Education Opinion

Book-a-Day Challenge: Week Two

By Donalyn Miller — June 21, 2010 6 min read
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In some ways, I am still waiting for summer to begin. Closing up my classroom, writing curriculum, and presenting staff development, I have only had about 4 days of summer break. Without papers to grade and lessons to plan, though, I managed to read another 16 books this week.

I shared my book-a-day summer reading challenge with teachers and librarians at the North Texas Council of Teachers of English Language Arts conference last week, along with embarrassing photos of my cascading to-read book case.

While my plan to read a book a day elicited laughs from the crowd, many participants shared the books they were reading this summer. I added a few more books to my to-read list!

One book I know I will read and share with my students this fall is Rick Riordan’s upcoming book, The Lost Hero, the first book in his new The Heroes of Olympus series. Read a sneak peek of the first two chapters on Rick’s website. The access code is newhero.

I noticed that many of the books I read this week depended on the interplay between an author and an illustrator to weave a wonderful story. This week’s reads:

** starred entries indicate my favorites

Primary Picture Books/ Easy Readers

Andy Shane, Hero at Last by Jennifer Richard Jacobson and Abby Carter. This easy reader book in the Andy Shane’s series reveals Andy’s secret wish to be a hero and his efforts to become one.

**City Dog, Country Frog by Mo Willems and John J. Muth. A city dog befriends a country frog during his seasonal visits to the country. The animals play together, enjoying the seasons, until winter comes.
Beautiful water color illustrations by Jon J. Muth, and Mo Willems’ brief, precisely-chosen text capture the cycles of life and friendship.

Hip and Hop, Don’t Stop! by Jef Czekaj. Hip, a turtle, and Hop, a rabbit, live on different sides of Oldskool County, but they both love to rap and rhyme. The two animals become friends and face off against each other in a rap-off contest.

The Humblebee Hunter by Deborah Hopkinson and Jen Corace. This book would make a great entry point for young readers to Charles Darwin, his life, and his scientific importance. In this book, Darwin invites his children to help him with one of his experiments by tracking the bees in the family’s garden.

I Am Going! by Mo Willems. When Piggie announces, “I am going,” his paranoid friend Elephant imagines all sorts of dire reasons for his friend’s departure. Willems raises the easy reader to a new artform.

Middle Grade Picture Books

**Instructions by Neil Gaiman and Charles Vess. The first time I encountered Instructions was listening to an audio version read by Gaiman himself. I could still hear his voice, emphasizing and pausing in key places, while I read this picture book adaptation. Who better than Gaiman to give advice on what to do if you fall into an enchanted world? Charles Vess’ illustrations recall classic fairy tale characters and settings.

**Oh No!: Or How My Science Project Destroyed the World by Mac Barnett and Dan Santat. When a girl’s science fair project, a robot, goes on a rampage, she must find a way to stop it. The story is told in a combination of the young scientist’s thoughts and whimsical 1950’s B-movie style illustrations. Endpapers display blueprints of her inventions.

Middle Grade Poetry

Can You Dig It? by Robert Weinstock. This humorous anthology celebrates prehistoric topics like dinosaurs, cavemen, and archaelogical digs. A great title for enticing readers who claim to dislike poetry.

Middle Grade Nonfiction

**Amelia Earhart: This Broad Ocean by Sarah Stewart Taylor and Ben Towle. Grace, a young Newfoundlander, witnesses Amelia Earhart’s historic Atlantic Ocean crossing. Eileen Collins, NASA astronaut, writes a heartfelt introduction to this graphic novel, crediting Earhart for opening the door for generations of women pilots.

Saving the Baghdad Zoo: A True Story of Hope and Heroes by Kelly Milner Halls and William Graham Sumner. This book recounts the heroic efforts of US soldiers, Iraqi civilians, and international animal advocates to rescue the exotic animals of Baghdad’s zoos and private collections after the bombing of Baghdad in 2003.

Middle Grade Fiction

**Attack of the Fluffy Bunnies by Andrea Beaty. Kevin and Joules, dumped at Camp Whatsitooya (on the shores of Lake Whatsosmelly) by their distracted parents, discover that their camp has been invaded by alien bunnies from another planet. The bunnies, who adore sweets, are intent in world domination. Kevin and Joules must rely on their knowledge of horror movie tropes to save the other campers.

**The Dreamer by Pam Munoz Ryan and Peter Sis. Reading The Dreamer, I knew that I was witnessing genius on the page. Pam Munoz Ryan and Peter Sis combine their considerable talent, crafting a work so breathtakingly beautiful, I know I will read it again and again. A fictionalized account of Chilean poet, Pablo Neruda’s childhood, The Dreamer communicates the power of listening to your inner voice.

**A Nest for Celeste: A Story About Art, Inspiration, and the Meaning of Home by Henry Cole. I think that any book with a mouse (or dog) on the cover has instant kid-appeal. Henry Cole creates a tender heroine with Celeste, a young mouse, who is lonely and looking for a home.Celeste is an artist, who weaves beautiful baskets from grass blades, shells, and feathers. When John James Audubon and his young apprentice, Joseph, arrive at the plantation to study the birds and plants, Celeste finds a friend in Joseph, who she sees as a fellow artist.

The Reinvention of Edison Thomas by Jacqueline Houtman. Eddy Thomas is brilliant at science. He loves taking things apart and collects junk for his workshop. He memorizes Morse Code and the Periodic Table. He is completely hopeless at relating to other people, however. The author never explicitly says so, but readers will learn that Eddy has an autism spectrum disorder.

**Word After Word After Word by Patricia MacLachlan. In the hands of a lesser author, this story about a published author who visits a classroom to teach the children about writing could have turned into a self-congratulatory work about how wonderful said author and her writing is. Thank goodness, Patricia MacLachlan did not take this delightful book in that direction.

I enjoyed watching the children discover writing as a means of sharing their lives and expressing their feelings. Although the book is brief, I felt that I grew to know each child and their personal experiences. I bawled through the last chapter-- enough said. A wonderful book for launching a writing workshop or encouraging children to write.

Young Adult Fiction

**Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi. I read a lot of Dystopian Science Fiction. It is hard not to these days with so many books in this dark genre hitting the shelves, but I admit that this publishing trend suits my reading tastes better than paranormal romances do. For me, Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games and Patrick Ness’ Chaos Walking series set the gold standard, but Ship Breaker deserves recognition.

Set in an undetermined future, Ship Breaker eerily predicts a world where global warming melts the polar ice caps, and water floods coastal regions. Old oil tankers litter the Gulf of Mexico-- scrap for salvage. Seventeen year-old Nailer works for a scrap salvager, a ship breaker, who tears apart the hulking wrecks. For Nailer and the other salvagers, life is cruel-- there is little food and housing is built from beach trash.

After a city killer, a superhurricane, destroys the beach, Nailer and his friend, Pima, discover a wrecked boat, carrying one survivor, Nita, the daughter of a rich and powerful businessman. Nailer must decide whether or not he wants to ransom the girl, rescue her, or kill her and strip her boat for salvage.

How are you doing on your summer reading goals? Did you discover a great book to share with your students next fall? Did you read an article that inspires you? Did you revisit an old favorite? Post your summer reading experiences here.

The opinions expressed in The Book Whisperer are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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