Before I even start this review I feel obligated to admit that I am biased: I don't like chickens. I wasn't looking forward to reading this particularBefore I even start this review I feel obligated to admit that I am biased: I don't like chickens. I wasn't looking forward to reading this particular book. I will also admit that my dislike of actual chickens faded to the background as I read Judy Cox's The Secret Chicken Society.
It begins with Daniel, a student in Mrs. Lopez's 3rd Grade class. Daniel is an animal lover and already has a pet gerbil, a rat and a parakeet. When Mrs. Lopez reveals to the class that not only will they be hatching chicks, the students are able to give the chicks permanent homes provided they bring $2 and a note from their parents saying it's all right.
The Secret Chicken Society is created by Daniel and his brother and sisters as a way to protect the chickens they inherit from the classroom--which ends up to be much more than they bargained for. The author does a great job of weaving interesting nonfiction facts about chickens into a simply, but tightly and clearly, plotted storyline. Daniel, his brother and sisters and his parents are completely believable characters who speak and act genuinely in each situation. The addition of Daniel's neighbors--both Mr. & Mrs. Grafalo and Miss Clay and her poodles--is a perfectly positioned plot addition.
Along with the real-life information about how to hatch eggs, care for the chicks and the chickens they become Ms. Cox has built in the real challenges of keeping chickens in a backyard--the smell, the cleaning and the noise. The Secret Chicken Society has the traditional structure of: (1) boy wants special pet; (2) boy gets special pet; (3) boy loses, or almost loses pet; and (4) boy finds solution. She hits each of these elements in a way that makes sense and is entertaining. The chicken escape scenes in particular are extremely well done--vivid and action-packed and chuckle-worthy.
The plot, language and sentence structure are perfect for the younger end of the Lovelace Division I readers. Young or beginning readers transitioning to a higher complexity in story structure will thoroughly enjoy Daniel's experiences. The Secret Chicken Society is a perfect independent or read-aloud choice for ages 5-8....more
Nickel Bay Nick is the newest contribution from Dean Pitchford--whose Captain Nobody has become a staple in my read-aloud repertoire with middle gradeNickel Bay Nick is the newest contribution from Dean Pitchford--whose Captain Nobody has become a staple in my read-aloud repertoire with middle grade students. Sam Brattle lives with his dad in Nickel Bay, a town hit hard by the economic downturn. A former firefighter (and local hero) Sam's dad is now struggling to keep his small bakery open in a town where many other small businesses are closing and the larger ones are moving away.
Sam's mother left when he was small, right before he got so ill he required a heart transplant to live. Sam is awash in the misery of feeling alone and abandoned and not quite whole within himself. Teased at school, he has taken to hanging around with Jaxon, an older boy with a penchant for shoplifting and vandalism. As a result, Sam has developed a reputation in the small community as a troublemaker.
When an accident on Christmas night throws Sam into contact with his elderly next door neighbor, Mr. Wells, Sam doesn't immediately realize he has a chance to change his future by making some different choices in the NOW.
Nickel Bay Nick has a lot of good intentions. The problem is that none of those good intentions ever really blossom into a well-plotted story. Sam almost achieves the genuine voice I am used to hearing in Pitchford's main characters but not quite; he never really emerges from the pages in any three-dimensional form. The same can be said of the other characters in the story--Mr. Wells, Jaxon, even Sam's father; they are all more ideas of characters than actual functioning beings in the story.
Surprisingly, I had a hard time getting through this one; I was often bored. Nickel Bay Nick has some nice moments--like the scene where Sam first encounters Mr. Wells and the escapades in the Four Seasons Mall at the end--but overall it is just an okay read. ...more
The Thing About Jellyfish immediately rocketed into my top 20 list of all middle grade fiction I have ever read. Suzy's voice is achingly genuine. I tThe Thing About Jellyfish immediately rocketed into my top 20 list of all middle grade fiction I have ever read. Suzy's voice is achingly genuine. I think this book will resonate with anyone who has struggled to feel as if she belongs somewhere, finds a new friend and then had the experience of seeing a friendship that once felt strong, eternal and invincible crumble away amid all kinds of hurt:
I see myself as you just did. As someone who is out of place in this world....
I am sorry I wasn't who you wanted me to be.
When Suzy's one-time friend dies unexpectedly and their last interaction was one of misunderstanding and unkindness Suzy finds herself lost inside her own thoughts, worries and grief over so many things. She speaks clearly what those of us who have experienced sudden and painful loss feel so deeply--whether child or adult:
Somehow, that fact--that sometimes things do just happen--seemed like it might be the scariest and saddest truth of all.
After MUCH reflection (and introspection) Suzy determines her friend's death can be explained by jellyfish. She just needs more information--someone or something who can provide her with research and answers. She develops what she believes to be a well-thought-out plan to obtain a meeting with a jellyfish expert, thinking that a direct conversation with an expert will help her make sense of the entire episode.
Except this isn't just an "episode" and sometimes things happen in life without clearly apparent causes or reasons. Life is most definitely NOT fair and we all have a lot of trouble accepting that when it happens to us. Ali Benjamin allows the character of Suzy to speak for us. When Suzy's plan hits an unexpected snag her utter despair in that moment is painful because it is so honest. For me, the truest moment came when, at her absolute lowest, feeling a failure for her inability to understand and process these difficult thoughts and emotions, Suzy is able to move simply into her mother's arms. When Suzy's mother encircles her with love and an absence of judgment I was right there in that circle with them.
The Thing About Jellyfish is an easy read--I started and finished it in the same day. If you have ever felt a problem was bigger than yourself or your understanding The Thing About Jellyfish is a perfect independent reading choice. In a classroom or as a shared bedtime story it provides the perfect beginning of many discussions about judgment, friendship, growing up and how to cope with losses that loom so large in our lives. ...more
Perfect Game was a surprise for me. I will admit right from the beginning that I am NOT a huge baseball fan so I was sort of dreading reading this LovPerfect Game was a surprise for me. I will admit right from the beginning that I am NOT a huge baseball fan so I was sort of dreading reading this Lovelace nominee. Perfect Game is, certainly about baseball, but it is more than that as well. In the tradition of the best sports-themed stories Perfect Game uses the central theme of baseball to help young readers see the best qualities in themselves and what they can aspire to be.
Isaac is a middle-grade student who is also a talented pitcher for his baseball team. As Perfect Game begins we see Isaac preoccupied with the details of pitching a "perfect game." For a pitcher in Little League Baseball a "perfect game" is 18 strikeouts in a row--no batter ever makes it to a base. Isaac thinks about his 'perfect game' possibility almost constantly. When, in the midst of a game that is going well, circumstances intervene to derail his "perfect game," Isaac loses his cool. He becomes angry and behaves in a hurtful way toward his teammates.
After trying to give Isaac some advice about trying to change his perspective during a game without seeing any results Isaac's coach invites him to come and help with a Special Olympics Unified Sports Team on the weekend. A Special Olympics Unified Sports Team pairs abled and disabled athletes as they play a variety of sports. When Isaac arrives for his first Sunday helping with basketball he meets Kevin--a Special Olympics athlete. Although he is initially a little shocked by Kevin's behavior--because it is different from how he, himself, would behave, Isaac comes to see in Kevin that courage and "perfection" might actually look different than he has always imagined them.
Perfect Game could be a great read-aloud in the right classroom. It's a dynamite bedtime read-aloud together or independently for a young reader who enjoys sports--particularly baseball. The language and plot structure are easily read by advanced 2nd through 4th & 5th grade readers. The concepts of 'perfection' and 'winning' are examined in an age-appropriate and age-effective manner by a writer with considerable skill in characterization and believable dialogue. ...more
When I saw the title for the book I assumed I would be reading the story of a girl from a military family. But that is not what Camo Girl is. The camoWhen I saw the title for the book I assumed I would be reading the story of a girl from a military family. But that is not what Camo Girl is. The camouflage in this book is both the pigment condition Ella has which causes her to have differently-pigmented shades of skin on her face AND the idea of being hidden from sight in a deeper way from the inside out. How do we hide from the reality in our lives that hurt or seem to hard to look at?
Ella is in middle school and has resigned herself to being alone. She is the only black/multiracial girl in her school. She is often made fun of because her skin is mottled, causing it to have patches of skin that are different shades of brown on her face. She is friends with 'Z,' a classmate lost in a fantasy world in order to navigate his own struggle with abandonment. She feels obligated to protect him from the bullying they both endure often by their peers.
Ella is surprised and a little excited when the new student--Bailey--turns out to be black as well. She thinks finally! she may have someone to whom she can relate, with whom she might be friends an a way that brings the sense of belonging she's missing. And, as is the case so often, Ella finds herself struggling to figure out how to move toward friendship with Bailey without deserting Z.
Ella speaks for so many of us, young and old, who search for the place, the people in life with whom we belong. It requires insight and experience and a willingness to see ourselves as we truly are. Ella shows the reader through her own thoughts, feelings and actions what it is like to feel a part of something, someone, then lose that and have to redefine what it means to "belong" and search for it again.
Camo Girl has some brilliant and tender moments. Its overall pace, however, moves along in starts and stops like an engine that keeps sputtering. For me, the final conflict felt forced which then takes away from the impact the story can leave on the reader. Ultimately unsatisfying for me from a story and character perspective, Camo Girl has enough extraordinarily well-crafted moments in Ella's voice that it is still worth the read. I can see some young readers--particularly girls--enjoying the story and buying into the ending more than I did as an adult. Those are the readers to whom I would suggest Camo Girl as a Lovelace nominee choice (a group that I am pretty sure will include my 11-year-old, 6th Grade daughter). ...more
Counting By 7s is the story of Willow Chance. She is 12 years old. She's a genius. She's different. She has already had to search and find one family.Counting By 7s is the story of Willow Chance. She is 12 years old. She's a genius. She's different. She has already had to search and find one family. This is the story of losing and searching for another.
Willow's voice will absolutely fill your heart. If you liked Out of My Mind (Sharon Draper), Wonder, (R. J. Palaccio) Anything But Typical (Nora Baskin) or True...Sort Of (Katherine Hannigan) then Counting By 7s is a MUST on your to-read list!
While true that Willow has some unique circumstances surrounding her life and situation, her longing for the love and security she has lost is one with which all readers can identify. Willow first experiences deep sadness the way most of us do--she tries to ignore it, to run away from it: if I pretend it isn't there then it won't hurt as much. Where Willow is different is her ability to notice feelings and the actions of others around her in a way that causes her to re-examine the choice she has made about the way she survives each day alongside the loss at her center.
Willow methodically moves through a tragic, life-changing event with singular purpose. Regardless of the reader's age, Willow guides us through her observations of others' kindness on her behalf and helps us to see--as she does--that loss and sadness do not need to make us who we are in this world. It is a profound thought and Willow's character embodies and teaches it with gentle grace instead of any kind of condescension or preachy-ness. Because Willow's character is so unique to begin with, her mature observations remain believable for the reader.
A fantastic independent or read-aloud choice for the Lovelace nominees this year, I expect Counting By 7s to be a favorite--particularly among my 6th and 7th grade girl students. ...more
I was reluctant to read Kate the Great because I was afraid it would be a bad imitation of Lincoln Peirce's successful Big Nate series. I was relievedI was reluctant to read Kate the Great because I was afraid it would be a bad imitation of Lincoln Peirce's successful Big Nate series. I was relieved to discover Kate is a unique and quirky 5th grader. I thoroughly enjoyed reading about the beginning of Kate's 5th Grade year. This volume only covers the beginning of school through Halloween so I know there is MUCH more to come!
Every kid has been forced through circumstances to either befriend or spend time with a classmate he or she neither particularly likes nor gets along with. Kate finds herself in just such a situation with Nora due to arrangements by their parents. Neither Kate nor Nora is happy about it.
As Kate spends more time with Nora they learn things about each other which both find interesting and admirable. In spite of themselves they develop a new friendship. Until the day Nora overhears Kate and her best friend talking about her. Kate must decide which is the right thing to do. Will her conscience give her the courage to apologize? Will Nora accept an apology if it is offered?
Kate the Great is a nice addition to the popular genre of humorous contemporary realistic fiction/graphic novel mash-up series for middle grade readers like Peirce's Nate, Kinney's Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Russell's Dork Diaries and the wickedly funny Dear Dumb Diary by James Benton. Kate the Great is a good reading choice for middle grade girls--reluctant and avid readers alike. I am looking forward to the places to which Kate's journey will take her in future series installments. ...more