[A to Z] Week 4 Thoughts

27 Apr

I got a late start to this week, and I don’t have any more pre-scheduled posts. For my last three books, I have a comic book and two pictures books, so they don’t require as much time to read as a full-length novel. However, I’m also coming on the end of my school semester, so school is pretty busy, too…

Anyway, good luck to those of you still in the game, and here’s to the last three letters of the alphabet!

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[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.

[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.

[A to Z] Week 3 Thoughts

20 Apr

I finally hit one of my letters that I had to write from scratch, and I finally used up Quidditch Through the Ages, a book I’d been keeping as my backup Q book for three years (backup because I actually own it so I don’t have to go out and get a copy, so I keep it for when I can’t find anything interesting when I go out to look for the hard letters to fill).

This means I’ll either have to change my theme next year or find another book that starts with Q (or just update my blog regularly and not participate in A to Z to force myself to update…).

Anyway, I’ve got pre-written reviews again for all of the letters for next week, but I don’t have any for the last three days of the month the following week, so I should probably get started on them… Nine more days to go!

[Q] Quidditch Through the Ages by Kennilworthy Whisp

19 Apr

(This is the first post this month that I didn’t pre-write, which is pretty good, considering it’s been almost three weeks! :D)

I remember when Quidditch Through the Ages first came out. I was so excited to get another Harry Potter-related book before the next book in the series came out. The book itself is a very thin volume that almost gets lost on my bookshelf (so thin that its companion book, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, is lost somewhere…).

I love how the details of the book, from the author and reviews to the scuff marks and fake library check-out list, make us feel like we’re holding a piece of Hogwarts (excluding the quality of the book, which feels like a cheap paperback, especially with its yellowed pages). There’s even a fictional publishing house (Whizz Hard Books) and an alternate price (14 sickles 3 knuts) to add to the illusion.

At the time, it helped whet my appetite for more Harry Potter, but now, years after the final book was published, I don’t really feel a desire to read the little snippet of the world I don’t quite remember. It’s like how I feel when I try watching the Harry Potter movies but don’t remember much of what’s going on. I loved the series while it was going, but with seven books, it takes a long time to get back into them. Until the last book, I reread all the previous books right before the release of the newest book in the series in order to remember all the details (I couldn’t with the last book because I was in Japan at the time and didn’t have all the previous books with me).

But, this is why I was excited while doing a quick search on this book to see that Warner Brothers is making movies of the companion books, starting with Fantastic Beasts. I think having a trilogy of short, self-contained movies will be better at this point in the life of the story, giving people like me a chance to revisit the world without the burden of having to remember all the plot of the previous parts…

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

[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.