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.
Maisy fans, I'm sorry that there was an error with the Kindle Countdown Deal scheduled to begin this past Thursday. I was informed by Amazon that there was a glitch and it has been rescheduled for April 25th through May 2nd! That means that it is on sale for just 99 cents for Kindle right now! You can still get Maisy and the Missing Mice on the Kindle for free for a few more days! If you haven't gotten either book yet, you can get both of them for less than $1 right now! Remember, that in a Kindle Countdown Deal, the price goes up every so often until it is finally back to full price on May 2nd. So, it's best to act quickly! I hope you'll check them out and share them with the young readers in your life!
Check out the books here!
If you haven't yet gotten your copy of the books in The Maisy Files series, now is the perfect time! Maisy and the Missing Mice is free for Kindle from April 23rd through April 27th! Maisy and the Money Marauder is in a Kindle countdown deal from April 23rd through April 30th! The Kindle countdown deal means that the Kindle version of the book will start out at 99 cents on April 23rd, and the price will increase throughout the deal until it's back to its normal price of $2.99. So, it's best to get your copy early! You can view the books on Amazon here.
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!
I'm giving away five free copies of the Maisy and the Money Marauder audiobook! Enter below!
This post is mostly going to appeal to my fellow teachers. I recently started using a new online reading log from the company Learn2Earn called Whooo's Reading. My sixth graders love it! Basically, it allows them to record their independent reading time and answer questions about the books they read. But, the part they love, is that they earn coins that can be used to purchase accessories for their owl avatars. It's also a safe social network. Students earn those coins for reading and answering questions, but also for liking and commenting on the activity of others. It's also a good way for students to get book ideas by seeing what their friends are reading.
From the teacher perspective, it is very easy to use. I have 73 students and didn't really like the idea of individually creating an account for each of them. So, I contacted the company and they quickly uploaded the information from a CSV file for me. You can sort students into classes and analyze their information quickly with a couple of different options for viewing data. You can view by student and by class. I can also leave public or private comments for the students and score their answers. But, the best part for me is that I can customize the questions. There are many questions that are pre-loaded. But, I can also customize them myself. So, I made a question for each of the new common core standards and put them into either a literature or informational text category. Now, when students go to answer a question, they always have an option of either literature or informational. They can refresh the questions to get to the one that they want to answer. So, you can use the premade questions, create your own, or do a combination. It was very easy to hide the ones I didn't want to use and create my own.
Plus, it's FREE! Yes, there are some added options if you want to pay $5 a month, which is pretty cheap. I have a free account and have been able to use everything I want to so far. There are also easy ways to earn a free month. I may pay in the future. But, right now, I have access to all of the essential things I need to keep track of my students' reading time and comprehension questions. But, I admit that being able to have more fun things for my owl avatar is an enticing idea. If you're interested in using Whooo's Reading, click here to get started!
I have excellent news for The Maisy Files fans! I'm running a giveaway with a prize of a $25 Amazon gift card! You can enter in a few different ways, including leaving blog comments and writing a review of Maisy and the Money Marauder. If you've already read the book, it's very easy to write a review.
If you haven't read Maisy and the Money Marauder, and would like to enter, you can read it for free or cheap! The Kindle version is only $2.99. But, you can borrow it for free if you have a Kindle and an Amazon Prime membership through the Kindle Owners Lending Library. If you are a member of Kindle Unlimited, you can also borrow it for free. Finally, if you don't already have an Audible.com membership, you can sign up for a free trial and get the audio book with your first free credit! Check out Audible.com here. Of course, you can also get the paperback through Amazon, if you prefer. You can also use the code KNK2KZKU to get a 15% discount when purchased from the publisher CreateSpace here.
You can leave a review for Maisy and the Money Marauder through these links on Amazon.com, Goodreads.com, or Audible.com.
Check out the Rafflecopter information below to enter! Good luck! * Please note that the winning entry will be verified and if deemed ineligible, a new winner will be chosen.*
Maisy and the Money Marauder is here! I'm excited to share the next volume of Maisy's story with all of you! Check out The Maisy Files series on Amazon. As a special treat, the first book is free for Kindle through February 18th! If you haven't yet discovered Maisy's mystery world, now is the perfect time.
Everyone's favorite fourth-grade detective is back! Maisy steps back into her black and white mystery world when someone begins stealing lunch money at West Valley Elementary. With her fedora hat, notebook, and a little help from her best friend, Maisy follows the clues to catch the thief. But, as the case develops, Maisy is stumped by the growing list of suspects. With a cherry lollipop in hand, Maisy is determined to solve the case. Follow Maisy into her world of mystery and discover the identity of The Money Marauder.
Maisy has a Valentine's Day gift for you!
If you haven't yet read the first book in The Maisy Files series, Maisy and the Missing Mice, now is the perfect time! You can get your Kindle copy free from now through February 18th. The second book, Maisy and the Money Marauder, is due out on February 17th and is available for pre-order on Kindle. As always, The Maisy Files Kindle books are free to borrow to Kindle Unlimited members and Kindle owners with an Amazon Prime membership.
Share Maisy's world of mystery and lollipops with your favorite young reader. What better Valentine's Day gift is there? Well, perhaps you could add a cherry lollipop or two.
There are few things in life that Maisy loves more than her cherry lollipop collection. Enjoy this Valentine's Day coloring page from Maisy. Simply click here to download the PDF file and share with a young Maisy Files reader in your life.
I am pleased to announce that the second book in The Maisy Files series, Maisy and the Money Marauder, will be released on February 17th, 2015. The Kindle version is now available for pre-order. Check out The Maisy Files series on Amazon. The first book, Maisy and the Missing Mice, is available in audio, paperback, and Kindle formats. Maisy and the Money Marauder will be available in all three formats as well. You can view a preview of the first chapter here. I'm very excited to share the next volume in Maisy's story with all of you!
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.
The Books of Ember is a series by Jeanne Duprau that consists of four books: The City of Ember, The People of Sparks, The Prophet of Yonwood, and The Diamond of Darkhold. This is a series I would recommend for middle grade readers. It's set in a dystopian future, but its ominous features are a little more suitable to younger children than some of the popular, more recent stories of a dystopian nature.
The City of Ember and its citizens are introduced in the first book. We are introduced to the city mostly through the events that happen with the two main characters, Lina and Doon. The city is always in darkness, lit only by lights that are controlled by the light keepers. The city itself is pretty modern. Citizens are given jobs, there is a government, there is running water and electricity, and things run pretty smoothly. A group known as the builders has left the city with everything its citizens need to survive, including stockpiles of food, clothing, and medicine.
Soon, we discover that the electricity in the city is becoming less reliable. There are blackouts and there is concern that it will soon turn off for good. In the midst of all of these issues, are Doon and Lina. Doon is convinced that the situation with the electricity is far worse than anyone is letting on. He wants to try to solve the problem. Lina discovers an old box with a message that seems to hold instructions for the citizens of Ember. Unfortunately, it has been damaged and is difficult to interpret.
As the situation in the city worsens, people begin stealing food and are close to rioting. Lina and Doon decide they must try to find a way to help. Taking what they have interpreted from the damaged message, they search for a way out of Ember.
I don't want to give away larger plot points, but I will say that the later books follow the people of Ember through more adventures. The People of Sparks and the Diamond of Darkhold continue their tale. The third book, The Prophet of Yonwood, is a prequel that is set fifty years before the founding of Ember and does not include anything about the events in the other books. But, it does help explain the causes for the building of The City of Ember.
Overall, the series has many adventurous plot points and provides some tense moments without getting overly graphic. The society created in Ember is one that readers can relate to easily. I'd recommend it for readers who enjoy a little adventure. Parents can rest assured that even though the characters are placed in dangerous situations throughout the series, there is no graphic violence.
Freak the Mighty, by Rodman Philbrick was first published in 1993. So, it may be a book that the target audience hasn't heard of before. Amazon lists it as being intended for ages nine and up. I would agree with this, though there are a few elements of the book that may be a bit intense for those on the younger end of the age range.
The story is about two boys, both somewhat outcasts in their own ways. Max is labeled as a slow learner and is rather tall and large for a middle school student. Kevin, on the other hand, has a medical condition that causes "his outside to stop growing while his insides keep growing." He's very small and walks with leg braces. He's also incredibly brilliant.
The two boys form an unlikely friendship, which eventually leads to Kevin (Freak) acting as the brain and Max acting as the body. Early on in the story, Max says that he never had a brain until Freak showed up. Max carries Kevin on his shoulders through many imaginary and real adventures. Together, they consider themselves to be Freak the Mighty.
Parents should know that the story contains a lot of heart. There are themes of acceptance and valuing others for who they are as people. But, there are also some intense moments when the boys encounter real criminals and are put in realistically dangerous situations. There are also some mentions of alcohol, smoking, and violence. Prior to the story beginning, Max's mother was murdered. This is not really a spoiler as it happened prior to where the story begins and is mentioned very early on in the book. Overall, those elements are not graphic and are as mild as they can be while still creating a sense of danger.
This is a book I plan to read with my 6th grade students and I'd mostly recommend it for middle school students. The story is told from Max's point of view and the language and style used is something that will catch the attention of readers from the first page.
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.