Review (Plus)

Review (Plus): This Is Where It Ends by Marieke Nijkamp

Bookshelf Blurb: Four teenagers’ emotions, thoughts and actions over the course of a 54-minute school shooting. Engaging and dark.

America’s Review:

ThisIsWhereItEnds_9781492622468_93858The darkness creeping around the edges of This is Where It Ends leads to a much-questioned debate on high school shootings–who is the victim in the tragedy? The tagline, “Everyone has the right to fear the boy with the gun,” answers the question of  who is the victim, but what does the boy with the gun leave behind? Answer: a gun, blood, death and unanswered questions. This is Where It Ends offers student perspectives of the moments surrounding the shooting while still not answering the fundamental question: why.  

Author Marieke Nijkamp has developed four diverse characters found in a typical small-town high school. Opportunity High School is located in a, rural Alabama town where nothing ever happens. The most exciting thing to happen is to graduate and get the heck out.  Nijkamp has allowed her readers to experience the high school shooting through the book’s characters. The pages turn as fast as the drama found within the school; why is this happening and when will it stop?

Fifty-four minutes of the first day of second semester is told in 288 pages by just four characters. The story, while told in first person point of view with flashbacks, allows the readers to understand how the characters lives have woven together to present day. The only view we are deprived of is that of our shooter: Tyler Browne.

After the school principal gives her well wishes to the students to have a good start to the new semester, she goes to open the doors to discover the gym is locked–and within the walls is a shooter. The principal is the first one hit as the bang reverberates through the halls and out to the track where the team is practicing.

It is scary. It is true to life. This could happen anywhere and to anyone. I appreciated getting to know our characters and the bonds of friendship they had with their friends and their families. I kept reading to find the answer to what was going on in the mind of a shooter, but fell short. I feel Nijkamp created the antagonist to be an open-ended character who could reside anywhere, and an unknown motive since most shooters are either killed or kills themselves prior to being caught.

This is a shocking tale of the terror found in the midst of a sleeper town. There is no rhyme or reason for the brutality, and this town will forever be shaped from this event moving forward.

In the Classroom:

This is not one I recommend for the classroom, but rather for the library shelf. It offers a fictional perspective of true events that have taken place in high schools across the United States. This book is one that can be offered to students to read who have questions about high school shootings or want to research high school shootings. This book leans more towards the history classroom than an English classroom due to its content.

Analyze in detail a series of events described in a text; determine whether earlier events caused later ones or simply preceded them.

This Is Where It Ends by Marieke Nijkamp (Sourcebooks Fire | 9781492622468 | January 5, 2016)


Review (Plus): Illustrators Annual 2015

Bookshelf Blurb: For aspiring illustrators to see what is selected and prized in the industry.

Illustrators Annual 2015

America’s Review:

As I flipped through 44 pages of illustrations taken from the pages of the books I read, I was amazed at the simplicity, the depth, the colors, the shapes and the designs. The personality of children’s books goes beyond the words–it is the unique relationship created by the partnering of words and images.  Illustrators Annual 2015 by the Jury of the Bologna Children’s Book Fair looks at the talent found throughout the world and showcases it in this one book.

The book features lots of pictures, of course, but also included are the illustrators’ perspectives about the job and the road one must take to become published in the industry. Found within the pages of the book are interviews with multiple illustrators offering their take on the craft, how the industry works  and the journey they have taken to make illustrating their destiny. It is hours of work and time spent writing letters to often be rejected plus the difficulty that can result in trying to procure help from an agent and editor.

The book  showcases featured artist from countries such as Italy, Iran, and Chile who have invested the hours. Their work has rightfully paid off, and they are willing to share their experiences and advice.

In the Classroom:

An easy way to allow creative writing is to use artwork as writing prompts.  This book provides ample pictures for stories to emerge. There are more than 30 pages of brilliant art work for your students to choose from to create their own writing. One of the more powerful writing skills for college readiness (and one of the most dreaded) is the ability to edit and revise your own work. Use creative writing to help empower students’ editing abilities while providing a change of pace. It is difficult to look at a revision when you have included research, so this grants the opportunity to complete a standard without including a research paper. (And they are fun to grade!)

After students have completed their story, you can take it one step further:You can read them the actual story. All students–young and old–love story time.

Illustrators Annual 2015 by the Jury of the Bologna Children’s Book Fair (9781452154398 | December 15, 2015)

Review (Plus): When Mischief Came to Town by Katrina Nannestad

Bookshelf Blurb: Happiness can be found when you allow it into your life–or when it is forced by a young girl who finds she can’t stay away from trouble.

WhenMischiefCameToTown_9780544534322_869a7America’s Review: Inge Maria is a curious and charismatic young girl who brings life to her elderly grandmother along with the town of Bornholm in Katrina Nannestad’s new book, When Mischief Came to Town. The little island, located in the Baltic Sea, has been without vitality since Inge Marie’s grandma, Dizzy Bruland, grew up, became serious and forgot how to have fun.

Inge Maria is placed on a ship and sent to live in Borhnolm–a foreign place, with foreign people—after the death of her mother. She has never met her grandmother, seen the town or lived outside of the city limits. Despite her new surroundings, she makes friends and shakes up the town with her antics. Once Inge Marie melts the ice surrounding many of the characters’ hearts, it is wonderful to see the town embrace the element they had lost: fun.

Inge Maria worries if allowing fun to enter her life will dishonor the passing of her mother; she wants to prove her mother proud by being a good girl who will never allow her mother to fade from her memory. She soon discovers that living continues despite the loss of a loved one, and fun abounds when you allow it to enter your life–it doesn’t mean you forget those who have left us, but rather that they made you a better person because they were in your life.

In the classroom: The atmosphere of small town life in Bornholm aids in creating a perfect read for the middle grades and studying the characters in this book. Inge Marie is greeted by a terse, old woman who does not show emotion, and this personality trait seems to be prevalent in the town. Through no true fault of Inge Marie, she soon infiltrates the town with her crazy antics. (This includes stealing bloomers off a clothes line and using them as a flag.)

When Mischief Came to Town offers character growth for the protagonist as well as every supporting role. Students in grades 3-5 can write a book report focusing on the characters. Have your students pick a character and create a timeline for them that charts their growth throughout the book (CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.4.3). This can easily be done with pictures–stick figures work for those who cannot draw. Have your students place bubble conversations above their heads using direct quotes from the text which should show different character traits: happy, grouchy, sad. Make sure the pictures illustrate the look on their face for the character trait they are describing.

When Mischief Came to Town by Katrina Nannestad (HMH Books for Young Readers | 9780544534322 | January 5, 2016)

Review (Plus): “Warren the 13th and the All-Seeing Eye”

Bookshelf Blurb: Full of fun twist and turns, mystery and mayhem, this story is an easy read for your reluctant middle schooler. Excellent mix of graphic novel and story.


America’s Review:

At age 7, Warren the 13th loses his dad, Warren the 12th, and is left under the care of a lazy, worthless uncle living in  a hotel which Warren will inherit when he turns 18. The cheerful Warren takes pride in the decrepit hotel despite the overwhelming amount of work left to him daily. Tania del Rio has brilliantly partnered the font of Warren’s story with illustrator Will Staehle’s graphic pictures throughout the book.

Middle-grade children will enjoy the black and white pictures, along with the large, colorful font as they try to decipher what the all-seeing eye does. Splashes of red periodically show up, adding another element of dark emotion to the innocence of little Warren’s life. His uncle has recently married a bossy, rude and unkind woman, who readers quickly discover is a witch. Aunt Anaconda is convinced the all-seeing eye is close, and is destroying the hotel in her quest to possess the eye. When she invites her two witch sisters to aid in her endeavor, they brag to everyone of their hunt. Much to Anaconda’s chagrin, her sisters’ braggart personalities have brought a plethora of guests (also in search of the all-seeing eye) to the hotel.

Warren and his uncle are thrilled to see the hotel at capacity, but with these visitors comes the responsibilities of hotel management. Although busy with tasks, Warren knows he must possess the eye before Aunt Anaconda, or ruin will befall the hotel.

Full of fun twists and turns, mystery and mayhem, this story is an easy read for your reluctant middle-schooler. High-level third and fourth graders will also enjoy Warren’s tale. There is a clear storyline with fun and witty characters; the setting is also cool, but also adds an element of creepy.

In the classroom:

In the beginning of our story, Warren lives in the hotel with a few characters: his uncle, his aunt, the chef and a tutor/librarian. As the story progresses, Warren has to interact with new hotel guests; one of them is a young girl his own age who befriends him. As each new character is introduced, Warren has to establish where they fit in his life. He allows them into his heart, but soon learns this is not always the best choice. Character development evolves throughout the novel, giving your students an opportunity to describe how Warren’s responses to these new characters changes the plot (CCSS 6th Reading Literacy).

Warren the 13th and The All-Seeing Eye: A Novel by Tania del Rio, illustrated by Will Staehle (Quirk Books | 9781594748035 | November 24, 2015)

Review (Plus): Tracks in the Wild

Bookshelf Blurb: Every two pages is a new animal with its paw print detailed in true size with information about the animal’s habitat, diet and social attitude. Great read for any age! Beautiful wood carved stamped images of the animals found throughout.

TracksInTheWild_9780816698837_097c7America’s Review:

In 1994 the Minnesota Book Award was given to Betsy Bowen for her insightful and beautifully hand-crafted book, Tracks in the Wild. Every illustration in the book was created by using woodcut printing techniques. Each and every page was hand-whittled wood creating the perfect track of an animal along with a beautiful illustration of the animal and the environment in which it lives.

My eight-year-old son loved that his hand was smaller than the prints a moose leaves behind while munching on dripping weeds. The true-to-size animal footprints put the size of these animals in perspective while also educating readers about the habitat, diet and social nature of the beast.

I’m glad to see that University of Minnesota Press reprinted this timeless book filled with magnificent knowledge of our woodland neighbors. Although I don’t live where some of these animals would roam, I did enjoy learning facts about them while also finding out new things regarding animals I have seen in my own backyard.

In the classroom:

This is a well researched, informational text that is easy to read and understand. Each set of pages offers a different animal. You can read this book to your students in one sitting, or you could read two pages over the course of two weeks. At the end of the reading you could have your students write a summary of two or three pieces of information they gleaned from the reading (CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.3.7). At the end of the book you could have your students select an animal and create a PowerPoint of their research (CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.3.7) and then have them present their PowerPoints to small groups of students (CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.3.4.) Make sure you give your students a quick checklist of information you want presented in their PowerPoint (CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.3.1.C.) Students love the ability to “play” teacher. For most classrooms you will want to divide and conquer. Having 25 PowerPoints to show to the class would be time-consuming, so the group option allows you to achieve this task without taking up too much classroom time (CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.6).

I used CCSS Grade 3 for the above activity, but many of these concepts overlap up until 6th grade. This is a book to put on the classroom and library shelf.

Tracks in the Wild by Betsy Bowen (University of Minnesota Press | 9780816698837 | November 1, 2015)