Browsing Tag

6th grade

Books We Love: A Rambler Steals Home

#bookexcursion, Books We Love

Huge thanks to Carter Higgins for sharing a copy of A Rambler Steals Home with our #bookexcursion group! #bookexcursion is a team of nine educators who read and share new children’s and middle grade titles. For more of my #bookexcursion reviews, click here!

A Rambler Steals Home is a book about a lot of things: family, love, loss, friendship, and unanswered questions, to name a few. It’s a story with charm, character, and compassion. It’s a story with wit and wisdom, too.

Derby Christmas Clark spends her days traveling across the country in an RV with her father, Garland and her brother, Triple.. Each summer, she settles in Ridge Creek, Virginia: a small town most well known for its minor-league baseball stadium. Derby’s summer family includes a cast of characters: a small-town boy named Marcus whose friendship means loads to Derby, a grown woman named June who almost fills in as a mama for Derby, and others.

Derby’s voice in this book is so incredibly strong. Author Carter Higgins does an incredible job of capturing the spirit, hope, and worries of a pre-teen girl, while at the same time giving Derby an edge of being wise beyond her years.

While Derby herself is a huge draw for this book, so is the town of Ridge Creek. Fans of baseball will fall in love with a town where the joys and disappointments of the game are the joys and disappointments of the community. Derby lives her summer life by innings and strikes, which gives her journey a fantastic pace.

I would highly recommend this title for middle grade readers and middle grade classrooms. I just know that readers will connect deeply with Derby, and also learn lots from her journey.

Books We Love: Draw the Line

Books We Love

Have you ever thought about the power we give to lines? We use them to connect, and we use them to divide. They make up paths from place to place, as well as borders that separate. In Draw the Line, two boys are each drawing their own lines when they discover that some magical things can happen if they team up. In order to create something amazing, they’re going to have to let go of the things that stand between them.

The fact that this book is wordless creates so many possibilities for its use in the classroom. It will inspire countless conversations on friendship, community, and communication. Younger readers can use the book to discuss how they connect with others, while readers through high school age can connect this story to current events. Readers of all ages can imagine the thoughts and conversations of the two artists. How might words help them achieve their goal? How might words stand in their way?

I can only imagine the impact this book would have if it were put in the hands of every child and adult. This is a book that is desperately needed in today’s world. Draw the Line will inspire us all to live our lives drawing lines of connection.

Draw the Line will be released in October 2017 by Roaring Brook Press.

Thanks to Roaring Brook Press for making an Advanced Review Copy of this book available at the International Literacy Association conference.

Review: She Stood For Freedom

#DiverseKidLit, Books We Love

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She Stood for Freedom: The Untold Story of a Civil Rights Hero, Joan Trumpauer Mulholland
by Loki Mulholland and Angela Fairwell
Art by Charlotta Janssen

My Rating:

Note: She Stood For Freedom will be released on August 2nd, 2016 by Shadow Mountain Publishing. A link to pre-order is included at the bottom of this review.


“Remember, you don’t have to change the world… just change your world.” She Stood For Freedom tells the story of Joan Trumpauer Mulholland, an ordinary girl from Virginia who did extraordinary things during the Civil Rights Movement.

In college, I took a class with the late Julian Bond called Oral History of the Civil Rights Movement. It was all about hearing the stories of ordinary people who contributed in some way to the Civil Rights Movement during the 1960s. Our one assignment was to document the stories of an activist from the time. I was lucky enough to interview Virginia Ali, who taught me that every single person on this earth has a story to tell.

Joan Trumpauer Mulholland’s story is particularly remarkable. She abandoned her life at Duke University to put her life on the line for her values. She traveled to the Deep South during a time of tumult and and fear. She participated in sit-ins, spoke up about her beliefs, and fiercely protected her fellow activists.

Her son, Loki Mulholland, tells her story in She Stood For Freedom. A fantastically written biography, the book takes you to the time period and immerses you in the events by using vivid language and dialogue. Accompanied by incredible artwork from Charlotta Janssen, She Stood for Freedom is a great biography for middle grade or young adult readers. Through inclusion of artifacts and dialogue, She Stood for Freedom will tell Joan Mulholland’s story for years to come.

Favorite Passages

On an important lesson:
“You can never go wrong by doing what is right. It might not be easy, but it is always right.”

On changing things:
“Anyone can make a difference. You don’t need to be a Dr. King or a Rosa Parks. It doesn’t matter how old or young you are. Find a problem, get some friends together, and go fix it. Remember, you don’t have to change the world… just change your world.”

Classroom Connections

This text is bound to find its home in many language arts and history classes!

  • This book can serve as a mentor text for biography or nonfiction writing units at the middle school level. Students can learn from the author’s use of dialogue, imagery, and questioning within nonfiction writing.
  • Students can examine the pictures and infer about the character’s emotions based on evidence from the text. The pictures are so well created through collage that students will have a lot to say about them!
  • Artifacts pictured throughout the book can be used during a unit on the Civil Rights Movement.

Book Information
Title: She Stood For Freedom
Authors: Loki Mulholland Loki Mulholland and Angela Fairwell
Illustrator: Charlotta Janssen
Publisher: Shadow Mountain Publishing
Release Date: August 2016
Price: US $17.99
Source: Edelweiss – Advanced Review Copy

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Disclaimer: I received an Advanced Review Copy of this book from Shadow Mountain Publishing in exchange for an honest review. All opinions in this review are my own. Thanks for reading!

Review: The City of Ember

Books We Love, Uncategorized

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The City of Ember
by Jeanne DuPrau

My Rating:


I first read The City of Ember when it came out in 2003, and it is a story that has stuck with me over the years. Most recently, I read the book as a read aloud to my third grade students. I can say that this book is absolutely kid-approved!

With an engaging storyline and well-developed characters, The City of Ember is a great example of dystopian middle grade literature. Students are enraptured by the story, which follows two children named Lina and Doon who live in an underground city with failing infrastructure. The problem is, nobody knows that the city is underground. Mysterious instructions from the city’s builders were supposed to be passed down by the mayors until the right time, but (as my Teaser Tuesday showed a few weeks ago) a corrupt mayor ruined the plan. Now, hundreds of people are living in an underground city with no knowledge of the outside world.

I absolutely love the dramatic irony that is present in this text. My students knew that Ember was underground, but the main characters do not. My students were literally shouting out, wishing they could tell Lina and Doon what they were missing! This is a fascinating effect to use in children’s writing, and DuPrau includes it masterfully.

Another highlight of this book is the flaws in the main characters. Both Lina and Doon have flaws that interfere with their journey. Imperfect protagonists are instrumental in teaching children that all people have their flaws, but we can all work to overcome our weaknesses and turn them into strengths. Lina and Doon are relatable characters. Children can feel a strong connection to the two, and to their progress during their journey.

The City of Ember is an engaging text for read aloud to 3rd grade or up, or independent reading for 4th to 6th grade. Even for adults, the riveting storytelling makes Ember a great read.

Favorite Passages

On anger:
“The trouble with anger is, it gets hold of you. And then you aren’t the master of yourself anymore. Anger is.”

On resiliency:
“People find a way through just about anything.”

Classroom Connections

DuPrau’s use of English language conventions along with creative writing make The City of Ember a great fit for language study. Here are a few suggestions for use in the classroom!

  • DuPrau uses adverbs regularly throughout the text. During our read aloud, students would raise their hand whenever they heard a new adverb, and we would add it to a list. Adverbs can occasionally be tricky to find in children’s literature, but DuPrau includes them successfully and models them for children.
  • Similes made by Doon and Lina drive much of their conversations on values and feelings. Students can come up with their own similes to describe different parts of Ember, the comparisons between dark and light, and more.

Book Information
Title: The City of Ember
Author: Jeanne DuPrau
Publisher: Random House
Release Date: 2003
Price: US $7.99
Source: Classroom Library

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Random House

Review: Alistair Grim’s Odditorium and Alistair Grim’s Odd Aquaticum

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Alistair Grim’s Odditorium and Alistair Grim’s Odd Aquaticum
by Gregory Funaro

My Rating:

Note: Alistair Grimm’s Odd Aquaticum will be released in the U.S. on January 5th, 2016 by Disney-Hyperion. A link to preorder is included at the bottom of this review.

As a teacher, I’m often searching for books that are complex, well-written, and engaging all at the same time. With Gregory Funaro’s Odditorium series, readers have hit the jackpot. Both books create a steampunk-inspired magical universe in which anything can, and does, happen. Readers will be instantly hooked by the well-developed characters, the fast-paced plot, and the intelligent cliffhangers.

Allistair Grimm’s Odditorium tells the story of a chimney sweep apprentice named Grubb who gets swept up (haha) in an unexpected adventure. As he learns more about Allistair Grimm, the man who takes him in and brings him along on his magical journeys, he begins to see how he may fit in as a part of the team. As Allistair Grimm, Grubb and friends seek to rid London of the evil Prince Nightshade, readers are quickly entranced by the adventure.

Allistair Grimm’s Odd Aquaticum follows the same crew as the mystery deepens and the action picks up. With magic and mystical folklore galore, this sequel will be a great fit for middle grade readers and adults that love connections to the classics. In this book, the story is laid out even more strongly and the characters are well developed.

It’s very hard to write summaries for the Odditorium books, because there are so many exciting moments that I don’t want to give away! Suffice to say, these books are action-packed with engaging plot twists and major page-turner moments. The series fits in perfectly with a middle grade fandom that loves the Percy Jackson and Harry Potter book universes.

Another huge strength of the series is the brilliant illustrations by Vivienne To. With just enough illustrations to create wonderful visualizations in the reader’s mind, To manages to establish a universe that blends so seamlessly with Funaro’s amazing writing.

Pick up a copy of this book at your local bookstore, on Amazon, or on Kindle. If you like middle grade fantasy, steampunk, or just a good old-fashioned story, you’ll love this one.

Classroom Connections

The Odditorium series could be a great fit for an independent reading project or a small group read. With such a deep and complex plot, there are many opportunities for meaningful learning.

  • There are a lot of points in which the character’s backstories can be pieced together through multiple, seemingly random details. Students can practice inference making and supporting their inferences with evidence from the text.
  • Funaro is a master at cliffhanger endings! My third grade students love cliffhanger endings, and Funaro does a great job hinting at one in the conclusion of nearly every chapter. Students can make a list of the cliffhanger endings they spot, then look to see what language and specific words Funaro used to imply cliffhangers.

Book Information

Title: Alistair Grim’s Odditorium & Alistair Grim’s Odd Aquaticum
Author: Gregory Funaro
Illustrator:  Vivienne To
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion
Release Date: January 6th, 2016
Price: US $16.99
Source: NetGalley – Advanced Review Copy

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Disclaimer: I received an Advanced Review Copy of this book from Disney-Hyperion in exchange for an honest review. All opinions in this review are my own. Thanks for reading!

Review: A Year in the Life of a Complete and Total Genius

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A Year in the Life of a Complete and Total Genius
by Stacey Matson

My Rating:

Note: A Year in the Life of a Complete and Total Genius will be released in the U.S. on Sunday, November 1st by Sourcebooks.

I’m always looking for engaging and interesting books that are told from a boy’s perspective, because I find that the boys in my classroom love connecting to the main character in that way. A Year in the Life of a Complete and Total Genius was previously released in Canada, and reviews from readers on Goodreads convinced me it might be a good fit for middle grade readers here in the U.S.

Told through letters, journal entries, emails, progress reports, notes from teachers, newspaper articles, and other written mementos of 7th grade, A Year in the Life tells the story of Arthur Bean: a witty, quirky, hilarious and sensitive 7th grade boy. The story begins in October, when Arthur returns to school after a tragic family loss. Arthur immediately sets his sights on a writing prize that will be awarded to someone at his school at the end of the year, and decides to become famous through his writing. The one problem is that he doesn’t have any ideas for what to write about. While he waits for inspiration to strike, we learn about Arthur’s distain for Robby Zack (a classmate) and his crush on Kennedy (the cool girl in school). When Arthur is matched with Kennedy as a writing partner and is forced to tutor Robby, he has to confront his fears and learn how to navigate working with others. Meanwhile, he is also learning how to grieve as he and his father work through their first year without Arthur’s mother.

One thing I loved about this book was the style in which the story was told. Reflecting what may be a trend in YA and middle grade literature, the use of “artifacts” like letters, emails and notes to tell the story was engaging and effective. It gave each character a really unique voice, and it allowed us to see how Arthur’s personality is reflected in his school assignments as compared to his personal journal or his email interactions with others. Humor was very effectively used in this book, and it had me laughing out loud more than once! One particularly funny aspect was Arthur’s tendency to talk about other books and plot lines in an attempt to pass them off as his own – many of the books that are used will be known by middle grade readers, so they will be able to pick up on this humor.

One aspect of the book that I didn’t love quite as much was the voice given to Kennedy, Arthur’s crush and the “cool girl” of the 7th grade. Her part of the story was told through her emails to Arthur about their creative writing project. Her emails were written with an exclamation point at the end of every sentence, capital words written throughout, and LOLOLOL written throughout. While Kennedy’s character is known to be smart and clever, her written voice was very stereotypical for a middle school girl, and it would be nice to see her bubbly personality reflected in a different way. However, Arthur himself fights gender roles through his love of knitting and other interests, which may help some readers feel more included.

Overall, this was a very strong book for middle grade readers that asks big questions about life and loss. I can definitely see this book becoming a favorite of some 6th-8th graders. Fortunately, Arthur’s adventures aren’t over quite yet, as a sequel is coming soon from author Stacey Matson!

Classroom Connections

  • Much of the story is told through Arthur’s responses to classroom assignments given to him by his teacher. Many of these align strongly with what students will be doing in school. In particular, assignments like the interviewing of other people will help students in their own writing. Assignments from the book can be given to the class to strengthen their own creative writing. Students will also be able to compare their experiences with the assignment to the experiences of Arthur, Robby, and Kennedy.

Book Information
Title: A Year in the Life of a Complete and Total Genius
Author: Stacey Matson
Publisher: Sourcebooks
Release Date: November 1st, 2015
Price: US $15.99
Source: NetGalley – Advanced Review Copy

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Disclaimer: I received an Advanced Review Copy of this text from Sourcebooks in exchange for an honest review. All opinions in this review are my own!

Review: For the Right to Learn – Malala Yousafzai’s Story

#DiverseKidLit, Books We Love

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For the Right to Learn: Malala Yousafzai’s Story
by Rebecca Langston-George

My Rating:

Those of you who know me know that girls’ education is a cause that is near and dear to my heart. I’ve spent the last three years of my life as Founding President of American University’s chapter of She’s the First, an organization that provides scholarships to girls in low-income countries who will be the first in their families to graduate from high school. People like Malala inspire me to continue advocating for girls’ education, as well as educating myself and others about the struggles faced by girls and women around the world. Over the past three years, our chapter has raised over $40,000 to sponsor girls who will be the first in their families to graduate, and we’ve learned so much about leadership along the way.

When I saw that Rebecca Langston-George had written a book to tell Malala’s story to readers 9-12, I was so thrilled that there would finally be a way to share Malala’s inspiring story with children. While Malala’s rise to fame started with a violent act against her, her story is one of peace and teamwork that carries meaningful lessons for students.

The illustrations by Janna Bock are absolutely breathtaking. They truly bring Malala and her village to life for readers who may have never seen pictures of the beautiful mountains in which Malala grew up. The pictures add to the story, communicating meaningful information and allowing students to make inferences based on the visuals.

Starting the story back when Malala was a little girl, Langston-George’s beautiful writing brings the story to life and truly conveys the determination that surrounded every moment of Malala’s journey. The book manages to communicate a large amount of historical information into a piece that is appropriate in length and language for the 4th-6th grade set.

I expect this book to be turning up in many classrooms and libraries in the months to come. So many students will learn about Malala through this book, and I hope they will be as inspired by her journey as I am.

Classroom Connections

  • A glossary is included in the back of the book, along with a page with more historical information for teachers and parents who may like to bring a little more detail to their teaching of the story. This is a great resource for adults who are sharing this book with young readers.
  • This book is a great fit for a biography project. If students are researching key historical figures, Malala certainly qualifies as a “living legend.” This book is a great introduction to her story and can be a helpful starting resource for students who are looking into Malala’s life.
  • Malala’s speeches and blog posts are key moments in this story. Youtube videos and online blog posts are publicly available, and sharing videos with students while reading about Malala’s story can help students to grasp that Malala is a real person with a real story of growth and determination.

Book Information
Title: For the Right to Learn
Author: Rebecca Langston-George
Illustrator: Janna Bock
Publisher: Capstone
Release Date: September 1st, 2015
Price: US $15.95
Source: NetGalley – Advanced Review Copy

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Disclaimer: I received an Advanced Review Copy of this text from Capstone in exchange for an honest review. All opinions in this review are my own – thank you for reading!

Friday Five: Can’t Miss Historical Fiction

Friday Five

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When I was a kid, I used to love how books could transport me to so many different time periods. I loved spending an afternoon with Samantha (from the American Girl Series) in 1904, then spending the evening back in 1999. As I’ve grown older, I’ve still found historical fiction to be one of my favorite genres. For today’s Friday Five, I’d like to share with you five of my favorite historical fiction books. Some are for kids, some are for adults, but all of them help us imagine life in a different time period, and often use it to understand our lives today.

by Brian Selznick

A unique read given that the pictures take place in the 1920s and the words take place in the 1970s, Wonderstruck isn’t your typical historical fiction read. Instead of relying on the current events of a given time period to drive the story, what matters in this book is the separation in time between the 1920s and the 1970s, with the reader wondering how the story of one connects to the other. In the 1920s, we meet a deaf girl named Rose who idolizes a famous actress named Lillian Mayhew. In the 1970s, we meet Ben, a boy who is deaf in one ear and runs away to New York in an attempt to learn about a father he never knew after his mother passes away. Both the 1920s and 1970s are portrayed brilliantly through visual representations and written descriptions. This book is a great read for 4th-6th graders and adults alike.

All the Light We Cannot See
by Anthony Doerr

When I was only about 10% of the way into this book, I was telling everyone I knew that it was one of my top reads of 2014. Doerr’s incredible use of language to describe the settings really takes the reader back to the World War II era in which this book takes place. You will fall in love with the two main characters: Marie, a blind girl living with her locksmith father in Paris, and Werner, an orphaned boy living in Nazi Germany. The way in which they cross paths is beautiful, heartbreaking, and hopeful all at once.

Number the Stars
by Lois Lowry

Taking place in World War II-era Copenhagen, Number the Stars tells the story of two friends whose bond is threatened by the Holocaust. One of the friends is Jewish while the other is Christian, and the Christian friend and her family work tirelessly to protect the young Jewish girl from the Nazis. This is a beautiful depiction of the ways the Danish people saved thousands of lives during World War II.

The Invention of Wings
by Sue Monk Kidd

Before the Civil War, many people in the United States were fighting for freedom in more ways than one. The Invention of Wings explores the meaning of the friendship between a slave and her owner. When both girls were young, one was given to the other – and the owner has spent her whole life since then working to bring freedom to both slaves and women in the United States.

The Invention of Hugo Cabret
by Brian Selznick

I usually wouldn’t include two books by the same author on one list, but Brian Selznick has truly mastered how to portray different parts of history in middle grade literature. The pictures in Hugo Cabret give us a vision of a time gone by: where trains were the main form of travel and train stations were a microcosm of life. Hugo is an orphaned boy who is trying to make sense of the things his father left behind, and he meets some amazing people who help him along the way.

Do you have a favorite historical fiction read that I missed? Let me know in the comments below!