by Sharon Creech
AR Level 4.4, 3 points
Moo is about a brother and sister who move from a big city to rural Maine with their parents, who are looking for a change. Their mother offers them to a woman named Mrs. Falala, who needs help taking care of her cow, a feisty former prize winner. The siblings are at first afraid of Mrs. Falala and her animals, but quickly fall in love with the farm, and learn that things aren’t always what they appear.
What I liked about this book was the fact that it was partially written in concrete poetry and prose, and partially in standard paragraph, narrative form. I liked the mixture, and while I’ve read many books written in prose, it was a nice contrast to see both forms in the same novel.
What I didn’t like about this book was that I got a little bored at times. I do not blame the book, though. I blame the fact that I’ve only read young adult books lately, and this did not have romance or anything depressing in it, so it didn’t move as quickly for me. I need to diversify my to read list!
Book 60 of 40 (40 Book Challenge)
Home of the Brave (paperback)
by Katherine Applegate
AR Level 3.5, 3 points
Kek is a refugee from Africa (Sudan, I believe). He has lost his mother, brother, father, and his whole life as he knew it. The story begins with him arriving in Montana, a white state (due to the snow), and we realize Kek has a lot to learn about life in America and the English language. He takes everything literally, and relies on his friend, cousin, and sponsor to teach him about his new culture. Kek makes friends with a cow, which leads him to a job. Throughout the story, we are hoping for word on Kek’s mom, who was lost during the war, and assumed dead. There are sad parts, happy parts, funny parts, and parts that need to be shared with people who want to ban refugees.
What I liked about this book was that Applegate wrote the whole thing in prose! I’ve never read aloud a book written in prose before, so it was a fun read aloud. My sixth graders appreciated his mistakes and misunderstandings due to the language barrier. There are parts that made us laugh out loud, and parts that made us want to cry. It is very emotional.
What I didn’t like about this book was that there could have been more to it. I felt like Kek was believable as a character, but there could have been more to his story. The end is feel-good, but I’m not sure how realistic it was.
Book 55 of 40 (40 Book Challenge)
Paper Hearts (paperback)
by Meg Wiviott
AR Level 4.3, 3 points
Paper Hearts is told from multiple perspectives, but both girls are similar, being Jewish, multi-lingual, and alone in a concentration camp. Both came from good families and lost their families to the Germans. They become friends and help each other through their time in Auschwitz.
What I liked about this book is it is another perspective of the Holocaust. If this is a time period we don’t want to be forgotten (lest we repeat history), books such as Paper Hearts will teach our children the horrors and hopelessness (or hopefulness) of the Holocaust. I also liked that it was written in prose.
What I didn’t like about this book was that it was kind of slow. I also felt like the 2 main characters whose perspectives the story was told from weren’t different enough to sound like individuals. In fact, the girls blended together, and I often didn’t know which girl I was reading about. Most of the time, in fact.
Book 37 of 40 (40 Book Challenge)
Somewhere Among (paperback)
by Annie Donwerth-Chikamatsu
No AR Quiz Yet
Somewhere Among is the story of Ema and her family living in Japan during 2001, the year the twin towers fell. Ema’s mother is American, and her parents live in California. Ema’s father is Japanese, and his parents live near Tokyo, Japan, which is where Ema and her mother are forced to stay since Ema’s mother is in the middle of a high-risk pregnancy and is put on bed rest. It is a difficult summer for the family, because Papa has to stay in Tokyo and commute on weekends to visit his family, and Ema’s grandmother is a strict woman with high standards for behavior, being a traditional Japanese woman. Ema has to learn to adapt to her new environment and school for the sake of her new baby brother or sister’s survival. And then, September 11th comes around, and her American family is depressed and afraid. Ema has a lot of growing up to do in a short period of time, something no fifth grader should have to endure, but it is an interesting slice of life piece, and we learn more about that period in history from the perspective of a different country.
What I like about this book is that is is written in verse. This has been my new genre lately, it seems. I cannot get enough of novels written in poetry form, and I am always looking for new ones. I will read nearly anything written in verse or as a graphic novel. I also appreciate that the book was written from the perspective of a Japanese-American (or American-Japanese) girl around the age of my students. I was able to see what it was like for people in other countries, as well as from a child’s perspective.
What I did not enjoy about this book was that there were relationships that were left unresolved. Masa was not taken care of. I felt that Ema’s relationship with her grandparents could have been better described or defined. Her father was not in the picture very often. I felt really sad for Ema, because it reminded me a little of my own daughter, who needs a lot of attention and is often pushed aside, because I have other concerns, health issues, etc. It isn’t that we don’t take care of her and give her attention, but she often needs more attention and will act out if she doesn’t get it.
Book 10 of 40 (40 Book Challenge)
by Kwame Alexander
AR Level 3.9, 3 points
Booked didn’t look interesting to me, but I ordered it from Scholastic for one of my athletic, book-hating, reluctant reading boys along with The Crossover, which won the Newbery in 2015 (but I haven’t read yet). Then, I opened Booked. I discovered it is written in verse, not paragraph form! It isn’t a boring sports-related novel as I expected, but an exciting novel written in verse about a boy and his struggles, who happens to be a big soccer fan.
Nicholas is about 12 years old, and he lives with his mom and dad. He has a good relationship with his mom, but his dad gets on his nerves when he forces Nick to read the dictionary he personally wrote, full of interesting words, which Nick learns, resentfully. Nick also has a crush on a girl named April, and he has a best friend named Coby. Nick and Coby are typical pre-teen, soccer-obsessed boys who like girls and hate school. However, when Nick learns his parents are separating and he gets bullied at school, his life starts to fall apart and he has to rely on soccer and hope to get him through a tough year.
What I liked about this book was a few things. It was a surprising read for me, because I never expected to like a book about a boy who likes sports. Sports aren’t my thing, but soccer in this novel is secondary to Nick’s life events and struggles, which is what I enjoyed reading about. I also liked that his character is intelligent and likable, and I like to think relatable for many of my students. I also really appreciated that it was written in verse by a very talented poet author.
What I didn’t like about this book was that I wanted to know what was up with the Dragonfly box! What was inside of it?!
Book 5 of 40 (40 Book Challenge)
by Jacqueline Woodson
AR Level 4.7, 2 points
Locomotion is another book written in various forms of poetry, but it tells the story of Lonnie, an eleven year old boy who lost his parents in a fire and was separated from his little sister. He lives with Ms. Edna and has a teacher who encourages him to write poetry, insisting he has a gift. Lonnie writes his way through memories of his family, sadness about being separated from his sister, and his discovery of God.
What I liked about this book was that it motivated me to encourage poetry with my own students. Lonnie lived through the heartbreak of losing his family and found solace in poetry. He wrote about what he saw and experienced, or what he was feeling. There’s no reason my students couldn’t do the same.
What I didn’t like about this book was that it was sad. It’s sad to think of a boy and girl living without their parents, who were clearly good parents, especially now that I have children of my own. I don’t want my kids to have to go through life without me, especially if they were to be separated from each other.
Woodson has written quite a few books about the perspective of young, African-American children, and I think being able to read books from a different perspective will help my own students make connections. Anything that helps us to see diversity from someone else’s point of view will generate tolerance and acceptance, which is what we need right now.
Book 39 of 40 (year 2)
Inside Out & Back Again
by Thanhha Lai
AR Level 4.8, 2 points
Newbery Honor and National Book Award Winner
This story caught my eye when I was “window shopping” on Amazon. It was an “others who purchased” recommendation, and so I added it to my wishlist. Luckily, I was able to purchase it with my Scholastic points, and I am glad I did. It follows a girl named Ha who escapes Vietnam with her family (sans her father) towards the end of the war, and starts fresh in Alabama. Unfortunately, she is mistreated by her classmates since she doesn’t speak English and looks different from her peers. Her family also has trouble adjusting while mourning their missing father/husband. It gives an inside look at what it is like being a refugee from a war torn country.
What I liked about this book was that it was written in poetry. Like Brown Girl Dreaming, Inside Out & Back Again‘s chapters are poems, not paragraphs. This makes it not only a fast read, but full of figurative language. The author uses fewer words to make a bigger impact on the emotions and feelings of Ha. What’s more impactful is that it is based on the author’s experiences as a child.
What I didn’t like about this book was that it didn’t give as much detail about the war. I feel like the historical novels I read teach me more about a time period or experience than if I were to read a text book, but this didn’t give me quite as much about the war as I would have liked. I am sure that was intentional, given it is written at a fourth grade level, and this war was pretty brutal.
I would like to read more about Ha’s experience, but I did see that Lai wrote another book, called Listen, Slowly about a Vietnamese girl from California who learns more about her roots when traveling to Vietnam. I enjoy historical fiction and reading about the perspectives of others I wouldn’t normally know about.
Book 32 of 40 (year 2)