Thursday, December 27, 2012

For What It's Worth by Janet Tashjian

For What It's WorthThis book was recommended by our school librarian, and I gave it a rating of four out of five. The setting is in Los Angles, in 1971, and Quinn is an obsessed, fourteen-year-old expert on rock music. He meets Caroline on the first day of school, and she becomes his first girlfriend. He sometimes wishes there was a handbook on how to talk to girls, but he consults with his Ouija board instead. He discovers that the Ouija board is connecting him with the spirits of Club 27, famous rock stars who died at the age of 27. He frequently calls on the board for advice. Quinn loves to spend his time buying new albums, playing his guitar, and starting a rock band. Then, Caroline's brother is drafted into the Vietnam War, and Quinn meets one of his sister's friends, a draft dodger trying to flee to Canada. Quinn realizes there are more important things in life than rock music.

If you don't like classic rock music, then you won't like this book. I do. Almost every page has references to rock musicians and their songs. The template for the plot is not unique; a teenage boy finds his first love, and some important event threatens their relationship. However, most of Quinn's problems are created by himself, although the Vietnam War becomes a major issue in their lives. In the end, he makes some life-changing decisions to resolve his problems. It was fun to see Frank Zappa and Mama Cass Elliot included as actual characters.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Liar and Spy by Rebecca Stead

Liar & SpyThis book was on a recommended list for 2012, and I gave it a rating of four out of five. Georges (the S is silent) moves into an apartment building after his dad loses his job. He discovers a note about a spy club posted in the basement, and he meets a boy named Safer. Safer and his sister, Candy, do not go to school, and Safer asks Georges to help him spy on a resident named Mr. X. Mr. X always dresses in black, and Safer has seen him doing some suspicious things. They're not sure what the man is up to, but murder is not out of the question. Georges isn't sure how far he'll go to help Safer, but he's the only friend he has right now. When Safer asks Georges to help him break into the man's apartment, Georges wonders if that's too dangerous and illegal.

The plot was interesting, and Safer is an eccentric character. He never leaves the building, and he's discovered different ways to spy on other residents. The plot offers a twist later in the book when Georges discovers a startling secret about Safer. Their relationship takes a dramatic turn but helps to solve the mystery.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Darth Paper Strikes Back by Tom Angleberger

Darth Paper Strikes Back (Origami Yoda #2)This book is the second in the Origami Yoda series, and I gave it a rating of four out of five. Type Origami Yoda in the search box at the top-left of this screen to read about the first book. Origami Yoda is back giving advice, but he's in big trouble. Dwight, the voice of the paper Yoda, has been suspended and may be sent to a school for students with severe behavior problems. Tommy leads a campaign to persuade the school board that Dwight, and Yoda, are not behavior problems and that they have helped many students with their own issues. Yoda/Dwight help the student body raise money without selling any of the disgusting popcorn for the school fundraiser. They help a girl with body odor survive the school play and help a "profoundly deaf" girl feel normal. However, Harvey and his origami Darth Vader do everything in their power to get Dwight out of the school. Why is Harvey being so mean, and will Tommy and his friends be able to save Dwight?

As in the first book, this book contains a collection of funny, realistic problems that most students have probably experienced. The students in the book come to Yoda to get his advice, and the results always work out. It's fun to see how the students relate to Yoda; they're not sure if he actually has any real power, but they trust him with their lives. This book is not high-end literature, but it will be fun reading for most people.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

I Funny: A Middle School Story by James Patterson

I Funny: A Middle School StoryI read an advance copy of this book, and I gave it a rating of five out of five. I just saw a commercial for the book on television today. Jamie Grimm is in a wheelchair and uses humor to deal with his life. "Did you hear about the karate champion who joined the army? First time he saluted, he nearly killed himself." He compares his home life to Harry Potter living with the Dursleys. He lives with his aunt, and her family doesn't express any emotions. The school bully also happens to be his stepbrother. Then, Jamie's uncle, who he does not live with, suggests that Jamie enter a young comedian contest being held in New York City. He's not sure that he's funny enough, but his good friends at school tell him he's hilarious. Jamie enters the contest and learns a lot about himself in the process. His classmates and family learn a lot about him too.

The book is funny. Jamie is constantly making jokes, even in serious situations. It gets to the point where Cool Girl, a lovely girl who befriends him out of the blue, forces Jamie to go five minutes without being funny. She actually times him. I was wondering where the plot was headed, but I began to suspect that Jamie hadn't really accepted being crippled. He didn't talk about his parents either, so I suspected he had been involved in a tragic accident. The author did a nice job of mixing the humor with seriousness. The first half of the book was filled with the funnies, and the second half of the book got into the serious message of the book. However, the humor continued throughout. His last joke in the book? "You can't have everything. Where would you put it?"

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Red Scarf Girl by Ji Li Jiang

Red Scarf GirlThis book is a memoir about the cultural revolution in China, and I gave it a rating of three out of five. Ji Li is finishing elementary school when Chairman Mao and the Communists take over. The Communists try to get rid of all fourolds, any beliefs that have to do with the way things used to be. They try to stop signs that any people are better than others, but it gets out of hand. Ji Li's aunt is publicly disgraced, because she dresses too nicely. Ji Li's family is worried, because they have a housekeeper. The grandmother of Ji Li's best friend kills herself, because she is afraid the Red Guard will accuse her of something. Signs are posted all over the town with Chairman Mao's beliefs, and people are told what they are supposed to think. Ji Li is torn between trying to fit in with the new society, and her loyalty to her family; her father is imprisoned, and Ji Li is asked to testify against him.

This book is not for everyone, but it will be enjoyable for readers interested in cultural history. It describes how the Communists were able to take over the Chinese culture, and it is still in power today. Most of the citizens enthusiastically supported Chairman Mao when he first took power, but they became confused when they saw how they lost control of their lives. They lived in fear of the Red Guard and had no way to defend themselves.

Monday, November 19, 2012

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

To Kill a MockingbirdThis story is a classic novel and movie, and I gave it a rating of five out of five. It is for mature readers. The plot follows Jem and Jean Marie (Scout) Finch as they grow up and deal with racism in Alabama during The Depression. Scout is an emotionally naive, young girl, although she has a fiery temper and narrates the story. The children are almost obsessed with seeing their mysterious neighbor, Boo Radley, and rumor has it that he almost killed his father with a pair of scissors. Atticus Finch, the children's father, is a lawyer and is appointed a case that will bring the town's emotions and anger to dangerous levels. Tom Robinson, a black man, is accused of raping a white woman, and the rage and bigotry of the some white citizens is almost uncontrollable. Through it all, Scout learns the lesson that it is a sin to kill a mockingbird.

The plot moves back and forth from the simple, small-town lifestyle to the emotionally charged atmosphere of prejudice. The topic of racism is central to the plot and much of the language is very blunt, perhaps offensive. A major conflict deals with the uneasy relationship between whites and blacks, and the problem is compounded by the pressure of The Depression. Scout's innocence helps to address the serious issues in a simple manner, and this quality actually helps to ease some tense situations. This book won a 1961 Pulitzer Prize, but it's only for readers ready for some serious reading. It's my daughter's favorite book of all time.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Drums, Girls & Dangerous Pie by Jordan Sonnenblick

Front CoverI'm not sure everyone will enjoy this book as much as I, but I gave it a rating of five out of five. Steven is in the eighth grade and can't think of a topic for his journal entry entitled "The Most Annoying Thing in the World". He decides to write about his five-year-old brother and all of the things about him that are annoying. However, the journal entry takes an unexpected twist when Steven reveals that Jeffy has been diagnosed with leukemia. Most of the plot deals with Steven's internal battle with the conflicting feelings that are racing through him. He's sad that Jeffy has this disease that may kill him, but Steven gets angry when his parents focus all of their attention on Jeffy. Then, Steven gets angry with himself for feeling jealous of his brother. Throw in the normal eighth grade problems of getting good grades, having a crush on the hottest girl in school, and dealing with friends, and Steven's life is spinning out of control. He wants to appear like he's keeping things together, so no one really understands just how messed up he's feeling inside. Steven is able to find a safe place where he can escape when he heads to the basement to play his drums.

This plot focuses an character, so it won't appeal to readers looking for action. The author does a wonderful job of expressing Steven's feelings, and they're realistic. It's easy to feel jealous when your brother is getting all of the attention, even if it's because he has a deadly disease, but then it's equally easy to feel guilty about those feelings. The book contains some light-hearted moments, and they usually come from Jeffy. His dangerous pie, his embarrassing comments to Steven, and his innocence throughout the ordeal help to ease some of the tension. The book has the common plot situation where the boy has eyes on a popular girl, but his close friend, a girl, has the same feelings about him.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Left for Dead by Pete Nelson

Left for DeadThis book is a non-fictional account of a boy's attempt to clear the name of a World War II captain, and I gave it a rating of three out of five. As you should know, the first, and only, time an atomic bomb was used occured during WW II and quickly ended the conflict with Japan. The USS Indianapolis had a long, distinguished history in the Navy, and it was chosen to carry the parts needed to build the huge, dangerous bomb across the ocean. However, the navy withheld some important information from Captain McVay, and the Indianapolis was sunk, after completing the mission, by a Japanese submarine. Many men died quickly from the explosions and fire, but many others died slowly as they drifted for days in the ocean. Injuries, hallucinations, dehydration, and sharks took the lives of hundreds of additional soldiers. In the end, about 900 crew members died, only 317 men survived, and Captain McVay was court-martialed and found guilty of endangering the lives of his crew. Fifty years later, a young boy named Hunter Scott was looking for a topic for a history project. He chose to take on the task of challenging the navy and officially clearing the captain's record. The book is his story.

I found it helpful that the chapters broke the incident into manageable parts. There were stories about the war, the crew, the mission, the attack, surviving at sea, the rescue, and the trial. Some of the events after the sinking were very inspirational, while others were very disturbing. On one hand, there were crewmen risking their lives to save others, but on the other hand, there were hallucinating crewmen who were a danger to others. Readers who enjoy war history will probably love this book. For most of us, I think, some of the sections were a little too factual, but other parts were intriguing. Overall, I enjoyed the book, and I'm glad I read it.

A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park

A Long Walk to Water: Based on a True StoryThis book is based on a true story, set in 1985 wartime Sudan, and I gave it a rating of three out of five. The main plot of the book follows a Dinka boy named Salva  as he is forced to flee from his school when rebels attack. It's not safe to return to his village, so he starts heading east. His journey takes him through lion territory, across a desert, and over the Nile River. He finds danger from wild animals, rebel attacks, heat, and thirst. He hopes to find his family someday, but he's focused on surviving right now.

In a shorter subplot, set in 2008 Sudan, a Nuer girl named Nya walks four hours, twice each day, to get water for her family. The family is forced to move for three months each year when the water source dries up. However, one day two strange men arrive and start digging a hole into the dry ground near Nya's home. Who are these men, and what are they doing? The two plots are woven together to come to one peaceful resolution.

The book was written similar to a memoir, but I think I would have liked it better if it had been written in first person, from Nya's and Salva's points of view. The narrator let us know their thoughts and feelings, but I didn't make a connection with the characters that I might have made if the stories had been told through their own eyes. The stories of Nya and Salva were more interesting when I remembered that the Dinkas and Nuers had been enemies for hundreds of years.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Great Brain by John Fitzgerald

The Great Brain (Great Brain #1)I've heard about this book for many years and finally read it. I gave the book a rating of four out of five. The setting is in a small rural town in the 1890's. The narrator is J.D., John Dennis, but The Great Brain is his brother, Tom. Tom comes up with creative ideas in each chapter, most of them to make money, and J.D. sometimes tries to out think him. That never works. Tom tries to make money when work is being done to install the first indoor toilet in the town. He comes up with a plan to help the sheriff find some kids lost in a cave. He helps a Greek immigrant boy learn to defend himself and learn English. Tom profits from all of these plans, and more, so the reader begins to wonder if Tom has compassion for others.

The book was not what I expected. I thought the Great Brain would be the narrator, and he would create all kinds of wacky inventions. I thought the Great Brain would help others, but Tom came up with all kinds of schemes to get money out of people. Each chapter had its own plot, and Tom's character seemed to change a little as the book moved along. It was funny to see two brothers interact in typical ways and to see how Tom could change almost any situation into a money-making opportunity.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Half Brother by Kenneth Oppel

I gave this book a rating of four out of five. Ben's parents are scientists, and they decide that they're going to "adopt" a baby chimpanzee and teach it to learn sign language. They tell Ben that Zan, the chimpanzee, is part of their family, and that Ben will be like his big brother. Zan learns many words very quickly, but he still acts like a wild animal at times. Ben starts to think of Zan as his little brother and gets upset when his parents treat Zan like a specimen in an experiment. Ben's dad is under pressure to receive grant money to fund his projects, and some people start to question his methods. There are many things going on in Ben's life, and they all seem to add to his stress. The plot takes a serious turn when Ben's father decides to end the experiment. What will happen to Zan?

The conflict is enjoyable, because Zan is an adorable character. We are able to learn about his thoughts and feelings through sign language, although some people think of him as experimental animal. The dad's experimental methods, the animal rights activists, and Ben's personal life all add to the conflict to make things worse.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Revenge of the Whale by Nathaniel Philbrick

Revenge Of The Whale: The True Story Of The Whaleship Essex, Adapted For Young People From In The Heart Of The SeaThis book is a true story, non-fiction, and I gave it a rating of four out of five. The setting takes place in the early 1800's, and the plot deals with the whale ship Essex. This ship was attacked and sunk by a huge sperm whale, and the story became the motivation for the climax of Moby Dick. The story began in Nantucket and followed the crew as they made their way up the Pacific coast of South America. The ship had problems with weather right away, and the whale sank the Essex about halfway through the book. The second half of the book recounted how some of the crew were able to survive three months on the open sea. The description got a little graphic at some points.

The book is written as a documentary, so it won't appeal to everyone. I found the concept of men being attacked by a whale, in the middle of the ocean, and somehow still surviving very interesting. The topic of the book should attract many readers, although the format may turn some people off.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Okay For Now by Gary Schmidt

This book was written by the author of "The Wednesday Wars", and I gave it a rating of five out of five. Doug and his family move to Marysville, New York, and he's having a hard time adjusting. His father is mentally and physically abusive, and his brothers give him a hard time too. His oldest brother goes off to fight in Vietnam, and his other brother has a reputation as a juvenile delinquent. He meets a girl named Lil, but they don't get along right away. Doug's life changes when he visits the library and starts learning to draw pictures of birds. He also starts working for Lil's father on Saturday's by delivering groceries around the small town. The job gives Doug the opportunity to meet various characters in the community, and they each change his life in different ways. Doug's life really changes when his brother returns from Vietnam, but will his return lead to bigger troubles or to a better life?

This book kind of snuck up on me, and it turned out to be better than I expected. The author shared Doug's feelings of despair as he tried to survive his life in Marysville. His life seemed on a downward spiral until he met Mr. Powell at the library. It was interesting how the pictures of the birds were similar to Doug's life. Be sure to make the connections, or you'll miss major points in the plot. There is humor as Doug interacts with various characters, but the plot has many serious moments. The book won't appeal to everyone, but it worked for me.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Armageddon Summer by Jane Yolen and Bruce Coville

I try to make my ratings predict the entertainment value for young readers, and I gave this book a rating of three out of five. Reverend Beelson predicts that God will set the world up in flames on July 27, but his Believers will be saved atop a mountain in Massachusetts. Jed and his father, and Marina's family, move to the camp where they prepare for armageddon. Jed seems to doubt that the prophecy will come true, but he stays at the camp to support his father. Marina believes in the power of God but doesn't understand how he can destroy the rest of the world. The camp is surrounded by an electric fence and armed guards, so the Believers can't leave and the rest of the world can't enter. Things get tense inside and outside the fence as the day of doom nears.

The book was well-written, but I'm not sure how many of my students are ready for the seriousness of this topic. Religion and God are a major focus of the plot, and God's destruction of the non-chosen humans is at the heart of the conflict. Those topics are pretty heavy for my sixth graders. The authors did a nice job of sharing Jed's and Miana's mixed emotions, and alternating their points of view in the chapters was effective. The book has an appropriate audience, but I'm not sure that it's my students.

The lexile level of this book from is 820

Friday, July 27, 2012

Skellig by David Almond

I probably could have put this book with the fantasy genre, and I gave it a rating of three out of five. This book will not be enjoyed by everyone. Michael's family has just moved into a run-down house with a crumbling garage in the back. His baby sister is very ill and spends much of her time in the hospital. Michael does some exploring and discovers a strange, old man with bumps on his back living in the garage. The man, Skellig, is very weak and just lays behind the piles of junk asking for Chinese food and beer. Michael and his neighbor, Mina, help Skellig move to a safer hideout and discover there is more to him than meets the eye. The baby's condition takes a turn for the worse, and Michael's world gets all turned around.

The type of creature Skellig might be is unclear, and readers will need to decide for themselves. It's clear there's something special about him, but it's hard to put a finger on. Despite the lower lexile range for this book, there is much more to the story than the words printed on the pages. The plot focuses on characters and theme and forces readers to think. As mentioned at the top, this book is not for everyone.

The lexile level from is 490.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos

This is a Newbery-winning book, and I gave it a rating of four out of five. Jack Gantos lives in the small town of Norvelt, located somewhere in Pennsylvania in 1962. The town was founded by Eleanor Roosevelt, and Jack's neighbor, Miss Volker, is the town's medical examiner and is also in charge writing obituaries for the original residents of the town. Jack writes and types them for her, and he has a special interest in the history she adds to the obituaries. Jack has time for this job, since he's grounded for the summer for firing his dad's Japanese, souvenir rifle. He manages to get himself into more trouble despite the grounding and discovers some secrets along the way.

The different chapters almost read like short stories, although the plot moved along through the summer. History was a large part of the plot as Jack's dad was a World War II veteran and had Jack digging a bomb shelter as part of his punishment. Miss Volker was a very entertaining character, and Jack learned a lot from her during his visits. In the end, the reader will discover who put the bullet in the rifle fired by Jack and that there was a murder mystery hidden within the plot.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Ghetto Cowboy by Jesse Joshua Watson

This book has a bit of an unusual plot, but I gave it a rating of three out of five. Cole rarely goes to school and seems destined to a life going nowhere. His mom decides to take him to Philadelphia to live with a father he has never met. Cole is very bitter about his mom's decision, and he's also shocked to discover his father is a cowboy, living in inner-city Philadelphia. Cole is reluctant to accept this new life, and he wants to go home. He becomes attached to one of the hard-to-handle horses and learns some things about being a cowboy and how to care for others. The conflict increases when the city decides to close down the stable and take back the property to build new apartments. His father seems to give up, but Cole leads the fight to preserve the cowboy way.
It was strange to read about cowboys in Philadelphia taking care of old horses among the apartment buildings. The author did a nice job of slowly developing Cole's character and having him become a part of this new way of life. I found the climax with the city and his father rather easy to predict, so the plot was easy to follow. It had a happy ending too!

The lexile level from is 660.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

George Washington, Spymaster by Thomas Allen

This book is a historical novel, and I gave it a rating of four out of five. The plot is based on actual people and events that have been researched by the author. It follows George Washington's life starting at age 21, as a major in the Virginia army, until America's victory in the Revolutionary War. The focus of the story surrounds his use of spies to gain information and guide his strategies. It describes methods used to collect the information, but it also talks about ways that he communicated misinformation to the enemy. The names of spies, moles, and double agents are shared. Secret codes, invisible ink, and other techniques are found in the book. The author shares different examples about how spying had a major influence on the outcome of the war.

History buffs will enjoy the description of different battles in the Revolutionary War and the famous leaders mentioned. I enjoyed the mystery of the codes and the strategies used to share information with fellow soldiers without giving away information to the enemy. I really liked the parts where the British most certainly would have won battles, but they never launhed the attacks due to trickery on the part of Washington and his spies.

The lexile level from is 1100.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Mysterious Case of the Allbright Academy by Diane Stanley

I found this book on the summer reading list at my local library and gave it a rating of four out of five. Franny and her twin siblings are accepted into the Allbright Academy, a school for gifted children that will train the become future leaders of America. Actually, Zoe, Franny's sister, is recruited for the school and Franny and the twin are accepted as part of the package. The school and students almost seem too perfect to be real, and Franny later discovers why. The school leaders have some tricks up their sleeves and a plan to create influential people in society. They even have a former student in line to run for president of the United States. The school seems so perfect, but what will Franny and her friends do when they discover the truth?

I wondered about those brownies when they were first introduced into the plot. The organization of the school seemed ideal which made me wonder about what was actually going on. The author did a nice job of introducing clues throughout the plot and created a clever mystery. It became one of those stories where kids discover a problem but will have a hard time getting adults to believe them. The students had a big surprise when they thought they found an adult to help, but many characters needed to come together in the end to resolve the conflict.

Lexile level from 830.

Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key by Jack Gantos

This book is the first in a series, and I gave it a rating of four out of five. Joey is a hyper, impulsive, energetic boy who simply can't control himself. He literally tries to spin himself like a top after being sent into the hallway by his teacher. He leaps from the rafters of a barn after eating a whole pie at an Amish farm. And, of course, he actually swallows his house key for a dollar. His teachers are concerned about his disruptions, but they are also worried about the safety of the other students. Can Joey control himself before someone gets seriously hurt, or are more drastic actions needed to get a grip on his life?

Joey is a very likable person, but he's that hyperactive kid we've all seen running out of control. The author does a nice job of describing Joey's thoughts and the difficulty he has with staying focused. He also shows how Joey's character affects other people, like the teachers, students, and Joey's grandmother and mother. The book has many run-on sentences to symbolize the way ideas race through his mind. The plot was a good reminder to me, as a teacher, of the medical difficulties some students face in trying to control their behaviors.

Lexile level from 970

Monday, June 4, 2012

Storm Runners by Roland Smith

I found this title on another blog, and I gave it a rating of three out of five. Chase and his father travel the country to help people prepare and recover from huge storms. In this book, they are in Florida to face a category five hurricane named Emily, the same name as the deceased mother. They stay at a circus ranch where they can store their trucks and belongings, but the ranch also has a ferocious lion, dangerous leopard, and a pregnant elephant. Chase and two classmates are trapped in a school bus when Hurricane Emily flips it over. They manage to escape, but they are exposed to the full force of the storm and wild alligators. It's a dangerous journey to safety as they battle heavy rains, flooding, one-hundred and fifty mile per hour winds, and the man-eating beasts.

One of my pet peeves is when authors end their stories without resolving the conflict. The plot of this book ended at the climax, so you should plan to read the sequel, The Surge, if you want to read the entire story. Also, the hurricane didn't hit until halfway into the book, so there was a great deal of anticipation before there was much action. I kept expecting the circus animals to become a big part of the plot, but the characters mostly battled the alligators, wind, and rain. I didn't understand why the author took the time to point out the dangers surrounding the circus farm and then didn't make them part of the conflict. The circus animals did not reenter the plot until there were three pages left in the book! The book had potential, but it didn't work for me.

Lexile level from 700

Friday, June 1, 2012

The Lost Songs by Caroline Cooney

My Battle of the Books team received an autographed copy of this book for winning a tournament, and I gave it a rating of four out of five. The plot revolves around four characters, but it mainly concerns Lutie and her great-grandmother's "lost songs". Her great-grandmother had been a slave and created songs that she told Lutie needed to be kept in her heart. However, Lutie receives pressure from many people to sing and share the songs with the world. Her teacher, her preacher, her family, and her friends all feel that the songs are powerful and beautiful and need to be performed. Lutie also has issues were her mother, who has run away, but the main tension comes from a childhood friend named Train. Train's brother is in prison for blinding a young boy, and Train seems destined and determined to follow in his brother's footsteps. Train seems to have intentions to hurt someone badly, but who will it be?

This book won't appeal to everyone. The point of view changes frequently, although it's not hard to follow. Many of the song lyrics speak to god and hold meanings related to life. There is a strong spirituality to the plot. The suspense surrounding Train creates interest, because he seems to be a time bomb, ready to go off at any minute. Everything comes together during the funeral at the end, and all of the characters seem to be at peace.

Lexile level from 670

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney

This book is the first in the series, and I gave it a rating of three out of five. Greg Heffley writes a journal, not a diary, about his life as  middle school student. He talks about his attempts to become popular as the class treasurer, comic strip writer for the school paper, and class clown, among other things. He shares his adventures with bullies and embarrassing moments with his classmates. He talks of being picked on by his older brother and his jealousy of his spoiled little brother. And finally, he describes his on and off friendship with his best friend Rowley.

This series is very popular for many students. There are humorous and realistic moments described during the plot. There didn't seem to be an ongoing conflict, so the plot lacked some direction for me. The writing was interesting, but it didn't grab me. Again, many readers enjoy the books, so they're worth giving a try. Maybe they'll grab you.

Lexile level from 950

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Wonder by R.J. Palacio

This story is about courage, kindness, friendship, and character, and I gave it a rating of four out of five. August Pullman was born with a rare, genetic disease that left his face badly deformed. As he said on the first page, "I won't describe what I look like. Whatever you're thinking, it's probably worse." He's undergone twenty-seven surgeries since he was born and has been home-schooled by his mother. His parents think fifth grade is a good time for him to start public schools. He's teased and ignored by most of the students; they even said classmates would get the plague if they touched him. August and his few friends persevere through the educational and social difficulties of school, and August ends up a winner in the end.

This is an emotional book, and I felt very sorry for August. The author retold part of the plot from various points of view, so it was interesting to see what others were thinking. Some of their thoughts were quite surprising. I was wondering where the plot would lead, but it actually came to a climax during the fifth grade overnight trip. It was fun to see a person with August's character come out on top.

Lexile level from 790

Monday, April 9, 2012

Curveball: The Year I Lost My Grip by Jordan Sonnenblick

This book is about a freshman boy's first year of high school, and I gave it a rating of five out of five. Peter has high hopes of being a star baseball player with his best friend, AJ. Then Peter blows out his arm in his last eighth grade game. He's afraid to admit to AJ that he'll never be able to play baseball again. To add to his problems, his grandfather starts developing signs of Alzheimer's Disease, and Peter may have a girlfriend. He's not sure how to deal with girls. Peter has talent as a photographer, which was also his grandfather's passion and career. Peter finally comes to grips with his athletic future, his grandfather's disease, and his girlfriend.

I'm not sure why I liked this book so much, but I did. The author did a great job of sharing Peter's various problems and was able to communicate his mixed feelings. I don't often see novels about teenage boys that show them with feelings and insecurities. At least, not to this extent. Some of the parts got a little descriptive about photography terms, but I read them quickly.

Lexile level from 800

Monday, April 2, 2012

Marley, A Dog Like No Other by John Grogan

This book is an adaptation of Marley and Me, and I gave it a rating of four out of five. It's the true story of the author's life with his new puppy, Marley, a huge yellow lab. Each chapter shares a different experience with the dog. Marley likes to eat everything, knocks over anyone visiting the house, and doesn't always obey the commands of his owner. There are funny accounts of Marley's life as an "actor", traveling in a car, and many interactions with other animals.

Anyone who's lived with a new puppy will enjoy this book. He has many of the same experiences, but Marley is a 100-pound puppy. Warning, the last chapter is about the family deciding to get a replacement for Marley after he passes away.

Lexile level from 760

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Jeremy Bender vs. The Cupcake Cadets by Eric Luper

This book has a fun plot, and I gave it a rating of four out of five. Jeremy is in big trouble. He ruins the engine on his father's boat with grape soda and green paint, and it will cost $470 to clean up the mess. That's $450 more than his friend, Slater, and he have together. The solution? Enter a model boat contest with $500 going to the winner! The problem? The contest is only open to girls who are members of the Cupcake Cadets. The solution? Jeremy and Slater become Jenna and Samantha, home-schooled, fraternal twins. They must first sell one-hundred boxes of the disgusting cupcakes and earn three merit badges. How can two boys hide their female identities, especially with the overnight camping trip coming up? What will happen if/when they are discovered?

The plot is not serious and is a nice change from the popular vampire, supernatural, action novels. It's about a couple of normal, sixth-grade boys who are trying to deal with school, family, girls, and the school bully. The conflict takes a giant leap right at the beginning of the book when Slater saves Jeremy by giving the bully a megawedgie! The plot takes a new twist when the boys' plan is discovered, but it becomes a new problem, not a solution. It comes to a nice climax at the boating contest, and all of the characters live up to the Cupcake Cadets motto, kind of.

Lexile level from 720

Monday, March 12, 2012

Dear George Clooney, Please Marry My Mom by Susin Nielsen

This book was written by the same author as Word Nerd, and I gave it a rating of four out of five. Violet's movie-director father has an affair and moves to California where he lives with his new wife and two-year-old twins. Violet is not dealing well with the situation. She flies out to California with her little sister to visit, but they're sent home the next day when Violet makes a very poor decision. Luckily, Violet has her best friend for support as she tries to handle the divorce and life in the seventh grade. Her mother is dating various men that Violet thinks are losers. Now, she's dating Dudley Wiener, and he's clearly not good enough for her mom. Just look at his name! The only person good enough for her mom is George Clooney, and she gets ideas when she discovers he is filming a movie in the same area as her father. An apology and another trip to California may be in the future.

I enjoyed Violet's character as she deals with her life. She has trouble understanding her feelings about her father and mother after the divorce. She loves them, hates them, and doesn't know how to behave around them. She swears she'll never have a boyfriend, but that was before Jean-Paul shows an interest in her. Thing One and Thing Two are giving her a hard time at school, and she snaps when they show Facebook pictures of her mom to her classmates. Hopefully, most girls don't behave the same way as Violet, but girls dealing with divorce can probably appreciate her feelings.

Lexile level from 700