Visit Jen at Teach MentorTexts and Kellee and Ricki at UnleashingReaders to see what they've been reading, along with everyone else who link up. Others join Sheila to share adult books at Book Journeys, now hosted by Kathryn at The Book Date..
This Side of Wild - Gary Paulsen
I've taught middle school for a long time, and often used Gary Paulsen's introductions to his books as mentor texts. Just find "The Winter Room" and its introduction ("Tuning") so beautifully sharing that books cannot have smells, or sound, or light, since these must be supplied by the reader in response to the author's words. They are wonderful examples of drawing the reader in immediately; with passion for whatever the topic is he's going to tell us about. This book, the intro and the final words, is no different. I always feel as if I'm sitting down with Paulsen, having an intimate conversation, him telling stories, me adding my own thoughts. Where else could one hear about a dog named Gretchen with whom he had many conversations, who guided him into wonders of the world he would never have seen? It is an easy book to read, and one that might make you wonder a little more about that squirrel that keeps looking in your window. It might make a good read aloud for a class who'd made observing the outdoors an important part of their days.
The Boys Who Challenged Hitler: Knud Pedersen and The Churchill Gang - Phillip M. Hoose
More and more I am enjoying these non-fiction books that have shared so much detailed history that I didn’t hear in my own education, and this is one that is inspirational and alarming. Because I taught middle-school-aged students, just the age of these boys when Denmark surrendered without a fight to Germany, I read it from the viewpoint of our own lives, wondering how our children at age thirteen and up would react in such a situation? These boys, Knud Pedersen, his brother Jans, and other friends were enraged when their country allowed the Germans to take over without a fight. The king of Denmark and the government thought it would save lives if they simply surrendered, unlike the neighboring country of Norway who fought on despite the casualties. Sadly they lost more than lives: their freedom and the right to speak their ideas. When the enemy takes over the streets, the shopping, the transportation and restricts movement, etc., lives change. This time, some Danes collaborated and were happy to have the increased business from the Nazis. Others did not, but suffered shortages and strict rules when they didn’t cooperate. The boys, getting together at the Pedersen’s home, secretly, formed the club and began doing what they could without being able to drive, with only bicycles for transportation. And they began, in broad daylight, on their bicycles (Who is alarmed about young boys on bicycles?). There is much to tell of this long journey, and you’ll need to read the book to enjoy it all. Luckily, Hoose was able to take advantage of a failed attempt to tell the story earlier, and found Knud Pedersen still ready to be interviewed, with amazing primary sources ready too. I liked every bit of the war events, but also loved hearing what happened later in life to all these courageous boys.
The Nest - Kenneth Oppel and Jon Klassen
This might be one of the most alarming fables I’ve read that is meant for the middle grades. Oppel takes a lot of pages, scary pages, to show that being perfect is not a life’s goal, although many strive toward it for themselves and their children. There are a few different parts that keeps one guessing who to fear. Is it the strange ‘wasp/fairy’ or the man who drives the streets as a knife sharpener? Steve, the oldest child, tells this story of his family in crisis because their new baby is not thriving, and doctors don’t know why. Taking on the worries, but not telling he is, Steve begins the dreams, which at first aren’t bad, but soothing. Oppel’s way of writing kept me interested early because I imagined that the boy’s dreams that included talking to a wasp, and the consequent turn of who the wasp was indicated the boy needed help. Scenes of a little sister who receives real phone calls on her toy phone, and the parents becoming increasingly worried about the baby, leaving Steve to solve his own problems added tension to this already tense story. When the story emerged as more and more realistic, I wondered about the long ago fables when fairies stole babies, sometimes for fun, but often to teach a lesson. I know this doesn’t appear realistic, but the theme of a dark message in literature to be careful what one wishes for is clearly shown by Oppel. For a mature reader, billed for middle grades, and enhanced by Jon Klassen’s eerie illustrations.
The Tiger Who Would Be King - James Thurber and Joohee Yoon
A story with a moral of those who think being the all-powerful one in the forest will bring good to one’s life. When the tiger wishes to be the greatest and questions the king of beasts, the lion, other animals take sides and fight to the finish. No one is left for either to rule. Yoon’s illustrations, bold in oranges and black, including two gatefolds of the raging battle, are filled with action all the way through. One has to look carefully to see animals peeking out from the forest, and it’s delightful to find them.
The Story of Diva and Flea - Mo Willems and Tony Diterlizzi
Not quite as silly as the Elephant & Piggie books, but it’s a charming beginning reader chapter book, still using the theme of friendship and support, helping friends be brave, taking that first step in adventures. For everyone who’s always wanted to go to Paris, this book for children will entice as much as the Madeline books do. Dear Diva lives, and guards in one of those wonderful old apartment buildings, barking at any who approach, but a little fearsome as they near, so then runs away. Flea is a street cat, or better known in the story, a flâneur, one who ‘wanders the streets and bridges and alleys of the city just to see what there is to see.” The friendship emerges and tightens as their conversations make each other curious about the other’s lives. Diterlizzi’s illustrations are cartoon-like, filled with little details, like sneaking Pigeon and Piggie in, along with a few well-known Paris landmarks. And don’t miss the end words from both Willems and Diterlizzi.
A Reminder - Reviewed last year, but want to share again for Christmas if you celebrate.
Merry Christmas, Merry Crow - Kathi Appelt and Jon Goodell
It's a wonderful Christmas book, if you need a good poetic holiday story about a crow who works hard to give everyone a Christmas surprise. "A button here, a feather there/A crow can find things anywhere!" My granddaughers have loved it, especially the surprise at the end.
Glory O'Brien's History of the Future - A.S. King
Why'd They Wear That?: Fashion as the Mirror of History - Sarah Albee