Walls within Walls by Maureen Sherry is on the Texas Bluebonnet list for 2013-2014. It’s the story of a family who has moved from Brooklyn to the Upper East Side of Manhattan because of dad’s new job. The Smithfork kids have trouble adjusting to their new life, but soon find themselves knee-deep in a decades old mystery. The mystery stems from the wishes of previous building owner. A wealthy businessman from the 1930s, Mr. Post was a lover of poetry and puzzles. His will was never found when he died in 1937, and his vast fortune remained hidden until Brid, CJ, and Patrick move in and begin to piece clues together.
If you’ve read the Chasing Vermeer series from Blue Balliet or the The Mysterious Benedict Society books by Trenton Lee Stewart, I think you’ll like Walls within Walls. The story is about a group of kids, in this case siblings, finding themselves in a situation and taking the initiative to find answers. And like the Chasing Vermeer books, the author did a great job of weaving poetry, history, and architecture into the story line. I can definitely see where some kids would read this book and become highly interested in any of the details Sherry used to build the plot. And while the action focuses on solving the mystery, the subplot is about a family adjusting to a recent move to a new neighborhood.
Another Bluebonnet I read this week is Looking at Lincoln by Maira Kalman. This biography of Lincoln is told from the perspective of a young girl who comes to the realization that Lincoln’s likeness is all around us. One she realizes this, she progresses through a simple timeline of his life. Obviously, Kalman focuses on the major milestones, but she also interjects fun facts such as Lincoln’s love of apples and vanilla cake. One feature I really liked about this book is the author’s use of fonts. The biography, which is told in third person, is written with a typical typewriter font. But when the young girl starts to share her thoughts and ask questions, the font changes to one that resembles a handwritten font. The illustrations were fabulous as well. I’m always intrigued by artwork that shows so much detail, yet at first glance seems really broad and general. I’m not really sure if my words make sense, but take a peek at the book and I think you’ll see what I mean.
It’s not a Bluebonnet, but currently I’m listening to Jefferson’s Sons by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley. I just started it, but I’m pretty hooked already. The audiobook is about 10 hours long, so hopefully in another week or so I’ll be able to share my thoughts with you.
I also just started 38 Great Academic Language Builders by John Seidlitz and Kathleen Kenfield. I have about 10 professional books I want to read this summer and I thought this was a good one to start with. I’m hoping to find great strategies I can incorporate into my professional development sessions I’m offering over the next couple of months.
A Tangle of Knots was a fun, easy whimsical read. The premise is that everyone has a Talent. Some people find their Talent early in life and others discover their Talent far into adulthood. And a few, the Fair, never discover their Talent. This is one of those books where there are a few stories going on and from the beginning I was constantly wondering how the different stories were related. To me, this is really a great example of why it’s so important to get kids to be engaged in their reading. If you read A Tangle of Knots without truly engaging in the different stories, it’s just a random collection of stories and it’s not nearly as enjoyable. That being said, this book isn’t for everyone. It will require attention and commitment.
This book is about family and fitting in. A Tangle of Knots is also about finding your way in the world. It’s adventure and fantasy with a touch of mystery. I think it would appeal to both boys and girls. Even though the main character is a girl, there are so many unique characters that most kids will find someone to connect with. It would definitely make a fun read aloud and I think could make for some really interesting class discussions. I would be interested in hearing from teachers of gifted learners about what their students think of this novel.
As someone whose career is based on the needs of gifted and talented students, I had to really think about this premise. There is always the debate about why gifted programs aren’t even necessary; after all, doesn’t everyone have a gift or a talent? And of course, to many, gifted education is considered elitist. Both of these are actually highly perpetuated myths. Gifted learners, like second language learners and students with disabilities, require a special set of learning circumstances because of who they are and how they learn. In some places, I would say that gifted education is elitist because of how students are identified and served. Done correctly, though, gifted identification and services should cut across all cultures, languages, and economic levels, thus removing that label. I don’t think the author is using the term Talent to mean the same thing as when we say Gifted and Talented. When we talk about a student who needs Gifted and Talented services, we’re talking about someone who learns in a different way. They can typically look at something from multiple perspectives, they may learn more quickly, and can think more abstractly and complexly. I think Lisa Graff’s perspective is that everyone has a skill that they embrace and are particularly good at. In some cases, they may be quite passionate about it. And sometimes those talents are obvious, but sometimes it is our circumstances which lead us to our passions.
The Great Unexpected by Sharon Creech
I was first drawn to this book by the cover. It’s just so beautifully done. And then when I saw the author’s name, Sharon Creech, I knew it was a must read. But, to tell you the truth, I’m still struggling to determine how I feel about this novel. The writing was absolutely beautiful. The characters intriguing. The two best friends were unique in their own ways and they were so different from each other that it was easy to enjoy them. Case in point, Lizzie is the talker who never really stops. And she is full of questions. But, when she needs to refocus and calm down, she goes to the moon.
“Lizzie said that if you imagined you were standing on the moon, looking down on the earth, you wouldn’t be able to see the itty-bitty people racing around worrying; you wouldn’t see the barn falling in . . . You would see the most beautiful blue oceans and green lands, and the whole earth would look like a giant blue-and-green marble floating in the sky. Your worries would seem so small, maybe invisible.”
Wow! That is so powerful! The writing is beautiful and honest and it seems to flow straight from the heart. But maybe even more importantly, what Lizzie says is so essential to know when dealing with the ups and downs of everyday life. So many people don’t know how to cope when life throws a curveball and Lizzie’s way of standing on the moon to change your perspective is a strategy I think most people could really use. So this would be an example of something I really loved about the book. Creech’s writing and her character’s honest, heartfelt emotions.
I’m not sure how to say what I didn’t care for. I think it just took me awhile to get into the book because the breaks were abrupt. The story is being told from two different perspectives on different sides of the world. That’s not the part that got me. It just seemed like the flow between chapters was sometimes choppy and rough. But once I found a rhythm, the story picked up and it was more enjoyable for me. And that made it easier for me to start to put the pieces of the puzzle together, although I did find myself stopping occasionally to think about things that had already taken place.
if you’ve read The Great Unexpected or you read it in the future, I’d love to hear your thoughts.
This summer marks the 4th annual BookA-Day Challenge. This will be the first year I’ve participated and I’m hoping for the best. I found out about this challenge by following Donalyn Miller on Twitter @donalynbooks and reading her blog, The Book Whisperer. If you don’t know Donalyn, you need to. Be sure to check her out when you’re done here.
So, the 4th annual BookA-Day Challenge encourages educators to read a book a day during summer break. I think it’s aimed primarily at classroom teachers to “give us an opportunity to recommit to reading, explore new books for our students, or dive into the books that pile up around our houses during the year.” But as a reader and a coordinator, I think it’s important to model reading for those I can influence, whether it’s other educators, former students, or my nephews. Therefore, I’m ready to dive in and do my best to meet this challenge. The books can be picture books, novels (children’s, YA, and adult), graphic novels, non-fiction, professional reading, and even poetry anthologies. Because I work through most of the summer, my time frame starts June 1st and ends on the first day of school, August 25. Including weekends, because those really are my days off, my magic number is 38. I’m sure quite a few of those will be picture books, but I don’t want to really on those and pad my numbers. And I really want to have a variety of books. I’ve been so focused on children’s lit lately, I’ve neglected adult fiction and professional reading. I hope to make those a good part of my summer reading.
Here are pics of most of the books I hope to read between now and August 25. Most of my professional books are either at work or on my iPad, so I’ll have to refine that list later. And as you can see, my adult books definitely need to be added to. There are plenty on my Goodreads; just have to figure out what I want to accomplish this summer. And some books I’ll read on my Nook, mainly when I’m in a plane or a car for an extended period of time. I’ll continue to listen to audiobooks. In fact, I just raided the library at one of our elementary schools. Not sure if I’ll count those or not.