Friday, February 28, 2014

Lola

What a strange book Lola: A Ghost Story is. It definitely has an original conceit: a Canadian boy travels with his family to the Philippines for the funeral of his clairvoyant grandmother. He doesn't want to accept that he may share his grandmother's gift, although the visits from his late cousin say otherwise.

I may have been thrown off by the illustrations, which were all in a muted brown. At times, it made it difficult to distinguish time shifts and between characters. I also think that a lack of color was a poor choice for the setting, which could have been so beautiful.

My favorite part was learning a little more about Filipino culture, including some folktales and vocabulary. I wish there was more of it and more story in general, but Lola cuts off abruptly, with an ambiguous, and in my opinion, unlikable ending.

On the plus side, it only took me twenty minutes to read, but I won't be recommending it to anyone.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Independent Study

Independent Study, the sequel to The Testing, has been out for a while but it took a reminder that I need to pull together this year's summer reading list to get me to read it. As I mentioned in my review of the first book, this series is very similar to The Hunger Games. Since I have many students wandering around in a post-Katniss stupor, wondering what to read next, I wanted to add Joelle Charbonneau's series to the list.

Cia has entered university, but the events of the Testing continue to haunt her. She has brief memories of the past which make it difficult to trust anyone, including her boyfriend, Tomas. Cia finds herself the target of scrutiny from administrators and jealousy from her peers. Can she avoid punishment while trying to find a way to end the Testing for good?

I previously questioned how Cia managed to remain such a Pollyanna after a series of tragedies and hoped that Charbonneau would explore Cia's dark side in the second novel. I guess I will have to wait for the final book in the trilogy for that, because Cia continues to remain optimistic and moralistic throughout Independent Study. Her constant response to anyone who questions her is, "It's the right thing to do." Towards the end of the novel she learns that things aren't always black and white; eventually, Cia will have to make decisions that hurt some while benefiting others. While I find it unrealistic that Cia does everything perfectly, I like that my students can have her as a role model. There's always room in my library for a confident girl who excels in math and science.

I read Independent Study in one day and am eagerly awaiting Graduation Day, which will be published in June. Even better, with this and its predecessor on our summer reading list, I will have plenty of people with whom I can discuss the series.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Rot & Ruin

Ooh, this was a good one!

Since reading the latest Stephen King a few weeks ago, I have been in the mood for some good old fashioned horror. When it can be added to the eighth grade summer reading list? Even better!

After an unexplained event called First Night turns much of the population into zombies, California is divided into small protected towns and the rot and ruin that surrounds them. For Benny Imura, this is all he has ever known.When Benny can't find a job and his rations are threatened to be cut off, he decides to join his brother as an apprentice bounty hunter. What he finds in the rot and ruin changes everything he knows.

Only now that I am reflecting on it do I realize how subtly author Jonathan Maberry changed the mood in the novel. For a zombie novel, it started out lighthearted, with Benny joking with his friends and a humorous introduction to the jobs that are necessary when the world is overrun by zombies. It doesn't take long, though, for things to fall apart and for Rot & Ruin to become serious.

I love the imagination it took to create this world. What are the fears? Who are the heroes? What is there to reach for? I became very attached to some of the characters and was actively rooting against others. This is what it's like to participate in a book.

Rot & Ruin is too heavy and gory for my sixth graders, but the eighth graders that my friend teaches will eat it up, pun slightly intended.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Fangirl

Rainbow Rowell really knows how to write.

Fangirl is not my typical fare; Cath, the heroine, is a college freshman, which pretty much guarantees that it won't be a book I can recommend to my sixth graders. Yet Eleanor & Park convinced me that I should be reading everything Rowell writes, and so should you.

Fangirl is a love letter to writing. Cath writes fan fiction about a fantasy series very similar to Harry Potter. Each chapter starts with an excerpt from this fake series, with a writing style very different from that of the novel. Rowell continues to impress with her descriptions of how it feels to write, especially in the style in which one is most comfortable: “Sometimes writing is running downhill, your fingers jerking behind you on the keyboard the way your legs do when they can’t quite keep up with gravity.” 

Best of all are the characters. Cath and her twin Wren are very different, but share some things so deeply that it makes me envy people with twins (including my fiancé). I also loved how Rowell articulates some things I never considered, but relate to so deeply. For example, Cath's disappointment when her crush misspells "pumpkin" or how freshman months are the same as six months in anyone else's life.

I have already written the head of English at our high school and recommended the book, so she can pass it along to her students. It's a good one.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Fashion Kitty and the Unlikely Hero

Talk about shelf appeal.

I am tutoring a fourth grader who is a reluctant reader. After we happily zoomed through Raina Telgemeier's graphic novel versions of The Babysitter's Club series, we hit the library together to find our next books. As soon as my friend saw the Fashion Kitty series, she had them all scooped up for our next few sessions.

A simple but cute story of a superhero kitty, Charise Mericle Harper's heroine gets called whenever there is a fashion emergency. In this book, there are suddenly many emergencies when Kiki Kitty's principal bans fashion and orders everyone to wear a uniform. On top of that, Becky is wearing socks with flip flops, something that causes Kiki to want to solve the mystery of why anyone would do that. For me, the mystery felt a bit weak, but my charge was engrossed and making guesses throughout the book. Engaging for girly girls, it is also a quick read that had my friend proud to have finished the entire book in 45 minutes. I would consider adding the series to my classroom's shelves for the incoming sixth graders who need to transition from elementary to middle school with some safe and easy reading.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Waiting

"When the best part of a family dies, everyone falls apart."

Carol Lynch Williams' Waiting proves this phrase in many different ways. After the death of her brother Zach, London struggles to continue with daily life, especially since her father has become distant and her mother actively ignores her. Haunted by his death and barely able to speak, London searches for normalcy and a way to keep living.

It's been awhile since I read a novel in verse; I've missed them. I love reading between the lines and how authors move the plot along with fewer words. This is the second book I've read by Williams; The Chosen Ones was equally intense and disturbing. It seems that Williams' novels include religious confusion, parents that don't do what they should, and girls who have to hide their sexual awakenings. I'm still trying to get my hands on Glimpse, the novel which originally interested me in her writing. I have a hard time justifying buying novels in verse because I read them so quickly.

While reading, I was reminded of John Green's Looking for Alaska. Both books build towards a tragedy and keep you turning the pages, wanting to know what the big event is. Once you know, you hope that the characters can rebuild their lives. London will receive no help from her mother, who is one of the coldest I have ever encountered. Her actions are so unacceptable and she has no redeeming qualities to the point that she is unrealistic. How could any mother act this way?

Waiting is too dark for my sixth grade library but high school readers with a taste for sadness will enjoy this book.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Stealing Home: The Story of Jackie Robinson

There are some books that you avoid for years. For me, Stealing Home: The Story of Jackie Robinson is one of them. The cover illustration and font are unappealing, and the "50th Anniversary Edition" medal made me think the book was fifty years old.

I had been missing out because this is a terrific nonfiction book. I learned so much about this incredible athlete, as well as the time period. I thought it was really funny that recruiters from the west coast offered to pay his tuition for an east coast school so that they would not have to compete against him. This is the kind of fact that gets readers hooked. I also thought it was interesting that the first night games in baseball were played by the Negro Leagues because they were unable to get the fields during the day.

Stealing Home made me daydream about what an athlete like Jackie Robinson would be capable of today, with the high tech equipment and personal training that professional athletes receive. A nonfiction book that makes me dream about possibilities? I will be book talking this as much as possible!