Goblins in the Castle

Goblins in the CastleGoblins in the Castle by Bruce Coville

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Summary (adapted from Goodreads)

Toad-in-a-Cage Castle was filled with secrets–secrets such as the hidden passages that led to every room, the long stairway that wound down to the dungeon, and the weird creature named Igor who lived there. William’s own past was mystery to even him, but it was the mysterious night noises that bothered William the most–the strange moans that drifted through the halls of the castle where he was raised.

He wanted to know what caused them.

Then one night they called his name….

My Review

My 4th grade teacher read this book to our class and I remember getting completely caught up in the story and the characters. It was one of the first books I read (or had read to me) that really had me on the edge of my seat.

So when it got to the point in the school year when I knew there would only be time to read one more book to my 3rd grade class I wanted it to be this one. I hadn’t read the book since hearing it for the first time at 10 years old, and I didn’t remember much of the details or the plot really; but with such fond memories of it I was confident none of us would be disappointed.

It turned out to be even better than I expected. It was the perfect read-aloud to end the year with. At the end of every chapter I would hear students either aloud or under the breath pleading, “Don’t stop! Please keep reading!” They (and me) couldn’t wait to unravel the mysteries of Toad-in-a-Cage castle. Bruce Coville has a real knack for humor but he also nailed the action and suspense-building in this one. It’s a quick and easy read, but not dumbed-down. It presents a well-rounded story arc with a variety of colorful characters which makes it so fun to actually read aloud.

There isn’t a lot of depth to the plot or character development that could lead to real analytical discussions, but this one is perfect for practicing the skill in the language arts curriculum of making and revising predictions. Lots of cliffhangers to provide text evidence with which to formulate predictions. You could also explore text structures throughout the book such as Problem and Solution, and Cause and Effect.

We finished the book on the 2nd to the last day of school, so we didn’t have time to do much else with it, but it would lend itself well to book reports and other projects like drawing or modeling what students imagine the goblins or their kingdom to look like. Students could write poetry or descriptive writing to articulate what they think it would have been like to be trapped in the tower like the goblins were.

But it’s important not to overanalyze or overthink this one. It really is just meant to entertain and excite, and it does a fabulous job of it.

Age Recommendation: It was perfect for 3rd graders and I loved it as a 4th grader. I think 5th and 6th graders would enjoy it too, so I’d say the ideal age would be 8-12. Girls and boys alike loved it in my class.

Appropriateness: If you are offended by a fart joke or practical jokes you might want to stay away from this one, but in my opinion it’s all humorous and harmless fun. Nothing offensive here.

Other book recommendations: If you like Goblins in the Castle you might also enjoy the Deltora Quest series by Emily Rodda, Septimus Heap series by Angie Sage, Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling, Fudge series by Judy Blume, Skinnybones by Barbara Park, Frindle by Andrew Clements, Fablehaven series by Brandon Mull, Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan, The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins, and The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm by Nancy Farmer.

Classroom Use: Perfect read-aloud. Use it to practice making and revising predictions, identifying and mapping story elements, discussing problem and solution and cause and effect.

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Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing

Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing (Fudge, #1)Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing by Judy Blume

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Summary (adapted from Goodreads)

Life with his little brother, Fudge, makes Peter Hatcher feel like a fourth grade nothing. Whether Fudge is throwing a temper tantrum in a shoe store, smearing mashed potatoes on the walls at Hamburger Heaven, or trying to fly, he’s never far from trouble. He’s an almost three-year-old terror who gets away with everything, and Peter’s had it up to here! How can he get his parents to pay attention to him for a change?

My Review

The escapades of Farley Drexel Hatcher (aka Fudge) never fail to entertain. Years ago I read SuperFudge, another book in this series, to my 2nd grade class. Today I just finished reading Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing to my third grade class. Throughout both books, each classroom of students was riveted. Their eyes went wide in anticipation of every mischief that Fudge would cause. They gasped and groaned at each of Fudge’s bad choices. Most memorably, they laughed through it all.

As a mother of a two year old myself, this book felt as real as realistic fiction can get. The older brother, Peter, is an entertaining narrator. Even as an adult I can feel for him in his struggle to endure the trouble his little brother causes. The events in the story are pretty normal occurrences in most lives so readers can connect to the premise and plot easily. But despite the normalcy of the events Fudge keeps it interesting and hilarious.

The book was written 30+ years ago, but it’s not dated. Students in 2017 still relate. Boys and girls alike love these books.

It’s the perfect read-aloud with expressive dialogue and plenty of places to pause and breed the suspense. It was a classic when I was in third grade and it’s still a classic today.

Age Recommendation: The narrator is in fourth grade in this book, so obviously that would be an ideal age to read it, but my third grades devoured it, and 2nd graders loved another book in the series.  I think even as young as kindergarten would love this book as a read aloud.  The reading level is probably closer to third or fourth grade. As an adult it’s a joy to read as well, lots of nuances that only more mature readers will pick up on.

Appropriateness: There is some digestive talk, sibling rivalry, and even a case of cooties. It’s just all so true to life, but with a hilarious “glass half full” perspective.  No worries about content with this one. It is a perfect book to read aloud.

Other Book Recommendations: If you like this book you’d better read Superfudge , Fudge-a-Mania, and Double Fudge to finish of the series (both also by Judy Blume). You would probably also like the Ramona books by Beverly Cleary, Skinnybones by Barbara Park, Holes by Louis Sachar, Frindle by Andrew Clements, The Unlikely Romance of Kate Bjorkman by Louise Plummer, The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt, and Everything on a Waffle by Polly Horvath.

Classroom Use: My students will be doing book reports on this book. There are many faceted and well rounded characters that would make for great study material, so for our book reports they will be making a “Me Bag” for one of the characters.  They will put 7 to 10 items into a bag that some how relate to or describe that character.  They will introduce the character to the class by telling why each item was included in the bag.

Skinny bones

SkinnybonesSkinnybones by Barbara Park

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Summary

Alex Frankovitch is a little on the skinny side for his age and definitely on the uncoordinated side. He has extra talent, however, for making the people in his life (and readers) laugh. It’s this talent that helps him get through baseball season and life as the target for the school jock and bully.

My review 

I consider read aloud time in my third grade classroom to be sacred. Ok maybe not sacred, but pretty darn important. Kids need to be exposed to “good” literature, not just curriculum stories formulated to teach information or a concept. They need to know what it feels like and sounds like to read a story with an interesting and smart author voice, one in which all the story elements are present, consistent, and complete. They need to be exposed to different genres as well. This is how experienced readers can motivate those still learning to want to keep at it. A read aloud experience at home or the classroom can show kids the adventures that wait them when they can independently read.

So I take seriously the responsibility of choosing “good” books to read aloud to my class. The BFG was our first read aloud this year, and then The Magician’s Elephant. Both of these books were fantasy though with very different voices. But I decided we needed a realistic fiction for our third read aloud. I perused all kinds of library lists and blogs to get ideas. On one list I saw Skinnybones. The name sounded vaguely familiar so I looked it up on Goodreads. As soon as I saw the cover memories from 5th grade came flooding back. My teacher read it to my class that year and I suddenly remembered bunting in baseball being confused with vomiting and other hilarious antics from Alex Frankovitch (a.k.a. Skinny bones). I knew it had to be the next read aloud in my classroom.

I was certain boys and girls with love this book and that we would all have a good laugh. I was 100% right. Alex Frankovitch is definitely the class clown, but an often misunderstood one. He makes some pretty dumb choices that get him into trouble but never out of maliciousness. He just doesn’t always think through his decisions. And he loves to make people laugh. The result is a laugh out loud journey through the perils of being an uncoordinated 5th grade aspiring baseball player with a problem with the class bully. My students were literally on the edge of their seats at times as we waited to see what Alex would do or say next. Everyday there were groans of disappointment when read loud time was over.

I loved the trip down memory lane. There are so many times that I would read a line or turn a page and suddenly remember what was going to happen next despite it having been over 20 years since my teacher read the book to my class. Occasionally I would start laughing at just the memory of what was to come and then have the hardest time reading it out loud without laughing through it. The laughter was contagious and my students would start laughing along with me before they even knew what the funny part was. Some highlights of the book for me are the beginning with Kitty Fritters fiasco, Alex’s conversations with God, and of course “Ooga Booga” in the middle of a baseball game.

Alex is just a lovable character despite his trouble-making tendencies. He reminds me of a boy in my class actually. I love how his parents handle his personality with their own sense of humor. The writing is genius. Though it was originally published in 1982, but it could just as easily take place today. So much of the story telling is dialogue and Alex’s thoughts which made it extra fun to read aloud with different voices and expression.

If you are in the mood for a ROTFL read pick up Skinnybones. I’m looking forward to seeing how many of my students pick up the next books in the series when we go to the library.

Age Recommendation: My third graders were the perfect age for appreciating this book. 5th and 6th grades would love it as well. But this book isn’t just for kids. Adults will appreciate the story and especially the perspectives of Alex’s parents and teachers.

Appropriateness: I love that this book is relatable for girls and boys. There is vomit talk, as would be expected when entering the mind of a 5th grade boy. Alex also has conversations with God but not in relation to any specific religion or spirituality. It was interesting to watch my students’ faces as I read the word “God” over and over. I live in a very religious area and yet students are not used to “that word” coming up at school. I loved being able to show them that it’s not taboo in all forms and that God is a real part of life for some people and even characters in books. I found nothing offensive in this book and it made for a perfect classroom read aloud.

Discussion Material: In my classroom this book inspired discussion about how to handle bullying, how to make up for mistakes we make or trouble we might cause, and how to keep a positive attitude and to like yourself even when life isn’t perfect.

Other Book Recommendations: If you like the sound of Skinnybones I think you would also like Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins, Everything on a Waffle by Polly Horvath, The Percy Jackson and the Olympians series by Rick Riordan, Holes by Louis Sachar, Frindle by Andrew Clements, Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing by Judy Blume, The Ramona series by Beverly Cleary, Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli, and The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman.

The BFG

The BFGThe BFG by Roald Dahl

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Summary (adapted from Goodreads)

Captured by a giant! It’s lucky for Sophie he is the Big Friendly Giant. Had she been carried off in the middle of the night by the Bloodbottler, the Fleshlumpeater, the Bonecruncher, or any of the other giants-rather than the BFG-she would have soon become breakfast. When Sophie hears that they are flush-bunking off in England to swollomp a few nice little chiddlers, she decides she must stop them once and for all. And the BFG is going to help her!

My review

It had been over 20 years since I read this book, but I remembered thinking it was hilarious as a 10 year old. So I decided to pick it up as our first read-aloud in my 3rd grade class. It was a hit! My students loved the way the BFG mixed up his words and they could not get enough of “whizpopping.” The story develops quickly so it kept their interest well, but it also has a great balance of developing details and really painting a picture of the characters, settings, and action. There is a lot of dialogue in the book which makes it especially fun as a read aloud. The text was on the perfect level for a class of 8 and 9 year olds.

Discussion material: The BFG inspired class discussions on metaphors, stereotypes, and geography. As a class we got to practice comprehension strategies inference, predictions, character mapping, sequence of events, and cause and effect.

Age Recommendation: Readers of any age can enjoy the fun, creativity, and humor in The BFG, but I think 2nd-4th graders will be especially enthralled.

Appropriateness: I didn’t find anything offensive or inappropriate; however, if you have a problem reading about passing gas (called whizpopping in the book) you may want to avoid this one. But if you are willing to loosen up and give it a chance, despite the whizpopping involved, you won’t regret it! It’s a clever and humorous adventure.

Other Book Recommendations: If you like the BFG then you should give other Roald Dahl books a try like Matilda, The Twits, and George’s Marvelous Medicine. You will also like Frindle by Andrew Clements, Skinnybones by Barbara Park, Everything on a Waffle by Polly Horvath, Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins, The Ordinary Princess by M.M. Kaye, The Magician’s Elephant by Katie DiCamillo, The Great Good Thing by Roderick Townley, and The Percy Jackson Series by Rick Riordan.

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Everything on a Waffle

Everything on a Waffle (Coal Harbour #1)Everything on a Waffle by Polly Horvath
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Summary

When Primrose’s parents both disappear at sea in the middle of a vicious storm, she is forced into a new life which includes a new home, new friends, new conflicts and adventures, new insights, and new recipes. It really does take a village in this case to take care of 11-year old Primrose. Some of the townspeople think they know best, like the snobbish and socially awkward school counselor Miss Honeycut. While others truly are just what Primrose needs to keep her hope alive, like her impulsive Uncle Jack, and Kate Bowzer, the owner of the local restaurant where all the food is served on a waffle. But the true joy in this story is how Primrose and her hope is just what the town, and all of us, need to approach the world and all of its challenges with courage, wit, kindness, fun, and love.

My Review

This is the kind of book I would want to write, but the genius to do so hasn’t hit me yet. I am inspired by the unique and accurate way in which life and people are depicted. I love the vibrant and varied characters and how each of them reveals wisdom to Primrose and to us as readers through both their follies and their successes.

I also love the humor! Parents disappearing at sea and a child wading through the foster system certainly doesn’t seem like the setup for a comedy, but that just makes it all the more impressive when you find yourself smiling all the way through. It’s not a silly humor or irreverent either. It’s a look at the bad things that can come in life through the eyes of a girl who is open to the good in everyone and in everything. But she also calls things like she sees them with the innocence and directness of childhood. She’s wades through major change with youthful adaptability and so perfectly communicates what she learns without ever letting go of the hope and knowledge that anchors her. I loved the recipes that were included as well and how they reveal Primrose’s state of mind. And there is humor and wit found even in the recipes.

Everything on a Waffle makes it into my top 20 list of favorite children’s books for sure.

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Age Recommendation: 10 years and older, though if you had a mature reader 8 years old would probably love it too.  Some of the wit and experience would be better understood at 10, however. And obviously despite it’s children’s book genre I would absolutely recommend it for adults as well.

Appropriateness: I found nothing offensive or questionable at all. There are some traumatic events for sure, but because of the approach to them I don’t think a child would be impacted negatively.  Instead, I think children can learn about hope, attitude, and faith through Primrose’s example. They can also learn how to better understand the adults in their life as well.

This would be a great book club discussion book! Scroll down for a list of discussion questions.

Other Book Recommendations: If you like Everything on a Waffle then you should read A Little Princess and The Secret Garden both by Frances Hodgson Burnett,  Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine, Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt, The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis, Princess Academy by Shannon Hale, Matilda by Roald Dahl, Frindle by Andrew Clements, Mr. Popper’s Penguins by Richard Atwater, Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli, and Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White.

Favorite Quotes

“Sometimes you get tempted to make something wonderful even better but in doing so you lose what was so wonderful to begin with.”

“You can be sunk low or as a skunk and still have a joy in your heart. Joy lives like one of those spinning things—a gyroscope in your heart. It doesn’t seem to have any connection to circumstance, good or bad.”

“All my life I had wanted to travel but what I discovered that year was that the things that you find out become the places that you go and sometimes you find them out by being jettisoned off alone and other times it is the people who choose to stand by your side who give you the clues. But the important things that happen to you will happen to you even in the smallest places…”

“The only really interesting thing about someone that makes you want to explore them further is their heart.”

“There’s something about sports. You can be setting fire to cats and burying them in your backyard, but as long as you’re playing team sports, people think you’re okay.”

“I want someone who puts the whole ball of wax at risk. I want the kind of marriage where we would follow each other out into the stormy fatal sea or I’m not marrying at all.”

“You can’t replace one dog with another any more than you can replace one person with another, but that’s not to say you shouldn’t get more dogs and people in your life.”

Discussion Questions

  1. Primrose never doubts that her parents are alive. Did you agree with her throughout the story? Did your opinion change?
  2. Primrose keeps a positive attitude throughout the book even when not so positive things happen.  How does she do it? Why does she do it? Do you think this is wisdom or just naivety?
  3. Which of the adult characters were your favorite? Why? What were their follies? How did they help Primrose?
  4. Miss Honeycut was certainly the least helpful adult to Primrose. How did you feel about her?
  5. Despite Miss Honeycut’s misguided intentions, Primrose seems to keep patience and understanding for her. How does she do this?
  6. Primrose says, “Miss Honeycut didn’t tell anecdotes because she was interesting; she told them because she wasn’t”. Have you ever known someone like that?
  7. Does seeing Miss Honeycut  and the other adults in the story through Primrose’s eyes change your opinion about any of the people you have known in your life?
  8. Was Miss Perfidy “good” or “bad” for Primrose? Do you think they cared about each other?
  9. Do you think Uncle Jack and Kate Bowzer will ever become romantically involved? What evidence did you see to support your opinion?
  10. Have you ever felt changed by traveling to a new place? Have you ever found big changes in even the “smallest places?”
  11. Primrose seems to relate better to the adults in Coal Harbor than to the children her age. Can you relate to that? Is this healthy for her?