Cursed

As some may have noticed, May has been a slow month here at Knight Reader. This is only my fourth post this month, and I typically do much better than that. My fellow educators, though, can probably figure out why this month has been “off.” In short, May is nuts. With testing, meetings, end-of-year reports, the general craziness of both students and staff, and so much other stuff going on, I’ve barely even felt like reading, much less blogging about it. (Believe it or not, this site takes a lot of energy to maintain.)

I’m hoping, however, that things will pick up soon. You see, this is the last full week of school in my district! (*Cue dance of joy.*) I’ll still have trainings, meetings, and other school stuff to do, but I also plan to devote more time to my family, my friends, and my reading. So don’t despair, dear readers. Knight Reader isn’t going anywhere yet.


Now that that’s out of the way, let’s turn to my latest read, which brought it’s own set of aggravations. It was a good book (and it should be given that it’s a 17-18 South Carolina Children’s Book Award nominee), but, like a lot of readers, I get bothered when covers and titles change. This book, Cursed by Bruce Coville, was originally published as Diary of a Mad Brownie. It’s also known as The Enchanted Files #1. The cover was also completely redesigned (see below). I get that there are reasons for this, but it is a little jarring and confusing to readers. That being said, I did like the book, and I think many upper elementary and middle grade readers will as well.


Angus Cairns is a brownie–no, not a fudgy treat or a Girl Scout. He’s a wee magical creature who likes to do a bit of mischief while keeping things neat and tidy for the family he serves. For Angus, though, there’s not exactly a choice in which family he’s tied to.

Thanks to a curse, Angus is bound to serve the McGonagall family. It hasn’t been a bad life. He’s been with Sarah McGonagall for years, and he’s loved living with her in Scotland. As Sarah gets older, however, Angus realizes that he’ll soon have to move on to another McGonagall descendant. This move will take him from his beloved Scotland to the strange and mysterious land of America…and the household of the messiest girl he’s ever encountered.

When Angus arrives at the Carhart househould, he’s not sure what to make of the situation. To be sure, things are a mess, and he’ll have his work cut out for him just keeping Alex, his new assignment, in order. Alex, for her part, doesn’t help matters. She seems to enjoy being a slob, and it drives Angus bananas! Things do eventually improve when Angus reveals himself to Alex, but a whole new set of problems arrives to upset their delicate balance.

The curse that binds Angus to the McGonagall family also has another part. It causes all of the men in the house where Angus resides to become obsessed with writing bad poetry. This has a huge impact on Alex’s dad, who quits his job to write songs, and her brother, who starts wearing all black and talks about leaving the soccer team. There’s only one thing to be done before this family loses everything–Angus must find a way to break this wretched curse.

Well, breaking a centuries-old curse may be easier said than done, but Angus and Alex are not alone. They are joined by Alex’s little sister, Destiny, her brother, and, perhaps strangest of all, Destiny’s kindergarten teacher. All of these people will work together, journey through the Enchanted Realm, and uncover some interesting secrets in their quest to break the curse that binds them. But what then? What could the end of this curse mean for Angus and Alex? Answer these questions and many more when you read Cursed by Bruce Coville.


Readers who love books in diary format will definitely enjoy this book. It’s also a good fit for fans of light fantasy. It’s funny, sometimes suspenseful, and thoroughly captivating. Many readers may relate to both Alex’s disorganized manner and Angus’ short temper. I’m hoping they’ll also see how these two sorted out their differences and became stronger as a result.

Given that Cursed is the first book in The Enchanted Files, you may be wondering about the next installment. Well, as of right now, there is one more book, Hatched. It’s already out, and it presents the tale of Gerald the Griffin. It looks fairly interesting, and I’m certain I’ll be placing it on my next school book order.

To learn more about Cursed, The Enchanted Files #1, Diary of a Mad Brownie, or whatever you want to call this book, visit author Bruce Coville’s website. You can also connect with him on Facebook and Twitter.

Enjoy!

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Double Down

Today, in an effort to escape election coverage, I dove into a bit of fiction. (I fully intend to get back to that as soon as I finish this post.) My latest read was the latest Diary of a Wimpy Kid book, Double Down. This is the eleventh offering in this wildly popular series, and I’m sure it won’t be the last.

Greg Heffley begins his latest diary by wondering if the world really does revolve around him. Just in case he’s the star of some Truman Show-like experiment, he plays to the invisible cameras around him, makes plans to cash in on his fame later, and wonders if everyone around him is actually an actor…or a robot. And even if he’s not the focus of some lame TV show, Greg is sure that someone is out there watching him…and that’s kind of creepy when he really thinks about it.

Greg is also visiting his school’s book fair. Surely his mom won’t mind if he doesn’t buy actual books at the book fair, right? (Wrong.) When he’s forced to return all of the junk he purchased, he decides to buy the Spineticklers series by I.M. Spooky. His mom isn’t exactly thrilled with this either, but he figures that reading is reading.

As the days and weeks pass, Greg navigates life as best he can. He wonders about where his mom has stashed the coveted Halloween candy, he dodges the geese that are terrorizing his neighborhood, he deals with a sick pig who’s eaten too much candy corn, he reflects on the lies people tell, and he decides to join the school band in order to get invited to a party. (The band nerd in me is laughing like crazy at that last one.)

Even with all of that going on, Greg’s mom is on his case to broaden his horizons. She worries that playing video games all the time is making his brain go mushy, so she urges him to make new friends, study harder, do chores, and think about what he wants to do with his life. (She’s not too impressed with his idea to be a video game tester when he grows up.) Greg gets the bright idea to make a movie inspired by the Spineticklers books, but, as is so often the case with Greg, nothing works out according to plan.


Like the ten books before it, kids are sure to adore this Diary of a Wimpy Kid book. (I bought ten copies for my library, and they were gone within a day.) It’s funny, fast, and completely relatable, no matter what your current age.

As a school librarian, I found Greg’s take on the book fair to be hilarious…especially since mine starts this week. As a band nerd, I wanted to smack him upside the head for not realizing just how awesome band is. (Seriously, band kids are the best kids in any school.)

At any rate, I’m sure Double Down will be as popular as the other books and will have readers clamoring for more. I’m guessing we’ll see another DoaWK book around this time next year. News of future books will likely be announced first on the Wimpy Kid website or YouTube channel.

Speaking of YouTube, here’s a Double Down teaser I found on the Wimpy Kid channel. Check it out for an additional peek at this fun book.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Old School

As of last Tuesday, we now have ten books in the wildly popular Diary of a Wimpy Kid series by Jeff Kinney. This weekend, I devoted a little time to reading the 10th book, Old School.

In this latest installment, Greg Heffley is wondering if life was really better in the old days. He always hears his parents and his grandfather talking about the “good old days,” but he doesn’t see what’s so good about them. No decent electronics, little privacy…and no baby wipes. It all sounds pretty awful to Greg.

This year, Greg is getting a little taste of the “good old days.” For one thing, his grandfather has moved in. This causes a bit of a shuffle in the Heffley house, which means Greg now shares a room with his little brother. There’s also some added stress because Greg’s dad realizes just how much his kids don’t know how to do themselves. This leads to even more changes, like Greg taking more responsibility for himself…and older brother Rodrick getting a job.

Greg’s mom is also getting into the whole “old school” thing. She’s organizing a city-wide weekend with no electronics. This means no TV, phones, gaming systems…nothing. She wants neighbors to get outside and reconnect with each other. Greg isn’t nearly as enthused as his mother. This can only end badly for him.

And finally, there’s the big field trip his class is taking. One whole week roughing it at Hardscrabble Farms. Greg learns fairly quickly that he’s just not cut out for doing things the “old school” way. He’s a kid that enjoys his modern conveniences…and he’s not the only one.

Join Greg as he attempts to try things the old-fashioned way…and realizes that, though people in the past may have been tougher, being a wimpy kid in the present isn’t exactly a walk in the park.

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While this probably wasn’t my favorite Wimpy Kid book, I strongly related to Greg in Old School. I admit that I am spoiled, and I wouldn’t last a day without many modern conveniences (especially air conditioning). I also LOATHE camping and have little to no interest in actually going outside and talking to people. (Basically, I want to be a hermit with WiFi.)

I predict that many of my students will also relate to Greg in this book, but there will be others who think he’s crazy. They would rather be out in nature–hunting, fishing, camping–than anywhere else. But even with their differing perspectives, every kid will be able to identify with Greg in some way. Whether it’s his frustrations with his family, his attempts to make a quick buck, trying to find short-cuts around hard work, or letting situations get away from him, Greg is a thoroughly relatable character for anyone who’s ever been a kid…wimpy or not.

Now, I’m going to check the copy of Old School I borrowed back into the library and watch the kids argue over who gets to borrow it. (The nine other copies I purchased went very fast.)

If you’d like more information on Jeff Kinney and the entire Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, click here. Also, check out more about Old School in the video below.

The Fall

It seems fitting that a book like The Fall should be released during National Suicide Prevention Month. This latest book from James Preller is out today, and it takes a look at one boy’s reaction to a classmate’s suicide.

While The Fall is a quick read, I think it forces readers to examine their own actions and reactions to things that are happening in schools, on social media, and everywhere in between. If this book can help just one person to be a little kinder, then it’s done its job.

When Morgan Mallen jumped off the town water tower, Sam was forced to take a long, hard look at himself and his actions (or inactions, as the case may be). Everyone knew that Morgan had been bullied relentlessly at school and online. Even Sam participated. What everyone didn’t realize was that Sam knew Morgan. He was perhaps one of her only friends.

Why, then, did Sam take part in tormenting Morgan even though he knew it was wrong? Why didn’t he want anyone to know they hung out? Was he partly to blame for her suicide, and could he have done anything to prevent it?

Sam explores his friendship with Morgan and the aftermath of her suicide through writing in a journal. He’s brutally honest with himself about his relationship with Morgan, his own weaknesses, and his part in this tragedy.

Sam knows that he wasn’t the only one making Morgan unhappy–and on some level, he realizes that Morgan’s decision was her own–but he’s struggling with all of the events that led up to that fateful day. Why was she bullied in the first place? Could anything have stopped Morgan from ending her life? Why did she feel she had no other option?

As Sam works through his feelings and all of the questions plaguing him, he comes to understand that, even though he can’t change what happened with Morgan, he can change his own behavior. He can do whatever possible to somehow make amends. He can confront those who were the worst offenders and own up to his own mistakes. And he can try to be kinder to everyone around him. After all, no one really knows what demons someone is battling. A little bit of kindness could make all the difference in the world.

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I think The Fall and other books on the subjects of suicide and bullying are vitally important to young people (and even adults). These books make us examine what we say and how we act toward others. We really never know how one cruel or kind word can impact the people around us.

I would pair The Fall with Jay Asher’s Thirteen Reasons Why to give a gritty glimpse at the aftermath of a person’s suicide. Some parents may not be entirely comfortable with the subject matter, but it’s something that will likely touch their children in some way. I’d much rather a young person explore this topic through fiction than have to face the horrible reality. (A friend of mine committed suicide when I was in the 8th grade. It would have been nice if I’d had a book that let me know that I was not alone.) For that reason, I would recommend this book for libraries that serve both middle grade and teen readers.

For those who’d like to learn more about The Fall, visit author James Preller’s website. And if you or anyone you know is contemplating suicide, please get help. Talk to someone–a parent, a friend, a guidance couselor, a librarian, a religious leader, someone. Go to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline or It Get’s Better. You are not alone, and things will get better.

 

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul

As you may know, a new Diary of a Wimpy Kid book was released yesterday. After I voted, I rushed to my closest bookstore and purchased ten copies for my school library. (I’m fully aware that this is probably not enough.) Before I took the books to school, though, I sat down to read this ninth installment, The Long Haul.

In The Long Haul, Greg Heffley is about to take part in that most dreaded of family activities–the road trip. Greg’s Mom thinks this will be the greatest summer activity in the world, and she’s billing it as a vacation and learning experience all rolled into one. Well, it’s definitely a learning experience, but I doubt dear old Mom had these lessons in mind…

From rundown hotels to lost wallets and cell phones to destructive pigs to unfortunate car mishaps, the Heffley family goes through loads of mayhem and madness on this most epic of road trips. Everything that could possibly go wrong is going wrong on this horrible vacation.

Crammed in the back of the family van, Greg tells readers all about his vacation misadventures, and readers young and old will find it all too easy to sympathize with Greg’s plight. (Who hasn’t endured a heinous family road trip?!)

Will Greg and his family make it out of this with their sanity intact? Can anything go right for them during this trip? What more could they possibly endure?

Join Greg Heffley on yet another wild ride when you read Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul!

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I don’t have to do a whole lot to sell this book to my students. Setting it out on the shelf is usually enough. I do plan to tell them, though, that The Long Haul is probably my favorite of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series. It’s just so relatable, no matter what the reader’s age may be. I can remember long car rides with my family–my sister and I fighting over the smallest things, my parents getting more irritated by the minute, all of us fussing about my dad’s choice in music, having no escape from all the togetherness. Oftentimes, we needed another vacation from our vacation. I think lots of readers–like myself–will be able to see themselves in everything that goes wrong with the Heffleys’ road trip.

I’m sure we’ll see more of Greg Heffley and his infamous diary in the future. The Long Haul didn’t wrap up in a nice, neat little bow, so be on the lookout for another book this time next year.

For all things Diary of a Wimpy Kid, be sure to visit wimpykid.com. For a quick look at The Long Haul, you may also want to take a peek at the video below. You can find loads more videos on the Wimpy Kid YouTube channel. Enjoy!

This Journal Belongs to Ratchet

This morning, I finished reading yet another of the nominated titles for this year’s South Carolina Children’s Book Award. The book was This Journal Belongs to Ratchet by Nancy J. Cavanaugh. As the title suggests, this book is written in a journal format, and each entry tells readers a little more about our main character, Ratchet. (Her real name is Rachel, but no one calls her that.)

If you’ve worked with elementary or middle grade readers, I likely don’t have to tell you how popular books in diary/journal format are. I can’t keep books like Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Dork Diaries, Dear Dumb Diary, or even Dear America books on the shelves. These books are quick, entertaining reads that kids tend to devour. I predict that This Journal Belongs to Ratchet will be no different.

Ratchet is looking for her life to change. This lonely girl–who is homeschooled by her father–wants to make friends, be more like other girls, and finally have something new in her life. Ratchet is sure that having a mother would make everything different, but there’s not much she can do about that. (Her mother died when Ratchet was just a little girl.) Even so, Ratchet works to make things change…hopefully for the better.

Ratchet explores her feelings through a journal. Now, this journal is supposed to be for a homeschool language arts assignment, but Ratchet knows her dad will never read it, so she pours all of her feelings onto the pristine white pages. She uses her writing assignments–poetry, freewriting, descriptive essays, letters, and many others–to describe her frustrations with her father. His obsession with saving the environment and looking insane at every town hall meeting, his insistence on homeschooling Ratchet, never buying anything new, always needing her help in the garage, and his refusal to talk about her mom.

It’s not easy being the daughter of the town joke, and Ratchet hates feeling embarrassed all the time. (Her dad may not care what others think of him, but Ratchet does.) She loves her dad, but she longs for more in her life. Things would be so much better if she just had one real friend, but the kids in the neighborhood always make fun of Ratchet because of her dad…and because both of them are always covered in grease from working on cars.

Things may be on the verge of changing for Ratchet, though. When her dad begins teaching a class at the community center on how to build go-carts, Ratchet begins using the lessons her father taught her to get closer to the boys in the class. They really seem to value her knowledge, and Ratchet feels good about helping them. In the process, she even makes a close friend, Hunter, a boy who used to be part of the crowd that teased her so much.

As Ratchet explores her life, her relationship with her dad, and her feelings about her new friendship, she gradually realizes that maybe it’s not so important to be “normal.” Maybe her dad has been teaching her the important things in life all along. Sure, he’s a little crazy sometimes–and he often makes her mad–but he fights for the things he believes in, he’s true to himself, and, most importantly, he’s always been there for Ratchet. Perhaps her dad isn’t so crazy after all.

Maybe what Ratchet really needs to change in her life is her own perspective. When she realizes just how lucky she actually is, she can do anything she sets her mind to.

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I often tell my students that normal is boring. Well, Ratchet is anything but boring. I don’t know of many kids who can rebuild an engine, change a tire, teach others to build their own go-carts, and be motivated enough to do school work without any help. Ratchet is a fascinating character, and I think many readers will find her journey of self-discovery inspiring and enlightening. I also believe that readers who see themselves as kind of different will see a kindred spirit in Ratchet. And who knows? Her story could even inspire young readers–particularly girls–to learn more about auto mechanics.

I think This Journal Belongs to Ratchet could be a very powerful teaching tool in elementary and middle grade language arts classes. I envision classes reading this book together and then writing in their own journals. Students could take Ratchet’s example, and write their own poems, essays, letters, and even modern-day fairy tales, using their own lives as inspiration.

All in all, I’m very happy that this book was chosen as a 14-15 SCCBA nominee. It’s an entertaining, thought-provoking book that could help readers explore their own difficulties, frustrations, and even victories through writing. I hope the students and teachers in my school feel the same.

This Journal Belongs to Ratchet is the first book by author Nancy J. Cavanaugh. To learn more about this author and future books, visit her website, Facebook, and Twitter.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Hard Luck

Yesterday, there was a run on my school library.  We got eight copies of the latest Diary of a Wimpy Kid book, Hard Luck.  (I skedaddled to the store Tuesday so that we would be able to have copies available for students first thing on Wednesday.)  Many of my students have been looking forward to this eighth installment in the popular series for months, so I knew I would have to do my part to meet demand.

I did keep one book back to read myself, though.  (After all, you can’t recommend a book if you haven’t read it yourself.) I finished it last night, so here we are with a post today.

Even though I’m not a huge fan of our protagonist, Greg Heffley, I related to him more in this book than any of the preceding books. (Normally, I find him to be extremely selfish. That didn’t change much in this book, but his circumstances did.)

Greg Heffley’s life is not going well.  His best friend Rowley now has a girlfriend.  Where does that leave Greg?  Out in the cold. Suddenly, Greg has to walk to and from school by himself, carry his own books, sit with other people at lunch, worry about who to play with at recess, and find something to do after school.  Who knew that losing your best friend would cause so much trouble?!

Middle school is no picnic at the best of times.  It’s even worse when you don’t have a best friend (and you’re not sure how to make more friends).  Eventually, though, Greg thinks he’s found a way to make things a little better.  He’ll leave his fate up to a Magic 8 Ball!  This shouldn’t cause any problems at all, right? Right?!

Join Greg Heffley as he navigates the halls of middle school–girls, cafeteria seating, recess games, making friends–and his somewhat unpredictable family.  Will Greg’s luck ever change?  Find out when you read Hard Luck, the eighth book in Jeff Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid series!

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Most people realize that middle school is the time when people begin pairing off.  Well, when you’re not part of a pair, things can get kind of dicey.  I was never part of a couple in middle school (or even high school), so it was very difficult for me to keep from being the “third wheel.”  Many times, my friendships with those in couples tended to fall by the wayside.  That’s why I relate so strongly to Greg Heffley in this book.  (I think a lot of readers may feel the same way.)  Some kids just aren’t interested in becoming part of a couple, and it’s not always easy to adapt when their friends find someone else to spend their time with.  (I know Diary of a Wimpy Kid is supposed to be a very light read, but, in this case, it brought back some not-so-great memories. I probably need therapy.)

Like all of the other books in this series, this book sells itself.  I don’t think I need to do a ton of promotion here.  I put eight copies of this book on the shelf yesterday, and they’re all gone today. We’ll probably have to order a few more soon.  Kids just love these books, and I think I’ve illustrated that adults may just find something to enjoy (or at least relate to) as well.

I’m sure we’ll see yet another DoaWK book this time next year. In the meantime, visit  http://www.wimpykid.com/ for all things wimpy!  Enjoy!