Tag Archives: middle grade

[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.

[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.

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