Patricia Polacco part 4

I’m slowly working towards my goal of reading all of the Patricia Polacco books in the school library. I read 4 more today and loved them.

Luba and the Wren is a folktale about a girl who shows kindness to a wren and receives a wish in return. Luna does not see a need to wish for anything but her parents want a bigger house a more fertile land. Luba makes the wish but then her parents want more. This happens enough times that her parents become Emperor and Empress of the world and decide that they should be as gods. Luba sadly makes the wish and is pleasantly surprised at how “gods” live. This book has beautiful illustrations of the traditional homes and clothing in Ukraine.

Mrs. Mack is the true story of Polacco’s childhood summers learning to ride and care for horses. She learns a lot about people in the process. 

When Lightning Comes In a Jar is another sweet story from Polacco’s childhood. I’m in awe of the tradition and love Polacco’s family shared and still shares. Polacco is from the same generation as my parents and I have to wonder if lack of technology made the difference. Visiting family is something I love but often the kids crowd around an iPhone or Gameboy instead of asking for stories from Great-Grandma.

January’s Sparrow is a story of a slave family that chooses to use the Underground Railroad to find freedom in the North. They find a little piece of happiness in Michigan but have to be vigilant in case the paddy rollers come for them. The story comes to a climax when the family realizes just how many people from their community, both black and white, believe in and are willing to fight for freedom.

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Patricia Polacco part 3

Today I read 4 of Patricia Polacco‘s books. They were, as always, beautiful, sweet and funny.

Bun Bun Button is a sweet story about a little girl and her grandma. Grandma makes her a cute little bunny and Paige, the little girl, takes it everywhere. One day Paige ties the bunny to a helium balloon and the worst thing possible happens, she loses her grip on the string. Grandma can only comfort her by saying that their family has always been lucky. Bun Bun Button does find his way home and Paige and Grandma have to wonder if it was luck or love that helped him get back to Paige.

Polacco has written some great stories about her own family, and her brother Richie is no exception. Like most sisters, Patricia thought her brother was the worst, most awful boy in existence, and yet, when she needed him, Richie was always there for her.

Unfortunately, bullying is a part of growing up. Lyla is new to her school and despite finding a great friend named Jamie, she really wants to be popular and fit in with the cool girls. Things seem to be going her way, but part of being friends with the cool girls means hiding her friendship with Jamie. Lyla has a good heart though, and chooses to stop being their friend after she witnesses them using Facebook to bully classmates. Lyla becomes the target of the bullies after the state testing where she scores the highest. She is accused of cheating and no one in school will talk to her. Jamie is able to help solve the mystery of who really cheated and even helps locate the anonymous online bullies. Lyla, thankfully,has a true friend to stand beside her.

Bully really struck a chord with me. Lyla’s father tells her, “Think about it, Lyla: in order for people like Gage’s candle to burn brighter, she has to blow out yours.” A few years ago my daughter had a similar issue with a friend in TaeKwonDo. The girls were working hard on their second degree blackbelts when word reached my daughter that her friend was telling everyone that she (my daughter) did not deserve the opportunity to test with the rest of the students. Thankfully, both girls got their belts and have mended their friendship. I always remind my kids not to measure their self worth against anyone else. Life is too short to spend outdoing others when you can only do your best.

True Stories

It has become habit to bring a stack of books home with me on Friday to read over the weekend. While most of this weekend’s stack come from Patricia Polacco, I also brought two books based on true stories. I often read books like this to second and third graders.

While doing inventory I found When Esther Morris Headed West in the picture books. I re-catalogued it to go in the 320s of nonfiction with the other books on Women’s Suffrage. I had heard that Wyoming was the first state to give women the right to vote but that was the extent of what I knew about this progressive state’s history of equality. Esther felt that having the right to vote and hold office was useless unless women actually exercised those rights. Not only did Esther vote, she also ran for Justice of the Peace and won! Esther served a term as judge and did well considering she did not have an education in law. Esther’s work, along with many other women and men in Wyoming made the whole territory proud to offer equality–so much so that they were willing to be passed over for statehood.

I think Esther Morris would be a perfect figure for the third grade wax museum. I can picture one young lady who would embrace this opportunity; she is always outraged to hear how life was for women before they received the same rights as men in America.

Mercedes and the Chocolate Pilot is based on the true story of the Allied air bridge to West Berlin during the first years of the Cold War. Russian blockades would have left the West Berliners starving and freezing but heroic pilots from Britain, France and America flew in supplies nonstop for 15 months. One American pilot,  Lt. Gail Halverson, was extremely kind to the children in West Berlin and began dropping candy with tiny handkerchief parachutes for them. Mercedes and her mother are struggling to survive and hoped that one of those magical pieces of candy will brighten their world. Lt. Halverson could not pinpoint Mercedes home exactly so he sent candy to her through the mail (he did this more than once with other children). The candy worked it’s magic for Mercedes. 22 years later, Colonel Halverson returned to Berlin to be in command at the air force base. He accepted a dinner invitation from a Berlin family who turned out to be Mercedes and her family. She still had his letter and was so excited to have the man who helped the city’s children in her home.
If Colonel Halverson has passed away, he would be ideal for our wax museum (curriculum standards say the historic figure must be American and no longer living.) His generosity to a city of children he didn’t even know went far beyond his duties as a pilot. His work in Berlin helped create the Little Vittles organization that is still in action today. The  organization has delivered candy to Bosnia and Kosovo, just to name a couple.

Everyone has to have faith in something.

I’ve just finished the last book in the Anybodies series by N.E. Bode. Bode is a pen name for the author Julianna Baggott. I didn’t post about the second book, The Nobodies before but here’s a brief summary:

Fern and Howard are off to summer camp! But not just any camp, it’s an Anybodies camp. Unfortunately, the blind driver of the camp bus should have clued them in that it wasn’t going to go as they hoped. Fern has a terrible counselor and the girls in her cabin don’t seem to like her. There is also the whole issue of a sinister mole threatening the Anybodies. And to make things even weirder, Fern starts finding messages in bottles from a mysterious group who call themselves The Nobodies. 

Fern and Howard are going to need to learn to work together, and become as close as sister and brother to solve this mystery.

We rejoin Fern and Howard once school has started back up. Unfortunately, they have been put with the worst teacher possible. After a run in with the teacher the Drudgers decide to put the kids in military school! Fern and Howard do the only thing they can and run away to the city beneath the city–a hidden city where Anybodies can live freely. Fern didn’t know it until now but there was an usurper to the Anybodies’ throne named the Blue Queen when Fern was a baby. She’s back and bent on taking the throne away from Fern in the vilest way possible. Fern has to find what it is inside of her that makes her the best ruler for the Anybodies, good thing she has Howard. And a tiny purple pony.


I’ve enjoyed these books a lot. I’m excited that my 10 year old daughter has picked up the first book! I do own the only other book that Boggartt has written under the Bode name:

Here’s what her site says about it:

A novel for younger readers about a boy being raised in a nunnery who falls into an Imagined Other World.

It’s going on my To-Read list!

Don’t Judge a Book By Its CoverĀ 

Or maybe you should. I am often in awe of the amazing artwork that is used for books. If it didn’t matter, wouldn’t the title just be printed in block letters?

But sometimes, covers just end up weird. For example, today I was sorting the unused dust jackets for future use–I often use them as topical decoration in the school library. I have years worth and I sometimes inherit them from other teachers. As such, sometimes I have a jacket but no longer have the book. Today I found one like that.

There is nothing wrong with this book, and I’m sure it has a place in most libraries…but I am disturbed by both the title and the illustration. I’m just not feeling it. 

Now for the weirdest cover I’ve seen in my library:

It’s probably a great book. The Berenstains write fabulous stories that teach morals and family friendly lessons. But I just can’t get past that creepy guy on the cover.

What can I say? I’ve got a warped sense of humor and little things amuse me. For more weird books you should visit awfullibrarybooks.net.

A Dragon’s Guide to the Care and Feeding of Humans

On a whim today I grabbed a short book to read while my junior blackbelt daughter helped teach a TaeKwonDo class. I have had A Dragon’s Guide to the Care and Feeding of Humans by Laurence Yep on my To-Read list for awhile but hadn’t gotten to it yet for one reason or another.

It’s not a long book, only 152 pages, but it was a fun read! Miss Drake is mourning the loss of her pet Fluffy when Winnie saunters into her life. Winnie is the great-niece of Amelia, a.k.a. Fluffy. Winnie isn’t the type that Miss Drake would have chosen for herself, and despite grumpy himts to that effect, Winnie wins her over and proves to be a fabulous companion.

I read this in one afternoon and now I’m wishing I had the rest of the series on hand. A Dragon’s Guide to Making Your Human Smarter is out now but I don’t have it at school yet. There is also a third book coming soon, I think it was something about helping your student make the correct wish, I saw a preorder for it on one of my librarian sites. I think I’ll do my best to get my hands on those books before my book budget resets after summer.

Folklore Fun

This evening my girls had TaeKwonDo so I decided to do some reading while they were inside.

I started off with some folktales adapted by Eric A. Kimmel.

The story is similar to old stone soup stories but with a cactus thorn. This book had really gorgeous illustrations by Phil Huling.


I also read Boots and His Brothers by Kimmel.

I randomly chose a few other titles to read as well:

A very Rumplestiltskin-esque Duffy and the Devil by Harve and Margot Zemach. (That’s a Caldecott Award.)

Fat Gopal, a tale from Jacquelin Singh and illustrated by Demi (beautiful pictures!)

And finally, one of my friend Raynette’s all-time favorite books, books Jack the Giant Chaser by Kenn and Joanne Compton. This familiar story is retold with the Appalachian mountains as the setting.

Probably my favorite book of the day was Cactus Soup. I love Kimmel’s adaptations and Huling’s artwork fit the story perfectly.

Eight Keys

One of my favorite books for kids getting ready to move from a small school to a larger school (6th to 7th or at our school, 4th to 5th) is Eight Keys by Suzanne LaFleur.


Elise is an interesting girl. Her best friend Franklin lives next door to her and they are inseparable. She lives with her Aunt and Uncle because her mom died when Elise was born and her dad got cancer a few years later.

Things are getting confusing for Elise as she starts at a much larger middle school, becomes the target of a bully on the very first day of school. Elise doesn’t handle every problem perfectly, but what kid would? Elise forgets the value of true friends and has to deal with the consequences.

The title of the book has to do with a wonderful gift her father left for her with instructions that she start finding the keys when she is old enough and ready. The memories and stories unlocked by the keys help Elise realize who she is and who she wants to be.

LaFleur has other great titles, and I purchased Love Aubrey for the school library this year. I haven’t read it but the students who have say that it is both wonderful and sad.

Mockingbird

I usually try not to post about a book I haven’t finished with, but I knew I wanted to write about the book Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine.


Caitlin is a 5th grade student who has Aspergers. She is intelligent and extremely artistic, but she struggles with social situations. Sadly, Caitlin’s community has recently suffered a school shooting. A young teacher, a female student and Caitlin’s brother died in the tragedy. Through the course of the story Caitlin meets the child of the young teacher and has to deal with the cousin of one of the shooters.

Caitlin works very hard to understand the people around her, but people and their emotions are very confusing. Her counselor is trying to get her to make friends to help her deal with the world around her, especially now that Devon is gone.

Caitlin starts off the story as seeming as if she doesn’t understand anything, but gradually the story shifts and it becomes obvious how wise Caitlin is.  Listening to Caitlin’s story makes me realize that the things that make her special and different make her far more adept at life than many “normal” people. 

I’ve been reading and listening to a lot of stories about amazing children. I’m hoping that when I recommend these to my students they can gain new perspective that will benefit them in years to come.

I found a great quote from the book online:

The Last Tsar

I’ve always been intrigued by the tragic story of Tsar Nicholas II and his family’s fate after the Communist Revolution in Russia. The years leading up to the takeover were full of odd events as well. I’d read enough online about the enigmatic figure of Rasputin and his relationship with Tsaritsa Aleksandra to be excited when I came across Robert Alexander‘s Rasputin’s Daughter.


I had never realized that Rasputin had any family. I had always pictured him as a villain and so I was surprised to find his daughter a character I could sympathize for.

I decided that since Rasputin’s Daughter was so well researched and written that I would continue reading Alexander’s books. Next I read The Romanov Bride.


This book follows the story of Elisavyeta (or Ella), sister of the tsaritsa Aleksandra, who also married a member of the Romanov family. But this story takes place as the Communist Revolution is building momentum and Ella’s fairytale life isn’t spared from immense changes.

The final book I read by Alexander is considered a Young Adult title. It’s The Kitchen Boy. This book was the shortest but was definitely my favorite.


I can’t help but think that the family knew their time was drawing short. They still managed to hold themselves with dignity and keep their family ties strong in the face of their less than generous captors and guards. Alexander told this story in a way that makes you believe you know the narrator’s identity until a plot twist at the end.

The Russian people of course have a different perspective on this tumultuous time in their history than I do, as I’m only an outsider looking in. Robert Alexander did spend a lot of time researching his books and are well worth the read. While we may not be able to point to a definitive “better” choice between the Tsars and the Communists, we should learn from these tragic events so that they need not be repeated.

FYI: a mass grave was uncovered in the Russian wilderness that contained the remains of Tsar Nicholas’ family and staff, but the bodies of the two youngest children were missing. Later a pyre was discovered with the remains of the children. The woman who eventually settled in America claiming to be Grand Duchess Anastasia was genetically proven to be unrelated to the family.