Tag Archives: Kate DiCamillo

Top 10 Tuesday – Top Ten Favorite Middle Grade Novels (Gr. 5-8) of 2016 (So Far!)

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It’s Tuesday, so I’m posting my own version of the Top 10 list!  I’ve been getting several requests from teacher friends for recommendations for middle grade read-alouds so I have put together a list of my top ten favorites from 2016.  There are so many extraordinary books to chose from and always difficult to narrow it down to just 10 (I ended up with 12!) Please note that even though I have included it on a list of my favorites, before reading aloud to your class, please read it through yourself to ensure it is a good fit for you and your class.

OK… grab a Kleenex box and here we go….

1. Raymie Nightingale – Kate DiCamillo

From one of my favorite writers comes a simple, strong and whimsical story of three friends during the summer of 1975.  A tale of friendship, perseverance, poverty, loss and growing up. I loved the characters, all of them – Love Raymie. Love Beverly. Love Louisiana. LOVE Louisiana’s Grannie.   While this is not my favorite KD book, it is high on my list of favorites of 2016.

2. The Boy at the Top of the Mountain – John B0yne

From the author of The Boy in the Striped Pajamas comes another story depicting the horrors of WWII.  After his father, a drunken German soldier, is killed by a train and his French mother dies of consumption, seven-yr. old orphan Pierrot is eventually taken in by his aunt, a housekeeper in large mountain retreat in Austria. While younger readers may not realize without some prompting, adult readers quickly infer that the home is that of Adolph Hitler.  I read this book in one sitting – could not put it down.  I would suggest pre-reading it to ensure appropriate content for your class, as there are some violent and tense scenes.  For older students, it would stimulate discussions around innocence corrupted, the attractions of power, and the resilience of youth.

3. Pax – Sara Pennypacker

Oh, this book.  This book.  A boy, a fox, a war – tender, so beautiful, so emotional.  So many ideas and themes are wrapped around the words: friendship, love, trust, betrayal, loyalty, war, peace.  Please read and share this book.

4. The Seventh Wish – Kate Messner

I highly recommend this book as a read-aloud in a grade upper elementary class.  A modern day fairy tale about a young Irish dancer who, trying to make some money to buy herself a new dance dress, catches a magic fish that grants wishes if she’ll let it go.   Sounds a little simple – but this book is so much more.  At times you will laugh, at times your heart will be breaking.   This book looks at family dynamics, addiction, middle school, and Irish dancing with insight and tenderness.   I follow Kate Messner on social media and know that she received some backlash from some schools about her including the subject of heroin addiction.  While I understand some may not be comfortable with this subject matter, I admire the way she presents this real-life problem gently and honestly.

5. The Wild Robot – Peter Brown

What would happen if a robot happened to arrive on an island that is humming with wildlife?  How would it survive?  And so begins this unique, unexpected and delightful survival story that somehow manages to hit many ‘hot topics’ including: disability, climate change, civilization, violence in nature, gun violence, balance in nature. While this sounds heavy handed – it’s not!  Peter Brown has created a very readable, authentic story with a unique voice given to all the creatures on the island.  This book is powerful and gentle and would make a great read-aloud in a grade 4-5 class.

6. Ms. Bixby’s Last Day – John David Anderson

The story of a brilliant teacher who sees the good in every single student, especially the little things that others don’t see. When her career gets cut short because of a cancer diagnosis, three boys decide to give her a good-bye party to remember.  I love the different voices in this book, as we discover through each boy, just why Ms. Bixby is so special to them.  Yes, you will cry – but you will also laugh along with your students.   I love this book.

7. Maybe a Fox – Kathi Appelt

Wow.  This story of grief and loss is haunting and magical; sad and heart-wrenching.  It is the story of two sisters, Jules and Sylvie, who are being raised by their father after their mother dies.  I loved the exquisite writing; I loved characters; I loved the fox; I loved the way the human world and the animal/nature world intersect; I loved the way death and grief (one of the sisters dies early in the book) are treated with dignity, grace and love. I cried and so will you.

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8. Hour of Bees – Lindsay Eager

I feel like a broken record but this book is extraordinary and lingers with you long after you finish it.  It has a wonderful setting (N ew Mexico desert), a fantastic group of characters, and completely enchanting magical elements. Oh, and did I mention beautiful writing? Instead of spending the summer before junior high with her friends in Albuquerque, Carolina is stuck in the New Mexico desert, with her mom, dad, little brother, half-sister Alta, and Grandpa Serge who she’s meeting for the very first time. Serge is suffering from dementia, and the family has come to help sell his house and move him to a seniors facility.  Caroline is drawn into Grandpa through his magical stories of the desert and soon the line between reality and magic becomes blurred.  Original, thought-provoking and beautifully written.

9. When Friendship Followed Me Home – Paul Griffin

Here is another book that takes you on an emotional roller coaster – one minute I was laughing, the next I was tearing up.  WOW.  Ben is a twelve year old, former foster child who has finally found a loving home and mother. Ben rescues a scruffy dog he names Flip and befriends a librarian’s daughter named Halley. When everything in Ben’s life suddenly changes, he discovers the true meaning of family and friendship.   I loved the characters in this book and the writing and dialogue is beautiful and authentic.  It’s a tear jerker and tackles some difficult issues, including foster care, physical abuse, cancer, and grief.  Recommended for mature grade 6 and up.

10. Save Me A Seat – Sarah Weeks & Gita Varadarajan

This book is a realistic story set in a school and told in two different voices, making it a great choice for a read-aloud.  Joe and Ravi are struggling at school for completely different reasons: Ravi is a recent immigrant trying to fit in and Joe has some learning difficulties and is often bullied.  Over the course of a week, Ravi and Joe find common ground and a bond in their differences. Great book for making connections.  I loved the authentic voice and diversity of each character.  The added bonus was learning a bit more about their cultures from the descriptions of food – from school lunches to meals at home.   There are even recipes included at the end!

                                              AND BECAUSE I HAD TROUBLE COUNTING TO TEN…

11. The Land of Forgotten Girls – Erin Entrada Kelly

The school where I teach is attended by many Filipino families, so I was excited to read this book about two Filipino sisters. It is another heart-breaker but also a celebration of stories and sisters. Sol and her younger sister Ming live in poverty in Louisiana with their abusive stepmother after their father returns to the Philippines. Sol tells fairy tales which interweave with the plot and help give the sisters strength. A moving book for middle grade readers that highlights themes of sisterhood, friendship, survival and imagination.  As a mother, I found it difficult to read in parts, but the book is ultimately hopeful with strong female characters.

12. The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary – Laura Shovan

Wow – this book, written in verse, is extraordinary, creative and unique.   You really need to read it to appreciate how amazing it is.  From start to finish, The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary is completely delightful in every way. Through the voices of 18 very real and very lovable fifth graders, we experience their individual stories as well as the collective story of their class during a very momentous year in the history of their school – their school is being torn down.  So many authentic, diverse voices of family, culture, friendship and personality.  A perfect book for making connections and a must read-aloud book!

 There are SO MANY amazing new novels to read and share with your class this year!

Thanks for stopping by.  Would love to know which book has caught your eye!

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Filed under 2016 releases, Middle Grade Novels, New Books, Read-Aloud

Top 10 Tuesday – Ten Spring Releases I am Eagerly Awaiting!

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It’s been a few weeks since I posted, but now report cards are written and marking is done, I’m  happy to be sharing some new releases ( picture books and novels) that I’m excited about!   I have listed release dates and all are available for pre-ordering.  While I haven’t actually READ these yet – some have amazing track records, some are from favorite authors, while others just caught my eye!  I’m “inferring”  I shall love them all!

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1. Flora and the Peacocks – Molly Idle (release May 3rd)

Molly Idle gifted us first with Flora and the Flamingo and then Flora and the Penguin.  Darling, dancing Flora is back, and this time, she is dancing with a pair of colorful, moody peacocks.  Can’t wait to read this one!

Book Trailer:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e75i9Q40STM

2. The Bear and the Piano – David Litchfield  (April 5)

I judged this book by it’s cover and decided it was a MUST read!  I can just imagine holding this cover up and asking the students “What are you wondering?”  My brain is swirling with wonderings!

3. Twenty Yawns – Jane Smiley  (April 1)

This looks like a sweet bedtime story and I adore Lauren Castillo’s illustrations so I’m keeping my eye out for this one!

4. Elephant and Piggie – The Thank You Book – Mo Willems  (May 5th)

I’m a huge fan of this hilarious, tender series and can’t wait to add this to our library collection!

5. Duck, Duck, Porcupine! – Salina Yoon (May 17)

I have enjoyed Salina Moon’s Penguin and Porcupine books so am looking forward to this book, told entirely through dialogue.

6. Flying Frogs and Walking Fish: Leaping Lemurs, Tumbling Toads, Jet-Propelled Jellyfish, and More Surprising Ways That Animals Move – Steve Jenkins (May 3) 

If you know me, you know I love Steve Jenkins.  Not just a little love – but overflowing book love for S. J.  His nonfiction books he writes with his wife (sigh) Robin Page are fascinating, engaging, stunning, and down-right glorious.  Here’s his latest.

7.  Booked – Kwane Alexander  (April 5)

 If you have not yet read or shared Kwane Alexander’s riveting novel in verse The Crossover, which won the Newberry in 2015 – it is a MUST READ!  In this much anticipated follow up novel, basketball is replaced with soccer.

8. My Seventh Grade Life in Tights – Brooks Benjamin

Lots of buzz about this charming, feel-good story of a tween boy who wants to be a dancer.

Book Trailer:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7IOwYpsPLyI

9. Red: The True Story of Red Riding Hood – Liesl Shurtliff (April 12)

If you are a fan of True Stories series by Liesl Shurtliff  (Rump and Jack),  you will be excited about Red!  If you teach middle school, these hilarious fractured fairy tales make the BEST read-alouds!

10.  Raymie Nightingale – Kate DiCamillo  (April 12)

Magic happens when you read Kate DiCamillo’s books.  Everything she writes is crafted masterfully and filled with heart-breaking, poignant moments and gorgeous, gorgeous language. This is the story of  a summer friendship.  Let the magic begin!

Thanks for stopping by!  Which book has caught your eye?

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Filed under 2016 releases, Top 10 Tuesday

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? – Favorite Grade 3 Read-Alouds!

 IMWAYR

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: Jen from Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee and Ricki from Unleashing Readers

Reading aloud to my class is the favorite part of my day… I love the quiet anticipation before I start reading and the collective “No!  Don’t stop now!  Just one more page!”  when I close the book.  I have been asked recently by several teacher friends for recommendations for class-read alouds.  So I have been searching through my novel tubs and have decided to post a list of a few recommended read-alouds for different grades.  I welcome readers to also share their favorites!

And so I will begin my favorite read-alouds for grade 3’s… I have tried to include a mix of old and new, poignant and fun, appealing to both boys and girls!

My Father's Dragon (My Father's Dragon, #1)

My Father’s Dragon – Ruth Stiles Gannett

This book was published way back in 1943 but is still one of my favorites!  It tells the adventure of a run-away boy and his attempt to rescue a baby dragon who is being taken advantage of by the animals on Wild Island.  Clever and fun – and a great book for practicing predicting.

Toys Go Out (Toys #1)

Toys Go Out – Emily Jenkins

This simple, sweet story, reminiscent of “Toy Story”, takes us behind the scenes to the adventures of 3 toys that live in a little girl’s room. Great for introducing character traits as each toy has its own distinct personality. 

The Magic Finger

The Magic Finger – Roald Dahl

No read-aloud list would be complete without a Roald Dahl book!  His books beg to be read aloud!   There are so many I could include (Fantastic Mr. Fox is another I love) but I enjoy reading The Magic Finger.   It is short and funny and perfect for this age group.  It tells the story of a little girl who has a magic finger. Whenever she gets angry – she points her fingertip and takes revenge!  The story centers around her neighbours, who are duck hunters. Hunting makes this little girl very angry – so she uses her magic finger and turns the family into… you guessed it – Ducks!  It’s short and simple and fun – but a serious message that is worthy of discussion.

Emmy and the Incredible Shrinking Rat

Emmy and the Incredible Shrinking Rat – Jonathon Bean

This book is quirky and fun!  Great plot, entertaining characters and unpredictable ending!  Your students will LOVE this book!

The Year of Billy Miller

The Year of Billy Miller – Kevin Henkes

Fast-paced and funny – your students will make lots of connections to family, friendship and school!  Great black and white art.  Heartwarming – I actually teared up at the end!  Love Billy Miller!

The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane

The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane – Kate DiCamillo

This is such a beautiful story and Kate DiCamillo’s writing is exquisite (Triple scoop words on every page!)  Edward Tulane is a china rabbit who is passed from owner to owner, enduring both love and tradgedy along the way.  This book is about opening your heart to being loved and it will stay with you for a long time. 

The World According to Humphrey (According to Humphrey, #1)

The World According to Humphrey – Betty G. Birney

This book is told from the perspective of Humphrey, the hamster, class pet in Room 26.   He reports on the daily comings and goings in the classroom as well as his weekend sleepover’s at various student’s houses. Cute, fun book – kids will want to read the Humphrey series after this!

Harry the Poisonous Centipede: A Story to Make You Squirm. Lynne Reid Banks

Harry and the Poisonous Centipede – Lynne Reid Banks

The story of Harry, the curious, adventure seeking centipede, who disobeys his mother’s orders and attempts to crawl up the drain pipe with his friend to the forbidden world of the “h00-mins”.  Fun, fast paced, and high on the “gross scale”!  Interesting facts about centipedes woven into the story make for an interesting link to science.

The Hundred Dresses – Eleanor Estes

This is a tender, heartbreaking story about Wanda, who wears the same faded dress to school every day but claims to have a hundred dresses at home.  Because of this, she is ridiculed and teased by children at school.  This book was published in 1944 – long before the word “bullying” was a common term – but the story is timeless and deals with the issue beautifully.

There you have some of my favorites – what about you?  What are your favorite read-alouds for gr. 3’s?

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It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?

IMWAYR

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.

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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!

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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. z is for moose[1]

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!

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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!

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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”?

fall mixed up[1]

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.

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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!

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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.  True Blue Scouts cover[1]

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.  9780307977939_p0_v1_s260x420[1]

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!

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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.

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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?

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Filed under It's Monday, What Are You Reading?, Lesson Ideas, Literature Circles, New Books, Novels, Picture Book