Saturday, June 29, 2013

Unleashing Readers Blog Hop

I am so excited to be taking part in this blog hop today to support the launch of Unleashing Readers, a blog by Kellee Moye and Ricki Ginsberg.   Go check it out! It is going to be a wonderful resource for teachers.  On their blog, Kellee and Ricki will be sharing reviews of books and letting us know how they envision using the book.  This is a wonderful idea and I cannot wait to see all the great reviews they will do.

Part of the work on their blog will be to recommend books for different parts of the reading workshop.  They have defined four categories on their blog: read alouds, literature circle/book club books, close read/analysis books, and classroom library books.  To find out more about the different classifications go to this post on Unleashing Readers.

I was asked to share my favorite book in each of the categories listed here.  However, it is impossible for me to narrow my selections down to one choice so I have a few picks in each category.

Favorite read aloud title:

Nightjohn by Gary Paulsen is a short book that I like to use toward the beginning of the school year.  It is quite graphic but it lends itself to deep discussions about the way slaves were treated and the value of education.  I have read this one with multiple middle school classes and they have all been riveted by the story.  I like that it is nice and short also so we can get through it quickly.  

Wonder by RJ Palacio is a new favorite.  It is one that helps students learn about empathy and to think about the way they treat other people.  I like the way this book is written from different points of view throughout the book and it gives me a chance to talk about perspectives and voice.  

Favorite Close Read/Analysis book:

The Giver by Lois Lowry is an amazing book.  There are so many literary elements that could be discussed with this one.  There are also many themes and moral issues that can be discussed.  

In reading American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang, we talk about stereotypes and culture.  I combine the reading with a unit about graphic novels and we learn about the elements that comic makers use to write their books.  This book brings in Chinese folk tale elements as well and it is a chance to talk about traditional literature in different cultures.  

The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton is a book that has many elements which are ripe for discussion.  There are many spots throughout this novel that students can stop to notice changes taking place.  It is also a good book for comparing to the movie.

Favorite Literature Circle/Book Club book:

Tangerine is full of discussion points.  Students can relate to the main character and his moral dilemmas.

Tuck Everlasting brings up many interesting discussions. The idea of immortality is intriguing to many people.  The question of whether you would drink from that spring of water if you knew it gave you immortality is one that sparks a lot of debate.  However, it is better for literature groups because I have come across students who could not read this one for religious reasons.  

All books by Pamela Munoz Ryan are amazing books for discussion, but this one was particularly powerful.  There are a few instances in which the inferences a reader makes are crucial.  It was a great book for teaching this comprehension strategy to support a small group that was struggling with this concept.  

Cole is such a dynamic character and students really get into the story.  This is a great book for discussion because the character is so full of rage and students can really picture this kid.  It also is a great book for talking about how the character changes.

Favorite Book for the Classroom Library:

Inkheart is a favorite of mine.  I love the way that there is a love of books woven through this amazing story.  Every student should read this one, but it is long and intimidating for some.  

A Monster Calls is a wonderful book.  The story is heartbreaking and beautiful.  The artwork in this book is amazing as well.  

Students absolutely love this one.  I shared many of the dystopian series with my students this year, but this one was the favorite.  I think the length of the book makes it seem more manageable to my students.  This is one that all middle school classroom libraries should include.

Favorite Book Overall:

I have such a hard time with this question every time I am asked.  I don't have one favorite book, I have multiple favorites!  I will narrow down the list to three books...just know that this kills me because there are so many others.  

Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen.  Really I love all of Austen's work. 

I was so impressed with the style of this book as well as with the story.  This is truly a literary  masterpiece and I absolutely love the book.  

Anne of Green Gables is a book that I devoured over and over again as a child/teen.  I shared the book with my grandmother and we also watched the PBS movies together multiple times.

What are your favorites?  Please share in the comments below.  

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Top Ten Books I've Read so Far in 2013

I am joining in on this weekly meme hosted by The Broke and The Bookish. Each week there is a different top ten list topic.

This week's top ten was difficult to narrow down. I have read some pretty spectacular books this year!  These books are all books that I would highly recommend.  

This is a beautiful story about courage and friendship during World War II.  I enjoyed how the author played with style.  It is a must-read for another perspective about this important time in history.

This book won a lot of awards in 2012.  They are all well-deserved.  I loved this story of friendship, but what I really loved was the family relationships that were sometimes messy but always full of love.

This one absolutely deserved the Printz award that it won.  It is dark and haunting and violent and quite graphic at times, but it is an amazing story.  The writing is lyrical and the story is intriguing.  I enjoyed learning more about Haiti through this book.

This one is just so intriguing.  It is part mystery, part science fiction, and completely compelling.  I read this in one sitting and can't wait to read the next one.

This book was surprising in that the author came up with a whole new idea of dragons.  I love the world in this book and really loved Seraphina as a character.  I cannot imagine keeping such a big secret and it was interesting to see how things changed throughout the book.

The story in this book is such an important story for people to learn about.  The problem of homelessness in our nation and for young people is horrible and this book deals with a sensitive issue well.  The mystery in the book is suspenseful and the language is beautiful.  I loved the way that the book was a celebration of books and language...especially Langston Hughes' work.

This book really made me think.  It is disturbing to imagine a world in which abortion is outlawed, but people can choose to "unwind" their teenage children.  The story is very interesting and was another one that I had a hard time putting down.

Assassins and intrigue abound in this book.  I am really excited to read the second book in this series.

This was such a great love story and just a fun travel story.  It really kept me wondering what was going to happen and I am interested to find out what will happen in the next book.

I read this book on netgalley before it came out.  It has since been released and I highly recommend it.  I loved how it gave me a glimpse of the world of martial arts, but it was most intriguing in the story of the psychological effects of surviving a traumatic experience.

Monday, June 24, 2013

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? 6/24

It's Monday! What are you reading? --From Picture Books to YA--is a weekly meme hosted by Jen and Kellee at Teach Mentor Texts.  Head over to their blog for links to many great blogs and a plethora of good book suggestions.

It was so nice to really be able to read every day this week.  I traveled from Milwaukee to LA on Friday and had a ridiculous flight combination due to using points for my ticket.  Therefore, I had hours upon hours to read (and make up for the loss of sleep from a really early morning flight).  Yeah for summer #bookaday!  I am actually right on track with 10 books read and 10 days off so far.

Books I Finished This Week:

Darth Paper Strikes Back by Tom Angleberger is a funny and enjoyable book.  I like how the book continues in the same style as the first book.  I think that all of the situations that are represented in these books are very relatable for middle school students.  This series is not just for fans of Star Wars.  I would recommend this book to grades 4 and up.  

This is another funny book that middle school students will find to be realistic.  I really love the way these stories really show a quirky set of middle schoolers and their various problems.  I highly recommend the whole Origami Yoda series and will continue to encourage my students to read these books.  

At the library, earlier this week, I happened to come across this book. One of Those Hideous Books Where The Mom Dies by Sonya Sones is a great book. I knew it would be a quick read since it is a novel in verse.  I really enjoyed this story.  The author manages to take quite a serious story and make it feel light-hearted and uplifting.  I liked the way she gave a few surprise twists in the story.  I will be looking for this one to buy for my class library.  

I finished Notice and Note so that I would be able to participate in the last chat, but then I was unable to get to the chat.  I had some last minute things to do to prepare for my travels.  I love this book and will be including the teaching of signposts in my plans while working on redesigning my reading units this summer.  I will be very interested to see the book about nonfiction text as well.  This just makes so much sense and I am excited to apply my learning in the fall.  

Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn is a very dark psychological thriller, just as Gone Girl was.  I am not sure I really like her books because they are so dark.  The characters are kind of despicable and the world in her novels are so disturbing.  However, she is really good at crafting a clever mystery and surprising twists. I read this one because Flynn is one of the authors that will be at the literary seminar I will attend in January.  More about that in another post, but I will most likely read her other book sometime in the months before then.  

I don't even know what to say about Code Name Verity.  It is such a beautiful and haunting story.  I love the way the author chose to tell this story.  It takes a little extra concentration at first to follow the stream of consciousness type writing, but then the story takes over.  I didn't see many of the twists and turns coming and I love it when authors can surprise me like that.  This is a heartbreaking story about courage and friendship in an awful time.  I highly recommend this one to grades 8 and up (there are some graphic scenes).

Books I am currently reading:

I am still listening to Through the Ever Night and will probably finish it this week.  I have started a number of other books because of traveling and being here with my sister and the baby.  I only got about 10 pages into On Writing and I will want to get more of that read this week as we start Teachers Write.  I also read the first chapter of Quiet and already am having some a-ha moments.  I am reading The Dead Letter Office from netgalley and am enjoying the mystery.  I also started Scarlet and The Cutting Season.  I was feeling quite indecisive as you can see.  

What's Next:

Since I just started most of the books I am currently reading, I have not given any thought to what comes next.  I do have some digital library loans so I suppose those will be first and then I will see what I feel like reading.  

What are you reading?  Happy reading!

Monday, June 17, 2013

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? 6/17

It's Monday! What are you reading? --From Picture Books to YA--is a weekly meme hosted by Jen and Kellee at Teach Mentor Texts.  Head over to their blog for links to many great blogs and a plethora of good book suggestions.

The last few weeks of school seemed like such a whirlwind and time seemed to fly by.  I am so excited to be starting with my summer #bookaday challenge.  I will be attempting to read 80 books this summer, which is a few more than the number of days off I have.

Books I Finished This Week:

I LOVED Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe. The book is extremely well-written with lyrical language and amazing characters. Both Ari and Dante are very likable boys with very complex issues.  What I really loved about this book was the emphasis on family relationships.  The adults in the book all really worked to do what they felt was best for their children.  I liked it that the characters were complex and that the adults had made some really big mistakes but were willing to own up to them.  The difficulty that Ari has with understanding his father is so realistic and well-written.  I don't want to give any spoilers and won't, but I really kind of fell in love with Ari's parents at the end.  Please visit my longer review here.

The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom was so much fun to read.  I laughed out loud multiple times while reading the book.  I am a sucker for a good fractured fairy tale, so this book was right up my ally.  I highly recommend this one to anyone grades 4 and up who wants a good laugh and a fun adventure story.  

This year my school received some sets of books for literature circles from a grant.  We did not have any say in the titles that were ordered, but I love that I have a lot of wonderful titles to use now.  One of the novels in this set of books is Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury. So, when I saw this graphic adaptation on clearance at Half Price Books, I knew I had to snatch it up.  I enjoyed the story, but I am hoping that I will enjoy the novel more.  At least I will have another version for students who might need help with visualization while reading this one.  

Many of the books in the Pretty Little Liars series were also in the clearance section last weekend at Half Price Books.  I love this television series and really was interested in reading the books.  When I read the first one, I was kind of disappointed because I already knew everything that was going to happen from watching the show.  This second book was a bit better because there were some things that were different and it made me more interested in the outcome.  I enjoyed the book and would recommend it to fans of the tv show and Gossip Girls.  I know students will love these books and I am glad I got them.  

More of this book was different from the tv show.  I am starting to like the novels more because I am more interested in the mystery and am not sure about what will happen next in the books.  

Books I am Currently Reading:

I started Code Name Verity today.  So far, I am intrigued by the story.  I am also trying to catch up with reading Notice and Note so that I can participate in this week's chat.  I missed last week because I was so busy with closing my classroom and end of year records that I did not have a chance to read section 2.  

What's Next:

I have Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn and a few other library books that I will probably get to.  I also will start On Writing by Stephen King in preparation for Teachers Write.  I will see where the week leads me after that.  
My first world problem this week will be packing for a month in California at my sister's house.  I have been seriously contemplating shipping myself a box of some of the books in my TBR pile and then shipping them back at the end of July.  I will figure that out this week as well.  

What are you reading?  Happy Reading!

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Review: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

This review is a part of my #NerdPrintz challenge.

Title: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe
Author: Benjamin Alire Saenz

Publication: February 21, 2012
Source: Library book

Goodreads Summary: 

Aristotle is an angry teen with a brother in prison. Dante is a know-it-all who has an unusual way of looking at the world. When the two meet at the swimming pool, they seem to have nothing in common. But as the loners start spending time together, they discover that they share a special friendship—the kind that changes lives and lasts a lifetime. And it is through this friendship that Ari and Dante will learn the most important truths about themselves and the kind of people they want to be.

My Thoughts: 

This is a beautifully written book that explores so many deep issues.  I was transfixed by the language and found myself slowing down to really appreciate the lyrical quality of the writing.  I also found myself falling in love with all of the characters.  Dante and Ari are both amazing boys with amazing parents.  The love that is shared in these families is beautiful to see.  This book deals with complex issues and many of the characters are dealing with past traumas and moving through their suffering.    The backstories of the characters really made the characters dynamic and complicated people, which made the story that much more realistic.  This book is one that stayed with me long after I finished reading it.  These characters are living in my mind and will be in residence there for some time to come.  This book was absolutely deserving of all of the awards bestowed upon it.  

Here are two of my favorite passages from the novel:
"SUMMER WAS HERE AGAIN. SUMMER, SUMMER, SUMMER.  I loved and hated summers. Summers had a logic all their own and they always brought something out in me.  Summer was supposed to be about freedom and youth and no school and possibilities and adventure and exploration.  Summer was a book of hope.  That's why I loved and hated summers.  Because they made me want to believe."

"My dad picked me up and rocked me in the chair.  I felt small and weak and I wanted to hold him back but I couldn't because there wasn't any strength in my arms, and I wanted to ask him if he had held me like this when I was a boy because I didn't remember and why I didn't remember.  I started to think that maybe I was still dreaming, but my mother was changing the sheets on my bed so I knew that everything was real.  Except me."

This book is all about discovering your own identity and accepting yourself for who you are.  I highly recommend it to teens and adults.  

5 out of 5 stars

Review: In Darkness

This review is part of my #NerdPrintz challenge.

Title: In Darkness
Author: Nick Lake

Published: January 5th, 2012
Source: Library book

My summary:  The book starts out with Shorty, a Haitian boy, trapped under a pile of rubble after the hospital he was in collapsed in the big earthquake.  Shorty begins to think over the recent events in his life that led to him being here.  He lived in a slum run by two rival gangs and, like many young boys in those conditions, he became involved with the gang activity.  The author provides us with a gritty and sometimes very graphic picture of life in a slum.  As Shorty thinks back over his past, he starts to become aware of another presence and begins seeing things from a distant past.  The reader starts to hear the story of Touissant l'Overture, a leader of a slave rebellion in Haiti's past.  The story weaves in and out of each man's story and the reader gets a realistic picture of life in modern Haiti as well as a glimpse at Haiti's tumultuous past.

My Thoughts:  When I first started reading this book, I really had no idea what it was about.  I found myself drawn in from the very beginning as I imagined what it would be like to be trapped as Shorty is.   Then, as I continued to read, I quickly realized that this book was going to be one to savor and one that would teach me a lot about Haiti.  I had to look up the author to understand how he could know these things.  I found the author's page and felt much more sure that the portrayal of life in Haiti was accurate.  Visit the website about the book here for more information.  I was absolutely astonished by the beauty of the language in this book.  This author was able to describe scenes in such detail that I was able to perfectly imagine these scenarios even though I have never been in situations even remotely similar.  I also enjoyed the magical elements in the story.  The way in which the stories of these two characters were connected was brilliant.

You can get a taste of the writing in the very first passage of the book:

"I am the voice in the dark, calling out for your help.  I am the quiet voice that you hope will not turn to silence, the voice you want to keep hearing cos it means someone is still alive.  I am the voice calling for you to come and dig me out. I am the voice in the dark, asking you to unbury me, to bring me from the grave out into the light, like a zombi.
   I am a killer and I have been killed, too, over and over; I am constantly being born.  I have lost more things than I have found; I have destroyed more things than I have built. I have seen babies abandoned in the trash and I have seen the dead come back to life. 
    I first shot a man when I was twelve years old. 
   I have no name.  There are no names in the darkness cos there is no one else, only me, and I already know who I am (I am the voice in the dark, calling out for your help), and I have no questions for myself and no need to call upon myself for anything, except to remember."  

Take a look at what the author has to say about the book here:

I would highly recommend this book to adults and teenagers.  I would say that this one is grade 8 and up because some of the scenes are quite graphic and there is language and violence in the book.  I think it is a book that all teens should read.

5 out of 5 Stars

Monday, June 10, 2013

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? 6/10

It's Monday! What are you reading? --From Picture Books to YA--is a weekly meme hosted by Jen and Kellee at Teach Mentor Texts.  Head over to their blog for links to many great blogs and a plethora of good book suggestions.

I cannot believe that we have arrived at the end of the school year already!  I am so excited for summer #bookaday and Teachers Write this summer.  I loved my experience in Teachers Write last summer and am really looking forward to participating more this summer.

This was another slow reading week with preparations for the 8th grade completion ceremony and picnic, along with the last days of student work to plan for.  The weekend was full of errands and shopping and finalizing the slide show so there was not much time for reading left.

Books I Finished Last Week:

I finally finished listening to Days of Blood and Starlight this week! Oh my, I am going to be absolutely on pins and needles until the next one comes out.  The prose in these books is so achingly beautiful.  I love the imagination of Laini Taylor.  There are so many things happening in these books and this world is a place both terrifying and fascinating.  I love Karou and Akiva and cannot wait to spend more time with them in the next book.

I enjoyed Rot and Ruin, but it took me awhile to get hooked.  I think I was just on zombie overload because my husband and I had just watched a bunch of episodes of The Walking Dead to catch up with last season.  I like how the protagonist really grows up and starts to be much more intelligent about what is really going on in his world.  This is a smart story about what it might really be like to be living in the world after zombies have taken over.  I will definitely recommend this one to my 8th grade students next year...especially the fans of The Walking Dead.  I would be careful recommending it to students any younger than this because of the violence involved.

Books I am Currently Reading:

I started reading The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom this week.  I am loving the humor so far.  I also started Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe this week.  I am also enjoying this one.

What's Next?

I will play it by ear this week.  My last work day is Thursday so I will probably take some time next weekend to do a reading marathon.  I found the entire Pretty Little Liars series on clearance at Half Price Books today so I might start with some of those because I know they will be quick.  I am also looking forward to starting Code Name Verity.  I saved it for summer because I knew I might need to give it more focused attention in the beginning.  I also want to take time to read some books in Spanish this summer.  I have been so focused on reading a lot that I have been neglecting that.  It is always good practice for me to spend some time thinking in Spanish.

Monday, June 3, 2013

It's Monday! What are you reading? 6/3

It's Monday! What are you reading? --From Picture Books to YA--is a weekly meme hosted by Jen and Kellee at Teach Mentor Texts.  Head over to their blog for links to many great blogs and a plethora of good book suggestions.

Books I finished this week:

I completely understand why In Darkness by Nick Lake won the Printz award this year.  This book was so beautiful and complex and made me think hard.  I loved the way the story weaved back and forth between a historical account of the fight for independence and a story of today's slums and living conditions in Haiti.  The fact that all of the story was being told through the thoughts of a young man trapped by rubble from the big earthquake made the story that much more powerful and poignant.  I will be reviewing this one soon in a more extended format as part of my #Nerdprintz challenge.  

I got The Reluctant Assassin (W.A.R.P. #1) from Netgalley after reading about it on another Monday post.  I absolutely love the Artemis Fowl series and have enjoyed all other books by Eoin Colfer in the past.  When I heard he was writing a new series, I knew I needed to read it.  This was an entertaining and quick read.  I loved the science fiction story and I know that students will love the adventure and thriller feel to the book.  I can certainly see why some teachers would feel that there was too much violence in this book...tread lightly with middle grade students.  However, I think that my middle school students would love this fun story and I do not think the content would be inappropriate for grades 6 and up.  

Books I am Currently Reading:

I am still reading Rot and Ruin. I am finding the story entertaining, but for some reason I keep picking up other books.  I am not sure what it is that is making me feel reluctant to read this one.  Perhaps I feel too full of zombie stories right now.  

I am listening to Days of Blood and Starlight and will finish it this week.  There is about an hour left on the audiobook.  

What's Next?

I still have Aristotle and Dante from the library.  I don't really know what else I will pick up this week.  Now that I am done with report cards, I should have more time to read.  The craziness of the end of the school year is still overwhelming and I will probably continue to be slow at finishing books.  I cannot wait for bookaday to start in two weeks.