Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Feeling a Little Behind

Okay, I'm feeling A LOT behind!

I was behind on posting the last two reviews.

I am feeling behind on getting ready for school.  I know!  Don't talk about it...but it's inevitable.  It's coming.  UGH.

I am behind on my book list.  I've made it to 16.  This is pretty good considering that it's 16 in 9 weeks.  I always knew that the 46 books on my list was WAY overboard, but I just want to read them all!.

So I've chosen my next three books (I've abandoned the order I originally came up with weeks ago!) and these are the reasons:

This is one that I ordered for my library towards the end of the school year and I knew I needed to add some more nonfiction into my list so I grabbed it.  I also know that I've read two nonfiction books so far this summer and one was on teaching.  So I wanted to add in another.

I am hoping that The Books of Elsewhere is a quick, easy read.  Although I just realized that it is the 2nd book in the series....hmmm.  Scratch that!  I really dislike reading books out of order.

I guess I get to skip ahead to the book I've been wanting to read all summer!!!!

I can't wait!!

When I've finished this, I'm going to read all the sequels that I put off at the beginning of the summer because I wanted to get through with these others.  If I don't read them now, it'll take twice as long during the school year!

Prisoner B-3087

Based on the true story of Jack Gruener, Alan Gratz has created a fictional account of Jack’s time spent in ten different concentration camps during the Holocaust.  His depictions of the ghettos, train cars, camp barracks, death marches, torture, and death are very honest.  He has described horrid conditions that no human should have to witness, let alone live through, without sensationalism. 

Yanek Gruener is a Jewish boy growing up in Poland in the 1930’s when the Nazis take over.  Under their rule his life changes dramatically as he undergoes one tragedy after another.  Although he manages to survive ten concentration camps and two death marches, Yanek is not always optimistic.  After a while, the death he sees is just commonplace.  He is terrified of it, determined not let it take him, but accepts it because there is no other option.  At times he wonders if it is better to dead. 

I appreciated how Yanek was portrayed.  Written in a first person narrative, it allows the reader to enter the story a little more, but you’re still kept at bay with the very clipped style of writing.  At the end, after he and his fellow survivors have been rescued by American soldiers, Yanek notes that “They couldn’t understand our tears, couldn’t know how amazing such a simple meal was to us….We could describe it.  Describe in every detail the horrors of the camps and the way we were treated.  But no one who had not been there would ever truly understand (251).”   

Ungifted by Gordon Korman

Donovan is NOT a genius.  When he finds himself transferred into the Academy for Scholastic Distinction he has to try and fake it.  This is a little hard for Donovan, as he understands nothing that the kids or the teachers are talking about.  Somehow, though they have taken him into their fold and he’s become one of them, which is good because Donovan is hiding out after he caused major havoc on his old school’s gym, and if they like him, they might let him stay…somehow.

I enjoyed Donovan’s character, and even some of the other students at ASD, but the other students seemed very flat.  Chloe had a little more to her, but she was still your basic stereotype of a type of a “nerd.”  The shenanigans that Donovan brings to the gifted students at his new school do cause them to loosen up quite a bit, and they become more real.  I just assumed that they would be real before Donovan shows up to do this for them.

This is a humorous story, and if you enjoy middle school pranks you’ll probably like Ungifted as well.  Donovan is extremely likeable.  He’s a kid that you’d want to hang out with after school as long as you can divert his attention away from any troubling causing pranks, that is.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Doll Bones by Holly Black

Photo taken from goodreads.com

This book is perfect for my 6th graders!  Zach, Alice, and Poppy have always played games, creating stories for their dolls that involve daring feats and adventures, but they’re growing up.  Shouldn’t they be growing out of the silly make believe games?  When Zach’s dad throws out all of his toys, ending the game for him, a new story begins.  Hoping to entice Zach back into the game, she smuggles a bone china doll from her mother’s cabinet, only to discover a mystery.  Complete with a quest, ghosts, a crazy man, and a library, this adventure will keep readers engaged.

I really enjoyed this and appreciated the author’s attempt to convey the devastation of growing up.  I feel that kids who are entering 5th and 6th grade are starting to hit that period where they realize it’s not all fairy tales and that one day they’ll be too old to play pretend (if they don’t already know that now).  In the story I don’t think we ever know how old they actually are (or it’s so subtly stated that I can’t remember and don’t care to go back and look) and I believe that’s a good choice.  By keeping the kids just somewhere in middle school it will allow more young readers to identify with the characters.

I am glad I can put this in my classroom library this fall.  I hope it gets picked up soon so I can hear what students are thinking about it!

Monday, July 14, 2014

Slated by Teri Terry

I picked up Slated from my pile the other day, really wanting a dystopian novel.  They’re my favorites and I haven’t read one in a while.  So I went in expecting a book to make me feel good, keep me entertained, and make me think.  I wasn’t sure if it would be Slated, but I was definitely pulled in. I didn’t realize that it was a series, though, so up until the last few chapters, I expected it all to be tied up.  I guess that I shouldn’t be surprised since that seems to be the thing with the dystopian/sci-fi young adult genre right now. I’m not upset about this, just an observation.

In Slated, Kyla is starting her new life with her new family after being slated.  She has no memories from her previous life and must keep herself happy and calm in order to remain alive.  For most slated kids, this is easy—they don’t remember bad things.  Kyla is different, though, and little glimpses of her past keep revealing themselves to her until she can no longer ignore them.  Now she has to figure out who she can trust before she’s returned and terminated.

I enjoyed the book and it was hard to stop reading.  Kyla’s character grows throughout the novel as she begins to learn more and more about herself.  She learns not only the everyday rules of the world, but about the past and the way society works.  When she arrives, she’s like a little girl, scared and unsure of herself, but within a few weeks she seems to have become herself—whoever that really is.  I’m looking forward to reading the next two novels in the series and finding out how Kyla fares in the world.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

So many upsets in my book lists!!

So I posted that I was abandoning The Peculiar last week.  I began reading Doll Bones the next day...I downloaded it onto my nook and accessed it via my phone because
I forgot to bring my nook with me to an appointment.

Well then we went out of town and I packed my nook and two books (I'm always a little overzealous about how much I'll finish reading in the car).  We're on the road and I pull out my nook, power it on and do you what I didn't do?  I didn't download it to my nook before we left...  I could have read it on my phone, but for five hours on that little phone?  No way!!

So I read one of my books on the way there.  Then on the way back I read about half of the next book.

This is what I'm currently reading and so far it's interesting.

This may be a good one for our book club!  A future society where kids who are deemed criminal are sentenced to a new process called "slating."  Their memories are erased and they are rehabilitated to join new families and become productive members of society.  It follows one of the slated girls as she is transitioned into a family.  Very easy read so far.  I should be finished tomorrow and ready to move on!

One Came Home by Amy Timberlake

This novel starts out with a funeral and the untimely death of the narrator’s sister.  Georgie Burkhardt doesn’t believe that her sister is dead, though, and she’s determined to find out the truth—with or without help.  Unluckily, help comes in the form of Billy McCabe, her sister’s former beau.  Set in 1871 in the town of Placid, Wisconsin during a great pigeon nesting that drives through Georgie’s town, sending the town into chaos.  Just like those wild pigeons are a force as they descend on Placid and the surrounding area, Georgie pushes along this story so that you’re there with her, determined to find her sister Agatha. 

Georgie reveals the past to us, the reason for Agatha’s departure, her relationships, and her personality through a series of flashbacks that help us understand, even before Georgie does, how her sister most likely died.  Even so, when Georgie finally does come around, I was suddenly on the other side.  No, she might still be there.  Georgie lost hope, but I kept it for her.  I thought it beautiful how Amy Timberlake made this happen.  It’s almost as if Georgie’s convincing has worked, but not for herself. 

Georgie’s quest to find the truth allows her to learn much about her sister, feeling again close to her, as well as angry at her for putting them all in this situation.  Moreover, she’s able to learn about herself, questioning what she has always known as the truth, and learning actual truths that she never wanted to know. 

I found myself pulled into this story from the get go.  Georgie is an easy character to follow.  She doesn’t demand that you burrow in and accept what she’s saying.  She’s likable, even though she does some unlikeable things.  My only real issue with this book is that I had a hard time really believing that Georgie belonged in this time period.  I can’t pinpoint what caused this feeling, but Georgie seemed like a more modern girl and belonged in more modern times.  It wasn’t due to her abilities, which were not skills that would have been encouraged in a young girl in the late 1800s, but in her voice.  Something about the way she spoke was too modern.  It may have even been too sheltered for a girl living in this growing town, learning to shoot, and traipsing through the woods.  I almost felt like she should have been more mature than she was due to this time period.  Needless to say, it took me out of the space every now and then.

This is a great read and I recommend it for readers who enjoy an adventure.  Georgie definitely has her fair share of adventure in this quest for the truth.  If you really like historical fiction, this may or may not be for you, depending on if you can believe that she really belongs in this time period.

Monday, July 7, 2014

The Peculiar --Moving on and leaving this one behind--for now.

I can’t finish this.  At least not right now.  I’ve been working on it for a week now and I’m only 168 pages in.  There is so much time spent on building the steampunk world that I don’t care for the characters.  I don’t like them.  Now in some cases this doesn’t matter.  For example, in Hunger Games I disliked Katniss from the start.  However I did want her to be successful, mostly because her success meant that others who were likable survived.  Here, not only do I dislike the bratty Bartholomew and the sniveling Mr. Jelliby, but there is no reason for me to want them to be okay.  Bartholomew’s sister might be cute, but it’s hard to tell since he’s pretty self-centered in his views (makes sense for a young boy, but doesn’t help me here).  Mr. Jelliby is truly annoying, and he’s supposed to be, but then why do I care about him?

I have little else to say and I’ve decided to abandon this book for the time being.  It is one that I’m willing to come back to at a later date.  Maybe when I’ve finished my list, revisiting it will be good and I’ll enjoy the book at that time.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Here's What I'm Reading

I thought I would have been done with Mao's Last Dancer sooner, but it was hard to stay motivated.

Now I'm about to start this book.
There's fairies and magic and the mystery!  Perfect.

After that I'm reading

 Don't know much about it, but I put it on my list awhile ago and so now I'm going to get to it!  Hope to have both of these finished by July 12th.  We'll have to see, though!

What are you reading right now?

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Mao's Last Dancer

Mao’s Last Dancer: Young Reader’s Edition
by Li Cunxin
Walker and Company

Mao’s Last Dancer drops us into Li Cunxin’s world, growing up in Communist China under the rule of Chairman Mao.  Li’s family lives a peasant life, struggling to survive and battle starvation on a daily basis.  One day is chosen to attend the Beijing Dance Academy and trains to become a ballet dancer.  Li takes us through his struggles growing up in China and his travels to America, where he learns what it means to be free. 

The book is divided into three parts.  The first part, which seemed to be the longest and most difficult to get through, chronicles his daily life in their village.  Li describes his family and how they live in a commune with his extended family.  We learn about his school life and how much of it was devoted to learning the philosophies of Chairman Mao.  Children were taught to love their great leader from the get go and anyone who dared defy his teachings was a traitor.  Most of this section is devoted to describing his mother.  His deep love and respect for his mother is evident in this first section.

Things start to pick up in the second part when Li is chosen to audition for the Beijing Dance Academy at the age of eleven.  He has to leave his family and live at the school for 11 months out of the year, but he already understands that this is an opportunity that could allow him and his family an escape from their tough life.  The curriculum at his school is more focused on indoctrinating the young ballet students rather than ballet technique, however their teachers still expected much of these young dancers from the get go.  This lack care led to many injuries and a sense of fear that Li felt for most of his first few years.  Despite these difficulties, Li becomes a wonderful ballet dancer and when Chairman Mao dies and more Western influences trickle into the ballet training, Li’s love of the art grows as well as his ability.  With an opportunity to study in America, Li leaves for 6 weeks.  It is here that he realizes that most of what he has learned about America is a lie.  He begins to understand that in China he will never really be free like he can be in America and it is essential that he find a way to stay.

There is also a third part in which Li is in America and trying to defect from China.  It is rather short and just wraps everything up neatly.  It was more interesting than the other parts, but also only a few chapters.

I chose this book because it is about a dancer.  Nonfiction books are not what I automatically go to—in fact I often shy away from them.  I figured reading about dance would keep me more engaged since I have a dance background.  It did, but it took a while to get to the part where I was interested.  Although it was beneficial to see how Li’s ideas about Communism and his great leaders evolved and then later faded, I was still pushing myself to stay focused.  There was plenty about his hard work and determination to make it as a dancer, but I was not drawn into this story as much as I had wanted to be.