Sunday, 4 January 2015

My 5 Star Reads from 2014: Children's Fiction and Non-Fiction

Children's Fiction

Earlier this week I blogged about my top picture books for 2014.  Today I'll add my five top fiction books:

Out of my Mind by Sharon Draper
"Melody is not like most people. She cannot walk or talk, but she has a photographic memory; she can remember every detail of everything she has ever experienced. She is smarter than most of the adults who try to diagnose her and smarter than her classmates in her integrated classroom; the very same classmates who dismiss her as mentally challenged, because she cannot tell them otherwise. But Melody refuses to be defined by cerebral palsy. And she's determined to let everyone know it; somehow".  

I love the way this book takes you inside the head of someone with a severe physical disability.  A great one to promote empathy (much like Wonder).

Spy School by Stuart Gibbs
"Can a normal, average kid become a superstar secret agent? Maybe not, but it’ll be fun to watch him try!  Ben Ripley may only be in middle school, but he’s already pegged his dream job: C.I.A. or bust. Unfortunately for him, his personality doesn’t exactly scream “secret agent.” In fact, Ben is so awkward, he can barely get to school and back without a mishap. Because of his innate math skills, Ben isn't surprised when he is recruited for a magnet school with a focus on science—but he’s entirely shocked to discover that the school is actually a front for a junior C.I.A. academy. Could the C.I.A. really want him?

Actually, no. There’s been a case of mistaken identity—but that doesn’t stop Ben from trying to morph into a supercool undercover agent, the kind that always gets the girl. And through a series of hilarious misadventures, Ben realizes he might actually be a halfway decent spy…if he can survive all the attempts being made on his life!".

A great spy book for students who enjoy a bit of humour with their mysteries.

Mockingbird by Katherine Erskine
"Caitlin has Asperger's. The world according to her is black and white; anything in between is confusing. Before, when things got confusing, Caitlin went to her older brother, Devon, for help. But Devon was killed in a school shooting, and Caitlin's dad is so distraught that he is just not helpful. Caitlin wants everything to go back to the way things were, but she doesn't know how to do that. Then she comes across the word closure--and she realizes this is what she needs. And in her search for it, Caitlin discovers that the world may not be so black and white after all".

Another book on my list with a main character with special needs.  I have friends with sons who have autism and I know that they appreciate any kind of book like this that helps students understand the unique ways a person with asperger's/autism may see the world.

Absolutely Almost by Lisa Graff
"Albie has never been the smartest kid in his class. He has never been the tallest. Or the best at gym. Or the greatest artist. Or the most musical. In fact, Albie has a long list of the things he's not very good at. But then Albie gets a new babysitter, Calista, who helps him figure out all of the things he is good at and how he can take pride in himself".

This is rather lovely book about a boy figuring out where he fits in the world and gaining self confidence along the way.  I'm going to bully a Year 5/6 teacher into reading it this year.

The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher by Dana Alison Levy
"Meet the Fletchers. Their year will be filled with new schools, old friends, a grouchy neighbor, hungry skunks, leaking ice rinks, school plays, wet cats, and scary tales told in the dark!

There’s Sam, age twelve, who’s mostly interested in soccer, food, and his phone; Jax, age ten, who’s psyched for fourth grade and thinks the new neighbor stinks, and not just because of the skunk; Eli, age ten (but younger than Jax), who’s thrilled to be starting this year at the Pinnacle School, where everyone’s the smart kid; and Frog (not his real name), age six, who wants everyone in kindergarten to save a seat for his invisible cheetah. Also Dad and Papa.

WARNING: This book contains cat barf, turtle pee, and some really annoying homework assignments".

I love the Fletchers.  I want them to be real so I can go and meet them.  This book is warm and funny and delightful and I highly recommend it.

Children's Non-Fiction

Here are my top four non-fiction books for 2014:

Ivan: The Remarkable True Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla by Katherine Applegate
"In a spare, powerful text and evocative illustrations, the Newbery medalist Katherine Applegate and the artist G. Brian Karas present the extraordinary real story of a special gorilla.

Captured as a baby, Ivan was brought to a Tacoma, Washington, mall to attract shoppers. Gradually, public pressure built until a better way of life for Ivan was found at Zoo Atlanta. From the Congo to America, and from a local business attraction to a national symbol of animal welfare, Ivan the Shopping Mall Gorilla traveled an astonishing distance in miles and in impact.

This is his true story and includes photographs of Ivan in the back matter".

This picture book tells the true story of the gorilla in Applegate's Newbery Award-winning book, The One and Only Ivan.  As such it is a great book to share with students who have read that book.  It is also a very powerful book in its own right and would be a good book to read to start discussions about animal welfare and habitats.

How do you Burp in Space?: And Other Tips Every Space Tourist Needs to Know by Susan E. Goodman
"Want to blast into orbit? Walk on the moon? Snag a personal photo of a shooting star? Well your time is coming! And when it does, you're going to need How Do You Burp in Space?

This guide is filled with the kind of information you'd need to plan any vacation including what to pack (hint: no bubble bath or juggling balls!); what to expect from your accomodations (a sleeping bag attached to the wall), and what to do for fun (leapfrog on the moon!). Grounded in the history of space travel and the planned future of space tourism, this guide book will leave young adventurers daydreaming about future intergalactic space vacations. Get ready to rock your rocketship!"
This is a highly engaging, easy-to-read book with fun facts that will capture the interest of space fans.

On a Beam of Light: A Story of Albert Einstein by Jennifer Berne
"A boy rides a bicycle down a dusty road. But in his mind, he envisions himself traveling at a speed beyond imagining, on a beam of light. This brilliant mind will one day offer up some of the most revolutionary ideas ever conceived. From a boy endlessly fascinated by the wonders around him, Albert Einstein ultimately grows into a man of genius recognized the world over for profoundly illuminating our understanding of the universe. Jennifer Berne and Vladimir Radunsky invite the reader to travel along with Einstein on a journey full of curiosity, laughter, and scientific discovery. Parents and children alike will appreciate this moving story of the powerful difference imagination can make in any life".

I was surprised that I enjoyed this book so much, it's not normally what I would be interested in.  This picture book biography of Einstein gives details about his life but also emphasises how Einstein was always questioning things, observing and wondering and being curious about the world around him.

Jumping Penguins and Laughing Hyenas by Marije Tolman; Jesse Goosens
"If a camel gets angry, he will throw up green gastric juice over you.
A sloth moves so slowly that green algae grows in his fur.
Even a blind chameleon takes the color of its surroundings.

Bologna Ragazzi Award winner Marije Tolman, creator of The Tree House and The Island, illustrates in her distinctive style curious, funny, bizarre, unbelievable, disgusting and weird facts about fifty different animals. The animal facts are straightforward nonfiction, Marije Tolman's illustrations are pure fantasy, creating a combination that is sure to engage readers."

I've always loved books with strange and quirky facts and this book has some truly bizarre ones.  The illustrations are unique too, making it a book that I love introducing to our students.

Professional Reading

And I can't resist including the one professional book I read last year that I think every teacher and librarian should read:

Reading in the Wild: The Book Whisperer's Keys to Cultivating Lifelong Reading Habits by Donalyn Miller
"Teaching students to become lifelong readers A companion to the bestselling The Book Whisperer, Reading in the Wild explores whether or not we are truly instilling lifelong reading habits in our students and provides practical strategies for teaching "wild" reading. Based on survey responses from over 900 adult readers and classroom feedback, Reading in the Wild offers solid advice and strategies on how to develop, encourage and assess key lifelong reading habits, including dedicating time for reading, planning for future reading, and defining oneself as a reader.Includes advice for supporting the love of reading by explicitly teaching lifelong reading habits. Contains accessible strategies, ideas, tips, lesson plans and management tools along with lists of recommended books co-published with Editorial Projects in Education, publisher of "Education Week" and "Teacher Magazine"

Packed with ideas for helping students choose their own reading material, respond to text, and build capacity for lifelong reading".

You should also read The Book Whisperer, if you haven't already.  I can't recommend both these books highly enough.


  1. Wonderful list! Thank you.

    1. Thanks Raewyn. I think I might make a display of my top books for the start of the year.