Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The Boy on the Bridge by Natalie Standiford

hardback 248 pages
publication: July 30th 2013 by Scholastic Press

A new breathtaking novel from Natalie Standiford about love and trust during the Cold War.

Laura Reid goes to Leningrad for a semester abroad as Cold War paranoia is peaking in 1982. She meets a young Russian artist named Alexei and soon, with Alexei as her guide, Laura immerses herself in the real Russia--a crazy world of wild parties, black-market books and music, and smuggled letters to dissidents. She must keep the relationship secret; associating with Americans is dangerous for Alexei, and if caught, Laura could be sent home and Alexei put under surveillance or worse. At the same time, she's been warned that Soviets often latch onto Americans in hopes of marrying them and thus escaping to the United States. But she knows Alexei loves her. Right?

As June approaches--when Laura must return to the United States--Alexei asks Laura to marry him. She's only nineteen and doesn't think she's ready to settle down. But what if Alexei is the love of her life? How can she leave him behind? If she has a chance to change his life, to rescue him from misery, shouldn't she take it?

 I read this novel right after returning from a weeks vacation in Germany visiting my best friend who was a foreign exchange student my senior year in high school. While I was there, I was able to see the world through a different lens, so to speak. I saw remnants of World War 2, peaceful protests and demonstrations about the Turkish insurgency as well as many other things that we see in the news, but don't necessarily experience first hand. This book did the same for me. It is set during the Cold War and Laura is experiencing the world through a different lens just as I did, but on a grander scale. 

Laura goes to Russia intent on experiencing the culture that she fell in love with though its language. She doesn't, however, intend to fall in love. The dynamics between Laura and Alexei (also known as Alyosha) are powerful and heartbreaking. Natalie has done an amazing job at showing just how much different worlds can be, yet be faced with the same emotions and heartbreak. I was completely sucked into the world in which Alyosha lives and shows Laura and was pulling for them the entire time.  There was so much authenticity in this novel that when I read that Natalie Standiford spent time there during college, I could feel the passion and authenticity even more. 

This beautiful love story is avaliable today so make sure to head out and get it! 

Happy reading!!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Oliver by Birgitta Sif

Hardcover, 40 pages
Published October 9th 2012 by Candlewick Press

An imaginative child who doesn’t quite fit in finds a kindred spirit in this utterly charming picture book from a debut author-illustrator.

Oliver is different. He enjoys his solitude. He likes playing with his friends, who are puppets, stuffed animals, and other toys. With his rich imagination, Oliver’s day is never dull. There are bridges to cross, sharks to fight, and treasures to find! But maybe toys don’t always give a boy everything he needs. Maybe he needs another kind of companion. Will Oliver discover a way to be, well, different? When his tennis ball rolls across the lawn into the yard of the girl next door, he just might be surprised.

Oliver doesn't quite fit in. I am sure that we have all been there. He is his own person and seems quite content with that until one day he finds out that maybe he isn't really alone after all. This is one of my new favorites. It breaks down what so many children (and by children I mean those anywhere from three to one hundred and three) deal with every day on simple terms. I love the lesson learned here. Oliver never apologizes for who he is and in turn learns that it is just fine! Beautifully written and illustrated book that has earned a place of honor on my shelf!

Happy reading!

Monday, July 15, 2013

Historical Reads in Children's Books

I have three great books for you that are easy reads and that give you insight into our country's history. They are three very different books, but ones that can be used to teach a variety of subjects from history to music! 

We the People: The Story of Our Constitution by Lynne Cheney

Time Period: Early America
Subjects addressed: formation of the Constitution

This is a wonderful book full of fantastic illustrations which depict the time in our Nations history when our Founding Fathers were creating the document which formed our nation. There are many parts of history that we are taught in our schools, but having it written in a way that just gives us the essentials along with quotes from the Founding Father's and visuals helps it all come to life. Great book to use in any history class!

White Water by Michael S. Bandy and Eric Stein

Time Period: Segregation
Subjects addressed: racism, inequality

I learn from my students every day and one of the reasons is that we have a different outlook on most things. This book shows how the concept of racism is something that (as Bill Cosby says) is a waste of time.This book also shows that sometimes just by getting a new perspective or outlook on the same situation, we can find more meaning in our lives and move past things which consume us every day. I love this book and will definitely be reading it to my classes next year.

Jazz by Walter Dean Myers

Time Period: 1800s- today
Subjects addressed: Jazz music, instruments, poetry, musicians

It is no secret that I am a Walter Dean Myers fan. When I met him a few years ago I literally almost passed out. He is a gentle giant. This book is full of wonderful information in poetic form that any Language Arts or Music teacher can appreciate. The beautiful art work that Christopher Myers (Walter's son) has created adds to the authenticity of this amazing book. There is a wonderful glossary of terms as well as a timeline in the back for you to use as resources as well. Jazz is just one type of music and through this book you are able to learn about and celebrate the different styles of Jazz though Meyers' poetry and his sons art! 

Happy reading!!

Friday, July 12, 2013

Prodigy (Legend #2) by Marie Lu

Hardcover, 371 pages

Published January 29th 2013 by Putnam Juvenile 
June and Day arrive in Vegas just as the unthinkable happens: the Elector Primo dies, and his son Anden takes his place. With the Republic edging closer to chaos, the two join a group of Patriot rebels eager to help Day rescue his brother and offer passage to the Colonies. They have only one request—June and Day must assassinate the new Elector.

It’s their chance to change the nation, to give voice to a people silenced for too long.

But as June realizes this Elector is nothing like his father, she’s haunted by the choice ahead. What if Anden is a new beginning? What if revolution must be more than loss and vengeance, anger and blood—what if the Patriots are wrong?

In this highly-anticipated sequel, Lu delivers a breathtaking thriller with high stakes and cinematic action.
  To see my review on Legend (the first in this series) click here

Marie Lu knows how to keep readers on the edge of their seats and drooling for more! This is one of those books I have been waiting on the right time to read because I knew I wouldn't want to get up from it and deal with anything (feeding my children included), so a 4 hour car ride was perfect. My husband kept looking at me during my grunts, groans, fist pumps, and other noises but all in all... he is used to it! 

This amazing sequel to Legend picks up with June and Day and their quest to turn the Republic into something that they can be proud of and they find an unexpected ally... the Elector! Day and June face obstacles and deal with the emotions of a new relationship (which they still have a hard time defining) all while trying to decide if what they are doing is really for the best. There were many questions answered in this amazing novel, but of course- more were brought up and I am DYING for the next book now! (Is it November 5th yet?!) 
As with the first one, I can't get enough of these characters who are beautifully written and easy to invest yourself in. I am sure that someone has drawn the parallel between the ill-fated love before, but as with so many stories, Day and June do have that Romeo and Juliet touch. On the surface they are very different (different social classes, ways they live, up-bringing, etc.) but there is so much more beneath the surface. I know that I am not the only one so heavily invested in these two and if you haven't read the first one (or this one)... hurry up! You won't regret it! 

I am so happy that I do have one thing to tide me over until November 5th though!!

Life Before Legend (Legend 0.5)

Find out more about June and Day in this never-before-seen glimpse into their daily lives before they met in Marie Lu’s New York Times bestselling LEGEND series. As twelve-year-olds struggling to survive in two very different worlds within the Republic’s stronghold, June was starting her first day of school at Drake University as the youngest cadet ever admitted, and Day was fighting for food on the streets of the Lake sector. LIFE BEFORE LEGEND contains two original stories written by Marie Lu that give readers a sneak peek into the lives of their favorite characters in a thrilling new context.

Happy reading!

Friday's Finds at the Library

I have made it a point this summer to take the kids to the library. I am not sure why I haven't in the past. Maybe it was because Jaxon was under two and the thought of a toddler in the library was a bit more than I can handle (remember.... I teach middle school, not the little ones). But this year, we have been all over it!  

I knew I had created monsters when I took them for the first time. There was no doubt. The sweet old lady at the counter told us that we could check out 20 books at a time and Jaxon promptly looked up at me and said, "I'm sorry but 20 just isn't enough!!!" (He is 3.) I was so proud and the the little old lady snorted (I gave him a high five for making the old lady snort!). 

So on Friday's I will feature what we have checked out for the week and give a little blurb about each. By the way... I did tell the kids that I get at least 4 of those check outs so I will have some others to review too! Here is what we are reading this week...

 Bright and Early Thursday Evening by Audrey Wood

This book was (in a word) ... interesting. The kids loved it and thought it was hilarious. It was highly imaginative, but I am still trying to figure out what the heck happened! :)

How Do Dinosaurs Say Merry Christmas? by Jane Yolen and Mark Teague

My son loves dinosaurs so when he saw these, we had to have them. Along with the cute story of what dino's do and don't do at Christmas, we also had a lot of fun attempting to say the scientific names of all of the dinos!

How Do Dinosaurs Say Happy Chanukah? by Jane Yolen and Mark Teague

Another dino book! This one brought about lots of discussion of what Chanukah is and surprisingly my 7 year old was able to answer. She learned about it in Montessori! Such a smartie pants!!

How Do Dinosaurs Get Well Soon? by Jane Yolen and Mark Teague

Dinosaurs are not unlike little children I have learned... and are seemingly much better patients! This one (as with the others) brought about lots of laughs and even some comparisons of them as the sickly ones!

The Grouchy Ladybug by Eric Carle

Such a classic. This was a Jaxon pick and come to find out they had read it at school, so he "read" it to us! It was the greatest and cutest thing ever!

Solo by Paul Geraghty

We are penguin lovers, so this one jumped right into our basket! Solo is born and when her Papa penguin doesn't return from finding food, Mama has to go out to find it. There was a lot to learn along with this heartwarming story which led us to looking up more about penguins after we finished it!

No Haircut Today! by Elivia Savadier

This book had us all laughing. The tantrum Dominic throws and the mom's reaction are spot on! We loved the drawings too. Kylie is even trying to copy them now. Such a little artist!

Hans My Hedgehog: A Tale from the Brothers Grimm by Katie Coombs (retelling)

Hans is half boy, half hedgehog and when you mix in a little bit of fairy tale (including the kings and the issues that come with them) hilarity is sure to unfold! We had fun making predictions as to what was going to happen next with this one and the kids got a big kick (rolling on the floor laughing... literally) when all was revealed! Loved it!

Grumpy Goat by Brett Helquist

Grumpy Goat is, well, GRUMPY! He has a change of heart though and learns that he has friends even when he doesn't necessarily deserve them. This book lead to a great discussion on how to treat others no matter how they treat us!

A Wild Father's Day by Sean Callahan

When these kids give their dad a card, he takes the writing seriously and takes them on a super fun day full of WILDNESS!! This book is full of fun and laughter and leaves you wondering what would happen if you took words seriously inside a card!

Jag by LeAnn Rimes

This book is all about conquering your fears. Sometimes we are scared to do something and it hinders us from seeing the big picture and then, hopefully, we learn from that fear and find the good that comes from conquering it. Jag helps us see that sometimes we aren't alone in that fear and we have someone there who will help us... in the most unlikely place!

We are off to the library today for more so I will let you know what other gems we find next week!!

Happy reading!

Thursday, July 11, 2013

The Story of Frog Belly Rat Bone by Timothy Basil Ering

Hardcover, 48 pages
Published April 1st 2003 by Candlewick Press 
"Frog Belly Rat Bone,
one, two, three . . .
the specks in the earth
are protected by me.
You must be patient and
then you will see. . . ."

Once upon a time, in a dull, gray endless place called Cementland, there lived a very special boy who wished to find a treasure. After much searching among piles of greasy toaster ovens and wet smelly socks, he spies a box filled with specks and a wrinkled note that says, "Put these wondrous riches in the earth and enjoy." Horrified to learn that thieves are after his treasure, the boy scrounges the junkyard and conjures a creature to stand guard - a scarecrowlike gardener with crooked bony arms, a giant belly, a jaunty crown, and preternatural wisdom: Frog Belly Rat Bone, king and protector of the specks.

With subtle, delicate tones, fantastical figures, and bursts of glowing color, the surreal artwork and hand-lettered text of Tim Ering’s picture book debut exude all the whimsy of an inspired imagination - and the wonders of a natural world that awaits discovery, even in Cementland.

 I honestly don't know how I missed this one a long time ago. What a treasure. Between the artwork and the story itself, I don't know which is my favorite part! Frog Belly Rat Bone was created to protect the specks which the little boy is convinced are treasure. In the end, it is Grog Belly Rat Bone who is able to show the boy what true treasure is. The simplicity of this story is both stunning and though provoking to me and lead to a great discussion with my kids about what true treasure is. I love this book! 

PS: Did you know that Timothy Basil Ering is the illustrator of the Newbery Award-winning The Tale of Despereaux?! How cool is that?! Visit him here to find out more!

Happy reading!

Look Up!: Bird-Watching in Your Own Backyard by Annette LeBlanc Cate

Hardcover, 64 pages
Published March 12th 2013 by Candlewick Press 
You don’t have to own binoculars and know a bunch of fancy Latin names to watch birds! No matter where you live, they’re in your neighborhood — just look up.

This conversational, humorous introduction to bird-watching encourages kids to get outdoors with a sketchbook and really look around. Quirky full-color illustrations portray dozens of birds chatting about their distinctive characteristics, including color, shape, plumage, and beak and foot types, while tongue-in-cheek cartoons feature banter between birds, characters, and the reader ("Here I am, the noble spruce grouse. In a spruce grove. Eatin’ some spruce. Yep."). Interactive and enjoyable tips bring an age-old hobby to new life for the next generation of bird-watchers.

I am not a bird watcher... unless I am on the beach and one poops on me! Then I am definitely watching out for more! (And no, for the record that has NEVER happened) That might all change after reading this fabulous book! I do like to be in nature, but the thought of bird watching is a bit, well to be honest, boring to me. Annette LeBlanc Cate, however, has proven to me that birdwatching is not boring and can be quite fun if you don't get lost in the idea of "I have to have professional equipment and go to exotic locations to bird watch" (though I wouldn't mind the exotic location...)
The birds make their presence known throughout the entire book which is really how the vast majority of the information is presented. I loved it. I was laughing out loud at parts and looking out the windows for what they were talking about in others. The book is not set up like a typical "field journal" so that readers can see what they can do out in the field and is full of thought bubbles from birds, observers and even has a few songs in it! This is definitely one of those books that you read and then realize how much fun you have had learning! 

Check out this guest post from Annette at Teach Mentor Text to to know her just a little better!

Happy reading!

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The Butterfly Mosque:A Young American Woman's Journey to Love and Islam by G. Willow Wilson

Hardcover, 320 pages
Published June 1st 2010 by Atlantic Monthly Press
The extraordinary story of an all-American girl’s conversion to Islam and her ensuing romance with a young Egyptian man, The Butterfly Mosque is a stunning articulation of a Westerner embracing the Muslim world.

When G. Willow Wilson—already an accomplished writer on modern religion and the Middle East at just twenty-seven—leaves her atheist parents in Denver to study at Boston University, she enrolls in an Islamic Studies course that leads to her shocking conversion to Islam and sends her on a fated journey across continents and into an uncertain future.

She settles in Cairo where she teaches English and submerges herself in a culture based on her adopted religion. And then she meets Omar, a passionate young man with a mild resentment of the Western influences in his homeland. They fall in love, entering into a daring relationship that calls into question the very nature of family, belief, and tradition. Torn between the secular West and Muslim East, Willow records her intensely personal struggle to forge a "third culture” that might accommodate her own values without compromising the friends and family on both sides of the divide.

I have to start off by saying that this one is 1) not necessarily a "YA" title (which is what I normally read and review) and 2) not one that I would normally pick up to read. With that being said, though, I am beyond glad that I did read it. Jaxon and I had taken our weekly trip to the library and this was on a "Feature" shelf at our local library. The cover got me in first and then when I read the blurb I thought, "Why not? I will give it a shot" and a few days later I was finished. It normally doesn't take me any time to read, but this book made me think as I was reading (heaven forbid, right) so I wanted to do it justice. 

As the child of a Baptist minister who is also a religion professor, I feel that I have a broad knowledge of the religions of the world and the basics to each one. Not all of the details, but enough to get by. My dad is very knowledgeable about world religions (teaches classes on it every year) so this book was one that I have taken to him and said... "You have to read this!" Getting a first hand account of someones conversion to Islam and their journey through the trials and obstacles is one that is very personal and often never shared by new converts (not just in Islam but in many cultures and religions). I learned a lot through Wilson's honest portrayal of her life and the amazing journey she took. This memoir was beautifully written and through her eyes, I was able to walk the streets of Cairo and experience her life. I enjoyed and appreciated every step. 

One of the main things that I realized from this novel is that as much of a "news junkie" as I am, I don't always understand what is going on. If nothing else, this book has challenged me to be more aware of news issues. It doesn't seem like any coincidence to me that as I was reading this book, the people of Egypt were protesting and trying to get their president to step down (he did, three days after I finished the book). I highly encourage you to read this book if you are interested in life issues and world issues... or you could just be like me and read it because it looks good! You never know what you are going to get out of a book and this time, I got way more than I bargained for!!

Happy reading!!

Python by Christopher Cheng

Hardcover, 32 pages
Published February 26th 2013 by Candlewick Pres
Python stirs and slithers out from her shelter, smelling the air with her forked tongue. It’s time to molt her dull scales and reveal the glistening snake underneath. Gliding along a tree, she stops and watches very, very closely as a bird drops onto a branch — and escapes the razor-sharp teeth just in time. But Python is hungry, so she slides on to stalk new prey. Combining informative facts, expressive illustrations, and a lyrical, mesmerizing narrative, here is a book to captivate anyone fascinated by this iconic creature.

 This book is something that I think all parents and teachers love.. it gets a child's interest all while teaching them valuable information! In this mix of both story and information Cheng shows us the natural life of a Python in her daily adventures while giving us information (including scientific vocabulary) that doesn't overwhelm the reader. Snakes are not my favorite thing in the world, but this book was a refreshing way to learn more about the Python while not having the information sugar coated but still keeping it accurate! 

Happy reading! 

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Gardening Books that helped us!

I am lucky to be able to review books for Candlewick Press and I got even luckier when some of the books they sent me to review were books about gardening for kids. My kids and I decided to start a garden this year, so these couldn't have come at a better time. 

We planted squash, okra, cucumbers, tomatoes, and peppers! Here is a picture of some of our lovely veggies so far...

We have a ton of tomatoes to go pick today and hopefully the okra will be ready too! I have never claimed to be a gardener, but I am really enjoying it! I know that my Papa would be proud since he was the definite farmer of the family. 

The first book that Kylie, Jaxon and I read was Maisy Grows a Garden by Lucy Cousins. 

In this book Maisy the beloved mouse and her friend Panda plant thier very own garden. I loved it because it showed what had to be done to plant and maintain a garden but on a kids level (and maybe a virgin-gardener's level too). Each page depicted what was being done and the tools that were needed in order to complete the task. The pop-ups and pop-outs were a great way for us to interact with the text and see what Maisy Mouse was up to! We really enjoyed this one and it definitely set us up for our own gardening experience! 

The next book we read was It's Our Garden: From Seeds to Harvest in a School Garden by George Ancona. 

I appreciated this book one a few levels... one as a new gardener, one as a mother, and yet another as a teacher. In this book we learned about an elementary school in Santa Fe where the children run outside not to play, but to work in the school's garden! We learned a variety of gardening techniques (such as the traditional Native American way to garden- the three sisters garden), but we learned more than that. We were able to see how not just the students took part in this garden and its maintenance, but how the community rallied around it. Even when school is not is session there are still parents and other volunteers who help take care of the garden! How cool is that? I loved that when all of the vegetables were harvested, the community came together to eat the produce in a variety of ways including pizza made in a brick oven that the students made! This is a great book to show a sense of community, but also for schools to read and get ideas for ways to improve community involvement. Teaching in a smaller district I can definitely see where this would work for us!

Our garden is growing stronger and stronger by the day (we are currently on week number two of majorly heavy rains and storms) and I fear that it may take over if I don't get out there soon to gather the veggies! Hope you are having a great summer!

Happy reading!

Moonbird: A Year on the Wind with the Great Survivor B95 by Phillip Hoose

Hardcover, 160 pages
Published July 17th 2012 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR) 
B95 can feel it: a stirring in his bones and feathers. It’s time. Today is the day he will once again cast himself into the air, spiral upward into the clouds, and bank into the wind.

He wears a black band on his lower right leg and an orange flag on his upper left, bearing the laser inscription B95. Scientists call him the Moonbird because, in the course of his astoundingly long lifetime, this gritty, four-ounce marathoner has flown the distance to the moon—and halfway back! 

B95 is a robin-sized shorebird, a red knot of the subspecies rufa. Each February he joins a flock that lifts off from Tierra del Fuego, headed for breeding grounds in the Canadian Arctic, nine thousand miles away.  Late in the summer, he begins the return journey. 

B95 can fly for days without eating or sleeping, but eventually he must descend to refuel and rest. However, recent changes at ancient refueling stations along his migratory circuit—changes caused mostly by human activity—have reduced the food available and made it harder for the birds to reach. And so, since 1995, when B95 was first captured and banded, the worldwide rufa population has collapsed by nearly 80 percent. Most perish somewhere along the great hemispheric circuit, but the Moonbird wings on. He has been seen as recently as November 2011, which makes him nearly twenty years old. Shaking their heads, scientists ask themselves: How can this one bird make it year after year when so many others fall?  

National Book Award–winning author Phillip Hoose takes us around the hemisphere with the world’s most celebrated shorebird, showing the obstacles rufa red knots face, introducing a worldwide team of scientists and conservationists trying to save them, and offering insights about what we can do to help shorebirds before it’s too late. Through prose, research, and images, Hoose explores the tragedy of extinction through the triumph of a single bird. 

I can honestly say that I never thought I would be one scouring the Internet to see if a bird was still alive. Never having a bird when growing up, I didn't understand the love people had for them. Now, however, I am a regular checker-upper on Moonbird. This book was recommended to me by an amazing teacher friend who warned me that I would become invested in the bird. I didn't really take her seriously (about the "becoming invested" part), but I should have. 

This book was not only fascinating in what it had to say about this species of bird, but also in all the details of how the studying of Moonbird and his companions came about. I was drawn into the story of the birds, but also the lives of these fascinating creatures. Recommending this to my students and fellow teacher will not be hard. I checked it out from the library (again, I wasn't convinced I would care that much) and now I am going to have to purchase a copy before I head back to school. This will be one that will not stay on my shelf!

Like I said, I had to see if Moonbird was still alive after reading this, so I will just let you see for yourself.... 

Click here to see!

Monday, July 8, 2013

Because of Mr. Terupt by Rob Buyea

paperback 269 pages
published October 12th 2010 by Delacorte Books for Young Readers 

Features seven narrators, each with a unique story, and each with a different perspective on what makes their teacher so special.
It’s the start of fifth grade for seven kids at Snow Hill School. There’s . . . Jessica, the new girl, smart and perceptive, who’s having a hard time fitting in; Alexia, a bully, your friend one second, your enemy the next; Peter, class prankster and troublemaker; Luke, the brain; Danielle, who never stands up for herself; shy Anna, whose home situation makes her an outcast; and Jeffrey, who hates school.

Only Mr. Terupt, their new and energetic teacher, seems to know how to deal with them all. He makes the classroom a fun place, even if he doesn’t let them get away with much . . . until the snowy winter day when an accident changes everything—and everyone.

Mr. Terupt is a new teacher with grand visions of how his classroom will run. The problem is that Mr. Terupt, like most new teachers, doesn't see what obstacles are ahead of him. He handles them with grace and poise in a way that I only wish I could on most days. He has a way to deal with each child and their needs in a way that speaks to each one of them and shows them what fun a classroom can be if you all work together.All of this is going wonderfully until something happens that changes the dynamics of the classroom and how the students see each other and Mr. Terupt.

  There are many books that I read where I feel like I see my students in the characters. This is one of those books with a slight twist... I saw myself in this wonderful book. I was so invested in each of the students' lives and their stories. Being invested in a book, to me, shows how well written the book is. Each student had their own personality which came out not only in their personal narration, but in the narration of their classmates as well. I literally could not put this book down because I wanted to see what happened that changed the classroom, but also how each students story would play out. Knowing that there is more to this story in the next book only makes me want to drive to the bookstore now and buy it. My husband my kill me though... he already says we have our own library in the house. Oh well... Off to the bookstore I go!

Happy reading! 

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