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Mrs. B's Favorites
...books that Mrs. Ball has read and enjoyed

Fall Reads

Temple Grandin
How the Girl Who Loved Cows Embraced Autism and Changed the World
by Sy Montgomery

"Temple's most important innovations in design were accomplished not in spite of but because of her autism."

Temple Grandin's biography isn't just the story of her success in helping the animals we depend upon for food.  It is a walk in her shoes, growing up fiercely stubborn and autistic in a family where her own father demanded that she be committed to a mental institution.  Her mother refused, and spent Temple's childhood locating help, from an experienced nanny to the small private schools where Temple found her passions and creativity could bring her lifelong friends, some of whom joined her in her memorable pranks.  Her autistic behaviors and outwardly odd choices, though, drew cruel remarks from other students, and sometimes the attention of bullies as well.  She found comfort with the horses at her boarding school and the cattle at her aunt's Arizona ranch.   The way that Temple's senses help her to experience the world differently led her to use her creative and constructive talents to design safe and humane buildings for housing animals, especially animals bred for the business of food production.  Half of all of the cattle in the U.S. and Canada go through systems she designed to make meat-packing plants better for the animals, and as a result, also safer for the workers and more economical for the companies. The design of the book is inviting and engaging, with many family photographs and drawings of designs.  Sy Montgomery's writing is accessible and thoughtful, realistically bringing the reader into the tension and challenges of one autistic life -- one who has made the world a better place.  Highly recommended for 6th grade and up.

Never Fall Down
by Patricia McCormick 
National Book Award finalist

Over and over I tell myself one thing: never fall down.

Based on the true story of Arn Chorn-Pond, who was 11 years old when the Khmer Rouge violently overthrew the Cambodian government.  Arn's entire town is marched off to a set of labor camps, where families are separated, and all are forced to work in the rice fields, many until they die of exhaustion, malnutrition or untreated disease.  Arn sees children his own age dying, and quickly learns to become quiet and unnoticeable... it is the only way to avoid cruelty from the Khmer Rouge guards.  When the soldiers ask if there are any musicians, Arn steps out and says he can -- though he has never played an instrument.  This lie gets him out of the fields and into a hut where he knows if he doesn't learn to play the revolutionary songs perfectly, he will be taken into the mango grove and shot.  While he is learning to play, he is also secretly stealing food for other children to help them survive.  Before the Khmer Rouge is overthrown, he will be forced to also pick up a gun and become a child soldier.  Told in Arn's voice and dialect, this is a powerful and unforgettable tale of what a culture of fear and constant threat of violence will do to the spirit of a people.  Throughout this story, even at the darkest time, Arn manages to keep hope alive, and it is that which leads him to an adult life advocating for peace.  Strong 7th grade readers and up.

The Warrior's Heart
by Eric Greitens
adapted from his memoir The Heart and the Fist
I was expecting a gung-ho "how I survived SEAL training" story when I picked this one up, and I was really surprised at both the content and the structure of this adapted memoir.  Eric Greitens grew up in St. Louis in an average family, and went to college at Duke University.  Through grants and fellowships, he traveled to China, Rwanda, Croatia and Bolivia, where he worked with humanitarian groups to help war refugees, orphans and to document the lives of these people through photography.  His Rhodes Scholar thesis was that "what matters for people who have suffered is not what they are given, it is what they do."  The way to help communities recover is to empower them to do their own work and succeed.  Greitens decided to see if he had the courage to match his beliefs, and applied to the US Navy, with the understanding that he had to complete Officer Candidate School in order to get a one-time-only chance to go to Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training.  Part of the book is descriptions of his experiences in training, and parts take readers into the world of places that he visited, and the experiences and people who have shaped his life.  Between those are short pieces written in italicized second person ("what do you do?") presenting choices directly to the reader.  This is a moving memoir that will keep you thinking, with plenty of action and SEAL stories to keep you turnng the pages.  8th grade and up.

Shadow on the Mountain
by Margi Preus
Based on the real-life adventures of Norwegian resistance fighter Erling Storrusten, this historical fiction tale brings the battle with the Nazis to life.  Espen is 14 when the Nazis invade Norway.  Some of his friends decide to join the Hitler Youth movement, but others shy away from that.  Espen begins his resistance activities by delivering newspapers (which the Nazis have announced are now illegal), and later becomes a courier, bringing notes and retrieving things for the resistance.  One harrowing scene has him skiing deep into the forests to a remote cabin, to retrieve a pistol accidentally left by a spy.  Espen becomes a spy in his own right, and eventually has to be smuggled out of the country.  Like Shades of Gray, this tells a little-known part of World War II, and I enjoyed the everyday heroism of those who found ways to stand up to the Nazis (not to mention get around them, undermine them, and blow up their bomb factories).  Lots of maps, archival photos and other interesting tidbits make these short chapters exciting and a great read for 7th grade and up.

Marching to the Mountaintop
How Poverty, Labor Fights and Civil Rights Set the Stage for Martin Luther King Jr.'s Final Hours
by Ann Bausum
In the city of Memphis in the 1960's, the 1,100 black men who worked for the city collecting garbage had more in common with slaves than free men.  Their pay was so low they could qualify for welfare.  They had to supply their own work clothes and were given inferior and damaged equipment to work with.  When two men died after being pulled into the compacting unit on their truck in 1968, and the city did little to help their families or change working conditions, the workers decided to do something.  This is a story of the media, the workers and their families in Memphis, and the local and state government that allowed discrimination and terrible prejudice to continue.  It is also the story of the men and women who worked to help the impoverished sanitation crews of Memphis, and of Dr. Martin Luther King, whose speeches and influence and presence drew not only crowds of supporters but also those who wished to harm him.  James Earl Ray was one of those, and while he was the assassin who murdered Dr. King, he could not quell his message or stop the Civil Rights Movement.  National Geographic contributed many historic photos to this well-designed project.  A moving and dramatic view into events we have heard little about in history classes.  Strong 6th grade readers and up.

The Geomancer's Compass
by Melissa Hardy
I was beginning to put two and two together - curse, disgruntled ancestor, missing bones. "Let me get this straight; your theory is that Qianfu's ghost is hounding us from an unmarked grave somewhere on the Prairies? That he's the one responsible for all our problems?"
"It isn't a theory," she replied. "It's a fact... Clearly he is buried in a place with very bad feng shui," A-Ma replied. "And he doesn't like it one bit."

Science fiction with roots! A family curse that has decimated the Chinese-Canadian Liu family for over 100 years can only be lifted through the cooperation of brainy teenage tech guru Miranda, her bottomless pit of a severely dyslexic cousin, Brian, and the avatar of their revered grandfather's ghost who needs the 17th century geomancer's compass which was given to Miranda on the night that their grandmother A-Ma died. The Grandfather is depending upon his living grandchildren to discover the long-lost grave of his twin brother, Qianfu, who was murdered in 1908, and whose bones were stolen in 1915. Qianfu's ghost has been causing the family illness, bad luck and misfortune for years, and the only way to save the family is to dig up the bones and rebury them in a place with good feng shui -- right next to The Grandfather's grave in Vancouver. The cousins have to employ every database and online trick in the book to figure out what happened in 1908 and 1915, and where the bones of Qianfu might be located outside of Moose Jaw, Canada. For this, they make use of Miranda's recent internship at a tech company, and the military-level i-spex, or the eyeglass-sized virtual reality headsets that were a gift to all of the interns. While searching, the cousins have to deal with Miranda's near-obsession with avoiding germs and needing to find the restroom in any given location, and Brian's constant need to eat due to his hyperactivity. Their differences seem to be stumbling blocks at first, but nothing is quite what is seems in this adventurous tale. The Grandfather has warned them about how violent Qianfu's unhappy ghost has become... and that information just makes Miranda run for the nearest bathroom (with her disinfecting handi-wipes at the ready) while Brian inhales more junk food. Lots of humor in this utterly original multicultural scifi/fantasy mystery! 6th grade and up.  Review copy received through LibraryThing Early Reviewers

Bomb
by Steve Sheinkin
The men saw a purple-gray mushroom cloud rising above Hiroshima, its top reaching three miles above their plane.  The cloud boiled and writhed, they said, like a living thing.  "Even more fearsome was the sight on the ground below"... the entire city, said Van Kirk, "looked like a pot of boiling black oil."
...Tibbetts wrote out a coded report and handed it to the radio operator.  "Clear cut successful in all respects.  Visual effects greater than Trinity...  Proceeding to regular base."
This isn't just the story of how scientists figured out the physics of using atomic energy to create bombs, or how the first bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, Japan.  It's three separate stories, connected by the events of World War II, and the need to find a conclusive way to end that devastating war.  The Americans discovered that the Germans were working on building an atomic bomb, so they started working towards that as well.  The Soviets worked harder at spying in order to steal the bomb-making process than in developing their own bomb.  Finally, the Allies (though busy spying on each other) worked together to stop the Nazis from completing an atomic bomb.  The entire saga involved all kinds of industrial espionage, a Norwegian special ops ski team, geeky scientists who were quietly collected from around the world and set to work in the deserts of New Mexico, secretaries, politicians, dictators, pilots and bombardiers.  This is a well-written, incredibly well-researched book that shows far more of the political and social landscape than other books detailing the events and discoveries that led up to the war-ending bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  Excellent nonfiction, for 8th grade and up.

Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass
The Story Behind an American Friendship
by Russell Freedman
They had both come a long way, rising from poverty and obscurity. They had both educated themselves, and in fact read many of the same books... And they shared a common purpose.
Impressive research leads to thoughtful storytelling. I always enjoy Russell Freedman's work because of the storytelling, but in going through the citations and notes, I am thoroughly gobsmacked at the amount and depth of his research in this book, especially his primary source notes and quotations. Though most students are aware of the historic personalities of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, few authors have done much more than mention them as famous figures of the same time period. Freedman shows how their common experiences and beliefs led them from one meeting to an unusual friendship. In opening with the lead-up to their first meeting, and then backtracking to take readers through each man's life up to that point, Freedman sets the stage for the actual meeting in the White House. At the end of that meeting on August 10, 1863, Lincoln told him "Mr. Douglass, never come to Washington without calling upon me." Both men were passionate about ending slavery, and holding the country together. Their efforts were pivotal in the course of the Civil War, and in the shaping of the nation in recovery from that war. This is a fantastic book to give to students interested in Lincoln this fall, with the new Spielberg movie coming out soon! 6th grade and up.

The Vindico
by Wesley King
"Don't look so forlorn. You are all being offered a gift. Powers beyond your comprehension. The ability to strike back at a world that has been cruel to you..."
"But how can you give us superpowers?" Hayden asked. "I thought you had to be born with them."
""That... is the single most important lie the League of Heroes is built upon. It's a lie they have killed to protect. And it is also the reason the Vindico exists."

I loved the premise of the book. We've all seen superheroes defeating the villains, who always seem to come back for more. But what happens when the villains finally do get a little too old for the hijinks? They need a new generation, but this crew obviously didn't spend any time observing their prey. Five teens are kidnapped from their everyday lives, and brought to a secret facility where they are matched with a supervillain who will mentor them through the training process. Not everything goes according to the master plan naturally -- we ARE dealing with teenagers here -- and the villains have more on their hands than they expected. The five teens also come to realize that the superhero propaganda they've been hearing and seeing all of their lives isn't the complete truth. So what exactly constitutes good or evil? Lies or truth? How true does something have to be in order to actually be the truth? Lots of questions, plenty of humor, and a fun read all around. 7th grade and up.

The Secret Tree
by Natalie Standiford
"Otis said when you disturb a spirit's grave, the ghost floats out of the ground and goes to live in a tree. Especially a tree with holes in it. And it eats secrets. So if you find a tree with a hole in it, you can put your secret there and the spirit makes it go away"...
"How does Otis know so much about spirits?" I asked.
"He's from Louisiana," Raymond told me. "He knows voodoo."

Minty (Araminta Mortimer) lives in a town full of secrets, and her summer revolves around discovering the stories behind the mysteries while figuring out how to be herself when everyone around her is changing. When she sees something streaking through the woods, she follows it and discovers the Secret Tree, which holds a tightly folded scrap of paper:
No one loves me except my goldfish.
More secrets follow:   I put a curse on my enemy. And it's working. 
I'm in love with Kip Murphy. 
I wish I had the guts to run away. 
I'm betraying my best friend in a terrible way.
 
Minty befriends Raymond, who appears to be living alone in the abandoned half-built housing development that went bankrupt. Together they work to figure out whose secrets are whose from the Secret Tree, in a town that has a Witch House and a back-from-the-grave seven-foot-tall Man-Bat. There are Mean Boys, grouchy older sisters, and a missing stuffed animal.  Everyone has secrets, even Minty, and all of them weave together for a wonderful mystery. 6th grade and up. 


The Great Unexpected

by Sharon Creech
I liked this version of a Finn McCoul myth! Partly set in the little American town of Blackbird Tree, and partly set in Ireland at the estate of Mrs. Sybil Kavanagh, this is a story of love, betrayal, and the ultimate revenge (no, nobody gets murdered, though Sybil does LOVE a good murder mystery). Lizzie and Naomi are two orphans, best friends who meet the mysterious Finn, who has fallen out of a tree and supposedly is staying with the dim Dimmenses of Black Dog Hill. Naomi is terrified of dogs, as she was badly injured by the dog who killed her father when she was a toddler. Finn keeps reappearing mysteriously in various places through town, first talking to one girl ,then the other... and if Lizzie had any brains at all above her kindhearted motormouth, she'd be just as jealous as Naomi. Sybil is dying, and has set a plan in motion to save the one relationship she misses... the one wrecked by another Finn, long ago, and to exact revenge on those who have wronged her. How the residents of Blackbird Tree figure into her plans is a mystery unwrapped detail by detail throughout the pages of this enchanting story. I love a good Sharon Creech story -- I always find myself completely immersed after the first few chapters, and it takes bulldozers (or a howling third grade daughter) to drag me out again.  6th grade and up -- the structure bouncing back and forth from Ireland to America may be a bit challenging for some readers, but the writing gives you a solid feel for one setting or another, and there's even a font change to help you keep track of things.

Ungifted
by Gordon Korman
Epic, hilarious, classic Korman! Donovan is the kid who gets an idea and just does or says whatever... immediately. Without thinking.  He's been voted most likely to end up in jail, and has become a lifer in school detention. The afternoon his teacher sneaks off to watch the junior high championship game, Donovan's buddies bust him out of detention, and he ends up whacking the globe off the hilltop statue of Atlas holding up the world. Unfortunately, the giant bronze globe ends up demolishing the glass doors and front entrance of the gym, along with a sizeable portion of the gym floor, and terrifying the packed crowd at the game. After being nabbed by the superintendent himself, Donovan is sent home to await his expulsion papers.... and instead, there's a letter that arrives stating he has passed all of the exams and qualifications for the Academy of Scholastic Distinction, and his transfer is effective immediately. Donovan can barely put a decent paragraph together and is lucky if all of his grades are above C average (actually that usually means he's sitting next to someone a lot smarter than him or his buddies, the two Daniels). The Academy is an amazing high tech facility with incredibly smart kids and teachers, and the only way Donovan's going to be able to hide from the consequences of his massive bronze and glass mess is if he can manage to find a way to stay in the Academy. Turns out his only talent is xbox related, and it's the one talent missing in the school robotics team -- they can build it, program it, modify it... but none of them have the gamer instincts to drive it to the win, or the ability to see beyond the math and physics and engineering into the fun! Between that and Donovan offering his very pregnant sister up as the class "Human Growth and Development" project so that they don't have to take summer school for that subject, Donovan thinks it just might work. Add a raucous middle school dance, a phenomenally epic robotics competition takedown, and chapters from every different voice in the book, this is laugh out loud funny, with enough heart to keep you cheering for every single character. 6th grade and up.

Monument 14
by Emmy Laybourne

Another post-apocalyptic winner!  Disaster strikes right off the bat, when the busloads of kids are headed to school. Mrs. Wooly is the notorious "institution" of a bus driver who drives for the lower schools, and Mr. Reed is the "utterly forgettable" man who drives the high school bus. A monstrous hailstorm of epic, beyond-biblical proportions hits, and at 7:15 in the morning, Mrs. Wooly manages to drive her bus into the Greenway (think Super Wal-Mart or Super Target, with all the usual stuff plus groceries). She unloads her kids and then takes the bus back out to go rescue whoever's left after the high school bus has crashed and the giant cannonball hailstones have rocketed through the windows. Six high school kids make it out alive, and into the Greenway, with six elementary kids and two 8th graders from the lower school bus. Mrs. Wooly leaves to go get help after the storm lets up, and doesn't return. None of the Greenway employees made it through the hailstorm into the store (yes there are some messy remains in the parking lot), so it's just the 14 kids and everything in the store. The news reports coming into the electronics section where the televisions are tell them that there's been a volcanic eruption, a megatsunami, and huge earthquakes. Destruction is everywhere... and when the earthquakes hit Colorado, the kids are unprepared. Beyond that, the seismic jolts destroy a government chemical warfare storage facility, loosing a black cloud of biological agents that cause people to either blister internally and drown in their own blood, go insane, or become sterile. Because the kids are relatively protected, the little exposure they have causes scary but mostly temporary symptoms for most of them. They hunker down, block all of the doorways, air vents, and water pipes, and settle in for the long haul of the unknown. But others are outside, and they want to come in too... who do you trust in a world that's crumbled? Great suspense, some high school situations between the older characters, and a lot of what if? Best for 8th grade and up.

Safekeeping
by Karen Hesse 

"All passengers must submit to a security check before boarding.  Travelers wishing to board must first present a completed travel request form.  Please have valid ID ready to show. There will be no crossing of state lines without prior government approval."
"Travel request forms?" I ask. "No crossing state lines?"...
"Where've you been?  Under a rock?  You're not getting anywhere without authorized travel papers..." 
This is madness.  This is the United States.  This doesn't happen here.  But it is happening. 
Radley has been volunteering at an orphanage in Haiti, until the new American president was assassinated.  Worried over the news reports of unrest, looting and rioting, Radley insists on leaving for her New Hampshire home.  After traveling for more than 24 hours, Radley arrives to find no one there to meet her, and no way to get closer to home unless she walks.  Cell phone dead, credit card useless, no money and no approved travel papers mean that Radley is out of other options.  This is her survival story, of walking home, finding nothing, and then doing as the kindhearted Monsieur Bellamy at the orphanage directed: if it is too dangerous, you must go to Canada.  But walking to Canada when you have no shelter, no weapons, and no food other than what you scavenge from dumpsters is also dangerous.  This is a political story through the eyes of a single person who expects her rights as a citizen of these United Statese to be respected.  But as many other nations have found, in times of desperate turmoil and revolt, those rights are often the both the most precious things we have and the most vulnerable.  Anyone who's spent time in the northern woods of Vermont and New Hampshire will appreciate the setting, and the political questions are perfect for 8th grade's study of the Constitution. 

Unstoppable 
From Underdog to Undefeated:
 How I Became a Champion

by Anthony Robles

 This is an incredible, inspiring sports memoir from the 2011 NCAA National Wrestling Champion and 3-time All-American wrestler Anthony Robles.  When he was born to a teenage mother, he had only one leg, and she was counseled to give him up for adoption.  But the beginning of his life was marked with a love that was tougher than any obstacle -- his mother's.  Throughout his childhood, Anthony refused to be left behind with anything.  When his prosthetic leg became more of a hindrance than his crutches, he would get rid of it and play soccer or football or whatever else he wanted using his crutches to run and keep up with everyone else.  In high school, he began to wrestle, and he is brutally honest about how poorly he did in his freshman year.  In order to compete, he had to create a new style of wrestling that would compensate for his missing leg, and take advantage of his fast-improving upper body strength and developing grip.  His coaches helped him develop routines to push those strengths to new heights, and Robles was undefeated as a wrestler during his last two years of high school.  College brought new challenges, both at home and at school, and his story of learning from his mistakes and finding new ways to succeed is amazing.  Perfect for anyone who loves the sport of wrestling, or anyone interested in sports challenges!  7th grade and up.




Comments and/or suggestions for books I should read?  Come see me in the media center or email me at Karen_Ball@greenwich.k12.ct.us




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