Monday, January 31, 2011

Bystander by James Preller

I heard about this book through my new friends on Twitter and I knew I had to buy it. It is much like Egghead but a little darker.

The story is about a boy named Eric who has moved to a new school in grade 7. I can't imagine a worse year to start over. Things for Eric are tough- his dad has disappeared and as much as Eric wants to forget about him, he can't. Eric has slowly started making friends with the 'cool' gang at school- led by Griffin. Eric thinks something is a little off about Griffin, but because he always has lots of people around him, Eric finds himself just happy to belong. Soon Griffin starts picking on David- an awkward boy who also wants to fit in. Eric feels that because he isn't doing anything- he isn't at fault. Deep down, Eric knows it isn't right and slowly he starts to separate himself from Griffin and his friends. By doing this, Eric has isolated himself from the other kids at school, but Griffin is now targeting him. Eric has to figure out how to live a life he can be proud of and still have friends while keeping away from Griffin.

I found the start of this book to be very dark and a bit scary. Teaching grade 7, I really hope the kids aren't like this to each other, but I admit I'm not really sure. The voices of these boys ring very true to kids I know and teach. Reading how the teachers deal with the issues of bullying is a little worrisome too. I'm not totally sure what can be done with these kids that are being bullied when nobody will admit what is happening. Kids are so good at spinning the truth and so many parents can't believe their child would do something like this that it is really hard to know what to do. I can see using this book as a read aloud- although I like Egghead better- and I'm not sure if reading two books on the same topic would be a great idea. It is certainly something to think about. Either way, it is a great book for my classroom library!

Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Return of Gabriel by John Armistead

In the summer of 1964- 3 boys- Cooper, Jubal and Squirrel want nothing more than to build a clubhouse to keep away from the town bully Reno. Their secret society is called the Scorpions and their motto is always stick together and never back down. Little do the boys know that this summer sticking together will become quite the challenge.
As civil rights workers come to their small Mississippi town, the Ku Klux Klan has plans to deal with the changes some people want. Cooper is being forced to attend these meetings, even when his heart is with his best friend Jubal and his family who are being targeted by the Klan. Cooper is forced to grow up quickly as he witnesses some terrible events and fears for the life of people he knows and loves. He also struggles with doing the right thing when he is being forced to participate in meetings by his father.

I liked this story and I can see this being a great fit for some of the boys in my class. I did find all the characters a bit confusing and the plot seemed to be more complicated then was really needed. However, I just kept reading and found myself swept up into the world that the boys were part of.

Yankee Girl by Mary Ann Rodman

Eleven year old Alice is good at making new friends and starting new schools. Her father works for the FBI and is often transferred around the country. She knows that all she needs to introduce herself and she will make all the friends she needs.

In 1964, Alice's family moves from Chicago to Jackson, Mississippi and she suddenly finds herself in the middle of the Civil Rights movement. Her tried and true techniques for making friends don't seem to work. Kids at her new school have a different way of talking, dressing and rules about people that don't make any sense to Alice.

Her one friend Jeb- who she is only allowed to be friends with at home because boys don't talk to girls- tries to teach her these rules. Alice begins to realize that there are different rules for different races. This doesn't seem to make any sense to Alice, and she makes many mistakes along the way which continues to hurt her chances to make friends.

When she learns that her school will be integrated and that there will be a new black girl in her class on Monday, Alice is sure that she will finally have a friend. Listening to the other students reaction to Valerie's arrival confuses Alice. She sees Valerie as just another 11 year old girl, but the other students are filled with hatred and fear. Alice is even more confused when Valerie pushes her away. Alice has a very strong sense of the what is right and how to treat people, but she also longs for friends. This battle between what is right and fitting in and having friends is at the heart of this book. Alice must make some big decisions and decide where she stands on many issues- but mostly how she wants to treat people.

I found this book to be very moving. It's a great way for the reader to learn some of the issues and events of life in the South during the 1950's and 1960's. I know the kids in my class are going to like this one.

Devil On My Heels by Joyce McDonald

I'm currently planning a unit for my Grade 7 students on the American Civil Rights movement so I am reading many books set in the 50's and 60's.

Devil on my Heels is set in the middle of this time in Florida. Dove, is a 15 year old girl who lives with her father on his Orange Grove farm. All her life, Dove has played in the orange groves with Gator (a young black boy) and Chase (the boy from the next farm over). Now that Dove is 15 though, she is learning that a friendship between a white girl and a black boy isn't allowed and can be very dangerous. Then there are the feelings she has for Chase. She can't seem to get away from him, but she is also afraid of the ties he and his father have to the Ku Klux Klan.

As Dove learns more about the secrets of her small town and how they treat the people who cook for them and work their fields she becomes very uncomfortable with the unfairness of the situation. When Gator's life is threatened because he is seen being friendly with a white girl, Dove must make a decision that goes against everything her little town believes in. This decision puts her life and those around her at risk.

I really liked this story. I was hoping I could use it as a read aloud for my class, but I think the romance angle might be a little much for the boys in my class. I like how Dove needed to learn the realities of life in the South during the 50's and 60's. The decisions and choices she had to make were painful and scary for her. As I was reading her story, I was caught up in the drama of the time and her life. I love it when I am pulled right into a situation that I have never had to face. It makes me wonder how I would react if faced with this situation.

The way people were treated during this time is so shocking now, yet I know that racism still exists. I'm really hoping that my students can learn about this time through our discussions in class and through reading books like this one. I bought this book on my Kindle, so now I have to figure out how to share it with students.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Gone by Lisa McMann

Gone is the third book in the Wake series. If you haven't read the first two books, you should stop reading this one, because there will be spoilers. You can find my review of Wake here and Fade here

Gone is the final book in the series. I love it when I read a series in one sitting. There is nothing worse than finishing a book and having to wait for a really long time for the next book.

Janie and Cabel are still going strong. They have a comfortable relationship together and have made plans for their future. Cabel understands Janie's special ability and knows that he needs to be there to support her. Janie knows that Cabel will always be there for her, even if it is difficult for him.

Then, Janie starts learning more and more about what her future holds. She knows what things will be like for her and she starts to realize how unfair she is being to Cabel. Janie is faced with two very different futures for herself and she is the only one who can decide what path her life will take. Cabel is forced to try to support her and wait for her decision.

I loved the ending of this series. Janie and Cabel have such a great relationship and are so honest with each other. It just didn't seem fair that the two of them had so many obstacles in front of them. When the book was over, I was very satisfied with the whole series.

This is the only book in the series I would be worried about giving to kids in grade 7 and 8. Janie and Cabel's relationship starts to mature and deepen and they are 18 years old. Their developing relationship at this stage may not be appropriate for elementary students to read.

Fade by Lisa McMann

The is the sequel to Wake- if you haven't read it yet, you might not want to read this post because there will be spoilers.

Fade continues the story of Cabel and Janie. After finding each other, you would think their lives would be happier and safer- but this is far from the truth. They are forced to keep their relationship a secret from everyone because they are both working undercover for the police. This time, they are trying to stop a sexual predator. Janie is trying to use her dream catching power to stop an adult at her school from taking advantage of the young women. Cabel is there to support her, but he is really struggling with Janie putting herself at risk. Just as Janie is about to break open the case, things go horribly wrong.

While all of this is happening, Janie is learning more and more about her power and what she is learning isn't making her feel any better about where her life is heading.

Fade grabbed me right away, I read it in one night, I just couldn't put it down. Lisa McMann tells a very compelling story. She not only deals with Janie and Cabel's relationship- but she also deals with real issues that teens are facing. Again, there is quite a bit of swearing and sexual references in this book, but certainly not over the top or inappropriate for kids in grade 7 and 8.

Wake by Lisa McMann

This week, I've been totally swept up in the Wake series of books. Samantha, one of my students from last year gave me this book to read saying that she thinks I'll like it- she was right. I couldn't stop reading it!

Wake is the story of Janie, a 17 year old who is living with an alcoholic mother and basically raising herself. What sets Janie apart from others is that she gets sucked into other peoples dreams when they fall asleep. Since she is mostly around high school kids when they sleep, their dreams are generally filled with the opposite sex in various stages of dress (or undress). Janie fears that her secret will get out, she can't tell anyone because she knows this isn't normal. This leads her to live a fairly solitary life.

When she meets Cabel, she gets sucked into his nightmares and is slowly drawn into his world. With Cabel, while she gets the support she doesn't get anywhere else, a relationship with him is also dangerous on many levels.

This first book in the series was very compelling. There is a bit of swearing and some mature content, but it fits with the age of the characters and the storyline. What I found most interesting about Wake was the writing style. The short, choppy sentences really left me unsettled and uncomfortable, just like Janie felt throughout the whole book. But it also made me want to keep reading.

I found it interesting that this week as I was reading this series, I heard that the book is being challenged as an inappropriate book to have at a school. I really have issues with book banning. These adults that want to stop kids from reading books don't always seem to understand the maturity level or what compels kids to read. You can read Lisa McMann's response here. I have to agree with her- that the content in this book is appropriate for older students- mature grade 7 and 8's. There is some swearing and sexual references- but if you've been around grade 7's and 8's much- this is part of their vocabulary and thinking. It might be a good place to start a conversation.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Only in the Movies by William Bell

William Bell is a writer from Ontario and I always love his books. Other books he has written include: The Blue Helmet,, and

Only in the Movies is different from his other books. Most of his books are serious or mysterious. This one is much funnier and reminds me a bit of Drums, Girls and Dangerous Pie by Jordan Sonnenblick
The main character is Jake, a boy who realized his dream job would be writing scripts for movies after he sees a movie being shot by his house. To this end, he knows he must get into the York School of Arts where he at least stands a chance to learn about the performing arts. There, he meets an interesting cast of characters. Alba- the girl he falls in love with, Chad- the boy Alba falls in love with and his best friend Vanni. Jake uses Vanni's poetic way with words to help sway Alba to fall in love with him. Then, Alba wants to use Jake's way with words to sway Chad. If this seems confusing, it is because the whole love triangle, romantic comedy, Shakespearian tragedy with a little bit of Casablanca thrown in all plays out in one year at high school.
Although the plot does seem a bit hard to follow in a summary, Bell's writing is easy to follow and the reader will enjoy watching Jake try to win over the love of his life while learning about what is really important in life.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Fatty Legs by Christy Jordan-Fenton and Margaret Pokiak-Fenton

Fatty Legs is a simple but powerful book about residential schools in the 1940's in Canada. I've always known that the main goal of residential schools was to eliminate the culture and history of the Aboriginal people. Reading the experiences of an 8 year old who is forced to abandon all that she is familiar with was very hard. I was shocked at how the nuns who were there to 'teach' these children treated them without love or affection. At the same time I was also very impressed with the strength that Margaret showed in staying true to her beliefs and her desire to learn to read and write. Throughout the story, the voice of Margaret Pokiak-Fenton was incredibly strong as she explains what drew her to want to attend a school away from home and what made her want to go back to her family.

This would be a great book to read for Grade 6 Social Studies, it would be a quick read aloud or could be used as a literature circle. No matter how it is used, there is certainly lots to talk about in it.

Matched by Ally Condie

Over the Christmas holidays, I discovered Twitter and I have 'met' many teachers who are as passionate about reading as I am. Matched is a book that was recommended by several people and I'm very glad I picked it up.

In this dystopian society everything seems perfect. Their lives are all laid out for them. The citizens all have jobs that they excel at, they are each given the right foods to meet their own nutritional needs and after their 17th birthday they are 'matched' with their perfect partner. For most teens, they dream of this day- when they finally meet the person they will spend the rest of their lives with.

The story starts on the day of Cassia's Matching, a day she has waited for forever. She is nervous, but excited. Her childhood friend Xander is also at the Matching ceremony looking handsome and calm. When the matching begins, Cassia watches as friends she has grown up with are matched with people from far away. Then, it is Cassia's turn. When she faces the monitor to see the perfect boy, the screen is black- which only means one thing- she is matched with someone from her home town. Her perfect match is Xander and Cassia cannot be happier. Xander is everything- charming, funny, smart and handsome and Cassia is relived and thrilled to be with Xander.

As Cassia and Xander get to know each other on a different level, things seem to be changing. Cassia suddenly finds herself thrown together with Ky, a quite boy whose past is a bit mysterious. The more time Cassia spends with Ky, the more feelings she starts having towards him and the more confused she gets.

While on the surface, this story seems to be only about a love triangle. However, the way that Condie weaves other elements of this perfect society make the reader realize that everything isn't as perfect as it seems. Cassia starts to question many things about the world she lives in and starts to gather the courage to make a change. However, change is hard and it will put those she loves at risk.

This book comes across as a romance novel, but I think the dystopian elements will appeal to many different readers. Fans of the Hunger Games will really like it and I think the sequel will be even better! You can check out the book trailer here.

Monday, January 3, 2011

I am Number Four by Pittacus Lore

I just finished reading the best book of my holidays! I am Number Four is another book I have seen but hadn't picked up because it looked a little too Sci-fi for me. It definitely has elements of science-fiction- the main character is an alien- but it is so much more than that. It has action, romance (not over the top, just enough), adventure and great great characters! Everyone is going to love reading this book- but the boys in my class are going to be so thankful that I finally have something for them to get into after all the paranormal romance novels I've been reading lately!

This book starts out in Kenya where a boy and a man are killed by some unnamed, unseen monster (nothing like starting out with a little action) and it is after this that we are introduced to the main character John. John has been on earth since he was four- he doesn't remember much of his life before coming to earth. He mostly remembers moving around a lot, changing names and always being the new boy at school. When he is forced to run yet again, he isn't really looking forward to starting over in Paradise, Ohio. On his first day of school he meets and falls for the ex-girlfriend of the biggest football hero at school. This doesn't go over well with Mark and he decides to make John's life miserable.
Not only does John need to deal with his feelings for Sarah, he also needs to deal with the fact that he is now being hunted by these aliens who are trying to stop the nine alien children who came to earth ten years ago. The aliens must kill the children in order and they have already killed off the first three and John is number four- next on the list.
The only thing that can help save John and his protector Henri are the powers that John should be developing. Neither of them know what his powers will be, or how they will help, but this is the only thing that can save not only their lives, but Earth and John's home planet as well.

This is a fast paced novel that had me hooked from the beginning. There is a movie coming out in February here's the trailer and a cool website here and a sequel due out in August.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Fly Boy by Eric Walter

Just before Christmas, Ann from Titles called to tell me about the newest Eric Walters book Fly Boy. Ann knows that I will buy every new book Walters writes ecause I'm a huge fan of his work. I was a bit disappointed when I saw the cover though because it wasn't really a topic of interest to me. I knew however that many of the boys in my class would want to read it. I started it last night, and in typical Walters fashion, I was hooked right away- even though I didn't think I would be.

The setting is 1943 in Toronto and 17 year old Robbie McWilliams is like most boys of the time, he can't wait to head off to fight the Nazi's in Europe. The only problem is you have to be 18 to enlist. Robbie has figured out how to fool the officers by using a different birth certificate and with the help of his friend back at boarding school, Robbie enlists in pilot training. What follows is a glimpse into life for these boys and men who train in Canada before being shipped overseas. The change Robbie goes through from being a young school boy to a man fighting for his country is very fascinating to watch. Walters doesn't hold back from showing the reality of war, although he does it in such a way that will make sense to kids.

As I was reading this book I kept thinking of my grandfather who enlisted when he was 18. I imagine many of the experiences Robbie had were similar to what my grandfather went through. I've never really bought into the romantic side of war and I've never understood why young men would want to head off to war. After reading this book though, I have a better grasp of the time period and the feeling that these men were fighting for a real cause and that they believed in risking their lives for the safety of their family back home. Eric Walters is always able to examine an issue from different perspectives and to change my thinking. I can't wait to see what he writes next!

Saturday, January 1, 2011

The Mockingbirds by Daisy Whitney

This is a book that has been on my radar all fall. I kept meaning to pick it up but I never did. Yesterday I used some of the gift certificates I got for Christmas from my students to purchase several books and this was one of them. I started and finished it this morning and I was pulled in from the very first page.

The Mockingbirds is an organization at an elite boarding school whose purpose is to make sure students are punished when they've done something wrong. This is a student run organization who deal with students in a very meaningful way. It seems odd that it would be the students who need to take this on, but at Themis teachers expect their exceptional students to live up to their potential and they turn a blind eye to any illegal or dangerous activities the students may be involved in.

The story starts with Alex- a young girl in grade 11- waking up naked in a strange room with a boy beside her and open condom wrappers on the floor. As she comes to her senses, her only instinct is to get back to her own dorm room. Once in the safety of her room, Alex's best friends realize that something has happened and the truth finally comes out. Alex was date-raped. She is embarrassed, guilty, afraid and shocked. She really has two choices, pretend it didn't happen or go to the Mockingbird's and ask for help. What follows is Alex's journey from being a victim to rising above a defining moment and being able to carry on with her life.

I absolutely loved this book. Right from the first page I was drawn into the story, Alex has such a strong voice throughout the whole book. It was so easy to feel her pain, her embarrassment, her determination to fight for her rights and to reclaim her life. I think what I loved best about Alex's story is how it wasn't clear even to Alex herself what really happened that night and who was really at fault. Alex spends a lot of time blaming herself and being unsure of what is the right thing to do. I really believe that every girl needs to read this- it is much like Speak and Willow It's a book that could really have the power to help someone through a very difficult time. Having said that, it is a mature read- so I would be careful who I gave the book to.