Friday, November 21, 2014

Genghis Khan: 13th Century Mongolian Tyrant

It's that time of year again: my nonfiction unit is in full effect and I am reading lots of informational texts so I can recommend them to students. I went to a familiar well for this one; students always love A Wicked History books. Typically, all they need is to read one and then they are clamoring for the rest of the series!

Surprisingly, I haven't reviewed any of the books in this series, although Genghis Khan: 13th Century Mongolian Tyrant isn't my first. I've read about Henry VIII, Ivan the Terrible, Robespierre, Rasputin, Hannibal, and Mary Tudor. These are only a few titles in this gruesome series. I have many male students who became readers because of A Wicked History. All the books follow the same structure. There is an introductory chapter that demonstrates the ruler at their cruelest, then their lives are told chronologically. There are always illustrations and documents, as well as a family tree. The books are really well done and quick reads.

I've convinced my school to use their Scholastic credits to add to the collection, because I know that there will be a mad rush for them, once the students get a taste.

Monday, November 17, 2014

My True Love Gave To Me

I was so excited to read this book, since so many of my favorite YA authors contributed stories: Jenny Han, David Levithan, Stephanie Perkins, Laini Taylor, and Rainbow Rowell...all authors who have left me swooning. This holiday anthology was like the twelve days of Christmas (and yes, there were a few duds).

Golden Rings (the best stories): Rainbow Rowell, Stephanie Perkins, Gayle Forman, Laini Taylor, Kiersten White

Swans a Swimming (enjoyable): David Levithan, Holly Black, Jenny Han

Ladies Dancing (ok): Ally Carter, Matt de la Pena, Kelly Link

Geese a Laying (rotten eggs): Myra McIntyre

There is something here for everyone, and a few that I will be rereading often (Rowell and Perkins)!

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Brown Girl Dreaming

Brown Girl Dreaming, Jacqueline Woodson’s memoir, is for savoring. Written in verse, Woodson tells the story of her life in a way that makes one consider how their life would be told.

I related greatly to a section about her older sister, Odella. Aptly called “The Reader”, I include it here:

            When we can’t find my sister, we know she is under the kitchen table, a book in her hand, a glass of milk and a small bowl of peanuts beside her.

            We know we can call Odella’s name out loud,
Slap the table hard with our hands,
Dance around it singing
“She’ll Be Coming ‘Round the Mountain”
so many times the song makes us sick
and the circling makes us dizzy
and still
my sister will do nothing more
than slowly turn the page.

I love this poem because it could be a description of me at any age from four until right now.

My students are big Jacqueline Woodson fans and will love this, as soon as we get our hands on a hard copy and not just the Kindle version I have been dragging out.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Ashes to Ashes

It's a rare thing for the last book to be better than the two that came before it, but Ashes to Ashes achieves it. Jenny Han and Siobhan Vivian really turned things up a notch at the end of Burn for Burn and did not stop for this entire novel. Wow.

At the beginning of the book, the reader and Mary know she is dead, but her only friends, Lillia and Kat, do not. They also do not know that she is furious with them and wants revenge, not only against Reeve, but also against them for breaking their pact. Mary has all the time in the world, but for everyone else, time is running out.

As I mentioned in my previous reviews, I loved the Lillia chapters the most. They are obviously written by Han, her hand is obvious in the details and how the family is similar to Han's other books (and possibly, her own life). I love that there is an Asian protagonist who is the most beautiful girl in school, not relegated to the best friend role (Lane Kim from "Gilmore Girls" comes to mind.) We need more diversity in books and the beautiful model portraying Lillia on the cover of the books adds to that.

I hate to spoil books, so I will just say that I am happy with the ending. The resolution features a flash forward to the futures of the characters, which I love. The future of the characters is bittersweet and how it should be. It's fun to be able to recommend a series that just gets stronger. This is one that my ninth graders will adore.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

The Fourteenth Goldfish

There has been a lot of hype surrounding Jennifer L. Holm's The Fourteenth Goldfish and it is all well-deserved. What a magical book.

Ellie's grandfather is a scientist who could be described as crazy. He admits that, "All scientists are a little bit mad." Grandpa Melvin has been searching for the fountain of youth, a cure for aging, and he thinks he's found it. Ellie has found a passion for science, but also realizes that every choice has consequences.

There is so much juicy material to dig into in this book. I envision great discussions of ethics, raised by Grandpa Melvin teaching Ellie about the Manhattan Project and by his own experiments. It reminded me of the quote from Jurassic Park, "Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn't stop to think if they should." Powerful thoughts for middle grade readers, but ones they are capable of debating.

Working at the first Caribbean school to earn an eco-school Green Flag Certification, The Fourteenth Goldfish relates to our mission. Grandpa Melvin shares Salk's quote, "Our greatest responsibility is to be good ancestors." We live on a small island where the consequences of actions are very evident: so much plastic washes up on our beaches, the sun heats up the glass bottles that people litter and it causes fires, when we use too much water, we don't have enough for our needs. I want to read this book with our students and discuss how we can be good ancestors and how it is their responsibility as they grow.