Book Reviews

Class Dismissed by Allan Woodrow

Ms. Bryce has been teaching FOREVER, but this class is the WORST she's ever had to deal with!  One day, a science experiment goes wrong and Ms. Bryce gets fed up and quits...right then and there!  The only problem is that only the students of class 507 know she's gone!

Class Dismissed, the latest book by author Allan Woodrow, is one of my favorite new books this year!  The comedy of events that lead to the students of class 507 having full control of their class for TWO WHOLE WEEKS before the principal or any other adult finding out their teacher quit is hilarious, yet somehow believable!  

There is a cast of main characters who tell the story from their multiple points of view.  Kyle is the troublemaker; the student who is considered the class clown and never does any work.  Samantha is the spoiled, rich girl who is more concerned with fashion than learning.  Adam is the resident creative mind.  Eric is the quiet, studious kid who is afraid to stand out in class.  Maggie is the resident "know it all" and outspoken leader.  Brian is the class bully. Each chapter has a different character as the speaker, which is a GREAT way to explore point of view and narrator with your students!  Each of the main characters change throughout the story, as they learn about themselves as students, grow as leaders, and realize that their way of doing things is not always the only way or the best way.

This middle grades (3-5) novel is the PERFECT back-to-school read!  It works well as a read-aloud, but it's even better as a novel study!  Your students will love reading about how the class figures out ways to hide their secret from parents and administrators, and how the kids negotiate roles in the group to "teach", keep guard, and manage the class.  You will love that the students soon realize that they actually do need a teacher and that teaching is not an easy job!  

If this sounds like a book your students would love (and I promise they will!), I've created a print-and-go novel study unit that is perfect for grades 3-5!  This unit includes vocabulary words, comprehension questions, character study, point of view exploration, figurative language practice, stages of plot, narrative and opinion writing prompts and more!  You can use all of it, or some of it, whatever best suits your students' needs and your time.  Click on the picture below to find the unit in my TpT Store!

Gooney Bird Greene by Lois Lowry

Do you know Gooney Bird Greene?  The girl with the "absolutely true stories"?  The girl who wears wildly mismatched clothes or even pajamas to school each day? If you don't know Gooney Bird, you must meet her! Especially if you teach grades 2-5. :)

Lois Lowry, acclaimed author of The Giver, Number the Stars, and  Anastasia Krupnik, has written the best book for blossoming writers.  Gooney Bird Greene is a master storyteller...yet she is only in 2nd grade!  Her stories are always wild and unbelievable...yet somehow "absolutely true", as she always assures her teacher and classmates.

This short novel is a great read-aloud for grades 2-5.  Your students will be completely hooked by Gooney Bird's stories and will beg you to keep reading.  Better yet, Gooney Bird's stories make for great creative writing brainstorming sessions!  You can encourage kids to think of stories they can write about their own lives, but with a twist.  Gooney Bird is the master of "hooks"...and this is something I know most kids struggle with (even my current 8th graders!)  I've had lots of success using this book in my upper elementary classrooms at the beginning of the year to launch my writer's workshop!

Tangerine by Edward Bloor

Tangerine, by Edward Bloor, is my absolute FAVORITE novel to read with my 8th graders!  Even though our district uses an anthology-based curriculum, I plan my year to allow for 3-4 weeks to spend on this novel!

Tangerine is about a boy named Paul Fisher, who moves with his family from Texas to Tangerine, Florida.  Paul is legally blind due to some mysterious accident when he was younger...this mystery is a big part of the plot!  Paul also happens to be a great soccer player, but he can't play on his school soccer team because he has an IEP.  Paul's biggest problem, though, is his terrible - some might even say evil - older brother, Erik.  Erik is a bully, a criminal, and a star football player.  Paul is rightfully afraid of Erik and has suspicions about him that no one else seems to see. Paul and Erik's parents are pretty clueless about their kids' problems, which makes this book really interesting for middle school students!

This novel teaches irony in a masterful way...Paul, who is legally blind, is the only person who sees the truth clearly!  The themes of "good vs. evil", "seeing isn't always believing", and the "truth shall set you free" play out in suburban and rural areas. Special needs and IEPs are given the spotlight in a positive "you can overcome this" way.  Socio-economic differences and racial tensions are highlighted in a way that helps kids understand and be sympathetic to the characters.  The author even manages to toss in a science lesson along the way!

Even my reluctant readers end up LOVING this book.  It is fast-paced, and the mystery of how Paul lost his eyesight keep the kids enthralled.  They also get personally invested in the unfairness of how Paul is treated, and they get angry about how rotten Erik is.  This book sparks amazing discussions between students and really makes them think about social topics.

One of my most reluctant readers and writers, who told me, "I hate books", when I assigned this novel, ended up getting so involved with the story that he wrote me this -wait for it!- without being asked!  He did this writing, on his own!  When I shared that with his mom, she was shocked and thrilled to find out he wrote willingly! (Keep in mind, this is from one of my most struggling, least-interested-in-school students ;)
Another student's final response: "I would read the book again, it was that good.  It was also that good that it was the best book I've read for school, maybe even ever!"

If you've got reluctant novel readers (especially in grades 6-9), you have to introduce them to Tangerine!  It would make a great read-aloud, too!  Click the picture below to get your own Novel Study Guide for Tangerine.  I promise you and your students will LOVE this book!

But I Read it on the Internet by Toni Buzzeo

Toni Buzzeo is a school librarian who has invented the character "Mrs. Skorupski", an eccentric school librarian, to tell stories that teach children about using the library, digital technology, and other school library related skills.  This book tells the story of a boy named Hunter who believes that the only place to find true facts is inside a good old-fashioned book, while his classmate, Carmen, is a believer in anything she sees on the Internet.  The students are given the task to find out if teddy bears were really named after President Theodore Roosevelt and if George Washington did indeed have wooden teeth.  They must do research on the Internet (no books allowed!) and figure out how to tell if websites are giving accurate information or just trying to sell us something.

I read this book to my 8th graders yesterday! They enjoyed the opportunity to be read aloud to- a few even came up and sat on the floor like younger kids do!  I chose to read this book to my kids as a kick-off lesson to teach about evaluating websites.  The students have been learning about argumentative essays (arguing comes SO naturally to 8th graders!), and will soon be crafting their own research-based argumentative essays.  We head into the library tomorrow to begin our research on various topics, so before I set them loose on the Internet, I want them to know how to determine which sites are reliable and which aren't so good.  

This cute tale explains how to evaluate websites using 3 questions: 
1. Is the website informative?
2. Is the website easy to use?
3. Is the information on the website accurate?

It even includes this AWESOME checklist!

One thing I also liked about this book is that it is sensitive to students who may not have experience with the Internet and those who may not have computers or Internet service at home.  Many of the students where I teach come from lower socio-economic backgrounds, so I cannot assume my students have computers at home.  The main character, Hunter, doesn't want to let on that he and his grandma don't have a computer, but Mrs. Skorupski is sensitive to that fact and puts Hunter in contact with a librarian at the public library to help him out.

This is a great book for any class beginning to do research on the Internet!

1 comment:

  1. Love these books. I have to check out But I Read It on the Internet. I think it would be great for my middle schoolers too!