Beautiful language, alternating voices, engaging characters, and a surprisingly captivating story make this novel in verse one that middle school teac...moreBeautiful language, alternating voices, engaging characters, and a surprisingly captivating story make this novel in verse one that middle school teachers are going to especially love using with their students. There are lots of topics to discuss here, including the Age of Exploration, slavery, and the exploitation of native populations.(less)
Good solid fun for girls who like their romance light and their content squeaky-clean. A quirky cast peoples this fun small-town story about a girl an...moreGood solid fun for girls who like their romance light and their content squeaky-clean. A quirky cast peoples this fun small-town story about a girl and her mother who are trying to get back on their feet after fleeing mom's abusive ex-boyfriend. Foster has noteworthy talents for both baking and business and day-dreams constantly about being the host of her own cooking show. Reading from actual cookbooks, though, is not an option, as Foster finds it almost impossible to deciper the words on a page. Will she become the laughing stock of her new town, or will she become its hottest new TV star? Neither, actually. But Foster will indeed find the recipe for success, and readers will enjoy discovering it along with her. Readers may NOT enjoy, though, the number of references in this book to cupcakes -- not because they're distracting, but because they will make you crave cupcakes. REALLY, really crave cupcakes!! Ah, if only they came with the book.(less)
The first few pages of this book led me to believe that it would be a terrific pick for reluctant readers and a solid kid-pleaser. Stuart Gibbs is a s...moreThe first few pages of this book led me to believe that it would be a terrific pick for reluctant readers and a solid kid-pleaser. Stuart Gibbs is a screenwriter, and that comes through in the easy way this story unfolds and the amount of action that's to be found here. As the novel progressed, though, my initial spark of enthusiasm faded a bit. The premise is great, the story is clean, the writing is straightforward, and the characters (for the most part) are fun. But the pacing is uneven. Wanting to provide readers with more information about animals and zoos and more detailed backstory, the narrator throws in numerous asides -- often in the middle of action scenes that should be moving at a clip and are instead slowed by all the extra commentary. Still, I became used to that halting pacing and subsequently felt jarred when, toward the end of the book, the speed picked up dramatically and numerous bits of the mystery were wrapped-up in overly quick and disappointingly unrealistic fashion. Two additional complaints: Wanting to provide some stock kid humor, the author makes too many crass and insensitive remarks about fat people for my taste; and a pivotal scene at the end, during the funeral of Henry the Hippo, seemed just digusting and distateful -- especially in light of all the messages in the book about the respect we should be paying to animals, Henry included.
That having been said, I do think most kids will enjoy this book (which is ultimately what matters most to me). I think they'll learn interesting facts about a number of species (hippos in particular) and gain some interesting insights into the work and thoughtful planning that happens at zoos. I think they'll enjoy trying to tease out the details of this mystery, far-fetched though it may be, and I like that the mystery is solved by an intelligent boy and girl, working in tandem. I just wish it had lived up to the potential it REALLY possessed, as a few small changes might have made this one of the most solidly kid-friendly books I read this year. (less)
**spoiler alert** If Delly is a shout then Ferris is no more than a whisper. Locked up like a treasure chest, Ferris won’t talk. Not to the teachers a...more**spoiler alert** If Delly is a shout then Ferris is no more than a whisper. Locked up like a treasure chest, Ferris won’t talk. Not to the teachers at her new school. Not to her classmates. Not to the boy who (thinking Ferris is also a boy) joins her for a weekly game of basketball. Not even to Delly – impulsive but well-intentioned Delly – and her loving little brother, RB, who soon become Ferris’s closest and most steadfast companions. As Delly and Ferris grow ever closer, exploring the woods around their town and hatching adventurous plans, Delly unravels the secret behind her best friend’s silence, uncovering a truth both too big and too dangerous for her to keep quiet.
With a light, deft touch, Katherine Hannigan (author of 2004’s smash hit Ida B.), delivers a memorable, moving, and altogether lively story about friendship, honesty, and the sounds of silence. Readers will come to understand that Ferris is being abused by her father, but all such scenes happen “off screen,” making the story appropriate for middle grade readers. Delly, Ferris, and RB are all terrific role models – imperfect but well-intentioned. Kids (and adults!) can learn much from the tricks Delly uses to quell her emotional outbursts and impulsive behavior, and all readers can learn from her experiences with understanding when to stay quiet and when to yell FIRE. This will surely be hailed as one of the best novels of 2011, and with good reason. (less)
I love this book and think it’s certain to be one of the year’s most talked about titles. While technically a companion to 2008’s Newbery Honor-Winnin...moreI love this book and think it’s certain to be one of the year’s most talked about titles. While technically a companion to 2008’s Newbery Honor-Winning The Wednesday Wars (the two have several characters in common), Okay for Now stands alone beautifully and is in my opinion a better-paced and more kid-friendly read than its predecessor. Doug Swieteck’s voice is unique and authentic. His wry responses to the world around him made me literally laugh out loud in places. I love his relationships with his older brothers and the ways all three characters change over the course of the book. I enjoyed the small-town flavor of the story and the quirky cast of characters who become key players in Doug’s life. Doug’s father is a truly awful man – unapologetically so – and I like the realistic way that his nature comes through in every one of his actions. Doug’s increasing interest in Audubon’s artwork adds a wonderful dimension to the story, and makes it a true ode to the arts. This book is funny, moving, inspiring, and just plain wonderful.
Minor complaints: The ending wraps up much too neatly, which I found disappointing. Likewise, there are a few twists in the plot that feel rather unrealistic. I’m not enthusiastic about the book’s title – it’s too vague, it doesn’t really convey Doug’s voice, and it’s pessimistic in ways that the book is not, which bugs me. HOWEVER, I am willing to overlook any flaws in this book because on balance I think it’s so good that they hardly matter!
As far as using this book in schools... I think this is an ideal fit for middle and high school but fine too for most upper elementary classrooms. Less mature 4th and 5th graders may be bothered by the bullying and abuse Doug suffers from his father and (to a lesser degree) a teacher, but that primarily happens “off screen.” There are emotionally intense scenes as his brother struggles to readjust after he returns from Vietnam, but on the whole these just add depth to the story and shouldn’t turn many (if any) readers away. The romance in the book is squeaky clean apart from a few rather innocent kisses. (less)
While I think it could have been tighter in places, this is a solid, engaging, and suspenseful story that I think kids will definitely enjoy and teach...moreWhile I think it could have been tighter in places, this is a solid, engaging, and suspenseful story that I think kids will definitely enjoy and teachers may find creative ways to use in their classrooms. This is ultimately a story in which kids have zero adults to help them and have to act both creatively and responsibly in order to escape a very dangerous situation. In order to survive within the camp and escape the encroaching fire, Luke and his friends draw on their knowledge of both science and gadgetry to create some truly clever contraptions. As such, I can see this book making a fun addition to math and science lessons.
Luke, Theo, and Callie are intelligent and resourceful kids. They are not, however, without flaws, which I think made their characters seem considerably more real. Callie is frequently cranky. Luke is impulsive, fidgety, and easily-distracted. While nowhere in the book is it stated that he has ADHD, kids familiar with its symptoms will recognize Luke’s struggles and see ways in which they sometimes help (and sometimes hinder) his actions in the book. (less)
First, a few negatives: For the first chapter or so I thought that Megan was too irksome a character for me – in the beginning she is selfish and whin...moreFirst, a few negatives: For the first chapter or so I thought that Megan was too irksome a character for me – in the beginning she is selfish and whiny and melodramatic and… a total brat, frankly. I also found it frustrating that she shows (even by the end) relatively little regard for the agony that she has put her parents and countless other people through, as her story has been all over the news and countless people have been searching for her. I was also very aware, while reading it, that the outcomes of this story are very much idealized – Megan’s change of heart and awakening come a bit more quickly than feels real, and it’s hard to believe 1.) she encounters so few hikers on the AT in the middle of summer, and 2.) those she meets don’t pay particular notice to her and/or notify the authorities.
BUT, I’m pushing all of those negatives aside, because I don’t think most kids will be bothered by them. Both the adult and the kid in me enjoyed watching Megan’s transformation over the course of this story. It was gratifying to watch her attitude change from negative to positive and honestly just fun to hike along with her on her adventure. Each time I’d pick up this book, I found myself wanting to know what was happening to Megan and whether or not she was going to make it all the way to Mt. Greylock before adults intervened. I found myself hoping she’d go the distance, and think it’s likely that kids will do the same. Hopefully some of them will also be inspired to go hiking! (less)
Abby and her Shetland sheepdog, Tam, spend hours every day practicing for agility training trials and simply enjoying one ano...moreWHAT HAPPENS IN THE BOOK:
Abby and her Shetland sheepdog, Tam, spend hours every day practicing for agility training trials and simply enjoying one another’s company. That all changes the day Abby and her Mom have an accident on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Heading home to NC from a competition in Virginia, their pick-up truck travels headlong into a tree, sending Tam’s crate tumbling down a mountainside. Tam manages to free himself from the crate before he’s drowned in a mountain stream, but in the course of that he’s carried far away from the accident scene – too far for anyone to find him.
What begins is a 400-mile journey for Tam, whose deep devotion to “his girl” finds him traveling for months through rough territory and many painful encounters with other animals, other people, and terrible winter weather. Abby, meanwhile, endures the hardships of a life with little family income, a father doggedly pursuing his musician dreams, a mother struggling to help all of them, a new house/school/town, and a terrible grief over the dog she lost – a dog she believes is still alive and trying to reach her.
The story alternates between Abby’s perspective (in the first person) and Tam’s (in the third), giving the reader a full picture of how both are trying desperately to find their way back to one another. While Abby wonders about Tam, she and her parents move to Nashville, where she is surprised to find a new friend in a seemingly rough-edged girl whose father is a wealthy and famous country music star. This diversion away from the central plot adds depth to the story and brings some nice friendship components to the plot. Meanwhile, Abby’s feelings of desperation and singular sense of purpose to find Tam are achingly believable.
WHAT I THOUGHT ABOUT IT:
I thought this book was wonderful. It’s engaging, heart-warming, moving and an absolute “must read” for young animal lovers. I was completely absorbed by the story and very much taken with Abby and Tam – both of whom are characters kids will relate to, like, and find themselves rooting for. I think this is one of the most kid-friendly books I’ve read all year, but it’s certain to please a LOT of adults too!
This book would be a terrific choice for book groups, and teachers will find numerous ways to use it in a classroom. Students could draw “story maps” like Abby does, plotting the book’s major events on a map, along with the dates when those events happened. They could plot Tam’s progress, too, calculate his speed of travel, and make predictions about when and where he’s likely to arrive next. Also on the topic of making predictions, kids will no doubt want to talk about how Abby and her grandmother both believe that they can “see” Tam via dreams or an ESP-like ability they refer to as “the Sight.” Agility training is another topic young readers will want to learn more about, and it’s a great topic to explore in the context of encouraging fitness – both for people and their pets. Homeschoolers will like learning that Abby (who is very bright) was homeschooled until just two years prior to the events in this story.
One more note: A similar construction (alternating perspectives, first & third person narration) and common themes (rural life, friendship between kids from different socio-economic groups) makes this book an interesting one to pair with Faith, Hope, and Ivy June by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor. (less)
I can't say enough good things about this book. Here, Jonah Winter tells the story of his father's childhood, which was relatively run-of-the-mill for...moreI can't say enough good things about this book. Here, Jonah Winter tells the story of his father's childhood, which was relatively run-of-the-mill for rural America during the Great Depression. What makes the book such a stand-out isn't the events (which are few) or people or places described in the narrative, but the voice and structure of the narrative, which is written in the SECOND person. This essentially puts you, the reader, in Rodgers Lee Winter's shoes, where you listen as your son repeats back to you all of the meaningful things you've told him about your own childhood. The second-person choice makes a commonplace (but not unimportant) story feel personal, real, and deeply affecting. Here's an excerpt, so you can see what I mean:
In that tiny white frame house, there were ten of you -- eight kids and your parents -- in four small rooms.
You slept at the foot of the bed because there were only two beds and you were the youngest. You read by kerosene lanterns because you couldn't afford electricity.
You got your water from a well because there was no indoor plumbing. There were no toilets, so you had an outhouse.
I know, because you've told me, Dad. This was the world you grew up in.
This is a wonderfully relatable story about a real person. It's a book about history. It's a book about hardship. It's a book about the small pleasures that help each of us get through the tough times. It's about things that are bigger than money. It's about daily life during the Great Depression, making it especially resonant to readers feeling the pinch of our current Recession. It's about family and generations and sharing -- especially sharing. There's the sharing of stories (father to son, then son back to father) and the sharing of common experiences between kids and families today and kids and families in Rodgers Lee Winter's time.
This book fairly screams "MENTOR TEXT" to me. I think that it would be an amazing project to share this book with kids then have each of them write, in the second person and in a similar style, about the childhood of a meaningful adult in their life. It also screams "READ ALOUD" because the voice is spot-on perfect and Kimberly Bulcken Root's watercolor illustrations capture the mood of the text so perfectly.
The book itself doesn't scream anything, though, which is part of what makes it so lovely. It speaks to you in soothing but straightforward tones, like you're a true friend, a good kid, or (better still) someone's beloved dad.
**spoiler alert** The Pros (in brief): This is a beautifully, BEAUTIFULLY written book. I wanted to sink into the writing and stay there. I wanted to...more**spoiler alert** The Pros (in brief): This is a beautifully, BEAUTIFULLY written book. I wanted to sink into the writing and stay there. I wanted to take Hazel home with me and fill her world with good cheer, kind words, and best wishes. The story is captivating, beautiful, and moving. It’s a book that stars a girl but it will also appeal to boys. On top of that it’s (rarity of rarities!) a middle grade fantasy adventure story starring a girl who is NOT white (HOORAY!).
The Cons (in brief) this a VERY melancholy story, and the sections I personally found the most satisfying were those were those that took place in the "real world." I felt less emotionally connected to the fantasy half of the story (Part Two) and was let-down by the relative lack of climax and fact that so many things were left unresolved (and therefore depressing) at the end. NEVERTHELESS, I think this a 2011 book that should go on everyone's must-read list for the year!
I'm pasting a lengthy summary + more comments about my enjoyment of Breadcrumbs below, because it's the type of book that I found myself *wanting* to think and write about at length.
Here's a lengthy summary (CONTAINS SPOILERS!):
This is a modern-day fantasy inspired by the classic Hans Christian Andersen tale “The Snow Queen.”
Part One takes place in “the real world” where Hazel, whose parents adopted her from India, is dealing with her parents’ divorce, her mother’s limited finances, her adjustment to 5th grade at a new school, and an unexpected rift that’s developing between her and her best friend Jack. At first it seems that Jack’s friends are to blame. They want nothing to do with Hazel, whom they see as a strange, childish girl who spends too much time reading books and imaging worlds of fantasy. Jack’s friend Tyler bullies and belittles Hazel as Jack tries his best to please all of them and somehow keep his friendships both separate and intact. But things suddenly change, Jack stops talking to her, and Hazel suffers over the loss of his friendship.
Meanwhile Jack, too, is suffering. For months his mother has been battling severe depression, and watching her has left him scared, sad and desperate for her affection. His concern for both his mother and Hazel all but disappears, though, when the shard of a magical mirror pierces and hardens his heart. Soon after, a strange, beautiful woman arrives on a sled pulled by white wolves. When she offers to take Jack away from his world to her home deep in the snows of winter, he is powerless to resist her and desperate for the love of someone who might give him what his mother cannot. So he goes.
Jack’s friend Tyler sees it happen. Jack’s parents (who are bewitched) believe he is visiting some distant relative, but Tyler sees the Snow Queen and the sled with his own two eyes. Seeing, though, is not the same thing as believing, and Tyler doesn’t believe in magic or fantasy worlds – the stuff mooned over by strange girls like Hazel. Realizing Hazel is the only one who believes in magic and therefore the only one who will believe what’s happened to Jack, Tyler tells her what he’s seen.
In Part Two, Hazel sets out to rescue Jack, in spite of the fact that he’s turned his back on her and may not want to be rescued. Stepping into a world even colder (both literally and figuratively) than her own, she encounters evil people and has bad experiences borrowed from classic fairy tales, all designed to make her forget herself, forget her own world, and stay in the world of fantasy forever.
What I Loved:
Hazel is a wonderful main character with whom readers will easily identify and empathize. She has a sharp mind and a rich imagination. Her friendship with Jack feels 100% real and I found myself wanting desperately for them to repair the rift that forms between them.
Hazel is an avid reader and throughout this story Ursu cleverly inserts references to a wide variety of books and fairy tales (e. g. His Dark Materials, A Wrinkle in Time, Harry Potter, When You Reach Me, The Chronicles of Narnia, Coraline, The Phantom Tollbooth). The mentions are subtle enough to capture only the attention of readers who know the books she’s referring to – those less “in the know” won’t feel they’re on the outside of an inside joke.
I LOVE the cover of this book. I think it’s intriguing – it makes me want to know what’s going to happen in the story – and it establishes the tone of the book perfectly. It says “adventure” and “fantasy” AND (thank you, Walden Pond Press!) it shows a non-white kid setting out to encounter both.
What I Didn’t Love:
For the first half it bore a resemblance, tone-wise, to When You Reach Me, but when the story grew darker (in Part Two) the mood of the book did too. Had I gone in expecting it this book to so moody, I’d have been less disappointed to see it become so, but alas -- my expectations for middle grade novels (which tend to end on a happy note, at least) seems to have worked against me.
The “real world” scenes of Part One felt completely real to me, while the scenes in the fantasy world felt abstract and ungrounded, at least by comparison. Once Hazel stepped through into the fairy tale world, we lost any view of the peripheral characters in her world, and I found myself missing their constancy and the small sparks of joy that came with some of them. This is part of what made Part Two feel so melancholy. While Hazel’s life in the real world is characterized by emotional highs and lows, in the fantasy world, it’s all lows – one after another. This is largely because everything in the fantasy world is false (no one is trustworthy and nothing is as it seems), but the result is that Hazel’s adventures there feel more depressing, a little bewildering, and a bit aimless. She just encounters one harsh thing after another, which to me felt… wearing, emotionally.
The ending itself feels a little muddy and rather abrupt. There is no real climax to the story, which I found disappointing – it just builds and builds and fades and ends. Poof! Hazel’s reunion with Jack did not have the punch I was hoping it would. The ending ultimately feels as anticlimactic (and potentially disappointing) as most endings in the real world – without fanfare or fireworks or happily ever afters.
There are a few places where the perspective changes and we see what’s happening outside Hazel’s world (with, say, the mirror or the Snow Queen). These sections are few and far between and (possibly FOR that reason) I found those sections intrusive. As the reader I felt like I had such a close and intimate relationship with Hazel that I wanted to see/experience everything on her time and from her point of view – not anyone else’s.
My disappointments with Part Two may have, in part, been caused by the coincidence of my having read both A Tale Dark and Grimm and The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making just a few short months ago. Ursu drew on some of the same classic tales and themes that appear in those books when she crafted the fantasy world through which Hazel ventures. As a result I was frequently distracted by my own thoughts of "Didn't I just read this tale somewhere? I'm sure I did. I definitely did! But where...?" I also find myself unsurprised, then, by some of the outcomes of Hazel's fairy tale experiences. This is neither the book’s fault, nor a mark against it (!), but I mention it here as a forewarning to anyone whose list of "books read" bears much resemblance to mine. Be prepared to turn back to those other books to be reassured that you haven't lost your mind! ; )