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[Review] Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer by John Grisham

5 Jun

(Part of this post was first written for my Materials for Tweens class.)

Theo Boone, the son of a real estate lawyer and a divorce lawyer, loves the courthouse and the thrill of a good trial. However, things get complicated when he is the only one who knows the truth about a high-profile murder case in his small town.

In Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer, Grisham shows that he can write for kids without dumbing things down in the clear explanations that flow naturally in the text and help younger readers understand complex subjects, like foreclosures and how a trial works. The main storyline is dotted with scenes from Theo’s ordinary middle school life, with cheerleaders and popularity contests. Theo himself comes from an upper middle class family, but there is an effort made to realistically depict the lives and emotions of illegal immigrants, although other efforts to inject multiculturalism into the book are shallow.

I actually started the second book in the series in between semesters, but I was disappointed that the story did not continue where things left off at the end of the first book. Maybe if I’d had time to read the whole thing before the eBook expired, there might’ve been something about the characters from the case he took on in the first book, but it was hard for me to get into it after I realized that this was a completely different case. I think now that I know what to expect, I could try again and be more motivated to finish the book, though.

Download the student guide and other extras at the Theodore Boone website.

[Review] The Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke

29 May

(This post was first written for my Materials for Tweens class.)

Prosper and Bo run away to Venice to escape their aunt and uncle who want to separate them. Unable to survive on their own, they join a street gang led by the Thief Lord, Scipio, who is really only a child himself. As the gang tries to steal a wooden lion’s wing for a wealthy customer, Victor Getz, a detective hired by Prosper and Bo’s aunt and uncle, is hot on their trail.

This is a fun romp that injects a touch of fantasy into an almost realistic modern-day orphan story. The fantasy bits come as a pleasant surprise at the end, but not in a deus ex machina type of way.

A discussion guide is available on Scholastic’s book page.

[Review] Sea of Trolls by Nancy Farmer

22 May

(Part of this post was first written for my Materials for Tweens class.)

Eleven-year-old Jack is a farmer’s son who works hard while his father lavishes attention on Jack’s five-year-old sister, Lucy. Just when Jack is apprenticed to Bard and starts to learn magic, Vikings attack their village and kidnap Jack and his sister. This leads to an adventure filled with action, magic, and of course, trolls that will change Jack’s life forever.

In Sea of Trolls, Farmer creates a setting that mixes history, mythology, and magic for her story of a boy who has to take on adult responsibilities too soon. Vivid characters fill the pages with their flaws and their heart as the reader follows Jack on his quest. The appendix includes notes about the Anglo-Saxons and Old Norse, pronunciation of the Icelandic words used in the book, and the origins of some of the creatures and characters from the book. The book also includes a list of sources.

A reading group guide with discussion questions and activities can be found on the publisher’s website.

I liked this book enough to buy the rest of the trilogy, which is at the top of my to-read pile. :)

[Review] Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer

15 May

(Welcome to the first of my weekly scheduled reviews! I chose Thursday arbitrarily because May started on a Thursday. This post was first written for my Materials for Tweens class.)

The first in a series of eight books, Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer introduces readers to Artemis Fowl II, who is twelve years old, the son of a crime lord, and an evil genius. Artemis tracks down a holy Fairy book that reveals the secrets of the fairies–secrets not meant for human eyes. Armed with the knowledge inside the book, Artemis hatches a plan to rebuild the family fortune and make his wishes come true.

The fast-paced adventure filled with fantasy and technology shines when Colfer takes the time to show Artemis in moments of humanity, allowing the reader to relate to him and his desire to be loved. A wonderful combination of fantasy with technology.

 

[Z] Zoo’s Who by Douglas Florian

30 Apr

Zoo’s Who is a book of poems and paintings about animals by Douglas Florian. (Linking to Amazon because the author’s website links to Amazon…) The paintings are mixed media with stamps and pieces of magazines and parts of the poems themselves incorporated into the paintings. The poems are short and sweet. While some hit the mark better than others, they are great for getting alliteration, rhythm, and puns into children’s ears before they decide poetry is hard and inaccessible. There are also nice examples of concrete poems, and it is obvious thought was put into the design of each poem and painting. (This is probably why I like poetry books by designers so much.)

My favorite poem is “The Eagle”:

I’m not a seagull.
I’m royal.
I’m regal.
All birds are not
Created eagle.

Okay, so maybe I just really like the last line. But isn’t it good? :P

This post is my Blogging from A to Z entry for the letter Z.

[Y] Yucky Worms by Vivian French

29 Apr

Yucky Worms by Vivian French and illustrated by Jessica Ahlberg is a picture book that teaches kids about worms. But not about how they’re yucky, like the title might suggest. Instead, the book uses the story of a boy exploring the garden with his grandmother to tell about worms and how they live.

The drawings are pretty scientifically correct from what I can remember from dissecting a worm in biology class, except that the aortic arches are called hearts (but what five- or six-year-old needs to know what an aortic arch is?). There are also great ideas to encourage further exploration in the back of the book, along with a short index that lets the reader look up specific information about worms.

Fun and educational, and highly recommended, even if you don’t like worms (like me).

This post is my Blogging from A to Z entry for the letter Y.

[X] X-men: Misfits #1 by Raina Telgemeier and Dave Roman

28 Apr

I’m shaky on X-men canon*, so I can’t speak for how closely this version follows it, but what was surprising for me was how well it adapted into a manga. If it hadn’t been for the names and the setting, I would have thought that it was just another regular reverse harem (one girl with a lot of guys) manga.

In fact, I kept trying to read from right to left and getting confused because since this is an original English-language manga, it reads from left to right. There were also a lot of Japanese sound effects mixed in with English sound effects. I’m used to the Japanese ones, but it’s definitely made for people who are used to reading manga, not traditional American comic books.

I actually didn’t realize it was a reverse harem when I picked it up (since I mainly got it to fill the “X” spot for the A to Z challenge), but with there generally being more male superheroes than females, it kind of makes sense. I’ve just never seen anyone else work that angle before, so that was interesting for me.

I think I liked it as a retelling of a familiar story (like how I like fairy tale retellings), but as a story, the main character annoyed me about as much as other reverse harem main characters (a lot). It’s obvious who the good guys and bad boys are, and of course the main character has to go for the bad boys before she can settle down with the good guys, but I just don’t have much patience for those kinds of stories.

There was potential for the second volume as (according to the preview) it starts to stray from the reverse harem story into a more typical daily life at school story with the introduction of another girl to the cast, but that wasn’t enough to make me want to read it. Which is unfortunate because I really enjoyed Raina Telgemeier’s original graphic novels, Smile (which I almost used for “S”) and Drama. So, I’m not surprised that the second volume was cancelled, but it sounds like the cancellation had less to do with the content and more to do with Marvel asking for a lot of money for their franchise and people pirating the book.

Although critics seemed to enjoy it for its “newness,” for me, it just felt like another typical shojo-esque story. Overall, it was an interesting addition to the world of X-men, but not really my cup of tea.

X-Men: Misfits #1 is written by Raina Telgemeier and Dave Roman with illustrations by ANZU.

This post is my Blogging from A to Z entry for the letter X.

 

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*I’ve watched all the movies and a lot of the animated series when it was on TV, but for someone who likes to read as much as I do, I’m very auditory and do much better with TV and movies than with comics. (See my note above about how I get easily confused with comic book layout.) This is true for both English and Japanese, although I read tons of webcomics back in college and like to collect comics and manga for series that I like… I tend to treat manga as tools for language learning rather than reading material. (Also, looking at my notes from that post, I seem to always be doing the “X” posts last minute. ^^;)

 

 

[W] The Wig in the Window by Kristen Kittscher

26 Apr

(Part of this post was first written for my Materials for Tweens class.)

Even though they are very different, Sophie Young and Grace Yang are best friends who live in Luna Vista, a small coastal town an hour away from Los Angeles. When the would-be spies find the lights on in the middle of the night in the house of Sophie’s school counselor, Dr. Charlotte Agford, they think that they are a murder. It’s not actually a murder, but the girls decide that Dr. Agford is definitely hiding something, and they will stop at nothing to find out what it is.

Sophie and Grace explore issues of friendship, perception, and assumptions in this fast-paced middle grade mystery filled with action and red herrings that will keep readers on their toes. The side characters are also interesting–hopefully they will have bigger roles in the sequels.

A discussion guide aligned with Common Core standards can be found here (includes activities).

Even though I have a bunch of other W books, I wanted to showcase The Wig in the Window because it was written by local author Kristen Kittscher, and I feel like the other books I had on my list are more well-known. I loved how Kittscher wrote about a community like the one I grew up in (a coastal California town) with a fast-paced mystery led by a diverse cast.

I first heard about this book during Nanowrimo when someone contacted me about coming to a writing group and linked to the Children’s Book Writers of L.A., who had an event at a local library with Kittscher as the guest. It sounded like a fun book, so I put it on hold at my library because I needed more books for my assignment that I was also doing in November.

This post is my Blogging from A to Z entry for the letter W.

[V] Vincent Van Gogh: Portrait of an Artist by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan

25 Apr

(This was first written for my Materials for Tweens class.)

This biography takes the reader on a tumultuous journey from Van Gogh’s birth to his untimely death by his own hands. Although kindhearted with an affinity for helping those less fortunate than he was, Van Gogh was the quintessential “starving artist” and depended largely on his parents and younger brother for his livelihood. He was considered “eccentric” for much of his life, but his stubbornness and persistent dedication to his art produced what are some of the most powerful and iconic paintings in the history of art.

The authors write an engaging biography that makes clear that Van Gogh’s paintings were the product of hard work and perseverance rather than genius. At the beginning of each chapter, the authors include a quote directly from letters written by Van Gogh to allow his voice to come through in the writing. The book includes a map, reproductions of photographs and paintings mentioned in the book, a timeline, glossary, notes, and bibliography.

Vincent Van Gogh: Portrait of an Artist was a Robert F. Sibert Honor Book in 2001.

This post is my Blogging from A to Z entry for the letter P.

[U] The Underneath by Kathi Appelt

24 Apr

(This was first written for my Materials for Tweens class.)

A pregnant calico cat goes to live with the bloodhound, Ranger, who helps her raise her kittens. Ranger’s abusive owner, Gar Face, keeps Ranger chained and half-starved, so he cannot leave his post and the cat and her twin kittens must stay hidden in The Underneath, the space beneath Gar Face’s porch where the cats live. However, their family starts to fall apart as the boy kitten, Puck, breaks the most important rule and leaves The Underneath.

Their story is intertwined with the story of Grandmother Moccasin, a mystical shape-shifter trapped in a jar and buried under a tree, waiting for the day when she, too, can escape her “underneath.”

In this lyrical book, Appelt tells a story of loneliness and finding family, of betrayal, hope, and love. The third person narrator creates a distance from the sometimes disturbing events of the book while maintaining a magical realism. Readers must piece the story together as successive chapters float across time and space until all the storylines come together at the climax. A satisfying read enhanced by Small’s illustrations that help readers picture the Texas bayou where the events of the book take place.

The Underneath is written by Kathi Appelt with illustrations by David Small. It was recognized as a Newbery Honor book in 2009 and was a National Book Award Finalist in 2008.

This post is my Blogging from A to Z entry for the letter U.

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