Top Ten Tuesday: Intimidating Books

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Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and The Bookish

Today’s post features books that I’ve been intimidated to read even though many of my friends and reviewers have loved them.  I don’t know if all of these books have been loved by many, but many of them have received awards and starred reviews.

The Printz Books:

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein–I can only think of one person who wasn’t a huge fan of this book; everyone else I’ve spoken with has raved about it. I can’t explain why I’m scared to try reading it.  I’ve had it on my Kindle for over a year, and I have two copies of it in my classroom.

A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly–I listened to the audio for Revolution, and while the audio was great, I really didn’t like the story. I want to read as many Printz books as I can, especially considering it’s part of the summer homework assignment for my honors sophomores, but I’m scared to try another one of her books.

The Monstrumologist by Rick Yancey–Horror isn’t really for me, unless it’s Anna Dressed in Blood because that book is flat out great.  I sampled the audio for this book, and it sounded pretty good, so I might try it that way.  Maybe even around Halloween!

Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta–Sigh. I’ve tried reading this and listening to the audio and neither worked for me.  But I REALLY want to love this because SO MANY of my friends have raved about it.  What should I do??

So Many Series Books:

Unearthly by Cynthia Hand–I’ve tried reading this a couple times and I can’t stick with it.  My mom has read the entire series and loved it.  My students have read these books and loved them.  My close friends have read this series and loved it.  Should I give it another shot?

Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore–I absolutely loved Graceling; I flew right through it. I tried reading Fire THREE times and couldn’t finish it.  I’m scared to try Bitterblue because I’ll be really sad if I don’t like it.  And it’s super long.

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman–I sat down and tried reading this a few months ago and I couldn’t pay attention.  It’s really dense, and I’m sure I’ll enjoy it, but I’m hesitant to try it again.  I really should buckle down and do it this summer.

Historical Books:

The Book of Blood and Shadow by Robin Wasserman–I own a copy of this, and I have it sitting on my shelf right now.  The summary sounds really intriguing.  Maybe it’s the size of the book, or maybe it’s the historical part of it, but I’m simply intimidated by it.

Bomb: The Race to Build–and Steal–the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon by Steve Sheinkin–I have a copy of this in my classroom library thanks to a Donors Choose project, and one of my seniors grabbed it right away to read.  He’s a huge historical non-fiction buff, and he absolutely loved it.  This book has FOUR medals on it, yet I’m hesitant to read it mostly because I don’t like non-fiction.  It’s hard to admit that, but I really don’t like non-fiction, although I do enjoy memoirs.

Hits too Close to Home:

My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult–I’ve read and enjoyed a few of Jodi Picoult’s books.  I tried reading My Sister’s Keeper when I was in college, but I couldn’t get past the first 100 pages.  My dad had leukemia (thankfully he’s been cancer-free for years) a couple years before I tried reading this.  I couldn’t do it.  I kept crying and crying and finally decided to eat the money I spent on the book and put it away.  It’s hugely popular in my classroom and my students want to talk about it with me whenever they finish.  I haven’t see the movie, but I know what happens in both the book and the movie, so I can at least discuss a little bit with them.  I always tell them why I haven’t read it, but I don’t want to not talk to them about it either.

My Sister's Keeper

Flash Reviews (21)

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the UniverseTitle: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

Author: Benjamin Alire Sáenz

Publisher: Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers

Source: Purchased

Summary (From Goodreads):

A lyrical novel about family and friendship from critically acclaimed author Benjamin Alire Sáenz.

Aristotle is an angry teen with a brother in prison. Dante is a know-it-all who has an unusual way of looking at the world. When the two meet at the swimming pool, they seem to have nothing in common. But as the loners start spending time together, they discover that they share a special friendship—the kind that changes lives and lasts a lifetime. And it is through this friendship that Ari and Dante will learn the most important truths about themselves and the kind of people they want to be.

Flash Review:  I wish I would have written a full review of this when I finished reading it, but I really just wanted to sit back and enjoy how much I enjoyed it.  Is that weird?  I had never even heard of Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe before it received multiple ALA awards this year.  I’m happy it received so many honors because this book deserves attention.  I have a feeling it will really only speak to specific readers, but it still deserves praise and a wide readership.  I’m going to recommend it to John Green fans, which I realize is a broad scope of readers, but I think those who enjoy the verisimilitude in Green’s books will enjoy it in this book.  The conversations between Dante and Aristotle are simple and complex and beautiful.  Their story is beautiful.  I couldn’t put it down, and then trying to immediately put into words all of my feelings when I was done was nearly impossible.  I read it on my Kindle and when I finished I knew I had to find a way to get a copy with all of the medals in my classroom.  So far I’ve only been able to find a copy with the Printz honor medal.  I know I haven’t really “reviewed” this, but I still hope you read it.  It’s going to be a favorite of 2013.

Blood Red RoadTitle: Blood Red Road

Author: Moira Young

Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books

Source: Borrowed from the library

Summary (From Goodreads): Saba has spent her whole life in Silverlake, a dried-up wasteland ravaged by constant sandstorms. The Wrecker civilization has long been destroyed, leaving only landfills for Saba and her family to scavenge from. That’s fine by her, as long as her beloved twin brother Lugh is around. But when a monster sandstorm arrives, along with four cloaked horsemen, Saba’s world is shattered. Lugh is captured, and Saba embarks on an epic quest to get him back.

Suddenly thrown into the lawless, ugly reality of the world outside of desolate Silverlake, Saba is lost without Lugh to guide her. So perhaps the most surprising thing of all is what Saba learns about herself: she’s a fierce fighter, an unbeatable survivor, and a cunning opponent. And she has the power to take down a corrupt society from the inside. Teamed up with a handsome daredevil named Jack and a gang of girl revolutionaries called the Free Hawks, Saba stages a showdown that will change the course of her own civilization.

Blood Red Road has a searing pace, a poetically minimal writing style, violent action, and an epic love story. Moira Young is one of the most promising and startling new voices in teen fiction.

Flash Review:  There are only a few books I chose for my Young Adult Lit II class without reading them first, which I know isn’t best practice, but I chose them based on LOTS of discussion with trusted teachers and librarians.  I haven’t been disappointed in those choices, and Blood Red Road was one of them.  The first thing that caught me off guard while reading was the dialect.  It was harder for me to read than the dialect in The Knife of Never Letting Go.  And the lack of quotation marks around the dialogue made it even harder, but ultimately I loved it.  I’m still not sure why Moira Young chose to skip the quotation marks, but I think it will make for great discussion when we read it in class.  Saba is a pretty awesome heroine; her bravery and overall hardcore attitude often put Katniss to shame.  The summary’s description of Blood Red Road being an “epic love story” isn’t accurate, in my opinion.  There’s a nice love story, but I would never call it epic.  When I think of an epic love story I think of Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor or something sweeping like that.  Overall, I would have liked to know Saba more than I did; I felt like I knew Jack and Emmi better than Saba.  This is a book that will appeal to many readers who enjoy action and adventure with a little bit of romance.

Just One DayTitle: Just One Day

Author: Gayle Forman

Publisher: Dutton Juvenile

Source: ARC received from the publisher

Summary (From Goodreads): A breathtaking journey toward self-discovery and true love, from the author of If I Stay

When sheltered American good girl Allyson “LuLu” Healey first meets laid-back Dutch actor Willem De Ruiter at an underground performance of Twelfth Night in England, there’s an undeniable spark. After just one day together, that spark bursts into a flame, or so it seems to Allyson, until the following morning, when she wakes up after a whirlwind day in Paris to discover that Willem has left. Over the next year, Allyson embarks on a journey to come to terms with the narrow confines of her life, and through Shakespeare, travel, and a quest for her almost-true-love, to break free of those confines.

Just One Day is the first in a sweepingly romantic duet of novels. Willem’s story—Just One Year—is coming soon!

Flash Review: It seems like everyone absolutely loved Just One Day.  I gave it three stars on Goodreads, but that’s mostly because of a few scenes at the beginning and some with Dee (a character introduced later in the story) in the middle.  If it weren’t for those few things, I wouldn’t have finished this book.  Allyson is one of the most annoying characters I’ve ever read, which makes me feel like a horrible person for thinking that because she’s depressed.  I think it’s more the reasons why she acts the way she does for over half of the book that bothers me so much.  She knew Willem for one day, hence the title, and is completely hung up on him for months.  Really?  Get over it.  Maybe if I was sixteen or seventeen and reading this I would have felt differently.  The big reason behind her feeling so low is her mother, which is why I feel bad saying she’s so annoying.  I simply wouldn’t call Just One Day romantic.  It’s about soul-searching and discovering yourself.  It borders on New Adult since Allyson is away at college and breaking away from her parents.  If I had gone into reading this prepared for all of that, maybe I would have liked it more.  I wish Gayle Forman would just write from a guy’s point of view because I didn’t think If I Stay was so great either, but I LOVED Where She Went.  I’m hoping I feel the same way about Just One Year which is from Willem’s perspective.

As always, thank you for the Flash Reviews idea, GreenBeanTeenQueen!

1st Hour Book Love

After reading Cindy’s blog post about the ALA awards, I came up with the idea to ask my students which books are their favorites and deserve awards.  I asked my 1st-3rd hour to list books they read and loved in 2012.  I expressed that it’s great if they’re 2012 releases, but it’s okay if they’re not.  With the help of my fabulous cadet teacher (senior class student who plans on becoming a teacher), Tristan, I have the top books listed for each class.  I’m posting the 1st hour results today, and I’ll post the next two class results over the next two days.

Top Choice: If I Lie by Corrine Jackson
**Side note–A few students cheered when I told them this was the top choice 1st hour**

If I Lie

What students said about If I Lie (Goodreads):

“I listed this book because she stayed true to her friend no matter how badly it affected her.” -Trista

“It’s touching and super cute.” -Kaelyn

Honorary Titles:

I Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga (Goodreads)

I Hunt Killers final

Stupid Fast by Geoff Herbach (Goodreads)
“It’s just good all-around” -Joe (a very to the point answer :))

Stupid Fast

The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin (Goodreads)
“I love how she slowly uncovers everything.” -Katie

The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer

Embrace by Jessica Shirvington (Goodreads)

Embrace

Divergent by Veronica Roth (Goodreads)
**Side note–This class is very excited about the third book releasing & this being made into a movie.**

Divergent

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs (Goodreads)
“It’s different and not predictable at all.” -Kara

Miss-Peregrines-Home-for-Peculiar-Children

Shut Out by Kody Keplinger (Goodreads)

Shut Out

Crank by Ellen Hopkins (Goodreads)

crank

Looking for Alaska by John Green (Goodreads)
**Side note–Announcing this title sparked a lot of debate because some loved it and others didn’t like it at all.**

“I love the Before and After because it allows us to see how Pudge handles everything **avoiding spoiler** after.” -Hannah B.

cover-of-looking-for-alaska

ALA Youth Media Awards–Adding to My TBR List

Some people get excited about the Oscars, I get excited about the ALA Youth Media Awards.  I was hoping to watch the awards with my students, but we had a snow day, so I enjoyed them at home in my pjs 🙂  Did you watch the awards as well?  Did you follow it on Twitter?  I had Twitter open as well as my Goodreads page.

To be completely honest, I’ve barely read any of the books that received awards and honors.  I’m proud of the few I did happen to read, especially The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate which won the Newberry Award!  I’m kind of happy that I haven’t read that many of the titles, however, because now I have so many books to look forward to reading.  I know many people were shocked, maybe even angry, that John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars didn’t even receive a Printz honor.  I’m going to come right out and say it: I’m a tiny bit glad it didn’t receive the award or an honor.  There, I said it.  I hope I don’t make any enemies over that statement.  I really enjoyed The Fault in Our Stars, I did.  The reason I’m happy it didn’t make the cut is because it’s already received so much hype.  I love that the Printz committee has been choosing more obscure titles lately.  Those obscure titles are now going to find a wider audience of readers.  I’m excited for those authors and the readers who connect with those books.  I can’t wait to read the 2013 Printz titles and share them with my students.

If you weren’t following the awards, here’s a link to all of the winners.  The rest of today’s post is going to focus on some of the titles I’m really excited to read.  I’m even thinking about creating a Donors Choose project so I can add more of these titles to my classroom library.

Alex Award (I really want to read more adult titles this year):

Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt (Goodreads): In this striking literary debut, Carol Rifka Brunt unfolds a moving story of love, grief, and renewal as two lonely people become the unlikeliest of friends and find that sometimes you don’t know you’ve lost someone until you’ve found them.

1987. There’s only one person who has ever truly understood fourteen-year-old June Elbus, and that’s her uncle, the renowned painter Finn Weiss. Shy at school and distant from her older sister, June can only be herself in Finn’s company; he is her godfather, confidant, and best friend. So when he dies, far too young, of a mysterious illness her mother can barely speak about, June’s world is turned upside down. But Finn’s death brings a surprise acquaintance into June’s life—someone who will help her to heal, and to question what she thinks she knows about Finn, her family, and even her own heart.

At Finn’s funeral, June notices a strange man lingering just beyond the crowd. A few days later, she receives a package in the mail. Inside is a beautiful teapot she recognizes from Finn’s apartment, and a note from Toby, the stranger, asking for an opportunity to meet. As the two begin to spend time together, June realizes she’s not the only one who misses Finn, and if she can bring herself to trust this unexpected friend, he just might be the one she needs the most.

An emotionally charged coming-of-age novel, Tell the Wolves I’m Home is a tender story of love lost and found, an unforgettable portrait of the way compassion can make us whole again.

Tell the Wolves I'm Home

Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple (Goodreads):

Bernadette Fox is notorious. To her Microsoft-guru husband, she’s a fearlessly opinionated partner; to fellow private-school mothers in Seattle, she’s a disgrace; to design mavens, she’s a revolutionary architect, and to 15-year-old Bee, she is a best friend and, simply, Mom.
Then Bernadette disappears. It began when Bee aced her report card and claimed her promised reward: a family trip to Antarctica. But Bernadette’s intensifying allergy to Seattle–and people in general–has made her so agoraphobic that a virtual assistant in India now runs her most basic errands. A trip to the end of the earth is problematic.
To find her mother, Bee compiles email messages, official documents, secret correspondence–creating a compulsively readable and touching novel about misplaced genius and a mother and daughter’s role in an absurd world.

Where'd You Go, Bernadette

Randolph Caldecott Medal:

This is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen (Goodreads): From the creator of the #1 NEW YORK TIMES best-selling and award-winning I WANT MY HAT BACK comes a second wry tale.

When a tiny fish shoots into view wearing a round blue topper (which happens to fit him perfectly), trouble could be following close behind. So it’s a good thing that enormous fish won’t wake up. And even if he does, it’s not like he’ll ever know what happened. . . . Visual humor swims to the fore as the best-selling Jon Klassen follows his breakout debut with another deadpan-funny tale.

This is Not My Hat

One Cool Friend by Toni Buzzeo, illustrated by David Small (Goodreads): On a momentous visit to the aquarium, Elliot discovers his dream pet: a penguin. It’s just proper enough for a straight-laced boy like him. And when he asks his father if he may have one (please and thank you), his father says yes. Elliot should have realized that Dad probably thought he meant a stuffed penguin and not a real one . . . Clever illustrations and a wild surprise ending make this sly, silly tale of friendship and wish fulfillment a kid-pleaser from start to finish.

One Cool Friend

Creepy Carrots! by Aaron Reynolds, illustrated by Peter Brown (Goodreads): The Twilight Zone comes to the carrot patch in this clever picture book parable about a rabbit who fears his favorite treats are out to get him. Jasper Rabbit loves carrots—especially Crackenhopper Field carrots.

He eats them on the way to school.

He eats them going to Little League.

He eats them walking home.

Until the day the carrots start following him…or are they?

Celebrated artist Peter Brown’s stylish illustrations pair perfectly with Aaron Reynold’s text in this hilarious eBook with audio that shows it’s all fun and games…until you get too greedy.

Creepy Carrots!

Stonewall Book Award (This list helps satisfy my book gap challenge. I’m also very happy that Drama and October Mourning made the list!):

Gone, Gone, Gone by Hannah Moskowitz (Goodreads): In the wake of the post-9/11 sniper shootings, fragile love finds a stronghold in this intense, romantic novel from the author of Break and Invincible Summer. It’s a year after 9/11. Sniper shootings throughout the D.C. area have everyone on edge and trying to make sense of these random acts of violence. Meanwhile, Craig and Lio are just trying to make sense of their lives.

Craig’s crushing on quiet, distant Lio, and preoccupied with what it meant when Lio kissed him…and if he’ll do it again…and if kissing Lio will help him finally get over his ex-boyfriend, Cody.

Lio feels most alive when he’s with Craig. He forgets about his broken family, his dead brother, and the messed up world. But being with Craig means being vulnerable…and Lio will have to decide whether love is worth the risk.

This intense, romantic novel from the author of Break and Invincible Summer is a poignant look at what it is to feel needed, connected, and alive.

Gone, Gone, Gone

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz (Goodreads): A lyrical novel about family and friendship from critically acclaimed author Benjamin Alire Sáenz. Aristotle is an angry teen with a brother in prison. Dante is a know-it-all who has an unusual way of looking at the world. When the two meet at the swimming pool, they seem to have nothing in common. But as the loners start spending time together, they discover that they share a special friendship—the kind that changes lives and lasts a lifetime. And it is through this friendship that Ari and Dante will learn the most important truths about themselves and the kind of people they want to be.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

William C. Morris Award (I’ve already featured other books on this list that I’d like to read):

Wonder Show by Hannah Barnaby (Goodreads):

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, step inside Mosco’s Traveling Wonder Show, a
menagerie of human curiosities and misfits guaranteed to astound and amaze!
But perhaps the strangest act of Mosco’s display is Portia Remini, a normal among
the freaks, on the run from McGreavy’s Home for Wayward Girls, where Mister
watches and waits. He said he would always find Portia, that she could never leave.
Free at last, Portia begins a new life on the bally, seeking answers about her father’s
disappearance. Will she find him before Mister finds her? It’s a story for the ages, and
like everyone who enters the Wonder Show, Portia will never be the same.

Wonder Show

Michael L. Printz Award:

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein (Goodreads): Oct. 11th, 1943–A British spy plane crashes in Nazi-occupied France. Its pilot and passenger are best friends. One of the girls has a chance at survival. The other has lost the game before it’s barely begun.
When “Verity” is arrested by the Gestapo, she’s sure she doesn’t stand a chance. As a secret agent captured in enemy territory, she’s living a spy’s worst nightmare. Her Nazi interrogators give her a simple choice: reveal her mission or face a grisly execution.
As she intricately weaves her confession, Verity uncovers her past, how she became friends with the pilot Maddie, and why she left Maddie in the wrecked fuselage of their plane. On each new scrap of paper, Verity battles for her life, confronting her views on courage and failure and her desperate hope to make it home. But will trading her secrets be enough to save her from the enemy?
Harrowing and beautifully written, Elizabeth Wein creates a visceral read of danger, resolve, and survival that shows just how far true friends will go to save each other. Code Name Verity is an outstanding novel that will stick with you long after the last page.

Code Name Verity US

The White Bicycle by Beverly Brenna (Goodreads): The White Bicycle is the third stand-alone title in the Wild Orchid series about a young woman with Asperger’s Syndrome. This installment chronicles Taylor Jane’s travels to the south of France where she spends a summer babysitting for the Phoenix family. Including flashbacks into Taylor’s earliest memories, along with immediate scenes in Lourmarin, a picturesque village in the Luberon Valley, The White Bicycle results in a journey for independence both personal and universal, told in Taylor’s honest first-person prose.

The White Bicycle

In Darkness by Nick Lake (Goodreads): In darkness I count my blessings like Manman taught me. One: I am alive. Two: there is no two. In the aftermath of the Haitian earthquake a boy is trapped beneath the rubble of a ruined hospital: thirsty, terrified and alone. ‘Shorty’ is a child of the slums, a teenage boy who has seen enough violence to last a lifetime, and who has been inexorably drawn into the world of the gangsters who rule Site Soleil: men who dole out money with one hand and death with the other. But Shorty has a secret: a flame of revenge that blazes inside him and a burning wish to find the twin sister he lost five years ago. And he is marked. Marked in a way that links him with Toussaint L’Ouverture, the Haitian rebel who two-hundred years ago led the slave revolt and faced down Napoleon to force the French out of Haiti. As he grows weaker, Shorty relives the journey that took him to the hospital, a bullet wound in his arm. In his visions and memories he hopes to find the strength to survive, and perhaps then Toussaint can find a way to be free …

In Darkness

There are plenty more books I’m looking forward to reading, but these titles are at the top of my list.  Which titles did you miss and look forward to reading?

 

Flash Reviews (17)

Title: I Am the Messenger

Author: Markus Zusak

Source: Purchased

Summary (From Goodreads): Meet Ed Kennedy—underage cabdriver, pathetic cardplayer, and useless at romance. He lives in a shack with his coffee-addicted dog, the Doorman, and he’s hopelessly in love with his best friend, Audrey. His life is one of peaceful routine and incompetence, until he inadvertently stops a bank robbery. That’s when the first Ace arrives. That’s when Ed becomes the messenger. . . .

Chosen to care, he makes his way through town helping and hurting (when necessary), until only one question remains: Who’s behind Ed’s mission?

Winner of the 2003 Children’s Book Council Book of the Year Award in Australia, I Am the Messenger is a cryptic journey filled with laughter, fists, and love.

Flash Review: I’ve been wanting to read I Am the Messenger for a while, but it hasn’t made it very far in my TBR pile until I assigned my Sophomore Seminar students to read Printz novels over the summer.  I know a couple of them chose it for their summer reading, and I’m sure a few others did as well, so I felt a little more obligated to read it this summer.  I’m glad I did.  I couldn’t finish Markus Zusak’s other book, The Book Thief, so I was wary when I started this one.  The writing style and language took some time to adjust to, especially the Australian slang and terms.  Once I got into the flow of the book I didn’t want to put it down.  I really like Ed.  He’s completely ordinary and really doesn’t have anything going for him.  I was almost surprised he accepted the challenge of the cards, but he does and it’s wonderful to watch.  The more Ed focuses on the cards and his missions, the more dynamic he becomes.  It’s no surprise to me that I Am the Messenger was a Printz finalist; it’s a wonderful, beautiful book.

Title: The One and Only Ivan

Author: Katherine Applegate

Source: Borrowed from the library

Summary (From Goodreads): Ivan is an easygoing gorilla. Living at the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade, he has grown accustomed to humans watching him through the glass walls of his domain. He rarely misses his life in the jungle. In fact, he hardly ever thinks about it at all.

Instead, Ivan thinks about TV shows he’s seen and about his friends Stella, an elderly elephant, and Bob, a stray dog. But mostly Ivan thinks about art and how to capture the taste of a mango or the sound of leaves with color and a well-placed line.

Then he meets Ruby, a baby elephant taken from her family, and she makes Ivan see their home—and his own art—through new eyes. When Ruby arrives, change comes with her, and it’s up to Ivan to make it a change for the better.

Katherine Applegate blends humor and poignancy to create Ivan’s unforgettable first-person narration in a story of friendship, art, and hope.

Flash Review: Have some tissues handy when you read The One and Only Ivan because it will most likely make you cry.  I did.  I love that Katherine Applegate from this story from Ivan’s point of view; I don’t think it could have been written any other way.  My heart was breaking within the first pages of this book.  Ivan hasn’t been around any other apes since he was taken away as a baby.  His narrative of this made me teary.  He’s not what the humans who come to see him think he is; he’s a gentle soul.  Ivan’s an artist.  Every time he described his drawings I thought about apes in the zoo and wondered if they think in a similar way.  I know that Applegate wrote this and gave Ivan human-like thoughts for the sake of the story, but it still makes me wonder.  I’ve never liked the circus and after reading this I think it’s safe to say that I’ll never go to one again.  Ivan’s cage/domain/life is tragic and sad, but there’s hope woven into the story.  Ivan, the other animals, and the reader may not always feel it, but it’s there on every page.  The One and Only Ivan is a feel-good book that I hope you’ll read.  I’m really considering reading this to my sophomores and hoping they’ll enjoy it as much as I did.

 

As always, thank you for the Flash Reviews idea, GreenBeanTeenQueen!

Flash Reviews (16)

Title: The Demon King

Author: Cinda Williams Chima

Source: Purchased

Summary (From Goodreads): Times are hard in the mountain city of Fellsmarch. Reformed thief Han Alister will do almost anything to eke out a living for for his family. The only thing of value he has is something he can’t sell – the thick silver cuffs he’s worn since birth. They’re clearly magicked – as he grows, they grow, and he’s never been able to get them off.

One day Han and his clan friend, Dancer, confront three young wizards setting fire to the sacred mountain of Hanalea. Han takes an amulet from Micah Bayar, son of the High Wizard, to keep him from using it against them. Soon Han learns that the amulet has an evil history – it once belonged to the Demon King, the wizard who nearly destroyed the world a millennium ago. With a magical piece that powerful at stake, Han knows that the Bayars will stop at nothing to get it back.

Meanwhile, Raisa ana’Marianna, princess heir of the Fells, has her own battles to fight. She’s just returning to court after three years of freedom in the mountains – riding, hunting, and working the famous clan markets. Raisa wants to be more than an ornament in a glittering cage. She aspires to be like Hanalea – the legendary warrior queen who killed the Demon King and saved the world. But her mother has other plans for her – including marriage to a suitor who goes against everything the queendom stands for.

The Seven Realms tremble when the lives of Han and Raisa collide, fanning the flames of the smoldering war between clans and wizards.

Flash Review: The Demon King is one of the first high fantasies I read when I decided to read more high fantasy and I loved it!  It’s full of magic, mystery, and intrigue; it’s a page turner despite how long it is.  It’s written in third person, which isn’t always my favorite, but Cinda Williams Chima really makes it work in this series.  Just about every other chapter focuses on either Han or Raisa which I really enjoyed.  The set up made me wonder when the characters would come together and connect.  It also gave me more insight to their very different backgrounds which really adds to the world building.  I haven’t read the Lord of the Rings trilogy, but based on what I know from the movies I think fans of that trilogy would like this series.  I highly recommend this series!

Title: Where Things Come Back

Author: John Corey Whaley

Source: Purchased

Summary (From Goodreads): Just when seventeen-year-old Cullen Witter thinks he understands everything about his small and painfully dull Arkansas town, it all disappears. . . .

In the summer before Cullen’s senior year, a nominally-depressed birdwatcher named John Barling thinks he spots a species of woodpecker thought to be extinct since the 1940s in Lily, Arkansas. His rediscovery of the so-called Lazarus Woodpecker sparks a flurry of press and woodpecker-mania. Soon all the kids are getting woodpecker haircuts and everyone’s eating “Lazarus burgers.” But as absurd as the town’s carnival atmosphere has become, nothing is more startling than the realization that Cullen’s sensitive, gifted fifteen-year-old brother Gabriel has suddenly and inexplicably disappeared.

While Cullen navigates his way through a summer of finding and losing love, holding his fragile family together, and muddling his way into adulthood, a young missionary in Africa, who has lost his faith, is searching for any semblance of meaning wherever he can find it. As distant as the two stories seem at the start, they are thoughtfully woven ever closer together and through masterful plotting, brought face to face in a surprising and harrowing climax.

Complex but truly extraordinary, tinged with melancholy and regret, comedy and absurdity, this novel finds wonder in the ordinary and emerges as ultimately hopeful. It’s about a lot more than what Cullen calls, “that damn bird.” It’s about the dream of second chances.

Flash Review: I’ve really had to think about my feelings towards Where Things Come Back since reading it a month ago.  The verdict: I simply didn’t like it.  It’s told from two points of view which seem like they don’t have much in common, but as the story progresses and comes to a close the reader makes the connection.  I understood the connection, but so much of the story before that connection muddled everything up.  There’s was too much going on which distracted from the real story.  John Corey Whaley’s writing style didn’t work for me either.  Very often Cullen would say something like, “Imagine one does such and such” and then goes off on a dream-like tangent.  It’s written in such a way that it’s hard to tell whether it’s a daydream or if any of that tangent actually happened.  I would have never chosen this for Printz consideration, let alone honor it with the Printz award.

Title: The Strange Case of Origami Yoda

Author: Tom Angleberger

Source: Purchased

Summary (From Goodreads): In this funny, uncannily wise portrait of the dynamics of a sixth-grade class and of the greatness that sometimes comes in unlikely packages, Dwight, a loser, talks to his classmates via an origami finger puppet of Yoda. If that weren’t strange enough, the puppet is uncannily wise and prescient. Origami Yoda predicts the date of a pop quiz, guesses who stole the classroom Shakespeare bust, and saves a classmate from popularity-crushing embarrassment with some well-timed advice. Dwight’s classmate Tommy wonders how Yoda can be so smart when Dwight himself is so clueless. With contributions from his puzzled classmates, he assembles the case file that forms this novel.

Flash Review: There are a number of struggling readers in my building, so I’ve been trying harder to read more middle grade books to see if offering those helps those students in need.  I have to admit that reading The Strange Case of Origami Yoda was a stretch for me since it’s so young in focus, but I really enjoyed it.  Reading a book that’s so entirely focused on middle school was fun and a nice change of pace.  The humor is spot on for middle school students, but I know my high school students will appreciate it as well (I did).  I also have quite a few Stars Wars fans who I’m sure will enjoy Origami Yoda and his predictions.  It’s a really cute book and the added illustrations are a nice touch.

As always, thank you for the Flash Reviews idea, GreenBeanTeenQueen!

Thoughts on Summer Reading Lists

Paul Hankins posted a link on Facebook to an article called “How to Choose Summer Reading for Students” published in today’s New York Times with the headline SOME BOOKS ARE MORE EQUAL THAN OTHERS.  Paul’s ideas and the article itself made me think about the summer reading assignment I handed out for this summer.

I’m teaching Honors Sophomore Seminar for the first time this fall and before me four other teachers have taught the class and made it their own.  From what I’ve gathered, past summer reading assignments have included Of Mice and Men and a reading packet and/or a test upon return, The Count of Monte Cristo and a reading packet and/or a test upon return, and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and a reading packet and/or a test upon return.  I’m pretty sure essays were written at the beginning of the year too.  I’m not bashing or judging those assignments because I know they were assigned with good intentions, even if that’s not my style.  I understand the importance of the classics, but I decided to go about my summer homework assignment a little differently.  I have a blog page devoted to my summer assignment just in case my students lose their homework folder, but the short version of the assignment is that I asked them to read three books this summer.  They’ve been asked to read three novels from the Michael L. Printz list: one award winner and two honor books or two award winners and one honor book.

Right now I have 52 kids signed up (two sections of the class).  I’ve had about half of those students already this past school year, so many of them are acquainted with my teaching style and my love of reading.  I can hope that all 52 of my students will be reading to their heart’s content this summer, but I know many of them won’t be.  And if I were to hand them something like The Red Badge of Courage?  Yeah, some would read and love that book.  Many would look it up on Sparknotes to pretend they read it.  I don’t think any of the Printz books are on Sparknotes, but that’s not why I chose those novels.  I chose that list because it’s a good starting point when requiring YA for homework (in my opinion).  It’s a list of books qualified as “literary excellence” and having read many of them, I tend to agree.  I also chose that list of reading because the novels suit a variety of reading interests and levels; they’re also current.  I considered giving them a list of great books to read including non-fiction, graphic novels, fiction, etc, but even that list is objective.  I wanted to have a specific focus to their assignment while reading, hopefully, books they’ll enjoy since they’re choosing them from that list.  I didn’t design this summer homework assignment to instill a sense of fear in my students about how tough this class is going to be or to give them something to be held accountable for.  The purpose for their reading is to think critically about what they’re expected to read as college bound students.  The majority of our high school English curriculum involves reading classics.  With this in mind, I presented them with the challenge to read these Printz novels and think about the novels included on the college bound reading list.  Did I ask them to write an essay this summer? Yes.  And I know that some will agree with me for having them write an essay and others will disagree.  I’m having them write an essay to support the books they read being added to the college bound reading list or to oppose the books they read being added to the college bound reading list.  My reasons behind having them write the essay (which is due the second day of school) this summer is that we’ll be able to begin the year focusing on revision and learning to view writing as a process that, really, never ends.

Will their summer reading be relevant throughout the school year?  Yes.  I plan on creating an independent unit where the students will be required to read a book from the college bound reading list and reflecting back on their summer essays.  Plus, I know we’ll be reading independently throughout the entire year.  SSR isn’t just for freshmen (most of the 10th-12th grade classrooms don’t offer SSR).  My sophomores next year will be reading novels of their choice during SSR all year.

So writing this whole long post began because of that article I referenced.  Do I agree with it?  In short, no.  I don’t want to assign classics over the summer because like I already said, they’ll most likely go to Sparknotes and because I’d rather read the classics with my students.  I want the chance to discuss the classics openly with my students.  I understand the author’s idea that students can read those texts without worrying about questions and pressure from the teacher, but I also understand my role as the teacher and helping my students become better learners and readers.  I don’t agree with her claim that our higher readers will only increase their vocabulary by reading the classics.  I’ve read the classics all through high school and college and I’m still increasing my vocabulary when I’m reading YA.  If she’s worried about her students needing to build a better understanding of the world, I’d recommend she read Sold and Never Fall Down by Patricia McCormick.  There’s also Ruta Sepetys’ beautiful debut novel Between Shades of Grey giving readers insight to a piece of world history barely covered in history classes or known about at all.  I could go on and on, but considering the length of this post I won’t.

Summer reading is apparently more of a touchy subject than I first thought.  Next June I’ll reflect on the year and maybe I’ll change my summer reading assignment.  Right now, however, I’m still happy with what I assigned because I know my administrators and what they expect and more importantly, I know my students.  I know many of my 52 students will need a starting place in the world of YA because I know many of them aren’t as acquainted with it as I’d like them to be.  I guess we’ll see how it went over in a couple months.

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