I cannot believe that my summer break is almost over! But, the calendar does not lie. I am sure that many of you feel the same. I have already been into my classroom and am happy to say that it is at least physically ready for the seventy-five sixth-grade students who will soon be walking through the door.
As I've started preparing for the coming year, I came across a list of books I'd used every year when I still taught fourth-grade. Though, I enjoy the books the older students read, I do miss several of the books I used with my younger students. So, today's book review will be about Owl Moon, by Jane Yolen. It was one of my favorite books to read with my fourth-graders.
Owl Moon is a picture book, so it may seem silly to some that I would use it with students as old as those in fourth-grade. But, on top of being a beautiful book and simple story, it actually has a lot of text that can be used for higher comprehension skills. One look at the cover and a quick glimpse at a few pages are enough to show why this book was awarded the Caldecott Medal for its illustrations in 1988.
The story is told from the point of view of a child, who never shares her name. Most assume it's a story shared from the author's own childhood and that the narrator is her younger self. The child gets to go "owling" with her father for the first time. They travel into the woods in search of owls. As I said, the story itself is quite simple. But, what makes the story captivating, besides the illustrations, are all of the vivid descriptions. You can feel the excitement the child feels. It's not hard to imagine the coldness of the winter night. With lines such as "The moon made his face into a silver mask," and "They sang out, trains and dogs, for a real long time. And when their voices faded away, it was as quiet as a dream," the reader is immersed in the sights and sounds of the story. It is filled with metaphors, similes, and even a little personification. Which is why this teacher used it to teach figurative language to her fourth-graders.
I'd recommend this book as a read aloud for any child from pre-school through elementary. Though, it can be read independently, I feel this particular book works very well as a read aloud.
I suppose I must get back to my stacks and lists of things to do for the upcoming year. But, I also wanted to share that I'm still hard at work on the third Maisy Files book and hope to share it with you all in the next couple of months! For now, I'll share a coloring page to help your young reader pass the time during these last days of summer freedom. I hope you all have a great start to the new school year!
Rick Riordan is one of my favorite authors. I could claim that it's just because my students love his work. But, I love it, too! Percy Jackson is one of my favorite characters of all time.
So, it should come as no shock that I greatly enjoyed the Greek myths as told by Percy. This book is sure to catch the attention of many reluctant readers. It is also a nice introduction to Greek mythology. For those who have read the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series and the Heroes of Olympus series, this book would be considered a must-have.
The stories of all of the major, and many minor, Greek gods are told with just enough humor to balance out the learning. Percy's wit is at the center of each tale. I would recommend reading this book before Percy Jackson's Greek Heroes becomes available in August. Personally, I already pre-ordered my copy! I listened to the audio book version of Percy Jackson's Greek Gods, and the narrator does a fantastic job!
Ungifted by Gordon Korman is a delightfully funny and heartwarming story. The main character is a middle school student named Donovan Curtis, who is a bit of a trouble maker and is not very academically motivated.
The story begins with Donovan getting himself into some hot water in an event involving a statue, a rolling globe, and a gymnasium. He spends the next several days wondering when his punishment is going to come. However, through a series of coincidences, Donovan instead finds himself being transferred to a school for the gifted.
At his new school, Donovan and his new classmates try to adjust to each other. It quickly becomes obvious that the gifted students, while brilliant, are not very skilled at human interaction. It is equally obvious that Donovan struggles with his studies.
Donovan begins working with the robotics team simply because his homeroom teacher is the coach. Throughout the story, Donovan and his classmates begin to form friendships as they learn from each other. The story is one of tolerance as seen from both sides of the issue. Often in stories like this, the tolerance lesson is one-sided, with the trouble maker learning to accept the "nerds." However, the gifted students have their own prejudices to overcome. It was nice to see that all of the characters learned something from each other.
The story is told from the point of view of several characters, including Donovan's sister, his new teachers, some of his new friends, and, of course, Donovan himself. This gives the book the ability to provide some interesting twists because the reader is not limited to one character's perspective, as is the norm in stories with a first-person narrator.
While I enjoyed the lessons that can be learned from Donovan's story, I was surprised at how many "laugh-out-loud" moments there were. Korman is known for writing books that capture the attention of middle school readers. He didn't fail here. The writing portrays a realistic version of middle school life and is a good mix of heart-warming, hysterical, and downright surprising moments.
I recommend this book for reluctant readers. It draws the reader in from the very first page. With a middle school dance, a Youtube obsessed genius, robots, and a dog, there is something for everyone! I enjoyed the audiobook version, which has a separate narrator for each of the characters.
A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park is an excellent book that is sure to capture the attention of even the most reluctant young reader. As my frequent visitors know, I am also a sixth-grade teacher. My students loved this book and were always so disappointed when it was time to stop reading for the day.
The story is unique in that it focuses on two different characters living in Sudan at different times. Salva's story begins in 1985 and Nya's story begins in 2008. While the character of Nya is a fictional, young girl who is meant to represent people living in her same situation, Salva is based on a real person.
Salva's story begins when he is a child living in war-torn Sudan in 1985. The reader soon learns that Salva is separated from his family during an attack on his village. The story follows him through his tumultuous journey that takes places over roughly fifteen years of his life. Over the course of the book, the reader is treated to a realistic, though not overly graphic, description of Salva's experiences while traveling on foot looking for safety. He encounters rebels, loses people he cares about in tragic episodes, and becomes a refugee. The story traces his life through adulthood.
In alternating chapters with Salva's story, the reader is also introduced to Nya. Her story begins in 2008. The reader learns of her family's struggles with having access to clean water. Nya must walk several hours to fill water jugs for her family, and she does this multiple times per day. However, the water is not from a clean source and leads to health problems for her younger sister.
As the story progresses, readers will naturally try to predict what the connection between Salva and Nya will be. The moment when readers discover the connection between the two characters is a satisfying one that gave this reader goosebumps and led to more than a few tears shed by some sixth-grade students.
I would recommend this book for ages ten through adults. Though it's written for a young audience, it will hold an adult reader's attention as well. It should be noted that there are several events that are disturbing. After all, the story does involve a child living in a third-world country at war. However, the writing is not gory or graphic and instead provides descriptions of the events that are suitable for young readers. Upon finishing the book, I would encourage parents and teachers to make use of the organizations and websites discussed in the author's notes at the end of the book. They provide more information about Salva's story. Trust me. You and your young readers will want to know more!
Walk Two Moons is a Newbery Award winning novel by Sharon Creech. Since it was written in 1994, there is a good chance that today's middle grade readers (ages 8-12) have not read it. This proved to be the case with my 6th grade students.
The unique thing that I love about Walk Two Moons is that it has a parallel plot. The story's narrator is thirteen-year-old Salamanca Tree Hiddle, Sal for short. Sal is on a cross country trip with her rather quirky grandparents in order to find her mother, who left her and her father.
The book begins with the trip and her grandparents, gram and gramps, asking her to "spin us a yarn." Sal then begins the tale of her friend Phoebe Winterbottom. Phoebe has a wild imagination, to say the least. Phoebe's story is made up of a "stiff" family with a great fear of cholesterol and mismatched plates. But, there are also potential lunatics and murderers running amok. Then, Phoebe's tale takes a turn that no one saw coming, a turn with which Sal is all too familiar.
As the very tightly woven plot unfolds, there are moments that run the entire emotional scale. You will genuinely laugh and cry as these girls realistically go through trials in life, with the reader being able to find similarities between Sal's story and Phoebe's.
The ending of Sal's story is very emotionally charged. I can't say that it is entirely a surprise, since, as an adult reader, I caught the foreshadowing hints. However, I know of some adults who have read it that did not see it coming. The majority of my students did not see it coming either. Regardless of whether you figure it out or not, the description of the events will have you on the edge of your seat.
I should note that while the suggested age range for this book is eight through twelve, I would not personally recommend it for average children younger than age ten. I read it with my sixth graders and that is the youngest grade level that I would feel comfortable reading it with as a teacher. There are some very emotionally charged moments that younger readers may not yet be able to quite manage processing. I would recommend that parents of younger children, or especially sensitive children, read the book first to determine when it would be appropriate for their children to read the book. But, it is so well written, that I believe it is a must read. But, younger children may have more questions than older children. So, parents should be aware of the plot twists. If you're looking for one more stocking stuffer or Christmas gift, I'd recommend this book.
If you are interested, click here to see the review from Common Sense Media.
These days, dystopian novels are all the rage with the kids. Personally, I actually like them, too. Among the Hidden is an older book, so it's one that many kids today have probably not stumbled upon on their own.
In a time when third children are forbidden, Luke tries to live his life with his family out of sight of the public. He has a loving family and lives in a somewhat out of the way place. This allows him to go outside and do chores around the farm with his two older brothers.
But, then, things begin to change when the forest near his home is cut down to make way for new homes. The increase in population forces his family to keep Luke completely hidden inside. This way of life begins to weigh on him, until he catches a glimpse of what he thinks is another forbidden child.
Eventually, Luke meets this other third child, named Jen. He is then exposed to a whole new way of thinking and living. He's taking risks and learning more about the world he lives in.
Luke discovers that there are many more third children than he could have ever imagined, and there is a plot brewing to try to change their situation. Jen, is at the center of it. But, is it too dangerous? Is it worth the risk?
This first book in the series is engaging and moves at a quick pace. Readers who enjoy the idea of dystopian societies, but dislike the violence or graphic scenes that are often in more recent books, like The Hunger Games or Divergent, may find this book more to their liking. Parents can take comfort in the fact that the relationship between Luke and Jen is completely platonic. This book is recommended for grades three and up.
I recently finished the audio book edition of Wonder by R.J. Palacio. As someone who usually prefers to read the fantasy genre, I can say this caught my attention from the first words spoken by the narrator.
The story of a boy with genetic conditions that lead to facial abnormalities is narrated in first person by a variety of characters who know August "Auggie" Pullman, but is mostly narrated by August himself.
The story begins as August learns that his mother wants him to try going to school for the first time. He had previously been taught at home by his mother, somewhat out of necessity, due to his many medical procedures when he was younger. But, August enters middle school as a fifth grader and the audience follows him, and those who know him, through his fifth grade year.
The thing that I enjoyed most about the book was the insight into a variety of characters. We see August's perspective on certain events, and then we see the same events from another's perspective, such as his sister Olivia. Though, sometimes the story moves along in time with one character narrating entirely new plot developments. So, events are not always repeated when there is a new narrator, and when they were, there were new angles to the story so that nothing seemed repetitive. It was refreshing to form certain opinions about characters when viewed from Auggie's perspective, but then to be able to change those opinions when the story was narrated by those characters themselves. I felt that the emotions and motivations of those that know Auggie were portrayed in an authentic manner. Humans are flawed individuals, and the author portrayed that well.
Of course, there are some events that put Auggie in situations that tug at the heartstrings. There were a few times where I was genuinely angered by the actions of some characters. But, for this reader, that is a sign of a good book. Overall, I enjoyed the journey and the chance to spend a year with Auggie and those who know him. I think this is an excellent read and I plan to read it with my students in the Fall.
If you are a fan of audio books, I recommend this one, which I listened to through Audible.com. It features multiple narrators so that as different characters are telling their stories, the narrator changes. I have not read the print version yet, so I cannot offer my opinion on how it is laid out. Some reviewers on Amazon stated that they couldn't get past the grammatical errors. Apparently there are some parts with little to no capitalization. In the audio book, I caught little errors such as things like, "...me and mom..." I let them go because the narrator was fifth grade Auggie at the time, and it fit with the character and what the author was trying to portray.
While, as a language arts teacher, I may eventually find the format of the print version to be a little lacking, I am sure the errors were included to make it be a realistic representation of children sharing their own thoughts. All of the narration is in a first person point of view from one of the characters in the story. It sort of reads like the characters simply sharing their thoughts about and recollections of events for a large majority of the time. I think it makes sense for the story, even though I wouldn't say it should become a trend. I plan to use those errors, as well as the many lessons we can learn from Auggie and his family and friends, as teaching moments in the future.
This weekend I finished the book series called The Selection by Kiera Cass. I recommend it! Here's a quick synopsis. America Singer is chosen as part of The Selection, an event in which the prince of the country meets 35 young women and from which he must choose his future wife. The character development throughout the series is satisfying. America is a strong protagonist, though some of her actions show her young age and naivete`. The relationships are complicated enough to keep things interesting, including those between America and the prince, America and her first love, Aspen, and America and the other girls in The Selection.
It's included in the recent surge of dystopian novels, but it's not as focused on the negative aspects of the society in the same way novels like The Hunger Games or Divergent are. It has more of a romantic theme threaded throughout the story, though the dystopian elements are certainly there. I'd compare it more to the Matched series than The Hunger Games or Divergent. But, it's a good read. One thing that makes a book good for me is if I find myself getting riled up over it. Sometimes it was infuriating because I just wanted to know how it would end and what would become of America, Prince Maxxon, Aspen, and a few of the other characters. But, there were a variety of moments that were funny, intriguing, sad, romantic, and sweet.
The three book series includes The Selection, The Elite, and The One. So, the series is complete. Personally, I hate having to wait for novels in a series to come out! So, this one is a complete series. There are also a couple of novellas called The Prince and The Guard that are told from Prince Maxxon's point of view and Aspen's. But, I haven't read those and can't speak for them. I listened to the audio book, and the narrator is excellent.
Have you ever wondered how teachers spend their snow days? Do we lament the lost day of learning? Do we plan for what we need to do when the schedule gets back to normal? Do we take naps, or perhaps teach our dogs new tricks? The answer to all of these questions on this snow day for this teacher, is yes.
But, I also spent some time working on book two in The Maisy Files, and I spent some time reading a new series that I'm loving. The Maze Runner series by James Dashner is definitely not something that readers of The Maisy Files should be reading. But, it's incredibly addictive.
The narrator is the main character, Thomas, who has woken up in a new place with no memories. The Glade is home to a bunch of boys and some deadly creatures who live in the mysterious maze. We soon learn that the lives of the boys are centered around solving the maze that the "creators" have plopped them into. They hope that solving it will be the key to their release from it.
With no knowledge about their past lives, the boys have created their own community in the Glade. Each boy has a job and Thomas wants to be a runner in the maze. Each day, the runners map the maze and compare it to the previous days' maps, because the walls move and it changes each night. Things seems to be rather routine in the Glade. Every day, each boy does his job, the runners run the maze, and meals are eaten. Until, one day, a new, unexpected person arrives, and everything changes.
Follow Thomas on his journey. You will not be disappointed. The book ends on quite a cliff hanger, though many questions are answered by then. Luckily, book two can be in your hands immediately! Personally, I'm enjoying listening to the audio book versions. If you're a fan of audio books, you should give them a try. The narrator does a great job!
***Update*** I've completed the entire series and I thought the conclusion to the series was written very well. The series consists of The Maze Runner, The Scorch Trials, and The Death Cure. There is a prequel, but I have not read that one. The series takes the reader on such a twisting and winding journey that ensures everyone will be surprised multiple times. Personally, I liked being surprised by multiple events in the story. If you liked books like Divergent or The Hunger Games, you should give these a try!
I was intrigued by the premise of this book, which is why I chose it. I'd never heard of it before browsing online.
Angelfall begins after much of the world has been destroyed by angels. No one knows why the angels have come or what exactly they want. But, the world is, understandably, in chaos.
Penryn, the main character and our narrator, explains the ways of the new world, including street gangs who try to collect angel parts to sell on the black market.
Along with Penryn, we are introduced to her schizophrenic mother and her disabled little sister, Paige. Shortly after the story begins, Penryn witnesses angels fighting each other. The audience, and Penryn, are then introduced to Raffe, one of the angels involved in the fight. After the other angels kidnap her wheelchair-bound sister, Penryn abducts the injured Raffe with the hope of getting information about finding Paige.
It's hard to describe why this story works so well. The author develops her characters and their relationships subtly. At one point near the end of the book, I realized the dramatic change that had occurred in the relationship between two of the main characters. I hadn't been beaten over the head with it. It was an organically developed relationship, which was refreshing.
The story had several surprising twists that I had not expected. I won't go into them here in order to avoid spoiling it for anyone. But, the story is well crafted and anyone who is a fan of the fantasy genre will enjoy this story.
Penryn is a seventeen year old girl, so the story is likely intended to be a YA novel. It did hold my interest, and I am thirty-three. While I can see it being a YA novel, there are some aspects that are rather disturbing. They do align with the world created in Angelfall, and I wouldn't describe them as being overly graphic. They do serve a purpose in forwarding the plot. However, it's something you should be aware of if you are of the squeamish variety. They were not things I expected in the book. But, if you were a fan of books like The Hunger Games or the Divergent series, then you will probably not be put off by those few incidents.
Overall, I'd say the book is excellent. I began the second one right away!
Elizabeth Woodrum's Blog
Elizabeth Woodrum is the author of the children's book series, The Maisy Files. She is also a full-time teacher and creator of teaching materials that can be found on Teachers Pay Teachers. This blog is a mix of teaching and author topics.