Monthly Archives: September 2009

Graceling and Fire

GracelingfireLast year many of my students loved Graceling by Kristin Cashore. The sequel, which actually is a prequel, Fire comes out on October 5. Jen Robinson’s Book Page has an excellent in-depth book review for Fire which appears to be every bit as good as Graceling.



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Filed under 9-12 Grade, boys, Enjoyable for parents, Fantasy & Other Worlds, girls

Getting Boys Into Reading Blog by Trevor Cairney

We just found a great blog post for those of you interested in getting boys into reading through non-fiction. Trevor Cairney has a great blog with info for parents and teachers. He is Master of New College and Adjunct Professor of Education at the University of New South Wales in Sydney. Yay Australia.

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Filed under boys, Non-Fiction

The Whipping Boy

The Whipping Boy by Sid Fleischman

The Whipping Boy

The Whipping Boy

I’ve adopted an orphan who I spank and punish every time my children misbehave. That way my children can learn something is wrong, but the only pain they suffer is one of sympathy. I’m kidding, of course. However, that is the basic premise of the book, The Whipping Boy by Sid Fleischman.

Whipping boys
existed in the 15th and 16th centuries because the Divine Right of Kings decreed that to punish a prince would be the same as heresy. The whipping boys were usually actually of noble birth and quite close with the prince so that, in theory, the prince would care when their friends were beaten for their own misdeeds. In the Newberry award winning The Whipping Boy, by Sid Fleischman, the whipping boy is instead an orphan of a rat catcher. The prince feels no sympathy towards the boy, is quite mischievous, and is only disappointed when his whipping boy does not cry when he is beaten. The royal rapscallion is so bored he decides to run away and drags his very reluctant whipping boy along with him. What follows is a romp of an adventure where the boys outwit kidnappers, escape through sewers and befriend pretty young bear tamers. This small book (89 pp) has the perfect children’s story arc with the prince eventually learning what friendship means and he and the whipping boy living happily ever after. I recommend this book for any age that can read at this level (4th grade reading level) as the ‘danger’ is all silly and fun.

– Jessica Wheeler

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Filed under 3-5 Grade, Advanced Read, boys, Classics, Enjoyable for parents, Historical Fiction

The Willoughbys by Lois Lowry

The Willoughbys

The Willoughbys

The Willoughbys by Lois Lowry

I have witnesses.  Georgia has hated sarcasm since pre-school.  It drives her crazy when people say the exact opposite of what they mean.  Unfortunately, we are perhaps excessively sarcastic in our family.  So, if you come over, it is common to hear Georgia say, “How many times do I have to tell you that I don’t like sarcasm?”  Frequently, I will respond and say, “I’m not being sarcastic, I’m being facetious.”  There is an important difference.  Being facetious is the act of treating serious issues with deliberately inappropriate humor.  The Willoughbys by Lois Lowry is not sarcastic, it is facetious.  And, it is wonderful.  Our whole family loved it.

It is the story of an old fashioned family where the parents really don’t like their children and would love to get rid of them.  At the same time, the children realize all the great stories are about orphans, and are certain they would have a significantly better life if their parents died in some terrible accident while traveling.  I’m not doing a good job of describing this book here, because I’m telling you – it is laugh out loud funny.  If your child loved the Lemony Snicket series, I think they would also enjoy this book.  And, here is the best part – it has a happy ending.  Facetious and feel-good, what more could you ask for?

Even though it appears to have dark themes, it is not violent or graphic and I would recommend it for read aloud to children as young as 2nd grade.  I think the humor is perfectly targeted at 4th graders on up.  It also has some great vocabulary words such as bilious (about to vomit or extremely unpleasant to look at) and or odious (something hateful or disgusting).  Thankfully there is a glossary in the back of the book, so when your child calls you irascible you can feel comfortable that they are using it correctly.

– Jessica Wheeler

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Filed under 3-5 Grade, 6-8 Easy Read, Advanced Read, Enjoyable for parents, K-2 Grade, Real World Fiction, Uncategorized

Happy Birthday Bad Kitty by Nick Bruel

Happiness is finding a book you know your child will love.   And there is nothing like the perverse joy of having your child sneak off to read instead of doing what you ‘want’ them to do.  Thankfully, many of the great books my kids have relished such as The Lightning Thief, The Diary of a Wimpy Kid and The Sisters Grimm come with sequels that satisfy as much as the first one does.  This was never truer than with Nick Bruel’s latest Bad Kitty book, Happy Birthday Bad Kitty.

Oooh, it is so good.  My kids understandably fought over it when it first came.  However, it is so delightfully funny that neither one of them has grown even slightly tired of it.  Neither have I.  Mr. Bruel has managed the seemingly impossible balance of simple sentences and repetition that early readers need with an entertaining and fast paced story that appeals to all ages.  Plus, he teaches all of us some interesting things about cats in the process.  This is particularly good for my younger daughter who is bored with the books at her level, but not quite able to read the books that really interest her – i.e. the books her older sister is reading.  I highly recommend this book for your next birthday party gift for anyone from Kindergarten through 2nd grade.

Now all we have to do is wait for the next release of Ivy & Bean ( (October 14th) for Georgia and the Mysterious Benedict Society (October 9th) for Violet.

-Jessica Wheeler

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Filed under Graphic Novel, K-2 Grade

The Gift of Rain

The Gift of Rain, by Tan Twan Eng

As a teenager living in Penang, Malaya during the Japanesgifte invasion of World War II, Phillip Hutton has to choose between several bad options. Born of a British adventurer/trader father and the daughter of a successful Chinese expatriate, Phillip is the student of a Japanese aikido master. The aikido becomes a metaphor for his choice, his ability to endure, and ultimately his survival–to deflect aggression, to roll,  and to come up standing. But in life, it is a whole lot harder to carry off.

The combination of beautiful South Pacific imagery, the mystic presence of timelessness, the exploration of the depths of frienship and love, the inner struggles between conflicting loyalties, and the dance between inescapable fate and free will make this a richly enjoyable read for anyone who can read at or above a high school level. There is a load of information on the arrogance of British colonization, the last of the Chinese emperors, the psychology that drove the Japanese to war, the culture of Southeast Asia, Buddhism, the power system of Chinese Triads, the infancy of Asian communism and much more. Teen-age boys interested in Asian culture and history, as many seem to be, will love this adventure-filled book. Even though the protagonist is a boy, there are a few strong female characters too. A little thin on romance it may be, but I think teenage girls will like it too.

The Gift of Rain, published in 2008, was nominated for the Man Booker Prize. It is the kind of book you can’t wait to get back to and yet you hope you will never finish.

Gaby Chapman

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Filed under 9-12 Grade, boys, Enjoyable for parents, Fantastic!, girls