It All Comes Down To This by Karen English

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*Thanks to the @kidlitexchange for a review copy of this book. All opinions are my own.

It is 1965 in Los Angeles California. Twelve-year-old Sophie has never been good at making friends. Instead, she’s always kept to herself. Ever since her family moved into a new neighborhood, Sophie has had to deal with change. First off, they are the first black family to live in the neighborhood. Her new housekeeper doesn’t seem to like Sophie very much. And even though her neighbor, Jennifer, seems to be a promising friend, others in the neighborhood refuse to accept Sophie. And this is only the beginning.

Wow, this book blew me away. Not at all what I was expecting (even though I do not know what I was expecting). It is the kind of book that wraps around you and will not let you go until you finish. Only to wish it wasn’t done. I picked it up and finished it in one sitting despite its 300+ pages. I appreciated the honest, raw take on family life. No fairy tale, perfect family here! Viewing life through Sophie’s eyes was vivid and real. She will stay with me. Thank you, Karen English! I recommend this book for grades five and up.

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Lint Boy by Aileen Leijten

Lint Boy by Aileen Leijten

*I received a copy of this graphic novel for review purposes via the @kidlitexchange network. All opinions are my own.

This is such an adorable graphic novel about a “boy” created out of different pieces of lint in a dryer. Lint Boy and his friend Lint Bear spend happy days in their dryer until an evil old woman takes them away. Apparently, she does not like dolls and traps them in cages. Lint Boy must muster up his courage to save Lint Bear and the others trapped by this horrible woman.

I loved the illustrations in this graphic novel. It was sweet but with a twist that reminded me of the movie Coraline. This is the perfect addition to any school library or classrooms grade three and up.

Book Review: The Last Cherry Blossom by Kathleen Burkinshaw

The Last Cherry Blossom by Kathleen Burkinshaw

Thank you to the @kidlitexchange network for providing this book for review.

Yuriko is a twelve-year-old girl living in Hiroshima. She lives with her Papa and has a happy, well-to-do, life. But things begin to change for Yuriko. Not only does Yuriko notice those who leave to fight in WWII stop coming home, her family has change coming too. Her Papa and Aunt Kimiko are getting married. All of who will live with Yuriko and Papa. Just as Yuriko starts to get used to the daily air raids and the family changes, she learns of a shocking family secret.

I love that, as a reader, I got to learn about the Japanese culture and life as an adolescent during WWII. Experiencing the Hiroshima bombing through Yuriko’s eyes was heart-wrenching, but important. Author, Kathleen Burkinshaw, draws you into Yuriko’s world, keeping you there long after you put the book down. This book is a must-have for every school/classroom library.

The Peculiar Incident on Shady Street by Lindsay Currie: A Book Review

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*I received an ebook copy of this book via the @kidlitexchange for review purposes. All opinions are my own.

Tessa’s family is moving from Florida to Chicago. Her parents are excited about the old 1800s house they purchased, but right away Tessa can sense something is not right. Weird, creepy, and downright scary things start to happen to Tessa in her home. Is her home haunted? What does this ghost want? Can Tessa’s new friends help her discover what is happening in Tessa’s home?

I absolutely loved THE PECULIAR INCIDENT ON SHADY STREET! This is the perfect ghost mystery for any middle-grade reader. Creepy, but not too creepy. Although the mystery of Inez Clark is at the heart of the story, the main character Tessa, also learns a lot about friendship and dealing with change. This just might be my favorite ghost mystery book of all time! I recommend it for grades four and up.

Book Review: THINGS THAT SURPRISE YOU by Jennifer Maschari

Things That Surprise You by Jennifer…

  • I received an ARC in return for an honest review via the #kidlitexchange. This book will be released August 22nd.

Emily and best friend Hazel are about to start middle school. Hazel is excited about all the new things middle school will bring, while Emily just wants things to stay the same. As their first year of middle school progresses, Emily and Hazel drift apart. Emily’s older sister arrives home from an anorexia treatment facility, causing stress for Emily and her family. Will anything stay like it used to be for Emily? Can Emily survive all the changes?

Wow, I absolutely loved this book. Did author Jennifer Maschari write about my adolescence? Emily thought she could deal with all the stresses by herself, not letting anyone in. She thought her problems were nothing compared to her older sisters’ problem. I was the same way as a child. This book captured what I believe a lot of tween children deal with. THINGS THAT SUPRISE YOU is a wonderful reflection/mirror for many middle-grade readers or those of us who used to be middle grade! I highly recommend this book for grades four and up.

Caleb and Kit by Beth Vrabel: A Middle- Grade Book Review

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Thank you to the @kidlitexchange for providing a copy for review purposes.

Caleb is a twelve-year-old boy who suffers from cystic fibrosis. Caleb’s mom tends to be a “helicopter mom” hovering over her fragile boy. When Caleb meets Kit, a girl his age, in the forest by his house, Caleb finally has something all to himself. He decides to keep his friendship a secret. But secrets can cause you to do things you otherwise might not do.

I absolutely adored this story. Caleb and Kits friendship was magical, needed, and heartwarming. Beth Vrabel wrote a feel-good story worthy of reading. This must be included in every classroom and school library. If you loved WONDER, you will adore Caleb and Kit.

#druffelites Top Ten Books

Our Top Ten Most Loved Book List

1. THE FALSE PRINCE by Jennifer Nielsen

The False Prince was our last read aloud for the school year. Students were invested in this book. They hated if we only had ten minutes to read on a tight-scheduled day. Many class discussion arose without probing or prodding. If you want a class at the edge of their seats, or a child who cannot put the book down, this one is for you.

From Amazon.com: In this first book in a remarkable trilogy, an orphan is forced into a twisted game with deadly stakes.

Choose to lie…or choose to die.

In a discontent kingdom, civil war is brewing. To unify the divided people, Conner, a nobleman of the court, devises a cunning plan to find an impersonator of the king’s long-lost son and install him as a puppet prince. Four orphans are recruited to compete for the role, including a defiant boy named Sage. Sage knows that Conner’s motives are more than questionable, yet his life balances on a sword’s point — he must be chosen to play the prince or he will certainly be killed. But Sage’s rivals have their own agendas as well.

As Sage moves from a rundown orphanage to Conner’s sumptuous palace, layer upon layer of treachery and deceit unfold, until finally, a truth is revealed that, in the end, may very well prove more dangerous than all of the lies taken together.

An extraordinary adventure filled with danger and action, lies and deadly truths that will have readers clinging to the edge of their seats.

2. AMULET Series by Kazu Kibuishi

Talk about well-loved. I have to buy a whole new set of this series for fall. Girls and boys devoured this series and could not wait for book 7 when it came out this spring. We had wait-list after wait-list of readers read for the next book in the series.

From Amazon.com: After tragedy strikes their family, Emily and Navin move with their mother into the old home of their great-grandfather. On their very first night in the strange house, Emily and Navin’s mom is kidnapped by a tentacled creature. Determined to rescue her, Emily and Navin are led into a world of robots, talking animals, flying ships, new allies . . . and enemies. There, Emily learns that she is a Stonekeeper and essential to the survival of this world, and that her incredible story is only just beginning.

3. THE HONEST TRUTH by Dan Gemeinhart

This is the second year I have include this book as a read aloud. We were even lucky enough to have Dan Gemeinhart visit our school this spring. Students fell in love with the main character Mark and his Dog Beau as they traveled to Mt. Rainier. Taking place in Washington State was the perfect setting since our social studies unit for the year was Washington State History and Government. Students made storyboards of their favorite scene and presented them to author Dan Gemeinhart during his visit. This heart-wrenching tale of perseverance and love engage readers from cover to cover.

From Amazon.com: It’s never too late for the adventure of a lifetime.

In all the ways that matter, Mark is a normal kid. He’s got a dog named Beau and a best friend, Jessie. He likes to take photos and write haiku poems in his notebook. He dreams of climbing a mountain one day.

But in one important way, Mark is not like other kids at all. Mark is sick. The kind of sick that means hospitals. And treatments. The kind of sick some people never get better from.

So Mark runs away. He leaves home with his camera, his notebook, his dog, and a plan. A plan to reach the top of Mount Rainier. Even if it’s the last thing he ever does.

THE HONEST TRUTH is a rare and extraordinary novel about big questions, small moments, and one incredible journey.

4. SHILOH by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor

Our first read aloud of the year drew in the new fourth graders. Students quickly discovered how invested a reader can get into a book. They cared about Shiloh and despised Judd. This is a wonderful read aloud.

From Amazon.com: Marty will do anything to save his new friend Shiloh in this Newbery Medal–winning novel from Phillis Reynolds Naylor.

When Marty Preston comes across a young beagle in the hills behind his home, it’s love at first sight—and also big trouble. It turns out the dog, which Marty names Shiloh, belongs to Judd Travers, who drinks too much and has a gun—and abuses his dogs. So when Shiloh runs away from Judd to Marty, Marty just has to hide him and protect him from Judd. But Marty’s secret becomes too big for him to keep to himself, and it exposes his entire family to Judd’s anger. How far will Marty have to go to make Shiloh his?

5. THE WAR THAT SAVED MY LIFE by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

My words will never do this book justice. This is the most powerful book I have read. The main character, Ada, endures more than most of us could imagine. My students fell in love with Ada and HATED Mam, Ada’s mom.We were ecstatic to hear this well-deserved book won a Newbery Honor. After we completed this class read aloud, we had the pleasure to Skype with the author, Kimberly Brubaker Bradely. We found out the sequel will leave off right where this story ended. We cannot wait!

From Amazon.com: An exceptionally moving story of triumph against all odds set during World War 2, from the acclaimed author of Jefferson’s Sons and for fans of Number the Stars.
 
Nine-year-old Ada has never left her one-room apartment. Her mother is too humiliated by Ada’s twisted foot to let her outside. So when her little brother Jamie is shipped out of London to escape the war, Ada doesn’t waste a minute—she sneaks out to join him.
 
So begins a new adventure of Ada, and for Susan Smith, the woman who is forced to take the two kids in. As Ada teaches herself to ride a pony, learns to read, and watches for German spies, she begins to trust Susan—and Susan begins to love Ada and Jamie. But in the end, will their bond be enough to hold them together through wartime? Or will Ada and her brother fall back into the cruel hands of their mother?
 
This masterful work of historical fiction is equal parts adventure and a moving tale of family and identity—a classic in the making.

6. RAYMIE NIGHTINGALE by Kate DiCamillo

We pre-ordered this book for our Fourth Grade Book Club. Students had three weeks to read the book, then we met after school to discuss. Many finished the book within one week because they could not put it down. Out of the three rancheros (best friends), Beverly was the most favorite. We were not disappointed with Kate DiCamillo’s newest book!

From Amazon.com: Raymie Clarke has come to realize that everything, absolutely everything, depends on her. And she has a plan. If Raymie can win the Little Miss Central Florida Tire competition, then her father, who left town two days ago with a dental hygienist, will see Raymie’s picture in the paper and (maybe) come home. To win, not only does Raymie have to do good deeds and learn how to twirl a baton; she also has to contend with the wispy, frequently fainting Louisiana Elefante, who has a show-business background, and the fiery, stubborn Beverly Tapinski, who’s determined to sabotage the contest. But as the competition approaches, loneliness, loss, and unanswerable questions draw the three girls into an unlikely friendship — and challenge each of them to come to the rescue in unexpected ways.

7. SOME KIND OF COURAGE by Dan Gemeinhart

The first student to read this book in my class followed along with the award-winning audio book. He would shout, tear-up, and whisper to himself throughout the book. This is a kid who finally fell in love with a book thanks to Dan Gemeinhart. This was also our first Fourth Grade Book Club book and the group loved it. It is action-packed and full of love. It takes place in the 1800s in Washington State. Another must read!

From Amazon.com: Joseph Johnson has lost just about everyone he’s ever loved. He lost his pa in an accident. He lost his ma and his little sister to sickness. And now, he’s lost his pony-fast, fierce, beautiful Sarah, taken away by a man who had no right to take her.

Joseph can sure enough get her back, though. The odds are stacked against him, but he isn’t about to give up. He will face down deadly animals, dangerous men, and the fury of nature itself on his quest to be reunited with the only family he has left.

Because Joseph Johnson may have lost just about everything. But he hasn’t lost hope. And he hasn’t lost the fire in his belly that says he’s getting his Sarah back-no matter what.

The critically acclaimed author of The Honest Truth returns with a poignant, hopeful, and action-packed story about hearts that won’t be tamed… and spirits that refuse to be broken.

8. WONDER by R.J. Palacio

This was another Fourth Grade Book Club book the students loved. It made them think about what it would like to be Auggie and how they treat people who may look different.

From Amazon.com: The book that inspired the Choose Kind movement.

“I won’t describe what I look like. Whatever you’re thinking, it’s probably worse.” 

August Pullman was born with a facial difference that, up until now, has prevented him from going to a mainstream school. Starting 5th grade at Beecher Prep, he wants nothing more than to be treated as an ordinary kid—but his new classmates can’t get past Auggie’s extraordinary face. WONDER, now a #1 New York Times bestseller and included on the Texas Bluebonnet Award master list, begins from Auggie’s point of view, but soon switches to include his classmates, his sister, her boyfriend, and others. These perspectives converge in a portrait of one community’s struggle with empathy, compassion, and acceptance.

“Wonder is the best kids’ book of the year,” said Emily Bazelon, senior editor at Slate.com and author ofSticks and Stones: Defeating the Culture of Bullying and Rediscovering the Power of Character and Empathy. In a world where bullying among young people is an epidemic, this is a refreshing new narrative full of heart and hope. R.J. Palacio has called her debut novel “a meditation on kindness” —indeed, every reader will come away with a greater appreciation for the simple courage of friendship. Auggie is a hero to root for, a diamond in the rough who proves that you can’t blend in when you were born to stand out.

9. DEEP, DARK, AND DANGEROUS by Mary Downing Hahn

The craze with this book started when a student read this book along with the audio book on our class iPad. He could not stop talking about how creepy this book was and how much he loved it. Students waited for their turn with the book. A great ghost story for any classroom library.

From Amazon.com: Just before summer begins, 13-year-old Ali finds an odd photograph in the attic. She knows the two children in it are her mother, Claire, and her aunt Dulcie. But who’s the third person, the one who’s been torn out of the picture?

Ali figures she’ll find out while she’s vacationing in Maine with Dulcie and her four-year-old daughter, Emma, in the house where Ali’s mother’s family used to spend summers. All hopes for relaxation are quashed shortly after their arrival, though, when the girls meet Sissy, a kid who’s mean and spiteful and a bad influence on Emma.

Strangest of all, Sissy keeps talking about a girl named Teresa who drowned under mysterious circumstances back when Claire and Dulcie were kids, and whose body was never found. At first Ali thinks Sissy’s just trying to scare her with a ghost story, but soon she discovers the real reason why Sissy is so angry. . . . Mary Downing Hahn is at her chilling best in this new supernatural tale that’s certain to send shivers down her readers’ spines.

10. THE BOOK SCAVENGER by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman

Boy did my students fall in love with this book and ciphers. It was a great book to read aloud this year. It kept the students guessing right up until the end. What a fun book!

From Amazon.com: For twelve-year-old Emily, the best thing about moving to San Francisco is that it’s the home city of her literary idol: Garrison Griswold, book publisher and creator of the online sensation Book Scavenger (a game where books are hidden in cities all over the country and clues to find them are revealed through puzzles). Upon her arrival, however, Emily learns that Griswold has been attacked and is now in a coma, and no one knows anything about the epic new game he had been poised to launch. Then Emily and her new friend James discover an odd book, which they come to believe is from Griswold himself, and might contain the only copy of his mysterious new game.

Racing against time, Emily and James rush from clue to clue, desperate to figure out the secret at the heart of Griswold’s new game―before those who attacked Griswold come after them too.

Three More Must-Reads!

  
Nightingale’s Nest by Nikki Loftin

What a beautifully told story about a boy and his family who are struggling with the loss of his younger sister. Little did they know a foster girl, who loves trees, would help heal them in more ways than one. A perfect addition to any classroom grades 4 and up.


Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer by Kelly Jones

Who knew a magical story about chickens could be so entertaining yet so touching at the same time? Told through letters written by Sofie, a girl who’s family moved from LA to her late great-uncle’s run-down farm. Learning to raise unusual chickens is more difficult than it seems! A great addition to any classroom.


a handful of stars by Cynthia Lord

One of the best books I’ve read this summer dealing with loss, hope, change, and moving on. A touching story of growing up and friendship. I could not put this book down. A must read and must add to your classroom!

Students’ Top 10 Books for Fifth Grade

I am excited to share our class’s top ten list of MUST HAVE books for a fifth grade classroom library. All of our read alouds made this list. Here are the most loved books in our classroom in order of popularity!

  1. The Honest Truth by Dan Gemeinhart 
  2. The Divergent Series by Veronica Roth  
  3. because of mr. terupt by Bob Buyea    
  4. Blood on the River by Elisa Carbone
  5. The I Survived Series by Lauren Tarahis
  6. Prisoner B-3087 by Alan Gratz
  7. Smile, Sisters, and Drama by Raina  Telgemeier
  8. The Bone Series by Jeff Smith
  9. The Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer Holm  
  10. City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau

Students Devouring Books-How I Accomplished this in our Classroom



Reading makes us better readers. Writing makes us better writers. As educators, we all know that. But do we provide the independent practice daily?

This school year I decided to make 30 minutes of independent reading time my top priority after reading The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller/Jeff Anderson and Reading in the Zone by Nancie Atwell. 

These two books provided enough guidance to successfully pull off independent reading time that fostered the LOVE of reading, helping students recognize and discover who they are as readers.

Changes I made in our classroom that made the most impact.

  • Thirty minutes of independent choice reading is a non-negotiable. It happens EVERYDAY!
  • We started the 30 minutes of independent, self-selected books, the first day of school and discussed the expectation of reading 30 chapter books for the school year.
  • Taught the independent reading time expectations from day one. Silent, stay in one spot, and read the WHOLE time!
  • Discussed what it means to be in the reading zone. (Like a movie playing in your head. You feel like you are living in the book. You cannot put the book down) This is our daily goal.
  • Taught that it is okay to abandon a book and discussed the criteria to know when to abandon a book.
  • Keep a reading log of books abandoned and completed.
  • Keep a list of books we want to read in our own reading log. We call this our “someday” list.
  • Weekly book talks by students who want to share books they love.
  • Book talk new additions to our classroom library.
  • Individual conferences with students weekly about what they are reading. I document (via my Upward app on my phone) reading behaviors I notice or need to teach, what book they are currently reading, what page they are on, etc. Sometimes students are so excited they come to me to discuss their book! I count this as a conference!
  • Current, new books that students can relate to, are in our classroom library. I keep up on the latest popular books for the students’ age group and I have read most of them. 

Continuing to keep these things a part of our classroom has created a classroom culture of reading. I hear students groan when the thirty minutes is up. I have students gasp in the middle of a silent room when they read something unexpected. These students truely KNOW who they are as readers. They know what types of books they love. They know how to talk about books. They know how authors can tug and manipulate your emotions as a reader. These are not the same students they were in September.