Reading, Teaching, Learning

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Sunday Review

Here are the books I read this week:

Alchemy and Meggy Swann  Alchemy and Meggy Swann by Karen Cushman

audio-book, characters-with-disabilities, historical-fiction, intermediate-kids-book, sensory-details, setting, social-studies-connections, strong-girl-character, vocabulary

"Ye toads and vipers!" Meggy Swann curses as she enters the scene in dirty, cacophonous medieval London, summoned by her father who was hoping she was a boy. Her only friend is her crippled goose, Louise, an apt companion since Meggy herself walks with the aid of sticks (author's note explains that she had hip dysplasia - interesting to me because one of my daughters had it also, but now it's easily fixed). Her father, Master Peevish as she calls him, is an alchemist, hoping to not only transform base metal into gold, but also finding the elixir for eternal life. Despite not being terribly fond of her father, she tries to save him from being accused of being involved in a murderous plot. She also makes a few friends along the way and learns the art of printing. There are rich examples of sensory details to describe the setting that could be used for mini lessons, and don't miss the audio version - the narrator is fabulous! I love what Kirby Larson says in her review: "...provided me with ample ammunition the next time someone cuts in front of me in traffic -- I might call out, "Begone, you carbuncled toad!" or "A pestilence take you, you rump-faced knave," or even perhaps my favorite, "Go then, you writhled, beetle-brained knave!"

 
The Light Between Oceans  The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman
adult-fiction, book-club

I've been reading less adult fiction these days with my emphasis on reading picture books,  middle grade books, and young adult novels for school, but I still manage to fit in one or two a month.  This one was for my book club. 
 
This is a haunting story about Tom Sherbourne, who takes a job as the lighthouse keeper on Janus Rock in Australia in 1926. He has returned to Australia after horrific experiences in the war and tries to channel his grief and guilt from those years into being the perfect lighthouse keeper. He revels in the meticulous requirements and high expectations of the charge. Tom soon meets a bold and beautiful young woman, Isabel, on the mainland and agrees to marry her. She learns to appreciate the exquisite isolation and beauty of the island but longs to have a family. Several miscarriages and a painful stillbirth has left her desperate, and it is into this situation a boat washes ashore carrying a dead man and a live baby. Isabel convinces Tom to keep the baby just a few days before they report her, and Tom begrudgingly agrees. His principles and moral judgment are compromised, but he loves Isabel and wants to see her happy. As the story progressed into one bad decision after another, lies that couldn't be stopped from snowballing, it reminded me of the novel House of Sand and Fog. The reader just knows the situation is going to get out of control. The second half, especially, of this novel is riveting, and you ache for Tom, who was trying to redeem himself of the sins he felt he committed in the war, to punishing himself when he couldn't find redemption. So many twists and turns, the eerie, desolate setting, and the tangled webs the characters weave make for an excellent read!
 
Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs by Mo Willems
humor, parody, picture-book, fairy tale

This is an hilarious parody of "Goldilocks and the Three Bears." My 4th grade readers will love it and will get the quirky humor. My favorite character is the visiting Norwegian dinosaur.  I really liked Mary Lee Hahn's blog post on "Parody," and this could be a book included in a unit.
 
A Rock Is LivelyA Rock is Lively by Dianna Hutts Aston and Sylvia Long

creative-nonfiction, picture-book, science

A rock is mixed up, galactic, old, huge, tiny, helpful, surprising, inventive, creative, and recycled. I loved A Butterfly is Patient, so I bought this at our Scholastic Book Fair. It's just as beautiful and informative. I need to add An Egg is Quiet and A Seed is Sleepy to my collection now, too.

An exciting event that happened this week was the Goodreads discussion with R.J. Palacio and Jay Asher in which members were invited to ask questions.  My students wrote some for R.J. Palacio since we're still reading Wonder aloud.  I think we'll be finishing this week.  Here were her responses to our questions:


Hi Holly,
Let me see if I can answer some more of your questions for your 4th grade classes...

How long did it take to write Wonder?
It took me a year and a half. I probably could have written it faster, but I actually have a fulltime job, so the only time I could find to work on the book was between midnight and 3am every night.

Do you have connections with your characters?
I have connections to all my characters. They're all kind of mash-ups of people I know or have known, and they seem so real to me.

What made you choose Auggie's disorder?
I had a brief encounter with a little girl once. She looked exactly like how I describe Auggie looking in the book.

Was Julian inspired by a real person?
Hmm, not specifically one person, but a bit of some kids I've known. There are always Julians in the world.

What made you decide not to tell Julian's story?
All the other characters enhance Auggie's story and propel the narrative. That is to say, they move the story forward, and it's always Auggie's story they're moving forward because the book is about him. Julian. though, exactly because he never wanted to get to know Auggie, had nothing to add to Auggie's story. The only things he would have said about Auggie were mean things, and I didn't want to give a bully a chance to air his meanesses. We shouldn't listen to bullies because what they say doesn't really matter. I suppose I could have made Julian "get nice" by the end of the book, but I really tried to keep the book realistic, and that didn't seem realistic to me. Sometimes people don't change. I think there is an indication that Julian might have learned something at the end of the fifth grade, though, because his precept is about "starting over fresh." Maybe in his new school he'll try to be a nicer person.
What do you think? I'm hopeful.

What do YOU see when you "see" Auggie?
I see a boy who's shy and looks at the ground a lot because he doesn't want to see how people respond to him. But he's so goodhearted and has a spirit that makes me soar.

What inspired you to be a writer?
I've always wanted to be a writer. I love reading. I love stories.

Why did you want Auggie to have a facial disorder?
Because it was something I thought worth exploring, the idea of this normal little boy with a face that was anything but normal.

What made you choose August's name?
I love the name August. I've known a couple of kids with that name: it's a lovely name.

What is YOUR precept?
BE THE WONDER YOU WANT IN THE WORLD

THANKS,
RJP   

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