Monday, April 14, 2014

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday - The Metro Dogs of Moscow

Two members of my extended family have gotten new dogs recently and all the dog-meet-dog interactions are fun to watch. They definitely put me in the right mood for reading The Metro Dogs of Moscow, another one of the fiction nominees for the 2014 Silver Birch Award from the Ontario Library Association. 

Today’s Pick: The Metro Dogs of Moscow


by Rachelle Delaney

Penguin Group, 2013

From Amazon:

JR (short for Jack Russell) is an embassy dog. His human, George, works in embassies around the world and so they both travel. A lot. Now George is working at the Canadian Embassy in Moscow. While George loves the globetrotting life, he doesn’t think JR needs any more excitement than hanging out at the park with the other embassy dogs.

JR, however, has had quite enough of leashes and perfectly manicured parks—not to mention the boring embassy dogs. Inspired by seeing a stray dog steal a coil of sausages, JR sneaks out of his apartment to do a little exploring on his own and soon meets up with the wily stray and some of his friends. This is the life: amazing city smells! Mouthwatering stuffed potatoes! And best of all, the freedom to travel on the Moscow subway.

But then JR's new friends mysteriously start to disappear. When an embassy dog goes missing as well, JR knows he must use everything he’s learned about his new home to solve the mystery of Moscow’s missing dogs.

My Take:

It’s always interesting to read stories that are narrated from a very different point of view—in the case, a dog’s perspective. JR was a fun character to tag along with on an adventure. I especially enjoyed the setting. I learned a little bit about Moscow and Russian food while reading this book. I haven’t read many middle grade books set in Russia before. I like the bits of humor the author sprinkled into the story.

As a writer, I thought the writing style captured JR’s doggy personality. The phrasing and word choice kept me anchored in the dog’s perspective.

Opening Line:

“The key turned in the lock.”

Quotes:

“Very Bad Things always happened—so fast he couldn’t stop them even if he wanted to. One second he’d be doing something innocent, like counting ceiling tiles, and the next second he’d be mauling the coffee table.”

“The Sit-and-Look-Cute.” Fyodor grinned. “It’s when you just sit there and bat your eyelashes until someone gives you food.”

“He blinked and yawned, stretching in the sunbeam that had made for the ideal Saturday morning nap.”

Other Info:

When she’s not writing novels, Rachelle Delaney enjoys adventures like tree climbing, trail running and snowshoeing.

On her website, Rachelle mentions that she was inspired to write this book after reading a newspaper story about stray dogs in Moscow that ride the subway. 

In an interview with Vikki VanSickle, Rachelle Delaney talks about how reading books as a child influenced her writing: “My favourite books were usually about animals, so yes, they’ve definitely inspired me.”

Rachelle Delaney's new adventure with JR and some of his dog friends, The Circus Dogs of Prague, is being released at the end of April.

Other books by this author include:

The Ship of Lost Souls
The Lost Souls of Island X
The Hunt for the Panther



 If you’re interested in what I have to say about some of the other nominees for the 2014 Silver Birch Award, these are the ones I’ve read so far: Eldritch Manor by Kim Thompson, Nobody's Dog by Ria Voros, Ultra by David Carroll, The Curse of the Dream Witch by Allan Stratton, The Hypnotists by Gordon Korman, Record Breaker by Robin Stevenson, Yesterday’s Dead by Pat Bourke and Neil Flambe and the Tokyo Treasure by Kevin Sylvester. One more to go!

For more great middle grade reads, check out the list of Marvelous Middle Grade Monday links on author Shannon Messenger's blog!



Thursday, April 10, 2014

Inspiring Creativity Through "The Spark"

This morning, I finished listening to the audio book of The Spark: A Mother's Story of Nurturing Genius by Kristine Barnett. It's not a children's book, although my 14-year-old heard snippets of it in the car and seemed just as fascinated as I was. 

It's the story of Jake, who became a researcher in quantum physics at the age of twelve, and his family, especially his mom, who nurtured his genius and helped him learn to live with his autism.

Two things about this book really stood out for me and inspired me. 

1) It got me thinking about what you can achieve if you put your energy into doing what you love. 

2) It reminded me of the importance of having a strong support system, one that provides the right environment for the spark to develop.

As a mom, I loved the way Kristine and her family supported her children's interests, giving them what they needed so they could explore and discover on their own. It makes me think about my own children and their "sparks" are, and making sure they have time to follow them.

As a teacher, I loved this story because it fits so well with what I strive to do every day in my teaching in play-based kindergarten, for even just one child.

As a writer, reading this book inspired me to keep following my passion. I'm already thinking about ways to nurture my own creativity and "spark", as well as the creativity of others. How do you feed your "spark"?


In case you want to know more about this book, here's the Goodreads link and part of the Amazon description:

Kristine Barnett’s son Jacob has an IQ higher than Einstein’s, a photographic memory, and he taught himself calculus in two weeks. At nine he started working on an original theory in astrophysics that experts believe may someday put him in line for a Nobel Prize, and at age twelve he became a paid researcher in quantum physics. But the story of Kristine’s journey with Jake is all the more remarkable because his extraordinary mind was almost lost to autism. At age two, when Jake was diagnosed, Kristine was told he might never be able to tie his own shoes.

The Spark is a remarkable memoir of mother and son. Surrounded by “experts” at home and in special ed who tried to focus on Jake’s most basic skills and curtail his distracting interests—moving shadows on the wall, stars, plaid patterns on sofa fabric—Jake made no progress, withdrew more and more into his own world, and eventually stopped talking completely. Kristine knew in her heart that she had to make a change. Against the advice of her husband, Michael, and the developmental specialists, Kristine followed her instincts, pulled Jake out of special ed, and began preparing him for mainstream kindergarten on her own.

Dramatic, inspiring, and transformative, The Spark is about the power of love and courage in the face of overwhelming obstacles, and the dazzling possibilities that can occur when we learn how to tap the true potential that lies within every child, and in all of us.



Monday, April 7, 2014

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: Neil Flambé and the Tokyo Treasure

Today I have another one of the nominees for the 2014 Silver Birch Fiction Award from the Ontario Library Association. This is the fourth book in the Neil Flambé series, and I’ve read all of others, after being introduced them through Silver Birch. [My thoughts on Neil Flambé and the Crusader’s Curse and 


Today’s Pick: Neil Flambé and the Tokyo Treasure

by Kevin Sylvester

Simon and Schuster, 2012

From the publisher:

Something smells fishy—and it’s not the sushi—in this addition to the culinary mystery series celebrity chef Gordon Ramsey calls “good fun.”

World-class chef Neil Flambé isn’t thrilled when his cousin Larry moves to Japan to work on an online manga comic book. Now who’ll help him in the kitchen? But he finds a replacement in Gary the bike courier, and life, and the restaurant, moves on without Larry. That is, until the news that life may have really left Larry behind—he’s been lost at sea.

Neil is devastated. But then he checks Larry’s online manga. There’s a subtle change in the plot, something Neil and Larry had discussed—something only Neil would notice. Is this a cryptic message from beyond the grave—or is Larry still alive? Determined to find out, Neil heads to Japan to solve his next mystery.

My Take:

This story is full of the over-the-top adventure that I’ve come to expect in the Neil Flambé series. I always have fun reading about Neil’s cooking exploits and his attempts to save someone he cares about from danger—in this case, his cousin Larry. I like the way Neil’s keen sense of smell always leads him to a key clue in solving the mystery.

As a writer, I admired how the author creates such a great sense of fun and humor in his stories. It's a good one to read if you are struggling with how to include the sense of smell in your writing.

 Opening Line:

“Neil Flambé leaned back in his chair and watched the final panel of The Chef fade to black on the laptop screen.”

Quotes:

“Twenty minutes later, after changing trains successfully, Neil poured out with the crowd at Shibuya Station like steam from a soufflé.”

“He and Kong were going to cook toxic mushrooms and they’d have to decide whether to poison everyone, themselves, or just one judge.”

Other Info:
Kevin Sylvester is a writer, news broadcaster and cartoonist based in Toronto, Canada.

The character of Neil Flambé was originally part of a radio serial Neil Flambé and the Case of the Caustic Cumin

In a recent video interview at the Ontario Library Association Superconference, Kevin Sylvester talked about his books: “I try to entertain…but hidden in that is valuable information on world history and exploration.”

Other Books by this author:

Neil Flambé and the Tokyo Treasure
Neil Flambé and the Aztec Abduction
Neil Flambé and the Marco Polo Murders
Splinters
Game Day
Don’t Touch That Toad
Gold Medal for Weird 
Sports Hall of Weird

 For more, go to the Neil Flambe website or visit Kevin Sylvester’s blog.

You can find more Marvelous Middle Grade Monday books by checking out Shannon Messenger’s blog! Shannon is the founder of Marvelous Middle Grade Monday and the author of the middle grade novels, Keeper of the Lost Cities and Exile (Keeper of the Lost Cities #2).

Friday, April 4, 2014

Learning from Picture Books: In the Tree House

I'm continuing with my goal of reading all of the nominees for the 2014 Blue Spruce Award from the Ontario Library Association's Forest of Reading. Other nominees I've featured so far include Oddrey by Dave Whammond (OwlKids Books), I Dare You Not to Yawn by Helene Boudreau (Candlewick Press), A Good Trade by Alma Fullerton (Pajama Press) and Sky Color by Peter H. Reynolds.



In the Tree House

written by Andrew Larsen


illustrated by Dusan Petricic

published by Kids Can Press, 2013

From Amazon:

An evocative story about two brothers who are growing up (one faster than the other), an unusual summer night and a special tree house that proves childhood is not just a time but also a place.       

My Thoughts as a Writer:

I think many children dream of having their own tree house -- I know I definitely did!  It was really interesting the way this book took a beloved place (or idea of a place) and built a story around it. The author includes lots of sensory details in simple language that is perfect for young children. I liked the way there were layers to the story with the emotion of the changing relationship between the main character and his brother. The illustrations capture the personality of the tree house as well as the characters.

My Thoughts as a Teacher:

This book offered many possibilities for making inferences (e.g., Why did they have to eat the ice cream during the blackout?) and personal connections (e.g., Have you ever experienced a blackout?). This book could be used to start discussions about siblings or changing friendships, loneliness, and things to do when you don’t have the use of technology.


It would be fun to have students draw their own plans for an ideal tree house. 


Looking for other great picture books to use in your classroom or to read with your children? Check out these recommendations for Perfect Picture Books over at Susanna Leonard Hill's site.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: Yesterday's Dead

In my mission to read all the nominees for the 2014 Silver Birch Fiction Award from the Ontario Library Association, so far I’ve managed to read 7 out of the 10 books. If you’re interested in what I have to say about them, these are the ones I’ve read: Eldritch Manor by Kim Thompson, Nobody's Dog by Ria Voros, Ultra by David Carroll, The Curse of the Dream Witch by Allan Stratton, The Hypnotists by Gordon Korman and Record Breaker by Robin Stevenson.

Today’s Pick: Yesterday’s Dead

by Pat Bourke

Second Story Press, 2013

From the publisher:

Meredith struggles to cope during the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918...

Thirteen-year-old Meredith yearns to become a teacher but must leave school to help support her family. To find the best paying job for a young girl of her class, she travels to the city to work as household help in a doctor’s home. From the start, her life is made difficult by the cantankerous and prickly butler, and confrontations with Maggie, the doctor’s spoiled thirteen-year-old daughter.

As the deadly Spanish Flu sweeps across the city, members of the household fall ill one by one. With the doctor working night and day at the hospital, only Meredith, Maggie, and Jack, Maggie's handsome older brother, are left to care for them. Every day the newspapers’ lists of “Yesterday’s Dead” add to Meredith’s growing fears.

My Take:

This story hooked me from the beginning and held my attention all the way through. I was rooting for Meredith to make it through her struggles—first in coping with the difficult situation of leaving home to work and then in coping with the household and patients during the Spanish Flu. I didn’t know much about the Spanish Flu and its effects before, so it was interesting to learn about.

As a writer, I admired how the author made me feel almost like I was living in 1918. The details of the time period unfolded naturally through the story.

 Opening Line:

“Meredith half walked, half ran along the wide hallway of Union Station.”

Quotes:

“She scrubbed at the bowl as if she could rub homesickness off along with the tarnish.”

“Mama would say the good in people always evened out the bad in the end, but Mama wouldn’t say that if she met Parker.”

“We’ll just do the best we can,” she said, “and then pray that it’s enough.”

Other Info:

Pat Bourke lives in Toronto, Canada where she is working on her next book. She also works as a business editor.

On her blog, she talks about the benefits of a writing group: “Reading and critiquing the work of others is hugely important to becoming a better writer, and the better you get at writing, the more you’ll have to offer in terms of reading and critiquing.

Yesterday’s Dead is her first published novel.

For more, visit Pat Bourke’s website.



You can find more Marvelous Middle Grade Monday books by checking out Shannon Messenger’s blog! Shannon is the founder of Marvelous Middle Grade Monday and the author of the middle grade novels, Keeper of the Lost Cities and Exile (Keeper of the Lost Cities #2).

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Learning from Picture Books: Willow Finds a Way

This week I'm taking a closer look at another one of the nominees for the 2014 Blue Spruce Award from the Ontario Library Association's Forest of Reading. Other nominees I've featured so far include Oddrey by Dave Whammond (OwlKids Books), I Dare You Not to Yawn by Helene Boudreau (Candlewick Press),  A Good Trade by Alma Fullerton (Pajama Press) and Sky Color by Peter H. Reynolds (Candlewick Press).

Willow Finds A Way



written by Lana Button

illustrated by Tania Howells

published by Kids Can Press, 2013

From Amazon:

Willow is thrilled the whole class -- including her! -- is invited to classmate Kristabelle's fantastic birthday party, until the bossy birthday girl starts crossing guests off the list when they dare cross her. There are many books on bullying, but Willow's story offers a unique look at how to handle the situation as a bystander.


My Thoughts as a Writer:

I really liked the way this book captured situations that might happen to any child—and I loved Willow’s kid-friendly solution to the problem, showing one way of taking a stand. The cartoony style illustrations were cute and would appeal to children.  


My Thoughts as a Teacher:

I was pleased to find that this book addresses the issue of using a birthday invite to be unkind to others, because this often comes up in my classroom.  This book would be a great way to start discussions about feelings, what it means to exclude others, how you can feel pressured to go along with a kid who is bossy or mean and what you could do about it. It’s a good book to include in a classroom or a collection of books about character education.


Looking for other great picture books to use in your classroom or to read with your children? Check out these recommendations for Perfect Picture Books over at Susanna Leonard Hill's site.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: Record Breaker

I’ve decided to read all the nominees for the 2014 Silver Birch Award from the Ontario Library Association and I hope I will finish them by early May when kids will pick a winner. If you’re interested in what I have to say about them, these are the ones I’ve read so far: Eldritch Manor by Kim Thompson, Nobody's Dog by Ria Voros, Ultra by David Carroll, The Curse of the Dream Witch by Allan Stratton, and The Hypnotists by Gordon Korman


Today’s Pick: Record Breaker

by Robin Stevenson

Orca, 2013

From Amazon:

It's 1963, and Jack's family is still reeling from the SIDS death of his baby sister. Adrift in his own life, Jack is convinced that setting a world record will bring his father back to his senses and his mother back to life. But world events, including President Kennedy's assassination, threaten to overshadow any record Jack tries to beat—from sausage eating to face slapping. Nothing works, and Jack is about to give up when a new friend suggests a different approach that involves listening to, not breaking, records.

My Take:

This is a touching story about a boy trying to cope with the sadness in his family after his baby sister’s death. It was easy to relate to Jack, trying different things to try to help his mom and his dad back to a point where they can be stronger family. It’s a fairly short, easy to read story that kept my attention all the way through. There are some funny parts to the story, especially what happens as Jack tries to break different world records.

As a writer, I liked how the author wove in historical details from the time period of the story (1963). The writing style was straightforward with enough detail to give a good picture in my mind of what was happening.

 Opening Line:

“The world record for rocking in a rocking chair is ninety-three hours and eight minutes, set six years ago, in 1957, by Mrs. Ralph Weir, of Truro, Nova Scotia.”

Quotes:

“Everything seemed so wrong lately, and it seemed to me that the wrongness must show.”

“It didn’t seem right for the teacher to know about what was going on in my family when I hardly knew anything myself.”

Other Info:

Robin Stevenson lives in British Columbia, Canada and loves to travel. She enjoyed writing when she was a child, but stopped in high school and then got interested again after her son was born.

On her website Q & A, she says this about her writing: “I like to write the same way I read– to keep turning the pages to see what happens next.”

Other books by this author include:

A Thousand Shades of Blue
Attitude
Ben the Inventor
Ben’s Robot
Big Guy
Damage
Dead In the Water
Escape Velocity
Hummingbird Heart
Impossible Things
In the Woods
Inferno
Liars and Fools
Out of Order
Outback

The World Without Us


 For more, visit Robin Stevenson's website.


You can find more Marvelous Middle Grade Monday books by checking out Shannon Messenger’s blog! Shannon is the founder of Marvelous Middle Grade Monday and the author of the middle grade novels, Keeper of the Lost Cities and Exile(Keeper of the Lost Cities #2).