Thursday, December 22, 2011

Tangerine by Edward Bloor

This book is about soccer, family, racism, and many other topics, and I gave it a rating of four out of five. Paul Fisher's family moves to Tangerine, Florida, where he hopes to play soccer for the middle school team. However, his brother is an outstanding kicker on the high school football team and receives all of the family attention, especially from his father. After a disaster hits his school, Paul ends up transferring to a neighboring school full of minorities where he must learn to adapt. They have an excellent soccer team and compete for the county championship. The team has several female players which makes it unusual as they compete against all-boy teams. Paul's brother gets increasingly out of control, even dangerous. There's also a memory stuck deep in Paul's mind that his brother had something to do with damage done to Paul's eyes. Paul learns that "The truth shall set you free."

I found the book interesting, but it was hard to get into. For my taste, there were just too many things going on during the plot. The story centered around Paul and his problems, which was fine. He dealt with the racism between his neighborhood and his new school as well as the conflicts with his brother and family. The plot veered off at times to describe his mother's issues, his father's issues, and the tangerine business. I understand the reasons the author did this, but it disrupted the flow of the plot for me, at times. Overall, it was an interesting book.

Lexile level from 680

Friday, November 25, 2011

The Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke

I chose not to classify this book as a fantasy, and I gave it a rating of four out of five. Prosper and Bo are orphan brothers, and they run away to Venice, Italy, to escape their aunt. They find refuge in an abandoned movie theater with Scipio, The Thief Lord. The aunt hires a detective to locate the brothers, and Scipio decides to steal a strange, wooden wing for a mysterious client. It turns out that Scipio isn't exactly who he claims to be, and the wing is more than it seems to be. The plot takes many twists and turns along the way.

It was interesting how the plot took off when the detective took on the case of finding the brothers. Scipio's secret threatened to tear the gang apart, but they receive unexpected help from the victim of one of their robberies. Midway through the book, the tale of a magical merry-go-round pops up that adds a fantasy element to the story. Ninety-five percent of the plot is realistic fiction, so I chose to classify the book in that genre.

Lexile level from 640

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Diamonds in the Shadow by Caroline Cooney

This book surprised me, and I gave it a rating of four out of five. Jared's family is hosting a refugee family of four people from Africa, but he gets the feeling that they're not who they seem to be. The parents don't seem to pay much attention to their son and daughter, and Jared doesn't see a family resemblance. The daughter does not speak and does not seem to hear others. The son is very protective of his grandparents' cremated ashes that he's keeping in cardboard boxes. Jared later discovers black diamonds are hidden in the boxes, but he can't figure out what is going on. Jared's family is unaware that there was a fifth refugee on board the plane from Africa, and this murderer will do anything to get his hands on the diamonds.

I was expecting a plot in which an African family needed to learn to adapt to the American culture, and that is how the book begins. However, I quickly became aware that the plot was more of a mystery, and I enjoyed trying to figure out the secrets of the refugees. The suspense builds to an exciting climax when the fifth refugee discovers the location of the family.

Lexile level from 750

Friday, November 4, 2011

Words in the Dust by Trent Reedy

The setting of this book is in Afghanistan, and I gave it a rating of four out of five. Zulaikha was born with a cleft lip which causes her great embarrassment. Great hope arises when some American doctors offer to fix her lip, and she prays that the surgery will make her pretty and normal. She meets Meena, her deceased mother's teacher, and Meena would like to teach Zulaikha to read and write. Zulaikha fears that her father and stepmother will object if they discover what she is doing. In addition, her father arranges a marriage for her sister and best friend, Zeynab. Zeynab will become the third wife of her husband, and she hopes to have many children and make her husband proud. This announcement makes Zulaikha very happy. During this time, the Americans have moved into the region to fight the Taliban forces. The Americans bring a mixture of hope and hate to the citizens of Afghanistan. In the end, the characters learn that beauty isn't everything and that wishes don't always come true.

The exposition and early part of the plot didn't really grab me. However, the personal conflicts became more interesting with Zulaikha's planned surgery and hopes to read, her sister's marriage, the birth of her stepmother's new baby, and the presence of the American army. The author did a great job of telling the story from Zulaikha's point of view and describing her thoughts and feelings. I had some problems with names; I couldn't keep track of which names were siblings, friends, and extended family (step family, aunts, etc.). It wasn't a big problem. This book offered a view into the beliefs of another culture and their mixed feelings about our culture.

Lexile level from 670

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Great Wide Sea by M.H. Herlong

This book is about survival at sea, and I gave it a rating of four out of five. Following his mother's death, Ben's father decides to sell the house and spend the next year sailing around the ocean on a boat with his three sons. The boys hate the idea, and Ben, being the oldest, is the most vocal about it. There is conflict all of the time, and everyone is very depressed and angry. Finally, the family's fortunes take a turn for the worse when the father disappears overboard during the night. A huge storm rises up and tosses the small boat around until it smashes into a tiny, coral and sand island. How can three brothers survive, alone, on an island without fresh water and very little plant and animal life? Ben decides something risky must be done when the middle brother becomes seriously injured in a fall.

The last third of the plot saved this book for me. The first half of the plot stressed the conflict and turmoil within the family as they tried to deal with the death of the mother. It was obvious that the father was hurting inside, but Ben couldn't help hating him. The author constantly described this hate, and I felt the plot suffered. There's not much action on a sailboat in the middle of the ocean, so that already offered a challenge in holding my interest. The focus on the problem between Ben and his father became repetitive after a while. The plot became interesting after the father fell off the boat, and I enjoyed the climax and resolution.

Lexile level from 660

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Freak the Mighty by Rodman Philbrick

I read this book in one day and gave it a rating of five out of five. Max is a large, learning-disabled boy going into the 8th grade, but he has no friends. His father is in prison for killing his mother, and people assume Max is a bad person too. Then, Max meets a tiny, genius by the name of Kevin, or Freak. Kevin's legs are in braces, and he uses crutches to help him walk. When Freak first climbs onto Max's shoulders in order to avoid the neighborhood juvenile delinquent, the two of them are joined to become Freak the Mighty. They become an odd couple and inseparable friends. Freak dreams up many quests and adventures, and Max becomes the transportation. Freak tells Max about an operation he's going to have in which the doctors are going to give him a totally new body to go with his amazing brain. Later, Max discovers that his father wants to see him, and this angers and frightens him. His father is supposed spend the rest of his life in prison, so there's no way he can get out. Right?

I enjoyed the blend of characters, and the way they bonded. Freak was a tiny, loud-mouth know-it-all who could annoy people with his intelligence and big vocabulary. Max was a large, misunderstood boy who was reluctant to take chances. Although I didn't always see a main conflict to resolve, the plot moved along nicely with many ups and downs. Freak's free spirit made him a funny character, but the juvenile delinquent and Max's dad added some suspense. The author threw in a bit of sadness too. Overall, the book was entertaining.

Lexile level from 1000

Friday, September 30, 2011

The Pearl by John Steinbeck

This book is a classic on our Battle of the Books list, and I gave it a rating of four out of five. Kino, a pearl diver, and his wife, Juana, fear for the life of their infant son after he is stung by a scorpion. The greedy, mean doctor will not help them, because they have no money. Kino and Juana return to their boat, and Kino hopes for good luck as he dives into the water looking for pearls. He ends up finding the largest pearl anyone in the village has ever seen! He dreams of receiving a huge sum of money for the pearl, so his infant son can leave this life and go to school when he grows up. However, the pearl makes Kino's family a target for all of the evil in the village. Juana wants to destroy the pearl or throw it back into the sea, but Kino doesn't want to give up the dream for his son. How can this lone man defeat the greed and evil that is trying to destroy him?

I must admit that the beginning did not have a very good hook; it didn't grab me. My interest perked up when the infant became ill and other characters entered the picture. I kept asking myself, "What would I do if I was in Kino's situation?" The book might not be a page-turner full of action, but it's an excellent book to discuss with others.

Lexile level from 1010

Friday, September 9, 2011

Masters of Disaster by Gary Paulsen

This book is a very quick read, and I gave it a rating of four out of five. Henry has an idea to think of daring experiences to help his friends and himself become men of interest. His first thought is to set the world record for the highest bike flip. He convinces his friend, Reed, to ride his bike off the neighbor's roof, onto a diving board, and then spring high up into the air. His second idea is survive in the wild like their forefathers for two days. After drinking from a river (they forgot that Connor Howes had once peed in it) the boys encounter a huge tiger and a gray "anaconda". Is this really a Cleveland suburb? How about spending the night in a dumpster to do an environmental study, solving a one-hundred-year-old mystery, or riding a bull and catching a humongous catfish? Why do most of the experiences involve doody (poop), and why is Reed the one stuck with the dirty jobs?

The plot was pretty simple, as the boys thought of strange and new things to do. The story contained a lot of humor, and it was funny how Henry had the ideas, but Reed always got stuck doing them. Reed complained quite often about the poop smell that was stuck to him after the various adventures. Don't take the book seriously, but it was kind of fun!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

A Dog's Purpose by W. Bruce Cameron

This book was recommended by my neighboring teacher, and I gave it a rating of four out of five. The story is told from a dog's point of view, and he describes almost anything you can imagine might go through a dog's mind. The plot is broken up into four parts as the dog dies and is reincarnated as another puppy. The first part describes the dog's life as a mutt in the wild until he is taken in by a woman who saves lost dogs. Later, he is reincarnated as a Golden Retriever and is adopted by a family. He finally gets a name, Bailey, and becomes Ethan's pet. They play all of the time and are inseparable until Ethan has a terrible accident and later leaves to go to college. The dog dies and comes back as a female German Shepherd. Her handler is a police officer and the dog, now named Ellie, becomes a search and find dog. She is called in to find missing children and adults; some are found alive and some are dead. When her handler is shot for the second time, Ellie gets assigned to a new police officer. Ellie has a serious accident when she's searching for people in El Salvador after an earthquake. She retires but has one last feat of heroism before she dies. Finally, the dog is reincarnated as a black lab and spends his time trying to figure out his purpose in life. The plot ends up coming full circle.

The book started off a bit slow for me, but it picked up once he was adopted by Ethan's family. The second half of the book was very engaging, and the last two parts were emotional and hard to put down. The first reincarnation was a little hard to understand, but I was prepared for the next two. It was interesting how the dog remembered his previous lives and was able to use that to help him in later lives. He struggled to figure out his purpose as a dog and thought the search dog was it, but he later discovered it was more than that. A great book for dog lovers!

Lexile level from 970

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Milo, Sticky Notes and Brain Freeze by Alan Silberberg

This book was recommended by our school librarian, and I gave it a rating of four out of five. Milo has moved five times and is now in the seventh grade. He has trouble making new friends, and the book shares his thoughts as he tries to adjust. Of course, there's a girl involved, Summer, who Milo believes is the most beautiful girl in the world. He dreams of some day actually holding her hand! He's a little embarrassed when he first meets Summer while holding an economy-sized package of toilet tissue, but she comments that the brand is very soft. Milo is in love! Milo finally makes a new friend, Marshall, and reluctantly talks to his new neighbor, Hillary. She seems to like Milo, but he wants to dump her when he figures this out. However, Milo's big problem is the death of his mom several years before. He can't get over it and doesn't want to forget his memories of her. The weird, scary lady across the street may be able to help.

This book surprised me. It started off very funny and reminded me of a male version of The Agony of Alice. It was funny to read Milo's thoughts and actions as he described his math teacher, his antics with Marshall, and his interactions with Summer and Hillary. The plot became much more serious as it neared the climax, and Milo was forced to resolve his feelings about his mother.

Lexile level from 1180

Monday, August 29, 2011

The Agony of Alice by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor

This book is the first in a long series, and I gave it a rating of four out of five. Alice has just moved to a new home with her father and teenage brother, Lester. Her mother died when Alice was four. Alice feels like nothing ever goes right for her. On the first day of school, she hopes to get Miss Cole, the pretty teacher who can be her "adopted" mother, or Mr. Weber, the cool teacher who sings songs and takes his class on an end-of-the-year trip. However, Alice gets stuck with Mrs. Plotkin, the old lady no one wants. Alice does all she can to be around Miss Cole, and she goes through many of the life changes that all girls experience, such as maturing physically and wanting to kiss a boy. She starts to help Mrs. Plotkin after school and writes a journal for her class. These events, along with a trip to Chicago, help change Alice's outlook on the world. It all ends happily!

Being a guy, I never lived through the emotional life changes experienced by Alice, but I can imagine most girls can appreciate her problems. Alice's problems are worse, because she doesn't have a mother or older sister to talk to. Mrs. Plotkin is a wonderful character and is able to help Alice through these difficult times. Alice learns to admire qualities in many different people, but she wants to become like Mrs. Plotkin.

Lexile level from 910

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson

This book is historical fiction, and I gave it a rating of four out of five. Isabel and her sister, Ruth, are slaves during the years right before the Revolutionary War. Even though their master's will gave them their freedom when he died, they are sold to a couple living in New York who are loyal to the King of England. Life is hard for the two children, but Isabel's life is complicated further when she's asked by the patriots to spy on her masters. Spying is dangerous, because her masters could have her killed. As the plot unfolds, the woman of the house sells Ruth, so Isabel tries to run away. She's caught, put on trial, and has the letter "I" burned into her cheek as punishment. Finally, the Revolutionary War begins as the British overtake New York. Isabel continues to spy on her masters, but she also takes food and messages to prisoners of war. Isabel's master discovers what she's doing, beats her, and locks her in a storage room. Isabel decides she must do something or she'll never get her freedom.

Most stories about slavery usually take place during the Civil War, so the setting of this book is unique. It's interesting to see this story told from a slave's point of view, because the slaves weren't sure if the British or Americans were the good guys. The Americans were fighting for their freedom, but not for the freedom of slaves. The British promised the slaves freedom, but rumor had it that the "freed" slaves were forced to work in Canadian coal mines. Isabel just wanted the freedom she deserved and be reunited with her sister. There is a sequel to this book called Forge.

Lexile level from 780

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Kira-Kira by Cynthia Kadohata

This book won the Newbery Award, and I gave it a rating of four out of five. Kira-kira means glittering in Japanese, and that's how Katie's sister, Lynn, sees the world. She sees beauty in everything and uses her imagination to create beauty. Katie's Japanese family moves from Iowa to Georgia where they experience some of the racism during that time in history. The only jobs available to her parents are working in a hatchery. The plot follows Katie as she grows into adolescence and the special bond she shares with Lynn. Baby Sam comes along, and Katie becomes the big sister he looks up to. However, Lynn starts to feel tired quite often and is forced to stay in bed for many days at a time. It becomes evident that her illness is more serious than a special diet and pills can cure.

The author does a nice job of sharing the many conflicts in Katie's life. She is forced to deal with Lynn's illness and becomes frustrated and angry with her sister for not getting better. Her parents slowly lose enthusiasm for life as they spend all of their time working to get by and Lynn becomes sicker. Mother is overly protective, but Katie manages to experience the Southern culture through trips to the factory, drives with her father, and a picnic with her sister. The plot is more about character development than action, but there are still times of tension as the events unfold.

Lexile level from 740

Monday, July 25, 2011

Finally by Wendy Mass

This book has been nominated for the 2011 Children's Book Award, and I gave it a rating of five out of five. Rory Swenson sets out to achieve all of the items on her list of things to do when she turns twelve. She'll be allowed to stay home alone, get a cellphone, get her ears pierced, babysit, and go to the mall without parent supervision, to name a few of the things she's looking forward to. However, things don't always work out the way she plans. The house makes strange noises, her cellphone number used to be for a pizza shop, and she has an allergic reaction to make-up. In addition, Jake Harrison, the cute, teenage movie star, is coming to her school to film a movie. How can a perfectly average girl like Rory manage to get Jake's girlfriend to hate her? How can all of her wishes turn out so wrong?

Rory has some soul-searching to do in this book. Are the wishes on her list the things she really wants? The problems she faces are the same as all sixth grade girls. It's amusing how almost every wish on her list backfires on her, and the film being shot at the school just complicates things further. Boys probably won't enjoy this book, but most girls should love it.

Lexile level from 750

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Trauma Queen by Barbara Dee

This book deals with many different issues for young adults, and I gave it a rating of five out of five. Marigold, Mari, moves to a new town with her mother and little sister for the last three weeks of the school year. Her parents are divorced, and her mother is a performance artist who frequently embarrasses Mari with her behavior. Her mother pours oil over her own head during career day, wraps herself in Saran Wrap to show plastic surgery, and then insults her best friend's mother with her performance of Nu-Trisha. Mari's best friend, Emma, may not speak to her anymore, and now her father plans to get remarried to "The Horrible Mona Woman". The kids at school are at war with each other, and Mari just wants to fit in quietly. That's going to be difficult to do after she wears her monkey pajamas to school (it wasn't Spirit Week like her mother said), and a boy starts to like her even though a popular girl has her eye on him. Then, Mari's mom announces that she's going to teach an improvisation class at Mari's school which will totally ruin her life!

Mari's problems are real-life, and her mother's actions are unexpected and amusing. The conflict with her mom grows until Mari starts to talk, and listen, to her mom and Gram. Mari's mom just asks that Mari look at her through her own eyes, not the eyes of everyone else. The plot builds to a nice climax with Mari's mom hosting a show of student performers, and it comes to a happy ending. The book has a nice message about the relationship between kids and their parents.

Lexile level from 660

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper

This book follows the life of a girl with cerebral palsy, Melody, and I gave it a rating of five out of five. Melody has a photographic memory and can remember most of the events from her life. She's highly intelligent, but she can't speak and can't move her muscles voluntarily. Melody's parents love and care for her, but their neighbor, Mrs. V, really starts to challenge Melody. Melody enters the public school and wants to be like everyone else, but she's stuck in her own special education room most of the day watching cartoons or relearning her ABC's. Then, in fifth grade, she becomes part of an inclusion class and really starts to blossom. She gets a new computer that helps her communicate with others, and it really opens the eyes of everyone at the school. She tries out for the school's quiz team and is the first person in the school's history to get all of the tryout questions correct. A win at the local competition will send the team to Washington D.C. for the national tournament and a possible appearance on Good Morning America, an ABC morning show. Sounds like Melody is headed for a storybook ending.

The author did a great job of letting me know Melody's feelings and thoughts, and it showed her frustration at having an intelligent brain with no way to share it. It described the mixed reactions of her classmates, but she wasn't able to make a special friend. She just wanted to be like everyone else. The quiz team offered an opportunity to bond with her classmates, but it's sometimes hard to identify true friendship. I enjoyed the conflict and plot, but don't expect a happy climax. Some adolescent novels show that stories from the real world don't end fairly or in feel-good ways. Hopefully, it will help readers appreciate students they know with special needs.

Lexile level from 700

Monday, June 13, 2011

The Fourth Stall by Chris Rylander

This book has an unusual plot, and I gave it a rating of four out five. Mac and Vince are sixth-graders who help fellow students with their problems, for a fee. Mac's office is in the fourth stall of the East Wing's unused bathroom. He helps kids with test answers, money problems, and getting into R-rated movies, among other things. The main conflict arises when an elementary school student tells Mac that he has been threatened by Staples, a bully who everyone thought was a myth. Staples is starting a gambling business in the elementary/middle school building, and he uses threats of violence to get his money. Mac decides to help the student with the threat, because he also doesn't like the idea of Staples taking over "his" building. The problem worsens when Mac and Vince discover Staples is much older than them, and he has high school students as part of his posse. The two boys don't discover until later just how dangerous Staples can be. They realize that Staples always seems to be one step ahead of them, and they suspect there may be a spy among their group.
The plot was interesting, because it described secret "worlds" within the school, and all of the adults were unaware of their existence. Mac and Vince's business was stressed to the breaking point, and their friendship crumbled along with it. Vince added humor to the story whenever he talked about his grandmother. Mac added some funny moments too during the many times when he was about to be beaten by the older boys. Their ongoing challenge to stump each other with Chicago Cubs trivia, at some of the oddest points in the story, was enjoyable for fans of baseball. The themes of friendship and loyalty are key to the story and are important in the solution of the main conflict, Staples.

Lexile level from 760

Sunday, June 5, 2011

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

This book is a Newbery Award recipient, and I gave it a rating of four out of five. It may be hard for me to summarize the plot but here goes. Miranda lives with her single mother, and she is helping her mother prepare for a TV game show, The $20,000 Pyramid. This event isn't a major topic of the plot, but it continues throughout the whole plot. Miranda receives notes from a mystery person that foretell the future and ask her to write him a letter to save the life of one of her friends and the mysterious writer. Confusing? Miranda's best friend, Sal, stops talking to her, and she doesn't know why. She becomes friends with another boy and girl in her class, and they hang out together and get jobs at a small store. The mystery of the book centers around Marcus, a strange, silent loner, and the laughing man. Sal stopped talking to Miranda on the day that Marcus punched him for no reason and then walked away. The laughing man is a homeless person who sleeps with his head under the corner mailbox and talks to himself. Miranda tries to cope with her changing life and friends, while she tries to figure out the mystery behind the secret messages she's receiving.

This book could also fit on my fantasy blog. I put it with the realistic fiction, because the fantasy part of the book isn't uncovered until the end (although most readers will probably figure it out sooner). I enjoyed reading about Miranda's kind heart and the ways she tried to help others. Although this book isn't a mystery, I liked trying to figure out the meanings behind the notes Miranda received. I didn't give the book a rating of five, because the plot might be fuzzy to young readers due to the secret note writer. Some readers love this type of thing and others don't. I didn't have a big problem with this from a personal and literature standpoint. I could easily have given this book a rating of five if I wasn't considering my young readers too.

Lexile level from 750

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Sleeping Freshman Never Lie by David Lubar

I think I've read this book before, but I gave it a five out of five. Scott Hudson and his friends are starting high school, and they face the fears that most freshman experience. Will we get picked on by seniors? Will the classes be harder? Should I get involved in sports and clubs? Will I get a girlfriend? The answer to all of these questions, for Scott, is yes. Many of Scott's decisions about school activities center around Julia, a classmate from elementary/middle school who is now gorgeous. He becomes the sports reporter for the school paper, is elected to student council, and works on the acting crew all because of Julia. Later, a new girl with pierced ears, eyes, and tongue enrolls at the school, and she gets Scott's attention too. The big twist in Scott's life is the announcement that his mother is going to have a baby. Scott decides that he will write messages to his unborn brother, or sister, to give advice about surviving high school and life. The first entry in his notebook begins, "Listen, you microscopic intruder." Later in the entry he writes "...Do babies float? Just kidding. Ha-ha. Of course you'll float. Everyone knows babies are about 90 percent gas..." Scott uses his humor and creativity to survive his first year of high school.

This book is funny. The descriptions of Scott's thoughts and actions are realistic, as I remember, and they're amusing. His plans to speak to Julia never seem to work out, and Lee, the new girl, has a totally different outlook on life. The advice to the unborn baby is a mixture of seriousness and sarcasm. Scott also writes lists on various topics: of perfect baby gifts, guide to lethally hot foods, guide for spotting unpredictable people. The plot begins with a great deal of humor as Scott adjusts to life in high school. Later, the plot becomes more serious as he is assaulted by a senior and a fellow student attempts suicide.

Lexile level from 560

Friday, May 6, 2011

Guitar Boy by MJ Auch

I randomly found this book on the shelves of my public library, and I gave it a rating of four out of five. Fourteen-year-old Travis' life in the backwoods near the Adirondack Mountains has taken a tough turn. His mother has brain damage from a car accident and is currently in a nursing home. Travis' father has given up hope for his mother's recovery.
His younger siblings don't even recognize her and just want their mommy back. The father feels the emotional pressure and mentally loses it one day, kicking Travis out of the house and telling him to never come back. Travis has a small bag of supplies and his great-great-great grandfather's guitar as he sets out on foot, looking for somewhere to live. The guitar gets stolen, but Travis finds some help and shelter from three men whose lives surround music and a large guitar festival. Travis must deal with his feelings about his angry father and his seriously injured mother. Will he ever be able to return home? Can his mother be helped? He can only dream about getting his guitar back.

First off, this is one of those books that will not appeal to everyone. The conflicts are mostly emotional, and there is not much action involved. Music, especially the guitar, is a main topic of the plot. I thought the author did a nice job of describing Travis' problems while mixing in positive moments, some humor, and giving hope. Clarence is a great character and helps mentor Travis throughout the story. There aren't many people in the world who would go as far as Clarence did to help a runaway stranger. Travis must learn to deal with his own anger and gets advice from Snow White during a dream. He meets good and bad people in the world, and luckily the good win out in the end.

Lexile level from 750

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Brave by Robert Lipsyte

This novel is a sequel to The Contender, and I gave it a rating of four out of five. The author, Robert Lipsyte, posted a comment on my blog and suggested I read it. Sonny Bear wants to escape the Indian reservation where his uncle keeps telling him tales about tribal warriors. Sonny heads to New York City to be with his mother, but he ends up getting conned by a drug dealer. He's arrested by a middle-aged cop by the name of Alfred Brooks, the main character from The Contender. Alfred wants Sonny to get evidence against the drug dealer, but Sonny doesn't want to be a snitch. Sonny starts to box in Alfred's old gym in order to stay out of prison. Just like Alfred in book one, Sonny must learn to control his inner monster and become a contender in life.

The format of this book is very similar to The Contender. Sonny finds he must deal with life on the streets, he finds discipline in boxing, and then the book describes his fights in the ring. Again, I enjoy reading stories where the main character must overcome huge odds to become successful, although Sonny's obstacles didn't seem to be as difficult as the ones Alfred overcame. Readers who like characters escaping the hard life of the city and to read about boxing will surely enjoy this book.

Lexile level from 650

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Wildfire Run by Dee Garretson

This book was recommended by our school librarian, and I gave it a rating of four out of five. An earthquake hits Missouri, while the president and his son are visiting Camp David. Camp David is a private residence for presidents located in Maryland wilderness. The president returns to the White House, but a forest fire overtakes the area around Camp David, endangering everyone left. The secret service attempts to get the president's son, Luke, and two of his friends to safety, but the fire spreads too quickly through the drought-ravaged grass and trees. All of the bodyguards are injured, so Luke and his friends must escape on their own. Camp David's security system against terrorist attacks complicates the situation.

The first part of the book took longer to get to the major conflict than necessary; it took almost one hundred pages before the characters realized a forest fire was close by. How is it possible for a forest fire to get within a mile of the presidential compound before the secret service or park rangers notice? The kids are the first ones to see smoke. However, the action was pretty constant throughout the last two-thirds of the plot. The kids battled injuries, fire, heat, smoke, electric fences, and other obstacles as they found themselves surrounded by danger. Several times, Luke thought he had the solution to get rescued, but something wrong always happened. He finally changed his father's motto from meeting obstacles head on to always having a back-up plan. The first third of the book was interesting, but the action in the last two-thirds of the book was entertaining.

Lexile level from 690

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Yellow Flag by Robert Lipsyte

I chose this book because of the author, and I gave it a rating of four out of five. Kris Hildebrand is a popular stock car driver, but he is forced to take a break due to a concussion. His younger brother, Kyle, takes over for him and does pretty well. The conflict actually revolves around Kyle, because he is forced to make some tough decisions between racing and his school band. He's a gifted trumpet player training for an important performance, but auto racing is forcing him to miss a number of practices. He's feeling pressure from his teacher, classmates, and family about making a commitment to the band or racing. He also has girl issues as he is interested in another member of the band and also a new member of the racing crew.

I'll be honest that many readers may not enjoy this book, because it's mostly about auto racing. I normally would not have chosen a book like this myself, but I enjoyed The Contender which was written by the same author. I enjoy sports, and I liked learning about the backstage workings and strategy of stock car racing. The book includes several car races, and that adds action to the plot. Kyle's family just wants him to do well and be safe, but he has a competitive spirit that pushes him to excel and take risks. His personal conflicts are also unusual and interesting as Kyle must deal with his family's fame and living in the shadow of his popular brother.

Lexile level from 710

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Contender by Robert Lipsyte

I first read this book when I was in middle school, and I gave it a rating of five out of five. Alfred Brooks lives in Harlem and finds himself in a hopeless setting. Amongst the old, dirty buildings, broken glass, winos, and drugs, Alfred is trying to make the right decisions to give himself a better life. It's hard to do when all of the people around you say you don't have a chance and are trying to pull you back down. Alfred discovers Mr. Donatelli's gym and decides to become a boxer. The first few weeks of training are physically demanding, but Alfred starts to enjoy his early-morning runs followed by workouts at the gym. Mr. Donatelli tells Alfred, "It's the climbing that makes the man. Getting to the top is an extra reward." Alfred doesn't realize it at the time, but Mr. Donatelli is telling him that he must become a contender in his own life.

I'll admit that this book may not appeal to everyone. It was a quicker read than I remembered way back when, and the author did a great job of putting the reader into Alfred's shoes. I appreciated the author's ability to describe Alfred's problems and obstacles, but he was also able to describe the internal conflicts that were running through his mind. I enjoy books where characters overcome seemingly impossible odds to become successful. We don't know for sure how Alfred's life turns out, but we know that he's a contender.

Lexile level from 760

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Chinese Cinderella: The true story of an unwanted daughter By Adeline Yen Mah

I gave this book a rating of four out of five. I'll call the main character Adeline, since the Chinese culture gives different names to its people depending on the situation. Adeline's mother dies two weeks after she was born, so the rest of the family considers her bad luck. Her father remarries, and her stepmother dislikes all of his children; she especially despises Adeline. Adeline is mistreated, ignored, and beaten. She spends most of her life away from the family home in boarding schools or orphanages. She is separated from her favorite aunt, has her only pet and friend killed, and feels like she has no positive qualities. At one point, while filling out a form to get her into school, Adeline's father realizes he has forgotten her name and birthday! Adeline doesn't even know her own birthday, since it was never celebrated or recognized during her entire life. Despite her dreadful family life, Adeline excels no matter which schools she attends. Her friends and teachers view her as a talented, intelligent, remarkable young woman, even though she feels she's worthless. Near the end of the book, Adeline's grandfather tells her to create her own destiny, so she does.

This story is more amazing when I remember that it's based on the life of a real girl. My students told me the book was sad, and it is, but I found myself feeling anger and disgust toward Adeline's parents. She did everything she could to receive their approval and love, but they wore her down to a feeling of hopelessness. Her stepmother was openly mean, and her father was uncaring and unsympathetic. In the end, her favorite aunt writes her the story of The Chinese Cinderella which gives her hope.

Lexile level from 960

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery

This book is a classic, and I gave it a rating of four out of five. Anne ("with an e") is adopted from an orphanage by the Cuthberts; the adoption is a story by itself! Anne's personality is...kind, outspoken, respectful, and very imaginative, to name just a few adjectives. The plot relates her experiences with making new friends, going to school for the first time, attending church for the first time, and discovering the world surrounding Green Gables. Anne is in awe of the beauty found in the country, and she uses her imagination to enjoy it even more. She has a tendency, especially early in the book, to speak her mind, which also gets her in trouble. However, she often says what her mother, Marilla, is thinking but is too polite to speak out loud. Marilla has serious doubts as to whether they should have adopted Anne. Her father, Matthew, loves her from the beginning, and Anne is his little angel. Each chapter is a mini-story in Anne's life, and she grows to be a fine young woman. The plot has its days of joy and happiness and its days of anger and sorrow. Anne is a character you will not soon forget.

I found Anne's character very entertaining. One of the first things she did upon her arrival was tell the know-it-all neighbor that she was rude and mean, which horrified Marilla (although she agreed). The also informed Marilla that the pastor's sermons were boring, and he didn't really put his heart into his prayers. She discovered a lifelong best friend in Diana, and they were inseparable. Diana helped Anne learn to deal with people, and Anne helped Diana learn to use her imagination. She won over the friendship of her classmates despite odd habits. The story itself is a challenge to read, so it is not for timid readers. The vocabulary and sentence structure differ from today's novels. Along with that, Anne has a tendency to ramble on and on and on when she gets excited, so that may challenge the patience of readers. Imagine over a page of Anne talking! However, it's part of Anne's character, and I, like her father Matthew, loved her for it.

Lexile level from 970

Thursday, February 24, 2011

because of mr. terupt by Rob Buyea

This novel is written in the style of an Andrew Clements book, and I gave it a rating of four out of five. The plot evolves around the fifth grade classroom of a first-year teacher named Mr. Terupt. He doesn't behave the way the kids expect a teacher to act, but they manage to learn and enjoy his class. The various characters fill the roles of students that can be found in most classrooms. Jessica is the new girl; Alexia is a mean bully; Danielle is overweight and gets picked on; Anna is shy; Luke is the smartest kid in class; Peter is the class clown. Each student challenges Mr. Terupt in various ways, but things get serious on the day of the class party. It's literally a matter of life and death. The lives of all the characters change on that fateful day.

The first half of the book established the relationships between the characters. Most students can identify with all of the issues and events that occurred throughout the story; well, most students probably haven't had the bottoms of their shoes covered with Elmer's glue. The plot moves along rather innocently until the day of the class party. Then BAM! The tone gets very serious, and the relationships really start working. A concern for some readers may be that the story is told from seven points of view, but they are divided up by chapters. This situation usually bugs me, but I still enjoyed the conflicts and resolutions.

Lexile level from 560

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Milkweed by Jerry Spinelli

I gave this historical fiction book a rating of four out of five. An orphan boy living in Warsaw, Poland during World War II must try to survive the mass killings of Nazi soldiers. The boy does not remember anything about his past, so he adopts whatever names and life histories that are given to him by others. At different times, he's known as "Stop thief", a gypsy named Misha, and the son of a Jewish family. The boy's life is seemingly full of fun and games as he steals food, causes mischief with other street orphans, and taunts the German soldiers. He's excited about the chance to see Himmler, one of Hitler's leading officers, and even runs up to his car during a "parade". However, his feelings change when all of the Jews are herded up and imprisoned in a "ghetto". He sees people starve to death and others hung for stealing food. Some of his own friends die due to the abuse of the Germans. The boy's life is saved a couple of times by a man named Uri, although Uri's true identity isn't revealed until later in the book.

This book is a great resource for anyone interested in reading about The Holocaust. I find the boy's character very entertaining as he lives his life, season to season. Some readers may not enjoy his randomness; he's very impulsive. He's also very naive and has no idea of the war that surrounds him and the consequences of his actions. The world is literal to him which creates some humorous and dangerous situations. He thinks lice falling from his head like snow is hilarious, but he doesn't see a problem teasing the most feared guard in the ghetto. He lives his life, day to day, which is all he can do when he's surrounded by the death and destruction of World War II.

Lexile level from 510

The Strange Case of Origami Yoda by Tom Angleberger

This book is a short, fun book to read, and I gave it a rating of four out of five. A strange, nerdy boy named Dwight has created an origami Yoda that acts like an oracle; it will answer questions for those who need answers. However, like many oracles, the answers are unclear, and characters aren't always sure what to do. Tommy wants to ask a girl if she likes him, but he plans to ask the advice of Yoda first. Each chapter of the book relates a story about Yoda, as Tommy tries to decide if Yoda really has magical powers. Yoda gives advice about girls, a teacher's broken statue, a spelling bee, Cheeto Hog, and a pop quiz in science. It seems as though Dwight may be making up Yoda's advice, but Dwight doesn't always do what Yoda says. Very strange.

I gave this book a decent rating, because it's fun to read. It's not classic literature; it's not even close. However, it's humorous and deals with many common problems of friendship and school. Some of Yoda's advice seems a little crazy, but the advice usually works out. "Rush in fools do", "All of pants you must wet", "The Twist you must learn", and "Cheetos for everyone you must buy" are a few of Yoda's words of wisdom. This book is a quick-read, and most readers will probably enjoy it, if they don't mind strange. Or is that creative?

Lexile level from 760

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Letters From Wolfie by Patti Sherlock

This novel is part of a Battle of the Books contest, and I gave it a rating of four out of five. Mark's brother is going to serve with the army in Vietnam, and Mark hears that the military needs dogs to help with patrols. Mark offers his dog, Wolfie, to the army, but he spends most of the book trying to get him back. Throughout the book, Wolfie's handler sends letters to Mark from the dog, and Mark sends letters back to them. Mark writes letters to congressmen, organizes a protest, and conducts television and newspaper interviews to try to get answers from the military. In addition, his girlfriend is against the war, and his best friend has an abusive parent. Mark can't even avoid the Vietnam controversy at home, because his parents have opposing viewpoints on the conflict. The one constant throughout the book is Mark's love for his dog.

Be forewarned, this book is very emotional. Mark has feelings bubble up all over the place due to the different problems he must face. His schoolwork, social life, and home life all suffer. The author did a nice job of capturing the conflicting emotions concerning the Vietnam War while still keeping Wolfie as a central character. I grew up around this time, so I could identify with many of the topics that were mentioned, even the Smothers brothers comedy team who lost their television show for speaking out against the government. I don't know if today's readers will enjoy the topic of the book, but it was an important time in our country's history.

Lexile level from 760

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

13 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson

This book was recommended to me by a number of students over the past couple of years, and I gave it a rating of four out of five. Ginny's aunt dies and leaves her thirteen little blue envelopes. Each envelope contains a message describing a task that the aunt would like Ginny to complete. The tasks take Ginny from the United States to places like England, Denmark, Italy, and Greece. The tasks require her to do things such as giving money to an unknown artist, viewing paintings, sailing on a boat in the Mediterranean Sea, and asking a stranger in Italy on a date. Ginny learns about her aunt, and herself, as she randomly travels throughout Europe.

The students told me that this book caters to a female audience, and they're probably correct. I enjoyed the randomness of the tasks, because that matched the personality of Ginny's aunt. She was an impulsive artist. The random tasks also added to the adventure, because Ginny and I never knew what to expect. Some of the tasks told Ginny to do specific things, but other tasks told her to go to a location without really explaining why. The book lacked a little bit of something for me, I'm quite sure what, but I can still recommend it to others.

Lexile level from 770

Friday, January 14, 2011

Gathering Blue by Lois Lowry

This book is a companion to The Giver, and I gave it a rating of four out of five. Kira's mother dies, making her an orphan, and she is being forced to move from her home by the neighboring women. She goes to the Council of Guardians, and they decide Kira will become the new Robe-threader for the community. Kira's main job is to repair The Singer's robe, its designs telling the history of the culture. However, while living in the main building, Kira discovers some secrets that change her views of the world. Is it a coincidence that Thomas, the carver, Jo, the toddler who is to become the new singer, and Kira are all orphans? What really happened to Kira's father? She is told that a beast killed him, but old Annabella tells her that there are no beasts. Jamison, Kira's guardian said he witnessed her father's death. The truth unfolds around the time of The Gathering.

This book could be grouped with the fantasy books, because it takes place in the future. There are hints that the artists have special powers or senses, but nothing magical or impossible actually occurs. I enjoyed Kira's character, because she was the underdog. She should have been killed at birth due to her deformed foot, but her life was spared. She grew up and developed her sewing talents and is now in a position of respect, with the ability to affect the lives of the whole community. Kira has a difficult decision at the end when she discovers the truth about her father and the orphans.

Lexile level from 680

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Touching Spirit Bear by Ben Mikaelsen

This book surprised me, and I gave it a rating of five out of five. Cole is a bully. He likes making people fear him, and he takes it too far when he nearly beats a classmate to death. Instead of going to jail, he is given a chance by a Circle Council to change his ways by spending a year by himself on an Alaskan island. Cole is so angry that he burns down his shelter, along with his supplies, and tries to escape the island by swimming. He fails, which increases his anger. He ends up attacking a white bear, because it doesn't seem to fear him. The bear bites, claws, and stomps on Cole to the brink of death. Cole is saved by his two mentors, and he is allowed to return to the island months later as a last chance before being sentenced to prison. He learns about himself by experiencing nature, and he is able to learn something from each animal he encounters. He manages to learn about himself and life, but he will never truly be healed until he is able to atone for the beating of his classmate.

This book surprised me, because it was much more emotional than I anticipated. I was expecting another survival story, like Hatchet by Gary Paulsen, and it had some similarities. It has more similarities to the spirituality found in Paulsen's Dogsong. Some readers will not enjoy this book, because it lacks constant action. However, it has moments of suspense, and the Cole's internal conflict with his anger is a constant battle. Every day is a new meditation session as he finds himself, but there's always something missing right up to the climax of the plot. Nature lovers and readers who enjoy seeing good come out of evil will enjoy this book. The plot seemed to start dragging during the first third of the book, but my opinion changed when I embraced Cole's battle within himself.

Lexile level from 670

Friday, January 7, 2011

Schooled by Gordon Korman

I finished reading this book for a second time, and I gave it a rating of five out of five. Capricorn Anderson is growing up with his hippie grandmother on a farm. She gets hurt, so Cap is sent to a foster home and is forced to attend school for the first time, ever. The tradition at "C average School" is to elect the biggest 8th grade nerd as class president and then tease them mercilessly for the school year. Cap is easily elected president, and the pranks begin. The former 8th grade nerd is very pleased Cap has arrived and becomes his best friend. Cap is so gullible and naive that he doesn't even realize that he's the victim of pranks. This takes the fun out of the teasing and actually backfires on all of the teasers. Cap is also in charge of organizing the big Halloween dance, and that gets completely out of hand!

You'll probably like this book if you've read Stargirl. It's fun to watch the "cool" kids try to embarrass Cap and then see the effect on them when Cap doesn't behave like they expected. The chapters are written from different points of view, but it's okay. It's clear who's speaking, and the characters chosen are important in those events. The different points of view allow the reader to see inside the characters' heads as they change their thinking. It's nice to see a character who not only defeats peer pressure but is able to change it. Unlike Stargirl, this book has a happy ending.

Lexile level from 740

Monday, January 3, 2011

A Drowned Maiden's Hair by Laura Schlitz

 This novel was recommended by a former student, and I gave it a rating of five out of five. Maud is an eleven-year-old child and has little hope of being adopted due to her age and orneriness. However, she is unexpectedly taken in by three sisters, but they tell Maud that she must remain a secret. She must not go outside, she must go upstairs when people stop by, and she must help with the family business. Maud later discovers that the "family business" is conning grieving women by holding seances to speak to their deceased loved ones. Maud's conflict increases when she sneaks out of the house and meets the richest target of one of their scams. She also starts having dreams about this woman's dead daughter.

Although the plot deals with the scheming of the three sisters, the real story is about Maud's internal conflict to find a loving home. She does whatever she can to get affection from Hyacinth, the sister who actually adopted her, but any signs of love are dismissed by Hyacinth. This book probably won't appeal to some readers; it doesn't have a great deal of action. However, it was very well written and will appeal to anyone believing in the power of love.

Lexile level from 690