Because of Mr. Terupt

Some of us have been lucky enough to have teachers that have truly inspired us.  I’ve had a few, but two really stand out.  The first is Mrs. Harper, my 3rd grade teacher, who is still the standard by which I measure all great teachers.  The other is Mrs. Galloway, my eighth grade reading teacher, who taught me just how magical diving into a great book could be.  (Mrs. Galloway, now a valued friend and colleague, should probably get a lot of the credit for my becoming a librarian.)  Teachers have the power to make a difference in the lives of children, and they often don’t realize just how much they mean to their students. 

In my latest read, Because of Mr. Terupt by Rob Buyea, we follow seven students through their fifth grade year.  They’re all in Mr. Terupt’s class.  Mr Terupt is a new teacher.  Some students think he’ll be a pushover.  Some students see this class as their chance to start fresh.  But one thing is the same for all of them.  This year–and this teacher–will change their lives forever.

Mr. Terupt is a brand-new teacher at Snow Hill School in Connecticut. His fifth grade class if full of students who are as interesting as they are different. Jessica has just moved from California after her mom’s split with her dad.  Anna is a shy girl who is an outcast through no fault of her own.  Danielle is a girl who lets what others say and think matter too much.  Alexia is a mean girl who will create drama at the first opportunity.  Peter is a class clown who never seems to get into trouble.  Luke is the class brain and always has to have the right answer first.  Jeffrey hates everything about school…and home.

Somehow, Mr. Terupt manages to reach all of these students in his own special way.  For some of them, school is fun for the first time.  Other students are breaking out of their shells.  Some are realizing just how much their actions impact others.  Mr. Terupt is making a difference in these kids’ lives…but no one realizes how much this special teacher really means to his students until something happens that threatens to take him away forever. 

What will the class do without their teacher?  Who is to blame for what happened to Mr. Terupt?  Will the students from Mr. Terupt’s class come together to support each other and their teacher, or will this tragedy erase all of the good that happened this year?  Read Because of Mr. Terupt, a nominee for the 2012-13 South Carolina Children’s Book Award, to discover how much one teacher–and one life-changing incident–can make seven students reexamine themselves and what really matters to them.

I cannot say enough good things about this book.  I totally related to several of the characters in this book, especially Danielle and Luke.  I couldn’t stand Alexia through most of the book, but I rejoiced when she turned everything around.  Jessica, Peter, Anna, and Jeffrey also stole little pieces of my heart.  All of these students became better people…and they did so with the help of one very special teacher.  Mr. Terupt, through his super-fun lessons (which I may have to recommend to some teachers) and his ability to see what his students really needed, was a teacher who was able to reach his students in a way that no one ever had.

I’m hoping to purchase copies of this book for every teacher in my school for the start of school in the fall.  I think it’s a book that all of them should read to see how much of a difference they could make in their students’ lives.  (For those of you who don’t work in education, you may not realize how discouraged we get sometimes, particularly when one considers how public education is viewed in today’s society.  A book like this serves to help us remember why we do what we do.)  I’m passing this book on to my mom next.  (She’s an eighth grade math teacher.)  I hope she takes as much away from this amazing, inspiring book as I did.

For more information on Because of Mr. Terupt and author Rob Buyea, visit http://robbuyea.com/.  I just went to the site myself and learned that there will be a sequel, Mr. Terupt Falls Again, that will be released on October 9th.  You can bet that I’ll get my hands on this book as soon as I possibly can.

Everneath

I spent the majority of yesterday engrossed in yet another book that made my blood pressure rise.  As I got closer to the end, I had to put the book down for a while because the tension was getting to be too much for me (and I had a feeling the book’s ending would be less-than-happy).  When this happens, I know the author has done his/her job.  The book I’m talking about this time is Everneath by Brodi Ashton, the first book in a new series that is sort of a retelling/reimagining of a few myths (Isis and Osiris, Orpheus and Eurydice, Hades and Persephone) and how they might exist in the modern world.  As we all know, I love me some mythology, so it’s not really a shocker that I adored Everneath (even though I felt like I needed Prozac while I was reading).  And even though I wasn’t crazy about the ending, I look forward to some kind of satisfactory resolution during the next two books.

Nikki Beckett has spent the past century as a prisoner in the Everneath. Now, she has returned to her life, where only six months have passed. Six months for her family and friends to wonder where she is and why she left. Six months for so much to change…including the relationship with her boyfriend, Jack. Yes, Nikki has returned, but not for long. For in six short months, the Everneath will reclaim her…this time, forever.

As Nikki readjusts to her old life and prepares for her eventual return to the shady underworld of the Everneath, she must come to terms with the circumstances that led to her choice (yes, choice) to leave all the pain and betrayal behind for a “life” in the Everneath.  As her memories of the Surface return, Nikki realizes that she is largely to blame for what has happened to her.  But there is one other person who shares that blame…Cole, the enigmatic being who made the Everneath sound so appealing when Nikki was at her weakest.

Cole played on her emotions once, and he’s doing it again.  He knows that Nikki’s time on the Surface is limited, and he knows what awaits her upon her return to the Everneath.  (Hint:  It’s not good.)  But he has an alternate proposition.  Cole wants Nikki to help him overthrow the queen of the underworld and rule with him forever.  There’s something special about Nikki, and she’s the only one who can help Cole in his quest for power.  The idea has its merits, but Nikki is torn between her desire to forget all of her pain and her love for the boy whose memory kept her going during her century in the Everneath.  She just can’t let Jack go again…and it seems the feeling is mutual.

Nikki becomes determined to do everything possible to remain on the Surface with Jack and her family.  With a little help, she discovers a few things about the Everneath that might just make this mysterious underworld crumble.  But at what cost?  Nikki has already given up so much of herself to the Everneath.  What will she have to sacrifice now to bring prevent her return to this shadowy, horrifying world?  Will the Everneath prevail and take her back to its depths, or will Nikki be able to find some kind of salvation and redemption?  Uncover the mystery when you read Everneath by Brodi Ashton!

Well, it’s been almost an entire day since I finished this book, and I’m still thinking about what happened, especially how it concluded.  I fell in love with all of the major players in this story:  Nikki, Jack, and Cole (who I think is totally misunderstood–kind of like Darth Vader).  I look forward to spending more time with these characters in the next two books.  The second book, Everbound, should be released on January 22nd, 2013.  While we wait, let’s look at the beautiful cover for this highly anticipated book.  It’s made of pretty!

The third book in this trilogy is currently untitled, but I’m guessing it will be out early in 2014.  If you’d like more information on Brodi Ashton and the Everneath trilogy, visit http://www.brodiashton.blogspot.com/ or follow the author on Twitter @brodiashton.  You may also want to check out this awesome Everneath book trailer from HarperTeen.  It captures this book in a way that I can’t hope to.

Inside Out & Back Again

Two reviews in one day?  Can it be?  Well, obviously it can.  After finishing Rapture earlier today, I was in the mood for something a little less anxiety-inducing, so I started reading another of the nominees for the 2012-2013 South Carolina Children’s Book Award.  I thought a book written for children would surely be a lighter read that a YA novel dealing with a possible apocalypse.  Yeah…not so much. 

The book I chose to read was Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai, which tells about a year in the life of a young girl in 1975.  The girl, Hà, leaves everything she’s ever known in South Vietnam in the hopes of a better life in America.  This book, a novel in verse, was a super-fast read, but it definitely shed some light on what Vietnamese immigrants, particularly children, may have faced when they escaped a war-torn—but familiar—Vietnam for a new home that was often more frightening that what they left behind.  This story is even more real because it draws on the author’s own experiences.  Inside Out & Back Again is a powerful read that I won’t soon forget.

Ten-year-old Hà and her family know that change is coming.  War has torn their country apart and claimed one of their own.  Although they are reluctant to leave Vietnam behind, there seems to be no other choice.  Hà doesn’t want to leave her beloved papaya tree, her friends, or the hope that her father will return, but she must go with her family on a journey to a peaceful new home.  But the journey itself is anything but peaceful…

Along with so many other refugees, Hà and her family board a ship that takes them away from the bombs and bullets that plague their home in Saigon.  Food and water are scarce.  Privacy is non-existent.  There are so many people seeking asylum, and no one knows when they can expect to be rescued.  So they cross the sea in hopes that an ally will come along.  And one day, it happens.  An American ship escorts them to Guam where Hà’s family makes plans to go to America.  Eventually, they are sponsored and taken to a place completely foreign to them—Alabama.

Hà is confused by her new home.  She doesn’t understand why the English language has so many confusing rules.  She doesn’t know why her new schoolmates make fun of her.  She doesn’t understand why so many people in the town seem to hate her family on sight.  She doesn’t like the food that is so different from everything she enjoyed in Vietnam.  Hà does know that she is angry, and she longs to find some peace with her new and often frightening circumstances.  With the help of her mother, brothers, and a few neighbors and friends, Hà discovers an inner strength that helps her to adapt to the sudden changes in her life and stand up for herself when others want to push her down.

Inside Out & Back Again is a story of one girl’s journey to a new home and a better understanding of herself, her family, and what it takes to heal from the scars of the past.  This is a wonderful book that I think would be excellent supplemental reading for classes studying the Vietnam War.  A lot of times, this period in history tends to be glossed over, especially when considering the plight of Vietnamese refugees in America.  I’ve taken loads of history classes throughout my education, and I can’t remember a single instance of studying about how the Vietnamese—particularly children—were treated after the war was over.  (I studied this a little on my own when the marching band I worked with did a Miss Saigon show, but that was a bit different.)  This book fills a void in historical fiction, and I look forward to sharing it with the teachers at my school as a possible novel study with our fifth grade students.

This book is an excellent selection for any elementary, middle, or high school libraries.  Children, teens, and adults alike will find this book, a Newbery Honor Book and National Book Award winner, extremely moving, and I hope that it will make them think about their own stories and how they may intertwine with the stories of people the world over.

Rapture

Today is a big day for Knight Reader.  It’s my four year blogoversary!  Yay for me!  (My mom is making a very special celebratory dinner.  She’s awesome.)  Also, I’ve just finished my 40th book of the summer and my 183rd book of the year.  I’m halfway to my yearly goal of reading 366 books!  Another yay for me!  Well, I guess that’s enough of tooting my own horn.  Let’s get to the real reason you’re here…

If you haven’t already read the first four books in Lauren Kate’s Fallen series (Fallen, Torment, Passion, and Fallen in Love), you really should…particularly if you plan to keep reading this post.  I just finished the final book in the series, Rapture, and I will spoil things for you big-time if you haven’t read the previous books.  You’ve been warned!

For those that haven’t been living under a rock (especially when it comes to YA literature), you know that angels are huge right now, and I think a lot of that started with Lauren Kate’s Fallen series.  I know I have been completely captivated by this love story that exceeded the bounds of Heaven itself.  Throughout four books, I desperately wanted to see Lucinda and Daniel find some way to break the curse that was destined to keep them apart.  Well, the final book in the series, Rapture, offered some degree of hope.  At the very least, I knew that this story would bring me (and lots of other readers) closure, but I wasn’t sure if I would be satisfied with it.  I shouldn’t have worried.  Even though there were some pretty large surprises–and a couple of heartbreaking losses–I thought Rapture met every expectation I had regarding the conclusion to this series.  I hope you’ll agree.

Luce and Daniel are once again faced with an end to the love that holds them together.  Only this time, the very fabric of time and space could also be ripped apart.  They, along with their friends and allies, have nine days to stop Lucifer from erasing all of human history and taking everything back to when the angels fell from Heaven.  To do this, they have to find the place where the angels fell, but they have no idea where that is.  A few ancient relics may help to unravel the mystery…but they don’t know where those are either.  To top it all off, forces from both sides in the battle between Lucifer and the Throne are trying to stop Luce and Daniel from succeeding in their mission.  It’s difficult to know who to trust, but Daniel and Luce will have to take some risks if they have any hope of saving their love and the world as they know it.

As Daniel, Luce, and friends go on the hunt for the relics that will lead them to their ultimate destination, Luce is remembering more and more about her past lives.  She gets glimpses of a life so far back that she’s convinced she’s only dreaming.  But this is no dream.  As events unfold, and the end of days draws ever nearer, Luce realizes her own importance in what is happening.  She remembers so much more than she ever has before, and she knows it is up to her to save everything…herself, Daniel, the world.  To do this, though, she’ll have to face a truth more unsettling and horrifying than any she’s ever dealt with before…a truth that will change her view of Heaven, herself, and her relationship with Daniel.  For it seems that Daniel was not Luce’s first love… 

Everything that’s happened, every tragedy that has befallen Luce and Daniel, stems from a curse placed on Luce’s shoulders.  Luce must face the one who first held her heart in order to finally have a life with the one who will hold it forever.  Only this can stop the complete erasure of time.  But will it be enough?  Will she finally make everyone realize that love should triumph above all else?  And what price will she and Daniel have to pay to finally be together?  In a battle between Heaven and hell, Luce must decide if she’s willing to risk everything for a love that transcends everything…even Heaven itself.  Read Rapture, the outstanding conclusion to Lauren Kate’s Fallen saga, to discover how one girl’s knowledge of herself–and her own heart–could be the entire world’s ultimate salvation.

I hope I haven’t given too much away here.  This book held so many surprises that I’m still reeling a little bit, and I don’t want to take that feeling away from anyone else.  When I first started reading this book, I was a little worried about where the story would take Luce and Daniel.  I’ve been anxious through four books already, and I knew this one would be no different.  My anxiety only increased as I read Rapture, but I can say with total honesty that I am totally satisfied with how the book ended.  Yes, there are some threads that are not neatly tied up, and that’s okay.  (It gives me hope for more stories with these characters I’ve come to love.)  The basic story received the closure it needed.  I won’t tell you how things wrapped up.  You’ll need to experience this journey on your own.  I hope you’ll appreciate both journey and destination as much as I have.

For more information on Lauren Kate and her captivating Fallen saga, visit her website at http://laurenkatebooks.net/, the Fallen fan page on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/FallenNovels, or follow Lauren on Twitter @laurenkatebooks.

Finally, check out this amazing book trailer for Rapture from Random House Australia.  If I haven’t convinced you to read this awesome book (and the rest of the Fallen series), this should do the trick!  Enjoy!

Doodlebug: A Novel in Doodles

I admit it.  I am a doodler.  Sometimes, that’s the only thing that gets me through long, boring meetings or conferences.  (You should see my notes from some of my college classes.  You can barely make out the actual notes because of all the doodles on the sides of the pages.)  I totally sympathize with students who feel the need to draw a little bit when I’m teaching.  (I don’t particularly like it when I’m the one doing the teaching, but I do understand it.)  Sometimes drawing helps students to focus…and that is the case with the main character in Doodlebug by Karen Romano Young.  This book–written almost entirely in doodles–tells about a girl who moves from Los Angeles to San Francisco and how she tries to find her voice–even when it seems like no one understands her.

After a bit of trouble at her school in Los Angeles–and her dad getting a new job–Dodo (real name Doreen) and her family are moving all the way up to San Francisco.  Dodo is not really happy about the move, and she decides to cope in her own special way…by doodling.  She doodles about her parents, her sister Momo, the new apartment they’re staying in, and her new school.  She even uses her doodles to reinvent herself.  Dodo is now known as the Doodlebug.

Doodlebug kind of likes her new school.  In a very short time, she makes a couple of pretty cool friends.  Unfortunately, she also gets in a bit of trouble (also in a very short amount of time).  She doesn’t want to screw things up at this school, but she just can’t seem to help it.  Things don’t get much better when a couple of her teachers try to make her quit doodling.  (The horror!)

While Doodlebug’s worrying about staying out of trouble (or at least covering up the trouble she’s already in), her sister Momo is dealing with her own brand of defiance, and her mom and dad are trying to keep the jobs that brought them to San Francisco in the first place.  Doodlebug does her best to be a good student (while still being able to doodle), and she may find some help–with a number of her problems–in some unexpected places.

Doodlebug is yet another nominee for the 2012-2013 South Carolina Children’s Book Award.  It’s a good book, an extremely quick read, and it’s different from a lot of other books out there, but part of me feels like it’s more suited to readers in middle school.  The main character is kind of sarcastic and has very little problem with rule-breaking.  (She is a seventh grader, after all.)  She’s impulsive and hard-headed as well.  I guess I just think that middle school readers will relate to the character of Doodlebug more that my sweet little angels in elementary school.  (See…I can be sarcastic, too!)

Additionally, I don’t think many of my elementary school students will be able to focus on some of the writing in this book.  A lot of it is cursive, which can be confusing for kids who’ve never really been exposed to much cursive writing.

Even though I am a visual learner, it was sometimes hard for me to focus while reading this book.  My eyes didn’t know where to look first on some of the pages.  (I may be visual, but I’m also a very linear thinker.  I like order.)  Some readers may be turned off by the “busyness” of the pages.  On the other hand, it will be just what other readers are looking for.

I would recommend this book to readers in upper elementary (mature 4th or 5th graders) and middle school.  It’s a fast read that Diary of a Wimpy Kid fans will most likely enjoy.

If you’d like to learn more about Doodlebug and author Karen Romano Young, visit http://www.karenromanoyoung.com/.

Turtle in Paradise

When I first saw the title of my latest read, Turtle in Paradise by Jennifer L. Holm, I immediately wanted to substitute the word “Turtle” for “Cheeseburger.”  (All of the Parrotheads out there know what I mean!)  As it turns out, I wasn’t too far off the mark.  Turtle in Paradise, a nominee for the 2012-2013 South Carolina Children’s Book Award, takes place in Key West in 1935.  The Key West we see in this book, however, is not yet the popular tourist destination that it would eventually become.  Like every other place in the nation at this time, Key West has been hit hard by the Great Depression, and our main character, a girl named Turtle, has also been hit hard by some major changes in her own life…

When Turtle’s mother gets a job as a housekeeper for a woman who hates kids, Turtle is sent all the way to Key West, Florida, to live with a bunch of relatives she’s never met. Turtle, a no-nonsense eleven-year-old, is not exactly thrilled with the arrangement. It soon becomes obvious that her aunt and cousins–all boys–aren’t what one would call happy about the situation either. But they do the best they can, and Turtle soon adapts to life in the Keys.

Turtle learns a lot about the family her mother left behind. (It seems she’s related to nearly everyone around her. The road she lives on is even named after the family.) She meets cousins and a grandmother she never knew she had. She goes on outings with the rambunctious boys in the neighborhood and discovers all kinds of things–how to care for whiny babies, nicknames for nearly everyone in the community, and how to make people think there’s a ghost playing tricks on them.

Turtle teaches the boys a thing or two as well.  She even leads them to a treasure that will change their lives forever.  But just as Turtle is finding  a home and family in her own personal paradise, something–or someone–comes along that could turn her world upside down once again.  Read Turtle in Paradise to discover how one girl finds a way to hold on to the things–and people–that really matter.

Normally, I’m not a big fan of historical fiction, but I enjoyed Turtle in Paradise, partly because it didn’t really feel like I was reading historical fiction.  Yes, there were historical details that added to the story.  (I especially enjoyed the Ernest Hemingway cameo.)  At its heart, though, I thought this book was a story of how one girl dealt with the changes in her life.  She adapted to a completely new situation, and she eventually grew to love her extended family and the new setting in which she found herself.

I adored the character of Turtle.  Unlike girls in a lot of children’s books, Turtle definitely didn’t see the world through rose-colored glasses.  She was a realist–some would even say a pessimist–and she was often brutally honest with those around her…kids and adults alike.  She used her wits to get by, and she didn’t sugarcoat things.  She wasn’t a girly girl, and she got right in there with the boys when they romped around the Keys. 

I wasn’t terribly impressed with most of the adults in this story–particularly Turtle’s mom and aunt–but I think a lot of that can be attributed to what life was like in 1935.  When adults are worried about being able to pay the bills and support a bunch of kids, I guess there’s not a lot of room to be overly sympathetic and sensitive.  I would have liked more resolution, though, regarding Turtle’s father and her mom’s boyfriend.  There’s more story to tell there.

All in all, I think Turtle in Paradise is a fine book for readers in upper elementary on up.  Even adult readers will appreciate the bits of nostalgia offered in this book–The Shadow, Little Orphan Annie, etc.–and this book could lead to further reading about what life was like in different parts of America during the Great Depression.  Turtle in Paradise is yet another wonderful summer read, and I think kids of all ages will enjoy it!

If you’d like more information about Jennifer L. Holm and her amazing books (including the insanely popular Babymouse series), visit http://www.jenniferholm.com/.  Happy reading!

Carrier of the Mark

Before I dive into my latest read, I’d like to give a quick shout-out to all of my family members celebrating stuff today.  Happy 35th anniversary to my wonderful parents, happy birthday to my cousins Ally and Kade, and Happy Fathers’ Day to my delightful father and my brother-in-law Tony, who enjoyed his first Fathers’ Day celebration.  You guys are awesome!

Now, let’s move on to the reason we’re all here–books.  Today, after all of the festivities came to an end, I was able to finish a book that had been on my to-read list for a while, Leigh Fallon’s Carrier of the Mark.  I started this book last night, and I fully expected to be blown away.  Sadly, the book fell a bit short of my expectations.  That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy the book.  I did, but it didn’t really “wow” me.  I thoroughly enjoyed the setting–Ireland, or, as I refer to it, the Motherland–and I was interested in how the main characters could make their relationship work despite the odds, but it just felt like there was something missing.  Maybe I’m being overly critical, but I really wish this book had lived up to what I hoped it would be.

Megan Rosenberg is an American teen who has just moved to Ireland. One would think that she’d feel completely out of place in this new environment. But one would be wrong. For the first time in years, Megan feels completely at home, but she’s not entirely sure why. It may have something to do with the new friends she’s making so easily. Or it could be the connection she feels with the enigmatic Adam DeRís, a mysterious guy who seems to be as drawn to Megan as she is to him.

Megan’s new friends notice her attraction to Adam, and they tell her some pretty unsettling stories about the entire DeRís family–stories involving Druids, curses, and powerful magic.  Megan just shrugs the tales off…until she realizes that there may be some truth to them.  Megan’s a little freaked out, but things are about to get even weirder.  As it turns out, her own destiny is inextricably linked to Adam and his family.

Adam and his siblings are Marked.  They represent three of the four elements that exist on earth:  water, fire, and earth.  Guess who is Marked as the fourth element?  That’s right.  Much to her dismay, Megan discovers that she is also Marked, and her element is air.  What does this mean?  Well, it’s a little complicated, but, basically, it means that each of the Marked controls their respective element, and they must perform an aligning ritual very soon to have any hope of balancing these volatile elements.  (The whys and hows of this are still confusing to me.  I’m hoping this will be cleared up in future books.)

As Megan deals with this new part of her life, she’s also faced with a love she’s never known and never expected.  She and Adam grow closer, but forces are at work that could drive them apart forever.  After all, when elements collide, sometimes things get destroyed.  Can Megan find a way to harness her newfound power while holding fast to the boy she loves?  Or will dark forces–or well-meaning allies–rip everything apart?

I haven’t done a very good job explaining what happens in this book, but I think part of that stems from the fact that I’m still confused about a lot of it.  I don’t really know why Megan was marked, what’s so super-duper special about her, why her relationship with Adam is such a no-no, what it really means to be a Carrier of the Mark, or what the agenda of their supposed enemies truly is.  I feel like a lot of things could have been explained better.  Sometimes the writing seemed a bit choppy, and that didn’t help matters either.

I really, really wanted to love this book, but I’m sorry to say that isn’t the case.  It was okay, but it definitely won’t be one of my stand-out reads of the summer.  Feel free to disagree with me.  In fact, let me know in the comments what I’m missing about this book.  I’ll be happy to give it a reread if you can convince me that I’m wrong–which almost never happens😉.

There are two more books due in this series.  Book two is Shadow of the Mark, and book three is Age of the Fifth.  Both books are scheduled to be released in 2013.  I’m not sure if I’ll continue with this series–unless someone can convince me otherwise.  I may change my mind.  Things were left a bit up in the air (pun intended) in Carrier of the Mark, and I am a little curious about how that will play out in future books.  I just don’t know if that curiosity is enough to keep me interested.  We’ll have to see…

For more information on Carrier of the Mark and author Leigh Fallon, visit http://leighfallon.com/.