Sibling Collaborators in Writing

As I’ve been reading recently, I noticed that I finished two books that were created by sibling teams so I decided to write a quick post about these two different series.

 Babymouse: Queen of the World by: Jennifer and Matthew Holm

 The first book in the Babymouse series follows a young mouse who must deal with things at school that all children come across: finding friends, dealing with homework, and un-sticking a jammed locker, amongst other issues. Most of all Babymouse wants to be invited to the slumber party of the “queen” of the school, Felicia Furrypaws. The reader watches as Babymouse devises different ways to get herself invited to this big event.

This is a fun graphic novel that can be handled by children moving from picture books to chapter books, but will be enjoyed by older students, too, who will have a better grasp of some of the humor and see themselves in the role of Babymouse. Funny illustrations and Babymouse’s creative imagination combine for an enjoyable fantasy read for elementary school students.

To view a few videos related to the Babymouse series, check out the following blog from teacher and super reading advocate Colby Sharp.


Regarding the Fountain: A Tale, in Letters, of Liars and Leaks by: Kate and Sarah Klise

This novel is written entirely in the form of correspondence between various characters who are dealing with a middle-school’s leaking water fountain. The plot progresses quickly from this simple problem to uncovering a full-blown scandal. There is a light mystery in the book dealing with why the town’s creek went dry three decades ago, though many readers will uncover the truth long before the protagonists do. The main draw of the book is the inventive way the story is told and the humorous interactions throughout. I especially liked the headstrong Florence Waters (the character names are all derived from wordplay) who is designing the new fountain based on students’ drawings and who puts the middle-school’s principal in his place. This is an amusing read that can also be used as a great mentor text for helping younger students understand the format of a letter.

I will most likely read other books from both of these series in the future because of the light-hearted work done by these sibling teams. Do you have any other favorite sibling collaborators? I can think of other family teams (the McKissacks, the Tashjians), but no other teams of siblings. Maybe I will come across more in the future as I read across genres.

As a reminder, I am still looking for pictures of classroom libraries for a post I am putting together for September. There are already some great submissions so keep them coming. Please send all pictures of classroom libraries (and a few lines of description, if possible) to shane DOT jensen29 AT gmail DOT com by September 2nd (I have pushed back the submission date).  Thank you for taking the time to do this during the hectic start of the year.


Places for Reading – Part 1

Since my blog is dedicated to reading from many different genres and exploring as many children’s books as possible, I figured it would make sense to create a post dedicated to how I set up my classroom library. And then I thought about how cool it would be to get a glimpse of as many classroom libraries as possible so other educators – or anyone interested – can see the variety of reading areas created by teachers. So, I have decided to (attempt to) create a collaborative blog post that includes pictures of libraries from different classrooms. Want to see what I mean? I have included two pictures of my library from when my classroom was in the tear-down phase at the end of June.

       Because many teachers are just getting back into school over the next few weeks, I thought this would be the perfect time to take some pictures of  reading spaces as they are prepared for the 2012-2013 school year. Here’s where you, dear reader, come in to make this a group effort: I would appreciate it if you send me a picture or two of your classroom library (if you have one) with any sort of description you would like to include.  Or if you have your own post about this very subject, send me a link and I will gladly include it here. Please e-mail any contributions with the heading “My library” to shane DOT jensen29 AT gmail DOT com by August 30th. Show a shelf, a comfy reading space, or one book bin that demonstrates your effort to establish a great place for promoting reading.  Don’t have a classroom library? Take a picture of your favorite reading space or your home library. What happens if I don’t get any submissions? Then I will just create a post that shows my current library set up with explanations of what is seen in the photos – my originally planned post.

To get all of the teachers out there inspired, here are some examples of classroom spaces that are already being posted out in the blogosphere (PS – these are great blogs to add to any reading-related RSS feed):

A fifth grade teacher, Katherine Sokolowski, shows her impressive library.

Franki Sibberson describes the great spaces she has created.

A picture from Donalyn Miller as she begins her transition into 4th grade. And another picture as things begin to come together.

(Donalyn Miller’s blog can be found here.)

Re-energized for establishing a fun reading environment yet? I hope so! I am eager to see everyone’s great reading spaces!

The Case of the Deadly Desperados by: Caroline Lawrence

“My name is P.K. Pinkerton and before this day is over I will be dead.” – Opening line of The Case of the Deadly Desperados

After this first line, the story of P.K. Pinkerton, the protagonist, moves along at the pace of stampeding wild horses. This western adventure begins with P.K. returning to his small house in the Nevada Territory to find his foster parents murdered in what looks like an Indian attack. He discovers that a group of desperadoes, led by a wanted man, came to the house looking for a deed that is in P.K.’s possession. P.K. flees to nearby Virginia City where he finds out that the deed in his possession gives the bearer the rights to a vast tract of land which happens to contain many silver mines. All he has to do is officially register the deed in town and the riches could be his. If only things were that easy…

I think readers looking for an adventure will devour this book. In the opening, readers find out that the protagonist is hiding in a mine shaft writing this story about what has happened so far in case he doesn’t make it through the day. There is a constant thread of danger throughout the novel that will leave readers flipping pages to find out how P. K. got into the situation detailed at the beginning of the story. I will warn readers not to read too fast because they will miss out on the great sensory details and the historical facts. Lawrence weaves in details about the Comstock Lode and Virginia City, as well as actual people like Sam Clemens (aka Mark Twain) that really brought the story to life and made me want to find out more about these things.

On Amazon, this book is recommended for grades 3 and up, but I can see parents with students in the lower bracket of this recommendation having problems with some of the material in this book. Characters are killed and maimed; P.K. meets women who are referred to as ‘Soiled Doves’; there are a few light swears (though P.K. does edit by inserting ‘blank’ at times in people’s speech); and time is spent in an opium den. Based on these features, I would personally move the recommended reading level to 5th grade or up, but there are always mature readers younger than that who I would not necessarily keep the book away from. Plus, all of these features add to the historical accuracy so they make sense in this novel.

As a reader, I do not seek out western themed stories; however, I find that when I read them, I tend to enjoy them. One novel that this book reminded me of is Black Storm Comin’ (recommended), a story of an African-American boy who must provide for his family. He decides to do this by illegally taking over a route for the Pony Express. Both of these stories follow boys in the American west during the 1860s who must act like adults if they hope to survive.

Overall, I really enjoyed this novel. It had plenty of adventure and a variety of side characters that really made the Wild West setting come to life. There are also a few twists in the plot that keep things interesting. I am now eagerly awaiting book two in this series!