Book Review: Pam Allyn's The Best Books For Boys

Author: Pam Allyn
Title: Pam Allyn's Best Books for Boys: How to Engage Boys in Reading in Ways That Will Change Their Lives
Publisher: Scholastic Teaching Resources (May 1, 2011)
Audience: Educators/Librarians/Parents
Source: Copy for Review

Description from GoodReads
Get all boys reading with this extraordinary guide—chock-full of a wide range of must-read titles organized by interest, age, and development. With this resource in hand, you'll never again struggle to find the right book for even your most reluctant readers. The carefully chosen book selections are accompanied by brief explanations of each book, and a recurring feature, Talk About It, will help you extend the book through conversation, supporting and enhancing the reading experience. In addition, ready-to-use lessons align with themes and topics of special interest to boys that will motivate and inspire them to read more. Finally, Pam answers your most pressing questions about the challenges for boys as readers and shows you how you can maximize environments, routines, and structures to ensure that boys are reading widely and passionately. For use with Grades K-8.

I must admit that I was slow in discovering Pam Allyn and her wonderful work to support literacy not just here in the United States but also globally.  My staff and I did our best (despite some District events) to celebrate World Read Aloud Day (March 9, 2011).  With a goal to increase student literacy and love for books, how could we not try to participate in some way?  And yet, I'm glad to have discovered Allyn, her books, and her passion for Global Literacy.

So when I was asked to review Allyn's new book - Pam Allyn's Best Books for Boys: How to Engage Boys in Reading in Ways That Will Change Their Lives - it was easy to say yes.  While I was reading the book, I couldn't help but think about teachers that I would like to give a copy to.  This practical resource for parents, teachers, librarians or anyone who cares about children and reading looks at why a book like this was needed as well as provides very practical ways to encourage and support reading with boys.

The book opens with an introduction, and if you tend to skim through introductions or think they aren't important, I encourage you to read this one.  Throughout the whole introduction, I wanted to verbally voice my agreements with her statements and observations.  I nearly cried at the story of Sammy who developed pride in his reading and shouted an emphatic agreement when Allyn indicated that "we need a Title IX for the classroom to equalize the gender opportunities for all..." (p. 8)

And I loved this explanation Allyn gives as to part of the purpose of the book:

"In this book, I will share with you the critical elements for helping boys build confidence, feel like contributing members of a reading world, and stretch the rope so that they can make progress in leaps and bounds." (p. 7)

Within the Key Question and Answer section, Allyn talks about the READ (Ritual, Environment, Access, Dialogue) Model and answers some very important questions about boys and reading.  I am already thinking about how I can use this section of the book as part of a discussion with the teachers that I work with.

As if it wasn't enough for the introduction and first two sections to have information that will just resonate with those who have spent any time with boys.  The final section is an amazing K-8 reading list in annotated bibliography format with talking points for specific books.  Each category looks at books for emerging readers, developing readers, and maturing readers.  The list is filled with old favorites and many new titles.  After reading the book, I find myself wanting to go back to read titles that I have missed or to keep referring the book to every teacher that I know (and librarians too).

If you are looking for a gift for a teacher or a librarian or parent, I would highly recommend Pam Allyn's Best Books for Boys: How to Engage Boys in Reading in Ways That Will Change Their Lives. I know that I will be handing out copies of this to both new and experienced teachers.

For more information about Pam Allyn, check out the following websites -

Her official website:
Or her LitWorld page:
Or her LitLife page:

Friend her on Facebook:

Follow her on Twitter: @pamallyn

To purchase a copy of the book on Amazon, please go here:

From July 1-7, 2011, you also have a chance to win a copy of Pam Allyn's book.  For details, click here.

Book Review - Marty McGuire

Author: Kate Messner
Illustrator: Brian Floca
Publisher: Scholastic (May 1, 2011)
Pages: 160
Audience: 1st to 3rd grade
Source: ARC from Mid-Winter ALA
Fiction * Early Chapter Books 

Description from GoodReads:

A fun, accessible chapter-book debut from an exciting new talent--simultaneous hardcover-paperback launch!

Marty McGuire would rather spend recess catching frogs in the pond than playing dress-up with the other girls in third grade. So when her teacher casts Marty as the princess in the class play, Marty's absolutely, positively sure that there's been a huge mistake. But after a special lesson in the art of improvisation, Marty comes up with her OWN plan to IMPROVE the play: Why use stuffed-animal frog onstage when a live one would be so much better? In the end, Marty's one-of-a-kind performance makes for an unforgettable show. Maybe Marty CAN live happily ever after, after all!

One of the most challenging age groups to write for are children in grades 1st to 3rd.  These developing readers are at all different levels.  Finding just the right book to draw them in and keep them reading - well that isn't easy.  When I find one that I love, I get pretty excited.  Kate Messner's first early chapter book is definitely one that falls in this category.

"I'd call Veronica Grace Princess Bossy-Pants if I were allowed to call people names. But I'm not.  So I won't."  - Marty McGuire, p. 1

Messner had me with this line.  I immediately became quite fond of this third grader who would rather be Jane Goodall than a princess in a school play.  Messner does a great job of creating a character who is funny, energetic, but not annoying.  I had great empathy for Marty's teacher and loved her down-to-earth parents.  And of course, I got a great chuckle out of a rehabilitating raccoon named Sparky who is currently living with the McGuires.

Since I loved this so much, I had to share it with a class of second graders.  They loved Marty as well.  Here are some of their thoughts:

"I like the part when she (Marty) kisses the frog." - Perla, age 7

"The book was funny, and nice.  It will be cool to have another." - Dulce, age 7

"I like Marty McGuire because it was funny.  I liked the book because Marty got a new friend in the end." - Celeste, age 8

"My favorite part was when Marty fell into the pond." - Chanler, age 7

"What I liked about this book is that Marty didn't want to be a Princess in the play, but she still did it. And she was showing courage." - Sierra, age 7

Since we were so excited about Marty McGuire, we asked Kate Messner if she would Skype with us.  She agreed and my students were so thrilled.
We asked lots of questions and even learned that there were be one more Marty book coming out in 2012 and hopefully more after that. (Scholastic - please take note that we would like many more Marty books.)  Kate even asked the students to give her feedback for possible future titles of books.  Our love for Marty McGuire didn't end here, we made sure she was featured at our Spring Bookfair at Vroman's Bookstore.

For more information about Kate Messner and her books, check out her website:

You can follow her on twitter: @katemessner

She can be found on Facebook:

Book Review - My Brother Charlie

In this series of book reviews celebrating National Inclusive Schools Week, today I am focusing on a story that looks at the subject from a sibling's perspective.  

Author: Holly Robinson Peete, Ryan Elizabeth Peete
Illustrator: Shane W. Evans
Publisher: Scholastic (March 1, 2010)
Reading Level: 4 to 8 years old
Source:  Personal Copy
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Description from GoodReads:
Callie is very proud of her brother Charlie. He’s good at so many things  --  swimming, playing the piano, running fast. And Charlie has a special way with animals, especially their dog, Harriett.

But sometimes Charlie gets very quiet.

His words get locked inside him, and he seems far away.

Then, when Callie and Charlie start to play, Charlie is back to laughing, holding hands, having fun.
Charlie is like any other boy – and he has autism.

In this story, told from a sister’s point of view, we meet a family whose oldest son teaches them important lessons about togetherness, hope, tolerance, and love.   

Holly Robinson Peete, bestselling author, actress, and national autism spokesperson, has paired with her daughter, Ryan, to co-author this uplifting book based on their own personal experiences with Holly’s son and Ryan’s brother, RJ, who has autism.

I had a chance to hear Holly Robinson Peete speak about My Brother Charlie at the SCIBA dinner this past February.  She was so honest and straight-forward and compassionate about the topic of autism and what it was like being a parent of a child with autism.  Also, it was interesting to hear her speak about her daughter's experiences.  

When I finally had a chance to read the story, I was pleased to see that the book reflected that same honest, straight-forward compassion.  Additionally, I loved that it was from a sibling perspective.  In My Brother Charlie, Callie is the twin to Charlie who has autism.  Her voice rings true and when I hit the page that talks about how Charlie doesn't let anything stop him when he wants something - even if it is dangerous, I found myself shaking my head in full understanding.  But when Callie says that sometimes Charlie can ruin a playdate, I wanted to clap and give Callie (Ryan) a hug.  

There needs to be more books and more honest portrayals of what it is like for a sibling of a child with autism.  Sometimes I think they are the forgotten ones in the whole journey called "autism".  This book provides a parent or a teacher a chance to talk in a raw and real manner with a child about both the joys and the pitfalls of being a sibling of a child with special needs.  Over the years, as a teacher of children with autism, I have watched the impact the world of autism has had on the child(ren) without autism in a family.  It is more than time to celebrate the way it can shape siblings into warm, caring, and understanding people.  

The mixed media illustrations by Shane W. Evans are engaging and I loved the facial expressions - particularly the eyes of the characters.  Evans captured the spirit of the book.  

At the end of the book, there is a page with recommendations and suggestions for understanding individuals with autism.  I was particularly in awww of the ideas and thoughts presented by Ryan.  She is certainly one awesome and amazing young person.  Her suggestions about an Autism 101 class for her classmates was spectacular.  

Thank you Holly, and Ryan for finding a way to share about your life with RJ through the relationship of Callie and Charlie.  I am proud to be able to feature this book as part of our Inclusive Schools Week activities.  Continue to share your story so that others may be touched as well.

Book Review - Zen Ghosts

Author/Illustrator: Jon J. Muth
Publisher: Scholastic Press (September 1, 2010)
Age Level: 4 to 8 years
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 4 of 5 Stars

Description from GoodReads:

On Halloween, Stillwater the panda, who dons a spooky costume and mask, promises his friends Addy, Michael, and Karl a spine-tingling ghost story to be told by a mysterious storyteller.
The storyteller--who looks remarkably like Stillwater--tells the children an unforgettable ancient Zen story about a girl named Senjo who hopes to marry Ochu, the boy next door.
But Senjo's parents have different plans for her future. They want her to marry a more prosperous man than Ochu--someone who will care for the family and her ailing father.
Heartbroken by the prospect of being separated, the two run off to a far away village and marry.
As the years pass, Senjo's regret for having left her family slowly eats away at her happiness, and she and Ocho return home to make amends.
But a surprise ending is in store. For Senjo's father swears his daughter has been sick and living at home with him the entire time. Yet Ocho knows differently, for he has been living with Senjo for many years. What is the truth? Who is the real Senjo?
The story of Senjo was originally written down by a Chinese Buddhist Monk Master named Wu-men Hui-hai in the early 13th Century. This type of story, called a Koan, is used by students of Zen to attain enlightenment. It provokes thought and conversation--yet has no concrete answers.
With Zen Ghosts, Muth has once again presented an original, beautifully crafted story, perfect for Halloween--or any time. 

This is the third book in Jon Muth's "Zen" series.  In Zen Shorts, the reader is introduced to Stillwater, the Giant Panda, who tells tales to three siblings (Addy, Michael, and Karl).  The tales each are intended to assist the children in looking at things from a different perspective.  In a similar vein, Stillwater has returned to provide new insight to his three young neighbors.  In a nod to Halloween, the children are each dressed up and go out into the neighborhood trick-or-treating.  They are joined by Stillwater, who is dressed as a ghost (of sorts).  

Muth's watercolors are breathtaking, and the two page inner spread captures the magic of a neighborhood in full Trick-or-Treat mode, with children dressed up in costume, and trick-or-treat bags.  I was mesmerized by the beauty of the paintings and the richness that they contribute to the story. 

In this installment, Stillwater shares with the children a surprise - their own special ghost story in the form of a Koan based on an original Zen story by the Chinese Buddhist Monk Master Wu-men Hui-hai.  The story presents to the children a mystery - how can one girl both be the wife of a man but also lay ill in her parents' home?  As with any koan, the intention is to provide the listener with a puzzle to contemplate.  

For younger children, the dichotomy presented in Stillwater's story may be confusing.  For older children, this same dilemma can provide for valuable conversation to develop critical thinking skills. This is a beautiful book and an excellent addition to any personal collection or school library collection.  

Book Review: Linger

Author:  Maggie Stiefvater

Publisher: Scholastic Press (July 13, 2010)

Reading Level: Young Adult

Source: Advanced Reader's Copy

Rating: 4.5 Stars

Description from GoodReads:

In Maggie Stiefvater's Shiver, Grace and Sam found each other.  Now, in Linger, they must fight to be together. For Grace, this means defying her parents and keeping a very dangerous secret about her own well-being. For Sam, this means grappling with his werewolf past . . . and figuring out a way to survive into the future. Add into the mix a new wolf named Cole, whose own past has the potential to destroy the whole pack.  And Isabelle, who already lost her brother to the wolves . . . and is nonetheless drawn to Cole.

At turns harrowing and euphoric, Linger is a spellbinding love story that explores both sides of love -- the light and the dark, the warm and the cold -- in a way you will never forget.

I received a copy of Linger back in March and basically inhaled it in one sitting.  However, it was too early to write a review at that point.  Anyway, I am glad I saved my review though for now because I can do a back to back post.  First, a review of Linger and then follow it up with an Author Event post about Maggie's visit to Borders/Glendale.  Maybe even a contest for that ARC I have.

Back to my review of Linger.  Last year, I accidentally happened upon Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater.  I was looking for a book to read and saw a display on release day and picked it up.  I read it straight through and fell in love with Grace and Sam.  Stiefvater's writing was lyrical, heart-warming, and moving.  There was something magical about it and I wasn't referring to the werewolves.  It was probably my favorite read of the summer of 2009, and I highly anticipated the release of Linger.

In March, I had a chance to finally find out what happened to Sam and Grace.  Linger picks up where Shiver left off.  (Please note there will definitely be spoilers for Shiver and I will attempt to keep this as spoiler free for Linger.) Sam has supposedly been cured and isn't shifting from boy to wolf based on temperature.  This should be an exciting time for Grace and Sam.  However, this is a book 2.  I say this because book 2 is always where the author takes her beloved characters and makes them struggle, suffer, go through really crappy things.  And Stiefvater does not disappoint.  These are the things that I *hate* about book 2, in any series. There were times while reading that I wanted to throw the book and other times when I wanted to scream at Stiefvater.  Yes, I get emotional when reading about my favorite characters.  And if the characters didn't struggle, the author wouldn't have done her job.  Without saying much more about some of those struggles, let me just say keep the tissue box close by.

Now that you know what I *hated* about Linger.  Here is what I loved about Linger?  I loved the addition of a new wolf, Cole.  Cole is charming, sexy, and definitely a bad boy.  You will love him.  He plays well off of Isabel's character and offers a bit of relief from the emotional rollercoaster that Sam and Grace are navigating.

What I am still up in the air about? Grace's parents have a much more prominent role in this book than they did in Shiver.  I have mixed feelings about the transition from book 1's lack of involvement to book 2's extreme involvement.  I'm still not sure about this, but you will have to see what you think about it.

Finally, the ending of the story, though the cliff-hanger, was somewhat predictable.  I am not certain if the ending was the most natural progression for the story or if it was just the easiest.  Despite though having a strong idea about how the book would end (not all of the details but the conflict), I still cried.

Linger may not win over any Shiver fence-sitters, but it will definitely be a book that passionate fans will be eager to read and devour.

If you post any comments, please keep them spoiler free.

Congratulations to Maggie Stiefvater for debuting at #1 on the New York Times Best-Seller List.  Now I wonder if I can hack into her computer and download Forever?