Saturday, June 30, 2007

The Boys of San Joaquin by D. James Smith

I must admitted I read this book in the wrong order. I found it only after finding the sequel titled Probably the World's Best Story About a Dog and the Girl Who Loved Me.
Either way, they are both great books and it didn't seem to matter too much reading it in a different order. So, back to the book at hand The Boys of San Joaquin by D. James Smith.
In this book we are introduced to the main character Paolo O'Neil and his unique family. The story takes place in 1951 which also makes the novel unique. Paolo has 6 sisters and 3 brothers, but he also lives with his cousin, Billy who is deaf. Not only are there all these children but he also has an uncle living in his house. Paolo's mother is Italian and he describes his father as an "Old Testament father" who came to California from the mountains of Appalachia when he was 16.
This book was particularly entertaining because it is somewhat like a mystery and very humorous. I can picture any 12 year old sounding just like Paolo especially when he states in the very first paragraph "I have a reputation for stretching things toward the interesting." Another aspect of this book which I loved was the Italian grandfather. My husband's family is Italian and I had a great vision of "Grandfather" in my mind as I read. There are even several Italian phrases that I could check out with my father-in-law as I read.
A few times I had to check with the computer on some of the historical references, but I am proud to announce, they all checked out. :)
P.S. Do not miss the beginning where Paolo explains "Who's in my story" it makes the reading easier in the long run.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Fair Weather by Richard Peck

So, I was having trouble going backwards and remembering books I have read this summer so I am going to go with the books I have read most recent. I will start with Fair Weather by Richard Peck.
GREAT BOOK! This book has been on my shelf for quite awhile. I have no idea why I never read it before, but that is beside the point. I have recently gotten into reading books by Peck. I really love his style and Fair Weather is no exception.
Being that I also teach Social Studies, I really liked the historical aspects of Fair Weather. However, they may not fit anywhere in my fifth grade curriculum. The book focuses on the year 1893 and the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago. As I have mentioned before, I do not like to give away a plot. What I especially enjoy about this book is the main characters who are country bumpkins, teenage girls, and sisters. I also took note of the fact that the novel intertwines a fictional family with historical characters as if they actually interacted.
To me, I picked up a strong theme of women's liberation. But as you can imagine in 1893, the United States was still very much a man's world.
This book may be lost on fifth grade students. Perhaps with a little decoding, a lot of historical explanation, and for sure reading aloud; I can't believe anyone couldn't enjoy the story.
NOTE: Be sure to check out the Author's Note at the end for some very interesting information.

Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life by Wendy Mass

The very first book I read this summer was Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life by Wendy Mass. What a great book to begin with! I didn't take good notes on this book, because I wasn't thinking ahead to the future, so I am going to do this from what I can remember.
What struck me first about this book is the fact that it has a boy main character but... he has a best friend who is a girl. This is helpful because it leaves no one out when trying to get students interested. I hate to give away the premise or plot of any book, so I am not. Basically Jeremy the main character's father passed away when he was 8 (?). Mysteriously right before his 13 birthday he receives a box containing a present from his dad to be opened on his 13th birthday. The box claims to hold the Meaning of Life. To further complicate this mystery the box takes four keys to open, and of course they are all missing. The story unfolds as Jeremy and his friend, Lizzy go on a quest to find the keys to open the box. In the meantime they are actually unraveling the mystery of the Meaning of Life.
I would recommend this book for students at the end of sixth grade or the beginning of seventh grade. Some of the ideas would be way over the head of my fifth grade students. But I can see 12/13 year olds relating to most everything about this book. I did shed a tear or two in the end. Okay- I was bawling. I hate to mention something bad about this book but I am going to anyway. The book was a bit long. Some of the plot could have been shaved down so as not to lose the meaning of the book, in my opinion. But then again... I didn't write the book.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

First Try

So everyone's doing it... thought I would try it out. I have done a ton of summer reading to prepare myself for the next school year. If you are anything like me, you like to hear what other's are reading as a springboard for yourself. I will go back and look through my notes and then write a blog for each of the books I have read so far.