It’s Monday! What Are You Reading is hosted by Jen and Kellee at Teach Mentor Texts
Last week was my last chance to really get through the books in my TBR pile (I begin two weeks at TC for the August Reading and Writing Institutes on Monday…and then I can finally have access to my classroom to begin setting up – so, those long summer days devoted to reading will be over), and here’s what that pile looked like on Monday:
By Friday, I had read through them all, marveling all along at the great fortune we have as teachers to be able to share authors such as these with our kids. Lucky teachers, lucky kids! Here are five of the selection I read:
I have heard such wonderful things about Linda Urban, and so I began with Hound Dog True. Here is a summary from Urban’s site: :
Do not let a mop sit overnight in water.
Fix things before they get too big for fixing.
Custodial wisdom: Mattie Breen writes it all down. She has just one week to convince Uncle Potluck to take her on as his custodial apprentice at Mitchell P. Anderson Elementary School. One week until school starts and she has to be the new girl again. But if she can be Uncle Potluck’s apprentice, she’ll have important work to do during lunch and recess. Work that will keep her safely away from the other fifth graders. But when her custodial wisdom goes all wrong, Mattie’s plan comes crashing down. And only then does she begin to see how one small, brave act can lead to a friend who is hound dog true.
Mattie is one of those characters you fall in love with by the second chapter of a book: she is endearing, honest, and true. Shy, but braver than she gives herself credit for, Mattie is a worrier. We learn of several disastrous first days that Mattie has had to live through, and the way a classmate’s kindness can turn on a dime into meanness for no particular reason. And Mattie’s mother seems an unreliable ally – she does as she pleases, and she seems so strong and independent, would she really be able to help a worry wort like Mattie? But Mattie is also a thinker and a planner and a writer. She thinks of ways to survive the new school year, she plans how she will do it, and she writes it all down – lists and stories, to anchor her worries. But along comes a surprising friend, an unlikely friend, and Mattie learns that the questions she had hoped someone else would have the answers for: Tell me who I am, is actually one she has learned to answer for herself.
This is a thoughtful, gentle book. We see the world through Mattie’s eyes, Mattie’s worries – but her thoughts, concerns, and insights are authentic, and my so sixth graders will love reading and discussing this book.
Urban’s The Center of Everything, was another fabulous read. Here is the summary, also from Urban’s site:
For Ruby Pepperdine, the “center of everything” is on the rooftop of Pepperdine Motors in her donut-obsessed town of Bunning, New Hampshire, stargazing from the circle of her grandmother Gigi’s hug. That’s how everything is supposed to be—until Ruby messes up and things spin out of control. But she has one last hope. It all depends on what happens on Bunning Day, when the entire town will hear Ruby read her winning essay. And it depends on her twelfth birthday wish—unless she messes that up too. Can Ruby’s wish set everything straight in her topsy-turvy world?
Like Mattie, Ruby is a beautifully created character – a bit quirky, but always reaching for the best in herself, always sensitive to the needs of the people around her, even when they seem oblivious to the tumult in her, and always wanting to do the right thing. The one person she could always count on was her beloved grandmother Gigi, but Ruby thinks she let Gigi down on that last day when Gigi wanted her to listen. What did Gigi want her to listen to, one last time? Ruby devises an elaborate plan, based on luck, coincidence, planning, and a lot of hope and wishing, to make it up to Gigi and listen, at last. Like Mattie, Ruby discovers answers in unlikely places and in unlikely people – beginning with herself.
Urban’s books require reflection. I can see some of my sixth graders getting a bit annoyed and impatient with Ruby and Mattie. But, the annoyances would make great springboards for discussion, I think. How does one cope with change? With grief? How does one prepare for rejection? Or the surprise of acceptance? The adult characters in these books are also finely crafted, and I think that my sixth graders will find a lot to admire in the way these adults engage with younger characters. It’s a relief to find characters like Uncle Potluck and Gigi in YA books these days – sensitive, wise, and trustworthy. Our kids need to read about characters like these!
Linda Sue Park never lets me down. A Single Shard and A Walk to Water are two of my favorite YA books, and now I can add Kite Fighters to that list. Here is a summary from Parks’ site:
In Seoul, Korea, in 1473, Young-sup and his older brother Kee-sup are excited about the New Year kite competition. Young-sup is an expert at kite flying. He knows just what his kite wants him to do. Kee-sup has trouble handling his kite, but can build and design a kite fit for a king.
Each brother knows his own talents as they practice together for the New Year kite-fighting competition. But according to tradition, Kee-sup, the first-born son, must represent the family. Young-sup knows he must help his older brother and stay in second place. But that doesn?t stop him from hoping for the chance to show his great skill as a kite fighter.
Park does a wonderful job of bringing the customs and the setting of ancient Seoul alive. There is a formality in the way the boys speak to adults, as well as a protocol that must be adhered to at all times. Young-sup may be conflicted about all the rules he must follow, some of which he believes to be quite unfair, but his sense of duty is powerful and he values his culture and its traditions. I think that middle school kids will find all of this fascinating to read and to discuss. They will also love reading about the intricacies of building and flying a kite – Park’s descriptions of these are quite wonderful.
And, what would my summer be without a baseball-oriented book? The Girl Who Threw Butterflies, by Michael Cochrane, has to be one of the best books I’ve read this summer. Here is a summary from the author’s site:
For an eighth grader, Molly Williams has more than her fair share of problems. Her father has just died in a car accident, and her mother has become a withdrawn, quiet version of herself.
Molly doesn’t want to be seen as “Miss Difficulty Overcome”; she wants to make herself known to the kids at school for something other than her father’s death. So she decides to join the baseball team. The boys’ baseball team. Her father taught her how to throw a knuckleball, and Molly hopes it’s enough to impress her coaches as well as her new teammates.
Over the course of one baseball season, Molly must figure out how to redefine her relationships to things she loves, loved, and might love: her mother; her brilliant best friend, Celia; her father; her enigmatic and artistic teammate, Lonnie; and of course, baseball.
Molly and her best friend Celia are smart, funny and wise – characters who grab your interest from the very first page and just hold on to it. Every other character rings true, as well – especially Molly’s father, who we come to know through Molly’ s memory…and their shared passion for baseball. I loved the fact that the main characters in this book were kids who defied stereotypes and remained true to themselves. It isn’t easy for Molly to be the only girl on the baseball team, but, she earned her spot and no one is about to get in the way of her first season. I also liked the way in which the author portrayed Molly’s mother, grieving in her own way, and needing her own time and space in which to adjust to her husband’s death. And, I loved the way in which baseball was described – the poetry of the pitch, the drama of the inning, the glory of this fantastic game. I marked up so many passages for their use of verbs and description of action, and these will be wonderful mentor texts to share in writing workshop, too.