Every Last Word – Review by Lillian Dow Paterson

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Lillian joined my class midyear, which is not  the easiest thing to do. Some kids are intimidated by the pace, the style, or the fact that a class can be like a family — quirky and individual — but Lillian came in confident and ready to go! She’s got great ideas and is all-in when it comes to reading, trying new things, and working with groups. I’m delighted that she’s jumped into the book review fray, as well, and has introduced me (and maybe you) to a new novel.

Samantha McAllister looks just like the rest of the popular girls in her junior class. But hidden beneath the straightened hair and expertly applied makeup is a secret that her friends would never understand: Sam has Purely-Obsessional OCD and is consumed by a stream of dark thoughts and worries that she can’t turn off. Caroline introduces Sam to Poet’s Corner, a hidden room and a tight-knit group of misfits who have been ignored by the school at large. Sam is drawn to them immediately, especially a guitar-playing guy with a talent for verse, and starts to discover a whole new side of herself. Slowly, she begins to feel more “normal” than she ever has as part of the popular crowd . . . until she finds a new reason to question her sanity and all she holds dear.  – Amazon

Every Last Word is a novel by Tamara Ireland Stone. Every Last Word is about a highevery-last-word school junior named Samantha McAllister. Samantha was diagnosed with OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) at age ten and has struggled with it constantly. She swims and goes to a shrink (therapist) named Sue.  On one fateful day she meets Caroline and her whole world changes, Caroline is the only one who truly understands her, Caroline introduces her to the Poets Corner and Samantha starts to feel normal and drenched out of the thoughts that tantalize and taunt her day on. She begins to stand up to the harshness of her so-called friends. She begins to see a new world, a better world forming around her. Among her new friends is AJ, Andrew Olsen who she previously chastised because of his past stutter. The two begin to start a romantic relationship, even though her “popular friends” don’t seem to approve of the two. Along with this, her poetry processes and becomes better and better. Every Last Word is a fabulous book that I would recommend for everyone to read.  Warning: Some content may not be appropriate for younger children.

The Good Earth – Review by Maggie Megosh

hogwartsMaggie is the rare repeat-review-customer, and I’m thrilled to welcome her back. She is still a darling and smart as a whip. The Good Earth is being read in her English class (I teach a literature course — yes, English and Lit. are different at our school), and their class delved into the book’s literary structure, history, and the topic of cultural appropriation. This book symbolizes the difference in taste and teaching topics that my teammate and I have, which is an ongoing joke between us. I’m thrilled that Maggie and many others continue to enjoy the book with Ms. Rowe.

Nobel Laureate Pearl S. Buck’s epic Pulitzer Prize-winning novel and Oprah Book Club selection about a vanished China and one family’s shifting fortunes. In The Good Earth Pearl S. Buck paints an indelible portrait of China in the 1920s, when the last emperor reigned and the vast political and social upheavals of the twentieth century were but distant rumblings. This moving, classic story of the honest farmer Wang Lung and his selfless wife O-Lan is must reading for those who would fully appreciate the sweeping changes that have occurred in the lives of the Chinese people during the last century. — Amazon

Pearl Buck’s The Good Earth shows how lucky we are to live on this earth. How good the51zRzieodBL._SX320_BO1,204,203,200_ earth is to us, if you will. Through The Good Earth, Chinese culture is highlighted throughout the late 1800s and the early 1900s by Pearl Buck, who was an American missionary at this time. The story is set in such an important time in Chinese history; revolutions and rebellions are occurring as China’s government system is changing. Wang Lung, a farmer and the main character in The Good Earth, is enjoying his life while also struggling with the hardships that are destroying his fields. All of the hardships that are highlighted in The Good Earth, such as famine, floods, and locusts occurred in China during this time. Not only does The Good Earth highlight difficulties involving the geography, but the difficulties in maintaining a satisfying life. Wang Lung struggles with finding the equilibrium of family, farming, and luxury. He is taken on a journey with meeting new people and learning new things. If you enjoy historical fiction, this is a book you would enjoy along with if you enjoy books about the Chinese culture. This book is a little difficult to plow through, and there will be moments where you hate Wang Lung, but in the end, it is definitely worth it, as it enhances your knowledge on the Chinese culture.

 

Green Bicycle Book – Review by Mckinley Jovanovic

v48n1green-bike-lgMckinley is sincere, intelligent, open-minded, and dramatic (in the best way possible — confident, expressive, verbal, and interested in theater). She brings energy to our class discussions, and is passionate about justice, a major theme of our studies.

“Spunky eleven-year-old Wadjda lives in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia with her parents. She desperately wants a bicycle so that she can race her friend Abdullah, even though it is considered improper for girls to ride bikes. Wadjda earns money for her dream bike by selling homemade bracelets and mixtapes of banned music to her classmates. But after she’s caught, she’s forced to turn over a new leaf (sort of), or risk expulsion from school. Still, Wadjda keeps scheming, and with the bicycle so closely in her sights, she will stop at nothing to get what she wants. Set against the shifting social attitudes of the Middle East, The Green Bicycle explores gender roles, conformity, and the importance of family, all with wit and irresistible heart.” – Amazon

 

21936967The Green Bicycle is a book that brings awareness to different  cultures and what many people, like our heroine Wadjda, go through. Wadjda is faced with a difficult challenge that comes from being a girl in Saudi Arabia. She is best friends with a boy and always wanted to race him with a bike of her own. One day she sees a green bicycle in the window of a storefront and is determined to get it. Meanwhile Wadjda’s mother has been unable to have another child which her father desperately wants because without a son his family name will die out. Though he loves his wife he has the option of starting a harem, but women can only have one husband and Wadjda’s mother couldn’t divorce him. She would be the subject of pity to all. This book is very interesting because it shows how people, especially girls, can persevere and do whatever they want to if they put their minds to it. The Green Bicycle is an amazing eye opener to everyone and it’s cliffhangers and perfect ending had me up into late at night because I couldn’t put it down.

The Fault in our Stars – Review by Charlotte Lucas

Image result for singapore skylineCharlotte Lucas, a literary young lady with a literary name. Charlotte writes well, thinks well, reads well, and is kind. She’s unassuming and on the quiet side, but when you get her sharing a thought on paper or aloud, whether with the whole group or in a pair, prepare to be impressed. She’s recommending a book that seems very much like her: sweet and deep and funny.

“Despite the tumor-shrinking medical miracle that has bought her a few years, Hazel has never been anything but terminal, her final chapter inscribed upon diagnosis. But when a gorgeous plot twist named Augustus Waters suddenly appears at Cancer Kid Support Group, Hazel’s story is about to be completely rewritten. Insightful, bold, irreverent, and raw, The Fault in Our Stars is award-winning-author John Green’s most ambitious and heartbreaking work yet, brilliantly exploring the funny, thrilling, and tragic business of being alive and in love.”                — Amazon

 

Every child deserves to read a book of truth like The Fault In Our Stars by John Green.Image result for the fault in our stars book cover The Fault In Our Stars is about a girl named Hazel coping with her inevitable death. She’s lost her childhood from her battle of cancer, she takes college courses at the age 16, and doesn’t have any close friends. I truly recommend this book because in American culture it isn’t normal to talk about cancer and death so openly. Through Hazel’s perspective the reader finds a new way to think about live. This book is known to slowly mesmerize you with the live performance inside your head. It’s astounding to say that some teenagers don’t like this book because it is so open about topics that have a stigma surrounding them. Reality is always there, and hating or avoiding what you don’t like won’t make it go away. Teenagers that are staying with the comfortable topics aren’t doing any favor to themselves, and the story of Hazel and Augustus is one you can take with you for the rest of your lives. Hazel is a human and she wants to live, even if it may not be presented that way in some parts of the book. The last reason I’d recommend this book it because it isn’t just a drama like it is sometimes advertised. Adventure, comedy, and romance are very pivotal, and balance the tone of the story throughout the book. This way, there’s something to enjoy for everyone. The best type of reader for this book is someone who can deal the pain of stories without becoming upset, but also needs the closure at the end of the tale. People develop this as they get older, so I would say you should be around twelve. Though there are some moments that are inappropriate for younger children, sometimes it’s very heavy on romance and drama. In my opinion, everyone should read The Fault In Our Stars to get another perspective on life as we know it. Yes, there is a fault in everyone’s stars, but it is shown that we are not the fault in them.

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.

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.