Refugee

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Refugee (hardcover)

by Alan Gratz

 

It isn’t often that I preorder books.  Okay, that was a lie.  It isn’t often that I preorder books for ME to read.  I usually get them because they’re by popular authors (like Stuart Gibbs or Kwame Alexander) or because my daughter loves the book (like The Owl Diaries series).  I preordered Refugee, because it was in my Twitter feed for several solid months straight, meaning before it was even out, people were reading it and raving about it.  In my quest to read every single Newbery contender, I figured I’d order it before I forgot about it.  Oh my gosh, you guys.  You have to read this.  I’m not sure if it’s a Newbery contender (those tend to be like Oscar movies where you finish and you aren’t sure if you liked it or not, or you’re not sure if they were written for children or adults), but this is a must-read if you live on planet Earth.

Refugee follows the stories of 3 refugee children, all 11-13 years old, during different time periods.  Josef is a Jewish child living in Germany, when his father is taken by the Nazis and put into a concentration camp.  He is released, and the family reunites to board the St. Louis and said across the Atlantic in hopes of gaining entrance to Cuba as refugees.  Fast forward to 1994, and you’ll meet Isabel, a Cuban girl living in poverty under Fidel Castro’s reign.  She, with her family and neighbors, set out in a homemade “boat” to get to Miami after Castro says they are free to leave without being put into jail.  They face sharks, weather, a cargo ship, and several health issues that put their trip in jeopardy.  Our third story is Mahmoud, a Syrian boy living in Aleppo.  He leaves Syria and travels across the Mediterranean Sea to try to reach Germany with his parents, younger brother, and baby sister.  Each of these three refugee children have a long, tough journey, and lose a loved one along the way.  We find out later that their three stories are connected, and that although they’re living during different times, their struggles are similar, and their goals are the same- to find a new, safe place to live without fear of living in terror.

What I liked about this book… when I first started it, I thought it was interesting learning about their backgrounds and living conditions.  I enjoy historical fiction.  But I was quickly sucked into their stories, and I was rooting for them.  When Isabel was just yards away from the shore, the tears began, and continued through the end of the story.  It is a very emotional, powerful, and REAL book that needs to be in the hands of my students.  The refugee crisis isn’t something we’re hearing about on tv with the war in Syria.  It has been going on all throughout history, and this book brings that to the reader’s attention.  He could write Refugee part 2 and include refugees from Vietnam or Cambodia, Korea, the Kurds, the Christians in Muslim countries, etc.  There will always be refugees as long as there are wars.

What I didn’t like about this book… I can’t really think of anything.  It was engaging from beginning to end, and while heartbreaking, it is necessary.

Book 17 of summer 2017!

Restart

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Restart (ebook)

by Gordon Korman

AR Level 5.1, 9 points

 

Imagine coming out of a coma and learning you were the most hated, feared, and worshipped person at school.  Chase Ambrose fell off a roof, and when he woke up, he’s horrified to learn that he, the star quarterback, used to beat people up, break the law, steal, tease, and it got so bad, one kid even moved to a boarding school.  Chase, who had a serious head injury, now wants to change his life.  He enjoys spending time with the elderly in a retirement home, and makes friends with an old war hero.  He joins the video club, despite his former friends making fun of him and his new friends.  Chase is put into several situations that prove while he has changed, he is still not perfect.  He is, however, taking advantage of his second chance, as though he has gotten a “restart” in life.

What I liked about this book was that it was told from multiple perspectives, but it didn’t repeat the same situations.  For example, if something happened through Chase’s perspective, the story picked up from someone else’s POV after that situation.  There was no overlap in narration.  I, as an adult, felt for Chase’s character, so I’m sure that students will also be able to relate to either being bullied or the remorse of being the bully themselves.  I think it has a good message.

What I didn’t like about this book was that his friends didn’t get what was coming to them.  It bothered me that his friends were so awful, yet Chase kept his mouth shut and didn’t let them get what was coming to them.  It was kind of hard to believe that 13 year olds could be that evil without getting themselves into more trouble that they did.  Surely kids with that kind of record get caught.  That may be my thinking as a teacher and an adult.  I’m sure it’s more believable to child readers.

Book 16 of summer 2017!

Invisible Emmie

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Invisible Emmie (paperback)

by Terri Libenson

AR Level 3.8, 2 points

 

Invisible Emmie is for the quiet, shy girls who are unsure of themselves and need to know there is hope for them.  Emmie is basically an only child since her older siblings are adults, and she lives with very busy parents.  She loves drawing, has a best friend, and a huge crush on a boy named Tyler Ross.  She and her best friend write fake songs about their crushes, and her letter gets out, causing extreme embarrassment.  Meanwhile, there is a perfect girl named Katie who is pretty, smart, confident, and also likes Tyler Ross.  Emmie’s embarrassing situation causes her a lot of stress, but also causes her to grow as a person.

What I liked about this book was the humor that Libenson uses in both her drawings and her uncomfortable situations.  Some of the humor is subtle, so an intelligent reader will have to think about the drawings and captions to understand, but it will give the reader a chuckle.

What I didn’t like about this book was the ending.  It bugged me.  I understand the meaning, but I think that 1) it will confuse younger readers, and 2) it didn’t make a lot of sense.  Whose imaginary friend gets jealous???

Book 13 of summer 2017!

See You in the Cosmos

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See You in the Cosmos (ebook)

by Jack Cheng

AR Level 

 

See You in the Cosmos is about Alex, an 11 year old rocket enthusiast who has made it his mission to send his golden iPod into space for intelligent life.  He has recorded himself speaking on the iPod so aliens can learn more about planet Earth.  Alex has a mother who is missing most of the story (but we later find out is mentally ill), an older brother who lives in LA, and a dog named after his hero, Carl Sagan.  Alex goes to a rocket festival where he plans to launch his rocket, and he meets several men who take him to Las Vegas and then Los Angeles to help him find a missing dad and catch up with his brother.  Along the way, Alex discovers he has a Terra, who becomes very important to him.  This story is a series of events that leave you feeling sad, stressed, and confused, but only because it is told through an ongoing narrative mostly by Alex, who is naive and young, and doesn’t see things as clearly we as the readers see them.

What I liked about this book was the idea that family isn’t necessarily who created you or who you’re blood-related to.  Alex had a group of people who loved and cared for him, who took on the roles of mom and dad, older siblings, grandparents, etc., even if they weren’t those people.  It puts things in perspective when students are upset about not having a dad, for example, but they have a great step parent or uncle or family friend who love and care the same way a dad might.

What I didn’t like about the book (or I should say, YOU  might not like about the book, it didn’t bother me so much) was the voice.  It is a series of recordings by Alex, and written exactly as he would say them.  That means there are missing periods, tons of run-on sentences, and there are so many things that were missing (because Alex didn’t know) that I wanted to know.  It requires a bit of patience, and you have to get used to it, but I felt that added to the charm of the book.  I can see my students getting frustrated with the writing, though.

Book 11 of summer 2017!

Beyond the Bright Sea

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Beyond the Bright Sea (ebook)

by Lauren Wolk

No AR quiz yet

 

I was a little cynical about this book, because I read a lot about Wolf Hollow by the same author, and I heard it was a children’s book written for adults.  I have yet to read Wolf Hollow (I brought it home to read this summer), but I let it taint my initial feelings.  Luckily, I read the book and developed a better opinion of Beyond the Bright Sea.

Crow washed up on the shore on one of the Elizabeth Islands near New Bedford, Massachusetts.  She was only a few hours old and in a tiny leaking boat, but luckily, Osh found her and raised her like he would his own, although she always knew he was not her real father.  It was rumored that she was born on Penikese Island, where there was a leprosy colony, so Crow was shunned by the townspeople, except for Miss Maggie, who isn’t afraid to touch her.  One day, Crow discovers she has roots on Penikese, and she discovers who her parents were, as well as what they left behind for her.  This is a story with a good mystery, but it it is also sad and humorous, and you will grow to like Crow, Osh, and Miss Maggie.

What I liked about this book was the way it kept me going.  I started to figure out parts of the mystery, and I was frustrated that I would have to read the entire book for Crow to figure it out, but the author knew better- Crow figured it out shortly after I did as the reader, and I looked forward to unexpected twists after that.

What I didn’t like about this book was that Osh was so sad and hurt by Crow wanting to know about her real family.  Osh, a tough, quiet man, was the stand in for Crow’s family, and he realized that she might not need him now that she learned who her family was.  That made me sad, because I can imagine that my own (step) dad would feel the same if I wanted to spend more time with my biological father.  I could relate to the situation.

Book 9 of summer 2017!

Hour of the Bees

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Hour of the Bees (hardcover)

by Lindsay Eager

AR Level 4.5, 9 points

 

Hour of the Bees was talked about last year, and it was one I never got to before the ALA awards (it didn’t win).  It was really good!  I don’t know what took me so long!  Carol isn’t looking forward to her summer on her grandpa’s sheep ranch.  He has Alzheimer’s, and her father’s plan is to sell the ranch and get him moved into a retirement home.  Carol’s job is to help them get the house packed up, while watching her little brother, avoiding her older sister, and missing out on her friends’ exciting summer before starting middle school.  She is annoyed by the bees that keep appearing around her head, despite the intense heat and drought.  Carol is also in charge of watching her grandpa Serge, but she finds herself immersed in his stories about Sergio and Rosa and a magical tree.  What starts out as a story about an annoyed tween becomes a fantastic story that will have you glued to your book.  I read most of it in one day.

What I liked about this book was the way it sucked me into the story of Sergio and Rosa and the magical tree.  I knew where the story was likely going, but I was really hoping it wasn’t a strange alternate reality (think of Don Juan DeMarco with Johnny Depp).  This book did not disappoint.  I was happy with where it was going and how it ended, and I may have even shed a tear at the end.

What I didn’t like about this book was the character of Alta.  She bugged me, and I didn’t like the way she was a super B and then became nice in the end.

Book 7 of summer 2017!

Hello, Universe

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Hello, Universe (ebook)

by Erin Entrada Kelly

AR Level 4.7, 6 points

 

Hello, Universe is a book that has been on Mock-Newbery lists, so in an effort to read all of the books before the ALA awards, I had to read it.  Virgil is a shy, weak, Filipino boy who lives with his parents, 2 outgoing brothers, and his Lola (grandma).  He is friends with a Japanese girl named Kaori who believes she has psychic powers and can tell fortunes, so he seeks her help to become friends with Valencia, a deaf girl, while avoiding a bully named Chet.  Valencia also seeks Kaori’s help, and together they have to solve a big problem partially caused by Chet.  This story is mainly told from Virgil’s point of view, but it is also told from Valencia’s, Kaori’s, and Chet’s.  As we see the story progress and friendships unfold, we are shown several situations, and we have to decide if they are a series of coincidences, or fueled by fate.

What I liked about this book was the coincidences that kept popping up.  I like when stories are well thought-out.  I thought the stories Lola told and the situations with the friends all coincided well.  There are probably a lot of little things that I might pick up on if I read the story again.

What I didn’t like about this book was that Chet was not as well-developed of a character (for being one of the main characters).  I also lost interest, and had to power through to finish it.  I didn’t feel it would be a Newbery winner, but I can certainly see the merit in the writing.

Book 6 of summer 2017!