Monday, November 23, 2015

Review: The Warrior's Heart: Becoming a Man of Compassion and Courage

The Warrior's Heart: Becoming a Man of Compassion and Courage The Warrior's Heart: Becoming a Man of Compassion and Courage by Eric Greitens
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I would highly recommend this book to 8th grade students, especially young men who just may need some inspiration in their lives. Eric Greiten's memoir doesn't just tell the story of becoming a Navy Seal, but also the story of how he was always willing to give of himself in service to others. The reader learns of his decision to go to school in China when he was 18, and then volunteering in Croatia, working with children, Rwanda, and then Bolivia. He learned a lot about the people in these countries, especially the children, and it made him realize a few important things about his life. He was ready to "fight the world's fight". The Navy Seal training chapters, and the war scenes are realistic and scary. From this memoir, I would say that Eric Greitens is an honorable man.

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Monday, October 26, 2015

Review: Serafina's Promise

Serafina's Promise Serafina's Promise by Ann E. Burg
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Serafina is a very likable girl, who really wants to grow up and be a doctor. There is a problem, though, her family lives on the island of Haiti, and it costs money to go to school. Her family is very poor, and it's a struggle to find the money for food and medicine, never mind school. But, Serafina is determined, and works hard in her garden, and finally has the tuition saved up. School is a privilege, and Serafina works very hard to learn French, and other things. Everyday she walks to school barefoot, and then when she gets close to school, she puts on her shoes and socks. One day as she is walking home from school, a devastating earthquake hits Haiti, and Serafina's world is turned upside down. A very good story about life in Haiti just before the horrific earthquake of 2010.

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Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Fish in a Tree

Fish In A TreeFish In A Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ally is in middle school, and because she never stays in one school for very long, she has been able to fool all her teachers. Ally is a smart kid, but she struggles with reading. She has never read an entire book in her life. In fact, when she looks at a page in any book, the letters seem to move. She finally meets her match when a new teacher, Mr. Daniels, realizes that Ally has a major problem. But this book is about much more than a reading disability--it's about friendship, and mean kids, and teachers who really care. I loved all of Ally's friends, they were all a little quirky in their own ways, but they are all kids you might meet in any middle school. A good choice for 6th and 7th graders.


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Sunday, August 30, 2015

Review: Courage Has No Color: The True Story of the Triple Nickles, America's First Black Paratroopers

Courage Has No Color: The True Story of the Triple Nickles, America's First Black Paratroopers Courage Has No Color: The True Story of the Triple Nickles, America's First Black Paratroopers by Tanya Lee Stone
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have read and seen movies about the famous Tuskeegee Airmen, but I was unfamiliar with the Triple Nickles, America's first Black paratroopers. This book is filled with lots of great photos, and lots of good information that almost reads like a novel. The bravery of the men in and off of the military bases shines forth within these pages. The author lets the reader know a little of the prehistory of race relations in America around the time World War II begins, and how narrow-minded most people in the military were during the war. The author follows these men to the present, and lets us know what they are thinking today as they look back on their experiences.

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Review: Hitler Youth: Growing Up in Hitler's Shadow

Hitler Youth: Growing Up in Hitler's Shadow Hitler Youth: Growing Up in Hitler's Shadow by Susan Campbell Bartoletti
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is an impressive book that uses real young people that happened to live in Germany during the rise of Hitler and the Nazi regime. There are many photographs that follow these young people, and we hear their stories told in their own voices. I think the book is best for 7th grade and up, and is a perfect accompaniment for books like The Book Thief, and Daniels' Story, or even The Diary of Anne Frank.

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Review: Gaby, Lost and Found

Gaby, Lost and Found Gaby, Lost and Found by √Āngela Cervantes
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Gaby Ramirez Howard is a typical 6th grader- she loves cats, and she has a great best friend. But, Gaby is living with her dad now, after her mother was deported back to Honduras for being in this country illegally. Gaby misses her mom terribly, but is thrilled when her class decides to volunteer in an animal shelter. Gaby is great at writing really clever ads for the pets, and a lot of the animals are being adopted. But, there is one cat that Gaby has fallen in love with, Feathers, and she will do anything to not have it adopted by the wrong people. I liked Gaby, and her best friend Alma. This is a very real story, and I think 6th grade chicas will love it.

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Saturday, July 25, 2015

Review: Listening for Lions

Listening for Lions Listening for Lions by Gloria Whelan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I love this book. I love the main character, Rachel, and her bravery and strength. The story begins at the end of WWI, when influenza has killed half a million people in the US, and even travels to East Africa, where Rachel lives with her parents who run a hospital in a remote area far from Nairobi. The influenza kills her mom, and then her father who was the only doctor in the little hospital. Rachel's life changes drastically when another English family, who have evil intentions, convince her to take the place of their daughter who has just died. This lie leads Rachel to leave her beloved home and travel to England. She never forgets the advice from a dear friend, "If you are among evil people, you must be like the lion, gathering strength and awaiting your time." A really good story.

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Review: The Impossible Knife of Memory

The Impossible Knife of Memory The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another really good story from Laurie Halse Anderson. She so gets the dialogue of teens down perfectly in her novels, so realistic. Hayley is one of those girls that speaks her mind, gets on her teachers and councilor's every last nerve, and yet, she has the weight of the world on her shoulders. Hayley's dad is a vet, and is struggling with nightmares and suicidal demons. Hayley is running from her own memories, too. She has become the parent in their relationship, always worrying about where her dad's been, how much he's been drinking, and the bills. After being on the road with her truck-driving dad, her father decides to settle down in his old home town so Hayley can finish high school. She meets a terrific guy named Finn, who is the perfect match for Hayley's wit, but will her father ever allow her to live a normal life? There are some very serious, graphic war scenes in this book, and I would recommend this for very mature 8th graders and up.

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Review: Brown Girl Dreaming

Brown Girl Dreaming Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Jacqueline Woodson has turned her childhood into a touching and heartfelt story that sweeps you along through the turbulent years of the 1960's and '70's. Through her free verse narrative, we move from South Carolina to New York City with her family, as Jackie lets us know how she always longed to write stories, even when reading and writing did not come easy for her. Her writing style lets us be there on the porch with her grandparents, where she was safe, and the food was delicious. When her mom moves them to NYC, life changes, and so does Jackie. We get some important history here, but mostly her reminisces about living with a single mom, not remembering her own father, but the deep love she had for her grandparents. A good read for 7th and 8th graders on into high school.

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Sunday, July 12, 2015

The Odyssey

The OdysseyThe Odyssey by Gareth Hinds
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really enjoyed this version of the classic "The Odyssey" by Homer. What a great way for young people to be introduced to ancient literature. The artwork is remarkable, and the retelling of this adventure kept me turning the pages. I think the only turn-off could be those danged Greek names, but there are ways of getting around difficult names, (right, Ms. Bouffidis???) Everyone is in here, from Cyclops to Calypso, and there are battles galore, disasters, and all the difficult things Odysseus had to do to get back home to his wife. This was a fun read!


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The Crossover

The CrossoverThe Crossover by Kwame Alexander
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a terrific story. It seems that nowadays a lot of writers for young people are using free verse to tell their stories, and Kwame Alexander is no exception. He tells the saga of twin brothers Josh and Jordan, and their famous father, (he played for the NBA), and one important year in their lives. The brothers are phenomenal on the court, but things seem to change when Jordan meets a girl, and Josh has a really hard time dealing with it. This is a family story,  with the father and mother playing a big role as the story unfolds. Quick read, a good fit for any reader in middle school. It brought tears to my eyes.


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Enrique's Journey: the Story of a Boy's Dangerous Odyssey to Reunite with His Mother

Enrique's Journey: The Story of a Boy's Dangerous Odyssey to Reunite with His MotherEnrique's Journey: The Story of a Boy's Dangerous Odyssey to Reunite with His Mother by Sonia Nazario
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I really am giving this book 3 1/2 stars. It is not an easy book to read, because this is a true story of Enrique, who is left behind in Honduras after his mother makes the dangerous trek to the United States. He is only 5 at the time, but this parting will leave him scarred for the rest of his life. He and his sister are separated, and we learn of his impoverished life in Honduras, as he constantly waits for his mother's return, or for her to send for him. Years go by, Enrique gets in trouble with the law, he becomes addicted to sniffing glue, and still longs for his mother. He makes the dangerous choice of coming to America illegally, to find her. There are actual photos of Enrique and his family. The author, who is a renowned reporter, really gives you both sides of the picture, without judgement. It is an important story for young people to hear. This would be a good nonfiction selection for 7th grade and up.


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Thursday, May 28, 2015

Planet Middle School

Planet Middle SchoolPlanet Middle School by Nikki Grimes
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a good, quick read. The book is done in free verse, and Nikki Grimes really "gets" middle school girls. Joylin is a tomboy--jeans, sneakers, hoodies, and she is a great basketball player. She's mostly friends with boys, but--just friends. As we all know, there are always changes in middle school, and so Joylin makes the girl's basketball team, and her best friend makes the show choir, but they do still keep in touch with texts and occasionally sitting together at lunch. Of course, there are physical changes too, and then, Joylin discovers boys. Well, one boy in particular. Her life is turned upside down. I think any middle school girl will be able to relate to Joy's story.


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Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Rosie and Skate

Rosie and SkateRosie and Skate by Beth Ann Bauman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

As soon as I saw the cover, I wanted to like this book. It's Seaside, at the Jersey shore, which reminded me so much of my childhood. My family  spent 2 glorious weeks every summer in Seaside Park, and so it brought back some great memories. Rosie and Skate are sisters, and I love the opening lines, "My dad's a nice drunk. There is such a thing." Rosie, the younger sister, goes on to tell her side of the story, and in alternating chapters, Skate tells her side. There's a lot going on here, as Skate is dealing with a boyfriend who is going to school at Rutgers while she's left behind in high school; Rosie is trying to find herself, too. There's also a mom who died while the girls were very young, and lots of other growing-up issues. This is a quick read,but it never really tugged at my heart. I would recommend this for 8th grade and up, due to some of the more mature content.


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Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Lost in the River of Grass

Lost in the River of GrassLost in the River of Grass by Ginny Rorby
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was an awesome adventure through the Everglades in Florida. What starts out as a typical science class field trip for Sarah, the new girl in her school and an "outsider", ends up being a trip she may never forget. Sarah is afraid of lots of swamp critters, like the cottonmouth snakes and alligators that abound in the Everglades. But she really hates being invisible, or worse, being made fun of because she is in her new school on a swimming scholarship. So when a cute boy shows up at the camp and offers to take her on a picnic on his airboat, she jumps at the chance. Well, things go terribly wrong on this picnic. Sarah and Andy are stranded in the Everglades with no boat, no way out, and no one knowing where they are. Lots of great details about the wildlife and environment of the Glades. Andy and Sarah are wonderful characters, with real flaws and strengths. A great read!


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Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Thirteen Reasons Why

Thirteen Reasons WhyThirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have to admit, this book kept me turning the pages. This is the story of Hannah, and we know right from the start that she has recently died. She committed suicide. It is a story told in a very unique way--as if you are listening to audiotapes. Clay,the narrator, knew Hannah, and had been a little in love with her. When he receives a box of cassettes in the mail shortly after her death, he begins a long night of unraveling the events that led Hannah to feel she had no other choice. It is a story of how every encounter we have can have positive or negative consequences. Well written, and a good book for some great class discussions about teenage suicide. There is some mature material here, so I would recommend this for mature 8th graders, and up.


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The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

The Boy in the Striped PajamasThe Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I had heard so much about this book, so I decided to read it for myself.  This is a story told through the eyes of young Bruno, a German boy, who does not understand what is going on in his country. He knows that his father is an officer in the military, but does not understand why his family had to move to a place he calls "Out-With". When Bruno goes exploring one day in his new home, he meets a young boy around his age, who lives on the other side of the fence at "Out-With", and they become fast friends. This is a very simply-written tale, but it is not a book I would recommend for students to learn about the Holocaust or World War II. I would heartily recommend my favorite, The Book Thief.


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Monday, February 09, 2015

A Mango-Shaped Space

A Mango-Shaped SpaceA Mango-Shaped Space by Wendy Mass
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I so enjoyed "Every Soul a Star" by Wendy Mass, and so I thought I would try one of her earlier books,  written way back in 2003. Mia seems to be a typical 12 year-old girl, except, she sees colors. No, not the way most of us see colors, she sees letters, sounds and numbers in colors. She keeps this secret to herself, after being humiliated way back in third grade,until one day at the supermarket, she realizes she may not be the only person with this "gift". This is a story of family, friendships, and losing loved ones, all wrapped up in learning about synesthesia. Yes, there is a condition where you may see colors, and it can be a very cool experience.


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Monday, January 26, 2015

Sisters

SistersSisters by Raina Telgemeier
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is the companion book to the graphic novel, Smile, which somehow I missed. Sisters is a true-to-life story of two sisters who really don't get along. When they get trapped in to taking a road trip with their mom, lots of crazy things await them. If you have siblings, and even if you don't, you will enjoy this book. Good for all middle school students.


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The Maze Runner

The Maze Runner (Maze Runner, #1)The Maze Runner by James Dashner
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When I began this book, I wasn't that taken with it, but I decided to plow through, as it had just been made into a movie, and it seems that James Dashner is a very popular writer of YA fiction. The book does get better, and the short chapters make you want to keep going to find out how this will all turn out. Thomas, the main character, wakes up in a place surrounded by young boys and teens, and he has no memories of who he is. All of them have had their memories wiped clean. The boys have developed a sense of community, they all have jobs, but Thomas wants to know why they are there. Lots of action and violence, and the last chapter was a killer for me. A good book for 7th/8th graders, and up.


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