Tag Archives: book review

[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.

[T] The Thing About Luck by Cynthia Kadohata

23 Apr

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

This year, Summer’s family has had a string of bad luck, and now her parents must go to Japan right before the harvest season, leaving Summer and her little brother, Jaz, with their grandparents. Summer has to make her own luck as she helps her grandmother cook for the harvest workers while her grandfather works in the fields.

This story is about love as much as it is about luck. It is about loving your family so much that it hurts. It is about a crush, that awkward first kiss, and love lost. At the end of the book, the reader is left wondering what will happen to the main character, but at the same time knowing that she will be okay.

A discussion guide aligned with Common Core standards including pre-reading questions and activities can be found here.

The Thing About Luck was the National Book Award Winner for Young People’s Literature in 2013.

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

[S] Spacer and Rat by Margaret Bechard

22 Apr

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

Jack is a Spacer who has lived on Freedom Station his whole life. Kit is a Rat, a transplant from Earth who lands on Freedom Station. On Earth, she had her father, but she is now alone, except for an illegal sentient robot named Waldo that is extremely valuable, but extremely dangerous to have. Jack and Kit must protect Waldo long enough to get him to Kit’s father’s contact before it’s too late.

Spacer and Rat is chock-full of references to science-fiction writers and books, which may be part of the reason why it takes a while to get into this world. However, by the end of the book, readers will want a sequel so they can spend more time in it. There is a lot of depth in the world building for such a short book, like slang and festivals, and Bechard includes details that make you feel like you are there.

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

[R] Runemarks by Joanne Harris

21 Apr

(Happy late Easter everyone! I was so busy yesterday that I forgot to schedule my posts… Anyway, here’s another post that was first written for my Materials for Tweens class.)

Maddy is an outcast in her village because of a rune mark on her left hand. Her only friend is One-Eye, an old traveler who has been teaching Maddy about runes and magic, heresy in the eyes of the Order that controls the world in which she lives. When Maddy discovers her magic by accident, One-Eye sends her on a quest that reveals her destiny.

Runemarks might start off slow, but it has the heft and feel of an epic fantasy with an exciting adventure in a rich world that is part Norse mythology, part Christian tradition, and all imagination.

This review refers to the eBook version of the book.

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

[Q] Quidditch Through the Ages by Kennilworthy Whisp

19 Apr

(This is the first post this month that I didn’t pre-write, which is pretty good, considering it’s been almost three weeks! :D)

I remember when Quidditch Through the Ages first came out. I was so excited to get another Harry Potter-related book before the next book in the series came out. The book itself is a very thin volume that almost gets lost on my bookshelf (so thin that its companion book, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, is lost somewhere…).

I love how the details of the book, from the author and reviews to the scuff marks and fake library check-out list, make us feel like we’re holding a piece of Hogwarts (excluding the quality of the book, which feels like a cheap paperback, especially with its yellowed pages). There’s even a fictional publishing house (Whizz Hard Books) and an alternate price (14 sickles 3 knuts) to add to the illusion.

At the time, it helped whet my appetite for more Harry Potter, but now, years after the final book was published, I don’t really feel a desire to read the little snippet of the world I don’t quite remember. It’s like how I feel when I try watching the Harry Potter movies but don’t remember much of what’s going on. I loved the series while it was going, but with seven books, it takes a long time to get back into them. Until the last book, I reread all the previous books right before the release of the newest book in the series in order to remember all the details (I couldn’t with the last book because I was in Japan at the time and didn’t have all the previous books with me).

But, this is why I was excited while doing a quick search on this book to see that Warner Brothers is making movies of the companion books, starting with Fantastic Beasts. I think having a trilogy of short, self-contained movies will be better at this point in the life of the story, giving people like me a chance to revisit the world without the burden of having to remember all the plot of the previous parts…

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

[P] Pi in the Sky by Wendy Mass

18 Apr

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

In Pi in the Sky by Wendy Mass, Joss is the seventh son of the Supreme Overlord of the Universe living in The Realms, but that doesn’t mean he’s anything special. It just means that he gets to deliver pies. Not just ordinary pies, of course, but pies nonetheless. His life changes when one day, the Earth disappears, taking his best friend, Kal, and his parents with it, leaving behind a girl from Earth named Annika. Now it’s up to Joss and Annika to bring the Earth back.

This campy space coming-of-age adventure is firmly rooted in science but still manages to be funny, moving, and entertaining. Readers will root for Joss as he races around The Realms trying to achieve a seemingly impossible task. The last chapter provides a nice ending that ties up all the loose ends while still leaving room for future adventures.

An educator’s guide with discussion questions and curriculum connections can be found here. You can also read the first seven chapters of the book for free in this sneak peek edition!

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

[O] Once Upon a Marigold by Jean Ferris

17 Apr

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

This review refers to the Overdrive version of the audiobook of Once Upon a Marigold by Jean Ferris, read by Carrington MacDuffie.

Christian was raised by a troll, but that didn’t stop him from longing after Princess Marigold. They become pen pals by carrier pigeon, and one day, Christian decides to make his fortune and find work at the palace. There, he must save Marigold from her mother’s schemes and prove that he is worthy of her love.

This is a cute story that is pretty funny, although younger listeners may not get all the references to fairy tales and pop culture. MacDuffie’s voice took some getting used to at the beginning, but her performance is funny and draws listeners into the story.

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

[N] No More Dead Dogs by Gordan Korman

16 Apr

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

Wallace Wallace’s policy has always been to tell the truth. In No More Dead Dogs by Gordan Korman, when Wallace is assigned to write a book report about Old Shep, My Pal, he won’t pretend he likes the book just because it’s his English teacher, Mr. Fogelman’s favorite book. This results in detention, and he is banned from football until he writes a satisfactory essay. Instead of warming the bench at football games, he has to spend time after school with the drama club, run by Mr. Fogelman, as they put on a play of Old Shep, My Pal. Wallace’s suggestions make the play a whole lot more interesting, but someone wants to frame him for sabotaging the play.

This book asks the question: Who are your real friends? As Wallace Wallace goes from being a popular jock to a drama nerd, he reevaluates the people around him that he considered his friends. The “villain” of the story is underdeveloped, but it comes off as more realistic this way–all of Wallace’s friends have their good and bad parts, just like real people do.

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

[M] Millicent Min, Girl Genius by Lisa Yee

15 Apr

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

Eleven-and-a-half-year-old high schooler Millicent Min might be a genius, but she’s no good at making friends. When her mother signs her up for volleyball and she’s forced to tutor Stanford Wong, the basketball jock and her archenemy, she resigns herself to a terrible summer. But summer is ready to prove her wrong…

Even though Millicent may seem like an exaggerated character on the surface, she comes across as a pretty real depiction of a girl who is only good at school who is facing real problems that she needs to deal with head on. The book teaches lessons about friendship and the important things in life that all children have to learn at some point in their lives.

Millicent Min by Lisa Yee won the Sid Fleischman Humor Award in 2004 (among others).

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

[L] Liar & Spy by Rebecca Stead

14 Apr

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

By Newbery Award-winning author Rebecca Stead, Liar & Spy is an unconventional mystery that follows Georges on his adventures with his neighbor, Safer, as their spy club tries to uncover the mystery of Mr. X, who lives in their apartment building. After Georges’s father loses his job and they have to sell their house, Georges moves into the apartment building Safer lives in with his family. At school, Georges is a loner who is bullied by the other kids. At home, his mother, a nurse, is working long shifts at the hospital, and his dad, an architect, is busy trying to get new clients, so Georges is left to explore his new home on his own.

Georges’s life starts improving as he spends more time with Safer, learning to observe the world around him. He begins to see the things around him differently, which leads to seeing himself differently, as well. Even once the mystery of Mr. X is solved, there is still more for the boys—and the reader—to discover, and at the end of the book, readers will want to read it again from the beginning to find the clues Stead deftly weaves into the whole novel.

Things get a little uncomfortable near the end of the book as the reader joins in Georges’s confusion about the revelations that come seemingly one after another. Like in Stead’s other books, astute readers will be able to guess at the surprise ending, but even so, it is satisfying to follow along as Georges finally sorts out fact from fiction.

Teachers reading the book in class may want students to keep a graphic organizer or a chart of facts about Georges’s life to compare what is known to the reader at the beginning of the book to what is known by the end. Students should also be encouraged to explain the changes with clues and evidence from the text, in line with Common Core standards for reading comprehension.

More firmly rooted in reality than Stead’s Newbery Award-winner, When You Reach Me, Liar & Spy is an engrossing mystery that deals with real-life issues. Tweens will relate to the struggles Georges faces and can find courage in his triumphs in helping Safer overcome his fears and in facing his own reality.

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

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