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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Ida B. by Katherine Hannigan

Ida B.This is a book that my school librarian shoved into my hand and insisted that I read. She and I were talking about an idea for matching kids with books and making suggestions that were “just right” for particular students, and she commented on needing to go back and read a few older favorites. Ida B….and Her Plans to Maximize Fun, Avoid Disaster, and (Possibly) Save the World was one that she happened to re-read and then passed it straight on to me. When I used the verb “shoved” above, I wasn’t exaggerating!

Ida B. is a fourth grader. She lives in an apple orchard and has been homeschooled since kindergarten. Kindergarten didn’t quite work out, and honestly, even as a teacher, I shared some of her concerns! So Ida has been learning at home, spending quality time with her parents and pets, and exploring the outdoors, talking to trees and the brook that runs through their property. Ida B. (do not call her plain Ida, because that’s her mom’s name) has a great sense of who she is and a very positive attitude. Early in the book, she sets out for the day with enough paper to do “four perfect drawings and one mistake.” She likes to eat the same thing every day, she tells her dad, because her head is too full about other things to have to bother with thinking about what to eat. Ida B. is a very busy person!

One day, Ida hears a rumbling amongst the trees when she is out exploring. Something is about to change, and it turns out to be true. Her mother becomes ill with cancer, and as a result, Ida B. has to return to public school. They have to sell part of their property to pay for the medical treatments, the land that her father has always promised will be hers, and new people move in. Ida B. feels betrayed in the worst way. She begins to act out in negative ways and tries to harden her heart against her mom and dad. The author captures all of Ida B.’s conflicting emotions so well that it is easy to forgive her meltdowns. I think that everyone can relate to feeling stuck in between being mad and feeling stubborn about it, but at the same time wanting to just give in and apologize, or even to just drop your guard so the other person can apologize to YOU.

I would recommend this realistic fiction book to anyone who has been faced with a family illness, or a major life change, or for a quirky-smart kid like Ida B. Or to someone who has a special calling to be a teacher. This book is about family, friends, school, nature, pre-teen emotions, and the Big Idea about life not always being fair.

Ida B. has an AR level of 5.3 and is worth 5 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–

Twerp by Mark Goldblatt

twerpTwerp is a book that was handed to me by the librarian at my school. At first, I didn’t like it. The characters were pretty much jerks and they just kept making bad decisions. I knew one of my students had also read it and she assured me that I should keep going and eventually it would all come together, so I carried on and she was right. I think my frustration was partly due to the fact that I was having to read it in little bursts and never had a chance to fully engage in the story. I’m still adjusting to being back at school, as I’m sure many of you are, and every time I sat down to read I would start falling asleep! I woke up early today and decided to dedicate some serious time for reading and that made all the difference. If you are having this same type of trouble, maybe it’s best to set your book aside until you can make the time to give it your full attention. It’s hard to do when so many things are new and changing at the beginning of the year.  I usually participate in silent reading with my students, but there have been a lot distractions lately, so I brought the book home and powered right through it.

Kids might have trouble relating to the setting of this book, which takes place in 1969, where kids ran free instead of having their schedule micro-managed all the time, but everyone can relate to this story about finding your own identity in middle school. Twerp is about a sixth grader named Julian Twerski, nicknamed Twerp by his best friend, Lonnie. Lonnie pulls the strings in their group of friends and Julian follows, even when he is not sure that he should. As a result, friendships are tested and betrayals occur. People get hurt in this story, first in a “boys will be boys” kind of way, but then Julian gets the idea for another prank and the boys go along with him again, causing a terrible thing to happen. These kids made me really mad!

As part of his penance, Julian starts writing a journal for his English teacher. (And also to get out of reading Julius Caesar, so he thinks this is a pretty good deal.) Lonnie has a crush on the new girl and asks Julian to write her a letter on his behalf. When Julian passes her the letter, he gets caught in the middle of a misunderstanding. Then he gets talked into another sketchy situation, and he is the one who gets taken advantage of and left behind. I did not feel sympathetic to any of the characters (so many bad choices!) until the end when Julian starts to stand on his own. The only exceptions are Eduardo, an outsider and newcomer to the neighborhood, and Amelia, Julian’s sister, who are the voices of reason for Julian. However, the concept of going along with the group and finding your place is an important one, and deciding when to stand up for the right thing is even more important. You do have to wait until the very end to get to the big story within the story, so stick with it. There were discussion questions included in this edition and the one I loved asked about the journal format of the book and if Julian was a reliable narrator, which is always an interesting thing to consider once you’ve been given the big picture. (Or have you? See, you’ll never really know!)

Twerp reminded me of Because of Mr. Terupt due to its school setting and the fact that you had to wait until the end to find out what really happened. It also had some of Wonder‘s messages about kindness and doing the right thing embedded in it, too. If you liked either of those, you might give this one a try as well!

Twerp has an AR level of  4.5 and is worth 9 points.

 

Emperor Pickletine Rides the Bus by Tom Angleberger

pickletineGuess what just hit the bookstore??? The latest and last (noooo!) book in the Origami Yoda series! I’m eager to see what will come next from Tom Angleberger. If you haven’t been to his website, you should. It’s super interactive and has quite the community of Super Folders who also love origami and who send in samples and photos of their work. Tom Angleberger is so awesome that at the end of this book, he thanks the grownup people that helped him with his ideas and writing and support, and then he lists the screen names of a bunch of the Super Folders who contribute to his site.

That. Is. Cool.

I love it when I read a book and discover that the setting is a real place that I have visited before, so I can visualize it clearly, but also so I can remember all of the fun details of my own vacation at the same time.  In Emperor Pickletine Rides the Bus, the kids from McQuarrie are on a field trip to Washington DC. (I’ve been there! It’s an amazing place–put it on your bucket list if you haven’t already been. Heck, even if you have been, go again, because there is so much to see!)  Here’s the catch: Principal Rabbski has banned origami on this trip. How will anyone know what to do without their origami alter-egos?

Dwight has brought his lunch. No, wait, it’s a bag of green Fruit Roll-ups. Fruitigami Yoda? Not to be outdone, Harvey produces a pickle version of Emperor Palpatine from his underwear. (He says it was in his sweatshirt. We’ll never really know. Eww.)  Guess who else goes as a chaperone? Mr. Good Clean Fun, and with him as always, Soapy the monkey puppet.  Mr. GCF is pretty busy cleaning everything with antibacterial wipes and he has trouble managing his group, not a big surprise. I bet he has a song about it!

Some people have a great time, some people get in trouble.  Some people start dating, ooOOooooOoo!

There’s a part at the beginning when the kids are debating which buddies to choose, which groups to be in, and which bus would be better for their long trip. There’s a section written by Cassie called “Nobody Wants to Pee on the Bus,” in which she details all of the stresses involved in using the bathroom on the bus, and I totally relate. (Airplane bathrooms, no thank you!)  Needless to say, her explanation made me laugh so hard. Because the kids can’t make origami on the drive, they become inspired by Dwight and Harvey and begin imagining all sorts of food-based Star Wars characters and we get 5 pages of hilarious sketches, so that was another highlight of the book for me.

So many things happen, including a run-in with a very angry security guard at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, the kids buying $150 of freeze-dried astronaut ice cream because Fruitigami Yoda said to do it, a breakdown, a dance party, and a punch in the face. We also get a new version of Yoda at the end, which is SO perfect that I was both sad and happy at the same time with how clever it was. If you are a Star Wars person, you’ll totally get it.

Oh, and there’s a surprise at the end.  And that’s all I have to say about that.

Please read Emperor Pickletine Rides the Bus if you’ve read the others in the series. You have to, end of discussion. Read this book, you must. How can you not? No AR info is available on this book yet because it is just too new!

 

Doll Bones by Holly Black

doll bonesDo you like creepy stories? Not scary or gross, but just creepy. And creepy in that kind of “this could be a true story” kind of way. Do you think that porcelain dolls are unnerving? They are fragile, too realistic, and a little bit unfriendly? They are clearly up to no good at all. I’ve got a book for you!

This is a story of Zach, Alice, and Poppy, three best friends who have grown up together. They have a long-standing game of pretend that involves a story they have clearly been developing for quite a while, and they use action figures to design sets and act out these adventures about pirates and thieves and heroes and quests. Ruling over all of these stories is the Great Queen, an old porcelain doll who lives in a glass-doored cabinet in Poppy’s house. The Great Queen is apparently very valuable and the kids are not allowed to play with her.

One night, Poppy and Alice come to Zach’s house in the middle of the night. Poppy reports that she is being visited by a ghost of a young girl who is connected to the Great Queen– her cremated ashes are actually INSIDE the doll. (Ohhhhhkay, no thank you, ghost girl!)  She needs Poppy to bury the doll so she can be at rest. Alice and Zach are not quite sure if they believe Poppy, but they agree to embark upon a journey to complete this task. Odd things happen while they travel with the haunted doll.

All the while, the three are trying to deal with their changing relationships, as can sometimes happen at this age. Zach’s father has thrown out all of his toys so that he can’t play the pretend game anymore, but he doesn’t know how to tell the girls. Alice has a crush on Zach, which upsets her BFF status with Poppy. Is Poppy even telling the truth about the ghostly messages she’s received? So much uncertainty!

I really enjoyed this book and it was a fast read. I think those dolls are slightly scary anyway, so it was not hard to believe that this could actually happen. (Like Zach, Alice, and Poppy, I also have an excellent imagination!) It reminded me of a kind of reverse telling of The Doll in the Garden by Mary Downing Hahn. This book was also about growing up, taking risks, speaking up for one’s self, and loyalty to friends. I also liked the change that Zach’s father went through, which I could relate to and understand, from the perspective of a child and a parent.

Doll Bones was a Newbery Honor Book for 2014.  It has an AR level of 5.4 and is worth 7 points.

 

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!