Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Found by Margaret Peterson Haddix

As a mother to three boys and a sixth grade teacher, I’m always on the look out for books that will appeal to the guys in my life.  So I was excited to learn that Margaret Peterson Haddix, author of the Hidden Children series would be visiting my area in October.  She’ll be on tour promoting the release of the sixth book in her Missing series.  As luck would have it, I already owned a copy of the first book in the series, Found.

Found is the story of three friends, Jonah (13), his sister Katherine (12), and their new neighbor, Chip (13).  From all outward appearances they seem to be normal happy, ordinary kids.  That is until the letters start to arrive.  Jonah has always known he was adopted, no big secret.  Then he receives a letter informing him he is “one of the missing” and to be careful, someone was coming for him.  What doe this mean?  He’s missing? From where?  Who’s coming to get him?  Then life becomes even stranger.  The FBI threatens his family. Strange people mysteriously appear and then disappear, or do they?  The only person that may have some answers is a woman named Angela DuPre.  But should the kids believe her? Her own family considers her crazy. Angela’s theories on physics and time travel sound like something out of a science fiction novel.  Then she disappears!  The kids need to find someone who knows what’s going on before it’s too late, or is it already?

I loved this book!  Margret Peterson Haddix has a unique writing style that leaves the reader in suspense at the end of each chapter.  You must keep reading, as it’s too difficult to put the book down. I’ll warn you now – Found is Book One in the Missing series. The book ends with a total cliff hanger, it kind of reminds me of a series TV show, you’re so shocked you just can’t stop thinking about it and will definitely be reaching for the next book in the series.

I plan to read Found to my classes as our first read aloud of the year.  I’m hoping to hook them on the series and build excitement for the new book due out in September and other books by the author. 

Monday, July 22, 2013

Zebra Forest by Adina Rishe Gewirtz

Don’t be fooled by the cover of this book!  I’m embarrassed to say I almost put this book back on the shelf after discovering it at the library.  I hadn’t heard any buzz about the book and judging by the cover (yes, I’ll admit, covers do have the power to pull me in or push me away), the book was about zebras in a forest.  It just didn’t seem like a topic that would hold my interest for long.  Thankfully, I listened to that little inner voice that told me to give the book a chance, advice I so frequently give kids, to not judge a book by its cover.

This story begins quietly enough:  Anne and Rew are young siblings who are being raised by their grandmother in a small town.  Their mother abandoned them when they were little more than babies.  Their father was killed by an “angry man”.  This is all they know of their past.  Talking about the past is not something Gran does willingly or frequently.  Annie and Rew are fine with their simple life.  When not in school they occupy their time by helping Gran, reading (Gran doesn’t allow television in the house) books especially their all-time favorite, Treasure Island.  They also love to play and tell stories in the forest of oak and birch trees behind their house, lovingly nicknamed the zebra forest.  Their favorite stories center around adventures they imagine for the father they don’t remember. Then one night their world turns upside down!  An escapee from the nearby prison breaks into their home and holds them hostage.  Scared, the children are even more mystified at Gran's reaction.  Why won’t she come out of her bedroom?

This is must read book! While the plot was fairly simple, the emotions felt and expressed by the characters leave the reader in constant turmoil. It’s difficult, if not impossible, to decide which character to feel more empathy for.  One minute I was agreeing with the anger felt by Rew, the next minute I was feeling the confusion felt by Annie.  As a mother I could also empathize with Gran.  Honestly, the range of emotions felt while reading this book:  anger, confusion, fear, sadness, etc, left me feeling exhausted but wanting to know more.  There needs to a sequel, I was just not ready to say good-bye to anyone.  While this book is written for a middle grade audience, the emotions felt by the characters and the subject matter of the story make it a book that will be actively discussed at several grade levels.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Rump: The True Story of Rumpelstiltskin by Liesl Shurtliff

“ ‘What’s in a name?’  To all those with common names, rare names, beautiful names, strange and exotic names, or names they wish they could change:  Names are powerful and so is destiny, but a person’s will is more powerful than both put together.”  Author’s Note, p.261 Rump:  The True Story of Rumpelstiltskin, by Liesl Shurtliff.

What is in a name? Names aren’t important, it’s the person inside that determines who you are, right? Unfortunately for Rump, in his small village it is believed that your name determines your destiny in life, your purpose for being on this Earth.  With a name like “Rump” that can’t be good, can it?  Rump has been bullied his whole life because of his name, but he knows something others don’t.  He doesn’t believe Rump is really his name, at least not his full name.  Gran’s told him many times of how his dying mother whispered his name to him right after he was born.  She tired to tell Gran but was only able to say the word “Rump…” before she took her last breath.  Rump’s father had died before he was born, so he was left an orphan to be raised by his grandmother.  Mining for gold (this was a job done by children in the village), being bullied, and having so little to eat he only grew to half size, Rump did not have much of a life.  Until he discovers he can spin straw into gold!  Rump is so excited!  His magic can change his destiny, his troubles are over!  There’s only one problem…he can’t stop spinning.  His one and only friend, Red, warns him that magic is trouble, but it’s too late, something has taken control of Rump and he’s powerless to break the spell.  Will discovering his true name and destiny help him or is his fate, like his poor mother’s, sealed already?

I loved this book!  It was a fun read as I have heard the fairy tale of Rumpelstiltskin many times before but had never considered the “back-story”.  This story is filled with unexpected twists and turns and interesting characters such as pixies that sniff out gold, good witches, and evil trolls (that actually turn out to be allies for Rump) that live deep in the woods.  I even found myself rooting for the trolls to help Rump in one scene!  I look forward to sharing this book in the classroom, possibly as a read aloud and mentor text.  Students could then be encouraged to read other fairy tales and write the back-stories they imagine.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Hollow Earth by Carole Barrowman (and a book birthday announcement!)

Have you ever stared at a picture or painting and wondered what the artist was thinking when he painted it?  Or have you wondered what it would be like if you had been part of the scene depicted?  In Hollow Earth, twins Matt and Em don’t have to wonder, they can do so much more than that.  The twins have the ability to enter a painting and become a part of that world.  They can even bring art to life!  Sounds like a fun, but harmless activity, right?  Wrong!

For most of the first 12 years of their lives, their mother, Sandy, has kept the twins hidden away in London.  The twins have no idea just how special they are until one day they enter a painting to take a swim, and draw some unwelcome attention.  Suddenly two very sinister groups that want the twins and their powers for very different reasons are hunting them.  The twins and their mother escape to a secluded island off the coast of Scotland where they will be safe.  But will they?  Their grandfather, who they haven’t seen since they were babies, is a powerful man and should be able to protect tem.  But why wasn’t he able to protect their father?  What happened to their father?

I first discovered this book last December when one of my students emailed me that she had received it as a gift.  She declared it to be the best book since the Percy Jackson series! (This is high praise as she is a very avid reader!)  On her recommendation, I immediately purchased the book and started reading.  I could not put it down.  Our sixth grade book club (30+ students) ended up reading and discussing the book.  We then had the excitement of welcoming the author, Carole Barrowman, to our school for a book talk and signing in March.  The students were captivated!

 Tomorrow, July 9 is the “book birthday”, of the second book in the series, Bone Quill.  While I do not assign summer reading to students, I know many will be reading this!  (I might even see a few former students at the bookstore tomorrow!)

One for the Murphys

Sometimes when you read a book, you meet a character that reaches out and touches your heart.  That character and the story stay with you for a really long time.  Carley Connors in One for the Murphys, is that kind of character.

Life is definitely not fair.  Carley Connors knows this firsthand.  Why else would she end up in a foster home with three boys and a foster mom that must be from another planet?  If only her mother hadn’t married Dennis, there wouldn’t have been that terrible fight, she’d still be with her mom and this nightmare never would have happened!

In One for the Murphys, Carley learns what it means to be a part of a happy family.  This is a strange new reality for Carley who’s grown up in a world of hard knocks.  For a 12 year old, she’s already developed a hard shell in order to survive the only life she’s ever known. She is bent on taking out her anger and frustration on everyone that tires to reach out and help her.  Now however, her sarcasm and tough attitude, meant to protect her, are met with only more kindness and something called “unconditional love”.  Do people actually live this way?  Is this family for real?  Carley begins to wonder if this life could actually someday be her reality?  But what about her real mother?  Will she ever recover and get better?  Will she go to jail for  her part in what happened?  Or will Carley have to go back and live with her?

One for the Murphys is a book I will not soon forget.  Have a box of tissues handy when you get to the end, you’ll need it….