Monday, December 28, 2009

Shakespeare Bats Cleanup by Ron Koertge

More than just a baseball story! I love the title and cover, which may be enough to draw in some reluctant, boy readers. This novel-in-verse by Koertge was a quick read, but with lots to recommend. Perhaps this book would not appeal to the older, more sophisticated reader, but for freshmen or sophomore boys, or for an older, struggling reader, it is a hit. (Ha!)

I thought the concept of writing a journal about writing poetry using different styles of poems was a clever technique, and would be a great way to introduce a poetry unit to an ELA class. I think most kids know sonnets and Haikus...but a sestina?! What a great introduction to poetry. Not that it is of the same caliber as The Braid, but what an interesting pairing these two books could make for a pre-poetry unit! Anyone remember that book from an older blog? It is still in the blog history...check it out!

I loved how Koertge slowly unfolded Kevin's story...and he does it with such sparse words, in only 116 pages. One review I read said, "This funny and poignant novel celebrates the power of writing to help young people make sense of their lives and unlock and confront their problems." I agree! This I thought, is what I liked best about the book. Makes it a home run in my book.

Anyone else?

Monday, November 02, 2009

Bound by Donna Jo Napoli

This Cinderella story, based on Chinese tales, with some Grimm tossed in, takes place in China during the Ming period. I felt the story was fast-paced and gave the reader an intriguing insight into the culture and life of the Chinese (especially the women) during this period. I think it would be a great book for Global I students. I have read that Napoli does an excellent job researching time periods for her historical fiction books...I believe this book accurately depicts the period, but perhaps a global teacher could comment?

Having said that, I felt there were places where Napoli leaves us hanging and I don't think she does a good job of weaving all her threads together at the end of the book. And parts seem somewhat trite- like the relationship between Xing Xing and her sister. At first her sister despises Xing Xing and then they end up friends??? Maybe I was expecting it to follow the traditional Cinderella pattern! I did however, like the themes and symbolism of the book. The themes of love, freedom, human rights, captivity, etc...are multi layered, and the symbolism of being bound is powerful. Although Xing Xing's feet aren't bound as her sisters are, she is still bound to a life of servitude. I thought all of these aspects would lend to this being a great book for discussion.

I was also intrigued with the ending- how Xing Xing tells the prince that she doesn't want to be bought or sold, that she can read and write, that her feet are not bound, and she has no dowry. Not too bad for a girl who is "hardly more than a slave."

Overall, I thought the strongest part of this book was the cultural insight the reader gains about this period of Chinese history. Looking forward to reading your comments!

Friday, October 16, 2009

Fall in Love...with a good book!

As the weather get a bit chilly, and the hectic "back-to-school" pace starts to slow down, it's time to start reading! Thanks for participating in our latest YA Book Blog. This year we are exploring some great new titles to share. Our first book will be Bound by Donna Jo Napoli. The starter blog will be posted on Nov. 2nd. Happy reading.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Slam by Nick Hornby

This is an early post...sorry! I am leaving for my mother's house in CT and am not sure what the internet access will be so I thought I would blog early...just in case.

This book was Nick Hornby's first foray in to YA fiction, and he has since written others for teens. I enjoyed his adult novels, but this is the first I've read of his YA works. I liked it! A lot! I think perhaps I was drawn to this book because I live with a 17 year old skateboarder. I really wanted him to read the book, but so far I have not convinced him! I think all teenage boys should read it...if nothing else it is a good cautionary tale.

I found myself drawn to Sam's character. I liked how he was honest, funny, and tries to do the right thing. I liked his relationship with his mother as well. I thought Hornby's insight into this topic of teen pregnancy was realistic as well as cautionary! I loved how it wasn't a "happily ever after" makes you realize that stuff happens and the answer isn't always to get married and live happily ever after, sometimes you just have to cope...and that the concept of family is flexible. Plus, it is nice to have a book on this topic told from the male perspective.

I did find a couple aspects of the novel a bit bothersome- the fact that it takes place in took me a while to get used to the language and British references, and the sections where he goes into the future. The whizzing forward sections where a bit confusing at first, but once I "got it" I like how it moved the story along...and I liked the glimpse of him and Alicia at the end. Overall I felt this book was well written and I could easily recommend it to students...although, because of the writing style I think it would work best for more sophisticated readers. I can't imagine that everyone in the blog will love this book, I am really anxious to see what you all thought!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Leonardo's Shadow by Christopher Grey

15th Century Milan comes to life in this novel by Christopher Grey. As I was reading it I immediately thought that this would be a great book for our Global I historical fiction project. From what little I know, and now I would like to know more, this seems to be an accurate depiction of this time period. I like how the author intertwined details about the politics, religion, customs, and geography of this time period. Perhaps our global bloggers can comment? I also liked learning about alchemy and paint-making. I also felt it nicely combined adventure and mystery, and I liked Giacomo's voice as narrator (although, you know me, I wanted to know who his parents were, and what happened to him! :-) )

However, there were a few things that bothered me. The author alludes to Leonardo's sexuality, either that needed to be addressed or it should have been left out. I wish there was an author's note at the end to explain this and some of the historical aspects of the book- for example, was there really a problem with the last supper?

Do I think this book would have a wide range appeal? Probably not, but for fans of historical fiction, or for those required to read this genre, this would be great. I think it moved along quickly, there was plenty of action, and most students would be familiar enough with DaVinci, The Last Supper, Michelangelo, make the book more meaningful. Overall, I liked it! Wondering what the consensus was!?

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Evolution, Me and Other Freaks of Nature by Robin Brande

I went back and forth with this novel. There were things I liked, and yet things I felt were too contrived. I loved the premise of the book, and think that the controversies within are very import to explore. I think there is a strong faction of ultra conservatives/religious fundamentalists in our society that do have these strong opinions and do try to impact things such as gay rights and the teaching of evolution in our schools. However, I thought that the characters in this novel were bit heavy handed, almost too stereotypical. For example I thought the pastor was portrayed as very small-minded and nasty, and Mena's parents were not fleshed out all- they were very one-dimensional and not believable to me. I also thought Mena's old friends were especially nasty for Christians. The characters in Casey's family were much more developed - compared to Mena's parents, and I liked them. They were quirky and fun. I also liked the science teacher. But again, were these characters also too stereotypical?

However, what I did like about the book was Mena's character. I thought the author did a great job drawing out Mena's conflict between her religious beliefs and science. I like how the author shows that God and science can co-exist, that faith does not preclude scientific fact, that there is room for God in science. I also loved the relationship between Mena and Casey...though wondered if it would be too chaste for some of our readers?

I also like the way the author unfolds the slowly, throughout the novel, we learn what happened to the boy in Mena's old school and how it came to be that her old friends are now ostracizing her.

Overall, I felt this book did an excellent job addressing the issue of evolution vs creationism. And I think it did a great job of showing the reader that a few, powerful people can have a strong influence on society! And that it not always easy to make the right decisions in the face of peer pressure. Anxious to see what you all thought.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

This is the first book in a planned trilogy. Book two is due out in Sept. 2009. And I've heard rumors of a movie! I really liked this book, I had a hard time putting it down! It reminded me of others in the genre- Unwind, House of the Scorpion and The Giver. The United States in a post-apocalyptic time, a very scary time- a great cautionary tale.

I thought the book was very well drawn out, I was at times anxious to read to see what would happen next, but then again nervous about what would happen next. It was tense and filled with constant suspense. Under all the action and adventure there was still the age old plot of the love triangle...almost hidden between trying to avoid being killed by the other contestants and surviving in the wilds.

I came to like the character of Katniss- again I am drawn to the strong females in a novel. She saves her family, provides for them and takes her sister's place in the games. And, as one reviewer said, what teenage girls wouldn't love a story whereas the heroine gets to choose between two hunky guys- Peeta and Gale??!! Hmmm! I have to say, towards the end I couldn't believe she didn't realize that Peeta really cared for her! Did she really think the kid was faking it? I felt terrible that she didn't feel the same. Come on, he gave her that loaf of bread!!!

One of the things that bother me about the novel were the devices the author used to help move the plot along- they were unrealistic, as if she was taking an easy way out- for example, when Katniss needs burn cream or medicine for Peeta, and the stuff floats down from the sky on silver parachutes. I also thought the scene at the end with the berries and the aftermath of that situation was a bit contrived.

I really think that our students, who have been raised in the reality TV/Survivor era will love this book. I think it speaks right to them. It has adventure, action survival, competition, a love story, strong characters...a sure fire hit with the YA crowd. It would be a great book to pair with other dystopian novels- 1984 etc...

Looking forward to seeing what you all thought.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Summer 2009 YA Book Blog

Welome! Thanks for participating in this summer's blog. We'll be reading 4 books over the next two months.
July 10th- Hunger Games by Collins
July 27th- Evolution, Me & Other Freaks of Nature by Brande
August 10th- Leonardo's Shadow by Grey
August 24th- Slam by Hornsby

Stay tuned...

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Sunrise Over Fallujah by Walter Dean Myers

As I read this book I vacillated back and forth between really loving it and being disappointed. I'm still not sure how I feel! Overall, think the topic of the book, the early days of the Iraq War, is an important one. I like the characters, but would have like to know more about them, especially Robin, the narrator. His character seems to be the least developed of them all...he tells a good story, and we learn a lot about his fellow soldiers, and life in the military, but not much about him. I loved the language in the book. There were passages I found myself re-reading and savoring.

So, why didn't I LOVE the book??? I've been asking myself this all day as I thought about what I was going to post. I think I was disappointed in the military, if you could believe that??!! I couldn't believe how untrained these soldiers were, and how cavalier those in charge were about sending them around Iraq and how much they didn't know about the "enemy." One of the lines that resonated with me was, " enemy we can't identify and friends we're not sure about." I wanted more details! I think Myers oversimplified things, like the role of women soldiers. But then I would remind myself that this was fiction, and a book for young adults, so perhaps the author took liberties. At least I hope so. I would hate to think this is really the situation over there!

I think this book would work well for literature circles, perhaps appealing to guys. I would perhaps pair it with Fallen Angels, also by Myers. The reviews call Sunrise Over Fallujah a companion book to Fallen Angels. For those who haven't read it, the uncle Robin writes to is the protagonist in Fallen Angels, which takes place during the Vietnam War.

I also think it would have a place in the social studies curriculum, although it doesn't go into great historical details.

I will stop now, I am anxious to see what everyone else thought.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer

The first thing I thought as I was reading this book was, "This could happen!!" and "Does NASA have a plan? God I hope NASA has a plan!" Kept me up for a few nights. I felt like I had to take survival notes. 1. Fill up gas tanks. 2. Go to Wegmans and get lots of water and non-perishable food. 3. Stay away from the coasts. etc... Seriously, I got nervous! But, isn't the sign of a good book one that gets us thinking? If that is the case then this one is a winner.

Because it made me think, and for many other reasons, I liked this book. Once again I was drawn to the strong female characters and thought all the characters were realistic and well developed. I especially liked the mother. She has a great, practical, take charge attitude. I also like the way Pfeffer handles the decisions she makes about which child needs what...very Sophie's Choiceish.
I also think Miranda's character is well developed. I love the diary format and think it works well for this story. It gives the reader a real sense of what Miranda is feeling and going through. I liked seeing how her character matures through the novel, and the selfless act at the end was well play out, not overly dramatic.

Regarding the end...I did not see the "hope" coming. I truly thought she would go into town and die. I liked that there was a chance of things working out, but that fact that Pfeffer doesn't make it a "for sure" happy ending works- there is hope, but it's not over done or maudlin. I think that is what I like best about this book, it was both terrifying and hopeful at the same time.

I am curious if any of you had a chance to read the companion book, and what you thought of that compared to this? I will stop here to see what you thought about Life As We Know It, and to see who had a chance to read The Dead and Gone. I have to confess, I liked the first book better...but thought the idea of looking at the same catastrophe from a different perspective was a great idea. I am anxious to see what you all thought.