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