Thursday, July 22, 2010

Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper

This one was a read aloud with one of my book buddies, which is why it was on my reading list for so long. I wasn't entirely sure we were going to get through it at the beginning.

Also, I recommended Out of My Mind to my mother this summer, who teaches special education. She got excited because she had a student who had cerebral palsy and felt like his world opened up when he got a computer he could use to vocalize what was in his head. Mom said he moved when he was still in elementary school, but came back and had lunch with my mother and the speech pathologist at her school years later. I think it's pretty awesome when a reader, even and older reader, can connect with the story, ideas, and themes in young adult literature.

Out of My MindOut of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Sharon Draper is one of the first authors I suggest when I have a reluctant reader. Most of my students have loved the Hazelwood High series, Romiette and Julio, and Battle of Jericho. While I liked Out of My Mind, I think it is a little slow to start, where readers will spend the first 50 pages or so thinking, "Okay, where is this going?"

The protagonist, Melody, is a fifth grader with cerebral palsy. Most of her life, she's had trouble communicating, controlling her limbs, and doing much for herself. All she wants is to be normal. So when she gets a computer called a Medi-Talker, that she can program to speak for her, Melody decides to show her smarts by joining her school's quiz team.

In Melody's quest to be as normal as she can be, she learns about the reality of being in a circle of "friends." Except that she never feels like she really fits in. When her team wins the local quiz competition and they go out to celebrate after, Melody is embarrassed because she has to be fed. While he teammates don't comment, the silence at the table speaks volumes about their opinions about Melody, despite her obvious talent and intelligence. I found myself getting angry at the way her classmates responded to her and talked about her, and felt like in the end, Melody got shafted. But that's the reality, isn't it? Unfortunate.

Out of My Mind is a story for anyone who feels like an outsider. It's a story that special education teachers can relate to (hi, mom). And it's a story that will give readers insight into what it could be like to not have a fully-functioning body, but still a fully-functioning mind.

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Saturday, July 17, 2010

The Color Purple by Alice Walker

The Color PurpleThe Color Purple by Alice Walker

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This novel was a hard read. One that either got you in the beginning, with a scene describing the rape of the narrator by her father, or put you off entirely. I read this novel because it has been challenged in the library of the school where I work. Everything that happened in the novel, from the sexual abuse, to the changing of partners, needed to happen in order for Celie to find herself the way she did. The catalyst for her discovery: reflecting on her relationship with Shug with the man who was her husband. As far as content and the challenge, I think there are lessons to be learned from The Color Purple about love, about how we treat each other, about family, about religion, and about life--how it takes some a lifetime to find happiness, and sometimes just as long to realize that contentment might not be so bad. But it takes life's difficulties to provide the ability to come to that realization.

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Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson

ChainsChains by Laurie Halse Anderson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I usually don't like historical fiction. There was something, though, about Anderson's storytelling that drew me into this story. Chains is set during the Revolutionary War in New York. The protagonist, Isabel, is a slave in the household of a family of British supporters. Throughout the novel she deals with the loss of family, trying to decide which side of the war supports her best interests (I never thought about the role slaves played in the war), and gaining her freedom. The second part of the story is told in the novel Forge, which I'll be adding to my to-read list soon.

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Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Black Heroes in 1777? With Powers?

The Sons of Liberty #1The Sons of Liberty #1 by Alexander Lagos

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was an interesting read and I'm curious to see where the rest of the series is going. What kind of experiments did William Franklin do on those animals and Brody and Graham to give them powers. What are the extent of the boys' powers? I don't know much about art, but I do like the visuals. The colors change with the time period - when Ben Lay recounts his experiences on slave ships, there is a hint of sepia to the images. I'm excited to see what happens next.

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Saturday, July 10, 2010

The Bar Code Tattoo by Suzanne Weyn

The Bar Code Tattoo (Point Thriller)The Bar Code Tattoo by Suzanne Weyn

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

While I agree that Bar Code Tattoo isn't as good as Feed by MT Anderson, it was an intriguing read. I can't imagine what it would be like to be branded in such a way that all moves, and purchases are tracked, and the government (controlled by a private corporation) includes genetic code records in the each person's file. The effects of which is those people who are genetically unfavorable lose their jobs, their homes, and are essentially killed off. This is discrimination on another level.

One secondary character, Mfumbe, was pressured by his parents to get the bar code tattoo because of his genetic code. They argued that African-Americans have been discriminated against for so long, the fact that they are more genetically stable works to their advantage for the first time. Mfumbe, despite his parents' insistance, refused. I can appreciate his parents' position, but I also appreciate that Mfumbe didn't sway from his beliefs because the greater good lay elsewhere.

I'm going to say it was worth the read and I'm curious about the conclusion of the story in The Bar Code Rebellion. Will the government and mob mentality prevail? Or will the resistance actually overthrow popular opinion?

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Friday, July 9, 2010

Eye of the Storm

  Bone, Volume 3: Eyes of the StormBone, Volume 3: Eyes of the Storm by Jeff Smith
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I started this series because I bought most of them in support of my middle school's library. I remember wondering what it was that drew so many boys to this series that the books were almost always checked out.

After reading Eyes of the Storm, I have a pretty good idea. There's fighting, gambling, these two stupid rat creatures who make me laugh every time they appear in a frame because they argue like an old married couple.By the end of this installment, I was hooked. By now we know that Kingdok, leader of the rat creatures isn't the guy calling the shots. I thought the guy calling the shots was the guy in the hood who cornered the really annoying Bone cousin in the last book, but it turns out it's not him either. So who's trying to take over and where did they come from?

Oh, and I said this when I read The Last Dragon Chronicles by Chris d'Lacy too, but I want a dragon.

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Wednesday, July 7, 2010

I like Adventure Novels

Stormbreaker (Alex Rider, #1) Stormbreaker by Anthony Horowitz

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Do you like the Bourne (movie) series? James Bond? All those action/adventure movies that are in the theater right now? (I haven't seen A-Team and I haven't heard anything about it, for the record). Then I'll bet you'd like Stormbreaker.

Stormbreaker isn't the type of novel I'd teach; it's a surface novel. But the action sequences are described in such a way that the reader can clearly visualize what's happening to Alex.

I liked that Alex wasn't perfect. He didn't go off on his mission and not run into trouble (or slips of the tongue) the first time he met his mark. He's what I imagine Agent Cody Banks would be like.And bonus: there's a movie. When I get home, it's definitely going on the queue.

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Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Why do they call him Bruiser?

Bruiser Bruiser by Neal Shusterman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I've been waiting for Bruiser since April of last year, and it was well worth the wait. In Bruiser, Shusterman uses multiple perspectives again, and more successfully than in Unwind. This time, we're only in the heads of the principle characters, rather than many different characters.

Brewster is an empath. He absorbs the feelings of the people that he likes. I can't imagine what it would be like to absorb the feelings of the people whose company I enjoyed. I think about the empath in an episode of Charmed, who had to shut himself off, living in an abandoned building to get away from the feelings of all the people in the city.

Because I don't want to ruin the story for my faithful readers, I'm not going to say anymore than that. Enjoy!

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Monday, July 5, 2010

The Adoration of Jenna Fox The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I'm not sure what I expected when I started The Adoration of Jenna Fox. Probably a love story. Definitely not a near-future story about a girl involved in a tragic accident who has been re-bioengineered by her parents. But the story is one many readers can identify with. Jenna struggles to remember something that happened in her past -- I'm sure many probably envy her the ability not to remember as we all probably have things we'd rather forget.  Jenna is struggling to figure out who she is -- we all went through/are going through figuring out who we are in terms of trying out different clothing styles, hobbies, hair, etc. What does it take to be your own person?

The novel raises questions about medical and scientific ethics that could turn out to be a real problem for the world in years to come. What if scientists bioengineer plants resistant to specific bugs, which lends other bugs useless because they don't need to defend the plants. One small change like that could be disastrous to an ecosystem.

I was surprised most of all by the ending. I expected Jenna to go to the mat for what her friend wanted, but that didn't happen. At least scientists made changes to the biogel so bioengineered people live a "normal" length of time?

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Sunday, July 4, 2010

Connecting With the Classics: Dracula

I stole the title of this blog post, and my post on Beowulf, from an episode of the NCTE/IRA podcast Text Messages about ways to engage students with classic stories. You can play that episode right here.

All-Action Classics: Dracula (All-Action Classics) All-Action Classics: Dracula by Michael Mucci

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I thoroughly enjoy reading books from the Victorian Era in England. Dracula was one of the novels I taught during my student teaching. I love the graphic adaptation as an introduction to the story. Bram Stoker's original used correspondance to tell the story -- Jonathan Harker's journal, telegrams, newspaper clippings, letters. Mucci's adaptation takes the big events and makes them visually stunning. The colors he uses are dark and subdued, giving the graphic novel a gothic feel that mirrors the book.

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Books I Read in June

I know this is a little late... but the books I read in June were

From the Harry Potter Series:

  • Sorcerer's Stone
  • Chamber of Secrets
  • Prisoner of Azkaban
  • Goblet of Fire
From the Twilight Saga, in honor of the movie released on June 30th:
  • Twilight
  • New Moon
  • Eclipse

Connecting with the Classics: Beowulf

Beowulf Beowulf by Chris Ryall

I wasn't aware that Neil Gaiman wrote the screenplay for the live action/animated theatrical version of Beowulf. I get the sense that things changed from the epic poem to the film (and this graphic novel based on the film) but I can't remember. Reading this graphic novel makes me want to go back and reread Beowulf and maybe find a copy of Grendel.

I think this graphic novel would be a intro to the more difficult Beowulf text. Teach with graphic novels, anyone?

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Thursday, July 1, 2010

What Happens When We Die?

Mick Harte Was Here Mick Harte Was Here by Barbara Park

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
This novel was a quick and easy (language) read. I mentioned in my one update that the narrator, Phoebe, sets the stage of the novel by telling the reader right away that her brother Mick has died, not wanting the reader to become attached to the character then end up disappointed. The novel is simple in its premise: a book about a family dealing with the loss of one its members. Readers get to know Mick through flashbacks as they follow Phoebe coming to terms with her brother's death, God (briefly) and what happens once people die.

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