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.