Posts tagged ‘book review’

November 29, 2011

Reading updates

by stryson

Moving has cut into my reading time! I’d planned to be done with my 50 book a year challenge by this week, so that I can spend December continuing to work my way through Ulysses, but such is not the case. Today, I finished my 47th book. I’ll be lucky to finish the whole challenge, at this rate.

This challenge is a Goodreads phenomenon. If you’re interested, the group is here, and my posting is currently in the P-T section. When I finish, it’ll move to the finish line section. I completed the challenge two years ago, but skipped last year in favor of reading harder, longer books – which is when I began reading Ulysses.

The book I finished today was called Robert and the Class President. Clearly, it was a book I was reading with my students in school. As far as plot goes, the book is mediocre, but it does provide some opportunities for lessons on multiple meanings of words.

On the other hand, we’re reading a completely not mediocre book in my sixth grade class – The Great Gilly Hopkins. The kids are loving it, and we’ve gotten into some really great discussions so far. Gilly is so full of sass!

In my personal reading, I’m working on two books at the moment. The first is The Pilgrim’s Progress. This book was written in the 1700s, and it’s an allegory about a Christian making a pilgrimage that’ll end in heaven/the promised land. I’d gotten interested in this book because I’d heard it mentioned in other books. I seem to remember it coming up in Little Women, for example. (Side note: today is Louisa May Alcott’s birthday!) The other is called Queenmaker, which is a historical fiction novel about Michal, the first wife of King David of Israel.

I’m not truly concerned about reaching the fifty book goal for the year, but I am disappointed that I couldn’t finish as early as I’d have liked. I’ll be doing the challenge again next year, but I may break in December/January to finish Ulysses as planned, regardless.

September 28, 2011

Cheering activities on a Rainy Day

by stryson

I’m feeling very beaten up and under the weather today. It’s dark and rainy, and I had a dentist appointment yesterday that has left me with a tender mouth. Additionally, it’s grey and rainy. In short, it was the perfect day to start a funny novel with my kids.

I know I’ve mentioned at least once how much I adore Ken Derby’s Top Ten Ways to Ruin The First Day of School. It’s funny, relateable, and a nice, easy novel for starting the year. I used it with my fifth graders last year, and I’ve just begun introducing it to this year’s batch. It cheered me up to see them laughing at Tony Baloney’s Stupid Human Tricks. Unfortunately, as I’ve gone to write this post, I’ve found that this book is currently out of print, but Ken is working on that situation. See his comments here.

Speaking of things that have brightened the week in my classes, I’ve found a typing game that the kids really love: Dance Mat Typing. One of the girls in my homeroom was literally in tears because she was laughing so hard at the interludes. I liked it because they’re so methodical about presenting the keys in the order a normal typing program would.


September 7, 2011

Book Review: The Ballad of Lucy Whipple

by stryson

The Ballad of Lucy Whipple – Karen Cushman

Recommended for: early middle school

I fell in love with Karen Cushman’s writing as a teenager, when I first came across her novel, Catherine, Called Birdy.  I was slightly disappointed by The Midwife’s Apprentice, but I absolutely adored The Ballad of Lucy Whipple.

Summary:  California Morning “Lucy” Whipple is a twelve year old girl who finds herself in California despite her best intentions and efforts to the contrary.  Following through on an old dream, her mother packed the entire family up and moved them to Lucky Diggins, California, after Lucy’s Pa died.  We follow Lucy’s experiences as she learns to cope with her new living situation, as she pines for her hometown in Massachusetts, and as she grows into a strong young woman.

I love historical fiction, and I was incredibly disappointed by living in California when I moved there, so this book was a natural fit for me. Thankfully, I found it was a good fit for my fifth grade reading class last year, as well.  The kids really got into the Old West setting, and could relate closely with Lucy’s struggles.  Common themes of family and responsibility carry through well.  I used the Novel Unit book for homework questions and some guidance for discussions and vocabulary, and it all went quite well.

You can view the Amazon page for the book here: The Ballad of Lucy Whipple

The Amazon page for the Novel Unit books are here: Teacher’s Guide and Student Packet.

Finally, the other Karen Cushman books I’ve read: Catherine, Called Birdy and The Midwife’s Apprentice.











July 30, 2011

Book Review: The Princess and the Hound

by stryson

The Princess and the Hound – Mette Ivie Harrison

Recommended for: teen

This book was not quite what I was expecting. The title suggests that the book will center around a princess. The back cover suggests that it is a retelling of Beauty and the Beast, with the Beast as a woman. The story really is neither, though that does not entirely prevent it from being an enjoyable read.

Summary: We open to find ourselves in a land where magic is not only possible, but a specific kind of magic involved in communication with animals is of particular concern. Local people, kings and commoners alike, fear this “animal magic,” and persecute those who possess this power. The first catch we encounter? The queen of the land and her son both have this animal  magic and are forced to hide it.  Indeed, very shortly into the tale, the queen dies as a result of her magic – not from an angry mob, but from the withdrawl effects she suffers while concealing her gift. Left alone with his father, who does not truly understand his son or his son’s gift at this point, the boy grows and becomes educated as a prince would expect to be. Soon he finds himself bethrothed to the princess of a rival kingdom, part of a peace agreement between the two nations. He resolutely insists that he is fine with this situation, as he’s closed off his affections since the death of his mother.  Likewise, the embittered, mistreated princess he is to marry has no illusions of ever being loved. The prince, however, finds himself intrigued by her, particularly because of her close companionship with her hound. Soon we find that she, too, has something to hide…

I’m particularly drawn to fractured fairy tales, retellings of fairy tales, and fantasy in general, so I expected to enjoy this story. It was largely well-written, with well-developed characters, but I would’ve liked a more dramatic climax to the book. It’d be a good book to use to encourage a reluctant reader interested in fantasy, and could easily spur a conversation about mob mentality and prejudice.

If you’re interested in reading this book for yourself, you can purchase a copy here.

April 18, 2011

Book Review: The Beast in Ms. Rooney’s Room

by stryson

This book is the first in a series, The Kids of the Polk Street School.  It’s here that we first meet Richard Best, aka “Beast,” a young man who’s been held back.  This first book chronicles September of his second try at second grade.  We learn, as the book goes on, that he struggles with reading, which is the primary reason he was held back.  Throughout the book, we follow his struggles to learn to accept his situation, tame his behavior, and strive to win The Banner (an award given to one class each week) for Room 113.

This is a second grade reading level, but I used it in a third grade classroom to teach character development.  At the end of the book, we made a yearbook for the main characters, with each child getting a full-page spread.  There are also many resources available to supplement this book at

Random House’s page for this book & series is here.

Amazon’s page for this book is here.

April 16, 2011

Book Review: Top Ten Ways to Ruin the First Day of School

by stryson

In this book, author Ken Derby introduces us to Anthony Madison, known fondly among friends as Tony Baloney, or TB.  TB is in fifth grade and is obsessed with David Letterman.  He is bound and determined to get onto Letterman’s show, and throughout the first half of the book, TB orchestrates one crazy scheme after another, in the hopes that it’ll get him on television.  Most of these hijinks go spectacularly wrong, of course.  Midway through the book, our hero does get noticed by Letterman, finally.  This, of course, means that TB is off to New York City… where anything can and will happen to a boy who’s a magnet for trouble.

I started off the year in my fifth grade class reading this book.  It was an excellent choice for them; the reading was light and funny, and it beautifully illustrated plot development.  I’ve had other students come to me over the course of the year to borrow the book, on the recommendation of my class.  That in itself should be an adequate seal of approval.

The book has its own page on Ken Derby’s website, here.