Tag Archives: high school

[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.

[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.

[Z] Zazoo by Richard Mosher

30 Apr

Zazoo is the name of a Vietnamese girl who was adopted by a French man who brings her back to France to be raised as his granddaughter. It is a poignant story of a girl who is trying to figure out how she belongs in a world where she feels completely French but looks different from everyone else. At the same time, she has to deal with the loneliness of the only family she has ever known struggling with dementia. In trying to learn about his past and hers, she meets a mysterious boy, uncovers horrible truths, and restores relationships torn apart by war.

I expected this book to be about belonging, but I didn’t expect it to be so sad. Dementia is such a devastating illness to those around the person afflicted, and when that person has also been through several wars in the thick of the fighting locally and abroad, it makes it even sadder still. And the fact the this 13-year-old girl is supposed to take care of him on her own seems like an impossible task.

I was really glad for the ending, when she finally gets some support in taking care of the old man she loves so much, and the love story within a love story was a nice way to weave together all the characters. I cried even more with this book than I did with Kira-Kira (this is what I get for choosing books based on the letter they begin with instead of the content), but there are themes of hope and reconciliation throughout the book.

It’s also a great diverse read that I haven’t really heard much about, maybe because it was published before I started following all the book blogs. I didn’t like the hardcover cover design very much, but the paperback cover is beautiful:

Zazoo by Richard Mosher

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

[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.

[N] North of Beautiful by Justina Chen Headley

16 Apr

(This was first written for my History of Youth Literature class.)

North of Beautiful by Justina Chen Headley (2009) deals with perceptions of beauty and verbal/emotional abuse. The main character, Terra, was born with a port-wine stain on her face that she believes prevents her from being beautiful, so she compensates for this by obsessively making every other part of her body as close to perfect as possible. In addition to this disfigurement, her father is verbally abusive to her family, especially to her mother, a former beauty queen who has found comfort in food instead of standing up for herself, resulting in a physique that draws more ridicule and abuse from her husband. The book is about how Terra learns to accept herself and be confident in who she is with the help of a Goth boy with a cleft lip she meets in an accident.

I liked the book, despite being frustrated at Terra for basically being a teenage girl. (Not really her fault, there’s just a limit to how much I can take in stories/books.) I liked how the book showed Terra’s journey of growth from hiding behind her hair and make-up and trying to be like everyone else to being able to be herself and be happy with that. I think that is an important lesson for all girls to learn (and boys, too, but let’s face it—girls deal with this more than boys).

I also appreciated how the book handled the subject of verbal abuse. Because it doesn’t leave physical scars, verbal abuse is something that is hard to recognize and often ignored. The author does a wonderful job of showing not only the devastating effects that verbal abuse can have, but also how even years of verbal abuse can eventually be overcome. I especially liked how she included Terra’s older brothers in the book and showed how the abuse affected each of the siblings differently.

The book also touches on issues like divorce, adoption, and death, and contains language and sexual references that may not be appropriate for younger children.

(Also, as a note about the diversity aspects, the Goth boy happens to be Chinese, but it’s nice that he doesn’t feel like a “token Asian.” Instead, he is a well-developed character and his race is an important factor in the plot and development of the characters. It doesn’t hurt that the author is Taiwanese American, but it doesn’t feel like she’s trying to capitalize on her race, either.)

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

[X] Xanth series by Piers Anthony

27 Apr

The first and only thing I could think of for the letter X was the Xanth series by Piers Anthony. I don’t know if I would consider them YA, but I think I read them in late elementary school because I found the books at the junior high where I had Chinese school on Saturdays. They were probably a little mature for me, but I enjoyed the humor and the fantasy elements. There was also an older girl at church who collected the series, so she let me borrow a bunch of the books in the series after she found out that I liked them.

Considering how much I read them at the time, it’s kind of sad that I can barely remember anything about them. Looking at my bookshelf, I actually own quite a few of his books, but I couldn’t remember which ones were part of the Xanth series and which ones were part of a different series. I remember now that I liked the puzzles in the Adept series, so I bought books from that series, but I didn’t realize that I only bought the second half (I think). I did manage to find an X book under “Anthony, Piers” on my shelf, though–Xone of Contention, which is part of the Xanth series.

Even with the help of Wikipedia, I couldn’t remember much about the book or the series, so that’s all for this very short post… Only two more to go!

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

[C] The Cardturner by Louis Sachar

3 Apr

I loved The Cardturner by Louis Sachar, but I don’t think any of my students (even those who love his other books, like Holes and The Wayside School series) would enjoy reading this book. It’s about a teenager who is supposed to help his rich uncle play bridge so his parents can get his inheritance, and it’s definitely written for an older audience than his other books (School Library Journal says Grade 8+).

I love stories about tournaments and games, and I don’t mind learning about an unfamiliar game from the story, so I thought this book was great. I didn’t know how to play bridge before, but it inspired me to download some bridge apps for my iPhone (of course, you need two people to play, so I never really did get into the game…).

Even though this is supposed to be a YA book, I think it’s a great book for adults who miss reading Sachar’s brand of humor, especially if they like bridge and/or underdog stories. I would only recommend it to teens who don’t mind reading about unfamiliar concepts, as the game and rules can get a little dry. I didn’t like Sachar’s Holes or its sequels as much personally, but if students seem bored by The Cardturner, they may like that better (if they haven’t already read it). Some of my students read Holes over and over, and boys especially seem to enjoy it a lot.

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

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