Tag Archives: top100

[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.

[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.

[J] Journey to the River Sea by Eva Ibbotson

11 Apr

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

Journey to the River Sea by Eva Ibbotson is set in 1910 and is about an orphaned English girl named Maia who gets sent off to live in the Amazon with her relatives and has lots of adventures. There’s even a small love triangle with a stage actor she meets on the boat over and a mysterious Indian boy she meets in the jungle. It’s a satisfying read that goes on longer than expected (in a good way) and ties up all the loose ends by the last page.

I loved this book. I had no idea what I was getting into when I started reading it (all I knew was that it started with the letter “J” and that it was by a popular author I hadn’t really read much of before). It was written more recently than I expected, too, in 2001. I first heard of Ibbotson when I read The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall, but after reading this book, the omnibus of three of her books just jumped to the top of my “to read” pile (right after all the books I need to read for this challenge, and the others I need to read for class…)

Even though I read tons of orphan books growing up and usually prefer to have loving parents (even if they’re absent) these days, Maia was just the kind of character that I liked to read about. She was smart, brave, resourceful, and just plain fun to read about. She was basically what I had hoped Calpurnia Tate would be, but Callie Vee did not keep my attention the way Maia did.

The natives in this book are seen through the rose-colored glasses of Maia, which seem to be typical for the time period, but since it is actually a contemporary book, their portrayal is probably not as offensive as it could have been. Unrealistic maybe, but not offensive. I also spent way too much time while I was reading the book getting distracted by her name, since Maya is a common Japanese name, but I haven’t really heard of an English girl with that name before. (Apparently she was named after Hermes’s mother in Greek mythology, which is appropriate, since her parents were very well-traveled.)

Anyway, everyone should read this book, but it’s great for girls who like historical fiction or adventure books. 🙂

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


[I] The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick

10 Apr

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

The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick is about a boy named Hugo who is trying to fix a mechanical automaton that he believes will write him a message from his father. It’s written and illustrated by Brian Selznick, who is known for drawing the covers of books like Frindle by Andrew Clements, which I wrote about earlier in this year’s A to Z challenge (they’re right next to each other on the list, too!).

I hadn’t heard especially good things either the book or the movie when the movie first came out, so I didn’t really think about reading it, even after seeing one of my students reading it. Flipping through, it just looked like a kind of easy book with a lot of pictures, but when i decided to read it for the Top 100, I saw that it had more depth than I expected from my first impression of it.

I loved the way Selznick used the illustrations as part of the plot, and it totally makes sense for it to be a movie. In fact, right after I read the book, I watched the movie on Amazon Prime because I wanted to see what they did with it. And then, after I watched the movie, I changed my final project to Hugo because I felt like the whole time I was watching the movie, I was already comparing it to the book (I even took notes after the first few things I noticed because it seemed likely that I would want to use it for class even though I had originally signed up for a different book).

I can understand why the people I talked to were less-than-enthusiastic about both the book and the movie, though. Older children or more advanced readers might think that the book is too easy, especially if they are used to skipping pictures when they read. I think it is a great book to explore with students, though, to build critical thinking skills by making them think more deeply about the way the author wrote the book and the effect the combination of illustrations and words in this format has on the reader.

The movie tries to be more of a family movie, but it seems to struggle with balancing artistry with keeping the attention of the kids, and it falls on the artistic side, which is great for adults who watch the movie, but may seem boring to the kids.

(I’ll be doing the book with my students soon and working on this my final project, so there may be a part 2 to this post if I come up with anything good…)

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

[G] The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Paterson

8 Apr

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

The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Paterson is about a smart, sassy, racist girl named Galadriel (or “Gilly”) who has been causing trouble in the foster care system. I had no idea she was named for the Lord of the Rings character, and I was surprised by how racist she is at the beginning of the book for a main character in a children’s book. But I was impressed by her journey of acceptance for both herself and for those around her, even if she didn’t get quite the happy ending she had hoped for.

I avoided reading this book for a long time, and I’m not really sure why. I think for a while, it was one of those books that I had heard about so much that I thought I’d already read it. Recently, after reading a summary of it, I was able to place it firmly in the “haven’t read” category (or at least the “don’t have any recollection of it at all” category) because I didn’t really feel like reading another rebellious (foster, orphan, adopted, etc.) child books (I’d read plenty growing up). But then, I needed a “G” book off the Top 100 list, so I decided to give it a try. (I also got a copy of The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, which I’ve been meaning to read for forever, but I didn’t really like Coraline all that much, so it made me less enthusiastic about Gaiman’s other “G” book. I’ve checked it out at least twice already, but hopefully I’ll actually get around to reading it this time. I just didn’t get around to it before I had to write this post…)

It was another small ordeal getting a hold of a copy because there were none available through the L.A. (city) public library, so I had to go through the county system. Other than the fact that my county library branch is not quite as close as the city library branch, I also try to avoid the county system because it takes a really long time to get books from different branches, and on top of that, they don’t have email notification when my book arrives. Instead, I get a quaint letter in the mail telling me that my book has arrived (sometimes after I pick it up at the library because I was obsessively checking my online account to see if the book was there yet, so I found out before they could notify me).

Anyway, I finally had time to read the book a couple weeks ago, and I enjoyed it despite myself. I shouldn’t have been surprised, since Katherine Paterson wrote one of my favorite books while growing up, Jacob Have I Loved. I usually like happy endings, but for some reason, I’m okay with not having one in her books.

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

[F] Frindle by Andrew Clements

6 Apr

(#38 on School Library Journal‘s Top 100 Chapter Book Poll Results from 2012. This was first written for my History of Youth Literature class.)

My book for the letter “F” is Frindle by Andrew Clements (1996), which is about a boy named Nicholas (Nick) Allen who comes up with a new word and gets everyone at school to start using it. Eventually, it gets into the press and becomes a worldwide sensation, earning itself a spot in the dictionary.

I loved this book, even though I related more to the villain (the strict teacher that makes them use *gasp* the dictionary) than the kids. The way that the word spread worldwide and made Nick an extremely wealthy college student seemed a little unrealistic, but the idea that words have the meaning we give them is something that I wish all my students would be as excited about as Nick was. It reminded me of when I taught “Jabberwocky” to my students and showed them how the word “chortle” was listed in the dictionary as being coined by Lewis Carroll. Many of them already knew what the word meant, and they thought it was so cool that the first time it appeared in print was in the poem they were reading.

I wish I’d known about Frindle before, but I definitely want to teach it with “Jabberwocky” in a lesson sometime soon.

Also, I kept wondering why the illustrator’s name sounded so familiar, and then I realized that it was because Brian Selznick is the author of another Top 100 book, The Invention of Hugo Cabret (which I’d checked out at the same time).

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

[E] The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly

5 Apr

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

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly (2009) is set in 1899 and is about a girl who would rather observe the world around her than act like the lady that she is expected to become. It was a Newbery Honor Book for 2010.

The first time I read this book, I thought that it had a catchy name that sounded familiar, but I suppose that was because the author was trying to evoke the historical fiction of the time. Ever since then, I’ve had a hard time figuring out if I’d read the book before or not. I checked it out this semester because it was on the Top 100 list of books we could choose from for our final project. After re-reading the first few chapters, I realized that I had in fact read it before, but that I’d read it on my iPhone when I was checking out tons of books from OverDrive. Although I’m pretty sure enjoyed it, I guess it wasn’t particularly memorable for me. ^^;

Nonetheless, it is an Honor Book for a reason, and it would be a fun read for girls who want to read about smart girls who go against the norm and/or for those who enjoy historical fiction.

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