Monday, July 17, 2017

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday – SPACED OUT by Stuart Gibbs

Stuart Gibbs is one of my favourite authors of middle grade books. I really enjoy his JUNGLE FUN mysteries as well as these MOON BASE ALPHA mysteries.
 
Description from the Publisher

There’s nowhere to hide on the world’s first moon base. After all, it’s only the size of a soccer field. So when Nina Stack, the commander of Moon Base Alpha, mysteriously vanishes, the Moonies are at a total loss.

Though he may be just twelve years old, Dashiell Gibson is the best detective they’ve got. But this confusing mystery pushes Dash to his limits. Especially since Dash accidentally made contact with an alien and has to keep it a secret. With the fate of the entire human race hanging in the balance, will Dash be able to solve the mystery of the missing Moonie?

Spaced Out: A Moon Base Alpha Novel was written by Stuart Gibbs and published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers in 2016.

Why you want to read this book… 

It’s a great mystery and a well-paced story with lots of action as well as the usual middle grade problems with bullies. I really enjoyed all the details about living in space in the excerpts from The Official Residents' Guide to Moon Base Alpha included with each chapter. I also loved all the unique elements that add to the fun of a story set in space. For example, you've probably never read a book before where a toilet is used for self-defense!

“Slopes are difficult to navigate in low gravity, even when you’re not running for your life.”


If you’re a writer… 

This is a great example of a middle grade mystery with an interesting setting. I also thought the characters were realistically portrayed, and there’s a lot of humor in the novel through the main character’s voice in this first person narration.

“One of the most unnerving things about having an alien beam herself into my brain was how abruptly she could appear.”

If you’re a teacher…

This is a great option to offer students who might be a little reluctant to read for pleasure. If you're learning about space, students could look for details in this book about life in space and do research to see if they can expand on them. A fun activity would be to try to draw their own plan of how they envision the base based on reading the book.

“Something was definitely wrong with my suit. I was losing oxygen way too fast.”


Opening Line:

“If I hadn’t made the mistake of showing Star Wars to an alien life form, I never would have ended up fighting Patton Sjoberg with the space toilet.”


Other Info:

The first book in the Moon Base Alpha series is Space Case. The next book in the series Waste of Space, is schedule for publication in April 2018. Check out the new cover and description here (I can hardly wait for this one!)

Books in the Fun Jungle series by Stuart Gibbs include Belly Up, Poached, Big Game and Panda-monium.

Stuart Gibbs also writes the Spy School series, including  Spy School, Spy Camp, Evil Spy School, Spy Ski School. Spy School Secret Service is coming in October 2017.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Learning from Picture Books – JABARI JUMPS by Gaia Cornwall

I loved this story! It’s a perfect summer read, since so many kids are facing their own swimming pool challenges at this time of year. When I read this book to my kindergarten students in June, they really enjoyed it!

Summary from the publisher:

Jabari is definitely ready to jump off the diving board. He’s finished his swimming lessons and passed his swim test, and he’s a great jumper, so he’s not scared at all. “Looks easy,” says Jabari, watching the other kids take their turns. But when his dad squeezes his hand, Jabari squeezes back. He needs to figure out what kind of special jump to do anyway, and he should probably do some stretches before climbing up onto the diving board. In a sweetly appealing tale of overcoming your fears, newcomer Gaia Cornwall captures a moment between a patient and encouraging father and a determined little boy you can’t help but root for.

Working up the courage to take a big, important leap is hard, but Jabari is almost absolutely ready to make a giant splash.

Jabari Jumps was written and illustrated by Gaia Cornwall. It was published in 2017 by Candlewick Press.

Opening:

“I’m jumping off the diving board today,” Jabari told his dad.

My Thoughts as a Writer:

This story has the kind of simple but perfect concept that many picture book writers are looking for. Most kids can relate to some kind of swimming challenge, whether putting their head under or jumping in, or, like Jabari, trying the diving board. I really loved how the author portrayed the relationship between Jabari and his dad. The support of Jabari’s family is with him, even when he’s making his own decisions.

I also loved the size of this book, the diversity of the characters and the subtle but playful use of different textures in the illustrations.

My Thoughts as a Teacher:

There's a lot of scope for lessons related to this book! I might have students make predictions about what will happen in the story, and talk about emotions and feelings based on Jabari’s actions and expressions. It would also be a great way to start a discussion about discussions about fears and strategies for coping with them, beginning with Jabari’s strategies of taking a deep breath or taking his time to think and be ready. 

Although this is probably not the intent, adults can learn a lot from this book too, in the way that Jabari’s dad calmly lets Jabari make his own decision about whether to jump or not.

Ages: 4 - 8

Grades: K - 3

Themes:  swimming, facing fears, bravery, family

Activities:

What challenges have you faced when learning something new? What did you do when you felt scared?

Think about something you are scared to try. Draw a picture to show how you might do it or write a list of steps to get past your fears.

Check out this interview with Gaia Cornwall about the book:




Monday, July 3, 2017

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday – THE GREAT TREEHOUSE WAR by Lisa Graff

I have always wanted a treehouse. Wouldn’t it make a great writing studio? I had so much fun reading this, I read it in one afternoon (on my deck, since I don’t have a treehouse, but I could pretend). 

 
Description from the publisher:

Winnie’s last day of fourth grade ended with a pretty life-changing surprise. That was the day Winnie’s parents got divorced and decided that Winnie would live three days a week with each of them and spend Wednesdays by herself in a treehouse between their houses, to divide her time perfectly evenly. It was the day Winnie’s seed of frustration with her parents was planted, a seed that grew until it felt like it was as big as a tree itself.

By the end of fifth grade, Winnie decides that the only way to change things is to barricade herself in her treehouse until her parents come to their senses—and her friends decide to join. It’s kids vs. grown-ups, and no one wants to back down first. But with ten kids in one treehouse, all with their own demands, things get pretty complicated! Even if they are having the most epic slumber party ever.

The Great Treehouse War by Lisa Graff was published by Philomel Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House, in 2017.


Why you want to read this book… 

Although the situation with Winnie’s parents and their exact schedules seemed pretty extreme, I think many kids will relate to feeling caught between two parents who aren’t getting along. And when the solution is making up your own rules and living in a treehouse – this whole scenario makes this book so much fun!

I really enjoyed the different personalities of Winne’s friends, and her cat, Buttons, but Winnie’s character and her predicament was what kept me reading to see how she would deal with her parents arguing (and not fail fifth grade!). This book also has lots of fun ‘sticky notes’ with comments from Winnie’s friends as well as ‘how-to’ instructions for different projects (e.g., making friendship bracelets).

“It turned out that having ten kids in a treehouse, without any adults to tell them what to do, was even better than Winnie could have imagined.”


If you’re a writer… 

It was really interesting to see how Lisa Graff incorporated all of Winnie’s ten friends, her parents, her uncle, her teacher and her cat into the storyline. That’s a lot of characters to worry about! The ‘sticky note’ comments help to reveal more of her friends’ personalities. A lot of humor in this story is created through the strategy of exaggeration and it’s very effective in making the story fun even though the underlying problem of feeling torn between divorced parents is a serious one.

“The book’s unlined pages seemed full of possibility, inviting Winnie to draw any doodle she wanted or tell any story that popped into her brain.”


If you’re a teacher…

This would be a great book to start discussions or projects about government and how countries are run. This might be interesting to read along with the picture books, Roxaboxen by Alice McLerran & Barbara Cooney (HarperCollins, 2004), and How to Build Your Own Country by Valerie Wyatt & Fred Rix (Kids Can Press, 2009).  I might encourage students to work in a group to create their own country, drawing designs and making up rules.

“Some folks—grown-ups, mainly—were horrified by the idea of children living in their own country, with nothing to stop them from doing whatever they wanted.”


Opening Line:

“There are a lot of things you should probably know to understand why a bunch of kids decided to climb up a treehouse and not come down.”


Other Info:

Lisa Graff is the author of several other middle grade books, such as A Tangle of Knots, A Clatter of Jars, Absolutely Almost and Double Dog Dare, among others.

Listen to an interesting interview with Lisa Graff about the book from Follett Learning #BehindtheBook

*In case you're wondering why you haven't seen any middle grade book reviews from me for a while, I've had several life-changing events happening in my life and it has been hard to find time to read any books at all. I'm excited and hopeful that I will catch up on my reading and writing this summer!