It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?

its monday

Generally speaking, my favorite genre is science fiction.  But the more books I read that won the Newbery Medal or were Honor books, the more I appreciate stories that aren’t science fiction.  I just finished reading Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson, winner of the Newbery Medal in 1978.  It was made into a movie in 2007.  I only saw a few scenes of the movie, but even with only a glimpse I expected the book to be more fantasy than drama.

bridge to terabithia

I was pleasantly surprised that it wasn’t.  The story that I read described the bonds of a very close friendship forged between two fifth graders, Jess (the middle child and only male in the family except for his dad), and Leslie, his new neighbor.  They have a secret place called Terabithia where their dreams and imaginations wander.  But more importantly it is a place reserved only for them.

As the story progresses, Jess gets to see a world through her eyes.  He is fascinated by her courage, intelligence, and wit.  The reader gets to experience the same emotions and anxieties Jess is feeling as he develops a very personal yet innocent relationship with Leslie.  He is probably feeling jealousy and love for the first time in his life and has to deal with conflicting emotions that are new to him.

bridge to terabithia movie

I refuse to watch the movie because I am disappointed that the movie makers felt they had to incorporate such a dependence on magic and fantasy.  The magic that is created in Terabithia (in the book) is there because of the deep connection between Jess and Leslie.

In the end we get to experience the same trauma and sorrow as Jess which is further proof of his feelings for Leslie.  We follow him through his ordinary day with his thoughts of Leslie and his crush on Miss Edmunds and how he argues with himself over an inner guilt that he doesn’t realize he has…until the next day.  This book is a tear-jerker for sure.


It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?

its monday

I recently created a reading challenge for myself to read all the books listed on The Top 100 Children’s Novels Poll (#1 – 100) (posted on April 13, 2010 by Elizabeth Bird.)  My very first selection is The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo and illustrated by Timothy Basil Ering.

despereauxThis is a story of a teeny tiny little mouse named Despereaux.  I don’t just refer to him as tiny because he is a mouse, either.  He is literally the runt of the litter.  The story begins when he is a baby and continues as he grows and discovers many new mysteries surrounding him.  His siblings try to teach him how to behave like a “real” mouse and to warn him of the dangers faced by mice who live among men in the castle.  But Despereaux is much too distracted by the fascinating light streaming in through windows, fairy tales in books, music wafting about, and of course Princess Pea.

From the moment he takes his first breath in this world he is viewed as an outcast by his family.  Once his unique personality becomes evident to the Mouse Council and the entire mouse community, he is treated like a criminal and sent to the dungeon to die.  As the author so eloquently states, “…an interesting fate (sometimes involving rats, sometimes not) awaits almost everyone, mouse or man, who does not conform.”


And that is where the adventure truly begins.  In the dungeon he meets a rat who wants to kill Princess Pea.  Despereaux cannot deny his love for her and thus devises a plan to escape and save the princess.  Meanwhile a series of events occurs involving a servant girl, her father, her “Uncle”, the head of the serving staff, the cook, and the jailer.  The wonderfully tangled scenarios along with the detailed character development effectively engages the reader all the way through to the end.

I really appreciate the character of Despereaux for his courage.  What kind of a story would this be if he had surrendered to his fear?  His fear of the rats would have paralyzed him and that would have been the end.  I think about the times in my own life when I second guess myself and feel like I am not strong enough to continue.  With heroes like Despereaux I am inspired to push forward.

Reading Challenge

Over the last several weeks, I have read many books that appeal to me.  I read Caldecott winners.  I read graphic novels.  I read an historical account of an eighteenth century yellow fever outbreak in Philadelphia.  I read books for young children and books for sixth graders.  One thing they all have in common is that they cover a wide variety of subjects and authors.


I started thinking about where I want my reading to take me and I decided to read as many books as I can from The Top 100 Children’s Novels Poll (#1 – 100) posted on April 13, 2010 by Elizabeth Bird.  These books are suitable for kids age 9 – 12 with some of them being ranked for third to fifth grade and others sixth to eighth grade.  In other words, there is a nice mixture for each end of the spectrum.

I used to struggle with wanting to read and making time to read.  Because of that, I wanted to be as realistic as possible about this list before I dug into it.  I needed to make sure there was a variety of genres and, more importantly, at least a few science fiction titles.  Becoming bored with a book leads to getting distracted which leads to putting the book down and never picking it up again.

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As I browsed the list, I noticed some very familiar titles and some I have never heard of.  With everything from Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery to The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien, this list is diverse enough that I shouldn’t have a problem finding something exciting to read.

3D-Glasses-3-by-Merlin2525-300px Another  initial reaction I had to this list was my surprise at the number of books that I only recognize because they were made into movies.  As a result, I plan to read some of those novels and truly discover the treasure that lies inside.  Ordinarily I would skip the book because of fear that it would be too predictable.


My first selection will be The Tale of Despereaux: Being the Story of a Mouse, a Princess, Some Soup, and a Spool of Thread by Kate DiCamillo and illustrated by Timothy Basil Ering.  It sounds like an adventure so I am really looking forward to this one.


Celebrate…a good night’s sleep

celebrate link up

Celebrate this week is a weekly blog hosted by Ruth Ayres Writes.  Join the community and let’s celebrate together!

cat sleepingFor the last couple months, since I have started school full-time, it has been a challenge to get enough sleep.  During my waking hours I study a ton and when I am not at school I work the graveyard shift.  So my sleeping patterns are all over the place.  Sometimes I sleep in the middle of the day and sometimes I sleep at night.

We so often put ourselves in a bad mood because we forget to appreciate the true gifts in our lives.  One thing I am going to resolve to do (instead of being upset when I don’t have enough time to sleep, or cook a homemade meal, or wash my clothes) is focus on being grateful for the successes I do have.

For this week’s celebration, here are a few fun books about bedtime.

no go sleepNo Go Sleep! by Kate Feiffer and illustrated by Jules Feiffer is about a baby who adamantly refuses to go to sleep.  As you turn each page there is a different “person” saying good night or offering a consoling message to the baby.  First his mom and then his dad tell him to go to sleep.  Then the sun, moon, stars, car, birds, frogs, bunnies, owl, tree, sheep, door, goldfish, dog, shoes, doll, and teddy bear each take their turn with something comforting to say.


the kindhearted crocThe Kindhearted Crocodile by Lucia Panzieri and illustrated by AntonGionata Ferrari centers on a ferocious looking crocodile who desperately wants to be someone’s pet.  So he sneaks into a storybook where he becomes one of the pictures and enters a family’s home at night when they are sleeping.  He does chores without them knowing so that they will like him.  The family stays up one night and hides to find out who or what is behind these good deeds.  It is the children who help their parents overcome their stereotypical fears and accept the crocodile into their lives.

no such thingNo Such Thing by Jackie French Koller and illustrated by Betsy Lewin won the Nebraska State Golden Sower Award in 1998 for the primary category.  In this story there is a monster hiding under a boy’s bed when he goes to bed and his mom does not believe him.  The twist is that the monster is afraid of the boy who sleeps on top of the bed and his mom doesn’t believe him either.  Both of them face their fears and become friends.

Read and Reflect

As I reflect on the reading I have done this semester, I notice that I have become a much better reader.  I now approach reading first by identifying my purpose.  For the longer chapter books I am finding it helpful to identify the genre, setting, or types of characters first and then determine my approach.

If the book won a major literary award, I ask myself why.  When I began reading A Gathering of Days by Joan W. Blos (winner of the 1980 Newbery Medal) I found the language slightly difficult to read.  It was taking me much longer than usual to get through it.  But as soon as I focused on the setting, and put into perspective the demographics, political atmosphere, and cultural attitudes of that era, I was able to better understand the journal entries.

schneider family award

Of the literary prizes that we have discussed, I think I like the Schneider Family Award the best.  I read Rain, Reign by Ann M. Martin.  I think it is very beneficial for children, and adults for that matter, to read stories of people’s struggles with disabilities.  With knowledge comes acceptance and equality.

I have been trying to incorporate predominantly books with an older elementary grade level into my weekly reading mostly because they align with my teaching goals.  The depth in some of these types of stories really captures my attention.  But I also try to read a few picture books to round out my exposure and because they are really fun to read.  It is very relaxing to spend brief moments of down time reading about a scary crocodile who wants to be a pet or about a monster under the bed who is as afraid of the boy as the boy is of him.  My favorite so far is The Seven Silly Eaters by Mary Ann Hoberman and illustrated by Marla Frazee.  It is so lively and the pictures have such great detail.


As I ask myself the question of what type of story I like the best, I think the answer would best be described as subjects that deal with the early expansion of the United States and the roles of girls and women, children who are facing their inner most fears or some inner conflict, and science fiction.  I hope I never have to read a teenage romance.

Celebrate… Homemade

celebrate link up

ice cream coneToday I celebrated eating an ice cream cone outside as I took a stroll in the cool crisp air of autumn one last time before winter.

Even though there are more pleasant days to come before it turns frosty outside, it is not uncommon for the first snow to come in October.  And the cafeteria was serving Chocolate Peanut Butter Chunk today so I simply could not resist.  Then I got to thinking beyond ice cream.

pumpkin pie



Thoughts of pumpkin pie and spiced cider.  Glazed pork tenderloin and stuffing.  Red Velvet Chocolate Cake.  There is nothing better than the pleasant aroma of something homemade wafting through the kitchen.

As summer neared its end in August, the days could still be scorchers.  Even with the windows open at night and the fan on high, my apartment was stifling hot.  My legs stuck to the couch from sweat.  It was awful.  The last thing I wanted to do was heat up the oven.  The most I used the stove this last summer was grilled cheese and soup, partly because I only cook for myself, but still you get the idea.

fall mmmm

Now the nights are much cooler, and I am getting very antsy to start cooking again.  I may just have to start with a heart-warming batch of Bacon Cheddar Potato Soup or a comfort food stand-by, Tater Tot Casserole.  But whatever I decide, it will be made with love.


I share with you a book I thought might be in the spirit of this celebration.  When I think of homemade, I think of mothers in the traditional sense anyway.  I realize that not every mother cherishes spending time in the kitchen, especially if you have nine mouths to feed (if you include your own!)

seven-silly-eaters-coverThe Seven Silly Eaters by Mary Ann Hoberman and illustrated by Marla Frazee is a fun story told with rhyming stanzas of a mother and her family of disturbingly picky eaters!  The illustrations are so precious and detailed.  The look on the poor mother’s face is priceless as she attempts to make everyone happy.  In the end, on her birthday no doubt, the children attempt to cook for their mom in appreciation of all she does, and the outcome is hilarious!

It’s Monday! What’re You Reading?

its monday

Books that won the Newbery Medal or Honor Award

a gathering of daysA Gathering of Days, by Joan W. Blos, is a story of a teenage girl in New Hampshire in 1830 – 1832.  It takes place on a farm in the country during a time before electricity, when schoolbooks called spellers were filled with quotes from the Bible, girls were not allowed to learn upper-level math, slavery was still legal in the South, bartering goods was still a very common form of currency, and daily living was hard work.  Every person in the family once they reached a certain age had to pull their weight.  Boys and men did more work in the fields while the girls and women were vital in running the domestic household.  In the dead of winter, you layered as many dresses and shawls and even your dad’s shirts to keep you warm because you did not have a winter coat.  When Sarah stole one of her family’s quilts and some food to give to a man she had presumed to be a runaway slave in the dead of winter, it was an incredible act of kindness and bravery.  Even the Father of their church instructed his followers not to help any runaway slaves.  I really enjoyed this book because of its historical accuracy in describing the era’s culture and the role of girls and women.  (1980 Newbery Medal Winner)

sarah plain and tallSarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan is the story of Sarah Wheaton, of Maine, who answers a want ad in a newspaper for a wife and mother.  Out west in the 19th century there weren’t many single women in the west.  Women played an important role in child-rearing, cooking, cleaning, sewing clothes and bedding, and adding one more work hand to the family.  Sarah agreed to stay for one month as a trial period with the understanding that she would leave if it didn’t work out.  Jacob and his children, Anna and Caleb, get to know and love Sarah.  She is a strong-willed woman who demands her independence but who is also kind and maternal.  In the next thirty days Sarah discovers how vast and lonely the West can be and how different it is from Maine.  When it is time for Sarah to make a decision, she insists on learning how to drive a horse-drawn wagon and going into town by herself!  This worries the family very much because they can’t think of any other reason she would want to ride into town by herself other than to leave without saying goodbye.  I really enjoyed the story mostly because of the strong family values and the pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstrap mentality that a man needed to have to survive back then.  (1986 Newbery Medal Winner)

the courage of sarah nobleThe Courage of Sarah Noble, by Alice Dalgliesh is based on the historical life of Sarah Noble who travels with her father to Connecticut in 1707 to build a new home on a plot of land he just purchased.  Because it was 1707 and the United States as we know it today was largely unsettled at the time, there is a very real threat of Indians, wild animals, and the cold of the upcoming winter.  In telling the story Sarah is left alone with an Indian family.  They cared for her like a daughter and made her clothes and moccasins out of leather hides.  Sarah learns that her fears were unsubstantiated although there are warring Indian tribes that are to be feared.  I was disappointed in the racial remarks from the mother at the end of the story.  I wonder a little if this had anything to do with racial tension of the 1950’s or if it was actually documented in the author’s research.   (1955 Newbery Honor Book)

my fathers dragonMy Father’s Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett and illustrated by Ruth Chrisman Gannett, is  the outlandish story of a boy who has a great adventure saving an enslaved dragon on Wild Island.  A homeless cat that he befriends tells him what to bring to ensure that he will be successful.  The story is full of silly antics as the boy escapes danger by using every item that the cat suggested.  I think it would be good for young audiences.   (1949 Newbery Honor Book)

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?

its monday


one and only ivan

In my analysis of The One And Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate, a winner of the 2013 Newbery Medal, I aim to point out several key elements of the novel that made it a winner.

Character analysis and plot.

The Big Top Mall and Video Arcade, a small indoor circus-type animal attraction, located next to a major highway, was once very profitable but as the story unfolds is run-down and losing money.  Ivan, the hero, a mighty silverback gorilla, passive and philosophical in his approach to life, lives in a cage constructed of glass, metal, and cement inside a mall along with his companions.

  • Stella, the elephant, old wise and maternal, is well-versed in the cruelty inflicted on animals by humans (scars on her legs and stories to tell), yet has an understanding of their kinder side as well.
  • Ruby, the baby elephant, represents innocence, hope, and longing.
  • Bob the street smart dog, honest but blunt, blurts out what everyone else is thinking but unwilling to say.
  • George the janitor, and his ten-year old daughter Julia, represent those who have good intentions, but are powerless to make any major social or political changes on their own, or so they think.
  • Mack, the villain and owner of the mall, a tired old man who bought Ivan as a baby and raised him like a son until he got too big to be a human, seems to have lost his humanity over time.
  • The character of the zookeeper, Maya, materializes at the same time Ivan’s dream of living in a zoo materializes.

baby elephantWhen Stella dies, she makes Ivan agree to keep Ruby safe.  Ivan develops a plan to get her rescued and taken to a zoo.  The death of his best friend and the promise he made to protect someone else finally make him snap.  For the first time he refers to his domain as a cage.  He finally remembers the most heart-wrenching part of his original capture — the death of his parents and their hands and feet getting cut off (to be sold as ashtrays or other souvenirs!)

He devises a plan; he creates lots and lots of paintings.  He carries out the plan; with some coaxing, chest-beating, and all-around acting like a wild gorilla (which he has not done since he was a baby), he shows his artwork to George and Julia who paste them up on the billboard.  Julia calls the newspaper.  At first the publicity only serves to make more money for Mack.  But then the protesters come.  Then the health inspector comes.  Before you know it, people from the zoo come.

As Ivan is first transitioned to the zoo, he is afraid.  He can barely remember the last time he was with any of his own species.  But he musters up the courage and is soon acting like a real gorilla with his new family.  He makes peace with himself when Maya shows him a video of Ruby in her new habitat, proof that he lived up to his promise made to Stella.

zoo animals

Lastly, Julia, Bob, and George come to visit.  George starts a new job with the zoo in a month.  Bob is no longer homeless.  Ivan now has closure.

The setting is key to the story.

Being located next to a major highway is significant because it allows the addition of the billboard which draws the eventual attention of activists and zoo officials to the mall.  Throughout the story, we are given hints and clues as to the mistreatment and neglect of the animals as it pertains to the setting.  The pool is dirty, the hay is dirty, and the brown carrot on the floor implies rotting food.  There are occasional rats and insects.  The TV set replaces a gorilla companion for Ivan.


As evidenced by this mistreatment and neglect, a major theme of the story is that animals are viewed as disposable objects.  When Stella became lame in a circus act, she was sold to Mack (in lieu of receiving medical care.)  When she became too ill to perform in Mack’s acts, she died as a result of an infection.  After she died, she was buried in a garbage truck with a fork lift.  When she was no longer profitable, her worth no longer existed.

The style of this novel is unique and effective.  It is divided into sections, each with a title and theme that vary from a few sentences to a few pages long. The animals are humanized with their dialogue. The word choice is simple but complex in meaning.  This present tense narration allows the reader to become involved every step of the way as Ivan, Stella, and Ruby experience sadness, recollect warm memories, and develop true friendship.

Although a work of fiction, it is easy to empathize with the characters knowing that similar events actually occurred.  This story gives a personality to a gorilla and an elephant that actually lived.  It is impossible not to be drawn-in to Ivan’s dilemma.  When his plan is finally realized and Ivan, Ruby, and even Bob, find peace and safety, it is very emotionally satisfying and worth the tear or two you probably invested in getting to the end of the story.

It’s Monday! What’re You Reading!?

its monday

bad news for outlawsCoretta Scott King Award (2010) – Bad News for Outlaws, The Remarkable Life of Bass Reeves, Deputy U.S. Marshall by Vaunda Michaux Nelson and illustrated by Gregory Christie.  This story is a non-fictional account of Bass Reeves, Deputy U.S. Marshall circa 1884 in “in Indian Territory.”  It is told in typical cowboy fashion of outlaw folklore.  There is even a glossary of western words found in the text like dry-gulch and tumbleweed wagon. It is illustrated so beautifully and with such vibrancy and detail that you are really drawn into Reeves’ life as it is being told.  One can only imagine the bravery and integrity that filled the man who became one of the most feared and respected U.S. Deputy Marshals of his time.

cazuelaPura Belpre Award (2012 Honor Book for Illustration) – The Cazuela That the Farm Maiden Stirred by Samantha R Vamos and illustrated by Rafael Lopez.  This is a fun tale about farm animals, a farm maiden, and a farmer making rice pudding.  It uses both English and Spanish words. It would be a great addition to a lesson plan in a Spanish class or for cultural diversity activities.  The illustrations come to life and it is very fun to read aloud (even if you are just reading it to yourself!)

american plagueSibert Medal (2005 Honor Book) – An American Plague: The True and Terrifying Story of the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793 by Jim Murphy.  Yellow fever wiped out thousands upon thousands of people in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries alone.  It was an absolutely quick and horrible way to die.  Murphy delivers a very graphic and chronological account of a particular outbreak in Philadelphia in 1793 that reads more like a mystery than nonfiction.  He really knows how to engage the reader and gives enormous insight into the conditions of life at the end of the 18th century in, what was at the time, the Capital of the United States.

rain reignSchneider Family Award (2015 Middle School) – Rain, Reign written by Ann M. Martin.  This is the story of Rose, a fifth grader with Asperger’s syndrome. The author helps us understand some of the everyday struggles she faces at school and at home.  When she adopts a stray dog, and names him Rain, her life is filled with joy and purpose.  When a terrible storm hits their town, Rain is lost.  Rose sets out determined to find him by contacting every pet shelter in the local radius.  With sheer determination and the help of her uncle she actually locates her dog.  To their shock, they discover Rain had been micro-chipped by his former owners and they want him back.  Rose selflessly decides that it is the right thing to give the dog back although she is heart-broken.

a dog called kittyGolden Sower Award (1985 Intermediate) – A Dog Called Kitty by Bill Wallace.  This is a story about Ricky, who just moved with his family to live on a farm.  When he was very young he was maliciously mauled by a dog  and was so traumatized that he still has panic attacks whenever a dog or puppy is near.  A stray puppy finds Ricky and is eager to be fed and to have a new friend.  But Ricky is scared to death.  As Ricky slowly develops a relationship with his new pet, Kitty, he slowly comes to terms with his paralyzing fear of dogs.  It is a very touching story but contains enough action to engage readers at varying levels.

Celebrate…A Love for Cats

celebrate link up

I love cats.  They are so animated as they explore their new world. And their purr is so delightful. When I moved to Chadron, NE last July I was unable to find an apartment that accepted pets and I had to leave my cat, Kona, with my adult son. It has given me the opportunity to reflect on how much she means to me.

KonaI used to talk to her every day and she would talk to me too.  She used to sleep on the edge of the bed and wake me up at 4 am like clockwork. I can’t say I ever got used to that.  I used to throw a catnip-filled mouse across the room and she would race after it. Unlike the canine, she never could figure out how to retrieve that mouse but she never licked my face off either. She was a wonderful companion.

I found two children’s books that feature a very independent cat as the main character to go along with this week’s theme.

minouSet in France, Minou, by Mindy Bingham and illustrated by Itoko Maeno, unfolds with a cat named Minou who is pampered by a very loving lady, Madame Violette.  She has been taken care of so well and for so long that she never learned how to take care of herself.  When Madame Violette dies, and Minou is thrown out on the streets, she is scared out of her wits.  But not long after she meets Celeste, a very elegant street cat, who shows her how to survive on her own.  Their journey takes us through Paris with beautiful full page drawings of some of the sights.  In the end Minou discovers she really can take care of herself.

0-590-03375-1Black Cat, by Christopher Myers, is the story of a black cat who the reader follows in order to find out where he lives. You will embark on a journey through the inner-city streets at night .  The very unique artwork that provides such a lively description is partly comprised of photos taken in the Harlem and Brooklyn neighborhood where author Myers lives.  They give the reader a cat’s eye view with unique angles, shadows, and perspectives.