A Time to Dance – Reviewed by Avani A.

43e32cffe517fd97cdad1d12c51c307eAvani is a delightful student, smiling and observant. Most importantly, she laughs at my dumb jokes and shares my enthusiasm for Shakespeare. Avani has chosen a book that makes me think about our class discussions about media representation and the importance of who gets to be “seen” in our culture. Our class, our school, and our world is diverse, so I’m thrilled she’s highlighting a wonderful book that can teach kids (and adults) about an art form and culture they might not know about or will help kids who are often not acknowledged by mainstream culture to know that they are seen. Like the main character, Veda, Avani is a bharatanatyam dancer!

“Padma Venkatraman’s inspiring story of a young girl’s struggle to regain her passion and find a new peace is told lyrically through verse that captures the beauty and mystery of India and the ancient bharatanatyam dance form. This is a stunning novel about spiritual awakening, the power of art, and above all, the courage and resilience of the human spirit.” ~ Goodreads

 

ATimetoDancePB-295x449A Time to Dance is one of the most beautiful and motivating books I have ever read, that presents the idea of overcoming obstacles and continuing to pursue a dream no matter what may get in the way. Told from the perspective of an experienced and devoted dancer named Veda, who practices a traditional dance called bharatanatyam, this gripping and thought-provoking book will teach you about perseverance, love, compassion, resilience, strength, and beauty in so many ways. Veda is a girl who is devoted to the art of dance and it occupies her mind all of the time. Then she is in an accident and becomes a below knee amputee, and her dance teacher doesn’t believe she can continue to fulfill her dream. Veda doesn’t feel like giving up and meets a new dance instructor, and though she says that Veda will have to relearn even the most basic of steps, Veda agrees and is taught dance on a whole new level – not just physically but also spiritually. This book is told in a poetic format and is so beautifully written that one can’t skim over any detail, for you have to dig deep and truly think about the meaning behind every part of the story. A Time to Dance is a wondrous and fantastic book that can inspire all who want to fulfill their dreams.

Purity – Review by Naomi

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Naomi is one of the only kids who gets all the funny parts of 12th Night before I explain them to the class. She’s kind and clever, unassuming yet dramatic (yes, both — on stage, she comes alive, while in class, she stays relatively quiet). A gem of a student. She’s reviewing a book that is for an adult audience, but she loves this story. Sounds fascinating.

Disclaimer: This book was written for adults and may not be appropriate for middle school aged children.

Young Pip Tyler doesn’t know who she is. She knows that her real name is Purity, that she’s saddled with $130,000 in student debt, that she’s squatting with anarchists in Oakland, and that her relationship with her mother–her only family–is hazardous. But she doesn’t have a clue who her father is, why her mother has always concealed her own real name, or how she can ever have a normal life. Enter the Germans. A glancing encounter with a German peace activist leads Pip to an internship in South America with The Sunlight Project, an organization that traffics in all the secrets of the world–including, Pip hopes, the secret of her origins. TSP is the brainchild of Andreas Wolf, a charismatic provocateur who rose to fame in the chaos following the fall of the Berlin Wall. Now on the lam in Bolivia, Andreas is drawn to Pip for reasons she doesn’t understand, and the intensity of her response to him upends her conventional ideas of right and wrong. Purity is a dark-hued comedy of youthful idealism, extreme fidelity, and murder. The author of The Corrections and Freedom has created yet another cast of vividly original characters, Californians and East Germans, good parents and bad parents, journalists and leakers, and he follows their intertwining paths through landscapes as contemporary as the omnipresent Internet and as ancient as the war between the sexes. Jonathan Franzen is a major author of our time, and Purity is his edgiest and most searching book yet. – Amazon
 
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Purity by Jonathan Franzen is the story of an abnormal girl named Pip with an even more abnormal childhood who goes on a journey to find out who she is. On the way, she meets Andreas Wolf, the founder and face of a Wikileaks-esque organization. After being immersed in the business of secrets, Pip learns that Andreas may be hiding something darker than the secrets which his project claims to bring to light. The book switches between the perspectives of Pip, Andreas, and two investigative journalists as the lives of each of the characters interweave. Although it is not afraid to cover big topics, like life on the eastern side of the Berlin Wall and dehumanization in the age of the internet and social media, at the heart of the story, Purity is about the intimate truths of humanity. The book is packed with revelations until the very last page, revelations about human envy and psychopathology, but also about how hope and love prevail. The prose is engaging and clever. Each character has their own authentic voice, and Purity portrays mental illness and the limits of the human brain in a way that is both ambitious and feels real. Through this earnestness, Franzen offers commentary on the shallowness of revolution and martyrdom, the corrupting nature of power, and even, in a burst of self-deprecating humor, the stupidity of attempting to write the next “Great American Novel”. The many plot twists teach you that things aren’t always as they seem, and the characters’ elaborate backstories and development compel you to be more compassionate towards other people. The book gives you a whole new outlook on human nature, love, and even death. It is a story that will stay with you as long as you live, the story of the idealization, commercialization, and exploitation of, as the title suggests, purity.

 

Wonder – Review by Samantha Wu

-2What one notices first about Samantha is her smile. She always smiles! Having her in my final class of the day is truly energizing. Whether talking about books or serious moments in history, she is insightful and thrives on sharing her words on paper and aloud. A terrific kid recommending a terrific book – a book I resisted reading for no good reason but loved once I did.
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August Pullman was born with a facial difference that, up until now, has prevented him from going to a mainstream school. Starting 5th grade at Beecher Prep, he wants nothing more than to be treated as an ordinary kid–but his new classmates can’t get past Auggie’s extraordinary face. Wonder, a #1 New York Times bestseller, begins from Auggie’s point of view, but soon switches to include his classmates, his sister, her boyfriend, and others. These perspectives converge in a portrait of one community’s struggle with empathy, compassion, and acceptance.  – Amazon

 

Wonder, by R. J. Palacio is a deep, funny, and sometimes sad story that really makes you think.Wonder_Cover_Art It is a story about trying to fit in when people try to single you out, self acceptance, bullying, friendship, and forgiving. The protagonist, August, was born with what he calls “mandibulofacial dysostosis”- a facial deformity. He has been kept out of school for his entire life- until 5th grade when his parents decide it is time to put him out into the real world. He is bullied and followed everywhere by stares, and when he thinks that he is finally making friends, he overhears a conversation that he is not supposed to hear, and is crushed. School turns his life upside down, and flips it inside out. Over ups and downs, this is a story full of resilience and friendship- told by August, his friends, and his family, as they realize that “When given the choice between being right and being kind, choose kind”. It is wonderfully written, and deserves 5 stars.

“I think that there should be a rule that everybody in the world should get a standing ovation at least once in their lives… since we all overcometh the world”. – R.J. Palacio

Wonder definitely deserves a standing ovation.

 

The Art of Racing in the Rain – review by Christian Testa

1Christian is a 6th grader in my class whose last name is Italian for ‘head’, which is fitting ‘cuz he’s always using his . . . wait for it . . . head! Smart, kind, thoughtful, he is in my largest class of the day but doesn’t get lost in the shuffle. Whether he’s sharing thoughts about our studies on paper or in conversation, he always has terrific things to say. Glad he decided to share some of his ideas with you.

 

“A heart-wrenching but deeply funny and ultimately uplifting story of family, love, loyalty, and hope, The Art of Racing in the Rain is a beautifully crafted and captivating look at the wonders and absurdities of human life…as only a dog could tell it.”-Amazon & Goodreads

4The Art of Racing in the Rain is one of the most emotional, smartest, and loving books there is, that is, from the perspective of a dog. It is a story of loyalty and love until the very end and the soulful relationship between Enzo and his master Denny. Denny is a race car driver and is very skillful in the art of driving his car in the rain. He gets married to Eve, a fun woman with crabby parents. Their family is very happy, and Enzo is joyful and full of life. He loves to watch famous races with Denny, (as well as root for Senna- Enzo’s favorite race car driver of all time), and they both share a passion for racing. Enzo’s family goes through many ups and downs, with many tragic experiences. Eve falls deathly ill, her parents fight for custody, and Denny even gets framed for sexual abuse. Enzo is a character that you will love and will make you want the book never to end. He is a very loyal and loving dog, and his character teaches us about the importance of love, and how when people act badly, it is not themselves, but fear and deceit, (sometimes in the form of an evil stuffed zebra). I would highly recommend this book to anybody who reads middle school to young adult level books. While this book is very humorous and loving, you learn many life lessons of life, love, and what is feels like to be a dog. It is a very well written novel, and you will be thinking about it long after you have finished it.The Art of Racing in the Rain is a very emotional, humorous, and smart book, which will make you appreciate your pet more, (or make you want one), and make you never want Enzo to leave.

Eye of Minds – Review by Nico Carbone

getfileattachmentThe student blog is back and Nico is our first guest of the year! Nico is a great kid – bright, enthusiastic, and quick with a smile. He has chosen a favorite genre of our class’: dystopian fiction. We began our year studying these future worlds, and I love to see his enthusiasm for Dashner’s work. 

 

“An all new, edge-of-your seat adventure from James Dashner, the author of the New York Times bestselling Maze Runner series, The Eye of Minds is the first book in The Mortality Doctrine, a series set in a world of hyper advanced technology, cyberterrorists, and gaming beyond your wildest dreams . . . and your worst nightmares.” – Amazon
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The Eye of Minds is the first book in The Mortality Doctrine Series, James Dashner’s latest dystopian creation. The book is a gripping page turner describing a future world that could be all too possible. It describes a world in which video games are not just a way of passing time, but a way to live a second life! Michael is a teen gamer who spends more time in the VirtNet, than in real life. He is part of the “trifecta to dissect-ya” as coined by one of his teams members. His team consists of 3 elite hackers including himself. When they are recruited by the VNS to stop a cyber terrorist they decide they are up for the challenge. Of course after a few threats and the promise of the ultimate reward. This thrusts Michael into a crazy adventure and this is where Dashner shines. Fast paced action, with his usual subtle clues that lead his protagonists to the right conclusions. After witnessing everything from true death in the VirtNet to simple racing games Michael feels he is ready to find Kaine and take him and his army of kill sims on. But with his true life on the line Michael can’t make mistakes. Kaine is a dangerous man and Michael will have to take desperate measures to defeat him. Some of the action ends quite brutally and Dashner leaves out no details so don’t let children under the age of 10 read this book or they will be very scared. But for anyone over the age of ten it is a five star book from one of this generation’s best authors that will have you clearing your schedule so you can read it in one sitting! This book is very vital to think about because if we become so immersed in video games that we can’t tell the difference between real life and video games then how will we be able when we are in the real world and there will be consequences for crazy actions that are plausible in video games. So all in all The Eye of Minds by James Dashner is a five star book for anyone ages 10 and up and it is a fast paced action novel which still has a pressing ideas attached to it that will leave you contemplated if relying on technology so much will benefit the human race.

Using Picture Books to Interest Young Readers in New Genres – by author Henry Herz

13240064_1100770546649029_4587016448810551750_nI was lucky enough to meet Henry Herz on a cold, spring, rainy day under the SCBWI tent at the Gaithersburg Book Festival. I was selling books and chatting with awesome kids, teens, parents and authors, when Henry came up explaining that he, among other topics, wrote Shakespeare-inspired books for kids. His books are gorgeous, he’s great, and I’m thrilled he wanted to guest post here. Check out his newest venture MABEL AND THE QUEEN OF DREAMS, inspired by Queen Mab from Romeo and Juliet.

 

 

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NY Times bestsellers Brandon Sanderson, Maggie Steifvater, Kami Garcia, Jonathan Maberry & Zac (Heather) Brewer

 

I love fantasy. Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are hooked me in elementary school. And J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings sealed the deal. I write fantasy picture books, like When You Give an Imp a Penny. I moderate fantasy literature panels at San Diego Comic-Con. I even edited a dark anthology, Beyond the Pale, featuring short stories by fantasy greats Saladin Ahmed, Peter Beagle, Zac Brewer, Jim Butcher, Rachel Caine, Kami Garcia, Nancy Holder, Gillian Philip, and Jane Yolen.

As a parent, I wanted to share my love of fantasy with my young sons. I hit upon the idea of writing a fantasy story for them. This turned out to be a pivotal moment for me personally, as it led to my discovering a passion for writing children’s literature. But it also gave me a useful insight. If I wanted my sons to one day read The Lord of the Rings and other great fantasy novels, starting them on fantasy picture books could be a good way to plant that seed. A third unexpected boon was that my sons didn’t just read that story. They gave me feedback, essentially becoming junior co-authors. The fruit of that labor was our self-published fantasy early chapter book, Nimpentoad.

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I also fondly remember reading Bullfinch’s Mythology as an older kid. After a couple of years honing my writing craft, another inspiration struck. Why not write an anthology of fractured nursery rhymes that substituted mythological creatures for some of the original characters? Surely that might interest kids in reading mythology. The result was our first traditionally published book, Monster Goose Nursery Rhymes.

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Hey Doblin, doblin, the gnome and the goblin. The centaur ran through the lawn. / The minotaur laughed to see such sport, and the imp ran away with the fawn.

Although I’d been reading fantasy my whole life, it wasn’t until I had the pleasure of meeting author Kevin Hearne that I discovered urban fantasy. Urban fantasy is a subgenre of fantasy set in an urban setting, typically in contemporary times. Note that the boundary between the subgenres of urban fantasy and paranormal romance is blurry. The use of magic and/or the lack of a romantic focus can help distinguish urban fantasy from paranormal romances like Twilight by Stephanie Meyer, The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater, and Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl.

I devoured Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid series, and went on to enjoy other urban fantasies like The Exile by C.T. Adams, Dresden Files series by Jim Butcher, Weather Warden series by Rachel Caine, Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman, Magicians series by Lev Grossman, Sookie Stackhouse series by Charlaine Harris, Iron Fey series by Julie Kagawa, October Daye series by Seanan McGuire, Rebel Angels by Gillian Philip, and Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling (yes, technically it’s middle grade/young adult urban fantasy).

image4So, if I could plant literary seeds for fantasy and mythology, why not try urban fantasy? The answer to that question became the bedtime picture book, Mabel and the Queen of Dreams from Schiffer Publishing. Little Mabel was an expert at not going to sleep. She knew all the best bed-avoiding excuses. “I’m thirsty. I need to use the bathroom. Will you tell me a story?” Mom ALWAYS fell for that one. But Mom had the Queen of Dreams in her quiver of bedtime tales. The fae queen paints children’s dreams, so she can only visit when their eyes are closed. As Mom’s tale unfolds, Mabel gradually transitions from sitting on her bed, to slipping her feet under the covers, to laying her head on her pillow, to finally closing her eyes.

“Wait,” you ask. “Doesn’t the presence of the fae queen make this a fairy tail?” I’m glad you asked. The story’s contemporary urban setting violates Tolkien’s definition of a fairy tale. The story takes place in the “real” world, rather than in Faërie. So, Mabel and the Queen of Dreams, though featuring a fairy, is urban fantasy, not fairy tale, or as Tolkien preferred, Märchen (wonder tale).

image5But wait, there’s more! Mabel and the Queen of Dreams is inspired by Mercutio’s soliloquy in Romeo & Juliet, in which he details how the tiny fairy queen Mab influences people’s dreams as she passes by in her flying chariot. An author’s note provides the original Shakespearean language. So, this story serves double duty, planting seeds of interest in both urban fantasy and Shakespeare. *drops mic*

Regardless of subgenre, I hope readers will find in my story what Tolkien posited for Märchen generally. “Far more powerful and poignant is the effect [of joy] in a serious tale of Faërie. In such stories, when the sudden turn comes, we get a piercing glimpse of joy, and heart’s desire, that for a moment passes outside the frame, rends indeed the very web of story, and lets a gleam come through.”

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The Rest of Us Just Live Here – Review by Samar

Photo on 11-9-15 at 8.35 PMThis is Samar’s second review on the blog, and I’m thrilled to have a repeat customer. We’re a month from the end of school and I can honestly say I’ll miss having Samar in class. Sweet, funny, kind, and “wicked smaaht” as my Boston cousins might say, she’s a pleasure to see every day. And she seems to be into my Shakespeare unit, which makes me endlessly happy.

 

51t8MOm-ZnL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_“What if you aren’t the Chosen One? The one who’s supposed to fight the zombies, or the soul-eating ghosts, or whatever the heck this new thing is, with the blue lights and the death? What if you’re like Mikey? Who just wants to graduate and go to prom and maybe finally work up the courage to ask Henna out before someone goes and blows up the high school. Again. Because sometimes there are problems bigger than this week’s end of the world, and sometimes you just have to find the extraordinary in your ordinary life. Even if your best friend is worshipped by mountain lions. Award-winning writer Patrick Ness’s bold and irreverent novel powerfully reminds us that there are many different types of remarkable.” (goodreads.com)

The Rest of Us Just Live Here is a marvelous book about four friends experiencing their last few weeks of high school. The book is a spin on one of my personal favorite TV shows, Buffy the Vampire Slayer. While the “Indie” kids are off fighting vampires and strange immortals with blue lights for eyes, Mikey, Jared, Henna, and Mel have their minds set on graduating high school. This book, as Patrick Ness would say, is about finding “the extraordinary in the ordinary.” What I especially love about this book is that no character is good or bad. They all have their flaws, but they also each have something unique that makes each character special and well developed. This book really makes you think and wonder about each and every sentence. Every page reveals a new surprise and something else to consider. It was impossible to put down. There is much beyond the surface of the plot. I recommend this book for anyone who enjoys a heart-warming story that will change your ways of thinking.