Lost in the Sun

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Lost in the Sun (paperback)

by Lisa Graff

AR Level 4.5, 11 points

 

Can you imagine if you were responsible for someone’s death, even if it was an accident?  In Lost in the Sun, Trent was playing hockey with his friends one day when he hit the puck and it struck a boy in the chest.  The boy died, and now Trent has the guilt and anger to deal with.  This is the story of how he carries that guilt and anger, and how he begins his downward spiral to self-destruction.  He begins to burn bridges with his brothers, his parents, his friends, and his teachers.  Fallon, a girl he connects with, is even on the receiving end of his anger.  He finds a way to deal with his anger and make amends with those whom he has hurt.

What I like about this book is it follows a boy the age of my own students.  It shows how their actions directly affect what happens to them, but at the same time, Trent doesn’t see how he is responsible for his actions.  He feels he is innocent, just like many of my students would also feel like they’re innocent.  I think it’s a good reminder that we are responsible for our own happiness and our own actions.  Our perspectives can change the whole situation, for better or worse.

What I don’t like about this book is that it was frustrating watching him self-destruct.  I was grateful when a teacher finally stepped in and gave him a bit of tough love.  That is something that is frustrating about being a teacher, seeing my students in bad situations and not being able to do anything or talk sense into them.  I also really didn’t like the dad in this story.  I really wanted to shake him, and understood why Trent didn’t want to go to his house.

 

Book 11 of 40 (40 Book Challenge)

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Somewhere Among

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Somewhere Among (paperback)

by Annie Donwerth-Chikamatsu

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Somewhere Among is the story of Ema and her family living in Japan during 2001, the year the twin towers fell.  Ema’s mother is American, and her parents live in California.  Ema’s father is Japanese, and his parents live near Tokyo, Japan, which is where Ema and her mother are forced to stay since Ema’s mother is in the middle of a high-risk pregnancy and is put on bed rest.  It is a difficult summer for the family, because Papa has to stay in Tokyo and commute on weekends to visit his family, and Ema’s grandmother is a strict woman with high standards for behavior, being a traditional Japanese woman.  Ema has to learn to adapt to her new environment and school for the sake of her new baby brother or sister’s survival.  And then, September 11th comes around, and her American family is depressed and afraid.  Ema has a lot of growing up to do in a short period of time, something no fifth grader should have to endure, but it is an interesting slice of life piece, and we learn more about that period in history from the perspective of a different country.

What I like about this book is that is is written in verse.  This has been my new genre lately, it seems.  I cannot get enough of novels written in poetry form, and I am always looking for new ones.  I will read nearly anything written in verse or as a graphic novel.  I also appreciate that the book was written from the perspective of a Japanese-American (or American-Japanese) girl around the age of my students.  I was able to see what it was like for people in other countries, as well as from a child’s perspective.

What I did not enjoy about this book was that there were relationships that were left unresolved.  Masa was not taken care of.  I felt that Ema’s relationship with her grandparents could have been better described or defined.  Her father was not in the picture very often.  I felt really sad for Ema, because it reminded me a little of my own daughter, who needs a lot of attention and is often pushed aside, because I have other concerns, health issues, etc.  It isn’t that we don’t take care of her and give her attention, but she often needs more attention and will act out if she doesn’t get it.

Book 10 of 40 (40 Book Challenge)

A Long Walk to Water

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A Long Walk to Water (paperback)

by Linda Sue Park

AR Level 5.0, 3 points

 

I read A Long Walk to Water to my class as a read aloud.  I thought it would be a good example of a book that is high quality literature, as well as one that has been on the New York Times Best Sellers List for awhile, which would open them up to another way to find new books.  It is also a book I’d never read, and it gave me the opportunity to read and learn with them.

A Long Walk to Water is about the struggle of a boy in war-stricken Sudan.  Salva is from a known family and has what he needs, but his village is attacked by rebels one day when he is at school, and he is separated from his family.  He goes on a long journey with strangers, looking for safety and necessities (food and water).  He finds a friend and an uncle, but they are quickly separated.  His journey takes him through several countries, through several relief camps, through many dangers, and eventually to Rochester, New York, 20 years later.

We also see Nya, a girl who makes a daily journey to collect water for her family.  We don’t know as much about her, because her story is only a page at the beginning of each chapter.  However, in the end, we see their connection.

What I like about this book is that my students were able to see a slice of life from the point of view of a boy or girl their age, but in another country and with drastically different struggles.  I’m not sure if my students were able to relate or put themselves in the characters’ places, but at least they can have some background to the news on tv or the struggles.  I want my students to have exposure to and be aware of what is happening outside of their bubble.

What I don’t like about this book is that it is depressing.  I didn’t think my students would become attached to the characters, but when they started making connections towards the end of the book, they were thrilled.  The story is sad, though, and there are a lot of really realistic parts that are heart-breaking.

Book 9 of 40 (40 Book Challenge)

Full of Beans

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Full of Beans (hardcover)

by Jennifer L. Holm

AR level 3.8, 4 points

 

Full of Beans is Jennifer L. Holm’s latest novel.  I wasn’t sure if it would be a graphic novel since she co-wrote Sunny Side Up, or a novel like The 14th Goldfish.  It is more like the latter. I was also happy to see that there’s a novel I haven’t heard of, called Turtle in Paradise, which earned a Newbery Honor.  Sometimes books get past me.  It seems like a prequel since the main character is a cousin of Beans, the main character of Full of Beans.  I’ll have to look into it!

Beans is a boy living in Key West on a small island that has basically gone bankrupt during the Great Depression (historical fiction).  He and his brother find ways to earn money, like collecting cans, babysitting, and sometimes doing things that aren’t quite legal, and which Beans regrets.  When New Dealers sent by Roosevelt start beautifying the island for tourist season, Beans and his friends aren’t all that happy with the changes, but they soon start pitching in, seeing the benefits of the plan.  Beans also makes some new friends and changes his mind about people he already knew.

What I like about this book is that it is historical fiction and readers can learn a bit about history without having to read a text book or heavy historical fiction novel.  Beans is a funny kid who gets into sticky situations, but we learn about what it was like during the time of the Great Depression through the eyes of a kid, which are pretty clear and insightful.  Beans shows us the struggles of living during that time, as well as what it was like to be a kid.

What I don’t like about this book is that it is really easy reading.  It is likely in the fourth grade range, which is great for students looking for a read they can easily comprehend, but it’s tough for me as a more mature reader, because I’m looking for more depth to characters and situations.  That can be a plus for many readers, and The 14th Goldfish has been quite popular in my class, so I anticipate this being the same.

I also have to say that Jennifer Holm is such a nice woman.  She’s active on Twitter, and after meeting her in person, I feel like I have more of a connection with her books.

Book 8 of 40 (40 Book Challenge)

The Crossover

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The Crossover (hardcover)

by Kwame Alexander

AR Level 4.3, 2 points

John Newbery Award 2015, Coretta Scott King Award

 

The Crossover is the second of Kwame Alexander’s novels I have read, and it did not disappoint.  Josh (“Filthy McNasty”) and Jordan (JB) are twins in junior high.  Their father is a retired basketball player and their mother is their assistant principal.  Both boys are star basketball players, but JB finds a girlfriend and starts to lose focus on basketball, and this creates a rift in their relationship.  Josh finds himself in trouble when he injures his brother during a game in a fit of rage, but the brothers have to come together to support their family in a time of tragedy.

What I liked about this book was that it was very relatable for athletic boys who enjoy books about boys their own age.  I have several boys in my class who are athletic and need books they can relate to.  There are lots of themes throughout the book outside of sports, though… family, resentment towards siblings, new love, fear, etc.  Although it is boy-centered, it is so well-written that girls will also enjoy this book.  It is written in verse, and that’s a big appeal for those who enjoy the change-up.  The chapters weren’t by number, either, but by quarter, and then finally, Overtime.  That was pretty creative.

What I didn’t like about this book was that it was sad.  I was kind of expecting the end, but my prediction changed part way through.  It also hurt me to see these two brothers, who needed to stick together through tough times, estranged from each other.  I felt like it was a little too realistic.  There was one poem where I hurt for Josh and what he was going through.  I think that’s what made it such a great read- it pulls at your emotions, even if you as the reader can’t relate to the character.

Book 7 of 40 (40 Book Challenge)