Ghosts by Raina Telgemeier

ghostsI met Raina Telgemeier at the San Diego Comic Con a few years ago, and told her that her book Smile was the most frequently stolen borrowed (and disappeared) from my classroom library. Kids really love her work!

I got to see her speak again this past summer as well, and this time she was talking about her new book, Ghosts. I just knew I’d have to buy at least one copy (so far) for my class, and sure enough the very next day after it came out, I had a waiting list of students wanting to borrow it. I haven’t seen the book since, actually. I hope it’s okay and will make its way back eventually!

This story is about two sisters, and how their family has to move to a small seaside town in northern California because the younger sister, Maya, has a lung disease called cystic fibrosis. The cool, damp, salty air is supposed to help Maya to breathe better. Catrina understands this, but it is still difficult to make a big move to a new school, and having Maya’s illness on her mind is stressful. Thankfully she meets some good friends at her new school, and one boy is very interesting. His name is Carlos, and he reveals that their town is crawling with ghosts! Cat is scared by this, but Maya is intrigued, and wants to know more. Their town, Bahia de la Luna, has a big celebration for El Dia de los Muertos, and it is here that Cat has to face some of her fears about death and the possibility of her little sister dying. Are ghosts real, are they memories that we hold on to, or can they be both? Either way, this book is about learning to celebrate life.

As always, the illustrations are bright and colorful, and the characters are highly relatable. As an adult reader and mom, I really felt for the parents, too, as they tried to accommodate and assure both of their daughters. I loved the bigger message behind this book, and I’m thankful to be able to sit and reflect on it this rare, rainy afternoon.

This book has an AR level of 2.6 and is worth 1 point. A great one-sitting read, and extremely popular at our book fair last week.  (See, I knew it!)

Retro Reads

nancy clues

Something different today, as I have recently started a reading side quest. Background: when I was in second grade, I received the first three books in the Nancy Drew Mysteries Stories from an aunt (or second cousin, maybe?) in Pennsylvania. It was someone I didn’t know very well and she sent them for Christmas. I read those books and read them again and an obsession was born. Off to the library I went, only to discover that there were 64 original books in total, a mission I accepted whole-heartedly. My grandma was a serious garage sale-yard sale-rummage sale-anything sale shopper, so we made a list of the books and began hunting for them. To this day, I still keep my eyes peeled for those telltale yellow book spines when I am in a used bookstore. (The oldest ones have blue covers, FYI.)

The Nancy Drew books were originally written in the 1930s. Nancy is an 18-year-old girl detective, stylish, smart, driving her blue convertible around town as she has adventures and solves mysteries. Her father is a famous lawyer and she often helps him with his cases. Some of the details have changed over time as the books were edited to reflect current times, but overall the plots remain the same. Someone needs help, and Nancy and her friends work together to figure it all out. The cover art is amazing! The books were written by several different authors, but all under the name of Carolyn Keene.

For Christmas, my husband bought me this Nancy Drew puzzle, which I completed over spring break. It’s 1000 pieces and I finished it in three days! (I have a puzzle problem, clearly. I always do one during school vacations, it’s my thing.) IMG_0058

So this puzzle made me run off to the library yet again, where I have started a massive re-read of the series! I still love these books, and mostly because they are so old-fashioned. Everything is just so, proper, with formal dialogue, fancy clothes, and safe adventures. There have been a some more modern, spin-off series of the books, a TV show from the 1970s, a few movies, and plans for a new TV show that again puts an updated spin on the books. You don’t have to read these in order, but that’s my plan. I’ve got a little checklist going and I’ve got #4, 5, and 6 set aside for this weekend. The books are short and can be read in just a few hours. I’m loving this blast from the past! If you are wanting to trying something old/new-to-you, grab a copy at the library and join me. Next up on my list of things to do is clear some shelf space so I can display my collection!

The original books are around the 5.0 AR level and are typically worth about 5-6 points.

The 6th Grade Nickname Game by Gordon Korman

nickname gameThis is a kind of Flashback Friday post, but this book was new to me, so here we go!

The first thing I did on spring break was to complete a Nancy Drew puzzle made of the original book covers, which led me to the library to check out some Nancy Drew books, which placed me among the K-authors in the children’s section, where I turned around to find a whole shelf of Gordon Korman books.  This one was on my TBR list already, so I added it to my growing pile. My break was only a week, but I ended up with way too many books!

The 6th Grade Nickname Game is about two best friends, and neighbors, Jeff and Wiley. These guys have been together since Day One, born only six hours apart at the same hospital. Their claim to fame? At Old Orchard Public School, they are unofficially in charge of giving people nicknames. It’s their thing. When their new teacher arrives, they quickly change his name from Mr. Hughes to Mr. Huge, which fits him because he’s the hulking, excitable football coach from the high school.  Not everyone likes their nickname, however, and a challenge is issued. Can Jeff and Wiley get a nickname to stick to the most un-nickname-able guy at school? If not, Charles, AKA Snoopy, gets to change his nickname to something cooler.

But then…a new girl arrives at OOPS. She’s different. Quirky. And also un-nickname-able. The two best friends quickly become frenemies as they each try to get to know her better. There are shenanigans and sabotage. In the meantime, Mr. Hughes is struggling with his new job, and the kids of 6B (nicknamed the Dim Bulbs) must band together to change his fate and overcome their own reputation. Jeff and Wiley are falling apart, but 110% is needed from both of them if they are going to help save the school year.

The 6th Grade Nickname Game has an AR level of 4.3 and is worth 3 points. I recommend this book to fans of Gordon Korman, if you liked Gary Paulsen’s Masters of Disaster, or you enjoyed the quirky character of Jerry Spinelli’s Stargirl.

 

 

El Deafo by Cece Bell

El DeafoHow about an award-winning graphic novel for today? it still feels like summer where I’m located, so I was looking for something that felt like an outdoor book, the kind you can read while sitting in the park. I happened to walk to the bookstore today and picked up El Deafo, a book I’d been meaning to add to my classroom since it came out last year. This book was a Kirkus Prize finalist in the category of young readers’ literature, it was a Newbery Honor book, AND it won an Eisner Award, which is a comic book award. I came straight home and read it straight through in one shot. It was such a relatable story; Cece Bell expressed all of the normal insecurities about growing up, but added on the extra personal layer of having a main character with a major hearing loss. This is inspired by her own personal story, drawn out here for you. (The characters are all represented as rabbits, but a childhood photo in the back assures me she is not actually a rabbit! I love this choice so so much, especially when you think about the significance of the ears in this book.)

When Cece was four years old, she became ill with meningitis. Meningitis is a fairly rare disease that causes swelling of the brain and spinal cord. Cece recovers, but a side effect she has to deal with is a hearing loss. Cece is scared because she doesn’t quite understand what is happening, or how to express to her parents how she is feeling. Once they get her sorted out, she gets her first hearing aid and goes off to kindergarten where she meets other deaf students. Their teacher helps them to learn how to lip read and prepares them for elementary school.

As Cece gets older, she worries about how other kids will see her and if they will treat her differently, or even want to be her friend at all. Will they notice the large hearing aid she wears under her clothes, the Phonic Ear? Will they ask questions? Will it be…weird? Will they think she is weird? Frenemies, sleepovers, moving, meeting new people, getting glasses, a first crush, and peer pressure at school are topics that are for every reader. Cece sometimes thinks of herself as a superhero– she has special powers that give her strength, but also make her different. She imagines herself in different scenarios as her alter-ego, El Deafo, which helps her gain the confidence she needs to work through her insecurities.

Gosh, this was good, a perfect sixth grade book. I recommend it to anyone. For El Deafo, Cece Bell did the writing and the illustrating, but another artist, David Lasky, did the color work. So think about that, my friends. That’s a job. Coloring. That’s a job that a grownup has, a job that YOU could have. See, you can learn a lot of things when you read! (Also as a side note, Cece Bell is married to Tom Angleberger, the Origami Yoda guy! They even made a book together, called Crankee Doodle, so that’s pretty cool.)

El Deafo has an AR level of 2.7 and is worth 2 points.

Ungifted by Gordon Korman

UngiftedGordon Korman is a very popular author at my school, based on what I see in my classroom and in the school library. I have to admit that I had never read any of his books until now, but this one has a robot on the front, so it made into the “Books I Intend to Read Over Summer Vacation” box that I brought home from school a few weeks ago. (Robots, big yes!) Ungifted reminded me of a student that I know…

Donovan Curtis is a bit of a troublemaker with a reputation at his middle school. He’s impulsive. He acts first, thinks later. So on the day of the big basketball game when he’s already in the office for another offense he committed, he can’t NOT help himself to the unattended PA system where he offers up a cheer against his own team! Next, he ditches detention with the encouragement of his best friends, and as they are leaving campus yet another incident occurs. This time Donovan gets busted by the superintendent himself, and there is a great amount of property damage done to the school.

Oddly, Donovan does not get called up to the office to deal with his crime. Instead, he receives a letter in the mail that lets his family know that he’s been accepted into the special academy for gifted students. His parents are confused, but thrilled nonetheless, and Donovan realizes that this paperwork mixup is his opportunity to go into hiding. If the superintendent can’t find him, then he and his family won’t have to pay for all the damage his last prank caused. Off to gifted school!

It become obvious that Donovan is not like the other children at his new school. He knows, it, the other kids know it, the teachers know it, but everyone is surprisingly patient with him as they wait for whatever his intellectual talents are to reveal themselves. There is a very rigorous testing procedure in place to qualify for this school, so either he’s super smart (but unmotivated) or clever enough to cheat the system, so they make him take the admissions test again. In the meantime, Donovan has found a place on the robotics team and he is slowly becoming invested in something bigger than himself. Maybe there is more to school than just begin the biggest goof-off!

Fair warning: if you ARE a gifted kid yourself, you might find some of the “quirky” traits assigned to the academy kids a little stereotypical. Korman does make them all different among themselves though, and I think that is important, because everyone has got their own quirks in real life, too. Donovan also develops into having more than one dimension, which is nice, but the ending left me wondering if he had really changed or not. Hmm. You decide!

As for the student this reminded me of, I hope that I was patient with him just like these teachers were, and I hope I helped him discover some of his strengths this year. He would corner me and ask, “Mrs. P., am I your favorite???” My answer was always, “What do you think?” My goal is always to make each of my students feel like they are my favorite. If I’ve done that, I know I’ve had a great year.

Read this book if you are gifted, if you know someone who is gifted, if you are high spirited and impulsive, if you are a student who likes to challenge yourself, or you want a new perspective on other types of kids that you don’t already know…or basically if you’re just a kid in general!

Ungifted has an AR level of 5.2 and is worth 8 points.

Time Cat by Lloyd Alexander

Just about every morning in my classroom, I have some sort of welcome message on my board for when the kids walk in the door. It could be an interesting photo from the news, a quote to think about, a silly meme, or just some instructions for the morning. One of my students and I bonded quickly over cat memes, such as this one: IMG_2046 He’s a cat person, I’m a cat person= insta-bond! Somewhere in the dark corners of my classroom library he was able to located the book Time Cat. I didn’t know I had it; it has the previous teacher’s name written across the front, so it was apparently abandoned when she switched schools. Being a cat fan and a history buff, he immediately read it. And then I think he read it again. All year, he asked me to read this book, and I know at least one other student caught on and read it, too. I packed it in my big box o’school stuff to bring home for summer vacation and I just finished it the other day. This was not a book I’d ever heard of before, older than me even (!), but when I picked it up and looked inside I discovered that this author wrote The Prydain Chronicles, which includes The Black Cauldron. Now, I may be a cat person, and I may be a Harry Potter person, but first and foremost I am a Disney person! The Black Cauldron is an animated Disney movie. I had no idea that this was the same author! Now we are in familiar territory, and now I have new books to read. Always read that little list in the front of your books, people. You can gather interesting information and new things to add to your To Be Read list. time catSo, Time Cat is about a boy, Jason, and his cat, Gareth. The book begins with Jason having a terrible, rotten, no good, very bad day in which he gets in trouble, fights with his brother, ruins the project he was working on and gets sent to his room. As you do, presumably to think about what you have done, right? Jason is having his own little pity party when suddenly Gareth, who has been napping, looks over and basically says, “Do you want to get out of here for a while?” Guess what? The cat can travel through time and space to nine different places (or nine separate lives, get it?) and he can bring a friend along. You know you’re reading a fantasy book because Jason’s immediate response is “YES!” Obviously, anyone who has owned a cat knows they are at least a little bit magical–

“Where do you think cats go when you’re looking all over and can’t find them?” Gareth replied. “And have you ever noticed a cat suddenly appear in a room when you were sure the room was empty? Or disappear, and you can’t imagine where he went?”

There are rules of course: Gareth can only talk to Jason when nobody else is around, so they won’t be able to communicate most of the time. They get no special protections as they time travel, so they can get hurt or worse and there is no way to prevent that, so being careful is really important. Lastly, Jason must stay with Gareth the whole time because if they get separated there is no way for him to get home by himself. That seems fair, right? So off they go! They visit ancient Egypt, where cats are worshipped. Then they visit Rome, Ireland, Italy, Peru, and Japan, just to mention a few different places. They run into a some recognizable figures from history as well, so watch for those to pop up. They end up in colonial America where they participate in sounding an alarm against the Redcoats. Very exciting stuff. But for me, not quite exciting enough. The tension between Jason and Gareth never built up enough to make me worry about them getting lost. Jason can magically speak the language of whatever country they go to, so communicating with people is not really an issue either. Also, because the book is older, it’s not exactly culturally correct anymore. An old man they meet in Japan is described as having a face “the color of a pale lemon” and one of the characters actually says the words, “Ah so!” which is an old caricature  of an Asian person. The individual stories are pretty short, and the lessons are unclear, though Gareth reveals he has brought Jason on this trip so he can learn how to grow up. The sacrifice for this trip? Jason will no longer be able to talk to his cat again. I was a little mad that Gareth did not disclose that as one of his rules at the beginning. Despite the things I did not like about this book, it was perfect for my student because he was not a big reader, and the small stories-within-a-big-story format made this very approachable for him to tackle. I think it fit well into our silent reading time because it was easy to pick up and put down as time allowed. For this reason, Time Cat would also make a nice read aloud book as well. Time Cat has an AR level of 4.7 and is worth 5 points.

A Tale Dark and Grimm by Adam Gidwitz

 

 “Once upon a time…” 

I love reading or hearing these words at the start of a story. They let me know that something incredible is about to happen, probably featuring some type of magic, or talking animals, or at least an epic adventure of some sort. They let me know it is time to suspend reality for a little while, and that whatever happens, it’s okay to believe it, no matter how UNbelievable it may be. 

My students and I read a few versions of Little Red Riding Hood the other day.  In one version, Red’s grandma gets eaten by the wolf, and in another, Red just goes home and nothing happens. Nothing! That was kind of a let down. So we talked about how these stories were supposed to scare children into doing what they were told. Red Riding Hood breaks all of her mother’s rules about 10 seconds into the story and as a result the wolf eats her grandma (and sometimes Red herself also gets eaten!) Don’t worry though, grandma has been swallowed whole, so when the woodsman comes to their rescue, she just steps right out of the wolf’s stomach untouched. Amazing, right?!?

So then we talked about how about how these fairy tales that have been Disneyfied over time really do have some very dark origins.  Grimm’s Fairy Tales are quite scary and gruesome. I mentioned that I had a book in the class library that addressed this darker aspect of the original stories, a book called A Tale Dark and Grimm that my previous students were really into. This launched a massive hunt through all of my books–“What color is it?” “What is the author’s name again?” “Which category would it be under?” A sign-up list was starting to form of who was reading it first and who it would go to next. An arm wrestling contest was about to break out to determine rankings.

We could not find it anywhere. Sad faces. However, because I am awesome, I jumped right online and reserved two copies at my neighborhood bookstore. How can I deny such a reading frenzy? I walked over to pick them up yesterday, plus a copy of book 2 for my speed readers, and then I started reading to be better prepared for Monday. A Tale Dark and Grimm follows Hansel and Gretel through several different fairy tales, while all along the narrator interjects with warnings about putting the book down, turning away, sparing the children from the bloody details, and overall lightening the mood so the book doesn’t go full-blown scary. I enjoyed it very much, it was a quick read, and watching the stories criss-cross each other was pretty cool. I will just say that Hansel and Gretel have a very rough start and ending, poor kids. Yikes! I can’t wait to pass these out in class tomorrow. 

A Tale Dark and Grimm has an AR level of 4.6 and is worth 6 points. It is quite violent and bloody, the author is very clear about this fact, so if you are easily upset these might not be for you, but the fantasy and magic aspect, along with the narrator’s humor, takes some of the edge off. There are three books in the series: the second is called In a Glass Grimmly, and the third is A Grimm Conclusion.  I also see that this book is in development for a movie, by the same director who made the Coraline movie. Exciting!