Book Title: the dragon of the month club
Author: Iain Reading
Publish Date: 2015
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing
Series: Book 1, sequel to come

the dragon of the month club by Iain Reading

Suggested Grade: 4th, 5th, 6th

Suggested Format: Small Group, Individual Reading, Read Aloud

Ayana is the new girl in school, dealing with the move, bullies at school, and her father leaving. Tyler is a quiet, academic sort from the school down the street. After one particularly bad day, Ayana retreats to the city library's deepest, darkest corner to cry. There, she bumps in to Tyler, and a tentative friendship is born. In their reclusive corner of the library, a tiny book falls from the shelf. "how to conjure your very own dragon in six easy steps" looks silly to Tyler, but to make Ayana feel better, he agrees to give it a try. Several hours of practice and a few mistakes later, Tyler's room is covered in water, but a tiny dragon (made of water, of course), is flitting around his room.
Everything is going great - each month, new instructions appear, and Tyler and Ayana look forward to seeing each new and unique type of dragon. There are always warnings that a missed step in conjuring can have drastic consequences, but they are careful, and nothing ever happens. When they attempt a steam dragon, however, something goes terribly, terribly wrong, and suddenly, they find themselves in the world of Tyler's books that were spread throughout his room. Together with the dragons they have learned to conjure, they must find a way to get out of the books and make it back to normal life.

Teacher's Notes: 
This is an AMAZING book! I absolutely could not put it down, and I can't wait to pass it on to my students. I will say that the moment I finished the book, I really wanted to throw it across the room, but in a good way. I won't spoil the ending, but I cannot WAIT for the next book to come out!
I will say that if you have students who want a book to end completely resolved and everything wrapped up nicely in one bundle, you might not suggest this story for them, as there is definitely an opening for book 2.
The vocabulary and word choice in this book is excellent for 4th/5th grade students, and I love that it pulls in just enough magic to be fun and exciting, but not enough to cause most parents any concern.
The character development is perfect, and I think will open the door for lots of great student discussion in small groups. 
There is a definite, purposeful use of lowercase lettering in this story, but I like the opportunity it gives to discuss the reasoning behind mechanics conventions, and when it is okay to not follow conventions when writing.

Overall: 10/10

How I Got the Book: Provided by author for review through Book Publicity Services

Suggested Interests: Magic, Dragons, Fantasy, Adventure

Book Excerpt: 
I loved this book SO MUCH that I asked if I could provide you with an excerpt so that you can see for yourself how amazing this story is, and how much you need it in your classroom life. :) Keep reading to get a taste!

Chapter 2 – The Book

Following their most unlikely of beginnings, the friendship of Ayana and Tyler grew quickly, and before they knew it, they were the best of friends, meeting up with each other almost every day. Sometimes they met up with Ayana’s mother after school at the downtown Dairy Queen for ice cream. Other times they climbed the edges of the coulee behind Ayana’s school and went to Tyler’s house where they did their homework together in his room. But most of the time, they just agreed to meet up at the place where they’d both accidentally bumped into each other on that very first day—amongst the dusty old bookshelves of the old library at the row between the history of the anatomy of earthworms and the illustrated guide to the indigenous mosses of Iceland.

It was on just such a day that Ayana and Tyler first discovered THE BOOK—a name that would be forever capitalised in their minds whenever either of them dared to utter the phrase aloud.

It was a magical book. That much was clear almost from the outset, so perhaps the manner in which these two unlikely friends happened to come across it was magical as well.

It all started on a typical Friday afternoon. Ayana and Tyler had agreed to meet at the library right after school. Tyler had a dentist appointment and would either be a few minutes late or a few minutes early, depending on how long that took. Not surprisingly Tyler was a few minutes late. This could have been expected since Tyler took dentist appointments very seriously. For weeks ahead of time he would be sure to brush his teeth five times every single day—once when waking up, once after breakfast, once after lunch, once after dinner, and once again before bed—which was two more times a day than he usually did. (He normally deemed the wake-up and after dinner steps unnecessary.) All of this was in addition to flossing, rinsing, and otherwise generally trying to keep his teeth in the best possible shape for the check-up.

To Tyler, going to the dentist was like studying for a test in school. Failure was not an option. So it shouldn’t be much of a surprise that once he was actually in the dental chair, he expected the dentist to be every bit as thorough as he was, a process that required a bit more time than it normally would with less fastidious patients.

So Tyler was late.

And so, when he finally arrived, he hurried down the stairs and quickly navigated through the maze of shelves at the back of the library and found Ayana sitting there, crouched on the floor, sobbing her eyes out.

Tyler sighed heavily. He could already guess what must have happened: Heather van der Sloot... again.

He took off his backpack and set it on the floor. Folding his legs under him, he lowered himself down until he was sitting next to Ayana, not too close, of course, but as close as he dared to.

“What happened this time?” Tyler asked.

Ayana sobbed and buried her face even deeper in her hands. After a moment her left arm shot out, pointing an accusing finger toward a stack of soiled and dishevelled papers lying in a heap on an empty space on the shelf opposite them.

“That,” Ayana cried, her voice thin and cracking.

Tyler stared at the papers, and it took him a moment to realise what they were.

“Your poems,” he gasped.

Tyler had to take a breath and swallow. Ayana’s poems were a work of art, neatly written in careful flowing script, one to a page. Ayana carried them with her sometimes in a stiff green cardboard folder with trees on it that had little strings that you used to tie it shut.

Ayana nodded, still sobbing.

“She threw them all over the playground,” she said, her voice raspy. “She grabbed my tree folder away from me and threw them everywhere. I... I ....”

Ayana stuttered and couldn’t speak for a second.

“I don’t know if I got them all back,” she finally said, finishing her thought. “I think I lost some.”

Tyler nodded and crawled over on one knee to pick up the chaotic stack of papers. He sorted through them, one by one, trying to put them back into some kind of order. They were smeared and scratched and crumpled. One even had a dirty footprint stamped squarely on it.

Normally Ayana wouldn’t even let Tyler glance at one of her poems, so he was surprised that she wasn’t bothered by his looking through all of them now. She clearly wasn’t thinking straight, so he tried to make as neat a stack out of them as possible and set it down on the carpet in the middle of the row of shelves.

“There are a lot there,” he said, sitting close to her again. “Maybe you did get them all.”

Ayana shrugged her shoulders hopelessly.

“It doesn’t matter,” she said, staring blankly at the pile of papers. “I don’t care.”

Tyler felt a sudden squeeze around his heart. He had no idea what he was supposed to do to make Ayana feel better.

But as his mind was racing, trying to think of something, the universe intervened.

“I hate her, Tyler,” Ayana said. “I HATE her!”

On this second last syllable, Ayana kicked at the opposite shelves with the heel of her shoe, making the wooden frame shudder and some of the books rattle around. One particular book—a small, thin one high up on the very top shelf—tipped forward as if in slow motion until it was hanging precariously at an impossible angle, almost as if it was levitating, before tumbling end over end to the floor.

Tyler tried to catch it but he was too slow, and instead it crashed into the stack of papers, scattering them slightly, before it fell flat on its back, right side up right in front of them.

how to conjure
your very own dragon
in six easy steps the front cover of THE BOOK in bright yellow letters against a wavy blue background.

Tyler frowned and Ayana stopped crying for a moment. They both stared at THE BOOK with wide-open eyes, neither of them quite able to believe what they were seeing.

“How to conjure a dragon?” Ayana asked, kneeling forward to grab THE BOOK.

Tyler crawled next to her as she opened the front cover.

THE BOOK was very thin—more like a pamphlet, really— with no table of contents, no copyright page, no dedication page. There wasn’t even an indication of who the author might be. It just went straight into the first chapter, which was entitled:

the water dragon

“A water dragon?” Tyler read over Ayana’s warm shoulder.
Underneath the chapter title was a brief list of the various characteristics of the water dragon.

category: lesser dragon
difficulty: medium
classification: common

Below that was a basic introduction and explanation of the dragon followed by some advice to those who might want to conjure one:

this spell is a relatively simple one, but be forewarned that the water dragon is a damp and clumsy creature, prone to making messes and causing trouble. It is recommended to have plenty of towels at hand when undertaking this conjuring.

Underneath this brief introduction was a list of materials needed to actually conjure the dragon.

required material(s): water, towels (optional)

And last but not least came the instructions, six simple steps to conjuring your very own dragon. Tyler could hardly believe what he was reading. The steps were so simple. Just a series of strangely specific hand gestures performed by two people simultaneously. The instructions even had little helpful sketches to help you understand what to do.

It reminded Tyler of IKEA assembly instructions when his parents bought new furniture and let him put it together for them. But that was furniture made of wood and fabric and those little IKEA screws that needed a special tool to screw them in. This was supposed to be a dragon, whatever that meant. How could such simplistic instructions possibly result in assembling anything, much less an actual dragon?

“We have to try this!” Ayana said excitedly.

One of the things I love to do is make people smile. It's just in my nature. I was never the class clown, and I don't want everyone's attention at the same time, but I can't stand to see people who are not happy.

Notice that I didn't say unhappy, I said not happy? My husband tells me all the time that they are two totally different things, and I'm beginning to learn that. Maybe that means I'm finally becoming an adult, although if being an adult means not being happy all the time, I think I'll pass and stay young forever. And yes, I am that strange person that smiles all the time, no matter what. At least, until this year.

My students learn this about me early on every year. I want to see and hear them smile, so I encourage them. Yes, we have classroom rules, and we are a mostly well-behaved, semi-calm class, but we take our encouragement and excitement very seriously. Now, I know what you are thinking. I'm not the kind of teacher that hands out participation ribbons for everything, or congratulates students for sub-par work. Instead, we celebrate effort in my class, and especially that "ah-ha!" moment that kids have when they suddenly understand a concept. We practice this to the point that sometimes, I don't even have to say anything. I'll walk by and hear my students encouraging each other as they work in small groups, which we do almost daily. 

This year has been really hard for me, though. Without going into detail, there have been health, family, and financial concerns, and then of course the ever-present state and school district changes and pressures. By the time we got to state standardized testing, I was tired, and I was very, very not happy. I was seriously wondering if teaching was worth my time and effort right now, not because I didn't know that the kids are worth it, but because life was just trying to steal my joy away. Basically, I was burned out, like every teacher hits at some point.

Needless to say, the celebrations and encouragement continued, but I know for a fact there was a lot less true encouragement and excitement. The same words were coming out of my mouth, but they didn't mean as much. And then testing day for my kids came.

My students had just finished taking their 2+ hour Reading, Writing, Language test. One of my academically strong girls walked out of the room and straight up to me, looking very unsure of herself. I smiled a very fake smile and asked how the test had gone. I was dreading the answer, but I knew I couldn't get away with not asking her.

"I... think I did okay." "It was better than last year," she hurried to add, and I smiled a little remembering how absolutely terrible the test last year was for everyone.

"The reading was easy, and the language was ok." [That leaves writing, the thing we've been pushing the most this year, I'm thinking as she talks, and I'm seriously considering resigning on the spot if my strongest academic students just bombed the writing class, because there will be no hope for the rest of my class.]

"But the writing said to write an essay, and I got nervous and I couldn't remember how long an essay is supposed to be." [Deep breath, here it comes, try to keep smiling...]

"So I made it 5 paragraphs, because I knew I needed an introduction, and some details, and a conclusion. Was that okay?"

I cannot even begin to describe the smile that girl got. 5 paragraphs was what we had been practicing all year, what we had drilled in for 8 months. It was everything we had worked towards, and she had gotten it. Instinctively.

We shared a high-five and some excitement right there in the hallway, because for a 5th grader, making the "right" decision on a big test is huge, enormous, life-changing. I walked away with the energy to celebrate with all of my students, even the ones I know won't have met state proficiency levels this year. Life is awesome, and as long as they gave it their best, I know they made more improvement than even they realize. I spent some time celebrating my own success that day - not that my kiddo will score well on the test, but that she had grabbed on to the reason why we do 5 paragraphs, and she had internalized it. 

We both needed some encouragement that day, and we both got it by celebrating something that most people will think is little and silly. And that's okay. I will continue to celebrate the small things with my students, and the year I can no longer celebrate at all with my students (not just a temporary lapse like this year) is the year that I will know that it is time for me to walk away and change what I am doing. For now, I am going to go jump up and down with my students who have improved their DIBELS oral reading scores when we reassess next week.
Book Title: The Kingdom of Oceana
Author: Mitchell Charles
Publish Date: 2015
Publisher: Butterhorse Publishing
Series: Standalone, sequel to come?
The Kingdom of Oceana by Mitchell Charles

Suggested Grade: 6th, 7th

Suggested Format: Individual Reading


Ailani is your normal 16-year old boy living on a Hawaiian island, except for the fact that he's a prince. Oh, and it takes place when Hawaii is still just a conglomerate of tribes on islands in the Pacific. And did I mention that in addition to surfing and fire walking, he also has a sorcerer best friend who can shape-shift?

Prince Ailani is living the good life - he is happy with his position as a student and the son of the king, but he has a serious problem with his brother. His brother is older, in line for the throne, and seems determined to harass his brother to no end, even to the point of almost killing him. As the story progresses, Ailani learns that no only does he have to deal with his brother, but impending war with a nearby island takes them away from their home, and an ancient evil curse of zombie sea creatures arrive to complete the disaster. 

Ailani must learn to overcome his insecurities and step up to face the neighboring tribes and defeat the ancient sorcery before the islands are permanently destroyed.

Teacher's Notes: 

This was a fun read, although a bit predictable from a teacher's standpoint. As I read, I had several of my student's already in mind who will eat this up. I feel good about having it on my shelves, as it is not too violent or "scary," yet it contains that fun zombie style-action that my students love. And for those of you concerned, we are talking traditional island-style zombification, which is more like being a mindless drone. There are no half-decayed humans running around trying to eat brains. (Which will no doubt disappoint a few of my students, but that's ok) :)

It has the classic love triangle, the sibling rivalry, and the action and adventure of magic. It can be a bit confusing because of it's fast pace, but everything comes to a satisfactory conclusion that explains any leftover questions.

I really enjoyed the treatment of the Hawaiian vocabulary words, which were littered throughout the book with footnotes, giving a fun and more realistic feel to the setting of the story.

Overall: 7/10

How I Got the Book: Provided by author for review through Book Publicity Services

Suggested Interests: Island life, fantasy, shape-shifting, sibling rivalry