Hi, I'm Mrs. F-B!

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Reviews of elementary award winners from 2014

Mr. Wuffles by David Weisner (Caldecott honor)
Notes: "Mr. Wuffles ignores all his cat toys but one, which turns out to be a spaceship piloted by small green aliens. When Mr. Wuffles plays rough with the little ship, the aliens must venture into the cat's territory to make emergency repairs"--Provided by publisher.
Do not be fooled by the adorable cat on the front cover! This is not your average cute cat book.  It's filled with spaceships, aliens and insects. This book's unusually paired characters and the spare text (some of which is in alien language, not English) will appeal to the vivid imaginations of storytellers, paticularly reluctant boys.

A Splash of Red: the Life and Art of Horace Pippin by Jennifer Bryant (Sibert honor, Schneider Family award)
Notes: Jen Bryant and Melissa Sweet team up once again to share this inspiring story of a self-taught painter from humble beginnings who despite many obstacles, was ultimately able to do what he loved, and be recognized for who he was: an artist.
An excellent beginner biography of a painter I'd never heard of before, a man who overcame significant obstacles and re-taught himself to paint in a whole new way after being wounded in WWI.  Lovers of art and children with obstacles to overcome in their own lives will find a friend in Horace Pippin.

Niño Wrestles the World by Yuyi Morales (Pura Belpré illustrator award)
Notes: "A Neal Porter Book"--Title page. Lucha Libre champion Nino has no trouble fending off monstrous opponents, but when his little sisters awaken from their naps, he is in for a no-holds-barred wrestling match that will truly test his skills.
An adorable little boy and his twin sisters, excellent word choice, and cultural endnotes combine to make this a book many children will love and learn from.

Parrots Over Puerto Rico by Susan Roth (Sibert award)
Notes: Includes bibliographical references. "A combined history of the Puerto Rican parrot and the island of Puerto Rico, highlighting current efforts to save the Puerto Rican parrot by protecting and managing this endangered species"
Interesting historical information about the Puerto Rican people and fascinating scientific information about the conservation efforts to save the nearly extinct parrots alone would make for a top-notch book, but paired as they are with gorgeous mixed-media collage, this book is truly top notch.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Spring break TBR list!

Even with a week off in my sights - spring break starts today - I'm stressing out. Which books will I read on our trip?  I'll have some time sitting by the pool in sunny Arizona, and I plan to get a mountain of reading done, but choosing the right books is tricky.  It's easier now than it used to be because I can load several on my e-reader and not have a suitcase that weighs 200 pounds.  My husband is happy about that! But still, I like to have a game plan.

Room by Emma Donoghue is on hold for me at the library, and since I need it for my grown up book club, I'm hoping it becomes available before I leave.  Actually, it's an e-book on hold, so I could download it while I'm gone if needed.  That's a handy thing about electronic holds!

I also have the new Sue Monk Kidd novel - The Invention of Wings - to read, and that's pretty high on my list. I've heard it's amazing.

Fat Boy vs. The Cheerleaders by Geoff Herbach s coming out in May, and I have an advance copy of it.  He's one of my favorite authors, so I'l probably give that one a try.

I have Sarah Mlynowski's newest book, Don't Even Think About It which I think would be a good vacation book, and The Best Seat in Baseball, But You Have to Stand which is about baseball umpiring, and what could be more appropriate than that to read at spring training? Go Cubs, Go!

What's on your spring break reading list? Leave me a note in the comments.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Great things are happening in our school district libraries!

This last week was exciting for two of my school district's middle school libraries.

On Saturday, the Oregon Battle of the Books team from Clear Creek Middle School won their regional competition and will head to state on April 12th!  And then on Sunday the video students at Dexter McCarty Middle School submitted  to the Teen Video Challenge won and will now be available for all the states in the summer reading consortium to use for summer reading promotions!  You can see that video below.

Well done, everyone!!!

4 Seuss Geisel award winners from 2014

Penny and Her Marble by Kevin Henkes (Seuss Geisel honor) Notes: Penny feels guilty after taking a beautiful blue marble that she sees in Mrs. Goodwin's grass, but gets a pleasant surprise when she goes to return it the next day.
This book is a little longer than most of the other beginning readers or at least has more text than the others (perhaps not more pages).  There's nice repetition of words and simple sentences, allowing young readers to build confidence.

A Big Guy Took My Ball by Mo Willems (Seuss Geisel honor) Notes: Piggie is upset because a whale took the ball she found, but Gerald finds a solution that pleases all of them.
Mo Willems' ability to put expressions on the faces of his very simple characters is pretty amazing.  Repetitive word choice that's good for beginning readers. Funny story, as always, and good lessons.

Ball by Mary Sullivan (Seuss Geisel honor)
Notes: While searching for someone to play ball with him, a dog dreams of fantastical adventures he could have with his ball.
Amusing cartoon panel pictures and the one word text will appeal to visual learners and their creative imaginations.  This would be a great book to use with writers - beginning to middle grade -  who could create stories from the panels.

The Watermelon Seed by Greg Pizzoli (Seuss Geisel winner)
Notes: After swallowing a watermelon seed, a crocodile imagines a scary outcome.
Haven't all kids worried about swallowing a watermelon seed? Well crocodiles are apparently no different.  Kids will love the bright illustrations and funny story.

Some recent YA reads

Recently, I've read several YA books that were on lists of best books of 2013. Two of them really wowed (is that a word?) me!

Just One Day by Gayle Forman Notes: "Sparks fly when American good girl Allyson encounters laid-back Dutch actor Willem, so she follows him on a whirlwind trip to Paris, upending her life in just one day and prompting a year of self-discovery and the search for true love."--Provided by publisher.

Strengths: The storyline was interesting and I wanted to know what would happen in the end.  The main character showed growth as a young adult over the course of the novel.  That said,
Weaknesses: The main character in this novel was really annoying over the course of most of this novel.  I really felt little sympathy for her, and I find it difficult to read books where I cannot sympathize with the main character.

Picture Me Gone by Meg Rosoff Notes: Twelve-year-old Mila travels with her father to upstate New York to visit friends and family, who may lead them to clues to the whereabouts of her father's best friend, who has gone missing.

Strengths: engaging and creepy storyline. I really wanted to know what happened.
Weaknesses: The fact that Rosoff used NO quotation marks throughout the entire book, a book chock FULL of dialogue nearly drove me over the edge.  Interestingly, I'd recently been to a workshop with Matt de la Peña, and we'd just been talking about how different authors use and introduce and tag dialogue.  This method, definitely my LEAST favorite method of all time.  I consider myself a pretty strong reader, and even I found it confusing sometimes.  I think students who are not strong readers would definitely struggle with this book due to the style, while they would have been fine if quotation marks are used.  I have no idea why she chose this method.

The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider Notes: "Star athlete and prom king Ezra Faulkner's life is irreparably transformed by a tragic accident and the arrival of eccentric new girl Cassidy Thorpe"
Strengths: Some serious nerds are actually very strong characters in this new author's writing.  There are some super smart characters in this novel, and I am a big fan of smart kids.  I also like Ezra's introspection.  The mystery about what really happened to cause Ezra's accident is nicely doled out in snippets throughout the story as is Cassidy's secret.
Weaknesses: I thought this novel was a particularly strong debut.

The Tragedy Paper by Elizabeth LaBan Notes: While preparing for the most dreaded assignment at the prestigious Irving School, the Tragedy Paper, Duncan gets wrapped up in the tragic tale of Tim Macbeth, a former student who had a clandestine relationship with the wrong girl, and his own ill-fated romance with Daisy.
Strengths: This was my favorite of these four novels. The mystery and suspense in this novel are masterful. I wanted to finish this novel as quickly as possible but also to savor it because it was so well done.  The two main characters are very well done, and I was really vested in what happened to each of them. As an English teacher, I love the idea of the culminating tragedy paper, and I appreciated the thoughtful discussion between adults and Duncan about the paper near the end of the story.  It was quite thoughtful.
Weaknesses: I actually didn't find Daisy, Duncan's love interest, to really be necessary to the plot, although I know readers who like romance will appreciate it.  This book is reviewed for grades 7 and up, but I don't think the storyline will have too much appeal for middle school students.

Monday, March 03, 2014

Happy Birthday, Dr. Seuss

Dr. Seuss would have been 110 this year. I spent my day running around in my Cat in the Hat costume reading to kids.  I love this job!

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The Fault in our Stars movie trailer!

The movie trailer is finally out and even these clips made me cry! See it for yourself HERE!! And get your kleenexes ready for June 6th.

Monday, January 13, 2014

When Audrey Met Alice, by Rebecca Behrens

From the Publisher: Living in the White House is like being permanently grounded. Only with tighter security. When First Daughter Audrey Rose discovers Alice Roosevelt's hidden diary, the White House will never be the same. Because Audrey stops being the perfect "First Daughter" and starts asking herself, What Would Alice Do?

Strengths: Similar to the way many girls want to be princesses, many people think being a kid in the White House would be fun.  I mean, they have their own bowling alley!! This story presents both the good and not as good things about living in the White House.  I really enjoyed the tie-back to history, especially because Alice Roosevelt, whose supposed diary Audrey has found, was a delightful whippersnapper whose character I love.  Strong voice from both first daughters. This story was plain fun to read. Great endnotes by author.

I'm excited to have such a strong debut by this author - it bodes well for the future!

Weaknesses: Although I find it charming, I do not think the cover will be very appealing to kids and will make it a harder sell.  I hope I am wrong.

This book is perfect for grades 5-8.

This book would pair well with  the picture book What To Do About Alice?: How Alice Roosevelt Broke the Rules, Charmed the World, and Drove Her Father Teddy Crazy... by Barbara Kerley and Edwin Fotheringham 

Publication date: Feb. 4. I read an e-galley of this book from NetGalley.

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

The Boy Who Loved Math: The Improbable Life of Paul Erdos. By Deborah Heiligman. Illus. by LeUyen Pham

I am not a girl who loves math.  I love reading. I like Math.  Paul Erdos, however, was  a boy who looooooved math. This book made me love him and love math just a little bit more.

Notes: Presents a brief biography of mathematician Paul Erdos.

From the Publisher: Most people think of mathematicians as solitary, working away in isolation. And, it's true, many of them do. But Paul Erdos never followed the usual path. At the age of four, he could ask you when you were born and then calculate the number of seconds you had been alive in his head. But he didn't learn to butter his own bread until he turned twenty. Instead, he traveled around the world, from one mathematician to the next, collaborating on an astonishing number of publications. With a simple, lyrical text and richly layered illustrations, this is a beautiful introduction to the world of math and a fascinating look at the unique character traits that made "Uncle Paul" a great man.

Strengths: I loved how the editor and illustrator incorporated all kinds of math in the artwork of the book, including in the text.  For example, when it says Paul loved his mama to infinity, they use the infinity symbol instead of the letter. I was pleased that the author didn't try and make Paul Erdos, who was clearly eccentric and had less than stellar social skills, out to be a fabulous guy.  She wrote about his fabulousness and his foibles. Excellent end notes. A good entry level biography.

Weaknesses: This book will require some guidance for all but the most mathematically gifted young readers, and even some adults will struggle with some of the math concepts. Some reviewers have commented on font size.  This isn't something I think a lot about, so I will have to pay better attention to that. I actually see this as more appropriate for older elementary readers, although the target age is 3 and up. Unlikely to be read by those for whom it is most appropriate without someone hand selling it.