Mrs. McGriff's Reading Blog

Happy reading!

April 29, 2011
by Mrs. McGriff
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Fun on a Friday

Lots of you have been reading this year’s Young Hoosier books for middle school.  Enjoy this video of books and remember your favorites.

Young Hoosier books

Now it’s time to vote!  Check your favorite title.  You can only vote for a book you actually read.  If you haven’t read any, you might check out the results to see what’s hot with your classmates.  It’s a great way to find a good read for the summer.

March 25, 2011
by Mrs. McGriff
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Standard Hero Behavior by John David Anderson

standard hero behaviorThe town of Darlington–formerly known as Highsmith–is in deep trouble.  All the heros left years ago, including Mason’s father.  Their services were no longer needed after the Duke offered his protection services.  Unfortunately, the Duke’s scam has been found out and orcs and goblins are on the way to attack.

That’s where Mason and his best friend Cowell come in.  They may not be heroes, but they are the town’s only hope.  They set off with a borrowed sword on a borrowed horse with some borrowed gold to find some real heroes to come back to save the town.  Along the way they encounter a sleeping swordsman, vicious pixies, a cross-dressing bully, a witch-in-training, vicious whats-its, a werewolf, and a town that wants nothing to do with heroes.

Their best guide is Quayle’s Guide to Adventures for the Unadventurous.  According to it, neither Mason no Cowell has what it takes, but just what is a hero?  They do discover that “Outside of the songs,however, there were decisions, which were irritatingly always accompanied by consequences” (Anderson 139). 

Take the quiz and find out if you have what it takes to be a hero.

March 16, 2011
by Mrs. McGriff
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Summer Ball by Mike Lupica

summer ballDanny Walker must once again prove his stuff on the basketball court.  Even though he may be the shortest guy out there, he has “the eye”  and knows more about the game than anyone else.  After being cut from the travel team and forming his own team of “rejects,” Danny led his team of underdogs to the national championship in Travel Team. Mike Lupica continues Danny’s story with Summer Ball (Puffin Books, 2007).   

Now that he is at the prestigious Right Way Basketball Camp run by Josh Cameron, he’s not so sure he has what it takes to play with the big guys.  Due to a computer mix-up, he’s stuck in a cabin with the ten to twelve year old campers.  His coach, Ed Powers hates him because of past history with his dad.  His biggest rival from the championship game, Rasheed, is on the same team and is out to get Danny, along with his bigger, badder friend Lamar.  At least Danny has Will and Ty to lean on, but things are just not the same with Tess since tennis superstar Scott came to town.

Now instead of loving a summer of nonstop basketball, Danny questions if he even belongs here anymore.  Fans of Lupica’s other sports books will enjoy this one.  There is plenty of conflict both on and off the basketball court as the underdogs fight to prove their stuff. 

What is your favorite basketball or underdog sports story?

March 11, 2011
by Mrs. McGriff
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A Friendship for Today by Patricia McKissack

friendship for todayRosemary Patterson’s life is topsy-turvey the year she enters sixth grade.  Her elementary school is closing for good.  She’ll start 6th grade at Robertson as one of the first African American students to enroll at the previously all white school.  Her best friend, JJ Stenson, was her only classmate going to Roberson with her until he comes down with polio over the summer.  Now Rosemary must face the first day of school alone.  The only other student she knows is Grace the Tastelss Hamilton, whose family makes no secret of their prejudices.  Once at school, Rosemary has to deal with the whispers and stares.  Much to her surprise, she learns that Grace is just as disliked as she is, and the two girls forge an unlikely friendship.

 At home, life turns upside down, too.  Rosemary rescues a kitten from the railroad tracks where it lost a leg.  The kitten miraculously recovers, but there is no miracle to make her parents fall back in love.  The constant bickering between them only stops when Rosemary’s father moves into two rooms over his garage. 

I enjoyed this trip back in time.  McKissack brings the struggles of the 1950′s to life through a child’s eyes.  Rosemary faces the challenges in her life with courage and humor.  Each time she faces prejudice (such as Mr. Keggley, who is is sure that Rosemary needs remedial classes and awards her a gift certificate to a whites only restaurant for her second place finish in the spelling bee), she is bouyed by the support of many others ( including her teacher Mrs. Denapolis, who makes TOLERANCE the word of the year).    

I seem to be revisiting the 1950′s (and 1960′s) frequently in my reading this year.  What decade would you like to visit?

March 7, 2011
by Mrs. McGriff
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All Shook Up by Shelley Pearsall

all shook upJosh turns thirteen, and you know what that means.  His parents are a complete embarrassment.  Mom’s not too bad, but she sends Josh to live with his dad in Chicago so she can look after Grandma in Florida.  Josh should have known it would be bad when he saw his dad’s new look–jet-black hair, thick sideburns, and a Hawaiian shirt with orange parrots.  The news just gets worse.  After losing his job as a shoe salesman, Josh’s dad is starting a new career as an Elvis impersonator complete with jiggling legs and swaying hips.  Doesn’t he know that he is about to ruin Josh’s life?

All Josh wants is to fit in with the right crowd at his new middle school.  A single homerun in gym class gets him an invitation to sit at the table by the vending machines with the cool guys.  Only a few things stand in his way from keeping his new-found popularity.  One is Ivory, the daughter of his dad’s new girlfriend.  The other is an invitation for his dad to perform–as Elvis–at a fifties concert at his school.  It is time for Josh to take control with desperate measures.  Is there any way for him to get out of this mes withouth hurting anyone?  Probably not.

I agree with Ivory’s assessment of Josh:  “It’s always about you.”  In spite of Josh’s self-absortion, he is a likeable character.  His unspoken notes to himself and various characters–mainly his dad–add humor to the story.  In the end, Josh learns something about himself and his dad and friendship–all thanks to the King.  I enjoyed the quotes from Elvis’s hits that begin each chapter.  All that was missing is the soundtrack.  Reader’s will have to provide that for themselves as they dance their way through All Shook Up (Alfred P. Knopf)   by Shelley Pearsall

What would you do if your dad decided to become Elvis?

*Image of book cover from Titlewave.

February 17, 2011
by Mrs. McGriff
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Keeping Score by Linda Sue Park

keeping scoreMaggie Fortini loves baseball, especially her beloved Brooklyn Dodgers.  When she’s not hanging out with her best friend Treecie, she hangs out with the guys–and the dog Charky–down at the firehouse where her father used to work.  Her new friend Jim (even though he is a New York Giants fan) teaches her to keep score of every pitch, hit and run.  Maggie hopes keeping score will give the Dodgers just enough to finally win the pennant race and the World Series, but her hopes are dashed year after year.  Then Jim is called up to serve in Korea and stops answering her letters.  Do her hope and prayers mean anything at all?  Maybe, maybe not.    Even though life does not always work out the way we want, Maggie learns that “hope is what gets everything started.  When you make plans, it’s because you hope something good is going to happen.  Hope always comes first” (Parks 189).

I’m not a big baseball fan and had no idea what keeping score was all about, but I couldn’t help but join Maggie as she cheered on her Brooklyn Dodgers.  Even I have heard of Jackie Robinison who played with the Dodgers (Maggie’s one and only team) and of Willie Mays (Maggie’s favorite player) who played with the New York Giants.  With Keeping Score (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) Park captures America’s favorite pasttime and more with this heartfelt look at faith and life.  Take it from me, you don’t have to be a baseball fan to enjoy this book.

Since spring is coming, what are some of your favorite baseball stories?

 

Picture from Titlewave

February 7, 2011
by Mrs. McGriff
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The Girl Who Could Fly by Victoria Forester

girl who could fly jpegI know several of you have said that The Girl Who Could Fly (Scholastic) by Victoria Forester was one of your top picks from this year’s Young Hoosier Books.   I suspected I would agree with you because, after all, the girl can fly!  One of my favorite dreams was one I had where I could fly.  And then I grew up to get my pilot’s licence. 

I wasn’t disappointed.  From the first line, “Piper decided to jump off of the roof.  It wasn’t a rash decision on her part,” I was hooked.  Piper  McCloud grew up on a farm down in Lowland County with her Ma and Pa where things hadn’t changed in generations–until Piper, thta is.  From her effortless floating as a baby to her ever-bubbling chatter as a girl, Piper changes everything and everyone around her. 

Once Piper demonstrates her flying ability to the townspeople, it gets to be too much.  The children and their parents are afraid of Piper, news crews surround the farm, and an invisible person nearly scares Piper out of her skin.  Then Dr. Letitia Hellion (okay, her name gives her away) comes to the rescue and takes Piper to I.N.S.A.N.E., a school for exceptional children buried deep beneath the snow.   Once again, nothing is quite what it seems, and Piper manages to transform it all.

If you haven’t discovered this homespun gem, grab a copy now to read!

January 28, 2011
by Mrs. McGriff
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Journal 1 for Football Hero by Tim Green

football_hero_pressI wouldn’t normally pick up a book about football since I’m not a big sports–especially football–fan. I’m reading it because it is on the Young Hoosier list for middle school this year. I’m glad I challenge myself to read all 20 books each year because I meet books and authors that I like that I would normally pass over. Football Hero by Tim Green is a great example. I’m not very far into the story, but already I’m hooked.

Like many books that have come before (the Harry Potter series, Finding Stinko, James and the Giant Peach), Ty is thrust into an over-the-top situation after losing his parents in a car crash. He now lives with his aunt and uncle. To say the least, they are not model parents, and Ty is treated even worse than their own daughter Charlotte. Come on, do you know any parents that won’t allow their nephew to use the indoor bathroom? That’s right, Uncle Gus and Aunt Virginia make Ty use the bathroom in an old, broken porta-potty set up in the woods. Ty sleeps in an unfinished porch with the plumbing and electrical wires still exposed. When he comes home late on his twelfth birthday, he is in serious trouble because Uncle Gus had a big surprise for his birthday. The surprise–a work permit to join the family business, Slatz’s Cleaning Services. Ty now gets to spend every afternoon and evening after school cleaning toilets in sleazy bars. Yeah, it’s extreme, but I understand why Tim Green chose to create such awful parental figures. It makes Ty more sympathetic and gives him even more obstacles to overcome. It also sets up an even bigger contrast with his older brother’s, Thane “Tiger” Lewis’s, situation. Tiger is a star football player for Syracruse, and expected to be a top-round draft pick for the NFL. No, it’s not believable, but I’m more than willing to go along for the ride.

One reason I’m willing to suspend my disbelief is that I like Ty.  He is scrappy and never gives up.  He’s picked on at school for being new, for reading all the time, for being scrawny, but when Coach V recruits him for the spring football camp, he jumps right in.  He has no equipment.  His only shoes are cheapo canvas sneakers with a slick sole.  When his shoelace breaks and he trips on his first run to catch a pass, he just yanks his shoes off and runs barefoot.  The quarterback can’t keep up with his speed.  When his uncle says no to football (because Ty has to scrub those toilets), he pesters his uncle to take him to the Saturday scrimmage anyway.  There he pesters Coach V into letting him play even though he couldn’t come to practice.  Remember those slick shoes?  They don’t work well in a football game in the rain.  He gets clobbered by the bullying defense and jumps right back up and begs to go in again.  Again he strips off his shoes and socks.  This time he evades the defense and reaches with everything he has to make the winning touchdown catch!  I think Ty can overcome any obstacle Uncle Gus throws at him.  I can’t wait to read more and see how he does it. 

Book cover from http://www.timgreenbooks.com/kids/contact.php#press

December 2, 2010
by Mrs. McGriff
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The Crossroads by Chris Grabenstein

Are you looking for a spooky ghost story?  I wish I had read The Crossroads by Crhis Grabenstein in time for Halloween!  I couldn’t put it down once I picked it up, and kept looking over my shoulder.

Zach Jennings is headed home–to his father’s childhood home that is with is hard-working dad, new step mom Judy, and new dog Zipper.  Things should be looking up, but the crossroads near his new house is haunted.  Strange things happen by the old oak tree on the corner.  Tree branches drop through windshields or take the the blinking light.  Every Monday, grouchy Ms. Greta Spratling drives up in her big old Cadillac to place fresh white roses in a pail nailed to the trunk of the tree.  Just what is she up to?

Zach meets his first friend, Davy, who talks a little on the strange side, but has swell ideas for building a tree house and dealing with the local bully.  For some reason, he has chosen Zach to complete a task.  Can Zach figure out what to do before it’s too late?  Will his stepmom Judy believe his tall tales? 

Actually, Judy is one of my favorite characters.  There is no evil stepmother here.  Judy is funny if somewhat clueless in the art of cooking and mothering.  She is the one who helps Zach put to rest the ghost of his dead mother–not one of the ghosts of the crosroads, but she haunts Zach’s thoughts, none-the-less.  Besides, she is a writer…and is helped in solving the mystery by none other than the local librarian!

And what about the ghosts? There are quite a few haunting this deserted crossroads. Most of them are the friendly, helpful sort. But there’s one who’s out to kill…and he has Zach squarely in his sights.

December 2, 2010
by Mrs. McGriff
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Don’t Know Much ’bout History…

I am the first to admit that nonfiction has long been last on my list to read.  When I was a child, the librarian in charge of the summer reading program had to force/bribe me to read nonfiction.  I would only go as far as to sample biographies and mythology.  Fortunately, I have discovered that there are good nonfiction books out there.  I just finished two more nonfiction books from this year’s Young Hoosier list.

Bodies from the Ice:  Melting Glaciers and the Recovery of the Past by James M. Deem was better than I expected.  I remembered the story in the opening chapter about the Iceman found by hikers in the Alps.  I find it amazing that a body from that long ago was preserved in such good condition.  Scientists could even discover what season it was and what food he had recently eaten from studying his remains.  Most of the rest of the book was competely new to me.  I learned that French villagers thought the glaciers were the stomping grounds of dragons and evil spirits.  Did you know that Sir Edmund Hillary may not have been the first European to scale Mt. Everest?  Englishmen George Mallory and Andrew Irvine may have reached the summit a few years earlier.  They just didn’t live to tell about it.  Mallory’s body has recently been discovered on the slopes of Everest with just enough clues to tantalize.  I was horrified at the bodies of children found beneath glacier ice in the Andes mountains.  They had been sacrificed on the mountains.  As the glaciers continue to melt and retreat, what other secrets will they reveal?

I did not enjoy Battling in the Pacific by Susan Provost Beller nearly as much.  I had hoped the direct quotes from soldiers in the Pacific theater of World War II would help bring this part of the war to life, but it did not.  It read more like a research report.  If you are looking for facts about the war in the Pacific, you will find those.