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 lexile.com 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 lexile.com 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 lexile.com 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 lexile.com 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 lexile.com 690