Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Ashes, Ashes by Jo Treggiari

This is a book that I ordered last spring and had planned to read it over the summer. One of my students just HAD to read it, so I gave it to her for the summer. When she came back in September, she was telling me what a great book it was and that I just HAD to read it. I finally picked it up and started reading it over the weekend.

Ashes, Ashes is like many dystopian novels. The main character has had to adapt and adjust to a new strange world. Lucy is the main character in Ashes, Ashes and she remembers a time when life was normal, when she went to school, fought with her brother and sister and was safe. But that was a long time ago. Now, all she does is try to survive. Lucy is the only survivor from her family. She lives by herself, avoids other people and at all costs avoids the 'Sweepers' who are looking for people who survived the plague that wiped out Earth's entire population. Then one day Lucy meets Aidan, a boy who is unlike anyone she has met since the world changed. He reintroduces Lucy to the concept of family and working together to survive. But living in a community has its' own challenges for Lucy, she needs to learn how to trust people again.

I enjoyed reading this story and I think Junior/Intermediate students will enjoy it too. The themes of survival, friendship, adventure and romance are enough to keep both boys and girls reading this book.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Death Cure by James Dashner

It's hard to believe that it has been 3 months since I've posted anything- it's been a bit of a crazy fall and I haven't been able to read much. Hopefully this will get me back into reading!

I picked up The Death Cure last week at Titles. This is the third in the Maze Runner series. The first being The Maze Runner and the second being The Scorch Trials. If you haven't read the first two, I'd suggest you stop reading and go find those books.

I sometimes find with trilogies that it takes me a while to remember what happened in the previous stories and it is harder to get into the final books when a bit of time has passed between books. This holds true for The Death Cure, although it didn’t take long for me to remember the characters and what had happened.

The Death Cure starts out with Thomas and his friends having survived several challenges. The first was the Maze and the second was the Scorch Trials. Thomas and his friends are tired, worn out and very suspicious of Wicked, the organization that claims they are here to save them. Of course nothing is ever easy for Thomas. On the one hand there is Teresa who was once his best friend and then betrayed him. On the other hand there is Brenda, someone who he grew close to during the Scorch Trials, but who works for the very organization that Thomas isn’t sure of. Then there is the ‘Flare’, the disease that slowly takes over your brain and makes you crazy. This ‘flare’ is what everyone lives in fear of. Contacting the flare is the same thing as a death sentence.

Throughout the Death Cure, Thomas must decide what he believes in, who he believes in and make decisions for his own future. This book, like the other two is full of action, adventure and suspense. You are never really sure who will make it and who will die. This book had a great ending that really wrapped up the whole series.

If you’ve read the first two books, you really need to read this one as well.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

0.4 by Mike Lancaster

I was looking for a new book to get me back into the swing of read YA books. This one looked like a dystopian novel, which I love. It's a bit more sci-fi then dystopia, but it's a great read.

The premise of this book is unlike any other book I've read. The book is obviously set in the future, and the 'editor' is transcribing tapes that were found from many years ago (or our present day). At times, the editor needs to explain some word or phrase that wouldn't be understood by people from the future. I found these little asides to be quite amusing. It reminds me of how dangerous it is to assume things based on historical evidence.
The story is about Kyle Straker, a normal 15 year old boy whose life takes a very strange turn one day. It's hard to write too much about this book because I don't want to give away anything. What we read in this story is Kyle's life as he told it through a series of tapes he left behind. In these tapes we learn about how Kyle's life changed after his friend hypnotized him and what he missed out during his trance.
I would suggest picking this book up- it's a very interesting quick read. I can think of a few boys from my class last year who will want to get their hands on this one tomorrow when I take it to school.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

The Eleventh Plague by Jeff Hirsch

I picked this book up the other day when I ran into Chapters to pick up a new journal. I had to take a swing through the YA section and this one caught my eye. I'm always looking for new dystopian novels since those are my favourite books to read and so many kids seem to gravitate towards them as well.

Jeff Hirsch is a new author, this is his first book. I have to say that I'm looking forward to reading more of his work. His characters, the plot and concept of this novel is unique and fascinating to read.

The Eleventh Plague is set sometime in the near future after a war that left all of America completely devastated. What the war didn't wipe out, a deadly flu virus did almost destroying all of earth's population- most people refer to it as "The Eleventh Plague." For Stephen, his life as a scavenger means that he walks across North America searching for useful items left behind. When he, his father and grandfather have enough items they take them to trade for things they need in order to survive. His grandfather has drilled into him that they need to stay away from other people and not get involved. When his grandfather dies, Stephen and his father are faced with the difficult task of scavenging enough to stay alive. After an accident, Stephen's father falls into a coma and Stephen is left to figure out how to go on. He makes it to a settlement unlike any place he could imagine. There, he comes to realize that there is more to life than just surviving. He begins to make friends and finds a place with a family. But not everything is happy in Settler's Landing. Some people don't trust Stephen and he has a hard time trusting others. Throughout the story, Stephen is constantly battling his grandfather's voice telling him people can't be trusted with the safety and love he feels when he is with the family who took him in.

This story has it all, adventure, romance and friendship. I can see many kids enjoying reading this one. I can't wait until school starts on Tuesday to share it with some of my kids from last year. This would be a good book for those who like The Hunger Games, Gone and other novels about a post-apocalyptic world.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Power of Six by Pittacus Lore

The book Power of Six takes up where I am Number Four left off. If you haven't read the first book, you should probably stop reading because there will be spoilers ahead.

The Power of Six has different stories happening at the same time. First there is John, who is trying to cope with the guilt he feels over Henri's death. He is on the run with his best friend Sam and Six, one of the other children who came from the planet Lorien to escape the war. John, Sam and Six are trying desperately to stay alive and away from the Mogadorians and the police since they are wanted for the destruction of the school. John deals with his feels of guilt and longing to see Sarah again.

The other story happening takes place in Spain. We are introduced to Seven, or Marina who has lived most of her life hiding in a religious orphanage with her Cepan Adelina. However, Adelina is very different from Henri. Where Henri recognized the importance of training and being prepared, Adelina is the opposite. It seems that she has forgotten her role in keeping Seven alive to protect Lorien. This leaves Marina at a loss when her legacies start to develop. She is left with no friends and nobody to confide in or talk to. When Marina starts having visions, she realizes she needs to take matters in her own hands.

I found this book to be hard to get into. It might have been because it's been a while since I've read Number Four and I'd forgotten parts of it. I sometimes found the plot a bit confusing and hard to follow. The names that come from Lorien and other planets close by are a bit confusing. However, I did enjoy many parts of it. There was a great deal of excitement, battles and suspense and a wee bit of romance. I liked the ending of this one much better than the first. I know many kids will be begging for this book in a few weeks when I get back to school.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Some Girls Are by Courtney Summers

I've just discovered Courtney Summers this summer, and I'm so glad I did. The stories she writes are about real kids struggling with real issues. The characters are believable, likeable and typical of teenage kids. The first book I read by her was http://whatchareading-kerry.blogspot.com/2011/08/fall-for-anything-by-courtney-summers.html and I immediately ordered Some Girls Are.

Some Girls Are in many ways is like Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, but also reminded me of http://whatchareading-kerry.blogspot.com/2010/01/lottery-by-beth-goobie.html by Beth Goobie
The main character in the story is Regina who is a senior in high school. By all outward appearances she has it all. She has a boyfriend, many close friends and most importantly she is at the top of the social ladder. Her and her group of girlfriends are the ones the rest of the school looks up to and admire. They are untouchable. Regina has always been confident in her place as Anna's best friend, until a party one night when something happens to split the girls apart. Suddenly Regina is frozen out of her place with all of her friends. She really has nowhere to turn. Her former friends bully, threaten and taunt her and encourage the rest of the school to do the same. Regina seeks shelter with one of the boys who she previously tormented leading to a very strange friendship between the two. Regina learns a great deal not only about herself, but also about others' as she is forced to deal with her past behaviour.

I really, really enjoyed reading this book. Regina is unlike any other character who has faced bullying in books. Regina doesn't just take it, she fights back. While there were times I cringed at her methods- I appreciated her strength and courage. There are times when Regina and her friends portray the ultimate mean girls at high school, yet through all of this Regina grows up and has to face her past.

When I first started reading this book I wasn't sure if I could keep it in my grade 7 classroom. There is a lot of sexual references and swearing, but as I read on I realized this is a book girls must read. This book will go into my mature book box, but I know I will take it out and share it with many kids this year. I can't wait to read other books by Summers!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Kate by Valerie Sherrard

Valerie Sherrard's books have long been favourites of mine. I really like her Shelby Belgarden mystery series set in New Brunswick, they are real stories with real teenagers. This book is a bit different from the mystery ones. This is a really nice story about a young girl who is growing up in a small town in the 1960's.

The main character is Kate Benchworth and while in many ways she is just like any other 14 year old, there is one thing that sets her apart- she has been diagnosed with a brain tumour and knows her time is limited. Yet she is determined to make the most out of the time she has left. This may be what sets her apart from most 14 year old kids. Kate wants to make sure that she appreciates and takes advantage of the time she has. This includes getting to know the people in her community and befriending a boy in jail. The lessons Kate shares are really remarkable. She learns about love, and really knowing a person before passing judgement. Kate isn't afraid to show her parents she cares and this is quite different from most books about teenage girls.

As I was reading this book it didn't seem like it was set in the present- the expectations adults had of children were quite different from todays expectations. Kate's father was often reminding Kate of showing respect to elders, not questioning their decisions and how to behave around boys. It wasn't until the middle of the book that it was confirmed that it was set in the 1960's. I don't think that took anything away from the story, however, it will be different for kids to read. I think this book would best be enjoyed by girls who are a little more innocent than most of the intermediate students I teach. Having said that, it is a wonderful story- full of hope, love and strength. It was quite enjoyable.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

I'm not sure this is a book I ever would have picked up except for all the buzz it was getting on Twitter. This book trailer really does a great job to sell the story- and it is a hard one to write about.

Sixteen year old Jacob comes from a very loving family. His mother and father want what's best for him, but the person he is closest to is his Grandfather. Jacob spent hours listening to his Grandfather tell stories about his childhood. Some of the stories seem very far fetched and it isn't until Jacob gets a bit older that he comes to realize that his Grandfather was making everything up. This disillusions Jacob, but he tries to forgive his Grandfather because he had to face many challenges throughout his life. Jacob assumes that these stories are a result of his tragic life and still remains close to him.

When tragedy strikes Jacob, his whole life goes off the track. His father agrees to take Jacob to a mysterious, remote island off the coast of Wales where his Grandfather grew up. While exploring the island, Jacob finds the run down home of Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children. Here Jacob begins to realize that the stories of his youth were based on the children under Miss Peregrine's care. As Jacob comes to know what Miss Peregrine's home is all about, he is thrust into an adventure unlike any he could ever imagine while at the same time coming to understand and know his grandfather even better.

This book is a great fantasy read. It is dark, spooky, and full of adventure. What really gives this book such a unique feel is the use of pictures depicting the people in the story. These real photographs somehow draw you into the story even more, it is like reading someone's scrapbook. Jacob is a great character. Loyal to his grandfather, wanting adventure, but still respectful of his parents wants and needs. The language Jacob uses is so real, he sounds just like the sixteen year old boys I know. I'm not a real fantasy lover, but I'm really hoping that Ransom Riggs comes out with a sequel to this one, there was lots at the end of the story that left you wanting more. Check out his blog here.

Friday, August 12, 2011

What Happened to Serenity? by P.J. Sarah Collins

This is another new author for me, and another Canadian author too! In looking at her website, it would seem she is a teacher and author. The cover kind of misled me a bit- this looks like it might be a coming-of-age story and in part it is- but it is more dystopian than anything. I love finding new dystopian novels, and dystopian novels set in Canada are incredibly rare- this is a real treat.

The main character in this story is Katherine. She lives in a small agricultural town and even though the setting is 2021, the community survives by using the land to support them. They grow what they need to eat and live very simple lives. Katherine's biggest struggle is to not ask questions. In their town they must defer to "Father" the head of the town in all things. Asking questions is seen as wrong- even parents can't ask questions of their children. Katherine has a really hard time with this because she is curious about many things she sees and overhears. When her best friends sister Serenity disappears, Katherine is full of questions, but has nobody to ask or talk to. All of her friends are willing to go along with what is expected of them because they are so close to learning their Life Role. Father uses the promise of a good job to keep kids in line. Katherine starts seeking out answers and questioning the town, the leaders and even her own parents. This leads her to discover that all isn't what it seems in her 'perfect' world.

I really enjoyed reading this book. It was exciting, different and full of suspense. I found the vague references to Canadian issues to be quiet interesting- even when Katherine didn't fully understand them. I like how strong Katherine was as a character. She is deeply committed to her family and friends, but not at the cost of blindly accepting what she is told. That is the kind of child I want- someone who questions, judges and takes risks.

I'm really happy that I had a chance to read this book. I can't wait to share it with my grade 7's in the fall. My kids from last year will be really excited that I've added another dystopian novel to our bucket.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Fall for Anything by Courtney Summers

Courtney Summers is a new author for me. After reading Fall for Anything, I've put her other books on my wish list. I really like the way she writes. The fact that she is Canadian and is writing about places I've been and know somehow made this story seem so real. Many books that deal with difficult issues are written from an American perspective, and it's not that I don't love reading those books too, but this one just seemed much more realistic knowing this was a girl so much like girls I know. This book just felt different- in such a great way.

Fall for Anything is about a 17 year old girl named Eddie whose father has just committed suicide. Eddie's mother is a total mess and isn't there for Eddie at all. Her mother's best friend Beth has moved in and she has no idea how to help the situation. The only person Eddie can depend on is her best friend Milo. Ever since her father's death things between Eddie and Milo have been quite tense. When Missy, Milo's sort-of girlfriend comes back on the scene, Eddie feels even more separated from him. Then Eddie meets Culler, a former student of her dad's. Both of them are dealing with their grief and confusion over his death. Neither one of them can understand why her father would commit suicide and are searching for answers in everything he has left behind. As the two of them search for answers, they are drawn closer together while pushing Milo away.

This story was so beautiful and sad. Eddie's grief over her fathers death was so hard to watch. It was so easy to understand why Eddie was searching for answers. The story does a really great job of dealing with the aftermath of suicide. The characters were so compelling as well. The relationship between Eddie and Milo was as complicated as can be when two teenagers of opposite the sex are close friends. I loved how Eddie dealt with her mother's annoying friend. I found Beth to be so insensitive because she was focussing only on the mom and had absolutely no compassion for Eddie. I really really loved reading this book. There was some swearing in the book, although it was never inappropriate or just used for shock value. There was also discussions about sex, but nothing that I don't think grade 7 students could handle. I really think this is a book I will be thinking about for a while.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Plague by Michael Grant

Plague is the fourth book in the Gone series and when it came out I had many former students asking me for it. I didn't even get it back until the end of June because so many kids who've read the first three books needed to read this one. I was starting to lose interest in this series after the third book Lies , but I'm back to really enjoying these books after finishing this one today.

The kids in the FAYZ are still surviving - barely and once again they are faced with new challenges and old enemies seeking revenge. In the last three books, we've seen Astrid and Sam with a few other friends do their best to make sure everyone is safe and working hard to survive. Yet the challenge of trying to lead this group is taking its toll on them. Drake has been captured and Caine and Diana have disappeared much to everyones relief. But in this novel, once again Sam and Astrid are faced with enemies and mysterious beings and mutations that threaten everyone's safety. To top it all off, a mysterious flu is sweeping the FAYZ and both sides fight to stay alive.

Once again, Grant writes a story that is fast paced and surprising. You never know exactly what is going to happen to the kids and if the good guys will win or be defeated. As I started this book, I didn't think I was going to make it though, but I was quickly caught up in the characters lives and wanting to know how everything was going to turn out for them. There are a few pieces that I find really confusing, such as Little Pete's story and the story of The Darkness. I'm not sure if I just read to quickly over the last few books and I've forgotten what is happening or this is Grant's way to keep readers reading. However, not understanding those two parts did not detract from the enjoyment of reading this story.
If you've read this series, you might also be interested in checking out the Youtube videos of Grant talking about his books.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton

It's hard to believe that I am reviewing a book I read over 25 years ago. This book was first published in 1967 (before I was even alive!) and I have to say that it really stands the test of time. I'm debating on this being the first read aloud I do this year with my grade 7's. There are a lot of great messages and themes that could be addressed through reading this together.
When I started reading this book, I was reminded why I loved it so much, but was worried that maybe kids wouldn't understand the world Hinton was describing. Set in 1965, Hinton tells the story of a 'gang' of boys from the wrong side of the tracks. These boys have had to grow up with violence, hatred and poverty. These greasers (called this because of the hair grease they used to slick their hair back) hate the 'socs'- the group of rich kids who live on the right side of the track. The tension and hatred between the two groups comes out in fights and 'jumping'- when a group of kids gang up on one or two other kids. The Outsiders is told from Ponyboy's perspective. He is the youngest boy in a gang of boys and he is the youngest of three brothers who are trying to hold it together after their parents died in a car crash. Like in any family, the boys fight and Ponyboy feels unwanted by his oldest brother. When Ponyboy and Johnny are jumped by some socs, they are forced to make a series of decisions that have great consequences, not just for the two of them, but for people on both sides of this class war.
What I love about this book is the message of how similar people really are. It doesn't matter if you are rich, poor, black or white- everyone has problems. Ponyboy learns this lesson the hard way, and watching him struggle to cope with his own life and the circumstances he is faced with is so fascinating. I know many kids are picking this book up which is why I wanted to reread it. Some kids would certainly need some guidance to understand some of the terms like 'greaser', 'soc', 'madras', but those words aren't really important to the story. They may help with the picture in your mind, but not understanding them certainly wouldn't hold someone back in understanding what they are reading. I think the best way to deal with this book would be to use it as a literature circle or whole group read aloud. The best part of that would be the opportunity to read her many other books

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

All things Harry Potter!

First off, I have to apologize for not posting too much this summer. I've been reading, just not young adult books. I've been caught up in a flurry of beach reading murder mysteries this summer.

Secondly, this is not a usual post- today I'm posting about something I baked today! For those of you that know me, you know I'm not really to great in the kitchen. I make a mean bowl of Kraft Dinner and chocolate chip cookies, but I don't get too adventurous. The other thing people know about me is that I am a HUGE Harry Potter fan- I mean I love the movies and books. They are the only movies I have loved as much as the books. In March, I was lucky enough to take 5 kids, my mom and myself to Universal Studios to visit the Harry Potter theme park. Needless to say, we loved it. We had to try butterbeer- and it was everything they describe in the book. I tried to replicate it at home a few weeks later, but my boys told me it didn't come close (I didn't think it was that bad!)

A few weeks ago when Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows came out, there were lots of blog posts with places to check out (have you seen pottermore.com? ) This blog post came to my attention and I knew I HAD to make them. It took a bit of searching to find some of the ingredients. I had a hard time finding Butter Flavouring (which is like vanilla, only butter flavouring) and Vanilla Cream Soda. I ended up buying the Cream Soda in the U.S.A. when I went to visit my brother. As it turns out a nice bulk store here carried both the Cream Soda (I now have 2 more 2 litre bottles of it when I only needed 1/3 of a cup) and the Butter Flavouring.

Finally, I had a day that wasn't too hot outside and I actually had all the ingredients in the house. I can't believe how easy they were to make. I doubled the recipe because I've been talking about these for the last two weeks and figured my friends and family needed to try some as well. This was the first time I've really made buttercream frosting- and it all worked out brilliantly!

These cupcakes are to die for! They taste just like the butterbeer we had at Universal and everyone who has tried them has LOVED them. If you've always wanted to taste butterbeer, or are having a Harry Potter party- you must make these. I'm so glad I found the amybites blog!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson

Just before school was out for the year, my class and I were watching book trailers and this one came up. Immediately many of my students wanted to read it. After finishing a bunch of adult novels I finally got back to reading some Young Adult ones. This is a tough book to review because I don't want to give away too much of the plot, but I'll give it a try!
Jenna Fox has just woken up from a coma that she has been in for a year and a half. To say she is confused is a total understatement. Jenna has very few memories of her life. She has to take her mother, father and grandmother's word for the type of person she was before the coma. Then, Jenna's memories start coming back in bits and pieces. This leads to a lot of confusion for her as what she remembers doesn't match what her family is telling her. The memories of the accident also cause her a great deal of confusion. Jenna's fight to regain her life is an interesting one to watch. The story is set in a time when health care is a mixture of science and technology and when the ethics of saving people is a debate that has people on opposite sides of this issue.

To be honest, I found this book a bit hard to get into. I felt sorry for Jenna, but the mystery of the way she was being treated by her parents and especially her grandmother were very confusing. Once I read about a hundred pages though it got very interesting and the pace picked up considerably. The concept of the book is quite interesting. I think this book would be a great read for an adult book club. I'd love to chat with students about it as well. This book deals with the big question of what would a parent do to keep their child alive?
Here is the book trailer that grabbed my students.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Sisterhood Everlasting by Ann Brashares

To be honest, I'm not sure if this fits under the YA section or adult section of books. The characters are in their 30's, and that usually doesn't appeal to teens. I know my students who loved the Sisterhood books would love this one- there is nothing that is inappropriate for young adults to read.

I don't want to say too much or give too much away. I didn't even know this one was in the works. I saw it featured in the Globe and Mail a week ago and I was so excited. I started it Saturday night around 9:30 (which is usually about 30 minutes before I am fast asleep) and I read until 12:30. I got up early Sunday morning and finished it because I COULD NOT STOP READING IT!

Ann Brashares books about friendship are so beautifully and powerfully written. I'm immediately drawn into the world she creates. I was a bit worried that I should have reread the Sisterhood books to remind myself what had happened at the end of the fourth one. But, like so many great authors, this was unnecessary. Brashares quickly reminded me what I loved about each of these girls and caught me up in their lives for the last 10 years.

I'm not going to write much more except to say that when you read this one, keep a box of tissues handy- I cried many times while reading this book. Not always from sadness, but just because I care so much about the fate of these girls. It was a lovely read and a great way to kick off my summer holiday!

Monday, July 4, 2011

Kissed By an Angel, The Power of Love and Soulmates by Elizabeth Chandler

About 3 weeks before school ended a student in grade 6 came to tell me that I JUST HAD TO READ THIS BOOK. That's a pretty big statement to make and I was excited for many reasons. 1. Jessica is going to be in my class in September 2. I love it when kids know how much I like reading their books 3. I was ready for a new book.

It took me a bit to get into the series but because Jessica thought it was the best book ever, I kept going. Kissed by an Angel is a romance novel that has a bit of a twist. Ivy is in high school and has just met and fallen in love with Tristan- the athletic, kind, funny boy who every girl wants to be with. Tristan has only had eyes for Ivy since she transferred to his school. He is the only person that Ivy trusts to share her deep faith in angels. When Tristan dies in a car accident, Ivy soon realizes that he is her guardian angel. Ivy doesn't realize it at first, but she needs someone to look out for her because the accident that killed Tristan was really meant to kill her.

The next 2 books follow the same theme, Tristan trying to save Ivy from someone who wants her dead. The other characters- boys from school, girlfriends and a new step-brother are all introduced and try to help Ivy. Yet Ivy doesn't know who to trust. Just when she thinks someone is the real deal, they do something to make her wonder who she can trust and who is trying to kill her.

I found the story to be a little over the top. I can see why girls would like the story- lots of 'true love' and romance even when he is dead. Ivy's obsession with angels was a bit hard to believe- but again, I can see how girls would love this. All in all, I was glad to have read these books. I can see many girls enjoying these stories, romance, guardian angels, suspense at all.

Bumped by Megan McCafferty

Bumped reminded me a great deal of the Margaret Atwood story Handmade Tale
Set in the future, Bumped tells the story of what happens when the only people who can conceive children are young adults between the ages of 13 to 18. In this civilization, being pregnant in high school is the most desirable accomplishment. Girls who are obviously pregnant are revered by their peers and the rest of society. They also have the ability to make a great deal of money when it comes time to sell their baby to older couples who cannot have their own.

The two main characters in Bumped are Harmony and Melody- twin girls who were separated at birth and lived very different lives. Melody was forced to work hard, but given many opportunities. She has signed a contract that will make her rich- just as soon as she can become pregnant by someone worthy. Harmony led a much simpler life being raised in a religious community. Harmony has come to save Melody and to help her see the power in religion. When Melody and Harmony are mistaken for each other, their lives take a drastic turn for each of them.

I liked the idea of this story. It is fascinating how McCafferty created these characters that are so much like teenage girls today- yet they want something that girls today try to avoid. As with most alternative reality books, I found it hard to understand at the beginning of the book. There is lots of slang and phrases that you really have to think about to understand. I think kids without much understanding of the whole process of pregnancy might find the book hard to follow. Having said that, it is an exciting book and I really wanted to know what would happen to both Harmony and Melody.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Exposed by Kimberly Marcus

Last night I read this beautiful book. Told in poems, I was moved by the beautiful words and images, but also by the storyline. Exposed tells the story of two girls who have been best friends for ever. Liz is 16 and is passionate about photography. Kate is a dancer who is trying to decide if her future will including dancing. Like most friends, the girls fight, make up and are usually inseparable. Then one night the girls have a fight and suddenly Liz finds she cannot get Katie to talk to her. Confused, lonely and sad, Liz stumbles through school watching Kate struggle with something, but unable to approach her. As the story goes on, Kate reveals what happened the night of their fight and Liz must search her heart to discover many truths.

This story deals with a pretty mature theme. I was trying to decide if it belonged in my classroom or not. It reminds me of both Speak and The Mockingbirds. After thinking about it, I do believe this book has a place in my room. The story speaks of friendship, loss, trust and moving on. I think it is one many girls will love to read.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Summer in the City by Candace Bushnell

This is the sequel to Bushnell's last book The Carrie Diaries which go on to other books and a hit TV series. Summer in the City tells the story of Carrie Bradshaw and her first few months in New York City. Watching the TV series, I know what a cool character Carrie becomes. She is confident, well dressed and comfortable with her life. In this book Carrie is anything but those things. She is a shy, unsophisticated girl who is making her way in the big city. Carrie realizes that New York is where she wants to make it big. She is starting to make a life for herself and has made some great friends like Miranda and Samantha. But life isn't easy!

This book does not belong in any elementary classroom- however, I really liked it and can't wait to read the next one.

The Declaration by Gemma Malley

There is nothing I like better than having students come and talk to me at recess about books. Even better when they are grade 8 boys who I didn't even teach last year, but who I have a relationship with through reading. Add to that a long weekend where I could spend a day reading without feeling too much guilt and I'm in heaven. All those things happened this week and The Declaration is the book that came out of our conversation. One of the boys suggested that I read this one, and he had it in his bag for me to borrow.

The Declaration is set in the year 2140 and in the past, scientists discovered a cure for aging and death. As long as people take the Longevity drugs they can ward off disease, illness and death. The only catch is that in order to take the drugs you have to agree to not have any children because the world is becoming over populated. Some people choose the 'opt-out' program which means you don't get the drugs, but you can have one child. This isn't really a popular choice though as there really aren't many places for children anymore. Then there are the members of society who decide to have more than one child- their 'surplus' children are hidden away from the world, unless they are caught.
Suplus Anna is that child. She was taken from her family when she was two years old and has been taught to hate her parents and to hate her own existence. All Anna wants to do is pay her debt to society for being alive. This means she works very hard to be perfect at everything she does, all in hopes of someday working for a legal family as a domestic helper and to minimize the impact her life has on the world.
Then, a boy is brought to the school she stays at. Peter is unlike anyone Anna has ever met. At times she is drawn to him and other times she wants to never see him again. Peter challenges her very belief system and makes Anna realize that maybe she isn't a waste and that there is more to dream of in her life.
The concept of this book is pretty cool, it's a different twist on population control and yet somewhat similar to the series Among the Hidden. I found at times that the book skipped over some pretty major parts, I wanted to know more about Anna and Peter and how they changed through the book. There is a sequel to the story, which I didn't rush out immediately and pick up, but it was a pretty good read.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Num8ers by Rachel Ward

Imagine living with the knowledge of the day everyone is going to die. That is what life is like for Jem- ever since she can remember, she looks at people and sees the date of their death. It isn't easy for her. To protect herself, she keeps people at a distance. This makes for a very lonely life, but at least she is safe from getting close to someone when she knows they will die.
Then, Jem meets Spider. A troubled boy who for some reason Jem is drawn to. Together they start building a relationship and make plans to spend time together.
One day in London, Jem pulls Spider away from a near disaster and suddenly they are on the run from the police and wanted for questioning. As Jem and Spider grow closer, Jem knows the date of Spider's death and she desperately tries to find a way to cheat death.

I heard about this book from another teacher and picked it up on her recommendation. It is written with an real English flair, which I do enjoy reading. However, it is a bit too mature to put in my grade 7 classroom. The concept is pretty cool, but there are times when the story drags on a bit. I liked Jem and her relationship with Spider was quite interesting to watch develop. The ending left me wanting to read the sequel, even though I don't think I can put it in my classroom.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver

This is the second Oliver book I have read. The first one Delirium, I read about a month ago and quite liked it. I've heard a lot of buzz about Before I Fall and so I picked it up a few weeks ago.

Before I Fall is the story of a seventeen year old girl who has it all. Samantha has three best friends, a boyfriend that everyone wants to be with and all the kids in the school look up to her. Samantha and her friends aren't always kind to others at school. They make fun of them, criticize them or shun them totally. All of this seems normal to Samantha until one night in February. As her and her friends head off to a party, everything seems normal. On their way home however, they are in a car accident. As Samantha hovers between life and death, she must relive her last day over and over again. Samantha soon realizes that the way she was behaving wasn't really her and she must learn to value what she has in life before it is too late.

I thought the premise of this book was really interesting. It reminded me a lot of If I Stay by Gayle Forman. When I started reading the book, I was a bit disappointed. Samantha is the typical spoiled, popular teenage girl. Her and her friends are so mean to people they deem unworthy. They are shallow, crass and really hard to read. At one point, I was actually going to put the book down and stop reading it. I am glad I didn't though, because as Samantha relives her last day over and over again, she starts changing. The changes she makes make her a much kinder, nicer person and I really started feeling sympathetic towards her. My only problem with this book is how mature it is. Samantha and her friends glorify drinking, drugs and other dangerous behaviour. I'm not sure I could put it in my classroom. I really want to because I love the growth that Samantha goes through, but there are a few too many mature parts to the story. I will need to think about this one!

Monday, May 9, 2011

Divergent by Veronica Roth

For those of you that know me, you know that I am an 'early to bed, early to rise' kind of girl. I don't do staying up late to read. You are more likely to catch me up at 5 in the morning finishing a book. However, last night was the exception. I COULD NOT STOP READING this book- it was midnight before I finished it. This is without a doubt one of the best YA books I have ever read. All day today I was talking about how great this book is- I have so many kids that now can't wait to read it.

Divergent is a dystopian story that has romance, violence, friendship, betrayal, fear and government control all in one book. The story is set in what we know as Chicago and in this world, when people turn 16 they must decide what kind of person they want to be for the rest of their life. There are only five choices- honesty, selflessness, peace, intelligence or bravery. Each faction has pros and cons- but once you decide, you must fully commit even if it means leaving everything you know behind.

The main character in the story is Tris, a young girl who is torn between two factions. Once she chooses the faction, she faces an initiation process that could lead to her death or even worse. As Tris meets other members of her chosen faction, she finds friends, enemies and possibly even love. When Tris realizes the people governing their society are corrupt, she must make several decisions that may affect her future and those around her.

The events in this story will appeal to both boys and girls- it is an exciting, thrilling book. There is no way I could put it down last night. I can't wait for the next in the series.

Follow this link to hear from Veronica Roth and her ideas on the characters and the book. Here's a link to Harper Collins book trailer.

If you liked Hunger Games- you will LOVE this book!

Saturday, May 7, 2011

What Happened to Goodbye by Sarah Dessen

Sarah Dessen has long been a favourite author of mine. She writes such interesting stories about young girls who are discovering who they are and their place in the world. There is romance, but not enough to turn someone off. Her books are mostly about growing up and she always deals with very real situations.
What Happened to Goodbye is exactly that. Mclean has been on the move with her dad every since her parents split up. In each town, Mclean picks a new personality and a new name. She fits in well with whatever group she decides to belong to. When her and her dad move to Lakeview, Mclean suddenly finds herself using her real name and remembering who she really is- even though that wasn't her plan. Coming back to her true self is painful, because she is forced to remember what her life was like before her parents divorce.
What I really liked about this story is how Mclean deals with her anger towards her parents divorce. I think many young girls will see themselves in Mclean and connect with her anger towards her mother. Even though she is angry at her mom, it is obvious that she misses her and their relationship. Even kids whose parents aren't divorced can relate to that. I also really like how Sarah Dessen's characters are so real. They aren't perfect. They are sarcastic, loud, rebellious- typical teenagers. I think the fact that Sarah Dessen can create such real characters is what is so appealing about her books. I know there will be lots of girls waiting to read this one on Monday.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Looking for X by Deborah Ellis

I'm a bit ashamed to admit that I have never read this book before. I love reading Deborah Ellis' books, but this one came out before I really started reading her books and somehow I've never gotten around to reading it.

I'm working on gathering up some books to use for literature circles in the next week and I want to expose students to some of the challenges children face- both in other countries and in our own backyard.

Looking for X tells the story of Khyber- an 11 year old girl living in a rough part of Toronto. Her single mother has all she can handle looking after her twin brothers with autism and Khyber has a great deal of responsibility on her shoulders. Khyber's life isn't an easy one. Her mother often has to choose between food and luxury items such as phone services and cable. Throughout the story, the love found in this family is very strong, and even though life is difficult, the family enjoys everything they have.

I think this book will really open the eyes of some of my students. They will be exposed to homelessness and what it is like to be poor. It is a short novel with lots of depth. I'm glad I finally got around to reading it!

Iqbal by Francesco D'Adamo

I've heard about Iqbal and his courageous fight to stop child labour through the Free the Children organization but I didn't know the whole story.
This fictional story looks at Iqbal's life from his days working in the carpet factory to his eventual freedom. Interestingly this story isn't told from his perspective, but instead from another child who gets to know him as she works beside him tying knots for carpets.

I loved how D'Adamo used this different perspective. I found the story to be moving, heart breaking and eye opening. I believe my students will enjoy reading it as well. There is so much to explore in this book that even though it is a short book- the depth and detail they will be exposed to will make for a very rich experience.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Wanting Mor by Rukhsana Khan

Much like Thunder over Kandahar, Wanting Mor is set in post-Taliban Afghanistan. This story is about a young girl named Jameela and how her life evolves after her mother has passed away. The story deals with some of the harsh truths of life in Afghanistan.

I enjoyed reading this book for the second time. At the start, it is a bit hard to follow because the author uses many of the words heard in Afghanistan. There is a glossary at the back, but slowly you start to recognize and understand what is happening. This book is going to be used for a unit on Children Around the World I am starting soon.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Delirium by Lauren Oliver

This is a book that was getting lots of buzz from people I follow on Twitter. It is one of my favourite genres- Alternative Reality. There is just something about authors who can create a world just slightly different from our own that I really like. I really enjoy the way writers introduce us to the characters, setting and different rules that the members of the society are forced to live under.

In Delirium, society has decided that love or deliria nervosa is a disease and must be avoided at all costs. In order to avoid the side effects of the disease, at the age of 18 people undergo surgery and are usually unable to fall in love. The surgery also means that people are incapable of forming attachments to other people and they move through life in a rather protected shell.

The main character is Lena, a girl who is just approaching her 18th birthday. Lena has been counting down the days until she can have the procedure. She feels that only when she is 'cured' will she be safe. Lena's own mother had a great deal of difficulty with the surgery and was never fully cured, Lena was forced to watch her mother struggle to cope with all the feelings she had for people she was close to. Lean wants nothing more than to be matched with whoever the government decides is her perfect match and to get on with her life. Her best friend Hana is starting to think that maybe the cure is wrong and that maybe there is more to life than just drifting through without feeling anything. Hana's questioning of the way life should be really confuses and upsets Lena. Then Lena meets a boy who starts changing the way she looks at her world. Suddenly she is questioning everything she has always believed in.

I really liked the fast paced approach to this story. Oliver has created this believable world where somehow love is wrong. I found myself getting angry with the way love and caring and connections were seen as being so wrong and dangerous. Lena is such a complicated character. Because of her past you can totally understand why she can't wait for this surgery and watching her struggle to realize that maybe society has it wrong is quite the ride. At first I thought the romance aspect of this book would only appeal to the girls, but after finishing the story I believe that the boys will enjoy this alternative reality book as well. This book reminds me a great deal of the Uglies series as well as Matched.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Where She Went by Gayle Forman

I have to say first off that there is no way I can do justice to this book. I was absolutely crazy about it and I don't have the words to describe how much this book moved me.

Where She Went is the sequel to If I Stay. If you haven't read it yet, you need to do that first, please don't read on- you will ruin two wonderful books for yourself!

In If I Stay, Mia has to decide if she will choose to live or die when her family is in a car accident. As she is fighting to make this decision, her boyfriend Adam is by her side. The relationship between Mia and Adam was unlike most teen romances- this one felt so real and believable.

Where She Went is the story of what happened following Mia's decision to live on after her family was killed. However this story is told from Adam's perspective. He went through so much when Mia was in the car accident, he lost not only her family but also Mia and the special relationship between the two of them. He is confused, depressed and even though his music career has taken off, he is totally lost. When Mia and Adam meet up one night in New York, they spend the night wandering the city and learning about each other all over again. It isn't easy, there is a lot in their past that makes reconnecting so difficult.

Forman's writing is so touching and beautiful. I was moved to tears many times while I was reading it. The hurt and betrayal that Adam feels was so raw and real. Even though he was living the rock star life, you knew he hadn't really changed who he was. His struggle to come to terms with his guilt and anger and hurt was so hard to read at times. However, I loved ever minute of it and my plan is to go back and reread it before the weekend is over. I don't think there is any other book that has ever made me want to do that.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Thunder over Kandahar by Sharon E. McKay

I am currently getting prepared for a literature study focusing on Children around the World. I want to expose my students to life outside of our small town in Ontario. To that end, I am reading several books for our up-coming literature circles.

Thunder over Kandahar is an amazing, powerful book about life in Afghanistan. The story centers around two girls of very different backgrounds. Yasmine, who spent most of her life in England and has returned to Afghanistan with her parents to help restore the country. Tamanna is a girl who has been raised in Afghanistan. At first Tamanna has a hard time being comfortable with Yasmine because their childhood was so different. For Yasmine, she was raised by highly educated parents who instilled in her the passion for learning and education. Tamanna, however grew up under Taliban law and was treated as a second class citizen and was not allowed to go to school. Slowly the girls overcome their differences and become best friends. They find their friendship put to the test when they must flee their village or face certain death.

I was absolutely fascinated with this book. McKay has created characters that are so real and believable that I was racing to finish the book to find out what happens. Life in Afghanistan is so hard to grasp. It is my hope that children who read this book realize how lucky they are to live in Canada and to have some compassion and understanding for what is happening in another part of the world.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Words in the Dust by Trent Reedy

Words in the Dust is the story of Zulaikha, a young girl from post Taliban Afghanistan. Things in Afghanistan are difficult for her. Her father's wife is pregnant and very mean to Zulaikha and her sister. The two of them need to do chores all day long. There is nothing for them to do but cook, clean and look after their little brothers. There is no school because girls are not allowed to go to school. For Zeynab her sister, this is fine because all she dreams of is the day she will get married and have children. To make things even more difficult, Zulaikha has a cleft palate which leaves her disfigured and causes the local children to be quite cruel to her. Zulaikha takes small comfort in learning to read in secret with a friend of her mothers. However the cost of lying to her family is something she constantly worries about.

Things start to look up for the family when her father's welding business is offered the opportunity to build a new school and a U.S. army base. This means more money, more word and more contacts with richer Afghanistan people. This contact with the army also opens up the possibility of Zulaikha's having a simple operation to fix her face. With all of these changes, Zulaikha and her family must learn to adapt and hope for a better future for the children of Afghanistan.

This book was written by a solider on active duty in Afghanistan which I found quite unique. I found the descriptions of the country and what it is like to live in a place filled with war to be incredibly sad and depressing. The thought of no education for girls is so hard to come to terms with and I loved how the story that was told through a female character growing up in a world where men control so much. Zulaikha's courage to face a life that offered such little hope was quite remarkable considering how she was raised. I'm not sure how many of the kids in my class would push through this book. I found the many different names and customs hard to keep up with, and I'm not sure kids would work through it. It would be a great book to use as a literature circle so that you could discuss the events as they were taking place in the book.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Beastly by Alex Finn

Beastly has been getting a lot of buzz in my classroom this year. It might have something to do with the movie coming out, but either way, several girls in the class are excited to read this one.
It was a quick read for sure- but a good one and I understand why the girls are liking it. Beastly puts a modern twist on the classic fairy tale Beauty and the Beast. The main character Kyle is a shallow, mean yet very handsome young man. He comes from money and is so egocentric that you can't help but dislike him right from the start of the book. Kyle gets a lot of satisfaction from hurting others and when one of his tricks goes too far, a witch seeks revenge on him. Handsome, popular Kyle is turned into a beast over night. In my mind, I see him just like the character in the Disney version of Beauty and the Beast, although in the movie he isn't quite so scary. The witch who cast the spell on him has told him that he has two years to make a girl fall in love with him or he will need to stay this way forever.
The next two years are very challenging for Kyle. He has been stripped of everything that he once thought was important, yet he still hopes someone might see past his ugly exterior and find what is in his heart.
The story is a little over the top with romance, but I really enjoyed reading as Kyle transformed his life and his attitude. I think this will make a wonderful movie,(trailer) some of the scenes that Finn describes are visually beautiful.

Friday, April 8, 2011

The Reckoning by Kelley Armstrong

This is the third and final book in Kelley Armstrong's Summoning series. You can find my reviews on the other two books here and here I would strongly suggest that you read the first two books before reading this review, because I will be giving away some important parts that will ruin the first two books for you.

At the end of the first two books, Chloe finds herself in a safe place. She has food, a bed and someone to look after her. But, like the last few books, this is short lived and Chloe once again finds herself having to look after herself with the help of her friends. Chloe is starting to come to terms with her new normal- the fact that she can see ghosts and her friends include a witch, a wizard and a werewolf no longer seems strange to her. Chloe and her friends find themselves once again fighting to stay alive. They recognize that there are people who see them as a danger to the world, yet they know they just want to be left in peace. Throughout this book, Chloe searches for the strength to not only survive, but also to live a happy life. As she continues to support her friends, she finds herself drawn to Derek. Even when he does everything he can to push her away. She soon discovers that she will do anything to protect those that she loves.

This was by far my favourite book in the series. I read this one in a day (and I worked too!) because I could not stop reading it. I thought some of the scenes where Chloe was raising the dead to be a little long and confusing and didn't always add to the story. However, I loved how Armstrong wove the romance aspect through the book without being over the top. Chloe is definitely a strong female character who doesn't sit by while her boyfriend does the all the hard work and fights all the battles. Chloe isn't afraid to use her skills to her advantage and I love that about her. Yes, she is in love- but she is going to fight just as hard. I admire that in her! It took me a bit to get into this series, but by halfway through the second book- I was hooked! They really are great reads!

The Awakening by Kelley Armstrong

The is the second book in the Summoning Trilogy. If you haven't read The Summoning, I would stop reading this review, because there will be spoilers.

In The Summoning, Chloe discovered that she is a necromancer- a person who can not only see ghosts, but also raise the dead. At the end of The Summoning, Chloe and Tori- a nasty, spoiled sorcerer are locked up in a laboratory where people are trying to 'help' them. Chloe and Tori don't really believe they are really going to be helped, they feel as though their lives are at risk. All Chloe and Tori want to do is to escape and meet up with Simon and Derek. To do this, they need to trick their guards, fool Chloe's aunt and find their way to the arranged meeting spot.

Once they are together again, the four supernatural friends decide to find an old family friend of the boys. Chloe wants nothing more than to resume her normal life and she tries to find some sense of normalcy with Simon, who she has romantic feelings towards. At the same time, her friendship with Derek- a rather rude, sullen angry boy seems to be growing. The friends fight for their freedom and try to learn about the powers they possess all while trying to find safe place to live.

I liked this book even more than the Summoning. There is lots of excitement, adventure and challenges that the kids face. The fact that these kids all have different supernatural powers is very interesting. The powers they have aren't ones that are written about very often- so it is quite interesting to learn about what could happen. When I finally finished this book, I couldn't wait to start the next one.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

The Summoning by Kelley Armstrong

This book is currently on the Ontario Library Association Red Maple nominees. Jessica is in my Red Maple group and she was raving about this book (and series). She read all three books in one weekend and said that I HAD to read this series. I've ordered all three books in the series and started with book number one "The Summoning"
The Summoning starts out innocently enough by introducing us to Chloe Saunders, she is in high school and has some good friends, an absent father, a dead mother and a very committed aunt. One day at school Chloe has an episode that causes her to break down and be carried out of school in an ambulance. Now Chloe has been sent to Lyle House, a home for teens with mental illness.
As Chloe gets to know the other kids staying at Lyle House she learns a great deal about herself and that maybe she isn't mentally ill after all. Mysterious things happen to Chloe at Lyle House which causes her to explore episodes from her childhood. Chloe grows closer to some of the other kids and realizes that the kids at Lyle House aren't quite what they seem to be.
I did enjoy reading this book. It is obviously setting up for the next two in the series. I finished it late last night and didn't have the immediate desire to start the next one, but now I am looking forward to starting the next book: The Awakening.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Words That Start with B by Vikki VanSickle

Clarissa is just starting grade 7- she expects it to be her best year ever. Her and her best friend Benji can't wait to start school. She has long awaited the year when she will have Miss. Ross- the best teacher ever. But grade 7 doesn't turn out quite the way Clarissa expects. There are feelings for boys, new friends, new teachers and Benji who doesn't want to stand up for himself. Clarissa needs to deal with all of that at school and then things take a turn at home. Life gets very confusing for Clarissa.

I enjoyed reading this book, it reminded me of Egghead for many reasons. It also deals with growing up from a girls perspective. I always like reading books set in Ontario, and I liked how VanSickle dealt with issues of bullying, friendship, school and illness.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Half Brother by Kenneth Oppel

I just finished reading the most amazing book Half Brother. One of my students, Jacob read it earlier this year and I borrowed it from him because it was on my to be read list. I absolutely loved this book! I need to go out and get a copy of it for my classroom.

Half Brother is set in the 1970's and is the story of a family of scientists who decide to adopt a chimpanzee named Zan and try to teach him to communicate. The father is a university professor who is overseeing the project. He keeps Zan at a distance and tries to be a casual observer. The mother is Zan's main care giver, while at the same time working on her PhD paper. Then there is Ben- he is 13 when the story starts and isn't too happy to have his life turned upside down and to have a new member in his family. Slowly Zan grows on Ben and soon Ben loves Zan like a brother. The story follows the experiment through a series of successes and setbacks that cause the characters to grow, adapt and change.

I found this story to be so moving. Ben's relationship with his father, his friends, girls and most of all Zan are so real and powerful. Oppel really captured what it is like to be 13 years old. The connection between Ben and Zan is really beautiful. Ben sees Zan as more than an animal, he loves him and the communication between the two of them is really incredible. This story brought me to tears, but it also made me laugh as I was reading it. I think it would make a great read aloud, there are so many discussion points that you could bring up while reading this. It reminded me a bit of Eric Walters book Elixir. I also know many kids will love it as much as I did.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Trackers by Patrick Carman

I ordered this book from Scholastics last week thinking it would be a great book to read for the boys.
This book is about a group of kids who call themselves trackers. For the last several years, they have tracked things that are happening around their city. The main character is Adam- a technological wizard. He works in his dad's computer shop during the day and surfs, hacks and explores at night. Adam is a genius- he can make and fix anything that has to do with computers. One of his specialties is tiny cameras that he and his friends leave all over the city so they can keep track of what is happening. Adam and his friends find themselves in various degrees of danger from a pair of hackers who are determined to bring down Adam and his reputation.
There are a few aspects that set this book aside from other books. First of all, this book is told through an interview session. The readers get to know Adam and his friends from the questions someone (an FBI agent?) asks of Adam. Adam retells the story of how he got sucked into a situation that quickly spiraled out of control. The interview aspect is quite interesting, you would think it would be hard connecting to characters when the story is told through questions and answers, but it really isn't at all.
The second part of this book that is different from any other book is that there are online videos that the reader can unlock with different passwords as you go through the book. The videos add a whole different element to this book- you can see what Adam is talking about and what he saw throughout his whole adventure.
For me, I found that part hard. I didn't want to stop reading to go to my computer and watch a video- although it is interesting, I like reading and getting the story that way. However, I can see how it would appeal to kids. This series of books combines videos, adventure and technology- not a bad thing in a book!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine

This is a beautiful, well written, heart breaking story that deals with several difficult themes in an incredible way.
On one hand, the story is about an autistic child. Not only is the story about an autistic child, but it is told through her voice. Kathryn Erskine does a wonderful job of developing Caitlin's character and letting the reader learn what makes her special and what some children with autism deal with on a daily basis. This part of the story isn't easy to read, it is hard to follow Caitlin's logic and black and white view of the world. The rules she is taught that will allow her to interact with people are instinctive for most people, but for Caitlin, she must constantly remind herself of these rules. It doesn't take long to get into Caitlin's head and realize that just because she sees things differently doesn't mean it is wrong or strange- just different.
On the other side, the story is about loss and rebuilding. Caitlin and her dad are left alone after the death of Caitlin's brother Devon. It is hard to watch the family deal with the grief and the aftermath of a child's death. Caitlin's father needs to cope with the loss of his son, but also needs to handle Caitlin's needs as well. Caitlin struggles to come to grips with Devon's death and the horrible events that lead to it. Because Caitlin sees things in black and white, it is hard for her to understand everything that has happened.
I really feel that this is a story that will stay with me for a long time. I hope that kids who pick this one up stick with it and really learn what it is like to be Caitlin, a child learning to live in a world that isn't black and white, but messy and colourful.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Trapped by Michael Northrop

Tonight I started and finished Trapped by Michael Northrop- I've read one other book by him- Gentlemen which I liked. He seems to explore the darker side of young adults. The side that doesn't always have a chance to surface unless the kids find themselves in certain situations.

Trapped is the same idea, kids who are forced into survival mode and do what needs to be done. Every student (and teacher to be honest) loves a snow day in the middle of winter. Just that break from routine is exciting enough- watch Rick Mercer's snow day rant here for proof of that!

For three friends in high school- early dismissal means just one thing- extra time to work on a a project in shop class. Little do the boys know that this decision to not head home will be the wrong decision. When a freak nor'western blows into town, the three boys- Scotty, Pete and Jason find themselves stuck in their high school with four other kids they barely know. Spending one night in school seems bad enough, but slowly the kids realize that being rescued isn't going to happen anytime soon. They must figure out how to survive with no electricity, no heat,no water and little food. And if that isn't hard enough, they also need to figure out how to survive each other.

This was a great book, a nice fast read that will really hold kids attention. I can't wait to share this one with my class next week!

Marcelo in the real World by Francisco X. Stork

Marcelo is a very content 17 year old. He is happy at his high school and at his job working with horses. In both places he has people who know, understand and accept what his autism-like condition means for him. Marcelo's father on the other hand believes that Marcelo can adapt if he is put into new situations. As a result, Marcelo's father strikes a deal with him. Marcelo will come to work at his father's law office for the summer and if he is successful then his father will allow him to continue going to his special high school come September.

The summer is unlike any Marcelo has ever experienced. He is forced into situations that he cannot plan for or anticipate. He must interact with people who believe that having autism means he is stupid and they have no idea how to relate to him. Marcelo meets many new people and through it all he is learning not only about the real world, but also about his own values and beliefs. Marcelo finds himself in an ethical dilemma where there is really no right answer. I loved how he had to grapple with a huge decision that had major consequences for him and his family.

I thought this book was wonderful. The characters are really rich, Marcelo's character represents so many students I have taught. Kids that have their own unique way of looking at things, but are by no means 'stupid'. I found the complicated relationship that Marcelo had with his father to be quite sad. His father never really seemed to know how to relate to Marcelo. Yet the relationship with his mother is full of love, patience and understanding. There is a really interesting section in the book where Marcelo is grappling with the teachings of the Bible and relating it to what he is learning through his summer job. Although I found it very interesting, I wonder how kids will push through it.
This book does have some inappropriate language, but it is pretty minor. This book will definitely be in my grade 7 classroom.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

A Hare in the Elephant's Trunk by Jan Coates

Eight year old Jacob Akech Deng is like all the other children in his small village of Duk Padiet in Southern Sudan. He loves his family and playing soccer, he wants to be just like his uncle when he grows up and above all else, he dreads going to school. Jacob would much rather be outside playing and looking after the animals and he constantly informs his mother of this.
The story takes a turn when soldiers come to his village one night- shooting, killing and setting fires. Thus Jacob’s peaceful life is ended. He is separated from his mother and sister and he finds himself marching through Sudan towards Ethiopia in hopes of making it to a refugee camp and safety. Along the way, Jacob relies on other young boys making the same trek through the hot desert. Jacob thinks constantly of his mother and finds strength in her wish that he gain an education in order to change life for the Sudanese people.
At the refugee camp, life isn’t what the boys hope it will be. Living in a small space they are surrounded by many children without adults to guide them, teach them and in some cases control them. Yet it is here that Jacob is able to begin to fulfill his mother’s wish that he receive an education. He develops a special relationship with his teacher that gives him strength to fight against the other boys’ only expectation that he join the army and fight for Sudan.
Hare in the Elephant’s Trunk is a story inspired by one of the ‘Lost Boys’ of Sudan. It will introduce young readers to a country at war and the devastating effects war can have on the youth. This book would be best for mature readers and it will require discussion, reflection and possibly some research. The author is donating proceeds from the sale of this book to Jacob’s charity, Wadeng Wings of Hope (www.wadeng.org)

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Shaken by Eric Walters

Shaken is Eric Walters newest book. Walters tends to write books that deal with relevant timely issues (such as Wave) and this one is no different. It was just over a year ago that an earthquake hit Haiti. I think it is really hard for us to understand the devastation and destruction that took place in that country. Eric Walters has written a book that deals with the people of Haiti and the situation many of them faced before the earthquake as well as after. It always amazes me how Walters can research and write such incredible books in such a short time frame.

The main character is Josh- a 16 year old boy who has recently lost his mother. His father is a pastor and is leading a church group to Haiti to help build a new building at an orphanage. As Josh and his family help out at the orphanage, they also meet the local children and learn about the realities of their lives. Josh is struggling with the loss of his mother, his father's behaviour and his faith. I found Josh to be a very believable character. At his heart he is a good kid, but he is so angry about so many things. I did find that there was a lot of religious references in the story that might make it challenging for kids to read. However, it was written in true Eric Walters style with characters that you believe in and like.

I know many of the kids in my class will be fighting over this one on Monday morning!

Monday, January 31, 2011

Bystander by James Preller

I heard about this book through my new friends on Twitter and I knew I had to buy it. It is much like Egghead but a little darker.

The story is about a boy named Eric who has moved to a new school in grade 7. I can't imagine a worse year to start over. Things for Eric are tough- his dad has disappeared and as much as Eric wants to forget about him, he can't. Eric has slowly started making friends with the 'cool' gang at school- led by Griffin. Eric thinks something is a little off about Griffin, but because he always has lots of people around him, Eric finds himself just happy to belong. Soon Griffin starts picking on David- an awkward boy who also wants to fit in. Eric feels that because he isn't doing anything- he isn't at fault. Deep down, Eric knows it isn't right and slowly he starts to separate himself from Griffin and his friends. By doing this, Eric has isolated himself from the other kids at school, but Griffin is now targeting him. Eric has to figure out how to live a life he can be proud of and still have friends while keeping away from Griffin.

I found the start of this book to be very dark and a bit scary. Teaching grade 7, I really hope the kids aren't like this to each other, but I admit I'm not really sure. The voices of these boys ring very true to kids I know and teach. Reading how the teachers deal with the issues of bullying is a little worrisome too. I'm not totally sure what can be done with these kids that are being bullied when nobody will admit what is happening. Kids are so good at spinning the truth and so many parents can't believe their child would do something like this that it is really hard to know what to do. I can see using this book as a read aloud- although I like Egghead better- and I'm not sure if reading two books on the same topic would be a great idea. It is certainly something to think about. Either way, it is a great book for my classroom library!

Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Return of Gabriel by John Armistead

In the summer of 1964- 3 boys- Cooper, Jubal and Squirrel want nothing more than to build a clubhouse to keep away from the town bully Reno. Their secret society is called the Scorpions and their motto is always stick together and never back down. Little do the boys know that this summer sticking together will become quite the challenge.
As civil rights workers come to their small Mississippi town, the Ku Klux Klan has plans to deal with the changes some people want. Cooper is being forced to attend these meetings, even when his heart is with his best friend Jubal and his family who are being targeted by the Klan. Cooper is forced to grow up quickly as he witnesses some terrible events and fears for the life of people he knows and loves. He also struggles with doing the right thing when he is being forced to participate in meetings by his father.

I liked this story and I can see this being a great fit for some of the boys in my class. I did find all the characters a bit confusing and the plot seemed to be more complicated then was really needed. However, I just kept reading and found myself swept up into the world that the boys were part of.