Happy New Year from Knight Reader!

In case the title of this post wasn’t clear enough…

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2015 was a decent year with various highs and lows, but I’m ready to start fresh in 2016. Having said that, let’s take a quick look back at my reading in the past year.

My reading goal for 2015 was 250 books. (Yes, I realize that’s low for me.) Well, I surpassed that by just a few books, and my grand total was 257 books. That total includes picture books, romance novels, middle grade and YA novels, and even a few memoirs. Some were in print, and many were ebooks. Some were new releases, and some had been out for years.

I only posted on 93 of the books I read here on Knight Reader. (Some of the others–those suited for elementary age readers–ended up on Knight Reader Junior.) For those of you wondering which books were my favorites, here they are. (I’ve also included genre and publication year for your convenience).

These are not listed in order of preference. For the most part, this is simply the order in which I read them. If I had to pick my absolute favorite book of 2015, the honor would probably go to Carry On by Rainbow Rowell. That book is made of awesome.

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Now, let’s look to 2016. This year, I’m hoping to read at least 275 books and write at least 100 posts here on Knight Reader. A tall order, but I think I can do it.

Many of the books I plan to read this year are already out (some of which have been on my TBR list for years), but there are loads more that I’m looking forward to. Let’s take a quick look at some of my most highly anticipated reads of 2016:

  • Mr. Lemoncello’s Library Olympics by Chris Grabenstein – January 5
  • The Siren by Kiera Cass – January 26
  • Reign of Shadows by Sophie Jordan – February 9
  • Ruler of Beasts (Dorothy Must Die, #0.6) by Danielle Paige – February 16
  • Lady Midnight (The Dark Artifices, #1) by Cassandra Clare – March 8
  • Yellow Brick War (Dorothy Must Die, #3) by Danielle Paige – March 15
  • The Crown (The Selection, #5) by Kiera Cass – May 3
  • The Hidden Oracle (The Trials of Apollo, #1) by Rick Riordan – May 3
  • Summer Days & Summer Nights: Twelve Love Stories edited by Stephanie Perkins – June 14
  • And I Darken by Kiersten White – June 28
  • United as One (Lorien Legacies, #7) by Pittacus Lore – June 28
  • The Bronze Key (Magisterium, #3) by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare – September
  • The Fever Code (The Maze Runner, #0.6) by James Dashner – September 27
  • Stealing Snow by Danielle Paige – September 27
  • The Hammer of Thor (Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard, #2) by Rick Riordan – October 4
  • Solutions and Other Problems by Allie Brosh – October 25

This is by no means a comprehensive list, but it’s a pretty good start! I know I’ll add quite a few more to my TBR list as the year progresses.

With that, I’ll wrap up this way-too-long post. I wish all of you a wonderful New Year, and I hope you read some wonderful books in 2016. Thanks for your support of my little blog!

Fish in a Tree

Every once in a while, I come across a book that I think all of my fellow educators should read…and possibly read aloud to their students. Wonder by R.J. Palacio and Because of Mr. Terupt by Rob Buyea are two such books. Well, I now have another to add to the list: Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt.

The title for this book comes from a famous quote (often attributed to Albert Einstein): “Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” The main character in Fish in a Tree, Ally, believes that she is stupid, and those around her–her fellow classmates and even her teachers–don’t do much to make her believe otherwise.

Ally Nickerson has a lot of trouble reading, and she usually covers up her problem by making jokes and causing distractions (although she doesn’t always intend to be a troublemaker). Her latest blunder, though, gets her moved to a new teacher’s classroom.

Ally is sure that she can hide her reading difficulties from Mr. Daniels, but this guy is sharper than Ally’s previous teachers. He realizes rather quickly that Ally is having problems, but he doesn’t call her slow or stupid. Instead, he praises her for her artistic abilities and lets her know that it’s okay that her brain sees words a little differently. After all, everyone is unique and learns in their own special ways.

With Mr. Daniels’ help and the support of two very special friends, Ally begins to have confidence in herself for the first time. She may not be the best reader in the world, but she’s working on it. In the meantime, she’s learning to stand up for herself and her friends and appreciate all of the great things in her life.

Ally and her friends are realizing that being different isn’t a bad thing. Differences keep things interesting. In the words of Dr. Seuss, “Why fit in when you were born to stand out?”

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Fish in a Tree is an amazing book that should be shared with all students (and teachers) in upper elementary and middle grades. It’s wonderful for anyone who’s ever felt like an outcast, especially those students who may struggle with dyslexia (the source of Ally’s frustrations with reading).

This book is also great for anyone who has ever had to deal with a bully. Ally and her friends have daily run-ins with mean girls and others who ridicule them, but they learn that their friendship is stronger than anything. They also realize that kindness goes a long way in changing things for the better…and this is a lesson everyone could stand to learn.

In closing, I cannot say enough good things about Fish in a Tree. I will be recommending it for my next faculty book club selection and encouraging everyone I know to give it a read. It’s excellent.

If you’d like more information on Fish in a Tree, visit author Lynda Mullaly Hunt’s website. You can also connect with the author on Twitter and view the awesome book trailer below. I hope you all enjoy this book as much as I did!

Dangerous Waters: An Adventure on the Titanic

I typically don’t have a problem “selling” books about the Titanic to my students, so I was pleased to see Dangerous Waters on this year’s South Carolina Children’s Book Award nominee list. This adventure story, written by Gregory Mone, is a quick, exciting, entertaining book that young readers–especially those fascinated by the Titanic and its fateful voyage–will devour. (I’ll likely have to order more copies to meet demand.) I would definitely recommend this book for all libraries (and classrooms) that serve elementary and middle grade students.

Patrick Waters wants to work. He wants to be seen as valuable to his family, particularly his big brother James, who has a job in the engine room of the new ship, Titanic. One night, Patrick gets the chance of a lifetime. He finds a way to sneak aboard and work on the Titanic himself, but he’s not exactly cut out for the engine room. (He’s only twelve, after all.) Instead, Patrick finds a place as a steward on the mammoth ocean liner, and this position will change his life forever…

Patrick catches the eye of a wealthy passenger, Harry Elkins Widener, and eventually becomes the man’s private steward, not realizing that this new job will lead him down an intriguing and dangerous path. Harry is in possession of a rare and valuable book, and there are a couple of nefarious types on board who will do anything to steal such a prize.

Patrick isn’t sure what’s so special about this old book, so he does whatever he can to learn more. It seems this book may have the key to unlocking the most powerful force in the world, and some people will do anything–even kill–to learn its secrets. Patrick does his best to help Harry protect the book, but the Titanic is on a path that could put Patrick’s quest–and his very life–in jeopardy…

As the Titanic makes its way to its eventual demise, Patrick is trying to keep himself, his brother, Harry, and his precious book safe. In the process, Patrick discovers his own strengths and what really matters to him.

Will Patrick be able to save Harry’s book from those bent on stealing it? And will he be able to save himself from the tragedy that is to come? Join Patrick on his adventure aboard the Titanic when you read Dangerous Waters by Gregory Mone!

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The author’s note at the end of Dangerous Waters lets readers know that many of the characters in this book were based on real people. With the exception of Patrick, his brother, and a few others, all of the people mentioned in this book were actually on board the Titanic. (The Widener Library at Harvard University is named for Harry Elkins Widener.) I think that healthy dose of historical fact will make this event more real to young readers, many of whom think the story of Titanic is “cool” but don’t really think about those who died when the ship sank or had to go on with their lives after losing family and friends in the tragedy.

*An interesting exercise–following a reading of the book, of course–could be to write about the aftermath of the Titanic‘s sinking from the perspective of someone who survived. Putting students in touch with primary sources could make this even more poignant. Something to think about for this school year!*

Like I mentioned at the beginning of this post, Dangerous Waters is an easy sell to most students. I know my students will love it, and I hope it will lead them to further research about Titanic, the people on board, and the books that were so important to Harry Elkins Widener.

For more information about Dangerous Waters and author Gregory Mone, check out his website, blog, Goodreads page, or Twitter. Enjoy!

Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library

After a much-needed break from blogging, I’m back at it with one more nominee for the 14-15 South Carolina Children’s Book Award, Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library by Chris Grabenstein. (In case you’re wondering, I’ve now read ten of the nominees. Halfway there!)

It took me a little while to get into Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library, but, once I did, I didn’t want to put the book down. (I imagine that most library/book nerds will be able to relate.) It reminded me of The Gollywhopper Games by Jody Feldman and my absolute favorite children’s book, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl. (Even the characters in the book recognize the similarities between their situation and Charlie Bucket’s adventures in Willy Wonka’s candy factory.) While the kids in this book are competing for a fantastic prize, they’re also learning a lot about the power of books, their new (and totally unbelievable) town library, and how to work as a team.

Kyle Keeley loves games of all kinds, and his favorites are the creations of the amazing Luigi Lemoncello, an eccentric genius who just happened to grow up in Kyle’s hometown.

Kyle’s town has been without a public library for years, but everyone is excited that a new library is about to open–and that excitement only grows when it’s revealed that Mr. Lemoncello himself designed the new building. Kyle is sure that the library is awesome–even though he doesn’t like to read all that much–and he is determined to be one of the first people to see just how cool it is.

An essay contest will determine which twelve seventh-graders are invited to a lock-in at the new library. Even though Kyle’s essay efforts are a bit rough, he is selected to spend the night in the greatest library the world has ever known! Filled with holograms, a Wonder Dome with changing scenes overhead, hover ladders that reach the highest shelves, state-of-the-art technology, and books galore, the library is more than any of the kids ever dreamed…and so is the contest that led them here.

When the lock-in is over, these twelve kids are presented with the opportunity of a lifetime. They may extend their stay and play the most exciting game of their lives, Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library! Whoever finds the escape route from the library within the next twenty-four hours becomes Mr. Lemoncello’s spokesperson for all of his gaming products! Kyle doesn’t even need to think about whether or not he’ll stay. (Not everyone feels the same.) This is more than he ever dreamed of, and he’s in it to win it. (He’s not the only one.)

During this exciting day, Kyle teams up with some friends–old and new–and uses knowledge of books, the library, games, and Mr. Lemoncello himself to find a way out of this most unusual library. Will they be able to escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library before time runs out? Before someone else beats them to it? And what will they learn along the way?

Play the game along with Kyle and company and see if you can figure out how to Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library!

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As thrilled as I am that this book is a Children’s Book Award nominee for my state, I honestly believe that many adults will appreciate this book more than younger readers will. Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library is filled to the brim with literary allusions, and part of the fun of reading it–at least for me–was thinking about the books or authors that the characters were alluding to. I don’t know if many of my students are well-read enough to pick up on all of these tidbits…but their teachers may be. (This could result in a giggle or two if teachers–or librarians–decide to use this book as a read-aloud…which I recommend.)

Like the character of Kyle Keeley, I predict that many kids who read this book will find themselves making a list of books they need to read. From Sherlock Holmes to Harry Potter to the works of Dr. Seuss, Kyle encountered many wonderful stories in the library, stories full of fun and adventure that added to his enjoyment of his experiences in the library. Kyle wasn’t much of a reader before this contest, but that definitely changed in a very short time.

I think librarians who read this book will likely be insanely jealous of Mr. Lemoncello’s fantastic library. I know I am. I imagine many of us would have libraries like this one if we were blessed with unlimited funds. (If I ever win the lottery, I may just make this happen in my town. Of course, one does have to play the lottery to win it.)

It might be kind of fun to have students who read this book come up with a design for their own dream library. I wonder what they would include. Probably something very different from what I envision, but this could be an intriguing–and informative–activity with interested students. (This would be a creative way to see how we could improve library programs. We may not be able to build new buildings, but we can always do something.)

Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library is a captivating read that illuminates the power of books, libraries, teamwork, and fun in learning. It is a must-read for all who love children’s literature and those who believe that libraries–and librarians–can truly change lives.

For more on author Chris Grabenstein, check out his website, Facebook, or Twitter.

The Book Thief

As is the case with so many books, I’m late to the party on this one. The Book Thief has been in my I’ve-been-meaning-to-read-this-for-a-while-but-haven’t-gotten-around-to-it pile since I first became a school librarian (way back in 2005 when the book came out). Like Ender’s Game, it was the desire to see the movie adaptation that really spurred me to finally read the book…and I’m so glad I did.

I finished reading The Book Thief less than an hour ago, and I was so moved by the book that I was sitting in my library crying my eyes out. My students and my clerk thought I’d lost my mind. (By the way, I have no problem taking some time to read at school every now and then. How can I expect my students to learn to love reading if they don’t see me modeling it?)

Anyhoo, back to The Book Thief. This book tore me apart, and I can only hope that the movie will, in some small way, live up to its source material. I’m going to see the movie this afternoon, and I fully expect my heart to be in shreds by the time I get home tonight. Here’s hoping…

The Book Thief takes place in Molching, a small town outside of Munich, Germany, during World War II. It is told from Death’s point of view, and the story follows the journey of a young girl, Liesel Meminger, the the lives she touches, and the books she steals during this turbulent period.

I’ve read quite a few fictional accounts of WWII, but most of those tend to focus on the experience of Holocaust victims and survivors. This may be one of the first books I’ve read that details the experience of a German teen who has to at least pretend to tow the party line while quietly protesting the world around her. Liesel finds power in words, and she does everything she can to gain access to as many words as possible…and share those words with those most important to her.

From her foster parents to her best friend to community members to the Jewish man hiding in her basement, Liesel, through both words and deeds, touches every life around her and demonstrates how much one girl–a book thief–can impact so many lives…and can make even Death stop to take notice.

I’m not going to say much more about this book other than it is at once heart-breaking and heart-warming. I was pulled in by the unique way this story was told, and I stayed because I truly grew to care about Liesel, her family, and her friends. The Book Thief has more than its share of tragedy, but there’s so much more to take in here. Even in the midst of a war, people find ways to experience joy, peace, laughter, friendship, and courage. Some of those things may reveal themselves in unexpected ways…perhaps in the form of a stolen book.

If the movie adaptation is even half as good as the book, I think I’ll be pretty happy.  I guess we’ll find out at 4:25 this afternoon!

For those who haven’t seen The Book Thief yet, here’s a movie trailer to whet your appetite. It worked for me!