It’s Monday and here’s what I’m reading: June 30, 2014

Mon Reading Button PB to YA

It’s Monday, What are You Reading is a meme hosted by Jen from Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee and Ricki from Unleashing Readers (brainchild of Sheila at BookJourney).

Back in the summer reading mode again, with Donalyn Miller’s #bookaday challenge to keep me extra motivated and digging away at the pile of “to be read” books which I’ve been collecting all  school year long.

soldier dog

Soldier Dog by Sam Angus is the story of young Stanley Ryder, whose safe and happy world comes apart at the seams: his beloved mother passes away,  his older brother ships off to France to fight in the Great War, and his father descends into a bitter gloom.  The only ray of happiness in Stanley’s life  is Rocket, the family’s greyhound and her new born litter of puppies, and tending to them gives Stanley great comfort.  In a fit of rage, Stanley’s father takes the runt of the litter (Soldier, the one who Stanley has developed the closest bond with) and vows to drown him.  Bereft and angry, Stanley runs away, lies about his age, and enlists.  He hopes to make it to France quickly, and find his brother Tom – surely that will be better than remaining with his always-raging father?  Soon, he finds himself assigned to War Dog School, where he must train messenger dogs to serve at the front in France.  Stanley forms a deep bond with Bones, the Great Dane he is given to train.  Together, they learn all each must do to survive and carry out their mission in France; and soon, they find themselves in the dangerous trenches outside of Amiens, with the Germans closing in on Paris.  In the days and battles that follow, Stanley learns so much about what courage and loyalty are all about.

Soldier Dog is just a wonderful story, and I loved the way Sam Angus develops the relationships between Stanley and the dogs in his care against the backdrop of a brutal war.  The ending is lovely, too – which the reader is quite frankly hoping for!  I’m setting this book aside for our historical fiction  unit of study, as a book club selection.  The author has included some background information about war dogs and their mission, which my students will find fascinating, and will also help their discussions along.

last days of summer

I also loved Valerie Hobbs’ The Last Best Days of Summer.  12 year old Lucy is perched on the edge of middle school, with many worries about fitting in, being popular, and figuring things out.  As summer winds down, she looks forward to a respite from all those worries when she visits her Grams at the lake cabin she loves.  Grams, with her love of art and nature, is just the sort of person Lucy needs to be with most, after a summer complicated by her best friend Megan’s social maneuverings.  To make matters worse, Lucy’s summer job of babysitting her neighbor Eddie, who is her age but has Down’s Syndrome, promises to be a huge problem once they are in school together that’s what Megan says, and Megan seems to know all about what it takes to survive Middle School. But, the visit to Grams proves to have all sorts of problems, too: Gram doesn’t seem herself, and then Eddie shows up, having run away from home!

The Last Best Days of Summer  is a gentle story that covers serious topics in a sensitive  way.  Grams is coping with the onset of Alzheimer’s Disease, and the way that this unfolds is just beautifully done. Part of the story is also told through Eddie’s perspective – again, in a most sensitive and believable manner.  This would be another wonderful selection for book clubs (so many middle school issues!) or as a readaloud.  


I never write about books I read and didn’t like, but I’m making an exception with The Door.  I was drawn to the premise of the story, which seemed an interesting combination of realistic and fantasy. Here’s the cover copy:

The story of a girl whose strange life in a mysterious lighthouse is turned upside down when her mother’s murder leads her to a hidden door — and a mission into an alternate world.
Hannah Silver has a secret.
She can sense things that other people can’t, like the cotton-candy smell of a bad sign, or the weightless touch of an approaching storm.
Or the warm, smooth voices of people who aren’t there.
In the Cliff House, secrets of all kinds float through the air and bounce off the walls. Secrets that have passed from generation to generation, until they suddenly stop. When Hannah finds her mom murdered outside of their lighthouse, she discovers there are secrets even she doesn’t know about. Secrets that will take her through a mysterious door — and an unknown, other world.
Although the book began well, I was soon lost – I had no idea what was going on or why, who the characters were, or why they were motivated to do what they did.  The story zoomed off  into so many tangents , and (most importantly) I soon lost all interest in the main character – never a good place to be when reading a book.  So, this is definitely a book I wished I had borrowed from the library rather than bought, for it will not be finding its way into my classroom library.
My PD book for the early part of the week is this:
I’m re-reading this rich and important book so that I can think about planning reading workshop with clarity and better purpose, especially when it comes to “meaning making” and structuring another year of literacy in my classroom.

11 thoughts on “It’s Monday and here’s what I’m reading: June 30, 2014

  1. These reviews are so helpful. I am glad you actually wrote about The Door. I wonder about writing bad reviews. I rarely see them.
    Thanks for sharing your professional reading, too. Will you be participating in the writing about Reading in the Wild by Donalyn Miller in July?

  2. “Soldier Dog” sounds like my kind of book. Thanks for the review. And as Margaret said, I am glad you told your honest feeling about “The Door.”
    Also, as a primary grade teacher/now tutor/retired children’s librarian, I love to see that teaching reading and writing are your fields. So vital, so valuable. This is my first time here and look forward to checking out more of your site.

  3. I’m of the “if you don’t have anything nice to say don’t say anything” school of thought, Margaret, but I think we teachers spend so much money buying books, that it helps to be honest with each other. Yes – doing Donalyn’s book group in July – see you there!

  4. The first two books look great! Now that I will be teaching 6th grade, I have to train my reading nose to sniff out these books for older readers. So, I will be checking out your recommendations! Thanks!

  5. I generally don’t blog about books I don’t like either, but you raise a good point about the need for honest reviews that will help us make the best decisions about how to spend our limited book budgets. I love Vicki Vinton’s blog, but haven’t read What Readers Really Do yet. Must remedy that this summer! The Last Best Days of Summer sounds like exactly the kind of book I love, so I will be looking for it. Thanks for sharing!

  6. We absolutely loved What Readers Really Do. The way Vicki and Dorothy bring you through the process of crafting meaning is truly brilliant. What a terrific book to reread this summer. We are also reading Text Based Interpretation and Readers Front and Center.

  7. Tara, I am reading What Readers Really Do also. I tend to be a binge reader, but I’ve found I have to take a different approach with this book, and I’m glad. There just too many important parts to think about and take away from it! Happy Reading.

  8. Too bad about The Door – the ‘bad’ reviews are perfectly understandable, we do have those too – although, like you, thankfully they are few and far between. The last Best days of Summer sounds really good. Been reading a lot of PD texts as well about reading for a research grant proposal that I am writing. It’s exhausting but definitely so much fun, and so much learning too!

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