Friday, October 15, 2010

Shakespeare's Scribe by Gary Blackwood

This book is the second in a series, and I gave it a rating of four out of five. It's a great historical fiction novel that centers around William Shakespeare's acting company, but you need to read The Shakespeare Stealer before this one. In this book, the group is forced to travel the company due to the plague. Many cities are not allowing the cast to perform due to the fear of the disease being spread among the spectators. Shakespeare also breaks his arm, so Widge is asked to use his unique writing skills to scribe for him. Another arrogant, young actor joins the cast, and he starts to take away some of the parts that once belonged to Widge. Along the way, Widge meets a man who may, or may not, be his father. Widge becomes attached to the man due to the fact that he knows nothing of his own childhood, but the man may be a thief who is stealing from the company's money chest.

I enjoy Widge's naive, fragile, but determined, character. He's reluctant to cause any conflict with the acting group, because he's afraid they may cast him out. It's the first "family" he's ever had, and he's afraid to lose them. However, he has a sense of right and wrong and does his best to make good decisions, even though they may create new problems. The author offers some interesting conflicts in an uncommon time of the world's history. I like relearning information about Europe's history around the year 1600. The facts aren't forced upon the reader, but they're worked into the conflict and plot.

Lexile level from 870

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Maggie Bean Stays Afloat by Tricia Rayburn

This book is the second in the Maggie Bean series, and I gave it a rating of four out of five. You should read the first book, The Melting of Maggie Bean, before reading this one. Maggie's confidence is pretty high, and she decides to tell Peter that she wants to be more than friends. He nicely tells her that he doesn't feel the same way, but Maggie is devastated. She distracts herself by working with Arnie to start a support group for overweight children and by getting a job as a swim teacher at a summer camp. In addition, her parents are looking to buy a house, possibly in a new school district, and she's losing touch with her best friend, Aimee. Maggie has sworn off boys after the Peter episode, but a cute camp counselor named Ben seems to take on interest in her. Her whole world gets turned around and may drive her back to overeating.

This book is probably more appealing to female readers. Maggie's main internal conflicts are with boys and her social life. Her new friends are nice enough, but Maggie seems to be so focused on her own issues that she forgets how her own life affects others. Something is wrong in Aimee's life, but Maggie doesn't seem to notice. Becoming part of the "popular" crowd creates its own problems, and Maggie needs to understand she already has true friends before it's too late.

I enjoy Maggie's sense of humor in the series, and Arnie is a memorable character. Most middle school students will be able to appreciate the social and emotional issues the characters face, and they'll be able to easily identify with them. The family problems are typical too. Readers will realize that their adolescent problems are not unusual, and true friends make life easier to handle and easier to enjoy.

Lexile level from 970

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Melting of Maggie Bean by Tricia Rayburn

I read this book for a second time, and I again gave it a rating of five out of five. Maggie's big conflict? She's in middle school and is very overweight. Her father is also out of work, and the family is suffering the effects of that. Her parents are making her join a group for overweight people, and her best friend, Aimee, wants the two of them to try out for the school's synchronized swimming team. Maggie can swim like a fish, but wearing the bathing suit presents a problem. One of the cutest boys in school, Peter Applewood, uses the locker next to hers, so that creates some anxiety. Maggie is a great student and uses a notebook to organize her life. She keeps a list of things to do, and the first two tasks are:

#1: Win over Peter Applewood with charm, intellect, and wit.

#2: Lose weight (in case charm, intellect, and wit backfire)

Maggie fights daily against the urge to eat; the opening pages of the book find Maggie in a store, debating the benefits of buying a week's supply of Twizzlers, Gummi Bears, Skittles, Butterfinger, Milky Way, or Nestle Crunch. You'll be amazed when you discover what Maggie has hidden under her bed. She decides to secretly improve herself, but the climax to the story may not be what you expect.

Even though I have nothing in common with Maggie, I can understand her struggles. Everyone in middle school has struggles, so most readers should be able to make connections in some way. I appreciate the author's ability to help me understand Maggie's internal conflicts and the way she mixes that with humor. Humor can be a great way to deal with stress, but it sometimes just postpones facing the real problems. The only thing about the book that I found strange was the middle school synchronized swimming team. How unusual is that? However, it didn't make the book any less enjoyable, and I think most middle school girls will be able to identify, in some way, with Maggie.

Lexile level from 1010