Monday, August 14, 2017

The Seventh Most Important Thing by Shelley Pearsall

The protagonist of this realistic fiction story is Arthur and one day he made a mistake. A big mistake. He picked up a brick and hauled off and hit someone with it, a man who wandered the neighborhood collecting garbage. Of course after he did it, everyone wanted to know why but Arthur doesn’t even know. On his court date, the man he hit, Mr. Hampton, ends up making a deal with the judge for Arthur to do community service. As the story unfolds, the reasons for Arthur’s anger are revealed. This is an interesting tale of how a boy connects with a strange man and how that helps him move past his anger and grow. Grades 5-8

Monday, August 7, 2017

Full Cicada Moon by Marilyn Hilton

This was an interesting book that really got me thinking about all kinds of things; stereotypes, racism both blatant and subtle, and fighting the assumptions culture makes. It's a gentle tale of a girl, Mimi, who faces and deals with all these things with grace and kindness. I think it's a bit clean and unrealistic in some ways because I suspect the hatred and racism/sexism was deeper and more dangerous back then but I could be wrong. Vermont is a strange, strange land. Anyway, Mimi moves to Vermont and she is half Japanese and half black. In Oakland, the diversity made her heritage accepted, but in Vermont, she stood out. This Vermont town was also fairly entrenched in traditional roles for girls and boys. Mimi, while also figuring out different aspects of growing up, learns to push back against the barriers holding her in. The characters are well developed and interesting which made the book powerful. Again, I think that these barriers she is breaking down are much harder to actually make any headway, but hope can't be a bad thing, can it? Grades 4-8

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead

This is a novel with 3 stories intertwined, sort of. There is the main one about a girl named Bridget, Bridge for short, who is trying her best to navigate 7th grade and all it's ups and downs. She has some really good friends, which helps, but they each have their weaknesses and working through all the mean, crazy and dumb things kids (including cyberbullying) do in middle school is a challenge. The other is an anonymous voice until the end and takes place all on one day but those chapters are interspersed into the others. The third are just letters from one character to his grandfather. Each character is interesting and a bit more nuanced than your typical "dumb girl book" as I call them. This is about teen angst and drama and being mean and picking yourself up, but tends to deal with it in a more honest way, although there is less overreacting than I think happens in real life. I enjoyed it as a fluffy piece that might help those middle school teenagers feel a bit better about themselves and what they are going through. Grades 5-8

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

House Arrest by K. A. Holt

This story is written in free verse written by the protagonist instead of standard prose. I thought the poetry style did a good job of giving it a rhythm, adding to the character development and it wasn't distracting, as sometimes free verse can be. It's basically the story of a boy who gets caught stealing and is sentenced to remain at home (hence House Arrest) when he isn't in school. What we come to learn is that he's basically a good kid in a bad situation, which is no one person's fault. What I liked about this story is the authenticity of the voice-he genuinely struggles with what is right and wrong and what all the grey in life is all about. There are times the actions and words ring a bit hollow but that's part of the charm as well. It's an interesting story and could help people realize that crimes are always more complicated than wrong and right. Grades 5-8

Fuzzy Mud by Louis Sachar

This story is told through two perspectives, Tamaya and Marshall. Tamaya always walks to school with her neighbor Marshall, who is a year older. The school is an exclusive school and Tamaya works hard, as did Marshall until this year. This year the bullying has gotten so bad, he's giving up on school and on life. Tamaya doesn't know all that is going on and Marshall doesn't want to talk about it. One day, to avoid his tormentor, Chad, Marshall opts for a different route home that takes them through a wilderness area that is forbidden. Tamaya follows along because she has to. As they go through, the tormentor finds Marshall anyway and together Tamaya and Marshall fight him off, by throwing this fuzzy mud at him. This mud is particularly weird and leaves Tamaya's hand feeling odd...I won't give it all away, but it's an interesting tale of bullying and standing up for what's right and all from Louis Sachar's twisted side of reality. Grades 4-7

One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams Garcia

This story features three black girls who live in New York with their father and his mother. Their own mother abandoned them when the youngest was a few months old. When the oldest, Delphine, is 11, her father decides to send all three girls to Oakland, California to visit their mother. Delphine has always taken care of her sisters and continues to do so when they visit their mother who is, quite honestly, an awful mother. She simply isn't interested in taking care of the three or showing any affection or connection and she is consumed by her poetry and activism. The mother sends them to a day camp put on by the Black Panthers where they make some connections and learn more about the struggles of their people and try to find an authentic voice. Throughout these 30 days, Delphine learns about her self and her mother. Although this is an interesting book, I couldn’t connect to the characters. Delphine, because she was too accepting of bad things and practical for an 11 year old, was hard to love. I wanted her to fight or to break free or at least feel the damage her mother bestowed.  The mother was so far on the spectrum of a crazy and completely uncaring mother, it felt forced. There are plenty of mothers who have abandoned their children but that doesn’t mean they don’t care at all. The story and characters, to me, didn’t ring true, except when dealing with the struggles of being black and finding the right voice (but what do I really know about that?). Grades 4-7

As Brave as You Are by Jason Reynolds

Genie and Ernie are two kids from Brooklyn whose parents take them to stay with their grandparents for a month. They haven’t visited their father’s parents in many years so aren’t familiar with them at all, plus the complete change from Brooklyn to the boonies of Virginia. Both of those are big enough adjustments and then Genie finds our after they arrive that their grandfather is blind. Learning more about his grandfather’s positive and negative characteristics helps make this novel seem real and from a kid’s perspective. Genie is a well developed character and he is very curious, making sure to write down his millions of questions as he goes through life so he can look them up when he has the chance. The adventures they have and the people they encounter are interesting and entertaining. I really enjoyed this little story of a tween’s eyes opening just a little wider about life as it’s gentle and doesn’t try too hard. Grades 4-7

Monday, July 10, 2017

Bitter Side of Sweet by Tara Sullivan

Ok, confession. I loved this book. It is a story which is very violent at times (which I always struggle to introduce to my students) but is a great story, strong characters and still has such a strong message, revealing a nasty part of our world to people in an accessible way-no preaching. It is the story of Amadou and his little brother who end up at a cacao farm in the Ivory Coast in Africa. They are forced to work there under pretty brutal circumstances and have resigned themselves to work. Amadou is just worried about surviving day to day and keeping his little brother safe. And then the wildcat arrives. She is a girl who seems as though she had been wealthy (there are NO girls there at all) and is willing to fight anything and anyone even though she is constantly beaten and then restrained. She and Amadou eventually become uneasy friends and their lives and future are forever intertwined. Grades 6-8 (violence)

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Beneath by Roland Smith

This is a story that mixes fantasy and realistic fiction, as most of it feels realistic fiction until the end where it is a bit too much to be real. Anyway, the protagonist Pat lives in a life where his parents are useless and his brother has disappeared. Eventually his brother reaches out and they communicate for a while until all of a sudden, he disappears again. Pat decides to go find his brother. He runs away to New York and retraces his brother's steps. His brother was living in underground New York and slowly Pat befriends the right people and his adventure really begins. It's an interesting tale, but one that makes it look all to easy to run away to NY and not have awful things happen to you...not very realistic there either. Grades 5-8

Restart by Gordon Korman

Have you ever actually met an awful bully? I've read about them and I have met kids that had potential, but never a really mean person who destroys other kids just for kicks...but we all read about them, right? And I know bullies exist and can be very destructive but it's just never as easy and clean as it is in books. This book is no exception. The twist to this one is that the bully, Chase Ambrose, falls and hits his head, losing all memories of his life. As he returns to school and life, we get to see inside his head as well as a few other characters heads. His realization that he was a jerk and how he is feared and then his subsequent wrestling with who he really is is interesting. As always, Gordon Korman creates strong characters, albeit too stereotypical at times. An easy, entertaining read.
Grades 5-8