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.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Dr. Fell and the Playground of Doom by David Neilsen - BLOG TOUR

Thanks Penguin Random House for the copy.
I am very excited to participate in the blog tour of Dr. Fell and the Playground of Doom by David Neilsen.  It has been awhile since I have done a blog tour, but the description of the book called to me.  It said, “Read Me!  You’ll Like Me!”  Given the trouble I have had over the past few months I’m glad I finally listened. 

One day the decrepit old house that all the kids played in was sold.  In moved a very odd man named Dr. Fell.  The small town children were not thrilled because they considered the hosue theirs.  Jerry, his sister, Gail and Gail’s friend Nancy mentioned to Dr. Fell why everyone was moping around.  Next thing you know the world’s best playground is built in the front yard. 

Soon after there is a huge increase in the number of injuries the kids are having.  The weird thing is that everyone heals quickly, so quickly that the trio of friends take notice.  They set out to figure out what the spooky doctor is up to.

I never like to give much away about a story.  It takes the fun away from the reader.  Anyhow I loved this book.  Right know it is on the top of the list for my second read aloud of the year. 

A couple of weeks ago I had to attend a weeklong professional development on literacy.  One of the sessions focused the importance of vocabulary in students writing.  I bring this up because Mr. Neilsen’s created the best names for the characters.  I can’t wait to use examples from the book to demonstrate how word choice makes a story so much better.  Here are just a few of the ones that really stood out: Nancy Pinkblossom (pink and flowers are not what pop in to the brain when thinking of Nancy.),  PTA Co-President Martha Doomburg, Leonid Hazardfall (he fell so badly they weren’t sure he survived.), and finally the name of the school McKinley Grant Fillmore Elementary School.  Every time a new character appeared their name set the tone for what was about to happen.  Brilliant in my mind.

As a person that looks for stories with strong and interesting male characters I really like when he is combined with strong and interesting female characters.  The balance of Jerry, Gail, and Nancy made the story very engaging.  Jerry was the youngest but was very thoughtful in how to solve the problems in front of them.  I have to admit from the get go I knew Nancy considered Jerry her younger brother as well and that is why she was always teasing him.  It would be fun to ready other adventures about the three of them.

Like I wrote earlier I don’t like to give too much away, so I will sum up why I can’t wait to share this fun, and creepy story with students.  The vocabulary used makes it interesting, but not too challenging.  It makes the reader think, but helps out on the really hard stuff.  Next the characters are ones you want to know more about.  That is good story telling for sure.  Everyone knows that too much of a good thing comes with consequences.  Hard fact but that is reality.  In Dr. Fell and the Playground of Doom there is the worlds best playground, but the cost is something not worth paying for.
Like I said I can’t wait to read this aloud to my students.  Enjoy it.

We hope you’re enjoying the blog tour for David Neilsen’s Dr. Fell and the Playground of Doom! In case you missed yesterday’s post, head over to My Brain on Books to check it out. The tour continues tomorrow on Loving Dem Books.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Waylon! One Awesome Thing by Sara Pennypacker and My First Read Aloud of the Year!

Next month the new school year begins.  I am excited that I am at a new school, but more importantly I am thrilled that I found my first read aloud for the new year.  The first read aloud is vital to setting the stage for one of the most important times of the day.  Over the years I have found that the first book must be short, funny, and have a male main character.  I avoid books that deal with recent divorce, illness, death, etc.  Not because these topics shouldn’t be discussed or read, but I don’t know my new kids.  These books will come later.

The reason I find it important to start the year with a book with a male protagonist is because I want to lasso my boys into the world of books on day one!  The last couple of years I read Otis Dooda by Ellen Potter. It is a hilarious book about a family that moves from a small town in the South to an apartment building in New York City.  The book focuses on Otis’ first week getting to know his new friends.  I love this book, and I had planned on reading it this year.  It is a good fit since I will be new at the school this year. 

However, I read Waylon! One Awesome Thing by Sara Pennypacker and changed my mind.  In the book we are introduced to Waylon, a new fourth grader and classmate of Clementine.  Knowing that Clementine is in the class sets the tone that this is no quiet class.  Anyhow, Waylon soon discovers that the class “leader” is dividing the boys into two groups.  Arlo is the “decider”, and what he says stands.  Boys from opposing groups are no longer allowed to be friends with boys from the other group.

One day a new student arrives.  Actually, he was in the class briefly the year before; but left shortly after the school yea started.  Everyone is terrified of Baxter.  He shows up the first day with a scar and stubble on his face.  Waylon discovers that the scar is bubble gum.    Soon after Baxter’s arrival Waylon finds himself groupless, and not fearing Baxter.  As time goes on Waylon discovers that Baxter is not the person everyone thinks he is.

Waylon! One Awesome Thing has all the components of what I look for in a first read aloud.  Male main character, humor, and short.  With that said, the message this book has makes it perfect.  As teachers we work hard to stop bullying.  Not as easy as people think.  When one boy divides the class he is a bully, even if everyone things he is a nice guy.  The book will hopefully lead to discussions about kindness.  I, also, hope that we can talk about not judging people based on appearances. Finally, the book is very funny.  I think some of the funniest scenes are when Waylon is interacting with his teenage sister.  She has changed her name to “Neon” and constantly says, “What’s the point?”.

I can’t wait to share this book with my new class, and see what else we will read this year.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate

Recently someone asked me what a culturally responsive classroom looks like.  This is a loaded question because so many factors go into making one.  I gave a brief answer, and explained that often the choice of books in the classroom is the most powerful tool to address the diversity, or more often the lack of diversity in classroom.

I currently work in a school in Denver that is not like the majority of schools in my urban district.  During Spring Break I had kids that went to the Virgin Islands, Beaver Creek, Costa Rica, Disneyland, Disney World, Mexico, Japan, and elsewhere.  In other words, the families are very comfortable.  Poverty is not something that is discussed even though the community is surrounded by some of the poorest parts of the city.

As their teacher it is my responsibility to make sure that they experience the world around them.  This goes back to my statement that books bring to life the world around us.  Whatever that may be.

I thoughtfully select read alouds for my class.  I am not saying that they are always serious or filled with life long messages.  Our last read aloud was The Unlikely Adventures of Mabel Jones.  Ok, maybe there is an important message in that book:  Don’t ear your boogers!  Anyhow, I read Crenshaw this past winter; and while reading it I knew it was going to be a read aloud this year.

Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate is a short novel about Jackson, a soon to be fifth grade, his family, and his very large imaginary cat friend named Crenshaw.  Crenshaw first came to live with Jackson when he was in first grade.  Jackson’s family and just become homeless and were living in their van.  Like many imaginary friends they just disappear one day.  However, Crenshaw reappears.  He shows up as Jackson is figuring out that his family is about to become homeless again.

Katherine Applegate is a master storyteller.  When I told my class what I was reading next T yelled out “Will this make me cry? The One and Only Ivan was so sad.”  There was a brief discussion about that book.  The class decided that she is a great author.

I know many teachers sometimes wonder if kids are really listening during read alouds because there aren’t always reactions we think we are going to get.  I knew that I would reactions from this book I just didn’t expect so many, and more importantly, so many thoughtful questions. We would have finished over a week ago if this hadn’t been happening.  My students have showed empathy for Jackson, and have asked questions about how does a family get poor.  Why don’t people help them?  One day someone asked; “Can you imagine what it must be like to be that hungry?” He really was interested.  In the book Jackson’s dad makes a sign before he panhandles on the corner to raise money.  The dad’s handwriting is so poor that the sign reads “Think You” instead of “Thank You”.  We discussed why did the author write that.  What is the message the first sign really says?

Crenshaw has been eye opening for my students and for me. Most importantly it is another example of why teachers MUST read aloud to their students.  If we want our students to be prepared for the 21st century they have to know that the world is filled with all different kinds of people with a variety of experiences.  More times than not the only way I can expose them to this is through the pages of a book.