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 lexile.com 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 lexile.com 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 lexile.com 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 lexile.com 670