Category Archives: Books

Summer Reading: Trash

Standard

Trash by Andy Mulligan. Realistic Fiction/Mystery.

The lives of three “dumpsite boys” become forever entwined when one day Raphael discovers a bag containing a wallet, a map, and a key.  Soon all three are running from the police and desperately trying to solve the mystery of why the bag is so important to the authorities.

Themes/Content: Poverty, trash, waste, money, corruption, power, survival, courage, fear, friendship, education, codes, standards of living, character perspective, environment, greed

Recommended for: Grades 6 and up, readers who like dramatic stories, readers who like a lot of action, readers who like mystery, inquiry projects for social awareness or environmental issues, discussing character perspective

My Two Cents: When I choose a book to read I intentionally try to not know much about it.  I rarely read the summaries or reviews before I read the book.  It took me several chapters to realize I wasn’t reading dystopian science fiction.  The conditions of squalor in which the characters live are so extreme, how could I think otherwise?  Then I started thinking about my trip to Ghana several years ago, and I connected some of the scenes described in the book with some of the poverty stricken areas I had visited then.  Here I confess that I broke out of my normal routine and skipped to the acknowledgements at the end.  Mulligan said, “Behala dumpsite is based loosely on a place I visited whilst living in Manila.” Here is what he had to say about the book:

This book is definitely not for younger students, even though young children are the protagonists.  The authorities are brutal with Raphael as they interrogate him.  Rat (Jun-Jun) is completely alone in the world, living in the midst of filth and trash with the rats as company.  Gardo takes the leadership role and gives the others strength.  They all must take drastic measures just to survive in the harsh environment which surrounds them.  The boys do find compassionate people who play a role is helping them solve the mystery.  At first solving the mystery is a matter of survival, but eventually the boys realize that they are compelled to right a wrong that occurred before they were born.

This book will be eye-opening for those of our students who are born into a life of privilege.  As we encourage our students to be more globally aware, Trash could be used to spark discussion about living conditions in developing countries and possibly as in impetus for our students to affect change.  The book might also encourage students to learn more about the environmental impact of these very real sites.

Similar/Paired Books from EHUE Library:

  • Bailey, Gerry, and Felicia Law. Cowries, Coins, Credit. Minneapolis, Minn.: Compass Point Books, 2006. Print.
  • Bedford, Deborah J. Garbage Disposal. North Mankato, Minn.: Smart Apple Media, 2006. Print.
  • Bellamy, Rufus. Food for All. North Mankato, Minn.: Smart Apple Media, 2006. Print.
  • Clifford, Tim. Around the World with Money. Vero Beach, Fla.: Rourke Pub., 2009. Print.
  • Kent, Zachary. The Story of the Peace Corps. Chicago: Children Press, 1990. Print.
  • Ma, Yan, and Pierre Haski. The Diary of Ma Yan : the Struggles and Hopes of a Chinese Schoolgirl. New York: HarperCollins, 2005. Print.
  • Milway, Katie S. One Hen : How One Small Loan Made a big Difference. Toronto, ON: Kids Can Press, 2008. Print.
  • Povey, Karen D. Garbage. Detroit: KidHaven Press, 2006. Print.

Favorite Quote: “The absence of money is drought in which nothing can grow.  Nobody knows the value of water until they’ve lived in a dry dry place- like Behala.  So many people waiting for the rain.” (Mulligan, Andy. Trash. Oxford: David Fickling Books, 2010. 149. Print.)

The Final Word(s): A powerful gripping mystery. 🙂

Summer Reading: White Fur Flying

Standard

White Fur Flying by Patricia McLachlan. Realistic Fiction

Zoe and her family, who foster rescued Great Pyrenees dogs, hope that their furry friends will help the new boy next door find his voice.

Themes/Content: Family, courage, rescue dogs, mutism, Great Pyrenees dogs, writing, imagination, friendship, coping, patience, parrots, first person narratives

Recommended for: Grades 4 and up, dog lovers, read aloud, role models, Adopt a Shelter Pet Month (October)

My Two Cents: This is a heartwarming story for dog lovers everywhere.  Zoe’s entire family serve as wonderful roles models.  Her mother is passionate about rescuing unwanted dogs.  Her father is a veterinarian.  Her sister Alice has a vivid imagination and see everything through the lens of an author writing a story.  Zoe is patient and courageous, especially when it come to her relationship with the new neighbor, Phillip.

Minor spolier alert:  If you’re looking for high drama, this is not the book for you.  There is just enough drama to to add a hint of danger.  This is not a tear-jerker… no dogs die in this book.

This book would make a great read-aloud for any class.  I would be the perfect choice for October, which is Adopt a Shelter Pet month.  You could even tie in community service projects with the local animal shelter.

Similar/Paired Books from EHUE Library:

  • Bial, Raymond. Rescuing Rover : Saving America’s Dogs. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2011. Print.
  • Kehret, Peg. Shelter Dogs : Amazing Stories of Adopted Strays. Morton Grove, Ill.: Albert Whitman, 1999. Print.
  • Laidlaw, Rob. No Shelter Here : Making the World a Kinder Place for Dogs. Toronto: Pajama Press, 2012. Print.
  • McDonnell, Patrick. Mutts : Shelter Stories. Kansas City, Mo.: Andrews McMeel Pub., 2008. Print.
  • Nuzum, K A. The Leanin’ Dog. New York: Joanna Cotler Books, 2008. Print.
  • Paulsen, Jim, and Gary Paulsen. Road Trip. New York: Wendy Lamb Books, 2013. Print.

Favorite Quote:  “We laughed and laughed so much that Kodi woofed at us, and the sun came out from behind a cloud creeping across the yard and up the steps to warm our feet.” (MacLachlan, Patricia. White Fur Flying. NY: Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2013. 47. Print.)

The Final Word(s): Simply sweet! 😀

Level It

Standard

Here’s a handy app for those of you who are setting up your leveled classroom libraries.  Level It Books is an app, for iPad, iPhone and iPod touch (available for $2.99 through iTunes) that allows you to scan the ISBN of a book to find title information, as well as GR levels, grade level equivalents, lexile and DRA levels.  Keep in mind that the database will not contain every title, especially newer titles.  According to their website they have about 150,000 titles in their database.  Not that this information is hard to find through other sources, but the convenience of barcode scanning may make it worth the price.

There are several additional features which add value to this app:

  • Library: You can use the app to keep track of books in your classroom library.  Set up a new library in the app and then scan the ISBN to add the book to your library.
  • Wish List:  Keep track of suggestions from students and colleagues
  • Roster: Create a student roster and you can keep track of who has your books.

The creators of the app hope to have teachers make recommendations and submit levels.  “One of our goals with this app is to create a network of teachers that will provide input into our ever expanding database of book data.”

There may be other players out there offering similar functionality, but this is the first I’ve seen of an app like this.  Sorry, I don’t know if there is a comparable app for android devices.

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?