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