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Sunday, December 23, 2012

I love this book, but I am not sure I can recommend it (or even review it).

I read Pam Munoz Ryan's book, The Dreamer (2010, Scholastic).  And frankly, I am not sure what I can tell you about it.
     It starts out slow, and even seems aimless in parts.  The main character, Naftali Reyes seems like a good-hearted kid who is unlucky enough to have a really emotionally abusive father.  So Naftali keeps getting in trouble for not paying attention and not focusing and being too frail.  And I feel bad for him, I really do, but he is not the kind of kid who you get to love immediately.The book didn't really start to take off until over a hundred pages in, when Naftali's father takes the family on a vacation.  Each morning the father insists that Naftali and his younger sister go swimming in the ocean -- even though they nearly drown more than once.  When that swim is done, the children have the rest of the day to do with as they want.  Naftali finishes all of his books and wanders into town looking for the library.  Instead he has a brief encounter witht he town librarian -- an old man who seems to be the best of the breed.  That scene made me want to keep reading.  From there on things get more interesting and Naftali starts to take hold of his life.  He finds a job.  He finds purpose.  He finds a girl he loves.  He finds his voice.  And then... And then...


     And then... But I can't tell you.  If I did it would ruin the surprise.  And it is a grand surprise if you are fairly well read, especially in 20th century poets.  But see, here is the other problem with the book.  Once it finally gets going and builds to this amazing surprise, it is unlikely to catch any of your students because they will not have read the one poet you need to have read for the surprise to make any sense. 
    Peter Sis's drawings are wonderful.  I really liked the book after I got the the surprise.  But I don't think it is going to work for your students.
     So read it already.  Maybe even recommend it to the kind of kid willing to do some research to figure out why the surprise is such a big deal.  But don't figure on this book being the next big hit in your classroom.  Sigh. 

Monday, December 17, 2012

So B. It (A novel by Sarah Weeks)

     When Heidi was a baby, her mother appeared at Bernadette's door, wet from the rain and clearly cognitively different enough that she was unable to raise a baby alone.  As Heidi grew, she was rasied by Bernadette and helped to care for her mother (who cannot tie her own shoes without assistance).  Now Heidi is twelve and starting to wonder about her mother and where she came from.  She has a few clues -- mainly a roll of film from a camera that was with the stuff her mom brought with her.  Heidi has decided that she wants to run down one of those clues -- a sign in one of the pictures says "Hilltop Home --Liberty, New York."  Unfortunatley, Heidi, Bernadette, and Heidi's Mom live in Reno, Nevada.  Add to that Bernadette's extreme agoraphobia that makes it impossible for her to leave the house, and you have an interesting problem for Heidi to try to solve.
     Heidi ends up crossing the country by bus and avoids detection by the authorities by attaching herself to different adults as she travels.  She learns a lot about honesty and dishonesty, and how the line between childhood and adulthood is not as clear as some might think.  And when she finally makes it to Liberty, New York, what she has learned about telling truth from lies gets its most severe test yet. 



      Sarah Weeks's novel So B. It (2004) has some interesting things to say about special education and some of the moral responsibiliites involved.  It has some interesting things to say about how some children must accept responsibilities far earlier than we think -- and how some adults spend much of thier lives running from those same responsibilities.  It has a couple of nice twists in the ending and has a strong and heartwarming ending.  Not the best book I have read this year, but far from the worst.  It would be a good book for middle school and high school teachers to have on hand to pass to students who need a solid and reasonably intelligent book to read. 

Friday, December 7, 2012

Yolanda's Genius -- good for music teachers, Special Ed teachers, and language arts teachers (Also for people who like Chicago, the Blues, and good stories).

     A while ago at a thrift store I picked up Yolanda's Genius by Carol Fenner.  It was a Newbery Honor book in 1995 and I had never heard of it before.  Turns out it is wonderfully quirky book, suitable for middle school or high school students.
     The story, in brief, is this.  Yolanda and her little brother, Andrew are two African-American kids living with their mom in Chicago (where Mama works as a paralegal.)  They live in a decent, but not perfect neighborhood.  Yolanda has friends there and is happy.  She looks after Andrew who struggles in school but is an amazing harmonica player (their father gave Andrew a harmonica shortly before he passed away.) 
     Then one day Andrew comes home from school with a little baggy of white powder that some older kids in school told him would help him feel good.  He offers it to his mama when she comes home with a headache and she is horrified and decides on the spot that they are leaving Chicago.  Mama gets a job in Grand River, Michagan (which seems to be psuedonym for my native Grand Rapids).  Yolanda hates leaving Chicago and is not looking forward to the move.
     In Grand River, Yolanda finds a new friend, Andrew's harmonica gets smashed by some older kids, and Yolanda comes up with a crazy plan to buy Andrew a new Harmonica, return to Chicago, and help everyone to see that even though Andrew cannot read or do well in school, he is, nonetheless a genius.



     The ending is perhaps a bit improbable -- but fun all the same. 
     This is the sort of book that could help a reader learn to love music, a music kid learn to love reading, and anybody who reads it to understand that differences are not always disabilities.  Having said that, though it is a good read, it will probably not become your favorite book in the whole world.  Still. worth checking out.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Time Travel, Intrigue, and Romance (kind of)

     Kerstin Gier's Ruby Red starts out kind of slow (the main character doesn't travel through time until chapter 3) and the cover isn't too interesting, and I wasn't really sure this was the kind of book I would like.  In the first two chapters, after all, we meet Gwyneth and her cousin Charlotte and find out that Charlotte has a genetic predisposition for time travel -- something which Gwyneth seems to have missed because she was born on the wrong day.  Genetic time travel?  It seemed like kind of a lame premise.  I thougth about quitting after two chapters..
     Then I read chapter two.
      And suddenly everything started getting really interesting. Gwyneth starts to get a headache and vertigo and suddenly finds herself transported about a hundred years back in time.  She goes back to where her house is in that time period, and is about to ring the bell when she phases back to her own time.  Suddenly she has problems.  She can't control the time shifting.  She doesn't want to tell her mom about it because her mom never believed her stories about the ghosts she can sometimes see.  She doesn't want to tell her cousin because her cousin will be jealous.  Time travel itself is disorienting and confusing, especially when she doesn't know when or where she is.  She also has begun to figure out in her time travelling and snooping around the house that at least part of her extended family is fighting a war through time travel, and she suspects she might be on the wrong side of it.  What is at stake in the war is a machine that can control the destinations of the time travellors.  Without access to that machine, Gwyneth may end up time shifting uncontrollably for hte rest of her life. 



And as I read on, I started to like Gwyneth.  She is a strong girl in a difficult situation.  I was bothered a bit by her tendency to reference popular movies a bit too much.  But she seems to get the hang of escaping from difficult situations.  The romantic sub-plot is also interesting.  And, although the ending seemed designed for a sequel (This is the first book in a trilogy) it was still a good conclusion.  This book might be a good suggestion for any student who seems a little too obsessed with the twilight series. 
     It doesn't seem to me have any particular applications to other subjects, but is a fun book to engage girl readers in middle school or high school.

Monday, December 3, 2012

The Moon Moth -- The Return of Real Science Fiction -- in a graphic novel

     When I was a young nerd in middle school, once a week or so I would walk to my Grandpa and Uncle Dirk's house.  They were both professors and their house, despite the best efforts of my mom and her sisters, always seemed in a perpetual state of rumpled disorder -- rather like a library that someone had been living in.  In that house I was given free reign of the study in the basement -- with no one asking me when I would be done looking at books so I could clean my room or mow the grass or whatever.  It was glorious. 
     The basement study had shelf upon shelf of philosophy and theology and history and astronomy.  But my favorite section was the old science fiction that my Uncle Dirk had bought in his younger days.  Here were endless issues of Astounding Science Fiction -- each about he size of a slightly overgrown paperback.  Here were books by Phillip K. Dick, A.E. VanVoight, Asimov, Bradbury, Larry Nivin, Arthur C. Clarke, and Ursala K. LeGuin.  And these books were not action movies set on other planets, these were first of all SCIENCE fiction.  Within them were concepts of physics and time travel, astronomy, sociology, psychology, and biology -- ranging from well-grounded theories applied to new environments, to whacked-out crazy thoeries that were fun to read about.  Though such fiction was sometimes a bit wordy, it was, at its best, fiction that made the reader think and wonder and dream.  I loved it.
     Star Wars came along (and I fell in love with that sort of story as well) but other than Blade Runner's brief revival of Phillip K. Dick's work, pure science fiction fell by the wayside, replaced by novels and stories that seemed to have a far better grasp of how to tell a story, but much less interest in the science. 
     And now, out of the blue, First Second publishers and Humayoun Ibrahim (who is a graphic novel creator I have never heard of before) bring out a brilliant new adaptation of Jack Vance's The Moon Moth




The story is a little hard to explain.  Edwer Thissell is an ambassader of sorts from Earth tot he planet Sirene.  Thissell has arrived on the planet with very little briefing but soon finds it a bewildering place.  The inhabitants of Sirene all wear masks to indicate their social status.  They communicate multimodally using words and music -- with different instruments indicating different social situations.  The moral code of their society is based on each person acting in his or her self-interest.  And Thissel has to solve a murder -- in this setting where the masks mean you can never tell who you are dealing with, the moral code means that you can never tell who is telling the truth, and errors in musical communication etiquette are punishable by death.
     This book is not for everyone.  But if you (or one of your students) like puzzling things out, like stunningly beautiful illustrations (see below),a good detective story set on another planet, and some excellent story twists at the end, thsi book might become one of your favorites.



It might also fit in well with some high school social studies units (though it would be a stretch.)  Anyway, check it out.  Let me know what you think.


Monday, November 26, 2012

Bamboozled by the Ku Klux Klan

Over the weekend, I read Karen Hesse's Witness (2001 Scholastic) 

I had earlier read and loved Out of the Dust (1999) and had really enjoyed the way hHsse used poetry and different points-of-view to weave together a really moving story of a girl growing up in the dust bowl years.  Witness came out two years after Out of the Dust and uses the same techniques that the eariler book did - but maybe not quite as well.

Witness is set in a little town in Vermont.  The Ku Klux Klan sets about opening a chapter in town and at first a lot of the town's citizens are pretty supportive of it -- since it has all the trappings of a civic organization like the Rotary Club.  And what is great about Hesse's approach is that we can read the inner thoughts of many different people, from Johnny Reeves, the preacher, and 18 year-old Merlin Ven Turnhout who both seem convinced that the Klan is a great opportunity for the town -- to Percelle Johnson, the town constable, who seems to be withholding judgment,--  to Leonora Sutter, a 12 year old African American and Reynard Alexander, the editor of the newspaper who suspect the Klan is not as civically-minded as they seem. 



The plot which weaves through all this is an interesting one.  As the Klan gains power in the town, subtle and not-so subtle events of discrimination begin to surface.  When Leanora's father is shot and two prominent leaders of the Klan go missing, it really takes off.  There are some great moments of ordinary citizens seeing what is right and standing up against the Klan.

But the book's strength -- its multi-perspectival approach to narration -- may also be its downfall.  Whereas Out of the Dust showed several different people's thoughts and points-of-view, it also had the through-line of a single main narrator.  Witness involves the points-of-view of eleven different people, all of who are connected to each other in a myriad of ways.  Frankly, I had a hard time keeping track of them all, even with the illustrated guide in the beginning of the book.  I think a middle school or high school student who likes to read and reread books would enjoy understanding a bit more of this book each time he or she reads it, but the majority of students may not have the patience for such a difficult cast of characters in spite of the rewarding twists, turns, and excellent ending to the book.


Thursday, November 8, 2012

Another Excellent Nerd Book

Being a nerd myself, I'll admit that I like a good nerd book.  You know the kind -- some kid who gets picked on for loving to learn and for being different in some way ends up finding out a way to come out on top. The Harry Potter books fit in this category.  Same with a lot of Daniel Pinkwater, John Green, Ellen Klages, Shannon Hale, and M.T. Anderson's books.
     Now I can add Meg Wolitzer's new book (2011) The Fingertips of Duncan Dorfman to the list above.  Duncan Dorfman has a lot of strikes against him from the start.  He is the new kid in his high school.  He lives in an apartment with his single mother who works at the local Thriftee Mike's Warehouse -- where she purchases all his clothes -- so he will always look dorky.  During the first week of school, someone sticks some greasy lunchmeat to his back as he walks through the cafeteria line.  The meat sticks there for a while, leading his fellow students to nickname him "Lunchmeat" -- which also sticks.  He has one friend, who talks incessantly about videogames.  In short, Duncan Dorfman is a hopeless nerd.



     Then two things happen to Duncan.  First, he discovers that his left hand somehow has the ability to read print in total darkness.  A power which his mother does not seem surprised to learn he has -- and she wants him not to tell anyone he has it.  Second, when Duncan is showing his only friend Andrew what he can do, an athletic bullly-turned-scrabble-addict named Carl, who is sitting at the next table overhears, sees the possibiliites of such a power in a game that involves drawing letters blindly from a bag, and before he knows what is happening, Duncan finds himself bullied into being Carl's partner for the regional scrabble tournement.
     The journey that follows involles Duncan wrestling with his conscience, meeting other nerds, and discovering some amazing things about himself he didn't know.  In the end, he seems to accept and value his nerdiness (one of my most important criteria in a good nerd book).  You should read it. 

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Art, Music, Germany, and the Beatles

So last week I read Arne Bellstor's new graphic novel Baby's in Black:  Astrid Kirchherr, Stuart Sutcliffe, and the Beatles, (2012).  The book looks at a chapter from the early days of the Beatles.  In those days, John, Paul, and George were playing in Germany to great acclaim along with their bassist, Stuart Sutcliffe.  The story mostly concerns Stuart's romance with a young german photographer named Astrid Kirchherr who is quite taken with the Beatles.  When german authorities discover that George is underage and the Beatles decide to return to England at least for a time, Stuart decides to remain in Germany to be with Astrid.  Their romance deepens and Stuart begins to see success in his art career.  At the same time, though, he begins to develop a strange debilitating illness.
    
 

This book is unlikely to become anyone's favorite graphic novel ever, but for high school teachers of Art, Music, and History, it could be a good resource to add to their classroom library. (I sort of wish the book had more to say about the Beatle's music and about Astrid and Stuart's art, but it does present the whole story fairly quickly and might lead students to want to check out some other sources.) 

Although it is implied that Astrid and Stuart sleep together, there are no explicit scenes that might cause trouble with parents.  True to the time period, though, everybody in this book is smoking a cigarette all the time.  I certainly wouldn't want this sanitized out of the panels, but readers will likely be struck by the ubiquity of the smoking.

  

Monday, October 15, 2012

Ender's Game -- Over 20 years old and still excellent

This past week I re-read Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game.  I hadn't really planned to do so, but my 13 year-old daughter had been reading it and I picked it up to reread the first chapter and once again I got hooked.
      This time, though, as I was drawn again into Ender's world at Battle School I tired to figure out why I (and an awful lot of other people) like this book so much.  On its surface it isn't particularly remarkable.  Ender is a brilliant kid who is chosen to be trained to be a military leader and to fight against an alien force that has its heart set on colonizing earth.  His older brother was also recruited, but was found to be too heartless to be a good leader.  His older sister was also recruited but found to be too empathic to put the objective before the soldiers.  And so Ender fights his way through bullies and an increasingly difficult series of strategic games to eventually accomplish the impossible. 


    
     There is something about this book that makes it more dramatically engaging than either of its sequels.  (In the Ender's Shadow series, Card comes close to the excitent ot the original.)   I think it is a couple of things.  First, because Ender's only real strength is his mind, it is easy to get him into situations that are desperate -- and whether it is a bully who wants him dead, or an arena game where the rules are stacked against him -- Ender has to think his way out.
     Second, I think it is his vulnerablility.  Event though I have read this book several times, I still find myself wondering how he is going to survive.  Like many other exceptioanlly wonderful adolescent literature writers (I think of Tolkein, for example), Card is willing to put his protagonist at great risk.
      Third,  Ender is a likable protagonist.  He cares for other people.  He wants to do the right thing.  He wishes he had a real friend.  All of this gets us on his side.
     Really, though, this doesn't solve the mystery at all.  The truth is, I have no idea what makes Ender's Game such a great book.  I just know that it is.  And if you teach kids fifth grade and up, it is a great way to engage students in reading an excellent story.  So you need to buy it (and maybe a second copy, because your students are going to wear the first one out.)

Monday, October 8, 2012

The World Beyond Persepolis

Recently I have read three books, one novel and two graphic novels, all about life in the Middle East.  I am certainly not an expert on any aspect of life in the Middle East and am still learning a lot about the culture, language, and religion of places like Palestine, Iraq, and the United Arab Emirates.  Here are some books that help teach some of those cultural aspects and provide interesting stories besides.  Fair warning, though, the last two would be more useful for college teaching than middle school or high school.

Most recently I read Samir and Yonatan by Daniella Carmi.  This book, published in 2000, won the ALA's Batchelder Award for excellent children's literature translated into English from another language.

 

This book concerns a Palestinian kid who injures his knee while he is goofing around with his friends (and trying to be as brave as his deceased older brother).  His knee is shattered so completely that he has to go to an Israeli hospital to have it operated on.  There he meets a collection of Israeli kids, including Yonatan,  who spends much of his time reading books about science.  The two of them develop an unlikely friendship and learn a great deal about each other's lives.

It is a good book, though the ending is fairly unsatisfying.  It doesn't make the mistake of trying to resolve the entire Israeli/Palestinian conflict on the back of one friendship, nor does it take sides in the conflict.  It might be an interesting book to complement a unit on the modern Middle East, or to connect to as student of Palestinian or Israeli heritage.  I con't imagine any kid getting wildly enthusiastic about this book though.



Zahra's Paradise, by Amir and Khalil, is the amazing story of a familiy's fight to find a son who disappeared during a protest in Iran.  They fight against the bureacracy of a corrupt government in an attempt to locate their son and get the government to admit what happened to him.  Along the way, the victim's older brother comes across what turns out to be a far larger conspiricy and a far greater injustice than they had ever imagined.

This would be an excellent graphic novel for high school students to discover the depth of human rights violations and injustices that go on every day in courtries all over the world -- except, there is a fair amount of objectionable material here.  Vulgar langauge, depictions of violence, and several scenes of nudity would make it hard for many high school students to catch the point of the book -- though some parts toward the end are breathtaking in the way they call for change. 

I can think of some high school students who would get a lot out of this book, but I can also think of many (if not all) schools where recommending such a book to a student might get a good teacher fired.  Too bad, because it is a good book.



Craig Thompson is, of course, the creator of Blankets which was an amazing graphic novel about a boy's struggle to find love and purpose and an understanding of God in the midst of an extreme fundamentalist Christian family.  That was also a graphic novel that I thought would be excellent for students to study, but it had a couple of scenes that involved nudity.  I always figured that maybe Thompson's next graphic novel would have an intriguing story like the first on, but might be something that coiuld be used in a high school literature class.

If that is what I was looking for, Habibi is not it.   It is an amazing story that weaves together stories from the Bible, the Koran, 1,001 Arabian Nights, and other sources.  It tells of a woman named Dodola who is sold into slavery, stolen from her owner, and eventually escapes her new captors along with a homeless boy named Zam..  They two of them endure endless hardships and a life which seems to get worse and worse.  Dodola must sell her body to get food for them.  Zam tries to carry water to earn money so that Dodola will not have to work in this way.  He is eventually lost in the city and falls under the care of eunichs, while Dodola is captured for a sultan's harem.  Zam mutilates himself.  Dodola is harshly abused by the sultan when she tries to escape and she almost dies when the Sultan's guards try to drown her in a polluted river.  The story ends on a hopeful and arguably redeptive turn, but we must endure such agony to get there.  It is a moving and powerful book.

It is also a very honest graphic novel, and that is unfortunate for anyone hoping to use it to teach high school literature.  It depicts with graphic frankness: rapes, mutilations, births, opium abuse, sexual abuse involving underaged children, and so many other horrors that it is a painful book to read sometimes.  In the end I was glad I read it, but like Joe Sacco's work it made me feel very uncomfortalbe and unsettled.  I am afraid this one  would be too much for many readers. 


I think these are some powerful books that have a lot to say aobut the treatment of women, children, and arguably all humans in some parts of the world.  But, as Peter Parker's Uncle Ben says, "with great power comes great responsibility."  Read these books with care.  I would hate to see anyone hurt.




Friday, September 28, 2012

Best Greek Mythology Graphic Novels Ever!


If you teach Greek mythology, like Greek mythology, are interested in Greek mythology, or basically are breathing and are literate, you need to check out the series of graphic novels by George O'Connor.  The series is published by First Second books, which has to be consistantly the most excellently selective publisher of graphic novels out there.  They understand what makes for a great graphic novels, and their list shows it.

Anyway, George O'Connor has at least four books out so far:  Zeus: King of the Gods; Hera: The Goddess in her Glory; Athena:  Grey-eved Goddess; and Hades: Lord of the Dead with Posiedon due out any day now.  Each book brings together a plethera of different sources to present a completely compelling tale of that Greek god or goddess that usually frames them in a new way.  


In Zeus, for example, the creation story is told, including the story of the youg gods and godesses rebelling agains their evil father Chronos.  What I found fascinating about this book was the depiction of Zeus as a young man (actually, he looks a little like a California surfer dude.)  Zeus's youth and immaturity grow in the course of the book into responsibility and determination.  The drawings are amazing and give a sense of the drama and excitement of the battle.  
     The book also shows the beginning of Zeus's courtship of Hera.  Their relationship is continued in Hera.

I wish I knew how O'Connor manages to pull it off -- but this has to be the most sympathetic portrayal of Hera I have ever read.  Usually she comes off as an annoying, crabby, shrewish wife (which has always seemed unfair to me given that Zeus has got to be the definition of an unfaithful husband. ).  Here we see how smart (and kind) she can be as we follow the labors of Heracles.  Hera works behind the scenes to ensure that Heracles learns through his labors to use not only his brawn, but his brain as well (so that he can live up to his name and truely be "The Glory of Hera").  When I field tested this book on upper elementary students I was amazed how carefully they read both the text and the images. For that reason, I really appreciate O'Connor's care in depicting (or actually not depicting) violence and sex.  There is plenty of violence here, but little gore.  And although we see Zeus unfaithfully wooing (and wooing, and wooing), that is all we see. 

 

The care O'Connor takes in constructing his stories comes through clearly in the way he weaves together the story of Athena.  Each part of the story, each page layout, and each individual panel contribute to the overall tale.  It is nearly poetic in the way that nothing is left out.  This story weaves together several stories including Perseus, Arachne, and a couple of different versions of how Athena got the name Pallas -- but the whole thing works together as one coherant narrative.  

 

O'Connor has conceived of these books as a connected series and is passionate about getting them right.  I have also been amazed how they keep getting better with each one.  I found the story of Hades to be the most compelling and well developed so far. Based on what I have heard about the upcoming one, Poseidon, which is due out this coming March, it may surpass his previous work yet again.   O'Connor tells the story in the first person from Poseidon's point of view.  This stuff just keps getting better and better.



Collectively, these would be most perfect for language arts teachers, but social studies teachers could use them too.  I have seen an excellent fourth grade reader devour these and have also had good reports from my high school daughter and my college students who have read them -- so they really appeal to a pretty broad range of readers. Go buy them from an independent bookstore near you as soon as you can. 




  

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Beat the Turtle Drum vs. Bridge to Terabithia

So last week I read two classic Newbery-award-winning books.  The first is one you have probably never heard of, the second is one you might have on your shelf.  The first one is horrid.  The second is excellent.  Comparing the two gives one an interesting look at what makes a book last and what doesn't.


     Constance Greene's Beat the Turtle Drum (1976) is about Jess, who appears to be in fourth or fifth grade.  She saves her money for a couple of years until she has enough to rent a horse for a week. She has an amazing week, caring for the horse in her garage, giving kids in the neighborhood rides, and generally glorying in being the owner, at least for a time, of a horse.  Then, at the end of that week, while playing with her sister, she falls out of an apple tree and dies.  Her life seems meaningless because it is.  It doesn't change the grumpy neighbor across the street, it doesn't change her parents and it seems to only embitter her sister.  And that is the end of it.  Death is random and life sucks and that's the way it is.
     After reading this book I didn't feel like I had recieved an epiphany about the nature of reality.  I suspect the author had hoped to teach children something about the nature of the reality of the world we live in.  In fact, though, I doubt children need any further lessons in this part of life.  I suspect they are already too familiar with it.

     
   Then I picked up The Brigde of Terabithia which I am ashamed to say I had never read.  Before I started it, I checked the copyright date.  It was published a year after Beat the Turtle Drum, but Terabithia is everything that Turtle Drum is not.  Here is a story of real friendship, of two kids growing and gaining confidence in themselves while holding on to the joy of imagination.  There are themes of giving and caring and forgiveness along with some funny bits about revenge.  And when the death comes in this book, it hurts far worse than in Turtle Drum. But it is also a death that, while senseless, somehow also means something, in that it changes Jess and also the community.  I confess to kind of crying in the end.  (Actually, since grown men don't cry, I will only confess to feeling that kind of runniness in the nose that indicates that I would cry if I weren't so manly.)  This book rocked.

(A Bridge to Terabithia is by Katherine Patterson and is best suited to strong readers in later third grade through middle school readers --though I liked it and I am 45 years old.  Probably best suited for language arts classrooms.) 

Monday, September 24, 2012

Friends with Boys -- by Faith Erin Hicks

Hicks, Faith Erin.  (2012)  Friends with Boys  New York:  First Second.   


Maggie has been homeschooled her whole life and now is starting high school.  She worries about finding friends and finding her way through the big building.  Fortunately, her oldest brother, a likable member of the theater group, is around, as are her twin brothers (though they are usually too busy fighting with each other to be of some use).  Maggie meets Lucy (a hyper, but likable kid) and her moody punk brother Alistaire and things seem to be going okay.  Maggie’s only other problem is that she is haunted by a ghost.  Very good story with a lot about childhood (and a group of kids who are not into drugs, drinking, or hyper-sexuality).  It is a good book.  Main themes are developing your own identity, defining friendship, and developing courage by standing up to what you fear (ghosts or bullies).

Thursday, September 20, 2012


Chabon, Michael (2002)  Summerland. 

New York:  Miramax.  (Adolescent literature -- maybe 5th grade through high school and beyond -- I'm 45 and I loved it -- especially good for language arts/English and Phys Ed))

This was an amazing and wonderful book.  No seriously, I mean stylistically it is magnificiant -- every single sentence is well-written.  Yeah, yeah, I know.  So what is it about?

This is one of those books that is going to sound dumb as soon as I start to summarize the plot, so if you are smart (and trusting) you will just go and get the book and read it and not let me ruin it for you with my summary.

Still here?  Okay then.  The story concerns Ethan, who is the worst player in the little league of Clam Island, Washington.  He is the sort of outfielder that I was in midle school -- looking at the clover and the sky and the bee buzzing by and never at the ball.  He is so bad at hitting he usually just stands there and doesn't swing and hopes he will get a walk. 

Whoo boy, here is where it gets kind of weird.  So Ethan ends up being scouted by strange fox-like beings who need him to save their dimension from this evil Loki-like creature who is trying to stop crossings between dimensions.  Along with his friends Jennifer T.(who is an amazing pitcher)  and Thor Wingnut (who thinks he is an android), Ethan leaves our world on a quest to stop the evil guy from poisoning the well in the center of the universe.  Sounds weird, I know, but the story moves and somehow it is beleivable enough that you care for the caharacters and the narrator is kind of fun and it has a very satisfying and excellent ending.  

Look, just go buy this book.