Book Review: When You Reach Me

Every few years, I read a book that really has an impact on me, and this one did, in a very profound way. I have a feeling that Rebecca Stead’s When You Reach Me is going to stay with me for a very long time. Its intended audience is ages 8-12, but I think even teens will love this book. I’m not sure 8-year-olds will be able to comprehend everything in it, but I AM sure it will give them plenty to think about and possibly figure out on their own…not a bad gift to give your 8-year-old!

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The story takes place during the late 1970s in New York City. This is a well-plotted story that weaves so many seemingly random threads into the most detailed tapestry… but I don’t want to give anything away. You need to read this book for yourself!

Content Advisory: The only thing I found even mildly objectionable was that the main character’s mother “swipes” things from work.

From the author’s website:

Four mysterious notes change Miranda’s world forever.

By sixth grade, Miranda and her best friend, Sal, know how to navigate their New York City neighborhood. They know where it’s safe to go, and they know who to avoid. Like the crazy guy on the corner.

But things start to unravel. Sal gets punched by a new kid for what seems like no reason, and he shuts Miranda out of his life. The apartment key that Miranda’s mom keeps hidden for emergencies is stolen. And then Miranda finds a mysterious note scrawled on a tiny slip of paper:

I am coming to save your friend’s life, and my own.
I ask two favors. First, you must write me a letter.

The notes keep coming, and Miranda slowly realizes that whoever is leaving them knows things no one should know. Each message brings her closer to believing that only she can prevent a tragic death. Until the final note makes her think she’s too late.

When You Reach Me won the Newbery Medal in 2010. The New York Times said it was “smart and mesmerizing.” The Washington Post said it was “incandescent.” The Philadelphia Inquirer said it was “lovely and almost impossibly clever.” The Wall Street Journal said, “Readers … are likely to find themselves chewing over the details of this superb and intricate tale long afterward.”

I say: Run — don’t walk, RUN — to your local library to check out this book, or, better yet, buy a copy of this one for yourself because it’s a keeper. You may want to get another copy to give a friend. You’re going to want to talk with someone about it after you read it. And re-read it. And maybe even re-re-read it. Yes, it is that good! Because of this book, Rebecca Stead’s name will always be on my list of favorite authors.

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Book Review: When You Reach Me

Book Review: Projekt 1065: A Novel of World War II

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Projekt 1065 A Novel of World War II was published by Scholastic Press in October 2016. The author is Alan Gratz.

Content Advisory: contains violence.

This novel will, no doubt, have special appeal for middle-grade boys.  With a Lexile  level of 780, the text is simple enough to read for third or fourth graders. I would not, however, encourage younger kids to read this book. More about that later. From its short chapters and its opening line, “It’s hard to smile when you’re having dinner with Nazis,” it pulls even reluctant readers into a fast-paced, intriguing spy story. At the same time, it gives us a fascinating view of Nazi Germany during World War II.

The main character is a 13-year-old Irish boy named Michael O’Shaunessey. All children in Nazi Germany were required to be members of the League of German Girls or Hitler Youth (for boys), and Michael was no different. What IS different about Michael is that he is a spy. His mother is one, too. Michael’s father is the Irish ambassador to Germany. Other embassies were closed in Berlin during World War II. Ireland was neutral during World War II, and that is why the Irish embassy is still open in Berlin in 1943, when this story takes place. Since his father is a diplomat, Michael’s family enjoys a level of freedom from Nazi oversight that allows Mrs. O’Shaunessey and Michael to take pictures and gather information that is useful to the Allies, and Michael’s father sends them to Ireland in his diplomatic pouch, which is safe from Nazi eyes.

The boys in Hitler Youth were used to aid the Nazi war effort. When a British RAF plane is shot down over Berlin, Michael and the other boys are sent to scour the countryside to find the missing pilot. Since Michael’s loyalties lie with Britain instead of the Nazis, he tries very hard, and succeeds, in finding the pilot first. He helps Simon hide and later that night leads his parents to the hidden pilot. Simon has a sprained ankle and needs a place to hide until he can get away. The O’Shaunesseyes take Simon, who is Jewish, back to their home in the Irish embassy and hide him in a closet, a crime that is punishable by death.

Michael defends a smaller boy named Fritz against bullies, and as he comes to know Fritz better, learns of Projekt 1065. This top-secret German project is the development of the jet engine, something that would give the Nazis a huge advantage over Britain’s Royal Air Force, which drops bombs on Berlin on a daily basis. Fritz’s father has the blueprints out in plain sight in his study in Fritz’s home. It turns out that the jet engine factory was Simon’s secret mission; he was taking pictures of the facility where the engines were to be built to gain information for the Allies. Simon encourages Michael to get closer to Fritz in order to gain access to the blueprints for the new jet airplanes. Since Michael has a photographic memory, it is easy for him to memorize the blueprints. Then Simon draws them with Michael’s help so the blueprints can be given to the Allies.

As Michael gets closer to Fritz, he sees the other boy’s fanatical loyalty to Hitler and learns that Fritz would literally do anything for his country and the Führer.

While I enjoyed the story about an Allied spy in Nazi Germany, there were some things about this book that really bothered me. Michael is trying to help Fritz gain a place in the elite SRD (like a junior Gestapo squad for kids). An older boy, Horst, pits Michael and Fritz against each other in the boxing ring, knowing that they are friends. In the boxing ring, Michael knocks Fritz down a time or two, whispering to him to stay down. But Fritz just keeps coming back for more. Finally, Michael shows no mercy, punching Fritz repeatedly in the head after he’s down. They both gain a place in the SRD for showing the Nazi leaders that they will do whatever it takes to get the job done. Michael describes how something came over him in the ring and he became like the monsters he hates.

In the second instance, Michael needs to win a spot on the “science team” – he needs to be one of four boys chosen to go to a conference in Switzerland. The four boys’ purpose for going is to kill a top scientist who is working on developing the atomic bomb for the Allies. Michael plans to save the scientist and stop the bombing that would injure many scientists and innocent people.

Content Advisory – here is what I object to:
After Michael initially is not chosen for that team, he “does whatever it takes” to accomplish his goal – he savagely attacks one of the four boys on the team (Horst) and leaves him “alive – but just barely” and blood pooling around him. Did Michael kill him? We don’t know.

So, to solve a problem, Michael resorts to very violent behavior. True, it is against a bully who, it might be argued, deserved it. The theme of the book is that sometimes, people have to be sacrificed to win a war. Michael asks at one point, “How do you decide who to sacrifice and who to save?” By the end of the book he has decided on his own who to sacrifice and how to solve his problem by using violence and beating someone (almost?) to death.

Even with my own abhorrence of violence, I would still recommend this book to ages 12 and up. I do think teachers and parents need to be aware of the violent scenes so they are prepared to discuss them with kids, realizing that the story took place in wartime, and the setting of the war and the violent Nazi culture perhaps justified these events.  Other reviews I have seen don’t even mention the violent scenes.  Perhaps I’m the only one bothered by them.

The School Library Journal says,

“A winning combination of action, suspense, and historical setting. Recommended for all collections.”
“He (the author) doesn’t shy from challenging his readers, offering them a coming-of-age story that concludes that sometimes good people must be sacrificed or wrong things must be done in order to win a larger battle.
 
A rare insider’s glimpse into the Hitler Youth: animated, well-researched, and thought-provoking.”

To learn more about the history, this could be paired with a great nonfiction text about Hitler Youth:  Hitler Youth:  Growing Up in Hitler’s Shadow (a Newbery Honor book) by Susan Campbell Bartoletti. Alan Gratz, author of Projekt 1065, recommends Bartoletti’s book and says it was an invaluable resource for him in writing Projekt 1065.

Book Review: Projekt 1065: A Novel of World War II

Milestone Celebration! A NEW Freebie!

My Reading Resources is celebrating a TpT milestone this month! Though it still feels like every product sold is worthy of celebration, this is a great opportunity to celebrate a little longer and do a little something special, and perhaps give you something to celebrate, too.

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As this year is an election year, I thought you might appreciation an election-themed item.  This new freebie is a question and answer dice game for Dan Gutman’s The Kid Who Became President. The game is a part of my novel study and it is such a fun addition to the classroom. You can use it in your centers as a way to check comprehension, or you can divide your class into groups and give each group a game board to play as a test prep activity.  There are several general questions about American government – you can pick out which question cards to use in the game and even use it without reading the book!

Also check out my novel study for The Kid Who Ran for President, and my Kid Who Ran/Kid Who Became President novel study bundle.

Milestone Celebration! A NEW Freebie!

Back to School Sale + Story Mapping FREEBIE!

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Can you believe it is August already? This summer has really flown by…as usual.

What’s been happening at My Reading Resources this summer? There is a big redesign project in the works. Everything is getting a fresh look and some updates to make each product even better. It is a big job, and it has gone a lot slower than expected, but the end result…SO WORTH IT!

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The Teacher Pay Teachers Best Year Ever Sale runs August 1 – 2. Everything in my store is 20% off. Don’t forget to use the promo code: BestYear to boost your savings to 28%!

Let’s kick off the school year in style–with a FREEBIE! Here is a great little graphic organizer that works for almost any narrative text that your students might read. It covers identifying setting and main characters, and asks students to determine genre using supporting evidence from the text. Finally, students must identify the main problem in the text, as well as its solution. I love story mapping to help teach summarizing. Sometimes the idea of putting an entire book into a few short sentences can be overwhelming. Story mapping to the rescue! Students complete the story map, and suddenly all the information they need for a great summary is at their fingertips. Enjoy!

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Back to School Sale + Story Mapping FREEBIE!

MRR Product Feature: The Midnight Fox by Betsy Byars

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Are you looking for a great story to help teach point of view or foreshadowing? This is it! I love this story–and kids love it too. When the kids are having fun and enjoying a book, they are more open to learning and the lessons seem to stick with them better. When they are invested in a story, the concepts become “real” to them and they have a foundation on which to build on.

Let’s take a look at what I mean. Your students may have already been introduced to point of view. They may even be pretty good at distinguishing between first-person, second-person, and third-person point of view writing. That’s great! It is a great scaffolding on which to build. But sadly, many students never progress past this stage of scaffolding. They don’t know how to apply their knowledge in a way that brings about a deeper understanding.

When your students read The Midnight Fox, they will be able to see point of view working as an active part of the story. The story is written in first-person point of view, from the point of view of the main character, Tom. As a result, the reader’s perception of the events of the story are heavily influenced (and limited) by Tom’s thoughts and emotions. Betsy Byars expertly uses the first-person narrative to not only give the reader a greater depth of understanding about Tom’s character, but also uses Tom’s point of view as a vehicle for foreshadowing in the text. The reader gets a strong sense of “what is going to happen” later on in the story. Students will be able to clearly define why they believe that they can predict the outcome based on specific clues in the text.

This is a perfect story for addressing CCSS R.L. 5.6 for fifth grade – how a narrator’s point of view influences how the story is told. This would be a very different story, indeed, if it were told as a third-person narrative.

BOOK FACTS:

  • ages 8-13
  • Lexile score: 970
  • 144 pages

Would you like to study The Midnight Fox with your class? Check out my no prep novel study packet!

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This 112 page novel study includes:

  • Student Worksheet Packet
    • Vocabulary work
    • Targeted questions about synonyms/antonyms, figurative language, point of view, foreshadowing, and making inferences
    • Open response questions
    • Writing prompts
    • Discussion questions
    • Character compare and contrast graphic organizer
    • Problem and solution graphic organizer
    • Understanding theme graphic organizer
    • Student project options
  • Section quizzes
  • Final review test
  • Final vocabulary test
  • Word wall cards
  • Vocabulary and definition cards
  • Question and answer dice game
  • Complete answer key
  • CCSS checklists for grades 4-7

OTHER RESOURCES FROM AROUND THE WEB:

MRR Product Feature: The Midnight Fox by Betsy Byars

MRR Product Feature: Government & Election Process

It is an election year. The signs are everywhere (literally). Commercials on tv. Ads on the radio. Signs on billboards and in yards. Candidates are debating and campaigning. You can’t miss it–even if you try.

Election years provide teachers with a great opportunity to focus in on the origins, structure, and processes of the U.S. government. Students are more engaged because, during times like these, the material feels relevant–after all, the signs ARE everywhere. Opportunities abound to make real-life comparisons or to use actual examples that are playing out in real time.

Sometimes, though, the whole process just feels a bit overwhelming. It can be difficult to figure out just where to start. Can you relate? When this happens to me, I turn to literature. It’s a great way to introduce a topic, and it can help you structure your lesson plans by following along with the order in which topics are presented in the book.

Here are a couple of fun ideas for grades 3 – 5 to help you cover the election process with your students.

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Students just love these two books by Dan Gutman!  The story is told from the perspective of “The Kid,” a wise-cracking 12-year-old, and students feel like they are reading a story written by someone just like them. It is a fun read for kids, but Gutman does an amazing job of incorporating a solid lesson in the workings of the American political system in The Kid Who Ran for President, and the office of the president in The Kid Who Became President.

For older students, this is a really neat way to teach the history of the drafting of the U.S. Constitution.

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I just love using readers’ theater scripts and this one is as much a history lesson as it is a reading exercise. This script features 19 different speaking parts and asks students to step into the shoes of the Founders of this nation and the Framers of the U.S. Constitution. This works well for a class reading, but it also make for a wonderful performance as a play for the stage.

OTHER RESOURCES FROM AROUND THE WEB:

  • 5th Grade Literacy Focus Unit centered around The Kid Who Became President
  • Literacy Links – questions asking students to make connections to the text  and a writing prompt for The Kid Who Became President (part of the materials in this link make reference to the Foundations of Democracy series published by this group, it is available here if you are interested)
  • How Should We Choose People for Positions of Authority? – Lesson plan for upper elementary students
  • What Is the Federal System Created by the Constitution? – This lesson teaches students about the federal system of government created by the Framers. Students learn about popular sovereignty, federalism, and the supremacy clause of the Constitution. For grades 7-8.
  • Constitution Day Scavenger Hunt with 60-Second Civics – Fifty-five delegates were present at the Constitutional Convention, which was held in Philadelphia in the summer of 1787. Most students can identify George Washington, James Madison, and maybe even Alexander Hamilton. But what about the other fifty-two delegates? Who were they? How did they influence the convention? In this lesson students will familiarize themselves with the delegates by listening to a series of 60-Second Civics podcast episodes devoted to the Framers of the Constitution. For grades 9-10.
  • How Was the Constitution Used to Organize the New Government? – This lesson explains the five major accomplishments of the first Congress. Students learn how the Constitution provided a general framework for the government. For grades 9-10.
  • What Is the Role of the President in the American Constitutional System? – This lesson examines sources of presidential power and ways that checks and balances limit presidential power. Students explain the president’s constitutional responsibilities, identify checks on the president’s power, and defend positions involving the exercise of presidential power.
  • What Conflicting Opinions Did the Framers Have About the Completed Constitution? This lesson describes some conflicting points of view of leading Framers about the Constitution. Most of the delegates argued for the adoption of the Constitution, although many had reservations about all or parts of it. The reservations of three were so serious that they refused to sign the document. The position of one of these Framers, George Mason, is explored in detail. You also will examine Benjamin Franklin’s statement in defense of the Constitution. For grades 9-12.

 

MRR Product Feature: Government & Election Process

MRR Product Feature: Homecoming by Cynthia Voigt

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Cynthia Voigt‘s Tillerman Series may very well be remembered as one of the classic series of our age. Since the publication of Homecoming in 1981, young readers have found in these books stories that resonate with them. Many adults today fondly remember reading the series in junior high or high school. For some, Homecoming was the first book that truly captivated them, serving as a gateway to a world of other great stories and adventures just waiting to be discovered.

Homecoming is not only the first book in the series, it is the first book written by Cynthia Voigt. In it we are introduced to Dicey and her three younger siblings, James, Maybeth, and Sammy, just as their mother abandons them in the parking lot of a shopping mall. With no home to return to and very little money, Dicey sets out on a determined journey to find what little family they have–a great-aunt named Cilla that they have never met–in the hope that they will find their mother, or at least avoid being split up and placed in foster care.

There is much to love about using Homecoming in a classroom setting. The characters have great depth. This is a great book for analyzing characters or comparing and contrasting different characters within the same story. Even before their mother abandons them, the Tillerman children have endured their share of adversity. Their father left the family years ago, their mother is mentally unstable and struggles to make ends meet. They have no one that they can depend on for help. The difficult background of the Tillerman children is wonderful for engaging struggling learners, many of whom can find parallels between the Tillermans’ story and their own. On the flip side, the rich details and engaging characters of the story can help to teach empathy to students who have always had the good fortune of having loving and supportive families.

Homecoming is a wonderful read for students in grades 5 and up. For students at the bottom of this range (grades 5 and 6), consider reading some parts of the story aloud. This is a story that is great for opening up discussions about topics that that many students of this age don’t fully comprehend (mental illness, foster care, learning disabilities, homelessness, and poverty). This will open up opportunities to dispel myths or assumptions that lead to prejudices and provide examples to help to further explain the issues.

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BOOK FACTS:

  • ages 10 and up
  • Lexile score: 630
  • 400 pages

AWARDS

  • Notable Children’s Trade Book in the field of social studies, 1981
  •  National Council for Social Studies/Children’s Book Council, 1981
  • American Book Award Nominee, 1981
  • ALA Best of the Best for Young Adults

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This novel study was designed to help you easily study this book with your students. It has everything that you will need to complete a thorough study of Homecoming. No need to spend hours pouring over the text in painstaking detail. It’s all taken care of for you! This 90 page novel study includes:

  • Student Worksheet Packet
    • Pre-reading activity
    • Vocabulary work
    • Open response questions
    • Writing prompts
    • Character study graphic organizers
    • Understanding Theme graphic organizers
    • Student project options
  • Final review quiz
  • Word wall cards
  • Vocabulary and definition cards
  • Question and answer dice game
  • Complete answer key
  • CCSS checklists for grades 5-8

 

OTHER RESOURCES FROM AROUND THE WEB:

  • Reading Group Guide from Simon & Schuster with Discussion Topics and Activities &  Research ideas
  • Novel Guide from McDougal-Littell with literature connections and additional reading
  • 60 Second Book Review – Show this video to your students before reading the book. Discuss how the speaker in the video persuades the view to read the book. After reading the book, have students make their own 60 second book reviews or write a book review telling other why they should or should not read Homecoming.
  • Student Bounty study questions and suggested essay topics
  • Quizlet quiz questions
MRR Product Feature: Homecoming by Cynthia Voigt