Taffy E. Raphael: Book Club: A Literature-Based Curriculum (2nd Edition)
Excellent read and resource for book club instruction and planning
Taffy E. Raphael: QAR Now: A Powerful and Practical Framework That Develops Comprehension and Higher-Level Thinking in All Students (Theory and Practice)
Helpful for giving students a framework for generating questions to lead their own discussions
Judy Gelman: The Kids' Book Club Book: Reading Ideas, Recipes, Activities, and Smart Tips for Organizing Terrific Kids' Book Clubs
Super resource for discussion questions, project ideas, author bigraphies, and even recipes!
Author: Scott Westerfeld (westerblog)
Lexile Score: 790
Genre: Steampunk! (sci-fi, historical fiction)
Maturity level: 5th grade
Pages: 434 Chapters: 41
Pages per chapter: 9-10 there are several full-page illustrations
Theme: World War 1, Nature vs. Machine (do you oil your war machines, or do you feed them?)
Project ideas: Steampunk "Inventions" Create/envision/invent two objects that complete the same task - one with machinery, one with bioengineering
First Line: The Austrian horses glinted in the moonlight, their riders standing tall in the saddle, swords raised. (it turns out this is Alek's imagination while playing with his toys...)
Main Character: Alek, the prince of Austria-Hungary ( a "Clanker") and Deryn, a girl posing as a boy to get into the "Darwinist" military (pseudonym: Dylan)Review in 25 words or less: My introduction to steampunk - thrilling concepts and gripping storytelling. As fun to read as it is to just think about the possibilities
Told in alternating chapters, now from the point of view of Alek, and now from the point of view of Deryn, Leviathan sets the adventurous tone early with the murder of Alek's parents (Yes, THAT Archduke Franz Ferdinand) and his daring escape to stay ahead of Serbian assassins. Aleksander Ferdinand is a Clanker - one skilled in the use of modern machinery - and escapes in a Stormwalker. Deryn Sharp has big dreams of joining the British Air Service, and disguises herself as a boy to enlist. Posing as "Dylan," she demonstrates her Darwinist prowess in an early training drill accident aboard a Huxley - a bio-fabricated beastie. (think: jellyfish that can swell with hydrogen and float) Deryn is rescued by the Leviathan - another Darwinist creation (think: Hydrogen Sky Whale) and joins their crew as she learns the intricacies of bio-engineered warfare. Along the way, they pick up a V.I.P. passenger, are attacked by the Germans, and crash land near the remote Swiss castle where Alek hides. Alek witnesses the crash and is faced with the dilemma of coming out of hiding to help his Darwinist enemies.
I loved this book on two levels. (*but was really bugged by one small thing...)
1. The concepts of the Darwinists were so imaginative and fully detailed! I loved considering the possibilities of the fabricated beasties, and how the Darwinists would accomplish tasks using the natural world - bent to their will. Westerfeld masterfully took me into the mind of both the Darwinists and the Clankers and I could see why each would hold to their convictions about technology. There is a larger, modern-day discussion here - though played out in revisionist World War Steampunk.
2. The storyline was fast-paced and exciting! The alternating chapters kept me turning pages when a gripping storyline would abruptly push pause to continue the other character's action. The complications both types of machinery were well-defined and presented unique challenges and thrilling uncertainties.
*I DIDN'T KNOW THIS WAS THE FIRST BOOK IN A SERIES. Imagine my delight upon reading the abrupt end and the afterward laying out what to expect in book two. Ugh.
I know this is categorized as Y.A. - SLJ says grade 7 and up - and I suppose that is generally based on a content knowledge level. Some world/natural history would clearly add to the enjoyment. However I found nothing objectionable for younger ages.
Author: Rebecca Stead (website)
Lexile Score: 750
Genre: Science Fiction, mystery
Maturity level: 4th grade (although this may require some more mature thought, for maybe grade... OK I admit it I can barely fathom some of this myself)
Pages: 197 Chapters: most are 1-2 pages long, I didn't count them but there are a lot
Pages per chapter: 1-3
Theme: friendship, physics
Project ideas: Read A Wrinkle in Time, compare/contrast. Reread When You Reach Me, sit and think and discuss...
First Line: So mom got the postcard today. It says congratulations in big curly letters, and at the very top is the address of studio TV-15 on West 58th Street.
Main Character: Miranda (Mira)
Review in 25 words or less: A lot to keep track of at first, written enigmatically in second person. Probably requires a second reading to fully grasp the brilliance.
Miranda is a 6th grader in New York, and has received four strange notes on small bits of paper, seemingly predicting the future. Miranda's mom is preparing to appear on 20,000 Pyramid. Miranda's relationships are taking turns and twists and keeping her in a constant state of confusion. Miranda is reading A Wrinkle in Time, and reconsidering her own common sense. If all this sounds like too much for one small novel, ooh boy, you just wait. You don't know the half of it.
So I probably should reread this book first, or at least let it ferment in my brain for a few days before I attempt to comment on it. I just finished it an hour ago, and I already like it way more than I did when I finished it. Oop - another minute just went by and I like it even more now. What I mean is, this book is crazy good. Unfortunately, one of my favorite reviewers loves this book, and I went into reading it full of high expectations. Along the way, I was feeling more and more let down as I became enveloped in the confusion of the story. How could a book with such high praise be so confoundedly bizarre? But the more I read - and, now, the more I consider - the more I appreciate this story. Miranda is a wonderful character. The story is about huge ideas and does not dumb them down for young readers. I am sure 5th graders would feel honored and challenged by this book. I think I'll read it to my students this year and see what they think. I'm not sure how it would sound as a read-aloud.
Well - random thoughts for a complex book. Rebecca Stead - I am in awe of your brain, well done!
So Neil Gaiman's "The Graveyard Book" won the Newbery, and it wasn't even on my radar. Well, I did have it on my amazon wishlist (where I put books I hear good things about but cannot find at the library or cannot afford at the time). It turns out that he lives like 30 miles from me! I'd go stalk him, but he's in California - strike that - New York for the Today show tomorrow. I ordered a copy as soon as I was physically able this morning and it will arrive Wednesday. We'll see if the copy I requested from the library arrives first. From what I read today, it might very well be a good read-aloud with my students! I don't know much (yet) about Mr. Gaiman, but I can only assume he's awesome after having read this, which he wrote WHILE it was being announced that he had JUST WON THE NEWBERY.
It is very interesting that our Cybil Committee did not select any of the Newbery honor books or winner. There was a lot of love for Savvy and The Underneath, which were both nominees in our category. My personal prediction was, apparently, WAY off. If I am remembering correctly, (and I'm not going to go check just now) the Cybils haven't really matched up with the Newberies (Newberys?) each year. I suppose partially because the Newbery crosses Cybil categories. I think that just goes to show what a valuable resource the Cybils lists really are. Sure, the Newbery book will be famous. But there are dozens of other amazing titles each year, and the Cybils list is one really great way to find them.
I'll read TGB asap and post a review soon!
Diamond Willow by Helen Frost (This is my personal prediction for the Newbery)
We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball by Kadir Nelson (Can I have two predictions? I predict this will win every award there is including an Oscar and a Tony)
Every Soul a Star by Wendy Mass
Shooting the Moon by Frances O'Roark Dowell
Ringside 1925: Views From the Scopes Trial by Jen Bryant
The Boy Who Dared by Susan Campbell Bartoletti
Grow by Juanita Havill
Clementine's Letter by Sara Pennypacker
Alvin Ho by Lenore Look
The London Eye Mystery by Siobhan Dowd
And here are the books I haven't yet read, which if they win will force me to stop what I am doing and immediately go buy a copy to read that minute:
Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
After Tupac & D Foster by Jacqueline Woodson
The Porcupine Year by Louise Erdrich
Octavian Nothing Volume II: The Kingdom on the Waves by M.T. Anderson (actually I have a copy of this - no excuse, I need to read it.)
Our Middle Grade Fiction Cybils panel has decided on our finalists! You can see all the finalists here. It was an amazing experience - reading so many awesome books over the course of two and a half months and then trying to sort out the best among them. I am extremely excited and proud of our final five. They are all wonderful books I look forward to sharing with my students in the future. I am also very proud of being part of the cybils awards. I learned about the awards three years ago as part of an ongoing search for excellence in children's literature. I still believe (and probably more so now) that the finalists - and all the nominees, really - are a wonderful resource for finding out about good books.
Comparing books is obviously not an exact science. There were dozens of great books nominated in our category! Most of the titles were sent to us from the publishers, for which I am extremely grateful!
I present to you the Middle Grade Fiction Finalists - with my personal thoughts about them - followed by some of my other top favorites. Please find a copy of these and enjoy!
Alvin Ho: Allergic to Girls, School, and Other Scary Things by Lenore Look. This book is hilarious from the start, and kept me laughing right through to the end. If I were still teaching 3rd grade, I'd be already reading it aloud. Sort of a Clementine or Just Grace for boys, kind of.
Diamond Willow by Helen Frost. I've attempted to explain this one to a handful of people over new year's. Every time, I end up saying, "Just trust me, it's awesome. It's kind of hard to explain." A girl takes her family's dog team out for the first time alone and gets in some trouble. That's the closest I can come to a one-sentence explanation - if I try to explain more, it would take maybe twenty sentences. Written in concrete-poetic diamond shapes with bolded sub(super?) texts. See? I don't even know how to explain it.
Every Soul a Star by Wendy Mass. Three middle school students are brought together along with thousands of eclipse-chasers to witness a rare full solar eclipse. Told in the three voices of Ally, Bree & Jack, the alternating narrations are beautifully written and increasingly weave together. Ally (short for Alpha) and her family own the Moon Shadow campground, and have been preparing for their eclipse-chasing guests for years. Bree's parents have bought the Moon Shadow and are dragging her from city life to try running a campground. Jack is along for the ride as his science teacher's assistant in an amateur astronomy experiment they plan to run during the eclipse. Every Soul a Star offers three humorous and insightful journeys of self-discovery mixed with an intriguing dose of astronomy lessons. Absolutely loved it.
Shooting the Moon Frances O'Roark Dowell. I think I already posted about this, oh yeah: here. Loved it.
The London Eye Mystery by Siobhan Dowd. Great mystery, curious characters, thrilling pace. Two siblings work to find their missing cousin. I really enjoyed this book, and was completely surprised by the ending.
Here are a few I wish we could have added to the list:
The Boy Who Dared by Susan Campbell Bartoletti. The Boy Who Dared is actually based on a true story of a Hitler Youth. Helmuth lives in Nazi Germany and joins the Hitler youth, but is increasingly skeptical of their teachings. He finds an illegal radio that brings in a British signal and uses it to learn about the truths of the war. He recruits friends to help put up posters around town at night to alert people about the real war going on. I really thought this was excellent - I am thinking about pairing it with Number the Stars when we learn about World War II in 5th grade next year. The text includes an extended section at the back about the real boy with photos and documents about his life.
Grow by Juanita Havill, illustrated by Stanislawa Kodman. I already posted about this book here. I thought it was absolutely beautiful.
Clemetine's Letter by Sara Pennyacker. I already posted about this here. I thought this stood up brilliantly on its own, and was better than previous Clementines.
My Dad's a Birdman by David Almond. This was ridiculous and awesome. You might have to be in a certain mood to appreciate the goofball humor. It is full of British colloquialisms, which I actually found enjoyable to decipher. Many have likened it to Roald Dahl, with good reason. The off-the-wall humor and strange adults with mature children all match. In addition, Polly Dunbar's illustrations are certainly reminiscent of Quentin Blake. Possibly an aquired taste, but I enjoyed My Dad's a Birdman!
I'll add a few more later!
If you'd like to read about the short lists of my fellow panelists, click over to their weblogs! (And may I add, it was an absolute pleasure and honor to work with such a tremendous team of readers and writers. I learned a lot from them!)
Author: Andrea Beaty
Lexile Score: 840
Genre: Realistic Fiction/ Mystery/ Suspense
Maturity level: 4th grade (death of a sibling, older man chokes the main character)
Pages: 166 Chapters: 16 Pages per chapter: 10
Theme: Death, secrets, judging other people's character
Project ideas: Research Cicadas
First Line: Some people think Cicadas bring trouble when they come to town.
Main Character: Lily
Review in 25 words or less: The heart-pounding suspense is juxtaposed against the thoughtful intensity of the main character. At times almost poetic; at other times, a race through gripping action!
Lily has witnessed her brother's death - and by describing it that way, I'm keeping the truth a secret just as she has from her father. She has not spoken since the accident, but a new strange girl in town - Tinny - has found Lily out and threatens to disrupt her life in more ways than one. Tinny's father has sent her to town so he can make a clean getaway after his crime spree - behavior Tinny has learned and put to no-good use as Lily watches silently and helplessly. The pieces of the puzzle begin to come together like a Nancy Drew mystery for Lily - but will she figure it all out before Tinny's father's accomplice makes matters worse?
Cicada Summer is like a big basket of literacy fruit - some of the writing is very poetic and made me want to read and reread it:
"The oil pulls in the moonlight and shimmers and swirls, inky and black and beautiful. Oil on midnight water."
Other sections were pure suspense and the words raced toward an uncertain end. Humor, too, was abounding in the words and actions of the elderly women Lily frequently visits. All this mixed in with the absolute hatred I was feeling in empathy for Lily when Tinny would manipulate her and take advantage of her not speaking. The book was such a mixed bag of emotions, and it made for a highly enjoyable read.
I think this would be a supremely excellent choice for book club or reader's workshop. Students would have much to grapple with in discussion, and natural prediction points abound. I have never lived with Cicadas, but I think knowing more about that sound would enhance the reading.
*Nominated for a 2008 Cybils Award in Middle Grade Fiction! (The opinions shared here are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of my fellow panelists.)
Author: Juanita Havill
Illustrator: Stanislawa Kodman
Lexile Score: N/A
Genre: Realistic Fiction/ Verse Novel
Maturity level: 2nd grade
Pages: 159 Chapters: n/a - most poems are 1-3 pages long in about 14 point type
Theme: Gardening, growing, nature vs. industry
Project ideas: Plant a garden
First Line: Saturday morning - Berneetha's voice booming - through the screen door - on the front porch: "I'm all fired up - and ready to go. Who'll come with me?"
Main Character: Kate (young girl) Berneetha (older neighbor)
Review in 25 words or less: A sweet story - the tight, brimming verses fully paint the picture - although the brilliant illustrations help a lot!
Kate has a neighbor who is an out-of-work special education teacher. Together, they plant a garden in an old man's vacant lot. The garden seems to bring out the best in passers-by, until the man dies and his son decides to use the lot for a parking garage. Together, the community finds a solution to the problem and cleans up some other ugliness along the way. I read it in one gulp and enjoyed every second of it! The illustrations were unbelievable. There is one drawing in the book showing the sun looking down on a tomato plant that I had to stop and study for quite a while. Kodman has a fascinating way of depicting images - they look like sketches at first glance, but a more careful study reveals them to be very planned out. One interesting aspect of the writing that stood out to me is the way the darker subjects of death, family struggles, and theft are handled. They seem to hit hard within one poem, then disappear with the start of the next poem. It's almost like the book itself is the garden that takes your cares away and sets your mind on flowers and vegetables.
Do verse novels make a simple story feel like a much larger, deeper tale? It doesn't seem like so much could happen in a book with only a few words per line, but this story encompasses all the happenings of an entire city block over the course of a growing season. It reminded me a lot of Tracie Vaughn Zimmer's "Reaching for Sun" in that I could picture the summer days and the growing plants and the tangled emotions of the characters so vividly - and the fact that they are both verse novels.
I haven't read many verse novels - I'm sure less than ten. "Out of the Dust" was my first introduction to the genre. I haven't had a lot of experience with them as book club choices. I do know that many struggling readers approach them as a breath of fresh air - (literally with more time and space to breathe on each page!) but I wonder how it would work in a discussion format. Students would definitely need post-it notes on hand to mark their thoughts and pages, because events occur and change quickly. They would need to be aware of their passing thoughts and mark them down to share later. Where a chapter book chapter might have one main event to discuss, a verse novel could possibly have a dozen or more important thoughts over a 20 page section that could be talked about in book club. I guess I am confessing here I have not considered the use of verse novels in the classroom. Would a verse novel work read aloud?
*Nominated for a 2008 Cybils Award in Middle Grade Fiction! (The opinions shared here are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of my fellow panelists.)