Tag Archives: grades 5-8

[U] The Underneath by Kathi Appelt

24 Apr

(This was first written for my Materials for Tweens class.)

A pregnant calico cat goes to live with the bloodhound, Ranger, who helps her raise her kittens. Ranger’s abusive owner, Gar Face, keeps Ranger chained and half-starved, so he cannot leave his post and the cat and her twin kittens must stay hidden in The Underneath, the space beneath Gar Face’s porch where the cats live. However, their family starts to fall apart as the boy kitten, Puck, breaks the most important rule and leaves The Underneath.

Their story is intertwined with the story of Grandmother Moccasin, a mystical shape-shifter trapped in a jar and buried under a tree, waiting for the day when she, too, can escape her “underneath.”

In this lyrical book, Appelt tells a story of loneliness and finding family, of betrayal, hope, and love. The third person narrator creates a distance from the sometimes disturbing events of the book while maintaining a magical realism. Readers must piece the story together as successive chapters float across time and space until all the storylines come together at the climax. A satisfying read enhanced by Small’s illustrations that help readers picture the Texas bayou where the events of the book take place.

The Underneath is written by Kathi Appelt with illustrations by David Small. It was recognized as a Newbery Honor book in 2009 and was a National Book Award Finalist in 2008.

This post is my Blogging from A to Z entry for the letter U.

[T] The Thing About Luck by Cynthia Kadohata

23 Apr

(This was first written for my Materials for Tweens class.)

This year, Summer’s family has had a string of bad luck, and now her parents must go to Japan right before the harvest season, leaving Summer and her little brother, Jaz, with their grandparents. Summer has to make her own luck as she helps her grandmother cook for the harvest workers while her grandfather works in the fields.

This story is about love as much as it is about luck. It is about loving your family so much that it hurts. It is about a crush, that awkward first kiss, and love lost. At the end of the book, the reader is left wondering what will happen to the main character, but at the same time knowing that she will be okay.

A discussion guide aligned with Common Core standards including pre-reading questions and activities can be found here.

The Thing About Luck was the National Book Award Winner for Young People’s Literature in 2013.

This post is my Blogging from A to Z entry for the letter T.

[R] Runemarks by Joanne Harris

21 Apr

(Happy late Easter everyone! I was so busy yesterday that I forgot to schedule my posts… Anyway, here’s another post that was first written for my Materials for Tweens class.)

Maddy is an outcast in her village because of a rune mark on her left hand. Her only friend is One-Eye, an old traveler who has been teaching Maddy about runes and magic, heresy in the eyes of the Order that controls the world in which she lives. When Maddy discovers her magic by accident, One-Eye sends her on a quest that reveals her destiny.

Runemarks might start off slow, but it has the heft and feel of an epic fantasy with an exciting adventure in a rich world that is part Norse mythology, part Christian tradition, and all imagination.

This review refers to the eBook version of the book.

This post is my Blogging from A to Z entry for the letter R.

[P] Pi in the Sky by Wendy Mass

18 Apr

(This was first written for my Materials for Tweens class.)

In Pi in the Sky by Wendy Mass, Joss is the seventh son of the Supreme Overlord of the Universe living in The Realms, but that doesn’t mean he’s anything special. It just means that he gets to deliver pies. Not just ordinary pies, of course, but pies nonetheless. His life changes when one day, the Earth disappears, taking his best friend, Kal, and his parents with it, leaving behind a girl from Earth named Annika. Now it’s up to Joss and Annika to bring the Earth back.

This campy space coming-of-age adventure is firmly rooted in science but still manages to be funny, moving, and entertaining. Readers will root for Joss as he races around The Realms trying to achieve a seemingly impossible task. The last chapter provides a nice ending that ties up all the loose ends while still leaving room for future adventures.

An educator’s guide with discussion questions and curriculum connections can be found here. You can also read the first seven chapters of the book for free in this sneak peek edition!

This post is my Blogging from A to Z entry for the letter P.

[O] Once Upon a Marigold by Jean Ferris

17 Apr

(This was first written for my Materials for Tweens class.)

This review refers to the Overdrive version of the audiobook of Once Upon a Marigold by Jean Ferris, read by Carrington MacDuffie.

Christian was raised by a troll, but that didn’t stop him from longing after Princess Marigold. They become pen pals by carrier pigeon, and one day, Christian decides to make his fortune and find work at the palace. There, he must save Marigold from her mother’s schemes and prove that he is worthy of her love.

This is a cute story that is pretty funny, although younger listeners may not get all the references to fairy tales and pop culture. MacDuffie’s voice took some getting used to at the beginning, but her performance is funny and draws listeners into the story.

This post is my Blogging from A to Z entry for the letter O.

[N] No More Dead Dogs by Gordan Korman

16 Apr

(This was first written for my Materials for Tweens class.)

Wallace Wallace’s policy has always been to tell the truth. In No More Dead Dogs by Gordan Korman, when Wallace is assigned to write a book report about Old Shep, My Pal, he won’t pretend he likes the book just because it’s his English teacher, Mr. Fogelman’s favorite book. This results in detention, and he is banned from football until he writes a satisfactory essay. Instead of warming the bench at football games, he has to spend time after school with the drama club, run by Mr. Fogelman, as they put on a play of Old Shep, My Pal. Wallace’s suggestions make the play a whole lot more interesting, but someone wants to frame him for sabotaging the play.

This book asks the question: Who are your real friends? As Wallace Wallace goes from being a popular jock to a drama nerd, he reevaluates the people around him that he considered his friends. The “villain” of the story is underdeveloped, but it comes off as more realistic this way–all of Wallace’s friends have their good and bad parts, just like real people do.

This post is my Blogging from A to Z entry for the letter N.

[L] Liar & Spy by Rebecca Stead

14 Apr

(This was first written for my Materials for Tweens class.)

By Newbery Award-winning author Rebecca Stead, Liar & Spy is an unconventional mystery that follows Georges on his adventures with his neighbor, Safer, as their spy club tries to uncover the mystery of Mr. X, who lives in their apartment building. After Georges’s father loses his job and they have to sell their house, Georges moves into the apartment building Safer lives in with his family. At school, Georges is a loner who is bullied by the other kids. At home, his mother, a nurse, is working long shifts at the hospital, and his dad, an architect, is busy trying to get new clients, so Georges is left to explore his new home on his own.

Georges’s life starts improving as he spends more time with Safer, learning to observe the world around him. He begins to see the things around him differently, which leads to seeing himself differently, as well. Even once the mystery of Mr. X is solved, there is still more for the boys—and the reader—to discover, and at the end of the book, readers will want to read it again from the beginning to find the clues Stead deftly weaves into the whole novel.

Things get a little uncomfortable near the end of the book as the reader joins in Georges’s confusion about the revelations that come seemingly one after another. Like in Stead’s other books, astute readers will be able to guess at the surprise ending, but even so, it is satisfying to follow along as Georges finally sorts out fact from fiction.

Teachers reading the book in class may want students to keep a graphic organizer or a chart of facts about Georges’s life to compare what is known to the reader at the beginning of the book to what is known by the end. Students should also be encouraged to explain the changes with clues and evidence from the text, in line with Common Core standards for reading comprehension.

More firmly rooted in reality than Stead’s Newbery Award-winner, When You Reach Me, Liar & Spy is an engrossing mystery that deals with real-life issues. Tweens will relate to the struggles Georges faces and can find courage in his triumphs in helping Safer overcome his fears and in facing his own reality.

This post is my Blogging from A to Z entry for the letter L.

[E] Explorers of the World: The Vikings (DVD)

5 Apr

(Part of this was first written for my Materials for Tweens class.)

The Vikings found on the Explorers of the World DVD are not the pirates of legend, but rather the farmers and explorers who found the New World 500 years before Columbus did. The teacher is the narrator that guides two students as they explore the history of the Vikings and talk with Leif Erikson in this DVD from Schlessinger Media’s Explorers of the World series. It uses a combination of live action sequences, illustrations, animations, photos, maps, and aged film footage to draw the viewer into the past.

The students in the DVD ask questions that viewers will be wondering, and a timeline helps viewers keep track of when major events occurred. The DVD includes discussion questions with the option to review related video clips, and English and Spanish language tracks are available.

This can be paired with a book about Vikings or with characters based on Vikings (Sea of Trolls by Nancy Farmer, some of the Ranger’s Apprentice series by John Flanagan) or used with related social studies units.

This DVD isn’t as exciting as I was expecting from the name, but I’ve always liked learning about vikings (I’ve even translated old viking sagas before in my Old Norse class in college). I don’t know how much I can recommend the DVD, but the books that go with it are pretty good!

This post is my Blogging from A to Z entry for the letter E.

[D] Drawing from Memory by Allen Say

4 Apr

(This was first written for my Materials for Tweens class.)

Award-winning author and illustrator Allen Say wrote Drawing from Memory, a half-narrative, half-graphic novel about his childhood in Japan, where he first started working on his artistic skills. Richly illustrated with both photographs and drawings in different styles, the narrative focuses on his relationship with his art and with his teacher, Noro Shinpei. The different styles used throughout the book may feel disjointed at times, but readers will enjoy the little mini-narratives in the comic strip asides and in his commentary.

Although this book is set in Japan, it deals with struggles that many Asian Americans face today while following their dreams, including the cultural stigma of becoming an artist. Tweens may also be familiar with his picture books, which have earned him a Caldecott medal and honor. This book was a 2012 Sibert honor book.

This post is my Blogging from A to Z entry for the letter D.

[C] Confetti Girl by Diana López

3 Apr

(This was first written for my Materials for Tweens class.)

Apolonia Flores, or Lina for short, loves socks, is tall, and is good at science and sports. However, she does not share her English-teacher father’s love of books, which he has been withdrawing further and further into since the death of Lina’s mother a year ago. Lina just wants her life to be back to normal again, but with her best friend Vanessa’s boyfriend and her own crush, Luis, not to mention failing grades in English, it will be a while before she can settle into her new normal.

Lopez writes about a girl dealing with the loss of her mom in a very real way, describing how she works through the grieving process in order to come to a new acceptance for her life. The struggles she has along the way are also very realistic, and the dichos (Spanish words of wisdom) at the beginning of each chapter add an extra layer of meaning and feeling to the book.

More information about the book can be found on the author’s website, and an educator’s guide with discussion questions and activities can be found here.

This post is my Blogging from A to Z entry for the letter C.

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