Education Opinion

Book-a-Day Challenge Weeks Five, Six, and Seven

By Donalyn Miller — July 24, 2010 5 min read
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You can tell by the length between my blog posts that I have fallen into that period of summer break where time ceases to have any meaning. I have forgotten what day it is and the sound of my alarm clock. Our recent vacation to San Antonio cut into my reading time. Hours spent sightseeing left me little energy for reading at night. Although I read every plaque at the Alamo and the Guinness World Record Museum--much to my family’s dismay-- I cannot count those as a book, can I? I finished 18 books over the last three weeks. Not quite a book a day, but I am still ahead of my goal with 77 books for 49 days of summer.

**Starred entries indicate my favorites.

Primary Picture Books

Carmen Learns English by Judy Cox. Carmen is nervous about starting school because she does not speak English well. She gains confidence and acceptance from her classmates as her English improves and she teaches her peers and teacher more about Spanish.

The Day of the Dead/ El Dia de Los Muertos by Bob Barner. Barner describes the popular Hispanic holiday, El Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) through simple rhymes in both English and Spanish. Playful illustrations with dancing skeletons and vibrant colors enhance the text. Additional information about the history of the Day of the Dead festival is included in the back.

Dexter Bexley and the Big Blue Beastie on the Road by Joel Stewart. In this sequel to Dexter Bexley and the Big Blue Beastie, Dexter and his blue pal take their show on the road. Meeting a musically gifted princess and a tap-dancing dragon, the four friends become wandering performers.

**Toot and Puddle by Holly Hobbie. Parents without small children miss out on some things: handprint art, playing dress-up, and reading delightful picture books like Toot and Puddle. I may be the last person to discover these porcine best friends, but I am glad I did.

Middle Grade Fiction

**Keeper by Kathi Appelt. Keeper is a beautifully written book about magic, loss, family, and Nature. Appelt’s book reads like a love letter to the Texas coast.

Middleworld: Jaguar Stones #1 by Jon and Pamela Voelkel. 14-year old Max Murphy must travel to the mythical Central American country of San Xavier to rescue his archeologist parents. A rousing adventure story, this book introduces readers to Mayan mythology and culture. Look for my interview with the Voekels in an upcoming post.

Riot by Walter Dean Myers. Told in screenplay format, this book describes the 1863 Civil War Draft Riots.

**Woods Runner by Gary Paulsen. Samuel, a woods runner, must use his tracking skills to rescue his parents who are kidnapped by British soldiers in the early days of the Revolutionary War.

Middle Grade Poetry

Give Me Wings by Lee Bennett Hopkins. Children’s poetry anthology guru, Lee Bennett Hopkins offers poems from various notable poets about flying and wings. A brief biography of each poet is listed in the back.

**Jabberwocky by Lewis Carroll and Christopher Myers. Myers re-imagines Carroll’s classic nonsense poem as a basketball court showdown.

Middle Grade Nonfiction

Punctuation: The Write Stuff by Simon Basher. This clever review of punctuation marks and rules serves as a nice classroom or library resource.

Graphic Novels

Outlaw: The Legend of Robin Hood by Tony Lee, Sam Hart, and Artur Fujita. Classic or super, we love our heroes. This graphic novel blends the Robin Hood legend with comic book fight scenes and artwork.

Young Adult Fiction

**Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta. Finnikin, son of the Captain of the King’s guard, lives a sheltered life with a sure destiny until murder, betrayal, and a dying woman’s curse destroy his homeland, forcing him and thousands of his countrymen into exile. Ten years later, Finnikin meets the mysterious Evanjalin, a girl who can walk in people’s dreams. Following the cryptic words of prophecy, they struggle to restore their kingdom and bring the exiles home.

I complained bitterly to anyone who would listen to me while slogging through the first part of this book. I had forgotten, you see, my experience reading Marchetta’s Jellicoe Road. She has a knack for revealing the past while spinning a tale in the present. I suppose I wanted her to tell me the details of everything that happened during the “five days of the unspeakable” in a prologue or opening chapter instead of continually circling back to these events--adding one small piece at a time.

I was wrong.

At about the 100 page mark, I was drawn into Finnikin of the Rock so deeply that I stayed up until four a.m. --finishing the rest of the book in one sitting. I will forever remember it as one of the best reading days this summer.

Illyria by Elizabeth Hand. Two cousins, descendants of a famous actress, perform in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night and struggle to keep their forbidden love affair a secret.

The Last Summer of the Death Warriors by Francisco X. Stork. Within a short time period, Pancho loses both his father and his sister. Sent to an orphanage, he swears to avenge his sister’s murder. Reluctantly befriending, D.Q., a boy with brain cancer, Pancho begins to question what it means to honor life.

**Sapphique by Catherine Fisher. (Skip this blurb if you have not read Incarceron!) Sapphique picks up where Incarceron left off. Finn and Claudia must prove that Finn is the presumed dead Prince Giles, heir to the throne, before the Queen kills them both. Keiro and Attia are still trapped in Incarceron with little hope that Finn will rescue them. The prison grows stronger and more desperate in its desires. The legend of Sapphique, the only man to escape Incarceron, weaves in and out of the story-- blurring the lines between myth and reality. Is anything what it seems?

**The Sky Is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson. When her older sister, Bailey, dies suddenly, 17-year old Lennie copes with moving on, finding love, and discovering her identity without her sister. Nelson’s poetry background is clear-- the poems and notes scattered throughout the book strengthen the story. Reading this book on a plane, I wept openly more than once. I think the woman sitting next to me thought I was afraid of flying.

The Total Tragedy of a Girl Named Hamlet by Erin Dionne. Hamlet Kennedy just wants to blend in, but her genius baby sister, Desdemona, and Shakespearean scholar parents prevent her from hiding. Note--While this book is labeled YA and set in a middle school, it seems pitched to a younger group of readers than the other YA books listed here.

Other readers, who have joined me in the Book-a-Day Challenge, regularly post their lists. You can find more great titles to read by visiting their blogs or following their tweets under the #bookaday hashtag.

Nathan at the Words & Words blog.

Teri Lesesne, the Goddess of YA literature, at the Professor Nana blog.

Jamie at the Learning to Be Smart blog.

Aly at the Kid Lit Frenzy blog.

Janice Robertson at the Passionate Pages blog.

Kathy at The Brain Lair blog.

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.