Tag Archives: middle grade

[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.

[M] Millicent Min, Girl Genius by Lisa Yee

15 Apr

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

Eleven-and-a-half-year-old high schooler Millicent Min might be a genius, but she’s no good at making friends. When her mother signs her up for volleyball and she’s forced to tutor Stanford Wong, the basketball jock and her archenemy, she resigns herself to a terrible summer. But summer is ready to prove her wrong…

Even though Millicent may seem like an exaggerated character on the surface, she comes across as a pretty real depiction of a girl who is only good at school who is facing real problems that she needs to deal with head on. The book teaches lessons about friendship and the important things in life that all children have to learn at some point in their lives.

Millicent Min by Lisa Yee won the Sid Fleischman Humor Award in 2004 (among others).

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

[I] Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai

10 Apr

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

Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai is a diary written in verse follows ten-year-old Hà and her family as they move from war-torn Vietnam to the States during the Vietnam War. Hà struggles with having her life turned inside out before it settles down again as she adjusts to her new life in America.

Filled with imagery and onomatopoeia, this book shows the “other” side of the Vietnam War, written from the point of view of the Vietnamese refugees. In the author’s note, Lai explains that she wrote the book with second and future generations in mind to help them understand their roots. While the characters in the book are fictional, the events are based on Lai’s own experience moving to the States.

This book can be used to complement lessons on the Vietnam War. Students can do research about different aspects of Vietnam culture to present to the class.

It received recognition as a Newbery Honor Book and an ALA Notable Children’s Book in 2012.

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

[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.

[A] Alchemy and Meggy Swann by Karen Cushman

1 Apr

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

Although Meggy Swann’s alchemist father sends for her to live with him in London, she soon realizes that her father doesn’t want her after all. Meggy is left to find her own place in London and make her own fortune with the help of her new friends who look past her walking sticks to discover who Meggy really is.

Cushman tackles disabilities in the Elizabethan era with a sensitivity that leaves the reader hopeful despite the harsh circumstances of Meggy’s life. The book includes a bibliography and author’s notes on printing, disabilities, and language in the Middle Ages (refers to the eBook).

I also read The Ballad of Lucy Whipple for my class and taught Cushman’s Newbery winner, A Midwife’s Apprentice, a couple times with my book club students, and she hasn’t let me down yet :).

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

[Y] The Year of the Dog by Grace Lin

29 Apr

The “Year of” books always seem to be Chinese-related, even though the same zodiac system is used throughout East Asia at least. I remember last year for A to Z, I wanted to do what I thought was “The Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson” for “Y,” but then when I was looking it up, I realized that the title was actually In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson. This year, I bought a bunch of books by Grace Lin, and luckily, two of them actually did start with “(The) Year of.”

The Year of the Dog is the book I wished I had when I was growing up. It is just an ordinary book about a Taiwanese American girl growing up in a community with very few Asians. While I grew up in a pretty diverse community, a lot of the things Pacy (Grace) experiences are close to my heart, especially her confusion about the difference between Taiwan and China. I remember not knowing the difference until 3rd grade, when I did a report on China because I thought we were Chinese.

“But I’m not really Chinese either. It’s kind of confusing. My parents came from Taiwan. Some people thought Taiwan was part of China. So then calling me Chinese was kind of correct. Other people thought Taiwan was a country all by itself, so then I should be called Taiwanese. It didn’t help that my parents spoke both Chinese and Taiwanese.” (p. 18 of the paperback version)

My parents are staunchly on the Taiwan as a country side, so they were upset when I identified as Chinese at school, but I thought Lin’s explanation of the dilemma is pretty straightforward and apolitical, like her mother’s answer to her question about what to say when people ask her what she is: “‘You tell them that you’re American,’ Mom told me firmly.” (p. 19)

I also related to her experiences around other Taiwanese American kids, because although I speak Taiwanese and Mandarin, I was a Twinkie wannabe because the other option would’ve been a FOB, and I was born in America so being a Twinkie seemed like the cooler thing to be.

There were also things that I learned about Taiwanese culture that I didn’t know because what gets passed down to the second generation is usually a little spotty, so everyone ends up learning different things. In light of my last A to Z post on xxxHolic, it was interesting how almost everything in this book was translated into an English equivalent because this book is completely geared toward the general American audience, while xxxHolic is obviously for people with some knowledge of Japanese culture (although it can be enjoyed by people who do not). Although, just like in my family, Lin uses a mixture of Chinese and Taiwanese at home, so she uses both for the few words she romanizes and defines in context. My favorite of her translations is “flaky dried pork” for “rousong” or “pork floss” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rousong), which is always something I have a hard time describing to people who have never had it (although we usually eat the fish version at home).

A must-read for all Taiwanese American kids, but it is also a great entryway into learning about Taiwanese culture for kids of other backgrounds. I haven’t read Lin’s other books yet, but they’re waiting for me on my shelf!

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

[W] Wonder by R. J. Palacio

26 Apr

(#65 on School Library Journal‘s Top 100 Chapter Book Poll Results from 2012. Part of this was originally written for my History of Youth Literature class.)

“The universe takes care of all its birds.”

Wonder by R. J. Palacio is about Auggie, a boy with a facial deformity who is about to start going to school with other kids. The book follows him and his friends, family, and classmates as they struggle with how to incorporate him into their lives. Palacio tells the stories in parts, shifting the point of view from one character to another so that we can see how each character reacts to Auggie. For the most part, it’s pretty effective (although I had a little trouble when one of the teens decides to write with bad grammar after the younger characters are portrayed so eloquently. It seemed like Palacio was taking kind of the easy way out with that character’s voice).

It is an inspiring story about overcoming differences and being kind to each other. I don’t know anyone who read this book who didn’t love it.* It was one of those books that I had checked out because it was on the Top 100 and I hadn’t read it before, but I had actually planned to do Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin for my “W” book instead. (I had to keep myself from reading it so I could do “W” on this book because I have different book by Grace Lin coming up!)

I loved this book so much that I’m reading it in my 6th grade book club class now. This is probably the first book I’ve chosen that I didn’t choose just because it was a good story at a good reading level. It’s both of those things, but I also chose it because I think there are a lot of themes about bullying and friendship and just being kind in this book that are important for middle schoolers to learn.

*Apparently a lot of other people in L.A. want to read this book, too, because it was the only book of the six Top 100 I’d checked out that couldn’t be renewed, which was why I was “forced” to read it before the others… Our library system needs to get more copies of this book!

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

[V] The Vile Village by Lemony Snicket

25 Apr

I’ve read a few books in The Series of Unfortunate Events, and while I don’t dislike them, I’m not a huge fan of them. This particular book I actually checked out once to read for last year’s challenge, but I ended up using The View from Saturday instead (RIP E.L. Konigsburg :(). I ended up with the ebook this year in a bundle of three Unfortunate Events books because that was the only thing immediately available from the library.

The Vile Village is the seventh book in the series and follows the three Baudelaire orphans to a village full of crows in an attempt to find a place for them to live. The evil Count Olaf is still after them, and they need to save their friends, the two surviving Quagmire triplets.

All of the kids I know who have read this series really enjoy it, and if I had first read these books as a child, I think I would have liked them a lot more. Daniel Handler (the man behind Lemony Snicket) does a good job of introducing hard words and writing about what they mean, teaching vocabulary in context while being entertaining at the same time.

However, for an adult who already knows what the words mean, all the explanations make you feel like you’re reading twice as many words for the same amount of content, and it slows down the pacing of the story. Also, I’ve only read a few of the books, but they all seem to be pretty similar, and because they are “unfortunate events,” they pretty much all have bad endings, which doesn’t make it a very satisfying read (and according to a student who has read all the books, the series itself also has a bad ending).

It’s all right if you like that kind of thing, but I got kind of tired of the “author” telling me to stay as far away from the book as possible every time I picked up one of the books in the series. I can ignore it if the book captivates my attention enough, but in this case, I think I might just listen to him.

Great for kids who like to learn big words, but maybe not for cynical adults like me. ;)

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

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