Nine, Ten – Review by Maggie Megosh

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Maggie comes to class bright-eyed and ready to learn every day.  She asks great questions, shares insightful comments, and (note the image she submitted instead of a photo) loves Harry Potter, which brings her closer to my heart. Here she reviews a book of an event that happened before she was born, but which, for adults, is still too fresh in memory. I’m glad to see a new generation understanding what the big deal was about 9/11. As Maggie says in her review, children see everything. They’re taking in what we say and do, and we must be mindful of our messages and actions, and celebrate the young people growing up as readers and thinkers.

“From the critically acclaimed author of Anything But Typical comes a “tense…and thought-provoking” (Kirkus Reviews, starred review) look at the days leading up to the tragic events of September 11, 2001, and how that day impacted the lives of four middle schoolers.” – From Amazon

61qogjhxgulChildren see everything, we really do, and the book Nine, Ten is able to capture what specific children saw in the days that led up to 9/11. The book Nine, Ten is centered around four children’s lives; Aimee, Will, Naheed and Seigo. Their lives are all very different which is seen in the days leading up to September 11th; September 9th and 10th. They are seen doing everyday things such as going to school and hanging out with friends, but as the events of 9/11 unfold, the four kids’ stories begin to intertwine. Nora Raleigh Baskin, the author puts what people said about the morning of 9/11 (“it was a perfect day”) into reality as the author described the clear skies. It was also different and interesting to see kids my age noticing this event and the ways that they knew it would change history, even though they didn’t always know what was happening. Learning about our country’s history by looking into the lives of young kids experiencing it has been very rich and engaging, which is another reason that I recommend this book. Finally, I learned how to be a decent human from all of the actions displayed by the kids before 9/11. Since the kids spend time dealing with their changing families, it is compelling to see reactions to these everyday things and the reactions to the attacks. This book is great if you love historical fiction and realistic fiction, as it is a combination on the two. September 11th changed our lives, and throughout this story, I was able to see why.

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Guest Author: Henry Herz

13240064_1100770546649029_4587016448810551750_nHenry Herz and I met at the Gaithersburg Book Festival last year. I was sellin’ some books at the SCBWI table, and we got to talking about our mutual love of Shakespeare (his gorgeously illustrated MABEL AND THE QUEEN OF DREAMS is a picture book based on the Queen Mab speech from ROMEO & JULIET). I’m thrilled he wanted to share his thoughts about writing and to talk about his adorable new picture book!

 

Tell us about your newest project.

I’m very excited about it. My picture book, CAP’N REX & HIS CLEVER CREW, comes out in -3August from Sterling (the publishing arm of Barnes & Noble). Captain Rex and his dinosaur pirates sail the seven seas in search of buried treasure. But whenever they hit an obstacle—like a giant shark or pea-soup fog—the crew members are quick to say they can’t overcome. To this, Captain Rex always glares with teeth bared and says, “CAN’T YE?” And, somehow, the crew always comes up with a clever solution. The book has already received positive reviews from Kirkus and Booklist.

 

What was your inspiration?

I thought it would be fun to do a mashup – a combination of unlikely elements. In fact, my original title was DINOSAUR SPACE PIRATES! But it became clear as I worked on the manuscript that mashing up three ideas was one idea too many. Kids love dinosaurs, and they love pirates. So, they must REALLY love a book featuring dinosaur pirates, right?

 

when-you-give-an-imp-a-penny-book-coverIs there a common theme in your books?

No, each of my books has its own theme. Well, except MONSTER GOOSE NURSERY RHYMES, which has no theme because it’s simply a collection of fractured nursery rhymes. WHEN YOU GIVE AN IMP A PENNY conveys that it’s the thought that counts. LITTLE RED CUTTLEFISH teaches young readers to be brave. And CAP’N REX & HIS CLEVER CREW has a theme of thinking outside the box and persistence.

 

What was your favorite picture book when you were little?

That’s easy! WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE by Maurice Sendak. I must have borrowed it from the elementary school library a dozen times. I loved the illustrations. You know it’s a good book when you want to leap into the pages and explore. I loved the idea that a kid could hang out with (relatively) friendly monsters. It probably sparked my lifelong love of reading fantasy.

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Was there a book that inspired you to want to write?

Surprisingly not, but that’s because I began writing for children when I drafted a chapter book, NIMPENTOAD, to get my young (at that time) sons interested in reading fantasy. It was originally intended just for them, and used images grabbed from the Web for illustrations. But we got such encouraging feedback, that we ended up hiring an illustrator and self-publishing it. That’s when the writing bug bit me.

 

What makes you laugh and does that influence your writing?

Many things make me laugh: Cute animals, young kids, clever word play, and irony. In 2018, I have a picture book coming out, HOW THE SQUID GOT TWO LONG ARMS, which uses the irony of the protagonist’s self-delusion (think of Jon Klassen’s THIS IS NOT MY HAT) for humorous effect. Next year will also feature another picture book, GOOD EGG & BAD APPLE, which is loaded with food-based word play. Here’s the pitch: Not all the foods in the refrigerator get along like peas in a pod. Bad Apple and Second Banana are at the root of the problem. The vegetables are steamed. Good Egg suggests his friends try different responses to the bullies, but his tactics don’t bear fruit, at first. Only by using his noodle does Good Egg save their bacon.

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What is your day job? How does it inspire your writing? Does it ever get in the way?

My day job is as a process improvement analyst. That means I study how companies do things, and make recommendations for how they can reduce costs, save time, increase quality, and improve customer satisfaction. It’s very analytical, and has nothing to do with my writing. But, neither does it get in the way. Nor should it, since I don’t buy the theory that people are either analytical or creative. I do plot out my stories (even picture books). So, I suppose being analytical is helpful for that.

 

What advice do you have for aspiring writers, young or old?

The short version is: hone your craft and be persistent.

The longer version is my article “Be an Animal to Write a Picture Book” at https://henryherz.wordpress.com/2014/11/21/be-an-animal-to-write-a-picture-book/

 

Who would win in a fight: Queen Mab or a dinosaur pirate?image5

Since the Queen of the Fae only visits people when they’re sleeping, even a ferocious T-rex buccaneer would be helpless against her magic.

 

Where can we learn more about your books?

At my website at www.henryherz.com and on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/henry.herz/

The Sun is Also a Star – Review by Allison H.

-3Allison is now on summer break after an intense and thrilling (I hope) year in our literature class. She is not only a sweet and funny kid with strong skills in writing and reading, she is also a tremendous performer. Having had the pleasure of watching her in a musical and a Shakespeare play, I look forward to seeing her on stage now that I no longer get to have her in class.

From Amazon:
Natasha:
I’m a girl who believes in science and facts. Not fate. Not destiny. Or dreams that will never come true. I’m definitely not the kind of girl who meets a cute boy on a crowded New York City street and falls in love with him. Not when my family is twelve hours away from being deported to Jamaica. Falling in love with him won’t be my story.

Daniel: I’ve always been the good son, the good student, living up to my parents’ high expectations. Never the poet. Or the dreamer. But when I see her, I forget about all that. Something about Natasha makes me think that fate has something much more extraordinary in store—for both of us.

The Universe: Every moment in our lives has brought us to this single moment. A million futures lie before us. Which one will come true?

 

28763485The Sun Is Also a Star is a fabulous book full of romance, humor, and suspense. Natasha is a no-nonsense girl who is about to be deported back to Jamaica. Daniel is a dreamer who is forced to do nothing but schoolwork by his parents. They meet by chance in New York City. The book takes place over one day, showing their journey together and how they fall in love.
The Sun is Also a Star is one of the best books I’ve ever read; it is intriguing, funny, and kept me hanging on through the last page. While this book might sound like just another cheesy romance novel, it is so much more. The book revolves around the theme that everything is connected and shows it through a day with Natasha and David. The main plot is interesting and unusual; both of the characters have their own personal struggles and unlike some books actually have substance. The characters are relatable and I enjoyed reading about them. The book switches between many points of view; the main ones are Natasha, the who views the world from a no-nonsense, scientific lens and Daniel, who looks at things as a dreamer and a hopeless romantic. My personal favorite part was how throughout the book the author included short informational chapters about the story; these would explain concepts in the book (such as “black hairstyling”), the backstory of the minor characters, and how the actions of the main characters affect those they meet. The book gives you a new look at life and helps you better understand that our actions do matter and that everything is connected.This book is wonderful, and I recommend it to anyone who likes romance, drama, and humor. Not recommended for those bothered by curse words and kissing.

 

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.