Category Archives: Books

Summer Reading: Seagulls Don’t Eat Pickles

Standard

Fish Finelli: Seagulls Don’t Eat Pickles by E. S. Farber.  Illustrated by Jason Beene. Mystery.

After making a bet with Bryce Billings, Norman “Fish” Finelli and his friends, Roger and T. J. set out to find the lost treasure of Captain Kidd.  The boys worry when they realize the Mystery Man, and his equally mysterious partner, are also searching for the treasure.

Themes: Friendship, mystery, treasure, Captain Kidd, bullies, fishing, boating, ocean life, ghosts, pirates, trivia, imagination, first person narratives

Recommended For: Grades 4 and 5, readers who are interested in treasure, readers who like mysteries, teaching about characters’ traits, read aloud, readers who like trivia, “Talk Like a Pirate Day”

My Two Cents: This is a great mystery for fourth graders with plenty of opportunity for extension into other curricular areas.  Fish, Roger and T. J. have vivid imaginations and distinctive character traits: Roger seems to be the practical joker in the group; T. J. is constantly snacking on something and Fish seems to be a walking encyclopedia.  In fact, “Fish’s Fun Facts,” random bits of trivia associated with the story, are interspersed alongside of the text.  I’ll have to admit though, T. J.’s constant snacking on sugary treats has me a bit concerned that he’s on the fast track to obesity, diabetes, or both.

There is just the right amount of silly dialog, gross-out humor and word play to make this book appealing to both girls and boys.  Throughout the book Beene’s illustrations are black and white caricatures of the action.  As the book ends it’s clear that this is the first in a series.

I would have liked Farber to include an author’s note at the end of the story, explaining which facts about Captain Kidd were historically accurate, and recommending additional resources.  There is a discussion guide available from the publisher.  “Talk Like a Pirate” day is Thursday, September 19th.  This book would be a great way to work it into your class.

Similar/Paired Books from EHUE Library:

  • Avi. Windcatcher. New York: Avon Books, 1992. Print.
  • Bryant, Jennifer. Kaleidoscope Eyes. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2009. Print.
  • Cheshire, Simon. The Pirate’s Blood and Other Case Files. New York: Roaring Brook Press, 2011. Print.
  • Colfer, Eoin. Eoin Colfer’s Legend of– Captain Crow’s Teeth. New York: Miramax Books/Hyperion Books for Children, 2005. Print.
  • Dixon, Franklin W. The Twisted Claw. New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1969. Print.
  • Harrison, David L. Pirates : Poems. Honesdale, Pa.: Wordsong, 2008. Print.
  • Lassieur, Allison. Pirate Hideouts : Secret Spots and Shelters. Mankato, Minn.: Capstone Press, 2007. Print.
  • Levy, Debbie. Sunken Treasure. Detroit: KidHaven Press, 2005. Print.
  • Mason, Paul. Pirates. North Mankato, Minn.: Smart Apple Media, 2005. Print.
  • McDonald, Megan. The Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad Treasure Hunt. Somerville, Mass.: Candlewick Press, 2009. Print.
  • O’Donnell, Liam. Pirate Treasure : Stolen Riches. Mankato, Minn.: Capstone Press, 2007. Print.
  • Osborne, Mary P. Pirates Past Noon. New York: Random House, 1994. Print.

Favorite Quote:

“‘Seagulls don’t eat ice cream!’ shouted T. J. ‘Seagulls don’t wear sneakers! Seagulls don’t—‘

‘SEAGULLS DON’T EAT PICKLES!’ Roger yelled at the top of his lungs.

OH NO! Our secret password!”

(Farber, E.S. Fish Finelli:  Seagulls Don’t Eat Pickles. San Fransisco: Chronicle Books, 2013. 38. Print.)

The Final Word(s): A fun mystery with a dash of adventure.  🙂

Summer Reading: Twerp

Standard

Twerp by Mark Goldblatt.  Realistic Fiction.

As penance for his actions, Julian Twerski’s English teacher, Mr. Selkirk, requires him to write about the event that caused his recent suspension from school.  The project stretches through the school year as Julian avoids studying Shakespeare and avoids discussing the topic.

Themes/Content: Friendship, family, regret, bullying, writing, school, first person narratives, foreshadowing, Shakespeare, running (track), self image, Judiasm

Recommended for: Grades 6 and up, boys, reluctant readers, teaching foreshadowing

My Two Cents: This is a compelling story, set in the late 1960’s, about a boy who knows he’s done something wrong, but doesn’t want to admit it.  Each chapter chronicles another misadventure in which he tries to show that what he did to cause his suspension was not as bad as some of other things he has done in the past.  Julian is a very likable character and even though he makes a lot of poor choices, he also makes his best effort to make amends.  I can really relate to Julian because he communicates much better in writing than he does orally.  As the story progresses you can see the writing on the wall (no pun intended) as he documents his conversations.  You feel for him, when those conversations lead to misunderstandings.

The events in the story focus on Julian and his friends, all sixth graders.  Consequently there is a lot of action revolving around sixth grade boys doing typical “sixth-grade-boy” things.  There are dangerous stunts, and budding romances, and there is some language that you might expect from sixth graders out of earshot of adults.  A few of the passages might not be appropriate for some readers, but as a whole the story is very appropriate for sixth graders.

This is a good book for teaching foreshadowing because you know something bad as happened but Julian skirts the issue, leaving the reader curious about what he did.  As the story progresses, Goldblatt drops little bits and pieces of information that change your perspective about what has been written previously.  The historical backdrop does not play a very big role in this story so I put this in the category of realistic fiction rather than historical fiction.  I can recommend this a read-aloud for the right class, provided you are comfortable with the pubescent passages and text.

Similar/Paired Books from EHUE Library:

  • Aliki. William Shakespeare & the Globe. New York: HarperCollins, 1999. Print.
  • Buyea, Rob. Because of Mr. Terupt. New York: Delacorte Press, 2010. Print.
  • Canfield, Jack, and Mark Victor Hansen, Patty Hansen and Iren. Chicken soup for the preteen soul : 101 stories of changes, choices, and growing up for kids 9-13. New York: Scholastic, 2000. Print.
  • Clements, Andrew, and Mark Elliott. Trouble-maker. New York: Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2011. Print.
  • Preller, James. Bystander. New York, NY: Feiwel and Friends, 2009. Print.
  • Schmidt, Gary D. The Wednesday wars. New York: Clarion Books, 2007. Print.
  • Shakespeare, William, David S. Kastan, and Marina Kastan. William Shakespeare. New York: Sterling, 2000. Print.
  • Shakespeare, William, William Rosen, and Barbara Rosen. The tragedy of Julius Caesar : with new and updated critical essays and a revised bibliography. New York: Signet Classic, 1998. Print.

Favorite Quote:  “Sometimes when you brace yourself for a storm, you get a gentle breeze.  The storm only comes when you’re braced for nothing whatsoever.” (Goldblatt, Mark. Twerp. NY: Random House, 2013. 16. Print.)

Final Word(s): Julian’s an honest character.  Read this one! 🙂

Summer Reading (MTG): George Washington Spymaster

Standard

George Washington Spymaster: How the Americans Outspied the British and Won the Revolutionary War by Thomas B. Allen. Non-Fiction.

A non-fiction narrative that details the stories of the men and women who spied, for both sides, during the American Revolution, as well as the methods they used.

Themes/Content: American Revolution, George Washington, spies, codes, ciphers, non-fiction, primary sources,

Recommended for: Grades 5 and up, anyone interested in spies and spying, anyone interested in the American Revolution, anyone interested in codes and ciphers, using end notes and appendices

My Two Cents:  This was one of the top 5 books on my “Mind the Gap” list.  As I’ve said before, non-fiction is not my cup of tea… and now I know why.  (My apologies to the author.)  This book reads very much like a text book.  If you like that style of writing you’ll love this book.  There are a lot of facts, names, places, and dates dropped in each paragraph, but for me, not enough descriptive text to help me visualize what I was reading.  As a result everything just became jumbled in my head.  In my opinion, he includes an overabundance of parenthetical references and asides, to the point of distraction.  To add to my confusion the chapters were not necessarily chronological, which meant that I felt like I was in a time loop.  Again, I’m sure this is because of my reading style, but when I read a date or a name, I really needed to focus and concentrate to internalize it.

All of my prejudice aside, the subject matter is quite interesting.  Allen has hidden messages throughout the book and has more explanations on his website.  His well-researched volume includes several appendices, including a timeline, a glossary of spy terms, and Washington’s actual code, among others.  He also intersperses plenty of primary source material and utilizes end notes to explain some of the quotes and sources of information.

Similar/Paired Books from EHUE Library:

  • Adams, Simon. Code breakers : from hieroglyphs to hackers. London: DK, 2002. Print.
  • Anderson, Laurie H. Chains : seeds of America. New York: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2008. Print.
  • Bell-Rehwoldt, Sheri. Speaking secret codes. Mankato, Minn.: Capstone Press, 2011. Print.
  • Blackwood, Gary L. Mysterious messages : a history of codes and ciphers. New York: Dutton Children’s Books, 2009. Print.
  • Bruchac, Joseph. Code Talker : a novel about the Navajo Marines of World War Two. New York: Dial Books, 2005. Print.
  • Gregory, Jillian. Breaking secret codes. Mankato, Minn.: Capstone Press, 2011. Print.
  • Griffin, Judith B. Phoebe the spy. New York: Scholastic, 1977. Print.
  • Hale, Nathan. One dead spy : the life, times, and last words of Nathan Hale, America’s most famous spy. New York: Amulet Books, 2012. Print.
  • Janeczko, Paul B. Top secret : a handbook of codes, ciphers, and secret writing. Cambridge, MA: Candlewick Press, 2004. Print.
  • Noble, Trinka H. The scarlet stockings spy. Chelsea, MI: Sleeping Bear Press, 2004. Print.
  • Paulsen, Gary. Woods runner. New York: Wendy Lamb Books, 2010. Print. Purcell, Martha S. Spies of the American Revolution. Logan, Iowa: Perfection Learning, 2003. Print.

Final Word(s): Good for the right audience (but not me) 😐

Inspired Idea: Secret Code Reviews

Standard

I just finished George Washington Spymaster by Thomas B. Allen (book review to follow soon.) The book is all about the spying and deception that took place during the American Revolution.  The author explains many ways in which spies for both the Patriots and the British created secret codes to mask messages.  One of the ways was the “book code.”  I’m already familiar with this type of code because I’ve watched National Treasure about seven million times.  (Remember the scene where Riley keeps paying the little boy to bring back the words?) The code uses three number which correspond to a specific page, line and word of a specific text.  For example:

35.3.1 = page 35, line 3, word 1

The person trying to decipher the word would need to know what book to use as a key, and have access to that book.  In my example the book is George Washington Spymaster and the corresponding word is… L_Y.  (I’ll let you figure out that one on your own!)  There were a few more guidelines that went along with this, but that’s the gist.

I started thinking about how it might be fun to have the students create their own coded messages.  After discussing the “book code,” the students could write reviews or summaries about a books that they have read.  They would then code the message using the book itself as the cipher.   As the process is a little cumbersome, it might be prudent to have them only create one or two sentences.  The code could be written on a sticky note and placed on the front flyleaf of the book so that others could try to figure out the message.  This could also be a center activity.  How can you see this activity panning out?

Summer Reading (MTG): Short Reads

Standard
Short Reads (MTG)

Short Reads (MTG)

For my first “Mind the Gap” post, I read a few short non-fiction works.  (I figured I’d ease my way into my reading gap.) All of these are non-fiction or biographies.   The books were short and so are the reviews.  The summaries are from our catalog records.   I’ve tried to include a brief reflection and fiction books to pair.

How Do You Burp in Space? : and Other Tips Every Space Tourist Needs to Know by Susan E. Goodman.  “A non-fiction travel guide to space tourism that includes information about accommodations, attractions, and more.” –Provided by publisher.

Reflection: Quite an interesting book with many facts about past and future trips into outer space.  Focuses on the possibility of space tourism.  Many photos of astronauts accompany the text.  One criticism: the timeline in the back is very cursory.  Many more items could have been added.

Pair with these fiction books:

  • Cottrell Boyce, Frank. Cosmic. New York: Walden Pond Press, 2010. Print.
  • Dahl, Roald. Charlie and the great glass elevator : the further adventures of Charlie Bucket and Willie Wonka, chocolate-maker extraordinary. New York: A.A. Knopf, 2001. Print.
  • Horowitz, Anthony. Ark angel. New York: Philomel Books, 2006. Print.
  • Moore, Eva, Joanna Cole, and Bruce Degen. Space explorers. New York: Scholastic, 2000. Print.
  • Reeve, Philip. Larklight, or, The revenge of the white spiders!, or, To Saturn’s rings and back! : a rousing tale of dauntless pluck in the farthest reaches of space. New York: Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2006. Print.

No Monkeys, No Chocolate 
by Melissa Stewart.  After reading this book, the word “chocolate” may bring to mind not only candy and ice cream, but also lizards, fungi, and monkeys–all part of the cocoa trees’ ecosystem. Includes further information on cocoa and rainforests and suggestions to help save rainforests.

Reflection: I loved that the author talked about all of the “gross” things (ants, maggots, fungi, etc.) that are involved with this ecosystem.  A fun feature of this book is the two tiny book worms, drawn at the bottom of each page, who banter comically about the text.  Very cute!

Pair with these fiction books:

  • Catling, Patrick S. The chocolate touch. New York: Bantam Doubleday Dell Books for Young Readers, 1996. Print.
  • Dahl, Roald. Charlie and the chocolate factory. New York: Knopf, 2005. Print.
  • Smith, Robert K. Chocolate fever. New York: Putnam’s, 1989. Print.

On a Beam of Light : A Story of Albert Einstein by Jennifer Berne.  A boy rides a bicycle down a dusty road. But in his mind, he envisions himself traveling at a speed beyond imagining, on a beam of light. This brilliant mind will one day offer up some of the most revolutionary ideas ever conceived.

Reflection: A great read to introduce the life of Einstein.  The watercolor illustrations seem simple and quirky but they are perfect for the subject.

Pair with these fiction books:

  • Clements, Andrew. The Report Card. New York: Aladdin Paperbacks, 2006. Print.
  • Draper, Sharon M. Out of my mind. New York: Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2010. Print.
  • Elish, Dan. The School for the Insanely Gifted. New York: Harper, 2011. Print.
  • Lasky, Kathryn. Ashes. New York: Puffin Books, 2011. Print.

The Boy who Loved Math : The Improbable Life of Paul Erdos by Deborah Heiligman.  An introduction to the world of math and a fascinating look at the unique, if not eccentric, character traits that made the noted mathematician “Uncle Paul” a great man.

Reflection: This short biography is about a man I had not known about. Paul Erdos was a mathematician who was fascinated by prime numbers.  The author tries to reinforce this fascination by working numbers into to the text and writing the numbers as numbers rather than text (i.e. “1,000,000” rather than “one million.”)  I think this gimmick falls a little flat though… I found it a little annoying.

Pair with these fiction books:

  • Erskine, Kathryn. The absolute value of Mike. New York: Philomel Books, 2011. Print.
  • Lichtman, Wendy. Secrets, lies, and algebra. New York: Greenwillow Books, 2007. Print.

Barbed Wire Baseball by Marissa Moss.  Traces the childhood dream of Japanese-American baseball pioneer Kenichi Zenimura of playing professionally and his family’s struggles in a World War II internment camp where he organizes baseball teams to raise hope among the inmates.

Reflection: This subject is near and dear to my heart mainly because I didn’t even know about the Japanese internment until I was in graduate school!  I’ve wondered how I could have made it through all of my years of education with no knowledge of these events.  I decided that I would provide my students with opportunities to learn what I had not.  This is a well written story with beautiful illustrations.

Pair with these fiction books:

  • Conkling, Winifred. Sylvia & Aki. Berkeley [Calif.: Tricycle Press, 2011. Print.
  • Denenberg, Barry. The journal of Ben Uchida, citizen 13559, Mirror Lake internment camp. New York: Scholastic, 1999. Print.
  • Fitzmaurice, Kathryn. A diamond in the desert. New York: Viking, 2012. Print.
  • Hughes, Dean. Missing in action. New York: Simon Pulse, 2011. Print.
  • Larson, Kirby. The fences between us : the diary of Piper Davis. New York: Scholastic, 2010. Print.
  • Lieurance, Suzanne. The lucky baseball : my story in a Japanese-American internment camp. Berkeley Heights, NJ: Enslow Publishers, 2010. Print.
  • Mochizuki, Ken. Baseball saved us. New York: Lee & Low, 1993. Print.
  • Wolff, Virginia E. Bat 6 : a novel. New York: Scholastic Signature, 1999. Print.

Summer Reading: The Ugly One

Standard

The Ugly One by Leanne Statland Ellis.  Historical Fiction.

For as long as Micay can remember, with the exception of her family, all of the people in her village call her “Ugly One” because of the deep scar that runs from her eye to her lip.  She is an outcast who is ridiculed, bullied, and ignored.  When Paqo the village shaman makes Micay his pupil she is confused by what the Gods might have in store for her.

Themes/Content: Incas, storytelling, Machu Picchu, self-esteem, beauty, shamans, Peru, macaws, rituals, gods and goddesses, descriptive language, context clues, loneliness, destiny, family

Recommended for: Grades 6 and up, readers who are interested in the ancient Incas or Machu Picchu, readers who need reassurance about self-image

My Two Cents: This book is very different from anything I have read lately.  The text is very descriptive and yet also feels slightly primitive. It is more introspective, possibly because Micay spends so much time alone.  When the book begins she is very self-conscious about her appearance, and to some extent, brings her isolation upon herself.  Her self-isolation and negative self-image only serve to fuel her tormentors.  As much as she tries to stay strong, she is hurt by their words and actions.

Her life begins to change when a stranger from the jungle presents her with a gift of a baby macaw, who becomes her companion and confidante. She names him Sumac Huanacauri, or “Beautiful One,” and it is Sumac who leads her to the Shaman and her destiny.

It took me a little while to get into this book, but after a few chapters I was hooked.  One aspect of the book that I appreciate is the fact that even though the people in her village have shunned her, her family, especially her sister, sticks by her and tries to gives her support.

Some of the descriptions of the activities and rituals of the ancient Incas may be disturbing, and although possibly historically accurate, may not be appropriate for all readers.  The author includes a glossary, although she also explains the Quechua (language) of the Incas in context.  Ellis also includes an author’s note and additional resources.  With my limited knowledge of the ancient Incas, I would have liked the author’s note to explain her choices a bit more.

Similar/Paired Books from EHUE Library:

  • Calvert, Patricia. The ancient Inca. New York: F. Watts, 2004. Print.
  • Clark, Ann N. Secret of the Andes. New York: Puffin Books, 1980. Print.
  • Gruber, Beth, Johan Reinhard, and National Geographic Society (U.S.). Ancient Inca : archaeology unlocks the secrets of the Inca’s past. Washington, DC: National Geographic, 2007. Print.
  • Mann, Elizabeth. Machu Picchu. New York: Mikaya Press, 2000. Print.
  • Scheff, Duncan. Incas. Austin, TX: Steadwell Books, 2002. Print.
  • Silate, Jennifer. The Inca ruins of Machu Picchu. Detroit, MI: KidHaven Press, 2006. Print.

Favorite Quote: “The more you observe, New Voice, the more you understand.  Once you can interpret the voice of the world, you become its revealer.” (Ellis, Leanne S. The Ugly One. New York: Clarion Books, 2013. 135. Print.)

The Final Word(s): Pretty good for the right reader. 🙂

Minding My Gap

Standard

Maybe it’s because I’m reading more blogs and tweets this summer, but I have been thinking a lot about what I’m reading and what I’m recommending (and what I’m not.)  In this June post from School Library Journal, Reading Nonfiction for Pleasure | On Common Core, the authors talk about how non-fiction is underrepresented on summer reading lists.  Ryan M. Hanna in his Reflections post on Nerdy Book Club discusses how teachers who reflect on their various reading lives (how they’ve progressed to the readers they have become) can help their students make better book choices.  Here’s part of my comment in response to Matt’s post:

“Right now I have an entire box full of fiction that I brought home from my library for summer reading. I had every intention of bringing home some non-fiction, and biographies, and graphic novels, but my box was already full!”

As I reflected (an read comments from Matt) I realized that I have a huge reading gap.  I love children’s fiction.  I love young adult fiction.  I love fiction in general.  Everything else I read when I get to it.  Of course… I never get to it.  (There’s just so much good fiction!)  I’m guilty of not recommending many genres (non-fiction, biographies, graphic novels) not because there are not amazing works out there, but because I don’t know it well enough to share.

I suggested this challenge:

“How about this challenge? What 5 books are on your “I Know I Should Read This But I’d Rather Clean the Cat’s Smelly Litter Box” list? OK… its not that I don’t want to read, these I really do, but as the saying goes… “so many books, so little time…” With a choice between these and a fiction book, I know what I’m going to choose.”

I agree… maybe the title of the challenge is a little harsh… How about the “Mind the Gap” Challenge.

Here’s my MTG list (and I’m completely embarrassed by this list…):

  • Babymouse by Jennifer L. Holm
  • The Boy Who Invented TV: The Story of Philo Farnsworth by Kathleen Krull
  • George Washington, spymaster by Thomas B. Allen
  • Hitler Youth: Growing Up in Hitler’s Shadow by Susan Campbell Bartoletti
  • Written in Bone: Buried Lives of Jamestown and Colonial Maryland by Sally M. Walker

My goal for the remainder of the summer is to not only keep up with my fiction, but to mind my reading gap.  The MTG Challenge will be to read all of the books on my list (and then some.)  Look forward to some Summer Reading MTG posts in the future.

What titles do you know you should read, but keep pushing to the bottom of your stack? What’s on your MTG list? Are you up for the MTG challenge?

Summer Reading: Three Times Lucky

Standard

Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage. Mystery.

Life in the small town of Tupelo Landing, NC is pretty typical until trouble rolls into town in the form of Detective Joe Starr.  Before long the town is buzzing with news of a murder and it’s up to Mo LoBeau and her friend Dale (a.k.a the Desperado Detectives) to crack the case.

Themes/Content: Detectives, murder, family, friendship, orphans, hurricanes, restaurants, first person narratives, kidnapping, voice, small town life, read aloud, NASCAR, humor, abuse, dialogue, word choice

Recommended for: Grades 5 and up, readers who like mystery, readers who like action and adventure, readers who like a funny story, read aloud, discussing word choice, reader’s theater

My Two Cents: Yet another terrific novel to add to my summer reading list!  Turnage has concocted a cast with just the amount of quirkiness that you’d expect from a small town.  Their names alone will catch your attention (Moses  LoBeau, The Colonel, Miss Lana, Lavender Macon, Thessolonians…) All of the town seems to meet and eat in the “café” and you’ll get caught up in their sometimes-casual, sometimes-chaotic  lives.

There are also serious aspects to the story, however.  Mo has started a “message-in-a-bottle” campaign to find her “upstream mother” who lost Mo during a hurricane.  There is also an actual murder, and kidnapping, and there are dangerous criminals in their midst.  At times the story seem humorous and light only to turn introspective or dangerous. Turnage is able to successfully work these conflicting emotions into a believable and balanced tale.

Not only would this book make a wonderful read aloud, I think it would be an excellent choice when talking about word choice and author’s craft in writing.

Similar/Paired Books from EHUE Library:

  • Barnett, Mac. It happened on a train. New York: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2011. Print.
  • Boraas, Tracey. Police detective. Mankato, Minn.: Capstone Books, 2000. Print.
  • Fleischman, Paul. The Dunderheads behind bars. Somerville, Mass.: Candlewick Press, 2012. Print.
  • Giff, Patricia R. Hunter Moran saves the universe. New York: Holiday House, 2012. Print.
  • Horowitz, Anthony. South by southeast : a Diamond brothers mystery. New York: Puffin Books, 2005. Print.
  • Lane, Brian. Crime & detection. London: DK, 2005. Print.
  • Montgomery, Monte. Kid confidential : an insider’s guide to grown-ups. New York: Walker, 2012. Print.
  • Pullman, Philip. Two crafty criminals! : and how they were captured by the daring detectives of the New Cut Gang. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2012. Print.
  • White, Ruth. Way Down Deep. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2007. Print.

Favorite Quote: “Dale can choose not to worry like he chooses not to wear socks.  Miss Lana says I have more of a Jack Russell brain.  I think things apart for sport.” (Turnage, Sheila. Three times lucky. New York: Dial Books for Young Readers, 2012. 237. Print.)

Final Word(s): Three thumbs up! Great mystery, fun read! 😀

Summer Reading: Navigating Early

Standard

Navigating Early by Clare Vanderpool. Historical Fiction.

After his mother’s death, Jack Baker’s move from Kansas to a boarding school in Maine causes him to feel like a fish out of water.  His relationship with his father is distant both physically and emotionally and when his father has to postpone his visit, Jack finds himself on an adventure with an eccentric classmate who is on a quest to find Pi.

Themes/Content: Friendship, family, Pi, Boarding schools, Polaris, death, Ursa Major, bears, navigation, math, rowing (crew), fathers and sons, WWII, Appalachian Trail, Maine, Billie Holiday, synonyms, similes, National Geographic Magazine, military, adventure, first person narratives, synesthesia, autism, quests

Recommended for: Grades 5 and up, students and adults, students who like math, students who like historical fiction, students who like adventure, discussing constellations or stars, discussion of Pi (as well as pie,) discussion of simile, read aloud, character study

My Two Cents: Clearly this has been the summer for reading some outstanding books, because Navigating Early is certainly another winner.  I love it when an author combines such a unique storyline with such powerful characters.  There are two story threads that entwine around each other.  The first is the story of the friendship between Jack and Early.  The second is the story of Pi, interpreted by Early who sees the story in the infinite decimals places of Pi.  Pi’s story is paralleled in the quest that Jack and Early make as they navigate their way along the Appalachian Trail.

Vanderpool’s story is creative and smart and her characters are completely captivating. I laughed out loud at Jack’s sarcastic and slightly self-deprecating sense of humor.  Early is outwardly confusing  and eccentric, but as the story progresses we realize that internally, he has a much tighter grasp on reality than he communicates.  (My opinion is that Early has a type of synesthesia although Vanderpool, in her author’s note, is not quite so specific.)  Given his determination and quirkiness, Early reminds me of Owen Meany (A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving.)

There are a multitude of curricular tie-ins with this book and it would make an outstanding read aloud. I’m grateful that Vanderpool included “Pi: Fact or Fiction” in her author’s note.  (If she hadn’t, rather than completing this book review right now, I’d be trying to calculate the digits of Pi.)

Similar/Paired Books from EHUE Library:

  • Buchan, Jamie. Easy as pi : the countless ways we use numbers every day. Pleasantville, NY: Reader’s Digest, 2009. Print.
  • Dowd, Siobhan. The London Eye mystery. Oxford: David Fickling Books, 2008. Print.
  • Mass, Wendy. A mango-shaped space : a novel. New York: Little, Brown, 2005. Print.
  • McCallum, Ann. Eat your math homework : recipes for hungry minds. Watertown, MA: Charlesbridge, 2011. Print.
  • Neuschwander, Cindy. Sir Cumference and the dragon of pi : a math adventure. Watertown, MA: Charlesbridge, 1999. Print.

Favorite Quote: (It was hard to pick just one.) “Connecting the dots. That’s what Mom said stargazing is all about.  It’s the same up there as it is down here, Jackie. You have to look for the things that connect us all.  Find the ways our paths cross, our lives intersect, and our hearts collide.” (Vanderpool, Clare. Navigating Early. New York: Delacorte Press, 2013. 291. Print.)

Final Word(s): A unique and amazing read!  Love it! 😀