Tag Archives: what we’re reading

May Books

Reading is trucking along at the Rowhouse.  Here’s some of what’s been on our shelves last month.

CountdownAudiobook
Countdown by Deborah Wiles
What a great audiobook rendition this was!  I’ve read both the book (when it first came out) and now listened to the audio with the kids and I’m not sure which one I like better.  The book takes place during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 and follows Franny, a girl with a somewhat dysfunctional family in suburban Maryland.  Wiles crams every single corner of the story with 60’s details about everyday things like the newness of McDonald’s and the changing music that Franny listens to on her sister’s records, to cultural trends and historical connections.  Franny’s father is in the air force, her sister is at college training with SNCC, her little brother is obsessed with astronauts and nuclear power.  The story is good too – Franny must face her fears and repair a relationship with a friend – but the “documentary” aspect of the story is the real draw.  In the book this takes the form of images splashed with quotes and short mini-essays that intersperse the chapters.  In the audiobook, sound effects and voice actors doing imitations of Kennedy and other famous figures of the day take the place of the documentary images.  Overall, a perfect listen for us as the story was exactly the sort of “everyday kid” story that Mushroom and BalletBoy are drawn to, but set amid duck and cover drills and old fashioned details.  Added bonus: the second in Wiles’s 60’s trilogy just came out this month.

One Crazy Summer (Gaither Sisters, #1)Read Aloud
One Crazy Summer by Rita Garcia-Williams
You’re probably starting to sense a theme.  We are studying the 60’s at the moment, so this was another book I really wanted to use with my boys.  I just adore the strong language and the metaphors that abound in this book about three sisters who go visit their mother for the first time in 1968.  Their mother just happens to be a Black Panther and the book is filled with reflections on race that I hope will be illuminating for my privileged duo.  The opening scene, where the girls’ grandmother exhorts them to not be an embarrassment to their race certainly gave us a meaty conversation.  I spotted a history book at the library with photos of the Black Panthers, including some of the breakfast program and summer camp that the girls attend in the book.

379348School Read
10,000 Days of Thunder by Philip Caputo
We didn’t read all of this history of the Vietnam War, but it’s such a great book that it’s worth touting.  We’ve used the others in this nonfiction picture book style and the format is so terrific.  On one page, there’s detailed text about some aspect of the war and on the facing page there’s a full page image.  Shorter text boxes with facts and quotes line the edge of the narrative page.  This is just the sort of detailed history that the boys are on the cusp of really being ready for, so we have been using this one both for the history and for working on deciphering and understanding longer nonfiction texts.  Both the boys have really enjoyed studying the Cold War, but the Vietnam War has been one aspect that has left them asking a lot of good questions.  I’ve had to explain that hindsight is 20/20.

8230675Another School Read
I Feel Better with a Frog in my Throat by Carlyn Beccia
This hilarious and bizarre book of strange cures throughout history was at just the right level for the boys, who were both fascinated by the fact that, not only did people actually do this stuff, but some of it was stuff that actually worked.  The illustrations are colorful and interesting, and, of course, the subject is fun.  We used it to go along with our study of medicine, but it could easily be a good read with medieval history or just for fun.

The Return of Zita the SpacegirlGraphic Novel
The Return of Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke
Hey, lookie!  A new Zita!  I don’t know that this is our absolute favorite middle grades graphic novel series, but it’s really close to the top.  The boys were thrilled to get a third installment and devoured it faster than you could say spacegirl.  This one finds Zita again fighting for her life and for justice for others, her reputation again at stake.  However, a mysterious figure reappears to help and she may actually make it home this time.  If you haven’t given this series to your comic book readers yet, then please do.  It’s truly one of the sweetest, best drawn things out there for middle grades and chapter book readers.  Best of all, the boys got to meet the artist, Ben Hatke, at a local library event and have their books signed!

Choose Your Own Adventure Books 1- 6 : Box Set : The Abominable Snowman, Journey Under the Sea, Space and Beyond, Lost Jewels of Nabooti - R A MontgomeryPleasure Read
Choose Your Own Adventure Books
After a conversation with the Husband, a box of these were ordered and the boys have both been enamored with them.  They’re the same old, extremely cheesy books you remember from your childhood.  I think the ones we have include being a prisoner of giant ants, fighting evil aliens, racing across the African desert, and battling natural disasters.  The writing is beyond dreadful and the plots are bizarre at best, but there’s something so much fun about reading a book in second person where you can actually change the outcome.  Both the boys read a few of the books in the Choose Your Own Adventures chapter book level series, which I highly recommend for reluctant readers who are trying to make the leap from easy readers like Frog and Toad to longer things but seem too stuck to make it all the way.  This older, classic series is also good for reluctant readers.  My less than reluctant boys can finish multiple plot options in well under an hour, so they’re a very quickly consumed item.

Treasure Hunters (Treasure Hunters, #1)Mushroom’s Reading
Treasure Hunters by James Patterson and Chris Grabbenstein
Mushroom started with Grabenstein’s sublimely fun Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library and was moved to write anything else by the author.  His other books were co-written for literary bigwig Patterson, so Mushroom next read and loved I, Funny then dug into this heavily illustrated novel about twins (twins!) who are homeschooled (homeschool!) and travel the world with their parents looking for treasure (if only!).  I didn’t read the whole thing, but the set up is cool and the illustrations are very cute.  At the start of the story, the parents go missing and the siblings embark on a series of exciting adventures to find them and treasure.  Mushroom says it’s “pretty good.”

The Lost Hero (The Heroes of Olympus, #1)BalletBoy’s Reading
The Lost Hero by Rick Riorden
We finally wrapped up all those Percy Jackson books, but I told the kids that if they wanted to dive into the other Riorden series, they were on their own.  Both the boys promptly demanded to read The Lost Hero and BalletBoy is currently in the middle of it.  They both give it thumbs up and have been talking about it together.  I admit that I really enjoyed Percy Jackson when it first came out, but reading other books by Riorden has spoiled their full charm for me as he seems to be sort of a one note writer, sort of like that actor who you think is brilliant in their first role, then by their third movie, you realize that no matter what part they’re playing, they play it the exact same.  I feel a bit like that about Riorden’s writing voice.  Still, he obviously knows how to craft an exciting tale and I’m not at all sorry to see that the kids have hooked on to this series that picks up right where the Percy Jackson books leave off.

The Place My Words are Looking For: What Poets Say About and Through Their WorkPoetry Tea Find
The Place My Words Are Looking For selected by Paul Janeczko
We continue to do poetry teas regularly and one of my favorite parts is looking for new books to strew on the table (or, more recently, on the picnic blanket) when we sit down with baked goods to read poetry.  This book is a nice find.  It’s an older book that features good poems by a good selection of poets who write for children, including big names like Naomi Shihab Nye, Cynthia Rylant, and Gwendolyn Brooks.  The poems are well selected, but most of the authors have short pieces about the process of writing included as well, which is what made the book a nice find.

Finnikin of the Rock (Lumatere Chronicles, #1)Farrar’s YA Read
Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta
I have always been a great fantasy lover, so it’s great when I find something new in fantasy that’s worth reading.  I think I may have said this before on this blog, but fantasy is really where it’s at in YA the last few years.  Publishers are still churning out dystopians, but in terms of quality storytelling and solid writing, high fantasy is really where it’s at in the imaginative YA literature category.  Finnikin of the Rock is about a young man whose kingdom is closed off by a curse while the inhabitants suffer inside and the refugees suffer in poverty outside.  A woman with the ability to see inside other’s dreams may be able to help, but first they have to rescue the kingdom’s missing prince.  The writing is solid and the details of the world and the characters are very well drawn.  I’m not in love with the fact that it’s a story of one woman, surrounded by men.  This is not a story that passes the Bechdel test.  However, it was still an enjoyable YA read.

April Books

If it seems like a slightly supersized edition of our monthly book round up, that’s because the kids have been reading more.  In a fit of annoyance at the upteenth reread of half a graphic novel, I changed our required reading system completely to become a required hour of reading before bed with anything they wanted, as long as it was new and it wasn’t literally all graphic novels.  Good things ensued.  We are still doing short required reading books for things I want us to discuss together.

The True Meaning of SmekdayAudiobook
The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex
I read this book on my own awhile ago, and had completely forgotten how hilarious it is.  It tells the story of Gratuity “Tip” Tuchi, an average eleven year old faced with an alien invasion after her mother is abducted.  Humans are supposed to report to a new human preserve and Tip decides to drive, but meets up with an alien on the run named J. Lo. and the plot only gets crazier from there as Tip’s road trip becomes an epic cross country drive in a hover car, being shot at by new aliens, and finding out the truth about Roswell.  There are not enough middle grade science fiction novels out there in my opinion (fantasy abounds, obviously) and this one is a fun one for older elementary and middle school.  The narration on the audiobook is excellent, with a really great choice of narrator for Tip’s voice.

Sadako and the Thousand Paper CranesRequired Reading
Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes by Eleanor Coerr
This is such a short little gem of a book.  Most people will know the story of Sadako, a young Japanese girl, who like so many after the dropping of the atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, developed cancer and died young.  We read this one together and discussed it as a sort of counterpoint to the nonfiction book Bomb by Steve Sheinkin, which we read aloud.  Both the boys felt the story was sad but touching and wanted to immediately make paper cranes for Sadako after finishing the book.

I Funny: A Middle School Story (I Funny, #1)Mushroom’s Reading
I, Funny by James Patterson and Chris Grabenstein
While the name on the author line of this book is Patterson, Mushroom found it when he asked had Chris Grabenstein, the author of Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library, written anything else.  Turns out he co-wrote several books with bigger name authors, including this two book series about a kid who wants to become a stand up comedian but can’t stand up because he’s in a wheelchair.  I didn’t read it, but Mushroom had a very favorable report and is halfway through the sequel and convinced BalletBoy to read it as well.  He says the jokes were funny but that the book is actually very sad as you learn about the accident that put the main character ended up in a wheelchair and killed his parents.

CosmicBalletBoy’s Reading
Cosmic by Frank Cottrell Boyce
This is another book I’ve never read that BalletBoy picked off a shelf after seeing a positive review.  The story is a strange one, but I can see why he picked it because it’s exactly the mix of reality and weird that both my boys enjoy in a book.  BalletBoy says that it’s really a book about dads and being a dad.  This is because the main character, who is just a kid, but a kid who happens to look like a middle aged man, poses as the father of his friends in order to enter a contest to go into outer space.  But when they actually win the contest and go, he has to be the one in charge.  BalletBoy liked it enough that he kept talking it up to all the grown ups he met and even reading them passages from it.

A Tangle of KnotsMushroom’s Also Reading
A Tangle of Knots by Lisa Graff
This one I read alongside Mushroom so I can review it too!  After reading The Thing About Georgie, also by Graff, Mushroom asked to read another of her books and we choose this one, which takes place in a just one degree away from reality world where everyone has a Talent.  A large cast of characters, including a girl who bakes perfect cakes, an orphanage director who’s too good for her job, a sinister shopkeeper looking for the perfect peanut butter recipe, and a boy with a Talent for getting himself lost, alternate chapters.  Their stories all intertwine and meet at a final cake bake off.  Cake recipes intersperse some of the chapters.  I liked the book, but I didn’t love it.  I really enjoyed the magical realistic feel, but there were places where I didn’t think the story fit as well as it wanted.  Mushroom also liked it, but found it hard to keep track of some of the plot lines and didn’t think the ending was satisfying enough.

Lone Wolf (Wolves of the Beyond, #1)BalletBoy’s Also Reading
Wolves of the Beyond: Lone Wolf by Kathryn Lasky
This series takes place in the same world as The Guardians of Ga’Hoole, a series BalletBoy refused to read when he was on his “only animal books” kick.  But he found this one at the book store and decided it was better (based on the cover, I presume).   It’s not necessary to have read that series to appreciate this one.  It follows Faolan, a wolf cub who is born with a twisted foot and therefore an outcast from the pack.  Raised by a bear and then helped by an owl, he has to figure out who he is and find his way back to a pack.  BalletBoy said he liked it but is debating reading the next one.

Bomb: The Race to Build—and Steal—the World's Most Dangerous WeaponRead Aloud
Bomb: The Quest to Build and Steal the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon by Steve Sheinkin
This nonfiction book was an excellent stretch read aloud for the boys and a great way to finish our World War II unit and lead us into the Cold War.  The book focuses on the personalities who built the bomb and the spies who fought over the information.  It’s a really complex tale, filled with all kinds old time spy craft and bits of information about how atomic chain reactions work.  It took the boys a little while to get into it, but by the end of the book they were definitely hooked.

battlingboycover.tiffGraphic Novel
Battling Boy by Paul Pope
This graphic novel was a Christmas gift that sat on the shelf for a little while before being rediscovered and read by both the boys last month.  It’s set in a world that looks like a sort of gritty mix of the present, the old west, and the future.  An old hero has died and the main character must rise to become the new hero.  After reading most of the way through, Mushroom suddenly looked up from it and said, “Hey, this is a hero origin story!”  The art is slightly rough and the story ends on a cliffhanger, but it looks like a sequel is already scheduled to come out later this year.

The Lost Art of Keeping SecretsFarrar’s YA Read
The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets by Eva Rice
This book wasn’t technically a YA novel, but it may as well have been since the protagonists were all in their late teens and very early 20’s.  It fits into this emerging genre of books about college aged characters but since it’s a few years old, I suppose it couldn’t qualify for such new marketing.  I picked up this one because it was a recommended book for people who liked I Capture the Castle (this blog’s name inspiration) on Goodreads.  It takes place in postwar England, where the main character, Penelope, lives in a decrepit old manor house with her beautiful but lonely widowed mother and aspiring rock star brother.  When Penelope meets a new friend, Charlotte, she is swept up into Charlotte’s family and more interesting world.  Of course, she also has her first romance.  While the book didn’t reach anywhere near the quality of the book that led to its recommendation, I really enjoyed the setting and the classic coming of age feel to the story.

 

March Books

Another round up of reading for you to enjoy.  We’ve recently moved to doing more independent reading at bedtime.  It’s a challenge to find the right balance in reading for my boys.  They like to read and don’t hate it.  On the other hand, if given a choice, they’d usually rather do something else.  And if given complete choices about what to read, they’d usually rather read a graphic novel they’ve already read.  That’s so important to do, but I also want to expand their reading time.  Doing it with snuggles on the bed and asking them to rotate between new and old, challenging and less challenging books, seems to be working right now.

School ReALWAYS REMEMBER ME: How One Family Survived World War IIading
 Always Remember Me: How One Family Survived the Holocaust by Marisabina Russo
We read a number of books about World War II and the Holocaust this month, but I really liked this very gentle introduction to the Holocaust that was one of the first we read about the topic.  This true story begins with a little girl asking her grandmother to talk about her photo album at a family dinner.  The grandmother keeps going where she usually breaks off and tells the story of how she and her three daughters all separately survived the Ho
locaust and managed to meet up again in the United States after the war.   The family’s good times in Germany before the war are the main focus and while the book doesn’t shy away from a difficult topic, it introduces it in a very child appropriate way, explaining the tragedy without focusing on the details.   The grandmother focuses on her good luck to have survived with so much of her family and to have the delights of a granddaughter to enjoy.  We did go on to read some slightly more difficult Holocaust stories, but I really liked this short picture book’s hopeful tone as a first stop.

Read Aloud
Number the Stars by Lois Lowry
I chose this to be our second World War II read aloud after last month’s The Winged Watchman.  This one takes places in Denmark and tells just a tiny piece of the inspiring story of how the Danes smuggled more than seven thousands Jews out of the country just before they were scheduled to be rounded up for relocation by the Nazis.  The book focuses on one fictional family’s role.  Annemarie and her family must hide her best friend Ellen and get her to her uncle’s fishing boat to be taken away with her family to Sweden.  It’s a short book and like everything by Lowry, excellently written.

Absolutely Normal Chaos  RB/SBAnother Read Aloud
Absolutely Normal Chaos by Sharon Creech
As you’ll see from their required reading choices, both the boys have been keen to do “average kid” stories lately.  For the car, they want light fantasy (we’re still wrapping up Percy Jackson on audiobook), but for bedtime they want real kids.  I pulled this one off my shelf, remembering how great an “average kid” storyteller Creech is, but I admit I had forgotten how much the book focuses on main character Mary Lou’s first romance and kiss.  I remembered more about the book’s other main plot, involving Mary Lou’s cousin and the death of a neighbor, as well as the everyday trials of living in a very large family.  The boys both adored the book, especially Mary Lou’s slightly snarky voice and her ramblings about reading The Odyssey.  And they didn’t mind the romance a bit, interestingly.

The Thing About GeorgieMushroom’s Required Reading
The Thing About Georgie by Lisa Graff
This contemporary middle grades novel is about a boy facing a lot of everyday kid problems: his parents are about to have a baby, a new kid seems to be luring away his best friend, and a girl at school seems to really dislike him.  However, there’s a twist.  Main character Georgie is a dwarf and will never grow much taller than his current short height.  The book challenges the reader to see into Georgie’s world by asking them to do things that are very simple and realize that Georgie will never be able to do those things.  Mushroom found it to be a quick read and while it didn’t get raves, he said he enjoyed it very much.

The Landry NewsBalletBoy’s Required Reading
The Landry News by Andrew Clements
Yet another contemporary, “regular” kid book was needed for this month, so I pulled out this title from Andrew Clements.  We’ve read many of Clements’ books over the years and the boys always enjoy his characters and learning about the topics the characters learn about.  I think they also really enjoy reading about the dynamics of everyday classrooms.  In this book, the main character Cara learns about newspapers as she publishes her own, one that criticizes the teacher of her class.  BalletBoy finished it with new ideas for our co-op newspaper.  Good thing we’re editing it next.

The Beginning of EverythingFarrar’s Good YA Read
The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider
I really enjoyed this contemporary YA novel about a former sports star named Ezra who suffers an injury that leads to a life changing senior year with new friends and a new romance. The opening part, about a gruesome accident the main characters witness as children, is a little much, and a series of coincidences informs the neatly tied up ending, but overall the writing style was great, and I have to admit that even the gruesome accident made me sit up and pay attention.  I also really appreciated the end message of the story.  While Ezra wants to pin changes on the world around him, he has to realize that he’s really the master of his destiny.

Shatter Me (Shatter Me Series #1)Farrar’s Bad YA Read
Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi
Why am I such a glutton for punishment?  I think it’s because I like a light series sometimes that I keep going back for more with these crummy dystopians and mediocre YA fantasy series out of the hope that I’ll find one that is actually fun (to be fair, sometimes I do find one, but not often enough).  I had a few mediocre YA reads this month, but this was the worst by far.  The book opens with an intriguing and promising beginning about a girl imprisoned in solitary for a mysterious but terrible crime.  A new person tossed in the cell adds tension, so I kept going.  Turns out no one can touch Juliette or she may kill them with a mysterious power she doesn’t understand.  Soon Juliette is out, there’s two guys interested in her (it’s like a formula with these things), there’s an oppressive military dictatorship with sinister goals (did I mention the formula?) trying to use her, and everything is just overemotional why can’t we be together nonsense with her true love (did I mention she’s named Juliette?).  I just skimmed the second half, but very little about it made much sense in terms of decent world building.  I guess there’s a resistance and she’s going to become a superhero.  Or something.  Not recommended for anyone with a brain.

November Books

541844Read Aloud
Angel on the Square by Gloria Whelan
I chose this historical novel because of how well it covers the Russian Revolution.  In the story, Katya, the daughter of a noblewoman, becomes the playmate of Stana, better known as Princess Anastasia.  However, a close family friend, Misha, keeps trying to tell her how precarious the situation in their country is and as the book progresses and the first World War begins, followed by the revolution, Katya sees it all.  I’m a big fan of Whelan’s historical fiction, which brings history to young readers in ways they can really relate to.  I taught this book years ago in school, but I wasn’t sure about reading it.  However, the kids really loved it and it provoked lots of interesting discussion.

235117Audiobook
The School Story by Andrew Clements
Mushroom was on a huge Clements kick last year, but he didn’t make it to this particular book, so we took it out on audiobook for the car.  After listening, I can say it’s not one of my favorites.  All of Clements books have a sort of magic about them where kids dream big and accomplish big things.  In this book, a young student writes a novel so good that it becomes an automatic property in the publishing world.  While I have enjoyed seeing how newspapers, camping trips, big concerts, amazing words and comic book empires come to life in Clements’ books, for some reason, this one strained my credulity a little more.  However, the boys both enjoyed it and the author’s books always have solid writing.

11594337Mushroom and BalletBoy’s Required Reading
The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate
Both boys ended up reading this wonderful little book that won the Newbery this year.  In case you haven’t read it, it tells the first person story of a gorilla named Ivan who lives in a mall as a tourist attraction.  Ivan’s life and story are extremely sad, but through the intervention of a little girl and a young elephant, the ending isn’t as tragic as the start.  It sounds like an odd topic for a children’s book, but Ivan’s voice is wonderful and the story provides a lot of potential avenues for discussion.  One thing the boys and I talked about was how the book turned the traditional plot structure of rising action leading to an exciting climax followed by a resolution on its head completely.  Instead of looking like a mountain, the book’s plot feels like a valley, as Ivan’s story only gets sadder until, about two thirds of the way in, it hits a terrible rock bottom before Ivan can begin to take control of his life.

SecretofthefortunewookieeMushroom’s Pleasure Read
The Secret of the Fortune Wookie by Tom Angleberger
After some pestering, BalletBoy finally got his brother to read all the Origami Yoda books.  I saw Mushroom carting this one around and then I saw BalletBoy pick it up to read it a second time.  While I sometimes wish the boys would read new fun books, I know there’s a big value in rereading as well, so I have been trying to let it go.

Big Nate on a RollBalletBoy’s Pleasure Read
Big Nate: On a Roll by Lincoln Pierce
While BalletBoy got his brother to read one of his favorites, Mushroom got him to read a Big Nate book.  Having only read a few of the comics, I can’t review this one much.  Only to say that BalletBoy read it nearly all in one go, which is generally a sign a book was enjoyed.

Justice League Unlimited 1Comic Book
Justice League Unlimited
Both boys have turned to more traditional comic books more lately and this title from DC has been a popular pick here.  I don’t think they’ve seen the cartoon of the same name, but they’ve been reading these short, one off stories on the iPad and BalletBoy seems especially drawn to having a superhero comic to read and follow.  While the habit can get expensive fast, most short comics through DC and Marvel’s respective apps are only 99 cents, which is less than trying to buy individual paper issues.  Titles are also rated by age and the ratings so far seem pretty fair to me.  This one, for example is rated 9+, though I think it would be fine for younger kids too.

14290364allegiant-coverFarrar’s YA Reads
Champion by Marie Lu and Allegiant by Veronica Roth
Okay, I read Allegiant last month, but I thought I’d toss them both together because they were both disappointments to me, despite the fact that I didn’t even have high hopes for either one.  Both books are dystopian novels that finish off their respective series.  In Lu’s Legend series, two characters from different walks of life must deal with a repressive government trying to reform.  In Roth’s Divergent series, a girl must decide how to act when the classification system she lives under falls apart.  Both series introduce some interesting elements that should be fodder for discussion.  In Champion, which government is better or worse: a flawed meritocracy or a free market where the government is run by corporations?  In Allegiant, whether our lives are determined by our genes is the central question of the final book.  In the end though, neither book really lived up the potential of its first entry in the series and the exploration of the issues was pretty shallow, even for YA.  I think it’s just an indication of how done this subgenre of YA really feels to me.  However, with a Divergent movie on its way and the number of young teens I saw carting around Allegiant over the last month, maybe it’s not as done as I wish it was.

1037241School Read
War Game by Michael Foreman
This book about four young soccer playing British friends who join up in World War I was beautifully done.  It’s hard to read anything about the first World War that isn’t just utterly tragic, and this book was no exception.  All four of the characters die at the end of the story, their blood on the snow in one scene becoming the red of the poppies in the illustration on the next page.  But before their deaths, they have a final moment of glory playing soccer against the Germans in the Christmas truce that occurs in the first winter of the war.  We’ve been struggling through World War I and there are so, so many amazing resources for it.  However, this book has been my favorite so far.

October Books

Since I’ve been doing less specific book blogging, I thought I’d try a monthly book roundup with the best books we’re reading.  We’ll see how that goes.  Obviously October is over, but here’s the highlights.

The Human Body (Hardcover) ~ Seymour Simon (Author) Cover ArtSchool Reading
The Human Body by Seymour Simon
We always have piles of books for school reading, but I’ve been especially appreciating the Seymour Simon body series.  They’re so perfect for independent fourth grade reading.  They’re long and in depth enough to be challenging, but not so long or detailed to be overwhelming.  I also like the illustrations in the body series.

Calder Game (Hardcover) ~ Blue Balliett (Author) and Bre... Cover ArtAudio Book
The Calder Game by Blue Balliett
We’re to the final entrance in this art detectives series and it’s just as pleasing as the others, which we’ve listened to or read in the last year at various points.  In this volume, Calder Pillay leaves his Chicago neighborhood to visit England with his father and encounters an Alexander Calder sculpture that is about to be the victim of a crime.  Meanwhile, his friends Tommy and Petra are left back at home with a terrible teacher and a shaky friendship.  I love the way that Balliett lets balance be a theme in this book.  Things are unbalanced everywhere, which, of course, plays right into the art theme.  I read this one myself when it first came out, but I’m enjoying listening to it again.  We need to get to the National Gallery to visit the Calder Room, where I don’t think we’ve actually been in at least a couple of years.  The kids remembered some of the specific sculptures referenced in the book, but it is nice to have a reason to go see them again.

Black Hearts in Battersea (Paperback) ~ Joan Aiken (Author) Cover ArtRead Aloud
Black Hearts in Battersea by Joan Aiken
From art mysteries to historical ones (or alternate historical, anyway).  I let this be the first read aloud of the year and we all really enjoyed it.  In this story, which takes place in an alternate late-18th century London, Simon, a young orphan and artist, comes to London to find a friend and instead finds a plot against the government.  There are a series of wild misadventures, including a shipwreck and a balloon escape.  The book is a bit slow at first and the dialect took even us Anglophiles a little while to ease into, but in the end, it was greatly enjoyed by all.

Darth Paper Strikes Back: An Origami Yoda Book (Hardcover) ~ Tom... Cover ArtMushroom’s Pleasure Read
Darth Paper Strikes Back by Tom Angleberger
After puttering around with many different birthday gift books, Mushroom settled on reading the second Origami Yoda book and said he enjoyed it very much.  BalletBoy has already read them all and liked them so much, he went as Origami Yoda for Halloween.

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The Name of this Book Is Secret (Secret Series) (Paperback) ~ Ps... Cover ArtBalletBoy’s Pleasure Read
The Name of This Book Is Secret by Pseudonymous Bosch
I haven’t read this series, so I can only pass along that BalletBoy has enjoyed the first book very much, enough to stay up too late reading it and enough to demand that I buy banana chips so he can make the main character’s special trail mix recipe.  It is in the grand and very recent tradition of books that address the reader directly and when the book tells him to pay close attention or use the bathroom before reading a chapter so he won’t need to be interrupted, he always takes it very seriously.

Cardboard (Paperback) ~ Doug Tennapel Cover ArtGraphic Novel
Cardboard by Doug Tenapel
The boys received this graphic novel for their birthday.  It’s dark and a little bit odd, about a cardboard creation that comes to life and gets out of hand.  It’s full color and had an interesting style.  They both really enjoyed it and Mushroom especially is looking forward to reading more by Tenapel, who has many graphic novels for kids and adults.

Savvy (Paperback) ~ Ingrid Law (Author) Cover ArtMushroom’s Required Reading
Savvy by Ingrid Law
This is such a wonderful little book.  It has been on the long side for Mushroom, who is a slightly slow reader.  However, he has enjoyed getting to know Mibs and figure out her savvy, or her special power, with her.  He was very intrigued by the idea that you could have a contemporary fantasy like this one, where things are magical, but also very realistic.

Bully for You, Teddy Roosevelt! (Unforgettable Americans) (Paper... Cover ArtBalletBoy’s Required Reading
Bully for You, Teddy Roosevelt by Jean Fritz
Yet again, I got suckered somehow into letting a book that wasn’t on the required list count for the required reading time.  However, after reading a short picture book biography of Teddy Roosevelt for history, BalletBoy asked could he please read something more in depth about the president.  I happened to have this on hand and it was hard to say no to his request.  It was nice to see him read some longer nonfiction for the first time.  Both the kids have grown up playing in Teddy’s shadow on Roosevelt Island, so I think it’s nice BalletBoy wanted to learn more about him.

Fangirl (Hardcover) ~ Rainbow Rowell Cover ArtFarrar’s YA Reading
Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
Yes, like everyone else, I read Allegiant this month.  But forget about that. Let me just gush instead about how much I love, love, loved Fangirl.  I liked it so much that I (blush) actually reread it because it went by too quickly.  Basically, the story follows neurotic Cather to college, where she has to deal with other people (other people being terribly difficult to deal with), her first romance, and choosing between the writing her professor wants her to do and the fanfiction that has garnered her a massive online following.  Meanwhile, Cather has to help her father and her twin sister with their own crises.  Bits of Cather’s fanfic end each chapter.  By the end of the book, not only was I in love with Cath, but I was dying to read the imaginary Simon Snow series about which she writes her fanfiction.  It’s clearly an alternate Harry Potter, but Rowell makes Simon Snow seem much more darkly appealing.  If only it really existed.

What We’re Reading

I’ve been doing a bit less book blogging lately, but we have, as always been reading.  Here’s what has passed across our shelves in the last few weeks:

Mushroom’s Bookshelf:

Frindle by Andrew Clements
Mushroom chose this to be his book for September required reading and then read it on his new Kindle and finished it almost in September.  He really loved it.  I think he gravitates toward these stories of everyday life, so I suspect more of Clements’s work may be in his future.  In case you don’t know it, this is the story of a fifth grade boy who invents a new word and manages to make it take off in popularity.

Tornado by Betsy Byars
This was the shortest book on our required reading list.  Mushroom picked it for October and finished it in a day.  It’s very easy, but it’s a sweet little story of a boy and a dog who comes during a tornado.  Mushroom gave it a general thumbs up, though no big raves.  He did like that it was such a quick read.

Junonia by Kevin Henkes
This story of a girl spending her birthday in Florida over the summer was a birthday gift from a friend and Mushroom picked it up to read.  He isn’t very far in yet (and neither am I), but so far the introspective tone is just right for him.  Henkes is better known for his picture books, which we love, so I hope this will also be a winner for us.

BalletBoy’s Bookshelf

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl
BalletBoy picked this to be his October required reading book and he’s about halfway through.  I’ll assume you already know the plot.  BalletBoy was especially delighted by what’s happened to the bad children so far.

Judy Moody and the Bad Luck Charm by Megan MacDonald
BalletBoy paused his other reading to tear through this newish Judy Moody book on the Kindle in a couple of days.  I haven’t read it and he only told me a little about it, but he laughed a lot while reading it so I assume it’s funny.  This is one of the only chapter book series that BalletBoy has really stuck with over time and finished all of and I really appreciate that about it.  And thank goodness it didn’t inspire him to collect chewed gum.

Ivy and Bean Make the Rules by Annie Barrows
BalletBoy also started this latest Ivy and Bean book, but he isn’t very far into it.  These are really easy reads for him now and I suspect he’ll get back to it.  Maybe.  He has a huge problem with finishing books.

Runaway Ralph by Beverly Cleary
This is, by mandate, BalletBoy’s September required reading book.  In reality, it’s part of a large pile of unfinished books from the last few months.  He’s very good at reading the first half of things.  He did finally confide in me that he was worried the book wouldn’t end the way he wanted, which is why he has left it with a single chapter to go for months.  In other words, it’s not from dislike of the book that he hasn’t finished.  Quite the opposite.  I made him pick it up again and read together with me.  It’ll be finished by the time this posts, come hell or high water.  Because, as you may have noticed, September is long past now.

Farrar’s Bookshelf

The Diviners by Libba Bray
Ooh, I love Libba Bray.  I love her versatility.  I love her style.  I have a little writing crush on her.  I’m not very far into this newest one about ghosts and flappers, so I’ll hold off judgment.  However, I’m sure I’ll love it.

Every Day by David Levithan
This was a weird little YA book about a character who wakes up in a different body every day but falls in love with a girl and does everything possible to get back to her.  It was an interesting premise, but David Levithan made it work.  I liked the moral issues that the characters faced and the way that having so many bodies allowed for lots of little stories.

Your Eight Year-Old by Louise Bates Ames
This series has some interesting anachronisms in its mention of toys and TV shows as well as its idea of how much freedom parents likely give their kids (big surprise – it’s a lot less now!).  However, the observational parts about age specific stages and behaviors are always useful to me.  I am looking forward to more confidence, less illness, and an increased engagement in the world from my eight year-olds.

Trading Hands and Being Read Aloud

Squish: Captain Disaster by Jennifer Holm
Another Squish graphic novel which both my boys read.  These are very quick and easy and devoured as soon as they come.  Both my boys want more!

Legends of Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke
This is the second part in the Zita series of full-color graphic novels.  It wasn’t quite as good as the first, but both boys read it and loved it.

Avatar: The Promise by Gene Luen Yang
I posted about this series awhile back.  The third volume just came out and we all devoured it quickly.  Anyone who is a fan of Avatar: The Last Airbender should be satisfied by the writing in this story, which is like a season four of the show.  The characters grow and change, but are recognizable as themselves.  It’s a perfect series and I’m excited that a new storyline called “The Search” is coming next year.

Gone-Away Lake by Elizabeth Enright
This old-fashioned story about a lake in upstate New York is our current read aloud.  There are some lovely descriptions of the nature around the lake and the story, with its multi-generational friendships, is a nice one.  We’ll finish it very soon, but it hasn’t been a huge winner so I doubt we’ll read the sequels.

My Rotten Red-Headed Older Brother by Patricia Polacco
We had the immense pleasure of seeing Patricia Polacco speak at the National Book Festival a couple of weeks ago.  This book about sibling rivalry and friendship, based on her childhood, was a huge hit with the kids.  BalletBoy both read it himself and made me read it aloud, which was very unusual.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling
This is our current audiobook in the car.  Slow going as we don’t always listen (and sometimes choose the subway).  It’s a dark chapter in the series, as most of you will know.  I hesitated about going ahead to do it, but the kids asked and I agreed.  They’re definitely enjoying it, especially Mushroom, who, as always, is brilliant at picking out the connections and foreshadowing in these intricate stories.  I’m thinking we’ll wait a good while before the next volume though.

Books We Read on the Road

One of the most wonderful things about our trip was how completely unplugged we were for so long.  There were several long stretches of time with little to do but sit around and enjoy the various scenery.  The Husband and I sat and read and amazingly the kids joined in.  In fact, BalletBoy had to be stopped from reading too long before bed several times!

BalletBoy, Mushroom and the Husband tore through

 Two more books in the Bone series by Jeff Smith.  This is a classic series of graphic novels about some characters who happen to be bones living in an epic fantasy backdrop of princesses, dragons and various adventures.  The books weren’t originally targeted to kids (though they are now), so there are some adult themes, but it’s pretty mild on the whole.  BalletBoy reread the fourth book so many times in the car that it began to fall apart.  Then he and Mushroom discussed and discussed and discussed these books and characters endlessly as we hiked and drove and lazed by pools.

BalletBoy also devoured

 The rest of the Beastologist series by R.L. Lafevers.  In fact, I had only brought the second book and had to download more on my Kindle for him then wait patiently to get my Kindle back!  This series is about a young boy named Nate, who is training to be a “beastologist” with his great-aunt, which means learning to deal with all sorts of creatures like gremlins, wyverns and unicorns.  It takes place in the 1920’s and has a sort of Indiana Jones feel as Nate and his aunt traverse the globe from Arabia and northern Africa to Wales.

As a side note, seeing BalletBoy read on the Kindle made me want to get him one.  He used the dictionary feature quite often and very naturally.  Plus, the ability to resize the text to be the large size of a beginning chapter book seemed to please him.  However, he lamented that the illustrations to the book weren’t as clear and told me he was eager to go back to paper.  Oh well…  Christmas next year he’ll be ready for it, I’ll wager.

Mushroom read

How to Eat Fried Worms by Thomas Rockwell!  I actually brought this for BalletBoy, but he had no interest (ew, worms!).  Instead, despite the small font and the fact that he was stumbling over a word or two a page at least, Mushroom picked it up and tore through the first half while sitting in an airport for two hours.  It was amazing.  In case you’re not familiar with the book, it’s about a boy who eats 15 worms for fifty dollars.  The chapters are extremely short and it’s sort of a classic “boy book” from the 1970’s that has held up over the years.

I read

Well, honestly, I mostly read grown-up books (let me highly recommend The Night Circus by Erin Morganstern!).  However, I did have a few YA’s and middle grades novels in my Kindle pile.  First up, I read a few books by the middle grades writer Wendy Mass, who I had read before, but not really gotten to know.  Her book Every Soul a Star has a homeschool theme, for those not in the know.  Her most common theme, however, is probably birthdays, as she has a book for turning 11, 12 and 13.  However, I found that I just adored A Mango Shaped Space.  This book follows a character with synesthesia, a condition where the brain is full of crossed wires for the senses, making people “see” colors or “smell” letters.  It was fascinating just for that aspect, but the plot, which also deals with friendships, family and dealing with death and mourning, was very sweet and touching.  The writing is so strong and compelling in all her works.

Also, I read Lauren Oliver’s Pandemonium, which just came out.  This is the sequel to Delirium, which I wrote briefly about in my post on Dystopian YA books.  In this volume, Lena has escaped being lobotimized out of falling in love, but has to deal with a new life in the wilds and then participate in a government resistance.  Oliver does some clever plotting in that she jumps the story around in time so that the reader doesn’t get bogged down in Lena’s period of depression after her escape.  However, overall, it suffered from the same strengths and weaknesses as Delirium.  Even with the time jumps, I could see every plot twist coming a mile away.  However, the writing and the characters remained strong.  There is some amazing descriptive writing in there about Lena’s emotional state and her world, which really kept my interest even if the plot was a bit predictable.