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 (

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!