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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Ungifted by Gordon Korman

UngiftedGordon Korman is a very popular author at my school, based on what I see in my classroom and in the school library. I have to admit that I had never read any of his books until now, but this one has a robot on the front, so it made into the “Books I Intend to Read Over Summer Vacation” box that I brought home from school a few weeks ago. (Robots, big yes!) Ungifted reminded me of a student that I know…

Donovan Curtis is a bit of a troublemaker with a reputation at his middle school. He’s impulsive. He acts first, thinks later. So on the day of the big basketball game when he’s already in the office for another offense he committed, he can’t NOT help himself to the unattended PA system where he offers up a cheer against his own team! Next, he ditches detention with the encouragement of his best friends, and as they are leaving campus yet another incident occurs. This time Donovan gets busted by the superintendent himself, and there is a great amount of property damage done to the school.

Oddly, Donovan does not get called up to the office to deal with his crime. Instead, he receives a letter in the mail that lets his family know that he’s been accepted into the special academy for gifted students. His parents are confused, but thrilled nonetheless, and Donovan realizes that this paperwork mixup is his opportunity to go into hiding. If the superintendent can’t find him, then he and his family won’t have to pay for all the damage his last prank caused. Off to gifted school!

It become obvious that Donovan is not like the other children at his new school. He knows, it, the other kids know it, the teachers know it, but everyone is surprisingly patient with him as they wait for whatever his intellectual talents are to reveal themselves. There is a very rigorous testing procedure in place to qualify for this school, so either he’s super smart (but unmotivated) or clever enough to cheat the system, so they make him take the admissions test again. In the meantime, Donovan has found a place on the robotics team and he is slowly becoming invested in something bigger than himself. Maybe there is more to school than just begin the biggest goof-off!

Fair warning: if you ARE a gifted kid yourself, you might find some of the “quirky” traits assigned to the academy kids a little stereotypical. Korman does make them all different among themselves though, and I think that is important, because everyone has got their own quirks in real life, too. Donovan also develops into having more than one dimension, which is nice, but the ending left me wondering if he had really changed or not. Hmm. You decide!

As for the student this reminded me of, I hope that I was patient with him just like these teachers were, and I hope I helped him discover some of his strengths this year. He would corner me and ask, “Mrs. P., am I your favorite???” My answer was always, “What do you think?” My goal is always to make each of my students feel like they are my favorite. If I’ve done that, I know I’ve had a great year.

Read this book if you are gifted, if you know someone who is gifted, if you are high spirited and impulsive, if you are a student who likes to challenge yourself, or you want a new perspective on other types of kids that you don’t already know…or basically if you’re just a kid in general!

Ungifted has an AR level of 5.2 and is worth 8 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! 

Where have you been, Mrs. Prendergast?

It’s been awhile in between posts, hasn’t it? I did throw out a book post today, and I have another one coming up shortly, but I just wanted to share what I got to do over my Christmas vacation. Check it out: IMG_1962

I saw this:

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…and about a million other amazing things at the Warner Brothers Harry Potter Studio Tour in Leavesden, England. This is how I got to finish out 2014 and I still can’t believe I was there!

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It was incredible, and since it was Christmas, the Great Hall was all decorated and the tables set for a holiday feast. I just heard they are opening Platform 9 3/4 in March, so maybe I need a trip back… If you are a Harry Potter fan, I can’t recommend this enough if you should find yourself in England. Here’s a quick overview, in case you’re curious to see more!

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.

 

The Tiger Rising by Kate DiCamillo & Because of Mr. Terupt by Rob Buyea

I read two books in two days, and at first I was planning to write two separate posts about them. As I finished the second book, I started thinking how nicely they fit together thematically, and then I realized I could bundle them together even though the subject matters are totally different.  So, let’s try it!

thetigerrisingFirst up is The Tiger Rising by Kate DiCamillo. Rob, our main character, lives at the Kentucky Star motel, which is actually in Florida, with his father. They are a depressed pair, and you can tell that things were much different when Rob’s mother was still alive. Rob and his father don’t talk much, even though Rob is dealing with bullies at school and is under so much stress that he is breaking out in an itchy rash. One day a new girl arrives at school. Her name is Sistene and she is fierce and scrappy, getting into fights every day. They are kindred spirits, both struggling with loss, but they each deal with their problems in different ways. They also share a secret– a tiger, in a cage, in the woods behind the motel. This tiger in a cage becomes a great metaphor for the emotions that Rob and Sistene are trying to manage. Some things just can’t be kept locked up for very long, nor should they be. This book packed a powerful punch for being so small, and it caught me by surprise. The imagery and symbolism would make for great discussion as a classroom read-aloud.

mr.teruptThe second book is Because of Mr. Terupt by Rob Buyea. I thought this book was very new, but it turns out to have been published in 2010! Grownup readers will note that the blurb on the cover and the introduction is written by John Irving. How’s that for an endorsement? Mr. Terupt is the new fifth grade teacher at school, and the story is told by seven different students in his class. They all give their version of the same school year, dealing with family stuff and bullies and mean girls, and this teacher who is not quite like any they’ve had before so far. He’s good. He’s really good, but makes a few rookie mistakes. An accident happens, which leaves the classmates hurt and confused. Will they stand together or fall apart completely?

Both of these books struck me right in the gut, which I was not anticipating. Emotions, forgiveness, empathy, and friendship are the Big Ideas for these books. I might have shed a tear or two while reading. Okay, I did. You got me. Read either of these if you like realistic fiction and you are okay with the happy/sad roller coaster ride that they both provide. The more I think about these books, the more pleased I am that I happened to read them back-to-back this week.

The Tiger Rising has an AR level of 4.9 and is worth 3 points.

Because of Mr. Terupt has an AR level of 3.7 and is worth 5 points. I love that this book was written by a teacher! Congratulations to Mr. Buyea on his first book. I’m adding his next book to my TBR list!

Movies!

I’ve been to the movies three times in three weeks.  That’s like a world’s record for me! Here is what I saw:

Ender’s Game

Ender’s Game made an okay movie.  If you have not read the book, you will find it to be entertaining, though you may have some questions about it afterward.  I read the book, but my son, husband, dad, and nephew did not know anything about it when they went to see it.  My husband found parts of it to be unbelievable.  My son said it was “meh.” (Teenagers!)  My dad thought it was pretty good, but I think he was relieved to see a more mature kids’ movie for a change, instead of the usual animated things he takes the grandkids to watch. My nephew, a fifth grader, seemed unsure about it, and I think this was his first real journey into a middle-grade level movie.  

I’ll say that what they DID include in the movie was fine.  I mean, we had to know the movie would be much more shallow than the book, that’s a given.  A lot of things were changed, starting with making Ender much older, which softens some of the violence in the story (and allows them to make a movie with a rating that lets kids actually see it.)  It is hard to tell how much time has passed in the movie though, and you can’t really understand that the book takes place over years of time and be able to realize how much they have manipulated and messed with Ender’s mind.  Ender’s brother and sister have been basically eliminated from the movie, but they try to replace those relationships with other characters.  With the actual characters gone though, a big piece of the plot is also gone, but I guess that works out okay because of the compressed timeline.  The book is much more political, but again that wouldn’t really keep the interest of the younger kids that the movie makers need to have in the audience.  It’s definitely a book that is hard to adapt for a film.

So, the verdict is, go read the book.  And then read some of the following books, because Ender’s Game was really just the set-up for the second book, Speaker of the Dead.  It’s a difficult read and it’s complicated, and it’s definitely not for everyone.  I’ve handed it to students only for them to pass it right back to me and say “Thanks but no thanks.”  Science fiction can be tricky because you have to be okay with not knowing what is happening until the author needs you to know more.

Thor 2: Dark World

This was great fun! I liked it better than the first one, and I’m not normally into superhero movies. I  preferred seeing Thor in his own world this time. Having him be lost and confused on Earth in the first movie did not work for me, so I’m glad he got to be a smarter character in this one.  Loki was fantastic and Thor’s mom gets a quick chance to show off her crazy skills, too.  At any rate, it’s not really a movie that you’re supposed to think about too much, so just go see it and enjoy! 

Catching Fire

So good that I didn’t even get upset with the cliffhanger ending! I read The Hunger Games when it first came out and before it was a “thing”, so I’ve been following these books for a long time.  This movie was really well done, and I particularly liked the pacing of how it played out.  It stayed in each setting long enough for you to gather the needed information and then it switched up again.  The images were very impactful.  Remember that in the book, the first part is Katniss and Peeta on their Victory Tour, then it’s the  Quarter Quell, they get swept off immediately for more training time, and the part about the games is pretty short.  The pacing was really important to make the movie feel balanced and still have a lot of action in it to keep it moving.  

The main thing I wished we had been able to see from the books would have been the videos of Haymitch in his Quarter Quell games.  His own story is only hinted at, but it explains so much about his character. I’m hoping that maybe some of those scenes will pop up on the DVD later.  If this same team is going to be responsible for Mockingjay, too, I’ll be very happy!

Next up…

The Book Thief

I read this book when it first came out, too, and it was my favorite book of that year.  The writing is beautiful and it looks like the movie will do it justice. I hope to see it this week while on vacation for Thanksgiving.  Part of me wonders if I have time to read it again, but maybe it is better to not confuse the two versions in my head. Has anyone seen this so yet?