Summer of the Wolves

I’ve never been an outdoorsy kind of gal. Getting in touch with nature? Not my thing. Even as a kid, I disliked being outside, and I hated being forced to read books that had a big focus on nature. The books that stand out the most are Island of the Blue Dolphins, Hatchet, and Julie of the Wolves. I know these are great books, but they just didn’t do it for my younger self.

It should surprise no one, then, that I was rather reluctant to read my latest book, Summer of the Wolves by Polly Carlson-Voiles. Pitched as “Julie of the Wolves meets Hatchet,” I was almost immediately turned off. If this book were not a nominee for this year’s South Carolina Children’s Book Award, I never would have picked it up. (I did put it off as long as I could.) When I finally started the book, it was rather slow going. I found any excuse I could think of to put the book down. Eventually, though, I made myself sit down and read, and I was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked this book. Now, I’ll never be a nature-lover, but I did appreciate this story and the main character’s quest to find her place in the world.

Twelve-year-old Nika should be used to change by now, but nothing prepares her for leaving her latest foster home in California and spending the summer in the wilderness of Northern Minnesota. Nika and her little brother are staying with an uncle they’ve never met in a place that is totally unfamiliar. Nika’s brother, Randall, seems excited about this new adventure, but Nika is anxious. She wonders why her uncle never contacted them before now, how he feels about caring for two kids all summer, and what will happen to them when the summer ends.

Something happens, though, that gives Nika a sense of purpose in her new surroundings. Nika and her uncle find an orphaned wolf pup and decide to care for him. Nika grows attached to the pup–who she names Khan–and she does whatever she can to make sure the little wolf is healthy and happy. She even entertains thoughts of keeping him for her own.

As Nika cares for Khan and learns more about wolves and the wilderness around her, this lonely girl finds herself growing closer to her uncle and making something of a life for herself in Minnesota. For the first time since her mother’s tragic death, Nika feels like she belongs somewhere.

But what will happen when Nika realizes that she and Khan can’t stay together? Will separation from the wolf pup erase everything Nika has come to love about this place? Can she accept Khan’s fate as well as her own?

Read Summer of the Wolves by Polly Carlson-Voiles to learn how one young girl’s relationship with a wolf pup helps her discover her own inner strength, her connection to nature, and what being part of a family really means.

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The synopsis above is not one of my best, and I don’t think it captures even a fraction of what occurs in Summer of the Wolves. This book, while exploring the complicated life of one girl, also highlighted the plight of wolves and other wild creatures. Where does one draw the line when it comes to studying and appreciating wild animals and leaving them alone? (Anyone familiar with the controversy surrounding SeaWorld knows this is a big issue.) Maybe this book and others like it will help young readers examine their own interactions with animals and learn more about how they can help wild animals around the world.

Summer of the Wolves could be a good novel study for upper elementary or middle grade classes. I see it supplementing science units on animal behavior and habitats. Reading this book could lead to extensive studies of wolves in the northern United States. (I do wish this book had included a “further reading” section for students who wanted to learn more about wolves. There is a little more information on the author’s website, including a Common Core teacher’s guide to this book, but something more accessible to students would be nice.)

Published in: on September 12, 2014 at 2:04 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Red Thread Sisters

I can see the finish line in the distance. Last night, I read my 18th nominee for the South Carolina Children’s Book Award. Only two more to go!

My latest SCCBA nominee is Red Thread Sisters by Carol Antoinette Peacock. It is a short but powerful book that could encourage young readers to explore their differences, appreciate families of all types, and examine the true meaning of friendship.

 “An invisible red thread connects those who are destined to meet, regardless of time, place, or circumstance. The thread may stretch or tangle, but it will never break.” ~Ancient Chinese Legend

Wen has spent the past several years in a Chinese orphanage, but her life is about to undergo a drastic change. She has been adopted by an American family, and she’s leaving her best friend in the world, Shu Ling, behind. Wen promises that she’ll do whatever it takes to find a home for Shu Ling, but that may not be so easy when Wen is trying to adjust to a new family and an unfamiliar country and language.

Wen’s new life in Boston is much more difficult than she could have imagined. She misses her best friend desperately, and she remains distant from her new mom and her little sister, Emily. It’s also hard to make friends at school when she’s so different–and when she can’t understand many of the words spoken around her.

Eventually, though, Wen does make a very good friend…but how can Wen be totally happy with her new life when she knows that Shu Ling is counting on her to find a forever family?

Young Wen becomes determined to help her best friend, but time is running out. In a matter of weeks, Shu Ling will no longer be eligible for adoption. What can one eleven-year-old girl do to make sure her friend, a disabled thirteen-year-old in a Chinese orphanage, is adopted by an American family?

Well, Wen will discover that she’s capable of quite a bit, but will her efforts be enough? Will she find a home for Shu Ling in time? Will these “red thread sisters” ever see each other again? If not, can Wen ever be truly happy with her new life in America?

Read Red Thread Sisters by Carol Antoinette Peacock to see just what one young girl will do to ensure the happiness of her best friend…and herself.

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Red Thread Sisters is a great book that is sure to pull at the heartstrings. I think every reader will root for Wen to connect with her new family and find a home for her best friend. The book may even make people stop and think about how they treat those who come from different backgrounds than their own. Maybe they’ll be a little more empathetic after reading this book. Maybe they’ll learn to focus on what connects them instead of what sets them apart.

Any teachers looking to use Red Thread Sisters in their classrooms are in for a treat. The author has an amazing teacher guide on her website that connects this book to so many areas of study. (It even has the Common Core standards addressed by the book included.) If any of my upper elementary or middle grade teacher friends are looking for a new novel study–and you don’t want to do all of the legwork yourself–consider Red Thread Sisters and this wonderful resource (linked directly for your convenience).

If you’re interested in learning more about Red Thread Sisters and Carol Antoinette Peacock, check out the author’s website. You may also want to take a peek at the book trailer below. I know I’ll be using it when I promote this book to my students!

Buddy

In April, I read a moving novel centered around one twelve-year-old boy’s experiences during Hurricane Katrina. That book was Zane and the Hurricane by Rodman Philbrick. Last night, I finished another book that takes a look at how this monstrous storm impacted a young boy. The book is Buddy, a 14-15 South Carolina Book Award nominee by M.H. Herlong. Both books are told from the perspective of twelve-year-old boys, and the boys in both stories have a strong connection with their pets. Those similarities aside, these two books are very different. While Zane and the Hurricane presented a harrowing tale of what it was like to remain in New Orleans during Katrina, Buddy gives a glimpse of what life may have been like for those who left–those who evacuated their homes, often leaving possessions, friends, and even beloved pets behind.

Tyrone “Li’l T” Roberts has wanted a dog forever, but he never quite expected to get one the way he did.

On the way to church one Sunday morning, Li’l T’s dad hits a scraggly, old dog with the car. Even though the family doesn’t have the money to take care of this injured dog, Li’l T is convinced that this dog, who he names Buddy, is meant to be his. With the help of some folks at church, Buddy gets the help he needs, and even though the dog loses a leg, he gains a home with Li’l T.

Li’l T sacrifices a lot to make Buddy a part of his family. He sells his GameBoy so that he has money to buy food for Buddy. He starts mowing lawns so that he can keep caring for his dog. He spends hours talking to Buddy and trying to convince this dog to make the most of his second chance at life. Buddy may only have three legs, but Li’l T knows his dog can do just as much as any four-legged dog around.

Li’l T and Buddy are the best of friends, but something is about to happen that could tear them apart forever. A hurricane named Katrina is bearing down on New Orleans, and the family has to leave everything behind…including Buddy. There’s just no room for him in the family car. Li’l T wants to stay behind with Buddy, but his parents won’t hear of it, so they leave Buddy in an upstairs bathroom with enough food and water for the next couple of days. Surely the storm won’t keep them away more than two days, right?

No one is prepared for Katrina’s path of destruction. This monster of a storm even hits the family’s refuge in Mississippi, and Li’l T soon learns that there isn’t much left of his home in New Orleans. Flood waters have destroyed much of the city, and there may not even be a home to return to.

Immediately, Li’l T thinks of Buddy. Is his dog still locked up in the bathroom? Is he wondering why Li’l T hasn’t come back for him? Has Buddy been rescued, or did Katrina claim one more victim? Li’l T isn’t sure what’s going on, but he’s determined to find out what happened to the dog that became his best friend.

It’s not always easy to keep moving when so much has been taken away from you. Li’l T and his family have lost so much because of Katrina, but they’ve still got each other, and Li’l T has the hope that he will be reunited with Buddy one day. But will their reunion be everything that Li’l T expects, or will he realize that sometimes the only thing you can do is move on?

Read Buddy by M.H. Herlong to see how tragedy brought two friends together, tore them apart, and taught one young boy what true courage and sacrifice really mean.

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I freely admit that I didn’t look forward to reading this book. (It was billed as being like Old Yeller. What did you expect?) I did, however, find myself engrossed the more I read. Seeing Li’l T’s journey throughout this book was gratifying, and I think all readers will appreciate how much this character grew and matured throughout the course of this story.

I think Buddy is a great addition to any libraries that serve upper elementary and middle grade readers. There is some mention of gangs, violence, and drug use, but these things were true to the story and what was happening in the aftermath of Katrina.

While Buddy is a good book–and one that I will recommend to my students–I think Zane and the Hurricane is a much better book for those interested in Hurricane Katrina. It just seemed much more authentic to me. (Maybe I’m alone in that. I don’t know.) Hopefully, some of my students will read both books, and we can have some discussions on how each book addressed the storm that changed the lives of so many.

For more information on Buddy and author M.H. Herlong, check out the author’s website.

Published in: on September 1, 2014 at 11:45 am  Leave a Comment  
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Bad Magic

Thanks to NetGalley, I’ve been introduced to the first book in what is sure to be a fantastic series for middle grade readers. This book is Bad Magic by Pseudonymous Bosch, and it’s due for a September 16th release.

Bad Magic is full of snark and humor, and it also parallels one of my favorite plays, The Tempest by William Shakespeare. All in all, I’d say this book is a must-purchase for libraries that serve middle grade readers.

Clay hates magic. One day, he writes his feelings for magic in his journal, and his words–Magic Sucks!–mysteriously (or magically) appear on the side of a building at school. Of course, all fingers point to Clay, and even though he knows he’s innocent, he’s sent away to Earth Ranch, a wilderness camp for troubled youth.

Almost immediately, Clay realizes that things are kind of weird at Earth Ranch, which is located perilously close to an active volcano. There’s the llama that only responds to Spanish, the swarms of bees that simply don’t behave like they should, and the vog (volcanic smog) that makes everything just a little spookier.

Things get even stranger when Clay learns of the seemingly haunted–and off-limits–library that has all but been abandoned. Of course, like any curious kid presented with a mystery, Clay has to investigate this library, and his quest for answers leads him on a journey that makes him question everything around him…including the reason he was sent to Earth Ranch.

What is really going on at Earth Ranch? Is anyone who they seem to be? Why is this camp so much like a play he was reading in school? Is Clay just imagining the connections, or is he really living out a Shakespearean play? Is that crazy, or is someone trying to get Clay to believe in magic once again? If so, who?

Nothing makes sense for Clay, and his search for the truth will only give him more questions. Can you figure out what’s really going on before Clay does? Jump into Bad Magic to find out!

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I had hoped to add Bad Magic to my elementary library collection, but I think some of the humor is just a little too mature for my students. Middle grade readers, though, will eat up all of the sarcasm and gross humor in this book. (I’ve taught middle school before, so I know snark and potty humor is the first language of most 6th-8th graders.)

I don’t know why, but I tend to enjoy novels with funny, informative footnotes. I got those in Bad Magic. These footnotes added to the humor in this novel, but they also provided readers with information on things they may not be totally familiar with…like popular 70s TV shows, for example. I don’t know how it will look in the print version of the novel, but my digital galley had each of these asterisks as links to the footnotes. (Click on the asterisk, and move to the footnote. Click on the asterisk next to the footnote, and move back to the text. Easy-peasy.) I’m hoping that the print version will have the footnotes at the bottom of each page so that reading this added info isn’t too jarring.

As a fan of Shakespeare, particularly The Tempest, I really appreciated Bad Magic‘s connections to this too-often-forgotten play. Those familiar with the play may be able to figure out what’s going on with Clay much sooner than he does. Bad Magic could also be a fun follow-up to studies of The Tempest. I think students (and teachers) could enjoy comparing the two stories and using what happened in The Tempest to predict what will happen in Bad Magic.

Like I said previously, Bad Magic is a must-have book in middle school libraries, and this book can be purchased on September 16th. If you’d like to learn more about this book and others by author Pseudonymous Bosch, definitely do not go to this website.

Published in: on August 31, 2014 at 1:54 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Eternal

Caution: You MUST read the entire Shadow Falls series (Born at Midnight, Awake at Dawn, Taken at Dusk, Whispers at Moonrise, and Chosen at Nightfall) and Reborn, the first book in the Shadow Falls After Dark series, before even thinking about reading Eternal (or this somewhat spoilery post on it). I know that’s a lot of reading, but it’s worth it!

Thanks to NetGalley, I was able to read Eternal, book two in C.C. Hunter’s Shadow Falls After Dark series, a couple months early. (It won’t be released to the world until October 28th.) I loved the first series and Reborn, so I figured I’d feel the same way about Eternal. I did.

After being reborn and finding herself with powers beyond what a “normal” vampire possesses, Della Tsang is more determined than ever to work with the FRU, the agency that governs supernaturals, and to uncover the mysteries shadowing her family’s past.

The sudden–and not entirely welcome–appearance of a ghost will make Della’s life more confusing than ever. This ghost is trying to tell Della something about her family and showing glimpses of two captive young vampires who need to be saved from certain death. Who is this presence haunting Della, and can she figure out what the ghost is trying to tell her before it’s too late?

Della is also working to unravel her feelings about two very different young men: Steve, a shapeshifter she’s been sort of dating for the past month, and Chase, the enigmatic vampire who is now bonded to her and seems to know just when she needs him. Della isn’t exactly thrilled about her connection to Chase, but even she can’t deny that her feelings for him are growing. It doesn’t help that Della and Chase are working closely together investigating a case for the FRU. Can she remain true to Steve when every part of her screams to be with Chase? And will fate take this decision out of her hands?

Della’s world is in more turmoil than ever before. How is she supposed to do everything expected of her and still keep her cool? So much is weighing on her, and she’s close to her breaking point. Della doesn’t know which way to turn sometimes, and she feels like she’s being pulled in opposite directions. A mysterious ghost, Steve, Chase, Burnett, her friends, and even her estranged family. Everyone seems to want a piece of Della. But who can she really trust? Can she even trust herself to do what’s right?

Should Della remain loyal to Shadow Falls and the family she’s chosen for herself there? Should she do whatever possible to uncover the truth–however painful it may be–about her father, who has all but turned his back on her? Should she take a chance with Chase, even though it could jeopardize everything she’s been working for? Nothing is clear for Della Tsang, but she’ll do whatever she must to find the answers she needs. And those answers may just lead her to even more questions…

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I’ll go ahead and warn those still reading: Eternal ends on a mother of a cliffhanger. If I had been reading a print copy of this book, I probably would have thrown it across the room. I can hardly wait to read the third book, but considering that Eternal isn’t even out yet, I probably have quite the wait ahead of me. *Insert impatient sigh here.*

There is some good news, though! On September 30th, there is going to be an ebook novella released that’s all about Chase, Della’s nemesis/sometimes love interest. It’s called Unbreakable, and if you check out this announcement on C.C. Hunter’s website, you’ll learn a lot more about what’s sure to be a very enlightening read.

If you love books with supernatural goodness, I strongly urge you to check out both the Shadow Falls and Shadow Falls After Dark series. Both are excellent, and I’m looking forward to seeing more of Della’s journey in the next book.

For more information on the books mentioned in this post or author C.C. Hunter, visit the author’s website, Twitter, Facebook, or Goodreads.

 

Published in: on August 25, 2014 at 3:06 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Finding Zasha

I did not want to read this book. If not for the fact that Finding Zasha is a nominee for the SC Children’s Book Award this year, I doubt I would have ever picked it up. (I don’t gravitate toward historical fiction, and I’m getting a little tired of reading “dog books.”) It took me way too long to get through this book, and it was all I could do to even pick it up some days. Eventually, I did force myself to sit down and finish reading (because I’m an adult, sort of), and I have to admit that I found myself enjoying it more than I did at the beginning. It’s still not my favorite of the SCCBA nominees, but at least I won’t have to tell my students that I loathed it. I guess that’s something.

The year is 1941, and twelve-year-old Ivan Savichev lives with his mother in an apartment in Leningrad, Russia. The entire world is at war, and the German forces are bent on destroying Ivan’s home city. Bombs drop from the sky, food and water are scarce, and no one knows if this day will be their last.

Ivan’s mother decides there’s only one course of action. She will join the other factory workers in the Ural Mountains, and Ivan will cross the frozen Lake Ladoga and go to live with his Uncle Boris (a man Ivan has not seen since he was five). Ivan makes this treacherous journey with Auntie Vera, who is going to stay with her sister-in-law in the village of Vilnov. Ivan cannot fathom leaving Auntie, so he stays with her…and it is here that his life will change forever.

Almost immediately upon arriving in Vilnov, Ivan joins a group of partisans, or an underground movement charged with disrupting the work of the German army. He’s surprised to learn that many of those around him are also partisans, and all of them are eager to do their part for the good of Russia.

After the Germans destroyed his beloved home city, Ivan is looking for a way to help his country win this horrible war, and he’s about to get his chance. The Germans have arrived in Vilnov, and Ivan has caught the interest of their leader, the terrifying Major Axel Recht, a cruel Nazi commander. Major Recht is charmed by Ivan’s musical talent, and he needs someone to help care for and train his precious German shepherd puppies, Thor and Zasha. Ivan steps in and seizes an opportunity to feed information to his fellow partisans.

Ivan soon realizes, though, that his mission is not an easy one. Major Recht is suspicious of everyone and quick to anger. He doesn’t fully trust Ivan, and he seems to resent Ivan’s connection with Thor and Zasha, dogs who are being trained to hunt Russians. Ivan knows he must get away from Recht soon, but he cannot fathom leaving Thor and Zasha behind to face Recht’s wrath alone. Ivan plots to escape with the two puppies, an action that is sure to enrage Major Recht. One night, Ivan makes his move, takes the dogs with him, and leaves Recht behind. He can’t know, though, just how far Recht will go to seek revenge…

In the midst of war, Ivan eventually finds a measure of peace as he finally makes his way to his Uncle Boris’ cabin. He trains Thor and Zasha to be faithful companions, he learns about farming, he visits with friends…and he grows perhaps too comfortable. When his worst enemy returns, Ivan must flee once again, but this latest escape puts Zasha in danger. The dog has gone missing, and Ivan must make some difficult decisions that could impact the safety of his friends and his own future.

What will Ivan do? Will the evil Major Axel Recht catch up with him? What will become of Thor and Zasha? Read Finding Zasha by Randi Barrow to find out!

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Even though I wasn’t a huge fan of this book, I do think that Finding Zasha is a good addition to upper elementary, middle, and high school library collections. It presents World War II from a perspective that many students don’t often learn about. Sure, they learn all about American perspectives, and most students know about Anne Frank and the plight of European Jews, but few students–American students, anyway–ever really think about what Russians endured during this war. World War II took the lives of over 25 million Russians, and that’s something that tends to be glossed over in studies of this time period. This book, at the very least, offers a perspective that many American readers rarely consider.

There is another book for those who enjoy Finding Zasha. Saving Zasha, which was actually written first, is the story of what happens to Zasha after the events in Finding Zasha. I’m not sure if I’ll get around to reading this one, but I’m sure many of my students will. (Usually, if there’s a dog on the cover, I don’t have to do much “selling.”)

If you’d like more information on Finding Zasha, Saving Zasha, and author Randi Barrow, visit the author’s website.

Published in: on August 23, 2014 at 2:22 pm  Comments (1)  
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Ghost House

Next week, Ghost House, a new book by Halo author Alexandra Adornetto, will be released. I was lucky enough to read an advance copy via NetGalley this weekend. I was in the mood for something kind of spooky, and that’s what I got with Ghost House. It was a bit predictable and vaguely “Twilight-ish” at times, but it was a fairly enjoyable book that will be a big hit for those readers who like a bit of romance–especially seemingly impossible romance–in their supernatural tales.

Chloe Kennedy recently experienced a loss that shook her entire world. When her mother passed away suddenly, the walls Chloe had carefully built in her mind came tumbling down, and she was no longer able to block out the ghosts that haunted her as a child.

Now, Chloe is dealing with even more change. Her father has decided that he simply can’t cope with his own grief and that of his children, so he’s sending Chloe and her younger brother to live in England for the summer. Chloe is not happy about spending weeks on her grandmother’s estate, Grange Hall, but this may be her chance to escape the ghosts that have suddenly reappeared. Well, Chloe is about to learn that her encounters with ghosts are only just beginning…

On her first day in England, Chloe meets a strange young man in the woods. He’s not dressed like anyone she’s ever met, and, while Chloe is wary of him, she’s also oddly drawn to this young man. His name is Alexander Reade, and Chloe soon realizes that Alex is not altogether “real.” He’s a ghost. Alex lived at Grange Hall long ago, and he is still very much connected to the house…and what happened there.

As Chloe learns more about Grange Hall’s horrific past–and Alex’s place in it–she finds herself developing some disturbing feelings for Alex. Chloe knows nothing can really come of a relationship with a ghost, but she can’t help but fall a little more in love with him each day. That is a problem, especially when a vengeful spirit named Isobel is determined to do anything–even kill–to make sure Chloe and Alex remain apart.

What is Alex’s connection to the mysterious and menacing Isobel? Can Chloe do anything to stop the approaching horror before someone gets caught in the crossfire? Is Chloe willing to sacrifice her beloved Alex–or herself–if it means stopping Isobel once and for all?

Join Chloe and Alex on a harrowing journey through life, death, revenge, and redemption when you read Ghost House by Alexandra Adornetto.

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Ghost House is a great read for a dreary, rainy day. It started off kind of slow, but the action really picked up the more I read. I read the last three-quarters of the book in just a few hours, and the ending kind of threw me for a loop. I look forward to seeing how things progress for Chloe (and Alex) in the next book, Ghost Hour. (There’s currently no publication date for book two, but I’m guessing we can expect it sometime next August.)

I would recommend Ghost House to teen (and adult) fans of books like Twilight, C.C. Hunter’s Shadow Falls series, and even the ghost stories of Mary Downing Hahn.

For more information on Ghost House and author Alexandra Adornetto, visit her on Goodreads, Facebook, and Twitter. A book trailer is supposed to be released soon, but as of this posting, it’s not available yet.

Published in: on August 18, 2014 at 3:22 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Isla and the Happily Ever After

For the past couple of years, I’ve been impatiently waiting to read Stephanie Perkins’ latest, Isla and the Happily Ever After. Finally–FINALLY–I got my chance this week. My signed copy of the book (along with some lovely swag) arrived last weekend, and I read it during my limited spare time this week. (School resumed for teachers in my district this week, so “limited” is the perfect way to describe my time of late.)

Just like Perkins’ previous books, Anna and the French Kiss and Lola and the Boy Next Door, Isla and the Happily Ever After was outstanding. I loved the characters, how they interacted with each other, how they grew throughout the story, and how they connected with characters in the preceding books. I cannot say enough good things about this book. It was so worth the wait, and part of me wants to find Stephanie Perkins and give her a hug for creating such memorable and lovable characters. (A bigger part of me, though, shies away from human contact, so Ms. Perkins has no worries about random embraces from strangers. At least none from me.)

Isla Martin has been in love with Josh Wasserstein since the start of their freshman year at the School of America in Paris. Fast forward to senior year, and it seems that Isla may finally have a chance at being with the guy who’s always seemed out of her reach.

After a rather odd encounter in Manhattan over the summer, the two finally reunite at school, but Isla can’t get over her nervousness around Josh, and it looks like Josh is trying to keep his distance. Trying…but not succeeding. Isla and Josh are growing closer, and when Isla clears up a misunderstanding that was keeping Josh away, they’re finally able to start the relationship that both of them so desperately want.

Isla and Josh become nearly inseparable, and they want to spend every spare minute together. Sometimes it’s as simple as being in the same room–Josh sketching or working on his graphic novel, Isla studying or reading–but being together is what’s important. They explore their favorite spots in Paris. They learn all the important little things about each other. And during one memorable, romantic weekend, Isla and Josh break all the rules and journey to Barcelona to take in a few sites. It’s this weekend, though, that ultimately tests how strong their love really is.

When Isla and Josh return to Paris, they realize that their impulsive actions have devastating consequences. Josh is taken away from school and Isla, and this heart-breaking separation takes its toll on the couple’s burgeoning relationship.

The more time they spend apart, the more Isla begins to doubt if Josh’s feelings for her are real. She knows she loves him, but what does he really see in her? Why would he want to be with someone who doesn’t know what she wants to do with her life? Is she just a placeholder for his ex-girlfriend and all of his friends that have moved on? Isla just doesn’t know, and her doubts soon lead to an epic confrontation that may destroy any hope of a future with Josh.

Can Isla wade through her doubts and finally learn to trust in Josh’s love? Does Josh even want to be with her after everything they’ve been through and said to each other? Is there any hope of a happily ever after for Isla and Josh? Only one way to find out…

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I love this book so hard. I have zero complaints, and people who know me realize how rare that is. I think every girl (or guy) who reads this will absolutely fall in love with Josh. Many readers will likely identify with Isla and her deep-seated–and often unfounded–insecurities. Everyone will root for Isla and Josh to make it. Adult readers will probably want to go back and relive their teen years in the hopes of finding–or reliving–a love like the one we see between Isla and Josh.

After reading Anna, Lola, and Isla, I have to say that I will read anything that Stephanie Perkins cares to write. (I already follow her blog and Twitter, so I think I’m good to go there.) This lady is a master of YA romance, and I recommend her to every teen and adult reader who likes a good love story. I am eagerly anticipating her next book, and I can’t wait to see what she contributes to the upcoming anthology, My True Love Gave to Me: Twelve Holiday Stories.

If you’d like to learn more about the fabulous Stephanie Perkins and her equally fabulous books, check out her website, Twitter, or Tumblr.

*Note: As much as I adore Isla and the Happily Ever After, I would be remiss if I didn’t give a small warning to librarians, teachers, and parents. This is a book for teen and adult readers. Isla and Josh are characters in a serious relationship, and their relationship follows a fairly natural progression. There are a couple of sexual situations, but they are not terribly gratuitous. Even so, I wouldn’t feel comfortable recommending this book to middle grade readers.*

Published in: on August 15, 2014 at 2:57 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Quilt Walk

When I first picked up The Quilt Walk by Sandra Dallas, I wasn’t exactly thrilled about reading it. (I wouldn’t have read it at all if it had not been one of this year’s SCCBA nominees.) I’ve never been a fan of westerns, thanks in part to being forced to watch shows like Wagon Train, The Rifleman, and others over the course of my life. My dad loves these shows, and he’s tried to develop an appreciation in me. It hasn’t worked.

Anyway, upon realizing that The Quilt Walk was about a girl moving west with her family, I was reluctant to start reading, but I persevered (because I had to), and I have to admit that I was pleasantly surprised. The main character was relatable, the action moved fairly quickly, and I was invested in the book’s outcome. I wanted the people on this journey to arrive safely at their destination and get a happy ending. (Spoilers: Not all of them did.) This book, which I didn’t initially want to read, grabbed ahold of me, and I found myself liking it more than I was prepared to.

The year is 1864, and Emmy Blue Hatchett has just learned that her family is leaving their safe home in Illinois to strike out for a new life in Golden, Colorado. While Emmy Blue is excited about the possibility of adventure, she doesn’t want to leave everything she’s ever known behind…and she knows her mother feels the same way. But they accept their new circumstances, and Emmy Blue, her parents, and her aunt and uncle set off for Colorado.

The family has to leave many things behind–and think of creative ways to take along what they need–but just before they leave, Emmy Blue is given some fabric pieces by her grandmother. Emmy Blue is not exactly happy with this gift. Unlike the other women in her family, Emmy Blue has no interest in quilting. She doesn’t understand the appeal of making perfect stitches and putting scraps of fabric together, but her mother convinces her to take her grandmother’s gift and put it together on their long trek to Colorado.

As Emmy Blue begins piecing her quilt together, often walking while she stitches, she takes in her surroundings and gets to know the people around her. She has long conversations with her father and mother, she makes a new friend when they join up with a wagon train, and she questions some of the cruelty she sees around her. She encounters dangers she never expected, she learns to set up camp and lead a team of oxen, and she even finds herself enjoying her quilt walk just a bit. On this long, perilous journey, Emmy Blue Hatchett is growing up and discovering just how strong both she and those around her really are.

Eventually, Emmy Blue and her family arrive at their destination…though not without some changes. Emmy Blue is a different person than the girl who left Illinois. Her quilt walk may be done, but her journey through life is just beginning.

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When I return to school tomorrow (UGH!), I plan to share this book with several of my teachers. I think The Quilt Walk is a welcome addition to studies on Westward Expansion, especially considering the book is loosely based on an actual event in Colorado history. (More information about that is available in the author’s note.)

Readers my age may enjoy making connections between this book and that favorite computer game, Oregon Trail–which I never managed to make it all the way through. I always ended up with dysentery or something.

Another connection I had with this book was quilting. Now, I’ve never learned to quilt–to my great regret–but my great-grandmothers were excellent quilters, and they gave their creations to their families. Some of my most prized possessions are quilts made by my great-grandmothers. (My favorites are my Holly Hobbie and Strawberry Shortcake quilts, along with a very special one that includes both Jose Cuervo and Jingle Bells fabric scraps. I think I treasure that one because it’s so weird.) Who knows? Maybe this book will inspire a whole new generation of quilters. I could even take it up one of these days. Stranger things have happened.

The Quilt Walk is a book I’d highly recommend for any upper elementary or middle grade classroom or library. It’s a great book that tells of life in the “Wild West” and what that life may have been like for a young girl. Young readers may find it interesting to compare and contrast Emmy Blue’s experiences with their own. They may just find they have more in common than they thought possible.

If you’d like more information on The Quilt Walk, a 14-15 South Carolina Children’s Book Award nominee, and author Sandra Dallas, visit her website.

Published in: on August 11, 2014 at 5:28 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Dangerous Waters: An Adventure on the Titanic

I typically don’t have a problem “selling” books about the Titanic to my students, so I was pleased to see Dangerous Waters on this year’s South Carolina Children’s Book Award nominee list. This adventure story, written by Gregory Mone, is a quick, exciting, entertaining book that young readers–especially those fascinated by the Titanic and its fateful voyage–will devour. (I’ll likely have to order more copies to meet demand.) I would definitely recommend this book for all libraries (and classrooms) that serve elementary and middle grade students.

Patrick Waters wants to work. He wants to be seen as valuable to his family, particularly his big brother James, who has a job in the engine room of the new ship, Titanic. One night, Patrick gets the chance of a lifetime. He finds a way to sneak aboard and work on the Titanic himself, but he’s not exactly cut out for the engine room. (He’s only twelve, after all.) Instead, Patrick finds a place as a steward on the mammoth ocean liner, and this position will change his life forever…

Patrick catches the eye of a wealthy passenger, Harry Elkins Widener, and eventually becomes the man’s private steward, not realizing that this new job will lead him down an intriguing and dangerous path. Harry is in possession of a rare and valuable book, and there are a couple of nefarious types on board who will do anything to steal such a prize.

Patrick isn’t sure what’s so special about this old book, so he does whatever he can to learn more. It seems this book may have the key to unlocking the most powerful force in the world, and some people will do anything–even kill–to learn its secrets. Patrick does his best to help Harry protect the book, but the Titanic is on a path that could put Patrick’s quest–and his very life–in jeopardy…

As the Titanic makes its way to its eventual demise, Patrick is trying to keep himself, his brother, Harry, and his precious book safe. In the process, Patrick discovers his own strengths and what really matters to him.

Will Patrick be able to save Harry’s book from those bent on stealing it? And will he be able to save himself from the tragedy that is to come? Join Patrick on his adventure aboard the Titanic when you read Dangerous Waters by Gregory Mone!

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The author’s note at the end of Dangerous Waters lets readers know that many of the characters in this book were based on real people. With the exception of Patrick, his brother, and a few others, all of the people mentioned in this book were actually on board the Titanic. (The Widener Library at Harvard University is named for Harry Elkins Widener.) I think that healthy dose of historical fact will make this event more real to young readers, many of whom think the story of Titanic is “cool” but don’t really think about those who died when the ship sank or had to go on with their lives after losing family and friends in the tragedy.

*An interesting exercise–following a reading of the book, of course–could be to write about the aftermath of the Titanic‘s sinking from the perspective of someone who survived. Putting students in touch with primary sources could make this even more poignant. Something to think about for this school year!*

Like I mentioned at the beginning of this post, Dangerous Waters is an easy sell to most students. I know my students will love it, and I hope it will lead them to further research about Titanic, the people on board, and the books that were so important to Harry Elkins Widener.

For more information about Dangerous Waters and author Gregory Mone, check out his website, blog, Goodreads page, or Twitter. Enjoy!

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