Chainedby Lynne Kelly

242 pages of exploring many different ideas of what it means to be imprisoned and then freed

I had a hard time getting into Chained – people taking advantage of others, people being cruel to others and to animals twined around Hastin, the teller of the story.  Hastin is kind, dedicated, honorable and true and so I struggled to keep reading when is seemed as though everything in his world was conspiring against him.  I am exceptionally glad I did keep reading.  I can name Chained as the best book I have read this summer.

Why, because at the beginning of the story Hastin was kind, dedicated, honorable and true, as well as being innocent and inexperienced.  At the end of the book Hastin had managed to stay true to himself though no one would ever claim him to be innocent or inexperienced again.  “Baba (Hastin’s father) said that a story is no good if you hear one the ending.  You have to know how you got there.  I still cannot say I will ever be thankful for much of what has happened to me, but everything I’ve ever done has brought me here.”  The truth of that statement strikes me.  Chained is full of richly diverse characters who give readers a remarkable opportunity to examine choices and consequences and the power of relationships as they lead you to “here”.

Hastin, Chandra and Amma are poor.  They are able to get by until Chandra is bitten by a mosquito that gives her a disease that can only be treated by medicine and a hospital.  To receive this treatment the family must borrow money.  Desperate to save her daughter, Amma, Hastin’s mother makes an arrangement with a wealthy merchant.  He will pay for Chandra’s care, if Amma will come a work for him as housekeeper and cook.  When Hastin visits her in the town he sees she has been beaten and is kept in a shack.  Hastin begins to look for work to find a way to free his mother from this place and he meets Timir.  Looking to restart his circus, Timir promises Hastin adventure if he is not afraid of work.  Of course he is not and when Timir agrees to settle Amma’s debt in exchange for one year of work caring for the elephant.  Arrangements are made, and before Hastin knows whether Chandra has survived, he is whisked off into the forest and the circus.  Hastin quickly learns that Timir is not the benevolent soul he appeared to be – he is cruel, vicious and dishonest.  He has no intention of ever releasing Hastin from his service. No matter what agreement had been made, Hastin has no hope of returning home.

It is through this hardship that Hastin learns more of who he is and how he want to be.  Nandita, the elephant, and NeMin, the ancient cook, become Hastin’s new family.  It is from their wisdom and example that he learns to avoid the pitfalls of desperation and despair.  Their examples allow him to stay committed to living an honorable life, never making choices leading to regret.  Hastin remains as strong as a stone, as steadfast as an elephant and as bight as a candle.  If we could all be a bit like Hastin, what an amazing world we would find ourselves in.

I can’t wait to share this book with a group of students.  I can’t wait to find out how they feel and what they will react to.  So many favorite images and characters that will stay with me always.  A powerfully thoughtful book!


Destiny Rewritten

Destiny, Rewrittenby Kathryn Fitzmaurice

Des-tin-y: (noun) The hidden power believed to control what will happen in the future; fate.

Who do you think has control of your destiny?  Does it depend on your choices or is it already set?  Should you wait for it to happen, or should you help it along?

If you are Emily Elizabeth Davis you believe that you make what happens in your life.  If your Emily’s mother you believe that what happens is supposed to happen in its own time, unfolding when it is ready.  She says you can’t rush your destiny but Emily has other ideas.  She has some things she’s been waiting to discover for a long time – like who her dad is – and she thinks the time is now.

The day before Emily was born, her mom discovered a first edition Complete Works of Emily Dickinson in a book store followed by a gleam of light.  Emily’s mom chose her name in that moment and wrote then and there: Emily Dickinson is one of the great poets.  The same will be said of you one day.  From that day on, Emily’s mom has marked down all of her important life events by the poem that seems most fitting.  Next to “Angels, in the early morning”Emily’s birth is recorded.  Beside “We should not mind so small a flower” the celebration of her first word.  “I’ll tell you how the Sun rose” commemorates her first steps.  Her book with that first inscription has been with her all her life, but Emily doesn’t really like poetry.  Emily wonders how a person who is destined to be a poet can not understand them so completely.  By accident Emily’s book is given to Goodwill.  An upsetting turn of events.  Her mother says it was for a reason, but, rather than accept that fate, Emily takes action.  Through that action she realizes how much she has and does, shares and desires.  There is something to be said for organized predictability AND there is something to be said for mysterious unfoldings.  Can a life be guided by both?

I love Emily, her family and friends.  Emily is a collector of happy endings.  She loves romance novels because of this and writes frequently to Danielle Steel asking her advice in all things.  (Emily is sure Danielle Steel has some of the best endings) Mortie, Emily’s 8-year old cousin, knows he is destined for a life in the military. He only has 3,752 days until he turns eighteen and can join the Army.  He’s an expert on recon and spy stuff.  Wavey, Emily’s best friend is an excellent student.  She takes pride in doing her best and achieving all she can.  She is committed to making our world a better place – she is the secretary of the Berkeley Middle School Pick Up Trash in Your Neighborhood CLub and is working to write a 32-page paper on the many reuses of packing peanuts.  Celia Ann, another classmate, is a poet and everything she does and sees calls a poem to mind.  Quirky? – maybe, but deliciously so.  The characters blend and weave together creating a story that is happy, sad, thoughtful and surprising.  Sometimes it is good to just let life happen, but sometimes it is better to make a choice and set a new path in motion.

Destiny Rewritten is a book to be read, reread, and pondered. Words like: ‘You can only do what you can do.  You’re one person, but you make a difference by doing these small things.’

and passages  like:

” The only way the army would approve that kind of strategy is if the clouds didn’t rain every once in a while and instead did something unexpected to confuse the ocean.  That would be an excellent strategy because the ocean would be expecting the clouds to rain, so this would throw everything off.”

“I never though of it like that.”

“That’s because you’re not the one joining the army.

I studied the post, trying to see if like he did.  “You think this strategy could work for other things too, like maybe – I don’t know – people?”

Mortie squinted at the ceiling and nodded.  “Affirmative.”

are worth considering.  Destiny Rewritten is a flash and a sparkle – a gem to be savored.



A Crooked Kind of Perfect

A Crooked Kind of Perfectby Linda Urban

211 pages for intermediate and middle grade readers hoping to discover what “perfect” means with family and friends

Four years ago Lyndsey and Josie said I should read A Crooked Kind of Perfect.  Their recommendation is what kept this book on my mind and finally it came to the top of my pile.  I am so glad it did.  A Crooked Kind of Perfect is a soft reminder that marvelous things happen if you stop to take notice.  Nothing is perfect.  Everything has its own unique quirks that can be seen as gifts or embarrassments – each one of us has to decide how to view them.

Zoe Elias is meant for great things.  She dreams of playing like Horowitz at Carnegie Hall.  In her mind’s eye everything it elegant and beautiful – long gowns, tiaras, clapping and smooth flowing music as she makes the piano sing for her adoring audience.  Zoe Elias is meant for great things, but sometimes things don’t work out quite as planned.

Zoe’s dad was supposed to buy her a piano, but instead he came home with Prefectone D-60.  It’s an organ – nothing like the graceful piano she should be playing – but it does come with six month of free lessons from Mabelline Person (pronounced Per-saaahn).  So while Zoe’s mom is working and Zoe’s dad is completing, yet another, correspondence course, Zoe moves through the lessons in the Prefectone D-60 lesson book.  She plays tv show jingles and hits of the seventies.  She learns that socks aren’t cool and that Wheeler Diggs isn’t exactly the kid she thinks he is at school.  Zoe gets pretty good and Mabelline Person suggests that she compete in the Perform-O-Rama organ competition.

Sometimes life is what we expect. Sometimes it’s not. Sometimes the unexpected is better. Sometimes it’s not.   Zoe is on a crooked path discovering perfect.  Read A Crooked Kind of Perfect to find out how it works out.  It’s not what you expect and you’ll be glad.


Pieby Sarah Weeks

This is a book that makes you smile inside when you discover the secret ingredient.

It matters – I hope you’ll read to find out why.

PIE is a fabulous story.  No matter what your favorite slice might be, you’ll find it in this book. Polly Portman has a gift for making pies.  Making pies brings her such joy that she makes them to give away.  Walk into her pie shop, simply called PIE, and you’ll be handed the most glorious treat you can imagine – flakey light crust, perfectly sweetened filling, every slice – pure happiness.

Polly Portman is nice to everyone.  Everything she does seems just right.  Known for her humble kindness and her ability to remember each person’s likes and needs, Polly she takes pleasure in making others happy.  She loves to share her gift and in return Polly is given all she needs to make the very best pies from the very best ingredients as they come into season. Alice Anderson has been helping her aunt for as long as she can remember.  Her Aunt Polly has become her best friend and that’s why her untimely death hits with such a shockwave of grief.

PIE is closed.  Aunt Polly is gone.  Nothing is right.  The will that Aunt Polly left is strange – the pie shop has been left to Reverend Flowers to do with as he pleases.  The crust recipe has been left Lardo, the cat; and the cat had been left to Alice.  This announcement launches a whole series of peculiar events through which readers get glimpses of the past and better understanding of the present.  We discover why Blueberry Awards are so important. We learn why Alice’s mother, Polly’s sister is so bitter and spiteful.   We come to understand why pies would be stolen and cats catnapped.  We are reminded of what is truly important in making pies… and in life.

PIE is a story that will make you happy – you’ll smile over and over again when you think about it even well after the book is finished.  You’ll probably find yourself opening it later to give a recipe a try.  I think my favorite might be found with Charlie Erdling’s on page 114, but I have to say I have never heard of, nor tried, Aunt Polly’s favorite on page 128.  I might have to in late summer to see what I think.  After you’ve read PIE, we’d love to know what your favorite pie is?  Is it a Portman pie, or an original.  Be sure to share your recipe if it is.

Like Bug Juice on a Burger

Like Bug Juice on a Burgerby Julie Sternberg

Try something new along with Eleanor – it’s not always easy or fun.  In fact life can be pretty disappointing at times, but you get through it.

Eleanor is off to summer camp.  Grandma Sadie has given it to her as a present.  She is going to the same camp her mom went to and loved. Eleanor was excited at first.  Her friend, Katie, had gone to a summer camp the year before.  She’d had a blast riding horses, jumping on the floating trampoline, diving, eating M&M’s… it seemed great.  Grandma Sadie even sent Eleanor a picture of her mom standing in front of a cabin with a fluffy soft sleeping bag rolled in her arms.  It was clear she was happy, and Eleanor thought she would be too.  Camp Wallumwahpuck would be an adventure.

While Eleanor gets a little nervous – who wouldn’t.  She wonders what it will be like to be so far from home.  She wonders what it will be like to miss her parents too much.  The next day when they drive to the pick up spot Eleanor watches as the seasoned campers meet each other and find out if they are bunking together.  They are happy and hugging while Eleanor is alone.  First Eleanor finds out she is in cabin “Gypsy Moth.”  Gypsy Moth?  Aren’t they ugly?  Next she meets very tall, very thin Joplin.  She’d been to camp before so that was helpful, but she has an odd way about her.

“Do you eat chocolate?”

“Sure,” I said.

I waited for her to offer me some.

Because why else would she have asked?

But instead she said,


A girl in my cabin last year said it gave her a rash.

I never liked her.”

“Oh,” I said.

We were quiet for a second.

I wondered what the girl’s rash looked like.

Each beginning after that starts badly – falling over a tree root while on the way to the cabin and scraping her hands and knees, having to make up a top bunk, being in a cabin with five other girls who are already friends, not passing the swimming test and discovering that the only thing she likes at the dining hall is salad (minus the tomatoes) and rolls (two’s the limit).  Every new thing is not quite what Eleanor expects even the fruit punch has a disgusting name that makes it undrinkable.  Bug Juice?  Who’d want to drink that?  All Eleanor wants it have one of her dad’s juicy burgers with ketchup, but nothing at Camp Wallumwahpuck is like that.

Everything is like Bug Juice on a burger and Eleanor just wishes to go home.  She sticks it out and you’ll be glad she did.  She makes it all way until pick up day when she can show her parents all the places she has been and the things she has done.  There’s not a reader who won’t related to Eleanor’s struggles and disappointments.  Her concerns and fears are eloquently real – she puts words to thing most of us only think.  Her accomplishments from large to small will be celebrated and cheered.

C.S. Lewis said, “We read to find ourselves.”  Like Bug Juice on a Burger is a great example of that.  Eleanor is a wonderful book friend to have.  This is a perfect companion to Like Pickle Juice on a Cookie.  I hope to read more about Eleanor soon.

Hold Fast

Hold FastBlue Balliett

What is the dream you keep in your heart? What is the rhythm that makes your heart sing?

It may not be fancy, but it certainly feels just right.  Early Pearl is part of a family of four.  There’s Dashel her dad, Summer, her mom and Jubilation (Jubie for short), her younger brother.  Together they are Dashsumearlyjubie, a celebration of rhythm and caretakers of words.  In the Pearl family words are “for choosing, admiring, keeping, giving.  They are treasures of inestimable value.”  The family has a notebook for interesting words – recorded by origin and definition and another for important quotes worth remembering.

Together the four Pearls fit snuggly into their Woodlawn apartment.  They dream one day of having a house – a dream similar to those kept by Langston Hughes.   Their ordinary, yet joyful life skids and crashes to a stop when Dash’s bike is found crumpled in the street, groceries strewn across the snowy sidewalk, but no man.  He has disappeared – but how and why.  Is he gone?  Did he just decide to leave?

Without Dash there is no rhythm in their lives.  They are four Pearls.  How can they become three?  And as if losing Dash isn’t enough, thugs come into their home taking everything of value and smashing all they leave.  They even take the family books of words and quotes.  Nothing is right.  There is no beat.  The Pearls can’t seem to find their rhythm.  As they are plunged into the homeless shelter system of Chicago they find it harder and harder to hold onto their dreams.  Nothing works – in fact it seems as though the rules are set up to keep the Pearls from getting the help they need to make changes in their lives – to keep dreams alive. “’I’m sorry, baby,’ Summer says to Early after a few days in the shelter.  ‘It’ll feel refreshing to get to school tomorrow, and if you can just keep an eye on Jubie for a few more hours, that’ll be the best help ever.’  Early nodded numbly.  She thought of all the fun things they’d had at home – Play-Doh, paints and crayons, paper, toys…and, of course books.  They’d gone on trips to the local library, sometimes twice a week.  Made cookies with Sum.  Had blocks and Legos to build with.  It had all felt normal then, but so much choice now seemed a luxury.”

While reading this book I also reread the collections of Langston Hughes poems – Dream Keepers and other poems and Love to Langston.  I started thinking more about words and rhythms.  I paused to consider all we have that goes unnoticed.  People are amazingly strong – but how much easier our lives would be if we all remembered kindness.  The mystery of this book may not be as compelling as those in Blue Balliett’s other books but I loved the flow of the story from the “click” through the “crash, cling and clutch” and on to the “chase, catch and cast.”  What dream do you hold on to?  How do you honor the dreams of those around you?

Timmy Failure – Mistakes Were Made

Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Madeby Stephen Pastis

it’s a book I wanted to leave until I thought about it

I am looking forward to finding out what reception is receives in my classroom – thinking it should be in grades 4, 5 and 6

I chose to read this book because it seemed like one my students would like – highly illustrated text, a comic/graphic novel feel.  Timmy Failure (used to be spelled Fayleure) runs a detective agency in and around his boring obligation – school.  Total, his sort-of-pet-found-wandering-around-searching-for-an-iceberg polar bear is his sidekick.  Timmy’s cases don’t go well to begin with.  Total doesn’t make them any better.

Timmy’s friend, Rollo Tookus would definitely make a great sidekick (if not lead detective).  Timmy dismisses his suggestions as foolish though.  After all who would ever want to take the advice of somebody who thinks, studies and takes his GPA seriously.  Timmy is adored by Molly Moskins,  though as with most things, Timmy hasn’t a clue.  Then, of course, there is the girl whose face is obscured from the reader.  She is Timmy’s arch rival and detective competition. She is into school as much as Rollo and rich enough to get what she wants – and because of this  she solves cases faster than Timmy – at least that is what he believes.

Timmy means well for certain, but his intentions and his actions don’t match very often (that is to say, “never.)”  Are you starting to get the picture about Failure Detective Agency?  At first I thought Timmy Failure was too silly, but the more I read the more I realized he has a lot offer his readers.  What happens when things aren’t going so well for your mom?  What happens when you do things you know you shouldn’t  and one thing leads to another and to another and to another and…  Timmy Failure will make you nod in recognition – we’ve all been in that place when things aren’t really working out no matter what we try.  Maybe you’ll laugh or maybe you’ll  think about what it’s like to have bad luck while you’re trying to achieve greatness.  Should you give up?  I don’t think so.  Most things aren’t what they seem – any detective can tell you that.  But you know… mistakes are made.

Does anyone have any great suggestions?

  • In search of books that will help us develop as readers while exploring animals in different habitats
  • You know, integrating language arts and science…

Hi Matt (and readers of our blog),

I need some help.  This year I would describe my class of third graders as a group of readers not always sure of how to choose books to read and enjoy.  Sometimes great choices happen, but often they seem accidental.  There is a lot of wandering around the bookshelves, starting and stopping, and turning pages and pretending.  Of course that’s not true for everyone, but it is the general feel.  Because of this I find myself structuring more of our reading time with small groups.  I really want kids to know what it feels like to finish a book and to find a book that changes them.  I’ve met with some success with the first goal – not really with the second.

So that leads me to my current challenge:  What books can I select to support the range of readers in our class (from those who find Magic Tree House-like books a challenge to those who are reading and loving The Lightning Thief) AND also allow us to explore a variety of animal habitats?

Do you have any title suggestions?  I would really appreciate them.

The Midnight FoxOne idea is The Midnight Fox by Betsy Byars.  It has been a very long time since I first read this book.  I’m not sure what made it pop into my head, but I am glad it did.  Right from the beginning I was hooked.  What a lead!

Sometimes at night when the read is beating against the windows of my room, I think about that summer on the farm.  It has been finve years, but when I close my eyes I am once again y the creek watching the black fox come leaping over the green, green grass.  She is as light and free as the wind, exactly as she was the first time I saw her.  .

Or sometimes it is that last terrible night, and I am standing beneath the oak tree with the rain beating against me.  The lightning flashes, the world is turned white for a moment, and I see everything as it was – the broken lock, the empty cage, the small tracks disappearing in the rain.  Then it seems to me that I can hear, as plainly as I heard it that August night, above the rain, beyond the years, the high, clear bark of the midnight fox.

I was drawn through the pages right to the end wondering how a fox and a farm could mix – they don’t always and this book is no exception.  I hope all intermediate  readers find it.  Every word is a perfect choice.  It’s one of those books – sort of sparkles.  The Midnight Fox will be one selection.  It is realistic fiction – the favorite genre of our class.  It is will be a good match for many in the class  and the book club/discussion format will help increase the understanding for those who’ll find the reading a bit  challenging.  And the flow of the language … we’ll have a great time exploring passages to see how they can inform our writing.

Beyond The Midnight Fox, am not certain of any other choices.  Maybe Poppy.  Maybe A Toad for Tuesday.  I wish I could find books with various settings – not all woodland and habitats familiar to us.

Please let me know if you have any suggestions.  I could use the help.


Mrs. Eaves

The Thing About Georgie

The Thing About Georgieby Lisa Graff

A while ago I wrote a post about a collection of books that shared what I thought of as “typical” kids.  At that time I lamented that it was challenging to find boys portrayed as they are – rather than super goofy or foolish or afraid.  I know that it’s great to be able to laugh at yourself, but sometimes it would be nice to just be.  A comment on that post led me to A Thing about Georgie.

The thing about Georgie Bishop is that he is a dwarf.  He’s in fourth grade.  His best friend, might not be his best friend anymore and because of that he has to partner up with his worst enemy for the president project.  Not only does he have to work with Jeanie the Meanie, his mom is going to have a baby – one that will grow up to be taller than Georgie and be able to do all the things it is impossible for Georgie to do.

Georgie’s mom and dad play in the symphony.  Before Georgie was born they had painted his room with a poem they had composed ending with:  “Everyone is waiting for you –  Only you complete our song.”  Until now Georgie had read that poem as a sign of their love.  With the new baby coming Georgie began to see what a disappointment he was – he couldn’t play an instrument – he could reach and he never would, but the new baby would.  With this sad and angry thought Georgie can’t seem to do anything right – ordinarily he’d ask for help, and share his concerns.  But how can he share your darkest thoughts and secrets.  Georgie doesn’t and so he becomes sadder, angrier and more alone until he finds himself lost with his ex-best friend’s grandmother and his enemy partner – and he so short he can’t reach the coin slot of the pay phone has to be the one to undo the mess.

You’ll learn about yourself as you read about Georgie.  He’s different, but he’s also exactly the same.   We all have some good and some bad and some in between.  Yes, Georgie Bishop is a dwarf, but that’s not the only thing!

This is another Lisa Graff (her first) book that you’ll be glad you read!  Click here to find out about Lisa, her books and the recipes that come from them.  I love how this book talks to you and shares information along with the story so you can better understand some of the things Georgie has to deal with.  Things we don’t even think about that he has to all the time.  So what is the thing about you?


Dogs of Winter

The Dogs of Winterby Bobbie Pryon

I was looking for realistic fiction.  I was looking for a book that was serious and that had a male main character.  I came across Dogs of Winter, with a note on the cover saying, “based on a true story.”  I thought I’d give it a try.  Wow!  I’m glad I did.  The more I read the more I wondered.  What is happening right now around me that I am not aware of?  What can I do to help?  How many starving children are there lurking in the background hoping to remain invisible, desperate to survive?

This is the story of Ivan Andreovich.  At first he is in kindergarten, learning to read in his little apartment with his Babushka Ina and his mom.  Shortly after his grandmother dies and he finds himself needing to  hide in the pantry from “him” and a bit later he has been left on the winter streets of Moscow.  Hungry, cold and alone, Ivan tries to join up with the other children he finds in the city, but they are mean and greedy.  Ivan notices the dogs – they make sure everyone has some…some company, some food, some warmth.  Ivan chooses the dogs.  He helps Lucky and Lucky brings the little boy to his pack.  Ivan joins the pack and together they learn to survive through the coldest bleakest winter and the sunny bounty of summer.  For three or so years, Ivan lives with the dogs – becoming one of the pack, but there are moments when he longs for stories and wishes for music.

When he told his story Ivan said, “I was better off with the dogs.  They loved and protected me.”  What is the truth in that statement?  The heart wrenching ending of this book has me wondering.  Make sure to read Dogs of Winter.  Wonder about what people do, what they can do, what they have to do and what they don’t do.  Though it has been two weeks since I finished reading this book I still hear the howl of sorrow and loss echoing in my mind – and I wonder.