May B.

May B.May B.

By Caroline Starr Rose

225 pages written in verse

What is it like to love words but not able to gain command over them?  May wants to be a teacher, but she is not be able to stand and read on command in her one room school house where memorization and recitation are key.  What is it like to be asked to help your family by leaving home the only place you feel truly safe? That is what May does.  She moves to the next sod house to be a companion and housekeeper to the new wife who isn’t used to the hardships and loneliness of prairie living.  Not only is May alone, but Mrs. Oblinger seems to despise her as much as the sod walls, dirt floor and endless nothingness out the door.

After being forced to sit in the front row with the little kids because she can’t read well, May is taken from school and her dream of being a teacher. Schooling seems useless for her and she is asked to move to the neighboring homestead.  May agrees to  try this new life for six month.  At Christmas her father will check on her to see how it is going.  Isolated from her family and neighbors, the unthinkable happens.  She is abandoned – totally alone and then she is trapped in the soddy by a snowstorm that completely covers the house.

May might not be able to  read or recite from her reader, but she is an amazing person –  strong, determined, resourceful and knowledgeable. Having students in may classroom who worked as hard as May does would be a joy. I wish we could all be so inspired and follow lead through difficulty and failure to achieve our goals.

I wonder how thing will go for May as her story continues.  I hope she find the courage and support to achieve her dreams.  Certainly with her as a teacher, no child would feel the sting of humiliation and shame in that room.

The Door in the Wall

The Door in the Wall by Marguerite de Angeli

A very short book; but LOTS of Old English and words like thy and nought. 6th grade is a good time to read it. Set in Medieval times.

Robin is 10 years old, stuck in a without the use of his legs, and his parents are away to serve the kingdom. Saved by Brother Luke, a very kind monk, he heads to St. Marks to be taught skills like woodworking. After some good times at St. Mark’s, Robin receives a letter from his father telling him that Robin will be moved to a different castle. But when that different castle, the Castle of Lindsay, gets partly invaded by a very strong army, Robin finds that he is the only one who can save the castle from total invasion by pretending to be someone he is not. Read The Door in the Wall by Marguerite deAngeli to find out what happens.

I read this book in a book group, and it was a good book for that because there are a lot of things that you will need to talk about, like vocabulary and plot/timeline. I recommend reading this in a book group or just with someone else so you can talk about it.

Read it? Did you like this book?

[formidable id=11]

Buy this book here from!

The Mighty Miss Malone

The Mighty Miss MaloneThe Mighty Miss Malone

By Christopher Paul Curtis

320 pages of characters you will love in situations that will give you much to consider

Deza loves school.  She is the best and the brightest.  She has a wonderful best friend, a passion for reading and her exceptional family.  What is not to like about Deza?  Well, maybe she is a little to verbose and maybe she is a bit to sure of herself and bossy, but… The Mighty Miss Malone is 12-year old Deza Malone part of a close-knit family whose motto is “We are a family on a journey to a place called Wonderful.” Deza dreams of going to college and becoming a teacher just like her beloved, Mrs. Needham.

Dreams are hard to keep alive in the Great Depression. Deza’s father is out of work and further changes mean the Deza’s mother is also out of a job. This forces her fine friendly father figure to leave home in search of some kind of work.  When they hear nothing from him Deza, Mother, and her older brother Jimmie go to find him.  They try to stay together.  They try to make it right, but nothing seems to work.  Deza’s world seems to go up in smoke.  The hut they’ve been living in at the Hooverville outside Flint is burned down. Jimmie leaves to see if he can make it as a singer in Chicago. With one room to share, Deza and her mother want more than anything else is to have their family back together.  How can that be?

The twists and turns of the Malone family story reveal the devastation of the Depression and prove that Deza truly is the Mighty Miss Malone.  It’s hard to predict which direction the story will take.  The story keeps taking twists and surprise turns so you must keep on reading.  You just have to find out what happens to Deza and her family – there is no way not follow her through to the end of the story.  You’ll need to know what happens in the end.  Will her family find “wonderful” – the trip to find out is worth every step.   Along the way you’ll moments that will give you something to think about – no matter how bad off a person is, someone else has it worse. What an amazing story.  It offers an honest and painful look at a terrible time in our country through the eyes of an amazing girl who refuses to let go of her dream.  May we all be so courageous!

The Apothecary

The ApothecaryThe Apothecary

by Maile Melloy  368 pages of  adventure based fantasy and historical fiction mixed together is an exciting read from the start… would you fly if you had to?

The year is 1952 – the United States and the Soviet Union are in an arms race – who can have the most nuclear weapons to use as a threat.  The United States is afraid of Communism.  The Soviet Union is afraid of Democracy.  Each thinks they are correct and no one is talking.  Everyone is afraid that “the bad guy” is going to take over the world.  The message is “BE PREPARED!”  At least that is how I remember it when I was growing up.  I wasn’t around in 1952, but in 1968 that was how I understood the time  Janie lived through.  Lots of worry and blame.

In 1952 when The Apothecary takes place, Janie Scott, 14, lives in L.A. She wears her Katherine Hepburn slacks to school and feels as though she is on top of the world.  She is until her screenwriter parents get blacklisted in the Communist scare.  Though completely innocent they are forced to move to London to avoid jail. Janie feels very much the outsider at St. Beden’s until she meets Benjamin Burrows, whose father is the local apothecary. Ben doesn’t want to follow in his father’s footsteps; he thinks being an apothecary is all about dispensing aspirins and salves for rashes. He wants to be a spy and he enlists Janie to help him follow Leonid Shiskin, one of their teachers.  Through their teamwork they learn he works for the Soviet embassy, and to their astonishment, discover the passing of a secret message to Ben’s dad. Soon afterwards, his dad disappears, but not before entrusting to Ben and Janie an ancient book called the Pharmacopoeia containing secret recipes for magic herbal elixirs.

In no time at all the teens are chasing and being chased by Russians, Germans, double agents, and chemists.  They learn that the art of  an apothecary is not nearly as mundane or sedate as Ben had assumed. To save the world Ben and Janie learn about atomic weapons and containment theory. The story is a skillfully woven mix of the spies, suspense, assasins, romance, evil genius, sinsiter bad guys and resourceful teenagers.  You’ll learn about the attitudes that prevailed toward the Communists and their sympathizers after World War II. It’s interesting to think about this time in our history as it develops in the heat of the chase on land, on sea and in the air through The Apothecary.

If you’re not sure yet if this book is for you (and I think it is if you have read this far) check out this book  trailer  .  It might be the final hook in – Read it and enjoy!

The Watsons Go to Birmingham 1963

“And You Wonder Why We Get Called the Weird Watsons” says the title of Chapter 1 of The Watsons Go to Birmingham 1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis. 10 year old Kenny Watson lives in with his family in Flint, Michigan. Oh, I forgot! I should introduce you to the Watsons. There’s Dad, Momma, little sister Joetta, Kenny, and “official juvenile delinquent” Byrone. After all the adventures the Watsons will have in Flint, Momma and Dad plan a trip to grandma’s in Birmingham. They hope that if they leave Byrone a grandma’s then his troublemakimg mind will be put to rest. But little did the Watsons know, that they were about to run into one of the worst acts of discrimination in history.

For teachers, click here for Scholastic’s Reading Guide for The Watsons Go to Birmingham 1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis.

Click here for Christopher Paul Curtis’ website.

Click here for version on Christopher Paul Curtis.

Elephant Run

Elephant RunElephant Run

While World War II rages on, Nick Freestone and his mom’s apartment gets destroyed by a bomb dropped by enemy planes. When his mother decides that England is too unsafe for a person his age, he is sent off to Burma, where his real father owns a teak plantation. Nick’s mom sent him there thinking that it would be safer, and she would be right except when its a World War, everywhere isn’t safe. Japanese soldiers invade and capture the plantation, and one way or another his father becomes a Prisoner of War of World War II. Nick, meanwhile, is forced to work as a servant for the new rulers of the teak plantation. The village is very unstable for Nick and his friend, Mya so they start planning their escape. Read Elephant Run by Roland Smith to find out what happens.

Roland Smith, the author of Elephant Run, came to our school.  He gave a really great talk on who he is, how he wrote his books, and his second job! It turns out that Roland Smith, along with being an author, is a field biologist. He talked about saving animals from an oil spill and other field biology things. And also he pushed in some humor in those speeches. And the best part was, I was chosen along with my friend Isabel to have lunch with him. It was a great experience to talk to him in person.

Click here to view Roland Smith’s website. It has book descriptions, trailers an more!!

Elijah of Buxton

Elijah Of Buxton

11 year-old Elijah Freeman is a freeborn black child in who was born and is being raised in Canada. It is early 1860 and just before the Civil War, he lives a normal Canadian life with his Ma, Pa and friends. None of the people he knows are enslaved now, but some he knows have been enslaved. He has never had any experience with the brutality of slavery. But when a theif of their own kind steals the money that has been saved for freeing friends, Elijah crosses the border from Canada into the deadly dangerous America. He tries to track down the thief in America. If you want to find out what happens to the innocent young Elijah, read Elijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis.

Click here for the website on Christopher Paul Curtis. This website is a bit outdated because Elijah of Buxton is his newest book and  is not yet  on the website.

Click here for the take on Christopher Paul Curtis.

Click here for the Elijah of Buxton book trailer.

Click here for the The Stacks for take on the Elijah of Buxton website.

Edison’s Gold

Edison’s Gold by Geoff Watson brings friendship, invention and history together to create an original tale ofEdison's Gold what might have been and what could be.  Set in present day New York City, Tom Edison discovers some huge changes are coming in his life, and not just because he keeps causing disasters through hisfailed inventions.  Tom doesn’t want to move to Wichita.  He doesn’t want to leave the two best friends a person could have.  There has to be a way to stay – if only he can make an invention work – if only he can follow in the footsteps of his namesake and great great grandfather.

Just as it seems all hope seems lost, Tom discovers a clue in his basement laboratory- an original photograph left by his famous relative with an odd rose-like symbol.  This launches Tom’s quest – a race against time to solve the hidden mystery. If he can solve it there is a chance he can keep his family from moving, help save their house and restore honor to the Edison name. It’s a challenge uncovering the century old secrets, made even more difficult by evil billionaire out to avenge historical rivalries by stealing Tom’s secret.

Edison’s Gold is an exciting adventure.  There is danger and challenge.  The characters are great friends supporting each other in covert missions, reading codes and solving problems that unite present day with historical sites in New York City. Personalities like Thomas Edison, Nikola Tesla, Theodore Roosevelt, Babe Ruth are woven into the tale to add interesting connections for lots of different readers. There’s sure to be a sequel – the secret is saved, but the mystery is certainly not over.  Have fun reading Edison’s Gold.  You’ll be glad you did.

Inside Out and Back Again

Inside Out and Back Again I hope you will find and read Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai.  The story takes place in a year.  It is the journal of 10-year old Ha and captures the changes in her life from Tet in 1975 (Year of the Cat) to Tet in 1976 (Year of the Dragon). It is a time of turmoil for Ha. She has lived through the fall of Saigon, escaped her country on an over-crowded boat, become a refugee on Guam and then Florida and been is sponsored by a family in Alabama.  Once there is Alabama, she must learn how to survive in a place that holds little welcome or respect for her differences, nor any love for her homeland.  The book is written in verse.  The words are beautiful, clear and precise.  Here’s one entry:


I wish

Brother Khoi wouldn’t

keep inside

how he endures

the hours of school

that mother wouldn’t

hide her bleeding fingers

that Brother Quang wouldn’t

be so angry after work.

I wish

our cowboy could be persuaded

to buy a horse.

that I cold be invisible

until I can talk back.

that English could be learned

without so many rules.

I wish

Father would appear

in my class

speaking beautiful English

as he does French and Chinese

and hold out his hand

for mine.


I wish

I were


smart.    (p. 158-159)

There is hope as the new year approaches.  Ha and her family will make a new home and find comfort and happiness once more – Ha will always long for home, and yet know this “is not so bad.”

Part of this story is autobiographical.  Much of what Ha experiences, is what the author experienced.  She captures the feelings and emotions clearly so readers have a window her world of confusion, hurt and determination.

A Million Shades of GrayThe Buddha's DiamondsWhen Heaven Fell

Combined with A Million Shades of Gray by Cynthia Kadohata and The Buddha’s Diamonds and When Heaven Fell by Carolyn Marsden readers canl learn much about Vietnam  – the country, the people and the process of healing and begin to understand a bit more about loss.

An Unusual Look at History

Hurricane Dancers – the first Caribbean Pirate Shipwreck

Hurricane Dancers by Margarita Engle

Set in 1510, readers of Hurricane Dancers meet pirate Captain Bernardino de Talavera, a ruined conquistador who has worked the native Indians on his land to death. To escape debtors prison he steals a ship, takes some hostages, and becomes the first pirate of the Caribbean. One of those hostages, Alonso de Ojeda, has been governor of Venezuela and is known for selling the native people for profit. Another captive is Quebrado.  He claims a Taino mother and Spanish father and although this makes him an outcast, it gives him the ability to communicate in two languages.

Quebrado has been enslaved and traded from ship to ship for as long as he can remember.  Called El Quebrado, the boy of broken dreams, by the sailors he toils under – Quebrado takes care of all things on the pirate ship until it is caught in a hurricane and capsized.  Quebrado is freed.  He is washed onto Cuba, the only free island left in the Caribbean.   Helped by islanders, Quebrado thinks he will find a new way of life until Talavera and Ojeda make their way to the same village.

Now the question is, what will Quebrado do?  Will he escape?  Will he stay? Will he go off on his own?

Beautifully written in verse this piece of historical fiction offers an unusual  view of life in early 16th century Cuba.