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.

 

Deep Blue – Review by Rifka

-1Rifka is funny, unique, and spirited, as I hope you can tell by the picture she decided to use for this post. She makes me laugh all the time, and she loves to talk as much as I do (and that’s saying something!). She makes me think and she brings up really good points that cause me to alter or add to my lessons, like when she pointed out that we hadn’t learned about women of the Civil Rights Movement, so we did. The book she picked is rather beloved by the kids in my class, so I think I need to check it out myself. 

 

Deep Blue, by Jennifer Donnelly-2

“When Serafina, a mermaid of the Mediterranean Sea, awakens on the morning of her betrothal, her biggest worry should be winning the love of handsome Prince Mahdi. And yet Sera finds herself haunted by strange dreams that foretell the return of an ancient evil. Her dark premonitions are confirmed when an assassin’s arrow poisons Sera’s mother. Now, Serafina must embark on a quest to find the assassin’s master and prevent a war between the Mer nations. Led only by her shadowy dreams, Sera searches for five other mermaid heroines who are scattered across the six seas. Together, they will form an unbreakable bond of sisterhood and uncover a conspiracy that threatens their world’s very existence.” – The Book Smugglers

Deep Blue is not your average mermaid book and nor is Serafina your average mermaid. This book is for people who like fantasy and mermaids but are tired of the “brave prince saves princess, happy ending” cliche, as well as clueless and shallow mermaids. Sera and her friends have amazing powers that they must use to save the oceans from a terrible power that threatens. I like how each mermaid has a different character and weakness. Sera is royal and strong but has moments of uncertainty and is sometimes impulsive. Neela is first portrayed as shallow and frilly, but she can think fast and follows her dream, designing, even though it goes against the wishes of her family. Deep Blue is a moving and entertaining book, that will keep you hooked. The second one, Rogue Wave, has just come out and I just cannot wait for the third, Dark Tide!

Let it Snow – Review by Mollie

IMG_8605At the risk of being repetitive, Mollie is incredibly sweet. I’m lucky because my students really are this great. Thoughtful and kind, Mollie takes in all that’s being said and then comments with great insight. She is quick to laugh at a joke or offer help to a friend. She’s also very sincere and a wonderful reader and writer.  Last but not least, Mollie has great curly hair, something I totally appreciate! While she picked a book with ‘snow’ in the title and I’m way over snow by this point in the year, I can forgive her since the book sounds interesting.

 

Let it Snow, by Maureen Johnson, John Green, and Lauren Lyracle

Screen Shot 2016-02-20 at 1.43.32 PM“A Christmas Eve snowstorm transforms one small town into a romantic haven, the kind you see only in movies. After all, a cold and wet hike from a stranded train through the middle of nowhere would not normally end with a delicious kiss from a charming stranger. And no one would think that a trip to the Waffle House through four feet of snow would lead to love with an old friend. Or that the way back to true love begins with a painfully early morning shift at Starbucks.” (Amazon)

Let it Snow starts off with the enchanting tale of Jubilee told by Maureen Johnson. Johnson truly makes the story come alive with her attention to detail and exciting plot. You’ll be on the edge of your seat as you wonder what comes next as Jubilee fulfills her destiny. After you learn the fate of Jubilee, John Green tells about Tobin as he finds love closer then he could ever imagine. His excitement and drive for adventure truly makes Tobin a realistic character, the kind that you want to be friends with. The way Green describes how Tobin acts with the Duke and JP makes him out to be the character you grow to love throughout this page turner. As you flip the page to find yet ANOTHER amazing tale waiting, told this time by Lauren Myracle, you get engrossed in the tale of Adeline or Addie as her friends know her. In a spur of the moment she lets a boy ruin her golden locks. As she cuts her hair and dyes it, Myracle leads us through a journey that makes the reader look inside themselves as Addie does too. I would recommend this book to 11+ because it includes some mature concepts but overall is a very fun read with a good message.  This book will keep you in on a snowy day and you’ll be thinking, let it snow!

Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library – Review by Simrin Reed

 

IMG_0210-1Simrin has a mysterious smile. She’ll probably think it’s weird that I’m saying such a thing, but she smiles a lot in a way that makes me want to know what she’s thinking about. For all I know it’s, “Crazy teacher lady, stop talking!” Simrin appears to enjoy learning about history and words, and her time with friends. She’s a social, sweet, fun kid and it’s always great to see her at the end of a long day.

 

Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library, by Chris Grabstein

16054808-1 “Kyle Keeley is the class clown, popular with most kids, (if not the teachers), and an ardent fan of all games: board games, word games, and particularly video games. His hero, Luigi Lemoncello, the most notorious and creative gamemaker in the world, just so happens to be the genius behind the building of the new town library. Lucky Kyle wins a coveted spot to be one of the first 12 kids in the library for an overnight of fun, food, and lots and lots of games. But when morning comes, the doors remain locked. Kyle and the other winners must solve every clue and every secret puzzle to find the hidden escape route.”

– Good Reads

 

Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library is a wonderful book that constantly keeps readers wanting more. The main character(s) are 12- year olds just like us, and you can relate in many situations. You feel like you were there when it all happened, and there are puzzles and clues that you can solve along with the character. Chris Grabstein has crafted a story in which there is comedy, action, and mystery all rolled into one book. Also, there are the classic elements to a great book. The protagonist, Kyle, the antagonist, a boy named Charles Chiltington, a great/ appropriate setting, the wacky, modern library, the conflict, a competition where there is heated feelings, eliminations, and back- stabbing, and the resolution, where there is a surprising ending to the story. These elements all combine to make a funny story. I have read the book at least 10 times and it never gets old! Anyone 10 and up would love this book, as there is humour and ideas that are funny for that age. Anyone younger than that wouldn’t get the references and humour throughout the book. Overall, Chris Grabstein has created a story that constantly makes readers want more, and where it teaches kids all about one of the most prominent things in our world – a library!

Picture Perfect – Review by Julia A.

attachmentJulia A. is just a pleasant kid to be around. You might think that’s not the biggest of compliments, but in a middle school, that’s a huge deal. Julia is kind and thoughtful, and  funny. She has great ideas and makes strong connections in our literature class. The picture she chose for herself is pretty fitting, too, since she’s caring and protective of her friends. All that and she can write! I’m so glad she wanted to share this book review with the world.

 

Picture Perfect, by Elaine Marie Alphin

754348Picture Perfect depicts Ian, a 15-year-old, photography-loving boy, who tries to discover the truth behind the disappearance of his best friend, Teddy. While investigating Teddy’s disappearance, Ian begins to act strangely. He wonders about his role in the mystery and who he can trust to help him. Through his journey to find Teddy, Ian learns of secrets that change how he sees those closest to him. He discovers the pieces of the puzzle that have made up his life.

Picture Perfect is a phenomenal book; I have never read anything as intriguing and exciting. It is a story in which something is always going on. Sometimes the conflict is internal, like when Ian debates whether or not to confide in a counselor about the confusion going on in his life. Other times the conflict is external, like when the sheriff accuses Ian of withholding evidence that may be important in their efforts to find Teddy. Author Elaine Marie Alphin develops all of Ian’s conflicts by creating a compelling plot. Ian is trying to solve many small mysteries and piece them together to get the big picture. He must figure out why his best friend has disappeared and why he has mysterious gaps in his memory. He must also find out why his dad, the principal, seems to be a completely different person at school than he is at home. His dad compliments Ian on fabulous work one moment, but yells at him and locks him in the closet he next. Alphin also creates intrigue by following Ian during a time when he has many clashing thoughts and ideas. Ian is constantly arguing with himself about how to fix his problems. He wonders if he should rely on the sheriff and others to find Teddy or if he should venture out and find Teddy himself. He wonders if he should talk to someone about his dad’s changing personalities or if he should keep silent to avoid his dad’s wrath. I would recommend Picture Perfect to anyone who likes a good mystery, in which you can figure out what is going on along with the main character. Alphin drops small, subtle clues regarding the solutions to Ian’s problems, but doesn’t make anything too obvious. Picture Perfect is a beautifully written book, one that will have you turning pages until you learn how everything ties together.

The Girl Who Could Fly – reviewed by Jessa

Photo on 2-4-16 at 4.13 PMJessa is the smiliest kid! She loves to sit at the front of my literature class, and smiles and nods and shares great ideas. Her enthusiasm is infectious, and her thoughts profound. Also, she has a great love of hair bows, and I look forward to seeing which one she’ll be wearing as she walks into the classroom.

 

The Girl Who Could Fly, by Victoria Foster

51vkDz0GUoL“You just can’t keep a good girl down . . . unless you use the proper methods. Piper McCloud can fly. Just like that. Easy as pie. Sure, she hasn’t mastered reverse propulsion and her turns are kind of sloppy, but she’s real good at loop-the-loops. Problem is, the good folk of Lowland County are afraid of Piper. And her ma’s at her wit’s end. So it seems only fitting that she leave her parents’ farm to attend a top-secret, maximum-security school for kids with exceptional abilities. School is great at first with a bunch of new friends whose skills range from super-strength to super-genius. (Plus all the homemade apple pie she can eat!) But Piper is special, even among the special. And there are consequences. Consequences too dire to talk about. Too crazy to consider. And too dangerous to ignore.”     – Amazon

 
The Girl Who Could Fly by Victoria Forester is a fantastic story with a great, heartfelt plot, interesting characters, and good writing. The plot, though scientific, features magic and love. I enjoyed how, even though the main characters’ powers are clearly sorcery, the institution treats them like science and uses drugs, surgery, and technology to change them. In the plot, heart can conquer all, such as how Sebastian’s song managed to break through the children’s thick coating of treatment. The characters are deep, like Dr. Hellion, who seems perfect, then pure evil, then misunderstood. They’re different, too– there are no two similar characters. The word choice is great. Victoria Forester uses many metaphors, good descriptions, repetition, etc. to her advantage to create feelings in a scene. Pretty much anyone would like it, especially lovers of science fiction or fantasy. To sum it up, The Girl Who Could Fly is a beautiful and well-done book that anyone can enjoy like I did.

Tell the Wolves I’m Home – reviewed by Hannah Meit

-1 Hannah was a fabulous student in my class last year. Her nickname was Wolf, though I admit I always just called her “Hannah”. We’d had a run on kids wanting animal nicknames, and I’m an old dog, er, teacher, and never managed to switch over from real names for most kids. Regardless, the title seems quite fitting, and the book looks interesting. Great cover, too!

 

Tell the Wolves I’m Home, by Carol Rifka Brunt

12875258June’s mother didn’t know what she was doing when she made her brother, Finn, June’s godfather. June was five, and she desperately tried to follow in his footsteps. Finn was a painter, a famous one at that, who was obsessed with everything medieval. As June grew up, she grew into those traits of Finn, too. Her mother would say that she took it a bit too far. June would only wear long skirts to school, along with blouses and old-timey sweaters. She had her treasured black leather boots that Finn gave to her as some of the only shoes she wore. June was closer to Finn than anyone else- or so she thought. Then, her life changed forever.

Finn had AIDS, and his health was declining rapidly. June, now fourteen, desperately tried to hold onto everything she had of him. He offered to paint her a portrait of her and her sister, Greta, to be his last work. Greta, sixteen, is snobby and mean, nothing like she and June used to be. They used to be best friends. Now June envies her sister. Greta is pretty, popular, and dainty, while June sees herself as ugly, unpopular, and clumsy. While the portrait is being finished, Finn obsesses over every last detail up to his death.

June is torn to shreds. While picking herself back up, a month after Finn’s death, she receives a strange call from a strange man who she later finds out was Finn’s significant other. His name is Toby, and he is dying, too. At first she despises Toby, but then they grow together. June has to balance meeting with Toby to talk with keeping him a secret to her family, as he is the one who her mother thinks gave Finn AIDS. Her mother hates Toby with a passion, and blames him for not only giving Finn AIDS but also tearing Finn away from his family. Inwardly, June’s mother had also wanted to be a painter, but her dream never came true like Finn’s did. She needed somebody to blame, and found Toby. Toby has nobody after Finn dies. After overcoming her suspicions, June figures out that she needs to be that somebody for him.

Set in the 1980’s, Carol Rifka Brunt’s debut novel is an adult book. I suggest it only for adults and mature teen readers.