Monday, September 6, 2010

SISD Fifth Grade Battle of the Books

Home of the Brave by Katherine Applegate is a poignant story, written in verse, about a young man who escaped war-torn Sudan and flew alone to Minnesota to live with his aunt and cousin who also survived the war. He optimistically hopes that his mother is still alive. While he awaits news of her, he is learning about American customs and attending ESL class at school. He misunderstands about the use of washing machines and breaks his aunt's dishes in one. So he asks a lady who owns a farm if he can work for her on weekends. She has a cow that reminds him of home. I believe that this is a book about brave immigrants like Kek who come here for a new life in a place where everything is unfamiliar, but they persevere anyway and bravely make a home for themselves.





Iron Thunder by Avi is a fascinating fictional account based on the true story of the building of the ironclad ship, the Monitor, and the Civil War battle between the Monitor and the Merrimac. This story is told from the point of view of a boy named Tom Carroll, who worked as an assistant to the ship's designer and then worked on the ship when it went into battle. There really was a young man by that name who worked on the ship, but this character was imagined in order to tell the story. I enjoy historical fiction because you can read about real events from history and learn from them, but at the same time you can imagine what life was like for the people who lived during that time in ways that are usually not possible by reading history texts.




The Lemonade War by Jacqueline Davies is a fabulous story about not only how to make money selling lemonade, but also how to get along with other people. It tells the story of Evan and Jessie, a brother and sister who decide to each sell lemonade in their neighborhood and compete to see who will earn the most money in the five days before school starts. The book shows how Jessie, who is mathematically-gifted, calculates her profits, and also how Evan, who is mathematically-challenged, figures out his calculations using drawings. Throughout the story, we also see how the two kids must get over a disagreement they are having because Jessie is skipping third grade and going to be in fourth grade with her big brother, and while they are both worried about it, it is Evan who is angry about it.




Eleven by Patricia Reilly Giff is a well-written, fascinating story about an eleven year old boy who finds a newspaper clipping in the attic which leads him to question everything he has taken for granted about his life. He asks a new girl at school to come to his house to help him read the article, since he has reading difficulties, and also so that they can build a castle together for a class project. What follows is a story about friendship, family, and facing things that make you sad, angry, or scared. I found the dialogue in this story to be very different from other books. The conversations featured short phrases instead of lengthy sentences. I enjoyed the uniqueness of this book.





Wait Till Helen Comes by Mary Downing Hahn is a surprisingly good ghost story considering that it's not really scary but it's still spooky. It's about a blended family of a Michael, Molly, and their mom who married Heather's dad. Heather is younger than the other two kids and very angry about having to share her dad. The family moves together to a converted church out in the country next to a graveyard. Heather becomes fascinated with the graveyard and begins talking to a ghost-girl named Helen. Molly follows Heather frequently, even though she is fearful of the graveyard, because she wants to protect Heather. Heather lies about Molly and Michael, saying they did things to her that are untrue. All of this family drama makes for an interesting, yet sometimes frustrating, story.




Stolen Children by Peg Kehret is a realistic, exciting story about a fourteen-year-old girl who is babysitting when she discovers that the child has been kidnapped, and then the kidnappers take her too. But Amy is smart and creative. She wants to be a writer and uses clues from one of her stories to help the police figure out where she is when they watch the DVDs the kidnappers send to the little girl's family. She also takes action instead of just waiting around for the police to rescue her. She tries to escape, but they move too slowly because of the young child, and they are caught. She hides the kidnappers' gun, knowing that they aren't planning on letting her live. One reason why this story was so well-written is that the author asked a detective to read over her manuscript to help her describe the police procedures accurately.




11 Birthdays by Wendy Mass is a fun and heartwarming story about two kids, Amanda and Leo, who find themselves experiencing their eleventh birthday eleven times. These two had celebrated every birthday together since their first one, but they had a huge misunderstanding on their tenth birthday and stopped speaking to each other. After three repeat birthdays, they realize they are both having the same experience while the rest of the world is unaware. So they make up and work together to find a way to see the day after their birthday instead of celebrating their birthdays forever. If you've ever seen the movie Groundhog Day, you will understand the premise for this book.





Mudshark by Gary Paulsen is a story about a gifted twelve year old named Lyle but kn own to everyone as Mudshark because of his quick moves. He has always read a lot, and he retains everything he reads, so people come to him for the answers to their questions. And his excellent memory combined with his keen observational skills make him the one to go to when trying to find lost items. Until the librarian gets a parrot that can tell people where their stuff is too. Figuring out how he can do that is one of the mysteries Mudshark solves in this book. I liked Mudshark a lot and wish I could read more about him. This book is a quck read, but some of the vocabulary can be challenging. But it is so funny that it is worth looking up unfamiliar words in a dictionary for.




Jake Ransom and the Skull King's Shadow by James Rollins is an awesome, fast-paced Indiana Jones-type adventure. I was caught up in the characters and the story-line from the very beginning. Although the vocabulary could be somewhat challenging at times, this book is well worth reading. I would recommend it as independent reading for any on-grade level or above fifth grader. For the rest, I would encourage trying it as a read-aloud. It has some great content area tie-ins, such as to different cultural groups like the Mayans and Romans, and to science concepts like light, energy, and archeology. I can't wait to read the next book in the series, which deals with Egyptian archeology. There are still one or two mysteries from the first book that I hope the next book will clear up.




Calvin Coconut Trouble Magnet by Graham Salisbury is a very funny book about a nine-year-old boy named Calvin, whose father had their family's last name changed to Coconut before leaving them to pursue his musical career. In a light-hearted way, this book deals with bullies, school, friendship, welcoming new people, single-parent families, and Calvin's tendency to get in (and out of) trouble. I enjoyed the author's descriptions of life in Hawaii, of Calvin's troubles, and especially the native food which is so unfamiliar to newcomers to the island. I am glad there are other books about Calvin Coconut so that I can read about more of his hilarious adventures and learn more about life in Hawaii.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Texas Bluebonnet Books 2010

Home of the Brave by Katherine Applegate is a poignant story, written in verse, about a young man who escaped war-torn Sudan and flew alone to Minnesota to live with his aunt and cousin who also survived the war. He optimistically hopes that his mother is still alive. While he awaits news of her, he is learning about American customs and attending ESL class at school. He misunderstands about the use of washing machines and breaks his aunt's dishes in one. So he asks a lady who owns a farm if he can work for her on weekends. She has a cow that reminds him of home. I believe that this is a book about brave immigrants like Kek who come here for a new life in a place where everything is unfamiliar, but they persevere anyway and bravely make a home for themselves.

All Stations! Distress! by Don Brown relates in detail the true story of the day the Titanic sank. Told from first-hand accounts of that fateful voyage, the author paints a vivid picture of that night from beginning to end. As the ship sank, women were forced to leave their husbands behind, who believed they were being gentlemen to let the women and children go first. Lifeboats sailed away only partly filled. Many died in the icy water, or back on board the sinking ship. Of the 2,200 crew and passengers on board, only about 711 survived. Many who died were the poor in third-class who had been the last to escape, but many wealthy passengers died as well. The ship had been believed to be unsinkable. That belief was proved false when its first voyage became its last.

The Uglified Ducky by Willy Claflin is a Maynard Moose Tale, supposedly told to the author by the moose. In fractured English, with a translation of moose words in a Glossary at the front of the book, this delightful story parallels the story of the ugly duckling. But here it is a moose who is being raised by a family of ducks and does not fit in. This story is sweet and charming, with a positive message about discovering your true beauty and being who you were meant to be. The illustrations are endearing and vibrant, and help to convey the clumsiness of a moose trying to behave like a duck and the frustration he and his duck family feel. The book is accompanied by an audio CD, as the author is also a renowned storyteller.

Surfer of the Century by Ellie Crowe tells the true life story of swimming champion and surfing visionary Duke Kahanamoku. He was born in 1890 in Honolulu, Hawai'i, and began swimming and surfing at a young age. He won at the Olympics in 1912, 1920, 1924, and 1932. He introduced surfing to Australia and the U.S. east coast, and helped popularize surfing and swimming in California. He rescued eight people from drowning using his surfboard, which became standard rescue equipment. He was named the Surfer of the Century in 1999, 31 years after his death.

14 Cows for America by Carmen Agra Deedy tells the moving story of a gift of 14 cows to the American people in June 2002 intended to heal our hearts by giving us something dear to them. To the Maasai of Kenya, the cow is life. The idea for this particular gift following the tragedy of September 11, 2001, came from Kimeli Naiyomah, who collaborated on this book. They presented the cows to the American ambassador in Kenya, and all were moved to tears. Although these cows remain in Kenya, they have been blessed and therefore can never be slaughtered.

Umbrella Summer by Lisa Graff is a heartwarming story about a girl named Annie who becomes super-cautious and a bit of a hypochondriac after the sudden death of her older brother Jared. While she and her parents are each trying to deal with their grief in their own ways, Annie becomes obsessed with bandaids and bicycle helmets and a book about diseases. Then she meets an elderly neighbor who teaches her about the "umbrellas" we sometimes put up in order to protect ourselves from feeling pain and sadness, and Annie learns to let hers close so that she can feel the sunshine again. This book was both funny and touching, and it demonstrated not only how important it can be to let others help you deal with your grief, but also to let them be helped by you as well.


Pirates by David L. Harrison is a beautifully illustrated book of poems about pirates. It tells the real story, unromanticized, about what life was like for pirates in the early 1700s. Dan Burr painted the illustrations and they are so vivid and realistic. Some of the illustrations inspired the poems, and vice versa. The poems refer to the rules of the Brotherhood, the punishments for disobeying the rules, the hardships they endured, and the riches they plundered. Real pirate life was not how it is depicted in movies. Pirates did not live long, nor were they generally successful.

That Book Woman by Heather Henson is a wonderful story about a Pack Horse Librarian who rode up an Appalachian mountain every two weeks to trade books with a girl who loved to read. One harsh winter, her brother Cal, the story's narrator, decided he wanted to know what was in these books that made that book woman brave enough to ride through the snow to bring them. The story is based on true accounts of these special librarians, who were paid very little but were proud of what they did, bringing books to people who needed a glimpse of the outside world.

Down Down Down by Steve Jenkins is a fascinating book about life in the sea, from the surface to the bottom. Using clearly labeled cut and torn paper collage illustrations, the author describes for us what we are seeing as if we are all traveling to the bottom of the sea together. A guide on the right-hand side of the page shows us in feet and meters how deep we are. We move from the surface, to the sunlit zone, to the twilight zone, to the dark zone, to the abyssal plain, to the hydrothermal vents, and finally to the Marianas Trench. Even more information is provided at the end about each of the creatures in the book.


Dying to Meet You by Kate Klise is a very funny book. The story is told through a series of letters written by different characters in the book to each other. The main character, Ignatius Grumply, is a grumpy writer who moves into an old mansion to try to finish his latest book. He soon discovers that the owners left their son, Seymour, living there in his care. He also realizes that the house is haunted by the ghost of its first owner, Olive. Olive, Seymour, and Ignatius write letters to each other in the house, but there are other letter-writers throughout the book as well. This book is filled with interesting things to discover, from the endpapers to the illustrations, but the names of all the characters in this book were my favorite treasures of all.


11 Birthdays by Wendy Mass is a fun and heartwarming story about two kids, Amanda and Leo, who find themselves experiencing their eleventh birthday eleven times. These two had celebrated every birthday together since their first one, but they had a huge misunderstanding on their tenth birthday and stopped speaking to each other. After three repeat birthdays, they realize they are both having the same experience while the rest of the world is unaware. So they make up and work together to find a way to see the day after their birthday instead of celebrating their birthdays forever. If you've ever seen the movie Groundhog Day, you will understand the premise for this book.


The Hinky Pink by Megan McDonald is a retelling of an old story. In this version, a talented seamstress named Anabel dreams of someday sewing a fine gown for a princess. One day, her dream comes true, and she is whisked away to the top room of the castle to create a beautiful ball gown in a week. Difficulty arises when she tries to sleep at night only to be pinched and have her covers pulled off the bed. She cannot sew straight without a good night's sleep, so when she discovers that the thing that is keeping her awake is called a Hinky Pink and that it needs its own bed, she tries to make just the right one so that she can get some sleep and finish the gown.

Squirrel's World by Lisa Moser is a cute story for young readers containing four chapters about a hyperactive, helpful squirrel. In the first chapter, he tries over-zealously to help Mouse gather food. In the second chapter, he wants to play a game with Turtle, who keeps falling asleep. In the third chapter, he tries to help Rabbit reach a lily pad without getting him wet. And in the fourth chapter, he says good night to all his friends, sometimes waking them up in order to do so. The text is repetitive, the font is large with lots of white space, and the illustrations are clear, bright, and expressive. Although this book is on a third through sixth grade list, I believe that first and second graders would especially enjoy reading this book too.


Tap Dancing on the Roof by Linda Sue Park is a collection of poems written by the author based on the Korean style of poetry known as sijo. These poems usually have three or six lines and each line contains a certain number of syllables. It is similar to the Japanese haiku, but a sijo always has an unexpected twist at the end. I enjoyed these very much. I believe that elementary students would enjoy hearing and reading them as well, and that higher level students would even enjoy writing these types of poems.


Mudshark by Gary Paulsen is a story about a gifted twelve year old named Lyle but known to everyone as Mudshark because of his quick moves. He has always read a lot, and he retains everything he reads, so people come to him for the answers to their questions. And his excellent memory combined with his keen observational skills make him the one to go to when trying to find lost items. Until the librarian gets a parrot that can tell people where their stuff is too. Figuring out how he can do that is one of the mysteries Mudshark solves in this book. I liked Mudshark a lot and wish I could read more about him. This book is a quick read, but some of the vocabulary can be challenging. But it is so funny that it is worth looking up a few unfamiliar words in a dictionary for.

Sparrow Girl by Sara Pennypacker is a story based on events that occurred in China known as the Sparrow War. Their leader decided that the sparrows were eating too much of the grain, and ordered all the people to go out into the fields and forests and make as much noise as possible in order to scare the birds away or frighten them to death. It worked, but a little girl in the story named Ming-Li managed to gather some of the birds that fell to the ground and keep them from dying. The ending of the story was much happier than the real ending in 1958.

Jake Ransom and the Skull King's Shadow by James Rollins is an awesome, fast-paced Indiana Jones-type adventure. I was caught up in the characters and the story-line from the very beginning. Although the vocabulary could be somewhat challenging at times, this book is well worth reading. I would recommend it as independent reading for any on-grade level or above fifth grader. For the rest, I would encourage trying it as a read-aloud. It has some great content area tie-ins, such as to different cultural groups like the Mayans and Romans, and to science concepts like light, energy, and archeology. I can't wait to read the next book in the series, which deals with Egyptian archeology. There are still one or two mysteries from the first book that I hope the next book will clear up.

The Cabinet of Wonders by Marie Rutkoski is a fascinating, magical tale of the lengths a girl goes to in order to help her father. Petra is twelve years old when her father returns from Prague without his eyes. They were removed by the prince's surgeon after her father created a beautiful one-of-a-kind clock for him. Petra decided to go to the palace in Prague and get them back. She did not, of course, tell her father where she was going or what she planned to do. What happens next is a story filled with adventure, political intrigue, magic, bravery, and friendship. I enjoyed the author's historical twists, her stories about gypsies (Roma), and the magical inventions and abilities described in the book. I am definitely looking forward to reading the next book in this series.

Calvin Coconut Trouble Magnet by Graham Salisbury is a very funny book about a nine-year-old boy named Calvin, whose father had their family's last name changed to Coconut before leaving them to pursue his musical career. In a light-hearted way, this book deals with bullies, school, friendship, welcoming new people, single-parent families, and Calvin's tendency to get in (and out of) trouble. I enjoyed the author's descriptions of life in Hawaii, of Calvin's troubles, and especially the native food which is so unfamiliar to newcomers to the island. I am glad there are other books about Calvin Coconut so that I can read about more of his hilarious adventures and learn more about life in Hawaii.


The Fantastic Undersea Life of Jacques Cousteau by Dan Yaccarino is a fascinating biography told in simple, easy-to-understand text. Each page features a quote from the famous explorer, and tells the highlights of his career in brief text over almost childlike illustrations. Through his movies, TV shows, and books, he opened up the undersea world to all of us so that we might appreciate it like he did and take care of it for future generations. He wanted to share the beauty of the sea and its inhabitants with people who would otherwise never have known such beauty existed. He was fascinated by doing things that seemed impossible, such as creating a device that enabled him to breathe underwater. I think he would have lived underwater if he could have.

(Blog entry completed August 22, 2010.)