Cracker is one of the United States Army’s most valuable weapons, a German shepherd trained to sniff out bombs, traps, and the enemy. The fate of entire platoons rests on her keen sense of smell. She’s a Big Deal, and she likes it that way. Sometimes Cracker remembers when she was younger, and her previous owner fed her hot dogs and let her sleep in his bed. Rick Hanski is in Vietnamto whip the world and prove his family and his sergeant—and everyone else who didn’t think he was cut out for war—wrong. But sometimes Rick can’t help but wonder that maybe everyone else is right. Maybe he should have just stayed at home and worked in his father’s hardware store. When Cracker is paired with Rick, she isn’t so sure about this new owner. He’s going to have to prove himself to her before she’s going to prove herself to him. They need to be friends before they can be a team, and they have to be a team if they want to get home alive.
In 1941, fifteen-year-old Lina is preparing for art school, first dates, and all that summer has to offer. But one night, the Soviet secret police barge violently into her home, deporting her along with her mother and younger brother. They are being sent to Siberia. Lina’s father has been separated from the family and sentenced to death in a prison camp. All is lost.Lina fights for her life, fearless, vowing that if she survives she will honor her family, and the thousands like hers, by documenting their experience in her art and writing. She risks everything to use her art as messages, hoping they will make their way to her father’s prison camp to let him know they are still alive.It is a long and harrowing journey, and it is only their incredible strength, love, and hope that pull Lina and her family through each day. But will love be enough to keep them alive?
Same Sun Here is a story told in letters between two penpals, Silas House writes as River, and Neela Vaswani as Meena. I loved this technique, and am thinking about ways to bring it into my classroom. This would be a wonderful end-of-the-year genre experimentation in collaborative writing – something lacking in our Writing Workshop.
Meena and River have a lot in common: fathers forced to work away from home to make ends meet, grandmothers who mean the world to them, and faithful dogs. But Meena is an Indian immigrant girl living in New York City’s Chinatown, while River is a Kentucky coal miner’s son. As Meena’s family studies for citizenship exams and River’s town faces devastating mountaintop removal, this unlikely pair become pen pals, sharing thoughts and, as their camaraderie deepens, discovering common ground in their disparate experiences. With honesty and humor, Meena and River bridge the miles between them, creating a friendship that inspires bravery and defeats cultural misconceptions. Narrated in two voices, each voice distinctly articulated by a separate gifted author, this chronicle of two lives powerfully conveys the great value of having a friend and the joys of opening our lives to others who live beneath the same sun.
I loved the way both characters wrote about their own worlds, each needing to explain the particulars of their environment (rent control, coal mining) in a way that the other could understand and empathize with. I also liked the way in which their relationship developed over time, as they wrote back and forth to each other, learning this and that detail about each others’ lives.
Ten Good and Bad Things About My Life was just a pure joy to read. Ann Martin “gets” the voice of the age group I teach and love so much just perfectly – that goofy sense of humor, wariness about change, and prickliness. I was reminded of so many of my kiddos as I read this book!
Pearl Littlefield’s first assignment in fifth grade is complicated: She has to write an essay about her summer. Where does she begin? Her dad lost his job, she had to go to a different camp—one where her older sister Lexie was a counselor-in-training (ugh!)—and she and her good friend James Brubaker III had a huge fight, which made them both wonder if the other kids were right that girls and boys can’t be good friends and which landed one of them in the hospital.And there’s much, much more on the list of good and bad things, as Ann Martin takes this appealing character into new adventures through which young readers will see that good or bad, life is what happens when you’re making other plans.
Pearl and JBIII were so much fun to get to know. They have a lot to learn, they are fifth graders after all, but go about it all with an exuberant confidence that is so typical of that age group: everything’s just gotta work out somehow, right?! I also loved the way Martin wrote about Pearl’s parents and the way the family copes with Dad’s job loss – they are all in this together, even though some of the cost cutting measures seem awful to begin with (having to take the subway all the way there and back to Buy More- Pay Less on a regular basis, missing out on an awesome trip to a ranch out West). It was wonderful to read about a functional family coping with trying circumstances in a loving, supportive way – for once, in a YA book!
I.M.Pei: Architect of Time, Place, and Purpose by Jill Rubalcaba tells the story of six of this world-renowned architects most famous buildings – each of them controversial projects which garnered Pei much criticism. Using photographs, sketches and architectural drawings, Rubalcaba describes what inspired Pei in his designs for each of these buildings. The engagingly written text is just detailed enough to inform not overwhelm – tricky to do when one is writing about a topic that is rather complex. This would be a wonderful addition to our classroom’s nonfiction library.