Saturday, December 31, 2016

Top 5 3rd Grade Book Recommendation Posts of 2016

The beginning of 2016 was my eighth year of teaching third grade (before I switched to teaching middle school). My third graders had a strong reading community and loved sharing books and recommendations with each other. In the spring, we used the "If you like ... read this next" format to share books with each other, and I published many of their reviews on The Logonauts. We also shared them using the hashtag #3rdfor3rd. The following are the top 5 most-viewed of those posts.

Click here for more Top Posts of 2016 or click here for more book recommendation posts.

Top 5 Book Recommendation Posts of 2016

#5: If you liked Fantastic Mr. Fox ...

#4: If you liked Guardians of Ga'Hoole ...

(This post contains two different reviews and recommendations.)

#3: If you liked Diary of a Wimpy Kid ...

(This monster-sized post contains four different book reviews and recommendations from four of my students.)

#2: If you liked Harry Potter ...

#1 If you liked Geronimo Stilton ...

This review was written by me as an example for my students, many of whom are huge Geronimo Stilton fans. (You can read their Geronimo reviews here and here.)

What are your favorite books to recommend? Click here for more book recommendation posts or click here for more Top Posts of 2016.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Top 5 Book Review Posts of 2016

Next up in our countdown of the top posts of 2016 on The Logonauts: the most-read book review and book recommendation posts from this year!

Click here for more Top Posts of 2016 or click here for more book recommendations.

Top 5 Book Review Posts of 2016

#5: Wordless Wonders: Picture Books to Ponder

This post highlights some of my favorite wordless (and nearly wordless) pictures books published in the last few years. These are fabulous books for readers and nonreaders of all ages!

#4: New Book Alert: The Girl Who Drank the Moon

(Definitely near the top of my list for our school's Mock Newbery as well! I love this book.)

#3: Great Graphic Novels for Middle School (part 1: realistic, part 2: fantasy)

This two-part series covers some of my must-have graphic novels as I was assembling my classroom library for middle school. These titles have proven to be quite popular with my students as well.

#2: Mock Caldecott 2017 (part 1 and part 2)

Counting down the days until our school will vote in our own Mock Caldecott. These two posts lay out my favorites. Which are yours?

#1: Malala Yousafzai: Warriors With Words #ReadYourWorld

I received a copy of this book to review for last January's Multicultural Children's Book Day. If you are interested in finding out more about the wonderful one-day event, click here for details and mark your calendar for January 27, 2017.

What are your favorite book review posts? Click here for more book recommendations or click here for more Top Posts of 2016.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Top 5 Book Club Posts of 2016

As we are counting down towards the top posts of 2016 on The Logonauts, I wanted to take some time to feature a few different categories of popular posts.

Book clubs or student-led book discussions are one of my favorite ways to read and discuss books with kids. Today's post shares the Top 5 book club posts from the past year. Each post includes a summary of the book, some big ideas or themes for discussion, and a suggested chapter breakdown for scheduling.

Click here for more Top Posts of 2016 or click here for more book club posts.

Top 5 Book Club Posts of 2016

#5: Walk Two Moons

#4: Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH

#3: The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane

#2: From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler

#1: Book Club Discussion "Jobs"

Ok, so this one is more of a "how to" than a specific book, but it received the most page views of all the book club-related posts. In this post, I lay out the different jobs that I have kids to when responding to their books and preparing for discussions. (Another useful teacher post is suggested book club discussion questions.)

What are your favorite book club books? Click here for all book club posts or click here for more Top Posts of 2016.

Monday, December 26, 2016

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? #IMWAYR 12/26/16

It's Monday! What are you reading? was started by Sheila at Book Journey and was adapted for children's books from picture books through YA by Jen of Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee of Unleashing Readers. You can visit either site for a round up of blogs sharing their weekly readings and thoughts or search Twitter for #IMWAYR.

Last Week's Posts

  • Mock Newbery Contenders: 2016, part 2: realistic. This second in a series of three posts introduces the realistic books in our school's Mock Newbery, including historical fiction, biography, and contemporary realistic fiction. So many great choices!
  • Mock Newbery Contenders: 2016, part 3: TBR. The third and final post in our Mock Newbery list includes those titles that are still on my To Be Read (TBR) list. I'm hoping to finish several over the rest of winter break.

Young Adult

Before We Were Free (2002) by Julia Alvarez [a Pura Belpré winner]. This historical fiction novel takes place in 1961 and documents the political upheaval of the Dominican Republic before and after the death of their dictator, Trujillo (El Jefe). The story is told through the eyes of a 12-year old girl, Anita, as her extended family is impacted by these events in different ways.

As my students' study of Latin America in Social Studies moves forward towards the present day, our librarian and I are working on putting together a list of books for them to read that provide insights into this time period. This is definitely one I will be adding.

Happy Reading!

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Mock Newbery 2016: contenders, part 3

Part 3 is the third and final part of this year's Mock Newbery list (click here for Mock Caldecott). These are the books that are on my to-be read (TBR) stack, so I do not yet have reviews. Are any of these your favorites?

Mock Newbery 2016: the to be read stack

All Rise for the Honorable Perry T. Cook (2016) by Leslie Connor.

Full of Beans (2016) by Jennifer L. Holm. I haven't yet read this prequel to Turtle in Paradise, but I thoroughly enjoyed that story and expect great things from this one as well!

Makoons (2016) by Louise Erdrich. Likewise, Makoons is the fifth (and final, I believe) book in the series that began with the incredible Birchbark House.

Paper Wishes (2016) by Lois Sepahban. This historical fiction novel takes place in a Japanese internment camp. I am about halfway through this one and look forward to seeing how it all wraps up.

Towers Falling (2016) by Jewell Parker Rhodes. The fifteenth anniversary of 9/11 brought a slew of books focused in or around the event, and this one seems to have risen to the top of discussions geared towards middle grade.

The Wild Robot (2016) by Peter Brown.

Wolf Hollow (2016) by Lauren Wolk. Waiting to find the right time in the next few days to curl up with this one.

So, what are your favorites for this year's Newbery?

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Mock Newbery 2016: contenders, part 2

This will be my third year conducting a Mock Caldecott at our school but my first with a Mock Newbery! My middle schoolers have already started diving into our picks, and the fifth and sixth graders are going to be sharing their opinions during their library time. Below I'm sharing my review of the books I've read, and I'll start posting student reviews after we come back from break.

Mock Newbery 2016: realistic fiction contenders

I've broken down this realistic fiction post into historical fiction, biography, and contemporary realistic fiction. Read on!

Historical Fiction

The Inquisitor's Tale: or, the Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog (2016) by Adam Gidwitz and illuminated by Hatem Aly. The ARC for this book was one of the big events at #nErDcampMI this summer, and I devoured the book almost immediately upon getting home. The big downside of the ARC however, was that it was missing most of the incredible illuminations, which pack a powerful punch along with the story.

The Inquisitor's Tale is told as an homage to Chaucer's Canterbury Tales with various narrators picking up the story while sitting around in an Inn. Each narrator brings something different to unfolding tale of three very different children who suddenly find themselves together (and eventually facing off against the King). There are many important lessons about friendship, religious tolerance, and the power of words and books ... plus much hilarity (and a flatulent dragon).

Salt to the Sea (2016) by Ruta Sepetys. This World War II historical fiction novel (based on a true event) may surpass the upper end of the Newbery, and I wouldn't be surprised if it won a Printz Award instead. But it is hugely popular among my middle schoolers, so I am including it for our discussions.

Salt to the Sea is told in four alternating perspectives as different groups of people (mainly children) find themselves together fleeing the advancing armies and faced with their only escape route across the sea. There are so many parallels here to the modern refugee crisis in Europe, which add additional painful layers to this story. For mature readers.

Raymie Nightingale (2016) by Kate DiCamillo. Now, I know Kate is railing against the categorization of this book as historical fiction, since it is set in the 1970s and based on her childhood, but to my post-2000 born tweens, it is a whole 'nother world.

This story goes back to the author's southern roots and the realistic fiction vibe of early favorite, Because of Winn-Dixie. Raymie has taken up baton twirling in an effort to win a major recognition ... and to win back her father's attention, now that he has left her and her mother for another woman. I loved the characters and enjoyed the story, but it didn't grab me quite as hard as Edward or Winn-Dixie. I'll be curious to see how this one fares, especially as it already won the National Book Award Longlist.


Samurai Rising: the epic life of Minamoto Yoshitsune (2016) by Pamela S. Turner with illustrations by Gareth Hinds. Set in 12th-century Japan, this biography reads like a fictional novel, with some modern touches, somewhat reminiscent of the style of Steve Sheinkin. Personally I found a lot of the "palace intrigue" parts hard to follow with several warring houses and the emperor all vying for power in different ways. My students will be studying this period of Japanese history more intensely later in the year, so I look forward to seeing what they get out of this story then too.

Some Writer! The Story of E. B. White (2016) by Melissa Sweet. I love Melissa Sweet's scrapbooky style of artwork, and she did an amazing job incorporating so many actual photographs and ephemera from the White family. This biography seems like an instant classic for anyone who loves and appreciates the stories of E. B. White. As a teacher, one of my favorite insights was the inclusion of multiple (wildly different) drafts of the opening page of Charlotte's Web. A mini-lesson in the making.

Contemporary Realistic Fiction

Ms. Bixby's Last Day (2016) by John David Anderson. I knew I had to grab this one off of my TBR stack after hearing Mr. Schu book talk it. He was so animated about the students and their predicament, after their favorite teacher received a cancer diagnosis and ends up leaving school unexpectedly early. Despite the sad premise, this is a charming - and often hilarious - story, and one that I think both students and teachers will love and appreciate.

Ghost (2016) by Jason Reynolds [National Book Award finalist]. Ghost is the first in a new middle grade series from talented author Jason Reynolds. The main character, who has nicknamed himself Ghost, finds himself perplexed by a track practice in progress and ends up showing off and earning a spot on the team. Ghost is struggling to find out who he is and where he fits, especially as he hides his traumatic secret from others. This is a powerful story (and quick read), and I am looking forward to the rest of the series.

As Brave As You (2016) also by Jason Reynolds. I thoroughly enjoyed this one. Brothers Ernie and Genie are dropped off at their grandparents' house for a month to give their parents time to work on their relationship. They learn interesting things about their grandparents and about each other, while trying to figure out some of the tension between their dad and his dad. I loved Genie's lists of questions and his constant (and honest) curiosity about the world around him. As Brave As You reminded me of other newer "classic-feeling" slice-of-life or summer family and friendship tales.

Counting Thyme (2016) by Melanie Conklin. 11-year old Thyme is frustrated by living in limbo - her parents have just moved the whole family cross-country so that her younger brother can participate in a clinical trial for his neuroblastoma cancer. She is trying to juggle being new and fitting in with the hope that they will be leaving and moving back in a few short months. This is a cute and enjoyable story, and one that does a good job of laying bare the impact a severe illness can have on a family. My middle schoolers had great discussions around this book in our recent book club themed around disabilities and difficulties.

The Best Man (2016) by Richard Peck. This is a great family story narrated by 12-year old Archer. The story is focused around his growing up and is bookended by two weddings, one when he was the ring bearer in first grade, and the second as a sixth grade best man for his beloved uncle and favorite student teacher, Mr. McLeod.

Lily and Dunkin (2016) by Donna Gephart. I thoroughly enjoyed this charming new novel! This story is told through the eyes of eighth graders Lily (neé Timothy) and Dunkin (neé Norbert), who are both trying to figure out who they are and their places in the world, as they work through the special challenges of middle school. Lily is looking for the confidence (and parental support) to publically embrace her transgender identity, while Dunkin is worried about fitting in at a new school and balancing the demands of his bipolar disorder and medications. This is an important book for so many reasons, but even more important, it's a great read and an engaging story.

Maybe a Fox (2016) by Kathi Appelt and Alison McGhee. Maybe a Fox is a tug-at-the-heartstrings kind of novel but in a soft and gentle kind of way. While I miss the lyricism and unconventional structure of The Underneath, Maybe a Fox is likely to be more approachable for its intended audience. Could also be a great book for a child that has experienced loss or death, as different characters experience and express their grief in different ways. A keeper.

Summerlost (2016) by Ally Condie. I really loved this new middle grade offering from Ally Condie. This very sweet story occurs against a background of loss and grief, as the main character's father and brother were killed in a car accident the year before. Cedar, her mom, and younger brother Miles are adjusting to their new life, and Cedar finds a strong friend in Leo, an aspiring entrepreneur and employee at the local Shakespearean summer theater, Summerlost. There's a lot to love in this book!

Contemporary Realistic Fiction Novels-in-Verse

Garvey's Choice (2016) by Nikki Grimes. This novel-in-verse told in tanka form makes for a very quick read, but that doesn't stop it from dealing with important themes and big ideas. Garvey is an overweight middle schooler trying to figure out who he wants to be while navigating the pressure of his father who wants him to be a football star. An important story of bullying and acceptance.

Moo (2016) by Sharon Creech. Twelve-year-old Reena may have been the one to suggest moving to Maine, but that doesn't mean she really knows what she's in for. Told in imaginative free verse, Moo is a story about changes: moving to a new home and a new state, leaving behind the big city for the oceanside countryside, and learning to get past first impressions. This is an amusing, enjoyable, and heartwarming story wrapped up in the memorable voice of the protagonist. Whether you like cows and countrysides or just want an excuse to visit for awhile by book, Moo is a story that will appeal to a wide range of readers and poetry-lovers. (Read a longer review here.)

Booked (2016) by Kwame Alexander. I had been eagerly anticipating Booked after finished The Crossover, a recent Newbery winner, and it did not disappoint. Booked is another novel-in-verse, this time told from the perspective of twelve-year old Nick Hall, an up-and-coming soccer star, plagued by his wordsmith father's book, Weird and Wonderful Words. The story touches many important issues and difficulties in tween/teenage life but without getting too heavy into more grownup content. I am excited to add both of these to my middle school classroom library!

Any of your favorite historical or realistic pics not make the list? (Check out the fantasy contenders here.)

(It's not just me, right? Blue is this year's color for historical and realistic fiction ... )

Monday, December 19, 2016

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? #IMWAYR 12/19/16

It's Monday! What are you reading? was started by Sheila at Book Journey and was adapted for children's books from picture books through YA by Jen of Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee of Unleashing Readers. You can visit either site for a round up of blogs sharing their weekly readings and thoughts or search Twitter for #IMWAYR.

Last Week's Posts

      Picture Books

      Somos como las nubes / We are Like the Clouds (2016) by Jorge Argueta and illustrated by Alfonso Ruano. This collection of bilingual poetry shares powerful insights into the decisions and journeys behind Central American immigration to the US. This is not a single narrative but rather a collection of individual voices. The realistic illustrations and difficult moments depicted make this a powerful picture book for older readers. It is definitely one I will be using with my middle schoolers.


      Falling into the Dragon's Mouth (2016) by Holly Thompson. The novel-in-verse format makes for a quick read of this story told from the perspective of a bullied American middle schooler in Japan. The author (herself an American living in Japan) clearly wishes to highlight some potential issues with the Japanese school system, and I would be curious about Japanese reactions to this book. For me, the resolution of the story seemed far too quick and tidy.

      Happy Reading!

      Saturday, December 17, 2016

      Mock Newbery 2016: contenders, part 1

      This will be my third year conducting a Mock Caldecott at our school but my first with a Mock Newbery! My middle schoolers have already started diving into our picks, and the fifth and sixth graders are going to be sharing their opinions during their library time. Below I'm sharing my review of the books I've read, and I'll start posting student reviews after we come back from break.

      Mock Newbery 2016: fantasy contenders

      The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill is an incredibly well-crafted tale set in a familiar fantasy setting - the small town, the downtrodden inhabitants, the problematic ancient traditions. But as soon as the perspective shifts from the villagers to the feared witch in the woods, the reader realizes that there is quite a bit more going on within this story.

      The characters are delightful, and there were so many lines that made me laugh out loud. Expectations are overturned, and the more of a background you have in fairy tales and folktales, the more there is to appreciate. The book is being marketed to the upper half of middle grade, and I think that it will find readers and fans among a wide-range of ages and grade levels.

      Pax by Sara Pennypacker with illustrations by Jon Klassen. This charming story is told in alternating chapters by Pax, a young fox, and his former owner, a boy named Peter. Having raised Pax from a kit, Peter is forced by his father to abandon Pax and send him back in the wild. 

      Pax's chapters explore the fox's attempts to reintegrate into a wild life, trying to relearn survival skills and interact with his own kind. Told with a naturalistic style, this is not a "talking animal" fantasy story but rather uses the foxes' movements and reactions to each other to communicate.

      Peter's side of the story follows his efforts to find Pax again, as he immediately regrets letting him go. This kicks into gear the other adventure and survival side of the story. 

      This is a book that will appeal to many readers and is being advertised for grades 3-7. Younger readers will fall in love with Pax and his earnest and adorable personality. Older readers will cheer on Peter as he sets off on a dangerous mission to find Pax and as he grapples with the larger context of encroaching war, family difficulties, and reintegrating into life after war. 

      Once Was a Time is the first middle grade offering from popular YA author Leila Sales, and she knocks it out of the park. The story revolves around two best friends, Lottie and Kitty, who are growing up in Bristol, England in 1940 under the ever-expanding shadow of Hilter. Lottie's father studies time travel, and his investigations have drawn interest from many sides. A dangerous situation forces Lottie to make a choice - does she trust her father and his research? (Read the full review here.)

      The Seventh Wish by Kate Messner. 12-year-old Charlie feels overshadowed by all of the changes around her, especially her older sister's departure for college. She would rather focus on own wants and needs, like her chance to finally earn her solo dress in Irish dancing. But when a wish-granting fish comes into the picture, Charlie's read enough stories to know that she needs to think through her wishes carefully. But, despite her best intentions, wishes are not always what they seem.

      This is an important book. Well-written, engaging, and even humorous at times, The Seventh Wish deals with this unfortunately-relevant issue (heroin addiction) in a sensitive way. Readers will gain a better understanding and empathy for those suffering addiction as well as the toll it takes on families. I highly recommend this book. (Click here for a longer review.)

      When the Sea Turned to Silver (2016) by Grace Lin [National Book Award longlist]. Like the previous two books in this companion series, this one is a story with many stories within it that draw on ancient Chinese folktales (some explicitly and some implicitly). I was far more familiar with many of the tales incorporated into this book, as several have been turned into picture books by illustrator Demi or are included in Favorite Folktales from Around the World, edited by Jane Yolen. This one provides a satisfying resolution to the trilogy (which I think is all is will be?), but I think that Starry River of the Sky might actually be my favorite of the three ...

      Hour of the Bees (2016) by Lindsay Eager. I thoroughly enjoyed this wonderful debut novel. Carolina (Carol) has to spend the summer with her family, getting her grandfather's ranch ready to be sold so that he can be moved into an assisted living home, now that his dementia is progressing. She is curious about this grandpa she has never met, and his dementia serves as a gateway between the realism of much of the novel as it contrasts with the story he tells her about the ranch and its history.

      Stay tuned for the next two segments of our Mock Newbery: realistic stories and my TBR list.