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.

 

 

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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! 

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–

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!

 

A Crooked Kind of Perfect by Linda Urban

crooked perfectI read A Crooked Kind of Perfect this morning. One shot, straight through. I can tell you that it made me very weepy, which surprised me while I was sitting on my patio, drinking a cup of coffee. Who knew?

Zoe Elias is ten-going-on-eleven and all she wants to do is be a piano prodigy.  She wants to sit down at a piano and master it immediately. She wants to play like her piano hero, Vladimir Horowitz, and give a concert at Carnegie Hall. Her father, who means well, sets out to find her a piano so she can realize her dreams. Because he suffers from severe anxiety and a condition called agoraphobia, he rarely leaves the house.  He becomes overwhelmed easily and instead of a piano, he returns home having purchased a Perfectone organ instead. (An organ is kind of like a piano, but creates the sound you hear at church or a baseball game. It’s electric so it doesn’t have strings and hammers inside, and has two keyboards, one above the other. So it’s kinda-sorta the same idea, but a different animal in the musical world.)

While Zoe is now stuck with this awkward piano-substitute, she’s also having a rough time with school. Her best friend has found herself a newer best friend over summer vacation. (The ex-BF kindly tells her she can sit with them at lunch until she finds a new BF, so at least there’s that.) Zoe doesn’t relate to the other girls, but strikes up a friendship with Wheeler Diggs, the boy who never does his homework and never takes off his jacket. Wheeler connects with Zoe’s dad, surprisingly, and they end up baking together in the afternoons while Zoe practices her organ lessons.  Since Zoe’s mom is a workaholic, Wheeler often ends up staying for dinner and does his homework there, too.

Zoe’s music teacher signs her up for a competition where she will have to play in public for the first time. She starts to freak out over it and wants to quit. Her mother gives her a pep talk by pointing out that Horowitz, renowned pianist, also makes mistakes. And that’s okay because

“Horowitz wasn’t about perfection. He was about joy and art and music and life. And those things have mistakes in them.”

How brilliant and how true!

So, I don’t want to tell you all of the plot details and the conflict, but this is the main idea. Life is messy and confusing and that’s okay. Everything is still fine. Everything is a “crooked kind of perfect.”

I loved all the characters and I am amazed that the author was able to generate such strong feelings for each of them in such a short book.  Could we have been given more information on a few of the backstories? Sure, but it’s just not necessary in a story that is about overcoming your obstacles and moving forward, despite the past. Zoe has a very positive, resilient attitude; she makes the best of what she has and works hard on reaching her goals. The book was uplifting and sweet, as well as age appropriate.

A Crooked Kind of Perfect might be the book for you if you 1.) think you don’t like reading or 2.) think you don’t like reading loooong books. My edition had 210 pages and the chapters are very short, ranging from a few sentences to a few pages in length. This would be a great book for a reluctant reader, or for a student who wants to read about someone their own age, but without getting into books about dating and heavier teenage issues.

A Crooked Kind of Perfect has an AR level 3.9 and is worth 4 points.

 

Flora and Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo

FloraUlyssesNewberry Award winner for 2014!

The thing that first caught my eye about this book was the title, because it has a subtitle where it says “The Illuminated Adventures.” I love the word “illuminated.” It sounds more regal than “illustrated,” doesn’t it? This book is illustrated though, more than a chapter book, but less than a graphic novel or comic, and the illustrations are adorable.  If I had a daughter, I couldn’t help but think she’d look just like Flora.

Flora is a self-described cynic. That means she has a hard time putting her trust in people and the world around her, and when we meet her newly divorced parents, we can seen why she has adopted this outlook. Her father is nervous and awkward, constantly and repeatedly introducing himself to people he already knows. Her mother is a writer and a chain-smoker, always hunched over her typewriter and does not have much to offer to Flora for emotional support. You definitely get the idea that Flora is a lonely child. Flora loves to read, in particular a comic book that sounds amazing called “Terrible Things Can Happen to You,” which contributes to her cynical outlook.

One day when she is watching out her bedroom window, she sees the neighbor chasing her new super-powered vacuum cleaner out into the yard. Flora is horrified when the vacuum sucks up a squirrel and runs outside to help. The squirrel is saved and he miraculously lifts the heavy vacuum up over his head! Flora names him Ulysses, after the machine that somehow gave him his superpowers, and takes him home to discover that the little guy has some more hidden talents as well. Flora’s mom does not react well to having a squirrel in the house though, and so begins a mission to save Ulysses.

Flora’s neighbor, Mrs. Tickham of the vacuum cleaner mayhem, has a nephew staying with her. He goes by his first and last name all the time, William Spiver, and he is always wearing sunglasses. He claims to be blind, but it turns out he has his own backstory to overcome. Mrs. Tickham and William turn out to be Flora’s biggest allies. I love that they are so willing to believe in Ulysses and his impossible feats, and they were my favorite part of this book.

Everyone learns something on this journey, as they have their eyes and hearts opened by this magical little squirrel. The one thing I do wish for is that we had been given a little more about Flora’s parents, because their resolution is unclear and I’d like to know how it impacted Flora in the long-term.  I enjoyed this book, but I’m not sure I would have chosen it for the Newberry Award. That might be because it feels so different from Kate DiCamillo’s other books. Read them all, see for yourself, compare and contrast! Maybe a poetry-writing squirrel will inspire you to make your own comic book someday, but mostly just read it because it is a fun story.

Flora and Ulysses has an AR level of 4.3 and is worth 5 points.