Search This Blog

Monday, January 30, 2012

The Summer Before Boys

Nora Raleigh Baskin’s The Summer Before Boys is a reflective novel about growing up and the difficulties military kids have in the absence of their parent during wartime. Julia, the narrator of the story, is Eliza’s aunt although they are both twelve-years-old. It is summer and Julia’s mother, a member of the National Guard, has been deployed to Iraq for the past ten months. Julia spends weekdays with Eliza, anxiously anticipating her mother’s return from war. The storyline bounces back and forth between Julia and Eliza’s summer expeditions, the statistics of military women and the loss of lives during the different United States conflicts, and the time Julia spent in counseling with Peter (a boy whose father also served in Iraq). Although Julia wants a normal summer and hopes to get to know a boy named Michael better, her mother’s welfare is always on her mind. When Julia chooses meeting Michael over spending time with Eliza, Eliza’s safety is in jeopardy and their friendship may never be the same. My niece has had to live with the fear of her father’s well-being while he served two tours in Iraq and one in Afghanistan. She is currently in 7th grade and she probably cannot talk about that time without getting emotional. Thank you to Nora Raleigh Baskin for sharing the stories of our military children – they fight a different battle on the home front, but it is no less of a fight. Thanks for also dedicating this book to the brave men and women in our armed forces and their children. This is going on my sixth grade reading list next year. Other great books by Baskin include Anything But Typical, Basketball (or Something like It), and The Truth About my Bat Mitzvah.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Unforgotten Coat

The Unforgotten Coat is Frank Cottrell Boyce’s most recent novel. Readers will be drawn to this book, because of the appealing format – the story is told in a notebook with lined pages and photographs. The narrator, Julie, now a grown up, starts off by telling the readers about the picture that was taken when she was in sixth grade. It was the day she was asked to play an important role in the lives of two new boys (Chingis & Nergui), brothers from Mongolia. Being new to England, Chingis asks Julie to be the boys’ Good Guide. The story flashes forward to Julie visiting her school once more before they tear it down. She spots Chingis’s coat in the Lost Property box and in it are the pictures that help tell the story. From the very first day, Julie takes her new responsibility as their Good Guide seriously. She learns as much as she can about Mongolia and tries to infuse the others at her school with stories about Mongolian culture. Chingis claims that they are nomads and that an evil demon is following his brother around. Chingis, wise beyond his years, adds so much to the school and soaks in all that he can learn about British culture. When Julie tries to learn more about the boys like where they live and what their home life is like, the boys remain elusive. They are carrying a heavy burden, a family secret. This book made me reflect on other children who are in the same situation as Chingis and Nergui and how tough it must be when things in their lives are beyond their control. Popular books by Frank Cottrell Boyce include Cosmic and Framed.


Hidden by Helen Frost is told in poetry format (novel in verse – a popular genre in my library) by the alternating voices of Wren and Darra. Wren and Darra first saw each other when they were eight-years-old in the most unusual of circumstances. Wren’s mother left her in the backseat of her car while she quickly paid for gas. Darra’s father stole the car and parked it in his garage, not knowing that Wren was hiding in the backseat. Darra knows that Wren is hiding in the garage. That fateful night changed both girls forever. The story continues when the girls are fourteen-years-old and meet once again at an elite summer camp. Before long, the girls must face each other and the burdens of their last meeting. Will Wren blame Darra for who her father is? Can Darra forgive Wren for taking her father away? I love that Helen Frost also gives her readers more of Darra’s feelings by including her thoughts – readers only need to read the last word of each long line down the page (in Darra’s narrative) to understand how she feels about her father and what she went through that horrible night. Other outstanding novels in verse by Helen Frost include Crossing Stones and Diamond Willow.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Take Me to the River

Will Hobbs knows how to take his readers into the harshest elements of nature and keep them on the edge of their seats. His most recent novel, Take Me to the River, is about cousins who decide to go ahead and travel down the Rio Grande by canoe and raft even though there is not an adult available to go on the adventure with them. Dylan and Rio are experienced paddlers, but do not anticipate the obstacles that will be in their way. Seeing six Black Hawk helicopters flying into Mexico should have been an indication that they needed to turn back. They are soon warned that Hurricane Dolly could be headed straight for them. The inclement weather is the least of their worries. Tensions between the drug cartel and peacekeepers of Mexico are at an all-time high and Americans have been warned to stay away from the Texas-Mexico border. What will happen when the boys, not wanting to miss an opportunity of a lifetime, stick with their original plans and head down the Rio Grande on a ten day boating adventure? Take Me to the River is on the Texas Lone Star Reading List 2012-13. Other great books by Will Hobbs include Go Big or Go Home, Crossing the Wire, Leaving Protection, Wild Man Island, Down the Yukon, Jason’s Gold, The Maze, Ghost Canoe, River Thunder, Far North, Kokopelli’s Flute, The Big Wander, Beardance, and Downriver. Click on the video below to hear from Will Hobbs.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Just Curious

I am currently reading Teri S. Lesesne's Reading Ladders. She has some awesome ideas. I thought I would ask a question I found in the book. Hope you have time to share your answers. If I get some feedback, I will post more questions in the future.

What is the best book you ever read?

Saturday, January 21, 2012

The Cheshire Cheese Cat: A Dickens of a Tale

Curious about what life was like in Victorian London? Want to be introduced to some famous authors of that time like Charles Dickens? You need to read The Cheshire Cheese Cat: A Dickens of a Tale by Carmen Agra Deedy and Randall Wright and illustrated by Barry Moser. This amusing story transports the reader to Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese inn where the story is told through the relationships of its characters: a mouse named Pip who has learned to read and uses an enriched vocabulary, a friendly cat named Skilley who agrees to protect the mice in the inn while they protect his big secret, an injured raven named Maldwyn who once perched on the White Hill and would like nothing more than to return to his home, and a mean cat named Pinch who may ruin them all. Famous writers of that time frequent the inn. Charles Dickens intermittently chimes in and expresses the difficulty he has in writing the now famous first sentence in his Tale of Two Cities. It is evident that Deedy, Wright, and Moser put so much research into this story. I loved how the characters are named for characters in Dickens’ works and symbols of that time were used to enhance the storyline. A glossary of the challenging vocabulary words used in the story is included. A great supplement to this book is their amazing website which encourages participants to read more about old England and play games to see how much they have learned. This novel is on the Texas Bluebonnet Reading List 2012-13.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Eight Keys

I absolutely love books about relationships, growing up, and overcoming losses in the characters’ lives. Eight Keys by Suzanne Lafleur is my kind of book. I am so thankful that some of my sixth graders kept telling me that I needed to read it. Elise and Franklin have been friends for years. It has always been easy for them to find ways to keep themselves entertained. When the two begin their first year at a big middle school, things begin to change between them. Elise is bullied by a girl named Amanda from the very first day. She feels like her friendship with Franklin doesn’t help the situation. Elise’s mother died giving birth to her and her father died a few years after that from cancer. Her father’s older brother and his wife have raised Elise in a warm house in the country with a huge barn. Her father wrote her a letter for each of her birthdays through the age of twelve. After her twelfth birthday, she discovers keys, one at a time, which will open eight locked doors in the second floor of the barn. Each room, her father’s final gifts, will change her life forever. Read this book to understand what it truly means to be a friend. Eight Keys is going on my 6th Grade Reading List next year. Another great book by Suzanne Lafleur is Love, Aubrey.

Saturday, January 14, 2012


Divergent, Veronica Roth’s debut novel, is the ultimate dystopian novel. In this futuristic world, people must belong to one of five factions: Abnegation (value selflessness), Amity (value peacefulness), Candor (value honesty), Dauntless (value braveness), and Erudite (value intelligence). Beatrice, her brother Caleb, and all the other sixteen-year-olds in their class must decide which faction they will belong to at the upcoming Choosing Ceremony. Beatrice and Caleb have been raised in an Abnegation family – to choose otherwise would kill their father. Prior to making their decision, all the teens making their choice must attend an aptitude test to see what their best match is. Beatrice’s aptitude test gives conflicting results and she is told she is divergent and must keep that a secret from everyone. Making the choice is only the beginning; recruits must then compete in deadly battles against strong opponents for positions within their faction and could still be cast out into society and labeled as factionless. Beatrice must make some difficult choices including where her loyalty lies – with her family or with her faction. Divergent, the perfect blend of action, suspense, and romance, is on the Texas Lone Star Reading List 2012-13. I recommend it for 8th grade and up. This is a great read for Hunger Games and Matched fans.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Middle School, The Worst Years of my Life

Middle School, The Worst Years of my Life by James Patterson and Chris Tebbetts is a humorous story about a troubled middle school kid named Rafe. For good reason, many authors are following Jeff Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid format – chapters with cartoons throughout. The kids love books like these! Cartoonist Laura Park creatively illustrates this story. Rafe narrates his story and often draws the reader in by asking reflective questions. Rafe’s home life is the worst. He and his younger sister, Georgia, hardly see their hardworking mother while her low-life, live-in boyfriend sits on their couch and watches television all day. On the first day of middle school, the vice principal boringly discusses each rule in the Code of Conduct handbook with all the students. Rafe, negatively influenced by a boy named Leo, decides the only way he will survive this school year is if he creates a game in which he scores points for breaking all of the rules discussed. Will Rafe learn the best way to fit in at his middle school or will the consequences of his bad behavior crash down on him? Reviews I read about this book were either 5 stars (the kids love it) or 1 star (I am assuming the adults due to the deviant behavior)…I am somewhere in the middle. To me, there is still nothing quite like The Diary of a Wimpy Kid series. Other great books by James Patterson include the Maximum Ride and Daniel X series – both are great for reluctant reader because of the action packed storylines and short chapters.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

A Monster Calls

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness and inspired by the late Siobhan Dowd is a moving novel that will take you on a boy’s emotional journey. It is on the Texas Lone Star Reading List 2012-13. Thirteen-year-old Conor keeps having the same nightmare. At 12:07 a.m. he awakens to see a monster calling to him outside his window. The monster is none other than the great yew tree in his backyard that his mother frequently commented on. Although the monster is large, frightening, and forceful; Conor isn’t afraid. His mother is battling cancer. His father has started a new life in America with a new wife and baby. To make matters worse his grandmother is making him stay at her house while his mother undergoes another ravaging cancer treatment. Conor feels as though others do not see him and feel sorry for him because of his mother’s illness. He just wants to be like the other kids. The monster says that he will continue to visit Conor until he has shared three stories with him and that Conor will tell him the fourth story. The stories are disturbing and unlike any that Conor has heard before. What is Conor’s story? Life is tough and I cannot imagine a tougher situation than the one Conor is experiencing. You need a box of Kleenex to read this one. All I can say is when I was finished…I was speechless.

No Passengers Beyond This Point

No Passengers Beyond This Point by Gennifer Choldenko is a fantasy novel that keeps the reader guessing as to what outrageous thing could possibly happen next. Siblings – Finn, India, and Mouse – find out that their mother has lost their home due to financial problems and is sending them to live with their Uncle Red until she can finish her job and meet up with them. Unhappily, the kids get on the plane to their new destination. Each kid has unique characteristics that cause conflict between them. Finn is the man of the house since their father died when Mouse was being born. He is the conscientious one who worries about his mother and their situation. India is the social one who lets her friends get their way no matter the cost. Mouse is the scientific type that has to analyze each situation. The trio soon find themselves in a strange welcoming place that appreciates all the things they each value. Why would they ever want to leave a place like that? When things spiral downward, they each realize they only have a certain amount of time to come together and get back to the place they belong. I love that the book is told from each sibling’s point of view. Other great books by Choldenko include Al Capone Does my Shirts, Al Capone Shines my Shoes, A Tree Falls at Lunch Period, and Notes from a Liar and her Dog.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

A Dog's Purpose

A Dog's Purpose by W. Bruce Cameron will appeal to readers of all ages. I was encouraged to read this book by one of my advanced sixth grade readers in my school’s book club. It is also the book club selection for February for my adult book club. The story is narrated by a dog that keeps being reincarnated and wonders if this is happening because he still hasn’t found his purpose in life. The story started off a little slow for me as the newborn puppy is describing his life in his litter and the interactions of the other dogs around him…not as much human contact or people-storyline at first. After he is reborn a second time, the story quickly picked up for me. The dog is reincarnated into a different breed of dog each time and draws on his experiences from past lives to make wise choices and help others in need. Near the end of the book, the dog is a little disgruntled that he has to live again when he feels like he has already served his purpose and is tired and not excited about having to make new attachments once again. He has already loved a boy and served in a special canine unit to save lives. What more could there be? I am recommending this book to all dog lovers. When you finish this book, you will not look at your pet the same way.


I am absolutely wonderstruck, amazed, blown away (you get the point) by Brian Selznick’s latest novel, Wonderstruck. I see this getting either the Caldecott or Newbery award. I am a huge fan of Selznick’s The Invention of Hugo Cabret; this one is even better! Selznick creatively tells two stories set fifty years apart. Rose’s story begins in New Jersey in 1927 and is told through remarkable illustrations. Ben’s story begins in Minnesota in 1977 and is told through text. Rose, a deaf girl tired of being locked away from the world, heads to New York City in hopes of finding the one person who can save her. Ben, a boy who recently lost his mother and loves to collect things, finds clues that may help him find the father he has never known. His search leads him to New York and the American Museum of Natural History. You must read this book to see how Selznick magically brings the two characters together and takes his readers to the must-see sites of New York City during that time. You will be wonderstruck as well!