Summerlost

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Summerlost (Kindle)

by Ally Condie

AR Level 4.1, 6 points

 

Summerlost appeared on my radar when Ally Condie started appearing in the book orders.  She has another series in the young adult genre, and she was at the Book Fest signing books, but I’d never read any of her books, so I didn’t stand in the long line of waiting fans.  This particular book also appears on some of the Mock Newbery lists, so I thought I should give it a try.

Cedar Lee is 12 years old, and she moves to the town her mother grew up in, but just for the summer.  She is mourning the deaths of her dad and brother while her mom builds a deck on the new house and her other brother tries to get her attention.  Cedar immediately notices Leo, a boy in her neighborhood who she learns works for the local Shakespeare festival, Summerlost.  He is not an actor, but sells refreshments to visitors, although he is very interested in theater.  Cedar and Leo embark on a a summer of friendship, mystery, and entrepreneurship as they give tours and talk about a deceased actress who started in their small town.  Cedar finds herself struggling with her family’s tragedy while dealing with the ups and downs of being 12.

What I liked about this book was the detailed descriptions.  It was almost as though Ally Condie herself lived in a house with a diamond window or a tree with vultures nesting in it.  It also touches on some important life events that I think most books don’t talk about- the death of a loved one, and coming to terms with loss.

What I didn’t like about this book was not necessarily the book’s fault.  I thought this was a young adult book, so I didn’t buy a hard copy for my class library.  It is on the border of being a children’s book and young adult, so I can see why the line would be blurred, but it’s only written at a 4.1 and there is nothing touchy about it that might make it inappropriate for a sixth grader.  I regret not looking into it more than I did, but then again, it’s still hardcover, and I don’t think it is worth $16 like other hardcover books I’ve purchased in the past.

Book 5 of 10 (summer goal)

The Running Dream

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The Running Dream

by Wendelin van Draanen

AR Level 4.1, 9 points

Schneider Family Book Award

 

The Schneider Family Book Award is give to authors and illustrators that artistically portray the experience of a person with a disability.  Previous winners (I’ve read) include A Mango-Shaped Space, Fish in a Tree, and The War That Saved My Life.  They’ve all been excellent books that really showed the difficulties of a person with a disability, as well as the resilience and determination of that person to be successful.  The Running Dream is extremely deserving of this award.

Jessica is a junior in high school, and a record-setting runner on her track team.  On her way home from a meet, her school bus is hit by an uninsured driver, and she loses her leg below the knee, crushing her dreams of running and earning a college scholarship.  After suffering from depression and defeat, she realizes there is still hope, and she works harder than ever to get her dream back.  In the meantime, she forms a bond with Rosa, and Jessica realizes there are more important things to focus on.

What I liked about this book was that it reminds the reader to be grateful.  It took me as the reader through the pain and suffering and depression that would come after losing one’s leg, but then it also gave us hope and compassion.  I appreciated that Jessica shared her passion and new ability to help someone else’s dream come true.

What I didn’t like about this book was that I never found out who the anonymous donor was!  I really wanted to know if it was Vanessa’s mother, whom I assumed it was.  I guess I’ll never know.

Book 38 of 40 (year 2)

A Monster Calls

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A Monster Calls (paperback)

by Patrick Ness

AR Level 4.8, 5 points

Carnegie Medal (writing) and Kate Greenaway Medal (illustration)

 

This is the story of Conor and dealing with his mother’s illness, an unspecified, but late-stage cancer.  In the beginning, we learn two things:  1) his mother is very sick, but hopeful for his sake, and 2) Conor suffers from nightmares involving his mother.  However, a monstrous, personified yew tree visits him at 12:07 each night and starts telling Conor stories, and although it doesn’t seem like it, the stories help Conor deal with his mother’s failing health.

What I liked about this book was it gave us insight into what it is like for a 12 year-old boy to deal with something as big as a sick parent.  I’ve had students who got into trouble because of what was going on at home, much like Conor, but none of their situations were are serious as an ill parent.  It reminded me to think of what my students walk into class with in their “backpacks.”  I also loved the illustrations, which really enhanced the reading experience of this story.  I read that Jim Kay even used beetles to make the impressions in the illustrations, which adds to the creepiness.

What I didn’t like about this book was how heart-wrenchingly sad it was.  Be warned… A Monster Calls is a great book, but it took me awhile to stop crying after I finished.  It wasn’t just a few tears… it was full-blown sobbing.  Think The Fault in our Stars, but if it involved a scary monster, and not so teen-angsty.  I cannot imagine losing a parent, especially I had to watch my mom or dad suffer through a long, drawn-out illness.  But what killed me most was the mother having to say good-bye to her son, and realize she won’t get to see him grow up, and trust that he will be raised the way I would.  In the end, Conor’s mother held his hand, as well as her own mother’s hand.  Ugh… I don’t even want to think about it anymore.  Too sad.  BUT so well-written at the same time!

I picked up A Monster Calls, because my husband’s school is voting on which book to have all of their students read, and this is one of them.  They’ll have to spend a little extra on Kleenex.

 

Book 36 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)

Maybe Someday

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Maybe Someday

by Colleen Hoover

Not a children’s book

 

This is not my typical reading.  I’m not big on sappy romance novels, but I borrowed the book at the suggestion of a friend who talked me into 50 Shades and Room, both of which (I hate to admit) I enjoyed.  Maybe Someday was a whimsical read.  I wasn’t committed to the characters and I’m not really wondering what happened after the novel.  Normally, that would indicate I didn’t really enjoy it, but I read it in 4 days (Thanksgiving week… I had a lot do do!).

Maybe Someday is told from the dual perspectives of Ridge and Sydney, two people in their early twenties.  We learn early on that Sydney recently goes through a break up, and she is welcomed into Ridge’s apartment.  They instantly make a connection through music.  Ridge writes the music while Sydney writes the lyrics.  They form a relationship and a bond that creates friction in their lives, but they are determined to remain friends.

What I liked about this book was that I needed something light and fun for my week off, and this is definitely it.  I wasn’t attached to the characters, but I wanted happiness for both of them.  The writing wasn’t spectacular (though I’ve been told the addition of the soundtrack is a bonus), but I felt compelled to finish and see it through.

What I didn’t like about this book was the part at the end where I wanted to barf from how lovey dovey sappy disgusting it was.  It was like 50 Shades meets The Notebook.  People cry after sex and can’t live without one another and their hands all fit perfectly as though they were made for each other.  Oh my gosh.  I love my husband, but if I ever think it’s sexy to write all over my body with a pen, please stab me in the eye with it.

Would I read it again?  Probably not.  But it served its purpose of entertaining me!

 

Book 23 of 40 (year 2)

Finding Ruby Starling

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Finding Ruby Starling (paperback)

by Karen Rivers

AR Level 5.2, 9 points

I really want to tell you that this tween version of “The Parent Trap” taking place in the digital age was terrible.  Vocabulary included words like “totes” and “brill” and “fab” and “amazeballs” and those are the kinds of made up or shortened words that make me cringe like an email riddled with grammatical errors.  Yikes.  Might as well include “fam bam” so I can have a real coronary.  So I want to tell you that it was a painful book to read, but it really, really wasn’t.  I finished it in a day, because 1) I needed to meet my 52 book goal, and 2) it was actually pretty entertaining to read.  Not Fifty Shades or Insurgent entertaining, but it was an innocent, family-friendly story I had to see through.

First of all, the book is completely written via email, except for a few hand-written letters.  Ruth is a twelve (almost thirteen) year old girl who discovers her twin on the Internet using FaceTrace.  She emails this girl (Ruby), and they start getting to know each other via email.  Ruby lives in England with her artsy mum, her dad and nan having passed away while Ruth lives in America with her loving and attentive adoptive parents.  You would think the story would be about that- two long-lost twins getting to know each other.  But it wasn’t just that… both girls had similar feelings of isolation and felt incomplete somehow.  Ruth struggled with her anger and hurt of being abandoned, as well as guilt for having the heart of a little girl who died.  Ruby struggled with her mother’s distractedness and her nan passing away recently.  There was a lot more raw emotion and thematic elements to this book that I expected.  I guess my expectations weren’t very high, and I was pleasantly surprise with the “meat” that was actually there.

What I liked about this book was that it did surprise me.  I feel there are a lot of fluffy books out there to get kids reading.  I assumed this was a fluffy book based on the language, cover picture, and content of the initial emails.  As I read, I realized that a lot of students could relate to some of the feelings of the characters in this book.  Most likely, my students have not been adopted, and most do not have heart transplants, but many could feel the loneliness, isolation, guilt, and burden of having to raise their parents.  If nothing else, it give students an opportunity to see a situation from different perspectives and learn to forgive others.

What I didn’t like this book was that I can’t get the word “totes” out of my head.  It will never become part of my vocabulary, but I can’t seem to get this out of my head:

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So maybe that’s not such a bad thing.

Thanks again to Daniela for letting me borrow her book.  I need to just get her summer reading list.

Book 51 of 52 (1 more to go!)

Technically, It’s Not My Fault

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Technically, It’s Not My Fault (paperback)

by John Grandits

AR Level 3.4, 1 point

Okay,Technically, It’s Not My Fault was funnier than Blue Lipstick.  It’s told from Jessie’s little brother Robert’s point of view.  He is a typical little brother who enjoys annoying his sister.  He is curious and that gets him into trouble.  What I appreciate about him is he’s a smart ass, and that is a sign of intelligence.  It is the same format (concrete poetry), and it follows several of Robert’s escapades.  We see into the head of an eleven year old boy, and that is something my students would appreciate.

What I liked about this book was that it made me literally laugh out loud.  I had to hand the book to my husband to read the funny pages.  Thank you letter with footnotes?  My favorite.  A poem representing burps and farts?  Hilarious.  If this isn’t engaging, i don’t know what is.

What I didn’t like about this book was the headache thing again.  I had to keep twisting and turning the book.  I really can’t complain, though, because it was a great book!

Book 43 of 52