Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Hard Luck

What happens when Jeff Kinney runs out of ideas? This was the question I asked myself while reading Hard Luck, the Wimpy Kid's latest outing.

Greg and his friends are growing up and getting girlfriends--or more importantly, his friends are and Greg isn't. There are still plenty of laughs and middle school truths in Kinney's books. I've seen the "couples table" in many cafeterias, with its cast of characters that rotates weekly.

Unfortunately, I was less entertained by the part of the book where he describes Easter with his family. It felt less like a narrative and more like a list of characters and their quirks. That's when I began to wonder how much longer the series will last. There's always mortification in middle school; I just hope that Kinney doesn't get lazy in his exploration of it.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

I'll Be There

I've heard amazing things about Holly Goldberg Sloan's Counting by 7's, but couldn't find it anywhere, so decided to get an introduction to the author through I'll Be There. Now I'm not sure I even want to read her other book.

Told in the alternating viewpoints of Emily Bell, a sweet and normal teenage girl, and Sam Border, a boy who is constantly moved around the country (along with his sickly brother, Riddle) by his criminal father. The two cross paths, and then all of the universe conspires to get them together. Normally, this sounds like a book I would enjoy and then pass along to my students. Not this time. I'll Be There was too saccharine and not written well enough for any of our time.

The characters were unrealistic, and unfortunately, there were too many of them. Even the most minor characters are given a backstory that figures into the ending. Usually, this is endearing to me, but Sloan didn't do it smoothly enough for me to care. I found the sentences to be too simplistic to engage me; I want beautiful writing when someone is setting out to write a modern fairy tale. I had to force myself to read the final 40% of the book…don't bother with this one.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Rose Under Fire

I was browsing through the Goodreads Choice Awards list, filling my queue, when I saw the cover of Rose Under Fire. It looked terrible to me, until I saw the author, Elizabeth Wein.

Nobody writes female friendships like Wein. Code Name Verity was one of my favorite books last year and I continue to press it into people's hands. The fact that Rose Under Fire features the same characters had me so excited. I pray that this isn't the last book about this crew of female WWII pilots.

In my classes, I am teaching about character development, so Rose has been the mentor text that all of my charts and post-its are about. Witnessing how Rose develops from a naive American teen, still glowing from her high school basketball victories, to a concentration camp survivor, is watching a work of art. And it's not just Rose. Every character is finely developed, from the other prisoners to the Nazi guards.

I learned so much about WWII, particularly the Rabbits, Polish prisoners on whom horrifying medical experiments were done. Wein imbues the rabbits with so much personality, they are impossible to forget.

I finished Rose Under Fire in tears, grateful for having read it. Now, will you please read it so we can discuss??

Thursday, November 7, 2013

I Survived: The Sinking of The Titanic, 1912

Like most teachers, I've got some readers who are years below their grade level. Today I was looking around for some Level O books and the selection I could find online was grim (as far as eleven year old boys go): Ramona and Beezus, Pippi Longstocking, and Chocolate Fever. I wondered if the lists online aren't updated, or if people aren't writing low level books that are appealing to boys.

I came across the I Survived series on www.tworeflectiveteachers.com and read the book about The Titanic in about 30 minutes. It is historical fiction from the perspective of a mischievous boy, full of adventure and suspense. The vocabulary featured some new words, but nothing too taxing. Overall, it seems a great fit for some of my struggling readers. It's still a Level R series, so a bit challenging for my student, but a far better option than The Boxcar Children. Even better, at $4 per book, I can easily get the whole collection for my classroom library.

Hmmm, still in search for some lower level books…maybe it's time to start writing!

Monday, November 4, 2013

Allegiant

Like many Veronica Roth fans, I had the final novel in the Divergent series ordered way in advance, reading to sync to my Kindle as soon as it released. I was hoping to love it as much as I loved the original book, and to wipe away my dislike of Insurgent. I leave the series satisfied with the ending and eager to discuss with my friends and students who are reading Allegiant as well.

This is a sad novel, with our characters facing many devastating losses. Roth chose to write Allegiant from the perspectives of both Tris and Tobias, which kept the story moving and taught us more about the mysterious Four. Despite the tragedies (which are major and shocking), there is hope, which will be useful to young readers. Referring to bravery, Roth writes, "Sometimes it is nothing more than gritting your teeth through the pain, and the work of every day, the slow walk toward a better life. That is the sort of bravery I must have now." This is a quote that can give solace to a reader who is having a hard time, whether it is in her personal life, or in dealing with the heartbreaking ending of a beloved series.

I leave Allegiant and the rest of the series with a smile. Veronica Roth did right by her faithful readers and I am eager to read what she publishes next.