The Land of Stories

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The Land of Stories: The Wishing Spell (paperback)

by Chris Colfer

AR Level 5.0, 15 points

 

Have you ever read a book that you WISHED you liked?  That’s The Land of Stories.  With rave reviews from my students, the fact that I couldn’t keep it on my shelf to the point of ordering extra copies, and it being written by a Glee star, I thought, this has to be awesome.  I’m going to love it.  Oh my gosh.  I wish that were true.

This is the story of a set of lonely twins, Alex and Conner (Alex is a girl).  Their father died tragically, and their mother is financially challenged.  School isn’t going great for them, and then they come across a magic book that transports them into a magical land where fairy tales and characters become real.  They  meet nearly every character from a fairy tale you can imagine and go on an adventure that has all the drama, mystery, adventure, and even romance you could want from a fairy tale.  It ends with a few “shockers” (unless you’re a half way-decent hypothesizer, in which case, it’s just exactly what you expected to happen).

What I like about this book is the fact that it is so engaging for my students.  I was so excited to hear them fighting over the books, and I even had to buy a new, hardcover copy of the newest book, because I had a student who was so excited to read it, she couldn’t wait.  If it gets readers to read more, exposes them to fairy tales they might or might not know much about, or engages them in mystery, I’ll stock it.  Just don’t make me read the rest of this series.

What I didn’t like about this book was the fact that it was so predictable.  Seriously, as soon as they found themselves in the fairy tale world, I knew what was going to happen at the end, and I was totally right.  I also didn’t like that it wasn’t very realistic.  I’m not talking fairy tales, because duh- they’re fairy tales.  No such thing as fairies or talking wolves or magic mirrors.  I mean, I spend my day with fifth and sixth graders, and their dialogue was not that of sixth graders.  The things they said, the emotions they felt, etc. were not relatable.  I hope I’m the only one who feels this way, though!  I will continue to encourage my students to read this series, because it really is engaging for someone their age, but it was not the book for me.

Book 34 of 40 (year 2)

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2016 Reading Challenge

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Here is a fun challenge I’m taking upon myself.  I needed a place to record it, and this is as good a place as any!

a book published this year:

a book you can finish in a day:  Persepolis

a book you’ve been meaning to read:

a book recommended by your local librarian or bookseller:  Rollergirl (Newbery)

a book you should have read in school:

a book chosen for you by your spouse, partner, sibling, child, or BFF: A Monster Calls

a book published before you were born:

a book that was banned at some point:

a book you previously abandoned:  The Land of Stories: The Wishing Spell

a book you own but have never read:

a book that intimidates you:

a book you’ve already read at least once:  Fish in a Tree

Persepolis

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Persepolis (paperback)

by Marjane Satrapi

AR Level 3.3, 2 points

 

I first saw Persepolis on my sister’s bookshelf.  It is her very favorite book in the world.  There is a part 2 to this story, and she has the compilation of the 2 books.  I only read the first part, called The Story of Childhood.  She insists that I read part 2, so I’m sure I will eventually get to it.  This is one of my new favorite genres.  It is a comic book based on the author’s life.  It seems that most comic books (aka graphic novels) I have read have been based on experiences of their authors.  I would align this more with Maus that with Drama, though, due to the content of the book and words I wouldn’t want my elementary school child to know.

Marji is a girl growing up during the late 70’s and early 80’s in Iran during the revolution.  She sees the change from a more modern society that accepted Western influence to one that was religious with rigid rules and expectations of women.  Marji’s parents are also modern and don’t like the change in their country.  Their friends and relatives are being jailed and executed, but they do not want Marji to feel that she has to conform.  They take her to protest and fight for rights.  As the war progresses, they realize it is not safe for her to live in Iran, so they have to make some tough decisions on her behalf.

What I liked about this book is that it is historical fiction (although autobiographical), and it is history that I have next to no knowledge of.  I appreciate the way the author explains things as she goes, either through description, subtitles in the comic strips, or through dialogue.  She even adds an asterisk or two to make sure I understand what is going on.  I enjoy learning, and I appreciate that she anticipated her readers not being informed about the subject.

What I didn’t like about this book is that I can’t share it with my students.  Since they are so interested in graphic novels, I thought it would be a great one I could share with them after reading.  I’m so glad I read it first, though, because there is discussion of rape and virgins, and the word “shit” is used several times.  It isn’t a vulgar or inappropriate story, but it isn’t age-appropriate for my sixth graders.  I, however, enjoyed the story myself.

Book 33 of 40 (year 2)

Inside Out & Back Again

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Inside Out & Back Again

by Thanhha Lai

AR Level 4.8, 2 points

Newbery Honor and National Book Award Winner

 

This story caught my eye when I was “window shopping” on Amazon.  It was an “others who purchased” recommendation, and so I added it to my wishlist.  Luckily, I was able to purchase it with my Scholastic points, and I am glad I did.  It follows a girl named Ha who escapes Vietnam with her family (sans her father) towards the end of the war, and starts fresh in Alabama.  Unfortunately, she is mistreated by her classmates since she doesn’t speak English and looks different from her peers.  Her family also has trouble adjusting while mourning their missing father/husband.  It gives an inside look at what it is like being a refugee from a war torn country.

What I liked about this book was that it was written in poetry.  Like Brown Girl Dreaming, Inside Out & Back Again‘s chapters are poems, not paragraphs.  This makes it not only a fast read, but full of figurative language.  The author uses fewer words to make a bigger impact on the emotions and feelings of Ha.  What’s more impactful is that it is based on the author’s experiences as a child.

What I didn’t like about this book was that it didn’t give as much detail about the war.  I feel like the historical novels I read teach me more about a time period or experience than if I were to read a text book, but this didn’t give me quite as much about the war as I would have liked.  I am sure that was intentional, given it is written at a fourth grade level, and this war was pretty brutal.

I would like to read more about Ha’s experience, but I did see that Lai wrote another book, called Listen, Slowly about a Vietnamese girl from California who learns more about her roots when traveling to Vietnam.  I enjoy historical fiction and reading about the perspectives of others I wouldn’t normally know about.

Book 32 of 40 (year 2)

One Crazy Summer

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One Crazy Summer (paperback)

by Rita Williams-Garcia

AR Level 4.6, 7 points

Newbery Honor (plus many more awards!)

 

One Crazy Summer tells a story from multiple perspectives.  Delphine is the oldest of three daughters raised in New York City during the 1960’s by her dad and grandmother.  At the beginning of the book, we learn she and her sisters are flying across the country to Oakland, California to spend the summer with her mother, who abandoned them when the youngest sister was a newborn.  Their mother, Cecile (aka Nzila) is a member of the Black Panthers, whose ideology is very different from that of her dad and grandmother.  Delphine and her sisters have to adapt to living with and accepting the woman who abandoned them, as well as see their place in a very different culture.

What I liked about this book was of course, the perspective.  This is a period of time where America was going through great conflict and change.  Much of it is still relevant today.  Most of my education about Malcolm X and the Black Panthers comes from history class in high school, or movies I’ve seen.  Certainly none of those are from the perspective of a nearly 12 year old African American girl.

What I didn’t like about this book was the hard reality that a mother can abandon her children.  That was really hard for me to read about, and it was hard for Delphine to accept as the abandoned child.  I was supposed to learn about Cecile’s reasoning behind leaving, but I just couldn’t accept it myself, because moms just don’t leave, no matter what.

Thank you, Jazmin, for lending me your book!

Book 31 of 40 (year 2)

George

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George (paperback)

by Alex Gino

AR Level 5.0, 4 points

 

I was afraid to let my students read this book.  I was afraid I’d get disgruntled parents or weirded out kids, because it is about a transgender girl and her being honest with her loved ones.  I thought I’d have students who were less open-minded, who didn’t think George was normal, or who would talk badly about the book because of the topic.  I am very happy to say (and I hope I’m not jinxing myself) that there has been nothing but positive feedback.

George follows a transgender girl named George who is not yet open with her mom, brother, or best friend Kelly, but she knows she is not really a boy, despite appearances and her genitalia (which is briefly mentioned in the book, just so you know).  She wants desperately to play Charlotte in the school production of Charlotte’s Web, but the teacher won’t cast her, since she is not technically a girl.  George and Kelly find a way to sidestep this minor problem so George can help her mom (and her classmates) identify her as a girl.  Kelly even finds a way for George to be Melissa for a day.

What I liked about this book… where do I begin?  First of all, it is probably the first of it’s kind, and it’s been a long time coming.  I know not everyone is accepting of the LGBT community, but the fact is, there have always been and will always be lesbians, gays, and transpeople, so we as teachers have to teach tolerance and respect.  I tell my students they don’t have to like everyone, but they have to be respectful.  Hopefully, George will open my students’ eyes to the fact that this is a reality and a struggle that people have to go through.  We can either be accepting and tolerant, or we can make their lives harder.  I hope they choose wisely.

What I didn’t like about this book was Kelly.  She was pretty annoying and unrealistic.  I’m not sure most people would immediately embrace their best friend being transgender without blinking.  I know I would at least take time to take it in, but Kelly didn’t even blink.  She must be a better person than I am.  I also didn’t like how aware they were for fourth graders.  I know fourth graders who play with Barbies and eat their boogers.  I think this would have been more realistic if they were sixth or seventh graders.  Just a few years makes all the difference in perspective.

I would absolutely recommend this book, but I would also let readers know it is a sensitive topic, and they do mention balls and his private parts floating between his legs in the water.  That may require some level of maturity.

 

Book 30 of 40 (year 2)

The War that Saved My Life

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The War that Saved My Life (hardcover)

by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

AR Level 4.1, 9 points

Newbery Honor 2016

I love historical fiction, especially when it’s broken down so I can understand it from a relatable point of view, and it tells an aspect of the event that I am unfamiliar with… those are my favorite.  When it comes to World War II, I’ve read lots of historical fiction about the holocaust, and not a whole lot more.

This book is from the perspective of a London native who was evacuated with her little brother to the countryside of Kent.  I didn’t know that children were evacuated and put with families in the country, though it certainly makes sense.  Ada isn’t like all of the other evacuees, though.  She has clubfoot, and has spent her entire life locked away by her abusive mother and told she’s ugly, simple, and unloved.  Ada’s little brother Jamie is her entire life, and she has to protect him from their mother and the world, but she is the one who really needs protecting.

Ada and Jamie escape to Kent and are placed with a woman named Susan.  We learn she has recently lost her “best friend” (but astute readers can infer it was her life partner since she was also disowned by her father for their relationship, and she feels such a deep loss).  Susan shows Ada and Jamie love, attention, affection, and care of their basic needs, which the children had never felt, and Ada has a hard time accepting.  This is not only a story about World War II evacuees, but of an abused girl who learns to care, and realize she herself is lovable.

What I liked about this book was that it was sent in a time that I have little experience with.  I think any reader will be able to learn more about the war from a child’s perspective, and to me, that is fascinating.  I liked that Ada went through such a great change, and that things worked out for the best for her (I love happy endings), and that it left me guessing.  I wanted a flash forward to see her progress in a year.

What I didn’t like was there were some parts that were hard to believe.  I found it hard to take in that a mother could be so harsh and show little remorse, even in the end.  I also didn’t like that there was unfinished plot lines.  I thought there was more that could have been explained.  People disappeared and building relationships weren’t seen through.

I would recommend this book, especially to readers who enjoy historical fiction.

Book 29 of 40 (year 2)