Leepike Ridge

It’s time for some brutal honesty. I did not want to read this book. The only reason I picked it up is because it’s one of the books for my school district’s Battle of the Books competition, and I knew I needed to be familiar with it. It’s not something I would normally read, and that may be why it took me nearly three weeks to finish Leepike Ridge by N.D. Wilson. After finishing the book, I can see why many of my students would enjoy it, but it definitely wasn’t the book for me.  (I’m not an outdoorsy person, so books about surviving in nature are not my cup of tea.)

It all started with a refrigerator box.  Eleven-year-old Tom Hammond probably never thought that kicking around a box and the foam inside would lead to such trouble…but it did. What starts out as a rather innocent evening playing with a piece of foam ends up with Tom trapped under his home on Leepike Ridge!

Tom uses all of his wits to survive in this frightening environment. He encounters more than he ever expected (including a corpse that–oddly enough–gives him some survival tools). He even meets up with a dog and another survivor, and these three will work together to finally find a way out of the mountain.

While Tom is fighting for his life, his mom is fighting a battle of her own. She knows her son is alive, but she’ll have to work to convince others…all while fending off treasure hunters who are out for their own interests.

Will Tom ever find his way home? Just what will he find within Leepike Ridge? And what will he learn about himself throughout this terrifying ordeal? Discover the truth when you read Leepike Ridge by N.D. Wilson.

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Fans of Gary Paulsen’s Hatchet, Robinson Crusoe, Tom Sawyer, and even Indiana Jones may find something to enjoy in this book. I talked a little about it with my fourth graders the other day, and both the boys and girls seemed gung-ho to read it. I think this is a good book for upper elementary and middle grade readers who enjoy action-adventure stories…especially stories where the main characters are battling the elements.

For more information on Leepike Ridge and other books by N.D. Wilson, visit http://www.ndwilson.com/.

Freaky Fast Frankie Joe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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