January Books

We missed doing a December Books post, but I have enjoyed doing this round up of the books we read in a month.  Of course, we read many more than just this, but it’s nice to hit some highlights.

School Read
The Dust Bowl Through the Lens: How Photography Reveal and Helped Remedy a Natural Disaster by Martin W Sandler
We read aloud most of this book about one of the worst natural disasters America has ever faced.  It has a format that I’ve seen and appreciated in other books, where a page of illustration faces a page of text about one aspect of the overall topic.  The photos, many of which would be easily recognizable to students of American history, are still poignant and compelling.  The text tells the story of the people, the environment, the government interventions, and the art that arose during the Dust Bowl.  I especially liked how the book explained the role of photojournalism, both in this crisis, and in general.  A really good resource.

Read Aloud
Listening for Lions by Gloria Whelan
We read this great book back in December, actually, but it was one of the only things we read other than Christmas books, so I skipped doing a December books post, but wanted to highlight it now since it was such a great little novel.  This is the story of Rachel, whose parents are poor British missionaries in east Africa in 1919.  When the Flu Pandemic comes, Rachel is left orphaned and is swept up in a plot by her wealthier British neighbors that takes her away from her beloved Africa and all the way to England.  Whelan does such a good job of telling surprisingly compelling historical stories.  Her works show children characters they can relate to, but who are also realistic and true to their time periods.  Her books entertain and teach about history, which is often a tricky line for historical fiction.

Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's LibraryAnother Read Aloud
Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library by Chris Grabenstein
We have several more heavy read alouds coming up, so I thought this light and breezy piece of fun would be a good interim book.  Kyle Keeley and several of his friends and school rivals find themselves invited to spend the night in the new library before it even opens.  But the library’s kooky benefactor, Mr. Lemoncello, has more in store for them than they expect and Kyle has to use his love of games and puzzles to win the prize.  Think Charlie and the Chocolate Factory with puzzles to solve.  It’s definitely a fun, appealing book.

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred Taylor
I chose this book about an African-American family in 1933 Mississippi to go along with our study of the Great Depression.  The Logan family has a precarious position as black landowners.  Cassie, the narrator, tells of the difficult process of learning about the truth of segregation, something her parents have managed to shield her from somewhat, but which cannot be hidden as a series of attacks occurs in their small community.  In the culmination of the book, one of the children’s friends is accused of assault and is nearly lynched.  It’s a classic and incredibly well-written, but I had forgotten just how dark the story becomes as it goes on, and how much violence is portrayed in the book.  However, I’m not sure that you could tell this story without that violence.  At the end, BalletBoy exclaimed, “How can that be the end!  Nothing got better!”  But allowing things to get better would have been an historical lie.  We discussed the “small victories” that the family has in the book.  Cassie manages to humiliate the white girl who mocked her.  They get the money to pay their mortgage.  The father manages to prevent the lynching of their friend.  It was a difficult read, but very worthwhile and it spawned a number of good conversations, so I’m glad we listened.  The narration on the book is excellent.

Star Wars: Jedi AcademyMushroom’s Pleasure Read
Jedi Academy by Jeffrey Brown
This book is basically Star Wars meets Wimpy Kid.  Roan is a young boy whose dreams come true when he’s invited to attend the Jedi Training Academy.  Of course, once he arrives, things are not everything they’re cracked up to be.  The book is filled with little jokes about the Star Wars universe crossed with a modern school.  Roan’s report cards and notes in class and so forth intersperse the text and pictures.  It’s a funny, light little book.

hoot book cover imageBalletBoy’s Required Reading
Hoot by Carl Hiassen
After reading half of Savvy then deciding he didn’t really like it (this is a pattern with BalletBoy, who has read the first half of more children’s classics than I can count), BalletBoy switched to this lighthearted environmental novel.  It’s the story of Roy, a perpetual new kid, who ends up making new friends and helping lead a crusade against a pancake house that is about to build a new restaurant that will destroy the habitat of some endangered owls.  It was on the long side for BalletBoy for required reading, but about halfway in, he decided he really liked it after all, and finished it quickly.

Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated AdventuresMy Middle Grades Read
Flora and Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo
This book just won the Newbery award last week.  It had been on my mental “to read” list for awhile, so I was excited to dive in when a friend loaned it to me.  It’s the story of a girl who loves comics and a squirrel who becomes a very unlikely poetry writing superhero.  There’s a lot to love here.  The concept is funny and sweet.  Flora imagines comic-esque captions over everyone’s head and constantly refers to “Bad Things Can Happen to You!” a segment from her favorite comic.  Ulysses the squirrel has a great backstory (he’s sucked up a vacuum) and a great love of donuts (who doesn’t love donuts!).  It has all the hallmarks of being great.  But…  I just didn’t love it.  The quirkiness began to feel forced to me.  The rhythm of DiCamillo’s writing, which I usually adore, just didn’t feel right to me.  So in the end, it’s not my favorite of her work and I admit that I’m a little baffled as to why it won the Newbery.

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