Monday, March 31, 2014

Anyone Want a Cheap Rhinoceros (Shel Silverstein)

First of all, I learned how to spell rhinoceros from this book! (I always thought it was rhinosaurus!)

This is a great Shel Silverstein book: good quality laughs and excellent illustrations (unlike Everything On It) Seems like one has to be careful with the books published after his death (he died in 1999, this was published in 2002).

After reading this book, it makes total sense to me to have a pet rhinoceros!

The One and Only Ivan (Katherine Applegate)

I've blogged about this book before, here. I'm not one to re-read books that often. I'm always working on what is next, rather than looking back at something I've really loved and enjoying it again. I'm so glad we have the chance to re-do some book club books. This one is a great one.

There are so many beautiful things said in this book. Having the story told from an animal's perspective gives a unique look at people's lives.

Some beautiful moments:

The new elephant, Ruby, is going to arrive soon. The animals can sense it. Stella, the elephant who has been in the mall for years, is especially excited.

p. 71 Stella pushes past Mack, nearly knocking him over. She rashes as best she can, limping heavily, toward the open back door of the truck. She catches her swollen foot on the edge of the ramp and winces. Blood trickles down.
Halfway up the ramp she pauses. The noise in the truck stops. Ruby falls silent.
Slowly Stella makes her way up the rest of the ramp. It growns under her weight, and I can tell how much she is hurting by the awkward way she moves.
At the top of the incline she stops. She pokes her trunk into the emptiness.
We wait.
The tiny gray trunk appears again. Shyly, it reaches out, tasting the air. Stella curls her own trunk around the baby's. The make soft rumbling sounds.


p. 13 After our show, humans forage through the stores. A store is where humans buy things they need to survive. At the Big Top Mall, some stores sell new things, like balloons and t-shirts and caps to cover the gleaming heads of humans. Some stores sell old things, things that smell dusty and damp and long forgotten.
All day, I watch humans scurry from store to store. they pass their green paper, dry as old leaves and smelling of a thousand hands, back and forth and back again.
They hunt frantically, stalking, pushing, grumbling. Then they leave, clutching bags filled with things-bright things, soft things, big things - but no matter how full the bags, they always come back for more.

I love the character, Bob. He's a stray dog. No, he's kind of a gypsy. He doesn't like to be tied down. And he has strong opinions!

p. 79  When I awake the next morning, I see a little trunk poking out between teh bars of Stella's domain.
"Hello," says a small, clear voice.  "I'm Ruby." She waves her trunk.
"Hello," I say. "I'm Ivan."
"Are you a monkey?" Ruby asks
"Certainly not."
Bob's ears perk up, although his eyes stay closed. "He's a gorilla," he says. "And I am a dog of uncertain heritage."


p. 239

"I think she wants you to go inside," I expalin.

"But ther'es nothing inside," Ruby says, "except an apple."

"Inside that box," I say, "is the way out."

And they do get out. They end up going to live at a zoo where they're all very happy. Bob finds a home too. The interesting thing is the caretaker, the one who helps them get their message out so that they can escape the shopping mall, who is so afraid of losing his job, fixes everything. He loses one thing, but in the end it isn't lost. He gets a new and better job, and all the animals get a home.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Mr. Popper's Penguins (Richard and Florence Atwater)

We are reading this for Grade 3 book club. I'm actually quite surprised at what a hit it is. The story is great - but it is written in an older style. I wondered if that might turn the kids off. So far, we have had nothing but rave reviews. I can see how this would make a great movie!

Goodreads summary:

The Poppers unexpectedly come into possession of a penguin, then get a penguin from the zoo who mates with the first penguin to have 10 baby penguins. Before long, something must be done before they eat the Poppers out of house and home!

A classic of American humor, this story of a gentle housepainter and his high stepping penguins has delighted children for generations.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Reading in the Wild (Donalyn Miller)

Another win! I love this book.  I plan to read it again and again, along with The Book Whisperer, as I work on helping my students develop a love of reading. Excellent ideas. There are so many nuggets along the way to help you help kids along.

I read The Book Whisperer a year ago while driving with my husband to my best friend's mother's funeral. It might be weird that I remember events by the book I was reading - but that's me. I can't believe all I've learned about reading over the past year.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Crow Lake (Mary Lawson)

I loved this book. This is a simple yet beautiful story. I found myself slowing down as I read to be sure I didn't miss any subtleties. The complexities of family relationships and perception as they move through life with all of it's tragedies and changes were very real. This is a book worth reading again.

Goodreads Summary:
Crow Lake is that rare find, a first novel so quietly assured, so emotionally pitch perfect, you know from the opening page that this is the real thing-a literary experience in which to lose yourself, by an author of immense talent.

Here is a gorgeous, slow-burning story set in the rural "badlands" of northern Ontario, where heartbreak and hardship are mirrored in the landscape. For the farming Pye family, life is a Greek tragedy where the sins of the fathers are visited on the sons, and terrible events occur-offstage.

Centerstage are the Morrisons, whose tragedy looks more immediate if less brutal, but is, in reality, insidious and divisive. Orphaned young, Kate Morrison was her older brother Matt's protegee, her fascination for pond life fed by his passionate interest in the natural world. Now a zoologist, she can identify organisms under a microscope but seems blind to the state of her own emotional life. And she thinks she's outgrown her siblings-Luke, Matt, and Bo-who were once her entire world.
In this universal drama of family love and misunderstandings, of resentments harbored and driven underground, Lawson ratchets up the tension with heartbreaking humor and consummate control, continually overturning one's expectations right to the very end. Tragic, funny, unforgettable, Crow Lake is a quiet tour de force that will catapult Mary Lawson to the forefront of fiction writers today.

Good quotes: 

p. 3

My great-grandmother Morrison fixed a book rest to her spinning wheel so that she could read while she was spinning, or so the story goes. And one Saturday evening she became so absorbed in her book that when she looked up, she found that it was half past midnight and she had spun for half an hour on the Sabbath day. Back then, that counted as a major sin.


Just after Laurie Pye runs away from his abusive father:

(P. 216) Nothing to do I with us. That is what I thought. I didn't know that the Pyes' story was already starting to converge with our own. No one knew. We were all bumbling along, the Morrisons and the Pyes and the Mitchells and the Janies and the Stanoviches and all the others, side by side, week in, week out, that our paths similar in some ways and different in others, all apparently running parallel. But parallel lines never meet.


P. 221 Laurie was just one more dropped stitch in a family tapestry already full of holes.


p. 282 Daniel said, "Well, I agree with you about one thing, Kate. I do think there's a tragedy here. But I don't think it's what you think it is."

.......He wiped his hand on his shirt and retrieved his coffee and said, "You'll say I don't understand, just like you think Marie doesn't understand, but I think I do. Some of it anyway. Your family's had a real struggle, all those generations and everything, all of you striving toward this great goal. And Matt's obviously brilliant, anyone can see that. So I can see it was a disappointment. He had his chance and he blew it, Which is a real shame."

He gave me a brief, almost apologetic smile. "But it's just a shame. It's not a tragedy. It makes no difference to Matt is. Can't you see that? No difference at all. The tragedy is that you think it's so important. So important you're letting it destroy the relationship the two of you had."

He must have seen my incredulity, because he hesitated, eyeing me uneasily. He said, "I'm not trying to say it doesn't matter to him, Kate - that he's miraculously discovered that he loves farming, so it's all turned out for the best, or some crap like that .I'm not saying that. I'm just saying that from what you've told me about him and what I've seen of him, my guess is that he came to terms with it a long time ago. The problem is, you didn't. And as a consequence, he's lost what he had with you. That's the real tragedy.

Strange how parts of your brain can continue to function normally when other parts have come to a dead stop. I could hear Matt and Simon's voices; I saw the car getting nearer; in the distance a couple of crows were quarrelling; my brain recorded it all faithfully. But within me, for a long moment, there was total silence. A paralysis of the mind. And then gradually things started up again, and with the return of conscious thought came an absolute flood tide of disbelief, confusion and furious resentment. Daniel, of all people, an outsider, a guest, who had dragged the story out of me, who had known Matt scarcely twelve hours. That he could look at our lives and casually, carelessly, knowing nothing about it, come to such a conclusion. I could hardly believe that I had heard time right - hardly believe that he had said it.


p. 289 I suppose the real question is not why I saw it then, but why I didn't see it years ago. Grand-Grandmother Morrison, I accept that the fault is largely mine, but I hold you partly to blame. It is you, with your love of learning, who set the standard against which I have judged everyone around me, all my life. I have pursued your dream single-mindedly; I have become familiar with books and ideas you never even imagined, and somehow, in the process of acquiring all that knowledge, I have managed to learn nothing at all.

p. 290

I would like to be able to say that I threw myself into the spirit of it all, but the truth is, I still felt a bit dazed. A bit abstracted. It's going to take time, I guess. If you've thought a certain way for many years, if you've had a picture in your mind of how things are and that picture is suddenly shown to be faulty, well, it stands to reason that it will take a while to adjust. And during that time, you're bound to feel...disconnected. Anyway, that was how I felt, and still feel, to some degree. What I would really have liked to do was sit quietly somewhere, preferably under a tree, and watch the goings-on from a distance. In particular, watch Matt. Let my eyes absorb this new view of him, this new perspective on our lives.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Jeremy Thatcher Dragon Hatcher (Bruce Coville)

This was our book for Gr. 3 book club this month. It was a great choice. I was not familiar with Bruce Coville prior to this. Apparently Bryce Coville is a prolific writer that I hadn't spent time with yet. I chose the book because United Library Services had a lot of copies and so did the library, and because it looked fun for kids. I have a rule that I have to read the book prior to recommending it for book club. This time I broke that rule - but it worked out okay.  It was a great choice for Gr. 3 book club.

I loved the magic in the story. Jeremy Thatcher finds himself in a magic store and ends up taking home a dragon egg. He has no idea what he is in for. It sets off an amazing adventure.

Many people (not just adults) cannot see the dragon. You can only see it if you believe and know about dragons. The interesting thing is that animals can see it!

I liked the boy/girl friendship in this book. It starts off poorly, with Mary Lou writing a note that she plans to kiss Jeremy. Jeremy is horrified. His friends immediately start in on the teasing. However, in time, Jeremy and Mary Lou become friends despite the ribbing.

To me, an interesting aspect of this book, is that the main character, Jeremy, has an experience that changes him that he can never share with his parents. My book club kids never brought this up, but I think it would make for an interesting discussion. summary:

When Jeremy Thatcher stumbles into Mr. Elives' magic shop, he leaves with a small marbled dragon's egg. When it hatches, Jeremy's wildest dreams take wing.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

The Hundred Dresses (Eleanor Estes)

I love this book. I bought it last summer. I put it on my shelf at school and waited for just the right time to read it to my students. This week was the moment. I started it on World Read Aloud Day. I was so excited to read it to them. It is an excellent character book. It isn't too long, and the chapters go quick. Perfect!

On Friday, at the end of the day, was the moment. We had just enough time to read the last chapter, so I asked, "Want to go to the carpet and finish this great book?"

I got a loud and long, "Nooooooo!"

I did my best to read it with great expression. I realized as I went that some of the words were a little old fashioned, so I changed them on the fly. It wasn't good enough though. They really weren't taken by it. Why didn't I see this until the last chapter??

I'm so disappointed.

I still love it though. To heck with them!!!

Actually, I wonder if I don't read the last chapter to them, if they will even ask me to finish it?

The story is centred around a girl named Wanda Petronski. She is Polish, poor and an outsider in the class. One day, Wanda claims to own a hundred dresses, even though every day she wears the same tired blue dress to school. The girls tease her daily about this. 

The interesting thing is the book is told after the fact. One day Wanda stops showing up at school. It takes a few days for the girls to even notice. One girl starts to feel remorseful. They never do have a chance to fix what they have done though. 

I loved this book because it didn't have a happy ending. It teaches the importance of being kind every day because you never can go back in time, and sometimes it is too late to fix things.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Long Way Gone (Ishmael Beah)

Considering all the boys went through in this story, it is really trite to say this, but this was a hard book to read. I took a long time to get through it because I kept having to take breaks. I couldn't handle too much of it for too long. It is difficult to give words to the emotions stirred by this book. It is a story, however, that should be heard.

First, I was so heartbroken for Ishmael to lose his family in such violence. After that, for him to have to simply run and hope for the kindness of strangers to help him out was also heartbreaking. He was the same age as my own son is now. When he was taken by the army to be a boy soldier, I was horrified with the violence and drugs. It never ended though. Even when he was taken away from the army to be rehabilitated, it was painful to read! The violence and hate was deep n these boys and thinking they would be removed from the army and go on to a better life was niiave. Inear the end of the book, after being rehabilitated, he finds family again, only to have to run for his life when war breaks out again.

I wonder, as Ishmael did, why do I get to keep living such a good life when others go through so much horror?