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Thursday, June 4, 2015

47

Tomorrow is the last day of school. 

The library is packed.

This school year was definitely a journey, but it turned out better than I could have hoped. I moved up from elementary to middle school, which turned out to be a pretty good fit for me. 

I started out by blogging about every single book I read. In the spring, I wasn't able to keep that up. But I did keep reading.

At the beginning of the year I found out that some teachers had challenged their students to read 40 books this school year. So I decided that would be my goal, too. 

I made it to 47. I would have tried for 50 but this week was brutal - one night I went to bed right after dinner!  But if you'd told me back in August that I would read that many books this year, I would have thought you were crazy! 

Without further adieu, here are the 47 books I read this school year:


  1. Charlie Joe Jackson’s Guide to Not Reading by Tom Greenwald
  2. The Testing by Joelle Charbonneau
  3. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children
  4. The Maze Runner by James Dashner
  5. The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud
  6. If I Stay by Gayle Forman
  7. Ungifted by Gordan Korman
  8. The Boy on the Wooden Box by Leon Leyson
  9. Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan
  10. The Selection by Kiera Cass
  11. The Elite by Kiera Cass
  12. The One by Kiera Cass
  13. We Were Liars by E. Lockhart
  14. Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
  15. The Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer Holm
  16. Because of Mr. Terupt by Rob Buyea
  17. The Riverman by Aaron Starmer
  18. Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys
  19. Columbine (not for middle school) by Dave Cullen
  20. Proxy by Alex London
  21. The Geography of You and Me by Jennifer E. Smith
  22. A Death-Struck Year by Makiia Lucier
  23. The Prince and the Guard: Selection Stories by Kiera Cass
  24. Messenger by Lois Lowry
  25. Son by Lois Lowry
  26. Unbreakable by Kami Garcia
  27. To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han
  28. Monster by Walter Dean Myers
  29. Popular: Vintage Wisdom for a Modern Geek by Maya Van Wagenen
  30. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
  31. If I Ever Get Out of Here by Eric L. Gansworth
  32. Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library by Chris Grabenstein
  33. Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine
  34. Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell
  35. The Family Romanov by Candace Fleming
  36. The Rent Collector by Camron Wright
  37. Hidden by Helen Frost
  38. Prisoner B-3087 by Alan Gratz
  39. The Lions of Little Rock by Kristin Levine
  40. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
  41. City of Bones by Cassandra Clare
  42. Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
  43. The Heir by Kiera Cass
  44. On the Fence by Kasie West
  45. Fish in a Tree by Linda Mullaly Hunt
  46. Ruby Red by Kerstin Gier
  47. 13 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson

I already have a pile bigger than I'll be able to finish at home for summer. I cannot wait to read all day. Until next fall.....

Keep reading!
Mrs. Cox
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Thursday, May 7, 2015

May-king progress

The spring always gets busy and I've neglected to post on my blog lately!

My reading has slowed down. I hate that but it does happen sometimes. I did finish a fantastic book, Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein, which is a young adult title. I picked it for my month's selection of the book club I belong to with several other ladies. It's young adult, but probably too complex for middle school. 

I also got my copy of The Heir delivered to my doorstep on May 5. This is the latest in the Selection Series by Kiera Cass. I only read two chapters the other night before I passed out. I blame my insanely early wake-up time and longer commute for that one!

In April I had the wonderful opportunity to go to the TLA Conference in Austin. I hadn't been in two years, so it was nice to get to go this year. I went to several sessions I thought would benefit me, which included one about makerspaces.

I've been struggling all year long with the idea of makerspaces. Why do I need to do it? We have a robotics club here at McKamy. They are awesome and did really well at national competitions. I have a book club where we promote reading for fun. So why should I do these crazy things and how am I going to convince my staff and faculty that this is a worthwhile venture?

One of the things I remember most about the session at TLA on makerspaces was that the librarian said, "Don't make it a club. You don't want kids to have to feel like they HAVE to come. Do many different things and let the kids decide to what interests them." After that you build relationships, and then hopefully your faculty will come to realize that what you are doing does indeed have value and connections to what they are doing in their classrooms....

After thinking about it, though, I decided to just jump in. I talked with one of my book club devotees, and discovered she's on the robotics team, and has been to NATIONAL computer programming conferences with her computer programmer mother. So, I enlisted her to help me. What I found most interesting about our conversation was that she said, "That sounds like a lot of fun Mrs. Cox, but you'll still have just plain old book club, won't you?" 

So, after a trip to Hobby Lobby the other night, watching youtube videos of how to tie sliding adjusting knots and scrounging for containers to hold the beads, we had our first "May-ker Morning" in the library today. We made binary code necklaces. It was a small group at first but then it grew to almost 15 kids. As latecomers showed up, the others readily explained to them what to do and how to create their name with beads in binary code. The hard part was tying knots at the end. But even a few figured out how to do that from my demo and helped others. It was one of those great moments you wish you could bottle and then get out again whenever you have one of those days where nothing goes right.

Next week we are going to crochet! Yes, the things I'm starting off with are more crafty than tech-y, but hey, I have to start somewhere and crochet is something I know how to do. I can't wait to see how this grows next school year...




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Monday, March 23, 2015

Recently...

It's been a busy few weeks! Spring Break came and went, and then last week I was off campus for most of the week so that I could become a Certified Google Educator. The training involved quick sessions about different aspects of Google for Education, and then FIVE tests that were 90 minutes long each. I passed them all, thank goodness, so now I have that feather in my cap!

I've still been reading, too. I tackled a nonfiction book for spring break, The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion and the Fall of Imperial Russia, by Candace Fleming. The book told the story of Nicholas and Alexandra, the last royal Russian family. Along the way, it also included stories from regular Russian citizens and their experiences. This is definitely a case of a nonfiction book that reads like fiction. The author did a really good job of showing both sides of the story - that of the royal family and that of the Russian citizens. The royal family was extremely isolated from the people, but the Russian revolution did not give the Russian people the freedom they wanted or deserved. Even though I knew how the story would end, it was still suspenseful getting there.

Next I read a book for my ladies book club. We get together once a month to discuss a book we've all agreed to read. This month's selection was The Rent Collector by Camron Wright. It was a story of a family that lives in Cambodia, in a garbage dump. As unpleasant as living in a garbage dump sounds, Sang Ly, and her husband Ki, and their son Nisay have a roof over their heads and are able to scrape together a meager living by searching for recyclables in the dump. The baby Nisay, is sick though, and needs medicine. And even though the family lives in a garbage dump, they still have to pay rent to the Rent Collector, an unpleasant, overweight, and seemingly heartless woman who preys upon her poor tenants. Our protagonist, Sang Ly, begins an unconventional friendship with the Rent Collector. We discover her past and how it will affect Sang Ly's future.

Hidden by Helen Frost was recommended to me by students! Wren is a small girl who is kidnapped when her mother's car is stolen at a gas station. She hides during the terrifying ordeal in her captor's garage. Her captor also has a daughter the same age, Darra. Darra figures out that Wren is hiding in the garage and tries to help... Years later, the two girls meet face to fact at summer camp, and face the hard parts of their pasts. This book is written in verse, which makes it a quick and intense read. Be sure to read the author's note if you pick up this one!

Finally this weekend I picked up and devoured Prisoner B-3087. Based on the true story of Yanek Gruener, this story of survival is a gritty reminder to be thankful for what you have. Yanek is shuffled between 10 different concentration camps during his imprisonment at the hands of the Nazis. They take everything from him except for his memories. At many points the only thing that kept me reading this book was knowing that Yanek survived in order to tell his story.

What have you been reading lately?

--Mrs. Cox
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Monday, March 2, 2015

Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library

Grabenstein, Chris. 2013. ESCAPE FROM MR. LEMONCELLO'S LIBRARY. New York: Random House.

The town of Alexandriaville has been without a library for 12 years. Eccentric game creator Luigi Lemoncello has helped design and build a magical whimsical library for the citizens. 

In honor of the library's grand opening, Mr. Lemoncello has arranged an essay contest. 12 lucky students will get a tour of the library and get to sleepover before anyone else has the chance to visit. Our main character, Kyle, quickly writes his, and he and his best friend Akimi are among the 12 chosen for the special treat.

After the overnight stay, Mr. Lemoncello has an enticing offer. If the 12 students wish, they can stay and try to find a secret exit from the library. Whoever finds it first will receive many prizes!

Mr. Lemoncello's Library is unlike any other. There are holograms and holographic statues everywhere. There's a special lift that will rise up to take you to the books on the highest shelves. There's a special dome that can show information, or look like the sky inside the library. There's a separate room for each of the 10 sections of the Dewey Decimal system.

The library really is very cool, and some of the puzzles and tasks the students have to complete are very cool. It's the sort of place any book lover would want to visit! The characters in this story are not very developed. Kyle is just average, and rather forgettable. Mr. Luigi Lemoncello was definitely inspired by Willy Wonka; the library is like his famous candy factory.

This was a quick, easy read. I enjoyed it, although it wasn't the most powerful or memorable book I've read this year. 3 stars.
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Thursday, February 26, 2015

If I Ever Get Out of Here

Gansworth, Eric. 2013. IF I EVER GET OUT OF HERE. New York: Arthur A. Levine.

I love music. I attribute that mainly to friends I've had throughout my life who shared their love of music with me. Music has such a way of connecting us, defining us, and reminding us that at the core we are all the same. If I Ever Get Out of Here is a novel that uses music as the backdrop for the story of two unlikely friends in 1975 upstate New York.

Lewis Blake is Native American and lives on a reservation. Until they enter middle school, the kids from the reservation attend a separate school. When entering middle school, Lewis is put into an advanced class. He is the only one from the reservation in his class, so he mainly feels invisible.

The school is also near an Air Force base, and students of Air Force families are constantly moving in and out. So, at the beginning of 7th grade, Lewis has a chance to make a friend with a new kid, George, who is also an outsider.

Lewis and George sit together in choir, and discover they both love the Beatles. But Lewis is hesitant about this new friendship. He doesn't think his mother, who cleans the houses of white people, would be so keen on his having a friend who didn't live on the reservation. He is also acutely aware that his house, with no bathroom inside and mismatched furnishings, is probably not as nice as the house that George lives in on the base.

George and Lewis become friends, spending all of their time at George's house. Lewis tells several lies to avoid having George over to his house. But soon, their friendship is complicated by girlfriends and bullies, and Lewis's realization that things are unfairly stacked against him. Not only does this prejudice come from the aforementioned bullies, but even teachers and administrators at the school.

Throughout the book, music plays a role. The boys are always listening to records, and even attend a Wings concert in Toronto with George's dad. Lewis's fondest wish is to have a guitar of his own and learn to play it. At different times in the book, a song plays a role, such as Someone to Love by Queen, and Two of Us by the Beatles.

I enjoyed this book, but it was a slow moving one. There isn't too much action, but lots of description. Things do get interesting towards the end when a huge blizzard hits New York in 1977. I hope that there are some students out there who are willing to give it a chance. It was a good reminder that although sometimes we might feel so different from everyone else, at heart, we all have more in common than we realize.
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Thursday, February 12, 2015

My last four reads...

I've gotten a little lax about posting!

Have you tried Goodreads? I love it. I had an account from a long time ago but I've started using it again, to rate books and get recommendations. From now on, I'll try to relay to you how many stars I rate a book.

I looked back over the list of books I've read and realized I didn't write about A Death-Struck Year by Makiia Lucier. In 1918 Portland, Oregon, the Spanish Influenza has reached the city. The city finds itself unprepared to handle such a dangerous epidemic. Cleo Berry, a 17 year old student, decides not to stay at her boarding school dormitory during the quarantine and instead goes home. Her older brother and sister in law are traveling and can't return until the quarantine is over. Feeling useless and lonely, Cleo decides to answer an ad in the newspaper for Red Cross volunteers. Cleo is too young, but the Red Cross nurses are desparate, so they let her help. Soon she finds herself walking the streets of Portland, knocking on doors to distribute information and make sure the residents are OK. She makes some good friends at the makeshift hospital set up in Portland's theater, including a love interest. Overall, I thought it was very well researched, but I wish some of the characters had been more developed. And also, the author tended to do that thing where she tells us every single thing, instead of showing us. A quick read - 3 stars.

Unbreakable by Kami Garcia was next. Another book with a main character who is a 17 year old female, Kennedy. The book opens with Kennedy looking for her cat in a graveyard and seeing a strange apparition of a girl floating in midair. The next night, she comes home one night after going out with friends to find her mother dead. It turns out that the same ghost she saw in the graveyard is, indeed, the one that killed her mother, and as Kennedy is staying in the house for the last night, the same ghost tries to kill her. Luckily, she is rescued in time by twin brothers, Jared and Lukas. They explain to her that her mother must have been part of the Legion, a demon and spirit fighting group with a long history. There are only five members of the Legion at a a time, and it just so happens that all five died of mysterious causes on the same night as Kennedy's mother. Kennedy knew nothing about her mother's involvement in such a group, and so is very reluctant to believe the story these strangers are telling her. Before she knows it, she is a part of the new Legion and is on a chase to find the pieces to an old puzzle that will destroy the demon that wants all of them dead. Fast paced and action packed - so much so that at the end of the book I had a ton of questions unanswered. Of course there's a 2nd book! Will I read it? Maybe. - 3 stars.

To All the Boys I've Loved Before was my next read. Lara Jean is the middle sister of three girls. Their mother died when they were younger, and her older sister Margot was the organized one who helped Lara Jean and their youngest sister Kitty stay organized and the family running. Margot has just graduated from high school and is leaving to go to Scotland for college. The night before she leaves she breaks up with her boyfriend, Josh, who really has become a friend to the entire family. Lara Jean used to have a crush on him before he started dating her sister... Whenever she got over a crush, she'd write the boy a letter telling him why she was over him. She never intended anyone to see these letters. Well, soon at school one of her former crushes, Peter, comes up to her and wants to talk about the letter. Not long after, Peter and his uber-popular girlfriend Genevieve break up, and Peter wants Lara Jean to pretend to be his girlfriend. Ah, but Josh also receives his letter and confesses to Lara Jean that he liked her first, before he liked her sister. This was a really enjoyable read, but it felt empty. The main character is supposed to be a junior in high school, but she seems more like a 7th grader. Also, it ends in a cliffhanger - book 2 will come out sometime this spring. Hmpf, guess I'll read that one too! - 3 stars

And finally, my last read was Monster by Walter Dean Myers. It's the story of Steve Harmon, who is in jail and on trial for being an accomplice to a robbery and murder. The story is told from Steve's first person point of view, and also through the movie script he's writing to help him deal with the awful situation. It's just really different from anything else I've read this year, and a powerful story about being in the wrong place at the wrong time. - 4 stars.






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Monday, January 26, 2015

The Giver Quartet

Lowry, Lois.
1993. THE GIVER.
2000. GATHERING BLUE.
2004. MESSENGER.
2012. SON.

I don't know how I feel right now. I just finished the fourth installment of The Giver Quartet, and I am sad, happy, confused and angry - all at the same time!

Let me start at the beginning.... I read Lowry's The Giver in college for a children's literature class. Because that was several years ago, I decided to listen to it on audiobook this go round, on my drive to and from work. If you haven't read this book, I highly suggest you do. It's about a boy named Jonas who lives in a different society than ours. Things are highly controlled and people do not make the same choices we do. Children don't have birthdays, every December there are ceremonies where children are given rites of passage. When children turn 12, they are given their career assignment that they will have for the rest of their lives. A committee makes this decision; individuals don't choose what path they want their lives to take.

At Jonas's 'ceremony of 12' he is given a special assignment. He is to be the new receiver of memory. What does that mean? Well, I sort of know. Ok, I don't really. Just read the book, maybe you will understand? Little by little Jonas comes to realize that things in his world are not how they always were and he is left with a choice to make. I won't say more than that!

Then, I listened to the second book, Gathering Blue, on audiobook in my car. I was duly warned that this book is a companion, NOT a sequel to The Giver. Gathering Blue tells the story of Kira, who was born with a crippled leg and lives in a village where brute strength and cunning are valued above all else. By law, she should have been cast to the beasts when she was born but her mother would not allow it. The story opens with the death of Kira's mother, and finding herself an orphan (her father was killed by beasts before Kira was born), Kira must go to the Council of Elders to ask to keep her hut. She is surprised when they give her land to a vengeful woman named Vandara, but invite Kira to come live in the Council Edifice to work on repairing the Singer's Robe. Kira has a gift for working with needle and thread. Every year the community gathers to hear the history of the world, sung by a special Singer. In Kira's new home, she discovers a boy named Thomas, down the hall, whose gift is carving wood. He is tasked with carving the staff the singer uses. Thomas and Kira together discover Jo, a very small girl who has been selected to be the next singer. Kira and Thomas have many comforts that others do not because of their special talents; however, Kira discovers that she and her artist friends have less freedom than she originally thought.

Kira also has a friend named Matt. Matt is a small boy from the Fen, a very squalid and poor area in the village. Matt is Kira's one true friend and the only character besides character Kira that shows any sympathy, compassion, or kindness. Matt is rough around the edges, but in the end gives Kira some of the answers she has been searching for.

Which leads us to the third installment, Messenger. Messenger is the shortest of the four novels, and I read it in one day. The main character is Matt, now grown up into a teenager and called Matty.
He lives in a different village now. This village was once a place where people were welcomed and accepted, but slowly it has become a place hostile to outsiders. A vote is held among the citizens, and it is decided that the Village will close its borders to outsiders. Matty, the usual messenger for the Village, is chosen to take the message that the Village will close forever. He needs to get the message to the daughter of the man they call the Seer, so that she can decide whether or not she will come to the Village. However, the forest he must cross becomes dangerous and sinister. In this book The Giver and Gathering Blue are connected, but I won't spoil anything. I enjoyed Messenger just because Matty is such an endearing character, and the ending is.... ah, you'll just have to read it.

Son is the fourth and final novel in the quartet. We are taken back to the village where Jonas lives in The Giver, but the story is told through the eyes of a girl named Claire. At her own Ceremony of 12, Claire was chosen to be a birthmother. Although her parents tell her there is honor in being chosen to be a birthmother, Claire still feels some shame at her assignment. Claire is inseminated and then marvels at her growing belly - the birthmothers are separated from the rest of the population. When the time for the baby to be born comes, Claire is blindfolded so she cannot see. However, something goes wrong and the baby is not coming. The next thing she knows she wakes up with a scar on her belly and no baby.

Claire is re-assigned to the fish hatchery because she cannot have any more babies. But she deeply misses her baby. She finds out that her baby was a boy and he is referred to as #36. Claire visits the nurturing center and finds her son. It turns out he is having a hard time adjusting and one of the nurturing staff has been taking him home in the evenings because he does not sleep well at night. Soon, the reader discovers that the man at the nuturing center is Jonas's father. As December and the ceremonies approach, it is determined that #36 will stay at the center for a while longer to see if he improves. As the next year approaches and he does not, it is determined that the child will be 'released.'

As we know from reading The Giver, Jonas saves the child from certain death. But Claire also leaves the community to try and follow Jonas and the child, on a supply boat. The supply boat encounters a storm, though, and Claire finds herself shipwrecked in an isolated community. She is taken in by an old midwife, Alys, and over time becomes comfortable in the village. However, she still longs to see and know of the boy who is her son. A man named Lame Einar teaches her how to climb through the mountain pass that is the only way out of the village. Once she finally does reach the top she meets a sinister figure called Trademaster. Lame Einar warned her about him; in order to see her son she will need to offer a trade. Although she has no material possessions to trade, he takes her youth in exchange for taking her to the village where he son now lives. Claire decides to observe him from afar instead of disrupting his life.

The final act of Son is told from the point of view of Gabriel. He finally discovers the truth about his past and discover he has a special gift like Jonas, Kira, Thomas the singer, and Jo the singer. Gabriel wants to go to find his mother, but before he does, Jonas must explain who the old lady in the village is.

This post is already way too long, but I was fascinated by these books. There is so much symbolism and imagery in these stories. These books also bring up questions of who decides what a society places its value on, and is it better for individuals to have more choice or less choice?

I am frustrated because I still have so many unanswered questions. But I've discovered that sometimes the best books are the ones that leave you wondering.

Keep reading,

Mrs. Cox


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