Saturday, May 26, 2012

Review of Animal Ark: Kitten in the Cold

Kitten in the Cold is the 13th book in Ben M. Baglio's Animal Ark series. In this book, Christmas is approaching the little English village of Welford. This year, they are planning a special holiday event with Father Christmas to raise money to send five year-old Alex Hastings to a hospital in America for a life-saving operation. Mandy is excited, because two real reindeer are coming to stay with them at Animal Ark. She is also excited to meet her new friend Alex, and Alex's brand new kitten, Amber.

Just before Christmas, minor crises begin to pop up. Rudolph gets a virus and can't visit the sick children. Amber disappears in the cold and James is caught in a snowstorm in a different town with Dasher and his owner Don McNab (Father Christmas). Alex is even sicker with worry for her precious kitten. The whole town bands together, yet again, for Alex. Will Christmas be saved?

This book is very sweet and appropriate for elementary-aged children. It teaches them how to care for animals and how to do what's right to care for your fellow man. The kids never try to perform any heroics. And it is blissfully free from vampires, werewolves, zombies and other paranormal or fantastical creatures. Those can make for some fun stories, but kid lit has been inundated with them, lately! It also helps to keep the magic of Christmas alive, which is especially nice for those younger ones who still truly believe.

Kitten in the Cold has enough drama in it to keep the pages turning, without being scary. I will admit to even having a pit in my stomach during some parts of it. And while this series features a girl as the main character, boys and girls alike can enjoy this book and the rest of the Animal Ark series.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Review of Gossip From the Girls' Room

Books in the form of diaries or journals seem to be the latest craze in chapter books for elementary-aged kids. One of my darling 8 1/2 year-olds has been working her way through the series The Diary of a Wimpy Kid and is graciously letting me borrow them to review. Her current read is Gossip From the Girls' Room by Rose Cooper.

Similar to Wimpy Kid, the story is typed out in a handwriting-like font on lined journal pages with illustrations presumably done by the author. This time it is a girl telling the story. Sofia Becker uses it as her handwritten "Pre-Blogging Notebook" and doesn't allow anyone to read it, except for her best friend Nona. Usually the day following her handwritten entries, her thoughts go up on her real blog, which is "almost popular." She writes under the psudonym "Blogtastic Blogger." Her thoughts reflect what she has seen and heard while attending Middlebrooke Middle School, where many students have a teacher-monitored blog.

She spends a lot of her time hiding out in the bathroom stall, spying on the other girls when they come into the restroom. Her favorite target is Mia St. Claire, the most popular girl at school. She likes to create all kinds of gossip by posting everything on her blog, whether or not it is actually true. This part of the book reminds me a bit about Harriet The Spy, which was popular when I was young. Harriet also spend hours watching people and jotting notes about what was going on. Sometimes she even printed her observations in the school newspaper. Perhaps that was some of the other inspiration for this book?

Along the way, Sofia learns small lessons about why gossip is not nice. She finds herself being the butt of jokes and discussion and gets into big fights with her BFF.

The book was a fast and easy read for me. I don't really care for the tone of Sofia's character. I find her to be somewhat snotty and not at all like most of the girls at her level of social skills that I remember from my junior high days. She is not quite the kind of girl I would want my girls to emulate. She does mature a bit by the end of the book, and probably will develop more as the series continues. (Book 2 was due out this spring.)

Gossip could provide a foundation for discussions about why gossiping is not okay and how damaging it can be. It can help to teach how to properly blog, especially when discussing other people. It's an easy book that will capture the attention of girls who need something a little easier to read to engage them. I may or may not check out the next installment, should I come across it. The 8 1/2 year-old loves it and will probably read the entire series.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Reflecting on Chapter Books from A to Z

This blog was new in time for the A to Z Challenge this year. I was looking for a great way to kick start it, and the challenge sure did that for me. It pushed me to think back to my younger years and find some quality books to share with kids.

Chapter books have been on my mind more lately, as some of my kindergartners are actually ready to read at that level this year. When we go up to the school library, they automatically go straight to the chapter book shelf. Unfortunately, we haven't had the largest selection there as of late. I have started scouring used book sales and my own collection, to see if I can find ones to add. The whole process made me reflect on ones that my friends and I enjoyed when we were kids. Some of those were featured on this blog for the challenge.

I don't know that I will be able to take this one on again next year. Books are a tough topic to cover for an entire alphabet! I have 10 1/2 months to see if I can come up with anything, though. We shall see.

Until then, here are the posts that I did for this year's challenge. Happy reading!

A is for Anastasia Krupnik
B is for Babysitters' Club
C is for Charlie Bucket
D is for Dollhouse Murders
E is for Eddie and Betsy
F is for Fudge
G is for Green Meadow
H is for Hardy Boys
I is for Island of the Blue Dolphins
J is for Judy Blume
K is for Katherine Paterson
L is for Little House on the Prairie
M is for Magic Tree House
N is for Nancy Drew
O is for O'Dell
P is for Piggle-Wiggle
Q is for Quest
R is for Ramona
S is for Sweet Valley
T is for Trixie Belden
U is for Unfortunate Events
V is for Verne
W is for Wrinkle in Time
X is for the X-Factor
Y is for Young Adult
Z is for Zilpha Keatley Snyder

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Review of Doggy Dare

I allow my students to go with me to our school library to pick out books for the classroom. This year, I am fortunate enough to have a couple of children who are already making their way through some simple chapter books. (Yes, even in kindergarten!) Some are reading independently, while others can make out some of the words and just want me to read their choices to the class. One book chosen was Doggy Dare by Ben M. Baglio.

This is Book #12 in the Animal Ark series. Animal Ark is the name of the veterinary clinic where Mandy Hope lives with her parents. Because she is around her parents' practice all the time, she has always been a big lover of animals. She and her best friend James often have many adventures involving animals.

In this book, a new boy named Joey joins Mandy's class. He has been deaf for about two years now. He can read lips and Mandy is his class helper. A little stray dog has attached himself to Joey, and seems to intuitively know how to protect Joey. He really wants to keep the dog, whom he has named Scruff, but his mother says no. She was bitten by a dog when she was a child and does not like them.

Mandy and James see the benefit that Scruff is to Joey. Scruff can get Joey's attention even if they cannot. They beg Joey's mom to give them a chance to train Scruff to be Joey's hearing dog. She agrees, with certain conditions. They also have to try hard to locate Scruff's real owners. Will they be able to pull it off?

This book is very sweet, with a reading level of 3. It can bring awareness to children about the deaf community, opening up lots of discussion in the classroom. The vocabulary and story are simple enough to engage an independent reader, as well as making for a good read aloud book. My students really enjoy it.