Good Masters! Sweet Ladies!

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Good Masters!  Sweet Ladies!  Voices from a Medieval Village (paperback)

by Laura Amy Schlitz

AR Level 5.6, 2 points

This is another Engage New York exemplar text that I promised (myself) I’d read.  I ordered all 3 of the poetry books from one of the modules, and this is the main one.  I have officially decided I want to teach that poetry unit, which means I need a class set of these books.  I really enjoyed this book, even though it was, at times, tough to get through.

This book is was written by a school librarian, so it was written with a specific audience in mind.  She tells the stories of several tweens in a medieval English village from first person point of view, and it is all in the form of a poem.  Each account can, and perhaps is meant to be, read aloud.  I can see a performance of this book happening on an elementary or junior high campus somewhere.  The characters are all residents of a particular (but generic) village.  We hear from the sons and daughters of a blacksmith, doctor, tanner, sniggler, merchant, etc.  We also hear about a lord’s daughter getting her dress ruined by having mud thrown at her, and then the mud slinger’s account.  I would teach perspective (and multiple perspectives) while reading this book.

What I liked about this book… well, first of all, I love the 1-2 page background pages so we as readers understand the context better.  Some examples of the background needed to understand the book would be the crusades, role of Jews in medieval society, and the significance of falconry.  I, personally, haven’t read much from a medieval village, so these background pages really helped me.  In addition, there are footnotes.  For each account, there are words the reader needs to know in order to understand the poem and role of the character.  This book is very user-friendly!

What I didn’t like about this book was that it got a little dry at times.  There were some sections I had to read multiple times.  It’s not written in Old English, but it also isn’t written in a way we are generally used to reading.  However, I cannot think of any other complaints.  It was a very honest account of life in a medieval village.

Book 46 of 52

The Strange Case of Origami Yoda

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The Strange Case of Origami Yoda (hardcover)

by Tom Angleberger

AR Level 4.7, 3 points

Let me start off by saying I don’t know Star Wars very well at all.  I’ve seen the movies, I can name a lot of characters (but I can’t tell you who they are or point them out), and I know that I’m missing out on a lot of really good jokes and innuendos.  My college boyfriend forced me to sit down and watch all 3 of them, and I saw episode 1 on opening night in college.  I know that makes people upset… “How can you not like Star Wars?!”  I just don’t.  But I’m very glad you do.

I was reluctant to read The Strange Case of Origami Yoda.  You know what made me want to read it?  I have (had) the whole series in my classroom library, and someone stole book 1.  Nothing makes me want to do something more than telling me I can’t do it.  So for a week, I ranted and whined about how I provide all of these books by buying them myself, and all I ask is that you return them, or it’s called stealing.  Guess what- it didn’t get returned.  I had to borrow book 1 from a kind and generous student (thanks, Gavin).

As it turns out, you don’t really have to know much about Star Wars to understand this book, and I just asked my husband to confirm what I was pretty sure I already knew.  This story is a case file of first-hand accounts about Dwight’s intuitive, wise, origami Yoda finger puppet, compiled mainly by Tommy.  Students mocked Dwight for wearing the puppet on his finger (and for being a weirdo), but they would come to him (Yoda) for advice, too, especially when it came to boy and girl relationships.  They would ask Yoda a question, and Dwight would give them hints in his Yoda voice.  This advice was from Yoda, though, not Dwight.  Dwight is just the vessel.  😉  It is a compelling case for these sixth graders (is Origami Yoda real or just a finger puppet?), and I think the ending results can be debatable.

What I liked about this book was that it was a cute story.  I can definitely see why my boys got so into it.  Please don’t tell them I called it cute, because then they’ll never read it.  There was one chapter with a question and answer format that I would say was my very favorite part.  I was giggling in bed, and my husband just rolled his eyes at me (like he usually does when I giggle at books- he’s a brilliant man, but not an avid reader).

What I didn’t like about this book was how mean the other boys were to Dwight.  Again, that is with my adult perspective.  I doubt most of my students even realized it.  I thought they were bullies at times and friends when they wanted something.  I was happy that Dwight called them out on it, but I’m not sure they got what they deserved.

Will I read the rest of the series?  Someone make me an Origami Yoda so I can ask if I should.

Book 45 of 52

The Lightning Thief

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Percy Jackson and the Olympians:  The Lightning Thief (paperback)

by Rick Riordan

AR Level 4.7, 13 points

I have learned a similar lesson repeatedly over the last year:  do not judge a book by it’s cover.  I was not planning on reading this series.  Yes, I love Greek mythology.  And yes, Harry Potter turned out to be an epic series, even though magic wasn’t really my “thing.”  I assumed Divergent was overrated, and clearly, it was something I enjoyed.  I should just stop saying no to these books, and assume they’re popular for a reason!

So I decided to read The Lightning Thief, because I’m on an Engage NY kick.  I am going to attempt to teach using this newish curriculum next year, and I find it’s always best to read the books BEFORE reading them with the class.  Otherwise, I find myself scrambling and asking my students, “What do YOU think?” or telling them to “Find evidence in the book to prove your answer” because I have no idea, since I came in unprepared.  I kind of feel like that’s how my entire school year has been, my first official year teaching just common core.  But that’s a different story.

This is the story of Percy Jackson, a sixth grade boy with ADHD and dyslexia.  He attends a boarding school for delinquents.  We learn quickly that he is different and sees creatures that do not exist in the mortal world.  He has a best friend and a supportive teacher, and he discovers they are “in” on a secret that involves him.  I will not spoil the story, but Percy Jackson learns who he is because of who his mysterious father is.  He goes on a hero’s quest to save mankind from World War III.  The story is somewhat predictable (probably because it’s written at a 4.7 grade level), but it is engaging nonetheless.

What I liked loved about this book was that Greek mythology slapped you in the face at least 3 times per page.  I mean this in the most pleasant way possible.  I love Greek mythology and come with some background, but a person doesn’t need to know much at all in the beginning to come out an expert.  There were so many descriptions, from Hades’s clothing to the weapons of the gods, that I wondered what was really from mythology and what was from Riordan’s imagination!  Now I understand why my bookworms schooled ME when I taught a “Greek Mythology: 101” unit back in August.

What I didn’t like about this book was that it was a little too predictable.  At times, I forgot if I was reading Percy Jackson or Harry Potter.  The plot lines are way too similar.  I am not sure if that is such a bad thing, but I am not amped to jump into book 2 today.  I will, however, start book 2 later this week, because it is Spring Break, after all!

Book 44 of 52

Technically, It’s Not My Fault

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Technically, It’s Not My Fault (paperback)

by John Grandits

AR Level 3.4, 1 point

Okay,Technically, It’s Not My Fault was funnier than Blue Lipstick.  It’s told from Jessie’s little brother Robert’s point of view.  He is a typical little brother who enjoys annoying his sister.  He is curious and that gets him into trouble.  What I appreciate about him is he’s a smart ass, and that is a sign of intelligence.  It is the same format (concrete poetry), and it follows several of Robert’s escapades.  We see into the head of an eleven year old boy, and that is something my students would appreciate.

What I liked about this book was that it made me literally laugh out loud.  I had to hand the book to my husband to read the funny pages.  Thank you letter with footnotes?  My favorite.  A poem representing burps and farts?  Hilarious.  If this isn’t engaging, i don’t know what is.

What I didn’t like about this book was the headache thing again.  I had to keep twisting and turning the book.  I really can’t complain, though, because it was a great book!

Book 43 of 52

Blue Lipstick Concrete Poems

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Blue Lipstick (paperback)

by John Grandits

AR Level 3.5, 1 point

When it comes to literature I choose, it is usually a Newbery winner, a favorite author, a recommendation from a student or a friend, etc.  However, I never thought I’d really enjoy an assigned Common Core exemplar text.  I decided to look into Engage New York to teach language arts next year, and I’m struggling to find ways to get class sets of novels.  I decided to focus on a unit/module, so I chose the unit with poetry since April is poetry month.  This is the first book I read, and I really enjoyed it!

Normally when I’ve read books of poetry, they’re books of separate poems by the same author on various subjects, or poems on the same subject by different authors.  Blue Lipstick is a book of poetry, all from the point of view of same character.  Jessie is a high school student who has normal thoughts and feelings.  She doesn’t get along with her younger brother, her parents underestimate her maturity, she hates her English teacher, and she hates cheerleaders.  Each poem lets us into Jessie’s world by showing how she feels about something new, and everything is totally relatable… as a teenager.  It’s been awhile since I fit that category, but if memory serves…

What I liked about this book was the way all of the poems were written with the same voice but had a different layout.  It is a book of concrete poems.  There is a poem about volleyball, and the layout of the words looks like the invisible path of a volleyball going over a net.  The poem about the highs and lows of her day is in the shape of a graph, and the poem ends with her saying she had to make a graph for math, which made it even more ironic.  It is a very fun (and very quick) book to read!

What I didn’t like about this book was that I got kind of a headache from moving the book up and down and turning it to read the pages.  It isn’t a traditional left-to-right, top-to-bottom kind of read.  Or maybe I’m just getting old.  But if that’s my only complaint, then you know you should go and pick up your own copy!

Book 42 of 52

A Mango-Shaped Space

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A Mango-Shaped Space (paperback)

by Wendy Mass

AR level 4.7, 9 points

This is the story of Mia, an eighth grader with a condition called synesthesia.  That means she has some wires crossed in her brain, so she sees colors when she hears noises.  Letters and numbers have assigned colors, names have specific colors and textures, and certain sounds cause textured color to appear.  For example, her alarm clock causes spirals and the purr of her cat is an orange cloud.  Can you imagine that?!  While I was reading, I pictured what the movie would look like.  Talk about special effects!

Mia first spoke out about her synesthesia in third grade, and she got in trouble and made fun of for this special ability.  Some even felt she belonged in a special education class, even though her visions are more of an ability than a disability.  When her synesthesia becomes public knowledge, it is a time of transition for Mia.  She is going through a very hormonal time in her life as a new teenager.  She has a best friend who isn’t always supportive, and she is a middle child.  Boys come into the picture, which is enough to make any normal girl go nuts.  Mia and her family are also mourning the loss of her grandfather, who was a very important figure in her life.  Fortunately, she has a kitty and a supportive family to see her through a trying time in her life as her synesthesia brings her both joy and frustration.

What I liked about this book is the detail that is used to describe the colors and textures that Mia sees.  This is obviously not something I have ever experienced, but it is a real condition that I’d never heard of.  Her friends and classmates did not react the way we would hope they would, but Mia was able to rise above their immaturity.  I guess she also showed her own immaturity in her own way.

What I didn’t like about this book is the animal at the end.  Ugh.  I can’t deal with that, and I won’t spoil the ending.  I also don’t like that it didn’t show the consequences of Mia cheating or avoiding her school work.  She didn’t get into trouble.  She should have reaped the consequences.

So not the greatest book I’ve ever read, but really, it was pretty good.  I definitely recommend it.

Book 41 of 52