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Sunday, January 27, 2013

Laugh with the Moon

I am a huge fan of Shana Burg’s A Thousand Never Evers so I couldn’t wait to read Laugh with the Moon which is on the Texas Bluebonnet Reading List 2013. The author transports her readers to Malawi, Africa, using her own experiences from having stayed there. Clare is grieving because her mom has died and her father is making her live in Africa with him while he works as a doctor providing care for those in need. She must adapt to her new environment: a new school with hundreds of children and no teaching supplies, a meager home with a mosquito net covering her bed to prevent disease, and learning a new language. She immediately realizes that she is surrounded by others who have lost even more than she has. She wants to ask a classmate and new friend named Memory how she is able to cope without a mother or a father. Tragedy strikes once again. Clare learns the biggest lesson of all. Another awesome book by a wonderful author! Click on the video below to hear the author tell you about her book.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Michael Vey: The Prisoner of Cell 25

A girl in my middle school book club enthusiastically recommended that I read Richard Paul Evans’ Michael Vey: The Prisoner of Cell 25 (Book One) so I set aside the 20 other books I have stacked on my dresser…I am so happy I did. This is a middle grade/young adult sci-fi thriller that keeps the reader on edge. Fourteen-year-old Michael Vey has a huge secret that only his mother and best friend, Ostin (pronounced “Austin”), know about. When he is bullied by one of the meanest guys at his high school and his posse, he lets loose and fights back with his electrical powers. A popular cheerleader named Taylor witnesses the way he single-handedly fights off his attackers. She confides in him and eventually Ostin that she also has secret powers. They decide to research if their powers are connected in any way. The results are astonishing, but their online search ends up leading powerful, dark people straight to them. How will Michael fight back when the secret society kidnaps both Taylor and his mother? My student says that Book Two: Rise of the Elgen gets even better – can’t wait to read that one.

Ghetto Cowboy

I enjoy reading books that teach me something I didn’t know before. G. Neri’s Ghetto Cowboy (illustrated by Jesse Joshua Watson), on the Texas Bluebonnet Reading List 2013-14, did just that. Cole’s mom has had it with Cole’s troublemaking ways and she is taking him from their home in Detroit to a Dad he doesn’t know in Philadelphia. No amount of sweet talking is going to change her mind this time. Cole discovers a whole new world in this urban area where run-down housing has been made into make-shift horse stalls. His father, Harper, is a leader in this tight-knit community of urban cowboys who use the horses to set street kids straight – if they can keep them busy with riding and caring for the horses, maybe they will stay off of drugs and out of gangs. At first Cole is determined to find his way back to his mom, but quickly changes his mind when he becomes attached to a wild horse named Boo. This story is inspired by real inner city areas that have stables of horses in the most unlikely city dwellings to help keep young boys out of trouble. This story is about bringing about change by doing positive things and I love that message.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

An Elephant in the Garden

I was able to read An Elephant in the Garden by Michael Morpurgo (author of War Horse) in one night as I could not put it down… I had to know how the story ended. This is another selection on the Texas Lone Star Reading List 2013-14. The story begins in current day where a nurse begins to narrate the story of an elderly woman named Lizzie in her care at a nursing home who wishes to share her childhood story with her son named Karl. She reflects that the story must be told because it is the anniversary of a very important date. The story then backtracks to Lizzie’s childhood in Dresden, Germany. Lizzie’s father was fighting the war in Russia. Her mother, Mutti, worked at the zoo in Dresden during World War II. Lizzie’s little brother, Karli, was a feeble child with asthma and a limp. The story flips back and forth between Lizzie’s childhood and present day. Lizzie describes Mutti’s determination to save a young elephant named Marlene from the Dresden Zoo when the allies began bombing the city. How can Mutti, Lizzie, and Karli save Marlene or themselves from the repercussions of war? Morpurgo did a lot of research to put true accounts into his moving story about war, perseverance, and love for a smart, loyal elephant. This is great fictional tie-in to the Holocaust.


Ripper by Stefan Petrucha is the perfect selection for upper middle school students looking for a meaty thriller that has a huge twist in the story. It is another selection from the Texas Lone Star Reading List 2013-14. Carver Young knows he was meant to be a detective his entire life. Shortly before being told that he has to find a new home because the orphanage who had raised him could no longer care for the three eldest children at the facility, Carver finds a note with clues about his father. Thankfully, he is taken in by Mr. Hawking an infamous lead detective in New York City who is part of the well-known Pinkerton Agency. It seems that Jack the Ripper has traveled from London to New York City to continue his killing spree. Mr. Hawking makes sure that Carver solves all his own clues to move forward in his investigations. Could the treacherous Jack the Ripper actually be Carver’s father? Read Ripper to find out. I had to go back and reread parts that seemed too shocking to believe – 8th graders will love it!

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Steve Jobs The Man Who Thought Different

I just finished reading Karen Blumenthal's Steve Jobs The Man Who Thought Different - another selection from the Texas Lone Star Reading List 2013-14. I was so excited to see that this book made the list, because surprisingly many middle school students don't know anything about Steve Jobs even though their most treasured possessions were created because of Jobs. This biography is detail-oriented and sticks straight to the facts about Jobs' philosophy on life, his personal characteristics, his work history, and what people truly thought about him which wasn't always flattering. It is vital that young adults know about Steve Jobs as he was one of the most innovative people in our contemporary world. Click on the tribute video below from ABC News.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The Great Unexpected

If you have been following my blog, you know that my students and I are huge fans of Sharon Creech. Well she has done it again – The Great Unexpected begins as two alternating stories that eventually come together with twists and turns along the way. Naomi, the narrator of our story, explains that she is being raised just outside of a tiny town called Blackbird Tree by an elderly couple named Joe and Nula. She describes how she first meets the peculiar boy named Finn who has dropped straight out of a tree. Lizzie, Naomi’s talkative best friend, comes upon their meeting and asks the boy many questions. The story then continues across the ocean in Ireland where an angry woman is plotting revenge. Before long, the chance encounters with Finn stir up feelings Naomi hasn’t felt before and she becomes frustrated that Lizzie always seems to be in the mix of things. When Lizzie tells her church that she and Naomi will offer their services to help the elderly of Blackbird Tree, the readers are introduced to the eccentric people of the town. The sudden death of someone Naomi loves dearly wrenches her heart and in seeking comfort, she uncovers secrets from her and others’ pasts. The phrase, “It’s a small world”, applies to this one and I love that! Other great books by Sharon Creech include Heartbeat, Love That Dog, Hate That Cat, Walk Two Moons, The Unfinished Angel, and The Wanderer. Sharon Creech tells you about this book in the video below.

Glory Be

Glory Be, another selection from the Texas Bluebonnet Reading List 2013, is Augusta Scattergood’s debut historical fiction novel set in Hanging Moss, Mississippi during the summer of 1964 at the height of the Civil Rights Movement. I absolutely loved this book and its strong female characters – it reminded me of “The Help”, but for upper elementary through middle school readers. Glory has noticed some changes going on in her small town and it doesn’t make her happy. Her older sister, Jesslyn, doesn’t seem to have time to play junk poker with her anymore. Jesslyn makes excuses to sneak off with Eddie the new boy with ideas that are different from those in Mississippi. When her friend, Frankie, tells her the town council is going to close the public pool, because it needs repairs – Glory knows something is up. Glory, with proof-reading by her maid Emma who is a surrogate mom to her and Jesslyn, writes a letter to the town newspaper declaring she knows the real reason the public pool has shut down and how angry it makes her. This causes big problems for their father who is the local preacher. When Glory gives away a secret she has promised to keep to herself, she learns the hard way about the price of betrayal. Scattergood transports her readers to the hot, humid summer where outsiders and a few strong, brave individuals from Hanging Moss stand their ground to offer those discriminated against the equality and justice they deserve.

Sunday, January 6, 2013


S.J. Kincaid’s Insignia, a thrilling science fiction novel that takes place in a futuristic world, is also on the Texas Lone Star Reading List 2013-14. Before it made it to this list, it was getting a lot of buzz and rightly so. Countries, divided into coalitions, are in the midst of World War III – battles are now fought by gifted people who control warfare equipment fought in space, but controlled on Earth. Tom Raines is a misfit who misses a lot of school, even though his reformatory school is via a sim community on the computer, due to his gambling father’s need to hop from casino to casino seeking that one big jackpot. Tom Raines helps earn money by conning opponents to play virtual reality games for money. The government tracks those playing in VR rooms to find the most talented to work for the government. General Marsh offers Tom one of the most sought after government jobs of training for the Intrasolar Forces to help win the War. Tom’s initial response is to walk out when he sees that all trainees must have neural processors implanted into their brain to help them process information faster and speed up their physical growth process, but his need to be important overrides any doubts he has. The competition between the new recruits causes deception and the need to sabotage others. Things begin to escalate when a company who funds the top-rated combatant group begins to upload viruses into Tom’s neural processor to make him work for them. This highly technical novel will appeal to readers wanting a science fiction novel chockfull of new technology and gaming warfare. Gamers will love this one! It is the first novel in a trilogy with Vortex (book 2) coming out on July 2, 2013.

Friday, January 4, 2013

May B.

Caroline Starr Rose’s May B., a historical fiction novel in verse, is set on the Kansas prairie during the time of horse drawn wagons and pioneering days. May’s parents send May miles away to the Oblinger’s homestead to help out Mr. Oblinger’s new bride and to help her own family by bringing in some money. May is promised that she will only need to stay until Christmas. May wants so badly to attend school like her brother, Hiram. Despite reading being difficult for her, May is determined to overcome any obstacles and doubts to become educated. Mrs. Oblinger is just a little older than May herself and is extremely depressed, being isolated on the homestead is not what she had anticipated when she married. When Mr. Oblinger leaves the farm to find his wife who is determined to leave town, May finds herself stranded and alone in the harshest of wintery conditions with little food or warmth for weeks on end. When the food runs out and she becomes snowed in, she must make some tough decisions. This novel made me reflect on current stories of individuals who have lost their lives when stranded in harsh snowy conditions despite our new technological advances. Rose capture’s the isolation and unforgivable conditions of frontier life, as well as our human need to survive.


Stephen Davies' Outlaw is on the Texas Lone Star Reading List 2013-14. It is an action-packed adventure that will appeal to fans of Horowitz's Alex Rider series. Jake Knight has a gift - he can scale high walls without any help. Jake's parents and sister, Kas, live in Burkina Faso in West Africa where his father is a highly regarded British Ambassador. Jake finds himself having to return to his family when he is booted out of his British boarding school for too many infractions. The story goes back and forth between what is happening in Jake’s life and a masterful outlaw dubbed The Chameleon – the Robin Hood of the Sahara Desert. When Jake and Kas are kidnapped by ruthless henchman the story quickly picks up with twists and turns. I love the way Davies intertwines modern technology and warfare with the simple natural resources that exist for those in the harsh desert. Other young adult books by Davies include The Yellowcake Conspiracy and Hacking Timbuktu.