Archive for the ‘Terrific Chapter Books’ Category

Wrapping up the year… 2014 best books for middle grades

Posted on December 26th, 2014 by Jody

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Best Books 2014 - 1prncs shares her favorite titles for middle grade readersI always say this but I can’t believe it’s the end of another year. How? Especially since so many of the days seemed so very, very long. Trying to remember what I did yesterday is painful, but I’m going to attempt to recap the best books I’ve read in 2014.







Middle Grade/ Young Adult

2014 best books for middle grades including The Shadow ThroneThe Shadow Throne by Jennifer A. Nielsen

The final book in a trilogy that captivated not only my whole class, but me. A book I’ve recommended countless times. The main character is one that everyone can identify with in some way. The action is gripping as Sage/Jaron shows readers what being courageous really means.

The Shadow Throne: Book 3 of The Ascendance Trilogy at Amazon.com

The Shadow Throne: Book 3 of The Ascendance Trilogy at Amazon.ca

My True Love Gave to MeMidnights by Rainbow Rowell

I should be honest and tell you that this author could write a to-do list on a paper towel and I would love it. There is something about every one of her books that grabs me so strongly, I have to remind myself that, she doesn’t actually know me, but somehow, she gets me. And then I remind myself that she doesn’t actually write her books just for me. Elenor and Park is in our elementary library but I think the subject matter is above grade six. However, this is one of those reads that would delight an early middle school reader as much as it did me. It’s a beautiful and sweet short story.

It’s a Yuletide Miracle, Charlie Brown by Stephanie Perkins

A new author for me that I discovered because she edited the collection of short holiday stories in which Midnight was the first. Aimed at teens and up, it was just absolutely delightful to read.

My True Love Gave to Me: Twelve Holiday Stories at Amazon.com

My True Love Gave to Me: Twelve Holiday Stories at Amazon,ca

2014 best books for middle grades including Will Grayson, Will GraysonWill Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green

I can’t read Fault in Our Stars. I know my limits, I read within them. However, I’ve read just about everything else he’s published. This one is my favourite by him. It’s an excellent teen read that speaks to acceptance, diversity, adversity, and the amazing relationships that can stem from being in the same place at the same time.

Will Grayson, Will Grayson at Amazon.com

Will Grayson, Will Grayson at Amazon.ca

2014 best books for middle grades Including Are You There God? It's Me MargaretAre you there God, it’s me, Margaret by Judy Blume

I re read this for the first time in many, many years. I wanted to read it with my daughter and I was so pleased she enjoyed it as much as I did, both then and now. If there was a “what’s it like to become a teenage girl” book award, this would be it.

Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret at Amazon.com

Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret at Amazon.ca

2014 best books for middle grades including Hook’s Revenge by Heidi SchulzHook’s Revenge by Heidi Schulz

This is a fun book with quirky characters that made the students laugh. Determined to avenge her father’s death, Jocelyn sets out on an adventure that teaches her as much about herself as it does about her past.

Hook’s Revenge, Book 1 at Amazon.com

Hook’s Revenge, Book 1 Hook’s Revenge at Amazon.ca

2014 best books for middle grades including Dork DiariesDork Diaries by Rachel Renee Russell

I started reading these with my daughter this last year. They are laugh out loud funny and so easy to connect with. Nikki is a great character and the teen drama she faces, and how she deals with it, is authentic.

Dork Diaries Box Set (Book 1-3) at Amazon.com

Dork Diaries Box Set (Book 1-3): Dork Diaries at Amazon.ca

2014 best books for middle grades Including Sisters by Raina TelgemeierSisters by Raina Telgemeier

My 11 year old read this first and then I read it with my 8 year old. It’s funny and cute and true to life in that, it’s not always easy being a family. But, when you need them, they’re there.

Sisters at Amazon.com

Sisters at Amazon.ca

2014 best books for middle grades Including FrindleFrindle by Andrew Clements

This is an awesome book. I read it with my 8 year old and it made me laugh even as it opened the door to great conversations with her. The main character makes up a new word for what we call a “pen”. A great read about the power of words and how they impact our actions.

Frindle at Amazon.com

Frindle at Amazon.ca

2014 best books for middle grades Including Wonder Wonder by R.J. Palacio

I haven’t even finished this book but I can tell you without one tiny hint of doubt that it will be one of the best reads ever. Not just this year.

Wonder at Amazon.com

Wonder at Amazon.ca

Picture Books

(contrary to some beliefs, these are not only for small children)

2014 best books for middle grades including This Plus ThatThis plus That: Life’s little equations by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Jen Corace

A sweet and fun read with adorable pictures that highlights math vocabulary even as it shows kids how things are connected. Me+ Writing= Happy.

This Plus That: Life’s Little Equations at Amazon.com

2014 best books for middle grades Including Those ShoesThose Shoes by Maribeth Beolts

This one was read to me and I have to say, I still love being read to. This is a great one to open kids eyes to the power of empathy and giving.

Those Shoes at Amazon.com

Those Shoes at Amazon.ca

The Invisible Boy by Trudy LudwigThe Invisible Boy by Trudy Ludwig and Patrice Barton

This story is a little bittersweet. You feel bad for the little boy with no friends, but love the fact that he’s okay in his own little world. Also worth noting, the color comes as friendship brightens his life which is beautiful, literally and figuratively.

The Invisible Boy at Amazon.com

The Invisible Boy at Amazon.ca

Storytime Standouts suggests The Very Inappropriate Word written by Jim Tobin and illustrated by Dave CoverlyThe very inappropriate word by Jim Tobin and Dave Coverly

Full of great vocabulary, this book is funny. I’ve read it several times and it’s a great way to get kids to look at the power of words and language.

The Very Inappropriate Word at Amazon.com

The Very Inappropriate Word at Amazon.ca

What Do You Do with an Idea?What do you do with an idea? by Kobi Yamada and Mae Besom

My school librarian shared this book with me and it is such a tangible idea to show how when your brain gets locked on an idea, sometimes you have to go with it.

What Do You Do With an Idea? at Amazon.com

What Do You Do with an Idea? at Amazon.ca

Books I can’t wait to read in 2015

Fish in a TreeFish in a Tree – Linda Mullaly Hunt

The name is part of one of my favourite quotes so of course I’m drawn to it. That and the fact that her book One for the Murphys was one of my favourite reads of 2013.

Mark of the ThiefMark of the Thief – Jennifer A. Nielsen

I think I need to read this one on my own before with my class. When I read the Ascendance Trilogy, I got so hooked that we might have missed some math lessons.

 

What are some of your favorite kids reads this year? Anything you’re looking forward to? Also, in an openly shameless bid for self-promotion, I hope to one day make it onto one of your favorite lists. Either with the adult books I have coming out in 2015 or with the picture book, SWEET DREAM SISTERS, that will be available in 2016. Have a very, Happy well-read 2015.

 

A Middle Grade Teacher’s To Be Read List

Posted on October 14th, 2014 by Jody

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A Middle Grade Teacher's To Be Read List by a Guest Post by @1prncsIt’s been a while since I did a top ten list of….well, anything. So, here’s what is on my To be Read list this year. Mostly for school, but I love reading middle grade and young adult fiction even if it’s just for me. So here it goes:






A Middle Grade Teacher's To Be Read List Hook's Revenge by Heidi SchulzHook’s Revenge by Heidi Schulz
Middle grade fiction published by Disney-Hyperion

I’ve already started this funny tale about the Captain Hook’s thirteen year old daughter, Jocelyn. She’s sent away to boarding school by her grandfather so she can learn to be a lady. All she really wants is to be a swash-buckling, sword-wielding pirate. When she learns of her father’s death, she sets off on a quest to avenge it.

I have started this book in my classroom and I love it. The kids laugh out loud and so do I. Jocelyn is a great character, as is her ally, Roger. It’s a pleasure to read a book with a girl main character that the boys enjoy as well. It’s got great pirate speak, a longing for adventure that kids will connect with, and memorable characters.

Hook’s Revenge, Book 1 Hook’s Revenge at Amazon.com

Hook’s Revenge, Book 1 Hook’s Revenge at Amazon.ca

A Middle Grade Teacher's To Be Read List Swindle by Gordon KormanSwindle by Gordon Korman
Middle grade fiction published by Scholastic Press

Korman is always on my recommendation list during our library visits. When my eight year old brought Swindle home, I told her that I’d like to read it with her because I know a lot of kids who enjoyed it. During a sick day last week, she found the movie on Netflix. First, I didn’t know there was a movie. Second, normally we would read the book first. But, we were feeling lazy so we decided to watch. The movie was very well done– it made my daughter laugh and it made me want to read the book even more.

When the character finds a vintage baseball card, he doesn’t know the value and gets swindled by a pawn shop owner. The quest to get his card back is entertaining and funny. This book is on my list as a possible read aloud.

Swindle at Amazon.com

Swindle at Amazon.ca

A Middle Grade Teacher's To Be Read List Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly HuntFish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt
Middle grade fiction published by Nancy Paulsen Books

There are several things that make me want to read this book. The author wrote one of my favourite books that I read last year: One for the Murphys. That alone makes me want to read more by her. When checking out the title on Goodreads, one of my favourite quotes was included in the write up: “Everybody is smart in different ways. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its life believing it is stupid.”

Then, when I read the summary, I thought: YES. Great topic. Ally has hidden the fact that she can’t read from the people in her life and has successfully moved from one school to the next without anyone knowing. But when her newest teacher looks closer, past the trouble making side she presents, he finds her secret and helps her. We all learn in different ways and it’s essential that we have books that show kids that it is okay to be different. It’s okay to need help and not everyone learns in the same fashion. It’s up to us, as the adults in their lives, to help them find their own road to success. I can’t wait to read this one.

Fish in a Tree at Amazon.com

Fish In A Tree at Amazon.ca

A Middle Grade Teacher's To Be Read List Smile by Raina TelgemeierSmile and Sisters by Raina Telgemeier
Middle grade fiction published by Graphix

I can’t read every single book I see my students or daughters enjoy, though I try to read a good portion of them. I’ve seen enough students go through Smile to know that it hooks readers. When one student saw Sisters in my TBR pile, she was thrilled because she was re-reading Smile for the third time. I told her she could read Sisters and she said, “Just let me finish re-reading Smile first.” She started Sisters later that day and finished it the next. That’s enough of a recommendation for me.

Smile‘s main character (Raina) wants to fit in, like any other grade six girl. An accident that leads to fake teeth makes that harder than she thought. A variety of other game changing issues present themselves while she’s dealing with full headgear. It sounds like exactly the kind of book that pre-teens would connect with.

Sisters offers another connectable theme for kids: sibling rivalry and confrontation. Raina isn’t close to her sister Amara, even though she wanted to be, but when family strife and a new baby brother enter the picture, they have to learn how to depend on each other.

I often recommend Telgemeier to students who are unsure about what to read. She offers real issues that kids can relate to and the graphic novel aspect takes away some of the fear or uncertainty for reluctant readers. She also does the Baby Sitters Club graphics, which students love.

Smile at Amazon.com

Smile at Amazon.ca

A Middle Grade Teacher's To Be Read List Escape from Mr. Lemoncellos's Library by Chris GrabensteinEscape from Mr. Lemoncellos’s Library by Chris Grabenstein
Middle grade fiction published by Yearling

This book has been on my list for a while and I already started it twice. It’s like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory meets Night at the Museum. The first time I started it was in class but there was a hold on the book and it didn’t seem fair to hang onto it when a kid was waiting for it (I’m exceptionally fair like that). The second time was the same thing, only at home with my own kids. I loved the beginning both times but often start too many books at once and am forced to choose. Since last year was the year of Jaron and Sage because I was addicted to the Jennifer Nielsen’s trilogy, I had to put this one aside. But it’s remained on my list because I know it is going to be fantastic.

Kyle, surprisingly, wins a chance to spend the night in a brand new library, unlike any library ever known. Mr. Lemoncello is a game maker who develops a number of twists and turns in a real life game that Kyle must find a way to escape.

Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library at Amazon.com

Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library at Amazon.ca

A Middle Grade Teacher's To Be Read List The Invisible Boy by Trudy LudwigThe Invisible Boy by Trudy Ludwig
Middle grade fiction published by Knopf Books for Young Readers

If Adrienne Gear recommends it, I’m likely going to read it at some point. I warn my students every year that you are never too old for picture books. They offer some of the best morals and insights we can find. Picture books also offer students a chance to really utilize the strategies we teach them such as connecting, making pictures in their head, and predicting. The fact that it is a picture book sometimes lessens the anxiety during reading lessons, allowing them to learn and connect in greater ways.

Brian is a boy that no one notices. He never gets included in games, birthday invites, or activities. When Justin comes to his school, Brian is noticed for the first time. Even if the story didn’t sound so wonderful and so connectable, the beautiful pictures would pull me in.

The Invisible Boy at Amazon.com

The Invisible Boy at Amazon.ca

A Middle Grade Teacher's To Be Read List Grimmtastic Girls by Joan Holub and Suzanne WilliamsGrimmtastic Girls by Joan Holub and Suzanne Williams
Middle grade fiction published by Scholastic

Two more authors that I love (the write the Goddess Girl Series and Heroes in Training) have another series, The Grimmtastic Girls. I might be bias because my eleven year old loves these two authors so much and the Goddess Girl series is one of her (and my) absolute favourites. They have a great writing style and their characters are loveable, even when flawed. Obviously, I’m a little behind because when I saw one in Scholastic, I found out there are four so far.

Grimmtastic Girls #1: Cinderella Stays Late at Amazon.com

Grimmtastic Girls #1: Cinderella Stays Late at Amazon.ca

A Middle Grade Teacher's To Be Read List Treasure Hunters by James Patterson and Chris Grabenstein
Middle grade fiction published by Little, Brown and Company

A few things make me want to read this one: James Patterson. Chris Grabenstein. And my enjoyment of Hook. Patterson has several books for kids that I see being enjoyed in the classroom. His middle school series is entertaining and my recent venture into the world of swaggering pirates makes me want to take a look at this book.

Diving is part of the Kidd siblings lives. But when their parents going missing, they face the biggest treasure hunt ever: finding them.

Treasure Hunters at Amazon.com

Treasure Hunters at Amazon.ca

A Middle Grade Teacher's To Be Read List Stranded by Jeff ProbstStranded by Jeff Probst
Middle grade fiction published by Puffin

Another one that I ordered long ago, I need to finally read this one. I try to find books for the classroom that both the boys and girls will be drawn toward. I want them to see the fun in reading, to see that it just takes one book, the right book, to pull you in and make you a reader. The fact that students know who Jeff Probst is and watch Survivor, intrigues them. We need to find ways to invest them in reading and all it has to offer.

When four new siblings (blended family) get stranded on an island, they must get to know each other, and trust each other, fast. If they want to get home, they need to find a way to work together.

Stranded at Amazon.com

So there you have my TBR pile for the 2014-2015 school year. I should probably get off of the computer and get started. I’m certain I will get distracted by other books that peak my interest, but my goal is to get all of these done by June. What is on your to be read list this year?

Good Things Come In Threes; The Ascendance Trilogy

Posted on April 22nd, 2014 by Jody

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Good Things Come In Threes; The Ascendance Trilogy





The False Prince,  Book One of the Ascendance TrilogyThis isn’t a scientific fact but it is a completely accurate statement when applied to Jennifer Nielson’s Ascendance trilogy. After Carolyn recommended The False Prince, I wrote a post (okay, gushed shamelessly) about the book. I have never, in thirteen years of teaching, read an entire trilogy or series of books to a class. For one thing, there’s the time factor. I tend to read, at least, one book per term for read aloud. I try to do a selection of books, based on student interest. This year, we started the year with One for the Murphy’s and I planned another book for after The False Prince. I didn’t plan to finish four full novels before Spring Break. I also didn’t plan to fall head over heels for Jaron or for my class to be so captivated by his story that even my most reluctant reader, the one who claimed he would rather do anything before read, that we couldn’t focus until we knew how it all played out.
The Runaway King,   Book Two of the Ascendance TrilogyWe read through the second book, The Runaway King, even more engaged. More action unfolded and we knew Jaron now, cared about him. We read every single day, without fail. If I had a substitute teacher in for me, I wouldn’t let them read to my class. I would tuck the books away so the kids didn’t say, “Oh, she reads that to us every day.” I’ve never done that. I also made a promise to my class because they love that I hadn’t already read the books- I told them I would not read ahead. I would learn Jaron’s story along with them. Perhaps that is part of what made them connect to the story. My reactions were real and in the moment and the kids like that- they like seeing their teacher as a real person- one who gets outraged when the main character is suffering or maybe sheds a few tears when something heartbreaking happens. It gives them the freedom to attach strongly to the books as well. While we are reading, we are part of that world. Which is why, when Runaway King finished with a cliff hanger, we had no other option. We had to know. So we moved on to Shadow Throne and as much as I loved the first two, this one was my favorite. I loved watching who Jaron became, how my students reacted to what was happening, learning how it all unfolded and came together. My reluctant reader? He bought all three books and told me that he “didn’t make the same silly promise to not read ahead”. He brought them in to show me. As much as I loved these books, connected with them, the fact that they reached so many students, even the ones that did not want to be reached, made me love them more.
The Shadow Throne, Book Three of the Ascendance TrilogyI have posted before about how important I think sequels and trilogies are for reluctant readers. If you can find something they can latch onto, get immersed in, then you want to know there’s more waiting for them. Though there are no more in this series we loved, the students are now looking around the library differently. They’re looking for the next book that they will fall for the way we did these three. And while they’re looking, they’re reading. Reading is a gift. No matter how many times I tell my students this, the ones who just haven’t found the book that pulls them all the way in will never fully believe it without proof. This trilogy was proof for some of the students in my class. It spurred discussions, connections, and debates. Each book made us want more and the most important thing is, they delivered. There are many series where you read the first, love it, and then move on and the second one just doesn’t have the same draw as the original. One of the things that continuously got to me during the readings, was how far Ms. Nielsen pushed her characters and her readers. These stories are amazing tales of courage and redemption. Of making something out of nothing and of finding the way out of even the most harrowing situations. When the students look back, when I look back, these three books will be a large piece of what made this year special.

The False Prince at Amazon.com

The Runaway King at Amazon.com

The Shadow Throne at Amazon.com

The False Prince at Amazon.ca

The Runaway King at Amazon.ca

The Shadow Throne at Amazon.ca

The Runaway King

Posted on February 8th, 2014 by Jody

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The Runaway KingThe Runaway King written by Jennifer A. Nielsen
Chapter book for middle grade readers published by Scholastic




There are some books that change you. Some books that no matter how many books you read after, they will always stand out. The False Prince was one of these. When an artist– song writer, author, movie maker– puts out something incredible, there’s always the skepticism that the follow up cannot possibly surpass the greatness of the original. That’s why Oceans 11 is awesome and Oceans 13…not so much. This is completely not the case with Jennifer A Nielsen’s series. I read the False Prince because Carolyn recommended it so highly and I always want books that will engage the students, especially those reluctant readers. It was every bit as good as Carolyn had said. The students decided that we absolutely must read The Runaway King immediately after. I gave them other choices (all the while wanting them to choose The Runaway King) but it was a unanimous decision–we needed to know what happened to Sage/Jaron.

We fell into The Runaway King so far that we may or may not have skipped a few math lessons. When students are telling you: “We will work extra hard if you just read us one more chapter”, it is really difficult to say no. So I didn’t. And today we finished the book. We were all excited because yesterday we looked at the Scholastic order and saw that The Shadow Throne (the third in the trilogy) is now out. When we finished today, I immediately said, I will order the next one today. One of the students, who can often be hard to engage, said, “Can you order it right now so you don’t forget?” That– is what a book should do. It should make you forget that other things exist, keep you on the edge of your seat, root for, cry with, and grieve with the characters as though they are your friends.That’s what The Runaway King does.

At the end of The False Prince, Jaron has accepted his title as King of Carthya. We know more is coming but it was a good wrap up to the wonderful story of how Jaron made it back to the throne. The Runaway King not only showed a maturing of our main character, it expected the reader to mature as well. The stakes, the intrigue, the deception, the pace, and the connection deepened in this book to an amazing degree. I am always in complete awe of writers that can pull you this far into a story, write in a way that makes you think there is absolutely no way for the character to come out of the hole they are in, but then, in the most unexpected and beautiful ways, the story goes where it obviously meant to. Nielsen is an incredibly gifted story teller. She manages to show an understanding of the insecurity and uncertainty that a normal fourteen year old boy would feel after losing his family and compounds it with the immense weight that is put on Jaron’s shoulders. He must fight not only the people that want to take Carthya from him, but people that are supposed to be his loyal supporters and subjects. The very interesting thing to me is that the kids are usually wary of any love interest at this age (you get a lot of ‘ews’ from grade fives if there are any mushy scenes) but the friendship that forms between Imogen and Jaron is so much more than just your typical boy likes girl, girl likes boy, they can’t be together story. Imogen is Jaron’s person. So you root for him to be with her (or I did- the students probably enjoyed the dueling with pirates more than anything) but then there’s Araminda, the betrothed princess. In many stories, it’s easy to choose: I want the character to choose X. It’s not cut and dry for Jaron though because Nielsen does such a wonderful job creating likable characters that we can’t dislike Araminda any more than we can help like Imogen. She has the rare ability to make you like a character you were sure you hated.

This story has everything: friendship, heartbreak, action, bravery, suspense, love, betrayal. Sage/Jaron is one of the best characters I’ve ever known. He is funny, humble, frustrating, and honorable. He is the flawed protagonist that anyone who is a writer wishes they could write. He is a King but the kids can see themselves in him– in his choices and his hardships, in the loyalty he has to his friends and the loneliness that often swamps him. There are no dragons or wizards, underworlds, demigods, or alternate universes, but still, this book was completely magical.

The Runaway King: Book 2 of the Ascendance Trilogy at Amazon.com

The Runaway King: Book 2 of the Ascendance Trilogy Amazon.ca

SPOILER ALERT – do not watch unless you have already read The False Prince

One for the Murphys – an outstanding chapter book

Posted on December 8th, 2013 by Jody

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One for the Murphys outstanding chapter bookOne for the Murphys written by Lynda Hunt
Outstanding chapter book published by Nancy Paulsen Books, a division of Penguin


There have been two books in my teaching career that have made me cry in front of my students. The first is Tuck Everlasting. At the end, I got a little teary; nothing major. One for the Murphys, however, got me more than a little teary. I had to stop reading it. Not because it isn’t excellent, but because it is so well written and so authentic, that I was completely immersed in the lives of these characters. I was the torn and scarred foster child, I was the foster parent who just wanted to connect, I was one of the children who didn’t quite understand why my parents brought a new child to our home. It is an amazing feat for an author to make you connect to each of the characters. This book had the unique ability to place me in the shoes of any character at any time. There is nothing forced in any of these relationships, not with the reader and not between the characters. In fact, each of the relationships is hard earned.

Carly’s mother let her down in a way no mother should ever let their child down. She’s placed with the Murphys while her mom recovers in the hospital. She has a gigantic rock on her shoulder, no self-esteem, and a jaded view of people. Mrs. Murphy changes the dynamic in her home, where she and her husband are raising three boys, to foster Carly. After a very bumpy start, Carly starts to learn things about family, friendships, and forgiveness that she’s never been exposed to. She starts to learn the subtle nuances that exist between people that care about each other. Much to her devastation, she begins to truly care back. This makes her feel divided in her loyalties because, eventually, her mother will come for her. While she didn’t want to be placed in this home, she becomes uncertain about whether she ever wants to leave.

This book is funny, sweet, and yes, emotional. It captures the feelings of each of the characters in a meaningful, powerful way. A way that had me stopping a few times and taking a deep breath before I could continue reading out loud. In the end, one of my students read the last few pages because I couldn’t do it without tears. That might be the mom in me or my empathetic nature, but truthfully, I think it’s because of the author’s strength in making this book come to life. While the students didn’t cry, they enjoyed it, rooted for Carly, and felt sad when it was over.

I would definitely recommend this book. Just keep some tissues nearby or a kid that can read without becoming emotional in case you need them to take over.

One for the Murphys at Amazon.com
One for the Murphys at Amazon.ca

Video trailer posted by the author

The False Prince – Delivers Adventure, Mystery and Suspense

Posted on August 21st, 2013 by Carolyn Hart

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The False Prince by Jennifer A Nielsen - terrific middle grade fiction



Storytime Standouts recommends terrific middle grade fiction including The False Prince

The False Prince written by Jennifer A. Nielsen
Juvenile fantasy/adventure novel, the first book in The Ascendance Trilogy published by Scholastic

There’s nothing better than enjoying a terrific book while on holidays and I had the good fortune to tuck The False Prince into my bag when we went away last month. We were headed camping and our beach site was gorgeous. It wasn’t long before I sat down on and entered the captivating world of The False Prince.

King Eckbert, Queen Erin and Crown Prince Darius all die under very mysterious circumstances and one of their noblemen initiates devious plan. His intention is to substitute an orphan for the king’s long lost son and only remaining heir. Conner envisions the orphan will impersonate Prince Jaron, return “home” and ascend to the throne. Once installed, he imagines the orphan will have no choice but to do his bidding.

Conner scoops up four orphans from the streets and takes them to his vast residence. Once there, they share a room as they learn to sword fight and ride horses. The boys are schooled in King Eckbert’s family history and are taught to read. In short, Conner will not be satisfied until each of the boys learns to behave as a prince should.

Sage is the most outspoken and defiant of the orphans. He challenges and annoys Conner whilst outwitting the other potential impostors. Sage moves about secret passageways while his rivals are sleeping and he is punished repeatedly for his misdeeds.

Connor lifted my face and inspected it for cuts and bruises. “You’re none the worse after a stay in my dungeons. I hope the experience humbled you.”

He took the blank expression on my face as an answer and continued, “You’re a difficult young man, Sage, but I suspect that comes from your lack of discipline and supervision, which means I can train it out of you.”

Well suited to middle grade readers, including reluctant readers, The False Prince is an exciting, accessible fantasy/adventure that will have special appeal for boys. Highly recommended.

The False Prince is available in hardcover, paperback, audiobook and ebook formats.

The False Prince: Book 1 of the Ascendance Trilogy at Amazon.com

The False Prince: Book 1 of the Ascendance Trilogy: Book 1 of the Ascendance Trilogy at Amazon.ca

The False Prince won a 2012 Cybil Award in the Fantasy & Science Fiction Category

Forever Four is fantastic

Posted on August 20th, 2013 by Jody

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Storytime Standouts guest contributor recommends Forever Four for tween and middle grade readers

Forever Four written by Elizabeth Cody Kimmel
Part of the Forever Four series for middle grade readers/tweens published by Grosset & Dunlap, an Imprint of Penguin

More book suggestions for middle grade readers

I’m always equal parts wary and excited to start a new kids novel. Will I like it? Will my ten year old? Will my class? What messages are there and how can I tie it into curriculum? Sometimes, I read novels specifically to enhance curriculum but many times, I read for the pleasure of reading with my kids and find myself entranced. Children’s books are a hidden treasure that we think we outgrow in adult hood but we don’t. There’s no way to outgrow strong characters that you connect with, make you laugh, and find themselves in relatable situations.

The novel that my daughter and I read this summer (in the few moments she wasn’t reading Harry Potter) was Forever Four by Elizabeth Cody Kimmel. It was delightful for several reasons. First, it spanned a collection of cliques that exist in school and in life. The cool girl, the new girl, the slightly annoying/dorky girl, and the girl that doesn’t know how to label herself. The main character in this story, Paulina, is the one trying to figure herself out. She’s easy to connect to and the relationship she has with her younger brother, Kevin, is really a pleasure to see. So often, we see sibling rivalry and anger but in this book, Paulina pitches in while her psychologist mom is busy and affects Kevin’s life in a positive and realistic way. Their exchanges are very sibling like but Paulina’s soft spot for her brother makes me think of how I want my girls to connect with and rely on each other.

The four girls are thrown together for a competition that each of them wanted to win on their own. The task is to create a school magazine that speaks to the student body. The winning group will receive money for a school club of their choice. Tally, with her funny accent and bubbly ways, is a bit overwhelming for the girls in the group, but sweet nonetheless. Miko, who I will return to later, is the popular allstar that everyone envies. Her group the PQuits (Prom Queens In Training) is both revered and feared. Ivy is the new girl from New York that wants friends but isn’t willing to change who she is to make them.

The story is about the challenges they face individually and as a group as they work on the contest. It’s about first impressions, second impressions, and having an open mind. It’s about realizing that there’s more to all of us than meets the eye. Miko impressed me most because she starts as the typical, “too-cool” girl and what she reveals about herself (I won’t spoil it) humbles your previous judgement.

Perhaps the best thing about the story, to me, as a mom and a teacher, in the age of the internet, is the effective way that the author deals with social media, social bullying, “going viral”, and problem solving. The girls start a blog as a way to get fan support for their magazine idea and another group twists some facts to say that they are cheating. Of course, they do this through the blog so word spreads like wildfire. This introduces a number of challenges to the girls: do they fight back, defend, challenge the other group? They end up tackling the issue head on and I was really happy to see that. We have instincts from the get-go in life. As we grow, we learn to pay attention to them and in some cases, heed them. The girls follow their instincts throughout the book and it creates a fun, realistic read.

My very favorite part is Paulina’s contribution to the magazine. She does an article about the internet that I plan to read to my students even if I don’t read them the whole book. Here’s a snippet:

We live in a world our mothers probably never dreamed of when they were kids…We can be in touch with one another almost anytime we want…All this technology connects us and gives us the opportunity to stay in touch, to reach out, and to be closer to our friends and family than any generation before us. All these wonderful inventions, from email to smartphones, have the potential to build us up. Unless they tear us down first.

I want to put the whole article that she writes here because it is so real and powerful. It’s exactly what we’re trying to teach kids now that they have immediate access 24/7. The author does this through a character she has created that kids will connect (yes, mostly girls but that’s okay) to and that has more power than any lecture ever could. Even if you don’t read the book (which you should), find it, read pages 114-117 and then make your kids (pre-teens and teens) read it over and over and over again. Then finish the book cause it’s a really sweet read.

Forever Four at Amazon.com

Forever Four at Amazon.ca

Summer Reads for Tweens

Posted on August 5th, 2013 by Jody

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image of cover art for Dork Diaries Summer Reads for TweensThis summer, we brought home a stack of books to read but have moved rather slowly. My daughter has made her way through the sixth Harry Potter, reminding me that I should read the series again. She’s so immensely caught up in the story that she walks into a room spouting random facts as though we’d been having a long winded discussion. I’ve had to “make” her read other books with me because I like a little variety. A couple of surprises turned out to be Dork Diaries and Forever Four. I have seen Dork Diaries several times: in the classroom, the library, Scholastic, and the hands of students. I have even suggested it to students who prefer the graphic, comedic, preteen reads. However, I have not actually read them. I can’t read every book I recommend to students because I simply don’t have time (and I read slower than you can possibly imagine). In my attempts to persuade my oldest to try something other than the wizarding world, just briefly, I found that I was making quite an excellent recommendation.

Rachel Renee Russell‘s main character, Nikki, is adorable, self-depricating, authentic, and, I suppose, a bit dorky. She’s the kind of dorky that exists in all of us that weren’t into cliques and created from a mold of self-confidence. She’s the kind of kid, girl, pre-teen that is relatable. The best characters are the ones in which we see pieces of ourselves. This is definitely true of Nikki. Even at 37, I found myself charmed by her friendships, her crush on Brandon, and the karma that befalls the ever present ‘mean girl’.

I think that in the world of Hunger Games and Percy Jackson (admittedly excellent reads) it’s nice to remember that there’s some humor to be found in every day, real-life, situations that our kids face. As they move up through grades, they are going to have crushes, feel like dorks, be uncertain in social situations, have enemies and frenemies and Russell’s portrayal of this is lighthearted and fun but also something to which kids can connect.

I meant to do a joint post on Dork Diaries and Forever Four but it turns out I like each of them so much, I’ll have to do separate posts.

Dork Diaries website

Dork Diaries at Amazon.com

Dork Diaries at Amazon.ca

Summer Reading List – for middle grade students and adults

Posted on June 30th, 2013 by Jody

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As usual, I have piles of books waiting to be read in my house. I have too many to count on my Kindle, along with a stack of paperbacks and hardcovers. Being a writer and reader of various genres is both a blessing and a curse. My brain gets a little overwhelmed with all of the different things I want to read and write. So, it’s good to have a goal or a focus. Along with visiting the new library in my city, I have some books that are on my To Be Read Summer Reading list:

As Simple As it Seems by Sarah Weeks

When Verbie discovers some harsh truths about her parents, she wonders who she really is inside. She meets a boy, Pooch, who thinks she is a ghost. Since she’s uncertain of her real self anyway, she goes along with his belief. This book looks and sounds fantastic. It deals with coming of age, friendship, and finding yourself.

Pie by Sarah Weeks

Alice inherits a secret pie recipe which puts her in the middle of a tug of war between people who covet the world-famous recipe. A story about friendship and discovery, I look forward to getting into this one.

One for the Murphys by Lynda Mullaly Hunt

I’m drawn to stories about attachment and when I read the back of this one at the book fair, I couldn’t put it down. Carly is used to foster homes and moving on, which makes becoming attached to the Murphy family even harder when her real mom decides she wants her back. A story of struggle, fitting in, and family, this one is probably going to make me cry.

image of cover art for Harry Potter and the Half-Blood PrinceThe Half Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling

The beginning of the end in a series of seven, I’m reading this one because I promised my ten year old daughter we could read it together this summer. I’m worried though because I know the darkness that it reveals and the sadness. Are we ever really ready to say goodbye to our favourite characters? We’ll wait until closer to the end of the summer.

Persephone the Daring by Joan Holub and Suzanne Williams (not out until August 10th)

If I haven’t done a post on the Goddess Girl series, I should. I love it. Yes, it’s meant for children and I read it with my ten year old, but I think they’re adorable. They incorporate the mythical with the real. Real friendship and boy struggles mixed into life at Mount Olympus Academy, where Athena’s father, Zeus, is principal. I look forward to this one.

I read a quote by C.S. Lewis the other day:

C.S. Lewis

A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.”

And it’s true. Picture books, children’s books, and middle to youth books are extremely enjoyable and as an avid reader, should be part of your list. All of the themes that we relate to in life: friendship, relationships, fitting in, and acceptance play huge roles. These things never stop mattering to us, so to not read these books because they are meant for children is a shame. Some of the best books I’ve read this year have been aimed at an audience in the 9-14 age range. Maybe that says something about me, but I think that if a book hooks you and pulls you in, makes you connect to the characters and the story, it actually says more about the book.

What are you reading this summer?

Pet-loving friends highlight generously illustrated chapter book: The Great Dog Disaster

Posted on June 24th, 2013 by Carolyn Hart

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image of cover art for generously illustrated chapter book, The Great Dog DisasterThe Great Dog Disaster written by Katie Davies and illustrated by Hannah Shaw
Generously illustrated chapter book published by Simon and Schuster

Suzanne and Anna are great friends who live next door to each other. The wall between their two homes is so thin that, if they try, they can hear each other’s family discussions. When Suzanne’s mom inherits Great-Aunt Deidra’s dog, the two girls are thrilled until they actually meet Beatrice. It seems Great-Aunt Deidra’s dog is old and slow and smelly. Undaunted, the girls are determined to make Beatrice behave like they believe a proper dog should before medical bills and incontinence cause Suzanne’s dad to do something drastic.image of a spread from The Great Dog Disaster, a generously illustrated chapter book

This generously illustrated chapter book will appeal to both boys and girls (aged 8-12), especially those with a fondness for dogs. At times, poignent, The Great Dog Disaster will encourage readers to consider the relationship between Great-Aunt Deidra and Beatrice, how neighbours and community can be important and how the girls’ determination to make a difference has far-reaching implications. Ms. Shaw’s charming illustrations and amply-spaced text will appeal to reluctant readers.

Note: Throughout the book, Anna refers to “Me and Suzanne.” If grammar mistakes are a problem for you, The Great Dog Disaster will not be a good choice.

Website for the Great Critter Capers series of generously illustrated chapter books.

The Great Dog Disaster at Amazon.com

The Great Dog Disaster at Amazon.ca

The same but different: Sixth Grade Secrets

Posted on June 11th, 2013 by Jody

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image of cover art for Sixth Grade SecretsSixth Grade Secrets written by Louis Sachar

Chapter book for middle grade readers republished by Scholastic

One of my favourite read alouds is Louis Sachar’s Sixth Grade Secrets. The main character, Laura, starts a secret club. This leads to a variety of themes including: inclusion, exclusion, friendship, crushes, and cliques. To sum it up: it’s sixth grade as all of us knew it. The thing about Louis Sachar’s writing is that it is laugh out loud funny. The things his characters say and do make you laugh because you can imagine yourself doing them. This is true of adults and kids. When you can see yourself in characters or their situations, you connect.

What surprised me this year, was how aware I became of language, tone, and subject matter. I read the book for the first time about six years ago. I didn’t read it last year or the year before so when I went back to it this year, I just remembered that it’s this funny book about two clubs that get started in a school where no clubs are allowed. The characters are quirky and endearing and draw you in. All of this still holds true. The book has not changed. This means that we, or I, have.

There are parts in the book that I now won’t read out loud that I’m sure I would have before. I don’t know if that is because of my teaching, my audience, the parents of my audience, or a societal change. When the girls start talking about being “flat-chested”, I omitted it. When they collect insurance for the secret club so no one will talk, I found myself uncertain if I wanted to say the word “underpants” (which is what they make one girl give to insure she keeps quiet. What really hit home I think, is the hands on bullying behavior that I worried about reading out loud. At one point in the novel, they “mustardize” Gabriel, the main boy and the Laura’s nemisis/crush. In the past, certainly when I first read it, I found it quite amusing. This time, however, I used that moment to talk about the bullying that was happening in the scene. How did they feel? How did the characters feel? What would be the result of actions like that?

I realized that times have really changed. The book came out when I was in grade seven. At that time, you probably could have ‘mustardized’ someone and feared only the retaliation of a similar sort. Perhaps getting egged or ‘nicky-nine-doored’. Whether it’s kids growing up faster, technology, increasing levels of bullying and awareness, and/or school violence, I couldn’t just read this funny book and glaze over the deeper issues. Where in the past, the book was about reading a light and easy end of year book before sending my students to grade six, it has become a teaching tool.

There’s actually an ongoing issue in the book where Laura says she never tells a lie. Laura has very unique and creative ways of looking at the definition of ‘lying’. Gabriel sees Laura as a chronic liar. This was an excellent opportunity to talk to my students about things like lying by omission, telling the truth, and how others perceive you. Big themes from a book that I’d always kept light. But as time changes, so do the needs of our students. We need to communicate with them and connect with them. What an interesting opportunity to get to know my students in a new way, just by asking who considers Laura to be a liar and who does not.

In closing, it’s a great book. I no longer feel comfortable with some of the language, though it’s not necessarily bad, but I just skip or adlib what I don’t want to read. Regardless of those few spots, it is an engaging tale that the kids love, laugh at, and listen to. If it sparks conversation and debate, that’s a bonus.

Sixth Grade Secrets at Amazon.com

Sixth Grade Secrets at Amazon.ca

Sixth Grade Secrets was published as Pig City in the UK.

Pig City at Amazon.ca

Freckle Juice – a fun chapter book for children aged 7 and up

Posted on April 22nd, 2013 by Jody

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Storytime Standouts Looks at Freckle Juice by Judy BlumeFreckle Juice written by Judy Blume
Chapter book for children aged 7 and up originally published by Four Winds Press, a Division of Scholastic. Now published by Ingram Book & Distributor.

I received a free copy of Freckle Juice, by Judy Blume, as part of a Scholastic order that I placed for my classroom. I had not read this yet and when my seven year old asked to borrow a book from my classroom library, it seemed like a safe one. She read it on her own and then asked if we could read it together with her sister who is ten. All of us enjoy a wide variety of books and have different tastes. All three of us, however, were in complete agreement that Freckle Juice was, as Blume typically is, funny, charming, and cute.

Andrew thinks that if he had freckles his life would be a lot easier. A classmate offers him a solution to this problem for fifty cents. This evoked some conversation with my girls, as Andrew tells us that fifty cents is FIVE weeks of allowance. Little details like this made the girls connect to the story and talk about things like: Would you give up your allowance for someone to share a secret with you? Do you think the classmate really knows a secret? Why do you think fifty cents was a lot of money then but isn’t now? Pretty interesting and driven forward by the girls. I love book talk so I enjoyed listening to them and talking to them very much.

What we didn’t talk about but a connection that I made was to a favourite series of picture books; If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, If You Give a Dog a Donut, and If You Give a Pig a Pancake. I loved the opening of Freckle Juice where Andrew deduces that if only he had freckles a series of events would take place. Also, because he doesn’t have freckles becomes his explanation for a variety of issues, such as paying attention in class. If he had his own freckles, he wouldn’t have to count Nicky’s and then he would be able to pay attention in class and then he wouldn’t get in trouble. I love that chain of cause and effect rationalized by the main character. It’s the same cause and effect that we see in the If You Give a Mouse a Cookie books. It’s such a creative way for kids to look at all the different places one simple choice can lead. It creates a great discussion about whether or not you really think something would or would not happen as a result of one tiny event or detail.

I also loved that the teacher in the story plays along when Andrew decides to teach Sharon a lesson and gives himself freckles. The teacher could have just told him to wash them off but she, instead, uses it as a teachable moment and manages to boost both Andrew and Nicky’s self-esteem.

It’s typically Blume: sweet, relatable, and simple in the message it delivers to children. Often, I get caught up in the newest series, struggling to find away to pull in those reluctant readers, to hook them. We forget the treasures we grew up with and the timeless pull they have on readers. Judy Blume, Beverly Cleary, Roald Dahl…these books still hook children the way the used to, with their characters and stories of friendship, choices and childhood. Whether freckles, curly hair, or crooked teeth, every person has something they wish they could change about themselves and Blume finds a way to tell readers that we are all perfect, just the way we are.

Freckle Juice at Amazon.com

Freckle Juice at Amazon.ca

Freckle Juice Comprehension Questions from Gigglepotz

Comprehension Questions from Leaping Into 5th Grade

Mini Unit from Easy Fun School

Elizabeth Messick’s Website


Out of my Mind – Sharon Draper’ Compelling Young Adult Fiction

Posted on February 3rd, 2013 by Jody

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Storytime Standouts' Guest Contributor Writes About Out of My Mind by Sharon M. DraperOut of my Mind written by Sharon M. Draper
Young Adult Fiction published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers

Sharon Draper’s Out of my Mind is one of the best young adult fiction books I have read. For weeks, I have been reading blogs, websites, and articles about young adult fiction. The key words that keep popping up are ‘high stakes.’ In today’s fast-paced, socia media driven society, it is hard to capture attention. Your book has to be different; it has to stand out, or reach out and grab you. I thought I understood what was meant by the term ‘high stakes’ because I’ve read many YA novels and countless adult novels. It means you care about what happens next and you are connected to the characters.

When I got to the third to last chapter of this novel, that my class and I were already hooked on, I truly understood what high stakes means. It meant that, even though the bell had rang, even though they wanted lunch and so did I, even though everyone looks forward to the break in the school day, not one of us wanted to stop. We were frozen by the words on the page; we were so actively involved that no one wanted to move. But we had to. Kids had committments to help in classes, I had a meeting, and other kids were helping in the library. High stakes means that I was late for my meeting, because even though I couldn’t keep reading to them, neither could I walk away. I had to finish it. So I did.

This book already had the readers’ attention at page one. A young girl, Melody, talks about how she’s got all these words floating in her head and they’re this beautiful, abstract thing, that anchor her. She describes them as snowflakes, each one different and delicate. What a beautiful description. But the kicker, is when she says that, at 11 years old, she’s never said even one of those words. Melody has cerebral palsy. She cannot talk, walk, feed herself, or take herself to the bathroom. Sharon truly gets inside, not only the mind of this extremely, physically challenged girl, but the average grade five mind as well. Melody has all of the same challenges that regular grade fives have; what to wear, do I have friends? did I get the answer right? why don’t my parents understand? my little sister bugs me. What we see, in Out of my Mind, is how she connects with that world with extreme limitations. Her ability to do this connects us to her, it invests us in the story, and it makes us part of Melody’s world.

We spend a lot of time discussing bullying and how to treat others in elementary school. More and more, it has become a focus. We try to teach kids the different types of bullying, how to stop it, and how to recognize it. We try to make them empathetic by imagining how the victim feels, how the bystander feels, and even what the bully feels. This book gives us such a unique view of bullying. What if you could never respond to the bully? Never stand up for yourself? Never defend your friends? What if you were bullied and people didn’t even realize that you fully understood their cruelty? It’s one thing for a child to ‘not be seen’ but Melody’s circumstances take this to an entirely different level. It made my students more aware of the fact that how a person looks does not define who they are inside. The book stopped being about a girl in the same grade as they are with physical challenges; it became about Melody, this kid like them who was fighting not to get left out and fighting to be heard. She just had to fight harder than any of them have ever had to.

For me, it showed me what high stakes really mean. It means when you’re so invested in the character that you forget they’re not real. You see those characters in the people around you and the lessons you learn from them make you better. My students loved this book. I loved this book. What amazed me most was how, I started reading it to them, thinking it would never be okay for Melody because she was so physically and verbally limited. But in the end, that was not what mattered at all. I stopped seeing her limitations and was amazed by the strenth and courage and sense of character that she possessed. Sharon Draper was able to do all the things an author should do: she drew me in, she made me feel both Melody’s triumphs and heartaches. She made me part of Melody’s world and in turn, that beautiful strength of character, will hopefully, be part of my world and my students the next time any of us begin to judge a book by its cover.

Out of my Mind at Amazon.com

Out of my Mind at Amazon.ca

Sharon M. Draper’s website answers thirteen questions about Out of my Mind.

Out of my Mind was awared the Josette Frank Award by the Children’s Book Committee of the Bank Street College of Education and was chosen as a 2011 IRA Teachers’ Choice Book and a 2011 IRA Young Adult’s Choice. It was the Best Book of the Year from KIRKUS and an Outstanding Children’s book of 2011 by Bank Street College. It won the Buckeye Children’s Book Award from Ohio, the Sunshine State Young Reader’s Award in both the middle school and elementary categories, the Black-Eyed Susan Book Award from Maryland, the Beehive Book Award from Utah, and the Virginia Reader’s Choice Award. It received the SAKURA Medal - English Chapter Book category .

Teen fiction excellence: Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley

Posted on January 6th, 2013 by Teen contributor

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Teen fiction excellence:  Where Things Come Back by John Corey WhaleyWhere Things Come Back written by John Corey Whalley
Young Adult Fiction published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers, a division of Simon and Schuster

Before Cullen Witter’s final year of high school, everything he thinks and understands about his small and painfully dull hometown of Lilly Arkansas vanishes. His cousin overdoses, his town becomes obsessed with the reappearance of an extinct woodpecker, and, most disturbingly of all, his gifted younger brother disappears, leaving Cullen to hold his family together as he muddles his way into adulthood. On the other side of the world, a young missionary in Africa searches for meaning wherever he can find it. When their two stories collide, they, and the people whose lives they’ve touched, will be changed forever.

There are a lot of coming of age stories out there. This is probably why I don’t read them that often. After reading the backs of a bunch of them at the library or book store, they all start to blur together, and it is hard for one to stand out. Where Things Come Back does stand out, becoming one of the best books I’ve read this Winter Break.

For me, my favorite thing about this book was its characters. The characters were interesting, understandable, and relatable. I could feel their emotions clearly throughout the book, as they searched and lost and found. Almost every character had some sort of back story or development and they were the driving force behind the plot, their stories weaving together and connecting in ways I never saw coming. As the author gradually brought all their stories together, he creates a well constructed and creative narritive, leading up to a unexpected, heartbreaking, yet hopeful finale. The last few chapters were my favorite part of the story, as I got to watch all the threads of this story finally come together as one.

Where Things Come Back is my first read of 2013, and it has set the bar very high for the rest of the books I read this year. Thought-provoking and original  this book has become one of my favorites, and I would recommend it to anyone, no matter what they prefer to read.

Where Things Come Back at Amazon.com

Where Things Come Back at Amazon.ca

Where Things Come Back won the William C. Morris YA Debut Award and the Michael L. Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature. As well, it was named an Indigo Books and Music Best Teen Books of 2011 Pick, a New Voices for Teens Selection -ABC Children’s Group at ABA and Best Fiction for Young Adults 2012 Nominee -American Library Association.

Our School Book Fair – A winning opportunity

Posted on December 2nd, 2012 by Jody

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Cover art for Line ChangeToday was the end of the Book Fair at our school. I love the Book Fair (perhaps a little too much). I love walking in and just browsing the tables, running my hand over the covers (I’m sure the librarian loves that), reading the backs of the novels, flipping through the picture books, and seeing all of the different books, just sitting there, waiting to be chosen.

I had already made several purchases this week and had promised myself I would not buy anymore. Luckily, I was able to keep that promise because at the end of every book fair, one student wins $25.00 worth of books for their family and $25.00 worth of books for their classroom. That student was in my class this year.

I’m sure it was mostly amusing to the students to see how excited I was over the books, but it was genuine, so it’s okay. Winning something always feels good; winning books felt great. I took two students with me and we chose a ‘boy book’, a ‘girl book’ and a ‘class book’. Truthfully, I think all three books will be enjoyed, regardless of gender. It was very gratifying to have students pick out books they thought we’d all like. Was it just the cover that appealed? Was it the synopsis? The author? In the end, I think it was a combination. An inviting cover always gets your attention. A good summary of what the book is about will make you want to know more.

Cover art for Genius FilesWe chose Line Change by W.C. Mack, The Genius Files by Dan Gutman and Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu. Having two students help me choose made me realize how much they are learning about each other. It’s one thing for me to know them and find ways to help them achieve success, but it was very powerful for me to realize that they know their classmates as well. They chose Line Change because they know a couple of the boys are reluctant readers but love hockey. They chose Breadcrumbs because they thought we might all enjoy it as a teacher read aloud. We also started learning about fables and morals in fairytales today so it was very fitting (Breadcrumbs starts with Hazel and Jack, best friends, who meet some trouble in the woods. It is based on a Hans Christian Anderson story). The Genius Files was a rather amusing pick; it does sound like a funny story but really, they chose it because the main characters are named Pepsi and Coke. I may have a slight addiction to Diet Pepsi that my students like to tease me about. They decided it was a must have for our class. I guess they know their teacher pretty well too.

Cover art for BreadcrumbsBack in the class, we excitedly shared our choices. The student who actually won, shared his $25.00 with his brother. This boy had fun picking out his book, even though reading might not be his top choice activity because he was caught up in the class excitement. Both he and his younger brother chose a novel and some fun scholastic trinkets.

So, because of my natural enthusiasm for 1) winning anything and 2)  reading, the students had the opportunity to get caught up in the simple pleasure of books. They took part in adding to our classroom library after considering our class needs. As most of the class had to stay behind while we visited the Book Fair, I left with the expectation that I would return to a quiet room. A bit surprisingly (they’re ten year olds), I did! They were quietly, and patiently, waiting to find out what we bought. I know that on Monday, when the students who were away today return, they will relive that enthusiasm and want to share our new books.

It’s good for kids to see us enjoy something and be excited. Having it be related to reading is a bonus.

 

Remembering Harry Potter’s Magic

Posted on August 13th, 2012 by Jody

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Remembering Harry Potters Magic A Guest Post by @1prncs

Storytime Standouts’ guest contributor takes another look at Harry Potter and the magic delivered in J.K. Rowling’s wonderful series.





I am reading Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone to my oldest daughter this summer. I have read the series once after a friend, who has read it, literally, dozens of times, insisted that I could not put it off any longer; I had to read it. So I did. And I absolutely loved it. I’m not sure why I didn’t read it when it originally came out. I remember listening to how much everyone loved it and the movies are among my favourites. Waiting did have one advantage, however; by the time I read the books, they were all published so I could read them all back to back.

Now, as I reread Harry Potter with my daughter, I’m remembering all of the things I loved about the books. I am completely absorbed in the story once again and so is she. Lately, all of her playing is geared around wizards and wizardry. All of their dolls are currently attending Hogwarts. As I’ve watched her get wrapped up in the story of Harry and his friends, I realized that only one of my students was reading Harry Potter this year. This could be because the kids have read it when they were younger, but it seems unlikely that they have read all seven books by grade four or five. I am hoping that with series such as Twilight, The Hunger Games, Warriors, and Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Harry Potter is not being forgotten in this age group. I think grade four is a great age for the first book. I think I will have to poll my class in September to see how many have read the series or at least some of them.

Harry Potter came out 12 years ago. The Deathly Hallows came out in 2007. It’s entirely possible that with the hype of so many new books over the years, that Harry is not the most sought after character at the library. It would be a shame to forget how magical and amazing JK Rowling’s books are. Unlike the Twilight series or The Hunger Games, children get to grow and mature with Harry. As he becomes older, the conflicts and challenges he faces become more involved and difficult. The intensity builds with each book. Not that the intensity doesn’t increase with each of the books in the other series, but the intensity is there from the beginning. Katniss* is fighting for her life from chapter one. Bella and Edward** are drawn to each other immediately.

In Harry Potter, we meet a young boy poorly treated by relatives that do not want him. The first story captures our hearts and interest by letting us connect to him and feel the same amazement that he does as he learns about his wizarding background and accepts his future at Hogwarts. Harry has an innocence that Bella and Katniss do not. Of course, they are entirely different books, but I know that they were the central focus of my grade five classroom not that many years ago. Now, based on what I’ve seen my students borrowing from the library, that focus has shifted.

I don’t actually read Harry Potter in the classroom. But this year, I think I will make an effort to see how many kids have read it on their own or with their families. It will be interesting to see how many of this year’s class, who would have been born in between Goblet of Fire and Order of the Pheonix, are familiar with the novels. Since they became readers, the “Harry Potter Hype” has lessened, as all hype does. Regardless of which books are grabbing the most attention today, we need to remember that there are some books (many) that should always be on a person’s “Must Read” or “Have Read” list. The Harry Potter series should definitely on those lists.

*The Hunger Games
**Twilight


The Nature Of Monsters – Clare Clark

Posted on August 1st, 2012 by Teen contributor

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Storytime Standouts’ teen contributor writes about young adult fiction title, The Nature of Monsters

Storytime Standouts' teen contributor writes about young adult fiction title, The Nature of MonstersThe Nature of Monsters – written by Clare Clark
Young Adult Fiction published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt




In 1718 Eliza Tally arrives in London to work as a maid for an apothecary, a position arranged to protect the father of her unborn child from scandal. But why does her master want another maid when he already has one, a half-wit named Mary? And why is she never allowed to look her master in the face, or enter his study where he pursues his experiments? Soon Eliza realizes the nature of his obsession and must act to save the child, Mary, and herself.

Though not the most light and happy way to start off my summer reading, I really enjoyed this book. I loved the imagery in this book. It made me really feel that I was in that world. The whole novel is very descriptive, creating a dark and claustrophobic atmosphere. The story its self is haunting and scary, the author paints a very real picture of what London must have been like for the common people in the eighteenth century. Overall I really enjoyed this book. It has a different, mysterious plot line that would be enjoyed by fans of both the gothic and historical genres.

The Nature of Monsters at Amazon.com

The Nature of Monsters at Amazon.ca

Clare Clark @ 5×15 from 5×15 on Vimeo.

I hate when things are over…summer reading beckons

Posted on June 28th, 2012 by Jody

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Storytime Standouts’ guest contributor reflects on the school year and looks forward to summer reading



One of my favourite lines from the song Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Deep Blue Something is “And I hate when things are over/ when so much is left undone”. At the moment, it sums up how I feel about the end of the school year. Though I look forward to the summer, the break, the rest, and the, hopefully, nice weather, I know I’ll spend time thinking of all the things I didn’t manage to do this year.

Rather than think about all of the things I could have done better or more of, I thought I’d recount some of my favourite books from this year and share my summer “to read” list. The books I like most from this year are the ones that excited the kids. So while they may not have been MY favourite books, the following is a list of books that engaged my students, hooked my reluctant readers, and caused many classroom discussions.

The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins

Lemonade War by Jacqueline Davies

Warriors by Erin Hunter (actually a pseudonym for a number of contributing authors)

Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein

Runny Babbit by Shel Silverstein

Wayside Stories from Wayside School by Louis Sachar

Holes by Louis Sachar

Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli

The Fire Ascending by Chris D’Lacey

There were others. Many, many others. My students from this year loved to read. They read a variety of genres and authors and tried books their friends loved or that I suggested. They were open to new books and different types of writing, such as Poetry.

Tomorrow I will say goodbye to this group and in September, I will have a new class. I look forward to the reading adventures they will take me on and the books they will introduce me to. Of course, I have a few of my own that I plan on introducing them to as well. Some I have read already, such as Riding Freedom, but others, I will read over the summer. My “to read” list for this summer includes:

My life as a Book by Janet Tashjian

Slob by Ellen Potter

United We Stand by Eric Walters

Middle School, the Worst Years of my Life by James Patterson

The Little Prince by Antoine de Sainte-Exupery

The Breadwinner by Deborah Ellis

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J. K. Rowling (I’ve read this one but am looking forward to reading it to my nine year old this summer).

I could go on…and on…and on because there are so many different books I’d like to read before the summer ends. However, in addition to Children and Young Adult fiction, I plan on reading a number of other books as well. So here’s to a summer of reading, re reading, and relaxing.

At the Heart of things… Engagement and Capturing Attention

Posted on February 15th, 2012 by Jody

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Storytime Standouts contributor writes about Middle Grade Readers - Engagement and Capturing Attention

Storytime Standouts’ guest contributor looks at engagement and capturing attention – two keys when working with middle grade readers.



After Christmas break, I started reading Inkheart by Cornelia Funke to my class. My book club had not gone well in the first term and I was determined to recapture their attention. I keep going back to the ideas of engagement and capturing attention because I believe that those things are essential for helping kids pick their paths. My goal with Inkheart was to read the kids an interesting novel while teaching them different reading response strategies so that in third term, they could work independently on novel studies. A few of the kids had read the book, but not many. It’s quite a big book, which almost made me change my mind. But the world the author creates within her book is so fascinating and enthralling, that it didn’t seem to matter.

Storytime Standouts guest contributor shares Inkheart with her classWe are now almost half way through the book. There are wonderful characters; Meggie, her father Mo, the quiet and strange Dustfinger, book loving Aunt Elinor, and the malicious villain Capricorn. I knew there was a movie of the book but did not want to watch it until we had finished. The kids did NOT feel the same and so, when they played it on television two weeks ago, most of my class watched it.

Upon learning they watched it, I wondered: would this ruin it? Would their interest drop because they had seen it? Would they use their imaginations now that they knew what the characters looked like? Would they engage? Question? Predict? I admit, I didn’t pick up the book for a couple days because I thought, well, they’re done with that. But I was wrong. It seems that seeing the movie only enhanced their interest. Instead of being “finished” they started discussing how their images of Capricorn and Dustfinger were different from the movie portrayals. For some of them, it’s even strengthened the read aloud because they can picture someone in the role with no effort. Yes, they know how it ends, but I was so pleased to see that when they were read a chapter this week and we ran out of time, they expressed great disappointment.

They are invested in the characters and the book contains things (as always) that the movie does not. They love being read to and they love hearing about characters that matter to them. So while I wouldn’t have recommended that they watch the movie so soon, it doesn’t seem to have deterred them from staying connected to the story.

This story tells about how Dustfinger and Capricorn came to exist. Funke does an amazing job setting the stage and making you fall in love with her characters. My favorite part of the book is that at the beginning of every chapter, she has included a quote from another book or story. This has been very powerful for the students as well because they may have read the story she quotes. Though we are a ways from being done, the kids are already excited about reading the next books in the series as well: Inkspell and Inkdeath .

Definitely worth the read.

Inkheart at Amazon.com

Inkheart at Amazon.ca

The Knife of Never Letting Go written by Patrick Ness

Posted on January 31st, 2012 by Teen contributor

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The Knife of Never Letting Go written by Patrick Ness
Young Adult Fiction published by Walker Books





Prentisstown isn’t like other towns. Everyone can hear everyone else’s thoughts in a never ending stream of noise. One month away from the birthday that will make him a man, Todd and his dog Manchee stumble upon an area of complete silence. They find that, in a town where privacy is impossible, a secret has been hidden, one so awful that Todd and Manchee must run for their lives. But how do you escape when your pursuers can hear your every thought?

This is the first book in the Chaos Walking series. And I thought it was so good that I cannot wait to read the second book. The book keeps you guessing all the way through. It is very fast paced and I like that the author broke the book up into parts so that there are multiple climaxes through out, leading up to the big one at the end. As a series opener it was very promising and I think it will appeal to almost all readers, especially if you like adventure, mystery or science fiction. The Knife of Never Letting Go is one of the best books I have read in recent weeks, shaping what is probably going to become one of my favorite series.

Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize (2008)
Odyssey Award for Excellence in Audiobook Production Honor (2011)
James Tiptree Jr. Award (2008)

The Knife of Never Letting Go: Chaos Walking: Book One at Amazon.com

The Knife of Never Letting Go: Chaos Walking: Book One at Amazon.ca


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