Squish: Game On! by Jennifer L. and Matthew Holm

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Squish: Game On!
Author: Jennifer L. Holm
Illustrator: Matthew Holm
Published May 1st, 2013 by Random House

Goodreads Summary: Beep! Beep! Squish can’t get enough of his awesome new video game Mitosis! (Mitosis is what happens when cells divide. Who says video games can’t be educational?) In fact, he may even be “obsessed”! He plays at home . . . at school. . . even in his sleep! Are video games taking over Squish’s life?! And can Squish’s favorite comic book hero, Super Amoeba, stop the Creeping Black Mold that’s taking over Small Pond? Find out in Squish #5: Game On–saving the world, one cell at a time!
Yowza! You can draw comics, too! Look in the back to find out how to draw one of the Squish characters! Also includes instructions for a sensational science experiment you can do at home! Shazam!

My Review: I love the Squish series. The series is so wonderful for many reasons, but I like them specifically because it balances humor, entertainment, and education. I also really like the characters, especially Squish, and one of the things I love about Squish is his love of comic books and his chosen hero, Super Amoeba. This book in the Squish series deals with a dilemma that many children face: books vs. video games and balancing time. Will Squish be able to fight the video game addiction?

Teacher’s Tools For Navigation: Students love Squish. This one will be no different. It has all of the humor yet education of the first 5 and continues to have situations that its readers will connect with.

Discussion Questions: How do you balance your time between reading and video games?; Have you ever found yourself being addicted to something? What did you do?

We Flagged:

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Visit Squish 5‘s Amazon page to “Click to Look Inside”

Read This If You Loved: Babymouse (series) by Jennifer and Matthew Holm, Squish (series) by Jennifer and Matthew Holm, Lunch Lady (series) by Jarrett Krosoczka

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ALAN 2013: Celebrating Strong Female Characters

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On Tuesday, November 26th, during the ALAN Workshop, I was lucky enough to be able to moderate a panel of the authors of the books above: Mariah Fredericks, Tupelo Hassman, Adele Griffin, and Paul Rudnick. The panel title was: “Celebrating Strong Female Characters Young Woman Take Center Stage: The Fight to Be Heard in a Testosterone World.”

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If you do not know these authors, let me introduce you: 

  • Mariah Fredericks grew up in New York City and uses her experiences in New York and an alternative school there in her books. She has had a lot of jobs and most of them involved books: she’s reviewed books, shelved books, and sold books. She now focuses her time on writing books and says it is the best job she’s had so far. Mariah is the author of 8 young adult novels including the In the Cards series, Crunch Time, and her newest, Season of the Witch.
  • Adele Griffin is a two-time National Book Award finalist and the highly acclaimed author of numerous books for young adult and middle grade readers. Her works include Where I Want to Be, the Vampire Island series, and her most recent thriller Loud Awake and Lost.
  • Tupelo Hassman’s work has appeared in a variety of journals, magazines, and newspapers such as The Boston Globe, Harper’s Bazaar, The Paris Review Daily, and The Portland Review Literary Journal. Tupelo is the first American ever to win London’s Literary Death Match. Her first novel, girl child, is a 2013 Alex Award winner.
  • Paul Rudnick. Paul is a frequent contributor to the NewYorker, Vanity Fair, and Entertainment Weekly. He is an Obie award winning-playwright and also was the screenwriter for such movies like Sister Act and Stepford Wives. Gorgeous is his first young adult novel.

Like their authors, the books the panel were discussing are equally as impressive (Goodreads summaries):

  • Season of the Witch (published October 8th, 2013 by Schwartz & Wade): Like Fredericks’s The Girl in the Park, here is a page-turner that perfectly captures the world of New York City private schools, as it explores the notion of power among teenage girls. Publisher’s Weekly, in a starred review, raves, “Fredericks again proves her gift for conveying the intensity of adolescence, while exploring the ways girls’ sexuality is used against them and asking why ‘we all have to be predators and prey.'”Queen Bee Chloe is going to make Toni suffer for whatever transpired between Toni and Chloe’s boyfriend, Oliver, over the summer. From day one of eleventh grade, she has Toni branded as a super slut, and it isn’t long before things get so ugly that Toni fears for her safety. What’s a scared, powerless, and fed-up teenager to do? Guided by Cassandra—a girl with some serious problems of her own—Toni decides to stop playing the victim and take control. Cassandra has been experimenting with witchcraft, and together they cast a spell on Chloe that may actually cause her death. Could Toni have really made such an awful thing happen?
  • girlchild (Published February 14th, 2012 by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux): Rory Hendrix is the least likely of Girl Scouts. She hasn’t got a troop or even a badge to call her own.  But she’s checked the Handbook out from the elementary school library so many times that her name fills all the lines on the card, and she pores over its surreal advice (Disposal of Outgrown Uniforms; The Right Use of Your Body; Finding Your Way When Lost) for tips to get off the Calle:  that is, Calle de los Flores, the Reno trailer park where she lives with her mother, Jo, the sweet-faced, hard-luck bartender at the Truck Stop.Rory’s been told she is “third generation in a line of apparent imbeciles, feeble-minded bastards surely on the road to whoredom.” But she’s determined to prove the County and her own family wrong. Brash, sassy, vulnerable, wise, and terrified, she struggles with her mother’s habit of trusting the wrong men, and the mixed blessing of being too smart for her own good. From diary entries, social worker’s reports, half-recalled memories, story problems, arrest records, family lore, Supreme Court opinions, and her grandmother’s letters, Rory crafts a devastating collage that shows us her world while she searches for the way out of it. Girlchildis a heart-stopping and original debut.
  • Loud Awake and Lost (Published November 12th, 2013 by Knopf Books for Young Readers): LOUD. There was an accident. Ember knows at least that much. She was driving. The car was totaled. She suffered back injuries and brain trauma. But she is alive. That’s the only thing left she can cling to.AWAKE. Eight months later, Ember feels broken. The pieces of her former self no longer fit together. She can’t even remember the six weeks of her life leading up to the accident. Where was she going? Who was she with? And what happened during those six weeks that her friends and family won’t talk about?LOST. One by one, Ember discovers the answers to these questions, like a twisted game of dominos. And little by little, the person she used to be slips further and further away.

    In the wake of her critically praised young adult psychological thrillers,Tighter and All You Never Wanted, National Book Award finalist Adele Griffin has created another triumph. Loud Awake & Lost is an unflinching story of loss and recovery.

  • Gorgeous (Published April 30th, 2013 by Scholastic Press): Inner beauty wants out…When eighteen-year-old Becky Randle’s mother dies, she’s summoned from her Missouri trailer park to meet Tom Kelly, the world’s top designer. He makes her an impossible offer: He’ll create three dresses to transform Becky from a nothing special girl into the most beautiful woman who ever lived.Becky thinks Tom is a lunatic, or that he’s producing a hidden camera show called World’s Most Gullible Poor People. But she accepts, and she’s remade as Rebecca. When Becky looks in the mirror, she sees herself – an awkward mess of split ends and cankles. But when anyone else looks at Becky, they see pure five-alarm hotness.Soon Rebecca is on the cover of Vogue, the new Hollywood darling, and dating celebrities. Then Becky meets Prince Gregory, heir to the British throne, and everything starts to crumble. Because Rebecca aside, Becky loves him. But to love her back, Gregory would have to look past the blinding Rebecca to see the real girl inside. And Becky knows there’s not enough magic in the world.

    A screamingly defiant, hugely naughty, and impossibly fun free fall past the cat walks, the red carpets, and even the halls of Buckingham Palace,Gorgeous does the impossible: It makes you see yourself clearly for the first time.

I am so lucky to have been able to moderate these amazing authors and talk about such an important topic as strong female protagonists. Each of these books will find a home in classroom and school libraries where readers will be inspired by their protagonists.

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Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell (Ricki’s Review)

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Fangirl
Author: Rainbow Rowell
Published: September 10th, 2013 by St. Martin’s Griffin

GoodReads Summary: A coming-of-age tale of fan fiction, family and first love.

Cath is a Simon Snow fan.

Okay, the whole world is a Simon Snow fan . . .

But for Cath, being a fan is her life — and she’s really good at it. She and her twin sister, Wren, ensconced themselves in the Simon Snow series when they were just kids; it’s what got them through their mother leaving.

Reading. Rereading. Hanging out in Simon Snow forums, writing Simon Snow fan fiction, dressing up like the characters for every movie premiere.

Cath’s sister has mostly grown away from fandom, but Cath can’t let go. She doesn’t want to.

Now that they’re going to college, Wren has told Cath she doesn’t want to be roommates. Cath is on her own, completely outside of her comfort zone. She’s got a surly roommate with a charming, always-around boyfriend, a fiction-writing professor who thinks fan fiction is the end of the civilized world, a handsome classmate who only wants to talk about words . . . And she can’t stop worrying about her dad, who’s loving and fragile and has never really been alone.

For Cath, the question is: Can she do this?

Can she make it without Wren holding her hand? Is she ready to start living her own life? Writing her own stories?

And does she even want to move on if it means leaving Simon Snow behind?

Review: I can’t remember reading a book that felt so authentic to and aligned with my own experiences. I have this urge to buy hundreds of copies of this book and pass them out to college freshmen. Freshman year of college is an incredibly difficult time, and this book helped me remember it vividly. From Rowell’s descriptions of the domesticated squirrels to the awkwardness of roommate interactions to the feeling of entering the dining hall for the first time and not knowing where to go or where to sit (and feeling sure everyone is watching you), this book perfectly captures the minute details of college life–and all of the insecurities that come with it. I loved the parallels cast between Simon Snow’s story and Cather’s, and it inspired me to want to be a writer. This is a beautifully compelling story that will resonate with readers.

View Kellee’s review of Fangirl HERE.

Teacher’s Tools for Navigation: This would be a great book to teach along with a creative writing unit. It would inspire students to want to become stronger writers. Students could write their own fanfictions or alternate storytelling (like Nick and Cather did). Cather’s struggles as a writer are inspirational, and I am betting that most people, like me, close this book and want to get out their computers and start writing.

Very few authors are able to hone in on the minute details of humanity. I noticed Rowell’s incredible ability to do this in Eleanor & Park, and she certainly did not stop there. I would love to copy passages of this book for close readings. This would really help students understand good, powerful writing.

Discussion Questions: Cather finds it difficult to write about any world other than that of Simon Snow. Why do you think that might be?; How are Cather and Wren different? Do you think there are any underlying reasons for their differences?; What is Nick’s purpose in the novel? What does he show about Cather?

We Flagged:

“I feel sorry for you, and I’m going to be your friend.”
“I don’t want to be your friend,” Cath said as sternly as she could. “I like that we’re not friends.”
“Me, too. I’m sorry you ruined it by being so pathetic.”

“In new situations, all the trickiest rules are the ones nobody bothers to explain to you. (And the ones you can’t Google.)”

Read This If You Loved: Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell, Looking for Alaska by John Green, The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky, Same Difference by Siobhan Vivian

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Ye Olde Weird but True! by National Geographic Kids

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Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday

Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday is hosted by Kid Lit Frenzy and was started to help promote the reading of nonfiction texts. Most Wednesdays, we will be participating and will review a nonfiction text (though it may not always be a picture book).
Be sure to visit Kid Lit Frenzy and see what other nonfiction books are shared this week!

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Ye Olde Weird but True!
Author: National Geographic Kids
Published October 8th, 2013 by National Geographic Children’s Books

Goodreads Summary: Nothing attracts young readers like the weird but true…especially when the weird truth is hundreds of years old. Ye Olde Weird But True, the newest addition to the blockbuster Weird But True series, is packed with 300 wacky facts for history lovers ages 6 and up.

In this latest addition to this phenomenal series, readers will have more zany fun, this time from the pages of history! Ye Olde Weird But True delivers 100 percent new content, with 500 more of the amazing facts and photos that kids just can’t get enough of.

My Review and Teacher’s Tools for Navigation: Students love these books (as do I)! They are fascinated with all of the facts and it causes such conversation in the classroom. What I would love to see done with them is take them beyond the just fun books that students read parts of and put aside. I can picture bringing out all of my Weird but True books and allowing students to choose a fact from them and researching the fact. They would then share their fact with the class—a little mini research project. I did this years ago with Sharks where I let them choose any facts or question about sharks, research, and share and it was a very successful project because everyone was so engaged. I could see the same thing happening with the Weird but True books because the students would be able to pick a topic that interests them. I can just picture one student researching using maggots to clean wounds in the 19th century while the student next to him researches Roy Chapman Andrews, the real Indiana Jones.

Discussion Questions: Find a Weird but True fact and research more information about it. After doing so, share with the class what you learned.

We Flagged: “The oldest known musical instrument is a 42,000-year-old flute made out of vulture bone.” (p. 38)
“One of the oldest maps in the world was drawn on a mammoth tusk.” (p. 110)
“French King Francis I once won a wrestling match against English King Henry VIII.” (p. 191)

Read This If You Loved: Any fact books, The Gruesome Truth About…. books

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Bogart and Vinnie by Audrey Vernick

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Bogart and Vinnie: A Completely Made-Up Story of True Friendship
Author: Audrewy Vernick
Illustrator: Henry Cole
Published June 18th, 2013 by Walkers Children

Goodreads Summary: When Vinnie, a crazy-happy dog, gets lost while visiting a nature preserve with his family, he finds comfort in the company of Bogart, a big, lazy rhinoceros. Vinnie loves his new friend, but Bogart would rather just take a nap. A friendship soon blossoms-even if Vinnie’s definition of “friendship” is very different from Bogart’s-and when word of their unique situation spreads, Bogart and Vinnie are a worldwide sensation! But as soon as their fifteen seconds of fame ends, what’s left is a bond even Bogart can’t ignore.

Pairing picture-book veteran, Henry Cole, with up-and-coming author, Audrey Vernick, this clever spoof of the unendingly popular interspecies animal-friendship story is full of heart and humor.

My Review: I love Vinnie! He is one of the happiest, joyful characters in a picture book every. Just seeing him makes me smile. I mean, how could Bogart not want to be his friend. But the funniest part of the friendship is the opposite attracts aspect. Bogart is not happy and joyful. He is content with standing on his hill eating grass, but then here comes Vinnie to change his life. Vernick cleverly plays off of the unlikely friendship hype (which is so adorable!), but without making fun of it.

Teacher’s Tools for Navigation: This book would be so much fun to read after introducing say Owen and Mzee or other unlikely friendships (always an easy compare and contrast activity), but then what would take it to a whole new level is to ask kids to write their own stories about two animals that are unlikely friends—I think some hilariousness would come out of these stories.

Discussion Questions: What makes Bogart and Vinnie unlikely friends?

We Flagged: “Way in back, rarely visited, stood Bogart, a square-lipped rhinoceros. He breathed in the grassy peace of the rhino range—his alone. He cherished the quiet, his tail curled with happiness.

Vinnie raced straight toward Bogart as though reuniting with an old friend.
“I love you! I’m Vinnie! Hi!”
Nobody knew what attracted Vinnie to Bogart. Was it his color? His shape? His horn? His other horn? THe way he completely ignored Vinnie?” (p. 6-7)

Read This If You Loved: Owen and Mzee by Craig Hatkoff, Elephant and Piggie (series) by Mo Willems, Penguin on Vacation by Salina Yoon, You Will Be My Friend by Peter Brown

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**Thank you to Julie at Bloomsbury for providing a copy for review!!**

If You Find Me by Emily Murdoch

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If You Find Me
Author: Emily Murdoch
Published: March 26th, 2013 by St. Martin’s Griffin

GoodReads Summary: There are some things you can’t leave behind…

A broken-down camper hidden deep in a national forest is the only home fifteen year-old Carey can remember. The trees keep guard over her threadbare existence, with the one bright spot being Carey’s younger sister, Jenessa, who depends on Carey for her very survival. All they have is each other, as their mentally ill mother comes and goes with greater frequency. Until that one fateful day their mother disappears for good, and two strangers arrive. Suddenly, the girls are taken from the woods and thrust into a bright and perplexing new world of high school, clothes and boys.

Now, Carey must face the truth of why her mother abducted her ten years ago, while haunted by a past that won’t let her go… a dark past that hides many a secret, including the reason Jenessa hasn’t spoken a word in over a year. Carey knows she must keep her sister close, and her secrets even closer, or risk watching her new life come crashing down.

Review: It has been a while since I couldn’t put a book down. This gut-wrenching tale captivated me from the very beginning. When authors try to portray emotions, they can feel superficial for readers. But Murdoch’s writing feels effortless. I connected with Carey in a way that reminded me of how I understood Melinda in Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson. My hands shook with anger in response to her pain, and as she felt overwhelmed and scared, I cried along with her. The backwoodsy dialect made the story feel real and authentic. It constantly reminded me of where Carey was coming from. Murdoch expertly unfolds the plot for readers, which adds a level of complexity but also makes readers feel as if they are coming to terms with Carey’s life right along with her. This is a beautiful, compelling story that I won’t forget.

Teacher’s Tools for Navigation: One of the strengths of this book is the special bond between the siblings. Carey’s love for her 6-year-old sister, Jenessa, fills the reader with comfort and sureness. It would be interesting for students to consider this bond and what holds these two sisters together. I could also see students researching more about child abuse and neglect. Carey and Jenessa have to make a dramatic adjustment to life on the outside, and I imagine that students will want to learn more about this struggle and its potential difficulties.

Discussion Questions: Why does Carey keep secrets? Do you agree with her decisions?; Why does Carey have difficulty forming a relationship with her father? Do you think she has been brainwashed?; What are the long-term effects of abuse? What kinds of abuse are there? Will Carey ever heal?

We Flagged:

“I answer her with my silence, understanding the full power of it for the first time. Words are weapons. Weapons are powerful. So are unsaid words. So are unused weapons” (p. 24).

“We make attachments to what’s familiar. We find the beauty, even in the lack. That’s human. We make the best of what we’re given” (p. 169).

Read This If You Loved: Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, Room by Emma Donoghue, A Child Called “It” by Dave Pelzer, The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey (for the sibling bond and the woodsy setting), Bastard Out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison, White Oleander by Janet Fitch, Stolen: A Letter to My Captor by Lucy Christopher

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Dolphin Sky by Ginny Rorby

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This week I am celebrating with my friend and author Ginny Rorby as she receives her award from the Florida Association for Media in Education (FAME) for winning the Sunshine State Young Readers Award (as voted by 6-8 grade students in Florida) for Lost in the River of Grass. To celebrate, I will be reviewing all of her books this week:

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Dolphin Sky
Author: Ginny Rorby
Published July 29th, 2013 (first published 1996)

Goodreads Summary: When the captive dolphins that she has befriended are threatened, Buddy risks her father’s condemnation and the law to save their lives in this powerful story about a dyslexic child, trapped by the limitations of her learning disability, who discovers that real freedom comes from being true to your heart.

My Review: I know you have heard this from me all week, but Ginny Rorby just has a way of sucking me in and pulling on my heart strings. Dolphin Sky is Ginny’s first book which she has rereleased as an ebook, so I grabbed it as soon as she let me know. Once again, I cried, I cheered, I laughed. I loved every second of the book.

Ginny knows how to intertwine human issues and animal issues into a seemlessly touching story. Buddy, our young protagonist, is bullied at school and has a very tough time keeping up. A specific bully is relentless making her feel stupid specifically when she has to read outloud and cannot. The only time Buddy feels like she can be herself is around her grandfather, The Admiral, who, after an accident, is in a wheelchair. Even her father is very distant and her mother is dead. Buddy also finds relief when she is around nature and she specifically loves dolphins, so when she befriends Annie, a captive dolphin at a small roadside attraction, she knows she has found a friend for life.

One of the things that Ginny does so well is voice- unique per book, but also consistent between. Though this book is in 3rd person, the narrator has a specific voice throughout and they are different between every book (though I can always tell it is Ginny writing). She has a style to her descriptions and prose that is perfect for the books she writes. In this book, specifically the setting comes alive because of Ginny’s writing.

The other thing I think Ginny does well in all of her books is characterization of not only the human characters, but the animals as well. Annie the dolphin is as much a character as anyone else in this book. So is Osceola, the crab, who ended up being one of my favorite characters.

Lastly, again, Ginny pays homage to good teachers who can make a difference. Miss Conroy, the doctorate student who meets and mentors Buddy, as well as Miss Daniels, Buddy’s teacher, are great advocates for Buddy and really show how a good teacher or mentor can make a difference.

Teacher’s Tools for Navigation: Especially for those of us in Florida, there are many different sections of this book that would be great for read alouds to discuss some tough topics; however, it will find its home in students’ hands.

Discussion Questions: (Writing) Just as Buddy’s teacher assigns, research an animal native to your area and determine how humans are affecting its population and what we can do to help.

We Flagged: “She puts out her hand and Annie comes slowly toward her, but sinks away before Buddy touches her. The dolphin circles, and Buddy feels her pass, feels the pressure that the movement of her tail makes in the water. She turns, trying to keep track of where Annie is… Buddy lets herself bob to the surface, takes a breath, then dangles face down, making a slow circle, trying to find the dolphin. From directly beneath her, Annie looms up out of the murky water. That monstrous form moving slowly toward her floods Buddy with the same fear she felt when she first fell into the water. Panic wells in her, flattening her lungs against her ribs until her breath leaves her in a gasp. But she doesn’t move or scream and, in that moment, realizes that her fear exploded on the surface in that bubble of air. The emptiness in her chest fills with love.” (Location 1598-1591, 1608-1612)

Read This If You Loved: Carl Hiaasen novels HootScatChomp, and FlushIsland of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell

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