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.