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.

_______________

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  
Tags: , , , , , ,

Torn Away

Sometimes books (and movies, TV shows, songs, commercials, etc.) make me emotional. I can usually shed a few tears and move on with my life. There are a few books, however, that turn me into someone even I don’t recognize. I cry so hard that I can’t catch my breath, I get so angry that I want to hit things, and I’m so exhausted by the whole experience that I have to take a very long nap to recuperate. I read one of those books this weekend. It was Torn Away by Jennifer Brown. This book put me through the wringer, and, despite today’s three-hour nap, I’m still emotionally exhausted from the experience.

Torn Away tells the story of Jersey Cameron. Jersey is finishing up her junior year in high school in Elizabeth, Missouri, and, like many teen girls, she’s focused on her own life. She rolls her eyes when her mom tells her to do chores, and she doesn’t want to be bothered by her little sister, Marin. All she wants is to be left alone.

When the tornado sirens sound one evening, Jersey is home alone waiting for her mom and sister to return from dance class. At first, she’s sure that things aren’t that bad outside. They’ve heard the sirens before, and nothing has happened. Unfortunately, that is not the case on this fateful night. A massive tornado is heading right for Jersey’s town, and it won’t just rip buildings to shreds. No, it will destroy Jersey’s entire world. Jersey wanted to be left alone before. Now, she has no choice.

The disaster that leveled Jersey’s home also took her mother and sister, and her stepfather can’t deal with Jersey’s pain on top of his own. He sends Jersey to live with her father and paternal grandparents, people she’s never met, and her already tragic situation is made even worse. Jersey lives in a constant state of fear, she has no one to lean on, and the people who should be there for her want nothing to do with her. In fact, they make it known that she’s not welcome, and they’re only taking her in because they think they have to.

Jersey can’t take living with her father and his loathsome family, so she does the only thing she can think of. She runs away. Jersey hopes that she’ll be able to stay with friends or even her stepfather back in Elizabeth, but, yet again, she’s sent to live with more relatives she’s never met. This time, she’s staying with her maternal grandparents, the same people who disowned her mother so many years ago.

Jersey’s existence with her mom’s parents is much more comfortable than it was with her father’s family, but Jersey is still holding onto so much anger, fear, and sadness that she can’t let anyone in, especially the people her mother taught her to despise. But did Jersey really get the whole story from her mother? What led to the separation between daughter and parents, and did either party ever try to bridge that gap? Should Jersey be the one to make things better? Is that even an option when her grief is eating her alive?

As Jersey spends more time with her grandparents and learns more about her mother’s life (and secrets), she realizes that maybe there are people in the world who still love her. People who, like her mother, will do everything in their power to make her feel happy and safe. People who share in her grief and want to help her heal. People who can return a sense of family to her life. All Jersey has to do is let them in. Will she? Or will she let the tornado that took her mother and sister tear away her future as well?

_______________

This post hasn’t even come close to describing the intense, heart-wrenching journey that is Torn Away. I cried so much that I had to read most of the book with my glasses off. I kept Kleenex beside me the whole time. This wasn’t one of those books that elicits tears just at the end. No, like The Fault in Our Stars, Torn Away had me sobbing from beginning to end…and some of those tears were shed in anger.

I’m pretty sure I did serious damage to my Darth Vader pillow when I got angry at some of the people in Jersey’s life (which is kind of funny when you think about it). I got mad at her stepdad because he either couldn’t or wouldn’t see the damage he was inflicting on Jersey, but most of my anger was reserved for Jersey’s biological father and his family. Her father’s family was seriously horrible. All of them–with the minor exception of her aunt–were rude, insensitive, callous, and malicious people who didn’t try to sympathize with Jersey and even took delight in her pain. (I don’t think it’s a stretch to call them white trash. If anyone is offended by that, I’m sorry. Read the book. I’m sure you’ll agree with me.) I had to put the book down on a couple of occasions because I was so mad. I may have actually applauded Jersey when she finally escaped this situation.

I do think anyone who’s ever experienced loss will identify with the character of Jersey. I know I did. I felt her pain, her anger, her hopelessness. I imagined what I would do in a similar situation, and let me tell you…I wouldn’t have fared nearly as well as Jersey did. Jersey is a strong, sympathetic character who did her best to survive when it would have been all too easy to give up. Did she always to the right thing? Of course not, but she survived and held on to the memories of her family while working to make a life for herself in a world without them.

If you’d like to read Torn Away, pick up a box of Kleenex first and then head to your local library or bookstore. (I read a copy via NetGalley, but the book is already available to the masses.)

To learn more about Jennifer Brown and her other books–like Hate List–visit her website or Twitter.

Published in: on July 20, 2014 at 8:50 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , , , , ,

Landline

There are a few authors I count on to give me a great story. This past year, Rainbow Rowell earned a spot on that list. In Attachments, Eleanor & Park, and Fangirl, she introduced me to stories I was invested in and relatable, flawed characters that I cared about. I had a feeling her latest book, Landline, would be no different. Once again, I was right.

Georgie McCool is a comedy writer on the verge of getting what she’s always wanted–a chance to write a show of her own creation. There’s a problem, though. She’s got to work through Christmas to make it happen. That means staying home while her husband Neal takes the kids and visits his family in Omaha. Neal is frustrated by Georgie’s insistence on placing her work above her family, but Georgie just can’t pass up this opportunity. Part of her thinks Neal will change his plans and stay home in LA, but he doesn’t. He leaves, and Georgie wonders if she’s finally ruined her already struggling marriage.

Throughout the next several days, Georgie reflects on her past with Neal–how they met, how they fell in love, and how they got to this point. She knows both of them are at fault, but it doesn’t seem like either of them are really willing to change. But they do love each other, and that’s got to mean something.

Georgie tries to get in touch with Neal to apologize, explain, beg, whatever, but she can never quite reach him…until she uses an old yellow phone at her mom’s house. She finally reaches Neal on this landline connection, but something is a bit off. Georgie soon realizes she’s not talking to her husband; she’s talking to the young man he was in 1998…just days before he proposed to her.

As one would expect, Georgie freaks out. (Of course she does. I’d freak out too if I were talking to someone back in 1998!) Will talking with Past Neal have some kind of Back to the Future effect? Will she erase her current life, her marriage, her kids? Or is this the chance she needs to get her marriage back on track? Does she even want that any more?

Georgie has some big choices ahead of her. Will she continue to put her needs, her career, and her friends first, or will she use the unbelievable chance she’s been given to repair the damage in her relationship with the love of her life? Read Landline, another fantastic book by Rainbow Rowell, to find out!

_______________

First, let me say that I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Like Rowell’s other books, I grew to care about the characters, flaws and all. And I honestly think the flaws are what make these characters believable…even in an unbelievable story like this one. Both Georgie and Neal were, at times, completely unlikable. Georgie put her career above everything; Neal was aloof and condescending. These were people with issues, and that’s real. Landline isn’t some cheesy romance about two perfect specimens who have to overcome outside circumstances to be together. No, this book deals with two real people who have real problems, and they have to work on what’s inside to stay together. Yes, the way this happens is rather unrealistic (unless you believe that time is all wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey), but the work, the self-realization is real.

Second, I feel I must say that Landline is not a YA book. It is, in my opinion, written for adults. Will some teens enjoy it? Probably, but this book deals with a married couple’s relationship, and that’s not something that (most) teens have experienced. (Of course, I haven’t experienced it either, but I still loved the book. I guess I’m saying that a certain amount of life experience is a plus when reading this book. I doubt a lot of teen readers have had to choose between work and family. Even as a singleton, I have had to make that call before.) As a former high school librarian, I doubt I would purchase this book for my school library, but I might encourage Rainbow Rowell fans to seek it out on their own.

Landline is most definitely a must-read for adult fans of Rainbow Rowell. And this particular adult fan is excited about seeing Rowell again at YALLFest in November! If you’re in or around Charleston, South Carolina, in November, I highly recommend attending this awesome event. You will not be disappointed!

For more information about Landline and the fabulous Rainbow Rowell, check out her website, Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr.

Published in: on July 13, 2014 at 12:20 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , , , ,

Keeping Safe the Stars

It’s time, once again, to bring you one of the 14-15 South Carolina Children’s Book Award nominees, Keeping Safe the Stars by Sheila O’Connor.

While reading this book, I wished that I could turn off my adult brain for just a bit and approach the book from a child’s perspective. I think the entire experience would have been a bit different. As it was, this book left me anxious nearly the whole way through. I think any adult reading Keeping Safe the Stars will feel the same way. I look forward, though, to getting my students’ take on this book. I imagine they’ll see something in it that I didn’t.

Pride, Nightingale, and Baby Star are three kids who live in virtual seclusion with their grandfather, Old Finn. When Old Finn gets sick, however, these three kids will have to rely on their own wits to stay together…and keep everyone from knowing that they’re on their own. None of them wants to return to a shelter or group home like the one that they were in when their mother died. Keeping safe the Stars is the most important thing in the world.

Thirteen-year-old Pride (also known as Kathleen) is determined to take over until Old Finn returns. She goes to town for groceries, she cares for their elderly neighbor and her siblings, and, when she discovers that Old Finn has been moved to a hospital in the city, she devises a plan to earn money and get to her beloved grandfather.

It doesn’t take long for everything to start weighing on young Pride’s shoulders. She’s told her share of lies to make sure no one discovers she and her siblings are alone, but those lies are catching up with her. Pride knows that if she can just get to Old Finn, he’ll tell her what she needs to do. He’ll show her how to keep her family safe.

When Pride, Nightingale, and Baby finally make it to Old Finn, though, they discover that their situation is more complicated than ever. This family–a group that is independent and self-reliant to a fault–is going to need help to make it through the days ahead. But who can they rely on to give them the help they need while keeping them together?

Pretty soon, Pride and her siblings will discover that the help they need is all around. All they have to do is accept it.

_______________

Set against the backdrop of the last days of Nixon’s presidency, Keeping Safe the Stars is, in my opinion, a book about keeping a family together at all costs, being honest with oneself and others, and asking for help when it’s truly needed.

As an adult reading this book, I have to say that I was filled with anxiety with the turn of every page. The mere thought that three kids would have to take care of themselves–and worry about how to buy groceries or pay bills–left me feeling uneasy. (And no, I’m not naive enough to think that this doesn’t happen around the world every day.) I wanted to leap into the pages and smack the adults around the kids. Tell them to wake up! At the end of the book, I realized that at least a couple of people saw more than Pride wanted them to see, but I was still rather frustrated. Kids need to be free to be kids, not forced to take on the worries and responsibilities of adults.

I found it very interesting that Pride, who lied quite a bit to keep others from discovering the truth, compared herself to Nixon. She sympathized with him a bit, and wondered if he may have told so many lies to protect those around him. It was an interesting parallel, and it could lead some young readers to seek more information on the Watergate scandal and what ultimately led to Nixon’s resignation.

I’m hoping, at the very least, that Keeping Safe the Stars will encourage young readers to ask for help when they feel that their worries are too much for them to handle alone. Sometimes, we all need a bit of help to make it through.

Keeping Safe the Stars is a good addition to upper elementary and middle school library and classroom collections. I look forward to talking about the book with my own students. Like I said before, I’m betting that their view of this book will be a little different than my own!

For more information on Keeping Safe the Stars and author Sheila O’Connor, take a quick peek at the author’s website. Enjoy!

Crash

I’ve been a fan of Lisa McMann‘s work since I read the first book in her Wake trilogy way back in 2008. I’ve since read that entire trilogy (Wake, Fade, and Gone), Cryer’s Cross, and Dead to You, all fabulous books by an equally fabulous author. (She’s also written a middle-grade fantasy series, The Unwanteds, that’s on my to-read list.)

Yesterday, I finished the first book in McMann’s Visions series. The book is Crash, and it was just as strange, compelling, and captivating as the other books I’ve read by this author.  It’s a very quick read that will definitely appeal to boys, girls, reluctant readers, and those who will devour any book in sight.

Jules Demarco tries to keep her head down. Any girl who usually smells like pizza, drives around in a truck sporting two huge meatballs on top, and has a father who is a hoarder would probably do her best to go unnoticed…but that’s growing more difficult by the day.

Jules recently started having visions of a horrible, fiery crash, and she sees this vision everywhere. On billboards, TV and computer screens, windows, books…everywhere. In the not-too-distant future, an out-of-control truck is going to run into a building and explode, killing as many as nine people. But when? And where?

Jules tries to look for clues as to when and where this crash will eventually happen, and she’s shocked by what she discovers. Someone she truly cares for–a guy from a family that hates her own–will die if she doesn’t find a way to halt this tragedy.

But what can Jules possibly do without people thinking she’s crazy? How can Jules convince anyone to take her seriously when even she doesn’t really understand what’s going on? Especially someone whose family flips out if he so much as glances at Jules?

One thing is certain. Time is running out, and Jules will have to do everything in her power–including putting her own life at risk–to stop the worst from happening. Will she succeed, or will her vision of this crash ultimately take everything from her?

_______________

This book reminded me a little of the Num8bers series by Rachel Ward. (This British YA series revolves around a few people cursed with seeing everyone’s date of death hovering over their heads. Creepy but cool.) Like Num8ers, Crash–and the rest of the Visions series, I guess–deals with catastrophic future events that a young person is trying desperately to change. I’m sure I’m not alone when I say that a power like that could come in handy…but I’m not sure I’d want the responsibility.

Crash is a YA novel with some bad language and adult (though not necessarily sexual) situations that may make this better for high school students, but mature middle school students may be able to handle it. I don’t know. You know the tweens and teens in your life better than I do. Use your best judgment.

Crash is the first book in the Visions trilogy. The second book, Bang, is already out, and the third book, Gasp, has a June 3rd publication date.

 

Published in: on March 26, 2014 at 11:26 am  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , , , , ,

The Mighty Miss Malone

It’s time to celebrate! I’ve finally finished reading this year’s nominees for the South Carolina Children’s Book Award! All in all, I’m pretty happy with the list. Even the books I put off reading were great. My last of the nominees, The Mighty Miss Malone by Christopher Paul Curtis, was an excellent book that I hope my students and teachers will love. This is another historical fiction novel (which explains why I put it off to the end), but the themes in this book are timeless, and I think many young readers will relate to Deza Malone, a character introduced in Curtis’ Bud, Not Buddy.

As frequent followers of this blog know, I don’t read much historical fiction unless I have to–or unless there are elements of science fiction and fantasy thrown in. The Mighty Miss Malone is a book that I had to read…and I’m glad I did. At first, I was reluctant to get started, but it didn’t take long for me to love the main character. A passage I read on page 31 only cemented that.

“I’m different from most people and one of the main reasons is, I think I might have two brains. Whenever I get nervous or mad or scared or very upset, I have thoughts that are so different from my normal thoughts that there isn’t any way they could be coming from just one brain.
My first brain decides it doesn’t want to know about what is happening and stops working. Then my second brain takes over.
And that brain is always looking to start trouble, to hurt someone or break something.”

I don’t know about you, but I find this totally relatable, and I knew from this one glimpse into the mind of young Deza Malone that I would enjoy my time with her.

Twelve-year-old Deza Malone is probably the smartest girl in Gary, Indiana. Everyone–including Deza–knows she’s destined for great things, but the journey from here to greatness is going to be a long, tough road.

The year is 1936, and the Great Depression is in full swing. It’s tough for folks to find work, especially black folks. Deza’s father is no exception. The Malone family is struggling, and things are going to get much worse before they get better. At least they have each other, right?

After tragedy strikes their community in Gary, Deza’s father leaves to find work in Flint, Michigan. He’s promised to send word when things are well, but, when the Malones hear nothing from their beloved father, Deza, her mom, and her big brother Jimmie–who has problems of his own–set off to find Mr. Malone.

Their journey is peppered with disappointment, adjustments to new and often frightening situations, and simply trying to survive in a world that is by no means kind to those who are poor. Through it all, Deza tries to keep her spirits up and her eyes focused on a brighter future. It’s not always easy…especially when her father–and eventually her brother–seem to be slipping farther away. It’s also difficult for Deza to accept that some people (like her new teachers in Flint) can’t see past the color of her skin.

Deza does what she must to be strong for her family. Will that strength see her through the tough times and into a future filled with possibilities? What will Deza learn about herself and the world around her during this journey? Will the Mighty Miss Malone win in the end? Find out when you read The Mighty Miss Malone by Christopher Paul Curtis!

_______________

This book is yet another of the SCCBA nominees in which the voice of the main character is one of the novel’s main strengths. It really shines through, and, in a book that is filled with its fair share of depressing and desolate situations, Deza brings a bit of humor to make things just a little brighter.

The Mighty Miss Malone is also a book that I hope will generate discussions about the Great Depression, how it impacted children in poverty, and how society still treats the poor. This book may be a work of historical fiction, but I doubt anyone can read this book without making connections to how those in poverty are treated in today’s world. It’s tragic, disturbing, and–I hope–eye-opening.

For more information about this book and others by Newbery Medal winner Christopher Paul Curtis, visit http://www.nobodybutcurtis.com/. Happy reading!

City of Orphans

Well, my summer is nearly at an end, and I’ve almost finished reading the twenty books nominated for the 2013-14 South Carolina Children’s Book Award. Last night, I finished #19, City of Orphans by Avi (also nominated for the South Carolina Junior Book Award). Had this book not been nominated for the SCCBA, I don’t know that I would have picked it up. It’s no secret that historical fiction is not my favorite genre. (For those wondering, the 20th SCCBA nominee left to read is also historical fiction. I’ve put it off as long as possible.) After reading City of Orphans, though, I’m honestly glad I gave this book a chance.

For the most part, this is not a particularly happy book, but it does explore what life was like for kids in turn-of-the-century New York. (Hint: If you had no money, it was bad.) The title, City of Orphans, refers to the fact that even kids with parents, most of whom were immigrants, were–for all intents and purposes–orphans. It was up to them to figure out how and where to make money, where to go when they needed help, and how to get out of bad situations. In this book, we meet Maks and Willa, two “orphans” just trying to survive in this bleak world.

It’s 1893, and New York City is teeming with people–immigrants, crooks, cops, and, most of all, kids. Kids just trying to survive, trying to make a few cents to help their families. One of these kids is Maks Geless. Maks is a newsie. (He sells newspapers on street corners.)

One night, Maks runs into some trouble on his way home from work. Trouble by the name of Bruno and the Plug Ugly Gang. Maks is sure he’s dead meat…until a dirty, homeless girl with a big stick saves him. This girl, Willa, has lived in the streets for months, and Maks figures the least he can do is give her a place to stay for coming to his rescue. So Maks takes Willa home to stay with his family.

Maks’ family, immigrants from Denmark, lives in a tenement, nearly ten people crammed into one small apartment, but it’s home, and they’re all together…until Maks’ older sister Emma is arrested! Maks is sure that Emma must be innocent. There’s simply no way she could have stolen a watch from someone at the new, fancy Waldorf hotel where she works. Maks’ parents are unfamiliar with the way things really work in America, so it’s up to Maks–and his new friend Willa–to figure out just what happened with Emma and the case of the stolen watch.

All the while, Maks and Willa have to watch out for the scary Bruno and this gang, just waiting to terrorize them and take their meager earnings. Can these two kids save their own necks while trying to get Maks’ sister out of jail? And is anyone willing to help two poor kids–who have no money–without expecting something in return? What will these two junior detectives discover in their quest for the truth? The answers will shock even them and will have the power to turn their worlds upside down. Learn how two kids navigate the perilous waters of turn-of-the-century New York when you read City of Orphans by Avi!

_______________

I think City of Orphans is a great discussion-starter about what kids experienced throughout history. As a former social studies teacher, I can tell you that most lessons focus on what adults did in the past. Not much attention is given to kids’ experiences, and that’s a shame. I think many students today would find lessons more engaging and relatable if they could somehow identify with the people they were studying. Do we need to ignore what adults were doing during historical periods? No, but we shouldn’t discount a large portion of the population just because they’re young. (I see a research project in the future for some of my students!)

I also believe City of Orphans could be a “gateway” book to other works of literature. Those that immediately come to mind are the works of Charles Dickens, particularly Oliver Twist and Great Expectations. City of Orphans, while not quite as bleak–or wordy–as Dickens’ works, has the same kind of tone. I don’t particularly care for Dickens, but others do, and readers who really enjoy City of Orphans may want to explore a few of these classics.

If you’d like more information about this book and others by Avi, visit http://www.avi-writer.com/. You can also like his page on Facebook.

I hope you enjoy City of Orphans as much as I did!

The Aviary

Greetings, dear readers! It’s been a while since my last post, and I apologize for that. I’ve been trying to get through my latest read for a while, and let’s just say that it was extremely slow-going at first. So slow, in fact, that I read at least six other books while I was trying to get into this one. Why did I continue trying, you ask? Well, this book, The Aviary by Kathleen O’Dell, is a nominee for the 13-14 South Carolina Children’s Book Award, and I felt I had to read it if I plan to promote it to my students. A few minutes ago, I finally finished The Aviary, and, while it took what seemed like forever for me to get invested in the story, the last half of the book flew by. (Pun intended.)

Even though The Aviary a work of historical fiction (not my favorite genre) that involves birds, which I’m not a huge fan of (which is odd considering that both of my college alma maters have birds as mascots), I do still plan to recommend this book to my students. It’s a good story, and I think it will spark the imaginations of upper elementary and middle grade readers.

Clara Dooley has been cooped up in the Glendoveer mansion her entire life. Her mother takes care of the house, and young Clara, who has a weak heart, has lessons with the aging Mrs. Glendoveer, widow to the famed magician, the Great Glendoveer. The Glendoveers were once a big, happy family, but tragedy struck–the Glendoveer children were kidnapped and killed–and the family was reduced to little but tears, bitterness, and a longing for times past.

The Glendoveer mansion is shrouded in mystery, a mystery made even more strange by the birds that inhabit the house’s aviary. These birds have lived longer than any birds should, and they have some odd connection to the Glendoveer family. Clara has always been a bit frightened of the birds–who squawk madly whenever she’s near–and her fear reaches a new level when one of the birds speaks a name–Elliot.

As one would imagine, Clara is intrigued by this, and she asks elderly Mrs. Glendoveer if she knows anyone by the name of Elliot. That seemingly simple question starts Clara down a path that will eventually unravel the mystery of what really happened  to the Glendoveer children…and how the birds in the aviary–and Clara herself–fit into the puzzle she’s attempting to solve. But how can Clara hope to figure out what happened if she can’t even leave the house? Well, she’ll have a little help from a new friend, and Clara may just discover that she’s stronger than anyone ever realized…

What really happened to the Glendoveer children? Who is Elliot? What is so special about the birds in the aviary? Why is so important that Clara be the one to uncover the truth? And can this young girl solve a mystery that has puzzled everyone for decades and help the Glendoveer family finally find peace? Answer these questions and many more when you read The Aviary by Kathleen O’Dell!

___________________

I think that any reader who really sits down and gives The Aviary a bit of time to get going will be pleasantly surprised by the journey. That being said, I do have a few issues with this book. First of all, it felt like it dragged at the beginning. It usually doesn’t take me quite so long to get into a book, and, honestly, if I hadn’t had to read this book, I would have stopped reading it entirely. Secondly, I didn’t find the cover appealing at all. (I freely admit that I judge a book by its cover.) I found the cover to be kind of boring, and that may have given me some preconceived notions about the book. Finally, the book featured letters from several characters, and those were printed in very difficult to read fonts. Given that many of my students can barely write–much less read–cursive, these letters may be hard to decifer (which is a shame since most of them add quite a bit to the story).

If you’d like more information about this book, check out the official Facebook page or the author’s website. You may also enjoy the book trailer below. Maybe if I’d watched this first, I would have gone into this book with little more excitement. (It doesn’t give away anything, but the music sets the perfect mood for this book.)

Published in: on July 18, 2013 at 10:00 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Freaky Fast Frankie Joe

I’ll be the first to admit that, sometimes, I’m not exactly enthused about books that I have to read for work. Yes, that includes some of my state’s book award nominees. Simply put, I read them because I must. I’m a firm believer that you can’t recommend books to students if you haven’t read them yourself, and, since I promote the crap out of the South Carolina Book Award program at my school, I read all of the Picture and Children’s Book Award nominees before the school year starts. I’ve got a few of the CBA nominees left to read, and most of those are the books that I figured would be difficult for me to get into. I started reading one of them late last night, and, to my great surprise, I finished it early this morning. That book is Freaky Fast Frankie Joe by Lutricia Clifton.

Frankie Joe Huckaby is a twelve-year-old who’s about to face some major changes. His mom is in jail for the next ten months, so Frankie Joe is being forced to leave his home at the Lone Star Trailer Park in Laredo, Texas, to move all the way to Illinois to live with a dad he hardly knows, a step-mom he’s never met, and four half-brothers he didn’t know he had.

Frankie Joe is less than thrilled with the move, and it soon becomes apparent that his new brothers may not be all that excited about it either. One of them, in particular, seems to make it his mission to make Frankie Joe more miserable than he already is. (It seems that school wasn’t exactly a priority for Frankie Joe’s mom, and he’s got A LOT of catching up to do.) Well, mission accomplished. If he didn’t want to return to Texas before, he certainly does now. All he has to do is make a plan to get there…

Frankie Joe knows that he’ll need money to make the 1,400 mile journey back to Texas, so he comes up with a way to earn a little cash. He starts a delivery business for many of the people in Clearview, Illinois. He delivers pizzas, skin care products, groceries…whatever he needs to earn a few bucks, enough to get what he needs to make it back home to his mom.

But what if Frankie Joe is better off in Illinois? His grades are improving, he’s taking on responsibility, he’s making friends, and he’s providing an important service in this little town. Even though he’s determined to make it back to his mom, is that really the best thing for him? Sure, Frankie Joe misses his mom and his friends in Laredo, but is going back to them what he should do? And what will happen when the decision is taken out of Frankie Joe’s hands? What will become of Freaky Fast Frankie Joe? Read this 2013-14 South Carolina Children’s Book Award nominee by Lutricia Clifton to find out!

Even though I was a little reluctant to read this book, once I actually started reading it, I was hooked. It’s a great story, a fast read, and, even though the reader may see what Frankie Joe should do, it’s interesting to see his thought processes through the changes in his young life. He deals with moving across the country, new family members, school, name-calling, making friends, and taking responsibility in ways that I think a lot of kids will appreciate.

I think Freaky Fast Frankie Joe is a great novel to use in classrooms to facilitate discussions on a variety of topics. For one, students could explore the differences in geography between Texas and Illinois. They could map out the route Frankie Joe would have taken, discuss the weather he may have encountered, and research the types of plants, rocks, and other things he may have encountered along the way. Frankie Joe also looked up any words that were new to him and found applications for those new words in his own life and experiences. This book could also be used to explore the concepts of blended families, parents in jail, and moving with students–and even adults–who are having difficulty adjusting to similar changes in their own lives.

For more information on Freaky Fast Frankie Joe and author Lutricia Clifton, visit http://www.lutricia-lois-clifton.com/.

Published in: on June 23, 2013 at 10:10 am  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , , , ,

War & Watermelon

I’ve been in a bit of a reading slump lately. The only thing I can blame is the end-of-year craziness that comes with working in a public school library. Two weeks ago, we had PASS testing (and don’t get me started on standardized tests). Last week, my library had our third book fair of the year. (We raised around $4,000, but my clerk and I are exhausted.) While that was going on, the library remained open for the last week of checkout for the school year. Today, about 9 million books were returned…which now have to be shelved. So, when I get home in the evenings, what little time I do have that’s not devoted to housework, paying bills, or that most heinous of chores–mowing the lawn–goes to doing absolutely nothing. My desire to read has been almost nil, but I have hopes that things are turning around…

Yesterday, I read a book that a student brought to me. The book is Rich Wallace’s War & Watermelon, and one of my fourth graders brought it to my attention. She read it and came to the conclusion that it didn’t belong in an elementary library. Well, of course, I had to read it after that. This student is not one to go crazy over every little thing, so I really took her concerns seriously. (Not that I don’t take all other concerns seriously, but you know how people are. Some get their knickers in a bunch over nothing. This girl isn’t like that.) After reading the book, I have to agree with my student. War & Watermelon is not a book for an elementary school library…but it is a great addition to any middle or high school collection.

War & Watermelon takes place in the summer of 1969, and it explores what life was like for one almost thirteen-year-old boy during this time. Brody is a pretty typical kid. He likes football, he’s starting to be interested in girls, and he’s dealing with drama at home. Typical stuff, right? Well, kind of. This is also the summer of ’69. (Cue Bryan Adams music.) The Mets are winning, man just landed on the moon, the U.S. is at war in Vietnam, and Woodstock is about to hit New York. It’s a lot for a kid to take in, especially when his brother’s about to turn eighteen and become eligible for the draft. Tensions are high at home and everywhere else, and Brody often doesn’t know which way to turn. No matter what happens, though, this will be a summer that Brody will never forget.

War & Watermelon sort of fills in a gap in some historical fiction collections, but I really don’t think it’s a good fit for my school library. Elementary school kids probably wouldn’t understand some of the humor, and they probably shouldn’t understand some of the drug references. (Notice I said shouldn’t.) The main character does go to Woodstock, and many young readers (and their parents) might focus a little too much on the nudity and drug use present at the music festival instead of the message of peace it was intended to be.

I’ll be passing this book on to a local middle school, and I hope that students there will enjoy it. I just don’t think my kids are ready for this book. Do with that what you will.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 253 other followers