Saturday, August 27, 2011

Power of Six by Pittacus Lore

The book Power of Six takes up where I am Number Four left off. If you haven't read the first book, you should probably stop reading because there will be spoilers ahead.

The Power of Six has different stories happening at the same time. First there is John, who is trying to cope with the guilt he feels over Henri's death. He is on the run with his best friend Sam and Six, one of the other children who came from the planet Lorien to escape the war. John, Sam and Six are trying desperately to stay alive and away from the Mogadorians and the police since they are wanted for the destruction of the school. John deals with his feels of guilt and longing to see Sarah again.

The other story happening takes place in Spain. We are introduced to Seven, or Marina who has lived most of her life hiding in a religious orphanage with her Cepan Adelina. However, Adelina is very different from Henri. Where Henri recognized the importance of training and being prepared, Adelina is the opposite. It seems that she has forgotten her role in keeping Seven alive to protect Lorien. This leaves Marina at a loss when her legacies start to develop. She is left with no friends and nobody to confide in or talk to. When Marina starts having visions, she realizes she needs to take matters in her own hands.

I found this book to be hard to get into. It might have been because it's been a while since I've read Number Four and I'd forgotten parts of it. I sometimes found the plot a bit confusing and hard to follow. The names that come from Lorien and other planets close by are a bit confusing. However, I did enjoy many parts of it. There was a great deal of excitement, battles and suspense and a wee bit of romance. I liked the ending of this one much better than the first. I know many kids will be begging for this book in a few weeks when I get back to school.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Some Girls Are by Courtney Summers

I've just discovered Courtney Summers this summer, and I'm so glad I did. The stories she writes are about real kids struggling with real issues. The characters are believable, likeable and typical of teenage kids. The first book I read by her was and I immediately ordered Some Girls Are.

Some Girls Are in many ways is like Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, but also reminded me of by Beth Goobie
The main character in the story is Regina who is a senior in high school. By all outward appearances she has it all. She has a boyfriend, many close friends and most importantly she is at the top of the social ladder. Her and her group of girlfriends are the ones the rest of the school looks up to and admire. They are untouchable. Regina has always been confident in her place as Anna's best friend, until a party one night when something happens to split the girls apart. Suddenly Regina is frozen out of her place with all of her friends. She really has nowhere to turn. Her former friends bully, threaten and taunt her and encourage the rest of the school to do the same. Regina seeks shelter with one of the boys who she previously tormented leading to a very strange friendship between the two. Regina learns a great deal not only about herself, but also about others' as she is forced to deal with her past behaviour.

I really, really enjoyed reading this book. Regina is unlike any other character who has faced bullying in books. Regina doesn't just take it, she fights back. While there were times I cringed at her methods- I appreciated her strength and courage. There are times when Regina and her friends portray the ultimate mean girls at high school, yet through all of this Regina grows up and has to face her past.

When I first started reading this book I wasn't sure if I could keep it in my grade 7 classroom. There is a lot of sexual references and swearing, but as I read on I realized this is a book girls must read. This book will go into my mature book box, but I know I will take it out and share it with many kids this year. I can't wait to read other books by Summers!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Kate by Valerie Sherrard

Valerie Sherrard's books have long been favourites of mine. I really like her Shelby Belgarden mystery series set in New Brunswick, they are real stories with real teenagers. This book is a bit different from the mystery ones. This is a really nice story about a young girl who is growing up in a small town in the 1960's.

The main character is Kate Benchworth and while in many ways she is just like any other 14 year old, there is one thing that sets her apart- she has been diagnosed with a brain tumour and knows her time is limited. Yet she is determined to make the most out of the time she has left. This may be what sets her apart from most 14 year old kids. Kate wants to make sure that she appreciates and takes advantage of the time she has. This includes getting to know the people in her community and befriending a boy in jail. The lessons Kate shares are really remarkable. She learns about love, and really knowing a person before passing judgement. Kate isn't afraid to show her parents she cares and this is quite different from most books about teenage girls.

As I was reading this book it didn't seem like it was set in the present- the expectations adults had of children were quite different from todays expectations. Kate's father was often reminding Kate of showing respect to elders, not questioning their decisions and how to behave around boys. It wasn't until the middle of the book that it was confirmed that it was set in the 1960's. I don't think that took anything away from the story, however, it will be different for kids to read. I think this book would best be enjoyed by girls who are a little more innocent than most of the intermediate students I teach. Having said that, it is a wonderful story- full of hope, love and strength. It was quite enjoyable.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

I'm not sure this is a book I ever would have picked up except for all the buzz it was getting on Twitter. This book trailer really does a great job to sell the story- and it is a hard one to write about.

Sixteen year old Jacob comes from a very loving family. His mother and father want what's best for him, but the person he is closest to is his Grandfather. Jacob spent hours listening to his Grandfather tell stories about his childhood. Some of the stories seem very far fetched and it isn't until Jacob gets a bit older that he comes to realize that his Grandfather was making everything up. This disillusions Jacob, but he tries to forgive his Grandfather because he had to face many challenges throughout his life. Jacob assumes that these stories are a result of his tragic life and still remains close to him.

When tragedy strikes Jacob, his whole life goes off the track. His father agrees to take Jacob to a mysterious, remote island off the coast of Wales where his Grandfather grew up. While exploring the island, Jacob finds the run down home of Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children. Here Jacob begins to realize that the stories of his youth were based on the children under Miss Peregrine's care. As Jacob comes to know what Miss Peregrine's home is all about, he is thrust into an adventure unlike any he could ever imagine while at the same time coming to understand and know his grandfather even better.

This book is a great fantasy read. It is dark, spooky, and full of adventure. What really gives this book such a unique feel is the use of pictures depicting the people in the story. These real photographs somehow draw you into the story even more, it is like reading someone's scrapbook. Jacob is a great character. Loyal to his grandfather, wanting adventure, but still respectful of his parents wants and needs. The language Jacob uses is so real, he sounds just like the sixteen year old boys I know. I'm not a real fantasy lover, but I'm really hoping that Ransom Riggs comes out with a sequel to this one, there was lots at the end of the story that left you wanting more. Check out his blog here.

Friday, August 12, 2011

What Happened to Serenity? by P.J. Sarah Collins

This is another new author for me, and another Canadian author too! In looking at her website, it would seem she is a teacher and author. The cover kind of misled me a bit- this looks like it might be a coming-of-age story and in part it is- but it is more dystopian than anything. I love finding new dystopian novels, and dystopian novels set in Canada are incredibly rare- this is a real treat.

The main character in this story is Katherine. She lives in a small agricultural town and even though the setting is 2021, the community survives by using the land to support them. They grow what they need to eat and live very simple lives. Katherine's biggest struggle is to not ask questions. In their town they must defer to "Father" the head of the town in all things. Asking questions is seen as wrong- even parents can't ask questions of their children. Katherine has a really hard time with this because she is curious about many things she sees and overhears. When her best friends sister Serenity disappears, Katherine is full of questions, but has nobody to ask or talk to. All of her friends are willing to go along with what is expected of them because they are so close to learning their Life Role. Father uses the promise of a good job to keep kids in line. Katherine starts seeking out answers and questioning the town, the leaders and even her own parents. This leads her to discover that all isn't what it seems in her 'perfect' world.

I really enjoyed reading this book. It was exciting, different and full of suspense. I found the vague references to Canadian issues to be quiet interesting- even when Katherine didn't fully understand them. I like how strong Katherine was as a character. She is deeply committed to her family and friends, but not at the cost of blindly accepting what she is told. That is the kind of child I want- someone who questions, judges and takes risks.

I'm really happy that I had a chance to read this book. I can't wait to share it with my grade 7's in the fall. My kids from last year will be really excited that I've added another dystopian novel to our bucket.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Fall for Anything by Courtney Summers

Courtney Summers is a new author for me. After reading Fall for Anything, I've put her other books on my wish list. I really like the way she writes. The fact that she is Canadian and is writing about places I've been and know somehow made this story seem so real. Many books that deal with difficult issues are written from an American perspective, and it's not that I don't love reading those books too, but this one just seemed much more realistic knowing this was a girl so much like girls I know. This book just felt different- in such a great way.

Fall for Anything is about a 17 year old girl named Eddie whose father has just committed suicide. Eddie's mother is a total mess and isn't there for Eddie at all. Her mother's best friend Beth has moved in and she has no idea how to help the situation. The only person Eddie can depend on is her best friend Milo. Ever since her father's death things between Eddie and Milo have been quite tense. When Missy, Milo's sort-of girlfriend comes back on the scene, Eddie feels even more separated from him. Then Eddie meets Culler, a former student of her dad's. Both of them are dealing with their grief and confusion over his death. Neither one of them can understand why her father would commit suicide and are searching for answers in everything he has left behind. As the two of them search for answers, they are drawn closer together while pushing Milo away.

This story was so beautiful and sad. Eddie's grief over her fathers death was so hard to watch. It was so easy to understand why Eddie was searching for answers. The story does a really great job of dealing with the aftermath of suicide. The characters were so compelling as well. The relationship between Eddie and Milo was as complicated as can be when two teenagers of opposite the sex are close friends. I loved how Eddie dealt with her mother's annoying friend. I found Beth to be so insensitive because she was focussing only on the mom and had absolutely no compassion for Eddie. I really really loved reading this book. There was some swearing in the book, although it was never inappropriate or just used for shock value. There was also discussions about sex, but nothing that I don't think grade 7 students could handle. I really think this is a book I will be thinking about for a while.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Plague by Michael Grant

Plague is the fourth book in the Gone series and when it came out I had many former students asking me for it. I didn't even get it back until the end of June because so many kids who've read the first three books needed to read this one. I was starting to lose interest in this series after the third book Lies , but I'm back to really enjoying these books after finishing this one today.

The kids in the FAYZ are still surviving - barely and once again they are faced with new challenges and old enemies seeking revenge. In the last three books, we've seen Astrid and Sam with a few other friends do their best to make sure everyone is safe and working hard to survive. Yet the challenge of trying to lead this group is taking its toll on them. Drake has been captured and Caine and Diana have disappeared much to everyones relief. But in this novel, once again Sam and Astrid are faced with enemies and mysterious beings and mutations that threaten everyone's safety. To top it all off, a mysterious flu is sweeping the FAYZ and both sides fight to stay alive.

Once again, Grant writes a story that is fast paced and surprising. You never know exactly what is going to happen to the kids and if the good guys will win or be defeated. As I started this book, I didn't think I was going to make it though, but I was quickly caught up in the characters lives and wanting to know how everything was going to turn out for them. There are a few pieces that I find really confusing, such as Little Pete's story and the story of The Darkness. I'm not sure if I just read to quickly over the last few books and I've forgotten what is happening or this is Grant's way to keep readers reading. However, not understanding those two parts did not detract from the enjoyment of reading this story.
If you've read this series, you might also be interested in checking out the Youtube videos of Grant talking about his books.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton

It's hard to believe that I am reviewing a book I read over 25 years ago. This book was first published in 1967 (before I was even alive!) and I have to say that it really stands the test of time. I'm debating on this being the first read aloud I do this year with my grade 7's. There are a lot of great messages and themes that could be addressed through reading this together.
When I started reading this book, I was reminded why I loved it so much, but was worried that maybe kids wouldn't understand the world Hinton was describing. Set in 1965, Hinton tells the story of a 'gang' of boys from the wrong side of the tracks. These boys have had to grow up with violence, hatred and poverty. These greasers (called this because of the hair grease they used to slick their hair back) hate the 'socs'- the group of rich kids who live on the right side of the track. The tension and hatred between the two groups comes out in fights and 'jumping'- when a group of kids gang up on one or two other kids. The Outsiders is told from Ponyboy's perspective. He is the youngest boy in a gang of boys and he is the youngest of three brothers who are trying to hold it together after their parents died in a car crash. Like in any family, the boys fight and Ponyboy feels unwanted by his oldest brother. When Ponyboy and Johnny are jumped by some socs, they are forced to make a series of decisions that have great consequences, not just for the two of them, but for people on both sides of this class war.
What I love about this book is the message of how similar people really are. It doesn't matter if you are rich, poor, black or white- everyone has problems. Ponyboy learns this lesson the hard way, and watching him struggle to cope with his own life and the circumstances he is faced with is so fascinating. I know many kids are picking this book up which is why I wanted to reread it. Some kids would certainly need some guidance to understand some of the terms like 'greaser', 'soc', 'madras', but those words aren't really important to the story. They may help with the picture in your mind, but not understanding them certainly wouldn't hold someone back in understanding what they are reading. I think the best way to deal with this book would be to use it as a literature circle or whole group read aloud. The best part of that would be the opportunity to read her many other books

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

All things Harry Potter!

First off, I have to apologize for not posting too much this summer. I've been reading, just not young adult books. I've been caught up in a flurry of beach reading murder mysteries this summer.

Secondly, this is not a usual post- today I'm posting about something I baked today! For those of you that know me, you know I'm not really to great in the kitchen. I make a mean bowl of Kraft Dinner and chocolate chip cookies, but I don't get too adventurous. The other thing people know about me is that I am a HUGE Harry Potter fan- I mean I love the movies and books. They are the only movies I have loved as much as the books. In March, I was lucky enough to take 5 kids, my mom and myself to Universal Studios to visit the Harry Potter theme park. Needless to say, we loved it. We had to try butterbeer- and it was everything they describe in the book. I tried to replicate it at home a few weeks later, but my boys told me it didn't come close (I didn't think it was that bad!)

A few weeks ago when Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows came out, there were lots of blog posts with places to check out (have you seen ) This blog post came to my attention and I knew I HAD to make them. It took a bit of searching to find some of the ingredients. I had a hard time finding Butter Flavouring (which is like vanilla, only butter flavouring) and Vanilla Cream Soda. I ended up buying the Cream Soda in the U.S.A. when I went to visit my brother. As it turns out a nice bulk store here carried both the Cream Soda (I now have 2 more 2 litre bottles of it when I only needed 1/3 of a cup) and the Butter Flavouring.

Finally, I had a day that wasn't too hot outside and I actually had all the ingredients in the house. I can't believe how easy they were to make. I doubled the recipe because I've been talking about these for the last two weeks and figured my friends and family needed to try some as well. This was the first time I've really made buttercream frosting- and it all worked out brilliantly!

These cupcakes are to die for! They taste just like the butterbeer we had at Universal and everyone who has tried them has LOVED them. If you've always wanted to taste butterbeer, or are having a Harry Potter party- you must make these. I'm so glad I found the amybites blog!