Tag Archives: Kathi Appelt

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

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? – More New Books for the New Year

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

The new books just keep on coming and I have am happy to share a few more that have caught my eye this week!

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Sometimes You Barf – Nancy Carlson

It’s flu season!  And if you didn’t think it was possible to smile or even giggle at the thought of barfing – you will change your mind when you read this book!  A young girl narrates us through her nasty flu bug and, in the process, explains how everyone barfs, even animals.  The message?  Sometimes you barf, sometimes in embarrassing places – but life goes on!  Nancy Carlson has been writing books for kids for FOUR decades!  She always manages to write simple, playful books that we can all connect to!  Kids will LOVE this book, especially because it has the word “BARF” in it!  Great book for making connections!

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Pirate, Viking and Scientist – Jared Chapman

Viking is a friend of Scientist; Pirate is a friend of Scientist; Pirate and Viking are NOT friends!  So what happens when your two friends get along with you but not with each other?   Why, use your scientific brain, of course!   This is a wonderful story that not only focuses on the issues of friendship and conflict resolution but introduces the basic scientific method to readers.   Clever, fun, great “triple scoop words” and a lots of examples of how to use grid paper!  I loved this one! 

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Bunjitsu – John Himmelman

This book has a LOT going for it – big font, fun illustrations, beginning chapter book, martial arts, child-friendly scenarios, strong, feisty female character all woven together with Eastern philosophy! Each chapter is a subtle lesson about values such as creative thinking, hard work, and persistence.  Zen philosophy for beginning readers – what more could you ask for?

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Mr. Squirrel and the Moon –  Sebastian Meschenmoser

If you loved Waiting for Winter as much as I did, you will be thrilled to see Squirrel is back!  This time, he discovers the moon has fallen from the sky and landed in his tree.  Squirrel is worried others may think he has stolen the moon, so he attempts, with his woodland friends, to return it.  This story is hilarious – with classic Maschenmoser detailed, pencil illustrations that often tell a different tale than the text.  A perfect book for practicing inferring with the younger students.  LOVE!

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When Otis Courted Mama – Kathi Appelt

What happens when your mom starts dating a man you don’t really like?  Cardelll the coyote,  isn’t exactly thrilled when his mother begins dating Otis, the neighbor.  This great book would be a great anchor to introduce children about accepting and adjusting to a new step-parent.  I loved the dessert setting and the colorful illustrations.

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The New Small Person – Lauren Child

Many emotions are explored in this story of learning to accept a new sibling.  I love Lauren Child’s signature style and her way of capturing situations children can connect to.  Elmore – great name, great character, great book!

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Earmuffs for Everyone!: How Chester Greenwood Became Known as the Inventor of Earmuffs – Meghan McCarthy

This non-fiction biography describes the evolution of he earmuff and the story of Chester Greenwood – credited with being the inventor of the earmuffs.  However, the earmuffs were actually invented before he was even born!  He was born with big ears that were sensitive to the cold so his grandmother made him some earmuffs out of wire and cloth.  At 19, he patented the design and was credited with the invention.  I liked how this book shows the actual evolution of the invention and how different inventors improved on each other’s designs.

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Where Does Kitty Go in the Rain – Harriet Ziefert

This WONDERFUL book combines a fictional mystery about a girl searching for her cat during a rain storm with nonfiction facts about rain.  As we search for Kitty, we discover such things as what makes a duck waterproof and where do butterflies go to stay dry.  Beautiful art and lovely rhyming text. I loved the combination of mystery and science.  This is a little gem!   

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Wall – Tom Clohosy Cole

This book was written to mark the 25th anniversary of the destruction of the Berlin Wall.  It tells the story of a young boy, mother and sister who are separated from the father during the building of the wall and follows their journey as they try to re-unite.  The digital illustrations are stark and striking.  This is a thought-provoking book and would be a great introduction to the Berlin Wall for older students.  (Warning:  Sometimes the blue print on black page was hard to read.) A good book for Questioning. 

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Beautiful Ruins – Jess Walter

My book club just finished reading this book and loved it.  It weaves together two stories – one set in an Italian fishing village in 1962 and the other in present day Hollywood.   At the heart of this book is a tender love story of the Italian hotel owner, Pasquel, who falls in love with the Hollywood actress who comes to his hotel to recover from an illness.  Fifty years later, he shows up at a movie set in Hollywood, searching for her.   This book is romantic, tender, funny and a colorful mix of travel, music, books, movie pitches, acting, movie stars, relationships, Hollywood, Italy.   An amazing cast of characters, sub-stories and a wonderful setting.  Pasquel fell in love with a movie star – I fell in love with Pasquel.

What are YOU reading this week?  Thanks for stopping by!  Please leave a comment and let me know which book caught your eye!

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Filed under It's Monday, What Are You Reading?, New Books, Question, Science

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”?

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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