Sunday, February 11, 2018

Greetings From Witness Protection by Jake Burt

I normally blog about books that have a male protagonist, but I loved Greetings From Witness Protection b
y Jake Burt so much that I am writing about it because I know boys will really enjoy it.

I am going to cheat a little with the summary and edit what is on the book cover. 

The marshals are looking for the perfect girl to join a family on the run from a Mafia family.  The bad guys are looking for a mom, dad and a son.  Not a family of four.  Nicki is living in a group home when she is selected to help protect this family.  She has to move from New York City to North Carolina to go into witness protection. 

First off, WOW!  This is Jake Burt’s first novel.  Way to get a following.  On the surface the reason I enjoyed this book so much is that it is fun, and suspenseful.  Nicki is a funny character.  She is determined to do the right thing.  I, also, like that it is totally believable, but not really. I mean I hope the US Marshalls don’t put kids in this type of danger.  The suspense and humor is where I know I can easily get boys to read this book.

What really sets this book apart is the way Mr. Burt deals with trauma.  Nicki’s parents have abandoned her, and the only caregiver she has really known, Grandma, has died.  This is how she ends up in and out of foster care.  The hope of all the kids is that they will “STICK”.  This is where the foster kids get to stay with the family.  A FOREVER FAMILY. 

The friendship Nicki makes in her new school is special and shows how special she is.  Nicki, also, works really hard to form a loving bond with her “new” family.  Without giving away the ending there is a scene towards the end where Nicki actions make her “family” question her loyalty, but it is the scene that shows that Nicki has found her FOREVER FAMILY.  That she has stuck.

Friday, January 19, 2018

New Book Club and a Symphony of Armpit Farts

The discussion of Dog Man by Dav Pilkey was fun.  The boys spent more time than usual pointing out the merits of the graphic novel.    They were polite to each other, and when they disagreed with someone they would say, “I disagree with you because..”  I thought, “wow what a new civilized group”.  Well when 12 boys get together after school with food and beverages the civility doesn’t last long.  All it takes is one, third grade, boy to change the tune of the meeting.  As the last boy finished the symphony of armpit farts began.  Yes, ladies and gentlemen, the boys tried to play a song with their armpits.  I knew if I didn’t intervene it was down hill, and no way to get back.  “Hey what did you guys read over break?” I asked.  Luckily for everyone involved they quickly moved on to answering the questions.

A little background about this Guys Read Book Club:  I currently teach at a Title 1 school with a magnificent view of downtown Denver.  We can walk to the a few museums and Denver Public Library’s main branch.  We are, also, a school in which 60% of our students have been either homeless, or in some type of foster care.  It is a tough school.  Our achievement on the state’s test shows that we lag behind students from middle class schools.  There are about 14 boys this year that come to the monthly meeting.  Of the 14, 11 come from homes where English is not the primary language, and at least one parent is a new immigrant.  Four of the boys read significantly below grade level.  All 14 boys are your typical goofy boys.

After 10 years of doing a book club it is exciting and rewarding to see a group of boys come together and participate in a book club.  It is just like any “fun” book club.  We eat, drink, laugh, talk a little bit about the book, talk, laugh, eat… I am very fortunate that I get a grant to buy the books.  Each month the boys get to keep their books.  For some families these are some of the only books that are in the house.

January 2018
I have worked in Title 1 urban schools and in most of them there is a belief that “these kids won’t do that” or “these kids can’t do that”.  I know that if we don’t provide opportunities for kids in Title 1 schools we will never break the cycle.  Is it challenging? YES.  Is it worth it? Look at the picture.  The saying goes “A picture tells a thousand words.”  In the case of these guys the picture tells a million words!

Friday, January 12, 2018

Miles Morales Spider Man by Jason Reynolds

Miles Morales is just another teenager trying to get through school, talk to girls and not make his parents angry.  Miles is on scholarship to a boarding school in Brooklyn.   He plays video games with his roommate Ganke. (More about him later!)  While trying to fit in and impress a girl named Alicia he makes a bad choice and the consequences get him suspended for a few days.  On top of all the normal teenage issues he is Spider Man and his super powers are acting weird. 

As Miles tries to get he live back together he keeps having nightmares that he can’t shake, even when he is awake.  His nightmares force him to come face to face with an evil plot being carried out by his racist history teacher. That is enough of a summary.  You have to read the book to find out more.

I want to start with the fact that Jason Reynolds is a master storyteller.  Miles Morales Spider Man is an incredible book.  I had trouble putting it down, and I purchased multiple copies to give a Christmas presents. 

Over the past few years there has been a lot of discussion about the lack of characters of color in middle-grade books.  Many of the books that had been published were not that good.  Luckily, the last couple of years we are finally getting well written books that have main characters of color.  Jason Reynolds is one of the authors that writes books that kids enjoy, and make them think. 

I am always seeking books that will make great read alouds or a book for book club.  Unfortunately, this book won’t work for me.  HOWEVER, if I taught fifth grade or middle school it would be a FANTASTIC read aloud.  The same goes for book club.  As I said earlier it was hard to put down.  Mr. Reynolds sucks the reader into the pages.  At times I felt like I was on the subway with Miles.  It is definitely a book I would put in the hands of many kids and in classroom libraries.  Thank you Jason Reynolds.   

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Girls Who Code by Stacie Deutsch and Girls Who Code by Reshma Saujani

I normally blog about books that will interest boys, but recently I was asked if I would blog about girls and coding.  Since both are extremely important in schools I jumped at the fact.

I just realized that I read the second book in the series first, oops!  The good thing is that reader doesn’t have to go in order.    The Girls Who Code by Stacia Deutsch is a new series about a group of middle school girls that are in a coding club.  Book 1 starts with the girls getting to know each other.  Book 2 involves the coders participating in hackathon.  It sounds sinister (I know whom and what I wanted them to hack) but it is coding competition with robots.  It sounds like a fantastic day. 

Thank you Random House
for the copy.
Sophia is the focus of book 2 titled Team BFF: Race to the Finish!  The girls are participating in the hackathon, but first Sophia has chores to do and a babysitter to find for her younger sisters.  When her team is a bout to compete her abuelita show up to cheer her on.  Sophia ends the day with such confidence that she asks a boy to the dance!

The books are cute, but I do know it will be a VERY tough sell to boys.  That is ok! Truth be told it is a REALLY tough to get girls to think about coding.  As a teacher I will take any help I can get to get them into coding. The series will get them thinking about coding, but our responsibility is to get them involved in coding.

I do the Genius Hour in my class.  For an hour a week kids can learn about anything they want to.  A girl in my class selected how to code as her topic.  She told me that she wants to be a coder when she grows up.  This student comes from a home where Spanish is the primary language.  Our Title 1 school and the neighborhood is in the shadow of downtown Denver.  We are just blocks from the arts center, the Capitol building, Denver Art Museum, etc. Here is a young lady that wants a challenge.  She is using another book Random House sent me.

Random House also sent me Girls Who Code by Reshma Saujani.  She founded Girls Who Code.  Her TED Talk is on raising brave girls.  I am attaching a link.  When I think about L wanting to code I get excited and wish I knew more to help her, but I know she is smart enough to teach me.

So why do I care about this.  Well it is simple.  I have to do everything I can to make sure my kids are ready for the world. (Don’t tell admin because they think it is to get them ready for PARCC!)  Ms. Saujani is providing an opportunity for this generation of young ladies to be the next tech masterminds.  I have seen over the years that a book can inspire kids in ways I never imagined. 

Friday, May 26, 2017

The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora by Pablo Cartaya

Thank you Penguin Random House
 for the copy of the book.
At first Arturo Zamora is your average teenager. He hangs out with his friends, plays basketball, discovering girls, is a dishwasher at his family restaurant, reads Cuban poetry, and loves his family. However, it doesn’t take long transform into an above average teenager. Arturo’s grandparents started the restaurant, and now his mom runs it.

 A new developer has come to town and wants to build a larger swanky apartment building in the space of the restaurant. Arturo bands together with his family and community to stop the development. Along the way Arturo discovers the power of family.

 I just wrote a short summary because I don’t want to give too much away. Anyway, I am always trying to find books that make a great third grade read aloud. I hate to say this but this isn’t one of them. However, if I could just do a read aloud in fifth or sixth grade I would jump at the chance just to be able to read this book to a group of students. In my opinion third graders would have a hard time connecting with the characters and truly understanding what Arturo is up against, and how he grows as a young man.

Pablo Cartaya has created characters that are interesting and fun. I laughed many times as I read how Arturo reacted every time Carmen appears. He is not good at hiding his emotions as Abulea and his mom like to point out. Even though Mr. Cartaya includes many characters I never felt like I needed more information about them or that they weren’t important.

Wow, what to say about this special lady. The love she shows to everyone is something many people should try to emulate. The special bond that she has with Arturo is one that will make him an excellent father. (When an author creates a character that I imagine what he or she will be like as adults is a testament to how great the characters are.)

I enjoyed the intermingling of Spanish and English. As someone that grew up in the southwest it is very common hear this. It makes the story more realistic.

Overall, I loved this book and am giving it to my nephew this afternoon. My ending thought is that Arturo needs to tell Mop to NOT WEAR a man bun.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Time Traveling With A Hamster by Ross Welford BLOG TOUR!

ARC complements of Random House
Albert Einstein Hawking Chaudhury (what a great name!) twelfth birthday was not what he expected.  He receives two special birthday gifts.  The first one is a hamster he names Alan Shearer.  The second is a letter from his deceased father.  Al’s father died when he was eight, so it is a bit unexpected.  What is in the letter is even more peculiar.  It describes how he needs to get his dad’s time traveling machine and return to 1984, so he can prevent the go-kart accident that eventually causes his dad’s demise.

Time traveling is not as easy as expected, and messing with time has consequences.  Al meets his dad, and grandpa.  Has to steal, break into houses, and lies to hopefully safe his dad.  I’m not going to tell you more because a little more gives a lot away.

The other night at dinner I told my nephew I was reading a book called Time Traveling with a Hamster. I was telling him about the book and he replied, “Why do so many books have a back story where the parents die in a tragic car crash?”   I told him he was jumping the gun.  I never said there was a car crash, but that his dad had a go-kart accident 30 years ago and that caused the death.  He seemed more interested.  For the record this 10-year-old boy reads numerous books where the parents have tragic deaths, so his concerns lack merit! I’ll be interested to hear his reaction to the book.

Anyway, I thoroughly enjoyed this book.  Ross Welford is a master at capturing the reader and keeping us on the edge of our seat.  He pulls at our heartstrings with scenes involving a loving grandfather and grieving grandson.  He makes us laugh with scenes of Al “borrowing” his grandpa’s scooter to get to his old house so he can steal the time machine.  He makes it difficult to put down this enjoyable book.

Random House has this as a book for ages 8-12.  I would say closer to the older range.  There is nothing shocking or too upsetting, but I think higher readers and more mature readers will enjoy it more.  It would be a great Guys Read Book Club book if the group is mostly 10-12 year old boys.

I did use the book to model how to “think about my reading”.  I showed my third graders how I had questions while I was reading.  I even showed them a YouTube video about the Geordie dialect because I wasn’t sure what it was.

Like I wrote earlier, I am excited to see what Levi thinks of this book.  I will have to see if he will fit it to his reading.  He is currently rereading the Potter series. Maybe he will take it to school and read it there.  If that happens I will never see the copy again because he passes it around to the other fourth graders.