New Book Reviews
You probably learned to read in kindergarten or first grade, maybe even sooner. Maybe it's a little hard for you, maybe it got easier as you read more and more, maybe you can't stop reading.
But you did learn to read - good at it or not, loving it or not.
For Travis, that never happened. From kindergarten until seventh grade, he never let anyone see that he couldn't read - and no one knew - not even his teachers. When Travis and his grandpa move to a new town, and he begins at a new school, Travis isn't worried that he'll have trouble hiding his secret - until he gets his schedule.
Fourth period. Reading class. Room 134. Mr. McQueen.
Have you ever read a book that made you cry? Ever read a book that, once you were finished, you just sat with and held for a while, letting the words sink into you, not wanting to have finished it? Ever read a book that you couldn't stop thinking about after you finished? Ever read a book that was so true and real you experienced the whole thing in your mind as you read? This is one of those books.
Hauntingly, chillingly written with formidable illustration, A Monster Calls tells the story of a boy named Conor. Conor has terrible, monstrous nightmares; one day he looks out his bedroom window to see a monster looking back at him - but not the one from his nightmares. This monster wants something of Conor, but before it gets it, it will tell Conor three stories.
When the three stories are finished, it will be Conor's turn. And he will have to tell his story.
If you read one book this year, this reviewer hopes it's this one.
Books by Siobhan Dowd
Siobhan Dowd, children's and young adult author, passed away from breast cancer in 2007. Among the things left behind was the idea for A Monster Calls, which Patrick Ness has written in her memory.
*Title also owned on My Media Mall
Third U.S. President Thomas Jefferson lived at the plantation Monticello and kept slaves to work in his fields, farm and home. One of his slaves was a woman named Sally Hemings, mother to four of Jefferson's children - Beverly, Harriet, Maddy, and Eston. Though slaves, the children and their mother were given special treatment by Jefferson because of his discreet relationship to them - but nevertheless, slaves they remained.
Master Jefferson promises freedom to all four of his slave children upon their twenty-first birthdays, but Beverly, the eldest, cannot imagine leaving his mother, sister, brothers - but especially his father. Light-skinned and longing for a father figure, Beverly struggles with the secrecy of Jefferson's nonpublic identity as his father, especially when Jefferson presents him and his brothers with a kit violin and lessons. He and his siblings imagine a life where his mother, siblings and father could live openly together as a real family; a life that did not involve waiting on Master Jefferson's real children, especially the snippy Miss Martha.
Based on true events at Monticello during the early 1800s, Jefferson's Sons is a slave tale of a different order, exploring slavery and racial issues from the fresh perspective of Jefferson's slave children. The novel is a welcome look into one aspect of post-revolutionary slave life in Virginia that explores the bonds of family and friendship.
In August of 2010, a Chilean mine collapsed suddenly, trapping thirty-three men in the dark mine over a mile beneath the earth with limited supplies. After the collapse, the men were able to get to a shelter point, but had no way to communicate with the ground above. All routes to the surface were blocked by the accident.
Initial rescue attempts did not prove successful - maps of the mine were not updated and were somewhat inaccurate; rescue drilling routes that were, on the maps, clear shots to the miners were unable to bypass the sediment.
A gripping and inspirational survival and rescue tale of teamwork and determination, Trapped may make you claustrophobic at times, but ultimately will fill you with optimism. A must-read non-fiction account of recent history for kids and adults alike.
Reading Level: Grade 7-10
When her father left her mother to live with an airhead, Fran understood. ANYONE would have trouble living with Fran's mother. But when her father told her the airhead was pregnant, Fran had to kill him...at least on paper. She submitted an essay entitled, "Good-bye Father: A Daughter's Loss" to Seventeen Magazine's "My Life" essay contest. She didn't expect to win.
When she got the phone call, Fran was astounded. Since she lied about her father's demise, she knows she can't keep the scholarship. But she just can't stand to lose the other part of the prize, touring Africa with A-list celebrities. So Fran accepts the prize, lies to her parents and boards the plane with her idols. She'll worry about repercussions when she gets home.
When the plane crashes on a remote island somewhere far off the coast of southern Africa, Fran is no longer worried about her parents or even Seventeen Magazine. She just hopes she and her famous fellow cast-a ways can survive.
Reading Level: Grade 4-6
Jeremy Bender wants, wants, wants to drive his father's boat...the one he is not allowed to touch. Jeremy has been secretly working on the engine of the boat, an antique Chris-Craft, sure that once his father discovers the boat all ready to run in the spring he will let Jeremy take it out on the lake by himself.
Disaster strikes when a grape soda spill and an accidental green paint spray (his pal Slater's fault) ruins the engine. The boys have to raise $470 so they can secretly repair the engine before spring. How can two 6th grade boys earn that kind of money in a couple of months? Jeremy finds the answer on the library bulletin board, the Cupcake Cadets annual model boat race. First prize is $500.
There is one catch...only girls can be Cupcake Cadets. Armed with two of his older sister's used cadet uniforms and a wig for himself (Slater has long hair), Jeremy and Slater disguise themselves as home-schooled twin sisters and join the cadet troop. The $500 is as good as theirs. How hard could it be to earn three merit badges (the entrance requirement) and beat a bunch of girls?
Additional tales of the view from the other side include:
Reading Level: Grade 5-7
Caldecott Medal winner Allen Say 's memoir of his improbable childhood is told in an equally unique manner. The book is part graphic novel with sketches, classic Japanese comics and original photographs.
Allen knew from an early age that he wanted to become a cartoonist, but his father didn't think this was a profession for a proper Japaese boy. The war changed things for Allen and he was able to work at his art. At the age of twelve, he approached Noro Shinpei, the most famous cartoonist in Japan. Shinpei became his sensei, which means "teacher" or "master." It was a relationship that would change Allen's life.
Reading Level: Age 6 - 10
Most children bite someone when they are little. Tony Penrose bit the world famous artist, Pablo Picasso (who bit him back.) Now grown Antony shares his memories of a close family friend. Tony's parents are photographer, Lee Miller, and artist, Roland Penrose which explains the close connectin between the Penrose and Picasso families. The book is filled with artworks by Picasso, old photographs by Tony's mother, and drawings by modern day children.
One the the great joys of this book is seeing the original subject and then Picasso's Interpretation of that subject. The reader can compare pictures of William, the Penrose family bull, Picasso's wife and his two youngest children, and, best of all, Tony's mother with the Picasso's paintings. See if you agree or disagree with Tony's friends at school.
Reading Level: Grades 6-8
This companion book to The Misfits and Totally Joe is a worthy addition to the story of the Gang of Five. Addie Carle is now thirteen and facing the "purgatory of the middle school years." Written entirely in verse, these poems show a softer, more vulnerable side of strong, brave Addie. While Addie isn't reluctant to voice her opinions about everything from gay rights to women's role in history, she also feels the appeal of popularity. She loves having a boyfriend, but finds he doesn't love some of the things she says or the way she says them. A former girlfriend moves back to town and joins her tormentors. While Addie understands that there are those who love her and value her for herself, the turmoil and the gossip are hard to take.
Readers will like Addie and the conclusion she reaches. The first poem is by the author directed to the reader. He asks, "open your eyes, your mind, your heart." Anyone who reads this book will.
Reading Level: Grades 7 and up
When Piotr's parents are killed he is is sent to an orphanage in Warsaw. But Peter is Volksdeutscher, of German blood, and with his blonde good looks he is the image of a Hitler Youth. Newly christened Peter, he is grateful to escape the misery of the orphanage and to be accepted into the home of a prominent Nazi family. The friendly, jovial father is involved with research into racial purity. While Peter is never a strong supporter of Nazi doctrine, he finds that he is expected to participate in Nazi Youth organizations. As time passes he questions doctrine and rebels in small ways. Finally, though terrified, he helps the resistance.
While many books have been written about The Holocaust and this period of history, this is one of the few that explains the appeal of National Socialism. The author has obviously done extensive research into the experiments dealing with racial purity. This is a compelling thought-provoking novel.