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Results 26 - 50 of 77,178
26. Compass South by Hope Larson, illustrations by Rebecca Mock, 224 pp, RL 4



Compass South is the fantastic first adventure in the Four Points series of graphic novels written by Hope Larson and illustrated by Rebecca Mock. As I finished reading this book, I felt like I had read a complete novel, there are so many details, world building and character diveristy in this book. In fact, I was reminded of S.E. Grove's trilogy that begins with The Glass Sentence, although Larson's book is set firmly - so far - in real, not an alternative, historical landscape. Mock's illustrations, which are filled with warm earth tones, packed with movement and energy. At times, I had to remind myself of which twin was which, but, in all fairness, this is a story with two sets of redheaded twins!


Set in 1860, Compass South begins with a prologue that explains how and why twins Alexander and Cleopatra Dodge made it from Ireland to New York City with two very special items - a compass and a pocket knife. Twelve years later, the only father they have ever known (but not their birth father) has disappeared and the twins have joined the Black Hook gang, stealing to survive. When Alexander gets caught, he and Cleopatra make a deal that sends them to New Orleans with Luther, a higher up in the Black Hook gang, close on their trail. Luther has been recruited by Felix Worley, also known as Lucky Worley, captain of the black ship, El Caleuche, to find the twins and relieve them of their heirlooms. 
These threads alone are enough to keep Compass South moving at a fast pace, but Larson weaves in a few more threads that make the story even richer. Before boarding the train to New Orleans, Alexander sees an add offering a reward for the return of redheaded twins to their father, who went West to find his fortune five years earlier. Alex convinces Cleo to cut her hair so they can pose as Samuel and Jeremiah Kimball and make their way to San Francisco to collect the reward and find their father. Of course things don't go as planned, starting with a run in with red headed twin boys that lands Alex and Edwin back in jail and Cleo and Silas without a plan.

While it's a challenge at times to remember which twin is which, especially after Cleo cuts her hair, the hot head Alex is paired with Silas, who has a mysterious ailment that leaves him weak, while thoughtful Cleo ends up with Edwin, who shares Alex's temperament. I will tell you that the twin pairs both end up on ships, but what happens to them, where they end up and what Luther and Worley want with them, well, you'll just have to read to find out!

Source: Purchased


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27. Review of the Day: Kid Beowulf by Alexis Fajardo

KidBeowulfKid Beowulf: The Blood-Bound Oath
By Alexis E. Fajardo
Color by Jose Mari Flores
Prologue Color by Brian Kolm
Amp Comics for Kids (an imprint of Andrews McMeel Publishing)
$10.99
ISBN: 978-1-4494-7589-5
Ages 9-12
On shelves now.

This is a true story. I started college in 1996. Earlham College. Richmond, Indiana. Nice place. Little Quaker school (“Fight! Fight! Inner light! Kill, Quakers, Kill,” ← our sports chant). Little colleges have little cute traditions. Mine was keen on complicated pranks. One day I go down to the cafeteria for a bowl of Cheerios and lo and behold there, on the ceiling, is this epic mural of two cartoon characters touching fingers ala Michelangelo’s Adam and God in The Sistine Chapel. The characters in question were from a weekly comic in the school newspaper penned by one Alexis Fajardo. From that time onward I would Alexis Fajardo. And I followed his career. He kept up the comic strip (called “Plato’s Republic”) for a while and then started in on this Kid Beowulf graphic novel series. I didn’t get any chance to read them but they had a fun premise and the art really popped. Now, after all these many years, Amp Comics has picked up the series and given it a proper running start. In the grand tradition of Bone, Amulet, and countless other epic quest graphic novels, Fajardo gives us heroes to root for, villains to loathe, and complex characterizations around every turn. He’s come a long way from painting ceilings.

We start with the original epic poem of Beowulf. The original tale of man vs. monster is recounted but, the book assures us, “as men have told it – as I said, they twist the truth. Too blind to know the proper tale of a king’s run-rampant youth . . .” Now we are in the land of the Danes where a headstrong prince threatens a tenuous peace. Hrothgar cannot stand those Heathobards that he feels infringe on his homelands. When he encounters a dragon of great power he makes a deadly pact. Upon his return he begins a reign of destruction and ignorance, eventually fathering his own monstrous daughter. Named Gertrude, she is raised by the same dragon with whom Hrothgar made a pact. All this so that, in time, she will give birth to her own twins. One looks like her and is named Grendel. The other, a fully human boy, named Beowulf. And when they lose and find one another again, that’s when the story truly begins.

KidBeowulf3One thing I didn’t really expect when I picked the book up was to encounter Fajardo’s inclination to tell his tale in his own time. By all rights, all this book is really doing from the start is setting the stage for future tales to come. Yet though it’s named “Kid Beowulf”, the titular hero and his twin brother don’t even make an appearance until page 120, and even then they’re just babies. The reader’s patience is rewarded if that reader chooses to stick with the storyline, but it means that the best kids for this book won’t be the ones who like simplified narratives of action and adventure on every other panel. No, these books are going to be for those kids who like to sink deep into a world, dwell there for a time, scope out the situations, and understand the motivations. If you’ve a new graphic novel reader on your hands, I wouldn’t start them off with Kid Beowulf. This book is better suited for those kids out there with a little comic-reading experience under their belts.

In a lot of ways, the book series reminds me of the old Asterix and Obelix comics. It’s not an entirely fair comparison since the tone of the two comics is completely different. Yet both spend an inordinate amount of time in an ancient world. Fajardo himself acknowledges this with the creation of two characters that intentionally have many of Asterix & Obelix’s personality quirks. Still and all, the book was far more complicated than I expected. Kids love that stuff, by the way. They love it when an author has the guts to tell a story without feeling obligated to explain everything constantly. And Fajardo doesn’t water down the complexity. You’re either on board with the storytelling from the start or you’re not. The politics of the region is what the plot hinges on continually, so you need to read this with an open mind towards the Geats, Danes, Heathobards, and others. People also come and go, betray one another, and reappear after years and years. To keep track of it all there is a Character Glossary but unfortunately it’s located in the back of the book where it might easily go missed for some time. If you’re handing this book to a kid, I recommend that you point that little element out to them first thing. They’ll thank you for it later.

After sitting down and thinking long and hard about it, I came to the shocking realization that Fajardo likes three-dimensional characters. That shouldn’t be all that shocking, actually. Lots of authors do. But consider the format here. We’re dealing with an epic quest graphic novel series. I mentioned Bone and Amulet earlier and if there’s one thing those stories have in common it’s bad guys that sulk about without so much as a sympathetic hair on their heads. Kid Beowulf is different. There are plenty of guys (and gals, sorta) working for their own selfish interests, but that also are capable of learning and growing. Hrothgar is probably the most flawed fella in the book, but even he does a slow 180-degree turnaround over the decades. And sympathetic characters like Gertrude also have their greedy moments for which they’ll have to pay the price later. It’s so interesting that you could even get this kind of shading in a book based, as it is, on a good vs. bad epic poem like Beowulf. That’s the irony at work.

KidBeowulf2Considering the time period, the role of women in this book is worthy of examination. Fajardo has sort of a single style when it comes to human women (human girls don’t seem to exist) which is a heavy-lidded femme fatale look, regardless of their positions or names. The one exception to this rule is, of course, Gertrude, and in her monster form she gets to have all the freedom of any of the boys around her. She fights. She gets more than just a couple pages here and there. The book doesn’t even come close to passing the Bechdel Test, and Gertrude’s methods of finding a mate are disappointingly stereotypical, but for the most part she’s a strong female character worthy of examination. There is, however, room for improvement and I sincerely hope future installments will contain at least one other woman who does more than think only of the men in her life.

Sit down for five minutes in any public school in America today and don’t be surprised if you hear the words “Common Core State Standards” waft by at some point. These standards aren’t going anywhere anytime soon, and with their focus on nonfiction and folktales, it just makes good clean sense for any author of a fictional work to find some kind of curricular tie-in. Fajardo does just that. In fact, he goes a little bit crazy with it. I could understand the World Map at the start and the finish as well as in color in the backmatter. And the second map, the one of Daneland circa 450 A.D., that was a nice touch. But about the time I noticed the glossary of terms, character glossary, and family tree, to say nothing of the section about the original epic poem itself, Fun Fact section, and Bibliography of recommended sources (which, for the record, is a beautiful collection) I was floored. Add in a large section on how Fajardo draws his characters, inks and colors them, and more and . . . well, you’d be forgiven for feeling that this more akin to a full college course on Beowulf and graphic novels than a single collected comic.

KidBeowulf1I haven’t mentioned the art itself, of course, which is poor form when reviewing a graphic novel. Fajardo employs two different styles in this book. The first part, during the retelling of the original Beowulf epic poem, is done in a more realistic, cinematic style. Even the colorist is different from the colorist in the rest of the book. Then the book becomes far cartoonier. Tiny too, considering how many panels Fajardo is able to pack into a single page. For some, the seriousness of the content (the fate of Yrs, for example) doesn’t match the style. For others, it will seem a natural complement. For my part I did find the cartoonishness a surprise, considering the actions of the characters, but as the story continued I got used to it. Kids, I suspect, will feel the same way.

There is a school of thought that says that if you let a kid read whatever they want, they’ll work their way around to the classics in time. I read a ton of really truly terrible Harvey comics as a kid. Later I would delve into works like Les Miserables and Middlemarch for fun. Is there a connection? Nobody knows! A lot of parents fear that their kids will gorge themselves on comics, making them wholly and entirely unable to digest literature without pictures. To them, I hand Kid Beowulf. I truly do believe that a comic done correctly, done with panache and interest and a unique style of its own, will garner fans that will seek out other material on the same topic. Not every kid who reads Fajardo’s book is going to take a crack at a little Old English on their own. They may, however, dive into some of those books Mr. Fajardo so helpfully included in his Bibliography. Or they might learn a bit about the poem’s origins. Or they might want to make their own comics about ancient texts. Whatever the case, you can look at this book either as a springboard for bigger better things, or just a good rip-roaring tale that can stand on its own two feet. Whatever your justification, Fajardo has the goods. That painting he made on the ceiling years ago seemed impossible. This series? Attainable. Now go attain it.

On shelves now.

Source: Final copy sent from publisher for review.

Like This? Then Try:

Professional Reviews: A star from Kirkus

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28. Starting School: 10 favorite picture books (ages 3-6)

Starting school is a big deal in a little person's life. I love sharing these ten picture books with kids throughout the fall. In part, it's creating a shared experience--letting kids know they aren't the only ones going through these experiences. It's also a time to notice all the changes and talk about what's happening.

10 picture books for the beginning of school
Preschoolers will particularly like the energetic, sweet rhyming in Susan Katz's ABC, School's for Me and the fun song that goes along with Pete the Cat.

Kids new to kindergarten will be reassured that they'll quickly get used to kindergarten, just like monkey in Monkey: Not Ready for Kindergarten. Other new kindergarteners will love the out-of-this-world energy of Planet Kindergarten. My teenagers still smile at the classic ABC story of Miss Bindergarten Gets Ready for Kindergarten.

If your little one is anxious, they might like the upbeat reassurance in Little Lola, or they might like the way Hyewon Yum turns the tables in Mom, It's My First Day of Kindergarten! showing how nervous parents are, even if the kids have everything under control.

Do you have any favorite books to share as your kids start the school year? I love adding to my collection!

The review copies were kindly sent by the publishers, Macmillan, Harper Collins, Chronicle, Penguin, Random House, Simon & Schuster and Boyds Mills. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2016 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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29. On Your Mark, Get Set...Read



Another Summer Reading Club has come to a close.  So many programs were held and attended and so many books were read!  Way to go Syosset kids!


 We'll see you next year for Build a Better World.


Posted by Amy









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30. Blog Tour: My Thoughts: The Secret Sea by Barry Lyga


4 yummy frosted maple cookies.

Cover Love:
I really like this cover, I think it would make kids want to pick up this book.

Why I Wanted to Read this:
I really like a good alternate universe book and the synopsis of this one seemed right up my alley.  Here it is from GoodReads:

Twelve-year-old Zak Killian is hearing a voice. Could it be a guardian angel? A ghost? No, that's crazy. But sometimes the voice is so real. . . . It warns him of danger.

One day Zak is standing on the subway platform when the tunnel starts to fill with water. He sees it before anyone else. The voice warns him to run. His friends Moira and Khalid believe this is more than a premonition, and soon all three find themselves in an alternate universe that is both familiar and seriously strange. As Zak unravels the mystery behind the voice, he faces decisions that may mean the end of their world at home--if they can even get home!

My Thoughts:
Overall this was a great read.  There were a few things in the beginning that made it a little hard fro me to get into but once I was over that hump, the book flew.

One of the things that bothered me a ton were Zak's parents.  They were so frustrating.  They were convinced that Zak was doing "bad" things so rather than talk with him, they ground him.  Then they get him a psychiatrist, but are more into blaming each other for his behavior than really getting him help. It was very hard to get over this because every scene with them made me want to throw the book!

After a pretty slow start a little twist happens that caught my interest.  Once that came about, I was much more into the book.  Once they got to the alternate universe, I was very into the book.  The author set up a great world with the alternate universe.  There are a lot of similarities between our world and the one that Zak and his friends get to, but enough differences that cause them to be very lost and confused.  The rules of the new world and society are very different than ours and they don't have a lot of time to learn them.  The author did a great job of conveying their confusion and fear.  This new universe is very technologically advanced to us and open to a lot of new ideas, but they are also very backwards in some issues.  I was glad that Khalid was able to find an ally once they got to the alternative universe and thankfully it was one willing to believe and help out.  Giving them a guide was very important.

From the start of their time in the alternate universe I felt something was off in the story Zak was being told.  I'm not sure if this was because I'm an adult and I consume a lot of content, so I'm pretty quick to develop theories, or if it was easy to deduce.  I would like to chat with someone from the target audience after they read it to see if they jumped to the same conclusion that I did.

There is a lot of action and I guess what I would call "speculative science" in the alternate universe.  None of it was over my head and the story moved along very quickly.

To Sum Up:  I think this is going to be a big hit with middle school readers.  I will be buying a copy for my library and book talking it this fall.  I already have my first reader for this story picked out and I know he will love it.

Macmillan is giving away a finished copy of The Secret Sea to one of my readers.  US only, winner will be announced on August 29.  Loading... Read the rest of this post

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31. REX by Simon James



Simon James has long been a favorite in my house, although rarely reviewed here. In my review of his book Nurse Clementine back in 2013, I talked about how much we loved and still love (I read it in the library to my students) Dear Mr. Blueberry and shared more of his work in that review, which I hope you'll check out. What James does best, time after time, is pair sweet with silly, creating poignant and playful picture books that truly hold up with time.


With Rex, James takes on dinosaurs and daddies with charmingly cartoonish, colorful illustrations filled with sharp teeth and erupting volcanoes. Rex starts off, "Once upon about 65 million years ago, there lived a terrifying tyrannosaurus." Fierce as this guy is (he scared "every saurus he saw!") he stomps off each night looking for a cave to sleep in and no one dares wake him. But one night, something does wake him. 


Little Rex imprints on the big dinosaur and even calls him Dad. As the big dinosaur tries to get away from Little Rex, James packs in all the big name dinosaurs and even one I've never heard of - the trigonosaurus. Their first day together ends with Little Rex curled up on the big dinosaur's belly, settling in for the night. The next day the learning and bonding begins, including "relaxing by a warm river of molten lava." Despite this, the big dinosaur makes sure that Little Rex knows he's not really his dad, he just found him in a cave, setting up a sweet, although not surprising, ending for Rex.


More books by Simon James:







Source: Review Copy

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32. Zap! Nikola Tesla Takes Charge

Zap! Nikola Tesla Takes Charge  by Monica Kulling illustrated by Bill Slavin Tundra Books, 2016 Grades K-6 The reviewer received a copy of the book from the publisher. Nikola Tesla is the latest subject in Monica Kulling's Great Idea Series featuring innovators and inventors. The story of Nikola Tesla is sure to intrigue readers. The picture book biography begins with Tesla departing from a

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33. Bison Lesson Plans

Zoo animals like lions and tigers may be exciting, but we have a native animal that’s just as big and exciting: the bison. A study of bison can liven up a study on Native Americans, pioneers, or the Great Plains. They’re also a fun animal study subject.

FreshPlans visited some bison at the National Wildlife Research Center in Ft. Collins, Colorado. Can you see the bison in the picture below? He doesn’t look very big, right? Up close, these are very big animals. They came up pretty close to get a good look at us, so we got a good look at them, too.
bison-visit2

We saw bison standing around, eating grass, standing around, rolling in the dirt, and standing around. This is pretty much what we do, our guide explained. “They can run, and if they do, you want to get out of the way,” he told us. But they don’t go scampering around for fun.

 

bison-visit

These bison are part of a joint USDA and Colorado State University project to bring healthy bison back to Colorado. A disease called brucellosis has become a problem in the herds of buffalo in Yellowstone Park. The project is using new technology to breed healthy bison who are descendants of the Yellowstone Park herds, without the dangerous disease.

When we teach about animals, we like to focus on four things:

  • Morphology: the physical characteristics of animals, including body parts and adaptations.
  • Life cycles: how animals are born, live, and reproduce.
  • Habitats: the places where animals live.
  • Relationships with humans: how humans affect the animals and how they affect us.

Even though we got a good look at the bison, we couldn’t touch them. We were curious about their unusual shape. So we went to the Discovery Museum in Ft. Collins to look at the skeleton of a bison. We saw that the big humps on their backs had bones inside. It reminded us of a stegoasaurus.

bison-skeleton

We got a good look at the skull of the bison, which seemed to be wearing a happy grin. Check out an interactive lesson on the bison’s digestive system to get an idea what’s inside a living bison.

bison-skull

We learned that bison are mammals and ruminants, like cows. They have live babies, which grow up and have babies of their own, just as people do.

IMG_3041

The museum has a taxidermy bison, which looked a lot like the live bison we saw — although it was a lot cleaner and neater. We got to feel bison fun, and we were surprised to find that it was very soft.

This bison is shown in a place made to look like its natural habitat: the prairie. The bison we visited at the USDA Wildlife Research Center live on the prairie, but they don’t get to roam like the buffalo in the song.

While some people eat bison meat today, we learned that most “buffalo meat” you can buy in a restaurant or a grocery comes from animals which have both bison and domestic cow heritage. We found bison wool yarn in Ft. Collins, but once again it included both bison wool and wool from sheep. Bison’s relationship with people today is less about human beings using bison for practical purposes and more about humans trying to care for the bison and make sure our grandchildren can still see this majestic animal on our prairies when they grow up.

Native Americans living on the plains and prairies, however, relied heavily on bison. Let younger students try out this interactive lesson on the relationship between Native Americans and bison. Older students will enjoy this more complex interactive web page from the Smithsonian.

Here are some more resources for teaching about bison:

  • Check out the Smithsonian’s Interactive Bison Exhibit for a little mouse practice and reading. Set it up as a station at your classroom computer and let students whet their appetite for learning about bison with a lot of intriguing facts.
  • Mr. Nussbaum has some fun activities about bison, both online and printable.
  • Texas Parks and Wildlife have a lesson on what bison eat. This page includes a number of different activities bringing up a lot of interesting points, and introducing the word “forbs,” which was a new one for us. There’s an interesting activity asking students to analyze a photograph, which we think could be a good part of critical reading and media literacy lessons. Feel free to use the photos on this page for your analysis!
  • The U.S. Mint has a lesson that helps students to recognize bison as natural resources. Both this lesson and the previous link include plant study.
  • Woolaroc Museum has a bison lesson plan pdf with reproducibles including information about bison and Plains Indians, as well as a retelling of a traditional folk tale.
  • The Smithsonian American Art Museum has a lesson using George Catlin’s paintings and writings to explore the idea of regions.
  • The National Wildlife Federation has a science process lesson that gives students hands-on insight into why it’s so hard to get firm numbers for animal populations. They also have a great bison lesson plan with lots of background information which could be used alongside the first lesson.
  • Check out the LiveScience Bison News page. This could be part of your classroom morning news roundup, a great reading resource for your bison unit, or part of a student research project.

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34. Sing Along Saturday (Sports)

Today's prompt: Sports Themed Song

This meme is hosted by Bookish Things & More.

I'm going with Just Getting Started by Hawk Nelson.




© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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35. Salt to the Sea

Salt to the Sea. Ruta Sepetys. 2016. 391 pages. [Source: Library]

First Sentence: Guilt is a hunter.

Premise/plot: Salt to the Sea is a historical novel set during the last part of World War II alternately narrated by four teenagers: Joana, Emelia, Florian, and Alfred. Though the book may seem excessively mysterious and difficult to follow--at the beginning especially--I want to encourage readers to keep going, to keep reading. The BIG PICTURE story of this one is so worth it.

Joana's first sentence: Guilt is a hunter.
Florian's first sentence: Fate is a hunter.
Emilia's first sentence: Shame is a hunter.
Alfred's first sentence: Fear is a hunter.

So what might be nice to know: The end is fast coming. Danger is everywhere--depending on your nationality, your paperwork, your secrets. The 'liberation' coming from the Russian side is just as troubling and disturbing and good cause for fear as accidentally bumping into German Nazis. Three of our four narrators are slowly but surely making their ways to the Baltic Sea, to a port where they may luck into finding an escape aboard a ship. The fourth narrator is already there, a German already assigned to a ship. (That would be Alfred. He will actually be one of the people responsible for registering refugees to the ships and assigning who goes where, who gets on board and who is left behind.) All four seem destined to be aboard Wilhelm Gustloff.

My thoughts: If I had to pick just a handful of words to describe this one: compelling, mysterious, intense, bittersweet. It was a WONDERFUL read. One of those books that remind you WHY you like to read in the first place. I was swept into this story, and, though it took me days to make it through the first fifty or sixty pages, I soon found it impossible to put down. The key to this one, I think, is just going for it: reading it in big chunks. You'll probably still have a few questions here and there, but, just keep going. The more you read, the more will ultimately be revealed.


© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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36. Daisy the Kitten (Dr. KittyCat #3)

Daisy the Kitten. (Dr. KittyCat #3) Jane Clarke. 2016. Scholastic. 96 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: Peanut the mouse wheeled a dentist's chair into the middle of Dr. KittyCat's clinic. "There's a lot to do in Shiny Smiles day," he squeaked, as he pulled a folding screen around the chair. "And don't forget it's the Thistletown Festival, too. Don't forget we're judging the Cupcake bake-off at three o'clock."

Premise/plot: I love the early chapter book series Dr. KittyCat. This is the third book in the series. In this one, Dr. KittyCat with some help from Peanut does two things: a) hold a Shiny Smiles dental clinic b) visits the Thistletown cupcake bake-off. The first chapter focuses on the dental check-ups. Some patients are anxious, others not so much. The remaining chapters focus on the cupcake contest. First, DAISY, one of the bakers, is in need of medical attention. Her paws and her tongue hurt and she has no idea why. Peanut and Dr. KittyCat piece together the clues and have a diagnosis. Then it's time for the two to taste all those cupcakes and declare a winner....

My thoughts: I LOVE Dr. KittyCat. I do. If I could box up these books and send them back in time to myself when I was six or seven I'd be ecstatically HAPPY. I could easily see myself as reading them a couple hundred times. I love them now, but, don't feel the need to reread them every day!

Like the other books in the series, it's CUTE and ADORABLE and FUN. It blends photographs and illustrations. The books provide some very basic medical information.


© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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37. Ms. Bixby's Last Day

Ms. Bixby's Last Day. John David Anderson. 2016. 320 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Rebecca Roudabush has cooties.

Premise/plot: Topher, Steve, and Brand are close friends who come together to give Ms. Bixby, their beloved teacher, the last day of her dreams. This middle grade novel is narrated by all three boys in alternating chapters. (Brand may possibly be my favorite. It's hard to say). Several chapters into the book, Ms. Bixby makes an announcement to the class: she has cancer. She'll be leaving within a week or two. They'll have a substitute for the remaining weeks in the year. But she leaves even earlier than intended and is, in fact, hospitalized. Three students take it upon themselves to visit her and bring the 'last day' party to her. True, the class made get well cards. But somehow that doesn't seem like enough. It is Ms. Bixby, after all, only the best teacher in the whole world. The teacher who reads The Hobbit out loud and gives all the different characters voices. The teacher who seems to see and know everything...even to understand everything.

It won't be easy to pull off this last day. All three will have to skip school for starters and pull together all their resources. They want a cheesecake, a bottle of wine, and some McDonald's french fries. And they're relying on many buses to get them there and back again. In some ways they're clueless and foolish. In other ways, just sweet with good intentions.

My thoughts: I really liked this one. I would have loved, loved, loved it but I didn't love all the bathroom 'boy' humor. I do appreciate, in a way, that there are funny parts in this one. I think humor really helps sell kids on reading. So I'd rather the book be 'just right' for kids than 'just right' for me as an adult.

I really enjoyed the characterization. It wasn't rushed and it was complex. The ending was predictable, but just right in a bittersweet way.

My favorite quotes:
"We all have moments when we think nobody really sees us. When we feel like we have to act out or be somebody else just to get noticed. But somebody notices. Topher. Somebody sees. Somebody out there probably thinks you're the greatest thing in the whole world. Don't ever think you're not good enough." (232)

The truth is--the whole truth is--that it's not the last day that matters most. It's the ones in between, the ones you get the chance to look back on. They're the carnation days. They may not stand out the most at first, but they stay with you the longest. (293)

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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38. Nurturing Our Writing Lives: 5 Ways to Keep Writing

How can we nurture our own writing lives once the school year begins? 5 ways to help us keep writing.

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39. Students Writing: Day One and Every Day

Uncovering the various layers of a student takes time, intention, and writing.

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40. Compass South by Hope Larson, illustrations by Rebecca Mock, 224 pp, RL 4



Compass South is the fantastic first adventure in the Four Points series of graphic novels written by Hope Larson and illustrated by Rebecca Mock. As I finished reading this book, I felt like I had read a complete novel, there are so many details, world building and character diveristy in this book. In fact, I was reminded of S.E. Grove's trilogy that begins with The Glass Sentence, although Larson's book is set firmly - so far - in real, not an alternative, historical landscape. Mock's illustrations, which are filled with warm earth tones, packed with movement and energy. At times, I had to remind myself of which twin was which, but, in all fairness, this is a story with two sets of redheaded twins!


Set in 1860, Compass South begins with a prologue that explains how and why twins Alexander and Cleopatra Dodge made it from Ireland to New York City with two very special items - a compass and a pocket knife. Twelve years later, the only father they have ever known (but not their birth father) has disappeared and the twins have joined the Black Hook gang, stealing to survive. When Alexander gets caught, he and Cleopatra make a deal that sends them to New Orleans with Luther, a higher up in the Black Hook gang, close on their trail. Luther has been recruited by Felix Worley, also known as Lucky Worley, captain of the black ship, El Caleuche, to find the twins and relieve them of their heirlooms. 
These threads alone are enough to keep Compass South moving at a fast pace, but Larson weaves in a few more threads that make the story even richer. Before boarding the train to New Orleans, Alexander sees an add offering a reward for the return of redheaded twins to their father, who went West to find his fortune five years earlier. Alex convinces Cleo to cut her hair so they can pose as Samuel and Jeremiah Kimball and make their way to San Francisco to collect the reward and find their father. Of course things don't go as planned, starting with a run in with red headed twin boys that lands Alex and Edwin back in jail and Cleo and Silas without a plan.

While it's a challenge at times to remember which twin is which, especially after Cleo cuts her hair, the hot head Alex is paired with Silas, who has a mysterious ailment that leaves him weak, while thoughtful Cleo ends up with Edwin, who shares Alex's temperament. I will tell you that the twin pairs both end up on ships, but what happens to them, where they end up and what Luther and Worley want with them, well, you'll just have to read to find out!

Source: Purchased


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41. Honor Girl by Maggie Thrash, 272 pp, RL: TEEN


Honor Girl is Maggie Thrash's graphic memoir that was released last year and garnered awards and attention. Thrash chronicles the summer at an all girls camp where, having just turned fifteen, she falls in love for the first time.


Maggie's mom and her grandma went to Camp Bellflower, set deep in the Kentucky Appalachians. Every summer, on the first night of camp, the Honor Girl, chosen on the last night of camp the summer before, is serenaded. At the end of the song, the Honor Girl's candle is used to light the candles of all the other campers. Thrash writes, "the criteria for Honor Girl were vague, with no particular definition. It was just the one who seemed, in an unmistakable way, to represent the best of us." Maggie is reading Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, her favorite Backstreet Boy is Kevin Richardson and she wears a leash at night that tethers her to her bed and keeps her from sleepwalking. The details of 15-year-old Maggie's life are mundane yet so genuinely real. Thrash is a gifted writer, making the quiet, everyday minutiae interesting and engaging. It's easy to get inside Maggie's head, feel what she feels, be fifteen. 

Thrash tells the story of her first crush in all its thwarted, unconsummated, painful truth and it happens the way that I am sure most first loves happen, not the way they play out in fiction, especially YA fiction. Her crush, Erin, a 19-year-old counselor and astronomy major at college in Colorado, is not unknown to Maggie. But, she begins to feel differently about Erin after she gives her a routine lice check, running her fingers through Maggie's hair. Thrash uses wordless panels to illustrate this seen and as you scan you can feel something turning on, waking up, or beginning to slowly burn inside of Maggie. Thrash's skill as a visual story teller deepens the story immensely. Her illustration style is markedly different and less polished than many other graphic novels I have read. I'm still learning how to write about the art work in graphic novels and often look to other reviewers to help me shape my thoughts. I turned to Monica Johnson's review for The Comics Journal and found that her words describe Thrash's style (and the unique abilities that graphic novels have over other forms of writing) better than any I could find. Of Honor Girl Johnson writes, 

Thrash certainly has drawing skills, but they're her own, and they're specifically savvy for the story she is telling. Her bare-bones line drawings colored with watercolor pencils seem to be channeled directly from her 15-year-old self. The drawings have the rawness and bright-eyed directness of the teenager depicted in them, who can't hide behind a catalog of romantic experience and mastery. This is part of the brilliance of the comic medium itself - the way images work in concert with the literal to tell a deeper, much richer story - and Thrash really hits the mark with it. The drawings are so believably vulnerable, which is maybe why her story feels so devastating.


Johnson's use of the word vulnerable is well placed, both in describing the illustrations, Maggie and Erin. Maggie and Erin have moments of vulnerability and missed opportunities. Erin is a counselor for the junior girls and Maggie is a senior girl, so they don't have many chances to run into each other alone. Then there is the fact that, in the eyes of the law, Erin is an adult and Maggie is a child, not to mention that, even though it's 2000, this is the South and a Christian girl's camp and being openly gay is not accepted. Maggie shares her feelings about Erin with friends and finds sympathy and support. They keep Maggie's secret and also  nudge - or shove, in the way that teenage girls do - her toward Erin. In a meeting alone between Erin and Maggie, Maggie knows that Erin has made a move, and now it's up to her to make the kiss happen. But, filled with self doubt, she can't make it happen. She can't be that vulnerable. 
While Honor Girl is a memoir about first love, it is also, if peripherally about being gay. Maggie is pulled aside by the head counselor who starts wide, telling her that her parents could sue the camp for statutory rape if her relationship with Erin goes any farther. Circling in for her target, she tells Maggie that it's, "her job to make sure everyone feels safe" because camp is a place where "girls can be totally innocent and free, maybe for the last time in their lives." Maggie assures her that she does feel safe, to which the response is, "Everyone else needs to feel safe, too. From you. . . Don't ruin it for everyone." The brutality of that moment is hard to read, especially because I think most of us, most women, experienced a time in our adolescence when an adult betrayed, disappointed or backhandedly told us not to be ourselves and those words go deep.

Thrash bookends Honor Girl with an event that takes place two years after her summer with Erin, but seems to play itself out the same as it did at Camp Bellflower. As Johnson says wisely in her review, "If you don't let people know that they are wanted, they will go away. Love relationships are fragile opportunities. They need care and attention. They need those moments to happen." Honor Girl is a powerful, bittersweet reminder of this. 

Source: Review Copy


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42. Monster Mash: Aaron Zenz Goes On Tour

Blog tours.  Generally speaking I don’t really do them.  Nothing against them personally, they just don’t always speak to the tenor and distinctive tone of individual blogs.  It takes a particularly keen one to get me out of my hidey-hole so that I’ll participate.  It takes, in short, Aaron Zenz.

But first . . . BACKSTORY!!!!

It was at least 10 years ago.  I was a young struggling blogger (“struggling” in this case meaning doing just fine with a nice steady job).  A fellow by the name of Aaron Zenz contacted me not long after I’d started and asked if I’d take a gander at his book, The Hiccupotamus.  It was coming out with a very small publisher, but there was something to it.  It was nice looking. Nicer than the average fare, so I took a gamble and said I’d give it a gander.  Not only was it nice, but it held together beautifully.   It also seems to be one of the longest lived books I’ve ever encountered, traveling as it has from Dogs in Hats Children’s Publishing to Marshall Cavendish to Two Lions.  If you look on Amazon you’ll see my May 16, 2006 review of the book there.

And I remembered that Zenz guy.  How could I not?  First off, his name was “Zenz”.  That’s just cool.  Second, he had this crazy cool blog he did with his kids called Bookie Woogie (not to be confused with the also amazing but different kid art site Chicken Nugget Lemon Tooty).  For years I’d recommend it as what may be the most successful kids book review site written in large part by kids.  He’d also come up with these crazy amazing blog posts .  And in the interest of complete and utter honesty, they even reviewed Giant Dance Party and made fan art.  Like so:

IsaacGiant

But wait.  That’s not all.  Because on top of his art, his blog with his kids, and his kids’ kinda of freakishly good art (seriously, they should Pinterest this stuff) they also are responsible for a slew of some of the best 90-Second Newbery videos you’ve ever seen in your life.  I think if you keep watching this, the first four are by the Zenzes (Zenzi?).

None of this even touches on all the other stuff Aaron’s done over the years.  Nor, you will note, have I even gotten to his books.  As you can see, I save the best for last.

Starting with Hiccupotamus, I just kept on enjoying Aaron’s books for years.  From his art for Five Little Puppies Jumping on the Bed to Chuckling Ducklings to Hug a Bull, the man makes good literature for the small fry.  And now, the best one of all.

MonstersGoNightNow as I mentioned before, I don’t tend to do blog tours, and part of the reason why is because more than half the time I’m completely impartial (or worse) to the book that author is promoting.  Monsters Go Night-Night is different.  In one book you get the following:

  • A good bedtime book.
  • A story that is great for a range of ages (my 2-year-old and my 5-year-old get different things out of the book but both think it’s hilarious)
  • Writing that is actually funny for adults too (it may have one of the greatest potty gags I’ve seen in a long time)
  • Art that pops
  • The ability to be read to a large group (hard for any book to do, let alone well)

The whole premise is based on setting up expectations and then knocking them to the floor in a way that’s completely appropriate for very young ages.  Example:

MonstersNight

MonstersNight1

Perfect for pajama storytimes everywhere.

But where did Aaron get the idea for this book?  Well, if you’re still up for some video viewing today, this completely adorable video (could someone PLEASE publish a book of Aaron’s literary monsters since I want to see his Gurgi?) explains all:

So here’s where it gets crazy good.  Did you see how Aaron turned his son’s art into monsters?  Well, he’s been doing the same for other people as well.  Aaron asked if my daughter (who is the five-year-old I mentioned earlier) would like to make a monster.  He, in turn, would turn it into a piece of art.  And the results?  Behold:

LilyMonster1

This was my daughter’s . . . .

LilyMonster2

. . . and this was Aaron’s.

Side by side . . .

LilyMonster1LilyMonster2

Absolutely love that.

Long story short, this book good.  Get book.  Read book.

Still don’t believe me?  Then check out everyone else on this blog tour.  Lotta heavy hitters there.  Maybe if you don’t believe me you’ll believe them:

Mon Aug 15  :  Watch. Connect. Read.
Tues Aug 16  :  100 Scope Notes
Wed Aug 17  :  Nerdy Book Club
Thu Aug 18  :  Sharpread
Fri Aug 19  :  All the Wonders
Sat Aug 20  :  Playing by the Book
Sun Aug 21  :  Writing for Kids (While Raising Them)
Mon Aug 22  :  A Fuse #8 Production

And if you’d like to see the children’s art his did for these other bloggers’ kids collected for you in one place, just go to the Blog Tour Hub right here.

Thanks to Aaron for looping me into this tour.

 

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43. Bison Lesson Plans

Zoo animals like lions and tigers may be exciting, but we have a native animal that’s just as big and exciting: the bison. A study of bison can liven up a study on Native Americans, pioneers, the West, or the Great Plains. They’re also a fun animal study subject.

FreshPlans visited some bison at the National Wildlife Research Center in Ft. Collins, Colorado. Can you see the bison in the picture below? He doesn’t look very big, right? Up close, these are very big animals. They came up pretty close to get a good look at us, so we got a good look at them, too.
bison-visit2

We saw bison standing around, eating grass, standing around, rolling in the dirt, and standing around. This is pretty much what we do, our guide explained. “They can run, and if they do, you want to get out of the way,” he told us. But they don’t go scampering around for fun.

 

bison-visit

These bison are part of a joint USDA and Colorado State University project to bring healthy bison back to Colorado. A disease called brucellosis has become a problem in the herds of buffalo in Yellowstone Park. The project is using new technology to breed healthy bison who are descendants of the Yellowstone Park herds, without the dangerous disease.

When we teach about animals, we like to focus on four things:

  • Morphology: the physical characteristics of animals, including body parts and adaptations.
  • Life cycles: how animals are born, live, and reproduce.
  • Habitats: the places where animals live.
  • Relationships with humans: how humans affect the animals and how they affect us.

Even though we got a good look at the bison, we couldn’t touch them. We were curious about their unusual shape. So we went to the Discovery Museum in Ft. Collins to look at the skeleton of a bison. We saw that the big humps on their backs had bones inside. It reminded us of a stegoasaurus.

bison-skeleton

We got a good look at the skull of the bison, which seemed to be wearing a happy grin. Check out an interactive lesson on the bison’s digestive system to get an idea what’s inside a living bison.

bison-skull

We learned that bison are mammals and ruminants, like cows. They have live babies, which grow up and have babies of their own, just as people do.

IMG_3041

The museum has a taxidermy bison, which looked a lot like the live bison we saw — although it was a lot cleaner and neater. We got to feel bison fun, and we were surprised to find that it was very soft.

This bison is shown in a place made to look like its natural habitat: the prairie. The bison we visited at the USDA Wildlife Research Center live on the prairie, but they don’t get to roam like the buffalo in the song.

While some people eat bison meat today, we learned that most “buffalo meat” you can buy in a restaurant or a grocery comes from animals which have both bison and domestic cow heritage. We found bison wool yarn in Ft. Collins, but once again it included both bison wool and wool from sheep. Bison’s relationship with people today is less about human beings using bison for practical purposes and more about humans trying to care for the bison and make sure our grandchildren can still see this majestic animal on our prairies when they grow up.

Native Americans living on the plains and prairies, however, relied heavily on bison. Let younger students try out this interactive lesson on the relationship between Native Americans and bison. Older students will enjoy this more complex interactive web page from the Smithsonian.

Here are some more resources for teaching about bison:

  • Check out the Smithsonian’s Interactive Bison Exhibit for a little mouse practice and reading. Set it up as a station at your classroom computer and let students whet their appetite for learning about bison with a lot of intriguing facts.
  • Mr. Nussbaum has some fun activities about bison, both online and printable.
  • Texas Parks and Wildlife have a lesson on what bison eat. This page includes a number of different activities bringing up a lot of interesting points, and introducing the word “forbs,” which was a new one for us. There’s an interesting activity asking students to analyze a photograph, which we think could be a good part of critical reading and media literacy lessons. Feel free to use the photos on this page for your analysis!
  • The U.S. Mint has a lesson that helps students to recognize bison as natural resources. Both this lesson and the previous link include plant study.
  • Woolaroc Museum has a bison lesson plan pdf with reproducibles including information about bison and Plains Indians, as well as a retelling of a traditional folk tale.
  • The Smithsonian American Art Museum has a lesson using George Catlin’s paintings and writings to explore the idea of regions.
  • The National Wildlife Federation has a science process lesson that gives students hands-on insight into why it’s so hard to get firm numbers for animal populations. They also have a great bison lesson plan with lots of background information which could be used alongside the first lesson.
  • Check out the LiveScience Bison News page. This could be part of your classroom morning news roundup, a great reading resource for your bison unit, or part of a student research project.

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44. Straight From Students: Why Teachers Should Write

During the last week of school, I met with a group of fourth graders to have an end of the year reflective conversation. We can learn so much about what to do throughout… Continue reading

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45. Library Loot: Third Week in August

New Loot:
  • A Changed Agent by Tracey J. Lyons
  • Flirtation Walk by Siri Mitchell
  • Hamilton  by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter
Leftover Loot:
  • Alcatraz versus the Knights of Crystallia by Brandon Sanderson
  • Alcatraz versus the Shattered Lens by Brandon Sanderson
  • How to Train Your Dragon by Cressida Cowell 
  • Fudge-a-mania by Judy Blume
  • Double Fudge by Judy Blume
  • Golf Without Tears by P.G. Wodehouse
  • My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, Jodi Meadows
  • Johnny Cash: The Life by Robert Hilburn
  • Man in White by Johnny Cash
  • Barbie and Ruth by Robin Gerber
  • I Saw the Light by Colin Escott with George Merritt and William MacEwen
  • The Grand Tour: The life and music of George Jones by Rich Kienzie 
  Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire from The Captive Reader and Linda from Silly Little Mischief that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library. If you’d like to participate, just write up your post-feel free to steal the button-and link it using the Mr. Linky any time during the week. And of course check out what other participants are getting from their libraries.

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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46. Using a Writing Survey

How do you get to know the writers in your classroom at the beginning of the school year?

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47. Weekend Reading #12


This weekend I am giving myself reading time.  I am finishing up The Secret Sea by Barry Lyga for a blog tour (see my post and giveaway of a finished copy tomorrow!).  Then I am starting Stray by Elissa Sussman.  This is a book from my library that I brought home for the summer (along with about 40 others).  I need to get some of them read before school starts so I'm starting with thi one.

What are you reading this weekend?

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48. Book Review: My Life with the Liars by Caela Carter

Title: My Life with the Liars
Author: Caela Carter
Published: 2016
Source: Edelweiss


Summary: Zylynn has been taken by the liars, away from the loving compound where she grew up knowing that she was going to heaven and sure of all the rules. If she wants to go back home, she'll have to prove she deserves it by escaping.

But the liars are crafty. They let her have as much food as she wants, they buy her clothes that are full of color, they even make her feel as if she really is part of their family. What if their lies aren't lies? And if they aren't liars, who is?

First Impressions: This was really good! I loved how disoriented and out of place she felt, trying to make sense of her new life through the lens of her old one.

Later On: Cults are a popular topic in YA because it's so often paired with religious fundamentalism and gender-based injustices, which are pretty handy straw dolls to fire arrows of authorly rage at. Because this is more aimed at middle grade, that's not quite as front and center, but you can still see it around the edges. This book is so powerful precisely because it doesn't spend much time lovingly lingering on how unfair it all is.

The focus is on Zylynn's gradual realization that the life she knew wasn't as perfect as she was always told it was. In her flashbacks, you can tell that she was a rule-follower, terrified of the consequences. In her new life, she's still trying to follow the rules of her old one, but she's gradually starting to question the value of those rules as she learns to accept the love and generosity that her newfound family offers her.

More: Kirkus

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49. Close Writing: Review and Giveaway

“Mrs. Sokolowski, I’m done!” It’s a refrain I’ve heard often from students, who tell me they are completely finished with a piece of writing. More times than not, as I read the student’s… Continue reading

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50. 23 Minutes

23 Minutes. Vivian Vande Velde. 2016. Boyds Mills Press. 176 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: The story starts with an act of stunning violence.

Premise/plot: Zoe, our heroine, has a superpower of sorts. She has the ability to curl herself up into a ball, say PLAYBACK, and have time reverse itself exactly twenty-three minutes. She can playback one twenty-three segment of time up to ten times...and then whatever the last time was...is forever frozen. So when Zoe witnesses a crime, a bank robbery, and ends up covered in blood, it seems like the natural right thing to do to try to make it better. True, the robber ended up being shot, but, so did Daniel, the super-nice guy who helped pick up all the papers from the folder when she dropped it.

Readers go with Zoe on the journey to try to make things better. But it won't be easy. For Zoe finds the odds are against happy endings in this instance in particular. Some tries result in "just" two to four people being shot. Others result in a LOT more shots being fired. Including shots into the street where a mom has her child in a stroller passing by...unaware of the lurking danger.

What Zoe needs is an ally, and, Daniel may just be her best chance....

My thoughts: This one is PREMISE-driven. One character is definitely explored and that is Zoe herself. One learns what is in the folder she carries, the secrets in the papers she's got with her. And what they reveal about her is interesting in a way. Though I'm not sure they provide a complete picture. Either readers believe Zoe is who she says she is, and she truly has this power. (Which readers don't really have reason to doubt the way the story is presented.) OR readers can choose to doubt Zoe and believe the papers, Zoe being a psychological mess. (I don't think there is enough ambiguity in the text to allow for this interpretation).

There is a lot of ACTION in this one. I found it nearly impossible to put this one down.

If the book has a weakness, it is Zoe's crush on Daniel. I don't think every reader will have trouble believing that a young girl (15) could notice the "cuteness" of a guy regardless of his age. But some will. I think there's a big difference between noticing how cute a guy is, and, seriously believing that a relationship is possible. Zoe doesn't really, truly think Daniel is boyfriend material. But she can't help finding him cute all the same. And for better or worse, readers have to hear Zoe talk about how cute Daniel is again and again. As I said before, this may prove annoying to some readers. But I don't think every reader will react the same way.

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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