Hunting for Treasure

"There is more treasure in books than in all the pirate's loot on Treasure Island."–Walt Disney

The Power of book boosts… April 2, 2010

If you teach middle school aged kids, then you know that the greatest motivator for them is their peers.  If I didn’t know that before, I certainly know it after incorporating book boosts into my daily routine.
Back in September, one of the first books I boosted was The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.  After my boost, I thought for sure I would have kids checking out my  two copies of the book.  But guess what?  Not a single kid wanted to check it out!  I couldn’t believe it!  This book was so popular the world around, but apparently not in my class.  Over the next few months, I recommended it to kids seeking advice for a new book to read, but to no avail.  I couldn’t get anyone interested!
Finally, in February, I noticed one of my boys pull The Hunger Games off the shelf and check it out.  He began reading, and zoomed through the fast-paced novel in three days.  Upon finishing it, he signed up for a book boost and shared it with the class.  Well, I suppose you can predict the effect of that book boost…within a day I had a waitlist for the book!  I had to go out and buy a couple more copies just to so I could stop hearing, “How much longer until I can check out The Hunger Games?”  from my class.  Patience is not in my students’ vocabulary when it comes to waiting for a good book!
My experience with The Hunger Games reminded me that even the best books need a little boosting, and the most qualified to do it are the kids.  The most popular books in my class library are the ones that the students recommend to one another.  Because of this, I reserve about five minutes each day for boosting books.  Those five minutes are invaluable to me.
By the way, I now have a waiting list for Catching Fire, the sequel to The Hunger Games!  The third book in the trilogy, Mockingjay, arrives in August 2010!
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Historical Fiction-top picks in my class March 14, 2010

This quarter, as part of my students’ independent reading assignments, they are expected to read at least one book from the historical fiction genre.  At first, this news was met with many groans and complaints.  But with a few book boosts from our school librarian and myself, my kids were able to discover that maybe historical fiction isn’t so bad.  Here are a few of the most popular titles I’ve seen kids reading:

* The Dear America/My Name is America Series by Scholastic
series of historical fiction.  Just about every kid in my class has found at least one title in this series that’s piqued their interest.  Here are the titles from the series I’ve seen kids reading

*Where Have all the Flowers Gone?  The Diary of Molly McKenzie Flaherty

*The Journal of Jesse Smoke, A Cherokee Boy, The Trail of Tears, 1838

*The Journal of Patrick Seamus Flaherty, United States Marine Corps, Khe Sanh, Vietnam, 1968

* So Far From Home, The Diary of Mary Driscoll, An Irish Mill Girl, 1847

Other popular titles being read include:

*The Art of Keeping Cool by Janet Taylor Lisle

* Someone Named Eva by Joan M. Wolf

* Bud, Not Buddy and The Watsons Go To Birmingham by Christopher Paul Curtis

*Sunrise Over Fallujah and Fallen Angels by Walter Dean Myers

* The Secret School by Avi

* The Captain’s Dog:  My Journey with the Lewis and Clark Expedition and Elephant Run by Roland Smith

* Incantation by Alice Hoffman

* Washington City is Burning by Harriette Gillem Robinette

* Number the Stars by Lois Lowry

*Hattie Big Sky by Kirby Larson

* The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt

* Shackleton’s Stowaway by Victoria McKernan

I don’t have a huge selection of historical fiction in my class, so requiring the students to read from this genre was an extra push to get them into our school library.   I’m happy that I chose historical fiction as an expectation this quarter.  The students discovered that there are THOUSANDS of titles to choose from, and that historical fiction doesn’t just have to be about war.  As a result, I’ve seen kids opting for historical fiction as one of their three free choice book selections!

 

Every Soul a Star by Wendy Mass November 9, 2009

every soul a starEvery Soul a Star by Wendy Mass is a novel that caught me by surprise, because I didn’t expect to fall in love with the story.  But within the first few pages I was hooked!  Set at the Moon Shadow Campground during the summer of a total eclipse, Ally, Bree, and Jack  find themselves in the same place, but under very different circumstances, to observe the historic event.  Ally, whose grown up most of her life at the campground, is thrilled to be a part of such a astronomical phenomenom.   However, an impending change getting ready to happen in her life has cast a shadow on the event for Ally.  Bree would give anything to be back at home getting a manicure and facial.   Instead, she is stuck at the Moon Shadow, searching for exoplanets, and trying to come to terms with the fact that life as she knows it is about to explode.  Jack has “volunteered” to help his Science teacher host the eclipse tour in exchange for turning his failing Science grade into a passing one.  Initially it’s the eclipse that brings the characters together, but in the end they discover they have a deeper connection.

The thing I appreciate about this book the most is its integration of science into the story.  I am not “sciencey”.  But this book made me want to research more about eclipses, exoplanets, aliens and SETI.  I learned a lot about our solar system, and that piece of the story definitely kept me turning the pages.  Beyond that, I really appreciated the friendships that formed between Ally, Bree, and Jack.  Here are three kids that couldn’t be more different, and yet they discovered that once they looked past the surface, they had a lot in common.  I think that’s an especially important lesson for students to learn. 

This is the first book I’ve read by Wendy Mass, but I suspect if I read her other novels, I would see that she has a talent for writing with a distinct voice.  Since Ally, Bree, and Jack each take turns being the narrator, it was important for Mass to write in three different voices that represent each character, and she accomplishes this brilliantly.   After reading Every Soul a Star, I ordered another one of Mass’s books, Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life, and plan to start reading it as soon as it arrives!

 

Deep and Dark and Dangerous by Mary Downing Hahn October 25, 2009

deep and dark and dangerous scholasticIt’s interesting to observe how my students’ reading interests influence each other in class.  At the beginning of the year, I had a couple of kids bring in ghost stories for their independent reading, and I’ve watched as these books have been borrowed and passed around within our class.  They can’t seem to get enough of  a good ghost story!  When it came time to place my latest book order with Scholastic, I made sure to include Deep and Dark and Dangerous  by Mary Downing Hahn on my list.  Since it’s a mysterious ghost story, I was sure my kids would like to have it in our class library. 

13 year-old Ali has been invited to spend the summer with her Aunt Dulcie to help take care of her younger cousin Emma at their family’s newly renovated summer cabin on a lake in Maine.  It’s the first time in many years anyone in the family has spent time there, and, despite her mother’s wariness about the cabin, Ali decides to accompany her aunt and cousin anyway.  While there,  Ali and Emma meet a  girl, Sissy, who causes more trouble than she is worth.  Emma quickly becomes friends with Sissy, which causes tension and fighting among the girls.  Although Sissy is mean, Ali can’t help but be intrigued by the mysterious girl who won’t divulge where she lives, who her parents are, or even her last name.  Ali sets out to uncover the mystery of just who Sissy is, and what she finds out is a surprise to her whole family.

Initially, I found the book to be slow, but once I got past the first couple of chapters, I found myself really getting into it.  I carried the book around with me in my purse to sneak in a few pages here and there as my husband and I drove around town running errands this weekend!   As an adult, the book was predictable.  However, a child would find the story to be  mysterious and a page turner.   It’s a fast read that allows kids to practice prediction and inferencing.  I’m quite certain that after I finish sharing this book with the class on Monday, there will be more than a few kids adding this to their “To Read” list!

 

Viola in Reel Life by Adriana Trigiani October 12, 2009

Filed under: book reviews--young adult literature — jenucdavis @ 6:45 pm
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Last week while I was browsing in the YA section of my local bookstore, I came across a new book by Adriana Trigiani called  Viola in Reel Life.  I eagerly snatched it up and marched directly to the counter to buy it.  There was no need for me to even read what it was about, as Adriana is one of my very favorite adult authors, and I was so excited to see that she’s written a book for teens.  And  just as I thought, her latest novel did not disappoint me at all. 

Viola is a 14 year-old  freshman from Brooklyn, and has the dry sense of humor to prove it.  She loves Brooklyn, her school, her friends and thinks New York the perfect place to bloom into the filmmaker she wants to be.  Unfortunately life pitches her a curveball, and while her parents are in Afghanistan filming a documentary for a year, Viola is sent away to boarding school in South Bend, Indiana to live.  Trying to make the best of it, she throws herself into the boarding school experience by bonding with her three roommates, helping out with the school’s Founders’  Day celebration, entering a film competition, and experiencing her first love.  In the end, her year at Prefect Academy teaches her about growing up, the value of friends and family, and the importance of pursuing her passion.

Adriana Trigiani has a way of creating characters like no other, and it is the main reason I love her novels so much.  I don’t usually cry when I read books, but Trigiani, with the way she paints a character, can bring a tear to my eye.  Viola is the kind of girl we all were/are to some degree, and I found myself rooting for her the whole way through.  Not only can Trigiani create strong characters, her dialogue will make you laugh out loud.  I found myself giggling  many times while reading during DEAR time, much to the curiousity of my 6th graders!  Finally, this book appeals to me because it is a “clean” novel.  Teaching 6th grade is tough in that there are a lot of fantastic YA novels out there, but the content can be a bit too racy for my kids.  However, this is a book I would be happy to recommend to any of my students.  I can’t wait to share it with them tomorrow!

 

The Schwa was Here by Neal Shusterman October 8, 2009

Filed under: book reviews--young adult literature — jenucdavis @ 8:20 pm
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Read-aloud time in my 6th grade class is probably my favorite part of the day.  Since my classes are only 45 minutes long, I don’t have nearly as much time as I’d like to read to the kids, but somehow I squeeze it in.  Since my time is limited, I am choosy about the books I decide to read.  I like to find books that:

1.  The kids haven’t heard of before but I know will interest them

2.  Have juicy storylines and characters that the students can relate to

3.  Have sequels so that reluctant readers who fall for the book have a “next” book to go when I’m finished with the original

The Schwa was Here, written by Neal Shusterman, popped up on my radar a couple of years ago.  A friend introduced me to it.  I’d never hear of  it.  She swore that this book would get even my disinterested readers reading with fervor.  Upon hearing that, I quickly ordered a copy, and opened up the first day of school with Chapter One.  The kids were immediately tuned in with the main character, Antsy Bonano, and his new friend, Calvin Schwa. 

When Antsy and his friends Howie and Ira meet Calvin Schwa, they find him fascinating.  Schwa has a gift (or is it a curse?) of being “invisibilish” to others.  The boys go on a mission to see what causes the “Schwa Effect” and how it can be used to their advantage.  When one of the experiments goes awry, Antsy and Schwa find themselves in hot water with the neighborhood grump, Mr. Crawley.  Expected to pay for their wrongdoings, the two boys are sentenced to dogwalking and entertaining Crawley’s niece, Lexie.  But their punishment turns into a series of life lessons about friendship and making a place for yourself in the world.

This book somehow manages to take a common issue many tweens and teens deal with–finding a way to “fit in”–and tackles it with humor and straightforwardness.  And, it gets  the message across without sounding like an Afterschool Special.  My kids laugh out loud daily, and groan when I put the book up.  I love that feeling!

This book has a sequel, Antsy does Time, which I haven’t read.  I’m planning on ordering two copies of it this week, though, because I know when we finish the book, kids will want to hear more from Antsy Bonano.