pretty amazing creatures. But the one thing Splat learns that he's not so sure of is that cats chase mice. See, Splat likes mice and befriends one in the class, who just so happens to be able to open the milk closet and who changes the minds of all the cats to like mice too. I really loved this book, but the mouse sub-plot was too reminiscent of Despereaux to me. Nonetheless, the illustrations are absolutely fantastic - the furry, fuzzy cats look like they pop off the page. This is a great "first day of school" book that I would share with K-2.


Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Unsung YA Giveaway Winners!

Thanks to all who participated in the Unsung YA Giveaway! It's been a fairly painless first giveaway for me, and I'm eager to visit my new followers' blogs. :) Anyhow, here are the winners!

Michelle of Peaceful Reader wins Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan

Meghan of Meghan's Book Blog wins The Singer of All Songs by Kate Constable

Ruth of Book focus wins What My Mother Doesn't Know by Sonya Sones

Congratulations, winners! You have all been e-mailed - please e-mail back with your address.


Sunday, April 11, 2010

Dewey's 24-Hour Read-a-Thon: The End!

1. Which hour was most daunting for you?  
Hour 17 because I fell asleep. I totally thought I could hold out longer than that.

2. Could you list a few high-interest books that you think could keep a Reader engaged for next year?
Manga, graphic novels, picture books, short chapter books. I was too ambitious and neglected much of my graphic novel pile in favor of books I was currently reading. Bad decision. 

3. Do you have any suggestions for how to improve the Read-a-thon next year?
I liked the variety of challenges and the hourly updates, so no. :)

4. What do you think worked really well in this year’s Read-a-thon?
See above. Oh, and I really appreciated my cheerleaders' support!

5. How many books did you read?
2 finished, 3 in progress

6. What were the names of the books you read?
Blankets by Craig Thompson
The Dream Stealer by Sid Fleischman

In Progress:
The Magicians by Lev Grossman
Jinx by Meg Cabot
Will Grayson, Will Grayson by David Levithan & John Green 

7. Which book did you enjoy most?

8. Which did you enjoy least?
The Magicians really wasn't holding my attention, but that's my fault because it's really not a readathon-type book. This is one that I read slowly and deliberately with frequent breaks. Definitely should have left it for another day.

9. If you were a Cheerleader, do you have any advice for next year’s Cheerleaders?
I wasn't.

10. How likely are you to participate in the Read-a-thon again? What role would you be likely to take next time?
I'd be willing to try it again as a Reader. I think I have a little more insight as to what makes a successful reading day now. Some things only experience can teach, I suppose. 

Hours spent reading: 10 hours

Pages read: about 930 (including audiobook estimate)

Final thoughts?
What a day! I think I unnecessarily stressed myself out and put too much pressure on myself to read books I wasn't really feeling at the moment, but I know better for next time. I'm glad that I got to spend so much time outdoors because I would have been pretty grumpy cooped up in the house all day. I'm sure that I have spent more time reading in a single day of my own volition before, but the act of reading as a community was fun and exciting. For my first readathon, I think I did just fine. 

In other news, my Unsung YA Giveaway ends tomorrow night at 12am CST, but I won't be announcing winners until sometime Wednesday. Reviews will trickle in towards the end of the week, as I'll be out of town tomorrow and Tuesday. 

Happy Sunday!


Dewey's 24-Hour Read-a-Thon: Update #3

Read so far: 2 - Blankets by Craig Thompson & The Dream Stealer by Sid Fleischman

Currently reading: Will Grayson, Will Grayson by David Levithan & John Green - still listening to Jinx by Meg Cabot, taking a break from The Magicians by Lev Grossman

Pages read: 592 (Blankets) + 89 (The Dream Stealer) + 68 (The Magicians) + 38 (Will Grayson, Will Grayson) + about 4 hours of Jinx

Reading thoughts? I really need to finish a book. But I just don't have the attention span. And I think I'm ready for bed. Or at least a nap. I absolutely loved The Dream Stealer and think I'll read it aloud to my second grade students once we finish our Tomie dePaola author study. It's an almost scary story about a bird-like creature who steals nightmares from people but has gotten less brave over the years and has been known to "accidentally" steal good dreams from children. Susana is one such child, but she figures out what has happened, and she is furious - she wants her dream back! She catches the Dream Stealer in the act and demands that her dream be returned, and off on an adventure they go. There are trickster elements in this book, but it's more about friendship and courage and facing your fears. I'm excited about the different voices I get to use. :)

Time spent reading 'til now: about 10 hours

Time spent online: about 2 hours

Snacks/meals? sourdough pizza bread with pink lemonade for dinner, currently drinking water and thinking I need a snack or a bed

Exercise? half an hour of yoga and running on the Wii Fit

Sunshine? it's night time, and the sun has left me. I miss it.

Did the TV stay off? Just turned it on to keep me company and wake me up a little.

Challenges? I love easy challenges, and the Get the Heck Out of Here Mini-Challenge is just that. Three easy questions to answer about how your prepared for the readathon. I realized that I should have chosen shorter books! And I definitely should have gone to sleep earlier last night. 

Blogs? Haven't spent much time on the blogs - I'll definitely catch up with updates tomorrow.

As for me, I think I'm done for the night. Too much time in silence (even with the audiobook!) today makes me super sleepy. Good luck to those of you still awake and reading! Have some tea and enjoy!


ETA: I decided that it would be a good idea to link the read-a-thon to my local Books by the Bushel event, which is coincidentally happening this weekend. Created by the Junior League and hosted at Barnes & Noble, it's a way for people to buy books for school libraries specifically from wish lists created by school librarians AND a portion of all sales during this weekend will also go back to the school libraries. Awesome. So, I'll be buying one book for every book that I can finish reading during the read-a-thon. Hoping I can stay awake (or get up super early) for one more!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Dewey's 24-Hour Read-a-Thon: Halftime!

Mid-Event Survey:
1. What are you reading right now?  
Going back to read some more of The Magicians by Lev Grossman

2. How many books have you read so far?
2 - Blankets by Craig Thompson and The Dream Stealer by Sid Fleischman

3. What book are you most looking forward to for the second half of the Read-a-thon?  
If I finish reading The Magicians, then I get to read Changeless by Gail Carriger (a self-imposed challenge), which I am super-excited about and which I know will allow me to stay up much later than my usual bedtime!

4. Did you have to make any special arrangements to free up your whole day?  
I stayed after school on Friday so that I could finish all of my lesson plans for next week! 

5. Have you had many interruptions? How did you deal with those?  
I have a short attention span, so I'm constantly interrupting myself. Just keep swimming, as Dory says.

6. What surprises you most about the Read-a-thon, so far?  
How BIG it is! And how challenging it really is to consciously spend a whole day reading. It's always on my mind.

7. Do you have any suggestions for how to improve the Read-a-thon next year?  
I wish there was a way for me to quickly check which participants' blogs have been most recently updated when I get online for my own updates - maybe there is, and I just don't know how! Short of subscribing to them all, I suppose.

8. What would you do differently, as a Reader or a Cheerleader, if you were to do this again next year?  
So far, I like my pace, and I feel like I haven't changed my normal routine that much. 

9. Are you getting tired yet?
A bit, yes. But it's also almost feeding time... 

10. Do you have any tips for other Readers or Cheerleaders, something you think is working well for you that others may not have discovered?
For Readers, I can only say - if a book's not holding your attention, go grab another! And take lots and lots of breaks. Especially between books! I think the Cheerleaders are doing a fabulous job. :)

Dewey's 24-Hour Read-a-Thon: Update #2


Read so far: 1. Blankets by Craig Thompson

Currently reading: Still working on The Magicians by Lev Grossman & Jinx by Meg Cabot. Think I'll take a break and start a MG novel next.

Pages read: 592 (Blankets) + 10 (The Magicians - I wasn't in the mood) + about three hours' worth of Jinx

Reading thoughts? Blankets was absolutely beautiful. Made me cry several times - some sad, some happy tears. Will have to buy a copy (yep, I loved it THAT much) so that I can keep it for always. Not really feeling The Magicians at this time of day, and I'm getting a little tired of Jinx, so I think it's time to take a break and move on...


Time spent reading 'til now: 6 hours

Time spent online: about an hour


Snacks/meals? Since my last update, I had leftover pesto pasta as a snack. And I walked to get some lunch downtown - a turkey melt with bacon, cheddar and provolone. Yum! + a free chocolate chip cookie and the much-needed Mountain Dew. Currently drinking water.

Exercise? I walked to the library and downtown. It's so warm today!

Sunshine? Have been out in the sun since 2pm (almost 4 hours!) - may have dozed off a little!

Did the TV stay off? No, but I'm not the one watching it! :)


Challenges? Just attempted the Where in the World Have You Read Today? challenge, which asks participants to mark their current book's location on a Google map. I'm having a hard time of keeping track which challenges are going on at the moment, and I'm feeling a little lazy, so that's all for me!

Cheering? THANK YOU to everyone who has visited and cheered me along! I am giving myself 15 minutes to find some others to pass along the good cheer. :) Then it's back to reading!


Dewey's 24-Hour Read-a-Thon: Update #1

Good morning, everyone! I got a little late start (though much earlier than a normal Saturday!) today, but I am now fed and showered and ready to read, read, read. I know that I said I'd try to stay offline, but after visiting some readathon participants' blogs, I realized that half the fun is sharing what you're reading with everyone else. So, here I am! I'll be popping in every now and then to quickly update, visit some blogs, and maybe join a challenge or two. Thanks to everyone already for all the well wishes - happy reading to you all!


Read so far: 0 - But I started listening to Jinx by Meg Cabot while making/eating breakfast

Currently reading: Just about to start Blankets by Craig Thompson - it needs to go back to the library today!

Pages read: Not sure - but I've listened to an hour and eight minutes of Jinx

Reading thoughts? This day is going to fly by, I need to get reading.


Time started: 9:00am CST (only 2 hours late...)

Time awake: 2 hours

Time spent reading 'til now: 1 hour, 8 minutes

Time spent online: 15 minutes


Snacks/meals? Cheesy eggs on multi-grain bread, orange juice

Exercise? Does washing the dishes count?

Sunshine? Not yet, but I'm going for a walk later.

Did the TV stay off? Almost - I checked the Weather Channel...

More exciting updates later!


Thursday, April 8, 2010

Dewey's 24-Hour Read-a-thon, I'm in!

I'm in need of a day of reading. Lucky for me, Dewey's 24-Hour Read-a-Thon is this Saturday, and I've decided to join for the first time. My personal challenge? No TV. Saturday is my couch potato day - watching America's Next Top Model re-runs (like I haven't seen them a hundred times before), HGTV, and the Food Network, catching up on blogs, and filling out job applications. But not this Saturday! I'm going to read, read, read, and read some more. And I know that lots of people will be blogging about what they're reading, and I love that we have cheerleaders and mini-challenges, but I'm going to try really, really, really hard not to get online at all on Saturday. I want it just to be about the reading, and I'll just have to catch up with the blogs on Sunday!

So, I know you're wondering - what will I be reading? Well, I just picked up a whole lot of awesome library loot to add to my already wonderful piles and piles of books awaiting my attention. My goal is to read at least one book from each of the following categories.

The Magicians by Lev Grossman (currently reading and want to finish! I love it, but I haven't had time to devote to it.)
Changeless by Gail Carriger

Incarceron by Catherine Fisher
Will Grayson, Will Grayon by John Green and David Levithan
Far From Gringo Land by Edward Myers
Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta

The Case of the Bizarre Bouquets (An Enola Holmes Mystery) by Nancy Springer
Dani Noir by Nova Ren Suma
The Dream Stealer by Sid Fleischman
Falling In by Frances O'Roark Dowell
The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place: The Mysterious Howling by Maryrose Wood
The Runaway Princess by Kate Coombs
The Runaway Dragon by Kate Coombs
Savvy by Ingrid Law
Fablehaven by Brandon Mull

Blankets by Craig Thompson (I will finally read this one!)
Calamity Jack by Shannon and Dean Hale (I should also finish this)
The Color of Earth by Tong-hwa Kim
The Color of Water by Tong-hwa Kim
The Color of Heaven by Tong-hwa Kim
Fairy Tales of Oscar Wilde illustrated by P. Craig Russell
Kitchen Princess by Natsumi Ando

I'm pretty darn excited. How about you?


Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Read-alouds in the Library

Because I am now gainfully employed (at least for the next two months), I have a lot less time on my hands, and most of what I've been reading lately is to share with my students. And now I'll share them with you...

Duck on a Bike by David Shannon
published  April 2002 by Scholastic

So, I'm doing a David Shannon author study with first grade students. Last week, we read Too Many Toys and The Rain Came Down. Eventually, I'll get to the David books (though I'm not really a fan), but today was definitely a Duck on a Bike day. Sometimes I just want to jump for joy at how a great book can captivate and inspire a group of students.

If you don't know the story, Duck rides a bike around the farm, and on each page he encounters an animal who reacts to Duck's unusual activity (Dog is excited, Mouse is jealous, Sheep is wary, etc.) with an animal sound and an exclamation. In the end, a group of children conveniently leave their bikes outside the house, and all of the animals on the farm get to ride a bike for a short time.

There are many factors which contribute to a great read-aloud - many of which have nothing to do with the reader or the book. Time of day, weather, lunch, recess happenings, etc. Those seemed to all be in my favor today because my students came in quietly, sat down in their neat, little rows, and listened to the story. I asked them to raise their hands every time a new animal was introduced, and they did! With enthusiasm! They asked good questions, gave thoughtful answers, and were just wonderful. We got a little silly at the end of class; I read the book again, but this time I asked them to contribute the animal sounds. Yeah, they love that.

Hansel and Gretel retold and illustrated by Rachel Isadora
published April 2009 by Penguin

Grimm's tales with fifth grade = a lot more fun in theory. I was so excited to share these gruesome, scary versions of everyone's favorite fairy tales - except that kids today don't know the fairy tales at all. Last week, I read Cinderella, but before I did, I asked students to retell it for me, just basic plot points. Yeah, that wasn't happening. I got the Hillary Duff A Cinderella Story version, with a cell phone left behind at a high school dance. Really? Really?! Do I have to suck it up and admit that fairy tales are on their way to being obsolete? Am I supposed to thank Disney for keeping them alive as long as they did? I digress.

This week, I read this AMAZING retelling of Hansel and Gretel. Rachel Isadora stayed true to Grimm's story, but she set it in Africa with bright, bold colors in a collage style - and a green, nasty-looking witch. I immediately fell in love with this book. There's nothing in the text that specifies setting, so I'm thrilled that Isadora just made it up and stuck with it. I hear that she's quite good at this. I hoped that my excitement would be contagious and that students would really get into the story and especially appreciate the illustrations. Not so much. What can I say? Grimm's tales are repetitive (in keeping with the oral tradition) with some interesting morals, and well, a little boring. It takes a lot to entertain these students, and they just weren't having it with this story.

But the point of the lesson was to compare two retellings of the same story to see how time and perspective can introduce many variables to essentially the same text. But I need more than 30 minutes for this. And I need students who care. I don't know how to make them care. They just see it as something they need to get done - another worksheet to fill out (or not, as the case was for many of them). Is it just that it's spring and they're tired of school and perhaps a little jaded and ready to leave elementary school behind? I sure hope so.

What Happened to Marion's Book? by Brook Berg, illustrated by Nathan Alberg
published September 2003 by Highsmith

Kindergarten is absolutely my weakness. With over 20 five year-olds and just one me, I have trouble reading a story and checking out books in just 30 minutes. This book is lengthy but a good review of how to care for a book, especially at this time of year when books are coming back sopping wet ("I left it in the rain") or chewed up ("It was my dog").

Marion the hedgehog loves to read and has lots of books of her own. When she starts school, she gets to borrow two books from her school library, and she decides that she wants to be a librarian when she grows up (yes, it's a little cheesy). One day, while Marion is reading her library book at the breakfast table, a big glob of jam falls on a page. Oops! Marion knows that her librarian will be disappointed if she brings back a dirty book, so she decides to clean it. Her dog licks it, she puts toothpaste on it, takes it in the bath, and puts it in the washer - until the book is completely ruined. Moral of the story - 'Fess up right away and all is forgiven (well, you know, except that fine you'll have to pay).

Students were truly shocked at the choices Marion makes during the course of the book (thank goodness!), and I think they'll remember to keep their books clean and dry. Now if I can get them to bring back their books at all...

That's all for read-alouds this week. Third grade is working on using the online catalog, and fourth grade is using magazines for information. More next week!


Friday, April 2, 2010

The London Eye Mystery by Siobhan Dowd

The London Eye Mystery
The London Eye Mystery by Siobhan Dowd
published February 2008 by Random House
323 pages, middle grade
I wondered if I should start a conversation. But what about? Small talk or big talk? I remembered what Mum had said when I started at secondary school last autumn. When you meet new people, Ted, keep the talk small. I'd asked her what this meant. Did it mean to use only words of one syllable? She'd laughed and said no, it meant sticking to everyday subjects. Like the weather? I'd asked. And she sighed and said, 'OK, Ted. Like the weather. Only not big weather. Small weather.' Which meant I could talk about anticyclones and minor depressions but not major storm systems or global warming. (p. 32)
Ted, our 11 year-old narrator, knows that his mind works differently than most people's - although it's not explicitly stated, various clues tell readers that he has something like Asperger's syndrome - which makes him an asset to the current investigation of the disappearance of his cousin, Salim. Ted, Kat (his older sister), and Salim were in line to ride the London Eye when this mystery begins. Salim receives a free ticket from a stranger (warning signs should be flashing) to ride the Eye, so the group decides it would be fine for Salim to experience the ride by himself. Half an hour later, when Salim's carriage descends and its occupants exit, Salim is nowhere to be found. The adults go into panic mode, while Ted and Kat try to puzzle out the possibilities of Salim's disappearance on their own.

I wouldn't classify this as a mystery that mystery fans will love. Yes, mystery is in the title of the book, but this one's more about the characters and how they relate to each other. Which is why I enjoyed it. It's no surprise that I'm a fan of character-based books. Sure, I love a good plot and a fast-paced story, but those books rarely stick with me. This book is one I'll remember. I love the fact that Ted's syndrome was dealt with in such a natural way - the frustrations his family experienced with him at times weren't sugar-coated but the unique and best parts of his personality were also present and described in such a Ted way. That's why I chose the passage I did to open with because I can't really tell you why the writing appealed to me so - showing is better. Ted is fascinated by weather and aspires to be a meteorologist, which also serves as an outlet for him to make life connections. His personality is strong and consistent and definitely gives readers a peek into a mind that may be different from their own.

The universe and I were in sync today, as I finished this book on World Autism Day, though I didn't know it at the time. Thanks to The Brown Bookshelf for keeping me informed!

Other reviews:
Books & others thoughts; BookMoot; Sweet Reads; Book Nut; Jen Robinson's Book Page

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