Back to School!

Oh my goodness, school starts next week!  Are you ready?  I am not, unfortunately.  9 days out and I still don’t have a job settled for this year yet.  I don’t know what grade I’ll be teaching, what school I will be working at, or even which district I might end up in!  I’m going to try to get a new book post up for you this week, but I’m also kind of on stand-by to run out on a moment’s notice to go set up my classroom and start planning furiously for the first day of class.  UPDATED:  I am teaching 6th grade again, but at a new school.  This time I’ll be working at an elementary school instead of a middle school, so it will be totally different! The first thing I set up? My library, of course!

As the summer is winding down, I had the sudden realization that I have only seen one movie during this whole summer.  I can’t believe it.  Today I noticed that all of the movies I meant to go see are now playing at the $2 theater by my house, so if I don’t start school next week with all of you, maybe I can get caught up then.   Take a guess at which movie I did see…  I’ll give you a hint:

That’s right.  I’ve had THIS song stuck in my head all summer, with nothing new to push it out of my brain.  And now you have it stuck in your head too, so, you’re welcome for that.  Ha ha!  UPDATE: I also saw The Dark Knight Rises this week.  I liked it!

Enjoy the holiday weekend and make these last few days of summer count.  Remember when you are packing your backpack for the new school year to always, always, always have a silent reading book with you at school. There can be a ton of testing and review work during those first two weeks of school, so be prepared for those in-between times when you’re waiting around for the next thing to happen.  Your teachers will thank for you being prepared and respectful towards learning if you show that you know how to use your time wisely.  I hope your new teachers will read to you, share new books with the class, and have lots of great suggestions on what to read this year.  Best of luck for the new year!

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The Strange Case of Origami Yoda (series) by Tom Angleberger

Oh my gosh, how could I have NOT told you about this book series? I’m so disappointed in myself! I just finished the latest book, The Secret of the Fortune Wookiee, and suddenly realized I would have to back up to the beginning for this one.  Do you love Star Wars? You. Must. Read. This.

Oops, I mean, “Read this, you must!”

 

It all starts in book 1, The Strange Case of Origami Yoda.  The sixth graders at McQuarrie Middle School are busy dealing with typical middle school stuff, when the weird kid, Dwight, shows up with an origami Yoda he has folded.  Not only does he wear the Yoda like a finger puppet, he makes it speak in a Yoda voice, which adds to his overall weirdness.  However, the advice that the Origami Yoda gives is good.  It’s really good.  Can Dwight control the Force? How does this even work? How can someone who digs holes in the yard and then spends the day sitting in them give out such good advice?  The book is narrated by Tommy, as he collects his classmates’ stories so they can relay their experiences with Dwight and Origami Yoda.  The book is written as a “case file” by different authors, with cartoon illustrations throughout.

Every good story needs a villain, and in book 2, Darth Paper Strikes Back, Dwight has some competition.  Harvey has been a non-believer in Origami Yoda since the beginning.  When he comes to school with an origami Darth Vader, he is determined to get Dwight in trouble.   He manages to get Dwight suspended based on one of Origami Yoda’s predictions, but again the kids assemble their stories to help prove Dwight’s innocence and make a presentation to the school board.  This is a classic battle between the Force and the Dark Side, but who will win?  Also included in this book are instructions on how to play a fun paper & pencil Star Wars game!

In book 3, The Secret of the Fortune Wookiee, Dwight is still suspended.  The kids have no guidance from Origami Yoda this semester and are feeling a little lost.  They actually miss Dwight being around and his quirky habits, too. Sara happens to live next door to Dwight, and she shows up at school with the Fortune Wookiee that she says Dwight threw to her from his bedroom window.  The Fortune Wookiee is one of those folded fortune tellers, or cootie catchers, that open and close and have little notes written inside.  Sara can do a fine Chewbacca impression, but everyone knows that the only person who can translate for Chewbacca is Han Solo. So in addition to the Fortune Wookiee, she also produces Han Foldo, the paper version of Han Solo.  (Makes sense!)  Nobody is quite sure how this new set-up works though; Origami Yoda seemed to use the Force, but Wookiees aren’t typically Jedi and don’t use the Force. How is Sara able to make this Fortune Wookiee give advice? Meanwhile, Dwight is doing okay at his new school, but he is becoming…normal.  A normal Dwight is a boring Dwight, so part of this book’s case file is directed at Dwight himself.  Strange things are happening at McQuarrie, which leads into the promise of another sequel!

Each of these books has instructions for how to fold your own Yoda, Darth Paper, Fortune Wookie, and Han Foldo.  The characters all have their own voices and distinct personalities.  They way they interact with each other is true to middle school.  The Star Wars references are awesome, and the little drawings throughout the book crack me up.  I highly recommend this series!  Origami Yoda has an AR level of  4.7 and is worth 3 points, Darth Paper has an AR level of 4.6 and is worth 3 points, and Fortune Wookiee is so brand-spanking new it is not yet rated on AR.  (I expect it to be at about the same level as the other two books.)  Pass these books onto your favorite Star Wars fans, regardless of their age!

Wonder by R.J. Palacio (updated!)

Your assignment: find and read this book.

I had been hearing all over the internet that Wonder was The Book to Read this year.  I thought I had ordered it online, but it wasn’t in the box, so I guess I somehow forgot to add it to my cart.  Who runs off to the bookstore on the same day they get a big book order in the mail? Me!  So of course, when I went to go pick it up at my local bookstore, it was sold out.  Thankfully the bookseller reminded me that I could (duh!) download it directly onto my Nook e-reader, so I ran home and did just that!  I will still have to buy a couple of copies for my classroom; hopefully it will come out in paperback soon.  If you don’t want to buy a hardback version, remember to check your local library where you can borrow it for FREE!

This book is about a boy named August Pullman.  Auggie is going into fifth grade.  Actually, Auggie is going to school for the first time ever.  He was born with some facial deformities and due to the many surgeries he has been through in his lifetime, he has always been homeschooled.  As a result, he’s a little timid and a little immature compared to other students his age.  He’s perfectly healthy and he’s perfectly smart, but his appearance can be shocking.  We all know how difficult it is to be the new kid at school, let alone at a middle school, but Auggie has his work cut out for him since people tend to draw away from him.  The principal plans ahead for this transition and asks some of the other students to meet up and give Auggie a tour of the school before classes start.  Here he meets Jack, Julian, and Charlotte, so at least he knows a few people to begin the year.  (His principal is a great character, very practical, wise, and very calming.)  Unfortunately, kids are not always so nice to each other, and Auggie is left to figure out who his true friends are after a heartbreaking betrayal by someone he thought was on his side.

Auggie has a mom and a dad who are nervous to send him off to school after all this time. I thought they were the perfect combination of worried, supportive, and loving.  They knew it was time to let Auggie go off on his own and let him have his own adventures, but were present enough so that Auggie knew he would always have them for backup if he needed help.  He also has a sister named Olivia.  She is in high school and also starting to find her own path.  She loves Auggie with all of her heart, but at her new school, nobody knows her as “the girl with the deformed little brother.”  This new freedom is exciting, but it also makes her a little bit sad.  She takes over as one of the narrators of the book, followed by her boyfriend, and a couple of other characters.  It is in these chapters that the reader gets to piece together the whole story, as multiple perspectives combine.  There is a bully that torments Auggie throughout the book, and an encounter with some kids from another school, but for me the saddest case of bullying comes from another parent at the school who tries to get Auggie removed from his private school.

This book made me cry at points, but not at the sad parts.  (Okay, maybe one sad part.)  I was very uplifted by the compassion people were able to show to Auggie and that made me cry happy tears.  People ARE generally good to each other and everyone can make a big difference to another person through very small acts.  The author uses a quote in the book:

“When given the choice between being right or being kind, choose kind.”

Dr. Wayne Dyer

Choose kind.

That’s it, that’s all you have to do.  This has spun off into its own webpage where you can join and sign a pledge to choose kind.  If you have a story to tell, you can share it anonymously, too.  Just click the banner below to find out more!

If you DO read this, know that the author was inspired by a true thing that happened to her as a mom.  The part with the kids eating ice cream?  That is her story and she knew she needed to do better, to make it better, and so she wrote this book.  Here is her webpage as well–  http://rjpalacio.com/book.html

This book is a great read aloud for families to share because it brings up so many questions for discussion.  I think this might be the next book I buy as a class set for school, too.  Wonder has an AR level of 4.8 and is worth 11 points.

Sequels!

Yesterday I realized that I am reading a different book in every room of my house.  I was reading in the living room when my husband called me from the kitchen.  I walked into the kitchen and immediately picked up another book as I entered that room.  There’s a book next to my bed, there is a pile on the dining table, there is a small stack here to the left of the couch.  There was a book on the floor, too, from where I had been reading until I fell asleep. (It’s really hot here and the floor was the coolest place in the house.)  Needless to say, when I went to the library yesterday, I only dropped books off and didn’t check anything out this time!  Well, that, plus the fact that I’m already waiting on an order from Barnes and Noble to arrive this week, ha ha!

So today, I’m just here to update with two more books that I finished this summer.  They are both sequels in two different series of books that I can’t stop reading.

The first is book six in The Last Apprentice series by Joseph Delaney.  I actually started this blog with book #5, if you scroll back to the beginning of my posts.  This one is called Clash of the Demons, and here we find Tom Ward, the Spook, Alice, Tom’s mother, and a host of allies all preparing to fight the Dark together.  They must travel to Greece to fight the Ordeen, who arrives every seven years through a fiery portal (as shown on the cover.)  It’s a dangerous task and some will not return.  Secret identities are revealed and once again, Tom has to make some decisions that will certainly have long-term consequences.  You really do have to read the all of the prior books to make this all matter, but you should anyway because it’s an awesome series.  I hope that Alice, Tom’s best friend who also happens to be a witch, finally is recognized by the Spook for all that she does to help Tom, even if the Spook disagrees with her connections to Dark magic.   This book has an AR level of 5.7 and is worth 10 points.

The next book couldn’t be more different! The Penderwicks at Point Mouette by Jeanne Birdsall has a much lighter storyline– no witches, goblins, or boggarts here!   This is book three about the Penderwick sisters.  Their father has gotten remarried and is about to go on his honeymoon.  The four sisters are split up for the first time when the eldest sister, Rosalind, goes on vacation with her friend to the Jersey shore, and the remaining three sisters go to Maine with their Aunt Claire.  Skye finds herself on duty as the OAP, or the Oldest Available Penderwick, which causes her much stress while she tries to manage her sisters and remember all of the rules.  Batty finds she has a new talent, Jane tries to fall in love, and their best friend, Jeffrey, joins them on vacation and even he learns a thing or two on this trip.  Everyone is growing up!  This book has an AR level of 5.6 and is worth 10 points.

Just a few more weeks of vacation left to go! Too many books, so little time, and soon I’ll have to get back to teaching again.  That’s okay though, because it really means I’ll have a whole new grade of students to share with and a new excuse to buy more books for my classroom library!

Election by Dan Gutman

Today, I have a little something different for your reading enjoyment– a non-fiction book! Remember that a fiction book is not real, so a non-fiction book is NOT not real.  In other words, it’s true stuff: facts, or history, or biographies.  Because we are in an election year, it’s a good idea to know how these things work.  (If you were in my class as a third grader, you’ll remember how we watched Barack Obama officially take office on Inauguration Day! That was cool!)

I was able to preview a copy of Dan Gutman’s new book Election! this summer.  It will be available to you at the end of August, in just a few weeks.  I  know that middle school readers will like this book because it is written in question/answer format, instead of pages of paragraphs.  It definitely makes reading non-fiction feel easier to understand, and Mr. Gutman has made sure that his answers are just the right length, without getting all crazy and technical.  If one answer leads you to another question, you’ll find that he has almost read your mind because your new question will follow along in just the right order as you are thinking it!

Election! covers some of the history of how we ended up with a president instead of a king (or a pharaoh or emperor), how the government of the United States is set up, and what the Constitution is all about.  He tells us what kind of powers the president has in ruling our country and why he can’t just do whatever he want, whenever he wants.  There are some interesting fun facts about various past presidents, too.  It’s interesting to see how the voting process has changed over time and who can or cannot vote today.  Every answer is explained with a good sense of humor; in fact, when things are about to become complicated, the author advises, “You’d better sit down for this.  Lock yourself in a room and don’t do any texting for a few minutes.”  It’s like he knows you!

We The People (that’s a Constitution joke for you!) are constantly bombarded with information, especially if you ever go online or watch TV.  Sometimes it is hard to know what is real these days.  As we are coming up onto Election Day, which will be in November, you will start seeing more and more commercials that suggest you vote for a particular candidate.  Sometimes those commercials are not very nice.  The part of the book that I liked best, reminds the reader to stop and think before making any decisions.  Voting is a big privilege and responsibility, so we adults need to do our best to find out as much information as possible ahead of time.  We also need to consider what is being told to us and who is telling it, but also what is NOT being told in those commercials and advertisements. (Think about those times when you have to tell your parents something, and you don’t exactly lie, but you don’t tell the whole truth either.  It’s kind of like that.)  Even though you may say, “I”m just a kid!” you can start to practice these evaluation skills now, too.

Voters have to pay attention and stay informed.  They should read newspapers and news magazines.  They should find out how the candidates stand on each issue.  They should be looking at what each candidate has done in other elective offices they held….Always remember that a candidate is trying to show himself in the best possible way.  You cannot make a fair evaluation just by watching TV commercials.

This book includes a nice glossary of election vocabulary in case you get stuck while reading, but also to make yourself sound like an expert at the dinner table or in social studies class.  At the very end of the book, there is a list of all of the presidents’ stats for their lives and the years when they served as the POTUS.  (That’s another term you may hear during the elections.  Can you guess what it stands for?*)

I really enjoyed this book.  It flowed along nicely from question to question and it was definitely written at the middle school level.  Some readers might like to keep a dictionary nearby, or a computer.  I know I looked up a few historical figures who were named in this book to search for more information, just because their stories sounded interesting! This book was written fairly and did not seem to take any political sides (as grownups sometimes do when they are passionate about an issue.)  The author’s attitude is clearly neutral, as stated below:

Remember, the election is not a popularity contest.  We are trying to choose the best person to lead our country for the next four years.

^^^See what I did there?  I evaluated the author’s message in this book and decided it was a good one.  You should always do the same when you read.  I recommend this book for kids who like to read non-fiction books, kids who like to learn about history, kids who like collecting “fun facts”, and anyone who could use a quick brush-up on how the US government works.

*POTUS= President of the United States.  Ah ha! I knew you could figure it out!

Dessert First and Just Desserts by Hallie Durand

So, the other day I posted about how I sometimes read books that are too “old” to include on this book blog (so that you don’t think I’m slacking off in between posts!)  But sometimes, I like to read books that are younger than what I would normally pick because they are just flat-out funny.  They help me think about how kids see the world around them, and as a teacher, that’s a good thing.  I think most teachers set up their Accelerated Reader programs so that you can’t take quizzes on any books that are lower than your set reading level, but that doesn’t mean you can’t read them just for fun.  It’s good to give your brain a break, even if it is reading a picture book, or going back to re-read an old favorite.  When you get older and go back to something you have read before, your brain likes it because it is familiar to you and you’ve already practiced it.  (I could read Charlotte’s Web every day!)  But also, since you are now older and you know more and you’ve read more and you’ve experienced more, you can still learn from it again.  You might learn something totally different about the characters in the book…and you might learn something new about yourself.  I challenge you to go read an old favorite and then share it with someone else!

While I was at the library the other day, I was on the hunt for a particular book, but couldn’t find it on the shelf.  I started to wander down the shelf and I spotted these two books, side-by-side.  That was like an invitation to pick them right up! (Best part of the library? Wandering and finding things by surprise!)  The first book is called Dessert First and the main character is a third grader named Dessert.  Well, sort of.  Her real name is Donohue, but when she was born, her grandmother nicknamed her “Dessert.”  She spoke French though, so it sounded fancier, like “day-zair.”  Dessert even signs her name with a cherry at the end, to show her personal “flair.”  Dessert has a younger sister and two toddler brothers, who are called “The Beasties” because they are naughty.  Her family owns a fondue restaurant and if you like eating or cooking, you’ll enjoy those parts of the story.  Sometimes Dessert goes to help out at the restaurant.  (If you have never heard of fondue, you can get some information and some recipes here–  http://familyfun.go.com/recipes/fondue-fun-714412/)

Dessert has a teacher named Mrs. Howdy Doody, and she sounds like a teacher that I would love to know.  Mrs. Howdy Doody encourages the children to “march to your own drummer, ” meaning to do things in your own unique way.  Dessert decides that eating dessert first is really the best way to do dinner properly, and tries to convince her parents that this will be the new unique way they should eat together each night.  Mrs. Howdy Doody is starting a fundraiser and she is asking every student to make a sacrifice for two weeks.  Parents will sponsor their children for each day they succeed in giving up their favorite thing and then the money will be used to build something special for the whole school.  Knowing that Dessert takes her name very seriously, it’s not hard to figure out what her sacrifice will be after a hilarious run-in with some Double Decker Chocolate Bars.  (The recipe is in the book, too, and I am totally going to make some!)  What is not predictable is how she manages to work around her problem, and how she ends up surprising herself at the end.

In the second book, Just Desserts, it seems that all of the third graders have had it up. to. here. with their bothersome brothers and sisters (and one dog.)  Mrs. Howdy Doody is teaching about American history and the words “Let Freedom Ring” become stuck in Dessert’s head.  Why shouldn’t she get some independence from her annoying siblings?  She starts a club for her friends, in which she sets out to solve all of their problems, only she quickly discovers that her advice is not always enough, or even well-thought out.  She is in over her head, and the worst part is that she already spent some of the dues everyone has paid her for her services!  Dessert learns a hard lesson about friendship and honesty, but she is also finds out that those annoying siblings can also be there when you need them.

There is a third book called No Room for Dessert, but it just came out a few weeks ago and was not available at the library yet.  Read these books if you like spunky girls like Ramona Quimby (by Beverly Cleary) or Junie B. Jones (by Barbara Park.)  Another series that I keep seeing mentioned with the Dessert books,  but I have not personally read, are the Clementine books by Sarah Pennypacker.

Dessert First has an AR level of 4.5 and is worth 2 points.  Just Desserts has an AR level of 4.9 and is worth 3 points.

The Prince of Mist by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Apologies for my lack of posting! I’ve been on vacation to -get this-  a place with NO television.  For a week! (And my son said he loved it and would have liked to stay longer, go figure!)  I did manage to get quite a bit of reading done while I was gone, but I read a few grownup books in between getting to my stack of kid stuff.  I read a teenage book, too, but I didn’t feel it was appropriate for blogging here.  There are a ton of great older teen books out there, but I try to be particularly focused on middle school reads.  They may still address difficult topics about growing up, but are maybe more age-appropriate in language choice and some of the more graphic details might be more toned-down.  So when I post about a book, I try to choose carefully with the focus being on the story and the message, and if there is some questionable content, I’ll always warn you up front so you can choose what is best for you.

On that note, the book I have for you today was written by one of my favorite adult authors. Carlos Ruiz Zafon is a writer from Spain and all of his books are first published in Spanish and then translated into English.  It turns out that his first  four books were actually young adult books.  I had no idea!  These books were stuck in some legal dispute, probably with the original publisher, but recently became available for us to read here (and in English, which is a bonus.  Interestingly, he said that while his translator is amazing, if something doesn’t quite come across the same in the translation, he will completely rewrite that section in English so he can get the tone absolutely perfect for our version of the book. Cool! Be sure to read the interview at the end of the story because he has some fantastic ideas about reading and writing.)

The Prince of Mist is a spooky tale that takes place in a non-specific setting, but it seems to be England during World War II.  A family leaves the city as the war is becoming more intense, and they move to the seashore.  There are three children in the family: Alicia, Max, and Irina.  Irina finds a cat immediately when they arrive at the train station, and brings him to their new house on the beach.  The house has been unoccupied for a while, so it is dusty and full of large spiders.  Out behind the house is a curious garden.  In this locked and gated area, Max discovers a bunch of statues, all representing a variety of circus characters.  Max could swear he sees the clown move and runs back to the house, understandably scared out of his wits.  As the family is busy moving in, the father finds an old movie projector and reels of films.   The youngest sister, Irina, has a shocking accident…could the cat be involved?

Max and Alicia quickly make friends with Roland, the lighthouse keeper’s grandson.  Roland takes them around town, to the lighthouse, and out diving to see a shipwreck.  When Irina is sent to the hospital, and the parents are gone for a few days, Roland hangs out with the kids and they begin to share stories.  It quickly becomes evident that these new friends are now connected in a history involving the previous residents of the beach house, the lighthouse keeper, and Roland himself, though he does not know it.  While Max and Roland have a best friend relationship, Alicia and Roland become much closer and settle into the beginnings of a boyfriend/girlfriend relationship. (Yep, there’s some kissing, but you can handle it.)  The lighthouse keeper’s tale is chilling, there are clues to be found in the old movie reels, the kids are tested by a dark force, and the climax of this book is intense!

Zafon is an expert at creating a dark, dusty, creepy mood in his writing and he truly succeeded here, even though the book is much smaller than his adult novels.   I read this one while on vacation at a house on Tomales Bay in northern California, where you can sit and watch a thick blanket of fog roll in every afternoon and where water lapped at the shore right underneath our house.  I was very much on edge as I read this book because it matched my situation perfectly.  I definitely recommend this book if you like a scary story where the author doesn’t solve all of the problems for you at once.  This one gets inside your head and haunts you for a few days.  The Prince of Mist has an AR level of 6.5 and is worth 7 points.