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

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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

A Boy Called Bat

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A Boy Called Bat (hardcover)

by Elana K. Arnold

AR Level 4.6, 3 points

 

This book is so cute!  A Boy Called Bat is about a boy called Bat (a nickname) and he is somewhere on the autism spectrum.  Bat’s mother is a veterinarian, and she brings home a newborn orphaned skunk to care for until he is ready for release.  Bat becomes very attached to the baby skunk and names him Thor.  He sets out to find a way to keep the skunk long-term, despite the advice of his mother and a skunk expert he writes to.  The bigger storyline that might not be as obvious to child readers is the way he navigates his every day life with autism.  We are able to see social situations and family issues from his perspective, which is one that most of us don’t see, and I really appreciated that.

What I liked about this book was the perspective.  Autism is something that is a mystery to those who do not live with someone with autism.  I have had many students with autism, but it is a whole different way of thinking, and I think it builds understanding and compassion when we are able to learn more about it.  People, including students, are afraid of what they don’t know, and education is the best way to build that understanding.  For me, reading about it is the best way to share the knowledge with students.

What I didn’t like about the book is that it wasn’t a quick-moving story, and while it should have taken me an hour or two to finish, it took me 4 days.  It may not be the book’s fault, though.  I was especially tired this week and just couldn’t stay awake while reading it.

Book 8 of 40

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!