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