I've been reading The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller. She challenges her grade six students to read at least 40 books in a school year. I have been thinking that if 11 year old kids can do it, then so can I. I've taken my goodreads list and transferred it here. This is my official 2014 to read list. There are a lot of novels on it. Some are even books for adults. At least one book on the list, All the Blue Moons at the Wallace Hotel by Phoebe Stone, is going to be a challenge to find. I expect to read more books, but this is my formal list. The stars indicate books I've already finished and rated!

All Good Children by Catherine Austen
All the Blue Moons at the Wallace Hotel by Phoebe Stone
All We Know of Love by Nora Raleigh Baskin
As Simple as It Seems by Sarah Weeks

Autistic Brain: Thinking Across the Spectrum, The by Temple Grandin, Richard Panek
Because of Mr. Terupt by Rob Buyea
Beckoners, The by Carrie Mac
Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys
Boy at the End of the World, The by Greg Van Eekhout ★★★★
Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan
Dance of the Reptiles: Selected Columns by Carl Hiaasen, Diane Stevenson
Darius & Twig by Walter Dean Myers  
Dead in Their Vaulted Arches, The by Alan Bradley 
Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things, The by Carolyn Mackler
Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell (Abandoned For Now)
Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library by Chris Grabenstein
Fourth Stall, The by Chris Rylander ★★★★
Guitar Notes by Mary Amato ★★★★
Hattie Ever After by Kirby Larson 
House You Pass on the Way, The by Jacqueline Woodson
How to Be Bad by E. Lockhart, Sarah Mlynowski, Lauren Myracle
I'll Be Watching by Pamela Porter
Imperfect Spiral by Debbie Levy
In Darkness by Nick Lake 
Liesl & Po by Lauren Oliver ★★★
Long Earth (The Long Earth #1) by Terry Pratchett, Stephen Baxter 
Lost Lake by Sarah Addison Allen 
Marie Antoinette, Serial Killer by Katie Alender ★★★
Milo: Sticky Notes and Brain Freeze by Alan Silberberg
Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool
My Life as a Book by Janet Tashjian, Jake Tashjian
Naked Mole-Rat Letters, The by Mary Amato, Heather Saunders (Illustrator)
Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt ★★★★
Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood
Raven Boys, The by Maggie Stiefvater 
Revenge of a Not-So-Pretty Girl by Carolita Blythe
Ring of Fire by Pierdomenico Baccalario ★★★
Rump: The True Story of Rumpelstiltskin by Liesl Shurtliff ★★★★
Sammy Keyes and the Hotel Thief by Wendelin Van Draanen 
School of Essential Ingredients, The by Erica Bauermeister
Shadow Scale (Seraphina #2) by Rachel Hartman
Spindlers, The by Lauren Oliver ★★★★
Star of Stone by Pierdomenico Baccalario
Summer Days, Starry Nights by Vikki VanSickle ★★★
Super by Matthew Cody

True Blue by Deborah Ellis
Unfinished Angel, The by Sharon Creech
Waking Kate by Sarah Addison Allen
Water Castle, The by Megan Frazer Blakemore

What Happened to Ivy by Kathy Stinson
Whispers From the Ghettos by Kathy Kacer
Windup Girl, The by Paolo Bacigalupi
Wishing Spell, The (The Land of Stories #1) by Chris Colfer, Brandon Dorman (abandoned for now)
Year of Billy Miller, The by Kevin Henkes 

You can check out other 2014 must read lists here 

Rump: The True Story of Rumpelstiltskin by Liesl Shurtliff

It took me a bit to get hooked by this book, but when I was, I thoroughly enjoyed it. It is a delightful, fractured, retelling of the story of Rumpelstiltskin. I liked the creativity, the humor, and the deeper explorations of what it means to be human. 

Rump's mother died before she was able to finish saying his name fully. You can easily imagine what life would be like for any kid with this name, but what if the world you lived in considered your name to connote your destiny?

Rump, his friend Red, and other kids spend their lives digging for gold and living in abject poverty. Even if they find gold they are attacked by swarms of nasty pixies with stings worse than bees. 

You would think that when Rump discovers that he can spin straw into gold, his life would get better. It doesn't. It gets worse. Thankfully Red and his grandmother are there to support him.

Eventually he heads off in search of his mother's family in hopes of discovering the rest of his name. This delightful book trailer will tell you everything else you need to know. 

The Spindlers by Lauren Oliver

This is why I had to read this book.

"One night when Lisa went to bed, Patrick was her chubby, stubby, candy grubbing and pancake loving younger brother who irritated and amused her both, and the next morning, when she woke up, he was not.
     She could not describe the difference. He looked the same, and was wearing the same ratty space-alien pajamas, with the same fat toe sticking out of the hole in the left foot of his red socks, and he came down the stairs exactly the same way the real Patrick would have done: bump, bump, bump, sliding on his rump.
     But he was not the same."

That is one heck of a 'suck you in' lead. As you read on a little farther it just gets creepier and better all at the same time.

It turns out that Patrick's soul has been taken by the spindlers. It would have been fine if spindlers had been anything but some kind of spider creature, but no sooner did I discover they were, I put the book down and abandoned it. You see, I have a wee bit of arachnophobia. I've worked hard to overcome it, but honestly, any book where spider creatures invade your body and steal your soul, is pretty much beyond my tolerance level. I tell you this so you will understand that this book is so very good that I was compelled to go back to it and finished it!

It is an amazing read!

Lisa is a seriously plucky protagonist. Even though she is more afraid than she has ever been in her life, she goes Below to rescue Patrick's soul from the spindlers. She meets up with Mirabella; a makeup, wig, and clothes wearing rat. Mirabella concedes to take Lisa to the spindler's nests. At first Liza is disdainful of Mirabella, but over time, becomes fond of her, and even calls her a friend. The two travellers have adventures aplenty. They barely escape with their lives numerous times.

Below is an ingenious world, populated with familiar creatures as well as all kinds of mythical beasts. I couldn't help but wonder how the heck Lauren Oliver was able to come up with such a creatively detailed world.

I won't spoil this too much for you except to tell you that this book has it all - richly developed characters, a plot steeped with mystery, intrigue, riddles, tests, betrayal, hope and redemption.

If you liked Coraline you will like this. 

Go read it for yourself.

The Wednesday Wars and Okay for Now by Gary D Schmidt

I'm not lying.
Gary D Schmidt can really write. I do so wish that The Wednesday Wars and Okay for Now had been around when I was growing up in the 60's. I'm pretty sure I would have seen the world around me, my teachers, and especially boys, differently.

These companion books tell the story of two of three friends, Holling Hoodhood, and Doug Swieteck. I'm hoping Schmidt writes Danny Hupfer's story soon. These are beautifully nuanced characters: crafted to be strong and tender at the same time. My thirteen year old self has a crush on all of them. Actually, each character in these novels is richly portrayed revealing potential for evil, for good, and most importantly, for growing and changing.
These are not adventure stories. These are quiet coming of age tales set against the backdrop of the Vietnam war, the anti war movement, the cvil rights movement and flower children. There is also baseball, beautiful baseball. These are books about coming to terms with who you are and becoming aware that you can be more. They're about friendship, family and belonging.

I read The Wednesday Wars as text.

Holling Hoodhood is certain; Mrs Baker, his teacher, hates him. He is the only Protestant kid in his class. On Wednesday afternoons the Jewish and Catholic students head off to religious studies. At first she puts him to work doing boring chores. This culminates in hilarious disaster with Sycorax and Caliban, the two rats, escaping as he cleans out their cage. Eventually Mrs Baker starts him reading Shakespeare. Over the course of the year he makes connections from his life to the plays. They become friends of sorts.

I listened to Okay for Now as an audiobook.
You know how good it was when I tell you I went looking for housework to do so I could continue listening. Lincoln Hoppe's narration takes this already stunning book and kicks it to a new level. By chapter seven I was caught between desperate to find out how it would all play out, and praying it never ended.
Doug Swieteck has a lot to deal with. I'm not kidding. His family has just moved into 'stupid Marysville' because his father (fired from his last job) found a job there. He's got an older brother who is a bully, another brother in Vietnam, and an abusive father. He's got all kinds of secrets that he is prepared to get into all kinds of trouble over to keep. 
Do you know how that feels?
Imagine this boy with all those burdens falling in love with Audubon's paintings of birds. Imagine him learning to draw. Imagine him meeting a headstrong young girl named Lily.

There are many beautiful quotes from these books.

Here's one of my favourites.

"I'm a librarian. I always know what I'm talking about."

The Fourth Stall by Chris Rylander

"Nobody reads a mystery to get to the middle. They read it to get to the end. If it's a letdown, they won't buy anymore. The first page sells that book. The last page sells your next book."
Mickey Spillane

The Fourth Stall by Chris Rylander does all this and makes you laugh.

I admit that I didn't expect to like or enjoy this book as much as I did. My brother, who is a teacher of grade seven students, recommended it to me. One of his nonreading boys recommended it to him. That's pretty high praise so I gave it a try. 

Two best friends run a problem solving business out of an unused bathroom at their school. Then a high school gangster starts moving in on their turf.

There is so much to admire in this book. Its biggest appeal for me is the Dashiell Hammett feel. Imagine the gritty battle between good and evil writ large upon the school yard. I liked the juxtaposition of caricature and rich characterization. The plot is rich with layers of baseball, betrayal, intrigue, suspense, humour, and even a bit of violence keep you turning the page to see how it ends.

I suspect even Micky Spillane would approve.

The Invisible Boy written by Trudy Ludwig and Illustrated by Patrice Barton

This book has been haunting me. I finished it a couple of days ago but was compelled to go back and reread it. 

Brian, the invisible boy, doesn't take up much space. He is overlooked by his teacher and his classmates. He isn't picked for sports teams. He doesn't get invited to birthday parties. 

Unbeknownst to all of them, Brian has an incredible imagination and is a gifted artist. 

Then Justin, a new kid, comes to school and is picked on by other students. Brian wonders, "which is worse - being laughed at or feeling invisible."

Out of kindness Brian writes a note to Justin.  A new friendship blossoms.

Patrice Barton's illustrations adroitly emphasize Trudy Ludwig's text. Together they imprint a memory in the reader.  Brian is portrayed almost as an apparition in black and white drawings while the rest of the world is in full color. As Justin begins to see him, Brian's colors are exposed and he gradually becomes visible to everyone.

I'm not certain why this book resonated at such a visceral level. I know that I have had kids like Brian in my classroom over the years, and at times in my life I have felt invisible - maybe all of us have - and this is why it is such a profound story. 

My Winter Break Reading Challenge...

I brought home a sizable pile of books for winter break. My personal challenge was to read one book a day. I pretty much failed although according to my goodreads additions, I did finish 10. I have 2 on the go and a number of picture books in the bin that I could whip through so I might actually make it. 

The problem is that the time before Christmas is always crazy busy in our house. I really didn't have much time for reading because I was trying my best to finish up home made gifts. (three shirts for the guys in my family and a pair of socks for my mom) While busy doing this I did listen to a number of audio books. The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There, by Catherynne M. Valente was good, but not as fabulous as The Girl who Circumnavigated Fairyland In a Ship of her Own Making.

I also listened to Jake and Lily by Jerry Spinelli.  I love every book of Spinelli's that I read and this one was right up there with the best of them. It is the story of twins who grow apart as they grow up. It isn't easy for either of them. Jake has to learn to listen to his heart and conscience while Lily has to learn how to get her own life.  ★★★★

The Great Cake Mystery: Precious Ramotswe's Very First Case was a short delightful listen. I loved learning how Precious got her start as a detective. Smith captured the essence of elementary schools everywhere. Things go missing and innocents get blamed. Thank goodness Precious Ramotswe is there to figure it all out. ★★★★
One of my Christmas gifts was The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared (an adult read) I liked this book but it didn't live up to my expectations. Numerous people told me that it was a fabulous laugh out loud read. It did have some absurd and wry moments. It had a lot to say about the way we look at and treat others in general and elders in particular. Maybe I just expected too much from it... (I also got a collection of Steinbeck but haven't started that) ★★★

I loved The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen by Susin Nielsen. I actually wrote a blog about it, but I was out of range of internet and tried to write it on my new ipad. It was there and then it wasn't. Sigh.... Henry, the protagonist, writes about his life after IT. IT is when his older brother killed the persecutor who brutally bullied him and then turned the gun on himself. It is very dark, but it is also a story of hope. This one will go on our grade 7 shelf. ★★★★

The Wednesday Wars, by has been on my to read list for a long time. I'm so glad I finally got around to it. I was about the same age as Holling Hoodhood in 1967 so this book resonated with me in a way it probably won't with kids today. Okay for Now, the sequel, is on my 2014 list of books to read.  ★★★★

I cried buckets reading See you at Harry's by Jo Knowles. It is about grief and loss and how you just might manage to get through it.  ★★★★

Vikki Vansikle is another one of my favorite writers. I adore her Words series.  I wanted to love Summer Days, Starry Nights, but it just didn't work for me. ★★★

Marie Antoinette, Serial Killer by Katie Alender was in my pile because I like mysteries and I wanted to know if it would be appropriate for the students at my Elementary school. It was an okay read. I am not really into mean girl stories but since it was a mystery and I needed to check it out, I persisted. I'm glad I did. Thankfully, Collette, the protagonist, grows up and learns what is important in life. There are a number of murders but I was never really terrified (and I am generally a wus) I enjoyed the historical information and the details about Paris. I think students in grades 6 and 7 could easily handle this book. In fact I have a reader in mind to give it to when I return to school on Monday. ★★★

One of my library monitors has been trying to convince me to read Pierdomenico Baccalario's Century series. I started Ring of Fire ages ago but couldn't get into it. However, this reader has never steered me wrong before so I gave it another try. This time I finally got into it. The beginning was kind of slow but eventually I got hooked. I love that as a series this book finishes up with a satisfying ending. It is full of magic, myth and mystery! I have put the next book in the series, Star of Stone, on my 2014 to read list. ★★★1/2