The War I Finally Won

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The War I Finally Won (audiobook)

by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

 

Before you read The War I Finally Won, let me tell you, listening to the audiobook is a totally different experience than reading it as a hardcover or ebook.  The audiobook is read by Jayne Entwistle, and she has a strong accent and changes to a German accent when reading the parts of Ruth, the German girl, or Ruth’s parents.  I read the first book, The War That Saved My Life, when it first came out last year, and I didn’t think it was possible to enjoy the second book more than the first (because you know, the first book is always better).  I’m not sure if the book itself was better, or just the audiobook experience.

This book is Ada’s life after her mother gives her up.  It opens with Ada getting her foot surgery to correct her clubfoot.  Soon, we learn Ada and Jamie’s mother has passed away in a bombing (which ISN’T sad since their mother was such a horrible woman).  Ada is in panic mode and shuts down when she thinks she and Jamie will end up in an orphanage, which is ridiculous, because obviously, Susan loves them and takes them into her care.  They live in a cottage (aka small mansion) with Lady Thornton, and eventually Ruth, a German Jew who is being tutored by Susan.  Throughout the story, Ada needs constant reminders that she is loved and wanted by Susan, that she’s not a burden, and that she’s smart.  Ada goes through a lot of positive changes, some spurred by some tough situations, and comes out on top by the end of the war.

What I liked about this book was the change in Ada’s character.  She had so many moments of self-doubt, but the reader is constantly cheering her on and hoping for the best outcome.  Ada started the series a shattered, abused little girl, and finished book 2 (I’m not sure if there’s to be another) a stronger, more secure young woman.  She became the protector of others, and finally learned to call Susan Mum.

What I didn’t like about this book was perhaps intentional by the author, and only bugged me.  It was obvious to me (from the beginning of the series) that Susan is a lesbian.  Parents rejected her and her relationship with her partner.  Perhaps it wasn’t something that was talked about back then, perhaps the author meant for that to go over the heads of child readers, or perhaps I’m just delusional.  It was clear that their love was deep, and more than just friends.  I think it might confuse young readers who don’t understand why Susan and Becky faced so much opposition with their friendship.  Why did Becky’s dad refuse to acknowledge it?  I, as an adult, understood, but I know it went over the heads of my students.

Book 16 of 40

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Every Soul A Star

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Every Soul A Star (paperback)

by Wendy Mass

AR Level 4.7, 11 points

 

Every Soul A Star is about 3 kids from different backgrounds who bond over an eclipse and form an unlikely friendship.  Ally lives in a campground in California where she has little knowledge of the outside world, including appropriate social cues.  She is devastated and terrified when she learns her parents have sold the campsite to Bree’s family.  Bree has her heart set on becoming a model, and is into fashion and make up and everything superficial.  She is devastated and terrified when SHE learns her parents bought a campsite and intend to move there!  Jack is a boy who has to join his teacher on a camping trip to see the eclipse in order for him to avoid summer school.  These three bond together over the impending eclipse and discover their places in the universe.

What I liked about this book was that it is laden with science and astronomy.  My students learned about science, even though we finished reading it about 8 weeks post eclipse.  They also learned not to judge others, and hopefully to always brush their teeth in the morning.

What I didn’t like about this book was that it took forever to finish.  It is long and the kids sometimes lost interest.

Book 15 of 40

All Rise for the Honorable Perry T. Cook

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All Rise for the Honorable Perry T. Cook (audiobook)

by Leslie Connor

AR Level 3.8, 11 points

 

Most people are taught that people in prison are dangerous criminals, and there’s a stigma attached to convicts.  Most of that is just, but not all criminals are dangerous.  All Rise for the Honorable Perry T. Cook is about a boy named Perry who grew up in a minimum security prison.  His mother’s crime is ambiguous for most of his life, but he knows the people he spends his time with are kind, loving, and not at all dangerous, but quite the opposite.  When Perry is taken out of the prison and the warden is suspended, he has no idea why, but he finds himself living with the district attorney in charge of his mother’s case, and he sets out to get her paroled and uncover the secret of her conviction.

What I liked about this book is shines light on people in prisons.  Not everyone who has committed a crime is dangerous or evil, and some are sorry for what they did.  It paints the prisoners as a family, along with those who run it.  I think for children, it might teach them not to judge a book by its cover.  We should judge people by their character.

What I didn’t like about this book was how sad I felt for Perry’s mother.  She suffered a lot, and I wanted things to be better for her.  I was glad to finally find out what put her in prison, but it left me wanting to know more about other characters in the story.  Maybe I’ll wait for the sequel.  😉

Book 14 of 40

Solo

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Solo (ebook and hardcover)

by Kwame Alexander with Mary Rand Hess

 

I am a big fan of Kwame Alexander, and I was so excited to get this (preordered) book in the mail, but never picked it up, because it’s just so thick!  I kept pushing it aside for shorter books, some of which I spent way too long reading.  I started this as a hardcover, but discovered the ebook helped me to get through it faster.  It’s easier to sneak an ebook at a party and in the car.  A book thicker than my forearm, not so much.

In Solo, Blade Morrison is on the verge of adulthood.  He is graduating from high school as a salutatorian, he has a hot girlfriend, and plans for college with a bright future in music.  However, his rock star father shakes things up when he crashes his graduation and lands himself back into rehab.  Blade relies on the love of his life, his girlfriend Chapel, but finds that their relationship is on the rocks.  When he finds out a family secret, Blade sets out for Ghana to find some answers, and learns more about himself than he first set out to find.

What I liked about this book is that it was written in verse, and I love Alexander’s lyrical style.  I felt it was especially paired well with the musical theme.  Saying I loved his writing style is old news, though.  Really, I got sucked into Blade’s story.  I wanted the best for him, and while I wasn’t raised in a mansion in Hollywood Hills, I can relate to it seeming like I have everything when people don’t really know what’s going on underneath.

What I didn’t like about this book was that his relationship at the end was left without closure.  I spent the second half of the book wondering how they’d make it work from across the globe, and whether she’d give up her simple lifestyle for a Hollywood one.

Book 13 of 40

Graveyard Shakes

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Graveyard Shakes (paperback)

by Laura Terry

 

Graveyard Shakes is a graphic novel perfect for the month of October.  It starts with a father casting a spell to give his son 10 more years of life by taking the life of a child.  He enlists the help of a ghost and some ghouls.  Then it moves to sisters Katia and Victoria, who are attending a ritzy private school far from home, which I have to assume is in a small town or countryside.  Katia is a talented pianist and marches to the beat of her own drum, while Victoria desperately wants to fit in.  During a storm, Katia runs into the ghouls and Victoria sets out to save her from the dad and his spell.

What I liked about the book is that it was a fast read and it entertained me.  It also presented a student who could care less about what others thought, but needed to tone it down a big, and another who cared too much what people thought and needed to learn to be herself.  Although it was entertaining, it still had a message, which I appreciate if I’m to be sharing it with my students.

What I didn’t like about the book was that it was kind of dark.  I mean, killing an innocent child so another child could live.  Then he shows up later and the girls are okay with that.  It was just creepy.

Book 12 of 40

Wishtree

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Wishtree (ebook)

by Katherine Applegate

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You know I like to follow certain people on Twitter who will tell me what to read, and so far, I’ve done my best to keep up with the notable books published during 2017.  I started hearing about Wishtree back in February, but I didn’t preorder it, despite all of the hype around it.  I figured I’d get around to it before Newbery season came around, and when I discovered it in my Overdrive account, I jumped on it.

Wishtree is told from the perspective of a red oak named Red.  She is about 217 years old, and she has watched a neighborhood grow, along with the neighbors, both human and critter.  Red has many critter friends, including a crow named Bongo and families of opossums, raccoons, skunks, and owls.  She is visited by people once a year on wishing day when they tie their wish to her somehow.  Red is a kind and gentle soul and decides to meddle with humankind when a little Muslim girl named Samar wishes for a friend, and a non-Muslim boy lives next door.  His parents aren’t comfortable with Samar’s family, and someone carves “leave” in Red’s trunk and eggs the yard.  Red’s meddling causes an exciting wishing day and leaves the reader with a powerful message.

What I liked about this book was the message and influence it can have over students who read it.  I usually have at least one Muslim student each year, and while students are friendly and kind with these friends, they don’t necessarily know about what is going on in the world.  I appreciate that Applegate shows the ignorance of strangers, and we as the reader are forced to have feelings about it, which leads to understanding and compassion towards others.  I have never asked my Muslim students if they’ve had people treat them cruelly, but I know the potential is out there, especially in the world we live in today.

What I didn’t like about this book is I feel like with many of Applegate’s books, there is a huge climax that is rushed.  I had one of those moments where I put my hand over my mouth from feeling the feelings, but then it quickly went away and the story was over.  There was potential for more story and more background, but she kept it simple.  Short and sweet, I suppose.

Book 11 of 40

Maxi’s Secrets

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Maxi’s Secrets (Or What You Can Learn From A Dog) (hardcover)

by Lynn Plourde

AR Level 4.1, 7 points

 

Maxi’s Secrets is about a dog and her boy, Timminy.  Timminy is an unusually short fifth grader who is new in a small town (moved from Portland, Maine).  He starts at a new school where he is immediately bullied for his height.  He, however, makes it worse by not being able to laugh at himself.  He makes friends with a girl who is blind and several of her friends.  Most importantly, Timminy has a best friend named Maxi, a Great Pyrenees puppy, who is wise beyond her years and teaches Timminy her many “secrets” to life.  Each chapter ends with a lesson that Maxi taught Timminy.

What I liked about this book was that it brought in children with disabilities.  One extremely short, one blind, one with a disorder leaving her with crutches, and one who isn’t disabled, but sad due to his mom leaving.  It is good to have diverse characters so readers can gain understanding, compassion, and acceptance.

What I didn’t like about this book was that I didn’t feel it was authentic.  I believe the author really experienced the love and death of her pet dog, but the thinking and interactions of the characters seemed very far removed from the way young people think today.  Not that I know… I’m 38 years old… but I spend my day with 11 and 12 year olds, and I listen to their conversations.  The story was entertaining and I know my dog-loving students will enjoy it, but I’m not positive they’ll be able to relate to it.  I heard a lot about this book on Twitter last year, but I wasn’t as impressed.  I took me 2 weeks to finish, which was a ridiculously long time for the level of difficulty.

Book 9 of 40