It is my firm belief that people who don’t like to read simply haven’t found the right book yet. This is an idea I learned from my first grade teacher, Mr. H. If there’s anything my classmates and I learned from him, it was how to love a good book. They say that good teachers point you towards something, but don’t tell you what to see. They don’t teach, but rather they inspire the love of learning. Mr. H did that.
In the summer, a few weeks before school started up again, I learned that he had got hit by a car while chasing his dog across the road.
But his memory still lasts in my class, and in all the teachers and students of our school that he met. I remember he would give out a book to every kid in the class at the end of the school year, with a note to tell you to keep reading. No one got the same book either, it was all personalized from him. I got The Seven Wonders of Sassafras Springs by Betty G. Birney. Now, every year, the graduating grade schoolers get a book. It’s the same book, but it’s given in the memory of a teacher who loved reading, which is what is really important. Not the book. The idea.
Even now, it’s hard to bring up that summer with anyone in my class. We were his last class, and I’m grateful for that. Not that we were the last class he ever taught, but because we got to have someone like him. This is a list in memory of him, and everything he did for us, the books he introduced me to. Thanks, Mr. H.
1) The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo
This was the first book Mr. H read to us aloud. It introduced me to Kate DiCamillo, who was my favorite author all throughout second and third grade. 4.5 stars.
Welcome to the story of Despereaux Tilling, a mouse who is in love with music, stories, and a princess named Pea. It is also the story of a rat called Roscuro, who lives in the darkness and covets a world filled with light. And it is the story of Miggery Sow, a slow-witted serving girl who harbors a simple, impossible wish. These three characters are about to embark on a journey that will lead them down into a horrible dungeon, up into a glittering castle, and, ultimately, into each other’s lives. What happens then? As Kate DiCamillo would say: Reader, it is your destiny to find out.
pg count for the paperback: 272
2) The Tiger Rising by Kate DiCamillo
The first book Mr. H recommended to me when I said I liked The Tale of Despereaux. An inspiring and imaginative story that I liked as much as the other book Mr. H recommended, Because of Winn-Dixie. Both of them are 4.3 stars.
Walking through the misty Florida woods one morning, twelve-year-old Rob Horton is stunned to encounter a tiger – a real-life, very large tiger – pacing back and forth in a cage. What’s more, on the same extraordinary day, he meets Sistine Bailey, a girl who shows her feelings as readily as Rob hides his. As they learn to trust each other, and ultimately, to be friends, Rob and Sistine prove that some things – like memories, and heartaches, and tigers – can’t be locked up forever.
pg count for the paperback: 128
3) The Supernaturalist by Eoin Colfer
This was actually how I would grow to eventually find the Artemis Fowl series years later, which is one of my favorite series’ to date.
In the future, in a place called Satelite City, fourteen-year-old Cosmo Hill enters the world, unwanted by his parents. He’s sent to the Clarissa Frayne Institute for Parentally Challenged Boys, Freight class. At Clarissa Frayne, the boys are put to work by the state, testing highly dangerous products. At the end of most days, they are covered with burns, bruises, and sores. Cosmo realizes that if he doesn’t escape, he will die at this so-called orphanage. When the moment finally comes, Cosmo seizes his chance and breaks out with the help of the Supernaturalists, a motley crew of kids who all have the same special ability as Cosmo-they can see supernatural Parasites, creatures that feed on the life force of humans. The Supernaturalists patrol the city at night, hunting the Parasites in hopes of saving what’s left of humanity in Satellite City. Or so they think. The Supernaturalist soon find themselves caught in a web far more complicated than they’d imagined, when they discover a horrifying secret that will force them to question everything they believe in.
pg count for the paperback: 267
4) The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron
This was one of the later books Mr. H read us.
Lucky, age ten, can’t wait another day. The meanness gland in her heart and the crevices full of questions in her brain make running away from Hard Pan, California (population 43), the rock-bottom only choice she has.
It’s all Brigitte’s fault — for wanting to go back to France. Guardians are supposed to stay put and look after girls in their care! Instead Lucky is sure that she’ll be abandoned to some orphanage in Los Angeles where her beloved dog, HMS Beagle, won’t be allowed. She’ll have to lose her friends Miles, who lives on cookies, and Lincoln, future U.S. president (maybe) and member of the International Guild of Knot Tyers. Just as bad, she’ll have to give up eavesdropping on twelve-step anonymous programs where the interesting talk is all about Higher Powers. Lucky needs her own — and quick.
But she hadn’t planned on a dust storm.
pg count for the hardback: 144
Series: Susan Patron
5) The Seven Wonders of Sassafras Springs by Betty G. Birney
I remember wanting this book at the book fair so bad after Mr. H read it to us. But I left school and forgot to get it the last day of the book fair, and then I opened it up the last day of school and found it. An amazing book.
When Eben McAllister reads about the Seven Wonders of the World, he longs to escape the small farming community of Sassafras Springs and do some exploring f his own. No one else ever seems to want to leave Sassafras however — not even his best pal, Jeb — and so, for now, Eben figures he’s stuck on the farm with Pa and Aunt Pretty until he grows up. All that changes when his pa, tired of Eben’s moping, challenges him to find Seven Wonders in Sassafras Springs that can stang up to the real Seven Wonders of the World. And if he does? Then Eben will get the adventure he’s been craving for — a trip out West. Eben doesn’t reckon he’ll have any luck — he can’t think of even one thing that would be called “interesting,” let along wonderous, in Sassafras, but he figures he’ll give it a try; there’s nothing else to do in Sassafras anyway.
While his mission puzzles and annoys some of his friends and neighbors, Eben perseveres, little knowing that he is in for a big surprise. For what with a singing saw, a floating table, and a truth-telling loom (just to name a few), the Wonders Eben will discover among his neighbors, friends, and family will give him the adventure of a lifetime…without his ever leaving home.
Told in a down-home narrative with glimmers of magical realism woven throughout, and illustrated with sumptuous drawings by Matt Phelan, Betty G. Birney’s tale about a boy’s journey of discovery reminds us all that extraordinary things can happen in the most ordinary of places…even in Sassafras Springs.
pg count for the hardcover: 210
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