Thursday, August 30, 2012

Saving Zasha

A Mini Review of Saving Zasha by Randi Barrow
Ages 10-14 (Scholastic Press)

Saving Zasha is another book on the Maine Student Book Award  List (MSBA) for 2012-13.

This book is set in Russia just after WWII.  At this time, most of the dogs in the country have died due to disease, starvation and the war in general.  One day 13 year old Mikhail happens upon a dying man not far from his home.  The man has a dog with him, a German Shepard.  This dog was the most beautiful dog Mikhail, or anyone else, had ever seen.  However, having a German Shepherd at the time was considered close to traitorous.  Even though dogs were scarce, Russian soldiers had been known to shoot German Shepherds because of their hatred of Germans.  
Mikhail takes the man and his dog, Zasha, back to his house where the man soon dies.  Mikhail, his older brother, younger sister and mother try to hide the dog from others in order to keep her safe (his father has not returned from the war and there is no word of his whereabouts).  
Hiding Zasha proves challenging due to a nosy neighbor who wants a dog of her own and dog snatchers that want to steal dogs to sell. 
While any dog lover will be touched by Saving Zasha, some background knowledge of WWII and the time period is helpful to understand the details in the story.  
Though the ending is a bit abrupt, it still ties things up nicely for the reader.  Because of it's references to violence and some mistreatment of animals, I would not recommend Saving Zasha for students under 5th grade. 

Thursday, August 23, 2012

A Mini Review of True...(Sort of) by Katherine Hannigan

Each summer, I try to read as many books on the Maine Student Book Award list as I can.  Here is one I enjoyed very much and recommend highly.

 True...(Sort of) by Katherine Hannigan  Ages 9-13
Mini Summary

True for will love Delly and her "Dellyventures" (she uses so many Dellyisms that there is a "Dellyictionary" in the back of the book). Where there's Delly, trouble is not far behind.  At 11 years old, Delly has been in trouble so often that it has become her identity.  Nearly everyone has given up on her and she is close to being expelled from school.  Finally, when she thinks her mother is giving up on her, she decides to try to stay out of trouble. That's when she starts to befriend the new girl, Ferris Boyd.  

Ferris is very nearly Delly's complete opposite. She is shy and does not speak at all.  And although the children don't understand why,  Ferris can not stand to be touched.  Through her patient persistence, Delly gets Ferris to trust her and they become friends. Delly manages to stay out of trouble for weeks, party because she is spending every day after school with Ferris.  Delly has finally made her first friend.  

But Delly is not the only one who is becoming friends with Ferris.  Brud Kinney, a young boy who wants to be a great basketball player, has been playing basketball with Ferris every Sunday for weeks.  Ferris is the best basketball player he has ever seen and he loves play with her although he loses every time. Brud also assumes Ferris is a boy and is quite surprised when he finds out otherwise. Delly is forced to deal with her jealousy when she finds out that Ferris has another special friend. 

The story takes a sad turn when Delly suspects that something bad is happening to her friend Ferris at home.  She is forced to make some really tough decisions in order to help her friend.  

This book deals with some tough topics such as bullying, fitting in, jealousy and child abuse.  By sharing her inner thoughts, Delly gives us a look into how a child with behavior difficulties might be feeling.  I enjoyed this book so much that I plan to read it to my fourth grade class later this year.  Although the topic of abuse is sad, scary and uncomfortable, I feel the lesson learned from the choices Delly makes to help her friend is well worth exploring. 

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Back Story Sad, But True- Part Two

Continued from last post...

I managed to graduate from college with a degree in special education (the fact that I was ill-prepared to teach reading is another topic altogether).

It wasn't until I was about 24 years old that I started to read for enjoyment.  I can't remember what I started reading, but I found that I LOVED it.  I was so surprised, excited and, well ANGRY!  Yes I was so furious that I had missed out on all those books growing up.  Just imagine all the children's books that I did not read.   So I have been making up for lost time reading children's books constantly (and slipping in a few grown-up books in between). I am now the type of reader who is never without a book.  The type that loses sleep because I just need to read one more chapter. 

After I finally learned how to teach reading. I became almost obsessed with making sure my students had access to great books and a teacher who was over-the-moon excited about them.  It has become my passion to make sure that every child leaves my fourth grade class feeling smart and loving to read.  I don't want a single child to have to wait, like me, or worse to never become a reader. 

Monday, August 20, 2012

The Back Story Sad, But True- Part One

Welcome to my new book blog.  I started it because it is my passion to connect children with books they will love in hopes of creating lifelong readers.  I plan to use this blog to review and recommend books for children and discuss successful literacy activities from my fourth grade classroom.

But let's start with how I came up with the blog name.
I was indeed a late reading "bloomer".  I did not start reading for enjoyment until I was in my mid twenties.

As a child I remember feeling smart, but I had a difficult time learning how to read.  I was the kind of kid who would read a page and have no idea what happened.  In third grade, my teachers tried to help me by placing me in the lowest level reading group to read our basal readers.  I remember the day that I was demoted from the middle reading group to the lowest group.  That was the day I learned that I was not smart and I was not expected to succeed (at least that is how my third grade self felt).

So I accepted my fate and continued through elementary school on my path of mediocrity.  I have brief glimmers of enjoyable reading experiences during this time.  I loved when our teacher or librarian read to us.  Our school librarian read Ticki Ticki Tembo by Arlene Mosel to us and I loved it so much that now it is one of my favorite picture books to read to my students.

In school I read because I HAD to.  I do not remember any teacher showing me that reading could be enjoyable or suggesting any great books for me.  

To make a long story short, I finished school and barely squeaked into college.  All the while I still never read for any reason other than to do my assignments and I was training to become a TEACHER!  How would I ever be able to inspire my students to read?