Emperor Pickletine Rides the Bus

Read you must all of Tom Angleberger’s Origami Yoda books before proceeding! This is the sixth (and final?) book in the series, and I don’t want to spoil things for you…but I will! (I’m extremely in touch with the Dark Side of the Force!) Before picking up Emperor Pickletine Rides the Bus, make sure to read these prequels (which I guarantee are better than the actual Star Wars prequels).

Well, it’s been quite a ride. I read my first Origami Yoda book nearly three years ago, and I finished the sixth book last night. As far as I know, Emperor Pickletine Rides the Bus is the last book in this highly entertaining (and thought-provoking) series, but I’m still hoping that this is not the last we’ve seen of Origami Yoda and friends. To borrow from Princess Leia…

Help me, Tom Angleberger. You’re my only hope…

Anyway, Emperor Pickletine Rides the Bus picks up where Princess Labelmaker to the Rescue ended, and the kids from McQuarrie Middle School are in for yet another adventure…one without Origami Yoda!

Now that the FunTime Menace is no more, the students of McQuarrie Middle now get to enjoy things like elective classes and, of course, their highly anticipated field trip to Washington, DC. But what will they do when Rabbski, their principal-turned-math-teacher declares that origami–especially Origami Yoda–is off-limits? How will these seventh graders survive without the sage advice of Origami Yoda?!

Have no fear! Dwight is here…with a bunch of Fruit Roll-Ups he folds into Fruitigami Yodas. Unfortunately, the vile Harvey also comes prepared with EMPEROR PICKLETINE, the most evil, sour, and smelly being in the galaxy! Harvey and Emperor Pickletine seem bent on ruining this field trip, and the Dark Side may be more powerful than anyone realized. Is Fruitigami Yoda strong enough to fight this new threat?

As the seventh graders of McQuarrie Middle explore Washington, DC (and get into a fair amount of trouble), a battle is brewing between the Dark and Light Sides of the Force.

Who will win? Will Yoda come through for the Origami Rebellion one more time? Well, I can’t say. But I can tell you that this final battle is full of mischief-making, fisticuffs, space food, and even a little bit of smooching! I’ll leave it to you to find out who does what!

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What can I say about this series that hasn’t already been said? It’s opened up so many cool conversations between my students and me. (They are fully aware of my love for all things Star Wars.) I know Emperor Pickletine Rides the Bus will only add to those conversations…though I have to admit I may steer them away from making origami figures with pickles. Yuck!

I realize this may be the last Origami Yoda book–at least for a while–but I think I’ll be enjoying this series with my students for many years to come. (I still think we’ll see more from Origami Yoda. After all, we never thought we’d get Episodes VII, VIII, and IX of Star Wars either!)

To learn more about all things Origami Yoda, click here. You may also want to check out the video below. May the Force be with you!

The Chaos of Stars

Since I first read Paranormalcy several years ago, I’ve tried to read just about everything that Kiersten White has written. So far, I’ve read the entire Paranormalcy series (Paranormalcy, Supernaturally, and Endlessly), Mind Games and Perfect Lies, In the Shadows (a middle grade novel co-written with Jim Di Bartolo), and even a steampunk short story in Corsets & Clockwork. Well, as of last night, I can add The Chaos of Stars, a dramatic stand-alone novel, to the list of excellent stories by a thoroughly entertaining author.

The Chaos of Stars introduces readers to Isadora. Isadora, like many teen girls, is rebelling against her parents. Things are a little different for her, though. Of course, everything’s kind of different when your parents are Egyptian deities. That’s right. Dear old Mom and Dad are actually Isis and Osiris, and Isadora is their very human daughter.

Isadora is growing tired of existing only to worship her parents, so she takes off to live with her brother in San Diego at the first opportunity. This is her chance to be her own person and escape the pressures of her life in Egypt. Little does she know that she can run from her powerful mother, but Isis will always maintain a little bit of control. Mommy dearest has arranged for Isadora to work in a museum for the summer, managing the new Egyptian collection. (No one—other than Isadora and her brother—realizes that the priceless artifacts were donated by an actual Egyptian goddess. Who would?)

Through her work at the museum, Isadora makes some friends. One of those friends introduces her to an enigmatic young man named Ry. Isadora is oddly drawn to this boy, but she fights the attraction with every fiber of her being. She doesn’t want to get involved in something that is destined to end. (It seems that being the human daughter of eternal beings has done quite a number on Isadora’s feelings about love.) Every minute she spends with Ry, though, cracks the armor she’s built around her heart. What is it about this boy? Why is she so drawn to him? Could he be the one person to really understand her and her complicated family?

While Isadora is examining her feelings for both her family and Ry, she is also confronting a mysterious danger that has followed her from Egypt. She’s having disturbing dreams about her mother, and an oddly familiar menace is lurking in the shadows. Someone who thinks Isadora possesses the key to controlling all of the gods of Egypt. Someone who wants to put an end to the reign of Isis…forever.

Can Isadora figure out what’s going on in time to save her mother, a woman she’s resented for years? Will Isadora finally realize how much her messed up family truly means to her—and how much she means to them–before it’s too late? Unwrap* the mystery when you read The Chaos of Stars, a thrilling (and charming) book by the always delightful Kiersten White.

*Unwrap. Get it? A little mummy humor. I thought it was funny.

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If you’re looking for a YA book to give to fans of Rick Riordan’s Kane Chronicles, I highly recommend The Chaos of Stars. It’s a quick, quirky read that will appeal to those who know a bit about Egyptian mythology. (That knowledge isn’t totally necessary going in, but it could lead readers to seek out more information!) Also, it’s a stand-alone novel, so many readers won’t feel the pressure to keep up with yet another series.

The Chaos of Stars is a great book for middle grade and teen readers (and adults, of course). Despite the main character having supernatural parents, I think the issues she faces will resonate with a variety of audiences. She’s looking to break free of expectations, she’s examining her relationship with her parents, and she’s dealing with the often scary feelings of first love. (I’m 35, and I’m still working on a couple of those things.) Kiersten White addresses all of those issues with her characteristic humor and candor, and, through Isadora, I think we can all learn a little more about ourselves and our relationships with others.

If you’d like more information on this book and others by the fabulous Kiersten White, check out her website and Twitter feed. You won’t be disappointed. The woman is hilarious!

Happy reading!

Guitar Notes

I am a firm believer in the power of music. And when I encounter a book that shines a light on that, I tend to devour it. That was definitely the case with Guitar Notes by Mary Amato.

This nominee for the 14-15 South Carolina Junior Book Award focuses on Tripp, a young guitar player, and Lyla, a talented young cello player.

These two young people use the same school practice room on opposite days. Tripp is playing a borrowed guitar (his mom took his away) and is only concerned with playing for his own enjoyment. Lyla, on the other hand, is feeling some intense pressure to further her career as a world-class cello player. She’s got some big auditions coming up, and she’s supposed to be using the practice room to get her pieces absolutely perfect. Things change, though, when Tripp and Lyla begin leaving notes for each other in their little room…

At first, the notes are kind of snarky. Tripp thinks of Lyla as Little Miss Perfect, and Lyla sees Tripp as something of an oddity. The two trade barbs and, in the process, learn a little more about each other. Pretty soon, they are exploring a tentative friendship and challenging each other to really explore their musical connection. Lyla puts her cello aside for a bit and focuses on learning to play the guitar and writing songs with Tripp. These two young people bond through music, and they find a friendship that might just turn out to change their entire lives.

As so often happens, though, circumstances arise that try to drive these two friends apart. Other friends don’t understand their connection, their parents are rather clueless (and are often doing more damage than they probably realize), and both Tripp and Lyla are facing pressures that feel insurmountable at times. Music, though, continues to bring them together…even when things seem impossibly bleak.

Join Tripp and Lyla on this musical journey that will take them through friendships old and new, family drama, and even a bit of adventure. They will learn so much about each other, themselves, and the music that ties them together, and this bond will see them through good times and bad. Tripp and Lyla will see the true power of music, and they may just share that with everyone around them…

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Guitar Notes really spoke to me as a musician. No, I’m not a guitar or cello player. (I had a brief interlude with the violin, but that resulted in people thinking I was torturing a cat.) I have, however, been a brass player since I was twelve, so I know a little something about how music can fill a person up, bring emotions to the surface, and make everything a bit clearer. That’s what I saw in Tripp and Lyla in this book. I think any musician, young or old, who reads this book will see what I did–two young people finally discovering their voices and realizing how much music really means to them.

Guitar Notes was, at times, an emotional ride. I laughed, I cried, I commiserated, and I even got angry. I couldn’t stand Annie, Lyla’s so-called best friend. I wanted to slap her every time she made an appearance. She was just so bossy. Kind of reminded me of one of my best friends in school. Ugh.

I also wasn’t a fan of Tripp’s mom through most of the book. I get that she wanted him to improve his grades, but taking music away from him to make that happen? No, no, no. If anything, that did more damage, and it’s been proven that music actually improves brain function. (Look it up.) Eventually, Tripp’s mom “woke up” and saw just how much the guitar and Lyla’s friendship meant to her son, but it took way to much for her to finally see the light. Just my two cents.

I highly recommend Guitar Notes to any reader–probably fifth grade and up–who has a passion for music. This book definitely has a place in upper elementary, middle, and even high school classrooms and libraries. I would also urge music teachers to read this book and recommend it to their chorus, band, and orchestra students.

I am thrilled that this book earned a spot on this year’s South Carolina Junior Book Award nominee list. It’s a wonderful book that shines a light on just what music can do in a young person’s life.

Mary Amato’s next book, Get Happy, also has a musical theme, and it will be out in October. Thanks to NetGalley, I’ll be diving into that one soon, so stay tuned!

For more information on Guitar Notes and other works by Mary Amato, check out her website.

I Am the Weapon

A few minutes ago, I finally finished reading I Am the Weapon, the first book in Allen Zadoff’s Unknown Assassin series. This book (which I got to read thanks to NetGalley) was originally published last year with the title Boy Nobody. Let me just say that I whole-heartedly approve of the title change. I doubt I would have chosen to read the book with the original title. Boring. I Am the Weapon, though? Yeah, that one grabs my attention.

In this series opener, readers are introduced to a young man with a somewhat fluid identity. He’s the new kid in class, the one who makes friends easily, the one who disappears like smoke. He is an assassin, and, as soon as his job is done, he moves on to the next assignment. The next target sent to him by The Program. He doesn’t ask questions. He follows orders…for now.

The boy’s new assignment takes him to New York City. Unlike his other jobs, this one won’t force him to slowly and carefully make connections with those around him. No, there is a speedy timeline here. He has five days to kill the mayor of New York City.

While he questions his unusual timetable and his high-profile, heavily protected target, he proceeds with the job at hand. He becomes Ben, a new kid in a private Manhattan school, and he does what he must to get close to Samara, the mayor’s daughter.

Sam is smart, though. She knows something is different about Ben. He doesn’t quite fit in at school, and she seems to be intrigued by this. Ben can only use this to his advantage. He quickly involves himself in nearly every aspect of Sam’s life, and, as he learns more about this girl and her father, the more he wonders why this seemingly good man must be eliminated.

Pretty soon, Ben is getting much closer than he intended, and that’s having an impact on his assignment. He can’t quite force himself to follow through and actually kill a man he’s growing to like, especially if that means that Sam will be hurt.

Ben is also reflecting on the circumstances that led him to be an assassin for The Program. Why was he chosen? Why was his father killed? And does he have any control over his own life? Can he make his own choices without higher-ups deciding that he needs to be eliminated as well?

As Ben is struggling with his assignment and his place within The Program, he receives a new set of orders. He’s now got four days to complete his job, but his target has changed. He’s no longer expected to kill the mayor. No. Now his target is Sam. Why? What has she done to warrant being silenced? And can this teen assassin figure things out before he is put in the cross-hairs?

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If you’re looking for a quick, action-packed YA book in the vein of The Bourne Identity and other psychological thrillers with political implications, I think I Am the Weapon may be the book you seek. The main character is not exactly a hero, but readers will be intrigued by his thought processes and what leads him to the actions he takes. He is a killer, one who sometimes blindly follows orders, but he wasn’t always so cold. Once upon a time, he had a family, and his memories of those times–and his growing dissatisfaction with The Program–show readers his humanity and give a hint that he could be redeemed in the future.

Those looking for a happy ending with a sense of closure will not find it in I Am the Weapon. If anything, the conclusion raises even more questions…which I guess is good since there are other books in the series waiting in the wings. The next book, I Am the Mission (which has gone through a couple of title changes as well), should already be out. I’m hoping it’s just as action-packed as the first book. I’ll find out soon enough. Thanks to NetGalley, I’ve also got a copy of this one waiting on my ereader.

For more information on I Am the Weapon and other books by Allen Zadoff, check out the author’s website. As for me, I think I’ll move on to my next book! Peace!

Better Off Friends

It’s becoming pretty clear that I’m going to like any book that Elizabeth Eulberg writes.  I’ve now read four of her books–Prom & Prejudice, Take a Bow, Revenge of the Girl with the Great Personality, and Better Off Friends–and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed every single one. Last night, I finished reading Eulberg’s latest, Better Off Friends. This book takes aim at that age-old question: Can a guy and a girl really just be friends?

The two main characters in Better Off Friends, Macallan and Levi, have been friends since they first met in the seventh grade. In fact, they’re best friends. They have a special bond that seems to be unbreakable…even when Levi starts dating one of Macallan’s other friends. (As you can probably imagine, this doesn’t really end well, and Macallan is forced to choose between friends. Quite the pickle.)

As Macallan and Levi exit middle school and enter the exciting world of high school–dances, team sports, serious relationships–their strong friendship is tested. No one really gets the closeness between Macallan and Levi, and that leads to problems with boyfriends and girlfriends.

As this dynamic duo examines just why their other relationships fail, they’ll be forced to face how they really feel about each other. This is not exactly a comfortable process. In fact, at one point, Macallan escapes to Ireland for the summer just to avoid facing her feelings for Levi! Levi, meanwhile, is trying to balance being a guy’s guy with having a girl for a best friend…a girl who he may love as more than a friend.

Life is quickly becoming an emotional whirlwind for both Macallan and Levi. When mushy feelings are thrown into the mix, their friendship undergoes some changes. Sometimes, the two can’t even speak to each other without arguing. At other times, the two are inseparable.  Their newly-discovered feelings for each other–feelings that each one denies at one point or another–are quickly making a mess of everyday life, and something’s got to give soon.

Would becoming a couple change everything that is special about their friendship, or would it make them stronger than ever? Should Macallan and Levi explore their feelings, or are they better off friends? There’s only one way to find out…

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Part of me wanted this story to steer clear of anything romantic. I think guys and girls can be just friends, and I think it would have been refreshing to see that play out. However…

SPOILERS!

That’s not what happened here. Love–and not the platonic kind–got thrown into the mix, and I’ll admit it made for a great read. I imagine every reader will wonder when Macallan and Levi are going to wake up and see that “The One” is right there in front of them. This struggle made for some tense moments, but I held out hope that these two would find some way to eventually be together.

I did have reason to believe things would turn out okay for Macallan and Levi. In between chapters, readers see conversations between these two–mostly reactions to what happened in the previous chapter or hints about what’s about to happen–so we know that, at the very least, they remain friends. That was definitely a comfort when their friendship hit a few low points.

If you’re looking for a fun, often hilarious, romantic, light read, I urge you to give Better Off Friends (and other books by Elizabeth Eulberg) a try. Even though the book doesn’t really answer the question of whether guys and girls can be just friends, it does show that sometimes the best relationships start with amazing friendships.

Published in: on March 27, 2014 at 12:43 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Attachments

Well, it’s been quite the week. After an unexpected winter vacation, it was very difficult to get back into the swing of things at work. Add to that a colossally bad mood, and my reading just wasn’t what it should have been this week. Today, though, I think I finally got out of my funk. At the very least, my urge to read returned, and I was able to finish reading Attachments by Rainbow Rowell, who is quickly becoming one of my absolute favorite authors. Now, unlike Eleanor & Park and Fangirl, Attachments can’t really be considered YA fiction. I would classify it simply as realistic, romantic fiction, but even the romance is somewhat understated.

Attachments begins in a newspaper office in 1999. Lincoln O’Neill has been hired as an Internet security officer, which basically means he gets paid to read “flagged” emails. You know what I’m talking about–dirty jokes, sexist remarks, profanity, pornography, etc. (Man, I would rock that job. I’m nosy, but I really don’t like interacting with a lot of people.) Well, with most people aware that Big Brother is watching, Lincoln’s job tends to be rather boring…until he gets sucked into the emails between Beth and Jennifer.

Beth Fremont and Jennifer Scribner-Snyder spend a lot of company time emailing each other. They talk about their relationships, their jobs, their pasts, and just the day-to-day minutiae of their lives…and Lincoln is enthralled by these conversations. Yes, he should probably send them a warning to stop using company email for personal communication, but he can’t make himself do that. That would mean cutting ties with these two women he’s never met but who make his work hours more that just finding something to occupy his time.

As Lincoln learns more and more about Beth and Jennifer, he also seeks to improve himself. He examines his past relationships, his current living situation (still with his mom), his friendships, and his own health. Why, you ask? Well, a lot of it has to do with his desire to be ready when/if he ever meets Beth. You see, as he’s read about her life, he’s developed feelings for her. And when he finally sees her in passing, those feelings grow stronger. (No, he’s still never actually spoken to her.)

Beth, on the other hand, is dealing with her own stuff. She’s been in a committed relationship for a long time, but she’s starting to realize that it may not be the best thing for her. She is kind of obsessed with an unnamed Cute Guy at work (who happens to be Lincoln). At the same time, she’s got her own issues with family and friends.

Can these two crazy kids find their way to each other? What obstacles will get in their way? If they do get together, is there a way to get past their secret obsessions with each other? (I mean, it would be kind of hard to say, “Honey, before we started dating, I was secretly reading your personal emails to your best friend for months. We’re good, though, right?”) What will happen with Lincoln and Beth? Dive in to Attachments, and find out!

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Like Rowell’s other two books, I thoroughly enjoyed Attachments. The characters felt real to me, and I could see so much of myself and my friends, not just in Lincoln and Beth, but in the motley assortment of supporting characters as well.

Some YA readers may be drawn to this book just because of the author, and, to a certain extent, I think that’s okay. Like I said before, though, this is not a work of YA fiction. It addresses some situations that many teenagers just haven’t had to face yet–workplace politics, what happens to adults after college (moving out vs. moving in with parents), being unhappy with a chosen career path, deciding whether or not to have a baby and what happens when that choice is taken out of a person’s hands, and choosing to end unhealthy relationships. (At least, I hope most teenagers haven’t had to deal with this stuff.) I think this book is best approached by readers who have a bit of life experience and who can truly empathize with and relate to the struggles of the main characters.

Published in: on February 23, 2014 at 7:22 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Surprise Attack of Jabba the Puppett

Warning you must heed! Read first three Origami Yoda books you must! Annoying yet, is this?

So…as you’ve no doubt gathered, this post will focus on the fourth book in Tom Angleberger’s Origami Yoda series, The Surprise Attack of Jabba the Puppett. (In case you can’t remember, the first three books are The Strange Case of Origami Yoda, Darth Paper Strikes Back, and The Secret of the Fortune Wookiee.) You really need to read the first three books to fully grasp what’s going on in the fourth. If you’re a Star Wars nut like me, that shouldn’t be a problem.

In this fourth book, the students of McQuarrie Middle School are facing a terrible evil.  More evil than the Empire. More evil than a Sith Lord without his morning coffee.  More evil than Jar Jar Binks. (Well, maybe not that bad.)  This semester, the school is eliminating all electives–Lego robotics, drama, music, yearbook–and forcing kids to spend those class times watching the horrible FunTime videos that are supposed to help increase standardized test scores.

As one can probably imagine, the students are not happy about this, and, with the help of Captain Dwight and Origami Yoda, they decide to do something about it. The students of McQuarrie Middle form their own Rebel Alliance and try to figure out a way to put an end to FunTime (and it’s stupid singing calculator). Their plan is risky, but it may just work if they can get enough kids on board. Armed with a battalion of origami Star Wars figures, the students of McQuarrie Middle seek to restore order and balance to the Force at their school.

Will the Rebel Alliance succeed in defeating the dreaded FunTime Menace, or is this war bigger than they realize? And what will this rebel band do when help comes from a surprising source? Learn just how much a determined group of kids can accomplish when you read The Surprise Attack of Jabba the Puppett by Tom Angleberger! May the Force be with you!

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I must say that I enjoyed this book just as much as the other three books in the Origami Yoda series.  I do think, though, that it’s basic message might just be geared toward adults as much as kids. (I hate to say it, but it’s definitely a message that the “powers-that-be” in my own state and district could stand to learn.) If you ask any quality educator, they’ll probably tell you–at length–how they feel about standardized tests.  (In short, we hate them.)  Our hands are tied, though.  We have to do what we’re told…just like our students do.  It doesn’t make anyone happy, and I honestly don’t think you can measure a student’s achievement by looking at one test.

This book, quite frankly, gives me hope that change can happen…and it will begin with students. Once students and their parents have enough of being tested to death, things may just start to shift. I can almost guarantee teachers will get on board fast. Will it happen while I’m still an educator? Only time will tell…

Aside from all of the stuff about the evils of removing electives to focus on test-prep, The Surprise Attack of Jabba the Puppett is like candy for Star Wars fans. Every student we meet has their own origami Star Wars figure (which are often matched to the students’ personalities). It’s really cool and kind of makes me want to start a Star Wars club at my school. (That would probably be the greatest club mankind has ever known.)

This book is a great read for the Star Wars fan (or the frustrated educator) in your life.  It demonstrates what a determined group of people are capable of accomplishing if they work together. Good times.

For more information about the Origami Yoda series and author Tom Angleberger, visit http://origamiyoda.com/.

One more thing! This Saturday is Star Wars Reads Day! For information on an event near you, check out http://starwars.com/reads/!

Every Day

I started reading Every Day by David Levithan way back on August 18th.  It took me until September 5th to get through the first 75 pages of this book.  I honestly don’t know why I wasn’t super-engaged in this book.  The premise is right up my alley–someone wakes up in a different body every day.  Why then, did it take me so long to get invested?  Maybe I’ll figure it out through the course of this post.  (In case you were wondering, I read pages 76-322 yesterday while in a hospital waiting room.  More on that later.)

What would you do if you didn’t know where–or who–you’d be from day to day?  That’s reality for “A.”  One day he could be in the body of the most popular boy in school.  The next day he’s experiencing the life of a suicidal girl who lives hundreds of miles away.  Every day, A is someone different.  This existence is all A has ever known, and he’s pretty sure there’s no one else in the world like him.  The best he can hope for is not to screw up his hosts’ lives too badly.

But everything changes when he inhabits the body of Justin. Justin is normally not a great guy, but he has one thing that changes everything A has ever felt about himself or the world around him.  Justin has Rhiannon, a girl that A almost immediately falls in love with.  But how can A cope with only having one day with this remarkable girl?  One day during which she’ll only know him as a kinder version of her boyfriend?  Is there any way for A to keep a relationship with Rhiannon going?  If he can, what will be the cost…to both A and Rhiannon?

As A grows closer and closer to Rhiannon, he begins breaking more of his own rules.  He’s tampering with his hosts, and it’s not going unnoticed.  A is also growing to resent the only life he’s ever known.  When you’re a different person every day, how can you hold on to anyone or anything?  But could there possibly be a way out of this life without A hurting himself, his hosts, and Rhiannon?  Only time will tell…

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Even after finishing this book, I’m not sure how I feel about it. I still think the premise is great, but I would have liked a bit more resolution at the end. I feel like too many things were left up in the air. I’m not sure if there will be a sequel or not, but I would like to know how things end up for A. (Spoilers! Every Day did not, in my opinion, end on what I would call a positive note. Maybe the lack of happy ending is what’s bothering me.) Apparently, there will be a companion novel, Rhiannon, which–you guessed it–tells Every Day from Rhiannon’s point of view. This book is not scheduled to be released until sometime in 2015. I don’t know if I’ll pick it up or not. We’ll see.

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Now, for those still reading who are curious as to why I was in a hospital waiting room most of the day yesterday, here we go.  My sister was giving birth to my second niece!  Yesterday, we welcomed Sarah Elizabeth “Ellie” Payne into the world!  Mom and baby are doing well, and my entire family is ecstatic about our new addition!

If you’d like to see a picture of Ellie, check out my Twitter feed in the sidebar here.  (For those who are not following me on Twitter yet, my handle is @KnightReaderSC.)

Published in: on September 7, 2013 at 1:59 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Amazing Adventures of John Smith, Jr. AKA Houdini

This will not be a standard post, but please bear with me.

Like most avid readers, I use books to escape from the pressures of everyday life. Something happened a couple of days ago, though, that even books can’t really help me with. (Please allow me just this little bit to get this out, and I’ll get to my latest read.) On Sunday morning, my uncle was killed in a tragic accident. Anyone who knew my wonderful uncle knew that he was larger than life, so the news of his death was a shock to everyone. I still don’t fully believe it. I’m waiting on him to walk through the door with his huge smile and a hug for everyone he encounters. Everyone adored him, and none of us can really process why this happened. Right now, the platitudes that people offer during times like these mean absolutely nothing to me (or the rest of the family, I imagine). We simply want David back.

I haven’t mentioned this to anyone except my mother, but my uncle’s passing has hit me very hard. You see, Sunday wasn’t just another day for me. It was my birthday. For the rest of my life, I’ll associate that day with the loss of one of the men I loved most in the world. I’m sure the rest of my family will feel the same. My birthday is no longer something to celebrate. That date is something to mourn. I don’t even know how to reconcile that in my own mind, and I know my uncle would fuss about this, but I just can’t help it. Maybe one day I’ll be able to get past my feelings about this, but it is not this day.

I do ask everyone to keep my family in your thoughts and prayers. We’ll need all the help we can get to make it through this tragedy.

I did try to escape through a book during the past couple of days. I put away the book I was reading (which dealt with way too much death), and I began reading a somewhat light-hearted novel that I thought would lift my spirits just a little. That book was The Amazing Adventures of John Smith, Jr. AKA Houdini by Peter Johnson. (I’ll be calling this book Houdini from this point forward. That title is a little long to keep typing.)

In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll admit that I read this book because one of the teachers at my school was concerned about some swearing in it that a third grader had brought to her attention. Before I made any decisions on whether to keep or remove the book from my school library, I knew I had to read it, so I figured now was as good as any time. Yes, there is a little swearing (the “d” word a couple of times), but, in my opinion, it was not gratuitous, and it fit the character’s situation. (Not every kid is raised in a wholesome, religious, stable, conservative family.) The main character also mentions that a good, publishable kid’s novel (which he’s trying to write) shouldn’t contain any explicit sex. (He’s right, by the way.) Some kids and parents might simply see the phrase “explicit sex” when browsing through this book and decide to throw a conniption fit. I was a little concerned as well…until I actually read the book.

Houdini tells the tale of a thirteen-year-old, nicknamed Houdini as the title suggests, who has decided to write a novel about his life after hearing an author speak at his school. He explores what makes a good kids’ novel and proceeds to write the happenings of his rather eventful life. He talks about his family’s struggles with making ends meet, his brother’s deployment to Iraq (and what happens when he eventually returns), dealing with the neighborhood bully, and his relationships with his friends and neighbors. At the end, even Houdini is surprised at how writing (and noticing) everything around him changes not only him but his family and friends as well. He realizes that nearly everything is interconnected and that, if he takes the time to really get to know someone, they may just surprise him.

Even in this dark time in my own life, Houdini put a smile on my face. This was a good book that I think a lot of readers, particularly boys, will relate to. After reading it, I will say that this is not a book I would recommend to a third grader. I think this book is okay for readers in fifth grade on up. Middle grade readers will enjoy it.

Here’s the big question: am I going to remove Houdini from my school library? No. I think it does have a place in the elementary library, but I do believe library professionals–including myself–should know their readers and be mindful of which readers are mature enough to handle a book like this one. (Also be aware of which parents or teachers will have a problem with a bit of swearing or frank talk between a group of thirteen-year-old boys.) As I’m sure everyone knows, maturity levels vary greatly between a group of kids (or adults). What one reader may find offensive or scandalous, another will view as commonplace or even funny. As always, keep this in mind when recommending any book to a reader, no matter what his/her age may be.

Splintering

I finished a book last night that was very short and extremely easy to read. (It’s a novel in verse, so I flew through it.) The subject matter, however, was kind of disturbing. The book is Splintering by Eireann Corrigan, and it explores what happens to a family after a violent attack and home invasion. (Since I was the victim of a home invasion in September, I related a bit to the characters. Thankfully, I wasn’t home when some lowlife broke into my home. I shudder at the thought.)

Splintering is told in two distinct voices:  Paulie, a fifteen year old girl who has endured way too much in her young life and is barely coping with the horror that she faced on that fateful night; and Jeremy, Paulie’s older brother, who hid in the basement while his family was being attacked by a drugged-out monster. These two teenagers reveal to readers what life was like before, during, and after the attack that would change not only their lives but also the lives of their parents and their older sister, Mimi.

Even before everything went pear-shaped, things weren’t great for Paulie and Jeremy. Paulie, in particular, dealt with being a punching bag for their mother. After the attack, Paulie suffered from horrible nightmares, and she found solace in the arms of a much older boy. Jeremy, on the other hand, retreated into himself. He grew pot in the basement, and he lived with being thought of as the coward who hid in the basement when a madman was beating on his family. Both them are dealing with strained and changing relationships with their parents and worry over how everything impacted their big sister, who is just short of catatonic.

Things are looking pretty bleak for Paulie, Jeremy, and their family, but, somehow, they hold onto a small measure of hope. Hope that things will eventually get better. Hope that they won’t have to live with this fear forever. Hope for some sense of normalcy. Will they ever recover from the attack that changed everything, or will their lives continue to splinter? Read Splintering by Eireann Corrigan to learn how a family comes back from one terrible, horrifying, life-changing event.

In my opinion, Splintering is too mature for most middle grade readers, but it might be a good fit for reluctant teen readers who want to read something that isn’t all sweetness and light. There is frank talk about violence, drug use, and sex, and, even though most adults might not want to admit it, these things are parts of some teens’ daily lives. They might be able to relate to what Paulie and Jeremy are going through (even if they haven’t experienced the exact circumstances themselves).

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