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