It’s Monday and I’m happy to be participating in a weekly event with a community of bloggers who post reviews of books that they have read the previous week. Check out more IMWAYR posts here: Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers.
This week I read several picture books – some recently released and some I somehow missed along the way. I’ve also been busy ready a few recently released novels to share with teachers at my workshops this fall.
I am a huge fan of the Stella and Sam books by Marie Louise Gay. Sam is the quintessential child of wonderings and Stella, his sister, does her best to provide him with the her most thoughtful responses. In Reading Me a Story, Stella we not only get these two delightful and well-loved characters at their best, but Gay subtly imparts the importance and pleasures of reading in many different forms – humor, fiction, nonfiction or poetry. Throw in Gay’s whimsical watercolors and yes, we have a winner!
Oh, the stomach ache inducing fear of having to stand up in front of the class and share something when you are painfully shy! In Too Shy for Show and Tell by Beth Bracken, dear little Sam (well, he seems little, despite his very long neck!) dreads the thought of having to get up in front of the class. What if he cries or throws up? This is a great book to help children learn to deal with their anxiety about public speaking and one many will be able to connect to.
Somehow, I must have missed this book when it came over a year ago! But I’m very happy to have discovered it now as it is extremely clever and VERY funny. In Z is for Moose by Kelly Bringham, Zebra is directing an Alphabet play. It is his job to ensure that all the animals appear in alphabetical order on stage. His problems begin when Moose keeps trying to come onto the stage out of turn and things really go badly when Zebra discovers that he isn’t actually in the play at all! This is a perfect read aloud for younger primary children learning the alphabet but also a great read aloud-laugh aloud with older kids!
I love books clever books and Little Red Writing by Joan Holub is SO clever! Not only is it a humorous re-telling of Little Red Riding Hood that children will recognize, but weaves in the key elements of story writing. What could be better? Little Red pencil is excited when her teacher, Ms. 2, tells her pencil class that it is time to write a story. Her basket of nouns help her along the way, particularly when she runs into Wolf 3000 – a pencil sharpener on a rampage! This book is engaging, entertaining and hilarious! Great water color illustrations with lots of details is the icing on the cake!
I’m often not taken with sparkly book covers and tend to avoid them. I’m glad I got passed the sparkles to discover the delightful story of Zoe Gets Ready by Bethanie Deeney Murguia. It’s Saturday and Zoe is trying to decide what to wear. But her dilemma is not so much about the clothes she will wear as it is about what she wants to do that day. Will it be a pocket day? (in which case she will need a pocket to put her collections) Or maybe a twirling day? (when “twirly skirts” are essential!) or cartwheeling, or exploring kind of day. Adorable! The surprising way she solves her problem will have children laughing! This book got me thinking…what might one wear for a “reading day”?
Another book I clearly missed when it was published in 2011 is Fall Mixed Up by Bob Raczke and illustrated by Chad Cameron It is a bright, colorful and entertaining book about the wonders of fall with an added element of fun: there are mistakes EVERYWHERE – from squirrels flying south to pumpkins growing on trees! This book is pure entertainment – and I know my students will enjoy finding all the mixed up mistakes in both the text and illustrations.
Sophie’s Squash by Pat Zietow is a recently published book and perfect for your fall collection. Sophie chooses a squash at the Farmer’s market but refuses to let her mom cook it for supper. Instead, she names the squash Bernice and they become fast friends. She takes Bernice everywhere, despite her parents’ gentle warning that Bernice may soon begin to rot. At first, Sophie is convinced that Bernice will last forever, but eventually, she notices some soft changes! What will she do? A great book for predicting, problem solving and surprise endings!
Mouse with the Question Mark Tail by Richard Peck is the first of a few novels I’ve managed to read over the past few weeks. This is a lovely story, reminiscent of Despereaux, with a main character I began routing for from the beginning. Mouse Minor lives in Buckingham Palace and is in service to the queen. But he is unhappy and has many burdens to bare, including not knowing who his parents are, having no friends and being picked on. So he runs away from school and begins his adventures. This dear little mouse who questions the world around him is not only brave but optimistic. I enjoyed the setting of London and the detailed descriptions of Buckingham Palace and the Diamond Jubilee, as well as the fine illustrations. I also loved language and wonderful phrases Peck uses including many little sayings and repeated poems. Would make a wonderful read-aloud for upper primary and early intermediate students.
I had read several reviews of this book over the summer and was excited to read it. The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp by Kathi Appelt (The Underneath) is another animal story starring two “boy scout” raccoons and a whole cast of interesting characters – both animal and human. This is a tall tale about a swamp in Texas guarded by the Sugar Man. Some of the characters want to preserve this swamp and some want to make money by turning the swamp into a Theme Park. This book is so well written. The short chapters jump from different points of view with such ease, you hardly notice. The story is funny and fast paced and touches on community, conservation and adventure. This would be an excellent read-aloud for grades 3-5.
I SO enjoyed Rump: the True Story of Rumplestiltskin by Liesl Shurtliff. It is a twisted re-telling of the classic fairy tale told from the perspective of “Rump”. This book has everything you could want in a classroom read-aloud: humor, magic, adventure, no parents, evil people, “butt” jokes, a character that you will be cheering for and did I mention humor? Every boy in my class will want their hands on this book after I read the first chapter. I can’t wait to start reading it to them!
On a more serious note, Vince Vawter’s Paperboy deals with a boy with a disability – a familiar trend in YA books since Wonder came out. Set in Memphis in 1959, this coming of age story is about an 11 year old boy who suffers from a strong stutter. He takes over his friend’s paper route one summer and so begins a story that ends up being so much more than about a boy with a disability. While we do get a glimpse into the life of boy who stutters and the fears he must face when having to talk to his customers and collect money, we are also presented a piece of American history and of the racism that was so much a part of the South at this time. The author Vince Vawter suffered through a stuttering problem in his childhood years, making this book semi-autobiographical. This would be a great book for middle school lit. circles.
Kate DiCamillo is high on my list of favorite writers. I cried buckets reading Edward Tulane and held off reading the last page of Despereaux for almost a week because I didn’t want it to end. In this, her first novel in “graphic” format, I have to say she has done it again. I must admit I was a little hesitant when I learned this book was written partly in a comic book format as I was worried it would somehow lack the extraordinary gift of words and tender tale that I have come to know from any Kate DiCamillo book. But I should have known that she would somehow master both humor, tenderness and a tapestry of wonderful words in this new format. Flora and Ulysses is the story of a 10 year old girl (Flora) who is devoted to superheroes and a self-proclaimed cynic. One day she rescues a squirrel from a disaster with a vacuum cleaner. The squirrel, whom she names Ulysses, turns out to be a poetry writing superhero squirrel and Flora suddenly finds herself in the role of “sidekick” to this squirrel. The characters are endearing, the writing is exquisite and the story is both humorous and touching. Kate DiCamillo has done it again.
Well.. there you have it! The latest picture books and novels I have read and enjoyed. What have you been reading lately?