#IMWAYR November 24, 2014

Here we are again! #IMWAYR, when bloggers share the books they have been reading in the past week. If you follow these links, Jen from Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee and Ricki from Unleashing Readers, you can find many great reads. My reading life has slowed down this past week. I'm trying to get our school library under control in preparation for two author visits this week and the Scholastic Book Fair that arrives on Friday. I managed to finally get to Kidsbooks to do some shopping and spent over $700 there.  All this means I've put in longer hours and arrived home so tired that while I managed to get a bit of reading in, I didn't get any reviewing done. 

The other reason my reading is slowing down is that I've got knitting to finish before Christmas arrives. I'm not the world's best knitter, and I'm a bit of a perfectionist, so I end up ripping things out and redoing them. I've renewed Circular Knitting Workshop by Margaret Radcliffe from the library three times and think I'm going to have to purchase it as it has turned out to be an invaluable resource with lots of small projects I hope to finish as gifts this year. 

While travelling back and forth to work I tried listening to Doll Bones again. I realized it is just to creepy for me to listen to. On Thursday I couldn't take any more of it so I downloaded Gathering Blue by Lois Lowry from the public library and finished listening to it while knitting. I read some negative reviews on Goodreads and am thankful that it has been years since I read The Giver and can't compare the two of them. However, upon finishing Gathering Blue, I put the rest of the series, including The Giver, on hold. 

I finished The Art of Racing In the Rain by Garth Stein. I stopped reading it when the father was arrested. While I had anticipated something like this, I wasn't prepared for it actually happening. I went back to it after a bit of a break. Still, it was difficult for me to fathom the nastiness of those grandparents and their family. Although I am not a 'dog person' I enjoyed that this novel is told from a dog's point of view. It reminded me of A Dog's Purpose by W. Bruce Cameron. 

I also completed On a Clear Day by Walter Dean Myers. Although I was content with the first part of this one, by the time I finished it, it left me deeply unsatisfied and sad. I'm pretty sure that Myers wouldn't want this to be his last work. 

I've been entertained by a number of divine picture books this week. 
 I've read Walk On by Marla Frazee with some of the K/1/2's. We all loved this one. The charming illustrations had us all laughing. I gave it to our VP to read to a group of older children and his report is that they loved it, although he said he had to help them make the connections between a baby learning to walk, and their learning to do something new. I didn't worry about that with my groups. 

I also read and loved Knock Knock: My Dad's Dream for Me by Daniel Beaty. It broke my heart. One of our 5/6/7 teachers asked for a picture book to read to her class so I gave it to her. Her feedback was that while the kids were absolutely engaged in the story, none of them guessed where the father had gone. This one will go in my bin of picture books for older readers and on my list of picture books to use for critical thinking. 

One of the books I picked up from Kidsbooks is The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires. I adore this book! It's a magnificent testimony to the power of creativity, imagination, and perseverance. I can't wait to read it to a group of children. 

We have Aubrey Davis coming today so I read some of his work to children last week in anticipation of his arrival. The Enormous Potato was a big hit. I read Bagels From Benny to a group without abiding to my rule of reading it to myself first. I wish I had followed my rule as I would have started out with a discussion of what God meant to them in our multicultural, secular school. Still, after it was finished we had a conversation about what the important message in the book was. These K/1/2's decided it was about how important it is to help out other people. All in all, that's a pretty satisfying conclusion. 

On Tuesday and Wednesday we have Anne Dublin coming to visit the older children. While I haven't finished anything of hers yet, I have had the opportunity to introduce students to the The Orphan Rescue and Stealing Time by reading the first few pages out loud to them. The children were desperate to check the books out, but I told them they have to wait until this week when they can put a reserve on them. 

I've got Zen and the Art of Faking It by Jordan Sonnenblick (I love love his work) and The Young Elites by Marie Liu on deck to read since they are due at the library soon. Libba Bray's The Diviners, is on my ipod ready to listen to as I'm out and about and knitting.

#IMWAYR November 17, 2014

Hurrah! It's time for #IMWAYR, where bloggers share the books they have been reading in the past week. If you follow these links, Jen from Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee and Ricki from Unleashing Readers, you can find many great reads.

I have been at home this week trying to get rid of some kind of bug I've been battling since the middle of September. Time off from work when I am actually able to read, is a gift. I am hyperactive by nature, and just resting doing nothing is not something I am capable of.

So I've finished a number of titles and am nearly done a couple more.

First off I finished reading Because of Mr Terupt by Rob Buyea. I've got nothing but #booklove for it. I can't wait to get my hands on the next novel in the series. 

I have loved every one of James Howe's Misfit  companion books. In each book he's tackled issues connected to name calling. Almost Elvis, might be my favourite, but then, it's also the most recent I've read. I love all these characters, but Skeezie never really came through in the previous novels. What I especially love about this one, aside from the fact that it is a great read, is that Howe has highlighted the effects of poverty on families and children.

After reading reviews about Leroy Ninkers Saddles Up by Kate DiCamillo over the past few weeks, I discovered I could download it as an eBook from our local library. So I did. I'm so thankful to all of you who book talked it on your blogs. I finished it once, and then went back and reread it. I can't wait to read it to a group of kids. 

I've also completed Danny Blackgoat, Navajo Prisoner by Tim Tingle. I'm in the middle of writing a post on that, but not finished it. It's pretty brutal, but then, the history of Indigenous peoples here in North America (and on other continents) is horrific to begin with. 

I listened to Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made by Stephen Pastis. This is not a book to read with your ears. Atter checking out Amazon's preview version I realized that the illustrations are a critical piece in the reading experience. I tried really hard to like it. I wanted to like it. But I kept comparing it to the Calvin and Hobbes books, and it didn't fare well in comparison. On top of this, I'm just not a fan of books with dumb, self absorbed boys as the main character. 

I made an attempt to read Doll Bones by Holly Black, but couldn't get into it. I even tried listening to it, but it just wouldn't click for me. Some readers I trust have recommended it to me, so I will try again later in hopes that the time will come for it. 

I'm nearing the end of On a Clear Day by Walter Dean Myers. I'm not sure if it is because my expectations were low from reading so many bad reviews of it, but I'm actually enjoying it. For certain, it doesn't have the punch that his usual writing has. It feels like the beginning of a series, which alas, there will be no more of. While the diversity of the group of characters feels a bit forced, I like the relationship between Dahlia and Anja and I'm thankful that I didn't have to deal more with the conflict between her and Mei-Mei. I appreciate that the future Myers presents to us, feels all too plausible to me. I can't help but wonder how Myers would have developed these characters if he hadn't died so soon. 

I'm also almost finished listening to Lockwood & Co: The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud. WOW! I am so enchanted by this title, that even before finishing it, I put the sequel, The Whispering Skull, on reserve at the VPL. 


Up Next I'm looking at Marie Lu's The Young Elites. I read the entire Prodigy series last summer, so I'm hoping this will be as good. I also have to get to The Art of Racing In the Rain by Garth Stein for my adult book club meeting which is coming up the following week. Who knows, I may even give Doll Bones another go. 

Timmy Failure: MIstakes Were Made by Stephan Pastis

I have mixed feelings about this book. I listened to it, and it would be much better read. In the middle of listening, I went to Amazon for a preview so I could check out the illustrations. They are critical. As I was reading/listening, I kept making connections between Calvin from Calvin and Hobbes. Timmy is almost a Calvin clone, with his polar bear, Total, taking the place of Hobbes. 

Timmy has his own detective agency and big plans to make a fortune from it. He is clever in his own way. All you have to do is pay attention to his vocabulary and wild imagination to figure this out. When he finally gets tricked into doing research and schoolwork by his new teacher, we see that he is very capable. However, as a detective, he is ineptness incarnate. Of course, it's this ineptness that provides much, but certainly not all, of the humour. 

Timmy may be an incompetent bumbling hero, but as annoying as he can be, he is loveable.  He lives with his single parent mom who struggles to make ends meet. It is obvious that she loves him and does the best she can for him, even, when necessary, closing down his detective business. 

While I am sure that Timmy will capture the hearts of many of our students here at Dickens, he just hasn't grabbed mine. I struggled with how dumb and egocentric Timmy comes across. Sure it's hilarious, but I am not a particular fan of dumb, self absorbed boy books.

Leroy Ninkers Saddles Up by Kate DiCamillo

This charming tale is about a very short man, Leroy Ninkers, who wants, more than anything, to be a cowboy. He gets advice from Beatrice Leapaleoni on how and where to find a horse. When he tracks down a horse, the owner, Patty LeMarque, tells him three important things about Maybelline.
1. She likes to be complimented
2. She. Eats. A. Lot.
3. She doesn't like to be left alone for long. 

Well of course Leroy falls immediately in love with this horse, and doesn't pay enough attention to Patty or Beatrice. 

What ensues is a delightful, sweet romp narrated in the luscious language Kate DiCamillo is renowned for. 

Chris Van Dusen's illustrations showcase the sweetness and humour while adding a special yippie-i-oh to this beginning chapter book. 

Fans of Mercy Watson will squeal with delight when this arrives in the library. 

5 stars

Also Known as Elvis by James Howe

We've been waiting for this book. All the Dickens' fans of The Misfits, Totally Joe, and Addie on the Inside, have been waiting for this book. I actually had to wrestle some of them to be the first one to read it. 

If you wonder what all the fuss is about, you can check out my review of Howe's earlier companion books here.  

It feels like it has been a forever kind of wait, but once I started reading this one, it makes sense. Skeezie is relating this story to his about to be born child, a boy they will name Elvis. The grade seven students I first introduced The Misfits to, will be 22 years old this year, so they are nearly as old as Skeezie in this version of the companion books.  

The format is similar to The Misfits, with dialogue between the gang of five written in a different font from the narrated part of the story. 

I'm so glad to have gotten to know Skeezie better. He's there in the other books, but we don't really come to understand him like we do in his own book. He lives with his single mom and two younger sisters. It is anything but easy because, "When your dad leaves, part of your mom leaves, too." His absent father doesn't send support money so his mother is stressed from working two jobs. None of the gang of five have an inkling about the tension and fighting Skeezie has to deal with. His mother insists that Skeezie find a summer job to help out. So the summer following the events described in The Misfits, when the gang took on name calling at their school, thirteen year old Skeezie ends up working at The Candy Kitchen. 

It turns out to be a challenging summer for Skeezie. He has a father's role at home and is responsible for taking care of his sisters when his mother is at work. He has to deal with Becca, who may or may not like him, but even if she does, is it safe to like her back? Then his father returns to town. Skeezie's feelings are conflicted. How can he cope with someone who has abandoned the family and now wants back into their lives? The bright spot in all this is his friendship with Jessica, the older girl who works at the cafe. When the rest of the gang is away on vacation, Jessica and Skeezie share the details of their lives, and become lasting friends.  
This series remains popular at our school in part because we have literature circle sets of both The Misfits and Totally Joe. Numerous students are introduced to, and become attached to the characters. Demand for these companion books never wavers. 

5 stars

Because of Mr. Terupt by Rob Buyea

I am smitten with
this novel. 

Mr. Terupt is a school teacher we get to know through the voices of seven of his students. Through them we learn that Mr. Terupt cares for them, no matter what they do. We learn that he coaches them to take personal responsibility for their actions. He encourages them to become confident, caring individuals. He makes learning fun. (I love those dollar words) He stands up for them. 

I liked that through the student's voices, not only do we get to know Mr. Terupt, we also become aware of the realities of the children's families, their personal demons, their struggles, and their hopes. 

I like that he sets up time for the students to visit a special needs classroom to help them understand the novel he is reading with them. Not only do these visits provide opportunity to understand and befriend these other children, it reveals aspects of themselves to each other that are not visible in their regular space together. 

Unfortunately, Mr. Terupt makes a huge miscalculation about how much his students are ready for, and it ends in near disaster. Yet this near disaster becomes a catalyst that moves the children, their families, and their community forward. 

I like that this book provides a window into the reality of a classroom that many outside of one are not aware of. It should be noted that Mr. Terupt's classroom is unique. He has only twenty (five groups of four students) grade five students. It is much easier to personalize learning with this number of children in your class than it is with the more common 28 and more. 

I can't wait to read the next book in the series!

5/5 stars

IMWAYR November 10, 2014

Welcome  to #IMWAYR, where bloggers share the books they have been reading in the past week. If you follow these links, Jen from Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee and Ricki from Unleashing Readers, you can find many great reads.

I have had better reading weeks. 

I finished listening to Fairest by Gail Carson Levine. At first I enjoyed the voices singing. However, by the time I got to the end, I was sick to death of it. I understand that singing was an integral part of this story, but I really would have preferred more variation in style in the music. Aside from that, I like that this retelling of Snow White takes a hard look at cultural attitudes towards beauty. I love how complex these main characters are. There are still aspects of the gender relationships that irritate me, but aside from the singing, I liked this book. It might have been a better book for me if I had read it with my eyes instead of my ears.

The star in my week was Bluffton: My Summers with Buster Keaton by Matt Phelan. I started it one afternoon at school and couldn't stop till I had finished it. This is a stellar book that combines stunning watercolour artwork and a compelling storyline into a work of art that begs to be read again and again. 

I discovered a copy of Mr Poppers Penguins in a box of donations. I've been meaning to get around to reading it since we have a literature circle set at the school, so I downloaded the audiobook from the VPL, and started listening. There were moments that charmed the heck out of me, but mostly I was irritated by the patriarchal tone of this book. 

Absolutely Almost by Lisa Graff just didn't work for me. I wanted more for Albie from the adults around him, and they just didn't deliver. I won't get this one for our library, but I think it is an important book for adults to read as it demonstrates the many ways we fail the children in our care. 

At this time I'm listening to Because of Mr Terupt by Rob Buyea. So far I'm loving it. 


Waiting for me to read with my eyes this week I've got On a Clear Day by Walter Dean Myers and Also Known as Elvis by James Howe. I can't decide which to start first. I've got a collection of new audiobooks waiting, but I think I am going to start with one of the Timmy Failure books by Stephan Pastis next.

Absolutely Almost by Lisa Graff

I don't like this book. It is beautifully written, I love that New York City becomes almost a character, and I came to care for Albie, the protagonist, but I still don't like it. Perhaps it's because there is too much going on. There are issues of private vs public schools, absent parents, bullying, and learning challenges. Alas, for me, none of these issues are addressed satisfactorily. 

Albie is a 10 year old child with serious learning issues (he's not dyslexic, but that's all we learn.) On the other hand, he's got his own kind of smarts. He life is complicated by having to deal with his busy parents who have high academic expectations for him, but are hardly there except to berate him for his lack of academic success.

He gets kicked out of a special prep academy because of academic failure and ends up in a public school. In most ways this ends up being for the better. The school seems to have a progressive attitude towards accepting all children, and Albie gets more of the kind of academic support he needs. He gets the math help he needs from a very sympathetic teacher, (I love those math jokes) He gets to read Captain Underpants books which are just right for him. 

So why don't I like it?

Albie has to deal with bullying at his new school. In response, the adults proclaim that the word 'retard' can not be used. This is such an incompetent approach to start with, even Albie knows that "maybe it's not words that need to be outlawed."

How the adults around him can be so blind to what is going on astonishes me. Teachers at his new school seem to be more or less in tune with Albie's academic needs, but how they can be so blind towards the negative culture in the classroom is beyond belief. Even when the compassionate math teacher notices and asks Albie what's going on, he just gives Albie advice for how to better ignore the name calling. This is just not a sufficient response from an educator. 

His nanny, Calista, is the most sympathetic character in the book. She's the one Albie opens up to. While she may not always follow Albie's mother's rules, she does help him learn to draw and become stronger and more confident. I was distressed that there seemed to be no communication between Calista and the parents, or at least the mother, about how Albie was doing. 

Albie himself distresses me. As much as I came to care for him, he comes off as being much younger than the ten year old students I work with on a daily basis. He is more like a kid in grade 3 than in grade 5. This means that my 10 year old readers are really not going to connect to him.

Unfortunately, the message I take from this book is: Life is gonna be hard, learn how to roll with the punches and suck it up. Seriously!!! This isn't a message I want students to get at any time.

I think this might be a powerful book for adults to read as it demonstrates profoundly the many ways we can fail the children in our care. It makes me doubly thankful to work at the school I work at where we are proactive at supporting children in whatever ways they need it. 

#IMWAYR November 3, 2014

Welcome  to #IMWAYR, where bloggers share the books they have been reading in the past week. If you follow these links, Jen from Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee and Ricki from Unleashing Readers, you can find many great reads.

I'm thankful I don't have choose a favourite from the four novels I finished this week. For different reasons, they are all stellar. 

It was hard for me to come to the end of listening to The Wildwood Series. As I neared the finish of Wildwood Imperium, I doled out the last sections of the recording bit by bit, in an effort to make the story last. 

I've been trying to get on top of my 2014 to read list, so I focused on completing some of these. I forget why I added them to the list in the first place, so when I get to them, it is like discovering a treasure. 

Pamela Porter's I'll Be Watching is a novel written in verse. It was stunning in it's simplicity and power. 

I am so thankful I put Milo: Sticky Notes and Brain Freeze by Alan Silberberg on my to reads list. I am now committed to reading more of his work. Iron Guy Carl, at Boys Rule Boys Read! told me I would love it, and he wasn't wrong. If for some reason you have overlooked it, please get a copy and read it. Just make sure you have a box of kleenex with you. 

Just last night I completed The Earth My Butt and Other Round Things by Carolyn Mackler. I liked it, but have some conflicted feelings. I wish I could say that in the 10 years or so since it's publication, issues of weight and appearance have gotten better for all women and girls like the protagonist, Virginia Shreves, but I can't. Her transformation from an overweight, self conscious, self destructive teen, into a self assured, confident young woman may not be plausible in such a short span of time as in this book, but it does show the reader another world full of possibilities. In this way it reminds me of David Levithan's Boy Meets Boy. If we can envision an ideal world, maybe, just maybe, we can create it. 

Right now I am listening to Fairest by Gail Carson Levine. This coming week I'm looking forward to reading, from my 2014 to read list, Because of Mr Terupt by Rob Buyea, as well as a newer title, Absolutely Almost by Lisa Graff. Who knows what else will jump out of the pile?

Milo: Sticky Notes and Brain Freeze by Alan Silberberg

I'm exceptionally thankful this book was on my 2014 to read list. If not for that, I doubt I would have picked it up on my own. I must have read great reviews, added it to my to list, and then forgot about it. 

I don't generally like books with dumb boys in them. I've read Diary of a Wimpy Kid, and Captain Underpants and I know they have a place in our library, but I think boys deserve so much more than a diet of just that kind of reading fare. 

This book is deceptive. It is so much more than its cover. The comments I read comparing it to Diary of a Wimpy Kid, don't resonate with me, other than that both combine text and drawings.

This is a book with substance and depth. Sure there is humour, but I spent more time wiping my eyes from crying than laughing. 

The backstory is that Milo's mother died a few years before and the family has never come to grips with her death. 

The tale begins with Milo, his sister and father having moved into their fifth home. He has to start a new school and make new friends all over again. That, in and of itself, is complicated enough without the fog of grief that doesn't dissipate. 

Milo's family was fractured by his mother's death. They don't communicate. They are like separate planets orbiting around a sun that isn't there any more. Thankfully, Milo finds people who help him along the way. Across the street, Sylvia, the older widow, helps him find a way to remember his mother and say goodbye. He learns to connect to his new friends, Marshal and Hilary, who accept him as he is and are prepared to listen when he needs to talk. 

I defy anyone to read this book and not love these characters, the writing, and the illustrations that add oomph to the storyline. 

Here is an example of how Silberberg integrates everything so brilliantly. 

Five Stars

A couple of books and authors came to mind as I read this book. The first is Walking Backward by Catherine Austen. In it a young boy and his family come to grips with their mother's bizarre accident. Every reader I give it to, loves it. At the same time as it deals with a hard subject, it is filled with dark humour and plenty of information about death. 

Another connection I made was to Jordan Sonnenblick, an author who writes stories about real boys, boys who are smart, boys who can be goofy, boys who care, boys who deal with hard stuff. I've got a lit circle set of After Ever After that is almost always checked out. Even Sonnenblick's fiction for younger readers, like his Dodger Series, combine humour and serious issues. 

I can't wait to have conversations with readers about this book. I already have a handful of children I want to give it to. 

The Wildwood Series by Colin Meloy

I'd like a time machine to go back to when my boys were young. I'd read them this series instead of Tolkien's Ring Trilogy. (ok, it was my partner who read it to them, but I'd convince him to read this instead)

There is so much to love about this series.

It's filled with magic, rich and complicated characters, plenty of battles and adventure, and luscious language. Even the most evil of characters have a depth to them that permits us to see how they came to be who they are. In addition to this, the series examines government and politics, environmental awareness, religion, and corporate capitalism. 

In Wildwood, the first book in the series, Mac, Pru McKeel's younger brother, is kidnapped by a murder of crows while she is babysitting him. She follows them to the edge of the Impassable Wilderness, and then, the next day, goes in after him. She is followed by her friend Curtis. Shortly after they arrive, they are separated and Curtis is captured by coyotes and taken to Alexandra, the Dowager Governess. This bit is reminiscent of The Chronicles of Narnia, as Curtis falls under her spell. Meanwhile, Pru discovers a corrupt and totalitarian government in her attempt to find someone to help her get Mac back. Talking animals, a nation of birds, bandits, and mystics who talk to plants, all come to her aid. It ends in a suspenseful battle that involves most of the residents of Wildwood. 

The second book, Under Wildwood, contains two parallel storylines. Pru is abducted from her home and returned to Wildwood in an effort to protect her from Darla, a shape changing assassin. She lands up with Curtis who joined the Wildwood bandits. Darla has a hitlist that includes Iphigenia, the leader of the mystics. Upon her death, The Great Tree tells Pru that she must find 'the makers' and reanimate Alexie, the mechanical boy, Alexandra, the Dowager Governess' son. By the end of the book she has managed to find one of them, Esben, a bear with hooks instead of hands. Meanwhile Curtis' two sisters, Elsie and Rachel, have been abandoned in an orphanage while their parents search for him. The orphanage is run by Joffrey Unthank, a corrupt industrialist, who wants entrance into the Impassable Wilderness to exploit its resources. He sends children into the Wilderness in hopes that they will discover a way in. The children get caught in the Periphery Bind, where they are looked after by Carol, an aging blind man, and the other maker of Alexie.

In book three, Wildwood Imperium, Zita, a young girl, reanimates Alexandra into the Verdant Empress. Now a giant ivy woman, she is is determined to complete the destruction of Wildwood and beyond through unfettered ivy proliferation. Pru and Esben search for Carol so she can reanimate Alexie. Curtis, unaware that the bandits have been drugged by a religious sect serving The Blighted Tree, tries to rebuild the bandit community on his own. This tale involves a corrupt government, a corrupt religious sect run by the industrialists, and a group of anarchists set on destroying the industrialists.  All the disparate storylines come together in a satisfying ending. 

I've listened to the Wildwood series as I went on with my life. Listening to a book is akin to straddling two worlds. One the one hand are the mundane everyday activities of life - cleaning, renovating, sewing, knitting, walking, travelling and even shopping. On the other, I am in Wildwood rooting for Pru, Curtis, Elsie, Rachel and the rest of the population. Our library copies have exquisite illustrations created by Carson Ellis that add depth to the story. I'm sorry I missed them in the oral telling of the tales. 

The only time I have been more heartbroken to come to the end of a series was when I finished up Terry Pratchett's Tiffany Aching books.