Monday, August 11, 2014

RI Mock Newbery 2015 - October Reads

I will be adding to the list as I make my way through the nominees ... favorites closest to the top.

The Ghosts of Tupelo LandingThe Ghosts of Tupelo Landing by Sheila Turnage
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I didn't think there would REALLY be a ghost! That may help get some of my students to read it. Turnage writes about her kooky characters with verve:

p. 85 - Nobody knows for sure if Sal actually files taxes. Dale and me suspect she fills out the forms for fun, same as Miss Lana does Sudoku.

p. 186 - "I hope he ain't run over by ghosts," Dale whispered, slapping at a mosquito. "That would be hard to explain at the emergency room."

p. 286 - "I'd love to stay and enchant you further" ...

p. 334 - "I only ask because I hate change unless it's my idea. I need time to overprepare."

Also LOVE the references to social skills.

Absolutely AlmostAbsolutely Almost by Lisa Graff
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Oh, Albie.

Newbery criteria mentions "distinguished" a lot, which I know is not the same as "distinctive," but Graff has created a unique character here in that he is in fact NOT distinctive. He's just kind of stumping along in a below average way. And by the end, he's kind of ok with that (although disappointed to not be diagnosed with a reading disorder, because that would have made his parents feel better).

In a society where the pressure is on to not only keep up but edge out, and in a literary landscape full of precocity and amazing talents, this book stands apart.

It reminded me of an article a friend sent me last week, titled "You Don't Have a Purpose." She said it made her feel relieved - it encourages the reader to find a career or life they love, but tells them to stop wasting energy looking for a Purpose with a capital P. Kind of like how Donut Man doesn't HAVE to have superpowers. He can just be a nice guy who likes donuts. Be nice. Choose kind. That's enough.

Hope Is a Ferris WheelHope Is a Ferris Wheel by Robin Herrera
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What can I say, I'm a sucker for any book that includes lists ... and I LOVED Star's vocabulary sentences. I'm glad that there are still coming-of-age novels coming out that present fresh characters and true voices.

And while I was confused about why Denny kept showing up to the club, I did like the way the group evolved. The minute-taking made me smile.

The Night GardenerThe Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm still kind of confused as to how the tree came to be, but I enjoyed the storytelling. Speaking of which:

p. 207: "Stories come in all different kinds. ... There's tales, which are light and fluffy. Good for a smile on a sad day. Then you got yarns, which are showy - yarns reveal more about the teller than the story. After that there's myths, which are stories made up by whole groups of people. And last of all, there's legends." She raised a mysterious eyebrow. "Legends are different from the rest on account noone knows where they start. Folks don't tell legends; they repeat them. Over and again through history."

p. 214: "You asked me for a story; now you call it a lie." She folded her arms. "So tell me, then: what marks the difference between the two?" ... "A lie hurts people," she finally answered. "A story helps 'em."

Half a ChanceHalf a Chance by Cynthia Lord
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Quiet and introspective, this novel snuck up on me and left me in tears. I really liked the photo contest as a way to structure the chapters, and for the final realization that sometimes it's enough to just look and enjoy rather than having to capture and analyze.

Zane and the Hurricane: A Story of KatrinaZane and the Hurricane: A Story of Katrina by Rodman Philbrick
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

History classes need to ease up on the details of every explorer and colonial governor, and start jumping ahead to more recent and relevant events.

I don't think I really understood just how horrendous conditions were in the first few days after Katrina until I read this and "Upside Down in the Middle of Nowhere." It is unconscionable that initial relief efforts were so piss poor in a country of wealth and weather warnings.

Will be adding this one to the collection.

Under the EggUnder the Egg by Laura Marx Fitzgerald
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I did like the art history and WWII ... but not sure if my kids would. I think I will bring this in the fall as a "preview" from the public library and see what pilot readers think. Sadly, I haven't been able to get anyone to read The Mixed-Up Files.

The Meaning of MaggieThe Meaning of Maggie by Megan Jean Sovern
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Didn't love the voice ... it felt like the author was trying too hard.* Also found the father kind of annoying.** But one star for including a character with MS and one for making me smile a few times.

p. 24: I'd always thought that all the answers to life's questions were in books. I'd thought knowing where the sidewalk ended and where the red fern grew and where the wild things were could help me figure out LIFE. But maybe Dad was right. What if I needed to write my own story?

p. 139: Most kids only use encyclopedias for their science projects but I've discovered they only give very top-line information. If you sleuth out more specific references, the information gets better and better and you look smarter and smarter.

*Which is weird because it's based on her as a kid, right?
**I feel a little bad saying that, but this is fiction, not a memoir.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

RICBA Nominees 2015

I will be adding to the list as I make my way through the nominees ... favorites closest to the top.

Nelson Mandela
Nelson Mandela by Kadir Nelson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

All of my students think this book is about Morgan Freeman when they look at the cover. Sigh. One girl has read it, though, and said it made her cry. It's well done.

Gone Fishing: A Novel in VerseGone Fishing: A Novel in Verse by Tamera Will Wissinger
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The actual story was nothing special, but I am giving Wissinger an extra star for using so many poetry forms and explaining them at the end. Will be recommending as a RICBA readaloud to 3rd- and 4th-grade teachers.

Doll BonesDoll Bones by Holly Black
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

So this is more of a feelings novel, about putting away childish things and navigating changing relationships, than a scary adventure book. Not that there isn't adventure - bus rides and piracy and breakins - or scariness - creepy doll that may or may not be a dead girl. But it wasn't what I expected.

Black writes well; the prose pulled me along effortlessly (as opposed to a couple of other books I started this week). And the plot has a mix of elements that my kids will like. So I will plan to add to the collection when I can. But I will also be on the lookout for a cheap copy of "A Drowned Maiden's Hair" by Laura Amy Schlitz for those who prefer more Gothic, less realistic (and fewer cell phones).

p. 75: "He wondered whether growing up was learning that most stories turned out to be lies."

The Mighty Miss MaloneThe Mighty Miss Malone by Christopher Paul Curtis
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A classic Curtis novel. Which is to say that it includes a certain kind of family dynamics and certain quirks in the narrator. Set during the Depression, which seems to be a popular choice for authors lately. Liked it but didn't love it, although I did enjoy the Manipula Mobile explanation and the line "Hoping is such hard work."

Mountain DogMountain Dog by Margarita Engle
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Super quick read. I think my kids will love it.


The Blessing CupThe Blessing Cup by Patricia Polacco
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It's a Patricia Polacco book.

Island: A Story of the GalápagosIsland: A Story of the Galápagos by Jason Chin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I read this to my 5th graders at the end of the school year to get them started on the list, and it led to some good discussion about natural selection and geologic cycles.

Hiding Out at the Pancake PalaceHiding Out at the Pancake Palace by Nan Marino
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I could have done without the references to the Jersey Devil and the song of the pines. They were kind of jarring, since the rest of the book was so realistic.


Bats: Biggest! Littlest!Bats: Biggest! Littlest! by Sandra Markle
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The layout took away from the content for me. However, said content was clear and easy to understand. I had both a first-grader and a third-grader read it this spring and report back a ton of facts, so it's definitely a hit with its audience.

Gaby, Lost and FoundGaby, Lost and Found by Angela Cervantes
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Sweet but simplistic. I - not an animal lover - teared up at the end, so it did have an emotional impact, albeit a somewhat syrupy one.

Legend of the Ghost DogLegend of the Ghost Dog by Elizabeth Cody Kimmel
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

All of the kids who circled this on their RICBA list at the end of the year may be disappointed by the lack of true creepiness. Will recommend to a 4th grade teacher who does an Iditarod unit.

Charlie Bumpers vs. the Teacher of the YearCharlie Bumpers vs. the Teacher of the Year by Bill Harley
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

We elementary librarians need more books like this! Simple, sweet, small, slim. Boys will read it. Most kids will bother to finish because it's not hard to get through or overwhelming to look at ... there are pictures on almost every spread. Not a fantastic work of literary import, but I find my students aren't willing to put in the work to read those.

Odessa AgainOdessa Again by Dana Reinhardt
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Not my favorite, but may recommend to teachers looking to read RICBA nominees because it could lead to some good discussions about making choices.

Athlete vs. MathleteAthlete vs. Mathlete by W.C. Mack
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Meh for me. However, I think a lot of my students will like it. Too bad I ordered "Double Dribble" by mistake instead of this one for the RI Children's Book Award shelf!

Wild Born (Spirit Animals, #1)Wild Born by Brandon Mull
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Obviously calculated to be a moneymaker, what with the online tie-ins and different authors for different volumes. But I don't want to read any more of them, because I don't really care what happens. The narrator of the audiobook didn't help, but I don't feel attached to a single character. They were cardboard cutouts.

Navigating EarlyNavigating Early by Clare Vanderpool
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Vanderpool's writing is great, but as the chapters unfolded, it couldn't save the plot from becoming COMPLETELY ANNOYING. I really didn't like the Pi story, and I really really didn't like the way it had parallels during the trek through the woods. Glad to be done.

The 14 Fibs of Gregory K.The 14 Fibs of Gregory K. by Greg Pincus
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

of books with
one-note characters,
dialogue that makes my eyes roll.

over pie.
We get that Kelly's
mom is a good baker. Enough.

tell us
his writing
is so prize-worthy.
We'll be the judge of that. OK?

think some
of my kids
will enjoy, and an
extra star for Fibonacci.

check out
"Blockhead: The
Life of Fibonacci"
by Joseph D'Agnese for more.

Kelsey Green, Reading QueenKelsey Green, Reading Queen by Claudia Mills
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Too bad, because I usually like Claudia Mills. But I have a problem with the reading being turned into a competition ... and thereby a chore. I did like how she referred to so many other books, though. Will probably set up a display with the ones we have and steer my kids to them.

The Secret Garden
Sarah, Plain and Tall
Dear Whiskers
The Mouse and the Motorcycle
Amber Brown is Not a Crayon
Alvin Ho: Allergic to Girls, School, and Other Scary Things
Mr. Crumb's Secret
Frog and Toad Together
Stuart Little
Henry and Mudge
Junie B. Jones
Ramona the Pest
Emily Dickinson poetry
Harriet the Spy
The Mouse of Amherst
A Little Princess
Charlotte's Web
Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle's Magic
Farmer Boy

Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's LibraryEscape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library by Chris Grabenstein
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I so wanted to love this. I love books and I love puzzles. But I also love strong characters (not caricatures) and crisp writing (not constant puns and lame dialogue). Disappointing.

Rump: The True Story of RumpelstiltskinRump: The True Story of Rumpelstiltskin by Liesl Shurtliff
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I returned the audiobook to the library after the first disc. Maybe I'll retry with a print copy. One fourth grader liked it, one fifth grader did not.

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