Leroy Ninker Saddles Up by Kate DiCamillo

leroy-ninker-saddles-upLeroy Ninker Saddles Up by Kate DiCamillo

7 word summary: Leroy’s new horse follows her own rules.

Fantasy.  Series (Tales from Deckawoo Drive).  Spin-off of the Mercy Watson series.  Reads well as a stand-alone novel.  Share with ages 4-9.

Deckawoo Drive is back in the spotlight and this time, Leroy Ninker takes center stage in a fully illustrated novel.  When his dream of owning a horse finally comes true, Leroy must remember three rules to take good care of the beautiful Maybelline.  But Leroy is an excited, if forgetful, cowboy, and the consequences of his actions will have readers laughing at his and Mabelline’s antics.    Van Dusen’s art shines in this charming beginner chapter book that’s one step up (reading level-wise) from DiCamillo’s award-winning Mercy Watson series.  Highly recommended.

Side note: ALA 2014 came through with a galley of this book.  I read it on the plane ride home back in June, and again to J&H when I got home, and again when it officially published by request of J-girl, and AGAIN just last weekend by request of my boy H.  This is a family favorite!


Nightingale’s Nest by Nikki Loftin


Nightingale’s Nest by Nikki Loftin

7 word summary:  Gayle’s searching for her nest and tree.

Realistic fantasy.  Stand-alone novel.  Share with ages 9+.

Little John’s spending his summer working with his dad, worrying about his mom, and trying desperately to forget.  While trimming trees, he hears the most beautiful song being sung.  In the top of a tree, in a handmade nest, is Gayle – tiny and waiflike, a foster child at the toughest house in town.  Mr. King, aka The Emperor – also hears the song and propositions Little John: get Gayle to sing for him, and he’ll earn a quick $500.  With money woes in his family, Little John ultimately agrees…but at what cost?  Realistic and fantastical, this magical story with flawed, honest characters is utterly brilliant.  The sense of creepy foreboding that Loftin builds – without one spooky reference – propels the reader toward the unexpected, uplifting ending.  It’s been a long time since I cried and cheered at the climax of this story.  This one is worth it.  Highly recommended.

Big thanks to my colleague Mr. T for the recommendation!

Absolutely Almost by Lisa Graff


Absolutely Almost by Lisa Graff

7 word summary:  Albie studies hard, but school struggles remain.

Realistic fiction.  Stand-alone novel.  Share with ages 8-13.

Albie is absolutely normal.  He goes to school, he does homework, he studies…but for him, it’s just not enough.  Albie is also almost – almost caught up with the class, almost ready to move ahead, almost old enough to not have a babysitter.  His new after-school nanny, though, believes in the strength of Albie and his overwhelmingly open look at life.  She studies with him, motivating him to keep trying amidst his parents’ frustration with his grades and his new classmates bullying of his friendship with the class outcast. Albie’s – and Graff’s – greatest strength is the honest portrayal of an average-at-best student trying to keep up in an honors-at-minimum school and world.  Highly recommended.

Thanks to Mr. T for the book recommendation!

Read-Aloud Tuesday: Sep 16, 2014

Welcome back to Read-Aloud Tuesday!  It’s my third year of reading aloud in my son’s Montessori classroom (ages 3-6), and the second year of blogging what I chose to read aloud.

As this was our first Tuesday together, I chose books that were shorter in length and had interactive elements.  Here are this week’s titles:


Count the Monkeys by Mac Barnett

The premise is simple: open the book and count the monkeys.  Easy enough, but the one king cobra has scared them off.  How to get rid of a cobra?  Two mongooses (mongeese?), of course!  This clever, interactive counting book will keep even the squirmiest children highly engaged and wondering just where the monkeys are.  Bold, colorful illustrations are a bonus.  Share with ages 3+.


Chu’s Day by Neil Gaiman

When the young panda Chu sneezes, bad things happen.  Neither dusty books nor spicy pepper sets his sneezes off, though, so his mom and dad relax.  And as readers – and parents – know, bad things happen when you least expect it.  Super short, this glimpse at a young panda’s day is brilliant for a quick read with the youngest listeners.  Abundant white space and bold illustrations will appeal to many.  Share with ages 2-5.


Piggies by Audrey Wood

Wood’s classic book introduces the Piggies, the fingers (and thumb) on the end of your hands.  The Piggies – fat, wee, tall and smart – become hot and cold, clean and dirty, offering opportunities for littles to showcase their own piggies’ movements.  Don Wood’s lush illustrations are both luminous as well as detailed, and students will want to pour over the unique, fun-loving piggies.  A winner, hands-down, for the preschool/K crowd.  Share with ages 2-6.


Where is the Green Sheep? by Mem Fox

A rainbow of sheep are seen in many situations and locations…except for the missing green sheep.  Readers are shown four types of sheep, many cleverly paired as opposites – “here is the near sheep / here is the far sheep” – but always end with the question “Where is the green sheep?”  This gentle mystery for the youngest readers can also be used for prediction: just where is the green sheep?  Observant readers will notice the helpful title page illustration, and the question on the back cover (Where would you hide if you were the green sheep?) continues the conversation.  Not to be missed: the clever wraparound cover, showcasing the rainbow of sheep minus the green sheep.  Share with ages 1-5.

Library lessons: Sep 8-12, 2014


2nd grade:

Helpful hint:  We talked throughout this story about the kindness and character of each crayon, making our ending activity both expected and achievable for all students.

Helpful tool: Handout for The Day the Crayons Quit, created by me!

4th grade:

Helpful tool: Destiny login bookmarks for students to take home!  Next week: students practice using skills taught/reviewed and make I Can statements.

Author visit with Mac Barnett!

Fact: I do not like email.

Fact: I never check my school account on days that I don’t work, including summer vacation.

Fact: The saying – never say never – exists for a reason.  Because for the first time in, well, EVER, I checked my school email over summer vacation.  And back in the beginning of August, I found a sparkling gem of an email from my local bookstore, University Bookstore, asking me if I wanted to host author Mac Barnett at my school…and if so, to email back ASAP.  First two to reply earn a visit.

Were they kidding?  YES!  Yes I wanted to host Mac Barnett – very, very much.  If you don’t recall, he was part of my fangirl experience at ALA 2014 in Vegas.  I LOVE-LOVE-LOVE his stories.  And I knew my students and teachers would love-love-love him just as much as I did.

I promptly emailed back – again, first email sent during summer – and luckily secured a visit.  Yippee!  There was one hurdle – he’d be visiting on our 10th day of school – so any lessons/units I would usually pre-teach were out the window.  But that was minor.  MAC BARNETT.  IN OUR LIBRARY.  We’d make it work!


And work it did.  Today Mac visited my 1st, 2nd, and 3rd graders.  He entertained them with his humor, charmed them with his stories, and challenged them to think with his bookcentric, interactive presentation.


We were honored to hear him share four of his books.  Count the Monkeys was an interactive, page-turning delight.  Sam and Dave Dig a Hole (out Oct 2014) gave the students a chance to think creatively about the book’s unexpected ending.  Mac’s newest, Telephone, began with a rousing rendition of Happy Book Birthday to You, as it just published six days ago.  And his upcoming Leo and the Ghost (no pub date given, and I forget the exact title…eek!) was shared after a student asked about the process of illustration within his books, as the dummy was illustrated on post-it notes.  I loved the rough illustrations on sticky notes almost as much as I loved his story – which I predict to be a very, very big hit.

Everyone walked out from the morning spent with Mac smiling, happy, and ready to read even more of his books.  And since he shared that he has at least 10 in the process of being published, I predict many students will be eagerly buying – and reading – them.


So thanks again, Mac, for an amazing morning.  Your enthusiasm for writing and genuine passion for students was apparent.  And thanks, U Bookstore, for that summer email.  I don’t know what possessed me to check it that hot August day, but I sure am glad that I did.

DSC_0027 (2)Looking for more about the books Mac shared?  Check out these book trailers!

The gift of a naked book

The week before school began, a favorite 5th grade teacher came by on my first day back in the library.  “Ms Arika!”, Mr T began, “what have you read this summer that I need to read?”  Aside from this being the best way to walk back into school, it kicked off a great conversation and ended with him giving me two books that I had yet to read: Lisa Graff’s Absolutely Almost and Nikki Loftin’s Nightingale’s Nest...without their dust jackets.


For me, this was odd.  I love a dust jacket, which may be why I prefer hardcovers to paperbacks.  I study the front and back and read everything on that protective paper: the summary on the front flap, the author bio on the back flap, promo blurbs, etc.

To be honest, I wasn’t thrilled about reading these naked books.  After taking them home, they sat for a couple of days in my book basket.  Eventually, though, the desperation for a new read got the best of me and I picked them up.  Having no reviews, no summaries, no real clue about the book from the exterior (aside from color) led me to analyze the fonts on the spines.  Based solely on the font, I decided that I’d read Absolutely Almost first, since it’s clear, letter-block font appealed to me.  Sad, yet true.  And lo and behold, it was a distinct, straightforward book.  Hmm.  A few days later, I got over my aversion to Nightingale’s Nest‘s ethereal, cursive font and read it, too.  And again, what a perfect font choice for the dreamlike, “is-this-really-happening?” story (and my current favorite chapter book of the year).

Interestingly, I didn’t seek out the covers of the books after reading.  It wasn’t until a trip to the bookstore that I walked right past both of them on display and had to do a double-take.  I hadn’t ever imagined the book covers, and I was pleasantly surprised to see how well both matched up to my font analysis.  The clear realism of Absolutely Almost’s cover was spot-on, as was the eerie fragility seen on the cover Nightingale’s Nest.

Will I read a naked book again?  Most likely.  The font was a good indicator of the style of book, but not enough of a clue that I had preconceived notions about the plot or characters.  There’s a reason the saying “Don’t judge a book by it’s cover” exits, after all, and I’m often guilty of pre-judging based on the images and design.  Chances are good that I’ll get my coverless books from Mr. T, too, as he displays the dust jackets from the newest books on the walls of his classroom, where his students have to seek them out.  Intentional or not, it’s a great way to get readers reading new books without having a good cover/bad cover internal debate.

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Oh, and if you’re wondering why I didn’t just read the CIP page to get a summary/subjects:  I wish I had a good reason, but I don’t.  I just know that it felt right to read the books the way I did.