Book-A-Day Challenge Week 7

The Book-A-Day Challenge hosted by Donalyn Miller (The Book Whisper) has been one of my favorite challenges.  Not only did it really help me focus on my reading goal for this summer, but using the #bookaday hashtag on twitter introduced me to some great teachers and school librarians and added a whole community feel to the challenge.  I just want to give a shout out to some of my favorite  Book-A-Day folks: Kathy (@thebrainlair), John (@mrschu81), Jamie (@fiteach), David (@tkslibrarian), Elisha (@elishakarr), Denise (@ddigiova), Paul (@paulwhankins), and Donalyn (@donalynbooks).  If you are on twitter, go follow them.

Now onto my update, I will preface this and say it was a big picture book week.  A bookseller friend of mine gave me free reign to go through her galleys for new releases coming out in late fall/early winter. The only thing that kept me from reading more is that I actually had to get to a meeting and ran out of time.

You will also notice a lot of books by Melanie Watt included below.  When I had admitted that I hadn’t read her stuff before, my friend pulled everything off her shelves for me to read.  Just for references purposes, I have indicated below the release dates for the ones not yet out.

Picture Books

The Monster Princess by D.J. MacHale, Illustrated by Alexandra Boiger – This is a debut picture book by MacHale.  Written in typical fairy tale style, MacHale tells the story of a little monster who really wants to be a beautiful princess.

Will It Be A Baby Brother? by Eve Bunting, Illustrated by Beth Spiegel – A mom and her preschooler discuss the pending birth of the new baby in the family.  This big brother wants a “James” (brother).  Mother assures him that whatever he gets will be just right.

Grandma’s Gloves by Cecil Castellucci, Illustrated by Julia Denos – A debut picture book by YA author Castellucci and a very wonderful one at that.  Get out your box of tissues.  There will be tears.  Castellucci does a beautiful job with telling one child’s story of losing her grandmother and how she deals with her grief.

Scaredy Squirrel by Melanie Watt – Scaredy Squirrel is afraid of just about everything.  One day things don’t go exactly as planned and Scaredy learns something new about himself and takes a risk.  Funny and wonderful.

Scaredy Squirrel At Night by Melanie Watt – In a similar vein as the first book in this series, Scaredy is afraid of his dreams.  What will happen to him if he falls asleep?  As with the first one, Scaredy learns a lesson and conquers a fear.

Scaredy Squirrel At The Beach by Melanie Watt  – This may have been my favorite out of the three.  Scaredy tries creating the beach at home but he is missing something that he can only get by going to the actual beach.  Once there, things don’t go as planned but then readers have learned that this is the best thing for Scaredy.

Chester by Melanie Watt – I love Scaredy Squirrel but I might even love Chester more.  Chester is a very fat, orange tabby who is snarky and difficult and loves to challenge Watt.  Chester, along with his red pen, is very funny but Watt usually has a surprise and Chester gets his comeuppance at the end.

Chester’s Masterpiece by Melanie Watt – As if Chester couldn’t get any funnier, this time he has hidden Watt’s writing and drawing materials and is writing his own story.  But never fear, Watt has the last laugh or does she?

Have I Got A Book For You! by Melanie Watt – Though this book really is having a little fun with our “hard-sell” advertising world, I couldn’t help thinking about all the teachers and librarians out there who spend hours trying to find just the right book for the right kid.

You’re Finally Here! by Melanie Watt  Release Date: March 1, 2011 – Bunny (a new character) is so excited that the person he has been waiting for is finally here.  To make his point, he goes through all the agonizing moments leading up to the arrival.  But there is a twist.  Read it to find out.  As with her other books, readers will delight in her humor.

Cuddle Up, Goodnight! by Katie Cleminson Release Date: February 1, 2011 – A toddler picture book for bedtime.

Pirate vs. Pirate by Mary Quattlebaum, Illustrated by Alexandra Boiger  Release Date:  March 22, 2011 – This one I want.  Two pirates compete to see who is better.  A fun book, great illustrations, and a nice lesson about what really make someone better. Boiger also  illustrated MacHale’s The Monster Princess – equally well done but also very different.

What’s Special About Me, Mama? by Kristina Evans, Illustrated by Javaka Steptoe Release Date: January 18, 2011 – Another one that I would like to have.  A nice addition to the category of books for preschoolers about “what is special about me?”

Before You Came by Patricia MacLachlan, Illustrations by David Diaz  Release Date:  February 8, 2011 – Fans of David Diaz will recognize the artwork in this book.  Unfortunately, there are many books for preschoolers that deal with the theme of waiting for a baby’s arrival and this one does not really add anything new.

Baby Says Moo! by Joann Early Macken, Illustrated by David Walker Release Date: March 1, 2011 – This one was a nice twist on the typical toddler/preschool animal sounds.  A young toddler learning to talk refers to all animal sounds as “moo” much to the parent’s frustration.

Ten Little Puppies/Diez Perritos by Alma Flor Ada, F. Isabel Campoy, Illustrated by Ulises Wensell  Release Date: March 1, 2011  – On each two page spread is a poem first in Spanish and then in English. This is a nice twist on the traditional “Five little ducks” where each verse subtracts one. Illustrations are lovely. A nice addition to a bilingual Spanish classroom.

A Lot of Beans by Barry Varela, Illustrated by Sebastia Serra Release Date: March 1, 2011  – I really loved this one.  Aside from the multi-cultural aspect of the story (representing the Latino culture), the theme is very well presented.  The main character places a white bean in a jar if it is a good day, and a black bean if it is a bad day. After a series of really bad days, the boy decides to count all of the beans to see if his life is mostly good or bad. Don’t want to give away the ending. But wonderful resolution and ending.

Mama and Me by Arthur Dorros, Illustrated by Rudy Gutierrez Release Date: March 1, 2011 – There was something about the illustrations in this book that made it stand out.  The story about the little girl and her mother – though not especially unique – is well constructed and offers a twist on others in this category. One that I will definitely find once it is published to see if I still feel the same way.

Non-fiction Picture Books

Miss Dorothy’s Book Mobile by Gloria M. Houston, Illustrated by Susan Condie Lamb  U.S. Release Date: January 25, 2011 –   This is a biographical picture book about  Dorothy Thomas who drove books to people all over the Appalachian during the 1940’s.

The Great Migration by Eloise Greenfield, Illustrated by Jan Gilchrist  Release Date: December 21, 2010 – Some picture books do an amazing job of mixing text and illustrations to tell a story. I loved the combination in this book. The Great Migration tells of one African American family’s migration from the south to the north. One that I will definitely look for upon it’s release.

Early Chapter Books

Judy Moody by Megan McDonald, Illustrator Peter H. Reynolds – I’m not sure how I have avoided reading Judy Moody but I thought it was time to catch up.  Judy is not in a good mood.  It is the first day of school and things don’t look like they are going to get any better any time soon.  Teachers will recognize the characters in the book.  The Judy Moody series is a great one for 2nd and 3rd graders and for fans of Ramona.

Clementine by Sara Pennypacker, illustrated by Marla Frazee – I am behind in my 2nd & 3rd grade chapter books.  Probably because many of them annoy me.  However, I loved Clementine.  I think I might love Clementine as much as or maybe even more than Ramona.

Felix Takes the Stage (The Deadlies) by Kathryn Lasky – I think all I know about brown recluse spiders I learned from reading this book.  A family of brown recluses live in a music hall.  Felix wants to conduct an orchestra but gets a little too close to the conductor in an after hours practice and the conductor gets a surprise.  What’s a spider family to do when they are forced out of their home by exterminators?  A fun early chapter book which includes a reference about spiders at the end.

Two more Book-A-Day Postings for the summer and then I will be switching over to Book-A-Week during the school year.  So how’s your summer reading going?

– Aly

Book-A-Day Challenge Weeks 6 & 7 Update

It is already August and I know in some places people will be returning to school soon.  My school; however, did not get out until June 23rd so I still have about another month to reach my Book-A-Day goal of 80 books.  if you don’t know about the Book-A-Day Challenge you can check out Donalyn Miller’s (The Book Whisperer)  blog post about the Book-A-Day Challenge . Several educators and librarians have been sharing our reading on Twitter, GoodReads, and through our individual blogs.  Currently, I have read 54 books towards my total goal of 80.

During week 6, my sister came out to California to visit me.  With all the running around, I was left with little time for reading.  Hence a combined two week post.

Book-A-Day Weeks 6 & 7 reads:

Picture Books:

Big Wolf & Little Wolf by Nadine Brun-Cosme, Illustrated by Olivier Tallec and translated by Claudia Bedrick – This is a beautiful story of friendship between a big wolf who is use to being on his own and worrying about no one and a smaller wolf who manages to make a big impression.  Children will enjoy this tale.   Bedrick’s translation work earned the book a Batchelder’s Honor Award.

Fancy Nancy: Hooray For Beauty Day! by Jane O’Connor, Illustrated by Robin Preiss Glasser – Fancy Nancy books are always fun.  I enjoy the way it introduces children to a variety of vocabulary.  My only minor concern with this book is that the pages seemed very “full” almost distracting.  In addition to the wonderful illustrations and regular text, there were “tips” for how to perform certain things (i.e., applying nail polish, or doing a facial).

Animal House by Candace Ryan, Illustrated by Nathan Hale  – This is a fun story about a boy who lives in a Gorvilla and where everything is not what you would expect.  The classroom teacher thinks Jeremy just has an overactive imagination until she does a homevisit. This will make you laugh out loud.  Click here to read my review.

The Exceptionally, Extraordinarily, Ordinary First Day of School by Albert Lorenz  – This book was different.  There appears to be an attempt to deal with a child’s fears with the first day in a new school but instead it turns out to be an overly busy book.  Every page is filled with elaborately detailed illustrations, speech bubbles, text, and vocabulary definitions.  Click here to read my review.

Graphic Novels, Middle Grades

Over My Dead Body (43 Old Cemetery Road) by Kate Klise, Illustrated by M. Sarah Klise – This is the second book in the 43 Old Cemetery Road series by the Klise sisters.  I need to start a writing petition for more books.  Nine & ten year olds will love the story of a boy, a ghost, and a grumpy old writer who all share a home.  Click here to read my review.

Copper by Kazu Kibuishi  – Readers are introduced to Copper & his dog Fred in Kibuishi’s Flight Explorer Series.  In this book, it is all about Copper and Fred.  The book is composed of a series of short stories (similar to a weekly comic strip series).  Copper & Fred are a bit of an odd pairing but compliment each other nicely.  I have become a huge Kibuishi fan this summer.

Middle Grades:

Tortilla Sun by Jennifer Cervantes – I can’t say enough wonderful things about this book.  A beautiful debut novel that features a young Latina girl who learns to deal with loss and grief through family, stories, friendship, and love.  Grab a tissue when reading. This Click here to read my review.

Young Adult

Sprout by Dale Peck – Sprout Bradford moves from NY to Kansas.  This is a story about loss and discovering one’s self.  The book deals with the theme of homosexuality and does include sexual content which may make some parents uncomfortable.  Though there were some things that I really appreciated about this book, I was disappointed that many of the characters seemed flat and not well developed.

White Cat by Holly Black – Think of this book as a bit of the Sopranos, a bit of Leverage all done with an element of the magical.  Cassel comes from a family of Curse Workers (people who with a touch can either make you forget something, or change your feelings, or even kill you).  But more than that Cassel’s family are really a bunch of Grifters and Cons.  Book one of this trilogy sets the stage and explores the world of Curse Workers.  Cassel must come to learn his own role in his family.  I loved this book and want book 2 now not in 9 more months.

The Red Umbrella by Christina Diaz Gonzalez – There is a little piece of Cuban and American history that is not well known.  In 1960 to 1962, families in Cuba sent 14,000 children under Operation Pedro Pan to the United States to avoid Castro’s Revolution.  Gonzalez combines her family’s history with the history of others to create a beautiful story which give voice to the experience that many older Cuban Americans lived through.  This book is not just for teens.  A wonderful read.

Graceling by Kristen Cashore  – High fantasy done well.  I have had this on my TBR list since forever and finally got to it.  It certainly reminded me of why I love fantasy.  Strong female protagonist, a well-matched ally in the form of a swoon-worthy male paired with action, adversity, and challenge.

Maybe not 14 books in the past two weeks but there were some really long YA novels.  🙂  Hope everyone is having a wonderful summer.  Would love to hear what fun books people are reading.

-Aly

Debut Author Signing

Way back in December, I signed up for the Story Siren’s 2010 Debut Author Challenge.  As I was searching for books to read for the challenge, I discovered Sea by Heidi R. Kling, The Red Umbrella by Christina Diaz Gonzalez, and eventually Tortilla Sun by Jennifer Cervantes.  I loved all three of these books.  You can find my review of Sea here, and I will be posting reviews for The Red Umbrella and Tortilla Sun later this week.  Just a warning, keep tissues by you when you read them.  Each book deals with the themes of loss, grief, and hope in their own powerful manner, but don’t be surprised when you find yourself tearing up.

After waiting for the books to finally be released, and chatting with the authors via Twitter and Facebook, I found out that not only would they be doing a book event in Southern California but that I would have an opportunity to help out.    Thanks to MyGirlSnark (Amber) and Frootjoos (Alethea), I was granted “green room” privileges.  Just a fancy way of saying I had a chance to hang with our wonderful authors before the event.  Here is Heidi signing a copy of Sea before hand (Christina is in the background signing books).

Jennifer Cervantes’ daughters challenged Christina to try some of the hot salsa.  Here she is deciding whether or not her mouth was on fire.

At the signing, Jennifer, Heidi, and Christina shared the mic.  They talked about their books, read snippets, answered questions and brought goodies to raffle off. (Oops!  Forgot to take pictures of the raffle prizes.)

One lucky family won three of the prizes.  Since I was helping with the Q & A, and the raffle drawing, I didn’t get pictures.  Next time, I need to make a list of the kind of things I need for pictures and assign someone the task (but thank you Frootjoos for trying to run around and snap some pictures).  I will say the prizes were very cool.  There was a Sea tank top, a red umbrella (read the book to discover the significance), a mug, and a beautiful Mexican bowl, and a couple of special necklaces.

After all of the books were signed, we did manage to group a group shot of the authors, Borders Staff members, and volunteer staff.

I thoroughly enjoyed myself and was very thankful for being allowed the opportunity to participate in the behind the scenes activities.

This is my last known author event for the summer but I am seriously looking forward to the Smart Chicks Kick It Tour in September.

-Aly

P.S. If anyone is looking for a signed copy of any of these books, give Borders/Glendale a call.

Book-a-Day Challenge Week 5 Update

It is amazing that I am already doing a week 5 update.  It is also scary at how fast my summer is flying by.  The Book-A-Day Challenge is being hosted by Donalyn Miller, teacher extraordinaire and a write to boot.  I have been linking to her original challenge but she recently posted an her own update which included a list to the blogs of others participating in the challenge.  You can find it here.  It has been fun seeing what everyone is reading for Book-A-Day.  Lots of wonderful books.

I have to confess that this was not one of my best reading weeks.  It was a busy week with lots of commitments that left little time for reading.  Since I knew it was going to be a slow reading week, I stocked up on graphic novels, manga, and picture books.

Book-A-Day Week 5 Reads:

Picture Books

It’s A Book by Lane Smith (Advanced Readers Copy) This picture book will be out in the fall.  It is hysterical!  One character is very technology savvy.  The other is partial to traditional books.  The dialogue between the two is hilarious.  Check out Amazon’s page for the trailer.  Note: Some parents may not appreciate the use of “jacka**” in the book.  You will have to read it and determine its appropriateness for your class.

Mirror, Mirror! A Book of Reversible Verse by Marilyn Singer This is a beautiful and amazing book.  Filled with two page spreads that incorporate stunning illustrations and reversible text that provides two sides for every featured fairy tale.  For my review, click here

Alfred Zector, Book Collector by Kelly DiPucchio Alfred as a young boy sets out to collect every book in the town and then to read every book.  In the end, he learns a lesson that reading books is good but sharing them is even better.

Non-fiction Picture Books

Hot Diggity Dog: The History of the Hot Dog by Adrienne Sylver  I love finding creative non-fiction picture books to use with upper grade elementary students.  This one covers the history of the hot dog.  For my review, click here.

Graphic Novels:

Flight Explore, Vol. 1 by Kazu Kibuishi This is Kibuishi’s Middle Grade version of his Flight series.  I enjoyed the collection of stories included in this volume and hope that more will be coming.  For my review, click here.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Long Way Home (Season 8 Vol. 1) by Joss Whedon This is Whedon’s first attempt at writing a graphic novel and also a chance to continue the Buffy Series after it went off the air.  It benefits the reader if you are familiar with the series.  Though it is a little “clunky”, I did enjoy it and have been promised by friends that subsequent volumes improve. (Note: This would be considered YA and up).

Manga

Death Note Vol. 1 Boredom by Tsugumi Obba A bright but bored teen discovers a Death Notebook left intentionally by a death god.  Light (main character) attempts to create an utopia using the notebook.  The dialogue between Light and Ryuk (death god) is probably the best part of the book.  Not sure Manga is really my thing but this was interesting.

YA

Restoring Harmony by Joelle Anthony This has been on my TBR list since before it was released and is part of my list of books for the 2010 Debut Author Challenge.  Considered a dystopian novel (and it does have many elements of a dystopian novel) it is very different from something like The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.  For my review, click here.

All in all, still a pretty good reading week.  What have you been reading this summer?  Share your thoughts in the comment section.

Book Review: Restoring Harmony

Author: Joelle Anthony

Publisher: Putnam Juvenile (May 8, 2010)

Reading Level: YA (6th grade up)

Source: ARC for review

Rating: 5 Stars

Description from GoodReads:

The year is 2041, and sixteen-year-old Molly McClure has lived a relatively quiet life on an isolated farming island in Canada, but when her family fears the worst may have happened to her grandparents in the US, Molly must brave the dangerous, chaotic world left after global economic collapse—one of massive oil shortages, rampant crime, and abandoned cities.

Molly is relieved to find her grandparents alive in their Portland suburb, but they’re financially ruined and practically starving. What should’ve been a quick trip turns into a full-fledged rescue mission. And when Molly witnesses something the local crime bosses wishes she hadn’t, Molly’s only way home may be to beat them at their own game. Luckily, there’s a handsome stranger who’s willing to help.

Restoring Harmony is a riveting, fast-paced dystopian tale complete with adventure and romance that readers will devour.

When I received the Advanced Reader’s Copy (ARC) of Restoring Harmony, I was bogged down with books to read for book club or prior books for review.  In addition, work/life was just really busy.  Some books I have a gut sense that I am going to enjoy and I don’t want to rush through them. I had that feeling about Restoring Harmony and I found myself carrying it around but not reading it because the time wasn’t right.  Finally, I had just the right time and I devoured the book in one sitting.

Let me just start with what I liked about the book…

I have discovered that I love books with short chapters.  This may be a silly thing but it makes the book feel like a super fast read even if it takes me exactly the same time to read as any other book with the same number of pages. Additionally, it means that the book will go on my list to recommend to reluctant readers.

Another reason that this will go on my list for reluctant readers is that Anthony grabs you from the beginning and keeps you hooked in until the end.  I really don’t feel that as the reader I should wade through 75 or 100 pages before the book “gets good”.  My reluctant readers won’t even hang in there for that many pages before giving up on the book.

My third reason for loving this book – I loved the characters.  Molly is a wonderful protagonist.  She is bright, tenacious, resourceful, and just plain likable.  She is sent out on a journey to contact her grandparents and convince them to return to Canada with her.  Molly embraces her mission and despite obstacles and set-backs plunges forward without giving up and without annoying the reader.  Molly isn’t the only character I loved.  There is Spill.  You really need to read the book – you will fall in love with Spill too.  He is swoon-worthy in a very good way.  I am adding him to my list of fictional crushes.

My fourth reason for loving this book – I truly appreciate books that have a sense of community in them and adults who are not all jerks.  I realize YA is written from the perspective of teens, but not all teens hate all adults.

Just a few more things…I can share Restoring Harmony with readers from sixth grade on up.  I appreciated the timeless feel to the book, and the dialogue did not annoy me.  Have you ever read a book where the voice of the characters just irritated you?  I have and it really is a turn off – not so with this book.

Finally, the writing of the book was wonderful.  Anthony does an incredible job in describing her world, the struggles of the society, the challenges facing the characters, the emotions behind the words.  There is intensity and darkness balanced with hope.

Joelle Anthony’s debut novel, Restoring Harmony, is a wonderful offering and one that I hope really gets the attention that it deserves.  I look forward to future books by this author.

Check out Joelle’s blog for more information about Restoring Harmony and to listen to some related music or check out the wonderfully done book trailer.

Book-A-Day Challenge Week 4 Update

Can’t believe that I just finished the fourth week of the Book-A-Day Challenge hosted by Donalyn Miller (The Book Whisperer).  I did get in 8 books this week including a Manga book which was a new genre for me.  I was aiming for a few more books but I had a couple of days where I was doing some vacation/touristy things with my sister and didn’t get in any reading.

Book-A-Day Week 4 Reads:

Picture Books:

Every Cowgirl Needs a Horse by Rebecca Janni  Nellie Sue wants a horse.  She will do just about anything to show her parents that she can be responsible for a horse.  On her birthday, Nellie Sue gets a surprise gift from her parents.  A fun story, with great language, imagination, and illustrations.

Birdie’s Big Girl Shoes by Sujean Rim  The illustrations really won me over on this one.  This is a book for every girl who has either wanted to play dress up with her mother’s heels or who has played dress up or who has tried to do anything in heels will get a kick out of this book.  Birdie learns that heels aren’t all they seem.

Graphic Novels:

Amulet Book 2: The StoneKeeper’s Curse by Kazu Kibuishi  Though the first book in this series had some rough spots technically (awkward transitions, and areas that were unclear), I was interested in seeing if book 2 was better developed.  I am glad to say it is.  Emily (The StoneKeeper) and her brother Navin continue on their journey to learn how to control the amulet (and not let it control them), to fight the Elf King, and to save their mother.  Note: This is a Middle Grade level graphic novel.

Manga:

Black Bird, Vol. 1 – Kanoko Sakurakoji  – This was my first time reading Manga and it required that I get use to the back to front, right to left format.  Misao is a 16 year old girl who can see spirits.  These are demon spirits who she discovers wants to eat her (guess her blood is powerful but also smells good).  She is courted by Kyo (a tengu demon and head of his clan) and another demon (also head of his clan).  Classic love triangle and feels like a Japanese twist on the Twilight story.  Interesting.  I will probably give volume 2 a shot but not sure if I want to read every one in the series at this point.  Note: This is definitely a YA Manga series.

Middle Grade:

Out of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper Melody is an 11 year old girl with severe Cerebral Palsy.  She is unable to speak or to let anyone know what she is thinking.  And Melody has a lot of thoughts.  This is a remarkable story about perceptions and attitudes towards children and people with disabilities.  Every teacher should read it.  I think it ill be a contender for an ALA/Schneider Family Award in 2011 (MG book with a character with a disability).

A Place For Delta by Melissa Walker  Joseph spends the summer in Alaska with his Aunt Kate helping to care for a polar bear cub and trying to find out who killed Delta’s (polar bear) mother.  An interesting story of friendship, mystery, and the care of the environment.  Read my review here.

YA:

Spirits that Walk In Shadows by Nina Kiriki Hoffman  Jaimie has grown up in a family using magic.  Kim is from a world without magic.  Jaimie and Kim end up as roommates in college.  Turns out that  Kim’s struggle with depression may not be purely psychological.  An interesting twist on the typical world of magic, and paranormal beings.

Top Secret Manuscript – I also read an author friend’s second book in her paranormal romance series.  The book will be out next year and it will be great.  But I can’t say anything more than that.

Adult:

First Rule by Robert Crais  Joe Pike is back and this time it is personal.  A former member of his team has been killed along with his family.  Was he killed because he was “dirty” or did the killer have the wrong home?  I love Robert Crais books and this one was no exception.

In progress:

A Framework for Understanding Poverty by Ruby Payne Several teachers on my staff and I are reading a couple of chapters of this each week and discussing it.  Very powerful and practical.

So how are you doing on your summer reading challenge?  Read any good books lately?  Post a comment about what you are reading.

-Aly

2010 Debut Author Challenge Update

Several months ago, I signed up for the 2010 Debut Author Challenge being hosted by the wonderful Story Siren (Krisit).  I have been terrible at posting my reviews on her site.  So in some ways you would think I had done nothing towards this challenge.  But I have and I am going to write one large update right here.  For more information about the Debut Author Challenge click here.

January

Scones and Sensibility by Lindsay Eland  – Twelve year old Polly is a hopeless romantic who loves Pride & Prejudice and Anne of Green Gables.  As she travels about town delivering, scones and other baked goods from her parents’ bakery, she schemes about ways to play matchmaker for friends and family.  Hilarity ensues and some lessons are learned.  Read my review here.

February

The Reinvention of Edison Thomas by Jacqueline Houtman – Edison “Eddy” Thomas is a middle school student, who loves to tinker with inventions but struggles to understand innuendos of those around him. After coming in 3rd in a school science fair, Eddy begins to tinker with another invention which leads him to some interesting lessons, new friends, and a lesson in understanding bullying.  Read my review here.

March

Under My Skin by Judith Graves – I love stories that are filled with paranormal beasties, great characters (especially kick-butt heroines), resident hotties, and humor! This one has it all.  It has probably been one of my most fun debut reads.  Fans of Urban Fantasy/Paranormal Romance will love this.  Read my review here.

April

The Witchy Worries of Abbie Adams by Rhonda Hayter – This middle grade debut is filled with magic, humor, history lessons, and some great fun.  Middle grade girls will especially love Abbie and her magical ways.  Read my review here.

13 to Life by Shannon Delany – Between Judith Graves and Shannon Delany, I am becoming more and more a werewolf fan.  I really enjoyed this book.  I read it in one sitting.  Love the characters, the mythology, and the overall story.  Read my review here.

May

Sea by Heidi R Kling – Fifteen year old Sienna (Sea) lost her mother in an airplane accident over the ocean.  Three years later her father decides to take her to assist with orphan victims of the tsunami.  Her journey provides her with experiences that lead her to grow emotionally and personally. Read my review here.

Cinderella Society by Kay Cassidy – How many teen girls wish that they were cool, popular, and dating a hunk?  Fifteen year old, Jess learns that it isn’t all about appearances but that it really is an issue of girl empowerment and good battling evil.  Read my review here.

June

Shadow Hills by Anastasia Hopcus  – So often in Urban Fantasy/Paranormal Romances, a human girl falls in love with a supernatural boy or vice a versa.  Hopcus has main characters that are equally matched with secrets of their own.  Great characters, well developed story, and I am already pining for book two. Read my review here.

July

The Shadows (The Books of Elsewhere #1) by Jacqueline West – A haunted house, a curious 11 year old girl, talking cats, enchanted glasses, and a mystery.  This was a great read.  What a wonderful Middle Grade debut novel.  One of my favorite reads this year.  Read my review here.

The guidelines of the challenge encourage participants to read at least 12 debut novels.  I am 3/4 of the way to the minimum goal.   However, I am determined to read closer to 25 books by debut authors.  Guess I should get reading if I am going to meet that goal…

-Aly

Book-A-Day Challenge Week 3 Update

Wow!  I am into my third week with the Book-A-Day Challenge hosted by Donalyn Miller (The Book Whisperer).  I have been this kind of crazy obsessive person with the challenge.  I am determined to get at least 7 books (including picture books) read during the week.

Book-A-Day Week 3 Reads:

Picture Books:

Pete and Pickles by Berkeley Breathed This is an odd (in a good way) story about a friendship between a pig (Pete) and an elephant (Pickles). Pete is a bit uptight.  Pickles is a free-spirit.  The ultimate odd couple.   The illustrations seem to come alive and the story is touching.

I Need My Monster by Amanda Noll I loved this twist on “the monster under the bed” concept.  The little boy in the story is unable to sleep without his monster under the bed.  Gabe, his monster, has gone on a vacation.  Substitute monsters are sent but none are just right.  What’s a boy to do without his monster to keep him in bed at night?!  Great illustrations.  Great text.  Read my review here.

LadyBug Girl by Jacky Davis  A little girl and her alter-ego Ladybug Girl go out for the day on her own adventures when her brother tells her she is too small to play ball with him and his friends.  I know a lot of little girls who would just adore this book.

LadbyBug Girl At the Beach by Jacky Davis This is a companion novel to Ladybug Girl.  In this installment, our ladybug girl is afraid to admit that she just might be afraid of the water at the beach.  After a day of trying every which way to avoid going into the water, ladybug girl must come to the rescue when her favorite purple pail starts to float away.  Read my review here.

City Dog, Country Frog by MoWillems, John Muth (re-read) I had originally read this prior to it’s release so it was fun to actually hold a finished copy in my hand.  Mo Willems is a master at writing wonderful stories with simple language.  Muth’s illustrations enhance the story wonderfully.  The concept of the story is a tale of friendship between a dog and a frog.  Willems tells of how the dog and frog play during spring, summer, and fall.  After winter, dog goes to find his friend who is missing (do I dare say…no, I won’t).  What will dog do in frog’s absence?  The story has an answer to that question.

Graphic Novels:

Amulet Book 1: The StoneKeeper by Kazu Kibuishi  I am not a huge graphic novels fan.  I think I get distracted by the pictures. 🙂  However, this one will certainly appeal to 9 and 10 year olds.  A girl discovers a special amulet which is activated after her mother is captured by a creature from an alternate universe.  The girl and her younger brother go in search of their mother and discover the history behind the amulet and the legacy that is bestowed on them.  Read my review here.

Middle Grade:

The Shadows (The Books of Elsewhere) by Jacqueline West I will be posting a review of this book soon so I won’t say much other than – this is a definite read.  I will edit the post when I have written the review.  Read my review here.

The Kneebone Boy (Advanced Readers Copy) by Ellen Potter  I will be reviewing this book in August closer to the actual release date for the book.  However, I will say that Ellen Potter has outdone herself.  Fans of Lemony Snickets and Pseudonymous Bosch are certain to love this book.

Shooting the Moon by Frances O’Roark Dowell In this novel of coming of age during the Vietnam War, Jamie learns through the rolls of film her brother sends to her to develop that war may not be all that she believed it to be and even her father who is a Colonel in the Army may be helpless to prevent somethings from happening.

YA:

Beautiful Darkness (Advanced Readers Copy) by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl I will be doing a review closer to release date on this book, but I will say that fans of Garcia and Stohl’s first book, Beautiful Creatures, will love this sequel.

Reality Check by Peter Abrahams This Edgar Winnner for Best YA is a fast, compelling read.  Abrahams leaves you wondering for most of the book who can you trust.  After a slightly slow start, I was unable to put this one down until I finished.

Scanned by did not truly read:

Nightlight (A Parody of Twilight) by Harvard Lampoon Okay, I will admit it.  I like Twilight.  I think those who love to poke fun at Twilight will love this, but it just annoyed me.  I scanned parts of it but just lost interest after awhile.

In progress:

A Framework for Understanding Poverty by Ruby Payne Several teachers on my staff and I are reading a couple of chapters of this each week and discussing it.  Very powerful and practical.

So how are you doing on your summer reading challenge?  Read any good books lately?  Post a comment about what you are reading.

-Aly

Book-A-Day Challenge: Week 2

Before I leave for my vacation (I will still be posting next week), I wanted to do a quick update on my progress with the Book-A-Day Challenge hosted by Donalyn Miller (THE BOOK WHISPERER).

Book A Day Week 2:

Picture Books:

Way Down Deep In The Deep Blue Sea by Jan Peck A little boy discovers a wonderful adventure filled with sea life and sea elements.  The book will appeal to readers who are fans of Brown Bear, Brown Bear.  The rhythmic and repetitive language and beautiful illustrations will draw young children into the book.  And I love the twist at the end.  A definite hit with the under 5 crowd .

Oh No (Or How My Science Project Destroyed The World) by Mac Barnett and illustrated by Dan Santat  This is a fun read and would be especially enjoyable for any elementary class getting ready for a science fair/expo.  The main character has to figure out what to do when her science project (a robot) gets out of hand.  Though I enjoyed the text and kids will get a laugh out of it, I really loved Dan Santat’s illustrations more.  I am a huge Santat fan so that was the reason I picked it up in the first place and I wasn’t disappointed.

Young Zeus by G. Brian Karas  This is a great introduction to Greek Mythology for younger readers.  The story is written in a way that 1st/2nd graders on up will enjoy the tale of Zeus as a child.  There are also some great humorous lines.  The illustrations do a fabulous job supporting the text.

Picture Books/Non-fiction:

Pop! The Invention of Bubble Gum by Meghan McCarthy I have become a big fan of non-fiction picture books lately.  Often times written more for 3rd grade and up, they do a fabulous job of drawing readers into a variety of topics and being quite informative.  Though I would say Pop! is written for 2nd/3rd grade on up, I might consider using it with certain Kinder/First classes.  The story addresses bubble gum specifically though it alludes to the history of gum in a general manner.  The illustrations are bright and entertaining and support the text well.  And the fact at the end are great for expanding discussion on the topic.

Middle Grade Fiction:

The Summer Before by Ann Martin  If you are a fan of the Babysitters Club Series, then you will love this prequel.  I read this for a book club without ever having read the Babysitter Club Books.  I can see the appeal it would have for fans of the series or for 9 and 10 year old girls, but for me – it was okay.  The first person who actually reads this post and comments that they want the book…it’s yours.

The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron  Now this story was amazing.  I loved Lucky. This was an amazingly well written story.  I would recommend it to everyone.  You can check out my review here.

YA Fiction:

Numbers by Rachel Ward  Jem has the ability to see the date (month/day/year) when a person is going to die by looking in his/her eyes. This presents some challenges with day to day relationships. One day while in London, Jem notices that all these people have the same date of death – the current day. She realizes that something is going to happen and works to get her and Spider out of there. This begins a journey of running from the authorities. I found it to be a fast read and pretty interesting. I do need to warn potential readers that there is quite a bit of crass language and also sex in the book so depending on your school and students, you may want to recommend it to older teens. On a side note: I did feel that the language & sex was really a part of who the characters were.

Far From You by Lisa Schroeder After reading I Heart You, You Haunt Me, I immediately went on to read the rest of Lisa’s books.  I just love her writing style and her books have gotten more complex and rich as she developed her writing style.  In this book, Ali has to come to terms with her mother’s death, her father’s remarriage, and new baby.  The emotional journey that Ali goes on is very real and very relate-able.  Just keep the tissues by you when you read this one.

Chasing Brooklyn by Lisa Schroeder This is a companion novel to I Heart You, You Haunt Me.  It is set in the same world as her first novel and I am glad that I read them in order.  There is a little gift to her readers if you read it following the first book.  In this book, Schroeder looks at the death of Nico from the perspective of his older brother and his (Nico) girlfriend.  The book is told from alternating viewpoints and the way they end up helping each other through their loss is tender and very touching.  I cried…you’ll probably cry…but hope is always a part of Lisa’s books.

Okay, more to come next week….keep reading – even if it is only 1 or 2 books a week…

– Aly

P.S. The contest has been won but keep reading the blog.  More giveaways will be happening.

Summer Goals, Part II

A few days ago, I blogged about my summer reading goal here.  Today, I wanted to share my writing goal for the summer.  Normally, I consider myself a reader.  What do I mean by this?  I love reading books, but I never gave any serious consideration to writing a book before.  I consider myself a reasonable writer from a technical standpoint.  I write a lot for work but that is very different than creative writing and story development.  As a teacher, I also read a lot of student work and enjoy the process of helping them improve on their writing.  So, I also consider myself a decent editor.  But calling myself a writer,well that is another thing.  I almost have this feeling of being taken back to preschool and to dress-up pretend play.  I wonder if I am the only one who feels like this?

Yet, over the last year, I have felt the pull to try my hand at writing creatively.  To stretch my brain and do something that may be uncomfortable and hard at times.  Several friends have talked about creating a writing group that can support one another.  To set goals and to work towards those goals.  A couple of the members have manuscripts that they are preparing for query.  Others, like me, have not even fleshed out a true chapter.

Of course when you decide to do something it seems like writing challenges pop up all over the place.  Karen Mahoney, a YA author, started a Summer Reading Challenge which you can read about here.  I signed up for it knowing that in June I would get little writing in and would have to play catch up in July and August.  Then, on Judith Graves’ posting on GoodReads about a 1K a day challenge.  The lovely ladies over at YA Edge are hosting a 1K a day challenge for the month of July.  You can sign-up here I encouraged a couple of my other friends to join me.  Breaking the writing task into 1,000 words seems much more do-able.  However, I don’t think writing my blog counts towards my 1,ooo words.  So, I am heading off to – yes, write.

I do have one quick announcement – In the next day or two, I am going to kick-off my summer book contests.  I will be giving one book a way per week for the month of July in celebration of summer reading.

Happy reading or writing,

-Aly