Sunday, May 31, 2015

Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer

I finished my first Summer Book-a-Day today!  I read Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer by Kelly Jones.

Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer

This book definitely has one of the strangest titles I've ever seen, but it is such a good story!  When I first started reading it, I assumed it was realistic fiction...but it's not!  It has a tiny bit of fantasy - so I think it would be considered Magical Realism.  Kind of like All the Answers by Kate Messner or Bigger Than A Breadbox by Laurel Snyder.

In the story, Sophie and her mom and dad have just moved to the country from Los Angeles.  They inherited her great uncle's farm - but none of them know ANYTHING about farming.  While her mom is busy writing magazine articles and her dad is looking for a job, Sophie begins to explore the farm.  Tucked away behind some piles of junk, she finds her first "unusual chicken".  Throw in a few more unusual chickens, a chicken thief, and mysterious letters and tips from a chicken expert - and you have a great book!

I loved Sophie and her enthusiasm for trying and learning new things!  I like how the entire story is told in letters.  Sophie is feeling lonely in this new place, so she writes to her grandmother, who has passed away, to tell her all about what is going on in her new life.  She also writes to her great-uncle to tell him what is happening on the farm - and ask him questions - even though she knows she won't get a response.  And she writes to Agnes - who is supposedly the expert on "unusual chickens".  This is a great book for kids who like to read books with unusual and interesting formats - and the illustrations are hilarious too!

I will definitely be getting a copy of this for my classroom next fall - I think book clubs would have a good time trying to figure out what is going on!

My current read is The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher by Dana Alison Levy.  What are you reading?

Monday, January 12, 2015

How to Outswim a Shark Without a Snorkel



Happy Monday!  

I'm super excited to be hosting my first guest post today - the awesome Jess Keating, author of two books that fit perfectly in my 5th grade classroom library!

I first "met" Jess via Twitter when I was reading How to Outrun a Crocodile When Your Shoes Are Untied.  I was enjoying an awesome summer day on my patio...

wait, let's just remember that for a second...



Ahhh summer...

I tweeted out the picture and Jess tweeted back right away.  One thing I love about her is how she loves to chat on twitter with people who are reading her books (or reading any books, really!)

I was glad to see that her next book was coming out soon...none of this waiting an entire year for a sequel business.  I was so excited to get an ARC of How to Outswim a Shark Without a Snorkel - which is why we are here today.

Hmmmm not quite the same vibe as the first pic, but cozy nonetheless...
 
How to Outswim a Shark Without a Snorkel takes place right after the first book.    Ana is still Ana - she is just so relatable to kids this age.  All the same worries and fears that I see in kids every day - trying to fit in, while also staying true to who she is.  

Another thing I love about Jess is that she weaves science into her books so seamlessly...readers learn a lot about zoos and animals when reading her books.  They are a great mentor text for kids who want to infuse facts into their fiction writing.

Being a classroom teacher, I was thrilled to see that Jess decided to give kids some writing tips today...I can't wait to share these with my fifth graders! 

Enjoy Jess's post and don't forget to check out her other amazing posts from the last week!


My Top Five No-Fail Writing Tips for Young Writers  
        
Hey, my cheeky monkeys!

I'm so thrilled to be chilling at Christina's blog today to celebrate the release of my latest book! (Sidenote: you should read it! It's funny and has wetsuits and sharks in it!) But today, I wanted to switch things up and chat about being a young writer. 

When I was in school, I always wanted to be a writer. I collected notebooks, I scribbled stories in the margins of my schoolwork, and I read a zillion books. But I never felt like a writer. Surely the people who wrote books—actual books that I could find on my shelves—had some super secret power or talent that I didn’t know about. 

I'm going to share something I didn't realize back then. Do you want to know what makes you a writer? It isn't having the right notebook, or getting an A in English class, or even those funky pens that with the feather on the end. Being a writer is much simpler than that.

All you have to do to be a writer is write. That's it! But sometimes writing is hard. And instead of tapping away happily at your masterpiece, you're left staring at your words thinking they're nothing more than a giant pile of word-garbage that smells worse than last night's dinner you forgot to put in the fridge. So I wanted to share some tips for young writers, for all the kids out there who want to write, but have no idea where to start. Still with me? Let's do this.

#5. Pretend you've got a time turner. (You know, one of those gizmos from Harry Potter that lets you go back in time.) You don't always need to write about fantastically crazy things—sometimes real life is the best inspiration. Use your time turner to go back in time, and rewrite a scene from your own life. You can even pick something that went horribly. Rewrite it to make something great happen! Your own experience will always prompt the best stories.

#4. If you can't think of a character, borrow someone else's! When you're trying to get your story going, it can be very easy to get overwhelmed. There are so many decisions to make! Who is your main character? Where is the story set? What's the point of this, anyway? One way to break away from the clutter in your brain is to borrow a character you already love, and write a new story for them. Do you love Hermione? Pluck her from the air and give her a new story. What if Hermione opened an animal shelter? Or what if Katniss discovered a fire-breathing dragon? When you take a character you already know and put them in a new situation, your imagination sets fire and sends you all sorts of ideas. Roll with it! Before you know it, you will be scribbling madly. 

#3. Break the rules. I know. Some rules are important. "Don't eat yellow snow" is a rule I will always follow. But when it comes to writing, you are free to break any rule you want. All that matters is that you're writing! You can always go back later and rewrite what doesn't work.

#2. Build a 'Thought Spot'. What exactly is that, you ask? It's a spot to keep your thoughts! This is a handy trick for anyone who gets bummed because they can't decide what to write about first because they have SO MANY ideas. When your family is finished eating all the pickles, clean out the jar and grab yourself some paper. Then, I want you to list every single thing you think is cool. I mean it! EVERYTHING. For example, my jar would have stuff like, "pizza", "blobfish", "the smell of books", "oak trees", "sharks", "key lime pie", "the sound of tap-dancing shoes", "dodo bird bones" and "magical potions".

 Cut them out so it's one thought per piece of paper and stuff them into your jar. When you want to write, grab three thoughts from the jar. Now your job isn't to write about a million things—it's just to write about those three. Think up a way to use all three together. You'd be surprised how quickly you think of a way to incorporate your three cool things into a story!

#1. Make mistakes! I know. Mistakes are no fun. When I was a kid, I used to think that writers sat down at their notebooks and cranked out wonderful books, just like that. I thought they started on page one, wrote their story, then happily typed "The End". The whole thing seemed so simple! But I'm here to tell you that writing is ALL about making mistakes. Sometimes I spend a whole week writing something that I will end up not using. But words are magical things—sometimes the wrong words can lead you to the right ones, without you knowing it right away! I promise you, the more mistakes you make, the more 'right' ideas you will find!

Do you have any writing tips for students? Leave them in the comments! 

Thank you so much for having me, Christina!

Monday, June 16, 2014

It's Monday!


I'm joining Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers in sharing my reading this week.  Head on over to their blogs to see what others are reading and link up your own post!


I really LOVED all of the books I read this week.  Whereas last week was all Middle Grade, this week I read a wide variety of books.  I'm just now noticing it was mostly adult...that's quite an anomaly for me!  

Middle Grade

Spirit's Key

I finished Spirit's Key and loved it!  I'm a MAJOR dog person, so that probably had something to do with it. This doesn't come out until September, but it will make a great addition to the fantasy section of my classroom library.  I'll write more about it at a later date.

Absolutely Almost

Lisa Graff's books have been really popular in my classroom.  I went out and bought this one right away because she's just an author I know the kids will read.  I really love her book Umbrella Summer, but this one is even better.  Albie is a kid you will root for from page one.  Would be a great book to read along with Wonder or Out of My Mind.  It might be a read aloud for me this year.


Young Adult
Lola and the Boy Next Door (Anna and the French Kiss, #2)

I read Anna and the French Kiss just a couple weeks ago and I enjoyed this one just as much.  And it made me want to visit San Francisco ASAP.  I really enjoy companion books.  I liked seeing what was up with Anna and St. Clair as I learned about Lola and Cricket.  Looking forward to the last in this series coming out soon.

Adult
Attachments

I assumed this was a YA book since it is written by Rainbow Rowell, but it's not.  It's still awesome though.  Lincoln is a down and out kind of guy, very much in limbo about what to do with his life.  He gets a job as IT support for a newspaper and one of his jobs is to read inter-company email that gets flagged for being inappropriate for work.  As he reads, he gets caught up in the conversations of Beth and Jennifer, whom he never turns in, and keeps reading their emails for months.  

The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry

This is a story set in a bookshop on an island.  Sign me up!  This is my favorite setting for a book!  A.J. is in a downward spiral after he unexpectedly loses his wife.  In the midst of all this, the most unusual thing shows up in his shop one day.  This is all I can say.  Read it, it's amazing!

The Winter People

I haven't read a good ghost story for a long time and this one was fantastic.  Definitely creepy enough that I didn't want to get the laundry out of my closet - and it was the middle of the day!

The Matchmaker

I read Elin Hilderbrand's new book every summer...island living at its best.  I'm sensing that I need to visit an island sometime soon...

I just realized that I gave each book on this list 5 STARS on Goodreads!  Definitely a great reading week!  





Thursday, June 12, 2014

The Spy Catchers of Maple Hill

Historical fiction is one of my favorite genres to read, whether it's a book for children or adults.  I'm always fascinated by the way that people lived in different periods of time.  Unfortunately, this genre is the hardest one for me to get the kids in my class to read.  I'm not sure why that is.  Maybe it's because they don't have enough background knowledge on the time period and they get lost right away.  Maybe it's because they don't feel that the characters relate to their life.  I'm not sure.  I do know, however, that The Spy Catchers of Maple Hill will be a book that I put in my classroom and book talk in hopes of getting some new readers into this genre.

The Spy Catchers of Maple Hill

Hazel loves mysteries.  She carries around her Mysteries Notebook much like Harriet the Spy carried her notebook.  It's the beginning of the Cold War and suspicions are swirling about Communists around town.  Just as the accusations start flying, a mysterious man comes to work as a gravedigger for Hazel's parents.  As she starts spying on him, Hazel becomes convinced that Mr. Jones is a Russian spy.  

There's also Samuel Butler, a new boy in town with a secretive past.  Hazel has always been known as the smartest (a fact that she says was "widely acknowledged by the whole fifth grade").  So she is threatened at first by Samuel.  But then they realize that their natural curiosities benefit each other and they team up to find out what exactly is happening in Maple Hill.  

I think this is a historical fiction book that my fifth graders can really relate to.  Hazel is perfection...I love her voice in this book.  She knows who she is and what she wants.  She can be a little (a lot) snarky at times.  She wants to bust out of this small town and see the world.   I highlighted tons of passages that I thought were perfectly written to show how Hazel was feeling at the time: 

Some were funny - 
"She liked to make a well in her potatoes and fill it with gravy, then float her peas in it, but her mother said that was uncouth, which was another way of saying no."

Some were good advice - 
"Don't go down that road, Hazel, comparing yourself to others.  You'll only end up driving yourself crazy."
"The only problem was, whenever someone told her not to go down a road, she couldn't help but find herself sprinting ahead." 

Some were serious - 
"What if the whole country, the whole world, was just like Maple Hill, over and over again?"

I think that the author, Megan Frazer Blakemore, did a great job weaving history into this book without making it too heavy.  It would be a great introduction into this time period, which I admit, I have trouble wrapping my head around sometimes since it is not written about as much.  It would be a great book to read along with Countdown by Deborah Wiles.

I received this book via Netgalley, but I definitely plan on purchasing a copy for my classroom.  Have you read The Spy Catchers of Maple Hill?  I'd love to hear what you think!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

How to Outrun a Crocodile When Your Shoes Are Untied

How to Outrun a Crocodile When Your Shoes Are Untied (also known as the book title that will take up nearly all of your 140 characters on Twitter) is a brand new book by Jess Keating.  After I started hearing some buzz about this book on Twitter, I started following the author.  And I found out that she is hilarious and so very kind!  Based on that alone, I popped out to the bookstore to grab her book and I was not disappointed!  And I had a perfect day to spend on my patio reading it cover to cover.



And see there...she responded right away!

Ana, named after an Anaconda, is having a rough end to the school year.  Her best friend has just moved away (to New Zealand of all places).  She's dealing with final tests at school, a crush on a boy named Zack, and "The Sneerers".  And to top it all off, her famous grandfather has just arrived (surprise!) and her parents are moving the family into a zoo for the summer.  

I loved this book for many reasons, but most of all because the author hits the nail on the head when describing the feelings of a 12 year-old-girl.  I am sure that nearly all of my fifth graders will be able to relate to her and I am so excited to share this book with them in the fall.  

Another thing I love about this book is that Ana keeps lists of things that puzzle her.  For example:

- Strange Things About Girls That I Will Never Understand, Despite Being One

and

- Top Motherly Tricks:  A Marvel of Science or Black Magic?

Ana is really hilarious and I cared for her right from the start.  I can't wait to read the next book in the series, How to Outswim a Shark Without a Snorkel, which will hopefully come out early next year!

Have you read this book?  I'd love to hear what you think!






Monday, June 9, 2014

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

I'm joining Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers in sharing my reading this week.  Head on over to their blogs to see what others are reading and link up your own post!

Happy Monday!  It has been a wonderful first full week out of school!  Here's what my week of reading looked like...

Circa Now

I loved this new novel by Amber McRee Turner!  The premise is so different...Circa's mom is a photographer and her dad works to restore old photographs.  They have a family tradition called "Shopt" where they Photoshop old photos and add new details to them.  This was based on a fun activity from the author's own family.

  How to Outrun a Crocodile When Your Shoes Are Untied

I bought this book just because the author, Jess Keating is so personable and kind on Twitter.  I love supporting debut authors whenever I can and I am already looking forward to her next book!

Bird & Squirrel on the Run

I am not much of a graphic novel reader, but I like to keep up to date on them so I can share them with my class.  One of the grade-levels I will be working with in the fall is interested in doing a graphic novel unit, and I think Bird & Squirrel will be a great addition. I loved how opposite the two characters were and I loved the enthusiasm of Bird, though I am much more like Squirrel.

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I loved the illustrations in this book.  It reminded me of my senior year of high school when I read The Little Prince in French.  I can't even imagine how I did that back then because I can't speak a word of it now.  It was interesting to see how Antoine de Saint-ExupĂ©ry's life was reflected in his writing. 

Spirit's Key

I'm also nearly finished reading Spirit's Key by Edith Cohn, which comes out in September.  I am loving it so far...it's very different from any other book I've read!

Have you read any of these books?  I'd love to know what you think!

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

The Secret Hum of a Daisy

Grace is a girl without a place in the world.  She has spent her life moving throughout the state of California with her mother.  A new town every few months.  She is a professional "new girl" at school.  She finally thinks she and her mother have found their perfect spot, living with Mrs. Greene and Lacey, when the unthinkable happens.

                                                                 The Secret Hum of a Daisy

Now Grace is living with a grandmother she has never met, in a town she never heard her mother speak of.  She begins to meet people who knew her mother and her father, and she learns more about her past in a few weeks than she had known in her entire life.

As Grace gets to know the town, she begins to find clues.  Clues that remind her of a game, a treasure hunt, her mother used to send her on when they moved to a new place.  As Grace tracks the clues, she begins to think that they were left by her mother and that they will tell her what to do.

Grace is one of those characters that I just want to pick up and take home with me.  She is creative and loving, but she is not going to give herself up too easily.  She feels lost and betrayed by some of those closest to her.  I also love her new friend Jo and her brother Max.  All of the secondary characters in this book are so perfectly written.

I feel like there have been a lot of books lately where the girl is dealing with the loss of her mother. Revolution and Sure Signs of Crazy are two I have read recently.  All three of these are totally different types of situations, but I feel like Grace, Sunny, and Sarah would be great friends.

Have you read The Secret Hum of a Daisy by Tracy Holczer?  I'd love to hear what you think!