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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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.

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.

 

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!

 

Love That Dog by Sharon Creech

lovethatdogHow can THIS

even BE a book?

my son asked.

It is, I said.

Just read it.

It is the story of a boy named Jack,

who thinks poetry is not for him.

Not for him, because his brain is

empty.

His teacher though,

she knows better.  You know,

like teachers do.

Over the course of the year,

Jack becomes inspired and

influenced.  He reads,

he understands,

he writes.

He gets it.

Love That Dog is a teeny tiny book that reminds us of the power of well-chosen words.  More is not always better.  My students often ask, as they sit down to write, “How much do I need to write?”  And I always say, “You write until you’re done.  No more, no less.”  This is why I like poetry.  It forces the writer to choose very carefully what to include, what to leave out, and how to compress an idea into a few, powerful words.  Sharon Creech is kind enough to include some of the “master” poems that are referenced in the story, so we can see how our character, Jack, has been influenced and inspired along the way.  As he writes and his confidence grows , he changes from a student who doesn’t not even want to post his name on his papers, into a student who extends himself and makes something awesome happen for his school.

I read this book in about 20 minutes.  It was fantastic.  It is still making me think about poetry today and how I want to go about teaching my upcoming poetry unit in language arts.  For a book so small, Love That Dog is incredibly sticky.  It will be awhile before I can get this one unstuck from my brain!  Love That Dog has an AR level of 4.5 and is worth 1 point.

Etiquette and Espionage by Gail Carriger

etiquette and espionageSophronia Temminnick is a tomboy living in Victorian England in the 1850s, a time when young ladies are expected to dress appropriately, learn to be a proper hostess, always be fashionable, have excellent manners, and associate with the correct people in order to land themselves a fine husband.  Long story short, Sophronia does not exactly fit in, and when she is recruited to a finishing school for girls, her mother is all too happy to ship her out with no questions asked, in the hopes that someone will finally be able to tame her spirit and make her presentable in society.

Little do they realize that Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality is not exactly what it seems.  The setting is an alternate England all together anyway, where vampires and werewolves lead normal lives alongside everyone else, so the idea that this school is held in a giant airship (or blimp, if you can imagine that better) and that the main focus of the instruction is about teaching the young ladies how to be spies, makes complete sense.  Also of note are the household mechanicals, or robot servants, so suspend your reality and wish that someday you might have a mechanimal pet dog, too! This book is an introduction into the world of steampunk, where the old-fashioned and the futuristic overlap, leaving the possibilities endless as to what kinds of technologies are available (and have yet to be invented!)

So, in this story, Sophronia goes off to school and immediately becomes entangled in some intrigue when her carriage is robbed by some “flywaymen” who attack from the air, and who are looking to steal a prototype of….something.  We don’t know what yet, but Sophronia makes it her mission to find out.  She meets the other girls at school, makes friends and enemies, takes classes from both a werewolf and a vampire, learns to dance and how to faint on cue as a distraction method, and befriends the crew of young lads who work under the airship as “sooties”, shoveling coal into the boilers to keep the whole school aloft.  Naturally she gets into some fair amount of trouble along the way.

Etiquette and Espionage is the first book in the Finishing School series, so it has a lot of set-up and a fairly simple plot to get things moving along.  I picked up book two, Curtsies and Conspiracies, at ComicCon this year and I’m hoping to read that one before winter break is through.  I love getting lost in this world that Gail Carriger has created, a mashup of everything I love– fantasy, mystery, adventure, a strong and smart heroine, a smidge of science fiction, and the writing is so witty, especially the dialogue. So clever, I wish I’d thought of it myself!  Here is the website if you’d like to learn more:

http://finishingschoolbooks.com/

Etiquette and Espionage has an AR level of 5.5 and is worth 11 points.