Tag Archives: realistic fiction

[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.

[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.

[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.

[C] Confetti Girl by Diana López

3 Apr

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

Apolonia Flores, or Lina for short, loves socks, is tall, and is good at science and sports. However, she does not share her English-teacher father’s love of books, which he has been withdrawing further and further into since the death of Lina’s mother a year ago. Lina just wants her life to be back to normal again, but with her best friend Vanessa’s boyfriend and her own crush, Luis, not to mention failing grades in English, it will be a while before she can settle into her new normal.

Lopez writes about a girl dealing with the loss of her mom in a very real way, describing how she works through the grieving process in order to come to a new acceptance for her life. The struggles she has along the way are also very realistic, and the dichos (Spanish words of wisdom) at the beginning of each chapter add an extra layer of meaning and feeling to the book.

More information about the book can be found on the author’s website, and an educator’s guide with discussion questions and activities can be found here.

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

[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!

[Y] The Year of the Dog by Grace Lin

29 Apr

The “Year of” books always seem to be Chinese-related, even though the same zodiac system is used throughout East Asia at least. I remember last year for A to Z, I wanted to do what I thought was “The Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson” for “Y,” but then when I was looking it up, I realized that the title was actually In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson. This year, I bought a bunch of books by Grace Lin, and luckily, two of them actually did start with “(The) Year of.”

The Year of the Dog is the book I wished I had when I was growing up. It is just an ordinary book about a Taiwanese American girl growing up in a community with very few Asians. While I grew up in a pretty diverse community, a lot of the things Pacy (Grace) experiences are close to my heart, especially her confusion about the difference between Taiwan and China. I remember not knowing the difference until 3rd grade, when I did a report on China because I thought we were Chinese.

“But I’m not really Chinese either. It’s kind of confusing. My parents came from Taiwan. Some people thought Taiwan was part of China. So then calling me Chinese was kind of correct. Other people thought Taiwan was a country all by itself, so then I should be called Taiwanese. It didn’t help that my parents spoke both Chinese and Taiwanese.” (p. 18 of the paperback version)

My parents are staunchly on the Taiwan as a country side, so they were upset when I identified as Chinese at school, but I thought Lin’s explanation of the dilemma is pretty straightforward and apolitical, like her mother’s answer to her question about what to say when people ask her what she is: “‘You tell them that you’re American,’ Mom told me firmly.” (p. 19)

I also related to her experiences around other Taiwanese American kids, because although I speak Taiwanese and Mandarin, I was a Twinkie wannabe because the other option would’ve been a FOB, and I was born in America so being a Twinkie seemed like the cooler thing to be.

There were also things that I learned about Taiwanese culture that I didn’t know because what gets passed down to the second generation is usually a little spotty, so everyone ends up learning different things. In light of my last A to Z post on xxxHolic, it was interesting how almost everything in this book was translated into an English equivalent because this book is completely geared toward the general American audience, while xxxHolic is obviously for people with some knowledge of Japanese culture (although it can be enjoyed by people who do not). Although, just like in my family, Lin uses a mixture of Chinese and Taiwanese at home, so she uses both for the few words she romanizes and defines in context. My favorite of her translations is “flaky dried pork” for “rousong” or “pork floss” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rousong), which is always something I have a hard time describing to people who have never had it (although we usually eat the fish version at home).

A must-read for all Taiwanese American kids, but it is also a great entryway into learning about Taiwanese culture for kids of other backgrounds. I haven’t read Lin’s other books yet, but they’re waiting for me on my shelf!

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

[W] Wonder by R. J. Palacio

26 Apr

(#65 on School Library Journal‘s Top 100 Chapter Book Poll Results from 2012. Part of this was originally written for my History of Youth Literature class.)

“The universe takes care of all its birds.”

Wonder by R. J. Palacio is about Auggie, a boy with a facial deformity who is about to start going to school with other kids. The book follows him and his friends, family, and classmates as they struggle with how to incorporate him into their lives. Palacio tells the stories in parts, shifting the point of view from one character to another so that we can see how each character reacts to Auggie. For the most part, it’s pretty effective (although I had a little trouble when one of the teens decides to write with bad grammar after the younger characters are portrayed so eloquently. It seemed like Palacio was taking kind of the easy way out with that character’s voice).

It is an inspiring story about overcoming differences and being kind to each other. I don’t know anyone who read this book who didn’t love it.* It was one of those books that I had checked out because it was on the Top 100 and I hadn’t read it before, but I had actually planned to do Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin for my “W” book instead. (I had to keep myself from reading it so I could do “W” on this book because I have different book by Grace Lin coming up!)

I loved this book so much that I’m reading it in my 6th grade book club class now. This is probably the first book I’ve chosen that I didn’t choose just because it was a good story at a good reading level. It’s both of those things, but I also chose it because I think there are a lot of themes about bullying and friendship and just being kind in this book that are important for middle schoolers to learn.

*Apparently a lot of other people in L.A. want to read this book, too, because it was the only book of the six Top 100 I’d checked out that couldn’t be renewed, which was why I was “forced” to read it before the others… Our library system needs to get more copies of this book!

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

[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.

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