The House on Mango Street (paperback)
by Sandra Cisneros
AR Level 4.5, 3 points
The House on Mango Street tells about life in Chicago in a neighborhood with Chicanos and Puerto Ricans. Esperanza Cordero lives with her parents and 3 siblings in a home that is not her dream home. Their house on Mango Street is where Esperanza grows up in her early teen years, and she describes her interactions with her reputable and less reputable neighbors through vignettes. It is a very, very well-written novella that is (and should be) required reading in school.
What I liked about this book was a few things… first, it gave a clear picture of what life was like in their neighborhood. She observed different kinds of people- poor and less poor, troublemakers and well-raised, people with hopes and dreams (like her own) and those who are hopeless, as well as the sexual tension and awkwardness girls often feel in their early teens. Gender roles are clear to Esperanza. I also liked the style of writing. If you want a novel to use as a mentor text for metaphor, this is it. The description comes straight from the point of view of a teenage girl, but she is observant and innocent in many of her observations, but as a mature reader, we can interpret and infer things that may have gone over Esperanza’s head, or things she took as fact but didn’t understand. I appreciate Cisneros’s style of writing.
What I didn’t like about this book was the hopelessness so many people in Esperanza’s neighborhood felt. She was in many dangerous situations that compromised her innocence, and that was heartbreaking, because I know it is also reality for many of my students growing up in a predominantly poor, Latino neighborhood where they grow up seeing things far too early. It didn’t make me not like the book, but it gave me that uncomfortable feeling, and it is probably a sign that it was a really good book, because it drew on my emotions.
I knew about this book, because the first chapter was part of the intro to Junior Great Books. I wouldn’t recommend a middle school or younger student reading the entire thing due to some situations that are sexual in nature. The book was given to my husband by a retired English teacher at his school, so of course I had to read it, being the bibliophile that I am.
Book 26 of 40 (year 2)
by Neil Gaiman
AR Level 5.1, 5 points
I found Coraline after Googling “quick reads for sixth graders” and came across it on a list. I was looking for something entertaining and quick to fill the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas vacations, 3 weeks with lots of other stuff going on. I figured after Wonder, I’d need something a little lighter but just as engaging.
Coraline is a polite young girl finishing out her summer with her parents and odd neighbors. She finds a key to an alternate reality where everyone has buttons sewn over their eyes, and she has to figure out a way to escape and return to her regular dismal time, which doesn’t seem so dreary after experiencing her Other Mother’s wrath.
What I liked about this book was that I enjoyed reading it aloud. If you want to grab the attention of a bunch of sixth graders, this is it. While it isn’t action-packed, it is creepy and haunting and suspenseful. It reminded me a lot of Holly Black’s Doll Bones, but not ghostly. More alternate reality and bizarre. Not gory and bloody like Grimm, but definitely scary if it were to be made into an accurate movie. Think Tim Burton. (Let’s not talk about the actual movie, because then it won’t be as positive a review.)
What I didn’t like about this book was it dragged a bit at the end. I couldn’t figure out the climax, but once I got to the picnic, it made sense. I can’t say much about what I didn’t like, because it was a really good book! My students loved it and wanted me to keep reading.
Book 25 of 40 (year 2)
by Katherine Applegate
AR Level 3.8, 3 points
Did you read The One and Only Ivan? If you did, you’re familiar with Katherine Applegate’s writing, and you’ll probably enjoy Crenshaw, as well. However, you’ll probably have the same frustrations at the same time.
Crenshaw follows the story of a young boy whose family has come into hard times. His family was homeless at one point in the story. He is having to sell his possessions and console his little sister, which is a lot on the plate of a child. It is a sad, but real, picture of our students living in poverty. How can we get mad at them for not having a pencil when they ate Cheetohs and water for dinner and slept in a cold van? What makes this a light-hearted story is that Crenshaw is the name of Jackson’s imaginary friend, who appears in times of stress. Jackson also learns that not only does his best friend have an imaginary friend, but there are many others out there.
What I liked about this book was that it gave a realistic look into the life of a homeless family. That isn’t a fun topic to read about, I know, but I have never been homeless (though I understand going to bed hungry, living in a small apartment, and not having what most kids my age had). I think understanding the point of view of a child the same age as my students who is having to deal with these issues is important for me as a teacher. I did appreciate the way Applegate kept the book lighthearted through Crenshaw, a cat who stands on his head and loves bubbles.
What I didn’t like about this book was that it was written at a 3.8 level, meaning that while it had challenging content, the book itself wasn’t challenging. I’m not sure if that is intentional or not. I feel like it was written in simple sentences (sometimes powerful, sometimes just simple). It is a good book for some of my lower readers (who all LOVED Ivan), but I look forward to reading something more challenging and engaging.
Book 24 of 40 (year 2)