Tag Archives: middle school

[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] 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.

 

[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.

[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.

[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.

[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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