#IMWAYR December 29, 2014

Between finishing up homemade gifts, hosting a book fair, and a family crisis, the last month has been a wee bit insane. It hasn't left much time for blogging, but I've continued to read with my eyes and ears. The truth is that no matter what else is going on in my life, reading is one of those things that keeps me sane. It's just that writing about my reading life has had to drop in priority. I hope things are returning to as normal as they ever get around here. 

I am overjoyed to be getting back on track with #IMWAYR. In the past week I've read a number of picture books and listened to a number of novels. I can't wait to read what other bloggers have to say about their reading lives! Check out Jen from Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee and Ricki from Unleashing Readers, and you too may discover all kinds of treasures to read.

I listened to If I Stay by Gayle Forman earlier in the month and was delighted with the sequel, Where She Went, that I listened to last week.  I enjoyed both of these books. It was interesting that the first book was narrated by the girl, and the second by the boy. 4 stars

I finished up Spirit Animals #1, Wild Born, by Brandon Mull. Students at school are really enjoying this series so I wanted to see what was drawing them in. I get it. There is action and suspense, but what I suspect is most appealing are the characters' special connections with their spirit animals. This connection had me thinking of Lyra Belacqua from Philip Pullman's The Golden Compass. Unfortunately, Wild Born, while an entertaining read, doesn't compare to that book. 3 stars

The Boy on the Porch by Sharon Creech has been on my to read list since last March so I am happy to have completed it. I loved the sweetness of John and Marta and their capacity for unconditional love. This is an exquisitely written book. Much as I truly enjoyed this story, I'm not sure how many of my readers will take to it. To be honest, I worry it is a book more for adults than children. 
4 stars. 

I also found time to listen to The Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer Holme. Wow! That is some read. I loved the characters, the plot, the science, and the moral dilemma. 
5 stars

I downloaded The Book of Lost Things (Mr Max #1) by Cynthia Voigt, just because  we have some of her work in our library, but I have never read anything by her. It was ok. I liked the bizarreness of it. Max Sterling's parents have gone missing and he has to learn to survive almost on his own.  I liked the characters, (the grandmother is a librarian, so I had to like her) I liked that it is a collection of stories that wend themselves together. I'm not sure about the role of Madam Olenka, but expect readers might learn more about her and her nefarious family in a sequel. It was a delightful book to listen to, but I doubt I'll do any more. 3 stars

I'm almost finished Goblin Secrets by William Alexander. We have this one at school but it doesn't get much circulation so I decided to find out if it was worth keeping. So far, I'm enjoying it. I like the combination of fairy tale and steam punk. I especially like this representation of Goblins who are not what I expected at all. I will definitely encourage fantasy and adventure readers to try this one. 

I've been working on For the Win by Cory Doctorow. I'm conflicted about it, but mostly I'm just confused. I think I need to learn a whole lot more about the world of video games so I have enough background knowledge to make sense of this one. I persist only because it is Cory Doctorow.  

I got my husband, who is a filmmaker, an early Christmas gift. Gallop!: A Scanimation Picture Book by Rufus Butler Seder, so intriged him and another friend, they started talking about taking one of the pages apart to figure out the technology behind the animation. Thankfully, the internet provided information about the process. My two year old niece was over during the holidays and was also enchanted by this one. 5 stars

I laughed out loud a number of times while reading The Book With No Pictures by B. J. Novak. I can't wait to read it to a group of children! 4 stars

The Hug Machine by Scott Campbell, a story of a little boy who goes around hugging everyone and everything is adorable. I'll have to get a copy for our library. 4 stars

Mr Ferris and His Wheel by Kathryn Gibbs Davis is an engaging nonfiction picture book that tells the story of the creation of the first ferris wheel. It is a fabulous read for any ages. I caught a few of my adult guests reading and talking about it earlier this week. I will definitely get this one for our library! 5 stars

We are heading off to our place out of town that has no internet. I am giddily looking forward to reading the pile of books I've been saving for just this time. Included in this collection are Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson, Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater. I'm also planning on rereading Ursula K. Le Guin's The Left Hand of Darkness, and starting How Not to be Wrong: The Power of Mathematical Thinking by Jordan Ellenberg, both books I got for Christmas. 

This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki

I loved this book. The illustrations are jaw dropping gorgeous with a storyline and characters that kept me fully captivated. 

Marino and Jillian Tamaki have captured the lethargic essence of summer. There is something timeless and universal in their portrayal of the two girls, Windy and Rose, as they wend their way through this one summer, hovering on the cusp of adolescence. They are caught in limbo between the innocence of their early years, and the inevitable shattering of it as they come of age. It's in the juxtaposition of their wisdom and naivety as they emulate the vocabulary and actions of the teens and adults around them. They are extras in the drama of teen pregnancy played out by the local youth and front row spectators to Rose's parent's conflict. All the while they are trying to figure out what's right, and oftentimes failing. 

I love the diversity of the characters the Tamaki cousins have shared with us. I love that while they all have faults, I came to care for them anyway. Some day I hope to be like Windy's grandmother, sipping virgin daiquiris with my grandchildren as we read books on the porch.  

This book resonated with me - not so much because I went away to the beach each summer, but because it takes me back to my own summers growing up in a small town, trying to figure out the behaviours of my older cousins and the adults around me. It reminds me that we are always on the cusp of growing up, no matter how old we are. 

I'm not sure if I will get a copy for our elementary library. If I do it will have to go on the grade seven shelf. If I taught in a high school, I'd contemplate a lit circle set. I can imagine all kinds of juicy conversations emerging from it.

I liked it so much, I think I'll go and read it again before I return it to the library. 

#IMWAYR December 1, 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.

Busy Busy Busy. That's my life these days. 

Last week I started two books and abandoned them. I read the first chapter of The Beckoners by Carrie Mac, and realized that I couldn't read the rest of the book. That bit is a graphic description of some of the most horrific bullying I've ever seen. I couldn't go on. 

 I listened to more of The Diviners by Libba Bray, but then it got too terrifying for me to listen to any more. It isn't that these books are poorly written. In fact, my visceral responses to both of them are probably a testimony to how powerful the writing is, but I couldn't take any more. I've come to the realization that when my real life is stressed, I can't handle any additional stress from my reading life. That, and I don't do scary very well at the best of times.

I finished Zen and the Art of Faking It by Jordan Sonnenblick. It's the story of a young boy who moves to a new town and pretends to be someone he isn't. He got his reasons for not wanting to live his life, and some good arises out of his facade, but ultimately he gets caught out. This wasn't one of my favourite Sonnenblick novels, but I enjoyed it. 

The Scholastic book fair arrived in the library last Friday. I sat on the floor and read a number of picture books. These are the few that jumped out at me. 


Shh! My Brother's Sleeping by Ruth Ohi. I adore this tale of an older sibling trying to keep quiet so the younger brother can sleep.
We're All Friends Here by Nancy Wilcox Richards is the story of two very different friends. It struck a chord with me because the story is narrated from the perspectives of these two characters. 

Princess Pink and the Land of Fake Believe: Little Red Quacking Hood by Noah Z. Jones, Dragon Masters: Rise of the Earth Dragon by Tracy West, and Eerie Elementary: The School is Alive by Jack Chabert, and Kung Pow Chicken: The Birdy Snatchers are part of the Branches collection. Each one that I have read so far have been delightful. Written at a grade two reading level, these illustrated chapter books are perfect for students transitioning into more substantial novels. 

These days I'm in the middle of reading The Young Elites by Marie Liu. So far I'm enjoying it, even if it does have its terrifying moments. I'm listening to Mastiff by Tamora Pierce. Pierce is a guilty pleasure of mine. I  think this is my favourite series of hers. 

Waiting for me next week if I find time to read, is This One Summer, written and illustrated by two cousins, Mariko and JIllian Tamaki. It won the Governor General Award for children's literature this year. If I didn't already have overdue books from the library, I would already have finished it. I've also got El Deafo by Cece Bell beckoning me.

#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