Friday, January 30, 2015

Operation Yes by Sara Lewis Holmes

Operation YesBo lives on an Air Force base and has trouble behaving in school. This year in sixth grade, he has a first-year teacher, Ms. Laupe, who behaves rather strangely. She puts tape on the floor to form a rectangle and places an old, stinky couch inside of it. Everyone entering the rectangle must think "Yes and", and then anything is possible. The students learn about all of the normal subjects, but they are able to let their imaginations go wild inside the temporary stage. Bo loves it and really starts to enjoy school. He gets very excited when his teacher announces the possibility of a theater camp next summer until... His cousin Geri comes to stay after her mom is deployed to Afghanistan, and Bo's dad might be heading over there too. Then, something traumatic happens in Ms. Laupe's life, and the class's whole world is turned upside down.

This book was a finalist for a 2009 Cybils book award, and it runs through the whole range of emotions. There's joy, seriousness, sadness, and humor. The plot addresses war and how it affects the lives of people and families. Kids want to be heard, and the students in Room 208 take on a huge project to make a difference. It's interesting to follow Bo's character as he deals with the celebrations, disappoints, and fears in his life. Operation Yes shares a wonderful message of caring, determination, and teamwork to have a positive effect on the world.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The End of the Line by Sharon E. McKay

The End of the LineBeatrice's Jewish mother is taken off a train in Holland by the Nazi police. To save Beatrice, Hans and Lars tell the Nazis that she is their niece. It's hard for two old men to raise a six-year-old girl, so they get help from their neighbors, Mrs. Vo and Lieve. Lieve is a young woman, and she was once a teacher. She helps Beatrice learn English, and all four of the adults protect her from the Nazis. However, food is hard to find, there are spies everywhere, and the Nazi police are constantly stopping people to see their identification papers. Beatrice doesn't have any papers, so it's only a matter of time before she's found.

It's not hard to connect with a book about an innocent child caught in the middle of World War II. She only wants to be back with her mother. It's amusing and heart-warming to see two men in their sixties trying to help a small girl. They give her a metal train car one night to help her stop crying! It doesn't work. The story captures the fear and bravery of citizens trying to help innocent victims during the war. Love is the common bond of all the people helping Beatrice.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

The Secret of Ferrell Savage by J. Duddy Gill

The Secret of Ferrell SavageFerrell and Mary have been best friends since they were in diapers, and they're each entering the annual sledding race. Mary's "sled" is an old sink, and Ferrell decides to use a beat-up lawn chair. Ferrell doesn't win, but he becomes famous for the most spectacular wipe-out. Later, the boy who actually won the race enrolls at the school and seems to be angry with Ferrell. This boy says he knows a terrible secret about Ferrell and Mary's ancestors that could devastate their lives. He later learns that a long time ago, his ancestor survived a journey across the mountains by eating the other people with him. The new boy says he won't tell everyone about the cannibalism if Ferrell will race again. However, Ferrell doesn't know this race will be held on the most dangerous hill around. Even skiers won't go down it. Is it worth the risk to keep his family's history a secret? Maybe not, but is it enough to save Mary's secret?

The focus of the story was unusual, but it kept my interest. A huge sled race for kids that had the whole town talking for days was strange. Ferrell's principal even asked him to visit a first-grade classroom, because her son wanted him for Show and Tell. The idea of Ferrell's relative being a cannibal was a little gross, but Mary's connection to it added an unexpected twist. I liked how Ferrell was naive and how others had to explain things to him. It gave him an innocence that was easy to like, but he also was brave to stand up for Mary. I enjoyed it!

Monday, December 1, 2014

Surrounded By Sharks by Michael Northrop

Surrounded By SharksDavey's family takes a vacation on a tiny island off the coast of Key West, Florida. He wakes up early one morning and decides to secretly explore the beach, looking for a peaceful place to read. After a little while, he decides to wade in the ocean, but he slowly moves into deeper water. Before he knows it, a rip tide carries him a couple miles off shore. Davey finds a large bottle to keep himself afloat, and he starts to watch the curious, little fish around him. However, he soon notices a larger shape about twenty feet down and realizes a large shark is circling under him. When he notices more sharks, he's not sure if there will be any pieces of his body left for searchers to find.

The title of the book describes the plot. The plot moved a little slowly for me, but the suspense amped up once the sharks arrived. It was frustrating to read about all the time wasted in searching for Davey, but I guess that was to create a larger problem. No one knew where he had gone, and the family insisted he would not have gone swimming. If you have the patience to continue reading until the sharks show up, you'll probably enjoy this book.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

The Summer I Saved the World in 65 Days by Michele Weber Hurwitz

The Summer I Saved the World . . . in 65 DaysNina is enjoying the start to her summer, soaking up the sun. She watches her neighbor trying to plant flowers with a broken leg and gets the idea to do something different. She sneaks over later and plants the flowers and then decides to do nice things for others every day for the rest of the summer. She does it secretly, and it seems like a good idea, but another neighbor is worried someone is vandalizing their homes. Also, Nina's best friend likes a boy across the street, but Nina quietly likes him too. Nina doesn't know who she can talk to. Her parents are too busy with work, her brother keeps sneaking off, and she doesn't really have any other good friends. She misses her grandmother, and she's not certain her secret kindness is doing any good.

There aren't many books being written about characters doing nice things for others, so this book is a pleasant change. Nina and her best friend are an interesting contrast in characters. The friend is very self-centered, and Nina is trying to find ways to make others happy. The boy across the street is going through a rough time and questions Nina's efforts. His little brother and the lady next door add smiles to the plot.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Pack of Dorks by Beth Vrabel

Pack of DorksLucy thinks she's going to be one of the coolest girls in the fourth grade after kissing Tom during recess. However, she misses the next day of school after her mom delivers a baby sister, and things change in a big way. The new baby has Down's Syndrome, and the family must make adjustments. When Lucy returns to school, she finds the other kids are now making fun of her, and her best friend won't speak to her. Lucy is forced to talk to the nerdy kids and partners up with Sam to do a research project on wolves. Things go from bad to worse when Sam gets bullied and won't come back to school. Lucy learns a lesson about life from the wolves, and decides to form her own pack.

Many books have been written about getting along with classmates and friendship, but this book added the issue of mental handicaps. The author shared Lucy's frustrations as she slowly realized she needed to change. Her parents needed time to deal with a handicapped infant. Lucy's grandmother was a fun character, as she had no trouble speaking her mind. She also told Lucy that she had teased other kids when she was young, so she was able help Lucy with her problems.