Wednesday, March 30, 2016

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (Maya Angelou)

This is one of those books I had thought I should read for a long time. It's also a book that it's great that we read it for book club because I got so much more out of discussing it than just reading it on my own. Some books do not foster a lot of discussion. This book is the exact opposite! There were so many themes to discuss. At our book club meeting, we didn't really get past segregation and prejudice. Those are big ones! 

Other potential great discussions:

Home: Maya and her brother live in many different homes. They are mainly raised by their grandma but have times where they try living with their mother and with their father, who are not together. Many pivotal moments occur because of their lack of a "home".

Rising from the ashes: Maya isn't penned in by the beliefs of society and the people around her. She is matter of fact about her optimism to do anything anyone else can do.

Matriarchal Society: Men in this story are not positive role models in Maya's life (except for her brother, Brother and her Uncle). Women forge on and succeed despite their place in society.

Literature: Books save Maya. Her first love is William Shakespeare. She is well read and highly influenced by literature.

Beauty: Maya thinks she is ugly. She wishes to be whiter in order to be more beautiful. 

I think we could have had a couple of book club meetings on this book!

Sent by their mother to live with their devout, self-sufficient grandmother in a small Southern town, Maya and her brother, Bailey, endure the ache of abandonment and the prejudice of the local "powhitetrash." At eight years old and back at her mother’s side in St. Louis, Maya is attacked by a man many times her age—and has to live with the consequences for a lifetime. Years later, in San Francisco, Maya learns that love for herself, the kindness of others, her own strong spirit, and the ideas of great authors ("I met and fell in love with William Shakespeare") will allow her to be free instead of imprisoned.

Poetic and powerful, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings will touch hearts and change minds for as long as people read.

Goodreads summary about Maya's life:

Maya Angelou, born Marguerite Ann Johnson April 4, 1928 in St. Louis, Missouri, was an American poet, memoirist, actress and an important figure in the American Civil Rights Movement. In 2001 she was named one of the 30 most powerful women in America by Ladies Home Journal. Maya Angelou is known for her series of six autobiographies, starting with I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, (1969 which was nominated for a National Book Award and called her magnum opus. 

Monday, March 28, 2016

Pax (Sara Pennypacker)

I took a chance on this book. I have a policy that I always have to read a book before we do it for book club at school - but I really wanted to do this one and I hadn't read it. I have heard so many great things about it. I decided to give it a go.

I love this book because it touched my heart and it left many questions unanswered....great conversation starter!

At first I had some regret. We started reading it aloud in class and found the author doesn't mince at all on vocabulary. I was doing a lot of explaining...and eventually we quit reading it in class (not because we decided to abandon it, but just because book club is supposed to be books that kids read on their own or at home, not necessarily a class read aloud). However, kids kept coming to me telling me how much they were enjoying it. I got report after report about what chapter they were on and how they thought it was really great. I would ask, "Is it too tricky? Too many hard words?" and they were adamant that it wasn't. Okay!!

I do agree that this is a great story. It doesn't have the expected happy ending - something that isn't common in J fiction. I had a student come to me after only having the book for a couple days. She had finished it and wanted to talk about it, but I wasn't finished so I couldn't say much. She just kept saying to me, "I can't believe it....after all that work...." I would just shrug....I couldn't really answer. Finally, she walked away, shaking her head. I am really looking forward to chatting with her now about this book!
Peter's persistence was inspiring. There were many things that seemed just not fair to him. Losing his mother is one bad blow. Why would a dad decide to go off to war and leave his son?? That is never answered. And what is up with grandparents not finding him once he runs off? It does follow a common theme of J fiction though - of kids just looking after themselves. Adults are kind of useless - except for Vola. She's helpful - but quite mysterious and hard to understand. Maybe many adults are that way for kids. I liked Pax's faith in Peter. Even though he continues on and thrives in his natural environment, he never loses faith in Peter - unlike the adults in Peter's life.

Other questions:

Why are they living so near a war-zone anyway? It seems to be set in North America - but we have not had wars here for so many years - that seemed a little disconnected for me.

And in the end, when he says: The apple does fall far from the tree....wasn't he actually relenting by not having Pax come with him? He gives in to everything his father has done.

Goodreads summary:

Pax was only a kit when his family was killed, and “his boy” Peter rescued him from abandonment and certain death. Now the war front approaches, and when Peter’s father enlists, Peter has to move in with his grandpa. Far worse than being forced to leave home is the fact that Pax can’t go. Peter listens to his stern father—as he usually does—and throws Pax’s favorite toy soldier into the woods. When the fox runs to retrieve it, Peter and his dad get back in the car and leave him there—alone. But before Peter makes it through even one night under his grandfather’s roof, regret and duty spur him to action; he packs for a trek to get his best friend back and sneaks into the night. This is the story of Peter, Pax, and their independent struggles to return to one another against all odds. Told from the alternating viewpoints of Peter and Pax.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Mr. Flux (Kyo Maclear)

This book reminded us of The Dullards

I loved the concept behind this book: 

  • change is good
  • there is beauty in ordinary things
My class thought the drawings were pretty weird. They were definitely artistic and creative. I bet if we took a little more time we'd see interesting things in the drawings. 

Martin and his neighbors eschew change until eccentric Mr. Flux moves in and shows them that change can be big or little or even fit inside a box, and not at all scary. A tongue-in-cheek tale loosely inspired by the 1960s art movement known as Fluxus.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Don't Let The Pigeon Drive the Bus! (Mo Willems)

I love it when people recommend books to us! The kindergarten teacher and her class thought we HAD to read this book. And sure enough, our class loved it. It made us laugh. What is up with this crazy pigeon anyway?! The idea of a pigeon trying to talk us into letting him drive the bus made us chuckle.

I love Mo Willems. He has also written Knuffle Bunny, There's a Bird on Your Head, and City Dog, Country Frog.

Then there's these guys. I love their take on it. 

When a bus driver takes a break from his route, a very unlikely volunteer springs up to take his place-a pigeon! But you've never met one like this before. As he pleads, wheedles, and begs his way through the book, children will love being able to answer back and decide his fate. In his hilarious picture book debut, popular cartoonist Mo Willems perfectly captures a preschooler's temper tantrum. 

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

And Two Boys Booed (Judith Viorst)

Our class has enjoyed a number of Judith Viorst books lately: Alexander, Who Used to Be Rich Last Sunday, and Alexander and the Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. There are a few more in our TBR pile too! We especially loved the flaps in this book.

I thought this one was perfect because we are just about to embark on a couple days of performances for the talent show in music class (even I am going to perform!)

We liked how the boy who is about to perform showed that he was more and more nervous by his shirt going further and further over his face. Kids notice the greatest things in illustrations!

On the day of the talent show, a boy is ready to sing his song, and he isn't one bit scared because he has practiced a billion times, plus he's wearing his lucky blue boots and his pants with all ten pockets. But as all of the other kids perform before him, he gets more and more nervous. How the boy overcomes his fear of performing in front of the class makes a charming and funny read-aloud, complete with ten novelty flaps to lift.  

Monday, March 14, 2016

Suddenly! (Colin McNaughton)

This is a cute story about a wolf that is creeping up on a pig all the time - but the pig changes his direction just in the knick of time. Cute story!

We used it to talk about how to add suspense to our stories.

Goodreads summary:

A little pig is walking down the street, unaware of the hungry wolf waiting around the corner, when SUDDENLY the pig remembers he has left something behind and turns away at the last second, leaving the wolf to fall flat on his face. The wolf pursues the little pig throughout the day, but each time, quite unaware, the pig evades him until in the end the wolf gets his come-uppance in an unexpected and hilarious way. SUDDENLY is an ideal book for young children, who will love the wicked humour and child-centred repetition.

Friday, March 11, 2016

A Dog Wearing Shoes (Sangmi Ko)

Goodreads summary:

When Mini finds a small moppet of a dog, with fluffy ears, no collar, and wearing yellow booties, she understandably wants to take it home. Despite Mom's insistence that the dog probably already has a family, Mini gets attached and is awfully proud of her new pal, who can sing, sit, and give both paws. But when the pup runs off one day at the park, Mini comes to understand how someone else out there might be missing the little guy too.(

Thursday, March 10, 2016

A Crow of His Own (Megan Dowd Lambert)

Cute story about a rooster who is the new guy in town, trying to fill someone else's shoes. He learns that he should really just be himself and quit worrying about how things used to be done. Great illustrations. Good vocabulary discussions came from this book.

Goodreads summary:

Clyde is the new rooster at Sunrise Farm. But he’s having trouble fitting in and replacing Larry—the beloved rooster whose wake-up calls were legendary. The cow, the gaggle of hens, and the sheep reminisce about Larry while poor Clyde fails to croon the farmyard awake with the same finesse. Clyde attempts to win over the farm by wearing an elaborate costume and putting on a show like Larry was known to do, but in the end, Clyde realizes that imitating Larry is not the way to succeed.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Mr. Prickles (Kara LaReau)

A good story for talking about learning to get along with difficult people and including others. Also could be on the topic of seeing the good in people and in yourself.

My class really enjoyed the puns and the funny names.

Goodreads summary:

Mr. Prickles was not a particularly friendly fellow. He was tough to get close to . . . because he was a porcupine. 
“You're not cute like us,” said Raccoon.
“Or cuddly like us,” said Chipmunk.
“Or playful like us,” said Skunk.
“I am,” said Mr. Prickles. “On the inside.”
Poor Mr. Prickles was very lonely-until the day he met Miss Pointypants. Could she be the perfect prickly companion for moonlit strolls and midnight feasts? Was love in the air for even the sharpest of sorts?

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Alexander and the Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day (Judith Viorst)

We loved the humor in this book. A number of kids had already read the book and even more have seen the movie. Some days are just not great...and it's good to have a sense of humor about it! I looked up Judith Viorst and it seems there are a lot more books by her! I  feel an author focus coming on! I put a swack on hold at the public library.

Goodreads summary:

The perennially popular tale of Alexander's worst day is a storybook that belongs on every child's bookshelf.

Alexander knew it was going to be a terrible day when he woke up with gum in this hair.

And it got worse...

His best friend deserted him. There was no dessert in his lunch bag. And, on top of all that, there were lima beans for dinner and kissing on TV!

This handsome new edition of Judith Viorst's classic picture book is sure to charm readers of all ages.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Superhero (Marc Tauss)

We are making this week "make a difference" week. It all started with our quote of the month:

If you think you're too small to be effective, you've never been in the dark with a mosquito.

We talked about how kids can make a big difference, even though they're small. They're kind of like superheroes!

This book was totally real to them. Of course kids can be superheroes.

Goodreads summary:

Every kid wants to be a SUPERHERO!

Maleek may be a small boy in a big city, but he's no ordinary kid. He's a scientist and a superhero! So when his beloved city's parks and playgrounds mysteriously disappear, it's up to Maleek and his robot Marvyn to save the day.

Marc Tauss's mesmerizing black-and-white photo-illustrations bring every young superhero's fantasy to life.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Madeline (Ludwig Bemelmens)

I got Madeline from the library. Many of the kids said, "I know that movie!" when they saw it. I had one student who had read both of these books before.  He read the Frankenstein one a I read Madeline. We had a good chuckle. Some commented that the Frankenstein boom is more for boys and the Madeline book is more for girls.  I guess I still have some work to do with the idea that anyone can read anything - there are no BOYS books and GIRLS books :)

Madeline is a classic. Everyone should read it! However, I have to say, it is even better next to Frankenstein.

Goodreads summary: 

Madeline is one of the best-loved characters in children's literature. Set in picturesque Paris, this tale of a brave little girl's trip to the hospital was a Caldecott Honor Book in 1940 and has as much appeal today as it did then. The combination of a spirited heroine, timelessly appealing art, cheerful humor, and rhythmic text makes Madeline a perennial favorite with children of all ages. 

Jacob Have I Loved (Katherine Paterson)

I got this book out after reading Bridge to Terabithia (again) for my grade three book club. Katherine Paterson is quite a renound author, but I haven't really read anything else of hers. I decided I should. I was interested in seeing what she did with the Jacob and Esau reference. 

Is the Jacob and Esau story a foundation for a meta narrative? I had no idea. Seemed intriguing though. She certainly does weave plenty of biblical reference through this entire story. 

As I read, I wondered if this would be a good story to do for grade three book club. There were enough odd moments (huge crush on someone who could be her grandpa? Her senile grandmother accusing her mother endlessly of being a harlot?!) that made me realize it wouldn't be appropriate. As a matter of fact, as I read I started to hate the main character. I wondered how in the world the book became a Caldecott winner. However, as I kept on, I realized there really is beauty in the story. She touches on some themes in an amazing way.

Main themes seem to be finding yourself and sibling rivalry. Sara Louise hates her twin sister. She seems justified. Her sister smart quite unaware of the rivalry. She just goes about doing what she does...totally irritating Sarah Louise, who never resolves the problems with her sister. It makes it so that their sisterhood isn't at all one of those wonderful friendships. Not at all. Actually, Sarah Louise's negativity and loathing really began to wear on me. At the part where she is complaining to her mother about her mother's choices in life, I realized that she  really needed to quit projecting her unhappiness on to everyone else! Happily, she does seem to figure this out for herself. She finally realizes that she needs to do what makes her happy and goes away to school. She's wants to become a doctor, but it is a time when women are really only expected to be nurses. She ends up in a small mountainous community, being the only medical professional, and ends up marrying. In her new life, she leaves her family behind, even unable to return fo funerals. Frankly, I knew if she did go back, she would go straight back to her I understood her not going.

The story comes full circle when she delivers twins, spending her energy saving the life of one while the other waits in a basket.....just like when she was born. I feel like she would have made the connection and perhaps had some healing as a result of the experience.

There is magic and wisdom in this story. It would be great to read it with middle school students or even with adults....especially my church friends.

Goodreads summary:

Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated . . . With her grandmother's taunt, Louise knew that she, like the biblical Esau, was the despised elder twin. Caroline, her selfish younger sister, was the one everyone loved.Growing up on a tiny Chesapeake Bay island in the early 1940s, angry Louise reveals how Caroline robbed her of everything: her hopes for schooling, her friends, her mother, even her name. While everyone pampered Caroline, Wheeze (her sister's name for her) began to learn the ways of the watermen and the secrets of the island, especially of old Captain Wallace, who had mysteriously returned after fifty years. The war unexpectedly gave this independent girl a chance to fulfill her childish dream to work as a watermen alongside her father. But the dream did not satisfy the woman she was becoming. Alone and unsure, Louise began to fight her way to a place where Caroline could not reach.Renowned author Katherine Paterson here chooses a little-known area off the Maryland shore as her setting for a fresh telling of the ancient story of an elder twin's lost birthright.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Alexander, Who Used To Be Rich Last Sunday (Judith Viorst)

I love this story. My students could totally relate to the problem of wanting to buy stuff the minute you have money in your pocket. When he talks about how hard it is to save your money there was lots of nodding in agreement.

The interactions with Alexander's brothers made everyone giggle a little.

After a few minutes, however, someone did suddenly have a light bulb moment about how inexpensive things are in this story! He can buy a lot just with $1! And who even uses pennies anymore? We don't! I'm thinking someone needs to update this story a little bit.

This would be a good story for talking about how little things make a big difference and how sometimes you just have limited resources. You could also talk about the value of money and why it's good to wait before you buy the first thing that comes along. The story isn't preachy at all. It is very relate-able.

Last Sunday, Alexander's grandparents gave him a dollar -- and he was rich. There were so many things that he could do with all of that money!
He could buy as much gum as he wanted, or even a walkie-talkie, if he saved enough. But somehow the money began to disappear...
Readers of all ages will be delighted by this attractive new edition of Judith Viorst's beloved picture book.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Francine Poulet Meets the Ghost Raccoon (Kate DiCamillo)

I'm amazed at how even easy chapter books written by Kate DiCamillo are a delight. She doesn't skimp on vocabulary and the stories are actually quite compelling. This story is a bit of a spin-off of the Mercy Watson series although it's fine to read it on its own.

After Francine Poulet gets shaken by a bad experience, she starts to doubt herself. This would be a great story to read with a child who has been back-sliding a little with their confidence. Francine Poulet bears down and learns to handle what she needs to do.

Goodreads Summary:

Deckawoo Drive’s intrepid Animal Control Officer meets her match—or does she? A funny, heartfelt, and fast-paced romp from the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature.

Francine Poulet is the greatest Animal Control Officer in Gizzford County. She hails from a long line of Animal Control Officers. She’s battled snakes, outwitted squirrels, and stared down a bear. "The genuine article," Francine’s dad always called her. She is never scared—until, that is, she’s faced with a screaming raccoon that may or may not be a ghost. Maybe Francine isn’t cut out to be an Animal Control Officer after all! But the raccoon is still on the loose, and the folks on Deckawoo Drive need Francine back. Can she face her fears, round up the raccoon, and return to the ranks of Animal Control? Join a cast of familiar characters—Frank, Stella, Mrs. Watson, and Mercy the porcine wonder—for some riotous raccoon wrangling on Deckawoo Drive.

One Hockey Night (David Ward)

I already cried over one hockey book! Here's another one that could make you cry if you don't take deep breaths (I handled it today quite well) :)

My students LOVE hockey stories. They're so Canadian. They're so relate-able. This one is about a family that moves from Saskatchewan to Nova Scotia (Oh! Immediately lots of hands go up with stories of Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia). My students love to hear names of places they know when we read books. This story ends with, "It's hockey night in Kettle Harbour!" My students got the connection to the pre-amble to Hockey Night in Canada immediately.

For Owen, winter is all about hockey. It’s December, and his family has just moved to the east coast. He’s shovelled snow. He’s practised shots in the driveway. But he hasn’t skated on ice. Now it’s Christmas Eve, and it’s time for a secret to be revealed! 

A hockey story – and a holiday story – with a heartwarming Canadian setting.

Moonlight Over Paris (Jennifer Robson)

I loved this book. You can't tell by how long it took me - but I found myself wanting to just immerse myself in Paris life as I read. It is report card season right now so I had less time to read - but when I did I found myself reading for an hour and not even realizing I had been immersed in the book that long.

I loved how Helena followed her dreams, messing up along the way, but persisting. I found myself wondering if it was a true reflection of what life was like in Paris back then and, given Jennifer Robson's great historian skills, I tend to think it was pretty spot on. I marvelled at people wanting to separate themselves from family fortunes. Really?! What harm is there in having a big pile of money?! :)

This is a book (series!) I'll definitely read again.

Goodreads summary:

USA Today and internationally bestselling author Jennifer Robson takes readers to 1920s Paris in an enthralling new historical novel that tells the riveting story of an English lady who trades in her staid aristocratic life for the mesmerizing salons and the heady world of the Lost Generation.

It’s the spring of 1924, and Lady Helena Montagu-Douglas-Parr has just arrived in France. On the mend after a near-fatal illness, she is ready to embrace the restless, heady allure of the City of Lights. Her parents have given her one year to live with her eccentric aunt in Paris and Helena means to make the most of her time. She’s quickly drawn into the world of the Lost Generation and its circle of American expatriates, and with their encouragement, she finds the courage to pursue her dream of becoming an artist.

One of those expats is Sam Howard, a journalist working for the Chicago Tribune. Irascible, plain-spoken, and scarred by his experiences during the war, Sam is simply the most fascinating man she has ever met. He’s also entirely unsuitable.

As Paris is born anew, rising phoenix-like from the ashes of the Great War, Helena realizes that she, too, is changing. The good girl she once was, so dutiful and obedient, so aware of her place in the world, is gone forever. Yet now that she has shed her old self, who will she become, and where, and with whom, does she belong…?

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Frankenstein (Ludworst Bemonster/Rick Walton)

Love the "CaldeNOT Horror Book" award the book gave itself!

This book is funny....if you're familiar with Madeleine. Unfortunately, most of my students didn't know that book. I will find it so we can rectify this situation!

Parody is a great thing to learn about!

This laugh-out-loud funny and devilish send-up of Ludwig Bemelmans's Madeline is for little monsters everywhere.

Frankenstein is the scariest of all the monsters in Miss Devel's castle. He can frighten anything--animals, parents, even rocks. Until one night, Miss Devel wakes up and runs downstairs to find that Frankenstein has lost his head!