Monday, August 19, 2013

The Fourth Stall, Part II by Chris Rylander

The Fourth Stall Part IIThis book is the sequel to The Fourth Stall, and I gave it a rating of four out of five. Students visit Max in the fourth stall of an unused bathroom in the school and tell him their problems. Max is usually able to find a way to help them, for a price. Max and his friends are trying to earn money for World Series tickets, in case the team ever makes it there. The main conflicts that come to Max in this book are: the school food is not healthy, animal droppings are being found in lockers, a teacher gives a cute eighth-grader detentions for no reason, and a new assistant principal has arrived to stop all of the "funny business" at the school. Then, there is an announcement that the students will be taking the SMARTs in the next couple of weeks, state standardized tests, and rumor has it that the school may be shut down immediately if the scores aren't high enough. All of these problems appear to have started about the same time, the eight grader's story has holes in it, and the assistant principal has a target aimed at Max.

What I like most about the plot is how the author can take common school problems and make them into an interesting story. Testing, lunches, and teachers are on most students' minds. It was surprising how the author was able to create suspense in such a common setting. I also enjoy Max's character. He's not super smart, super strong, or super anything, but he's always trying to help his schoolmates. Despite using some dishonest tactics, he has morality and tries to do the right thing.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

The Fantastic Secret of Owen Jester by Barbara O'Connor

The Fantastic Secret of Owen JesterI found this book at my local library, and I gave it a rating of three out of five. Owen lives in Carter, Georgia, and he's just captured the biggest, slimiest bullfrog ever. He names it Tooley Graham, and he sets out to build the greatest frog cage in the pond. One night, Owen hears a train pass by, but he also hears the sounds of something falling off of it. He enlists the help of his two friends, and they end up making an amazing discovery. However, Tooley isn't looking well in his new home, and the nosey, neighbor girl also knows about the discovery. What is Owen going to do?

For the most part, the plot deals with the simple times in a country setting. Every day is spent taking care of Tooley and trying to figure out what to do with the discovery. The characters are not very complex, and the conflict with the neighbor girl isn't a huge problem. The book was a quick read. It didn't really grab my interest, but that doesn't necessarily mean it won't appeal to other readers.

Kissing Doorknobs by Terry Spencer Hesser

Kissing DoorknobsI reread this book from awhile ago, and I gave it a rating of four out of five. Tara has a problem. She had some issues when she started kindergarten, but things get really bad when she's eleven and hears Step on a crack and break your mother's back. She starts walking to school, avoiding the cracks, but then she starts counting the cracks. If she's interrupted, she goes home to start counting all over again. She starts arranging toy trolls in her desk at school, she constantly rewrites her papers because they're not neat enough, and she says prayers whenever anyone uses profanity. These habits drive her parents crazy, especially her mom. Things get out of hand when she feels the need to touch her doorknob with all ten fingers and then kisses them. She can't stop herself from these urges, and no one seems able to help her.

In case you can't tell, Tara has OCD, obsessive compulsive disorder. The author does a wonderful job of putting us inside her head, understanding the power of her compulsions. Surprisingly, she has several friends at school who stand by her, but the author introduces an unlikely friend who starts to help her change, a little bit. Many of us have unusual habits, but the plot helps us understand the disabling effects of this disorder. It's a wonderful study of character.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Ellie McDoodle, New Kid in School by Ruth McNally Barshaw

Ellie McDoodle: New Kid in School (reissue)This book is a comic book novel, and I gave it a rating of four out of five. Ellie's family moves to a new town which means she'll be starting sixth grade at a new school with no friends. She hates being the new kid and finds it difficult to meet new people. Ellie loves to read, and the local librarian becomes her first friend. School is not as easy; a couple of kids speak to her, but most of her classmates don't attempt to get to know her. Ellie is studying about peaceful protests in one class, and the school lunch lines and meals provide her with a cause. Will her efforts make things worse or help her to fit in?

Due to the format of the book, it's a very quick read. Readers who have experienced moves to new schools and neighborhoods will easily identify with Ellie's character. The plot is simple to follow, and Ellie's family keeps things interesting. Her older sister seems like the stereotypical high school girl, but her older brother adds humor through his practical jokes.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne

The Boy in the Striped PajamasApparently, this book was made into a movie, and I gave it a rating of four out of five. Bruno's father has been promoted to become the commandant of Auschwitz, the infamous German concentration camp during World War II. Bruno is a naive nine-year-old boy who doesn't understand what's going on. He sees all of the sad men and boys inside the fence, but he's most unhappy about being bored and missing his friends. He's frightened of the young lieutenant who frequently comes to visit his home, and he eventually starts to take long walks outside the fence. He meets a Jewish boy named Shmuel living inside the fence, and they become friends. Shmuel tells Bruno about life in the prison, but Bruno doesn't really understand how all of that sadness is possible. He wants to have one last adventure with Shmuel before moving back to Berlin.

You will need to have an understanding of the war and the prison camp to fully appreciate the plot. Bruno uses terms like the Fury and Out-With, which you won't understand without knowing a little history. I'm having a hard time finding the right word to describe my feelings as I read about this horrific prison from an innocent boy's point of view. The ending should touch your own emotions and help you think about what happened to the prisoners.