We're doing this for book club next week and I'm so excited! I'm not going to let the kids say more than three words at a time. It will be an enormousWe're doing this for book club next week and I'm so excited! I'm not going to let the kids say more than three words at a time. It will be an enormous challenge for some of them. [Insert evil laugh.]...more
Young children with first day jitters will be delighted (and possibly a bit confused) by Oliver's alligator. When anything or anyone at school makes OYoung children with first day jitters will be delighted (and possibly a bit confused) by Oliver's alligator. When anything or anyone at school makes Oliver nervous, he just has to say, "Munch, munch" and the alligator eats it up. By the end of the book, the alligator has swelled to the size of...the school! And Oliver realizes that there's a lot of fun going on inside that alligator.
I adored Schmid's stubby-legged children and ever-expanding (not at all scary) alligator. The simplicity of the illustrations reminded me of one of my favorite illustrators Peter McCarty. ...more
The one crazy summer of 1968 has ended. Delphine is back in Brooklyn and entering sixth grade. Her pa has a lady friend, Miss Marva Hendricks. Along wThe one crazy summer of 1968 has ended. Delphine is back in Brooklyn and entering sixth grade. Her pa has a lady friend, Miss Marva Hendricks. Along with her sisters Vonetta and Fern, Delphine has fallen in love with the Jackson 5. Their Uncle D returns from Vietnam a changed man. Big Ma is as disapproving as ever.
So this is a slice of life, episodic book. As with One Crazy Summer, I wasn't crazy about the lack of plot. However, this book had more energy than its predecessor, and I was able to get through it without chronic "Where's this going?" fatigue. (I think I used to have more patience for everyday life books without much plot, but reading so much YA lit has ruined me.)
Things I'll remember about this book:
-Delphine coming to grips with Merriam Webster not being a lady. -Will I remember Fern's favorite word? Surely will. -What does it mean to be eleven years old? Is Delphine too responsible for her age? Is she trying to grow up too fast? ...more
Twerp fits in somewhere between Maniac Magee and Okay For Now. Like Jeffrey Magee, Julian's a neighborhood legend for his ability to run. Like Doug SwTwerp fits in somewhere between Maniac Magee and Okay For Now. Like Jeffrey Magee, Julian's a neighborhood legend for his ability to run. Like Doug Swieteck, Julian tells his story in a way that let's you see through his tough guy act right into his heart of hearts.
Julian Twerski lives in Queens, New York in the year 1969. He's a sixth grader with a close group of friends in a tight-knit neighborhood. The story is told through a series of journal entries that Julian has to write because he got in trouble. What did he do to get in trouble? The reader doesn't really get to find out until the end.
Through Julian's writing you get to know him in a way that makes him seem real enough to touch, even though he's a fictional kid on the other side of the country in a completely different era. He writes about different episodes in his life, from meeting a new kid who may be faster than him, to asking a girl out, to getting in a major fight with his best friend. In different hands this book might feel plotless, but author Mark Goldblatt keeps readers turning the pages, eager to find out what happens to Julian--and especially to discover how he got in trouble in the first place.
Twerp is definitely a strong Newbery contender in terms of style, theme, and character development. This is a book you could give to almost any tween to shine a light on the unique challenges of being stuck right in the heart of adolescence.
"There are no coincidences. Just boatloads of miracles." If you can take this aphorism seriously, you may love this book. If, like me, you think that'"There are no coincidences. Just boatloads of miracles." If you can take this aphorism seriously, you may love this book. If, like me, you think that's kind of a silly thing to say, the number of "miracles" in this book may put you off the otherwise great story. Let me explain (minor spoilers ahead).
This book has a story within a story. The main story takes place in 1945 and concerns a Kansas boy named Jack who's just lost his mother and been shipped off to boarding school in Maine. There he meets "the strangest of boys," Early Auden, and they embark on an adventure instigated by Early.
The secondary story is one that Early tells about a boy named Pi. Have you read the book or seen the movie Life of Pi? It's kind of like that--Pi goes off on a boat and has some crazy times. Early says he's "reading" Pi's story from the digits of the number pi.
Here's my problem: Why does each thing that happens in Early's Pi story have to have such a neat corollary in the real world story? It makes the whole book seem kind of magical or allegorical--only, wouldn't it be better if the reader could believe Jack's adventure was real? I started to wonder if maybe Early only existed in Jack's imagination or was some kind of ghost. It's like Early wasn't just a mathematical genius but a psychic, too. For example, Early says that Pi meets an old woman who mistakes him for her son. Shortly thereafter, the boys meet an old woman who mistakes Jack for her son. That is indeed a miraculous coincidence (and that's only one example; there are lots more). If only stuff happened to the boys and then Early incorporated it into Pi's story. Then I wouldn't worry about how the coincidences were piling up too high.
Confession time: I never finished Moon Over Manifest. Is it full of hyper-real coincidences, too?
Let me close with a piece of writing that encapsulates what I liked and didn't like about this book. It's really beautiful and evocative, but who talks like this? Early Auden does.
"They're not just numbers. And I'm not making up a story. The story is in the numbers. Look at them! The numbers have colors--blues of the ocean and sky, green grass, a bright-yellow sun. The numbers have texture and landscape--mountains and waves and sand and storms. And words--about Pi and about his journey. The numbers tell a story. And you don't deserve to hear it."
I bet Early Auden would tell me I don't deserve to hear his story either. I loved parts of this, but I couldn't swallow the thing whole. Too big a whopper. I will still recommend it to serious young readers who want a big, challenging book. And then I'll be interested to see if they, too, were bothered by the way the boy's adventure mirrored the Pi story. ...more
We're reading Estes' The Hundred Dresses for book club in December, so this new picture book immediately struck me as similar. They're both stories abWe're reading Estes' The Hundred Dresses for book club in December, so this new picture book immediately struck me as similar. They're both stories about a new girl in school who is treated as an outcast because her clothes are shabby and she seems culturally different from the other kids. And (spoiler alert) in both books the poor bullied girl moves away before the mean girls can realize how terrible they've been and apologize.
I think what makes Each Kindness special is that it distills the essence of a very big subject in kid lit: bullying. The kids in Each Kindness are probably in 2nd or 3rd grade, so this story can speak to very young kids, which is great. It may only take a few minutes to read, but I think it could have a big impact. The central positive image in the book is the ripple effect of a stone dropped in water, which is likened to the effects of doing something kind. It's a great image. It has the same kind of resonance the phrase "pay it forward" had for awhile. It makes you feel like each nice thing you do really can make the world a better place.
It's also interesting how Woodson doesn't make her bully seem that terrible (Chloe's certainly not as bad as Peggy in THD). Because the reader sees things from the bully's POV, we can feel sympathetic for Chloe and sort of understand how she falls into bullying without really choosing it. The bullying depicted in the book is relatively mild, mostly involving ignoring and excluding Maya, never harassing or attacking her.
Of course, this book is message-y, but not forcefully so. When our main character, Chloe, realizes that she should've shown Maya kindness, it's a quiet revelation. And the book in the end is pretty sad. Chloe is stuck with her regrets and we don't know when she'll get another chance to show someone kindness. Like her predecessor Wanda Petronski, we never know what happens to Maya. ...more
A short, intriguing high school novel about a rebel who falls for a prep. The story is told from the perspective of both girls, but (not surprisingly)A short, intriguing high school novel about a rebel who falls for a prep. The story is told from the perspective of both girls, but (not surprisingly) the rebel's perspective seemed deeper and more sympathetic. The prep, while not totally villified, came off as shallow and not worthy of the rebel's heart. I think it would've been a more interesting book if the prep had been more likable.
Really, the most interesting character was Esther, a friend of the rebel's who is obsessed with Joan of Arc. Esther deserves her own novel.
When I think of this book, I will remember that the rebel wore giant boots all the time because she needed lots of wiggle room for her toes.
I also liked that the rebel's parents were interesting characters who actually made a difference in the plot. So often in children's and YA fiction the parents are not a factor in the kid's life, unless they're heinous. ...more
I'm a huge fan of Kristin Levine's first book The Best Bad Luck I Ever Had, so I was predisposed to like this one, too. Again, she creates a compellinI'm a huge fan of Kristin Levine's first book The Best Bad Luck I Ever Had, so I was predisposed to like this one, too. Again, she creates a compelling unlikely friendship between kids that are divided by race and racism. Again, the history is well researched and you feel like you're being educated and entertained at the same time.
Did you know that the year after the Little Rock Nine integrated Central High the governor of Arkansas closed the school rather than let it remain integrated? I didn't, and so I was impressed that Levine chose a less famous part of history for her setting. We get the story of quiet little 13-year-old Marlee, a white girl who loves math and hardly talks. Marlee makes friends with the new girl in school, Liz, who teaches her to have confidence in herself--but when it's revealed that Liz is passing as white, their friendship takes a dangerous turn.
Kids reading this book may ask themselves, would I take risks for a friend? Would I be brave in the face of discrimination? It's a little long for a read-aloud, but it would pair really well with Civil Rights curricula.
For those who may be concerned about language, the n-word is used a few times in this book. ...more
I started to love this book at the end of the first chapter when Auggie says, "I won't describe what I look like. Whatever you're thinking, it's probaI started to love this book at the end of the first chapter when Auggie says, "I won't describe what I look like. Whatever you're thinking, it's probably worse."
And then I got to the first POV change, where we start to see things from Auggie's sister Via's perspective. Wow! I didn't see another narrator coming and it kind of blew me away that this book wasn't going to be just Auggie's story.
Though our hero is in a very dramatic situation, nothing felt overblown or exaggerated. In fact, the quietness, the everday-ness of the story is really what makes it stand out. I was, at some middle point in the book, describing it to the people as "The Elephant Man for kids" but it's really more of an everyday life story about a community that is given the opportunity to grow. ...more
FCB is the best. The best! All of his books are funny, sweet, and emotionally resonant. This one in particular hit my heart hard at the end, but I donFCB is the best. The best! All of his books are funny, sweet, and emotionally resonant. This one in particular hit my heart hard at the end, but I don't want to spoil anything, so just go read it yourself. ...more
Frankie Pickle is back and better than ever. After turning the numbers into monsters instead of actually completing his math quiz, Frankie embarks onFrankie Pickle is back and better than ever. After turning the numbers into monsters instead of actually completing his math quiz, Frankie embarks on a weekend of preparation for a make-up test. Numbers come at him everywhere, from the grocery store to a "Yugimon" card game with his friend Kenny. Obviously, the appeal of these stories mostly come from Frankie's imagination-fueled adventures....more
I liked this better than Wednesday Wars. So many good things! I shall list them for you:
1. You know how it feels when an author doesn't spell thingsI liked this better than Wednesday Wars. So many good things! I shall list them for you:
1. You know how it feels when an author doesn't spell things out too much and lets the reader come to her own conclusions? Terrific.
2. You know how much I like it when a writer finds really punchy phrases and uses them over and over again? It's like poetry.
3. Am I a chump for loving it despite the fact that it wasn't exactly completely realistic? Am I?
4. Sometimes everyday life books like this can get boring, but Mr. Fancy Writer Schmidt injected suspense by not giving everything away right away. For example, there was no way I was going to get out of the car until I'd heard what 216 meant.
5. The audiobook narration was awesome. I could really hear the narrator smiling, choking up, getting angry. He read a little slow for my taste, but he made up for it.
The only thing I don't like about this book is the cover. The cover is really terrible. I'm not lying. Please, please let it have a better cover in paperback!...more
This is a story about Milo, a 12-year-old boy coming to grips with the death of his mother. It is sad, yes, but also pretty silly because even thoughThis is a story about Milo, a 12-year-old boy coming to grips with the death of his mother. It is sad, yes, but also pretty silly because even though Milo is deeply depressed about life without Mom, he's also funny and irreverent about pretty much everything else. So this book jumps from goofy to heartbreaking and back again many times.
This will definitely be compared to Diary of a Wimpy Kid because A#1 Milo is a wimpy kid and B#2 the text is peppered with cartoons. I would totally recommend it to Wimpy Kid fans, which is pretty much every kid in the world, right? ...more
This is a book about a school assignment. Sounds boring, right? Well, I think it managed to be as interesting as a book about a school assignment canThis is a book about a school assignment. Sounds boring, right? Well, I think it managed to be as interesting as a book about a school assignment can be. See, there are these 8th graders: Zander, Kambui, Bobbi and LaShonda, collectively known as "The Cruisers" after an alternative school newspaper they produce. The Cruisers, all of them smart but unmotivated when it comes to school, are assigned to play the role of peacekeepers in a kind of mock Civil War going on at their school. The kids playing the part of the Confederacy take things too far, to the point where they offend people, especially the African-American students. Zander (who narrates the book) is one of the few black students at the school and the lead peacekeeper, so it ends up falling to him to put the Confederacy students in their place.
Zander has a unique way of putting things when he's trying to argue his point. For example, he won't get into a fight if he can't see the "win" in it. He keeps his cool as tempers flare over accusations of racism and arguments about free speech, so we get a pretty thoughtful, if slightly detached, discussion of slavery, history, and middle school culture. I wondered as I read if the Confederacy students really were purposely offensive, or if they were just callous or naive, but that's not really the point of the book. The point is how to deal with complex, senstive issues once they've been raised.
The book includes editorial pieces from The Cruiser as well as the official school paper. As I said, it's almost entirely focused on the Civil War assignment, but we do get to learn a little about the Cruisers' home lives. The parts with Zander and his actress mother were nice breaks from the school drama. I've heard there will be three other books to follow, probably one from the perspective of each Cruiser. Will they give up their lackadaisical attitude towards school by the end of the series? Maybe that's not the point......more
Well, by reading this book I discovered that James Howe is gay. I knew he wrote Bunnicula with his wife, Deborah, so I was surprised. Wikipedia informWell, by reading this book I discovered that James Howe is gay. I knew he wrote Bunnicula with his wife, Deborah, so I was surprised. Wikipedia informs me he came out late in life. Better late than never, I say!
Anywise, this book has one out-and-proud 12-year-old, who later gets his own book (Totally Joe). But the narrator in this story is his "chunky" friend Bobby Goodspeed (What a name! He could be a Starfleet captain!). Bobby and Joe, alongside Addie and Skeezie, make up an unpopular, but relatively happy, group of friends at Paintbrush Falls Middle School. They decide to make a run for the student council based first on Addie's absurdly naive notions about minority politics. Later, when Addie's well-intentioned but ridiculous idea doesn't pass muster with the principal (she convinces one of the school's few black students to run as president just because he's black), Bobby comes up with another platform on which he and his friends can campaign to win the big election. Bobby's idea has to do with getting students to stop calling each other mean names.
Bobby has some great insights into humanity in this book. For example, even though his boss at work is a grump and kind of a jerk, Bobby tries to see the man as a whole person, which is, I think, something more people should strive to do. Bobby also sees his friends and his widowed father very clearly. His journey in the book is about paying more attention to himself and his potential to do great things.
There were more than a few clunky sentences in the book, and the ending was a little too convenient, but its heart was absolutely in the right place. ...more
Many people love love love this book, so I'm going to skip the praise (you can read plenty of it elsewhere) and go straight to criticism:
1. The phrasMany people love love love this book, so I'm going to skip the praise (you can read plenty of it elsewhere) and go straight to criticism:
1. The phrase "untouched in my hands" really bothers me. How can something be untouched if it's in your hands?
2. I worry this book is dated already. Do kids really say "tight" anymore? I know Draper is trying to make Melody sound like a real kid, but to my ears she sounds like an adult trying to sound like a kid. In fact, a lot of dialogue struck me as unrealistic (i.e. an adult's version of what she thinks modern kids sound like). I've never heard anyone say, "She is tripping," without droppin' the g. I haven't heard anyone say, "He thinks he's all that," since 1998 (unless is was sarcastic). Of course, I still say things are "the bomb," but I'm a lot older than the kids in this book. Other things that I think will date this book: MySpace, TiVo, Nintendo Wii, iPhones, and the phrase "That's what's up!" (Update: Okay, so iPhones are not going to date the book and I'm now married to a guy who says "That's what's up!" all the time. However, I still stand by droppin' the g in trippin' and kids not calling things tight or "all that.")
3. It strikes me as unrealistic that Melody, with her super intelligence, couldn't communicate better using her low-tech talking board. If she's a perfect speller, couldn't she spell out "I love you," to her parents? Or spell out the story of what happened to the goldfish? Wouldn't her parents and caregivers take the time to allow her to do that? Better yet, wouldn't her parents research adaptive technology so they could communicate better with their child?
4. The villains in this story (i.e. Molly and Claire, the bad teachers and the stupid psychologist that gives Melody her initial intelligence test) are totally one-dimensional. I get really annoyed when authors create scapegoat characters that are easy to hate. You can have bad guys, but flesh them out a little.
5. I thought the near-tragedy thrown in at the end of the book didn't really contribute to the story. It was a weird way to end the book, like the author wanted to crank up the melodrama in the end, and she way overdid it. And how weird was the scene at the end where Melody reacts to a difficult situation by laughing hysterically for no apparent reason?
6. This is a personal issue: I went to elementary school with a boy who had CP and he spent just a small part of each day away from the rest of our class. If this was the case in the 1980s, it's hard for me to believe that educators in the 21st Century have regressed into the situation Melody finds herself in. I could be completely wrong, but it still affected the way I felt about the book. I loved the first chapter, but I grew more and more skeptical as it went on.
To sum up: No, I'm not heartless. I think this story has the potential to really move people, to make them look at their abilities in a more appreciative light. And I think it's important for kids to read stories told from a perspective like Melody's because it opens their minds and hearts. But this book had a lot of problems and I'm not one to ignore them just because the subject matter is important. I really believe this could have been a much better book.
Update: I just read something by author Patrick Ness on School Library Journal's Battle of the Books 2014. He said there are too many books he calls CBAITS, which stand for Crappy Books About Important Things. I was like, yes #truth! I don't think I'd go so far as to call Out of My Mind a crappy book, but I do think its important subject matter blinded some readers to its flaws. ...more
Why did it take me so long to read this book? Because right after I started it I got a bunch of other new books and they all seemed a lot more excitinWhy did it take me so long to read this book? Because right after I started it I got a bunch of other new books and they all seemed a lot more exciting. I'm sorry, Willowood. You're a good little story with a lot of heart, but you are also a not a stand-out title in my Mock Newbery reading.
Just for fun, let me transcribe the notes I took while I was reading this: "Lily. Moving from small town to city. Friendship tested. Love of lizards. Absent father. Mother smokes. Willowood = Terabithia-like special place. Picky eater. Coffee drinker. Target of school bullies. Dodgeball. Pet store job. Adult friend with Down syndrome. Hatching lizard eggs. Superman. Alice in Wonderland. Unconventional family."
Looks like a Diary of a Wimpy Kid clone, but is actually based on a long-running newspaper comic, so we can't accuse the author of copycatting. 11-yeaLooks like a Diary of a Wimpy Kid clone, but is actually based on a long-running newspaper comic, so we can't accuse the author of copycatting. 11-year-old Big Nate is actually Greg Heffley's opposite in one key way: he's bursting with confidence and positivity. This is a day-in-the-life story filled with his wacky antics. ...more
I read this in under an hour. I wasn't LOL funny, but it was cute. Though the story is told mainly from the POV of a regular sixth-grader named Tommy,I read this in under an hour. I wasn't LOL funny, but it was cute. Though the story is told mainly from the POV of a regular sixth-grader named Tommy, it's really about his eccentric classmate Dwight. Dwight has kind of a crazy Stargirl thing going on--but, for obvious reasons, he also made me think of Dwight from the TV show The Office, by which I mean he walked the line between likable and creepy. Ultimately, predictably, but happily, he is the hero. Hooray for kooky!
Kind of like The Popularity Papers, this is an artifact-type book. It's a case file that gathers all the stories related to Origami Yoda, a finger puppet/oracle created by Dwight. I thought this was a great way to tell the story. It moved quickly and was very enjoyable.
Note: If your young reader is still grossed out by members of the opposite sex, he/she might not be too excited about this book, as much of the plot revolves around people liking liking other people and sweating about whether to ask them to dance. ...more
OMG I want my own copy of this. A little girl is grosseed out by her librarian's enthusiasm for books, until she finds a gross book (Shrek) that sparkOMG I want my own copy of this. A little girl is grosseed out by her librarian's enthusiasm for books, until she finds a gross book (Shrek) that sparks her own enthusiasm. My favorite part was when the girl asks her mom if they can move away and the mom says that won't work because there's a book-crazed librarian in every town. Awesome. ...more
A he-said-she-said story that begins with the she falling in love at the age of seven with her new neighbor, the he. They take turns telling the storyA he-said-she-said story that begins with the she falling in love at the age of seven with her new neighbor, the he. They take turns telling the story of the next six years from their own perspectives. The book has a romantic comedy feel, but is also surprisingly heartfelt because of its likable characters and some genuinely serious emotional turmoil that goes beyond the central romance.
The reader has to hear almost every plot point twice, which slows things down, but it is very interesting how the same event can register in very different ways to the people who were there.
I'm a total sucker for good rom-coms, so I really liked it. ...more
Our Spock-like Emma Jean doesn't really fall in love in this sequel, which was a bit disappointing. It was a very quick read, and not very satisfying.Our Spock-like Emma Jean doesn't really fall in love in this sequel, which was a bit disappointing. It was a very quick read, and not very satisfying. Still cute, though. ...more