Thursday, October 10, 2013

Maine Student Book Awards 2013-14 Post Two

Several weeks ago I shared my thoughts on 5 of the MSBA 13-14 titles.  Click here to see that post. 

 Today I will discuss ONe nonfiction and 4 fantasy books from the MSBA list that I have read. 

Giant Squid
by Mary Cerullo

The Goodreads summary states that this book "Describes the science of the giant squid and the challenges in finding and learning about this cephalopod". This is a bit over simplified in my opinion.  This book chronicles oceanographer, Clyde Roper's multi-decade quest to find and study the elusive giant squid. 

My Thoughts
Let me start by saying that this is not my favorite genre.  I struggle with expository nonfiction.  The book is very well written and reflects years of hard work.  The text is accompanied with real photographs.  Clyde Roper is a wonderful model of showing perseverance as he continues his quest after many setbacks. Since I teach 4th grade, I tend to look at books through the lens of a 4th grader. I do think the text is a bit too dense for most 4th graders to handle independently, but I can see some older students really getting into it.  I would recommend it for grades 6-8.  

Always October
by Bruce Coville
384 Pages

Goodreads Summary
No doubt about it, little brothers can be monsters. When sixth grader Jake Doolittle finds a baby on the doorstep and his mother decides to keep it, those words are more than just an expression. Instead, they perfectly describe the way his new little brother, LD, sprouts pointy ears, thick fur, and fangs in moonlight.

My Thoughts
I really enjoyed reading this book.  It combines a setting in the "real world" and the fantasy, monster-filled world of Always October.  Jake's quest to keep his new little brother safe inside and outside of Always October is suspense-filled with just the right amount of scary to make it a page-turner.  It is a story that 4th graders will enjoy, but at 384 pages it is very long.  My 6th grader is reading it now and loving it. 

Horten's Miraculous Mechanisms
by Lissa Evans
272 Pages
Fantasy (1st in series)

Goodreads Summary
Enter a wonderful world filled with real magic, mystery … and danger.
As if being small for his age and also having S. Horten as his name isn't bad enough, now 10-year-old Stuart is forced to move far away from all his friends. But on his very first day in his new home, Stuart's swept up in an extraordinary adventure: the quest to find his great-uncle Tony--a famous magician who literally disappeared off the face of the earth--and Tony's marvelous, long-lost workshop.  Along the way, Stuart reluctantly accepts help from the annoying triplets next door… and encounters trouble from another magician who's also desperate to get hold of Tony's treasures.
A quirky, smart, charming page-turner, Horten's Miraculous Mechanisms will enchant young readers--as well as teachers, librarians, and parents.

My Thoughts
I was drawn right into this story as an adult reader.  There is a great amount of mystery surrounding Stuart's Uncle Tony's disappearance and Stuart is determined to find out what happened. Although most of the book is a work of fantasy, the fantastical elements do not overpower the story.  With 272 pages, no pictures to support the text and some slower moving parts, I think this one is best done as a read aloud for most 4th graders.  In my opinion, this one is better suited for grade 5 through middle school.

by Mark Fearing
Fantasy, Graphic Novel

Goodreads Summary
Every kid worries about making friends at a new school, but when nine-year-old Bud accidentally catches the wrong bus and finds himself launched into deep space, new friends are the least of his problems! At Cosmos Academy, Bud learns that Earthlings are the most feared creatures in the galaxy, and even Earth's location has been hidden! With the help of his new friend, Gort, Bud goes undercover as a Tenarian exchange student. Unfortunately that means everyone thinks he's a pro at anti-gravity Zero-Ball (even though he's really only a pro at watching sports). And with paranoid Principal Lepton threatening to expel any Earthlings (into outer space) and only Gort's hacked Blip computer to help them determine Earth's co-ordinates, will Bud ever find his way home?

My Thoughts
This book will appeal to kids in 4th and 5th grade who love fantasy and graphic novels. It is not a difficult read and is one of the most "accessible" books on the list.  Your struggling 4th graders should be able to read this one without a ton of help. For me it was just ok.  This kind of fantasy and format is not really my thing.  But, kids will like it. 

The Last Dragon Slayer
by Jasper Fforde
Fantasy (1st in series)

Goodreads Summary
In the good old days, magic was indispensable—it could both save a kingdom and clear a clogged drain. But now magic is fading: drain cleaner is cheaper than a spell, and magic carpets are used for pizza delivery. Fifteen-year-old foundling Jennifer Strange runs Kazam, an employment agency for magicians—but it’s hard to stay in business when magic is drying up. And then the visions start, predicting the death of the world’s last dragon at the hands of an unnamed Dragonslayer. If the visions are true, everything will change for Kazam—and for Jennifer. Because something is coming. Something known as . . . Big Magic.

My Thoughts
This is one of my favorites (so far).  I just loved the concept of a magical world where everyone has a different type of magical talent (or none at all) and seeing how that would is managed. I also like that the protagonist is a girl. I would give it to my more advanced 4th graders who love books like Harry Potter.  I would expect students in late elementary through grade 8 would enjoy this book most. 


  1. Thanks for the recommendations! I just requested The Last Dragonslayer and Always October from our loval library - they sound like books my kids would love!

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