Monday, September 30, 2013

The Grand Plan to Fix Everything

The Grand Plan to Fix Everything by Uma Krishnaswami. Published 2011 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers.

In this book, Dini finds out that her family will be moving to a secluded mountain town in India for the next two years. The only thing that can get her through the drama of leaving behind her best friend Maddie is the idea that she may meet her favorite Bollywood movie star, Dolly Singh. While Dini is not adjusting well to her Indian life, a trail of coincidental events line up like  Hindi movie plot points to make sure that all the strange events come together in a wonderful, magical way.

This book reminded me of a Bollywood movie. At some points it was over the top and melodramatic while at other moments it was calm while humorous. The present tense narration bothered me, but for others it could sound like reading one long poem. The illustrations have a sweetness that matches the text and for those wanting a glimpse into Indian life and movie stars will enjoy this read immensely.

Intended reading level: Grades 2-4
Genre: Friendship, Realistic Fiction
First in series.

Questions to the Readers: What would you do if you could meet your favorite movie star? How would you feel if you had to move half way around the world from your best friend? Have you ever traveled anywhere that was very different from how you lived at home? What was different or the same?

Read-alikes: The Great Wall of Lucy Wu by Wendy Wan-Long Shang

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Ender's Game

Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card. Tom Doherty Associates. Published 1977.

This was my first time reading this book and it just so happens that the movie is around the corner. I found myself imagining a movie the whole time I was reading it, so I'm happy I won't have to wait long. I got into a big discussion with some other teachers about the author's personal opinions and whether or not we should let that shape our opinion of the book. Apparently their is an uproar happening over the movie releasing based on Card's views about homosexuality. It saddened me to know this about him, while at the same time, I really enjoyed the story and there was absolutely no derogatory statements made in the book as far as I could tell. Should we judge a book by the author's personal viewpoints? Is a book ever inherently separated from the author that created it? By supporting the book, are we supporting the author? I'd like to believe that a book, especially a Sci-fi classic such as this one, can be separated from the author in that it lives alone as a piece of art, taking on and creating it's own life separate from their own. Almost like a child from a parent. That being said, I'm not happy supporting him either.

Well...the book has a similar structure to the Harry Potter type of hero journey, where a young child is thrust into a position of great importance to complete a mission that is too powerful for him. The child must go off to school to hone the skills he needs to complete the mission but the stress of what is required of him begins to become a burden he can't handle any longer. Being that this book is sci-fi and not fantasy, we are also dealing with the idea of The Other and how we would handle coming across other intelligent life forms in the universe and what our actions say about our own humanity. Very compelling stuff. I kind of wish Card would read his own writing.

Interest level: Grades 5-8
Genre: Science Fiction, Action, Space

Questions to Readers: Do you think the ending would have changed if Ender had known the plan of the adults? Do you think the adults made the right choice? How does Ender change over the course of the novel? Do you think this was a change for the better?

Read-alikes: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Ready Player One

Monday, September 9, 2013

Cold Cereal

Cold Cereal by Adam Rex. Balzer and Bray. Published 2012.

With the sequel of Cold Cereal having been released recently, I decided it was finally time to read the first one. I loved The True Meaning of Smek Day and have always appreciated Rex's illustrations- a balance between Saturday morning cartoon and realism, so I was looking forward to this title. The book did not disappoint. While I liked Smek Day better, the satire mixed with adventure and mystery in this book hit all the right spots a reader of this genre would enjoy.

With a man-sized bunny, evil cereal corporations, magical power reserves and leprechauns, what genre is this book? It is a mystery, a fantasy, a funny story, an adventure and a story about families. It's also a series like many books for children are these days.

Scott and his family move to a new town completely owned and controlled by the Good Cereal company. He starts having what he thinks are strange hallucinations that he doesn't want to investigate until he's pulled into a mystery by two genius twins that he befriends. I don't want to reveal more, but if you like books with geniuses and a strange puzzle to unravel, give this one a try.

Interest level: Grades 3-6
Genre: Mystery, fantasy, humor, adventure

Questions to the Readers: What actions would you take if you started to see strange, magical creatures? Would you rather be yourself or have the ability to drink the smart juice? Where do you think the line of scientific experimentation should be drawn?

Read-alikes: The Mysterious Benedict Society, Genius Files, Chasing Vermeer and other Blue Balliett mysteries

Every Soul a Star

Every Soul a Star by Wendy Mass. Little, Brown and Company. Published 2008.

This book was another California Young Reader nominee from a few years back. This is meant for the older elementary, early middle school level as it is told from alternating perspectives from middle school students. Two girls and one boy converge at a camp in the middle of nowhere for the Full Eclipse happening an a few weeks. Each is there for different reasons and almost all of them are completely upset about what has been foisted upon them by their parents. Their mutual annoyance ties them together initially but soon they have a larger goal when they are given the chance to take part in a world-wide scientific observation. The choices they make and the actions they take are bound to change them and along the way they may get the experience the awesome power of a full solar eclipse.

I appreciated being able to see the story from the multiple perspectives and watch as each character was able to grow and change. One character I expected more growth from but I think it is more realistic of her character and age that she didn't completely change over the course of the novel. I would love to have an epilogue or short novella of their time back at the camp a year after the story ended to see where their lives take them after they depart from the camp.

Interest level: Grades 5-8
Genre: Realistic fiction, Friendship

Questions to the Readers: Where would you rather live- a big city or the MoonShadow camp, why? What character do you most see yourself in? How did this character change over the course of the novel?

Read-alikes: Criss Cross by Lynn Rae Perkins, The Center of Everything by Linda Urban

Ruby Lu, Brave and True

Ruby Lu, Brave and True by Lenore Look. Atheneum. Published 2004.

This chapter book has the same humor and warmth as Look's Alvin Ho series but with a precocious female character. She loves to do magic, she's protective of her baby brother and she loves her family even when they force her to go to Saturday Chinese school. This book feels more like a series of events, or vignettes, tied together rather than one solid arch of a story line. Young readers will appreciate completing these smaller story lines within the larger whole. Plus Ruby's antics will keep them intrigued.

Interest level: Grades 1-3
Genre: Realistic Fiction, Humor

Questions to the Readers: Why did Ruby finally accept her brother as her assistant? How would you feel if a foreign cousin came to live with you and share your room?

Read-alikes: Alvin Ho series also by Lenore Look, Clementine series, Judy Moody series

Thursday, September 5, 2013

The Giant-Slayer

The Giant-Slayer by Iain Lawrence. Yearling. Published 2009.

This book was nominated for the California Young Reader Medal last year. It did not win, but I thought it was a fantastic book. In this story, a young girl lives in the midst of the polio scare of the 1950s. She is warned to stay out of water and not to play with other children. But when her best friend catches polio after they both play in a creek, Laurie feels so bad that she breaks her father's rules and goes to visit Dickie in the iron lung wing of the polio ward. Laurie finds that the only gift she can bring the three children in iron lungs is the gift of story and begins to tell the tale of Jimmy the Giant Slayer. Sooner than later, the children begin to find that her story mirrors things in real life that she couldn't possibly know and when things turn to the worst, each child must take up part of the telling.

The writing in this novel is so descriptive. I felt like I was in the middle of the story whether it was in the hospital or in the fantasy world of Laurie's telling. Each character was varied and had their own motivations and worries. I highly recommend this read.

Intended reading level: Grades 5-8
Genre: Historical Fiction, Fantasy

Question to the Readers: How would you feel if you ended up in bed sick for longer than a week? What would you do if you couldn't move any of your limbs? How would you have ended the story of Jimmy and Colosso?

Read-alikes: Wonder by R.J. Palacio, Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick, Small Steps: The Year I Got Polio by Peg Kehret (non-fiction)


Wonder by R.J. Palacio. Alfred A. Knopf. Published 2012.

This book was much talked about last year and for good reason. It is not the usual coming-of-age novel where a student starts his first day of school at a new school dealing with bullies and pressing middle school matters. That stuff is there, but this character is very different than any characters before. August, or Auggie, has a rare genetic disorder that has made his face look like that of a B-Movie monster. He has been home schooled his whole life due to continued illness, but his parents have decided that it is time for him to go to a real school at the start of middle school. This time period would be hard enough for anyone, but it is especially hard for Auggie as he has to deal with the reactions of all the students around him while trying to decide who he is as a person as well.

The author uses multiple perspectives to tell this story. This opens up the book to see the reactions of everyone around Auggie and letting us understand how they really feel and how actions and thoughts can actually be two different things. This was a great story for learning about being in the shoes of other people and how to accept people for who they are and not how they look.

Intended reading level: Grades 4-8
Genre: Realistic Fiction, School fiction

Questions to the Readers: Have you ever felt like an outsider? If so, how did that make you feel? In what ways has Auggie always stayed true to himself? How has he changed over the course of the novel?

Read-alikes: The Misfits by James Howe, The Giant-Slayer by Iain Lawrence

The Tiger Rising

The Tiger Rising by Kate DiCamillo. Candlewick Press. Published 2001.

As with many of DiCamillo's books, this story is about children coping with major turmoil in their life and finding friendship and peace over the course of the novel. Because of this, there is the sweet melancholy that is present in her others books as well. And like the mouse, elephant and dog that have precedence elsewhere, this novel has a tiger taking main stage.
The premise is that a boy working with his father at a hotel in the South finds a tiger locked in a cage in the woods. After befriending the new girl in town, whether he wanted to or not, he shares the tiger that he's found and her reaction changes the course of their lives.

Intended reading level: Grades 3-5
Genre: Realistic Fiction

Question to the Readers: If you found a tiger in your backyard, what would you do about it? Do you think Rob made the right choice? Why or why not?

Read-alikes: The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate, Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo