Thursday, June 5, 2008

Children's Choice State Award Books

Our state nominates 10 books in each of 3 categories for the state awards. My building covers two of those categories, picture books and intermediate chapter books. I try to read them all every summer. I won't subject you to the picture book reviews, unless one really hits me as good, but I've summarized the first several intermediate books that I've read. (Six down...four to go!) Here we go...

Anna's Blizzard by Alison Hart

I'm not really big on historical fiction. For some reason, I don't seem to get into it as much as other types of books. But once I started Anna's Blizzard, I couldn't stop. Anna is a very likable character. Not that great at school, but has a lot of spunk and spirit. She is also pretty smart about life on the prairie. When a blizzard hits her town while she and several other students are at their one-room school, Anna ends up in more of leadership role than she ever had before. There was enough action to keep me interested and plenty of character development to keep me rooting for an upbeat end to the disaster.

We sure saw our share of snow this winter and this book will get students talking about their own adventures in the wintery weather. I think this book will appeal to many different types of students and has the potential to be a dark horse in the kids' voting.

Rules by Cynthia Lord

Everyone knows that in life there are rules you have to follow. But for some people, following those rules is difficult. Like Catherine's brother. David has autism and Catherine is living with all the difficulties that presents not only for a family, but for a junior high student. One day, Catherine meets Jason, who has difficulties of his own. And Catherine begins to recognize that sometimes following the "rules" means you compromise yourself.

I really liked the message in this book. Catherine is a real student trying to balance her own wants and desires with her family's responsibility for her brother. Although she sometimes is nicer than I would imagine some kids would be, she gets angry, gets selfish, makes mistakes, but also learns her lesson. This story is great to share with classes to bring up the topic of people who are "different" from them, in many senses of the word.

Whittington by Alan Armstrong

A cat book! Several of my students were very excited to see a book with a cat in the mix of Golden Sower books. Whittington certainly provides a good mix of animals to entice some of the kids, but I don't know that the story will hold their attention all that long. Whittington, the cat, moves into a barn full of discarded animals..."...". The animals are often visited by Ben's grandchildren, who are being raised by Ben and his wife. Tim struggles with school and if facing some difficult prospects in school. Whittington (the cat again) tells the story of his relative who made his own way in the world. While this portion of the story is interesting and has enough adventure in it, the present day situation doesn't really develop much. And the transitions between stories could confuse some struggling readers.

While I enjoyed the book enough to read all the way through, I don't know how well it will hold the attention of intermediate age students.

Gossamer by Lois Lowry

Have you ever wondered how your dreams make their way into your mind? Why do we sometimes have nightmares instead of pleasant images? The answer, according to Lois Lowry, lies in the beings that are responsible for our night time thoughts.

Gossamer is a very different novel in typical Lois Lowry fashion. It doesn't have quite as much meat to it as some of her books, but there is an undercurrent of seriousness to this book. Littlest One is one of the beings that move around our homes at night and touch the items that we keep around us. These items are filled with memories that are absorbed by the beings. Littlest One and her mentor gather happy memories and use them to create dreams that they breathe into us while we sleep. But not all the beings are so benevolent. Some make it their duty to bring nightmares. And for one little boy and his guardian, the nightmares are coming. Littlest One needs to try as hard as she can to make them stay away.

I enjoyed this book, but I wonder how my students will react to such an abstract idea. I forsee my higher ability students getting more out of this book than the others. There is a lot of wonderful visual imagery though, and I could see some great writing prompts beginning here.

Each Little Bird That Sings by Deborah Wiles

I admit it. I cried. Hard.

This book is so bittersweet. And it really struck a chord with me.

Comfort Snowberger's family runs the funeral home in small tow Snapfinger. Comfort understands death pretty well and has a tremendous family to support her. But at the beginning of the story, she faces it a little closer to home when her Great-Great Aunt and Great Uncle, who are the matriarch and patriarch of the family, pass away.

Comfort faces many hurdles over the next several months, including dealing with a best friend who is suddenly not the same person she was before.

The AR reading level on this book is a 4.5, but it does deal with death which could be overwhelming for some kids, especially if they've lost a loved one recently. Comfort's feelings are so real though, they provide a great chance to talk about how that separation makes you feel. "I longed for all that I lost," said Comfort.

There is also a very strong voice in the book. With sayings like "tuner fish sandwiches" and "all the messy glory", the text might be a little harder for some students to grasp. Although the words are readable, the meaning behind these phrases might take them longer to figure out.

This was only the second nominee I've read, but I loved this book. Although it doesn't wrap things up in a nice neat little package, it resonates so truly with life while maintaining a colorful and interesting voice, that it is irresistable.

One warning: Have a box of tissues ready!

Room 1: A Mystery or Two by Andrew Clements

Andrew Clements always has fun and exciting books. From being lost in the woods to taking on the entire school system, his characters are always ready to do the right thing, no matter what it means for them.

In this book, Ted is no different. When he sees a face in the window of a supposedly deserted house, he's bound and determined to find out the story behind it. What Ted gets himself into is a little bigger than he ever expected.

The action in this story isn't as exciting as some of Clements's other books, but it is an enjoyable read. I was a little disappointed with the ending; I wanted more action and resolution. But the ending is certainly realistic.

The obvious opportunity here is to talk about one room schools and small town communities. If you live in a more urban part of the world, these concepts might be sort of foreign to your students. The story in this book opens up a different world to many people. It also gives students a chance to talk about the war and supporting soldiers regardless of your view on the war. Although Clements barely touches on the issue, dealing with death is definitely a topic that many students in this age range are just starting to grasp. This book would allow them to see some of the effective and ineffective ways to deal with loss.

A quick and fairly satisfying read, Room 1: A Mystery or Two is a solid choice to include in this year's nominees.

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