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.

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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! 

Divergent/Insurgent/Allegiant by Veronica Roth

divergent

I am waaayyyyy late to this party, I know. I’ve had Divergent on my bookshelf since it came out and I finally read it, and then immediately read Insurgent and Allegiant over the last 5 days. (I also have a copy of Four, but I left it at school, so I’ll start that up when we get back.)  My students will be so happy that I got caught up on this over our Thanksgiving break!  Why did it take me so long to read? I’m not sure.

I was an early reader of The Hunger Games. I think I resisted Divergent because I was being loyal to Katniss. When I started reading Divergent, my thoughts, were “Yeah, yeah, yeah, dystopia, got it” and then as Tris made her decision on Choosing Day and THEN the implications of choosing Dauntless were revealed, I was hooked.

Okay this only makes sense to people who have read the books, so let me back up. In a future Chicago, society is divided into factions based on personality temperaments. There are the Erudite, who value learning and logic, the Amity, who value peace and relationships, the Abnegation, who value selflessness and modesty, and the Dauntless, who value courage and bravery. When you turn 16, you get the option of leaving your family faction behind and reassigning yourself to something new. This is partly led by a test that is supposed to show a particular aptitude for one faction or another. Some people show an affinity for more than one faction though, and those people are the Divergent. Divergent people are considered dangerous, so that attribute must be kept hidden. Beatrice, or Tris, is Divergent. She joins Dauntless in the hopes of finding a place for herself because she doesn’t quite fit in with her own family or any of the other groups. She meets a boy named Four, and she trains really hard and she becomes all kinds of cool.

There is more to this society than meets the eye though, and over the three books we discover that all of these people are part of something even bigger, and everyone is being manipulated through generations of beliefs that are not quite accurate. There is a war on the horizon, but this has all happened before. Attempts to control it had mixed results. And it turns out the Divergent folks are the ones with just the right combo of smarts, bravery, sacrifice, and solidarity to begin a revolution. No wonder they are considered dangerous when they are perfectly suited to challenge the status quo (the way things are and have always been, so “they” say.)

Tris is an awesome character, though I question her ability to be thrust into so many new situations and handle them all so calmly and rationally when she is only 16 years old. She always managed to see through people and figure out the right thing to do, even when she had to go against Four and work behind his back. However, this did not bother me at all when I read the books because I was fully involved in her point of view. Maybe I ended up feeling this way because the last book uses alternating viewpoints between Tris and Four, which allowed me to take a step back from the action. (I did not care for this narration technique because they “sounded” so much alike. Sometimes I had to double-check to see whose chapter I was reading.)

So, let’s get to the ending. I already knew what was going to happen at the end. Shortly after Allegiant came out, I was ambushed by a bunch of hysterical sixth graders who were devastated (devastated!) by the ending. Perhaps that is another reason I put off reading the books. However, I will say that I think that what happened HAD TO happen to be true to the character. Had to. So I did not mind this at all, and would still say yes, read these books.

Interestingly as I was finishing Insurgent, I went to see The Giver at the movies, and I was struck by a lot of the similarities, starting with the choosing ceremony (or assignment ceremony in The Giver), and that made me think again of The Hunger Games and also the Matched series, where the government suppresses the people and controls every aspect of their lives. It was cool to think about how these big dystopian ideas all connect. So if you liked those books, or movies, you should definitely check out the Divergent series. It will make you think big ideas, just like Tris. (And Katniss, and Jonas, and Cassia…)

Divergent has an AR level of 4.8 and is worth 16 points; Insurgent is level 5.0 and is worth 16 points; Allegiant is level 5.7 and is worth 17 points.

Shouldn’t You Be in School? by Lemony Snicket

schoolA new book from my favorite person! This is the third book in the All the Wrong Questions series. If you have already read #1 and 2, follow up with this one, but read carefully. Strange things are happening. Well, you know, stranger than usual. And while this book is just as clever as the last two, it feels much heavier. Much more dismaying, a word here which means the book takes us to several different locations around Stain’d-by-the-Sea but doesn’t bring us much closer to any answers. However, we do have all of our characters in the same place at once and our heroes have banded together in force to prepare for the fight against Hangfire, the villain. What does he want? Why? Is caviar really the salty jewel of the tasty sea? Alas, these questions are probably wrong. Look for some serious references to A Series of Unfortunate Events in this book! You will find them quite pleasing.

This book JUST came out, so there is no AR info to share. Doesn’t matter. You need to read this and then wait miserably with me until the next one comes out. In the meantime, watch this interview with Daniel Handler–

Then watch this one and follow the trail–

Endangered by Eliot Schrefer

endangeredThe Democratic Republic of Congo is a country in Africa. (Remember Africa is not just one giant country; it is a continent made of many countries.) Congo is a very unstable country, with almost constant warring between different political groups. It is a country of great mineral wealth, though the people are poor. Most children do not attend school because they must work to support their families. Some children end up as soldiers. Congo also has bonobos, endangered members of the great ape family. This is the real setting where the fictional story, Endangered, takes place.

Our main character is Sophie, who lives with her father in the US during the school year, and in Congo with her mother in the summer. Sophie’s mom runs a sanctuary for the bonobo apes, raising and protecting them so they can eventually be released into the wild on a reserve that is protected from hunters. On her way into town, Sophie sees a man on the street, dragging around a baby bonobo. She buys the ape from the man, trying to save the poor creature from being sold for food. Her mother is furious, and the reason why becomes clear very quickly. This one simple decision creates a bigger dilemma, and as a result, Sophie is tasked with taking care of her new bonobo, now named Otto, for the summer. Sophie’s mom must leave on a trip, but shortly afterward, a rebellion breaks out. The story follows Sophie and Otto as they must flee the sanctuary and trek through the war-torn countryside, facing real threats to their survival. Some scary stuff happens along the way. It is an interesting comparison between apes and their social structure to humans and our societies, when we are so closely related by genetics. What makes them so different, yet so relatable? Other questions come up as well, concerning animal welfare v. human welfare issues. Here is a clip from the author, Eliot Schrefer:

This book made me think and I learned a lot. Sophie is smart and calm under pressure when faced with difficult situations.  Who is more endangered in this story, the girl or the bonobos?  Or is it all of Congo? Would you be able to survive?

If you read The One and Only Ivan, this book would be the next step up. It is more scientific in how it presents information, and it is definitely written at a higher level, both in language and content. 

Endangered has an AR level of 6.2 and is worth 12 points. The author plans to write a book for each of the great apes; the second one is called Threatened and is about chimpanzees, and book three will be about orangutans. Also, Mr. Schrefer is writing a book in the Spirit Animals series, which were very popular in my classroom this past year, so now we have more things to add to our TBR (to-be-read) lists!

Throwback Thursday (and a book pairing bonus!)

My goodness, I’ve been away for too long!  This is due to two things:

1.  I took 43 sixth graders to camp for a week.  A loooong week.  Totally worth it, by the way.

2.  I’ve been in a serious reading slump lately.  Everyone once in a while it happens.  I get distracted and have trouble settling in for reading.  I got stuck in a book that I was not really enjoying, but I really wanted to like it and thought I should like it, so I was too stubborn to just quit.  Then I had an assignment for a friend’s site that also involved my reading another book I did not care for at all and then figuring out how to write about it.  (That was really tricky, but I did it!)

One of the side effects of a reading slump is that I tend to bounce around between different reading materials, so suddenly I found myself finishing several things at once.  That’s good for this blog, so I’ll try to post a few more things in the next week or so.

Today I have two titles to present.  One is a throwback, since Throwback Thursday is such a big “thing” right now, and the other is a comparatively newer book. We are looking at 1987 and 2006, so I guess those are both technically throwbacks.  At any rate, the first is a classic and the second was new to me, and they both go together quite nicely.

hatchet

My students just finished reading Hatchet by Gary Paulsen.  This is the story of a boy named Brian who is dealing with his parents’ fresh divorce.  He is off to visit his father for the summer, traveling in a small plane to Canada, by himself.  The pilot is friendly and lets Brian try flying the plane for a few minutes.  Not too far into the flight, the pilot suffers a fatal heart attack and Brian has to take over the controls.  He crash lands into a lake, but manages to drag himself ashore.  When he wakes up, his situation is dire.  It is just Brian, and the hatchet he wears on his belt, against the wilderness.  The story is full of triumphs and disasters as Brian has to figure out basic survival skills like acquiring food, constructing a shelter, and making fire.  He struggles and we hold our breath to see what might happen to him next.  Will he get rescued? What will happen when the weather changes? Are people even still looking for him???  Phew!

My students BEGGED me to keep reading and were sad when we would have to stop each day and switch subjects.  That is the sign of a high interest, captivating book! Hatchet has an AR level of 5.7 and is worth 7 points.  There is a movie as well, but it is called A Cry in the Wild.  (Beware of the horror movie series called “Hatchet.”  It’s definitely not the same thing!)

alabama moonNow, while we were reading Hatchet as a class, I was also reading a book called Alabama Moon for silent reading time.  Alabama Moon was written by Watt Key, and also has a movie to match. Moon is a boy who has been raised to live off the grid since he was a baby.  The mother passed away when Moon was very young, so his father raised him in the woods.  Moon is an experienced survivalist, and his father has made sure to teach him how to read and write as well.  When Moon’s father breaks his leg, he refuses outside help and he dies, leaving 10-year old Moon all alone.  Moon is turned in to the authorities and spends some time in a juvenile detention center, where he makes his first friends ever.  After a daring escape, Moon goes on the run with an angry and bumbling sheriff on his tail.  This book was a great to read along with Hatchet and I found myself marking passages to read aloud and share with my class.  Brian was completely clueless and had to learn how to survive, where Moon was the exact opposite.  There is a part where he kills a deer and manages to use every part for something, right down to the eyeballs.  It was fascinating! It’s not hard to imagine being Brian once you read about Moon’s level of experience and reinforces Brian’s struggle.  (I would definitely be Brian in a survival scenario, how about you?)  Alabama Moon has an AR level of 4.1 and is worth 11 points.

Read either, or both, of these books if you love a great adventure story!  Don’t be tricked into thinking that these are “boy books” even though the main characters are boys.  Personally I love Hatchet because of its simplicity and how gripping it is, even though it has virtually no dialogue since Brian is by himself most of the time.  Alabama Moon, on the other hand, was much more about friendship and connecting with others.  These two make great companion titles, and each author has additional books to check out, too.  Read on!