Book Reviews

Massachusetts Children’s Book Award: Part 1

You may remember that sometime during the summer I talked about the Massachusetts Children’s Book Award list and how I was going to read all the books before school started so I could book talk them.

I gave up on that plan because I came up with a new! and improved! plan. Instead of booktalking them all in one fell swoop, I read the first chapter or two of one book from the list to the fourth and fifth grade classes each week during the last ten or fifteen minutes of the class period.

This, my friends, has been a giant, GIANT success. I am ridiculously pleased with how it’s turned out so far.

I started out with Swindle (I read through all your comments on the post in an effort to find the best book to start with) and oh. my. word. I have never had so many kids ask for a copy of a book. I could have owned twenty copies (the library has one) and it wouldn’t have been enough. It was fantastic.

Although none of the books that have followed have been quite as popular, all of them have had a generally positive response, and I’ve had multiple students ask for copies of each book. I read them on my own in an effort to stay at least a book or so ahead of where they are, so thus far I’ve read eight of the books of the list.

I have to say, though, by the time I read whatever book it is to the eleventh class of the week, I’m pretty ready to move on. My voice is also ready for the weekend. Shall have vocal cords of steel by the end of the school year. Or I will be rendered completely mute.

Swindle by Gordon Korman. This book has it all. Every single kid has loved this book. It’s about a boy, Griffin, who finds a baseball card in an abandoned house and then sells it to a dealer who swears it’s a fake and is only worth about $120. The next day, the dealer is on television boasting about how the card will probably bring over a million dollars at auction. Clearly, Griffin has no choice but to steal back the card. It’s funny, fast-paced, clever, and just plain likable. I found myself grinning in my office as I finished it up.

Feathers by Jacqueline Woodson. I haven’t read this one to my classes yet and I’ll probably put it off until the end because, frankly, I’m not sure how much kid appeal this book will have. It didn’t have much Janssen appeal, at least. I read this one a few months ago before school started and frankly, I had to look at the blurb to even remember what happened in the book. I vaguely recalled it dealt with race relations in the seventies, but beyond that, it was kind of a blur.

How to Steal a Dog by Barbara O’Connor. This one went over surprisingly well. The main girl is living out of a car with her family and is desperate to have a home again. When she sees a $500 reward sign for a dog, she comes up with the brilliant idea to steal a rich person’s dog, wait for a reward to be offered, and then return the dog. Oh MY, do the students love this idea. If there is a plethora of dog thefts in the area around my school, it’ll all be my fault. Not my very favorite book, but good enough and a pretty good read-aloud.

The Lemonade War by Jacqueline Davies. A brother and sister end up in the same grade when the sister skips a grade, much to the brother’s fury. They end up sort of accidentally challenging each other to see who can make the most in lemonade sales before school starts and they do some pretty mean things to each other in order to win. Also, the ending of this book made me want to pull out my hair. I haven’t read this one yet, but the kids keep asking about the title, so I think it’ll be coming up soon. And I think they’ll like it.

Araminta Spookie 1: My Haunted House by Angie Sage and illustrated by Jimmy Pickering. This has the lowest reading level of any of the books off the list so far, which I think will be really good for some of the kids struggling a bit. Plus, I think they’ll just love the story of a haunted house, complete with ghosts, talking suits of armour . I’ll probably read this one next week for Halloween.

Billy the Fish by Charlie James and illustrated by Ned Jolliffe. This book was the second one I read aloud and while it didn’t get the wild reception that Swindle did, the kids seemed to really enjoy it. Ned’s little brother Billy eats some experimental fish food and turns into a fish (he can change back into a boy with relative ease, too). I thought it started out quite well, but I was totally rolling my eyes by the end. It just became progressively more stupid. I need some kids to finish it up so they can tell me if they loved it or if they agreed with me.

The London Eye Mystery by Siobhan Dowd. I listened to this one on CD months before I saw this list and I think the narrator kind of ruined it for me. It was fine, but not great. The main character has Asperberg’s Syndrome and I’ll be interested to see what my students make of that.

Elijah Of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis.This book made me insane. It was going along on plot line A and then suddenly, twenty pages from the end, introduced plot line B and solved the problems introduced there, completely abandoning plot line A. This did not win my heart. The story is about the first free born boy in a little all-black community in Canada in the nineteenth century.

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  • Reply Heather October 22, 2009 at 11:38 am

    Haven't read any of these yet – so glad you could hook your readers.

    Would you consider drinking herb tea w/honey for your voice?

  • Reply Packrat October 22, 2009 at 11:53 am

    Wow. You are amazingly organized.

  • Reply Tina's Blog October 22, 2009 at 1:26 pm

    I am anxious to hear what you have to say about The Lemonade War. I read it this summer….we'll just leave it at that until I hear your thoughts. Iowa has the Iowa Childrens Choice Award books and The Lemonade War is on our list this year, too.

  • Reply Lisa October 22, 2009 at 2:38 pm

    So are you reading the whole book or just the first chapter to them? How do you decide who gets to take your library copy home?

    Brilliant idea, you're an awesome librarian. I loved my elementary librarian as well as the middle school one, but the high school one and I never clicked.

  • Reply Ashley and Danny G October 22, 2009 at 9:42 pm

    My comment has nothing to do with your post – I just wanted you to know I thoroughly enjoy reading your blog. It's so fun! As an avid reader it's useful – but is also such FUN! You really brighten my day and make me smile – thanks for that! And, I'm so glad to see a former HS friend doing so well in life!

  • Reply Peaceful Reader October 23, 2009 at 3:55 pm

    Great idea-reading snippets to them-teasing them with the first part of a book!! Might have to borrow this idea. Many of your MA award choices are on our Iowa children's choices as well. I did like Elijah and use it with one of my book clubs.

  • Reply The Food Librarian October 24, 2009 at 6:20 pm

    What a fantastic idea! The kids are lucky to have you as their librarian! – mary

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