Mrs. McGriff's Reading Blog

Happy reading!

April 14, 2014
by Mrs. McGriff
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The Lions of Little Rock by Kristin Levine

imageWhen I first heard the buzz about The Lions of Little Rock (Scholastic 2012), I thought it would be set during 1957, the first year of school integration and the story of the Little Rock Nine.  I was wrong.  Instead Kristin Levine weaves a story of friendship that is set during the following year of 1958, when Little Rock closed their high schools in order to prevent further integration of the schools.

When Marlee and Liz becomes friends that year, they never dream that their friendship will test not only their loyalty to each other, but will also take on segregation and put their families in danger when Liz is caught “passing” for white at Marlee’s middle school.  No matter that the world is set against their friendship Liz and Marlee reach out to each other and help each other.

Marlee tells the story of their friendship, which is quite remarkable considering that Marlee is too frightened to talk to most people.  She even freezes up with her own mother.  Liz, however, pushes Marlee to find her voice and to speak up for herself.  Marlee teaches Liz how to be quiet.  Together, they face the tumultuous changes that come.  Marlee misses her big sister Judy, who is sent to live with a grandmother so she can go to school.  Liz finds a bit of romance.  Marlee joins The Women’s Emergency Committee to Open Our Schools and the Stop This Outrageous Purge campaigns and learns to talk to her mother.  Together, they learn that “a friend is someone who helps you change for the better” (289).

April 12, 2014
by Mrs. McGriff
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Guitar Notes by Mary Amato

I don't have a guitar, but this book might inspire me to pick up my dulcimers again.

I don’t have a guitar, but this book might inspire me to pick up my dulcimers again.

For my students, music is not only the soundtrack of their lives (as it is for mine, too), but music is their lives.  If they could, they would go through their days with music pouring into their ears.  Many of them have music pouring out of them as well, through singing or playing an instrument.

As soon as I saw the cover of Guitar Notes (Scholastic 2012) staring at me from the shelf of the Scholastic Book Fair, I knew I wanted to add it to my classroom library.  Mary Amato did not disappoint me with this witty and heartwarming story.  The premise is clever.  Two students–completely opposite in temperament and musical styles–end up sharing a music practice room on opposite days.  They begin leaving notes for each other–at first insulting, but later revealing.

The point of view switches between Tripp Broody and Lyla Marks, letting us get to know them separately and gradually, just as they get to know each other.  Tripp is desperate to spend time with a guitar–any guitar–now that his mother has taken his away until he pulls up his grades.  Lyla is desperate, too, but desperate for a break from the high expectations her father and friends place on her for perfect grades and perfect cello notes.  Neither Tripp’s mom nor Lyla’s dad are bad parents;  they are just imperfect ones who don’t see what’s right in front of them.

The notes that Tripp and Lyla write are highlights of the book.  They are funny and sarcastic, downright snippy at first.  But soon Tripp and Lyla are looking forward to receiving and writing the notes.  They challenge each other to be honest, and they teach each other what they love about music.  As they come together, they begin writing songs to share together.  As I shared bits of the book with my students, they were sure romance was on the way.  I was glad Amato did not take the obvious path with that part of the plot.  The friendship that grows between Tripp and Lyla is so much more than just a romance, even if it takes a tragedy to reveal the depths of their friendship to their parents and friends.

This novel is an ode to the power of music, and it doesn’t stop with the last page. In the back of the book is a copy of the “Thrum Society Songbook,” which has the lyrics and chords for each of the songs that Tripp and Lyla write.  Throughout the book, Tripp and Lyla share pages from their notebooks where they brainstorm and write their lyrics.  You can also visit the Thrum Society website where you can listen to and download the songs for yourself.  Amato provides the tracks and karaoke tracks.  Even though the songs are copyrighted, Amato gives permission for readers to write their own lyrics, perform and record the songs, or create music videos for the songs for noncommercial use.  The website also gives free resources for songwriting–writing notebooks, blank chord charts, links to songwriting videos and more.

April 11, 2014
by Mrs. McGriff
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More I Survived by Lauren Tarshis

The I Survived series of historical fiction has been extremely popular in my classroom this year.  For students who are not sure about historical fiction, they provide a short (less than 100 pages), quick introduction to the genre.  Lauren Tarshis chooses some of the most exciting, most dangerous times in history to write about–the Battle of Gettysburg, the Japanese tsunami, the Nazi invasion of Europe.  With these dramatic historical events as the background, Tarshis creates a young character who must survive.  Whether an escaped slave or a young American overseas, each character is both believable and relatable for modern readers. I already had six of these titles in my classroom library.  Now I have extra copies of those six plus three new adventures to share.  Here is where–and when–the latest titles will take you.

I Survived the Battle of Gettysburg, 1863 (Scholastic 2013) imageThomas and his little sister Birdie are slaves on a Virginia plantation.  When they hear that their master wants to sell Thomas, they flee into the woods to search for freedom.  They are lucky enough to meet up with some Union soldiers who take them in.  Corporal Henry Green looks out for Thomas and Birdie as they travel with the army and tells them stories of his home in Vermont.  Soon the army receives orders to march to Gettysburg.  Will Thomas and Birdie survive this bloodiest, deadliest battle of the Civil War?  

I Survived the Nazi Invasion, 1944 (Scholastic 2014) When my students first start reading about the Holocaust, many of them ask why the Jews didn’t fight back.  The answer is that some Jews–along with Resistance fighters from different countries and faiths–did fight back.  Max looks out for his little sister Zena (and she looks out for him, too) while they are trapped in the Jewish ghetto in their town in Poland.  After a daring escape, they encounter Resistance fighters, including one who surprises them.  As they are traveling to the secret camp deep in the forest, German fighter planes drop bombs throughout the forest and German soldiers sweep through the trees with machine guns.  Will Max and Zena survive the explosions and fire and be able to reunite with their family?

I Survived the Japanese Tsunami, 2011 (Scholastic 2013) imageBen, his little brother Harry, and their mother are visiting their dad’s hometown in Japan.  The visit brings back painful memories of Ben’s dad, who died a few months earlier in a car crash.  But Ben’s memories of his dad and his dad’s stories from the Air Force give Ben the strength and courage to survive the devastating earthquake and tsunami that swept across Japan.  The roiling waters rip Ben from his family and he must fight to survive all alone.

 

If you want even more about these survival stories, check out the Scholastic I Survived Website.  You can learn more about each of the disasters, see what I Survived book is coming up next, and even take a quiz to test your survival skills.

April 9, 2014
by Mrs. McGriff
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Wolf Storm by Dee Garretson

imageStefan auditioned for a part in the action movie Ice Planet Earth never dreaming that he would actually get the part.  Now he finds himself on location in mountains of Slovakia.  He is trapped with a stuck up costar Raine, annoying costar Jeremy, and supposedly cursed costar Cecil.  Throw in some trained wolves for the movie and wild wolves surrounding the set–a run-down abandoned castle–and a blizzard closing in, and Wolf Storm (Scholastic 2011) has all the ingredients for an action-packed adventure.

Dee Garretson creates a story filled with suspense and danger.  The tension between the young costars soon turns to tension to survive against ever escalating dangers.  A snowstorm turns into a blizzard.  A blizzard turns into an avalanche.  Wild wolves circle closer, hungry.  Now Stefan, Raine, Jeremy, and Cecil have one chance to do whatever it takes to survive.

April 8, 2014
by Mrs. McGriff
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The Batboy by Mike Lupica

imageMy middle school sports fans love Mike Lupica, and I enjoy his books, too, even though I’m not a big sports fan myself.  Now that baseball season has rolled around once again, it is the perfect time to introduce The Batboy (Scholastic 2010) to my classroom library.

Brian Dudley loves baseball, especially his home team of the Detroit Tigers.  Even though his dad was a big league pitcher, Brian knows he is lucky to have a spot on his travel team.  Along with his best friend, Kenny, he plans to make the most of this summer of baseball.  But travel ball is not the only ball in Brian’s summer.  He has his dream job–batboy for the Detroit Tigers.  He gets to see every home game from his post right beside the dugout and wear the Big League uniform.  Brian doesn’t care that being batboy involves lots of work both before and after the games as long as he gets his fill of baseball.

Just like Lupica’s other books, there is plenty of baseball action, but there is much more than sports.  Brian’s dad may have been a great pitcher, but he loved baseball more than he loved his family.  Brian is elated when his baseball hero, Hank Bishop, comes back to play for the Tigers.  Unfortunately, Bishop doesn’t act like much of a hero in the locker room.  Brian’s efforts to deal with the disappointment caused by his heroes provides the heart of this story.

April 8, 2014
by Mrs. McGriff
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Music City, Here We Come

imageI’m taking part in the weekly Slice of Life Challenge sponsored by  Two Writing Teachers, where teachers write and share each Tuesday. Join in yourself or head over to check out what’s happening with other slicers. If you’re taking part in the SOL, leave a link to your post. I’d love to read it.

Where does music fill the streets and dance across the stages?  Nashville, Tennessee.  And if you travel with a high school orchestra, the weekend will be packed with music.  We loaded up the buses at 7:30 in the morning–instruments in one compartment; suitcases, coolers and breakfast boxes in another compartment; and students and parents with backpacks, blankets and pillows in the seats.

Our first stop was Western Kentucky University, where the orchestra students enjoyed a sight reading workshop with one of the professors from the school of music.  The parents sat back and enjoyed the concert.  We even got a tour of the campus, and learned first hand how the school earned the nickname of Hilltoppers!

This orchestra can sight read!

This orchestra can sight read!

Friday night welcomed the Nashville Symphony Orchestra, with special guests The Midtown Men from Jersey Boys.  I may have not lived through the sixties, but I grew up in the eighties listening to the best music from the sixties.  I had to remind myself not to sing along. If I forgot, my daughter generously elbowed me as a reminder.

Home of the Nashville Symphony Orchestra

Home of the Nashville Symphony Orchestra

Do you know how an album is recorded?  I learned a little bit about the process when we visited Blackbird Studios where some of the biggest acts in music today have recorded albums.  There are separate rooms to record drums, keyboards, strings, and vocals–and that’s just to get down the basics of the songs.  Extra touches to fill out the music are added later in yet another studio room.  Then the last mixing is done to create the perfect sound in another room before being sent off to create the final master.  Each song is the result of thousands of decisions along the way.  (Sounds a lot like a day in the life of a teacher.)

DSC05452

Some of your favorite artists may have sung into this microphone.

We found even more music aboard the General Jackson showboat.  We cruised up and down the Columbia River while eating a delicious lunch and being entertained by a muscial act that gave tribute to some of the greats in country music (along with a few laughs at their expense).

 

We are ready for toe-tapping music and good eating.

We are ready for toe-tapping music and good eating.

We celebrated Saturday night at the Grand Ole Opry.   Most (well, really all) of the current starts were on Las Vegas for some reason last weekend, so none of them made a surprise appearance on the circle at the center of the stage, but we did get to hear some of the old time greats of country music and bluegrass, including Little Jimmy Dickens, Bill Anderson, and Restless Heart.  My favorite had to be the Willis clan.  Six of the twelve children–all siblings–played bluegrass until the youngest six children (down to age 3) joined them on stage to kick up their heels.  My daughter came home and has been checking the Opry calendar to see when we can go back and catch her favorite members.  During our backstage tour he next day, we even got to stand on the circle on center stage (taken from the stage at Ryman Auditorium where many of country’s greatest stars stood).  Those orchestra members who played violin even got to play a few measures while getting their picture taken.

The Willis clan throws down some bluegrass and dancing.

The Willis clan throws down some bluegrass and dancing.

 

April 2, 2014
by Mrs. McGriff
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Full Ride by Margaret Peterson Haddix

imageMargaret Peterson Haddix has created a thrill ride full of secrets and deception, danger and intrigue, and suspense and tension.  Full Ride (Simon and Schuster 2013) delivers on every page.

Becca and her mother fled their hometown and comfortable life in Atlanta in order to start over with new identities after Becca’s father was convicted of embezzlement.  They protect the secrets in their past in order to avoid discovery. But now that Becca is a senior in high school, she needs to apply for financial aid in order to go to college.  (One benefit of giving up her social life is that she is now a straight-A student.)  But applying for financial aid might reveal their secrets to the world.

Stubborn Becca applies for a local scholarship anyway because of the potential for it to pay her entire way to college.  As she digs deeper into the past of both her family and her new hometown, she discovers secrets that might endanger her life as well as her privacy.  To what lengths will she go to learn the truth?  Will the truth set her free?

April 2, 2014
by Mrs. McGriff
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Hollow City by Ransom Riggs

imageI was captivated by Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children and have been waiting for the release of the second book, Hollow City (Quirk Books 2014).  Ransom Riggs did not disappoint.  Hollow City picks up just where the first book ends–with the peculiar children rowing the boats across the sea to reach the mainland and escape from the wights who are chasing them.

Once they reach the shore, their troubles have just begun.  Jacob, our hero, is now stuck in 1945 unless they can find an ymbryne who can open a time loop and send him back to the present.  While they search, the other peculiar children look to Jacob to lead them to safety–at least some of them do.  Others, including Jacob himself, aren’t sure he is up to the job and are sure he will never live up to his grandfather’s legendary feats.

Not only does Jacob discover the strength and power of his peculiar talent, but each of the children learns the strength they have.  Each of them is given the chance to be a hero and rescue the rest from near disaster and destruction.

Every page uncovers new secrets and reveals unexpected twists.  New characters from gypsies to peculiar animals help the children on their journey to London.  Along the way, nothing is what it seems to be.  The story races along, full of mystery and suspense.  The pictures that accompany the text are eerie and propel the story brilliantly.  I can’t wait for the next installment.

April 1, 2014
by Mrs. McGriff
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Here come the books!

imageI’m taking part in the weekly Slice of Life Challenge sponsored by  Two Writing Teachers, where teachers write and share each Tuesday. Join in yourself or head over to check out what’s happening with other slicers. If you’re taking part in the SOL, leave a link to your post. I’d love to read it.

What is the best way to come back to school after spring break?  Why by taking my classes to the book fair all day!

If you could see the piles and boxes of books I have stacked around my house and classroom, you would know that the book fair is the last place I need to to spend my day.  But what could be better than spending time every period browsing the new books, pointing out favorites to my students, and discovering new titles that look intriguing.  To make it even better, this is the BOGO book fair.  How can I turn down a deal that lets me get a free book for each one I buy?

I also had chance to look at next year’s Young Hoosier Book list and buy some of the titles for my classroom.   I can tell I am much more aware and current with my reading.  When I first started promoting the Young Hoosier books through our book club at school, most of the books and authors were new to me.  When I looked at this year’s list, I realized I already owned eight of the titles in my classroom library already, and several of the other titles have been on my wish list.  I am looking forward to discovering a few new books and authors as well.

The more books and authors I know, the better I am able to recommend the right book to my students.  And my students have been reading up a storm this year.  I currently teach 113 students.  Those 113 students have read a grand total of 2,121 books so far this year.  I think that rocks!

March 31, 2014
by Mrs. McGriff
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March Books Read

32) Guys Read:  Thriller edited by Jon Scieszka – a collection of stories to scare and disgust

33) Inside Narnia by Devon Brown -

34) ** Hollow City by Ransom Riggs – just as strange and peculiar as the first adventure.  I can’t wait for the next one.

35) **Full Ride by Margaret Peterson Haddix – This is a wild ride, full of secrets, lies, and heart-stopping suspense.

36)  **The Mighty Miss Malone by Christopher Paul Curtis – Deza is back for her own story, and it is a story indeed.

37) The Journey Back by Priscilla Cummins – a strong companion to The Red Kayak

38) Grave Mercies by Robin LaFevers – I was captivated by this audiobook about one of death’s handmaidens.

39) **Divergent by Veronica Roth – Wow!  Now I see what everyone is raving about!

40) **Insurgent by Veronica Roth – I did not see these twists coming.

41) **Allegiant by Veronica Roth – I am overwhelmed now that I’m done.

42) **The Lions of Little Rock by Kristin Levine – a powerful story of friendship

43) **The Real Boy by Anne Ursu – a magical fantasy

44) The Center of Everything by Linda Urban – a quiet story of love and loss and life

45) **Counting by 7′s by Holly Goldberg Sloan – quirky, heartbreaking, and inspiring.  I love Willow.

46) **Doll Bones by Holly Black – creepy, but not too scary.  More than a ghost story, it is a story of friendship and growing up

Thanks to spring break, March was a good reading month.  I put asterisks by my favorites.  As you can see, there were a lot of books I loved!  What were your favorite reads from March?