Monday, May 29, 2017

When My Sister Started Kissing

I really am intrigued by Helen Frost's work.  The skill to create a poetic narrative and to use different forms for the different voices - superb.  I think overall though I was more taken by that than by the story itself.  I was drawn in at the beginning with the death of Claire and Abi's mom and wish there had been more about that.  The story was not bad - it just didn't really grab me and while I appreciate the different voices and poetic forms I did get a bit confused by who was speaking at times.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Remarkable Plants

This is similar is organization (or lack of) and style as Jeff Probst's other book that I read recently.  There is great information here but it really jumps around.  Regardless, my students will probably enjoy it.

The Book of Chocolate

It is so interesting to me that something that is so cheap and readily available has such a long and complicated history.  It is one of the foods that we take for granted but a lot of effort has gone into creating what we enjoy so much.  This book was a well written and fascinating look at the history of chocolate.  I enjoyed it a lot.


I am not sure what to say about this book.  I do typically like scary stories and even sad ones but this was just so sad and disturbing - not in the actions themselves but in the implications.  It is about a girl, Mary, in an orphanage at Thornhill which is closing down in 1982.  Then is is also about a girl, Ella, in 2017 who moves in next door to the abandoned Thornhill building.  Mary's story is told through her diary and Ella's story is told through pictures.

Mary is selectively mute (the why we never know or how she became an orphan) and is abused by one girl at Thornhill in particular.  Ella is left alone a lot and begins exploring the ruins of Thornhill and sees a mysterious "person".  Through Mary's diary we discover the events leading up to a tragic event.  The disturbing part is that no one helped her - she was obviously hurting and no one reached out.  Ella finally finds Mary's room and her diary.

But the ending...  I wasn't a fan, so sad and tragic and I felt unnecessary.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Mango Delight

So, this wasn't a bad book but it was a book filled with middle school tropes - losing best friend, first love, etc.  It is a fluff book that certain readers will eat up but for my MSBA reading it's not in the running.

Quicksand Pond

When you read a book by certain authors you expect greatness.  It is wonderful when an author delivers yet again and disappointing when it just doesn't live up to your expectations.  I am not sure exactly where this falls for me.  I thought the writing was well done and for the most part I liked the story.  

Jessie is on vacation with her family and discovers a raft upon which she starts exploring around the pond.  She is soon joined by Terri.  Unfortunately Terri and her family have a history and while their friendship is genuine others feel it is doomed.  Meanwhile, an elderly lady watches the girls using the raft and is taken back to her childhood days on a raft and a terrible event that led to the downfall of Terri's family.

But the ending though...  too many loose ends and unsettled emotions.  I also was disappointed in the treatment of Terri and how no one came to her help when she was obviously abused.  

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Sea Otter Heroes

This was a really neat scientific mystery.  The Elkhorn Slough was far healthier than scientists thought it should be.  It is close to nearby farms and orchards and the runoff from fertilizers should have made the algae grow and destroy the sea grass but the opposite was happening; the seagrass was flourishing.  Through careful observation, study, and some luck, Brent Hughes was able to discover how the sea otter population was helping to ward off the algae.  

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Jack London and the Klondike Gold Rush

For students who are reading and are fans of Jack London's works this may be a good addition and back story to many of his tales.  I did not find this to be overly exciting - simply a telling of certain events in his experiences without much flair.  I did like the tie in of his experiences and their appearances in his writing.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Extreme Weather

This book is chock full of weather facts and fun.  It starts with a basic introduction to weather and then goes into the more extreme aspects.  Droughts, tsunamis, tornadoes, blizzards, and so on are all discussed in terms of causes, records, etc.  

While my students will enjoy this and find many interesting facts, I was annoyed by the organization or lack thereof.  The information jumped around.  Tornadoes were discussed and then many pages later there was a challenge about them and then they were discussed more later.  Thank goodness for the index.  

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Cold Summer

So, I love time travel books and movies.  The Time Traveler's Wife is one of my favorites.  When I saw the blurb for Cold Summer on Edelweiss I was thinking - "Time Traveler's Wife" for teens - nuff said.

Kale has been a time traveler since he was a young boy but very few people know about it.  His parents - they always thought he was just a runaway, especially his dad, even though Kale has tried to explain it many times.  Usually it has been short trips - back to the 70s, 90s and never returning to the same place over and over.  But that has changed.  Now he keeps going back as a soldier in World War II and as his life at home in the present gets worse, the pull back gets more frequent.

Then there is Harper.  They have know each other since they were kids and she would come for the summers.  But now she is there to stay and the attraction has become so much more.

Can Kale find a way to get his father to believe him and ground himself in the present before something happens to him in the past?

I did enjoy this.  I felt like it took awhile to really get into gear - a lot of time was spent with Kale and Harper avoiding their attraction and of course, Kale trying to come to terms with his family and his "ability".  The last 1/4 of the book was really good.  There is a bit of swearing a a close sexual encounter.  I think the book would be okay for upper middle school and high school though.

Out of Wonder

This was divine.  In this collection Kwame Alexander, Chris Colderly, and Marjory Wentworth pay homage to a diverse cast of poets and their work.  Some poets mimic a style, some showcase theme, and others just celebrate a certain poet or poem.  Not only were the works beautiful and diverse but as an educator I can see this book as a doorway introducing students to these wonderful poets.  Very well done.

Geology is a Piece of Cake

Katie Coppens introduces geology concepts like rocks, minerals, tectonics, and so on using cake.  This is a perfect text for 4th and 5th graders just learning these concepts and the delivery is done in a fun and lighthearted way.  I can't wait to show this to the teachers at my school.  The only problem is that if they wanted to use all these recipes in their instruction I am sure the health committee would get on them :)

Wednesday, May 10, 2017


For the last 6 months Axel and Daisha have been pursued by men trying to steal their parent's invention.  You see, their parents invention always people to transport simply by GPS coordinates instantaneously.  Their parents worked for a wealthy investor who wants to use the invention solely for financial gain.  To prevent that Axel and Daisha's parent decided to destroy the invention but were killed before they could.  Their last words to the kids were to take the devices to a mysterious person (turns out not to be  person but a place) and destroy it.

Can Axel and Daisha keep evading the men in pursuit and destroy the devices before it is too late?  I wish I knew :)  This is the first book in a series and it ain't over...  But it was full of action - a bit too scientific in parts but good overall.

Survivor's Club

This is the account of Michael Bornstein's life in Poland during WWII and his survival as a prisoner at Auschwitz.  What is truly amazing is that he was only 4 when he was at Auschwitz.  Miraculous indeed that he survived.  The book tells of his experiences before, during, and after the war.

I greatly appreciated his honesty and how he worked with his daughter to write the book.  I will make sure this book finds a home in either my district's jr. high or high school library.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Piecing Me Together

This is very well done.  I must say at first I wasn't sure if I liked it and it took a bit for me to get going but once I did it was beautifully told ad powerful.

Jade is poor and her family struggles to make ends meet.  But Jade is talented and smart.  She gets into a prestigious private school on a scholarship based on her grades.  But she always feels on the outside - like people assume she is there because she is black not because she is smart.  Then she is picked for a mentoring program.  Again she feels that it is more out of sympathy and she finds it condescending.  With the help of her mentor she learns to speak up for herself and what she needs.  Soon she able to voice her opinions and concerns with her family, her teachers, and her friends.

What I really loved was the use of collage as her art and as part of her story.  The references to York, the black slave who was a member of the Lewis and Clark expedition was woven into the story well.  Because Jade is a high school student I am not sure if the book would find an audience at my elementary school but it should be in the junior high and high school.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

One for Sorrow

Image result for one for sorrow hahn

In my world, a book by Mary Downing Hahn gets an automatic pass to the top of the TBR pile.  When I was a teacher I read Wait Til Helen Comes to almost every class of 4th and 5th graders that I had.  The Old Willis Place is another of my favorites as is Took.  I have found some in recent years to be not as good but there still have to be read.

So... this one.  The beginning was very much like some of the others.  You have Elsie who is not very nice trying to befriend Annie a new girl.  Annie is able to "escape" Elsie's clutches and makes friends with some other girls.  The other girls are not nice to Elsie at all - in fact they are downright bullies.  The book takes place in 1918 / 1919 during the Spanish Flu epidemic and Elsie catches it and dies.

But wait - that's only the 1st third of the book.  Soon Elsie's ghost is back haunting Annie and making her do terrible things.  How can Annie get rid of Elsie and can Elsie ever find what she is looking for?

I did like the ending and the plot picked up and separated itself from some others in short order.  I anticipated the ending but it was good and offered a promise of healing and redemption.  I kind of wish it had been more like the ending of Wait Til Helen Comes with a bit more closure but then it would have been too similar.

I did have a few small issues.  The Pledge of Allegiance was mentioned several times.  While the original pledge was introduced in 1892 it has changed wording several times since then and was not formally adopted til much later.  I think it would have been good to add that historical context or the wording at least once in the book.  

I did enjoy the book overall and its creepiness will ensure that students will like it too.