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.


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.


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!

The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer

scorpionTwo posts on the same day! Go me!

Here’s a book that I just finished.  Like, 15 minutes ago just finished, and I though I’d better blog it right NOW while I’m already here!

The House of the Scorpion is a dystopian future-style book, though you don’t get the full impact of how strange the world has become until late in the book.  You get to go through the plot alongside the main character, learning as he learns, which led me to gasp out loud and make I’m sure what were ridiculous faces as I read this in class.  (My students think it’s funny when I read because I cannot keep my reactions to myself.)

This is a very twisty sci-fi novel about..well, it’s about a lot of things.  It’s about a boy, Matt, who is the clone of a man called El Patron, a terrible and powerful drug dealer in a country called Opium that runs along the border of the US and Mexico.  Matt has been grown in order to be spare parts for El Patron as he ages and become sickly.  Matt is actually the 9th clone in a long line of clones, and his time is running short.  Clones are considered no more than livestock, so he is treated poorly and has few rights.  Luckily El Patron favors him, so he is allowed an education and other privileges.  There is a dark undercurrent to this book, which made it super intriguing to read.  I knew things had taken a turn when Matt found himself in an “orphanage” where one of the mottos was “work is freedom” which sent chills down my spine.  “Work is freedom’ is a saying posted at many of the Nazi concentration camps during WWII and I remembered it immediately from going to the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C. last year.  There is a sequel to this book that I now *must* read.  I’m curious to know if Matt can overcome his own DNA or if he will give in to a history that is his by default.  Will he become what he must be destined for, or will he rise above his fate?  An interesting note from the author at the end expresses some of the moral issues that the book touches on, too. So good.

The House of the Scorpion has an AR level of 5.1, though I think it reads higher due to its science fiction characteristics, where you just have to press forward and trust that what you need to know will be explained to you in time.  Because it is complex, it is worth 15 AR points, an indication that you’re looking at a heavy plot.  Read this if you are a fan of other dystopian series like The Hunger Games, Divergent, or The Giver.

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

code-name-verityHappy new year! Did you meet your reading goal for 2013? Did you set a new goal to challenge yourself in 2014?  I missed my goal by just 3 books, but will challenge myself to fit in 5 extra books this year.  I use the website to track the books that I read, and it’s pretty neat because it shows all of your reading statistics for each year.  For example I can see that my numbers were lower when I was back in school, that they went up sharply after graduation, and that I fell short last year.  It also helps me keep track of the books that I plan to read, and planning to read is almost as fun as the actual reading!

At the very, very end of 2013 I discovered my Book of the Year.  This book is a little higher than a “middle reader” book, though it is considered a level 6.5 in AR.  I would say this is more of a “young adult” book, towards the 8th grade and up end of things, but I wanted to note it here because it is so amazing.  Add it to your own TBR (to be read) list for when you have learned more about World War II.

Code Name Verity is a story of two girls who become friends while they are both working for Britain’s Royal Air Force.  One is a pilot and one is a radio/communication specialist and both are more than they seem.  The book is told by both characters after the girls are separated during a mission they undertake together.  Their story is complicated, sometimes graphic, and definitely surprising.  It’s a spy thriller, a mystery, an action/adventure book, and a book of deep love and friendship.  I can’t tell much more than this for fear of spoiling anything.  There is some technical information about various types of airplanes of the era that I found interesting, but I know others found dry and difficult.  When you get deeper into the story, you understand better why those details were included, but you don’t need to let them drag you down.  Just keep reading!

I read this book in 2 days over winter break, opting to stay in my pajamas ALL day because I was so involved in the story.  It was that good and I didn’t want to stop reading just to get dressed so I could continue reading.  That didn’t make sense to me!  Teachers like to enjoy their vacations, too, so I made sure that I got one full and complete day that was just for me.

Code Name Verity has an AR level of 6.5 and is worth 15 points.  The point value gives an indication that this book will have a complicated plot, and it does require some basic knowledge about WWII, though it will also explain some things along the way.  It is very dense reading, and not a book that you will be able to read casually, so be prepared to dedicate the necessary time and care to this title.  It does have a sequel, Rose Under Fire, that came out in 2013, but I haven’t read that one…yet.

The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness

The Knife of Never Letting Go

The Knife of Never Letting Go (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s taken me longer than I had hoped to finish this book, but the fact is that I’m spending a ton of my time getting ready to go back to work next week. (Next week?!?) I’ve already spent about 6 hours in my classroom moving furniture around and unpacking my library.  Library first, always.  It makes me feel like I’m at home.  I’m super lucky this year because I get to teach another round of sixth grade at the same school I was at last year, and I’m really looking forward it!

Full disclosure on this book– it’s an upper-middle grade book, which is higher than what I’ve been posting about lately, but it is easy to read and is leveled as a 4.4.  Remember that just because you CAN read something, doesn’t always mean you should, so know yourself as a reader and check with a parent if you’re not sure.  It is violent and has some language in it, though most of it is the word “effing” used as an adjective. Some of the words are spelled phonetically, though it is done so you can hear the main character’s voice in your head and how his twangy accent would sound. And interestingly, hearing voices in your head is one of the main concepts of this book…

Okay, so The Knife of Never Letter Go is like a science fiction-Western story, a mash-up we don’t get too often. Settlers have come to the New World and set up a colony.  They are on a planet other than Earth, because there are two moons, but everything else is very Earth-like.  We meet Todd Hewitt, an almost 13-year-old (or is he 14?), who is days away from becoming a man, according to tradition. There are no women in his town after the war against the “Spackle”, alien invaders who released some sort of biological warfare upon the people.  The Germ killed all the women and left behind The Noise for the men, in which everyone can hear every other person’s thoughts, all the time.  Even the animals were infected with Noise and they can talk, too, which I loved, because Todd is always with his dog, Manchee.  So even when Todd is alone, he always has someone to talk with, which keeps the book moving along.

But then…things happen. Todd quickly learns that everything he thought he knew is a lie.  Because he is on the run, and because reading the book is like being in Todd’s Noise, in his head, this is a very urgent read.  It is The Book of Never Letting Go, and I had to find out what would happen next!  It was different, and I really liked it.  I will continue reading this series, since it ends with a cliffhanger.  There are three main books, plus a sequel.

Read this if you like dystopian stories, like Divergent or The Hunger Games or The Maze Runner, etc., but know that this one is not the same at all.  It’s hard to explain, and maybe I’ll be able to do that better once I’ve read all of the books.  You have to be able to be okay with reading a story and not quite knowing what is going on, which is what I find to be true about most sci-fi books.  Just sit back and go for the ride, and know that the author will tell you what you need to know at the moment you need to know it. It was very suspenseful, especially with the author’s writing style, and it kept me pushing through.  Check it out!

The Knife of Never Letting Go has an AR level of 4.4 and is worth 16 points.

Wrapped by Jennifer Bradbury

wrappedRemember a few weeks ago when I posted about the book The Egypt Game?  I picked up another Egypt-themed book the other day and found the reading experience I had been hoping for– adventure, mystery, archaeology, the Rosetta Stone, The British Museum, London…and a tiny bit of romance.  This book met my summer reading requirements!  Did you know that during the late 1830s and 40s, rich people used to have parties where the entertainment involved unwrapping mummies? True!  And, creepy!  If there were any charms or amulets or jewelry wrapped inside the mummy, they would be given away as party favors! Check it out:

Egyptology was quite trendy, but was also becoming a serious science all of its own, especially after the Rosetta Stone was deciphered in 1822.  The Rosetta Stone was the key to reading Egyptian hieroglyphics, and you can see it in the British Museum, where it has been on display since 1802.  More info on the stone here:  And more info about Egypt from the British Museum:

Wrapped is a story about a young lady named Agnes Wilkins, who lives in London in 1815.  She comes from a well-to-do family and is preparing for her “debut”, or her presentation to society as a woman now eligible for marriage.  In these days, marriages were carefully arranged so that they would be a good match between families, much more like business deals to achieve security and status. Agnes’ mother has her eye set on Lord Showalter as a husband for Agnes, though he is a typical rich, show-off type.  (When I read about him, I pictured Gaston from Beauty and the Beast!)  Showalter has one of these mummy unwrapping parties at his mansion, and Agnes is asked to participate.  When she unwraps a piece of iron in the shape of a jackal’s head, she keeps it.  

Apparently this mysterious item is being hunted down by Napoleon and the French army, which sends Agnes on a mad dash around London to figure out its significance.  At the British Museum, she meets a young man who is a scholar studying the Rosetta Stone.  Of course, he is poor and lower class, not an appropriate match at all, so naturally like in all good romances, she develops feelings for him.  Add in some extra twists and turns, and this book had my full attention!

Wrapped was fast and fun, even if it was slightly predictable.  The ending was left open for possible sequels, which I would definitely read.  The writing is a little more formal to reflect the timeframe of the story, but it is not difficult.  Read this book if you like strong, smart female characters, mysteries, historical fiction, Egypt, or museums.  Wrapped has an AR level of 5.9 and is worth 11 points.