Mrs. McGriff's Reading Blog

Happy reading!

October 27, 2011
by Mrs. McGriff
0 comments

Survivor Book Club

If you missed Survivor Book Club after school on Thursday, you missed out.  Never fear, it’s not too late to join us on December 8.  Here are the great books we presented.  Here are the trailers to tempt you to read one or more.

Beef Princess of Practical County by Michelle Houts

The Brooklyn Nine by Alan Gratz

When the Whistle Blows by Fran Cannon Slayton

The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart

August 25, 2011
by Mrs. McGriff
0 comments

Crossing Stones by Helen Frost

Four teens have grown up together on both sides of Crabapple Creek, connected like the stones that cross the water.  Now World War I has come close to home and their worlds will never be the same.

  • Muriel is outspoken about the war (she thinks it’s senseless) and women’s rights (why shouldn’t women discuss politices and vote in elections).  Her friends and family wish she would keep quiet and stay out of trouble.
  • Her neighbor, Frank, enlists to fight in the war, but she is not quite ready to promise to be his girl even though she thinks she might be one day.  He doesn’t understand how Muriel can protest the war, but being on the front lines might change his mind.
  • Her brother Ollie chafes at being left behind as his classmates leave to fight the war.  Not willing to wait until he is old enough, Ollie slips away in the night to join a war that will change his life forever.
  • Emma, Frank’s little sister and Muriel’s best friend, just wants things to stay the same.  She doesn’t wish for anything more than for Ollie to come home so they can share a life together.

Helen Frost weaves the stories of these four teens together with beautiful poetry in Crossing Stones (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux 2009).  It took me a little while to get into the story, but once I did, I was amazed at how the social cataclsyms–trench warfare, women’s suffrage, the Spanish flu epidemic–of the early 1900′s rocked the worlds of these families.

August 21, 2011
by Mrs. McGriff
0 comments

Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice by Phillip Hoose

When you think of the Civil Rights Movement, whose name first comes to mind as the impetus for the Montgomery bus boycott?

  • Claudette Colvin
  • Rosa Parks
  • Mary Louise Smith

Rosa Parks has gone down in history for her role in not giving up her seat on the Montgomery buses, but she was not the first.  Nine months earlier, Claudette Colvin, a high school junior, refused to give up her seat on the bus.  She was arrested and harrassed.  She returned to school amid controversy and questions.  It seemed that Civil Rights leaders were taken by surprise by her rebellion and weren’t sure a teenage girl from a poor section of town was the person to become the public face of a segretation showdown.

Having grown up during a time of integrated schools and public places, it is hard for me to imagine the horrors segregation imposed.  Claudette’s story brings home the injustice and unfairness and shines a light on the brutal treatment she and her family and neighbors endured every day.  I found myself angry at her treatment by the white police and by the Civil Rights leaders who passed over her contribution.  I also found myself rejoicing in Claudette’s pride that it took a school girl to speak out for the first cry for justice and goad her elders into taking action instead of just talking about it.

Even though Claudette did not get recognition of her role at that time, she later testified in the case Browder v. Gayle, which forced the integration of Montgomery buses and brought an end to the boycott.  History nearly overlooked the bravery Claudette showed in her cry for freedom.  I am glad that Phillip Hoose researched her story and shared it in Claudette Colvin:  Twice Toward Justice.

Claudette’s story doesn’t stop way back then.  There are still injustices in the world today.  Check out the Community Project to see how you can take a stand and speak out against injustice, too.  Listen to Claudette’s story in her own voice:

How will you speak out against injustice?

August 5, 2011
by Mrs. McGriff
2 Comments

Schooled by Gordon Korman

I can’t wait to share Schooled (Scholastic 2007) when I get back to school later this month.  Gordon Korman takes on bullies, hippies, and irresponsible parents in a story that had me laughing all the way through.  The shifting points of view–six major characters and a couple of minor ones share their perspective on the events–have distinctive voices.  Here are the main players:

  • Capricorn Anderson has never seen a television, talked on a cell phone or played a video game.  He has lived his entire life with Rain, his grandmother, on a hippie commune called Garland Farm.  When Rain falls out of a tree and breaks her hip, he is thrown into the vicious social jungle known as middle school.  Not knowing any better, he takes on every challenge thrown at him with seriousness, down to learning the names of all 1100 students at school.
  • Mrs. Donnelly has a secret–she lived for six years at Garland Farm as a child.  She still remembers the shock of entering the real world and takes Cap into her home.
  • Sophie Donnelly is sixteen and outraged that her mother would bring home a tie-dyed hippie freak to live with them.  It is bound to ruin her social life even more than the broken promises from her absent father.
  • Zach Powers is the rightful lord and king of C Average Middle School as he enters his eighth grade year.  Captain of both the football and soccer teams, he leads his friends in the tradition of selecting the biggest loser for the job of eighth grade president.  He is furious when his plan to nominate and humilate Cap backfires.
  • Hugh Winkleman is more thankful than anyone that Cap showed up before the election.  If not for Cap, he would be the 8th grade president for sure.  Now that Cap is in the spotlight, Hugh can enjoy school without the treath of spitballs and wedgies.
  • Naomi Erlanger has a crush on Zach, and is more than willing to contribute to Cap’s humiliation.  But as Cap remains undisturbed–and clueless–to their bullying, she can’t help but be drawn to his innocence and naivete.  Which boy will win her heart in the end?

That’s just the beginning of this incredible story.  Throw in a hijacked school bus,  bounced checks, and a couple of funerals to round out the story.  Don’t forget the tie-dye lessons in the art room or the sing-alongs in the music wing.  Fans of Korman’s No More Dead Dogs will definitely enjoy this visit to middle school just as much.  Just to make you want more, Here are the opening lines from Capricorn Anderson:

I was thirteen the first time I saw a police officer up close.  He was arresting me for driving without a license.  At the time, I didnt’ even know what a license was.  I wasn’t too clear on what being arrested meant either.

I can guarantee you that no one at C Average Middle School will ever be the same.

 

 

August 4, 2011
by Mrs. McGriff
0 comments

Uncommon Criminals by Ally Carter

Kat has returned to the family business in Uncommon Criminals (Disney/Hyperion 2011)–sort of.  She’s not your common thief, out to steal for the thrill or the profit.  Instead she is on a mission to return stolen art treasures from World War II to their rightful owners, or at least their descendants.  She is more comfortable striking out alone than joining the family in Uraguay–or is it Paraguay?

All that changes when she becomes the mark and gets tangled up in a heist of the Cleopatra emerald, complete with curse.  Who is this thief that dares to use the sacred name of Visily Romani for her own gain?  Just what is her connection with Kat’s family’s?  Most of all, can Kat and her den of thieves pull of the heist of the centuries–for a second time?

I enjoyed this excursion into a life of crime and high society just as much as I did the first one.  After becoming the mark for a change, Kat questions her ability as a thief and pulls away from her friends.  She is both repulsed and fascinated by her foil–a brash and talented thief who chose long ago to go it alone rather than with family.

It’s not that easy to go it alone when your family–the gorgeous millionaire, mysterious cop’s kid, an infuriating cousin, a computer genious, and a couple of thugs–keep following you.   Through dodging curses and planning to steal the impossible again, Kat must decide who whe will share her life with.

This sequel is just as good as the first, and I certainly hope for more from Ally Carter.  Now if I could just have a butler to smooth out all the details of my life, I’d be set.

August 3, 2011
by Mrs. McGriff
6 Comments

Compound by SA Bodeen

Eli first entered the compound with his family when he was nine years old to escape the devastation of a nuclear attack on the United States.  Even though his wealthy father built and stocked the compound with everything they could need, Eli is feeling restless after six years underground.  Not only is he plagued with guilt over his missing twin brother Eddy and his grandmother, he is also beginning to question his father’s motives.  Is it too late now that his father will not let them leave?

Eli is not a likeable character at first.  Eddy was the good twin, the one who cared for others.  Eli was always more concerned with getting more fof himself, and now he keeps his sisters at a distance by being a first class jerk to them.  He’s not all bad, though.  As he begins to questions the facts their father has told them, he notices holes in the story.  He digs deeper and finds shocking answers that cause him to make choices that change him, and change the fates of all of them.  His father appears at first to be both brilliant and caring.  He thought through their every need and even many of their wants for their fifteen year stay in the compound.  As Eli learns more about his father, I realized he is perfectly evil and powerful.

The Compound is SA Bodeen’s first novel.  I found it to be an exciting read with many surprises revealed at just the right moment.  It raises the questions of just how far someone might go to survive.  How far should someone go in the name of science?  In the questions this book raises, it reminds me of Margaret Peterson Haddix’s Running Out of Time.

 

July 26, 2011
by Mrs. McGriff
0 comments

The Brooklyn Nine by Alan Gratz

Baseball fans will enjoy reading about the Schneider family.  For nine generations, their history has been wrapped up with that of baseball.  It begins with Felix Schneider, a German immigrant who cheers on the New York Knickerbockers as they play three-0ut, all-out.  A tragic accident while fighting fires with Alexander Cartwright (the father of modern baseball) puts an end to some of his dreams, but leads to more.  From generation to generation, baseball ties this family together.  Louis Schneider takes baseball with him to the battlefields of the Civil War. Arnold Schneider meets one of baseballs first stars, King Kelly as he hopes to gain acceptance from his peers.  Walter Schneider/Snider meets Cyclone Joe Williams, the best pitcher of the day, as they both run head-on into prejudice.  Frankie has a head for numbers that almost gets her into more trouble that she can handle when she cooks up a scheme with sports writer Joe Kieran.  Kat Snider plays with the Grand Rapids Chicks of the All-American Girls Baseball League during World War II.  Jimmy Flint has to duc k and cover from both bullies and threatened Soviet bombs, so it’s a good thing he’s the undisputed champion of flipping baseball cards.  Michael Flint is desperate for advice from his Grandma Kat when a perfect summer day becomes the opportunity to pitch a perfect game midway through the Little League season.  Snider Flint discovers the history contained in a box of baseball memorabilia as he searches for the provenance of Babe Herman’s bat–complete with address and postage stamps. 

I’m not much of a baseball fan, but I enjoyed how Alan Gratz wove baseball history into nine interlocking stories in The Brooklyn Nine:  A Novel in Nine Innings (Scholastic 2009).  Each generation faces a new challenge, but love of baseball ties them all together.  The book is divided into nine short sections, basically long short stories.  Each story could be read and enjoyed alone.  I liked tracing the links between each story as well.   Baseball fans will enjoy this one, especially those who appreciate or want to learn more of the sport’s history.  Gratz provides notes in the back about the historical figures who appear.

July 23, 2011
by Mrs. McGriff
0 comments

When the Whistle Blows by Fran Cannon Slayton

when the whistle blowsGrowing up in the hills of West Virginia, all Jimmy Cannon wants is to work on the railroad just like his dad and older brothers. Dad, however, warns that change is coming. Soon the steam engines whose whistles pierce the air will be replaced with deisels. Once the deisels come, Rowlesburg will no longer be a railroad town. Jimmy can’t see it, and he just wants things to stay the way they’ve always been.

Fran Cannon Slayton creates an interesting structure for When the Whistle Blows (Scholastic 2009) Each chapter takes place on All Hallow’s Eve–or Halloween–a year apart, starting in 1943. The structure works quite well. Halloween is an important day in Jimmy’s life since it is also his father’s birthday. I enjoyed reading of Jimmy’s antics as he grew up. At first he is the younger brother, tagging along and trying to figure out what the grownups are up to. One of my favorite scenes was probably the night they planned to throw rotting cabbages at an older teen’s new car, but pelted the sheriff’s car instead. As Jimmy grows older, the events of Halloween reflect his changing interests, from prankster to football star.

Throught it all, Jimmy is fascinated by The Society, a secret organization he is not supposed to know about, much less spy on. I guessed wrong as well as to what it was all about. It is not until the final, tragic chapter that Jimmy–and the reader–learn its history and purpose.

July 22, 2011
by Mrs. McGriff
0 comments

The Girl Who Threw Butterflies by Mick Cochrane

girl who threw butterfliesMolly Williams doesn’t mean to shake things up when she goes out for the boys baseball team during eighth grade.  She just misses baseball, that she played and watched with her dad before he died in a freak car accident.  She may not be the biggest jock, but she does have a secret weapon:  She can pitch a knuckleball.  Will it be enough to impress her coaches and new teammates? 

While not dealing with the guys on the baseball field.  Molly is trying to negotiage the relationship with her mother, who has become irritable and withdrawn.  Thank goodness her best friend Celia is ready with loyal support and witty remarks.  Then there is the new relationship with artistic Lonnie, who becomes her catcher.

Mick Cochrane weaves a story of baseball, loss, and love in The Girl Who Threw Butterflies (A Yearling Book 2009). I learned lots of baseball lore.  Did you know that knuckleball pitchers often wear the number 49 in honor of Hoyt Wilhelm, a great knuckleball pitcher who retired at age 49?  Did you know knucklball pitchers often have their own personal catcher (with a specially designed mitt) because the pitch is hard to catch as well as hit?  Did you know Jackie Mitchell struck out Babe Ruth in an exhibition game before the commissioner of baseball banned her from professional baseball because it was too strenuous for a woman?  I didn’t know any of it, but I do now.

There is plenty of  baseball play and lore for fans in this book, but there is much more, too.  It is a heartwarming story that is at times humorous, touching, and surprising. 

What are your favorite baseball stories?