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Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Seventh Level

The Seventh Level by Jody Feldman is a mystery with a secret middle school society and challenging puzzles that must be solved along the way. Travis Raines is surprised to receive a coveted blue envelope from The Legends, a secret society that performs various stunts at his middle school. He has been chosen to complete various tasks along the way to become part of this highly secretive group. While trying to figure out his first task, a large bully named Randall throws Kip’s hat (with the letter inside) out the school’s second floor window. When it gets stuck just under the roof, Travis is determined to climb outside to get it. His plan backfires when he is caught by Mrs. Pinchon, the strict assistant principal. His punishment is to ride to school with her each morning for detention before school and after-school detention. As the blue envelopes and puzzles keep coming, Travis finds it even more difficult to accomplish the tasks given to him under Mrs. Pinchon’s scrutiny. Even worse, someone is setting him up for other pranks that are occurring at school. Will Travis be able to complete all levels required? Is it even The Legend that is sending him these tasks? Read The Seventh Level to find out. Another great book by Jody Feldman is The Gollywhopper Games (I gave that one 5 stars).

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

What Child is This? A Christmas Story

Looking for a special book to read to get you in the Christmas spirit? If you can get your hands on a copy, you need to read What Child is This? A Christmas Story(c1997) by Caroline B. Cooney. My middle school book club is reading this sentimental tale about the true meaning of Christmas. This quick read reveals the emotions and experiences of three different teens and an eight-year-old foster child named Katie. Liz, raised by parents who have it all and are not willing to help those in need, wants to experience the true meaning of Christmas and cannot understand her parents’ selfish ways. Smart, handsome Tack Knight helps his father run his family’s upscale restaurant. The Knights are involved with their church and like to give back to the community, especially at Christmas time. Matt, a foster kid and temporary big brother to Katie, has so much rage inside from years of bouncing back and forth between homes. When Katie and Matt are offered the opportunity to write their Christmas wish on bell ornaments which will hang on the Knights’ restaurant Christmas tree in hopes that someone will fulfill the request, Katie asks for a family for Christmas. Their social worker tells Katie that the ornaments are for small gifts, not big ones. Matt, who also works at the Knights’ restaurant, decides to hang Katie’s ornament on the tree anyway. Katie truly believes she will get her wish. How will Matt tell Katie that he was wrong to ever believe that miracles could happen at Christmas? When tragedy strikes, will the community come together to save a little girl and her extraordinary Christmas wish? The students that finished before me warned me to have Kleenex ready, even the tough guys. What a great story for the holidays!

Sunday, December 11, 2011


Joseph Monninger’s Wish, a poignant book about how much we are willing to risk to make someone we love happy, is on the Texas Lone Star Reading List 2012. The story is narrated by Bee, the older, caring sister of Tommy, a young boy with cystic fibrosis. Cystic fibrosis is a serious disease that causes Tommy’s lungs to fill up with mucus which makes it hard for him to breathe. Tommy is infatuated with sharks – he knows all the facts about sharks and their attacks on humans. Bee, Tommy, and their single mother (as interested in men as Tommy is in sharks) are on a trip from their home in New Hampshire to California because Tommy has been given an all expense trip to see sharks by the Blue Moon foundation. Unfortunately, his wish to actually swim with the sharks isn’t fulfilled and his mother decides to go on a date that evening. When their mother still hasn’t returned from her date the next morning, Bee and Tommy decide to visit Ty, a young man that Tommy befriended through e-mail after Ty was attacked by a great white shark and lived to tell about his ordeal. Ty and his younger brother offer to take the two surfing in the dangerous waves. Bee knows this is really something Tommy wants to do despite the threat to his health. Although this is Tommy’s wish, the ocean and her inhabitants are unforgiving…

Notes from an Accidental Band Geek

Notes from an Accidental Band Geek, Erin Dionne’s latest entertaining middle grade read, is on the Texas Lone Star Reading List 2012-13. Elsie, a gifted French horn player, has always strived to be the youngest person in her family to make the Shining Birches, an elite music camp. It is a requirement for her to be part of a musical ensemble prior to auditioning for the Shining Birches. Elsie, younger than other students starting high school, has to join the marching band because a family conflict made her unable to audition for the Boston Youth Orchestra. The chaos of the first day of marching band practice sends Elsie into a spiral of doom, especially when she learns that she must play a mellophone instead of her beloved French horn. Things are much tougher in marching band than Elsie could have ever imagined. In order to prepare for the Shining Birches audition, Elsie must spend hours of her free time practicing her French horn. What will Elsie do when her band friends invite her to hang out after practices and games? Will Elsie prove to herself and her father that she is as talented as her father, lead French horn player in the Boston Symphony? Erin Dionne does a fabulous job of capturing the camaraderie and dedication of high school marching band in this fun book. Other great books by Dionne include Models Don’t Eat Chocolate Cookies and The Total Tragedy of a Girl Named Hamlet.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Guys Read: Funny Business

Guys (and some adventurous girls) are going to want to read this one, Guys Read: Funny Business, edited by Jon Scieszka. Ten short humorous stories written by some of your favorite authors (Mac Barnett, Eoin Colfer, Christopher Paul Curtis, Kate DiCamillo & Jon Scieszka, Paul Feig, Jack Gantos, Jeff Kinney, David Lubar, Adam Rex, and David Yoo) and illustrated by Adam Rex. The purpose of Guys Read is to instill a love of reading in boys that will last a lifetime. Funny Business is the first volume in the Guys Read Library. Storylines include the inspiration behind Artemis Fowl, a killer turkey, a grumpy grandpa with unbelievable childhood stories, and a deadly wart. Click on the video below to hear the authors tell “The Joke” which also happens to be the foreword of Funny Business. The second volume of the Guys Read Library is Guys Read: Thriller.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Paintings from the Cave: Three Novellas

Paintings from the Cave: Three Novellas by Gary Paulsen is a moving collection of three separate stories about kids having to rely on themselves just to survive. These kids represent the many children in our world who don’t have shelter, food, family, security, or, many times, loving relationships. I ordered multiple copies of this book for my middle school library prior to reading it, because my students eat up Gary Paulsen’s books. While awaiting my order, I downloaded the ebook from the public library. Imagine my excitement in reading the dedication given to Teri Lesesne (my awesome college professor), Kylene Beers (another advocate for struggling readers), teachers and librarians like them. I was then brought to tears in reading – A Note from the Author. Take the time to read it by clicking on the Kids@Random link attached to the title of this book, then clicking on book preview. Gary Paulsen understands – he has lived to tell about it. This book should be a mandatory read for all who work with at-risk children. Teachers, librarians, and anyone working in education will be reminded of what some children go home to each night; therefore, we must make the difference for them each and every day. Students will appreciate Paulsen’s sincere portrayal of the tough stuff some endure.