Friday, March 21, 2014

Sammy Keyes and the Hotel Thief by Wendelin Van Draanen

Sometimes it’s fun to go back and “rediscover” books you’ve heard about but just never had an opportunity to read.  Sammy Keyes and the Hotel Thief has been just that kind of book for me.  I first heard of the Sammy Keyes books when my own boys were in elementary school.  I knew they were mysteries and were written by an author I was familiar with, Wendelin Van Draanen, but I just never got the chance to actually sit down and read one.  Well, that all changed this past month when my class launched its mystery round of book clubs.  I had carefully selected a wide range of mysteries for my students to choose from.  Sammy Keyes and the Hotel Thief was one of the few that I had not read yet myself, so I decided it would be my mystery book for book club.  After just finishing The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing (and getting to meet Sheila Turnage!) I was worried the book wouldn’t measure up.  So glad I was wrong!

Sammy Keyes is the urban equivalent of Mo LoBeau (aka Three Times Lucky and The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing).  Sammy’s had a somewhat rough start in life but has good people that love her and stand by her.  She’s quirky and tough; you just can’t help rooting for her and her friends.  Sammy’s mom abandoned her, or rather left her to live with her grandmother, while she went in search of her “big break”.  While Sammy’s not exactly thrilled about living secretly in a senor-housing complex, she loves her Gram and has found ways to occupy her time when she’s not at school or with her friend Marissa. One of her favorite activities is to people watch with Gram’s binoculars.  That is until she accidently views a robbery in progress at the hotel across the street, and then impulsively waves at the crook!  Now Sammy must solve the mystery of the hotel thief before he finds her.  The only problem is the police, specifically Officer Borsch, doesn’t’ believe her.

After listening in on a few student groups discussing this book, I knew I had to read it.  They were having lively discussions about possible clues, red herrings, and suspects.  Their conversations were so animated I knew the book had captivated them.  When I didn’t “assign” any reading over spring break, the students were actually asking if they could please finish the book early.   Once I started reading the book, I could not put it down.  Now that I’ve finished the book, I just don’t want to say good –bye to Sammy! Thank goodness there are more books in the series. I have a feeling they will be very popular in our class!

Monday, March 17, 2014

Stay Where You Are and Then Leave by John Boyne

Set in London, in the early 1900s, fans of Downton Abbey will be drawn to this book.  Although written for 9-12 year olds, this is a book that will mesmerize all ages. Alfie is only 5 when WWI starts.  He's too young to understand why his mum is upset when his dad Georgie feels he must do his duty and enlist.  But all too soon  Alfie is forced to grow up and do his "bit" as the war changes his life and the lives of everyone around him.  Then his father stops writing.  Alfie fears the worst despite his mother's claims that there's nothing to worry about, his father's on a "secret mission". Accidentally, Alfie discovers the truth, but is it too late? Is it too terrible for him to bear?  A powerful story, this novel starts out quietly enough but soon grabs at your heart and won't let go  until the last page.  The reader will be left with the most important message of all, we do what we do for love.  "It's the best reason in the world."