Friday, July 29, 2011

Five O'Clock Friday

Back on track with Five O'Clock Friday and the May update.

  • 3:15 Episode #2 by Patrick Carman
  • 3:15 Episode #3 by Patrick Carman
  • 3:15 Episode #4 by Patrick Carman - The 3:15 app is short stories. Each one is told in 3 parts and meant to be finished in 15 minutes. There's an audio introduction, a written story, and a movie that shows the conclusion. Each episode is $0.99, and all episodes will be released in book form this fall.
  • Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt - Phenomenal.
  • H.I.V.E. #3: Escape Velocity by Mark Walden - A great, high action series. All books will soon be released in the United States, if they haven't already. Here's my review of Book #1 and Book #2.
  • Monster in the Hollows by Andrew Peterson - Get on board, people! Readers should be lining up for midnight releases of the series conclusion when it's released, dressed as Artham P. Wingfeather, Throne Warden of Anniera or Grandpa Podo with his peg leg.
  • Trackers Book #1 by Patrick Carman
  • Trackers Book #2 Shantorian by Patrick Carman - Another multimedia series similar to Skeleton Creek with part of the story told online in movies.
  • The Penderwicks at Point Mouette by Jeanne Birdsall - The Penderwicks series is now in its third installment, and each is as good as the last.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Five O'Clock Friday

Three weeks into this grand blog experiment called Five O'Clock Friday and I've already missed a post. And I can't even remember why I missed it. I'm sure there was something of great importance.

Three weeks ago when I introduced Five O'Clock Friday I wrote, "Over the next few weeks I'm going to catch everyone up on the first half of the year, month by month. Then it will become a summary of each week's reading. At least that's the plan." I still think it's a good plan, but missing a week is strike one. Three strikes and ... time to come up with a better plan.

So let's backdate this post to last Friday, have a new post this Friday, and see how it goes from here. Thanks for stopping by Help Readers Love Reading.

  • Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer by John Grisham - Reads just like you'd expect a Grisham novel to read. It will introduce kids to how the courts work and keep them turning pages at the same time. 
  • Scorpia Rising by Anthony Horowitz - A satisfying conclusion to the Alex Rider series.
  • What Would Joey Do? by Jack Gantos (reread)
  • I Am Not Joey Pigza by Jack Gantos (reread) - After reading Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key with a group of fifth graders, I was reminded how much I like Joey and had to read the rest of the series.
  • Patrick in a Teddy Bear’s Picnic by Geoffrey Hayes - A new series from the author of the Benny and Penny series.
  • Silly Lilly in What Will I Be Today by Agnes Rosenstiehl
  • Silly Lilly and the Four Seasons by Agnes Rosenstiehl

Monday, July 18, 2011

Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt

Readers were introduced to Doug Swieteck in the 2008 Newbery Honor winning book The Wednesday Wars. He’s mentioned by name seven times in the first two pages as Holling Hoodhood explains all the reasons why their teacher, Mrs. Baker, should hate him. This includes Doug’s list of 410 ways to get a teacher to hate you, a list containing strategies that became illegal around #167 and where #6 earns a two week suspension.

Yeah, that Doug Swieteck. Remember him? He’s back in Okay for Now, Gary D. Schmidt’s latest book, which features eighth-grade Doug as the main character. And instead of Doug’s 410 ways to get a teacher to hate you, Okay for Now is 360 pages to get a reader to love you.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s the same Doug Swieteck. But as readers learn about Doug’s abusive father, his oldest brother in Vietnam, his next brother a bully, and his kind and gentle mother smothered by her family situation, readers begin to understand Doug Swieteck as a person rather than just an antagonist.

Okay for Now opens with Doug’s father announcing that the family is moving to Marysville in upstate New York. The Swietecks move into The Dump in Stupid Marysville. “I hate this town,” Doug declares not long after arriving.

And now is where the reviewer generally gives an overview of plot. But I don’t want to. Instead, I want you to read Okay for Now based on my highest recommendation alone, to savor this book, to tear up and laugh and cheer at Doug’s actions and circumstances. I want you to share the same emotions as me as you discover more about Doug and appreciate how Gary D. Schmidt has constructed this masterful novel.

Doug likes statistics and often lists them for certain situations, so as Doug would say, here are the stats for what all readers should experience one their own, without a reviewer’s perspective. All readers should:
  • learn how to drink a really cold Coke from Lil, the first person and classmate Doug meets, outside the Marysville Public Library. 
  • hear Mr. Powell’s art lessons in the Marysville Public Library. 
  • feel the tension between the members of the Swieteck family. 
  • understand what makes Mr. Ferris set Clarence, the toy rocking horse, rocking. 
  • follow Doug on his grocery deliveries for Mr. Spicer, Lil’s father. 
  • see how Doug becomes the test subject for Miss Cowper’s County Literacy Unit. 
  • meet Mrs. Windermere and the god of creativity that sits on her desk. 
  • slowly recognize how John Audubon’s paintings in the library parallel Doug’s life as Doug learns more about the birds, the paintings, and art. 
You see? There’s so much … too much … okay. Try this:

Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt is about the year Doug Swieteck moves to Stupid Marysville, New York, how he slowly discovers the difference between the external persona he has created and the internal person he truly is, and which one he decides to be. It is at the same time heart-breaking and heart-warming. It demonstrates both the fragility and strength of human character. It will build within you an appreciation for birds, art, horseshoes, and the New York Yankees.

It is the best book I’ve read in some time and, quite simply, a book you must read.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Five O'Clock Friday

We're up to March in the look back at books I've read but might not have reviewed yet. (See more information here.) It was spring break month, so I enjoyed some extra reading time.

(And on an only slightly related tangent, why do I find reading even more enjoyable when I can look up and see palm trees? Do people in Florida find reading more enjoyable if they look up and see this? What about this? Actually, now that I think about it, if I was seeing those views one would mean it was summer and the other would probably mean a snow day. Either way I'd have more time to read. I guess they'd make reading more enjoyable to me as well.)

  • The Legend of the Golden Snail by Graeme Base - Amazing pictures and magical story. 
  • The Lightning Thief (Graphic Novel) by Rick Riordan
  • On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness by Andrew Peterson (reread) - One of my favorite series.
  • Woods Runner by Gary Paulsen - An interesting combination between fiction and nonfiction. There's much here to learn and much to enjoy in this book about the American Revolution.
  • Joey Pigza Loses Control by Jack Gantos (reread)
  • North! Or Be Eaten! by Andrew Peterson (reread)
  • Turtle in Paradise by Jennifer Holm (reread) - I had a great time visiting Key West and several places where Turtle is set. 
  • Bless this Mouse by Lois Lowry
  • Wildfire Run by Dee Garretson
  • 3:15 Episode #1 by Patrick Carman
  • The Fantastic Secret of Owen Jester by Barbara O’Connor

Monday, July 11, 2011

Coaching Kids - New Column Today

"You're killing me, Smalls!"
The official youth baseball season has ended and along with it ends my coaching stint for this year. Our team had our ups and downs, wins and losses, sunshine and rain, but there are some constants that remain true. Constants that are not in the rule books but hold true to coaching kids. Here's my latest newspaper column full of advice for grown-ups who coach kids. (Take it for what it's worth, and with a grain of salt, of course.)

Here's the original column on the newspaper's site.
Coaching baseball is more than creating a line-up, standing in the dugout, and offering the occasional word of encouragement or correction.

But coaching Little League baseball?

Sure, you got your line-ups, dugouts, and positive words, but working with kids brings a whole 'nother dimension.

The Little League coaching recipe starts with instruction. Add a handful of inspiration and a dash of imagination. Allow for imperfection and inattention. Use imitation as desired.

And hope it doesn’t end with indigestion.

The 2011 Edition of Official Baseball Rules is 130 pages and over 50,000 words. I checked at The Official Little League Rule Book comes in at a total of 125 pages.

Yet these are incomplete documents. Coaches flipping through these books can find their fill of instruction, but the remaining coaching ingredients are severely lacking within their pages.

So I’m offering an unofficial rule book addendum -- not rules necessarily -- but guidelines. It's information needed by grown-ups to successfully coach kids, all conveniently concentrated to 1 page and 500 words, and all available free. With my compliments.

Guideline #1: All equipment besides a player’s hat, glove, and cup is provided by the team and available in the dugout, yet batters will occasionally enter the on-deck circle without a helmet or bat.

Guideline #2: Players can lose their hat and glove in less than half an inning.

Guideline #3: Players never lose their cup. This is due to its proximity to other valuable possessions and the tendency for players to repeatedly demonstrate their cup’s effectiveness with their knuckles.

Guideline #4: The outfield is little more than a prairie. Prairies have grass, weeds, holes, crickets, moths, and the occasional squirrel. In this environment baseballs will drop from the sky unnoticed.

Guideline #5: Nobody understands the infield fly rule, and simple misdirection will help you avoid explaining it to an inquisitive youngster. Try replying “How many outs are there?” or “Have you seen your hat?”

Guideline #6: A squibber that travels halfway to first and barely stays fair can be more significant than a screaming line drive to the gap. It all depends on the player who hits it.

Guideline #7: Never be comfortable when your pitcher has an 0-2 count on the hitter. Balls are like parade candy -- readily available and freely given.

Guideline #8: Any player who hits a weak ground ball to shortstop, is safe at first and advances to second on an overthrow, takes third when the pitcher drops the ball, and races for home when the pitcher’s throw to third goes into the dugout, will claim to have hit a home run. Mark it accordingly in the score book.

Guideline #9: Support the concession stand. The money is needed for extra hats.

Guideline #10: Sunflower seeds are not only a cheek-filling, spit-inducing, baseball snack, but make great rapid-fire artillery to launch at unsuspecting teammates in the dugout. It’s best to just stay out of range.

Guideline #11: All’s well that ends well. As long as there’s ice cream. And everyone leaves with their hat.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Five O'Clock Friday

As the summer progresses, I'm letting readers know what I've read earlier in the year before I start a weekly "Other Stuff I Read That I Didn't Post (Yet) On the Website" feature. (Here's the January post.) And after looking at February's weak list (weak in quantity, that is), I'm wondering why I promised such a thing.

Nevertheless, here is the February update.

Penny Dreadful by Laurel Snyder
Kid vs. Squid by Greg van Eekhout
I Beat the Odds by Michael Oher
The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller - Highly recommended professional book.
Big Nate in a Class by Himself
by Lincoln Peirce.

Quite an eclectic list. There's realistic fiction, fanciful fiction, nonfiction, a professional book, and a graphic novel. But I did notice that 4 of the 5 authors are on Twitter.

Looking at this list, maybe Mr. Peirce wishes he was on Twitter too.

Monday, July 4, 2011

The Fourth Stall by Chris Rylander

All the kids in school know, first graders through eighth graders, that if you need something or if you have a problem that needs solving, the only place to go is the boys bathroom in the East Wing. Wait your turn in line, then head to the fourth stall from the high window.

Mac’s office.

For a nominal fee or in exchange for a future favor, Mac will take care of it. Test answers, hall passes, doctor’s notes, video games your parents won’t let you play - you know, normal elementary school stuff - Mac and his business manager Vince can help.

But when Fred, a student no more than a third grader, enters the fourth stall, Mac and Vince know the times are changing. Fred requests protection from Staples. THE Staples. Thought to be only a legend, Staples is apparently real and so is his web of connections that infiltrates every school in the city. Staples has an intermural gambling ring that has entered Mac’s school, and Fred was one of the bookies. When Fred told Staples he wanted out, Staples said nobody quits. When Fred threatened to go to the principal, Staples said that would make him a rat, and rats get the worst punishments.

So Mac agrees to protect Fred and in doing so begins a war between underground school powers. Can Mac, with help from his school’s nine biggest bullies, rid his school of Staples illegal gambling ring and thereby protect his own business? Or will Staples squash Mac’s business and extend his control in Mac’s school?

Overall The Fourth Stall is a funny story inspired by The Godfather. “Hits” are ordered (although no one is killed). There’s plenty of hidden cash. Nicknames abound (Mac’s real name is Christian, plus there are characters named Kitten, Nubby, the Hutt, Great White, and Little Paul).There are also several subplots woven throughout the story. Who is the mole that has infiltrated Mac’s business? Can his best friend and business associate, Vince, be trusted? Can Mac keep his business and family life separate, especially after the attack on his house?

Author Chris Rylander also includes a look at poverty and how it affects students. This more serious side of the story explores the differences between the Haves and the Have-Nots and how family circumstances influence a child’s life and decisions. It’s not overblown, not preachy, but does play a role in the story and readers’ will need to take it into account in how they understand and appreciate the story.

So get yourself a copy of THE FOURTH STALL and read. I know you will. How do I know? Well...

Friday, July 1, 2011

Five O'Clock Friday - Other Books

I realized recently that I do a lot of reading that doesn't end up on the website. It wasn't so much as a realization since I already knew it, but for some reason, there it was. Books get read but don't get reviewed. People ask, "Did you read such and such? I looked on the website and didn't see it."

So I thought of an idea for Help Readers Love Reading to share other books I've read that haven't been reviewed, sort of an end of the week wrap-up. Since Friday is the end of the week, and since 5:00pm seems to be the unofficial transition from week to weekend, that seems like a good time to give a weekly update of notable books I've read that may or may not get reviewed. This isn't my official reading log, just a list of books I've read that are worth a mention, maybe a sentence or two, and possibly a future review.

Over the next few weeks I'm going to catch everyone up on the first half of the year, month by month. Then it will become a summary of each week's reading. At least that's the plan.

One last thing. It's important to note what is not listed. I do a lot of reading that isn't books, stuff like Sports Illustrated (weekly) and ESPN the Magazine (biweekly). There's also blog posts, newspapers, Twitter, and various time-wasting excursions into Wikipedia, my fantasy baseball/football leagues, and YouTube (daily). And all of them (okay, excluding that last one) are reading. Just because it doesn't fit neatly onto a reading log (date, title, author, genre) doesn't make it not reading. Remember that for your students and kids.