Keeper by Kathi Appelt

Keeper By: Kathi Appelt Illustrated by: August Hall This edition: Hardcover, 416 pages Publication date: May 18, 2010 Ages: 8 - 12

Kathi Appelt, Newbery-honor author of The Underneath, continues her writing brilliance in Keeper.  Imagine your worst day ever. Does it involve talking crabs, burnt gumbo, a broken ukulele, a terrorized cat, mysterious mermaids, a lost mother, shattered flower pots, and a search and rescue mission?  Well, Keeper’s worst day involves all of those.
Once again, Kathi Appelt weaves together a realistic story with hints of myth, legend, and magic.  She tells us a story from multiple points of view, and I love her for that.  We often hear that when we write, we should choose a point of view and stick with it.  Kathi Appelt masterfully shows us just how to break that rule.  Through the story, we go into the thoughts of cats, seagulls, mermaids, and dogs, along with the main character Keeper, her adopted mother Signe, and her surfer neighbor Dogie.  I was also amazed that in 400 pages, only one day went by, yet I was captivated by every page.
On the surface, this is a story of a girl’s search for her mother and a terrible day she has along the way.  However, deeper down this story has many lessons to be learned for all ages.  I invite you to discover Keeper.

What poem is hiding inside you?

written by Joyce Sidman illustrated by Pamela Zagarensky Houghton Mifflin, 2009 ISBN-13: 978-0-547-01494-4

Summer is the perfect time to sit outside in the sunshine by the pool, under a tree, next to a stream, or wherever else your heart leads you and take time to appreciate the beauty of the world.  It’s also the perfect time to capture your observations in a journal, sketchbook, or your favorite piece of technology.  One thing that I love to do is take my observations of the world and turn them into poetry.  I just finished reading Red Sings from the Treetops: A year in colors by Joyce Sidman & Illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski.  This book was a 2010 Caldecott Honor book, and it was very deserving of this recognition.  The illustrations are exquisite, and the text is lyrical and insightful.  Joyce Sidman uses her poetic eye and creative imagination to capture how colors change throughout the year.  Definitely check this book out for writing and drawing inspiration.

On Joyce’s website, students can submit their poems for publication.  She posts student poems with only first names visible.  I’m always looking for places where students can make their voices heard through their writing.  If you choose to write a poem this summer (and I hope you do), consider sending it to her site. You can also post it here in the comments section whether your an adult reading this or a student!  If you know other great outlets for young authors to publish their work, leave that in the comments section, too.  Now go outside, pick a spot, listen & observe, and craft a poem!

Elbert’s Bad Word

Review of Elbert’s Bad Word by: Audrey Wood April 26, 2010

Some days I feel like I have a hard time brushing that bad behavior monster off of my shoulder. I just feel like giving in to conduct that I know is wrong but is so tempting. Maybe I feel rotten. Maybe somebody just made fun of me or something I spent a long time picking out to wear that day. Maybe I had a terrible time sleeping the night before, and now I’m just crabby. Whatever the reason, I find it harder on some days to not give in to the temptation of having inappropriate behavior. I’m a teacher. So that would be saying something to one of my students in a nasty voice or not being patient or just generally grumping around. I’m also a Mom. At home, my bad behavior is sometimes yelling at my sons or saying grumpy things to my husband, blaming my dog, Pearl for stuff she can’t even help doing (like eating my shoes-ugh!)

In this book, the bad behavior monster is an actual monster that sits on a little boy’s shoulder. He tempts the boy to copy some undesirable behavior. At a fancy garden party, Elbert sees some very unflattering behavior from an adult, blurting out a bad word. The word actually morphs into a small storm cloud, “ugly and covered with dark, bristly hairs.” Elbert stuffs the prickly creature into his back pocket. The word later turns itself into a gnat (as these monsters do to make things more convenient) and flies into Elbert’s mouth. Some very funny antics follow, but then, you may have guessed, Elbert lets that gnat out in its original form again as a bad word, shouted no less, as can easily happen in frustrating situations.
I won’t spoil any more of this great book for you. I’ll let you find the ending and the lessons in it on your own. You can find Elbert’s Bad Word now in the media center. I love it so much that I just donated it to our library! Check it out, and if you see me in the hall, tell me how you liked it, using nice words, of course.
Your Friend, Ms. Kelly (PreK)

Greetings from Nowhere

Barbara O’Connor has quickly become one of my favorite authors. After reading How to Steal a Dog, I began pulling all of her books together in a stack to read. I just finished Greetings from Nowhere and absolutely loved it.

It takes place in a rundown motel in North Carolina. One of the owners has passed away and it is up to an old woman named Aggie to keep the place running. However, with no new people coming to stay at the motel, she has trouble and needs to sell the place. As fate would have it, multiple families are being drawn to the motel for one reason or another. All of these characters lives weave together to tell a story that celebrates life and life’s challenges.

This book connected with my life because as a child, my family went to Cherokee North Carolina on a weekly basis. As I read, I could just picture the sleepy little motel, the places the characters visited, and the lifestyles that each character lived. I love books that celebrate everyday life. I love stories of everyday people who look at life as a journey and don’t worry about the challenges of money.

I thought I would never find an author that speaks to me in a similar way as Kate DiCamillo, but I’ve found one. Barbara O’Connor is a master storyteller and she has a connection with characters that are true to life. She holds nothing back.

Reviewed by Mr. Plemmons

How to Steal a Dog

How to Steal a Dog

By Barbara O’Connor

Published by Scholastic

I must now add Barbara O’Connor to my list of favorite authors.  I had read The Small Adventures of Popeye and Elvis and I had passed by How to Steal a Dog Many Times.  I must admit that I wasn’t drawn to the book because of its cover.  However, when someone told me about the plot, I knew I had to read it!

How to Steal a Dog is about Georgina, Toby, and their mother, a family who lives in their car.  Georgina wants more than anything to live in a real home so that she doesn’t have to wash up in gas stations and create a bedroom with a beach towel hanging from the car roof.  One day, she devises a plan to steal a dog and then bring the dog back to its owner once a reward is offered.  She thinks the reward will be just the amount of money her family needs to move out of the car and into an apartment.  Toby and Georgina seek out the perfect person to steal a dog from, but their plan doesn’t really going like they thought it was going to.

This book is filled with twists and turns, and just like always, Barbara O’Connor challenges us to think about economically disadvantaged people in our society.  She masterfully shines a light on them that breaks through stereotypes.  Each time I read Barbara O’Connor’s books, I connect in some way with the characters and my own life growing up in a trailer in the North Georgia mountains.

This book is a must read!

Reviewed by Mr. Plemmons

Countdown

On March 17th 2009, author Deborah Wiles visited our school.  Her visit supported our narrative writing that every student works on, and she encouraged students to tell their stories.  This school year, her visit has been referenced numerous times in my own lessons, and teachers and students still talk about how much they loved her.  Since her visit, I (and many other teachers) have continued to follow her blog (here and here and here)  about the development of her upcoming novel, Countdown, which will be published in May 2010.  This novel is a part of a trilogy that takes place in the sixties during the Cuban Missle Crisis.  A few weeks ago, I received an email from Deborah Wiles announcing that her novel was now in the “galley” phase, which is an uncorrected proof of the book.  She also said in the email that her publisher, Scholastic, was granting her several copies of the book to send out to readers and that I was one of the lucky few who would get to read the book before it was officially published in May.  I was ecstatic!

I eagerly checked the mail each day hoping that the book had arrived, and during Spring Break it came.  What perfect timing!  I was able to sit each day and savor each page of this brilliant novel.  Are you ready to hear about it?

Countdown follows the main character, Franny, as she faces life in 1962 during a turbulent time in US history.  Franny’s life is filled with interesting characters.  Uncle Otts is still living a war in his mind and keeps the family a bit on edge with his antics.  Franny’s sister is going off to college and seems to have completely disappeared from the family.  Franny’s dad is currently in the military and is always off on various missions, which keeps her mom a bit tense.  Then, there’s Franny’s school friends, who provide her with lots of adventure, but also the feuding that comes with growing up with friends.  While Franny is trying to discover how to make her way through her own life, she’s also having to cope with the inherent fear that has developed in the world due to President Kennedy’s announcement that Russia is sending nuclear missiles to Cuba. The threat of a bomb is always on Franny’s mind, and her school doesn’t help to relieve this fear with their constant reminders of duck and cover drills.  How will Franny learn to heal the conflicts that she has with her friends?  How will she and her family come together during this turbulent time?  Will the United States ever be filled with peace instead of the constant thoughts and fears of war?

In Countdown, Deborah Wiles masterfully weaves a documentary novel that both takes us into the lives of one American family but also helps us to see the fearful history that took place during this time.  As I read, I felt as if I had boarded a time machine and traveled back to the sixties.  I felt the constant fear because as I read I was presented with music, news reports, presidential announcements, and advertisements that brought the thoughts of nuclear attack back to the front of my mind.  Just as I was living Franny’s life with her and enjoying her moments and adventures with her friends and family, an announcement or a duck and cover drill would take place.  I was never able to escape the fear of attack, and this made the novel so much more real.  At the same time, I was also reminded through these same photographs and music of how the rest of the United States was trying to move on with their day-to-day lives and how there were other major events taking place at the exact same time.  This is a must-read novel.  It brings back a time in history that has much relevance to the fears and issues we face today.  What might you learn from this novel?  What might you experience as you take this journey with Franny?

Countdown will be available in bookstores in May.  It will be available in our media center at the beginning of the next school year.  I hope you’ll read it and see how it speaks to you.  I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Reviewed by Mr. Plemmons

Claudette Colvin

When you think of important figures in black history, who do you think of? Martin Luther King, Jr? Harriet Tubman? Rosa Parks? What about Claudette Colvin? Never heard of her?

Well, I hadn’t either until I read Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice by Phillip Hoose. Long before Rosa Parks took her famous stand on an Alabama bus, Claudette Colvin refused to give up her seat to a white woman. She was dragged from the bus, kicked, and arrested. Because she was a teenager and from a poor family and neighborhood, the leaders of the civil rights movement did not highlight her case seeing her as an unfit role model. She was shunned by her classmates and ridiculed in the community. Her stand did start the fuel for the famous bus boycott, though. Claudette even spent time with Rosa Parks and had many conversations with her. It was until Rosa Parks did the same thing as Claudette that the actual boycott began. This book showcases her story and tells of her heroism and struggles as well as how her own people turned their back on her.

This book is a “MUST READ” because it brings up the important issue of untold history. We only know what we’ve been told, and thankfully Phillip Hoose took the time to tell this woman’s story. After reading this book, I have a whole different outlook on the civil rights movement and Rosa Parks. It also made me think back to when I was a teenager and how there were times when I felt like nobody was listening to me. I certainly never tried to stand up for something as large as what Claudette stood up for, but it made me remember the importance of listening to every voice no matter how old or experienced.

Claudette Colvin is a hero, and I am so thankful that she stood up for her rights. Even though she did not get the credit that she deserved at the time, I hope this book will shine light on her heroism and write her name into the history books alongside the others who have paved the way in black history.

This book is coming soon to our media center.  Look for it in the next few weeks!

Reviewed by Mr. Plemmons