Saturday, June 19, 2010

Take Me With You by Carolyn Marsden

This is a historical, multicultural novel, and I gave it a rating of four out of five. The plot revolves around the lives of Susanna and Pina, two girls without families who are being raised by nuns. They live in an Italian institution during one of the world wars; I'm assuming World War II. The greatest dream for all of the girls is to be adopted. Susanna discovers that she has a father, and he ends up visiting with her on several occasions. She has a conflict between the comfort of her "normal" life and the possibility that she might be taken to America by this stranger. Pina learns that she has a mother living nearby, but her situation is more complicated than Susanna's
This is not a novel everyone will enjoy. It's not full of action, and it centers around the thoughts and feelings of two young, Italian girls. I found it interesting, because the topic is not a common one. There are many books written about kids trying to find families, but few books deal with the orphans of war. Nina is especially desperate, even obsessed, to become adopted and will do almost anything to make it happen. I don't recall reading any other historical books with settings in Italy, so I learned a bit about that culture. There's a glossary in the back for Italian words used throughout the book.

Lexile level from 640

Monday, June 14, 2010

Extra Credit by Andrew Clements

This is a multicultural novel, and I gave it a rating of four out of five. Abby, a sixth-grader, discovers in February that she will not be passing to seventh grade with her classmates unless she makes some drastic changes to her study habits. She creates a contract with her teachers to complete all of her homework and earn grades of at least B on all of her remaining quizzes and tests. However, the big change is an extra-credit pen pal assignment. She writes to a girl named Amira, from Afghanistan, but Amira's brother, Sadeed, must translate the letters and write the replies. Sadeed secretly writes his own replies to Abby, since the village elders think it's inappropriate for a boy to write to a girl. Abby and Sadeed exchange a number of letters with interesting ideas about their cultures, but Sadeed encounters trouble when a member of an anti-American group, not the Taliban, stops him at gun-point on the way home from school.

This was an easy novel to read, and it had a great deal of interesting information about the contrasting cultures. One of the first differences shared was in regards to the viewpoints of the characters about their landscapes. Abby, from the flat state of Iowa, loved the idea of being around mountains, but Sadeed explained how his mountains were dangerous due to the cold, rock slides, and storms. The Taliban lurked in them too, although Sadeed said that it had been six months since there had been any shooting or bombs in his village. He told Abby about a time when the house across the street from his own home was blown up, and this made quite an impression on Abby and her classmates.

Readers who are reluctant learners can probably identify with Abby's character, since she doesn't like to do any work. She could be a good student; she just want to put the required effort into learning. Readers who enjoy learning about other cultures will also appreciate this book.

Lexile level from 830

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The Shakespeare Stealer by Gary Blackwood

This is the first book in a series, and I gave it a rating of five out of five. Widge is an orphan who has been purchased by Simon Bass for his ability to write in charactery, a form of short-hand. Widge is sent to London to copy the script of one of Shakespeare's plays. Bass sends Falconer, a threatening, hooded man, to make sure Widge completes his mission. However, Widge fails twice for different reasons and decides to join Shakespeare's group. He is now stuck with the problem or whether to steal from his new friends or face the wrath of Falconer. A couple of surprises pop up along the way, but you may not be as surprised if you're able to notice the foreshadowing.

This is a historical fiction, and I enjoyed the information about life in Shakespeare's time, the theater, and the conflicts created by the author. Falconer is always in the back of your mind, and you keep wondering when he'll pop up again. He seems to know his way around London, but he's not comfortable around Shakespeare's Globe Theater. The book is not full of constant action, but it has its moments as Widge tries to adapt to the actors, to find his way through the unsavory parts of London, and to avoid confrontations with Falconer. You kind of expect that Falconer is not going to go away without a fight. The sequels to this novel are very good too.

Lexile level from 840