Saturday, October 25, 2014

Literary Pumpkins

The Worch Library announced their annual Pumpkin Decorating Contest recently. Hearing that the seventh and eighth grade category was severely lacking pumpkin entries last year, I decided to issue a challenge to my eighth grade students. It was simple. Create, on your own time, a pumpkin to enter in the contest. If my first class created at least ten pumpkins and my second class created at least seven pumpkins, we would walk our pumpkins over to the library during class time on Thursday. The catch? I challenged them to create literary pumpkins.

Happy Halloween!

Happy Reading!
Mrs. T.
P.S.  Reading is like breathing chocolate air!

Sunday, October 19, 2014

My Brother's Shadow by Tom Avery


"When writing a novel a writer should create living people; people not characters. A character is a caricature."  --Ernest Hemingway
Characters. Some have a way of needling through to my heart and becoming more than just characters; they become a living person in my mind. These 'characters' are ones I want to know personally, ones I want to talk to, and ones I want to help through difficult times. Perhaps it's Benjamin in Donna Gephart's humorous book Death by Toilet Paper. Maybe it's Kaia in Tom Avery's gut-wrenching My Brother's Shadow.
In My Brother's Shadow, Avery tells the story of Kaia, a year 6 student in a London school. She has felt frozen since the tragic death of her older brother. Kaia's mother is oblivious to her daughter's struggles as she is living within bottles of liquor and seems more of a child than Kaia. Kaia also struggles at school with her classmates. They say she's a freak and ostracize her without trying to sympathize. The only saving grace is a new boy who shows up at school. He does not speak but becomes a friend with whom Kaia can talk and one with whom she can begin to share her feelings.
I empathized with Kaia. I wanted to reach out to her in the pages of this book to let her know I was there. I was listening. I wanted to let her know I was hurting along with her. She was a real person to me.
Sprinkled throughout My Brother's Shadow are Rules for Life, significant stepping stone lessons for Kaia. They also offer opportunities for readers to stop, think, and connect Kaia's lessons with their own lives.
This is a perfect book to recommend to my eighth graders. A very accessible book for these readers, it is one with a mature theme and dark tones. In ways, this story is almost as mysterious, dark and heart-wrenching as A Monster Calls
For me, the ending is satisfying. Although some readers may prefer to have all their questions answered at the end of a book, I like for questions to remain. I like filling in some of Kaia's story myself. But one thing is certain. In the ending of this book, there is hope. And as Tom Avery writes on his web site, "Hope is crucial in a children’s book."
Pair this book with Wenny Has Wings for a book talk, and young readers will be sure to stay a while with Kaia. The time I spent with her was valuable, and I think my students will feel the same way.
Happy Reading!
Mrs. T
P.S. Reading is like breathing chocolate air!
P.P.S. After writing my thoughts above, I kept going back to this story and uncovering deeper questions and meanings. I handed this book to my ninth grade daughter and after she finished reading, we had a lengthy discussion about the boy Kaia befriends. Wow. This book deserves close reading and thinking and discussion. It very well could be my next read aloud in the classroom.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Death by Toilet Paper by Donna Gephart

It is sometimes quite hard to leave characters in their stories once I close the covers of a book. I feel invested in their lives; I have celebrated their successes and have sympathized with their struggles. This feeling of warmth for believable, real characters is exactly what I feel for Benjamin, the protagonist in Donna Gephart's newest novel, Death by Toilet Paper.

I became engaged in the life of twelve year-old Benjamin. I didn't want him to worry about the rent his mom couldn't pay. I wanted to run to my bank, make a withdrawal, and send an anonymous envelope to the Epsteins that could solve their dilemma.

I didn't want Benjamin to worry about the fact that his mom wasn't making enough money working at Piggy's Pancake House. I wanted to let my school know where they could hire a dependable, hard-working mother as a classroom or library aide.

I didn't want Benjamin to fret about his grandfather's forgetfulness. I wanted to comfort Ben and tell him of my own grandmother's struggle with a similar absent-mindedness to put him at ease.

That's what incredible books have. Authentic characters. Benjamin is an honest-to-goodness, down-to-earth, amazing-amazing-amazing kid. And I'll bet that every reader knows a kid just like Benjamin. That's why Death by Toilet Paper makes an excellent read.

I can't wait to book talk Benjamin's story to my eighth graders. In addition to the realistic protagonist and the exciting plot, this book is humorous. There are many snort-worthy sections. I know the exact pages I will read to begin my book talk ... pages 81-83. If these pages can be read silently or aloud without a single chortle, perhaps the reader should check his/her pulse.

The toilet paper facts at the beginning of each chapter only add to the enjoyment of reading this book. I have already shared several of the facts with my students. It's hard to resist!

I am happy to say that Benjamin has secured a forever home on the classroom bookshelf right next to Olivia and David and Vanessa. 

Happy Reading!
Mrs. T

P.S.  Reading is like breathing chocolate air!