Tag Archives: middle grade

[Review] The Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke

29 May

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

Prosper and Bo run away to Venice to escape their aunt and uncle who want to separate them. Unable to survive on their own, they join a street gang led by the Thief Lord, Scipio, who is really only a child himself. As the gang tries to steal a wooden lion’s wing for a wealthy customer, Victor Getz, a detective hired by Prosper and Bo’s aunt and uncle, is hot on their trail.

This is a fun romp that injects a touch of fantasy into an almost realistic modern-day orphan story. The fantasy bits come as a pleasant surprise at the end, but not in a deus ex machina type of way.

A discussion guide is available on Scholastic’s book page.

[Review] Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer

15 May

(Welcome to the first of my weekly scheduled reviews! I chose Thursday arbitrarily because May started on a Thursday. This post was first written for my Materials for Tweens class.)

The first in a series of eight books, Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer introduces readers to Artemis Fowl II, who is twelve years old, the son of a crime lord, and an evil genius. Artemis tracks down a holy Fairy book that reveals the secrets of the fairies–secrets not meant for human eyes. Armed with the knowledge inside the book, Artemis hatches a plan to rebuild the family fortune and make his wishes come true.

The fast-paced adventure filled with fantasy and technology shines when Colfer takes the time to show Artemis in moments of humanity, allowing the reader to relate to him and his desire to be loved. A wonderful combination of fantasy with technology.

 

[W] The Wig in the Window by Kristen Kittscher

26 Apr

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

Even though they are very different, Sophie Young and Grace Yang are best friends who live in Luna Vista, a small coastal town an hour away from Los Angeles. When the would-be spies find the lights on in the middle of the night in the house of Sophie’s school counselor, Dr. Charlotte Agford, they think that they are a murder. It’s not actually a murder, but the girls decide that Dr. Agford is definitely hiding something, and they will stop at nothing to find out what it is.

Sophie and Grace explore issues of friendship, perception, and assumptions in this fast-paced middle grade mystery filled with action and red herrings that will keep readers on their toes. The side characters are also interesting–hopefully they will have bigger roles in the sequels.

A discussion guide aligned with Common Core standards can be found here (includes activities).

Even though I have a bunch of other W books, I wanted to showcase The Wig in the Window because it was written by local author Kristen Kittscher, and I feel like the other books I had on my list are more well-known. I loved how Kittscher wrote about a community like the one I grew up in (a coastal California town) with a fast-paced mystery led by a diverse cast.

I first heard about this book during Nanowrimo when someone contacted me about coming to a writing group and linked to the Children’s Book Writers of L.A., who had an event at a local library with Kittscher as the guest. It sounded like a fun book, so I put it on hold at my library because I needed more books for my assignment that I was also doing in November.

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

[V] Vincent Van Gogh: Portrait of an Artist by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan

25 Apr

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

This biography takes the reader on a tumultuous journey from Van Gogh’s birth to his untimely death by his own hands. Although kindhearted with an affinity for helping those less fortunate than he was, Van Gogh was the quintessential “starving artist” and depended largely on his parents and younger brother for his livelihood. He was considered “eccentric” for much of his life, but his stubbornness and persistent dedication to his art produced what are some of the most powerful and iconic paintings in the history of art.

The authors write an engaging biography that makes clear that Van Gogh’s paintings were the product of hard work and perseverance rather than genius. At the beginning of each chapter, the authors include a quote directly from letters written by Van Gogh to allow his voice to come through in the writing. The book includes a map, reproductions of photographs and paintings mentioned in the book, a timeline, glossary, notes, and bibliography.

Vincent Van Gogh: Portrait of an Artist was a Robert F. Sibert Honor Book in 2001.

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

[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.

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