Still Reading…….

In spite of all that excitement of a new grandson, I have been trying to keep up with the summer challenge. I am going to split this post into 2 parts. The first one will be the picture books I have read with just a picture of the book and the second will be the chapter books with my review.

PICTURE BOOKS

CHAPTER BOOKS

Circa NowCirca Now by Amber McRee Turner
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I really, really enjoyed this book. Circa, is a young girl who loses her father in a devastating tornado early in the story. She and her father had worked together on special Photoshop projects. They were particularly devoted to restoring photos for a memory care home in their town. As a way to work through her pain and loss she wants to continue this project even though her mother objects. In the process, she starts to believe there might be something magical about her photo-shopping. In addition, as she and her mother try to return to their lives with Dad, an unusual guest appears on their doorstep.
This story was heart-breaking on many levels. The characters each must find a way through their grief and fears. The frightening effects of memory loss are explored from several perspectives.
The book reminded me somewhat of A Snicker of Magic. In both stories, the interconnections of our lives with those around us prove to be stronger than mere coincidence. The characters and their stories are easier to follow in Circa Now. The language is not as poetic or melodic as A Snicker of Magic, but I think young readers will enjoy this story more.

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The Swift Boys & MeThe Swift Boys & Me by Kody Keplinger
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Oh this was a powerful read!!! I cried and cried, and had to take a break. But I couldn’t stay away. I had quickly fallen in love with all these characters.
Nola has grown up next to the three Swift brothers who have been her “best-best friends” through childhood. But the boys’ father, Mr. Swift, leaves the family one night with no explanations or even a good-bye,and life will never be the same. The painful process of growing up and leaving behind childhood is so poignant in this story. Nola’s voice in telling her story of this life changing summer is beautiful in its heart-breaking candor.
It is going to be so hard to pick a favorite for the Newbery this year!!

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Divergent (Divergent, #1)Divergent by Veronica Roth
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was a “stay up all night”; “I’m not doing any dishes, laundry or cooking”; “Shush I am at the good part” kind of book. I could not put it down. I had kind of burned out on the whole dystopian genre but I had a student who LOVED this book and then the movie came out and I couldn’t hold out anymore. I am so glad I can now converse with the students on this one. It was a well built world (set in Chicago, my hometown) with powerful characters and thought provoking themes.
Beatrice’s world consists of 5 philosophical factions. Abnegation, Dauntless, Candor, Amity, and Erudite. Now I must confess I had to look a couple of those words up. In true Dystopian fashion there is an evil controlling government that our courageous characters discover and fight against. The action was non-stop and gut-wrenching. Of course it wouldn’t be complete without young love.

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The Fault in Our StarsThe Fault in Our Stars by John Green
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I realize that every single one of my friends have given this book 5 stars. I suppose this review suffers from my delay in reading the book, combined with the deluge of expectations that have built up. I often find things (movies and books) anti-climatic if I am exposed to too many rave reviews.
I started hearing John Green accolades over a year ago and because The Fault in Our Stars was on huge waiting lists last summer, I chose to read Paper Towns by John Green instead. I would almost say that I was more enamored with that book than this one.
I think that John Green has a beautiful gift with the written word. However, I think his plots are slightly formulaic. He always has a love story boiling in teen-age existential angst, a moderately crazy girl and an epic road trip. The Fault in My Stars has a little added emotional tug with the childhood cancer theme. I would call it a teen age “Tuesdays with Morrie.”
All that to say that I still gave it 4 stars, just couldn’t give it 5. I still read it in less than 2 days, and yes I sat at the coffee shop and shamelessly cried in public as I finished it this morning.

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A Long Walk to Water: Based on a True StoryA Long Walk to Water: Based on a True Story by Linda Sue Park
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

My friend Holly recommended this book. She actually created a group with her students to help support the cause for clean water in the African region. This book paralleled 2 young people coming of age in Malawi Africa. At first I had trouble seeing how their paths would cross. Because one story, the young civil war refugee, was 15 years before the story of the young Malawian girl struggling for water. But never fear it is a powerful story and worthy of a unit in most classrooms!!

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CaminarCaminar by Skila Brown
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This quick book is written in verse. It is interesting to me how many books in verse share such heavy subjects lately.
I read this in companion with “A Long Walk to Water” and they fit together in a powerful way. This book is also set in a war torn country, Guatemala. The young narrator tells of the government and rebel soldiers tearing through his quiet remote mountain village. So many difficult places to grow up in this world….

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AND LAST BUT NOT LEAST…..A GRAPHIC NOVEL

CardboardCardboard by Doug TenNapel
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I have such a hard time with graphic novels. Just not my style, but I respect their value and their draw for readers. This one is highly regarded, by a highly acclaimed Graphic Novelist. The story is of a boy and his father following the death of his mother. The father has fallen into depression and hard times. The only gift he can give his son for his birthday is a piece of cardboard. Of course, the cardboard is magic….
I followed the story for a while, but it seemed to spin off into chaos after a while. That is one of my biggest complaints about graphic novels, is that they cause me to lose all focus. I did not like the antagonist in the story, not because he was a bad guy, but because he was sort of unbelievable to me. Anyway I can see the story’s draw and maybe I will try something different by this author.

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KEEP READING !!!!!!

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Spring Break Reading

We have had a week of continued below average cold and prolonged winter for our Break this past week. So it was perfect to catch up on my reading (and knitting of course). I have shared some of my reviews:

MOCK NEWBERY CONTENDERS

I Kill the MockingbirdI Kill the Mockingbird by Paul Acampora
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book was a mixed bag for me. It was the story of three friends the summer before starting high school. They are assigned a summer reading list with one of the choices being “To Kill A Mockingbird”.
Somehow, they decide to hype up demand for the book by making it appear to be disappearing. I had trouble buying into that part of the story. It just seemed to lose it’s focus as the story went along.
I did however, really enjoy the characters and their summer of learning new things about themselves. The whole hide/steal the books conspiracy was interesting from the point of view of the power of social media. The whole thing took on a life of its own and the kids had to find a way to justify what they had done and find a way to end the game.
I would be hard pressed to see this one as a Newbery but a fun read, that I think students would enjoy.

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West of the MoonWest of the Moon by Margi Preus
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was actually very captivated by this little story. It read very quickly but had a lot to offer. I had so many personal connections to the story that it was really interesting for me. This was basically a historical fiction about 2 sisters and their perilous journey to immigrate from Norway to America in the 1850s. However, it was written like a fractured fairy-tale. The author brought in about a dozen different well-known Norwegian folktales. While their journey follows these tales, it is based in reality. I loved how the author worked in real life explanations for the superstitions of the time period.
My husband is half Norwegian with his grandparents immigrating in the early 1900’s. I have done some research into the history of this immigration into the Midwest (Iowa and Wisconsin) and found Preus’ research very spot on. I will for sure have to pass this on to my mother-in-law, she will love the folktales and little ditties that the girls sing.

Addendunum: As this book keeps rattling around in my brain, I decided I needed to add a few more comments. I think my initial review made it sound a little too fluffy. While this book uses folktales as it’s vehicle, they are the more “grim” style. While much of the grimness is eluded to, there are some tough topics, such as; death, disease, child abuse, threatened sexual assault, childbirth, and abandonment.

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Under the EggUnder the Egg by Laura Marx Fitzgerald
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As an adult reader, I love a good mystery. But in Juvenile literature I find them disappointing. Common problems for me are that the “mystery” to be solved is contrived and trivial, or the participation of children in the solution is too far-fetched. I really didn’t find I was troubled with either one of these issues with this middle grade mystery. I found the young detectives believable and engaging. Granted both girls are stuck with absentee parents which gives them the freedom and necessity to undertake this adventures.
Theo has lost her Grandfather to a car accident and is left with what seems to be a mentally ill mother. She teams up with Bodhi, a child of entertainment “Stars”, who lives with very little adult supervision. They embark on a search into Renaissance art history to identify a painting that may be Theo’s salvation.
The two characters play well off of each other, with Theo being old school- find answers in a book at the library-style and Bodhi being a techno geek.
The story has a lot of depth and good discussion of feelings good, bad and selfish. The descriptions of Renaissance art is well done. It is informative without being too tedious. Eventually there is another historical period that comes to play in the story but that would be a spoiler and I will leave that for you to discover.

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YOUNG ADULT NEW RELEASE:

The Journey of Hannah WoodsThe Journey of Hannah Woods by Helene Forst
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I received this book in a Goodreads Giveaway. I was very eager to read this right after I had completed Laurie Halse Anderson’s The Impossible Knife of Memory. Both stories deal with the timely and urgent issue of PTSD. Anderson’s book dealt predominantly with the destruction and devastation of PTSD on the victim and their families. Forst’s book on the other hand focused more directly on the treatment process.
There are many theories regarding treatment modalities for this difficult psychological challenge. The story of Hannah Woods’ journey involves extensive psychotherapy, a carefully monitored detox program and an unbelievably loving and supportive environment.
All that being said, I found that in spite of the seriousness and difficulty of this topic, the book was not really gritty enough. The author gave very detailed descriptions of Hannah’s therapy sessions, experiences with Tai Chi and too good to be true grandparents and friends. But it all felt unbelievable and slightly contrived. I realize that the author was taking into consideration the tender age of her audience (teens) but the truth is that today’s teen is exposed to a level of gritty that would surprise most of us adults. I know that I would have a hard time selling this neatly wrapped up story to my very street smart middle schoolers.

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ThreatenedThreatened by Eliot Schrefer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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The Impossible Knife of MemoryThe Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I love everything Laurie Halse Anderson writes. The problem with her books is that the world must stop once I pick one up. I mean STOP! The Impossible Knife of Memory was no exception. I bought the book on a Friday afternoon and finished by Sunday evening.
This story is about a teenage girl and her wounded warrior father. He suffers from PTSD and their life is rapidly disintegrating as he chooses all the wrong coping mechanisms. This is a very timely theme with so many of our men and women soldiers returning to civilian life and struggling to cope.
Each of the teens in Hayley’s social circle have some form of major crisis going on at home. They all struggle to support each other while being thrust into an unfair parental role in their families. Just like the parents, they fall into some destructive coping mechanisms. This theme of making poor decisions is common to Anderson’s YA novels. She is the master at drawing the reader into the angst.
I must say that although I enjoyed this book immensely, for some reason I didn’t find myself as completely consumed by the characters as I have in some of her other books. I suppose that is what accounts for the 4 stars instead of 5. The first book by Anderson I read will probably remain my favorite. Speak, published in 1999 still grips me. I also felt the angst in Wintergirls to such an extent that I felt physically ill.
Just as a side note, Laurie Halse Anderson also writes superb middle-grade historical fictions, I love these as well.

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Wisconsin History

One Came HomeOne Came Home by Amy Timberlake
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What an interesting book. I chose this one because it was an historical fiction set in Wisconsin. As I work with students in Wisconsin, I am always looking for books with local connections. This was set in 1871 in central Wisconsin near the Wisconsin River. The author chose to create a story around the annual nesting of passenger pigeons in the woods surrounding this central Wisconsin town. This was an annual migration that I had never heard of before. The author does discuss this in her note at the end and acknowledges that this is a very obscure historical event.
Putting aside this odd historical setting, I really enjoyed the characters and their storyline in this book. It reminded me of “True Grit”, “The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate”, and “The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie”. The heroine is spunky and pushes against society’s restrictions and carries on a delightful inner dialogue.
My only real disappointment with this book was that right at the very end the author chose to insert a reference to the hugely fatal, largely unknown, Peshtigo Fire on the same day as the infamous Chicago Fire. This is a big subject and I feel deserved a whole book to itself not just a passing glance. It muddied the ending as far as I was concerned.

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See You at Harry’s

See You at Harry'sSee You at Harry’s by Jo Knowles
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I wanted to love this book and then part way through I wanted to be disappointed in it and in the end it won me over. I find that my reaction to a book can be colored by the surrounding books I am reading. This book came on the heels of “Wonder” and “Out of My Mind”, which are pretty tough acts to follow. There is a sense that currently all children’s lit must tackle the issue of Bullies.
Each story seems to cover a different subject of persecution but the theme is consistent. In this case the topic is homosexuality. My issue with this is, believing that early adolescents can be so certain about their sexuality at this stage in their development. Sadly, I believe that the bullying often forces kids into a stereotype simply because they seem different. Adolescence is all about finding ourselves and our walk in life, I hate to see any kid pigeon-holed for the sake of an axe society has to grind. Although the topic of sexual orientation was carefully dealt with in this story I would not hand this book to middle-grade readers.
The rest of the story, was quite a tear-jerker. At the risk of being a spoiler, I will leave it at that. It took me a large portion of the book before I really engaged with the characters in this family. I liked the children, but the parents irritated me. I suppose they were intended to to some extent. didn’t think I had connected with the characters enough to empathize with the sorrow I knew was coming. But in the end I did. All the character flaws became more real within the context of grief.

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Another GN

Page by PaigePage by Paige by Laura Lee Gulledge
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This whole GN genre is growing on me. This book really grabbed me. The cloud of self-doubt that follows this young heroine is my own constant companion. Perhaps for someone who doesn’t suffer this bane, they might find her hard to believe. But for me I feel her pain, still at 50 years old!!! She even threw herself “a pity party”! Been there, done that a thousand times.
The artwork in this graphic novel is wonderful. I read once that the art of a truly great GN must tell the story in a way words alone could not. I believe that very aptly describes the marriage of text and art in this story. Where I would normally quote part of the text to show my connection to it, here I would have to copy and paste one of the illustrated frames.
Given careful discernment, I can enjoy the contribution to literature made by the Graphic Novel.

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