Tag Archives: ages 10+

[R] The Ruins of Gorlan (Ranger’s Apprentice Book 1) by John Flanagan

20 Apr

(#69 on School Library Journal‘s Top 100 Chapter Book Poll Results from 2012.)

I had to check this book out twice before I managed to actually read it (since it’s so near the end of the alphabet, I had other priorities), and then I almost didn’t because I wanted to find a non-series book for “R” (I was afraid I would want to read the other books once I read the first one). I was right… I just finished reading the 6th book…

The first book is about Will, an orphan who desperately wants to be in the Battleschool but is too small to be chosen for it. Based on the title of the series, it’s pretty obvious that he will be chosen to be a Ranger’s apprentice, but common people (like Will) are afraid of Rangers. They are mysterious people who are believed to dabble in magic because of their ability to move silently and blend into the background, making them seem like they appear out of nowhere. From what I’ve read so far, their work is part spying, part law enforcement, part military strategy. They’re strong, cunning, and have a strong sense of justice. Kind of like a modern-day superhero with the backing of the government.

The books were fun adventure books with a lot of action and enough character development to keep me interested in how they would work out. The plot twists were pretty predictable, though, and most of the hints were a little too obvious for me. The world-building was also a little obvious (Scotti = Scottish, Celtic = Celtic, “fake foreign language” = French, as far as I can tell, although I don’t know French). Also, while I appreciate the fact that this series was written for the author’s son, I couldn’t decide how I felt about the portrayal of girls in the series.

On the one hand, there are plenty of strong girl characters who are not annoying or helpless, but on the other hand, they were all beautiful and attracted to the main character. There didn’t seem to be a place for unattractive women in this universe unless they were old and motherly (at least not in the books that I’ve read). The other side to this, though, is the fact that the books are basically being told from the point of view of the main character, an adolescent boy (and later young adult). In his eyes, and in the eyes of most of the male characters in the book, women seem to be attractive even if they are not perfectly shaped, which could also be taken to mean that women don’t have to be perfect to be beautiful.

I might be reading too much into it, but it was the first fantasy series I had read by a male author in a long time, and I think the only series I’ve read by a male author published recently that didn’t take place in some semblance of the modern world (like Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series or The Alchemyst by Michael Scott). So it was interesting to read a book that was built completely out of the imagination of a man (albeit there were many references to European nations and cultures, and I’m assuming Nihon in the title of the 10th book refers to Japan).

Despite its faults, I enjoyed reading the series and liked the characters enough to want to keep following their adventures. I think the difference between this series and the Warriors series is that I can actually tell the characters apart (I’m getting too old to try to keep all the cats with similar names separate in my head). I also appreciated that the author used some words that I hadn’t heard before, so I even got to learn some new words (like “tonsorial” for things relating to a barber).

A great book for boys and girls who don’t mind a little romance to go with a lot of fighting. The main character starts off around 15 and is 20 by the sixth book, so it may be hard for younger readers to relate to him, but there’s nothing inappropriate (just a little kissing and hand-holding).

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

Poetry for Kids

31 Jul

Summer has gone by really fast, and some of my students are already starting to get ready to go back to school. Between work, class, and volunteering, I haven’t had much time to read, but I have been reading a lot of poetry lately for work.

Last year, I noticed that my students didn’t get to do a lot of poetry at school with their teachers, but upper elementary students always have at least one or two poetry passages on the CST. Some of them are naturally good at understanding poetry, but others have a hard time wrapping their heads around the figurative language. The kids who have a hard time can identify the different types of figurative language (simile, metaphor, personification, etc.), but they just have a hard time understanding the big picture of the poem.

I totally understand where they’re coming from. Growing up, I always preferred reading novels and stories to reading poetry. I didn’t come to appreciate poetry until I learned how to analyze the different literary techniques in high school and college, but by then, I was just scrambling to finish all my papers, so I couldn’t savor the words.

I was looking for old poetry books on my bookshelf to bring to class yesterday, and I’m ashamed to say that I didn’t have very many. The one book I did have on my shelf with poetry for kids was my sister’s. I did have a couple of picture books written in verse by Graeme Base that I bought in sixth grade after reading Animalia in class (so I didn’t have Animalia because I’d read it already at that point, but I would want it now…).

I’ve done Shakespeare with my 5th graders, and compared to that, poetry is much easier for them to grasp on their own, but I want them to be able to discover the connections in poetry on their own so that they can start enjoying poetry while they still have time to savor it.

Poems that I’ve done with them in class that they have had fun with include:

  • “Jabberwocky” by Lewis Carroll (teaches portmanteau and understanding vocabulary in context)
  • “Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout” by Shel Silverstein (alliteration, repetition, and lots more)
  • “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost (for symbolism and inspiration)

It’s also fun for them to try writing their own poems in different styles. A Google search for “National Poetry Month resources” will return a lot of great resources for teaching poetry to kids in any month. I also really like some of the printables and activities found on Shel Silverstein’s official website.

One thing that’s fun for students is to go on a poetry scavenger hunt for different literary devices that they already know the definitions for but may not have seen “in action” very much. My list is adapted from the literary terms in one of the standard literature textbooks my students already use. The idea is to get them to find examples of literary terms on their own, either in books or online.

Some great places to find poetry for kids include:

  • The Children’s Poetry Archive – a UK site of poems for kids (part of The Poetry Archive) with author readings, interviews, and background. I especially like the poems by Valerie Bloom that I found on this site.
  • Poets.org – the American counterpart of The Poetry Archive. It’s a great place to find classics to teach, but harder to find material for younger readers.
  • Bartleby.com (section on verse) – great for if you want to browse through all the poems by a specific author. Indexes by title and by first line so you only need to know one or the other. I used some of Emily Dickinson (life and nature poems) and Robert Louis Stevenson (A Child’s Garden of Verses and Underwoods) for my students.

I gave my students these sites so they could look through them on their own for the scavenger hunt. I especially love the first one because it’s made for kids and has a mix of classic and modern poetry that is easier for the kids to understand.

I had only been planning a cursory look through poetry so they could practice their reading comprehension, but I kept dragging the unit out longer and longer so that they could keep exploring (and I could explore with them!). I’d love to do some of the Canterbury Tales with them next, but that may have to wait until the school year starts.

I’ve still got lots of books in my to-read list (that needs to be updated), but I think my old English poetry textbooks are getting added to the pile… (Once I find them, anyway…)

[Z] Zora and Me by Victoria Bond and T. R. Simon

30 Apr

Zora and Me was the other book I picked up at my end-of-the-alphabet spree at the library. I had originally planned to do The Egypt Game by Zilpha Keatley Snyder sbecause the author’s name starts with Z, but since I found Zora and Me and had time to read it before I had to write my post, I decided to go with that instead.

The first thing that popped into my head when I saw the name Zora was Zora Neale Hurston, known for writing Their Eyes Were Watching God. But I was confused because I was in the kids section and the name was the title, not the author. My instincts were right, though, because the Zora in this book does refer to Zora Neale Hurston. Bond and Simon write a fictionalized version of Hurston’s life as a fourth grader, and they include many details from her life, while throwing in some mystery and some extra characters–namely, the “Me” in the title, Carrie, and their friend, Teddy.

As a book, it’s a great historical fiction for middle graders. There is a pretty gruesome murder, and it’s billed as a mystery, but I think the book is not so much about solving the mystery as it is about the main characters learning about themselves and the world they live in (the American South in the 1900s). In fact, most of the final resolution of the mystery takes place off-screen by the adults that the girls confide in, and the reader only gets the summary from an older Carrie.

I think it’s very effective, though. It’s appropriate and realistic for the adults to take care of things the way they did, and the tone of the novel is reminiscent of To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, which also deals with racism in the South. Both are told in first person from the point of view of an adult who was a child during the major events of the book. Having the adult perspective allows the authors to explain things that a child would otherwise not realize; it would be hard not to have that perspective when dealing with issues like racism.

I wasn’t planning on my last post for A to Z sounding so much like a mini literary analysis, but the book lends itself to discussion, academic or otherwise, and would be a great springboard for discussions with students about race and segregation in the U.S. post-Civil War.

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

And that’s it for my A to Z posts. Thanks for reading, and I hope you enjoyed them! :) Check back next week for a reflections post about the blogging challenge. After that, I am planning on posting at least once a week until next April, so keep an eye out for more reviews!

[Y] YuYu Hakusho by Yoshihiro Togashi

28 Apr

I wasn’t planning on doing any more manga for this challenge, but I’m cheating (again) with Y because I didn’t realize until just now that my original ‘Y’ book actually started with the letter ‘I’ until just now as I was getting ready to write this post… (In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson by Betty Bao Lord). So instead of scrambling around trying to find and read a book starting with the letter Y in 2-3 days (I’m still writing these in advance) and then write the post, I’m doing a series that haven’t actually read (I’ve only Netflixed the anime), but at least this time the manga and anime are both available in English.

幽☆遊☆白書, a.k.a. YuYu Hakusho, Ghost Files, or Poltergeist Report, is a classic shonen (remember, shonen = boys’) manga that pretty much everyone in Japan has heard of. Most young(ish) professionals read/watched it when they were growing up, and older adults probably remember their kids watching it on TV. I don’t know about the younger kids these days, but I do know that if I go to karaoke with a Japanese person and sing a theme song from this series, they will most likely recognize it.

This series is basically a series of tournaments where the main characters get stronger and stronger until they have to fight guys from another world to even break a sweat. Typical shonen stuff. I love action and tournaments, though, so this was a lot of fun to watch. Definitely a series aimed at young boys, but that doesn’t usually deter me with books or with manga (don’t know what that says about me, though…).

Hiei and Killua

Fanart that's pretty close to how I imagine what Hiei (left) and Killua look like in my head. Click on the image to go to the original site (Japanese).

I was confused for years because one of the main characters from this series, Hiei, was very similar in personality and appearance to a character from another successful series, Hunter x Hunter, named Killua (see image).

There were a lot of other similarities, like the number of main characters and their personalities, and for a long time, I thought that whoever wrote Hunter x Hunter had copied the ideas off of the person who wrote YuYu Hakusho. It wasn’t until years later that I realized that both manga had been written and drawn by the same person…

Togashi-sensei’s other famous series (that I’ve watched), Level E, is a science fiction comedy (aimed at adults, I think) that is completely different from the two battle manga series he is known for but still pretty enjoyable, if a bit strange.

Also for all you shojo (girls’ manga) fans out there, Yoshihiro Togashi is married to the creator of Sailor Moon, Naoko Takeuchi (according to Wiki, where I try to confirm all the information in my head that I’m not sure about before posting it online).

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

[W] The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin

26 Apr

This is another Newbery winner, and one of my favorite books of all time. Most of the kids I recommend this book to love it, and I’ve had a few call it one of their favorite books. I even had one girl tell me that she was mad at me for making her stop reading at such a crucial moment in the story (they were reading a few chapters a week).

The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin is a mystery that has lots of surprising revelations, and I love how all the pieces fit together in the end. I also liked how Raskin gave us a glimpse of what happened to all the characters after the main story ends (kind of like the oft-maligned ending to the Harry Potter series, which I didn’t dislike as much as some readers, I think). I enjoy reading about my favorite characters even after they move on with their lives, which is even better if it includes a new story about them (both Tamora Pierce and Patricia C. Wrede do this wonderfully).

This book will leave readers guessing until the end, and they will probably want to re-read the book from the beginning immediately after finishing it the first time to see how the clues all lead to the answer. I’ve read it many, many times (although I’ve lost my beloved copy in the garage somewhere and have had to borrow it from the library recently to teach it), and I’ve taught it twice now with great results. The kids have fun keeping track of the clues as they find them and trying to figure out pieces of the puzzle themselves (I make them put them up on the classroom walls), but I don’t think I’ve had anyone who was able to predict the ending yet.

There is a fairly large case, but the main character is probably Turtle, a 13-year-old girl, since all the other characters are four to forty plus years older. The book is actually pretty diverse, with an African American female judge and a Chinese family as part of the sixteen heirs who take part in the Westing game. While the depiction of them is a little stereotypical, the son of the Chinese family is not the typical “smart Asian,” which was refreshing. I didn’t find anything particularly offensive about them, and the fact that they were even there was nice. I think I was more focused on Turtle, who made me want to be a lawyer when I grew up (until I realized I would have to go to law school for that…).

I would recommend this book for boys and girls, around fourth grade and up. Even if they don’t generally like mysteries, they will probably like this one. And I have a bonus recommendation for any adults out there who loved the game or the movie “Clue” and haven’t read this book–you should definitely read it! ;)

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

[V] The View from Saturday by E. L. Konigsburg

25 Apr

This is my second book on this blog by E. L. Konigsburg, and the second Newbery Medal winner I’m reviewing by her. (Here’s the link for my review of From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.)

This was the only book I could think of for the letter V, although when I went to the library to check it out, I also found The Vile Village by Lemony Snicket. But I had been wanting to read this book since teaching Mixed-Up Files to my fourth graders and learning about the double Newbery that Konigsburg earned with this book.

I loved how she interweaved all the stories together into a larger story without making it feel disconnected. All the stories, and all the lives they touched, feel like they were connected even before the story she set out to tell begins.

The story is about four bright and mature sixth graders who are the underdogs at the Academic Bowl (like Academic Decathlon, but for middle school). But their experiences (and the way they reflect on their experiences) make them wise beyond their years. They are called The Souls, which I thought was a little cheesy, and maybe the only wrong note in this whole book, but I thought of them as The Old Souls. They were able to find an acceptance of themselves that helped give them self-confidence and the ability to rise above typical sixth grade drama, like bullying and playing tricks on the teacher.

This book still has a couple jokes that will go over the heads of the intended readers like Mixed-Up Files, but I think she made the vocabulary a little easier this time around by explaining most of the more difficult words she uses in context.

There’s a great line on the second page:

To her four sixth graders puberty was something they could spell and define but had yet to experience.

Which is basically the tone of the book (though not the subject matter). It talks about everything so matter-of-factly, but it doesn’t lose a sense of warmth.

The book does contain some pre-adolescent themes that parents and teachers may want to watch out for with younger (less mature) readers, but this is a great book for bright and precocious readers of any age.

I’ll leave you with a funny conversation on diversity that comes up after the first vignette:

“In the interest of diversity,” she said, “I chose a brunette, a redhead, a blond, and a kid with hair as black as print on paper.”

Dr. Rohmer was not amused. He gave Mrs. Olinski a capsule lecture on what multiculturalism really means.

“Oh,” she said, “then we’re still safe, Dr. Rohmer. You can tell the taxpayers that the Epiphany Middle School team has one Jew, one half-Jew, a WASP, and an Indian.”

The teacher is told off again for calling the Indian boy an Indian by Dr. Rohmer, who informs her that they are called Native Americans now, not realizing that the boy is an actual Indian whose parents are from India. I love the tongue-in-cheek answers Mrs. Olinski gives Dr. Rohmer, who had just been to diversity training (but ended up being an example of why diversity training doesn’t work).

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

[T] Tiger by Jeff Stone

23 Apr

Tiger by Jeff Stone is the first book in the Five Ancestors series about five young warrior monks whose temple, the only home and family they have ever known, is destroyed. They are the only survivors, starting them on a quest to learn about their pasts and save their country.

Even though Jeff Stone is not Chinese, he has a respect for the Chinese culture that comes through in these novels.  He uses both Mandarin and Cantonese words throughout the books, including in the names of the characters, who are all named after animals that reflect their personalities.  I don’t speak Cantonese, but by the time the words are romanized, they tend to come out similar to Mandarin, and it was fun trying to figure out what all the words meant (and brush up on my knowledge of Chinese animal names!).

This is a dark, suspenseful action-packed series that will leave you wanting to read the next book as soon as possible, so I would recommend getting your hands on a complete set before reading Tiger. Fortunately, I was able to get the first six ebooks all at once, and I borrowed the seventh and last book from my library way before I finished the sixth, so I was able to read straight through them.

If you can’t tell by the description above, this book is great for boys, and fast-paced enough for reluctant readers. I recommended it to my fifth graders last year, but I don’t think anyone ended up reading it. :( I’ll have to try harder to promote it this summer. Girls are usually more willing to read about boy main characters, and I think those who enjoy action or adventure stories will also like this series. There are also a few strong female characters in the series, so girls should have no problem relating.  With all that action, it does get a little gory though, so be prepared for some blood.

Here’s Random House’s website for the series, complete with Flash trailer and cheesy music.

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

[S] The Strictest School in the World by Howard Whitehouse

21 Apr

I randomly picked up the first book, The Strictest School in the World, at the library because the subtitle looked interesting:

Being the Tale of a Clever Girl, a Rubber Boy and a Collection of Flying Machines, Mostly Broken (The Mad Misadventures of Emmaline and Rubberbones)

I liked the part about the clever girl because I always enjoy reading about clever girls (having aspired to be one in the past, I now just find them amusing). Most of my favorite books involve clever girls, and my favorite novel that I wrote for Nanowrimo stars a clever girl.

Emmaline’s dream is to build flying machines, and Rubberbones, a boy who can’t get hurt, is destined to help her fly them. However, her mother (in India with her father, a British colonial officer) wants her to become a lady, so she sends Emmaline off to a boarding school for girls that is known as the strictest school in the world. The rest of the Mad Misadventures series follows their adventures and misadventures with a cast of wacky and colorful characters, most of whom you would not want in your living room, even if they do mean well.

It had been a while since I read about England and its surroundings, and I have to say I enjoyed reading about the horrible boarding school and the cool Aunt Lucy (widowed, round in shape, fierce with an umbrella, enjoys cooking with slugs) who encourages her niece in her endeavors. I also loved Lal Singh, Aunt Lucy’s mysterious Indian butler, who seemed to have been a solider in a past life. He always seemed to appear in the right place at the right time, and his Indian curry sounded delicious, especially compared to Aunt Lucy’s slug cakes.

The headmistress of St. Grimelda’s School for Young Ladies reminded me of Miss Trunchbull (from Matilda, by Road Dahl), and disgusted me almost as much. The villain of the second book was also gross, as the faceless fiend really had no face. In comparison, the Collector (of mad scientists) in the third book was not nearly as intimidating or fleshed out as a character, as he sent his underlings to do most of his dirty work and just sat in his lair for pretty much the whole book.

The books all start off a little slow, but once the action starts, it continues until the very last page, with only a few breathers in the end. Every time one problem is resolved, another seems to take its place. The climax generally takes place very near the end of the book, and what comes after that is is rush of resolving loose ends that left me wanting more. Which was why I read the next book. And the book after that.

It is very effective, making me want to read more even after there were no more pages. However, at times, I got tired of the American mad scientist Professor Bellbuckle blowing something up–again–and Princess Purnah (the rightful heir to the throne of a small, very violent, country) messing up yet another plan with her random outbursts and thirst for blood and sweets. It’s loads of fun, but can get a little tiring if you read it all at once.

Overall, it’s a fun mad-cap adventure that never quite seems to stop, whether you want it to or not. I think kids of all ages would love their adventures, but for American kids unaccustomed to the speech and vocabulary of Britain, it may be a little difficult to understand. The more they are exposed to it, though, the easier it will be for them to absorb, so this may be a good place for them to start, as long as they are willing to skim over the parts they don’t understand (which is a good tip for any child reading anything that contains content that is above their level).

There is a little real history, mixed with real and fictional characters from a number of famous and not so famous books, including Queen Victoria, Sherlock Holmes, Sigmund Freud, and Nikola Tesla. The same goes for the map of the world Whitehouse created, which includes both real and made-up places. Kids may have a hard time telling fact from fiction (which is the point), but it would be a great place to start or end interdisciplinary work on the Victorian era.

Contains mild violence, kidnapping, guns, knives, pterodactyls, and a scary headmistress. Includes dialect that may be hard to understand for lower level readers, especially in places that are not England.

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

*Note: I actually wrote this review almost immediately after reading the book last year and was saving it for this blog, so please excuse the length…

[Q] The Queen of Attolia by Megan Whelan Turner

19 Apr

I can’t believe I didn’t discover Megan Whelan Turner until last year! I mean, she was even in Disney Adventure! And I had a subscription to that for years, although I was already in high school by the time her story came out in it and had stopped subscribing.

The Queen of Attolia is the second book in her The Queen’s Thief series (which, according to Wiki, is a fan-coined name). I try to introduce the first book of a series as much as possible, but I’m making an exception since I need a book for “Q” (I suppose I could have used the name of the series like I did for The Immortals Quartet by Tamora Pierce, but I’m trying to keep it to book titles as much as possible this month). I loved this series so much that I bought all four books after reading the ebooks from the library.

The world Turner writes has elements of Greek myths, but it is really about political maneuverings with a little intervention by the gods. It does remind me a bit of Tamora Pierce’s Tortall books, which have some of the same feel to them. Turner and Pierce both do a great job with characterization, and Gen reminds me of George Cooper from the Tortall books. The politics is as engaging as Suzanne Collins’s Hunger Games, and there’s a bit of Percy Jackson thrown in with the mythologies. And there are more unexpected twists than any of those series, I think. (Just writing this makes me want to go back and re-read them!)

Some profanity in The Queen of Attolia makes me not want to use it with my fifth graders, who can still be somewhat immature when it comes to things like that. I would definitely use the first book, The Thief, though. It’s a great book, written in first person, even though the rest of the series is written in third person. It has the added bonus of being a Newberry Honor book in 1997, which is always nice to tell the parents.

This series has strong male and female characters with enough action for the boys and a little romance for the girls. Great for fans of any of the series I mentioned above, although the series does get a little darker after the first book.

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

[O] Over Sea, Under Stone by Susan Cooper

17 Apr

There is a strange phenomenon in our house where the first book of a series always goes missing. This is because someone will decide they want to re-read the series and pull out the first book, and then never get around to it, separating the first book from its companions forever.

Over Sea, Under Stone is one of those books. It is the first book of The Dark is Rising sequence, but honestly, I don’t remember much other than that the books were set in Cornwall.  I tried to re-read the whole sequence last year and found this:

The Dark is Rising Sequence by Susan Cooper

We were missing the first two books.

Strangely, this seems to happen more to my sister’s books than to mine, as I’m much more possessive and obsessive about my books…

This is a great series to read if you haven’t yet, and I would recommend it for boys and girls ages 10 and up, especially those who like fantasy or King Arthur.

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

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