Friday, September 3, 2010

Book of the week: Mockingjay

Like most elementary/YA librarians, I was eagerly waiting for the final book of the Hunger Games trilogy to be published.  While I was a manageable #49 on the waiting list at my public library, my good friend and former co-worker at BPL, Gordon, kindly loaned me his copy before he even read it himself.  I wasn't too sure what to expect, because I liked the first book in the series more than the second book, but I was completely satisfied with Mockingjay.  There was just the right blend of suspense, romance, and action.

If you haven't read this series yet, you should give it a try.  I resisted reading Hunger Games for years (literally) because I do not generally read sci-fi and I am not a fan of dystopias.  But I do like to read what the students are reading, and one of my best readers at Yates told me that I had to read it and promised that I would love it, and he was right. I wasn't hooked at first (it seemed to be a rip off of The Long Walk, an early Stephen King story), but I did like the strong female main character, Katniss.  Katniss volunteers to fight to the death in her country's televised survival competition.  Katniss is tough, but so are the other teens in the competition.  She forms a bond with another competitor (or tribute, as they are called), Peeta, but can't stop thinking about her hunky best friend, Gale.  So between the action and romance, there is something for just about everyone.

While I opted not to buy this series for the library (the main characters are 16 years old and there is plenty of gory violence), I would recommend this book to teachers who are looking for some good YA reading and have met their vampire quota.   And yes, there is a movie in the works (Dakota Fanning is rumored to be playing Katniss), but hopefully the movie will be true to Suzanne Collins's story.  But if you request it at the public library, be prepared to wait!  But it will be worth it...I promise.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Best YA books for 2010

Is there something about librarians and lists, or is it just me?  I LOVE lists.  I love songs with lists (Short Skirt/Long Jacket, I've Been Everywhere), lists of the best places to see Jack Kerouac (a family friend owns the bookshop that usually tops that list) etc etc.  So I was very happy to find a refreshing list of the 100 best YA books for 2010--this list has a wonderful mix of old and new and wasn't dominated by the Twilight series.

Perhaps I should make a list of things to get done before school starts....

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Book of the week: Say Hello!

OK, I have been on a long hiatus, but I am back!  Back and motivated for the new school year.  I did a lot of reading over the summer (but mostly adult books, I have to admit) but I am anxiously awaiting the next book in the Hunger Games series, which came out yesterday.  I am probably # 192 on the waiting list at the public library, so it may be a while before you see that review posted here.

What I do have for you today is a great picture book to start off the school year: Rachel Isadora's Say Hello!  Carmelita lives in a very ethnically diverse neighborhood and loves to say hello to all of her neighbors.   The illustrations are adorable (reminiscent of Eric Carle) and the young ones will love repeating "hello" in different languages.  There is a pronunciation guide in the back that tells the languages, so you can have students guess and then check their answers in the back.

So to any new readers out there: Konichiwa!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Chapter book of the Week; Boys Without Names

I love all things Indian....movies, music, and food.  Especially food.  We typically go to our favotite Indian restaurant every other weekend.  So when I saw that a new chapter book about the horrors of child labor in India, I had to read it.  When I read the review, I thought it was a non-fiction adult book, but I was pleasantly surprised to see that it is actually a juvenile chapter book.  Kashmira Sheth's Boys Without Names will have students sitting on the edge of their seats, and would be a great read-aloud when discussing India or child labor.

Gopal's family is forced to leave their village and is lured to the big city of Mumbai, where jobs are supposedly plentiful.  While wandering in the slums, Gopal is offered a job at a factory, which turns out to be a sweatshop.  Gopal is locked in a shanty with five other boys and is unable to tell his family where he went.  The boys must try to band together to escape Scar, the boss who has them gluing beads on picture frames for twelve hours a day.  Will they escape and find their families, or will they be sent to the fireworks factory and never see their families again?  This book will keep students guessing right until the very end.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Book of the Week: Jamie O'Rourke and the Big Potato

St. Patty's day is almost upon us, and that means looking for a good read-aloud for my students.  Tomie DePaola's Jamie O'Rourke and the Big Potato is an excellent choice for first through third graders.   You really can't go wrong with anything by Tomie DePaola, but this book has some great tie-ins that would be easy to do with very little prep.

This book is an excellent choice not only for St. Patrick's Day or folktales, but also for cause and effect.  Every action causes as reaction, so I have been charting causes and effects on the whiteboard.  And there are some good vocabulary words in there, too.  Practice your Irish brouge and check this out!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Chapter book of the week: Emmy and the Incredible Shrinking Rat

I am excited about this book for many reasons.  Not only did it get starred reviews from Booklist AND School Library Journal, the rat mentioned in the title is from Schenectady!  I was intrigued by Lynn Jonell's choice, and I assumed that she must be from the northeast, so I did a little research.  She is not from the northeast, however, so I because even more intrigued and I wanted to find out how Rat came to be from our city.  I emailed her, figuring that I would never hear back from her, but she wrote me back that very same day and said that she loved the way Schenectady sounds when you say it.  She liked it so much, she decided to come and visit, and the third book in the series actually takes place in Schenectady, mostly in the Stockade area.  In my opinion, this book has it all: humor, mysterious characters, and a local tie.  And if that isn't good enough, Mrs. Jonell offered to email any of our students who would like to chat with her.  This would be an excellent choice for a classroom read-aloud, the possibilities for extensions are endless!

Book of the week: A is for Abigail: An Almanac of Amazing American Women

March is Women's History Month, so I will be highlighting some books that would be great to share this month.  A is for Abigail: An Almanac of Amazing American Women by Lynne Cheney (yes, that Cheney) is my first suggestion.  Done in alphabet format, one woman per letter (or sometimes more than one), this is a great choice because you could highlight a different woman (or group of women) every day and read the book for the entire month.  The illustrations are whimsical, and while this book highlights some of the standard women that we all know, it also mentions some women that students probably have not heard of, such as the first woman chief of the CherokeeNation and the first woman governor.  If you're looking for some new women to highlight, check this book out!

Monday, February 8, 2010

Picture book of the week: 100th Day Worries

February 22nd is an exciting day for kindergarten and first-grade students: the 100th day of school. Many classes bring in collections of 100 things--stickers, Cheerios,or cotton balls.   This is supposed to be a fun activity for the children and a celebration of the school year.  But for Jessica, the  main character in Margery Cuyler's 100th Day Worries, this day is a source of worry for Jessica.  If this sounds familiar to you, we met Jessica during fire prevention week in Stop, Drop, and Roll.

Jessica can't decide what to bring to school.  She agonizes and waits until the very last day to assemble her collection.  This story lends itself nicely to making predictions of what Jessica will bring, as well as counting by ones, tens, and twenties.  So if you are looking to celebrate our 100th day and sneak a little math in, too, check this out!

Book of the week: Bird Lake Moon

This post has been a long time coming. One of our staff members recommended Kevin Henke's chapter book Bird Lake Moon months ago. I trusted her, checked it out, and started reading it. I just couldn't get into it. One of the main characters, Mitch, is upset over his parents' divorce. He spends a lot of time hiding under his neighbor's porch, wishing that he and his mother could move into that house.

I found this to be totally contrived. My parents got divorced, and I didn't spend any time hiding under any porches. I found Mitch's behavior to be totally unrealistic and it just turned me off. So I abandoned the book to the stack next to my bed.

This week, I am teaching fifth grade classes at Yates about writing book reviews. The class did Bird Lake Moon as a read-aloud, so I decided to read them the reviews. I got so hooked by the reviews, I picked up the book and finished it, and I loved it. I just needed to see that Mitch's character would grow and evolve.

This book has mystery and humor and will appeal to children who come from divorced families. It will also lead to discussions about doing the right thing, even if it isn't the easy thing.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Picture book of the week: Groundhog Day!

Gail Gibbons is the queen of non-fiction books.  She has written books about every major holiday (and some minor ones, too), animals, places in the community, and planets.  If you want to introduce a new non-fiction subject to children between kindergarten and second grade, she is the author to look for.

One of her newer books is about Groundhog Day.  I have always enjoyed this American tradition, even if it doesn't logically make sense to me.  If Punxsutawney Phil sees his shadow, there will be six more weeks of winter.  So basically, if it is a bright and sunny day, we have more snow and cold weather to look forward to.  In my opinion, the reverse seems more logical; if Phil doesn't see his shadow, we can expect more winter.  But regardless, it is a fun American tradition that not all students are familiar with.

Groundhog Day! explains the history behind Groundhog Day, as well as facts and information about groundhogs and hibernation.  Amazingly, groundhogs can move 700 pounds of dirt in one day!  If you want to wow your students with other bits of groundhog trivia, look for this book.  It is accessible, informative, and has Gail Gibbon's trademark watercolor illustrations.

Book of the week: Gregor the Overlander

I can't even count the number of people who have raved about Suzanne Collins' Gregor the Overlander.  If you read my blog, you know that sci-fi isn't my favorite genre.  But I am making an effort to read more books that are out of my comfort zone, so I checked it out of the local library.  It sat on my bedside table for a while, perpetually at the bottom of the stack.  I finally decided to give it a try when a friend compared it to Alice in Wonderland, which was my favorite book from childhood.

Gregor did remind me of Alice; Gregor literally falls into another world while doing laundry in his apartment building.  It also reminded me of other books; the creatures in the underworld sound like Yoda when they talk, large flying bats reminded me of Kenneth Oppel's Silverwing/Sunwing books, and the underground cave world reminded me of Rebecca Stead's First Light.  So I can't say that this is the most original book on the shelves, but I suppose that most authors borrow from other books.  In my opinion, it was just another adventure novel with a sci-fi setting.  Did I find it to be as remarkable as everyone said?  No.  Was it groundbreaking?  No.  Am I going to read the  next books in the series?  That is a great big no.  But at least now I know what all the fuss is about! And when all of the Gregor-lovers ask me if I have read it yes, at least I can say yes.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Chapter book of the week: Everything on a Waffle

I love waffles. Who doesn't? Waffles with blueberries, waffles with whipped cream, waffles dripping with butter and syrup. Obviously I would love The Girl on the Red Swing, which is the restaurant in Polly Horvath's Everything on a Waffle. Everything you order in that restaurant come on a waffle. Spaghetti on a waffle. Fish on a waffle. Definitely for the adventurous eater.

Primrose Squarp spends a lot of time at The Girl with the Red Swing. Her parents were both lost at sea (or perhaps not...), so she now lives with her uncle Jack in Canada. He doesn't have much time to entertain her, so Primrose passes her time at the restaurant, learning to cook and observing the locals. Recipes are even included at the end of every chapter (and serving the meals on waffles is optional).

This would be a great read-aloud--the descriptions are wonderful but not too Tolkien-ish, the book is both sad and funny, and all of the characters are memorable. And if you need more convincing, this was a Newbery Honor Book in 2002.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Picture book of the week: Dogku

It is haiku week in the library. We have been invited to participate in a haiku-writing contest, so many of the classes are being introduced to this lovely art form with Andrew Clements' Dogku. The very same Andrew Clements who writes the humorous chapter books. This is the story of stray dog, Mooch, who finds a family to adopt him. The story is told in haikus, but students don't have any trouble following the plot. If you are looking for an introduction to poetry or haikus, check this one out!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Awards annouonced!

On January 18, the Newbery and Caldecott Award winners were announced.  These awards are given out once a year to the best chapter book (Newbery) and best illustrations (Caldecott).  The winners for 2010 are:

Newbery Award: When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead.  This is a mystery/science fiction novel in one.  Those of you who read this blog regularly will note that I reviewed this book and wasn't too thrilled  with it, but it is a great read for you science fiction fans.

Caldecott Award: Jerry Pinkney's The Lion and the Mouse.  This is a wordless retelling of Aesop's beloved fable.

More infomation can be found at the American Library Association's website.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Picture book of the week: Miss Nelson is Missing

I chose Harry Allard as the Author of the Month for January.  January can be a month of blahs, and Harry Allard's books are humorous, made even more so because of his collaboration with illustrator James Marshall.  Harry Allard is one of those multi-age authors; I have read Miss Nelson is Missing to first graders and to fifth graders and both ages enjoyed it.

Miss Nelson is a sweet and loving elementary school teacher.  She is also a bit on the easygoing side.  Her class, the worst in the school, takes advantage of her sweet nature and is horrible.  They are even horrible during story hour, and this is the last straw for poor Miss Nelson.  She does not come to school the next day, and in her place is the wretched Miss Swamp.  Miss Swamp is ugly and yells and gives tons of homework and doesn't even believe in story time.  Not surprisingly, the class shapes up for Miss Swamp and begins to miss Miss Nelson, and appreciates her so much when she returns, they never act horribly again.

Are Miss Swamp and Miss Nelson the same person?  Will your students figure it out?  Maybe.  What if you came to school dressed like Miss Swamp?  Sounds like a great Halloween idea to me!

Book of the week: When You Reach Me

I was truly enjoying Rebecca Stead's latest book, When You Reach Me.  I had read her previous book, First Light, and hadn't been too thrilled with it, probably  because it was science fiction, and I am not a science fiction fan at all.  So I was happily surprised when I started reading When You Reach Me and found it to be a mystery.  I love mysteries!  I am not even embarassed to admit that I went though a little Lillian Jackson Braun phase (in high school, of course, when you are expected to experiment).  My mother and I refer to her as the macaroni and cheese of the literary world--pure comfort reading.

Anyway, I started reading When You Reach Me and I was instantly hooked.  Who is leaving Miranda odd letters in intimate places, like her jacket pocket?  And why aren't she and Sal talking anymore?  And what is up with her friend Annemarie's mystery illness?  And why does the Laughing Man hang out under the mailbox all day?  And will her mother win on the $20,000 Pyramid?  And what is that book that she is always reading with the broccoli garden?  So many mysteries!  I was loving it.

Until I came to the end of the book, and found out that this mystery is actually a science fiction book in disguise, and the book in question is A Wrinkle in Time (which of course, I haven't read, because I don't like science fiction).  Boo.  But if you like mysteries and science fiction, or perhaps you did A Wrinkle in Time as a read-aloud and you are now looking for a companion book, check this one out.  It will leave you guessing until the end.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Chapter book of the week: Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key

I have loved Jack Gantos for as long as I can remember.  I have a soft spot for his character, Rotten Ralph, who reminds me of my naughty cat, Lucy.  This is the first of his books that I have read outside of the Rotten Ralph series.  As expected, it made me laugh, but there were times when I was on the verge of tears.  Joey reminds me of a few students that I have encountered through the years, but it made me stop and think what it is like to be them and constantly having people tell them to sit still and stop talking and pay attention.  Thankfully I have never had to wipe vomit off of a housekey that was intentionally swallowed by a student, but I feel quasi-prepared to deal with that situation, should it arise.  Ipecac!  Who knew?

Joey is wired wrong, as is his father and grandmother.  As a result, he has ADHD.  His mother abandoned him as a young child, and he was raised by his ill-wired grandmother.  She did horrible things to him, like making him act like a dog and trying to punish him by giving him time-out in a refrigerator.  These scenes, of course, made me wonder what home life is like for some of my students.  Luckily for Joey, his mother reappears, the grandmother disappears, and Joey is given the proper medication to control his body.  This would be a good read-aloud for fifth and sixth grades (and possibly a mature 4th grade) and is sure to lead to discussions.  And hopefully some empathy for the real Joeys of the world.

Picture book of the week: Martin's Big Words

We are discussing Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his amazing accomplishments.  My favorite read-aloud biography about is life is Doreen Rappaport's Martin's Big Words.  Is it accessible to young children and it has also won many awards, including the Coretta Scott King Award and a Caldecott Honor Award.  The illustrator, Bryan Collier, uses a variety of media, including collage, watercolors, and photographs; the result is stunning.  Students enjoy identifying examples of each on every page. This book has led to many wonderful discussions, including a first grader who told me that if he had one wish, it would be for a time machine to travel back in time to save Dr. King's life.  Another first grade student proposed that we add him to Mount Rushmore.  Reading this book, and the discussions that followed, has been one of the highlights of my year.  Happy birthday, Dr. King!