Middle Grades

It Ain’t So Awful, Falafel

It wasn’t until I read It Ain’t So Awful, Falafel by Firoozah Dumas that I delved into the history of the Iran Hostage Crisis, as an adult, instead of relying on my childhood memories.  I’ve never insisted ML read a book.  That may change.  This book captures the awkwardness of middle school and the prejudices of others during a time in history that her old mother lived through.  The summer before sixth grade is a perfect time to introduce this book to she and her friends.

This synopsis created by the publisher does a much better job than I could describing the book.  “Zomorod (Cindy) Yousefzadeh is the new kid on the block . . . for the fourth time. California’s Newport Beach is her family’s latest perch, and she’s determined to shuck her brainy loner persona and start afresh with a new Brady Bunch name—Cindy. It’s the late 1970s, and fitting in becomes more difficult as Iran makes U.S. headlines with protests, revolution, and finally the taking of American hostages. Even mood rings and puka shell necklaces can’t distract Cindy from the anti-Iran sentiments that creep way too close to home. A poignant yet lighthearted middle grade debut from the author of the best-selling Funny in Farsi.”

A day before I turned seven the Iran Hostage Crisis began.  My only memories are the yellow ribbons, a man from the town over was a hostage, every night the news would update the number of days the hostages where in captivity and they weren’t released until Ronald Reagan was sworn in.  They were hostages for 444 days.  All of which I enjoyed the freedoms of living in a country where a girl could go to school, wear whatever clothes her mom would let her, climb trees, swim and compete with the boys.  I had no knowledge that in a country across the ocean girls my age were losing rights.

Where I lived at the time, diversity of skin color was almost nonexistent  Surrounded by White  Anglo Saxon Protestants, the most diverse children in my grade where two Christian African Americans.  I had never heard of Islam. Judaism or Catholicism. At that point in my life, you were either Methodist, Baptist or Presbyterian.  My family was probably considered liberal.  We were members of the Methodist church, I attended  preschool at the Presbyterian church and graduated from kindergarten at the Baptist church.  I don’t think kindergarten started at my elementary school until 1979.  My first year of elementary school coincided with the Iran Hostage Crisis.

While I was making cookie monsters and learning to read, I had no understanding of the challenges children around the world and even the United States suffered.  In theory I knew there were starving children in Africa but (spoiler alert) a middle school girl from a different country finding a dead hamster left on her doorstep in the United States out of prejudice would have been incomprehensible.

 

 

 

Fifth Grade – 30 Pages a Night

 

Ml started 5th grade yesterday.  Word on the street was one of ML’s teacher’s has high expectations; and middle school will seem easy after having her.  All good words for a mom to hear.  BUT I didn’t know how much I was going to love this teacher until yesterday.  Here’s a portion of the email she sent yesterday.

“They also received their first assigned novel to read. Typically students are accustomed to hearing “30 minutes” of reading per evening, M-F. However, in my 18 years of teaching I have learned that 30 minutes for one child may be 3 pages, while for another it may be 40 pages, depending upon concentration, interest, and other factors.  I have told the children that I would like them to read 20-30 pages per evening, rather than counting minutes. It is more tangible. If your child finds the book too difficult to read 20-30 pages in a reasonable amount of time, then I can get them another book more suited to their level. We will be using these assigned novels for writing assignments. Thank you for your patience and support!”

ML’s first assigned book is Gregor the Overlander.  As pictured above, the other books they will read this quarter are Hatchet, Wait Till Helen Comes, and Escape From Mr. Lemoncello’s Library.  Those are the ones she remembers.  I’m eager to see if there are others.  And wondering the total amount of books ML will read this year.  Based on a secret algorithm I created using my knowledge of number of days of school and average number of pages in a chapter book for fifth graders, my guess is 15 books.

I’m giving myself homework too.  Thirty pages a day of contenders for the 2018  Newbery Award.  The four books I’m starting with are below.  I feel certain I won’t read all the books completely; but I’ll at least give them thirty pages.  And if I end up reading the entire book, you can bet it will make my list right before the awards are given on what I think should win.

The Ethan I Was Before by Ali Standish

The Someday Birds by Sally J. Pla

Hello, Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly

Lucky Broken Girl by Ruth Behar

The Goblin’s Puzzle – Mock Newbery 2017

goblins-puzzle

My dear friend and mother of ML’s best friend recently asked for ideas for potential 2017 Newbery Winners.  Begrudgingly, I am making recommendations.  They moved a few weeks before school started.  ML and I were both heartbroken; but I can never resist giving book recommendations.  The fact that ML and SJ will be together next weekend is making this post easier.  A week from tomorrow… not some much.  It will be the day they have to part again.

There are plenty of Mock Newbery Lists out there.  I’ve yet to see the The Goblin’s Puzzle by Andrew Chilton on any list; but it should be.  The only books I include on my list are ones I finish.  I devoured this one.  My friend is a lawyer so the logical thinking this book encourages will make her happy.  Her son is into millitary history; so the  battles will make him happy.  The two Alice’s in the book are feisty, independent girls; just like ML and SJ.

Here’s the synopsis from the publisher:

THE BOY is a nameless slave on a mission to uncover his true destiny.
THE GOBLIN holds all the answers, but he’s too tricky to be trusted.
PLAIN ALICE is a bookish peasant girl carried off by a confused dragon.
And PRINCESS ALICE is the lucky girl who wasn’t kidnapped.

All four are tangled up in a sinister plot to take over the kingdom, and together they must face kind monsters, a cruel magician, and dozens of deathly boring palace bureaucrats. They’re a ragtag bunch, but with strength, courage, and plenty of deductive reasoning, they just might outwit the villains and crack the goblin’s puzzle.

Don’t believe me that it’s worthy of a look?  School Library gave it a starred review.

“Brimming with sarcastic, cheeky, laugh-out-loud humor, this is a smart, original, and completely engaging adventure.” —School Library Journal, starred review

Books for a Rising 4th Grade Dog Lover

I’m taking orders for personalized summer reading lists.  My first request was for a rising 4th grade girl who LOVES dogs.  There are 238 chapter books with the subject heading of dogs at my branch alone.  Below are my recommendations for AB.  I’ve added a story about a cat and another about a sassy girl to provide a little variety to AB’s summer reading.

rain reign

Rain Reign by Ann K. Martin – “Rose Howard is obsessed with homonyms. She’s thrilled that her own name is a homonym, and she purposely gave her dog Rain a name with two homonyms (Reign, Rein), which, according to Rose’s rules of homonyms, is very special. Not everyone understands Rose’s obsessions, her rules, and the other things that make her different – not her teachers, not other kids, and not her single father.  When a storm hits their rural town, rivers overflow, the roads are flooded, and Rain goes missing. Rose’s father shouldn’t have let Rain out. Now Rose has to find her dog, even if it means leaving her routines and safe places to search.” (from publisher’s website)

Handful Stars

Handful of Stars by Cynthia Lord – “When Lily’s blind dog, Lucky, slips his collar and runs away across the wide-open blueberry barrens of eastern Maine, it’s Salma Santiago who manages to catch him. Salma, the daughter of migrant workers, is in the small town with her family for the blueberry-picking season.  After their initial chance meeting, Salma and Lily bond over painting bee boxes for Lily’s grandfather, and Salma’s friendship transforms Lily’s summer. But when Salma decides to run in the upcoming Blueberry Queen pageant, they’ll have to face some tough truths about friendship and belonging. Should an outsider like Salma really participate in the pageant-and possibly win?” (from publisher’s website)

Honey

Honey by Sarah Weeks -“Melody has lived in Royal, Indiana, for as long as she can remember. It’s been just her and her father, and she’s been okay with that. But then she overhears him calling someone “Honey” and suddenly it feels like everyone in Royal has a secret. It’s up to Melody and her best friend, Nick, to piece together the clues and discover why Honey is being hidden.  Meanwhile, a dog named Mo is new to Royal. He doesn’t remember much from when he was a puppy, but he keeps having dreams of a girl he is bound to meet someday. This girl, he’s sure, will change everything.” (from publisher’s website)

dog diaries

Dog Diaries by Kate Klimo – “For anyone who has ever wanted a puppy, the DOG DIARIES series tells a dog’s story in a new way–from a dog’s point of view! Focusing on a different breed for each book, starting with a Golden Retriever and a German Shepherd, these stories are based on true dog stories or on true-to-life situations.” (from publisher’s website)

Cat Who Came In Off the Roof

The Cat Who Came in Off the Roof by Annie Schmidt – “An act of kindness brings shy reporter Mr. Tibble into contact with the unusual Miss Minou. Tibble is close to losing his job because he only writes stories about cats. Fortunately, Minou provides him with real news. She gets the juicy inside information from her local feline friends, who are the eyes and ears of the neighborhood. Tibble is appreciative, but he wonders how she does it. He has noticed that Minou is terrified of dogs and can climb trees and rooftops with elegance and ease. . . . It’s almost as if she’s a cat herself. But how can that be?” (from publisher’s website)

When Mischief Came to Town

When Mischief Came to Town by Katarina Nannestad – “When Inge Maria arrives on the tiny island of Bornholm in Denmark to live with her grandmother, she’s not sure what to expect. Her grandmother is stern, the people on the island are strange, and children are supposed to be seen and not heard.   But no matter how hard Inge tries to be good, mischief has a way of finding her.     Could it be that a bit of mischief is exactly what Grandmother and the people of Bornholm need?” (from publisher’s website)

Save Me a Seat

Save Me a Seat

I LOVED Save Me a Seat by Sarah Weeks and Gita Varadarajan!  It includes the funniest scene I’ve read in children’s literature.  Let’s just say karma happens to a kleptomaniac, bully in such a way that you can’t help but cheer and laugh out loud.  I will be nominating this book to be included on the 2017-2018 North Carolina Children’s Book Award contenders.  Plus forcing it into the hands of every 4th-6th grader I know; especially boys.  First stops, Cole and Eli

Here’s a synopsis from the publisher:

“Joe and Ravi might be from very different places, but they’re both stuck in the same place: school.

Joe’s lived in the same town all his life, and was doing just fine until his best friends moved away and left him on his own. Ravi’s family just moved to America from India, and he’s finding it pretty hard to figure out where he fits in.

Joe and Ravi don’t think they have anything in common, but soon enough they have a common enemy (the biggest bully in their class) and a common mission: to take control of their lives over the course of a single crazy week.”

ML Reads is Three Years Old!!!

I can’t believe it’s been three years since I started this blog.  I started it on a whim ML’s last month of kindergarten.  This weekend, I realized how very grown up and mature my soon to be fourth grader is.  The blog has evolved these past three years.  I’m certain it will continue to evolve each year.  Expect to see more chapter books and nonfiction books.  Maybe even a young adult book or two.  Don’t worry picture books are my first love; so I’ll continue to share my favorites.  Below are some books with three in their title.  I’ve read two out of three.  Three Times Lucky is on my to read list.  I’m embarrassed I haven’t read it.  It’s a Newbery Honor book by a North Carolina author.

Goldy Luck

Goldy Luck and The Three Pandas by Natasha Yim and illustrated by Grace Zong – One Chinese New Year, Goldy Luck’s mother asks her to take a plate of turnip cakes to the neighbors. The Chans aren’t home, but that doesn’t stop Goldy from trying out their rice porridge, their chairs, and their beds—with disastrous results.

Thre Times Lucky

Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage – Rising sixth grader Miss Moses LoBeau lives in the small town of Tupelo Landing, NC, where everyone’s business is fair game and no secret is sacred. She washed ashore in a hurricane eleven years ago, and she’s been making waves ever since. Although Mo hopes someday to find her “upstream mother,” she’s found a home with the Colonel–a café owner with a forgotten past of his own–and Miss Lana, the fabulous café hostess. She will protect those she loves with every bit of her strong will and tough attitude. So when a lawman comes to town asking about a murder, Mo and her best friend, Dale Earnhardt Johnson III, set out to uncover the truth in hopes of saving the only family Mo has ever known.

Breakthrough

Breakthrough:  How Three People Saved Blue Babies and Changed Medicine Forever by Jim Murphy – In 1944 an unprecedented surgical procedure repaired the heart of a child with blue baby syndrome—lack of blood oxygen caused by a congenital defect. This landmark operation opened the way for all types of open heart surgery. The team that developed it included a cardiologist and a surgeon, but most of the actual work was done by Vivien Thomas, an African American lab assistant who was frequently mistaken for a janitor.

 

The Wild Robot – Mock Newbery 2017

Wild Robot

Can a picture book author/illustrator write a chapter book?  Of course.  But can they write a good one? Peter Brown can.  Since I first read The Curious Garden, I’ve been a fan of Peter Brown’s picture books.  Now, I’m a fan of his first middle grade novel, The Wild Robot.

This book is a definite read aloud.  Hopefully, MLs teacher will let me come to the class and book talk some books before summer.  This will be on the list.  I can’t wait to read “Have the nicest evening Pinktail.  I shall look forward to the pleasure of encountering you again in the future.  Soon, I hope.  Farewell.” (page 68)  The other quote that will be shared is when the animals are helping Roz with a garden.  She thanked all the animals for their help.  “I am not capable of defecating so your droppings are most appreciated.” (page 94)

It’s hard to find books for children who read on a higher grade level but aren’t emotionally ready for some of the themes explored in middle grade novels.  I’m adding this book to my post titled First Graders Who Fly Through Magic Tree House Books I wrote after ML’s first grade teacher asked for recommendations.

I hope Peter Brown has another middle grade novel in the works.  And some picture books.  His talent for both types of books is phenomenal.  Another book for my Mock Newbery 2017.  So many good books are being published this year.  I’m not sure I’ll be able to choose which one deserves the medal.