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Curveball: The Year I Lost My Grip by Jordan Sonneblick.

 Curveball

 The sensitive male teen, yes he actually exists and you’ll find him in the narration of books by Jordan Sonneblick.  His characters always seem like the teens I’d like to adopt.  They are often handsome and smart without knowing it, use a lot of self-deprecating humor and are in the process of falling in love.

In Curveball, The Year I Lost my Grip, Peter Friedman is facing two crushing disappointments.. 

Since Little League, he has always been a star pitcher.   The summer before entering high school, he has his best season ever on the pitching mound.   Then in the championship game, he injures his elbow so severely that he will never be able to pitch again.

Then, there’s his grandfather, he and Pete have always shared a special relationship.  Grandpa is a professional photographer who has taught Peter everything he knows.  Suddenly grandpa is doing strange things like giving Pete all his photo equipment and getting lost on familiar streets.

For many students, high school can feel like a letdown after ruling middle school.  Josh no longer has his baseball to set him apart.  Life becomes brighter when he meets Angelika in photography class.  Angelika is a sensitive girl who has a way of getting to the real issues.  She understands that Peter has experienced a great loss and empathizes with his worries about his grandfather, encouraging him to discuss it with his parents instead of keeping his grandfather’s secret.

This is a great book for middle and high school students.  While there is definitely romance going on, this book is about much more.  Readers will find Pete’s narration to be humorous even as he deals with loss and finds a new life after baseball.

 

 

 

 

 

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In Memory of Lois Duncan

Before The Hunger Games, or Harry Potter or James Patterson’s Middle School Books, there was Lois Duncan.

The Young Adult books of my time  (I graduated from high school in 1977) were limited.  Most of them were problem novels about drug addicts and  teenage alcoholics. (News Flash! drug addicts and alcoholic don’t  read books.)

But in the 1970s and 1980s,  Lois Duncan was one of the most popular young adult authors.  Her books were about normal teenagers suddenly thrown into terror and suspense.

Books like…

Ransom-a  terrorist comes aboard a school bus and takes students hostage.

Don’t Look Behind You – April’s normal life ends  abruptly, when she and her family are forced to flee drug dealers and  enter the Witness Security Program

or  Locked in Time– Lenore begins to realize that her stepmother and stepsiblings never age.  Her stepmother kills off her husbands when they become inconvenient.

Young Adult Author, Richard Peck talked to The New York Times about Duncan in 1978:.

“Lois Duncan breaks some new ground in a novel without sex, drugs or black leather jackets. But the taboo she tampers with is far more potent and pervasive: the unleashed fury of the permissively reared against any assault on their egos and authority. … The value of the book lies in the twisted logic of the teenagers and how easily they can justify anything.”KillingMrGriffin

This was certainly true of Killing Mr. Griffin. When several high school students plot to kidnap their loathsome English teacher, they are suddenly dealing with a dead body and a whole host of other problems.   Lest you think I am giving the plot away, that’s only the beginning.  The story is about the teens’ attempt to cover their tracks.

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Then there were The Daughters of Eve in Duncan’s first book. Members of a female secret society are advised by a radical feminist teacher to carry out extreme acts of violence.  The New York Times Book Review referred to it as a female Lord of the Flies.

Lois Duncan died on June 15 at age 82.  Her books will be remembered by many former teens.

She knows what you did last summer. And she knows how to find that secret evil in her characters’ hearts, evil she turns into throat-clutching suspense in book after book. Does anyone write scarier books than Lois Duncan? I don’t think so.

—  R.L. Stine, author of Goosebumps and Fear Street

 

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Ten-Gallon Bart

Ten Gallon Bart is the sheriff of Dog City, the most peaceful town in the West, thanks to brave and courageous sheriff.  He’s served the town for 10 years. The other characters in Dog City include Miss Kitty, the  owner of the local saloon, two chickens named Pixie and Dixie,  and two pigs named   Bill and Wyatt.

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None of the children at Hollis Academy knew  about Gunsmoke but that didn’t stop them from giggling at this silly story.

Ten-Gallon Bart is just about to announce his retirement when he learns that Billy the Kid,  “the roughest, toughest, gruffest goat in the country” is headed into town on the noon train. It’s up to Bart and all the other animals to put Billy in his place.

I read this book aloud to first, second and third grade groups.  They all enjoyed the story but needed guidance at getting all the jokes in the story.  For example:

“I  see this place is going to the dogs” snarled Billy the Kid.

“You gotta bone to pick?” asked Bart

This is a great book for teaching visual literacy.  It was helpful to have the Promethean Board so I  could zero in on the details.  Most of the children needed help understanding the story.

The artwork by Dorothy Donahue is unusual.  She uses cut paper collages and a variety of textures.

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Here  are a few other stories about Ten-Gallon Bart:

bart_wild    bart_beats_heat

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A Holocaust Hero

 

 

PassagetoFreedom

Hiroki Sugihara was a young Japanese boy growing up in Poland in 1940.  His father was a Japanese diplomat.

One morning, he awoke to find hundreds of people crowded around the gates in front of his house.  All were Jews, all of them in great danger.  They wanted his father to write visas so they could leave the country safely.

The Japanese Government refused to allow his father to write the Visas.  He heard his father say to his mother, “I have to do something.  I may have to disobey my government but if I don’t I will be disobeying God.”

When he consulted his family, even his young son agreed that they must help these people escape Poland.  By writing these visas, his father helped almost a thousand Jews escape Poland

The Sugihara family were also forced to leave Poland and spend eighteen months in an internment camp in Soviet Russia.

.In the 1960s, the family began hearing from the “Sugihara Survivors,” Jewish people who had escaped almost certain death because of these Visas.  Chiune Sugihara was awarded the “Righteous Among Nations” Award.

This is an inspiring story about a very dark period of history.   This could be an excellent resource to use with elementary students with its focus on a hero rather than the atrocities.

 

Mochizuki

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Novelist: A Cure for the Reading Funk

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I have been in a reading funk lately. Even as a librarian, I find myself having a hard time connecting with that just right book.  Usually my motto is “So Many Books-so little time.”

Life feels stressful at present and I want pure escapism.  Perhaps I’ve worked so hard reading children’s books for this blog that I haven’t found time to read for  me.  Usually when I walk into a library, I feel like a kid in a candy store.  But sometimes, I feel overwhelmed by the choices.  My reading life has never fit in to simple categories.

One great cure for the reading funk is the Novelist Online Database.  It’s available on most public library’s webpages.  Library employees will be happy to share this resource with you.  Novelist recommends books for adults, teens and children. It links back to the library catalog so you can reserve the book

Novelist can…

  • help you locate all the books by your favorite author.
  • provide read-alikes for popular authors and titles
  • provide genre lists for countless interests.  (There are 8 themed lists for teen graphic novels and 13 themed lists for adult mysteries.)
  • locate a book with a particular setting.
  • find books in series
  • find informational as well as fiction books.

Once you locate a book, there are book reviews, age range, lexile levels and subject headings.  I have been using Novelist and Novelist K-8 for years. I have yet to tap into to all the resources available.

Novelist is a great tool for teachers and homeschoolers.  It’s easy to find books that supplement the curriculum.  Historical fiction can be a great way to help students grasp history.  Parents can also use Novelist to help children explore their interests. This database has evolved over time to meet the changing needs of its users.

Novelist is as its best recommending books to upper elementary, teens and adults. The upper elementary years  can be a golden age of reading. .  During this time, children begin getting more specific in their reading choices. If we want children to enjoy reading, we need to offer them lots of choices. There will be more competition for entertainment as children reach their teens.   Finding the right books for children and teens is a key ingredient in creating lifelong readers.  Novelist is a great tool in this process.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Getting Them Reading..

Some children take to books like ducks to water. Others need more encouragement.  Here are ways to encourage your child to read more…

Adult Reading

Be a role model.  Make time to read for your own enjoyment.  Last summer’s public library reading program included a program for adults.  Many people were eager to sign up their children but would cite excuses for themselves like “I don’t have time.” or “I am too busy reading to my children.”

 

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Limit screens.  I’m a lifelong bookworm and the Internet has impacted my reading time.  Time watching television or surfing the Internet is ultimately less satisfying than reading, playing  or creating.  Children need downtime.  It’s good for them to be bored sometimes.  If television and organized activities are always present, children lose the ability to create their own fun.  Unstructured play is crucial to healthy childhood development (but that’s another post.) Children are more likely to read when they have unscheduled time.

 

Use books to help children pursue their passions.  The DK readers feature many high interest topics with great pictures.  There are numerous Star Wars and Super Hero Books as well as books about natural disasters, sports and animals.

Boys often  prefer informational books to fiction.  Many of these boys are surrounded by females who tend to value fiction.. Be aware that the DK titles are more  difficult than the typical easy reader.  Visual appeal will attract reluctant readers.

.   Some children dislike reading because they are still struggling with decoding words. Being in touch with your child’s teacher is important.  But keep in mind that children do not all develop at the same rate.

If your child needs to practice reading, keep the sessions short.  In an earlier blog post, I recommended the You Read to Me, I Read to You books. These are set up as short poems for parents and child to read together.  Or just read some silly poetry together.    If your child is enjoying reading, they will make greater progress.   Reading aloud to children even after they become readers can reinforce their skills and show them the possibilities that reading can offer.

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Books by Beverly Cleary

April 12, 2016  was Beverly Cleary’s 100th birthday.  Here are a few of the books that she has written:

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Otis loves to stir up excitement at school.  He especially loves to pick on Ellen Tebbits, perhaps because she is so neat, clean and well behaved.

When Otis goes too far, Ellen and her best friend, Augustine, seek revenge.  Will Otis get what he deserves?

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When Keith’s  family stays at an old hotel, Keith meets a talking mouse who rides his toy motorcycle.  Ralph S. Mouse becomes a hero for Keith and his family.

Other books about Ralph’s adventures are Runaway Ralph and Ralph S. Mouse.

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Henry Huggins wants to do something important, like Scooter, the seventh grader on his street, who delivers papers.  Getting a paper route isn’t as easy as it looks, especially when you show up for the interview, hiding four kittens in your sweatshirt.

Henry is quite enterprising and works hard to achieve his ambitions, even when that pesky Ramona gets in his way.

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This is the first book where Ramona emerges as the main character.  Although this book is written from a kindergartner’s perspective, the audience for this book will be older children who will find Ramona’s antics amusing .  Other Ramona books are Ramona and Her Mother, Ramona and Her Father, Ramona the Brave, and Ramona Quimby, Age 8.

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Leigh Botts is the new kid in town.  His parents have recently separated and someone keeps stealing his lunch. Leigh shares his daily troubles with his favorite author, Mr. Henshaw.

This is a very different book for Beverly Cleary.  It received high critical acclaim including the 1984 Newbery Medal.