The Sea of Monsters

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The Sea of Monsters (paperback)

by Rick Riordan

AR Level 4.6, 9 points

The Sea of Monsters is the second book in the Percy Jackson series.  It starts, once again, in a school, and the action begins right off the bat.  Percy is faced with a dangerous situation that he must find his way out of, and he is found at fault and kicked out of school.  I am assuming this is a pattern I’ll see throughout the series.  He finds trouble at Half-Blood Hill, and must go on a dangerous quest with his friends in order to save his camp and the world.  This time, he is searching for the Golden Fleece in the Sea of Monsters with a cyclops named Tyson and his gal pal Rachel Greene Annabeth.  A former-friend-turned-enemy makes an appearance, and Percy keeps his regular quick-wit and smart-ass responses.  He and his friends return from the quest and all appears fine back at the camp, but there’s a little twist in the last chapter that will lead into the third book, The Titan’s Curse.

What I liked about this book… this is actually a conversation I had with my favorite Barnes & Noble employee (I don’t remember her name, but I see her nearly every time I’m there, and she impresses me with her knowledge of children’s literature, something most adults don’t read or give enough respect to).  So we were talking about the difference between this series and the Heroes of Olympus series.  They are two different series, both based on Greek Mythology, and Percy appears in the third book of the latter series.  In between these two series is the Kane Chronicles series, which is about Egyptian mythology, but most people skip it and stick with Greek mythology.  I came to learn that B&N Friend hasn’t read any of the Rick Riordan books, which I totally get, because I generally don’t read books (or watch movies) when there’s lot of hype.  That’s why it took me so long to get into Harry Potter.  BUT she LOVED Harry Potter, and this series is basically HP for Dummies or People Who Don’t Want Dark Books But Like Archetypal Characters and Plots.  So many parallels between the two!  That’s a whole other blog post that I’m sure has been done a million times.  I can probably google it and find nice spreadsheets or input charts comparing the two series, down to the syllabication (Har-ry Pot-ter vs. Per-cy Jack-son).

So anyway, if you like smart ass dialogue that will make you giggle (a little, not Lemony Snicket-giggle level), if you like archetypal characters and story plots, if you like Greek mythology… this is your series.  It’s action-packed and you’ll be wishing you had a family tree or picture dictionary of the mythological characters.

What I didn’t like about this book is that it isn’t intellectually or linguistically challenging.  It is written at a fourth grade level, and there’s nothing that makes you think too hard.  It’s relatively predictable since you could probably use the same graphic organizer or plot diagram for each book.  This is a series I was not anxious to pick up, and I’m also not dying to finish it.  I am alternating, mixing things up, and keeping my options open when it comes to other books.  It is worth the read, in my opinion, but I am not staying up 24 hours to finish all of the books, and I wouldn’t camp out for the next book in the series.  You’ll learn a lot about mythology and you’ll be rooting for our hero the whole way through.

Book 9 of 40 (year 2)

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Brown Girl Dreaming

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Brown Girl Dreaming (hardcover)

by Jacqueline Woodson

AR Level 5.3, 5 points

Brown Girl Dreaming is an award-winning book by a poet I’d never heard of.  I picked this book up, because I have to read all of the Newbery Award-winners and honorees.  It is autobiographical and follows the life of little Jacqueline from when she was a little girl in Ohio to her time in South Carolina with her grandparents, and then her life in New York.  Most takes place during the 1960’s when the Civil Rights Movement, Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, The Black Panthers, etc. were in the news, and we get to see her perspective as a young black girl with roots in the north and the south.  In addition, we get to read about Ms. Woodson’s evolution as a young writer.  While this book delves into race and discrimination, it is very much about hope and faith and acceptance.

What I liked about this book was that it is written in poetry form.  I know my students will also appreciate that.  I will include it as a recommended read during my poetry unit at school, because while it tells a story, it is also a great example for figurative language and imagery.  I also like that the main character tells her story in a hopeful way, rather than being negative.  She doesn’t see her friends or others in terms of color, but she understands that she is isn’t treated equally, and has hope that she will someday.

What I didn’t like about this book was that it got a little slow at times.  I thought it would be a quick read, but it took me longer than expected.  I can’t really say it was the book’s fault.  Maybe I just lost focus in my pursuit of a lazy summer.

Book 8 of 40 (year 2)

The Fourteenth Goldfish

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The Fourteenth Goldfish (hardcover)

by Jennifer Holm

AR Level 4.1, 4 points

The Fourteenth Goldfish is the story of a girl named Ellie and her grandfather.  Ellie lives with her mom, a nutty high school drama teacher, and is mourning the loss of her best friend to the volleyball team, as well as her goldfish.  In the beginning, we learn her mother replaced the goldfish each time it died.  The fourteenth goldfish is when the lesson is learned.  Her moody grandfather comes to live with them after being arrested.  The only thing is, he has been transformed from an old man into a teenage boy.  As a scientist, he has invented something similar to a fountain of youth, and tested it on himself.  Ellie has to help her grandfather adjust to being a teenager again, while dealing with being without her best friend.  She also learns some science along the way, which sparks her interest in famous scientists like Marie Curie and Jonas Salk.  It seems that in the end, each character learns a lesson about life and grows a little as a person.

What I liked about this book is that it piqued my interest in famous scientists.  It snuck science education into a cute, feel-good story about a girl and her grandfather, almost tricking a student to learn, which is my favorite thing about good literature.  Aside from rich characters, of course.  This story doesn’t stand out as having rich, well-developed characters, but that’s not to say they aren’t sufficiently developed.  Ellie walks the line between science (her grandfather) and fantasy (her mother), and finds a healthy mix of both.

What I didn’t like about this book is that it wasn’t challenging reading.  Or maybe that’s what I did like, because some of my lower readers will still enjoy a fourth grade reading level book while learning science at the same time.  The cover is quite attractive, and it has the tagline “Believe in the impossible possible,” making me think there was more to it, but there really wasn’t.  It was a cute story, but not too deep.

I would recommend this book to someone who didn’t like Tuck Everlasting but is interested in the pros and cons of eternal youth.

Book 7 of 40 (year 2)

Spy School

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Spy School (paperback)

by Stuart Gibbs

AR Level 5.3, 9 points

I was so excited to read this book, because I’d stalked it in Barnes & Noble for months and months and months.  I had a bunch of pictures of the cover in my phone.  Did I ever mention that I take pictures of the books that I want to read, and then when I’m feeling unmotivated, I go and buy one of them?  Yes, I do that.  Part of my nerdiness.  So I had been taking pictures of it for months.  Then, at the USC Festival of Books, Stuart Gibbs was sitting there at a table, signing books!  I was so excited, I bought a bunch of his books.  All except for this one, the first in the series.  Face palm.  Anyway, I ordered it using my Scholastic points and finished it.  Short story long.

This is the story of a boy who was hand-selected to attend a special school for future spies, run by the CIA.  It turns out it is very poorly run, and Ben wasn’t exactly hand-selected, nor did he qualify.  He is an awkward middle school boy who has a crush on a cute girl.  He isn’t particularly skilled at anything (except math), but he learns quickly that he has to learn the ropes or fail at being a real spy, his dream job.

What I liked about this book was that it was written comically.  We see the CIA as a mysterious, powerful entity.  We common folk will probably never deal directly with the CIA or spies in general, but we don’t exactly see them as being goofy, incompetent, or pompous fools.  It actually reminded me a lot of a normal school, with powerful people not so powerful, and the students being given a lot less credit than they deserve.

What I didn’t like about this book was that it got a little complicated in parts.  I actually lost track of character names.  That could have been my fault, but it wasn’t a “can’t put it down” kind of book.  Good, but not as engaging as others I’ve read.

Now, I need my niece to finish reading Spy Camp so I can get started on the sequel!  There is a third book (Evil Spy School), but it is hardcover, so I’ll wait for it to come out in paperback.  There is also another series, and I bought two of those books.  I enjoyed meeting Stuart Gibbs, because I liked putting an actual person to the stories I read.

Book 6 of 40 (year 2)