Tag Archives: middle school

[S] Spacer and Rat by Margaret Bechard

22 Apr

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

Jack is a Spacer who has lived on Freedom Station his whole life. Kit is a Rat, a transplant from Earth who lands on Freedom Station. On Earth, she had her father, but she is now alone, except for an illegal sentient robot named Waldo that is extremely valuable, but extremely dangerous to have. Jack and Kit must protect Waldo long enough to get him to Kit’s father’s contact before it’s too late.

Spacer and Rat is chock-full of references to science-fiction writers and books, which may be part of the reason why it takes a while to get into this world. However, by the end of the book, readers will want a sequel so they can spend more time in it. There is a lot of depth in the world building for such a short book, like slang and festivals, and Bechard includes details that make you feel like you are there.

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

[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.

[H] Human Body DVD (Rock ‘N Learn)

9 Apr

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

In the Human Body DVD by Rock ‘N Learn, Marko the Pencil and Bailey the Butterfly guide Kevin and the viewers through all of the major systems of the human body, including the skeletal system, circulatory system, and digestive system, as well as the five senses. The content is correlated to National Science Education Standards and features the voices of popular anime voice actors Vic Mignogna, Luci Christian, and Kira Vincent. (This was especially amusing to me, considering my other job as an anime translator. :D)

This DVD covers a lot of material in depth, so it may help for children to watch it in parts in order to really grasp each concept. There are a lot of clear drawings and on-screen labels that show all the major parts of each system and explain how they work. There are bonus sections on how to take a multiple-choice standardized test (using practice questions based on the DVD) and a segment on the (new) food pyramid.

A test on the material covered in the DVD can be found online here.

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

[G] Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! by Laura Amy Schlitz

8 Apr

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

Reminiscent of the Canterbury Tales, Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! Voices from a Medieval Village  is a collection of connected monologues and dialogues written from the point of view of tweens in the Middle Ages from different walks of life. The lively dialogue between the characters and the reader or audience gives students a glimpse into the lives of kids their age in the Middle Ages. Some of the characters know each other and talk about each other in their sections. Others seem wise beyond their years as they learn the ways of the world at a young age in order to survive.

The book contains information boxes about topics related to the vignettes, like the Crusades and falconry. There are also notes on words or phrases used in the text and a bibliography at the end.

I have been using this in my middle school book club as the basis for an interdisciplinary project that has students read the book, perform a monologue from the book, write a research paper on a topic from the Middle Ages covered in the book, and do a slide presentation summarizing the research.

My students don’t really get a chance to do that many presentations at school, and most of their schools don’t do school plays anymore, so I think it’s a really good chance for them to interpret the text and practice different kinds of public speaking. It’s also a good chance to introduce basic research methods because the book itself has many resources that students can use to start their research.

This book won the Newbery Medal Award in 2008 and was an ALA Notable Children’s Book in the same year.

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

[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.

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