Wednesday, September 19, 2018

All American Boys by Jason Reynolds, Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper

All American Boys by Jason Reynolds

This story is taken straight from the headlines about police brutality in the black community. An innocent black boy in the neighborhood convenience story kneels to get something out of his gym bag, which by the way contains his ROTC uniform. A white lady trips over him. A white cop grabs the boy, accuses him of shoplifting, handcuffs him and throws him on the pavement in front of the store and starts punching him. And of course, there is cell phone video. If not intense enough Rashad the boy who was accused and beaten, Quinn who happened to be on the street outside the store and saw everything and Guzzo whose older brother is the cop beating up Rashad all play for the same high school basketball team and live in the same neighborhood. This is a powerful exploration of this issue.

Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper

Melody was born with cerebral palsy that has left her trapped in her body unable to walk, talk or feed herself. She has a photographic memory, is extremely bright and is unable to tell anyone. She gives us a good look at how we treat those we consider ‘special needs’ and points out how we all have special needs. In the fifth grade, she gets a Stephen Hawking’s style talking board and can show them she is bright. They don’t believe her. When she actually proves it they still mistreat her saying she is an embarrassment. It is a powerful and painful look at us and others. 

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Awake by Natasha Preston, The Ranger’s Apprentice, Book One The Ruins of Gorlan

Awake by Natasha Preston

The truth is we believe to the fullest what we believe up until the moment we don’t. If that truth is something everyone around us believes and the truth we have been told our whole lives how do we wake up to the fact that not only is it not true, it is actually wrong. That is the question throughout Awake. Beautiful Noah is sent from his family group to win the trust of Scarlett so she can be brought home to her true and right birth parents. And then to fulfill her destiny she will be sacrificed. Talk about a really bad boyfriend. The question reaches beyond the set-up of the book to ask me what beliefs have I been brought up with that need reexamined. Are there truths about my family, my faith, and my country that really aren’t true. The story is told from the point of view of Scarlett and of Noah.

The Ranger’s Apprentice, Book One The Ruins of Gorlan

I only had the Ranger’s Apprentice as the title of this book, so in looking it up I was thinking, Yellow Stone Park. Instead, I am traveling in the Kingdom of Araluen, primarily from the Castle Redmont where Will is to go from a ward of the Castle to become the Ranger’s Apprentice. Think Strider in Lord of the Rings. The author does a great job of using a brief Prologue to avoid weighing us down in backstory or kingdom knowledge. However, the whole book seems to primarily a setting and character development for the following set of 11 more books in the series. It was a good read and looks like a good series. 

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Solo by Kwame Alexander and The Big Field by Mike Lupica

Solo by Kwame Alexander

Solo is written
As non-rhyming poetry
With rarely more than three to five words
To a line.
After reading for a while
I found myself
Thinking in this way.
It is the story of the confused
Son of an aging rock star.
And maybe both in different ways
Have lost their mojo.
Their music.
Oh by the way son
We forgot to tell you
You’re adopted.
So the quest begins in search
Of birth mom.
Sprinkled throughout are reference
Rock and roll songs and rock and roll history.
Once I connected with the rhythm of the story I enjoyed the read.

The Big Field by Mike Lupica

You won’t be surprised if I tell you this is a baseball story. A lot of people around me love baseball. To me it’s okay.  This is the story of a team in a high school league in Florida. There is a lot of play by play reporting on the games and I found myself enjoying it. There is tension with Dad who was a High School Baseball star but has no interest in his sons rising baseball fame. And of course the story concludes with a three game championship series. It’s the one time his dad gives him batting advice with a signal from the stands. And that signal is to bunt. Really. The story raises questions about the difficulties children and parents often have when it comes to talking to each other.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Refugee, Along for the Ride, and Uglies

Refugee By Alan Gratz

This is the story of three refugee families fleeing their strife and the threats of their homeland. Each story is told through the eyes of their young teenage child. They are fleeing Germany in 1939, Cuba in 1995 and Syria in 2015. The chapters rotate between the three stories, I thought this might be hard to follow but the chapters are short and makes keeping track of the three different stories easy. I think the stories clearly show the risk of the flight of refugees and the challenge of trusting strangers some who are honest and others who are not. I think the stories raises several important questions. When is it too dangerous to stay? When is it worth facing the life-threatening risk to leave? Doesn’t one have an obligation to stay and fight for their country? How should the outside world respond to the plight of refugees? The stories are based on facts which are illuminated at the end of the book. I think this might be the place to start so the reader understands how the author uses fiction to tell historic facts. This is a Scholastic book and is a fairly easy read.

Along for the Ride by Sarah Dressen

This is the story of one summer in the life of numerous messed up people who are mostly related. Auden’s parents are divorced. Mom is a professor and regularly holds court in the dining room with her mostly male graduate students. Auden the narrator, central charater and daughter mostly stays in her room. She has passed through high school mostly choosing to miss out on the meaningless social interactions of her peers, after all they are all so shallow. Then she chooses to spend her senior summer with her father, his new younger wife, and their new baby at their home near the beach. She learns you can care about your jeans and your shoes and know about finance and literature. We are all more than we seem to be. She also with the help of a love interest starts working through a bucket list of high school experiences she missed out on. Of course there is a boy. He is wounded to the soul and they heal each other. Definitely YA in style but not in sex or language.

Uglies by Scott Westerfield

If you could be beautiful of course you would want to be, right. Well what if being beautiful also meant having a ‘go along get along’ change being put into your brain, that wouldn’t be too bad would it. The author seamlessly introduces us to a world where from the time at twelve when you start to turn ugly until sixteen you live in a dorm for uglies where you are schooled and psychologically prepped for the operation that will make you pretty and allow you to move to New Pretty Town where mostly you just party. Shay doesn’t want to turn pretty and she has found a place to run away to. She convinces Tally of the same but before Tally can go she is caught by the Special Circumstances team who want her to lead them to the camp of all the runaways. Themes include what is friendship, what is betrayal, and do we like who we are. There are four books in this series.

Monday, August 27, 2018

Thickety, Ready Player One, Listen, Rain Reign, Red Rising,and Team Yankee

I was away on vacation last week. I did a lot of reading but very little writing, so here are seven reviews.

Thickety By J. A. White

This is the story of a cult set in a premodern time. They are the followers of an ancient prophet who banned all magic and all witches. Unfortunately, magic is a very real part of their world and some have gifts for it. If they are discovered they are hung. Unfortunately, Kara’s mother was one of those who were hung. And unfortunately, Kara discovers her mother’s book of spells and her mother’s magic. The daughter of the man whose job it is to enforce the laws against magic also discovers the magic. At the heart of this story is the question of whether it is magic that is intrinsically good or bad or is its nature decided by the practitioner. It is at times a scary and intense story. It is the first in a series of four books.

Ready Player One by Ernest Kline

This is the story of a futuristic world that is a disaster. So those who can go to school, live, and work in a world of virtual reality. Keeping track of the characters in their real lives and in the life of their avatars who also have separate identities is at times a little confusing. This is a great story, but it is also a history of gaming and of the early development of the PC. If you want to recall the early days of Commodore 64 and Tandy with a little Pac-man and Atari you will love this book. Not being all that skilled in gaming I was not clear which games were real and which ones were created by the author for the story. Good read.

Listen by Stephanie S. Tolan

This is the story of Charley who prior to the beginning of the story has lost her mother to death, her best friend to friend issues and is recovering from a bad car accident. She lives with her father and a housekeeper in a small lakeside community. I mean so small you can walk around the lake easily. That is unless they had to put a rod in your leg and it hurts when you walk and you don’t have your strength back. The story takes place over the summer. It is a story of the healing of body and soul and of bringing a dog, who fears everyone, in from the cold.

Rain Reign by Ann M. Martin

This is the story of Rose (rows) who obsesses over homonyms, which she tells us are really homophones, and prime numbers. She has been told her mother left her and she lives with a father who has little patience with her. The kindest thing he ever does though is bringing her a dog, but then a year later during a storm he lets the dog out and the dog doesn’t come back. Their relationship takes a dark turn. Because of her dog and a few other events, Rose is finally able to be accepted and to bond with her classmates. She is in the fifth grade. This book makes me wonder why we are so hard to accept those who are different. Whether they choose to be different or they just are different, if it’s not hurting anyone why isn’t it okay.

Book of the Dead (TombQuest, Book 1) by Michael Northrop

What would you think if you had been sickly all your life and at a point that you were near death your mother used secret powers and a formula from the Egyptian Book of the Dead to heal you, but in doing so she unleashed amazing destructive powers? Well, you wouldn’t have time to think because worse things would be coming your way. This is the first in a five-book series.

Red Rising by Pierce Brown

One of the challenges in writing a story set in an alternate world is how to inform your reader of the setting, while also getting the story moving. The first 20% of this book is spent creating the setting and introducing us to Darrow the main character. Next, we move into a Pygmalion phase. (Click on Pygmalion and it will take you to the Wikipedia page that explains it.) The thing is we are not just teaching Darrow how to speak and how to act, we are also painfully and carefully remaking his body so that even though he was born the lowest of the Reds he will now pass as an elite Gold. Then we have maybe a chapter of Harry Potter as the 100 candidates are sorted into 12 different houses, not by a hat, but by a draft. Then the story really gets going as we play the hunger games as tribes rather than individuals.  However, Darrow, like Catness, does not only have issues with the other teams he also wants to take on the referee/sponsors who don’t seem to be playing fair. This is the first in a five-book series.

Team Yankee A novel of World War III by Harold Coyle

I have to admit that before I saw the subtitle I thought this would be a book about baseball. Instead, it is a book about tank warfare set in 1985 as world war III breaks out. Our battles are set in Eastern Europe. One of the interesting things about writing about the near future is the world can change faster than we expect. The battle lines for the book begin along the national divide between East and West Germany. East and West Germany reunited in 1990. I am told that young men who love football or maybe any sport imagine themselves as the star player. Sometimes replaying real games in their heads except because of their exceptional ability they save the day. I am told as they get older they finally hang up their cleats or their skates or their shorts or their bats and imagine themselves as the coach. This story has a lot of strategic tank movements and battle deployments. It was to me as if a first lieutenant dreamed of how the war would have been won if they had been the battalion commander. 

Monday, August 13, 2018

Vampire Girl By Karpow Kenrade

Vampire Girl by Karpow Kenrade

This is much more a YA book. It is written in first person present tense. The voice is that of Arianna, Ari, who has just turned eighteen. Most people won’t remember Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. It was a ridiculous musical. Well, this is one bride to be choosing from seven brothers who happen to be the seven princes of hell. It seems at two she almost died and her mother made a contract with the then king of hell in order to save her life. Well in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers the guys need and get some schooling about how to behave around women. Well, these seven need some schooling because they each rule over a sub-kingdom named for one of the seven deadly sins; greed, envy, war, vanity, lust, gluttony, and sloth. Ari, the women, is definitely the one to school them, but believe me, they don’t all play nice. But who is surprised, they are the princes of hell. There is quite a twist at the end and book one ends without her having chosen a mate.  There seem to be at least six books in the series. 

Friday, August 10, 2018

The Kindling, The Selection, Genius: The Game

The Kindling by Braden Bell

This is book one of I think seven. It is written in third person past tense. It is the story of three teens in whom there awakens the unexpected powers of the ‘Magi.’ The Magi are a secret force engaged in a battle between good and evil. I love that not all three are sold on embracing their powers and joining the battle. It is an intense battle and well written. I loved the idea of super powers when I was a teen and still wouldn’t mind having a few to help in special circumstances.

The Selection by Kiera Cass

It is the first in a series. It is written in third person past tense. The plot is the bachelor meets the hunger games. Set in the post-world war IV kingdom of Illea. The kingdom is made up of 35 regions. From each region, a candidate will be selected to go live in the palace. From one of these 35 women, Prince Maxon will pick his wife. There is a lot of worries and turmoil over ‘Will he like me?’ ‘Do I like him?’ ‘I’m homesick and want to go home?’ And then there are those pesky rebels who keep attacking and ruining the party. Oh, and the old boyfriend shows up at the palace. And spoiler alert book one ends without us finding out who the Prince chooses.

Genius: The Game by Leopold Gout

This book is told in three different first-person voices. All three are teens who are computer and technology prodigies. These three teens end up at the Game, which is being held by an international businessman. While on the surface all seems on the up and up these teens know there is a very nefarious plot running beneath the surface. Oh, and by the way they aren’t shy about breaking a few laws and rules themselves. There is a lot of computer and code talk that may turn on some but also did not slow the story down for the less geeky me. You’re left at the end with a cliffhanger. There are two additional books in the series.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Two Reviews

I am Number Four by Pittacus Lore

This is book one of the seven-book Lorien Legacies series. This story has all the ingredients a middle school boy might be looking for if: he wished hormones released his superpowers, he wanted a mysterious loyal pet, wanted to talk to the most beautiful girl in the school, he finally wanted to trounce the bully and his friends, and was willing to accept help defeating an alien invasion. I found it a good read. There is a lot of backstory about the planet Lorien but it is worked in skillfully. If my summer read list wasn’t so long I might have gone for book 2. However I have to admit in long series my interest often wains after book four, but I think this might hold it. It is written in first person present.

A Man Called Ove by Frederick  Backman

Listed on the reading list As a Man Named Of, I chose to read the name that way. Ove feels he can contribute to the world by at every turn upholding principles and order. The story is set in Sweden but it seems more like a Soviet state from Tolstoy or Kafka. Even though both Saabs and Volvos are Swedish cars Ove believes only the Saab is worth owning. After GM buys Saab he never buys another car. When his neighbor buys a Volvo their relationship hits rocky ground and when the neighbor trades the Volvo for a BMW that is the end. Ove appears as an angry man with a temper. Slowly his backstory is told and we understand some of the things that have shaped him and scarred him. And slowly we begin to understand Ove. But what also emerges is that maybe Ove just doesn’t know how to exist in a world of silly politeness and excessive small talk and where you can’t even get a plain black coffee in a coffee shop. He several times tells us ‘it is not what a man does but what he says.’ Ove never turns down a request for help. He might grunt or curse but he doesn’t say no.  He does this not because he has a good heart but because it is the right thing to do and because it is what his wife would have wanted him to do. This is a densely narrative book, but very rewarding.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Five reviews

I spent the last week on a road trip from Virginia to Texas and back. I didn't get a lot of reading done but I listened to five books on Audible.  Their reviews are below.

Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan

I listened to Echo as an audible book, it was wonderful. It is the story of the journey of a magical harmonica that gives courage to who ever plays it and the wisdom to know when to pass it on. Each part of the book focuses on a different owner. In the end how the harmonica has journeyed from one to the other is told and all the stories are brought together in one final performance. The audible version included a great deal of music and was quite lovely.

The Wife Between Us By Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen

This is not typical middle grade reading. It is a very complicated love and revenge triangle in which each of the three adults, one man and two women, are a little unhinged, vengeful and manipulating. It is also made complex by numerous flashbacks, often to scenes that have been visited before but now are seen from a different angle.

The Thing about Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin

First you need to know, if you read this book you are going to learn a lot about Jellyfish, a lot. Suzy’s parents describe her as a constant talking person, but when her estranged best friend drowns she goes silent, not a word. Yet in a wonderful way the style of writing is as if she is constant talking to the reader and also to her deceased friend. Large parts of the narrative are actually in second person as she addresses the friend.  Inspired by a group of three young teens who actually flew from Florida to Tennessee on their own, in an attempt to visit Dollywood, Suzy  manages to buy a plane ticket to Australia to speak to a world renowned Jellyologist. Will she make it? At its heart this is a story about the true pain of middle school when the paths of two friends diverge.

Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon

Madelaine is allergic to the world and her mother has built for her a safe house in which she has lived for 17 years protected from the world outside and quite content. When a funny attractive boy moves next door she wants more.  She is finally faced with choosing whether she wants to live safe in her bubble or die outside living the fullness of life. If you find yourself suspecting that mom has more than Madelaine’s health as an agenda pay attention.

Michael Vey: The Prisoner of Cell 25 by Richard Paul Evans

If you had a special ability, who would you tell? Would you tell your parents you could read minds? Would you tell your best friend you could shock the living daylights out of him? That is the beginning of this story. The middle of the story is the discovery that others, only a few others also have powers. And then the challenge is how to use those powers for good when others want to use them for evil. This is the first in a series of seven books. At time the story was very intense but at other time I thought it a little slow. I probably will not come back to this series. 

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

The Whisperer in Darkness by H. P. Lovecraft

The Whisperer in Darkness by H. P. Lovecraft

What a wonderful surprise to find this classic in the list. I have read a number of authors who sight Lovecraft as one of their sources of inspiration and even some who have built upon the mythology he developed. I had not ever read any of his works. He is famous for his influence on the horror genre of the 20th century and numerous songs and games have been influenced by his work, unfortunately, he did not experience financial success during his lifetime.  This is written in a first-person narrative with a bare minimum of dialogue.   It also has a far more challenging vocabulary than is usually found in YA or even modern fiction with only a little archaic vocabulary. It was a scary page-turner edge of the seat, classic horror novel. I’ll never look on the hinterlands of Vermont the same.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Blink By Sasha Davis

Blink By Sasha Davis

There were four choices for the title Blink. One was a Batman graphic, another a rapture story, (religious rapture), and another a psycho-thriller. I chose this one.  However, this is definitely more a late High School book than an early middle school. Mostly for the level of violence, most of it domestic, second for language and finally for some intimate personal interactions. The story is told in first person past tense by high school junior Josh Michaels who as a rising star on the football team and who should have it made except for a neglectful dysfunctional mother, an abusive ex-stepfather, a dope smoking friend, and twin little sisters who need his love and protection, and Chatham Claiborne, the most beautiful person he has ever met.  Two storylines begin in the first chapter and finally meet fully in the last chapter. They are the story of four-year-old Rachel Bachton, kidnapped 11 years before our story begins and the mysterious Chatham Claiborne who shows up in this nowhere town north of Chicago. By the end, Chatham owns who she is and Josh does some growing up, but there is a lot of pain before that happens. 

Friday, July 13, 2018

The Leaving By Tara Altebrando

The Leaving By Tara Altebrando

The Leaving uses three characters to tell the story from their point of view. Two of the characters were part of the six kindergarteners who were taken 11 years before the story begins. The third is the sister of a boy who was taken but doesn’t return. The search for the truth is a suspenseful journey and right up to the end I wasn’t sure who to trust. The story raised for me a lot of questions about memory. It points out that most of us remember very little of our childhood. The story asks; What is a really good memory? Would you rather remember a catastrophic event or simply have a blank spot where that memory was? If you lose your memory can you go forward without trying to regain that time? The story also explores the ways in which those who are left behind try to cope.  And throughout the story is the conflict between people who chose to deal very differently with the same events. A good read. 

The Maze Runner By James Dashner

The Maze Runner By James Dashner

The Maze Runner is written in third person past tense. It is the story of Thomas’ entry into a new community of all teenage boys and his journey out of that community. It is a solid and exciting story. The questions it raises are not so much questions of youth and growing up but questions of life. The primary question is how does one build and maintain community and how does one foster hope in a restrictive setting.  The community has rules and the leaders believe order is absolutely necessary in order to maintain community and hope. When the rules are broken for a reason there is no provision for mercy and forgiveness. The other big question is how does the community deal with suspicion. Suspicion is hurtful to individuals but also destructive to the community. 

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

because of mr. terupt by Rob Buyea

because of mr. terupt by Rob Buyea

When I read the Amazon description of this book and saw that it was about a fifth-grade class, I wondered why several of these 7th graders had recommended this book. Having read it I would highly recommend it to sixth and seventh graders. This story is told with seven first-person voices. They are all fifth graders. All is good in the beginning but they foreshadow that a terrible accident will change everything. They honestly share their self-reflections on their roles as good, bad and sometimes mean kids. None of them are all one way. In fact, some of the least nice and least outgoing are the best people when the class rotates through assisting in the special needs classroom. And maybe most importantly they all have challenges going on at home which contribute to them falling short of their better selves at school. I think the fifth-grade setting offers a simpler school structure in which to tell the story and a genuine honesty to the children’s self-reflection. It offers the sixth and seventh-grade reader the chance to talk about who they most identify with and who they want to be. 

Thursday, July 5, 2018

If I Stay By Gayle Foreman

If I Stay By Gayle Foreman

If I Stay is written in First person Present with many Flash Backs. All is going well until Mia and her family is in a terrible car accident. Mia’s body is left in a coma as her consciousness is left to wander the corridors of the hospital and of her life. In a style that reminded me of “Our Town” by Thornton Wilder Mia remembers significant and insignificant moments of her life. She is sharing with us how each of these moments shaped and created her life. You might say she is telling us who she is by sharing her History. All this is to build to the question of whether she will stay or go. An interesting question would be to take a rather ordinary memory and explore its impact on our present life. 

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Stuart’s Summer Reading List

Stuart’s Summer Reading List

I usually find my next book to read by following the suggestions made by Amazon. You know “The people who bought this book also bought ____.” Well that doesn’t mean they read it. This year I start my summer with forty books recommended by a hundred seventh graders at Marstellar Middle school. I am enjoying the diversity and breadth of the list. I am posting a paragraph about each book as I finish it. * are books read at this time.

First Period
*A Million Ways Home
The Lane of Stories
The Maze Runner
Genius the Game
The Thickity
Ready Player One
The Whisperer in the Dark
The Energy Bus
*Turtles All the Way Down

Second Period
*Life of Mars
*If I Stay
Long Way Down (poetry book recommended by Ivanna)
The Selection
Tomb Quest
Red Rising
The Leaving
Reign Reighn
Team Yankee
Everything Everything
*The Fifth Wave
Along for the Ride
*Henry on Fire
A Man Called Of
*Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda

Third Period
Ranger’s Apprentice
The Thing About Jellyfish
*Cirque du freak
The Doll Graveyard
The Kindling
All American Boys
Out of my Mind
I am Number Four
Michael Vey the Prisoner of Cell 25
Fable Haven
*The War that Saved my Life
The Sword of Summer
The One and Only Ivan
Vampire Girl
Orbiting Jupiter
The Magician's Elephant
Dragon’s Egg
Theodore Boone the Accused

Seventh Period
The Last Star
*The BadBeginningg
Because of Mr. Terupt
*Liar and Spy
The Wife Between Us
The Big Field

Turtles All the Way Down by John Green

Turtles All the Way Down by John Green

Turtles is written in first person past tense with a considerable portion in second person, not something you see very often. The narrator is Aza Holmes who is coping with her mental illness and an obsession with the millions of microbes that occupy her gut and all human guts. The story brings together three teens from very different economic levels and family structures. The main theme I found asked what holds us together as friends and what assures us that someone really is our friend? And maybe foremost how willing are we to be a friend who daily faces challenges to their mental health?

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

A Series of Unfortunate Events #1: The Bad Beginning Lemony Snicket, Brett Helquist, Michael Kupperman

Lemony Snicket, Brett Helquist, Michael Kupperman

This is the first book in the Series of Unfortunate Events. It is written in third person past tense, set in an unnamed country and an unnamed time, but with parallels to early twentieth century England or America. There are numerous fun things about this story but I most appreciated the way the narrator would define words and explain phrases that might be unfamiliar to the reader. IN this story three very bright children navigate their way around adults who are oblivious to their needs, or indifferent or malicious. Malicious is not related to delicious as you might think but means evil and up to no good. 

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Cirque Du Freaks by Darren Shan

Cirque Du Freaks by Darren Shan

This is the first book in the 12 book Living Nightmare series. I have a hard time saying whether this is YA or mid-grade. I think all the content and language are very acceptable for middle grade but I also found it an intensely scary story. I would not read it after dark, so if you are middle grade and like really scary stuff this might be okay for you. If you are middle grade and like fun stories that make you feel good, maybe not so much.  The story is told in first person past tense by ninth grade Darren Shan. It asks several questions. Is stealing from a bad person as bad as stealing from a good person? And the ultimate question of the story is what would you do if dying was the only way to save the life of your best friend whose illness you caused?

Saturday, June 23, 2018

The Doll Graveyard by Lois Ruby

The Doll Graveyard by Lois Ruby

This Mid-G story is told in first person past by twelve-year-old Shelby. Shelby like many of us have done in the past is going through an angry phase. She has reasons to be angry, her parents' divorce and moving to a new school and a new house. She makes peace with herself by unraveling the story of the Doll’s Graveyard. There are many reasons we are angry: fear, having no control over our lives being hurt,… What would you add to the list? The questions is what do we do with our anger? Do we hurt others? Do we shut down? Maybe we work out peace with ourselves and the source of our anger. The truth is our response to the world is one thing we can control.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Life on Mars by Jennifer Brown

Life on Mars by Jennifer Brown

There were several books titled Life on Mars. I eliminated the non-fiction books and a graphic novel to settle on this one. It is written in first person past tense through the eyes of Arty a 12-year-old boy. His real name is Arcturus Beetelgeuse Chambers. A. B. is actually the name of two stars which is cool until you find our Beetelgeuse translates as ‘armpit.’ Arty has a new neighbor who is so unfriendly he is sure the man is either a face-eating zombie or a serial killer. They become friends. So is there someone in your life who is overly: mean, angry, sad, unfriendly, unhappy, grumpy? Maybe they are a grandparent or an aunt or uncle or a parent or a teacher? Have you ever thought something might have made them that way? Maybe there is a question you could ask that might show there is another side to their life. Suggested questions follow:
What was school like when you were my age?
Did you have a favorite subject, teacher, pet …?
What was your first job?
What would you suggest as I look for my first job?

They might tell you to go away or they might talk to you. No promises. However, for most people their favorite subject is themselves.

A Million Ways Home by Dianna Dorisi Winget

A Million Ways Home by Dianna Dorisi Winget

Now we are back into good solid Mid-G reading. This story is written in first person past tense, told through the eyes of twelve-year-old Poppy who is spunky and impulsive. Poppy has been placed with social services because her grandmother is in the hospital. The ongoing theme throughout this story, in a multitude of relationships, is redemption and release, a process that allows new life to begin. Interestingly the cover and the title seem to have little connection to the story.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Fifth Summer Read - The Fifth Wave

The Fifth Wave by Rick Yancy

The Last Star was the recommended book but it was the third and last book in the series that started with The Fifth Wave, so I went and read The Fifth Wave. It is written in first person present. It is definitely more a YA book than a Mid-grade book. It is the dystopian story of an alien invasion that may have already begun unbeknown to us. I found the first half of the book very unsettling. It introduces us to several children and then shows us how their childhood is stripped away from them by these troubled times. And for some, even their very humanity is up for grabs. This is in contrast to our usual Mid-g fair that focuses on youth finding the fullness of their better selves. Shortly after a scene in which a group of them have a rejoicing moment that is described as “we were for a brief time celebrating like children,” they begin to regain themselves. I thought it a good read and if my summer reading list was not so long I would go on to read book two and three. 

I'm now starting A Million Ways Home

Monday, June 11, 2018

Summer reading reviews.

I spent some time this spring with a 100 seventh graders discussing writing. I let them draw me up a summer reading list. I'll be posting a comment about each book as I go along. the list is over forty books long.

Here are my first few reads.

Wonder by R. J. Palacio

Wonder is the story of August who has a cranial facial distortion; the result is that when people first see him they are shocked. August or Augie, or Augie Doggie as his dad sometimes calls him is the main narrator telling the story in first person. However, five other narrators also give their perspectives. I liked the way that the author used each character to comment on their side of previous events but also allowed the characters to move the story along.
At fifth grade, Augie’s parents decide it is time for him to leave homeschooling and attend a private middle school that begins with fifth grade. He is fearful but finally agrees to attempt this undertaking. The book shows us his struggles to put himself out there and the struggles of his classmates to relate to him. Middle school can be tough and but some students can also be kind.
One of the challenging questions I take from the story comes from the “war” that erupts between Augie and his few friends and a cool kid and his many friends. The main act of ‘war ‘ is to choose your side. Students are expected to choose Augie’s side, or Julian’s, the ‘cool kid’s’ side or neutral. The girls choose neutral, most of the boys choose Julian’s side. Even when Julian loses his coolness the boys migrate to neutral. To me the quest is: Is neutral good enough?

Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda By Becky Albertalli

This is the story of Simon seeking to tell the world he’s gay and being outed. It is a story of his search for a boyfriend and of the various romances of his friends. It also shows how vulnerable it is to be young seeking a friend, how under peer pressure we can be mean when we didn’t even know it, and how we hurt one another even when we don’t mean too. The story is told in first person present.
Here are three things I really liked about this book:
1.       The idea that not only gay youth but all youth should be expected to sit down with their parents and declare their sexuality.
2.       Simon is in an anonymous pen pal relationship with another boy who is gay. It is very freeing and empowering at first. It is more difficult when Simon decides it’s time to meet and the other boy isn’t ready.  It is amazing how often it is easier to tell things to a stranger than it is to someone who knows us.
3.       Simon has the type of parents who get over-excited about everything. This is part of the reason he is reluctant to tell them he is Gay.  And why his sister has a secret that causes her to often be absent when he expects her to be home.

And this is a good example of why you can’t watch the movie instead of reading the book. There are some significant differences between the two.

Liar & Spy by Rebecca Stead

This is the story of two boys, Georges and Safer whose parents give the space to face their fears in their own time. It is written in first person present, told by Georges. Who is named for Georges Seurat. It deals also with loss because Georges’s family has to move from their house to an apartment because his dad lost his job. The move means Georges has to leave behind the coolest bed ever. George also loses a good friend because after the summer his friend drops him. 
The most important question it asks is: If I decide I’m cool, does my table become the cool table. It’s most important message for its reader is yes we must remember the big picture of life and the issues of now matter little in the long run, but that doesn’t mean they don’t hurt as if the matter forever.

The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

This stories is about a brother and sister during world war in England at the time when children were sent out of London to live in the countryside away from the bombing. This is the same setting as in the Narnia series but this story gives a much more realistic idea of the emotional strains on the children and on their host families. Ada and her brother Jamie have left behind a horribly abusive mother. Jamie though longs for home and Ada fully embraces the new life she has found in the country. Overall it is a story of healing for the children and for the women who is forced to take them in.

Ransom By Lois Duncan

There were several books titled Ransom. I chose the one I thought most like to be recommended by one of Ms. Strohman’s students. Ransom is the story of five teens from families of average means who live in what is considered a wealthy neighborhood. They are kidnapped and held for ransom. Fifty thousand each but a packaged deal all must be paid for.  During the stress of their captivity, we find that they all bear hidden marks. Marianne knows her father doesn’t even care about her but won’t admit it. Dexter has a weak left side from polio but hides it with clothing. Bruce lives in his brother’s shadow but discovers he doesn’t want to. Jesse discovers that when it really counts life or death she is stronger than she thought and she is capable of loving. Only Glenn doesn’t see his mark but his brother and parents do. The book has numerous flashbacks that are occasionally a little confusing until you get used to them.