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4 Jun

One of my favorite  reads when I was a young teen, was  Deenie, by Judy Blume.

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It was the story of a girl named Deenie, who develops scoliosis and has to wear a huge brace. When I entered high school in 1978, one of the girls in my year wore just such a brace for scoliosis. I felt like I had some insight into what she was living with.

Armed with this background, I was eager to read Alyson Gerber’s Braced.

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From the author’s website:Rachel Brooks is excited for the new school year. She’s finally earned a place as a forward on her soccer team. Her best friends make everything fun. And she really likes Tate, and she’s pretty sure he likes her back. After one last appointment with her scoliosis doctor, this will be her best year yet.

Then the doctor delivers some terrible news: The sideways curve in Rachel’s spine has gotten worse, and she needs to wear a back brace twenty-three hours a day. The brace wraps her in hard plastic from shoulder blades to hips. It changes how her clothes fit, how she kicks a ball, and how everyone sees her — even her friends and Tate. But as Rachel confronts all the challenges the brace presents, the biggest change of all may lie in how she sees herself.

This was as compelling a read as Deenie. Rachels’ mom had scoliosis as a teen and lived the Deenie experience. As a result she projects her experience onto Rachel, adding an element of parental pressure that Deenie  didn’t have, but many teens can relate to.

Although Rachel is in high school, and there is a little bit of romance, it is chaste enough for middle schoolers

 

Strange the Dreamer

1 Jun

The title sounds Shakespearean, but it is simply the name of the main character. Strange is a dreamer. And so, in Laini Taylor’s Strange the Dreamer,  that is what he is called.

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Publisher’s Summary: Twelve years ago, there was a war between gods and mortals…and the mortals won. The gods are gone–driven away–but they left something precious behind.

They left their children.

In the savagery of the war and its aftermath, the humans rounded up the half-caste bastard children of the gods, and put them to death.

But they missed a few.

Teenagers now, Sarai, Minya, Feral, Sparrow, and Ruby live in the gods’ citadel–full of power and with nothing to do, but survive.

Until one day…their life in hiding is threatened.

I loved Taylor’s  Daughter of Smoke & Bone trilogy (Daughter of Smoke & Bone, Days of Blood & Starlight,and Dreams of Gods and Monsters) so, when I heard she had something new in the works, I was very excited. I waited patiently and the wait was worth it.

She creates a new world, but one that feels familiar. Not like the worlds she created in her other books. Like them though, there is enough that is familiar to our world to make the story feel mythic. This is the first book in a duology, so I will have to wait to find out what ultimately happens.

The story unfolds slowly and it does drag in a few places, but the 544 pages were a pleasure to read. The book is shelved in YA and is one that I probably won’t put in my classroom library. Some themes are mature. My school library has the  Daughter of Smoke & Bone trilogy, so, I suspect they will eventually have this one and I hope to talk about it with some of my mature readers next year. Or previous students I see carrying it in the hallway.

Connectedness

30 Apr

Many years ago, when I was in college, my now brother-in-law introduced me to a friend of his who had spent some time in a psychiatric hospital. Tom told me his friend thought he’d become invisible,  which sort of made me laugh. When his friend explained it to me, it wasn’t funny at all. I remember to this day that he felt that the lines connecting him to other people were getting so long he couldn’t be seen. It is an image that has stuck with me.

In Shaun David Hutchinson’s At The Edge of The Universe, the protagonist has a similar, though opposite problem. Everyone and everything else is disappearing and he is feeling more and more isolated.

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Publisher’s Summary: From the author of We Are the Ants and The Five Stages of Andrew Brawley comes the heartbreaking story of a boy who believes the universe is slowly shrinking as things he remembers are being erased from others’ memories.

Tommy and Ozzie have been best friends since the second grade, and boyfriends since eighth. They spent countless days dreaming of escaping their small town—and then Tommy vanished.

More accurately, he ceased to exist, erased from the minds and memories of everyone who knew him. Everyone except Ozzie.

Ozzie doesn’t know how to navigate life without Tommy, and soon he suspects that something else is going on: that the universe is shrinking.

When Ozzie is paired up with new student Calvin on a physics project, he begins to wonder if Calvin could somehow be involved. But the more time they spend together, the harder it is for him to deny the feelings developing between them, even if he still loves Tommy.

But Ozzie knows there isn’t much time left to find Tommy—that once the door closes, it can’t be opened again. And he’s determined to keep it open as long as it takes to get his boyfriend back.

This is another excellent YA novel dealing with mental illness, and it brings with it the hope for treatment and recovery.

 

Dancing Around Yggdrasil

24 Apr

In case you don’t know, Yggdrasil is the ash tree that lies at the center of the Norse conception of the cosmos. It is also a pattern for a blanket  I’d like to knit some day.

It would be the perfect blanket to snuggle under while you immersed yourself in Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology.

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Publisher’s Summary: Introducing an instant classic—master storyteller Neil Gaiman presents a dazzling version of the great Norse myths.

Neil Gaiman has long been inspired by ancient mythology in creating the fantastical realms of his fiction. Now he turns his attention back to the source, presenting a bravura rendition of the great northern tales.

In Norse Mythology, Gaiman stays true to the myths in envisioning the major Norse pantheon: Odin, the highest of the high, wise, daring, and cunning; Thor, Odin’s son, incredibly strong yet not the wisest of gods; and Loki—son of a giant—blood brother to Odin and a trickster and unsurpassable manipulator.

Gaiman fashions these primeval stories into a novelistic arc that begins with the genesis of the legendary nine worlds and delves into the exploits of deities, dwarfs, and giants. Once, when Thor’s hammer is stolen, Thor must disguise himself as a woman—difficult with his beard and huge appetite—to steal it back. More poignant is the tale in which the blood of Kvasir—the most sagacious of gods—is turned into a mead that infuses drinkers with poetry. The work culminates in Ragnarok, the twilight of the gods and rebirth of a new time and people.

Through Gaiman’s deft and witty prose emerge these gods with their fiercely competitive natures, their susceptibility to being duped and to duping others, and their tendency to let passion ignite their actions, making these long-ago myths breathe pungent life again.

I listened to the  audiobook, narrated by the author. I love that fact that Neil Gaiman is the best reader of his own books and deigns to read them for us.

Before I began, I wondered how much  license Gaiman would take with the traditional tales, but I need not have worried. He retells the tales the way a long ago skald might have done it. He tells the tale in his own style, but sticks very close to his source material.

If you know any kids reading Rick Riordan’s Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard series, this would be an excellent source to understand all the deities, creatures and characters Magnus encounters in his adventures.

When good kids make bad decisions

17 Apr

We often tell 6th graders who have done something really stupid, that this is the time in their life when they can make mistakes and truly learn from them, never repeat them. We let them know that, when they are older, the consequences of their actions will be more severe. We say this when they turn in a friends work as their own and mess around in the bathrooms. We have really good kids.

But sometimes, really good kids make tragic mistakes, and it adults don’t tell them this is their chance to learn, they want them punished.

That is the premise of Jeff Zentner’s second novel, Goodbye Days.

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Publisher’s Summary:What if you did something so terrible that it literally steals your breath away?

Something you wish you could take back every waking minute of your life. Something everyone is guilty of doing at one time or another—but this time, it destroyed life as you knew it forever.

“I would tell you that I definitely killed my three best friends. Here’s the cruel irony for the writer I am: I wrote them out of existence.

Where are you guys? Text me back.”

Carver Briggs never thought a simple text would cause a fatal crash, killing his three best friends, Mars, Eli, and Blake. But now Carver can’t stop blaming himself for the accident and even worse, a powerful judge is pressuring the district attorney to open up a criminal investigation.

Luckily, Carver has some unexpected allies: Eli’s girlfriend, the only person to stand by him at school; Dr. Mendez, his new therapist; and Blake’s grandmother, who asks Carver to spend a “goodbye day” together to share their memories and say a proper farewell.

Soon the other families are asking for their own goodbye day with Carver—but he’s unsure of their motives. Will they all be able to make peace with their losses, or will these goodbye days bring Carver one step closer to a complete breakdown or—even worse—prison?

Although intended for a slightly older audience, this is a YA novel that I can easily put on my 6th grade shelf. There is a little romance, but the book is intelligent and heart-breaking.

The hottest book in my classroom library

13 Apr

A few weeks ago, after I’d finished reading it, I booktalked Fonda Lee’s Exo  and added it to my classroom library.

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It hasn’t been back on the shelf since. Kids are passing it, hand to hand and urging the person reading it to read faster.

Author Summary: It’s been a century of peace since Earth became a colony of an alien race with far reaches into the galaxy. Some die-hard extremists still oppose alien rule on Earth, but Donovan Reyes isn’t one of them. His dad holds the prestigious position of Prime Liaison in the collaborationist government, and Donovan’s high social standing along with his exocel (a remarkable alien technology fused to his body) guarantee him a bright future in the security forces. That is, until a routine patrol goes awry and Donovan’s abducted by the human revolutionary group Sapience, determined to end alien control.

When Sapience realizes whose son Donovan is, they think they’ve found the ultimate bargaining chip . But the Prime Liaison doesn’t negotiate with terrorists, not even for his own son.  Left in the hands of terrorists who have more uses for him dead than alive, the fate of Earth rests on Donovan’s survival. Because if Sapience kills him, it could spark another galactic war. And Earth didn’t win the last one . . .

I don’t read every book before I add it to my library. I do like to read books that lean more YA than middle grade, though. Sixth grade advanced readers are funny creatures. They have the cognitive abilities to tackle complex text, but lack the life experience to understand mature content. Exo is the perfect sort of book for my students: action-packed sci-fi to challenge their reading and an age-appropriate moral dilemma.

If you like science fiction, or know someone who does, pick up a copy of Exo.

Optimists Die First

12 Apr

I picked up Optimists Die First  by Susin Nielsen because of the promise of knitting. There wasn’t as much as I’d hoped, but it certainly got a mention in a few places.

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Publisher’s Summary:  Beware: Life ahead.

Although I enjoyed this book, I didn’t find it as compelling as The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen or We Are All Made of Molecules but it was still a pretty good read.

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