Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Odd Duck

Theodora considers herself to be a normal duck. She loves her life of swimming laps, eating mango salsa, and reading books from different genres. She is perfectly happy on her own until a strange new duck named Chad moves next door. He dyes his feathers, splashes around, and keeps bizarre sculptures on his lawn. Despite his oddities, they become friends until they realize that one of them is the odd duck…and it might not be Chad.

Cecil Castellucci and Sara Varon have teamed up for a sweet story of friendship and self-acceptance. I loved that Theodora embraced being an introvert, but was still able to make a new friend. At 96 pages, this is a very quick read, but still worth keeping in my classroom library. There are times when kids finish a book before the end of reading time or are unprepared for 15 minutes of D.E.A.R. It's a good to have a sweet story they can dip into for that time. Odd Duck is a great accompaniment to Varon's Robot Dreams and Bake Sale.

Friday, July 25, 2014

One for the Murphys

I'd heard great things about One for the Murphys and even ordered multiple copies for the sixth grade next year before reading it. I'm so glad I did because I know I will be recommending this book like crazy. Lynda Mullaly Hunt's debut novel has so much heart and is difficult to put down; I read it all in one day.

"Sometimes you don't know what you want because you don't know it exists." Carley Connors has had a rough life, although she didn't realize it until a violent interaction with her stepfather lands her in foster care with the Murphys. This family, with their three sweet sons, firefighter father, and ideal mother, shows Carley what she's been missing and how her life could be.

I loved how real the characters were in One for the Murphys. Mr. Murphy's Red Sox obsession mirrored my family's, and Toni's adoration of Wicked felt very true to her age. Most of all, Carley's emotions throughout the process of being placed in foster care were authentic. I wanted to give her a hug and thank Mrs. Murphy for taking care of Carley so well, finally.

Spoilers below!

The book is a tearjerker and I have to say, I hated the ending. I was concerned by the lack of interaction of Carley's social worker, who seemed to think that good intentions were sufficient for raising a child. I also got a pit in my stomach when Carley's mother promises that "everything will be like it was before."   If a child is sent to foster care, then the goal is not to have things be the way they were before. I worry for Carley, but am glad that she had her time with the Murphys. I hope those few months will be enough to keep her strong for the years ahead.

Monday, July 21, 2014


Landline is not a young adult novel. While I can imagine some seniors in high school enjoying it because of the glory that is Rainbow Rowell, the topic is decidedly adult.

Georgie McCool is a TV writer whose career is really taking off, to the detriment of her marriage to Neal. When she decides not to travel to Omaha with him and their daughters, Georgie may have lost him completely. She realizes that the old telephone at her mother's house is capable of calling back to 1998 when she and Neal were dating. Should she use this phone to win him back, or to convince him she isn't worth it?

I will read anything that Rowell writes--she is one of the most readable authors out there. I dedicated my day to this book and it was perfection. I don't usually review adult books here, but I wanted to make sure that anyone who visits this site knows to pick this up. Rainbow Rowell is the best.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Deogratias: A Tale of Rwanda

This was a difficult book to read, in every possible way. A graphic novel about the genocide in Rwanda is bound to be, well, graphic. Deogratias: A Tale of Rwanda begins with an introduction to the events of the 1993-1994 massacre of the Tutsi people by Hutu majority. I know almost nothing about this time period; I haven't even seen Hotel Rwanda. I did learn the basics from J.P. Stassen's book, but there is so much more to learn.

In addition to the difficulty of the subject matter, the story does not flow easily. The narrative skips around, with frequent flashbacks that are not noticeable by a change in color or anything else. I used the state of Deogratias' shirt to know if I was in the past or present. In his most dire moments, Deogratias transforms into a dog, which was also confusing, at first.

I am a huge proponent of using graphic novels to teach history. This is a book that would need serious consideration before bringing into a high school classroom. There is a lot of vulgar language, and the images are disturbing. Many of the victims were raped before they were murdered, and this is clear in the illustrations. There is a lot to learn from Deogratias…make sure that you have full administrative support before sharing.

Monday, July 14, 2014

When Good Series Go Bad

Life As We Knew It remains one of my favorite YA novels - an introduction to dystopian literature that is addictive and suspenseful. Four years after reading it, I am still regularly recommending it. Its sequel, The Dead and the Gone, was another enjoyable book, this time from a male perspective. The third book in what was supposed to be a trilogy, This World We Live In, dropped off in quality. While it was fun to see the characters from the previous books meet up, the writing and plot were not what I wanted. I considered it a disappointing end to the series.

Today, while browsing in the library, I discovered The Shade of the Moon, a fourth entry in the series. I was so excited that I quickly moved it to the top of my Goodreads To Read List. Unfortunately, that was when I noticed that the majority of the reviews were one or two stars. This novel focuses on Jon, the younger brother of Miranda, the protagonist of the first and third books. It turns out, Jon is a terrible person who rapes girls who are less fortunate than he is, and has caused the death of a girlfriend. It also sounds like there isn't much character growth. Rather than getting frustrated and further disappointed by the series' decline, I am going to return this book to the library, unread. It would be a better use of my time to read Life As We Knew It again.

Friday, July 11, 2014

The Love Curse of the Rumbaughs

It's official: The Love Curse of the Rumbaughs is the weirdest book I've ever read.

It's not every slim young adult novel that tackles eugenics, taxidermy, incest, and the idea of nature vs. nurture. Then again, author Jack Gantos isn't an ordinary author. His wonderful writing is what kept me reading the book, while the rest of me was pretty repulsed by the content.

I don't know who the audience is for this book--my only idea would be Gantos completists who want the full range, from Rotten Ralph to Hole in My Life. It's too twisted for most young adults I know, with a foreboding mood that kept me waiting for the next awful surprise.

Instead of recommending this, I'll keep referring people to The Bloody Souvenir, the funniest and grossest Gantos story that my students request to hear again and again.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Graduation Day

"I came to Tosu City because I wanted to be a leader. I thought that would come after I graduated from the University. I thought that event would signal my readiness. But I can no longer wait for Graduation Day. The time to lead is now."

I finally got to read the last book in Joelle Charbonneau's series and  was happy with how it got resolved. In my reviews of both The Testing and Independent Study, I was hoping to see Cia's dark side and for her to not always have the answers and skills necessary to save the day. I was rewarded because she learned that in order to lead, difficult decisions must be made and lives will be lost. While remaining a good person, Cia matures and loses some of her perfection which irritated me at times.

There were some issues: the pacing of the book was slow and I found myself skimming when Cia debated before making a decision. I also found it unbelievable that the president would decide that a teenage girl was the only person trustworthy enough to carry out an insane task. These small problems don't take away from my enjoyment of the novel and series, nor from recommending to all my kids who want something juicy to follow The Hunger Games.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Walter Dean Myers

I was sad to learn about the passing of Walter Dean Myers. He was an impressive man who changed the world with the scores of books he wrote and the influence he held. He will be missed. 

Mr. Terupt Falls Again

Maybe author Rob Buyea knew that it would be impossible for the students of Mr. Terupt's class to loop with him yet again, but he crams too many adolescent crises into his sequel, Mr. Terupt Falls Again.

Among other dramas, there is an abandoned baby, a fight over land ownership with Native Americans (really), a marriage proposal between two teachers, pressure to smoke and do drugs, multiple first periods, and a search for an absent father. That isn't even close to all the events that are squeezed into this book.

The result of all these storylines is that I felt a bit of whiplash as we switched between chapters. I found myself wondering, “Danielle, which one is she? Ah, overweight, religious, land dispute…” I’m sure that young readers would have the same confusion. If I was Rob Buyea, I would have saved some of these ideas and written another book from the perspective of the beloved, but undeveloped character of Ms. Newberry.

Mr. Terupt Falls Again just didn’t work for me the way the original did. Still, sixth grade readers who enjoyed the first book will like to read this to get a happy ending for all the characters.