North of Nowhere by Liz Kessler

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North of Nowhere
Author: Liz Kessler
Publication: August 6th, 2013 by Candlewick Press

Summary: After a frantic call from her grandmother about her grandad vanishing, Mia and her mother go to the seaside village home of her grandparents to help.  Disconnected from everyone and without any clues in the vanishing, Mia finds herself walking on the beach often where she stumbles upon a diary on an abandoned fishing boat. Through the diary, she begins exchanging notes with a girl named Dee, a young girl who lives on a nearby island, who she instantly connects with. It is through these exchanges that Mia begins to notice some weird things and a new mystery opens up right in front of her.

My Review: I really like Mia’s voice. Her voice is so authentic teenager that it was like listening to an 8th grader telling me the story. I think this is key because I think it’ll help readers draw into the story since it is a mystery that slowly unravels. Hearing Mia tell it will mean that it is almost like hearing the story from a friend.  I also thought that the whole idea behind the mystery was quite clever, but I can’t really talk about it because it would give away the ending! So, read and we’ll discuss.

Teacher’s Tools for Navigation: I would love to listen to students discuss this book! Although I figured out the mystery earlier than revealed, but I know that middle school students would be predicting and trying to figure out the mystery the whole book until the reveal. It would keep them on the edge of their seats!

Discussion Questions: Why do you think that Dee’s diary entries and Mia’s observations are not matching up?; What do you think happened to Mia’s grandad?

We Flagged: “I need to write it all down. That’s the only way I’ll believe it’s true. Spring break, eighth grade. All those incredible, impossible things. Did they really happen? I’ve tried a hundred times to tell myself that they couldn’t have. That none of it is possible. And I’m right; none of it is possible. But that doesn’t change the fact that it is true. Everything did happen, exactly as I’m going to tell it now.” (p. 1)

Read This If You Loved: Red Kayak by Patricia Cummings, The Wig in the Window by Kristen Kittscher, Capture the Flag by Kate Messner, Liar & Spy by Rebecca Stead, Undercurrents by Willo Davis Roberts

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**Thank you to Candlewick Press for providing a copy for review**

Real Justice: Convicted for Being Mi’kmaq: The Story of Donald Marshall Jr. by Bill Swan

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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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Real Justice: Convicted for being Mi’kmaq: The Story of Donald Marshall Jr.
Author: Bill Swan
Expected Publication: September 1st, 2013 by James Lorimer & Company

Summary: This book is part of the Real Justice series by James Lorimer & Company that shed light on young people who are wrongfully convicted of crimes. Donald Marshall Jr. spent eleven years in prison for a crime he never committed. He was the eldest son of the Grand Chief of the Mi’kmaw Nation, and racism certainly played a role in his conviction. It was a late night in Wentworth Park when Sandy Seale, a black teen, and Donald Marshall Jr. are waved over by two drunk men wanting cigarettes. One of the men stabs Sandy Seale in the side, and Donald Marshall Jr. runs for help. What he doesn’t know is that the police won’t believe his story, and they will do anything they can to convict him of the Seale’s death.

Review: I enjoyed the journalistic format of this book. Swan does an excellent job researching and depicting the facts of the case. He goes into depth when in his description of each witness’s story, and the reader gets a comprehensive background of the crime scene, investigation, and trial. As a Micmac Indian (the American version of this tribe), I was very interested in this story. Admittedly, I was a bit disappointed that aside from the comments about racism and a brief note toward the end of the book, there wasn’t much information about the Mi’kmaq Indians. I completely understand this, as the author chose to focus more on the investigation and trial, but I was secretly craving more information about Donald Marshall Jr.’s life background and customs. This text would make for a great nonfiction text to use in the classroom.

Teacher’s Tools for Navigation: I love teaching nonfiction units because there is so much variety. Teachers can offer myriad choices of memoirs and informational nonfiction for students to do research. After reading this story, students might research more about the case (if any other information is available) or they could compare and contrast this case with another example of injustice, particularly one that was impacted by racism. I have a feeling that students, like me, will want to research more about Marshall’s culture or the racial imbalance that existed at the time of the crime. I could also see this being paired with Black and White by Paul Volponi, an example of realistic fiction that also deals with injustice due to racism.

Discussion Questions: Does racism still exist today? In what ways did it impact the crime, investigation, and trial? What injustices did you see?; Do you think Marshall should have been compensated more for his eleven years in jail?; How does Marshall show incredible strength throughout his ordeal?

We Flagged: “‘Know what I think?’ MacIntyre added, as though on cue. ‘I think Marshall’s description of some old guy is a crock. The whole thing likely happened when that Indian, fueled up with fire water, got in an argument with the black kid'” (Chapter 5).

“When the reality hit [Donald Marshall Jr.], he cried the tears of childhood” (Chapter 15).

Please note: The above quotes are from the Advanced Reader Copy. Chapter numbers are included instead of page numbers because the e-reader did not provide page numbers. The quotes may change when the book is published.

Read This If You Loved: Hole in my Life by Jack Gantos, Black and White by Paul Volponi, other books in the Real Justice series, other books about Law and Order

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More Than This by Patrick Ness

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More Than This
Author: Patrick Ness
Expected Publication September 10th, 2013 by Candlewick Press

Summary: Readers are thrown into the action right from the beginning of this book. Seth is drowning–he is dying. When he wakes up, he is naked, alone, and unfamiliar with his surroundings. Seth knows he has died, but he isn’t sure where he is. In his distant memories, he remembers the English town that he is in, but he moved away after an enormous tragedy in his childhood, so why has he returned? The town looks very different from the way he remembers it–as if no one has lived there in over a decade. Seth sets out to try to discover where he is. He hopes he isn’t alone, the world hasn’t ended, and he hasn’t arrived in his personal Hell.

Review: At the beginning of my reading, I felt the same feelings as I felt with The Maze Runner by James Dashner. I was bewildered, confused, and very curious about where the book was headed. Patrick Ness phenomenally reveals details so slowly that it makes it very difficult to put this one down. It is highly unpredictable and extremely engaging. This book evades the typical features that would lock it into one genre–it is a thriller, an adventure, and a, frankly, an incredibly thoughtful work of science fiction. More Than This teaches readers about loyalty, resilience, hope, and bravery, amongst other messages that I can’t express without revealing details of the plot. Dive into this one–it will send you to a world that will make you ponder elements of life you may not have ever considered before.

Teacher’s Tools for Navigation: This is one of the best books that I’ve read that can be used for helping students make predictions. Teachers can use the whole book or excerpts of the text, and students would love predicting plot details, grounded in the evidence the plot provides. Like all of Ness’s writing, this book experiments with language and sentence structure, and students could examine how Ness uses language to advance the plot and overall meaning of the book. 

Discussion Questions: How does Ness reveal plot details as a way to engage his audience? Is he effective?; Where is Seth? What might Ness be telling us about the world we live in?; In the beginning of the book, Seth wonders if he has woken up in his personal Hell. Where would your personal Hell be?; What memories shape who you are as a person? Have you learned from them? How?

We Flagged: “There’s an unreality under all the dust, all the weeds. Ground that seems solid but that might give way any moment” (p. 51).

“A book, he thinks at one point, rubbing his eyes, tired from so much focused reading. It’s a world all on its own, too. […] A world made of words, Seth thinks, where you live for a while” (p. 143).

Please note: The above quotes are from the Advanced Reader Copy. They may change when the book is published.

Read This If You Loved: Maze Runner by James Dashner, The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Recommended For:

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Thank you to Candlewick Press for sending me the Advanced Reader Copy!

Any Patrick Ness fans out there? Have you read this one or pre-ordered it?

What are your favorite science fiction books?

Zebra Forest by Adina Rishe Gewirtz

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Zebra Forest
Author: Adina Rishe Gewirtz
Published April 9th, 2013 by Candlewick Press

Summary: Annie and Rew have only vague memories of their father who died triumphantly and don’t remember their mother at all who decided she didn’t want to be a mom. They now live with their grandmother who suffers with an agoraphobia-type disorder. Some days she rarely leaves her room leaving Annie to be in charge of the household, her brother, and any tough decisions including lying to her social worker. This has lead to Annie having to grow up faster than other 11-year-olds. Most of her days, she spends time with her brother near the zebra forest telling stories and reminiscing about their father and the adventures that he would have taken if he was still alive. Though, like in all of our lives, one moment can change everything and with a rattling, stuck backdoor Annie and Rew’s lives will never be the same.

My Review: Sometimes you come across quiet novels that aren’t being talked about in the mainstream that  are very entertaining and well done. This is one of those books.  It starts out quietly with amazing stories being told between Annie and Rew and great character development. Then the plot twist changes everything! And the suspense, emotion, and background story really starts to build.

Teacher’s Tools for Navigation: The most specific aspect of this book that I see to use in the classroom as a mentor text is the creative storytelling talents that she displays throughout the book. She tells amazing stories that include extensions from Treasure Island and adventures of her father (ex. p. 21-26). Also, this book is contemporary fiction and takes place during the Iranian Hostage Crisis which would be a way to teach this important part of history that many students may not be aware of. Mostly, I see this book being used as a read aloud or lit circle to lead to discussion of the plot and characters.

Discussion Questions: After reading Treasure Island, do you agree with Annie and Rew’s favorite characters (p. 70-71)?; Have you ever lied in a situation because you felt that it was necessary? Explain.; Research the Iran Hostage Situation. From Annie we learned the basics about the crisis; what did you learn from research about it?

We Flagged: “Outside, I could smell the Zebra. Even if for some reason I stopped feeling cold or hot or rain or sun, I bet I could close my eyes and still tell which season I was in just by the smell of the tees and dirt there. Spring was sweet mud and flowers. Fall had a kind of moldy edge to it, and winter was all dust and bark. As for summer, the Zebra carried a mossy, thick aroma full of baking leaves and oozing sap, which I guess was its growing smell.” (p. 87)

“Most recently he [their father] was a secret agent, working to free those hostages in Iran. Rew loved to imagine the Middle Eastern desert, sandstorms and mullahs and veiled ladies, and our father somewhere among them, bartering for hostages in a dusty marketplace or smoking a hookah with a sheik.” (p. 22)

Read This If You Loved: One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia, Locomotion by Jacqueline Woodson, Paperboy by Vince Vawter, My Mixed-up Berry Blue Summer by Jennifer Gennari [Zebra Forest is a very unique book. I chose the books because they have similar tone or the characters and are for similar age levels.]

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What is a favorite book of yours that flies under the mainstream radar?

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**Thank you to Candlewick Press for providing a copy for review. Jen also reviewed this book at Teach Mentor Texts, so make sure to check out her review, too!**

And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini

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And the Mountains Echoed
Author: Khaled Hosseini
Published May 21st, 2013 by Riverhead Books

Summary: Told from various points of view, this novel is a collection of powerful stories, woven with the rich history of Afghanistan. All of the characters are linked in some way, showing the profound impact that seemingly small decisions can have on others in the world. After finishing this story, the character’s voices still speak in my head: Three-year-old Pari and ten-year-old Abdullah, villagers in rural Afghanistan…Nabi, an elderly Afghan who is devoted to the care of the wealthy Mr. Wahdati…Nila, a tortured soul, who is lost in her poetry and past…Idris, a man visiting his homeland of Afghanistan, who recognizes and is embarrassed by his privileged life in America…Markos, a plastic surgeon living in Afghanistan, who works to fix the deformities caused by the war…Adel, a young Afghan boy living in a mansion with bodyguards…these characters and a few others are richly realized and will tug the heartstrings of readers.

Review: Spanning five decades and multiple generations, the stories cross paths in unbelievable ways. Readers might, at the beginning of each section, feel a bit uncomfortable with the shifts in narration, locations, and time periods, but Hosseini makes the connections clear, and the story’s structure is essential to the central messages of loyalty, family, and the devastating effects of war.  I experienced many similar emotions as when I read Hosseini’s other books, The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Sons, such as grief and anger, and when this book ended, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of catharsis. Emotions aside, this book is quite different. The writing felt more lyrical and complex (if that is even possible) than Hosseini’s other works. I couldn’t help but put the book down at several times because I was in awe of the craftsmanship of the text’s structure and connectedness.

Teacher’s Tools for Navigation: Kite Runner has always been a literature circle choice in my classroom. This novel is much more complex and would need a lot of teacher support, but it would be a fantastic literature circle choice for advanced, high school readers. If used as a whole-class text, teachers might have students diagram the relationships between characters, write journal entries from the perspectives of different characters, or write letters from one character to another. Many of the characters don’t interact at any point, but it would be enlightening to consider what messages they might have for each other. It would be helpful if teachers gave background knowledge of the political situation in Afghanistan to support the reading of this text. This is a great text to teach structure and narration, but additionally, it is a great model of voice. Ranging in age, race, and personality, these characters all have varying insights of the world, and these are reflected in their words and actions. Students would have to think critically to analyze their voices.

Discussion Questions: How might our decisions affect others indirectly connected to us?; What responsibility does a child have to his/her parent?; Am I privileged? How are my life experiences different from those around me?; What will we remember most as we age?

We Flagged: “They say, Find a purpose in your life and live it. But sometimes, it is only after you have lived that you recognize your life had a purpose, and likely one you never had in mind” (p. 127).

“‘J’aurais dû être plus gentille–I should have been more kind. That is something a person will never regret. You will never say to yourself when you are old, Ah, I wish I was not good to that person. You will never think that'” (p. 382-283).

Read This If You Loved: Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini, A Thousand Splendid Sons by Khaled Hosseini, The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

Recommended For:

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What do you think about using contemporary adult bestsellers in the classroom? I try to mix classics, YAL, and other bestsellers, while still allowing students the choice to select the texts they read. Do you agree with this philosophy?

Oh, and have you read this one? I would love to hear your thoughts because the characters are still interrupting my daily thoughts. 🙂

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Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell

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Eleanor and Park (Eleanor & Park)
Author: Rainbow Rowell
Published February 26th, 2013 by St. Martin’s Griffin

Summary: Eleanor and Park have read Romeo and Juliet. They know that young love fades and is unachievable, but yet they still can’t resist each other. Park is a quiet Asian boy who is trying to disappear to avoid the drama of high school. When Eleanor, a large, red-headed girl, steps onto his schoolbus, he is embarrassed for her and wonders why she wouldn’t just dress “normally.” Eleanor has nowhere to sit and as the kids make fun of her and she looks beaten down and broken, Park, disgustedly, angrily tells her to just sit down in his seat. What he doesn’t realize then is that Eleanor will change his life.

Kellee’s Review: I love how slowly this book happens. It is like a pot of boiling water. It started out cold and then got warmer before it began boiling. This book is not a Twilight romance of love at first site; it is a true romance about getting to know each other and realizing that first impressions aren’t always correct.

Told in Eleanor and Park’s point of views, you get a 360 degree picture of the intensity of feelings that are happening. It is also through both of these point of views that you get to know both characters quite well and not just one side of the romance. The only negative is that I felt that both sides were only partially explored because of the two points of view. I wanted to know more about Eleanor’s past and I wanted to understand more why Park’s dad was disappointed in him. However, I know that if the story was only told by one of them, the whole story would not have been told.

My only issue is the end. It is what kept me from gushing about the book like others. I cannot talk about it here as it is spoiler, but I wish it had slowed down and matched the pace and tone of the rest of the book. I know there are many that disagree with me. After finishing I had a couple discussions on Twitter with tweeps who had finished the book and they all disagreed with me. But, as @katsok pointed out to me, “Books belong to the reader”, so I am sticking with how I feel. I would, though, LOVE to talk to Rainbow about the ending because I am so intrigued to learn about her decision making.

Ricki’s Review: I loved the subtle nuances of this book. While some readers might find this book to be a bit cheesy, Rowell intentionally uses languages to show the minute details of life. The imagery is stunning–readers are easily able to imagine themselves in each of the scenes. Eleanor and Park are realistic teenagers. Eleanor doesn’t have long, flowy blond hair, and Park isn’t clad with giant biceps and shaggy hair that sweeps across his brow. Teens will see themselves in the insecurities and feelings of these two beautiful people.

I know some readers have discussed they are dissatisfied with the end of the book (like Kellee), but I found it to be perfect. It makes the reader think, and I love books that make me think critically. I loved how the story didn’t just focus on the romance between Eleanor and Park. Their families were powerful influences on all of their emotions and actions. Both Eleanor and Park have qualities that make them unlikeable, and the English teacher in me kept screaming, “YES! These are truly round characters! I have to show my students sample passages to prove that characters can be just like people.”

Teacher’s Tools for Navigation: The language and sentence structure would make this a a fantastic choice for close analysis. The stylistic choices would make for rich class discussions. Teachers might consider assigning different pages for groups of students to analyze and then jigsawing to discuss Rowell’s language and style. Teachers might consider asking students to compare and contrast this book with other romances. They might discover that this is a more realistic love story, while other romances are a bit more idealistic. A good discussion could be had by looking at how Eleanor and Park dealt/felt about a situation since you have both points of view. It would also be a lot of fun to take a scene from the book and have the students rewrite it as if it took place in the 21st century.

Discussion Questions: How does this text differ from other contemporary romances?; Will a romantic teen relationship inevitably fail? Are Eleanor and Park doomed?; How do the characters’ home lives affect who they are as people?; How does Rowell effectively use language to convey the story?; How might the story be different if it was set twenty years later, in the current time period?; What do you think the 3 words are?

We Flagged: “Holding Eleanor’s hand was like holding a butterfly. Or a heartbeat. Like holding something complete, and completely alive. As soon as he touched her, he wondered how he’d gone this long without doing it.” (p. 71)

“‘I don’t think I even breathe when we’re not together,’ she whispered. ‘Which means, when I see you on Monday morning, it’s been like sixty hours since I’ve taken a breath.'” (p. 111)

“Eleanor was right: She never looked nice. She looked like art and art wasn’t supposed to look nice; it was supposed to make you feel like something. Eleanor sitting next to him on the couch made Park feel like someone had opened a window in the middle of the room. Like someone had replaced all the air in the room with brand-new, improved air (now with twice the freshness). Eleanor made him feel like something was happening. Even when they were just sitting on the couch.” (p. 165)

Read This If You Loved: The Fault in our Stars  by John Green, Just One Day by Gayle Forman, Anna and the French Kiss and Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins, The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

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We both loved this one. What did you think?

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Tom T’s Hat Rack by Michele Spry

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Tom T’s Hat Rack
Author: Michele Spry
Illustrator: Peggy A. Guest
Published January 2, 2013 by Spry Publishing

Summary: After Mr. T’s bout of cancer, he has decided that he wants to help make other people’s journeys during their chemo and radiation a bit easier. To do this, he asks his young friend Shelby to help him make a special project. Shelby Summers is one of those young people who understands the golden rule- she is good to all around her because she knows that is the right thing to do. This book shares with us the story of Mr. T and Shelby building their gift for others and what it is like to pay it forward.

My Review: This book’s purpose is more than just a narrative. The author, in her letter to me that came with the book, shared how she hopes the book would inspire others to pay it forward. “This simple act of kindness towards others is so simple to do and encourage others to do.” Too many children are growing up without thinking about this important aspect of humanity. Tom T’s Hat Rack is a great platform for starting that conversation.

Teacher’s Tools for Navigation: In the back of the book, the author has laid out ways for students to pay it forward just like Mr. T and Shelby. First, there is a brainstorming page to consider how the reader could help his or her community. Then the author’s page shares with the reader the story behind the book (Michele’s inspiration was a friend of hers that was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and was still positive and upbeat during his treatment). Finally, the hat rack plans are included so that the readers could make a hat rack for their community just like Mr. T and Shelby. I think that this is an important book because of what it teaches and the conversations that it’ll start. It’ll be perfect for a read aloud or book club in middle elementary grades. You could even combine it with the amazing picture books I’ll list below to make a kindness unit.

Discussion Questions: What can you do to help others in your community? List some ways you can help – big or small – it doesn’t matter as long as you are doing something positive to help others. (p. 91)

We Flagged: “Tonight, Mr. T talked about how he wanted to have Shelby help him with a little project. After going through these tough health issues with his cancer, he decided to do something positive to benefit others. He knew with Shelby’s caring heart, and vision to help people, he and Shelby would be able to accomplish this idea over summer break.” (p. 22)

Read this if you loved: Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson, Because Amelia Smiled by David Ezra Stein

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**Thank you to Michele Spry for providing a copy for review**